It starts like it always does- with the mother of all migraines. Only Chuck hasn’t had one of those headaches in weeks- months , even. Not since a few days before Detroit, at which point he’d locked himself away in the food supply cabin and attempted to knock himself out with what was probably more than everyone’s monthly ration of whiskey combined. When he came to, there was no writing to be found, but he spent the next seventy-something hours with an itch in his mind, after which appeared two words: Detroit , and yes .
When they finally heard about the battle (or more accurately, the massacre ), Chuck only felt the same sick sort of relief and nauseating satisfaction he got whenever one of his more tragic premonitions came true. It was amplified by the guilt of his silence beforehand. Not that it would have mattered. It never did before. The only thing that came about when he told Dean about Detroit (too late) was a lot of yelling, the waving of firearms, followed by weeks of silence.
No- best not to tell anyone that his 'gift' had returned. If it really had. Because after Detroit, there was nothing. Zilch. Nada. Complete and total radio silence (which he was grateful for, to say the least). He figured that the premonition itself was probably just a fluke on account of the earth-shattering nature of the revelation.
So now, when his head suddenly feels like it’s in a vice, Chuck gets really freaked, really fast. What vision could possibly be more important (or more horrifying) than Sam giving Satan the go-ahead to ride around in his skin? He doesn’t really wanna know. So he does the only thing he can think of- he pays a visit to Camp Chitaqua’s resident pharmacist.
“Cas?” He hollers, banging on the doorframe of the ex-angel’s cabin but not daring to look inside. “You awake in there?” You alive in there?
“Chuck? That You?” A raspy voice cuts through the cool afternoon air.
“Uh, yeah, yeah it’s me,” Chuck stammers.
“Come on in.” The beaded curtain is pulled aside to reveal a half-baked, half- naked version of the Cas that Chuck is used to seeing (usually he’s more baked, less naked). He allows himself to be ushered inside, through the haze of smoke and past a few apparently sleeping women (and a couple of men) in various states of undress.
“So,” Cas begins, flinging an arm around Chucks shoulder, “what brings the esteemed prophet Chuck Shurely to the humble dwelling of a fallen wretch such as myself?” He grabs a bottle off the table and takes a generous sip of its contents. “If you came for the orgy- well, you’re about twenty minutes too late.”
Chuck laughs nervously. “Uh, no Cas, that’s not it. I have kind of a headache- it’s not that bad-” he lies - “but it feels like it’s about to get a lot worse-”
“A headache, you say?” Cas tilts his head and squints long and hard at Chuck. He may have lost his heavenly mojo a long time ago, but he still prides himself on being quite the mind-reader. “You mean like a headache headache?”
“No, no, God no.” Chuck laughs, shrugs it off, rather convincingly he thinks. Cas nods slowly and makes a non-committal noise of agreement. Next thing he knows, Chuck has been tossed an unlabeled, nearly empty bottle of pills.
“Two of those, you’ll be lights out for the worst of it. When you wake up, I guarantee you’ll be good as new.”
“Thanks, Cas.” Chuck smiles politely and hightails it out of there.
He hurries back to his own cabin, praying to no one in particular for nothing to happen that would cause someone to come knocking. It’s beginning to feel like someone is taking a jackhammer or a fleet of eighteen wheelers to his brain. He locks the door behind him, closes the curtains, hits the lights and swallows the pills all before crashing face-down on the mattress. Within five minutes, Chuck is pretty much comatose. At no point does he realise he’s dreaming. At no point does he quite realise anything.
Cas’s cabin smelled like it always did- the thick and heavy odour of marijuana hanging loosely over the smell of sex- but tonight there was something else as well. Incense was burning in the corner, the curling fingers of smoke leaving a comforting scent wherever they went- something like warm autumn days and the earth after a long rain. It was incredibly dark outside, almost as if the windows had been blacked out.
Various candles around the space flickered and glowed, casting shadows into the already dark circles below Cas’s eyes as he sat in the middle of the room, completely still, cross-legged and silent. He used to actually meditate, back when he really believed it might actually help- now he just imagined himself cloud-watching under a clear sky. The irony amused him.
“Knock knock,” Dean said, striding into the room and coming to stand next to Cas. He shed his jacket and tossed it somewhere toward the bed. “Please tell me you haven’t gone and died in that hippie as hell position. Rigor mortis sets in and I might have to burn your body like that.” He pulled Bobby’s old flask out of his pocket and started drinking.
“Nope, I’m alive- in a manner of speaking. Sorry to disappoint.” The slight sarcasm in Cas’s voice was cold comfort for Dean as he passed the flask off and dropped down to the floor. It was a far more casual gesture than anyone else in the camp would ever seen from him. Cas was the exception. Cas was the exception to a lot of things where Dean Winchester was concerned.
“We gotta stop meeting like this,” Dean joked a moment later, pulling his shirt off and laying down on his stomach. “People will think we’re fucking.”
Cas chuckled quietly and straddled Dean’s legs, kneading his hands into the hard muscles of Dean’s shoulders. Dean softened instantly beneath his touch, groaning in an all too sexual way that had Cas wondering the obvious.
“Why aren’t we?” He asked a moment later. “I mean, I know you have your ‘manliest man to ever man’ reputation to keep intact, and I can respect that, but come on,” He teased, working out a particularly bad knot with his thumb.
“Shut up, asshole.” Dean tried to sound menacing, but fell short with a rather contended noise that made Cas smile.
“No, seriously, think about it,” he continued, still mostly kidding. “Me with my doubts in heaven; you with your doubts in, well, everything. We both have some quite frankly spectacular daddy issues, coupled with various addictions. Not to mention the fact that I’d follow you anywhere. Then there’s the fear of abandonment- fear that was in fact valid, given that my family ran from Lucifer and your family surrendered to him.”
He halted his motions when he realised what he’d just said, expecting to be kicked off. Dean did nothing so dramatic, simply pulling himself out from underneath Cas and turning to meet his eyes.
“It’s like... we were made for each other,” Cas observed wistfully, his voice dropping to a whisper. His head throbbed a little faster with the way Dean looked at him, and for once, the burning in his eyes might not have been from smoke.
Dean swallowed the urge to say we still could be. Cas (of course) picked the thought right out of his head, whispering something like we both know it’s far too late for that now- right before their lips touched.
He’s right, Dean thought. Too little, too late.
He kissed Cas harder.
"Jesus Christ ."
Chuck balks at the pages in his hands. His clipboard has gone from being filled with inventory lists and security reports to being overrun with hurried scribbles, crammed between the original, neatly printed lines and overflowing into the margins. He flips the paper over and there's more, chicken-scratchy and unintelligible in some places; the parts that he can read make him want to jump in front of a train.
"Porn," he says to the empty air of his cabin. " Gay porn."
Not only did he write some X-rated stuff about Dean and Cas of all people, but he did it without knowing he was doing it. He's woken up from times like this before and found words on paper that he has no memory of putting there- but not this many words. Certainly never words with this kind of subject matter.
He immediately panics, runs outside and burns the pages, letting them curl and smoulder and die in the patchy brown grass behind his cabin. It's not until a few minutes after this that he realises he just burned every important piece of information regarding Camp Chitaqua's entire operating system. This sends him into another frenzy, cursing himself six ways to Sunday for not making copies of these things, for being an idiot who sleep-writes gay porn about Dean Winchester and Castiel, former Angel of the Lord.
Much, much later, when the after effects of the pills have finally worn off, when his head is clear and he's re-written all the lists and reports he can remember, it occurs to him that what he wrote was a premonition. He thought he was done with being Heaven's William Tell, but someone upstairs is still tap-tap-tapping out the Morse Code of the cosmos, wiring prophecies right into his brain. What he wants to know is what chucklehead, what asshole, what God would send him this kind of vision? In what world is Dean and Cas getting it on a matter of importance to the Winchester Gospel?
Chuck goes down to breakfast the next morning, basically holding his breath and sneaking around for (the irrational) fear that someone is going to somehow know what he was doing yesterday, that the secret is somehow going to get out. It's like high school all over again.
The cafeteria, such as it is, is full. There's only a handful of times when everyone in the camp is gathered together- meals are one of them. It seems like just another day, people milling around, holding quiet conversation and picking through whatever bland but nutritious food was served this morning. In this case it's some kind of porridge, high in fibre and carbs but with no real flavour whatsoever. Chuck gets a bowl of it and goes to his usual spot, glad for something to warm his hands and fill his stomach. There are a couple of other people at his table, chatting about something inane (whatever inane means anymore) and he gets lost in the eavesdropping and the oat sludge and almost forgets his predicament until-
"Dean's here," someone whispers to someone else- the information spreads through the crowd. In a minute, everyone is falling quiet turning their heads to catch a glimpse of their fearless leader- only everyone is trying (very poorly) to be subtle about it.
As small as their group is, Dean is still something of a celebrity to most of them- Dean's a legend, and he's earned that status as far as Chuck is concerned. But, he's also known Dean a lot longer than these people. He remembers Dean from before the end of the world. He wrote it all in the Winchester Gospel, and well- he knows how much of a goof Dean actually is. Or used to be. Before. But now, he's something else entirely; something that turns heads and silences rooms full of people.
Chuck sighs- it really is like high school.
Dean is used to everyone's combination of awe and fear and attraction- he ignores their failed attempts not to stare and heads for the food. Soon enough, the interest wanes, and people go back to their morning.
Cas isn't far behind Dean- he never is , Chuck thinks, with a shudder at the memory of his dream. The difference between Dean and Cas is that no one pays Cas any mind. If they do acknowledge him, it's with a nod at most, maybe a smile from some of his regular companions. They treat him like an equal, or less, which Chuck doesn't find too odd but is bothered by nonetheless.
Not only was Cas once the most powerful one of any of them, but he's the closest thing to Dean's second-in-command in Camp Chitaqua's hierarchy. If anyone does or says anything within earshot of Cas, Dean is guaranteed to hear about it. And if there's ever a chance Dean's mind can be changed about something, Cas is the one to change it. And yet, none of the others see Cas as a threat. Chuck knows firsthand what a mistake this is on their part- Cas may not have his grace anymore, but he still knows a thousand ways to destroy someone, and he sits at the right hand of the most powerful man in the world that exists outside of the quarantine.
While Dean ignores the attention he gets, Cas is hypervigilant of the people who aren't looking at him. It could be the drugs, but Cas always seems wary, on edge, trying to suss out any irregularities in the conversation, the behaviour in the room. He returns any greeting with a cursory nod, a lift of his chin as he slouches close behind Dean, eyes scanning the room. He could be high as a kite, and he would still be watching Dean's six. Not much of a guard dog, to look at him, but Chuck knows better.
The fact of the matter is, Cas would kill anyone of them if Dean asked him to, and Dean would sacrifice this whole place in a second for Cas.
Really, Chuck shouldn't be surprised that they're about to start fucking- what's really surprising is that they haven't already been going at it this whole time.
Chuck is so focussed on his food and power dynamics that he doesn't even hear Dean come up behind him.
"Mornin', Chuck." He claps a hand on Chucks shoulder, and Chuck nearly jumps right out of his seat. Dean ignores his reaction and sits down across from Chuck. A moment later, Cas sits down beside him. Chuck schools his face into an expression that doesn't say 'so hey, last night I had a dream that you two fucked' and puts more food in his mouth to avoid having to speak, lest he get startled and blurt out the truth.
"I want to talk about logistics," Dean tells him, dispensing with the preamble, as usual. "I have a lead on the Colt, and I need to know how soon we can be ready to roll out."
"We?" Chuck says uneasily.
"Me and Cas." Dean lowers his chin and raises an eyebrow. "You didn't think I meant you, did you? You're useless at mission shit. No offence."
"None taken, believe me," Chuck tells him, relieved.
"Besides, someone has to stay behind and watch the kids," Cas interjects with a wink and a smirk. "God knows they can't be left unsupervised when Mommy and Daddy go out of town."
Dean rolls his eyes, elbows Cas in the ribs. Chuck takes a deep breath, tries his best not to imagine which of them is 'Mommy' and which is 'Daddy' in this metaphor.
"I don't have all the numbers on me right now," Chuck says. And then his head starts to hurt. Not again . "I, um. I can look into it and we can meet up later?"
"Fine." Dean is oblivious to Chuck's odd behaviour, but Cas is giving Chuck a very suspicious look. "My cabin, after lunch."
"Sure," Chuck agrees, and makes a hasty exit. He gets halfway back to his cabin before he realises Cas is following him.
"What's up, Cas?" He turns, trying and failing to sound casual, squinting as what little sunlight there is burns his eyes like a road flare.
Cas sidles up to him, and the curtain rises- Cas’s usual pretense of the drug-addled idiot drops faster than a dead bird out of the sky, and Chuck is left squaring off against Dean Winchester’s right hand.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” Cas asks, somewhat concerned and yet stil conspiratorial. “Are you having a bad trip? If I knew you’d take it so hard, I wouldn’t have offered you those pills-”
“No,” Chuck protests. “It’s not like that at all. Pills worked great. They’re just taking a little while to wear off, is all. You know me. Not really a morning person on my best day.”
Cas huffs softly in agreement, but something in his shoulders shifts from friendly to frightening. “You’re sure? There’s not something else going on? Something Dean needs to know about?”
He’ll know soon enough . “No, nothing I can think of.” He’s careful to tread the fine line between not enough denial and too much. “Honestly, I’m fine. Better every minute.” He holds his breath, hoping he isn’t laying it on too thick. Cas narrows his eyes for a moment, but then backs off, apparently satisfied with Chuck’s performance.
“Good.” He claps Chuck on the shoulder. “Catch you later, Chuck.”
“Yeah,” Chuck says a moment later, when Cas is already out of earshot. “See you.”
Cas slips into Dean’s cabin unnoticed, by everyone including Dean. He rounds on Cas as soon as he hears movement, already reaching for his gun out of absolute instinct. There was a time when Cas would have felt personally responsible for Dean’s hypervigilance. But after Detroit- after Detroit, they both lost certain parts of themselves.
Dean lowers his hands when he sees it’s Cas- his shoulders slump and he frowns.
“Warn a guy, would you?”
“Apologies, El Capitan.” Cas saunters over to Dean, putting a little more swivel in his hips than is strictly necessary. “Can I make it up to you?”
“You can try.” Dean tugs Cas back by the sides of his jacket until he’s sitting on the edge of the bed with Cas in his lap. He has his hands halfway down Cas’s pants when Cas decides to speak, effectively killing the mood.
“Chuck definitely knows about us.”
Dean stops dead in his tracks, leaning back on his hands to glare at Cas.
“You had to tell me that now? ”
“Only because of how he found out.”
Raising an eyebrow, Dean grabs Cas by the jaw and turns his head from side to side, inspecting his jaw and neck. “Huh. I don’t see any hickeys.”
Cas grabs Dean’s wrists. “Dean, I’m serious.”
“So am I,” Dean argues. “We’ve been careful. Chuck probably just heard some stupid rumor from someone in your fan club and took it too literally. Dude needs to lighten up.”
“I have my finger on the pulse of this place. Nothing gets gossiped about without getting run by me first. The only reason no one knows about us is because there are so many rumors that no one knows what to believe.” Cas pushes Dean playfully, toppling him back onto the mattress. “Chuck didn’t get his information from an inside source. Well, he actually did. Kind of.”
“No,” Dean sits back up. “No way. He hasn’t had a vision since-”
“Detroit,” Cas finishes. “I know. Which is why I wasn’t sure at first. But he showed up at my cabin yesterday, looking for pain-killers.”
“Migraine?” Dean guesses, Cas nods. “Shit.”
“I asked him if it was that kind of a headache. He denied it. But he was acting weird this morning, even for him. Did you see the way he was looking at us? I followed him out of the mess hall, and he got even weirder when I pressed him about it. Clearly he’s Seen something.”
“Makes sense,” Dean admits, “except we’ve been doing this for months. What he saw couldn’t have been a premonition.”
Cas shrugs. “Maybe his head finally cracked. Maybe it was context for something else. Who knows?” He mouths at Dean’s jaw, breathing hot in his ear. “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”
Dean scoffs. “Fuck you.”
Cas smiles a cheshire cat smile- his hands are already on Dean’s belt.
Chuck passes the morning too quickly. There’s always something to do, something to micro-manage. And when you’re dreading something, time always seems to fly by.
He’s not really sure why he’s dreading the meeting- but he has started to suspect that what he saw last night was only a piece of a much larger puzzle. And with Dean announcing his lead on the Colt, Chuck can already feel another headache coming on.
Cas meets him at the door of Dean’s cabin, looking more or less the same as he did five hours ago- his hair is a little disheveled (more so than usual), and there’s a cigarette dangling from his fingers. Dean is sitting at a table in the middle of the room, looking over a spread of maps and charts.
“Good, you’re here,” he says, without looking up.
“So,” Chuck ventures, “where’s the Colt?”
“No clue,” Dean answers. “But I do know where to find out.”
“There’s a demon.” This from Cas, puffing out clouds of smoke in the corner. “Goes by the name of Rebekah. Sources say she was one of the big crossroads contractors back in the day- now she makes her living on information. They say she has a line on anything and everything to do with the balance of power in this war- particularly weapons.”
“So what’s the mission?”
“Infiltrate and interrogate.” Dean’s hand moves across the map of the West coast, across state lines, which Chuck immediately dislikes. “She’s holed up here, in an abandoned elementary school. Kicks it with a gang of demons, some vampires, a couple werewolves. She calls them her family. Shouldn’t be too difficult to exorcise the demons, kill the rest of the monsters, trap Rebekah. After that, we’ll have the whole place to ourselves.”
“You don’t think it’ll be too much heat for the two of you? Don’t you want to take back-up?”
Dean finally looks up from his maps, meets Chuck’s eyes with an indignant look of surprise.
“No one can know about this, Chuck,” Cas says. “There’s no point in getting anyone’s hopes up until we actually have the Colt in our hands.”
“And I doubt they’d approve of my methods.” Dean taps the demon-killing knife, holstered on his belt. “Even in desperate times like this, I don’t think my approval ratings could take the hit of anyone else finding out about my enhanced interrogation techniques- even if it is for the greater good.”
Chuck has to agree with him, there. You wouldn’t think there’d be any holds barred when it comes to the rules of engagement at the end of the world- but people aren’t the same anymore. This is an animal kingdom. And an animal like Dean, with the violence he’s capable of- if the others knew about it, it would only be a matter of time until they started wondering if Dean might do it to them, too, if he thought it was for this greater good think he’s always talking about.
“What are you going to tell everyone?” he asks.
“Supply run.” Dean gets up, stretches. “And we aren’t going to tell them. You are.”
Chuck blanches. “I think it would be better coming from you.” The pain in his head flares. He tries not to let it show on his face. “You can tell everyone at the weekly meeting tomorrow.”
“We’ll be gone by then,” Dean announces. “I know I said a couple of days, but we need to move on this information now. We’re pulling out at the crack of dawn tomorrow.”
Chuck feels faint, and he clutches his clipboard to his chest, as if it will somehow keep him upright. The pain in his head flares, brutal and white-hot behind his eyes. “This wasn’t a logistics meeting. It was just a heads-up.”
Dean smacks him on the back, too hard.
“Now you get it.”
This. turned out a lot cheesier than originally intended.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Chuck doesn't make it to the pain killers this time- no sooner has he bolted his cabin door behind him than he collapses in a heap on the floor, unconsciousness overtaking him before he hits the ground.
This used to be a classroom- one for young children, if the decor was anything to go by. Yellow cinder block walls and remnants of glittering paper letters hung at odd angles. White boards that once would have been full were now empty, some broken. Wide, high windows, boarded up, barely letting in the daylight that tried its best to squeeze between the cracks. The dim, flickering fluorescent lights overhead painted the room in a sickly greyish-yellow, the perfect lighting for a post-apocalyptic stand-off.
The room was empty when Dean entered it, with Cas close on his six. The room had clearly been converted into some kind of bunk space, once upon a time; there were makeshift cots lined up in and around the desks, which had mostly been pushed outward against the walls. No one had been in here in quite some time. Demons didn’t need to sleep, and they wouldn’t sleep in a place like this, even if they did need to. Just like the last six rooms they’d searched, this one was a dead end.
“This is the last of them,” Cas said quietly. “Do you think they knew we were coming?”
“Yeah, no shit they knew we were coming.” Dean lashed out, kicking the desk nearest to him. The pain in his foot was intense but unsatisfying, as the desk barely even skidded a foot across the floor. “Whatever. Let’s get the fuck outta here.”
“Not so fast, boys.”
Dean had the knife in his hand already, and he swiped the blade in the direction of the voice, spinning to his left with full force. He wasn’t fast enough, though- someone caught his wrist, pulling his arm awkwardly to the side, wrenching his shoulder and swiping his ankles out from under him. He fell to the floor in an undignified heap next to Cas, who had been similarly disarmed.
Both of them scrambled to their feet to see a woman sitting across the room, feet up on a desk, using the point of the knife to clean dirt from beneath her fingernails. She was young, pretty- pale skin, close-cropped brown hair- she fit the description perfectly.
“You’re Rebekah, I take it?”
Rebekah looked up at him, her red eyes bright against the drab backdrop of the room. “You’ve heard of me? I’m flattered. It’s not every day you get name-checked by someone as famous as the Righteous Man.” She tilted her head, giving Cas a once-over. “And Castiel, the last fallen angel. My, my. Two legends in one day! This’ll be one hell of a story for the water cooler. What can I do for you gentlemen?”
Dean crossed his arms, defiant. “Well, I’d like my knife back.”
“Also, there’s the matter of the Colt,” Cas added. “We heard you might know where it is.”
Dean glanced sidelong at Cas- what he saw was a dilapidated but decent approximation of Cas before the apocalypse- the one with good posture and a better vocabulary and a straight stare that could level buildings. Now it was little more than a facade, a character to be summoned and played when the situation called for it.
“We don’t want to fight you,” Cas was saying. Dean snorted.
“Speak for yourself.”
Rebekah laughed- a throaty, devilish sound. “Good cop, bad cop. That’s cute.”
She stood, twirling the knife in her hand. She was taller than Dean had thought at first glance, but he knew he could take her, as soon as he got the chance, But he couldn’t find an opening.- she wasn’t coming any closer, and she’d just teleport away if she saw him coming. She was armed, he wasn’t. He needed to catch her off-guard. He glanced at Cas again, who seemed to be thinking the same thing.
“We want to make a deal,” Cas explained. “For the location of the Colt.”
This got Rebekah’s attention. She slipped the knife into her thigh-high boot and sauntered over, careful to stay out of arm’s reach while she studied Cas’s stone-faced expression.
“It’s true that I do have information about any number of things- there’s no real business for crossroad deals anymore, what with it being the end of the world and all- but a girl’s gotta make her living somehow.”
She spun on her heel, pacing back across the room, circling them like a shark. “But here’s the thing- deals are a two way street. And from my side of the street, there doesn’t look to be anything worth trading for.”
She was getting close to forgetting herself- Dean could see it in her posture. If they could keep her talking for just a minute longer, Dean would have his opportunity to attack.
“No offense, Castiel, but your soul isn’t really worth much. You know, now that you’re fallen and all that.” She looked at Dean, who was offended on Cas’s behalf despite his best efforts. “And you, Dean, well. You’re a vessel. You’re off-limits. And even if you weren’t, souls are a depreciating asset. I wouldn’t get any clout for being the second one to snag the first seal-breaker.”
“I’ll try not to take it personally.” Dean glared. “So, what do you want?”
“Well, Dean Winchester,” Rebekah said, and walked right up to him, close enough for him to see his own reflection in her blood red eyes, “maybe I just want to make your life difficult.”
Dean snorted. “Get in line, bitch.”
This was when he took his shot- he jabbed his foot out first, hooking her ankle to throw her off-kilter. Next, he reached for the collar of her jacket, turning her roughly so as to get her by the neck and go for the knife.
Or, that’s what he would have done. But as soon as he moved his foot, she was gone, vanished, out of reach once again. It would have been almost comical, had the stakes not been so high. Had he not turned around and seen that she had raised them even higher.
“Deals are about sacrifice, Dean,” she reminded him, tightening her grip on Cas, digging the point of the knife into his throat. “You know that better than anyone. So my question is, how much is it worth?”
Dean didn’t know what to say- he had no comeback, no snappy retort. His mouth had gone dry, his blood ran cold.
“I’m not the only one with a reputation, kid,” Rebekah taunted. “Everyone from here to the seventh circle has heard about you two. Dean Winchester and his guardian angel. You shouldn’t feel bad, Dean. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have a weak spot. And Castiel here, well- he wouldn’t be so human and weak without you, either. So you really only have yourself to thank for all this.”
The knife was drawing blood now. Cas was doing his best to hold still, breath shallow as every muscle in his body tried to flinch away from the blade. His eyes were big as the moon, stunned, a deer in the headlights.
“So, what’ll it be, Dean?” Rebekah asked, digging the knife in a little more, drawing a hiss and a gasp from Cas’s mouth and more bright red blood from his skin. “I’ll tell you exactly where the Colt is, but his life is the price. If not, I’ll be on my way, and you boys can get back to whatever it is you do when no one’s watching.”
For one long, terrible moment, time seemed suspended, slowed and crystallized in the air around them. All Dean could see was the blood blooming from Cas's neck, trickling down his throat, dripping faster as he swallowed thickly around the lump of fear in his throat.
"Dean," Cas whispered, pleading, but Dean didn't know what he was asking for.
"Dean," Cas said again, even softer this time.
Dean hated himself for the decision he was about to make- but he was going to make it anyway.
Chuck wakes up just as the first drops of Cas’s blood spray warm across his face- He’s lying prone on the floor of his cabin, hyperventilating, soaked in the pitch blackness of night.
“Oh, shit,” he pants, scrambling to his feet, out the door, hoping he gets to Dean before it’s too late. “Oh, fuck.”
Dean always sleeps like a log before missions- something in his mind gives up, ready to accept death if that’s what’s coming, rather than keep him up, wringing his hands and obsessing over things he can’t change anyway.
But tonight, for some reason, he can’t seem to settle. Every time he lays down, closes his eyes, all he can focus on is the darkness, vast and heavy, waiting for him behind his eyelids. Sleep doesn’t come, not even a hint of it on the horizon. He feels more awake than he ever has- tired but not sleepy, battered but not beaten. It feels like a bad omen, if he still believed in that kind of shit.
He thinks of going over to Cas’s cabin, then thinks better of it. For one, he doesn’t know if Cas is alone, and he can’t risk being seen. And two, Cas snores, which will only keep him up longer.
Whatever- he doesn’t know why he wants to see Cas right now anyway (bullshit, he totally knows). But emotional comfort isn’t something they do- that kind of intimacy isn’t part of their deal. It might have been, once, a long time ago, in some alternate, less fucked-up universe.
Drinking to pass the time is out of the question. He needs a clear head for this mission, as much as he wishes that weren’t the case. So instead, he spends the night counting the cracks in the ceiling, or pacing the length of his cabin, or studying every inch of every map, every step of the plan, until his eyes feel like they’re going to fall right out of his skull.
And so the night finally passes, as it always eventually does. He and Cas are supposed to meet up at four to load the jeep, and then be out of camp before anyone wakes up. It’s a four hour drive to Rebekah’s hideout, so they should be there before high noon. The sun will be up, which will help with clearing out the vamps, at least.
At three-thirty, Dean finally gives up on sleep and starts gearing up. He double and triple checks his holsters, his utility belt- he’s got the demon-killing knife, his guns, salt, lighter,, flask, voice-recorded exorcism. He even still has the God-finding amulet, which Cas eventually gave back to him, which he keeps only to remind him of his failures.
When he opens the door to step out into the cold, he runs headlong into Chuck, standing silent and still like a statue on his doorstep. Dean nearly jumps out of his skin, slamming the door jam, cursing and shaking his head.
“Jesus, Chuck. Don’t do that. How long have you been standing out here?”
Chuck shrugs apologetically. “A while. I need to talk to you.”
“You could have knocked.”
Chuck clasps his hands in front of him, white-knuckled. “Dean I don’t know how to tell you this, but-”
Dean snorts. “Well shit, who died?”
It’s a joke, but Chuck doesn’t laugh- not even that little chicken-shit giggle he does when he thinks Dean wants to be humoured.
“Well, ah, well, no one,” he stutters. “Not yet, anyway.”
It’s only then that Dean realises just how petrified Chuck looks. How deep the circles under his eyes are, the veins in his forehead standing right out.
“Chuck,” he says, carefully, like he Chuck might collapse if he hears any loud, sudden noises. “Did you see something?”
Chuck doesn’t answer.
“Was it about this mission?”
Chuck nods. Dean’s stomach is starting to turn, his hands going cold.
“Does something happen to me? To Cas?”
Once again, Chuck says nothing.
“You’re not gonna tell me, are you?” Dean pinches the bridge of his nose. “Why are you not gonna tell me?”
“I can’t tell you,” Chuck explains, “because I don’t actually know. What’s going to happen will depend on what choice you make, and since I’ve told you that there’s going to be a choice, you might choose differently than you did in the version of reality I just saw. Does that make sense?”
It does, but Dean doesn’t like it. “Why would you bother telling me about it at all, if you were just gonna be super vague and unhelpful?”
“Because the last time I kept my mouth shut, you lost someone you loved. And I don’t want to be responsible for that happening again.”
What happened to Sam wasn’t Chuck’s fault- it was Sam’s choice. And now, it looks like Dean is going to have to make a choice of his own.
“I’m going to be late,” he says, stepping outside, locking the door behind him. “We’ll be back before sundown. Any later and you should assume the worst.”
The steps of the porch creak in time with his bones as he descends further into the early morning gloom. When he turns back, Chuck’s face is sallow and pale, a spectre in the shadows.
“Just tell me one thing,” Dean asks. “In the vision- the version of reality you saw- did I choose right?”
Chuck smiles sadly and shakes his head.
“No, Dean. You chose wrong.”
Dean has been quiet all day.
Not that he's usually such a chatty person- their relationship doesn't involve a high percentage of smalltalk- but Dean has barely said six words to him all day, none of which involved anything other than the mission.
The four-hour drive from camp to the school is one of prolonged, awkward silence. Cas is very well-versed in silence, specifically Dean’s. This kind of silence isn’t spite, and it isn’t exhaustion, despite the obvious signs that Dean didn’t get any sleep last night. No, this silence is contemplative, morose. Cas can practically hear the gears in Dean’s head grinding away, filling the jeep with the metaphorical smell of smoke, which pairs wonderfully with the chain of cigarettes Cas is smoking. Dean, who normally doesn’t like him smoking in the car, just silently cracks a window and says nothing about it. That’s when Cas knows that this silence means something worse than he thought.
And when they find the school abandoned, the feeling of dread only gets stronger.
Turns out he was right to dread, because right now he’s choking on his own spit, being held at knifepoint by one of the more unpleasant demons he’s ever met, and she’s asking Dean to choose between Cas’s life (such as it is), and the location of the Colt.
And Dean appears to be considering his options.
Honestly, Cas is terrified. He’d never known fear until he’d fallen, and he’s felt it a few times now- that all-natural rush, the sharpening of your senses, the inescapable awareness of just how frail your body is, and just how far the nothingness ahead of you stretches on.
“So, what’ll it be, Dean?” Rebekah asks, her breath in Cas’s ear, reeking of sulfur. “I’ll tell you exactly where the Colt is, but his life is the price. If not, I’ll be on my way, and you boys can get back to whatever it is you do when no one’s watching.”
Cas has felt fear before, but he’s never felt fear like this. But there’s peace, too, there’s calm and there’s relief- because whether or not he wants to admit it, Cas has always sort of known that his final moment on this earth would come down to the next words that leave Dean Winchester’s mouth.
“Dean,” he whispers, because that’s the only good last word he can think of for himself. He doesn’t want to die, but he understands, he really does.
Do what you have to do, Dean , he thinks, feeling the point of the blade piercing his skin, the heat of blood trickling from the wound.
“Dean,” he says again, please, do what you must. It’s alright, Dean.
“I’m sorry,” Dean responds, finally, and Cas isn’t sure who he’s talking to at first. Not sure, that is, until Dean surges forward with a well placed kick to Cas’s ankle. Cas feels the pain of boot tread on barely-covered bone; the scrape of the knife against his cheek as he falls past it, and then the cold, hard floor coming up to meet the rest of him.
He has the sense to get clear and roll away- and he looks up just in time to see Dean grab Rebekah’s wrist, limp in surprise, and jab the knife swiftly up through her chin. That familiar amber glow spreads in jagged veins across her face, her eyes burning up, blazing right out of her head as she lets out one final, strangled scream. When the light finally fizzles, the body Rebekah once inhabited falls limply to the ground, empty sockets gazing long into nothing.
Once upon a time, Cas might have said a prayer for whoever this woman used to be. But he was about to die just now, and he didn’t even have a prayer for himself.
He sighs and pulls himself up onto his knees, looking to Dean, standing over him, shoulders rising and falling in short, even breaths, knuckles clenched white around the hilt of the demon-killing knife.
“I meant what I said.” Again, Cas isn’t sure what Dean is referring to. “Let’s get the fuck outta here.”
Dean is fuming when he reaches the jeep, slamming the hood and kicking the tire as Cas limps out behind him. Dean it too angry right now to feel bad about kicking him, but he did save his life after all. At a cost. Christ, what a cost.
“Well, I don’t think my ankle is broken ,” Cas says wryly, wiping the blood from his cheek with his sleeve. “Maybe I’ll get a cool scar out of this. Not a total loss.”
Dean just sees red, and then he’s grabbing Cas by the front of his jacket and spinning him, nearly lifting him into the air as he hauls him around and slams him into the side of the jeep.
“Is that all you have to fucking say, Cas, really?” he snarls, which he knows has never impressed Cas, or intimidated him, but he doesn’t feel so in the driver’s seat of his own mouth at the moment. “Not a total loss? After I’ve worked for months- months - to get this lead, the closest we’ve ever been, and you’re making fucking jokes ?”
Cas doesn’t say anything- he rolls his eyes, a deflection, a dismissal of Dean’s anger, and it takes Dean a second to clear the cloud of his own frustration and see through Cas’s shroud of nonchalance to really notice the guilt, vague but present, just beneath the surface.
“That’s it?” he asks, letting up a little, putting a few more inches of space between them. “You’re not even gonna thank me for saving your life?”
Cas snorts. “I don’t know Dean, do you want me to thank you? You seem like you might be regretting it right about now. I don’t know what you want me to be doing.” He reaches out, an old technique, hand-on-shoulder, a staple of the oddly-shaped mass of metaphysical connective tissue that binds them together. “I understand. It was a hard decision.”
“Not really!” Dean shouts, knocking Cas’s hand away, pacing around, arms waving. “Yeah, I did consider it Cas, for a split second. I thought about it. But I- there was no way I could’ve-” he kicks the nearest thing- an overturned, dented trash can. It rolls away with a series of heavy thuds and bumps. Dean hears none of them, turning back to Cas in exasperation. “What was I supposed to do, Cas? Not choose you?”
And well, that’s it, isn't it? The crux of everything. The tipping point on which their entire tenuous existence is balanced.
"Well I certainly didn't expect you to choose me," Cas admits, leaning forward. "I thought for sure that was it for me. I was ready to die. I've always been ready to die if you needed me to."
Dean is once again reminded of the old Cas, the one who would say things like this all time time, straight-faced, not knowing the gravity and the significance of the words coming out of his mouth, things that were supposed to remain unspoken. The Cas whose voice could be so soft when he wanted it to, like it is now, whose eyes were more blue than Dean thought eyes ever could be- not so grey as they've turned, so heavy.
But this Cas, the one in front of him, with the heavy, grey eyes and the red, human blood, knows exactly what he's saying.
“Jesus, Cas,” Dean sighs. “You can’t just say shit like that.”
Cas tilts his head, crossing his arms- his posture is challenging, but his eyes just look sad.
“Really, Dean?” he asks. “Even if it’s true?”
And what is Dean supposed to do with that except surrender to it? He’s powerless to do anything but press Cas back against the jeep and kiss him. Because Rebekah was right. Dean is only human, at the end of the day, and Cas is the only one that ever makes him feel that way anymore.
“We should go,” Cas mumbles, breathless, lips kiss-bitten in the cool air, tilting his head back while Dean kisses the uninjured side of his neck. “If Rebekah’s gang comes back-”
Dean growls against Cas’s skin, his stubble scratching Cas’s, a buzz on his skin. The sky has clouded over since they came outside- there’s a storm somewhere in the distance, muffled thunder on the far horizon. He pulls back and kisses Cas again, softer than he usually allows himself to- and grazes his fingers over the wound on Cas’s face, blood drying it closed.
“You okay?” he asks, what he should have asked first.
“Yeah.” Cas shrugs. He looks dazed, now, and he’s touching Dean’s face like Dean is made out of gold. “Like I said. Not a total loss.”
The thunderstorm rolls in around noon, the rain following the rumbling until it’s pandemonium outside, torrential and unrelenting, coming down sideways out of the sky. Chuck has never been more grateful that the camp is built where it is- the border scouts quickly report that the service roads leading out of the area have been flooded, and a few trees have been felled by the wind.
He should just be relieved for himself and his own safety, but instead he’s been watching the clock, counting down until sunset, getting more worried with every passing minute. Even if Dean and Cas both survived the mission, even if Chuck’s vision was wrong, they might not be able to make it back to camp. And if they’re stuck out there overnight, in a storm like this, with who knows what prowling around- it won’t matter that Chuck’s vision was wrong in the first place.
He still feels the ghost of Cas’s blood on his face, feels the cold heartlessness of Dean’s decision- the thought that once it becomes clear the two of them aren’t coming back, things at Camp Chitaqua will quickly start to descend into chaos. Chucks isn’t ready, has never been ready to lead anyone. If Dean does come back, they really need to talk about restructuring.
During storms, everyone usually congregates in the mess hall. It’s easier than trying to run between cabins all day. Times like these end up being some of the best, in terms of morale. People will bring whatever instruments still exist- there’ll be storytelling and sing-songs and poker tournaments that can go on for hours, played for clout and bragging rights rather than anything tangible.
Chuck has never really found his niche at these things, just like he’s never really found his niche anywhere. But today, it’s especially difficult for him to just kick back and relax, knowing what he knows. He’s been fending off questions about Dean and Cas’s whereabouts all day, having repeated the line about supplies more times than he can count. He’s pretty sure people are buying it, but that doesn’t stop him from sitting by the mess hall window all day, staring out at the main gate and chewing his nails down to the quick.
It’s nearing dinner time- there’s a din of general merriment in the room, pots and pans banging in the kitchen as whoever is on dinner duty starts to prepare the food- beef stew, according to Chuck’s schedule. He thinks about the meat stores, how they’ll have to replenish them soon. If they don’t all kill each other first.
“Headlights at the gate,” someone calls, not yelling, but loud enough to draw mostly everyone’s attention. Sure enough, a vehicle has pulled up, the beams of its headlights bouncing wildly as the tires spin through the mud. It's dim but not dark so it's easy to see that the jeep is Dean's- and that there are two figures in the front seat.
Chuck nearly passes out. His head has been pounding all day- not a prophecy migraine, just a good old-fashioned tension headache, which quickly dissipates now that it appears he won't become the de facto leader of this rag-tag army.
Cas gets out of the jeep first- he's limping as he hauls the gate shut, and there's an obvious wound on his face, but he's alive quickly getting rain-soaked and sodden as Dean drives through the gate, parks, and steps out into the deluge as well. The two of them work together to pull the gate closed- that's when Chuck looks around to see that everyone is crowded with him at the window, watching this innocuous exchange with a strange anticipatory wonder.
"Doesn't look like they were on a supply run," someone mutters, pulling Chuck's attention away from the window.
"Yeah-" someone else pipes up- "where were they really , Chuck?"
"Oh my God !" squeals one of the girls in Cas's fanclub- Sara, Chuck thinks, or maybe Michelle. "Look!"
They're at a distance, and the air is thick with rain, but the sight is unmistakable. Dean has grabbed Cas and kissed him, is still kissing him, bending him backwards over the hood of the jeep, licking rain from Cas's lips as Cas runs his fingers through Dean's soaking, slick hair. This is a kiss that is obviously so full of pent-up everything that it could very well be their first. Chuck is willing to bet that it isn't, but the speculation has already started.
"How long do you suppose that's been going on?"
"Are you kidding me? With their history? It probably started way before any of us knew them."
"I dunno, that looks like a new development to me."
"I don't think so," Chuck says aloud, mostly to himself.
"Oh yeah? You know something about this, Chuck? You see it coming?"
"Yeah, Chuck, was it destiny or what?"
Chuck smiles a little, watching as Dean and Cas run hand-in-hand toward Dean's cabin.
"Something like that," he replies. "Something like that."
I came up with the idea for this fic six years ago and now it's finished. Don't know what to do with that information but it seems significant.