Has Left Its Mark
Sam wakes up in the middle of the night, body scratchy with fear-sweat and his mouth bitter with the memory of copper and stained silver. The closer they get to Lucifer the harder the hunger rises, a constant dull ache. It’s the end of the world and Sam fears he’s burning. He throws the covers back and pads quietly into the bathroom, starts the shower because it’ll take ages for the water to come hot enough to scald the dreams out of him, warm him so he doesn’t feel the cold fire low in his belly.
Sam scrubs his face in the sink while he waits, and it’s only years of conditioning that keep him from pissing himself when he looks up to see Castiel over his shoulder, reflected in the warped glass of the mirror.
“Still just an abomination, not yet the Archfiend,” Sam says drily, tiredly. “Dean didn’t give up, you know.” He laughs. “Of course you know. The world’s not blown to fucking hell yet, right?” He turns and Castiel is there, tired and rumpled with the sigils Dean had carved into his chest stained into the front of his shirt. “Are you okay?” Sam asks even as Castiel drops to his knees and looks ready to hit the gritty tile.
“Stupid question,” Castiel says, and he makes a noise that might be a laugh or might be a sob, and the thought of either is terrifying. “You stink of your taint, you know,” he says, almost conversationally, into Sam’s shoulder. “Like meat that’s spoiled.”
Sam swings Castiel up and carries him back to his bed, lays him out. “Yeah, well you’re hardly one to speak, so shut up and sleep.” He touches his fingers to Castiel’s forehead and is surprised to see the angel’s eyes flutter close over the simmering rage and despair that have driven him so fucking hard.
Sam goes back to the shower and scrubs himself under the scalding water until it runs to a cold, rusty trickle. He holds his palm up, breathes it in, and the wrongness is there, just as Cas said.
He dries off, finds clean boxers and a T-shirt and boots up his laptop to start scanning the headlines for signs and portents.
It takes three days for Castiel to wake, even though Dean tries waving burgers under his nose and throwing random stuff on him. When Castiel does finally rouse he stares at the thin duvet and touches the random patterns that haven’t quite been washed out yet.
“Thank-you,” he says finally, though to whom and for what is anyone’s guess. He goes into the bathroom after that, and comes out five minutes later unstained and somewhat less rumpled.
“There are graves robbed in Holyrood Kansas,” Sam says. “It would seem the apocalypse comes with irony.”
Dean and Castiel both just look at him. Sam shuts his computer down. “Fine, whatever. I call shotgun.”
Fifteen minutes later they’re on the road.
Holyrood is … fuck. Fuck. Demons everywhere, riding the dead and the living alike through streets that are stained with blood and bile. They fuck each other in the doorways, they open screaming children up and eat their still-beating hearts and wear their guts like necklaces.
“It’s fucking Mardi Gras in Hell,” Dean says even as he pulls the stolen fire truck into position, then jumps down to help man the hose. “Got enough grace left to bless the water, Cas?” At Castiel’s nod he whistles between his fingers. “Hey, goatfuckers! Eat this!”
The water comes out hard and knocks everyone backwards, sends them tumbling down the street even as their skin puckers and melts and several demons flee the decaying flesh of their dead hosts. Sam moves through the street with a shotgun and the dagger, taking out those too strong for the blessed water. In the background he can hear the rise of his brother’s voice, bolstered by the angel’s, calling out the Latin that made some of the weaker demons boil and smoke.
“Sam,” and he stops, sees a little girl in stained shorts, her T-shirt ripped to show her pale body painted in blood. Her mouth is too, too red and her teeth are too, too sharp. “Aren’t you hungry, Sam? Couldn’t you just eat me all up?” She giggles, a high-pitched sound and Sam leans down, smiles, puts the tip of the blade just below her trachea and then shoves it in hard before jerking it side to side. He watches the demon leave, the little girl drop and then cleans the blade off carefully on her shorts, careful not to let anything touch him.
Thirteen hours of driving later and Dean pulls into the first motel they see, gets a room and then makes a beeline for the shower. He’s in and out fast, already dressed and pacing the room when Sam comes out. Castiel sits on the worn desk chair, staring into the middle distance. “I’m going to go get very, very drunk,” Dean says, the “you coming?” implicit in his tone, but Sam waves him on. “Your loss,” Dean says, and then he’s gone, leaving Sam alone in the room with the angel.
“You did not succumb to the hunger in you,” Castiel says finally, his voice like glaciers moving over stone. “You must have been so very hungry for it, I can feel it in you all the time, and yet you did not succumb.”
“That’s part of free will, too, Cas,” Sam says tiredly, falling back onto the bed. “Sometimes having a choice means every day you have to choose. And you might choose wrong some day, but today, if you choose right, you get to hope you can do it again tomorrow.”
“Like Dean not becoming Michael’s vessel,” Castiel says slowly, tasting the words. “You each choose … what? What is it you are choosing?”
Sam pushes himself up on his elbows, blinks at Cas. “The world. Each other. Bobby. You. Take your pick.”
Castiel stands, walks over to the bed. “You remind me of what I have given up. I chose. I chose this,” and his hands touch his shirtfront, drift down over his body. “I chose this,” he says, gesturing outwards minutely, to the room, the state, the fucking world, “over my brothers and sisters. I chose you over them … why?” The tone lacks the usual undercurrent of rage and loss, and holds instead only the question itself.
“I don’t know,” Sam says finally. “I mean, at one time, God chose us. Maybe that’s his plan for you, to have to choose. Obedience, service without choice is meaningless, isn’t it? Doesn’t the choosing have to count for something?”
Castiel tilts his head birdwise, considering. “Perhaps. I do not know. I must think.” And there is the rush of wind and wings and a sound both bright and pure. Sam falls asleep and doesn’t dream of anything.