The rain had almost stopped, just enough of a cold drizzle hanging in the air that Dean had to keep the wipers on. The road was dark and he had to squint to make out the lane markers.
All the same, Dean couldn't keep himself from glancing over to the passenger seat. Sam was slumped over, his forehead pressed against the window as he stared out into the darkness. Dean didn't think he'd moved in three hours. "Dude," he finally said, drumming his fingers against the steering wheel. "Can't believe I'm saying this, but are you okay?"
Sam shrugged. "I guess."
Oh yeah, Sammy, you're great. "You barely said a word in two days. The thing with Madison wasn't your fault, you know that." Sam curled in on himself further, making Dean feel like a complete dick but he still kept going. "Look, I know you've been having a rough go of it lately. First that Ava chick went missing," - he'd expected Sam to wince that that, but it was like he hadn't said anything – "and now Madison...."
"I don't want to talk about it."
"You always want to talk about it," Dean muttered under his breath. He swore as he swerved around a dead deer lying half in the lane; dark country roads were death traps at night. "We could go back to looking for Ava. Maybe we'll get lucky."
"We looked for a month. She's gone."
"Still, we could...."
"I don't want to talk about it, Dean."
Dean sighed. That was Sam's no, seriously, we're done voice; Dean wondered when the world had flipped around so that he was the one pushing to talk about emotions and Sam was shutting down. "Hey, can't say I didn't try."
Sam was quiet again. "Thanks, Dean," he said after a few minutes.
Dean grinned. "Yeah, I'm the most awesome brother who ever lived, I know."
Sam scoffed at that, finally cracking a grin. Then he tensed, jerking upright in his seat. "Dean, look out!"
Dean had already slammed on the brakes; he could smell his baby's tires burning as she screamed to a stop. There was a man standing in the road, an older guy in suit, balding with bulging eyes that stared into Dean as the car stopped inches shy of hitting him. The man smiled, the freaky, pulling grin of someone who'd waited a long time to do something and Dean couldn't escape the impression that this guy knew him.
Then the man raised a gun that looked impossibly like the Colt and pointed it right at Dean.
Dean found himself standing by the side of the road and shook his head, trying to figure out what in the hell had just happened. The man was gone but the Colt was still lying abandoned there in the road; Dean looked over and saw a neat round bullet hole in the Impala's windshield on the driver's side, right in front of where his head would have been but Dean didn't understand, he felt fine. He heard Sam calling for him and Dean had never heard him sound so scared. "I'm over here, Sam! It's okay."
Sam didn't seem to hear. "Dean! Dean, please, don't do this, please."
Dean walked around the front of the car, glancing through the bullet hole; there was blood all over the seat, enough that Dean felt queasy. Or rather, he knew he should feel queasy but he didn't feel anything. Not sick to his stomach, not cold, not wet even though the rain had started back up. Dean noticed he had no reflection in the shattered windshield at the same time as he realized he wasn't wet because the rain was going right through him. He took a breath he knew he didn't need and finished walking toward Sam's voice, trying to brace himself for what he was going to see.
It didn't work. Sam had him – his body, anyway - laid out in the road and was doing CPR even though anyone with sense could tell it wasn't going to work. Dean couldn't tear his eyes from the bloody hole in his own forehead; his eyes were blank, staring up at the sky and Dean couldn't lie to himself anymore, he was dead. "Sam. Sam, man, I'm gone," he said, his hand going right through Sam's shoulder.
But Sam couldn't hear him. "Dean, please," he begged in between breaths. "I can't do this alone, Dean, please, you gotta come back, please." Sam sounded so young. "Please," he said, his voice cracking.
Dean couldn't take hearing Sam like this. "Sam. Sam!" he shouted, trying to get through. "Sam, I'm done! I got shot with the Colt, I'm gone!"
"That's right, Dean. And now it's time to come home."
Dean turned his head toward the voice and saw a cadaverous looking man in a black suit standing by the side of the road. "Who the hell are you supposed to be?"
The answering smile was like someone had just told a joke to a skull. "You know."
And Dean did. Reaper. "No. No, my Reaper's a hot chick. Where is she?" he said, backing up right through the car. "Tessa!" he said, remembering her name. "You get your ass down here!"
"You need to come with me," the strange Reaper said, as if Dean hadn't spoken.
"No." Dean didn't know why, but every instinct told him to get the hell away from this thing as fast as he could. "I'm not going anywhere with you."
Dean blinked and the Reaper was inches in front of him. "You need to come with me," it repeated, that same flat, emotionless command; Dean jerked back before it could touch him and dropped to the ground, rolling over to the Colt and swearing when his hand went through it. "Sam!" he shouted out of pure instinct, because what was Sam even supposed to do? Dean pushed himself back to his feet and backed away again, going as far as he could while still keeping Sam in sight. This wasn't the way Reapers were supposed to work. He ducked as the Reaper made another grab for him, looking around for anything he could use as a weapon. That first time he'd been all-but-dead, the time with Tessa, she'd made it seem like a Reaper couldn't force a soul to come along. She'd bent over backwards trying to make Dean walk into the light but this thing wasn't taking no for an answer.
He dodged another grab, stumbling and almost coming off his feet. He couldn't keep this up forever – hell, he didn't know if he could keep this up for another minute. No matter which way he turned the Reaper was in front of him, blocking his escape, walking toward him with one bony hand outstretched. And Dean didn't want to escape; escape meant leaving Sam alone in the rain. Dean could see that his body had already turned blue but Sam was still working on him like there was any hope at all. The Reaper made another grab that missed by less than an inch and Dean stumbled backward; he felt a hand clamp down on his shoulder and choked down the surge of panic. He turned his head, expecting to see the Reaper looming behind him.
Instead Dean was surprised to see a different man, a few inches shorter than Dean, dark-haired and wearing a tan trenchcoat. "All will be well, Dean," he said in a rasping voice that didn't seem to match the rest of him. He strode forward, placing himself between Dean and the Reaper. "Leave," he said. "Dean Winchester's soul is not yours to take."
The Reaper smiled, that same rictus expression from before. "The outcast," it said in a voice that sounded like bones rattling. Dean saw the man in the trenchcoat stiffen. "I was told about you."
"Then you know I won't allow you to take this soul." Dean saw a gleaming silver sword slide from the man's sleeve and suddenly the Reaper didn't look nearly as sure of itself.
"You wouldn't dare," it hissed, sunken eyes locked on that sword.
"I've dared worse." Dean could swear the guy sounded bored, like threatening Reapers was an average day at work. "Does Death himself come when a Reaper dies? Do you think he'd approve of your divided loyalties?" The man took a step forward. "Inform your new masters that their scheme will fail."
The Reaper snarled but didn't move forward. There was a long, tension-filled moment as the two faced each other, the man in the trenchcoat with his sword raised and the Reaper leaning forward, like it was a second away from springing at him. Then Dean blinked and the Reaper was gone. "Dude," Dean said. "That was badass."
"It was self-indulgent," the man sighed, the sword disappearing. "It would have been wiser to kill it."
"That thing can really kill a Reaper?" Dean asked, heading back over to Sam.
"There are very few things this sword can't kill," he said, walking over to join Dean. Dean saw the man tilt his head as he watched Sam – Sam was so tired he was on the verge of passing out but he was still trying, and it tied Dean in knots to see it. The man gestured and Dean watched his dead body jerk up as it heaved in a sudden breath.
Sam sobbed with surprise and checked Dean's pulse. "I knew it. I knew it, Dean, you're gonna be okay." He took off his shirt and pressed it to the wound in Dean's forehead; he was shaking so hard it took three tries to pull his phone out of his pocket and dial 911. Dean half-listened as Sam tried tell the dispatcher what had happened, too busy staring at the man in the trenchcoat and wondering if he had another fight on his hands.
The guy caught his look and shrugged. "I restored your body's automatic functions," he said, as if that was the most obvious thing in the world. "You'll need it later."
"Who are you?" It wasn't a question so much as a threat.
The man looked at him, his lips twitching up for a second. "My name is Castiel. I'm an angel of the Lord."
Dean could only stare. "Bullshit."
Castiel sighed. "Why do you never believe that?"
Dean shook his head. "No, look, whatever the hell you are, me and Sam just got through a whole thing where people thought 'angels' were telling them to kill when it was just some spirit on a power trip. There's no such thing."
"So because you proved one incident wasn't related to angels that proves they don't exist at all?"
Okay, when he put it like that. "Look, all I'm saying is I've never seen anything that made me believe in angels."
"And now you have."
Castiel's jaw went tight and Dean took a step back. Then to Dean's surprise the flash of anger dissipated as suddenly as it had appeared. "I supposed I should be happy you're not trying to stab me," he muttered, to Dean's utter confusion. Castiel closed his eyes and Dean felt a charge, like the air after a lightning storm. The rain got worse, the wind picking up like a hurricane was blowing in. In his peripheral vision he saw Sam reach out to steady his body but he couldn't tear his eyes away from Castiel. The highway lights started to sputter but Dean barely noticed; for the first time he was glad he didn't have a heartbeat because he was pretty sure it would have stopped. Enormous shadow wings spread across the pavement in the flickering light and Dean could feel the power pouring from the thing in standing in front of him. "Okay," Dean whispered. "Okay, I believe you."
The wings disappeared and the lights went back to normal. Dean couldn't believe how quickly Castiel went back to looking as human as anyone else. "At least we managed to get that out of the way."
"That why you can touch me? Being an angel, I mean?"
Castiel nodded. "You're as sold and material to me as if you were in your body."
Dean crouched next to Sam. "Who was that joker? The one with the gun?"
"One of my brothers. His name is Zachariah. He answers directly to the archangel Michael."
"So I got shot by one of Heaven's middle managers?"
"I suppose you could put it like that."
"I don't get it," Dean said, standing up again as the futility of trying to make Sam realize he was there set in. "Why the hell would I have angels gunning for me? I mean, literally gunning for me?"
Castiel sighed, looking around with his hands in his pockets as if he were expecting company. "In a little over two years the Apocalypse will begin---"
"Whoa. Whoa, wait. You mean the Apocalypse, Apocalypse? End of the world, Revelation and all that?"
"The very same. The Righteous Man will break the first Seal and the others will follow until Lucifer's Cage is opened." Absolutely none of that made any sense to Dean and he was beginning to wonder if Castiel spoke a language other than crazy.
"What the hell does that have to do with me?"
Castiel shook his head. "I can't tell you everything, Dean. Don't ask me to."
Dean closed the distance between them, ghost zapping right up into his face and realizing too late what a dumb decision that had probably been. "An angel popped up out of nowhere and shot me in the head with a magic gun. You're gonna tell me something."
Castiel's lips thinned, but there was something there in his eyes Dean didn't get. Resignation. Almost like he'd expected Dean to say that. "You and Sam both have roles to play in the Apocalypse, Dean, ones you’ve been...impressively reticent about accepting." He glanced at Dean, a hint of admiration there. "The two of you are so stubborn you've made Heaven blink."
The rain was soaking Castiel's hair down to his forehead but he didn't even seem to notice. It was weird and inhuman and Dean still wasn't sure if he wanted to be anywhere near the guy. Angel. Whatever. "What's that mean? Made them blink?"
"Rather than try to convince the two of you further they've decided to cut you out of the equation entirely and go back to the original plan." He looked around again, as if he heard something Dean couldn't. "We have to leave."
"What the hell do you mean, leave? I'm not going anywhere."
Castiel sighed. "Dean...."
"No. No, the only thing that's gonna happen is you using your angel mojo or whatever to put me back in my body."
Dean wondered how just bad an idea it would be to punch an angel right in the face. "You saying you can't or you won't?"
"Whatever brings you peace, Dean." He grabbed Dean by the arm. "We need to leave."
Dean felt a surge of rage; he blinked and suddenly he was clear on the other side of the car. The highway lights started to blink again but Dean barely noticed. "Don't you fucking touch me."
"Dean, think about how you're acting," Castiel said, his voice calm but Dean could see the tension across his shoulders. "Think about what you're acting like."
That brought Dean up short. The moment's pause was enough to drain the fight out of him, the lights going back to normal as horror flushed through him. He'd been a ghost barely fifteen minutes and already he was acting like an evil spirit. "Don't let me do that again," he said, painfully aware that he was begging. "I don't want to turn into one of those things."
Dean heard a flutter of wings and Castiel was back in front of him, his hand on Dean's shoulder. "You won't," he said, his voice solemn. "I promise you that."
"Man, just bring me back to life. Why keep my body going if that wasn't the plan?"
"Because if I restore you to life they will only try this again." Dean wondered if all angels were this easy to frustrate or if this was just a talent he had. "Only next time I might not be able to intervene and you'll be theirs. Perhaps they won't bother aiming and Sam will be caught in the crossfire. Is any of that what you want, Dean?"
Dean stared at the angel, trying to come up with any kind of reply. "Of course not," he finally said, defeat draping over him like a weight. "But I don't want to be dead either."
"If it's within my power at the end of this I will revive you, you have my word. But I can't do it now. It would be as good as delivering you to them myself." He sighed again, rain dripping from his sodden hair. "You have to trust me, Dean."
Dean studied Castiel for a long moment. "Why'd the Reaper call you 'the outcast?'"
Castiel tipped his chin up, emotion flashing through his eyes so quickly Dean couldn't identify it. "Because I made a choice."
"That so bad?"
"For one of us? It's the greatest sin there is."
"It worth it?"
Castiel nodded. "I believed so"
Dean examined Castiel for one long moment. "Okay. You got a deal, then."
Castiel blinked, as if he'd completely lost track of the conversation. He looked up at the sky. "We have to leave. I'm shielding us from detection but I can't do it if we stay in one time and place for too long."
Dean looked over at Sam; he'd spread his coat over Dean's body and was holding his limp hand. "Can we hold off until the ambulance gets here?" he said, watching Sam shiver in the cold rain. "I just...I don't want to leave him alone like this."
Castiel's expression softened. "Yes. I think we can spare that much time."
Dean sat back next to Sam, watching as he pulled his knees up to his chest like a little kid. "It's gonna be okay, Sam. We've got a big gun on our side for once, so I'll be up and walking around before you know it. You just gotta hold down the fort while I sort through this bullshit I've landed in, okay?" Dean felt his voice breaking. "Goddammit, Sammy, I wish you could hear me." The sound of sirens came screaming down the road and Sam's head snapped up, hope lighting up his face. "That's my cue," Dean said, and he was not going to cry in front of a freaking angel. "I'm gonna be around, I promise."
"Yeah, yeah, I know." Dean didn't get how his nose could get all stuffed up when he was a ghost. The EMS guys bounded out and started working, putting a oxygen mask over Dean's face and strapping his body onto a stretcher. The kept asking Sam questions, what happened, how long ago, Dean's name, simple things Sam stumbled over his words answering. Dean tried to put his hand on Sam's shoulder as they finished loading his body into the ambulance, feeling his eyes burn when his hand went right through.
He felt Castiel's hand on his shoulder again. "Try now."
This time his hand was solid on Sam's shoulder; the touch only lasted for a second that but was enough. "Dean?" he said, his head whipping around and his eyes wide.
Castiel's hand was back on his arm. "Thanks," Dean said, not able to look at him.
"We can't stay any longer."
Dean watched Sam climb into the ambulance, still looking around until the second the doors closed. "Yeah," Dean said, hearing that same sound of wings again. "Yeah, get me out of here."
Dean was glad he couldn't smell the hospital room. He'd always hated the places, the way the same combination of antiseptic and dying flowers hung heavy in the air no matter which one you were in. He didn't want to look at his body lying there on the bed wrapped in so many tubes and bandages he could barely make out what was underneath.
Still, it was easier than looking at Sam. He watched Sam drum his fingers against the arm of his chair, a constant, neurotic tapping; Sam's face was drawn into an expression of focused fury as he stared at Dean lying motionless on the bed. Dean knew Sam tended to go cold and quiet when he was upset but he'd never seen him like this. He'd always thought Sam would be okay if anything ever happened to him. Not that he wouldn't be sad and all, but that he'd be able to bounce back and go off to have that life he'd always talked about. Dean was supposed to be the one who'd fall apart, not Sam. "Man, look at that," Dean said, trying to focus on anything other than his brother in this much pain. "They shaved my head."
"I understand brain surgery generally requires that."
Dean glanced at Castiel. He still wasn't sure if the angel actually had a very dry sense of humor or if he just enjoyed stating the obvious. "Dude. Why do you keep staring at me like that? It's creepy."
"I apologize," Castiel murmured, looking like Dean had caught him at something. Which surprised Dean; he'd noticed the staring at the road but he'd just assumed it was an angel thing. "You...look different from how you will in the future."
"Yeah?" He settled back against the window, studying Castiel. "So, what's the deal with you angels, anyway?"
Castiel's brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"
"I mean you look like you're about to do my taxes and the guy that shot me looked like he was about promise me a great deal on a used car. You guys don't exactly live up to your hype."
Dean got the feeling that something about the question amused him. "We can't operate on Earth in our true forms. Mine wouldn't even fit inside this building," he said, and Dean had the inescapable impression that he was bragging. "What you see are vessels."
Dean's eyes narrowed. "Wait. Are you possessing some poor son of a bitch?"
Castiel sighed. "We cannot act without permission, Dean. All vessels have agreed to lend us use of their bodies for a time."
"Sure wish the guy Zachariah's riding around in had decided he'd had something better to do that day."
Castiel crossed his arms over his chest, staring at the floor. "I'd hoped I could prevent this," he said softly. He gestured toward the bed. "Once I'd discovered the plot it took time to find out when they would strike. I did want to prevent this from happening, I want you to believe that."
Dean shrugged. "Hey. Like you said, they would've just tried again. Figure I'm safer like this than I would be dodging bullets until they got things right." A nurse came in and tried to make small talk with Sam as she checked on the machines hooked up to Dean; he didn't say a word back, staring daggers the whole time until she got flustered and gave up. "C'mon, Sam, she's hot. Hit on her for me," Dean said. He watched the nurse leave, sending a quick nervous glance at Sam over her shoulder as she left and said something to the security guy stationed outside the door. "Sammy, you can't run off every nurse who tries to come in here." He just hoped Sam didn't cause a big enough problem that they'd decide to search his bag; Dean could see the grip of the Colt poking out from Sam's pack, and that Sam had decided to risk carrying the gun with him into the hospital rather than leave it locked securely in the trunk or find some other way to stow it told Dean everything he needed to know about Sam's state of mind. "Why'd they leave the Colt?" he asked.
"They want him to have it."
"How the hell did the angels get a hold of it, anyway? I thought Yellow Eyes had it."
"He did. Heaven and Lucifer's forces are united in this plot," Castiel said, disgust dripping from every word. "You should be proud, Dean. You've unified Heaven and Hell for the first time since Lucifer's fall."
"Yeah, that's something I'm gonna put on a T-shirt when I wake up." Sam was starting to nod off, jerking back awake every few seconds. "C'mon, Sam, get some sleep. You're gonna wind up in the bed next to me if you keep this up."
"I can help with that," Castiel said. "If that's all right."
Dean nodded and Castiel gestured; after a few seconds Sam's eyes closed. "Thanks." He raked one hand through his hair; not being able to touch anything or talk to anyone was starting to get to him. He knew he was leaning against the hospital wall but he couldn't feel it. "So how does this whole ghost thing work, anyway?" Castiel's head tilted the side, like a confused sparrow in a trenchcoat. "Every ghost I've ever run into was tied to where they died. How come I'm not still out on that road freaking out truckers? That all you, or what?"
"It is partially," Castiel admitted. "I tied you to me so that it if we were separated you would still travel with me. You're also tied to Sam. As you grow more attuned you'll be able to go places to which you feel a strong attachment." He glanced at Dean. "And you would be tied to your car, not the road."
Well, if he had to haunt something for all eternity he supposed his car would be his first choice. "Man, I'm gonna go on such a bender when this is finally over."
"I went on a bender once."
Dean burst out laughing. "What?"
"I did," Castiel repeated, sounding as proud of himself as a kid who'd just learned to swear.
Dean couldn't help it; he doubled over laughing, and the bemused look Castiel gave him just made him laugh harder. He hadn't thought laughing was something he'd still be able to do. "Dude, what the hell sends an angel on a bender?" he said when he could finally talk again.
"I'd received a grave disillusionment." He didn't seem to understand why what he'd said had made Dean laugh so hard but he was almost grinning himself watching him.
"Did it help?"
"I don't recall much of it, actually," he said, his brow furrowing, and that set Dean off again.
"Sounds like a party."
"Perhaps," Castiel said, as if he wasn't entirely sure what constituted a 'party.' "The recovery process was unpleasant. Apparently my tolerance for aspirin outstrips the drug's usefulness."
"You're weird, Cas," Dean said when the laughing fit finally passed. "Pretty sure I like you, but you're definitely weird." He let out an unnecessary breath. "Thanks, man. I needed that."
"You're very welcome."
There was an odd look in his eyes, a flash of emotion it took Dean a second to figure out. "Hey, it's cool if I call you that, right? You angels aren't picky about your names or anything, are you?"
"Some are. But no, I don't require formality from you, Dean."
"Cool, 'cause I'm no good at it." He sighed; it had been nice for a few seconds to think about anything else but it just brought reality crashing down even harder when the moment ended. "Why'd they do this to us, Cas?" he asked, watching Sam whimper something in his sleep. "You said you can't tell me everything but give me something here."
Castiel crossed his arms, his eyes distant for a moment. "Heaven has gone back to its original plan."
Which meant absolutely nothing to Dean. "That doesn't tell me a damn thing and you know it. What's up with the...what'd you call it, the Righteous Man?”
Castiel's lips pressed into a thin line, as if he were weighing his options. "The Righteous Man must be a soul consigned to the Pit not through sin or vice or corruption but through his own free will. One who has condemned himself to save another." Dean felt like a butterfly pinned to a wall when those blue eyes turned toward him. "Can you think of anyone who matches that description?"
He could. He just didn't want to. "No," Dean whispered.
Castiel nodded. "The Righteous Man will be asked a question and the moment he answers yes the first Seal will break. John Winchester lasted one hundred years in the Pit---"
"A hundred years? Wait, wait, my dad's only been dead for---"
"Time moves differently there," he said, giving Dean a please don't interrupt me look. "In the history I know John Winchester withstood one hundred years in the Pit without ever falling to temptation before his escape...."
Dean grabbed his arm, half spinning him around. "My dad breaks out of hell?"
The lines around Castiel's eyes went tight, like he regretted saying so much. "Yes. When the Devil's Gate is opened." He sighed, giving Dean a sideways look. "The two of you kill Azazel there, if may help you to know."
Dean was glad he didn't breathe anymore because he knew he couldn't have managed it then. "Wow," he said, the right words escaping him. "That's fucking awesome, Cas." Then the meaning of the words the history I know hit him. "But they changed all that, didn't they."
Castiel nodded. "After your father's escape both sides told themselves they had been wrong, that he had never been the Righteous Man after all. Now they're reassessing that as well."
"How does killing me do any of that?"
"Not just killing you. Possessing your soul as leverage."
Dean couldn't help scoffing at that. "C'mon, Cas. My dad's not gonna break just 'cause I'm dead."
"No?" Castiel said, turning back to him. "He condemned himself in the first place to save your life, Dean. Do you think he wouldn't fall further to preserve your soul?"
Dean swallowed. "No," he insisted, hoping he sounded surer than he felt.
Castiel looked back toward Sam, still fitfully sleeping at Dean's bedside. "What about to preserve both his sons?"
Before Dean could ask what Castiel meant by that Bobby burst into the room and Dean had never been so happy to see anyone in his life. Unlife. It didn't matter, Dean just wished he could hug him.
The look on Bobby's face when he saw Dean lying still on that bed tore Dean apart. "Don't worry, Bobby, it's all gonna work out."
Sam startled awake when Bobby touched his shoulder, reaching for the Colt before he realized what was going on. "Bobby?" he said, blinking at him for a second, then he jumped up and enveloped the older man in a hug that made Bobby stagger back a few steps. "God, I'm glad to see you."
"Same here," Bobby said. "Just wish you boys would stay out of the hospital for five minutes." Dean never wanted to hear Bobby's voice crack like that. Bobby Singer was supposed to be a rock. Sam sat back down, again taking Dean's hand, and Bobby leaned against the door watching them both. "Now what's this I hear about you threatening the staff?"
Sam's expression hardened back into that mask of fury. "They want me to take him off the machines, Bobby. Take out the feeding tube, all that." Dean caught the emotion flitting across Bobby's face and knew Sam had, too. "Something you wanna say?"
"I know what they want, Sam. One of the doctors caught me on the way in, hoping I could talk sense into you."
"Talk sense into me," Sam scowled. "They want me to let him die."
"Sam, he's dead already!" Bobby pleaded, the raw grief in his voice tying Dean into knots, and even Sam flinched. "He's got a hole clear through his skull. Dammit, he was shot with the Colt, you don't come back from that. At least, you don't come back as anything human."
"Then why's he breathing, Bobby? Why's his heart beating? He started back breathing all on his own, explain that."
Bobby sighed, defeat making him look older. "I don't know," he admitted. "But I know it's not anything natural."
"You weren't there," Sam said, rubbing his hands over his face. "I felt him. I felt Dean out there on that road. It was only for a second but I know it was him."
"That's all the more reason to let him go, Sam." Sam glared at him but Bobby didn't back down. "Don't give me that look. I love you boys like you're my own, you know that. That doesn't mean I'm not going to be realistic about this."
"You don't believe in miracles, Bobby?"
"No! And neither should you!" Bobby sounded so aghast at the possibility that Dean almost laughed. He knew that in any other situation he'd be right there with Bobby. "And if he's already a spirit that's double the reason to let him go, before he can go bad."
Sam shook his head. "Dean wants me to help him, Bobby. I know it." He got up and started gathering things in his bag, securing the Colt carefully. "I need to trust you to watch over him."
It hurt to see the betrayal in Bobby's eyes. "I would never do anything to harm either of you boys, you know that."
"That's not good enough," Sam said, cold like Dean had never heard him before, and the hurt and alarm in Bobby's face got deeper. "Promise me that he'll still be alive when I get back. No matter what the doctors want, you promise me that."
Bobby looked from Sam to Dean. "This is a mistake."
"Promise me." Sam took one step toward Bobby, menace clear in his eyes.
"Sam, please, don't," Dean said.
Fortunately, this was Bobby Singer. "Don't you take that tone with me, boy," he snarled, stepping right back to Sam and putting one finger in his face. "Don't you ever."
Sam seemed to deflate. "I just...I just want you to promise me, Bobby. That's all."
"Then I will." Sam's expression lit up, and Bobby continued, "Even though I think this is a damn stupid thing you're doing."
"Bobby, you don't even know what I'm doing."
"I don't need to." He sighed, dropping into the now vacant bedside chair. "You at least gonna tell me where you're going?"
"I'm going to go help Dean," was all he'd say, and Dean could see the fear in Bobby's face.
"Can you at least promise me you won't do anything you'll regret?"
"I won't regret anything that brings Dean back."
Bobby grabbed Sam by the arm. "I don't want to lose both you boys."
Sam almost smiled, the expression sending a chill through Dean. "You haven't lost either of us." Then he was gone, the bag with the Colt slung over his shoulder.
It seemed like Bobby aged twenty years in that one second. "It'll be okay," Dean said. "I'm on this, Bobby, you'll see."
But of course Bobby couldn't hear. He saw Bobby take his limp hand. "Your brother's a damned idjit," he said, his voice shaking and Dean knew he had to get out of there. He couldn't handle watching Bobby Singer cry.
"What's Sam doing?" he asked Castiel.
The angel tilted his head. "Various unwise things."
"Take me to him."
Castiel nodded. "He's being watched. We'll have to be careful."
"Whatever. Whatever, Cas. Just take me to my brother."
Dean heard the sound of wings and then they were somewhere else.
Time had passed. Sam's hair was longer and he was dressed like it was cold out, not that Dean could feel it. And even if he could, Dean knew that all he'd care about was the box Sam was burying in the center of the crossroads. "What're you doing, Sam?" Dean said, circling around him. "Sam? Sam, you knock this off. You hear me?"
But of course he didn't. Castiel reached out and grabbed Dean by the arm. "Nothing should come of it," he said, pulling Dean back. Dean was about to argue with him when Sam finished burying the the box and stepped away.
A moment later a beautiful woman with dark hair and a mocking smirk on her face was standing there in front of Sam, her arms crossed as she looked him over. "Sam Winchester," she purred, her eyes glowing red in the moonlight. "You've been making quite a mess lately."
"I'm here to make a deal, not chat," Sam said. Sam looked exhausted, like he hadn't slept in weeks.
"Oh, I don't know," she said, one hand trailing down his shirt. "I feel a little slighted. No girl want to feel like the last choice, and here you've been going to every witch and shaman and little hoodoo bitch within a thousand miles." She tapped her fingernail against his chin. "That's not very flattering."
Sam shook her off and took a step back. "Stop it. You know what I want."
"Say it anyway," she said, the smile growing wider. "Let's make this official."
Sam's eyes narrowed, his hand fidgeting in the direction of the Colt. "I want my brother back," he forced out through his teeth, and Dean felt Castiel tense. "I want him alive."
"Well, sweetie, just for you---"
"Back the way he was," Sam said, glaring at the demon. "No tricks."
The crossroads demon frowned and Castiel relaxed. "You had to put it like that," she said, practically pouting. "Sorry, no deal."
"You don't get to say no deal."
"Actually, honey, I do. If I can't do the deal, then there's no deal."
"Why can't you?"
"Oh, I can make him walk around, make him talk like a good little meat puppet, but back the way he was? For that you'll need to ask a higher power," she said, looking over Sam's shoulder right at Dean and Castiel.
"Dude, can she see us?" Dean asked, wondering if this was going to turn into a fight.
"It appears so." Castiel's sword was in his hand, apparently he'd had the same thought. Fortunately, the demon only gave them a little smirk and turned back to Sam.
"Sorry this didn't work out," she said, turning the seductive charm back on. "If there's anything else I can do...."
"Give me my brother back," Sam repeated, steel in his eyes.
She sighed, all the game-playing disappearing in a whiff of annoyance. "Well, I can't. So why don't you---"
She never finished the sentence. Before Dean could even blink Sam pulled out the Colt and fired, one clean shot through her forehead. Just like Zachariah had done to Dean. The demon glowed with flickering light for a second before collapsing dead to the ground. Even though it was just a demon, Dean couldn't help feeling sick. "Jesus, Sam."
"Yes, Sam does this," Castiel sighed.
Dean got up in Sam's face. "What the hell was that, Sam? What're you trying to do?" Sam walked right through him and Dean threw up his hands in frustration. "I don't want you to help me like this, Sam."
"Now do you see what an effective a weapon you would make?" Castiel said, walking over to him. "If Heaven had you they would be the ones approaching Sam with a deal. Can you think of anything Sam would say no to now, if it would restore you?"
"I hate this, Cas. Mess with me all you want, but leave my family out of it."
"Unfortunately your family is very important, Dean."
Sam leaned over the Impala, his hands flat against the hood. "Why? Why does it have to be us?" He sat on the hood of the car next to Sam. "You said this was happening 'cause we wouldn't say yes to something. What the hell was it?"
"I shouldn't...." He looked over at Dean, his eyes uncertain. "I never know how much I can tell you without doing more damage to the timeline."
"I just need some idea of why this is happening. You said I had to trust you and I guess I do, but this walking around in the dark shit is fucking hard."
Castiel shoved his hands deep into his pockets, his face turned up to the night sky. He was still staring at the stars instead of Dean as he answered. "Do you remember what I told you about vessels?"
Dean nodded. "Yeah. You angels ask some poor schmo if you can take a ride, they say yes and in you go."
Castiel's lips twitched up. "You have a talent for vulgarity."
"Long years of practice. That's the gist, right?"
"It's a bit more complicated than that, but yes, that is the gist." He was quiet for a few long moments, his eyes closed. Dean got the feeling he was debating with himself and stayed very quiet, not wanting to do anything to make Castiel shut down this conversation. "You're a vessel, Dean," he finally said. "As is Sam. And for beings far more powerful that I."
"We're...." Dean never thought he would be nostalgic for when his biggest problem was finding out which grave to dig up and burn. "Vessels for who?"
"For you, the archangel Michael. For him," he said, nodding toward Sam, "Lucifer himself."
Dean missed the world making sense. "If I'm supposed to be Michael's vessel why in the hell would he have me killed?" he sputtered out, not even ready to touch the whole Sam-and-Lucifer business.
"Michael has given up on you ever saying yes," Castiel said. "He's instead pinned his hopes on another of your bloodline. I don't think I have to point out who."
"My dad would never say yes to that creep."
"No?" Castiel was staring at Sam, who'd moved to brooding in the driver's side of the car. "Do you also think it impossible that your brother would say yes to Lucifer?"
"He'd never do it," Dean said, although after the little display he'd just witnessed Dean wasn't nearly as sure as he would've been an hour ago.
"What if the promise could be made that if he said yes you could be restored?" Dean didn't answer and Castiel went in for the kill. "Now tell me what your father would do if Sam did accept that offer."
And Dean wanted to say their father would be on Sam's side, that he would find a way to get Sam out whatever stupid deal he'd made, but all he could think of was his dad whispering in his ear that someday he might have to kill Sam. "My dad would take care of the problem," Dean said, the words coming out almost against his will.
Castiel nodded. "That's what Heaven is counting on."
"There's gotta be something we can do, Cas. Some way to fix this."
"I can only keep you out of their schemes, Dean. I can't make their choices for them." Just as Dean started to argue Castiel looked around, alarm in his eyes. "We need to leave."
"What do we keep running from?"
Castiel just shook his head. "If we keep moving you won't find out." Which wasn't an answer, but Castiel touched his shoulder and they were gone before Dean could press the issue.
Dean was proud of Sam. He was still trying whatever crazy thing he could do to fix Dean – he'd approached everything with power short of djinns and tricksters, and Dean hoped he never got that desperate – but the leads were getting few and far between, giving Sam lots of time to kill. And instead of sitting around brooding Sam decided to do what John and Dean had always taught him.
He went hunting.
Although Dean didn't care for what Sam had done to his car. "What the hell is this?" he said, peering through the window at the mp3 player mounted on the dashboard.
"It's some sort of...device?" Castiel offered, clearly trying to be helpful.
"It's Sam wussing up my car, that's what it is." Sam had left the car on the side road and went the rest of the way into the woods on foot; Dean could sense where he was if he concentrated but he knew he'd never be able track him otherwise. "I don't like him going after a wendigo by himself, Cas. That's a two man job, at least."
"He has three now," Castiel said, and Dean grinned. Dean knew Castiel was indulging him, partially so Dean would stop asking him so many questions, but anything that let him help out Sam was good for Dean. The cave the wendigo laired in was pitch black and overgrown; for a second Dean could see Sam's flashlight bobbing in the distance before it was swallowed by the darkness. "Are you sure you want to try this now, Dean?"
Dean nodded. "Hey, gotta get the hang of his ghost stuff eventually, right?" He turned to Castiel, nerves getting the better of him for a second. "You're gonna follow?"
Castiel tilted his head, as if didn't understand the question. "Of course."
"Good." Dean let out a long breath. Even though he didn't need to breathe anymore, he still couldn't break the habit. He closed his eyes and concentrated, focusing on Sam; the world started to warp and when he opened his eyes again he found himself deep in the cave. There was a flutter of wings and Castiel was back beside him. "Fucking hate wendigos."
Dean had rematerialized in the chamber next to the one Sam was exploring, which he supposed was good for a first try. There was no light in the cave but Dean could still see. Although he wished he couldn't.
He was in the wendigo's larder, people strung up from the ceiling and long past rescuing. "I'm sorry, Sammy," he said. There was nothing worse than hunt with no happy ending.
Suddenly they heard a scream from the next chamber, a female scream; Castiel put one hand on his shoulder and they moved. When Dean's head cleared he saw Sam unhooking a hysterical girl from the wall, trying to calm her down before the wendigo heard them. His back was turned to the cave opening and he couldn't see the lumbering shape filling up that entrance way, its breath steaming from a long, leathery muzzle. Dean watched with horror as the thing raised one taloned hand at his brother's head. "Sam, look out!"
To Dean's astonishment Sam's head picked up. He didn't know if Castiel was amplifying the volume or if for once Dean had managed to do it just right, but Sam swerved to the side just enough for the wendigo's claws to score down his chest instead of taking his head off. He swore and pushed the girl past the wendigo to safety, blood already soaking through his shirt. "Go! Go, I'll catch up with you!" His torch had flickered out and it took Sam too long to relight it (that's why do don't do this alone, Sam, Dean thought, there's no one to watch your back); the wendigo swiped again and caught Sam in the shoulder, hurling him into the wall.
Sam was slow to get up and Dean stepped in between them. "You're not gonna touch him, you miserable freak." He concentrated with everything he had, focusing all of his will onto the wendigo, keeping it away, trying to throw the way he'd seen spirits do all his life. And for a second he saw the thing freeze, alarm and confusion in its rabid eyes.
But it wasn't enough. The wendigo shook off the control and ran through him, saliva dripping from its muzzle as it went right for Sam.
Dean had never felt the kind of desperate relief wash through him as he did when Castiel was just suddenly there between the monster and Sam at the last possible moment. He didn't have time to get the sword out before the thing struck, hitting him with a swipe that staggered him back a few steps and left bloody strips of flesh dangling from its claws. "Cas!" Dean said, moving in on instinct before Castiel caught his eye, waving him back with an I'm fine gesture that the circumstances made it really hard to believe. The wendigo went in for a bite and Castiel caught it by the muzzle, then took a breath and hurled the creature towards the back wall like it was a toy.
The wendigo landed hard but was up quickly; it snorted like a bull and set in for a charge, and Dean had forgotten just how fast the damn things were. Castiel's shirt was already soaked with blood; his sword was out now but Dean could see his hand shaking, and Sam was just barely coming to behind him.
Dean couldn't just stand by and watch. He focused on the flickering flame of the torch, putting every ounce of will toward making it move. The wendigo started its charge and in one desperate, exhausting surge Dean managed to throw the torch across the cave, missing the monster entirely but managing to land the torch within Sam's reach. Sam shook his head and grabbed it; Castiel stepped aside just in time for Sam to thrust the torch into the charging creature's chest. The wendigo howled and staggered back, going up like it had been doused in gasoline. Sam leaned up on one elbow and watched it burn, panting in the stagnant cave air.
Dean went over to check on Castiel, who was watching the smoldering wendigo with that curious bird expression he had. "Fuck, Cas," Dean said, moving the coat aside to take a good look. "I can see your ribs."
Castiel's brow furrowed. "It will heal," he said, as if the wendigo had given him a paper cut. But it was healing, or at least it had already stopped bleeding, so Dean assumed the angel knew what he was talking about. He turned his attention back to Sam, whose eyes were dazed and slowly blinking closed. "Looks like you gave yourself a concussion, you giant idiot." Obviously Sam didn't answer him, and Dean looked over to Castiel. "We gotta get him outta here, Cas."
Castiel nodded, crouching next to Sam. "At the very least we can get him out of this cave."
Dean heard the wings and when he blinked they were outside; Dean could see the girl's tracks heading off through the muddy ground and was glad at least someone made it out of that mess. "How's he look?"
"Unconscious again, but I don't believe the wounds are life-threatening."
"Can't you heal him?"
Castiel shook his head, his expression darkening. "I'm afraid not."
"What the hell kind of angel can't heal people?"
"One that's been cut off from Heaven," Castiel snapped, blue eyes glaring up at Dean.
Dean crossed his arms, staring down at the ground. "Sorry, man," he muttered. "I'm just worried about my brother, you know."
"I know, Dean." He pushed himself to his feet with a sigh and pulled something out of his pocket. "What's the number you call for emergencies?"
Dean couldn't believe his eyes when he realized that Castiel was holding a cell phone. "Dude, you carry around a phone?"
Castiel blinked at him, looked down at the phone and then back at Dean. "Um...yes?"
And despite the seriousness of the situation, something about an angel messing around with a cell phone cracked Dean up. "Man, what does God need with a starship?"
He laughed harder as Castiel's brow furrowed, like Dean had started speaking in tongues."I...I don't...but God doesn't...."
"No, Cas, it's okay," Dean said, crouching down next to Sam; if he looked at Castiel it was just going to set him off again. "It's a quote from...you know what, don't worry about it, it's not that great a movie. 9-1-1, Cas. Dial 9-1-1." Dean listened to Castiel stumble through telling the dispatcher where Sam was and some version of what had happened as he looked Sam over; his brother was definitely unconscious but his breathing was steady and his color looked good. "You just can't stay out of trouble without me, can you, Sam?" His hand went right through when he tried to move Sam's hair aside to check out the gash on his head and Dean sat back on his heels, muttering under his breath in frustration.
Castiel ended his call and Dean felt the angel's hand on his shoulder. "Help should be here for Sam shortly."
"Thanks, Cas. This is so fucking frustrating, you know?" He looked up at Castiel. "How'd you wind up with that thing, anyway?"
Castiel pulled the phone back out of his pocket, looking at it with undisguised fondness. "A friend gave it to me," he said. "I think it was actually in jest at the time, but it's proven useful on more than one occasion."
"Good thing it worked, if it's from the future."
"Yes, I'm quite relieved." He frowned. "Although the voice is telling me I'm short of minutes again."
"You should just toss it then and get a new one."
Castiel shook his head. "I'd be very reluctant to do so." His voice went soft. "I'd never received a gift before."
Dean just shook his head. "You should hook up with some better friends."
"I'm very fond of my friends."
"Bet you can't wait to stop babysitting me and get back to 'em, huh?"
Castiel looked up at the sky instead of at Dean. "Do you want to stay until the ambulance arrives?"
Dean knew drop the subject when he heard it. "If that's cool. Sam didn't see you during any of that, did he?"
Castiel shook his head. "I shielded myself from his vision. And even if he had, he may not remember any of this."
"Probably for the best." The shrill whine of an ambulance siren cut through the air. "There's our cue."
"You were impressive in there, Dean," Castiel said, his hand back on Dean's shoulder.
Dean looked down at his unconscious brother. "Yeah. Not good enough, though."
"I'm not sure how much help I can be with this, Dean."
Dean paced up and down, wondering what it said about him that even dead he was still more comfortable in motel rooms than almost anywhere else, the more squalid and garish the better. "Any help is better than none, Cas. I'm gonna be back in my body again at some point but until then I need to get a handle on this ghost stuff. I was practically useless against that wendigo, I don't ever want to feel like that again."
Castiel nodded; he was sitting on the edge of the bed with his fingers steepled in front of his face. "All right. Where do you think we should start?"
"Beats the hell out of me. I was hoping you'd have some ideas."
Castiel tilted his head to the side, considering the question. "You've had some success with affecting lights in the past, when your emotions ran high. Try to do it consciously now."
Dean nodded and stared at the motel overhead light, focusing on...well, Dean wasn't sure what he was supposed to be focusing on, other than making the light flicker. And in any case, it wasn't working. "Maybe I just suck at this."
"Perhaps it's tied to your emotional state. Spirits are volatile, as a rule." He gestured at the light. "Try to recall how you felt that night when you made the highway lights flicker."
"I don't know, Cas, that's...."
"I'm not saying give in to that emotion, Dean, just try to use it. I'll pull you back if you get lost in it."
Dean swallowed hard. "Okay, here goes." He remembered the frustration from that night, the deep wells of anger spiraling into rage. He managed to touch just the edge of that rage and the lights flickered, slowly at first and then more rapidly until the whole thing exploded into shards of cheap frosted glass. "Hey!" Dean said, overcome for a second by how awesome that had been. "Did you see that?"
"Yes, Dean," Castiel replied, brushing glass out of his hair. "Although it looks like we need to work on your fine control." He gestured toward the door. "Try to affect that, now."
Dean focused again, trying to touch that wall of rage again. He managed to make the door rattle in its frame but let up when he felt the whole thing start to give way. "That's not working."
Castiel frowned for a moment, then walked over to the door, examining it as if it had personally offended him. He opened the door, leaving it open half way. "Try to shut it."
It only took a moment's concentration to slam the door closed. "Awesome."
"You were trying to swing it open and work the knob at the same time. You'll need more practice before you're capable of that kind of fine motor control."
"How long do you think it'll be before I can toss things around? That's the first thing I think of when I hear evil spirit."
"You're not an evil spirit, Dean," Castiel reminded him. "And you did managed to throw the torch when we were facing the wendigo." He stationed himself in front of the motel door. "Try to affect me."
"I don't...I don't know, Cas...."
"Unless you're coming at me with my sword you can't actually harm me, Dean. Affecting something living is harder than doing the same to an object." He braced himself. "Now try."
Dean nodded and focused again. He managed to make Castiel's coat billow back but couldn't make him move; he touched more of that rage and saw Castiel' eyes go tight but he didn't even take a step back. "Think you're too strong for this, Cas."
"My strength has nothing to do with it," Castiel answered. "Focus on moving me."
"Yeah, yeah, Yoda, not like I'm not trying, here." He thought about angels, and just how much bullshit they'd decided to put his family through. Instead of Castiel he pretended that was Zachariah standing and concentrated on that bug-eyed face from the road. The rage bubbled over like a pot left on the stove and Dean felt power rush through him. He looked at Castiel and before he could blink the angel flew backward into the door hard enough to leave a dent. The rage evaporated and Dean rushed over. "Shit. Cas, you okay?"
Castiel blinked up at him bleary-eyed for a second, then rubbed the back of his head. "Yes. A little startled."
Dean sat down on the floor next to him. "Guess you have a point about the fine control thing." He leaned his head back against the door. "I miss beer."
Castiel's lips quirked up. "I can never guess what you're going to say."
"How long until you're able to put me back?"
Castiel sighed, which wasn't reassuring at all. "I don't know, Dean. It's all I can do to keep us safe, I haven't had any time to plan."
Dean studied him for a long moment. "What's after us, Cas? What do we keep running from?"
Castiel shook his head. "If I mention names we'll only be found faster." He closed his eyes and Dean could see very un-angelic exhaustion lining his face. "We should go."
"This whatever-it-is catches up with us, what's the plan? What do I do?"
Castiel was quiet. "You run, Dean." Dean didn't have time to say anything else before Castiel touched his shoulder and Dean heard the sound of wings.
Five minutes after they watched Sam walk into a diner Castiel staggered, bracing himself against Dean's shoulder. "Whoa!" Dean said, alarmed that he had to hold Castiel up. "What's wrong with you?"
Castiel winced in obvious pain, one hand against his forehead; when whatever spell it was passed Castiel stared at the run-down restaurant. "I didn't realize it would happen so soon."
"What? What's happening?" Dean turned Castiel around too quickly for the angel to bury the horror in his eyes. "What the hell's going on, Cas?"
Castiel glanced back at the diner, then up at Dean, his tongue flicking over his lips in a nervous gesture that sent a chill through Dean. Whatever was happening, Castiel did not want to say it. "Azazel - the demon you call ‘Yellow Eyes’ - has called his children home."
Dean let him go and backed up a step. "You better explain that."
Castiel looked like he'd rather do anything but. "Sam wasn't the only child Azazel infected.....”
Castiel scowled. “I’d thought you learned all this by now.” He shook his head, seeming to realize he’d said too much to go back. “What do you know of the night of your mother’s death?”
“I....” It had been well over two decades and Dean could still feel the heat from those flames. “Yellow Eyes pinned her to the ceiling and set her on fire.”
“Do you know why?” Dean shook his head. “It was because she interrupted him.”
“What the hell did that bastard do to my brother, Cas?”
Castiel closed his eyes for a moment. “He fed Sam drops of his blood.”
“Drops of his...and that’s why Sam can do the psychic crap? That’s all it took?”
“Sam’s capable of much more. And as I said before, Sam wasn’t only child he tainted. There were many. Those who have survived to adulthood have been gathered together to a proving ground. A place called Cold Oak."
"Okay.” Dean would deal with all that later, the most important thing now was to get Sam safe and out of there. “Okay, let's go get him."
"We can't. Everything from here proceeds in a straight line. This is what leads to the Devil's Gate opening and John Winchester escaping the Pit. This must happen, Dean."
"You mentioned that Devil's Gate before and I didn't ask about it. What is that? What does that mean?"
Castiel looked away, his lips pressed to a thin line. "It's a gate to Hell. It's located in the center of a massive devil's trap constructed by Samuel Colt."
Dean couldn't believe what he was hearing. "And you want this thing to open?"
"I don't..." He bit off his words, his jaw going tight. "What I want has nothing to do with it. It happens. It has happened. Time can't be played with that way."
"Your jerkass brothers seem don't seem to feel the same way."
"I assure you, Dean, they intend for the Gate to open. It's why they gave Sam the Colt in the first place," he said, the words clearly slipping out before Castiel could stop them.
"You're saying Sam's going to open this thing?"
Dean saw something flicker deep in Castiel's eyes and knew the angel was hiding something. "It's a possibility. The Colt acts as the key."
"So what happens when that thing opens?"
"Your father escapes the Pit and kills Azazel."
"Besides that," Dean growled out through his teeth. "I'm betting a whole lot of demons get out, too."
Castiel nodded, seemingly almost despite himself. "Many."
"Hundreds," he said, and Dean could almost see his skin crawling at the thought. "The Seven. Lilith. Too many to name."
"And you're good with that happening? Angels don't care if demons just start wrecking the world?"
"Of course I'm not." He sounded like he was in physical pain. "I've been fighting against demons for my entire existence. Don't act as if this is easy for me."
"Doing nothing is always easy, Cas."
Castiel stepped to within an inch in front of him, the beginnings of wrath in his eyes. "If your father escapes then there will be no one to break the first Seal. The Apocalypse will never start. This is what we've been waiting for."
"How is that not fucking with time and going to stop this is?"
"Because I didn't set this course of events in motion. I can't take a more active role than I already have."
"Just admit you're scared and get it over with."
Castiel let out a long, frustrated sigh. "I know how far I can go, Dean. You said you would trust me."
It hadn't escaped Dean that Castiel still wasn't quite able to look him in the eye. "Yeah? You want me to trust you, Cas?" Castiel didn't take a step back but Dean got the feeling he wanted to. "Then you tell me what it is you're hiding right now."
Castiel actually looked away. "There's no guarantee things will happen the same way."
"What things? What am I missing?"
Castiel did look at Dean then, a clear why are you making me do this? expression in his eyes. "In the history I know Sam isn't the one who opens the Devil's Gate."
Dean blinked. "Well, that's...that's good, isn't it?"
"No, Dean." He closed his eyes. "Sam dies at Cold Oak. That's why another opens the Gate. Sam dies and you make a very foolish choice."
Dean didn't hear anything beyond Sam dies. "No. No, that's not going to happen."
"Your history, not mine. Look, you don't have to come with me, but I'm gonna go help Sam...."
"You can't, Dean."
Dean raised his eyebrows. "Say that again, Cas. You said I was connected to Sam."
"You are. Cold Oak is sealed and warded. I would have trouble getting in."
"Then take me there. Zap out again for all I care, but just get me to Sam."
The streetlights were starting to flicker. "Screw time, screw history and screw what's supposed to happen. Goddammit, Cas, this is simple. There's a right and a wrong here and you know it." Castiel's eyes went very wide. "Help me, Cas. Please."
"Why must you always do this?" Castiel whispered.
"Just get me to Sam. We can stop this before it's too late."
Castiel turned away, raking one hand through his hair. Before Dean could keep arguing Castiel spoke again, his voice as dry as a grave. "I'll take you to Cold Oak."
Dean felt elation flood through him. "It'll work out, Cas."
"Don't make empty promises." Castiel walked back to Dean, looking like a man about to go to the gallows. "Are you sure about this?"
"I've never been surer about anything."
Castiel nodded. "Then brace yourself. This will be a difficult---"
The voice was a deep, rich baritone; Dean saw Castiel tense, his eyes filling with horror. "Dean, run."
"Why? What's going on?"
Castiel jerked around, an invisible hand pulling him back and Dean heard him grunt like he was in pain. Now that his field of vision was clear Dean saw a stranger standing perhaps twenty feet away, a black guy with close cropped hair and wearing a suit. "I told you I would find you, Castiel." When he smiled electricity arced down from the streetlights, looking almost like curved wings. "You did a commendable job covering your tracks. I congratulate you."
Before Dean could ask who this joker was Dean spotted a silver sword in his hand. "Oh, shit."
A bead of sweat ran down Castiel's face. "I said you would have to run, Dean. Go."
"What's wrong with you? Why can't you get us both out of here?"
"He has me tethered," Castiel snapped. Dean noticed his fist was clenched so tight blood dripped down to the pavement. "Go. Please."
"Fuck that, Cas, I'm not leaving you here."
"Astonishing," the man said. "How did you manage to make him loyal to you so quickly? You have a gift, Castiel." He walked toward them, Castiel flinching like every step hurt. "Did you know he stole you, Dean? You would be in Heaven now were it not for his interfering."
"Yeah, that's a pretty sweet offer but I think I'll pass."
The man – angel, Dean corrected himself – smiled again. "Do you know who I am, Dean?"
"Just one more idiot hung up on causing the Apocalypse."
"My name is Raphael and yes, I'm eager to see this Godless world meet its end. But I admit, I will take some joy in this."
"Dean," Castiel urged, his voice tight and Dean didn't know what he was supposed to do. Running just wasn't an option.
"Do you know why he's so eager for you to leave?" Raphael asked. "He doesn't want you to see this." He lifted one hand, like he was about to snap his fingers.
Castiel took one ragged breath. "Fight me," he said, the words coming out in a snarl.
Raphael tilted his head, like he was amused by that. "Why not?" He gestured and Castiel stumbled forward, free of whatever had been holding him. Raphael then glanced at Dean and Dean felt a band of force wrap around him, not painful but definitely binding. "I want you to bear witness to this, Dean. I want you to watch and then spread the tale when I bring you to Heaven."
Dean had never wanted to spit in someone's face more in his life. "Kick his ass, Cas."
A storm was rolling in; Dean watched the two angels circle each other in the fading light. Castiel struck first, a quick, probing jab; Raphael blocked it easily but Dean still saw a flash of satisfaction in Castiel's eyes. He did the same thing and again Raphael blocked it; Dean realized that Castiel was trying to draw the other angel out, figure out which way he led. There was a quick exchange too fast for Dean to catch, then Raphael landed a lucky strike on Castiel's arm. The hit was glancing but Castiel hissed back in pain and Dean saw light flash from the wound.
Castiel recovered his balance quickly, pivoting toward Raphael with another blocked shot. He didn't block the next one, though; Castiel came in with an underhand strike that slipped past Raphael's guard. Castiel buried his sword up the the hilt in Raphael's gut and Dean breathed a sigh of relief, thinking the fight was over.
That lasted right up until Raphael smiled. "You cannot kill me, Castiel. Only an archangel's sword can kill an archangel."
Castiel sneered. "You talk too much." He ripped the sword back in a way that spun Raphael around and Dean knew that stab hadn't been a kill shot, it had been to set this up. Castiel went in for one final strike, one meant to disarm.
He almost got it. Dean could see that if Castiel had been just an inch taller, had gone in with just a little bit more leverage the disarm attempt would have worked. Instead Raphael blocked the strike at the last possible moment, sending Castiel's sword flying. He wrenched Castiel's arm behind his back and Dean felt Castiel's eyes lock with his for one moment. He wanted to tell Castiel not to look at him like that, he had nothing to apologize to Dean for.
Dean never got why people talked about things happening in slow motion - in his experience everything happened too damn fast. Dean saw Castiel gasp when Raphael drove the sword into the side of his chest, his eyes wide with pain. Bright light flashed through his entire body; he tried to brace himself against the archangel's shoulder as his legs buckled and Raphael held him up by his hair, his lips twisting into a cruel smile. He slowly twisted the blade in the wound and Castiel let out a desperate, choked off groan that made Dean's hands clench into fists. The light flashed again, brighter this time, Castiel's eyes going blank from shock. "Who is the little bitch now, Castiel?" Raphael growled into his ear, giving the blade one final twist.
The sword made a wet, sucking sound when Raphael pulled it out. He took a step back and Castiel dropped like a stone.
Castiel was still moving. Dean could see his chest heave for air, the hand closest to Dean clutching at the ground. Dean clung to the thought that if he was moving, that meant he was alive; in that moment nothing else mattered, nothing else existed. His face turned toward Dean as the light flickered, spasming him like he'd been stabbed all over again. Dean could tell Castiel's glassy eyes couldn't quite see him; there was blood on his lips as he tried to form a word Dean couldn't make out. Dean thought it might be his name. "I'm right here, Cas," he whispered, feeling the start of something low and dark and burning echo through him. "I'm not going anywhere."
Raphael went down to one knee beside Castiel and wrenched his head back around. "Not yet, Castiel," he said, taking the tip of his sword and carving a shallow line along his jaw; the wound glowed white and Castiel's whole body jerked up, sharp, stuttering breaths giving way to a wet moan. "I'm not quite done with you yet." He positioned the point of the blade over Castiel's eye. That roiling cloud within Dean went darker still; across the street a streetlamp exploded, then another, the whole line of them going up in a shower of glass. Dean didn't notice.
Neither did Raphael. He grabbed another handful of Castiel's hair to hold his head still, anticipation lighting up his face. "Were we home I would take your wings, brother," he murmured, hovering the blade first over one eye, then the other; Dean wouldn't have thought Castiel was aware enough to realize what was coming but he made a desperate grab for Raphael's wrist, trying to push the sword away. Raphael sneered and twisted his arm back, making him gasp again in pain as he drove his knee into Castiel's wrist to pin it down. For just one fleeting instant the binding around Dean disappeared as his concentration slipped.
An instant was all Dean needed. He poured all of that darkness boiling in him out in one surge right at Raphael, pushing the archangel back – not far, not even as far as he'd pushed Castiel in that motel room, but far enough. He blinked and felt himself flicker out of existence, manifesting again between the two. He pulled Castiel's abandoned sword into his hand with barely a thought. "You're not gonna touch him again," Dean warned, fury flowing through him the way blood used to flow though his veins.
Raphael picked himself up. "And how will you stop me?"
Dean brandished the sword. "Pretty sure I'll think of something."
Raphael smiled. Dean was getting damned tired of things smiling at him like that. "Michael may want your soul but it needn't be unscathed."
"Cas was right, you do talk too much." Dean zapped himself out again, showing back up and swinging the sword at his throat, a strike Raphael dodged easily.
He answered with a grazing slash at Dean's shoulder, the pain from even that glancing a blow almost sending Dean to his knees. "Have you forgotten, Winchester?" Raphael said as Dean staggered back, trying to keep his feet. "That sword can't harm me."
Raphael was playing with him. He wasn't even trying to hide how little a threat he considered Dean, toying with him out of sadistic amusement. Dean just hoped it didn't show on his face how happy that made him.
His father had taught him all his life how to fight things stronger than him. Tougher than him. Things no human should ever be able to go toe to toe with and come out on top. John Winchester's first rule had always been make sure they underestimate you.
He charged at Raphael, surprising the archangel enough to bull rush him off his feet. Dean remembered being thirteen and scrawny, sparring against his dad and trying to take him down even though John could pick him up and throw him without blinking. He could almost hear his father's voice again, telling him that if you didn't have strength, use leverage, if you didn't have an opening, make one.
And if the thing you're fighting has a weapon, take it away. "Used to pick pockets," he said as they squared back against each other. "Wasn't proud of it, but sometimes Dad was gone longer than he'd thought and the money ran out. Sammy needed to eat." He smiled at the memory, the rush he used to get. "Got pretty good at it after a while, the whole slight of hand thing."
Raphael's brows drew together in confusion. It was the first time Dean could believe he and Castiel were brothers. "What are you rambling about?"
Dean smiled wider, glancing down at the sword in his hand and the identical one in Raphael's. "It means I have your fucking sword." Before Raphael could react Dean stabbed him full in the chest, feeling the blade slide through skin and flesh and bone. He left the sword in and stepped back as Raphael gaped at him for a moment, then dropped to his knees.
The earth shook when Raphael screamed. The sound went on forever, starting low and rising until it was as high and piercing as a siren; Dean knew that if he still had physical ears they'd be bleeding. As it was he felt his soul trying to curl in on itself, quivering behind the wall of rage that had made this happen.
Raphael fell backwards, light pouring from him until he was brighter than the sun. Then there was a sudden burst of energy and the only sound left was the crackle of enormous wings searing themselves into the ground as the archangel's eyes stared sightless and empty up into the storm clouds.
Dean had never felt power like this before. Suddenly there was no limit to what he could do, no cap. He felt like he was made of the storm rolling in above him, that dark force he'd given himself to filling every inch of him.
Something brushed against his leg. Dean looked down and the fury left him in such a flood he felt hollow; he didn't know how but Castiel had managed to drag himself over to Dean, leaving a bloody trail on the ground. His hand shook so hard against Dean's leg Dean could feel the tremor vibrating through him.
I don't want to turn into one of those things.
You won't. I promise you that.
"I'm sorry, Cas," Dean said, dropping to his knees to help Castiel lay back so he could get a look at the stab wound. "I got lost for a second." He'd never felt anything as purely as he had that rush of fury. It had almost been like a drug. He didn't wonder any more why it seemed so easy for evil spirits to go the way they did.
Castiel nodded, squeezing Dean's hand for a second as pain crowded everything else out of his eyes. He'd lost so much blood his shirt looked red but that wasn't what worried Dean; he'd lost a ton of blood against the wendigo and hadn't so much as blinked. What scared Dean was the blueish-white light bleeding from the wound, drifting like low-hanging smoke. Bright light glowed from the edges of his nails and flashed under his skin; when Castiel looked up Dean could see pinpricks of light deep in the pupils of his eyes, a slow motion version of what had happened to Raphael. Dean swallowed that fear and tore open Castiel's sodden shirt, exposing the wound; he was rougher than he'd meant to be and Castiel whimpered deep in his throat, the light pulsing brighter. "You're gonna be okay, Cas," he said, needing to convince himself as much as he did Castiel, then he set his hands and pressed against the wound as hard as he could.
Dean felt a jumbled mix of panic and pain rush through him as Castiel's eyes went wide, his body arching up; he looked up at Dean with surprise and, Dean thought, just a touch of betrayal. "Hurts," he whispered, as if he couldn't believe anything could hurt so much.
"I know it does," Dean said, keeping his voice calm, as if he knew a single thing about what it felt like to get stabbed in the chest. "I gotta put pressure on this, that's the first thing you do." Blood still seeped through his fingers and he could feel that light pressing against his hands, almost hammering against him in desperation. "Can you heal this, Cas?"
Blood trickled from the corner of Castiel's mouth. "I...I don't know." His voice was so weak it barely qualified as sound.
All Dean cared about was that wasn't a no. "All right. All right, Cas, I need you to breathe. Take a breath, as deep as you can."
Castiel shook his head. "I don't want to."
"I know you don't, Cas, but you have to. You're in shock, this is what shock is for you," Dean said. He had no idea if he was right about that, but it was all he had. "I'm betting you probably don't need to breathe any more than I do right now but your body doesn't know that. It's freaking out and you've gotta calm it the hell down. You understand?" Castiel just looked at him like he was speaking in tongues. "Listen to me. If I get hurt, my body's gotta keep me going, I don't have a choice there, but you're the opposite, you keep it going. Right now your body thinks it's dying---"
"Am dying," he whispered, as if Dean had missed that obvious fact.
"No you're not." Castiel actually flinched back. "You're not. Cas, you keep saying I've gotta trust you. I need you to trust me right now, okay? I know what I'm talking about. I know you're scared and I know it hurts but you gotta believe me. Can you do that?"
The next second felt like it lasted years. Finally he nodded and Dean felt Castiel's hand close around his arm. Even the light under his hands felt different. It took every ounce of willpower he had to not look away from Castiel's eyes; no one had come close to looking at him like that since Sam had been little and thought every word from Dean's mouth was truth from on high. He hadn't realized what he'd been doing when he'd asked for an angel's faith.
Dean didn't have the luxury of being overwhelmed. "Okay, Cas," he said, keeping his voice steady by some miracle. "We gotta keep your body going until the healing kicks in. I want you to breathe with me, as deep as you can. Ready?" Castiel didn't nod and Dean really couldn't blame him. "On three."
Castiel's chest barely moved before he started choking and coughing. His body convulsed, almost like it was trying to buck Dean off; he could feel the light surging against his hands again and pressed down as hard as he could. "Your body's panicking, Cas, you can't let it do that," he murmured, ignoring the sharp rush of pain washing through him. "You're in charge. Remember, you can't choke, you don't really need the air, you're just conning your body into thinking it's not as hurt as it is." Castiel squeezed his eyes shut and nodded, his nails digging into Dean's arm. "I'm gonna breathe and you're gonna match me."
Dean could feel how much each breath cost him, pain echoing through the light touching his hands. Even if he couldn't feel it, he would be able to hear it in the whimpering sobs Castiel couldn't quite swallow back. "I know it hurts, Cas," he murmured between breaths, the helplessness of not even being able to hold his hand, to even give him that tiny amount of comfort during this tying him in knots. Dean told himself that every second that passed without that light glowing brighter made it worth it.
"How...how long...have to do this, Dean?"
"I don't know, Cas. Until your healing kicks in. Long as that takes." That wasn't the answer Castiel wanted; he shut his eyes and when Dean saw a tear trail down his face he pretended he hadn't. "Look at me, Cas." Castiel opened his eyes at the command, the pain making his eyes so blue Dean ached. "We're in this together, you and me. I don't get tired. I'm gonna be right here the whole time, I promise." He took the risk of leaning down closer. "Hey," he whispered, "remember you said you'd fixed it so I would go where you went? That means you don't get to go anywhere I can't catch up with you. You hear me?"
Castiel nodded again, determination setting his jaw. Dean's sense of time passing had been murky ever since he'd died and never more so than now; he had no idea how long they breathed together in that lot as if the rest of the world had stopped around them. Long enough that the light failed, the blown streetlights leaving them in darkness. It didn't matter. Dean didn't need light to see anymore and he knew as long as Castiel kept looking up at him like that it didn't matter if years passed.
Finally the constant pressure against his hands began to fade, faintly enough at first that Dean thought he was imagining it. Castiel's breathing evened out, going from ragged gasps to slow and shallow; his eyes drifted closed, not rolling back but just like he was going to sleep. "Cas? Cas, don't pass out. Look at me." It was the first time his eyes didn't snap back open at Dean's word.
It would have been more frightening if his breathing hadn't stayed automatic and steady. Dean took a chance and moved one hand to the pulse point in Castiel's neck. No light bled out and while Castiel's pulse was weak it was also steady. He moved his other hand away and Castiel's pulse didn't change.
Dean gave himself permission to just sit there and shake for a second. He tousled one hand through Castiel's hair. "You did so fucking good, Cas." Dean didn't think he'd ever been so proud of anyone in his life. He wiped the blood from Castiel's face, trying to figure out their next move.
They couldn't stay there. The rain was finally starting to fall and Dean had no way to shield Castiel from it; he was already shivering from the first few drops and Dean tried not to contrast that with how Castiel had barely noticed he'd been standing in a downpour the night they met. He'd only traveled on his own once, trying to get to Sam during the wendigo fight but Sam wasn't an option now. Castiel had said Cold Oak was sealed off and he couldn't punch through that alone.
Castiel had said that Dean could go to places he felt an attachment to and Dean focused on that. His first thought was Bobby's; that was practically a second home and there was no safer place on Earth. Which of course Dean realized a second later meant that as a ghost he couldn't even get through the doors.
As Dean rifled through options he hit on a motel he and Sam had spent a Thanksgiving in years ago; it had been the first Thanksgiving dinner he'd cooked (which of course just meant heating up open faced turkey sandwiches on the motel hot plate, but Sam hadn't known any better.) The place had been practically deserted that whole week, set in a horrible location and kept open as some kind of tax dodge as far as Dean could tell. That had been Dean's best Thanksgiving since he'd been three years old.
Castiel could move them with just a hand on Dean's shoulder but Dean didn't dare try that, not with the risk he could lose Castiel mid-transit. Dean reached back to grab the two swords, tucking them into Castiel's coat pocket, then Dean sat him up carefully, watching for any signs of pain. Dean checked his pulse again but it was just as steady as if he'd never been moved. "Guess we should've squeezed in some more lessons, huh?" The rain started to pick up and Dean didn't want to waste any more time; he wrapped his arms tight around Castiel, closed his eyes and stood, thinking about that motel room until he felt the world warp around them.
Like the hospital, Dean was glad he couldn't actually smell the motel room when he opened his eyes. The place seemed to still be in business to Dean's relief and as badly kept as ever; Dean lay Castiel on the bed and hoped the bedspread had been laundered sometime in the past decade. "Didn't miss this time, Cas," he said, easing his coat off and arranging him in a position that looked comfortable. "Guess that means I'm getting better at this, huh?" There was no answer but Dean hadn't expected one; he finished stripping off Castiel's bloody suit jacket and what was left of his shirt, brushing the angel’s wet hair off his forehead as he realized just how limited his first aid options really were. The wound needed to be stitched, something Dean had no way of doing; even if he'd had the supplies he didn't have the dexterity. He told himself it would heal on its own but not even being able to clean a wound properly was a new level of helplessness for Dean. Castiel murmured something under his breath, his head tossing on the pillows and Dean put his hand back on his forehead. "Shh, Cas, you're okay," he said. He thought he felt the beginning of a fever starting. "You're safe."
And of course as soon as Dean said that the door started to open. Dean caught a glimpse of a couple, the man eager and the woman looking bored, just regular humans to Dean's relief. Still, they didn't need the company; Dean focused on the door and it slammed shut. When they tried to open it again Dean concentrated on holding it closed, careful not to reach back into that pit of rage. He made the door rattle for good measure and made the lights flicker, any ghost trick Dean could think of to scare them away. Dean grinned when the guy screamed first.
He kept the show up until he heard them both run up the hallway, not wanting to admit to himself how much fun that had been. Tiring, though. Dean hoped he wouldn't have to do that too often. He turned back to Castiel and found his eyes half-open, staring unfocused in Dean's direction. He grabbed for Dean's hand and Dean knew he'd been right about the fever when he felt that heat building under his skin. "Hey, Cas, it's okay," He said, keeping the worry out of his voice. "Don't worry, I'm being careful, I won't get lost again."
Castiel shook his head and turned Dean's hand over, trying to trace something onto his palm. Castiel's hand shook so hard he had to start over twice, and Dean still couldn't get a clear picture of what he was trying to do. "Cas, I'm not getting it. What're you t...?"
Castiel scowled and pulled Dean closer, pressing his fingers against Dean's temple. A complicated sigil hovered in Dean's mind, pulsing and insistent and demanding, whispering now now now in Dean's ear like it had a voice of its own. "I need to draw that?" Castiel nodded, falling back to the bed exhausted. "Where? On the door?" Castiel nodded again and Dean looked around the room for something he could possibly write with before he felt Castiel grab his hand again.
"Blood," he murmured. "Must be."
"Jesus, Cas." When only one of them had blood that didn't leave a whole lot of options. "I just got you to stop bleeding."
Castiel just gave him a helpless little shrug. "Must...be done. Not safe."
"I don't have anything to cut you with. I won't use one of the swords."
"'precaite...if you didn't." He took a deep breath, his hands clenching as he concentrated. "Try now. Look."
Dean touched the dresser and realized he was solid. He rifled through the drawers, looking for anything with an edge. He found a letter opener but it was too dull for the job and there were no glasses on the nightstands or in the bathroom. Finally Dean took a good hard look at the dingy mirror on the wall; he focused all his energy on it, picturing the exact way he wanted it to shatter until the first lines started to spiderweb across the glass. The whole thing came apart with a loud crack and Dean picked up on of the bigger shards, turning back to the bed. Castiel's face was beaded with sweat, his breathing labored again; when Dean stretched out his arm he could feel Castiel's pulse fluttering rapid and weak in his wrist. "I don't know if you've got enough blood in you for this, Cas."
He only shrugged again. "We'll find out."
Dean shook his head and crouched next to the bed. He slashed the glass shard across Castiel's wrist before he could talk himself out of it, hating himself when Castiel whimpered as the glass cut into his skin. Castiel's concentration failed and the glass fell through Dean's hand but it didn't matter, it had done the job. Dean cupped his hand under the wound to catch the blood, not letting himself think about how slow it was dripping out, nowhere near the gout he would expect from a wrist wound.
It took almost a minute to gather enough to draw the sigil. The power in the blood made his hands tingle as he carefully made his way to the door, a faint echo of the way that light had echoed through him. He drew the sigil carefully, the one in his head pulsing brighter when he drew an edge wrong and he gave a silent whisper of thanks to his father for all the years of drilling in drawing devil's traps. When he drew the last line the sigil in his head sputtered and went out, letting Dean know that if it wasn't perfect it must be good enough. When he looked down the last traces of blood were gone from his hands and he went right through the door when he tried to touch it. "Finished just in time, Cas. All out of mojo."
There was no answer. Dean zapped back to the bed and found Castiel unconscious again, the building fever Dean had felt before already sending minute shivers through him. At least the slash on his wrist had already healed; Dean told himself that if he could still heal the easy stuff then the serious wound would follow along. He kept that up until he believed it.
The sigil glowed red on the wooden door, pouring out a steady stream of power Dean could feel across the room. It didn't reassure him; if keeping out threats was as easy as some quick finger painting Dean had a feeling they would have been doing it the whole time. He put the thought out of his mind and picked up Castiel's trenchcoat from the floor; the guy liked the ratty thing, why Dean couldn't even guess, but while the suit jacket and shirt were lost causes for anything short of angel mojo the coat had made it through in relatively good shape. When he went to drape the coat over the chair Castiel's phone fell out of the pocket; Dean picked that up too, wondering where he should make the note in his dad's journal that ghosts could touch things that belonged to angels. Weirder things had come in handy.
"If you can keep this thing charged I don't get why you can't magic more minutes onto it, Cas." He flipped the phone open, unable to resist himself. He supposed he shouldn't have been surprised that Castiel hadn't set up his contacts; the history was just a string of the same two numbers over and over, no names attached. He scrolled through the list and hit send on the number that appeared the most, wincing when the number you dialed cannot be reached alarm blared in his ear. He shook his head, wondering what he'd been expecting, then slid the phone back into the pocket. "When you wake up I'm gonna teach you how to program this thing. That way you won't have to keep dialing the numbers in each time." Castiel didn't answer, not that Dean had expected him to; Dean slid the phone back into the pocket and stared at the sigil. Then he reached back into the coat and pulled out one of the swords.
He went back and tucked Castiel's arm back against him before settling down on the floor next to the bed. Dean set the sword down across his lap.
Just in case.
Dean hadn't realized how much effort Castiel had been using to keep him stable. If his mind wandered Dean found himself suddenly not there – not zapping out but just stopping, coming back to himself to find that hours had gone by. It made him think of all the ghost hunts he'd been on where the spirits hadn't known how many years had passed. Every time it happened the fear that he could spend centuries in this musty hotel and never realize it almost choked him and he told himself it wouldn't happen again. Right up until the next time it did.
Castiel wasn't doing much better. It was like the pain wouldn't let him rest, dragging him from complete unconsciousness to wide awake in an eyeblink, and that startled whimper of pain was usually what dragged Dean back, too. Awake but not aware; Dean could tell when Castiel woke he didn't know where he was or why he hurt so much. Sometimes his head would turn toward Dean's voice but there was no recognition; more often he didn't hear Dean at all, his eyes locked open in pain as his body took its sweet time figuring out whether it was going to heal or finally give out on him. All Dean could do was count the seconds until the attack loosened its grip and and let Castiel slip back into unconsciousness.
But he still trusted Dean. While he didn't know who Dean was he seemed to get that Dean wasn't there to hurt him; even when the pain was at its worst he would calm down when Dean touched him. The fever kept spiking up and down but never quite breaking.
But the wound was closing. Slowly enough that Dean thought it had been wishful thinking at first, but progress had definitely been made. Dean just had to keep them both going a little bit longer.
Dean tensed as he came back to awareness, not sure what sound had done it. He swore as checked the clock and saw he'd lost three hours this time. Then he heard the sound again, a murmured word, and jumped to his feet. "Cas? You up? Sorry, man, I can't...." Dean swallowed the excuse; he'd said he would be there and wasn't following through. "I'll get better at it."
Castiel whispered something Dean didn't catch, looking through Dean and shivering so hard he was almost shaking the bed. When Dean touched him he expected to find that the fever had spiked again but couldn't smother down the flash of panic when he found the opposite. It was like touching a body that had been dead for hours. "Jesus, Cas, what the hell's wrong with you now?" Castiel just whispered the same word again, a trace of panic in his voice. Dean didn't know the language but it didn't take a huge leap to wonder if the word meant cold.
The wound was closed all the way but still red and painful looking, and he hadn't gotten any color back. Dean wondered if that was it, if his body had been so busy healing the stab it hadn't replaced any of the lost blood. He tried to remember the first time he'd ever felt cold and couldn't; he couldn't imagine how messed up he would be if he'd never been cold a day in his life and then couldn't stop shivering. "Hey, Cas," he said, trying to get his attention. "You don't have any blood in your body, that's why you're shaking this hard. It's gonna pass." Castiel stared in his direction, his eyes as wide as when Raphael had stabbed him. His hand felt like a block of ice when Dean tried to steady him. "I'm gonna find something to help warm you up, okay?"
Dean bit back the frustration when his hand went right through the closet door. He felt Castiel's eyes watching him as he paced up and down the tiny room, trying to marshal the focus he needed but nothing worked. He could shake the room but he still didn't have the control to do anything useful; that wave of helplessness from before came back, and Dean had never learned to deal with helplessness very well.
Finally he picked up the battered trenchcoat from the chair and draped it over Castiel, trying to cover up as much of him as he could. "I know it's not enough, Cas, but it's all I've got." Castiel just seemed to shiver harder, staring up at Dean in baffled confusion. He whispered that word again and Dean felt something in him twist into knots.
"I know you're cold, buddy. I'm trying," he said, brushing Castiel's hair off his face. Castiel moved into the touch, his eyelids fluttering as he whispered something Dean couldn't make out.
Dean realized he was being an idiot about this. "When you bring me back, make sure you don't tell Sam I ever did anything this mushy," he said. He took a deep breath, then he wrapped himself around Castiel.
Castiel sighed and looked back at Dean, a vague flicker of recognition in his eyes for the first time. "You know me?" Castiel nodded, murmuring something in that harsh language of his. "I don't speak angel, Cas."
He started again, his brow furrowing as he focused. "Forgot," he whispered. He was staring at Dean like he'd never seen him before. "Look so...." He shivered again, his eyes already losing focus.
"Different, right? You mentioned that." Castiel nodded; when he tried to move further into the warmth Dean held him still. "Don't move around so much. You have to stay on your back, it'll hurt more if you don't." Castiel nodded, although Dean wasn't sure how much of that he'd grasped. Dean felt his icy fingertips trail down his face; he whispered something Dean didn't catch, lapsing back into his own language. There was a hint of amazement in Castiel's voice and Dean wished he knew what the hell he'd said. "Just go back to sleep, Cas. You'll feel better when you wake up."
Castiel kept staring at him, his fingertips trailing along Dean's jaw. Before Dean realized what was about to happen Castiel's lips brushed against his.
Dean held very, very still. Castiel kissed him again, pressing closer; Dean felt a tremor run through Castiel when Dean kissed him back, his lips parting despite himself. Castiel finally pulled back and Dean had never seen someone's eyes look like that before. "Shh," he whispered. "That's okay. You're okay." Castiel nodded, breathless and shivering; Dean put one hand on his chest to keep him still, mindful of the wound. "You need to rest now, Cas. Okay? Just close your eyes and rest." Castiel nodded again, laying back against the pillows but still staring at Dean. "Shh," Dean said again. "Close your eyes."
Castiel nodded vaguely again, but this time his eyes drifted closed. He sighed when Dean wrapped his arm back around his waist, his breathing slowly evening out again.
That had been weird. Dean knew his heart should be pounding and that it wasn't just added to the surreality. The shivering was beginning to ease and Dean wrapped himself more comfortably around Castiel, trying to ignore how close Castiel's parted lips still were. He knew he shouldn't have returned the kiss; Castiel was delirious and didn't know what he'd been doing.
A few minutes later Castiel whimpered in his sleep. Dean saw his eyes moving rapidly under his lids, like he was having a particularly nasty dream. "Hey," Dean soothed. "You gotta relax. You're safe." Castiel didn't seem to hear him; his hand clenched and Dean felt his struggling heart start to race. Dean wondered if he was reliving the fight. "Shh. You're safe."
He swallowed hard when Castiel whimpered again. Dean paused for another moment, then leaned across the few inches between them and kissed him, a chaste kiss just brushing against his lips. Castiel murmured something he couldn't make out, trying to press closer to Dean. "Whatever you said, Cas," Dean whispered, so close their lips were still almost touching. "You rest up and you'll feel better, I promise." Castiel quieted and this time stayed that way, his heart beating a slow rhythm under Dean's hand.
When he shivered again Dean wrapped him up tighter, counting each heartbeat to keep himself from fading. He told himself again none of that had meant anything.
When he heard the whisper in the back of his mind that maybe he wished it had, Dean told it to shut up.
The next time Castiel woke it was like a switch had been flipped. His eyes flew open, clear and aware, and he sat up so quickly Dean almost tumbled off the bed, something he was relieved Castiel didn't seem to notice. His eyes darted around the room, finally settling on Dean. "I'm not dead."
Dean shook his head, leaning back against the wall. "Nope. Hey, one of us should still be breathing, right?"
Castiel stared at him for one disbelieving second, then lay back on the bed, his hand pressed against the mostly healed stab wound in his chest. "You slew Raphael."
"Yeah." Dean folded his arms over his chest, wondering for the first time if a human taking out an archangel was a bigger deal upstairs than he'd realized. "That okay?"
Castiel nodded. "I...." He closed his eyes, and it took a few seconds before he could speak again. "Thank you."
Dean just shrugged. "Hey, I've never been any good at running from a fight." Or frankly, at accepting gratitude, so Dean hoped Castiel would stop looking at him like that. He'd gotten lucky, not made the planet spin backwards. "He really had it in for, you, huh?"
"You could say that. We...encountered each other before. Twice before."
"I'm guessing those went more your way, huh?"
"One of those times." Castiel rubbed his chest, then levered himself off the bed, swaying on his feet. "We were about to go to Cold Oak?"
"Yeah, but dude, slow down. You were in a coma literally five minutes ago."
Castiel just shook his head. "The wound can't be helped any more by resting."
"Is it all healed up?"
He just grimaced. "I can bear it."
Dean caught him when he stumbled picking up his coat and helped him sit back on the bed. "You've been out for two days, Cas. Give yourself another second."
"Yeah, at least," Dean said, one hand on his shoulder to steady him. "You remember anything?"
Castiel shook his head, brow furrowed as he considered the question. "Very little," he finally admitted. "Did I...did I say anything strange?"
Dean licked his lips before answering. "Nah. Slept like a baby." Castiel nodded and Dean let out a long breath that he hadn't looked at that lie too closely. "Feeling more up to things yet?"
"As much as I'm going to."
"Good. Any chance we could make a quick stop before we go pull Sammy's ass out of the fire?"
Castiel tilted his head. "Where were you thinking?"
Dean leaned against the hospital window and watched Bobby snore away in the chair at his bedside. "Hey, old timer. Wakey wakey." Bobby's eyes blinked open and he squinted at Dean. "You miss me?" Dean said, giving Bobby his best grin.
That lasted right up until Bobby pounced from his chair and swung an iron bar at Dean's head. Dean was too surprised to dodge; he felt the bite of the iron as it ripped him apart, burning pain spreading through him like he'd stepped into lava. It felt like years before he could manifest again, although from the look on Bobby's face Dean guessed it had only been a few seconds. "You hit me with iron?"
Bobby backed away, knocking the chair over and pointing the iron poker at Dean. "You stay the hell away from me."
"Bobby, Jesus. You're dreaming. This is a dream, okay?" he said, gesturing around the room.
"And how do you expect me to believe that?"
"First of all, there's no way you could smuggle that thing into the hospital, right?" Bobby looked down at the long poker, doubt starting to creep into his expression. "And second, we're back at your house now." In an eyeblink the room had changed from the hospital to Bobby's cluttered study and Dean ached to be there for real. "Happy now?"
Bobby sank down into his battered chair. "Okay, so I'm listening."
Dean sat down across from him. "That hurt."
"Oh, you would've done the same thing." He set the poker across his lap, making sure Dean knew it was ready. "Why're you haunting me, Dean?"
"I'm not. God, that would be the worst afterlife ever." Dean couldn't believe Bobby had the nerve to look insulted. "Sam's in trouble, Bobby."
"Well, there's a surprise," Bobby muttered. "You might not know this, but it's been months. He's not even taking my calls anymore." He looked up and Dean almost couldn't take seeing the tears in his eyes. "So Sam was right. He really did sense you that night on the road."
Dean nodded. "Yeah. Sometimes I think that hadn't been such a great idea, but yeah."
"Dean, you can't keep hanging around! You know what happens, we both do."
"It's not like that, Bobby. There's a lot more bullshit going on than you realize and we're right in the middle of it. I'm working on getting back in my body, there's just some things that need to happen first."
"I just don't want to wind up having to hunt you."
Dean grinned. "You won't. I swear. Not for this anyway, but it's Sam I'm worried about. He's in way over his head."
Bobby leaned forward, his elbows on his knees. "I'm listening."
"Remember how we used to joke around that Wyoming was so boring even demons didn't bother going there? Well it turns out there's actually a reason...." He trailed off when he noticed the maps and newspaper clippings amid the debris next to the chair. "Should've guessed you'd already be on that," he said, gesturing to the pile of papers.
"Ellen got this to me," Bobby said. "She said Ash had been working on it before...." He glanced up at Dean, and Dean didn't like that look at all..
"What happened, Bobby?"
Bobby shook his head. "You got enough on your mind as it is. Anyway, it seems there's demon signs all over the place, like they're massing around this big-as-all-hell devil's trap."
"Sam's a part of that. Yellow Eyes grabbed him and took him to a place called Cold Oak."
Bobby frowned. "Cold Oak, South Dakota?" He tapped his fingertips against the maps. "I know where that is. It's an old ghost town."
"Well, it's populated now . Yellow Eyes has some kind of psychic fight club going on. Sam's supposed to open a gate to hell, Bobby, that's why they gave him the Colt, and we can't let him do that. We're gonna go pull his fat out of the fryer but he's still gonna need back up. You up for it?"
Bobby just gave him a withering look, like he couldn't believe Dean had even asked that. "Have I ever let you boys down before?"
"Well, y'know. You did hit me with an iron bar."
For a second he thought Bobby was going to come at him again, but as he stood Bobby just enveloped him in an enormous hug. And since it was a dream, it actually worked. "I wake up and this was just a dream I'm gonna hunt you, evil yet or not."
"This is real, Bobby. This happened, swear to God." Dean had no idea he could ever have missed something as simple as a hug so much. "I'm coming back."
"Yeah, well, hurry it up. You're running up one hell of a bill."
Dean felt a hand on his shoulder and found himself back in the hospital room, Castiel standing beside him. "Dude. A little warning."
"The dream was ending."
To look at Castiel Dean would have never guessed he'd been at death's door. He'd even fixed his clothes. "That iron really did hurt," Dean said, rubbing his head.
"Now you see why I insisted it be a dream," he said, and Dean could swear he looked amused. "The pain would have been much worse otherwise." He tilted his head to the side. "Are you prepared?"
"As I'm gonna be."
Castiel nodded. "Then hold on. This will be much more difficult than previous journeys."
Dean closed his eyes and felt Castiel's hands tight on his arms. Then things happened very quickly: Dean heard the sound of Castiel's wings, the sound louder than normal, like he was straining; he felt a burning he realized was the presence of sulfur, then felt them smash hard into something solid. Castiel hissed in pain and Dean cracked his eyes open to see a wall of foul, red energy blocking the way; he focused on Sam, just getting to Sam as Castiel heaved in a breath and tried again. This time there was a crack in the wall, sparking with bright white light.
Dean closed his eyes again and focused on Sam like he'd never concentrated on anything in his life. He heard those powerful wings beat one more time.
Then everything went black.
The whole place felt wrong. Dean knew if he'd been here alive his skin would be crawling; as it was he could feel the demonic taint flood through him, like he was suddenly full of squirming spiders. It hit Castiel even harder – the second they touched down he doubled over and started coughing up blood. If Dean hadn't reached out and grabbed the back of his coat at the last second he would have been flat on his face. "Dude. You said you were good for this."
Castiel waved him off. "It's not the wound. Azazel is powerful and so are his wards. It'll be difficult for me to fly here." He gave Dean a look and Dean realized he was still holding on to the coat.
Dean let go and turned away, thinking how unfair it was that he was a ghost and could still blush. "So we'll hoof it, no big deal. Is Sam here? Can you tell? I'm having trouble."
Castiel nodded. "I can sense him."
"Great, let's go. I'm not signing up for the grand tour here." Castiel didn't move, his head cocked to the side like he listening to something. "Cas, what's up? Why aren't we heading to Sam?"
"Because there's something closer." He approached one of the buildings, holding his head forward like a hound tracking a scent. He swung open the door, his mouth twisting in visible distaste at having to touch anything here, then nodded towards something on the floor. "It happened here."
Dean came over to see what Castiel had found and God, was he happy he couldn't throw up anymore. He'd been finding mutilated bodies since he was a teenager and this was easily in his personal top ten of bad. It occurred to him, and not for the first time, just how screwed up it was that he had a personal top ten of dead bodies. "Jesus fucking Christ, Cas."
"I'm afraid we won't find him here," Castiel said, crouching next to the body.
Dean managed to tear his attention away from the gore and focused on the body's face. "Shit," he said, realization hitting him like a physical blow. "Cas, I know this kid."
Castiel looked up at him. "I didn't know you'd encountered any of Azazel's other targets."
"A few of them, yeah. Sam used to have these dreams about them." Dean let out a long breath, trying to remember what he'd looked like when he was was still in one piece. "Name was...Andy," he said, feeling that memory slot into place. "He wasn't like Sam, he didn't dream, he had this whole mind control thing going on. He was okay. Brother was a huge dick, but he was okay." He looked down at Castiel. "Is this what happens to Sam?"
Castiel shook his head. "No. We're here to save Sam from a different fate."
Dean sat back on his heels beside Castiel. "Poor son of a bitch. He didn't go fast, either." Dean reached out to close Andy's eyes, forgetting that he couldn't. Castiel saw what he was trying to do and did it for him. "Thanks." He shook his head. "You said Azazel's dragging them all here. Why?"
"He only needs one. He's pitting them against each other to determine the strongest." His mouth twisted into a sneer. "If I recall correctly, he'll promise the winner a place at the head of Hell's army."
"Which is bullshit, right?"
Castiel tilted his head. "I suppose it's true in a manner of speaking. This isn't just to open the Gate, remember. The winner is meant to be Lucifer's vessel."
Dean shook his head. "I keep trying to forget about that."
"Perhaps if we're successful you'll be able to."
"Yeah, let's hope, right?" Now that the first shock had passed Dean could take a critical look at that body; it was clear as day that it had been clawed apart (although not eaten, to his relief. Those were always the worst hunts.) "He had a salt line up," Dean said, pointing out the broken barrier. "What did this, Cas?"
Almost before the words were out Castiel straightened up, one arm shooting out in a sudden blur of motion. "An Acheri demon," he snarled, staring down the struggling, yowling thing he had by the throat.
Dean had never seen a demon like it before. Most demons could pass for human if they hid their eyes but not this thing; it looked like a demented child, clawing at Castiel as it spit and struggled like an angry cat. Castiel carried it outside, the strain of holding it clear on his face. "You can't kill me," it said in an up-and-down sing song voice, and Dean felt sick that it even sounded like a child. "Poor little angel can't get it up."
Castiel's eyes narrowed. "I'm getting very tired of demons saying that to me." He hauled the demon closer to look it in the eye, not even flinching when it clawed at his face. "It's true, I'm not able to send you back to the Pit," he said, and the thing's face creased into an obscene smile. He pulled it even closer, barely an inch away. "So instead I grant you liberty." The demon went slack-jawed with surprise for a second, then turned to smoke in Castiel's hand. Castiel sighed, wiping his hand on his coat.
"What the hell did you do, Cas?"
Castiel looked at Dean like he'd almost forgotten Dean was there for a second. "I freed it."
"Yeah, I got that. Why didn't you use your sword on it?"
Castiel shook his head. "Acheri are more akin to spirits than true demons. They're formed from a deep, frustrated need for vengeance. Once that need is slaked they dissipate. And this one’s been summoned; if I killed it would only reform here.”
"Who the hell summoned that thing?"
"We should discover that shortly." Castiel looked at Dean, uncertainty in his eyes. "I'll have to do things here you won't approve of, Dean. Violence against humans. I need you to understand that."
Dean swallowed hard. It went against every instinct he had to let that happen – he's been trained his whole life to save people – but he'd run into enough witches and cultists to know sometimes there was no avoiding it. "Just make it the last resort, okay? If you have to do it to save Sam, yeah, go for it, but just because they're here doesn't mean they're bad."
"We can't save them and Sam."
"We can sure as hell try."
A piercing scream cut off the argument and Dean rushed toward it, a lifetime of training kicking in. When Dean saw who the demon had pounced he couldn't believe it. "Ava?"
The Acheri was laying into her just the way Dean guessed it had into Andy but she was fighting back, her face a mask of concentration as she spit out what sounded like commands in a language that made Dean wish he could scrub it out of his brain. "Cas, we gotta help---"
"No, Dean," he answered, his hand on Dean's shoulder. "We don't."
"It'll kill her!"
"Because she summoned it."
Just then Ava gave up and took off running but Dean could tell at a glance that the demon was faster. The monsters were always faster.
The demon jumped up and landed on her shoulders, pulling her down to the ground by her hair. She shrieked once, the sound going right through Dean; he shook Castiel off and rushed over, knowing there was nothing he could do but not able to just stand there. He got there just in time to see the Acheri stab one clawed hand through her midsection, her whole body jerking up in one convulsive movement. The demon dissipated in a whiff of smoke and left the two of them alone.
Dean felt sick when Ava's eyes focused on him. "Know...know you," she said, coughing up blood. "You're Sam's...."
"Yeah," he said. He couldn't think of anything else to say.
Her expression changed, a hard ferocity creeping into her eyes that made Dean step back. "I was supposed win. I'm better than they are, I'm...." Her eyes lost focus and chest heaved, dragging in two spasmodic breaths before going still.
Dean didn't know how long Castiel had been standing beside him. "Where's the Reaper, Cas?" he asked, very sure he didn't want to know the answer.
"They only come if a soul hasn't already been claimed."
"What the hell happened? Ava was, I don't know, super vanilla secretary chick. She's the last person I would expect...."
"Azazel wouldn't have sought her out if she didn't have the potential." He crouched down beside her, sorrow in his eyes. "I believe that's why she was among the first taken. He needed her to be a weapon against the others. Andy wasn't the only one she had the demon kill."
"Sam liked her."
Castiel nodded. "That may have been part of the appeal for Azazel. To create the trauma of seeing what the corruption had made her become." He cocked his head to the side, listening to something. "We should leave. They're coming, Sam and the other. They're the only two left now."
"Wait, what?" Dean said, grabbing Castiel's arm as he stood up. "We're looking for Sam, why would we leave now?"
"Because it doesn't happen here." He let out a long breath, massaging his forehead as if Dean was giving him a migraine. "Dean, just once will you believe I know what needs to be done and not argue with everything I say?"
"You wanted me to let Sam die."
"And I brought you here anyway."
Dean stared at him; the guy looked beat, dark circles under his eyes and swaying like it was all he could do to stay on his feet. "Okay," he said, noticing that Castiel didn't even bother hiding his relief. "Okay, you take point." Dean grinned then, noticing the loophole in what the angel had said. "That does mean I get to argue with everything else you say."
Castiel shook his head. "There's nothing powerful enough to prevent that, Dean."
Sam looked like he'd been in a fight. Dean glanced at Castiel but the angel didn't return the look; they were standing just on the outskirts of town and had been for a while. "Cas, when do we....?"
Castiel raised his hand. "We're standing at one of the turning points of history, Dean. Nothing has ever been more important that what's about to happen."
Dean crossed his arms and slouched back. "I just don't see what we're waiting...." He trailed off when he heard a car approaching; he looked over and saw Bobby get out of his beat-up old pickup and Dean had never been happier to see anyone. Sam spotted him too, his face lighting up with surprise.
Dean realized Castiel wasn't next to him anymore.
He looked up and saw someone coming up behind Sam, a tall black kid wearing an Army uniform with a walk that reminded Dean of his father, a soldier's walk. Castiel saying Sam isn't the one who opens the Devil's Gate echoed through Dean's mind when he spotted the knife in the man's hand. "Sam! Look out!"
And Sam heard him, just like with the wendigo but it only took Dean a second to realize his mistake; Sam stopped in his tracks, looking around for Dean and completely unaware of the danger lurking behind him. Dean saw the guy raise the knife and heard Bobby shout out a warning but it was too late, they were both too late.
At the last possible second Dean saw Castiel materialize behind the soldier, one hand pressed over his mouth. The man was taller but Castiel was stronger; he forced the soldier to his knees and Dean saw the glint of that angelic sword. Dean knew he should stop this, he shouldn't let Castiel murder someone for him but couldn't bring himself to move. The guy had been about to kill Sam. When Dean saw Castiel plunge that sword into the guy's back the only emotion he could muster up was gratitude. Dean knew there was something wrong with that, but Sam was alive when he should have been dead. That was all that mattered.
Castiel let the body drop and Dean wondered what that all had looked like to Sam and Bobby. He didn't have time to wonder long; Sam took one hesitant step toward the body and Castiel was suddenly beside him, two fingers pressed to Sam's temple. Sam started to sway and Castiel caught him, lowering him to the ground as Sam passed out.
"You seriously can't stay out of trouble without me, can you?"
Dean saw Sam's eyes struggle open. "Dean?" he said, disbelief tinging his voice. He sat up too quickly, almost knocking his head on the truck roof. "How are you...? Where am I?"
"Snoring away in the back of Bobby's truck."
Sam sighed, disappointment creasing his face. "So this is just a dream."
Dean nodded. "Yeah, but I really am here, so don't just forget everything when you wake up."
Sam stared at Dean, looking like he was a second away from trying to hug him and Dean didn't know if he could handle that. He'd almost fallen apart when Bobby had hugged him, let alone Sam. "So all that...Jake," he said, giving Dean a sharp look. "Was that you?"
Dean bit his lip for a second. "He was gonna kill you, Sammy," he finally settled on. Castiel had been insistent that Sam not know he was there, saying it would "prevent future complications."
"Yeah, I know. I know, he tried before, I thought I'd knocked him out...."
"Shh. Calm down. You're okay now."
Sam nodded. "There've been other times I thought...back on that night, out on the road. And later on, when I was hunting a wendigo...."
"Yeah, that was me." He grinned. "It's my job to look out for you, Sam, you know that." The truck shook, like a giant hand had reached down and grabbed it. "Fuck."
"What the hell was that?"
"Yellow-Eyes wants to have a chat with you and apparently it's a bitch to keep him out." The shaking calmed down after another few seconds and Dean let out a breath. "That's why I'm here, Sam. You listen to me and you listen good: he's gonna show up, God only knows how, probably in another dream, and he's gonna try to get you to sign on with him." Sam opened his mouth to protest and Dean cut him off. "I know you tried to make a crossroads deal, Sam, so just stuff the 'I would nevers' right now. You would, and if I was in your shoes I'd probably do the same." The truck shook again and Dean heard a rasping voice whisper in his mind Please hurry up. "All right, I don't have ton of time, so listen: I don't care what he says, what he promises, whether he brings up me, dad, whatever he says, you tell him no. You keep the Colt safe and you don't do a damn thing he says. You gotta promise me that, Sam."
He saw Sam swallow hard. "But if he...."
"Don't listen to a word of it. Demons lie, you know that. I'm gonna come back, but I don't want it to be because you did something you'll regret. Now promise."
Sam nodded. "Okay. Okay, I promise." He let out a shuddering breath, like he was about to cry. "I know what he did to me, Dean. He showed me it. He showed me mom dying."
Dean pushed all of that down. He couldn't risk losing control now. "We'll get him, Sammy. When I wake up, we'll get him, I promise. You just keep this promise to me, okay?"
Dean shook his head. "I don't know. I'm working on it."
"I never got why you showed up at my dorm that night. Why you needed me to go after dad with you. I get it now. I didn't know how hard this would be on my own."
Dean flicked his finger against Sam's forehead. "That's because you're a moron. Of course hunting's hard when you're on your own. I thought you were supposed to be the smart one." He shook his head. "Hunt with Bobby 'till I get back. Hell, find Jo, maybe you two idiots can keep each other out of trouble. But no more solo act, you hear me?" Sam nodded. The truck shook again and Dean swore under his breath. "That's my cue. You remember what I said."
"Dean." Dean paused and looked back at Sam. "I miss you. Every second."
"Dude. I'm already a ghost and appearing to you in a dream. Let's not jump the chick-flick level any higher than it already is." Sam smiled then, the first real smile Dean had seem from him since that night in the rain.
Dean blinked and found himself standing next to Castiel, who to his relief didn't look all that much worse for wear. "You handle Yellow-Eyes?"
Castiel nodded. "For now. He won't give up on Sam."
"Yeah, he doesn't seem the type. I think I've got Sam straight on what he needs to do now, at least." He watched Bobby's truck disappear over the horizon.
"You seem troubled. I would have thought saving Sam would bring you peace."
"I am. At least, I'm glad Sam's okay." He looked over at Castiel, not sure if he should say what he was thinking. He didn't know how many favors he could ask before the genie decided it was tired of granting wishes.
Castiel closed his eyes. "Just speak, Dean."
"You said that when the Devil's Gate opened my dad got out of hell. That the two of us killed Yellow-Eyes." Castiel nodded. "I'm glad that Gate's not going to open, don't get me wrong, but that means he's still down there. Yellow-Eyes can still use him against Sam." And it's my fault he's there in the first place, Dean thought but didn't say.
"And perhaps events can still be set in motion where he'll break the first Seal," Castiel said. "That is the last loose end." He was quiet for a very long time.
Dean was about to ask what they should do next when he finally spoke. "I suppose that means I'll have to pull John Winchester from the Pit."
As it turned out, the best place to open a temporary entrance into hell was a run-down motel just outside Seaside Heights in Jersey. Dean watched Castiel finish the ritual and remembered a townie girl he'd known for a weekend a few years back, wondering if she'd known how right she'd been when she'd called this place "Motel Hell." "Jesus, Cas, can't you angels do anything without bleeding all over the place?" Castiel gave him a curious look and Dean realized that he probably didn't remember that. "When we were holed up in that motel after the fight. You made me put a thing on the door."
Castiel tilted his head. "I almost recall that." He blew out the candles he'd arranged on the floor and stood. "The portal will be ready at dawn."
Dean helped him sit back on the bed, alarmed at how winded he seemed. "You okay?"
Castiel's lips twitched up. "Opening a doorway to hell shouldn't be an easy task, Dean." He leaned his head against the wall and tried to catch his breath. "I'll recover shortly."
Dean saw his hand was shaking as he wiped the sweat from his face, and that didn't go away even after his breathing slowed. "Dude," Dean said, making sure Castiel knew he'd noticed. "You sure you're okay?"
Castiel stared at his hand as if it had betrayed him. "I suppose I'm a bit anxious."
Dean frowned. "You said you'd done this before. I thought round two would be old hat."
Castiel shook his head, letting out a harsh breath that was almost a laugh. "When I pulled y---" His eyes cut toward Dean and he wondered what Castiel had been about to say. "The last time I did this it was accompanied by forty years of siege. I had a full garrison at my back. I was stronger then. Fully connected," he said with that trace bitterness that was always in his voice when he spoke about Heaven. "And I've always suspected I was allowed to leave. The Righteous Man had already broken the first Seal and it suited Hell's purposes for him to be on Earth. Now I'm after a prize Hell wants dearly to keep." He drummed his fingers once against the bedspread. "This time is very different."
"There anything down there you can't take?"
He could see Castiel considering the question. "It's the numbers that concern me. I'll have to be undetected as long as possible." There was a look in his eyes that Dean didn't like at all. "The creature that rules the Pit is powerful. Alastair." He pronounced the word like it was profanity. "It didn't go well for me that last time we met." His lips curled up, a sharp, predatory expression. "I would like very much to kill Alastair."
"Good. You hold onto that, it'll help."
Castiel nodded. "Do you want me to restore you before I leave?"
That caught Dean by surprise. "What? I thought we had to do this first. Won't Michael and his little errand boy still be after me?"
Castiel just gave him a look. "You know what I'm saying, Dean."
And he'd heard the unspoken in case I don't come back. He just wasn't paying it any mind. "We do this right or we don't do it. Plenty of time to fix me up when you get back."
Castiel let out a frustrated breath. "Dean...."
"Plenty of time, Cas." He stared Castiel down, daring him to keep arguing. "You're not gonna get killed down there."
"They won't kill me," he said, shaking his head. "Although I'll wish they had."
Dean knew that if was any kind of a decent person he would call this off now. Come up with some other plan. Any plan that had an angel so scared he couldn't stop shaking was a bad plan. Castiel didn't owe him anything. Hell, the guy had gone pretty far out of his way for him already, Dean knew that. He knew what he should be saying. He just couldn't force the words out. "It's my dad, Cas."
Castiel tilted his head at Dean, surprise in his eyes. "Did you think I was denouncing you, Dean? That wasn't my intention. Quite the opposite, in fact." He ran one hand through his hair and let out a resigned sigh. "I shouldn't be burdening you with my weakness."
"Dude." Castiel glanced at him and Dean could see he'd actually meant that. "That has to be right up there with the stupidest things I've ever heard someone say. You just barely got over almost dying, this should freak you out." Dean shook his head. "Actually kind of like that you're freaked out," Dean admitted. "Makes you...I don't know. Less inhuman and creepy."
Castiel quirked an eyebrow at that but seemed to realize it was supposed to be a compliment. He settled back against the wall, his eyes distant. "Will you lie with me, Dean?"
Dean frowned again. "Will I...?" It took a second to realize what Castiel had just asked. "What?"
Castiel glanced at him, actually looking more nervous now than he had when talking about the possibility of going off to be tortured in hell. "The second time I faced Raphael it was very like this. There had been a long night of anticipation before a battle at dawn. It came out that I hadn't...." He trailed off, giving Dean a helpless look he didn't need any help decoding.
"Seriously? I mean...come on, you've been around a while, right?"
"Yes." He sounded sorry he'd even brought up the topic.
"And all that time you'd never....? I mean, there had to be one chick angel up there..."
"No. There wasn't." He let out a short, frustrated breath. "I was informed that was a deplorable state of affairs."
"Damn right it is. If I was alive I'd take you somewhere nice, make sure you got your cherry popped by a pro."
"I don't want to be taken anywhere," he insisted, as if he was terrified that Dean would find a way to do it anyway.
"Okay, okay, relax." Dean couldn't stop grinning, and he knew he should feel bad about that but just couldn't. The look on Castiel's face was hilarious. "Am I still even able to, um...lie with someone?"
"You still breathe even though there's no need to. That you appear clothed is merely as an extension of your will. There's no reason you couldn't, if you believed you could." He looked away, and Dean thought it was awesome that he was blushing. "You don't need to answer. I didn't voice what I'd actually wanted that night and have always regretted it. It didn't want to make the same mistake twice. Going into Hell with regrets is dangerous---"
Dean kissed him before he could even finish his sentence. Castiel's mouth was still open and Dean took full advantage, running his tongue along the inside of Castiel's lip until he felt him shiver. Dean wanted this. If he was honest with himself he'd wanted it since Castiel had first kissed him and looked at him like he was the only thing worth looking at in the world as Dean held him during that terrifying night. He'd tried to forget it, telling himself that Castiel hadn't known what he'd been doing but it had lurked in the back of his mind ever since, whispering what if into his ear. He'd even tried to justify it by telling himself that he just craved being touched again, even though he wasn't quite good enough a liar to convince himself that he didn't want Castiel to be the one doing the touching. He deepened the kiss, remembering the fear washing through him when he'd watched Raphael stab him and realized he didn't know when he'd started to want this.
He finally pulled back, running his thumb along the faint scar along Castiel's jawline. He'd never actually kissed a guy before but it wasn't all that different, all things considered. The stubble was different. Dean actually liked that. He heard Castiel whisper his name, the vibration of the word rumbling through his chest. "I didn't expect...."
"Hey. You're about to go pull my dad out of hell. Least I can do."
He felt Castiel go stiff, his expression turning sour. "I don't want you to do this out of duty...."
Dean pressed one hand over Castiel's mouth. "Cas. Shut up." Dean kissed him again, taking it slow this time, and he felt Castiel gradually relax into it, one hand reaching up to curl around his neck. Dean moved to straddle his lap, easing the coat down off his shoulders and starting to undo his tie. When that was done he pressed Castiel down onto the bed, already thinking of a list of things he'd like to get up to with that tie. Maybe next time.
It was actually pretty nice, being able to kiss someone and not having to come up for air. Castiel was getting the hang of it, too, figuring out what he was supposed to be doing with his tongue and Dean realized he'd never wanted anything the way he wanted Castiel's tongue down his throat. He sucked on Castiel's lip and felt him moan with surprise, already arching under Dean. Dean started unbuttoning his shirt and Castiel pulled back. "I can make this go faster," he whispered, already a little out of breath. "I can---"
Dean kissed him again to cut that off. "Cas, you're not the first virgin I've deflowered, okay? I know what I'm doing. This is part of it, trust me." As if to put an exclamation point on that Dean finished unbuttoning the shirt and trailed one hand down that pale, suddenly exposed skin. Dean tugged off his own shirt and kissed his way back up Castiel's torso, feeling Castiel's stomach tremble under his lips.
Castiel touched his left shoulder, tracing something Dean couldn't see. "Cas?"
He shook his head. "It's nothing. It told you, you look different in the future."
"What does that mean? Am I going to have scars or something?"
Castiel kissed him instead of answering and he was definitely getting the hand of this. "It doesn't matter anymore."
Dean could already tell he was hard. "I'm gonna take it slow," he said, meeting Castiel's eyes. "You let me know if I do something you like, okay?"
Castiel nodded, sighing with surprise and pleasure when Dean licked around the curve of his collarbone. "That," he whispered. "I like that."
Dean grinned. "Good." He moved on to Castiel's neck, licking along the hollow of his throat, kissing his way up his neck and sucking just hard enough to leave a bruise Dean knew would heal almost instantly. He could tell by the little fluttering sighs Castiel let out that he was liking that, too. Castiel had already started tracing his fingers along Dean's spine, pressing up against him; he felt Castiel slide his hand past his waistband and couldn't hold back his groan. "Said I was taking it slow, Cas."
"I'm not very patient," Castiel answered, an unmistakable smirk on his face.
Dean just kissed him again, which he supposed wasn't a very good punishment. He finally pulled the shirt and suit jacket all the way off and tossed them to the floor, then traced one finger along the long white scar down Castiel's chest, feeling him shiver. "It hurt when I touch it?"
Castiel shook his head, his eyes wide. "No. It...I don't know how to describe it."
Dean licked along the edges of the scar and Castiel whimpered, his nails digging into Dean's back. Dean moved to kissing the scar, then finally sucking hard until Castiel moaned, his whole body jerking up under Dean. Dean grinned and started in on Castiel's belt, rapidly losing interest in taking things slow. Within seconds all the clothes were on the floor and Dean pressed himself against Castiel, not realizing until that moment how much he'd missed this. Castiel's lips were wet and shining in the room's dim light when Dean kissed him again, his mouth hot and open as his tongue slid over Dean's. Castiel pressed his thigh up between Dean's legs and Dean wondered how he'd known that was exactly what he'd wanted just then. He worked his way back down Castiel's body, savoring each twitch and moan and sigh of pleasure. He liked the way Castiel would jump with surprise when Dean hit a sensitive spot, his lips curling up in wonder.
If Dean hadn't already been so hard he ached the sound Castiel made when Dean touched his cock would have been more than enough. Dean licked his way up Castiel's shaft, thinking about everything he liked being done to him and hardly able to choose what to do first. Finally he decided to just take Castiel as deep as he could and go from there, and the way Castiel moaned when he did that made Dean wish he had a lot more practice. He'd always thought this wouldn't be as much fun from the other side but being able to take Castiel apart like this with just a flick of his tongue was like taking a shot of pure adrenaline. He was pretty sure he could come just from this if he let himself.
Dean finally picked his head up, ignoring Castiel's groan of dismay. "Turn over," he said, surprised he could still form words. "It'll be easier if you turn over."
Castiel followed the command, stretching out on his stomach. "Fuck, Cas, you're still all tense. You gotta relax," he said, running his hands down Castiel's spine. He straddled Castiel's hips and started massaging knots out of the stiff muscles. "It's not gonna be fun if you don't relax." Dean felt him sigh, his body slowly going loose and pliant under Dean's hands. He let out a little gasp when Dean hit a sensitive spot on his back, just under his his shoulders. There was a similar spot on the other opposite side and Dean couldn't help wondering. "Hey, Cas?"
"Do you have wings? Real ones, I mean?"
"Of course," Castiel said, slurring just a bit, like he was pleasantly drunk. "You've seen them. Their shadows, at least."
"Could I see them for real? Not just shadows?"
Castiel shook his head, sighing as Dean kneaded his fingers into the small of his back. "I don't think so. Part of...true form," he said, arching his back into the touch. He'd begun rocking his hips, the slight little movements rapidly taking away Dean's ability to think. "Don't know...how to manifest." Dean saw him clench his hands into the blanket. "Dean, please."
Dean didn't need any more encouragement than that. He moved backward, angling Castiel's hips up. He licked one finger and inserted it slowly, easier than Dean would have expected; Castiel was already slick, and Dean didn't know whether being his being a ghost or angel mojo was to thank for that. It was an awesome side bonus, wherever it came from. Castiel moaned when Dean inserted a second finger, already starting to writhe. Dean knew he should stretch him some more, take a little more time but he just couldn't; he positioned himself behind Castiel and pressed himself forward inch by slow inch. Castiel moaned from the first second, propping himself up on his elbows with his head bowed. Dean licked up his spine as he began to move and heard Castiel murmuring under his breath in his harsh language. He urged Dean on faster and harder almost before Dean could collect himself and Dean was more than happy to oblige him. He finally stopped holding back and just lost himself in the heat and tightness surrounding him, the way Castiel's hips bucked against him and pushed him closer to the edge with each movement. Dean wrapped his hand back around Castiel's cock and felt him shudder; Castiel sobbed out Dean's name and Dean squeezed his eyes shut. It was all he could to not come right there. Dean pressed his face against Castiel's back and fucked him hard; he almost sobbed himself when he felt that first tight contraction. Castiel shuddered again, harder this time and let out a soft, almost surprised whimper; Dean felt that hot wetness spread over his hand and the room was suddenly full of light. Before Dean could open his eyes to find out what the hell that was his own orgasm shook through him and he forgot little things like words and thoughts and questions.
He collapsed next to Castiel and wrapped his arms around him. "How about that, Cas?" he said when he remembered how language worked. "Worth waiting however many centuries for?"
Castiel pressed back against him, loose and sweat-soaked and Dean didn't ever want to stop touching him. "I liked all of that very much, Dean."
Dean nuzzled his ear. "Good." Castiel turned over and kissed Dean, as if just facing the opposite direction was too far away. Dean traced his fingers through Castiel's messy hair, drunk on the feeling of an angel sighing happily against him. "When I'm back in my body we should do that for real."
He actually felt Castiel frown. "This is real."
"That's not what I mean, don't get mushy." Dean pulled him closer. "I just meant we should do this when we both have bodies. See if it's different." He kissed Castiel's forehead. "Messier, probably."
Castiel propped himself on one elbow and trailed his fingertips over Dean's lips. "May I ask an indulgence?"
"Cas, man, right now you can seriously ask me anything."
That was the closest Dean had seen him come yet to a real, human smile. "If this is going to be my only chance..."
"Don't talk like that."
"Dean." Castiel looked at him and suddenly Dean could see his age in his eyes, those thousands of years spreading out behind him. Years that might end at dawn. "One of us should be pragmatic."
Dean nodded. "Sure, Cas. Like I said, you can ask me anything."
Castiel kissed him and Dean thought about what a waste it was that they hadn't been doing this the whole time. "I would like to know...." He sighed. "I don't know the right way to put this."
"Just say it. I'm not exactly easy to scandalize."
Castiel ran his tongue over his lips as he searched for the right words and Dean didn't know how that managed to be so hot. "I would like to be inside you. I want to know what that feels like."
Dean felt heat rush through his body. "Shit, Cas. You definitely found the right way to put that." He kissed Castiel again. "Give me a little bit, okay? I'm not sixteen anymore."
Castiel actually chuckled at that. "Dean, you're not bound by bodily limitations."
As if to prove his point Castiel reached down and stroked those long fingers up Dean's cock and Dean didn't think he'd ever gotten so hard so fast. It was the first time he was actually happy to be dead. "So do I have your permission? I believe I have a grasp on the mechanics now."
Castiel's eyes were so blue. Dean wondered how Castiel could possibly look at him like that, as if he thought Dean would actually say no. "Cas, you can do anything you want to me."
"That would take much longer than one night," Castiel murmured, and if Dean hadn't been hard before he sure as hell was now. "I would like to be able to see you, if I can."
"Shouldn't be a problem. I'm pretty flexible." He turned over on his back as the angel knelt over him. "How do you want to....
Castiel kissed him hard before he could finish his sentence. "I've put quite a lot of thought into this," he whispered, and Dean didn't think anything had ever turned him on like hearing that. Castiel kissed across his brow, brushed his lips against Dean's closed eyelids, sucked on Dean's lip until Dean moaned. Dean thought he'd taken it slow but it was nothing compared to Castiel now; it was like he couldn't bear to leave any inch of Dean's skin untouched. Dean shivered as Castiel kissed his palm, his tongue tracing along Dean's lifeline. "Cas," he breathed as he felt Castiel's lips brush against his wrist. Castiel made a soft, contented little humming sound and kept working Dean over, his eyes never leaving Dean's face. No one had ever touched Dean like this before. The word that kept floating to the front of his mind was worship.
Castiel finished working his way down Dean's body and traced his fingertips up Dean's cock again. "I liked when you did this," he murmured, then before Dean's addled mind could catch up with what was about to happen Castiel deep throated him. Dean felt his head snap back as his whole body almost jumped off the bed. "Fuck, Cas. Fuck, fuck, fuck." Castiel made that little humming sound again and that vibration ripped away any lingering language skills; all Dean could let out were increasingly desperate moans as his mind threw out thoughts like angel and gag reflex and don't stop don't stop.
"Cas," he finally croaked out. "Keep that up and you're...." Castiel sucked hard and Dean couldn't talk for a few seconds. "Not gonna be able to fuck me."
"Yes, I will," Castiel murmured, picking his head up for a moment, that evil smirk back on his face. He went back to work and Dean tossed on the bed. He wasn't at all sure he'd be able to take that, no matter what Castiel had said about no limitations.
Castiel finally did stop a few seconds later, showing Dean a little mercy. "No way you've never done that before."
Dean saw his lips curl up at the compliment. "You set a good example."
He moaned again when he felt the head of Castiel's cock press against him. He'd been pegged by a couple of girls over the years (Dean pretty much never said no to anything someone wanted to do in bed) but this was different, Cas was so warm against him and he was already so close.
"I'm not going to hurt you, Dean," Castiel said, and Dean hadn't even realized he'd been bracing until he spoke.
"Usually hurts a little bit," he gasped. "That's okay. Worth it."
Castiel pressed two fingers against his lips. "I am not going to hurt you."
Dean could only nod and force himself to relax as Castiel trailed his hand back down his body. Then Castiel let out a harsh, deep groan, like he couldn't hold himself back anymore; he pressed back against Dean and slid inside with one smooth motion, as easily as if they'd put in hours of prep. And he'd been right, there wasn't any pain, just that indescribable feeling of being stretched and full and if Castiel didn't start moving in the next five seconds Dean thought he was going to explode. Castiel was full-on shaking, his head bowed over Dean as he tried to collect himself. "Feels pretty awesome, huh?" Dean said, trailing his hands through Castiel's hair. Castiel just nodded and let out a soft whimper; Dean propped himself up as far as he could and kissed him, drawing out another deep-in-his throat groan.
Castiel started to move, slow at first but going to rough and fast in seconds and Dean fell back on the bed, glad he didn't actually have to breathe because there was no way he would have been capable of it just then. Castiel shifted position slightly, leaning further over Dean and managed to hit a spot that made Dean see stars. "Holy fuck, Cas, just like that."
Castiel growled and picked Dean right up off the bed like he weighed nothing (and in fairness he did weigh nothing at the moment, but Dean knew it wouldn't have mattered if he'd been flesh and bone) and pressed him up against the wall. Dean had never been with anyone who could manhandle him and he'd never imagined it could turn him on this much. All Dean could do was hold on; he could feel that Castiel was already almost right there and Dean made sure to keep his eyes open. Castiel shook again, that deep, fine tremor that said he was seconds away. "Dean," he whispered, his eyes so wide Dean could see himself in them.
"Come for me, Cas," Dean whispered back, grabbing a handful of Castiel's hair. "Right now. Don't make me wait." Castiel let out another whimper and pressed Dean harder against the wall, his eyes shut tight. He moaned Dean's name as the climax shuddered through him, even harder than the first one, and the room filled with light again.
And this time Dean could see why. Hanging in the air behind Castiel was an image of enormous wings, delicate and glowing like they'd been traced there in gold. Dean felt the beauty of those wings sear into his mind; there was something haunting about them, something secret, power hiding behind that filigree of golden light. He'd never understood what holy really meant until that moment. He couldn't stop himself from reaching for them; that touch lasted less than a second and was still enough to send him rocking back as energy rushed through him. It was like the wings had reached back for him in that split second.
He shut his eyes as the wings flickered out and kissed Castiel, his tongue as far down Castiel's throat as he could get as his own orgasm shook him to pieces. He didn't know it was possible to come so hard; he didn't remember Castiel laying him back on the bed, only that the next thing he knew they were lying down and Castiel was wrapped around him, murmuring his name in his ear. "I don't think I can do that again today, Cas."
Castiel let out that faint chuckle again and wrapped him up tighter. "I don't think I can, either." He lay on his back and pulled Dean on top of him.
"Why'm I sleepy?" he asked. "'m dead. Shouldn't be sleepy."
"Because you expect to be."
Dean shook his head. "You're doing this, right? You're making me sleepy."
He felt Castiel's fingers trail through his hair. "I may be helping it along."
"Don't go," Dean said. The thought that Castiel would be gone in a few hours suddenly filled him with panic. "We'll figure something else out."
Castiel just kept stroking his hair. "You won't feel that way come dawn."
Dean was ashamed that he knew that was true. "I feel that way now."
"Let me come with you, then. I can help." Dean knew he sounded like a petulant kid but didn't care.
"No." Castiel tipped Dean's chin up so Dean was looking in his eyes. "I don't want you to ever go to Hell, Dean. I don't want that place to touch you." There was an undercurrent to the words Dean didn't understand. "Promise me that whatever happens you won't try to follow me."
There was real fear deep in Castiel's eyes, worse than anything Dean had seen when he'd been talking about going to Hell himself. "Okay. Okay, I promise," he said, snuggling back against him. Although not snuggling, because Dean Winchester didn't snuggle. He'd think of a manlier word later when his brain started working again. "I want to help."
Castiel's lips were warm against his forehead. "You've given me everything I need, Dean." When Dean tried to speak again Castiel shushed him. "Sleep."
And despite fully intending to argue some more, Dean did.
When Dean opened his eyes again he saw he was alone in the room. The faint tinge of sulfur hung in the air, telling Dean that the portal had worked; he blinked and found himself clothed again, which he guessed was one of the better side benefits of ghostdom. He settled back and waited.
It wasn't long before anxiety began to claw at Dean's stomach; Castiel could time travel. He'd done it to save Dean from that Reaper in the first place and Dean knew there shouldn't have been a wait.
Dean started to pace the room, the lack of any other outlets just making the shakes worse. Normally he could take his car out or clean his guns or do any other thousands of things to keep his mind occupied. Now all there was to do was pace and worry and imagine everything that could have gone wrong.
Castiel had told him that time worked different in Hell; Dean wondered at the ratio, if one minute here meant an hour there. He'd said that John had been there for one hundred years by the time he'd busted out but by Dean's guess he shouldn't have been gone a year yet. Dean's grasp of time passing was slippery enough that he knew Castiel could have been there for days already. Maybe even months. He'd said that if the demons caught him he'd wish he was dead. Dean tried to keep the image of Castiel screaming in pain out of his mind. Screaming for days, with demons like Yellow-Eyes putting their filthy hands on him. He remembered Castiel's eyes when Raphael had stabbed him and imagined him feeling that kind of pain every second. Forever.
For the first time Dean could remember he was tempted to pray. He knew Sam would laugh if he could see him now.
He knew praying wouldn't do any good. Dean didn't really know the particulars of why, but Heaven and God had turned their backs on Castiel. Hell, from what Dean had seen of angels they seemed a lot more likely to join in.
So Dean turned to the one person he would always put money on if it came to a fist fight with God. "Dad?" he whispered. "Dad, I know you've got your hands full but I need a favor. You know I never ask for a whole lot."
He leaned his head back against the wall. "I've got the cavalry coming for you down there but you two might have to help each other. You'll know him when you see him, trust me, and when you do I need you to go with him. Don't do your bullshit thing of not letting anyone help, okay? I know you think you went there for a good reason but it's time to leave. The world might literally fucking end if you don't."
He tried to push back the memory of how hard Castiel had been shaking after casting the ritual. "The thing is, he's been gone a long time, and I'm just...I'm getting a little worried. They're gonna hurt him bad if they catch him, probably worse than whatever they've been up to with you. I...." Dean couldn't force the words out. He couldn't even really examine what he'd been about to say too closely. "It's important, Dad," Dean finally said. "I...I really just need him to come back."
Dean shook his head. He wasn't a little kid anymore and good things didn't happen just because he wanted them to really hard.
The motel started to shake. Dean staggered back as crack formed in the floor, not any wider than a hair. Noxious smoke – not demonic smoke, to his relief - poured from the crack as it widened; the room flooded with red light that made Dean want to curl up into a ball so it couldn't touch him. Screams poured from the crack, howls of agony that made Dean shake. "C'mon, Cas. C'mon," Dean said, his hands curled into fists. A clawed hand reached over the edge of the crack and Dean focused on it, forcing it back until whatever it belonged to fell back shrieking into the crack. "Cas, you hurry up!"
Then to his horror the crack started to close. Dean rushed to the edge, only stopping himself from from jumping in by remembering the promise Castiel had forced out of him. Instead he lay on the floor and reached one arm in as far as it could go. "Cas!" he shouted. "You son of a bitch, get up here now!"
The crack was almost closed when Dean felt something brush his hand. Dean didn't have time to check what it was, he just got the best grip he could and pulled.
One second later the crack was closed and Dean had his arms full of trenchcoated angel. Dean staggered backward as Castiel kissed him; he was so hot Dean could barely hold on to him, almost like he'd just been on fire. Dean pulled back and took a good look at him, realizing his clothes were shredded and bloody. "You okay?"
Castiel nodded. "Yes. Overcome by irony." He kissed Dean again, gently this time. "I'll be back shortly." He disappeared in a flutter of wings, leaving Dean to wonder what the hell had just happened.
He returned a few minutes later, gone just long enough for Dean to start worrying again. Dean watched him drop down on the bed, looking exhausted and, frankly, a little frustrated. "It's done. Your father should be entering Heaven as we speak."
"How?" Dean asked, settling down beside him. "I thought you and Heaven weren't on speaking terms."
"We're not. That's not true of all of my brothers." He glanced at Dean. "The last time I met one of my eldest brothers he...had some fun with me," he said, his lips curling with distaste. "He owed me for that and I called in the favor."
"Can we trust this guy?"
Castiel sighed. "Normally I might say no but I don't think there's anyone who wants the Apocalypse to happen less than him. He's having too much fun."
Dean quirked an eyebrow. "You sure you two are related?"
"I wonder sometimes."
Dean rubbed his back. "It would be nice to meet one of your brothers who wasn't raging dick."
"Oh, you've met him. And I don't think he would meet that criteria anyway."
"So we're done? You can do your thing and bring me back to life?"
Castiel nodded, his eyes solemn. "Yes. If you would allow me one more indulgence."
Dean grinned. "Dude, we can do that when I wake up."
"I didn't mean that," Castiel said, shaking his head. "I would like to make a stop first."
"Sure, Cas. Wherever you want." Dean felt Castiel's hand on his shoulder and heard the sound of wings.
It took Dean a second to realize where they were. "Is this Lawrence?"
"Yes. About eight years before you were born."
"I just realized there was still minor loose end that needed tying." He glanced over at Dean, a glint in his eyes Dean liked. "Your father needs to buy a car."
A few seconds later they were spying on John Winchester being slick talked by a car salesman in a bad jacket. It was messing with Dean to know his father had ever been this young. When he saw his dad get into a hideous seventies van Dean swore. "Dude. That's my car sitting right there, we can't let my dad walk off with that piece of shit van."
Castiel tilted his head at him. "So do something about it."
Just as his father turned over the ignition Dean focused; there was an audible bang and smoke poured out from under the hood. Dean saw John jump out of the van and start shouting at the salesman, then Dean grinned when he saw the salesman turn around in a panic and point at the Impala. "I think history's back on course, Cas."
Castiel stared at John and the nameless salesman discussing terms over what would someday be Dean's car, an unreadable expression on his face. "I'm glad I remembered this incident," he said, almost to himself. "I can hardly imagine you without your vehicle."
Something in his voice rang an alarm bell for Dean. "What do you mean? I thought this is why we came here."
Castiel was silent long enough that Dean felt genuine worry creep through him. "I would like to go somewhere quiet," he said, his hand on Dean's shoulder.
Dean blinked and the two of them were standing in a field, the only beings around for what seemed like miles. He felt memories drift up from his subconscious, ones he thought he'd long since forgotten. "I remember this place now. Me and mom used to go on picnics out here. This was where she told me I was going to have a brother. I was so mad. I wanted a dog."
Castiel nodded. "I saw in your mind that this place held pleasant memories for you."
"What's going on, Cas? You're starting to freak me out."
"Very soon now Mary Campbell is going to make a deal, one that will decide the fate of your family. The deal that will link Azazel to the Winchesters." He narrowed his eyes at Dean. "Aren't you going to ask me to stop her?"
Dean stared up at the sky. He wished there were stars, something better than the dark gray clouds above them. "Not this time." He saw Castiel tilt his head. "I saw what happens if my mom doesn't die, if none of that ever happened. She's with dad now, that's gotta be better than anything down here. And if it's not, I'm pretty sure my dad will make sure it gets there." The wind picked up, billowing out Castiel's coat as the first drops of rain began to fall. "Why is it always raining?"
Castiel stared up at the sky, letting the rain fall on his face. "I suppose it's only fitting."
"What's this about, Cas?"
"This is where everything began for you, Dean. I thought it would be a fitting place to say goodbye."
"What do you mean, 'goodbye,'? You said you were going to put me back in my body."
"So, what? Are you taking off? Where the hell are you going?"
Dean saw a very faint, phantom smile. "I'm going nowhere. Quite literally." He tilted his head and Dean felt those laser eyes look right through him. "Dean, we broke time. Did you really think there wouldn't be consequences?"
It was too quiet. "What do you mean? What's happening to you?"
"We created enough paradoxes that the planet should be hurtling toward the sun. It takes a lot of energy to counteract that." He saw that faint smile again, something bleak in it this time. "There's a lot of energy in an angel's Grace."
"No." Thunder cracked and Dean knew he'd caused it. "That's not gonna happen. You're gonna wake me up and the three of us are going after Yellow-Eyes."
"Dean, don't make this any harder."
"I'm not just gonna let you die, Cas."
"I'm not dying, Dean." The rain started to come down hard, plastering Castiel's hair down to his face. Dean had a sudden flashback to the night they'd met. "When I restore you this new timeline will snap into place and I've had too direct a hand in creating it. I'll have never existed."
"It's going to happen whether or not you approve, Dean."
"How soon did you know this would happen?"
Castiel's brow furrowed. "I did tell you I knew how far I could go."
"That was...." So much had happened since that argument over Cold Oak Dean had completely forgotten about it. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Would it have changed anything if I had? Would you have decided to sacrifice Sam? Would you have left your father in the Pit?"
Castiel kissed him, his hands tight fists around Dean's jacket. There was absolution in that kiss and Dean didn't want any part of it. He didn't deserve any part of it. "It would only have grieved you and I didn't see any reason for that."
"Cas, I didn't want this. You've gotta exist."
Thunder cracked loud above them. "Dean, do you know one of the words for a gathering of angels?" Dean shook his head. "A plague. Michael and the rest of the Host won't try such a risk-laden plan again, not when this one could have cost them everything. The circumstances to produce an Apocalypse won't fall into place again for five hundred, even one thousand years. Perhaps longer. Perhaps long enough that our Father will return." He was shaking now, his eyes bright as the words poured out of him. "Angels won't walk the Earth again for centuries. Whatever harm lies in front of you and Sam, I can have the peace of knowing my brothers' machinations won't be behind it." He kissed Dean again. "I like kissing," he murmured. "I wish I could have known that sooner."
"Forget all this and we won't have to stop, Cas. We need you. Yellow-Eyes is still out there."
"If he pursues you again it will be purely out of spite. He needs to rebuild everything now. And you killed him without me before." He stroked his fingers down Dean's cheek. "You'll never have to face the Seven, or the Horsemen. You won't know the growl of a Hellhound unless you choose to hunt one. Ruby and Lilith and Alastair will only ever be names to you. I can welcome my fate if it buys you that."
He placed his hand against Dean's left shoulder. "You asked me once if you had scars in the future and I didn't answer. You do. They're just not ones you could see. I erased the ones on your flesh because healing the important scars was beyond my power." He kissed Dean, a long, slow, lingering kiss. "Your soul is so bright, Dean. You can't see it but I can. Sometimes it's all I can do to look at you. The Reaper almost caught you on that road because when I first saw you all I could do was stare. I didn't know your soul was supposed to be so bright." Castiel shook his head. "You deserve to be saved, Dean."
"Cas." Dean kissed him hard. "Cas, so do you."
Castiel tilted his head again, letting out a soft, scoffing laugh. "Dean, I love you more than I love God." He said that as if it was the plainest fact in the universe. "I shouldn't be capable of that. I turned against Heaven at your word. I destroyed time because you asked me to." He looked up at the sky. "I'm...flawed. Something went wrong in my creation. I shouldn't exist."
"That's complete bullshit."
"Do you know how many of my brothers and sisters I've killed? I used to and don't any more, they've been hunting me for so long." Dean saw a flash of buried horror in his eyes. "I was within an arm's length of Lucifer, once. He called me a 'peculiar thing.' Lucifer."
"That doesn't mean anything."
"It means everything."
Dean grabbed Castiel by his coat. "This doesn't make sense. This happened, I was here. I'll know you existed, I'll remember this."
"Dean, you've been asleep for a very long time. It's time to wake up. When you do this will seem like a dream. And before very long it will fade like a dream."
"No," Dean said, shaking his head. "No, that won't happen. I won't just forget you, Cas."
Castiel pulled Dean close, his hand against Dean's chest as he kissed him again. He tasted like rain and lightning. "Yes, Dean," he said, his hand starting to glow. "You will."
Dean lurched awake, gasping for air in an unfamiliar room. He felt a tube down his throat and a mask over his face, so many other tubes and wires going in and out of him that he didn't even know where to start removing them. Hospital, he remembered.
He heard a scream followed by a metallic clatter and turned his head as much as he could; a girl in a candy striper uniform was staring at him with her hand over her mouth, her tray full of supplies scattered all over the floor. Dean grabbed her arm and pulled her closer to the bed. "I've gotta get the nurse," she stammered, the surprise and panic in her voice making Dean wonder if they'd moved him to some kind of lost causes ward. He couldn't talk and made a gesture he hoped she understood. "You...you want something to write with?"
If Dean had been breathing on his own he would have sighed with relief. He nodded and she searched her pockets, coming up with a spiral pad and a pen. He motioned for her to hold the pad and scrawled the word brother across the first page. "You want your brother?" she said, and Dean nodded again. "Right, right, I remember him, he's tall and scary. The nurses will call him." He turned the pad over and wrote book across the next blank page. "I don't...you want something to read? I don't think you should be...?"
Dean shook his head and wrote the wrote the word blank. "Oh. You mean...what, like a notebook?"
Dean nodded again, too tired to keep going. "Okay, okay, I'll tell the nurse. I promise." Dean let her go and she raced out of the room, the mess on the floor completely forgotten.
Dean lay back and wondered how long it would take Sam to get there. Then he spent the rest of the time thinking about angels with blue eyes and soft rasping voices, about wings drawn in gold and the rain on the road at night.
He wouldn't forget. He wouldn't.
The doctors were all writing papers about him. Every day it seemed like new specialists with too many letters after their names showed up, examined him, shook their heads and started muttering fancy words that all translated to holy shit. Sometimes he got one that seemed offended by Dean's very breathing, as if his being awake and talking were personal insults. Messing with those guys was always fun.
None of the doctors could wrap their minds around how Dean didn't have any brain damage, how the next day after months in a coma he was up and talking and walking around. There wasn't even any atrophy from lying in the bed for months, no need for physical therapy, nothing to show that Dean had woken up from anything more than a quick nap. He'd had major brain surgery and didn't even have a scar. And no one could figure out how he'd done that.
Dean let them come up with their theories. He knew they wouldn't believe the truth.
He'd tried to tell Sam. That second when Sam walked into his hospital room was the best moment of his life, and the look on Sam's face when Dean jumped up from the bed and hugged him was what Dean had been waiting to see all that time he'd been dead. It wasn't until they sat down and tried to go over what had happened that Dean realized how screwed he was.
If he told Sam about seeing him shoot the crossroads demon, or about that wendigo fight or anything else that involved the two of them, fine. It was only when he tried to tell Sam something about Castiel that there was any problem; it was like the name couldn't stay in Sam's head. He would go into a story about he and Cas tearing it up at Cold Oak and Sam would sit there nodding, doing that active listening crap they'd taught him at school that always drove Dean nuts, then as soon as there was a break in the conversation he would blink at Dean, saying "Wait, sorry, what were we talking about?" Dean knew this is why Castiel had never let Sam see him, that it would be harder for it all to fade if they both had memories of him. Dean was going to wrap his hands around his stupid angelic neck and strangle him when they saw each other again.
Because they were going to see each other again. Dean was going to make sure of it.
Every spare second he could scrape up he spent writing in the notebook that kid had gotten him (a nice one, too, one of those leather journal things he was pretty sure she'd swiped from one of the other coma rooms). Everything he could remember he wrote in that journal, putting enough time in that Sam started making cracks about him keeping a diary. Everything from that first night on the road to that storm in Lawrence had to go in there. That way even if he did forget – and he still didn't believe he ever actually could --- it would be down in writing and he could remind himself.
The edges were already getting blurry, even if Dean refused to admit it to himself. He realized one night while writing that he couldn't remember the color of Castiel's tie. (Blue, he remembered a week later while he and Sam fought their way through a kobold nest. Dark blue, darker than the eyes. The answer hit him with so much force he didn't even care when one of the freaky little things shredded up his favorite jacket.)
He knew Castiel had been right, that if he'd known what helping him would have meant for Castiel he would have asked him to save Sam anyway. Would have asked him to save his dad. He would have felt like shit about it but he would have done it, because he didn't have limits when it came to his family. That meant it was his fault, his job to make it right. Castiel was counting on him and Dean wasn't going to let him down.
Two weeks later Dean realized he couldn't remember what Cas had been short for.
Sam noticed that he didn't bring girls back to the motel as often. Sam approved, of course, because as far as Dean was concerned Sam had never been a big fan of his having fun, and when Sam put out the theory that Dean's brush with death was finally making him take life more seriously Dean let him run with it.
He could never admit out loud that hearing someone say I love you more than I love God took some of the shine off random hookups.
Every so often he met some chick in a bar with eyes the right shade of blue and picked her up anyway. Those eyes never looked at him the right way, they were never the right eyes, but sometimes Dean could pretend.
Dean made a point of reading the journal every night, no matter how tired or beat up he was. It was the only way to keep the memories where they belonged, and every night he found something new that had slipped out of his mind. Sam said he looked like he was studying for a test and Dean guessed that in a way he was.
Then one night he got his clock cleaned by a shifter with a mean right hook and he barely remembered the drive back the motel. Sam dropped him on the bed and he passed out in seconds.
When he woke up in the morning he knew he'd forgotten to do something the night before but couldn't remember what. He figured it must not have been too important.
Night by night the memories slipped away no matter what he did, like he was trying hold onto the rain. Finally there was nothing left but a deep, empty ache, the knowledge that something was missing but not knowing what. He finally he decided he just missed his dad, that traveling around hunting with Sam, looking for Yellow-Eyes, it was just bringing all that back.
And even if he knew deep down that wasn't really it, well, that's why God had invented whiskey.
One day they were over at Bobby's investigating some demon sign when Bobby gave him a strange look. "You know, Dean, something I've always wondered."
"What about?" Dean pulled out another dusty book and almost had the whole pile come down on top of him. "Christ, Bobby, we're going find you buried under all this someday."
"It's only a problem when idjits don't put things back where they belong," Bobby countered, snatching the book from Dean's hands. "Anyway, back when you were ghosting around you showed up in a dream and told me to go after Sam at Cold Oak."
"Yeah? You know I don't remember any of that."
"I know, but it's just been bugging me. You said that "we" were going to go help out Sam, and you didn't mean you and me. Who the hell did you have helping you out?"
Just then Sam called from the other room, saying he'd found something and Bobby got up to check it out.
Dean didn't even notice him leave. He couldn't stop shaking the rest of the day.
"Dude, I still don't believe the chupacabra ate your phone."
"Shut. Up. Sam."
"At least we could still track it by your ringtone."
"I said shut it. When we get back to the hotel I'm gonna drink until I forget this hunt ever happened."
The sales clerk finally came back from the back room, smiling the fake cheery smile of someone who worked on commission. "Okay, Mr. Waters, Mr. Gilmore, we approved your valued customer warranty claim and I have your new phones all ready!" She ended all her sentences like that, like the excitement of the job was about to overwhelm her. It would have driven Dean up the wall if she hadn't been so cute. "Would you like me transfer your old numbers?"
Sam said yes immediately – he always did, it was easier than having things forwarded – but when Dean looked at the pre-programmed number he was suddenly overcome by deja vu. "No, I'm good," he said, the words coming out before he knew he was going to say them.
She smiled at him as she bagged everything up and Dean kicked himself for not getting her number before Sam hustled them out of the store. "Why'd you keep that number?"
Dean frowned, staring down at the phone. "Don't know. Think I've had it before."
Sam quirked an eyebrow. "No you haven't."
"Well, I've seen it before. I like it. Shut up."
"You're seriously weird today, Dean."
The strange looks didn't stop when Dean decided to let him drive. Dean ignored Sam and stared at the phone.
No matter what Sam said, Dean knew this wasn't the first time he'd seen that number. He just couldn't remember when.
Dean presses his hands over the bloody wound in the man's chest. "You hang on, you son of a bitch. You stay with me." The man's shaking under Dean's hands, blue, blue eyes staring up at him. "You're gonna be okay."
All Dean has to do is keep up the pressure. The man's hand is around Dean's arm, the grip weak but even through the pain there's total faith in the man's eyes as he looks up at Dean. He knows Dean won't let him die. Dean made a promise.
Except Dean's shoulders are starting to ache. As the minutes slip by his strength fails; the blood comes faster, hot under Dean's hands, the shaking worsening. "Don't do this," Dean whispers. This is his fault. He has to make it right. He has to.
The man mouths Dean's name, confusion clouding his eyes.
The grip on Dean's arm goes slack. Dean blinks and there's blood on his hands but no one's there. There was never anyone there.
Dean lurched awake, tumbled off the bed and threw up all over the filthy motel carpeting. "Jesus, Dean," he heard Sam say from somewhere above him. "That was a bad one."
Dean just nodded, sitting on the floor away from the mess. "You could say that."
"That's the third time this week. What was this one about?"
Dean shook his head. "You know I never remember them, Sam."
He couldn't escape the feeling of something slipping through his fingers.
Packing up to move on after a hunt Dean found a battered journal in the bottom of his bag, one he didn't remember buying. He opened it up and was startled to find the pages covered in his own handwriting, the writing so close there was barely space between the words. THIS IS REAL. THIS HAPPENED was scrawled across the tops of the pages.
Dean felt his heart pound as he started to read. Impressions trickled in with each word; the press of lips against his palm. Blue eyes staring at him under dark, dripping wet hair. He turned the page and saw a delicate, intricate drawing of wings, corrected over and over like he'd been trying to get it right.
Everything came back in a sick rush. He shut the book and pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. "Castiel," he whispered. "Castiel, Castiel, Castiel, Castiel." He repeated the name over and over, focusing on every new memory that brought up. He couldn't believe he'd forgotten all of that after everything, but it couldn't happen again. As long as he knew Castiel's name, that meant Dean remembered him, and if he remembered him that meant he must have existed. Something that existed had to be somewhere, and then Dean could find him. "I'm gonna save you, Cas. I'm gonna fucking save you."
"Dean? You ready to head?" Dean looked up, startled to see Sam suddenly filling up the doorway. "Hey, you okay?"
Dean looked down at the closed book in his hands. "Yeah," he said, frowning. He put the book back in his pack. "Yeah, I'm good."
"You sure? You usually pack up faster than me. What were you doing?"
Dean shrugged. "Don't know," he said, zipping his bag up and throwing it over his shoulder. "Wasn't that important."
Dean picked up the phone on the third ring, balancing it against his shoulder as he slammed the Impala's hood closed. "Go ahead." There was silence on the line and Dean sighed. "This is Winchester, go ahead." Dean shook his head. "Sam, swear to God, if this is you your next words better be that you've found a fucking lead..."
"Is...is this Dean?" The voice was rasping and soft, so soft Dean could barely hear it. There was something about the voice Dean couldn't place. "Dean Winchester?"
"Who is this?"
Dean almost hung up. He was never sure why he didn't. "How did you get this number?"
"I don't know. I just dialed it."
Dean leaned against the car. His heart was suddenly pounding like he'd run a marathon. "Say something else."
"I don't...what do you want me to say?"
"Anything else. My name."
There was a long pause. "Dean."
Dean felt like his mind was on fire. There was a word he wanted to say, a name, something he couldn't quite force out. What came out came out instead was, "You deserve to be saved."
He heard a soft breath on the other line. "Why did you say that?"
Dean thought it should be raining. "Cas."
Another harsh, ragged breath. "Why did you say that?"
"'Cause that's your name. Well, it's what I call you, anyway." Dean sat on the pavement against his car, not trusting his legs to keep him up. "Where are you?"
"I...I don't know. I was in a hospital and then I left."
"Okay. You're okay. Calm down"
"When I woke up the only thing I could remember was your name. Why could I remember your name and not my own? Who are you?"
"We'll talk that out when I get there. Give me some idea of where you are, a newspaper, anything."
"Will you stay on the line?"
Dean almost laughed. "Cas, you got any idea how long I've been looking for you? I'm not going anywhere."
Dean counted the seconds until he heard that voice again. "Indiana. A place called New Harmony."
"Okay, good. That's not a big place, I'm gonna find you. I'm on my way."
"I still don't know who you are."
"Cas, I need you to trust me," Dean said, his mouth dry as the weight of impossible memories almost crushed him against the ground. "Can you do that?"
Dean remembered another time when he'd waited for an answer to that question. "Yes."
"Then stay right where you are. I'm on my way."
The memories started sliding away from him again halfway through the drive. Dean pulled over and grabbed that journal out of his bag, tore out one of the few blank pages, wrote his destination in huge letters and taped it to the dashboard.
Then he pressed the gas pedal to the floor and sped the entire rest of the way. Other than Castiel's name, his only other thought the entire way was God help any cop who tried to pull him over.
Later he would wonder if the connection Castiel had created between the two of them had still held through Dean's resurrection. He couldn't see any other explanation for how he could pull into park on some random street, get out of the car to start looking and see Castiel across the street, huddled under an awning to stay out of the building rain. All those missing memories slammed back with so much force Dean staggered back a step and he somehow knew that he wouldn't have to worry about losing them again. He grinned; forget Heaven, Dean Winchester had just been stubborn enough to make reality blink. "Cas."
Dean wasn't sure Castiel would hear him over the rain but his head picked up, his eyes going wide as he stared at Dean. He was dressed in thrift store clothes, not his suit, but the second he moved toward Dean he knew he there'd been no mistake. When he tilted his head to the side Dean felt his heart almost stop. "I know you," he whispered.
"Get over here, you son of a bitch," Dean growled, reaching out to pull him into a kiss that staggered them both back into the car. There was a second of surprise, then Castiel grabbed two handfuls of Dean's shirt and started kissing him back.
"I remember this," Castiel said, shaking as he looked up at Dean.
"Yeah. Yeah," Dean said, pushing his wet hair out of his face. "I make an impression."
This time Castiel kissed him, aggressive and needy at the same time; Dean slid one hand under his shirt, feeling that long, vertical scar down his chest and pulled him closer, shaking himself. Dean didn't know if he was still an angel or had come back human or something else entirely and didn't care. All that mattered was the he was back in Dean's arms. And Dean was going to every damn thing he could to make sure that never changed again.
"This shouldn't be happening," Castiel said slowly, as if he knew it was true but wasn't sure why. "This shouldn't be able to happen. I shouldn't be here."
"Shut up," Dean whispered, cradling his head in both hands. "You're exactly where you're supposed to be, you hear me? Right here is where you're supposed to be." He ran one hand along the threadbare shirt Castiel was wearing. "Where the hell did you get these clothes, Cas?"
"I found them in a room at the hospital." A hard edge crept into his voice. "I woke with your name on my lips. No one would help me find you. They said you were dead."
Dean winced. "Yeah, I still might be, legally. Had some problems with a shifter a while back."
"I knew it wasn't true. I knew it." He sagged against Dean, as if once the surge of energy left him he didn't trust his legs to hold him.
Dean wrapped his arms around his waist. "I'm sorry it took me so long to catch up with you, Cas," he murmured, kissing his forehead. "I'll get you some better clothes, okay? Make it up to you." He smiled. "Get you a trenchcoat, maybe. Bet you'd like that, huh?"
Castiel tilted his head to the side again, his brow furrowed. "I would."
Dean laughed. "Okay, so that's the first thing we'll do. Then we're gonna get go back and I'll introduce you to Sam, and we're gonna teach you the family business. How does that sound?"
Castiel kissed him instead of answering. He still tasted like rain and lightning. "You're wet," he said, as if he'd just realized the rain was pouring down.
"That's okay. Rain's kind of our thing."
"Do we have to go now?" Castiel whispered, his breath hot against Dean's lips. "I like this. I don't want to stop yet."
Dean traced his fingers down Castiel's stomach and felt him shiver. "Fine with me, Cas. No rush." He wiped away a drop of rain clinging to Castiel's lips before kissing him again. "We've got nothing but time."