Dean's never actually sure what wakes him, whether Castiel touches him or whether he just sits there and stares until Dean's conscious. Which isn't really a comforting thought but, hey, they're still working on the whole 'appropriate behaviour around humans' thing. Dean has an uncomfortable suspicion that maybe he just knows Castiel's there. That he's aware of him somehow, under the skin. Even though he's fairly sure Castiel never did anything bad to him there's still that suggestion that the angel changed him somehow.
When he saved him.
When he remade him.
So Dean feels compelled to give him shit for it. Whether that's fair or not. He glares at him now, a shape in the darkness, eyes focused and intent and too close. It's not a fair fight at all when Dean's half asleep so he doesn't even try. He pushes himself up, balanced on one elbow.
"Cas?" It's acknowledgement that he's there and a question at the same time.
"I've discovered something troubling, something I believe you'll wish to see," Castiel says quietly. His voice is low and serious but there's something else underneath, something that sounds uncertain.
Sam shifts in the bed across the room, pushing himself upright with a creaking protest of cheap springs.
"Right now?" Dean asks.
"I think right now would be best." The words are simple enough but Dean thinks there's more than a little impatience there, an edge. Castiel doesn't usually pull that out unless something's the supernatural equivalent of currently on fire.
"Ok." Dean shoves the sheets back. "Let me get some pants."
"It may be dangerous, more dangerous than the things you normally face." Castiel moves back out of the way, when he rises. When he makes a rough noise to tell him he's listening and reaches for his clothes. Dean figures they should be used to a new level of dangerous by now, what with Lucifer especially pissed that he never managed to tear his way out of his gilded cage. He shakes his jeans and starts pulling them on.
"That's not exactly a surprise considering though, right? We're still hanging on the edge of an Apocalypse and all."
Sam's moving quietly too. A crack of joints when he stretches and finds his shirt and jeans where he left them flung over the back of a chair. Castiel waits in the silence while they dress, both making soft grumbling noises and sliding into the rustle of cloth but saying nothing else.
Dean shoves their guns into a bag, not entirely sure what it is they're hunting for, but when he sends Castiel a questioning look he just stares back like he has nothing to give them, so Dean figures, screw it, and takes it all.
Sam's shrugging into his coat and Castiel seems to think that's good enough because he reaches out, reaches up and touches them both before Dean has a chance to protest.
They end up in the cold of an empty street, in a town that could be five miles away or five hundred. Dean takes a moment to blink away his disorientation and to decide whether he's been moved through the world or the world's been moved around him. Damned if it doesn't feel like both and he's going to have to have a conversation with Castel about not doing that in the future unless it's absolutely necessary.
"Where are we?"
"Greensburg, Pennsylvania," Castiel says. Like it doesn't matter that he's just zapped them nearly five hundred miles.
Dean gives him a look.
"Great, so what are we doing here?"
Castiel steps aside, turns his head to look across the darkness of the street.
It's a generic two story house from the outside. It's painted in warm colours, and it feels bright and welcoming. You could have walked past it a thousand times and not thought for a second that anything was going on behind the green front door. Nothing bad anyway, nothing to give you nightmares for the rest of your life.
Judging by Castiel's taut, unhappy expression that's a distinct possibility.
Dean's no stranger to pretty things being rotten underneath but this place looks, honest to God, friendly. Which is suspicious enough that he gets the feeling it's been carefully made to look that way. Maybe even painted up and down with magic so no one looks twice.
"I can't go inside," Castiel says flatly. "There are Enochian warding sigils across the walls and floor that would try and tear me to pieces.
"Bad house then," Dean guesses.
"Very bad," Castiel says seriously.
Dean's seen the sort of mojo that messes with angels and he's not happy in the slightest at the thought of venturing in there. Even Sam is a quiet, cold tower of foreboding next to him. But he doesn't say a word, he stands there waiting, forehead creased a little. Like he's already accepted that inside is exactly where they're going.
"I don't know what's inside," Castiel admits and it's obvious that he hates it. That he hates having no clue what waits for them, no way to properly warn them for what they'll face in there. "But something here is winding taut, demons are being drawn here. The nature of it, whatever it is, is warping the world around it. It's the only reason I was able to spot it, and only then because I was so close. Whatever is happening in that house, whatever it is for, it's going to happen very soon."
"And we don't have any idea what it is?" Sam asks.
Castiel gives one slow headshake.
"Not without further evidence, no."
"We just know that it's bad," Dean offers and if he adds a little sarcastic emphasis to the last word that's perfectly understandable.
Sam shakes his head, though it's more amusement at Dean's succinct summing up of the situation, or maybe their whole damn life.
"It's not like we haven't done bad before, right?" Dean adds, reluctantly, and Sam tips his head to the side in agreement.
Dean's become a freakin' pro at bravado at three in the morning, freezing wind sliding across every exposed piece of skin. He shifts inside his own coat.
"So, no idea at all what‘s going on in there? Not even a guess."
"No," Castiel says quietly, and he doesn't bother to mask his frustration.
Dean exhales roughly.
"What about the people that go in?” Dean raises an eyebrow that he hopes Castiel understands is pretty damn unimpressed, because Castiel's detective skills, really not shining for him today. Dean would have thought his big angel brain would manage to come up with something. From anyone else this would smell far too much like a trap. But Castiel looks genuinely worried, and that's a lot of look for him.
"I have observed no one go in or out," Castiel says, in what he clearly thinks is a helpful way.
Dean raises both his eyebrows and ignores the bad feeling in his gut until it can be useful.
"So we have no idea how many people are in there, or even what they are, or what they're doing?" It's like a whole parade's worth of mystery.
"I said it may be dangerous," Castiel offers.
"Going in blind, hell yeah, dangerous is one word for it." Because going into the creepy hell house without knowing what they were facing first and how many of them there were. Yeah, that's going to end well.
Castiel shifts until he can catch Dean's eye again, like he thinks not talking directly at him will fail to get his point across. Like Dean's not going to pay attention.
"I have no way to see into the interior of the house. It's been left unseen for far too long already, long enough that the taint of ruin has started to cling to its edges. Someone will notice it soon, but I fear it will already be too late by then."
Jesus, more dire portents of doom. Though Dean's damned if he's going to admit that. If the house was spooky enough to set Castiel's hair on end then Dean's pretty sure there's something truly fucked up going on in there.
Castiel frowns, looking from the house to Dean.
"If I could go in myself I would," he says simply. Too soft to be anything but the truth and Dean thinks maybe whatever's going on in there Castiel doesn't want to send them in. That he thinks maybe this is bad, really bad. Which for an angel - well let’s just say their ability for understatement is new and interesting.
"Ok, stay here, because if we find anything we can't handle in there we're bringing it out, you understand."
Castiel nods. He understands perfectly.
Sam's more than ready at his side, a line of tension that's just waiting for Dean to give the word, to say go.
"Dean," Castiel‘s voice is hard and Dean stops, half turned. The angel's clearly more than unhappy with his own impotence.
"Be very careful." From anyone else that would be a platitude, concern for the safety of a friend. Coming from Castiel it's a genuine warning, a reminder that there's something in the house that doesn't want angels prying, and has the ability to keep them at bay.
Though Dean has no intention of skipping in there blind like some stupid amateur.
They slide in through next door's garden, hop the fence and make their way to the back door in the dark. Cold foliage brushes the back of Dean's neck and he can hear Sam's soft tread, the almost silent sound of him breathing out flares of warm air behind him.
There's one downstairs light on, and another one upstairs, though Dean can't see anyone moving inside. Sam slips forward while Dean covers the alley and tries the back door.
Sam pushes the handle far enough for the door to silently swing open.
They're barely through it when a demon slams into Sam's back and tries to slice his throat open with a kitchen knife. He crashes into the counter under the weight of her, scattering dishes. The only sound she's making is the hoarse, furious rasp-saw of her breathing. Her fingers are clawing at his jacket and shirt and she's using every ounce of her own strength to force the knife up and under Sam's jaw.
There's no time to do anything but put her down.
She ends up on the grubby tiles, a crumpled jumble of thin limbs and long, tangled brown hair. The woman it was wearing stares up at the sky.
"Yeah," Dean says quietly, making sure Sam knows that he's watching, that he has his back, and then they're moving, spreading out just far enough to cover their own angles. Prepared for more, prepared for any number of demons to appear with intent and black eyes at either door out of the kitchen.
They wait, breathing in the silence
The house is cold, there's no one else in the kitchen, no one in the hall. They slip out further, tiles turn into carpet, dusty and scattered with footprints.
Dean can't hear a thing.
There are six bodies at the bottom of the stairs, piled there like a barrier, like protection, or containment. Eyes glistening white like they've had all the life leeched out of them, limbs arranged in neat lines. Sam comes to a dead stop and doesn't say a single word, but Dean can see his face tense up, mouth a fine tight line and he knows what that feels like, because he feels exactly the same.
Dean pulls his gun up and very carefully steps over the dead bodies. A trail of black ash leads upstairs, a gentle, almost meandering line on the wood. Sam follows him up, feet quiet on the steps, quieter than he should be for his size, Sam knows how to contain himself when he has to, when he needs to.
They separate at the top and, not a handful of seconds later, two doors swing open and they're facing three demons.
Two at the top of the stairs and one deeper in, smeared out in the darkness.
The two demons at the top of the stairs, twitchy and starvation thin, end up on the end of Sam's knife. Because that's what it is now. It's not Ruby's anymore, it's rightfully his.
The third slams Dean into the wall and it’s only when its weight - her weight - is forcing Dean back against the plaster that he realises how thin she is, narrow and brittle under his hands, like she hasn't eaten for years. But she's maniac-strong, black eyes wide, teeth white and wet and shining. Breathing heavy frantic breaths as her fingers grope at his throat, trying to choke him, or rip his head off. Trying to destroy him.
Sam slams the knife into her back and Dean thinks he hears the crack of bone, before she falls, a lifeless tumble of fragile limbs.
He nods a thanks at him, though Sam shakes his head and Dean knows for sure that he feels it too. The sense that something really isn't right.
Not one of the demons tried to leave. Not one of them tried to speak.
Whatever it is they're protecting here, it's worth dying for.
"You getting the feeling like we should have run into more bad guys?" Dean offers over his shoulder.
"Yeah," Sam says tightly.
"Check the room they came from." Dean's voice is quiet but it still feels too loud. Like there's something wrong here, something unnatural. They've seen some bad things, some really bad things. Nothing's ever felt like this. "I'm going down the hall."
Sam frowns but he doesn’t protest, he just nods and heads the other way.
Dean turns the handle on the door that the brittle, thin demon came out of. He goes through with his gun up.
The entire room is red.
Dean slams to a stop at the sheer volume of blood splashed across the walls, running down them in ever thickening trails to pool on the floor. The air is thick with it, heavy and sticky warm. He breathes it in and it lays at the back of his throat, makes him want to gag. He refuses, fights it until his eyes water.
It's too late for the man at the centre of the room, far too late. He's on the table, split open down the middle and still wet, the blood just pouring out of him like oil. It's a good bet that he was the last thing to decorate these walls, to give them their grisly shine. It's hopeless, worse than hopeless, but Dean's boots take him there anyway, leaving prints on the red floor. He lays his fingers against the man's neck. But his skin's already cooling, eyes open and dead as glass.
They're staring, dry and terrified, at the bare bulb above them.
"Sam, in here," Dean calls. The air's warm and horrible in his mouth, it tastes like fresh death. There's been far too much of that in this room. The floorboards creak behind him and he turns around, makes sure it's Sam. He comes through the doorway with his gun up, but it tips down when he gets a good look at where they're standing, at what they're standing in. He steps in carefully, soft wet steps.
"Jesus, what the hell were they doing in here?" He says quietly and judging by the frantic swallowing motion, Sam's discovered the wet taste of blood in the air too.
Dean shakes his head.
"I don't know. I don't want to know. I'm just glad we stopped them." He drops his eyes, kicks at the jars and bottles at his feet. The wisps of what look like burnt fabric and paper. Finished or not, there‘s still a taint here, like something rotten left behind, something Dean can't put a finger on, he just knows it's there. In a way he isn't happy about at all.
Though he's left with the question of whether these people - these demons accomplished whatever it was they were doing before they ended up dead. Whether this is the messily interrupted ritual. Or whether this is the grisly aftermath of whatever they'd been doing.
"You think it's finished?" Sam's thinking Dean’s own thoughts, and that always makes them good thoughts. It always seems to make them right, somehow.
"I hope so," he says fiercely, and means it. God, does he mean it.
"There are no symbols, just -"
Just the blood. Which Sam points out with a look, a brief horrified twist to the corner of his mouth.
"Yeah," Dean says simply. Because he's already looked and there's nothing to suggest this was a spell, or a sacrifice. It's just brutal red destruction. Like something went mad in this room and left it soaking in gore.
Sam frowns at the walls, like he doesn't want to look at any of it.
"I don't think -" His voice cuts off.
Dean's already turning back round the second Sam's face twitches in horrified shock.
The dead man on the table is half up on one elbow, hand outstretched. Cold white-red fingers creeping their way round Dean's wrist.
Dean doesn't even hesitate. He brings the gun up and shoots him in the forehead.
The dead man's head slams back violently, before slowly returning to its original position, a gory hole bored through it. Sam's boots slap across the floor, thundering over to him.
He knows, he fucking knows, because that wide mouth gapes open, gasping and then screaming. A shrill, empty, long dead, wail of sound that has all the hair on the back of his neck standing up - and then Sam's hands are wrapped around the corpse's wrist. Where it's still slippery with blood, trying to pry it free, trying to break its hold where Dean's skin is rapidly going white.
Dean empties two more rounds into its cheek and eye socket, spraying bits of bone and flesh out in an arc, and it still won't die. It won't stop trying to pull itself up, dragging itself closer and screaming that awful scream that isn't anywhere close to human. Dean's heard that scream before, he knows where it comes from, and he wants nothing more than to get away from it. To get away from it right now. Sam's swearing, taking quick, stunned breaths while he pulls and pulls until they're in a rigid sweating standstill of horror, and Dean still can't get his arm free and it won't fucking die.
He can't stop, can't back away from the way the table - the altar is collapsing underneath its own mess. It's yawning open in a rush of red rust, the smell of death and ruin so strong that Dean takes a breath and nearly chokes on it. He spent years with that in his throat and he knows without a doubt that whatever this thing was it was trying to get out of hell.
And if it couldn't get out then it was going to drag Dean back down with it.
"Sam!" His voice comes out tight, veering far too close to the edge of panic.
But Sam's gone, boots skidding across the floor in sticky red noise. He better have a plan, he better have a fucking plan because Dean's not even close to strong enough to get away from this thing on his own, this screaming thing out of hell that's doing its best to dig its fingers all the way in to the bone.
There's a crack from the hallway and Dean's left with one hand on the altar, scrabbling at the red surface, fingers on the bone white corpse that's shifting, changing, stretching to become something longer and sharper and more terrible.
Dean gets a brief flash of some sort of marble statue raised over Sam's head and he leans as far as the grasping fingers will allow.
Sam brings the whole thing down on the creatures skull, hard. One great crash of marble and bone and a great cold-wet splash of blood. The thing shatters apart, bones flying out like human shrapnel to slam against Dean's jacket and the walls.
The body collapses into the hole it had made in one great rush, air sucked down and in. Dean falls back, holding the numb ache of his own forearm.
He has a moment to think that this is going to end badly.
Before the air explodes back out again.
Dean's flung to the floor on that wave, crushed flat there like he's been hit by a sonic boom. The blood is sticky and raw-fresh under his fingers. It soaks through the length of his jeans and the side of his face while he breathes and chokes and stays pinned there while it roars through the room.
He hears the crack of wood and the too-fast smash of glass where whatever the hell it is blows the windows out. The floor vibrates underneath him, sending red droplets against the skin of his face and into his open mouth. But all he can do is clench his eyes shut and grit his teeth. Live in that roar of noise and wonder if it's ever going to stop.
Until it does, everything suddenly just dies. The air goes still and they’re left with nothing but the thick cloying air. The stillness is hot and rank and smells like blood and burning.
"Shit -" Dean pushes himself up onto his elbows, checks over his shoulder, finds the mess of the table/altar, pieces of bone and rock embedded inside it, like some sort of gruesome Philadelphia experiment gone horrible wrong. Then, over that Sam's legs - he shifts his head, finds the rest of his brother.
Sam has an arm flung over his head, hair fallen over his face. He's breathing too loud in the sudden silence.
"Sam?" Dean's voice sounds like it's coming from underwater and he works his jaw a couple of times, trying to get his eardrums to come back. Sam drags himself up, awkward and unsteady once he gets to his feet. Dean pushes himself up too, trying to touch as little of the slippery floor as possible, though, shit, he has enough blood on him that it really isn't going to make much difference.
"You ok?" Sam asks and he pulls a face, as if to suggest his ears aren't working right either.
"I'm just fantastic," Dean says flatly, then takes two steps towards the table. He almost regrets it, because the horrific jumble of man, wood and stone is fused together in a way that looks horrific. It's smoking faintly and there’s the lingering smell of cooked human flesh and burnt wood.
"Jesus," Sam's voice is full of quiet horror.
There's absolutely no question that the thing is dead. Whatever it had been, it's now a mess.
"I think we should get out of here," Dean says flatly.
Sam nods, looking more than relieved. The bright red room now looks like a bombsite. The stairs are a wreck, every window in the house is smashed and the floor is covered in splintered wood.
"That thing shook this place up like an earthquake." Sam sounds quietly interested and at any other time Dean would make fun of his research brain. But he just wants to get the hell out of here.
The back door is leaning ajar and Castiel is a tense shape outside that stiffens impossibly further when he sees them. Where he's been forced to remain outside. Even through the noise and the shaking and the - hell, the destruction of pretty much the whole house. He actually looks, for one brief moment, relieved to see them both. Standing on the threshold, tense inside his coat. Whatever the protections on this house were, they were strong enough to survive it falling apart around them. Build into the foundations, maybe? Which suggested a shit-load of work. Dean wasn't happy about that at all. Who the hell built a house with anti-angel wards hammered into the foundations?
Castiel catches his arm when he's through the door, fingers just a little too tight to be comfortable, around his bicep.
"Easy, Cas?" Dean says quietly, though he appreciates that flicker of worry. Castiel seems to realise he's still holding him, gives his own hand an almost bewildered look, before very carefully letting him go.
"What did you find inside?"
Dean catches Castiel‘s arm, steers him gently but pointedly away from the house. Because he's not going to be happy until he's far enough away to not be able to smell burning flesh.
"A bunch of starved demons and a line of sacrifices acting as some sort of protection or containment. They were protecting a room full of blood, some ritual where they managed to open up hell through some guy's corpse. Some nasty shit."
Castiel's eyes, for a moment, are sharp and uncertain, a frown tugging between them.
"They looked like they'd been holed up there for a while," Sam adds.
Dean wipes his hand on a clean space on his jeans. Only makes more mess and forces himself to give it up as a losing battle.
"A long while. Something big and fucking vicious was trying to crawl up out of hell and get into a dead body, and it was not happy that we were there to stop it. Started screaming like a bitch. Until we caved its head in."
Castiel frowns, and it's not confusion this time, it's something quietly angry, something that suggests he hadn't been expecting anything quite like that.
He doesn't seem surprised though.
"The power was insufficient," Castiel offers, like that should have been obvious. "It became stuck, half in this world and half outside it."
"You could say that," Dean says. Because he can still hear that screaming wail in his ears and his left hand keeps going to rub the solid numb ache that is his right forearm. He knows too damn well that the bruises he's going to have there are going to be spectacular and they're going to make doing anything for a few days an exercise in annoyance.
"That suggests something much larger than a minor demon."
"But whatever they were trying to do they screwed up, and it didn't get out."
"It would seem so," Castiel answers. "It requires a considerable amount of power to tear open a way into hell, a way that cannot be shut."
"So, what's to stop them from trying again?" Dean asks, staring at the broken front of the house.
"Nothing," Castiel says simply.
The coldness that crawls down the back of Dean's neck takes a long time to slide away.
Castiel leaves them back in their motel room, bruised and covered in smears and streaks of blood from that bright red room. They decide, without words, to just dump everything in the car. To hell with showering, they can wash later. Dean just wants to move, needs to move. Sam seems to feel the same.
The weak early morning sunlight outlines everything they own in orange-yellow while they pack up without words. Dean's fairly certain he's going to head in the opposite direction to that small town house and drive until they find somewhere to stop.
Six Weeks Later
Dean's phone wakes him. A tinny blare of light and sound in the dark. He reaches a hand up and drags it open, pushes it somewhere where he thinks his right ear is.
"Yeah." He knows he doesn’t sound happy but hell it's - he checks the clock - four in the morning.
"You boys both need to get your asses out of bed, right now," Bobby tells him on the other end of the phone and he sounds about as serious as Dean's ever heard him.
Dean shoves himself up, forces himself to be awake for this.
"Why, what is it?"
"What's up is that the dead decided to rise, two hundred miles west of here. A little town called Breckridge woke up and found itself full of damn zombies."
"Jesus," Dean manages.
Dean drags a boot off of the floor and tosses it over at Sam's bed. He catches it in the back and Sam fights his way out of the sheet, hair all over his face.
"Dean, what -"
Dean holds a hand up.
"Who did you call?" he asks.
"I called everybody," Bobby says flatly. "They got a population of 2,000, it's all hands on freakin' deck."
"That's insane," Dean says. Because stuff like this doesn't happen.
"That's an understatement," Bobby says roughly. "I wouldn't make time for breakfast."
"We'll meet you there as soon as we can," Dean tells him.
Bobby hangs up without another word and Dean rubs a hand over his face, then looks at Sam.
"Bobby needs our help, apparently we got a town overrun by zombies."
Sam pauses halfway into his pants.
Dean fishes for his boots under the bed.
"I wish I was."
"How bad is it?" Sam asks with a frown.
"Bad enough that he's called everyone," Dean says flatly and Sam shakes his head in disbelief. Dean knows the feeling. He doesn't think he ever remembers Bobby calling in everyone he knows.
"Breckridge. If we leave now we should get there some time this afternoon."
Breckridge looks almost deserted when they finally roll into town. They've been driving two hours on an empty road slid between one small town and the next, dotted along the way by a handful of dusty gas stations. It's only three o'clock when they get there, but the sky's already a listless miserable grey. Dean's not feeling bad at all about stepping on the gas, while Sam stayed a line of impatient tension in the passenger seat.
They pass two tense looking men holding guns just before the town proper. The tight watchful line of them marking them as hunters and not townsfolk.
Dean can't remember Bobby ever calling everyone in before.
He parks on the main street, shares a quick unhappy look with Sam and then slides out. He doesn't even have to think about, just takes as many guns as he can carry from the trunk and Sam doesn't say a word but does exactly the same.
There are splashes of dried blood on the street, smears along the walls and trails of it in doorways. All of the windows on one side are smashed, a shine of broken glass and splinters of wood on the ground.
The whole town smells like death.
It's not deserted though. Ellen's in front of the church. Dean recognises her well enough, even from two hundred feet away. A line of fierce readiness, hair blowing in the wind. Jo's perched against the steps next to her, shotgun held comfortably against her hip. Two men Dean doesn't recognise are higher up the steps, guarding the doors.
Ellen and Jo both turn at the sound of boots. Ellen jerks her head at Jo, who comes down to meet them.
"Ellen," Dean says in acknowledgement.
Ellen drags him in by the sleeve of his jacket, more to have a look at him and see whether he's broken or not than to hug him. But Dean appreciates the thought. She grunts when he seems to pass whatever test she's given him and lets him go, then she nods at Sam, while Jo slides close enough to form a break from the wind.
Ellen eyes their guns, gives a sharp nod.
"You boys took your damn time." Her voice is rough, but there's more tense relief than genuine accusation there.
"We were two states away. Bobby told us you've got zombie trouble."
"More than trouble," she says harshly. "I'd wager everyone who ever died in this town is walking again today. And they've picked up a fair few new friends today. Rufus and Jackson are over by the bridge, Ben's on the other side of town. You probably saw Anderson when you came in.
"You made a perimeter," Sam says with a nod.
"Damn right we did, we're not letting one of these things out of this town. This is one outbreak that stops right here."
"What about the people who live here?"
Ellen sets her teeth.
"Most of the ones that are still breathing are in the church," she nods her head back up the steps, where the white doors are shut tight.
"Most?" Sam asks.
"We haven't had a chance to properly check the medical centre and the police station and I'm fairly sure the school is crawling. I don't have the manpower to do much more than thin the numbers down. God help us when it gets dark."
"Consider us manpower," Dean says flatly.
"I'm not happy about sending anyone into any of these buildings. But, we're missing a hell of a lot of people. Some of them I'm fairly sure are holed up in the school. There's no way to stop the dead from crawling all over it, too many rooms, too many staircases."
She shakes her head and frowns up the street, as if she can see all the way inside the school from here.
"They're getting in from the basement. There's only one thing stopping me from blowing the whole place to hell." Ellen's mouth tightens, face a mixture of fierce anger and frustrated control. Jo watches her mother but says nothing. "The people that are missing, half of them are kids."
"So it's a search and rescue mission," Sam says.
"I think we can make it a 'kill as many of them as we can' mission on the side," Dean adds. Ellen nods like that's the best damn answer she's heard all day.
"Tell Henry we're going," Ellen tells Jo. She makes her way up the stairs while they share out the best guns for the job.
When she returns they head up the street together.
The main school building's a mess, broken windows, a scatter of lights on, and there's fire licking over one of the smaller buildings.
A bus has crashed into the back exit and Dean suspects someone did that one purpose because there's a mess of bodies there, some charred, some crushed under the wheels, some in pieces in the collapsed wall.
He thinks he can see one twitching ever so slightly.
The sign says Breckridge Elementary in big letters.
Ellen turns to her daughter.
"Jo, the one thing we're gonna need here is to know we're not going to come out to a mess of the walking dead. The door and this floor are your responsibility."
Jo's mouth tightens like she know she's being given the easy option. But Dean thinks maybe Ellen's gotten it into her head that there are no easy options in this business, that the fact that Jo's here is enough.
She nods, quick and hard, and doesn't protest again.
The powers still on, which is something.
They sweep through the offices, find a scattering of bodies between there and the cafeteria. They’re ripped apart, some with their heads smashed in, a few, strangely clean and untouched. Not all of the dead are rising then. Not everyone comes back.
Most of them are adults, some of them aren't. The smallest is a boy, messy blonde hair; he's wearing a stripy t-shirt - Ellen takes Sam towards the offices. Dean sweeps past and checks the doors that lead back out, there are bags on the stairs, pink and red, one of them has a teddy dangling from a plaited piece of thread. Bright exercise books fall out of the other.
There's blood everywhere.
Ellen turns the lights on, and Sam backs out of the gym, slow and horrified and pulls the door shut behind him. A wordless gesture that says, clear enough, that there're nothing in there to save.
"Check the second building," Dean tells them. "I'm going to check the stairs."
Sam looks at him over Ellen's shoulder, and he clearly doesn't like the idea of them splitting up, but he nods.
Dean heads right when they go left, pushes at the stairwell door.
He steps out as quietly as he can.
The stairs are cold and when he cranes his head up he can't see anything. It only goes up three floors, but he's willing to bet there's roof access up there somewhere too, probably via key.
Though he's damned if he wants to be on the roof right now.
He's just about to pull the door shut when one of the dead lurches into sight from around the stairs. A stiff gaited thing with flat blank eyes, that used to be a middle aged man. It’s heavy and slow but it’s intent as soon as it sees him, as soon as it realises he's alive.
Dean puts a bullet in its head watches it slump to the floor and lay still. Then he listens, carefully, to see if he's drawn anything else's attention.
It's still quiet.
He takes a step and hears a shotgun blast, low and hard, back the way he came. He retreats back into the school, if someone has found something to fire at then that's where he needs to be. So, he heads in that direction.
He sees Ellen first when she kicks open a door.
The sleeve of her jacket is missing and her gun is smoking. She's picked up two passengers, a little boy is loose in her arms, fingers white in Ellen's shirt, and a little girl is clinging to her hand, stumbling along after her, pigtails almost long enough to tangle round her arms.
"They're under the damn floor," Ellen says, fiercely annoyed.
"Steve," the little boy protests. "We lost Steve."
"I don't want to go back," the girl says, voice desperate and shaky. She tugs at Ellen's arm, a jerky instinctive movement. "Please, I don't want to go back."
Ellen runs a hand over her head and shushes her without looking.
"Robert says there's another classroom up there, some people went that way when they attacked."
"Please," the girl's crying quietly now too. "Please, can we go now?"
"Get them outside," Dean says quietly.
"Sam's clearing out another classroom. You be careful, they've been ripping this place apart from below."
Ellen turns the kids towards the entrance
"Don't get in the way of the gun, honey," Ellen says, soft but serious, and Dean fucking hates every piece of shit corpse that ever decided it didn't want to stay dead.
He's making his way back up the hallway when he hears it.
A quiet, frightened little noise that comes from somewhere to his left.
Dean tries the nearest door, finds a storage room all full of shelves. Full of maintenance equipment, brooms, cleaning supplies.
The lowest shelf - he bends down.
There's a girl under the very last shelf, past the metal struts holding the whole thing up, crushed back against the wall, a blur of pink jacket and brown hair in the darkness.
Dean gets down on his belly straight away.
"Hey," he says quietly.
The girl looks back, like he's not there at all.
There's a gunshot from somewhere, somewhere too close.
Dean swears and shuffles forward on the floor, gets just a little closer.
"Come on. You can't stay there, trust me."
She shakes her head, puts her hands over her ears and makes a soft little noise of denial.
God, fucking damn it, Dean mutters under his breath and stretches in just a little further. His jacket snags on a ragged piece of metal and he's too big to fit. The metal barely lets his coat go as it is. The floor around her isn't solid, and the scraping and scratching that he took to be his own jacket and boots on the floor is in fact something underneath them. He doesn't look down, but he does take a quick breath and wriggles a little closer.
"You have to come out from there," he says as quietly as possible.
Because he can't get to her.
There's a gap, just below her pink and white sneakers, close to the wall. Dean watches the floor disintegrate under the push of a bloody crooked hand. She notices straight away. One sharp breath and then she's screaming, feet lashing out at the creeping hand with all the rising hysteria of a child that wants to wake from a nightmare but can't.
Dean watches fingers wrap around her ankle and slowly but steadily pull her towards the crumbling wall.
No fucking way.
Dean lunges into the gap, metal scraping through leather and cotton to rip painfully into his back, but he's far enough, more than far enough, to grab the collar of the girl's pink jacket and physically haul her out. To drag her away from the dead fingers, pull her all the way into the dim light of the classroom.
She crawls him like an animal trying to get closer and away at the same time.
Cold fingers, fear-clammy, digging into his jacket and the back of his neck. She's making hard noises deep in her throat, somewhere between noiseless screams and sobs.
The moans from the hole under the shelves rise in volume and desperation.
Dean carries the girl to the smashed window
"Jo," he shouts and she's there in an instant, all bright hair and steady gun. Her eyes fly from Dean to the girl he's holding and she reaches her arms out without question.
When Dean tries to hand her over she screams again.
"Come on, honey," Jo says softly. "You're ok now, come on away with me."
The fingers very gradually relax and her weight's gone from Dean's arms as she curls herself around Jo, hiccupping sobs into her blonde hair.
"Where's Sam?" Dean demands
"Three rooms across," Jo tells him. "Mom's getting some people out of the main hall, but there's a class still upstairs -" her mouth goes tight as something smashes and there's a scream from somewhere above.
She folds a hand over the back of the little girl's head.
"Go," she says simply, and Dean doesn't wait to see her leave. He's out into the corridor, boots a soft thud on the ground. He's barely gone ten feet when he hears Sam.
"Yeah, I'm in here," Sam shouts back, and there's the screech of a desk across the floor.
Dean shoulders his way into the room - Sam's upright, but there's a corpse in the middle of the floor.
A mobile with planets on it spins gently from the ceiling.
By the whiteboard there's a middle-aged man in a dark shirt and corduroy pants. He's very carefully cleaning a graze on the knee of a small boy, who's sniffing in a way that suggests he's very carefully pretending he hasn't been crying.
There's an angry mess of a bite mark on the man's forearm.
The stranger very carefully puts a band-aid on the boys knee and then lifts him off the desk.
The boy clings to his hand like he has nowhere else to go.
"Anyone else on this floor?" Dean asks.
Sam looks at the teacher for clarification.
"There was Claire, and she had four children with her."
"I've seen a girl in a pink jacket, a boy who told us his name was Robert and a girl with pigtails."
The man nods.
"That's right, Hannah, Robert and Nicole, you're missing Steven. He's umm...small, skinny with blonde hair. He was wearing a striped shirt today."
Dean thinks about the stripy shirt and the small arm he saw reaching out of the jumble of bodies when they first came in, and very carefully doesn't say anything.
"You coming, Andrew." Sam holds his hand out, but the boy looks up, frowns, dirty forehead creased in confusion.
"Andrew, go with Sam," his teacher says quietly.
"Mr Duncan," the boy says quietly and pulls on his hand. Like the kid knows in some sort of strange way that if he goes with Sam he's never going to see him again.
"Go on, he'll take you somewhere safe," Mr Duncan insists.
Andrew very reluctantly lets his teacher go and finds Sam's giant hand instead.
He looks back all the way to the door. Until he disappears from sight.
Mr Duncan carefully packs the first aid kit away with practiced movements without tending to himself.
"It's like in the movies, right?" he asks quietly.
Dean doesn't need to ask what he means.
"Yeah," he says flatly. "Yeah, they got that part right."
Mr Duncan seems to accept this with a deep breath and a nod.
"How long before -" he stops, frowns, like he doesn't want to say it. Maybe doesn't know how to say it.
"Six hours, maybe seven, another twenty minutes ‘til you're walking again."
There's a swallow and a soft breath.
"What can I do?" he asks simply. "Until then." There's a firmness to his voice as if he's decided all this already.
"We're going to the main hall," Dean tells him.
"There are more of those things through there, more -" he winces, like he still doesn't quite believe what he's about to say, "- more zombies."
"There's also more people."
"I hope you're right, I really do," Mr Duncan says quietly. He takes a deep breath. "Now, I'd wager I know this school better than you. So I'll take you across to the main hall."
"Look, Mr Duncan, just because you've -"
"Frank," he says, and there's quiet insistence under the one word. "My name’s Frank."
"Frank," Dean agrees simply, because he can give him that much. "You don't have to come with us."
"I think perhaps I do," he says firmly, and Dean doesn't stop him.
When they reach the main hall it's dark, the lights sparking on the ceiling. Dean avoids the trail of blood that winds down the middle of the floor. He sticks to where it's darker. It's not as quiet here. There are soft shuffling noises, faraway sounds of dead things.
It's a mess, though mostly where chairs and bags and what look like two fire extinguishers had been used to barricade the doors. The whole jumble of it had obviously collapsed in eventually. Or the people inside, at some point, had clawed desperately to get out. He looks at Sam, behind him in the dim glow of a flashlight. Frank Duncan quiet and stiff behind his shoulder. Sam nods at his expression and follows him through the other exit.
The corridor beyond it is brightly lit, brighter on the floor where there's a streak of blood and a scatter of bags and books. Pieces of the doors are spread along the floor too, but it's buckled underneath their boots. It's cracked apart like something's been rolling through it. Like someone did something to it.
"This isn't zombie damage," Dean says quietly. "The buildings looks like something's tried to chew it apart, I'm starting to think whatever started this happened here."
"So, what the hell was it?" Sam asks, checking the door to his right, which is locked tight.
"I don't know." Dean checks the door on the left. "But, whatever it was it's made this town a freakin' nightmare -"
The floor gives an almighty crack and drops out from under his feet, Dean flails with the hand that isn't holding a gun but it's too quick, too sharp, and he plummets down in a shower of wood, plaster and old desks.
"Dean!" Sam shouts.
He hits the floor, a bone-jarring smack that leaves him gasping, wood jabbing into his back and the side of his neck and he takes a second to make sure he's not freakin' dead before he hauls himself painfully out of the rubble.
"God, damn it!" Because he'd maybe thought about taking better care of his body the second time around and his knee's more than on its way to being completely fucked again. Not to mention the damn great tear in his back, and he doesn’t even know how bad that is. Won’t know ‘til the adrenaline drains out.
"Dean, you ok?" Sam shouts down, voice frantic.
He kicks his way free and moves to the middle of the big-ass hole he's created in the floor above him.
"Yeah, Sam, I'm good." He slaps plaster and rust off his jeans then looks around. He's in some sort of old gym, or possibly the remains of a hall - it's got that bombed out look to it that makes it hard to tell.
He looks up, and Sam's peering over the edge, wearing his worried face.
"I guess I'm kind of stuck though," Dean points out. Because Sam's a good seven or eight feet over his head and there's no way he's getting up again without help, and pretty much the only thing down here is rubble.
"Crap," Sam agrees.
"Stay there, we'll see if we can find something to get you back up."
Dean nods. "That would be a plan."
Sam and Frank disappear, boots smacking across the floor until Dean can't hear them any more.
Then he stares into the dark.
This is not a good place. He kicks some of the rubble away, moves a couple of boards on the off-chance there's something here he can use to get out of the damn hole.
But there's nothing here. It's all rotten, or waterlogged, or ancient, or just useless- there's a very faint hush of sound.
Dean stops shifting things and listens. It comes again, louder this time, closer, a breathless meaningless noise, deep and rough, like it's being dragged over gravel.
Dean holds his breath.
Because he has enough experience to know that's not a survivor.
He pushes the wood away from his foot, takes two steps into the dim length of open space. The light doesn't go far enough for him to see the walls.
It comes again, low - and this time it's definitely a moan.
Maybe it's just one zombie, one zombie wandering around down here, maybe it got stuck, or it fell, or it died in one of the rooms and no one noticed.
One zombie, he can put down one zombie - but the moan now has an echo, and another. Until there's a slow, deep collection of soft, dead noise that seems to hit all the walls at once. A shuffling hush of movement and sound.
Dean can see them now, a slow, swaying mass, stumbling forward in the dark.
"Crap." Because Sam's the one with the ammunition. Dean checks how many bullets he's got left.
"You've got to be fucking kidding me," he says under his breath.
Because it's not enough, it's not even close to enough.
"Sam!" he shouts back up through the ceiling. But there's no answer, just the drift of dust through the hole and the faraway slanted lines of sunlight. "Sam!"
The noise from the far end of the hall grows louder; there's intent there now. Dean thinks maybe he should have kept his damn mouth shut for a little bit longer. Because they've clearly heard him, they know he's here now and they're heading his way.
It takes an endless minute for him to pick up movement, just out of the light, an unsteady swaying stumble that says 'zombie' in a way that makes him throw his gun up and force himself to be ready. The ones behind it are faster, obviously fresher, not so unsteady on the rubble. In a few seconds they're going to overtake the first zombie, push past it, knock it off its path and come for Dean.
There's more than seven.
There's a hell of a lot more than seven.
He backs up, looks up into the hole but there's nothing there, there's no one there.
He's not going to wait for them to get close.
He takes a woman in a long blue dress first. She's faster than the rest.
Her head snaps back and she crumples immediately, lands on the wet ground with a thud. The others take no notice of her, stumbling past and over.
The next bullet goes in the large ambling male zombie to the right, too big to ignore for long. Then he takes out the two dead men stumbling towards him on the left. They fall and roll down the slope of wood and brick, coming to rest against the legs of zombies shuffling forward out of the dark. They're still moaning, still making that wet rasping noise that sounds like it's trying to be breathing, or some messed up half-remembered version of it.
It's a noise that makes your skin crawl, there's something so horribly, brutally wrong about it.
He shoots a zombie that makes an abortive lunge for him purely on reflex, though it falls more than four feet from him, still too close though, still far too close. Some of the ones behind it go down under its rolling body, end up on the floor, end up a wave of arms and legs and reaching hands. Where the ones that have been taken to the ground are slowly coming forward.
They're far enough into the light that he can do a rough headcount, but once he gets past twenty it doesn't matter any more.
He's fucked, he so fucked.
He doesn’t exactly have a back-up plan here, there's nothing to burn, nothing to collapse in their way, no way to climb back up.
He shoots a zombie that's gotten too close, watches it fall with a hole in its head and he's got one bullet left.
One bullet left.
And he thinks, for a fraction of a second, of saving it.
He puts it immediately into the brain of a female zombie in a blood-stained skirt suit - watches her crumple, watches the rest of the crowd stumble forward, slack mouthed and glassy eyed. He abandons his gun, hefts a long plank of wood, and slams it into the closest grey face. The impact goes all the way up his arm but the zombie skids sideways, falls to its knees.
He shoves a boot into its chest and sends it rolling down the slope.
The corpses closing in on the other side get smacked too, as hard as he can manage.
The last foot of the plank snaps off, goes clattering across the wall and floor.
A zombie falls, too close to his feet, much too close.
Dean smashes a boot into its face watches dark blood burst out in an arc, spattering the bottom of his boot and the rubble around it. He pins it long enough to slam a piece of wood through its throat, deep enough to leave a splash of red-brown and to stop it moving for good.
Then he swings the wood to the left without looking, takes a zombie mid-reach and flings it back. It falls to its back, lays there for just a second before hauling itself slowly back up.
"Sam!" Dean shouts and he thinks he can be forgiven if there's just the slightest note of panic in his voice. "Goddamn it, Sam, hurry the fuck up."
But, he already knows Sam isn't going to get back in time. The gun's useless and the wood he's holding is rotten and cracking apart. It's not exactly putting the zombies down it's just scattering them and more are piling into the space behind them. In a few minutes he's going to go down under the sheer numbers.
He slams the wood into the slack face of the corpse closest to him, sends it reeling back into the others. It straightens again under the swell of stumbling dead only to fall again before it regains its feet. The others climb forward over it and Dean's backing up, backing up and pushing into the brick behind him. It's freezing through his jacket and the fact that he has something against his back is no fucking consolation at all.
He's going to die.
He's going to die here.
His elbow hits the wall the next time he tries to draw back away from the hands reaching for him. Doesn't get far enough, and fingers, cold, numb and strong as hell, are pulling at his jacket, drawing him down by inches.
He jams the wood up under its jaw, holds it in place while it skids there, snapping and making hoarse noises, blood running from where it's goring it's own neck open trying to get to him.
Until the plank snaps, one great jerk of splintered wood and Dean thumps into the wall, sliding down it in a shower of plaster and grit.
The rotting open mouth surges for his face -
A hand snatches the back of the zombie's neck, hefts it away from him and sends it flying through the crowd. Zombies tumble down under the impact, left clawing at each other, dragging themselves along the floor.
Dean catches a flash of tan trench coat and then there's a snap and a zombie slams into the wall so hard it doesn't get up again.
Another goes down without a head, dark blood collecting sluggishly in a pool.
Two corpses in business suits are shoved to their knees, and then left motionless with a twist of Castiel's hands.
Then he takes a step forward on the rubble, coat dusty and red at the edges.
"Dean." Castiel reaches a hand down and carefully pulls Dean to his feet.
"Cas," Dean manages. "Jesus, am I glad to see you."
Dead fingers claws for Castiel's hands and legs, trying to drag him back, to pull him down. The zombies seem strangely frustrated in their inability to bite through his skin. Because, yeah, Castiel is a little more durable than him and Dean's so fucking happy about that it's almost embarrassing.
The angel shakes them free, pushes them back, and they're more than capable of coming apart under his hands. Breaking apart when they get close enough for Castiel to catch hold of.
He takes a step, lays a hand on Dean's shoulder and the world -
They take the survivors back to the church. Full dark's barely an hour away and that's no time to take on a town overrun with zombies. Besides, it's not like they have to worry about the population knowing any more. There are more than a hundred people packed inside, with that combination of restlessness and stillness that genuine fear brings to a large group of people.
Dean can hear crying from more than one direction.
Some of the people are looking at them, in that uncertain, disbelieving sort of way. On any other day Dean thinks being introduced as monster hunters would be cause for most of these people to start laughing their asses off.
He fucking wishes they were laughing now.
Jo's crouched down with one of the kids, cleaning smears of red-brown off his cheek with the sleeve of her shirt. Dean can see her smiling through the curve of her hair; it's soft and real and careful. She's speaking slowly and too quiet to hear, other hand carefully pushing hair off the boy's face.
He loses that unnatural stiffness while Dean watches, lets her rub at the edge of his face a little harder while she keeps talking to him.
Dean thinks maybe once you know the monsters are real all the soft words in the world won't make a hell of a lot of difference. But Jo's still willing to try. There's a whole world of fierce inside that girl that Dean thinks maybe Ellen helped hone to a fine edge.
You're born into this life and you never leave. No matter how much people might want you to.
Sam's at the front of the church, where they've taken the wounded and the people who might be infected. He's talking to a tall man in a dark stained jacket that Dean thinks maybe he recognises. But he can't put a name to the face. Frank's there too, a quiet, sad shape and this is fucked up, this is all fucked up.
Dean turns when someone touches his shoulder and he finds himself face to face with Ellen.
She looks serious and watchful. Though she's relaxed for now. Relaxed enough that Dean thinks maybe they're not going to be surrounded by the shambling hordes any time soon. Or angry townsfolk.
She's lost her ruined jacket and shotgun. Though Dean wouldn’t take any bets on her being unarmed. There's still a very faint line of blood across the edge of her cheek.
"How many did we get?" he asks her.
"I lost count and we've taken more than a hundred with fire. But there are no more wandering the streets, and the guys on watch out there all checked in. None of the dead have made it out of town." She sighs and rests her hip against the pew he's standing next to. "But we've still got a hell of a lot of houses to check and there are still dead bodies on the street. Too much for us to clean up, too much to burn."
Dean frowns, because it's never been a whole town before, never a whole damn town.
"There's no hiding this," Ellen says quietly. "Near on two hundred people saw their town overrun by the dead today, their families and friends slaughtered. Bobby says it looks wrong out there and he can't say for sure that this sort of thing won't happen again, maybe soon."
He knows what's she's saying. That whether they manage to clear this up or not might not matter.
"Jesus," Dean says simply. Because if he'd ever held on to some vague hope that the apocalypse was going to be stopped before the whole world started to notice, or worse, start sliding into the dark, then that seems a hell of a lot more like a pipe dream now.
"What happened to the school?" he asks instead.
"The whole thing pretty much collapsed a little while after your angel teleported you out of there."
Dean's not entirely sure how to take the whole 'your angel' thing. Though Ellen sounds more amused than disbelieving. And it's not like Cas has been doing anything to make it not true, hovering silently at Dean's shoulder as though he might, at any moment, need rescuing from zombies again.
"He does that sometimes," Dean says. He thinks he means it to sound unnerved but it comes out as really stupidly grateful instead.
Ellen flashes him a half smile.
"He doesn't look like he minds none."
Dean turns his head where she's looking and finds Castiel working his way through the church towards him with his own special sort of purpose.
"Dean," he says. Once he's close enough. That firm insistent voice, like he always has something terribly important to say. But Castiel turns to face Ellen instead, and his expression is completely unreadable.
"There are no more survivors," he says quietly and Ellen gives one firm nod.
"Thank you, Cas."
She takes her shotgun up to the front of the church. Dean assumes she's going to give the news to the people there, tense and waiting. Dean knows those faces well enough. The people waiting for their friends, family, loved ones, to make it to safety. To be brought to safety.
He doesn't want to watch them get the bad news.
He turns to face Castiel instead.
"Hey, you ok?"
"I am," Castiel says simply. "Though I've made no progress on finding a source for this contagion."
"It has to be magic though, right? You don't get a couple a hundred people rising from their graves and laying siege to a town for no damn reason."
"It's not a single spell, as such. It's more like the trailing edges of a larger spell that has spilled where it wasn't meant to go. Though I'm having difficulty tracing it back to a source. Which is...disturbing. Usually there's some suggestion of where the magic is leaking from. But this is simply rot, death appearing as if from nowhere."
Dean doesn't like the sound of that at all. He makes it sound like the world's just going bad, like fruit left out on the sun.
"And now it's just gone?"
"It's no longer strong enough to affect things as it did."
"So you think this was what, the backlash from some huge spell?"
"It's possible, I'm uncertain." Castiel doesn’t look happy about being uncertain. In fact he looks about as troubled as Dean's ever seem him, frown deep and heavy.
"I'm really glad you pulled me out of there," Dean says. He doesn't give a damn how grateful he sounds. Because he'd come so damn close to ending up in a zombie's stomach.
"I'm only sorry I couldn't come sooner," Castiel says quietly.
Dean lifts a hand, smacks it into Castiel's shoulder, holds it there for a long second. The curve of bone and muscle is strangely reassuring.
"Hey man, I figure just in time is good enough, more than good enough. I don't think I've ever been that happy to see anyone in my life. Being eaten by zombies, that's not exactly a way I'd like to go."
"If I'd realised how much danger you were in -"
"I've been doing this for a long time - well, ok, not this, not a town overrun by zombies. But the rest of it, the nearly getting killed."
Castiel's face shifts, just a little, into something that looks like frustration.
"Nevertheless, this was a situation you couldn't be prepared for."
"I don't think anyone was prepared for this," Dean points out, because, Jesus, half the damn town's dead. Maybe more than half. Ellen would know better than him. Ellen's the one that's been trying to find out who's missing, who's dead and who's a walking corpse. Dean's happy enough to kill them. He just doesn't want to know who they were. He'd be happy if he never had to know who they were.
The crowd of people parts to let Sam through. Granted, Sam's big enough that making his way through is just a matter of walking and everyone else getting out of his way. Dean's always more than a little bit amused that the difference between Sam's business mode and his civilian mode is pretty much politeness and body confidence. Like he trusts himself to wrestle a monster out of a window but not to walk down a busy street without smacking into people.
He's shutting his phone, sliding it back into his pocket.
"Bobby says we might have another one," Sam says quietly. Dean knows Sam far too well, because he sees the tightness, the half dozen emotions, all covered by the need to get everyone the information as quickly as possible. Dean's moving before he's finished explaining, before he even gets to the where and the when, Castiel trailing behind him. He's like silent shadow, and Dean doesn't even have to ask if he's coming with them.
"Ellen," he calls.
She turns from where she's talking to one of the other hunters. A quiet, round man in his fifties that Dean vaguely remembers from earlier. Roger - Robert?
"We have to go. Bobby says we might have another one."
She catches his eye and she looks tired, more than tired, she looks worried for them.
"You call if you need us," she says firmly, and Dean knows without doubt that she'd come.
"We will," he says. But he's pretty sure he'd have to have his whole boot down a zombie's throat before he's making that call.
"You boys take care of yourselves," Ellen says with a nod. It's not just words. It's a command, and one that she clearly expects them to follow. "And take care of each other."
It gets worse. It gets a hell of a lot worse.
They're not just saving people they're saving whole towns. Following the wave and trying to get ahead of it. Trying to find the source of it. They're burning the dead to make sure. Outbreaks drift steadily across the Midwest, each harder to put down than the last.
Until the dead are a steady wave. Not even every single hunter Bobby knows are enough to stem the tide.
Until there's not even any question about the world noticing.
The dead are in the cities now.
"- to stay in your homes, do not attempt to reach loved ones out of state, do not attempt to travel. If you have a medical emergency -"
Bobby makes a rough noise of irritation, then reaches over and flips the TV off.
"They're going to get more people killed," he says fiercely. "They don't have the first goddamn idea about how to deal with a plague of the walking dead."
"You can always go up to the networks and tell them," Dean points out from the table, where he's cleaning both the shotguns.
"'Bout as much chance of getting them to give out some sensible advice as I have of you listening to it for once."
Dean grunts and flips the cloth he's holding round.
"I'm still alive, aren't I?"
"By the skin of your damn teeth, boy, with no little thanks to that angel you've got in your pocket."
Dean pulls a face.
"He's not in my pocket," he grumbles.
Bobby grunts instead of answering.
Sam drifts in somewhere behind him, trailing Castiel. Like the angel's genetically incapable of sitting still. Or at least giving his body a rest. Not that it needs a rest. It doesn't have any passengers any more. It's just him in there since he got exploded and then put back together again. So maybe he's free to run it into the ground killing zombies now. Who the hell knows.
Sam dumps the bag he's holding on the table. A box of bandages tumbles out of it.
"Any luck?" he asks.
Bobby makes a disgusted noise.
"I'm damned if I can find the source of it." He drops the book he's holding on the table. "Near as I can see is someone managed to leave some sort of time-release on the after-effects of a death-powered ritual of some kind. So they're a mile away with whatever they wanted before hell breaks loose. Though God knows how they're doing it, or why."
"Is something like that even possible?" Dean asks.
Bobby shrugs and makes his 'hell if I know' face.
"Ask the angel."
Dean looks over at where Castiel is curiously paging through one of Bobby's darker and more mysterious texts.
"Theoretically yes, for someone powerful enough, time is malleable in such a way. Though it would, by necessity, put a strain on the space around it."
"Something we could look for?" Dean asks.
Castiel frowns. "Something that I would notice, were we close enough."
"So, not a big damn flashing sign, then?" Dean says bitterly.
"How close is close?" Sam asks. He's leaning against the sink behind Bobby.
"Close," Castiel says. "And I fear we don't have time for any sort of search. The death magic is expanding in both strength, and the area it affects."
"There's no other way to find out where it's coming from?"
Castiel shakes his head.
"It's simply an echo which ripples out in a way which cannot be predicted."
"Like a beaded necklace," Sam says quickly. "The string breaks, the beads scatter all over the place. You find one bead, you've got no way of knowing where the necklace broke."
Dean looks at him like he's mad.
"That's a surprisingly accurate description of my difficulty," Castiel says quietly.
"Angels can go through time though, right? Can't you just pop back and see where the damn string broke?" Dean offers.
"Manipulation and observation of time through many dimensions is not quite as simple as that."
"That's a no?" Bobby says flatly, sounding as irritated as Dean feels.
Dean waves the cloth he's holding.
"Hell, it's not your fault. It's not like you're not doing everything else you can. You're probably the only reason we're not all zombie food already."
"It's getting worse out there," Sam points out, all frown under his ludicrous hair.
Dean grunts. "Don't think I haven't noticed."
"I just feel like we should be doing something," Sam says, pushing for something, voice tight with barely restrained frustration.
"We can't be in two places at once, Sam, we can only deal with what's right in front of us," Dean reminds him. Because, much as he hates it, it's a fact.
"That isn't good enough Dean."
"Don't you think I don't know that," he snaps. "You think I don't see it every time we go outside? I'm doing the best that I can, the only way I know how to do it."
Sam deflates, anger falling into an expression of quiet misery. He rubs a hand over his face.
"I know, I know, God, sorry. It's just, this is insane."
Dean grits his teeth and nods jerkily.
"Tell me about it," he says fiercely. "We have dead in the freakin' streets and we can't even get close to why, or how. A few more weeks and we're going to have more dead than alive out there, and God help us then. We need to get ahead of this thing."
"How the hell are we going to do that? We don't have a clue how to predict where these things are coming from," Sam reminds him.
Dean throws the cloth down on the table.
"I know someone who might."
Castiel doesn't look happy about whatever Dean's telling him. His face is hard and there's a frown hovering on the edge of it. Like he's about to protest. Like he's about to tell Dean that whatever he's planning is 'unwise.' Sam thinks maybe one day he'll learn how much that makes absolutely no difference. The crazier a plan is, the more Dean seems to like it.
Though they've had some pretty crazy plans come off for them in the past.
Dean says something, something brief and soft, and the expression he's wearing now - Sam doesn't see that one much anymore. Castiel's face stops looking quite so hard, falls into something confused, but resigned. It's like a ritual between them, one they haven't needed very long to perfect.
The angel nods once, slowly, and Dean exhales something like relief and claps him on the shoulder.
Sam has to huff out a laugh, because it figures that even in the middle of the world going to hell Dean Winchester is putting that expression on the face of an angel. That one Castiel's wearing now. Like he isn't entirely sure how he lost the argument, and that isn't happy about it.
Dean says something else, something that comes with a nod and Castiel follows it with one of his own, unhappy but firm.
Sam looks away when Dean turns around, straightens his legs out in the car and tries to get comfortable, pretends he wasn't watching.
The car rocks when Dean slides into it. He exhales and starts it, expression unhappy but determined.
Sam doesn't say a word when they pull out. He'll let Dean deal with whatever crap he needs to for twenty miles or so. Music just a fraction too loud.
Chuck's house is dark.
The curtains are all drawn, wet paper strewn across the floor in crumpled, haphazard piles.
Sam has a horrible feeling they're not going to find anything here. That the place is as empty as a million other homes.
Dean looks like he's expecting something worse.
Sam doesn't blame him. The streets outside are full of wandering people and there's smoke coming from somewhere. This place is too close to the city. There are too many people making too much noise. All it takes is one zombie straying their way here and people start panicking, start screaming. The infection spreads and they're in their own little hell on earth.
But the house isn't empty.
"Dean," Sam says sharply.
Chuck's slumped over his desk, ragdoll-loose, and for one horrible second Sam thinks he's dead. Until he gets close enough to smell him, the sharp flare of alcohol, so strong it might as well have been poured over everything.
He doesn't look like he's waking up any time soon, and Sam changes his mind, thinks that maybe alcohol poisoning is an option after all. He checks the side of his neck just to be sure.
Then he looks up at Dean, but Dean's not looking at him, he's watching the printer.
The printer that's quietly but patiently flashing a 'no paper' sign, like it ran out a long while ago.
Dean holds his gun to one side and fishes the last page off of the top of the stack. Sam watches his eyes read it, watches his face go tense and hard, it's not a good expression, not even close to it.
Sam doesn't even want to think about the sort of thing that could leave Chuck in this sort of state. Collapsed over his desk in a pile of wrecked paper and denial.
"Jesus Christ," Dean says quietly. There's no mockery in his voice, just air and surprise and that tight, hard anger that sways just as quietly into tight-eyed refusal to accept the inevitable.
"What? Dean?" Dean swivels the page and hands it across the room.
Sam catches it, tiny spatters of ink lettering in haphazard paragraphs that seem to have just been shoved apart, whenever the previous one got too big.
He reads it.
Then has to take a breath, fingers going tight on the crumpled paper.
It's a page of rambling but descriptive gore on a horribly massive scale. A whole city drowning under a wave of slaughter. A whole city eating itself. People aren't just rising from their graves here, they're rising everywhere, and it's going to get worse.
Sam shakes his head, because he can't believe it, he doesn't want to believe it.
"Wake him up," Dean says fiercely and there isn't a whole lot of good feeling in his voice.
Sam wants to protest that it's not Chuck's fault. That he didn't cause this, probably couldn't have stopped this. But he doesn't, he just takes a breath, exhales roughly, and sinks to a crouch beside the desk.
"Chuck." Sam lays a hand on the out-flung length of his arm and shakes it. Which gets absolutely no response. He digs his fingers in and shakes a little harder. "Chuck."
Chuck makes a low, ragged noise of complaint, like rejoining the world is completely unacceptable.
Sam shakes him one more time, feels the way muscle twitches in his grip, like it's trying to slither away.
Then Chuck drags himself abruptly upright in a crackle of paper and protesting joints. He looks at them both, groans misery and rubs both hands over his face, shoving his hair into demented tufts.
"It's that bad already, huh?"
Dean tosses the papers on the desk, and Chuck watches them scatter across the untidy surface.
"You didn't think it was maybe a good idea to tell someone about this," he says furiously.
"I'm pretty sure no one wants to know they're living in a zombie apocalypse," Chuck says thickly, then clutches his head, like everything he's managed to block out with alcohol and sleep is stabbing its way back in. Only this time brighter and more painful. "I was just letting them do their thing."
"There are freakin' zombies in the street," Dean snaps. "I think we've officially gone past letting humanity go about their business."
Sam makes a face, a face that he hopes says he thinks Chuck had already noticed that. But Chuck is running his hands through his hair like he's not quite sure where he is, or why everyone is shouting.
Dean thrusts the pages at him.
"You wrote this. You know exactly what's happening out there."
Chuck makes a thin noise, shakes his head.
Chuck winces like Dean's voice saws straight through his head.
"Yes, ok, I do, believe me, I absolutely do, and this -" Chuck smacks the paper Dean's holding, sends two pages skittering down onto the carpet. "This isn't even close to what's happening out there. Do you have any idea what it's like to have a head full of that? To not be able to sleep until it's written down, until I have almost literally vomited it up like acid, so I can just be fucking unconscious for a while."
Dean sighs, and forces his anger back down. He has to work at it, he really has to fucking work.
"I didn't sign up to write the end of the world," Chuck tells them miserably
"Well, tough shit, 'cause it looks like you're writing it anyway."
Chuck makes a noise in his throat and pulls his glasses off of the desk, shoves them on his face and starts tearing the pages off the desk.
"You want it, fine." He shoves the whole pile of it at Dean. "Take it."
Most of it skids to the floor in a shower of paper.
"It's all pretty much the same anyway, the scenery may change but everyone dies the same way." Chuck's face crumples into something desperate.
"You're coming with us," Dean tells him.
"Oh God, why?" Chuck says faintly, and Dean looks at him like he's mad, because really, staying here with the zombies and getting eaten while in a drunken stupor. That's not exactly the smartest choice to make.
"Because we need you, there's pretty much no other way we're going to know what's going on."
"And exactly how much help am I supposed to be? I know how you guys live remember, you don't drive away from the devastation, you drive towards it, Christ. Besides, I'm fairly sure the walking dead are already outside."
Dean fishes in the back of his jeans.
"Here." Dean hands over the gun, butt first.
Chuck flinches like Dean's just offered him a dead thing.
"No," he shakes his head, voice harsh and panicked. "Jesus, no, what are you doing handing me a gun? I have no idea how to shoot stuff."
"You have to have done research, for the books?"
"Sure, research, I found out how much they weighed, the sort of damage they could do, what rounds they took. I never actually went out and killed anything, nothing that was actively trying to kill me back."
He cringes away from both the weapon and Dean's expression, shaking his head again. Dean's torn between his rule about never giving anyone a gun if they don't know how to use it and the fact that they were outnumbered, seriously fucking outnumbered, and someone else needed to be carrying a gun around here.
"We're going to need all the people we can get out there." Dean can't help but be annoyed and Chuck throws him a look back.
"People who have experience shooting things, sure," Chuck says, voice still too fast. "I can't shoot a zombie in the head, I'll be lucky if I can shoot a zombie full stop. In fact I'm fairly sure I'm more likely to shoot myself, so no, ok, just no."
Dean shakes his head and withdraws the gun, shoves it back in his pants. Then he catches the back of Chuck's jacket and hauls him towards the door.
"Fine, then don't get in the way and don't get eaten."
Sam stops long enough to gather up every piece of paper with writing on it and stuff it into his bag.
"Don't get eaten, yes, thank you, that's a handy tip, Jesus." Chuck lifts a hand, looks like he's a second away from twisting his way out of Dean's grip. But he seems to stop himself. Instead he lets Dean half haul and half steer him outside.
It's freezing and still early enough that the world's just a dusty grey, but there's still noise in the distance, the sound of shouting and car alarms. The sharp smell of smoke on the wind.
Chuck eyeballs the car like someone who seems to think he's being taken to his execution, then sighs and reluctantly tugs open the door.
"We can leave you here for the zombies if you'd rather?" Dean drawls, because seriously, what is it with people and their lacklustre reaction to being rescued today?
Sam's already inside, bag shoved down by his ridiculously long legs, and Dean can already see buildings on fire in the distance. Sam swivels round in his seat, says something to Chuck which has him furiously shaking his head, and Dean officially doesn't care any more.
He shoves the keys in the ignition, ignores the pathetic noise Chuck makes.
He's silent in the back for a long time.
Sam eventually turns round to check he's ok, but even Sam's reassuring face doesn't seem make a dent in Chuck's miserable silence.
"Chuck, seriously, is there anything you know that might help us?"
Chuck rubs his hands over his face.
"It was all typed out. It's all in there somewhere." He gestures at Sam's bag. "Some time after two in the morning it was just words, I couldn’t take it in any more. He squeezes his hands together in his lap, one slow repetitive movement, but he doesn't offer anything else and Sam doesn't push.
Dean stares out the windshield at the road, eyes flicking to the mirror every so often, face tight.
"Of all the ways I wouldn't want the world to end." Chuck says suddenly and rubs at his forehead. Dean scowls at him in the mirror.
"The world isn't ending," he says fiercely, and even Sam, who's supposed to be on his side, is quiet and tight lipped. "Jesus, it's not."
The smell of burning hangs on the wind when they pass the sign that tells them they're leaving town.
Dean swears and rolls the windows up.
"People in zombie movies always make the mistake of trying to survive behind fortifications, and they always end up overrun by the undead."
"This isn't a movie," Sam points out, and Chuck glares at him.
"Obviously, but it's the same principle. God, it's...zombies. They don't eat or sleep, or get cold, or tired. They just wait, for as long as it takes, to get to the food supply."
"Which would be us," Sam provides. Dean kind of wants to smack him for encouraging him.
"That would be us," Chuck agrees. "Jesus..." his voice trails off on some sort of quiet hysterical noise that Dean suspects might very well end up turning into actual hysteria if they're not careful.
Dean can't help muttering something about 'not being food' under his breath, but everyone's apparently ignoring him in favour of untangling movie lore from real life bullshit. Which he has some experience with, because there's a hell of a lot the movies got wrong.
"Maybe we should -" Sam stops, like he's not sure if he should continue.
"You do realise I know exactly what you're talking about when you're not talking," Chuck reminds them.
Sam looks guilty. Dean just glares at him in the mirror.
"I already know how fucked things are, thank you very much," Chuck says thinly. "I'm in the back of the Impala." He rubs at his forehead with the edge of his hand. "I know how a day usually goes for you two and trust me I'm really not happy about being part of the story."
"It's not a story," Dean snaps, because God damn it, sometimes he thinks Chuck needs reminding.
"Don't you think I don't know that by now? Don't you think I haven't spent an entire week learning all the different ways a human being can be torn to pieces? I'm pretty sure I don't want to sleep any more, but being awake isn't much better."
Dean wants to ask if he was just going to wait in his house with a collection of cheap booze for when the living dead shoved in his door and made their way inside. But he doesn't. He thinks maybe that's just too fucking cruel.
Or maybe he just has a horrible feeling the answer will be yes.
They get back to Bobby's at noon two days later.
After having to make their way round numerous checkpoints in the road, some military, some set up by ragged bands of locals. All of them too twitchy, or just too stiff with shock or horror to entirely trust.
Several towns they pass through - too many they pass through - just smell like rotting flesh and death. Knowing how bad things were getting was one thing. But seeing it for themselves, the slow creep of it. It'd been a long time since Dean felt this out of his depth. Since he'd felt this frustrated, this unable to do anything. Even with the threat of an apocalypse there's always been something they could do, some way they could fix things. Somewhere to go. This feels more like a natural disaster. Like a slow, unstoppable natural disaster and he hates it.
He fucking hates it.
Bobby's picked up three new hunters. They're out on the porch when they drive up.
Dean recognises Hove. He's about ten years older than him. Tall and thin with a face that's sharp and nasty, though Dean knows that's a lie. He can't remember him even raising his voice. He's more of a watch and wait, then calmly and quietly slit its throat while its laughing, kind of hunter.
The second man is smaller, more solid. Wearing a coat that's too small for him and squinting unhappily in the bright light. Dean doesn't know him.
The third, Matthew, is older and greyer. He's leaving when they get there, taking a blue truck west towards the smell of death.
He nods as he passes, though Dean only remembers seeing him once before, maybe twice.
Wherever he's going, Dean doesn't envy him.
Chuck sighs in the back but gets out when Dean tosses his bag at him. Sam's been quiet for a while. Where he's folded, strangely still and intent in the passenger seat, with Chuck's printed pages.
Half of Dean wants to know exactly what's in there, half of him wants them to stay exactly where they are. Half of him never wants to read them again. Hell, that's three halves, but he doesn't even care.
It's different reading stuff when it's true.
"Bobby." Dean smacks Chuck on the back, taking him one stumbling step forward. He makes a small unhappy noise. "Chuck."
Chuck looks briefly confused about whether to hold out a hand. But he settles for hugging his bag to his chest like it's a small child, or possibly a shield.
"Bobby Singer," Chuck says carefully. The corner of his mouth rises in what looks more like a wince than a smile. Shit, yeah, Dean sometimes forgets exactly how much Chuck knows about them, all of them. He's mostly been irritated about that so far and this is maybe the first time he's thought about from Chuck's perspective. Hell, if it's weird for them what must it be like for him? To have not only his fake characters, but his whole damn world view split open and made real between one year and the next.
Bobby grunts something that veers close to 'what have you been telling people about me' and Dean decides he's just going to go with that for now. He can explain everything later.
"Your angel's out back," Bobby says quietly. "Go and tell him you're back for God's sake. I was sick of that expression he's been wearing two days ago."
Dean huffs amusement and tosses his bag at Sam. Who makes a face at him but juggles it up with his own and physically steers Chuck inside after the rest of them.
Dean heads off to find the angel.
Castiel's not exactly hard to spot. He's standing still and straight among the dusty wrecks. But he manages a sort of quiet purpose anyway.
He sees Dean and relaxes, just a little, as if he didn't quite believe Bobby and needed to see Dean for himself.
"You found Chuck." It's somewhere between statement and question. Cas never did get the hang of small talk. Or maybe he just doesn't see the point of it.
"Yeah, we've got Chuck. He wasn't exactly happy about coming with us though."
"You honestly believe he'll see something that will lead us to the source of this?"
Dean nods, one sharp movement, because he has to believe that.
"He's not just seeing us any more. He's seeing all of it. The whole great walking dead mess of it. Like he's become some sort of -"
"Prophet of the end times," Castiel says quietly.
Dean frowns at him.
"Dude, don't say that, it's creepy when you say it."
Castiel looks away, like he's honestly apologetic for making the whole thing sound like zombie Armageddon.
"Still, if he's seeing what's to come and not just you, that is something to be concerned about."
"I'm still in the 'we're going to stop it from happening' camp, if you were wondering," Dean points out. He's damned if it doesn't come out as some sort of accusation, though. Because what is it with pessimistic angels, anyway?
Castiel looks back. He looks like he wants to speak, maybe to tell Dean that it is happening, right now. But he doesn’t, instead he tilts his head, like he's seeing something Dean can't.
"If it's possible, I have faith that you will."
"It's possible," Dean insists. Clearly they just don't teach optimism in angel school.
"I was waiting for you to return. I intend to continue my search for information that may aid us."
"You're leaving?" Dean knows he sounds disappointed. He was kind of hoping Cas would stick around for a while. Especially now they have Chuck.
"I believe I can be more use to you gathering information."
Dean nods but he can't help the brief, unhappy thought that Castiel is abandoning him - them.
"So, I get to worry about you, now?"
Castiel's expression softens, just a little.
"I will not take unnecessary risks."
Dean grunts, because he damn well better not.
"How long will you be gone?"
"I'm uncertain, perhaps a few days. You'll still be here?"
Dean thinks there's more worry under there than certainty.
"Yeah, I'll be here. With Bobby and Sam and Hove and the other guy."
"Edgar," Castiel provides, like he's just the fountain of all knowledge. Dean should call him on that, considering the amount of times he frustrates him with his non-answers.
"Just be careful," Dean says instead.
Castiel looks at him, one focused, strange look, and then he nods and he's gone, just gone.
"I hate when you do that," Dean complains to the empty yard.
Tiredness finally sends him upstairs at just gone midnight. He doesn't even bother to turn on the lights. Sam and Chuck disappeared with all the untidy printed paper and Sam's spare laptop hours ago. So they're either asleep or Chuck's forcing more horrors out onto the screen.
Dean lies in bed for twenty minutes. The low dark that's somewhere between too late and too early outlines everything in grey. But sleep's not even a possibility in the distance.
Everything has taken on a cold sinister edge.
There's a low droning creak outside like something's moving in the wind. He can hear Bobby talking to Hove and Edgar downstairs, low murmurs that don't quite make words. Just a slow wash of tension and sound.
Dean swears and kicks his way free of the sheets swings up and digs cold feet into his boots. He might as well do something other than lay there and go mad inside his own thoughts. His own thoughts aren't exactly a comfortable place at any time, let alone at night while the world is being overtaken by the freakin' undead.
They probably hear him across the floorboards, they definitely hear him head downstairs. They look up when he enters the kitchen and Bobby hands him a mug that steams. He grunts appreciation and takes it, finds it hot enough to suggest Bobby poured just after he got out of bed.
"If you're not sleeping, you're making yourself useful," Bobby tells him after the second burning swallow. He tips his head towards the table. Where there's a map laid out and a scribbled mess of phone messages, calls for help, information on cities that are completely overtaken and pieces of military communication.
Someone's been half-way through it already. There's tight, scratchy handwriting against paper and an empty coffee cup holding the edge of the map down.
Dean grunts and drops into a chair, picks up a red pen.
"Why is there a damn great red line there?" Dean asks roughly, wondering for one brief horrible moment if they're actually losing parts of the country to the dead.
"The military's in charge there now, can't get in any more," Hove provides. "Hope to God their perimeter is good - that's a big population. Lots of people close together, less ground for the dead to travel."
"I heard they're using tanks in Arizona," Edgar adds. He's staring into his own coffee like there might be a message from God in there.
"I'd say the world is well and truly past the point of no return when we need to use tanks to mow down zombies," Dean decides.
"Don't knock it if it works," Hove says flatly, and Bobby grunts like he agrees or approves. Or possibly just to tell them they're all girls who talk too much. Dean kind of likes not knowing the difference sometimes. He should tell Bobby it gives him an air of mystery, just to get that sour, unimpressed face.
He's about to mention exactly what he'd do with access to high powered weaponry when there's a low quiet crack somewhere outside. There's a moment of stillness and then they quickly make their way to the windows, only stopping long enough to pick up guns and ammunition.
Dean shifts the curtain aside and stares out into the darkness. He's looking for movement more than anything else. The dead don't worry much about being stealthy. The dead don't care if they're seen.
But he can't see anything. Just the cold, weak darkness and the low curves and juts of metal outside.
They all wait where they are for a second in complete silence.
There's another low sound, the shuffling thud of something falling against wood.
Bobby's expression is tight, hard. The two hunters behind him are quiet and still, hands firm on their guns.
"Go get your brother," Bobby says calmly. Dean's already halfway to the stairs, taking them two at a time, not worrying about the low thud of his boots.
He shoves the other door upstairs open. Sam's already awake, like he's been living on that same knife edge of vibrating uncertainty as Dean.
"Trouble," Dean says simply, and Sam's already up and halfway into his jeans, pulling the shotgun off of the dresser.
"Downstairs, I think they're outside -" Dean cuts his eyes sideways to the shoved open camp bed across the room, where Chuck is a sprawled out shape in the darkness. "Bring Chuck."
He dips back into his room long enough to haul out the bag there and heads back downstairs.
Bobby's by the window now, Edgar by the door. Hove is calmly and quietly loading guns at the table.
"Are they out there?"
"Damn right they are." Bobby manages to sound personally offended by the fact.
"Many," Hove says simply.
Edgar makes a noise which gives the impression he finds the idea of holding a house against zombies irritating. Like he'd had better plans for the night.
The sound of boots on stairs ends with Sam by the door and Chuck still halfway down, looking afraid and confused. Clothes and hair crumpled on one side
Sam holds up a hand and Chuck shuts up.
There's another quiet thud from outside and Dean shoots Bobby a look. A look Bobby knows him well enough to read.
Sam slides across to take one window, Dean the other. Chuck hovers behind Sam, and doesn't protest, or even say a word when Sam dumps the bag with what Dean assumes is the extra ammunition in it into his hands.
The moans start less than minute after that. Quiet and low, but the careful droning is coming closer. The shuffle-thud of feet on grass and gravel. The drag of limbs against wood and steel.
A minute after that there's the soft drag-push of fingers on the door, as if to test whether it's open or shut, to test whether it's soft. Whether they can press their way inside.
Dean's fingers curl round the shotgun.
They're all taut, focused on the door. And Dean's pretty sure they're all resisting the urge to fling it open and shoot the hell out of anything, out of everything on the other side.
They're so focused there that they almost miss the quick angry thud of flesh against wood at the other end of the house.
"You two get the back," Bobby snaps.
Dean's already heading that way, Sam a step behind.
The lock on the back door goes when they're two thirds of the way there.
It slams open and the doorway is instantly filled with a mass of reaching arms and dark, wet, open mouths. Stumbling into the kitchen in a thick stream, smelling like dirt and sewage and rank, old blood.
Dean unloads the shotgun into the space and Sam takes out the stragglers with quick neat headshots, dropping them back outside as fast as they can come in.
The shotgun comes up empty just as Sam heaves the door shut with his own body weight.
Sam gasps when the door shakes instantly, as if there's more, always more to put down. Lending their weight, their need to get inside to the mass.
The back door is quickly splintering under the pressure, tiny pieces of wood showering out and Sam's body shudders where he's using it to keep it shut. Sam's pretty damn hefty but the dead are fucking strong.
Why the hell are the dead always so strong?
Dean thrusts the shotgun at Chuck who's appeared out of nowhere, shaking his head and making low horrified noises.
"Reload that," he commands
"Oh, Jesus Christ," Chuck says, all rough panic and hysteria. But he's on his knees on the floor in a scatter of shells with some vague idea of what he's doing. Dean hauls the Glock off the table and adds his weight to Sam's at the back door.
Dean fires through the gap the next time it jolts in its frame. There's a thud and for a second the pushing at the door is less heavy than before.
"Do we know how many are out there?"
"Enough," Sam says.
Dean refuses to believe that they're surrounded. There's is absolutely no way they've left themselves surrounded by zombies. That's a worst case scenario and that's bullshit.
Bobby's house is fortified for pretty much anything. But there's no way Dean's getting himself trapped in here with vastly increasing numbers of the dead slowly making their way towards the house. Leaving themselves sealed in the panic room downstairs only to be slowly crushed by the sheer numbers, or starving to death in the dark.
That's not going to happen.
The wood cracks under pushing fingers and Dean jams the barrel of the gun through a hole again and fires twice.
The pressure lets up and Sam's dragging the table over with his leg, dragging it far enough that Dean can catch it, and they sway away for just long enough to haul it up and over, dishes and books cascading off to crash into the floor. The wood slams against the door, crushing fingers and parts of faces, shoving them back from where they'd been trying to force himself through the tiny gaps.
They move to the refrigerator and just pull the whole thing down with an almighty crash.
"What in the hell are you boys doing in there?" Bobby yells.
"Making one hell of a mess," Dean shouts back. But the door is pretty much shut now. It shakes in tiny little judders, fingers still picking at it, but it's going to hold for a while.
Chuck thrusts Dean's shotgun back into his hand, and Sam grabs him on the way past as they make their way back to the front door.
Bobby, Edgar and Hove are having pretty much the same problem as them. Bobby is shoved against the handle and Hove is holding the whole thing shut with his shoulders, boots skid-sliding on the floor. Edgar is leant sideways against the window trying to get a good look outside. Only the big windows at the front of the house are shuddering too, great thuds of force as body after body presses and pushes and bangs there. It's only the crush of so many of them that prevents one of them from getting a good swing and smashing the glass to pieces.
"We have to get out of here," Dean says.
"No shit," Bobby snaps back.
The front door thuds sharply, splinters, reaching hands clawing there and at the windows. With the relentless perseverance of something that has all the time in the world and all the unflagging stamina of the dead.
Though Dean's not stupid, he realises that for them to get out they're going to have to get through however many zombies are currently milling round the damn house, sliding between the old wrecks out there. If he'd known this was going to happen he would have parked a lot closer to the house.
The banging on the windows is a constant 'thump, thump' of pressure now, loud and threatening, and Dean's pretty sure the glass is about an inch away from giving.
Sam's dragging one of the smaller bookcases over, intending to shove it against the window, get some sort of barricade going. And Dean's not happy about that, not happy about having to keep themselves inside, at getting freakin' trapped in here, but he's moving to help anyway. Because the first thing you learn is 'don't fucking die.'
That's when the glass on the left window breaks, smashes inwards in one burst of force and pressure. The gap instantly filled by reaching arms and torn dead faces.
Dean fires the shotgun and the dead reaching there stumble and jerk with the impact, flesh spraying out. Some of them fall back to be crushed under the feet and knees and reaching hands of the others.
Dean fires again, hits an arm and a face, taking skin and teeth. The zombie halfway through the window jolts backwards into the bodies behind it, then slumps forward and starts reaching again, half its jaw gone.
Bobby's first shot takes it high in the forehead and it falls, wide smeared-out eyes and dead flesh. It doesn't move again. Though more dead crawl over it, fingers clawing at the floor and the curtains, and the edges of the walls.
"Move!" Sam shouts, and then he lets the bookcase go.
It smashes into the clambering zombies, throwing them back. There's the dry crunch of boots on glass and then all of them press into the book-laden shelves, shoving it in tighter. Grasping fingers crushed against wood.
Bobby's still yelling to get themselves away from the other window when the glass there breaks too. It just shatters apart and the reaching hands fall against them and into them - Edgar's closest. Still trying to reload his gun, he's caught by a dozen hands, fingers digging into him, pulling, grasping.
He has a hand out, digs it in Chuck's jacket and Chuck reaches out on instinct, trying to pull Edgar away from them. But they're all over him. He's too close to too many teeth and Edgar just comes apart under that much force. There's blood everywhere, fingers and teeth dragging him away, dragging him to pieces. He's pulled out through the windows so violently that the fingers he still has curled in Chuck's shirt catch him and pull him down. Chuck ends up in a sprawl on the floor, red spattered over his hands and the side of his face. More than close enough to the reaching hands for his inhale to be a sharp sound of horror.
Sam catches the back of his jacket and hauls him bodily out of the way.
"Oh Jesus, oh Jesus Christ." Chuck's boots are still slithering on the slick redness that's splashed all over the floor.
Sam gets a hand under his arm, pulling him back and Sam's shooting before Dean's got his own gun up, putting the stumbling, shambling hoard down one, then two at a time.
"Everyone get the hell down," Hove says sharply, and he's sliding forward with something clutched in his fist.
Hove has a goddamn grenade.
"We're going to be running straight after that goes off," Sam tells Chuck. Then puts a hand on his head and shoves it down.
Then the whole world explodes.
Dean has his mouth open and his ears are still ringing like hell, but he's up with the others, out through the mess where the window used to be with his gun up.
The yard is a red mess of broken zombies and the shambling dusty mess that were behind the front line. Plugged with wood and metal but still upright. They stagger forward and Bobby uses the shotgun with extreme prejudice to get them out of the way.
The car's where Dean left it and they take out twenty zombies on the way, making damn sure they're dead before stepping round their greying, broken bodies.
"Sam, get Chuck in the car."
Bobby and Hove are heading for Bobby's truck, faster than the zombies can cut them off, and Dean has no doubt that once inside it Bobby is just going to run the fuckers down.
Dean makes damn sure he has enough time to get in with nothing within reaching distance, and when the car jumps into life he doesn't waste time on doing anything but getting the hell out of there.
They drive for three hours, Sam painting Edgar's blood across the passenger seat. While Chuck stays almost completely silent in the back. Save for the rough, too fast edge of every breath and the occasional soft noise somewhere between horror and hysteria. Dean shoots him a look in the mirror but he doesn't break. He sits there, miserable and hunched up and spotted with red.
Bobby and Hove follow behind in Bobby's truck, lights cutting through the dark and shining in through the window on every long, straight stretch of road
Dean reminds himself that it could have been worse, could have been so much worse.
They stop when he can't drive any more. They stop in a nameless town, outside a two storey house. The front door yawns open, everything of value long gone. They claim the house as a temporary home. Quietly tromping through the almost cheerful, carefully decorated rooms.
It's not 'til Dean makes it to the bathroom that he discovers the blood splashed up his cheek, too bright and real to be zombie gore. They were all close to Edgar when he died. He washes it off and makes his way back downstairs.
Bobby's in the kitchen, drinking coffee that's forty percent something else entirely. Chuck is at the table too, frowning into his own mug like it might be poison.
Sam's a tall, quiet shape in the doorway. Like he's not quite sure how to be useful.
Hove is smoking on the porch, the bright, harsh smell of it drifting inside.
Bobby gives him a look, a look he understands. Though he's too tired, too bone tired to wonder at whether agreeing with it is a good idea or not.
Dean drags himself upstairs
To sleep, once again, in the cold sheets of a stranger's bed.
Sam ends up in one of the armchairs in the living room. Bag spread open on the floor next to him, trailing red-spotted paper on the carpet.
He's too tired to sleep and his shoulder aches and he wants to believe they've driven far enough to be safe.
But he's a Winchester and he knows better.
Chuck's fallen asleep on one of the broken couches, arm folded under his head. There's still a barely dry streak of blood up his neck. But Sam's not going to wake him up to wash it off. Not going to even though Chuck will complain, horrified, about it tomorrow. He looks away from it, doesn't want to remember the surprised look on Edgar's face. That one brief moment before confusion became realisation, before there was blood everywhere.
Jesus, Chuck needs his sleep, maybe more than any of them. Sam's grateful, so damn grateful, that, unlike Chuck, he's too exhausted to dream at the moment. He's too exhausted to see anything but blackness when he closes his eyes. Between one run to safety and the next.
They're using up all their bullets while the dead just keep streaming across the world. An endless supply of meat to put them into. It doesn't even seem to matter any more that these were people. Not just people, but someone's loved ones. People who cared, people who laughed and went out and watched TV and kissed.
Sam can't, he can't see them like that any more. God, he wouldn't want to.
These things are just dead flesh now, jerked back into motion long after whoever they'd originally been had gone.
A hand comes down on Sam's shoulder, warm and strong. He looks up and finds Bobby, expression tired but fierce.
"He ok?" Bobby tips his head towards Chuck, a small untidy tangle among the couch cushions.
"I'm not entirely sure. Chuck tends to be - he tends to be loud and expressive about whatever's going on, so I don't think we'll know 'til he wakes up. But I think he'll be ok. I don't know if I would, having to see all of this, over and over. Having to write it all down."
"Being a prophet does seem like a shitty job at the end of the world," Bobby growls. He squeezes Sam's shoulder and then lets his hand slide away.
Sam should protest, he should protest that it's not the end of the world, but he just - doesn't.
It feels like a betrayal.
"Has he seen anything yet?"
Sam shakes his head.
"Nothing that can help us. Nothing that isn't just slaughter, cities falling, the power going out." Sam throws up a hand, as if to try and convey how pointless it all is. How Chuck feels like a failure because he can't do a single thing to make this stop.
"Anyone else going through his visions? He ain't exactly looking for the details."
"Dean and Cas were going through them," Sam says quietly. He'd been helping at first but he just couldn't - he couldn't do it any more.
Bobby makes a rough noise.
"Where is the angel, anyway?"
Sam shakes his head.
"I don't know, off doing angel things."
Dean's phone goes at three in the morning. It takes him less than two rings to have it open and pressed to his ear.
"Where are you?" Castiel's voice is quick, as close to panic as the angel ever gets. That firm unhappy impatience that sounds almost wounded. Dean thinks maybe he got to Bobby's place and found it torn apart, found the blood everywhere; the scatter of cartridges and the rank smell of blood and gunpowder.
Dean rubs at his eye with the heel of his hands and tries to remember the number of the house. They'd pushed inside in the dark without looking, without caring, too busy shutting the doors behind them.
He tells him, tells him as best as he remembers and Castiel doesn't even hang up, he's just there, standing at the foot of the bed.
Dean flips the phone shut.
"What happened," Castiel demands. Dean doesn't think he's ever heard Castiel demand anything before.
"Zombies happened," Dean says roughly and shoves himself to a sit.
Castiel looks at him, taking in the blood scattered across his shoulders, the nicks from broken glass and the long scrape up one arm where he got too close to the wood climbing out of a grenade hole in the side of Bobby's house.
"You should have called," Castiel says flatly. Honestly angry with him.
"I can't call you every time I get in trouble, every time I don't think I can handle whatever it is I'm fighting. I can't do the job that way, and you have better things to do than checking in on me every five minutes."
"I have nothing better to do than make sure you're safe," Castiel says, quiet but firm. Then frowns, as if maybe he wasn't expecting to say that.
Dean ignores the way it surprises him, the way it makes something clench in his chest.
"I'm pretty sure no one's going to be safe until we stop this thing," he points out roughly.
He's not throwing it back in Castiel's face, just reminding him, desperately, that they're fighting for the whole world here. Because Dean knows where that narrow focus leaves you. What it leaves you doing. What it makes you.
"You are not just anyone, Dean," Castiel says, voice hard.
Dean looks at him and Castiel sighs, gently, almost unnoticeable in the dark.
"Thanks," he says quietly. Because he's fairly sure this isn't just about him being Michael's vessel.
Castiel looks strangely uncertain all of a sudden in the darkness standing over him. When he's exhausted and messed all to hell.
"Cas," he starts, then doesn’t know what he was even going to say.
"I'll wait downstairs for you -"
"No," Dean shoves the sheets aside, reaches for his jeans.
"I'm awake. I might as well take advantage of it."
Cas stays while he shoves his way into his pants and finds a shirt.
Dean gets the feeling Castiel isn't going to leave again.~~~~
They decide to keep moving, to keep trailing the outbreaks. Packing up their guns and books and papers and loading them into the Impala and the truck. They move on in the morning. As soon as the sun's high enough and bright enough to give them good visibility. Good enough to see there isn't a dead thing for miles.
They drive until night falls, avoiding the big cities, the clusters of panicked people that the surviving infrastructure have crushed in together 'for their own safety.' Because they draw in the dead like screaming, panicking buffets. Until the gatherings of dead are larger, more dangerous, swarming into the population centres like a walking disease. They drive until Castiel tells them there isn't a hint of death magic around them.
They end up in an empty hotel in a small town. It's full of smashed storefronts and burnt out cars. A town that looks like it was emptied by panic and not by death. By people trying to escape who didn't understand what they were escaping from or where they were supposed to go. The hotel stairs are broken. Which is a bonus as far as Dean's concerned. Unless zombies have learned to climb the walls and, hell, if they can do that Dean doesn't want to fucking know about it.
There are enough rooms in the hotel that they can sleep pretty much wherever they like, though they end up spread between three rooms, someone on watch at all times. Being jumped when you're inside once is bad enough. It won't be happening again. This place may have a dozen exits with all the smashed windows, but that means a dozen entrances too, any number of ways for some dead thing to creep inside when they're not looking. It only takes one when you're not paying attention, just one.
Dean's stretched out on one of the queen sized beds, staring up into the darkness. He's fairly sure sleep is the last thing his body wants. But he thinks maybe it needs it too badly to pretend any more.
Castiel is reading through the papers they salvaged from Chuck's again, trying to find something there that they missed the first time, the second time, the third. Dean wonders whether that's thoroughness or desperation now. That seems pretty unangelic, but hey, Cas has been around them long enough to have picked up a few things. Maybe not always the best things, maybe not always the right things.
Maybe they're all a little desperate.
"They're not going to change, y'know," he offers.
"Sometimes things of importance can only be recognised once you have the right information," Castiel says quietly, without looking up.
Dean sighs at the ceiling, listens to the shift-slide of paper until it becomes both hypnotic and impossible to live with.
"Cas, will you come over here and just rest for a minute."
There must be something in his voice, something Castiel listens to, because the noise stops and the angel stands up, the shift of his coat quiet and strange.
After a long minute the bed moves, and the next time Dean rolls his head to the side he finds the angel watching him from a foot away. Dean grunts and pulls him down by an elbow. Castiel doesn't resist, though Dean's willing to bet he's never had cause to lie down before. Never had the opportunity to put his human suit of clothes horizontal.
"Listening to you go through that stuff again is driving me mad," Dean complains at the ceiling.
"I could take them to another room," Castiel offers. Though he doesn't seem in any great rush to leave.
"No, seriously, just take a minute. You don't have to be on the go all the time. You'll burn out."
"I don't need rest, Dean."
Dean's fairly sure that started off as angelic superiority . Now it almost sounds like Castiel is apologising for having some sort of horrible disability.
"Everyone needs rest," Dean tells him, and he tries for that tone that says he's right and it's not up for discussion.
The room's cold, they must have spent a fortune heating it when there were actual people still around to stay in hotels. Castiel doesn't give off heat like a real person. But even with the cold there's a strange companionable feel to his tiredness now. Though the silence is as impossible to ignore as Castiel's paper-shifting in its own way. Dean thinks he manages to relax into it, even if Castiel is still strangely inhuman in his perfect stillness.
"Are you going to sleep or not?" Dean eventually asks. Because the 'laying very still and staring at the ceiling' doesn't even look like sleep and it's fooling no one.
"I don't sleep," Castiel reminds him again, soft but pointed. As if it's something Dean should have known already. Though whether that's a 'don't' or a 'can't' he's not entirely sure.
"Yeah, what is that about?"
Castiel turns his head in the dark and Dean doesn't even know how he can still see his eyes, but he can. They should have looked blurry and coloured out in the darkness, but he can still tell that they're blue. Castiel's quiet, but it's a focused quiet, like he's considering something. So Dean waits.
"Imagine being able to control, in some small part, the forces of creation and destruction on this plane. Of being able to change the properties of a thing and its place in time. Imagine all this being under your careful control. Of being aware of it in every part of you."
Dean blinks at him.
"Now imagine if you fell asleep," Castiel says meaningfully.
Dean's quiet for a long moment, because he's trying to work out what that would mean, what that means about everything Castiel has ever done.
"Do you understand now?" Castiel asks. There's a softness there, like maybe he really wants him to. Like he wants Dean to know.
"Yeah," Dean says, one soft word that escapes on a breath, and something in him is quietly stunned at the implications. "Yeah, I think I understand."
He maybe understands more than Cas thinks.
"An angel could fall asleep and dream up the whole damn world," he says.
"That's blasphemy," Castiel says quietly, gently.
Dean snorts laughter, because he gets that. But he doesn't say what he's thinking; he doesn't say that maybe Cas could dream up a better one.
"I didn't think you had all your angel powers any more," he says instead. "I thought you started losing some of them when you decided to throw in with us."
"Some of them, not all," Castiel counters quietly. "Though I still don't think I'd want to chance attempting to remove what you would consider my consciousness from this plane."
"You make that sound really dramatic. It's just sleep."
"It's just sleep for you, for me the concept is -"
"Disturbing?" Dean guesses.
"Frightening," Castiel admits.
He stays quiet while Dean thinks about it. But he's too human to try and imagine never sleeping, never needing to or understanding it. Never even wondering what it would be like. Dean moves his arm, just a little. He can feel the back of Castiel's hand, warm against his own. He should move away, stop touching. But it's comforting in a way he can't quite explain. That reminder that Castiel is alive, warm, real.
He leaves it where it is.
"Don't let me end up like them." Dean's voice sounds too desperate in the darkness. But he can't hold on to that any more. He can't leave it like rot in the back of his head.
"You won't," Castiel says simply.
"I mean it -"
"You won't end up like that," Castiel assures him, and there's iron certainty in his voice. Enough of it to quell the creeping horror that wants to claw its way up the back of Dean's throat.
The pause is longer this time.
"Sam, too," Castiel says eventually, but just as intent, just as certain as before. It's a promise.
Dean breathes into the silence for a long minute and Castiel makes no attempt to move away.
"You going to stay and fake sleep for the rest of the night?"
Cloth rustles in the dark, suggesting Castiel has just turned his head to look at him again.
"Do you want me to?"
Dean can't quite make himself say yes, it's not the sort of thing a guy can ask another guy, not after the age of twelve anyway. But when one guy is an angel and one guy is trying his best to hold back the sudden rise of dead that can't stay in the fucking ground. Maybe all the rules can go hang -
He still can't say it though.
Castiel seems to get it anyway, though, because there's the quiet sound of his head moving back and then nothing.
Chuck's fidgeting. He's an endless series of tiny shifting, twitching movements and unhappy breath noises that Sam thinks he might just maybe kill him for, because he's really, really tired. He needs sleep like he needs to breathe at the minute. Needs it to shove away some of the mental images in his head, to shut down, reboot and start again tomorrow. But he can't. Because of Chuck. He would have picked a double room if there'd been any on this floor without smashed out windows. But he'd figured the bed was big enough. God knows, Sam's slept in worse places.
But Chuck fidgets, really, ludicrously insane fidgeting that just goes on and on. Like he has to wear out all the adrenaline he managed to store up in the day. Sam's a breath away from just lifting a foot and kicking him out of the damn bed. Either that or he's just going to roll over and suffocate him, which is starting to sound more and more attractive by the minute.
"Chuck, God damn it, will you please just stop," Sam grumbles into the darkness.
Chuck is blissfully still.
It's quiet for a long moment, quiet enough that Sam thinks maybe he falls asleep, not for long, but long enough to register that his mouth his dry and awful and that a muscle in his neck aches. Though now he's the one that can't get comfortable. Legs stiff wherever he puts them, not enough space for his arms, which are suddenly too long and too numb, in the hotel bed. There's a draft coming from somewhere. A trail of cold air which skids along Sam's back. It digs just underneath the skin and it's enough to push him out of the edge of sleep; to leave him shifting every few minutes, trying to find a position where it can't get to him. Then he'll fall under for another brief, uncomfortable stretch.
He wakes with his face in hair, soft against the edge of his cheek and he's confused about that because he's fairly sure that Ruby is dead, that they killed her. He's too tired to feel any guilt about that, but tired enough to be confused. He curls closer, folds into the warm length of back, face turned into skin, hand catching the too-soft edge of a jacket.
The body stiffens where he's pressed into it, then very carefully nudges him in the ribs with a surprisingly sharp elbow. Sam's briefly annoyed about that; because it's cold and it's not like they've never - until he remembers the broken staircases and the towering floors of a hotel, cold marble floors and big windows and - Chuck.
He grunts an apology and untangles himself, shoves his arm under the pillow and searches for a comfortable position.
Jesus, it's cold. He settles for curling his other arm around himself and attempting to conserve as much body heat as possible. His leg twitches and the bed jumps when his knee slams into the mattress. Chuck grumbles complaint at Sam's threat to drag him all the way out of sleep. Which isn't fair, because clearly Sam deserves more room and Dean's sharing with someone that doesn't even need to sleep, so he'll have the bed all to himself.
He sleeps again for a while. Then wakes up with his face pressed into the pillow.
His arm hurts. He thinks for a second he's laying on it but then the sensation goes tight, digs deeper and he realises it's fingers.
He turns his head towards the other side of the bed. Chuck's on his back, one arm flung out like he was trying to pull Sam somewhere in his sleep. Or trying to pull himself out. Chuck's fingers are pushed so tightly into Sam's skin that it hurts, and he's making quiet broken noises in his throat.
Sam lifts his other hand to shake him and then stops abruptly, fingers hovering in the darkness. Because there's enough light coming through the window to see the wet trail of blood curling its way across Chuck's cheek. His nose is bleeding.
Not an ordinary nightmare, then.
Sam remembers well enough how unpleasant his visions were to start with. But he's fairly sure he never had to deal with anything like this. He never had to see anything like this. Never had to watch the world get eaten, piece by piece.
He lays a hand on Chuck's shoulder, undecided about whether he should wake him or not. It certainly doesn’t look fun, whatever it is. But there's always a chance he could see something that could help them, something useful for once. Because so far the prophet hasn't exactly come through with any prophecies other than 'we're all going to die.' Over and over.
He likes Chuck, he does, but the frustration is making everyone tight as a wire. If there's a chance that whatever power Chuck has can lead them to an end then Sam's not going to chance it. But then Chuck twitches like someone slapped him and when Sam looks at his face Chuck's eyes are open, staring at the ceiling, wide and glassy and strange.
It takes a long second for him to focus on Sam, and when he does he looks startled, like he'd forgotten he was there.
Chuck heaves a breath that sounds as if it hurts, and his fingers very slowly uncurl from Sam's arm, leaving it numb and stiff.
"Chuck, what did you see?"
Dean's up way before any sane man has a right to be, trying to decide if he has any clean clothes left in the whole world and if it actually matters or not. Castiel is hovering, because he has some weird sixth sense that tells him when Dean's awake, and if he's going to make a habit of this then Dean's going to train him to bring him a cup of coffee at least.
He watches him drift around the room, finding all the places he's left clothes and ammunition, watches him pick up the pieces of his life. He's only half listening to the angel. It's too early for that gravel roll of voice.
"We can only take one day at a time, Cas, we can't do anything else at the minute, we don't have the resources."
And today, today all they had planned was to not get eaten, that was it.
"If we don't stop it..." Dean shrugs stiffly and looks at Castiel. He always seems strangely small when you put him in a room, surround him with walls and ceilings. It makes him seem more human. Dean isn't sure why that's so unnerving, he just knows that it is. That he needs Castiel to be something more, something vast and impossible. Because if they're going to win this they're going to need something like that, something that's not human, something stronger than that. Stronger than them.
"You're stronger than you think."
Dean lets his bag sag open on the bed.
"You tell me that, but the world's doing a pretty good job of proving you wrong. And secondly, I've told you about the mind reading thing. You can't just look at that stuff whenever you feel like it."
He tosses yesterdays jeans in wherever they'll fit and doesn't look up.
"Nothing you think has ever made me think less of you." Castiel makes it sound so clean. But Dean knows what a nasty little bitch his mind can be, especially when he's drunk.
"Sometimes it makes me think less of me," Dean explains. "I don't need a reminder that you can hear all that crap too."
"Sometimes you need to be told you're wrong."
"I gotta tell you, I've had better pep talks before I gear up for a big fight."
"I don't intend to make you doubt yourself, I'm simply reminding you what you're capable of," Castiel says, drifting close when Dean looks away to find his other jeans. The ones that may or may not be clean.
"You know what I'm capable of, huh?" Dean throws a look at him.
"More than you think," Castiel says seriously. Dean thinks he busts out the serious face on purpose whenever Dean's trying to be evasive. He always makes him feel bad about not living up to other people's standards. "The people who love you have great faith in you. They believe in you, even when you do not. Even when you punish yourself. Sam, Bobby, Ellen, Jo and I."
"You love me, huh?" Dean says through a grin. Because that is such an angel thing to say.
"Yes," Castiel says simply.
Dean stops packing his clothes in his bag.
"More than I should," Castiel adds quietly, reluctantly. Then tenses like he knows perhaps he shouldn't. Or maybe just that he shouldn't have said it. Shouldn't have admitted it. Still learning about the acceptable and unacceptable when it came to human beings. Or Winchesters at least.
Dean looks at him, really looks at him. But Castiel has closed his face completely. It's soft and angel-blank, as if he's already accepted the inevitable consequences of admitting to feelings that aren't returned.
What the hell were you supposed to do when an angel confesses they love you at the end of the world. How can Dean just go on after he's admitted to that? He's not going to freak about it. He's seen enough of this fucked up life to know that sometimes love is the only thing you have. Doesn't matter where it comes from. He thinks maybe everyone needs it. And maybe Castiel knows how to do it better than most.
Dean's not sure he deserves it, not sure he's done anything to deserve it. Much as it still surprises him sometimes, he trusts Castiel. He needs him ways he didn't even realise, needs him maybe just to stay sane. Especially now. But he doesn’t know if he loves him like that. If he can love anyone like that. But knowing it, knowing that it's something Castiel thought was worth telling him. It knocks all the damn air out of him.
It feels insane having some sort of ridiculous epiphany over a pile of dirty clothes and a few crumpled boxes of ammunition. Because that seems like a pretty fair summing up of his whole life.
"I'm going to get everyone killed," he says faintly.
"I don't believe that. I don't believe you would allow it," Castiel offers. Dean wonders again what the hell he ever did to deserve him. What kind of messed up world would give him that much faith in him.
He lets the bag go, turns around and looks at him. Because he should at least have the guts to do that.
Castiel hasn't moved. He's watching him quietly, calmly.
"My best isn't always good enough, you already know that."
Castiel says nothing. It's like he's waiting for Dean to come to some decision. Or waiting for him to refuse to make one. There's no judgment there. Just the sense that he'll accept anything Dean decides to do, anything at all.
Castiel's coat is cold under Dean's hands, cold in his fists when he squeezes it tight. He uses it to get close, closer than he should, closer even than Castiel keeps straying every time he forgets about personal space. It's easy to lean in, to change everything with just one warm, strange press of mouth.
It's one of the briefest kisses Dean's ever given in his life, not even a breath long. But the weight of it, the weight of it is something he's not entirely sure what to do with.
Castiel is still just watching him carefully.
"I've never done that," Dean admits.
Castiel frowns confusion.
"Kissed a dude," Dean explains, which sounds ridiculous.
"Technically I'm not," Castiel says quietly. "Though I understand."
He moves slowly out of Dean's personal space and Dean reaches out and catches his coat, stops him, and eases them close again.
"I didn't say I didn't -" he stops, because there's really no good way to finish that. He takes a breath and decides to finish it anyway. "I didn't say I didn't want to."
Castiel watches him curiously.
Dean sighs, fingers shifting in the material of his coat sleeve.
"I just - this is weird, ok, give me a minute." Because it is weird. There's a fine steady thrum of something, warm and heavy. But Dean's not entirely sure that isn't just the kissing. Because he likes the kissing. The connection they have, he's not entirely sure if this is a part of it. Or if this is just Dean, being incapable of having someone mean something to him without this being a part of it. Without making this a part of it.
"I won't be offended if you don't want this," Castiel says quietly. "The fact that I love you shouldn't make you feel compelled to give anything in exchange."
"Maybe I want to," Dean says shakily. It's a rough burst of strange honesty. One of the hard-edged things he makes a habit of not admitting to. Of never speaking about. He knows what he means, knows what he wants to give, maybe, to this angel who dragged him all the way up out of hell and never left. Who stayed and tried to understand him. Who chose him above everything else.
Whether he deserves the attention or not.
Dean thinks Castiel deserves the honesty.
Castiel tilts his head, curious and surprised.
"Maybe I should be asking you that," Dean counters. Because it occurs to him that just because Castiel says he loves him doesn't mean he wants this. He's an angel and there's that sense of remoteness, of asexuality. Dean doesn't know if he wants t be kissed like this, to be touched, hell, he doesn't even know if angels are even capable of this. Or if he's allowed. If Dean wanted to -
"Dean." Castiel's voice is careful. As if he's noticed the tension, the uncertainty. "I never meant to push you into anything."
"If you didn't love me like that you wouldn't have kissed me back," Dean points out, or maybe accuses, and his pulse is going too fast for quiet words.
"I'd always assumed it was only polite to be part of a kiss," Castiel says sensibly. But Dean thinks the pause is too long.
"You wouldn't have kissed me back," Dean says again, softer.
Castiel shuts his mouth, eyes sliding away, just a little, and Dean knows he's right.
"I'm aware that things are more complicated than that."
Dean exhales flat laughter.
"The world's full of zombies and we're about to saddle up again and try and stop it from becoming a wasteland of the dead. I'd say that's the complicated part. The rest of it suddenly seems pretty damn easy." He takes a step and Castiel has to look up, just a fraction. Dean folds his fingers in the crisp fabric of his coat and holds him there, as if he thinks the angel might slither away. Then he leans in and kisses him again.
He doesn't break away this time. He touches Castiel's face, the warm, rough skin of his cheeks and jaw, and he stays when Castiel's mouth opens just a little. It's one shaky moment of breathing and uncertainty. Then they're kissing, really kissing, pushing at each other's mouth, open and wet and reckless, and Dean's hands slide up into Castiel's hair. He keeps him there, right there. And it's good, and he thinks he was wrong. Because maybe he does want this, maybe he needs this -
"Dean - "
He jerks back.
Sam's in the doorframe behind Castiel, and Dean still has his hands pushed into the angel's hair.
He pulls away abruptly.
Sam looks completely thrown, and Dean's in that horrible shaky space somewhere between embarrassed, angry and confused all to hell.
"What?" he demands. He knows there's no good reason to be angry at Sam, but it's loud and hard.
"Jesus, I'm sorry, I just -" Sam shakes his head. "Chuck's seen something, he's seen something big."
Chuck's in Bobby's room, sat on one of the expensive couches, drinking coffee out of a cracked mug that someone found - God knows where. Hove's watching from the doorway.
Bobby looks tired, shirt creased like he fell asleep in it. Or maybe he just put it on and then never took it off.
"I don't know," Chuck repeats again. "I don't know, it was just different."
He looks pale as hell, as if Sam dragged him out of somewhere worse than sleep, shaking hands curled round his mug. He's looking between all of them like he's expecting them to do something horrible to him. Sam's hovering behind him, like some sort of protective giant. Which Dean is completely unsurprised about. He's learned by now that if you make Sam feel responsible for anyone he's pretty much there for the duration.
Chuck rubs a hand over his face.
"God, umm, there was a red room, a red room with a body in the middle of it, all -" Chuck pushes a hand through his hair, mouth pulling down like he's unwilling to remember something horrible. "- all torn open with things - or maybe something trying to crawl out of the middle of it."
"Jesus," Dean says thinly.
Bobby looks a question at him.
"Me and Sam put down something a hell of a lot like that about a month or so before all this started. Something trying to tear its way out of hell. We put it down hard."
Chuck clears his throat.
"It was in a huge building surrounded by the dead, they were literally crawling over each other, pulling each other apart to get close to it. I didn't - the floor was vibrating and the whole place was cracking open, and I'm fairly sure we would have heard if the sky had gone red and it started raining fire, so I'm guessing that's a future that's coming; not that's happening right now. That's what you wanted, right? something you could change." He looks up at the both of them.
Sam's giving him that look, the look that's all enthusiasm and optimism and hope. Dean can't smack that face down for the life of him, because he hasn't seen it for far too long. And this is the first lead - the first clue, the first goddamn anything they've had.
He tosses Chuck a pen.
"Write down the whole thing, every single thing you saw. We'll try and work out where it is and we'll load up everything and everyone we have, and take it on."
He looks up at Bobby.
"Can you get hold of anyone else if we need them?"
Bobby gives a stiff nod.
"You can bet your ass I'll try," he says roughly.
"If we find out where this thing's going to happen. If we can get there before it does and stop it maybe we can end this whole thing."
"You don't think it's too big now to just be shut down by cutting off the head?" Hove says quietly, from where he's leant against the sink.
Dean shakes his head.
"At this stage I don't freakin' care. I'm going to be happy just as long as we're cutting and doing it where it hurts."
Bobby grunts agreement.
"I'm going to need more coffee," Chuck says quietly from the table. He has one hand pressed to the bridge of his nose like his whole skull hurts. "And my glasses."
Dean has brought three bottles up from the bar downstairs. They sit glinting in the artificial light but he hasn't touched any of them. He isn't entirely sure why they're even there. He knows now isn't a good time to drink. Or maybe now is the best time to drink.
Either way he doesn't touch them until Castiel appears behind him. One rough, flapping tear of sound and it's like the room is suddenly full of angel.
Dean unscrews the bottle's lid and fills two glasses.
Castiel gives him a look when he holds it out.
"Don't make me drink alone, Cas," he chastises, and the angel seems to think this is a good enough point, stretching out a hand uncertainly to grip the fine rim of the glass.
When Dean lets go he raises it and carefully tips it to his mouth. He seems undecided about whether to sip it or drink it all. He seems to settle for a taste.
Dean's less polite in his drinking habits.
"Can you even taste that?" he asks, when he's half emptied his own glass.
"Yes," Castiel says, voice just as rough as before.
Dean grunts, then sits down on the bed.
"This thing Chuck's seen, if it really is the same thing me and Sam put down in Greenburg, then at least we know that it can be killed." Though God knows that thing they'd killed hadn't exactly been easy, and Dean's not even close to enthusiastic about going after something bigger, something nastier. It seems like that sort of thing could get you killed.
But then it wouldn't be the first time.
He looks up, trying to gauge what Castiel's thinking, but there's nothing there. He's staring curiously into his empty glass like he's never had the chance to just hold one before. He looks strangely perfect and untouchable standing there. Like no one could ever get deep enough to rattle him. Like he's something old and strange, just wearing a man to pass the time. Dean doesn't like the thought.
He's gotten used to Cas being Cas.
Dean wants to get up close, wants to make him look rough and messy, wants to rattle his perfect calm. God, maybe he just wants to touch him. It feels as if one interrupted kiss has messed up the way he sees completely. Turned the way he thought he'd felt about the angel sideways.
It isn't wrong. It's weird and complicated and different, but not wrong. The world's too messed up for something like this to be wrong. He just...doesn't quite know how to deal with this new and unexpected want. Doesn't know if he should deal with it. Or even if he's allowed to have it.
He empties his glass and stares into it, debates whether he wants more. Whether he just wants to fill a hole inside him with something.
He stands, gets as far as the table before he changes his mind, sets the glass down and then slips into Castiel's space, close enough, closer than he always used to complain about.
He takes the glass from him, sets it down.
Castiel watches him and he's really not sure how to ask. Whether he should just -
But he can't. Not without something like permission.
"Can I?" he asks.
Castiel frowns ever so slightly, like he doesn't understand. Dean's hand shifts, catches in the cold fabric of his coat and pulls him, just a fraction. Castiel tilts his head, face suddenly softer.
"Yes," he says, without hesitation.
Dean barely waits for the word to slip free. Fingers sliding up into the softness of his hair. He draws them close together, finds Castiel's mouth.
The kiss is slow and shaky but Dean's brave enough - or maybe just needs it enough - to make it deep. To need the slow, curious push of Castiel's mouth. In the quiet of the room the rest of the world doesn't exist and he can have this. Because, strange or not, Castiel fills a space in him that's spent so long hollowed out that sometimes it hurts.
But that just makes him want it more, and he doesn't have a clue how the hell that happened when yesterday he didn't even know.
But they've come a long way together. From the depths of hell all the way to the end of the world. The fact that he's an angel, that he's a man, or as close to one as he can be, messed up though it sounds. That doesn't even matter. It'll definitely matter at some point. It'll matter eventually and make everything different, make everything complicated. But now...Dean just wants to kiss him. So he does, fingers sliding back to hold, and it's lazy and fucking indulgent. In a way he could never get away with with anyone else. There are no questions and no expectations, just Dean deciding that he could get used to this.
For however long the world has left.
But that's just him, and Dean refuses to be selfish, refuses to take without knowing if they're allowed. Without knowing if Castiel really wants this. He tips away, lets their noses drag together and Castiel's eyes are soft and close, the angel's fingers are dug in Dean's shirt. A silent refusal to let him go, whether he understands this or not.
"What is this, Cas?" he asks, words brushing the angel's mouth, because he doesn't know. He doesn't have a clue. But if he doesn't ask he's not sure he will, and he refuses to take this somewhere greedy. To not find out for sure.
"This is whatever you want it to be," Castiel tells him, watching him from so damn close through eyes that are so blue it's unnatural. The way he says it, it's like there was never going to be any other answer.
"Tell me you want it too." Dean insists. It comes out with an edge he doesn't like, an edge that sounds like something he doesn't want to be. But he needs it.
"You know I do," Castiel assures him, quiet and rough. Like admitting to it is so damn easy for him.
"Tell me that's not a bad thing."
"Why would you think it would ever be bad?" Castiel murmurs, voice low and gravel-rough.
Dean doesn't answer, shakes out an exhale instead, touching the warmth of Castiel's jaw and throat.
"I love you," Castiel says firmly. "Whatever you want to feel for me. Whatever you want to do with it. It's yours, freely."
Dean's hand tightens in his hair.
"Cas, I don't want to make this something I have to give a name, to make it something complicated. Maybe I just want it to be us." He sounds desperate and raw and he honestly doesn't even know what he means, he just knows he has to try and say it.
Castiel's mouth softens, opens. Dean doesn't know why but he's afraid of what Castiel's going to say. Afraid of talking about this, of turning this into words.
He wants, but he wants Castiel to want it too.
"Kiss me like you want this," Dean says quietly, voice shaky but hard.
Castiel slides a warm hand round the back of his neck, thumb pushing into muscle and pulls him in.
He kisses Dean like he plans to never let him go. Until Dean's mouth is numb and stinging and he's breathing Castiel on every breath.
When Sam gets out of the shower Chuck's still at the table. Mug at his elbow, though it's not coffee, the wet glint of amber suggests someone went on a raid for alcohol, probably Dean. His brother's nowhere to be seen, but the low hum of voices tells him maybe he's next door with Bobby.
Chuck looks like crap, more so than usual. One hand is dug in his hair, the other scratching a pen against paper. There's an unhappy paleness to his skin, hair curling damp on his neck. Sam thinks maybe the wet towel flung a foot away had been pressed there for a while.
"Are you ok?" Sam asks him. Because with Chuck you can't really tell. He has that ability to complain and panic his way through situations that would break anyone else. But Sam thinks even this is a lot to ask for. He knows Chuck's been mostly trying to forcibly block this stuff out since the dead starting eating the living.
Chuck pulls a face at him, something dishevelled and mocking.
"Yeah, I know that's kind of a stupid question," Sam admits.
He sits down on the other side of the table and looks at the paper Chuck's writing - no, apparently drawing - on.
Sam raises an eyebrow at what looks like a wonkily filled in skyline.
"He's making me draw it," Chuck complains. "Apparently my descriptive passages weren't good enough. If I'd have known it would be important I might have concentrated more on what the city looked like, rather than the streams of walking dead and the sky being eaten up by fire."
He moves his arm so Sam can get a good look at the picture.
At some point the pen ran out so it's half blue and half black, smudged in places, buildings not entirely three dimensional.
Sam makes a face.
"Yeah, art really isn't my strong point. Which is why Supernatural wasn't a comic strip or a graphic novel." Chuck sighs and scribbles a handful of windows. "It would have been a fantastic graphic novel," he adds under his breath.
"Everything helps," Sam says quietly.
"Yeah," the pen scratches harder on the paper than before. "Yeah, I get that, Winchesters, believe me I really do get that." There's a tight unhappiness in the way he's drawing now. The buildings shakier and less straight than before.
"Chuck," Sam says softly. "We're going to do everything we can."
"Maybe it's too late for that," he says without looking up.
"You really believe that?" Sam asks.
"Sam, I wrote about most of the crap you guys have been through, but this...this is so far beyond all of that I can't even see it all at once. This isn't about you. This isn't you and your brother against the forces of evil. This is global. This is hell trying to tear the world apart just because it can."
The pen lists sideways and Chuck rubs both hands over his face.
"So, what, you think we should just give up?"
Chuck makes a face.
"I never said that, and seriously, like you guys ever would. It's just - it's so fucking big, y'know?"
"Yeah, yeah, I know."
He steals Chuck's mug, drags it over to the other side of the table and he was right, the liquid burns all the way down.
"Dean and Cas are upstairs trying to work out how we stop this thing, right now," Sam says slowly. At least he assumes that's what they're doing. He'd thought about going to check earlier but he still kind of doesn't know what to think about the last time. When he'd walked in on them kissing. Because it's Dean and - God - that had been kind of unexpected, and surreal. "You know Cas is going to do everything he can, we have an angel on our side - that has to mean something."
Chuck sighs, like he's aware of the truth of that.
"And we're all in this to the end."
"I'm going to be eaten by zombies," Chuck complains, and though it's thrown out, something that wants to be a joke. It's also hard and shaky. Sam thinks maybe they're getting to the heart of what Chuck's afraid of.
"Chuck, I'm not going to let you get eaten by zombies," Sam tells him.
Chuck grunts something unimpressed and steals his mug back.
"You're just saying that because you're a Winchester."
Sam picks up the pen and hands it back to him.
"Yeah, I'm a Winchester and we tend to come out the other side of these things."
"It's no fun when you're not in charge of writing the endings, y'know," Chuck complains. But he very carefully starts adding buildings to the background.
Sam slides the paper down in front of Dean, pushes it between the trail of shotgun cartridges and a half full glass of something stronger than coffee.
He jabs a finger down on what looks like a messy drawing of a plinth and a figure holding its arms out, holding what looks like a sun.
"What does that look like to you?"
The cloth pauses and draws free from the shotgun's barrel.
"It looks like Detroit," Dean says quietly.
"We've got a ground zero," he says calmly.
Dean sets the gun down carefully
"Have you told Bobby yet?"
"Not yet, he went out with Hove to pick up some supplies. I was going to make a start on packing up while we waited."
Dean looks up at him sharply.
"You ready to go kill this thing again?"
"More than ready," Sam says thickly. "So much more than ready."
"It's going to be a fucking mess."
"We've done worse," Sam says easily, and it's a lie. It's such a blatant lie and Dean huffs amusement like he knows it.
Dean leans back in the chair, head tipped back into the light, and Sam catches the bruised red edge to his mouth for the first time.
"Did you get hit?" Sam asks curiously. Because he doesn't remember anything catching Dean across the face.
Sam gestures at the corner of Dean's mouth, at that messy brightness. Dean looks confused for a second, and then abruptly something clicks and he looks away. He shakes his head, but doesn't say anything else. Sam's left completely bewildered, and he's about to ask about it when he gets it, suddenly and clearly. He can't for the life of him work out how to backtrack and pretend he'd never asked. Because he'd thought maybe the whole kissing thing was a moment of madness on Dean's part. He's really good at doing stupid things like that. But the fact that it's clearly a thing, that maybe it's something they've been doing since then. The fact that Dean's actually letting it happen. Sam's not exactly sure what that means for them. That it isn't some embarrassing consequence of Dean's ridiculous libido. That it might actually be something real.
"Forget about it," he tries. "I'm just -"
"It's complicated," Dean says quietly.
Which Sam's a little bit surprised about. Because he would have bet money on Dean at least pretending nothing was going on. This is practically talking about it. Though Sam doesn't think it's half as complicated as Dean thinks it is.
"It's ok," Sam says easily, and then discovers he doesn't have anything else. That they don't need anything else.
Besides, Dean's had easy for too long. He deserves a little complicated. Something that matters, no matter what shape it is. He doesn't say anything at all. He watches Dean sit tense and uncomfortable on the other side of the table. Until he picks up his cloth again, starts cleaning. Sam doesn't even realise he's smiling at the craziness of it all until Dean pulls a face at him. Like Sam's damaged in some sort of important way. He doesn't give up on the smile though. He doesn't think there'll be many of them tomorrow.
The world is completely empty. Everything is gone, the landscape an unending grey. Even the dead have stopped walking, stopped moving between the buildings and along the roads. Everything is dead.
Dean's seeing it from inside, through the glass of a window.
Warm hands drag him away from the glass, fingers on the side of his face turning him away from the nothingness outside.
There's nothing but Castiel's hands, Castiel's mouth. The furious hunger of him, fingers too strong, mouth too hot.
But Dean wants it, wants Castiel to pull him away from that formless grey void that the world has become. He wants to break apart under his hands.
He pulls his mouth to the side, leaves the angel's mouth open on his cheek.
"Cas, I want this," he admits, swallows roughly and says everything. "I want this. I want you, anything you want, anything."
The angel makes a noise against his skin and Dean wants it to be acceptance, wants it to say yes.
"I have to go, Dean," Castiel's voice is flat against his skin. "I can't stay with you."
Dean goes cold.
"Cas?" he manages, and then he's pushing his way out of Castiel's arms.
He's pushing him back, stomach hollow, taut and shaking.
"No," Dean says simply. "You can't, you can't go."
Castiel's expression is sad but firm.
"I have to go." There's a rigid honestly in his voice. Like there's no arguing, no protesting. Like it's simply the truth. Dean catches at him, somewhere between panic and furious anger.
"You can't. You promised, you fucking promised. Don't you dare tell me that."
"Dean." Castiel's voice is too soft, too close to apology.
"I need you," he tells him, the words small and faint and broken where they fall. Like Dean's afraid of them.
"I have to," Castiel insists.
"I need you," Dean says roughly, brokenly, because he can. Because there's no one left, there's nothing left. He digs his fingers into the angel's arms, into the unbreakable skin at the back of his neck. "You can't go, you son of a bitch, I -"
But Castiel is already fading, skin softening, slipping between his fingers, until the angel's made of nothing but wet smoke and Dean's breathing it in, choking and swallowing and demanding he come back, because there's nothing else left. There's nothing, nothing at all -
Something touches his arm, drags him roughly all the way conscious.
The shape in the dark, pale and still above him, is Castiel.
God, Castiel, and Dean ignores the way his heart's thumping because this is the real world, not a fucking dream, and he knows what being woken in the middle of the night usually means.
"What? What is it, Cas?" Dean's awake, more than awake, already halfway to a sit, heart thumping. But Castiel's expression isn't tight, it's quieter. It's somewhere between hard and lost.
"You were dreaming," he says thickly. Like he knows. Like he saw.
Dean doesn't have to ask, doesn't have to wait for Castiel to speak. He's sliding out of the warm sheets, catching Castiel's arm and drawing him down, drawing him in with rough careless movements.
His mouth is cold, like he's been outside. But he relaxes into the kiss, breathes soft and slow against Dean's face, turning his mouth up when Dean fists a hand in his hair to make it easier, to make it deeper.
"Is this what you need?" Dean breathes into him, heavy shake to the words. "Is this what you came for?" He holds him there so he can see him, so he can watch the way his eyes go dark. The way they catch and hold his own.
Dean wants it, he wants it and he's not ashamed of it, not one fucking bit. It's not what he ever thought he'd want, hell it's not even close, but this, Castiel's hands on him, Castiel's skin under his fingers, that's what he wants. Now, not later, not at some point in the future when he's got the balls to admit to it out loud. He wants it now.
"Is it?" he demands.
"Yes," Castiel says roughly, one snapped out broken word and he pulls like he wants more, needs more. Like he's discovered this thing and now he's not sure he can get enough of it.
Dean shoves at his coat and jacket, lets them fall, and Castiel is pushing at his shoes while the buttons of his shirt scatter. The angel tugs the blankets away, one quick jerk of movement and then he's pressing Dean into the warmth of the sheets, possessive, almost angry. Dean didn't expect to like that so much, didn't expect to need it so much.
The slow greedy thump of arousal works its way low and deep. It flares hot when he realises Castiel is hard, pressed in tight against him like he finds the sensation addictive. He pushes himself harder into Dean's skin and makes noises into his mouth that Dean never thought he'd ever make. Like he wants to own him. Like he wants to press him down and spread him open and slide inside him.
God, fuck, Dean would have always said he never wanted anything like that. But the thought of it, here, now, the thought of it breaks something in him. The way Castiel doesn’t say please, doesn't even ask. The way he just kisses him like he can't get enough.
Dean drags his head up, watches Castiel's mouth open, the wet, bright shine of his teeth, the warmth when his breath shivers out over Dean's face.
"Cas, do you want -"
"Yes," Castiel says firmly, before he's even finished, quick and desperate. "Please, Dean." And Dean wonders if he can even stop himself from reading his mind when they're pressed so close together. When Dean wants with a fierce, almost angry, ache. Stupid rush of lust that's taking him somewhere new, too desperate to be nervous. To want to wait.
"Jesus, Cas." His voice is a mess, but he doesn’t say no. He doesn't protest when Castiel kneels beside the bed, a curve of naked flesh in the darkness that looks like something no one's meant to touch.
He catches Dean's outstretched hand and lets himself be pulled back onto the bed, small bottle of oil held in his other hand. Which makes it real somehow. That he's going to say yes to that.
"Should I be worried that you know what you're doing?" Dean says roughly, and arousal has stolen any hint of sensible calm in his voice.
"I'm very old," Castiel says quietly, and there's a curl of amusement under the rough, throaty, tremor of want. "I have watched humanity. I have watched you."
That shouldn't make Dean groan out a breath, shouldn't make his fingers pull at Castiel's skin. But it does, greedy to have him there, to have him in the bed again. When Castiel touches him this time his hands are warm and slow and sure. Dean thinks the noises he's making in his throat are permission, the way he gives under every slide of Castiel's fingers where they find the curve of his waist and hips, the hard push of his cock and the soft, heavy ache of his balls.
Dean's hands aren't so kind, fingers quick and greedy and desperate. Because he's never done this, not from this end, not when it was real, with his own body and his own flesh. A little experimentation with adventurous girls isn't the same and Castiel's fingers are verging on too hard where they dig in now. He's strong and heavy, everything about him masculine, for all that he's angel instead.
That's a lot of power, a lot of strength to control, and Dean knows it won't be fun for him if Castiel can't handle it, if he pushes too hard. But he trusts Castiel, maybe more than he should, but he does.
He slides over in the sheets, gets his knees under him and Castiel runs shaky hands over his back and thighs.
"Dean." His name shakes in Castiel's voice. One last desperate plea for permission to have him. Which, Jesus, Dean has no frame of reference for. But it's Castiel, it's Castiel, and that's all that matters.
"Yeah, it's ok. I'm ok, do it."
The press of slick fingers into him, rushed but careful, is uncomfortable and Dean breathes through it, breathes and lets Castiel open him, touch him in slow greedy slides. The push of his fingers deep enough to find the place that makes his breath catch and his thighs tremble. To leave him dizzy-drunk for the promise of more, whether he can take it or not.
Castiel finger fucks him, slow and deep for so long, so damn long that he's shaking on the edge, twisting, shifting and so ready it hurts.
"Cas," he says desperately.
There's a short, ragged inhale. Castiel's fingers slide free and Dean hears it when Castiel slides a hand over himself. Before he catches Dean's hips and holds him still while he presses himself against, and then into, him. A hard push that aches all the way through.
"Fuck," Dean whispers. "Easy, Cas, easy."
"I'm sorry." Castiel's voice catches in his throat but he slows, pushes more gently, lets Dean take him in one slow, uncomfortable slide.
What he's doing, what they're doing. The rough, dirty, too intimate push of Castiel's dick into him in a way that's so utterly unangelic he thinks it's going to break him. Under the heavy thud of need it almost hurts, and it's too much. But there's a low broken noise from the angel. Something that sounds honest and desperate. He digs his fingers into Dean's skin and fights to make it slow and easy. Dean moans into the pillow and feels everything.
Dean thinks maybe he corrupted the angel, brought him down to this, though he never meant to. But he breathes and winces and murmurs quiet encouragement, fingers dug hard into the sheets. Until Castiel is balls deep, hands curled where waist becomes thigh, fingers digging in like he wants nothing else but to push and push.
Dean lets Castiel have what he wants. The angel who's never wanted anything. Dean lets him have this. Rough, graceless pushes that aren't always nice. But Dean's lost too, completely lost, held down by the heat, the weight, the fierce desperation of Castiel. Grounded and broken and right here. There's hot breath flaring against the back of his neck and rough half-words that stream out and stop, shocked and shaken.
He feels it when Castiel comes. A sharp, broken thrust, and another, desperate. Then a breath, hard and stunned, and stillness. There's a flare of heat and liquid warmth inside him. Obscene and strange and good. Dean feels bruised and wrung out. Taken apart and used and he could sob with how much he needs, never knew he did but - God. Castiel curls a hand round him and touches him. A quick, hot-tight catch of fingers that he shoves into, gasps and lets Cas pull him all the way over the edge.
Castiel holds him while he shakes, blind and breathless, through his own release. With the angel still a solid ache inside him.
The ache stays when he slides free, when he smoothes his hands up Dean's back. It's gentle, careful. It feels strangely like quiet worship. When Dean slithers round, Castiel's fingers tug his mouth open, and he kisses him. Slow, shaky presses of mouth. The warm softness of his cock slides against his skin and Dean pulls him down, presses him down in a way that's soft and close and human. Until they're tangled up together, hot and messy and Dean's so willing to fucking stay that way it almost scares him.
"Dean," Castiel says quietly. Like his name is something vital.
Dean throws an arm out, damp against Castiel's warm skin. He leaves it there, fingers loose across the angel's chest. So there's no conversation, no asking him to stay. There's just the both of them under the sheets, and it's been so long since Dean's had something warm, something that's his.
Something he's maybe a little in love with.
And the fact that it's the end of the world hurts in a way that's unfair.
"I love you," Castiel whispers against his skin, breath warm. "I would never leave you, I could never leave you."
Dean tightens the arm he has thrown round the angel. Throat shut too tight to speak. Because it's the end of the world and, damn it, no one should make promises they can't keep.
The car's too hot, because rolling the windows down fills it with the smell of smoke and rotting corpses. Dean's been driving for four hours, tense enough that he's going to regret it later. Every damn inch of him is going to ache and grind like he's sixty years old and he'll have to put up with it.
He flicks his eyes up, finds Castiel in the back, quiet and still, like he knows something they don't. Dean's fairly sure he knows a million things they don't. He's been quiet all morning, quieter than usual. Like he isn't quite sure how to deal with what happened between them. Dean's not gonna push. He's kind of...not happy exactly, but he feels...he feels less buried under it all than yesterday.
Chuck's on the other side, next to Cas. He's curled into the window picking under his nails, expression somewhere between discomfort and misery. But then he's been wearing that face for a while now.
Sam's leaning against the window too, face tense, occasionally he'll check the mirrors, as if to see if Bobby and Hove are still behind them.
They're heading east.
Heading for the end.
Dean's pretty sure they're getting one chance at this. He thinks maybe they're either stopping whatever this is from opening a way into hell or they're not making it out alive. They're going to give everything and that'll just have to be enough.
"What did Bobby say about Rufus, Ellen and the others?" Dean asks.
Sam straightens, nod turning into a frown.
"He said the phones aren't exactly reliable any more but he left as many messages as he could telling them all to meet us there if they can."
Neither of them suggest that the others, that Ellen and Jo, might be dead already.
It's not an option.
It's going to take three days to drive there, if they stop to sleep. Depending on how messed up the roads are since they passed through last.
Dean's more than happy to do the whole thing in one go but Sam's insistent, they sleep, or their reflexes will suffer, and that's not acceptable. Dean's fairly sure that letting Sam be smart when he doesn't want to be is one of the reasons they're not dead yet.~~~~
The first night they sleep in the hospital of a deserted town, camped out in the doctor's lounge while Castiel watches for danger. Watches over them while they sleep. Though Dean thinks he gets maybe half an hour of real sleep. The rest of it is just blood and horror. The way the world smells now. It's too damn close to hell for comfort.
The second night they don't find anywhere safe. So Dean's left driving on the adrenaline from the day before. There's death all along the roads, dead stumbling in the dark, wavering into the high beams with mindless intent. The damn things nearly make him crash the car twice, clumped together on bends and under the wet overhang of trees. He hasn't had to concentrate so fucking hard for years. Sam and Castiel don't say a damn word about the speed for a change. Nor about the wet crunching thud of bodies under tyres.
The third night they end up in a nondescript house sixty miles outside the city. They don't turn on any lights, they only eat the food in tins. They make the house safe, make it somewhere they can get out of, or hold if absolutely necessary.
Dean agrees to watch first, agrees to stare out of the window into the dark with Cas. He spends what feels like hours passed in silence, with the angel so close he could stretch his fingers out and touch him. Dean doesn't back away, doesn't try and find his own space again.
He thinks maybe for a while Cas wants to talk, wants to ask him questions but isn't sure how. Dean wants to tell him it's ok, that he can ask him anything, and he'll at least try to answer. Because if not now, then when? But Dean doesn't know how to tell him that. They're still too new, too strange. It all feels like the beginning but it's too close to what feels like the end. Like they don't have time to be anything.
To be anything but what they are, whatever the hell that is, as hard as they can.
Dean's just not any good at it.
He rubs tiredness out of his eyes and draws in a slow breath.
"You should sleep. I can keep watch." Castiel's voice is soft.
Dean shakes his head.
"I don't need to sleep."
"You don't want to dream," Castiel says quietly.
"I've had more bad dreams than good," he admits. "People don't really get a lot of choice about what they dream. It's when your brain chooses to stab you where you're vulnerable." He grits his teeth a little on the words, because he doesn't like admitting to things. He doesn't like that brief moment where he's shown too much, given too much. He shakes his head and frowns out of the window rather than look at Castiel.
God, he knows Cas won't judge him but sometimes he thinks maybe he should be judged, should be looked at like Castiel thinks he can be better than that, and he hates it.
Because he never wants Castiel to look at him like that.
Castiel's fingertips touch the back of his hand.
"I wouldn't leave," Castiel assures. "I'm here for as long as you need me. As long as I'm able."
Dean shifts his own hand and very slowly the touch becomes a hold, Dean's fingers slipping past Castiel's and sliding over his knuckles. Until their hands are curled together.
Castiel's fingers are warm, the press of his palm strangely intimate. Dean doesn't hold hands, he just doesn't, and yet he can't make himself pull away. Can't untangle himself from the softness of Castiel's skin, from the way it feels like he's holding more of Dean than his hand. He feels like Castiel is holding him up and for the life of him he can't let go of that.
He knows Castiel would let him, he'd let Dean slip his hand free without protest. But instead Dean stares out of the window and squeezes, as hard as he can, and says nothing.
Until Sam stumbles down the stairs, hair a wreck, but he's awake, miserably awake, and he gives Dean a sharp nod. Pretends he doesn't see their hands a fraction too close, fingers still touching.
"I told Bobby I'd take his shift."
"I'll bet he was happy about that."
Sam rubs his eyes.
"He's got his books open. I don't think he's been to sleep."
Dean barely remembers heading upstairs, finding the master bedroom, the sheets still slightly warm and untidy. His bag is dumped at the foot.
He kicks off his boots and jeans, then sits on the edge, rubs tired hands over his face.
"Cas," he says into the dark, just loud enough that he can hear his own voice.
There's the soft, familiar sound of wings and Castiel is standing just inside the door.
Dean takes a breath, because he hadn't been entirely sure that would work, that he'd come, and now he's not even sure how to ask.
"You want to stay for a while?" he says quietly. He thinks maybe he sounds just a little bit desperate. But Castiel reaches out, like he can't help himself now he's been given permission. He touches him. Dean lets Castiel draw him to his feet. Castiel, in turn, lets Dean strip his clothes free in slow tired movements, until he's soft and slender and strangely more naked than he should be. In a way Dean thinks he could get used to, more than get used to, hands catching his waist and pulling him in, pulling him down.
Castiel's uncertain for a moment. He's obviously expecting Dean to want, expecting his touches to be firm and needy. But Dean murmurs that that's not what he wants, that's not what he's asking for.
Castiel's warm and he's soft and real and Dean stretches him out on the bed. His skin jumps under Dean's hand when he settles it awkwardly on his stomach.
"If I die tomorrow get the hell off of this rock," Dean murmurs into Castiel's hair.
"I don't want you to be here." Dean says without looking at him. "You should go back, be somewhere you belong, somewhere you're safe."
"I don't belong there," Castiel says quietly. As if Dean should know better. "And nothing you say will convince me otherwise."
"You're a stubborn son of a bitch."
"I have had to learn how to be." Castiel's fingers touch his hand, cautiously, like he's testing whether it's something Dean will allow.
Dean catches his fingers before he can drag them away. Castiel sighs something that sounds a lot like surrender, but doesn't say yes, doesn't promise him anything.
Dean breathes into the silence and gives up on the world for a while.
There's only three living people in the city of Detroit, and they're waiting at the main street intersection when they get there.
"'Bout time you boys got here," Ellen says. She sounds more than relieved to see them. Rufus is behind her and Jo's at her side. Jo has blood spatters in her hair and Rufus jacket is torn but they're still standing, still breathing and that's good enough.
"It's good to see you," Dean tells her and he means it, he really means it.
Dean grips Chuck's shoulder and swivels him round.
"Is that the building you saw?" he asks him.
The view across the city is cut through with a handful of office buildings, the tallest of which looks a hell of a lot like Chuck's hasty sketch.
"Yeah, only it's less torn apart than it was in my vision, and the sky was kind of broken, sort of bleeding death everywhere. So, yeah, that was it, and I'm really glad it's not doing that, by the way."
Sam smacks him on the shoulder. Because, yeah, Chuck did good.
"Is that where we're going?" Bobby asks.
Dean nods, jerks the bag he's holding open, guns on display for anyone that wants more. "That's where the world ends."
They walk through the streets. They can hear the dead but they haven't seen any of them yet, haven't caught so much as a glimpse from a side alley or sight of a shape in a doorway. But the zombies get louder the closer they get. The sun gets lost behind the buildings leaving them in the chill dimness of the city.
"I'm telling you, I've seen the way this turns out," Chuck says roughly. "It's not pretty, it's not, and I'm really not happy about being at ground zero when it all kicks off, really not -"
Dean grabs Chuck's arm and drags him back, hushes him silent. Because they can see the building's base now. They're all looking across at where the street in front of the building is choked with the dead. They're pressed in together almost too tight to move, shambling and clawing at the building's rough edges. Pressing into it in waves. The long endless chorus of moans sounding like desperation.
"We have to get in there?" Ellen asks flatly. Like the idea is ludicrous. Like they're going to be crazy to even try.
"We have to get in." Dean knows he doesn't sound happy about it. Hell he wasn't expecting it to be easy but this is something else.
"It looks like they all want to get in too." The quiet creak of the shotgun under Jo's fingers is the only sign that she's not exactly happy about the direction they're heading.
"I'm fairly sure that letting them would be bad," Sam decides. Which makes Dean snort because Sam has to be the voice of doom when Cas is busy.
He's currently busy standing very still and watching the building.
"There are no wards on the building," Castiel sounds curious.
Dean eyeballs him. "What does that mean?"
"Perhaps that they see no reason to hide their efforts to tear their way into the world anymore."
"Yeah, maybe they don't think there's anyone left to stop them," Ellen says quietly.
"Is it really that bad?" Sam asks her
Ellen's mouth goes fine and tight.
"Every city we've been through has been a mess. The military's trying to keep some of the big cities safe."
"That's going about as well as can be expected," Rufus says harshly.
Ellen snorts something disgusted.
"Pretty much anything else, you could teach people a few basic safety precautions to protect themselves. But the walking dead are just that. Not to mention the fact that the damn things are contagious."
"So, how do we get in?" Jo asks, with a sharp nod for the building.
"There must be a way in the back, we could follow the alley round, or, if we had to, get in through the building next door," Sam offers.
"Sounds like a plan." Dean pulls his gun out of his jeans. "Me and Cas will check the building next door. Sam, you and Chuck check round the back of the building."
Chuck doesn't look happy about it, but he folds his arms and nods when Sam gives him a look.
"Bobby, Ellen, Jo and Rufus, work your way round to the alley at the side, keep an eye on our friends. Make sure they don't get curious. If we find something, we'll be coming out that way. But y'know, if you hear us being eaten...."
"Don't say that," Chuck says weakly. "God, I'm already not liking this plan."
Sam smacks Chuck on the back and he groans but starts moving without Sam having to push.
It takes them longer to loop round the back than Sam thought it would. He's giving the dead a wide berth. He's still not sure how far away they need to be before they can smell you, or maybe hear you. No one's quite sure how it works. They end up in an alley two buildings down, quiet, nothing moving but trash in the wind. Chuck's muttering quietly under his breath. It sounds suspiciously like cynical ramblings about how he should have stayed at home and died of alcohol poisoning. Sam doesn't like the alleys between the buildings. They're too narrow and too high. There's almost no way out except the way they've come or the tangled mess of more alleys and trash that lead all the way round. It's a damn good place for an ambush, or for someone to just get cut off by a mess of the walking dead.
He doesn't see the dead woman until it's too late. She falls on him, hands clawing for his face. He doesn't have time to do anything but react. He grabs for her neck, gets his fingers round it just in time. But the dry clack of her teeth snapping together is still far too close and he's falling back under her weight, hitting the ground, gun clattering out of his jeans and across the ground.
Sam ends up on his back, one hand wrapped round the dead woman's throat, the other tangled in her hair, while her teeth strain for his forearm. She's strong, horribly, unnaturally strong. Hell she's strong enough that she's winning, dead fingers digging into his arm and cheek hard enough to draw blood.
He's trying to get a knee up to kick her in the stomach but she's too small, too high and he doesn't have any hands left to get her away.
Another half a minute and she's going to tear her way through to the tendons and he won't have any power left to grip her with.
Someone slams a gun barrel against the side of her head and pulls the trigger.
The shot throws her off his body, taking her into the ground with a thud, arms flung out, fluid draining out of the large hole in her head and staining the ground brown. Sam breathes relief for a second and then tips his head back.
Chuck's holding the gun.
He looks more than a little horrified.
Sam looks from the gun to the zombie corpse on the grass.
"Thanks, Chuck," he says quietly, though his voice is all edges of quiet disbelief.
"No problem," Chuck says thinly. He looks like he's going to be sick. But then, abruptly, he makes a quiet noise of distress. "Can you please take the gun now?"
Sam very carefully eases it out of his hand and Chuck lets it go like he's not entirely sure it won't shoot him back. If nothing else, the noise has torn through the city loud enough for the dead to decide something interesting is happening. Sam's fairly sure their way out is going to be closed up before they get there.
"Change of plans," Sam tells him, getting to his feet and catching Chuck's jacket. "We're meeting Dean and Cas round the other side.
The zombies are coming around from the front of the building too. Sam can hear the crashing, sliding thud of feet, and hands pushing masonry and steel out of the way.
"Remember when you promised I wouldn't be eaten by zombies," Chuck reminds him tartly.
"I'm working on it," Sam tells him.
They end up somewhere behind the original building, skidding on wet cardboard, working their way round, trying to find a way in, or through. One of the solid doors to the left of them shudders its way open, too damn close and Sam gets hit by the edge of it. He kills the zombie that almost falls out, then one behind it. They yawn out of the dark gap, a handful in ripped office clothing, thin and slow but desperate. They fall over the bodies in front of them, crawling across the ground, fingers scraping at Sam's boots. He kicks out, catches one in the face and sends her sprawling.
Chuck's fingers dig in the back of his jacket, tug on the material.
"I know," he points out.
"No, Sam," Chuck says fiercely and tugs hard. Sam steps back on instinct.
A zombie hits the ground right in front of him.
"What the -"
He looks up. Some of the smashed windows up above are full of the dead. They're clawing to get out, to take the easiest, the fastest way to him. Another smashes into the ground and immediately starts crawling in their direction. Then another, two in quick succession, surrounding them in a messy ring. Most of them can't get up. One is struggling awkwardly to its feet on what looks like one broken leg. But they don't need to be standing to be dangerous.
God, this is insane.
"Where?" Chuck insists, voice thready with panic.
Sam looks up the alley and finds it sprinkled with more of the fallen dead, all of them moving on arms and damaged legs, clawing their way along the ground towards them. Chuck's making soft noises that aren't even words - and then one falls close enough to hit them. Sam goes down, hits the ground again, and judging by the unhappy shout and the fact that he lands on something soft he's just crushed Chuck. At least this time he has a gun. The dead man is already dragging himself close, opening his mouth. But someone else takes him out. His head jerks under the impact and then he crumples inelegantly into Sam's lap.
Dean's shouting, and Sam can hear the thud of boots and then he's being hauled upright by hands, he doesn’t even know whose, and they're all running, crashing through the alley, smashing aside boxes and pallets and bags of trash. The dead going down before they reach them.
"Change of plans, run like hell," Dean hisses in his ear.
Someone catches his shirt, Ellen he thinks, yanking him to a stop and then there's a gun over his shoulder. The white face that was crawling out of the next alley smacks into the ground with a hard spatter of brown brain matter.
Sam reminds himself, fiercely, to keep his damn eyes open.
Dean skids on a wet piece of metal, but Castiel doesn't let him go down, keeps pulling. There are too many dead behind them, too many above them, there are just too many and the back of this building should have a fire escape but Sam can't find one, can't see one anywhere.
"Dean," Castiel says suddenly, sharply, and Sam realises before he looks up that they're at the back of the building they want. The security doors are chained up tight. This is a shitty place to hold. The entrance to the street, to the left, fifty feet away, is a mess of walking dead. To the right is a chain link fence. The wall behind them is at least ten feet high and they might be able to scramble over it, but that isn’t the way they need to go. They need to get inside. But the zombies are too close behind them, and there's no way Sam wants zombies following them into the narrow confusing corridors of an office building.
Dean takes out two zombies the moment they appear round the corner. Sam puts down the two that come in behind.
Then they shamble round in a mass and everyone's shooting at once. Ellen switches from shotgun to handguns and Chuck reloads every time Dean or Sam dumps a gun into his hands. The more they shoot the more stumble into the alleyway behind them. Crawling round from the front of the building with the promise of fresh blood, dragging themselves over the fallen bodies of the first wave, swelling over and through the broken chain links of the fence to the right.
Close and getting closer.
Doubling and then tripling in number.
They're going to pile over them like water.
"Fuck this." Hove unhooks the bag from his waist. "Everyone get ready to get down."
"Give them to me," Rufus says fiercely and holds out a hand.
Hove gives him a sharp look, silence dragging out, and then he hands over the bag.
"Rufus," Bobby protests.
"We're not outrunning them," Rufus says, like that's the end of the matter.
Ellen doesn't say a word and Jo's mouth is tight, fingers clenching and unclenching round her shotgun.
He's moving before any of them can protest again, a thud of boots on concrete. One of the grenade pins hits the dirty floor of the alley.
"God help him," Ellen says sharply, then wraps a hand round the back of Jo's head and pulls her to a crouch.
Sam doesn't have time to take a breath because Castiel pushes him to the floor and he has enough time to listen to his own blood rush in his ears before the whole world explodes. The blast wave slams into them all, hard enough to send even Castiel crashing into them and Sam's breathing rank wet ground and hearing nothing but the discordant rush of his ears ringing.
A rain of debris and bits of zombie crash into the floor and the sides of the building.
Castiel's hand slides off his back slowly and Sam rolls over and swallows to try and convince his ears to work again.
The approaching horde of zombies, and Rufus, have been reduced to a wet mess of pieces.
"Sam, Dean." Chuck's voice is sharp, insistent.
Sam assumes immediately that there are more, that Rufus has bought them maybe a few seconds and nothing more. He looks towards the mouth of the alley which is a torn out bloody nightmare - but that's not where Dean is scrambling.
He's heading the other way.
To where Bobby's sprawled on the floor.
"Someone help me, for God's sake," Chuck snaps. He has a hand pressed down over Bobby's shoulder, bright, shiny red seeping through his fingers.
Bobby looks annoyed, glaring up at them all through an expression that looks barely discomforted.
His cap's come off and it's rolling on the wet ground.
"It's nasty, but I'm not gonna die of it," Bobby says roughly. Like instead of fussing someone better help him the hell up. On any other day that would be true, but they're in the middle of an abandoned city, surrounded by fucking zombies. Dean's already ripping a strip off Castiel's coat and Ellen has a wadded up piece of plaid cloth from the edge of her shirt. Sam can see from the side that the wound has wood in it. Probably a piece of one of the pallets they'd run past.
They haul Bobby up together, tie the hasty bandage down tight over the mess. He makes an unhappy noise.
"We don't have time to take the wood out," Dean tells him.
"I know that," Bobby complains, like he didn't teach them these things and he's not senile for God's sake. They get him to the back of the alley, Ellen taking advantage of the quiet to load her gun. Jo's teaching Chuck how to make a sling that still lets you shoot with both hands and it's almost surreal how seriously he seems to be taking it, hands bloody, a streak of it down his temple where he's fidgeted with his hair.
Ellen drags Dean in close by his coat sleeve. Sam follows, because it's what he does.
"They'll pour in there after us the minute we let them, and I for one don't want to be trapped in a building like this."
Dean shakes his head.
"Get in there, get in there and find this thing and put it down for good," Ellen says sharply.
"We can't leave you out here," Sam protests.
"Sooner or later it'll be as safe as anywhere," she insists.
"Castiel can stay with you," Dean says through a frown.
Ellen makes a rough noise in her throat.
"You really think that angel would let you leave him behind?"
Sam catches the way Dean's face changes then, the way he wants more than anything else to take Castiel into hell with him. The way he feels nothing but guilty about that.
"With any luck you kill this thing, you kill all the dead. They fall where they stand and we all get to go home.
"Ellen." Dean's voice sounds like it knows how ridiculous it is to assume that.
"Get your asses in there before I push you boys," she says flatly.
"Cas, open the door."
Castiel grips the chain that holds the door shut and it comes apart with a metallic snap and swings open, letting out cold air.
Ellen nods once, sharply, and then they're inside.
They move through the corridors, quiet as they can, checking every room and every long, dark hallway. It's too warm, a steady thrum of vibration in every step. This building isn't right. Which is how they know it's exactly where they want to be.
"What are the chances of it being at the top of the building?" Sam grumbles quietly.
"I'm not getting in an elevator, but I don't feel like climbing about forty flights of stairs either," Dean protests. A row of smashed windows to their right shiver in their frames, one steady shudder like the start of something horrible.
"Dean," Castiel says quietly. The steady pressure of a hand on his arm brings him to a stop. Brings him round to face the angel, who looks serious enough to leave a curl of worry in his stomach.
"Cas, what is it?"
"This building may not be warded but the surrounding area is soaked in death magic. My powers will be limited."
Dean really doesn't like the sound of that. "Limited how?"
"I won't be able to take you both out of here if it becomes necessary," Castiel admits. "Or to repair any injuries."
Dean thinks it would matter more if he thought they were leaving this place alive. He thinks maybe that's something both Sam and Castiel read from his expression, and no one says anything else. Castiel's hand slides away and they resume their long walk up the corridor.
Until the floor shudders underneath them. Dean flattens a hand on the wall and then regrets it. The damn thing's warm and damp, like it's sweating.
"Where the hell is this thing?"
A quick, hard shake sends him slamming into the window frame.
When he goes to straighten, something tugs at his arm, glass from the window, maybe?
But then the something tightens and pulls. Fingers dig into his arms, and he's turning into the reach of unexpected hands, so many hands shoved through the broken glass, coming apart bloodily on the shards but still pulling at him.
The grey hands haul Dean to the edge of the window, boots skidding uselessly on the carpet. The steady, high moans of desperate hunger. It's too loud and too close, and the broken glass is digging through the sleeve of his coat and into his arm. The leather tears and he barely gets a hand up to brace himself on the wall.
The gun goes clattering to the floor.
Dean tries to brace his feet too, to pull back, and Sam's got a grip in the back of his coat trying to haul him out of reach. Castiel has an arm round his waist but there's only so hard you can pull a human being before you're just doing more harm than good, because the dead are not letting go. Dean can see out into the street, and there's nothing but dead, a great seething mass of dead faces, reaching up with clawed hands to where he's being hauled from the windows. Reaching up like they can catch a piece of him too, drag him down and eat him.
Until Castiel is suddenly there in front of him, hands wrapped round the arms holding him, breaking them, tearing them free of him. The front of his palm shoves Dean back, shoves him back into Sam so hard he stumbles. There are a dozen hands catching the bottom of Castiel's coat, and his legs. The hands pull irresistibly, unstoppably. The angel's hands grab at the window, glass and wood coming apart under his fingers, foot skidding on the edge.
Dean's there before he even realises it, fisting both hands in Castiel's coat and jacket and trying to haul him back. Putting him within reach of the hands and the biting, lunging teeth again, and when a set snap against the leather of his sleeve - Castiel lets go.
"Cas." Dean's halfway back over the edge before Sam snatches at his jacket, hauls him back, hauls him all the way back inside.
The angel disappears in the rolling mass of dead.
Sam pulls him up and through the doors, leaving the freezing air and the high desperate moans outside, boots going from stone to carpet, scratching and rucking up the pristine blue length of it. Sam keeps pulling him, keeps dragging him into the brightness until he gets his own feet under him. Until he's walking on his own. He shoves off Sam's hands, mouth a tight line. Sam doesn't say anything, doesn't say a word, stays close enough to catch at Dean's sleeve if he tries to go back. But Dean knows better than anyone that there's no point. There's no point going back and trying to pull an angel out of an army of zombies. But he's damned if that isn't exactly what he wants to do, more than anything. To go back out there and put them down, one by one, until he finds him. Because they can't bite their way through Cas, even hundreds of them, thousands, they can't kill him, can't kill him. Hundreds, all trying to tear him apart - how could anything stand against that?
Castiel has saved him so many times, too many times, and the one time, the one fucking time –
"I know," Dean says, fierce and hard. He doesn't even know for certain what Sam was going to say. But he knows he can't hear it. He knows they need to do this, need to do this more than anything else and Castiel is one of the reasons they're in here to start with. They need to kill this thing dead. They need to finish it, stop this rot that's ripping the world apart.
He can't think about anything else, he can't.
Because they need to do this.
The whole building is shaking, great tremors of sound and fury that feel like something inside, or underneath, is trying to tear it apart. There's that same rank bloody smell to the place. It feels familiar, familiar in a way Dean remembers from weeks ago. There's absolutely no doubt that they're in the right place; that this is exactly the same sort of thing as they faced before this all started. Someone is trying to rip open a door to hell, has been trying for weeks, tearing great freakin' holes all over the world and letting darkness and ruin and bloody fragments of hell through. Failing every damn time and not caring what mess they left behind. But this, this is bigger, this feels like maybe someone has done their research, found the right place, and the right time.
"It's here." Sam's voice is quiet, tight and so close to shaky Dean wants to cut him off, wants to leave it at that. Because he knows well enough that fear is contagious. This isn't some messed up bedroom in a house on some suburban street. This is a whole damn building. This is a brutal shake of stone and an army of dead to worship, or feed, whatever the hell is coming out.
Dean's not going to let that happen. Whatever messed up thing is trying to claw its way free, they're going to send it back, choking on its own teeth.
"Where are the demons? The first place had guards."
Sam kicks open a door to the right, but there's nothing inside but a huge empty room with a long table set up for what looks like a meeting, pens scattered and flowers long-dead in their vases.
"This whole damn building is surrounded by zombies, maybe whatever this thing is it's not worried about being interrupted."
"But there's nothing here," Sam insists. "No guards, no worshippers - where's whoever's set this thing up?"
"Deeper inside, maybe? Or gone, maybe they didn't want to be here when this thing tears itself free and kills everything in its path."
"You think that's what it's going to do?"
"I don't think it's coming up for the weather," Dean says flatly.
Dean's walking more quickly now and Sam keeps up because that's what he does. You use adrenaline or it uses you. The walls shake more fiercely now, solid booms of sound. Like the building's trying to turn itself inside out with them in it. Or like it's trying to vomit up whatever thing is clawing at its bowels.
Dean looks down at the floor. "It's underneath us. Find the stairs that lead to the basement."
Sam gets there first, kicking the doors open, gun pointed up, then down. The stairs are cold and empty, thudding softly under every deep vibration. Dean follows him down. The main doors at the end of the stairwell are huge. But Dean can see them shivering in their frame. That's not all. He can see the wet shine of red on the floor too. The trail of colour that leads further in.
"I see it," he says tightly. He brings his gun up. Sam's right behind him and they both move towards the door.
Dean reaches out, pushes it open.
It's like walking into a nightmare. For a second all he can see is red. The whole basement is red from floor to ceiling. The room is one slippery shine of blood, smears of what look like skin and pieces that belong inside a human being. It's painted over everything, the floor the walls, the tangles of piping. The rank fresh stench of it is everywhere, the obscene wet sound of it under their boots.
There's no altar in the centre of the room. The whole floor is being used as an altar, ringed with dark symbols and heavy burned circles of barely identifiable material. Black and hot and heavy with the stink of copper. Laid out in the mess there is what Dean assumes is the witch who started the ritual. She's naked and quite obviously dead. She has the thin unhealthy grey-white of a woman drained of blood. She's used herself as the sacrifice. Dean doesn't have a clue where she found this much power, or maybe the dead are powering it from outside? Either way he doesn't want to bet on it not being enough. This isn't some shitty bedroom in some small town, this is huge.
Jesus, Dean doesn't know how anything from hell couldn't be attracted straight here.
The room shakes on every wave. They’re too late. It’s already started. The woman laid in the vast circle is already twitching. One pale arm, strangely vivid on the bright red floor, shifts and jerks like she's still alive. In stiff bug-like twitches. But this won’t be a crack. This will be a vast tear that rips open the whole floor. Room enough for anything to push its way through. Jesus, room enough for everything to push its way through.
This is it, if they don't stop it here then it's getting out and that hole isn't going to just shut. It's going to vomit up every horrific thing hell has to offer.
The witch's body jerks again, then bends like some sort of hideous puppet and Dean knows they're going to have to kill her somehow, whatever she's become. Whether it's possible or not they'll have to put her down, or die trying.
The witch's skull turns on the floor, rolling in the wet mess of blood there. Her mouth opens, one great creak of bone and skin and then the thing starts screaming. If they'd thought the thing in Greenburg was loud, this is a thousand times worse. It's a sharp, shrieking wail that sounds like pure inhuman desperation. A great rip of sound that threatens to tear Dean's eardrums to pieces.
The dead woman's ribs snap outwards, cracking and lengthening in a way human bones shouldn't. They press down into the floor, sharp and streaked red. Her dead body lifts itself like some huge inverted spider, limbs hanging down between the spires her ribcage and spine have become. It continues to rise in jerky movements, a dead monstrosity guarding the slowly cracking floor. Guarding the shine of darkness and fire where hell is tearing itself open beneath it.
Sam looks utterly horrified at the transformation, gun loose in his hand.
Dean's seen things like this before. But things like this, they don't get to be out of hell. They shouldn't be allowed to be out of hell. He puts two bullets into the hanging, shrieking face. It jerks and slams against the bone surrounding it but doesn't shut up, doesn't stop screaming.
Sam empties the shotgun into it from the other side while it's still pulling itself half out of the floor, out of the cracking mess the floor is rapidly becoming. The torso and legs shake under the fire, but the face is still screaming, still stretching wide open, rising higher off of the floor and growing bone legs, until the face is almost swinging level with Dean's. It snaps and jerks every time he hits it with a bullet.
He's trying to shake the bag off of his back, trying to get to the holy water and the rest of the ammo because Dean gets the feeling they're going to need all of it. The thing lashes out with a leg, bone smashing into the wall and leaving stone and blood rattling and spattering down when Dean ducks.
The wailing is louder, closer and the swinging legs are quicker than they should be, the ground rumbling and unsteady underneath his boots. Sam appears underneath one of the legs, shotgun suddenly pressed against the thing's head.
It moves just before he can pull the trigger. The gun blows away a chunk of torso instead and it spins into Sam, one vast leg joint smashing into him and sending him crashing back into the wall.
He slides, then falls, tumbles over twice and doesn't move.
Dean shakes the bag off, rips it open and gets a bottle out.
He doesn't go for subtle. He smashes the whole bottle of holy water against the woman's dead torso.
The flesh and two of the bone legs start to smoke instantly and the noise it's making goes high and tight and awful. The creature rears up and smashes into one of the walls, bone breaking in great tears of sound and Dean has the second bottle halfway out of the bag when something punches into and through his shoulder - The next thing he knows, he's the one on the floor, choking on an inhale. A streak of pain is slamming all the way through his chest and back and when he turns his head to the side he finds one of the thing's bone legs rammed all the way through his shoulder.
He drags a breath, stretches an arm out, but the bag's just out of reach.
Sam's hasn't moved yet, body still across the room. The half of his face Dean can see is still obscured by blood and hair, but whether it's from the floor or from him he can't tell.
The thing's great wailing face is too close now, eyes bored out, mouth a dark empty hole.
There's movement, Sam turns his head, one leg shifting on the red floor, and Dean's half way between panic and relief because Sam isn't dead. The creature seems to realise as much, legs folding on one side, blood running out of the woman's hanging body.
It drags its leg out of him in one great burst and Dean yells through bloody teeth. God, that hurts, that fucking hurts and there's blood splashed across his neck and against his jaw and the creature turns on its great bone legs, wailing and intent on pinning Sam to the floor like a butterfly.
Dean rolls, pain like a fucking fire all the way through him, and grabs the other bottle of holy water. He struggles to his knees, then one leg. He goes up and under the bottom of the thing and smashes the bottle right in its damn shrieking face.
The noise becomes a roaring wail, smoke curling up as the creature burns. It sways, legs clattering together, one of them scrapes and then smashes into the ceiling, bringing down the tattered light fixtures.
The room shudders like it's being shaken by a vast hand, Dean goes low, reloads his gun and then gets close, presses the barrel against the thing's ragged, stretched neck and doesn't stop firing, makes its throat a red, wet mess, head jerking and flailing, sinking lower on strings of bloody flesh and the shattered sharpness of its spine.
It's still wailing when Dean drops the gun, reaches out with both hands and grips it. He pulls, pulls hard until the wound in his shoulder screams and his fingers go numb. Flesh tears, and bone cracks and then breaks. The head falls, hits the floor with a low hollow sound, the scream cuts out, becomes a hollow rasp. A hissing breath and then shocking silence.
Dean can hear his own breathing.
The creature sways, then collapses in on itself in one great crash of bone. It twitches, smokes, but doesn't get up again.
Dean makes his way round the thing's body, to where Sam's still awkwardly, slowly, making his way to his feet.
The room is still shaking, the cracks in the middle of the floor now bowing inwards, swallowing great chunks of the floor. Pulling the creature's vast misshapen body closer, bone limbs sliding inside the hole.
Dean thinks maybe it's going to swallow the whole fucking building to shut itself. He grabs at Sam's coat, hauls him upright before he's ready. Every pound of his weight threatening to send Dean crashing to the ground too. But there's no fucking way they're being buried alive here.
No fucking way.
"We have to get out of here, Sam."
The room shakes, the rest of the light fixtures crashing down in a shower of sparks and metal clangs.
"Now, Sam." He pulls, forcing Sam to walk or be dragged and they stumble out of the door. The whole building shakes and Dean's briefly pressed sharply into the wall, hard enough that his shoulder screams and the world briefly goes grey, cold sweat collecting everywhere.
But he doesn't have time to pass out.
Sam's mostly walking by himself by the time they reach the stairs, but they're still close enough to the horror behind them that the collapsing floor is visible every time Dean turns his head.
"Sam, come on, damn it."
Sam's pulling himself along, almost as fast as Dean's pulling. Dean's fairly sure he has a bad concussion and he shouldn't be making him run, but if they don't get out of here it won't matter.
Nothing will matter.
The ground crumbles beneath their feet and the ceiling strains and groans overhead and Dean is not being buried alive inside some shitty office building in Detroit.
They burst out into the alley, into the light, the building cracking and listing behind them. The alley's empty and something in Dean's chest clenches but they have to keep moving, have to get away from the building. Sam's breathing hard and Dean's wincing with every step and it's not like they're even close to up to dealing with an army of the dead -
The streets are full.
The streets are full of the dead.
Thousands of unmoving dead, slumped against each other, sprawled out and broken in the sunlight. Piles of them, unmoving and dead. They both look at them and don't say a word. Whatever magic that was animating them, whatever was trying to claw its way out, it's dead. it's dead and gone.
The zombies are still.
"Dean," Sam says, voice slow but clear.
"I see it." He fists his hand tighter in Sam's coat, holds him as they stumble out into the street.
It's deathly quiet, impossibly still. They stumble out further, into the mess of abandoned cars, past the piles of dead and there's someone still upright, someone still moving that Dean recognises.
Ellen still has her shotgun slung over one arm. Like she's just daring the undead to get up and move again. Like she'll have no trouble putting them all down again if they do.
"Ellen." Dean's voice sounds more than a little broken.
Ellen meets them at the mouth of the alley, reaches out, grasps Dean's arm in warm fingers.
"Wasn't sure I'd see you again," Ellen tells them, but the way she says it, it sounds like so much else. It sounds like she was waiting for them, like maybe she would have waited as long as it took.
Her fingers on his arm are tight, then tighter.
"I think we found something that belongs to you," she says quietly. Then tips her head to the left.
There's an angel in a bloody trench coat standing by the wreck of cars, and all the breath goes out of Dean in one go. It's the space of a handful of seconds before Castiel's close enough to touch, close enough to catch with a hand and pull in, throw an arm around. Dean winces when his arm and shoulder pull but he can't let go for the life of him and Castiel doesn't make him. One arm winding round him and holding him up.
"Dean," Castiel says simply, quietly, like nothing else matters.
Dean takes a breath.
"I'm so fucking glad to see you, I thought you were dead, I thought you were fucking dead, Cas."
Dean holds him as tight with one arm as he can. Heart beating stupidly hard. The rest of whatever adrenaline he has left. He wants to fist his hand in the angel's hair and tell him somehow that this...this makes it all worth it.
"I'm glad you were successful," Castiel says thickly. But it sounds like so much more. It sound like everything.
"It would have been a shitty thing to save the world and lose you, Cas."
Castiel's fingers tighten, just a little.
Dean doesn't even care that Ellen hears, that she makes a soft noise in her throat.
He hears her boots on concrete, hears her catch at Sam's coat and lead him to sit against one of the parked cars.
Dean can see now that it isn't just Ellen.
Chuck, who's limping, is trying to get Jo to sit down so he can see to the cut on her cheek. He's losing so far, Jo seems to have inherited her mother's need to do. But she's done pretty good, Dean has to give her that.
He thinks maybe Bobby...until he sees him, stood over Sam, with one arm bound just tight enough to hold but free enough to shoot a gun.
"Everyone's ok?" Dean asks, and he knows how disbelieving he sounds, how sharp. Because they don't get to be ok, they just don't get to have this.
"You have delivered them all from evil," Castiel says quietly. It's strangely serious, firm, like it matters somehow.
Dean shakes his head, winces when there's a stab of pain and a pull of bloody cloth.
Castiel's pale hand lifts, presses down over the wet hole in his shoulder and Dean inhales sharply.
"Jesus, Cas," Dean hisses. But it's not to stop the bleeding. There's a curl of warmth, an ache that flares deep and then Castiel's hand slides away and the skin is smeared red, but whole. When the angel shifts, goes to move his hand, Dean holds it there, holds it pressed against his chest.
"I was afraid for you," Castiel says simply.
Dean squeezes his fingers.
"Is it over? Is it done?"
"Yes," Castiel says simply, no hesitation, no doubt, and Dean exhales, rough, hard like he was just waiting for someone to say that.
For someone to make him feel like he could just stop.
Dean breathes out, digs his fingers into Castiel's coat and lets the angel lead him towards the others.