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Disclaimer: Supernatural and its characters are the property of Eric Kripke. Sadly, I do not own any of these guys.

IMPORTANT AUTHOR'S NOTES: Hi, everyone! So here it is, finally - the grand unveiling of the fic I've been promoting for weeks now! :D

This story takes place after episode 10x03, and then diverges from canon because instead of failing to remove the Mark, Sam's cure actually eradicated it, returning Dean to normal and leaving Castiel as the only member of Team Free Will who still had a problem to deal with (getting his grace back.)

The prologue will hopefully do a lot to explain where everything stands, and after that if you still have any questions, please feel free to PM me with them.

I will be updating this story again tomorrow or Saturday, and once more before July 8th, and after that I will update on the first Thursday of every month. I hope you all will enjoy it! (And I promise the rest of the story will not be nearly this angsty and intense - soon it will be mostly fluff.)

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May 21, 2015

"Sam, are you sure we're headed the right way?" Dean Winchester asked from the back seat of the Impala as his brother guided the car over a long stretch of gravel trying to pass itself off as a road. He gritted his teeth when the right front tire dipped into yet another pothole, cursing under his breath and trying not to think about what all this abuse might be doing to the suspension. "This place doesn't really seem grand enough for Meta-douche to want to hole up in."

"I'm sure," Sam answered evenly, huffing in frustration as the road forked in two and forced him to consult the map again before deciding which way to go. "I checked and rechecked the directions about ten times before we left. It should be just another half hour."

The three of them had been actively hunting for the angel Metatron, also known as the Scribe of God, since October of 2014, beginning the day after the eldest Winchester was successfully cured of the Mark of Cain. The cunning and egotistical ancient being was responsible for a number of unspeakable evils, one of the most recent being the way he had manipulated Gadreel, the angel responsible for allowing sin to infiltrate the Garden of Eden, into killing one of the Winchesters' closest friends right in front of them. Gadreel had believed Metatron when he promised to restore him to his former power and glory, not realizing that all he really intended to do was use the exiled angel as a way to infiltrate the Winchesters' home and then discard him as soon as he became the new ruler of Heaven. Gadreel had come to his senses at the last moment, saving Castiel and many of Heaven's other angels, but he did so at the cost of his own life.

Meanwhile, Metatron had stayed on Earth to challenge Dean, killing the hunter by stabbing him through the chest with an angel blade. He was eventually captured and imprisoned in Heaven, but the damage had already been done, and only the fact that Dean had been branded with the Mark of Cain had enabled him to eventually come back to the ones who cared about him.

Worst of all, though, in May of 2013 Metatron had stolen Castiel's grace, the very essence of what made him an angel and granted him the extraordinary abilities that set him apart from humans. He had then used it as the final ingredient in a spell that cast every last member of the Heavenly Host out of their homes, starting the long chain reaction that eventually led to Gadreel's treachery and Dean's short stint as a demon.

For several months afterward Castiel had been rendered human, living without a penny to his name and jumping from one homeless shelter to another as he fought to survive in a world where everyone around him might be an enemy angel wearing a human face. Then, in November of 2013, he had been taken prisoner by one of his former brothers, tortured in the hope that he might be able to give them information on Metatron's whereabouts. Desperate, he slit the other angel's throat and took its grace into his own body, using the stolen essence of Heaven to restore himself almost to full strength.

However, angels were not designed to use the essence of their brothers and sisters to sustain their own lives; each angel's essence was unique, with millions of possible variations, and each human vessel was chosen to contain only one specific angel. To force another's grace into it was like forcing a transfusion of the wrong blood type into someone's veins – it might appear to help keep them alive for a short time, but very quickly the foreign blood would clot and harden, starving the body of oxygen and suffocating them from the inside out.

This was what had happened to Castiel. The stolen grace he bore inside his body had been gradually poisoning him for a little over a year and a half, the sickness chipping away at more of his strength every day like a deadly cancer. It had begun slowly at first, so slowly that even Castiel hadn't felt anything different about himself except a tendency to become tired more quickly and a permanent loss of his ability to fly. By the previous October, when Sam had asked for his help in locating the demonic version of Dean that had been brought back by the Mark, the angel had developed a hacking cough and a nearly constant fever, although he ignored any discomfort they caused him in favor of finding his longtime lover and bringing him home where he belonged.

Once he knew Dean was safe, though, it was like Castiel's body finally realized how much strain it was under, and all the fight seemed to drain out of him little by little until he was left as weak as a newborn kitten. Ever since that day he had been plagued by endless fevers that left him constantly chilled and exhausted and a harsh, hacking cough that had caused him to spit up alarming amounts of blood on more than one occasion. The two hunters did everything they could to keep him comfortable, but it was useless. Medicines had no effect on any of his symptoms, which was to be expected since this was not a human ailment but was still extremely distressing. Even sleeping on Dean's special memory foam mattress, which the hunter often compared to lying on a cloud, couldn't do anything to alleviate the near-constant aches and spasms that assaulted Castiel's muscles and bones.

After a while, all three of them came to the painful realization that Castiel really was dying, and the only way to stop it was to find whatever remained of his grace and return it to him.

With that in mind the Winchesters began searching every corner of the Men of Letters' archives for a way to track down Castiel's grace, and hopefully Metatron with it, so they could put a stop to this whole screwed-up mess that had been their lives for the past two years. And finally, after months and months of fruitless searching, they'd succeeded in finding a spell that looked like it could reveal the location of the remnants of Castiel's power. The spell had shown them a place somewhere in Arkansas, out in the mountainous, heavily forested areas where no one lived. The three of them set out early the next morning, Sam driving so that Dean could stay in the back with his angel and keep him as calm and comfortable as possible. And the older Winchester, for his part, did his best not to dwell on exactly how unlikely it was that he would ever recover if Cas didn't make it through this.

A strangled cough drew Dean out of his daydreams, and his gaze flicked down to where Castiel lay curled up in the seat with his head resting in his lap. He was hot and drenched in sweat, his reddened cheeks the only spots of color on his ashen face. He trembled incessantly despite being covered with two blankets, and when the car hit another rough patch in the road he moaned softly and shuddered from head to toe, curling his fingers into the edge of Dean's jacket as if begging him to make the pain stop. The moment those over-bright blue eyes began to open Dean leaned forward and shushed him, carding his fingers through Cas's damp black hair and muttering soothing nonsense to him until he drifted back into a fitful sleep.

Once he was sure the angel was resting again, Dean looked up at his brother and in a small, frightened voice said, "I hope to God our intel was right, Sammy. I don't think Cas is gonna be able to hold on long enough for us to start back at square one."

Sam nodded and swallowed hard, staring fixedly at the road in front of him as he pressed the pedal down harder. "I know. But he's going to be okay, Dean. After all, he's Cas. I'm pretty sure he's pulled through more stuff that should have killed him than even we have. And besides, he's got us with him. We're not about to let him go without a fight."

Dean said nothing in response, and five minutes passed in heavy silence. Then suddenly Cas's eyes shot open and he sucked in a wheezy gasp of air, breaking into a fit of coughing and gripping Dean's shirt tighter as he gagged on his own breath. Dean helped him sit up and kissed his temple, gently patting his back until the hacking stopped and then using the pad of his thumb to wipe away the trickle of blood that had run down his lips and chin. A moment later Castiel sighed and slumped against Dean's side and Sam turned his attention back to the road, unable to look into the mirror anymore when he saw the shining trails of tears running silently down his brother's cheeks.

*DeanCastiel*

When they finally reached the location Sam had circled on the map, an old abandoned barn on the edge of an even older stretch of abandoned farmland, a change immediately seemed to come over the three men. The air itself felt heavier, charged with a mixture of excitement, anxiety, and desperate hope, and the sky looked almost like it had darkened solely in response to what it knew what was about to transpire. Even Castiel seemed to sense it because the moment the car pulled in through a gap between two rotten fence posts, both of which had probably been strung with barbed wire at some point, he woke up and stared straight ahead at their destination as if trying to see through the walls to what lay beyond.

"Dean. Sam," he rasped, his fever-bright eyes suddenly clearer than they had been in weeks. "My grace is being held here. I can sense it."

Sam turned off the engine and then twisted his body around to look at the angel, his expression guardedly hopeful. "Are you sure, Cas? How do you know it isn't a fake?"

Castiel paused for a moment, rolling his eyes upward while he thought of the right words to explain, and then answered, "The best comparison I can think of is if you had had one of your hands cut off, and then someone held it up in front of you and asked whether it was yours or not. You wouldn't stop recognizing it as part of your body just because it was no longer attached to your wrist, would you? It's the same with my grace, but the connection is even stronger. It's as vital a part of myself as a human's heart or brain, and no one, even Metatron, could create a copy of it that would resonate with me so strongly."

Once he had finished speaking his head dropped almost to his chest, and he heaved in greedy gulps of air like even that much talking had completely exhausted him.

"Whoa, Cas, you okay?" Dean asked in alarm, one hand coming to rest lightly on his shoulder. He still wasn't used to seeing this once-mighty creature of God reduced to such helplessness. It was hard to believe this was the same warrior of Heaven who had battled his way through endless ranks of demons in Hell to rescue a single human soul, not once but twice; the same one who had been reduced to molecular dust by Raphael and blown to pieces by Lucifer, fallen from Heaven's favor rather than be forced to fight against Dean, and been pulled into Purgatory by raging Leviathans, and had lived to tell the tale each and every time. To see him as he was now… it was almost more than Dean could stand.

Castiel nodded weakly in response to Dean's question, reaching into the sleeve of his coat and retrieving a long, triangular silver blade, which he held up and offered to the hunter.

"I'm… alright…" he panted, still too proud to admit the extent of his pain or weakness despite the fact that he had grown paler just from the effort of speaking. "Leave me. You have… to go and finish this if I'm to have any chance of survival. I'll be safe… here until then."

Dean hesitated for a moment and then nodded, taking the blade from Cas and giving him a soft, chaste kiss before he straightened and backed away from the open door. "Okay. We'll be right back, Cas. And don't you dare croak while we're gone, you understand? If you do, I swear to God I'll kill you."

The angel chuckled softly, recognizing the way Dean always hid worry beneath empty threats of violence, and did his best to give a reassuring smile despite not having any idea what his physical health might have to do with the mating calls of bullfrogs. "I promise I'll do everything I can not to 'croak' while you're in there, Dean."

"Good." Dean stood up a little straighter and took a deep breath before tucking the angel blade into the waistband of his jeans, just beside his gun. "Alright, Sammy. Let's go deep fry this dick's wings."

Castiel pulled the Impala's rear door shut and kept his face neutral as he watched them go, suddenly plagued with an unexpected feeling of loneliness and wondering – not for the first time – if he would truly be able to keep his promise of staying alive until they returned.

*DeanCastiel*

Once they actually reached the place where Castiel's grace was being held, taking it back turned out to be much easier than the Winchesters had originally planned.

It took barely any time at all to pick the rusty locks on the splintering barn doors (although they honestly could have probably just kicked them in with very little effort.) There were symbols drawn in blood across all four outer walls, most of which Dean recognized as sigils meant to keep angels from gaining entry. It made him glad they hadn't brought Castiel. Even if he had somehow found a way to force his way into the building, these wards were severe enough to be dangerous for a healthy angel to pass through; he couldn't imagine what they might do to one as severely compromised as Cas was.

Mixed in with the angel repelling sigils were a few more obscure symbols, most of them aimed at banishing demons and other monsters. Surprisingly, though, it didn't seem that the one guarding this place had had the foresight to protect it against humans, likely because they thought no human would be interested in a run-down place like this. Big mistake.

Once the two hunters were inside, it took them only a few minutes of looking around before they practically stumbled onto their target. The man looked to be around thirty-five or forty, short and a little fat with more than a few traces of gray in his dark hair and moustache. He was sitting on a rickety milking stool behind one of the horse stalls at the end of the center aisle, twirling a glowing glass vial on a chain around the end of his finger, and he looked almost bored as he watched the two them approach.

"Dean. Sam. Good to see you," he drawled, standing slowly and stretching as if he was just getting out of bed, and not being stared down by two people who wanted to kill him on the spot. "I suppose you're here about Castiel's grace?"

"You're damn right," Dean growled, taking a step forward and feeling his fury burning hotter when the angel didn't react with even the slightest bit of fear. "So you can either hand it over and I'll kill you quickly, or you can try to keep it and I'll take it anyway, and then rip your wings out of your back before I filet you alive. What's it gonna be?"

The angel chuckled, rolling his eyes like this was all a very cheesy joke, and then in an instant his face turned hard and cold, his eyes glinting with malice as he sized up the two men before him. Before the Winchesters could react, he had lifted one hand and effortlessly thrown them backwards, sending Dean flying into a shelf filled with old glass bottles of expired veterinary drugs and Sam crashing through one of the walls of a nearby milking stall.

"Or," he added lowly, slipping the vial of grace into his jacket as they staggered to their feet and advanced toward him once again, "I could kill both of you right here and now, like Lord Metatron has wanted to do for some time now." He waited until the Winchesters were almost close enough to touch him and then laughed, giving them a look that said he clearly viewed them as nothing more than ants.

"You boys may think you know a thing or two about angels, but I guarantee you that I'm nothing like that defective reject you two seem so happy to associate with. Lord Metatron is destined to be the one true God, and those who serve him must all embody absolute perfection. I am more powerful than Castiel could ever be, and that is why I was chosen to guard his grace. So you have two choices. You can get on your knees and beg for my forgiveness –"

His words were cut off as Dean lunged forward, drawing the angel blade from his belt and shoving it through the vessel's chest in one fluid motion. The man's eyes and mouth opened wide in horrified shock, and then a violent blue light exploded from his body before he crumpled lifelessly to the floor.

"Or I could just do that," Dean said with a derisive snort, wiping the blood from Castiel's blade on the edge of the dead angel's shirt and kicking a small clump of dusty hay into the corpse's face. "Seriously, what is it with these friggin' angels and their super-villain monologues? We should've started killing them in mid-sentence a long time ago."

"No kidding." Sam crouched down and pushed the man onto his back, searching through his jacket pockets until he found the small glass vial and pulled it out. He opened his hand and offered the glowing vial to Dean, who took it eagerly and immediately started making his way out of the open double-doors. "But is it just me, or did this seem a little too easy?"

Dean hummed low in his throat, still focused on the swirling ribbons of light that danced and swam around the inside of the glass tube with every move he made. "Yeah, maybe, but I don't care. Even if it is some kind of trap, right now I'm just worried about patching Cas up. We'll figure the rest out later, like we always do."

"Right," Sam agreed.

As they neared the car, Dean froze, his eyes narrowing as he spotted a strange mark on the right rear window. A moment later he realized it was an enormous smear of blood, and his heart felt like it might stop. "Oh shit, Cas!" he shouted, and without another word he was running full-tilt toward the Impala, Sam following only inches behind him.

Within seconds he was yanking the door open so that he could get to the angel, and the sight that met his eyes made his heart sink down to his ankles.

Castiel was lying curled up on the seat, right where they had left him, gasping and struggling so hard for breath that he didn't have the strength to look up and acknowledge their presence. A puddle of dark crimson surrounded his head like some horrible parody of a halo, dripping over the edge of the vinyl seats to the footwells and covering the palms of his hands. After a moment, Dean came to the horrified realization that the smear on the window was a bloodied handprint, likely from Cas trying to open the door and ask them for help but being unable to do so.

During the precious few seconds that he had spent piecing all of this together, Dean had already reached into the car and grabbed Castiel by the armpits, hauling him out onto the grass and helping him stay upright as he continued to hack and spit up bright red blood onto the ground in front of him.

"D… De…" Castiel choked, pawing desperately at the hunter's chest as his eyes begged him "Help me, please! I can't breathe!"

"I know, Cas, it's okay, easy," Dean said with as much gentleness as he could force through his own panic. "We got it, buddy, we got it. Here."

He hurriedly flipped the top off of the vial, tipping it into Cas's open mouth and holding his breath as it rushed down his throat like a cloud of glowing smoke. Several tense seconds passed, and then his whole body bucked upward, his back arching as became enveloped in a blinding white light that radiated outward from the middle of his chest. Sam and Dean closed their eyes, unable to stand the intensity of the light, and covered their ears as Castiel's true voice rang out and threatened to shatter their eardrums.

Just seconds later it was all over. Dean cautiously opened his eyes, blinking several times to clear away the colorful dots swimming across his vision, and once he could see again he sucked in a deep breath, an enormous smile spreading across his lips as he gazed upon his angel.

Castiel was once again standing tall and strong, stretching and flexing the muscles in his back and shoulders as if reacquainting himself with the feeling of having healthy, functional wings. His skin had lost all traces of fever and pallor, returning to its usual light, slightly-tanned tone; his dark locks were back to looking like they normally did, clean and shiny but eternally mussed in a way that Dean had affectionately labeled his "permanent sex hair," and his clothes had returned to their usual state of being both completely spotless and slightly rumpled at the same time.

In about two seconds Castiel found himself being crushed between two very strong pairs of arms in a double bear hug. He chuckled and returned Sam's hug first, giving him a few pats on the back that felt only slightly awkward after all these years, and then turned his attention to Dean just in time to find himself being kissed more desperately and lovingly than he could ever remember. He returned the gesture with equal enthusiasm, and even though it only lasted a few seconds, he was breathless by the time they parted.

The moment they separated Dean wrapped an arm around him, giving a loud, relieved sigh and patting the hood of the Impala as he opened the driver's side door. "Well what the hell are we still doing here?" he asked cheerfully. "Cas is better, there are steaks at home waiting to be cooked, and there's a Game of Thrones marathon on HBO tonight. C'mon, let's get our asses back to the bunker already!"

Sam hurriedly obeyed, hopping into the passenger seat as Dean turned the key in the ignition and started the engine, and Castiel gave the side of the Impala a gentle tap that instantly removed all traces of the bloody mess he had made before sliding into the backseat. After months without his wings, he honestly wanted nothing more than to fly himself home, soaring through the skies for hours until the Impala reached Lebanon. But when he saw how genuinely cheerful Dean was, the way he was smiling in a way Cas hadn't seen from him in years, he just couldn't bring himself to leave them.

Feeling content in a way he hadn't in any recent memory, Castiel closed his eyes and allowed himself to doze off, the sound of the Impala's tires sailing over the long, dark highway lulling him into a dreamless sleep.
Please leave a review. Reviews keep me writing. :)
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:iconscifiangel:
Scifiangel Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2015
WONDERFUL.
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:iconzanazira:
ZanaZira Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you. :)
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:iconmagicrat:
MagicRat Featured By Owner Jul 13, 2015
This is really well done. You have a real talent for story telling. I love this so far - can't wait to see where it goes.
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:iconzanazira:
ZanaZira Featured By Owner Jul 13, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you! I'm so glad you think so. I worry sometimes that my writing style is too stiff or wordy, and maybe that's just because I'm my own worst critic, but still - it means a lot that you say so. :)
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:iconmagicrat:
MagicRat Featured By Owner Jul 13, 2015
No it's not stiff. Like I said you have a good style. You do have to be careful of replacing names with things like 'the hunter', but it looked good to me.
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:iconzanazira:
ZanaZira Featured By Owner Jul 13, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
I'll definitely watch out for that. And I'll probably go back sometime this week and edit those chapters a little so I can just use their names instead of substitutions. 
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:iconmagicrat:
MagicRat Featured By Owner Jul 13, 2015
Yeah replace some of the substitutions with names. :) Let me know when the next one goes up.
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:iconzanazira:
ZanaZira Featured By Owner Jul 13, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
I will. It's scheduled for August 6th (I update on the first Thursday of the month after getting these first few chapters established, since Castiel is the Angel of Thursdays.) ;)
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:iconsongbird21:
songbird21 Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2015  Professional Artisan Crafter
Not much to go on yet but well written so far. :)
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:iconzanazira:
ZanaZira Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you! I'm glad you're enjoying it. I plan to update either late tonight or tomorrow, so you'll have more to go on soon. ;)
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:iconcarmillapoisonberry:
CarmillaPoisonberry Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2015
So far so good! Looking forward to more!
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:iconzanazira:
ZanaZira Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you! I should be updating again either tonight or tomorrow, so you won't have to wait long. :)
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:iconcarmillapoisonberry:
CarmillaPoisonberry Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2015
Sweet!
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:iconjaymzikwe:
JaymzIkwe Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2015
Very well written. Would love to read more. :)
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:iconzanazira:
ZanaZira Featured By Owner Jul 2, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
Thank you so much! I'm glad you're enjoying it so far. I'll be updating again tomorrow or Saturday, so you will definitely get to read more soon. :)
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:iconjaymzikwe:
JaymzIkwe Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2015
Yay! :D I'll be looking for it.
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