Two mornings later
“So get this.”
Dean pressed his fingers to his temples and rolled away, dragging the blanket over his head so his brother, who was already fully dressed and awake, couldn’t see him. “Sam. You said you were going out for coffee, and there is no coffee. My head hurts, and I do not want to hear any serial killer fun facts until I get some caffeine in me.”
“I was going out for coffee, and then I remembered this book I saw in the library, and I decided I should check that out. I don’t have any new serial killer fun facts today.”
“So you’re saying that there is no coffee.” Dean’s voice was a muffled grumble. It had not been a good night for the unfortunate man. The car ride from New York to Kansas had been a solid twenty-three hours, broken only by a night’s stay in a motel when Sam had insisted that his legs were going to cramp and fall off if he didn’t get a chance to walk around, and Dean had been outvoted when Jack had practically thrown himself from the car. They’d gotten back to the bunker late the next night, and Dean had tried to go to bed, only to find himself tossing and turning.
One beer turned into two, which turned into a shot of whiskey or four, and the next thing he knew he was wasted, re-watching Game of Thrones until he finally passed out of sheer exhaustion. Then there had been the nightmares, of course, because his brain couldn’t simply be nice to him, could it? They were disjointed images that faded from his consciousness each time he half-woke, but left him panting and terrified. When he finally settled, it seemed that only two minutes later Sam was shaking him awake, telling him that they were out of coffee and he was going to go buy more.
And now there was no coffee, and his head was pounding. His sheets were tangled around his legs and his room was cold and his body felt hot and prickly and all he wanted was sleep- real sleep, uninterrupted, dark, silent sleep.
There was a moment of silence, and then the door closed as Sam left. A few minutes later, he returned, and Dean could hear the rattle of pills as he set two things on the nightstand.
He waited until Sam left again to dump perhaps a little more ibuprofen than necessary into his hand and wash it down with the water bottle. Then, suddenly realizing how thirsty he was, he sucked down most of the fluid, his body trying to recover from his unfortunate methods of coping.
He sat up, crushing the plastic under his fingers as he waited for the ibuprofen to kick in. As the headache slowly abated, the reality sank in to replace the pain. It was time to trudge through another meaningless day.
As the ibuprofen cleared his head, he frowned. Gabriel was dead, and yet Sam had spoken to him multiple times now. Entire conversations, and apparently, a snippet of Gabriel’s memory, which Sam refused to say in detail (although Dean could guess from context). And if Sam could talk to the archangel…
“Sammy!” He was out of bed in an instant, only to trip on his knotted sheets. Cursing, he kicked them away and ran out the door, nearly colliding with his brother in the hall.
“Dean, what? You okay?” Sam grabbed Dean’s arm, hand brushing the ridge of the burned handprint.
“Yeah. I’m good.” He looked almost crazed as he gazed up at Sam, pupils dilated, breathing quickly. “Next time you see Gabe-”
“I can’t control-”
“Next time you see Gabe, look for Cass.”
Sam blinked, his hand falling. “What?”
Dean studied his face, sensing a needle coming towards his balloon of hope. “Next time you see Gabe, you need to look for Cass. If you can get a message to him-”
“Dean, I can’t control it.” Sam said it slowly, sympathetically, but like he was talking to somebody who couldn’t comprehend. “Gabe and I don’t know how it’s happening. I’ve never seen anyone else there, unless it was part of Gabe’s dream. He hasn’t even been able to talk to anyone else there. There’s nothing we can do. I can’t bring him back here and I can’t go exploring there.”
The hope crashing was like being knocked over by a tidal wave. It took Dean’s breath away, and he turned away from Sam, though it wasn’t quick enough to hide the way his expression fell from his brother. “Never mind,” he said, running his hands through his hair. “Figured.”
“I’m sorry, man.” Sam reached out to touch Dean’s arm, but he was already walking away. “Dean-”
“I’m getting coffee.” His voice was thick, and he didn’t look back at Sam. He would get dressed, stop by Dunkin, then dink around town running errands maybe, until he could find a case that would take his mind off reality.
He shut his door behind him before Sam could follow. The last thing he needed was his brother trying to have a heart to heart. Of course, Sam was not Sam if he didn’t try anyways, and Dean ignored the fact that he could still see his brother’s shadow in the crack under the door. He just turned away and focused on hunting for a pair of jeans that didn’t have blood on them.
“Dean… I know you don’t think it would help, but maybe…” Sam hesitated, and there was a brush of fabric as he leaned against the other side of the door. “Maybe you should find someone to talk to about this.”
A sting of pain ripped through the emptiness in Dean’s chest. He didn’t respond.
“It sucks. I… I miss them too. Cass and Mom. But Dean… you’re not… you’re not you right now.”
Dean picked up a pair of pants from the ground. There was blood splattered all over them. He would have to wash them. Again.
“And… I dunno, maybe talking to someone who’s… who’s seen this kinda thing before would help. Bring you some peace.”
This pair had a giant rip in the thigh from one of the various times Dean had been stabbed, but it wasn’t too big, and Dean supposed that was the fashion now, anyways. Besides, the only stain on them was coffee. Which was practically destiny, because he was going to get coffee.
“You’re hurting, Dean. I know you think you can just shake this stuff off, but that was a big hit.”
He swapped sweatpants for denim and then changed his shirt as well, throwing on a clean t-shirt and the flannel he’d worn in the car the day before.
“You don’t deserve to suffer, Dean.”
He froze mid button, fingers fumbling. Sam was still there, listening for a response, and he couldn’t- everything had fallen apart, and he couldn’t. He took a shuddery breath, trying to center himself, and finished buttoning the shirt. He didn’t say anything to Sam when he threw the door open and started walking down the hall, and he didn’t say anything when he got to the main room and started climbing the stairs to the front door, even when Sam followed him.
“Go hang with Jack.” Dean hovered in the doorway a moment. “I’m getting coffee.”
Sam nodded, although the look in his eyes said that, while the matter was dropped for now, it would resurface later. Probably sooner than Dean would like. “Just think about it, okay?”
“I’d rather do a little less thinking,” Dean said, and shut the door behind him.
The click of the door latch did nothing to make Dean feel better as he hopped up the stairs to the gravel where the Impala was parked. The hope he’d felt that morning had completely drained, leaving him somehow both numb and hurting at the same time, like every thought sent a stabbing pain through his chest.
Castiel was still gone.
Dean curled his fingers into a fist, fingernails digging into his palm, finger joints cracking from the strain, then got into the car and drove off in search of coffee.
Back inside the bunker
Sam watched the door close behind Dean, and then dragged his hands over his face. He could practically see the emotion in Dean’s every movement, the way he startled more easily, the dark circles under his eyes. This wasn’t Dean who kept trucking, knowing he was making a difference and helping people. This was Dean who had broken, who was on autopilot, slowly falling apart on the inside.
And there was nothing Sam could do, because Dean refused to let anybody near the pain he was feeling, no doubt in the hope that by ignoring it, it would go away.
Sam of all people knew how wrong that belief was. He had lost most everybody, except Dean. Every girl he’d ever loved…
The point was, he knew what Dean was feeling, and it killed him to watch his brother try to dig his way out of the hole of grief alone. Dean had been there for him, so long ago, and now, he wanted to be there for Dean. But he couldn’t do that if his brother wouldn’t let him.
Frustrated, he returned to the library, only to find Jack pouring over the old tome on mythology that he’d been flipping through earlier. “Yggdrasil,” the boy said, lips fumbling the ancient word. “It says to get to Hela, you need to go down Yggdrasil, and go North, and then you cross a river. And then there’s something about a chicken coming back to life?”
Sam paused in the doorway, and Jack turned to look at him, head tilted. “How do you get to this place? Why wouldn’t my uncle just give you directions?”
Sam sighed, running his hands down his face. “Because it’s Gabriel, and he doesn’t believe in clarity.”
Jack’s brow furrowed in confusion, and he turned back to the book, trying to understand the layers of metaphor and story telling that shrouded the truth behind mythology. “Is he one of those old beings that speaks in riddles? I read about those too. The Sphinx-”
“Trust me, he’s not the Sphinx,” Sam said, sitting down beside Jack and looking at the book. He’d already read the passage multiple times.
It recounted the journey of a king, accompanied by an old woman. In an attempt to find a place where herbs grew even in the winter, she led him through a cloud of dense fog. On the other side, they encountered a crowd of deceased nobles, slowly making their way towards Hela’s city. Past the crowd, they find a sunny field where the herbs grow, but then keep going, eventually coming to a deep and dark river flowing with weapons. There is a convenient bridge, and they pass it to find an enormous battle, a melee of blood and gore. The woman tells the king that these were soldiers who had died fighting, and thus were destined to continue the battle for all eternity. However, past the eternal war is where the journey ends; they encounter a wall too high to jump over. The woman rips the head off a rooster she has just so happened to have hiding under her cloak, and tosses the carcass over the wall. The unfortunate rooster comes back to life, flutters to the top of the wall, and starts crowing, having been resurrected.
It was an odd story, one that Sam couldn’t find much sense in, but a lead nonetheless.
“If you keep looking,” Sam said, turning the page for Jack, “it says that this horse Sleipnir knows the way. He shows up a few times.”
“Odin’s mount,” Jack said, pleased to have recognized the name.
“And another one of your cousins,” Sam added. He had to flip through the book to find the page, although half of him wanted to take it away from pure, innocent Jack. This tome of lore made the story a bit more graphic than necessary. The author apparently found Loki’s little oops of horse sex to be hilarious.
Jack pulled the book over and skimmed the page, frowning. “This is my uncle?” he asked suddenly, looking up at Sam.
Jack’s eyes went big as the connection clicked for the first time, and he looked down at the book. “Loki isn’t good… but you said Gabriel is good? And if Loki is Gabriel-”
“Yeah- well, Jack, you gotta understand that…” Sam hesitated, trailing off. Understand what? That Gabriel had been one of the main players in Norse mythology, one that was commonly understood to be a bad guy? He had killed one of Thor’s brothers, after all, as a joke. Which sounded like Gabriel, if Sam were being honest. But Jack was staring at him, eyes big and horrified, trying to straighten out his view on the world. “You gotta understand that Gabe is very old, and very powerful. The archangels are Heaven’s greatest weapon, and they haven’t always made the best choices…”
“I read almost this whole book, Sam.” Jack gestured frantically at it. “Loki’s completely selfish. All he does is do stuff so he doesn’t die, and then make it worse, and then try to fix it because other people threaten to kill him for making it worse.”
It probably didn’t help that he was sleeping with Thor as well, but Sam didn’t say that aloud. “Gabriel is… unique,” he finally said. “He’s not… he’s not like the other angels. He’s more…” Cruel? Selfish? Humorous? Free willed? That sounded good. “He has free will.”
Of course, that just opened up an entirely new can of worms. They hadn’t yet explained the concept of Free Will to Jack, or how that was significant in their lives. Certainly, he had seen it in the Bible, but now his brow creased as Sam spoke it out loud. “Doesn’t everybody have free will? You and Mom said that I could choose…”
“You’re half human.” Sam nodded. “So you can choose your life. And the angels can too. Cass… Cass proved that. But a lot of them don’t know that they can choose, or they’re not interested in choosing for themselves.”
Jack nodded, looking down as he thought about that. “So it’s easier to blindly follow the laws given to you than to decide what’s right or wrong for yourself?”
Once again, Sam was surprised by how easily Jack picked up the concept.
“Gabriel uses his free will to choose…” He looked back up at Sam. “Not the good choices. I don’t think.”
Sam ran his fingers through his hair and let out a breath. “Well… Gabriel is… kinda a dick sometimes. But he’s a good guy, when it comes down to it. He tries. Sometimes.”
“Sometimes.” Jack turned away from the book. “Why is he helping me then? Or why… Why is he helping you help me? Are you together?”
“What?” Sam would have choked if there was anything in his mouth.
Jack smiled a little at his reaction. “You are.”
“No. No, we are definitely not together.” Sam shook his head, and dragged his hands through his hair. Of course Gabriel would get him into a mess like this. Naturally. “Trust me. I have better taste than that.”
“So why is he helping me?” Jack tilted his head.
Sam opened his mouth to answer that, and then closed it. The truth was that he didn’t know why Gabriel had taken an interest in Jack’s upbringing. There was nothing purely selfish in it, because Gabriel was dead and wouldn’t be personally affected either way. Maybe he cared because he didn’t want Jack going after the other pagans, but there hadn’t been any whining about it on the part of Gabriel, which seemed to generally be the case when he had to suck it up and do something altruistic. Or maybe it was simply because Jack was Gabriel’s nephew, and he wanted to do right by his family.
Sam had no idea. He didn’t know Gabriel well enough to even hazard a guess.
“Sam?” Jack’s head tilted a bit more as he studied Sam’s face, watching the confusion flicker across his expression.
“I don’t know.” Sam finally admitted it. “I don’t know why he cares. But I think for once he actually does care. And… I think we can trust him.”
“You think?” Jack didn’t look particularly confident in that. “What if he doesn’t? My father- Lucifer was evil. What stops Gabriel from being that way as well?”
Sam ran a hand down his face and shrugged. “Nothing, I guess. But he cares about family. He cared about Lucifer and Michael, so I think he cares about you as well. He sacrificed his life to save the world. When it came down to it, he was one of the good guys.”
“And you trust him?” Jack turned fully in the chair so that he was looking up at Sam. “You trust that if we find his daughter, she’ll teach me instead of killing me? Or hurting one of you?”
Sam found himself hesitating again at that. It was a pointed question, and it brought to light the fact that following these dreams of Gabriel was taking a gamble. They didn’t know what Gabriel’s motives were, and for all they knew, this could have been a convoluted plot to bring the archangel himself back to life.
And yet, Sam had seen the surprise on Gabriel’s face when he’d first mentioned the Nephilim, and though he could have been faking, Sam thought he would have brought up Jack’s existence sooner if he had an ulterior motive.
“Yeah. I trust him.” It almost hurt to say aloud, because the last time Sam had trusted Gabriel, he had ended up in herpes commercial. And the ridiculousness of that statement brought a smile to Sam’s face. “Yeah. It’s probably not the best plan, but I trust him.”
Jack nodded. Sam’s vouching for Gabriel was enough for him.
An hour or so later
Dean was chopping onions in the kitchen. There was still no case, which was incredibly inconvenient for him, because he wanted to do something, anything, to get his mind off the emptiness of the Bunker.
Not that it was empty, per se. Sam and Jack were there. But the lack of a specific angel, the empty spot where his mother had been, weighed down on him.
So now he was going to make tacos for lunch, and hope that Sam and Jack were hungry, because cooking, at least, was something calming and physical that he could do.
Until the knife went into his finger.
“Shit,” Dean said, looking down at his hand. He pulled it away from the onion before he could bleed on it, but blood was already welling up as he moved across the kitchen to grab a paper towel to staunch it with.
It stung, and for a moment, there was nothing in his head except the irritating pain in his hand. It certainly wasn’t gunshot caliber, but it was obnoxious, especially as it burned with the onion juice.
The first aid kit wasn’t up on the fridge, where it normally was. Dean sighed and held the paper towel tighter around it so he wouldn’t have to clean blood off the floor later, and made his way to the library. “Sammy!”
There was no answer. He sighed- with his luck, Sam was asleep and communing with the archangel again, the archangel who, apparently, got a free pass on the whole being cut off from the living thing. It wasn’t fair.
He started down the hall towards the library, where Sam normally could be found during their time off hunting, but he didn’t make it all the way, instead finding a note in on the table in the main command room. He’d missed it when he first came back from the store.
Off running with Jack. Be back in an hour or so.
That would explain why Sam hadn’t answered his shout. Dean tossed the note aside, pursing his lips as he turned a circle, looking for the damn first aid kit. All he needed were bandages.
Well- he peeled the paper towel off the wound to inspect it. Dried blood already stuck to it, and he winced as sticky flesh moved against itself. The knife had gone into his finger, effectively shaving off a good slice of skin and tissue, and the only reason he hadn’t chopped the chunk clean off was because the knife had been stopped by his fingernail.
That was great. Another spot in his hand where he would have no feeling.
What he needed to do was wrap the paper towel around the wound again, but instead, he found himself staring at it. Each time he swabbed the blood away, more pumped up. It stung, an irritating pulse in his fingertip that resonated through his hand. He needed to bandage it, maybe throw a few stitches into it to keep it closed and healing.
Castiel could have healed it on the spot.
He sank backwards, leaning against the table, letting blood drip through his fingertips. The fat drops hit the floor, each with their own little plink. Did it even matter? He could stitch up his hand, but that wouldn’t fix things. That wouldn’t bring back Castiel or Mary. That would just add another scar to his list of many.
His hand felt cold now, the skin pale where it was visible under the red. All he needed was to find the first aid kit, and yet here he was, entranced as capillaries emptied their tiny rivers into the world outside his skin. How did Castiel do it? There were so many parts, so many tiny cells, and yet with a simple touch, the angel could make the entire system start working again.
His fingers smelled like onions. He wondered if the onion could get inside him now. Maybe it would make the vamps smell him before he got there- no, wait, that was garlic. It didn’t matter though. Nothing mattered. His blood was dripping onto the floor, and he couldn’t even summon the energy to care.
The door opened.
Dean jumped, the trance broken, and turned up to the doorway. Sam and Jack were walking back in, Sam’s hair pulled back in a damp bun. He was panting. Jack looked less affected by the run, although his breathing was a bit louder than normal. Dean almost laughed. Sam had finally found someone fitter than he was, and it wasn’t completely human.
“Hey De- dude, what the hell?” Sam was down the stairs in a minute, reaching for Dean’s hand. “What did you do?”
He grunted, pulling his chilly hand away. “Cut myself chopping veggies. You guys want tacos?”
Jack frowned, eyes big as he looked at the dark drops on the floor. “Dean?”
“If one of you could just tell me where you hid the first aid kit, then I’ll have them cooked up in a half hour or so.”
“Dude, that’s a lot of blood,” Sam said, like they didn’t see more on a regular basis. “It’s in my room. I told you, I was cleaning out the expired stuff. You want me to stitch that up for you?”
“Or I could heal it.”
They both turned suddenly to look at Jack, who looked nervous.
“Jack, your powers-” Sam started, but Jack shook his head.
“I think I could do something like that. I mean, I… I resurrected someone. When we were on that case. And I think I can heal Dean too.”
“Hold up, you what-ed someone?” Dean straightened suddenly, and the sudden motion almost threw him into a head rush. Maybe he had lost a little bit of blood, though he had been in fights with less. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“That boy.” Sam frowned, piecing together the spotty memory from when he’d been concussed, before Fenrir had healed him. “He was dead when we found him, remember?”
Dean blinked, trying to remember back to the end. He’d been a bit distracted by the giant scary wolf god, and in his line of work, dead bodies all blurred together. “Huh. Yeah, he was gone. I guess you’re right.”
“I brought him back to life.” Jack looked between them. “I don’t remember how I did it. I was…”
“High,” Dean supplied helpfully.
Jack shot him a glare, apparently not appreciating that they kept morphine strong enough to knock out an archangel for a little bit in their bag, although, in all fairness, the boy had never had to wait for a gunshot or stab wound to heal, and, if one was careful to not let himself become addicted to them, the painkillers helped a ton.
“And I resurrected him. I just… knew what to do.” Jack frowned, head tilted. “But I remember what it felt like, and I think I can heal your hand.”
Dean stared at him for a moment, and he was painfully aware of Sam’s gaze, watching him, trying to read what he would do.
And, to his shame, his first impulse was to pull it away. Castiel could heal him. Castiel was allowed that intimate access to his being. He already belonged to the seraph, from the handprint on his arms to the markings on his ribs, and Jack was very much not Castiel.
And yet, Castiel wasn’t here, and the Nephilim was gazing at him, eyes big and questioning, waiting for his permission to reach out.
It was a permission Castiel had never asked for, and yet was granted all the same.
And Dean needed to say yes, needed to allow Jack to hone his powers, needed to allow him this smaller wound so that in the future he could heal the life threatening ones, and yet-
“I’m fine,” he grunted at the boy, and turned away. “You said it was in your room, Sammy?”
“Yeah.” Sam reached out to touch his shoulder. “But Dean, maybe you should let him try-”
“I’ve got it.” He shook off Sam’s hand and headed towards Sam’s room, ready to thread a needle and sew his own flesh shut.
A moment later, he had the kit in his own room, the door closed. He held his hand over the sink as he poured whiskey over the cut, and he closed his eyes at the burn, not flinching away. Rather, he welcomed the pain. Amber liquid mingled with red against porcelain white, and the burn of the alcohol burned at the emptiness inside his head, a flame where there had only been ice.
He opened his eyes and stared at the fluid as it swirled down the drain. “I have a problem,” he whispered.