Ever since the virus mutated, it's been increasingly harder to track Gadreel. The only positive in Castiel's life is that it hasn't started affecting angels - not yet.
He shrugs his shoulders and winces, as if pained by a crick in his neck or a strained muscle. It's the grace he slipped into. Or maybe imbibe would be a better word. Theo's grace. And it fits - uncomfortably. Like a scratchy wool sweater you borrowed that's a size or two too small. You can't button it across your chest and no matter how hard you tug, the sleeves never cover your wrists.
They don't tell you about these things in Angel school.
The corners of Castiel's mouth threaten to turn up. Angel school. Dean would like that.
He sobers, the thought of either Winchester brother not one he wants to entertain for long. He hasn't heard from Dean in almost two months; Sam, longer than that.
'They know how to reach me,' he tells himself, justifying his self-imposed isolation.
Another city, another trail that's a day-old-cold. At least with half the population and most of the demons either dead or dying, it makes it harder for Gadreel to switch "meatsuits."
Patience has never been a virtue of angels. But Gadreel will lead him to Metatron and that will lead him to his grace. Unlock Heaven and maybe all would be right with the world. Or at least as right as it ever could be.
'Yeah', Castiel hears Dean's voice in his head, "keep telling yourself that."
He wakes up slowly, groggy, fighting it all the way. Flinging out an arm to his side, he hits something hard. "Son of a."
In the weak light streaming through the dingy blinds, Dean sees it's a Jim Bean bottle. Empty. And it's surrounded by friends.
With a groan he sits up on the edge of the bed, head pounding to beat the band. The room reeks of sweat, sex and urine. Even for Dean's less-than-impeccable standards, the room's a shit-hole. But it's cheap (due to the fact that it was abandoned near the start of the pandemic), anonymous and in the middle of pretty much nowhere.
Slip into jeans, do the smell test to see if the shirt under them is clean enough to wear - it is. All he needs is a stiff drink and he'll be ready to face the day.
The Mark of Cain itches. Again. He hates the damn thing. A blessing and a curse, that's what it is. Fuck Crowley and his stupid ideas. All his fault. At least that's the way Dean remembers it, and that's all that counts.
Dean roots around in his duffle and comes up with a half-empty bag of pretzels. Giving a shudder, he tips up the bag, pouring what's left into his mouth. He'd kill - well, just about anything and anyone - right now for a big, juicy burger. With cheese. And extra bacon. Or a steak, medium rare, he's not picky.
He could probably go out, kill a cow, cut off a chunk of meat, cook it up and then eat it. But it wouldn't be the same as pulling into a Big Boy parking lot and trying to place an order over the fucked up drive thru speaker.
The irony of the fucking virus, at least as Dean sees it, is that it hasn't affected animals yet. Humans, check. Demons, check. Vampires, werewolves, hellhounds, rugarus, shapeshifters, wendigos, kitsunes, shtrigas, check, check and check. Angels and animals seem to be safe so far. God, or Metatron, sure has a warped sense of humor.
He's sick of it all. The hunting, the crappy luck. Hell, life in general.
And he was definitely unlucky lately. Hell, not lately, years. Unlucky for years. He ticks them off on his fingers: killed by Jake, resurrected by crossroads demon, trapped in the Cage with Lucifer and Michael, coming out soulless, cracking the dam Death had built in his head, Lucifer as his imaginary friend, trying to make a life when Dean and Castiel are sent to Purgatory, finding Amelia, losing Amelia. And the list goes on.
If only Dean had let him finish what he started with Crowley. He could have closed the Gates of Hell, and maybe none of this would have happened.
The scientists called it J4278D. Religious fanatics called it Jesus Delivers or Jehovah Delivers. Doomsday theorists called it Judgment Day. Sam knows it by its true name, Croatoan.
The door to the cement factory squeaks open, and he turns, knife at the ready. He relaxes when he sees who it is.
Becky Rosen. A petite, dark blonde who is a whirlwind of dizzying energy and boundless love for all things Winchester. Especially Sam.
As she walks toward him he notices the eyes - pitch black and soulless for just a second before they turn back - and Sam remembers she is Lyla, not Becky. Becky is just a "meatsuit" for the demon. A convenient way for her to screw with Sam's head.
"What did you find?" he asks.
"The town's a lost cause. I thought maybe some of them had made it to the old bomb shelter out by the water tower, but it was empty."
He sighs. "Time to find a new place." Sam starts shoving things in a backpack, mostly his things. Demons tend to travel light.
When he realizes that she's just standing there, staring at him, he stops. "Don't tell me you want to stay and fight?"
"Aren't you tired of running all the time?" she counters.
"Are you kidding me?" Sam shakes his head. "I've spent most of my life running. Most of the time it's been toward crazy, not from. That plan hasn't worked out so well for me. So it's time for a new plan."
"Ah, baby," Becky/Lyla coos, taking a knife from a holster at her waist, and running the tip down the inside of her forearm.
Sam tries not to stare at the thin line of blood.
"All you need is a little liquid courage," she says, walking toward him, digging the knife a little deeper. Each time she has to press slightly harder to get past the scar tissue from previous cuts.
Sam's tried to resist before, to no avail. He knows what a slippery slope he's standing on, but it doesn't seem to matter anymore. Dean's gone. Castiel's gone. He hasn't seen or heard from another hunter in months. For all he knows they could be infected or dead.
She holds her arm out to Sam, wide smile on her face. She knows him, what's inside him, and that freaks the hell out of Sam.
But he still takes her hand in his, and bends his head to greedily lap up the blood seeping out of her cuts.
He stands in Stull Cemetery once more. With two rings in one hand, and two in the other, Castiel has never felt the weight of the world on his shoulders as much as he does now.
Glancing up at the sky and whispering, "Forgive me Father," he tosses the rings together on the ground and begins the incantation.