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((Supernatural Wincestiel Big Bang)) Something Worth Protecting (Part IV)

Head, neck, chest, legs, arms, fingers. Nothing broken, nothing missing. Still alive, as far as he could tell. Well, that was something, at least.

“Dean?” he called. No response.

The darkness around him began to shift and recede, revealing utter destruction. The windows were shattered, picture frames in pieces on the floor, chairs tipped over and tables flipped. To his right, Castiel shifted, hauling himself up from the ground, folding his wings behind him with a groan, his shoulders hunched and rounded, as if he was suddenly bearing a heavy weight on his back, and his brow furrowed.

Dean was nowhere to be seen.

Dean?” Sam cried again. There was no body, no trace of him anywhere. He was just gone, just like that, like something had reached in and plucked him from Missouri's house and taken him away.

“He's gone...” Sam turned and looked at Castiel; the angel suddenly looked forlorn, expression drawn as if something pained him.

“Gone where?” came the obligatory question.

“I couldn't get here in time,” said Castiel, his words heavy with what sounded like sorrow, his gaze distant. “I was too slow...”

Sam couldn't stop himself; he lunged forward, grabbing the lapels of Castiel's trench coat and slamming him against the wall with enough force to rattle the door frame. Castiel barely flinched, still staring through Sam rather than at him. Somehow, it only made Sam more distressed. “Where is he?” he demanded, knuckles pressing into Castiel's chest without regard for the angel's power – it was power enough, certainly, to throw Sam off without much effort, but Castiel did not move. “What happened to him?”

“I wasn't fast enough,” Castiel said, his voice nearly a whisper now, his eyes out of focus. He went slack in Sam's grasp, as if all the energy was gone from him and he was left hopeless and bereft.

Sam's heart galloped in his chest.

Behind him, Missouri stirred, groaning as she tried to pull herself up onto the couch from the floor. Sam pried his fingers from Castiel's coat – the joints stiff from the vice-like hold he'd had on the angel just moments before – and went to her, leaning down to help her up.

“Are you alright?” he asked. “Missouri?” Her gaze was unfocused, and she mumbled incoherently, loosely clutching at Sam's sleeve as he hovered over her, helping her lay down on the couch. “Can you hear me? Missouri, can you hear me?”

“This woman...” Castiel mumbled, stepping up behind Sam and looking down at her. “Her sight goes far beyond the average.”

“Yeah, she's a psychic,” Sam said, gaze shifting erratically between Missouri and Castiel. “She was helping us. What was that thing? What did it do to her?” He couldn't get much further in his questioning before Castiel pushed him out of the way with renewed vigor, laying his hands on either side of Missouri's face as her eyes stared up past him, glazed over and rolling back and forth.

“Her name,” Castiel demanded. “What is her name?”

“Missouri,” Sam answered.

“Missouri...” Now Castiel addressed her, staring at her intently for a moment before closing his eyes, his brow furrowing in concentration. “Missouri, tell me what you saw. Help me follow the trail...”

“What are you-”

“Quiet, Sam,” Castiel barked, and the rawness of his voice caused Sam to balk, falling silent. He watched in rapt silence as Castiel mumbled words that he couldn't understand: some other language that sounded ancient and unearthly, full of power beyond human comprehension.

“Fast...so fast...” Missouri rasped moments after Castiel fell silent. “Came so fast...” Sam fell to his knees beside her, next to Castiel, leaning in to hear better. “Came so fast...on the wind...like fire...fire and light...so bright...”

“What is she talking about?” Sam asked darkly. Castiel did not respond to him, his eyes still closed, jaw set tight. Realization spilled over Sam like a cold tide. “Is she talking about what took Dean? Do you think she saw it? Knows what it is?”

Quiet,” Castiel commanded again, and his voice echoed inside Sam's head like the last note of a climactic symphony, otherworldly and powerful beyond description. Sam fell silent, as if there was any other choice.

“It came for him...the broken spirit...Gripped his soul tight and took him so far...” Missouri visibly shuddered beneath Castiel's touch, and Sam found himself wondering if this was hurting her, like Castiel was dragging these words from her throat through sheer force, but he couldn't think to stop it. He needed to know; he was reeling from all the questions and uncertainty, and if Missouri knew something – anything – about what had happened to Dean...how could he think about getting in the way?

“What took Dean?” he found himself asking, and this time, Castiel said nothing; the angel's fingers pressed harder against Missouri's skin, as if it was becoming more difficult to accomplish whatever it was he was trying to do.

“Powerful...” Missouri whispered, her voice almost inaudible now. “So powerful...too powerful...Came for him...came for the power...”

What took my brother?” Sam pleaded, leaning over her, staring down at her and unable to tear his gaze away.

Missouri's eyes closed, and she went slack beneath Castiel's grasp. The angel let out a breath and moved away from her, standing and stretching his neck thoughtfully. Sam stared at Missouri; she was so still, and looked so...peaceful, that he had a hard time believing that what had occurred just moments ago was actually real.

“Is she...” He trailed off.

“Resting,” Castiel said. “I thought I might be able to tap into her sight, to find the trail of what took Dean.”

“And what is it?” When Castiel remained silent, Sam stood up, stalking toward him. “Dammit, something just swooped in here and took my brother, now tell me what the hell it was!”

“I don't know,” Castiel said, whirling around to face Sam. “It was powerful...more powerful than I ever could have imagined. I sensed it coming and tried to get here in time, but...it was too fast.” He glanced over at Missouri a moment before looking back up to meet Sam's gaze. “I was just barely able to protect you all.”

“Protect us? Dean is gone-

“Taken,” Castiel corrected morosely.

“Taken where?”

“I don't-”

“Don't say that!” roared Sam.

“You would be wise to change your tone, Sam,” Castiel barked, gaze suddenly going hard as he squared his shoulders and puffed out his wings. Somehow, despite being a head shorter than Sam, the angel suddenly looked worlds more intimidating, eons of knowledge and power radiating from his thin frame.

“Sam?” The small voice from behind him made him turn, also catching Castiel's attention at the same time. Missouri put a hand to her head, trying to sit up and wincing in apparent pain. Sam went to her, quickly brushing away some debris and kneeling by the couch.

“Don't try and get up, Missouri,” he said. She relaxed again, but her gaze was suddenly heavy with sadness and worry.

“Dean...” she mumbled. “Is he...” Sam felt his face fall. He didn't have the will to shake his head, but Missouri understood anyway. “Oh...oh no...”

“Do you remember anything?” Sam asked, using all the willpower he could not to sound desperate. “Anything at all?” Missouri shook her head no.

“It's a blur...I sensed something coming, just for a second. It was powerful...more powerful than anything I'd ever imagined. It went straight for him. Straight for Dean, like it wanted him.” Sam looked over at Castiel, shooting him a questioning glance, but Castiel's gaze remained stoic, unchanged.

“You...” Missouri said, now looking past Sam and staring at Castiel with wonder in her eyes. “You're that angel, aren't you? The one that raised Dean from the Pit...”

“I am Castiel,” he replied with a stiff nod. Missouri smiled.

“You're beautiful,” she breathed. Castiel shifted uncomfortably.

“Aesthetics are of no concern to me,” he said. “While I appreciate the compliment, my outer appearance is not of import.”

“No, I'm not talking about your face or your body,” she said knowingly. “Never seen an angel before, but I can believe it. I can see you...the real you, and you're beautiful.” Castiel was silent for a long moment, looking thoughtful. He cocked his head to one side.

“Your sight is very powerful,” he finally said.

“Not powerful enough to see what took Dean,” she admitted sadly. “Everything that boy's been through, and now this...It just isn't right.”

“It's not your fault,” Sam said, trying to sound as sincere as possible; it was not easy considering how his heart was still racing. He didn't even know if Dean was still alive or-

No, he couldn't think about that now. Dean was alive. He had to be. His brother had survived Hell, had been raised up in the face of such astronomical odds – in the face if impossibility, even. This was not enough to kill him. He was alive out there, somewhere, and he needed Sam's help. And dammit, Sam was going to do something about it this time. Maybe he hadn't been able to do anything to get Dean out of Hell, but he was not going to sit idly by and wait for another miracle.

Castiel was beside him again before Sam even realized the angel had moved. “You should rest, Missouri,” he said. Sam blinked, and suddenly, the house was back to its rightful state, everything intact and in place.

“Whoa, did you-”

“A simple task,” Castiel assured him. He turned from Sam again, reaching for Missouri and placing two fingers on her forehead, like he had with Sam and Dean the night before at the Motel. “Rest, now, Missouri.” At Castiel's touch, Missouri closed her eyes, head resting back against the pillow as her breath fell into a steady pattern.

Castiel straightened up, taking a few steps toward the door. “She won't remember this,” he said.

“What?” Sam scoffed. “What, you just wiped her memory? Just like that?” He advanced toward the angel, and Castiel turned toward him, unflinching. “Why? She might have known how to find Dean. She could have helped-”

“She knew nothing, Sam. The memory of what happened here was only a burden to her, and perhaps dangerous.”

“Do you think whatever took Dean would come back to finish her off for knowing too much?”

“It's a possibility.”

“Well then we can't just leave her here alone. We have to protect her-”

“That is not my concern,” said Castiel, turning from Sam again. Anger flared in Sam's gut.

“She helped us! What, do you just not give a crap about any humans who aren't in your protection?”

“Dean Winchester is my priority,” Castiel growled. “And I promise I will do everything in my power to get him back. It is my duty as a guardian angel. But if I'm going to do that, I can't worry myself with every human you choose to drag into things.”

“We didn't drag her into anything! We went to her for answers because you sure as hell didn't seem willing to give us any-”

“I told you everything you needed to know,” Castiel replied harshly. “There was no way I could have foreseen this. If I had...” He trailed off, suddenly seeming deflated, less powerful than before, as if some of that cosmic strength had ebbed away. Maybe Sam was just imagining it.

Castiel's eyes were somewhat softer as he said, “I assure you, Sam, I will save Dean. I did before, and I will again, as many times as I have to...”

The sincerity of Castiel's voice surprised Sam, though he wasn't entirely sure why. Of course if Castiel was Dean's guardian angel, he would feel some sort of drive to protect Dean, perhaps something akin to a parent protecting their young, even. But it settled unnaturally in Sam's gut; seeing such a mysterious creature, who'd they'd only just met the night before display such a desire to save Dean that Sam had previously thought was reserved only for family and the like felt odd to him. But it didn't change what he knew he needed to do.

“No,” Sam said plainly, and Castiel cocked an eyebrow.

“No what?” he asked.

“I mean, I'm not letting you do it alone.”

“Sam, while I appreciate your offer of assistance, there is not much you can-”

“Look, don't even start, okay?” Sam said, fists clenching in a mixture of anger and determination. “I don't care what this thing is, and I don't care if you don't think there's anything I can do. Dean's my brother. I just got him back, and whatever it is that took him...” He took a few shaky breaths, trying to keep his voice steady; it was no easy task with all the fury seeping into it. God, he was angry. He was so angry. He was angry at Castiel for failing to protect Dean, and angry at himself for the very same reason; angry at Dean for making that stupid deal in the first place, and angry at God or Fate or whatever was running the show for thrusting all this shit on them. But at the moment, he could only channel all that anger into one thing, and that one thing was the only purpose that might make a difference in the grand scheme of what was going on.

“Whatever that thing was,” Sam said, “I'm gonna help you kill it. Because that's what Dean would do, if it had taken me instead.”

Castiel regarded him intently for so long that Sam almost squirmed under his gaze, and finally, the angel sighed. He lifted his hand, and between his fingers appeared a piece of what looked to Sam like parchment.

“I'll need a few things,” Castiel said, handing it to him. When Sam looked it over, he realized that it was a list: herbs, oils and other ingredients, including, Sam noticed almost immediately, human blood.

“What's this for?” he asked.

“A ritual,” Castiel replied. “Specifically a summoning.” Sam swallowed thickly.

“A summoning for what?”

“Not the thing that took your brother. I'm afraid it isn't that simple. If it were...” Castiel stopped there, letting out a small sigh. “I think I know someone who may be able to help. Someone who has ties to many corners of the supernatural and may have the information we need.”

“And they can lead us to Dean?” Sam asked hopefully. “Or whatever took him?”

“With any luck.” Sam nodded. Now was not the time to let his emotions get the better of him. Instead, he had to let them strengthen him, drive him to do what he had to in order to save Dean.

If he had to go to Hell and back a thousand times, he would do it.

“I'll get it,” Sam said with all the confidence he could muster.

“Good,” Castiel said. “I'll return to you tonight.” And with that, the angel was gone.

As Sam picked up Dean's car keys from the floor and headed out the door to the Impala, he suddenly felt very alone.