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((Supernatural Wincestiel Big Bang)) Something Worth Protecting (Part I)
misha
winnywriter

I never wanted a guardian angel.

I didn't ask for one.

One was assigned to me.

-Mercedes McCambridge


Dean.

Hell was not the fire-rimmed pit described in sermons and Sunday confirmation classes. It was not flame and brimstone like the paintings on Catholic school walls or in the house of that one terrifyingly religious aunt that gave out Bibles as birthday and Christmas presents. Hell was not hot, nor was it cold; Hell had no temperature because it would distract from its true purpose. One was not supposed to feel anything but pain there.

Hell did have a scent, though that was far too gentle of a word to describe it. It smelled of rotting flesh and boiling blood and the overpowering essence of smoke that soaked into the bones of the soul. Every breath drew in more poison, and every exhale left a deep ache in the chest, the stench of death and suffering ripping apart the body and spirit from the inside.

Hell was dark: so dark that it hurt the eyes when they weren't too busy being burned out or gouged out or stabbed out to try and see. Sometimes figures would dance through the shadows, writhing and twisting in endless agony. They were harbingers of more pain to come, embodiments of torture themselves, broken and stripped of any semblance of whatever cheap excuse for humanity existed down in the pit.

Dean Winchester had forgotten what light looked like when suddenly it ripped through the veil, white and hot and so bright he thought his eyes were being burned from their sockets again. It surrounded him, enveloped him in warmth – he'd forgotten that warmth was a welcome sensation, for such a thing did not exist in Hell – and suddenly he was flying, up and up and up, past sulfur and smoke, past chains and hooks, past fangs and claws and shredded souls.

An exuberant cry drowned out the screams and wails and gnashing of teeth: “Dean Winchester is saved!

-

Dean found himself reaching for nothing, blindly clawing at the loose earth around him for an escape route, for air. Dirt clogged his nostrils and ears and mouth, getting under his fingernails and in his hair. There was no up or down; he was so painfully disoriented that all he could do was push through the soil in the only direction he could to try and find salvation.

When his hands finally breached the surface, he hauled himself up with every ounce of strength he had, pulling at the grass under his fingers, sheer desperation driving him farther, until the dirt fell away from his face and sunlight warmed his cheeks. He drew in a ragged breath and groaned with the weight of his renewed life as he pulled himself out of his own grave.

He lay on the grass and breathed, flexing his fingers, absorbing the feeling of the coating of soil on his skin as the sun beat down on him, hot and heavy. Slowly, he opened his eyes.

The light made them sting after being in darkness for so long, but he forced them open anyway, taking in the blue skies above him. He smelled earth and wood and pollen, breathing in the addictive scent, needing it almost as much as he craved the oxygen itself. His skin was dry, the grass prickly and itchy beneath him, getting in his matted hair and clinging to his clothes.

It was hot here. His throat was parched.

Slowly, he hoisted himself up and stared, slack-jawed at the scene surrounding him: the trees had been knocked over, ripped from their roots by some unknown force, radiating out from where he was standing, their branches torn away and their bark stripped from the trunks. It looked like a bomb had gone off here, wrenching the trees from the ground, scorching the grass and blasting new life into him.

His eyes fell on a simple wooden cross, marking what had to have been his own grave. It was, he noticed, untouched by whatever force had caused the surrounding destruction. That was either the result of some very sturdy workmanship (which he doubted, judging by the looks of the marker) or the thing that had raised him – whatever it was – was very devout.

Heat rose up from the road nearby, causing the air to ripple and distort, but Dean could make out a figure in the distance: human, by the looks of it, or at least shaped like one. He stepped forward – his legs feeling weak, but grudgingly willing and able to hold his weight – and left his now empty grave behind, raising a hand.

He tried to call out, but his throat was so dry that no sound escaped aside from a ragged whimper of a cry. He tried to summon up some moisture to his mouth, but it was useless. The figure did not move or reply, and he thought perhaps that it was a mirage of some kind, some trick of his own dehydrated, exhausted brain. But it was all he had to go on out here in the middle of nowhere, so he pushed himself forward, toward the shadow in the distance.

He shrugged off his jacket and wrapped it around his head to shield himself from the sun. All around him was silence, save for the scuffle of his boots on the asphalt and the symphony of cicadas rising up from the heat. Sweat from his brow mixed with dirt and got into his eyes, making it hard to see even as his vision adjusted to the light, and he paused, wiping it away as best he could with the sleeve of his jacket.

When he looked up again, the figure was gone.

“Son of a bitch...” he mumbled to himself, though the words were nearly inaudible and the effort made his throat hurt.

So he was well and truly alone now, or perhaps he had always been; after all, he was starting to think more and more that the figure had been nothing but a trick of his eyes. Regardless, he had nowhere to go and nothing to do except follow this road, so he trekked on, and when he crested the hill, breathing hard, he smiled.

He approached the run down gas station before him with a reserved sense of optimism. It looked like it had been abandoned for months, but when he looked inside he realized with a relieved grin that it seemed well-stocked. Not only that, but it was also completely empty of anyone who might object to what he was about to do for his own self-preservation. Wrapping his jacket around his hand, he broke the glass – no alarm, just as he'd expected – and unlocked the door.

The first thing he went for was the water, unscrewing the cap of a bottle of Dasani and downing the whole thing greedily. His body tingled with relief. He opened another and chugged half of it before perusing the rest of the store with the plastic container in his hand, sipping it slowly.

He grabbed some energy bars and some bags of chips, as well as a few bottles of Gatorade, stuffing all of it into a couple of plastic bags and slinging them over his arm.

The magazine rack caught his attention, and he smirked when he noticed a few new issues of Busty Asian Beauties had come out during his absence; he snatched a few of them as well and crammed them in the bag, and just before he turned away he picked up a newspaper.

It was September, from what he could glean, assuming this paper was at least semi-up-to-date, and it seemed he was still in Pontiac.

A long way from anyone he wanted to see.

-

In the back was an old rusted sink and a scuffed up mirror, and he splashed some cool water on his face and into his hair, trying to rid himself at least partially of the layer of dirt that was caked on his skin. He looked like crap, he realized as he glanced in the mirror: he needed a shave, his clothes were covered in mud and grass stains, and he bet he smelled like he'd rolled around on something dead. Maybe eventually he'd be able to find somewhere to take a decent shower, but for now, he'd just have to deal with being dirty and stinky. He was a man; he could handle it.

What rattled him more about his appearance, though, was how much of the part he didn't look. Considering that he'd been at the mercy of the Hellhounds' jaws last time he recalled being alive and breathing, his body was remarkably unscathed. He ran a hand across his chest and shivered at the memory of the claws ripping and tearing his flesh to ribbons. But he'd been healed, and he felt no scars or lingering injuries.

His shoulder smarted badly, however, which struck him as odd. He was sore all over, but this felt different, like a burn or a fresh tattoo. Curious, he pulled back his shirt.

A hand print.

“What the hell...” he breathed.

It covered his shoulder, red and raised and disturbingly distinct. Whatever had left it, Dean was willing to bet, it was probably the same thing that had pulled him out.

Dean couldn't help but feel a bit violated.

It certainly felt like a burn, though it gave off no significant amount of heat. Carefully, he grazed it with his fingertips, and he winced when it stung. It wasn't just physical pain, not just a normal burn on the skin; it felt different somehow, like it went deeper than just searing his flesh. It was a hard thing to describe, even to himself.

It was almost as if it was a mark on his very soul.

-

He nabbed some cash from the register and headed to the pay phone out front, pleasantly surprised when he heard a dial tone after putting in the coins. Maybe he hadn't given this run-down shack enough credit; it had served him well considering how underwhelmed he'd been by its appearance. He dialed Bobby's number from memory and waited two rings before a familiar voice picked up on the other end.

“Hello?” Dean's chest tightened at the sound of his brother's voice. He was still alive. That was one less thing to worry about. “Hello?” Sam asked again, sounding somewhat irate.

“Sam?”

A pause. Did Sam recognize his voice? He had to, surely.

“Who is this?”

“It's Dean.”

For a moment, Dean thought that perhaps Sam had hung up because the silence on the other end was so complete. But when his brother spoke again, his tone was downright menacing:

“I don't know what you're trying to pull, but if you try calling this number again, you're dead.”

The sharp click assured Dean that Sam had definitely hung up that time.

-

There was no sense trying to call again; Dean figured that Sam probably wouldn't pick up at all, but even if he did, he doubted he'd be able to convince Sam it was truly him – alive and in the flesh – over the phone.

But the call had served to assure Dean of three things: first, he knew that Sam was alive, albeit sounding like he hadn't slept well in weeks; second, he knew that he was with Bobby, or at least at Bobby's place (Dean could only hope that Bobby was alive and kicking right there along with him); and third, he felt relatively sure based on Sam's tone and reluctance to accept Dean's identity as true that Sam probably hadn't struck a deal to get him out. That still left Bobby, of course, but Dean doubted the old man would be stupid enough to ever do something like that.

Either way, there was only so much he could assume from one short phone call, and Dean Winchester had never been one to live on assumptions alone.

-

By another stroke of luck (or fate or God or whatever the hell anyone wanted to call it), Dean happened across an old Buick around the back of the gas station. It was unattended, just like the rest of the old place, and it was a clunker for sure, but it was easy enough to hotwire. Dean got it running in no time, tossing his energy drinks, snacks and reading material in the passenger's seat before speeding off down the barren road ahead of him.

He passed a grand total of one car – a rusty old pickup truck – in his first hour of travel, just after merging onto I-90. The rumble of the car's engine was irregular and unfamiliar, and he longed for the soothing growl of his own Impala.

“Sammy you better be taking care of that car or I swear to God...” he grumbled, glancing in the rear view mirror.

A pair of vibrant blue eyes stared back at him.

Dean slammed on the brakes, car skidding to a halt in the middle of the empty highway, and he spun around in his seat, but there was nothing there looking at him. He looked in the mirror again and saw only his own reflection.

With a sigh, he rested his head on the steering wheel and closed his eyes, mumbling “Get ahold of yourself, Winchester...come on. Come on.” Heart rate slowing and determination revived, he reached over and opened one of the Gatorades and an energy bar, wolfing down the food quickly and chugging back a good portion of the sweet drink before continuing down the long, lonely highway.

-

He pulled up to Singer Salvage fourteen hours later, tired and smelly and having to piss like a racehorse. His eyes burned with exhaustion, dry and red from sleep deprivation. He'd pulled over on the side of the road – not wanting to stop for any long span of time in a musty old motel room – and had tried to get an hour or two of sleep, but he'd been unable to drift off. It had had little to do with the uncomfortable and unfamiliar interior or the car he'd been driving and more to do with the fact that every time he'd closed his eyes, he'd been jerked out of any semblance of peaceful sleep by memories of screams and chains and the stench of rotting flesh. The images had not lingered, fading like passing dreams almost as soon as he'd opened his eyes again, but eventually he'd given up on sleeping in the car and powered on through the night.

The sun was just rising as he approached the door. He figured they'd be up, or at least Bobby would be. Old man always rises with the damn sun, Dean thought with a fond smirk.

Best to knock; it was a bad idea to take seasoned hunters by surprise, but the interior was dark, and the door was unlocked, so after waiting a minute or so with no answer, he slowly opened it and went inside.

“Sam?” he called as he stepped into the dark. “Bobby?” He glanced down just as his boot scuffed up a salt line just inside the door.

He got the feeling that coming inside had been a bad idea.

A pair of stubborn arms locked around his neck from behind, the press of sharp metal cold and biting against his throat as his assailant pressed down on his windpipe, making it hard to struggle and even harder to breathe, especially given how exhausted he was.

Sam stepped out of the shadows, holding a shotgun that was no doubt loaded with rock salt or iron buckshot. Dean stared down the barrels of the weapon for a few moments before looking up at his brother; Sam's face was like stone, but his eyes were ablaze with a fury he'd only seen in him a handful of times. It was a rage he liked to pretend his little brother wasn't capable of.

“Who are you?” Sam asked, gun shaking ever so slightly with the force of his anger. “What are you?”

“You must have a death wish coming in here wearing that face,” Bobby growled from behind him. The hold on his neck tightened, and Dean winced away from the press of the blade.

“Sammy...” he said as calmly as he could. “Sammy, it's me...It's De-” He was cut off by a sudden tug from Bobby, and Sam advanced, still holding the gun aimed between Dean's eyes.

“Dean is dead,” he said. “You're a shifter or a demon or...”

“If I was a demon, how did I cross that salt line, huh?”

“Could still be a shifter...” said Bobby, and Dean held out his arm, fist clenched, palm up.

“Bet you got a silver knife on you,” Dean said, voice raspy thanks to Bobby's unrelenting grip on his trachea. “Go on...cut me. Cut me, Sammy...” Sam's eyes darted up to meet Bobby's for a moment, and Dean felt Bobby's scruffy beard brush against his ear as the older man nodded. Slowly Sam lowered his gun, still keeping it safe in his hand as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a shining silver knife. Dean didn't pull away as Sam pressed the blade against his arm, drawing it across his skin and leaving a red line of blood there in its wake.

“See?” he said. “I'm not a shifter.” Sam's hand clenched around the gun's hilt still.

“Still doesn't rule out something else,” Bobby said, though his voice lacked a measure of confidence from before. “Something new.”

“It's me, okay?” Dean said, growing impatient and anxious. “It's really me.” He looked to his brother again. “Sammy...”

“Don't call me that,” Sam said, almost pleading. He suddenly sounded so tired. “Only Dean calls me that.”

“You were born on May 2, 1983 to our parents, Mary and John Winchester,” Dean said. “Our mom was killed by a demon when you were six months old and I carried you out of that house myself. You went to Stanford on a scholarship, clowns scare you shitless, and your girlfriend was murdered before you got the chance to ask her to marry you...”

The silence that followed was unlike any Dean had ever heard. He could feel Bobby's grip on him loosening incrementally. But it still wasn't enough; Sam's gaze was still hard.

“You gave me a necklace,” he said. “Christmas of '91. Wrapped it in the comic section from the day before...for Dad. Gave it to me instead when he didn't show...” He let out a laugh, wistful and tired, as the memories weighed on his mind.

Finally, Sam let out a breath, the hand around his gun going slack, and Dean saw something shift behind his brother's eyes from fury and pain to tentative hope.  

“Dean...?”

Dean shoved Bobby's arms off of him – the older hunter didn't try to keep him subdued – and went to his brother. He didn't care if he smelled like death or that the movement made his shoulder sting; he couldn't have possibly cared less about trivial things like that.

As he took a step toward his brother he was greeted with a splash of cold water to the face. Slowly, he shook the moisture from his hair and spat out a mouthful. “Holy water?” he asked stiffly.

“Can't be too careful...” said Sam with a sheepish half smile, putting down the flask he'd produced from his pocket. Dean wiped the water off his face, hiding his own smirk as he felt a swell of pride in his chest. His brother was still as on top of his game as ever. He made half-hearted effort to shoot him a powerful stink-eye, and Sam shrugged. “Probably helped the smell at least...”

“Bitch,” Dean grunted. He stepped forward and wrapped his arms around his brother tightly, feeling Sam do the same, the butt of the gun pressing against Dean's back.

“Jerk,” Sam countered, voice heavy with emotion that he seemed too tired to try and hide. God it felt good to hear his brother say that again, to be able to wrap his arms around him. Dean gave Sam a few firm pats between the shoulder blades before pulling away, and Sam took a steadying breath.

“You're alive...” he breathed, tone overflowing with disbelief and eyes shining with tears that he didn't let fall.

Dean shrugged. “I'm just as surprised as you are.”

-

The three of them gathered around the kitchen table. Sam occupied his attention by dragging his fingernails across the grain of the wood, getting that look on his face that Dean knew meant he was deep in thought about something heavy. When Bobby offered him a beer, Dean accepted it graciously and took a long gulp. Sam left his own untouched on the table next to him as Bobby sat between them.

“Hey, thanks for the warm welcome by the way.”

“Like Sam said,” explained Bobby as he opened his own beer. “Can't be too careful. We saw you comin', but we couldn't be sure that it was...you know, you.

“Saw me coming? What, you were expecting me or something?”

“That car you stole doesn't exactly run at a soft purr, Dean,” said Sam. “We could hear you coming a mile out. And when we saw it was...” He trailed off. “Dean, how did you do it? How did you get out?”

“Hey, I don't know any more than you do, okay? I mean, at first I thought maybe you'd made a deal or something. But I guess if that were true, you would have been happier to see me, huh?” Even as he joked, he stared intently at his brother. Sam didn't make eye contact just yet, and something nagged at Dean's insides, some lingering worry that he'd tried to put to bed long before.

“You really think we'd be that stupid, Dean?” Bobby asked. “Cleaning up the mess you made with your damn deal with another one?”

“You didn't, did you?” Dean demanded, still focused on his brother.

“No, Dean...” Sam finally said, his voice rough and more exhausted-sounding than ever. “I tried everything...It's been four months. I did everything I could to get you out. I talked to demons...I pulled every favor I could think of...But nothing helped. I couldn't have cut a deal even if I tried because none of them would stick around long enough to-”

“So you did look into making a deal,” Dean barked.

“You tried to summon a crossroads demon?” Bobby asked almost simultaneously. Apparently this was news to him.

“No I didn't,” said Sam. “I told you none of them would have dealt with me anyway so I couldn't have. But what did you expect, Dean? You think you were the only who could consider every possible option to-”

“I didn't think you would ever be as stupid as me or Dad!”

“Alright, that's enough!” Bobby roared, slamming his palm down on the table and rattling the glass bottles resting on its surface. He glared at the two of them, each of them in turn. “Point is, Dean, you clawed your way out of Hell, and we don't know why. Yesterday, you were cold and dead in the ground and today, you're walking, talking...being a smart-ass.”

“Yeah, I know...” Dean said, lowering the volume of his voice considerably and staring at the moisture beading on the surface of his beer bottle.

“Do you remember anything?” Sam hazarded. “Anything that might help us figure out how you made it back?”

“Nothing. One minute I'm puppy chow, which sucked, and then the next I'm pulling myself out of the dirt, Walking Dead style.” He took another swig of beer before placing the bottle back on the table and twirling it thoughtfully between his fingers. “I'm guessing something pulled me out. Something powerful, too. Back in Pontiac, where you buried me, it looked like a meteor had hit or something. Trees down, grass singed...And ah...” He pulled up his sleeve to reveal the hand print on his shoulder, wincing as the fabric scraped against it. Bobby and Sam both leaned in to get a better look, their eyes going wide.

“Jesus...” Bobby breathed.

“Doubt it was him,” said Dean.

“Well if that was the only mark you were left with, I'd say you were lucky.”

“Yeah I know...Being on the wrong end of a Hellhound's leash like I was and tacking on the three plus months I spent in the ground I should look like a chewed up funeral home escapee or something, but I'm just as handsome as ever.” He grinned. Bobby didn't.

“You think it was a demon?” the older hunter asked.

“Why would a demon want to pull me out unless someone made a deal?”

“I don't know...” Sam admitted. “I'm guessing that once they put you there, they wouldn't have been too happy with the idea of letting you out.”

“Well what else could it have been?” Bobby asked. “Can't be all that easy to break into Hell and make off with one of the souls there. Someone had to have special access or something.”

“Maybe we should call in some help...” offered Sam.

“Help from who?” asked Dean.

“I don't know. Someone who knows about this kind of thing?”

“I don't think we're gonna find many 'experts' on Hell outside of a church, and I doubt a good old fashioned confession is gonna help us much. Unless Bobby...” Dean turned toward the hunter in question, and Bobby shrugged, taking off his hat and wiping his brow.

“I've got some psychics in my address book, sure, but...nobody who deals with this kind of stuff.”

“I think I might know where we need to go,” Sam interjected, and both other sets of eyes turned toward him. “Missouri.”

“What's in Missouri that can help us?” Dean asked.

“No, not the state. Missouri Mosley.”

“In Lawrence?”

“Yeah.”

“You want to go all the way back to Lawrence to visit a psychic we've met once?”

“She's helped us before, Dean. Back when we were investigating our old house. She knows us, and she was friends with Dad. Maybe she might be able to tell us something. And we know we can trust her anyway.”

“Sam has got a point,” said Bobby. “She knew John and she knows you two already...That connection might work in your favor. Besides, if anything, you're going to have to find someone you know you can trust...”

“Can't we trust the people you know?” Dean asked.

“Course you can,” Bobby replied. “But if it's the choice between working with someone you two have never met before and working with someone who already has a connection to you and your family...well, I'd go with the latter.”

Dean sighed, downing the last of his beer. “Fine...”

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