Dean guessed he should've known it was all about to go completely FUBAR when things seemed to start going his way for once. He was actually already on his way to Palo Alto, all set to be early for Sammy’s graduation when Ash called,
“Ash, my man, how’s it hanging?”
“Mighty fine, mighty fine.”
“Yeah. And what’s up?” Because Ash sounded way too juiced, and hadn’t resorted to crudity, so Dean’s paranoia ramped up and he lent across and flicked open the glove box to check his emergency gun.
“It’s all good news, my man.”
“I have a hunt for you.”
“In motherfucking Palo Alto.”
The Impala swerved and Dean winced at the screech as he hit the brakes and rumbled to stop in the gravel. He patted the dashboard with one trembling hand in apology, then grabbed onto the phone with both hands.
“Palo Alto? What is it?” he demanded, begging silently for an easy flashy hunt.
“No sweat. It’s frigging made for you man. Every three years, about one month buildup of shorting electricity, rising damp, and howling ghost, then bang, three deaths and the whole things over for another three years.”
“Three years? That’s damn short cycle, how come nobody caught it before?”
“It’s Palo Alto. You know the turnover with student housing, it’s a miracle we caught it at all.”
“I don’t,” said Dean.
“Know about the turnover of student housing.”
There was a silence from the other end of the phone and, in the faint static, Dean would swear he could hear Ash wince.
“Sorry,” said Dean after a moment, “that was uncalled for.” Just because the thought of college rubbed him raw in all his sore spots, Sam, Dad, Mom, even Mirele, that wasn’t any reason to take it out on his friends.
“Yeah,” said Ash, sounding excited again, “but this is the hunt you’ve been looking for Deano, you finally get to show off your job to Little Miss Prissy Pants.”
“Don’t call my brother names,” Dean scolded automatically, although actually he was trying not to laugh. Possibly he’d gone into a little too much detail about Sammy’s epic bitch faces when he drinking at the Roadhouse.
“Aw come on this is what you’ve been waiting for. It’s practically designed for you.”
“I know.” And Dean felt a happy little bubble of joy well up inside him. This was a perfect hunt to prove that the supernatural existed to Sam and show him exactly what his big brother did while wasting his life bumming around America like a cut-rate Jack Kerouac. And yes maybe that was a direct quote from Little Miss Prissy Pants.
“Wait,” he checked, suspicious of this improbable good fortune. “How long do we have?”
“That’s the best part,” said Ash. “We’re right near the start of the cycle. You should have at least a week. And I’m pretty sure we’ve got the ghost tagged already.”
“You are a genius.”
“I know,” sad Ash smugly.
“Oh shut up.” But Dean’s mind was already racing ahead. This was absolutely perfect. He would have the time to prove he was telling the truth about ghosts to his brother before they had to salt and burn this son of a bitch. Then Sammy would finally see everything Dean had been trying to tell him since Dean had been a piss-scared fourteen year old. He would finally get his brother back.
“I emailed you all the details.”
“Thanks,” said Dean roughly, “I mean really thanks, thanks for keeping an eye out for me.”
“Anything for my main man,” grinned Ash, sounding truly happy to have been able to do Dean such a massive favor. Dean knew his friend had an entire search program dedicated to finding even the smallest traces of a hunt near Palo Alto. And Ellen had the others swing by and check Stanford out if they were passing through Santa Clara. There had been a couple of hunts around the county but Dean had never managed to coax his brother out there before they had to take out the son of a bitch to stop it killing again.
No, it had to be Palo Alto or nothing. And Ash had found it for him and Dean was so fucking grateful.
“Really thanks,” he said again.
“Go forth my son, and gank the bastard.”
“Consider it done.”
Dean clicked off his phone and twisted round to grab his laptop off the back seat.
His phone rang again.
“Oh not now,” he cursed, but answered anyway because mobile phones were such a blessing to hunters it felt almost sacrilegious not to pick up. Besides it was Bobby’s ringtone, so he didn’t really mind.
“Dean. You got some time to spare before you need to be at Stanford? I’ve got something over here in Arizona that I could really use your help on.”
“Aww,” whined Dean, sounding like a sulky two year old even to himself.
“Now I know you were talking about spending time with your brother before he graduated, but can you shift it to afterwards?” Bobby sounded so hopeful, it made Dean twitch guiltily.
“Can’t you get someone else? I think Caleb’s free.”
“Wouldn’t help. I’m up to my elbows in blasted Enochian.”
“Enochian?” Enochian was Dean’s one bona fide talent. He was a fucking master at Enochian. Not that he had a clue why. The Angelic language just seemed to come naturally to him. He’d tried explaining to the other hunters that it was easy, you just had to remember Angels were precise bastards with all the subtlety of extreme blunt force trauma to the head. Nobody else seemed to get it though.
“Yeah. It’s everywhere, wards, curses, you name it. And Pamela saw something, goddamn, I never want to hear anyone screaming like that again.”
“Pretty much. She’s in hospital and they’ve got her on something to stop her throwing up her stomach lining.”
Dean winced, Bobby’s psychic friend was hunter-okay, as in not in immediate danger of dying. “Bobby, I’ve got a hunt in Palo Alto,” he begged.
“Oh.” Bobby was silent for a moment. “I guess we can hang on. I’ll spring Pamela from hospital and ship her off to Jim Murphy.”
“Oh Pastor Jim will just love that.”
“Now be nice boy.”
“We’ll cope, Dean. You’ve been waiting for this hunt for a long time.”
Yes he had. But that didn’t stop Dean feeling lower than dirt. Bobby needed back-up, in the worst way from the sound of it, and Dean was ideally placed to be that back-up.
Sam’s face popped into Dean’s head and he mentally removed the derisive light from Sam’s eyes that had been there since Sammy had been old enough to understand his elder brother was a loser, and then, since he was pipe-dreaming anyway, he went and added a touch of the awe little Sammy used to have when Dean was his personal super-hero.
He could have that again he knew. He was so close he could almost reach out and touch it.
“Dean, I understand,” said Bobby, and Dean could hear in his voice that his friend really did understand. “We can wait. This is your family,”
Dean sighed, he was off the hook.
And yet, Bobby was family too. Almost sorta, if he was drunk enough to think about such things, like another father, one who was actually proud of him.
The hunt Bobby was describing was way more critical than a ghost that wouldn’t even hurt anybody for another week. If it had affected Pam so badly something needed to be done as soon as possible. Sure, from what Bobby said, the effects weren’t leaking out from beyond the Enochian barriers that were tripping him up, but somewhere something truly awful was happening and Dean was able to help stop it.
And, at the moment he thought would finally make it real, his dream seemed like so much smoke on the wind. What exactly would change if Sam knew the truth? Sure Sam would stop with his - Dean’s only got three friends, Jim Jack and Jose - cracks, but he wasn’t going to be introducing Dean as a hunter to his law school buddies either.
The persistent dream, so strong it almost seemed like a memory, of Sammy riding shotgun in the Impala as they chased down evil son-of-bitches, well that was just plain never going to come true. His little brother had his sights firmly set on out-Matlocking Matlock. It was ridiculous of Dean to keep hanging on for what would never happen.
With soft sigh, he let go,
“Send me the coordinates, I can be there by tomorrow.”
“Dean, you don’t have to do this.”
“Nah, it’s fine. Dunno what the hell I was thinking. Sammy’d hate knowing about the Supernatural. He likes a nice orderly life, not having reality twisted on you every five minutes.” He managed a laugh, “It’s a sad, sad thing to discover zombie cows are not as cool as you would think.”
Unfortunately Bobby didn’t laugh. “You sure?”
“Yeah. Can you call Ash for me?” Because he might have given up on his dream, but he wasn’t sure he could admit it out loud.
“Okay, if you’re sure. I’m emailing you the details now.”
Dean didn’t bother with goodbye, just clicked the phone off and tossed it behind him. He gripped the steering wheel hard and determinedly didn’t swear.
After a long moment he felt recovered enough to reach back and grab his laptop.
Checking his email, his eye was instantly snagged by the one from the Roadhouse. It was titled Go get ’em champ!!!!!!! - the seven exclamation marks were definitely Jo’s work. Dean reached out towards it as if he could tug it off the screen. He could still change his mind and the temptation was fierce and building.
Before he could give way, he quickly deleted the email, and then opened the one from Bobby. The sooner he was focused on the hunt the better.
The coordinates were for way over the other side of Arizona but fortunately up near the Four Corners border. If he set off now he probably could make it by tomorrow evening and meet the ETA he’d given Bobby.
There wasn’t much more in the email, but there was an attachment. Pam drew this, Bobby wrote, so he must be important. Intrigued, Dean clicked on the link.
The scratchy grey pencil drawing wasn’t much, but Dean started in shock, the jolt of recognition so fierce that he gasped out loud. A man’s face peered out at him, head tilted curiously to one side and Dean knew, just knew, those intense eyes would be blue.
His breath stopped in his throat and for a long moment he could only stare. When he finally tore his eyes away, he saw the second picture scrawled beneath.
It was a rough, almost stick figure, huddled up in a draping coat. Jagged lines burst from the figure and the whole thing was smudged over with a muddy brown stain that Dean was sickly sure was Pam’s blood as she tried to convey the wrongness of her vision.
The laptop snapped shut and he bounced it into the passenger footwell. He didn’t know who the man was, but screams had no business being anywhere near him. Revving the engine he swung the Impala around and hit the gas. If he pushed it he could be there by sunrise.
Hang on Cas, I’m coming.
“What the hell?”
Dean blinked. He’d clearly woken Bobby up but half-six wasn’t that early in the morning, “Hey Bobby, nice to see you too.”
“How the hell did you get here so fast, fly?”
“Yeah, my baby flies like the wind.” Dean gave the Impala an affectionate glance, then turned back and peered over Bobby’s shoulder into the grubby motel room. “Nice place you got here. You going to let me in?”
“No, seriously, how did you get here so fast?”
“Two til four there are never any cops on the back roads.”
“Idiot, did you get any sleep at all?”
“C’mon Bobby, this is Cas, it’s too important for stupid stuff like sleep.”
“What did you say?”
“I said this is too important for stupid stuff like sleep. Now are you going to let me in anytime soon?”
There was a very considering look on Bobby’s face as he took a step back and watched carefully as Dean stepped over the salt line.
“Just me,” Dean promised.
“Yeah, that’s the part that scares me.”
Dean pouted. Bobby rolled his eyes and smacked him lightly over the back of his head.
“Hey, what was that for?”
“You want a coke?”
“Sure,” said Dean. He didn’t really, too fidgety already to actually want caffeine. But if he didn’t give Bobby the chance to slip him some holy water his friend was definitely going to freak out and it would all take too long. Just be quicker to drink the coke.
“So,” he asked as he took a sip, “you going to give me directions?”
“I’ll show you, we can check on Pamela on the way.”
“But,” Dean scuffed his boot against the floor in agitation. He wanted to get going right the fuck now. He struggled to come up with some reason not to visit Pam, who he actually liked a lot but come onnn, “It’s not visiting hours?”
“Hospital’s just a little clinic. They don’t mind when I stop by. My guess is they’re too busy feeling guilty they can’t work out what’s wrong with her.”
“Fine,” Dean huffed, “let’s go.”
“You got ants in your pants, boy. Hang on a damn minute while I get dressed.”
Dean took a step back and surveyed his friend’s ratty pajamas, “Woo Bobby, nice threads.”
“If I give you my camera and let you look at my pictures of the site, will you sit quietly for five minutes.”
Dean made grabby hands and Bobby slammed a camera into them.
“Jesus, it’s like dealing with a freaking two year old.”
“Don’t blaspheme,” said Dean absently as he got the camera up and running.
“What! Yeah you’re frigging hilarious, boy.”
Dean made a yap, yap, yap gesture with one hand, Bobby sure was grumpy, must have gotten out of the wrong side of the bed. Then he clicked through to the actual pictures and he started to pay attention.
Bobby had taken a couple of long range shots of dusty red brown mountains and scrubby brush, which looked pretty typical for Arizona but there was a green-yellow shimmer in the air that could be a trick of the light but probably wasn’t. The shimmer spread out over far too large an area.
“This is not remotely good,” said Dean and thumbed on to the pictures Bobby had taken of the sigils carved into the weather beaten rock.
“Huh.” Those weren’t typical warding sigils. Enochian wasn’t exactly a caring sharing language at the best of times - I will smite all who stand against thee, was not the Oprah approved method of expressing devotion, although actually it worked for Dean – but this was something else. These were more warning than warding; Keep Out or We Will Destroy You Too.
Dean grabbed a pen and paper and started to make notes, this was going to be trickier than he thought.
“Alright, I’m ready,” said Bobby.
Dean jumped to his feet, “Finally. Let’s go. This is Cas, there’s no time to waste.”
“Who’re you talking about?” asked Bobby.
“What? I’m not talking about anybody. What are you talking about? Come on Bobby, we need to go.”
“Repeat what you just said.”
“What? I said we need to go.”
“No before that.”
“Uh, let’s go, there’s no time to waste. Which there isn’t. So let’s roll, huh.”
“Ok-kay,” Bobby spoke slowly and he was eyeing Dean like his eyes were about to flash black.
“Man, what is up with you? We don’t have time for this.”
“Because of Cas, right?”
“Yeah, you’re having another shot of holy water right the hell now.”
“Bobby I told you, I’m me.” Dean could see Bobby’s eyes skittering towards his shotgun and he raised his hands pacifically, rock salt hurt like a son of a bitch, “not that I have any objection to proving it to you. But I’ve already drunk your spiked cola, what more do you want?”
“Here,” Bobby threw something towards him and Dean automatically reached up and grabbed it out the air. Inspecting his catch he found it was a delicate silver crucifix. Bobby was watching him like he was supposed to start shrieking and smoking any second.
“I’m me, Bobby.”
Bobby grabbed his wrist, repocketed the crucifix and then inspected the skin of Dean’s hand like Dean was just pretending it wasn’t raw and blistered.
“Drink this,” he said finally, and shoved a plastic bottle of water at Dean. Dean downed half of it.
“Are we done now?” he demanded when he came up for breath.
“Alright, we’ll go with that for now. But don’t make any sudden moves.”
“Okay, okay.” Dean glared but he didn’t argue because he just wanted to get going. Bobby could have his little paranoia attack once he’d shown Dean the location of the sigils thank you very much.
“Well that pout’s all you.”
“Shut up Bobby.”
Bobby’s scowl was mostly smile. Dean laughed. The scowl-smile got worse.
Dean followed in the Impala as Bobby pulled up in his truck at the hospital, although calling it hospital was definitely fluffing up the little clinic.
“So how’d you find this hunt anyway?” asked Dean as they headed in.
“Pamela found it. She was drawn here.” Bobby’s voice growled over the words. Like most hunters Bobby had a deep distaste for the supernatural, even if it was technically on their side. Pam’s psychic gifts were just too unpredictable for him to be comfortable with them, no matter how much he actually liked Pam.
“Right.” Dean tucked away the information that the power trap summoned Pam for later consideration. He’d need to keep an eye for calling sigils.
“Mr Singer,” said a bright cheerful nurse voice, “how nice to see you again.”
“Hi Mandy, how’s my sister doing?”
“She woke up about ten minutes ago. Her anxiety seems to have come back, but she’s quite coherent.”
“Great, we’ll just pop in and say hi.”
“Who is this?”
“This is my son, Dean.”
Dean did his best not to grin too obviously at the words. He knew it was for cover because of the case but the way Bobby casually claimed him as family made him want to bounce on his toes.
“Hello Dean,” said Mandy. She was giving him a flirty sideways glance and was totally hot. Normally Dean would have been all over that but right now he had more important things to worry about. He kept his greeting as toned down as possible.
“Worried about your Aunt?” she asked sympathetically.
“My Aunt?” he nearly laughed at the idea of Pam being his Aunt, “yeah, yeah I’m worried about Auntie Pam.” Pam was going to die laughing when she heard that.
“She’s feeling much better,” Mandy laid an encouraging hand on his arm.
Dean nearly jerked away from her touch. He didn’t quite understand his reaction, he liked hot girls fawning over him, he did not want to push them away because their touch wasn’t the one he wanted.
“Come on boy,” Bobby yanked him on, “you can flirt on your own time.”
Dean managed a wink at Mandy, because burning bridges when you might need someone’s help later was stupid, and no matter how distracted Dean was, he wasn’t stupid, before following Bobby deeper into the building.
The clinic had the same too stuffy, antiseptic smell of all hospitals and Dean could feel it coat the back of his throat.
“Pam better appreciate this,” he grumbled, though getting to call her Auntie Pam made up for a lot.
He sobered when he saw Pam pale and worn in her hospital, the starch white sheets only emphasizing the unhealthy tallow of her skin and her bruise dark eyes. When Bobby said hello, she lifted her head like it weighed too much for her neck.
“Bobby,” she whispered, and her eyes skipped past him to Dean.
“Hey,” said Dean.
Pam started screaming.
Bobby stopped in his tracks trying to identify the threat. Dean darted past him,
“Pam, Pam, what’s wrong?” he grabbed for her, but she cringed back from him, bringing her knees up to her chest defensively. “Pam, it’s just me, Dean. It’s okay, whatever it is we’ll fix, I promise.”
“What the hell is going on here?” yelled a new voice. “Get away from my patient.”
Dean left the interruption for Bobby to deal with as Pam abruptly switched from trying to get away from him to trying to get closer.
“Oh God, you’re okay,” moaned Pam as she clutched at him with her arms and legs.
“Yeah, it’s okay. You’re alright Pammy, me and Bobby will fix this.”
“You’re here? You’re okay?” Pam pulled back and patted at Dean’s head and chest like she thought he might be bleeding to death.
“I’m fine,” he said, “and you’re being ridiculous.”
Then Pam was eyeing him suspiciously, as if she was comparing him to his mug shot, “You’re really Dean?”
“Of course I’m Dean, who else could be this awesome?”
She laughed throatily, “Yeah, you’re Dean. God I love you, kid.”
“I love you too – Auntie Pam.”
“Wha-,” she glanced across the room at Bobby and the doctor, who had stopped yelling at each other to stare at them. Pam’s face worked through several expressions before settling on mock-outrage. “In that case you need to have more respect for your elders.”
“Anything you say – Auntie Pam.”
“Keep that up and,” she paused to hunt for a good threat, “I’ll tell Bobby all about that time when –”
She totally would too. Dean shut up and did his best to look meek.
“Not buying it, kid. But she turned back to Bobby. “Bobby, you keep an eye on him you hear? Don’t let him go.”
“Of course I’ll keep an eye on the idiot,” said Bobby gruffly.
“No,” said Pam, “this serious, please Bobby, be careful, don’t let him go.”
Bobby took his cap off, twisting the soft cloth in his hands. “I fucked up when,” he stopped as he apparently remembered Dean was currently masquerading as his son and ‘when I met him’ was just going to lead to more questions than they could handle, “the boy was fourteen, I don’t aim to do it again.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Dean wanted to punch something. “You did not fuck up when I was fourteen. You saved Sam’s life. And mine too, come to that.” Bobby always acted like he’d irreparably wronged Dean back then and Dean didn’t get it at all. Bobby saved Sammy. Dean was going to owe him for the rest of his natural life, and it confused the hell out of him when Bobby acted like it was the other way round.
Pam’s eyes narrowed, “I don’t care about any of that. You,” she pointed at Bobby, “don’t let him go. You,” she pointed at Dean, “do not do anything even more stupid than normal.”
“Yes ma’am,” they said as one, and then exchanged sheepish glances.
“Good. Now go get this figured out. I’m bored to death of this throwing up thing. I want steak.”
“You got it Pam. We’ll go get Cas, then we’ll bust you out.”
Pam gave him an odd look, but Bobby waved her down.
“I think you should leave now,” said the doctor, “my patient needs rest.”
“I’ve been resting,” grumped Pam but she slid back into bed all the same.
“We’ll catch you later – Auntie Pam,” Dean grinned, waved, and vanished out the door before she’d recovered enough to say anything.
“Boy, you sure do like living dangerously, don’t you,” said Bobby when he’d caught him up.
“Makes a man feel alive,” Dean grinned as obnoxiously as he knew how.
“One day you’re going to get what’s coming to you, and I’m going to be there to laugh my ass off.”
“So why the hell are you in such a good mood?”
Dean shrugged his shoulders, he had no idea why he felt like bouncing out of his skin with happiness, “Just a great day.”
“Uh huh,” Bobby seemed to be thinking on something awfully hard, so Dean left him to it while he considered Enochian warding sigils and if there was any way they could be easily broken down that didn’t require a ton of blood, and if there wasn’t should he swipe a couple of bags of blood from the hospital now to get him started.
As they crunched through the clinic’s gravel parking lot, Bobby said quietly,
“Dean, who’s Cas?”
“Cas is my best friend,” said Dean before he thought about it. The he realized what he’d just said, “What the fuck?”
“Yeah, I figured you didn’t know you were doing it.”
“What the fuck?”
“You’ve been talking about nothing but Cas since you got here, and you had no idea, did you?”
“I don’t even know a Cas,” that statement felt all wrong and Dean twitched uncomfortably. “I mean, I don’t remember Cas,” and that just made him feel sad.
“Yet apparently he’s your best friend.”
“Of course he’s –” Dean managed to stop himself that time. “Bobby, what’s going on?”
“I don’t know. Maybe we should put off going up to the site. We can call in some back up, try and figure this out.”
“Like hell are we leaving Cas out there a moment longer than necessary.” Dean shook his head at himself. He was losing his freaking mind. That didn’t make him any less determined. “I mean it Bobby.”
“See, if this was enthrallment, you’d have shot me by now and already be half way there.”
“I’m not going to shoot you,” snapped Dean, cut to the quick.
“I’d prefer that actually, cause then I’d know what I was dealing with and I could fix it. As it stands, I got nothing.”
“That doesn’t matter. Cas is in trouble.” Dean still didn’t understand what was going on, but he was not abandoning Cas, whoever he was.
“Alright, we’ll go.”
“Just like that?”
“We’ll either something’s seriously messing with you, in which case I’m gonna kill it, or your best friend is in some serious shit, in which case I’m gonna help you pull him out of it.”
“You know, sometimes Bobby, you’re almost as awesome as me.”
He was rewarded with a smack to the back of his head that just made him laugh harder.
Dean could feel the looming presence from about five minutes out. By the time he pulled the Impala in alongside Bobby’s truck, the pressure had settled in just above the bridge of his nose and a headache was building.
“You feel that too?” he checked.
Bobby nodded soberly. “And we’re at least a mile out, it gets worse as you get closer.”
Dean swore. He grabbed his pack from the backseat and swung it over his shoulder. Then he reconsidered, grabbed a bottle of water and scrabbled through the front pocket for a foil packet of ibuprofen.
“Pre-emptive strike,” he said when Bobby gave him a look. “Enochian’s pretty much like an icepick to the skull at the best of times.”
Two pretty white pills and a swallow of water later and Dean was ready, “Alright, let’s get this party started.”
“Idiot,” said Bobby affectionately.
“Stow the flattery, you’ll make me blush.”
“That will be the day. Now pay attention, the main power sink is thattaway, I made it maybe half a mile. I could have pushed it further but I am not stupid enough for those sort of mindless risks.” Bobby’s eyes narrowed pointedly at him.
Dean put on his best ‘Who Me’ look. Bobby did not appear particularly convinced.
“Anyway the wards actually start where the ground starts to rise. There’s one carved into that rock over there.”
Dean glanced around. It was quiet, that eerie stillness that existed when the supernatural had driven off the living. No rustle of a creeping thing, no flutter of a bird’s wing. Dirty, and bleak, more bleak than natural. Desert was never exactly pretty but there was a grandness to it you didn’t get anywhere else. Here it was all tainted, not by despair like in the remnants of the failed gold rush camp he and Matt had salted and burned last year, but by active hating malice.
An abrupt shiver jerked through him.
“Yeah,” agreed Bobby.
Dean stamped his feet nervously. The air still had the chill of dawn but it was warming rapidly and it would be brutal later. There was no point putting the hike off.
“Okay let’s go.”
Bobby started off and Dean followed quietly, even the sound of their boots in the dust was muffled. As they worked their way higher and approached Bobby’s half-mile, the silence grew thick and oppressive until it took on the quality of a nightmare where you couldn’t make a sound, no matter how desperately you tried.
Dean swallowed hard and forced his heavy tongue to lick his dry lips. At first all he managed was a soft squeak, but he forced himself to try again and managed a strangled cough. He was so caught up in the physical effort of trying to speak that finding words of his own was impossible and his voice cracked into song.
He wanted to sing one of those silly campfire songs Sam learned at scouts, because he was pretty sure it would make Bobby laugh and they needed that. But those songs were too far away from him and instead he reached for what he knew,
“Gonna ramble on, sing my song. Gotta keep-a-searchin' for my baby...”
The stones in the dirt beneath his feet shook but he determinedly kept going, struggling through Led Zeppelin’s chorus three times before it abruptly became easier and Dean finished in triumphant, thoroughly off-key, style. Before he could gloat over his success, a whip crack of sound singed across his exposed skin and set his shoulder on fire.
“What the -?” yelled Bobby, spinning around, the “Dean!”
Dean realized he had dropped to his knees, teeth clenched tightly against a scream. His shoulder burned.
“Dean?” Bobby scrambled down beside him.
“’M fine,” he managed.
Bobby ignored him, cupping his face with hands, then patting down his neck and over - Dean tried to say something to stop him, but he couldn’t get the words out in time and Bobby’s hands landed right on his shoulder.
Dean howled. He jerked away from Bobby, collapsing into the ground.
“I’m fine,” Dean wriggled away from his friend before sitting up.
“When this is over,” Bobby sounded like he was gritting his own teeth, “we are going to work on your definitions. Fine does not mean grovelling in the dirt with pain.”
“Hey, I am not grovelling.”
“And that’s the part you have a problem with.” Bobby pushed himself stiffly to his feet. “So what’s the damage? I know something happened but it didn’t hit me like it got you.”
“I’m fine.” Dean hauled himself to his feet. “It just caught me one on the shoulder.” Gingerly he unhooked his pack and peeled off his shirt and t-shirt.
“Bobby? Shit is it that bad?” He did not like the way Bobby was staring at him. He definitely didn’t like the fact Bobby didn’t say anything, just handed him the pocket mirror from his emergency kit.
“What?” he demanded as he twisted so he could angle the mirror. “What the hell?”
A blood red handprint covered his shoulder, the skin already puffing up into blisters.
“What the hell?” said Dean again, because it bore repeating.
“I have no idea.”
Dean shied away when Bobby reached towards the burn, stumbling over his bag in his haste.
“Calm down. I just need to check it out, make sure it’s not infected.”
“I- No.” Dean decided he didn’t care how illogical it was, he didn’t want anyone else touching the mark.
“Alright, it doesn’t look like the skin’s broken so I’ll leave it for now.” Bobby went through his own pack, pulled out an emergency cold pack and activated it with an angry twist of fingers. “Here, put that on it.”
The cold shivered right through Dean and he had to take a hasty gulp of air.
Bobby pulled out his mobile, “I think we need to call for backup right the hell now.”
“Aw come one, we haven’t even tried yet.”
“That’s what’s worrying me. Damn, no signal. Should have guessed. We better head back.”
“Dean. Do you remember what I said earlier about mindless risks?”
There was no way on earth Dean was taking so much as a step back from Cas now, not when he’d finally found him. Telling Bobby that though was probably a bad idea. Bobby had a tazer stashed away in his bag and would have no hesitation in using it on him if he thought it was for Dean’s own good.
“No,” said Bobby.
“I haven’t said anything yet.”
“The answer’s no regardless. I know that look. You gave us that look just before you decided the best way to deal with those Wraiths was a diversion.”
“It worked, didn’t it?”
“That is not the point.”
“Right, well my point is, you dragged me out here as your Enochian expert, so I’ll stay here and get my Enochian groove on.”
Bobby eyed him suspciously.
Dean nodded and blinked innocently, “I’m pretty sure we hit a second ring of wards at the half-mile point, which means there’s probably three in total, and they’re way too fucking strong already. So they need to come down. Which means I need to find them. Which will take hours, if I’m lucky. If I’m unlucky, I’ll be here a week or more.” Dean smiled, damn he was good, he’d almost convinced himself there.
Bobby nodded reluctantly. “Okay I’ll go make arrangements. Dean, do not do anything stupid.”
“Sure thing, Bobby.”
Dean waited impatiently for Bobby to get far enough away so he could be - not stupid, but maybe a little bit reckless, okay, a lot reckless. It wasn’t that anything he’d said to Bobby was untrue. That was the point. Getting the wards down would take days he wasn’t prepared to waste. Not when Cas needed him now.
He was admittedly still a bit weirded out by the fact he couldn’t remember anything about Cas but that was a distant concern compared with the fact that Cas was in trouble. Cas was in trouble and Dean had the yawning fear, like the ground giving way beneath his feet, that Cas was in trouble because of him. But that thought was too awful to be pursued.
Cas was in trouble, Dean was going to go get him out of it. He started walking back up the hill.
Remembering the way everything froze up in silence, he began singing straight away. Bon Jovi, because there was something stupidly cheerful about Bon Jovi and he was going to need that. Besides, ‘We weren’t born to follow’ made him think of Cas.
He felt the mark on his shoulder flare as he passed the second ring of wards, then the image of Cas he’d been focusing on to keep himself going suddenly came to life and like a faulty download he suddenly had dozens of furious, annoyed and frustrated Cas’s glowering down at him.
“Gonna have to try harder than that,” he told the wards. Actually it was almost reassuring because it was evidence he really did know Cas, and Cas knew him. No way had Cas never got mad with him, not if they were more than nodding acquaintances. So the wards attempt at intimidation could take a hike.
Those images faded out to be replaced with disappointed, miserable, hurting Cas. And Dean stopped moving. One Cas looked as if someone had just carved his heart out with a spoon. Dean closed his eyes but the image didn’t fade. If he had any context for that expression he was sure it would hurt like hellfire, because he had no doubt he was the one who put that hurt into his Cas’ eyes.
He took a deep breath. “Fuck you. You think the fact I hurt him before is going to stop me helping him now.”
Cas turning away, Cas hitting him, empty space where Cas wasn’t.
Dean swayed in place. Now he was glad he had no memory, because the images hurt enough that anything more would drive him to his knees.
“I told you, I don’t fucking care.” He managed a half step forward. “I do not fucking care.”
It was the pure truth, and he could feel the wards falter under the strength of it.
“I don’t give a fuck what happened,” another step, “what went wrong,” and another, “if he never forgives me,” that was harder but he kept going. “He is my Cas and I’m getting him away from you.”
He was walking normally now.
The wards hissed in his ears like faulty videotape and suddenly his Mom was there –
“I’m very disappointed in you, Dean.”
“I told you to watch Sammy.”
“Why do you think this is acceptable behavior?”
Dean glared, “Oh shut up. My Mom’s been disappointed in me since grade school, you’ll have to try harder than that.”
“I don’t want you near Mirele, you don’t set a good example.”
Dean winced, “Okay yeah, that one still stings.” That his Mom could say that, and after he practically brought Sammy up his own because Mom was too stoned on her fucking Laroxyl to get out of bed.
“Stop fussing over Sam, he’s not your responsibility.”
Not that Mom seemed to remember that Dean was the one who taught Sammy how to tie his shoes, clean his teeth, write his name in big round Sammy-letters. And yeah, Mom’s depression falling away when they adopted cousin Mirele after ten years of Dean’s desperate failed attempts to help, that stung like a slap in the face.
Dean stopped walking and took a couple of deep breaths. To his shock he realized he’d veered right off the path and was now skirting down the side of the hill instead of continuing upward.
“Okay, lose your temper, no, lose control, and you go off track. Good to know.”
He shook his head like he was shaking off a punch and glared at the wards he couldn’t see,
“Now you fuckers, it is not my mom’s fault she got post-natal depression when Sammy was born.” Except a tiny part of Dean thought that it was, worse part of Dean was pretty sure it was his fault, regardless of what the family therapist said. What did the stupid therapists know anyway, they never made Mom better either.
“This is all completely not the point,” he said out loud.
And now he was pissed because the wards were turning into some sort of emo-chick and that just wasn’t happening. He barnstormed straight back up the hill, onto the path and went right on walking.
The wards tried Dad then, but Dean was onto them. He’d made his peace with the fact Dad lived in Minnesota with his perfect family and his perfect son who was smart and popular and perfect, planning on pred-med (way to one-up Sammy, dude), played baseball and dated a cheerleader. Sometimes Dean wondered if Adam was actually real or if he was a nightmare conglomeration of all the sickeningly perfect kids he’d known in high school who’d acted like they might get dirty if they looked at Dean for too long.
(When Dean said he’d made his peace, he might mean ignored the hell out of it because thinking about it made him want to punch things and the last time he punched a wall he broke two fingers and Bobby yelled a lot and made him promise never to do it again.)
Whatever. Dean had accepted it, and with the thought of Cas in trouble, Cas in danger, it was easy to ignore the wards attempts at distraction. He walked as quickly as he could because he knew what was coming next.
Mr Richardson floated past, but Dean mostly just felt sorry for his Mom’s husband, because he’d clearly thought he and Dean were staring in some sort of Parental Advisory Commercial on what to do with Your Troubled Teen and they were both glad when Dean stopped being a teenager and he could stop pretending to care.
Sammy though. Dean did not want to think about Sammy.
So he kept walking, waited for it to start and wondered why it wasn’t. It took him longer to figure out than it should have done, but it finally dawned on him that he was used to the idea that his baby brother thought he was a total fuck-up and if he’d allowed Sam’s scornful disdain to shake him, he’d have given up getting out of bed a long time ago.
He laughed out loud and he could swear the wards ground their teeth.
Then they completely overreached themselves and showed Sam shooting him, digging his fingers into Dean’s bleeding shoulder, punching him brutal and relentless.
Dean sniggered because that was just ridiculous. There was no way Sam was going to lower himself to Dean’s level. Sam’s weapons weren’t fists but words used with deadly precision that to leave you ragged and bleeding.
The wards crackled over his skin and screeched in his ears.
The pain was a shock. He thought he knew about pain. Dean had been battered, bruised and beaten before. Dislocated shoulder, so not fun; broken ribs, total pain in the ass. He’d been thrown into a wall twice by a poltergeist in the Texas panhandle and had thought all his bones would rattle lose from his body.
As it turned out, Dean knew nothing.
This was the high pitch of pain just before your body gave up and collapsed but there was no sinking into the safety of oblivion and it never fucking stopped. It was tendons and sinews and ligaments, his flesh shucked from his bones like a joint of meat. Fingers dragging through his insides knotting and looping his slippery guts. Bones cracked, twisted, broken until he could feel nails raking through the marrow.
He’d fallen to his knees, he could feel the real ache in his joints beneath the horror, and as he crawled the sharp sting of stones in the soft flesh of his hands and against the hard bone of his knees, helped keep him sane against the wash of remembered terror.
Except this had never happened to him, so they couldn’t be his memories.
Dean believed that right up until he heard the voice. The voice called him Dean, offered to let him play with the knife for a change, if he wants to stop being the entertainment he’ll have to put on another show, plenty to choose from.
He could hear himself refusing, spitting up bile and phlegm, sneering through cracked and broken teeth, and Dean was amazed at his own fortitude. It was that convinced him it was a memory not a dream-vision. It had to have happened because he could never imagine he’d have lasted against that agony.
Then the day Dean’s body was so slick with blood he slipped the chains that bound him and grabbed that damn knife. He went straight for the voice determined to make it scream, to show it how it felt to have skin flayed, muscle ripped, guts split.
And it felt so good.
Dean stood triumphant over the howling kicking voice, and then the voice was laughing,
“Knew you had it in you Dean. Now we’re going to have some fun.”
Tricked, Dean wailed in his head but he was too far gone to care. Everything hurt, what did it matter if he hurt others or they hurt him, it was all the same.
In the dirt of the Arizona desert Dean threw up everything in his stomach, choking helplessly as he watched himself torture whimpering heaps of flesh.
“Like this,” said the voice grabbing Dean’s ribs and spreading them wide until they snapped free from his spine and tore through his lungs. Glancing down at the blazing agony of his chest, Dean tilted his head consideringly. The voice helpfully reset Dean’s ribs and demonstrated again. Dean nodded, got it, and he set to work practicing.
Dean curled in on himself, knees pressed to his chest, hands curled protectively over his head, eyes squeezed shut until they ached. It didn’t help. It didn’t stop. He kept on being tortured and torturing and Dean could feel his grip on sanity fading.
“Dean! Where the hell are you, you idiot? I’m gonna skin you alive for this.”
The words slid easily into his living nightmare, but the voice was all wrong. It was safety and home and good.
Bobby was scared. Dean tried, he honestly did, but couldn’t make himself uncurl. Instead he tucked his left arm and leg in close and he pushed hard into the ground with his right until he was tumbling back down the hill like an out of control bowling ball.
The heavy weight of the wards lessened leaving him dizzy and light-headed. He finally landed with a thump against a rock that rattled him even more, then hands were grabbing at him.
“You stupid son of bitch,” Bobby shook him roughly like he was disobedient puppy, “you stupid, stupid, son of bitch.”
“You ‘kay?” Dean croaked. Bobby sounded wrecked. He wanted to get up and help but his legs weren’t listening to him and he only flopped around like a landed fish.
“Am I okay? I’m not the one who was screaming like I was being torn apart.”
“Huh.” That explained why his throat felt full of broken glass.
Bobby heaved himself to his feet, “Right, let’s go.”
“Boy, you have lost all decision making privileges today. If you’re real good, I might let you pick breakfast – sometime next week.” He grabbed Dean’s arm ready to haul Dean to his feet.
Dean threw his weight against the motion digging his nails into the ground in a pathetic attempt to hold on. “Cas,” he whimpered. Because the worst of all that sick shit was he’d forgotten Cas. For those long moments he’d lost all trace of Cas and what if it happened again? He couldn’t stand the thought of returning to a life empty of Cas.
“Cas,” Dean insisted. He’d obviously lost Cas once; it was not going to happen again no matter what he had to do. Desperation allowed him to wriggle enough to sit up and he stared up at Bobby hopefully.
Bobby threw his hands in the air with exasperation and Dean knew he had won.
“Alright,” Bobby folded his arms, “if you can stand up on your own, I won’t say another word.”
It turned out to be easier said than done. Dean felt wobblier than after twelve hour trip in the Impala. The first couple of tries he managed to rise into a crouch before tripping and staggering back down into the dust.
Bobby’s arms twitched but he didn’t offer to help. That was fine, Dean could do this. He took a deep breath, yanked his legs under him, then jerked straight up to a standing position.
That turned out to be a mistake. He closed his eyes against the head rush and swayed on his feet. Bobby’s strong hands grabbed him and he collapsed gratefully against him.
“I’mma pass out now,” he whispered weakly and then there was only blackness.
Dean woke up when he tried to move and intimate tethers tugged at his body. The smell hit then, definitely the clinic. Without opening his eyes he groaned out loud,
“Can’t a man pass out among friends without waking up in a goddam hospital?”
“Well your mouth’s sure up and running again.”
Dean’s eyes flew open and he stared at the man sitting by his bed,
“M&M?” he demanded, not willing to believe the evidence in front of him, “What the hell are you doing here?”
Dean stared at his friend. Matt was kind of stupidly attractive with big broad shoulders, ruffled blond hair, bronzed skin, and smiling blue eyes, and was so genuinely good that he actually shone. Dean’d had the biggest crush on Matt for years. Not since he’d married, of course, because crushing on a straight guy might be masochistic, but a straight, married guy was just pathetic.
Now he was surprised to feel not the smallest twinge as Matt grinned sunnily at him, “Hey yourself ‘73. And where else would I be when you’re kicking up a dust?”
“But – ” His friend no longer had much time left for hunting with a full-time job and a family. Most of their work together was Matt sending him jobs from research fitted in around the rest of his life. Dean hadn’t seen him in person for almost six months.
“But nothing.” Matt clapped his hand around Dean’s arm. Dean looked down at the strong brown fingers gripping his bicep tightly and only wanted a slim, pale, long-fingered hand. He clenched his fists against the longing. Cas.
“As it so happens,” Matt continued, “I had a week booked off work anyway.”
“Can go on hold. I sent Laney and the kids on as an advance guard, I’ll catch up when I’m sure you’re not going to accidentally blow up the world or something. They send their love by the way. And Laney said to tell you to stop rolling stoning your way round the country and get your ass over to Boston.”
“She did not,” Dean accused, confident Matt’s elegant wife had said no such thing.
“Okay true. She said something about how it would be lovely to see you again; I was just translating into Winchester.”
“Right. So, other than giving me a headache, why are you here?”
“Here, here? Because Bobby’s got stuff to do and he refused to leave you without some who knows ‘what a damn idjit you are’,” Matt made those irritating little air quotes he was so fond of, and Dean rolled his eyes, “and can be trusted to keep you under control.”
“I am not that bad.”
“It’s cute that you actually believe that.”
“Oh shut up. Make yourself useful and help me out of here.”
“I rest my case. Now stop wriggling, the doctor will be here soon.”
“Since when do we wait around for doctors?”
“Yeah, letting you hang out with Caleb was a mistake.”
“Being able to stitch up your own arm is not something to be proud of.”
“It’s awesome.” No fuss, no muss. Caleb was awesome.
Matt sighed heavily, “Doctors are our friends Dean. They have cool things like the good drugs and the ability check our brains aren’t going to fall out of our skulls. Though I guess we’re too late for you there.”
“I’m in hospital, you should be nice to me.”
Matt looked as if he had never heard of anything so ridiculous in his life.
“You are not a nice person.”
“Nope,” Matt cheerfully exaggerated the p with a pop of air.
Dean glared evilly. “Why’d Bobby call you again? In fact, why did he call you? He didn’t need to bother you.”
“Are you kidding me? First Pamela gets whammied, and then you, you get all weird, nearly kill yourself trying to crawl through Enochian wards and finally conk out for three days. Bobby called everybody.”
“Three days?” he asked in disbelief, “I’ve been out for three days?” and his mind screamed for Cas.
“Yes,” Matt hissed with frustration, “so sit still and wait for the doctor so we can be sure you’re not going to drop dead on us.”
“No way. I’ve wasted three days. Fuck.” Dean’s attempt to sit up and yank out the various tubes snaked inside him was cut off by Matt’s hand hard against his breast bone.
“Don’t you dare. Don’t think I won’t choke you out.”
“I don’t think that’s medically approved,” Dean managed a weak chuckle, nervous at the crazy gleam in his friend’s eyes.
“I don’t care about medically approved. Jesus ’73, you’re enough to try the patience of a saint. Don’t you get that we’re worried as hell about you?”
Dean shrugged his shoulders helplessly, “I’m fine. And don’t blaspheme.”
“Are you even listening to me?”
“Look, I’m fine, honest. But I can’t waste any more time in hospital. I can’t afford it for a start.”
“It’s taken care of.”
“Suck it up. We can’t stop you trying to kill yourself, but we can pay to put you back together.”
“The whole reason for Dad’s company is to fund hunting.”
“This isn’t a hunt.” He felt guilty enough for dragging Matt away from his family. They shouldn’t be paying for Dean’s personal business.
Matt let out an annoyed huff of breath, “You want to explain to my Dad why you’re turning down our money?”
Dean winced, Matt’s dad was terrifying, “No,” he said meekly.
“But still I have to get out of here. It’s going to take forever to get those wards down. I need to get started.”
“Like you said, it’s going to take time, an hour or two here won’t make any difference.”
“It will make difference to me.” He couldn’t bear to leave Cas a moment longer than necessary. “M&M, please.”
“Alright fine. I’ll call the doctor.” Matt crossed the room to flick a switch. “This Cas better be worth all the fuss.”
“Cas is –” Dean stopped because he couldn’t think of any words that wouldn’t diminish Cas.
“Go on,” said Matt, “I’m on the edge of my seat.”
Dean glared, “Pie,” he said finally. “Cas is pie. Pecan and pumpkin pie, with that fluted crust thing, and vanilla ice cream, the good sort.”
“Oh man,” Matt threw back his head and laughed out loud.
“Shut the fuck up,” growled Dean, painfully aware he was blushing.
“Man, do you have it bad. You can’t do anything the easy way, can you ’73? Although now I think about it, rescuing your princess from an enchanted castle suits you down to the ground.”
“Cas is not a princess,” grumped Dean.
“No, Cas is pie. I cannot believe you said that. Wait, yes I can. That just makes it worse.”
“Stop laughing at me.”
The door opened and the Doctor finally appeared. “What on earth is going on in here?” she demanded.
“I’m being emotionally traumatized,” said Dean.
“You’re being emotionally traumatized. I’m the one stuck here listening to you. Doc, he’s all yours. I’m going to call Laney, or she’s going to traumatize me for missing this.” Matt swept out the room, abandoning him to the Doctor.
“Right,” she said, “let’s see how you’re doing.”
“I’m fine,” said Dean automatically although he wasn’t. Everything Matt had kept at bay with presence was coming back and he could feel himself start to tremble. He took a deep steadying breath, and then another, breathing to the count of three like Pastor Jim taught him. If he freaked out now, he was never getting out of hospital. Find Cas, freak out later, or preferably never.
He was good at stuffing everything down and getting the job done. When things went to shit, flailing about just spread the shit around. It didn’t matter how much you whined; the ghost still had to be salted and burned even if you were too sore to lift the shovel, you still had to keep going even if you were too tired to stand up, Sammy still had to be fed even if there was nothing in cupboards. Whining just used up energy you couldn’t afford to waste, besides Dean was not an emo freak like Sam thank you very much.
So it didn’t matter what he’d done that he’d obviously blanked out. It didn’t matter if that was why Cas had walked away from him, frankly Dean would walk away from himself if he could. When he thought of how he tortured – he cut that thought off viciously. All that mattered now was making sure Cas was safe.
So he put on his best face and settled down to convincing the doctor he’d suffered nothing more than a case of heatstroke.
When he finally escaped her clutches and made it outside, he found Matt relaxing in a chair propped up on its back legs chatting to, was that Jo?
“Dean!” and suddenly Dean was being hugged within an inch of his life.
“Control yourself women.” He tugged at her stranglehold until he could breathe again. “What are you doing here anyway?”
“I told you,” said Matt, “Bobby called everybody.”
“You had us worried to death,” said Jo, “Mom was talking about coming down here to get things sorted out.”
Dean reflexively glanced behind him, “She didn’t, right?”
“She was going to set out tomorrow if you hadn’t woken up by then.”
“She wants you to call her though.”
“Uh, can you tell her I’m busy?”
“You want her turning up here?”
“No!” Ellen never left the Roadhouse. Dean was a bit worried the whole place might fall down if she did.
“Then call her you wuss,” said Matt, “I don’t know what your problem is, Ellen likes you.”
Matt just didn’t get it. Not that it was his fault, but everybody loved Matt and it gave him a seriously screwed view of the world.
“Yeah, I’ll call her.” Because that had to be better than Ellen showing up after Dean had dragged her away from her bar. “So, um, she know you’re here?” he asked Jo, because Ellen had always been very definite in her ideas about Jo and hunting, as in when hell froze over.
“Yeah, she didn’t want me to, but since Ash was coming –”
“Ash is here too?”
“Of course he is. And since he was coming, and Bobby was already here, and there’s nothing that actually wants to eat us, Mom said okay.”
“Wow, great. So where are Ash and Bobby?”
“They’re coordinating the sigil search parties.”
“Sigil search parties?”
“Sure. We can’t take them down. Not that Matt didn’t try, I hear he blew himself six feet in the air.”
“You can shut up about that any time now, you little sneak,” huffed Matt.
Dean laughed, “You actually blew yourself up?”
“Not everyone can be a mad Enochian genius like you.”
“Bobby was pissed as hell, which is why Matt got the job of baby-sitting you. Bobby said he couldn’t do any more damage to himself that way.”
Matt’s face was a dull brick red. “I did exactly like you said, least I thought I did.”
“Not your fault,” Dean consoled. “These wards aren’t the standard keep away stuff. Far as I can tell they’re designed to trap you between the first and second circle and then,” he mashed his hands together. “Same between second and third.”
“Hah.” Matt looked vindicated.
“Not that you shouldn’t have been able to tell something was up.”
“They did seem a bit weird, but I figured it was worth the risk.”
“Next time, M&M, take half a second to refigure before blowing yourself up. But, uh, thanks for trying.” Dean bumped his shoulder against Matt’s.
“’S nothin.” Matt bumped his shoulder back.
“Anyway,” said Jo. “Even though we can’t do anything about the sigils, Bobby figured it wouldn’t hurt trying to find the ones belonging to the first circle. So everyone’s looking for them and Ash is trying to come up with some sort of tracking, plotting program on his laptop.”
“Right, I’m going to need blood, a lot of it.”
“Olivia’s on it,” said Matt, “she’s connected.”
“Olivia’s here as well?” asked Dean, at the same time Jo asked,
“Connected to who?”
“From the amount of blood she’s turned up, I’m way too scared to ask. And what part of Bobby called everybody are you not getting ’73?”
“So who else is here?”
“Who isn’t here? It’s like school reunion: the rock salt edition. Olivia’s out scouring for blood like a famished vampire. Travis, Carl, Sutton, Malcolm and Annie, and Lucinda are all out tracking sigils. Jefferson, Isaac and Tamara, Blake, and Quincey are all on their way. Caleb’s due in a couple of days. Penny and Red are just tying up a double salt and burn, then they’re heading our way.”
Dean stared wide-eyed with horror as Matt ticked off the endless list on his fingers. Bobby shouldn’t be calling in favors like this for him.
“Dad apologizes, he would have come but my little sister –”
“No, no,” Dean waved his hands frantically. “Stop right there. Has everyone gone mad?”
“What?” Matt stared at him for a moment. “Oh you idiot. You telling me you wouldn’t drive cross country for any one of us?”
“Sure I would but,”
“So why can’t we do the same?”
“There is no same. I mean Jefferson’s coming? I’ve worked precisely one job with him and it was a disaster of horror movie proportions, one of the ones where everyone ends up dead and in pieces.”
“Except you and Jefferson aren’t dead.”
“So not my point.”
Matt glared at him, “Sometimes you really are as stupid as you think you are.”
“There’s no need to be insulting,” said Dean, without any real feeling of offence. He was still too stunned at the idea of all those hunters showing up for him, well actually for Bobby but it was Dean who needed the help.
“Yes there is.” Matt draped an arm around his shoulders and started to haul him towards the parking lot. “Now come show Bobby you’re okay so he’ll stop freaking out. And start taking down these wards. I can’t wait to meet Cas.”
Dean nodded, shaking off his panic. So what if he was going to be owing favors for the rest of his natural life. It would be worth it.
I’m coming Cas, just hang on a little longer
Matt stood with the rest of them as they all shamelessly listened in to Dean’s side of phone conversation. Dean didn’t seem to be aware of them as he paced, right hand clutching the phone tightly, left hand and arm rotating and parrying like he was in a knife fight.
“I said I was sorry,” growled Dean, although he’d stopped sounding sorry about five minutes ago, “something came up. I’m busy. I don’t have the time to spend two days travelling to Stanford for two minutes worth of you walking across a stage.”
“Yeah,” said Caleb quietly, “we’re sure he’s not possessed?”
Matt clutched at the air in frustration, “Do not start this up again. When he finally fell asleep last night, you and Olivia drew a devil’s trap around him and conducted a freaking exorcism. Which had absolutely no effect. He is not possessed.”
“The first thing Dean tells anyone is that his brother is graduating from Stanford. I think he told me that before I even knew his name.”
Which was admittedly true but, “Dean wouldn’t put anyone at risk, not even for his stupid brother.”
Across the lot, Dean flung his left arm in the air to block a vicious over-head blow, “I do care about you.”
“But as long as everyone stays away from the wards, there is no danger,” said Sutton.
Matt rolled his eyes, he’d always thought Sutton was an idiot, too reliant on his psychic gifts to have any commonsense whatsoever.
“He’s perfectly rational,” said Lucinda. “If he was enthralled or bespelled, he wouldn’t be wasting time letting his family berate him.”
“Which we all already know,” said Matt. “Not that it’s stopped Sutton trying to unenchant him.”
“But this,” Bobby gestured at Dean, “this aint normal. Not for Dean. That boy would walk across broken glass for his brother.”
“I do have friends who aren’t you,” Dean snarled at the phone.
“He’s barely stopping to eat, won’t sleep, and when he did keel over,” Lucinda winced, “those weren’t normal nightmares.”
“This is perfectly normal,” said Matt firmly. He would make them understand this before he had to go. He already felt horribly guilty that he had to leave for his own family thing, he wasn’t going to abandon Dean with the rest of them thinking he was half-crazy.
“This is ‘73 when someone he loves is in trouble. You don’t remember the Tommyknockers ten years ago, Bobby, because you were the one buried sixty feet underground, but Dean was exactly like this.”
“Yeah?” Bobby looked to Travis, who’d been with Matt above ground during that particular fuckup.
“Pretty much,” said Travis. “Maybe looks a mite more likely to jangle right out of his skin.”
“Well this is ‘73 if his wife was buried sixty feet underground.”
“Cas is a guy,” said Bobby. Which what not at all a denial of Matt’s point.
Matt studied at the older man for a long moment, wishing he was better at reading him. Hunters were generally open-minded and he was pretty sure Bobby would forgive Dean anything up to and including consorting with demons, but this wasn’t something that needed to be forgiven as such and people could be so weird about the gay thing.
He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. Dean was too caught up in rescuing Cas to have given any thought to this issue. Matt was not going to risk letting it all blow up in Dean’s face without him there to watch his back.
Mentally praying that Dean would forgive him if this all went wrong, he said, “Husband then.”
Bobby just nodded and Matt let his breath out in a gust of relief.
“You don’t have a problem with that?” he checked, because he wanted to be sure.
“Thought you’d be the one with the problem with Dean liking men.” Bobby looked at him, eyes knowing. Matt felt himself flush. God, how could he have forgotten how canny the old man could be.
“Dean’s a gentleman,” he said stiffly, because he was so not talking about this, certainly not when that particular problem seemed about to be solved for good – assuming they could ever get Cas out of the damn wards.
“What the hell are you talking about?” demanded Sutton.
Matt sighed, “We’re talking about Dean getting a little bit intense when people he cares about are in danger, and how you are all going to make sure we don’t have a repeat of Desolation Pass.”
“Why do you keep on about that?” asked Bobby. “What happened?”
“What do you mean, what happened? Don’t tell me they never told you?”
“Told me what?”
“I thought he knew,” said Travis, he turned to Bobby. “I’m sure you said you spoke to Dean.”
“Dean told me he was sorry he wasn’t there when I got out of hospital because his mother insisted he return to Lawrence. I’m thinking there’s more to the story than that?”
“Dean’s mother insisted he return to Lawrence because he broke his leg and stoved in two ribs distracting the Knockers.”
“But he wasn’t there when you dug me out.”
“No,” said Matt clutching at his patience, was he the only one capable of communication here, “that was because he was in the caved-in tourist mine on the other side of the pass.”
“What was he doing there?”
“Distracting the Tommyknockers. We couldn’t dig you out. You were right at the center of their power.”
“So I could plant the hex bags.”
“Sure. But once they brought the passage down, we couldn’t get to you. Whenever we got close the damn knocking started up and more rocks landed on our heads. Eventually Dean said that it was all stupid and he was going to get some coffee. Thirty minutes later there was this woosh of power and suddenly no more knocking. So we dug you out, planted the hex bags and got the hell out of dodge. Took you to hospital to get fixed up and found the whole place fixated on the rescue drama of a trapped park ranger. Didn’t realize it was Dean until they showed a long shot of the mine and parking lot and we saw that ratty motorbike of his.”
Matt’s heart had just about stopped when he’d figured out what had happened. Dean was such a stupid little kid. Matt had first met him when he was a lordly eighteen and Dean was a shy, skinny fourteen year old tucked into Bobby Singer’s shadow. Mostly Matt had been furious at the injustice of this kid being allowed to hunt when he’d been forbidden to participate in more than research until that year when his dad had finally considered him old enough.
He would have been quite happy to squelch the interloper and leave it at that, but Dean was hunting in the summers like he was and they kept crossing paths. And Dean had looked up at him like he was a hero come to life and back then Matt had been enough of an idiotic bastard to get a huge kick out of that. Thinking on it, he was honestly surprised Dean still spoke to him.
Then stupid little Dean ran off on his own and called a mountain down on his head. It would never even have occurred to Matt to do such a thing. If one of the senior hunters had asked him to act as a diversion, he would have done so, but taking action off his own bat and seeing it through with such grim determination, there was no way Matt had been capable of that.
That was when he realized his dad had a point about being old enough to hunt. And when he started calling Dean ’73. (He’d wanted to go with James, but Bobby vetoed it on the basis he didn’t want Dean getting ideas, and on balance calling someone after James Dean probably wasn’t the luckiest omen in the world no matter how too cool for school you thought they were. Yes Matt had been an idiot, he got better, mostly).
“He went in as a ranger,” said Travis, “cleared all the civilians out, then riled up the Knockers but good. Don’t how exactly, but well, it was Dean, he’s good at riling people when he’s not trying. If he actually put some effort into it,” Travis shrugged his shoulders.
“And he was young,” Matt added, “only sixteen. Tommyknockers are supposed to particularly go after disrespectful young people.”
“The tourist mine was solid, practically concreted in. We figure it took everything they had to bring it down, which was why we were able to get to you. Unfortunately they damn near killed Dean before we were able to take them out.”
Bobby stared at them.
“Once the Knockers were gone,” Travis continued, “they managed to get Dean out. Of course he wasn’t exactly a park ranger, but as far as they were concerned he saved all those people by getting them out of a mine that was about to collapse, so nobody was pushing the issue. I went in as his Uncle, collected him up and hauled him back to Lawrence. The hospital had called his mother but hadn’t given her any details. Dean rocked up on the doorstep and told her he’d been in a bar fight and she should see the other guys.”
“Wow,” said Matt, “I didn’t know that part. How’d he ever get her to let him out to play again?”
“Jim Murphy is a smooth talker for a church man. He and Dean worked on her that winter and by the spring she was willing to let him go for Easter as well as the summer. And Bobby, you gave him the Impala to replace the bike that got lost in the kerfuffle. I really thought you knew.”
“No, no I didn’t.” Bobby sounded lost.
They all glanced instinctively at Dean, who still had his phone to his ear, shoulders hunched defensively.
“So.” Matt clapped his hands together. “Dean. Slightly crazy when it comes to rescuing those he loves. And as much as I want Cas out of those wards, I’d really rather my best friend didn’t kill himself in the process.”
He thought about the tracks he’d seen up the hill. The marks that had let him see the way Dean had staggered and tripped before collapsing, crawling and puking, dragging himself up the hill until the wards finally beat him down.
Testosterone and one-upmanship being a vital part of the hunters’ code, everyone had tested themselves against the wards. Matt had gone far enough to see his dad’s ‘I am disappointed in you’ face and feel the utter hollowness it provoked, abruptly decided he didn’t have anything to prove, and come straight back down again. He was definitely less of an idiot than he had been at twenty.
Anyone who’d had hunting thrust upon them was haunted by far worse memories than Matt’s. They all retreated quickly, quiet and tight-lipped. Sutton had turned green the first step he took past the boundary, and turned out to be the best sigil hunter because he got queasy if he was too close to them. Jo, stubbornly determined to prove herself, pushed herself to tears, and would have gone further had Bobby not ordered her back under the threat of Ellen’s wrath.
The one who did best of all turned out to be that ass Gordon Walker. – “If that pansy Winchester can do it, I can too.” – And he marched straight up the hill, to collapse at the same point Dean first fell. But Walker didn’t get up again, and eventually one of his posse had to run up and haul him back. That night both men got falling down drunk and skipped town.
Matt wasn’t sorry to see them go. His dad had always disapproved of revenge hunters saying it would just burn you out from the inside and, when he looked at Walker, he could see exactly that. He wasn’t even sure why Walker had shown up, except for the testosterone and one-upmanship. At least he was gone before Dean even woke up.
All of which made Matt reasonably sure that Dean wasn’t going have another try at breaking wards by force of will alone, but it didn’t mean ’73 wasn’t going to find another dozen or so ridiculously dangerous stunts to pull.
“We’ll keep an eye on him,” Travis reassured.
“We’ll keep a goddamn leash on him.” Bobby sounded pissed as hell, which was a promising sign.
Matt startled as Dean suddenly let out an aggravated shriek.
“Well fuck you too!” he yelled as his phone bounced against the ground. Spinning on his toes, he caught sight of them all, “What the hell are you looking at?”
“That good huh?” said Matt.
“Yeah, definitely a Sammy Special. I think he covered every sin I’ve committed since Junior High. And what are you still doing here anyway? You need to get going.”
“You could come with?” Matt was sure Dean was going to turn him down, but it was an option. “You could let the others deal with tracking the rest of the sigils. It won’t cost you that much time. If your family’s cutting up rough…”
“No,” Dean shook his head. “It would be nice to see Sammy graduate but I’m not leaving Cas.”
“Then I’ll stay too. At least my family will understand.”
“Oh no way M&M, you are going. It’s not as if anything’s happening here, I’m just chipping away the wards. I haven’t even got past the first circle. This is your family.”
“You’re family too.” Matt twisted restlessly. When his children were born, he’d all but stopped hunting and Dean had stepped forward to take all the hunts that Matt spotted in a casual read of the papers or came to him through his dad’s connections. Matt was hopelessly, unbearably, grateful to his friend. He had long sworn he’d be there for his family in a way his father hadn’t been – there was a reason Matt’s little sister nearly ten years younger than him – and Dean had allowed him to honor that vow without going half mad with guilt over ignored hunts.
Dean didn’t even seem to understand what a precious gift he’d given him, and now, when Dean really needed help, Matt was abandoning him.
“You’re going,” said Dean firmly, “give me any grief and I’ll knock you out, stuff you in the trunk and get Caleb to drive you.”
“You would not.”
Matt reconsidered. When Dean got that particular look in his eye he was not bluffing,
“I –,” he began.
“Caleb,” said Dean.
“Aces,” Caleb rubbed his hands together gleefully, “I’ve never kidnapped someone before.”
“State lines,” Dean tempted, “I think that makes it a Federal Offence.”
“Isn’t that just for sex?”
“No, that’s minors.”
Matt clapped his hands over his ears, “Shut up, I can’t take any more. You two are officially forbidden from ever hunting together again.”
“What?” Two faces blinked innocently at him.
“I’m going, I’m going. I’ll be back as soon as I can. ’73, call me.”
Matt left quickly after that, because he was already pushed for time, and because if he hung around any longer he’d change his mind and he didn’t want to give Caleb the chance to expand his criminal repertoire.
He’d just crossed the Arizona state line when his phone blasted ‘No Surrender’.
“Woo-hoo!” Dean cheered with the exaggerated loudness of someone who’d just blown their ability to hear. “First circle bit the dust!”
The first circle of wards ended up going down so easy it caught Dean off guard. Shortly after Matt drove away, the wards had started oscillating, cracking into visible light, then abruptly swelling into a high-pitched whine.
Dean had grabbed at the opportunity. Sure it cost him a bit of blood but there was nothing like your own blood freely given for doing magic. The whole first circle had gone down like a stack of dominos and the blast took out everyone’s hearing and Lucinda and Isaac, who didn’t get their eyes shut in time, knocked out their optic nerves for half a day. The doctors at the clinic were giving them increasingly strained looks.
Then of course it was back to mixing the blood packets Olivia kept producing from somewhere with holy water and painstakingly chipping away at the second circle of sigils in a way that wouldn’t set off the more elaborate traps.
That the other hunters had continued to stick around still threw him. He’d expected Tamara at least to leave after Isaac went temporarily blind. But she just looked at him and said,
“Well I gotta do something while my idiot husband recovers. It’s not your fault Dean. I mean, who doesn’t close their eyes when looking at the sun.”
It made Dean uncomfortable to have dragged all these people out here, just for him. They had lives they needed to get back to, but he couldn’t turn them away not when Cas needed help. So he guiltily let Bobby organize them on his behalf and tried not to think about it.
Packeted blood did not get any the less disgusting though. He slit the plastic with his knife and squeezed the gloppy mess into the chipped mixing bowl Penny had scavenged and poured in half a plastic bottle of holy water. Mixing them together with a bent stick, he muttered under his breath the blessing that would turn the cocktail into the closest approximation of angels’ blood a human could manage.
Face screwed up against the sensation, he dipped his fingers into the goop and started on the next sigil, slowly and carefully painting over the last inscribed symbols to slowly diffuse their power.
Then his phone rang.
Dean didn’t want to pick up, but that was Sammy’s tone (If there was any danger of his family hearing it would have been ‘Dude Looks like a Lady’, because Sam’s bitchface was epic, but right now it was Sammy’s song, ‘Born to be my Baby’, because Dean had been a sadly literal eleven year old) which meant he really didn’t want to pick it up but did anyway.
“Dean, she said yes.”
“Sam? Wait, she said yes? What is she, crazy?”
“Aww. Seriously Sammy, that is excellent news, the best ever.”
“She said yes,” his brother repeated reverently.
“Did you do the whole dorky little speech you had worked out?”
“Shut up Dean. God.”
“You did, didn’t you?”
“Did she at least like it?”
“She said it was sweet.”
“Dude, that is totally chick for dorky.”
“Whatever, she liked it, she said yes.”
“That’s the important part. Course with me they say ‘oh yes, yes, yes’” Dean let his voice go high-pitched and breathless, “but one yes is pretty good for a geek like you.”
“One of these days I’m going to work out how to reach down a phone and throttle you.” Sam sounded fondly murderous. It was Dean’s favorite sort of Sam.
“But that day is not today,” exulted Dean. “Man, I wish I could be there.”
“That’s not my fault.” Now Sam just sounded murderous.
“I’m sorry. I’d be there if I could.”
“Yeah sure, I only asked you to be there for one day out of four years, I can see why it would be an imposition.”
“Whatever. Jessica’s parents are throwing us an engagement party, so you can show up for that.”
“Uh, when is this party?”
“At the weekend.”
Dean wasn’t a hundred percent sure what day it was, but the weekend was still going to be far too soon.
“No. Do not tell me you’re too busy.”
“Why are you pulling this crap now Dean? You jealous, is that it? You’re jealous because I’m making something of my life and all you’re doing is wasting yours.”
Dean clicked his phone off and, when he’d stopped shaking, went pack to painting out the sigil.
His phone rang again about ten minutes later, ‘Back in Black’, and he checked the screen and, yes, it was Mom.
“Hello?” He tucked the phone into the crook of his neck and um-hmmed at the appropriate points as his mother explained at great length how thoroughly disappointed she was in him before finally handing him over to his ‘father’ and then Mr Richardson was lecturing him. Mr Richardson had been Sam’s sixth grade teacher before he married Mom and it showed in his lecturing style. Dean didn’t even need to bother to um-hmm.
By the time they were both done, Dean had got as far as he could with the current sigil. He put the phone down and stretched luxuriously, easing his cramped muscles. He was suddenly aware of the high heat of the sun and his sweat damp t-shirt. He rubbed the back of his neck and felt the prickle of sun burn.
He decided he had one more sigil in him before he had to stop for lunch and leaned down to gather up his supplies. His phone went off again. ‘Hells Bells’. Dad.
“Dean. Your mom and Sam have been on at me.”
“This thing you’re doing really that important?”
“Yes. It is.”
“Okay then.” And his dad rang off.
Dean smiled. Just occasionally his dad was an oasis of awesome within their crazy family. Of course less than five minutes later his phone went again.
“Dean. Dad said you’re still refusing to make the time to come out to see us.”
“Sam, I told you –”
“No, no. See it’s okay. It would probably be awkward if you were here. What with Brady being my best man and all.”
Dean cringed. He didn’t know how Sam always managed to find a way to twist the knife.
“No smart remarks now,” jeered Sam.
Dean took a deep steadying breath. To be so casually relegated from his place at brother’s side stung sharp and fierce, especially because Sam so obviously wanted the snub to hurt him. More than almost anything he wanted to take it all back, promise to show up at the damn party, be a good brother.
He closed his eyes.
Cas was here, trapped behind the most vicious set of wards that Dean had ever encountered, that had apparently made him forget Cas had ever existed. Even now Dean hadn’t been able to work out when he’d originally met Cas. Since Matt retired from active hunting he hadn’t had a partner, just hooked up with other hunters sometimes as he travelled around the country. Other than his twice-weekly check-ins with Bobby, he had no regular contacts, which meant there was nobody to ask. He didn’t think he had any missing time, but then he wouldn’t. Other than the disjointed images sparked by the wards he had no memory of Cas at all, just the soul deep knowing that this was his Cas.
And if Cas had been taken away once, he could be taken away a second time.
The thought sparked sheer terror and he clutched tightly at the hand print burn on his shoulder, relishing the reality of the pain. The puffy maggot-white blisters had been carefully popped and the whole thing wrapped under two layers of gauze, and Bobby had threated to give him gauze mittens if he kept unwrapping the bandages to check it was still there, but the pain was a reassuring constant.
Cas was real, Dean bore his mark and he was getting him the hell out of those fucking wards.
At some point he’d cut Sam off, now he deliberately turned his phone off. He had no further interest in conversation. Tossing his phone behind him, he reached for his supplies.
Then, as if in reward for his determination, he saw the wards start to flicker.
Grabbing the plastic bottle of holy water and his silver knife, he twisted the cap of with his teeth as he dug the knife into the soft flesh above the crook of his elbow.
The splatter of blood and splash of water were loud in the sudden silence. Dean had a second to brace himself and then the world exploded in a roar of white lightening. Arm curled over his eyes, Dean charged blindly forwards, because the second ring had just gone down and he was nearly certain that meant the third ring would be destabilized just enough.
He tripped, rolled, and crashed into cold, hungry shadows that swallowed him whole.
Shaken, he could only lie where he had fallen as the world reoriented around him. The all over shocky ache narrowed itself down to bruises on his knees and elbows and a raw scrape down his right arm. He sat up, blinking against the damp and must.
He’d fallen right into the hill, tumbled down a stone staircase and landed with a thump in a large echoy hall that reminded him more of a crypt than he was comfortable with. He levered himself to his feet, looking around as his eyes adjusted to the dimness.
The sound was so constant, like the rush of the sea, that it had taken until then to impinge on his consciousness, and then it took another second to recognize it for what it was, screaming.
The knife at his belt leapt into his hand, his feet pounded across the hard stone floor and Dean raced directly for the faint glow at the end of the hall. It grew steadily colder, from freezer cold, to supernatural cold, to a fierce cold that burnt his skin and scorched his lungs.
Dean didn’t stop, skidding from the hall into a huge vaulted chamber, too huge for the area it was occupying, somebody was messing around with the spatial dynamics – not that Dean really needed proof this wasn’t natural. The walls were carved all over with twisted curlicues and half-formed animals that swelled into monstrous tangles of limbs and feathers. Fretted spires and pinnacles crocketted up to top-heavy flying buttresses that enclosed the immense space with looming menace. It was like a perverted cathedral designed solely to emphasize the smallness of the figure pinned at the very center.
Cas on his knees.
As Dean got closer he could see he was trapped there by irons lashing his wrists to his ankles. A thick-linked chain ran from a wide shackle around his neck to a manacle set in the stone floor. The chain had been tightened enough to force Cas to bend his back and bow his head.
Dean didn’t care what it took; somebody was getting dead for this.
The fetters glowed yellow-green and the intensity was increasing until Dean had to squint his eyes. The light spread, coiling under Cas’ trench coat, crackling over Cas’s skin, tearing at him like malevolent fingers. Cas screamed like he was being burned alive.
The glow slowly sank back into the chains but as Cas’ scream faded to a sobbed catch of breath, it began to spread again.
Almost mindless as the sound of Cas’ agony clawed away his reason, Dean frantically sought for some way to end the torture. When he spotted the keys he could hardly believe it, but then he realized they had been hung precisely where Cas would see them if he strained his neck and looked up.
Fury gripped his chest so tight he could barely breathe. He grabbed the keys from the nail and yelped at the feel of something between static shock and acid burn. His smarting fingers fumbled and the keys clattered to floor. Quickly stripping off his shirt as a primitive shield, he caught them up again.
Sprinting to Cas, he dropped to his own knees, and for a horrible moment went completely blank. He was terrified to touch, to do anything, for fear of making it worse.
Cas moaned and shook in his chains, curling in tight, head dropping even lower. Looking at the scrape marks on the first links of chain, Dean was sickly certain that somebody made a point of returning to tighten Cas’ bonds. He wanted to cover his face with hands and weep like a girl.
The battering cold wouldn’t let him give way. It was brutal here at the center, bruising him to his bones. Dean honestly wasn’t certain he’d remain alive if stayed there much longer. He clenched his teeth and set his jaw. He was not dying and abandoning Cas to this hellhole.
There were two large black keys and a smaller one of dull silver. Working on the basis the smaller key operated the neck-cuff, he discarded it for the moment and took the slightly less elaborate black key and tried it on the cuffs binding Cas’ left wrist to ankle.
The key screeched and scraped but it clicked home, and Dean released Cas’ ankle and then wrist. When the cuff fell free from Cas’ pale, purple-bruised wrist, Dean flung the vile thing as far from them as they could hearing it clang across the floor with vicious satisfaction.
Cas drooped forwards, curling his free arm around his chest. Dean quickly released his right wrist and ankle and Cas keeled over completely, slumping across the floor, a shapeless huddle under his dirty trench coat.
Dean sobbed. He wanted to gather up his lover and comfort him, but he had to turn away to unlock the last cuff. The key was smaller and difficult to manipulate under the cloth of his t-shirt. Cas whimpered pitifully when he accidentally jerked at the collar. With a growl of disgust, he dropped the shirt and gritted his teeth against the slicing sting. Finally the key turned, the collar clicked open and he was able to toss it away in a clatter of chain.
Cas’ neck was one huge black bruise with bloody scrapes where the edge of the collar had rubbed him open and raw. Dean rested two tentative fingers against the inflamed skin, it was so swollen he had to wonder how Cas could breathe at all. The faint flutter of his pulse was much too weak to be reassuring.
Crouching by his lover, he carefully rolled him over, hooked one arm under his legs, the other around his shoulders and pulled him gently up onto his lap.
“Cas,” he whispered urgently, “Cas!”
Cas’ head lolled drunkenly before he managed get enough control to turn and look at Dean. Dean watched anxiously as the blown pupils narrowed and focused.
“Oh my father is indeed merciful,” Cas rasped, his voice wrecked and broken. “To see your face one last time before I die is more than I could have hoped for.”
He raised one trembling hand to cup the air around Dean’s cheek, and Dean could see how careful he was being not to touch him because Cas thought he was a fucking hallucination.
His name was infused with such love it hurt to hear it. The same love was reflected in Cas’ face, his eyes so blue and luminous his whole face seemed lit from within.
Then his eyes rolled closed and his body collapsed into Dean, limp and shattered.
Ash phoned in, “We got company.”
Bobby gestured for Jefferson to come and take over the monitoring station, “Do not say anything to them,” he warned.
“Copy that,” burbled Ash, “that’s a ten-four.”
“And for god’s sake, stop pretending you’re in a police procedural.”
“Aw man, I’d be so great as a CSI. What do you think, CSI Broken Bow? We’d kick ass.”
Bobby groaned, “Just please stay away from anybody not us.”
“Wilco, over and out. They couldn’t handle my awe-inspiring awesomeness anyway.”
“Yeah that’d be it.”
Bobby clicked off his phone and hurried down the hill to their base camp down by the road. He wanted to get there before whoever it was actually did speak to Ash. To date the small town appeared unbothered by the hunting party in their midst. Admittedly the waitress at the diner last night had called them as ‘those idiot paramilitaries who’re going to blow themselves to Kingdom Come’, but nobody seemed too worked up about it. Mostly the town seemed to consider them an excellent source of free entertainment and Bobby planned to keep it that way.
Fortunately his worrying turned out to be for nothing as it was Matt who tumbled out of the unfamiliar car, fighting his seatbelt until it let him go.
“Matt, we weren’t expecting you for another day at least.”
“Hopped a plane. Somebody owed Dad a favor. Hired a car. Here I am.”
Bobby frowned over jerky speech pattern, “You okay?”
“Fine. Damn proplus. Don’t do a thing.”
“How many have you taken?”
“A few. Didn’t do anything. Took a few more. No effect.” Matt’s eyes were twitching and he was jolting up and down like his legs had an extra joint in them.
“Sure, no effect whatsoever.”
“Still tired,” Matt insisted forlornly.
“You’re practically high on caffeine, just go sit down ‘til you come down.”
Matt didn’t budge, just hovered in place like he would achieve lift off any second.
Bobby groaned. Seizing the sleeve of Matt’s jacket, he hauled him towards the trestle tables Ash had his computers set up on. He was glad Matt was there though; Dean was getting wound tighter and tighter as the hours passed and it would be good to have somebody else to help contain the building explosion. If Matt’s brain was back up and running by then.
Ash grinned at them, “Hey Matty, you must be zonked. Want some coffee?”
“Cool,” chirruped Matt
Bobby was surrounded by idiots. He took a deep breath and was about to explain this at great length to said idiots, when the hairs on his forearms rose at the crackle-click of static electricity.
It was the only warning they had.
“Watch out,” he yelled. Grabbing onto Matt with both hands, he swung the boy around so he was facing away from the hill. Then there was just enough time for Bobby curl his right shoulder up to his ear and get his eyes closed before they were hit by the roar of light.
Physically rocked by the swell, with bright spots dancing behind his closed eye lids, Bobby lost his hold on Matt. When he felt able to open his eyes and look around, Matt was predictably rabbiting up the hill.
Bobby was too old for this shit.
He followed Matt at a more sedate pace, and found Jefferson dealing with all the teams ringing in at once.
Jefferson put down one of the phones, held his hand out flat and waggled it. So everyone was mostly okay.
“Dean?” Matt demanded. “Have you heard from Dean?”
Jefferson shook his head. He placed his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone he still held.
“He’s not picking up. Straight to voicemail. Malcolm and Annie are closest, they’re checking.”
“Damn it,” Matt snarled, dropping into a crouch and pawing through the supply bags.
Bobby was sure Matt was right, but, hopeful they were wrong, he leaned in close to hear Annie’s reply.
Dean’s supplies abandoned on the side of the hill. The only trace of Dean a scuffed trail leading up the hill and vanishing abruptly.
“- right where the third ring of wards starts,” muttered Matt. He turned to glare up at them, “Come on Jefferson. You must have a knife in here somewhere.”
Jefferson thoughtlessly drew his flick knife from his pants pocket and handed it over before Bobby could stop him. Though he did manage to grab Matt’s collar before he could bolt again.
“Where do you think you’re going? You’re not going to get through that last circle of wards.”
“We have to at least try. Seriously Bobby, you think whatever locked Cas up is going to let Dean just waltz off with him?”
Dean stared down at Cas’ slumped body for a long moment before he managed to get himself back together. Staying here, in the frozen pit of Cas’ personal hell was obviously not going to do any good. So he tightened his hold and shifted until he could get his legs under him and lurched to his feet. Cas was a dead weight in his arms. One arm slipped loose from Dean’s grip and flopped down lifelessly.
Dean swallowed down his howling fear and started walking. He strode as quickly as he could while placing his steps with precise care, he wasn’t risking a fall while carrying Cas. Once he’d made it out of the hall and into the corridor the air, although cold, had become perceptibly warmer, and he stopped, desperate to check that Cas was at least still breathing.
The wall was rough and gritty but it was a helpful brace and he managed to lower himself to his knees with Castiel propped up against him.
“Cas. Cas, sweetheart.” Biting his lip, he curled his hand around Cas’ nose and mouth and, in the chill, the heat of Cas’ soft puff of breath was scorching.
“Oh thank God.” His head dropped under the weight of his relief.
After a moment he blinked his eyes clear and refocused. Sliding his hand around so he cupped Cas’ cheek, he stroked his thumb gently across the delicate line of dark lashes,
“Cas baby, can you open your eyes for me?” he begged, greedy for a second miracle.
He pulled the small hip flask from his back pocket. It was holy water, but water was water and the holy part could only help. He awkwardly twisted the cap off one-handed, unwilling to lose the tentative connection of his other hand against Cas’ cheek
He tipped the neck of the flask to Cas’ slack mouth and let a little water dribble out. Cas’ lips didn’t move and the water dripped down his chin.
“C’mon Cas.” He drew his thumb through the liquid and then rubbed water against Cas’ slack, chapped lips. “Please,” his voice broke and he had to gulp for air before he could continue, “Castiel. C’mon. Please.”
Cas’ face twitched beneath his hand.
“That’s it. C’mon Cas, you can do it. Open those pretty blue eyes for me.” He tilted the flask again and was delighted to see Cas’ mouth work against the trickle of liquid and his throat flex as he swallowed a little.
“Yeah, attaboy Cas.”
Cas’ head tilted slightly and Dean thought he saw the dark lashes flutter. Then Cas’ whole body trembled under a fierce draft.
Dean turned his head, and for a second he could only stare. A man had appeared in the corridor, incongruous in a black business suit. Smart suit, bald head, early fifties, he looked like he should be an average middle manager, but there was a suggestion of power in his strong shoulders and squat body. Dean cringed on instinct.
“You!” the word grew huge, seeming to take on a life of its own as it rolled down the corridor, washing over Dean and leaving him drenched in malice.
He twisted around to face the threat, shifting so Castiel was safely behind him, tucked in close to the wall.
“You should not be here!”
“Yeah?” Dean grinned toothily. “That’s me, always turning up like a bad penny. What you going to do about it?”
“You will be obliterated!”
“Oh now come on, that seems a bit harsh.” Dean wasn’t paying much attention to what he was saying, just running his mouth as he tried to keep whatever it was occupied until he could figure out how to handle it.
“After Michael takes possession, there will be nothing but your empty shell for your oh so dear Castiel to mourn over.”
Dean thought he felt Cas flinch, and he reached behind him and grabbed a good handful of trench coat to make sure Cas stayed down.
“You shut up about Cas,” he glared at talkative bastard. “And I’m digging the monologue, but you should know referring to yourself in the third person is creepy.”
“Ah, ah, I am not Michael. You are not that lucky. Michael only wants you gone. I want you to suffer.”
“Super. You got a name Chuckles? Or shall I stick with douche nozzle?”
“Of course,” the being laughed out loud, “you know nothing. I am Zachariah. I am the one who will prepare you to accept your destiny.”
“You are a total ham,” said Dean flatly, “and I’m not having any part of a destiny you’ve cooked up.” Cas was definitely awake now; Dean could feel him struggling to move, limbs trembling convulsively, shoes scuffling against the stone floor.
The thing grinned smarmily, “You will say yes this time. And Michael will wear you to the final confrontation,” the grin sharpened, “wear you like a cheap suit.”
Dean’s skin crawled. He had half a dozen smart remarks about being a damn fine suit but the idea of something stealing his body was too stomach-churning to even be mocked, “You just outed yourself, demon.”
“I’m not a demon. You should look behind you to the traitor who cringes in your shadow.”
“Yeah?” Dean glared right back. It wasn’t like he hadn’t figured out there was something supernatural about Cas. But there was no way he was a demon, and anything else was irrelevant just at the moment. He’d worry about it later, much later, when they were all safe and he’d had the chance to yell at Cas for disappearing on him. “Well, you’re right, I got no clue what’s going on, but if Cas told you to go fuck yourself then more power to him.”
“Such smart talk. But I expected it to come in stereo. Where is little Sammy? Is he crying into his cornflakes about you dumping him?”
“I’d never dump Sammy,” Dean screwed his nose up at how that sounded. “And could you not make it sound like we were dating.”
“But you were and you have. You broke the three seals, so you turned away from your brother three times. I would never have believed it – obviously, or I would have chosen a different seal. What does dear Samuel think about that?”
“Seals?” asked Dean, both because he was curious, and because he wanted this thing’s attention away from Sam, and Cas. Against his back and arm he could feel the coiling tension of Cas pulling himself together. The helpless floundering was growing more purposeful, Cas’ legs curling in tight, ready to run.
“It’s not easy holding down a go-getter like little Castiel. Three wards to make a prison, three chains to bind him, and three seals to keep him there. I thought nine was overkill, but clearly I wasn’t giving you enough credit.” He sniffed like the idea Dean had any credit at all was ridiculous.
“I don’t understand,” said Dean, and, as he hoped, the thing was stupid enough to keep talking while he retrieved his emergency salt stash from the small pack hooked to his belt. It was raving on about simian intelligence and how an actual monkey would be smarter, Dean wasn’t listening, concentrating undoing the zip and ferreting for the paper packet by feel because he didn’t what to draw the thing’s attention by looking down.
The paper ripped deliberately easy under his anxious fingers. There wasn’t much salt, just enough to trace a thin circle around a standing person, or draw a line across a corridor. Dean cast the salt quickly, watching the protective white barrier arc across the floor. He didn’t think it would hold the thing indefinitely but the longer Cas had to recover the better. Together they had a fighting chance.
Then the thing threw his head back, roaring in a parody of laughter, and stepped easily right over the salt line.
“Oh Dean, you weren’t listening at all were you. Forget monkeys, you’re barely a moderately intelligent gerbil.”
Shoving Cas along behind him, Dean backed up as best he could. He was brain was working furiously, but it wasn’t coming up with anything useful and he wanted to punch himself in the head.
“I told you, I am no demon. I am an Angel of the Lord.” The air sparked with ozone and in the dim light of the tunnel the shadows of huge wings were visible, arched aggressively over the thing’s back, a raptor preparing to strike.
“Wow,” said Dean blankly, “their hiring policy’s totally gone to the dogs.” Inside he was reeling. He had been saying angels were dicks with wings for years (you couldn’t have too high an opinion of beings when their language’s literal translation of human was dirt-monkey) but he’d never expected to be proved quite so resoundingly right. They were so completely screwed it wasn’t even funny.
“Heaven Dean, Castiel chose to defy the whole magnificent host of Heaven. He is one of the fallen. The greatest traitor since Lucifer.”
Dean grinned at how steamed up Cas had the thing, “Cas, you rebel,” and he whistled in admiration.
Cas choked over a word that might have been Dean’s name.
“How can you choose him?” It sounded furious, and possibly confused.
Cas definitely tried to say something then but it came out mostly mumble. Dean gave him a warning little shove to stay down, and quiet.
“I’m always gonna chose Cas – and if you’re the one on the other side, it’s so obvious it barely counts as a choice. So screw you, you sanctimonious son of a bitch.”
Dean uncoiled from his crouch and stalked forwards. Walking away from Cas felt all wrong, but he was pretty sure the thing wouldn’t have any trouble powering straight through him. The best way to protect Cas was to keep it away and make sure its attention stayed focused firmly on Dean.
“I mean you’re really the best heaven can do? You’re hardly the most impressive specimen.”
“You are too limited to appreciate my true form; I have six wings and four faces, one of which is a lion.”
“Ooooh.” He did his best teeny-bopper eyelash flutter.
“Insolent worm.” The angel made an abrupt twisting gesture with his hands.
Dean doubled over clutching his belly as his guts twisted. Gasping with pain, he slumped against the gritty wall. Placing one hand flat against the cool stone, he used it to lever his spasming body upright.
The thing smiled, and did it again.
It went on for longer this time and Dean was dizzy with pain by the time it stopped. He lifted his wobbly head,
“C’mon. That the best you got?”
A thump snapped both of their attentions to Cas. He had clearly tried to stand up and gone sprawling across the floor. Trembling with the strain, he lifted his head and stared at them with his burning blue eyes.
The thing just laughed and returned to squeezing Dean’s insides from the outside. Dean couldn’t look away from the intensity of Cas’ gaze. Everything else seemed to fade away as he tried to put all the things he couldn’t say into his own eyes, that everything was okay, and would Cas just run now, dammit.
Cas’ lips lifted into a faint smile. He raised one arm, and a slim silver blade slid from the overhanging sleeve and into his hand. The effort though left Cas shuddering with exhaustion and, when he drew his hand back and launched the knife into the air, Dean could see he had nothing left to put any strength into the strike.
The knife arced gently before hitting the floor, bouncing, and skittering a little further until it bumped into the thing’s foot. It glanced down, and laughed.
“Oh Castiel. How the mighty are fallen.”
“Shut the hell up,” growled Dean roughly, because he wanted its attention back on him. “You’re one talk, running errands for his bosses like a good little boy.” And score, he hit a major nerve there.
It let out a strangled shriek, yanked him away from the wall and slammed him back. The human face it was wearing didn’t seem to be enough to contain whatever was underneath and it rippled, pulsing like something was about to burst out.
“Gross.” Dean tried to edge further into the wall. “I’m warning you now, go all Aliens on me and I will hurl on your shoes.”
“Disgusting maggot. I will deal with your insolence. You will break in the end, you did before.”
Dean flinched under the lightening-flash string of images – his own hands holding tools of torture stained with blood and shiny with use.
“No, no, no,” he moaned, but it was a lie and he knew it. He had broken before and would surely break again.
“Yes,” the thing hissed, scenting weakness. “Because if you don’t, I’ll pay a visit to Sam, see if baby brother is more amenable.”
“No, not Sam, you stay away from away from my brother.”
“Oh yes, a visit to Samuel is definitely in order.”
“Not Sammy. Leave Sammy alone. Please. Please not Sammy.”
“Now that depends on you, Dean.” The thing took a step back, releasing its grip. Dean let himself slide down wall until he hit the floor on his knees.
“Please not Sammy.” He fell forward onto his hands, head hanging low. Distantly, he heard Cas’ desperate scrabble and shout of his name.
“Right.” Bobby gave Matt a rough shake to see if some sense shook loose, “And you running right into the same trap is going to help how? If we’re doing this, we’re doing it smart.”
Matt whined like an impatient five year old and reluctantly subsided.
The hunting parties were already on their way back and they clumped noisily together, taking extra water and chocolate bars from the cooler under the table. When they were all there Bobby cleared his throat and said loudly,
“Alright people.” Silence fell quickly and because they were hunters they knew the score and Bobby didn’t even have to ask for volunteers before Olivia was stepping forward,
“I’m in. Mine,” her eyes skipped left and she swung her arms, “wasn’t fun. But nobody died and I lived through it once, I can do it again.”
Caleb just nodded.
Isaac and Tamara exchanged glances, and Bobby shook his head at them. He knew how they got into the business, there was no need for them to put themselves through that again.
“I’ll go too,” Penny’s Red stepped forward, milk-pale skin flushed almost as red as her hair. “The Wendigo is easily the worst memory of my life and the most terrified I’ve ever been but it’s how I met Penny, so really it’s all good. And I’ve been terrified on a regular basis ever since, so hey, immunity.”
The silence turned slightly scandalized. Because yeah, everyone was terrified on a regular basis but you didn’t go around admitting that. (Dean had once, in the dead of night in a motel room in Tulsa, confessed he was scared like it was a mortal sin. Bobby had told him it was that which would make him a good hunter and it was when he wasn’t scared anymore he would be in trouble. He didn’t think Dean had believed him.)
Penny groaned and covered her face with her hands. “Sorry,” she muttered to them all in general. When she’d decided not to die from sheer embarrassment she lifted her head and said, “Me too.”
“Oh no you won’t,” said Red authoritatively, “you’ve had nightmares every night since you tried to walk through the wards. Don’t know why you kept going. You should have come back as soon as you realized –”
“Shut up.” Penny growled, ducking back behind her shield of hands.
“Sorry,” said Red, and she did sound sorry although not apologetic, “but this is the one time, probably the one and only time, I’m better qualified than you. I’m going, you’re staying.”
Jo stepped forward then, but Bobby shook his head,
“No chance Jo. I’m sorry but your Mom would have my head.”
Jo gave a frustrated little hiss-growl, exactly like a small fuzzy kitten, and Bobby didn’t feel so bad about denying her the adventure she craved.
He wasn’t going to risk pushing things now. He had hopes that if Ellen saw Jo could hunt safely under careful supervision, she would allow Jo to join them again. Better among friends than out on your own.
That was why he’d taken Dean under his wing after the boy’s abrupt introduction to the Supernatural. Dean, full of curious questions and clear determination to learn as much as possible, wasn’t just going to forget about what he’d seen.
And Bobby, still feeling as guilty as hell, wasn’t going to leave Dean on his own. So he called Jim Murphy, got him to work his wiles, and soon Dean was signed up for a ‘work-study’ program for the rest of the summer, and as it turned out every summer afterwards til he was out of school. After Karen, best decision Bobby had ever made.
“So we’re good then,” said Matt, “Me, Caleb, Olivia and Red. Bobby you better not even think of volunteering.”
“I,” he began, because it was Dean, and he wanted to go, but on the other hand he couldn’t truly be certain he would actually be any use.
Matt did his best attempt at a glare. Give him another ten years and Matt was going to be a formidable man.
“Bobby. Don’t make me do this.”
Oh who was he kidding, Matt was already a formidable man. And his daddy had obviously spilled the secret of Bobby’s worst memory to him, and while Matt clearly didn’t want to, he would tell everyone about Karen and how she died, before he would let Bobby make a mistake, and as annoying as that was, Bobby had to respect it.
“Fine,” he grumped.
“Good,” said Matt. “Because Dean would have skinned you and left you for the crows.”
“Are you heading out, or going to hang around all day yapping?”
“Love you too, Bobby.”
“No, no, not Sammy.” He kept his eyes on floor and watched as the pointed tips of the shiny black shoes turned away from him.
“Poor Castiel,” it oiled slick satisfaction as it turned on stalk Cas, “you have placed your faith in the broken reed and found your idol has feet of clay. What will y– ”
Dean tilted his head just enough to catch the glint of silver. Took a long steadying breath. Snatched up Cas’ fancy silver knife. Hurled himself to his feet, slamming the blade into the thing’s neck. Gripping the hilt two-handed, he powered the blow with the force of his upward momentum and, with his full weight behind the blow, drove the knife through its throat and up into the brain pan.
It gurgled red blood, then seemed to burn up from the inside. The holes in its skull dissolving into nothing but increasingly bright white light. Dean raised one arm protectively over his face until he heard the thump of it hitting the ground.
Squinting he checked the light had faded, then crouched down and yanked the silver blade loose. After wiping it off against the thing’s jacket, he stuffed it in his slightly too small belt sheath. If it could put down these angel-things, it was way too useful to leave behind.
Taking a second glance at the thing to make sure it was staying dead, he was surprised to see the sooty impression of two huge wings.
Spooked, he automatically flicked his gaze to Cas for reassurance. Cas tilted his head at him, looking somewhere between pleased and puzzled.
“Hey, the best way to protect Sam from skeevy sons-of-bitches who want to use him against me is to take them down hard and make sure they don’t get up again.”
Cas nodded solemnly in agreement.
“So dude, I seriously just offed an angel?” Because Dean had no regrets about using extreme prejudice to terminate the threat to Cas and Sammy, but an angel. Dean wasn’t religious in a conventional sense, or any sense at all really, but there was a big difference between thinking God could take a goddamn hike (all those evil monsters out there hurting people, and where were the forces of good? On a long fucking lunch?) and ganking an angel. He would have thought he’d broken and entered enough churches to neutralize this atavistic sense of sacrilegious trespass.
“As have I,” said Cas so quietly that if it hadn’t have been Cas, Dean wouldn’t have understood him.
“Oh, okay.” Dean shuffled his feet. Cas didn’t look like he felt any better about it than Dean did, but it warmed him just the same. He was in the same boat as Cas that was what mattered, the fact the boat was sinking was incidental. It wasn’t like he’d ever thought he was heaven bound anyway.
It felt so wonderfully normal to have Cas standing there, watching him intently like Dean might vanish if he blinked too long, that it took Dean a moment to realize that, actually, it wasn’t normal.
“Cas! You’re okay!” He grinned with delight even as he winced over how stupid he sounded.
Cas stared at him for a long time. Dean was just starting to squirm awkwardly, when Cas announced solemnly, “You are happy.”
“Yeah well, you’re here, it’s…” Dean tailed off as Cas’ face lit up with the most beautiful luminous smile.
“I like seeing you happy.”
“That’s, uh, good,” Dean mumbled, utterly unable to cope with everything Cas wasn’t saying out loud. He wanted to be a smart-ass to try and reduce his discomfort but he couldn’t bear to diminish Cas’ earnest joy.
“It makes it all worth it.”
“Wait, what?” It couldn’t be for him. Cas couldn’t have been tortured like that for him. “Cas, you idiot, what did you do?”
Cas’ smile grew sly, “I cheated.” He looked supremely self-satisfied. Dean was going to kill him.
“I am not fucking around here. What did you do?”
Which was when the walls roared with anger.
“What the hell?” Dean glanced up and down the corridor as the brickwork morphed into a hundred howling mouths. He abruptly abandoned the idea of killing Cas until they were somewhere a bit safer.
“Hell has nothing to do with it,” said Cas, “this is Heaven’s Wrath.”
The mouths were projecting out the brickwork now, forming blunt snouts, dripping tongues and flashing teeth.
“You should run now,” Cas added calmly.
“What? You’re just going to stay here and get eaten by those, those whatever-they-ares.” Dean stared in disbelief, his temper spiraling straight in the stratosphere as he realized that was exactly the case. “When we get out of here I am going to tie you up and use you for batting practice.”
Cas’ smile went soft and wistful. “There is no hope of escape for me, I understood that from start. You should go.”
Dean was so mad his whole body was shaking. He’d thought it made him angry when Sammy was a little bitch, but that was nothing on this. He had never been so furious in his life. The world was actually going red and hazy round the edges.
“Start moving,” he growled.
“Dean, it is taking all my strength to remain standing.”
“I do not fucking care.” Now that Cas mentioned it, Dean could see the way his lover was leaning against the wall for support. The tongues of the wall-creatures were already flicking towards the trench coat, the nearest jaws were snapping but the heads hadn’t emerged enough yet to be able to turn and actually bite Cas.
“Come here,” he snarled. Grabbing a fistful of trench coat, he shoved his shoulder into Cas’ stomach and, as he doubled over, swung him up and across his shoulders in a fireman’s carry.
Cas’ body stiffened up at the affront and Dean was irresistibly reminded of an unwillingly picked up cat.
“Sorry sweetheart,” he said as he started to run, “did I ruffle your feathers?”
Cas huffed an adorably outraged little sigh. “I should expect no less.” He sounded put-upon and pleased at the same time, which made Dean grin with triumph.
Which was when the corridor bucked like a rollercoaster, the ground gave way beneath his feet, dumping them in a heap as the two ends of the corridor slammed together way above their heads leaving them at the bottom of a very deep oubliette.
Dean stayed sprawled across the floor, his body jumbled up with Cas, until he managed to catch his breath enough to groan,
“Why do I get the feeling we’re not going to be lucky enough for them to forget about us?”
“You should have taken the opportunity to run.”
“Have you met me?” Dean sniped as he started to untangle them. Then he froze as horror overtook him, because his memory was a fuzzy mess and maybe he had…
“Oh God, Cas tell me I didn’t run out and abandon you? Please.” He held his breath as he waited for the answer.
There was a rusty choking sound and it took him a moment to realize it was Cas laughing.
“I have met you Dean Winchester, but it seems you have not met yourself.”
“That’s a no, right?”
Cas laughed again and slumped companionably against him. Dean slung his arm around his shoulders.
“So what do we do now?” He thought vaguely that he should be more concerned about their situation, but he was too busy luxuriating in the reality of Cas’ body pressed tight against his to have anything left over to worry. He tilted his head so his cheek rested against Cas’ soft hair and breathed in his lover’s warm scent. Turning slightly he pressed a kiss to the tip of Cas’ ear and felt Cas shiver against him.
“F-or-ni-ca-tor-s.” The word rolled right through them, rattling up the walls of the pit like it was a huge cavernous throat.
“If you think that’s fornication, you need to get out more,” Dean snapped back, because his bones were still shaking and he was freaked the hell out.
“Dean, you are not helping.” Cas sounded a hair’s breadth from laughing. Dean felt a little hysterical himself.
“In-so-lent Human. Say Yes and I will not destroy him.”
Dean’s head snapped round ready to yell that like fuck was Cas agreeing to anything the freaky-ass voice wanted, no matter what its threats, when Cas, moving equally quickly, slammed his hand over Dean’s mouth.
“Dean, do not agree to anything.”
Dean blinked, oh, freaky-ass voice wanted Dean to say yes to something, well maybe that was worth considering if it got Cas out of here.
“No,” growled Cas, “I would rather die a thousand deaths than have him take you.”
“Mmph,” said Dean.
“No. Besides he lies.”
Dean winced, yeah freaky-ass voice thing would be lying. Supernatural 101, the bad guys will tell you pretty much anything if it means they’ll get what they want. Dean couldn’t believe he’d so nearly fallen for it. But then he’d never so badly wanted to believe them before.
He nodded in defeat and let himself go limp in Cas’ grip. Cas released him cautiously. Dean raised his hands,
“I got nothing. Any suggestions?”
Cas lifted his head, “Commander,” he called to the empty air, “if Dean Winchester dies, so does your vessel.”
Dean seized Cas’ arm, “When I said suggestions,” he hissed, “I meant ones that would get us both out of here.”
Gently tugging free of Dean’s bruise-tight grip, Cas turned so they were facing. His eyes were intent and it was almost a relief Cas’ expression was hidden in the shadows dark against his pale skin.
Cas shifted up onto his knees, his hands coming up to carefully cup Dean’s face like he was something fragile and precious.
“Beloved,” he whispered, his breath hot against Dean’s skin. The kiss was just a brush of Cas’ lips against his forehead but he could feel the shakiness in Cas’ hands and hear the unsteadiness in his voice as he repeated, “Beloved.”
The pit screeched and writhed, rattling them around like pills in a bottle. Dean grabbed hold of Cas, struggling to curl his body around him as a shield, hampered by the fact Cas was trying to protect him the same way.
The screech was so high and sharp, it took a second for Dean’s jangled brains to realize there were words.
“Even now you sink deeper into the mire. This corrupt, broken creature is nothing of mine.”
“You stupid son of a bitch,” Cas yelled back furiously.
Dean stared because he could hear the rhythm of his own speech in Cas’ words. It dawned on him that Cas had well and truly lost his temper.
“You are nothing but corruption and hatred,” Cas snarled. “You are the bitter and broken one.”
“You dare,” roared the bricks around them. Dean thought there might have been more words but they weren’t in any register he could comprehend. He lost track of things for a bit until Cas’ elbow in his ribs made him focus.
“Give me your knife,” demanded Cas.
His hand went to the shiny silver blade at his waist. Cas tched like he was being dim on purpose.
“Not that one. The carpet knife you keep in your boot.”
Dean wordlessly handed it over, then winced as Cas shoved back his sleeve, shot the blade, and dug it into the meat of his fore arm. Cas handed him the knife back, and Dean stowed it away, watching anxiously as Cas licked his right two fore fingers, dragged them through the welling blood and quickly traced a symbol on the wall.
“Raagyosl, eee vyn nonkyf aspt,” Cas murmured, and retraced the bloody symbol.
“What? Cas, how exactly is water going to help us here?”
Cas ignored him as he invoked the spirits of the waters again.
Then freaky-ass voice had to clatter in, “You think to match your strength to mine. You who are nothing but the commonest foot soldier.”
“Oh shut the fuck up,” snapped Dean, the effect was getting less freaky and more annoying by the moment.
Cas completed his third invocation.
“Cas?” Dean asked again. He wanted in on the plan.
“This whole thing,” Cas rolled his head to encompass their entire situation, “is built on hate. And when you build on hate you build on sand. But build on love and you build on solid ground. Look and see.”
“It’s pitch black down here.” That was an exaggeration because Dean could definitely see Cas roll his eyes.
“Fine, come here.” Cas grabbed Dean’s hand and pressed it against the wall and he felt the slow drip of water.
“Cas, I wasn’t really looking to add drowning to being buried alive on my death certificate.”
“Of course I trust you.”
Cas smiled. His fingers wriggled under Dean’s t-shirt and over the still raw burn. Cas’ hand matched the burn exactly and as it slotted in place electricity raced up and down Dean’s spine and the sharp sting of ozone hit the back of his throat.
“Repeat the words with me.”
Dean still didn’t understand how drowning was going to improve things, but if Cas thought it would help…
He started the invocation. It hurt, a lot, so he guessed it was working. Magic usually stung like hot oil spitting against your skin, but this burned, the power of the working boiling deep beneath his skin.
By the second time around even his bones felt like they were on fire. He stared hopelessly into the dark forcing himself not to yank away even as his body began to shudder. The grip on him tightened and Cas brought his free hand up and curled it around his neck, thumb rubbing up towards his jaw. Dean closed his eyes, concentrating solely on that small contact as they started on the third round.
The chant ended with a sharp exclamation and Cas clenched his fingers so his nails dug into Dean’s skin. Dean gritted his teeth and shoved all the support at Cas he could, groaning as the built-up power leeched from him to Cas.
The sudden crack of sound was so loud, there was a hot trickle of blood in his right ear that meant the drum had blown. It took Dean a moment to realize the rushing sound wasn’t just in his head, and by then the water had lifted him off his knees.
He spluttered and kicked out automatically, touching the floor for a second and steadying himself before the cold swell of water swept him up out of his depth. Cas, trying to keep his hand pressed to Dean’s shoulder, staggered and went under. Dean clutched at the collar of trench coat, yanking him in close. Cas’ head broke through and he shook the water out of his eyes as he coughed and spat.
“Okay?” Dean checked.
Cas nodded, but made no attempt to keep himself afloat.
“Can you even swim?”
“No, but you can.” Cas hung limply in his hold, one arm resting lightly over Dean’s shoulders, trusting him to keep them from sinking.
Dean growled in wordless frustration. If they got out of this he was going to have a long talk with Cas about what constituted an acceptable plan.
The water kept flooding in and, like corks, they bobbed up towards the light at the top of the pit.
“No,” shrieked the voice. “No, this cannot be.”
“It’s working,” surprise colored Cas’ voice.
“Definitely having words,” muttered Dean. If the water had been gushing in any slower, exhaustion would have set in before they reached the top and, while Dean figured he could have kept himself above the water line, with two of them they would have gone under. Of course Cas’ plan probably involved only Cas drowning and Dean surviving, but if Dean thought about that too hard right now, he’d drown Cas himself. His grip tightened.
“The theory was sound,” said Cas reproachfully. “But Michael was right, he is much stronger than me.”
“So what happened?”
“He forgot that hate is only really good at destruction. For a lasting creation, at base, you need love.”
“Could you please stop keep talking about love. You’re like a freaking care bear.”
“You are the one who made the comparison.” Cas sounded way too amused for Dean’s comfort.
“Shut up,” he sulked.
“I said shut up.”
Above them the light at the top of the pit grew ever closer.
Matt cautiously led the way up the hill. Expecting the visions to start any moment, all four of them were tense. The only sound was the thump of their feet in the dirt as they grew closer and closer to the brow of the hill.
It was Red who finally broke the silence, “Uh, shouldn’t we be screaming by now?”
“Sssh,” hissed Olivia, glancing around like she thought someone was listening.
“But,” said Red.
“Don’t tempt fate,” she whispered harshly.
“She’s only saying what we’re all thinking,” offered Caleb at normal volume.
“Now you’re doing it too.”
“Guys, guys,” soothed Matt. “Does anyone remember anything from the maps that would indicate a water source?” He pointed up at small trails of water dribbling down from the rocks above them.
“No surface water round here,” said Caleb. “Town relies on deep drilled aquifers.”
“It’s not natural,” said Olivia, “or at any rate not recent. It should be surrounded by greenery.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Hurrying up the hill, Matt knelt down and dug his fingers experimentally into the damp soil. It crumbled beneath his touch like rotten wood. “Yeah, that’s definitely not natural.”
The water continued to bubble out the soil, soaking into the knees of his jeans. He scraped at the ground, hands shoveling aside the damp stinking soil, but no matter how easily it came apart under his hands he didn’t seem to make any progress. Glancing behind him he saw heaps of decaying soil, while the hole he’d made barely seemed to scrape the surface.
“Watch yourself,” called Caleb and Matt quickly yanked his hands back before they were pinned on the spiked metal pole Caleb swung through the air and buried into the unholy ground.
“That’ll sort it.” Caleb took a step backwards dusting his hands off with the air of a job well done. “Pure iron, does the trick every time.”
The soil crumbled away falling into nothing. The empty space kept growing. “Uh Caleb, think we better move.”
Matt grabbed Caleb and they scrambled backwards as the earth collapsed in front of them leaving only void. It was a clear dead gray with no surface and no depth. Just looking at it made Matt feel queasy.
“Wow,” said Red, “I’ve never seen that before. What do we do now?”
Matt didn’t have the heart to tell her that he had never seen it either, dead space not being something the average hunter ever encountered, and that he had no idea what to do.
“Let’s see if it’s stable,” he said instead. Because that seemed the most important factor and would determine their choice between thoughtful reconnaissance and run for your lives.
Approaching it side on, he poked cautiously at the edge of the dead space. It felt solid beneath the covering of dust and brushing it aside he uncovered a thin pillar of bone white marble veined with blood red. Bracing one arm against the marble and ignoring the way it seemed to give like something living, he leaned into the void. It felt like he was vanishing under crumbling parchment and old cobwebs. He tried to call out,
“Dean! Dean, you in there?” but everything was smothered by dirt and time.
Leaning in further, he tried to tear at the enveloping claggy air.
Something gave, his hand slipped, his foot skidded, and he tumbled forward into nothingness. Automatically curving his body into a roll to lessen the force of his fall, he hit the ground on his shoulder, rolled over his back and came up on one knee.
Then he realized he was kneeling in a good inch of icy cold water, his shirt was soaked, and freezing fingers were slowly infiltrating his boots and socks.
“Dammit ’73. Can’t you be boring for once.”
He quickly scanned his surroundings in case things were about to get still less boring but he was alone at the end of a long, tall stone corridor. Squinting into the gloom, he searched for any movement or sign of life but there was nothing. A check of the celling and he saw only fancily carved fretwork. There was no sign of his entry point, not even the weird emptiness.
“Problem.” He checked his gun and knife were still in place. Despite the water he didn’t move from his defensive crouch, he was already soaked anyway.
The high, anxious voice behind him made him jump,
Olivia was dangling just shy of the floor. Her foot was tucked into a loop at the end of a rope and she was clutching it with one hand, the other held a gun. The rope ran straight up and abruptly cut off about a foot above her head.
“Okay, that’s not at all disturbing.”
Olivia followed his gaze. “Yeah. Not sure what’s going on there. Are we safe here?”
Matt blinked at her.
“Okay, bearing in mind this is the craziest situation any of us have landed ourselves in, are we safe?”
Matt didn’t want to tell her that actually this didn’t break his top five. “Seems to be okay, we just need to be able to get out again. Caleb pack an emergency ground anchor?”
“Right.” She bounced lightly on the rope and Matt had half a second to see her ascend before she suddenly vanished. Presumably Caleb was pulling her out and she’d reached the point where it got weird.
He didn’t doubt for a second that Caleb had packed an emergency ground anchor so hopefully reinforcements would soon arrive with, most crucially, a way out.
He was just wondering whether he should wait for their arrival, or check out the corridor on his own, when it struck him the water had closed over the leg he was kneeling on. A brief check proved the water was rising, and rising fast.
He sprang to his feet,
“’73! Where the hell are you?”
He thought he heard swearing echoing along the corridor and started to jog towards it as best he could, slipping and splashing through the foot deep water. When the corridor jinked sharply, he slid, crashing into the stone wall and bouncing off again to continue skidding along.
Dean appeared around the next bend, a second man slumped against him. Dean looked all in; he had the other man’s arm around his shoulders and was mostly dragging him as he attempted to stumble along. Dean’s Cas was small next to Dean, pale and delicate with his drenched coat flapping around him.
As he caught sight of Matt, Dean’s exhausted face brightened and he tried to run faster. Matt met him halfway.
“M&M. Thank god,” Dean panted breathlessly grateful. “Quick. Take Castiel.” He shrugged the other man onto Matt.
“But,” said Matt as he juggled to keep his new acquisition from face-planting in the small river running over their feet.
Dean raised his right hand, and Matt saw the silver blade for the first time. It was a nice weapon, elegantly simple. He wondered where Dean had got it from because he was sure he hadn’t been carrying it when Matt had left for California.
Dean waved a hand in front of his face, “Stop drooling.”
“I am no – That’s beside the point. What are you doing?”
“Dealing with, dammit, he’s getting stronger,” and Dean span around, swung the blade quick and vicious at a grasping hand, which appeared to have grown out of the wall. As Matt watched the hand crumbled away into brick dust.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. The walls are trying to eat us.” Alright this rated one of his top five craziest experiences. Funny how they all involved Dean.
Still half-stunned, Matt started to run, hauling Dean’s Cas with him. Dean followed them, fending off the grabby hands and cursing viciously.
Dean was right; whatever was causing the effect was getting better, or stronger, or something. The number of hands was increasing, they came low, tripping him, or high, making him flinch violently. Dean couldn’t stop all of the attacks and a few started to get through. Matt went flying off balance as a hand seized Cas and hauled him back.
Dean slashed the hand into rubble and Matt lurched drunkenly forward. A second successful grab sent him flying into the wall before Dean managed to fight them free. He risked a glance behind him and saw the entire corridor seemed to be reaching out to grab them. He tried speed up, but the water was up to his knees and it was a struggle to run at all.
As they rounded the bend, the others crashed into them and for a moment everything was a confusion of shouting. Caleb grabbed Cas’ other arm and swung it over his shoulder, so Cas hung between them. Red, muttering under her breath, laid about with Caleb’s iron pike. Matt had to duck a swing a little too close to his head for comfort. It didn’t break up the hands like Dean’s blade, but it did weaken their grip, allowing Matt and Caleb to haul Cas free of their tenacious clasp.
He could see Olivia now; she was standing by the rope the relief party had left dangling in space. Chanting high and fast, she cast handfuls of herbs over the water. They landed with lurid orange fizz-bangs that kept the hands back from the rope. The water was waist high now. Matt more or less swam the last few feet to the rope.
Matt fielded Cas as Caleb dropped him to reclaim his pike from Red.
“Get out of here,” he ordered. Red gulped and quickly monkeyed her way up the rope.
“I only have two more rounds,” yelled Olivia, and immediately started another casting.
Matt glanced up at the rope as Red vanished, then at Caleb. There wasn’t enough time. They weren’t going to make it.
Caleb nodded, “You’re up next,” he said, still cheerful. “I’ll lash Dean’s guy to the rope and you can haul him out.”
“No, I – Dean where are you going?”
Dean was sloshing through the water away from them, he didn’t look back.
“’73,” Matt bellowed, hoping sheer volume would change Dean’s course. Dean continued to stumble-swim towards the growing conglomeration of bricks shifting restlessly just outside the extent Olivia’s casts.
Dean turned back just for a second, “Get Cas the fuck out of here.”
The body flopped against Matt’s gave a great lurch at his name and he had to clutch Cas close to stop him sliding under the water. There was a flash of startling blue eyes and the intelligent face tightened as Cas seemed to take in the situation. He untangled one arm from Matt and let it fall forwards, the flat of his hand landing with a harsh splash.
It had been a while, but Matt had hung around Dean long enough to recognize Enochian when he heard it. Thanks to a particularly nasty incident with a Kolbi demon when Dean almost bled out, he also knew Cas was far too weak to have much success with his attempt at invocation. And he remembered how to lend a helping hand.
He spat in his palm and slapped it down on the water, “Raagysol,” he yelled at the watery cave.
Dean was fending off the ambulatory wall, god if they all survived this, it was going to be the most ridiculous story of all time, but he turned to them. Matt saw him focus in on Cas, then his gaze skipped on to catch Matt’s eye.
“Raagysol,” Dean called, striking the water with his hand.
Bobby was doing a bad imitation of waiting patiently when Sutton cried out, clutched his head with both hands and dropped like a stone. Multiple hands sprang to catch him and converted a fall into an ungraceful sit down.
“I’m going,” said Lucinda gruffly. “Mine wasn’t,” she tugged on her braids, “incapacitating until the end. I should at least be able to see what’s going on.”
“Nobody goes alone,” snapped Quincey before Bobby could. He shouldered his pack and moved to her side.
“But,” Blake grabbed for Quincey’s arm, then thought better of it let his hand fall short. “What about the wards, man? You never even tried them?”
Quincey’s bleak, craggy face was heavy with impending avalanche, as his words rolled out low and threatening, “If you believe one can be unaware of the worst days of one’s life, than you are either incredibly stupid, or luckier than you deserve. Or both.”
Bobby turned his head aside; there was something indecent watching such a show of feeling from the usually emotionless vampire expert. When he heard their footsteps march away, he risked looking up and saw the others were also squirming sheepishly.
His impression of patient waiting grew worse. The three short whistle blasts for an assist were almost a relief. A quick glance at his fellows confirmed that fear had been defeated by rampant curiosity. He didn’t even bother trying to get Jo to stay behind, just told her to stick close or else. Then, leaving Sutton, still moaning and clutching his head, under the less than watchful eyes of Ash, he led the rest up the hill. There were no wards trying to hold them back. Bobby would have liked to think that was a good sign.
Finding Lucinda and Quincey was easy enough, they were staring at a huge white gothic arch that opened directly into the hillside. Water welled over the marble step soaking into the dusty soil. The arch itself was filled with dull grey space shot through with yellow. Beside it a ground anchor was dug into the earth and a rope hung into the grey nothingness.
Lucinda was crouched down testing the strength of the ground anchor,
“…. if all four of them went down, it must be safe.”
Quincey folded his arms. “Nobody is going down alone, and nobody is staying up here alone. Regardless of whether it was safe when they went down, it won’t stay safe for long with Winchester down there.”
Bobby wasn’t sure if he should be offended on his boy’s behalf, or if there was a back-handed compliment in there somewhere.
Before the discussion on who was going down the rope could really get started, Red popped out the nothingness and Penny ran to help her scramble up.
“What’s going on?” Bobby demanded.
Red’s reply went unheard as the ground shrieked and shuddered beneath their feet.
The roaring of a thousand rivers filled Dean’s ears. The water surged. He took one deep, deliberately steady, breath before the water swept him off his feet and pulled him under.
He rode the wave, letting it carry him up towards the high ceiling. He scraped along against the fancy fretwork before he managed to catch a handhold, sharp and rough against his palm. His feet scrabbled for purchase and finally he managed to lodge the toe of his left boot into a crack. That stabilized him until he could shift his knees and shins, wedging them into the ceiling so he could cling on with his legs.
He hung there buffeted by the tide, watching. The water was freezing cold but glass clear and he caught a brief glimpse of Caleb swimming before the water carried him out the hill. Olivia whirled by, dragged close and then whipped away by the caprice of the water. Matt struggling against the flow to reach –
There. Tan trench coat flapping in the current, caught between huge masonry fingers, Cas swayed limply in the rush of water.
Dean smirked bitterly. He’d been right, he’d know the freaky bastard behind all this had too much of a hard on for Cas to let him go so easy. Now what he needed to do was strike at the exact right moment.
It was hard hanging there with nothing to do but not breathe. His lungs were beginning to demand air and he gritted his teeth against the need. Slowly the hand drew back into the depths, dragging Cas with it. Dean waited until the very last moment, then he let go.
Hanging on with his legs, he let himself fall so he was suspended upside down. Gripping Cas’ sword two-handed, he used his weight and momentum to slam it into the hand. The brickwork juddered. Cas slipped free and was carried away by the current.
Dean kicked his way free from the ceiling, already swimming as he dropped. The exertion eased the need to breath and he cut easily through the water, rapidly gaining on Cas until he could just reach out and snag the collar of his coat.
The roar of frustration shook the walls and pummeled through the water. Dean somehow managed to swim even faster, dragging Cas along with him. The world was growing fuzzy round the edges from lack of oxygen. Behind him he could feel the looming presence of the hand, somehow even colder than the water, getting ever closer.
Dean yanked Cas close and rolled through the water, spinning Cas away from the huge blocky fingers closing in. He would have sworn they’d missed but Cas’ body jerked in his arms. Dean kicked forward, and twisted again, holding on tight. Cas shuddered and something seemed to rip lose from inside him burning up in a bright flash of electric blue.
He hadn’t the breath or energy to worry about it now. Clutching Cas close he angled towards the frothing spout of water at the end of the whirling rope. The current was thick and swirling, sucking them down into confused darkness. He struck out blindly, scrabbling for light and air, before the water spat them out again and he was tumbling down a muddy slope, water and dust in his eyes.
Bobby was too stunned to do more than flinch back as water exploded out of the arch in the hillside. Coughing and swiping his streaming face, he glanced around and saw the sheet of water had covered everything for twenty yards. Water continued to surge from the hill, spreading out to form a broad flat river.
They were stumbling in retreat to higher ground, when there was a loud shout and a body shot out of the arch somersaulting down the hill until he crash-landed flat on his black.
“Woo! What a rush!” yelled Caleb, punching at the sky.
Olivia was fired out next, cartwheeling down the mud-drenched hillside until she landed with a thud. After a moment she said, “Ow,” very loudly, followed by, “Ow, ow, ow.” with the vehemence of somebody cursing the air blue.
Matt shot out sideways, rolling down until he came to rest almost at Bobby’s feet, blinking confusedly up at the bright yellow sun.
Bobby scowled down at him, “You pair of idjits just can’t do things the easy way, can you?”
“Not me,” gasped Matt, “this one’s all Dean.”
The last two shot out together. A figure in a tan trench coat that had to be Dean’s Cas catapulted out the arch, made no attempt to brace himself and hit the ground with a soggy splat, limply skidding on several feet further. Dean cannoned out curled in a tight ball, rattling along until he smack down on his side. He didn’t move.
The ground was so slick, Bobby couldn’t even run to him.
When the world finally stopped see-sawing around him, Matt risked sitting up. There was water everywhere, and it continued to pour out of the hillside.
“Huh, guess that’s the new Rio Dean.”
He glanced around for the instigator of all the trouble. Olivia was standing, propped up between Travis and Jeff. Further down the hill Isaac and Tamara were crouched over an ominously still figure in a trench coat.
“Oh shit, Dean’s going to go crazy”. Matt started to slide down the hill towards Cas. In the daylight the man’s pale skin looked paper thin, battered and bruised.
“I don’t think he can breathe,” Tamara’s hands fluttered over him like she was frightened her touch would hurt.
Matt narrowed his eyes and realized what he’d thought was a weird sort of a collar was actually a solid mass of bruising.
“Help me turn him over on his front, see if it will help clear his airways.”
“Are you sure we should move him?” Tamara clutched her hands together as if they might betray her.
“Yes, we need to make sure he doesn’t die from oxygen starvation before anything else.” The pale skin was blue-tinged. With Isaac’s help they turned him as quickly and smoothly as they could manage. Isaac stripped off his work shirt and Tamara folded it and tucked it under the limp head to protect it from the swampy ground. Matt hooked two fingers into the lax mouth, checking for blockages and patted the pale cheek.
“Come on Cas, Dean’s never going to forgive me if we lose you now.”
The trench coat shuddered the tinniest amount and suddenly water was spewing from Cas’ bruised mouth.
Matt held his breath.
Cas made a raspy choking sound and more water shuddered from him. He was quiet for a long moment, then he took a rough breath of air, and another.
“Oh thank god,” said Matt. It hurt to hear those hacking gasps but Cas was back in the land of the living. He turned to Isaac, “We need something flat to get him down to the hospital. Dean can, where is Dean anyway?”
Isaac’s smile of relief turned distinctly shifty.
Isaac jerked his head, Matt turned to look.
Lucinda and Quincey were knelt on the ground projecting the intense concentration and activity of medical intervention. Dean was mostly obscured but Matt could see his twitching legs and his hair dark with water.
Matt hastily reminded himself that Quincey was excellent at field medicine and would probably have been a doctor if he hadn’t been born into a hunting family. Dean was in great hands.
“So what’s wrong with him?”
“Busted rib, punctured lung,” Bobby stumped up to them, face gone dour and strained. “They’re draining off the air which should fix most of it.”
Matt nodded and pretended to be reassured like Bobby was pretending to be confident. He turned his attention to something he could fix.
“Anybody got anything dry we can use as a blanket for Cas? I’d use my shirt but it’s drenched.”
“Just a bit,” agreed Bobby, shrugging out of his own dampish jacket. “So that’s Cas, huh?
Bobby studied the pale figure laid out on the muddy hillside. He couldn’t say that Cas appeared to be particularly attractive-looking, but then he didn’t get what guys found attractive about guys to begin with. He thought Dean was fine looking boy but that was because it was Dean and Bobby would admit to a slight bias there.
Maybe he was being unfair, you couldn’t expect anybody to look their best half-drowned, but he really couldn’t see what had caught Dean’s attention. And he couldn’t like anybody who had dragged his boy out here and nearly got him killed.
Dean had been conscious when Bobby made his way over. He crouched down and grabbed one flailing hand. Agonized green eyes caught his. Blood-flecked lips whispered Cas’ name.
“He’s fine,” Bobby reassured automatically. Looking around he saw Matt fussing over a figure in a trench coat. “Matt’s with him.”
Dean attempted a smile. Then Quincey stabbed a vicious looking syringe in his side. Dean’s eyes rolled back in his head and he passed out.
“He’ll be fine,” said Quincey.
Bobby generally subscribed to the hunter’s belief that if you could get the injured alive to medical assist then everything would be okay. But it was hard to hold onto that when it was Dean’s desperate struggle for breath he was hearing.
“By that I meant, go away Singer.”
Bobby was tempted to argue, but he didn’t think he could bear to watch much more, and his logical side asserted that being sent away was a good sign. It meant Quincey truly believed Dean would be okay.
So he’d gone to check on Matt and to see this Cas for himself. He wasn’t impressed
“There,” Matt tucked Bobby’s jacket carefully around Cas. “That’s better. He should be okay once we get him dried out. Are the others okay?”
“Swear the damn man bounces,” muttered Matt, and Bobby couldn’t disagree.
“Red’s good. Olivia burnt her hand on her fireworks, but all that cold water was good for something, she should be fine. We might actually get out of this okay.”
Which was when Quincey bellowed, “Winchester’s going into shock. Where the fuck is my ambulance.”
Dean felt fuzzy and disconnected from the world, like he’d never woken up properly after his dunking. He’d felt like that since he’d opened his eyes and his first frantic question died stillborn at the look on Matt’s face.
“Oh,” he’d said instead.
“Doesn’t look good ’73.”
“Nonsense,” said an absurdly cheerful doctor striding into the removed followed by the nurse who’d fetched him, “Dean here should make a full recovery.”
“He’s not talking about me,” snarled Dean, “he’s talking about Cas.”
“Ah,” the doctor’s inane grin faded.
“Where is he?” Dean demanded. He sat up and that was a mistake. The dull background pain he’d been ignoring exploded and he sucked in a desperate pained breath. Agony girdled his chest as the too-deep breath set off his broken ribs. Dean gulped down the need to scream and that just set off the whole chain reaction again. His hands clutched blindly as everything started to go hazy.
“Easy, easy,” soothed Matt, hooking his arms under Dean’s to provide support but not, Dean noted, distantly grateful, so close as to put pressure on his ribs. “That’s right. Come on, shallow breaths.”
“Actually, shallow breaths should be avoided,” began the doctor.
“You shut the hell up,” said Matt, “we can worry about his lung capacity when he’s not about to pass out. And you,” Matt bumped his leg against Dean’s, “you calm down. Cas is in good hands. You can take five minutes to get yourself together.”
Dean grimaced but was too busy regaining control of himself to let fly with curses the way he wanted.
“Alright,” he gasped finally, “I’m better. Let’s go see Cas.”
“Mr Singer,” began the doctor. Dean blinked and glanced around for Bobby before he remembered he was currently being Bobby’s son, which meant he was Mr Singer. He shook his head at himself, he was usually better at keeping track of his aliases than that. He needed to get his head back in the game.
“Mr Singer, your ‘friend’ Cas.” The heavy inverted commas around the word friend made Dean’s nose wrinkle up.
“His name is Castiel,” he said frostily.
“Yeah it’s a weird name. So what? His parents were religious.”
Matt’s hand squeezed his shoulder tightly and Dean glanced up to see a face warning him to stop talking now.
“If you say so,” scowled the doctor.
Dean had no idea what that was about and obediently stayed quiet, just yanked at the bedclothes so he could get his legs free.
“Mr Singer,” the doctor began.
“Look,” said Matt, “we can either shove him in a wheelchair and take him to see Cas, or we can wait two hours, panic when he disappears, run around trying to find him, peel him off the corridor floor where he’s collapsed; and then take him to see Cas. Bear in mind I’m lazy, so given the choice I’d rather do things the easy way.”
“But,” sputtered the doctor.
“And really it won’t be good for him to haul himself out of bed and drag himself off to find Cas. He’s stubborn little shit too, there’s every chance he’d keep going 'til he did himself in again.”
Dean seethed, “Stop talking about me like I’m not here.”
Matt went right on ignoring him. “So, wheelchair,” he prompted the doctor.
“On your head be it.”
Since he was getting his way Dean decided not to complain again and instead save his energy for moving. Sliding into the wheelchair wasn’t fun, but there was enough morphine floating in his system to give him some distance from the stabbing pains in his chest.
Matt patted his shoulder gently, “Okay?”
He heard Matt grumble under his breath at the non-answer as the wheelchair lurched into movement.
“Oh shut up, I’m fine.”
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it does.”
Dean started to twist around, stopped when his ribs twinged, tried to swing one arm back to slap at the hand on his wheelchair, and gave up with a groan. He tilted his head as much as possible in Matt’s direction and glared,
“You did not just quote the Princess Bride at me.”
“If you say not,” the grin in Matt’s voice was huge, “Buttercup.”
Dean hissed with frustration. He couldn’t figure out how to retaliate given he couldn’t actually move. Matt laughed and ruffled his hair. Dean was going to say to hell with it and thump him regardless of how much it hurt when they arrived at Cas’ room, and everything within Dean went still.
The doctor held the door open for them. Dean noted absently there was no running medical commentary, from all previous hospital experiences he would have said doctors loved nothing so much as the sound of their own voices. He did not think this was a good sign. He had the overwhelming cowardly urge to beg Matt to stop wheeling him forward. If he didn’t see for himself, then it wasn’t true.
He stared, frightened eyes cataloguing the whirring tubes, beeping monitors, blue-pale skin, black swollen bruises. Cas looked, “mostly dead,” Dean whispered as he realized why Matt was suddenly quoting the Princess Bride. He closed his eyes.
“But he didn’t die,” said Matt quickly, “he was mostly dead but he didn’t die.”
Hands cupped Dean’s face and when he opened his eyes Matt was crouched in front of him.
“He didn’t die ’73. Remember.”
“Are you trying to make me feel better by using a kid’s story as evidence everything’s going to be okay?”
“He didn’t die. He’s not going to die. Not now. Not when you’ve just found each other again.”
Dean jerked his head back from Matt’s hands and away from his earnest blue eyes. The problem was Matt really did think that the world worked like that, that everything would work out for the best.
“Shut the hell up,” he growled, “you sound worse than a hallmark card.”
“You’ll see,” Matt sing-songed, “I’m always right.” Thankfully he stopped tormenting Dean then and stood up to push the wheelchair right up against the bed.
Dean reached out with a wavering hand but he couldn’t see anywhere safe to touch and he let the hand drop.
“What’s wrong with him?” he asked quietly. “I mean I can see he’s been battered to hell and back, but he was okay, he was walking around, sort of anyway. So what’s wrong with him?”
“Shock,” said Matt. “They think all the abuse caught up with him, basically. The worst is his throat. It’s so badly bruised they had to intubate him so they could get air into his lungs.”
“But it’s been…” he tailed off because he wasn’t sure.
“Two days,” supplied Matt.
“Two days,” Dean thought he ought to be worried he’d been out so long, but he just couldn’t be bothered right then because – Cas. “Shouldn’t he be awake by now?”
“Mr Singer,” the doctor butted in, “I don’t think you realize how serious the patient’s condition is. If he had not received medical attention when he did, he would have died. In fact from the injuries he suffered he should be dead. He’s pretty tough for a fa-,” he stopped himself, “I mean a,” the doctor paused, then sounded all the syllables out like he’d never said the word before, “ho-mo-sex-u-al.”
Matt gave an incensed little growl, “Half the world hates them, of course they’re fucking tough.”
The doctor stammered something or other. Dean ignored them. Matt always got so uptight when he noticed that sort of thing. Dean couldn’t see the point, just filed it under people are crazy, otherwise he’d drive himself crazy.
He concentrated on watching Cas, watching the faint rise and fall of his chest that proved Cas was still alive despite the fact he looked dead. Cas was so small in the huge hospital bed. In his head Dean thought of Cas as being even bigger than Sammy (bigger than the Chrysler building) but right now he was small and painfully fragile. Dean wanted to curl up around him and keep him safe.
Dean took three deep steady breaths to the count of five. When he felt steady enough, and anxious for the feel of warm living skin beneath his, he reached out and carefully curled his hand around Cas’ battered fingers.
But Cas’ fingers were chill and stiff and for one long horrible nightmare minute Dean thought he really was dead. Then he was boiling furious,
“What the hell is this?”
“Mr Singer,” the doctor sounded outraged, like someone just goosed him.
“Oh shut up,” Dean snapped back, not sure if it was the profanity or volume that was setting the doctor off, and not caring either. “What kind of hospital is this that lets its patients freeze to death?”
The doctor’s eyes flicked to one of the monitors, “’Your friend’ is perfectly fine.”
“He is not fine. He’s practically frozen solid.”
The doctor walked over to the monitor and tapped a couple of buttons, “Look, exactly ninety-eight point six degrees. Couldn’t be more perfect.”
Dean shot his hand out and grabbed the doctor’s wrist. “Here, feel.” He forced the man’s hand down. The doctor’s hand arched back away from touching Cas’ skin, but after a moment of enforced contact the resistance in his arm faded and the doctor’s hand curved naturally around Cas’ wrist.
“That’s not right,” said the doctor. His whole posture changed, becoming intent and focused, like he was on a hunt. “Nurse! I need two warmed blankets. And turn the thermostat up a degree.”
Dean flopped back in the wheelchair, relaxing now Cas was being taken care of.
“Come on then,” said Matt, “let’s get you out of here while he’s distracted.”
“Oh wait, but,” Dean stumbled. Matt was never going to let him live it down, but for once in his life Dean didn’t want to escape hospital as soon as possible.
“Yeah,” said Matt, “like I’m going to let you wear yourself out sitting up with Cas. You need proper rest and sleep, ’73, and if you’re here you’ll spend all your energy on Cas.”
“But – ”
“But nothing. Besides,” Matt checked the doctor was focused on fixing Cas, then bent his head close to Dean’s and said quietly, “besides we need you to sort out some documentation for Cas. We’re lucky they were too busy keeping you both alive to question much, but they’ll start now.”
Dean tried to object but Matt spoke right over him.
“How often do you say a couple of hours preparation prevents a whole load of bailing out and running like hell?”
Dean sighed, because he did say it a lot, and it was true. Have your paperwork straight from the get go and life was a whole lot easier. Most hunters hated any contact with state bureaucracy and tried to sneak around completely off-radar, occasionally pulling out home-made ID that would only fool a civilian who’d never seen official ID – which admittedly was majority.
It wouldn’t keep working long term though. Dean could see that easily enough, most of the younger hunters could. Modern technology was a godsend as far as hunting went, but it also left them far fewer cracks to slip through. So Dean was working on dragging the lot of them out of the dark ages.
Bobby had been acting as telephone back-up for hunters for years. It wasn’t hard to extend that into faking up any documentation required. Ash was good at breaking into databases but he was too sloppy when it came to creating the actual cards and papers.
So Dean took over and kept up a constant flow of IDs, gun registration documents and all the other paperwork required to back them up. His other main line was photo-shopping up pictures of victims with the investigating hunter to act as convincers when playing a concerned friend.
He also ran Bobby’s multiple phone lines, making sure they would route straight to his mobile when Bobby was off hunting, complete with an ID so Bobby could remember who he was pretending to be. He had tried to get Jo to agree to act as a secretary but everyone had hated that idea; Ellen because Jo would be hunting, Jo because she wouldn’t really be hunting, and Bobby cause it was technically a crime and he thought he should take all the risk (as if Dean would let him get caught).
The other hunters they worked with were slowly coming round to the idea that proper preparation prevents running like hell.
(Gordon Walker, of all people, actually came round asking for Dean to fake him a couple of police IDs. Dean had talked it over with Bobby and they’d eventually gone with his gut instinct to refuse. Matt must have rubbed off on him, Dean just didn’t trust Walker not use his work to pull some sort of crap.)
Nobody showed much interest in actually creating the IDs though, and even Matt just laughed when Dean tried to convince him it was fun.
Matt had ruffled his hair, “Aww, you’re just a frustrated nerd, aren’t you ’73? With your glasses and your set squares and your adorable little studious frown.”
Dean had shoved Matt fully-clothed into the motel shower and turned the cold water on. They’d both ended up soaked.
Settling back in the wheelchair, Dean sighed and shook his head, “One of you guys needs to learn this stuff. You can’t keep relying on me.”
“’Course we can,” said Matt cheerfully. “Now come fix up something for your Cas, before they up and decide we’re the culprits.”
“What did you tell them anyway?” Dean asked as Matt wheeled him away.
“Oldie but goodie.”
“It’s actually quite romantic now that I think about it. Very Romeo and Julietish. You’d be Juliet, by the way.”
“I will kill you.”
“Sure you will. Anyway, you and Cas met, eyes across a crowded room, smitten at one glance…”
“Have you taken up writing for Harlequin?”
“Stop interrupting. So, as it turns out, Cas’ family are seriously homophobic and react badly. Cas is shipped off to have the gay beaten out of him. You object, round up your amazing and brilliant friends,” he paused and Dean obliged with the expected objection,
“Who are they again?”
“Smart ass.” Matt’ knuckles brushed against his shoulder in a very light punch before he continued. “So then you and your amazing and brilliant friends rescue Cas.”
“Huh,” said Dean, because he wasn’t sure how he felt about that story.
“What’s the matter? You don’t mind, do you? It’s just, Cas was in a bad way, there was no way we could play it off as an accident. And I guess I was feeling a little nostalgic.”
Dean huffed a laugh. When he and Matt had started hunting together Matt had decided claiming to be a couple who’d been gay-bashed was a genius explanation when it came to turning up at A&E with a random collection of injuries and used it just about everywhere. It got them some shoulders cold enough that even Matt noticed but, well, it kind of was genius and did explain almost anything.
There had been no other remotely plausible explanation that time park rangers fished them out a river half-drowned and looking like they’d gone a couple of rounds with the Italian Stallion. Pissed off nixie was not a plausible explanation by anyone’s definition, nixies being notoriously peaceful. Bobby had just shaken his head in despair when they’d told him.
“It wasn’t our fault,” Dean had said hotly, because it really wasn’t.
Bobby’d sighed heavily, “It never is. But somehow these things only happen to you.”
Then one day Matt had abruptly reverted to the got mugged excuse – which could in no way explain frostbite at three in the afternoon during a Utah summer. Dean ended up converting that story into double-dares on the length of time they could sit in a chest freezer. The hospital called Matt’s Dad. It was not fun.
Dean never brought up the change in stories with Matt though. He was too worried it was because Matt finally noticed how red and squeaky he went when Matt was pretending to coo over his boyfriend. Dean found the idea humiliating enough, he didn’t need actual confirmation.
“You do mind,” said Matt, “I’m sorry.”
“What?” It took Dean a second to pick up the threads of their conversation, “No, I’m sorry. You were right. I just,” he bit his lip, “I just can’t stand thinking that Cas was hurt like that cause of me.”
“Oh shut up Matthew, you don’t believe that any more than I do. It’s hardly a coincidence Cas was stuck in that hell hole and I didn’t remember enough to go back for him.”
Matt’s face couldn’t quite decide on an expression. Finally he said, “After we understood the full extent of his injuries, Travis and Quincey went back to burn the place down from the inside out.”
Dean knew exactly how he felt about that; he grinned viciously, “Good.”
“It wasn’t there.”
“It wasn’t there. Whole thing had vanished. They lit a purification fire – which made the locals even less fond of us, we’re lucky you and your Cas are so pretty – but there didn’t seem to be anything to purify. Rio Dean is still going strong though.”
“You any idea how much power it takes to create a river in the desert?”
“A whole bunch?”
“Something like that. Look,” Matt swiveled the wheelchair around and back so it settled in a corner out of the way with Dean stuck facing him. Matt rested a hand on each of the chair’s arms, leaning down so he could stare right in Dean’s face.
Dean shoved at him, “Hey, quit it man.”
Matt just set his shoulders and didn’t budge. “Look, you need to level with me, ’73. I’m on your side. I’ve got your back, no question. But I need to know. Did you really not remember anything about him?”
Dean blinked, “Of course I fucking didn’t. You think I wouldn’t have been turning over every goddamn rock in the country to find him if I had the least idea he was out there.”
Matt laughed briefly, “Yeah okay, I buy that. But the memories are coming back? Right? You can’t honestly have nothing but his name?”
“No,” Dean shook his head. “He’s my Cas. I don’t need to know any more.”
“Alright, fine, sadly enough I buy that too. But for the sake of your worried-out-of-their-minds friends, could you at least try for something else?”
Dean shrugged his shoulders, wincing at the tug on his ribs, and tried his most innocent smile.
“That works on Bobby. Not me.”
“Worth a try.”
Matt stepped back, throwing his hands in the air. “Gahhh,” his roar was strangled and his hands clutched desperately at the air.
“Could you at least act like you get what a big deal this is.”
“Of course it’s a big deal. You’re behaving like a crazy person.”
“Oh, I’m not the crazy person here. And now I’m wondering, have you always been crazy and we just haven’t noticed because your day job is so insane it makes even someone as whacked out as Gordon Walker look comparatively normal?”
Dean sighed and made an effort to be understanding, “I can see you’re upset but I don’t get why.”
“Because this is not natural. Sutton and Olivia spent hours casting every counter-charm and memory retrieval spell they could find. If anything stole away your memory, it should have come back by now, at least some flashes. And you’re telling me you have nothing, not even a blank space where a memory should be?”
“Hey, you said it yourself, whatever was holding Cas had serious mojo behind it.”
“And that’s what’s worrying us. So Bobby dragged out a couple of his grimoires and they moved on to testing Cas.”
“Oh hell no.” Dean shoved at Matt and shot to his feet.
“Sit down. Your Cas is fine.”
“I don’t care. They had no right to try that shit. I’ve read Bobby’s grimoires. Do you know what they do to make the supernatural reveal itself?” Dean’s stomach lurched just thinking about it.
“So you admit Cas is something supernatural?”
“He’s not a something, he’s Cas.” Fuck, why did they not get this? Dean’s ribs were screaming at him and the adrenaline spike of pure fear was wearing off leaving him sweaty and shaky as he tried to fight back to Cas.
“Sit. Down.” Matt drove the seat of the wheelchair into the back of Dean’s knees and slapped down hard on his shoulders for good measure.
Dean collapsed. Pain constricted around him until he couldn’t breathe and then he was puking. Matt shoved his head forward so the pitiful dribble of bile hit the floor instead of his lap. The strain on his ribs made him whimper.
“Jesus, ’73, you are such a pain in the ass.”
“’m not,” mumbled Dean, wanting nothing so much as to curl up in bed and hide until he felt more human. He gripped the handles white-knuckled, locked his elbows and slowly levered himself upright.
“Relax, we won’t hurt your Cas.”
Dean had to press his arm across his stomach as it lurched again.
“Would you stop that. Okay so the identification process wouldn’t have been pleasant but we wouldn’t have permanently hurt him, just made certain he was secure.”
Dean wanted to curse him for a liar, because he knew hunters, but he was too weak to do more than just flop limply.
“Sssh,” Matt soothed, helping him shift to a more comfortable position. “Sure, maybe some of them might have preferred a quick solution to the problem, but none of them wanted to finish you off too. And if they didn’t finish you off they knew they’d be facing a very short life spent looking over their shoulders. Mind you, if they had finished you off, they’d be facing a very long life spent looking over their shoulders because I’m way more vindictive than you.”
Dean smiled faintly, “Thanks.”
“You can pay me back by quitting with the dramatics. And if you could remember something that would be good too. Anything at all? No matter how peripheral?”
He scowled fiercely, feeling defensive, because he did remember. He remembered blood and howling and terror. He remembered sticking his hands into a screaming man’s entrails and spilling them across the floor. He shook his head violently, he couldn’t think about that now or Matt really would have him locked up in a mental hospital.
Besides those memories had nothing to do with Cas, of that he was completely sure. Those memories were the total antithesis of Cas. Just thinking of Cas’ blue eyes and quirked lips made them recede back into blood-stained darkness. He shook his head again, flinging the last of them away.
“Yeah, yeah I know. You don’t remember anything, apparently because there isn’t actually anything to remember. You aren’t under any curse or enchantment. Castiel doesn’t ping any of the warning spells or talismans. As far as any of us can tell, you’re both completely normal.”
“Which is good, right?”
“No it is not good. To be honest I’d be less concerned if your Cas had turned out to be a demon. Because demons we have some idea how to handle.” Matt sighed heavily. “However there’s no point worrying about it now when later will do just as well. I’ll take you back to the hotel, you get some sleep, you cobble together some sort of id to get Cas out of the hospital’s clutches, and then we’ll worry about.”
Dean thought about that for a moment, then he sniffed with outrage, “I don’t cobble together.”
Matt rolled his eyes, then moved to the back of the wheel chair and started to roll it forwards, “You are such a pain in the ass.”
“Love you too.”
He was still in darkness when the black red pain came back. It took him long minutes to recognize he was more than a bundle of agony. He had a body with distinct parts some hurting more, neck, wrists, ankles; some less, legs, stomach, chest.
It was still dark, but he could hear sounds now, a repetitive beep, a whoosh-hiss, people talking. Gradually he began to pick out words he knew.
“Poor guy… torture… crazy psychos… amazed he survived.”
There were soft touches to his wrists and hair. He realized the poor guy was him. He felt instinctively that this was wrong, he was not a poor anything. Indignation flickered through him and he came to life. His eyes opened.
“There you are, poor dear,” cooed a female. “Your eyes are much too pretty to be hidden away.”
He did his best to sit up and the pain reclaimed him. He sank back into the darkness.
Shouting was the next thing he was able to latch onto. Angry shouting, and afraid. The shouting voice was distinctly afraid, and he felt he strongly disapproved of that voice being afraid.
His eyes flew open of their own accord.
“Doctor, he is awake.”
“Excellent.” A new face appeared, and squinted down at him. “So how are you feeling?”
He tilted his head, unsure of what the doctor was referring to. “Surely as medical professional you are aware of my condition?”
“Oh, a comedian.” The doctor scowled at him.
He felt unaccountably hurt, “What was amusing in what I said?”
The doctor’s face sharpened, “Not a comedian? Hmm. Can you look at this light for me?”
The light was sharp and bright and the doctor shone it right in his eyes, “That is most unpleasant.”
“Well, not a concussion. Which is good. But on the other hand, mystery man, can you tell me the date?”
He was aware of the concept of a date, but the exact date seemed meaningless to him. “Why would I need to know the date?”
“What’s your name?”
Now a name, that was meaningful. He knew he had a name – but right at that moment, his name wasn’t there. He felt his breathing pick up in response to his panic.
“How can I have no name?”
“Yeah, I don’t even think you’re faking that. President?”
He wasn’t entirely sure what a President was, but he had no intention of telling the doctor that. The shouting started up again outside. He couldn’t stop a twist of discomfort appearing on his face.
“Right,” said the doctor, “I’ll put a stop to that.” He opened the door of the tiny room already demanding quiet. A figure ducked under his arm and appeared suddenly in his room.
He had a moment’s panic. Who was this stranger invading his room? But then he saw the new man’s bright face and he relaxed without thought.
“You’re okay,” the stranger exclaimed, his voice full of relief and satisfaction. That was much better, he decided, than the voice being full of anger and fear. This was the voice that had woken him from his sleep and he suddenly knew the stranger’s name.
“Dean,” he said happily.
“Yeah, you frightened me half to death lolling about like this,” Dean scolded.
He looked down at his hands, “Sorry,” he whispered.
“Christ, I feel like I kicked a puppy.” The man crashed down to sit beside him on the bed. “Cas look at me, I was just worried.” Big, brown hands caught up his own pale bruised hands and held them tight.
He thought he should be alarmed but felt only safety. When Dean was worried he shouted, his soul sparking muddy red and murky grey. He remembered that now, he didn’t know how he could have forgotten.
“Dean,” he said again, happy to match that dear name to the dear face.
“See,” said Dean, turning to glare at the doctor. In sympathy Cas glared at the doctor too. “Screw all this he doesn’t know who you are crap. He knows who I am just fine, don’t you Cas?”
“My name is Cas?”
“Yes, your name is Cas. What the hell?”
“Sorry,” he said again and bowed his head.
“No, shit, it’s okay.” The hands holding his squeezed comfortingly.
“As you can see Mr Singer,” said the doctor, “my patient is far from well and I would ask you to leave.”
He tugged on Dean’s hands, “My name is Cas?” he asked, desperate to be sure.
“Yes. Cas, Castiel. Castiel Winchester.” Dean glared again at the doctor.
“Castiel,” he repeated slowly, sounding out the syllables. “Yes, Castiel sounds familiar.” Castiel shifted his shoulders as he felt the name settle around him like an old familiar cloak. “I think I prefer Cas though,” he added thoughtfully.
“See,” snarled Dean. “Are we done yet?”
“Mr Singer, I am afraid I must ask you to leave before I have you escorted from the building by security.”
“Leave,” Castiel hissed in alarm, “Dean can’t leave.” He turned his hands so he could grab on tight to Dean’s wrists and make sure he didn’t go anywhere.
“Easy, I’m not going anywhere. Or actually, we’re both leaving, right now.”
“Very well.” Castiel slung his legs over the side of bed and made to stand up. His legs wobbled and he would have fallen but Dean’s arms were there to catch him.