Actions

Work Header

Hope is a Living Thing

Chapter Text

Castiel’s breath emerged in desperate white clouds. The sanitarium was bitterly cold. Michigan slumped towards fall with a succession of bitter, wet days but that wasn’t enough to explain it. Castiel waited in the cave of a doorway, shifting his weapon so he could ball his hand into a fist and blow on it. Coalescing dread formed a black hole in his chest. Lucifer was here; the cold could mean nothing else.

Bleakly, Castiel pressed into the maw of the empty room and breathed against his stiff fingers. Lucifer was here and Dean was alone - just as he and Castiel had planned. Dean would get the jump on Lucifer and shoot a hole through his brother, or die trying. Die trying seemed like the most likely scenario. This was it for all of them. This was it for himself. Castiel could only hope it would be quick; prayer was a bit beyond him these days.

Automatic rifle fire echoed in the vast sanitarium. Their teams splintered like fine threads of wood halved again and again by an axe. Soon there wouldn’t be enough left of them to stand against the demons, and their assault would fail. Castiel closed his eyes, even now instinctively reaching futilely for his grace to tell him what was around the next corner. He swallowed hard against the burn of bile. Then he unclenched his hand, worked cold fingers in and out, and repositioned his weapon. As smoothly as though he’d been created with a rifle in his hand, Castiel raised it and darted from his brief shelter back into the hallway.

Back into the belly of the beast.

One demon. One shot. Castiel was quick and he was deadly. Even half addled on his own custom cocktail he was among the best in their camp, carving into the depths of Lucifer’s trap with precision. But the further he got, the more he realized that the sanitarium was more than just a convenient throw-away building Lucifer had dangled before them.

The rooms toward the center of the building showed evidence of being lived in, with fresh trash balled up on tables and areas where the dust hadn’t had an opportunity to settle. A contingent of Lucifer’s soldiers were stationed here, long term by the looks of it. Why? Castiel frowned as he rounded a corner. Something flashed in the corner of his eye and he whirled, firing on instinct. He shot a clean hole into the demon’s shoulder and then whipped out a handgun and fired a devil’s trap bullet to lodge in the demon’s spine.

The demon abruptly froze, spun, and dropped. Castiel ran to the demon, dropped to one knee, and pulled out his blade threateningly. “What are you protecting here?” he demanded.

“You shot me!” The demon groaned, then spat at him.

“Glad we’re on the same page, here.” Castiel jabbed the tip of his blade into the demon’s throat where it sizzled red sparks. “Tell me what you’re protecting,” Castiel demanded.

“Just kill me,” the demon gasped, clutching their side, fingers clawing over the bullet hole fruitlessly. “Please.”

Castiel smiled grimly. “No.” He increased the pressure of his blade. “You know what I’ll do, though? I’ll leave you for Lucifer. Tie you up like a gift.”

The demon’s eyes widened. Lucifer, according to their intelligence, had casually dragged Hell to Earth along with his demons. Especially for his demons. Lucifer seemed to hold particular contempt for demon-kind second only to his dislike for monsters. He’d instituted a dedicated torture program for anyone who dared to disobey or disappoint him. According to a few accounts from captured demons, Lucifer took his rage out on anyone who happened to get in the way of a fit of pique. If Lucifer did find this demon, there’d be no end to their suffering and no surcease to be found in the kind of quick death Castiel could offer.

“Come on, man.” The demon groaned in pain, but their eyes were clear as they said, “There’s a prisoner. High level. Been here for months. ‘S the only one here.”

“Where?” Castiel growled, and he flipped his blade in his hand, twirling it so it pointed directly at the demon’s chest. “I’ll make it quick,” he promised.

The demon spat out the details and watched the blade descend with something like relief. After the demon sparked out, Castiel cleaned his blade on the dead man’s jacket and re-sheathed it in his own coat. A prisoner Lucifer needed kept alive? It was hard to imagine anyone hitting that level of importance with the archangel. Unless something they knew, or had access to, scared Lucifer. A spark of hope kindled in Castiel’s chest. Before the assault he and Dean had agreed that there was no other way to defeat Lucifer except for all-out sacrifice. But what if there was another way, after all?

Two levels up Castiel found a hallway protected by a single guard. The demon stood ramrod straight in front of a closed door, their rifle trained towards the closest sounds of fighting. They didn’t move from the post. Obedient little demon, Castiel thought before he brought his own gun up and fired a clean shot through the demon’s temple.

The demon dropped and Castiel ran forward, hoping to feel any telltale tingle of warding before he ran into a trap. To his relief, the door appeared unwarded against angels or other interlopers. The demons had grown comfortable in the past year, relishing the buffer of a rapidly diminishing human population. With nearly every angel locked away in Heaven and serving Lucifer of paramount importance, it was unsurprising that they wouldn’t bother barring angels anymore. Castiel pushed his way through, and found himself in a small, dark room little bigger than a utility closet.

The man chained to the rusted soil stack at the far end of the room didn’t bother to look up at Castiel when he burst in, though he twitched at the sound of the door banging open. Conscious, but weak, Castiel decided. He advanced on the prisoner carefully, ready to end him quickly and run if this should prove to be a more elaborate trap. “Who are you?”

The prisoner moaned and shifted his shoulders against the thick pipe propping him up. Castiel could hear his lips draw together and release like poorly adhering tape. He’s thirsty, Castiel realized, sliding carefully to one knee beside the man. He kept his rifle propped on his other leg, while he dug in one of his pockets for his flask. He drew it out and uncapped it one-handed, well practiced in the move. He settled the open contained below the nose of the dark-haired man. “Drink,” Castiel commanded him shortly, tipping the flask up to the man’s lips.

Another grunt and something like a whimper replied, then the man parted his lips again and allowed Castiel to lift the flask for him enough to wet his lips and tongue. The man jerked at the burn of alcohol and Castiel locked his own grimace deep within himself. If he’d retained the power of healing, he could have pressed his grace into this man and proceeded with the job of interrogation. Instead, he waited while the prisoner calmed his breathing and tested his mouth and tongue. When he stilled again, Castiel asked again, “Who are you? Why are you here?”

By sight, Castiel could tell the man was human. Both monster and demon showed their true faces to him. At least his angelic eyesight hadn’t failed him yet. But human didn’t necessarily mean “on their side.”

The man jerked his chin and Castiel recapped the flask and shoved it back into his pocket before grasping the man’s hair and pulling his head upward.

The prisoner’s face was pale, like he hadn’t seen the sun for weeks, and great black circles underlined his eyes. Deep red flooded the space around his corneas, making him appear rabid, but his voice was surprisingly measured when he slurred, “You’re human.”

Castiel didn’t bother to respond to that, though he added another check mark to his own internal list of grievances against the world. “The demons have been holding you captive. Why?”

“You are part of the resistance?” The man asked. “Or just another bounty hunter?” His gaze flicked down to assess Castiel’s loose, dirty garments with a surprising amount of derision for someone so ill.

The prisoner’s own outfit appeared to have once been expensive; he wore a thick wool coat that was torn and bloody, but would have once been soft and crisp. He would have been perfectly in sync with angels in that matter, and their preoccupation with fine, neat clothing. “I don’t know about ‘the resistance.’ But my people...We fight against Lucifer,” Castiel said. “We’re here to kill him.”

The prisoner let out a short laugh, and targeted a derisive look at Castiel’s battered rifle and torn clothing. His chest rattled with a deep cough, which ended on a strangely polite smile. “Good enough,” he wheezed at last. “My name is Arthur Ketch with the British Men of Letters. I’m here to infiltrate the devil’s inner circles and report back on Lucifer’s position.”

Castiel couldn’t stop his own laugh from escaping. “I can see you’ve thoroughly infiltrated Lucifer’s camp. Really, you’re right in the center of it. Amazing.”

Ketch scowled. “We’d heard reports that he was stationed around Detroit but there was no trace of him, of course. He was likely never here. I was captured as I tried to leave. But never mind. Let me free and I’ll return to my post.”

Castiel looked over the man. His movements were feeble. He was clearly ill and possibly even a bit delusional. He was also wrong. “Lucifer is here,” he said. “Right now.”

At this, Ketch’s eyes grew wide and he looked around the room like he might spot Lucifer skulking behind the door. “You must get me out,” he hissed. “Only we can stop him. My people must be notified of where he is!”

Castiel settled back and watched him coolly. “What do you know?” he asked, finally. “Tell me.”

Ketch must have seen some resolve in his eyes, because he shifted weakly against the soil stack and sighed before saying, “There’s a tool we have aboard our ship. A relic of a bygone era, that can pull even an archangel from its vessel. With the hyperbolic pulse generator, we can pull Lucifer out of the host body as easily as ripping out a demon. Disembodied, we’ll be able to cast him back into the cage with a spell we manufactured as soon as we realized the end times were beginning. If you free me now, we can both go to my ship. You’ll see the Men of Letters are the only hope for this sorry world against the scourge America unleashed on us all.”

“You have a ship?” Castiel asked sharply. “Where?”

“The Saint Lawrence seaway. I don’t know exactly where. I’d need to cast the runes to find our current heading but...it’s there. With Lucifer once again nearby, we can find him and stop him. But we must act quickly.” Ketch said all this in a low wheeze, fast like time was running low. “Unlock me, and I swear you can come with me.”

Castiel hesitated, thinking rapidly. There was a lump in his throat, a rising pressure he could readily recognize as emotion now. He swallowed hard against it. That anyone on this literally god-forsaken earth had any hope at all seemed as ludicrous as it was intoxicating. Castiel could not wholly believe in it. But he let the pieces click into place. “Tell me how to find your ship,” he said finally.

Ketch’s gaze grew cooler. “You’ll need me along,” he grunted. “Our ship is warded. No mere hunters can get inside.” He tossed out the word “hunter” like it was refuse. Gunfire echoed in the hallway. The fighting had arrived at their level at last. “Uncuff me and let’s go,” he said shortly.

Castiel shifted his gun to his other hand and reached inside his jacket, drawing out a long silver blade. It was sharp enough to pick a lock, even so long out of Heaven. It was sharp enough for a lot of things.

Ketch’s gaze dropped to it and he lifted his lips in a cracked smile. “But I see you have other plans.”

Castiel’s blade flashed in the dimly lit room, and then he was on his feet and running.

* * *

“What the fuck are you doing here?” Dean’s hissed greeting was barely audible above the shushing leaves of the forest canopy above them. Before them, the sanitarium sprawled, an elaborate mouse trap. The cat - Lucifer - wandered in a white suit through the rose garden like a Victorian lady taking a calculated turn around the garden, waiting for an assignation.

“Change of plan,” Castiel whispered, laying a hand on Dean’s arm to stay him from rushing forward to confront Lucifer, as he’d been about to do.

A slideshow of emotions passed over Dean’s face, too fast to process. Dean shot him a wan smile. “Change of plan, huh? Guess we’ll take this bastard on together.” He nodded toward the garden. “He’s there.”

“I know.” Castiel tightened his grip on Dean’s arm. “We can’t.”

“We talked about this! You lead the front, I take the back and get the drop on the Devil. Bang. Problem solved.” He looked up at the building, still bursting with bright gunfire. “We don’t got another fucking choice.”

“He knows you’re here.” When Dean rolled his eyes, Castiel jabbed his finger towards their feet. “He knows you’re here. I saw him from the building.”

After leaving Ketch cooling in his prison cell, Castiel had raced towards the back of the building, hoping to discover Dean still alive. Through the grimy windows, he’d seen Lucifer strolling through the garden, casting coy glances towards the woodland fringe surrounding the building. He was waiting for Dean in the garden alone - away from gunfire and distractions. Away from the chance of anyone else getting in a lucky shot and buying Dean just enough time to get his lucky shot.

He and Dean had known this would be the end for one of them - probably both of them. But watching Lucifer smirk to himself had sent a bolt of clear, cold rage through Castiel. With that rage came clarity. He’d run for a window at the end of the hall, shattered glass framing the opening like jagged teeth. He’d jumped to the earth below, rolling clumsily across the overgrown lawn. Then he raced for Dean, heedless suddenly of the hopeless fight left behind him, not even caring about the lack of cover in the gaping stretch of lawn between the sanitarium and the woods. He’d either die or he wouldn’t.

Now, Castiel watched Dean process the knowledge that Lucifer was idling outside waiting for his attack so he could bat it away like a kitten does a mouse. Dean stared at the Colt in his hand and when he looked up, there was nothing but empty despair in his eyes. “I got no choice, Cas,” he whispered. Dean hesitated for a moment, mouth working like he was trying to articulate an argument. Then he shook his head and raised up from his crouch. “Stay here, okay? If I don’t make it, tell everyone to get the fuck out of camp. Gotta be only a matter of time anyway before Lucifer got rid of the last of us,” he muttered seemingly to himself. “Wish me luck,” he said heavily, shaking off Castiel’s hand. “Fuck knows I could use it.”

Castiel watched Dean start to walk away, the shifting shadows of leaves turning his shoulders to lace. He’d known Dean long enough by now to see when his resolve was immovable. Dean had set out today to kill Lucifer or die trying, and Castiel suspected that he didn’t much care which one it was at this point. Castiel shook his head slowly, and let go of the fantasy he’d briefly nourished of some magical solution happening to fall into their lap right at the precipice of their own demise. I should go with him, he thought. Dying together has got to be better than dying alone. He swallowed hard, and followed.

* * *

It all went wrong, went sideways. Because of course it did.

Together, they confronted Lucifer, who awaited them like an ancient marbled statue against the dreary backdrop of the sanitarium. He was the only pristine thing in a hundred miles, Castiel thought inanely as they entered the garden. Even as fallen as he was, Castiel could feel the hum of his archangel grace, primordial and strong. He hated it. He yearned for it.

Lucifer had taunted them, which Castiel had expected, and showered them with condescending praise, which Castiel hadn’t. Dean had listened to him, listened to every golden dagger that fell from the Great Deceiver’s lips. Until Lucifer made the mistake of bringing up Mary Winchester.

Something snapped awake in Dean, at the mention of his mother’s name. He raised the Colt. He shot his brother in the middle of his wide, smooth forehead. Sam’s body toppled like a felled tree.

For a moment, the garden held no sound except for muffled gunfire as their fellow hunters died behind the sanitarium’s brick walls. And then Lucifer opened his eyes again and grinned widely. He lifted one hand, waved it jauntily, and Dean flew across the bushes and cracked against a pale concrete wall that penned in the roses.

In the seconds while Dean’s body was in flight and Lucifer had craned Sam’s neck impossibly long to track it, Castiel pulled out his own Plan B.

In the camp, it was share and share alike, which was why Castiel hoarded. He scavenged and he hid things and he waited. Sometimes, thinking of the arsenal he’d managed to squirrel away over the past few years, he wondered if he had held onto things too long. Would a weapon or magical artifact he’d found have saved a life down the line? But the strategist in him kept quiet and kept his weapons close.

While Dean fell into a wall, Castiel dug into the satchel at his waist and pulled out a bottle. It was an ordinary brown beer bottle, small and slender and full of oil. An oil-soaked, dirty rag tufted from the top. Castiel pulled out the bottle and lit it on fire.

It felt like absolution as he drew it near his ear. Holy oil would destroy Castiel quickly and mercilessly, even with the full use of his grace. Surely it would at least slow down an archangel.

Castiel hurled the bottle towards Lucifer and watched it shatter in the center of that crisp, white suit. Flames spread across Sam’s body like a blanket. Lucifer shrieked once. Twice. And then he was gone, disappeared into the folds of the universe to escape the holy flame.

Castiel blinked in surprise at the empty space in the garden once occupied by Lucifer, then he raced across the garden.

Dean was down on the ground, moving feebly. He looked towards Castiel with hooded eyes, slipping towards unconsciousness. Heaving himself upright on one arm only had the effect of toppling him to sprawl along the stone path, rather than the wall.

Castiel looped his rifle over one shoulder and made sure his handguns were accessible. He scooped up the Colt and jammed it into his belt, then picked Dean up in a fireman’s carry. Dean was heavy despite years of lean eating, but Castiel could still boast greater strength than most in their camp. He grunted under Dean’s weight, and began a quick, careful trek back to the Jeep.

Castiel’s entire body felt like a vibrating guitar string on the verge of snapping and his skin prickled, expecting Lucifer to reappear at any moment and pull his spine out through his abdomen. He crossed the lawn into the wooded cover without dying. If Castiel believe in signs from God anymore, that would be a powerful one. Instead, Castiel recognized it as sheer, dumb luck.

When he reached the Jeep, he spared a quick glance at the distant brick building. The gunfire had ceased. The last of the hunters likely dead or wishing they were. They’d lost everyone, but then that had been the plan all along. Castiel tamped down his instinct to grieve and tumbled Dean into the passenger’s seat of the Jeep, where he slumped, fully unconscious. He was alive, and so was Dean. That was a start. Castiel ran to the driver’s seat and jumped inside. The Jeep coughed to life, absurdly loud in the dead city. Castiel glanced around them surveying for threats before driving away. Behind them, the sanitarium stood ringed by empty woods. Before them was nothing but the burned out city, and the road.

* * *

“Wake up. Goddamnit wake up, Dean!”

Castiel pried at Dean’s eyelids and slapped him hard against the cheeks. Once. Twice. A third time.

Dean groaned like a dying animal, and turned his chin away from Castiel. “The fuck?” he asked blearily, eyes slowly fluttering open. “Fuck times’it?” His eyes first focused on Castiel, then shifted to the roll bar of the Jeep. Dean stared at it for a long moment, a computer recalibrating. Then he sucked in a huge breath and sat up, breath turning shallow as he looked around. “The fuck, Cas?” he asked as memory returned. “What did you do?”

“Talk later,” Castiel said, handing him a firearm now that he knew Dean wouldn’t shoot him out of misdirected instinct. “Croats now.”

They might have miles of bridges burned between them, but Dean’s trust never wavered when it came to Castiel’s ability to hear infected humans before they turned up to tear a squad to pieces. Castiel might have turned mortal, but his vision and hearing remained intact, even down to the now-dead static of angel radio. Castiel knew as plain as seeing them that the nearby Croats had sensed them and they were hungry, growling for blood. There was a crowd of them approaching now, blocking the road. There were too many to ram through without risking the chance of hungry bodies tumbling into the Jeep and gnashing their way into Dean. They’d have to fight.

“Now we know where they all went,” Castiel grunted, attention half on the oncoming horde and half on Dean fumbling towards full wakefulness, one hand pressed to the bloody knot on his head. “All the Croats. Lucifer had ‘em ring the city. Finish us off no matter what, I’m guessing.”

“Fuck,” Dean muttered, automatically reaching for his guns to prepare for a quick, bloody battle. He looked around them, alert now.

Once he made sure Dean’s vision had cleared, Castiel turned back to the wheel. His knuckles burned white with tension. “You ready now?” he asked shortly.

Dean answered with a sharp grunt and Castiel set off at high speed, tires spinning, engine revving. Ahead, they could now see the army of hungry diseased humans ripping each other apart to get to them.

They seemed legion, crammed into the tight city streets, streaming from between buildings and smashing drunkenly into poles and broken windows as they pushed towards the escaping Jeep.

Dean swore an intricate string of curses aimed at God and Castiel in turn. He seemed wide awake now, rapidly settling firearms around him to draw when he inevitably wouldn’t have time to reload. “You keep her straight,” he shouted in Castiel’s ear over the roar of the wind and the ravening crowd. He tugged at a pouch on Castiel’s belt, unseating the velcro to pull out a grenade. He flashed it once in front of Castiel, then rose to his knees. “Be ready,” Dean gritted, and pulled the pin.

The grenade detonated at the crest of the human wave. Castiel got low in the driver’s seat and accelerated through the fire and blood. Gunshots surrounded him, deafened him. Bodies fell onto the Jeep, climbed onto the hood, and were blasted apart by Dean.

Time once again had no meaning beyond blood and the shrieking of mortal bodies as the end of the world ground them up.

When they finally broke free of the mass of diseased humans forming Lucifer’s last guard posted around the city, Castiel still drove like a madman. He arrowed the Jeep down the nearly empty highway, the city transforming towards open residential streets and sprawling, silent subdivisions.

Dean’s fist clenched around the collar of Castiel’s jacket, shaking him until Castiel glanced over. His flashing green eyes were inches from Castiel. “What the hell, man? Lucifer’s still alive, right?” Dean shouted over the wind. “We gotta go back. Find a way back into the city. We gotta take him out!”

Castiel looked away, focusing grimly on the cracked center line. All that mattered was the road ahead, and getting Dean far away from Lucifer. “Hell no.”

Dean pulled the Colt from where Castiel had stashed it between them. He rapped the gunstock against the dash. “We know where the devil’s doing business. We act. Now.”

Castiel laughed. “With what? One bullet didn’t work so you’ll try two? We don’t have anything that can take down an archangel. Hell, I used the last of my holy oil just getting us the fuck out of there. That was a suicide mission back there. Lucifer was waiting for you. He’s playing with us.” Castiel suppressed a shudder. Garnering the attention of an archangel was a poor strategy for staying alive and Castiel now saw that Lucifer was simply playing a long game with them. They were entertainment, not a challenge.

“Wait. Back up. You had holy oil? Had? That would’ve been really fucking useful to know.” There was a pause, like Dean was searching for words. And then he was shifting towards the door, hand on the handle. “Pull over.”

Castiel risked a glance at Dean. Speed turned the landscape around them into strips of paint. “Are you crazy?”

“You run if you want. I’m going back and finishing this goddamn fight. He’s gotta be weak now. I’ll take another shot.” Dean glared at him. “Pull. Over.”

“Dean. You can’t--”

The world behind them erupted in fire.

It was always surreal, the bright flash of a distant explosion before the sound caught up, like a silent movie playing out. And then the rumble surged over them, the groan of fire and shrieking collapse of metal and brick and stone.

Jackson disappeared in a fireball that belched black smoke over the city, eating away the sky and the buildings behind them.

Castiel turned back to the road, managing to glance at Dean between rearview mirror checks of the carnage Lucifer’s temper tantrum left behind. There was nothing in Jackson anymore. No intel, no resistance, and no Lucifer. The archangel would have dusted ash from his white jacket and flown away, a sneer drawn up on Sam Winchester’s face.

Dean turned around slowly and settled into the seat, a muscle in his jaw jumping. “Great,” he said at last. “Friggin’ awesome. What the hell do we do now?”

“There’s another way to take out Lucifer,” Castiel said, remembering the bitter man chained to iron. He sucked on his lip, considering, then laid out his ace card. “And if it works, we might be able to save Sam at the same time.”

Dean laughed at that, sharp and cold. “That ship sailed a long time ago. Years ago, man. We go back, we pull out anyone left at camp who can fight, and we go at him hard. Together. If you think you got something better than the Colt, you’re delusional. You don’t think I’ve looked for other options.”

“I don’t think so, no. You’ve been hell bent on that as your hail Mary for years now. Just...hear me out, okay?” Castiel wasn’t quite ready to meet Dean’s baleful glare just yet and stared at the road as he talked. He told Dean about the prisoner he had found, and what Ketch had said about an artifact with the power to rip an archangel from his vessel.

Dean snorted derisively, though he’d listened to Castiel with steady attention. “If this Ketch guy was so handy, why the hell didn’t you bring him along?”

Castiel rubbed wearily at his forehead. A headache bloomed there, product of the fight, dehydration, and the slippery withdrawal of drugs from his system. “I can only handle one dead weight at a time,” he snapped.

Dean had little to say to this argument. He settled in his seat, clearly seething. But he wasn’t trying to jump out of the car anymore, which Castiel took as a victory.

They drove in a wide loop around Jackson, skirting well south of Detroit, before stopping for the night in the middle of vast farmland gone fallow and redolent with the smell of decaying hay. If there were Croats around, they’d have their work cut out to find them.

The night was cold; the open jeep offered little warmth aside from being drier than the ground. Dean snapped a bedroll from the kit bolted over the wheel well in the back and opened it up. “I’ll keep watch first,” he said, tossing the blanket at Castiel. “You get some sleep and we’ll figure our shit out in the morning.”

Castiel unfolded the blanket and pulled it up over his shoulders. It was short, not full sized, and it slid up to his knees, leaving his legs partially exposed. He shivered in the chilly night air, and from the strain of the day. Resolutely, Castiel closed his eyes.

In the field insects whirred as though nothing terrible had scraped half the world’s population from the planet. God’s garden, Castiel thought wearily. Lucifer’s garden now.

“You really think we could save Sammy?” Dean’s voice was small. Exhausted.

Castiel knocked his head back against the back of the seat in an exaggerated shrug. “I don’t know what to think. But the Colt didn’t kill him. Holy fire seems to be a momentary inconvenience.” He scrubbed at the corner of one eye, trying to scrape out debris that might very well be permanently embedded in his eyelid. His hand shook from fatigue. A shiver stole through him, rattling his shoulders.

There was a huff to his right and then Dean said in an exaggerated tone, “C’mere.”

Castiel opened his eyes and blinked at Dean.

“C’mere,” Dean repeated. He lifted one arm, clearly expecting Castiel to slide under it, into it. When Castiel did nothing but stare, he said, “Friggin’ cold and I don’t got my warm jacket.”

Castiel’s mind wanted to dissect the offer, lay it out in all its many parts on the ground, and try to understand what it meant. But his body dragged with the afterburn of fear and the acid simmerdown of his pre-fight cocktail. His hand still shook, even as he moved his fingertip from his face to rest on his mud-streaked thigh. He looked at Dean, who gazed a little over Castiel’s shoulder, deliberately unfocused. Dean’s arm waited in the air.

Gratefully, Castiel moved then, leaning under the wing of Dean’s arm and settling the blanket over both of them. Nearly instantly, he felt better. Warmer.

He felt other things too, of course, but those didn’t bear thinking about.