Alone in the pitch dark of his room, not quite twelve hours since the last injection purged Hell’s influence from his veins, Dean prays for a sleep that won’t come.
The mark seared into his forearm pulses. It draws energy from him like a parasite and feeds it right back, tainted with rage and hunger and violent desire. He might be cured, might be human again, but Cain’s mark is simmering. Slowly but surely changing him back.
He can’t help but wonder if this is his curse now; to live in fear of waking after death. To live in fear of eternity.
In the months leading up to the night he became a demon, every kill had left him ravenous. Every touch had left him empty. He had wanted, and nothing seemed to scratch the itch.
Now, he feels the prickling skin of his forearm and knows it’s only a matter of time before it takes him over again.
Sleep won’t come.
He’s still trying to make his mind stop when the blue-white light of his cell phone flares on the bedside table, bright through his eyelids, and he blinks blearily as he reaches for it to silence the chime. When he looks at the screen there’s a new message from Castiel.
How are you feeling?
It’s after one in the morning, and Dean stares at the message for nearly ten minutes before he manages to formulate an answer that isn’t hungry or angry or on edge.
Tired, he ends up replying.
Where did you disappear to? He sends a moment after that, and is too exhausted to be embarrassed about asking. The phone rings, then, shrill and loud in the late-night quiet, and he hits answer quickly, hoping it didn’t wake Sam.
“Texting too much for you?” he says in lieu of hello, sitting back against the headboard. He hears the sound of a door clicking shut on the other end, cutting off the low rumble of canned TV laughter.
“It’s inefficient for an actual conversation,” Castiel tells him, and pauses a moment before he answers Dean’s earlier question, “I’m—we’re in Colorado.”
There’s hesitation, and in the pause Dean remembers Castiel’s words before he walked out of his room, before Sam wandered in with a paper bag full of greasy take out and said Cas just left.
“The girl waiting in your car,” he guesses.
“Hannah,” Castiel confirms, and the name is familiar in a distant kind of way until suddenly it’s clear; the angel who wanted Castiel to kill him. One of them, anyway.
“Oh,” he says, and because he really doesn’t have the energy for that conversation, because his first thought is awful and violent and not at all what he wants to say, he rubs at his eyes and decides to steer things someplace safer, “what are you doing in Colorado?”
“We’re en route to Heaven,” Castiel explains, and Dean hears him sitting down. Hears a car passing nearby. He’s on a bench, maybe, or a low wall. Dean pictures him sitting in a pool of streetlamp light outside a roadside motel, and realizes the door he’d heard closing must have been to the room where Hannah is waiting for him.
He’s not sure how he feels about that. It’s not great, though. Even less when he thinks about how Castiel will return to said room after he ends this call. He shouldn’t feel that way, has no claim on Castiel or who he spends his time with, but it’s there all the same.
Ugly, writhing jealousy.
He wants to blame the mark, but knows that isn’t entirely true.
“The gateway is in Montana,” Castiel goes on while Dean tries and fails not to wonder if there’s something more going on between the two angels, “I’d have driven all night, but… well. I’m rationing the grace I have left. It seems prudent to do things the human way to save what I can. Just in case something happens and I need the juice, as you call it.”
“Good plan,” Dean tells him, “but you could’ve stayed here, you know. Left first thing.”
“With Hannah?” he asks, and Dean feels the jealousy flare again, slithering and cold in his gut.
“Why are you working with her?” he asks before he can help himself, “she wanted me dead, Cas. She wanted you to kill me.”
“Dean, you have to understand she didn’t… she didn’t know what she was asking. It’s what she thought was right, at the time. She’s learning, though. Growing, I think.”
Slumping back down against his pillow, Dean stares up at the dark ceiling.
“Good for her.”
“Yes,” Castiel agrees, apparently oblivious to the bitter sarcasm in Dean’s tone, “I’m… I’m actually hoping she might take over running things in Heaven.”
“Yeah?” Dean asks, rubbing his eyes again, exhaustion making him feel dull and dry and empty, “you’re gonna hand in your sheriff’s badge?”
“Something like that,” Castiel says, and before Dean can ask what are you going to do then, he adds, “you should get some sleep.”
“Yeah,” he says, and feels a bizarre impulse to tell Castiel not to call again, to just head back upstairs and stay there. It’s not what he wants. He swallows. Is afraid the words will come out despite him not wanting them to, and is inordinately relieved when they don’t. “Keep in touch, alright?”
“I will,” Castiel says, and his voice is softer, a little hesitant, “I’ll… I’ll talk to you soon. Sleep well, Dean.”
When he puts down the phone his heart is racing like he’s run a marathon, and the mark is itching hot under his skin. It’s nearing two in the morning. Sleep feels impossible.
Every time he starts to close his eyes he thinks about opening them to the world tinged red. There’s fear crawling in his bones, fear that the demon is still somewhere within. Fear that the mark is going to drag it back out of the shadows the moment he lets his guard down.
He thinks about texting Castiel again to ask him if he’s sure the cure worked. If there’s any chance that it failed. If it might just be safer for everyone if they killed him.
But then he thinks about how Castiel is in a room with Hannah somewhere in the middle of Colorado, and pictures them without wanting to. Sees Castiel walking through the motel room door and twisting his tie free, settling down beside Hannah on the bed. It’s all in his head but he feels the sour twist of envy and anger and longing in his stomach just the same.
When sleep doesn’t come, he heads down to the dungeon to sit in the middle of the devil’s trap. He tests himself periodically with holy water, every time convinced that it’s going to start burning again.
Sam finds him at eight in the morning, and leads him back upstairs without a word. He sleeps with the aid of Ambien, and when he finally wakes up the following afternoon he feels steady. Rested.
When he tells Sam he’s fine, he almost believes it.
But in the days that follow, there are flashes.
Violent little bursts of thought that spring up out of nothing and blindside him with their brutality.
A week after he was cured, as he stands in the kitchen slicing cheese for a sandwich while Sam leans beside him, he looks at the knife in his hand and thinks a few inches to the left and I could take off his fingers.
He imagines it in startling detail, down to the resistance of muscle and the scrape of metal on bone. How the blade might catch at the knuckle and force him to press harder until it gives, until it slides through and thunks into the counter beneath. He sees how the blood would pool, how it would gush and run and spill down onto the tile. How Sam would clutch at the torn flesh and cry out with the pain of it. How he could take that moment of shock and use it to his advantage as he slashes his brother’s throat.
He doesn’t want to do it, but the image is so clear he’s scared he might do it anyway.
Sam’s phone rings where he left it in the library before Dean has to find out if he will, and after he wanders away to answer it Dean stares at the knife in his clenched fist. Puts it down. Presses it hard against the counter and leaves the sandwich unmade, moving unsteadily back to his room to lay face down on his bed.
When Sam drums his knuckles against the door frame and asks him what’s wrong, he just says he’s tired. It’s easier than I think I’m going crazy.
It happens again the next morning, and like the first time, when he was on the phone with Castiel, it’s not actions but words. He hears them in his head, and they’re worse, now. Horrible things. Sam is asking him if he’s heard from Cas again and Dean imagines telling him I wish you were dead.
He looks at his coffee cup and tries to focus on the shape of the hairline cracks in the glaze, to distract himself from the thoughts. I hope Cas meets another reaper. He flinches internally. I should have killed you both when I had the chance.
The words are wrong, so wrong, and he feels sick. Feels like if he even opens his mouth to gulp in the breath he’s suddenly desperate for the words will come spilling out.
I don’t want that, he thinks, God, I don’t want that.
Across the table, Sam is still waiting for a reply, so Dean forces himself to answer.
“He texted me yesterday,” he says, and with every second his mouth is open, the cruel words are dancing at the tip of his tongue, threatening, “there’s a few angels up in Nebraska who need help getting back upstairs. Said he’s driving out to meet them and take them back to the gateway.”
“He knows to call, right? If he needs anything?”
“I’ve told him,” Dean nods, and excuses himself. Heads into the shower room to stand under the heavy spray and let the drumming water push all unwelcome thoughts from his mind.
“You think you’re up for a road trip?” Sam asks him the next day, looking at some news website on his laptop while he folds a piece of toast in half, peanut butter squeezing out the ends, “got a haunting over in Colorado. Only about four hours away. I can handle it on my own, but if you want to come—”
“I’ll come,” Dean says, draining the last of his coffee and pushing to his feet.
“You don’t have to,” Sam reminds him, “if you’re not ready—”
“Could do with a change of scenery,” Dean says with a shrug, and pauses, knowing he really should be taking it easy, “how about I man the flashlight while you do the heavy lifting?”
“Alright,” Sam says, and he smiles, and Dean thinks that maybe they’re going to be okay after all.
But as he’s putting his mug into the sink, he sees the knife with peanut butter all along the side sitting in a shallow pool of water and imagines picking it up. Imagines jamming it through the back of Sam’s head, through the base of his skull where his hairline stops. Right in that spot where, if he gets the angle just right, he might be able to make it spear up through the back of his throat so he chokes on it, too.
The image makes his hands shake, and he drops the mug. It’s thick ceramic and doesn’t shatter, but he’s shaken. He grips the side of the sink so hard his knuckles go white.
“You okay?” Sam asks, looking up from the table. Dean nods. Lets go.
“Yeah,” he says and tries for a joke, “besides the butterfingers. Meet you in the garage in twenty?”
He waits just long enough for Sam to agree, and heads for his room, pressing his face into the blanket until his pulse slows down.
The mark needs to be fed, he thinks, and the voice in his head sounds a lot like Crowley. All the more reason to go on the hunt. Maybe he’ll get to hit something, be able to vent a little of this pent up need to hurt something, and the thoughts will stop.
Behind the wheel of the Impala, heading west to Seibert with the stereo loud, Dean manages to hold the thoughts at bay for an hour.
Houses give way to open fields, and he lets the rhythm of the music and the tires on the asphalt keep him steady. Sam speaks occasionally, telling him something about the case they’re headed to, or pointing things out as they drive along, and it’s fine until he glances in the rear view and sees an eighteen-wheeler.
It’s speeding up behind them, moving into the other lane to overtake, and apropos of nothing Dean imagines jerking the car abruptly to the left. Jackknifing out into the truck’s path, too fast for the driver to avoid.
He imagines the blunt force of it, how the truck’s bumper would crumple the Impala into scrap metal, how it would tear and destroy and crush them both inside. Imagines the warm gush of blood, the cold slide of his organs spilling out. How a shard of glass from the windscreen might impale Sam beside him, spear through his chest, his face. Right through his eye.
He imagines it, over and over while Sam goes on talking, his voice distant and muffled to Dean’s ears, and tightens his grip on the wheel.
Another glance in the rear view shows the truck about thirty feet behind them, and a wave of something rolls through his arms. Something anticipatory, like the moment before busting down a door. Some insidious little voice in the back of his mind says this is it, you’re going to do it and he slides his hands down.
Lets them rest, just barely, against the bottom third of the steering wheel where he’s got next to no control.
This way, if he snaps, he won’t be able to do it right away. He’ll be able to stop himself in the time it would take to lift his hands to ten and two. He’ll probably be able to stop himself.
There’s sweat beading on his upper lip, now, and his skin feels too hot. Too tight. He doesn’t breathe until the truck has passed, and as soon as the roadside is flat enough he pulls over onto the shoulder. Stones flick up against the undercarriage as they roll to a stop and he shuts off the engine.
“How could you need to pee already?” Sam asks, leaning down to rifle through the plastic bag of road snacks on the floor, and Dean pulls the key from the ignition. Holds it out until Sam looks up and takes it with a furrowed brow. “You okay?”
Pressing the heel of his hand into his eyes, Dean wonders how he’s even supposed to approach this.
How he’s meant to say, I keep thinking about killing you, killing Cas, destroying everything.
Because he doesn’t actually want to do any of those things. Doesn’t even want to think about them. But it’s like all his worst fears are being dragged up from the very back of his mind and forced into the spotlight while he watches. Over and over. Unable to look away. Eyes held open, drying out and sore.
He’s terrified, more than anything, that his brain is going to take the repeated thoughts as instructions. That he’ll do it on autopilot, and be left with blood on his hands that he’ll never be able to wash clean.
“I can’t—I just,” he says, shaking his head, “can you drive?”
“Yeah, yeah of course,” Sam grips the key more tightly in his hand, and Dean can feel his gaze like a lead weight, “shit, Dean, you look like hell.”
“Thanks for the pep talk,” he says, but even his sarcasm sounds strained and shaky.
“You want to go home? I can head out to Seibert tomorrow. It’s just a haunting. No-one’s getting hurt.”
Dean wants to tell him no. That he’s fine, that he just needs an hour or two of sleep in the back seat while Sam drives. He knows that’s bullshit though, so he nods.
“Okay. That’s okay,” Sam tells him, and pats his shoulder. Dean imagines reaching up and grabbing his hand. Snapping it back hard enough for the bone to break through the skin of his wrist. He breathes through it. Switches seats. Sits on his own hands the whole hour back to Lebanon.
When they finally get to the bunker he takes enough Ambien to knock him out for a day, and collapses into bed fully dressed while Sam watches him warily from the doorway.
"You need anything?" Sam asks.
“Need it to stop,” Dean mumbles into his pillow, and tries not to think about the array of weapons around his room that would be so, so easy to take into his hand.
He doesn’t hear Sam walk away. His dreams are tinged red. In sleep he tastes copper and dirt and the salt of torn flesh.
When he wakes it’s early morning, and he can hear the sound of footsteps in the hall. Too many footsteps. He listens with a foggy mind, still a little vague from the sleeping pills, but it doesn’t take long to separate them out. He recognizes the tired shuffle of his brother, the steady strides of Castiel, and another, lighter gait that must Hannah.
The three of them make their way closer to his room then stop, and he can hear the low murmur of Castiel’s voice before the lighter footfalls move away. Sam speaks, and his footsteps follow Hannah’s shortly after, and then Dean hears Castiel moving again.
He pauses at Dean’s door for so long that he wonders if he’d imagined it all, but then the door is being gently pushed open, and Castiel peers in at him with a furrowed brow.
When he sees that Dean is awake his eyes widen a little in embarrassment.
“Sam said you were sleeping,” he says, hesitating with his head half through the door, and Dean rubs at his eyes as he forces himself to sit up.
“I was,” he says, squeezing his eyes shut again as his head spins with the movement, “what’s up?”
“Do you want the truth?”
Blinking his eyes back open, Dean frowns.
“Sam called me yesterday,” Castiel says, “he told me you were unwell.”
Standing uncertainly by the door, Castiel watches him, waits, and Dean fidgets. Moves to sit on the edge of his bed so he feels like less of an invalid.
“Sit down or something,” Dean says, gesturing toward the chair by the wall, “you’re making me nervous.”
With a nod, Castiel closes the door and walks over to the chair. He takes off his coat before he sits, and it strikes Dean as something new. He never used to bother. Was always unfazed by the way the coat bunched up around his hips, like he didn’t notice how uncomfortable it was.
The belt of it drags down onto the floor as Castiel drapes it over the chair’s arm, and Dean looks at it. Thinks about yanking it free. Tying it around Castiel’s throat and pulling it tight enough for his eyes to bulge. He swallows bile. Grits his teeth.
“So you’re here to check up on me,” he says, and Castiel nods.
"I’m worried about you," he says simply, and Dean has to hide his eyes behind his hand, because here Castiel is caring about him while Dean pictures a thousand different ways to kill him.
"So am I," he admits eventually, and the mark burns hot, like it knows he’s voicing fears about it. He rubs at it absently. Thinks about digging his fingernails into it and ripping it out with long strips of flesh and muscle. The movement doesn’t go unnoticed.
"It’s the mark," Castiel says, "isn’t it?"
“Either that or I’ve finally snapped.”
“Do you… do you want to talk about it?” Castiel asks, but before Dean answers he shakes his head with a weary kind of smile, “that was a stupid question. Of course you don’t want to. But are you willing to?”
Dean swallows, shifting around and looking down at his hands. He rubs the mark again. The itch is getting worse, burning like an infection that goes bone deep.
“I honestly don’t think you really want to know,” he says.
“I want to help, and knowing what it’s doing is going to make that easier,” Castiel tells him, rising from the chair and taking a couple of steps forward before sitting down beside him on the bed, gesturing toward his arm, “may I?”
As soon as Dean nods, Castiel takes hold of his elbow and presses two fingers to the center of the mark. His eyes unfocus, staring into the middle distance as he concentrates on whatever dark power he can feel thrumming under Dean’s skin. Dean looks at him, sitting close, closer than he’s been since dragging Dean back from trying to kill Sam, and thinks about reaching back under his pillow with his other hand. Taking up the angel blade he keeps there and shoving it through the underside of Castiel’s jaw until he gurgles blood and flares blue-white from his eyes. He tenses.
Castiel drops his arm, and for a horrible split second Dean thinks he saw. But his face is apologetic. Like he’s worried he’s done something wrong.
“Does it hurt?” he asks.
"No," he says, because hurt would be an understatement. Dean’s in agony. Out of control of his own thoughts, his own mind twisting in on itself and torturing him from within with more finesse than anything Hell ever managed to dream up. Making him doubt himself. Making him scared of his own hands.
Dean thinks, to hell with it.
“I think I’m going to kill you,” he says, bluntly, “and Sam. Maybe even myself. I keep… I keep picturing things. Like… Impulses. I’m scared I’m going to lose control and do it.”
Castiel just looks at him openly, with compassion. When he speaks his voice is level and calm, like he’s not even worried.
“Do you want to do those things?”
“Jesus, no,” Dean breathes, “of course not.”
“Then you won’t.”
“You don’t know that, Cas. I’ve done some messed up shit before. You saw me in Hell. You know what I’m capable of.”
Castiel studies him for a long moment before taking his arm again, pressing his whole palm down over the mark. Dean can feel it pulsing hot under his hand. Choke him, he thinks, and the mark burns hotter, gut him.
“What are you thinking of right now?”
“About sticking you with the angel blade under my pillow,” Dean admits, his throat constricting even as he says it, “about how you’d look with your insides spilling out.”
Leaning past him, Castiel reaches under the pillow and pulls out the blade. He presses it into Dean’s hand. Dean drops it like it’s burning and gets to his feet. Backs away. Shakes his head while his heart thunders.
“Cas, I don’t—”
“Please, Dean,” Castiel says, “just take it.”
He picks it up again, holds it out. Dean stares at it with terror working through his veins, making his limbs feel coiled tight as springs.
"Do you trust me?" Castiel asks, and there’s a loaded question if Dean ever heard one. But he does. Despite everything, he does.
Heaving in a breath, Dean nods, and Castiel holds out the blade. Wraps Dean’s fingers around the hilt with his other hand.
The metal is cool.
As soon as Dean feels it, he imagines the metal warmed by blood, sticky red. Imagines how smoothly the blade would part the skin of Castiel’s throat. How much resistance he might meet if he aimed lower, for the sternum, for the heart. Do it, that little voice in the back of his head says, you’re going to do it.
He swallows. Feels his grip tighten and wants to scream. Feels it building in his chest.
“Cas,” he manages to choke out, and he’s afraid to move, afraid to even try and put the blade down in case the wires in his brain get crossed and he lunges forward instead, “take it back.”
Instead, Castiel just steps closer. Lets the point of the blade rest against the middle of his chest.
“If you wanted to do it,” Castiel says, “you’d do it. But you don’t.”
“Please,” Dean says. His eyes are prickling, his vision blurring. The mark on his arm throbs, aches, begs, commands he act.
“You’re stronger than the mark, Dean.”
Castiel leans a little harder against the blade. Dean presses his eyes closed.
“You are,” Castiel tells him.
“What are you thinking about?”
“Pushing the blade in,” Dean says, a hoarse whisper, and his hands are damp with sweat.
“Watching you bleed out, burn out. Fuck. I don’t want that, Cas, I don’t—”
“And have you stabbed me yet?”
“Not recently,” Dean jokes weakly, and lets his eyes slip back open to see Castiel’s wry smile.
“Cain made the choice not to kill,” Castiel tells him, “did he not?”
"So why should it be any different for you?"
He had Colette, Dean thinks. He was loved.
Something must show in his eyes, something desperate, because before he knows it Castiel’s hand is warm on his cheek, his palm wide and fingers rough. Dean breathes slowly, steadily. Still, in his head he sees himself pushing forward with the blade. Sees it sinking through white cotton. Sees blood leeching outward.
"Instead of focusing on what you fear," Castiel tells him, thumb gentle against Dean’s cheekbone, "focus on something else."
Blood, blood, blood, Dean’s mind says, and he drags in another breath before releasing it in one long stream.
"Something good," Castiel suggests, "something you want."
That’s easy, Dean thinks, you’re right here.
In his minds eye he tosses away the blade. Lets it tinkle across the floor like a bell. Raises his hand to cover Castiel’s against his cheek. Steps forward, just a little, just until their toes bump. Brings his other hand to Castiel’s hip. Lets his thumb rest against his side, strokes over skin-warm cotton. Tilts his head forward and kisses him, kisses him how he’s wanted to kiss him for years, how he’s equal parts scared he one day will and scared he’ll never get to.
He’s embarrassed, thinking this as Castiel stands here staring at him.
Feels his face growing hot under Castiel’s palm. His eyes dart down without his permission, taking in the pink of Castiel’s lower lip, before raising again to his earnest eyes.
He doesn’t realize he’s lowered the blade until Castiel’s hand moves away from his face to take it from lax fingers.
"See?" Castiel tells him, putting the blade down on the bedside table before turning back to Dean, still completely calm.
Dean just stares at him. He was never scared, he thinks. He knew I wouldn’t do it.
"Can I ask," Castiel says, "what you thought of?"
Dean huffs out a laugh.
"Yeah, you can ask," Dean tells him, sinking down to sit on the edge of his bed, "don’t know if I’m up to telling you yet, though."
Castiel smiles at that, his little half smile that makes his eyes crease.
"Yet," Dean repeats, and maybe it’s the left over adrenaline that gives him the guts to say it, or maybe it’s because he’s made the choice to start doing what he wants, but he looks up at Castiel standing before him and adds, "but maybe you should stick around to find out."