The darkness rolls over the Impala like a wave.
Dean grabs Sam's arm, his fingers twisting in Sam's sleeve. His first instinct is to make a break for the cantina, but the smoke is too thick, is coming in too fast. Everything is black. The Impala jolts as the ground lurches and groans underneath it.
Sam scrambles into the back, coughing and pulling his shirt over his head, and Dean sprawls across the front seat, hiding his face from the smoke. His whole body is shaking, but he keeps his breathing slow and even so he doesn't waste the clean air inside the car. His mouth tastes like dirt and ash. The place where the Mark should be aches like a phantom limb.
Dean heads for the highway as soon as it's clear enough to drive. He points the Impala toward Kansas on autopilot, driven by an uneasy mix of habit and fear. The bunker is home. It's also four hundred miles north and the darkness seems to be moving south, sparking and flashing as it lumbers across the sky.
The weight of what they've done hits him -- really hits him -- about forty miles outside Tulsa. US 412 is a ghost town; a handful of cars are abandoned on the shoulder, like their drivers just pulled over and started running for their lives.
He killed Death. And the Mark -- the fucking Mark.
"I knew it," he says hoarsely, his mouth still full of smoke. In the rearview mirror, the horizon is a heavy, churning shadow. "I knew a spell from that book would screw us eight different ways."
"I didn't --"
"This is what you wanted, right?" Dean snaps, his hands white-knuckled on the wheel. He's lived on whiskey and rage for the last three days; he'd probably puke if his stomach had anything in it. "Get rid of the Mark and fuck the consequences?"
"Don't," Dean says, leaning on the gas.
Sam asks Dean to stop in Concordia. Quietly, he directs Dean to a warehouse on the western edge of town.
The place has been abandoned for years. Underneath the dust and mold there's a hint of something darker, the kind of burnt, acrid smell left behind by fucked up magic. It makes his skin crawl. He feels queasy again, acid at the back of his throat.
Cas is standing in the middle of the room, one hand resting on a table strewn with knives and bottles and bowls. He looks up as they come down the stairs, his face pale under the blood smeared on his cheeks, and shame burns so sourly in Dean's gut that his knees nearly buckle. He grabs at the wall, digging his nails into the gritty stone as he forces himself to breathe. He doesn't see Crowley's corpse until Sam almost steps on it.
Sam hesitates. "Is he...?"
"He's dead," Cas says. He moves away from the table, wiping his hands on his coat. "Rowena is gone. She took the codex."
"Gone? I thought you --"
"Working the spell increased her abilities tenfold. She hexed Crowley and I, and then I --" Cas glances dispassionately at Crowley's corpse, then looks at Dean. "What about the Mark?"
"No, it's not good," Dean says. Meeting Cas' eyes is like a knife between the ribs, but he makes himself do it. "It's -- we fucked up." He coughs out a rough, angry noise. "We fucked everything up."
"I don't understand."
"The Mark wasn't a curse. It was the key to wherever God locked up the darkness."
"The darkness?" Something awful and terrified crawls across Cas' face. "The darkness God banished before he created the world?"
"Yeah, that darkness."
Cas opens his mouth, but his next words click in the back of his throat. He tilts his head in a middle-distance kind of way, and then the door splinters off its hinges with a bright flash of light and a noise like an earthquake.
"You're a fucking dick," Dean says, right to God's face. "You've been here this whole time."
"Not the whole time," God replies. "I zapped into Chuck right before the big apocalypse showdown. I'm a sucker for ringside seats."
"Is -- is he still in there?" Sam asks.
God shakes his head. "No. His soul couldn't take the heat, so --" he makes a pfffft sound and flutters his hand.
"Like being chained to a comet," Dean mutters.
"I searched for you," Cas says quietly. The blood has disappeared from his cheeks, but his face is still too pale. "I spent weeks searching for you. Months. I --"
"Sorry about that," God says. "I considered letting you find me, but I got waylaid in Brazil."
"Waylaid by what?"
"An incredible moqueca."
"Dean is right," Cas snaps, a muscle ticking in his jaw. "You're a fucking dick."
God laughs and laughs and laughs.
"The darkness is loose," Cas says.
"Yeah, I noticed," God says, walking over to the table. He studies it for a moment, running his fingers over one of the knives, peering into the different bowls. "That's why I'm here. I figured this one might be above your paygrade."
"And the apocalypse wasn't?" Sam asks.
God shrugs. "You handled it."
"What about," Dean starts hotly, but Cas touches his arm, and he settles a little, just enough to get the words out without screaming. "What about this?"
"I fought the darkness before. I can fight it again."
"You had the archangels before," Sam points out. His cut cheek has started to bruise. "They're all dead."
"Gabriel might disagree with you."
Cas makes a startled noise. "Gabriel -- he's alive?"
"He's gone underground again, so it might take me a couple days to find him, but yeah. He's alive."
"And Raphael and Michael?" Cas asks.
"Beyond my reach."
"You're God," Dean says.
"Someone --" God frowns at Cas " -- blew Raphael to smithereens. Reassembling him from atoms would be more trouble than it's worth. And Michael -- he's been downstairs so long he's probably gone native."
"So, that's it?" Sam asks, waving his hands. "Just you and Gabriel against some huge, primordial evil?"
"Yeah," God says slowly, "I might need to even the odds."
He wraps one hand around Dean's bicep, rests the other on Cas' shoulder. A noise like thunder rumbles around the room, and then something white-hot stabs deep into Dean's body, grinding down into the marrow of his bones.
Dean feels like he's being shocked from the inside, like every part of him is a pulsing current, like a live wire is sparking around his heart, arcing blue-white and liquid between his ribs. It's huge and deep and wide and endless; his blood is on fire, crawling under is skin. Something is thundering in his ears. Every inch of him itches; his clothes are asphalt-rough and confining, and he can feel the air touching him, rubbing against him.
"Dean," someone says. The voice is familiar, but it rattles him like a drum, and he shrinks away from it, falling back on his elbows. The ground is too hard, too solid, too rough; he can feel every granule of dirt on the tips of his fingers. He wants to crawl into a hole and stay there, hide where it's cold and quiet and dark and still. "Dean, open your eyes."
"Yes, I'm here."
Fleetingly, fingers brush the side of Dean's neck, just below his ear, but the contact bores into him so deeply that he whines behind his teeth, his toes curling as he twists away from him. Behind him, a window shatters with a noise like a gunshot.
"Dean, you have to let it go."
"I can't -- I, I don't --" Something inside Dean shifts and pulls, and the ground rumbles, rattling the table and the walls. Dean hisses, chokes out, "Cas," as he tries to ride the rising feeling like a wave.
"It won't hurt you, but you can't hold it so tightly." Cas' fingers skim the side of Dean's neck again, stroking up into his hair. It's less startling this time, but Dean still gasps, shivering all over. "Dean, open your eyes."
The sudden onslaught is harsh and terrifying; everything is too big and too bright and too stark, every line drawn with a razor-sharp pen, shimmering like the ink is still wet, like Dean could smear it with his fingers. Cas is crouched beside him, his knees touching the ground with a sandpaper hiss; Dean realizes he's curled against him, clutching at his sleeve, and he pulls back a little, blinking. He sees Cas, dark hair and blue eyes and a strong sweep of jaw, but he also sees the white-hot light pulsing at the center of him, the animal heads shifting above his face, the curving shadow behind him that hints at the shape of his wings.
"Cas, is -- is that, is that --"
"My true form, yes," Cas says. "Or, some of it. The parts that can exist on this plane." He studies Dean for a moment, a smile tugging the corner of his mouth. "Yours is... remarkable."
"Mine?" Dean asks, looking down at himself. He sees it, then: the light thrumming under his skin, the suddenly unreal cast to his body. His shoulder blades ache. The feeling inside him swells again, skittering through him like it wants to be released. Another window breaks, this one cracking straight down the center.
"Dean, please. You have to let it go. You'll never get used to it if you keep holding it so close to the surface."
"Cas," Dean says, closing his eyes again.
"Shhh. You're doing surprisingly well. I can't imagine what this is like for you." Cas slides his hand up Dean's arm, tugging a little. "Can you stand?"
Slowly, Dean nods his head. "I think so."
He lets Cas help him up, fisting his hand in the front of Cas' coat when his knees buckle and he sways forward. His legs feel like water. He stands there for a few minutes, slumped against Cas' chest, breathing slow and deep while he tries to accept the power crackling under his skin, the new weight quietly humming at his back. He assumes it's his wings, but he can't bring himself to look just yet. He focuses on Cas instead -- at the strangely beautiful light inside him, pure and bright and pulsing like a heartbeat. The phantom shadows behind Cas shift slightly, and Dean reaches out, nearly touches them.
"Your wings," he says, his hand dropping to his sides. He's only seen them once, but he hasn't forgotten what they looked like. "They're different."
"Archangel wings are larger, more powerful. Yours will look the same, once you unfurl them."
Archangel. Jesus fucking Christ.
"Where's Sam?" Dean asks.
"My father took him. They've gone to find Gabriel."
Nodding, Dean goes back to pacing the length of the warehouse, too jittery and restless to stand still. His grace has finally started to settle, but he hasn't quite adjusted to the constant, nagging thrum of it, the way it seems to rattle against everything, amplifying sight and smell and sound. He keeps pulling at it, dragging it up from the new, unfathomable well inside him, letting it fill him until it's sliding just underneath his skin.
On his next lap he tugs a little too hard, and a handful spills out of him, making the walls creak and sway.
"Dean," Cas warns.
"Sorry," Dean says, gritting his teeth as he fumbles to rein it back in. It should be impossible, feels too big. "Doesn't it scare you?"
Sighing, Cas tips his head to the side. "Some. But this isn't the first time I've held more power than what I was given at creation."
Dean looks away. He can still see Cas wading into that river, can still see the black ripples that had pushed his trenchcoat to the bank.
"Dean," Cas says, catching Dean's arm. "You are the strongest man I know. Anyone else would be weeping on the floor."
Dean's grace swells again, and a tendril of it nudges toward Cas like a reaching hand.
"Dean," Cas says, taking a stumble-step back. "Don't."
"Sorry. I just -- um." Dean's still only partially in control of it; it does what it wants more often than not, and right now it wants to delve inside Cas, touch the bright, gorgeous center of him. The next wave of it darts out too fast, and Cas gasps, the ground shaking as he gathers his own grace close.
Wariness rolls off him, shimmering like heat on the horizon, but underneath that is a kernel of something he's trying to keep hidden, something warm and bright and brimful. After a slow moment, the still-human part of Dean's brain recognizes it as the same desperate ache he's carried in his own chest for years.
"Jesus, Cas," Dean says, reaching for him with his hand, with his grace, with everything.
Embarrassment clouds Cas' face. He says, "Sorry," but then Dean's grace brushes his again, and his eyes widen. "You -- Oh. I'd hoped, but I was never certain."
"I should've told you," Dean says. He's wanted to for years, but he was always too afraid. "I never --"
Cas kisses him, soft and slow and sweet, and Dean's moans into it, shivering. He feels it twice, in the human press of lips against lips, in the rasp of Cas' stubble and the warm fan of Cas' breath, but he also feels it in his grace, a bright buzz that keeps buoying up inside him, too strongly for Dean to really tamp down. He slides his hand up to Cas' neck, rubbing his thumb over the dip behind Cas' ear, and he wraps his other arm around Cas' waist, curling his fingers in the back of Cas' coat. Cas' grace is humming happily, and Dean lets his rush out to meet it; he wants to touch Cas everywhere.
He sucks on Cas' tongue, and Cas makes a wonderful, greedy noise that burrows into Dean's chest, coils around the base of his spine. Cas drags his mouth along the line of Dean's jaw, hot and open and wet, then bites a row of kisses down to the hollow of Dean's throat, pausing there just long enough to leave a mark. He breathes out Dean's name as he pulls away, nosing at Dean's jaw until Dean meets him for a kiss, pushing his hand into Dean's hair, tugging a little as his teeth catch Dean's lip.
Dean is already hard, his dick aching against his fly, and that should probably embarrass him a little, how badly he wants this, but Cas' grace nudges against his, a barest brush, but enough for Dean to sense that Cas is pleased. Cas shifts closer, tucking his free hand under Dean's shirts, moaning throaty and low as his dick pushes against Dean's hip. He slides his hand down Dean's side, curving it over Dean's ass, holding Dean in place as he shifts again. The next roll of his hips rubs his dick against Dean's; heat sparks under Dean's skin, human and hot, and a swell of grace floods out of him, desperate to curl around all the glorious, thrumming light inside Cas.
"Dean, Dean," Cas says, and his voice is full of warning, but he doesn't quite pull away, keeps mouthing at Dean's jaw. "You -- your grace, you need to keep it inside you. You can't -- Dean."
"I can't help it," Dean mumbles, closing his eyes. It's part of him now, and it wants to touch Cas as much as he does. "I'm not, I --"
"Dean," Cas says again. He slips his hand from Dean's hair, dragging it down Dean's chest, his knuckles bumping Dean's belt before his fingers brush Dean's dick. "If our graces become too entangled they will create something that can't be undone."
"Okay," Dean says, his breath catching as Cas cups him through his jeans, rubs him with the heel of his hand. He wishes they weren't in a dusty, shithole warehouse, that they were somewhere with a bed, where Dean could spread Cas out, tease Cas' nipples, kiss the creases of Cas' thighs, run his tongue over Cas' dick until Cas begs. Where he could push Cas back against the headboard, crawl into Cas' lap, open himself up, let Cas fuck him slow and hard. "Like a bond?"
"A permanent bond."
Dean works his hand into Cas' slacks, wrapping his hand around Cas' dick, kissing away the noise Cas makes as he runs his thumb over the head. "Would that be so bad?" Yesterday, the idea of forever would've scared him -- he would've pushed it away, buried it under uncertainty and fear -- but he can feel how deeply Cas loves him, how unconditionally, and Jesus Christ, he will never understand what he's done to deserve this. "I ain't going anywhere."
"Dean," Cas says, his voice hushed with disbelief, but Dean's grace is already rushing out, grabbing greedily for all of Cas' light. A moment later, Cas' grace is curling around him, poking and nudging until Dean opens up, lets him in.
Everything inside him turns to sparks. He hides his face in Cas' neck, rolling his hips as he pushes his dick into Cas' fist, his own hand shaking as he strokes Cas hard and fast. Two slivers of their graces curl around each other, twisting until there's no space between them, until they're spun into a single thread. Dean shudders as it settles, floored by the wave of emotion that comes flooding out of Cas, at the flashes of Cas' memories, the things Cas has wanted to do to him, the thoughts Cas has when he looks at him.
"Is -- is that really how you see me?" Dean asks, unable to breathe. In Cas' thoughts, Dean is stronger than he really is, more handsome, burns so brightly he blots out everything else in the room.
"I've never truly desired anyone else," Cas says, his mouth brushing Dean's cheek. "Just you. Only you."
Dean comes. Another window shatters, and then the ground shakes a little, and then Cas is shaking against him, clawing at his sleeve.
When Sam and Gabriel get back, Gabriel is the first one through the door.
"Hey, fellas. Did you miss me?"
"Yeah," Dean says, snorting. "I cried myself to sleep every night."
Sam hesitates on the stairs. "Dean, are you all right? When I left, you were kinda -- um."
"Yeah, Sammy," Dean says, smiling as Cas nudges him with a tendril of warmth and love. "I'm all right."
"Oh, wow," Gabriel says, whistling through his teeth. "You two didn't waste any time." He quirks an eyebrow at Cas. "Dad pumps him full of juice, and the first thing you do is rub your grace all over his?"
Embarrassment pulses through the bond, hot and quick; Dean bristles all over, but Cas lightly touches the back of his hand. "Gabriel, where is our father?"
"He popped back upstairs to undo Metatron's no-fly zone."
"Wait -- flying?" Dean asks. "We're going to fly?"
"Look, Dean-o, I know you love that car of yours, but if we're going to sneak up on the darkness we can't drive to it."
"When will he return?" Cas asks.
"He said a day or two, maybe less," Sam replies. "He's going to meet us at the bunker. You guys ready?"
Dean takes Cas' hand, stretching his wings with a crack like thunder.
"Yeah. Let's do this."