Author's note: Due to non-negotiable narrative needs that arose during the writing of this specific chapter, I have edited an earlier chapter that indicated the Sanctuary was warded against angels, and changed that.
Sam and Dean slept the kind of sleep only possible for those who have defeated a great demon and saved the world. A demon so powerful and corrosive that the faint traces of itself left behind in its stolen vessel threatened to poison their bond. They slept with the kind of peace only granted two young hunters who have looked into each other’s souls and know without question that each belongs to the other, never to be put asunder. Sweet, restorative, dreamless sleep, safe and whole in each other’s arms.
Danny and Juliane lay in bed, sweat-damp sheets tangled around their naked limbs. Danny finally fished the heap of blankets up with his foot and covered them both. Juliane nestled into the crook of Danny’s arm comfortably and stared up at the ceiling. “What do we do?”
Danny sighed. “About Nathaniel?” His lip twitched, like he was saying the name of a loyal family dog bitten by a wild creature and infected with rabies.
Juliane nodded. “What the hell are we going to do?”
Danny brushed the hair back from Juliane’s forehead and kissed it. “I don’t know.”
“Do we keep him locked up forever away from everyone? Like a mental patient? Keep him drugged so he can… can stand it?” She didn’t verbalize the rest of her thoughts. Keep him from screaming as the memories tortured him, locked in his own private hell. She didn’t have to.
Danny pulled her closer, nestling her against his chest, and stroked her black hair. “We’ll figure something out.”
Neither of them said what was on their minds. About what happens to rabid dogs.
Azazel’s stolen vessel did not sleep. Instead, Nathaniel lay curled up on his side, eyes open wide, staring into nothing, face contorted as his tortured mind replayed scene after scene of degradation and horror committed with his own two hands.
He pressed his palms together, brought the tips of his fingers to his lips, and prayed. A desperate, agonized prayer to God to make it stop, or end his life.
Reggie sprawled across his bed, bare feet dangling off the end, blankets half off, exposing his bright red boxer shorts and worn grey Jack Daniel’s t-shirt. His right hand lightly cradled the pistol grip beneath the pillow, out of long habit.
Bobby stood in the living room in the dark.
Still clad in his pajamas, he tested his injured leg. He winced, but the leg was able to bear his weight. He took a few tentative steps. Satisfied, he glanced behind him at the open bedroom door where Reggie slept. Extracting a small black pouch from his army surplus bag, he slipped out of the apartment quietly, surprisingly so for a man of his age and injury.
The door snicked shut with a faint click. Reggie roused instantly, hypersensitive to the slightest change in his environment but not knowing what had woken him. He peered into the living room and saw the unmistakable outline of Bobby’s crutches propped up where Bobby had left them when he fell asleep on the recliner. Satisfied all was well, Reggie went back to sleep.
Bobby made his way quietly down the hallway, moving slowly, keeping his injured leg straight so as not to ask too much of his hurt knee. He reached Nathaniel’s door and pulled out the set of lock-picking tools. Tucking the pouch under his arm, his fingers moved with expert skill, and he had the lock picked in seconds.
He slipped inside and eased the door shut behind him. He stood still for a moment, orienting himself in the darkened room. Then he moved to the bedroom, and silently opened the door.
The bedside lamp was on, and Nathaniel was wide awake, sitting up in bed.
“Oh, thank God.” Nathaniel’s eyes fluttered closed, relief softening the lines of tension on his face. “Thank God. You’re here to kill me.”
Bobby’s eyes widened with surprise.
“It’s alright.” Nathaniel opened his eyes, and a tear slipped down his cheek. “I will never…” He searched for the right word. “…recover. And I would kill myself, but…I haven’t the strength.”
“Suicide is a one-way ticket to hell.” Bobby looked down at Nathaniel with pity. “I can’t let you go out like that.”
Nathaniel’s mouth fell open, face creased with disbelief. “With what I’ve done? Isn’t that what I deserve?”
“That wasn’t you. That was him. You’re not responsible.”
Nathaniel averted his eyes, shame staining his features, and forced the confession out. “Some of it…I liked it.” He looked up at Bobby, eyes wet with tears. “God help me, I liked it.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“I wish I could believe you.”
Bobby walked stiffly toward the side of the bed. “It’s not your fault.” His voice was soft, reassuring, like a father reading his child a bedtime story.
Nathaniel cocked his head, surveying Bobby’s grey-bearded, kindly face. “I admit, I’m surprised out of everyone, it was you.”
“That’s the whole idea.”
“Tell them I’m sorry. Please.”
Bobby’s smile was gentle. “They already know.”
Bobby nodded his assent. His mouth hardened. He knew what he had to do. What had to be done. No one could be expected to live with such horror and pain with no hope of release. It was an act of kindness. But still, he balked.
Nathaniel saw his hesitation, and despaired. “I would never hurt them.” Nathaniel shook his head, and repeated himself, corrected the emphasis. “I would never hurt them. But It.” Nathaniel shook his head no, over and over, as if Azazel was standing before him, ordering him to do awful things. “It wanted to hurt Dean. It blamed Dean for taking his Boy King from him. It wanted to hurt him terribly.” Nathaniel shook at the dark memories inside him, of the cruel designs Azazel had planned for Dean, vividly imagined acts of demonic retribution that sprang fully formed into Azazel’s consciousness when he realized Sam’s love for Dean had ruined everything, visions of causing Dean pain and suffering of the likes Azazel had never inflicted on any soul before, punishing Dean severely for thwarting his plans, derailing Lucifer’s own grand design.
The agony of these images was too much for Nathaniel to bear a second longer, hooked into his consciousness like worms biting their way through his intestines, infecting his blood with desires and urges not his own, making him want to cause Dean’s high-pitched screams, make him beg for mercy that would never come.“If you don’t kill me, I’ll hurt him,” he whispered.
Bobby’s hesitation vanished.
Nathaniel saw the return of his resolve, and nearly sobbed in relief. Bobby picked up the pillow from the bed and gripped it hard, knuckles white. “You ready?”
Nathaniel lay back on the bed. “Yes.”
Bobby held onto the pillow, unmoving.
“Please.” Nathaniel beseeched him. “Help me.”
Bobby took a deep breath, then lowered the pillow and pressed it against Nathaniel’s face. Nathaniel gripped Bobby’s wrists, pulling his hands down, pressing the pillow more firmly against his face.
“God forgive me,” Bobby whispered.
“Stop.” A male voice, low and gritty, rang through the small room.
Bobby’s head snapped around, and he stared at the strange man with piercing blue eyes in the trenchcoat, somehow standing at the foot of the bed. “The hell?” He lifted the pillow from Nathaniel’s face.
“That is not where I am from.” The man’s expression was humorless.
“Who are you? What are you?”
“My name is Castiel. I am an Angel of the Lord.”
Bobby stammered, but no words came out. Nathaniel stared up in awe, rendered speechless, hope dawning in his eyes for the first time since all hope was lost.
“How… how did you get in here?” Bobby asked.
“The wards and sigils are impressive, but this place is not warded against those of my kind.” Castiel approached Nathaniel, eyeing him sadly. Then he switched his focus to Bobby. “You are a good man. I cannot allow you to taint your soul by committing murder. Not even for the most noble of reasons.”
Bobby rubbed his beard. “You’re an angel? Can you…can you help him?”
Castiel tilted his head. “He was ridden by a demon most foul, for a very long time. But I will try.” He pressed the palm of his right hand to Nathaniel’s forehead. Bobby took an involuntary step back as Castiel’s eyes glowed a glacial bluish-white.
The light faded, and Castiel’s eyes returned to normal. His shoulders slumped. “I cannot heal him. The corruption has changed this vessel on a subatomic level. It is abomination.”
Nathaniel’s face fell, heavy with despair. Castiel smiled down at him. “However, your soul is clean. Damaged, yes, but clean.”
“So what are you—“ Bobby began.
Castiel pressed two fingers to Nathaniel’s forehead. “Go, and know the mercy of God.” Nathaniel beamed up at Castiel, peace suffusing his features—and fell back on the bed, stone dead.
Bobby recoiled in involuntary fear. His injured leg buckled, and he fell back against the wall. Castiel’s gaze was instantly upon him, piercing and intense. “Look at a man like that, makes him feel like a bug on a pin,” Bobby muttered.
“We are grateful for what you have done.” Castiel stretched out his hand toward Bobby. Bobby threw his hands up in front of his face, instinctively trying to block his forehead. Castiel frowned. “I mean you no harm.” He placed his hand on Bobby’s left thigh. Again, his eyes glowed blue-white.
Bobby winced and went rigid, then gasped and stared down at his leg. He placed his full weight on it, then raised and lowered his left leg, bending and flexing the knee without impediment or pain. “I’ll be damned.”
Castiel’s brow furrowed. “The entire purpose of my coming here is that you not be damned.”
“You angels are a tad bit literal, ain’t ya.” Bobby hesitated, then rubbed his palms on his pajamas and stuck his hand out. “I don’t know how your kind says thank you, but here’s how I do it.”
Castiel nodded knowingly. “Yes. The hand shake.” Castiel took Bobby’s hand with a firm grasp and shook it precisely three times.
“I… uh, I’m in your debt. Do I… should… am I supposed to say some Hail Marys or quit drinking or something?”
Castiel smoothed his tie flat. “God is utterly indifferent to the human fascination with inebriation. Which is not unique to humans, you know. Monkeys and birds often seek out fermented fruits. It is only a concern what you do when you are drunk.” Castiel looked Bobby directly in the eye. “And you are…” He paused, searching for the right expression. “A happy drunk.”
Bobby looked relieved.
“Just keep them safe. Behave with them like a good father.” Castiel raised his head and looked at the wall in the direction of Sam and Dean’s room. “They will need it.” He was quiet for a moment, then came back to himself. “Also, there is a notebook underneath the mattress. You will want to study it.”
“We cannot interfere directly. In many ways, my hands are tied.” Castiel’s expression was rueful. “But the notebook may prove enlightening in Sam’s quest. And…” Again, Castiel paused, deciding what was safe to say. “Perhaps an old friend in Kentucky will be of some help.” He gave a satisfied little grin, as though pleased with himself for his clever, cryptic clue.
Bobby stuck his hand under the mattress and pulled out a hardcover composition book with a speckled black and white cover. When he turned back to Castiel, he was gone.
Bobby slipped back into his apartment and closed the door with exquisite care, not making a sound. He breathed a quiet sigh of relief, and turned to go back to bed.
Reggie stood in the middle of the living room. His thick grey moustache twitched. “What the hell did you do?”
Bobby spilled his guts to Reggie, leaving nothing out. “You slick son of a bitch, you snuck out of here before I could go do the same damn thing.”
“Yup. You or someone else.”
“You think Dean…”
Both of them remembered how Dean had gone to throw the mother of all punches at Nathaniel, one that would have smashed bone, and had to be restrained.
Reggie nodded, not even needing Bobby to corroborate it. “Yeah. He’d have done it.”
“Should we wait till morning to tell the rest of ‘em?”
Bobby ruminated on the idea. “If we don’t, it’s gonna be like some sort of redneck hunter murder mystery movie. Everyone sneaking out of their room one by one to kill the bad guy except when they get there, he’s already been killed.”
Reggie smoothed his moustache. “I’d watch that movie.”
“Come on. Let’s wake up the boys first.”
Dean woke with a start at the sound of the gentle knocking on their apartment door. He had his knife in his hand before Sam had rubbed the sleep from his eyes. At the sight of Dean on full alert, Sam reached for his knife too. Quickly, they pulled on sweatpants and moved to the door.
Another knock. “Sam. Dean. It’s me.” Bobby’s voice was unmistakable.
They both exhaled in relief, and opened the door. Bobby and Reggie were there, still in their night clothes. “Get some clothes on. Something’s happened.”
Dean stepped closer to Sam, putting his bare arm around him. “What?”
“We’re all safe. It’s just… get dressed. Better if I tell all of you at the same time.”
Reggie smiled at the sight of them holding their twin blades. “It’s alright. You could call it good news.”
Sam and Dean threw on sneakers, t-shirts and flannel shirts, and followed Bobbie and Reggie down the hall.
“Wait. Your leg.” Sam came up behind Bobby and put his hand on his shoulder.
“Yeah. Where are your crutches?” Dean added.
“I’ll explain it all. Just… come on.”
Reggie tapped on Juliane’s bedroom door and gave them a few moments to put themselves together. Sam and Dean sat on the couch, Dean with his arm around Sam’s shoulders protectively. Possessively.
Bobby stood in the common room, and told them everything. Starting with how he snuck into Nathaniel’s room to “put him down.” Dean started when he said that, a peculiar expression flickering across his face.
Sam, ever observant, noticed it, and read the expression on Bobby’s face. “You went to do it first. Before Dean had the chance. You did it to protect him.”
Dean scoffed. “I could have taken that guy in my sleep. What are you talking about?”
Sam pushed his hair away from his face. “Not your body. Your soul.”
“It would have been a mercy killing, but killing is killing. And my soul’s already fucked. With the things I’ve done.” Bobby’s face was etched with sorrow, remembering the boy, the boy that started the whole thing, and other stories that Sam and Dean didn’t know. “Your soul’s still pure, Dean. I’d take another hit, to keep you out of the fire.”
The room fell silent, allowing Dean to absorb what Bobby had gone there to do, for all of them, and for Dean.
“I was gonna do it.” Danny’s voice was rueful. “After she fell asleep.”
Juliane turned, fixing Danny with a disbelieving stare. “I was going to do it. After you fell asleep.”
“That’s why you stayed awake?”
“I couldn’t figure out why you were still up.”
They were about to burst out laughing, when Sam asked, “You said would have been. It would have been a mercy killing. You didn’t kill him?”
Bobby explained. Told of how Nathaniel had been awake when he snuck in, how he begged Bobby to do it. His eyes welled up with tears as he told how Nathaniel had grabbed his wrists and made Bobby hold the pillow over his face harder. And how an angel in a trenchcoat appeared in the room and stopped him. “Said he couldn’t let me put that stain on my soul. He tried to heal him. Wipe his memories of all that demon crap. But he said Azazel had messed up his body so bad, even he couldn’t fix it. So he…” Bobby swallowed hard. “He tapped him on the forehead and sent his soul to Heaven.”
“So he’s dead?” Dean tightened his arm around Sam’s shoulders.
Dean’s eyes closed. His mouth twitched.
“Dean?” Sam squeezed Dean’s thigh gently.
“Good.” Dean opened his eyes. It was the same steely-eyed Dean that had moved silently through the warehouse, killing the demon sympathizers that had taken and tortured Sam. The same Dean that had taken Sam’s broken body from the arms of their careless father and nestled him gently in the back of the truck. The same Dean that had willingly walked into a demon’s lair to save Sam.
Bobby continued, telling how the angel had touched him and healed his injuries. Sam laughed in delight and awe. “Where was he when I was all fucked up?” His voice was light, with no ill will or bitterness, but Dean’s face darkened at the thought that some angelic presence was clearly watching them, but didn’t intervene to save Sam from all that pain he endured as he healed from his assault.
Bobby saw the look on Dean’s face. “You got me, kid. I sure as hell ain’t worthy of that.”
“Dean.” Sam’s voice chastised Dean gently, with love, but firmly. “Bobby got healed, man. That’s awesome.”
Juliane made Bobby sit down and examined him as thoroughly as she could with his clothes on. She palpated his leg, checked his range of motion, listening for crepitus, feeling for stiffness, watching his face for signs of pain.
“I’m telling you, it feels better than it has in twenty years. I wish he’d zapped the other one.”
Dean kept frowning.
“What’s on your mind?” Reggie sat next to Dean.
“Demons, I get. They run around, fucking shit up. It’s what they do. It’s all they do. Evil sons of bitches doing evil shit until someone puts them down. But… angels?” Dean shook his head. “They pop in sometimes, do a little of this, a little of that, but…” He struggled for words. “Sure, this whatever his name is could have healed Sam, or me, or you.” Here, Dean looked at Juliane. “And he didn’t. Ok, so fine. But angels could have saved, I don’t know, everyone in Jonestown, or in the Holocaust, or… I mean, there’s so much evil, so much pain, and they basically bench themselves most of the game?” Dean blew out a breath. “I don’t get it.”
“He said their hands were tied. Couldn’t interfere directly.”
“Ok, fine, but there are literally demons roaming the earth.” Dean rose to his feet, anger driving him. “We got monsters and vampires and wendigos hurting people. Killing people. Where are the angelic supernatural creatures running around doing good? Isn’t that fair? Wouldn’t that keep whatever angel/demon balance they’re all so concerned about? How do the bad guys get a free pass, and the good guys just sit there saying their hands are tied?”
Not one person in the room had an answer.
Reggie cocked his head to the side, eyeing Bobby. “Gonna tell ‘em about the notebook?”
Bobby picked up the notebook he’d brought with him. “Right before he whooshed out of the room, or whatever you call it, he said there was a notebook under the mattress we’d want to look at. Said it might help Sam in his quest.” He handed it to Danny. “It’s full of writing. Real old school stuff.”
Danny cracked the notebook and held it open for Juliane to see. “Sumerian,” they said in unison.
“Some of it. Other parts are something I’ve never seen before.”
“Nathaniel wrote this?”
“More like transcribed, I think. Wrote down things he saw in his head.”
Sam rose to his feet and peered over Juliane’s shoulder at the contents of the notebook. “He said this could help me figure out Azazel’s trick? So me and Dean could cure demons?”
“If that’s what he meant by your quest, and that’s the only thing he could have meant.”
Sam stood up tall, infused with fresh hope at this new lead. “We’ve got to get this translated.”
Danny winced. “Look, we’re good for a few sigils, but we’re not scholars. This… this needs someone at the top of their game.”
“Agreed,” Reggie intoned.
“Funny thing is, that angel had a suggestion for that,” Bobby responded. “He said an old friend from Kentucky might be able to help us.”
“Which old friend?” Reggie frowned.
“Only one person fits that bill.”
Reggie raised one eyebrow. “Katherine Lutrell?”
Bobby blew out a breath. “Yep.”
Reggie broke into a long string of laughter. “Oh, this oughta be good.”
“Who’s Katherine Lutrell?”
Reggie could not repress a grin. “The Almost Mrs. Bobby Singer.”