What have I become
I’m yours alone
You do not care but I want more
The first time Dean realized that he was a monster it was in a moment that had nothing to do with the reasons why he was a monster, or even with the kind of monsters their way of living was about. Or well, not yet anyway. It was a moment of sheer frustration and that tingling feeling of wanting to move on.
If he hadn’t realized it that September day in a small town in Connecticut, called Hazardville, or if anything about this particular case had been any less obscure, he might have never realized it at all and probably wouldn’t have ended up where he did. But he was beginning to learn a few things about himself and his place in the world and that your past doesn’t always have to define who you are.
Hazardville was all brickwork and white wood paneling on impossibly green lawns, and there was a smallness and wilderness about this place that cried of old and history. It had originated as an industrial village around the manufacture of gunpowder, using water power in the area of Powder Hollow, and despite its odd name, which, by the way, it got from one Colonel Augustus George Hazard, there seemed to be nothing hazardous about this town. In fact, it seemed entirely peaceful.
The thing is, Dean wanted to listen to his brother, in all honesty. Sam was jabbering about Person A, and Person B, and about the investigations of numerous other victims’ cases, and about how they might proceed from here on. But listening is hard when your thoughts are too loud.
For some undetected reason Dean’s ears kept ringing with that specific set of words. It was like a never ending mantra, or an echo in the highlands of his brain.
I gave everything for you. And this is what you give to me?
Heard more than a thousand times, but never understood. It was an everything Dean couldn’t fathom. So what he did was playing the scene over and over again in his head, turning it over, hearing the words better and louder, and trying to decode their meaning.
Castiel had been angry then. He’d beaten him up, torn him apart, formed him anew, shook out his idiocy. A fight. A fight for his life on both sides.
And though it’d been painful and definitely unpleasant to have his friend give him a piece of his mind in such a violent kind of way, it was a language Dean spoke. Fighting was something that worked for Dean. Because that is how you defeat the enemy.
Now, of course it isn’t always that easy. It isn’t always black or white, hero versus bad guy, the world is more complicated than that. Sometimes you just need someone to help you realize that you’re the villain of your own story. He’d realized that then.
He’d also realized that he was an asshole.
Even then as he’d stopped to throw himself in the fire and become the vessel of some douchebag archangel, who’d claimed to save the world, but just wanted to win a fight with his brother, Dean had never, in fact, stopped being an asshole. He couldn’t get over himself.
“Dean,“ he heard his brother say, “would you stop chewing on that pen and listen?“
Dean cleared his throat and tried to focus back on the subject. “Yeah, no, sorry. Uh, ten missing people, I know.“
As John Green would put it, this case happened to be the first note in the melody of coincidences that changed Dean’s life.
It was that kind of case that didn’t want to be solved. With no connections between the victims, with no signs of forced entry in their homes, no big bag of shit showing up and having their villain monologue gig, no nothing. And that nothing was beautifully emphasized by the wall in their shabby motel room where they’d intended to spread out their leads and guesses. Save for ten pictures of the missing people, it was empty.
Dean ran a hand over his face and through his hair. There was something off about all that, he could sense it in his guts. But they had no fucking clue what the hell was going on.
Sam fixed his own hair in a mirroring gesture and suppressed a yawn. They were all exhausted. Not by kicking ass and ganking monsters, just by sitting around with no clue at all and staring holes into the furniture, as if it held all the answers.
“I wish Cas was more of a help,“ Dean said, bitterness creeping into his tone. He turned back to chewing on his pen and tried to get out all the thoughts on how many things Castiel could do and couldn’t do anymore. Get out that stinging feeling rising inside him and turning his stomach into knots he didn’t want there. He had no idea where it came from or for what, he only knew he wanted it all out.
The day had been a sunny one and now that the evening was slowly strolling in, the light had an orange tint to it that warmed up the dull colors of their room. They were sitting at the small table, Sam in front of his laptop and Dean in front of his beer he was peeling off the label of. He’d started early today and it was his third beer already, but it didn’t quite give him the carelessness he tried to achieve anymore.
Frustrating, that’s what it was. Tiring even. Everyday, another person could disappear somewhere and all because they didn’t manage to find out what they were up against. They’d taken on bigger fish, like Lucifer for instance, but it appeared some random being that fucked around here did a better job than Satan himself.
There was a loud thump as Dean’s fist crashed into the tabletop. His brother flinched.
“Dude,“ Sam gave.
The atmosphere in the room was dusty, yet aglow somehow, coppery in a way, as though the air was made of iron and rusting. No matter the bright color of dawn, against the brownish wallpaper and the wooden furniture Sam still looked like an exclamation mark. Two beds stood against said brown wall, quiet and neat, like dead limbs hanging onto the body of this dead room. The bright light of the exaggerated plastic chandelier seemed to try and give some color to the grey and brown of the interior, but the only thing it did was making a joke out of this room.
Dean sipped from his beer, looked out the window. He crossed his arms, his foot under the table tapping along to his nervous heartbeat. He’d expected this hunt to be easy and done within a few days. Now it’d been two weeks already and reality had proven him wrong. All this was so disappointing, and it’s funny how calm he could be in action and how anxious he was in the quiet.
“There’s gotta be a connection between the victims.“ He said.
Someone opened the door of their ramshackle room and Dean rolled his eyes.
“You don’t understand!“ said the first person that entered, waving his hands about over his head, his breathing fast, as thought he’d run here. “Some things can be alive!“
Coming right after him was Cas, an exasperated expression on his face.
Dean raised his brows. “How’d the questioning go?“
Cas looked at him, then away, saying, “He had a conversation with a pencil.“
“Funny,“ Sam thought out loud. “One thinks pens are friends and the other thinks they’re something you can eat if you try hard enough.“
Dean wanted to punch Sam’s face for that. Of course he wouldn’t, but the idea of it was nice somehow.
Bert, who kept making friends with objects, fell onto one of the beds and looked like a fat kid that finally got invited to a party. Something was stuck in his dark mustache that looked like mayonnaise or vanilla pudding, but he didn’t seem to care. His grey t-shirt said he’s a special edition, though Dean thought Bert was an edition no one had ever asked for. But he’d been here first and there was, to Dean’s never ending regret, no way to make Bert drop the case. This was actually his hometown and Dean thought that, after all, there was a proper reason for the town’s name. Bert was more hazardous than any other hunter he’d ever met.
What’s done is done, that was the straw Dean held onto, so he could — and even considered to — help that Bert guy with a case that could as well be no case at all. Just like when they’d run into him, while he’d been faking to be an FBI agent in an unnerving purple suit, Bert was sitting on the bed all giddy and excited and ruining the smoothing of the sheets Dean had spend half an hour on for a lack of anything else to do. About five minutes into their very first conversation Dean had decided that Bert was irritating as fuck.
“Why would you try to eat a pen?“ Bert asked. He always took things very literally. “It’s all plastic and ink.“
Dean would have almost smiled at that, only that he was too busy keeping his heart rate at a healthy pace. He uncrossed his arms and wrapped his hands around the bottle he was glaring at. He was all grinding teeth and narrow eyes and something told him that he wouldn't be able to keep up the pace his heart aimed for any longer.
“No, Bert, he—“ Sam began, but his brother cut him off.
“You know, Bert,“ Dean spit, the name sounding like an insult, “I actually envy you for how dumb you are.“ He looked straight at the other hunter.
Bert looked puzzled.
“All naive and giggly-wiggly. Life must be so much easier when you have others do all the work for you and not even getting the whole picture of it all.“
Bert didn’t look puzzled anymore, he looked irritated. Cas jumped in for the rescue.
“Dean is very furious right now. I think you insulted him.“ He said.
Dean’s eyes left Bert and squinted at the angel instead, and that vein on the side of his neck popped out that little bit too much to not be a warning. He rubbed his brows, saying through gritted teeth, “Stop. Reading. My. Mind. Cas. It pisses me off.“
Cas fixed his eyes to the ground and went somewhat pale, fiddling with the fabric of his trench coat. He clawed into it and smoothed it down over and over again. It was a view that Dean rather didn’t want to endure, annoying to no end, so he trained his eyes back to Bert.
“You shut up, you asshole!“ came out of Bert as he stood up for the first time since he’d entered the room. “Sorry, but you’re being rude and unreasonably mean. I am who I am, and you, sir, need to deal with that. You don’t even know me, or how I—“
“Oh my god, I don’t care!“ Dean jumped off his seat and crossed the few feet between them, standing face to face with the short pudgy hunter. “You think I won’t punch you just because I’d have an audience? I could break your nose right now, if I wanted to.“
“Yeah?“ Bert snorted, glaring right back at him. “Why don’t you then?“
Dean bristled and pushed air out of his nostrils. “Can’t you just fuck off already?“ he snarled.
“Hey! Hey—hey!“ Sam came in-between them, his hands raised and facing his brother. “Calm it, Dean. Okay? Calm down.“ He touched the older one’s shoulder and fixed his eyes.
Dean exhaled a sharp breath and turned, muttering something under his breath. He heard stomping feet behind him and the door. Bert left and Sam stood there in the middle of the room throwing down his arms, exasperated and shaking his head.
Let’s all agree that storms have something beautiful about them. The world darkens and clouds race through the sky dangerously and thunder roars its battle cry and lightning strikes and slashes and burns in tumultuous bolts and rain falls down on earth in a raging shower that cleanses it all and trees are shaken to something that looks alive and parts of them fly through the air like they’d spread their wings and travel the world.
Dean, though, hated storms. He took a deep breath before getting out of the Impala and ran towards the concrete block building like he was running for his life, Castiel right behind him. Inside, Dean ran a hand through his soaked hair and as he gazed over he found the angel all dry and shiny.
“Look at you, cheap-tricking it with your mojo,“ he said. “Thought you haven’t got much left.“
Castiel grimaced, then looked away. He clenched his fingers into his trench coat and then, with his eyes still fixed on his shoes, he moved a trembling hand to the hunter and when he touched him Dean was dry as well.
They made their way down a cold depressing hallway and towards apartment number five, where a short old woman with thin grey hair and thick framed glasses answered the door. Eleven missing people.
They went through the usual smalltalk and after they politely turned down the offered coffees, they went into the latest victim’s bedroom. A teenager going by the name of Betty Hamilton and living with her grandmother.
Her room was what you’d expect from a thirteen-year-old girl. All shades of pink and rose, white furniture, a ton of pictures of her and her friends at the wall above the bed that was dressed in flower print sheets and blankets and all kinds of multi-colored pillows. There were posters of teen heart-throbs Dean didn’t recognize. Then again, the only teenager he knew in this particular decade was Ben, who had been more interested in Dean’s enormous gun collection hidden in the trunk of his car than in any Justin Biebers or some K-Pop wannabes.
Dean looked out of the window with the turquoise-colored silk curtains, out into the garden. It had a swing set and a trampoline and a small pool with all kinds of swimming toys in it. It looked like they had taken the girl away in the middle of playing there, which was pretty unlikely, not only according to the police file. The beginnings of autumn had cooled down the temperatures to a mild 64 degrees Fahrenheit and it got quite frosty during the nights.
Both the front door and the back entrance were perfectly intact, as was this window. Again, no signs of forced entry. Although the report already said that, Dean couldn’t help but check for himself and look for signs the police wouldn’t look for.
He felt along the white smooth window frame which looked so new that he assumed it had been replaced not long ago. There were no carvings or symbols painted anywhere. Then he breathed against the windowpane, looking for the usual messages ghosts liked so much to leave behind. He’d always thought they all struggled with some serious case of low self-esteem, longing for attention as much as they were. There was nothing there. And when he lowered his eyes down to the window sill and felt over it there was nothing there either. But then there was.
As he turned his hand palm up and gazed at his fingers that had traced the cold material of marble only a second ago, there was a barely there hint of some powder-like trace coating his index and middle finger. He rubbed it between index finger and thumb and held it under his nose. It was yellow and stank of sulfur.
Just when he raised a brow at that, Betty’s grandmother knocked on the doorframe, like this wasn’t her own home, carrying a small round tray with two steaming cups. “Your coffee, gentlemen.“
Cas gave her a look like she’d just murdered one of his kind. We said we don’t want any coffee, his face said. Only when he found the Winchester’s scowl he returned his eyes back to his shoes.
“Oh, thank you, Mrs. Hamilton, that wasn’t necessary.“ Dean said politely and took the two cups from her, shoving one of them into Castiel’s reluctant hands. Some of the coffee spilled and stained Cas’ white shirt and he looked down at the brown hot taint and seemed to choose to ignore it.
The angel was completely lost in the coffee he didn’t intend to drink, or didn’t know what to do with, while Dean gave the lady a friendly smile. Her eyes were dark-rimmed and blood-shot, it was clear she cried a lot these days. Her hands fumbled with her now empty tray, and Dean wondered if she was that type of person who needed someone to look after. It sure must be hard for her now without her granddaughter here.
“You know, Agent Ford,“ she was addressing Dean, for Castiel still seemed dramatically absent, “the night my sweet Betty disappeared, I told her… I told her about her mother.“
Dean watched as she wiped a tear from her eye.
“I used to tell her that her mother died in a car accident, but…“ She swallowed thickly. “But that’s not true. Sandra, that was Betty’s mother, she… she killed herself when Betty was just a little baby.“
“I’m sorry to hear that, Mrs. Hamilton. Was Sandra your daughter?“ Dean asked calmly. He was well-trained in talks like this one, though it was no real effort to sound honest. He could sympathize, after all his father had, in a way, killed himself, too.
And while he wasn’t sure which was worse, killing yourself or being killed, he knew it didn’t really matter. Even if we don’t actually kill someone in our entire life, we’re all killers in a way. We’ve all killed parts of ourselves in order to survive our life. We’ve all got blood on our hands. At some point, something always has to die so we can stay alive. Let that be people or ideas or wishes or ways of thinking.
“Yes. Yes, she was, my Sandra. She was so beautiful. And smart. But she had her problems and well… anyway, I finally found the courage to tell Betty and she got really angry with me. Told me to leave her room and all. I thought we could sort it out in the morning, but then…“ She broke into a fit of crying and Dean put a gentle hand on her arm.
“It’s not your fault, Mrs. Hamilton.“ He said, even though he had no fucking clue whose fault it was.
It was late evening and Dean was helping himself and his starting headache with a fine glass of whiskey. After Sam and Bert had talked to another person lacking a family member, they had regrouped and still had absolutely fucking nothing. Twelve missing people.
They’d discussed demons. And once again, inevitably, the name of Crowley came over someone’s lips. Ever since they were here, it was the first time they’d found sulfur anywhere. And sulfur meant demon and demon led the trace to the snarky bitch of hell who called himself king. Because there was no way a bunch of amateurs and rogues could organize something this huge without the delicate command structure under Crowley’s fierce hands.
But also, there was no doubt that in the case of Betty a demon would have been at work that was particularly clumsy. The first one to leave tracks behind. Congratulations. You win being pulverized by your master later on.
Dean was annoyed anyway. By yet another kidnapping they hadn’t been able to prevent. By having spent the whole afternoon in close proximity to Bert and Bert’s weirdness. And by Sam’s eagerness to spend hours on end with research on tracking down demons, the traces of that still scattered about their room in the form of books and paper. And last but not least, by Cas’ ongoing quietude.
The angel seemed to go in and out of reality more often now. He always appeared to be lost in thought or lost in general, and whenever Dean looked at him he wanted to shake him awake. Whatever kind of stupor or trance Cas was in, it was still better than having him say something stupid. Or say something that should stay between him and Dean. Or say anything at all. It was fine with Dean. Except for when it wasn’t.
But with no doubt even more annoying was the fact that Cas didn’t even seem to care anymore. Not about the case, or the general situation, or his own situation, and clearly not about Dean.
Dean needed his friend back. Period. But Cas wasn’t himself lately. Cas was turning into this new thing, this new creature, both literally and in Dean’s eyes. He was like a new found being he needed to observe and examine first, before he knew what to do with it. The way you look at a new piece of furniture that doesn’t quite seem to fit in your living room.
And who said it was only kidnapping? Who said that all those twelve missing people weren’t dead already? Who said there wouldn’t be more? Who said that they would find the monster that did this?
There was nothing more frustrating than a hunt that didn’t involve hunting.
And that made him angry. That sort of anger that comes abruptly, that ignites a spark inside you. His fingers around his glass started shaking and there was that burning twitch in his chest, boiling its way up into his throat. At first it was only a tiny flame, barely hearable, barely there. But then it grew and his hands started shaking more violently and his breathing went frantic and a raging nausea was crawling about in his conscious, and then it transformed into waves and waves of uncontrolled fire, rising inside him like fever.
He emptied his glass and put it down and for some reason, let it be the bitterness of the whiskey or the storm of disgust within him, his jaw clenched. A glance to the side and through the dull darkness of their room told him that his brother was sound asleep, sprawled out on his bed and half his limbs hanging loosely from the edge of the mattress. Dean ran a hand over his face, took a breath into his stomach. Fuck it.
He slipped out of their room and walked along the path by the building to the door behind which he knew was Castiel’s room. He skipped the knocking and strode right in. The door slammed shut behind him with a loud thump.
In an instant, Cas sat straight up in his bed. It was weird to see the angel sleep nowadays and that was just another thing pouring oil into Dean’s fire of irrational rage. Or maybe what provoked him the most was the silence. Because deep down Dean knew it wasn’t Cas’ fault that everything was so hard lately, that nothing worked out the way he’d planned. Dean just wished his friend would care enough about anything. Stop keeping quiet and stop looking at his damn shoes and stop turning into something he wasn’t.
What are you doing here? Why are you in my room? Maybe Go away, or at least Hello, all things Dean thought Cas should be saying. Instead the angel stared right back at him, until he looked away again, while Dean stood there in the dark of the room he wasn’t supposed to be in.
Castiel knew, with a crucial certainty, what was about to come.
It took Dean two minutes and fifty-five seconds to know it as well.
He wanted to make a step forwards, but his knees were shaking with that knowledge. And when he exhaled through his nose a few times, in order to calm down, he knew the fever had taken over. And though fever is something that takes control over you and not the other way around, it was still a fever he didn’t want to have.
So he turned his back to the angel, because it occurred to him that that was the only way to withstand. Without a look back he made his way to the door, which was as blue inside as it was from the outside.
“Dean,“ he heard and stopped.
This is so fucked up, Dean thought and rubbed the back of his neck where cold sticky sweat had gathered. He exhaled another stuttering breath.
He could swear he heard a Please somewhere behind him, but shrugged it off and set himself into motion again. Please stay, he completed in his mind, recalling the first time this had happened.
As he had the doorknob in his sweaty palm and felt his shoulders tense, he stopped again. He wondered why Cas would encourage him, wondered why he never stopped him. He wondered what he’d gone to Cas for in the first place.
“So, what d’you think?“ Sam asked, wandering down the path from Carole Newman’s house, the thirteenth on the list of missing people.
Sam was with Bert, because Dean claimed to have a headache and Cas claimed to prefer staying in his room. They’d questioned Anne Newman, the victim’s seventeen-year-old daughter. Again, there was no trace of sulfur this time, so either the demon became more careful or it was another demon or that particular connection was a dead end altogether.
“Dunno, Sammy,“ Bert gave back.
Sam grimaced a little, saying, “Only Dean gets to call me that. No offense.“
They reached Bert’s car, a rusty old thing in rusty shades of a color that probably used to be some sort of red, and Bert mumbled a quiet sorry.
“Speaking of,“ he said, leaning on the roof of his car. “What’s his deal?“
“What d’you mean?“
“I mean, what’s his deal? Like, why is he such an ass?“
Sam sighed and leaned onto the roof as well. “Well, I know why you think that, but… Dean isn’t always like this, you know. He’s actually very kind-hearted and nice.“
“You did hear what he said to me, right?“
“Yeah, no, I get it, Bert. But you gotta understand that Dean’s life hasn’t always been easy, it’s just that… he gets like that when he’s frustrated, it’s got nothing to do with you personally.“
“Well, I thought you two were brothers. How’s it that you’re not like that then? If his life had been oh so painful?“
Sam stared at his fingers on the car roof, his mouth distorted and a frown building between his brows. “Well,“ he began, sighing. “I guess everyone has their issues, like… call it inner demons. And I guess everyone deals with them in their own kind of way, you know.“
“What you mean inner demons?“
“Like, uh, things of the past, you know. Experiences or something that happened to you and you can’t let go of it, because uh… because it changed you. But, like, you still try and fight them, because you know they’re not who you are. And sometimes, some people can’t win that fight and that changes who they are in the present. Does that make sense to you?“
“I’m not sure,“ Bert answered, looking at his car keys he was fumbling with. After a minute of silence he said, “I don’t think I have any inner demons.“
“Yeah, I mean, okay, I’ve had some bad stuff happening to me at the time, but none of it really changed me, I guess. I’m okay with who I am and what I’ve done.“
Sam nodded in weak acceptance to that and was about to get into the car when Bert spoke again.
“What’s your inner demons then?“
The Winchester smiled and looked to the ground. “Maybe another time, Bert. Let’s go.“
Writing is something magical itself. It can be inspiring and invigorating and even therapeutic, but most importantly, writing calms you down. Now, the kind of writing Dean did wasn’t that elaborate type or even the kind creating a story, it was merely a list of some sorts. A list he’d started long ago and couldn't stop working on. But it was just that, calming.
He sat on his bed, headphones playing his favorite music to him and shutting out the world. The pen in his hand was drumming against the piece of paper as he was staring into space. He wondered how his own ideas managed to be so stormy and loud the one time and so quiet and still the other.
“She’s gay!“ Sam prompted the minute he walked back into their motel room.
Dean hurried to shove his list under his pillow and took off his headphones. “Come again?“
“She’s gay.“ Sam repeated, supposedly talking about Anne Newman.
Dean frowned. “Okay? You shouldn’t hit on her anyway, Sammy, she’s a minor.“
Bitch face. “I mean, she told her mother that she’s gay.“ Pause. “The night Carole disappeared.“ His brows rose in expectation.
Dean was processing. “Come on, Sam, skip to the end, I’m not in the mood to play you douchey I-know-something-you-don’t game.“
Another bitch face. “Dean, that’s the connection!“ Sam announced. “Anne told her mother she’s gay. Mrs. Hamilton told her granddaughter how her mother really died. That guy Harry told his roommate he’s in love with him. And I’m sure if we ask all the others there’s something alike there, too.“ Pause.
“That’s the connection! All the victims had someone tell them some sort of secret and then they disappeared right after that! That can’t be a coincidence!“
It was a possible connection, it just wasn’t something Dean could make himself care about. It was a thin straw to work on and Dean wished he could be excited about it, he really did. But it had been over two weeks of doing nothing and frustration had sunken into his bones like an additional weight he couldn't carry any longer. He wanted out of this town. Out of this peaceful not-hunting in a peaceful place that seemed to turn even more peaceful the more people went missing. He had his duty and all, the family business. Saving people, hunting things. He just felt like it didn’t matter anymore. He felt like the eagerness to fight and hunt that was embedded in his DNA had been killed somewhere along the way.
He wanted to run.
What else is right, and so pure
I’ll save a lifetime of love for you
But you don’t care
Fourteen missing people. And Dean had finally managed to run.
Dean was walking down the street from the bunker and towards a half-hidden bench about a five minutes walk away. It stood surrounded by two massive cottonwood trees that wrapped around it like a house.
Each of his steps went away from home and towards a secret shelter that was only his, and it was both relieving and unnerving how the night’s silence washed over him like a shower. It wrapped around him like those trees around the bench and somehow it cleaned him of whatever his stains were.
And isn’t it weird how many different kinds of silence there are? How one silence can soothe the pain and the other press down on you until you can’t bear it any longer? How one silence is quiet the way you know quietness and the other is so naked that you hear for the first time how a nothing sounds. How it sounds when there’s no sound at all, how naked and bare a silence can be, so absolute and complete that it’s almost loud.
Now, the silence Dean experienced there outside in the night on an empty street was neither nothing, nor was it loud. It was fast. It washed and waved and whirled around him and it pushed him towards some destination and it sped up and accelerated and hit him with its pace and his heart joined its speed.
Until, when he reached his bench and the cottonwood trees, it turned into the type of silence that calmed him. He opened his beer that he’d brought along outside and took his first sip. It was dark and lonely there and then and that was why it was so perfect.
The bunker was his home and in fact it did a good job protecting them and serving as a shelter and some sort of base camp. Yet, sometimes, like tonight, even with all the lamps and all the light inside it, it was still darker than the night outside. And it felt cold in a way, because it failed now to keep him warm. Like this damp piece of wood he was sitting on and that cold bottle of beer he was sipping from.
He calmed down. His list had done the trick again. No matter how old and yellowed the paper was already and how the words were barely even readable anymore, it still worked. And when his eyes had flown over it and chosen his favorite, he’d felt relieved. The way you feel relieved when a burden falls off of your shoulders.
The entire day he’d felt triturated by the bunker’s atmosphere. By that gloomy frustrating air swimming in it and that pair of eyes that kept seeking his. Crushed and stared down. Like some kind of abyss he’d thrown himself into, the calamity that was his life.
In the very back of his head, though, was still lingering that nudging reminder of failure. Going home after a job always felt kind of strange, but going home before he finished it was so much worse. It felt like an itch he couldn’t scratch. Like a picture hanging askew. All wrong and suffocating, and Dean knew he couldn’t make it right. He didn't understand his decision to leave either, he’d reacted without thought. And now he felt like a coward, running from the problem without even considering that the problem might follow him.
So instead of trying to justify his own actions, he did what he did best. Drink. Drink the frustration away and calm the fuck down. Cas was still back in the bunker. The only thing needed were the stares or how he looked away or hovered over his shoulder like the little angel he was. Or wasn’t. Dean didn’t know why that made him so mad, he only knew that it did. He wished his brother was here, so he could focus on him, but Sam was still with Bert.
And that wasn’t right.
Working that case and researching his brains out was all fun and fine and Dean could handle himself without Sam. But he couldn’t handle Cas. There was no one there to keep him from doing something stupid and god knew Dean couldn’t do that himself.
It was the middle of the night and Dean was out there freezing and drinking. He should sleep, he was exhausted to the bits and bones by the long drive here and by fighting off his own thoughts. But how was he supposed to sleep when he had an angel watching over him?
The past had proven to him that even when Cas always meant well, Dean was still an asshole. It would, at some point, escalade, because it always did. He was barely holding it together. The monster inside him was already clawing and pushing its way out. It was the calm before the storm.
He downed the last sip of his beer and looked at the bottle. The label was still intact, which was an odd thing for him, but it was also a good sign. He exhaled deeply and closed his eyes and tried to steady his heartbeat and inhaled into his stomach. In and out and in again. The night was colder than he’d expected, and damp somehow and it smelled like rain. He stretched out his arms on the backrest of his bench, hearing the green and red and yellow leaves above him rustle in the wind and through the silence, and he tried to think of anything but their latest case. Anything but the bunker. Anything but Cas.
And he failed miserably.
The collapse of his exploding will rained down on him. You can do what you will, but you can’t will what you will.
Then he felt the air beside him shift and opened his eyes to a tan trench coat. In a quick movement he removed his arms from the backrest and folded his hands in his lap. There goes the calmness.
Cas cleared his throat, then reached a bottle towards him, avoiding his eyes. “I thought… you would want another one.“ He said in almost a whisper.
Dean couldn't help the thought that sometimes Cas was like a good little housewife, with him starring as the violent husband. He took it, though, the beer, and by that brushed a few of the angel’s fingers. The fingers that he’d held down and kept from getting near himself. A flashback of stifled groans and tensing muscles, as he pushed his thigh into flesh and against bones, and his own shaking hands.
He shook that memory out of his mind, opened the cap of the beer, and swallowed down what felt like too much, as though he was trying to drown himself. Or he wanted to drown out his loud thoughts and the guilt and his never ending idiocy. Because that’s what he was, an idiot. A tight-lipped smile landed on his friend and he started fumbling with a corner of the label on the bottle.
That burning something rose inside his chest and he rubbed the back of his neck, as though that way he could communicate with it. He needed to remember who he was and what he felt and why he was angry. And when he shook his head again and cleared his throat his voice was hoarse when he said, “What are you doing out here?“
Castiel stopped his staring at one very interesting spot in the grass and looked up at him. “Bringing you a bottle of beer.“
“No,“ Dean gave back. He almost, just almost, had to smile. “I mean, why are you out here?“
“To bring you a bottle of beer.“
The angel looked puzzled, scanned Dean’s face, and he seemed to find something there that made him look away and bury his fingers into the fabric of his trench coat.
“To see what you are doing.“ He breathed shyly.
“Leave me alone.“ Dean snarled, looking down at his hands. “You ruin everything.“
He crossed his arms and leaned back. Another Everything he didn’t understand. Some moments passed and the silence inside them started haunting Dean again. So he looked to his right, against all reason, and found an abashed frown.
“You gonna cry now?“ he spit. “I meant it, Cas. You ruin it. The alone time I’m trying to have here. Don’t be a baby.“
Cas nodded and looked at his black shoes. His lower lip started trembling and then he whispered, “Why don’t you come back inside?“
“Go away, Cas.“
The angel made a sound like a hick-up. “Dean?“
“Go. Away. Cas.“ Dean growled through gritted teeth.
The figure beside him rose to his feet, turned, then stopped. A shaking hand settled on Dean’s shoulder, a soft touch, an encouragement maybe. A pushed button. But before the Winchester could turn to him and turn on him, the hand was gone and so was Castiel.
It had been an hour and twenty-three minutes and Dean was still outside. It was no unsolvable mystery why, Castiel knew that the hunter gave his best to avoid him. Around him was the pure quietude of their bunker. It was solacing in a way, but nonetheless bone-crushing.
He couldn’t make sense of why Dean was acting this way around him. For years and years, he’d been joking and laughing and smirking his way. He’d talked to him about his problems during the day and about his thoughts during the night. He’d told him everything. And then, at some point, Dean had started acting weird and tense. With one feral explosion their world started shattering. It hadn’t been their first fight, but it had been the first one to make a change.
Many of those fights followed and sometimes Cas made himself believe it helped Dean cope with his stress. And sometimes he thought it was only an expression of his stress rather than the cure for it. But he let it happen and never complained. He knew he couldn't give him any more than this. Soon he would be of no other use, as he and all he’d ever been was vanishing into thin air.
Thin air, Cas thought right then, that must be the problem. The bunker was well ventilated and there was enough of healthy air. But somehow the air still felt poisonous these days, and it came to him that that could be the reason why Dean had left to sit around outside. Or maybe the place wasn’t what mattered, maybe it only mattered that Castiel wasn’t there. Maybe it was his presence that made the air in the bunker so thin.
He could leave. But then, he couldn’t. Not only for his promise to Sam to stay with Dean and look after him, he had nowhere else to go.
So Castiel was here with Dean, and yet without him, and he tried to kill some time with reading in books written in languages neither one of the Winchesters spoke. It was calming in a way, and time did pass, but his mind only wrapped around one thing. Was it sick that he didn’t want to leave?
As he turned the thirty-sixth page of an ancient book about fangs, written in some Russian dialect, he felt energy starting to stream through tiny wires. Gear was coming to life, as a fraction of a millisecond later the bunker’s wards switched themselves on in alarm.
All entries locked, all light vanished, save for the emergency lighting. Everywhere the red warning lamps flashed their rhythmic cry of something happens.
The bunker went into lockdown. He moved into the war room. His eyes darted around over the human technic devises and the human alarm system, and all of a sudden, streaming through him in unison, was all the human panic. He touched the apparatus and closed his eyes, as though to talk to it. There was a thunderstorm outside, a violent one. And then it hit him.
Dean was still outside.
Right then a blustering knocking came from the main entrance above him.
“Cas?“ he heard.
“Dean?“ He ran up the stairs and pushed his ear against the dark metal of the door.
“Why can’t I open the door?“
“The bunker is in lockdown,“ Cas confirmed. “I think there is a thunderstorm outside.“
“Yeah, I know that, idiot. I am outside.“
Another bit of time was killed, while Cas thought about a solution, still waiting for an order that wouldn’t come. He was cut off heaven, a world that was no longer his, and now a simple storm cut him off his other world, too. And that frightened him.
“I cannot open the door.“ He said, his voice too shrill. “Dean, I can’t do anything.“
“Can’t you just fly out here and get me inside?“
“No, I can’t,“ Cas answered, his hands on the door clenching to fists. “The wards won’t let me.“
There were scratching sounds and a clinking in the lock then, followed by a dammit.
“I’ll call Sam.“ Dean announced.
It was only a thunderstorm and not the end of the world. But Cas could hear the howling winds and violent rains that smashed against the entrance from outside. And somewhere in the background there was a charged crackle and the promise for thunder. This was no average storm, it felt dangerous like a monster on the hunt for human flesh.
Dean was shouting into his phone.
“I mean, I can’t fucking get into the bunker, it’s in lockdown,“ Dean yelled. “You know how to turn that off?“
“You can’t turn it off, Dean. It’s there to protect until the danger is gone.“
“Yeah, protect my ass.“
“What were you doing outside anyway?“
“Picking daisies,“ Dean snapped. “What am I supposed to do now?“
“I don’t know.“ Sam heaved a sigh, an annoyed one, not a shaky one. “I’d try the garage maybe. Maybe it’s not warded by the lockdown. You still won’t get into the bunker, but at least you’re not out in the storm then.“
Dean hung up, and without informing the angel he left the main entrance.
A little while later, Dean was standing outside the door to the bunker’s garage. It was on the other side of the area, a secret hidden door lowered in the ground, four concrete steps leading down. He drew his lock pick kit from a pocket of his jacket and started his work. Funny enough, this door didn’t have a special lock.
Several failed tries and half an hour later, he gave up. This lock might not be special, but it was a fine son of a bitch. He looked around and found nothing but dark grass and concrete steps. His eyes fell onto the railing lining the stairway as he blinked away raindrops from his lashes.
The rain was merciless and thrashed down on him, soaked him down to his boxers. Again and again his hands slipped off the iron bar of the railing he was trying to loosen. But eventually, he managed to get a grip on it and ripped it off, playing on his dripping lips a victory smirk.
He put the bar in between the door and the wall holding it, giving his best to push it off its hinges. A CLICK and the door lifted and fell away.
A small waterfall swam over him and his boots and colored the hem of his jeans a darker shade. He went inside and discovered it rather assembled a swimming pool now. The brownish flood water covered the entire concrete floor of the majestic hall and reached up to every door of every vehicle inside. Oh no.
Dean’s eyes bolted to his beloved Baby that stood in the middle of the garage, surrounded by water that was coming from who knows where. She looked like a lost piece of a sunken ship floating in the ocean.
He waded through the water towards her and his boots got heavier with the gathering water in them. When he was there, he touched her roof and looked inside. She seemed fairly dry. He petted her black frame with his wet fingers and cursed a silent sorry to her.
After another look around his eyes focussed on the door leading to the main part of the bunker. He waded on through the massive puddle and a little mud, his jeans soaked up to his knees by now. He hated storms, even more so when they involved flooding.
“Yeah, I’m here,“ he called back, wondering how the angel knew that.
A quick tearing at the door handle made clear it was locked as well. He worked his lock pick again, then the self-made jimmy, but this door just wouldn’t open.
“Dean,“ he heard again. “The door is locked.“
“Yeah, I know that, genius. I’m trying to unlock it.“
“I don’t think you will manage to.“
“Well, thanks for the cheerleading, feather ass, you suck at it.“
That aching burn in his chest started pounding again and shooed away all the calm he’d had before. His inside made demands to be released, urged him to yell it out and push through the door.
“Dean. The bunker is warded. You won’t get inside.“
“You know what, Cas?“ Dean snapped. “If you won’t do anything to help me, why don’t you go fuck yourself?“
“I didn’t mean to— I… I’m sorry.“
Steps confirmed the angel’s leaving. Great. He ran a hand through his dripping hair and dropped the iron bar. It splashed into the water and sank down to the ground. As slow and definite as his willpower. Fucking great.
Meanwhile, Sam smiled. Now, it wasn’t a happy smile, or a pleased one. It was the type that hides away another emotion. He didn’t want to talk about his brother and his angel, but at the same time he really did want that. He needed a break. They were annoying and weird and they didn’t function the right way anymore.
“Dean usually doesn’t just run away like that,“ he answered. It was kind of too late to change the topic now.
Bert nodded, setting down his book, then asked the mother of all questions. “Why d’you think he did it then?“
Why did Dean do anything? Often, Dean did what he thought was the right thing. Sometimes he acted on his gut feeling. But sometimes, Sam thought, Dean’s actions were plain unreasonable. Sudden thoughts and impulses, or throwing a Hail Mary, driven by determination and by feelings he claimed not to have. And sometimes Dean just didn’t seem to care.
Sam scratched the back of his head and shrugged, unable to think of an answer.
“Makes you wonder what he’s running from,“ Bert said.
“Yeah,“ Sam gave.
That was when the buzz of his vibrating phone in his jeans pocket made him jump. It was a text message from Dean.
Bunker’s still on lockdown, garage’s flooded.
With its wide walls and its high ceiling that hung above him like a canopy, with the lamps as stars, the room around him felt kind of empty. There was still water around him, a peaceful ocean, and the distant ripple of more water coming down and inside somewhere and the blustering noise of rain onto ground from outside mingled into a soothing melody.
Dean had his eyes closed as he was dozing off his tiredness and the lack of anything else to do on top of a car roof. His arms were crossed over his steadily rising chest and he was in some state of peace. All relaxed limbs and no challenging thoughts.
Another type of silence. Dean remembered lying on the roof of the Impala with Sam when they were kids. Looking up into the night sky and watching stars without talking. In those moments they’d seen the same world. In those moments they’d had the same childhood, the same life. Then in other moments, they’d been as separated as they could be. Their father had done that. He’d always pull Dean away and treat him differently and raise him to something else entirely. Always making everything Dean’s fault.
Don’t fear me, Dean. He’d say when Dean would shrink away from him. Fear is a weakness and you can’t have weaknesses in this job. Fear makes you lose the fight.
When he sighed and shifted a little on the metal of the pastel-colored 1954 Chevrolet Bel Air, he felt that something was wrong. His backside felt wet. At first he thought he was sweating, but then he remembered that it was pretty damn cold in here.
He snapped his eyes open and realized that it wasn’t sweat at all but the pool of rain water around him. Sitting up, he found the garage already filled with it to car roof level. And then he saw his Baby, drowning where she was helpless against the rising water. His stomach clenched.
“Cas!“ was his first instinct move. “Cas!“
Panic rose inside him like a never departing companion, even when it didn’t make sense to him. No one was in danger.
A little reluctant, he slipped off the Bel Air and into the water. It was so much colder than it looked, reached up to his chest, and he was soaked completely within seconds. Suppressing a shiver, he moved towards the door, a hint of dark iron against the stone wall.
He was wading through the water in almost slow-motion, careful to avoid the sinking cars and the floating tools and instruments around him. It all looked like a ship had gone down, all kinds of things swimming around and about to sink down to the bottom of this ocean.
“CAS!“ he called again as he reached the door. No answer. In fact, no sound at all.
He turned, his eyes wide open and his breathing wild and his mouth on the verge of telling himself some bullshit about how everything was going to be alright.
He needed to get out of here. Fight, if he must. He wasn’t fighting for his life, of course, this place wouldn't be life-threatening for a while. Unlike the cars he could swim and hold his head above the surface until he’d reach the high ceiling. Yet, it wouldn’t get any more pleasant here.
His feet struggled to keep on the ground as he fought his way back to where he’d come from. There was still no door at the hidden garage entrance and much of the water was still streaming outside into the night, only that it wasn’t enough to keep the garage from flooding.
Once his leg found the iron bars of the stairway’s railing, he exhaled and inhaled a couple of times, preparing himself for ice cold water coating all of his body. Then he sucked in enough air to make it through what now resembled a tunnel underwater more than a simple exit. He dove down and froze together with his nerve endings, adjusted his eyes. Then he started to swim the few feet down and forward and up again.
A harsh gasp erupted from him as his head came out through the surface of the water on the other side. The water was fucking cold. He heaved himself out of it and onto the rain-soaked grass. The muddy earth gave in under his shoulder and he was shaking so much that he didn’t even feel his heart’s pounding. His lower lip was dancing a tremor as he wrapped his arms around his middle in a protective, if useless, embrace.
With a look around and while he deliberately ignored the increasing agonizing coldness, he found nothing but the dark grass and wet grounds again. The wind was howling through the night and piercing into his eyes and burning on his bare skin. There was roaring thunder somewhere and then a lightning bolt struck the roof of the bunker only a few feet away from him. Bright white light blinded him and disappeared as fast as it had come.
And then there was that abandoned power plant building over the bunker. It looked huge from where he was lying in the grass, if a little putrid, towering over the area like a monument. Dean knew he needed shelter. The rain was on his skin and in his hair and in every fibre of his clothes that clung to his body and weighed him down. He felt so fucking cold, he couldn't stop shivering. So he stumbled to his feet and dragged himself towards the power plant.
Inside it smelled like rotten rats and mildew. But at least it was dryer than outside. He found himself a corner with a lonely sheet that smelled funny, thrown to the dirty floor. He wrapped himself in it, no matter the stink and rough fabric of it, because he was desperate to warm up. It helped, a little.
He leaned his head back against the frigid wall and pulled his knees close to his body and shut his eyes. Tremors were still thundering through him in the helpless attempt to form heat in his muscles. He bit his lip to pull himself together.
It’s okay, he told himself. You’ve done this before.
Abandoned buildings had always been a part of his life. Sometimes he would find monsters hiding in them while on a hunt with his dad. Sometimes he would hide from monsters while his dad wasn’t there. But the good memories were those involving him and Sam spending the night in some ramshackle warehouse. Sometimes their father would decide it was time for another survival training unit and send them out into the woods or wherever else to stay alive by themselves.
Dean would lead his little brother through the night, an arm resting on Sam’s shoulder to make him feel safe and comfort him in a way their dad never could. He’d always find a shelter for them, some sort of cave or an old hut or an abandoned factory. And he would set a nice place to sleep for his brother and tuck him in and stay up the entire night to watch over him. His pocket knife always in his hand and ready to attack anything that came too close.
Dean smiled. His little brother had been such a pain in the ass sometimes and he would whine on and on about how unfair all this was and how can Dad do this to us? And Dean would gently squeeze his arm and say, He’s not doing it to us, he’s doing it for us.
And look where it had gotten him. Able to find a place to sleep and be safe from the storm outside. A+ parenting, John Winchester.
Even inside the power plant he could feel the wind and hear the rain’s rat-ta-ta-tat on the roof and smell the damp air and earthy fragrances in it. The scent of storm. It smelled nice like a good memory and felt safe like home. And for the first time in a long time, even if only for now, Dean didn’t hate storms.
The bright blue light in his eyes flickered out. With a look around he found the old cars askew on their spots and the bikes to his right toppled over, everything still dripping of rain water. The water had washed about tools and instruments, as well as quite an amount of paper. The white cabinet against the far wall had its drawers and doors open and all the items usually on it or hanging on the wall above it were gone.
He looked up at the ceiling and across the high walls where small streams of water were still rushing down towards the ground. There, in the upper left back corner, there was the source, the hole in the ceiling where the rain had found its way in.
He made a few steps into the hall, the hem of his trench coat soaked and dirty. His eyes fell onto the shiny black car Dean loved so much. The Impala seemed fine, drenched a little, but he couldn't find any damages. As he stopped next to her, he found her interior had gotten a bit wet as well. There were small puddles gathered in the leg room and on the leather benches. Dean wouldn't like that. In fact, he was sure, if Dean saw her like that, he would lose it.
He put a hand on the Impala’s roof and in an instant she was dry. Then he went on to the back corner, reached out his hand and fixed the hole in the ceiling. That was when he heard steps behind him. Some part of him wished it was some stranger, or even some demon or angel. But please not him. He wasn’t finished fixing the mess, he wasn’t finished at all, he needed more time to fix this and make everything alright.
“Cas, I— oh wow…“
Castiel turned and found Sam in the doorway, his eyes trailing away in the chaotic and wet state of their garage.
“Hello, Sam.“ Cas said, relieved and nervous all at once.
“This is a mess,“ Sam announced.
“Yes. I’m cleaning up.“
“Oh cool, that’s cool.“ The Winchester looked around again and found every loose item this room contained at the exact wrong place. “Wait… where did all the water go?“
“Well, I banished it, of course.“ Cas stated, as if that was obvious.
“Of course.“ Sam ran a hand through his hair, remembering suddenly that there was someone else supposed to be here. “Hey, where’s Dean?“
“I would assume your brother is still outside.“
“Outside?“ Sam asked, surprised. “Why?“
The angel sighed. “He came in here, but I assume when the water rose he decided to spend the night outside. I’m sure he’s fine.“
Sam nodded. “Why don’t you go get him, Cas? I’ll make some coffee.“
Sam wasn’t so sure why he’d felt the urge to check on them. He’d left a still unsolved case that swallowed up people every day, and also a just as helpless Bert. Something inside him had told him he needed to see for himself that they were okay.
Not even five minutes later, Cas stood in the kitchen, his eyes wide and his face concerned.
“He’s not there.“ He stated.
“Who’s not where?“
“Dean. He’s not where he’s supposed to be.“ Cas urged. “I could sense that he slept in the power plant, but he’s not there anymore.“
Something about Cas’ tone shook with warning and Sam’s heart jumped straight to alarm. “What d’you mean, he’s not there? Did you look everywhere?“
“Sam,“ Cas said, “I can’t sense him anywhere near.“
Sam’s jaw dropped, his stare fixed on the air between them. He clenched his fists and his breathing turned heavy. He felt sick, so suddenly it hurt, as naked horror invaded his mind with images of his brother tied to a chair and taking a beating by this week’s monster. Because, hell, they just never got to get a break, did they? His mind was racing at full speed, around and around and back again, then stopped.
He fell back into the moment and felt stupid. The choice of maneuver was obvious, but his voice still sounded taut when he said, “I’ll try call him.“
It rang for an endlessly long minute, until his brother finally picked up.
“Dean!“ Sam cried into his phone, a little too shrill. “Where are you, man?“
“At the diner a few streets over,“ answered his brother. “What’s with the girl voice? You okay?“
“Am I—? Sure, I’m okay, are you?“
“Dean, we were worried about you. I drove here and then we couldn’t find you, and I—“ Sam’s voice broke.
There was a pause on the other end of the line then. “Well, I was starving. Don’t worry, I’ll bring some food for you, too.“
“That’s not what I was worried about.“
After annoyed glares on both sides of the line that neither of them could see but by some kind of miracle both could feel somehow, they hung up and Sam shoved his phone back into his jeans. He shook his head and felt silly. Then he poured some coffee into two of the cups on the kitchen table and beckoned the angel to sit down with him.
Cas smiled thankfully. “I’m glad he’s—“ His voice broke as he swayed a little and braced himself on the table, his eyes squeezed shut.
“Cas, you alright?“
The angel sat down opposite to him and gave him a thin smile.
“Yes, of course,“ Cas said. His face wasn’t quite pale, but he looked somewhat stressed. “I just… I believe it was some effort to clear the garage from all that water. I just need to rest, it’s fine.“
Sam had cleaned up the garage alone. He was a little worried about Cas, so he had ended up ordering the angel to sleep it off. As he walked down the hallway back to his room, he passed a door that was standing open. His eyes darted inside and found their friend. It was one of many bedrooms in the bunker, but some weeks ago they had decided that it was now alone Castiel’s room.
He entered and saw him sitting on the bed. He looked stiff and somehow out of place. His shoulders hung like those of an unused marionette and his face was blank, as though he was in his own kind of lockdown.
After Cas noticed him and smiled, Sam sat down by the small desk and watched the angel. The Seraph. And what was left of that powerful being now? He looked weary, to be fair, his features drawn and his trench coat now dry but still dirty. Cas folded his hands in his lap and he was swallowing over and over again, as if he was trying to get rid of a lump in his throat.
“Hey, Cas,“ Sam started after he’d considered what to say. “You wanna know a secret?“
Castiel looked up to him, both surprised and glad to start a conversation. He nodded.
Sam cleared his throat. “So uh… there’s these dreams I keep having. Lucifer, mostly. Well, actually they’re always about Lucifer.“
“That makes sense.“ Castiel said when the Winchester paused. “You have been trapped in the cage with him for a very long time, Sam.“
“Yeah.“ Sam rubbed the back of his neck and exhaled. “It’s just that… they’re not bad dreams, you know? They’re not nightmares. They actually feel kinda good.“
Then he waited. For the reaction, for the mere horror and disbelief, for a shocked what’s wrong with you, which for some reason echoed in his imagination in the shape of his brother’s voice. But this wasn't his brother, it was Cas.
“Why?“ he simply asked, not any hint of judgement in his voice, only something like curiosity.
“In these dreams… I feel like… I feel powerful… invincible… I still remember what it felt like to be… him. To be able to do things. It’s kinda like when I had… my own powers.“
Cas nodded. He didn't say anything for a long while. Then he looked Sam right into his eyes and it appeared like a lock was opening. “I know what you mean. I know what it feels like to be powerful. And I remember what it feels like to have no powers at all. Yet…,“ he focussed back on his folded hands, sighed. “Yet, I’m afraid. Now that I lose my powers… again… I feel weak, Sam. Helpless… useless.“
“But you still have them, Cas.“
“But I still have them.“ Cas repeated, though it didn't sound convinced. It sounded defeated.
“SAM!“ they heard from somewhere outside, the deep voice of the other Winchester echoing in the bunker like an alarm signal.
They found Dean in the war room, resting on the large map table a bag of take-away food. He looked grumpy.
“There you are,“ Dean almost snarled. For only a split second, his eyes flickered to the angel and his expression turned even more annoyed. His clothes looked awfully muddy with dried dirt, his hair stood up in all directions, but he didn't seem to care.
“Well, you’re a bag of sunshine,“ Sam commented.
Dean made a strange sound, then barked back, “You sleep outside in the cold for a night with soaked clothes, let’s see how that improves your mood.“
“We were worried about you,“ Cas threw in quietly, earning one of the darkest glares Sam had ever witnessed on his brother.
“Well, at least you were all cozy and warm in here, right? Glad one of us made it through the night without finding a rotten rat corpse in their blanket. Now enough with the mothering crap, I’m fine.“
That came out more harsh than planned and Dean knew it. He meant it, he was serious, he was glad his friend hadn't had the same night he’d had. Yet, once again, his words had come out like an accusation. But why oh why did they have to keep talking about this? He’d gone camping for a night, so what? It wasn't like that had been the first time he’d slept in uncomfortable positions in a piss-soaked rat hole, he wasn't some princess with high-class needs and standards. Besides, if there was one thing he didn't deserve, it would be Cas worrying about him, him of all people. And he didn't like all the attention on himself either.
“I’m sorry, Dean.“ The angel said.
“What you’re sorry for? It’s not like you could’ve done anything about it.“
“I’m sorry.“ Castiel said again.
“Stop!“ Dean yelled. He ground his teeth and exhaled a sharp breath. “Just stop it, Cas. I’m not a fucking kid, I can take care of myself. It’s fine. I’m fine.“
“But something could have happened to you.“
“But it didn’t.“
We need you to be safe, Dean could feel them thinking, as he looked back into those blue puddles of sorriness and worry that were Castiel’s eyes. He couldn't stand it. They all needed him to be something, always. They needed him to be safe and needed him to keep them safe as well and needed him to talk to them, but kept quiet themselves. He had to be father and protector and leader and guide and brother and nanny, whatever the hell the situation required. And he, he only wanted to be Dean.
Whoever the hell that was.
He tried to be everything they needed him to be, safe and strong and gentle and understanding, he really did. But who understood him? Who was there for him? Who cared about who he was and who he needed to be? No one did, Dean knew that, and he couldn't even blame them, not even he cared.
And also, he failed at it. He failed over and over again, because he wasn't strong enough. Because he wasn't strong as Sam and powerful as Cas. He never would be. He wondered if all the years on end that his father had raised him a hunter, of survival training, shooting exercises, close combat and knife handling, all that time his father had tried to make a man out of him, a man to be proud of, a man that couldn't only survive in their world but also keep others safe, he wondered if all that had been for nothing. Because he couldn't be what they needed him to be. He could only be himself. A man, broken on the inside, and scarred over and aggressive on the outside. A man, who knew the best strategy was violence and the best way out was fighting. A monster hunting other monsters.
Isn’t it something in your eyes
Isn’t it something in the smile
Isn’t it something that can change my point of view
The sight that met his eyes was almost the weirdest thing he’d witnessed in a long time. He stood in the doorway. The room was clad in stainless steel and cozy in its coldness and the shiny tiles covering the walls were stained with all the history this place held. It smelled like soap and there was a false kind of peace in the air that almost drowned out the quiet clatter.
Dean stood by the sink and was doing the dishes, and it was weird.
Sam paused where he was, observed and looked at his brother’s backside, as though it was a piece of art. It was Dean’s very own art of distraction and denial. An act, like he was oh so fine while he was oh so not. He was killing thoughts.
Even through his red plaid shirt Sam could make out the majestic tension in his brother’s shoulders and how the back of his neck held all the things he didn't say. His hands were working with tempo and dead precision and determination. The way they would while working a shotgun or a knife or his patented sharp tongue. What he was working with now were only dishes, but they were also so much more. They were something he cleaned. And funny as it might seem, a strong and stubborn hunter like him doing simple chores in a home that hadn’t been theirs for that long, cleaning up a mess, as little as it might be, had always been one of Dean’s strong suits.
Sam was helpless. His family — half blood, half adopted — usually functioned, in their own kind of way. They were okay, because they always found a way back to each other. And now they were wrong.
They dreamt about being more powerful, and in doing so they missed the whole point. They missed each other. They missed out on how to live with each other and how to function.
Yet, here was Dean doing the dishes like the good housewife and Cas sleeping off his new found exhaustion in his new found room. And where was Sam? Sam stood there, observing and looking, and he didn’t understand what he saw.
So Sam made coffee. Because that was something he understood, that was something he could do.
As the coffee maker stopped with its painful noise and offered him the gift of caffein, he took it thankfully and brought it to their kitchen table. Dark polished wood that was some sort of shelter for them, ever since they’d moved in here. A place to talk.
Dean finally turned around and dried his hands. His face was stiff and bilious, bleak almost. Blocked eyes, bitter mouth, bossed brows, and brooding. But at the sight of Sam, it melted into something else entirely, remembering that he wasn’t the enemy.
The brothers sat down and drank their coffee. The air held the pleasant scent of Arabica and of the present bent of the present bending. They lived in the moment for here and now and felt like peace and lie, and the sink cried out its distant gurgle by the last bit of water drowning in the drain. There was no talking, after all.
All was eerie and peaceful and they almost waited for something to happen. And then nothing did.
The Impala’s black frame came to a halt in a gravel driveway in front of a large white building with grey roofs and many windows. The lawn and the lavender bushes to both sides of the stairs leading to its main entrance were lovingly tended to. The damp and cool autumn air fogged up the surroundings in this early morning and made everything, no matter how peaceful it felt here, look haunted.
Dean turned off the engine of his car and cleared his throat. He fumbled with his black tie and watched a particularly uninteresting spot on the lawn. He felt uneasy. Concentration seemed to be slipping out of him like sweat in summer, as he was trying hard to focus on anything but the man sitting shotgun.
He didn't want him to be here. Thoughts of all those moments where he’d felt weak and irritated came up. Thoughts of hands and what he could do with them, and thoughts of how good it made him feel to win the upper hand over someone else. They kept invading his mind like the enemy’s troops. He closed his eyes, cleared his throat again.
“So,“ he said, somewhat hoarse and staring at his hands. He felt Cas look over at him. No, he’d been watching him all along.
Dean cleared his throat a third time, desperate to get rid of that lump. Then he explained their latest case. He wished he would have done so back in the bunker, at least he’d had Sam there who could have taken over. But his brother had been too eager to send them away as soon as possible to even consider wasting any time.
Also, it was likely Sam wanted to get back to Bert. Though, Dean wasn't sure if it was because Sam liked the guy so much, or if he only felt the need to finally complete that case in Hazardville.
Here, at the Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, Connecticut, they had patients falling into some sort of stupor. Bert had told them on the phone about it and Dean had wondered when they’d started to take cases and orders from him, of all people. They were mental hospital patients, to be fair, people who were already labelled crazy turned even more so.
Dean hadn’t said out loud what he thought about that. That in all likelihood it wasn't even a case. That he didn't feel that itch in his gut that he always felt whenever something appeared like their kind of thing. But it had felt like the perfect excuse to, once again, run away. From the thin air coating the bunker nowadays and from his little brother’s infinite questioning about feelings Dean didn't feel, nor felt the need to talk about, or problems that weren’t there. Dean could deal with it himself, thank you very much.
Of course, he also wanted to run away from Castiel.
He’d thought he’d grab Sam and start driving. Oh boy, had he been wrong. He’d never even spared a thought on the terrible possibility that his stupid brother could team him up with the person he least wanted to be around. That he would leave him alone and stewing in the boiling air of temptation. It was like a drug he didn't want to be addicted to. Like Sam put him into a tank full of acid, merely to examine how it affected him. Or how fast he would dissolve in it.
It sounded so romantic. And it wasn’t at all. If anything, it was dangerous.
Inside Silver Hill Hospital they were now talking to a sweet young lady. She was dressed in light blue hospital gowns and white shoes and kept making eyes at Dean. Now and then, she threw her long hazelnut colored hair back over her shoulders in a flirting manner and smiled like someone, who didn't yet get to look behind his handsome features and his boyish allures. She didn’t know the monster.
Dean remembered the last time he and Sam had been to a mental hospital. How they had checked in as patients to investigate a case. How the only thing he’d had to do to convince people he was crazy enough to be here had been telling the truth.
“I don’t know, it seems to affect all sorts of patients really,“ the young nurse said. “Patients with anxiety disorders, or trauma patients, or Borderline patients, even the ones with eating disorders. They just zone out all of a sudden and can barely be talked to anymore.“
“They don’t talk?“ Dean asked.
“They do talk, sometimes,“ she answered, staring at her hands now. “But only about… lions.“
“Lions. Like… they’d flinch, out of nowhere, and babble about lions.“
At this point Dean would normally exchange a questioning look with his partner — which would usually be Sam — to see what he was thinking about all the weird. But he really and definitely and clearly didn't want to look at Cas now. He thought, he’d only find him staring at his shoes again, or clenching fists into his trench coat.
The angel kept quiet through the entire interview, only stood next to him and listened, letting Dean do the talking. Like a pet dog staying by the side of its master and waiting for orders and instructions.
And when Dean asked to question a couple of the patients, and the nurse agreed, Cas went to walk after Dean again, following him around. Like a damn puppy on a leash.
Dean turned away from the nurse’s flirty look and held up one hand. “No,“ he said, staring him down with knitted brows.
Castiel flinched to a halt and looked at him in confusion.
“You go question some more of the staff.“ The angel cocked his head. “You’re bad with people, like really bad. You don’t go anywhere near those patients, unless I say so.“
“I can come and watch.“ Cas said. “You talk, I’ll watch.“
“You’re not here to watch, Cas. You’re here to do your damn job. And right now your damn job is to interrogate the staff.“
“The staff are people, too, Dean.“
“Yeah, but they’re healthy. You won’t do too much harm to them.“ He looked him up and down, then frowned. “Probably.“
He turned on his heel, not seeing the look on Castiel’s face, and paused in the middle of the cafeteria area. Several patients were still gathered after breakfast, he had a look around to figure out where to start.
There was a guy in what seemed like his late thirties sitting in one of the corners. He was all by himself and deliberately watching him. Intensely. His hair was a mess standing in all directions and hanging into his face where piercing eyes stared at him so bluntly, it could almost be mistaken as seductive.
Dean walked over to him and sat down. Now that he was closer he could see the patient, dressed in pajamas and a grey bathrobe, looked all drugged up. His eyes reddened and glassy and lids on half-mast and his lips parted and dry. He was leaning back in his chair sluggishly and relaxed and hardly seemed to care about manners. If you made the effort to actually regard him, you could see everything through the hole in his pajama pants between his legs that stood wide apart. As though he wanted everyone to see he wasn't wearing any underwear.
Dean did regard him. He examined him from top to bottom like an exhibition piece at the museum. For some reason that guy didn’t only seem like he had something to say, but also reminded him of something. He needed three minutes and twelve seconds of staring to figure it out. And then there were four things circling his mind.
One, the guy across the table was checking him out.
Two, the guy across the table had a good time provoking people.
Three, the guy across the table was intoxicated by whatever the hell kind of drugs they provided him with here.
And four, the guy across the table came awfully close to appearing like that 2014 version of Cas. The one in Zachariah’s future vision he’d shown him to coax him into saying yes to Michael. Dean always wondered if Zachariah had known that it hadn’t been the state of war or the poor shape everyone seemed to be in that had convinced him that it was a bad future. What had convinced him was the way the future versions of himself and Cas had interacted. It was a mere hint of a memory in the very back of his head now and it felt like a lifetime ago. Much like Hell or the apocalypse. That future felt incredibly long ago.
“Agent Starsky, FBI,“ Dean said after clearing his throat. He showed him his fake badge and gave the guy his most convincing, stern look. “You mind answering a few questions about the incidents in this hospital, Mr…?“
“No, Carl’s my first name.“
Dean’s eyebrows rose, he temporarily shook with how lazily the guy spoke and how unaffected he seemed to be by downright anything. His eyes were still glued to Dean, he appeared like he wasn't paying so much attention to what Dean said but mostly to how he looked. Dean felt naked.
“So, uh, Carl,“ Dean started again. “Did you happen to see anything?“
“Like what? Someone poisoning the patients? Someone sneaking around or…“ He arched an eyebrow. “Or something unusual?“
“Yeah, like that. So, uh, did you?“
“No.“ Carl gave with a smirk.
Dean looked annoyed. “Nothing at all? Not even things you wouldn’t consider unusual, like say… flickering lights? Strange smells? The temperature dropping?“
“I am merely a patient here, Agent Starsky. I do have limited time out of my room and am clearly not designed to pay much attention to my surroundings.“
“You mean you’re on meds clouding your brain.“
“So, what? Those patients were all normal one day, and all zoned out the next? Just like that?“
“It seems.“ Carl answered. Then he smirked and added, “But now that I think about it, there’s one thing coming to my mind just now.“
Dean leaned in closer, quirking his brows in expectation.
Carl’s smile grew wider. “You are very nice to look at.“
The hunter blushed a little by that and cleared his throat once again and leaned back into his own space. “Mr.— Carl. I need to remind you that hindering FBI investigations can be reported and lead to charges, as can holding back information important to the investigation. So what is that thing you wanted to tell me?“
“I already did. You’re handsome. That’s what I wanted to share.“
Dean shut his notebook, exasperated, and stood up to go question someone else. Not far from Carl there was a much older guy in a wheelchair. Coming closer, Dean found him staring out of the windows, almost unblinking.
“Excuse me, Sir. I’m Agent Starsky, FBI. May I ask you a few questions?“
When there was no answer, he put a hand on the man’s shoulder and leaned down to look him straight in the eyes, but the man didn't even seem to notice his presence. So, one of the victims. Dean’s hand waved in front of his face, he even pulled funny faces — only for his own laugh of course. The man in the wheelchair still didn’t react to him.
“Dean,“ he heard, instantly stiffening and clearing his throat.
His brows knitted into a tense frown when he said, “Put your magic fingers on Mr. Comatose here, would you.“
Castiel looked puzzled.
“To work your mojo, dumbass,“ the hunter gave a little too loud. Though, as he looked around, he found nobody was paying them any real attention. Except for Dr. Flirty in his corner.
So Cas put two fingers to the man’s temple and concentrated. After a moment, he drew away and stated, “This man is dreaming of lions. He is not hurt in any way. In fact, he is in peace.“
“Yeah, great, that’s very helpful, thank you, Cas.“
Dean wasn't thankful at all.
“I didn’t want a sneak peak into his head, dammit. I want a reason why he is like that.“
“I cannot ascertain that, Dean. I’m sorry.“ He looked to the ground.
Dean snorted. “Awesome. So you’re completely fucking useless.“
That investigation had done pretty damn nothing. Save for seeing with their own eyes whatever spell or curse affected those people, and almost having heart attacks by one of them screaming “LION!!!“ at them in the middle of a moment of consideration how to go on — a plastic cup of bad coffee had flown all across the room then — they didn’t know any more than before. Dean was thinking witches.
When they entered their motel room that Sam had so kindly booked for them, Dean tossed his car keys onto one of the beds. They had one room instead of two separate rooms, which Dean would have preferred, and he remarked how there was too little space between the beds. He’d need at least a mile of distance to be content, or a wall or something. He thought of body fluids and disgusting rituals — of course related to witches, not to the room situation. Without a warning, he felt so disgusted, he wasn't even hungry anymore.
Then his phone rang and he was relieved to find it was Sam.
“Where are you?“ he shot out of the blue.
“Uh,“ Sam was caught in surprise. “I’m with Bert? Hello to you, too.“
Dean ignored the sass and skipped right to case talk. He filled his little brother in on what they were dealing with and what his thoughts were and how he didn't have a clue. Dean’s sentences kept involving I’s and Me’s and My’s and Mine’s, so at some point, Sam asked him about what Cas thought. Dean didn't know what to say for a moment, because, to be fair, he didn't give a rat’s ass.
Sam ignored all the unspoken things, like the fact that Cas was, in fact, there, or that this was not the Dean Winchester one-man-show. Instead he told his brother about how he and Bert weren't any closer to solving their case in Hazardville either. Twenty missing people now, Sam said, whatever kidnapped them sped up its work. He told Dean that they might have a witness now, but since they hadn't talked to him yet, there wasn't anything else to tell.
It was funny how, with so many things happening, still nothing actually seemed to happen.
He felt his pulse in the fingers that reached for the doorknob. It was cold outside, and dark, but he felt heated. And it was silent out here, too, and lonely, but he felt his head throbbing with the many voices shouting at him in various stages of denial and agreement.
He shouldn't go in, he should go back to that bar, he couldn’t move, but he needed to. He felt tremors of emotion thunder through him, shaking him awake and at the same time into some sort of trance. He shivered because it was cold, but he was also sweating. All that tension and anger, and then denial and the will to avoid doing it. But so many parts of him screamed and longed for it. For a relief, for a way out, for a release of all that pressure, for feeling powerful while he was weak. It was a mess and he was about to lose control. He turned the knob because he couldn’t get over himself. The monster took over.
The door closed behind him and he didn't dare to make steps into the room yet. He needed to see first and needed to find in the dark what was bright as day. And there was Castiel, an Angel of the Lord, a beautiful creature, so friendly and so gentle, and all the same a force of nature and a warrior of Heaven.
Cas was standing by the window and turned to face him. A Dean was on his lips, but it never found its way out. He stood there as if frozen to the ground and his face was a silent mask of untellable mysteries.
Dean hesitated, then he moved, slow steps across the room, dull sounds of heavy boots on dirty floor boards. As he reached his friend, he halted, breathed into his stomach, in and out and in again. He had a false calmness to him that was almost dangerous.
He reached out his hand and settled it right below the angel’s chin and his thumb came to a halt right under his lower lip. Cas’ breath brushed against the skin of his hand in a tickle, like a soft breeze of cooling wind, or a gentle kiss of a lover. His own breathing was dancing the way children would while playing in a cluster of colorful autumn leaves flying about in the sunlight.
He leaned in a little and air came in and out of both their lungs, shared and used and familiar. Like the favorite pair of jeans you keep wearing.
Then he pushed Cas against the cold window. Dean’s hands clawed into the fabric of his white shirt, intense and reckless. His face looked tense and unloving. He grabbed for his blue tie, shoved him, hurled him around, threw him down. Castiel landed on all fours on the floor, a gasp erupting out of him like an earthquake. Dean towered over him, staring him down, so he stayed down, so he didn’t move or complain. So he didn’t fight back.
He looked so weak, Cas. So naked and raw. He looked like an animal, something that would obey to him, someone who could be his punching bag. And then Dean’s aimless and harrowing foot kicked him. He fell on his side, and a figure moved on top of him. A figure that wasn't Dean anymore.
This was a Dean he didn’t know how to stop being.
He turned Cas back onto his stomach, didn't need to see his face or his eyes. He pushed him against the ground. His mouth was only an inch away from his ear where stuttering gasps and moans flew in. He split his legs. Cas feared his back would break, Dean’s sudden urges felt so heavy.
The only thing Dean felt was how well it worked. His hands clawed in and his legs pushed against and his entire body was a weapon forcing another down, fierce and unrestrained. He felt his pulse speed up like a sports car and his heart beat was so erratic it almost hurt. Adrenalin shot through him like gasoline and he needed to get it out of his system.
He bit into a shoulder, feeling devilish, as he threw his fist down into flesh and bones and forced himself between legs. His hands found a throat to wrap around and took away the air and turned it into quiet gurgling. Then he thrashed down again, hurled a face against wood, blind and murderous. There was a distant cry of pain.
This was not his friend. This was his victim, his so needed vessel to release his tension. He needed to fight it, needed to fight the victim he was himself. He needed to fight what he hated. He needed to feel worthy enough to win, he needed to be the winner. Control was what he needed. Because the world was violent and only fighting was a working strategy. And the monster was his sword.
There was no denial anymore, no feeling of being not enough, no worthlessness. There was only this beautiful sensation of peace, relevant and glowing like a halo. The ugly room around him didn't look so grey and dark anymore. It felt like blankets over blankets of soft fabric wrapped around him like a shielding cover between him and the rain. Like no one could ever hurt him again, like he wouldn’t ever be the victim again. It felt like a bedtime story, read by a loving father who didn't hit him.
He felt powerful and mighty, as though he’d overcome his childhood fears and doubts. As though he’d finally found a way out of the wilderness he’d always been sent into to be alone and survive alone. He succeeded. Look! He’d done it! See what I’ve become!
See what I’ve become.
Stop. Wait. He looked down to the trembling, shaking shape of his best friend, covered by him and bruised and used. By him.
He stumbled to his feet, a little shaky, got off Cas, let go of him. Cas looked up, not at him but past him, then back to the ground only an inch away from his eyes. His cheek rasped against the floor, as he slowly sat up. Castiel wrapped his arms around his own body and his eyes fixed his knees and his hair was all messy by violent hands pulling at it. There were no tears in the angel’s eyes, because he never cried.
Dean’s hand found the smooth spot between Cas’ neck and shoulder, and, after all, Cas looked up at him. The touch was so gentle and soft and full of Sorrys, while the hunter’s eyes were intense and hard and broken completely.
And that was it. It took away the pain. Castiel had flames and burns and scars and chaos within, but he wasn't sure anymore if he could see the monster. Dean looked at him like he did, he touched him like he did, and Cas fell right back into him. It was all so foul.
Sometimes you care enough about something to lose control over it.
There was a bottle of liquor in his hands and it was Vodka. Now, Dean didn't like Vodka, but he hadn't managed to find anything else. It was half empty.
He looked at his hands, bruised and red with someone else’s blood. The sight was familiar, and then, it wasn't familiar at all. It used to be the blood of enemies, of monsters and demons and such, and now it was the blood of a friend.
It was late at night and Dean was practicing the fine art of drinking it all away. He was tired. Tired the way people are tired by the long lasting darkness during winter. He needed rest, a warm bed and warmer sheets to wrap around himself and to protect himself from what he’d become. But he couldn’t, because sleep requires peace and he didn't have any of that and he was still no taller than that moment.
So he was sitting outside in the cold, again, and drinking his fear away and yet fearing himself. He was the one everyone should be afraid of. He was the one hurting people. He was taking it out on others. He was living his perfect fantasy of making it all good by passing on the pain. By being the winner and not the defeated.
And sometimes he wished someone would beat him up for that. So he could be the victim again, instead of the committer, the way it used to be. Having his ill thoughts and sick feelings beaten out of him. Kill that monster.
He had another long sip of his bottle, felt the instant burn of liquor down his throat, but it didn't drown his sorrow. It couldn’t make him feel better, while all he wanted was to feel right. But it didn't drown that, it didn't work, why didn't it just work? Why hadn't Cas made him stop? Why hadn't he helped him stop? Why was Cas such a coward? He should have said something, he should have fought back.
But he hadn't complained. Dean sure would have stopped, would have understood. Cas was an animal. Another thing in his charge that he had to look out for and keep safe. Another burden that used to be a support.
It was all Cas’ fault.
Castiel was striding among racks and racks of food and liquor and other things. His hand was holding brown paper bags with a chicken logo on it, containing food from a diner. His other hand was brushing the racks, desperate to find what he needed. He’d been searching for almost half an hour now and he came to the bloodcurdling conclusion that he was helpless.
He would have to get better at this. But human stores were so confusing and so irritating as well. It would be easier, he thought, if each store only sold one thing, the way liquor stores worked. You walk into a liquor store, you know you’re going to find liquor in it. But you walk into a supermarket, it’s as though you could find anything. Then again, that’s probably what they’re going for. The broad variety of choice. The miracle of a thousand things hidden behind a single word.
He stopped and sighed. He wished he had Dean here to tell him where to go and where to find. Humans were so limited, but Dean always seemed to know all that was important. But, only once, Castiel wanted to handle it himself. An easy task. Though, for him it felt much more difficult than a battle in heaven with hundreds of angels’ lives depending on him. He would have died for all of them at any time. And now the only person he would be at peace dying for was Dean.
What, though, what if the person you’d take a bullet for stands behind the trigger?
“Excuse me,“ he said, tapping a shoulder clad in a red vest, making the guy, who couldn’t be older than eighteen, turn around. “I need pie.“
The guy blinked. “Sure. You’ll find that at the cash register over there.“
Four minutes and thirty-five seconds later, Castiel stood in their motel room and almost startled Dean to death.
“Jesus, Cas!“ Dean exclaimed. He put a hand to his chest where his heart was pounding off beat in his ribcage. Castiel could sense it.
He handed Dean the plastic bag with his favorite everything. A bacon-cheeseburger, fries, and apple pie. He watched the hunter’s every move. Cas was scared in a way, or tense, hoping he’d gotten everything right.
Minutes passed and silence was the superior feeling in the air. Castiel was stiff, hoping for the best and expecting the worst, and he swallowed that desperate lump down his throat. The room slowly absorbed the scent of fast food and sugar and Cas was waiting. Waiting for the right spark to light the world on fire.
“Thanks, Cas,“ Dean said, his voice no more than a scratch in the sand.
Cas smiled. Then the earthquake began.
Could it be the lost that I have found
Could it be the way that I’m nailed straight to the ground
Could it be that you’re the one for me
Help me please
Cas dragged himself to his feet. The earthquake had shaken the room so hard that he had stumbled backwards and landed on the floor between the two beds. He rubbed a hand at the small of his back and felt the dull throbbing of a building bruise along his spine. He winced and for a second he was afraid to move.
He looked around the tiny room, dominated by shades of grey and orange and worn-out oak. The pictures of sunflowers and other pieces of art hung askew or had fallen to the ground altogether. Table lamps had toppled over and guns and paper lay all about the grey carpeting in a pool of broken glass.
There was a rough grunt to his side and he found the bookshelf had fallen over, too. There was someone buried under it.
“Dean!“ Cas called and made two or three fast steps towards him and lifted the shelf, as though it was nothing, ignoring the pain in his back.
Dean was lying face down. He was surrounded and covered by old novels and magazines and pieces of decoration, like a porcelain frog and shards of pottery and picture frames. He was dusty and he groaned as he turned onto his back.
There was an abrasion on his chin by the raspy carpet and a shiny stream of blood was running down from his forehead. His chest rose and fell erratically where his shirt was stained with the remains of his Cheeseburger and Ketchup that he had landed on.
Cas kneeled down at his side and settled a hand on his shoulder and observed his eyes. “Are you okay, Dean?“
“Pretty damn not,“ Dean answered through gritted teeth. “I think I got some rips broken or something.“
Cas’ hand moved from the shoulder towards the hunter’s chest and hovered there. Just in time he thought better of it than to touch him anywhere that wasn’t his shoulder. His face built all the questions he wanted to shoot at Dean, demanding all the things Dean was and did and could. There was a particular flash in the blue pair of eyes that said I’m about to make it all right. But Dean wasn’t and didn’t and couldn’t. Eventually, the angel put his hand down on the chest.
“No!“ Dean ordered, his voice all at once a volcano’s eruption. “I’m fine, don’t bother.“
Cas pulled back his hand and said, “I’m sorry, Dean“. He showed it in his expression so much that, for Dean, it almost hurt more than the sore rip and the pounding pain somewhere in his face.
Now, Dean didn’t know why exactly he didn't want Castiel to heal him. Maybe he didn't think it was necessary. Maybe he didn't want him to use up his grace for something so unimportant. Maybe he thought he didn't deserve to feel better.
“I’m sorry,“ Cas said again, running a hand over his face. “I’m so sorry, I’m— I’m sorry, so sorry, I should have— I should have— I’m so sorry—“
The angel probably would have gone on like that forever, Dean thought. Voicing the tremor that went through his hysteric body.
“Cas, just get some ice.“
He stared at Dean as though that was an unmanageable task, then he rose and left the ruined room.
“You think horses can get songs stuck in their heads?“
Sam looked up from his laptop and furrowed his brows. “What?“
“Never mind,“ Bert muttered at the look he got and concentrated back on his book. They were researching from different angles here. Sam was browsing the web for similar cases of missing people in the past, preferably in the same area. Bert was reading in books about gods and demigods and mythology about monsters that fed on human flesh.
Sometimes, when Bert learned about horrible things, his imagination got particularly motivated and his mind came up with the weirdest questions. It made it easier to cope with stuff like that.
“Hey, Bert,“ Sam said after a while, his brief observation of the other hunter going unnoticed. “Can I ask you something?“
“I was wondering uh… how you became a hunter?“
Sam knew it was a dangerous minefield to poke around in the personal life of hunters. Each one reacted differently. Some got angry and some got pissed and some remained silent. Some would open up so far that you got pulled into their mess of a life like a piece of debris into a hurricane.
Bert was calm and when he told his story there was barely any emotion on his face or in his voice. As though he was merely quoting someone.
“Uh, a couple of years ago my entire family, my mum and dad and my sisters, they were all turned into werewolves and attacked me, in order to turn me, I guess. But I managed to fight them and then Bobby, you know, Bobby Singer, he showed up and helped me to… get rid of them.“
The corners of Sam’s mouth distorted into a grimace of pity. “I’m so sorry, Bert,“ he said then and his voice was low and compassionate. His very own patented Sam Winchester comfort tone.
Bert leaned over the table from his seat and stared right back into the Winchester’s eyes.
“Shhhh, no one cares.“
The public library in New Canaan looked like pretty much any other library Dean had ever been in. Shelfs upon shelfs full of books and some computers and a corner for kids and tables and chairs and quietude.
Dean was stubbornly staring into a book and continuously trying to avoid looking at what was sitting opposite to him. The giant and loud, if quiet, reminder of what he continued to do. The thing was that nothing about the angel was reminding of it.
There should be a black eye and bruises along his neck and wounds on his chin or forehead or his cheekbones, or all three. There should be at least a broken nose or a split lip. There should be anything. But Castiel looked like he always did, clean and uninjured. It reminded Dean of how torture in hell worked, how they tore you apart and then put you back together. Only to tear you apart again.
Castiel kept healing himself.
Instead, Dean was the one looking battered. A book shelf had done this to him, an earthquake to be precise, not a best friend. Dean could take advantage of those healing powers, too. He wouldn't have to bear the headache or the stinging burn of his sore rip that shattered every breath. But for what? He could pretend till the end of time that there was always a way out of pain. That there was always someone who could put him back together. But that’s what it was, just pretending.
Castiel was an angel and he might be an angel for another round of time, but not forever. At some point he would be human and Dean thought, better realize this sooner than later. Cas, though, still seemed stuck in his never ending loop of pretending. Pretending to be able to make it all right by healing himself over and over again. He used up his grace with that, bit by bit, maybe not even keeping track on how much he was using and how much he had left. Like an eternity of pretending — if eternity was something you can have in pieces. But you can’t have a fraction of eternity, a third or a half, it’s something that’s kind of always whole. All or nothing.
Dean was back to staring into his book. He had no idea what he was reading. His shoulders felt tense, as well as the atmosphere, although there was something strangely peaceful about it. The absence of words and the unused voices eased something inside him. There was nothing that could be misunderstood or misinterpreted. Nothing that could remind him of what he didn't like to remember. What a calming silence it was.
He stole another glance at Cas, who was brooding over his own book. One of his hands clenched to a fist, as if there was something he was holding onto. Always holding onto something. And then he looked up at Dean and frowned and they smiled.
Dean wanted to look away and then he couldn’t. He drowned in those blue eyes like they were water and he got lost in them and lost for air. Somehow there was no anger and no fever, nothing burning inside him. Nothing demanding anything of him. He still wanted to look away. But that would feel like admitting defeat.
He studied the angel’s face for a hint on why he was smiling, because why was he smiling? He tried to see beyond and have a look into that head, the way Cas always did it. He wanted to understand why the fuck he was smiling at him. Like Dean was a good person and a friend and someone you would smile at. But Dean knew he didn’t deserve that smile, because he was not and because he did those horrible things.
But somehow he had been missing out on the most important detail. Cas was still here.
Harbor One Marina in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, was a particularly beautiful place. It looked like the harbor of a small sea town in South France or Italy. It was weird to find a place so picturesque in Connecticut of all places. There was quite a number of boats and yellow houses with white windows in the back, and the water was a deep dark blue.
A call had made it all possible. The run. The escape. The ultimate chance to get away. It had sounded like complete bullshit when Sam had told him about this maybe-case in this maybe-not-too-bad-town. Dean thought he wouldn't find squat here. Further investigation had proven to him that, indeed, there was nothing “on fire“ or “burning“ or even “out of the ordinary“ about said sea of fire.
The calm swishing of water brushing against the sand was a soft melody in the dark air of this night. There was no wind, no weather at all, and the beach was dead silent like a grave. The few tourists and the boat-owners had long left, as he staggered through the sand and left heavy footprints.
Dean was drunk. Not the regular drunk, he was really actually fuckingly drunk. He had found his way to a local bar and had some beers and then some drinks. And when the barkeeper had denied him any more alcohol, Dean acted in a sudden flash of insanity and stole the bottle of Jack and ran as fast as he could.
Fifteen minutes, that’s how long he had been running as he finally reached the harbor. This wasn't the destination he had gone for, but to be fair he hadn't gone for any destination but away.
Now, he didn’t exactly remember how long he’d been wandering around and along Bridge Street, which, he thought, deserved its name as it was literally a street crossing over the South Cove to Fenwick. Now he was at Lynde Point, walking along the empty sandy beach there, a lighthouse somewhere in the distance.
It wasn’t only empty, though, save for the water there was an absolute lack of sound. No wind and no birds and no cars and no real sign of civilization or even life. It couldn't have been any lonelier, but Dean didn't mind. He had been born alone and he would die alone and in between he drank alone.
The sand under his boots creaked, one foot and then another one, step by venturing step. A swooping to the side, balance, and step again. He took another sip and found, stolen, the drink tasted even better. He should, he thought, put this on his list. A hand ran over his damp cheek, for a second he flinched, then realized it was his own hand. Silly.
What? There was a flash of light somewhere, lightning maybe? He turned and looked around and over the charcoal colored sea with no horizon and up into the sky with no stars. There must be clouds blocking them, he thought, then he remembered he was checking on something. Where had the light come from? Where had it gone? Shook his head and smiled and chuckled. Then a noise.
Where? He turned around again, whirling too much, and felt too dizzy for a second. It had sounded like a scream, or a shotgun, it still sort of did. He was sure its source was somewhere in the water. Or by the water. Or nowhere near the water. The water seemed to be everywhere and suddenly he felt like drowning on the sand and in the air around him. He blinked. His heart gave a slow starting signal and then began hastening, accelerating, and pounding. He gulped and the taste of his liquor was still lingering on his tongue, but it wasn't as calming as before.
There was a gurgle now, a bubbling also, and somewhere in the water there was movement. He narrowed his eyes and tried to adjust his hazed vision and knitted his brows. Was there… a face?
Dean put the bottle down, practically smashing it into the sandy ground, then made a few steps closer to the water. There was a face. There were no arms or legs, but there were eyes and a mouth trying to say something. Something got stuck in Dean’s throat as he realized what he needed to do. Save.
Adrenalin kicked in. He forgot that he was drunk and in bad shape and that he should get rid of his heavy boots first. But he had no time, he had no fucking time. So he got moving and felt the icy water soak his jeans and then his shirt and jacket, as he fought against the waves that tried to move him out while he really needed to get in. It was blank instinct. Blank training. Blank mind.
He couldn't hear the screaming anymore, but he still saw that face. So he started swimming, even when his first attempts felt clumsy. He didn't know how far he’d gotten, but he sensed he was close and that face was still staring at him with desperate eyes. His heart failed to pump enough and his lungs failed to give him enough oxygen, but he fought and fought and swam and swam. And then stopped, looked around. No face.
His eyes scanned the surface, every movement, every sound, every anything. But he couldn't find the person in need of his help. Then he felt it. A soft brush at his leg at first, his eyes darted downwards, but he could see absolutely nothing through the dark of the water and the lack of light. Then a hit, harder, then a grip, tighter, and then it pulled.
A yelp went out of Dean as he tried to shake off whatever was pulling him down underwater. It vanished, but it returned only seconds later. Grabbed his legs and jerked him down under the surface reflecting the dull moonlight. Dean didn't remember that there even was a moon, or any light at all, save for the flash he thought he had seen. But then he realized he wasn't looking at air anymore but at pure, dark, air-killing sea water. It was drowning his every breath and memory.
He was already several feet underwater and he didn't even remember why he had walked into it in the first place. His brain felt hashed and his lungs like they were made of knifes. He moved. He moved so damn hard to get up again, pushed himself against whatever was pulling him away from the world, and his ears were under so much pressure that he wasn't even sure he could hear himself anymore. And he swam and he paddled upwards, but he remained where he was. Surrounded by the loudest sense of nothingness and wrapped into the fear of dying.
Then everything happened so fast. Whatever hands or claws or tendrils or power had pulled him down disappeared like they had never even been there. There was a moment that felt much like a tinnitus. A freezing moment of time-stopping stillness, where you’d inhale a sharp breath, if it weren’t for all the water. When it passed a millisecond later, he moved his numb legs and arms and shot upwards like firework. And the air he sucked in above the surface felt like a swarm of bees in his lungs.
His breathing went frantic and frenetic and desperate and panic was all he could feel. The time he needed to catch himself felt like hours on end and he longed for his bottle of liquor back at the beach. So hard that it was almost like his sole motivation to move again. No matter how often you look into the eyes of your own certain death, this never gets any less horrifying. Ever since he’d failed to drown as a child, it seemed the water always searched for him.
And then four things happened at once.
One, there was a sound like water starting to boil in a kettle or like a truck rushing by on the highway.
Two, there was some sort of wind startling the still night air.
Three, all at once there was so much light around him that he had to blink hard not to get blinded.
And four, the freezing coldness turned into a blood-boiling heat.
In some way that his clouded brain didn't manage to process, the ocean around him burst into flames, so fast and so terrible and so frightening. He couldn’t do anything but stop. And stare.
The flames around him flashed and rumbled like waves and he felt them licking at his skin and burning in his eyes. It was so hot that he could feel his hair get braised and the sweat on his forehead and temples sizzle. Then it hit him at once that he was inside a prison of fire and water with no way to escape and no chance to survive. He could dive down and try to reach the beach underwater, but it was so far away and he would need a stop to get air. Where in this sea of fire would he do that?
It was hopeless.
It was a sensation so far off the world. All his nerves started curling in on themselves and firing info to his brain that he needed to get out. But there was no way out and that sudden realization hit him like a punch in his gut and killed all the air in his lungs. This was his end. Not by a bullet to his heart or a knife at his throat but by something as surreal and illogical as a burning body of water. There was only one question left: Would he drown or burn to death?
Some part of him was rational enough to think he should see hellfire. He should see souls and miserable demons and the delicate hands of Alastair around more delicate instruments. He was supposed to have flashbacks of hell. But for no reason at all, the only thought going through his mind was how he was going to end like his mother. Burned. Suffocating by either water or his own ashes.
And then there were hands at his arms and a body against his, wrapping around him like a second skin. And the flames rustled and the ocean gurgled and through that he heard something like a voice trying to grab his unworking ears and his attention.
An instant later, he was somehow back on the beach and in the sand. He coughed violently and breathing was wonderful. His entire backside touched the soft sand underneath and when he dared to oped his eyes, he realized there was a face after all. It stared down at him.
“What,“ he slurred out and coughed again, “happened?“
“I suppose you took a swim and it went horribly wrong.“
“Okay?“ Dean ran a hand over his dramatically wet face and sat up, shaking. Shaking as much as the night during the storm. Ideally, his bottle of whiskey was in the sand right next to him. He took it and helped himself and his sore throat.
“Wait,“ he stopped and looked at Castiel, then back across the water. The ocean lay still and almost even before his eyes. Its onyx color mixed with the dark sky and the moonlight reflected in it like nothing ever happened. “There was f— there was fire on the water… there was fire everywhere—where’s all the fire, I—“
“Dean,“ Cas said, but the Winchester rose and walked back to the water. “Dean, stop!“
He caught up with him when Dean’s boots were already covered in water again, and stood in his way.
“Stop, Dean.“ Castiel’s face was pleading, and bleeding with an order he couldn't give. “There was no fire.“
“Don’t be stupid, there was fi— there was fire out there! And there was someone else, I—I wanted to save him, but when I was there, there was no one there and then— you saw the fire! Right?“
“No,“ the angel almost whispered. “Dean, there was no—“
“You callin’ me a liar?“ Dean barked.
“Of course not. Dean. You are drunk.“
“No shit, Sh—Sherlock! So what I’m drunk! What’s that got to do with anything?“
He slurred the words and he seemed to have a hard time standing there without swaying. Yet, he managed to pierce his finger into the soaked and transparent fabric of Cas’ shirt. He wondered why he even always had to defend himself. You drink a little too much and try a little too hard and then you come to realize that no one ever takes you serious. And then you try to be threatening and dangerous only to make somebody listen to you.
Cas grabbed him gently by his shoulders and navigated him back to the beach. He sat him back in the sand and to his bottle of whiskey.
“It’s okay, Dean.“ He began and his voice was calm and steady, but his face told a different story.
Dean knew he didn't believe him. But in their world you couldn’t afford to be blind to such things for the mere comfort of not knowing.
“I would never accuse you of being a liar, Dean. And I would never judge you because of… because of your drinking. But you need to stay out of the water.“
“No, Dean. There was no one there and that’s okay, you know. Trust me, I am an angel, remember? I can sense people. I did not sense anyone in the water but you, Dean.“
The low and even tone of talking next to him made Dean start to relax a little. His lids fell down to half-mast and he lost all the tension in his muscles. He felt like a child that lost his puppy. Or like he somehow lost himself. His hands fumbled with the almost empty bottle between his thighs. Then a sudden thought interrupted the peaceful quiet in the air and his head jerked to his angel.
“How are you even here?“
Cas met his eyes, then his pupils flicked to and fro like a ping-pong ball. He was supposed to still be in New Canaan and research that case with zoning-out people at the nuthouse. “I heard your prayer, of course.“
“I wasn’t— wasn’t prayin’“
“Maybe not… consciously. But you did call my name in some way. So I came to find you.“
“Well uh… okay.“
Castiel nodded. “Dean? We should go to your hotel. You need rest.“
“The hell d’you know what I need, huh?“
“Don’t Dean me, Cas!“ he barked. “I can do whatever the fuck I want!“
“Dean, we should really—“
A low growl emerged from the hunter’s throat and he shot him a scowl and said, “You go. I stay. You do whatever you want.“
The thing is, Cas had no fucking clue what he wanted. He thought he wanted to go to the hotel, but not without Dean. And since Dean was a stubborn ass sometimes, there was no way he would get him to leave. Except that there was a way. He could fly them. But then he couldn’t. It was too much of a risk and Dean would be furious, if he suddenly found himself back in his room without permission.
Dean would be mad and he could hit him. He could hurt him and take it out on him. And when he realized what he was thinking, Cas felt his chest clench. This was Dean and Dean couldn't help it, Dean didn't actually want to hurt him. Also, was it really that bad when you can heal yourself afterwards? Dean did no damage to him that he couldn't fix and Dean didn't mean to. Dean was just angry and sometimes it’s hard to control yourself. Dean wasn’t a bad person. He was a very good person. Who bad things had happened to.
“I’m sorry,“ Dean said with a cracking voice. He was lying in the sand and his bottle was empty now, but he still held onto it like it was a sheet anchor.
Castiel startled out of his thoughts and looked at the Winchester. Dean was staring into space, literally, his eyes trained up to the canopy above them.
“My stupid hands,“ the hunter mumbled into the air and clouds of frozen breath built above his absent face. “I didn’t forget what happened. It’s just… you’re not the same anymore.“
Castiel frowned. “What are you talking about, Dean?“
“I can’t do this anymore… not with you.“
“Dean,“ the angel tried again. “What are you talking about?“
“No!“ Dean yelled, jerking upwards to stare into the other’s eyes.
There was a threat somewhere inside him and Cas was scared he had asked one question too many. Dean’s hand got hold of his arm and squeezed it, tight and desperate.
“No,“ he said again. “I’m sorry.“
Castiel wanted to draw away and bring distance between them. There was nothing to be afraid of, he told himself. He was an angel, so much more powerful than most other species. So much mightier than an ordinary human being could ever be. Only that Dean wasn’t ordinary.
Dean’s head crashed onto Cas’ shoulder and lulled to and fro and then into his lap where it finally settled. His hand clawed into his thigh and a mixture of breathing and muttering emerged into the air around them. Sorry, I’m so sorry, so sorry, I’m sorry, sorry, so, so sorrysorrysorrysorry.
He didn’t know what Dean was sorry for.
Cas hesitated before he settled a hand on his friend’s shoulder to steady his frame. He was shaking by too many words that no one needed. Because this was Dean. Dean didn't have to say sorry.
By some unexplainable pull in his heart Cas knew then that they would be okay. Dean could see now that he had done wrong and that meant he would do better from now on. He would talk instead of hit and say instead of punch and speak instead of force. They were both not the same anymore.
It had been the exception.
A few times gone wrong. They were friends and they would fix this. He would simply have to find a way to take Dean’s anger away and make it all better. Be better, so Dean would get the help he needed and be the person he deserved to be. He would show Dean how powerful he still was and how strong and how wonderful and kind. And that there was no need to be angry and that he wasn't alone. He would do everything he asked and always come when he called. The way it had always been. Even when they’d both changed, nothing had changed about that.
Dean stirred and opened his eyes to the peaceful ocean in front of him and he sighed and sat up again. He was still swaying and his sight was still blurry and his eyes somewhat unfocussed. But when he looked into Cas’ eyes, there was something determined in his face. A warmth and comfort filled the atmosphere around them like a campfire during a cold night. Dean’s lips twitched that tiny little bit that almost promised a smile and Cas felt himself drowning in the green of those eyes. And in the unspoken words of that voice of the person whose name was his favorite word.
There was this sudden feeling that they needed to kiss.
A moment passed and then another and another. And they kept staring at each other and then Dean said, “Don’t.“ And he looked away and said, “Don’t do this. We can’t do this.“
Cas was still there when he woke up and that was a surprise as much as it was no surprise at all. Dean liked to think that was all that mattered, but it wasn’t. Though it still did, somehow, matter. Because normally people are like shadows, they disappear when it gets dark.
He breathed out a sleepy sigh and shifted a little. It hit him like ice water when he realized that it wasn't a pillow under his head. It was something much harder and much warmer and much more alive. As he cracked open his eyes, he saw black fabric against his cheek and tan colored folds of a jacket under what seemed to be a leg. Within a few terrifying seconds, he realized that his head was resting in Cas’ lap.
He shot upwards and the angel next to him nearly jumped out of his skin. Cas’ eyes were wide and his mouth open. Something in his face prophesied the six-hundred-eighty-fifth apology.
Dean cleared his throat and an angry frown spread on his forehead. His heart started pounding and deep and dark lines of disapproval formed in his expression. They said so much more than any words. Yet, he added to them, “Let’s never do that again.“
“I’m sorry.“ Cas said and stood up and walked over to the table on the other side of the room and sat down there.
It was wrong in so many ways, Dean thought, yet he wasn't able to grasp why. Pondering is something bizarre. Your brain works and works to find out about something. You already know it or you should know it or you think you have to know it. You push your mind to flick through endless files, without knowing if the one you’re searching for even exists. As though you were running without knowing where.
Dean didn’t remember how he’d ended up on Cas’ lap or how and when he’d even fallen asleep. He only remembered that he should give a certain bar a wide berth and that Cas was with him now and that they hadn't gotten anywhere closer to solving any of their three cases.
Dean needed to hunt.
He needed to feel the adrenalin high. The one that came from chasing this week’s monster and from the military-worth strategizing before and the killing after. Never had he wished more for the iron stink of blood than in that moment. He even caught himself fantasizing about licking it off his fingers to taste it. The glorious delicacy of being the hunter and not the hunted.
Dean needed to hunt. That’s what you get when you value yourself by how efficiently you kill.
“That could’ve been me,“ Dean said and his voice was far more shaky than he wanted it to be.
Castiel threw him a tender-hearted look that he didn't catch. Then he turned his attention back to the crusted and crispy burnt mess in front of him. It used to be a human body. It was so cooked and scorched that it still seemed to radiate the heat that had caused this.
Dean cleared his throat. “What could cause something like this?“
“Fire.“ The angel said and his eyes flicked up to Dean’s.
“No shit.“ Dean rolled his eyes. “I mean what could make a sea catch fire?“
“All sorts of things could. Gods, demigods, uhm… sea creatures? A trickster maybe, angels, too…“
Dean sighed and let his shoulders hang low.
His phone rang and it was Sam. He told him about how the people drowning in that sea didn't look like they’d actually drowned but like deep-fried chicken on a stick. He left out the fact that he had run off to Old Saybrook without Cas, despite Sam’s determined plea to stay together. And he especially left out the fact that he had almost gotten deep-fried as well.
“Huh,“ Sam made. There was a brief pause and then, “So an actual sea of fire…“
“Yeah.“ Another pause followed and Dean started to get the feeling that his brother was wrapping his head around something. “What is it, Sammy? I feel like you’re cooking an idea or something.“
“Nah, it’s probably nothing.“
Dean squeezed the bridge of his nose with thumb and index finger and closed his eyes. Please, he thought in a moment of desperation. “Please tell me you got an idea, Sam. Hell knows I need a win here, I’m starting to…“ He chuckled, a hysteric sound. “I’m starting to lose my mind here a little, man.“ He paused, then added, “What about your case? Wasn’t there a witness you told me about?“
Sam sighed. “Yeah. Turns out he lied.“ Pause. “Dean, just… hang in there. We’ll find a lead, okay?“
The machine sucked in money and nothing happened. A moment passed and he punched the vending machine so hard, it almost toppled over. Maybe if he hit it hard enough, its window would break, he thought. He wanted a damn coke.
Actually, he wanted a drink.
Another punch hit the vending machine and Dean stepped back and ran a hand through his hair and over his face. Why did nothing ever work out the way he wanted? He pulled out his wallet from the back pocket of his jeans and drew another few dollars. He was sure that they’d be a waste like their precursors.
That was when Castiel appeared a couple of feet away, about to enter their room. He looked as surprised as Dean did and for more than a moment they stared at each other without saying a word. The time and the cold night air around them seemed to do the same. It was that same kind of silence that kept following them around. Neither of them ever talked about what happened. Neither of them lost a single word about that wrong proverbial elephant in the room between them.
It was like the quiet before the storm.
And Dean was still no taller than that moment.
The hell d’you know what I need, huh?
Dean stomped towards him and stopped right in front of him. Something flickered in his eyes that Cas couldn't decode.
“Where the fuck have you been, Cas?“
“You can’t just run off like that!“
Cas flinched back by the sudden yelling and felt the wall behind him. He felt cornered so much that he had to try hard to control his breathing. He was just worried, that’s all, he thought.
“I— I took a walk,“ he barely even whispered, his eyes cast downwards.
“You know that it’s dangerous out there, right?“ Dean barked. Then, “Hey!“ He pushed the angel’s shoulder.
Cas looked up. In a sudden moment of insane self-destruction he snapped, “You were the first one running off, Dean. You left without me! If you’re so worried about safety, by that you put both of us in danger.“
It had come out so fast that Cas had barely even realized he said it out loud. Now that he did, he closed his eyes and balled his fists into his trench coat, in the drastic knowledge of what he’d done.
“Oh,“ Dean growled. “We’re turning tables now, aren’t we? Nice one, Cas, really.“ He nodded towards the ground and there was a dangerous smile playing on his lips and a glow in his eyes. Then his raw fist crashed into Castiel’s face and he felt something snap in his cheekbone.
Cas pushed himself up again and his hand was at his pounding cheek where his eyes watered by pain. He wasn't shocked or confused, he wasn't even surprised.
“You’re so stupid, Cas!“ Dean growled and grabbed him at his trench coat. “You’re so damn stupid. You can’t even look after yourself! And somehow — I don’t even know how — I’m the one who’s got to babysit you! Don’t you think I’d worry if you just wandered off like that? Don’t you even care?“
Cas kept looking straight into his green eyes that were so dark, they almost appeared black. He kept silent.
“You’re fucking reckless, you know that? Huh? Answer me, goddammit!“ He shook him and Cas’ head hit the wall. “You stupid fuck. You’re a burden, Cas, you know that? I shouldn't even have allowed you to stay with us.“ He slammed him against the wall again. “You’re—“ He swallowed. “You’re useless.“
I would never judge you.
Dean dragged him into their room and the door slammed shut. He hurled Cas to the floor. Cas felt the dusty carpet under his fingers when he curled them into his palms and he didn't dare to get up. He felt Dean’s fingers claw into his hair as he pulled his head upwards and a gasp went out of him. Breathing seemed difficult that way, but he gave his best not to fail. And when Dean pushed his face back into the dirty carpet, he gave his best to keep still. He sensed the dark look on him piercing through his every cell.
He closed his eyes. Dean was angry with him and Dean had every right to be. He should have left a note when he’d gone outside while Dean had been dozing on his bed. He’d thought Dean wouldn't even notice that he was gone. He’d thought a short walk could help him set his mind straight. How wrong he’d been to be so foolish.
He felt a kick to his side and was hurled around onto his back, but he kept his eyes shut. He didn't want to see Dean like this, he didn't want to know that Dean. The Dean who was dangerous and violent and so much in pain that he didn't know where to put it and how to cope. He didn’t want to acknowledge the monster. But Cas knew he was the right person to let it out on. To help Dean.
It was the only way to be useful that he had left.
With just one glance
I’m under your spell
You read my soul
I breathe you in as I lie still
They hadn’t found a lead. Yet, or maybe because of it, Dean, Cas, Sam, and Bert had decided to regroup. Three cases at once in three different cities was proving to be one heck of work, even for them. Also, they hadn’t found a lead. They still didn't know why people went missing in Hazardville. Or why mental hospital patients dreamt of lions in New Canaan. Or why the sea in Old Saybrook deep-fried people. All they knew was that it all happened in Connecticut.
Sam and Dean were sitting in one of the booths in some diner in Old Saybrook, ready as ever for breakfast. Dean was already playing with the menu. Sam tried to read the paper, despite the annoying sounds his brother made, knowing that patience had never been Dean’s area of expertise.
They younger one heard the distant ring of the bell above the entrance and lifted his eyes when he noticed someone sitting down next to Dean. It was Castiel. The angel sported his usual holy-tax-accountant-outfit with messy hair and tie askew. He looked like he’d slept more than he should.
A scrutinizing glance moved over the sleepy figure’s face when Sam asked, “What happened to your eye?“
For a second, it seemed like Cas had no idea what he was talking about.
Dean’s eyes, on the other hand, darted straight to their friend. Dean looked shocked. His fingers started drumming on the tabletop in rhythm with his heartbeat and he swallowed and blinked a few times. Dean wasn’t shocked, he was nervous.
“I uh… I…,“ Cas stammered. His hand moved to his right eye, shining in all kinds of reds and violets, as though he was trying to hide it. Or needed to feel if it was still there.
Dean cleared his throat soundfully. “He uh… he hit the bed frame during that earthquake? You know, the one I told you about.“
Sam looked back and forth between them, settled on the angel then, who kept staring at his hands. And Sam knew. It was all a big bag of bullshit. You could call him crazy then, but these days if those two agreed on something, he was almost happy to leave it alone. In the interest of world peace.
That was when Bert squeezed himself into the booth next to Sam. Even in the early hours he seemed to be in a far too good mood.
“Nice shiner, Cas.“ He stated. “Did you guys play fight club, or what?“
Dean swallowed again and looked right through him.
A little later, their food arrived. Sam had his usual healthy vegan plate of crap that Dean wouldn't even touch for money. Bert had classic pancakes with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice-cream. Both Dean and Cas had ordered eggs and bacon. And while Bert and Dean stuffed themselves with their breakfast like there was no tomorrow, Sam took his time to enjoy his own. Cas barely even touched his plate. It earned him a few concerned looks from Sam.
When Dean finished his food, he seemed to notice the lack of interest in Cas and all the interest in his brother’s eyes. There it was, the Sam Winchester investigation of other people’s behavior. Dean could feel the chick-flick moment coming.
“Quit poking around and eat your damn breakfast, Cas.“ He said.
The list was old. Maybe too old. And Dean was staring at it.
He needed to calm down. Once again, he wondered if restless and angry was his natural setting now. A nature he’d never wanted to have, yet never had been able to escape. Not really.
But he didn't want to hurt Cas anymore, he wanted to stop. Now that Cas wasn’t angel enough anymore to heal his injuries, Dean needed to take action. Or keep himself from acting. No one could find out it had been him, least of all his brother.
But a nice beer outside and alone didn't do the trick anymore, he’d tried. So now he was staring at his list in search of something else to do, but among the few things that were possible to do here and now nothing seemed right. He couldn’t decide.
Drinking a beer outside had been the very first thing on the list, Dean remembered like it was yesterday.
Dad came home from a hunt and found his sons in their motel room on the floor in front of the TV. They were eating candy and the floor was covered in empty wrappings. John had been away for three days straight, yet, instead of saying hello, he switched from exhausted to enraged in less than a second. Dean was twelve years old at the time. And of course it was all his fault.
After his fit of rage that had left Dean with a nice black eye, John went back outside. Through the ugly curtains Dean watched him sit down in the motel’s garden and drink a beer. The sunlight beaming down on him made him look younger and the birds screeched and sang and John didn’t pay any attention. He came back far calmer and then he was their father again.
The night of that same day, Dean got out of bed, while his brother and father were sound asleep. He found a sheet of paper and a pen and wrote down: Drink beer on a bench.
Every time his father would get angry or teach him a lesson or just plain beat him up, Dean would watch what John did afterwards. Then he would add it to his list. All those things on the list were things his father had done after. Dean had never found out if his dad had done those things deliberately to calm down, but he knew for a fact that he was calmer after doing them.
At first, he’d thought he wrote them down to study John’s habits, to know what to do to make his father calm down when he got angry. But at some point he’d realized that that wasn't true. He’d known then already that he would never manage to, that his dad would always find a reason to be angry with him. There was no stopping. No escape. He’d realized those things were there to learn. To learn how his father worked, to understand him. To be like him. He was his hero, after all.
And Dean had wanted to fight him. But you don’t fight heroes, you admire them. You don’t make them even angrier and by that put those in danger that can’t defend themselves. He’d needed to understand, for Sam’s sake. For, one day, he wouldn't be able to hold back his own anger anymore. And Sammy needed to stay safe from him. He had been born a monster, and even as a twelve-year-old he’d known that he needed ways to deal with that.
Nothing would work now. Dean had to add something new.
All that time his secret list had worked so well. And he was perfectly capable of hiding all his pain and the memories behind a mask of sarcasm and jokes and manliness. And then Cas had come into his life. It hadn’t been a sudden change. It hadn’t been something that happened overnight. Or the way you fall in love at first sight. Or the way rain catches you off guard. Yet, eventually and inexplicable, Cas had managed to open him up. Remove his stubborn mask and break him. Release and discover all the ugly from within. That was when it had all started to collapse upon him and when he’d finally realized that it couldn’t be stopped, it was too late. It got worse.
See what he’d become.
They had failed spectacularly. And they had drifted apart unspectacularly. Like two lifeboats of the sinking Titanic. A random echo of disaster.
Dean sighed. His pen drummed against his lip. He put it down to the piece of paper and wrote: Hit someone (no one important). Because that was something his dad used to do, too. And it had calmed him down.
“You sure you did it right?“ Dean asked. He sat astride on a chair, his arms on its backrest and his chin resting on them.
“Yeah,“ Sam gave, rolling his eyes.
It’s been ten minutes since they’d done the summoning spell, but the demon hadn’t shown so far. Midday’s daylight came into the room in dull shades, coated by the cloudy sky and the ongoing rain. The air held the charged sensation of waiting for something to happen. And then it did.
While Dean appeared to count the hair on his arm, and Sam and Bert both stood there with crossed arms and cross expressions, and Cas was huddled into another chair not far from Dean and looked ready to jump up and away, a familiar figure appeared inside the red devil’s trap before all them, fiddling with the sleeve of his tailored suit.
“You know,“ he began in his mixed-up accent, which was somewhere between British and not-British-at-all, raising a brow and licking his lips. “You could always just call me. It’s the twenty-first century, darlings.“
“Crowley,“ Sam said and swallowed.
“Moose,“ the King of Hell gave back conversationally, then turned to Dean and Castiel. “Dean. Looking good.“
Dean rolled his eyes and stood up, crossing his arms as well.
“What happened to your precious little angel over there?“ Crowley asked, eyeballing Cas. No one said anything, so the demon sighed and put his hands in his trouser pockets. “Are you morons going to tell me why you summoned me, or did you just miss me that much?“
“Hazardville,“ Sam gave, staring at him. “Does that ring a bell?“
Crowley looked a little puzzled. “Should it?“
“Something makes people disappear there and we got reason to believe you and your demons got something to do with it.“
“Connecticut?“ The demon grimaced. “What in the hell would I do in Connecticut? I hate that place.“
Dean knitted his brows, uncrossed his arms and pointed a finger at him. “Quit playing around, you dick! We know it’s demons, we found sulfur. So why don’t you tell us what’s going on.“
Crowley lifted his hands in way of defense. “I swear by the red-headed whore that is my mother, I don’t know what you’re talking about.“
“Yeah, cause that counts for something, knowing how much you love Rowena.“ Sam spat.
“Okay, I give you that,“ the King of Hell said, pursing his lips. “But I don’t have to stand here listening to your stupid accusations. You think I would have come, if it were me doing that?“
“I think that’s exactly what you would’ve done,“ Dean growled.
“Listen, you flannel-clad nightmares,“ Crowley snapped, his face changing from careless to enraged. “It’s not me! So whatever’s going on, why don’t you, and whoever the fuck that guy with the mustache over there is, go look for someone else to harass.“
“Go to hell,“ Dean snarled, scowling at him.
“Well, I would, if you didn’t have me trapped in this BLODDY DEVIL’S TRAP!“
Dean snorted. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t just stab you right here“
“Because you can’t, Squirrel.“ Crowley bathed in self-assuredness. “Or else you would’ve done that already. Now, it was nice catching up with you and all, but all good things need to come to an end at some point. Why don’t you just let me out and we forget this little… incident ever happened?“
“The hell we will,“ Dean snapped. “You gonna tell us what’s happening and then maybe, maybe, we’ll let you go in one piece.“
The demon rolled his eyes. “I. Don’t. Bloody. Know! I’ve got a Hell to run and the poor lot of demons at my command to hold in line. There’s no time for silly businesses as playing around with those filthy apes you call your kind, as much as I would enjoy that pastime.“
Dean lost patience. He made several quick steps towards the demon, saying, “You listen to me, you—“
He got cut off, being hurled away and into the nearest wall of their motel room. He crashed into the wallpaper and landed on the floor. But before he could get back up, Crowley reached out his hand and balled it to a fist. His brows rose in amusement as Dean groaned and gasped in pain.
“Stop it!“ Sam cried, watching in horror how his brother was held by the demon’s powers and his innards being crushed as though they were merely sandstone.
“Did you honestly think a simple devil’s trap could hold me? Do you morons never learn from your mistakes?“ Crowley triumphed. He opened his hand and swirled his fingers around in a grasping gesture.
Dean cried out a sickening groan, holding his torso with his arms, his eyes squeezed shut in torment. Something snapped inside his ribcage.
Crowley pulled back his arm, a look of sheer satisfaction glowing in his eyes. Then he looked at Sam and Bert, standing there in shock, unable to move or say something. He smiled and turned to Castiel, who had stood up as well, his eyes glued to Dean on the floor, but not daring to move either. Again, one of Crowley’s eyebrows rose, eying the former angel from top to bottom.
“Winchesters,“ he said, and then, with a snap of his fingers, the King of Hell vanished into thin air.
The moment of shock failed to leave, so for some minutes everyone in the room kept staring at the spot where Crowley had been trapped. Except for Dean. Dean was cowering on the floor, holding his middle and breathing in a staccato.
Around three, Sam and Bert left for the library. It wasn't that they would find anything there that they couldn't find at the motel as well. It was rather that they felt the need for a change of scenery. Of course Sam had suggested they all go, but Dean didn't want to. And where Dean was there was also Cas.
Dean was reading in his father’s journal for about the twenty-sixth time. Cas was sitting in a chair in one of the corners, reading in a book about ancient lore. Now that demons were beyond question, because Crowley would always bath in the triumph of his own actions and never deny them, they were back to the start. The room was filled with a certain unspoken rule to shut up and the mutual understanding that this wasn’t getting them anywhere.
Dean couldn't concentrate. He kept ending up on the page about Wendigos, as if Wendigos had anything to do with it. Cas was there and in the dusty light of autumn sun coming through the window next to him his black eye looked beautiful. Almost. Dean was staring again and Cas caught him.
“I’m sorry, Dean.“ He said.
Dean looked back into the journal. Wendigos. No, it wasn't Wendigos. Sorry about what? The waste of time talking to Crowley? That they had no lead at all? That he had another sore rip now? He turned some pages and stopped on some vampire case. It wasn't vampires either.
“I really am.“ Cas said, his voice lower now. “The… black eye, I mean.“
Dean looked up and at him again, then back. Cas shouldn't apologize. With any other person it would have already shown the first time he’d hit him. It was a luxury Dean only had with Cas, and now he didn't have it anymore. He didn't have someone he could hit who wouldn't feel it afterwards. He couldn't keep doing this.
He thought of the new addition to his list. Hit someone. How ironic it was that the only thing he could do to calm down was the same thing as what he was trying to avoid with it. What was he supposed to do now?
“Yeah, you should be sorry,“ he murmured. Shut up, Dean. You need to shut up.
“I am. I really am, Dean.“ Cas assured. His eyes bore into the hunter like he was trying to hold him in the conversation, keep him talking, now that he’d managed to get a reaction. “Please understand. I would have… I tried to heal myself. I didn't want it to be seen. But what is left of my grace… it’s not enough to heal myself entirely.“
Dean kept silent.
“I’ll try and get some make-up to cover it up. I promise. Sam won’t see it anymore. I’ll cover it up and it’ll be fine. And Sam believed you when you said I hit the bed frame, right? Nobody will know and I won’t tell anyone. I will make sure nobody will know. I promise.“
Right then, Dean thought to himself that Cas only ever had two settings. Either he talked and talked to no end and still didn’t say anything at all, or he only shot cryptic words and random incomplete fragments that did say something, but only raised more questions. So in a nutshell, Cas never really said anything. He was the perfect mystery.
And all that babbling had the sole purpose to calm Dean down. But Dean knew first-hand that you can’t calm someone like him with words. It was just the calm before the storm.
“My inability to heal myself won’t change anything, Dean. I promise.“
Dean shot up and Cas flinched so much by that sudden movement that he stood up as well. A hunter and his prey. They stared at each other, irritation on the one side and promises on the other. And Dean lost it.
He downright stormed towards the angel and grabbed him by his tie. A snarl came from his throat that was a warning as much as it was resistance. Then he was about to punch him, but stopped himself mid-air. His fist sank down the moment he remembered that it would show in Cas’ face. The monster was clever enough. Sam wouldn't believe another lie.
There was a moment of silence. Dean’s grip around the blue tie loosened a bit and his other hand found hold on the trench coat. He blew air out of his nose like a bull and he stared right into Cas’ eyes. They were only inches apart and could feel each other’s breath on their lips. Dean half blinked and for a second he looked so weak, even while he was such a danger. It was almost like his heart couldn't find the right rhythm anymore.
He patted twice on Cas’ chest, then smiled. It was over, just like that. Cas couldn't believe his luck, his win over the monster within his best friend. The loss of his ability to heal himself was the worst thing that had happened to him in a long while, and he couldn't believe it turned out to be something so good. The little grace he had left cheered. That tiny swirl of energy within him that made him special and powerful, it was merely a fragile flame now, a miniature spark in the wind, his lost identity exchanged for a new one. The room breathed a sigh of relief. It was over now.
But then it wasn’t. Dean turned, grabbed him again, and hurled him to the ground. Cas landed on his stomach, his hands braced on the dusty floor to push himself up. Yet, he wouldn’t. He lay still and in waiting for the familiar pain, feeling the blank stare from above. How could he ever think Dean would stop?
After several cruel minutes, Dean finally kicked him in his rips, the waiting almost worse than the arrival. Cas sucked in a sharp breath that shot through him like a knife. His hands moved up to his face to protect it. No more bruises others would see, he promised to himself.
Dean turned away from him. He ran a hand over his face, closed his eyes. No. He couldn't keep doing this. But he couldn't not do it either. The burning desire in his chest paralyzed him, made him numb and itchy all the same. He sucked in another breath and found a rifle and he took it and turned it around and around in his hands.
Cas had his eyes closed when we breathed into his stomach to keep still. His hands still covered his face, his forehead pressed against the rough carpet. Then he felt the pain. The harsh bolt of burning pain igniting in his back like a fervid iron bar. The rifle wasn't shot. It was hurled down onto his back. Over and over again Dean hit him with its hard cold frame and Cas was about to break apart.
He lay still and started to count the hits. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Dean doesn't mean to hurt me. Dean doesn't mean to hurt me. Thirteen. Fourteen. Fifteen. Then Dean stopped. Cas heard the sound of the rifle landing on the floor and the door falling shut. He didn't dare to move for a long while.
At some point Dean had had to come back and by then Cas had already moved to their second room next door. Dean was back to reading in the journal and it was like nothing had ever happened.
Someone unlocked the door and he looked up to find Sam and Bert striding in.
“So get this,“ his brother said with all the euphoria one could have these days. He stopped, took a look around and then, “Where’s Cas?“
“Right. So I had this idea in my head,“ Sam began.
Bert sat down on the second bed and stared at Dean, who felt particularly victorious. He knew Sam had been cooking something.
“Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.“ Sam said.
“So deep,“ Dean gave, sarcasm tinting his tone.
“The old man was dreaming about the lions.“
Dean’s brow rose. “What are you talking about, Sammy?“
“You know what those are? Quotes. The first one’s from J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye“ and the second from “The Old Man and the Sea“ by Ernest Hemingway.“
“Could you be any more nerdy?“ Dean teased.
“Dean.“ Sam sighed and it surprised Dean how different his name sounded to how Cas said it. “I told you how the people gone missing in Hazardville all had someone tell them some secret before they vanished, right? Don’t tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.“ He made a dramatic pause. “That case is practically the literal translation of that quote. And the people at that mental hospital in New Canaan? They’re literally dreaming about lions!“
“What about the burning sea?“ Dean threw in.
“Never heard of the sea of fire? That’s like one of the most used analogies in literature!“
Dean leaned back against the headpiece of his bed and crossed his arms. “Okay. Apart from the fact that you seriously read too much, let’s say you’re right. How does that help us? Are we hunting a book geek monster, or what? A librarian gone rogue?“
“You gotta be fucking kidding me,“ Dean mumbled and Sam gave him that look that said he was being unreasonable.
He took his drink from the nightstand and had himself a long sip. It burnt down in a wonderful flush of numbness. But reality had never been as easy to swallow, no matter how hard he’d tried during the past few hours. He would have loved to have that feeling of finally, but it wasn’t there.
Then again, he had about eighteen thousand thoughts circling his mind and none of them was case-related. He and his drink had been trying to make something logical of it, but none of those thoughts seemed to make sense. Not even a single one. Deep down in his core he was scared.
So scared that he didn’t need the drinks for his thinking alone, he needed them to get the shaking under control. His unfathomable disarray and fear that threatened to make him pass out.
After all, those we like are the ones we fear the most.
And we fear what they make us do. And what they don’t stop.
And he did like Cas, he was his best friend. Family. And if Cas still acted like everything was fine, then he must like him, too.
Only that it didn’t matter. People say they like rain, but they open their umbrellas. They say they like the sun, but they stay in the shadows. And they say they like wind, but close their windows when it howls.
It was raining outside when Dean hit a bar. Nobody had even asked any questions when he’d said he was going out, but it wasn't like there was anything to do for him. Let them do their nerding and him do his drinking. To each his own.
This bar wasn’t any good and it wasn’t any nice and it didn't have any interesting people in it. But it had one supremacy over any other place: booze.
And then there was an interesting person. She sported a short skirt and a black tanktop and her hair was golden. She had that look to her eyes that said she was sweet and dangerous and that attitude that made it impossible to tell if she was flirting or starting a fight.
She caught him staring and then she smiled and Dean had a feeling of being cornered. Her name was Alice, he learned when she came over to say hello. There was something about her scent that made him melt into a puddle, if that were possible. And the brown of her eyes was so chocolatey that he felt hungry. But not for food.
“So, Dean,“ and she said his name in that very special way only a very interested girl could do. “What you doin’ here?“
“Talking you into going home with me,“ he gave back quick-wittedly. He didn't know if he really was or if he even wanted, he didn't even know what home he was talking about. All he knew was that he wanted to have her. With that fast rising desire you only feel with someone that comes into your life unexpectedly.
“Wow,“ she only said and shook her head. She took a sip of her drink and her eyes never left his. He wondered if she was actually considering.
“Is it working?“ he asked.
“Well, it’s not not working.“ She curled a strand of her hair around a finger and bit her lip.
Dean watched her for a moment, then he reached out and put his hand under her chin. His thumb came to a rest right below her lower lip. With a soft pull he drew it away from her teeth and she stared into his smirk. He got up to his feet and leaned in, his mouth to her ear.
He whispered, “Don’t bite that lip. I’ll get jealous.“ His hand came to her naked thigh and started sliding upwards. He reached the spot where the hem of her skirt lay against her skin, and his fingers halted for a second or two. Then he moved them to her inner thigh and drew back away. She shuddered.
“Why don’t you show me what you mean by that?“ she said, adding, “At my place. Or are you all hat and no cattle?“ It seemed the sass she had lost there for a moment returned now.
Dean leaned back to look at her and smirked his million dollar smirk. It was so easy.
Turned out she lived across the street, and Dean wondered if he had stumbled right into her hunting ground.
The door fell shut by itself, as they weren’t paying so much attention to their surroundings anymore. There was a lot of messy kissing and a lot of undressing. Dean had just gotten rid of her skirt when his backside collided with the wood of a door behind him.
“Bedroom?“ he grunted out, gesturing to the door.
She nodded and they fell inside as clumsily as each of their movements before. When he landed on the bed with her on top of him he froze for a second. Her arms were braced on both sides of his head while she sat on him, her legs framing his hip. Trapped. Trapped like an animal, with no chance to escape. He didn't like this position. So he rolled them both on the mattress until he was on top and smiled at her surprised face.
He leaned down and kissed her again. It was so messy and passionate and with so much force that he could feel her trembling underneath him. His hands moved down her sides and her skin was so soft that he wanted to explore every single inch of it with his fingertips.
She fumbled with his jeans, while he was placing kisses all over her neck and collarbone. One hand moved from her boobs down her stomach. When he tore at her underwear, she was already pulling down his boxers. They were so desperate. So fast. So little caring about foreplay that they didn't even bother to fully undress.
His jeans and boxers were somewhere by his knees when he started stroking himself. Lazy strokes, while he kept kissing her neck and licked at her skin. All of a sudden he felt stressed and dried out. His strokes became faster and more forceful, as her hands were everywhere and her longing moans and heavy breathing put him under so much pressure to start already. He wavered.
Normally, he would have been at it minutes ago, bathing in the pool of sweat and heat and connecting with her body in a way he only had too rarely. Now, he didn’t know. He wasn’t hard enough to move into her, he wasn’t even turned on enough to do it. He wasn’t ready.
Fuck knows why.
It worried him a little. It scared him more.
Dean Winchester couldn’t get hard. Dean Winchester couldn’t fuck Alice. Dean Winchester couldn't fuck any woman.
It spun around and around in his head and it made him dizzy and lost for words and moans and air. He was lost. He was so lost in the sudden realization that he couldn't bring it that, in that very moment, it was the one and only thing filling up the world.
His arousal turned into fear. That one enemy of his that was always with him. Maybe it didn't matter now and maybe he was losing his mind over something so random, but right then, he remembered his father’s words again. Fear is a weakness. Fear makes you lose the fight.
It still made him run.
“Who are you?“
The man in front of him didn’t reply. He wore a fine anthracite-colored suit with a white embroidered handkerchief in the breast pocket. His white shirt had the two top buttons left open. His dark skin reflected the light of the few street lamps, it was more brilliant than what should be possible. And his eyes had that sinister glow to them that looked like they could swallow you in one piece. His hands were in his pockets, letting him appear like he had nothing to fear.
That was what enraged Dean the most. Nothing to fear. He felt more intimidated than he wanted to admit.
Sam and Cas had been on the way to the bar when he’d run into them. Literally. Turned out Sam had called him a few times with no answer, so he and Cas had gone out to search for him. Wouldn't they ever stop worrying about him?
Their argument about it had come to an abrupt end, when that man had shown up out of nowhere. And now he smiled at them like they’d never even had the chance to get home undisturbed. Like they were fools. He seemed so much older than he looked, like an ancient ghost in this haunted street. And for the second time this night Dean felt like he’d run right into a trap. His famous gut feeling kicked in.
“Who are you?“ Dean asked again.
The man sized him up. “I know you, Dean Winchester.“ He said in that calm voice that made all of Dean’s hair stand on end. He had no detectable accent, but his way of speaking appeared plummy, though still silvery, as in clear and pleasant. “Not in the usual sense, that is. But I know who you are.“
Dean shuddered inside and tried hard to keep up his annoyed expression. His heart was going wild in his chest and he felt like he was about to throw up all the air left in his lungs. The vibration in his veins was so strong, it was as though he was trying to keep himself inside his own body. Who was that man to claim to know him?
“You’re a hunter. A warrior, one could say. You’re fighting your way through your own life so much that one could think you’re missing the whole point of living. You keep your family close, too close. You claim to protect them, but really, you only ever smother them to the point that even you wonder why they haven’t run away yet.“
He made a pause and eyed him up and down, in a way that made Dean wonder if he was trying to figure out how much wounds he’d opened. Dean was far beyond fear now, he was terrified. It were so many.
“Dean Winchester. The man who fights too much.“ The man continued. “You’re, indeed, a lion on the battlefield. One who leads the little army of his like a king, and forceful and fierce like a predator. I must admit, even I feel a little like prey right now.“
Dean felt a spark of victory in his stomach, a spark so little, yet so potent to light the world on fire. It shouldn't flatter him as much as it did, but it was the only upper hand he had left. There was a starting fire within his state of drowning in the blindness of not knowing who he was up against. What threatened to kill that fire, though, was the feeling of being analyzed straight down to his very bones. A complete stranger told him about his observations and once again it was all about Dean. And nothing good ever came from that.
The man clapped his hands once. His eyes bore into Dean’s and the world around them seemed to blur into nothingness. Sam and Cas weren’t even there anymore, at least Dean thought so. He only saw the man in front of him, with his arrogant smirk and his fancy appearance and that strange crackle that moved with him and seemed to cause all that impossible light on his skin. Was that an angel?
“Why don’t we make it literal?“ the man asked into the noisy silence.
Dean’s look turned confused and before he could think of the meaning of that he saw Cas standing in front of him. It seemed Cas was giving his best to appear like a threat, like a huge barrier that protected him from the man. It seemed Cas felt he was in danger, even when Dean’s mind hadn’t jumped to that conclusion yet.
Only that Cas didn’t look like a threat, not like he used to. No matter how stupid it had appeared to Dean the first time they’d met, his signature trench coat had come to be a symbol for a warrior that always had his back. A symbol for fight and rescue. Almost like a superhero’s cape. Now it hung askew and was dirty and worn out. His hair that used to be so spiky and clean fell flat into his face and his eyes had long lost their secret glow. His black eye didn't make it any better. Cas was falling apart. Scarred from use and misuse and abuse.
And he still came to save the one that was to blame.
“Oh my dear little Castiel.“ The man said, making the angel even more little.
Dean wanted to shove his angel away, but then he remembered all those times he’d done that, and he stopped. He wanted to say something to defend Cas and to offend that guy, he wanted to give him a piece of his mind and tell him about all the things he got wrong, force himself to believe that the man actually was wrong. He wanted to fight, but then he didn’t get the chance.
There was this sudden feeling in his chest, a numbness he couldn't describe, and it burned all the way down to his core. Before he knew it, his eyes rolled back and he fell to his knees. And no one even noticed, because it all happened so fast and so entirely that he couldn't even scream.
And then Dean blinked his eyes open and the man had disappeared. He heard his brother shout his name like a question and there was some sort of disbelief in his voice that Dean couldn’t quite decode. Cas turned around and looked down at him. His blue eyes looked like they tried to adjust to the sight, as though Dean wasn’t Dean anymore, as though he saw him for the first time.
It took Dean all of twenty-two seconds to realize the reason for their shocked faces. He was a lion.
And now I come to realize
That I’m not happy without your eyes
I cheated myself and let you in
Just like Finn let Stella in
It broke two hearts
The calm before the storm they say. But nobody ever talks about the fact that there’s a calm after the storm, too. And it’s so much better than the first one. Much clearer, much more obvious, because you know that it’s over, for now. The curtains lifted, the sun comes out, and you see what’s left.
Early morning’s shy light drew triangular shapes into the room and the rain had let up. Cas hadn’t slept this night and in the grey and drab of the dusty air and the smell of old carpeting he felt his head was heavy. Sam and Bert were sleeping in the second room and all was quiet. It was a silence he didn’t trust.
He shifted a little on the bed, his back against the oak wood headpiece that was so familiar and yet so strange. A symbol for a lie about bruises and bed frames that sat in this room and reminded him of things that had never happened.
Dean lay on the floor in the far corner by the table, half-hidden by one of the chairs, and Cas wondered how he could sleep. How he even knew how to sleep in that body. He was a lion, after all, and he’d never been one before. His hind legs were crossed next to his light-colored stomach and his big head rested on his forepaws. Some of the hair of his majestic mane hung into his face and his breaths came out louder than they would have, if he were human.
Cas wondered how a person could manage to look so beautiful, no matter the shape.
He loved him. He loved everything about him, all the good and all the bad even. For all his existence, he had believed love was something humans only thought they felt. A biochemical reaction, based on instinct and drive and embedded in their DNA, and they imagined it to be something more. Something they couldn’t grasp or comprehend, some belief they worshiped, much like a religion.
But this man, he had a hold on his heart that he couldn't understand. He wouldn't be able to break it or forget it or even deny it, even if he wanted to. It was there, inexplicably and unbelievably. And there had, indeed, been times he’d wanted to stop. It had been overwhelming and irritating and most of the times it was painful. Yet, he couldn’t stop loving him any more than he could stop being.
Dean was a lion. And it had shocked him as much as it had shocked everyone else. Cas had needed to catch his breath before he’d understood the weight of it. And then he’d acted on instinct and on realizing that Dean could run away again and had flown him straight to this room.
After he’d texted Sam, there came another sudden realization. He was trapped in a room with a big and angry cat of prey. And if Dean was capable of hurting him in his human form, with huge paws and pointed claws and a jaw that could rip him apart if he so chose, he was now even more so.
Dean had paced the room up and down, and knocked over furniture, and clawed into walls and wood and curtains, and he’d roared and stomped, and damaged all there was to damage. The room looked like it would, if you trapped a wild animal in it. And while Dean had been busy letting his frustration out, Cas had stayed in a corner, pressed against the wall and trying to keep quiet. At some point, Dean had lost his temper and lain down, and Cas had gotten the chance to breathe.
Yet, he hadn’t slept this night. He was so tired that he didn't even know how he could still hold his eyes open. They were fixed on Dean, as usual, or maybe even more than usual. He also didn’t know how he’d managed to summon enough of his remaining grace to fly them here. He was weak and battered and his back hurt with the long bruises that blossomed on his skin like new wings he couldn't fly with.
He wished circumstances were different.
He wished he wasn’t turning human. He wished he could be the angel he used to be. He wished he could turn Dean back and talk to him and ask him what to do. He wished he could fix the disaster that had formed between them. Start over and return to what they had always been. Family. He wished he could be friends with Dean again and laugh together and have their midnight conversations about god and the world and anything. He wished he could touch Dean’s arm and get a smile in return that said all the words that never left Dean’s lips. He wished he could seize the moment, take a chance, be adventurous and courageous, and lean in to kiss him. And he wished Dean would kiss him back. He wished he could explore this love that he’d thought was just a biochemical reaction and experience it like a human. And with his human.
He wished he wasn’t scared when Dean woke up.
The lion moved his ears and slowly opened his eyes. A lazy yawn showed the sharp rows of teeth and the quiet roar accompanying it felt like a stab to Cas’ heart. The lion sniffed the air and stared at him in a way that made Cas still in any of his movements. He barely dared to breathe. The lion’s forepaws shifted, as though he was ready to stand up, and he cocked his ears.
Cas wasn’t sure what to do. He felt like prey. And still he had a feeling Dean wasn’t lurking and threatening but simply confused. He had never been a lion, after all. He had never been any animal, unable to speak and new in his own body. Cas knew how that felt, yet he couldn’t offer any help.
And that frustrated him, because he only ever valued himself by how useful he was.
A couple of minutes passed and then the lion rose to his feet. He shook his body and mane, a dark glowing mahogany flow of hair standing against his light fur, and made a hesitant step out of his corner. Cas didn't move, nor looked away, holding the mutual stare like his life depended on it. And maybe it did.
The lion gracefully strode across the room on silent paws. His eyes only left Cas’ when he jumped onto the second bed. He stood there for a moment, eying the sheets, as though to figure out if the bed could hold his over 400 pounds of weight. Then he lay down. His posture wasn’t as relaxed as it had been back in the corner and maybe that was because he wasn’t.
Maybe he’d felt a chill in the corner. Maybe it had gotten too uncomfortable on the floor. Cas could only wonder why he didn’t stay away anymore. He didn’t know and he couldn’t ask. Then again, would Dean answer, if he weren’t a lion?
The fear inside him reached its apotheosis and started filling up the world. Yet, against all reasoning, he turned, flung his legs off the mattress, and faced the lion. It felt like so much time had passed, when it only was a single night. Now that he looked into these familiar big green eyes in that strange face, it almost felt like he’d never known another Dean.
Time might sometimes stop for you. Time might sometimes show you what you missed and what you will be missing. Sometimes, time might even go faster or slow down. But time will never wait for anyone. And Cas felt like he wanted to live outside of the concept of time entirely.
He realized now that he had been living in the past. He’d pretended to be the angel he’d been all the eons of his existence, for so long. Until time had caught up with him and showed him that piece of reality he’d refused to acknowledge. He was different now, weaker and vulnerable, humbled to his new limits. And he was so desperate to have a future in this world, in this world he only ever saw through a Winchester’s eyes. And he could feel the present’s each and every violent threat and hit so much that he felt like he wanted to give up altogether.
See what he’d become.
He was a mere ruin, a knocked-down shell, an empty vessel and all the same so full of his mind that he felt terrified. Panic was his new grace and fear his new oxygen.
But there are different kinds of love, right? And maybe he and Dean were right in the middle of creating a completely new one. And maybe Cas was losing his mind together with his grace and angelhood, but wasn’t this the whole point of love? Wasn’t love about believing and sacrifice and hurting for each other and because of each other? Wasn’t love about change and letting go and abandoning thing less important? Wasn’t it some sort of attention he got? Wasn’t it some sort of affection that Dean gave him? Wasn’t it a gift to be the only one who ever saw Dean at his most vulnerable and weakest?
Maybe his heart wasn’t broken. Maybe it was only growing.
He looked at the lion in front of him and it was as though the animal’s eyes wanted to transfer something to him that its mouth couldn’t say. The lion was calm and remotely peaceful, if a little tense, and it was like the same old Dean Winchester was staring back at him.
Don’t do this. We can’t do this.
But what was this? What was he doing? And what wasn’t he supposed to do? What was Dean scared of?
He reached out his hand towards the lion and felt its hot breath against his shaking palm. He watched the cat of prey’s every move, studied every twitch of its ears and every blink of its eyes and every possible movement of paws and teeth and claws. Everything that would shred him to pieces if he so wished.
The lion roared and Cas winced back. It advertised its presence, warned him to stay away, this much Cas knew. And when he looked into those emerald eyes again and found that they appeared uneasy as much as they seemed unsure, he recognized his friend.
“Dean,“ he said into the million miles of silence that had spread between them. The name rumbled in his throat and made his vocal cords vibrate in that way that only that particular word would ever be able to do. There was something in the lion’s eyes that recognized the weight of that sound and it blinked, a slow and gentle blink that was almost like closing its eyes.
Cas reached out again, just as hesitant and cautious, but this time he wouldn’t be fooled by Dean’s appearance. It was still Dean, after all. And then he could do it. He settled his hand on the soft forehead and felt the warmth radiating from the animal fill his every nerve. His thumb dared to move then, drawing slow lines across the lions head, and then his palm moved down over his nose and he drew back.
Dean was calm and he eyed him in curiosity. He was peaceful in a way he hadn't been in a long time and Cas wondered if he’d done that, if he’d managed to give him that. The sun coming through the window behind him painted bright squares into the lion’s mane and made it gleam like an autumn-colored tree and time seemed to wait for them after all, standing still and enjoying the moment of mutual understanding and the sense of peaceful co-existence that they hadn’t had in years.
“Isn’t that lovely“
It wasn’t a question, it was a statement, a dismissive comment spoken with a voice Cas recognized all too well. His head darted around and found the stranger leaning against the kitchenette. His arms and legs were crossed and he smiled like he was watching monkeys at the zoo playing around. But before he could ask all the questions, the man continued.
“I wouldn’t have thought it would go this well, to be honest. Who would have known you two only need to stop talking to sort things out? Quite interesting, I must say.“
The man uncrossed his limbs and made a step towards them. Both Cas and Dean rose at the same time, and it wasn’t possible to tell whose scowl was more threatening. Lion-Dean opened his mouth to bare his upper teeth, his neck stretched and his head held high. Then a snarl turned into another roar, so loud and deep that it almost shook the walls.
The man lifted his hands in way of surrender. “No need to warn me, Dean Winchester. I know better than to come too close to a hunter, lion or not. I’m here to help.“
“You’re the one who caused this in the first place!“ Cas snapped.
“Right. I’ve made the bed, now I must lie in it. Isn’t that how the saying goes?“
“Why would you do that?“
“Oh, believe me, I’ve got dozens of reasons not to.“ The man put his hands in his pockets. There it was again, his unnerving arrogance. “But even just a single reason to do it is enough sometimes.“
“What does that mean?“ Cas asked, bewildered and annoyed at the same time.
The man smirked and looked at his expensive black shoes. “I need him to be himself so he can suffer with his right mind.“
“What—“ But the man had already disappeared again.
Cas turned around. Dean stared at him, wide-eyed and in horror, then started tapping down on himself, as if to prove he was real. He swallowed and looked back up to Cas.
“Thank god,“ he said.
And it was all back to normal. The two motel rooms in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, and the four men occupying their four beds had settled down into a peaceful quiet, each one of them busy with their own stuff. Sam, for instance, had his nose buried deep inside the web, and Bert was doing the same thing with paperbacks and hardcovers from the last century. They’d found some sort of routine, where Sam and Bert did all the boring stuff and Dean was bored out of his skin. Cas was somewhere in the middle of that.
It had started raining again this day and it seemed this year’s autumn would be a very wet one. Dean still hated storms and he still hated being soaked the minute he stepped out into the grey and deserted parking lot, which seemed to fit right into all this tristesse. It all seemed to lack in color and Dean felt like he lived in a black-and-white movie. Without the drama, though. Or at least that was the outside appearance.
“You okay?“ Sam asked, out of the blue.
Dean looked up from his important task of cleaning the guns for the thirteenth time this day. It was only 1 PM. “Yeah, I’m fine.“
And it wasn’t even a lie. He hadn’t felt so okay in a long while. He’d never felt as okay with himself as he had when he’d been a lion. Of all circumstances. A lion was powerful, strong, and above all it was a beautiful animal. He kind of missed his majestic dark-brown mane and the way he could smell emotions and taste the atmosphere. And he missed his lion paws and all the scared looks he’d gotten. Respect. He’d never felt so respected in his life. Also, as a lion, he hadn’t been able to fuck things up. Crazy as that might be, not being able to talk had proven to be a gift. He’d never been good with words anyway.
Yet, he was starting to think that there was more to it than he’d thought.
He used to have the mad idea that they could manage to be nothing. Except for friends maybe.
But through a lion’s eyes and removed from his own self and unable to express himself, the world had suddenly looked like the bottom of an empty bottle of liquor. Only when you downed the last bit, you realize that you emptied it. He’d emptied his world and filled it with all he’d never wanted to be.
But in the end, it didn’t matter how enlightening this experience had been or how good it had felt. No matter the lack of words and the unspoken agreements in that smallest naked instant that they’d shared, in the end, Cas had still been afraid of him. And Dean wondered why he was still here and still tried his best and still wanted to be near him.
People tend to think it’s flattering. A person who dances around them, deeply affected, deeply involved by whatever they see and whatever you do and whatever you say. A person that just wants to be close to you. But Dean didn’t, because hell no. Why would anyone want to be close to him? It’s not flattering, it’s stupid. Because deep down he knew that everyone was only ever attracted to an idea of him.
He’d been waiting all his life for someone to discover his real self and now he feared someone actually did.
He looked over at Cas in his favorite chair by the window, dark green cushion against his dirty trench coat, and he thought, someone should soon tell the guy to get it off and wash it. Or change his clothes altogether. He looked at his worn-out face and the frown on his forehead and the make-up under his eye that did a bad job at covering the bruise. And he looked at the dark lashes over his eyes staring into some book and he felt like dying.
Looking at Cas always felt like dying. He’d died so often already, he’d lost count long ago, and he’d come back just as much. But each time he felt like he was missing another part of himself, another part of his peace. It was as though all that dying and all the dead stares were one big death of him, as though he was dying bit by rotten bit. And he knew, dying people need a reason to wake up in the morning, or else they wouldn’t. So what was his reason?
So was he okay?
“Actually, no,“ he threw into the developing new silence falling over them.
Sam looked up at him and frowned.
“No, I’m not okay.“ Dean continued. “I’m pretty damn far from okay.“
His brother shut his laptop and leaned over the table, his forearms settling on the tabletop. Bert looked up, too, and Dean felt like sending him out, but stopped himself from saying so. Cas radiated some sort of secret scent of fear in his direction, some secret code only Dean could decipher. And he wondered if that sensation was a leftover of his little time as a lion. No, it was concern, not fear. Or maybe both.
“I— I feel like… I don’t know.“ Dean said. “I don’t know.“
Somehow being a lion had made him realize a few things. It made him realize the damage he could do. It made him realize that releasing your anger in a fit of rage was still the best way to release it. It made him realize that claws are very helpful at that. It made him realize that, no matter the shape, he was an asshole. It made him realize that he might not be able to ever stop being an asshole, but he could try and do better, at least. It made him realize that he should wake up.
Because he was a fool if he thought he could go on like this and not lose everything in the end. That was a dream he couldn’t keep having.
In the end, there are dreamers and realists in this world. You could think dreamers stick with dreamers and realists with realists. But actually, most of the time the opposite happens. Dreamers need realists to keep from taking off of the ground. And realists need dreamers to not get stuck. There are dreamers and realists, and somehow Dean was none of the two. And at the same time he was both.
“So, uh, what are the thoughts on Mr. Niceguy?“ Dean asked awkwardly, because sometimes working a job is the perfect excuse when you feel too vulnerable to deal with feelings. “You think we should hunt him down?“
“Probably,“ Sam gave and turned back to his research. If you could call it that.
Probably, lunch was a good idea. They had skipped breakfast, because none of them had felt like it.
So they were now sitting in the same old diner in their same old booth, looking at it all and still having no idea.
There was a family at one of the tables in the back corner, a father, a mother, two children, boy and girl. It was obvious they were waiting for their bill, empty dishes scattered on the table and a wallet ready to be opened. The kids were thrumming their little fingers on the tabletop and played with the menus. It seemed like they were ready to leave for an adventure.
A waitress was mopping the white-tiled floor with an old mop. You could see where she was done and where she still needed to go. The glossy traces of soap water split the place in two areas. Clean and unclean. It was as though she was preparing the place for important company.
From the kitchen you could hear a clatter of dishes where someone was washing greasy plates and crusted mugs. Washing off the dirt of previous and cleaning it to new.
A guy in a heavy dark wool cloak and a hat was coming in through the door. The bell above the entrance announced his arrival. Here for another meal, a stop to rest during his trip or his own little adventure or even only a rest during a normal day.
And then there was the world outside this tiny space of homeyness. The color of the autumn leaves that clung lazily to the branches of their home trees. The not-color of the road and the parking lot, stuffed with cars and traffic sounds. And the very not-color of the grey and white sky throning over it all like swathes of mist shadowing the woods.
It was all peace and quiet and waiting. As if the universe was on pause.
“What can I get you, guys?“ the waitress asked in her sweet pitchy voice, holding her scribble pad and a pen, ready to take their order.
Sam ordered salad with slices of chicken and bread and Bert had himself a steak the size of Texas. Dean finally got an idea why Bert was so out of shape. Cas, then, seemed to wait in some sort of despair for Dean to order, because he’d gotten used to taking the same. But there was a sudden miraculous moment of misunderstanding their usual way of things and the waitress addressed the ex-angel first. Under her expectant eyes Cas shrunk in on himself and started stuttering and stammering and he ended up ordering a Cheeseburger and fries. It seemed less like an order but more like a guess.
An unlucky guess, that is. Because when Dean turned to the waitress he said, with all the determination and casualness, “I’ll have uh, the veggie burger with the side of salad and some bread and onion rings, please.“
The waitress left and there was a moment that was stretching out in a kind of forever.
It was an unusual order, of course. Dean never ate veggie burgers, even less any salad. His onion rings were the only thing dripping of grease and they somewhat fit into his usual diet of unhealthy and whole and leading straight to heart failure. It’s the little things that count.
The thing is, Dean was hungry as fuck. All night and all day, he’d been hungry, a loud craving within him that he had not experienced before. But he experienced it now. He’d not only been hungry, he’d been hungry for meat. Weirdly, he’d caught himself fantasizing about venison or buffalo meat or antelope even. Hungry for animal, that’s what a lion eats, after all. Steak, burgers, chicken, ham, sausages, it was all right there on the menu. But now that he finally had the chance to order and eat all the meat in the world, alone the idea of that struck him with sickness.
Dean could feel their stares and looked up. Bert looked at him like he was readjusting his opinion of the other hunter, then he turned to what appeared to be a silent conversation with the napkin. Dean wondered what they could have to talk about. Cas looked as concerned as always, and in words in his head that Dean didn’t want to let himself say out loud he told his friend to take a shower and wash those deep lines and sad eyes right off his face. And Sam, Sam gave him that look that in a crucial and cruel way questioned everything he said and did. The way he used to do when they were little. When Dean was talking about their dad like he was a superhero, and Sam had thought of their dad as someone who was never there.
Now Dean had no heroes left and the world around them needed one so bad. Monsters didn't hide under their beds anymore, or creep into their dreams. Now those monsters were inside their heads, spreading nightmares in the most random things.
“What?“ Dean asked.
Cas glanced away, shy in a way, or frightened that his eyes had opened a door he didn’t want open.
“What the hell, dude?“ Sam threw in helpfully.
It was gone.
Dean was stalking around in the motel room. He lifted worn clothes on the bed and floor and thrown over the backrests of chairs, rummaged around in his duffel, opened the closet, he even looked under the beds. But it was gone.
“You coming?“ Sam called from outside the open door where bright unexpected sunlight shone inside. His eyes were fixed to his phone, ready to head out to file through town history.
“Yeah. No. Wait a second.“ Dean gave back. He went back to his frantic searching and rummaging and turning each proverbial stone and every possible item around. He got more desperate by the second and something started swelling in his chest at the prospect that something bad had happened.
After more minutes of ruffling noises and grumpy grumbles, Sam looked up and made a step into the doorway. “What you looking for?“
“My damn jacket,“ Dean answered.
Sam raised an eyebrow and pointed to one of the chairs by the table. “It’s right there.“
His brother only spared it a brief look and went on with his desperateness. “No, not that one.“ He said. “My leather jacket.“
Cocking his head, Sam watched his brother more closely now. Dean almost vibrated out of his skin, so nervous was he.
“What leather jacket?“ the younger one asked, that tint of dawning knowledge in his voice.
Dean straightened up by the bed and turned, his look in one fell swoop all perplexed. “Well, the one I got from Dad of course.“
Sam shifted on his feet. “Dean. You don’t have it anymore, remember?“
Dean stopped dead. There was an imminent danger that he would jump right out of himself and at someone’s throat and his eyes glared so much with disbelief and bewilderment that Sam feared he would end up being that someone.
Dean smiled. “You’re kidding,“ he said. “Right?“
“Uh, no? You packed it in a box with the other stuff when you ran away to say yes to Michael.“ He breathed a heavy sigh, recalling that blank anger he’d felt when he’d found his brother in that motel room. Having a drink and throwing away all the things that used to mean something to him. Like his little brother for instance. “It got sorta lost afterwards.“
“I lost my jacket?!“ Dean blurted out.
In some unremembered time before Cas there used to be things Dean kept hold onto. Things that made him never forget who he was. Some rings he’d gathered along the road and a gun with a white handle and a necklace he’d gotten from Sam. And a leather jacket so old and worn-out, you could barely tell what it used to look like when it was new. A leather jacket that smelled of gasoline and gunpowder and dried blood. A leather jacket that was more than just a piece of clothing. It meant warm and it meant right and it meant knowing who he was in such a heavy way that it could throw him down and lift him up at the same time. It was the armor he’d always known.
“You do remember that, right?“
Sometimes it’s not about how you end up in a place, but that you end up there at all.
Castiel didn’t remember how he’d gotten into this train or where he was going anyway, but he felt at ease. He sat on a thick cushioned couch, a thin-striped black-and-white thing with a high backrest and dark blue velvet pillows with golden seams. The carpet under his feet was cream-colored and had a soft pattern to it that matched the dark wooden end tables, white table lamps on them with wide folded tissue shades. There were more lamps between the windows, tiny golden curlicues with flower-like bulbs. The windows were hung with heavy dark blue velvet curtains on golden rails. The walls and the door at the end of the wagon were made of dark glossy polished wood, as well as parts of the bright white ceiling.
It was comfortable and clean and homey in there, beautiful even. But save for him it was empty.
He turned and moved back the curtain behind him, looking out of the big window and into the world. The sun hung low and burning over the horizon, tinting the sky in yellow and orange and red above, and a smudgy grey and blue below where the mountains stood in a black skyline, like a border between here and there. Closer to him there was a cluster of lonely pine trees sticking blackly and pointy up into the sundown with their feet hidden by a thick and wooly layer of mist covering everything. The haze seemed to coat the air and every inch so entirely that Castiel couldn't see a single spot of ground. There was something silvery about it all, like the way the sun glanced at him or the way the mist moved or the way those trees were so black.
Then the train stopped. They had arrived and Castiel was only a little hesitant to leave his seat. Outside, he stepped onto a concrete floor. The train station’s building was a small cube with a flat roof and green-framed windows and a dark door. It reminded him of something he’d seen before, though he couldn't tell what it was.
He walked off the platform and out into the land around. There was no street and no path and there was not a single person here. There was only silence and the exact knowledge where he was in that moment. This was a dream.
And that startled him a little, but it didn’t frighten him. He had never had a dream before. Though, he knew that dreams were a normal mechanism of the human mind, and that he had his very first one now meant only that. He turned human.
A few steps into the haze on softly frozen grass he turned around back to the train station. It was gone and so were the train and the rails it had gotten him here on. His face darkened a notch, though he didn’t know why.
His feet led him to the cluster of pine trees, for no reason at all, but he felt like this was the place to go from here. As he walked deeper and deeper into the mist, it started growing higher and thicker even. It covered each and any of it all, even him, and soon he could see nothing but grey and white and something like a light somewhere in the distance.
The mist vanished and he walked in the middle of an onyx colored sandy ground and rivers of gleaming lava. There were mountains around him, raw and black and cutting through the redness of the sky above. His feet scrunched on the odd ground and the skin of his face and neck and hands felt too tight. It was hot beyond bearing and the air smelled of sulfur and coal and decay. Flakes of ash were raining down on him and got stuck in his hair and on his trench coat. And when he reached out his hand, many of them landed on his palm and felt light and heavy at once.
He walked on, next to streams of fire that cut through the ground like veins and towards hills and mountains that never seemed to come any closer. No matter which way he looked, it all looked the same, and yet it didn’t at all. And when he looked down, he felt it was the only way to tell direction in this place made of fire and dark and light and ashes.
He came to a path in this blackness, accompanied and lined by several dark dragon trees. He always used to think those looked like they were upside-down, their branches like roots and their crowns like ground. You could never tell how green or not-green they really were, unless you looked at them from above or afar. When you were close by you only ever felt like hanging head-down from the ground and looking at their roots above. It was nerve-wracking.
Their wood seemed to touch him while passing by, though he never actually touched any of them. They radiated heat and a foulness he couldn't quite grasp. But something touched his face and arms while he passed, and maybe it were hands after all. They touched him and lit him on fire, and somehow it was still them burning and blazing where their fingers met his skin. Or did his fingers meet theirs? There were no burns or any charred spots in their wood, but Castiel thought to know they could feel it just as much as he could.
He had ash in his lungs. With every breath he could feel it rattling and hurting, it was so hard to breathe. He was suffocating. He was suffocating with every step he made through this godforsaken land, with nowhere to go and nowhere to arrive.
The steam and smoke around him lifted up like the mist before had, and it blurred his vision and made him feel numb. Soon after, he found the dragon trees had grown up into the grey sky, so tall he couldn't see their crowns anymore. They towered over him like skyscrapers and made him feel so little and so humble that he felt like a mouse in the underwood. He walked on the only path he could see, in between a boulevard of trees twice the size of a Redwood tree. And he found there was nothing but silence, except for the distant confused echoes of birds.
The nebulous forest thinned out and he found himself in front of a door. It was blue and wooden and looked tiny there. He opened it and then stepped into what seemed to be a garden and a palace and a ballroom and all the same none of these things.
The floor was made of water and stone and four massive Roman columns reached up to something like a ceiling. Behind them there were a million lights, aligned like a horizon made of gold. In their middle there was a huge round hole in the thick ceiling where bright daylight streamed from the bright blue sky. It shone down onto a tree growing in the centre of the columns, like they were a ribcage and the tree was the heart.
It glowed in shades of red and rose and gold, like the combination of a cherry tree and liquid sunlight and gold. The glitter of it, the shine, the soft branches and leaves, all that vulnerability, it hit him. It hit him so much he needed to stop walking. Brighter than sunlight, he thought, brighter than anything he’d ever seen. It hurt to watch it. It was too beautiful for Castiel’s eyes, too hard to look at, even harder to look away. He feared he was going blinder by the second and he didn’t dare to come closer. Yet, he couldn't help but move towards it, pulled in like he never belonged anywhere else. The way you seek shelter during rain and shadow in the summer heat and a closed room when the wind picks up. The way you stupidly dance in a thunderstorm, no matter how dangerous it is.
Only a few feet away from the tree Castiel reached out his hand, the need to touch it a tumultuous longing he couldn't control. But before he got the chance to, he was sucked into something else, blinded at last. Removed from this place but not from his longing.
He opened his eyes to water. Water all around him, a transfiguration so dull and thorough that he started shaking a bit. There were things around him, thousands, maybe millions. And they sung pretty songs with pretty voices. Singers, he thought. They all sounded so beautiful and he marveled at it, struck by the sudden feeling to just let himself float there and listen. But they all sounded the same. All but one. There was one thing, one voice he could make out. He thought he would be able to pick it out everywhere. With each second passing he could hear it louder and clearer, as though his ears were tuned to this voice. He could hear it through the laughter of a thousand children, through the tune of a million pretty songs, through the jitter of a hundred pair of wings, and through all the singing birds in the world. And all at once, this one voice made everything else sound ugly.
He followed it. Began swimming, frantic almost, as though his life depended on it. Somehow he knew exactly where to swim. Like this wasn’t a sound he was following but the light of a lighthouse or the sun itself.
And then he stood on grass. Not green grass, it was somehow orange or yellow even, but not the way dried out grass during a heat wave would look. He was in a forest again, and still it was something else entirely. There were violet Allium Ambassador flowers and there were red poppies and yellow milfoil and the high trees with leaves which were none of these colors, which were green. But not green as a forest or green as the usual leaves or even green in a way nature was able to produce. They were green as the sun if you watched it through an emerald. And green the way the world looks when you look at a quiet field in the early hours of a morning in spring.
It was as though a rainbow had spilled and melted into every little cell of this place, and within the smallest naked moment Castiel felt whole and shattered to pieces all the same. He felt at home, at home like he had in that beautiful train, but at the same time more. And though he knew it was only a dream, he wanted to stay there forever.
But he couldn’t. Not because it was a dream and not because he woke up, not even because this wasn’t real and he knew it. He couldn’t, because he was pulled again, pushed to move by an invisible force that wanted to discover what else there was. That wanted to conquer this realm in a way.
He started walking again. His head tilted up to the canopy of branches and leaves above him, and sometimes lowered down to the carpet of wild flowers on the ground. Walking on the soft bed of orange grass that felt like clouds under his feet. And he felt watched. He felt like those weren’t leaves on trees exactly but eyes in faces. Eyes green enough to drown in them. But not like you would in water. Like you would in a cluster of grass and nature, like he was sucked into the earth, always sinking deeper down. Down, down, down.
Until he was in a wide field. That quiet field he wanted to look at in the early hours of a morning in spring. The first thing he wanted to open his eyes to against the morning sun. Up above the sky wasn’t bright, though, it wasn’t morning. It was night and there were a million stars and galaxies. Constellations and some sort of order only god was supposed to find his way through. He knew that sky. He felt like he knew each and every star hanging there. Like this wasn’t a night sky but a face with freckles that grew more visible in the sunny days.
He saw things he couldn't fathom, he saw it all, and still nothing at all. He knew that sky. He loved it, through a thousand lifetimes, across millions of stars. He reached out to it, tried to touch it like he’d wanted to touch that too-beautiful tree in that not-garden and not-building either. He wanted to have it, wanted to find it with his outstretched fingers and hold it. Never let it go and never leave it.
But then he still couldn’t. It was so close and yet too far away and when he finally stopped trying to reach it, he suddenly found himself in a cave. He was confused at first, at how the knee-high water was cold as ice and still hot as fire. At how there was so much light and still so much darkness drowning it out. At how the walls and ceiling were soft and slick and still edgy and pointed like teeth. At how there seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel of this cave and how there still didn’t seem to be an end to it.
From above him droplets of turquoise and bright blue light illuminated the cave. They were like tiny lightbulbs or like that sky full of stars outside in the field in the early morning, but moving somehow. Like billions of flying fireflies. It seemed the stone behind them, and above and beyond, wasn’t smooth at all. It was rather folded and curled and squiggled like a chaotic disarray of layers. There appeared to be so much more to this cave than merely stone and water and light, no matter the shocking beauty of it all. It left Castiel both confused and afraid.
At last, he reached that end of the tunnel. There was mist again, but this time it didn’t cover the ground. It hovered in the air and melted the cloudy sky into the grey ocean. There were cliffs and some sort of beach, white rocks against even whiter sand and water, cutting the landscape into land and sea. And there was that unnatural and impossible green again, covering this land like a giant bruise. And a muddy path like a cut on skin. It was all wilderness and weathered, like a forgotten place shoved into the very back of everyone’s mind.
The path led him to a house. It stood lonely and somehow out of place, as though it didn’t belong here. And at the same time it seemed to be right where it should be. As if it was born here, but forgotten somehow, suppressed and neglected.
Castiel walked up to the tiny house that had two chimneys, swathes of fume emerging into the air. Someone was home. He hesitated, not sure if he wanted to go inside, or if he even should. There was a wooden bench next to the door on the porch with a side table. And there rested a mug of fine china, all ivory white and filigree blue patterns. He took it and turned it in his hands. It had been broken, maybe someone had dropped it, cracks and fissures corrupting its shape. But it had been repaired, glued back together with gold, of all things. You could see the damage, but it was still beautiful, maybe even more so than before. Some unexpected courage rose inside him and he opened the door.
Once inside, he felt like he was somehow in a different time. There was no telling if it was the past or the present or the future, he only knew that he remembered now. He remembered why that train station, that small cubic building with the flat roof and the green-framed windows and the dark door, why it had seemed so familiar to him. It wasn’t a train station, it was a gas station. The very gas station where he had first spoken to Dean. In his true voice that had shattered all the windows and made the Winchester curl up on the floor and bleed from his ears. He’d been mistaken then, back then in the real world.
But he wasn’t mistaken now, here in this dream, when he saw what he saw. It was himself and Dean sitting together. They were smiling at each other and Castiel, the real Castiel, saw Dean’s hands touching the hands of his double. They looked deep into each other’s eyes and there was a warmth to this that he couldn't explain. There was a strangeness about it that wasn’t strange at all, a naturalness, a clearness. As though it wasn’t a suggestion but a reality he hadn’t reached yet. If only, he thought.
It was as though all that fervor and fever and fear had fallen off them. By a simple touch and a simple smile and a simple glance. Or maybe a million of them. And it made Castiel wonder where it had gone wrong exactly. Where they had taken the wrong exit and started crashing and falling apart. Instead of into each other. Where had it started? And most importantly, why?
Because in all that silence and all that violence between them, in all those brutal actions and all the gentle peace afterwards, in all that Please and all that Don’t, in all those spoken apologies and all the unspoken ones, in all that there was a Them somewhere. A together. It wasn’t here, in this dream, it wasn’t there, outside in the real world. It wasn’t even a concrete concept, not then, not right now and not ever. But that abnormal, yet special idea of them together existed. Them. Cas and Dean.
Maybe it was hard to find in this noisy world and that busy life, especially when monsters and demons and angels and apocalypses obstructed the view. And yet, he found it. And yet, he saw it. And yet, he felt it. And he kept finding and seeing and feeling it, every single time when their eyes met. When the world moved half a second ahead of them and everything felt one step removed, when all was chaos and helpless and lonely and empty. When all was less, they found more. They found each other in a glance.
This late morning, some hours after breakfast, the rain trickled against the windows from the grey sky. The air was damp and loaded and it was almost impossible not to feel soaked. Even in the same dry clothes, in the same old motel room, in the same old town. It was another motel, because they had been kicked out after wrecking the other place. And it was also another day, because obviously time moved on. But all felt the same old anything, and that was something to say, considering all that had happened.
And it was always raining, always cold. Why the fuck was it always this cold?
Victims came and victims went, and no matter which case they looked at, there was no step to make and no progress either. All those people missing and going crazy and dying, it were so many. These people were all so faceless.
So this is what they knew. 1. They had people disappearing in Hazardville, because they 2. got told a secret, because 3. this is how J.D. Salinger says. 4. They had people going crazy in New Canaan, which was 5. another quote coming to life, 6. this time one by Hemingway. 7. They had a sea of fire killing people in Old Saybrook, which wasn’t a) a quote, but b) an analogy, though c) it still fit into all the weird. And 8. they had met a man, who was firstly, a little obviously arrogant, secondly, more obviously powerful, and thirdly, very obviously some sort of supernatural being. Because a) he had the habit to vanish into thin air whenever the fuck he wanted, and b) knew their names somehow, and who they were, and most importantly he c) had turned Dean into a lion and back. 9. They were fucked. 10. They were still kind of clueless.
“I don’t wanna come across as racist,“ Dean said, “but how about we search in… African lore? That sorta thing?“
Bert crossed his arms over his belly. “Why would we do that?“
“Uh,“ Dean gave, his eyebrows undecided on whether to go up or down. “Because uh… come on, do I really need to say it?“
The Winchester’s brows finally settled on knitting. “He’s black, dude. He’s a black dude. He’s probably an African god or demigod or some evil son of a bitch voodoo creature thing from whatever the fuck kinda countries there are in Africa.“
“I’m sorry, I just don’t see people by the color of their skin.“ Bert said.
Dean snorted, murmured bull under his breath.
“I agree with Dean,“ Sam piped up, leaning against the kitchen counter with a beer in his hand. “It’s worth a shot.“
Cas did, too, agree with him. And even when that wasn’t so much of a surprise, it still surprised Dean to find them looking at him with some sort of expectation and listening to him, so easily. When had that happened? It struck him, having everyone’s ears — at least those of the ones that counted — so suddenly and without even having to raise his voice and get irritated and be a threat. He didn’t know what to do with that. It was their only angle to go at this right then, but Dean felt like no matter how obvious the things he suggested were, they never really got heard until they’d tried everything else first.
Sam took his seat at the table and opened his laptop. Cas rummaged in the stash of books they had brought with them. Both starting their research session right away. Dean watched as if frozen, as though he saw something new. And it was indeed new, and there was a small feeling of finally.
“We’ve missed something,“ Bert said and with that cut into the rustling of pages and the typing of a keyboard.
Three pairs of eyes looked at him then. Bert somehow always managed to get all the attention. He was deep inside his mind, it seemed, pulling at his lower lip, his eyes fixing some spot on the floor. Dean thought, there was a particular stench coming off Bert whenever he was thinking. Or maybe not a stench, maybe not even something you could smell. Rather some sort of aura or change in temperature that always seemed to come with his brain working. It made him sick.
“The rain,“ Bert drawled then, and none of the others seemed to get what he meant. There was always rain, there was always the grey and drab of cloudy sky and dampness and puddles and drops following them everywhere and at any time.
“The storm,“ Bert went on. “That thunderstorm. And the earthquake. And the constantly bad weather.“
Dean looked from Bert to his brother, whose expression looked like a sunrise. Something was dawning.
“You’re right,“ Sam said.
“About what? The weather? Are we having some deep smalltalk?“ Dean gave.
Cas opened his mouth as though to say something, but the slightly irritated look in Dean’s face that was potent enough to burst into anger made him shut up. He trained his eyes back to Bert.
“That thunderstorm, Dean,“ Sam said, facing his brother. “The one in Lebanon, remember? Then the earthquake in New Canaan? You ever encountered two incidents of force of nature in such a short period? In two different states? And I’m sure if we look into it, all that rain here isn’t exactly ordinary either.“
“Lebanon wasn’t a force of nature thing, it was just a thunderstorm,“ Dean argued.
“A thunderstorm that set the lockdown of the bunker in alert?“
Dean went to say something, but stopped in his own dawning. Somehow they had missed an important detail here: why would the bunker’s lockdown go off by a normal storm? But what if it hadn’t been a normal storm in the first place?
“I’m thinking demonic omens, but I don’t think that’s what you nerds are on about, right?“ Dean gave, a little sheepishly.
“I think that thunderstorm wasn’t a force of nature at all,“ his brother answered and swallowed some invisible thing in his throat. “And neither was the earthquake. If the lockdown went off, it’s gotta be something supernatural. And how likely d’you think it is to have two of such incidents near us within a few days?“
“You think whatever it is, it’s following us,“ Dean concluded. He ran a hand over his face.
Sam and Bert nodded in unison and Dean sighed. This wasn’t good. Weird weather was never good and if it actually followed them, targeted them, then that meant something was after them. And once again they were the hunted and not the hunters, and that hit him a little. It annoyed him more. Always about them, always the toys of one supernatural douchebag or the other.
Now, Sam didn't know yet what it had to do with anything, if it even did at all. He only knew that this was going to be a long day, and probably night, of researching and he needed coffee to do that. So he grabbed Bert as company and left to get some, leaving his brother and the former angel to themselves. On purpose, indeed.
There was unfinished business between those two, he could tell. He didn’t want to know what it was, he didn’t even want to know about Cas’ black eye anymore that healed excruciatingly slow or why he’d decided to hide it with make-up. He didn’t want to know. For the first time since the two of them had started acting weird around each other he didn’t want to figure out what was going on. It didn’t bother him anymore. He had his own fucking things to think about. It could wait.
For a lack of any other place to sit Dean sank onto the musty dark green couch next to Cas. The beds were no option, obviously. For some untellable reason Dean didn’t want to be anywhere near a bed while alone in a room with Cas, except during the night when they both slept. At some point in some place, some cruel strike of destiny had decided that Dean and Cas constantly shared a room, while his brother shared his with Bert.
Maybe Sam was in love with the guy or something. But Dean couldn't follow that particular road of thought, for Cas was moving beside him. He turned his head to find him shaking. Cas drew up his shoulders and his legs were bent and pulled up tight, his hands clenching around the open book in his lap. Not before Dean saw his toes curled in he realized that Cas was cold. In fact, he appeared to be freezing.
He rose and wandered off to the beds. Still reluctant to be near them and trying to find out why, he pulled off one of the comforters. He walked back to the couch, stopped behind the backrest and reached out to push Cas a little forward to be able to put the blanket around him.
His fingertips barely grazed the ex-angel’s back when Cas whirled around so rapidly that Dean nearly jumped out of his skin. Cas’ eyes were staring at him so widely and so blue and bright, he almost forgot to detect the horror in them.
“I’m not gonna…,“ he said, chocking almost, “I’m just trying to put a blanket around you.“
Cas said nothing, kept staring at him in that weird twisted posture, and the vein on the side of his neck pumped so violently that Dean feared it would burst.
“You’re cold,“ Dean stated, quiet and almost mumbling, still holding the blanket mid-air. His own breathing wasn’t less fast, being looked at like that. It hit him then, that he must have looked at his father that way. With those same wide eyes and that same old tension and that same unmistakable horror in his face. Dean was hit a lot, lately and throughout his entire life, with words and things and hands and feet. But nothing really hurt quite as much as realizations about himself.
Cas calmed down a little, though. Even turned back around and leaned forwards to allow Dean to throw the comforter around him. And Dean did that, ever so lightly and softly settled the blanket around his friend’s shoulders. He felt so uneasy that his hands had started shaking and his own eyes were wide, too. Maybe with the same kind of horror in them. He pulled the fabric around Cas’ body, his shaking hands meeting in the middle at Cas’ chest. He was bent forward and when his face was only inches from Cas’ head, he closed his frightened eyes and couldn’t help but breathe in the scent of his hair. It smelled old and all the same like something entirely new. Like the branches of a tree or the pages of a book, like paper and nature and human all at once, and Cas didn’t seem to notice him doing it.
But then he did and he closed a hand over Dean’s and Dean felt even more uneasy. He couldn’t stop inhaling his scent and it scared him and hit him and it felt like dying all over again. Always dying. Always dying by Cas’ looks and Cas’ presence and Cas’ touch and Cas. He felt like he’d die, if he didn’t breathe in Cas’ scent. As though it was the only air to breathe he had, all of a sudden and so absurdly.
The day went by and when it was time for lunch, Sam and Dean went to get take-away food for everyone. The sun peeked through the thick cloudy sky and looked like the moon. It had stopped raining for a bit and the puddles of rainwater on the parking lot and the streets and sidewalks, for once they lay still and undisturbed. No new drops adding to them and making them change in shape and grow.
The Winchesters walked out of the diner, packed with bags of food and drinks, and somewhere in the middle of the surprisingly big parking lot Dean stopped. Sam didn’t notice at first, but when he stopped, too, and turned to his brother, he found him looking around.
“You coming?“ he said, and he wondered what made his brother hesitant all the time these days.
And Dean hesitated again. He looked at Sam in something like unease, wide-eyed and his mouth forming a silent “O“.
“Come on,“ Sam urged, feeling like he was coaxing a dog to follow him.
“Where?“ Dean asked with all the question marks in the world displaying on his face.
The younger frowned. “To the car?“ he asked more than stated. “You okay, Dean?“ he asked for sure.
“Yeah, it’s—,“ Dean trailed off, muttered something unintelligible to himself.
“You don’t remember where you parked the car?“ Sam asked. Unbelievable.
Dean knitted his brows, his confused expression turning into irritation and denial within a second. And at some eventual moment he snorted. Unbelievable.
“Of course I remember!“ he claimed, walking off to his car.
“Wrong direction, Dean.“ Sam announced and walked off in the other direction. As said before, unbelievable. But he couldn't hold onto that unbelievableness and the fact that his brother was acting even weirder lately, if that was possible. It seemed there wasn't that much tension anymore. Now, his shoulders were more hanging than holding tight to some invisible issue, his neck didn't tell so much anymore, didn't hold so much back either. Dean had turned quite quiet. There was a silence about him that felt wrong.
As they reached the glossy black frame of the Impala, Sam settled the bags on her roof and fixed Dean by way of examination. No matter how cloudy the sky seemed to keep being, Dean Winchester always managed to be even more cloudy.
Dean joined him and fumbled for his keys. He didn't meet his brother’s eyes right away, but when he did he instantly found the concern in them. A mark in the giant goof that used to be his little kid brother that he used to cook dinner for. That mark would never dissolve and it would never be not right there for him to find it.
“I’m just tired, Sammy. Don’t worry.“ He said.
“That’s not what I’m worried about.“ Sam gave back.
Dean sighed and put down his own bags as well. A skyline of brown paper bags lined the border between them, but that didn't make their mutual stare at one another any less intense. It was only a question of time when one of them would bulge and give in or give up. Only a matter of who was smarter and who was not. But Dean knew, Sammy had a hold on him. A key to his mind that would open him up whenever he wished and no matter the height and strength of his walls.
“What you’re worried about then?“ he asked, looking away. Was he smarter now, or was he not? Either way, he felt numbed, felt like the moment washed over him and washed him away, as though he wasn't even present anymore. Get it over with. Get through it alive and breathing and then stuff it back to where it came from and never talk about it again. Yet, he felt dead already. Shot in a way, hit, you might say. Trapped into a conversation he didn't want to have.
“I uh…,“ Sam began, running a hand through his hair. “I noticed… something’s off about you and Cas.“
Dean fell out of his deadness for a second and looked right back at his brother. There was a twitch building by Dean’s eyes first, like a nervous tic. Then it vanished and his face smoothed back out into deadpan.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.“ He turned and leaned against the frame of the car, his arms crossed over his chest, staring back into the air.
“Dean,“ Sam said and it was that kind of Dean that told him that he wasn’t taking his bullshit now. That there was no way out of this talk. No escape.
Of course there was something off about him and Cas. There were so many things off about them that Dean wondered if there was even anything not loose and tangled and twisted and perverted anymore. They weren’t what they used to be and he knew he was right to believe that it was his fault, and his fault only.
You hurt him, he told himself in his mind, ignoring his brother’s stares on the back of his head. He could tell Sam was bracing his forearms on the roof of the car and waiting for him to speak. But there was nothing to say. He hurt Cas. He hit him. He kicked and punched him. He made him little and weak and crawl on the dirty floor and cover his face, either with hands or with make-up. He’d seen that old friend of his, a part of his family. And seen him change into something new. And he’d taken that knowledge and added to it. Formed Cas, perverted him into a being so afraid of him that he wouldn't speak up or dare to stand against him or even only look at him without fear in his eyes. The glance they used to share, that glance that used to be so intense and kind and intimate. It had transformed into fear and fear alone.
Dean used to be the sun and Cas the moon. He was war and Cas was peace. He was disaster and Cas was beauty. He was sorrow and Cas was happiness. Cas was supposed to be his salvation and Dean ended up being his destruction. It was becoming less of a suggestion and more of a reality that for this particular former angel Dean was bad. He just didn't know where it had gone wrong exactly.
“Dean?“ Sam demanded, all quiet and patient.
“Yeah,“ Dean gave. “I don’t know.“ He said, and it was the truth, somehow.
His brother walked around the car and came beside him and Dean was shaking by then. A slow and tiny tremble to his shoulders that Sam almost stopped with his hand on his arm. Almost. It was as though Dean was trying to keep himself inside his own body. It felt like so much time had passed. And still not enough to make Dean the sharing type.
What was he supposed to say anyway? Tell him the truth? About how he’d turned right back into that almost-demon? The one that had slaughtered and tortured souls down in the pit? The man he’d turned into in hell? That he was right back where he’d started and didn't manage to make even a single step away from that reality? That he turned into his father? That he hurt the people he loved? Damaged them beyond recognition?
Because he did. He did love Cas. No, he wasn’t in love with him. He didn't love him in a romantic way. They didn’t date or even planned to. Or wanted to. But in a way it still felt like they’d broken up. They’d turned away from each other, each one in their own way. Cas hadn’t been his boyfriend then, and he wasn’t his ex-boyfriend now. But he was an ex-something. An ex-maybe. An ex-almost. A suggestion in the wind, a droplet in the rain. A scent of storm that you always forget until the time the storm returns, and you remember then.
So when he spoke again he was speaking almost inwardly, as though to someone tucked away inside him. And he said, “We’re fine.“
Pressed it down into a neat little word, fine. And then he did what he’d been doing his whole life and got into his car.
Dean remembered how he’d woken up this morning. How stiff he’d felt when he’d cracked open his eyes to a sun that wasn’t there and still managed to produce daylight. How the trickle against the window had been a dull sound in his dreams and an even duller one awake. How Cas in the next bed had still been asleep and buried under sheets and his comforter. And how he’d still seemed to be freezing.
Dean remembered how they’d discussed their cases and how they’d agreed with him. That small feeling of finally when he’d said something they hear. How Bert was brilliant, actually, in his own kind of way, to realize what they’d missed.
Dean remembered how Cas had still been freezing then. How he’d caught him shaking and brought him a blanket. How Cas had flinched back from him in fear. How he’d allowed himself for the tiniest naked instant to breathe in Cas’ scent. How he’d felt like dying afterwards.
Dean remembered how the rain had stopped falling for a few seconds. How his brother’s concern had been a stabbing wound to his reality. How Sam now realized that there was something off about him and Cas. How he’d been shaking, because he didn't know how to talk about it. How he’d then lied and said they were fine.
But Dean didn’t remember how he’d ended up sitting on his bed and waiting for something. Maybe for the rain to stop again. Maybe for Sam or even Bert. Maybe he was waiting for them to come back?
But when the bathroom door opened and Cas stepped into the room Dean knew that was what he’d been waiting for. The moment stretched out in infinite layers of time where Cas’ hair was wet and dripping onto his white shirt and where Cas was barefoot. There was no tie and no trench coat and there was no make-up.
Cas walked across the room, clearly avoiding his eyes, and sat down on the other bed. His hands were on his knees and his look cast down. The moment stretched out a little more and at some point Cas’ face turned to him. Only when fully turned, only then he looked up to the Winchester and there was a soft frown somewhere in his face.
A frown Dean couldn't decipher, nor could he pay any attention to it, because there was the black eye. Sprawling out below Cas’ eye like a painting in blue and red and brown and yellow. And Dean reached out, his own frown starting to build on his forehead and between his eyebrows.
Cas didn’t watch his hand or his arm, he only watched some distant spot somewhere near the hunter’s head. Maybe lost in thought, maybe caught by how his shirt turned wetter and wetter on top of his shoulders or how the rain and wind outside played their song.
Dean’s fingertips touched his skin, his face, and yet again Cas nearly jumped out of his skin. And if that reaction wasn’t new exactly, it felt entirely new to Dean.
“No,“ Cas whispered, leaned away, fixing the floor again. Then, more determined, “No.“
Dean drew back and stared. Cas appeared new as well. He appeared like he’d finally found his voice back. Like he’d managed to cast away that silence and speak up. Like he didn't have to want something for the mere reason that Dean wanted it.
Dean, though, didn't understand all that.
“What,“ Dean choked out, “what happened to your eye?“
Cas looked up again. The lines in his face grew so deep that Dean wondered if he’d said something wrong. And wrong, indeed, it was. For once there was no irritation in the Winchester’s tone. There was no angry face and no violent threat. It wasn’t the quiet before the storm. There was no storm. And there was nothing quiet about this.
“Dean,“ Cas managed, looking straight into the other’s eyes. “Don’t you remember?“
Dean’s brows shot up. “Remember what?“
The other’s eyes were searching now, frantic almost, and Dean wondered what there was to find in him. And with all the urgency in the former angel’s eyes, he still took his time to answer him.
“How I got the black eye?“
“How would I know, Cas? I just asked you how you got it, stupid.“
Dean smiled his affectionate smile and Cas felt like he had yet another Dean in front of him. A Dean he could talk to, a Dean he could stand up to. A Dean that somehow, inexplicably, had lost the memory of this. Was that a good thing or a bad thing?
“It was you, Dean.“
“I think I’d remember that, Cas. Come on, quit stalling and tell me. I won’t laugh at you, I promise.“
Cas swallowed then, a big aching lump in his throat that threatened to cut off the air from him. “I’m not stalling, Dean.“ He said. “It’s the truth. It was you.“
Dean moved his lips as though to say something, but nothing came out. He only stared at him, as though he was waiting for the punch line of some joke. Then, “But— I can’t remember. It— that was an accident, right?“
Cas shook his head. Then he told him. And he wasn’t quite sure what was worse, enduring all that had happened, or telling the one who’d let it happen to him over and over again that that’s what he’d done. But in some weird and absurd way it was good to talk about it, even when it was with Dean. Or maybe because of that.
When he finished Dean stared at his hands. He turned them over and around, as though he was trying to find out how they worked. He found the scratches and little red bruises along their knuckles where he’d met Cas’ bones, and he touched them with shaking fingers and closed his eyes.
He was breathing calmly, but inside his head there was chaos. Each and every braincell was trying to figure out what had happened, where it had started, and most importantly, why. The only thing he found was a distant memory of himself, cowering in some corner and covering his face with his arms. He was a child, small and bony, and there was his dad thrashing down on him. He wondered what he’d done to deserve that, but dismissed this thought right away. John hadn't needed a reason.
“Cas?“ he said with still closed eyes. “Why… why did I start doing that to you?“
“I don’t know, Dean.“
“Then when. When did I start?“
Cas looked away from him, his lips pressed together and that frown spreading on his face again. It seemed like it hurt him to even think about that.
After a while too many, Cas spoke again, his head bowed down. “It started when… I told you that my faults and my sins in heaven make me fall from heaven. That I will turn human, eventually.“
“What happened then?“
“You turned angry. You smashed a chair against the wall. I told you to calm down, that it was okay, but you—“ He swallowed. “You turned on me then. Shoved me at first, but then…“
Dean put a hand on the former angel’s arm and by the flinch that it caused his lower lip started trembling. “I’m sorry,“ he breathed. “I’m so sorry, Cas. I shouldn’t have— I was out of my mind.“
Cas looked at him then, relaxed a little under his touch. “No. You knew what you were doing, Dean. And you knew it would hurt me. But— but somehow that didn’t stop you. It never does.“
An emotion scurried over the Winchester’s face that left so fast that it probably meant nothing. Or it meant everything. Either way, Dean was lost for words. How could he do that? How could he hurt his best friend? How could he ever treat Cas like that? And how could he then, even, not remember any of it?
“It’s my fault,“ he barely even whispered.
“It is.“ Cas said. “But it’s not your fault that you are like this.“
“How can you say that after what I’ve done to you?“
Cas sighed and fixed his eyes. “Monsters aren’t born, Dean. They are created. You of all people should know that better than anyone.“
There was so much silence then that Dean wondered if time had stopped altogether. He had so many questions and he wasn’t sure for whom they were and if he even wanted them answered. But there was one question he needed to ask and when he did his voice was nothing but a gravelly thing.
“Why are you still here, Cas?“ he asked. “After everything I’ve done to you?“
“Because we are friends, Dean.“
“Are we, though? Are we still friends?“
Cas narrowed his eyes and pressed his lips again. “I think we are. We live together. We hunt together. We have a shared history which makes our lives shared as well. I wouldn't know where else to go.“
“That’s not what I meant, Cas. I mean— I mean, do you still… want to be my friend? Like… do you still even… like me?“
“Ever since I came down to hell to get you… ever since I walked the earth again… ever since I got to know you… I don’t think I ever liked anyone before that. I always came when you called and I did everything for you. And that wasn’t because I didn’t have anywhere else to go or because of the way you treated me. It was because of who you are. And no matter who you are now, it doesn’t change the way I feel about you. May that be stupid or not.“
May that be stupid or not. It wasn’t only stupid, Dean thought, it was impossible. Yet, he knew exactly how that felt.
He remembered hell. He remembered how he’d dug his way out of his own grave and how he’d felt like he was on fire. How his shoulder had blazed where his fingers had met his skin. How shocked he’d been to learn that an angel had rescued him from hell. How hard it’d been to breathe, as if he’d been suffocating.
He remembered how Cas had made all the lightbulbs burst in that barn and how it had almost hurt to watch him. How much he’d been shining, how bright he’d been. How hard it’d been to look at him and even harder to look away. How he’d felt like going blind.
He remembered how he’d first heard his true voice and how his ears had been bleeding and how much it’d hurt. How the blue of his eyes had made him feel like drowning. How he’d started sinking down into it, with each glance a little more.
He remembered how he’d thought to know him, how he’d grown to love him like family. How he’d sworn to himself, at some point, to never leave him and never lose him. How he’d always save him, no matter the cost, the way he’d always save his brother. And suddenly he even remembered again, all he’d done to this man.
And suddenly he realized why Cas never stopped him. He loved him, too.
Or maybe he was just a friend. A dear friend you need to hold close because he’s precious and you won’t find anyone else like him. And not an excuse when there’s something more that you don’t want to admit or you’re too scared to explore.
Cas still liked him. The way people say they like rain, but open their umbrellas. The way they say they like the sun, but stay in the shadow. And the way they say they like wind, but close their windows when it picks up.
Cas was still his friend. And Dean would like to believe that was all that mattered, but it wasn’t. It was no surprise that he was afraid someone liked him, or could even love him. Because no matter how often people claimed to love the scent and beauty of a thunderstorm, they still stayed inside when it came. Because those we love are the ones we fear the most. And who could love a monster?
Thanks so much for the kudos, bookmarks, and subscriptions so far! :)
Could it be something in your eyes
Could it be something in your smile
Could it be something that can change my point of view
They’d killed some time and distance to home as they’d driven back to Kansas, before it could kill them all. Now, there was no imminent danger exactly. There was no one to fight, really, as they had no idea who to fight. There was no one to save, as they had no idea who. There was nothing in the slightest that they could do. So what they’d chosen as their next move was going back home and searching the endless archives of the bunker for a lead. Any lead at all.
“Look at this!“ Bert exclaimed right after stepping inside. He grasped the railing and leaned over it, peering down into the war room and the big map table, as though he’d just discovered treasure island. His feet stomped down the stairs as he ran past Dean and touched everything there was to see.
Dean rolled his eyes.
Bert transformed into the daylight this place was missing. A scooting and darting bolt around the familiar edges and corners of their home. Like a puppy in the park chasing squirrels. It was funny, Dean thought, how, after all those years, Sam still brought along stray dogs.
With all the newness of having someone here for the first time, which, with all their marveling stares and glittering eyes, usually made Dean proud of his home, it only slipped past him in a dull swoosh of a moment. He didn’t care.
He wasn’t sure if it was all those hours of driving, or the ones he’d let Sam drive while he’d been dozing against the passenger’s seat window. Or if it was that same old frustration creeping over and into him like an illness. A new kind of flu that might not actually be there, but still gave him headaches and fever and dimmed down his energy and made him want to sleep for two days straight.
There was, surprisingly, no rain at all in Lebanon, or even anywhere in Kansas. Though, it hadn’t felt like driving into the sun the way it should have. It felt like the same tristesse in a different wardrobe.
Cas opened the door to Dean’s bedroom very slowly, then peered around the door and found Dean sitting at the small table. He was filling his flask with Whiskey.
When he glanced up and frowned, Cas looked down to his shoes and said, “I uh… Sam wanted me to bring you some coffee.“
Dean ran his eyes over the former angel, then cleared his throat and turned back to his flask. “I’d rather have a drink. Compared to Connecticut it’s pretty damn warm here.“
Cas shifted on his spot, then put the cup of coffee down on the table. He turned and went to leave the room.
Dean looked up again at the retrieving backside of him and that speck of guilt welled up inside him again.
“Wait,“ he called, even though he didn't know for what.
Cas’ dirty trench coat flapped a little when he turned back to him, his eyes still trained downwards. Sweat was staining his white shirt and coating his forehead and neck.
“Why you still wearing this?“ Dean asked, gesturing toward the trench coat and suit.
Cas shifted again, wiped a hand over his face, still avoiding the other’s eyes. “Why wouldn’t I?“ he whispered.
“Come on, Cas,“ Dean said, rising and making a step towards his friend. “Just take it off already. You’re not— I can see you’re too warm in it.“
Cas lifted his eyes and looked at him from under his lashes.
“Just take it off,“ the Winchester said again. He smiled nervously. “And while you’re at it, why don’t you take a shower, huh?“
Something in Cas’ face twitched, then he turned around again. “I’m fine.“
But before he could leave for good, Dean’s hand found his shoulder and held him back. “Cas,“ he said, as though that was all that’s ever needed. For a terribly long moment his hand just rested there and no one moved. Then his fingers slipped under the trench coat’s collar and he pulled. Cas’ shoulders and arms tensed so much that it was impossible for him to get him out of it.
He didn’t even know why he wanted to.
Wasn’t it Cas’ signature wardrobe? Wasn’t it what made Cas feel comfortable? Wasn’t it the only human thing he’d ever possessed that meant something to him? Wasn’t it his superhero cape?
He kept his fingers under the collar, Cas’ sweat starting to coat them and his warmth radiating into him. The bunker’s air conditioner rustled noisily and a little gush of slightly cooler air streamed into his room. But Dean still felt like standing in the middle of a desert. He gripped into the fabric again, tucking at it as he unconsciously leaned closer.
“Cas,“ he said, coming out as more like a breath than a word. “Just let me.“
Castiel sighed shakily and clenched his fingers into his coat. Dean wondered if this was going to be some sort of tug of war he’d need to win. He just wanted the trench coat off. He couldn't see it any longer. It was a sore spot in his eyes, a sore bruise in his mind. It was a ghost of the past he couldn't bear having in there anymore. There in the air between them. It haunted him. All that guilt and all that unbreakable blame on his shoulders. He was venom to this man’s existence. Had corrupted him to the core and twisted his every thought. Now he didn’t follow heaven anymore. He followed him and him alone. A lost son who’d lost hold on his reason.
The world was inside out.
Dean had gone into battle. He’d fought for rights he shouldn’t have. Won the war against his childhood fears. And the victory destroyed everything.
“Cas,“ he said again, closing his eyes and leaning in just a bit more. He rested his forehead against the back of the other’s head and inhaled that scent of paper and nature and human. Only for the tinniest second.
And when he exhaled he felt Castiel’s tension decrease a little and he tried again. He tucked at the trench coat and it slipped down over the shoulders and to the ground.
Move away from him, he told himself. So he took a step back and opened his eyes again. Cas was looking over his shoulder at him and there was something sullen in his eyes just like there was something confused.
“Can I go now?“ he asked, his face turned back away.
Dean nodded, then realized he couldn't see that. For some reason he made a step towards him again, halted, his hand reached out mid-air. Move away from him, he told himself again. But it seemed he just wouldn't ever listen to himself, so he made another step and when his hand touched him the ex-angel flinched.
“I can’t believe you’re scared of me now,“ he said, hushing towards the last words.
Cas looked to the ground, then snorted. He raised his hands and started unbuttoning his shirt. And when it fell down as well, Dean had his answer to the question why that was a stupid thing to say. On Castiel’s back there were large long horizontal and diagonal bruises, stretching out all across from one side to the other. About six or seven of them, although it was hard to tell where one started and the other ended. It looked horrible.
Dean wished he’d never seen them.
There’s no such thing as true powerfulness and Sam was starting to think that inner demons were nothing other than self-doubts.
There were several things he knew about Castiel. One, Castiel was born a powerful creature and had been meant to help them through the apocalypse. Two, after the apocalypse that had never happened, in which Castiel had come to be their friend, he was now more like family. Three, Castiel’s entire world had been turned upside down, and not just because he was turning human now. Four, Castiel of the present was a whole different person than the Castiel of the past. He’d been humbled and Sam sure knew that it wasn’t only his falling, that there was more to it.
There were even more things he knew about his brother. He knew that Dean was struggling with himself. He was torn apart in the inside, and Sam knew Dean felt guilty for something. Was it his ever present tension or was it his ever present frustration, Sam didn't know. But he saw all those faces and all those looks and the little things like peeling off labels and drinking the night away. As though alcohol was a substitution for rest. And whenever his brother was like that he was in some sort of fight.
And then there were the things Sam knew about himself. He knew that there must be something he’d missed. Maybe he was too distracted or maybe he was too busy, but even with his eyes wide open and looking directly at the problem, he couldn't quite see it. He knew he needed to find it and knew he needed to do something about it, but it was hard with all that was going on. Three cases and a possible big bad playing them. And then there were things in his own head obstructing the view and keeping him from thinking about how Cas looked a little more miserable every day.
So while he sat in the obscure light of the bunker’s library with a ton of books and Men of Letters files in front of him, he had all the treasury of knowledge and still knew nothing. He ran a hand over his face and felt the sweat coating his palm and fingers. Not for the first time he wished he had any sorts of powers. Not the sort he’d had when he’d been high on demon blood. But what he could do with the powers he’d had as Lucifer had been inside him. Or had he been inside Lucifer?
He shook his thoughts away and swore to himself he’d pay closer attention from now on. There must be something he’d missed, or maybe dismissed. Maybe he’d seen it but been too distracted by recalling his dreams that kept echoing in his mind. As though someone was shouting at him to remember all that he wasn’t.
The warm soapy water and the steam soaring up into his face from it didn't make the heat inside the bunker any more bearable. But Dean needed something to occupy himself with. His thoughts kept jumping back to his room and the dark bruises on Cas’ back, so he’d had to leave it altogether. It was funny, even with how horrible that sight had been, what made him even more uneasy were the thoughts about his fingers in the collar of the trench coat and the feeling of another body’s sweat and warmth against his skin.The scent of his hair, stuck in his nose as though it had always been there.
“Hey,“ he heard from behind but didn't turn around.
Bert cleared his throat and leaned against the cold counter next to Dean. “So,“ he said, fumbling along the stainless steel with his hands and training his eyes on the other hunter. “This is your home then, huh?“
Dean nodded, concentrated on his task, scrubbing that one plate with a little too much aggression. He peered over from the corners of his eyes and found Bert staring at him.
“Pretty neat place,“ Bert said.
The Winchester grumbled in agreement, his eyebrows knitting.
“I wish I had something like this. Must be cool to have your own bunker, right?“
Dean put down the plate and grabbed a towel to dry his hands. He blew some air out of his nose and turned around. “If you need someone to chat, why don’t you go find Sam“
Bert raised his brows. “I wanna talk to you, though“
Dean snorted and rolled his eyes. “What, you and Sam taking turns now?“ he asked. “What is this, the world’s lamest group therapy?“
Bert chuckled, and even when Dean knew he only laughed about the sarcastic comment, he still felt laughed at. Talking meant Bert was trying the same thing as Sam before and offering him help. But just because he was in a bad mood didn’t mean he needed cheering up. Just because he was tense didn't mean he needed someone to help him relax. Just because he couldn't stop being lost in his own thoughts didn’t mean he was lost in general. He didn’t need any help.
“Look, Dean, I know you don’t particularly like me. And maybe you think it’s weird that I even care. But I’d like to understand what’s making you so angry all the time.“
Dean crossed his arms and looked down. He cleared his throat, then said, “Those cases, obviously.“
Bert smiled. “That’s not the only reason, that’s what’s obvious.“
Dean gave him a lopsided smile, then looked away. “Yeah, maybe, but it’s not like I’d talk to you about things like that.“
“You just don’t know that you want to yet.“ Bert gave, smiling even wider. “Time for the charm bomb to explode.“ He pushed himself away from the counter and stepped in front of Dean. When he put his hand on the other hunter’s shoulder, Dean flinched and stared at him. Bert kept smiling and then flung his arms around him. Without a warning he hugged him tight.
For a terrible second, Dean stood there and forgot how to move. “Uh,“ he made, unable to do anything about it. Then he reluctantly put his hands on the other’s back and hugged him back a little.
At some eventual moment, Dean found he’d had enough of it and softly pushed Bert away. “Okay, uh… thanks, I guess“
“You’re welcome, Dean.“ Bert still smiled at him with that goofy face and looked like he’d done something important on his bucket list. “Let’s talk now, shall we?“
The Winchester frowned, but couldn't help a tiny smile creeping on his lips. “There’s nothing to talk about,“ he said and walked over to the kitchen table and sat down.
Bert joined him there, his eyes fixed on him like he was trying to figure him out. Like there was something to explore in Dean that no one had ever found. And once again Dean felt naked. Naked like he’d felt with that flirty patient at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan. And naked like he’d felt the first time they’d met that man they didn't know who or what he was of. And naked like he’d felt as a lion.
“Whatever’s bothering you, Dean, I hope at least you understand why you’re doing what you do.“
Dean smiled at the tabletop. “I don’t,“ he said, his face melting back into a frown. “I don’t know why I’m doing most of the things I do. I just do them. And when I try to understand why, it’s like…“
“It’s like you’re reading a book with blank pages, written in magic ink only you can read.“ Bert gave back. “But you don’t know how to read it, do you?“
Dean looked up and sighed. “Yeah, that pretty much covers it.“
Bert searched his face for a long while, then sighed, too. “You need to stop, Dean.“
Stop what? Dean thought. Of course he knew what exactly it was he needed to stop doing, but did Bert somehow know, too?
All the things Dean had realized, could others see them, too? That he’d emptied his life of everything he’d wanted to be? That he was an asshole? All the damage he could do and that he did it to the one person that never stopped him because he loved him? That he was the villain of his own story? That he was a monster? Could Bert see that, too?
“I don’t think I can stop,“ Dean whispered, working his hands as though that way he could make them do the right thing.
Bert cocked his head, then after a long pause said, “I think it already makes a difference that you think about it at all.“
Silence wrapped around them then, both caught in their own heads, or both caught in Dean’s. And Dean hoped not. He hoped it didn't show on his face that he wasn't thinking about all the mistakes he’d made, which he should. He was thinking about those tiniest moments where he’d allowed himself that part of him he always held back from acting.
That part that leaned in and inhaled Cas’ scent. Or breathed in through Cas’ hair and noted how it smelled like paper and trees and human in that entirely new way that he had yet to get used to. That part that touched Cas’ chest and his neck and felt the warmth radiating from the other’s body. That part that moved his hand under Cas’ chin and his thumb under his lower lip. Just barely grazing it with his fingertip and feeling Cas’ breath along the skin of his own fingers. That part that said Cas’ name in that way he always used to say it, and it still meant everything. An everything he still didn't understand. And maybe, he thought, maybe that was what made a difference. Maybe that was what could make him stop after all.
If anything, what made him realize all those things were three unsolvable cases and another monster in the shape of an arrogant and elegant man, who might not have the intention to make him realize anything, but surely encouraged it by the ways he was playing them.
Again Dean wondered if Bert knew more than he should and if he would tell anybody, and that scared him.
The bunkers hallways and rooms were quiet as everyone was seated in the library around the dark wooden tables. There was a distant rustle of pages being turned and all their faces were deep inside the books and files, studying in the warm light of the lamps on the tables and above them. Cool drinks stood between the mass of hardcovers and other sources they were browsing or had been browsing or would be browsing next.
Everyone was in t-shirts, gotten rid of a few layers of clothing as it was still hot in the bunker and the air conditioning didn’t seem to be working hard enough. Even Cas was only wearing his white shirt, a few of the top bottoms open and the sleeves rolled up. Dean couldn't help but peer over every once in a while, pretending to have a sip of his drink. And it was when he emptied his third glass of Scotch and pulled at the collar of his t-shirt a little to let some air between fabric and skin, that Sam exhaled loudly.
“Huh,“ the younger Winchester made, staring down at his book that he lifted a bit, as though he needed to see the words bigger to make them right.
Dean scanned his brother’s face and saw something there. “What?“ he said and by that made Bert and Cas look up, too.
“I think I actually found something,“ Sam said, almost whispering to himself. Everyone’s attention was fully on him, as his eyes flew over the pages again and he cleared his throat.
“So get this: Anansi, creator of day and night, ruler over the weather and oceans and rivers, originator and collector of knowledge“
Dean raised his brows. “Okay? You think that’s our guy?“
“Yeah, think about it,“ Sam answered. “He rules over the weather and the ocean, doesn’t that sound like someone who could make it rain all the time and create thunderstorms and earthquakes, or make an ocean burn?“
“Sure, but a dozen other things could do that, too,“ Dean argued.
“Okay, right, but get this: in African lore Anansi is often showed as a giant spider, and will use his power over the weather and water to get all the knowledge he desires.“
“Okay, African Spiderman with a bit of Thor then, but how can we be sure it’s him?“
“The handkerchief,“ Bert threw in.
“Exactly,“ Sam said, wiping his face at his shoulder.
“Handkerchief?“ Dean asked.
“Didn’t you see the handkerchief in the breast pocket of his suit when we first met him?“
“Oh I’m sorry, I guess I was too busy being turned into a fucking lion“
Sam snorted and grinned. “Right. Well, it had a spider embroidered on it.“
“Okay, but I’m still not convinced. We need to be sure, Sammy. And what about the knowledge thing, huh? If he’s so eager to gain knowledge, what does he want with us then?“
“Yes, true.“ Bert said. “I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t think there’s anything important enough that I know that some supernatural creature would go out of his way to get it.“
“Well, there’s a hell of a lot we know,“ Dean said. “But it’s pretty much all out there, he wouldn’t need to deal with us, with hunters. He could just catch himself some demon or whatever and make some deal with them or something, that’d be much easier.“
“Yes, why would he take on three hunters and a former angel to get whatever he wants to know?“ Bert agreed.
“He doesn’t,“ Sam said.
“He doesn’t,“ the younger Winchester repeated. “He’s not after all of us. He’s only after you, Dean.“
Dean raised his brows and looked at his brother’s determined face. Then to Bert, who seemed to consider. Then at Castiel, who looked at his hands folded on the tabletop. Then back at his brother, saying, “What?“
“That weird weather, Dean. It wasn’t following us, it followed you. And you were the one he was talking to in that street. You were the one he turned into a lion.“
Dean stared and watched Sam turn to the former angel then.
“What did he say again when he turned him back, Cas?“
Cas looked up and when he spoke he did it very quietly. “He said he didn’t think it would turn out that way, that we only needed to stop talking to… to work things out. And he said he finds it quite interesting.“
“Dean, I think he’s after you. For some reason he wants to know something about you and that’s why he put all that on you.“
Dean grimaced, then cleared his throat. “Well uh… I’m flattered. And uncomfortable. Let’s say all that is actually what’s going on here, who is that, uh, Anansi guy then? What is he?“
“A trickster,“ Sam answered.
“Oh, that would fit with all the fucking around then,“ Bert threw in cheerfully. “The cases, I mean. Tricksters love to spread chaos, don’t they?“
“Right,“ Dean gave, wiping the sweat off the back of his neck. “So, a stake dipped in the blood of one of his victims then?“
Contentment is a peculiar thing. In moments in which we think everything is going to be okay in the end and that we finally found that one missing piece to the puzzle of our problem, we think we’re invincible. Unbreakable, really. We find that little tiny thing that makes us think we can do it all, just because it’s something that helps us make a simple step forward that we’ve been too scared to do before. And then, suddenly, we find the way again.
It was time to sit back and live a little for a moment. Because people are so blind when it comes to living. They smoke too much, they drink too much, they spend irresponsibly much money. They laugh too rarely, drive too fast, get irritated too quickly, go to bed too late, get up too tired. They read too little, watch TV too often, pray too rarely. They have multiplied their belongings, but reduced their values. They talk too much, they love too rarely, and they hate too often. They know how to earn a living, but not how to live anymore. They added years to their lives, but not life to their years.
So when the clock said it was late evening and the thermometer said it was still a little too hot in the bunker, they were all seated around the kitchen table. Their arms rested on dark wood and under yellowish light and their faces were full of smiles they showed too little and suppressed too often and allowed themselves too rarely.
Dean had cooked his infamous chili. Everyone was clanking with their spoons against their bowls and talking with full mouths, while the general topic of conversation was nothing and everything.
The older of the Winchesters stole a glance over to Cas on the other side of the table almost every minute and found the former angel’s face grew more and more unwound with every bite and every word and joke spoken.
At some point, Bert had tuned out of the chatter and turned to his bowl of chili. Speaking words so soft and gentle that Dean almost forgot how weird it was over his own proudness about how good his chili was. Bert was obviously talking to his food, because he was Bert, and it was a biological necessity.
“I’m gonna eat you, you know,“ he’d say. “I’m gonna have you inside of me and try to never digest you, cause you’re so good.“
Dean turned away, now that it got a little too weird for him. Instead he looked over to his brother who was deep inside a conversation with Cas about whatever and found a certain relaxedness there that he wanted to absorb.
Funny how rapidly things could change with just one simple lead. Hunting was a job after all, and finishing a job made you feel good, right? And even when they hadn't finished anything yet, they were one step closer to do so and that did feel good.
Dean took another spoon of his chili and while chewing it and looking at everyone’s faces he thought he wanted to stay in this moment forever. He thought he hadn't felt so calm in years. He thought he might get over himself. The moment eased so far and absolute that he felt like he would never be able to break anything ever again. Maybe somewhere hidden under his skin there was a normal after all.
He looked at Cas then and noticed that the bruise under his eye was nearly gone. You could almost pretend it had never been there in the first place. And then for the first time in weeks, he didn't remember everything he’d done and didn't feel tense and didn't feel guilty. He also didn't remember his desperate moments in which he’d been really aware of Cas and of how close he wanted to be to him sometimes. Those moments where he couldn't help but touch him or breathe in his scent. Those moments where he didn't suppress anything.
He only remembered who Cas was to him and who he’d always been and that made him smile.
Lebanon had particularly better weather than Connecticut and even when they had been sweating for the entire four hours since their arrival at the bunker, it still hit them kind of unexpected when the ventilator broke down. The ventilation system of the bunker might be old, but it had never failed to keep the air fresh and the temperature pleasant.
“What’s happening?“ Dean asked, hurrying into the library from his room after he’d heard a noise like a car crashing into a tree.
Sam was already on his feet and on the way to the gear room where everything was set that kept the bunker alive. He spared his older brother a brief concerned but unknowing look, then pushed past him.
“Seems like the ventilation broke down,“ he stated, once he’d checked.
Dean ran a hand over his sweaty face. “That can’t be good.“
“Not that I wanna go and complain about your lovely home, guys, but did it get dramatically hotter in here?“ Bert asked, standing in the doorway.
The brothers barely paid him any attention as they both bent over some apparatus, trying to figure it out. It didn't do anything, no matter which button they pushed, but also there didn't seem anything broken about it.
It had gotten noticeably hotter in the bunker. So when Dean stepped back and felt the fabric of his soaked grey t-shirt sticking to his chest and stomach and looked down on himself, he grunted in annoyance. The back of his neck felt like it was pulsing with heat and tiny streams of sweat were running down his temples and throat and also coating his hair. He hadn’t realized how hot he felt until now.
“It’s gettin’ hot in here,“ Bert started singing, pointing both his index fingers at the Winchester, “so take off all your cloth’s“
Sam threw him a bitch face. “Bert. Not the right time.“
They all stepped out of the gear room and into the war room and for no reason at all they all looked up to the ceiling, as though that would help anything. As though the cause for all this was hanging up there like a spider and could be threatened to stop by frowns and bitch faces. Dean looked back down and found Cas facing a wall by the hallway, both his hands flat against it.
“What you doing?“
Cas peered at him from the corners of his eyes and then closed them again. “The bunker is under a spell, it seems,“ he said quietly.
Sam swallowed and ran both his hands through his hair. “Maybe we should get out of here.“
“What?“ Dean turned to his brother and frowned. “It’s the middle of the night“
“Dean. Without the ventilation this place is practically gonna turn into an oven during the next couple of hours.“
“Wait,“ Bert chimed in. “What about the air? Are we gonna have enough air to breathe?“
Sam threw up his hand in Bert’s general direction. “Right. That, too. I don’t know about it for sure, but it could become a problem.“
“So, we go outside, then what?“ Dean gave, still doubting that was a good plan.
Sam sighed. “Let’s just get into the car and spend the night somewhere else. We come back tomorrow morning and sort it out then.“
Dean nodded reluctantly. This day had ended in a good way. With leads to follow and chili to eat and something comfortable swinging in the air that had cast away all the frustration. He just wished it would have ended there, instead of having to leave again now.
They made their way to the garage and when Dean looked at the dark door he felt something like a déjà vu creeping up his spine. Last time something weird happened around the bunker he’d been on the other side of that door, swimming through a pool of dirty rainwater and freezing his butt off. How time changed.
He reached for the doorknob and turned it and moved to open the door. Only that it didn't open. He turned the knob again, leaned against the dark metal, but it wouldn’t yield.
“The door’s locked,“ he muttered, then turned to the others behind him. Bert looked like his face was falling off his skull. Sam looked like he was trying to keep his face from falling off his skull. And Cas looked like in every single other moment, frozen kind of, maybe stilled. Like a statue.
Sam frowned, then suggested they’d go and try the other exits, but they were all locked. Trapped. Trapped like guinea pigs in a lab. Like ants under a magnifying lens, running away from the bundled sunlight.
Maybe out of hope, or maybe out of habit, the Winchesters both looked at Castiel then, who stood there a few steps below them on the stairway to the main entrance. He looked confused for a second, then looked away with something like shame scurrying over his stony face.
“I told you, the bunker is under some sort of spell,“ he said quietly. “I can’t do anything, if that is what you are wondering.“
Dean ran a hand over his face. “Okay. Guess we’re stuck here then.“
A noise echoed through the bunker and almost all the lights went out, leaving only one or two per room and dipping the bunker into a dull orange glow that made it look more than anything like a dungeon in a castle. The walls stood grey and pale against the floor that was still kind of shiny, even in this sparse lighting, and somehow the lack of warm light made the air feel thicker and hotter than before. It felt like a wool coat or seven layers of dust flying around and making it hard to breathe naturally. With every passing minute the temperature seemed to climb one or two more degrees. It really felt like an oven.
Dean fell into a chair in the library and sighed. It must have around 90 degrees already and he wondered if that was that Anansi guy’s doing. And if it was, was he watching right now? Dean could imagine him sitting there in his fancy suit with his arrogant smirk. Watching them sweating puddles and stains into their clothes, like they were some animals in the zoo.
But it wasn't like they could do anything about it. And anyway, if that guy actually wanted something from them, he wouldn't just grill them here and let them die. That’s the only advantage you get of some dick creature having an interest in you and making their stupid games about you. You don’t just get killed off like any other peasant along their way. Probably, Dean thought, he had to play the game to win it.
Dean had lost the ability to breathe properly. He felt like he was inhaling steam instead of proper air. He’d lost the memory of how it felt not to sweat, his t-shirt so soaked that it had turned a darker shade of grey entirely. He’d lost so much liquid from his body, he couldn’t stop drinking water. Water. The last time he’d drunk so much water was when he’d climbed out of his own grave. He felt so dried out that every drop of it seemed like a drop on hot stone, instantly sizzling away into the steam he was breathing in.
And Dean had lost fucks to give.
The temperature inside the bunker, which felt a little more like a prison every minute, must have reached about 110 degrees by now. So when he went down to the basement it wasn't because he liked that dark unpleasant place so much. It was more out of hope it’d be a little bit cooler down there. Hot air rose up, right? Cellars were the place to be in hot times.
He’d gotten rid of his heavy boots and smelly socks about an hour ago. His bare feet were clapping against the stone stairway as his sweaty palm slipped against its metal railing. He felt a little dizzy by the heat pressing down on him, bathing in his own fluids and his head heavy with sleepiness.
Little pearls of sweat tickled on his upper lip and below his lower one, as he walked across the cool concrete floor towards a small bundled shape sitting against one of the shelfs. Cas had pulled off his shoes as well, probably enjoying the cold feeling of the ground against his naked soles just as much. His white dress shirt seemed almost transparent and Dean could see the color of his skin peeking through it by his shoulders and his chest. His arms loosely braced on his pulled up knees. Actually, he looked more loose than Dean had seen him in years. Maybe in forever.
As the Winchester came closer, Cas noticed his presence and drew up his legs a little tighter, his hands falling into his lap. Dean sat down beside him, leaving some feet between them and looking ahead. As though he had no intention to even acknowledge the other’s company. He felt a brief glance at his side, though.
Dean sniffed, he already felt a little better. It was some degrees colder down here after all. And as he leaned his head back against the shelf and closed his eyes, he felt the droplets gathered under his chin rushing down his neck and into the collar of his t-shirt.
Even with a different set of temperature-caused circumstances it was kind of like that night he’d spent in the power plant. It had been awfully cold there, and it was awfully hot here, but he was still soaked beyond bearable. He wondered if he would ever feel dry again.
“You were right,“ he muttered into the quiet, turning his head but not quite looking at the former angel next to him. “That shower I suggested wasn’t necessary, after all.“
He turned his head fully to find Castiel looking at him with his still stone-like face. He’d intended to make a funny comment to light up the mood, but it didn't seem like it had actually reached the other. Dean smiled one of those smiles that disappear as soon as they appeared, only a soft twitch of the corners of his mouth. Like one of these emoticons you put behind a text message to make sure the one on the other end of the line gets that it’s a joke.
He turned his head back to staring ahead into the darkness of their surroundings, only one little weak lamp glowing overhead. The dark seemed to crawl up on him, crowding up his space and climbing over him like heavy shadows. He closed his eyes again, trying not to notice it. It’s okay, he told himself, you’ve done this before.
He had. But that didn't make it any less intolerable. This was his home, his safe space, and even when he never really liked coming down to the basement, he’d been here before. He could go back upstairs whenever he wanted. And even when there weren't any more windows to jump out of upstairs than there were down here, he usually didn't feel trapped.
Then again, he was literally trapped in the bunker. There was no way to escape this heat or the darkness around him or the bitter feeling of someone closing in on him. But this bunker was huge, he could wander around as much as he wanted. He could hide in a different corner every hour and still have enough corners left by the morning. So it didn't really make sense to him that he felt like sitting in a small box. The walls everywhere seemed to come closer by the second and the few lamps still working seemed like spotlights highlighting his misery.
Dean felt claustrophobic. Just as cornered like he’d felt under that girl Dean hadn’t been able to fuck. Or as a lion, in that corner behind the table when the morning broke. Or as a kid with his father.
There was that one time when he’d been about fourteen and on a hunt with his dad. It was some sort of Ghoul nest or whatever, and when they scanned some graveyard by night and got attacked, his dad told him to run. So Dean ran and hid in a crypt, sitting on the dirty floor with his legs drawn close and his head hidden behind his arms. He cried that night, and the day after, and the night after that. Maybe his father forgot to get him, or maybe he was too busy finishing the job. But it took three nights and two days for Dean to finally realize that he needed to get out of that crypt and find his dad.
He’d been so scared and numbed by that feeling of being trapped and left alone and the dawning realization that he would have to save himself instead of waiting for his father to do so, that he hadn't been able to move.
This felt kind of the same way. Same cold grey floor. Same feeling. The only thing different was that he wasn’t alone this time. He still felt coated by everything closing in on him and his shirt didn't only feel like a second, very wet, skin but like chains around his body. Like some sort of pressure. Not protecting him from the wrong air anymore but keeping him from breathing. He had to get it off himself.
He felt for the hem with still closed eyes and pulled it over his head, bunching it to a messy ball in his hand. When he opened his eyes he found Cas looking straight at him with raised brows.
“I’m not— it’s just—“ he stammered. “It’s just really hot.“
Dean’s eyes flickered downwards onto his friend’s chest for only a split second, then back up to his big eyes. They looked somewhere in between anxious confusion and considering this some entirely new great idea. Dean looked away.
For what felt like hours but was probably only a half one, they sat there in silence. Breathing and existing quietly next to and into one another’s presence. The heat hung heavy over their heads and around their bodies and Dean almost felt like he could fall asleep. Or fall in general.
Just when the peace and quiet got a little too much to handle, Cas suddenly jumped up to his feet. He stood there for a moment without moving, while Dean stared up at him. Undecided what to do and what not, he rose, too.
They only stared at each other with blank faces and blank minds, some sort of eye contact building between them like mist crawling up from the ground. Dean couldn't stop. Whatever he was doing, he couldn't stop.
And then he raised his hand and settled it under Cas’ chin, his thumb right under his lower lip. Cas didn't flinch back, or move at all, but even when his eyes didn't move away from the Winchester’s, there was still some kind of thing growing in them.
Dean remembered how it usually ended when he allowed himself to do this. Even when it was only for a second, he would catch himself turning angry with himself. And then angry with the situation. And then angry with Cas. And then angry with everything. So he drew back his hand, took a step back, cautious, warning himself. Don’t, Dean. Be careful.
He knitted his brows, but not in an angry way. Cas was looking at him as though he saw his thoughts, and there was the slightest tilt of his head, almost like the old Castiel’s. Whatever he was doing, Dean couldn't stop. So he made that step back towards Cas, only one foot left between them. He looked into his eyes that looked so dark and yet still as blue as always and sighed a stutter.
His hands moved to Cas’ wrists. His fingertips only barely grazed his soft skin there, his eyes still fixed to the blue, waiting for any reaction. But there was none. He wrapped his hands around Cas’ wrists. Still no reaction. Dean almost wanted to feel for a pulse to check if he was still alive, but he wasn’t sure if that’d be too weird. Also, he didn't know if he would find any pulse anyway.
He realized that he was clenching to Cas’ wrists too tightly and loosened his grip. His fingers couldn't stop. He couldn't fucking stop. His hands felt down along the back of Cas’ hands, feeling the soft knobs of his knuckles, and his own raw fingers found the gaps between Cas’. He intertwined their hands and felt himself heaving a breath that was breaking like a wave on the shore.
Cas’ hands were so warm and soft that he felt overwhelmed with some sort of burden coming off him. And when his forehead settled on Cas’ shoulder, because he still couldn’t stop, Cas stood still and careful and steady against him.
Dean didn’t realize how much time went by. But when he did, he turned his face to Cas’ neck and couldn't help but inhale all that was coming off him. Sweat and heat and still something weirdly human that Dean couldn't quite place.
He was still no taller than that moment, but he seemed to get there.
His nose found its way to Cas’ throat and when he felt the warm steady pulse there, he could do nothing but move against it. His nose moved up along Cas’ skin, slow and halting, up and up and up. Until it was right under his chin, and even with his eyes closed he noticed Cas swallow.
He drew back and exhaled. His eyes opened to Cas’ face only inches apart from his own, and he was desperate to find anything there. But there was only stone. Frozen features and glossy blue eyes that stared at him with something inside them that could have been fear, but could as well be affection.
It felt like forever that any of them even dared to blink, as they kept staring at each other with no word and no movement at all. Dean inhaled and it felt like he hadn't been breathing for hours.
Dean’s voice was hoarse and barely more than a whisper into the damp air. His own face felt just as stony. But when Cas didn’t say something, didn’t say anything, it broke into a mess of all kinds of feelings. His hands left Cas’ and he turned away.
Could it be lost that I have found
Could it be the way I’m nailed straight to the ground
Could it be that you’re the one for me
Help me please.
The red and yellow leaves scrunched under his black shoes as he stood in the middle of a clearing in a park. Some trees were almost naked already, some still carried their glory of autumn leaves like a crown on their heads. The sunlight illuminated the place like it was a stage under spotlight, and the wind rustled through the trees and across the grass in a quiet background noise.
The black spider on his palm moved one of its legs over his finger as he nudged it playfully. Its round body rested in his hand, kind of warm, while its eight dark legs stood around it in a calm posture. It was a beautiful spider. Very black, with soft grey patterns across its body and some soft hair to its legs, friendly and gentle. He smiled.
“Dear,“ he heard from behind, a soft and smooth voice that had always sounded like a song to him.
“My love.“ He answered, his eyes not leaving his spider.
A warm hand settled on his arm, as she stopped next to him, eying the arachnid in his palm with interest. Her black braids hung elegantly across her back and front and over her shoulders, golden pearls and bands braided into them, and the top pulled back into a neat knot on the back of her head. Her floor-length onyx-colored silk dress flitted backwards by the breeze, her golden bracelets and rings reflecting the sunlight. She was the most beautiful woman Anansi had ever seen.
“Husband,“ she said, moving her hand on his arm up to his shoulder. “Will you tell me about your plans?“
He turned to her, watching her face and eyes, then smiled and put a kiss on her forehead. He bent down and released his spider on the soft grass. It didn't move until he nudged it with his finger again, then it scurried away, fast like a squirrel on its eight legs.
“Do you remember that girl with the golden tongue and teeth?“ he asked, looking across the clearing at a particularly gorgeous oak tree outdoing all the other trees around.
“That was hundreds of years ago, dear. And the humans only believed she had a golden tongue and teeth, she didn't actually have.“
“Yes. Well, do you remember how I was asked to make her show her tongue and teeth to the King, because no one had ever seen them, as she never talked? How easy it was to make her! I only needed to sing a song to her.“
“Yes, dear. She sung along, I remember.“
Anansi smiled. “With many humans it’s so easy to make them do what I want.“
“What about those hunters, husband? Is it easy with them, too?“
He chuckled. “No. No, not at all, I fear.“ He moved a hand to his chin, scratching his stubble. His dark grey eyes flashed with something she could tell was adventurous.
“Ansi,“ she said and stepped in front of him. Her green eyes bore into his and her usually always calm and stony face displayed something like a frown. “I do not feel well about this. These aren’t just any humans. These are hunters, my dear. And one of them used to be an angel. I do not think it’s a good idea to keep interacting with them.“
“I don’t interact with them, Shi. I play with them.“
“But why?“ Shi Maria almost whined.
“Because that’s what I do!“ He yelled.
His wife flinched in front of him, her arms falling off him. She scowled at him. “I do not appreciate your tone with me, Anansi.“
“I’m sorry, my love. Forgive me.“ He cupped her face with his big hands and long fingers and leaned in to kiss her. She melted under his touch. “Who we are and who we need to be to survive are two very different things.“
Shi nodded. “I always supported you, in everything you did. We’ve known one another for centuries and we’ve loved one another just as long. I just do not feel well about all this. I don’t want to lose you, dear.“
“Don’t you be concerned, Shi. All is going as planned.“
She nodded again, reluctantly. She looked to the ground, saying, “Is this going to end like that one time you invited Fire to our home for dinner and our house went up in flames?“
Anansi chuckled. “Fire was a dear friend of mine, love. I had to invite him to make alliances with him for the future. But no, this is not going to end like that.“ He stroked her cheeks with his thumbs by way of comfort.
“Is this about what happened with our son?“ Shi asked, looking back up at him.
He drew back and stared at her, his brows knitted. He took some deep breaths to calm down his rising anger and then his face smoothed back. “Our son proved to be wiser than me when he suggested to put the calabash full of wisdom on my back instead of my front to be able to climb the tree. And he proved to be wiser when I ended up pouring all that gathered wisdom over the world. After all, if I wouldn't have done so, it were a lot more boring to play with humans now. I might have been angry back then, but I’m not angry anymore. I’m proud, actually. And he is not the reason why I do this.“
“Then what is the reason?“ Shi Maria asked.
“You should have seen those two, Shi.“ He said, his eyes glowing. “The way they looked at each other when the one was a lion. That knowledge in their eyes, but not in their hearts and minds. They know, but still they know nothing at all. It’s so interesting to watch.“
His wife smiled softly. “You have always been one to study the humans. Your heart is closer to them as you might admit. I wish I had something to be so enthusiastic about.“
“Well,“ he gave, smirking. “You have me, have you not?“
Dean felt somewhat forgotten here. He was sitting on the floor in the hallway, his back leaning against the wall, his legs stretched out and crossed. He had no idea where everyone was. It must have gotten even hotter in the bunker over the past couple of hours, he felt like he had a serious fever. The air he was breathing in was damp and thick like he was inhaling storm clouds. He could feel them move in and out his lungs with each heaving breath he took.
He’d meant to hide in his room, but exhaustion had hit him like a hammer and forced him to sit down a bit. He felt like he was running, hard as it was to breathe.
He wiped a hand across his sweaty face and thought back to that weird moment he’d had with Cas down in the basement. There were no actual reasons why he’d done what he’d done and it bothered him that he couldn't manage to figure it out.
He couldn't stop drowning. In the heat in here, and in those feelings he couldn't control. And in that moment where he’d run his nose up Cas’ throat and held his hands. All the almost drowning in the timeline of his miserable life, if only he’d managed to. Like that one time as a child when he’d actually had the chance to.
John had taken him to his first hunt. They were scanning some forest by night and when his dad started yelling at him to stop whining, Dean made a couple of steps backwards. He was scared his dad would hit him. But then he tripped over a root and fell backwards into a dark tarn that proved to be deeper than it looked.
Dean hadn’t been that good a swimmer back then, but John didn't care. Or didn't know maybe. So John was yelling at him to get out and Dean was yelling back that he can’t. He was pedaling and struggling to keep his head above the water, screaming for help. But his father called something about how he should learn to save himself. Because in this world you could only count on yourself. That was the exact moment Dean realized that his dad was an idiot. He was filled with so much bitterness that he would rather let his son drown to teach him a lesson than to save his life.
For a few cruel seconds, Dean had thought about giving up to teach his father a lesson for once. Escape that never ending loop of pain and being made into something he didn't want to be. Escape a future he didn't want to live. Maybe he didn't want to live altogether.
So he stopped moving and sank down into the dark water of the tarn. And closed his eyes, falling down into nothingness. And when he felt his lungs clenching and hurting and felt life dripping out of himself, there was a thought that opened his eyes, proverbial and literally. He thought of Sammy being the only son John had left. And what would happen then? Would John start training him instead of Dean? Would John start hitting him, too? Would Sam be raised into the obedient soldier Dean was supposed to be? Dean couldn't let that happen.
So he shot back up above the surface of the water and inhaled a deep and painful breath. After all, he made it out of the tarn by himself and without any help and didn't drown for the mere comfort of it. The water always followed him, but it never managed to drown him completely. And he’d realized then that no matter how hard his dad had worked on giving him the best survival skills, the one making him survive was his brother.
Dean ran his hand over his face again. He opened his eyes and found Sam standing there, looking down on him with something like concern.
“You okay?“ Dean asked with a hoarse voice.
Dean nodded and Sam joined him on the floor. Dark shadows framed the younger one’s eyes and the deep lines in his face made it seem like Sam hadn't slept this night either. It was early morning and for some reason Dean had hoped that the bunker would just stop being an oven-like prison when the next day came. Obviously, it didn’t.
Maybe for comfort Dean reached to his bare chest. His fingers closed around air. He looked down and there was nothing. He blinked and narrowed his eyes, trying to remember why there wasn’t a necklace resting against his skin.
“Hey, Sammy,“ Dean said, making his brother look at him. “What happened to my necklace again?“
“The one I gave you?“ the younger asked. And when Dean nodded, “You threw it away, back when we tried to find God and went to Heaven, remember?“
Dean nodded again, even when he didn't really remember. “And why did I throw it away again?“
Sam raised his brows, then sighed. “Well, uh, I guess the fact that in heaven I only lived through memories of leaving you… irritated you a bit. Can’t blame you.“
The older pursed his lips, fixing the wall opposite to him. “I liked that necklace.“
His brother smiled. “Remember when I gave it to you? It was Christmas and Dad didn’t come home again and I guess that’s when I finally realized that he was a dick.“
“Yeah, he was.“ Dean gave, playing with his fingers.
Sam fully turned to him, watching his profile closely. “Dean,“ he said. “You might not realize it, but I do know what Dad did to you, you know? I know how many times he hit you and blamed you for everything.“
Dean looked at him, a frown building between his eyebrows. “It wasn’t that often, Sam. It’s what dads do to keep their sons in line.“
“That’s not what dads do. Normal dads wouldn't do that. He abused you, Dean.“
Dean’s frown grew thicker and he started shaking his head. “He didn’t—“ His voice broke when a sudden dizziness washed over him. He blinked a few times, shook his head harder. His shaking hand moved across his heated face, as white and black spots took turns to corrupt his vision. When the moment was over and that odd pressure left his head, he looked back at his brother as though he only now noticed him there.
“What were we talking about again?“ he asked.
His little brother scanned his face, concern all across his features. “You okay, Dean?“
Something in Sam’s voice made Dean stop smiling his sheepish smile. He looked away.
“Something’s wrong with you, isn't it? First the jacket, then the parking lot, now the necklace. You keep forgetting things.“
Dean thought back of that moment he’d forgotten about what he was doing to Cas. And of all the other moments he hadn't felt like himself. He blinked, then, “I know. I know, Sam.“
Bert’s fingers traced the spines of the many books in the bunker’s library and he wondered if anyone had ever read them all. He was sure he could spend the rest of his life here and just read. But he wasn't sure if he actually wanted to know all they would tell him. The world was already cruel and messy in his eyes, he didn't need to worsen it. Sometimes it’s comforting to know a little less.
There was a wet cold towel around his neck, an attempt to cool down, though it didn't make it easier to breathe. He wondered how long it would take for them to suffocate, how much oxygen they still had left. And if they would ever make it out of this bunker alive. At least he wasn’t dying alone.
He heard steps behind him and turned to find Cas in the archway, a glass of water in his hand. His face looked reddened and sweaty and weary, and his white shirt was soaked badly. Cas stared at him with something like uneasiness in his eyes, then he nodded at him and turned back around to leave the library.
Bert followed him out into the war room where Cas sat down at the big map table. He took a long sip from his glass of water, his eyes closed and some of it dripping down his chin and throat. Bert sat down opposite of him.
“You think those missing people in Hazardville are dead, too?“ he asked, making the other look up.
“I hope not.“ Cas answered in a rough voice.
“Yeah, me too. I knew some of them, you know.“ He sighed. “Not personally, but by sight.“
Cas nodded, he seemed to be lost in thought. “It’s awful to lose family members.“
“Yeah. Awful.“ Bert gave back, staring at his folded hands. “Did you ever? Lose a family member, I mean?“
“I did. Many. But family doesn't mean the same thing in Heaven as it means on Earth.“
“Right. Sometimes I forget that you used to be an angel.“
Cas nodded again, as though he knew how that felt. “What about you, Bert?“
Bert chuckled and shook his head. “I uh…,“ he heaved a sigh. “I lost my entire family all at once.“
Castiel cocked his head. “How so?“
The hunter set that one special switch inside his head he always set with this topic. Playing the words he’d recorded in his mind years ago. “A couple of years ago, my entire family, my mum and dad and my sisters, they were all turned into werewolves and attacked me, in order to turn me, I guess. But I managed to fight them and then Bobby Singer showed up and helped me to get rid of them.“
“How do you know they wanted to turn you and not kill you?“ Cas asked.
Bert’s face fell as though he’d taken a death blow. Or was going in for the kill himself. “Well, I… don’t. I just always thought… I never even thought about that. But even as werewolves, they were still my family, right? They’d want me to join them. They wouldn't wanna kill me.“
“I assume that as werewolves they only saw you as meat they could devour. They were monsters. Monsters don’t feel that way, I suppose.“
Bert raised his brows, then knitted them. “Only because they were monsters doesn't mean they didn't feel anything. Only because you’re turned into a monster, doesn’t mean you lose yourself. I believe monsters can love, too.“
“Maybe.“ Cas said, looking back down at his glass of water. “But in all my existence, I’ve never seen a monster that loved another person.“
“Doesn’t mean they don’t exist. How long exactly have you been around anyway?“
Cas smiled with one corner of his mouth. “A very long time.“
“I bet you’ve seen a lot of cool stuff. You must have a ton of stories to tell. What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever seen?“
The former angel looked up at him, cocking his head again. “I think that must be the moment my father created snowstorms.“ Then his deadpan fell away and he smiled. “That was a joke, Bert. I do know what you mean by “cool“.“
Cas sighed. “Did you ever happen to see the most beautiful thing in the ugliest possible situation, Bert?“
“Well,“ Bert gave back, “I’ve seen my entire family die in front of me and by my own hands. And I remember when I stared at all the blood on my hands and watched it stream down. I remember how I thought it had something poetic in a way. But all that blood and what it meant was never poetic or beautiful. It was just red.“
When Cas didn't seem to reply anything to that, Bert sighed. He coughed and cleared his throat to get his voice straight. “You know, I never really told anyone about that, but… I was so alone after my family died. I stayed at our house and started hunting. But at some point I decided I’m okay.“
“At what point?“ Cas asked.
“Well… back then, there was that one day. I was sitting in my parents’ bedroom and looked at a picture of them. And I realized that I’m not crying. I wasn’t even sad or anything. So I took out my pocket knife and I started cutting into my arm. Not harmful cuts, it didn't even bleed that much.“ He coughed and wheezed away that nasty itch in his throat. He rubbed his forehead, feeling a building headache. “But it did bleed. I really needed to see if I can still bleed. To see if I still feel.“
“I’m very sorry, Bert.“
“I really started hating them at the time, you know. My family, I mean.“
Cas’ eyes left Bert’s face and looked at some spot on a wall. “Years of love can be forgotten in the hatred of a moment. Even the people you thought kind can turn out being bad.“
“Call me crazy, Cas,“ Bert said, patting the other’s arm and watching his face. That comment proved to him the ex-angel wasn’t talking about his family anymore. “But sometimes I have that horrible idea that in the end we all might just be human.“
Castiel looked back at him and frowned.
“We all make mistakes sometimes.“
The air got thinner and thinner as they were all seated in the library. Camping lamps added to the sparse light that started to hurt their tired eyes. Cas could feel his human heart beating too fast and his breath going too short, and he wondered if his own skin was just as pale and bluish as the others’.
That dizziness and cruel nausea growing inside him even made it hard to cough. He felt like he was breathing for nothing. Breathing new, breathing for the first time, and yet to no avail.
Sam and Bert were brooding over the lore about Anansi, and Castiel wondered why they even bothered. Dean, sitting across from him, his shoulders hanging and his head lowered, couldn't stop wiping his palms at the t-shirt he’d put back on. He seemed to be the only one understanding they were about to die.
And when Castiel took another deep breath, as though that would suddenly fill his lungs with oxygen that wasn't there anymore, there was a loud noise echoing in the bunker and everyone looked up. A sound like a train taking off, and then all the lights were turned on and a gush of new air streamed inside.
Everyone started inhaling deeply, as though they had all been holding their breath. The temperature dropped noticeably. And just when Dean’s lips moved to ask what happened, there was a knock on the door of the main entrance.
“Are we gonna open the door?“ Bert asked, as they had gathered in the war room, all looking up at the door as though it had just appeared there for the first time.
Sam coughed and walked up the stairway. He threw another look down to them, before he opened the door hesitantly, his gun ready.
“Hello,“ a woman said with a rough and tiny voice.
Sam frowned at her, but then decided to let her in. “Who are you?“
The woman looked up at him, her eyes teary and her hands folded in front of her.
“Lilly?“ Bert called. “Lilly Smith?“
“You know her?“ Dean asked.
“Not personally. But by sight. She’s from Hazardville.“
Sam led her down the stairs, her frame shaking and her head lowered. Her clothes looked dirty and were ripped at some places. And the skin of her face was pale, save for the dark shadows under her reddened eyes.
“Wait. Lilly Smith? You’re one of the missing people, right?“ Sam asked when they had sat her down at the map table.
Castiel watched her closely as she nodded to herself. She looked uninjured, but she also looked traumatized. Whatever had happened to her, whatever had been done to her, it didn't seem like it had been easy on her. And then he remembered what had happened to all the victims before they had been taken, all those secrets being told. And he thought, disappearances immediately add story to the ones who let go. But what happens when they come back? Would the secrets they’d learned about destroy or heal them?
He looked over at Dean, who seemed to vibrate out of his skin, his breathing heavy and abrupt, and some sort of glow in his eyes. Dean exhaled loudly, then turned and ran upstairs. He kicked open the door and stormed outside. He must have almost crumbled by being trapped here that long, Cas thought. Dean had always needed to feel free.
Cas’ eyes followed him as he heard the distant sound of Sam and Bert talking to the woman. And he felt like not only Dean took off. Something else took off. Something closed. He recognized some gate, some driveway, when he arrived at the space. Cas sat down, and Dean set off. And Cas imagined he’d look over at the closed door and Dean would come back, and he wanted to have the choice.
Sam and Bert were still urging Lilly to tell them everything she knew. But she only spoke in pieces, only told them things they already knew. It’s natural, everything you don’t know you want hard and fast. But Cas couldn't help but feel protective over her, even if he didn't know her. He felt like she wasn't well enough to be urged that way. He felt like it was wrong to put so much pressure on someone who had just escaped horrible circumstances. He felt like he always felt whenever Sam looked at him with that special kind of concern in his eyes.
“I— I don’t—,“ Lilly Smith stammered. She looked down at her hands, as Sam put a hand on her shoulder. She fumbled around with something in her palm. A dirty crumpled piece of paper appeared. She unfolded it, smoothed it out. “He told me to deliver a message.“
“Who?“ Sam asked, fixing her with his stare.
“I don’t… know. A man. I didn't see his face.“ She said. “But he wants me to read this to you.“
She looked up at the Winchester with weary eyes. Castiel stood up and stepped closer, touching Sam’s arm. “Sam, maybe we should let her rest a little.“
Sam shot him a frown, then turned back to the woman. “Let her read it first. Then she can rest.“
Lilly raised her shaking hands holding the piece of paper, then started reading aloud. “Golden child, lion boy. Tell me what it’s like to conquer. Fearless child, broken boy. Tell me what it’s like to burn. Under the earth he stood and found you. You made him walk through fire and breathe in ashes. You made him drown in earth and walk through fireflies. Your precious tree and golden leaves made him wonder. A giant close, this costume, the unsung hero, the missing person. Coming from your secrets, broken boy, are two hundred lives, beams of light along the way to that house he found you in.“
She looked back up at Sam, then at Bert and Castiel. None of them said anything, all of them poring over the words they had just heard.
After Sam had led her to one of the bedrooms so she could rest, he came back, staring at the piece of paper in his hands. “I guess it’s a riddle,“ he said, frowning and wiping a hand over his still sweaty face. It had gotten far cooler inside the bunker since the ventilation was back on. But none of them had really recovered from the ordeal yet.
“We need to get her blood,“ Bert stated, earning two confused looks. “For the stake. To kill that trickster we need a stake dipped in the blood of one of his victims, right?“
“You want to use her?“ Cas gave in horror. “After everything she has been through?“
“Cas,“ Sam cut in, putting a hand on the former angel’s shoulder by way of calming. “He’s right. It’s our only shot. We’ll ask her nicely and only take as much as we need.“
Cas shook his head, then turned and walked away.
“I feel like if anybody ever held hands with me, they’d just hold hands with everything I’ve ever eaten.“
“Bert,“ Sam gave, rubbing his forehead. “Concentrate, okay?“
Bert rolled his eyes and shoved the last piece of his sandwich in his mouth. “I hate riddles.“
“Yeah, I get that. But I’m not gonna solve it all by myself.“ Sam gave back, exasperated. Dean snickered into his bottle of beer in his corner by the fridge. “I mean you, too, you know.“
“Alright,“ Dean gave, pushing off the counter and walking towards them to the table. “What do we got so far?“
Sam rolled his eyes at him. “Nothing. That’s the point. He’s obviously trying to tell us something with this. He’s—“ He stared back at the piece of paper in front of him. “He’s addressing someone, or— or talking about someone. Under the earth he stood and found you. Maybe he’s talking about someone dead?“
“Ah come on, Sam.“ Dean gave and sat down next to him. “How can you be so genius the one time and so stupid the other?“ He took another sip of his beer, watching the bitch face grow in his brother’s face. “Lion boy, Sammy. He’s trying to make fun of me.“
“Of course it’s about you again,“ Bert commented, throwing up his arms. He shot the older Winchester a smirk, then chuckled. “Good ol’ self-important narcissist, centering all the attention.“
“I’m not a narcissist,“ Dean threw back, having a brief look over at Cas for whatever reason, as though to get his approval. “If you got any better idea, shoot“
“Well, it could be about The Lion King,“ Bert said, raising his brows. “Would fit as good as any other idea.“
“That’s cause downright anything can be related to The Lion King! It’s an awesome movie!“ Dean said, regretting it when he looked at his surprised brother. “I mean… it’s okay, I guess.“
Sam sighed and in the bright light of the kitchen he looked even more annoyed than usual. He was so eager to solve this riddle, but it seemed he was the only one still awake enough to think straight. The ordeal they’d been through had left them all exhausted and tired and they only now started to gain back some color to their faces.
“Maybe we should split it in pieces and work through it like that.“ He looked around, found Dean mildly motivated, Bert a little less mildly motivated, and Cas dead silent and staring at his hands. It seemed he was buried under seven layers of emotion. Sam needed to sleep just as much as they did, but he also needed to figure this out. The riddle was filling his entire mind and it very nearly killed him.
“Golden child, lion boy.“ Sam continued. “So he talks about someone who’s important in some way.“
“Or he just means golden as in blond,“ Dean gave. “Which a lion cub kinda is, you know. Or me.“
“But if he’s talking about an actual lion, why would he say boy then?“ Bert asked. “I think Sam’s right.“
“He then calls that someone fearless child and broken boy. So, someone important who’s also fearless.“ Sam said.
“And broken,“ Dean threw in, crossing his arms.
“Yeah,“ Sam said, rubbing his chin. “Maybe some sort of warrior? Warriors are often compared to lions, right? And that would make him both fearless and broken. It also says tell me what it’s like to conquer and tell me what it’s like to burn. That sounds like war to me. Can’t make sense of the rest of it, though.“
“Why do we have to solve this crap anyway?“ Dean whined. “I mean, seriously, where does it get us, Sam?“
“One step closer to Anansi,“ Sam answered, shooting his brother a piercing glare.
“Does it, though?“ Dean asked, leaning forward and settling his forearms on the table. “I’m telling you, he’s just making fun of us, it’s not gonna get us anywhere.“
“I agree with Dean,“ Bert gave, stifling a yawn.
“You shut up. You agree with whoever lets you go to bed already.“ Dean snapped at him. “Sam. Instead of wasting our time with this bullshit, we should try and find out where that guy is and finally hunt the sucker down!“
“I know,“ Sam gave, sighing. “I know, Dean. I get it, you need to hunt. But I’d really like to understand what he means by this.“
Dean rubbed his face. “Fine. Bert, you go to bed, you’re totally useless in this condition, no offense.“ He turned to the former angel. “And Cas, you… uh… do whatever you want.“
Cas raised his head for the first time in what felt like hours and looked at him. The dark shadows under his eyes folded his face into layers upon layers of tiredness and exhaustion. But his eyes were wide open and bright.
“Under the earth he stood and found you. You made him walk through the fire and breathe in ashes.“ Cas repeated the lines with a deep and steady voice. “This part is clearly about me saving you from Hell.“
The Winchesters stared at him in surprise, while Bert sank back down onto his stool. Dean scanned the ex-angels face, then said, “Well, uh… could be. Could also mean a dozen other things, though. How can you be so sure?“
“Because of how it continues,“ Cas said, looking back down at his hands. “You made him drown in earth and walk through fireflies. Your precious tree and golden leaves made him wonder. The other night, I had this—“
He was cut off when a woman entered the kitchen and caught everyone’s attention.
“Lilly,“ Sam said.
She smiled. “Sounds like a love story, if you ask me.“
Castiel closed his eyes, then rose and walked out of the room, hearing Sam call after him. Dean cleared his throat and stared at the tabletop, hoping nobody was watching him.
“What’s wrong with him?“ Sam asked the older one.
“Dunno,“ Dean said, still avoiding his brother’s eyes. “Maybe we should really take some rest, after all. We’ll sort it out later, okay?“
Dean forgot how to breathe again. The air coming in and out of his lungs felt like acid, sour and burning him from the inside. He had been made into a weapon, a killer, a monster. And had been told to find peace. That peace he’d found a piece of, that foul treacherous peace.
Dean had forgotten what he was. Forgotten what he’d felt. Forgotten that he wasn't that good person he wanted to be. Forgotten that he had the choice. Dean had forgotten what a simple comment could do. And what reactions to that comment could imply.
Cas had stormed out of the kitchen. First, Dean thought he was going to go to bed and get some rest. Then he thought he should check on Cas to see if he was alright. Then he thought he shouldn’t. Then he thought he needed to follow Cas and talk to him. Then he didn't know what to say.
Seeing him struggle then, pacing his room and not freezing in Dean’s presence, felt like a relief. Another was hiding a hundred thousand stacks of error. It was nice, just a little, a nice thing to know. Cas was barely sparing him any attention, but Dean was fine just watching him. His heart was there in a way. In a way it hadn't been there before.
Yet, it felt like his heart was late.
A series of wonders, full of noises. Transported into someone else. A nightmare, and then the darkness.
It hurt him, when he couldn't wait any longer and approached Cas with fast steps. He stopped his pacing, turned him by the shoulders, stared into his pale eyes. Cas’ thoughts seemed to be buried under a hundred layers, and then he had his own thought making his breath catch.
They should just kiss like real people do.
It hurt, then, like impossible catatonic silence, when he looked down at the other’s lips and couldn’t. It hurt, every minute, each day. A little fear, a lot of turns, but also even some new wondering I.
And when he couldn't bear that pain anymore, Dean hurled it away, and hurled Cas away. Cas landed on the floor, like so many times before. He looked up at him and Dean saw life leaving his beautiful eyes. Even when he wasn't dead.
Dean ran a shaking hand across his face, his lower lip trembling, and then life left his own eyes. He grabbed Cas at the collar of his white shirt and pulled him back up. Threw him against the wall. He wanted to punch him so badly, he could feel the urge inside him to tear the skin off that face. Feel his blood coating his hands, make his bones snap and break.
Cas looked back at him with a dead face, and Dean couldn't stop some desperate sound escaping his throat. His face fell the way Cas’ became stone, and then he kept those tears from running. His hold on the former angel tightened again, he almost snarled.
Inside you must burn what you want to ignite in others. And Dean was fire.
But he was also not. He was a weapon and the one firing it and the one being shot. He was a warrior and the king sending him into war and the war itself. He was a hammer and the hand holding it and the skull breaking by it. He was the lion and the prey. All that he did, he didn't only do it to Cas, he also did it to himself.
So he let go of Cas and made a step back. Cas exhaled. Dean inhaled. The shadows of Cas’ bedroom drew his face in weird shapes and Dean was hidden in them altogether. And when the ugly air of the moment disappeared, Dean almost smiled.
He could stop if he wanted to.
Dean was sitting in a chair on a wooden footbridge out into a lake. He was holding a fishing-rod and watching the quiet water reflecting the setting sun. This was his favorite dream. He liked this place, liked to return to it and think.
Birds were chirping up above and some of them dove down to catch some fish. His feet were bare and curling against the weathered wood of the footbridge, while the skin of his face and arms bathed in the decreasing sunlight.
“He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places now and the lions on the beach. They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy. He never dreamed about the boy. He simply woke, looked out the open door at the moon and unrolled his trousers and put them on.“
Dean turned around to see the owner of the voice saying those words and found the dark-skinned, fine-dressed man standing over him with his arms behind his back and his eyes fixed at something afar.
“What the fuck are you doing in my dream?“ Dean asked, less enraged than he wanted to sound.
Anansi looked down at him and smiled. “Hemingway, that quote. I feel it’s rather fitting, don’t you agree?“ He trained his eyes back out on the lake. “Do you know why woodpeckers bore wood, Dean Winchester?“
Dean looked away again, to his surprise finding a couple of lions playing around at the shore. His eyebrows rose, then he said, a little distracted, “Cause they’re born to do so?“
“No,“ Anansi gave back with a quiet chuckle. “There once was a bird named Woodpecker that promised his mother to bury her into a stone. The mother was very sick and about to die, and the woodpecker went to bore a stone. Then he turned back and said, “Mother, I try the stone, but I can’t bore it. I’ll bury you into wood.“ And he bore the wood. And after his mother’s death he buried her into wood. That is the reason the woodpecker bores wood.“
“The woodpecker bores wood, Dean Winchester, because it can.“
Dean knitted his brows, still watching the lions. “What do you want from me, asshat?“
“Now, now,“ the other gave back, clicking his tongue in disapproval. “Has Castiel told you about the dream I have given to him?“
Dean turned and frowned up at him. Something protective was building in his system, making him rise from his chair and drop his fishing-rod. He stepped in front of Anansi with broad shoulders and stared him in the eyes. “What have you done to him?“
“Oh, come on,“ Anansi said, lifting his hands in defense. “Do you think you are the only one allowed to hurt your angel?“
The Winchester’s scowl grew darker. “What have you done to him?“
“Nothing. I merely showed him the way.“ He smiled and it sounded like yet another quote when he spoke again. “As I left China farther and farther behind, I looked out of the window and saw a great universe beyond the plane’s silver wing. I took one more glance over my past life, then turned to the future. I was eager to embrace the world.“
When Dean frowned again, Anansi said, “Oh, you uneducated bastard! Do you ever read a book?“
Dean made another step towards him and grabbed him by the jacket of his suit. “You get out of my head, you dick!“ he snarled. “And while you’re at it, you get out of our lives, too!“
“You would like that, wouldn't you?“ Anansi looked down at Dean’s hands on his suit and raised a brow. The hands instantly dropped and Dean looked at him in surprise. Anansi shoved his own hands into his trouser pockets.
“Tell me, Dean Winchester,“ he spoke again after watching the hunter for a couple of minutes. “Why are you so afraid to lie in bed when your angel is in the same room?“
When Dean didn't reply, only scowled at him, he continued. “Do you think lying in bed will trigger a situation that wouldn't happen anyway?“
Dean woke from his silence. “What? No! What situation are you even talking about?“
“Oh, get your mind out of the gutter!“ Anansi gave back with a chuckle. “I was talking about calming down and setting that conflicting storm inside you to a rest. You are burning yourself inside and out, Dean Winchester. You are drowning in your own boundaries.“
Dean felt increasingly angrier with all the cryptic crap that guy spit at him. And while he still tried to make sense of the woodpecker, he felt more and more confused by the second. He folded his arms as though he was forcing himself to keep standing there. In his own dream.
Anansi cocked his head in a way that almost reminded Dean of Castiel. “Haven’t you recognized it?“ he asked Dean, something like disbelief in his dark eyes.
“The face in the sea. In the sea of fire.“
The hunter looked at him in confusion, recalling the feeling of burning in the water and suffocating, and how he’d almost died.
“It was your own face, Dean Winchester.“ Anansi raised his brows, as though he’d only now realized it himself. Then he seemed to collect himself again, and when he continued his voice was back to its silvery smoothness. “Brilliant, wasn't it? Your own face drew you into that sea and almost caused your death. Luckily, your angel saved you in time.“
“That’s not— He’s not—,“ Dean stammered, his eyes dropping to the wooden ground under his bare feet. “He’s not my angel. Actually, he is no angel at all.“
Anansi smiled and turned. “Come, Dean Winchester. Take a walk with me.“
Dean swallowed as the lake and the footbridge and the lions around him vanished, and he stood in the middle of a forest. The ground was covered in a tight thicket of fern and other brushwood, all of it tinted in orange and red, and all the trees were birches. Their narrow trunks were just as bright and white as the sky above, and the air was cool and pleasantly clear.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?“ Anansi said, as they walked in between the birch trees, the underwood creaking under their soles.
“I guess,“ Dean gave, feeling the damp earth underneath his naked feet and the ferns grazing his legs.
“My wife made this place,“ Anansi noted. “She’s always had a weakness for combining red with white. She says she likes how it’s like the contrast of blood and the lack of it.“
“You have a wife?“ Dean asked in surprise, walking after Anansi. He didn't actually want to follow him, but it was like he had no other choice. Like there was some invisible leash around his neck pulling him after the trickster. Neat little trick.
“Yes, in fact, I do. As you can see, she is more of a painter, while I am more of a writer.“ He looked up at the white sky and inhaled. “Why does it surprise you that I have someone? Do you believe monsters like me don’t deserve to be loved?“
Dean was about to reply something to that, even when he wasn't sure what, but then they stopped. The birch tree forest had thinned out and now they stood in front of what looked like yet another forest. Huge dark oak trees stood thickly and tightly, in the middle an earthy path led into nothing but darkness. It was so dark, Dean couldn't see inside the forest, its entrance like a giant mouth ready to devour him. Cold air emerged from it in a violent gush of wind and Dean couldn't help but shiver.
“Come,“ Anansi ordered, starting to walk towards the dark entrance.
Dean didn’t want to go in there, he wanted to run away. But the invisible leash around his neck pulled him forward. He had no other choice than to follow the trickster into what seemed to be yet another trick. Wake up, he told himself in his head, wake the fuck up, Dean.
But he didn't wake up. And so they walked into the darkness that was so absolute and perfect that Dean felt like he could hear his own blood streaming through his veins.
“Are you scared, Dean?“ Anansi’s low voice asked from somewhere.
Dean swallowed and walked on. One step after another. He wasn’t scared. He was terrified. “Why don’t you stop dicking around with me and tell me what the fuck you want?“ he managed to get out, his voice shaking.
“I am not, as you say, dicking around with you. I am showing you the way.“
The dark oak tree forest around them vanished and they stood in front of a house. Dean’s brows rose and he looked over at Anansi.
“Now you only need to decide whether or not you will go inside.“
Tell me what’s that on your eyes
I will let you be loved
Tell me what’s the on your eyes
Dean was still half asleep when he walked into the kitchen. The bunker was mostly still quiet after their short night, but he could hear the distant noises of everyone setting themselves for the new day.
Last night had been tough. Still recovering from their seventeen hour near-death experience, some new implications had filled Dean’s mind. Cas was being weird about that stupid riddle, and Sam and Bert obviously oblivious. Dean wondered if he was the only one aware of the elephant in the room.
Cas thought the riddle was about them. And even when Dean didn't remember every line of it, he still knew that would imply that Cas thought of them as something more. More than what they actually were.
Sounds like a love story, if you ask me.
He sat down at the kitchen table with his cup of coffee and frowned. A love story? He rubbed the bridge of his nose and sighed. Someone, probably Bert, dropped something somewhere and there was also this tiny buzzing that sounded a bit like the fridge and Dean’s stomach was empty. But he had no appetite.
The buzzing became louder and moved back and forth, and Dean looked up to find some insect flying around near the kitchen island. It flew closer and Dean saw that it was an actual bee. How ever a bee would get into the bunker. Maybe Bert had left some door open again.
“Hey,“ Sam said when he entered the kitchen, distracting Dean from the bee. Sam had gotten up early to drive Lilly Smith to the airport so she could go home.
“Got the blood?“ Dean asked, as his brother poured himself a coffee, too.
Sam sank down opposite from him and sighed into his cup. The buzzing stopped and Dean’s eyes shot straight to the bee sitting on the tabletop. Very slowly, he reached for the newspaper and then smacked it down on the insect. A victorious grin spread on his face.
“Is that a bee?“ Sam asked in surprise, frowning.
The older one turned back to his coffee, unimpressed, and started to read the newspaper. He scanned the pages but didn't actually read anything. The scent of his coffee climbed up his nose and the cup was warm against his palm. Sam’s tired breathing filled the air and Bert’s cursing echoed against the walls. Dean’s mind was distracted. His mind was still inside his dream. Still feeling the damp earth under his bare feet and the darkness of the oak tree forest and the fear. The last thing he remembered was standing in front of that house, right outside the door on the porch.
“Good morning, sunshines!“ Bert cheered as he came in, stretching his arms over his head and smiling his million watt smile. “I had the bestest of sleep, guys!“
“Bestest is not a word, you know.“ Dean grumbled, his eyes still fixed on words he didn’t read and pictures he didn't see. “You can’t just superlative a superlative.“
“Look at you,“ Bert gave back, coffee already in his hand and rummaging around in the fridge, “I didn’t know you know such complicated words like superlative. But the correct expression would be compare a superlative. Also, you sure can.“
“No, you can’t, that’s the whole point.“ Dean gave, looking up. “Best is already the highest possible good. You can’t have better than best.“
“Sure you can,“ Bert said and sat down with them, taking a bite from a raw tomato. “It’s the same thing as the fact that there’s a superlative for wrong that no one ever acknowledges.“
Dean raised his brows. “You mean it’s the same thing as in it’s equally false.“
“No. Like, take this tomato. It’d be wrong to say this tomato is a nut, right? But it’d be even wronger to say this tomato is a house. There’s wrong and there’s wronger.“ He took another bite of it and grinned at the Winchester full-mouthed. “Just like there’s a best and a bester and a bestest.“
Dean was about to reply how that was bullshit, as another bee flew into his vision. Sam followed his scurrying look and frowned.
“Another one?“ Sam gave.
“What the hell?“ Dean barked.
“I don’t like bees,“ Bert whined.
Dean got up to follow the bee to smack her as well, when three more bees appeared in the kitchen. He whirled around, his face a wild mixture of confusion and annoyance. It dawned on him then that this wasn’t normal.
And then everything changed very fast. Faster. Fastest. And Dean didn't know anymore if it was wrong or wronger, also didn't care. All three of them started moving around in the kitchen. They’d found some sprays, insecticide and deodorant, and started igniting their content to burn them all up.
There were what appeared like a hundred bees inside their kitchen by now. A thick swarm of buzzing and humming little flyers harassing and stinging them. The chaotic disarray of the scene would have almost been hilarious, if it weren’t for their failing to get rid of them. Dozens of painful stings already covered their arms and necks, while they were fighting hard and it seemed to no avail.
“Dean? Sam?“ Dean heard from somewhere and looked up to find Cas in the doorway.
Dean shot him a desperate look. Something that felt almost like one of those looks he used to throw him in the past, whenever Cas would appear last minute to save the day.
Cas stepped into the kitchen with so much calmness that Dean couldn't stop watching him. There appeared to be something about him, some sort of light or a shine that made his eyes look bluer and his skin brighter. Oh right, he thought. Cas has a thing for bees. He remembered how ridiculous he’d thought it was back then. How Cas had appeared on his car stark naked and covered in bees.
But it didn't seem ridiculous anymore now, as Cas stopped in the middle of the kitchen, stock-still like a statue, and somehow all the bees were drawn to him. They all landed on him, on arms and chest and back and legs, even on his face and hands. And when they were all gathered with Castiel, something absolutely crazy happened. Cas smiled. He shot the Winchesters and Bert a last look, then made a slow turn and walked out.
Dean moved to follow him, his face washed in astonishment and a little fear, but his brother stopped him with an arm on his chest.
“He could’ve at least said my name, too,“ Bert complained. “It was like I’m air to him.“
“Hey,“ Dean said, knocking on the doorframe. “Can I talk to you for a second?“
Cas turned to face him, standing there in the middle of his room. Dean wondered if that was what Castiel did when he was alone. Standing around, staring into space. He leaned against the desk and crossed his arms, feeling Cas’ eyes on him. They looked weary and somewhat anxious.
“So, uh,“ Dean started after some minutes, fixing the ground.
“The bees are all outside, I made sure of it.“ Cas said.
“Yeah, no. Thanks for that.“ For a second, he thought about asking him how he’d done that. “But that’s not why I’m here.“
Pause. “Last night, I had that… dream. And Anansi showed up in it.“ He looked up at Cas who seemed to study him with interest. “And I was wondering,“ Dean continued, “because he said, uhm… he said he gave you a dream, too?“
Cas lowered his eyes to the ground, then nodded.
The Winchester cleared his throat. “Look, uh… I don’t know how to put this, but… but is there, uh…“ He sighed, looked away when Castiel looked back up at him. “Is there something, uh… is there something?“
The former angel cocked his head, scanning the other’s face. He made a hesitant step towards Dean, stopped. “What do you mean by something?“ he asked with a quiet and rough voice.
Dean’s eyes widened a little and he cleared his throat again. “I don’t— I mean, uh…“
“What did Anansi say to you, Dean?“
“He said, uh… he said he gave you a dream, said that he showed you the way?“
Castiel cocked his head a little more, a frown growing on his forehead.
Dean thought of all the things Anansi had implied, all the observations he’d made about him, and he chose not to mention any of it. He chose not to mention Anansi’s question about if he believed monsters didn't deserve to be loved. He chose not to mention how scared he had been, how utterly afraid.
“He led me to some house then,“ Dean said, rubbing his forehead. For some reason his heart started to go wild. “Said I needed to choose whether or not I’ll go inside.“
Castiel’s frown transformed into something like surprise and he looked away to the wall. “What did you see inside it?“ he asked in a mere whisper.
“I didn’t go inside,“ Dean gave back, watching Cas’ face fall. “Or well, at least I don’t remember going inside. I’m not sure.“
Cas nodded towards the ground, his hands clenching to fists by his sides. And Dean noticed how the skin of his neck was shifting in that smooth way when he swallowed. He remembered how that skin felt, how rough and all the same soft that skin was, how his face felt against it.
“Cas?“ he breathed, as his friend seemed to get more and more tense by the second. As though he was trying to hold something back from spilling out of him.
“There was a house in my dream, too.“ Cas said after some time, looking back up from under his lashes.
Dean searched his face, though he wasn't sure what he was trying to find there. “Did you go inside?“ he barely managed to ask, his voice rough as gravel. He uncrossed his arms and braced them on the desk, as though he needed hold.
Castiel nodded and made another step towards Dean. And another. And another. And another.
Dean’s heartbeat sped up so rapidly, he was barely keeping up with it. It seemed about to skyrocket out of his body. “What was inside?“ he rushed out, as though to stop Castiel by it.
And he did stop. Right in front of him. His head was lowered and he looked at him through his dark lashes again, and Dean couldn't help but think how outraging the blue of his eyes was. He felt like it cut him into pieces, like he was falling apart and catching fire. Like burning flakes of ash dropping to the ground after an explosion, falling slow and dancingly as feathers.
He knew he liked Cas. And somehow he knew Cas liked him. But they both seemed to be too scared to let the other see. At least before. Because while Dean was desperate to catch his breath, Castiel reached out to him and placed his hand in Dean’s neck. A warm and soft hand, heavy and real.
Cas was fixing him with his eyes, holding him in place, taking him in. And Dean couldn't look away. Couldn't breathe. Couldn't move. Couldn't stop.
His heart was pounding so hard against his skin, it hurt, and he felt sweat building on his forehead and temples. The room was dipped in silence and calmness, so quiet and peaceful, but inside him there was harsh and fearful disarray. Calamity. Misery. Catastrophe. Cas kept staring at him, so naked and raw, not a word leaving his lips only inches away from Dean’s.
The scent coming off him. The warmth radiating from his body. His hand on his neck. His fingers resting behind his ear. His breath grazing his face. The gloss and blue of his eyes. The closeness of his lips. And Dean almost leaned in. Almost gave in. Almost crumbled and fell into him.
And Dean was afraid.
He flinched, as though he was waking from a dream, some strange numbness falling off him. “Don’t.“ He whispered, taking the other’s wrist and moving the hand away from his neck. Then louder, “Don’t touch me.“
Cas’ eyes widened, then closed. He sighed, pressing his lips.
Dean lowered his head, pushed the heels of his hands into his eyes. He exhaled. Cas inhaled. Dean walked out of the room, almost running.
Dean didn’t remember how it had started.
There had been a thought somewhere. And maybe that thought shouldn't go to sleep, Dean had thought. Maybe it should bleed instead. Maybe he had to make sure it bleeds, it could be.
He had stammered. He’d tried to say a few things. And when Cas listened to the senseless pieces he brought out, all Dean wanted was to love. To worry. To doubt fundamentally.
Cas’ eyes were even bluer when they were filled with pain and horror. And the dark red stream of blood running down his temple and cheek made them even more beautiful. Made them look even more forceful. More unnatural.
“Please,“ Cas whispered, looking up at him, his face a mask of hurt. “Dean“
Dean looked down at him, holding him tight by his collar. There was so much anger inside him. So much rage, he felt like he needed to defend himself. Fighting is a working strategy.
He wanted to choke him. His hands wrapped around his throat, his blood coating his skin and his eyes pleading. The skin of his neck against his fingers, the skin he’d traced with his nose. Cas gasped and wheezed, tears mixing with the blood on his face. His hands wrapped around Dean’s wrists, but Dean only tightened his hold around his throat.
Dean didn’t know how it had started. He only knew it had. And that he couldn't stop. That he didn’t want to stop.
The Winchester whirled around, abruptly let go of Cas and sucked in a painful breath. Sam was standing in the doorway, his face all shock and horror, breathing heavily.
“What the fuck are you doing?!“ Sam almost yelled.
“I— I—,“ Dean stammered, throwing a brief glance over to Cas on the floor.
Cas was sitting on his heels, his hands in his lap and his head lowered. Thick drops of blood fell down to the ground from his forehead and mouth. His eyes were closed.
“I’m— It’s not—,“ Dean stammered again. He raised his hands in defense, then found the blood coating them, swallowed.
Sam made a step into the room, his shoulders broad and standing up tall. His face and eyes were full of anger. “Get. Out.“ He said through gritted teeth.
His brother raised his brows and was about to say something, but he didn't get the chance to.
“GET. THE FUCK. OUT. DEAN.“ Sam yelled.
Dean wiped a hand over his face, some of Cas’ blood smearing on his cheek and forehead. He closed his eyes, then lowered his head and walked out of the room.
“Cas?“ the Winchester said, watching him closely.
Castiel was sitting on his bed. The blood on his face had been washed away, some of it dried on his white shirt. He had his head lowered and was staring at his folded hands. He remained silent.
“Look, Cas,“ Sam tried again. “I know this must be very difficult. But I’m here, okay? You can talk to me.“
The former angel still didn't react, seemed to shrink in on himself even more, if anything.
“I just want to understand.“ Sam said.
“There’s— there is nothing to understand.“ Cas whispered, his voice rough and raw.
“Look, I saw what he did to you, Cas. And—,“ he swallowed, shook his head. “And I wish I would’ve seen it sooner. God, I was so blind. I’m so sorry, Cas.“
Cas lowered his head even more, as though to hide himself. It broke Sam’s heart. It made him angry. He hadn't done anything to stop this. Just like he had done nothing back when it had been Dean being abused. He’d never done anything to make his father stop. Somehow, he’d always believed his brother was invincible, that he could take it. That he wouldn't take it, if he couldn’t. Dean used to be his protector, after all. How do you protect someone like that?
Sam realized that Cas wouldn't talk. He would have to give him some time. He would have to take care of him, make him feel better. And he’d protect him better than he’d protected Dean. He would make it right this time.
So he rose and walked out of the room. He didn't know where exactly his brother was, he only knew that he’d left the bunker. His car was gone and also Dean had practically made a loud and noisy show of his leaving. Slammed doors, shouted curses, squeaking tires. No telling if Dean was mad at him or mad at himself.
When he closed the door of Cas’ bedroom, he found Bert in the hallway. Knowing Bert, he had probably been eavesdropping.
“How is he?“ Bert asked with a voice uncommonly quiet.
“Not good,“ Sam gave back and sighed.
“You need to get Dean back, Sam.“
The Winchester stopped and turned. “What? We need to protect Cas from him!“
“We need to get him back.“ Bert stated again. “Cas clearly wants him to come back.“
“Are you nuts? Didn’t you see what he’s done to him?“ Sam snapped, gesturing towards the closed door.
“I did! Look, I’m not saying it was wrong to send Dean away. I’m just saying he has to come back.“
“I’m not going to let him near Cas again, Bert!“
“And that’s wrong! Don’t you see it? Can’t you see those two need each other now?“
“D’you hear what you’re saying, Bert? That’s crazy!“
“I know it’s crazy. I know it’s fucked up, Sam! But keeping them apart won’t fix it.“
Sam ran a hand over his face, breathing heavily.
“You still have a family, Sam. I don’t. So you go and fix it, dammit!“
The Winchester was still avoiding his eyes. Even when there was some right in Bert’s words, there was also so much wrong. He couldn't let this happen again.
Bert pushed air out of his nose and in one fell swoop he looked like a whole different person. He broadened his shoulders, stood up tall, and fixed him with a piercing glance.
“Sam Winchester,“ he began with a somewhat deeper voice. “Look into my eyes. You see how crazy they look? You go find your brother! You. Do. This. NOW!“
Dull and dusty fields passed him in a gush of dirty brown and grey and the clear sky above hung deep with a thousand stars. The road lay before him, an empty rip through the deserted landscape. A black cut weakly illuminated by his headlights. The tires rumbled against asphalt, while the engine roared and hummed.
Dean thought it should be raining.
It should be raining down on him and soak every fibre of his body. It should drown him. But the air was dry and not too cold this evening, and the sky was peaceful. There was no storm hiding somewhere, as he was driving nowhere.
He’d been thrown out. He’d been cast away. He’d been banished from the place that was supposed to be his home and from the people who were supposed to be his family. Yet, he had only himself to blame.
His hands clenched tighter around the steering wheel, his eyes stubbornly fixed on the dark of the road ahead. His heart was still pounding erratically, unrhythmically. Tears threatened to fall and he blinked them away.
He was never who Cas thought he was only because Cas thought it. But because Cas thought it, Dean wanted to be that. He wanted to change. Wanted to let himself find that little piece of him that had always been somewhere inside. That piece of him that was hiding in the dark, afraid, and hopeless place somewhere in his mind. Because it was too lonely to dare and come out.
That part of him that could fight the other part. The one that thought it was better to make victims than to be one. The one that thought it was better to fight someone else than to fight himself. The one that had made Cas follow him and corrupted him so much that it had made the man who had once been an angel make all those heavenly mistakes. The one that couldn't bear the fact that he was the one to blame for Cas’ fall.
He’d been so frustrated. So provoked by his own failure. It didn't even matter what Castiel did or didn't do, Dean had always felt threatened by it. Or rejected. And even when he didn't think much about himself, even when he’d never felt important to this world, even when he was never important to himself, being the victim never fit into his self-perception.
So when he couldn't be the victim, it had to be Cas. It had to be Cas who was fought and despised.
Dean knitted his brows and his hands clenched to the wheel so hard that his knuckles turned white. By a sudden flash of choice he drove the Impala to the side of the road and hit the brakes.
He fell back into the leather of the bench and stared ahead into the darkness. Some vultures circled in the sky above not far from him, and Dean wondered if they were here for him. To gather the last remains of his life that was dead before he was.
His eyes left them and looked into the rearview mirror. His skin seemed grey and worn-out, his features drawn. His eyes didn't have the same green they used to have anymore. It was pale and edgeless, and the white of his eyes was nearly as red as the blood on his face.
He made a moment in silence. An eerie northern light on skin, a star and a million miles away.
He reached into his jacket and pulled out the familiar yellowed piece of paper he always carried ever since he was a boy. He unfolded it with shaking hands and looked at the words that didn't make so much sense anymore. He’d always felt a security with it. It had always brought something home to him. A bandaid he used to like in the cold.
His lower lip was trembling as he scrunched his list in his blood-stained hands, balled his fist around it. For a second, he held it there, felt it against his palm, as though he was trying to make up his mind. It’s hard to let something go that is so old. But it didn't help anymore, it was no sheet-anchor or a rescue blanket. It was the blood staining his face, and the bruises covering the knuckles of his hands, and the memories of all he’d done and all he’d destroyed.
He had one last look at the yellow crumpled paper in his palm, then put it away in the glove box.
And then he made a decision. Sam had left him so often, had sent him away, and Dean knew how it was to hunt alone. In that never remembered time before Cas, he’d been hunting alone for a long time, and even while he needed his brother, he didn’t depend on him.
Yes, back then, he’d had his leather jacket to feel protected, and his necklace from Sam to feel wanted, but it didn't matter anymore now. He couldn't do anything to fix his own life, but he could do something to finish this case. He would go after Anansi and he would kill him.
Cas stirred awake in the dark of his room. The sheets were tangled around his legs and his pillow damp by sweat. He didn't remember what he’d been dreaming about or why he woke, this just discovered realm was still new to him.
He sat up in his bed and rubbed his eyes. His glances wandered around in the darkness and over the shadowy outlines of the furniture. It was all unchanged and quiet, black and grey in every way possible. But then something woke him more.
He heard someone breathing.
“Sam?“ he whispered, because he couldn't see the person. But there was no answer.
“Bert?“ Still no answer.
His eyes started to adjust to the darkness and then a figure stepped out from the corner. He wore a black coat with its collar put up, and his short hair was just as dark.
“Castiel,“ a deep unfamiliar voice said. The figure stepped closer, and when Cas made out the blurry shape of his face he found he’d never seen that man before.
The man smiled. He almost appeared friendly, weren’t it for that weird stench coming off him. Cas knew that stench, but he couldn't quite place it. As though the man could read his mind, he stopped and his eyes turned black.
Demon, Cas thought. His hand reached under his pillow and took hold of his angel blade. It felt somewhat heavier now that he was human, but it would still work. He rose from the bed and made a wavering step towards the demon, his angel blade pointed at the intruder.
“You have no place here,“ Castiel said, his voice rough and almost as threatening as it used to be.
The demon’s smile grew wider.
“How did you get in here?“ Castiel asked, making another step towards him.
“Oh well,“ the demon said, “an old friend of mine was so generous to let me in.“
“Well, I mostly call him self-important dick, but I guess you guys know him by the name of Anansi.“
Cas’ eyes widened and his blade sunk a few inches. Then he raised it again. “Go, and I will spare your life.“
The demon chuckled. “Cute,“ he said with a grin. “Not gonna happen, though.“ He raised his brows and made a gesture with his hand.
In a flush of sudden numbness Castiel felt dizzy and wrong. Darkness rose inside him, a darkness so whole and black that he felt it eat him up. His hands turned ice-cold and his vision blurred so rapidly that the stranger in front of him was only a mere blotch now. He would have thought he could fight. He’d thought he could defend himself if he had to. He’d started to think he wasn't as useless and weak as he felt. He’d thought the falling was over.
And then he fell unconscious.
And oh, my God
I don’t ask for much
Except for the one that I can’t touch
What have I done
A quiet breeze flew past the Impala’s frame. Some birds were chirping their melodic songs somewhere in the forest by the road. The smooth leather of the back bench felt soft against his backside, though he could already feel cramps and sore spots from sleeping in his car.
The sun should rise in a few, Dean thought as he sat up and rubbed his eyes. He got out of his baby, the dusty dirt of the side of the road scrunching against his heavy boots. He stretched his arms over his head, yawning blearily.
Huh, he thought when he took a look around. There was no sunset, nor any dawning daylight at all. There was only the dark of the night and the stars in the sky and the hush of nature being asleep. Now that he considered it, he realized that there were no birds chirping, only ravens crowing and owls hooting.
So Dean looked at his watch and found that it was ten. “Can’t believe I’ve been sleeping the entire day,“ he muttered to himself.
He took out his phone to see if he got any messages. He had none. Neither his brother nor Cas had been trying to reach him. He would have even been happy hearing from Bert. He swallowed, feeling tears rise in his eyes, then cleared his throat. He was all alone. All alone somewhere in the middle of nowhere of Indiana.
If you can’t fix it, you must stand it. So he would stand it. He would stand that no one was looking for him. He would stand that no one wanted to talk to him. He would stand that he was on his own finishing this case. He would pull himself together and find that teacher he’d heard about who might be able to help him.
But when he threw another look at his phone, his eyes widened. He took another look around, a frown shooting into his face. It was supposed to be evening. It looked like night, actually. But it wasn't ten o’clock in the evening. His phone said it was ten o’clock in the morning.
He rubbed his eyes again, as though the problem was his sight. But when he opened them again it was still dark as night and quiet like a grave and there was no sun and no person and no birds chirping their songs. There was only him in the darkness, standing by his black car and a phone in his hand that he could call no one with. Because no one wanted him to.
No one wanted him.
Crown Point was a nice little town in Indiana. A pretty town with pretty people who didn't even seem too concerned about the fact that it was pitch-dark in the middle of the day. Local news claimed it to be some sort of weather phenomenon and rather marveled at it as some amazing miracle.
“Jamaica has by far the most tales and stories about Anansi,“ Andrew Brown stated, teacher at the local High School. He was a tall and slender man with wild, brown hair and frameless glasses. His features looked young and edgy, though he still appeared older than he might actually be.
“Anansi is said to like playing with fire and water. As you might already know he rules over the weather and the oceans.“
“Yeah, okay,“ Dean gave, looking at the few outspread sheets of paper on Mr. Brown’s desk. “What else d’you know? Like say, where does he live?“
Andrew chuckled. “Well, that’s a tough one. In all the lore I’ve ever read about Anansi, I’ve never actually found anything exact about where he lives. In some stories they mention a house, in others it’s a tree.“
Dean wiped a hand over his face, sighing.
“The tree, though, is mentioned the most. A lot of tales say Anansi likes to climb trees like a spider, which is how he’s often portrayed. Some tales even go a little more into detail, mentioning a certain Duckano tree.“
“What’s a Duckano tree?“ Dean asked, looking to the side at the teacher.
“Well, that’s what I’ve been wondering my entire life, actually. I can’t say for sure, but I think meant is probably the dessert Duckanoo, something they say Anansi likes to eat. Anansi likes food, especially sweet fruits and desserts.“
“Tricksters and their sweet tooth, huh,“ Dean mumbled. “So, could he be… summoned in any way?“
Andrew frowned at him in surprise. “Well, apart from the fact that all this is merely fictional,“ he made a waving gesture over the papers on his desk, “I’d have to say no. Anansi is a trickster, a demigod of some sorts. Demigods are very hard to summon, if they can be summoned at all.“
Sam Winchester was running out of plans. So many people had gone missing, and only one had returned. So many people had fallen into a stupor and stopped talking. So many people had died. He had so many questions. Why was Anansi doing what he was doing? What was that knowledge he wanted to gain?
What about Dean?
He didn’t know where his brother was and what he was doing. He didn’t even know if he was alright. Yet, he couldn't bring himself to pick up his phone and just call him. He wouldn't know what to say.
It was the middle of the day and the bunker was eerily quiet. Bert had stopped talking to him for the mere reason that he didn't agree with Sam still being here and not out there looking for Dean. And Cas didn't talk to him either, for whatever reason. Sam felt a size too small for his own skin.
There was no back and no forth. But a here, at least.
Guilt kept creeping under his skin like a parasite. So at some point Sam decided to go talk to Cas again and bring him something to eat. Cas hadn't left his room the entire morning. He knocked on the door and when no one answered he opened it and stepped inside, a bowl of Cas’ favorite cereal in his hand.
He’d expected to find the former angel sitting on his bed. Or lying in his bed. Or somewhere in the room doing nothing in the quiet sadness surrounding him ever since Dean had left. Or maybe even since before that. He’d expected to make another attempt to talk to him and fail again, almost felt angry about it before it even happened. He’d expected to find anything.
So it was a surprise when the room was empty.
Sam frowned. His eyes darted around, as though he’d only missed him, as if the room was big enough to miss anything. His heart skipped a beat as he didn't only find the lack of Cas but also his angel blade on the floor. Sam knew Cas always kept it close, even now that he was human. Dawning panic washed over him.
He whirled around and stormed out of the room, along the hallways. “CAS?“ he kept shouting, increasingly louder the longer he got no answer. “CAS!“
The hallways had no Cas. The Winchesters’ bedrooms had no Cas. The guest bedrooms had no Cas. The kitchen had no Cas. The war room had no Cas. The library had no Cas. The basement had no Cas. And then the garage, it only had a Bert.
Bert was working on his rusted old car and looked up at the sound of Sam entering and calling Cas’ name. “What is it?“ Bert asked, then looked away. As though he only now remembered that he wasn't on speaking terms with the Winchester.
“I can’t find Cas,“ Sam said, out of breath.
“What’s with the cereal?“ Bert asked.
Sam looked down to his hand still holding the bowl, then frowned and shook his head. He put it away, tensed. “Did you hear what I said, Bert? Cas is gone!“
“You think he ran away?“
Sam rubbed the back of his neck, looking at the empty spot where the Impala usually stood. “I don’t know.“
“Wouldn’t blame him,“ Bert gave, turning back to his car. “You practically locked him in here like Rapunzel in her tower. Maybe he’s out looking for his prince.“ He smirked.
Sam knitted his brows and drew his phone. “Not the best time for jokes, Bert,“ he muttered as he scrolled through his contacts.
“But the bestest time for it“
It rang and rang for endless minutes, Sam clinging to his phone at his ear like he feared he’d drop it. “He doesn't pick up,“ he said after a while, his thumbs scrolling down. Dean’s contact sprawled on his display like a giant exclamation mark. Or a question mark. It’s funny how a name can cause a certain emotion for ages, and then suddenly it stirs something else entirely. Like it was somehow a whole different name now.
Sam looked up from his phone. “Let’s go.“
A headache was pounding against his skull. The sparse light of the cheap-because-ugly motel room still hurt. It could be a migraine. It could be his mind not being able to process all the damage he’d done to his life. Dean felt sorry for himself.
He’d really tried. He’d tried to try. He’d tried to stop and tried to believe he could stop. Tried to get to the bottom of things. And when he’d screwed it all up, he’d tried to at least do what he’d been born into and finish the case. Tried to make the best of the worst, while ending up with moderate at best.
But the lore about Anansi was just as sparse as the light in this room and that teacher hadn't been the help he’d expected him to be. He still knew nothing about the trickster’s whereabouts or about where he should even start to look for him.
There was no more bravery in his eyes. There was only sadness. Defeat. Hopelessness.
Dean sat down on the dusty bed and stared at the contacts in his phone. His finger hovered over Sam’s number. All the things he’d like to discuss with him. All the ideas Sam would come up with. All the cleverness that had always made Dean proud.
He scrolled past the number. Back up. Back to Cas’ number. If only he could call him. If only he could talk to him. Hear his voice. Hear his stick-in-the-ass way of speaking. Dean would make a joke, and Cas wouldn't understand that reference. And then Dean would ask him if he was okay, and Cas would say he was, even when he wasn’t. And then Dean would say he was sorry, and Cas would say he was sorry, too, even when he hadn't done anything.
He put his phone away, closing his eyes. He took a breath he didn't want, and the smell of old and used furniture and a hundred different strangers climbed up his nose. The world was crashing down on him and maybe that was what made his head hurt so much. His life collapsed, his heart shut down. A lockdown in the most hopeless of times. His mind’s attempt to save at least a piece of him. But Dean didn't want to be saved.
He wished he could just kill himself.
He wouldn't have to stand what he couldn't fix. He wouldn't have to bear his own mistakes. He wouldn't have to bear the past. He wouldn't have to feel so worthless anymore. He wouldn't have to hate himself. And everyone else in his life, they’d finally be rid of him. Wouldn't have to stay away, or send him away, or keep him away. He would finally be away forever. Wasn't that what everyone wanted?
His vision blurred a little, but he wasn't sure if it were tears or the headache. He needed painkillers. Even if he couldn't kill himself, he at least wanted to kill that pain. All the pain. He rubbed his eyes and started rummaging in his duffel.
Looking for the little orange jar of pills, he found a leather-bound book. It felt somewhat familiar in his hands, the leather smooth against his fingers, its weight something he thought he’d felt before. He sat back down and opened it. A cluster of scrawly handwriting and weird drawings covered the pages.
As he found the pictures in the front, showing his parents and his brother and himself, he paused. His brows rose just like the imminent dawning of yet another memory he’d lost. He’d been sure he’d never seen that journal before. But now he realized he’d seen it so often throughout his entire life, the fact that he hadn’t recognized it at first should shock him.
But there was no shock. Not even surprise. There was only the lack of care. Because he really didn't care anymore. He’d lost another memory about something that had once been important to him. Something he’d once needed. So what?
“Alright, would you quit it already,“ Bert complained, his right wrist in the tight grip of Sam’s ginormous hand. “You compared all the watches we got, okay?“ He pulled back his hand and put it back on the steering wheel. “And I’m driving here, by the way, in case you haven’t noticed.“
Sam shot him a scowl and started searching news sites. “It says here that this is happening at least in four different states. Confirmed are Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. It’s like a cross-border power outage, only with daylight.“
Bert chuckled. “Imagine the sun had a power switch. Where would you place that? There would be world wars about it.“
“Bert,“ Sam chided. “Those are all states between here and Connecticut. It must be Anansi doing this.“
Bert nodded. Sure, another strike of dick-induced nature bending. He’d been working with the Winchesters for several weeks now, and he’d never been part of something this huge his entire life. It should make him proud, excited maybe, encouraged even. But all it did was making him feel useless.
He was definitely not someone for big stuff. He was good at ghost jobs, werewolves every once in a while, a vampire ever other month. He was good at easy and strictly after plan and schedule. But he’d never been someone to rise to a challenge. He was rather that ordinary guy helping out. The sidekick. The Robin for someone’s Batman. The Pepper for someone’s Iron Man. The Ronald Weasley in the world of hunters like Sam and Dean Winchester.
It was early afternoon, around 3 PM, and Bert was driving his car through endless darkness. It should freak him out, it kind of did, but it rather worried him. What had he gotten himself into? He should have dropped the case when Dean had asked him to. He would have gone on with his peaceful hunter life back in Hazardville, chasing easy cases and feeling good about himself. Now he felt like he couldn't ever go back and feel the same way. There was no going back. There were only the memories of what had been and the memories of what his acquaintance with the Winchesters and a goddamn former angel had ended for good.
But there were good memories with them, too, no matter the way they seemed to attract danger and weird like light attracts moths. There was the bunker. There was that nice car. There was companionship. There was Sam reading with him for hours and taking him serious like no one had ever done before. There was Cas arguing with him about objects and souls and being annoyed with him, but still smiling that tiny little bit with one corner of his mouth. There was Dean hating everything he was and did, and still growing to like him. There was that.
Bert was driving the car along this road, darkness all around, an endless night, it seemed. And he didn't know where exactly they were going, he didn't know if they would find Cas in the end. He only knew that there was something ahead of them that would outdo everything behind.
It’s like when you run into a stranger on the sidewalk and you both keep making steps in the same direction to give way. Until you decide who goes left and who goes right. And then you smile. And that smile might stay on your lips for a bit, but eventually it will vanish. That’s how it feels when a good moment fades away.
“A penny for your thoughts,“ Bert said with a smirk.
It seemed Sam had been poring over something for the past half hour, his eyes staring ahead with no focus and his arm resting by the window. He gave Bert a side look, then looked away again.
“Come on, tell me what you’re thinking about.“
The Winchester shot him another look, then cleared his throat. “Dean.“
Bert nodded to himself, then drove his car to the side of the road. “You mind driving for a bit?“
Sam shifted beside him, turning to him. He raised his brows.
“I don’t like driving in the dark.“ Bert said.
“What, you’re night-blind or something?“
“Nah,“ Bert gave back, a stiff smile on his lips. “I’m just kinda… scared in the dark, you know? I’d rather be scared on the passenger’s seat than behind the wheel where I could get us both killed.“
“You’re what?“ Sam burst out in surprise. “How can you be scared of the dark? You’re a hunter!“
“Well,“ Bert said in a defensive tone, raising both his eyebrows, “I don’t hunt because it’s so much fun! Or because I’m not scared of anything. Like you and your brother, you broad-shouldered, abnormally tall Abercrombie lumberjack models. I hunt because it makes my life matter.“
Sam nodded, but didn't say anything. Bert watched him for a moment, then sighed. “You know, Sam. No amount of guilt can change the past. And no amount of fear can change the future. Sometimes you just have to accept that.“
“Now get off your fat ass and behind the wheel, we’ve got places to go.“
Had he really changed that much? Had he even changed at all? Had he been born a monster or made into one? Where’s the difference exactly, between Dean the obedient soldier in his father’s army, and Dean the protective brother that had been too afraid to be alone to kill his brother when he’d been possessed by Lucifer even when it would have caused the deaths of millions? And where was the difference between those Deans and the Dean he was now? He was still protective and afraid and he was still the monster. Still stepping into his father’s footsteps.
Where’s the difference between being wrong and pretending not to be?
You do someone a favor or two and you’re being nice no matter what mood you’re in and you make them laugh and give them hold and listen to them, hoping to get all that back, hoping it to be enough to drown out the monster. And what do you get? Not even close to what you give. And yet, you keep doing all these things, because you’re scared of losing them. You keep making them laugh, keep acting like you’re in a good mood, keep laughing, keep listening. Yet, you keep solving other people’s problems and comfort them and are there for them. And at some point, you get used to it. You don’t have to act anymore, you laugh naturally, you love to solve their problems. The hope to get back what you give keeps shrinking until it dies entirely. And the last hit that kills that desperate hope to be enough, it gets it from you. Because you believe you don’t need what others could give you. And they start believing that, too.
And then, when you fall, when you collapse, when the monster’s released, they leave you.
He felt paralyzed, not a single muscle in his body wanted to work anymore. He felt like a new man, like he’d just been born. But not in a positive kind of way. Only in way that made him feel like he was residing in his skin for the very first time. Walking felt so wrong, breathing so unreal. And it felt wrong and unreal to just live on. Live near and inside the ruins of what once had been his life.
That knot inside him. He’d tried to run from it, but never even moved. That knot, it just kept growing bigger, and the withered branches of his tangled world of feelings suffocated him. In the end it didn't matter where he was, what mattered was who he was. And that wouldn't change, whether he was home or in Connecticut or here in Indiana in this ugly, lonely motel room with its walls coming off. You can’t escape you.
This room wouldn't change anything about that. The gun under his pillow wouldn't change anything about that. And the bottle of Whiskey in his hand and the half of it already floating in his system wouldn't change anything either. He could drink away the days, but he couldn't drink away himself.
He gulped down more of the Whiskey, as though to prove that point. Dizziness had started to blur his vision about an hour ago already, but Dean realized it wasn’t just him being drunk when some sort of shape appeared in front of him. A pale figure, a dark man. Tall and broad-shouldered, familiar and yet strange. It was Sam. But also it wasn't Sam.
It was Sam in black clothes. His eyes looked like they always did, but he looked at Dean with that odd disgust in them.
“You’re not my brother anymore,“ that Sam said. “You can’t ever come back.“
Tears welled up in Dean’s eyes that felt like he’d been holding them back for years. “I’m sorry, Sammy,“ he whispered. He rose from the bed onto shaking legs but didn't dare to make a step.
That Sam looked down and smiled bitterly. “Yeah. You’re always sorry. Right, Dean?“
And all of a sudden that Sam was talking with his Sam’s voice, and that made something shatter inside Dean. “Please don’t say my name like that.“ He begged.
“What did I say it like?“ Sam asked.
“Like—,“ Dean breathed, “Like you don’t want me anymore.“
Sam cocked his head and smiled. “I don’t. Not after what you’ve done to him.“
Dean followed his brother’s hand to the corner where another figure stood. A figure clad in only loose pants, his entire body covered in bruises and cuts, his face blood-stained and raw. What was worst were Cas’ eyes. They weren’t blue anymore. There weren’t bright. They were lifeless.
Cas looked up at him with his dead eyes and damaged features and there was something so real about it that Dean didn't remember anymore if it actually was or not.
“Cas,“ Dean said again, his voice rough and shaky like stones in a river being washed away and stumbling over each other. “I’m sorry,“ he croaked. A tear fell from his eye, silent and real, but still not enough.
“You wouldn’t have to be sorry, if you loved me,“ Cas said, his tone angrier than he’d ever heard it. “But you don’t. And I don’t love you. We were just two lonely people trying to hate ourselves a little less.“
“No,“ Dean gave, making a step towards him.
“That’s all we are ever going to be.“ Cas continued without looking at him. “That’s all we ever were.“
“No!“ Dean cried, his bottle of Whiskey falling to the ground and shattering into a thousand pieces.
The figures in front of him started to blur away, vanished before his eyes as quick as they’d appeared, and Dean ran towards them, reached his hands out to them. But they only closed around air.
“You’re not dreaming, if that’s what you were wondering,“ a smooth voice said.
“You,“ Dean spat, his despair transforming into rage. He sprung towards the trickster, throwing his arms around him to tackle him down. But he fell right through him and landed on the floor, his head crashing into the dirty carpet.
Anansi chuckled and shoved his hands into his trouser pockets. “You didn't actually think I was going to show up here myself, did you?“ he said with a tinge of amusement in his voice.
Dean turned around onto his back and stared up at him. The trickster bent down and put his spidery fingers to his forehead. It was almost calming, almost comforting. But then it wasn't when Dean felt a painful pull in his head and saw a blending light from it and into Anansi’s hand. It looked like lightning bolts and like rain and it felt like thunder. His eyes rolled back.
Anansi drew back and stood back up, closing his eyes. “Ah,“ he gave with something like satisfaction. “I see. I saw a lot. A lot of good lines you’ve said and heard.“
“What d’you want,“ Dean gave weakly.
Anansi ignored the question, instead he smirked. His tone sounded mocking when he spoke like he was imitating someone, saying, “You’re problem is that nobody hates you more than you do.“ He raised a brow and looked down to the Winchester on the floor. “Good? How about… I know how dead you are inside, how worthless you feel.“
“Go to hell,“ Dean whispered, closing his eyes.
“Ah, you see, I believe that’s the job of you Winchesters.“ He moved his hands across his suit jacket and looked down on himself. “But let’s quit joking around, Dean Winchester. I will win this little game between us. Don’t be so stupid to believe you stand a chance.“
Cas woke up to the sweet scent of pastries. The floor under his feet was dark and wooden, polished and glossy and covered with numerous carpets with colorful patterns. Lining the walls were wooden bookshelves filled with thousands of old-looking books and paper and reaching up to the high ceiling. A stairway led to a balcony on half level. Its railing was made of squiggled and tangled branches of a tree that seemed to grow out of the floor and carried a dress of leaves in the color of autumn. Lamps looking like jellyfishes hung everywhere from the ceiling and across the wall right opposite to him, built of big and small pebble stones. They glittered like they’d been fished right out of a river a minute ago.
It was warm and Cas found himself in a soft red chair with golden armrests and legs, facing a big couch in the same style. His arms and legs were tied to the chair with a simple rope. Not too tight, it seemed, but when he tried to wiggle out of it he realized they must be only for show.
“Ah, you’re awake,“ a familiar deep voice said. The trickster entered the room from somewhere, holding some half-eaten pastry in one hand and a tray with more pastry in the other. He sat down on the big red couch and put down his tray on the oak wood coffee table between them that — Cas only just noticed — seemed to have waterfalls for legs. “Did you have a nice nap, Castiel?“
Cas scowled at him, his hands clenching around the golden armrests. The calm swooshing noise of the coffee table’s water legs and the creak of wood filled the air. He looked over to the stairway and found the tree holding it was moving its branches. Ever so lightly and smooth, like wind was blowing through it.
“One may think it exaggerated to build a place to stay so… marvelous… for myself, when I never stay for too long,“ Anansi said, leaning back into the velvet cushion of the couch. He smirked. “But I like to stay classy.“
They watched each other for a long while then, Anansi biting into his pastry every now and then and wiping his mouth and hands with the handkerchief in his breast pocket when he was finished. Castiel remained silent, his eyes never leaving the trickster.
“You know, Castiel,“ he started speaking again then. “When I came here I never actually planned all this. It was more of a…,“ he made a waving gesture with his hand, as though he was searching for the right words, “… an experiment of some sorts. Trickster, you know. We like playing games.“
“You killed people,“ Cas spat.
“I did. More than you might assume. But it was never my true intention.“
“What was your intention then?“
“Experimenting. As I said. The dead ones were merely failed experiments, you see.“
“Are we experiments to you, too?“ Cas asked through gritted teeth.
Anansi’s eyes widened in pleasure. “Ah, you’re smarter than you appear, Castiel! Yes, indeed. When I noticed you four knuckleheads snooping around and realized you are hunters, I immediately gained interest in you people. Dean, in particular.“ He scratched his chin and stared at a spot somewhere behind Cas. “Well, he is one to fall for, isn’t he?“ He looked back at him and smirked. “But then, you already know that, don’t you, Castiel?“
Cas looked away, the alas of his nose wincing. He knew he should be scared, captured by some demigod who liked playing games, no matter the cost, no matter all the deaths he’d caused. But all he was, was pissed. He didn't want to feel this weak and helpless. No matter where he looked, there seemed to be no door or even a window in this room. But if there was, Cas wished he could stare at it until Dean would kick it in and come for his rescue.
“You people are very interesting, do you realize that? I mean, not that Bert guy, but you other three.“ Anansi lifted one of his hands theatrically, as though he was about to quote Shakespeare. “Sam Winchester. The one who sacrificed himself to save the world, but forgot how to be a good brother on the way. Dean Winchester. The one who said no so many times that he forgot how to say yes. And you, Castiel, former angel,“ he sighed and looked back at Cas. “The one who rebelled so many times that he forgot what he is rebelling for.“
Cas lowered his head and squeezed his eyes shut. He only now noticed the throbbing pain in his head and the numb feeling in his hands.
“You see, Castiel,“ Anansi continued and took another of the pastries. “When you were asleep, I had a quick look into your head. To be honest, I never once in all my existence found so many memories compressed in one single mind, it was astonishing. Then again, I never looked into the head of a former angel. You must be almost as old as I am. Shame you won’t live as long.“
“Go to hell.“
The trickster chuckled. “You and Dean Winchester aren’t so different after all. No wonder the strongest of all your memories are about him. But I was wondering,“ he wiped his mouth and hand again, “Shouldn’t you be worrying more about your own now limited life as a human rather than him? Are you really that self-deprecative?“
Cas looked up at him and pressed his lips, balled his fists. There was some invisible force holding him in place and he could feel it numbing and weakening him more and more. His heart skipped a beat.
“Oh, well. For to have faith is to have wings. I guess.“ Anansi said and sighed. “Peter Pan.“ He rose and waved a hand, making the tray of pastries on the coffee table disappear. Three pineapples took its place. “I’ll be there, Castiel. I’ll be there when you finally realize that you were never asking for too much. That you were just asking the wrong person.“
What have I become
I’m yours alone
You do not care but I want more.
What else is right, and so pure
I’ll save a lifetime of love for you
But you don’t care.
The feeling demanded to be felt.
So while Dean was still lying on the carpeted floor of his motel room in the morning and there was still no daylight, his breaths came abrupt and stuttering. He wasn't sure he’d slept the night, wasn't sure anymore what sleeping felt like.
But the feeling wanted out. Whatever feeling it was, it pushed against his skin. Clawed into his innards. Choked him in every way possible. From outside and within, at his throat and in his chest and in his stomach. It almost made his heart stop. Or accelerate. Or jump out of his body.
The room had been so quiet all those hours since Anansi’s phantom had left. So when harsh sobs emerged from Dean’s throat, he almost startled. He couldn't move really, he couldn't get his muscles to work. He felt like he’d gained a hundred tons of weight that he couldn't carry.
He opened his teary eyes to the brown scratchy carpet and saw a few inches away from him the remains of his bottle of Whiskey. Broken glass in a puddle of soaked carpet and a ripped label telling what this used to be. He reached out his arm with much more effort than it should be and touched the wet carpet. Curled his fingers into the puddle that just wouldn't dry into the floor. And he didn't care about the blood streaming down his cut hand when he pulled it back and put his fingers to his lips. Whiskey, the scent of it and the hint of its taste grazing his lip.
When he closed his eyes again, all he saw was Cas’ shattered face. The way he’d looked at him. All he’d said. And he didn't remember if that had actually happened or if it was only a vision, a hallucination Anansi had given him. But it didn't fail to make him cry.
Dean couldn't say Cas and him were just friends. Or just hunting partners. Or just two people who’d met somewhere along the way and stuck together. Or just family, even if they were. Because in the end just means only. And Cas had never been only anything. He’d always been everything. An everything Dean started to understand.
He thought back to that one moment a couple of years ago, when he’d looked at Cas and realized they’d become friends. They were in Bobby’s backyard and Cas turned around to him, the South Dakota summer sun burning down and making his dark hair glow and his eyes look like pebble stones, so light were they. And then Cas smiled, and Dean thought he almost looked like a human being. And then he thought, but he will never be one.
What if Dean had been in love with him that whole time? What if it’d always been clear their hearts were meant to collide? What if they already had? What if they’d crashed together and shattered?
Maybe it was fate they’d met. Becoming his friend was some kind of choice Dean had made. Becoming a family had happened with time. But what if Dean had never had any control over falling in love with him? What if his subconscious had realized it already? And what if his subconscious had realized that sooner? Would he have started beating Cas sooner?
Somewhere inside him he’d probably always known it. He just wasn't initiated, nor invited to that knowledge. Not even informed about it. And now it felt like revelation, like relief, and Dean had a feeling of finally.
He sat up, suddenly, his head dizzy but somehow clearer. He clenched to his bleeding hand and felt the throbbing pain waking him up. And then the headache became too much to bear and he fell back down to the floor. The feeling demanded to be felt, even when it was a different one now.
“So where are we going then?“ Bert asked from the passenger’s seat.
“Indiana,“ Sam gave. “I think the darkness is following him.“
From the corner of his eye he could see Bert nod to himself. It had started raining while they were driving on along a road that didn't change and through surroundings that they only saw the outlines of, and the shadows the car’s headlights drew. And as Sam looked over he found him staring out through the windshield and into the dark around them. As though there was something worth seeing.
“You think we’ll find him?“ Bert asked.
He would always find his brother, Sam thought. And then he started smiling for some reason, an old reason, a reason he didn't actually have anymore. And then he remembered that there was nothing to smile about and it vanished from his lips. He removed one arm from the steering wheel and settled it by the window. His fingers grazed the cold windowpane, almost feeling the raindrops dribbling against it from outside. The seats and the car itself as it rumbled against the asphalt didn't feel right. It wasn't the Impala, and something in Sam’s face turned sour.
“You gonna be okay with this?“ Bert asked into the quiet.
Sam threw him a look, only now remembering he was still here, too. “What d’you mean?“
“I mean, you gonna be okay with finding Dean?“
“Well, we gotta find him.“ Sam stated, his voice matter-of-fact.
“Not that I disagree with you, cause I don’t,“ Bert said. “But why, though?“
“Because we need him.“
Bert sighed and Sam threw him another brief look. The other hunter was leaning back into his seat, still staring ahead and his mouth and face open like he wanted to say something.
“Because we need him to find Cas.“ Sam said. “Because, for whatever reason, those two, they always find each other. It’s like they’re drawn to each other or something. I can’t explain.“ His fingers left the window and wiped across his face, leaving their cold feeling all over it. “And because I need him,“ he then said, painting the words in a dark color.
Dean was his brother. And Dean was his protector. And Dean was his world. And Dean was a monster. Dean was like a tool to use, like an instrument to play. Dean was like vibrating strings. And vibrating strings must be treated carefully, because they can make the sound turn wrong. And because they can ruin the music. And because they are so careless themselves. A nicely exposed bestiality. It’s the most fascinating thing. And also the most dangerous.
But he did, in fact, need his brother. He hated him. He hated what Dean had done. He hated everything he’d missed and hadn't seen sooner. He hated Dean like he’d hated his dad. And he hated everything about that one single moment that had made his world collapse over his head. That one moment he’d finally seen what was going on between Dean and Cas. And he’d memorized that moment, and he’d turned it into a thirty-year-old voice.
A voice in his head that kept ranting there, like a one-man-show nobody had ordered. But no matter how much hate and anger and despair it spread, it also said that there really was something worth seeing. The one detail he’d never seen before. That one thing he didn't want to believe. That one thing the monster inside his brother didn't want to believe.
You can see something a million times over and not recognize it; and then suddenly you see it for the very first time.
It was unsettling to be in such a comfortable warm place and still know he was in danger. He was tied to a chair, after all. At some point, Cas had fallen asleep to the calming sound of waterfalls and the scent of fruits and river swimming in the air. When he woke this morning it was by the rustling of leaves as the tree growing in this room started moving again. It seemed it always danced when its creator entered.
“Good morning, Castiel,“ Anansi said as he walked towards him in his elegant and yet electric way of moving. There was a smile shaping his face that didn't tell anything. But it was arrogant for that matter. He was carrying a big silver tray, balancing it before his body carefully, though it had nothing on it.
The trickster put it down on the coffee table and sat down next to Cas in a chair that he swore hadn't been there before. With a waving gesture some sort of breakfast appeared on the empty tray. Cas couldn't tell what it all was, the only thing he thought to recognize was the pastry he’d seen Anansi eat the day before. There were other dishes, though. Ones with little balls wrapped in what seemed to be cooked leaves, ones with glossy pastries shaped like triangles, and ones with slices of different kinds of fruit. It also held a steaming cup and a glass of water, and then another glass with a milky white liquid in it that surely wasn't milk.
“Now,“ Anansi said, “would you like some coffee, Castiel?“
Cas turned to him and shot him a dark glare. Hospitality wasn't what he’d expected, even though he hadn't been harmed in any way so far. But how could he be sure that not every single dish and beverage on this tray was poisoned? Maybe it was a test. A trick. Another experiment. He shook his head.
The trickster cocked his head and smiled. “You think I’m about to poison you?“
Cas peered at him from the corner of his eye, then back down to his thighs. He’d been sitting in this chair for about thirty hours and his legs felt numb and yet ached. He felt stiff and tired and at the same time like he was about to melt.
Anansi chuckled. “I have no intention to harm you, Castiel. But, of course, you won’t believe me.“ He leaned to the tray and took a spoon from a jar of sugar. About seven spoons landed in the coffee, before he turned back to Cas, the cup in his hand. “Here. Have some coffee.“
“I prefer it black.“ Cas stated, hard-headed.
“Ridiculous. Also, I don’t need your permission.“
Cas looked at the trickster with a frown, then watched the dark grey of the other’s eyes turn bright and somewhat charged as he felt a force stream through him. It moved his body, made him lean in and open his lips. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to fight the intruding force, but it was too strong.
Anansi smiled. “There you go, my friend. How about some juice now?“ He took the glass with the milky white substance and put it to Cas’ mouth. “I know it looks strange, but it’s only banana juice. My favorite.“
Cas wished he would go away. He didn't want to be fed, he didn't want to eat or drink at all. He didn't want to find Anansi was kind and friendly. He wanted to feel as much in danger as he actually was, even when that was a sick thought to have.
“How about we continue our talk of yesterday,“ Anansi said.
“Why are you doing this?“ Cas asked.
“Because I want to know why you are doing this.“
“Why are you in love with Dean Winchester?“
Cas looked up at him, into his daring eyes and arrogant smile, then away at the pebble stone wall. He could see now that the jellyfish-shaped lamps on it and those hanging from the ceiling were moving as well. Like they were swimming in water, the way the tree was moving its branches like there was wind. Everything in this room seemed to be moving, everything seemed so alive. So charged with something. So peaceful.
“How can one love a monster, Castiel?“ Anansi continued. “How can an Angel of the Lord fall in love with a Monster of Hell? And then fall from Heaven for him? And then be corrupted by him? And then fall from grace and become human, only to experience the ugliest face of humanity?“
He took one of the leaf-wrapped balls and held it before his face, looking at it as the leaves unfolded themselves and revealed a golden ball of yet another glossy pastry coated with sugar and sweetness. “All his kindness being met with violence and pain. Getting his heart broken and being humbled and humiliated by the one he rescued from hellfire. How can you still love him, Castiel?“
Cas felt something in the air change. The jellyfishes seemed to dim their light. The waterfall legs of the coffee table seemed to slow down. The tree stopped moving its branches. And Anansi’s face seemed to darken as he bit into his pastry. And then, in one fell swoop, as though lightning had struck somewhere, Cas felt that danger he’d missed before. And he realized then how short life can actually be. And how deadly it ends.
And he looked away. He didn't want to listen to the trickster anymore, he wanted to listen to himself. And while that strange force inside him, Anansi’s unfamiliar powers, was still pulling and pushing him, he realized he was too easy to contemplate and to convince. So he would only listen to himself, and he should never stop.
Anansi was watching him, and when he leaned back in his seat, Cas felt like his mind was invaded. It was like someone was rummaging around in his billion files of memories in there, stacked and put away in shelfs upon shelfs full of paper and picture books.
And then he remembered that one day. They were in Bobby Singer’s backyard, the South Dakota summer sun burning down. And when he turned around to Dean, his dark blond hair was glowing and his green eyes were blinding like headlights in the night, and he started counting the freckles on his face. And he smiled and Dean smiled back, that genuine kind smile that faded away as soon as it appeared. And Cas remembered the ways it had been back then. They’d been friends, and allies, and companions in a war somehow both of them had caused. And at some point they’d built that odd understanding that their ways wouldn't part, even when the war would be over.
But Cas also remembered how it had felt to be Dean’s friend. A creature the Winchester didn't understand. An angel he’d believed wouldn't exist. A supernatural being he didn't trust completely. How Dean liked him and also denied him. As an angel. As a human. As a being maybe. Or simply him as a person.
Dean would never love him back the way he loved him. The way he loved him despite everything he’d done to him. The way he loved him despite his brokenness. And maybe he was a fool for that, but as long as that darkness inside Dean danced out of sight, Cas imagined only the stream. The stream of water and of air and of life and world and earth, the stream that would always make him go back to the monster. The monster that was also Dean Winchester, a man.
The only sight Cas had left had been cut into black steps, up or down a stairway he didn't recognize. And that was the only way he could see Dean. A monster, but a man. A violator, but a victim. A killer, but dying. Maybe Dean didn't deserve to be loved. Maybe loving him was the only way to make him deserve it.
Essentially, we only heal by adding a deeper sense to our wounds.
“Okay, thanks, man,“ Sam said into his phone, then hung up.
“Where we headed then?“ Bert asked.
“Crown Point, Indiana. Bill said he talked to Dean the other day and told him about some teacher at the High School there who could help.“
There were just outside Saint John, about ten miles away. It was afternoon and they’d been driving half the night and all day, but you couldn't really tell as it was still dark outside. Sam either couldn't sleep or felt terribly sleepy, the lack of daylight seemed to mess up his whole system. He hadn't seen a deer or even any birds for almost two days, and he wondered if all of them had fallen into winter sleep. Or were just hiding. Or had been erased from the planet altogether.
They only had around twenty minutes of driving left until they’d reach Crown Point, and Sam felt tenser by every minute passing. Bert’s car was moving slowly, barely anywhere near the speed limit, and the miserable noises the engine and the tires and the entire frame made left Sam in the unreasonable fear that they wouldn't make it in time. Or in general.
But then they made it to the motel listed first in the Yellow Pages and Sam released a long and harsh breath when he stopped the car. After asking at the reception if a Jim Rockford had checked in here and he got a yes and his room number, he released another sigh. The fact that Dean had checked in as Jim Rockford made him wonder if Dean actually wanted to be found, even when he’d turned off his phone.
He knocked on the yellowish door of room 237, but nobody answered. He could feel Bert watching him from where he waited in the car. A foul stench and a hint of Whiskey came from inside the room. What if he was dead? What if his brother lay in there, rotting in his own fluids? What if he was too late?
Sam squared his shoulders, made a step back, and kicked in the door. The light inside was diffuse, only one little lamp on the nightstand was on, painting the interior in shadows and sparsely lighted circles of brown light. The stench grew more intense as Sam stepped inside and found a dark stain in the carpet, covered in the remains of a glass bottle. There was a plate with a half-eaten rotten cheeseburger on the table to his left, a swarm of flies buzzing around it. On the windowsill a couple of dead butterflies, which should make Sam wonder. But then he found him.
A stiff shape, lying on his back on the floor. His face was pale, his lips dry, his eyes shut. He seemed dead as much as the cheeseburger was rotten and as much as the bottle of Whiskey was destroyed, and Sam’s heart stopped.
And when it started beating again, an erratic and wild rhythm, his breaths came like hick-ups. He fell out of his stupor and bolted towards the stock-still figure of his brother, falling down on his knees beside him and clawing his fingers into the fabric of his brother’s plaid shirt.
And it was like a wake-up call, like a magic word resurrecting the dead, like the kiss erasing the endless sleep. Dean stirred awake. He grumbled and opened his eyes. And they were so full. Full of tears. Full of red. Full of no green. Full of pain and regret and weakness.
“Dean,“ Sam said again, pulling his brother up by his shoulders.
Dean fell into his chest, grumbling something unintelligible. And it was when Sam wrapped his arms around him and ran his hands up and down his back that he realized Dean was crying.
“It’s alright,“ he said. “It’s okay, Dean.“
Dean sniffed into the side of his neck. He was shaking, he was cold and stiff like a dead body.
“How long have you been lying here?“ Sam whispered.
“I sat up earlier,“ Dean slurred, his breathing heavy and heaved. “But I had to lie down again.“
It was sick how they acted, Bert thought. They were talking to each other like nothing had ever happened. Like this was just some random day in some random place in some random circumstances. None of them mentioned what had happened between Dean and Cas. Or the fact that Sam had found his brother on the floor of a stinking motel room next to broken glass and a puddle of spilled Whiskey that filled the air like loud noises. None of them even mentioned the fact that Dean was almost painful to look at.
His skin was so pale and grey, it was as though he’d aged by at least ten years. And his eyes were reddened and dull at the same time, teary even, and framed with dark shadows. He cowered on his chair at the table opposite to him, and Bert thought he was uglier than he’d ever seen him. Ugly in every possible way. And Sam scurried around him like a flushed pigeon, handing him coffee and food and towels and a drink. As though Dean hadn't had enough.
“So, I thought we’d start looking for Anansi where it all started,“ Sam said, finally sitting down with them.
Bert wondered about how Sam didn't say they were actually looking for Cas. How he’d only said Cas’ name once ever since they were here. Maybe it was because they all knew the stakes, the goal here. Maybe it was because Anansi would ultimately lead them to Cas. Or maybe it was because the name Cas alone had made Dean all miserable. You don’t poke a wounded animal, after all.
“You wanna start in Hazardville?“ he asked.
Sam managed to remove his eyes from his brother and looked at Bert for the first time since he’d left the car. “Yeah. We gotta start somewhere.“
The light in this room wasn't so diffuse anymore as they’d turned on more lamps, and Sam seemed still tense but also relieved in a way. The quiet muttering of the brothers to each other filled Bert’s mind like a background noise. The easiness of it all, the calm and almost normal way they treated each other, all the words they didn't say. It wasn't only sick, it was also wrong. It was an act. In the interest of world peace.
They practiced the fine art of procrastination. But Bert knew, you can’t run away from problems forever. At some point you need to face and talk about them. It was like a weird play he was watching. The Winchesters went on with their charade, discussing the case like any other. Like they hadn't been played with and fooled. Like they hadn't been frustrated all along the road. Like they weren't broken. They simply put a bandaid on their problem and hoped it would hold long enough. Hoped that not all was the end. That it wasn't all over.
He looked out the window to the garden behind the motel, the lawn dark green and black and the trees standing in silence. And at the autumn leaves falling from these trees, leaving them all naked and raw, but still beautiful. They’d be uncovered and unprotected for the entire coldness of winter, only to bloom and blossom again in spring. But not like nothing had ever happened. Like they grew stronger with every lost leaf and with every season of nakedness. Like a test to show how strong they really are.
Just like Bert felt tested. Ronald Weasley had had to rise to challenges, too, after all. He couldn't keep being the sidekick forever. Not in this. Not with the Winchesters, no matter how oblivious they were to their own misery. It sounded crazy what they were about to do. Looking anywhere and nowhere for a creature powerful enough to erase them from this planet with a blink of an eye. And then even forcing him to release Cas. And then trying to kill that creature. It was a little out-of-their-minds suicidal.
But sometimes you need to make a hazardous step to realize that behind the fear there is freedom.
It was a long drive to Connecticut and the darkness seemed to follow them everywhere they went. The Impala’s wheels and her humming sounds felt right under and around him. They hadn't spoken a word since they’d headed out of Crown Point in the morning.
Dean looked into the wing mirror from his seat next to Sam behind the steering wheel and found Bert’s rusty red car still right behind them. He leaned back into the smooth leather of the bench and closed his eyes. Sometimes you need to lean back when dizziness repeats every question. He had a giant spiral of those questions with no answers in his head that just kept spinning and spinning.
He felt like there was venom inside him. Like his lungs and throat and teeth were covered with its foam. And like something had hit him in his brain. He could feel his heartbeat in his head, and his headache along his spine, and his sickness in his chest, and his stuttering breaths in his stomach. All was twisted and happening in all the wrong places. As though he had been remade of chaos. He almost wished he was back in that room on the stinking carpet, all by himself and shutting his eyes to everything.
He hadn’t needed to be anyone there.
“Dean,“ Sam said, and he nearly jumped out of his skin, his brother’s sudden voice slicing through the silence like a sword.
Dean sighed, kept his eyes closed, his head still resting against the bench. “I know.“ He said. “I know, Sam.“
He could feel his brother shift on his seat, his breathing loud as the engine. And when he eventually opened his eyes again and sat up, he found Sam’s face grimacing. He didn't believe Dean knew anything.
“I fucked up,“ Dean continued. “I know I fucked up. I know there’s no excuse for what I’ve done. And I know I need help.“
“Definitely,“ Sam cut in, his grimace transforming into at least eight layers of thoughts. “But that’s not what I was going to say.“
Dean shot him a frown, trying to read his face. Something had definitely hit him in his brain. His sight was blurry and full of dark spots, and he thought he’d just heard his brother cut him off in the middle of admitting all his mistakes.
“You and Cas,“ Sam went on. “You have feelings for him, don’t you?“
“What?!“ Dean burst out and crossed his arms. He looked out the window up into the sky, stars corrupted and outdone by all the black spots in his vision. He wanted to throw up.
“Answer the question.“
“Well, I uh… I feel that he’s my friend,“ Dean stammered. “He’s family.“
Sam shot him a brief look. “Dean.“ And it was that type of Dean that told him to cut the bullshitting.
Dean sighed, wrapped his crossed arms around himself a little tighter. “Yeah,“ he mumbled.
“So… you’re gay then?“ Sam asked.
Dean flinched. “No!“
“You’re in love with a man. I think that makes you gay.“
“I’m not gay!“ Dean nearly yelled. He straightened up on his seat, stopped to be that shrinking form of miserableness and stared at his brother’s profile, like he could kill all the words leaving Sam’s mouth that way. He wanted to open the door and jump out of the driving car.
“Why are you defending yourself, Dean?“
“Cause you’re saying I’m gay!“
“Saying someone’s gay is nothing offensive.“
“But I’m not gay!“
“You’re in love with Cas.“
“Exactly,“ Dean gave. “But I’m not into men! It’s only that one man. It’s only him.“