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Fic: Slow Fade 1/2

March 16th, 2009 (06:17 pm)

Title:  Slow Fade

Summary:  An encounter teaches Castiel, Dean, and Sam a little something about grace.

A/N:  This fic is still dealing with the fallout this season, tentatively set after Sex and Violence.  The boys are broken at this point, each doing stupid things in an attempt to help one another.  As I’m a Sam girl, this fic probably pushes an especially sympathetic view of Sam.  To me, since the show won’t do it, I sort of feel compelled to connect the dots as I see them laid out.  If you’re of the mind that Sam’s completely selfish and in the wrong and that Dean hasn’t done anything wrong, I will just say this fic isn’t for you.  I tried not to be biased, but I make no promises.

A/N 2:  This fic deals with the angels.  Which, is weird.  They’re not my favorite development on the show but since they’re not going anywhere it seems, I figured I had to try to use them at some point.

A/N 3: Beta’ed by geminigrl11 .  Plot aided by sendintheklowns .  A last minute read over done by the best lurker in the world :)

Disclaimer:  I wouldn’t take them if you offered.

-o-

It's a slow fade when you give yourself away
It's a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It's a slow fade, it's a slow fade

-Slow Fade by Casting Crowns

-o-

It started with three doughnuts.

Many days started with doughnuts, even though that wasn’t Sam’s breakfast of choice.  But doughnuts were always in the repertoire of morning foods because they were crappy and cheap and easy, and when it came to foods, cheap and easy were sort of a necessity, and the crappy inevitably went along with it.

So, doughnuts weren’t really that unusual.

The fact that Dean had gotten up before him, gone out and come back before Sam even had a chance to stop dreaming--well, that was a bit weirder.

Not that Dean was much of a sleeper these days.  That was one of those things they didn’t talk about, like Ruby or Sam’s time alone or Dean’s drinking or the fact that there were freakin’ angels with plans for Dean, but Sam was aware all the same.  But Dean liked to pretend to sleep, liked to lay on his bed and stare at the ceiling or turn the TV on mute in the middle of the night when Sam was supposed be snoring.  It was all part of Dean’s brave face, which he used to contrast the roadside confessions that were becoming far too common for them.

And ever since the siren, that game face had been on stronger than ever.  Dean was forceful about it now.  Bossing Sam around, asserting his dominance.

Sam got it.  He did.  Because he remembered what he said.  He remembered saying Dean was weak and Dean was holding him back.

The fact that Sam had tried to apologize--multiple times--clearly had only made it another one of those things on the list of topics they just wouldn’t broach.

Which was okay with Sam.  He wasn’t ready to deal with it either.  After all, it wasn’t like Dean’s accusations had been much of a picnic.

I don’t know when it happened.  Maybe when I was in Hell.  Maybe when I was staring right at you.  But the Sam I knew is gone...it’s not the demon blood or the psychic crap.  It’s the little stuff.  The lies, the secrets...


Dean was right, of course, which is why Sam knew that Dean didn’t believe Sam’s I didn’t mean it.  Problem was, honesty was a funny thing, and truth was awfully relative and dependent on the context.  Because, okay, Dean was weak.  Forty years in hell would make anyone weak.  And Dean was holding him back.  Holding Sam back from trying to help Dean, help them both, help end this.  If Dean could only see the torture, if Dean could only see the sad and bloody inevitability of them dying young and fruitlessly, then it was about damn time somebody fixed that.  Angels may have pulled Dean out, but they sure as hell weren’t doing much to help Dean get over it.

And boo-hoo Dean?  Just the fact that Dean was dwelling, Dean was letting Hell have power over him.  It was another reason Sam had to do what he had to do.  Why Ruby was a necessary evil.  Why the powers were the necessary evil.  Why cutting the head off this snake was worth it, no matter what Dean said.

It seemed like there should be a way to say that, a way to explain it, but Sam couldn’t figure it out.  Not without making it worse.  Not without forcing Dean on issues that Dean wasn’t ready to deal with.  Not without revealing too much of Sam’s own endgame.

Which was why Sam knew Dean was telling the truth under the siren’s spell.  The old Sam?  Long gone.  He had to be.  The old Sam Winchester had failed everyone.  The old Sam Winchester had failed his girlfriend, his father.  He’d watched person after person die.  The old Sam Winchester had had a year, a whole damned year, and had ended up watching his brother get ripped apart in front of him.

The old Sam Winchester had gotten his brother sent to Hell.  That Sam had been responsible for everything.

So, that Sam had to be gone.  If this new Sam was going to make anything right, little Sammy who was scared of the the thing in the closet, Sammy who starred in plays, Sam the law student, Sam the reluctant hunter--they all had to be gone.

He didn’t expect Dean to get that, but having him resent it so much didn’t exactly make things easier.  Then again, Sam was pretty sure he didn’t deserve anything easy.

Still, Winchesters were masters at the art of denial, and Sam had counted on his makeshift apology to get them through at least the next couple of months.

Three doughnuts later, though, Sam was pretty sure he’d have to rethink that one.

Sam had still been mostly asleep when Dean barged back in.  Through half-slitted eyes, Sam watched his brother stroll into the room, sprawl lazily in the chair and uncrinkle the bag in front of him.

The first doughnut was a bear claw and Sam rolled over to bury his face in his pillow.  Apparently, today wasn’t the day to sleep in.

Dean was munching loudly, which really shouldn’t have been so surprising, but it seemed louder today. 

When Dean started smacking his lips as he sucked off the extra icing from his fingers, Sam looked up and glared.  “Dude, really?” he asked.

Dean feigned innocence.  “What, am I bothering you?”

“Well, I was trying to sleep,” Sam pointed out, pushing himself to a seated position.

“So, you’re allowed to sneak around and make secret phone calls to your little demonic girlfriend whenever you want, but I’m not even allowed to eat doughnuts in my own motel room?”

The brotherly humor drained from Sam’s face.  “What are you talking about?” he asked, even though he knew exactly what Dean was talking about.

Dean scoffed, pulling out the second doughnut.  “You think I can’t hear you talking to her in the morning?  That I don’t notice when you sneak out to talk to her at night?  Or that I don’t hear the sound of you driving off with her when you think I’m dreaming?”

Sam’s throat tightened.  He had hoped it was true.  For both of their sakes.

Dean just shrugged.  “I figured if I was going to keep an eye on your lying ass, I would just have to beat you to it.  I heard you last night, you know.  Making plans.  What’s going on in Fort Wayne?”

Sam’s face flushed.  “You’re eavesdropping on me?”

“And you’re lying to me,” Dean said, taking a big bite.  “I’m trying to make sure you don’t get yourself killed.  What’s your excuse for being a prick?”

The same, really.  Protecting Dean.  Making it end.

But lying to Dean about everything--it wasn’t working. Sam couldn’t keep his brother in the dark about all of it, that much was clear.  Some secrets he would keep.  Others, he would give up sparingly. 

Sam swallowed, slowly and deliberately.  “Ruby has a lead on a demon who has worked with Lilith,” he said.  “She thinks it’s shacking up in For Wayne.”

“And you believe her?” Dean asked, through a mouthful of jelly.

“She hasn’t lied to me about that.”

Dean snorted.  “Just about everything else.”

“You don’t know--”

“No, but I know she’s a demon,” Dean said, and there was an edge to his voice.  “I know she’s a demon and I know that I met a lot of demons in hell.  I know about what makes a demon.  Forty years and there wasn’t much left of me.  A few hundred?  If there was anything good in her to begin with, it’s long gone now.  So, I just have been trying to figure out when I started coming in second to a demon, especially when you know what they’ve done to us.  Done to you.  Done to me.”

Sam felt both hot and cold and he was pretty sure he was shaking.  Dean was right, of course, about demons and what demons had done to them.  But Dean couldn’t know, didn’t know that Sam couldn’t see in shades of black and white anymore.  That everything had to be shades of gray.  Because, if it wasn’t, then Sam was just as condemned as any other demon in the depths of Hell.

And it wasn’t about Sam, no matter what Dean thought.  Sam had given up his dreams of normal, his dreams of happy years ago.  All he wanted, the only thing left worth fighting for, was the end.  Saving Dean.  The rest of the world would just be icing on the cake.

Dean was licking the jelly off his fingers as Sam threw the covers back and swung his legs over the side of the bed.  Tiredly, Sam scrubbed a hand over his face, wishing there was an apology he could give to make this better. 

“Look, we’ve always used whatever means we’ve had to get the job done,” Sam said. “That’s all this is.  I promise.”

Dean just raised his eyebrows.  “Like you promised me you wouldn’t use your powers?”

It was a gut punch.  Sam’s failure was pervasive and encompassing.  It defined him.  How he had failed his father, Jess.  Now Dean.

Dean shrugged.  “I’m not asking you for anything at this point,” Dean told him.  “I just want you to know that you have to do it to my face now.  All of it.  The lies, the sneaking off.  We both know now more than ever that I can still kick your ass, and I will if I have to.”

It was a bittersweet truth.  That his brother was still looking out for him, that his brother was still there on some level, playing the protective big brother Sam had always wanted. 

But the lack of trust--not just to be honest, which Sam couldn’t blame him for, but to be good.  That his brother never expected that Sam could keep himself from turning, from becoming something evil.  That Sam wasn’t capable of it.  Sam was always an object, something to be saved.  He was tired of being a pawn in everyone else’s games.  He was tired of having no say in his own damnation and salvation.  He wanted to make the choices, even if they were going to take him straight to Hell.

Yet, if he were honest, he knew there was no point.  He was already headed straight to Hell.  Demon blood since he was six months old--he’d never had a chance.

“Fine,” Sam said, his voice tight.  “I’ve checked out the signs, and there’s definitely something demonic going on there.”

“I didn’t say I was going with you,” Dean said.  “And I didn’t say I’d let you go.”

That chafed, and Sam felt like he was sixteen again, wanting to know all the reasons why and getting nothing but a cold order to fall in line.

Dean took a swig of coffee.  “I got a lead on a case up in Rapid City,” he said.  “We’re leaving in ten minutes.”

Maybe it shouldn’t have surprised him, but the curtness of Dean’s tone, the no-nonsense, do-as-I-say assumption, was hard to swallow.  Sam wasn’t Dean’s subordinate, he wasn’t a soldier.  He was Dean’s brother and he knew how to hold his own.

Still.  He’d seen the look on Dean’s face after the siren.  He’d seen the guarded hurt after Sam’s attempt at an apology.  Sam’s endgame didn’t have to mean alienating his brother. 

He sighed.  “Fine,” he said.  “What kind of doughnut did you get me?”

Dean just raised his eyebrows and pulled the last doughnut out of the bag.  “What makes you think I got you anything?” he asked, taking a deliberate bite.

Something in Sam’s chest clenched and he felt an inexplicable burn of tears behind his eyes. 

“Fine,” he ground out again.  He stood stiffly.  “I’m taking a shower.”

“Ten minutes,” Dean called after him.  “Or I will come in after you and drag your naked ass to the car.”

Sam didn’t say anything, didn’t even blink until he was safely behind the closed bathroom door.

Maybe he deserved it.  For his lies.  For his failures.  Dean didn’t have any good reason to trust him, did he?  Just because Sam was doing this for Dean didn’t mean that Dean wouldn’t see it as anything but betrayal.

And maybe Sam had betrayed Dean.  Maybe he was too far gone.  Maybe the powers, Ruby, maybe all of it was a mistake.  One big mistake.

But what else could he do?  How else was he supposed to save Dean?  How else was he supposed to erase that fear that Dean carried inside?  How else was he supposed to help Dean forget everything that had happened in Hell?  How else could he make sure that no one could send Dean back there--ever?

He could get rid of Lilith.  He could.  He had to.  No matter what cost, that was the one thing he had left.  The one chance he had to succeed.  He’d watched too many people die, too many people get hurt because of him.

It couldn’t just be sad and bloody for Dean.  It couldn’t just be memories of Hell and the lonely road.  It had to be peace and happiness.  The Grand Canyon.  A wife and kids.  Sam didn’t deserve those things, but Dean did.

So, why did it hurt?  Dean was trying to protect him, at least. There was something to that, wasn’t there?  Something like the way things used to be?

But before Dean had always done it with a light heart.  Cajoling and levity, assurance and promises.  It had been based on love before.

Now, Dean seemed to be doing it out of duty.  Because there was still that promise to his dad, that threat from the angels, and Dean was issuing orders and eating three doughnuts for himself and Sam couldn’t resent any of it at all.

It was another failure. 

Looking up, Sam met his own tired eyes in the mirror.  Then he gasped.

Behind him, someone was behind him.

He spun, mouth open, and before he had a chance to yell, the figure shook his head. 

A gentle touch to his forehead and the world was fading, fast and heavy, and he barely felt the touch of hands as Castiel neatly caught him before everything blurred into white.

-o-

So, maybe the three doughnuts had been a little much.

Dean liked to eat, but seriously, that much sugary goodness was making him feel a little edgy and it wasn’t even eight AM.

Still, it was part of the plan.  To make Sam get it.  Finally.

He’d decided that this morning was it.  He wasn’t going to take crap from this kid.  He’d sat around and played nice while Sam snuck off for his dark deeds long enough and Dean was tired of it.

There had been a certain amount of satisfaction in that, because it was downright justified.  Sam had another think coming, to call Dean weak and afraid, to mock Hell when Dean had probably saved Sam from there the first go around.

So, no more Mr. Nice Guy.  He wasn’t Sam’s doormat, and if the little bitch wanted to lie, he would just have to know that Dean was wise to it.

And that it wouldn’t get him any perks.  If Dean was holding Sam back, then certainly the kid didn’t need someone like Dean to pick up doughnuts for him.

He’d expected Sam to piss and moan and sulk the entire day, but Dean had downed all three doughnuts and Sam didn’t even have the shower running.

What kind of sulking was the kid giving into this time? 

Annoyed, Dean stood, moving to the door.  “Dude, I said ten minutes, and I meant ten minutes.”

He waited for the petulant reply, maybe the childish retort back.

Nothing.

He knocked this time.  “Seriously, Sammy, I’m not screwing with you.”

Nothing.

Dean’s chest tightened.  Something was off.  Sam was pissy, sure, but what did he think would happen by ignoring Dean this way?

“You don’t answer me, I’m coming in,” Dean threatened.  “And I don’t even care if you have time to cover yourself.”

When there was no response again, Dean swore and tried the handle.

It was unlocked.

Cautiously, he pushed it open.  The lights were on and the fan was running.  Sam’s toiletry bag was on the counter.

But Sam wasn’t there.

Dean stepped in, throwing back the shower curtain, as if he expected his massive little brother to be hiding behind it.

Nothing.

He looked around, checking the vents.  They were all screwed tightly into place and were far too small for anyone to fit through, anyway, much less a massive freak like Sam.  The door had been unlocked, but Dean would have seen him go.  He couldn’t have missed him.

So, where the hell was his little brother?

His heart hammered in his chest, pounding with fear and anger.  Sam had left, found some way to sneak off and leave Dean behind just like Dean suspected Sam had wanted. 

Or Sam could have been taken.  The kid was a magnet for disaster, there was no doubt about that.

But...there was no sign of forced entry.  No sign of any exit.

Sam was just gone.

And Dean kind of hated that it surprised him.

He hated how much he cared even more.

-o-

This was not unfamiliar to him.

The haze between consciousness and oblivion.  The uneasy feeling of being restrained and not knowing why or how or by whom.

The knowledge of being screwed and the doubt that anyone would be able to help him.

His head was rolling on his neck, and his eyes were moving beneath his eyelids, and reality was coming to him, slowly and in bits, but coming, coming.

He was in a chair.  Tied to it.

Rope.  Lots of it. 

Coarse and tight and cutting deeply into his wrists.

He blinked, catching a flash of his own sweatpants in his blurred vision.

He was supposed to take a shower.  Ten minutes.  Dean ate three doughnuts and gave him ten minutes.

The figure in the mirror.

That memory jolted Sam back, and he blinked eyes open with a gasp.

“Castiel,” he breathed.

The figure in front of him inclined his head, his expression grim.  “Sam.”

Sam pulled at his hands, shifting in his seat.  “What are you--why am I here?”

“You were warned,” Castiel told him, and there was something like sadness in his face.  Disappointment. 

Sam swallowed, tugging again, no matter how futile it was.  “I’m doing it to save people,” he said.  “To stop demons.”

Castiel cocked his head.  “You are doing it to stop Lilith.”

“So?” Sam shot back.  “She’s killed a lot of people.”

“She killed Dean.”

“Doesn’t make her not a threat,” Sam said.  “You said so yourself.  She’s breaking seals.  She needs to be stopped.”

“And what makes you think that you are the one to do it?”

“Because I don’t see anyone else who is,” Sam said, and it was true.  The angels had talked of a war and a greater conflict, but there was no evidence.  No proof.  And after seeing them one on one against Alistair, he didn’t have complete confidence that they could do it anyway.  They’d threatened an entire town, after all, for one seal.  Sam wasn’t sure he could trust them to do the right thing.

Which what this was about, no matter what anyone thought.  The right thing.  Justice.  Lilith needed to die for what she’d done to so many innocent souls.  For what she’d done to Dean.  She was trying to destroy the world, and so what was so wrong with stopping her?

“There is much you don’t know,” Castiel told him simply.

Sam pulled again, harder this time.  “So, why don’t you tell me?  Why don’t you tell Dean?  Why drag him out of Hell just to leave him like that?  To give him vague orders and set up impossible tests and hope he does okay?  Do you even know what he’s going through?  Do you even know about what he remembers?  About how that feels?”

A look of compassion flitted over Castiel’s face but he didn’t move.  “I do,” he said.  “Far better than you.  I also know that as much as you say you do this for Dean, you are still the one that puts him at risk.”

That was one Sam hadn’t expected.  “What?”

“The powers, going after demons,” Castiel said.  “You trust Ruby.  All of that makes Dean vulnerable.  Distracts him from his main duties.”

“But you haven’t even told him what they are yet!” Sam said. 

“He will know when it is time.”

“But what the hell is he supposed to do now!” Sam said.  “He’s hurting--”

“And you think your lies and deceptions will help soothe that hurt?”

Sam’s retort was muffled, and he swallowed back his guilt.  “I don’t know how else to help him.”

“Why do you assume you’re supposed to?”

Sam’s eyes narrowed.  “He’s my brother,” he said.  “That’s the only responsibility I have that matters.  The only thing in my life that’s worth anything.”

“Are you so quick to throw away your own worth?”

Sam snorted.  “My own worth?  The boy with demon blood?  The boy king?  A demon prodigy?  I haven’t had any worth outside of my family since the day some demon bled in my mouth.  Since I was six months old.  I’ve been damned since then and playing by the rules has only cost me everything that ever mattered to me.  So, what worth do I have?  My soul is worth nothing to you.  It’s worth nothing to the demons.  So, who the hell cares what I do with it?”

“You are a child of God.”

Sam just shook his head.  “I want to believe that,” he said.  “I tried hard to believe that.  But there’s no place for me in Heaven.  Not even if I stop right now.  Is there?”

Castiel’s face wavered, and he dropped his head.

The inevitability of it hurt more than Sam had anticipated.  “That’s what I thought,” he said, but his voice was tight, his eyes burning.

Castiel looked up again, resolved.  “It is not my place to judge,” he said.  “Only the Father has that power.”

“Yeah?” Sam asked.  “So, then, why am I here?  Why not just dust me and get it over with?”

Drawing a deep breath, Castiel steadied his gaze, hardening it.  “You may still be useful,” he said.  “As unfortunate as your association with Ruby is, I suspect there may still be something we can glean from it.  We need to know what you know.  We need to know just how much you’ve done, how far you have taken things.”

Sam raised his eyebrows.  “We?”

Then Sam saw the movement from the shadows on the opposite side of the room.  The figure that stepped out was smirking.  “We,” Uriel said, and he looked positively gleeful.

Sam swallowed.  Hard.  Castiel’s interference, though perhaps harsh and to the point, has always been tempered with something of compassion.  The coldness of Uriel’s threats, the disturbing forward nature of his wrath, was another story entirely.

Glancing nervously at Castiel, Sam shifted in his seat again, wetting his lips.  “So, God approves of kidnapping people now?”

“This is a war,” Castiel replied.  “It is unfortunate, but it is not without casualties.”

“Unfortunate?  That’s what you call it?” Sam asked, his heart rate increasing.

Uriel smiled.  “Where’s your defiance?” Uriel asked.  “Where’s the brave face of the boy who ignored every warning he got?  Those warnings weren’t for me, you know.  They were for you.  As irrelevant as you are, you shouldn’t be so quick to bury yourself.”

Sam’s eyes flashed angrily.  “What can I say?” he asked.  “I’ve never been good at following orders.”

“Funny,” Uriel said.  “You’d better hope I am.”

“We are not here to kill you, Sam,” Castiel interjected.

“Not until you’ve learned enough, anyway,” Sam said. 

“Telling us what we need to know will only help our cause,” Castiel said.  “And it will only help Dean.”

“Why all this then?” Sam asked, nodding to the cabin.  “Why the abduction, why the bonds?  Why not just pull me aside for a nice little heart-to-heart.  They seem to work wonders on Dean.”

“We don’t waste time on would-be dust bunnies like you,” Uriel said, stalking closer.  “Dean I may tolerate because he is part of the plan.  You are a useful bargaining chip sometimes. Sometimes you may even be able to tell us enough to give us a tactical advantage.”

“You know, the Jesus loves you approach might win over a few more people rather than threatening me.”

“This isn’t about saving souls right now,” Uriel said.  “This is about getting ahead in the war.”

“Isn’t God all-knowing?  Ask him,” Sam said, feeling indignant.

Uriel took a step forward, a spark of rage glinting in his eyes.  “You are crossing the line of blasphemy, boy.  That’s even worse than the sins you’ve already accumulated on your short stay on Earth.”

“I suggest you start talking, Sam,” Castiel said, still unmoving where he stood.  “Uriel has much discretion in matters of reconnaissance and tactical positioning.”

Sam’s eyes widened.  “Discretion?”

Uriel’s smile turned malicious and his eyes darkened as he strode even closer.  “God rewards the faithful,” Uriel said.  “Not that you would know anything about that.”

This was bad.  This was very bad, and Sam couldn’t move his hands and he couldn’t get away.  And he didn’t know what to tell them and how much to tell them and he wasn’t sure if his hesitance to be honest with them was a personal dislike or a true distrust.  Were they out for the right reasons?  Should he buy into their part of the plan to save the world?  Were they just and good beings, despite the arrogance and harshness? 

It was a question of faith, Sam realized.  Not in God’s existence, because Sam couldn’t doubt that at this point.  But at the balance of good and evil.  Were the angels to be trusted to do the right thing?  Or were they just another player that Sam needed to be wary of?

Was Sam being obstinate just for the sake of it?  Was he being selfish? 

And what did he really know that would help, anyway?

Castiel had saved Dean.  That counted for something.  But for how much?  And these plans for Dean--what if they weren’t good?  After all, these were angels who smited, who kidnapped--could he trust them with his brother?

“So, tell me,” Uriel continued, moving closer still until he was all but hovering over Sam.  “What do you know about Lilith?”

Sam kept his countenance even.  He shrugged as much as he could. 

“You are hunting her, aren’t you?” Uriel asked.

“What’s it to you?”

“Don’t be so foolish,” Uriel said.  “Every demon we’ve purged knows about you.”

“Then talk to them,” Sam said.

This time Castiel stepped forward.  “They don’t know how much you know,” he said.  “Nor do they fully know of the intentions of the demon you call Ruby.  It perplexes them.  Worries some of them.  That makes you an unknown variable for both sides.  We wish to rectify that situation.”

“Besides,” Uriel added.  “Demons will lie with their dying breath.  The more you torture them, the less you can be sure of what they’re telling you.  Humans, on the other hand, with their fragile bodies and limited little minds.  Well, they’ll roll over and tell you whatever you want to know.”

Sam’s breath caught in his throat.  “And you expect me to believe that you have good intentions?”

“These are desperate times, Sam,” Castiel said.  “I do not relish the task, but it is ours to complete.  Angels and humans have died alike in this battle.  We merely seek to end this as best we can.”

“With what, torture?”

Uriel chuckled.  “We just brought you here to ask you some questions,” he said.  “The torture is entirely up to you.”

Sam felt disgusted, unnerved.  He couldn’t trust them.  Not with his plans, not with Dean.  He couldn’t.

“Please, Sam,” Castiel said and his face was earnest.  “Tell us what you know about Lilith.”

Sam remembered his brother getting torn alive by Hell hounds.  He remembered the look on Dean’s face when he told Sam about Hell.  Sam remembered Dean’s three doughnuts and how he’d deserved each and every one.

He flattened his lips and flared his nose.  It was his choice to make and one that might get him killed, but he wouldn’t regret that now.  He’d spent too much time trying to get Dean back, too much time praying to a God who worked in ways too mysterious to rely on at this point, to roll over and trust blindly now.  “No,” he said, his voice steeled and even.  “No.”

Castiel’s shoulders seemed to sag and Uriel chuckled again.  “All those years and man still hasn’t managed to grow a lick of common sense,” the angel said.  “Which is fine by me.  Sometimes, I like to remember just why I’m useful.”

Then there was a flash of white and blinding pain tingling through Sam’s body.  It ran up and down, fiery and cold, with an intensity that made his entire frame twitch.  It was like dying and it was like being born again, it was ecstasy and agony, beautiful in its pain, vile in its purity.

When it was over, Sam sagged, slumping forward and panting.  The lingering effect made him feel nauseous, weak and broken, and it took all he had to keep himself from crying.

“I’ll ask it again,” Uriel said.  “What do you know about Lilith?”

Screw Lilith and screw them.  Screw their master plan and their ends and means philosophy.  Sam could trust them no more than he could trust Ruby, no more than Dean could trust him.  Sam wanted to do the right thing, he did, which was why he couldn’t tell these two anything.  Not with Dean at risk.  Not with Lilith within his own reach.  What if Dean was one of their acceptable losses?  What if his brother was a pawn in their endgame to get to her?

It was a risk Sam couldn’t take.

He looked up at them through his fringe of bangs and shook his head.  “No,” he said again, stronger this time.  Resolved.

Uriel’s smirk widened and he held his hand out.

-o-

The fragility of humanity was both its blessing and its curse.

That had been his favorite part of his time on Earth.  Watching the innocence, the purity of emotion.  The innate goodness, that inborn desire to achieve, to accomplish, to love.

But there was an unfortunate counterpoint to that.  The way humans could break.  Emotionally, physically, spiritually.  Watching them fold in on themselves, give into their vices.  Seeing them grieve and bleed. 

Angels could be injured, of course.  They could even be killed.  But the lack of emotion, the simple separation of passion and self, made the process less meaningful.

At least, that was all Castiel could conclude.  Losing his own brothers was difficult.  Fighting the war was wearisome.  But being among humans, watching their young, seeing them choose right and wrong and everything in between, it made the stakes so much more.

Which was why he had agreed to this.  Lilith’s legions were many, but her presence was hard to track.  They seemed to be continually one step behind her.  They were losing the battle.  Seals were breaking faster than expected.  They needed a way to stop the process.  Quickly.

But the cost.  It kept coming back to the cost.

Sam Winchester was one human.  A tainted one at that.  His sins were many.  His allegiance was questionable.  Castiel believed him to be mostly innocent--the blood in his body was not completely his fault--but using the powers, consorting with demons, made him an uncertain variable that worried Castiel more than he cared to admit.

Still, seeing the boy slumped over in the seat, body limp, face streaked with tears, Castiel could see the best and worst in humanity.  He could see the pride that led to fall and the sheer determination that could only come by the truest essence of choice.

Sam had said nothing.

Uriel’s methods were cruel and precise, painful and exact, and Sam had grimaced and cried out when the pain became too much, but had disclosed nothing.

Not his leads on Lilith.  Not Ruby’s intentions.  Not Sam’s own part in it.  Castiel could not even be sure how much of his own powers Sam was currently using, how much of his own destiny he had fully realized.

His loyalty was admirable.

However, Castiel could not be certain just what his loyalty was to.  To Ruby?  To his own powers?  To his brother?  Sam was protecting someone; otherwise there would be no point for such obstinate heroics, but what?

Stepping forward, he held his hand up to Uriel, who hesitated. 

“We have a mission to complete,” he said, a note of defiance in his gravelly voice.

Castiel stepped in front of him, eyes fixed on their captive.  Sam seemed mostly unconscious, his chest heaving in exhaustion.  If he could hear their conversation, he didn’t let on. 

“Clearly torture is not working,” Castiel said.

“Perhaps he just needs more persuasion,” Uriel said, his voice edged with anticipation.

Castiel ignored him, kneeling down in front of Sam.  Closer now, he could see Sam’s body trembling, the hairs on his arms sticking up from the trauma.  His heaving breaths were tinged with a pain-filled whine, and Castiel tried not to wince.

“Sam,” he said, his voice gentle and clear.  “You must look at me.”

It took a minute, and Sam’s body wavered.

“Sam, I will not hurt you,” he said, and it was true.  His job was to stop a war, to defeat Lilith on her minions.  Not to inflict pain on humans caught in the crossfire.  Not even humans like Sam Winchester.

At that, Sam’s eyes flicked open, but his lids were heavy and he tilted his head up just enough to look Castiel squarely in the eyes.  He licked his lips, swallowing with effort.  “Like you haven’t already?”

“I have not touched you,” Castiel said.

Sam laughed at that, a breathless chuckle.  “Standing by and letting it happen doesn’t make me feel much better.”

“You simply must tell us what we want to know,” Castiel said.  “You don’t have to be a bad person, no matter what you believe.  You have choices you can make.  Choices for your own redemption.”

Sam just shook his head.  “I have no reason to trust you,” he said, his voice strained.  “You dragged Dean out of Hell, but you left him like that.  You tell him you have plans, but it’s all mystery and tests and he doesn’t deserve that.  He deserves to be saved because he’s a good person.  No strings attached.  That’s what he deserves.  What you’re doing--how you’re using him, it makes you no better than the rest of them.”

“You have believed,” Castiel implored.  “Even after Dean was sent to Hell, you believed. Why do you doubt now?”

Sam’s mouth twisted into something like a smile, but it was pulled with sadness and taut with a misery so deep that it struck Castiel deeply.  “I still believe,” he said.  “You’re standing right there in front of me.  How can I not?”

“Then why do you defy us?”  Why did he make it so difficult?  Why did he exhibit such blind obstinance?

“I thought God could make things better,” he said.  “Balance the scorecard.  Maybe I could accept the fact that I was condemned when I was six months old.  But the rest of the world?  Dean?  They deserve better.  Don’t they?”

Sometimes, Castiel wondered that himself.  That if in all their efforts to save humanity, they had forgotten the very essence of why it mattered.  That maybe there was an inherent flaw.  An army of angels was powerful in strength and formidable in scope but lacking in the compassion and immediacy to make made them truly effective.

Perhaps that was why Dean Winchester mattered. 

Maybe even why Sam Winchester mattered.

“Yet you keep your secrets to yourself,” Uriel’s voice came from behind.  “We are stronger than you--better than you.  You, even with your filthy blood, are still human.  Frail.  Breakable.  Fallible.  We can stop Lilith.  You, despite your protests, have failed, despite multiple opportunities.  And yet you persist blindly.”

Sam’s eyes flicked to the other angel over Castiel’s shoulder.  “Will you do it with or without smiting an entire town?” Sam asked.

Castiel didn’t even have time to step back when another jolt hit their captive, and Sam writhed, his body jerking spastically under the force of it. 

Pulling himself back up to full height, Castiel looked disapprovingly at his colleague.  “This tactic is not effective,” he said.

Uriel dropped his hand, looking vaguely disappointed.  “And you suggest coddling him?”  The angel nodded to Sam.  “Look at him.  He’s worthless to us.  His usefulness is past.  We should destroy him before he threatens anything else.”

Castiel looked again at Sam, who appeared completely limp this time, save for the rattling breaths drawn in and out of his slouched frame.  “It is not about his usefulness,” Castiel said.  “He is human.”

“He is an abomination,” Uriel spat back.  “You are soft on all these pathetic life forms.”

“They are our Father’s children.”

“Adoptive children at best,” Uriel said.  “Only allowed into His presence by a grace they do not deserve.”

“Which shows you just how well loved they are.”

Uriel conceded that point.  “Maybe.  But this one?  He is part demon.”

“By no choice of his own,” Castiel said.

“What about sleeping with the demon?  What about using his powers?  What about his constant refusal to obey orders?”

All valid points.  But what about Sam’s motives?  What about his desire to do good?  What about the boy who had believed even when he had no reason to? 

Perhaps Uriel was right.  Castiel’s compassion was hindering him.  This time among humans, seeing their range of emotions and capabilities, it made it more difficult to make the hard choices.  More difficult to do his job devoid of emotion.

There was a reason, after all, why God chose to save humanity.

And Sam Winchester, the boy with demon blood, was still human.  And Castiel could see it.  There was a yearning for power, yes.  There was a desire to be right, to be strong, to be victorious in him.  He had many flaws and his actions were questionable at their very core.

But Castiel was beginning to understand something even more important.  That so much of what Sam did, so much of who he was, was invested in love for another.  “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Uriel seemed to consider that, nodding slowly before a large grin spread across his face.  “You’re right,” he said.  “No wonder these tactics won’t work.  We’ve been dangling the wrong carrot.”

Castiel paused, confused, and watched as his fellow angel strode forward, lifting Sam’s chin with his hand until the pale face was turned up toward him.

“I know you’re awake,” Uriel boomed.

Castiel swallowed, feeling suddenly uneasy.

Sam’s eyelids fluttered and his shoulders seemed to slump.

“You won’t talk to help our cause,” Uriel said.  “You won’t talk to help yourself.  But let me ask you, will you talk for Dean?”

Confusion washed over Sam’s tired features.

“We can make his life easier or we can make his life harder,” Uriel said.  “He’s part of the plan, but nothing says that he has to be whole, physically or mentally.  Would you like us to pay him a visit?  Perhaps bring him here?  Tell him just what you’ve been doing:  Or better yet, make him remember just what he did, every moment?”

Sam’s forehead crinkled and tears wet his eyes.  It was clear he was reaching his breaking point.

“Uriel,” Castiel said, because it didn’t feel right.  They were justified in their means; they had been given that much discretion, but this--these threats, on a mortal who was already so weakened--felt wrong.

Uriel didn’t listen, just leered closer.  “You seem so keen on protecting him,” he said.  “So, what will it be?  Your secrets or Dean’s well being?”

Sam shook his head minutely, and his eyes were wide now, pleading and desperate.

Uriel simply smirked and a bolt of light left his hand, filtering directly into their captive with a surprising force that sent Sam sprawling, chair and all.

Sam groaned and Uriel peered dispassionately down at him.  “Oops,” he said.  “Seemed to have slipped.  You know what that’s like, though.  Why else would you risk using your evil powers?  The ones given to you by the demon that destroyed your entire family.”

Sam’s eyes opened to slits, full of hurt and fury.  “Screw you,” he spat, and it was the wrong thing to say.  Stupid and bold and so very human.

The disdain in Uriel was reaching its boiling point, and Castiel could feel the shift in his counterpart.  Soldiers had to be ruthless.  But only when necessary.

Looking down at Sam’s defiant face, he saw something more.  He saw a beaten body.  A downtrodden spirit.  Someone who needed grace.  Redemption.

Not condemnation.

Their mission was to save Sam Winchester and the rest of the world.

Not destroy them.

“Stop,” Castiel said, his voice cutting through Uriel’s rage.

The other angel just shook his head.  “I should have dusted him months ago,” he said.  “No respect.  He is everything bad about this earth.”

Castiel would appeal to a different tact, then.  “Our orders--”

“Are to win this war,” Uriel seethed.  “He is a hindrance to that goal.”

“We must--”

But Uriel was not going to listen.  He had the right to destroy Sam Winchester.  A sinner.  Consorting with the enemy.  It was justified.

With an outstretched hand, white light emitted again, and Sam twitched, the energy coursing through his body with an increasing intensity.

Uriel’s wrath was justified, but narrow in scope.  Castiel could still see the look of awe on Sam’s face when they first met.  The extended handshake.  So naive.  So hopeful.

They had destroyed that hope.

The man who lay before them, helpless and broken, was partly their fault.  Not just for the physical ailments he was suffering, but for the psychological ones as well.

Sam Winchester deserved to die.

But so did the rest of humanity.  Sin, even great sin, was no unique to this one, after all.

That didn’t mean their orders weren’t to save as many as possible. 

It was barely a conscious thought.  Castiel might be able to thwart Uriel’s powers, but the clash between angel and angel had the potential to be catastrophic.  He did not wish to harm Uriel, much less destroy him.  Uriel was still an important soldier in the war, and they had lost too many already.  And Uriel’s destructive power was great.

No, he needed another way to stop this.

Uriel bore down, his teeth gritting, and Sam was convulsing now, his body jerking at the bonds that held him.

Sam’s body would not withstand much more.  Uriel would not stop until the job was done.

Castiel had one option.  It was risky and it was unconventional, but it was all he had.

He closed the eyes of his host, and sucked his essence inward.  With a gentle brush, he subdued the mind of his host even further, letting it sink deep into his subconscious.  The physical wounds the host had endured were palpable and he spared only a moment to mend them. 

Then, with a burst of energy, he pulled himself out.

Being free from a human form was freeing, light and ethereal.  He was uninhibited, closer to God. 

Yet, he still had work to do.

Uriel had stopped, covering his eyes and cowering, protecting his own host as best he could, but Castiel could still feel the protests against his choice.

He would not stop.

Hovering, he saw Sam, too weak to even twitch.  Their captive’s own essence was fading, diminishing.  One more good blow, and it would be gone forever.

Uriel was struggling to raise a hand even from his crouched position, and Castiel did not hesitate.  With speed and grace, he reminded himself that Sam had prayed for redemption many nights, that he had prayed for goodness and light and a chance to make things better.  Being the host to an angel was not easy for the human mind to tolerate, so their willingness was a necessary part of the equation, and even then--

Sam believed.  Sam wanted to do good.

It was close enough.

Surging forward, Castiel poured himself into Sam, moving through his body, feeling the pulsing of the blood through his veins.  It took a moment while the body shuddered, the very synapses protesting, the blood recoiling, but just for a moment. 

When he reached Sam’s mind, he reached for it gently, and it resisted, strong and stubborn.

Castiel pushed against Sam’s will again, with the force and persistence of light and the unspoken promise that he did not wish Sam harm, that he would help Sam, that he would help Dean.

And Sam’s defenses fell, and Castiel settled in, feeling the body around him begin to beat in tandem with his own presence, his own essence.

After a long moment, Castiel felt the rise and fall of his chest, of Sam’s chest, felt the lingering currents of electricity tingling through the singed cells of this shared body.

He took a deliberate breath, sucking in deep, and then opened his eyes.

It was the same room.  Small and dark and poorly furnished. 

But still, completely different.

Because he was completely different.

From his position on the floor, the chair was digging painfully into his back and his hands felt cramped from being trapped beneath the weight of his body.  Eyes roaming the scene, he saw Uriel standing above him, mouth agape.  “You took him as a host?” the other angel said.

With easy movement, Castiel broke the rope, rolling himself off the chair.  Standing, he stretched out his fingers and felt the new physical presence of this host.  He was taller than Uriel now, and the body in his possession had more inherent strength than the last.  The eyes were more attuned to detail, more focused on tactical positioning.

“We’re not supposed to take our hosts willy-nilly,” Uriel said, still gaping a bit. 

Castiel rolled his head, shrugging his shoulders, and trying to ease the kinks out of his back.  “Nor are we supposed to torture and kill without just cause,” he said.

“He is--”

“Human,” Castiel said.  “He is one hundred percent human.”

“But his blood--”

“Does not control him,” Castiel said.  “It does not define him unless he lets it.”

“You interfered.”

“We were sent to interfere.”

“He doesn’t fit the criteria,” Uriel said, his ire raising. 

“He believes.”

“He is not worthy,” Uriel insisted.  “You pollute yourself with that thing.”

Castiel sucked in a deep and calming breath, feeling the faculties of this body come to him.  “He sought redemption,” Castiel replied, and he knew it now better than ever.  He could feel that need, that desire to do good, pulsing with every beat of this borrowed heart.  “There is no vessel more worthy than this.”

“So, what then?” Uriel asked.  “What of him?”  The angel nodded to the other host, lying limply on the floor.

Castiel walked to him, kneeling down and putting a strong hand under his chin.  “Physically, he is well,” he said.  He sat back on his heels.  “And I do not intend to be in this body long.”

“Just long enough to keep me from my purpose.”

Castiel stood again.  “Do you really think there is a better way to learn his secrets than this?” he asked.  “This body, this mind, are at my full disclosure.  What he knows, I know.”

Uriel raised his eyebrows.  “So, you did this to learn what we need to know?”

He sighed.  He could not lie.  “No,” he said simply.  “I did it because I did not believe he deserved to die.”

“And now?”

Castiel felt the surge of fear and desperation at the mind inside of him, the broken plea for help, to make it stop, to purge the evil from his veins and make him whole again.  But even more than that, he could feel the desolation that led to despair.  The yearning for redemption, not for his own sake, but for the sake of the one he loved, which drove him to break all barriers of right and wrong that he once held.

There was much darkness.  Much agony and defeat and sin.

And so much need.  So much need, shrouding the most innocent, most desperate flame of hope Castiel had ever sensed.  Hope that this evil could be stopped.  That this evil could end.  If not for himself, for the world.  For Dean.

Castiel swallowed, easing the mind back, shushing it, lulling it into a temporary peace.  “Now I am more certain than ever.”

Without allowing Uriel time to ask another question or to voice another objection, he turned, walking to the door.  It was time to take Sam Winchester home.

-o-

Possessed.

Sam had been possessed before.  Possessed by Meg, by the demon they called Meg.  She’d taken him over from the inside out, and that week had been nothing but blackness and pain, snippets of awareness that was not his own.  There was blood and smoke, sex and alcohol, and murder, and evil, and Sam couldn’t rise above the corner of his own mind to grasp much of it at all.

He still didn’t remember.  His lost week.  He remembered the smarting of his jaw from Dean’s sucker punch and he remembered the puckered flesh of Dean’s shoulder wound, but that had been Meg’s dominion, and the violation of his mind and body had been complete.

So, he knew possession.  He did.  He remembered the terrifying blankness, the paralyzing sense of detachment.

This...was different.

White.

So white.

White, like light, purity and light, radiating through him, illuminating every inch of his dark soul.

It scared him at first.  Too bright, too much.  He thought it would burn away everything he was, scorch his tainted blood and devour his secret deeds. 

But not quite.

Its power was immense but its touch was gentle.  It seeped through him, but didn’t conquer.  It hovered in his mind, not overpowering, but lulling.

His soul craved it as much as it was terrified of it.  Because it was a heavy, dangerous purity, restrained, but just barely.

He was no longer a captive, but in this light, free will seemed so moot.  What choice was there to make?  What other options could he possibly entertain when something so right and so good was in him?  The power to cleanse was the power to destroy.

Redemption.

We all seek redemption.

He had to give up his mind, give up his body, give up his plans, and trust this much to be possible. 

Castiel could have destroyed him.

Why Castiel had saved him, he wasn’t sure.

What he had been saved from, he was even less sure.

But the question rolled around in his brain and he was moving without his own consent and his own humiliation at being so exposed nearly choked him with grief.

Hush

But Sam had never been good at orders, and to give himself up to this, to fully surrender would be such a risk.

Your faith must be stronger than this.

And Sam didn’t know if it was, if it ever was.  If his faith had been desperate flight of fancy, a scapegoat, something, anything, but he wanted this.  He wanted it as much as he didn’t, and there was no choice.

Rest.

And it sounded like angels wings: strong, powerful, fluid, compassionate.

Compassion.  For him.  Even with what he’d become.

Rest.

And Sam did.

Part two

Comments

Posted by: Nebula (authoressnebula)
Posted at: March 17th, 2009 12:01 am (UTC)
spn sam dig in heels

LOVE. OMG so much LOVE. Oh, the Sammy!pain. *rolls in it*

Seriously, absolutely awesome. I want the second part to this. PLEASE. This is a balm to my soul, very much so.

*hugs*

~Nebula

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: March 18th, 2009 11:59 pm (UTC)
easy limpness

I am such a sucker for Sammy pain.

Second part is up :)

Posted by: sendintheclowns (sendintheklowns)
Posted at: March 17th, 2009 01:01 am (UTC)
broken

*stares* Sorry, I got distracted by the pretty pictures of Sam on your banner.

I love everything about this fic from the stilted interaction between the brothers, to Dean not bringing back donuts for Sam (horrors!), to Castiel's slow comprehension of what Sam is like.

Oh, and let's not forget the uber limp Sam!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: March 18th, 2009 11:59 pm (UTC)
alone

Sam is just so PRETTY when he's hurt. Shame the show doesn't give us more.

Thanks for your help on all my stuff. You are truly my inspiration :)

Posted by: tracys_dream (tracys_dream)
Posted at: March 17th, 2009 07:08 am (UTC)

I like this and I'm really intrigued to see how it ends.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: March 19th, 2009 12:00 am (UTC)
giddy

Hopefully the end doesn't disappoint. It's up now :)

Posted by: Dani (pinkphoenix1985)
Posted at: March 17th, 2009 10:58 am (UTC)

this is just so intense and brilliant!

I can't wait to see how Dean copes with the fact that the angels tortured Sam.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: March 19th, 2009 12:00 am (UTC)
knife

Part two is up. Thanks!

Posted by: Dani (pinkphoenix1985)
Posted at: March 19th, 2009 02:13 pm (UTC)

okay! thx

Posted by: Damsean (damsean)
Posted at: March 18th, 2009 04:51 am (UTC)

OMG, I was crying like crazy by the end of it,Poor poor sam, *cuddles him tight*, I loved ur fic, thanks for sharing:)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: March 19th, 2009 12:01 am (UTC)
the kids--little brother

Poor Sam indeed!

Thanks :)

11 Read Comments