Characters: Dean, Castiel
Content: Graphic violence
Spoilers up to: 4.01 -- Lazarus Rising
Word Count: 1900
Notes: Written for this contest. My prompt was 'blood'.
Not that I have that much to offer
God knows I have so much to gain
From the harvester of hearts
From the harvester of pain.
-- Rufus Wainwright
When Dean Winchester was three years old and walking with undue confidence on unsteady feet, he tripped on the small set of stairs that led up to the narrow front porch of the only house he ever lived in for more than six months. It was only the bottom step, taken with too much haste on a day when the sun was too bright and the grass too green to move toward with any kind of slowness or care, but the concrete was unforgiving on soft hands and knees. It split open his chin, knocking his top teeth through his bottom lip. It hurt, but he had a little brother coming who he'd have to look after soon, his dad said, so he had to be tough, be strong for Sammy. So he didn't cry. At least, not until his mom put a stinging cream on his skinned palms. She didn't care when he cried, and besides...it hurt.
The experience left behind three things: a scar, a permanent carefulness for where he placed his shoes, and a tiny smatter of blood.
Dean didn't remember when he'd gotten the nearly invisible notch in his stubble. Occasionally, girls would ask about it, and he'd always shrug. Could've been on one of any number of hunts.
Watching where he stepped never led him wrong, later in life, though it might've served him better if he'd done it more often in the metaphorical sense rather than just the literal.
The blood on the pavement washed away a few days later in a light mist of rain. There was one drop less than had been there before, but no one was counting.
When Dean Winchester was six years old and touching things he shouldn't, he sliced his finger open on a knife as long as his arm. It clattered noisily on the bedside table before thudding down on the carpet. The sound brought John from the bathroom in a flurry of panic, fly undone and eyes wide with images of his oldest clutching clumsily at gaping, ragged-edged wounds. But the cut was longer than it was deep, and not very long at that, and though he bled messily on the bedspread it was surprise more than pain that made him look so pale in the thin yellow light. John's worry flipped easily around into anger, his questions into demands, his assessing ministrations into a rough, clutching shake of Dean's shoulders. He shouted until Sammy began to cry, and then he threw up his hands and disappeared out the front door. He didn't come back for two hours.
Dean tucked his sniffling little brother beneath his arm and sucked his finger clean. The injury was minor, and left no mark behind, but Dean never again picked up a weapon that wasn't his.
They piled into the impala the next day and never went back.
The Winchesters never cleaned the bloodstain from their blankets, but they didn't have to.
Neither did the maid.
When Dean Winchester was eleven years old and running a mouth he never quite learned how to control, he got into a fight at school. He won, of course. Other kids didn't know the things he knew, weren't put through daily PT routines and taught how to handle guns and knives and their own two fists. He was light on his feet. He was strong. He was well-trained, and he took down three bigger, older boys without any trouble. One of them got in a lucky hit to his jaw that knocked out the last of his already wobbling baby teeth, but it gave him the satisfaction of spitting a mouthful of frothing red onto the pale dirt of the yard. He'd always appreciated anything that made him look a little meaner, a little tougher. No one would argue that Dean -- even at eleven -- didn't look menacing with one missing cuspid and the rest of his grin stained scarlet, hands raised in an easy fighter's stance and his green eyes ablaze.
The boys remembered Dean for the rest of their lives. Dean remembered the boys for the rest of the week.
The blood disappeared from the ground in the still, pre-dawn hours of the very next day.
When Dean Winchester was fourteen years old and playing too fast and too loose with too few silver bullets, he lost a wrestling match with a werewolf and ended up a few inches of flesh and bone away from having his heart torn out. John was quick with a gun (no such thing as an ex-marine) but not quick enough. By the time he heaved his sobbing, hysterical youngest away from his prone firstborn -- Sam's fingers slippery with Dean's blood on the leather of his jacket -- Dean was holding his own wounds shut with trembling hands. Every beat of his heart was measurable in the hot wetness that poured out from beneath his palms to soak his shirt afresh.
John pulled his pale, barely-conscious boy into his arms. He carried him five hundred yards to the car, through forest and field and over warm tarmac, a trail of droplets pattering out behind them like breadcrumbs, all the while whispering the only comforts he knew.
Good, you did good, Dean, you did real good.
I gotcha, son. You're gonna be fine.
Blood still stained the grass black a week later, but none of it was Dean's.
When Dean Winchester was twenty-seven years old and learning all over again what it meant to be a brother, the impala was sideswiped by an eighteen wheeler. It crushed her frame and destroyed her engine and the shredded the fine leather of her seats, but the real damage only became clear later, when Dean -- in spite of Sam's begging -- refused to wake up. Father and son hung by his bedside with identical expressions of bewildered grief, John's hands limp in his lap, Sam's fisted in the hem of his shirt. They watched until they couldn't watch anymore, and even then, Sam stayed. He sat hunched in his chair, shoulders up by his ears, and stared at Dean's closed eyes, the mechanical rise and fall of his chest, as though the intensity of his gaze alone would keep his heart beating.
Bobby Singer towed what was left of the car to his scrap yard.
There was less blood in the folded back seat than there should've been, but there was more than enough to drive the old hunter unerringly back to his bottle.
When Dean Winchester was twenty-nine years old, he died.
Sam ferried as much of his body as he could bear to go back for into the car they grew up in, the car Dean had rebuilt, settling him down as though his brother could still feel the gentleness of his hands. There were parts left behind, little globules and slices and torn, meaty chunks that Sam couldn't bring himself to handle and which didn't matter anyway, because Sam wasn't going to salt and burn this corpse. God help him, he hoped Dean would haunt him.
When Dean Winchester was four months and forty years into Hell, he was saved.
In the pit, Dean had only the approximation of a body, no different from that of any other soul. A demon-wrought cage of dense flesh and stripped nerve endings and soft skin that gave easily beneath the press of razors and sprayed more wet, steaming, sticky blood than any single earthly human could ever contain. He was one tarnished soul in a great basin of congealing, squirming, writhing agony, in a legion of lipless, toothless mouths that shrieked and gibbered and screamed and begged, reaching out with broken hands to the angels as they passed by, crying save us, please save us, oh god save us, make it stop, make it stop.
Dean did not ask for salvation. He watched the warriors of heaven with small, muddy eyes, saw the ripples of light they sent through the thick, tarry blackness of Hell and cast down on the continents of viscera floating in the seas of bile, shimmering like sun through water, and said nothing at all.
He turned away long before they reached him, turned to his rack and his work. He didn't look up when heat melted the layers upon layers of thick tissue and fat away from his back. Only made a muted gurgle when something reached around his too-long spine into the cage of his too-many ribs and curled around a part of him that he hadn't even realized he had, because it didn't hurt.
He lost feeling first in his blunt, long-nailed fingers, then the tip of his flat nose, then his legs, their knotted joints buckling, and maybe it wasn't feeling he was losing, but pain. He couldn't tell the difference anymore.
Then everything was nothing, and none of it mattered.
The moment Dean passed out of Hell was completely sightless, utterly soundless. There wasn't smothering darkness, or all-encompassing whiteness, or silence. There was only the absence of sight, the absence of sound. He was a soul without a vessel, senseless, surrounded on all sides by a void.
No, not a void.
Surrounded by Grace.
Cradled in it, like a newborn in the arms of it's father.
Castiel did not recreate Dean Winchester. He rebuilt him.
By the time he lifted the soul back to the worldly plane, the body to which it belonged was no longer intact. Four months of decay had eaten away at the muscle and pulled shredded skin tight, eyes sunken to nothing, fingers curled into claws, teeth bared, clothes hanging loosely on a hollowed-out frame. Castiel was a healer, but there was nothing left to be healed. It was just dust. Dry, bloodless bone.
So Castiel tucked the soul close, pulled the thread of its past from the knotted tangle of time, and followed where it led him. Walked the path of Dean's life in reverse.
Everywhere he went, the angel watched his charge. Watched him fight, watched him kill, watched him slash and salt and burn and exorcise, watched him save men and women and children and march on to do it all over again, watched him leave behind parts of himself he never missed and then bent to collect the still-warm evidence before moving on, moving deeper, moving earlier. Castiel watched him heave his little brother from the path of danger just to take it himself, watched him learn how to drive, how to shoot, watched him lose his first tooth and his last, watched him fumble a blade too big for his hands, watched him run from a burning house with a baby clutched in his arms, watched him peer over the edge of a crib, watched him get his first scar, watched him bawl in his father's arms, watched his mother cradle her belly and smile gently at a little, blue-eyed statue of a cherub, murmuring, Angels are watching over you.
And then, with what he had gathered and what he had learned, from the skin of young knees to the brightness of his smile, Castiel reconstructed Dean Winchester.
Who are you?
Yeah, I figured that much. I mean what are you?
Castiel looked up at him then, at a face that seemed too old, too worn, to belong to the child who had sprinted so joyfully into the sun, and thought, for one puzzled moment, You don't know?
But what he said, when he looked into Dean's eyes -- the eyes of the dutiful son, of the Righteous Man, of the good man, eyes he'd wrought from blood Dean had spilled rescuing a girl he barely knew from a curse of mirrors and death -- was,
You don't think you deserve to be saved?