Supernatural fic: Containing Multitudes
Title: Containing Multitudes
Pairing: Dean/Cas one-sided, preslash
Spoilers: through 6.22
Warnings: some violence, angst
Word Count: 8700
Summary: Highlight if spoilers are no big deal for you:
[Castiel's journey to Purgatory and what happens after. Jimmy decides to take matters into his own hands. Dean is not happy to find himself in a horrific dreamscape rife with ten million monsters, but hey, what's family for?]
Castiel stands in an empty alleyway somewhere in downtown Cincinnati, a soggy newspaper under his feet. The scent of urine is sharp and unavoidable. It doesn't feel like the kind of place where someone might save the world. He stares at the crumbling brick wall before him and shifts the glass jar of virgins' blood from hand to hand, considering.
If he knows Raphael and Crowley, they're already starting their incantation. The dog blood may have bought him a few minutes, maybe less; it wouldn't take too long, after all, for Raphael to find more virgins to kill. (He ignores the voice of the Winchesters in his head: "Where'd you get the blood, Cas?" He doesn't know who Crowley killed and drained like a pig; he can't care about her right now.)
The metal lid on the jar makes a strange whirling noise as it's unscrewed. It drops to the concrete with a clang. Castiel's fingers dip into the blood, red and thick like jam and smelling of iron. He hesitates, but only for a moment. Then he paints. One symbol, then another. Line after line, and he can't go back now. He's already made his choice. It's worrisome to him, how impotent one feels even when exercising one's own free will.
He has to keep faith. Not in God (who might be dead), not in Heaven (which is dying), not in the archangels or the host or any of his brothers, not in Sam and Dean, not in Bobby Singer, not in Fate. He can only believe in himself. His arm works up and down, side to side, painting in blood. He finishes his artwork, he says the words. He steps through the door with ironclad conviction.
Purgatory is a boneyard. Souls stagger helplessly through the wreckage of Nowhere, the dusty sands of Nothing.The very atmosphere is poison to a holy creature. The ammonia air hits Castiel like a punch to the chest. His grace shudders painfully within him.
He wraps an arm around his middle and tries to steady himself against a barren tree, a gleaming femur curving from the dirt. A small soul, dirty and diseased, stops to gaze at him.
It asks, What are you?
Castiel grits his teeth and answers, I am your rescuer.
He even believes it.
The souls begin to gather, slowly at first, then with more impatience, their feet drumbeats on the dead ground. They were vampires and ghosts and skin-walkers and werewolves. They were Wendigos from the forests of North America and Kitsune from the mountains of Japan and Chupacabras from the deserts of Mexico. They were many things. Now they are gray and sooty and nothing else.
Castiel stands before them, his spine ramrod straight, and tells them: I am the angel Castiel. I can take you from this place.
Take us where? Heaven? Hell? (A rough translation at best. They do not speak in one voice. It is a rabble, it is a seething mass. They contradict themselves; very well, they contradict themselves. Castiel can make sense only of the underlying emotions behind all this noise, noise, noise, noise.)
No, he says. Back to Earth. Back to the world.
To live? they ask. (A glimmer of hope in a place where nothing shines.)
Castiel hesitates. To live in me, he finally answers. I ask you to lend me your strength for only a moment, and you will live forever onward in me. If you do not come with me, a demon will arrive and take many of you to hell.
There is some discussion. Better to stay here in the place we know, say some. Any place is better than this, say the others. Except hell, some murmur. But how can we trust he speaks the truth? Mother would know. But Mother is gone.
At last a soul steps forward, stooped and broken at Castiel's feet.
Take me, it says. I will go with you.
Castiel welcomes the soul as gently as he can, folding it within himself until it is subsumed by his grace, nestled somewhere deep inside. He feels the pulse of it, the white-hot energy of a living soul stitching itself to him.
Rest now, he tells it, a hand against his own chest. You are safe at last.
Its fellow souls watch, gnashing their teeth and scraping their nails against the dry sands of Purgatory. They howl in wonder, they crowd closer, they grab the hem of Castiel's coat.
Take me. No, take me! You must take me.
I will take you. I need five thousand souls, he says.
Five thousand? So few? There are so many of us here. Please, you must take more.
He thinks about his now-defunct deal with Crowley. He says, I suppose I could hold ten thousand.
Yes, yes, ten thousand! Take us, take us now, please! Allow me to be one of the ten thousand; no, me; no, take me! Our Mother is gone, and we are alone.
Their hands are skeletal on his legs, gripping his hands. A wave of pity washes over Castiel, and he feels more resolute than ever that what he's doing is right. He opens himself to these souls, and they pour into him.
In the beginning he tries to welcome them each individually, holding them close in the warm cocoon of his grace. It's the least he can do, he thinks, for souls that will soon save the world. They curl into place within him like dried and brittle leaves falling to the forest floor, or a river slowly carving out its place in a valley.
Save us, they say. Do not let us be dragged into hell. Do not let us fall as Mother fell.
The river becomes a flood, and they come faster and faster. Castiel cannot touch each one, cannot learn them before they enter. A thousand grubby hands cling to his grace, and he loses count of them all.
It becomes an onslaught. The souls are forcing their way inside, shoving further into the recesses of Castiel's being, and he feels himself fraying at the edges with too much white-hot heat. His is filled to the brim.
Please, not so fast, he says.
There are more than five thousand, more than ten thousand, more than twenty, fifty, seventy thousand.
Please, Castiel gasps. I can't—
It is so warm here. It is so bright. We could stay here for all time. We will stay here for many, many lives.
Ten million souls tear into Castiel. Vampires and skin-walkers and vengeful ghosts take up residence in his mind. Castiel tries to calm them, tries to hold them still within his grace, but it is impossible. Their fear, their hunger, their thirst, their rage: it is all-consuming. He still thinks, in the midst of all of this, that he is merely housing unfortunate souls.
But he is not. He's being ravaged by wolves.
Purgatory stands still and empty. An angel lies on the ground, eyes open and unseeing. They speak to him in his mind, where they huddle and clutch at him.
What do you desire, Lord? What is your will?
That is not my name. (He has to think hard to remember.) My name is—
Unimportant. You saved us. To us, you are All. What shall we do?
We must stop the archangel Raphael.
From doing what, My God?
From destroying the world.
Why? What makes the world worth saving? (Their question is sincere. They are fascinated.)
Humanity. Humanity is worth saving.
Is it? (They are genuinely shocked. Those that had been human at one time balk at his certainty. Those who never were gnash their teeth.) What makes you think so, O Lord?
Castiel does not answer, not directly. But the souls are a part of him, as he is a part of them. They delve and they probe and they discover why humans are so special to Castiel—which human is so special. Some of the souls even recognize the green of his eyes, the curve of his face, sealed deep in Castiel's memory. They have seen this face before, moments before death.
The hunter, they hiss.
The name passes from one soul to the next, until all have heard it and know what it means: death-dealer. Pain-bringer. Blood-spiller. He is not to be trusted. They tell Castiel this.
He is my...charge, Castiel murmurs. Even to his own ears, it sounds weak.
The souls see all: the flash of fatal desire in the midst of an angel's grace, the futile love held fragile and cracking in his being. The despair of longing. Of watching him turn his back on Castiel. The wave of pity washes back out to sea.
Oh, they say, their eyes turned soft: he has injured you too.
No, Castiel says, it isn't what you think. He struggles against the strange lethargy that's overtaken him.
Rest now, Almighty. We are power. We will deliver victory unto you. This is how you will win the war; this is how you will be loved.
Castiel feels himself slipping away, as if he's being sealed in a velvet-lined box. Loved? he asks, his voice faltering.
You will have all the love in the world, my God. He will mean nothing to you in the face of that. He will not be able to hurt you any longer with his bullet-words and knife-looks. There will be no pain. There will be nothing, once we are through.
They have all hurt you. Almighty God, this is what humans do. They spit upon that which is Other. But we can make them anew. We can make them better. We will bring the light to the world.
The souls are persuasive; they are burning bright and clad in his grace. And he is tired, so tired, stretched so thin. He tries to remember how he felt for Dean Winchester, the whole reason he came to this place, the reason he sacrificed so much, but it is difficult to remember, and it hurts. The souls have gnawed on those memories. Parasites, all. It is so much easier to let that one final quivering wall collapse and allow the white-hot flood to act for him.
Yes, he whispers. Yes. So simple.
He sinks deeper into the purple velvet.
Praise be; they grin.
A god stands on his feet. Inside, behind Castiel's eyes, the souls cackle and shriek. Outside, all is calm. Like a lake teeming with vermin just below its perfect surface.
And one single human soul, forgotten and alone, stirs in the darkness.
Castiel is back where it began, in Crowley's lair, facing his enemies. The Winchester boy is there too, and the old man, but it's all in the periphery, all blocked out by a kind of white noise. He can't put his finger on why the feeling is so wonderful at first, then it comes to him: so little seems to matter anymore, and there is so little to care about.
He would say it feels as if he's in a dream, except everything is crystal clear. Being has never been so easy before. "You can't imagine what it's like," he says softly, letting the words fall like gemstones from his lips.
He unmakes Raphael. It takes less than half a thought. He knows Sam Winchester is about to stab him in the back eons before it happens. He is looking forward to it: the look on their faces.
"You will bow down," he says, "and profess your love unto me, your Lord."
Yes, the snarl of tangled souls cry out. My god, my god! Say it!
"Or I shall destroy you."
A hot surge of pleasure deep within him. Millions upon millions of living lights, shoring him up, giving him power, chanting his new name. On. His. Side.
His distant gaze finds Bobby Singer's face, drawn and resolute. The old man begins to slowly go down on one arthritic knee, genuflecting before Castiel.
"Bobby." Dean's voice is a low warning.
"It is right to give me thanks and pray," Castiel says, an amused tilt to his mouth. His eyes are diamond hard, his flesh is strong as bronze. He is radiating heat and power. He is the light eternal.
Dean stares at him. His conviction is wavering, Castiel can feel it. Soon he will be on his knees. Sam is drawing closer to his brother's side, slowly, cautiously. He will follow his brother's lead. And Castiel will finally, finally—
His breath stutters. His eyes go wide. The souls within him shriek in confusion. He stumbles forward. And when he looks up, his eyes are no longer dark diamonds. They are darting and fearful.
"Oh, god," he gasps.
"Cas?" Dean sounds suspicious. His hand reaches across the space between them, his fingers shaking.
"No." Sam's voice is raw from screaming, but still he speaks, because he knows better than anyone what they're seeing. "It's Jimmy."
Jimmy Novak, with his high and frightened human voice. Jimmy Novak, with his bright blue eyes and pale skin. Jimmy Novak, the man who prayed. The vessel of a god.
"I don't have much time," Jimmy rasps. "Dean." He takes one shuddering step towards him, then another. "You're coming with me," he says, and he clasps his hand to Dean's shoulder.
Beneath the fabric of his shirt, Dean's skin flares hot and red. He feels the outline of his hand print scar as if it's being traced by needles. White light engulfs them, and Sam and Bobby turn their eyes away.
When the light fades, and they look back, Dean and Castiel are lying on the ground, sprawled on their backs, their eyes open and staring vacantly upward.
Dean opens his eyes and finds himself in Jimmy Novak's house.
"What the hell?" He takes in the beige carpet, the tasteful furniture. No lights are on. He cranes his neck to look up the darkened staircase. Tries the light switch, nothing happens. "Anyone home?"
Jimmy appears at the top of the stairs. His eyes are full of regret. "I'm sorry I had to bring you here, Dean," he says.
"We're not in Illinois." Jimmy takes the stairs slowly, descending downward. "We're inside Castiel. Inside me, the vessel. Except Castiel is now the vessel for all those things. We're like Russian dolls." He runs a hand through his hair. He still looks like Cas, is still dressed in Cas's suit and trench coat, but he moves and speaks so unlike an angel. It's freaking Dean out.
"Wait, I'm inside you 'n Cas?" Dean looks around the empty house again. "How did that happen?"
"I was able to take control for just a moment while Castiel was distracted, and I knew I had to make a choice." Jimmy paces in the foyer, back and forth, his hands sliding up and down his thighs in thought. His eyes don't meet Dean's often. "Castiel has touched your souls, you and Sam and Bobby Singer. There's this kind of golden thread that connects you all to him, and to me by association. I had to use that to bring one of your souls here. But Sam isn't in good shape, and Bobby—" Jimmy hesitates to say it. "Bobby might not make it." He shrugs. "So it had to be you."
"Had to be me." Dean takes one second to digest this, then nods. "Fine. So how do we stop the nuclear meltdown?"
"We hunt down the souls and send them back to Purgatory," Jimmy says, as if this is as simple as repairing a flat tire.
"Millions of them?" Dean wrinkles his forehead. "How are we gonna gank millions of supernatural things at once?"
"Hey, I don't know." Jimmy gestures to himself defensively. "I'm not the fighting type. That's why I dragged you in here, genius. All I know is, if we don't stop them, they'll kill everything, and then they'll kill Castiel, because that's what monsters do."
"Don't I know it," Dean sighs. He looks at his empty hands, feels around in his empty jacket pockets. "I guess we'll need weapons, to start. What have we got?"
"Whatever you need. It's not like this is the real world. We're souls here, not corporeal." Jimmy leads the way out the front door, beckoning Dean to follow him. There, sitting in the driveway under a pitch black sky, is the Impala. Dean clicks open the trunk to find the usual arsenal hidden under the false bottom. Dean starts preparing his shotgun, his ammo, anything he might need for all the different kinds of baddies.
Dean tucks a length of a silver knife into his boot and glances at his companion. "So, Jimmy, can I ask you something?"
The man is toying with one of the brass knuckles (rather, iron; good for ghosts) from the heap in the trunk. "Sure."
"Why are you even here, man?"
Jimmy Novak shifts on his feet, shrugging one shoulder. "Castiel has been unmade and remade twice now, and each time I've been included in the rebuilding efforts. Kind of like how every time you rebuild this gas-guzzler—" He gestures to the car.
"No, not that. I mean, what made you give your consent in the first place? Why let Cas ride you like a bronco to begin with?"
"Ah." Jimmy tips his head back and considers the sky, perfectly dark and starless above them. "I had this house, you know, and this wife and daughter whom I loved, truly loved. I should have been happy. It should have been enough. But there was always something tunneling, you know," he waggles his fingers near his ear, "in the back of my brain. Saying, 'You aren't meant to be working in an office. You're supposed to be doing something important. Something great.'" He drops his hand and looks at Dean. "Do you know what I mean?"
Dean swallows, looks at his shoes, and thinks about Lisa and Ben. "Yeah. Think I do."
Castiel is lying prone, his spine pressed against the cold, hard ground, his eyes fixed on the heavenless sky.
What happened? he asks. I feel drained.
Someone has cut the power. Tampered with the fuse box, the souls reply. Who? Who among us would dare—?
Castiel searches himself for the answer. Finds it nearby, a familiar, golden light. The souls understand immediately.
The hunter has come. Your armor-bearer has drawn him in, Lord. We shall dispatch him for you.
He was about to bow to me, Castiel murmurs, lost in thought; he touches his lips with the tips of his fingers. I could feel his knees creaking.
He won't have a chance to bow before your Holiness again. Not after we're done with him.
Castiel drops his hand, heavy as lead. No, I suppose he won't, he says.
The vampires lick their lips. The skin-walkers shuck themselves into a frenzy. The poltergeists howl and tear at their hair. They swarm the halls of Castiel's being, millions upon millions, hungry for a hunter's soul.
Dean and Jimmy pick their way down the nondescript suburban street. The street lamps are all dead, and there are no lights in the houses that line the road. Dean has his shotgun locked and loaded in his hands, his handgun stuffed in his waistband, his silver knives and bullets handy in one pocket, a machete strapped to his back in a leather case.
Jimmy, for his part, carries a bible. Dean is unsure where it came from.
"I could lend you a gun. Might come in useful," Dean offers with only a hint of a sardonic smile.
"This suits me better, thanks." Jimmy runs a thumb over the well-worn edge of the pages. "I want to be prepared when we get to Castiel."
Dean refrains from rolling his eyes until he's turned back around, with the long, dark street stretching endlessly before them. "Cas might be beyond a routine exorcism at this point."
"I know that," Jimmy bristles. "But I know which parts he likes, and you never know what might talk someone off a ledge."
Dean quirks his lips into the darkness. "And what makes you think Cas hasn't already jumped off that ledge?"
"You're not dead yet," Jimmy says flatly.
Dean stops in his tracks and considers his words. A half-shrug. "You got a point," he says. Turns his attention back to the road, keeps his feet moving. "So where are we headed, anyway?"
"To the arena," Jimmy says. "It's where my daughter's hockey team practices. Or, it was." He shakes his head, a self-deprecating grin twisting his mouth. Dean's seen that look on that face before, in 2014. "Sometimes I forget none of this is real, that I'm just living in my own head."
"Yeah, sounds messed up." Dean shoulders his shotgun. "I guess sharing it with Cas doesn't help matters, huh?"
Jimmy looks at him, a sideways glance. "You know that feeling when you're on a roller-coaster and you're about to go over the first drop? And you know the rush is coming but then it's all over?"
"Living with Castiel inside me is like being on a roller coaster that never stops. I'm always going over that first drop." He looks ahead and tips his chin forward. "Hey. Here we are."
Though Dean could have sworn the street had been empty a second ago, now a huge arena stands before them, dark and silent. They approach the main gate, walking up the concrete steps, past the small bronze statue of a hometown hero. At the top of the steps, a set of industrial gray double doors rattle once. Twice. Dean chambers his pump-action.
"Might want to start thumbing through your book now," Dean mutters to Jimmy.
All of Purgatory breaks loose.
They pour from the arena: gaunt vampires with deathly pallor, screeching ghosts flickering in and out of sight, towering Wendigos with shifting eyes, werewolves slavering along the ground. Machete, machete, salt-round, silver bullet—it's Dean's deadly ballet. They fall one by one.
Suddenly, Castiel is there, standing in the middle of the chaos, his trench coat swaying in the breeze. His eyes are cold and hard. His mouth is a frozen, thin line.
"Cas," Dean whispers.
Then there are two Castiels. Then another. A dozen Castiels step from the building, all stone-eyed and blank-faced.
"Skin-walkers." Dean bites back a curse. "Jimmy! Lose the trench; the walkers are dressing up like you and Cas. I don't want to stab you on accident!"
"Right!" Jimmy shucks off the coat and yanks off his tie, keeping close to Dean. The silver knife in Dean's hand flashes wildly, felling skin-walkers left and right. Still, they don't stop coming, and their inhuman strength is becoming too much for Dean to handle alone.
"There's got to be something we can do to beat them back," Dean shouts, stabbing another faux Castiel through the heart.
Jimmy grits his teeth. "Hold on. I have an idea." He flickers out of sight like a ghost.
Dean grunts in frustration. "Goddammit!" Another walker goes down, but not easily.
Sam is kneeling by Dean's body, cradling his brother's head in his hands. "He's not breathing," he says, his voice choked and cracking. "Bobby, he's not breathing."
"Now, look here, we don't know what the hell is goin' on." Bobby lays a hand on Sam's shaking shoulder. "Let's just—"
Three feet away, Castiel's body sits up with a gasp. Bobby about jumps out of his skin. Sam is even worse, his strangled cry loud in the small room. But he won't let go of Dean, will only twist his head around to watch the proceedings.
"Still you, Jimmy?" Bobby demands.
Jimmy nods. "Yes. Sam." He notices the hunter's face, pinched and tear-stained. "Your brother will live. But we need your help." Sweat is beading his hairline.
"What in the name of—?" Bobby starts yelling. Sam silences him with a raised hand.
"Bobby, let him talk. He can't hold on much longer."
Sam is right, and Jimmy nods his thanks. "Dean is fighting against the souls from Purgatory, but there's too many. They've surrounded Castiel, and we need to reach him."
"Okay. How can we help?" Sam asks.
"There's a way to stop the souls, or at least slow them down."
"How?" But Jimmy's eyes are already rolling back, and his body slumps back to the floor like a dead man's. "Jimmy! What am I supposed to do!?" Sam shouts.
Bobby's eyes narrow in thought. "Come on, I have an idea."
Sam doesn't want to leave Dean behind, but Bobby eventually pries him away. ("Can't do anything for him sittin' on your ass!") They stalk through the twisting halls and corridors of the decrepit building, peering through the porthole windows of each door. Finally, Bobby gives a shout, and they enter a room with a body slumped in the corner.
The Mother's corpse is desecrated, burned in patches on her arms and legs, slashed across her torso with a knife. On the opposite side of the room, a vampire hangs from its bonds, motionless, lips open in a death snarl to reveal pinprick teeth.
"I don't understand," Sam says, taking in the scene.
"Crowley ain't dumb. He likes to have insurance. If he's got the bitch's body here, he's got it for a reason. Now, you ever seen a dead vampire that's still got a head on his shoulders?" Bobby waves a hand at the still creature.
"No." Sam's mind is still struggling with his wall crumbling, with seeing his brother die (again). It takes a moment for him to see where Bobby is leading him. "Her body wasn't torn up like this when Cas took her away. You think they're all—I don't know—connected to her somehow?"
"One way to find out," Bobby says, and grabs an iron poker from where it leans against the filthy wall.
Dean is on his back, a skin-walker's fingers wrapped around his throat, when Jimmy reappears.
"A little help!" Dean chokes out.
Together, they're able to wrestle the Castiel-in-disguise off Dean, the silver blade in Dean's hand burying itself beneath its ribs. Jimmy drops the body, which is already sloughing off its skin, and looks around.
"Crap." It about sums it up. They're surrounded. The werewolves especially look eager to maul. Jimmy holds his bible tightly to his chest, his back against Dean's.
"Hey, if this is our last stand," Dean gasps, his spine heaving with his labored breaths, "we gave it a good try, Jimbo."
"Come on, Sam," Jimmy whispers under his breath. "Come on."
A poltergeist reaches her long, bony fingers towards Jimmy, and Jimmy throws his arm across his eyes defensively. Just as her cold fingernails brush his cheek, there is a loud wail, a screech from across the arena, and her hand withdraws. Jimmy opens his eyes to find all the creatures writhing on the ground, their heads in their hands, or their spines arched with pain.
"Okay." Dean sounds unsure, his arms still raised, knife in one hand, gun in the other.
"Thank god." Jimmy grabs him by the sleeve. "Come on, we have to hurry. They won't stay down forever."
They push their way through the swarm, their hands clapped over their ears to drown out the screams of the tortured souls. They enter the arena, stepping over the supernatural beings writhing on the concrete floor. Dean finds a door to the stadium proper and flings it open.
It's filled with an endless sea of monsters. They seem less tangible now, turning gray and black like formless dirt clods. Dean has a fleeting thought: in their final form, demons look like storm clouds, humans look like sunlight, and these creatures, they look like mud.
There is only one source of light in the entire place, a blue line of electric light in the very center of the arena floor, arcing from the floor to the ceiling, undulating like one of those crazy electro-shock balls in science museums.
"Castiel!" Jimmy shouts, and before Dean can stop him, the guy is vaulting over rows of seats to reach the floor. Dean has no choice but to follow.
They reach the base of the blue light, and Dean looks around wildly. "Where is he? Where's Cas?"
Jimmy is approaching the light, hand outstretched. His voice cracks when he speaks. "Oh, Castiel, what have you done? What have they done to you?"
It isn't pure blue, Dean sees now. It's blackened, caked in the mud of a million monsters' souls. They cling to the surface of the light, falling in drips and drabs, only to crawl their way back up, screaming in pain all the while. Jimmy's hand brushes past away a patch of angry souls, and a little of the electric blue shines through.
"This is...?" Dean can't even bring himself to ask.
"His grace, tarnished," Jimmy answers. "Castiel, can you hear us?" he calls up the long shaft of light.
The blue light shifts and bends. It folds its skyscraper length, moving like a bolt of lightning in slow motion. It has no eyes or mouth, but five bright sparks of starlight shine onto Dean and Jimmy, and Dean realizes he's looking at Castiel's true face.
"I hear you, armor-bearer. And I hear the righteous man. Your heartbeats are deafening." Castiel's voice is a roar, a song, tainted with the wailing of the souls that have sunk their claws into him. "You should not be here. You should not attempt to stop my reign."
"Cas, you don't need to reign!" Dean shouts. "You did what you set out to do: you killed the archangel. And you promised, you goddamned promised you wouldn't—that it wouldn't come to this."
The lights in Castiel's face blink in and out of sight for a moment. "Yes. Promises were made. Mistakes were made." His voice resonates like a bell tower. "But this was always meant to be."
"Meant to—? Whatever happened to free will?" Dean is resolute, his grip tightening on his knife and gun.
A noise pours from Castiels' grace, the harsh metallic grating of a cynic. "A human invention. A false god worshipped only by fools." The light is getting closer, just an inch or two from Dean's face. He doesn't flinch, though it feels like the Empire State Building is about to crush him. "And I am a fool no longer, Dean Winchester."
"No, now you're just a total doucheba—"
"Dean!" Jimmy's shout is more than an admonishment; it's a warning. The souls are regrouping, picking themselves off the floor, clawing their way to Castiel.
"You're gonna have to keep them back, Jim," Dean hisses. "Me 'n Cas need to have a talk."
"Your bravado is a lie, just like so much of you." Castiel's form shifts sideways, and Dean can almost imagine this thing—this creature that is Cas—tilting his head the way he used to. It makes him angry, and it makes him sick.
A werewolf's dank breath is on the back of Dean's neck. And then, without warning, Jimmy is there between Dean and the dangerous loose souls.
"You forgot something," he says to them. "This is my house. And I didn't invite you here."
Dean watches over his shoulder as Jimmy raises a hand. A bright light, white and stark against the muddy souls, shines forth. The supernatural beings hiss and cry out:
Almighty god, he blinds us! He torments us! We worship you, we give you thanks and praise. Defend us now, O Lord, and strike down these enemies!
Dean turns back to find Castiel reared up, a hand with twelve fingers raised, muddy souls dripping from his fingertips.
"Cas, don't listen to them! This isn't you, this isn't—"
"Dean," Jimmy says, his voice oddly quiet in all the chaos, "take Castiel further into himself, away from all this. I will find you." And the bright light blankets everything, all the souls and the two humans and the god, and then Dean blinks away the light to find that he's alone with Castiel in a barn. The barn where they first set eyes on each other's earthbound selves.
Castiel is back in his vessel form, trench coat draped over his slumped shoulders. His hand, now human, is still raised. He stays that way, frozen for a moment, considering.
Then he brings the hand down anyway, slapping Dean so hard, his teeth rattle.
Sam's leg won't stop jumping, and he can't seem to quit chewing on his thumbnail. At his feet on the ground, the Mother's corpse lays still. It's stopped jerking and twisting when Bobby pokes at it, like a lizard's severed tail gone dead at last.
"Should probably get back to Dean and Cas," Bobby says, throwing down his weapon. He moves to make his way back to the scene of the crime.
"Think Dean's okay?" Sam asks Bobby.
Dean is very much not okay. He's getting the shit beat out of him by a very pissed off angel-god. Dean's not sure if the soul goo is still clinging to Cas's grace or if Jimmy's get-off-my-lawn deal got rid of them, but either way the guy still packs a mean right hook.
Dean spits blood onto the dirt floor and heaves himself back onto his feet, swaying only slightly. "I don't want to fight you, Cas," he says.
"That's your choice." Castiel makes a fist at his side. "You do so love choice." Dean has never heard that ugly sneer in Castiel's voice before.
Cas swings again, but Dean is ready now. He grabs Cas's arm and they grapple, ending up on the dusty floor, Dean on his back with Cas above him.
"What d'ya want, Cas?" Dean says, grunting with the strain of keeping Cas's hands away from his throat. "You want me to bleed? You want me dead?"
"I want you to admit I was right, that I was was right all along." Castiel frames Dean's face in his hands and slams his head back against the ground. "I want you to accept me as your new god. I want you to—"
Dean sees stars, but he fights to stay conscious. Castiel's face is fixed in a tight snarl, but his eyes are slowly losing their dark heat.
"What, Cas?" he whispers.
"Just..." Castiel's hands turn gentle on his face. "Just accept me. Dean, why couldn't you do that?"
"I—" Dean doesn't want to contradict him, not when Cas is so volatile, but he has to. "I did. I told you. We're family."
"No." Castiel shakes his head, slowly at first, and then with intense fury. He pushes away from Dean to stand, running his hands through his own disheveled hair. He turns in a circle in the middle of the barn floor, facing each wood-slat wall in turn. "No, family trusts each other. Family doesn't leave!"
"Oh, don't even start!" Dean levers himself off the ground. His ribs might be broken; he feels along his side with a careful hand. "Is that how your family was? Huh? Did all the angels in heaven sing a big campfire song every night with your dad?"
Castiel pins him with a glare. "You were supposed to be different." He crosses the space between them in two strides, his hands fisting in Dean's jacket. Dean brings his hands up to clasp Cas's wrists, trying to break his grip, but it's useless. "You." His voice is jagged gravel. "Were supposed to love me."
Dean blinks at him, hard. "Holy shit. Cas. You big fucking idiot." Something in Castiel's face crumples, Dean can't stop talking now, not when he's come this far. "You think I didn't want you to go into Purgatory because I didn't trust you? Because I didn't love you?"
Cas lets him go and steps away, his eyes riveted to the ground. "You made no attempt to even understand my position. My feelings on the matter meant nothing to you. Nothing at all."
Dean's glare is a live thing. "Oh, I understood. And I still wasn't gonna let you do it. Because that's what family does: they try to stop you from throwing yourself into the Pit or into Purgatory or whatever, because," Dean feels tears pricking his eyes, hot and burning, and he doesn't stop the first from spilling over, "because you're more important than the world ending. And yeah, maybe that's selfish and maybe that's stupid, but I never said family was perfect. It's not, not by any stretch."
Castiel watches the tear slide down Dean's cheek, quick as a flicker of light. "I thought family was supposed to be a source of peace," he says, looking and sounding as lost as he did the night Uriel died.
Dean chokes on a sort of laugh. He tips his head back to look at the wooden slats of the barn's ceiling. "Yeah, right. Look at me 'n Sam. Nobody hurts us like we hurt each other. When we lie to each other. Even if we think it's for the best, it all goes to shit. It wouldn't hurt if we didn't care so fucking much. But we do." He shakes his head. "You know, Cas, when most people feel like they're not getting any love, they just write a sad poem in their journal or whatever. But you, you gotta swan dive into a pool of monster souls just for spite."
"This was not done out of spite," Cas says softly. "I truly wanted to save you—the world—from the archangel's wrath. But then, there were so many souls, and I couldn't—" He stops abruptly, unable to finish.
Dean steps into his space and stares until Cas raises his eyes to meet him. He holds his arms out, beckoning, and Castiel goes to him. He allows Dean's arms to fold around him, a hand cradling the back of his head, his ear pressed to a steady heart. He feels like a child, and wonders if young Sam Winchester had been comforted like this when he was small.
Dean's voice is a whisper. "I'm sorry I walked away like that; sorry you felt like you didn't have a choice. Sorry you thought you were alone in this. You weren't. You're not."
Castiel begins to remember the last few hours (minutes?) and what his actions have wrought. The danger he's brought into the world. Those souls, he realizes, are in control, and they hunger for human blood. And it's all his fault. "How can you say these things?" he asks, his plea muffled into Dean's shirt. "How can you still be standing by my side after what I've done?"
"I forgive you," Dean says.
Castiel remembers something Joseph had once said to him in the garden: forgiveness, dear angel, is the final form of love. Castiel had not understood what he meant then. But he does, in this moment.
"It ends now," Castiel says. "I promise."
They are still holding each others as the barn walls crumble into dust and the monsters encroach upon them.
Jimmy is praying to keep the souls at bay when Dean and Castiel reappear in a flash of light. He turns and sees the angel in his true form, lightning unbottled.
"Castiel?" he questions.
"These interlopers must leave now," Castiel intones, bending his form like an electric whip. Clods of mud-slick souls slide from his form to the ground. "The eclipse still stands in the sky."
Leave? the souls screech the sound of ten million rats in the walls. Dear Lord, we must remain here to serve you!
"I am not your god," Castiel said. "I must shed myself of you. For the good of the world."
Who told you this? The hunter, the sorrow-maker, the bone-breaker? (They have many names for Dean Winchester.) He lies, O God, he lies through his clever teeth.
"He might," Castiel concedes, "but this is one thing I know to be true. Now return to your boneyard and leave me."
Amid the million screams, Castiel's glow turns from blue to white to gold. He twists into the shape of a comma, and a portal opens in the ceiling of the arena, a gray whorl in the air. Dean stares up into it.
"Do it, Cas," he says.
The angelic voice chants and it's as if a tornado has been summoned. The monsters are caught up in the wind, their souls torn from Castiel. They dig in their claws, but they can't stay long and are swept up. It's loud and it's stormy, and Dean covers his ears and motions to Jimmy to get the hell down, for Christ's sake. They huddle close to where Castiel's feet might be. Still, something slams into the back of Dean's head (perhaps a hefty Wendigo) and all turns black for him.
Dean wakes up on a manicured lawn. The sun is gentle, and a breeze rustles a nearby crepe myrtle. There's a man a few dozen yards away flying a kite. At first, Dean thinks he's dead and this is some weird bit of Heaven.
But then he sees Jimmy kneeling on the ground beside Cas, and he realizes they're all still inside, somewhere.
Cas is back in his vessel form, trench coat rumpled around him on the grass. There's blood caking his white shirt and his temple. Jimmy, sans coat and tie, is reading from his bible, soft like a bedtime story.
"...Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle."
"Oh," Castiel murmurs, his words bubbling over his bloody lips, "I do like this part."
"Cas?" Dean falls to his knees on the other side of his prone body. "What happened?" This directed at Jimmy. He shucks off his overshirt and bunches it into a pillow before sliding it carefully under Cas's head.
The pious man's voice is brittle like mirrors. "They tore at his grace as they left. He's—Christ—he's gravely injured."
A slim white hand, slick with blood, finds Dean's amid a patch of clover. "I knew this would come to pass, Dean. I let them get too far inside me."
Dean is nodding, already thinking of a plan. "Okay, okay, what do we need? You need some extra soul-power to heal? I'm here; stick your hand all up in there, whatever you got to do."
Another cough sends a new stream of blood from the corner of Cas's mouth. "No, Dean. My grace is gone. There's nothing left to heal."
"Nothing?" Dean doesn't believe that, can't accept it. "Something is still here. You're laying there talking to me, aren't you? Just tell me what—tell me how to—"
"James." Castiel turns his head with some effort to regard his vessel, ignoring Dean for the moment. "You must leave too."
"What? No. Castiel, I choose to remain by your side." Jimmy's face is lined with strain.
"When I am undone, I will not disappear into the ether as an angel; I am without grace. I do not know what will happen to me, but if I die as a human," he chokes on the word, "I will undoubtedly be sent to hell for what I've done here."
"No." Jimmy's hand is trembling on his bible.
"I don't want you to be damned along with me," Castiel murmurs. His eyes slip closed as if he can't keep them open any longer.
"I can't leave you like this," Jimmy says. "Castiel, please."
"Goodbye, James. You are a better man than I." And with a gesture that seems to pain him, Castiel closes his free hand into a fist, and Jimmy is gone.
Dean sucks in a breath. "Where did he...?"
"If there's any justice in this life, he's found his way to heaven." Castiel opens his eyes to find Dean hovering above him. "You must return to your body as well, Dean."
"I don't want you to die alone," Dean says, his hand tightening on Cas's. "Jesus, I don't want you to die." His voice is rough, and he remembers what he told Castiel in that filthy room of Crowley's, god, was it just minutes ago? That he didn't want to lose him.
"It is fitting," is all Cas says on the matter. "Thank you, Dean. For being here with me at the end."
Dean has a lurching feeling in his gut that this cannot be the end, not for them. He presses a hand to Cas's shoulder and tries to locate that golden thread Jimmy had talked about, that connection between their souls. His scars tingle and the air lights up with sun.
"This isn't over," Dean grates out. And they are gone.
Sam is checking for a pulse for the fifteenth time when Dean's heart suddenly slams back into working order in his chest. He jolts awake in Sam's arms, gasping for breath like after a nightmare. Across the room, he can hear Castiel doing the same.
"Dean! Holy fuck, you okay? What happened?" All of Sam's words go right past Dean, unnoticed.
"Cas," he rasps out. "Cas."
"Got 'im," Bobby responds. Dean sits up enough to see Bobby pinning Castiel's arms to the concrete ground. His eyelids are fluttering, the blue irises appearing and disappearing like lightning. "He ain't goin' anywhere, boy, don't worry."
"N-no," Dean whispers, but he can't get out anything else before he falls into unconsciousness.
It's a big surprise to him.
He had thought he was dead, or perhaps something approaching death. He had expected an eternity of unmade nothingness, maybe Purgatory, because wouldn't that punishment fit the crime? Instead he opens his eyes and sees a large fan slowly rotating above him, marked with a dozen sigils.
There is pain everywhere, a kind he's never felt before. It's physical, yes, in his arms and legs, his vulnerable organs and blood vessels. But it's also in the echoing cavern of his mind, where he'd always had his brothers' voices, or at the very least, the presence of one constant soul. Now there is nothing but silence and his own thoughts, which soon turn to despair.
He feels a liquid sensation along his cheekbone and idly wonders if this is the weeping he's heard so much about. He tries to lift a hand to wipe away the tears, but his wrists have been manacled to the rusty cot that he's stretched upon. His ankles, too, are bound.
"So you're disarmed, huh?" It's Bobby Singer's voice, over in a deep shadow outside of Cas's field of vision.
Castiel tries to speak, but the only thing that leaves his throat is a deep keening wail.
Footsteps, heavy boots along iron floorboards. "You pretty much destroyed Sam's brain, you know that? Kid's gonna have a helluva time dealing with that shit. You don't bounce back from decades a' gettin' tortured by the devil himself."
Another stifled groan emanates from Castiel. He shuts his eyes, but the tears pour from underneath his eyelids, a small flood.
"Who knows what you did to Dean, you son of a bitch. Boy hasn't even woken up since we got him back."
Castiel's lungs have become too small. There is not enough air in them. Is Dean hurt from his journey into Castiel's depths? Oh please, spare him that pain, he prays. Then he wonders if he's still allowed to pray.
Bobby Singer's face appears above Castiel; he can feel the hard gaze, and he opens his eyes to see the old man staring down at him. This man, the one who knelt, is now vibrating with righteous anger. Castiel finds himself wishing Bobby would just strike him down and be done with it. But he doesn't. He just says, "Despite all that, ya did stop the world from ending. Some people'd give you a pass for that, I suppose. Whatcha think, Cas? Have ya paid your dues?"
Castiel opens his mouth, parts his dry, cracked lips slowly, and gasps out, "Kill me."
Bobby's bushy eyebrows rise to his hairline. "Come again?"
Cas turns his face into the dirty pillow beneath his head. "I shouldn't be alive. I should be—"
"Bobby." Dean's voice echoes from the doorway. Both Bobby and Cas turn to look at him, silhouetted in the weak light spilling from the basement stairs.
Bobby goes to speak to Dean in the doorway, their voices low whispers that Cas can nonetheless hear over his own pounding heart.
"You okay, son?"
"You heard him?"
"Completely. Dean." A sigh. "Maybe we should just put him out of his misery. I don't know if he can—" Cas doesn't know how Bobby plans on finishing that sentence: Live? Heal? Be trusted? Doesn't matter; Dean stops him with a shake of his head.
"He doesn't get off that easily."
Castiel closes his eyes, doesn't hear the rest of their quiet conversation. He doesn't open his eyes again until he feels the thin cot dip as Dean sits on the edge next to him. Without speaking, Dean unlatches the cuffs at his hands and feet. He massages the skin there, but Castiel doesn't move or otherwise respond.
"You ready to get up?" Dean asks. He does not sound unkind; his voice is as careful as his hands on Castiel's skin.
Castiel looks at him with human eyes for the first time. There is no aura of spirit, no glowing soul that Castiel can sense beneath the flesh. There is only Dean. It tears at him.
"I can't live as a human," Castiel whispers.
"It's not that hard." Dean gently grasps Castiel's arm. "I've done it for a long time. Come on. You're probably thirsty."
Cas doesn't sit up when Dean tugs his arm. "Sam?"
"Upstairs." Dean watches Castiel's eyes cloud with sadness. "You'll have to face him sooner or later."
"I've caused him so much pain. All of you. It would be better if I just—" Castiel searches for the words. "—ceased to be."
"Yeah, well. Welcome to the human family." An inappropriate grin tugs at the corner of Dean's mouth, and he stays there on the cot until Castiel takes his first step as an earthly being.
Well, there were no sexy times in that story, which is a shame but this idea was nagging and I had to get it out. Now onto Kink Bingo fun!
EDIT TO ADD this sexytimes sequel!