They roll Bobby past the nurses’ station in a borrowed wheelchair and right out the front door, bold as brass.
Well, that’s the way Dean will tell it afterward to anyone who’ll listen. In reality, he and Sam are doctored up in pilfered lab coats and Bobby’s hidden behind a bouquet of pink and white carnations. A ridiculously large plush rabbit with one ear permanently bent to the side perches on his lap. The pink foil balloon trumpeting “It’s a Girl!” jerks behind them like a small dog being walked too fast, and Bobby’s bitching the whole way to the service elevator.
“Jesus Christ, boy, you call this a low profile? No one’s going to believe these are the calves of a pregnant woman,” Bobby protests, blowing carnation petals away from his face, and trying to look less conspicuous than a circus float.
“Yeah, but nobody’d say anything either,” Dean counters, confident how well he knows people.
Sam pushes open the side door to the parking garage, checks that it’s clear, and goes to bring Bobby’s truck around. There’s a long awkward moment when Dean’s got his arms full of flowers and rabbit, when Sam leans in so Bobby can loop an arm around his neck and shoulders and Dean’s fairly certain Bobby wants to tell them both to go to hell. But Bobby doesn’t say a word, just lets Sam lift him into the cab of the truck and pulls the door shut behind him. Dean dumps his cargo in the chair, sends it hurtling across the parking lot with more force than strictly necessary and wishes he didn’t notice how Bobby’s growing older right before his eyes. Hunting’s not a life for old men, and a hunter in a wheelchair isn’t much better than a tethered goat. He knows Bobby knows that too.
The truck rumbles alongside as Dean puts the Impala in drive.
“You stay where we can see you,” Bobby cautions from the rolled-down window. “We stop, you stop. You get the inkling to run off and be some angel’s special weapon, you call your sponsor.”
Sam holds up his cell phone. “Just say ‘no’ to angels.”
Dean makes a face and rubs his hand over the steering wheel. “Are we done with the PSAs? ‘Cause the road’s not gettin’ any shorter.”
Bobby rolls his eyes, and turns back to Sam. “Home, Sam, and don’t spare the horses.”
It’s late afternoon when they roll into Singer’s Salvage Yard. They’re dusty and dry, and it’s clear Bobby’s hurting from the way he snaps at Sam when he carries Bobby from the truck to the couch. Granted, Sam’s toting him like something between a damsel and a sack of potatoes and with only slightly more care and attention to door frames and the like than the potatoes would merit, so Dean can’t really blame Bobby for wanting to be able to manage under his own steam. Dean wouldn’t want to have to rely on Sam’s gracefulness either.
“Hand me that bottle of Jack,” Bobby says as soon as Sam sets him down.
“We brought some of the painkillers—” Sam starts, but the liquor bottle Dean tosses to Bobby shuts him up. There’s a long swig and a quick wipe with the back of the hand. Dean pretends not to notice the hand is shaking, or that Bobby’s face is pale and damp with sweat.
“Much obliged, boys,” Bobby says, closing his eyes and letting his head settle against the brocade fabric, and Dean motions for Sam to join him on the porch. Bobby needs to rest and they’ve got to figure out a plan.
“What if he can’t walk again?” Sam says the minute the screen door snaps shut behind them. Trust Sam to dive straight into the hard stuff. No line-ups, no waiting. Dean doesn’t want to think about Bobby, or the angels’ threats; there are a thousand things Dean doesn’t want to think about and the look on Sam’s face tells him he’s going to be confronted with every single one of them.
“I don’t know, Sammy.” Dean feels inside his jacket for his own flask of whiskey. He’s drinking less than he used to, less than the days when he was straight out of the Pit and still dying inside, but it’s more than he lets Sam know about, which Dean thinks might be a problem. Least his bottle’s not filled with demon blood, so Dean figures he’s got some judging room if Sam wants to make an issue.
“We can’t leave him here by himself.” Sam’s pacing the length of the porch, which doesn’t take more than a few seconds with his freakishly long legs. “He’s got no protection, no way to—”
“You think I don’t know that?” The whiskey burns hot and sweet, and Dean swallows it down, wishing it were stronger. “You think I don’t see how bad this is, how royally screwed we are?”
“How should I know? You never say anything.”
Dean looks at the dirt and wonders why the earth can’t, just once, swallow him up when Sam decides to be Oprah and Dr. Phil rolled into one. “Talking about it isn’t going to help.”
“No, Sam, enough. I said my piece back at the motel. Now let it be. Satan’s shopping for a vessel, the demons want my blood, and the angels want my body. It isn’t going to matter if Bobby can walk or not if we can’t figure out a way to kill Lucifer that doesn’t involve letting Warrior Angel slip me on like a new suit. Gimme time to think, will ya?”
But Sam’s eyes are raised towards the horizon, brow creased with concern, and Dean follows his gaze to the cloud of dust rolling towards them.
“Get the guns,” he orders, praying they’re not going to need them.
The dust settles around a pickup that’s seen better days, its once white paint dirty and peeling, the front of the hood flecked with rust. Or possibly blood. Dean isn’t sure he wants to know which.
He lets out a breath when Ellen steps from the battered truck, the door creaking in protest, one side half charred as if it drove through a firestorm. There’s something in her demeanor that Dean recognizes even as she stands silent in the open door—an instinct to rush forward and claim them as family, wrap them in strong arms as if they were her own prodigal sons. But she holds off, cautiously distant, falsely casual, and lets them look her over. Her right hand rests on the front seat, and Dean’s betting she’s got a sawed-off within easy reach. He can read the outline of a bottle—holy water, probably—in the side pocket of her jeans. One can’t be too careful these days.
None of them moves.
“How do you want to do this?” she asks, leaning on the door of the truck. “Holy water shots? Silver knives at dawn?”
Dean laughs and says, “Ah, fuck it,” because chances are there’s nothing riding around in Ellen’s skin except her. Demons don’t tend to have much of a sense of humour, Dean’s noticed, and besides Sam’s got his back if he’s wrong. He strides across to wrap Ellen in a hug. Of course, he’s expecting the silver knife at his throat, the holy water flask out and open before he can say, “Cristo.” He spits the water back at her, happy when it doesn’t steam and hiss, her eyes remaining clear and beautifully human. Sam stays behind the salt line, shotgun ready at his side, until Ellen and Dean, damp and bleeding from matching cuts, make their way to Bobby’s front porch.
“You look good, Sam,” Ellen says, reaching up to pull him into a hug, and Dean grins at Sam’s awkwardness, how normal this all seems.
Sam’s still got the shotgun in one hand, his other arm going tight around Ellen. “You too. How’d you know we were here?”
“Friend of yours found me. Said Bobby Singer and the Winchesters needed help.” She looks from Dean to Sam and back again, seemingly weighing whether they’ll tell her the truth or not. “You need help?”
“Yeah, we might at that,” Dean says, thinking that if Ellen stays, maybe he and Sam can actually go do something about this apocalypse they’ve started. Even facing the devil’s got to be better than waiting around for one of them to snap, locked up together at Bobby’s place. “This friend …”
“Trench coat, face like marble, big baby blues. Looks a lot like a flasher, sounds like thunder.”
“That’s the one. You boys been keeping mighty powerful company.” She glances towards the house, drops her voice to something above a whisper. “Is it true? Bobby was possessed?”
“Yeah.” Dean offers her the little that’s left in his flask, knowing it’s no comfort at all.
“We don’t know.”
“If Bobby can be...” She drains the flask and hands it empty to Dean. “I don’t know. It’s like the world doesn’t make sense anymore.”
“I’m not sure it ever did,” Dean adds before pulling open the door. “Hey, Bobby, you decent? We got company.”
Dean remembers little about his mother that he is certain of—at least the mother he knew when he was four, and not the teenage hottie he met through Cas’s useless time travel stunt or the one the djinn conjured from his subconscious. He remembers the way she brushed her hair every night, that she liked things clean, the way she said his name when she kissed him goodnight.
Watching Ellen sweep in like she owns the place and press a chaste kiss on Bobby’s forehead makes him wish he’d known his mother better, wonders if she’d be this kind of woman, sure and strong. Unflappable. Ellen puts the kettle on, gets the dishes soaking and has Sam clearing the table before she’s even been in the house five minutes. She opens the windows and ignores Bobby’s protests as the breeze curls the edges of papers on his desk.
“Ellen, that’s going to blow stuff around. Those books are—”
“There’s nothing here that weighs less than five pounds of paper, Bobby,” she says, wiping a thin layer of dust off a leather book with her hand. “If Lucifer could command the dust bunnies to rise, he’d have his goddamn army without leaving your house.”
“I’ve had more important things to do than dusting!”
“And now you don’t.” She grabs a renegade dish towel off the back of a chair and tosses it at him. “You can do the coffee table so we’ve actually got a place to set the cups. You do have coffee, don’t you?”
It’s like watching the most efficient general ever size up the field of battle and decide on a plan, and Dean knows that look well enough to duck out the door before he ends up elbow deep in dish water or carrying out the garbage. He’s got his own strategy to figure out, his own battlefield to consider. He heads toward the junkyard and solitude, Ellen and Bobby’s bickering chasing him on the wind.
Dean’s been searching through the piles for a crank shaft for half an hour when he gets that uncomfortable feeling of being watched. His hand settles on a metal pipe about an inch around and solid iron. Its weight feels perfect when he steps back from the pile, swinging hard. It hits Castiel’s arm and Dean feels the reverberation all the way to his neck, like he’s just scored a home run off an aluminum bat.
“Shit,” he says, and drops the pipe, hand going to his shoulder. He’s pretty damn sure that tore something important.
Castiel looks down at the pipe and then back at Dean. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Well, you did.” Dean grimaces and rubs his shoulder. Castiel pushes Dean’s hand away gently and lays his own over the ache. Dean rolls his shoulder and cracks his neck from side to side relieved to find the pain completely gone when Cas steps away, expression serious.
“Still got some juice in the tank, I guess,” Dean says, and he knows there's too much hope in his voice. Castiel had already told Bobby at the hospital there was nothing he could do, and the flicker of regret that crosses his face says nothing's changed.
“Dean, if I had the power to effect the repairs Bobby needs, I would.”
Dean sits down on the hood of a rusted-out Charger, painfully aware that the last two times he’d seen Cas, they hadn't had much chance to talk. At the lock-up, the angel had carved Enochian sigils into Dean’s ribs, then buggered off without a word of explanation whatsoever. Typical. Then at the hospital, Cas had proclaimed his intention to find God, made off with Dean's only good luck charm while taking him to task, and disappeared without a trace.
“So, how’d you know I’d be here?”
“I didn’t. I followed a … hunch.”
Dean raises an eyebrow approvingly. “Look at you, using your instincts instead of just your angel mojo.”
“I’m afraid my angel ‘mojo,’” Castiel says the words with some disdain, “will not help me here. The Enochian sigils hide you and Sam from all the angels. That includes Lucifer. And me.”
“Wait, so your magic I-Spy technology doesn’t work on us anymore? You won’t know where we are unless we tell you?”
Dean’s excitement at avoiding sudden-onset angels is short-lived when he considers what would’ve happened in the storage lock-up if Cas hadn’t found them. Dean had been coughing up blood, listening to Sam try to breathe without lungs. Zachariah’s threat that he’d only just begun his persuasion makes Dean wonder if forty years with the angels would be any different from forty years in Hell. He has a sinking feeling it might be worse.
“Is there any way around that? Some kind of Angel Signal we can flash to get your attention?”
Castiel looks at Dean sharply. “You wish to be found?”
“No, but sometimes it’s good having a guardian angel who knows where you are. Or, you know, one with an angel-killing sword and some righteous wrath. ” Dean’s not actually joking, and he thinks Castiel understands that. “I was impressed. That was some serious smiting you had going on, Cas. You totally saved our asses.”
Castiel seats himself beside Dean on the hood of the Charger. “I could not allow you to be harmed. Either of you.”
“Is that why God sent you back?”
Castiel looks heavenward and sighs. “I don’t know, Dean. I don’t even know for sure it was God.”
“But you told Zachariah—”
“I implied.” Castiel meets Dean’s eyes. “You and Sam were in Lucifer’s path, and then you were saved. I was dead, and then I was not. I believe it was my Heavenly Father who brought me back, but I know nothing for certain.”
That’s taking a lot on faith, Dean thinks, but Cas is an angel.
“Who else could have—”
“An archangel. Certain demonic forces.” Castiel hesitates, glancing away. “Lucifer would be potentially strong enough to do so, if he wanted.”
“You think Lucifer put you back together, Humpty-Dumpty?”
Castiel blinks in confusion. “No, but you asked who had the power, and Lucifer would, perhaps, take pleasure in undoing the work of an archangel.”
“You mean, undoing the fact you were dead,” Dean says quietly.
“Yes. He may believe it will give him something to bargain with in the future.”
Dean considers that.
Dean can’t help but smile at the conviction in Cas’s voice, the absolute belief in the rightness of what he’s saying. The faith. Dean would give anything to feel that sure about something in his life. He finds himself leaning closer to Castiel, wanting to be just a little nearer to that kind of certainty, hoping maybe some of it will rub off.
It's cost Castiel a lot—well, everything really—to take the side of the Winchesters, and Dean has to wonder at what point Cas will decide they're not worth it. That Dean's not worth it.
They sit in silence, watching the breeze stir eddies in the dust. “I’m glad you’re not dead, Cas.”
“As am I.”
The sun is sinking into the horizon, casting a nuclear glow over the whole yard. Dean knows Sam will come looking for him shortly if he doesn’t appear, and Castiel seems to recognize their time is growing short.
“I should go.”
“Where? Heaven’s gunning for you as much as for us.”
Castiel looks away, and Dean hears the door to the house close with a bang. Sam. “I don’t know, Dean. I am … alone in this. It’s difficult to tell who supports Zachariah and who still serves God.”
“Then you might as well stay with us until we figure out what’s next.” Dean quashes an urge to grab Castiel’s arm, to make him stay with them, to keep him close and safe for at least a little while. Dean considers that someday Cas is going to disappear and simply not come back, and chances are good Dean won’t even know what’s happened to him.
“My presence here endangers you all.” Castiel slides off the frame of the car as Sam enters the yard. “You should not stay here much longer either. Your attachment to your friend and to this place is known. You won’t be safe here indefinitely even with the sigils to hide you.”
Castiel's face grows stern as Sam draws even with them. “Wherever you go, I’ll find you. You need only speak my name aloud with the intention of drawing me near, and I shall hear your call.”
Sam looks surprised. “That’s all? Say your name? Isn’t that bound to have you popping in and out all the time?”
“It must be spoken with sincere intent, with great need. Only then will it reach me, and I will come to you if I can.”
“Got it.” Dean grins. “No rewards for the boy who cries ‘angel.’”
Sam starts, “We’ll probably hit the road tomorrow. Head for—”
Castiel shakes his head even as he raises a hand to stop Sam speaking. “For now, it’s better if I don’t know where you are. That way, I can’t be made to divulge your location.”
Sam blinks in the dying light. “You think they would—”
“Shit, Cas, that’s not right,” Dean says, even though he knows it’s true, has seen the angels prepared to use any means to bring about their goals. Castiel’s been dragged back to heaven for disobedience; he’s already died once helping them, and Dean doesn’t want to count on a miracle happening a second time around.
“Be safe,” Castiel says, touching Dean’s arm lightly, and Dean clamps onto the hand, holding on with a vehemence that seems to surprise Castiel as much as it surprises Dean.
“Don’t you fucking get yourself killed again. Just don’t. It’s not worth it.”
There’s an unspoken answer in Castiel’s eyes, one Dean doesn’t want to think about too much. He can practically hear Cas’s words from their first meeting: You don’t think you’re worth saving, and Cas’s confusion that Dean could apparently believe something so illogical.
He looks at Dean’s hand clenched in the fabric of his trench coat and gives a small nod. “I shall endeavor to avoid death if at all possible.” Then there’s a movement of air being displaced, and Dean’s holding nothing at all.
“I hate it when he does that,” Dean says by way of conversation on their way back to the house.
“I know,” Sam agrees, and doesn’t try to say more.
Ellen sends them out the door with sandwiches and cake, a thermos of hot coffee, a jug of holy water, and assurances she’ll keep Bobby from doing anything “more stupid than usual.” Dean’s pretty sure Bobby’s going to spend the next several days looking for his whiskey bottle and trying to convince Ellen that the level of cleanliness she’s trying to achieve is downright unnatural.
“Every damn thing smells like lemon or pine,” Bobby mutters from the front porch where he’s wheeled himself to escape what he calls “fussing.” “You’d think there was something wrong with a house smelling like a house.”
“She’s just trying to help,” Sam says, and Bobby looks at him as if he’d like to smack him upside the head.
“I know that, idjit! I wish she didn’t have cause to offer, that’s all.”
“Well, if nothing else, it’s damn fine motivation for getting you back on your feet again,” Dean says, smiling. He claps Bobby on the shoulder, and heads down the steps. “We’ll check in from wherever we land.”
“Just be careful,” Bobby calls as they climb into the car. “Ain’t no angel perchin’ on your shoulder these days. You need help, you holler.”
“Will do,” Sam says with a wave out the window, the Impala already revved up and rolling toward town.
Dean thinks the apocalypse should change everything, but it really doesn’t. Fire isn’t raining down from heaven, there aren’t locusts and frogs and rivers running red with blood. What there is, is more—more of everything they’ve been dealing with as long as Dean can remember. Where they would’ve had one possession, maybe two , now they’ve got a whole seniors complex in Wisconsin full of black-eyed, cane-carrying old people who move with surprising agility when being ridden by demons. Dean feels bad about ganking The Golden Girls, but he’s really got no other choice.
He and Sam flush a nest of vampires in West Virginia, dead man’s blood and holy water flying everywhere, until they realize there are too many, and they end up running for their lives.
“I’ve never,” Sam gasps taking deep breaths, and still watching behind them as the Impala peals out, “seen that many in one nest. Must’ve been—what, thirty?”
“At least that, and there were more coming up out of the cellar. Who builds a fucking cellar underneath a barn?” Dean wipes at his face with his sleeve, one eye on the rear view mirror and the other on Sam. “You hurt?”
Sam takes a quick glance down, as if it’s just occurred to him to think about injuries. He brushes at a splotch of blood, grimacing when his hand comes away sticky. “Nah, I’m fine. Just—God, why is vampire blood even more disgusting than other blood?”
“‘Cause the heart doesn’t pump it through their veins. It just sort of sits there getting sludgy.”
“Ew,” Sam says, looking at his brother with disbelief. He opens the glove compartment to search for tissues, and comes away with a handful of Denny’s napkins. “I hope you’re making that up.”
“Nope. Read it in one of Bobby’s books.”
“That's just gross.” Sam rubs the rough paper over his hands and tosses the napkins out the window.
“Hey, litterbug. Call Bobby, and tell him to get somebody down here to help us take care of the vamps. Somebody with experience. A whole lotta somebodys with experience.”
Sam’s nodding even as he’s dialing, and Dean thinks there’s nothing like an apocalypse to bring people together.
They stop in a motel outside Wheeling, and by the time Dean gets out of the shower and pulls on his last clean pair of sweats, Sam’s asleep, draped across one bed like a ridiculously gangly golden retriever. Dean shakes his head and sits on his own bed, wishing for a plan that isn’t “kill whatever we can until something big happens.” He knows it’s only a matter of time before either Lucifer or the angels make a major move, and Dean doesn’t relish sitting around waiting for that to happen. But he doesn’t exactly have a better idea either, and at least here there’s something to kill. Something he can do.
He’s just settled down between the covers when Castiel appears, and Dean startles so immediately at the sudden weight on the edge of his bed, he kicks Cas in the thigh, swearing through clenched teeth as his foot strikes solid, immovable angel.
“Christ, Cas, I think you broke my toe.”
Castiel peers at the blankets like Superman using his x-ray vision. “It’s not broken.”
Dean sits up, pulling his feet in towards him, hands snaking under the blanket to rub his allegedly not-broken toe. “So, what do you want? Did Bobby send you?”
“Yes. There’s to be a gathering of hunters not far from here. The Wayfarer’s Grill and Truck Stop.”
“Bobby put the word out? Good.” Dean nods, his jaw set. “There’s a mother lode of vamps out there, and we’re going to need all the help we can get.”
“Agreed. I’ve already noted the arrival of several slayers and hunters to the general area.”
“Those specifically devoted to the elimination of vampires.”
Dean grins, picturing blond cheerleader-types who can kick ass. “Yeah, and into every generation is born a Chosen One, right?” Castiel blinks, waiting for an explanation, and Dean just says, “Never mind.”
The angel dips his head in a gesture that seems caught between apologetic and bashful, and his voice is quiet when he says, “I don’t understand your references.” Dean’s about to jump in with a snappy comeback, one that reassures Cas pop culture shout-outs are not essential to the job, when Cas completely disarms him with, “But I would very much like to.”
Dean swallows his pat answer and realizes he’d like that too. “Look, when this is all over, I promise you a marathon of crap TV and junk food. Nothing realistic or dramatic, nothing more serious than Dr. Sexy, M.D., and hot chicks who smoke vamps. Sound good?”
Castiel considers the offer for a moment, then far too seriously, agrees. “It sounds educational.”
Dean snorts, and lays back against the pillow. “Yeah, that’s what it’ll be. Educational.”
The weight disappears from the edge of the bed, and Dean feels a momentary twinge of regret as Cas vanishes. Granted the angel’s never been big on human niceties—hello, goodbye, sorry I burned your eyes out, that sort of thing—but as much as Dean’s gotten used to Cas’s disappearing act, he’s also gotten used to Cas being there when it matters. If he’s honest, he thinks maybe he’s used to Cas being around even when there’s nothing earth-shattering or life-threatening going on, when it’s just them and the road and a few quiet moments. Those times with Cas have been few and far between, but they’ve still been there, and Dean figures it’s because Cas doesn’t really have anywhere else to be. He can’t go home, he hasn’t been able to find God, and maybe, just maybe, being with the Winchesters is as close to belonging as he can get these days. Dean can’t help but be a little bit comforted by the thought.
“’Night, Cas,” he says to the empty air.
The truck-stop where Bobby directs everyone to gather has never been so busy. Three waitresses are run off their feet trying to keep up with calls for more coffee, and Dean smiles with amazement as he slides into the last empty booth across from Sam.
“Bobby sure came through on this one,” he says. Hunters were notoriously hard to track down at the best of times, let alone getting this many in one place for a coordinated effort. Dean recognizes about half the people gathered—some from doing what they’ve been doing for so damn long, others from descriptions in their dad’s journal. It isn’t too hard to put a face to a name with descriptions like: “One-Eyed Pete McGrew—grizzly old guy, eye patch (left eye), hates faeries, good in a fight.” Dean nods at the man with the patch, ignoring the way his good eye narrows to a suspicious slit.
“Dean, could you manage to go five minutes without antagonizing someone,” Sam says in a tone that makes it sound more like a request than a question.
Dean ignores him in favour of smiling at the harried waitress in hopes of getting some coffee. She shoots him a look that says he’ll get his damn coffee when she’s not carrying four plates of food and avoiding too-friendly hands.
The tinny bell on the door jingles as someone else enters, and Dean feels the tension ramp up even as conversation lulls. He swings around to see what they’re dealing with, surprised when Castiel steps through the door. For a second he gets a glimpse of what everyone else must be seeing—that vague disconnect between a somewhat ordinary guy with a crooked tie, a trench coat, and a feeling of barely restrained power: the faint charge of electricity in the air, the hair on the back of his neck rising in anticipation, the too-blue eyes zeroing in with alarming accuracy, dismissing everyone else in the room. A quick glance and someone might think Castiel is a mild-mannered accountant, but there’s something in the angle of his jaw, the rigidly held confidence he exudes that pretty well screams “not what I appear to be,” and Dean’s on his feet faster than any hunter in the place because that kind of feeling usually results in stabbing first, asking questions later.
“Hey, Cas, over here,” Dean says, ushering Castiel over to their booth, deliberately ignoring the unsettled mutterings going on around them. “Wasn’t sure if you’d be back.”
Cas looks more serious than usual. “Something’s wrong here.”
“You mean besides a friggin’ nest full of vampires?”
“Like what?” Sam asks, adding sugar to his coffee.
Cas shakes his head. “I’m uncertain. It’s—” he pauses. “There’s a greater power here, older, darker. It’s not just the vampires to worry about.”
Dean nods—of course, life can never be simple for them. “The more, the merrier,” he says cheerfully, and decides he’s ordering bacon and sausage because, really, why the hell not? It’s not as if the cholesterol’s going to kill him at this point.
Before they head out to the no-longer-abandoned farm to wage war on the vampires and who knows what else, Dean pulls Castiel around the side of the building, away from prying ears and eyes.
“Maybe you should leave this to us,” Dean says. Sam’s filling the others in on the plan, which even Dean knows is mostly fire and luck, but Dean’s worried about something completely different. He knows what hunters are like and from the looks they’ve been shooting at Cas, they’re not convinced he’s to be trusted. Suspicious hunters tend to get twitchy with their shotguns and knives. Not that those would hurt Cas, he knows, but still, there’s no need to draw attention to the fact they’ve got an angel on their side, especially with Heaven searching for them.
Cas cocks his head and glares a question at Dean. “Why?”
“In case you haven’t noticed, hunters aren’t the most open and accepting sort of people, and you’re giving off a vibe.”
“A vibe,” Cas repeats.
“You don’t seem like a hunter, Cas.”
“I’m not. I’m an angel of the—”
“I know that.” Dean cuts him off, stepping closer. “But telling them you’re … what you are, isn’t going to help, and right now, all they know is that you seem like something not quite human, and for hunters, that means something to kill. You remember the first time we met face-to-face?”
Castiel looks thoughtful, and Dean figures maybe Cas understands the shotgun blasts and knife to the chest in a slightly different context now. “Yes, I see what you mean.”
“Good.” Dean had thought it was going to take a lot more arguing and convincing to get Cas to stay behind. “So, you’ll sit this one out?”
“No, you’ll require my assistance. However, I will endeavour to act more human.” Cas puts a hand on Dean’s shoulder in what can only be an attempt to be reassuring. Dean has to suppress the urge to laugh hysterically. It’s a wonder someone hasn’t tried to stab Cas yet, all things considered.
There’s the familiar displacement of air, and Dean is left staring at empty space. He thinks this can only end in disaster given that popping in and out of thin air is definitely not in the realm of acting more human. He’s a little afraid to consider exactly what Cas might have in mind.
Sam comes around the corner, saying, “I think we’re set. You manage to convince Cas to hang back in case we need the cavalry?”
“Not exactly.” Dean starts to move toward the Impala, car keys already in his hand. “In fact, I think we’d better get there before anybody else, just in case.”
They get to the old farm about a mile ahead of the pack, but Castiel isn’t there. Dean’s not sure whether to be worried or relieved, but in a matter of minutes it doesn’t matter because the hunters have surrounded the barn and things are about to get hairy. Burning’s the best option. Fire will either kill the vamps or drive them into the sunlight where the hunters can finish them off. They’ve formed a perimeter, and every man and woman’s been told to hold the line, no matter what. They can’t let anything escape.
“They’ve got an underground lair,” Dean says, “but that won’t hold them all. Claustrophobic sons of bitches will try to get out first, take their chances with the sunlight instead of the fire. And when they do, bam!” He makes a cross-cutting motion with his blade. “We’ll be there.”
“We’ll clear out as many as we can with the fire,” Sam adds. “Then we’ll have to take the fight to them down below.”
Sam’s face is grim determination and Dean’s proud of him, proud of being who they are. “Let’s do this,” he says, and his lighter flares to life.
It reminds Dean a little of Hell. The barn’s so old it goes up like it’s made of paper, and before the smoke’s even begun to thicken, they can hear the screams of tormented vampires looking for someone to blame. Through the flames and the puffs of embers and ash, Dean sees the writhing bodies of the trapped vampires, watches as they dart into corners, looking for a means of escape. He can see shadows disappearing near the center of the barn, about where he figures the trap door must be, but they hadn’t scouted any exit tunnels, so unless the vamps are prepared to wait them out underground, Dean knows they’ve got to come through the flames to get an ounce of flesh.
“Come on,” he yells into the inferno. “Come out and play!”
Some of the vamps don’t seem to care about anything, throwing themselves through the blazing walls in a kind of frenzied madness, claws scratching at anything human they can get their hands on. They’re pale with blood-lust and hunger, determined to go out with blood in their mouths if nothing else. Across the circle, Dean sees one hunter go down, two vamps opening a vein in his neck. Dean ignores the man’s screams, concentrates on decapitating every shadow that rushes out of the smoke towards him and keeping one eye on Sam battling beside him.
For a while, there’s nothing but screams and the smell of burned flesh and hair, sticky vampire blood heavy on the ground around them. Slowly, the onslaught slacks off, the vampires either burned, beheaded, or hiding underground, and Dean takes a minute to assess their numbers while the smoke clears.
“Your accountant’s back,” someone calls, and it takes a minute before Dean realizes the guy means Cas. He follows the pointing finger, sees the familiar trench coat twirling at the centre of the last remaining cluster of visible vamps, and Dean’s on the run before he realizes he’s made a decision. He blunders into Cas’s space just as the angel separates the last vampire from its head with a commanding stroke from a wicked-looking blade. He’s got Dean by the throat in an instant, hoisting him off the ground with no effort at all, and Dean manages to choke out “Cas” before all his air has gone, his legs kicking helplessly at nothing.
“Castiel!” Sam yells, and Dean sees the instant it registers in the angel’s face. The pressure at his throat lessens as he’s set gently on his feet, Castiel’s grip shifting to his shoulder, as concern floods his face.
“Dean, are you hurt?”
Before Dean can reply, there’s a knife at Castiel’s throat, and Dean can see by the annoyed look in Cas’s eyes that it’s only because of Dean that the hunter holding the knife isn’t already unconscious or worse.
“Roy,” Sam says. “Ease up, he didn’t mean anything.”
Roy’s partner Walt presses a shotgun barrel to the side of Cas’s head. “This ain’t no vamp, but he ain’t human, neither. What are you?”
“He’s with me.” Dean recovers enough to let the words ring out with force behind them, and his eyes are daring anyone to push him on it. “He’s with me,” he says again, louder, “and if that isn’t good enough for any of you, you can take it up with me.”
No one moves. Not Roy or Walt, not Dean or Sam. Castiel remains as immobile as a statue, and Dean silently suggests to Cas that now is not a good time for a vanishing act, however appropriate it might seem.
Dean makes the first gesture, raising his hands and taking a step back. “We’ve still got work to do here, and the longer we bitch and moan at one another, the longer those vamps have to dig in deep.” There are murmurs of reluctant agreement. “I’ll vouch for Cas. So will Bobby Singer.” Dean lets that sink in for a moment.
“He ain’t human,” Roy says again with determination, but he lets Castiel go and Dean feels relief strike him like a bolt of lightning. Not that Cas was ever in real danger, but nonetheless, he’s more at ease when Cas is beside him and the hunters are regrouping among the trees.
Cas’s brow is furrowed, and Dean figures he’s looking for the right words to apologize.
“It’s okay,” Dean says, because it is. The important thing is that everyone’s okay; at least everyone who matters to Dean.
Cas’s blue eyes are like steel, his voice a graveled whisper. “That was foolish.” He takes a menacing step toward Dean, who finds himself taking an involuntary step back. “You know I wasn’t at risk, from the vampires or the hunters.”
Cas leans into Dean’s space, close enough Dean can see the anger in his face. “Did you really think I needed rescuing? By you?”
Dean can feel heat rising in his cheeks, and he looks away. “I just thought you could use some back-up.”
“We need the hunters’ help if we’re to destroy the remaining vampires and discover the force behind their gathering.” Castiel manages to sound pissed off, even though his face is impassive. “I suggest you do nothing further to antagonize them.”
Dean swallows his “me?” and opts for silence instead. Between one breath and the next, Castiel disappears.
“We can’t wait any longer,” Sam says, softly, behind Dean’s shoulder.
“Yeah.” He’s looking at the sun sliding past its zenith, and knows they’re going to need every advantage they can get. Still, he’d feel better if Cas were here.
“I’m sure he’s fine.”
Dean laughs. “Why the hell wouldn’t he be? Not like he’s human, Sammy. He made that pretty damn clear this morning. He doesn’t need our help.” Even if we need his, Dean thinks. But there's no way he's going to call for help unless he's going down for the count.
He straightens his shoulders and checks his weapons. “Let’s kill some vamps!”
The underground lair houses a vast network of tunnels and caves. Even with good torches and sharp blades, it takes hours to rout all of them. They hide in dark corners and wait. Two hunters are dead before they realize exactly how far the tunnels extend, and they lose two more just because the vampires are damn strong and hungry.
Dean figures they could really use Cas now to clear out the remnants. It’s a cat-and-mouse game, and Dean’s too busy trying to keep track of all the players to really do any damage. In the back of his mind, he’s waiting for the other shoe to drop, for whatever Castiel had felt to show itself. He can’t get rid of the feeling that it’s all been an elaborate game, and he’s never known vampires to care about much more than their next pint of blood. This smacks of someone else pulling the strings, and Dean’s not sure he’s up for round three.
"What do you think it is?" Sam asks, when they're taking a breather above ground.
Dean shrugs. "Not sure. Cas didn't seem to have a clear sense of what it was."
"Where is he, by the way?"
"Do I look like his social secretary, Sammy?" Dean knows he sounds angry, and it's not Sam's fault Cas is AWOL. He tries to temper his tone. "I don't know where he is."
Sam puts an understanding hand on Dean's shoulder, like Dean's just been stood up for the prom, and Dean hates that Cas can have this effect on him. "Let's get back to work."
Castiel moves through the abandoned tunnel system silently. He is not so naïve as the hunters who are celebrating the elimination of the vampires from the immediate area. He knows there is something else here beneath the burned out barn, beneath the ground that's been hollowed out into winding paths and dark spaces.
There didn't seem to be any escape tunnels, which would've been logical, so the tunnels must serve some other purpose. But what? Castiel walks slowly, listening for any sign, any suggestion that he is not alone in the darkness. All he has is his instinct telling him this isn't over, and he knows he must trust that instinct the same way the hunters trust theirs. He moves through the tunnels into ever-deepening darkness, his sense of foreboding growing with every step.
If there are more vampires below, they're well-hidden, and Dean doesn't really want to go traipsing around in the pitch blackness looking for stragglers. They've flushed out a number already, and it's been almost twenty minutes since they encountered any live vamps. He figures they've done their part here.
Of course, there are tunnels they haven't gone down, ones that are narrow and dark, smelling of dead things, and none of the hunters has wanted to be the first. Dean sure as hell doesn't feel the need to prove he's stupider than the rest today. There are places that just shouldn't be disturbed, and Dean thinks maybe this is what Cas was talking about. Dean peers into the darkness and he doesn't think anything is there, and yet, he knows he doesn't want to go into that blackness. Knows somehow that it would be the worst thing any of them could do.
"We done here?" Walt says when Sam reaches down a hand to help Dean out of the tunnels.
"Yeah, I think so," Dean says. He glances back down and represses a shiver. There's something else, something that doesn't want to be found, and Dean's content to leave it there in the darkness. He senses it's a fight they can't win, and they've already lost too many good people today.
There's a bonfire going—vamp bodies piled high and smoking in the remnants of the barn. Most of the hunters have cleared out, licking their wounds and carrying their dead. Dean knows it could've been worse.
Roy walks over, cleaning the sludgy blood off his machete with an old rag. "You want to tell us what that thing was this morning?"
It takes Dean a few seconds to realize he's talking about Cas, and Dean's mouth is a hard line. "He's not a thing, and I don't see that it's any of your business."
"You're being awfully chummy with something that ain't human."
Sam looks between Dean and the other hunters. "He's harmless."
"Didn't look so harmless this morning when it was taking out vamps." Roy steps forward, still rubbing at the blade. "You been playing with binding spells? You make some kind of deal with it?"
"No," Dean and Sam say at once, knowing that Winchester deals are a little too widely known in the community. "I said Bobby would vouch for him if my word's not good enough," Dean continues.
Roy keeps right on pushing. "Hear tell Bobby was possessed. Lost his legs. Ain't much more than a liability like that."
"You son of a bitch," Dean says, hands balling into fists. "Bobby's twice the hunter you'll ever be."
Walt shrugs, stepping up beside his partner. "Still don't make it right, you bein' so friendly with somethin' not human."
"He's one of the good guys," Dean says, and he's done with this. He turns and starts to walk away, anticipating the grab when Roy reaches for his shoulder, and Dean neatly twists around, taking the arm with him and into a painful hold. "We're done here."
It's then that they hear the rumble deep underground, the earth beginning to shake like a minor quake, and Dean grabs for Sam, steadying both of them.
"What the hell?"
Roy and Walt are hanging on to one another too, trying to keep their balance as the ground near the barn heaves, a mountain of earth pushed out from below and with it, riding the cresting pile of dirt, is Castiel.
Cas has his hands in the air, concentrating on something in front of him, and all they can see is a darkness, growing larger every second until the sky is partly blotted out and there are black tentacles spilling from the earth.
"Cas!" Dean shouts, but it's clear Cas has his hands full. They can hear him chanting now, the monosyllabic Enochian, and Dean can't tell if it's doing any good. He struggles to start moving forward, intent on reaching Cas and giving him all the help he can. Sam grips Dean's arm.
"I don't think he needs our help," Sam says, even as Cas drops to one knee, tentacles slipping up and around him, almost obscuring him from view.
"We have to do something!"
"Cas doesn't need to have to rescue us as well as fight that thing, Dean."
"I have to—"
"No, you don't," Sam insists, and doesn't release his death-grip on Dean's arm despite his brother's protests.
They watch the tentacles squeezing, hear Castiel's voice still shouting out words they can't understand, and suddenly Dean begins to see the edges of light seeping out around the tentacles.
"Cover your eyes," Dean shouts, mostly for Sam's benefit, but he notices Roy and Walt are turned away now too, hands going to their eyes as quick as Dean finishes speaking. Dean waits one moment longer, sees the outline of wings raised against the darkness, and then he closes his eyes, slapping his free hand over them just to be on the safe side.
There's a noise a little like a sonic boom, and Dean feels himself going down, Sam still hanging onto him. They end up in the dirt, eyes shut, waiting for some kind of signal everything's done. There's an eerie silence—no wind, no birdsong, no sound or movement whatsoever. A complete absence of sound.
Dean takes a chance on opening his eyes.
The darkness appears to be gone, its tentacles withdrawn, and whether it was obliterated by Castiel's angelic powers or whether it slunk back into the gaping crater, is unclear. Dean doesn't care. All he sees is the familiar trench coat and its owner lying in the dirt on the lip of the hole in the earth.
Dean shakes off Sam's hand and runs across the uneven ground, stumbling a little as he goes, until he crashes to his knees in the dirt beside Cas. The angel's eyes are closed, blood and dirt staining his face and coat.
"Is he okay?" Sam asks from somewhere behind him, and Dean nods as the angel's eyes flutter open. Dean's never been so thankful to see Castiel's blue eyes staring back at him.
"I think so," Dean says, never taking his eyes from Cas. "Are you okay?"
"I am unharmed," Cas says, sitting up and surveying himself. A quick blink and the blood and filth are gone. Dean helps him to his feet.
"What was that?" Sam asks, looking sideways into the pit that's formed beside them.
"Something very old and very evil."
"It had tentacles."
"Yes, it did," Cas says, distaste clear in his voice. "At least it had only one head."
"Is it gone?" Roy's voice is shaky as he and Walt approach. Castiel nods.
"For now. It has returned to the depths of the earth. I have given it warning not to trespass on the earthly plane again."
"And what are you?" Walt stammers out. Dean swings around, ready to end this once and for all when Castiel says, "An angel of the Lord," and the cat's out of the bag.
"An angel?" Roy repeats skeptically. "You expect us to believe—"
"It's the truth," Sam chimes in. "Castiel's the real deal."
"There ain't no such thing as angels."
Dean smiles. Been there, done that. "I know it's hard to believe, but it's the truth."
"I don't have time for this," Cas says, touching two fingers to Sam and Dean's foreheads, and just like that they're back in their motel room. Cas is swaying on his feet.
"Whoa, buddy." Dean gets an arm around Cas's waist and helps him over to one of the beds. Now that Dean takes a good look at Cas, he looks exhausted. "I thought you said you were okay."
"I am no longer connected to heaven's power the way I once was. It has taken the majority of my strength to banish the creature."
"We could've driven you back here."
Cas waves a hand dismissively from where he's now reclining on the bed. "I was tired of skeptics and gawkers. I wished to be somewhere I could recuperate without distraction."
Cas closes his eyes, and Sam motions Dean outside. The Impala's parked in front of their room, which means Cas not only transported all of them, but the car as well. Dean whistles.
"He really wanted to get out of there, I guess. Wonder what Roy and Walt thought of that?"
"We should get back to Bobby's," Sam says. "We can take Castiel with us."
Dean nods. They can't leave him in the state he's in. "I'm starving and Cas is out like a light. Let's get something to eat, then hit the road."
Cas only wakes up long enough to stumble out to the Impala and collapse in the back seat. Dean keeps glancing back there as afternoon shifts to evening and then full dark.
"He's going to be fine," Sam says, and Dean realizes he's been caught looking.
"I'm not used to seeing him like this. For a guy who looks like a tax accountant, he's—"
“And when something can take Castiel out...”
“Yeah,” Dean repeats, more seriously, and lets his glance slide back to the unconscious angel. Cas is one of them, and Dean doesn't like seeing him hurt any more than he likes seeing Sammy hurt. He tells himself the feeling is the same. Brotherly love and all that. But it doesn't sit quite right. He chooses not to look at it too closely.
They make good time to Bobby's, mainly because Dean doesn't much care about speed limits on those dark stretches in the middle of nowhere, where he and his baby are one with the road. It's late afternoon the following day when they roll up to Bobby's.
Ellen greets them each with a faceful of holy water, but when Dean goes back to help Cas out of the car, she stuffs her dishtowel in her pocket and goes to help.
"What happened to blue eyes?"
"Banished some kind of ancient evil and strained something."
Together they get Cas inside and laid out in one of the upstairs guest rooms. He looks pale and small in his rumpled coat, and Dean takes an extra minute to slide the coat off him, pull off his shoes. Maybe Cas doesn't care about comfort, but Dean thinks the angel could stand to learn that life isn't all pain and exhaustion. Hanging out with the Winchesters isn't exactly the way to do that, though.
Ellen fixes them the best home-cooked meal Dean's had in a while, complete with apple pie, and when they fill Bobby in on what happened in Wheeling, turns out he's already heard it from, well, everybody.
"Your angel ain't exactly subtle."
Dean starts to protest, but what's the use. It's true. Castiel's a bit like a wrecking ball in a china doll shop, and there isn't a lot they can do to temper that power. Dean isn't sure he wants to.
"He drove that tentacle thing back where it belongs, Bobby," Dean says. "But it cost him a lot to do it."
"Which is why I assume he's playing Sleeping Beauty instead of coming downstairs for dinner like normal folk?"
"Did he manage to find God yet, or did he just want your necklace to show you two are going steady? I'm still waiting on a new set of legs."
Conversation stops there, and everyone busies themselves eating more pie whether they want to or not. Bobby looks angry and embarrassed, but Dean gets it. He's been healed by Cas enough times to realize they all rely on him when he's around, and he knows Cas would heal Bobby if he could. It's not as if he's holding out on them.
Night comes soon enough, and Dean figures he's got two choices: bunk in with Cas, or take the couch downstairs. He tells himself he's just looking for a quilt or something, not checking on the angel, but still he's relieved when Cas seems to have some colour in his face, his breaths long and even. He seems immeasurably vulnerable like that, and Dean has to stop himself from sitting beside the bed till Cas wakes up. Cas would tell him again how much he doesn't need Dean's help, and well, Dean can't help the part of him that needs to be there for Cas in the same way Cas has been there for him.
Dean grabs a blanket and a pillow, and traipses back downstairs for what is probably going to be a crappy night's sleep.
The moon is full when Dean wakes up, already feeling the soreness in his back from Bobby's couch. It takes him a moment to realize he's not alone. He sits up with a start.
“I did not mean to awaken you,” Castiel says, looking upset with himself. “Please return to sleep.”
“Are you okay? How are you feeling?” Dean says because he's awake, and there's no way he's going to just close his eyes and drift off again. He looks Cas up and down. Cas looks the way he always does.
“I am recuperated.”
“That's good. You had us worried for a while there.”
Dean hates to admit it, but it makes him uneasy when Castiel is off his game. If they're up against something that can take out an angel—even for a little while—then they're up against something truly dangerous.
“I am not what I once was. I'm sorry I cannot always provide the help you desire.”
Cas's voice is soft and apologetic, and Dean lets out a sigh and stands up.
“Bobby'll get over it. He's angry at the whole damn world right now.”
“Still, I am much diminished in my capacity. I would be of more value—”
“You don't have to apologize. You—got killed helping us for Christ's sake! You saved our lives at the lock-up. You've hidden us from the angels. Cas, you have nothing to be sorry for.”
Castiel steps closer to Dean, blue eyes narrowing in on him with a familiar focus. “You fear I can't take care of myself. That I will be a liability now that I am weakened.”
“No,” Dean says. “Who's put that kind of idea into your head?”
“You did. You wished for me to stay behind, to not participate in the hunt in Wheeling. You attempted to come to my 'rescue'—twice.”
Cas looks angry now, and Dean hates when that look is directed at him. He's had a few too many “you should show me some respect” moments to ever completely forget what Castiel is capable of. He carried Dean out of Hell.
“Do you deny it?”
Dean shakes his head. “No, but—listen to me. Yes, I worry about you, but it's not because you're not capable. I worry about Sam, and I know he can take care of himself.” Dean shrugs a bit helplessly. “It's normal to worry about the people you care about.”
“You care about me,” Cas says flatly, taking another step into Dean's personal space. Dean doesn't back away.
“Look, I know I can be a colossal ass sometimes, but what you said at the hospital the other day? About rebelling and doing it all for me? I get it, okay? And honestly, trusting me is probably going to get you killed—” Dean's voice shakes. He can't help it. “—but I appreciate it, man. More than I can say.”
Maybe it's the moonlight or the fact they always seem to have these kind of conversations in the middle of the night, but Dean's tired of pretending they don't mean something to each other. Cas has seen him at his best and worst, when he's been on top of the world and when he's had tears streaming down his face. Cas knows him—knows everything he's done—and still believes in him, and that is why Dean will always, always be there for Cas.
He reaches a hand up and touches Cas's face. It only takes the slightest lean to bring their mouths together and Dean tries to put every ounce of gratitude he's capable of into the kiss. When they finally break apart, Dean licks his lips and finds Cas's eyes.
“Wanting you to be alright has nothing to do with what you are, Cas, and everything to do with who you are.” Dean's voice is low. “Do you see the difference?”
Cas nods, and Dean wonders if he can kiss him again. If this is something that's allowed now that he's taken that first step. Dean steps forward and is suddenly walking through empty air. He hears Sam's feet on the stairs.
“Dean? Were you talking to someone?”
Sam surveys the empty living room without surprise. “He take off again?”
“At least he stopped to say goodbye,” Sam says hopefully, and Dean barks out a laugh.
“No, not really.”
The two of them mount the stairs together, Dean stopping at the empty bedroom previously occupied by the angel. There's not even a wrinkle in the bedspread to show where Cas had lain.
“He'll be okay,” Sam says, patting Dean on the shoulder before wandering down the hall, and Dean nods, distracted.
The thing is, he knows Cas will be fine. Well, no—actually he knows Cas can be killed with the snap of an archangel's fingers—but aside from that terrifying thought, he knows Cas doesn't need their protection or their help most of the time. But when he does need them, Dean wants to make sure Cas knows they've got his back, and that if he wants, he's got someone to come back to.
Dean crawls into bed, wondering why tonight of all nights, he decided to put himself out there and show Cas what he's been trying to pretend wasn't happening. Maybe because he didn't want Cas to take off still thinking he was only useful to them because of what he could do for them.
Dean doesn't know what the future holds, whether he and Sam will be strong enough to hold off Lucifer and Michael, but Dean figures Cas is one more good reason not to say yes. They've barely begun, and he isn't ready to give that up. Not now. Maybe not ever.
Before he drifts off to sleep, Dean has one more coherent thought.
Cas is the only angel I'll ever want inside me.
Wait, that's … oh. Fuck.
Dean sleeps straight through til morning, and if his dreams are particularly pleasant, well, he decides to blame that on a certain angel of the Lord.