A/N: Thank you guest Laureleaf for your review!

Song: "Unity" by Shinedown
Setting: Season 5 and an AU of season 6 where TFW actually acts like it
Characters: Castiel, Dean, Sam
Summary: In which Team Free Will is there for each other, through thick and thin.

"Unity" - Shinedown

I found a note with your name
And a picture of us
Even though it was framed
And covered in dust
It's the map in my mind that sends me on my way

Dean was just finishing cleaning out and organizing the Impala's trunk when he spotted a small box wedged into the corner near the taillight. He couldn't remember the last time he'd looked in it. It was just sentimental stuff, a tiny three-by-five container holding the few earthly possessions he cherished aside from Baby.

He lifted it out and opened the lid. Inside was a worn picture of him and his mom, and underneath that one of him and Sam. Dean fingered the old photographs, a small, reminiscent smile tugging at his mouth. Even though the end of the world was nigh, these reminded him why he was still fighting.

He tucked the pictures away and closed the trunk, then climbed into the Impala to drive off and pick up his brother.

They say it's never too late
To stop being afraid
And there is no one else here
So why should I wait?
And in the blink of an eye the past begins to fade

Castiel had spent his entire existence in the service of Heaven's righteousness. He'd believed in its righteousness, believed his orders were just because they came from God.

But they didn't. As Seals were broken and the stepping stones of Fate were laid out one by one, Castiel began to realize there was corruption in Heaven. He didn't know what to do. He tried to make inquiries but was met with avoidance or outright correction for daring to question his superiors. It seemed they were the ones in charge, not Providence.

And, to Castiel's shame, he was cowed for a time. But he could not in good conscience go along with what Heaven was allowing to happen. What they were orchestrating to happen. Standing up to them went against everything he knew, everything he was. Or, everything he'd thought he was. He was a soldier, a warrior of God. But he fought to defend humanity, not agendas.

So Castiel made his decision. He chose his side. And the fears of the past faded in the wake of his new purpose.

So have you ever been caught in a sea of despair?
And your moment of truth
Is the day that you say "I'm not scared"

The world was falling apart. Natural disasters dominated the news, omens of what was to come. For months Sam had watched it only get worse, and he knew what he had to do to stop it. Say yes to Lucifer, take control, and jump into the Cage. Stop the Apocalypse. He'd spend the rest of eternity in Hell…but he couldn't think of it like that. He had to think of the lives he'd save. Innocent people. Dean. That was what mattered.

So even though he was terrified when they faced down Lucifer, Sam found the courage to stand and lift his chin—and say, "Yes."

But it didn't go to plan. He couldn't take control. Lucifer was too strong, and now he had his true vessel. Sam felt crushed under the Devil's oppressive presence and the weight of despair.

But then Dean was there, saying he wouldn't let his little brother die alone. And Sam found strength once more. He wrested control from Lucifer. Every nerve in his body vibrated with terror and the storm of the fallen archangel trying to get control back.

Sam looked into the gaping vortex that fell down, down, into the Cage. And he knew what he had to do.

He jumped.

Put your hands in the air
If you hear me out there
I've been looking for you day and night
Shine a light in the dark
Let me see where you are
'Cause I'm not gonna leave you behind

Unlike the first time Castiel laid siege to Hell, this incursion required stealth and caution. He didn't have an army of angels at his side to help him fight off the demons. But while the lack of brute force may have left him vulnerable, the ability to sneak through the tunnels and dark crevices afforded an advantage as he made his way deeper and deeper into the bowels of the Pit.

Hell was in disarray after the failed Apocalypse, which also lent aid to his cause. The demons were too busy running amok, leaderless and purposeless, to strictly patrol their own corridors. Castiel slipped past them, clinging to shadows as he went, his sole focus on his singular mission—rescue Sam Winchester from the Cage.

God had brought Castiel back, had not only restored him to his former glory but also given him an upgrade. He was stronger, more powerful. And he would not waste it. Sam had sacrificed himself to save the world; he didn't deserve to be trapped in Hell for all eternity.

Finding him was just as difficult as Dean had been though. The Cage was buried deep, far from where even demons could travel. When Castiel stopped having to hide from Hell's denizens, he knew he must be getting close.

And then he found it. A cage of interwoven bars fizzling with divine energy that pulsed yellow in the depths of the Pit. It was attuned to an archangel's essence, a prison to that specific wavelength of celestial being.

Which meant Castiel, mere seraph that he was, should be able to pass through unimpeded. And Sam, whose human soul didn't belong there to begin with.

Castiel approached the edge of the Cage, eyes peeled warily as he tried to pierce the veil of the exterior to see what lay within. Inside the writhing darkness that seemed more living entity than shadows was a tiny spark. Sam.

Taking a deep breath, Castiel passed through the fizzling bars. The plasma tingled across his grace and wings unpleasantly, but didn't injure him. He stepped out the other side and paused to readjust. The interior of the Cage was a vast void, an inky abyss that seemed to stretch forever, though Castiel knew it was not limitless. That was perhaps part of its torture: to wander and roam and seek escape but end up in the exact same spot.

"Sam!" he called in a moment of foolishness.

That spark he'd glimpsed flickered in the dark, and Castiel ran toward it. He skidded to a stop when he found Sam, huddled in the fetal position on the ground, shaking. Half lidded eyes lolled up at him, pained and terrified and desperate.


Castiel knelt beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "I'm here."

He poured healing into the beaten body and raw soul. The Cage did not torment its captives in such a manner, but Lucifer would have taken his wrath out on the poor boy.

Sam sucked in a harsh gasp and his limbs fell slack.

"Where's Lucifer?" Castiel asked urgently. And Michael for that matter.

"D-don't know."

There was a crack of lightning in the far corner. An archangel's storm.

Castiel gripped Sam's arms firmly and hauled him up, dragging him toward the edge of the Cage. A roar bellowed behind them but Castiel didn't look back. He flung them through the sizzling bars and nearly tripped as Sam collapsed on the other side. Castiel didn't loosen his grip. Tucking Sam close to him, he turned his head up and spread his wings to take flight.

If I told you that you're not alone
And I show you this is where you belong
Put your hands in the air
One more time

Sam gazed into the disbelieving faces of his brother and Bobby, tears welling at the corners of his eyes. He hadn't expected this; when he'd jumped into the Cage, he knew what it meant, the monumental sacrifice of his own life and soul for the good of the world. He was the boy with demon blood, Lucifer's true vessel; of course he would be beyond mercy.

But then an angel had descended from on high and raised him from Perdition. It was still too earth shattering to fathom.

Cas stood at his back, watching the reunion silently.

Dean finally broke out of his stupor and moved forward, throwing his arms around Sam and pulling him into a tight embrace, one hand fisting in the back of his jacket. Sam clung to his brother in return.

It was a long moment before they pulled apart, and then Bobby stepped in for a brief yet equally fierce hug.

Dean looked to Cas. "H-how?" he asked, voice rough with emotion.

"Family doesn't get left behind," the angel said.

Dean quirked a brow. "Did you just quote Disney?"


Sam shook his head, a half delirious laugh spilling from his lips. He was home, where he belonged.

I've seen a million miles
Met a million faces
Took all I knew
To reach all these places
And I'd do it again
If it brings me back to you

Castiel returned to Heaven to find some of the angels were not thrilled with the Apocalypse being averted. Raphael, in particular, wanted to start it up again. But Castiel had learned the value of free will and was determined to defend it to the end. And there were those willing to follow him.

Thus, the civil war among angels raged, while on Earth Dean and Sam resumed their life on the road, hunting but also searching for heavenly weapons that had been lost ages ago. Castiel needed all the help he could get.

So have you ever been caught in a sea of despair?
And your moment of truth
Is the day that you say "I'm not scared"

The war was taking its toll. No matter how hard Castiel fought, no matter how righteous his cause, he would never be a match for an archangel.

He'd been captured on the battlefield, the skirmish apparently just a ruse to break him away from his followers. Now he once again found himself standing before Raphael, who was demanding he kneel. The last time they'd been in this position, the archangel had smacked Castiel down like an errant gnat. And their encounter before that had been in a prophet's kitchen when Raphael had smote Castiel to smithereens. He'd be lying if he didn't feel a tremor of trepidation now.

But he remembered what was at stake, what he was fighting for. Who he was fighting for.

Castiel lifted his head in defiance. He had two heavenly weapons up his sleeve, and though they may not be enough to take out the archangel, Castiel was at least determined to go down fighting.

He unleashed an explosion of blinding light. It stunned Raphael's henchmen, and Castiel lunged to neutralize as many as he could. He wasn't surprised by the blow that sent him crashing to the floor, and only had a moment of regret before everything went dark.

Put your hands in the air
If you hear me out there
I've been looking for you day and night
Shine a light in the dark
Let me see where you are
'Cause I'm not gonna leave you behind

Dean swung the sledgehammer at the granite slab, the impact reverberating painfully up his arms. He heaved a breath and dragged the tool back; Sam took his own swing while Dean levered his sledgehammer up to go again. They worked in tandem, strike after strike chipping away at stone not nearly fast enough.

When they finally broke through, Dean nearly gagged on the musty air heavy with dust and a coppery tang. It was pitch black inside the crypt and they had to pause to drop the sledgehammers and pull out their flashlights. Glaring white beams swept across the interior and lighted upon a figure strung up in chains. Dean's breath froze in his lungs.

Cas's arms were spread out to the sides, suspended limply in heavy irons that criss-crossed over his torso. His head was slumped down toward his chest, eyes closed, and he was covered in blood.

Dean surged across the space between and reached out to feel for a pulse. It was languid, and Cas's skin was ice cold to the touch. He didn't rouse at Dean's urgent shouts.

"Dean," Sam called, roving his flashlight beam along the walls. Warding covered every inch of space, keeping one angel in and all the rest out so that none of Cas's angel army could free him. As it was, it'd taken too long for Balthazar to even find out where Cas had been entombed so he could tell the Winchesters.

Sam rushed back to their bags lying just outside and returned with two cans of spray paint. He tossed one to Dean, and they immediately split up, neutralizing every Enochian symbol they could reach.

Dean cursed Raphael with each hiss of the can and spray of red that cut through binding sigils and power draining sigils. He knew he should be grateful the archangel hadn't just executed Cas, but locking him in this prison of death and darkness for eternity was in some ways worse.

He finally voided the last sigil and turned to run back to Cas and free him from the chains. The angel moaned as they jostled him, their sledgehammers attacking the links to get him down. Dean couldn't see where all the blood was coming from, and he could only hope once they got Cas out that he'd start to heal.

When he finally dropped from the chains into Dean's and Sam's waiting arms, they drew him close and carried him out into the light.

If I told you that you're not alone
And I show you this is where you belong
Put your hands in the air
One more time

Castiel remained stoic as the Winchesters tended his wounds. His grace had been flayed raw and needed some time to recover before it could attempt to heal his vessel.

"I'm gonna kill Raphael," Dean muttered darkly, finishing off a neat set of stitches in his back.

Castiel sighed, dropping his head to gaze at his feet. "I'm afraid that's not possible. The heavenly weapons didn't work."

"Maybe we just need to find more," Sam put in, always trying to be the optimist. Castiel marveled at it; given everything Sam Winchester had been through, no one had more cause to think poorly of the world and hope.

"We'll figure something out," Dean added resolutely. "We beat the Devil for crying out loud."

"At great cost," Castiel murmured. He hesitated. "There is one last recourse that might win this war," he began. "But I am loathe to do it."

"What is it?" Dean asked, all reckless eagerness and no cautious reservation. That would likely change.

Castiel lifted his gaze. "It would be extremely dangerous. If I go this route, I don't want you involved."

"We are involved," Dean snapped, crossing his arms. "You're not alone in this, Cas. Team Free Will."

He swallowed hard and told them about Crowley's proposition to open Purgatory, the one he'd shot down when the crossroads demon had first approached him. Now though…he wasn't sure there was another way.

Sam and Dean looked reticent, as Castiel expected. But ultimately they agreed that they were running out of options, and Lucifer could not be allowed to escape the Cage again.

And so they contacted Crowley to make a deal.

Put your hands in the air
If you hear me out there
I've been looking for you day and night
Shine a light in the dark
Let me see where you are
'Cause I'm not gonna leave you behind

Dean spat a glob of viscous hemoglobin on the floor of the dingy lab. Damn angels pulling that make-you-cough-up-blood routine.

Raphael stood several feet away with Crowley—damn double-crossing demons too. Although, technically, they were the ones who'd reneged on their deal with Crowley first. Cas refused to let the new King of Hell get his hands on any of the souls, which was wise but proving to be a complication now that Crowley had gone to Raphael, and those two had nabbed Dean as leverage.

There was a flutter of wing beats and Dean tensed as Cas appeared, a bottle of thick red unguent in one hand. The angel set it on the counter, flicked a look at Dean, and then backed up.

"Wise move, Castiel," Raphael said, striding forward to take it.

Dean shifted where he was on the floor, knowing any attempt at moving would be met with a reorganization of his internal organs. He met Cas's eyes and tried to silently communicate with him, but Cas hadn't gotten as good at it as Dean was with Sam. They had to do something though. Letting Raphael get the souls would not only mean he'd have the power to free Lucifer, but it could destroy the world that much faster.

But Cas didn't move, he just stood there and watched as Raphael performed the ritual. And then…nothing happened.

"Did I say it wrong?"

"You said it perfectly," Cas said, a strange detachment in his tone.

"Give me the blood, Castiel!" Raphael snarled and shot a hand toward Dean.

He felt his lungs constrict and gasped on a strangled breath.

Cas's eyes flashed with fury, and then he lifted his head and started to beam like the friggin' sun. The pressure on Dean's chest vanished and he threw an arm up to shield his eyes.

"It's over, Raphael," Castiel intoned.

The light increased in intensity and somewhere an archangel screamed.

If I told you that you're not alone
And I show you this is where you belong
Put your hands in the air
One more time
Put your hands in the air
One more time

Dean slowly got to his feet. Blood and tissue was splattered all over the walls. Raphael, he assumed. No Crowley; Dean had seen him get away. Cas stood in the middle of the lab, gazing at the gore blandly.

"Cas, you okay?" Dean asked. The air was practically vibrating.

"It's an odd feeling," Cas replied, still with that unsettling hollowness in his voice. "You'll have to excuse me, I have more work to do."

Dean stiffened and shot a hand out to grab the angel's arm. "Whoa, what? The plan was to return the souls right after you ganked Raphael."

Cas frowned and canted his head a fraction in seeming confusion. "Oh. It was."

Worry tightened Dean's gut worse than angel voodoo could, and he held fast to Cas's forearm. "Take me to Sam," he said—demanded—desperation tingeing his voice.

Cas didn't argue, and Dean felt the floor get yanked out from under him as he lurched into the space where angels traveled. A moment later he was on solid ground again out behind Bobby's garage. Sam was pacing in front of an intricate rune painted on the back wall.

"Dean! You okay?"

"Fine, but we need to put the souls back, now." He flicked a meaningful look toward Cas, who had tilted his head up at the sky as though in contemplation.

Sam blinked. "Okay, sure…"

"Not yet," Cas spoke up. "I need to punish Raphael's followers first."

Sam shot an alarmed look at Dean.

"Cas, this isn't you," Dean urged, still gripping the angel's sleeve in case he tried to fly off. "You beat Raphael. That's enough. You don't have to do anything else. So let's put the souls back before you go nuclear."

"You don't understand—"

"We're family. You belong here with us, not up there cracking skulls. And you promised, Cas, remember? You promised to put them back."

Dean was pleading now. They'd known the risks of popping Purgatory could blow a hole in the planet, but he hadn't known the souls could corrupt Cas like this.

"Cas, please."

Cas gave himself a small shake, some of the blankness in his eyes lifting. "You're right. Of course. Um…"

He looked confused, so Dean led him over to stand in front of the ritual symbol while Sam hurried to the book to say the spell. The rune glowed and the wall crumbled away into a sucking vortex. Cas's arms spread like sails as a gushing geyser blazing light poured from his chest. The wind roared and it felt like it went on for several long minutes before it finally cut off. The portal closed, Bobby's garage back to normal. And Cas collapsed to the ground.

Dean and Sam rushed forward, dropping down on either side of him and rolling the angel onto his back.

"Cas?" Dean called worriedly.

Cas's eyelids fluttered open. "That was unpleasant," he said, voice thick with gravel from exhaustion. His eyes pinched. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean…I wasn't myself."

Dean snorted. "No kidding." He helped Cas sit up. "Guess we should have read the finer print on that warning label for those Purgatory souls."

Sam rolled his eyes. "It worked though, right? I mean, you got Dean back, so Raphael is…?"

"Kaput," Dean finished.

"Yes," Cas said. "We won. Thank you for all your help. Especially at the end there. I'm afraid I wouldn't have had the strength to come back from that."

"Of course, Cas," Sam said sincerely. "How many times have you saved us?"

Cas broke into a small smile. "Team Free Will," he repeated.

"Family," Dean said.

He and Sam took Cas's hands and pulled him to his feet. Together, they'd been victorious. And together they always would be.