There’s been half a dozen similar stories in the past few months: a child trafficking ring in a state up north was busted and all the men holding the children were discovered either dead or comatose; an abusive father of two young girls was dropped off at the steps of a police station, reduced to a drooling crippled mess; an anonymous call about a factory with underage workers, and when the authorities arrived they found the teenagers huddled in the corner and the burnt, sightless body of the boss under the desk.
“He saved us,” the teenagers were quoted as saying in the article. Similar words used in the most recent news where a local gang that was using eighth graders to sell their drugs was uncovered in the same mysterious pattern. “It was this man...he just came in like the wind,” said Timothy Grant, one of the 14 year olds who was a runaway that had been promised protection by the gang but was then forbidden to contact his parents. “Everyone who ever hurt us was….gone. And he said we could go home now.”
Sam closes the laptop with a sigh. The descriptions in the reports vary, but there are always a few that are consistent: a man with inhuman speed, and the glowing light that either destroys the evildoer or heals the injured. It could be a rogue angel, or one of Chuck’s little comebacks like Lilith.
He ignores the other option, the faint suspicion niggling in the back of his mind.
No. It can't be.
Whoever it is, he’s finally close to finding them. They’ve been smart; security footage has shown that they change cars frequently. The most recent one was a blue pickup truck left under an overpass in the next town. Sam has been staying in the area, checking headlines and talking with local police to see if they’ve seen anyone with a penchant for dispensing judgement on those who hurt the innocents. Like some kind of vigilante, Sam thinks as he pulls up a few feet away from the dark outline of the barn. He got a call from the lady at the diner across from the motel he’s been staying at, saying her friend saw something outside the abandoned Miller farm. It’s probably nothing, but he's here to check, just to be sure.
The first floor of the barn is empty but Sam knows that someone’s definitely here. There’s a flicker of light in the loft above and the muffled sound of grunting. Sam puts the flashlight in his mouth and ascends the ladder carefully. He keeps one hand free and on the hilt of the angel blade in his jacket. As he gets closer to the top he sees a pair of black shoes and the bare, bloodied feet of another man tied to a chair. The man with shoes has his back to him; he looms over the seated man, one hand pinning his shoulder against the spine of the chair.
Sam reaches the last rung of the ladder in time to clearly see the standing man shove his hand into the other’s chest. Light swirls around the invasion, blazing and white-hot, before he withdraws his hand. The man in the chair slumps back, eyes blank and jaw slack.
He knows who it is even before he turns around. He always knew, in a way. “Cas?”
Cas glances back at him with a twinge of surprise in his eyes before he turns back around. “Sam.”
Sam steps closer to the man in the chair. His fingers are still close to the angel blade in his jacket. “Is-Is he dead?”
“No.” Cas keeps his back to him, folding up a map on the wooden table at his side. He sounds strange. Frigid. “That would be a mercy he doesn’t deserve.”
“W-What are you doing?”
“No, I mean--that’s not--” Sam rubs a hand over his face. “You’ve been doing all of this? All those people--you killed--why, Cas, why are you doing this?” He knew Cas must be devastated after Jack’s death, after Chuck’s betrayal, and some kind of subsequent fallout with Dean, but the reality of what he's been doing still feels like being hit by a tank.
“I’m saving people. Children,” he adds.
So it is about Jack. “Cas,” Sam moves closer, trying to sound placating. He puts a hand on Cas’ shoulder. “I know losing Jack wasn’t easy. I miss him too but this isn't--”
Cas whirls around, eyes burning blue, and Sam finds himself being hurled across the room, crashing into the wooden boards of the wall before landing hard on the ground. He gasps, trying to find his breath, and looks up to see Cas hovering above him, palm outstretched, face wreathed in fury. There’s a slight pressure on Sam’s shoulders; he’s not being pinned to the wall, but it’s enough to tells him that he absolutely will be if he tries to move.
“C-Cas?” Sam breathes. Maybe he's possessed, maybe Chuck is controlling him. He has to get through to him before it's too late. "It's just me."
“Don’t talk about Jack that way,” Cas says, voice low and lethal. “I know what you did. He told me everything.”
“What are you talking about?”
The shadows darken around Cas’ face. “You prayed to him. He was locked in that box because he answered your prayer.”
Oh. This isn't someone else manipulating Cas, this is really him. Sam feels the tug of shame sloshing in his gut but he brushes it aside and instead makes a faint attempt to rise, only to feel the firm nudge of being pushed back. “Look, I know it wasn’t the best thing to do, Cas, but there was no other way, Jack was dangerous, and he--”
“Did you even try to find another way?” Cas snaps. “You fought fiercely to keep Dean from his fate in that box. Yet you were ready to condemn Jack to an eternity of that same fate without a second thought.”
Sam swallows hard. He tries to remember all the mental gymnastics he did to convince himself why Jack had to go in there, but Cas is still talking. “Do you know why other angels don’t usually answer prayers? Because it makes us vulnerable. It’s not considered a wise strategic move because it calls an angel, by name, to a specific place. There’s no time to scope out the destination for danger or to evaluate the potential risks.” He moves in closer, towering above him. “Or if it’s going to be an ambush.”
“I’m sorry, Cas.” He really is. “We didn’t handle it right, and I wish to Go-” he catches himself. “I wish Jack was still here so he could know how sorry I am. But Cas…what you’re doing isn’t right either. You must know that.”
The eerie glow of Cas’ eyes pierce through the night. “You know, when the Bunker’s alarms went off, it wasn’t just because Jack was trying to break out of the box. I could hear him. He was screaming. The same way he was screaming when….” the light in his eyes suddenly dims and Cas’ hand drops back to his side.
The pressure on Sam yields abruptly and he immediately leans forward, gulping for air. He knows what Cas didn’t say; the sight of Jack collapsing in that graveyard, crying out as searing light ruptured from him, still frequents Sam’s own nightmares. “I’m sorry,” he repeats, useless as the words are. “It wasn’t--”
“I loved him.” Cas isn’t looking at him now; he’s focused on some distant point above his head, blinking hard. “You have no idea how much Jack meant to me, how much I--” his voice catches and he turns away. In between the shafts of light Sam can see his jaw working, the bob of his throat and clench of his fist as Cas struggles to compose himself. A cold, sickly way of guilt washes over Sam and he feels almost nauseous. Every excuse and reasoning dries up on his tongue.
After a minute Cas glances back at him, his expression once more glacial. “You and Dean have each other. Don’t come looking for me again.”