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Fic: Devil's Arcade (13/14)

ooooooooooooooo

Risin' from a long night as dark as the grave
On a thin chain of next moments and something like faith
--Bruce Springsteen, "Devil's Arcade"

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Sam dropped his head and took a deep breath, fighting back the urge to hurl all over the bedspread. He followed it with another deep breath, and then another. He tried to force his mind to other thoughts: anything that didn't make him want to take the knife that should be under his pillow and drive it into his own chest, anything that didn't make him more horrified and disgusted with himself than he ever thought he could be. Was this what his father had known? Was this why he was afraid his youngest child was going to go dark side?

As his mind whirled, he was vaguely aware that Castiel was sitting as still as a stone on the other bed. Dean was still slumbering away beside him, and Sam was fiercely glad that his brother wasn't hearing this. As much as he didn't want to replace one secret with another, he wasn't keen on sharing this information. Dean thought he was enough of a freak for his demon-killing thing; he couldn't imagine how his brother would feel if he knew what the real danger was.

What felt like hours later, Sam finally raised his head, terrified of what he would see. Uriel had told him that if he stepped out of line, he was dead, and it was hard to see what he'd almost done as anything but stepping out of line. Steeling himself to see his death written on the angel's face, he looked up and promptly felt his own brow furrow in confusion.

If he didn't know better, he would have said Castiel's features displayed nothing but relief.

"It was the one thing we were not sure of," the brown-haired man said quietly. "Whether you knew this was within your capabilities." He gestured towards Sam and then lowered his hand back to his lap. "Clearly, you did not."

Sam's mouth twisted. "How do you know it's something I can do?" he forced out.

"I know what I saw," came the calm response. "It was why I stepped in when I did."

He blinked. "Wait, you came to save them? The bastards who'd been torturing Dean and were about to kill us?" The nausea was suddenly replaced with white-hot rage, and Sam leaned forward where he sat, pressing his hands flat against the bedspread, conscious even in his anger of keeping his threatening posture to a minimum. "Were you sitting up in the rafters watching or something?"

"I am sorry that I didn't arrive sooner." Castiel looked over at Dean for a moment, concern evident on his face, and Sam was surprised at the flash of jealousy that shot through him. Then the angel turned back towards him, his clear blue eyes as intense as Sam had ever seen them. He added, "But they were not the men I was there to save."

Sam swallowed as the meaning of the words sank in, his anger vanishing as quickly as it had come. "Thank you," he said softly. Of all the times he had prayed for divine intervention in all the tight spots they'd ever been in, he'd never have believed that it could come so directly, or that he would have the chance to express his gratitude for it in person.

Castiel inclined his head but didn't reply.

The silence that followed was not entirely comfortable, with Sam unable to keep the thoughts out of his head of what Castiel had revealed to him. On the one hand, he didn't want to ask about it; he wanted to wipe it from his mind and forget about this whole new level of freakiness. But he knew all too well that pretending it didn't exist wouldn't make it go away. At the same time, it made for pretty good motivation as to why he shouldn't use his powers anymore. If he slipped up, if he was distracted or under as much pressure as he had been tonight, and reached out towards the wrong person…

No, the more he thought about it, the more he realized there was something else he needed from the angel, something more than having his and Dean's lives saved. He somehow had the feeling it wasn't too big a favor to ask.

He cleared his throat. "My, um, my dad told Dean before he died that..." He took a deep breath and went on, "That Dean was going to have to save me. And that if he couldn't, that he would have to kill me." He glanced at Castiel to see him looking back with his full attention. "I don't know what Dad knew or how he knew it. I don't think Dean does, either." He didn't according to their conversation of a few days ago, but as Sam knew all too well, Dean didn't always share everything he could--especially if he thought he was protecting Sam by keeping something quiet.

Sam drew in a slightly shaky breath and went on. "When I found that out, and then later, after I met some of the other people like me…I made Dean promise that if it came down to it, if I started becoming something I'm not, that he would do it. That he would kill me."

There was a pause. The room was so quiet that Dean's even breaths were the only thing Sam could hear. He went on quietly but intently, staring at his brother's sleeping form, "Dean would never break a promise. Never. But the thing is, I'm not sure he can keep this one. I mean, look at the lengths he's gone for me, you know?" He shot a quick look at Castiel, whose patient expression hadn't changed. "And he's already—we've been in situations where from a rational perspective, he should have wasted me." Sam shook his head, remembering the chilling knowledge that he'd been infected with a deadly virus, and then later, the horror of watching his own hands kill and torment other hunters and then the person he loved most in the world. Dean had had valid excuses for not acting each time, but Sam was afraid of the truth: that he couldn't count on his brother for this one, most crucial, thing.

He went on, "So I need to know that someone is gonna be able to do that for me. That if I—" Sam broke off, seeing for a moment Madison's face as he pulled the trigger to end her cursed life, her gratitude mixed with sorrow that had broken his heart. "If I go over the edge, that someone will stop me from hurting anyone. I need to know that." Now more than ever, he mentally added.

After a moment, he turned his head to see Castiel regarding him, looking as though he was trying to make his mind up about something. The brown-haired man hesitated for a moment and then said simply, "My Father already had me make that promise."

A chill swept over Sam at the words. How could he possibly be of that much interest, that much importance, that angels were making vows over him? His jaw clenched and he closed his eyes. As tired as his body was from the disastrous night they'd had, it was nothing compared to the exhaustion of his soul. He didn't want this burden that had been placed on him, couldn't imagine the enormity of what it meant for him and Dean and possibly the entire world. He hadn't been able to really rest since he'd found out he was a freak down to his very veins, and now it looked like he had even more reason to be afraid of himself and his own blood.

But at least no one else had to be afraid of him.

Sam opened his eyes and looked at Castiel. "Okay," he said. "Thank you." As dark as it was, the reassurance was comforting to a small extent. And it was there in a way it never had been with Dean. Wresting that promise from his brother had been a mistake, but he hadn't felt like he had a choice at the time. And a few weeks ago, Uriel had made him a threat, not a promise.

But this was an answer to Sam's request, made of his own free will. An answer to his prayers, really. If all else failed, he could count on Castiel to protect the rest of the world—and his brother—from him.

Castiel spoke, tilting his head forward. "There is one more thing."

Dread rose in Sam's throat, and he swallowed. God, what else could there be? "What?" he asked hoarsely.

"It is the first part of that promise that is the most important." Castiel waited a beat before adding softly, "Everyone is worthy of salvation, Sam Winchester. Everyone."

The tears welled up so quickly that they blinded him. He hitched in a sob as he squeezed his eyes shut, grabbing a fistful of the bedspread to ground himself. The flash of pain across his ribs reminded him that bursting into tears was going to hurt more than his pride, and he took a long, unsteady breath, forcing every ounce of stubbornness he possessed into breathing normally. The gift of hope he'd just been offered might be enough to make him break down completely, but there was no way he was doing so in front of another soul, human or angel.

He half expected Dean to burst out with something about stopping the waterworks before the room flooded. But on his own, Sam somehow managed to keep things under control, with only a few teardrops escaping his eyelids to trickle down his cheeks. For a long time there was no sound in the room but his own breathing, slowing and steadying as he concentrated on keeping a regular rhythm that didn't catch in the middle. Eyes still closed, he reached down for the sheet and wiped his eyes with it, wincing at the rough cotton on his bruised face.

A moment later, Sam drew in a deep, steadying breath. "Sorry about that," he muttered, not daring to look at the angel just yet. Turning to look at his brother, he took stock of the bruising on his face and neck, wondering what the rest of him looked like under the cheap motel covers and if angels knew anything about checking for internal injuries. "You're sure he's okay?" he couldn't help but ask.

"He is very strong," Castiel answered, apparently going along with the change of subject. "I did not see anything that indicated more serious injuries than what is visible on the surface. If checking him over yourself would ease your mind, I would not object."

Like your objection could stop me, Sam thought as he gingerly eased out of the bed. Ignoring the flares of pain that were igniting all over his body, he lowered himself onto the edge of Dean's bed and reached out to lay two fingers on his brother's pulse point. It beat strong and steady and reassuring beneath his fingertips, and he closed his eyes in a silent prayer of thanks.

As gently as he could, Sam tilted Dean's head to the side to get a look at his neck. His own jaw tightened once he clearly saw the red lines of scraped skin encircling his neck from the rough rope, compounded by blossoming violet bruises. Dean seemed to be breathing okay, a constant steady stream of inhalations and exhalations that sounded a little rough, but not too bad considering what his poor neck had been through.

He looked to Dean's wrists next, but they had already been bandaged. He shot a quick look at Castiel, who gave a slight shrug as if to say, What did you expect me to do? Sam gave him a tiny smile of thanks in return before turning to the task of trying to remember where else Dean's body had been abused.

"I don't remember him being hit on the head," Sam mused out loud. Then his throat tightened. It had been earlier in the day that Dean's head slammed into that rock, when Sam was busy spacing out over the damn lightning.

"Why do you think he was?" came Castiel's response.

"Because he should have woken up by now," Sam answered, worry starting to gnaw at him. "With us moving around and talking like this…there's no way Dean would sleep through that." Not to mention me shouting a few minutes ago, he added to himself.

"It is not due to a head injury," Castiel replied. "It is my doing."

Sam's eyebrows lowered. "What did you do to him?" he demanded, unconsciously putting a protective hand on Dean's chest.

Castiel shook his head. "Fear not, it is nothing harmful. I merely wanted to ensure he would not interrupt while we had our conversation."

Sam knew his features were radiating mistrust, but at the moment, he didn't really care. "Then can you wake him up?"

"I believe sleeping will help to heal his injuries more quickly," Castiel said with a look of admonishment.

"And I believe I want to know that my brother's okay," Sam retorted.

Their locked gazes battled for a moment. Castiel finally raised an eyebrow. "I'm afraid you're going to have to trust me," he said in that same infuriatingly calm tone of voice he used no matter what the situation was.

Sam frowned. Trusting an angel should come pretty easily, but he knew that part of him was not going to be satisfied until he was talking to Dean.

That is, if Dean would talk to him.

He swallowed and pulled his hand back. "Yeah, maybe it's better if he sleeps for a while," he said offhandedly.

Castiel gave him an odd look, but didn't say anything as Sam levered himself upwards and returned to his own bed.

Once Sam had settled himself back against the beat-up headboard, he looked over at Dean again and cleared his throat. "I don't think he's slept like this since he came back."

Or since I came back, he mentally added. In the year before Dean's…absence, the older man had had plenty of nightmares. It was one of the things that had made his return so familiar in a sick way: the sudden motion or noise that would wake Sam and have him reaching for a weapon before he realized it was just his brother's nightmare. Not that anything Dean was remembering these days could reasonably be described as just a nightmare, he supposed.

"And have you?" came Castiel's response.

Sam looked up. "Have I what?" he asked blankly.

"You need to rest as well. Your body and spirit are exhausted."

No shit, Sam thought, but he couldn't bring himself to use profanity in front of an angel. "I'll be okay," he muttered.

"I am here and can keep watch," Castiel replied, leaning slightly forward where he sat.

"No offense, but I'd rather do that myself," Sam replied a little more sharply than he intended.

Castiel cocked his head to the side. "You are not in a condition to take on a fight if you had to."

Sam blinked at him stupidly before it sank in. "Damn it, they're still out there, right? They're still going to come after us, probably tell all the hunters they know." He threw the blankets aside, already planning how to get an unconscious Dean out of the motel room and into the Impala, assuming it was still outside. How had they already been here three hours with no sign of their kidnappers returning?

Castiel raised a hand to cut him off. "No, they won't."

Lifting his head, Sam stared at the other man, his brow furrowing in confusion. What was that supposed to mean? Had Castiel done something…?

The questions he had must have been written on his face, for the angel shook his head. "They were left unharmed. But I do have the ability to…alter memories to some extent. They will not remember what they saw tonight, nor why they sought you in the first place."

The relief sank in as Sam leaned back against the headboard again. He felt weak enough that he wasn't sure he could have made it outside himself, much less with his brother in tow. Maybe they actually could rest here.

Then something else occurred to him, and he looked up sharply. "Does that mean you can…" He swallowed, thinking of the confession Dean had made to him four days ago as he looked at Dean sleeping as soundly as he had seen him since his return. "You can alter anyone's memories?"

Castiel followed his gaze, and his mouth tightened. "Not to that great an extent, no. Dean's memories are too sharp and too full to be blurred or lightened by anything I can do."

Sam's shoulders slumped. For the hundredth time, he cursed the fact that he had actually thrown away the magical coin. Never mind that there was always a price involved—he'd be willing to pay it if it meant Dean could come out from under the shadow that was always hovering over him.

"Does that mean you can see his memories?" he hesitantly asked.

The angel's lips thinned. "Yes."

Sam bit his lip, knowing it was wrong to ask, but still unable to help himself. "What happened to him?" he asked softly.

"That story is not mine to tell," Castiel replied in admonishment.

"He won't tell me," he said in a low voice, one hand forming into a fist. "He admitted that he remembers everything, but he won't say a word." He lifted his gaze to Castiel's. "Please."

"Why do you want to know?" Castiel asked, his bright blue eyes boring into Sam's.

Sam opened his mouth, then realized he didn't know what to say. "Because I have to," he finally replied.

Castiel's eyebrows went up, but he didn't say anything.

Sam licked his lips. "Look, he did it for me, okay? He gave up his life and God knows what else so that I could be alive. So whatever he's gone through, it's my fault."

"I thought Dean was the one who made the deal," Castiel replied levelly.

"It's not his fault," Sam retorted, memories of Cold Oak rising up hard and fast. "It's mine. If I'd been paying more attention, if I'd been aware of what was behind me, if I hadn't been so…"

"So compassionate?" Castiel inquired, eyebrows lifting.

Sam's brow furrowed. "What do you know about it?" he asked warily.

The corner of the other man's mouth lifted in a sad smile. "I have been watching your brother and you for a long time."

He digested that for a moment, but only a moment, before rage rose within him, filling him with energy he hadn't had a moment ago. Leaning forward, he said heatedly, "You're telling me you were there? You could have stopped everything that happened? You could have stopped Dean from making his deal?"

"Not everything," Castiel replied, briefly looking at Dean before shifting his crystal-blue eyes back to Sam. "There is the matter of your death, for example."

The unwelcome memory of sharp, blinding pain in his back suddenly ripped through him. He gripped the bedspread with both hands, riding it out like an actual wave of pain. As it slowly cleared, something else struck him, and he frowned.

The lightning bolt had hit him in the exact same spot.

He reached around behind him and felt up his spine, tracing the thin line of the scar that had split his life—and his brother's—in two. Funny how that had remained on his skin even though the muscle, bone, and tendons beneath it had healed.

On the other hand, there was no trace of the lightning bolt's path: no healing skin or scarred path where electricity had seared into his body. And he didn't know what to think about that.

Looking up, he saw Castiel patiently watching him. "What do you mean?" he asked warily. "Why can some things be stopped or undone and not others?" He brought both hands to rest in front of him and asked the question that had just popped into his head but felt like it had been there all along: "Why did you save us tonight, Castiel? Why did you save me?"

There was silence for a moment. Then the angel broke his gaze again, looking off across the room towards the stained beige wallpaper on the far wall. "Because some things are not written in stone. And some things are not meant for you to know."

"Bullshit." Sam slammed both palms down on the bed, wishing it was a harder surface so that it would make a more satisfying noise. "Then why are you here talking to me?"

"Because I needed to know what you know," Castiel replied, rising to his feet. "And I had to tell you some things as well."

"Obviously not everything," Sam shot back.

"How do your human authorities put it? Some things are 'need-to-know'?" Castiel's fingers curved gracefully in air quotes that Sam was surprised he knew how to make. "I can see what might come to pass, yes, but it would do you no good to see that."

"How do you know?" Sam challenged.

Castiel took in a deep breath, and Sam was struck by how much more human he looked when he seemed weary. His eyes flickered to Dean and back before he spoke, his voice flat. "Because I do not believe it gave your father any help or comfort."

Sam stared blankly. He could almost feel gears in his head turning, trying to process this astounding piece of information. Hadn't he and Dean just been wondering where their father's final command had come from? When he spoke, his voice was as raw as if he had been the one with a noose around his neck. "You…you told my dad something about me? You're the one who told him he might have to kill me?"

The angel bowed his head, his silence the only answer needed.

Sam's hands had formed into fists before he realized it, and he forced his fingers to straighten out again, pressing them against his thighs. "So that whole promise rigmarole I just went through—you already knew about that."

"It makes a difference when it comes from you directly," Castiel quietly replied, lifting his head, his eyes as earnest and honest as ever despite the deception he'd just revealed.

"What did you tell him?" Sam demanded quietly, steel now in his voice.

Castiel shook his head. "I told you, I believe it was a mistake to do so. I have no intention of committing the same error twice."

"Damn it, Cass, I have a right to know!" Sam was shouting now, trying to cover the fact that he was scared out of his mind: both afraid that the angel would leave without telling him what his destiny was, and scared that he would tell him. He was teetering on the edge here of something he'd wanted to know for two long years, and he couldn't bear the thought of it slipping away from him.

The answer came quickly and deliberately: "You don't want to know."

Sam had always scoffed at that phrase, always believed that the truth was worth knowing and that not wanting to know was weakness compared to whatever obtaining knowledge would bring. He'd snapped back at Dean the previous afternoon for saying that same line with regards to his time in Hell.

But the deadly tone with which the angel spoke those words made him believe that maybe this once, he actually didn't want to know.

His widened eyes must have caught Castiel's attention, for the other man gentled his voice as he said, "I told you, some things can be changed. It will do you no good to dwell on a thing if it does not come to pass. In this case, it may actually bring you harm."

"But you told my father," Sam pressed, although the heat was gone from his voice.

Castiel spread his hands apart, palms up. When he spoke, his voice was low and quiet. "I expected he would be around much longer to watch over you."

Sam inhaled sharply. That was yet another revelation, one that he would have to ponder for quite a while to come. What it meant in terms of free will and destiny and power was staggering, and he found himself reassured and frightened all at the same time.

Apparently even the plans of the angels could be sent astray by the choices made by one man.

He dropped his head, suddenly weary. He needed to think, and he needed to talk to Dean, and he needed his head to stop pounding like the inside of a tympani. And none of those were likely to happen any time soon.

"Will you now rest?" Castiel asked.

Sam bit his lip. "You'll stay here?"

"I promise that both of you will be safe."

It wasn't quite an answer to the question, but it was enough. If you couldn't trust an honest-to-God angel who'd already saved your life once tonight to protect you, who could you trust?

So Sam slid down until he was lying flat, turned on his side towards his brother, and tuned into Dean's steady, reassuring breathing. His brain was still whirling, but ever more fuzzily, and it wasn't long before he didn't remember another thought.

The last thing that registered in his consciousness was the sound of wings rustling.

(Chapter 14)

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