“In the shuffling madness, of the locomotive breath, runs the all-time loser, headlong to his death…”
Dean touched the neck of the bottle, dragged his fingers up and down the damp glass. The music was loud in the tight space of the bar, voices of muttered patrons leaking in between lulls, and Dean tried to lose himself in it. The noise, the churning, bluesy rhythm. He felt the lip of his beer bottle knock against his teeth, the booze biting warmth against his tongue. Couldn't even taste it anymore,really, but it'd been cheap and bitter, and he didn't exactly miss it.
This wasn't about taste, anyway. Hadn't been for a long time.
A hand tightened against his shoulder, and he swallowed.
“He hears the silence howling -- catches angels as they fall...”
“I think you’ve had enough,” said a familiar voice. Dean dropped his hand to the table a little forcefully and shook his head, a lame attempt to clear the fog that had settled there. The sudden movement only made his vision swim and he shut his eyes tight against it, cursing under his breath.
“S’ non’a yer business,” Dean slurred out quietly in response. “Le’ me be, Ellen.”
“Like hell it isn't. What would your daddy say, seein’ you like this?” she continued, unfazed.
“Fuck him,” Dean spat back.
“Fine. Sam, then,” she offered with a sigh, moving to lean over the bar in an attempt to get Dean to look at her. Dean lifted his head, eyes tired and unfocused, Sam's name sending dread to settle in his gut. Worry flashed in Ellen's eyes, but she held firm as Dean turned his expression stony and creased his eyebrows together. He dragged his thumbnail across the damp paper label barely clinging to the beer bottle between his palms.
“Ellen, please.” Dean pleaded soberly, unable to maintain eye contact.
Ellen sighed and took the small collection of empty beer bottles from in front of Dean, walking around behind the bar and tossing them in the trash. She grabbed a damp towel from beside the sink. “He’s comin’ home tomorrow,” Dean offered, tone pinched and hands fidgeting now that the bottle he’d been picking at was gone.
“All the more reason you shouldn’t be here. Devil take me for lettin’ you get this bad, you’re not even legal to drink yet,” Ellen reprimanded herself, frowning as she moved to wipe down the counters. She eyed another regular who had raised his mug for a refill.
“Bett’r here then on m’ own,” Dean countered, his grin never reaching his eyes.
“Yeah, well, that’s what I tell myself so I can sleep at night,” Ellen sighed as she grabbed the empty mug and held it under the tap, pulling the lever with a little more force than necessary. Dean watched absently as the dark beer filled the glass to the brim. “I’ll wake Jo up and get her to take you home, no way I’m lettin’ you drive yourself,” she continued, setting the drink in front of her patron and walking back toward him. Dean shook his head and dropped his feet to the floor, heavy boots thudding loud against the wood. His movements were overly cautious, hardly swaying as he pushed himself into a standing position and leaned casually against the bar to look at Ellen.
“M’ gunna walk,” he paused to breathe, needing to sound significantly less drunk to convince Ellen to let him leave. “It’s only a mile out and I need some air.”
Ellen eyed him suspiciously and leaned forward, took Dean’s face between her hands, and pressed her thumbs just under his eyebrows. Dean felt himself flinching involuntarily as she forced his eyes open wide.
Dean met her gaze, and Ellen let out a huff of resignation.
“I shouldn’t let you, but you’re eighteen now and I can’t exactly stop you,” she murmered, pushing him away. Dean grinned and leaned back as Ellen crossed her arms over her chest and let out a humorless laugh. “Straight home, and you call me when you get there,” she said, a little louder as he widened the gap between them.
“Yes ma’am” Dean said, turning on his heel toward the door.
Dean made it all the way out of The Roadhouse without so much as swaying, but his easy grin fell as he stumbled lamely on the uneven concrete. The anxiety ate away at him, a pressure on his chest he couldn't quite drink away. He slurred curses as he raked his hand through his hair, other arm reaching out to the brick wall beside him to steady his stride. The alcohol burned hot in his veins as he stumbled forward, unable to keep his mind or his feet from veering off course as he made his way home.
He should have stopped before the last beer. Hindsight.
Dean was so focused on the monumental task of putting one foot in front of the other that he hadn't noticed anyone’s tired eyes gauging him from across the street, lingering too long on his missteps. Instead he turned into a dark alley, his fingers dragging against the cold brick.
This was more or less a safe part of town, and even fucked out of his mind he could posture better than most. Worst case, he never left home at night without his father’s pistol tucked in the back of his jeans, and he could shoot the buttons off a jacket at hundred meters. He was John Winchester’s son, it never occurred to him to be worried. Not about his own safety.
Especially now when the only coherent thoughts he had were of getting home and the dread he felt at what would find him there in the morning.
It was too much, and it was swallowing him up.
It had been a month since he had seen his little brother, a month since the last time he had the courage to go visit. It had all been mumbled excuses over short phone calls, but Dean was certain him being there did more harm than good. Every time he saw Sam, scrawny and shaking and so guilty, it tore at him, and every time he left it got worse.
Dean wanted to be there with him, wanted to stay at a cheap motel nearby so that he could watch over his little brother, but Sam insisted he not give up on school. Without his job at the auto shop he could hardly afford a motel anyway. Even one the surliest of drifters would think twice about. Instead he stayed, and he went to class more than half the time, utilizing his father’s bank card only to stock his fridge with microwave meals and beer.
Dean doubled over and tried to grip the rough brick, keep himself upright, but his vision kinked as the last drink hit him like a freight train.
"Fuck," he spat. None of this shit would have happened if it weren’t for him. He should have known. He should have done something. He was supposed to protect Sammy but he fucked that up just about as bad as it was possible to fuck up, and now… and now...
Dean’s foot caught in the grating of a drain and he stumbled toward the wall, feeling the skin on his knuckles tear as he threw a clenched fist out to brace himself.
Dean sucked in a breath as his knees buckled beneath him, the scene around him reeling. The only sound the scratch of his old leather jacket against brick as he slid to the ground, knees clanging painfully against the metal grating. There was a sudden patter of footsteps behind him. Dean moved his arm to reach clumsily for the weapon at his back, fingers barely grazing the cold metal before everything went dark.
The steady thrum of an old beat leaked out through the cracks in the building. It was nothing like the new club they had down a few blocks, winged on either side by a hookah bar and a “vintage” book store that sold copies of New Moon in artfully decorated display windows. Nothing like the cold, monotonous drone of dance music, the kind his classmates preferred to surround and lose themselves in. Instead it was a bluesy beat that settled nicely in the bones, the kind of music that felt it had a beating heart.
The Roadhouse always played good music, the kind Castiel didn’t mind half listening to as he walked slowly along mostly empty sidewalks, hands deep in the pockets of his old tan coat.
A breeze brought the smell of tobacco with it, and Castiel frowned and turned toward it, three men in their mid-twenties lighting up in a circle beneath the warm yellow streetlight. Castiel met the eyes of the most immoderately dressed of the three, glaring coldly as the man looked him up and down and, winking seductively, moved to take another drag.
The music coming from the old bar poured into the street with a new intensity, the broad-shouldered silhouette of a man drenching the pavement before the open door. Castiel moved his eyes toward the figure, stumbling as soon as his boots hit the pavement, grasping at the wall beside him for support. The man stopped for a moment, running a hand through short brown hair before shoving it back is his pocket, and Castiel’s heart clenched when he caught a look of helplessness ghost across his face. Then it turned back to unfocused frustration.
Castiel looked warily back at the trio who were trailing the newcomer with interested glances.
He touched the handle of the blade in his pocket as he looked back to the drunken man making his way slowly into a narrow alley, and it occurred to him that he felt... protective.
The group spoke between themselves in hushed voices, eyes still darting back and forth between one another and the alley, and Castiel didn't have to be a genius to figure out that it was not a good sign. He walked purposefully up to them, hand gripping the hilt of his knife in his pocket, and stared them down.
“Don't touch him, or I’ll make sure you regret it.” He growled, voice low and hard in his throat.
The man he had engaged earlier walked up to him, cocky as he pleased despite being an entire head shorter. Castiel frowned as the other man smirked up at him, wetting his thin, pink lips before he spoke.
“Is that so, sweetheart?” He spoke with a thick, gritty Scottish accent, the smell of scotch and smoke on his breath. “And how, I wonder, will you manage that?” He gestured easily to the men at his sides. Castiel’s immediate response was to smirk, thumb tracing the blade’s handle out of sight.
“I’m not afraid of your dogs, and I’m certainly not afraid of you,” Castiel spoke intensely, voice barely above a whisper. The other man barked a laugh and took a step forward, eyes glancing at the pocket of Castiel’s coat that hid the knife.
“Oh, I think –“
“Crowley wait,” one of the other men interrupted, voice a little frantic, “That’s… I think that’s Raph Novak’s brother.” The man called Crowley paled at that, and for the first time really looked at Castiel’s face, all hard angles and shadows under the streetlight. He never let the smirk slink off his lips, but Castiel knew without a doubt his fight was won, albeit not the way he had planned. It took Crowley a beat to find his voice again.
“Seems there’s been a mistake, love. I’ve got no interest in your boy there. No need to get... touchy,” he appeased, backing away with his hands elevated in a small surrender. Castiel frowned at Crowley as he loosened his grip on the knife. “Seamus Crowley, by the way.” He smiled around the cigarette between his lips, all charm and confidence.
“I don’t care,” Castiel responded coldly, stepping off the curb and heading toward the alley.
“So sexy when you’re angry!” Crowley shouted after him, but Castiel ignored it and walked faster, leaving the muffled noise of the bar and Crowley’s throaty laugh behind him.
As Castiel walked forward, a loud thud bounced off the narrow walls of the alley, muttered curses as a shadowed figure hit the ground knees first against a metal grate. The sound sent a dull ache of concern through Castiel, and he broke out into a sprint toward him. As he neared he registered the flash of metal, and stopped abruptly,
“Wait, I won’t hurt you. Don’t…” Castiel gasped out, but he didn’t need to continue because the hand that had reached for the pistol fell slack; the body slumped against the wall. He stepped forward cautiously, hands out where the other man could see them.
He was so young, soft crescent-shaped lines under his heavy lidded eyes.
Kneeling down, Castiel moved slowly to tip back the stranger’s head, one hand supporting his neck and the other hovering above his mouth and nose. His breathing was normal. Castiel let out a pinched sigh. He fought the urge to linger there, slightly enraptured by the light dusting of freckles across his cheekbones and the worried lines at the edges of his mouth.
The man’s eyes twitched beneath dark, heavy lids, and Castiel moved his hands to his shoulders, propping him up so his own face wasn’t inches away. The man in his arms shuddered, his hazy green bloodshot eyes opening up to meet his own.
The first thing Dean felt when he woke were hands planted firmly on his shoulders.
He hadn’t blacked out long; just long enough to disorient him. He attempted to raise his head, which was lolling about on his shoulders like a novelty dashboard bobble-head, and was met with probably the strangest looking guy he'd ever seen. No, not strange. Different. Pretty. Younger than he was, probably. Slender. Strong jaw and soft lips. The stranger cocked his head to the side, eyebrows knitted together and squinting as if he were trying to figure Dean out like a particularly beautiful crossword.
It made him supremely uncomfortable.
“Tha’ hell’r you?” Dean slurred, wanting to move but unable to do more than stare at the stranger. “I got- gotta get home,” Dean said, more frantically, pushing lamely back against his grip. The man just stared at him, holding him in place with little effort.
“My name is Castiel. Let me help you,” he finally replied. His voice was like sandpaper, rough, and worn, and sending heat straight to his gut.
“Why?” Dean spat, letting his fingers drag along the concrete below him. “Don’t need help, m’fine.” He tried to push himself up again, and this time Castiel let him go, hands still hovering warily just above his shoulders. Dean backed up against the wall, sliding himself up the rough surface, hands splayed against the brick to steady himself. Castiel followed his movements, standing eye level with Dean once they were both upright.
“I’m not sure what your definition of 'fine' is but mine seems to differ quite a bit. Are you trying to get yourself killed?” Castiel asked a little harshly. He didn’t move to touch Dean again.
“That a threat?” Dean growled, trembling fingers inching slightly toward the pistol now shielded by his too large leather jacket. Castiel sucked in a breath and took a step back, and Dean looked up at him curiously, swaying a bit as he leaned forward from the wall.
“I’m not going to hurt you.” Castiel said, raising his two empty hands in the air.
Dean had to seriously concentrate to make eye contact with Castiel because everything around him spun like he was strapped to a centrifuge.
“I swear,” Castiel added, as if it made a difference.
Despite his better judgment Dean believed him. That didn’t mean he wanted his help. He huffed out a laugh and waved exaggeratedly at Castiel before he turned, bracing himself against the wall. With concentrated effort he began to stumble in the direction of his house.
Castiel muttered something angrily under his breath that sounded a lot like stubborn asshole, and Dean couldn’t help but smirk.
The smirk faded when a wave of nausea hit him, and he fell against the wall, shaking legs barely keeping him vertical. He heard Castiel run up behind him and felt him grab his shoulders, preventing him from sliding back onto the concrete. He huffed, frustrated as hell, and buried his face in one hand, rubbing the bridge of his nose and taking long, steadying breaths. Castiel just held him as steady as he could manage.
Once Dean’s breathing slowed to normal, Castiel braced himself under Dean's arm, his own sliding around Dean’s waist, taking on a good portion of his weight. Dean grimaced, but didn’t fight him. Putting as little strain on Castiel as he could manage, Dean began to walk forward silently, head bowed and eyes fixed on the ground.
They were both quiet for a few minutes, only the beat of their feet and the distant sounds of traffic to accompany them. Finally, Dean spoke up.
“Dean, by the way. Name’s Dean.” The corners of Castiel’s mouth turned up in response. It was strangely satisfying.
The nightmares never really stopped.
Sam remembered everything in excruciating detail, the sweating, and the shaking, and emptying his stomach. Not having any control over his own body for days. Feeling so low, wishing he just couldn't feel at all. Wanting it to end. He remembered bitterly how good it had felt before, and how he'd needed it; how he still needed it.
It had been like possession, he wasn’t himself but he was trapped and scratching at the walls to be let out again. To breathe again.
It wasn’t what he dreamt about, though.
His dreams were full of smoke, and sweat, and fear. His dreams were full of need. They were packed to the brim, just on the edge of euphoria, that sinking, tired bliss he couldn't ever quite reach.
In his dreams he could feel his brother’s strong arms latched up under his, legs useless and dragging against the ground. He dreamt of the sound of Dean’s voice telling him to stand up and to run, legs wobbly and radiating with white hot pain, ineffective. He dreamt of his own hands shaking and wrapped white-knuckled around his brother’s wrists begging him not to die for his mistakes, begging him not to go back into that black-smoke hell. He couldn't save them, he'd die trying.
Everything was already in flames. Everything was already gone.
Sam's eyes opened wide, an apology bleeding from his lips, breathing hard and frantic as he clutched at his chest.
There were a few horrible moments when he forgot where he was and a few more when he finally remembered. When he was finally able to calm down, Sam turned over on his side and buried his fingers in his long bangs, the heels of his palms pressed against his eyes.
It was going to be a long night.
Castiel liked the feel of Dean's body pressed against his as they made their way down dark streets. Dean smelled like the old bar, but it was buried under something else, something like leather and soap. He was warm, too. Castiel found himself glancing over at him, eyeing the profile of his face, his soft lips, big, heavy lidded eyes.
He was beautiful.
“How far away do you live?” Castiel asked.
“Mile out from th’ Roadhouse, not uh – not far now. Next left…” Dean seemed to hesitate for a moment, tipping his head a little dramatically to either side. “I think.”
“You think?” Castiel went wide-eyed. Dean just laughed, tugging him forward gently.
“Wh’ ‘bout you, mmm? You usually pick up drunk strangers or’s this a new thing?”
Castiel looked over at Dean again, now staring at the ground, no trace of a smile on his face. His eyes were dim, Castiel realized. Hooded and rimmed in red. It looked like he hadn’t slept in a while. That was something he could empathize with. As soon as Dean noticed Castiel staring at him, Dean smiled and leaned clumsily into him, knocking him off balance. Once Castiel found his feet again he shot Dean an indignant look, but Dean just stared back at him, his mouth crooked and half-smiling, a drunken blush creeping up his cheeks.
“You always so serious, man?” Dean drawled, turning his face back toward the pavement to keep an eye on his feet. “Jesus.”
“What about you? Are you always so reckless?” Castiel chided, his voice softer than he meant it to be, looking expectantly at Dean. “Why would you walk home alone and drunk in the middle of the night?”
Dean shrugged, turning his face completely away from Castiel’s probing stare.
“Dunno. Wanted to be on m’ own for a while, y’know? Didn’t think I was’so far gone.” Castiel cocked his head a little, contemplating. “Figured I could walk a mile but’cha saw how good that went. Turn here.” Dean motioned clumsily to a small street on the left with his free hand. There were a few small one story houses with cars parked on the grass outside them. It wasn’t really a neighborhood but the houses were close enough together that it felt a little like one.
“Are you even old enough to be drinking?” Castiel asked, finally giving voice to his concerns. Dean was broad shouldered but lean and his young face was more pretty than handsome. There was no chance of him being much older than Castiel, but his actions suggested otherwise. Dean let out a short huff of a laugh as he veered them both right onto an even smaller street. Castiel had to tighten the arm around Dean’s waist to keep him upright.
“Nah m’ not. M’ eighteen. Know th’ owner,” Dean responded quietly. “Shouldn’t put that shit on her though. Make her worry ov’r my irresponsible ass.” Castiel looked over at Dean. His eyes were fixed on the ground, and Castiel felt Dean's hand, draped over his own shoulder, ball into a fist. “Here we are.”
Castiel looked up and saw that they had dead-ended into the beat up driveway of an old house.
“You live here?” Castiel asked a little warily. Dean didn’t respond other than to pull away, and reluctantly Castiel let him. Dean swayed for a moment on the spot before turning to look back at him.
“Castiel,” he corrected.
“Casssstiel.” Dean repeated, smiling around the drawn out ‘s’. “Cool.” Dean raked his fingers through his hair, and Castiel felt himself grinning despite himself. Dean’s eyes darted down toward Castiel’s lips for a split second before meeting his eyes, and he looked pleased, but strained. The same tension he'd been carrying around all night made more evident in the lull. It made Castiel want to ask more questions.
"You didn’t have’ta help me, man. But… uh… thanks,” Dean said, palming the back of his neck almost shyly. Castiel felt a blush creep up his cheeks and he was glad Dean was probably too inebriated to notice.
“Not a problem,” Castiel responded. “Will you be okay?”
“Yeaaaah. M’ the king of okay,” Dean said with a careless smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. Their stares met, and it was like Dean was waiting for Castiel to challenge him. Like he knew that Castiel was curious, knew he wasn’t keeping up the charade as well as he’d like. As if he was just waiting for the ball to drop.
It never did.
“Goodnight, Dean,” Castiel offered after a long pause.
“See ya, Castiel.” Dean turned and stumbled toward the door, and Castiel watched him until he disappeared inside.
The silence surrounded him, suddenly alone on the dark street. It was late, and he couldn’t avoid home forever.
Dean stumbled into his house, turning into the living room and bumping his knees into the couch. He nearly toppled head first over it. Instead he slumped there, body hanging over the back, face pressed upside down into the cushions. He groaned a little as the blood rushed to his head.
He couldn’t get Castiel’s somber blue eyes out of his mind.
“Interfering asshole,” Dean accused out loud. He balled his fists weakly into the cushions. He wasn’t actually angry, more embarrassed of having to be taken care of by some stranger. By some attractive, sharp-eyed stranger who looked like he hadn't had a decent night's sleep in a month. “Didn’t have’ta do that,” he mumbled into the pillow.
He slowly pushed himself back up and the room spun so badly he clutched at the sides of his head. He was going to be so fucking hung over in the morning. He made his way to the kitchen, bracing himself against the counters until he found his cell hooked up to a wall outlet. It took him three tries to pull up Ellen's number, the screen bleary.
“M’ home, safe n’sound” he mumbled, leaning all of his weight against the cheap off-white counters.
“About time. What took you?” Ellen asked, thinly veiled impatience in her tone.
“Scenic route,” Dean joked, thinking of Castiel.
“That boy Crowley and his little ‘gang’ were loitering outside the bar after you left. Worried they might have tried somethin’.”
“With me? C’mon Ellen.” Dean started to physically puff up before remembering he was still alone.
“You’ve got no sense of self-preservation; it’s gunna bite you in the ass one of these days.” Dean coughed out a laugh.
“M’ tired Ellen and Sammy’s gunna kill me if I’m not at school in the morning.”
“Get to it, then.” She relented with a sigh.
“Night,” Dean finished, tugging the phone off its cord and shoving it in his back pocket. Eyeing the analogue clock on the stove he saw it was already past one in the morning. Great.
Dean barely made it to the couch before he collapsed, not even bothering to kick off his boots.
Sam stretched out on the bed, feet dangling off the edge as his hands twisted in the thin white sheets.
He would not miss this place.
There was one window in the room, all the walls bare and sea foam green, which wasn’t a color he particularly hated before his stay but one he loathed passionately now. The window itself was plated with two inch thick bulletproof glass and nailed shut. He knew because in his weaker moments he had tried to pry it open and had only succeeded in ripping the skin off the pads of three of his fingers. The nurse had fussed over him as she'd cleaned the wounds, and he'd promised her he wouldn’t try it again. She had kissed him on the cheek and brought him an extra cookie with dinner that night. Later his night terrors had been so bad he'd thrown it up.
Sam reached up to scratch at the inside of his elbow, the skin raw and sensitive.
He would not miss this place.
In the morning he would be going home, and he was equal parts excited and terrified. Excited to leave this dreary hospital but terrified to face his brother. He knew Dean was angry, but it was worse knowing that Dean felt responsible for everything that had happened. As if he had been the one to fuck everything up. He needed to be better, needed to be okay so Dean could be too.
He needed not to let him down again.
Sam took a deep breath and sat up, running his fingers through his mussed up mop of hair. He glanced at the cheap clock tacked above the door to his room and saw it was already past five in the morning. Shit. They would be sending someone in to wake him up in less than two hours.
Not long enough for it to be worth it. Not when every time he closed his eyes he felt phantom flames licking at his skin.
Sam spent the next hour reading in the dim light that leaked in through the window. The book was an old hardback copy of Mythology by Edith Hamilton, one of the only survivors from the fire. It wasn’t a first edition but he treasured it like it was. Dean was partial to dystopian novels by authors like Vonnegut and Orwell, but Sam loved history and mythos, and Edith Hamilton had been passionate in her interpretation.
Eventually Sam's head started to ache from the strain of reading in the near dark, and it hit him with a fresh wave how much he hated this place. Morning could not come quickly enough.
Sam, despite his reservations, had eventually closed his eyes and drifted back into a light, fevered sleep by the time there was a knock on the door. He jumped a little at the sound. A man dressed in a cheap black suit walked in, smiling politely and keeping his distance from the bed.
“It looks like you’ll be leaving us today, Mr. Winchester. Please meet me in my office to go over the last bit of paperwork as soon as you are dressed and ready, and we can have you on your way home.” Sam nodded, staring down at the bed sheets instead of at the man in front of him. “Will your brother be joining us, or will you be taking a cab back?”
“A cab,” Sam replied. Dean had tried to insist on being there when he was released, but it was a school day and Sam knew his brother missed enough school as it was. It had been one of their bigger fights, but Sam Winchester was one of the only people in the universe who could occasionally out-stubborn Dean Winchester. Originally, they had thought their father would be the one to pick him up, but true to form, John Winchester had disappeared right after Sam had been admitted to the hospital, and only called once every few weeks to check in.
Sam couldn’t find the will to care anymore, but he knew it killed Dean every time John ran out. Before the incident it had been a whole month without a phone call.
“Remember, Sam. Keep yourself out of trouble or next time it could be juvenile hall instead of a rehab facility. I imagine you would have… trouble there.” Sam looked up at him then, unsurprised by the doctor’s wide, unsympathetic grin. They hadn't exactly gotten along. Sam’s case was a bit unusual and garnered him a lot of negative attention from most of the staff and other patients.
It had been a long four months.
“You don’t have to worry about seeing me again.” Sam said, hardly holding back the malice in his voice.
“No, I suppose I don’t. My office, twenty minutes,” the doctor finished, turning around to leave without waiting for a reply. Sam rolled his eyes and threw up his middle finger as the doctor disappeared from view.
It was time to go home.