It was dark, the kind where opening your eyes makes absolutely no difference. Dean blinked a few times and sat up, listening hard past the thudding of his heart. He thought he had heard a voice.
Seconds passed silently and he decided it must have been a dream. He rolled over.
Dean leaped to his feet, almost landing on his ass. He righted himself and faced the noise and when the lamp flared, Castiel's serious face shone an eerie gold.
"Holy shit," Dean snapped. He took a deep breath. "Don't do that. Are you trying to give me a fucking heart attack?"
"No," Castiel replied earnestly. "I didn't mean to startle you. I apologize but it's important. Ellen would like to speak to you."
"Ellen?" But Castiel was gone and Dean's confusion fell like lead in the empty room. He rubbed his eyes with his fingertips and wondered whether he was dreaming. It would make more sense than this bizarre wake-up call.
The lamp flickered and Dean noticed the pile of clothes beside his bed. He shook them out and held them up to the light; they were a little old-fashioned, sure, but they were roughly Dean's size and once he was dressed in them, he felt a little less disgusting. With his legs healed and the shabby but intact grays of his clothes, it was as though he had never been in the dragon's cave at all.
Castiel was waiting outside the door, hands loose by his sides. He looked up at Dean and tilted his head towards the room to the right. "Ellen is the owner of this inn. It would be best if you tell her the truth. She may be able to help you."
"Great, thanks," Dean said with only a little sarcasm. "And it couldn't have waited until morning, right?"
"I would have preferred it if you had spoken to her before you slept," Castiel said, "but it took quite a while to persuade her to see me, let alone speak to me. It startles me how much hostility some of your kind have towards fairies."
"After what you guys did to us a few hundred years ago? Are you surprised?" Dean replied, though it was difficult at best to match that imposing history of human-fairy relations with this strange being in front of him. He eyed Castiel for a moment, then nodded towards the door. "So how did you get her to agree to see you anyway? A little hocus pocus?"
"I don't know what that is," Castiel said. He didn't pause for an explanation. "I brought Ellen's daughter back. I believe you know her."
Not always a good thing. Dean knew a lot of women and if Ellen's daughter was one of them, it was probably best he didn't reacquaint himself. He smirked. "Yeah, probably."
"She was stranded without a horse in the mountains after you rescued her," he continued, ignoring Dean's suggestive smirk. "Though she was faring much better than most would in the situation, I didn't believe she would be able to make the entire journey on foot without weaponry."
"Wait, you mean the not-princess? Jo? She's Ellen's daughter?"
"She is asleep for the moment but if you require proof, I can wake her."
Dean shook his head. "No, no. It's just a little... weird I guess." And if Dean believed in destiny he might have spent a little more time thinking about it, but instead he shrugged it off and knocked on Ellen's door.
Ellen was stood beside the window in the drawing room. Flickering gas lights kept the room well lit and Dean closed the door behind him with Castiel at his side. Ellen's back was straight and her eyes met Dean's with no hint of uncertainty or hesitance. "Dean Winchester. Good to see you again."
"I knew your daddy," Ellen replied smoothly. Her hand smoothed over his shoulder for half a second and then she tugged a chair out for him. Dean didn't sit immediately but a sharpening of Ellen's gaze had him dropping. "Don't look so damn pale. I used to hunt, me and my husband, God rest his soul. And John's too, I hope he's back with his wife now. Never did see a man so ruined by a woman's death."
Dean thought of the bed and the damp-smelling mattress. He would love to be back there. "I don't know you."
"Nah, John hadn't been through this way for a long time." Ellen lit herself a dark little cigarette and passed the pouch of tobacco to Dean but the smell of smoke and the fleck of fire made him feel sick. He shook his head and she shrugged, carried on with curls of gray from her breath. "You two brothers were too young to know what was going on back then but he left you here a couple times. No warning, just walked out with some money and a note in your pocket to give to my husband. By the time you were ten you were going with him and I haven't seen you since."
Maybe it was the smell of the cigarette smoke but something in Dean's mind dragged itself reluctantly to the forefront. A noisy bar, Dean holding Sam's hand in the crowd, following their father through the towering giants around them. Everything was dark and frightening but Dean held tight to Sam and made himself look brave so Sam didn't cry and then Dean remembered. He remembered that swell of pride when Dad took his hand and they left together, Sam safe and left behind but Dean was old enough now. He could be a hero like Dad.
Ellen was still talking. "We've got a lot to talk about, Winchester. Shame your brother's not in here but it'll have to do, you need to know what's going on."
Dean shook his head and stood. He wanted to get out of here, he wanted to go back to bed and sleep off this nightmare, he wanted to go find Sam. He wanted anything but to sit here and listen to stories of his fucked up past. Ellen's steel gaze softened but she didn't let him pass her to the door.
"Sit down Dean," she said firmly but not unkindly. "We've got a lot to talk about."
When Ellen told a story, she told it well. Dean forgot for a while that this was his life intertwined with the history of his country and almost began to relax until a familiar name or event would pull him sharply out of his stupor. This had been nothing but a simple hunt but it had expanded to fit in a few more dragons than just Alastair, plus a fairy kingdom, an ancient prophecy and a lot more Dean failed to take in.
Ellen stopped when Dean tipped his head into his hands. "You okay?" she asked with genuine concern.
"Yeah. You really should have waited until morning to tell me this," Dean said. He needed rest but he tried valiantly to gather his thoughts, forcing himself to sit up once more. The small table between them was littered with papers but he had pushed them aside enough to prop up his elbows and Ellen had done the same. "Okay. So that's why I'm here."
"Because of a prophecy."
Dean nodded. "A prophecy that says an evil fairy is controlling dragons to stop Heofan and Eorthe reuniting. And I'm supposed to stop it."
Ellen shook her head. "You and your brother. And a 'Fae-blood with a noble soul', which I hope is your friend Castiel. This was all put in motion long before you were born, Dean, and it's gonna be a great world if you can do your job."
She was smoking again. The smell was familiar and only a little uncomfortable now. Dean focused on it, the bittersweet burn of it, the slivers of smoke through the dawn light that came through the open window. If Dean focused on that he wouldn't have to realize how completely out of his depth he was. "You know a lot."
"I hear things. And there was my husband," Ellen replied. She paused and looked down at her knees. "Bill died a good few years ago now but he knew a lot about this shit. Learned it from your father."
"Dad? He knew about the prophecies?"
"Not at first, but it didn't take him long after your mom died to work it out," she said. "He could have left you with friends or family, you think he didn't consider it? But he trained you up for this. He made sure you're equal to it and he succeeded. This is a dragon hunter's bar and you two have pretty much the best reputation I've heard of since your daddy died and maybe you're better than he was, even."
"Castiel said you didn't trust him," Dean said blandly because he couldn't begin to touch on the rest of his thoughts.
"He's right, I don't," she said. She leaned back and dropped the cigarette into a clay bowl on the table. "Thing is, this whole prophecy was my Bill's life. His death, too, and your father's. If we don't get it right it'll be the death of the whole of Eorthe and I won't have that on my shoulders just because I don't like that your boyfriend has wings."
The boyfriend thing made Dean hesitate but only for an instant before his bite was back, tired as he was. "So we put aside our differences and all hold hands. Dance to the same tune and all that fluffy bullshit. And then what? What are we actually supposed to do?"
Ellen regarded him quietly for a moment. The gaze was so steady and calm that Dean felt reassured despite himself, like perhaps even under the confusion this woman knew what was going on and Dean wouldn't be floundering for a foothold on this crazy fucking situation. "That's what we need to talk about. All of us together."
"Then I need to find Sam."
"That's not going to be difficult," Castiel said, and Dean turned in his seat.
Behind him, the fairy stood, looking distinctly dustier than before. Behind him, in clothes as tattered as Dean's had been, Sam stood looking slightly dazed with Jo at his side.
"So you made me walk," Dean complained. Sam was asleep, Jo too, and Ellen was packing up supplies from downstairs to leave the next day for the mountains. Castiel and Dean were sharing this room, though the fairy annoyingly spent most of his time standing beside the window staring up at the stars and Dean couldn't settle. "You made me walk even though you can carry people when you fly."
Castiel looked up to the stars for a second more, and then Dean was faced with that startling blue stare, unrelenting in the lamplight. "I could not have carried your horse."
"That doesn't make sense." Dean sat up in the bed, fluffing up a pillow behind his back. The headboard was kind of scratchy and the blankets smelt of dust but it was good to be on a mattress, even if his body had forgotten the point of one. "Unless you knew I had a horse the moment I got out of the cave."
"I recognized you the moment I saw you," Castiel admitted. "We are not... telepathic but we see a little deeper than humans. Your heroic nature shines more brightly than any I have seen, Dean. Combining your location with the color of your soul, and the immediate defiance in your attitude that goes with most translations of the Winchester prophecies, I guessed your identity almost immediately. And you love your horse, it is written as clear as day."
"The prophecies write about my horse?" Dean scoffed.
"It is written on your soul, not the prophecies," Castiel clarified. He paused and turned fully to face Dean. "Something about this bothers you."
"All of it bothers me," Dean said. "I've got a fairy in my room telling me he can see my soul. Sam is downstairs with the princess-that-wasn't, no one will tell me where the hell he was."
"That is something you must discuss with him."
"Whatever. This is all insane," Dean said. "And now we're supposed to get back to the mountains and what, rescue the world from some evil fairy? I've never fought a fairy. I fight dragons."
"Fairies are much easier to defeat than dragons," Castiel said with the smallest hint of a dry smile. "We don't breathe fire."
It was close enough to a joke to startle a laugh from Dean's lips. The smile lingered and a little weight lifted. "Okay. Fine, no fire-breathing, but you guys are quick. How do we even find the one we're looking for?"
"Lucifer is smart, but he is predictable," Castiel replied. He sat down on the edge of the bed somewhere around Dean's knee, apparently oblivious to personal space. "He is my eldest brother, Michael's twin. They could not be more different. Michael will inherit the throne when my father dies, which will not be for another few hundred years, but it was Lucifer's place first. I do not know him well - he left when I was young, cast out of the kingdom for causing the first human-fairy war. "
"You were alive for that? How old are you?"
"Eight hundred and ninety-three," Castiel said, and then continued despite Dean's dropped-open mouth. "The point is, I do not know him well, but I know my own kind. Lucifer is predictable. He hates humanity and loves himself. He misses the kingdom of Heofen and, it is said, he regrets leaving. Unfortunately he cannot return so he wishes the destruction of both communities, both humans and fairies."
"Sounds like a perky guy," Dean said. "You think you can catch him?"
"There are ways," Castiel said. He didn't seem entirely pleased with that. "Unfortunately it will not be easy and we cannot do it from here. We'll have to get as close as possible to the mountains, to his den, without alerting him to our presence."
Dean mulled this over in silence as Castiel cast his eyes back to the stars. Castiel's shoulders sagged and there were bags under his eyes but he hadn't even taken off his boots. Dean wondered why that bothered him. "And I guess he knows about the prophecies."
"So he'll know we're coming."
Castiel nodded grimly. "Yes. It's entirely possible he will send a dragon to kill us before we reach the foothills. I'm surprised he hasn't done so already."
"Great," Dean muttered. "So this isn't impossible at all."
"Of course it isn't impossible," Castiel said. "It's merely improbable. Joseph would not have made the prophecy if it was completely impossible."
Dean gave a look so fierce and irritated that even Castiel seemed to pick up on it. Castiel looked away and as he stepped past Dean, he gave him a quick pat to the arm. "You should get some sleep before the morning."
"Promise not to wake me up?"
"I may need you," Castiel said with a frown.
"Tough shit. I need sleep. A lot of it," Dean said. "Stay out of the room if you're gonna pace, okay? And if the inn burns down, just tell it to leave my room until last."
"I'm not sure I can do that."
Dean was starting to find it a little endearing when Castiel took him as sincere. The little lines that creased the fairy's face as he tried to understand what Dean was saying… it could be pretty adorable. Dean stopped his thought process right there, put the entire thing down to sleeplessness, and closed his eyes.
Jo looked much brighter and happier than she had when Dean 'saved' her from the dragon. She gave Dean a hug so enthusiastic that she seemed twice the size she really was; Dean felt entirely wrapped in it. He laughed and Jo grinned at him, and then looked back to Sam. "It's a good thing your brother found me, Dean. I'd never even been in the mountains before and had no idea how to get back out again."
When Dean and Sam's eyes met, it was a tense second, but it passed as easily as ever. "I thought you weren't following me," Dean said.
Sam shrugged and shoved his hands in the pockets of his loose tunic. "I guess I lied."
"And how did you meet Jo? I thought Cas brought her here."
"He did. While I was hunting the two of us some food. I thought a dragon had taken her again. I was halfway back to the mountains before Castiel found me. I met Jo a few miles from the mountain when I was following you but by the time I got to you..."
"I was gone," Dean finished. "Fairies are pretty prompt with the heroic rescue attempts."
It was warming to know Sam hadn't abandoned their life entirely even if he had said he would. To Dean, the hunt was everything, and to pull it out from under his feet would be to end him. He knew logically that it wasn't the same for Sam but that didn't stop Dean wishing things could have stayed the way they used to be. Difficult, sure, and seriously dangerous, but they were together and it was simple.
This was anything but simple. Still, it wasn't bad having Ellen serving them breakfast in the big smoky kitchen and announcing she'd be coming with them.
"That would be unwise," Castiel said. He hadn't been there a second earlier but no one jumped.
Ellen bristled and her daughter followed suit. "Why not?"
"Because this town needs guardians like you," Castiel said smoothly. "It cannot go unprotected and the two of you are the best made for the job. Besides, we will need stealth, and too many people will draw too much attention."
It was reasonable enough, and Ellen's shoulders lost their defensive line. It took three hours and a threat from Castiel to keep bringing her back before Jo backed down.
They left just before noon. They would reach the mountains after dark and pitch up camp, leaving the worst of the journey to the early hours of the morning when dragons would be at their least active after their night hunt. There could be guard dragons since Lucifer was organizing the usually haphazard race, but Castiel assured them he could deal with that if it came to it.
Having seen Castiel with a sword, Dean didn't doubt it.
At the edge of town, the elderly woman on sentry duty glared at them the whole way out and Dean flashed her a grin. They paused as the gates swung shut behind them.
Sam drew a breath. "Here goes nothing," he said.
Dean was used to sleeping beneath the stars but tonight he couldn't bring himself to wind down. He sat staring up at the wild skies, the flare of dragon breath lighting the clouds intermittently. Sam was sound asleep, had been for a couple of hours already, but Dean couldn't sleep and Castiel didn't need to. The fairy had been gone for the past half an hour and if Dean cared about Castiel, he might have started getting a little concerned.
When Castiel returned a little while later Dean found himself relaxing a little more, the worst of the restlessness fading. His shoulders were still tense and sleep was far from his mind.
"Is something wrong, Dean?" Castiel said. His voice was quiet and he had a bowl of water in his hands, fresh and clear, which must have been gathered from the stream beside the nearby mountain path.
Dean shrugged. With a glance to Sam at his side, he got up and walked quietly across to Castiel, bringing a thick blanket to lay over his knees as he sat. "Why is this happening?"
"Because it was written -"
"No, I don't mean that," Dean interrupted immediately. "I mean... humans hate fairies, right? And I'm gonna bet that's mutual. Why?"
"Because we spent almost all of our lives serving you," Castiel said. "We spent our time watching over you. It was our choice but it got out of control and there were certain members of our race who believed this to be inappropriate to our station. When my father created the independent kingdom of Heofen, the war that ensued severed all relations between fairies and humans for as long as I can remember."
It was not the story Dean had been taught. As with everyone in Eorthe, they had been taught that the fairies had rebelled because of their violent nature and the mountains had been raised by God to hold them back. "So why don't you hate me?"
"Why should I hate you? Because you are human?" Castiel looked at him for a long time and Dean refused to balk under the stare, even when his heart thudded a little faster. "Humanity has moved on. It has been many centuries and many generations but still the fairies that started this are alive, holding the grudge. I was too young to understand back then and I have no urge to carry on the useless battle of my forefathers." Finally he looked away, back to the bowl of water. "You have a good soul. You submit to your destiny so that others may have freedom. I see why the prophecies speak of you so highly."
The answer wasn't what Dean had been expecting and he fell silent, watching Castiel as he dipped two fingers in the bowl. After a few seconds and a few quiet incomprehensible words, the water turned silvery, an oily sheen that threw up a nutty scent.
"What are you doing?"
"You need rest," Castiel said. He wiped his fingers and passed Dean the bowl. "Drink this."
"What is it?" Dean asked suspiciously, but he took it anyway.
"It is harmless. It will let you sleep."
Dean hesitated and then tilted the bowl to his lips. Despite the nutty smell, the water tasted sweet and warm. His eyelids felt heavy after one mouthful and his hands went limp and dropped the bowl after two. Castiel caught it and as Dean fell into a deep sleep, he was sure he felt careful hands lowering down to the floor.
Sam kicked Dean's legs. "Wake up. We've gotta get moving."
After a sleep so heavy and perfect, Dean would have expected to be groggy in the morning but he was utterly refreshed and if this was what fairies could do, Dean never wanted to be away from one again. He stretched his arms above his head and looked around, but they were alone. "Where's Cas?"
"Cas is getting some food," Sam said, and kicked his brother's shin again for good measure. It had the desired effect of getting Dean to stand up at least. "So we trust this fairy now?"
"Sure. He saved my life," Dean said. Maybe he would have gotten past that dragon eventually, but maybe not. "Why? You always said fairies probably weren't as bad as we thought, Sammy, changed your mind now?"
"No, and don't call me that," Sam protested uselessly. "It's just… we hardly know the guy and you've always been so anti-fairy. What happened?"
"I met one," Dean said simply. Sam had already packed up their things so Dean grabbed one of the bags and walked to Impala, who was tethered not far away. The horse that Sam had borrowed from Ellen – his own was lost to a dragon's jaws – was beside it, a chestnut mare. Dean patted her and mounted his own. "Castiel's a good man."
"He's not a man."
Dean recognized that petulant tone and shook his head. "Whatever. Did he say when he'd be back?"
Sam shrugged and saddled up his mare, looking everywhere but at Dean.
An hour passed. After ten minutes, Dean sat back on the floor. After half an hour Dean was pacing restlessly and by the time Sam spoke, he was about as on edge as he could get.
"Dean," Sam said quietly.
His guilt and uncertainty shone in his eyes and Dean tensed. "What?"
"I think I made a mistake."
Lucifer's cave was halfway up the tallest mountain and it took them three hours to reach it. In that time, Dean didn't say a word to his brother, and Sam rode behind him with his eyes on everything but Dean and Impala. At least the silence kept them hidden and Dean had time to cool down from what Sam had done.
"That's the peak," Sam said as they followed the path around a corner. They were beside a lake, and though Dean would rather have been out of the way of open spaces and roads, this was the only way they could ride. They would have had to have left their horses behind and that would have taken days instead of hours. When Dean just nodded and didn't answer him, Sam huffed. "I thought he was a risk, Dean."
"Why? Saving your life, and Jo's, that makes him a risk?" Dean said calmly, though frustration simmered beneath the surface. "Man, I'd like to see someone who actually does something wrong to you, Sam, because that guy helped you and got chucked to his evil big brother."
"You followed him blindly back into the mountains without even considering that he was tricking you. You don't know he was telling the truth," Sam said. "Fairies are manipulative. He could easily be lying to you."
"He wasn't," Dean snapped.
"I don't know why you trust him so much but I know I trust you," Sam said after a tense pause. "That's gotta be good enough. I'm sorry, Dean, I thought it was for the best."
"You should have talked to me."
"I thought maybe he'd put a spell on you," Sam admitted quietly. Dean shot a glance to him and Sam raised a hand quickly, deflecting his protest before it could begin. "Come on, Dean, you act pretty strangely around the guy."
Dean shrugged and gave up trying to talk to his clearly insane little brother. There was no way Dean acted any differently around the fairy than he did anyone else. Maybe a little more cautiously, except that wasn't true because Dean slept in front of Castiel easier than he had slept in a long time. And Castiel made Dean feel calmer whenever the slightest irritation or anger flared. His presence was solid and calming. Okay, so maybe Dean was acting a little weird around him, but that didn't matter anymore because Sam had betrayed the guy and now the whole future was at risk.
That thought made Dean frown. Since when did he believe so wholeheartedly in Castiel's words, and his damn prophecy?
They left the horses at the base of the mountains once more and began the slow climb. Dean worked at storing away his frustration with Sam; he and his brother were a seamless team when they weren't arguing but then they would break apart like this and it had always ended in disaster. They couldn't risk that this time. If Castiel was right, they were facing their most dangerous opponent yet.
Fortunately for all of them, they had discussed some of the plans for attack before they reached the camp. Sam swore he hadn't told any of that to Lucifer when he took Castiel away and Dean made himself believe it.
They reached the cave. "Wait behind that rock," Dean said. Sam nodded and stepped into place as silently as he could, sword drawn ready.
Dean took a deep breath and then, with his sword in his hand and his heart in his throat, he stepped into the darkness. It was absolute. The sun had set not long before but the darkness of the night was offset with the scattered stars and the low-hanging moon; beyond the mouth of the cave, there was nothing. Lucifer could have been standing half a pace in front of Dean and Dean wouldn't know it.
"Hey, Cas, you in here?" Dean called out, playing ignorant. Lucifer could have killed them before, which meant there was a reason he was drawing them here and Dean wasn't going to play too quickly into his hand.
There was no reply for a long second, but then a small thump from a few feet away grabbed Dean's attention. He breathed sharply and moved towards it, wishing he had thought to bring a lit torch. Another step and he could fall into anything; the ground could give beneath him, and only the dryness of the air in the cave said there was no water to threaten him. And if Castiel had been lying, if Dean had misplaced his trust, Lucifer might not even be here.
"Okay, Sammy, I see why you were worried," Dean muttered. Dean had got himself into some strange situations in the past but this was definitely up there. It was the most dangerous by far and he had no idea what he was doing here.
Until Castiel spoke. "Get out of here, Dean."
"No fucking way," Dean said, and a light flared. For a second, Dean saw Castiel huddled on the ground with his arms and ankles tied with thick rope, blood oozing down his forehead. Beside him there was a slender man with a soft, unassuming gaze and a little peaceful smile. Like Castiel, the man's presence was just a little too intense to be human, and Dean took a quick step back.
The light dimmed until it was a cinder glow from the floor and then Dean could see nothing but the indistinct outlines of the two fairies and with it, the deeper shadows beyond of their wide-spread wings.
"I admit I'm a little disappointed, Dean," Lucifer said. He stepped closer but in this light, Dean could still not make out his face. At least he could see that the ground was even and that Castiel was alive. Lucifer raised a hand and Dean flinched back. "Relax, I would have killed you by now if that was my plan, wouldn't I? But as I was saying. You're an idiot to come here. I didn't believe you would fall for it."
Dean's gaze snapped to the huddled figure of Castiel who had his head turned away. "What are you talking about?"
"All I have to do is plant a few ideas in Castiel's head and you appear," Lucifer said. He moved back to Castiel and patted his head like a dog. "Some of my brothers aren't too bright, I'm sure Sam would sympathize. Is he okay out there? Tell him to come in, it's much warmer inside."
Dean did his best not to glance back over his shoulder, keeping his shoulders set straight. "He wouldn't come."
"No, of course not," Lucifer sighed. The next instant, he was barely a foot away from Dean, eyes sinister in the scattered light. Dean still couldn't work out where it was coming from. "Dean, I have been watching you and your brother for a long time. I know you. I know how you work. I know every little maneuver you have to take down my dragons and you really think I believe you're not trying to lure me out of the cave so Sam can run me through with that pretty blade of his? I'm not an idiot."
Though Dean's stomach plummeted, he didn't rise to the bait. He looked instead to Castiel who wouldn't meet his eye. If Lucifer was here and Lucifer had drawn them here, they were playing to his game, and Dean needed to find out the rules before one of them got killed. "So, what, you just wanted me here for a little chat? You couldn't have dropped by somewhere a little closer?"
"And a fairy would be so very welcome in your kingdom, Dean." With a tilt of his chin, Lucifer studied Dean's eyes carefully. Dean found he couldn't look away and the realization shot through him like ice. Lucifer's gentle voice was unrelenting. "Well, if I was to perform some quick tricks for you people I'm sure I would be welcomed back with open arms, but I won't lower myself. And no fairies should lower themselves to that."
"Humans helped fairies in return," Castiel said. His throat sounded raw, his voice as dark and heavy as the rock. "Machines, industry, food. Human understanding has brought richness to our life."
"Shut up, Castiel. You were much too young to remember how it was."
Castiel fell quiet, but Dean saw him moving subtly. Dean wondered what he was doing, but with a swift glance from Cas in a flicker of light, Dean guessed and began pacing as if restless. "So you've got a stick up your ass about something that happened centuries ago," Dean said as the hard ground thudded beneath his boots. "Boo-fucking-hoo. There's not a single human today was alive back then and you're still holding a grudge?"
"Your lives are fleeting, but you would not act any differently if fairies were to gather in human cities once more." Lucifer watched Dean's every step with eagle eyes, which was what Dean wanted. He kept his sword lowered but ready. Lucifer smiled and Dean heard the flutter of wings. "Fairies have much longer lives, and we don't easily forget. And trust me, not one fairy will forget what you're about to do to one of the Princes of Heofen."
Dean stopped despite himself. "What?" He saw Castiel still for a second, though then his movements returned with a little more desperation.
"Just when fairies were considering a treatise with the human kingdom," Lucifer said in a slow, forlorn drawl, "a couple of human brothers bring about the end of it by brutally murdering one of the princes. I'm sorry it had to be you, Castiel, but you are the youngest." Lucifer turned and froze, eyes on Castiel. "What are you doing?"
But it was too late. Lucifer lunged at Dean just as Castiel threw himself at Lucifer, and they crashed back into the wall of the cave. Dean was dazed by the impact and slumped down to the floor. A second later Sam was at his side, dragging him to his feet and Castiel was struggling with his older brother, wrestling to get him out of the mouth of the cave. He wasn't going to make it. Dean and Sam shared a look.
The weight of all three of them was enough to get them out of the cave and into the moonlight. Dean's skin ripped into deep red welts even before he touched Lucifer and the same marks flew into Sam's skin but they didn't let go. Castiel had hold of shimmers in the air, the shadows of Lucifer's wings, and his hands burned. Together they pulled him from the cave.
With a fierce growl, Lucifer tossed Dean and Sam to the side, his strength too great to withstand. Castiel's eyes were wide and terrified but his own wings spread and in that moment, Dean saw them for what they were: beautiful, terrifying and wonderfully strong. The color of shadows and starlight, they rippled as Castiel drew Lucifer up into the air and, a few feet from the ledge, let go.
Lucifer's scream of rage could be heard for a few horrible seconds and then…
The ledge opened up into nothingness beneath them. Dean's head was spinning so he stayed back from the edge but he had seen it on the way up, the abrupt drop with nothing to break it except the most persistent of plants clinging to the rock.
Dean's chest shuddered in a painful breath as he propped himself up against the rock behind him. "Is he dead?"
Castiel's wings melted as he crouched beside Dean. "Yes. No fairy would survive a fall that vast, and I ripped his wings. He will bleed to death even if the fall did not finish the job."
"Nice work," Sam said. Blood dripped down his hand as he patted Castiel's shoulder, splattering onto the ill-fitting coat. The two of them helped Dean to his feet and though Sam's hand dropped from Dean's arm a second later, Castiel's lingered.
"Is it over?" Dean asked.
"The worst of it is," Castiel said. His hand moved over Dean's forehead and it was like the silvery water he had drunk before; soothing and calming, taking away the pain that flooded Dean's thoughts. "There are things we must do but for now, it is over."
Battered and bruised, it took them a good while of standing motionless on the ledge before they could begin the slow descent.
Castiel was healed before they started climbing, and as they went, Sam and Dean noticed their pain slowly receding until there were no wounds open beneath the sticky drying blood. They would be scarred for a long time, forever maybe, but they had at least healed quickly. Castiel deflected their gratitude and said he wished he could do more to help this situation be over.
"You said it already was."
"I said it is over for now," Castiel said, though he seemed unsure. "I apologize, Dean, but this fight merely pulled apart the attempt to bring the dragons together. There will still be dragons to fight, though they will return to their ancient lazy disorganized ways soon enough I'm sure. And I must return to Heofen to bring news of this to my father and my siblings, as you must bring the news to your royalty before they bring war through the mountains. It must be known that neither fairy nor human wished for this war."
"Lucifer was a fairy," Sam pointed out.
"Sam," Dean snapped, but Castiel nodded.
"Yes, but he doesn't speak for the rest of us. He was exiled a long time ago." They reached a relatively flat area and Castiel stood still for a few minutes. Dean suspected it was to give the brothers time to rest; the fight had been hard and the climb wasn't easy. "There is a lot to do to ensure that our two races may live together in peace as we once did."
Dean nodded but that sounded a little too much like politics. Point him at a dragon and he was happy; anything else he didn't care about. Except Castiel. He cared that Castiel was planning on leaving and going back to his home country and why shouldn't he? He came here and saved the day and now he needed to return. Except Dean had gotten used to the fairy's presence.
The view here was beautiful. Dean looked across the valley below, the wide stretch of green and the sprawling river that made its way through in languid curves. Past that lay Eorthe; behind them, Heofen. It would be a long trek to see one another and Dean knew it wouldn't happen again.
Eventually they reached the horses. Impala lifted her head, flicked her tail, and returned to chewing the sweet grass. Castiel stood a little away from them, eyes cast towards the peaks behind.
Dean felt something hot and horrible rise in his throat. He glanced at Sam, but his brother was very pointedly tending to the horses, back to Dean and Castiel. There was a look in Castiel's eye that Dean didn't like. He strolled over and Castiel didn't look at him until there was next to no space between them. "So I guess this is goodbye, huh?"
"I will accompany you to Pontiac. You'll be safe there."
"I mean in general. You get us back and then you leave, right?" Castiel watched Dean quietly and Dean looked away. "I don't want that."
Castiel did his gentle almost-frown. "What?"
"I don't want you to leave," Dean said. Anger bubbled up at Castiel's misunderstanding which, right now, seemed nothing more than obstinacy. "I don't give a crap about safe. You rescued me from a dragon but that doesn't mean I'm your damsel in distress."
"No, you are no damsel," he replied. "Is that significant? I would have rescued you regardless of your gender, even if the prophecies did state that the heroes were male. Though I would have freed you from the dragon without the prompting of the prophecies –"
"Castiel," Dean interrupted, an amused smile sneaking up.
"Just shut up and kiss me."
With Sam safe and Castiel at his side, Dean slept for a full twenty-seven hours when they got back to Pontiac.
He woke with Castiel in exactly the same position he had been in when Dean had closed his eyes; propped up on one elbow, eyes open, one hand on Dean's chest. Dean flushed at that doting stare but it was pleasure and amusement that heated his cheeks, not shame. His own fairy prince. Who would have thought?
"Have you even moved?" Dean asked, stretching out his fatigue-sore muscles. He felt groggy with sleep but happiness swelled beneath his ribs and made it seem deeply unimportant.
"No," Castiel admitted. "I was comfortable, and I have never shared a bed with a human before."
"Oh yeah? How was it?"
Castiel pursed his lips. "Noisy," he said eventually. "You snore."
Dean laughed and rolled until he could wrap a little closer around Castiel. "Whatever." The comfortable silence curled around them and Dean closed his eyes, considering whether or not to go back to sleep. After a long time, he decided against it, lifting his head instead to meet Castiel's startling blue gaze. "So what happens now?"
Beneath Castiel's skin, Dean could feel his heart beating. He could feel the warmth of his blood pumping, and then the press of lips against his own, the heat of it almost overwhelming.
"I don't know," Castiel said. Dean appreciated the honesty but his mind was increasingly troubled. Castiel crowded into him and smoothed away his frown with silk-soft kisses. "It will not take long for the fairies to come to a decision on their next move regarding humanity. It could be that they still wish to start a war and even if they don't, there will be much for us to do. Until the decision is made it is best you go back to the life you lived before."
Dean nodded. He could definitely do that and now he had the added advantage of a fairy prince at his side. The dragons wouldn't know what hit them. "So how long have we got?"
"Around ten years," Castiel said apologetically, "which is a conservative estimate."
"That's a quick decision for a fairy?" Castiel stared in lieu of a reply and Dean laughed in a surge of relief. "Holy crap, how did you ever get around to deciding to kiss me back?"
"I made that decision as soon as we met."
The frank admission made Dean's chest clench tight around the emotion and if they ended up back beneath the covers well, it was Castiel's fault for being so damn irresistible.
In a few days they would go back to hunting and risking their lives. In a few years there could be a war and the Winchesters would be caught up in the midst of it. The horizon wasn't clear and nothing was certain in Dean's future; but Castiel was here and he was the closest Dean would ever get to his own happily ever after.