On April 21, 1967, the 100 millionth GM vehicle rolled off the line at the plant in Janesville -- a blue two-door Caprice. There was a big ceremony, speeches. The lieutenant governor even showed up. Three days later, another car rolled off that same line. No one gave two craps about her.
Early in the spring of 2012, less than two months short of forty-five years later, Chuck Shurley stood on his porch, his suitcase at his feet, and watched that car pull up to the curb. “Beck,” he called over his shoulder. “They're here.”
Becky drifted out of the house, clutching her computer to her chest. She shivered, an echo of the full-body enthusiasm she'd have shown even a few months earlier, as the front doors of the Chevrolet Impala opened and two men climbed out.
The driver strode around the car; the passenger leaned on his door and closed his eyes, turning his face up to the watery sunlight.
Chuck stayed where he was until Dean had marched up the steps. “You ready to go?” he asked, and Chuck nodded.
Becky's gaze was fixed on the passenger. “I've been beta-reading the manuscripts,” she said, sounding sad and unwillingly startled. “I mean, I knew he's still...he's not...” She trailed off as Dean glared at her, then took a deep breath and rallied. “It's just weird seeing Castiel with you, OK? Instead of--”
“Becky!” Chuck said, a little too loud, and laid a hand on her arm. “Did you pack the solar charger for the laptops?”
“You know I did,” she said, frowning at him.
“Put your stuff in the car,” Dean said. “Cas can open the trunk for you.” He turned to the door.
“Upstairs, first door on the right,” Chuck said. Dean stopped and looked over his shoulder. The prophet ducked his head and muttered, “The bathroom. Upstairs, first on the right.” Dean nodded and pushed the door open. “Bring the roll of toilet paper down with you,” Chuck said. Dean showed no sign he'd heard.
Chuck and Becky hefted their bags down the steps to the car. Castiel opened his eyes and smiled, a broad and empty smile that Chuck hated even more in person than he had in his visions. “The prophet Chuck,” he said, and most people would have said it was cheerful. “How's the propheting business these days?”
“Haven't had a vision in a month,” Chuck said. “How...how are you, Castiel?”
“I'm great,” Castiel said easily, and Chuck fought down a wince. “I didn't need that last little bit of myself anyway.”
Chuck looked at his feet, trying not to notice the way Castiel rubbed his chest as a man would rub an aching muscle. “That...it must've...at least Dean was there, right?”
Castiel's smile widened. “He had his own problems. He knew what it meant, same as I did.” He waved an arm in a careless gesture, and Chuck's gaze tracked it. He wondered when it had stopped being weird to see that arm without the tan coat on it. “Let's get your stuff in the trunk,” Castiel said.
“Shut the hell up, Cas.” Dean's hands tightened on the steering wheel. “Go...go look for God. When you find him you tell him he better be treating them right.”
“I'm not leaving until you stop driving.”
They were an hour away from Carthage, and in Castiel's opinion Dean was driving much too fast. Still slow, by angelic standards, but too fast for a human in an automobile.
“Yeah, well, I'm not stopping 'til I get back to Bobby's and I don't want to deal with you that long,” Dean said.
Castiel settled pointedly back in his seat. Dean glanced at him, which Castiel believed was not proper driving procedure. “Fine,” Dean said. “Fine, whatever, just sit there. Be good to be able to know where you are.” Castiel didn't know what to say to that, so he said nothing.
Fifteen minutes later, Dean burst out, “Where were you, Cas? You could've taken Jo to a hospital. Where the hell were you?”
“Lucifer had me in a circle,” Castiel said shortly. In hindsight it was so clear that he’d been led straight into a trap; he didn’t know how he hadn’t seen it at the time. He was unused to having to account for opponents he couldn’t overpower. Even in Hell the demons had tried to overwhelm him, not trap him.
“That’s why you don’t go off on your own,” Dean snapped. “You shoulda stayed with them. They wouldn’t be dead if you’d stayed.”
“Dean,” Castiel began, but he wasn’t sure how to say what he meant; he was sure any sentence that began If Sam had been there would not draw a reaction he liked.
“Just don’t,” Dean said.
The road spooled out under the Impala’s wheels, and neither of them spoke again.
Castiel didn't wake, since he hadn't been exactly asleep, but he hadn't paid any particular attention to the world since Dean had dropped him on the bed and told him I'm gonna go deal with Anna. You rest up. Now there was an anomalous sound, a banging, and it dragged him to full awareness.
Full awareness was awful.
He forced himself to his feet and staggered to the door. As he reached it the banging stopped; he was trying to remember how the lock worked when the knob turned.
The woman who stood in the doorway looked angry, though when her gaze fell fully on Castiel she stopped in the middle of whatever she'd been planning to say. Castiel just stared at her. After a moment she said, “Look, buddy, checkout was three hours ago. You gotta get out.”
“My apologies,” Castiel said, as evenly as he could manage. From the look on her face his best effort was lacking.
“Um...no problem. Are you feeling OK? You look a little rough.”
Castiel had no idea what “a little rough” meant, but he knew how he was feeling. “I am not OK,” he said, and spread his wings. He couldn't stay where and when he was; eventually he'd be noticed, as out of his time if nothing else. He would have preferred to take longer to prepare himself for the return trip, but he could feel that Dean was gone from this time and there were very few ways that could have happened.
The woman was opening her mouth to reply when he threw himself into flight, feeling his way along the threads of time. It was much harder than it should have been, almost as difficult as going back with Dean as a passenger. He landed hard, swaying on his feet.
The awareness of Dean's soul slid over him, immensely comforting, and he didn't even care that his knees buckled. “Cas!” Dean exclaimed, and crouched to try to help him back up. “You made it.” The world slid dizzyingly around him as Dean hefted him to his feet.
“I did,” Castiel said, and titled his head to confide, “I'm very surprised.”
They made it to the bed (Castiel was beginning to enjoy beds; they were much softer than floors or sidewalks) before he could no longer hold on. For the first time in his existence, Castiel fell into true unconsciousness.
“Well we gotta get him out of there before he says yes,” Bobby said. Castiel could have said a great many things—that Dean could say yes no matter where he was, for a start, though at least he was certain they weren’t yet too late; surely Michael’s first action once he had his vessel would be to find Castiel and kill him. Somehow, none of that seemed appropriate.
“I have a plan,” he said shortly, and pulled the utility blade from the pocket of his coat. He could feel the awareness of his brothers and sisters inside the building, but so far he and Bobby were escaping their notice—they were only paying attention enough to make sure no rescuers entered, confident in their ability to deal with any that did. They’d have been right, too, if Castiel had been less desperate; the concept of a suicide mission was not one that came easily to angels, and Castiel fully expected this idea to kill him.
“What d’you want me to do with that?” Bobby asked, as Castiel handed him the blade.
“There are at least four of them in there, perhaps five,” Castiel replied, and watched as Bobby covered a blanch. “I can’t handle them all, not like this. So we’re going to have to…improvise.” He unknotted Jimmy’s tie, a present from Claire for the last Father’s Day before Castiel had descended on the man’s life like a tsunami. “Do you know the banishing sigil?”
Bobby’s eyes got a little wide, but he nodded grimly and slid out a sliver of blade as Castiel began to unbutton his shirt.
“Dean?” Castiel said.
“Cas? Cas!” Dean's voice sounded faint, but relieved. “We thought you were dead. Where the hell are you, man?”
“A hospital,” Castiel replied.
“Are you OK?”
After a second, Dean said patiently, “You want to elaborate?”
"I just woke up here. The doctors were fairly surprised—they thought I was brain dead.” He tried to shift to a more comfortable position, but the movement pulled at the bandages on his chest and he subsided with a wince.
“A hospital, OK.”
“Apparently, after Van Nuys I suddenly appeared, bloody and unconscious, on a shrimping boat off Delacroix. I'm told it upset the sailors.” An unpleasant sensation nagged at him. The nurses had told him it was an itch, from the bite of a mosquito. He loathed it.
“Yeah, I'll bet. OK, well, I'm on I-80, eastbound, about twenty miles past the junction with 35, so if you want to zap on over here--”
“I can't zap anywhere,” Castiel interrupted. He’d tried, as soon as he realized where he was. His wings had screamed protest that drowned out all his other pains for longer than he cared to think about.
“You could say my...batteries are drained.”
“What do you mean? You're out of angel mojo?”
Castiel sighed. “I'm saying that I am thirsty and my head aches. I have a bug bite that itches no matter how much I scratch it, and I'm saying that I'm just incredibly...”
“Human. Wow.” There was a pause, and then Dean said, “Sorry, dude.”
“Well, my point is, I can't go anywhere without money for, for an airplane ride. And probably food. And more pain medication, ideally.” Castiel was very fond of his pain medication. It dulled the maddening distraction of the way his wounds pulsed with his heartbeat.
“Yeah, OK,” Dean said, and drew a breath Castiel could hear even through the phone lines. “OK, this lead isn’t anything that can’t wait a day. What’s the name of the hospital? I’ll come get you.”
By the time Dean arrived at the hospital, Castiel had determined that he still didn't have to breathe, but that the machines that monitored him beeped annoyingly when he stopped. He'd eaten the hospital food, disgusting though it was, and felt better for it, but he wasn't hungry again; he'd drunk water and a liquid that purported to be orange juice, and was no longer thirsty. The marks of the sigil were healing—much more slowly than they should have, but faster than was normal for a human.
His wings still wouldn't bear him, though, and his attempts caused bolts of pain that overwhelmed his medication. He stopped trying after the third time the nurses rushed into his room, summoned by the distress of the beeping machines.
Dean marched into the hospital room and then stopped short at the sight of Castiel in his bed, but recovered quickly, and set about getting Castiel released with an efficiency born of far too much practice. Within two hours they were out of the hospital, Castiel clutching the paper bag that contained his prescriptions.
Castiel climbed into the Impala wearily and fell asleep almost at once, slumped against the door. When he woke he had no idea how much time had passed, only that it was full dark. Dean was watching him from the driver’s seat. “Guess you weren’t kidding about that human thing.”
“No,” Castiel said, and sat up. “Some of my power has restored itself, but I think I’ve permanently damaged my Grace.” As if to prove it, his lower back twinged painfully. He pulled open the bag and peered into it. The second bottle contained “Vicodin”, which he was only supposed to take every six hours.
Dean looked away from him and said awkwardly, “I’m really sorry, Cas. You didn’t have to do that, I could’ve—”
“For how long?” Castiel said, worrying at the plastic cap. “They would have moved beyond just asking soon enough, Dean. We had to get you out.”
“I lasted thirty years in Hell,” Dean retorted.
“Heaven,” Castiel said, “is much more inventive. This bottle is stuck.”
Dean sighed and said, “Give it to me. See, you have to push down while you twist it. Here.” Castiel took the bottle back and fished two pills out of it. “Dude, aren’t you supposed to take one of those at a time?”
“One isn’t enough,” Castiel said morosely. “The doctors said my tolerance for the medicine was very high.”
“Makes sense.” Dean paused while Castiel swallowed the pills. “OK, let’s get inside.”
In the motel room, Dean insisted on checking Castiel’s various wounds. The sigil scars were all but healed, sufficiently so that Dean said Castiel didn’t have to rebandage them. The long slash on his left forearm, though, bled sluggishly when Dean removed its wrappings.
“Why isn’t this one healing?”
“That’s from Zadkiel’s sword,” Castiel said, trying to be offhand about it. “I think it will have to heal at human speed.”
Dean’s lips compressed, but he said nothing as he replaced the gauze.
After two hours of lying still with his eyes resolutely closed, Castiel conceded the fight and climbed out of the bed Dean had offered him. It seemed he didn't have to sleep as much as Dean did. He padded to the window, absently noting the unfamiliar sensation of carpet on his bare feet.
Castiel pushed the curtain aside to let the light of the full moon fall through the glass. The motel's parking lot was mostly empty, only two other cars besides Dean's, and there were no headlights visible on the state highway. It made the world appear curiously empty of human influence.
He paid no attention to how long he stood at the window; the moon was still up when Dean said softly, “Cas, something wrong?”
“No,” Castiel said. “You can go back to sleep.” Immediately he heard Dean pushing his blankets back. Dean crossed the room to his side, which he had expected, and then put a hand on his shoulder, which he had not.
“Cas,” Dean said, and then seemed to run out of words. Castiel turned to face him and Dean’s eyes widened. Suddenly there was something between them that Castiel didn’t understand, making the air heavy on his skin.
“I can't search for God any longer,” Castiel said, ignoring the tension as well as he could.
“You said you felt better.”
“Not better enough.”
Dean was quiet for a long time before he said, “I'm sorry.”
“You don't have to be.”
“Cas...something goes wrong, I feel like it's my fault, OK? The Lindbergh baby, that's on me. Unemployment: my bad. So I'm sorry your mojo got busted breaking me out.”
Castiel frowned, but he thought it was unlikely that asking Dean to explain those references would help him understand. Instead he turned away from Dean to pick up his coat.
He pulled the necklace from the pocket and held it out. “If I can't fly, I don't need this,” he said. Dean stared at the little bronze head with an expression Castiel couldn't read. “You should have it back.”
Dean reached for the amulet, curling his fingers around it in the air without touching. After a few seconds he let his hand fall and shook his head. “Nah, Cas, it's OK. You keep it. Just in case, right? They say God's never where you look for him.”
Castiel hesitated, but Dean made no move to touch the amulet again so he tucked it back into his coat pocket. Dean watched him do it, silent, until Castiel turned back to him.
“Cas,” Dean said, and then stopped. Castiel waited. He had time, now; there was no need to rush off to search for his Father. After a long time Dean said, “Being human, Cas, you know it's not all bad.”
Castiel nodded slowly.
“You remember...I mean, before Raphael,” Dean said. He was staring fixedly at a spot over Castiel's left shoulder. “That wasn't bad, right?”
“No,” Castiel agreed. “It was...very pleasurable.” His memories of the incident were disjointed, but vivid.
“Do you,” Dean said. “Damn it. You just, you tell me if you want me to stop. OK?”
Castiel nodded again. Dean curled one hand around the back of his neck and drew him into a kiss.
They drove through the night, putting distance between the car and major population centers as fast as they could. Chuck mostly dozed, Becky's head heavy on his shoulder. She snored, just a little, though he had learned from past experience that he shouldn’t mention that to her. Sometime in the middle of the night, late enough that it was almost early, Dean pulled the car over on a desolate stretch of highway. His voice, pitched low, nonetheless brought Chuck out of the confused dream he'd been having of Sam Winchester in an immaculate white suit.
“You good to drive for a few hours?” Dean asked. In the passenger seat, Castiel stretched and nodded.
“Yeah, of course,” he replied, and the two of them switched sides. Chuck watched in bemused silence, his elbow rubbing against the green plastic army man jammed in the ashtray on the door he was leaning against. He knew, in that disturbing way that he knew a lot of things about the brothers, that Sam had gotten that toy stuck, and that Dean had made sure to preserve it when he rebuilt the Impala. Chuck supposed it was very touching, though it made it a little uncomfortable to rest an arm there.
“Don't run into anything,” Dean said as Castiel turned the key. It sounded like a perfunctory warning; Chuck was still working on the idea that Dean let anyone other than Sam drive his car. It made sense, given what was coming, but it felt wrong.
“I won't, oh Fearless Leader,” Castiel said, and Dean snorted even as Chuck boggled in the back seat.
“Knew I shouldn't've let you watch those old cartoons,” Dean said. Castiel grinned and put the Impala in gear. “I think I'd rather be Natasha,” he said.
In a diner twenty miles outside of Pittsburgh, Castiel slid onto one of the only two open stools at the counter and glanced at the man on his right. From the looks of the plates in front of him, he’d eaten at least two slices of pie already, but he was digging in to a hot fudge sundae with no evidence of satiation. Castiel watched, fascinated, as the man closed his lips around a spoon laden with more ice cream than reasonably should have fit.
The man swallowed. Without turning away from his sundae, he said, “What can I say? I’m talented.”
“What? Oh,” Castiel said. “My apologies.” He turned his gaze away, chagrined. Dean kept insisting he learn better the human rules of staring and eye contact, but it was difficult.
“Oh, no problem, bro,” the man said, and Castiel’s head snapped back. He knew humans used such terms with each other casually, but something about the way this man had said it felt familiar.
The man was shorter than average for a human male, dressed much as Sam and Dean always dressed—as Castiel himself dressed now—with short brown hair that curled a little and eyes an uncommon light brown. Those eyes flicked over Castiel with amused curiosity at first, but after a moment they took on a look Castiel couldn’t identify. “You don’t recognize me, do you?” the man said, and if it weren’t for the way his brow furrowed it might have been casual. “That much. Damn, kiddo, you’re practically fallen already.”
Castiel’s breath (which he still didn’t technically need, though he could feel the time coming when he would) caught in his throat. “Fallen,” he repeated, and cast a frantic look towards the men’s room Dean had vanished into. He hoped his face wasn’t giving too much away, that he sounded confused rather than suddenly worried.
“Dean will be out when we’re done talking,” the man said. “I know who you are, Castiel.” Castiel wondered if he should prepare a weapon, but the man didn’t seem to be doing anything threatening. He scooped more ice cream out of his glass and ate it. “Most of us are leaving, you know. Demeter, Geb, all the Earth-incarnation types are kind of stuck here, and Pele’s hanging on because she’s Pele—and let’s face it, there’ll be volcanoes whether there are people to die in the pyroclastic flows or not. I think Amaterasu is trying to figure out how to commit seppuku. But most of us? Outta here. Including me, probably. I’ve seen how this goes, and it ain’t pretty.”
“Trickster,” Castiel said, but something about it felt wrong. His senses were dull, almost human, but there was something vast and powerful about the being sitting next to him that was too much for a minor pagan god.
“Among other things,” the man said easily. He shoved his spoon into his sundae and abandoned it, turning on his stool to face Castiel fully. “Look, I just wanted to talk to you before I made up my mind. Figured I should see for myself.”
“Talk about what?” Castiel asked, off-balance and hating it.
“When they leave, they’re going to send someone to you,” the Trickster said. “Offer you your place back. Even the angels aren’t gonna leave you here. Are you going to go, Castiel?”
It took Castiel long seconds to make that make sense. “Leave…the angels will leave?”
The man nodded, looking inexplicably sad. “When Sam says yes.”
“Sam won’t,” Castiel protested. That much Dean maintained no matter what: Sam would not say yes to Lucifer.
“Told you I’ve seen how this goes.”
Castiel considered the question; Dean had misjudged Sam before, and the Trickster seemed very certain. “Then Dean will need me,” he said at last, and the Trickster nodded again, his expression resigned and somehow resolute.
“That’s what I thought you’d say.” He sighed. “This makes my life way more difficult, you realize.”
“I’m…sorry?” Castiel said, feeling distinctly two jumps behind.
“Nah, bro, don’t worry about it. Just means I’m gonna have to play with things some more, which I am totally capable of doing.” At that the Trickster grinned for just a second. “Have to let it run its course first, though—there's someone who needs to see you, just in case, and that’s going to really suck for you. Take my word for it—you wanna bang a few gongs before the lights go out.”
“I will be fine,” Castiel said automatically. “Who are you really?”
“Doesn’t matter,” the Trickster said briskly, and reached out to lay fingers on Castiel’s forehead. At the touch he knew, and the name was forming on Castiel’s lips when behind him Dean said, “Cas?”
Castiel jumped, and turned, and Dean was watching him, puzzled. “You talking to someone, dude?”
Castiel looked at the empty stool next to him and shook his head. “No. No, I was just…”
“Ordering, looks like. What, you couldn’t wait two minutes?” Dean asked, sliding onto the stool to Castiel’s left. Castiel turned back to the counter to discover a hot fudge sundae.
Castiel recognized the number, so he picked up Dean’s phone. “Hello, Chuck.”
“Oh, hey Castiel,” the prophet said. Castiel thought he sounded even more nervous than usual. “Hey, uh, is Dean there?”
“He’s in the shower,” Castiel replied. Chuck muttered, “Damn visions, you’d think I could get the timing right.” Castiel continued, “Is there something you need us to do? I can let him know when he gets out.”
“I’d kinda rather tell him myself.”
“He’ll be out soon,” Castiel said.
“I can wait.”
Castiel didn’t see any need to reply to that. After a few seconds, however, the prophet sighed and said, “Castiel, he’s…this isn’t going to make him happy. He’s going to, to need you.” Something about that phrase sent a shiver down Castiel’s spine. Then Dean will need me, he thought, as if it were something he’d said, but he couldn’t attach any context to the phrase.
Chuck was still talking. “I mean it isn’t going to be good for you either, and I know I, uh, live in a glass house when it comes to stuff like drinking too much, but Dean, he’s been taking care of Sam since he was four and—”
“What about Sam?” Castiel broke in, sitting up a little straighter. In the bathroom, the shower shut off. “Did you have a vision about him?” He was suddenly tense, and the thought of letting Chuck speak filled him with dread.
“What’d you say, Cas?” Dean called from the bathroom.
“Nothing,” Castiel said. “It’s…Chuck is on the phone. He needs to talk to you.”
“Chuck? Tell him to hold on, I’ll be right there,” Dean said. Castiel relayed the message absently, still gripped by fear he didn’t understand. After a moment Dean emerged, a towel wrapped around his hips as he rubbed at his hair with another. He held out his hand for the phone and Castiel passed it to him.
For the rest of his life Castiel would be able to replay the next few minutes with perfect clarity.
“Chuck?” Dean said, an expression of annoyance crossing his face. “What? Why? OK, OK, I’m going. I’m sitting down.” He suited the action to the words. “Now what…” And then Dean went perfectly still; as far as Castiel could tell he wasn’t even breathing. Color drained from his face with frightening rapidity. Castiel could make out Chuck’s voice, but not the words. After a second Dean said tonelessly, “No. You’re wrong.”
Chuck said something. Dean shook his head, opened his mouth to speak. He struggled for a moment before he managed to be audible. “OK. Now I know,” he said, and snapped his phone shut.
“Dean,” Castiel said. Dean didn’t reply. Castiel got up and moved to sit next to Dean, who was staring straight ahead. His freckles, usually faint, stood out starkly on his pale face. “Dean,” Castiel tried again, and Dean swallowed.
“Sam,” he said, his voice rough as gravel. “Sam said yes.”
Castiel supposed it was strange that he had enough experience with sex to have preferences. Angels were not supposed to have sex, vessels or no, and Castiel was still enough of an angel to feel a little odd about it. But it was very easy to put that discomfort aside when he could watch Dean’s face, hear the moans Castiel could draw from him.
Lately, there hadn’t been much of either. The frequency of their copulation had not diminished much since learning about Sam, but Dean was silent, and rougher than Castiel had grown used to, and he would not let him kiss him; whenever Castiel tried Dean turned his face away, and if he persisted Dean would push him off altogether.
Dean’s hand was heavy on the back of his neck, as if Dean were afraid Castiel was going to try to escape. Castiel could have told him that was unlikely—he did enjoy his own orgasms, nearly as much as he liked watching Dean’s—but that was another new rule; Castiel could pant and groan and gasp, but he wasn’t to talk. He didn’t mind much; he’d never been good at what Dean called “talking dirty” in any case.
The pressure on his neck increased and Castiel let it push him down until his face was buried in the pillow. He could have resisted, was still stronger than Dean, but he saw no reason to. Dean’s other hand sped up and Castiel could feel his climax rushing closer. “Dean,” he said, without meaning to, but Dean’s rhythm faltered.
“Quiet, Cas,” Dean said; his own breath was coming fast and harsh and the snap of an order in his voice made Castiel’s hands fist in the sheets. He squirmed, shoving back as well as he could, and said it again, louder. “Dean. Dean!”
“Shut up,” Dean growled. His hand tightened, but Castiel didn’t pretend that was what made his stomach clench and tremble. If he couldn’t watch Dean’s face, he’d at least have Dean’s command.
“Oh, Dean, please,” he moaned, and Dean ground out, “Shut. Up,” punctuating each word with a snap of his hips.
Castiel squeezed his eyes shut and let his release take him.
The sign said Welcome to Chicago in neat white script. Scrawled across it in lurid red block letters was a word Castiel knew only from rumor.
“Croatoan,” Dean said flatly. “In frickin’ Chicago.” He twisted his hands on the steering wheel. “We are so fucked, Cas.” He put the car into reverse.
Castiel opened his eyes when he heard Dean’s feet stop in the grass near his head. It was difficult; his eyelids would much rather have stayed down. Dean was sideways and the bare branches behind his head spun crazily.
“Cas, what’s up?” he asked. “You can’t lie out here, it’s too damn cold for sleeping outside.”
Castiel held up his pill bottle, trying and failing to conceal the way his hand was shaking. “I’m out,” he said, impressed with how calm his voice was, even now. “I’m out, Dean, and it still hurts.”
Dean’s brows furrowed in confusion. He crouched and took the orange bottle from Castiel's hand. “Are these from my duffel?” he asked, studying the label with a frown. “Cas—what the hell?”
“He came to see me,” Castiel said. “They sent him to ask.” He knew he wasn't explaining right but he couldn't make the words line up properly.
“Who?” Dean sounded like he was holding on to his patience, but it was difficult. Castiel was getting used to that tone of voice.
“The angels.” Dean gaped at him in surprise. “They sent Inias to tell me. He tried to get me to go with him, Dean, but I couldn't. I couldn't go.” His tongue tripped over I couldn’t leave you.
Dean recovered the power of speech enough to demand, “Go where, Cas, what are you talking about?”
“The angels are leaving. All my brothers and sisters, by now they're gone—I can tell they're gone. They took my Grace with them.” Castiel knew he was babbling but he couldn't stop. “It hurts. I thought the pills would make it stop.”
“You're telling me the angels are gone,” Dean said flatly. “All of them? Michael too?” Castiel nodded miserably. “Then we have bigger problems than some pills are gonna fix.” He ran his hand over his face. “OK, up, Cas, you’re not staying out here. I'm not gonna deal with you getting freakin' pneumonia on top of everything else.” Dean shoved the empty bottle into his pocket; Castiel found his eyes tracking the orange plastic as if it could help him. The void in his chest ached, gnawing and pitiless, and he gasped when Dean tucked an arm under his shoulders and helped, or forced, him to sit up. “Did you take everything that was in that bottle?” Dean asked.
“I think I dropped a few.”
“Son of a bitch,” Dean said. “How long ago? Come on, on your feet.” Between them they managed to stand, though Castiel kept having to check Dean to remember which way was up. He tried to convince himself there was concern in Dean’s voice.
“Just a few minutes,” he said.
Dean sighed heavily. “You have to give 'em time to work, Cas. You know how to make yourself puke?”
“No,” Castiel said, as they stumbled towards the steps to the cabin they were sleeping in.
“Well, you're gonna learn,” Dean said grimly.
It turned out that vomiting was very unpleasant.
When Castiel woke he discovered Dean sitting cross-legged on his sleeping bag, watching him. His chest still ached, if not as fiercely, and he felt like his head had been stuffed with cotton. There was a terrible taste in his mouth.
“Congratulations, you survived your accidental OD,” Dean said. He pointed to a spot next to Castiel's head. “Make sure to drink that.” Castiel turned his head—surprised when the motion didn't hurt—and saw a bottle of water. By the time he turned back Dean was getting to his feet.
“Dean,” he began.
“Not right now, Cas.” Dean strode to the door, and Castiel scrambled up to follow him.
“I'm sorry, Dean,” he said. “I wasn't...I must have been in shock.”
“Yeah, and you used up all the heavy pain meds I had. Great job,” Dean said. He clattered down the cabin's steps.
“It won't happen again,” Castiel said, though it didn't come out as firmly as he might have liked. He shivered in the morning air, wishing faintly for his coat. Dean had bought him a sturdy green jacket, but it wasn't the same.
Dean shrugged as he walked away. “Tell you what, Cas, maybe you should've gone with him,” he said over his shoulder, and Castiel, halfway down the steps, stopped. Dean rounded the corner of the cabin and Castiel slowly sat, looking after him.
As they got closer, the trees got thicker. By the time the chain-link fence began to parallel the road, they were driving through a full-blown forest. Chuck watched the passing trees with a glum sense of familiarity. He hated camping, always had. At least this place had cabins.
Finally they reached a gate, with a sign mounted to the chain-link beside it. Camp Chitaqua, it read, and Chuck almost mustered a laugh. Becky glanced at him and he jerked his chin at the sign. “Without a paddle,” he muttered. She smothered a giggle.
Castiel glanced over the seat at them and smiled himself. “We didn't name it,” he said. “But once Dean explained the saying to me, I have to say it seemed very appropriate.”
“I'm gonna rip down that fucking sign,” Dean declared.
“It's already immortalized,” Castiel said. “In picture, if not in song.” Chuck tried not to marvel at the way the angel—former angel—spoke, casual and loose as if he'd never been anything but a man, as if he'd never been lightning barely contained beneath borrowed skin.
There were guards on the gate, complete with guns. Chuck submitted without complaint to being scratched with a silver knife and to drinking holy water. He assumed there was salt around somewhere, or a devil's trap, or both. Once they were all determined not to be malevolent supernatural creatures, Dean drove on.
They stopped in front of a cabin. Chuck climbed out of the back seat, trying and failing to stretch his back as he went. “You two have this one to yourselves,” Castiel said. “We still have empty cabins. I suppose if enough people show up we might have to start—”
“Cas,” Dean said. “Better Homes and Cabins later. You two, get your stuff out of the trunk.” He opened the trunk and waited with poorly-veiled impatience while Chuck and Becky pulled out their bags.
Castiel took Becky's suitcase from her, handling the awkward weight with ease, and led the way into the cabin. Chuck trailed them, struggling with his bags and trying not to resent Castiel's chivalry; he could darn well carry his own things. As he shoved the door open with his shoulder, he heard Becky say, “...good idea, Castiel,” and the fallen angel snapped, “Cas!”
Becky actually stopped talking, apparently taken aback, and for a long moment there was silence in the little cabin. Then, a little more gently, “Just Cas, Becky. It's what everyone calls me. Only Dean and Bobby know...know the whole thing.” Chuck would have bet...well, not money, money wasn't going to be useful for much longer anyway, but he'd have bet good liquor that that sentence had originally ended know what I used to be.
“Oh,” Becky said, with surprising meekness. “Sorry?”
“No, I shouldn't have...” Castiel ran a hand through his hair. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have snapped.”
They stood in stiff silence for a few more seconds before Castiel said, “I've got to go help Dean. See you around.”
They nodded, and watched him go. When the door had swung shut behind him, Becky put down the bag she was holding with a careless thud and came over to thread her arms around Chuck's waist. “He's not doing so well,” she said into the side of his neck, and Chuck tried to nod without slamming his chin into the top of her head. “We should cheer him up."
Chuck closed his eyes. He had carefully hidden the pages from her, because he had to write them, to get them out of his head, but that didn't mean he wanted her to read her own death. At least it would be quick, and she wouldn't turn into a croat first. “That sounds like a great idea, Beck,” he said aloud, when he was sure his voice wouldn't give him away. “Let's get unpacked first.”
He let the sound of her voice wash over him as he opened his suitcase.
That evening, Chuck left the cabin quietly. He didn't know why he felt the need to watch this one last thing; he'd already seen it in his vision. It just seemed fitting that he witness it.
By the time he found them, Dean was already swinging the driver's door shut. Cas waited a moment longer before he got out too. Chuck was just glad they were dressed, though from what he remembered of the vision they hadn't really gotten undressed in the first place.
He couldn't hear their voices from where he stood, though he remembered the dialogue well enough.
“You could keep your tapes.” That was Cas, diffident but trying to help.
“Don't need 'em,” Dean replied.
Cas's smile was wide, but he wasn't as confident as he pretended; Chuck didn't know if Dean noticed. “You don't have to need something to want it around, Dean.”
“Very deep,” Dean said, his voice heavy with sarcasm. He tossed his keys from one hand to the other and back, and then abruptly reared back and threw them hard out into the underbrush. “Come on, Cas, we've got work to do,” he said, and turned on his heel. Cas stood looking after the keys for only a second before he turned to follow Dean.
Chuck waited until they were out of sight before he walked over to the car and laid his hand on the cool hood. He wasn't sure what he expected to feel, but there was nothing beyond the physical sensation of smooth metal. After a while he sighed. “Endings are hard,” he muttered.
He made his way back to the cabin, where Becky was sitting on one of the camp cots with her laptop propped on her legs, typing. She glanced up and smiled, but remained engrossed in her work. He booted his own computer and opened the file.
It only took a few minutes to write up the last conversation. When he had he stared at the screen for a long time.
When he realized he didn't hear Becky's keys tapping any longer, Chuck looked up. She was watching him, a concerned furrow between her brows. “You OK?” she asked, and Chuck hesitated only a moment before saying, “Yeah, I'm great. Just...I think this one's done.”
“Don't worry,” Becky said. “Nothing's ever really over.”
“I guess you're right,” Chuck said. He looked back down at his keyboard and typed The End.