Dean frowns at the paper Crowley hands him. The sigil drawn on it looks a lot like a devil's trap. The signs inside the star's points are different, and a smaller, seven-sided star is fills its center. Something about it makes Dean's skin crawl.
"You sure this is gonna work?" he asks.
"Mother says it will. It's keyed to Lucifer specifically."
"Your mother got us into this mess," Dean points out. "How do you know this ain't some kind of double-cross?"
"Getting her neck snapped seems to have sorted out her priorities."
"So, what --? Now she's on your side? On mine?"
Crowley shrugs. "She's on her own side. Demons usually are. I'm sure you remember how it is." Dean bristles a little -- he'd give anything to punch Crowley in his smug face -- but Crowley just continues, "It won't hold him long, but the spell Mother worked out is short and sweet. We'll only need a few minutes."
Dean frowns at the paper again. His chest aches. "What's this gotta be drawn with?"
"You don't want to know."
"Listen, you --"
"You won't have to get your hands dirty," Crowley says. He takes the paper back and tucks it inside his suit. "Mother and I will handle the sticky bits. Just get your boyfriend's meatsuit to the church on time."
It ends with a horrible flash of light.
Rowena's eyes burn black as she cuts Sam's hand and tosses the last of the belladonna into her bowl. The ground starts to shake. Most of the warehouse's windows are broken, but the few that are left rattle in their frames. One cracks down the center with a snap like a gunshot. Dean had poured a holy oil ring around Rowena's sigil just in case it turned out to be bunk; the flames are banked low by Lucifer's power, and they cast dark shadows on Cas' -- Lucifer's -- snarling, furious face.
"Your angel won't survive this," Lucifer warns. His hands twist and clench at his sides, like he's trying to claw his grace away from whatever Rowena is using to hold it. "You're going to kill him."
Nausea rolls over Dean like a wave. He can't breathe. "You're lying."
"Maybe. Maybe not." Another window shatters, glass raining down on the crates stacked against the wall. "Is that a risk you're willing to take?"
"Don't listen to him," Sam says.
Crowley grabs Dean's arm. "We're running out of time."
"He was right about you," Lucifer says. The flames dancing around him sputter and cough. "You only care about him when he's useful to you. Now that the Darkness is gone, you're ready to throw him away."
"You're lying," Dean says again. Hold on, Cas, please. Just hold on. Taking a breath, he makes himself look at Rowena and nod. "Do it."
The ground shakes again, knocking a chunk of plaster off the wall. Lucifer erupts from Cas' throat, an avalanche of heat and intensity and searing, blue-white light. The air inside the warehouse starts to churn, whipping around them and howling like the wind. Slowly, Lucifer's grace takes shape over Cas' head. It curls into something Dean doesn't really understand, something ancient and bestial and terrifying, faces and horns and fangs and eyes and a sparking, electric arc of wings.
"Redi ad infernos."
The walls creak. Another chunk of plaster hits the floor. Cas sways on his feet. Softly, he mumbles, "Dean." His eyes roll up and he collapses in a heap.
"Cas," Dean shouts. Crowley snatches at his arm -- the spell isn't finished -- but Dean shrugs him off and rushes into the circle. The flames are almost dead. He crouches at Cas' side and runs his hand over Cas' shoulder. "Hey, Cas."
Lucifer is a hurricane against the ceiling. Rowena rattles off a string of Latin that punches a hole in the air. Dean feels the pressure from it against his back -- a dragging, sucking inferno of sulfur and heat. Everything tastes like ash. He hunches closer to Cas, cupping Cas' face in his hand and stroking his thumb across Cas' cheek.
"Hey, c'mon. You gotta wake up. Please, Cas. Wake up."
Rowena starts to chant. Dean glances at her; demon or not, the spell is draining her fast. Sweat is beading on her face, and Sam is practically holding her up, blood from his cut hand smeared up and down one of her arms. She slumps against Sam's chest and grates out another mouthful of Latin. The hole behind Dean suddenly snaps closed. Above his head, the rafters groan. He pulls Cas into his lap and brushes his hand through Cas' hair.
"Cas," he whispers, a knot twisting in the back of his throat. His eyes are stinging. "Cas, please."
Crowley nudges Dean's knee with his foot. "This is all very touching, but I don't think opening a portal to the cage did anything for this dump's structural integrity. We need to get out of here before the roof falls on our heads."
North Platte is two hundred miles from the bunker.
Sam drives. Dean sits in the back seat with Cas' head in his lap and a dull ache chewing a hole in his gut.
There are eight empty bedrooms in the bunker, but Dean carries Cas into his. He sits Cas on the edge of his bed and eases him down onto the mattress. The memory foam accepts him quietly, but the bed's ancient frame creaks softly in complaint. He palms Cas' forehead to check for a fever. Then he slides his hand down to Cas' cheek, and he leaves it there until Sam comes in. He's still lugging all their gear.
"I," Dean starts. He straightens a little, but he doesn't stop touching Cas' face. "I, uh --"
Sam waves him off. "I'll grab some extra blankets."
Dean crouches at the foot of the bed so he can start on Cas' shoes and socks. He only gets halfway through the job before he freezes, leaning into Cas' knees and fisting his hand in the leg of Cas' slacks. If Cas dies -- fuck. Pressure crowds into the back of Dean's throat, like a hand gripping everything under his jaw. He's not sure how long he stays that way, but he's still there when Sam comes back, close to tears and unable to breathe.
"Hey," Sam says. He's carrying a stack of blankets and one of the library's chairs. He sets the chair beside the bed and squeezes Dean's shoulder. "Let's get him tucked in. We should probably -- he won't be comfortable in his suit."
Together, they wrestle Cas down to his boxers and into a t-shirt and an old pair of sweats. Sam gets him in the middle of the bed and Dean covers him with a couple of the blankets. He strokes his hand through Cas' hair.
"You want a beer?" Sam asks.
"Yeah," Dean says, clearing his throat. "Yeah, I do."
Luring Lucifer into Rowena's trap had taken thirty-four straight hours and had earned Dean two pretty decent beatings. He doesn't mean to fall asleep, but the last two days catch up with him eventually; he drifts off in the chair Sam brought in, snoring himself awake about forty-five minutes later. His neck aches from having his head tipped back too far and a cramp is gnawing at the base of his spine.
Cas hasn't moved. His breathing is steady and slow.
The door sighs open. Sam pokes his head inside the room and asks, "How is he?"
"He -- no change."
Sam drums his fingers on the doorknob. Dean glances over at him, then looks back at Cas. He's shaky and tired. His shoulders are stiff. The lamp on the nightstand isn't very bright, but it feels like the light is slicing straight into his temple. He leans over and switches it off, grunting as the muscles in his back twinge.
"When's the last time you ate?" Sam asks.
"I don't know." Dean shrugs. "You made me a sandwich."
"Dean, that was yesterday afternoon."
"I'll come out in a minute."
"I said in a minute."
Dean dozes off again, jerking awake with a hiss when a wave of pins and needles chases up his leg. An unopened beer is sitting on the nightstand, waiting patiently beside another sandwich. The bread is stale from sitting out in the air. Dean rubs his eyes. The lamp is glaring at him; he doesn't remember turning it back on.
Cas still hasn't moved, but a pinkish flush is burning in his cheeks.
Dean pushes himself out of the chair, wincing as his knees and ankles and elbows pop. He aches all over like an old man. He tugs Cas' blankets down to his knees and brushes Cas' sweaty hair off his forehead. He wishes Cas would wake up. He wishes -- fuck.
The beer Sam left him is lukewarm, but Dean drains it in three long gulps. His hand shakes as he sets the bottle on the nightstand. He heads into the bathroom to piss and slap some water on his face; in the mirror above the sink, his reflection is waxy and stubble-rough. The bags under his eyes are the color of an old bruise.
When he gets back to his room he can't make himself sit. He's too restless. Too something. He ends up pacing at the foot of his bed, his knees throbbing and anxiety hammering in his chest. He's never been good at this kind of thing -- at sitting around, at waiting, at feeling useless, helpless. He doesn't really know how to deal with something he can't shoot or stab or salt and burn. Fighting and bleeding are the only tricks he has up his sleeves.
Cas just keeps breathing: in and out, in and out.
"You should at least lie down," Sam tells him.
Dean shakes his head. "He --"
"He won't mind."
"Why? 'Cause he's knocked out?"
Sam sighs under his breath. "Because it's you."
Your angel won't survive this.
Lucifer writhes above Dean's head, blue-white and impossibly bright.
Your angel won't survive this. You're going to kill him.
His teeth are short and jagged like a shark's, then stretched and fang-like and long, then needle-thin and crowded together. His horns are narrow and straight, but they're also rough and thick, tapered as they curl backward, and they're also notched like a bull's, jutting crookedly to the sides. He has eyes everywhere. He pulses like an electric current. His wings rustle at the edges of the shadows.
Maybe. Maybe not. Is that a risk you're willing to take?
Cas sways on his feet. Softly, he mumbles, "Dean." His eyes roll up and he collapses in a heap.
You're going to kill him.
Dean jolts awake with a shout. His heart is beating in his throat, and a cold sweat is drying on his skin. Next to him, Cas is a beacon of warmth. Dean shivers all over. He pulls one of the blankets up to his shoulders and curls against Cas' side.
The door creaks open, painting a rectangle of light across the foot of the bed. Sam knocks lightly on the jamb and asks, "You up?"
"Yeah," Dean says. He rolls away from Cas and leans up on his elbow, rubbing his eyes as Sam flips on the overhead light. "I -- yeah."
Sam is fully dressed and freshly showered, his hair still damp near his scalp. He hesitates for a second, then says, "I've been going through our books, trying to find anything that might help Cas come around."
"Figures," Dean mutters. The bunker only has a handful of books about angels; most are just boring rehashings of the war in heaven. "Back to waiting, I guess."
Sam shakes his head. "Maybe not. I texted Eileen earlier, and she has a couple boxes of her father's books. Men of Letters stuff."
"She doesn't know. They're in her lockup in Sallisaw. She hasn't even looked at them in years." Sam's phone buzzes; he checks the message, then looks back up at Dean and says, "She just wrapped up a job in New Mexico, so I'm going to meet her at the lockup. Otherwise, she'll have to drive two straight days, maybe for nothing."
"I won't be back 'til late. Are you --"
"Yeah," Dean says, settling against Cas's side again. "We'll be fine."
Dean waits until Sam has been gone about two hours. Then he showers and throws on some clean clothes and walks out to the scrubby patch of woods behind the bunker. It's a drab morning, the sky heavy and colorless and a sluggish wind pushing through the trees. He startles a squirrel as he approaches; it watches him for a second, then disappears into the blanket of leaves warming the ground.
He draws the summoning circle in the dirt with a stick. He lights the candles and drops the frankincense and blood into the bowl, then sits on a rock to wait.
Please. If he dies, I'll -- I just want him to wake up. I never -- please.
"You pray very loudly, Dean Winchester."
"Only when I'm desperate," Dean says. He sits up straight, resting his hand on his thigh so that it's closer to the angel blade in his back pocket. "What's your name?"
They consider each other for a few minutes. A trickle of wind threads between them; the leaves around Jaeniel's feet barely stir. Her vessel is a short, Asian woman in her forties, a soccer mom with a snub nose and gray streaking her long hair. Dean hopes he doesn't have to shank her before this is over. Her face is perfectly calm, but the set of her shoulders says she's ready to smite him into next week.
Finally, he says, "Well, Jaeniel, I need some help."
"I assumed as much."
She narrows her eyes. "Consorting with Lucifer has consequences."
"It's not like he gave Lucifer a ride for kicks. He only did it 'cause Lucifer could get rid of the Darkness." A bird calls in the trees, high above their heads. Dean needs this to work; he doesn't want to ask Rowena. It feels like he's lived half his life owing Crowley a favor. "She's gone, and Lucifer's back in his box, but Cas --"
"Lucifer killed two of my brothers while he was free."
"And about a hundred angels died trying to kill the Darkness."
"He was complicit in the Darkness' release."
"He didn't know."
"And you --"
"Look," Dean says quietly. "I know he ain't your favorite in-law. You guys have been gunning for him for years. But he -- he means a lot to me." Dean pauses, digging his heel in the dirt as he breathes through the knot burning in his throat. "I don't want him to die. I just -- please."
She frowns at him for a moment, then huffs under her breath and says, "Very well. Take me to him."
Jaeniel leans over Cas, her long hair curtaining her face. She holds her hand about an inch above his chest. After a moment, everything underneath her palm flares blue-white. A distant hum itches at the edge of Dean's hearing, more pressure than noise. A chill sweeps up the back of his neck.
"He lives," Jaeniel announces.
"Yeah, but --"
"His grace is intact."
"I don't -- I don't care about that," Dean says, clearing his throat.
That makes her turn her head; she gives Dean a narrow, curious look. "His grace is what makes him an angel."
"I don't care about that," Dean says again. If Cas comes out of this mess human, Dean will buy him some jeans and that brand of peanut butter he used to like and teach him how to shoot a gun. "I just -- I want him to wake up."
"I believe he will, in time. As I said, his grace is intact, but he has turned it inward." She pauses, glancing around Dean's room; the bunker seems to make her nervous, maybe because it's so far underground. "Housing Lucifer has damaged him in ways you cannot see. He is healing himself."
Damaged feels like a knife between the ribs. Dean clenches his hands at his sides. "Can, uh -- can he hear me, at least?"
"I am not sure," she says, reaching for Cas again. "Try."
Dean opens his mouth. Closes it. Opens it again. Finally, he manages, "Hey, Cas."
"Yes, he can hear you."
"Okay." Dean nods. "That -- that's good."
"You should speak to him often," she says. She gives him another curious look. "Your voice brings him joy."
Dean sits on the bed, leaning back against a stack of pillows. It feels good to stretch his legs; his knees are still stiff and sore from spending the better part of two days in an uncomfortable chair. Cas' cheeks are flushed again, so Dean pushes the blankets away, just enough to cool him off a little. After that he just stares at Cas' face for a minute, listening to the clock tick as he tries to think of something to say.
He settles on, "Hey." He brushes his hand through Cas' hair, his chest aching as the strands slip through his fingers. "I know I've been telling you to wake up, but that other angel said you're healing yourself, so -- yeah. Take all the time you need."
Cas just breathes: in and out, in and out.
"I guess you're hurt pretty bad. And I ain't gonna lie, I -- I'm worried about it. I don't like seeing you like this. I don't -- Christ. You just got over being cursed, and now -- now this."
Dean sighs. He rolls his shoulders to ease the tension in his neck, making the headboard rattle. He brushes his hand through Cas' hair again. He lets his thumb trace the shell of Cas' ear.
"It's been a crazy coupla days. Even -- you know. Even for us. You'd think we'd catch a break once and awhile."
Dean sighs again. His throat is rougher than sandpaper. He feels like an idiot.
You should speak to him often. Your voice brings him joy.
"I have a headache," Dean blurts. It's the first thing that comes to his mind. Two days ago it was a dull throb; now it feels like someone is drilling for oil at the base of his skull. "Probably 'cause I haven't eaten much the last coupla days. Sam made me some bologna sandwiches, but they tasted like crap. He didn't put enough mayo on them, and bologna's like -- it's made outta pig assholes anyway. I don't even know why we had that shit in the fridge."
Dean strokes Cas' hair. Cas slightly -- just slightly -- leans into his hand.
"I'm not mad at you," Dean says.
Lucifer had taunted him with that once, early into the whole Lucifer-wearing-Cas shitshow. He'd said Cas wasn't fighting him because he knew Dean and Sam and the other angels would hate him for what he'd done. He'd said Cas didn't care what happened to him anymore. That Cas didn't care if he survived. Dean doesn't know how true that is -- lying and manipulation is pretty much Lucifer's bread and butter -- but Dean had felt sick about it. He still feels sick about it now.
Dean had been mad when he'd first figured it out. When he'd realized Lucifer was in Cas because Cas had agreed to it, and not because of some fluke, or because Rowena had pulled a fast one. He'd been fucking furious -- furious enough that he'd cracked open a bottle of the hard stuff and punched every wall in the bunker at least once. Springing Lucifer from the cage had just seemed so stupid and careless after everything they'd done to cram him back in there in the first place, after Sam had nosedived into to hell just to get it done. Dean had screamed himself hoarse.
An empty twenty-sixer and two sprained fingers later, Dean had let it go. He'd sat down on the war room floor, puked up twenty dollars' worth of Devil's Cut, and decided that Cas coming home was the only thing he cared about. He'd decided it was the only thing that mattered. Ears ringing and sweating through his shirts, he'd prayed to Cas for the next three or four hours: fight him, you have to fight that sonofabitch, you have to come back, if you die I'll fucking lose it, please Cas, you gotta fight him.
"I just want you to know that. I just -- I want you to know that I get it."
Dean does get it. Shitty decisions run in their little family like a river, choppy and rough and moving fast enough that it's all they can do to keep their heads above water. They always end up with their backs against the wall and no choices but bad ones. That's how Dean ended up in hell in the first place. That's how he ended up with the Mark of Cain.
"You gotta make it out of this. I can't -- I need you. I need you here with me. I always have. You know that, right?"
Cas murmurs in his sleep. It almost sounds like Dean's name.
"I love you," Dean says.
He knows he's being cowardly -- saying it for the first time while Cas is still knocked out -- but a part of him is terrified that Jaeniel had been wrong, that Cas isn't going to wake up.
"I should've told you sooner. Years ago. I just -- it scares the crap out of me. Like it's -- I don't know. Too big. You're an angel, and I spend half my life stepping in my own shit. I got nothing to offer you but a batcave full of old books and a lotta nights on the road. But I think -- I think we could make it work, if you -- you know.
"I think we'd do all right. If -- you know. If we could get back to ganking regular monsters. If we could get heaven and hell to lose our numbers."
Dean slides down the bed a little, putting them shoulder to shoulder. Cas sighs out a soft noise.
"I want you to stay here. I mean, stay. We'll get you set up with your own room. Unless -- unless you wanna bunk in here with me. That's -- whatever you want. You just gotta stay."
Dean's only half-asleep, but he jerks like he got dunked in cold water. "Yeah, Cas. I'm here." He sits up enough to fumble with the lamp on the nightstand; once it's on, he rolls over and smiles. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm tired," Cas says. His voice is rusty.
Dean snorts out a shaky laugh. "You've been out for three days."
"Three?" Cas asks, the word cracking in half around a yawn. "I would've expected longer. Lucifer was not gentle with me."
"Dean, I'll be fine. I just need rest." Cas yawns again. His eyes flutter closed. "Have you been here the whole time?"
"Yeah," Dean says softly. "You -- yeah, I have."
Cas rolls onto his side during the night; the next time Dean wakes up, their legs are tangled. Cas' arm is wrapped around Dean's waist and his head is tucked under Dean's chin. Dean doesn't know what time it is, but he figures it's pretty late. His headache is almost gone. He nearly feels rested, like he slept longer than an hour or two.
Instead of drifting off again, he lies there and breathes Cas in. He's always wanted this -- to fall asleep beside Cas at night, to wake up beside Cas in the morning. Just to have Cas. One of the blankets is making an uncomfortable lump under his shin, but he isn't about to move now.
Cas shifts closer. His mouth brushes the hollow of Dean's throat, and Dean shivers. He mumbles something; Dean doesn't hear it, but he feels it against his skin.
Cas tips his head back a little. "Is this okay?"
"Yeah," Dean says, wrapping his arm around Cas' shoulder. "Yeah, of course."
Cas sighs against Dean's throat, then noses at his jaw. Dean threads his fingers into Cas' hair, tipping his head up a little more. The kiss is slow and sleepy and soft, but Cas hums into it and tucks his hand under Dean's shirt.
"Do you really want me to... bunk in here with you?" he asks.
"You heard that? You were sleeping when I said it."
"You said many things while I was asleep."
Heat rushes to Dean's face; he's glad the lights are off. "Yeah, well, I -- you know. I meant it. All of it."
Cas kisses him again.
"Dean?" Sam asks. He's standing at the foot of the bed. "Dean, are you up?"
"Yeah." Dean blinks at the ceiling for a second. He's lying flat on his back with Cas sprawled across his chest. Heat is burning in his cheeks and under his jaw, but he makes himself look Sam in the face. "What time is it?"
"What --? Are you just getting in?"
"No. I got back about two, but you were out cold." Sam's mouth almost twitches. "Is he --" he points at Cas "-- did he wake up?"
"Yeah. Coupla times. He's still kinda tired, though."
Cas makes a soft, bleary noise against Dean's chest. Then he leans up on his elbow and says, "Less tired than I was earlier. Hello, Sam."
"Hey, Cas," Sam says, smiling. "Good to see you on the mend." To Dean, he adds, "I'm going to start some breakfast. You want any?"
"Yeah, I'll be out in a minute."
Dean finds Sam in the kitchen, scrambling onions and peppers into what looks like half a dozen eggs. He's humming something tuneless under his breath. There's a pot of coffee on; Dean pours himself a cup, drinking most of it while it's still hot enough to put sweat on his upper lip. Sam clears his throat as Dean is pouring himself another.
"I just want you to know --"
Dean waves him off. "C'mon, Sammy."
"-- this doesn't mean he gets to sit shotgun all the time." Sam points at Dean with the spatula. "I have seniority."
Dean snorts out a laugh. Then he sets his coffee on the counter and tips his hands back and forth like a scale. "I don't know... he did pull me out of hell."
"How romantic," Sam deadpans. He gives the eggs another stir, then turns the stove off and sets the spatula on the counter. "Seriously, I'm glad he's healing up on his own. Eileen's books were a bust."
"Nothing on angels?"
"Nope. She did have something on revenants I'd never seen. I made copies."
"Awesome," Dean says, leaning his hip against the counter. "How's she doing?"
Sam pops a piece of egg in his mouth -- with his fingers, like a barbarian -- then says, "Great. We grabbed some dinner, and then she hit the road. She's headed to Pulaski to check out some funky deaths."
"Wow." Dean whistles through his teeth. "Busy girl."
"Yeah, she likes to work."
"I wouldn't mind that," Dean says. "You know -- working. Our actual job. Vampires and werewolves and ghosts. Not --" he waves his hand around "-- crazy stuff."
"Yeah, no kidding," Sam says, digging two plates out of the cupboard. "What about Cas? Is he -- is he staying?"
"Yeah," Dean says, smiling. Something warm and bright unfurls in his chest. "Yeah, he is."
"Dean," Cas says, during the intro to Jessica Jones. They're only four episodes in; Dean isn't sure he's going to make it out alive.
Cas leans in and kisses his jaw. "I love you too."