In and of itself, the flat is rather nice.
It’s in an old building that stands in a less than sparkling neighbourhood, but the space has been refitted with modern affects and comforts, bare brick walls and faded hardwood floors left intact to preserve the character of past generations.
The furniture is less tasteful though they too are a collaboration between old and new. The mish mash of sofas, coffee tables and shelves lack the thought that was obviously put into designing the flat. Any visual appeal is easily ruined by the shag rugs and polka dot throw blankets that seem to switch places between floor and furniture, depending on where you stand.
It suits the man who owns the flat, but Mr. Shurley isn’t in the building at the moment. The man’s down at the station and it’s Castiel who treads silently past the sitting room, and he doesn’t pay more than a passing glance to the ugly furniture though he notices the similarities between the flat and the apartment he grew up in.
The worn brick and scuffed floors; doors with faded paint and aged hinges; windows dark in their chipped frames – but for him the weathering of the building had been genuine and unwanted – a sign of low income, not decoration – and the space was much smaller. The layout is somehow familiar though, and Castiel has no trouble finding his way.
His focus is past the sitting room; the wide hallway and the room at its end – he’s alert for any movement in the dark, listening for signs of company – and he hears it.
A quiet shuffling of papers.
And then Castiel is standing in the doorway of the large study, gun stretched out before him and aimed at the man bent over a spread of papers on the desk.
The man continues rifling through the documents like he’s alone, but in the squares of orange cast by the streetlights outside the window Castiel can see the muzzle of a gun resting on the edge of the desk.
“How’d you know I’d be here?” Dean asks, at a regular volume like this is his office and his flat.
“Drop your weapon, Dean,” Castiel says firmly, ignoring the other’s question.
At last, Dean looks up, but he doesn’t unwrap his fingers from his gun. Instead he lifts it; levels the muzzle at Castiel along with a wide grin, sharp and feral, “Did I make your Spidey senses tingle?”
“Dean,” voice serious and professional.
The other man’s eyes appear black in the poor lighting and his grin falls though his weapon doesn’t, “I can’t, Cas,” face solemn like Castiel has rarely seen it, “I can’t.”
And even in the dark, Dean looks pale, bruise-like smudges beneath his eyes.
“Dean, I can help you,” Castiel tries when it seems Dean is content to keep them in a draw, “Just put the gun down.”
“Nope,” Dean shakes his head, one corner of his lip twitching up, “How about you put your gun down, pretend you didn’t see anything and just go home.”
“You know I can’t stop my investigation.”
“And you know I can’t just walk away.”
“You can,” Castiel insists; has to resist stepping forwards with his conviction.
“No, Cas,” Dean sighs, frustrated hands tightening on his gun, “Why can’t you just–”
“Just what?” Castiel’s eyes narrow, “Let them continue trafficking drugs and weapons; extorting people into prostitution and getting away with murder?”
“No! But why did you have to–” Dean’s mouth pulls down, brow scrunching and voice hoarse, “It’s Sam, you know him. He’s not–”
“Sam made his own choices, Dean,” Castiel says.
And he thinks about the curious boy with the floppy brown hair and dimpled smile; thinks about the man of imposing height, calculating and so filled with resentment.
Sam isn’t the same anymore.
None of them are.
Dean’s eyes flash – betrayed; angry, but he doesn’t speak against Castiel – and then he is smooth and unruffled, like a deck of cards shuffled and cut, the top turned over to the Knave of Hearts.
“Well I’ve made mine,” one dimensional, final; face a hard mask.
The air feels too heavy.
And Castiel’s tired.
He doesn’t understand how things turned out this way – it was never supposed to be more than a children’s game.
He thinks of evenings spent hunched over textbooks, watching green eyes droop with boredom; mornings searching for his box of cereal, only to find an IOU for the Lucky Charms taped to the back of the kitchen cabinet.
Castiel’s brow furrows, “Dean–”
It happens quickly.
There’s a loud crash from downstairs – wood splintering as the front door is kicked in.
A flash; a bang.
Castiel pulls the trigger as he drops to the floor.
A jolt down his arm; recoil.
Dean jerks back and stumbles behind the desk.
Castiel rolls behind the doorframe.
He feels like his nerves have short circuited though his hands remain steady, one on his gun, the other doing a quick pat down of his chest in search of wounds.
When he finds none he peers cautiously around the doorframe; spots the toe of a boot behind the desk and hears the huff of panting breath.
“Dean,” he calls; pleads, as he hears the stomp of boots ascending stairs, “Please, just – just come quietly.”
The commotion can only be a couple floors away now and they don’t have much time.
“Cas,” shaky and bitter, “Do you remember when we were kids?”
“Yes, Dean, but we can talk about this after,” Castiel instructs calmly, “For now, put down your gun. I’m going to enter the study and put you in handcuffs.”
But Dean doesn’t seem to hear him, continues fondly, “For all your brain power – you were always the slowest thing on two legs.”
“Listen to me, when the others arrive, remain quiet and do not fight. I’ll ensure that you’re treated fairly and I will get you into protective custody,” Castiel calls into the study.
Dean ignores him; ignores the pound of marching feet growing louder; ignores the crackle of transceivers and the low grunts of approaching officers, instead he asks softly, “Do you think that – that this is it for us? That this is how it was always going to be?”
“Things can still change,” Castiel answers, sliding to his feet, back pressed against the cover of the wall, “Like magic, Dean. Just like magic.”
A derisive chuckle, “Thought you didn’t buy into that crap.”
“Things can still change,” Castiel repeats.
There’s a pause in which Castiel thinks Dean might finally give up, then, “I’m glad you think so, Cas.”
Castiel steps into the doorway, just in time to see Dean smash through a study window and tumble onto the platform of the iron stairwell outside.
Castiel curses, vaulting over the desk in the middle of the room and hurrying to the window. He leaps out onto the landing, looks up to see that Dean’s already a few floors above him and scrambles for the stairs to give chase.
The staircase is old and poorly maintained, black paint chipped off and metal rusted so far in places that Castiel’s surprised his foot doesn’t punch through the floor and the stairwell doesn’t detach from the brick face of the building.
He can’t have spent more than a few minutes outside, but he’s relieved to see he’s almost at the top of the winding stairs – almost caught up with Dean who has reached the roof – but then the other man’s throwing something down the stairs, a large black object which Castiel realizes is a bag of trash.
He ducks to the side to avoid it, but is clipped in the shoulder and the heavy bag sends him reeling back down the stairs as he tries to keep his footing. And though he saves himself from a nasty fall, it costs him time and when he finally passes the obstacle of the trash bag – the great lump clogging the stairway, wedged between the railings – and reaches the roof, it’s empty.
Castiel races around all four corners, checking behind the stout block in the center where the door for roof access from the interior is, and sprinting around crates and piles of debris large enough to hide a man.
But there’s no one, and Castiel runs to the South side of the building, presses his hands to the stone ledge that boxes the perimeter of the roof as he leans over.
This is the only side of the building that’s close to a neighbouring structure, but even so, Castiel can see the distance between buildings is too far for Dean to jump, so he looks downwards, checking the wall for suitable hand and footholds the other man could use to climb down.
The grooves in the brick are deep and Castiel thinks there’re enough window ledges and decorative mouldings for Dean to make the descent, but Castiel doesn’t have the same skill set as the other man and can’t possibly follow him this way.
He grits his teeth as he fails to catch Dean yet again; hands fisting on the stone ledge.
But only one hand feels dry with the dust and dirt he expects.
The other is wet.
Castiel snaps his head down to look at his right hand as he uncurls his fingers.
The night is too dark and the streetlights are too dim to illuminate the colour, but he still knows what the dark smudge across his palm is.
Castiel’s eyes fall to the stone and he sees dark drops shining on the ledge; a pattern of smeared handprints, wet and fresh.
His heart seems to skip a few beats, like there are air pockets in his veins where the blood’s vanished – vanished and reappeared on his hand; the stone ledge.
But that can’t be because it’s not his blood.
Castiel startles, eyes tearing away from his hand to find Uriel standing at his side.
He doesn’t know how long the other detective has been there, and he doesn’t know when the other officers appeared – one standing by the roof access door, another shining a flashlight down the iron stairwell – it can’t be more than a few minutes, but it’s long enough for Uriel to have developed a disapproving edge to his voice, “You were supposed to wait for assistance, Detective.”
Castiel’s eyes skirt away because Uriel’s right, but he knows that given a second try, he still would’ve gone up alone.
And the larger man must know it too because he says quietly, seeming to loom over Castiel though he moves not at all, “The only reason I haven’t divulged your history with Winchester is because you told me you could be objective and use it to our advantage,” deep voice a warning that curls darkly in Castiel’s ear, “But perhaps you have misjudged yourself.”
Castiel’s mouth draws into a firm line as he gathers his wits, “No, I can do this.”
Uriel looks at Castiel appraisingly; face taut with suspicion as he gauges the honesty of Castiel’s words, but then the transceiver in his hand crackles loudly and he steps away; turns around to speak into the hand held device in low tones.
It’s a jumble of white noise that Castiel has trouble deciphering but that Uriel seems to understand, and when the larger man turns back to face Castiel, he is relaxed, pleased, “We’ve found Winchester.”
Castiel tries to keep his surprise from colouring his words, “We’ve caught him?”
Uriel looks at him sideways, “We have him,” he claps a hand to Castiel’s shoulder, “But for your sake, I hope your judgement is as good as you believe it to be.”
“Pew – pew – pew.”
Castiel doesn’t look up from his desk, pen continuing to scratch into his paper, “Hello Dean.”
Dean pokes him in the back with a finger – the muzzle of his pretend gun – and leans over Castiel’s shoulder to look at what’s spread across the desk, “What’re you doing?”
“Homework,” Castiel shrugs, trying to shake Dean off, but the other teen just repositions his finger gun against the back of Castiel’s head – adds a second one and pokes at Castiel’s scalp with alternating jabs.
“Thought you already got your A+ and golden star,” Dean chirps in his ear.
“Yes, Dean, but if you actually went to class you’d see that there’s more than one assignment per year,” Castiel sighs, exasperated, feeling cranky from working nonstop for hours.
His back hurts and his hand aches and his legs feel paralyzed and it’s annoying, but he doesn’t bother swatting Dean’s hands away this time because knowing the other teen, Dean will just move on to sticking his fingers directly into Castiel’s ear canals.
“So you aren’t hiding some porn under all those papers?”
Castiel snorts, “Only if you consider meiosis to be porn.”
Dean rolls his voice in a mock-purr, batting his hand like a cat’s paw against Castiel’s arm, “Kinky, Cas.”
“Always,” Castiel says flatly.
He tries to find the spot he left off at in the textbook, but it becomes difficult to concentrate when Dean practically drapes himself over Castiel, chin propped carelessly on Castiel’s shoulder and the soft puff of his breath loud in Castiel’s ear.
Castiel reads the same sentence at least a dozen times and still doesn’t know what it means though he knows he understood it ten minutes ago. He’s not sure whether he’s grateful for the semi-peace Dean is offering by keeping silent if he’s still rendered illiterate.
Studying is near impossible to do with Dean around, and the other boy seems to agree with Castiel’s unspoken conclusion.
“Fuck this. Let’s go see a movie,” Dean slaps Castiel on the back as he straightens up.
“I’m doing a very important assignment, Dean,” Castiel grumbles tiredly.
“Yeah, well you’ve been sitting there all day,” Dean flicks the back of his head in disapproval, “And I’m very important too. Besides–”
Dean spins Castiel’s chair around, gripping the arms of it so he boxes Castiel in. He waggles his eyebrows, mouth stretched suggestively, “Which would you rather do?”
“Dean,” Castiel can feel his face heating and curses himself for it.
Green eyes crinkle in delight, “Aw, Cas, are you blushing?”
“Well, one of us has to know what shame is and it’s obviously not going to be you,” Castiel retorts, hating how easily Dean’s teasing affects him.
He wrenches Dean’s hands from the arms of his chair, spinning back around to continue writing his paper – because he will, even if it means using a dictionary to understand a dictionary to understand the textbook – but his textbook is gone and so is his pen.
Castiel exhales slowly through his nose as he spins back around – again – to face the other teen.
Dean sits innocently on the window sill, one hand holding Castiel’s textbook propped open on his lap, the other holding Castiel’s pen to his mouth, pressing the blue plastic against his bottom lip.
“Return my things.”
“I’m sorry, your what?” Dean tilts his head in false confusion, sliding Castiel’s pen past his pursed lips.
Castiel musters his control to keep his face from growing even redder, “My textbook and my pen.”
“Maybe your book, but I dunno – I kinda like your pen,” Dean grins around the blue plastic, pink tongue peeking out.
Castiel sucks in a deep breath, knowing this is going to go on for hours otherwise, he gets to his feet – legs tingling with pins and needles – and he simply walks up to Dean and snatches his textbook from Dean’s hands; yanks his pen from Dean’s mouth.
Dean pulls back like he’s been slapped, mouth falling into a pout, “Ouch, Cas.”
“Just be glad the pen didn’t explode in your mouth,” Castiel says, thinking of how Dean’s habit of chewing pens often leads to an ink stained face.
“I wouldn’t mind if it was your pen that exploded in my mouth.”
Castiel throws his things onto his desk and resists rolling his eyes at Dean’s flirtatious nature.
Not for the first time, Castiel thinks that he and Dean would never have been friends if they didn’t live in the same apartment complex; if they hadn’t been in the same class since kindergarten. Their personalities and interests clash more often than not and Castiel doesn’t understand why Dean seeks him out for company – especially now that they’re older and their social circles have diverged.
Castiel shakes his head, “Dean, I can’t help you study later if I don’t finish this. Go find someone who isn’t busy.”
“Come on, you need a break, Cas, and besides – everyone’s busy.”
“I’m sure you could pick up anyone in the building if you tried,” Castiel says, thinking of the gang of boys Dean normally hangs out with or the flock of girls that always hover after him.
“Never, Cas,” Dean plants his hands on Castiel’s shoulders, trying to push him forwards, “Only you – and hey, if you need more incentive than my amazing presence, I’ll bake you something – maybe a pie.”
“You don’t know how to bake.”
“Sure I do,” Dean kicks at the back of Castiel’s knees to get him walking, “It’s in my blood – Campbell’s Cakes used to be number one, y’know,” he chuckles darkly.
At that, Castiel gives in; lets Dean push him along, only putting up a weak complaint, “You could at least use the door for once.”
Dean laughs, amused by the notion as he steers them to the window and steps past Castiel to slide the glass open.
He slips out onto the landing of the rusting fire escape just outside, “Nah, I like this way better,” he reaches out to take Castiel’s hand, tugging him over the sill with a toothy grin, “So come on – movie. You. Me. Now.”
It takes no more than ten minutes for Castiel to reach his destination by car.
The area is already being cordoned off by long strips of yellow tape even though there are few pedestrians outside at this late hour.
Emergency vehicles and police cars are parked haphazardly along the street, lights flashing blue and red, painting the worn sides of the buildings with brief splashes of colour and casting long shadows at the feet of the various uniformed men and women milling about the scene.
Clusters of officers and emergency personnel are congregated around the mouth of an alley though most have drifted off to the perimeter, uninterested in the proceedings as they find their numbers excessive for the occasion – the main event already over.
Castiel slams the door of the car shut, heading towards the largest crowd without giving the usual thanks he would to whoever had just given him a ride in their cruiser, but before he’s more than half way there, he’s intercepted by two officers from his team.
“Detective!” Spangler steps into Castiel’s path, effectively stopping him as he gives an awkward sort of salute to Castiel.
Zeddmore is right by Spangler’s side, adjusting his glasses with one hand and nodding curtly to Castiel, “You got here fast.”
Castiel keeps himself from lashing out in impatience, instead he asks roughly, “De-Winchester?” grits his teeth, “Where is he?”
Zeddmore and Spangler exchange looks, though Castiel is certain that it’s not because they can tell how aggravated he is.
Castiel is on edge, frustrated by Uriel’s refusal to answer his questions. The other detective had simply pushed him into a cruiser and given one of the officers the duty of shuttling Castiel to this intersection, leaving his insides roiling and his skin burning – he has to know what’s happened.
He has to make sure that Dean is being treated properly; has to ensure that excessive blame won’t be pinned on Dean. He can’t let Dean be locked up with just any prisoners. Dean has to be put in protective custody, safe from rival gangs or unfriendly members from his own.
And Castiel has to make sure that Dean will still be within his reach – not shipped off to be processed elsewhere or put under another’s power.
Most of all, he has to know that Dean’s okay – needs to know.
Castiel’s right hand tightens in its fist and he feels the russet on his palm chipping off in dried flakes.
“Well, it’s a little anticlimactic, but I guess it’s for the best,” Spangler finally says; shrugs, turning to look at the crowd behind him, “We brought all our guns and didn’t fire a single shot.”
Zeddmore nods in agreement with his partner, “Wouldn’t have minded getting a little action, but hey – at least we got ‘im. One way or another.”
But Castiel doesn’t really hear anything they say.
The crowd is dispersing, a gurney being rolled out of the alley and into view.
“There he is.”
It’s a normal ambulance stretcher, just like a hundred others that Castiel has seen.
But it’s not the same as those hundred others that Castiel has seen.
And it’s not because of the plain sheet draped over the top.
There’s a hand hanging off the side of the gurney.
The sleeve of a worn leather jacket.
Fingers, limp and pale.
Castiel feels like he’s falling.
The world’s slipping away, leaving everything white as clean cotton.
Except where it’s red.
“Dead as a doornail,” a voice says from somewhere to his right.
Another voice, “A bullet to the gut will do that to a man.”
“So much for Mr. Uncatchable, huh?”
“Twenty bucks says he got nailed in the spleen.”
“Why the spleen?”
“Look at all that blood – it’s got to be the spleen: blood reservoir.”
“Well then, you can keep your twenty, I’ll just wait for the medical examiner to call it.”
“Whatever, man. The real prize is a job well done – one less scumbag stalking the night.”
“You’ve got that right.”
“Yeah – congrats, Detective. You finally got him.”