Castiel isn't surprised by the gunfire.
He discerned the plan from the shuttered expression on Dean’s face, laid bare in his hardened eyes. It's rare that Dean shows any warmth or affection, not since the virus reached pandemic level. Not since Lucifer. Since Sam. His humanity is as tenuous as Castiel's grace. But as they knelt outside the chain-link fence in their final meeting, Castiel saw no further than Dean's eyes and stilled his breath as understanding dawned.
Dean was sending him to die.
He’s never said it, but Castiel knows that Dean blames him for Detroit. Lucifer is his brother, and his brother took Dean's. In two years they've never talked about it, but Castiel infers it every time Dean's eyes shift from his, when he chooses someone else to accompany him on a run, when he lies. Especially then.
He forgets that Castiel was once capable of reading thoughts with no more than a shift of his grace. Dean isn't to blame for that. Castiel is changed. It's been years (two? three?) since Dean looked at him in the way he used to, the way this other Dean has been looking at him since they met: a fond, subdued reverence. Castiel wishes he were stronger, that he didn’t want that other Dean so badly, but he isn't. He'll take that look with him to the end.
Inside the sanitarium, he mumbled an excuse to the rest of the group. He'd left something behind. He had to go back for it and would catch up in a minute.
They were going to their deaths. He knew he was allowing them to go to their deaths and said nothing, just turned and ran toward the window.
He drops to the ground as the gunfire ceases behind him.
He should've died alongside them as a soldier, but he has to reach Dean. He has to stop him from carrying out this hopeless plan. He said he’d come along—where Dean goes, Castiel will follow—but he never promised to let Dean die, not while he still has life in him.
The Colt can't kill the Devil. They have to go, now—take the other Dean and leave. There might still be time to escape before croats rush the area. But if he faces Lucifer, Dean will die. When that happens, Castiel will lie down beside him.
He hurries out into the area beyond the fence, past the line of Jeeps. The other Dean, the one from the past, lies on the ground unconscious.
“Shit,” Castiel mutters.
He checks Dean's pulse to ensure he's alive, then leaves him where he lies, hurrying past him to chase a trail of footsteps. It ends in a garden.
He's too late despite his haste. He senses Lucifer’s presence even though he can’t see him at first. Across a tangle of weeds, Dean holds the Colt aloft, looking at Castiel with horror.
“Goddammit, Cas!” he yells. Lightning crackles overhead, casting shadows that fracture the garden. “Get the fuck outta here!”
Castiel cringes when he hears Dean cock the Colt, feels the shift in the air at the whip-like snap and recoil of Lucifer's grace. It launches Dean across the garden into a statue. He falls to the ground, curling into himself and moaning.
The Morning Star makes himself visible, stepping around Dean’s body, conspicuous in a white suit. He is otherworldly, the most beautiful of God's angels. Castiel is overwhelmed.
“Hello, Castiel,” Lucifer says pleasantly, approaching.
“Brother.” Castiel straightens and wets his lips. They taste like dust.
Lucifer sniffs in his direction.
“Graceless,” he says, glowering. “That’s interesting.”
“I went mortal.” Castiel lifts his chin.
Lucifer's eyes dart to Dean before resting on Castiel again. His gaze holds the power of the Third Sphere. This is the closest to his father that Castiel has ever been, in the presence of God's favorite. He cannot bring himself to look away, even as Lucifer chuckles.
Dean is silent, motionless on the ground. Castiel tightens his grip on the shotgun over his shoulder, but he knows Lucifer won't let them escape. He made the effort of luring them here. He likely orchestrated Dean’s access to the Colt all along, allowing Dean to believe they might actually succeed in stopping the apocalypse. Instead, he's led them here.
Here it will end.
Lucifer crosses the garden and bends to admire a rose. Castiel lets out a humorless laugh. As much as Lucifer envies humanity, he is the most human of angels. He snaps the stem and holds the rose at eye level—blood red and perfect.
Castiel flinches at the unexpected blast of the Colt. He whips around to find Dean cradling it in his hands, held mere inches above the ground. Dean groans as Lucifer lifts a hand and disarms him with a bored expression. The Colt hasn't touched him, as Castiel knew it couldn't. He watches Lucifer's advance on Dean in stunned horror, impotent to stop it.
Out of habit, he feels for his angel blade. It's worn at his hip beneath his clothes, a trinket as useless as Castiel himself, but he wraps his fingers around the handle and slides it into view. He has nothing left to give but his life, which he gives willingly for Dean. He might buy Dean a few seconds. What good is a fallen seraph if Dean Winchester might survive?
Lucifer doesn't acknowledge Castiel's approach. He places a white leather shoe on Dean's neck and bears down.
Castiel raises his arm. With a trembling hand, he plunges the blade between Lucifer's shoulders.
Castiel stumbles, expecting immediate death, but Lucifer tilts his chin skyward. Thunder bellows as a blinding light surges from his mouth and eyes and from the wound on his back. Castiel averts his gaze.
Earth trembles. The Morning Star falls and goes dark, and Sam collapses to the ground.
It's quiet. The thunder has stopped, allowing Castiel to hear his own panicked breaths. He stares at Sam's back, at the spot of red blooming through his white, white suit. He can’t hear Lucifer anymore, not even a whisper.
It’s not possible. It’s not possible for a seraph's blade to kill an archangel, to kill The Fallen One, but that's his vessel dead on the ground. Castiel's eyebrows draw together in grief. He offers a word of peace for Sam and hopes that he's able to find solace in Heaven. Surely, even with the angels gone, Sam has been forgiven and assumed.
Lucifer must have been weakened when the angels left, just as their exodus drained Castiel's grace. It's the only explanation, yet Castiel can scarcely believe it. He's well-versed in Lucifer's tricks; this is not the serpent's first time in a garden. So he strains, searching with his wisps of grace, but detects nothing. Sam's body continues to bleed.
When he groans, Castiel's eyes widen.
Sometimes he can't separate reality from what he sees in his head, but he can feel the wind and the velvet crush of rose petals between his fingers. He hears Dean moan on the ground behind him, is aware of the preternatural silence in the sanitarium. He smells the stink of his own skin. This is not a side-effect of the drugs.
Sam is alive—miraculously, impossibly—and Castiel must save him. He removes his jacket, balls it up and holds it against the stab wound on Sam's back.
Demons and croats will come for them at any moment. They’ll have seen what happened and will rush the area. Castiel leaves Sam and hurries to Dean’s side, dropping to his knees and cupping Dean's face in his hands.
“Dean?” he whispers, brushing a thumb across his cheekbone. “Can you hear me?”
Dean opens his mouth but doesn't speak.
“We have to get out of here.”
Castiel picks up the Colt and thrusts it into his waistband. He takes Dean in his arms and lifts, groaning under his weight. Dean is heavy, much heavier than he felt when Castiel was still an angel. He’s only got the strength of a man, but he drags Dean out of the garden and into the car. He limps back for the other Dean and shakes him awake.
“You’re alive,” Dean says, astonished, gripping his arm.
“Help me with Sam,” Castiel orders. Dean's mouth drops open and he fumbles the words.
“He’s badly hurt,” Castiel tells him. It’s dismissive, but there’s no time for exposition. “We need to go.”
They carry Sam to the Jeep and lay him on a blanket. Dean climbs into the open trunk and kneels next to him, maintaining pressure on the wound. He looks at Castiel with pleading eyes.
“There’s nothing I can do,” Castiel says flatly and starts the engine.
The ride is uncomfortable without his jacket. It's not a warm day, though the sun is out. He keeps his speed to eighty, swerving to avoid hazards in the road: part of a car door, a picked-over animal carcass. His teeth chatter with cold, but he sets his jaw and bears it.
In the seat beside him, his Dean moans quietly and lolls his head against the window. He clutches at his arm and head but isn't fully awake. Castiel keeps the accelerator to the floor the entire ride, holding the wheel tight when the Jeep pitches and rocks.
There's nowhere they can go that's truly safe. The virus affected the entire planet. There are rumors that it's more controlled out East. Canada closed its borders a year ago, but without his grace, Castiel can't transport them anywhere. They don't have enough fuel to make it that far north, and with Dean's ribs and arm likely broken, he requires medical attention. On top of that, Sam is dying. Their only choice is the camp.
It's too much to hope that his father will return, even now that Lucifer is dead. He has forsaken them. He has forsaken Castiel, but Castiel isn't angry with Him any longer. He drives.
Dean comes to during the car ride, about twenty minutes outside camp, when Castiel's eyelids are beginning to droop and his vision is blurry.
“Cas?” he croaks, struggling to sit upright.
“The others are dead,” Castiel tells him. “Just as you ordered.”
“Fuck,” Dean curses, sluggishly wiping his eyes. “What about you?”
“You know me,” Castiel says, shrugging. He adjusts his hands on the steering wheel and suppresses a shiver. “Never been good at following orders.”
“You followed me.”
Castiel doesn't answer.
“Lucifer?” Dean asks.
“Dead,” Castiel says.
He rakes a hand through his hair. His hands are shaking. He needs a hit—doesn't matter what, he just needs something. The panic is starting to creep from his stomach into his chest cavity, up into his brain. He’ll be sick soon. He can't think about what just happened or what he just saw, the fact the Dean sent him to his death or that he just murdered his own brother.
His brother is dead. Dean’s brother is injured but alive in the back of the Jeep. Their situations have reversed. It should be a time for celebration, and all Castiel can think about is popping open an orange vial, swallowing a couple pills, and falling asleep in a heap of dirty blankets.
As soon as they reach camp and he’s seen to Dean’s injuries, he'll take enough to shave the edge off. Just enough to mute his anxiety, not enough to knock him out. Dean's going to need help getting around, but the other Dean is here for now, murmuring to Sam every time he groans when they hit a rock, when a tire sinks into a rut and the Jeep bounces.
“What the hell?” Dean asks.
“Sam survived,” Castiel reports, needlessly checking the rear-view mirror. They’re the only car on the road. “I’m not sure how.”
“Sammy—” Dean says and tries to crane his neck around. Castiel whips out an arm and holds him in place.
“I got him,” the other Dean says from the trunk. “Bleeding’s slowed.”
Dean settles at the reassurance, though his eyes still dart over his shoulder like he's trying to see Sam, needs to see Sam.
“You sure Lucifer is dead?” he asks. “He’s not gonna trojan horse his way into camp?”
Castiel isn't certain of much anymore, but he's certain of this, just as he was certain when the other Dean appeared and Castiel felt the time rift as Dean stared at him, like a current.
“I’m sure,” he says gruffly.
Chuck greets them with a stony face when they roll into camp a little before noon. Of the six vehicles that left, only one returns. In addition to being a loss of invaluable resources, something they can't help but think about, it's a funeral procession. A dirge plays in the sound of the door latches, swinging heavy on their rusted hinges.
Dean's injuries aren't life threatening. They'll leave him sleeping in the car and come back for him once Sam is stable. Castiel reaches across the seat to touch his face before climbing out.
“Sam is injured,” Castiel informs Chuck, planting one boot heavily on the mud, then the other. He’s been awake for so many hours, his legs feel like they can’t hold his weight. He sways on them, hungry and thirsty and in need of sleep. “Get him to my cabin.”
“Sam?” Chuck repeats. “How?”
“Help me carry him,” the other Dean says to Chuck, already climbing down from the Jeep. Chuck scurries to assist but grimaces at the sight of blood. Dean catches Castiel’s eye. “Cas—you too, man.”
“Are the others far behind?” Chuck asks.
Castiel’s lack of response is enough for Chuck to understand. He sighs heavily, then holds up Sam’s legs. He walks backwards while Castiel supports Sam’s center. The other Dean has his head and shoulders. He guides them across the craggy terrain and up the stairs. Lucifer's white suit is ghastly in the afternoon light.
They lay Sam on his stomach on Castiel's bed. Dean begins peeling away the layers of clothing, until he exposes Sam's bare skin, the ugly wound the blade left behind. Castiel can't look at it. He gathers the clothes and his own blood-soaked jacket and takes them to the laundry pile. He lays the white suit on top.
“You’re not gonna burn that?” Dean asks. His voice is sharp.
“We can’t afford to waste anything,” Castiel explains. The tear his blade left is small. It can be repaired, and the pants are in good condition. If no one will wear them, he’ll keep them for himself, or mend them and save them for Sam, if he recovers. It’s perverse but necessary. He removes Sam’s shoes and puts them under the bed.
“Get me hot water,” Dean orders, turning his attention to Chuck. “You got any antiseptic?”
“Some,” Chuck says.
“Bring it. Needle and thread? Gauze?”
“Bring them too.”
Chuck glances to Castiel, who nods. “You got it,” he says and hurries out of the cabin.
Dean painstakingly cleans the puncture wound. Chuck holds the bowl of water and offers up tools as Dean requires them: rag, alcohol. The iron tang of blood turns Castiel's stomach now that he isn't able to heal. He presses up against the wall, just inside his door, and worries the beaded curtain between his fingers.
It's not an adequate door for inclement weather. The fluctuations in temperature didn't bother him while he still possessed his grace, and Dean never complained. But over the years, as his grace drained, Castiel has become increasingly aware of temperature, humidity, barometric pressure. He prefers early autumn, when it's still warm enough to sleep without additional blankets but cool enough that he's comfortable. He'll need to replace this door if Sam stays here.
Sam should stay. Objectively, this is the nicest cabin in camp. It's the logical choice for his recovery.
Castiel fumbles for his pills. The amphetamine wore off hours ago; he made the drive largely on adrenaline and shock. But the stench of blood is cloying. He's trapped in this cabin and will claw out of his skin if he can't take the edge off. He swallows a muscle relaxant and steals out onto the porch for a drag, holds the smoke in his lungs and allows his head to drop toward his chest.
He was supposed to die this morning. He was supposed to die.
Sam moans into the bedsheets, but Dean doesn't stop working. He cleans Sam's back meticulously—Castiel can't see, but Dean's fixed him up countless times in the past few years—and murmurs to him so quietly, Castiel can barely make out the words.
“I got you, Sammy.” Soft, like a lullaby. “I got you.”
Castiel raises his eyes to the Jeep where Dean is asleep, visible in the distance.
When it's done, Chuck leaves, shuffling down the steps and away with an awkward wave over his shoulder. Dean joins Castiel on the porch and slumps against the wall, tilting his head back to breathe.
“How is he?” Castiel asks.
“I don’t know,” Dean says. He doesn’t look at Castiel, just takes a deep breath through his nose and blows it out through his mouth. “Bleeding’s stopped. He seems stable for now.”
“I don’t understand how he survived. When an angel dies within a vessel, his vessel dies too.”
“Then you’re wrong about one of two things: Lucifer isn’t dead, or it’s possible to survive and they’ve been lying to you upstairs.”
Castiel gives a half shrug. “Maybe.”
“Hell, maybe Sammy found the strength, told him to get out last minute.”
“I suppose it’s possible that Lucifer shielded Sam from damage.”
Dean scowls and turns toward him. “Why the hell would he do that?”
“As a gift.”
“That’s one fucked up thank you card.”
Castiel offers him the joint, but Dean frowns and shakes his head. Castiel shrugs again. He takes another drag and lets it out, studying his hands, the dirt beneath his fingernails.
“Dean,” he says.
“You need to accept the possibility that Sam might never wake up. What Lucifer did to him...it’s like being dragged by a comet.”
Dean nods slowly. “Chuck went to see about catheters, long-term stuff.”
“Our medical supplies are limited, but there’s a hospital not far from here. We could take the Jeep.”
“Let’s go,” Dean says immediately. Castiel’s pulse jumps.
“We need to get Dean out of the car,” he says, turning his head toward the road.
“Let someone else babysit him,” Dean snaps, grabbing Castiel’s arm. “This is Sammy we’re talking about.”
Chuck volunteers to come along as an extra pair of hands, but Castiel insists he stay with the camp.
“You’re the best choice to replace Dean while he’s recovering,” he says, throwing a spare shotgun into the trunk with the gas cans. “We’ll be back in a few hours.”
“Hey, while you’re there, see if they have any—”
“I know,” Castiel assures him, clapping Chuck on the shoulder. “I’ll look.”
Chuck looks grateful, smiling lopsidedly as Castiel palms the keys and gets into the Jeep. The other Dean climbs into the passenger's seat. It's an eerie flashback to the night before the ambush, but whatever borrowed giddiness the drugs had given Castiel then is absent.
They don't speak much during the ride. Dean clenches and unclenches his fists and stares idly out the window.
Providence Medical Center in Kansas City is long deserted. They reach it in under an hour. They've raided this hospital before for medication and emergency first aid supplies. Castiel is confident that other camps have done the same. But with no one expecting long-term survival, it's likely that no one prepped for it. There might not be any Vicodin left, but there could be enough supplies to care for Sam.
Castiel slings a shotgun over his shoulder after he turns off the Jeep. He grabs several empty tote bags and opens the passenger's door, staring for an indulgent moment before he shakes Dean awake.
Something grunts. Castiel whips around and plugs a croat loitering by the entrance. The gunshot echoes across the weedy parking lot. He braces for the sound of running feet, but the croat must be a loner. Nothing else comes their way. He listens for a few more seconds to be sure, then motions to Dean that it's clear. They jog toward the building, sidestepping the body. Castiel shoots it in the head for peace of mind.
Dean stares at him for a beat, then frowns and turns his glare toward the hospital's automatic doors. He kicks at them, like he expects them to open, even with the downed power lines outside. There's no one to fix them anymore. Castiel would laugh at his innocence, but they need to get indoors. He shoulders the metal frame, forcing the door wide enough for them to both slip inside, then shoves it closed again. It's rusty, the mechanism crammed with grit, but it'll hold.
He hasn't been inside this hospital in two years. They raided it when the virus went from being a threat to a certainty, radiating from the major cities. Kansas City didn't fall for another two months, but when the virus reached them from St. Louis, it was over. Croats crossed the Kansas River and took out Topeka and Wichita.
It was clear they were on their own. No angels answered their prayers, and Castiel's radio was static. God was surely gone, and with Lucifer walking free, the angels fled. After countless millennia, they left the world to rot, just as this hospital was rotting the first time around, already heavy with the fetid stench of decay.
It just smells like an abandoned building now, like mold and damp and rust. Any bodies, if they remain, are probably skeletons now. Castiel doesn't look into the rooms as they progress down a long corridor, motioning to Dean over his shoulder. He keeps a hand on his weapon.
As expected, the drugs are long gone, most taken by their own camp, but Dean locates a supply closet that contains bandages and gauze, antiseptic wipes, rubber gloves, and hypodermic needles. He shoves handfuls of each into the bag he carries. Castiel locates catheter kits and underpads and rubber tubing. Dean looks at them with unease—his eyebrows pinch together as he visibly swallows—but he packs those too and zips the bag closed without a word.
There are stacks of clean, folded sheets. Castiel drapes several over his shoulder—fresh sheets are a luxury he hasn't known since they first made camp. Dusty packages on a high shelf catch his eye.
“Grab that toilet paper,” he instructs.
Dean obeys, taking down as many as they can carry, and they carefully close the door behind them. If they're lucky, the rest of the supplies will still be here when they run out. Croats are capable of opening doors, retain their basic motor functions, but it's unlikely they'll enter without a noise or the smell of a live human on the other side. When they have the time and manpower, they should return for beds and new mattresses.
The hospital's gift shop is picked through, but Castiel recovers a mug and a couple yellowing paperback books, a few travel-sized bottles of painkillers forgotten behind the counter.
“Ready?” he asks, motioning toward the exit. Dean nods.
Through the glass doors, he spots two croats wandering unsteadily in the vicinity of the Jeep and one crouched beside the passenger's door. Shit. He doesn't risk shooting at them —it might serve only to draw more forward. Who knows how many have gathered because of his two shots earlier. He puts a finger to his lips to indicate Dean should remain quiet.
After a minute, the two croats turn and walk away, but the third remains in place, touching an oily residue on the ground. If they sprint to the driver's side, Dean could jump into the back while Castiel starts the engine, and the croat shouldn't have time to touch him. If they shoot the croat, the other two will undoubtedly turn around. The Jeep's engine isn't always reliable. Two croats are easy. They've got enough ammunition to take down fifty, and Dean’s an expert shot, but if they generate a crowd it could mean suicide.
He eases open the door and beckons Dean forward. They keep close to the building, taking careful steps that shouldn't solicit attention. He points a finger at the driver's side door. Dean nods that he understands.
The wind blows and stirs debris, catching their scent. Castiel curses under his breath. The rustling makes the croat's head snap up. It sniffs. Castiel instinctively reaches behind him to wrap a hand around Dean's wrist. This is not his Dean, this is not his Dean, but he does it anyway, clutches Dean's arm and holds tight. Dean doesn't fight him, drawing up against his back, his breath hot against Castiel's ear as he pants. Castiel's heart pounds like thunder. They wait and watch.
The croat looks in their direction but either doesn't see them or has recently fed. It stares without blinking long enough that Castiel feels sick rise into his throat. If it moves toward them, they have nowhere to run but back inside, trapping themselves in the building.
He's certain that Zachariah wouldn't allow Dean to die here, in a future that doesn't belong to him, but Castiel won’t take chances. He’ll distract the croats, hold them off while Dean escapes. He’ll sacrifice himself, if necessary, to ensure that Dean gets back to his time. At least he'll die with purpose. Castiel moves backward a step, so that his body covers Dean's entirely, feels the pounding of Dean's heart in his wrist where Castiel's fingers wrap protectively.
The croat looks down and in the opposite direction, toward the road. Dean lets out a breath. It’s hot against Castiel’s neck. He relaxes his grasp but doesn’t release his hold on Dean, not right away. But Dean touches his shoulder and whispers, “Come on,” so they inch their way toward the Jeep.
Castiel quickly opens the door, holding his breath as he does, like that will coax it into opening quietly. The hinges betray them, and then that pale, wild-eyed thing is staring them down and struggling upright.
“Go!” Dean hisses, cocking the shotgun.
Castiel turns the key once, twice, three times—
“Fuck,” he swears, but the starter works the fourth time. It turns the engine over and the Jeep roars to life. The two croats turn in their direction just as Castiel shifts into reverse and squeals backwards. Dean kills the nearest croat as it gets close enough to swat at the door handle, dropping it to the ground.
Castiel shifts into drive and floors it. Dean plugs the two croats that sprint after them. He shoots three more on their way out of the hospital parking lot. When the way is clear, he rests the gun on his knees and lets out a breath.
“Damn,” he says, shaking his head. The wind ruffles his hair.
Castiel grunts his agreement and pops a couple amphetamines. He swallows them dry. One lodges in his throat and feels like a tumor, a fat uncomfortable lump. He wishes there had been drugs at the hospital. He's never anticipated a time when he'd run out, but he takes them just to get through a day. Dean used to ration the pills; used to question Castiel's intake, order him to stop using, stop trying to kill himself; beg him as Castiel rocked into him despite the heat, to the thrum of insects.
But it happened one morning, two years ago: Dean stopped asking. Castiel turned a blind eye to Dean's techniques for extracting information, and the other half of Castiel's bed was cold when he woke up.
They drive for miles before either of them speaks, but Dean's voice snaps him back to the present.
“Where do you get fuel, anyway?” he asks as they pass a darkened Gas n’ Sip.
“We used to get it out of Canada, but Joseph’s got a degree in chemistry. He makes his own biodiesel.”
“He’s got a mouth on him, but he’s handy.”
“Huh,” Dean says, pinching the bridge of his nose. “So. I didn’t peg you for the orgy type.”
It's a continuation of their last conversation in this car, incongruous with the circumstances. But Castiel understands when Dean leans forward, head bowed toward his chest, eyes closed. He's upset about Sam. The least Castiel can do is distract him. Besides, it'll keep him awake while he waits for the pills to kick in.
“I had a lot of time to make up for,” he answers.
Dean sniffs. “Figured you for a one-woman kind of guy.”
“I was monogamous when I had a partner.” Castiel’s reply is purposefully vague.
“What happened?” Dean asks, turning toward him. “She die?”
Castiel shrugs and adjusts his hand's position on the steering wheel. He lets his left arm hang out the open window. That isn't the truth, but he's willing to allow this Dean to believe that it is. There's no reason for him to know any more than that. What good would it do? He'll leave, and Castiel will never see him again.
“Sorry, man,” Dean says. The sympathy in his tone is genuine, not put on. Castiel can tell the difference, just like he knew his Dean was lying yesterday. This Dean isn’t hardened, not yet. There’s still hope for him. “How long ago?”
“A couple years,” Castiel replies evenly. He sucks on his teeth and widens his eyes to stave off exhaustion. The best lies are closest to the truth. “Two.”
“What was her name?”
Castiel lets out a sigh and laughs helplessly, shakes his head and scratches his scalp. He could say anything, any name, and Dean would believe him, but no others come to mind.
“I’ve found that sex is a satisfying diversion,” he says instead, circling back to Dean’s original statement. He swerves to avoid a broken-down sedan. Its doors hang open, the car long empty. “I see why you were so anxious for me to experience it.”
“Yeah, well. Guess you learned your lesson: no talking about fathers.”
The fuel gauge hasn't worked in a month and he wonders just how much gas they've got in the tank; if they'll make it home before he has to refuel; if Dean is even aware he left camp; if God knows that Castiel has no faith left. His eyes flit up to the sky, then down to the broken gauges. His throat is suddenly tight.
“Yes,” Castiel says. “That subject’s off limits.”
While they were out, Chuck had Dean moved to Risa's cabin, since it's currently unoccupied. There isn't time to mourn the dead just yet. There are few reminders of her in the main room: a photograph of her and her sister that is curling at its edges, a collection of colorful bottles on the window sill, a chipped coffee mug that reads hope. Castiel feels a tug in his stomach at the sight of Dean lying in Risa's bed, knowing that Dean has sought comfort in it before.
“He’ll be fine,” Chuck says, misinterpreting Castiel’s expression. He shifts his weight between his feet, eyes darting from Castiel to Dean, then out the window. “Cracked ribs, sprained wrist. I gave him something so he’d sleep.”
“I’ll leave you two alone. Going to check on Sam,” Chuck says and hooks his thumb toward the door. He shuffles out.
Dean is lying on his back, on top of the sheets. His boots are still on. They're tracking mud on the dark green comforter, but it's already soiled. He moans quietly from pain and clutches his side.
Castiel chews the inside of his cheek and sets his teeth before approaching. He lays a hand on Dean's forehead to check for a fever. He's warm but not hot, skin damp with perspiration. There's nothing they can do about cracked ribs. Dean will have to wait it out, take it easy until they heal. They can keep him comfortable for a couple days, but Dean will refuse the pills once he’s thinking clearly. Sighing, Castiel drags a chair next to the bed and slumps into it.
“You’re an idiot,” he mutters. He isn’t sure if he’s talking to Dean or to himself.
He scratches his nails through a few days of stubble, scratches his scalp until it hurts. His fingertips smell like oil and skin and dirt. Castiel stopped trying to clean himself a long time ago, the first time Jimmy's suit pants ripped and Castiel couldn't repair them, when his cheek tore open on a branch and his skin didn't knit together for days, when rocks bit into his knees as he held tight to Dean's hips and swallowed him down. He wore those bruises like medals of honor, the pain in his gait a reminder of something beautiful.
Risa has been dead less than a day, but Castiel reaches for the picture of her beside the bed and tips it face down. It's petty. He doesn’t care.
He rocks back on the chair's legs and folds his arms over his chest. Dean would likely be angry at him for sitting here, but it's been a long time since he watched Dean sleep, and it's drizzling outside. There's nothing he could be doing, anyway.
Dean is familiar like this, asleep with his mouth just dropped open, snoring lightly. He twitches sometimes, a jerk in his midsection and his legs. His right wrist is wrapped in a bandage. It sticks out from his jacket. Dean will no doubt remove it as soon as he wakes up. He twitches again and shivers. The rain has caused a drop in temperature. Castiel thinks of lying next to him on the bed, of sharing body heat. A year ago, two—he would've done it without thought. He scans the room for a blanket and covers Dean to his chest, settling back in the chair and propping a foot on the bed frame.
He rocks as the rain falls.
Everyone in camp has a creature comfort. Dean has his whiskey, Castiel his pills. Risa kept a handful of books she salvaged on supply runs, inexpensive paperbacks and hardcovers missing their dust jackets and what she called “trash novels.” Castiel tried to explain that if she derived satisfaction from them, they were hardly trash. She’d rolled her eyes and grinned and said it was just an expression.
He thumbs through one of them now, a thick book on yellowed paper and tiny print. The cover is blue and has a white flower on it. He skims a few pages toward the end of the book and yawns. Everything appears to turn out well for the protagonists. He snaps it closed and tosses it aside, glad when it skids under the bed and out of sight.
An hour later, Dean grunts himself awake. He pulls into a sitting position and winces. Castiel doesn't particularly feel good or bad about that. He probably should feel bad, but he recalls the way Dean laughed mirthlessly when Castiel broke his foot last year and left him to stare at the ceiling. There's a certain pleasure in the parallel.
Dean catches his eye. He looks grateful that Castiel is here, and simultaneously furious about it. He cups a hand over his ribs and sucks in a breath between his teeth.
“In my cabin,” Castiel replies and leans away, removing his foot from the bed.
“Why aren’t you with him?”
It's a harsh laugh that comes out, bitter, broken the way Dean is broken. Castiel shakes his head and lets his arms hang limp over the sides of the chair.
“Chuck’s with him.” He pauses before he adds, “And the other you.”
“I want to see him.” Dean stands unsteadily, wedging his shoulder against the wall for support. He plucks at the bandage on his wrist.
“That’s there for a reason,” Castiel says thinly, raising an eyebrow, but he doesn’t get up.
“You gonna sit there all night, or you coming with me?”
“I don’t know. It might be amusing to watch you try and walk there on your own.”
“Fuck you,” Dean spits.
“I’m not on the menu today.” Castiel stands and crosses the small room. He holds his breath as he slips an arm around Dean’s waist. Dean curses but leans into him. “Ready?”
“Just start walking.”
They shuffle to the door.
“How do you take this shit every day?” Dean asks, blinking lethargically as he drags a foot over the threshold. Castiel kicks the door closed behind him and doesn’t bother to answer.
“Watch your step,” he says and helps Dean down the stairs.
The rain is coming down cold in a steady patter. Castiel's hair plasters to his forehead. It's obvious Dean is in a great deal of pain from the way he groans with each step, but he doesn't walk gingerly. He adapts his usual gait, hurrying to Castiel's cabin with an urgency he hasn't displayed in years. It's sinful to be jealous of a dying man, but there it is.
The other Dean is at Sam's bedside with his head dropped into his hands. He's sitting on the very edge of his chair, knees dropped apart, elbows resting on either one. His back is shaking. Castiel interprets this as crying, something he does rarely, despite being human. It's always struck him as beautiful, the way Dean cries. He used to place such value on life.
Castiel brushes aside the curtain. The beads sway and clack together, creating enough noise that Dean lifts his head.
“He’s asleep,” he says, getting up. He motions to the chair and avoids Castiel’s eyes. Castiel steers Dean toward it, but Dean shoves off his hands, stopping at the end of the bed.
“This ain’t possible,” he says under his breath.
Castiel sighs and takes the chair himself. The other Dean stands next to him, close enough that Castiel can smell blood and perspiration. It's a noxious potpourri, but he inhales, recalling a time he would've drowned in it.
He hasn't slept in two days, so he reaches for the vial in his pocket and pops another dose. Both of the Deans will need sleep. So will Chuck, which leaves no one to watch over Sam. Sam is in this condition because of him. Castiel silently volunteers for the night shift.
Dean doesn't seem to notice, his attention fixed on Sam, but the other Dean is watching him from the corner of his eye. Castiel can feel the weight of his stare. He rolls the vial between his fingers to distract himself from looking up, listens to the pills tumble against each other, and twists the cap closed.
His stomach growls. They haven't eaten. Dean is probably starving after their hospital run and watching Sam all afternoon.
“You need food,” he says, touching a finger to his mouth. He mulls over what food he has in the cabin, considering whether it’s enough to feed the three of them or if they’ll need to hit the mess. He has a few canned goods, though the labels are worn off—the contents are a gamble.
“Stole a pack of jerky from your cabinet,” Dean says.
The words make his heart clench. Castiel doesn't say that he has been saving that jerky for a special occasion. He's been saving it for two years.
“Jerky’s not enough,” he says instead, ignoring the surge of disappointment.
He smooths his palms over his thighs and pushes to his feet, moseying to the cabinet. There are a selection of naked cans, a few containers of freeze-dried camping food they lifted from Walmart about six months ago, some energy bars, and an empty spot where the jerky used to sit. Its absence causes a bad taste in his mouth. That's irrational. It's better that Dean eat it. It wasn't doing any good in the cabinet.
He opens one of the freeze-dried packs and skims the instructions, pours water into an electric kettle and sets it to boil. At least they still have electricity for now. Eventually the power grid will break down and they'll lose that too, be dependent on generators until the gasoline runs out and then—who knows. They'll find a new power source, maybe harvest the wind. Not so long ago, Castiel watched humans discover hydropower. They're set back a couple hundred years, but this is far from primitive.
There's a tense silence in the main room. Castiel keeps his back to both Deans. He hears them both breathing, the occasional rustle of fabric when they move. He imagines Dean dragging an arm over his forehead, scratching his cheek. The water boils and he pours it into the pouch, stirring with a long spoon. It's some kind of stew, thick and beige. The smell is unappetizing, but it's food. Chuck has crates and crates of the stuff.
The ground here is fertile. They should look into growing their own.
“Exactly how long’s Zach planning to keep you here?” Castiel hears Dean demand. His tone is acrid, like he’s actually angry about his past self being in the room. Maybe he is.
“I got no idea,” the other Dean replies. His voice is neutral, though Castiel detects a hint of irritation.
“Somehow, I doubt this is what he wanted you to see.”
Castiel is inclined to agree, though he doesn’t say so. He keeps his head ducked and gives the stew a final stir before doling it out between three mismatched bowls. He balances one in the crook of his elbow and the other two in his hands. He sets Dean’s on the table beside the bed; he’ll eat when he’s ready. The other Dean accepts his bowl with a muttered “thanks” and eats quietly, poking at the stew with his spoon.
“Always wanted to go camping,” he says with a hollow laugh.
“Since we don’t know when you’re leaving, we need to get you set up with a place to stay,” Dean says to him, sniffing.
“I’m not leaving him,” the other Dean declares and motions his head toward Sam.
“That makes two of us.”
They stare at each other. Castiel says nothing.
After a tense silence, they both nod. Dean purses his mouth, glances to the bowl of food, and adjusts the blanket over Sam's legs.
The other Dean resumes eating. His thigh is just inches from Castiel's arm, which rests on the arm of the chair, elbow jutted out, balancing the bowl. Castiel tries not to think about Dean's thigh, about what the muscles feel like underneath his hands, clamped tightly on either side of his hips.
Zachariah, you ass. You asshole.
Dean shifts his weight between his feet, and Castiel's mouth goes dry. He shoves it full of stew, swallows without chewing properly, and feels the bulk of it slither down his throat. It hurts, but the pain is penance. For the second time today, he reminds himself that this Dean is not his, and Castiel has no right to think of him. He belongs to another Castiel, one who is good and holy and pious, who hasn’t fallen yet—not entirely.
And if this Dean can return to his time, can change his own destiny, perhaps he can change Castiel's as well. The other Castiel will never fall—not in love and not to Earth—and he'll never sit in this cabin with Dean, cheated of a package of jerky.
The amphetamines have kicked in again. He's exhausted, but his eyes are wide and his mind is racing. He misses the luxury of coffee. He hasn't tasted it in years, not since they ran out of the instant kind a short time after they got the camp set up. It was one of the first things to go.
He hurries to finish his meal and excuses himself, heading outside and crossing the small field behind his cabin. He sinks down into the tall grass. It's damp and lit by moonlight. Moisture seeps into the seat of his pants, but Castiel doesn’t mind. He lights a joint and takes a long drag, resting his arms on his knees.
This field is one of his favorite parts of camp, second only to the lake: undeveloped and a little wild. They’ve used the field for target practice and for inventory. There have been days when Chuck has sheets laid out with boxes of supplies stacked on them for counting. They've used the field as a hospital, as temporary housing, as a parking lot. On a muggy night their first summer here, it held him as he held Dean.
It would make a good place for a garden. They should grow marijuana. He’s not the only person in the camp with a taste for it, and it would be useful for trading.
He stretches out on his back and lets the grass tickle his neck and ears. He blows smoke toward the stars he can’t name anymore.
Does Dean feel any remorse for the orders he gave? Would he repeat his actions and send them into the sanitarium again? Did he mean to let Castiel go without so much as a goodbye? He entertains the thought that Dean believed he was doing Castiel a favor. Heaven might still be open to them. Maybe, just maybe, Dean thought that Castiel would be granted passage.
The lie makes it bearable. He takes another drag and feels some of the anxiety leave him. He holds in the smoke until he no longer wants to crawl out of his skin. Once he's good and calm, he stretches languidly and prepares himself to face the cabin.
It's no better than it was ten minutes ago when he stepped out. The other Dean has taken the chair; his chin is nodding toward his chest as he fights to stay awake. Dean still hasn't eaten. Castiel takes a chance and places his hands on Dean shoulders, steering him towards the bed.
“Sit,” he orders.
He shoves the bowl into Dean's hands. Dean glares at him but sits gingerly on the edge of the mattress, focusing his gaze on Sam. He eats with a bitter expression and falls asleep beside his brother.
Castiel worms the bowl out of his hand and cleans it with a rag. He'll wash it in the mess tomorrow. There's no point wasting water tonight. The bed is plenty big for Sam and Dean to share, and the other Dean is asleep in the chair beside the bed. It's chilly now that the sun is down, but Castiel has been cold before.
He's bitter over the fact that two years later, Dean is in his bed, and Dean is lounging on a chair beside his bed, and Castiel is stretched out alone on the floor. He spreads a ratty blanket over the carpet and tries to sleep.
The following morning, Castiel checks in with Chuck regarding the camp’s inventory.
“We’re getting low on food,” Chuck says quietly. Castiel is too exhausted to care, but he nods to let Chuck know he’s listening. The information should probably cause a rise in him, but he merely absorbs the details. He doesn’t consider their weight.
“Probably best if you make those decisions for the time being,” Castiel tells him. “Until Dean is ready to resume command.”
He doesn't say what he's thinking, that Dean might never be ready, but Chuck understands.
“Yeah, okay,” he agrees. He blinks rapidly, surprised or flattered or both.
Castiel avoids his cabin. He goes to the bath house for a piss, then jerks off in the shower to an image of a younger Dean. He should hate himself for that but doesn't have the energy.
Sam is never left alone. Castiel checks on him periodically throughout the day. Dean rarely leaves the cabin, while his younger counterpart crosses the compound a handful of times, portaging food. Castiel catches Dean watching him through the window with a cautious expression.
They check Sam's wound together, clean it and change the gauze. They attach a new leg bag, hold his mouth open, force food inside and coax him to swallow. Castiel lays a fresh underpad on the bed and disposes of the soiled one. Sam's body functions, but his mind isn't present, lurking where it had been shielded from Lucifer. Both Deans sit silent vigil at his bedside.
Mid-afternoon, Castiel gets high in the planning cabin. He nicks Dean's keys and unlocks it, shutting himself inside. He sits down on the rough floorboards. How many people has Dean tortured in this room? They might've been demons, but they were people once, and their vessels died with them. Dean used to care about that. Even as demons, they weren't necessarily bad. Time has taught Castiel that—no one, even fallen angels, are inherently good or bad. They’re what they have to be to survive. That was even true of Lucifer.
He traces the dark outline of an old bloodstain—did it belong to the first one Dean tortured? The last? He flinches when a splinter works its way into his fingertip. It's an ugly brown thorn, an insignificant injury, but his finger throbs. Dean shot and stabbed him the day they met, and now he's incapacitated by a sliver of wood.
He eases it out with his teeth, sucking on his fingertip until the ache eases. He thinks about going to Jane, but the thought of her touching him no longer has any appeal.
He returns to his cabin after dark, when the planning cabin has grown cold and the high has worn off. He must have dozed off for a while, because his eyes are crusted with sleep at each inside corner. He grinds them clean with his wrist, the joint of his thumb. His mouth is dry and stale. He runs his tongue over his teeth, scraping it clean. It doesn't help. He heads straight for his toothbrush and water basin when he gets home.
Dean is asleep beside Sam again, just where Castiel left him last night. The other Dean gets up when Castiel enters and comes over to him.
“Made one of those stew packs,” he says in a low voice. “Left you some, in case you’re hungry.”
“Thanks,” Castiel says. He motions to the carpet, still spread with his blanket from the night before. He sits with his legs folded under him and eats. Dean sits down too and leans back on his hands, watching.
“Wound looks better,” he says. “Not much swelling.”
“Any response yet?” Castiel asks between mouthfuls. The stew tastes better tonight because Dean prepared it.
“Nope,” Dean says. “Not a damned thing.”
“It’ll likely be a long time, if at all,” Castiel says. He doesn’t regret saying it, but he wishes it weren’t true. He eats the rest of his food in silence.
Dean yawns, so Castiel shrugs out of his jacket and balls it up, pushing it to him.
“I just woke up,” he says. “Get a few hours of sleep. I’ll wake you if anything happens with Sam.”
Dean looks at the offering and frowns, but accepts it with a tentative, “Thanks.” He bunches it underneath his head and lies down, facing away from Castiel.
He sighs in relief. Just seeing Dean’s back is easier than looking at his face while he sleeps. It soothes his frustration, but he’s still angry that Dean’s sudden appearance can stir up so many emotions.
If only he could strap on his wings, he'd leave.
(No, he wouldn't.)
On the bed, Dean is asleep sitting up, his head hung forward. The position looks uncomfortable. Castiel considers getting up to adjust his head, but he stays at a safe distance on the other half of the room. He wipes out his bowl and pulls a blanket over the other Dean's legs.
He takes a book from a shelf, Vonnegut, and thumbs through it. Vonnegut is Dean's pace, not an author Castiel particularly enjoys. He picked up this book as a gift for Dean, lying abandoned in a hospital waiting room. Dean used to read it out loud to him sometimes, late at night. He's a poor reader, but Castiel would tuck his head beneath Dean's chin, against his chest, and fall asleep to the rumble of his voice.
He mouths the words as he reads but doesn't speak them out loud. He should throw the book away, but it would be a waste, considering no more are being printed. Libraries have undoubtedly been ransacked, their contents burned for heat. It would be irresponsible, inhuman, to destroy this book. He closes the cover and hides it beneath a stack of clothes.
Sam moans, but neither Dean wakes up. Castiel goes to him and checks for a fever, laying the back of his hand across Sam's forehead. He can't discern Sam's pain, though it must be great. Had Lucifer kept Sam in an illusion, or was Sam aware of each action? Was he watching when Lucifer attempted to kill Dean? Is Sam aware that Dean was prepared to let him die?
He should be dead. They should all be dead.
Exhaustion is making him maudlin.
He should sleep. He should sit in the chair next to Sam's bed and sleep, but he goes to the floor, a storm of heaviness descending in his chest.
Dean is beautiful, laid out asleep on the rug. He has an arm tucked underneath his head, with Castiel's jacket on top of it, nose buried in the fabric. Dean is breathing them in.
Why did you send him here, Zachariah?
He should’ve stayed in the chair. If he can't control himself, he should leave—but he reaches out a hand.
Dean's hair is soft, just as he remembers it. With a gasp, he cards his fingers through it, combs it away from his forehead. He strokes Dean's hair and lightly touches the back of his neck. Dean murmurs in his sleep and adjusts his position on the floor, rolling onto his stomach, but doesn't wake.
Castiel shouldn't be doing this, but he continues, moving his fingers in soothing patterns.
He stays like that for hours, until the sky outside is ink black. The cloud cover obscures the stars, and Castiel falls asleep with his hand nested in Dean's hair.
He wakes abruptly in the night to the sound of Dean exhaling heavily across the room.
Castiel lifts his eyes.
Dean's face is stern, jaw set. He clamps a hand over his broken ribs as he works himself upright, swings his feet to the floor and gets up. He trains his eyes on Castiel, flicks them down to his other self, and sniffs.
Castiel looks down. During the night, Dean rolled closer, so his head is resting against Castiel's thigh. Castiel's hand still touches him, curved over the back of his neck. He strokes Dean's skin tenderly with his thumb.
He swallows hard but doesn't remove his hand, makes a point to bring it to the crown of Dean's head and stroke backwards once.
His Dean says nothing, just takes a deep breath and stalks out the door. It's still dark outside. Castiel listens for a long time for Dean to return, but he doesn't hear footsteps. Maybe he's gone to the planning cabin. Castiel knows he sleeps there sometimes, when he doesn't have another bed to crawl into, or maybe he went back to Risa's cabin.
Castiel feels something tight in his chest loosen and settle.
He tries to fall asleep again but fails, lying awake listening to the wind and scurry of feet on the roof. There was a time he would’ve feared a croat attack, but it’s likely just a raccoon or possum. He finds them equally unsettling.
It's an hour before Dean wakes up, and his Dean never comes back. The other one wakes with a groan and sluggishly rubs at his eyes before sitting up. He glances to Castiel's leg, where his head rested, then away. His neck and ears are flushed red.
“Sorry, man,” he says.
It's flip, but it's the truth. Castiel reaches into the dresser behind him and pulls out a pouch and a stack of papers. He drops a pinch of leaves on the paper and rolls it up. He twists the end and lights it.
“You weren’t kidding,” Dean mutters, shaking his head as Castiel draws the burned, sweet flavor into his lungs. “What time is it?”
Castiel shrugs and holds out the cigarette. Dean looks at him for a long time, his expression guarded and searching, before he accepts it. He brings it to his lips and takes a slow drag coughs, and pounds his chest with a fist.
“Damn,” he sputters, shaking his head. “Guess it’s been a while.”
Castiel chuckles. “Here,” he says and takes back the joint, draws in a lungful, and crooks his finger.
Dean raises an eyebrow, confused. But Castiel leans toward him, tilts his chin up with a finger, and brings their lips together.
Dean is startled. He goes stiff—his mouth is a hard, tense line—but he doesn't jerk away. Castiel waits. After a handful of seconds Dean parts his lips, and Castiel exhales into his mouth.
“Hold it in,” he murmurs, withdrawing, and taps Dean’s mouth closed. Dean obeys, watching him through wide, wide eyes.
“Okay?” Castiel asks, and Dean nods, once. Castiel smiles, just for him, and takes another hit. He feels loose all over, relaxed. He could sleep if he wanted to, curl up here on the rug with Dean and shut his eyes.
Dean raises both eyebrows, probably wondering if Castiel will allow him to exhale. Castiel touches his cheek, skimming his fingers over Dean’s stubble.
“Let it out.”
Dean does, blowing the smoke toward the floor. It curls beautifully from his lips.
“Cas...” Dean protests weakly, but Castiel trails his fingertips over Dean’s stomach, which is revealed in the way he has twisted around to look at him.
They repeat the steps: Castiel leans in and seals their mouths together. Dean accepts the smoke, taking Castiel's air into his body. When he exhales, the smoke settles and disappears.
Castiel doesn't take a drag before he leans in this time. He kisses Dean, and it's familiar yet starkly new, welcome but bittersweet.
Dean doesn't kiss back, but he doesn't leave and doesn't push Castiel’s hand off of his stomach. He doesn't tell him to stop, so Castiel continues. He slides his hand into Dean's hair, this time with a different intent. He pulls Dean's mouth firmly against his to make it known.
And then it happens: Dean's hands are a frenzy in his hair, and Dean's hands are on Castiel's shoulders, and Dean's hands are snaking under Castiel's shirt and over his skin. There's a buzzing in his ears as the world dulls around them and goes silent.
“What about Sammy?” Dean asks between breaths, his voice hitching.
“He’s asleep,” Castiel promises and works a leg between Dean’s knees.
He's half-hard, cock straining against his clothes as he settles over Dean. He untucks Dean’s shirt and pushes it up to his chest, mapping Dean's stomach with his hands and lips. Dean squirms with every touch, gasping when Castiel hooks his fingers in the side of Dean's waistband. He slides them around to the front, so his fingertips brush through Dean’s wiry pubic hair as Castiel unbuttons his pants.
Dean moans when Castiel mouths his cock through his boxers, canting his hips toward Castiel's mouth when he exhales over the base. He's greedy, grabbing fistfuls of Castiel's hair. He hasn't bathed in days; his scent is overpowering. Castiel inhales him, sucking in a full breath and holding it as he works the boxers down just far enough that the tip of Dean's cock is exposed.
Castiel latches onto it, sucking and laving his tongue over the tip—it’s salty and slick. He takes Dean as deeply as he can, holding his breath to keep himself from gagging. It's been years since he did this for anyone. He's out of practice, but every inch of Dean is familiar. Castiel worships him.
“Jesus,” Dean curses, tightening his grip on Castiel’s hair, fucking up into his mouth.
Castiel pulls off for a moment, laughing as he works the boxers past Dean’s hips, shoves his pants down to his ankles. “Sucking your cock is a religious experience,” he says, wrapping his fist around the base and pumping slowly.
“Later,” he promises with a chuckle, biting at the skin beneath Dean’s naval. “You’re a work of art, spread out like this.”
“Shut up and blow me,” Dean hisses, but there’s a sweetness in the way his fingertips play over Castiel’s scalp, how he cries out when Castiel swirls his tongue in a lazy ouroboros over the head of his cock.
It's not enough to have Dean in his mouth. He swipes his finger through saliva pooling at the base of Dean's cock and noses his balls, taking one into his mouth—his Dean always liked that. He's gentle, teasing the wrinkled skin with his tongue and his teeth as he reaches between Dean's legs.
Dean tenses when Castiel touches him, his muscles involuntarily clenching. Castiel circles him with a fingertip. He licks a stripe along the underside of Dean's cock and feels him relax, applying just enough pressure with his finger to breach the ring of muscle. The intrusion has Dean swearing under his breath—low, guttural words Castiel can't make out. He might as well be speaking in tongues. Castiel teases him, working his finger incrementally as he continues to suck.
He wants to fuck Dean, wants to sink inside his body. He wants Dean to say “yes” to him the way he wishes he’d said yes when Castiel was still an angel, so he can know this Dean from the inside. But this is the closest they can ever be: Castiel touching him intimately, Dean’s cock nudging the back of his throat.
Dean groans just before he comes in Castiel's mouth.
Castiel relaxes his lips and lets Dean work himself against them as his cock softens, then slip out. Dean shuts his eyes and rolls his head away. Castiel swallows and collapses on Dean's chest. He covers them both with the blanket and gulps in a breath.
He can hear the world again: the scratch of branches on the roof, the howl of something far away. The room reeks of sex and pot. He's still hard, but he got what he wanted.
“Are you alright?” he asks.
“Yeah,” Dean answers. His voice is rough, but he’s not angry.
Castiel rolls his face into Dean's shirt and presses his forehead against his sternum. He inhales and plants a kiss on Dean's jaw, on his mouth, while he entwines their legs, greedy for the feeling of Dean’s body next to his.
Dean puts a hand on Castiel's back, on his shoulder blade, and moves his fingers gently.
“Two years, huh?”
Dean stays with him through the night. Castiel wakes to their arms and legs touching. But Dean gets up and straightens his clothes, pulls on his jacket, and goes to the wash basin to clean his hands and face.
“Damn, what I wouldn’t give for a cup of coffee. My head’s killing me,” he says with forced laughter, not quite looking Castiel in the eye. He rubs water over his face and dries it on a monogrammed towel Castiel took from a home goods store.
Castiel smiles at him, though Dean can't see, exhaling laughter through his nose. He finishes cleaning up and goes to check on Sam, speaking to him quietly. Castiel balls up the blanket and piles it on top of the laundry. He straightens the rug and pulls on his boots, finger combs his hair. He doesn't bother with a clean shirt.
“How is he this morning?” Castiel asks.
“About the same,” Dean says, rubbing his neck. He scowls the way he always does when he’s about to say something Castiel won’t like. “Look, Cas—”
“I get it,” Castiel interrupts, bracing himself against rejection. It’s not the first time.
Dean looks at him strangely and blinks a few times. He purses his mouth.
“Zach could pull me outta here any second,” he says. He almost sounds apologetic.
“We had a good time,” Castiel dismisses.
He smiles again—forced, this time—and goes outside to piss and smoke. Risa's porch light is on.
Zachariah takes Dean before noon.
He vanishes just as suddenly as he appeared, between syllables. The last thing Castiel sees is the flash of his smile, head angled toward his brother.
Dean comes to sit with Sam but doesn't look at Castiel or acknowledge his presence. His head is bowed when Castiel speaks to him. If he answers, it’s in monosyllables and grunts. He might as well be faceless. Castiel doesn't see his eyes all day.
He beats dirt from his blankets, does a half-ass job washing his clothes in the lake, and goes to the planning cabin. He swallows half a bottle of the first thing he can find, lies down and curls up with his knees to his chest, praying for the dark. He doesn't want to die, he just wants to forget.
He wakes in a pool of his own vomit, limbs and hands unsteady. The floor pitches like he's on a ship. He crawls away from the mess and goes back to sleep but he doesn't cry.
Dean leads a team into Kansas City the following day for supplies, so Castiel spends the day with Sam. Despite a headache, he reads to Sam from a book of poetry.
“It seems bees have a notion of honour.”
He gets no response, not even when he pulls up Sam’s shirt to check his wound.
He could kill Sam and ensure his release. It would be kinder than keeping him alive with his mind imprisoned.
Castiel reads to him until he yawns repeatedly and is forced to stop. He lays the book on the mattress, open on their current page, and goes to the window. He stretches while he looks out on the camp, lacing his fingers behind his back and opening up his chest muscles. Behind him, Sam sleeps.
That evening, he makes broth for Sam and spoons it into his mouth, then checks his leg bag. Human bodies are so wasteful. He doesn't have an appetite after that, so he smokes to inspire it but ends up sleeping in the chair next to the bed with an empty stomach.
It's two nights before Dean returns. He barges into Castiel's cabin smelling of liquor and cigar smoke. They've lost someone. Dean always drinks when they lose someone. He stands at the foot of the bed.
“No change,” Castiel tells him.
“He’s gone, huh?” Dean says. It’s a minute before Castiel follows.
“Three days ago,” he says.
Dean huffs, taking a swig from a bottle in his fist.
“Did you let him fuck you?” he slurs.
These talks are exhausting. Castiel closes his eyes, then gets up and crosses the room, putting as much space between them as he can.
“Since when do you care who I fuck?” he asks. His voice is tired. Castiel is tired. He’s tired of this, of Earth, of Dean, of himself. “You’re unhappy and you want to blame someone. I’m not responsible for what Lucifer did.”
“You’re an idiot,” Dean tells him. He’s followed Castiel across the cabin and is standing behind him: a tense, angry presence.
“Probably,” Castiel says sharply. “I still love you, so my sanity is in question.”
Dean grabs his wrist and wrenches him around.
“Fuck you, Cas.”
They've played this game before. Castiel goes limp and lets Dean shove him against the wall. His breath is heavy with smoke and alcohol. The kiss is hot and needy, bruising to the point of painful, but even when it hurts and Castiel is certain Dean has drawn blood, he lets it go on.
He feels something wet against his cheek, but it's a minute before he realizes that Dean is crying. He's crying open, angry tears: tears for Sam, tears for himself. He's crying and he's come to Castiel for comfort. Castiel won't deny him this and won't deny himself. He cups Dean's face and brushes the tears with his thumbs, smoothing them gently over his cheekbones.
Dean knocks his hands away. He takes a swig from the bottle and stumbles back a few steps until he's propped up against the opposite wall. The whiskey makes a sloshing noise when he's stopped moving.
Castiel curls his fingers into a fist that he holds against his mouth while he considers whether to stay or go.
“Give me that,” he snaps after a minute. He swipes the bottle from Dean’s hand and tilts it up to drink. The whiskey is strong, the sour burn slicking down his throat into his chest. It’s like swallowing fire. He swallows two mouthfuls before handing the bottle back and collapsing against the wall next to Dean.
“What if he never wakes up?” Dean slurs when the bottle is empty, dangling from his fingers.
Castiel takes it from him and sets it aside. He grips Dean's shoulder the way he did upon their first meeting, brushing fingers along his jaw.
“You need to sleep,” he murmurs.
Dean meets his eyes. They're still wet and spilling over. When Dean kisses him this time, it's sweet and desperate—he sobs against Castiel's mouth and sucks on his lips, pressing close and holding them together, like he can crawl into Castiel's body. Dean wraps his arms around his neck, so their chests and hips are flush. He grinds against Castiel slowly.
Castiel eases him to the floor, so they lie on the rug. He weaves their hands together and kisses Dean's neck, his collarbone, his jaw, his mouth. He kisses Dean the way he’s longed to kiss Dean for two years, and Dean whimpers into it.
He undresses Dean slowly, taking his time to relearn the marks on his arms and chest, the bow of his legs. He kisses each one, lingering over new scar tissue he has never touched, baptizing it with his tongue. He bends Dean's knees up to pull off his jeans, kisses a trail along the inside of his thighs to the base of his cock.
“Cas,” Dean whimpers and arches up off the ground. “Castiel.”
He hates and loves the sound of his name from Dean's mouth, a name Dean uses so rarely, whispered like a confession. No god will hear it. No god is watching over them. Castiel swallows Dean's cock, his head swimming with whiskey and anger; swallows him down until Dean is keening, until Dean can't say his name anymore.
He plants both palms on the floor, on either side of Dean’s hips, and bobs up and up and up. Dean babbles, “Cas, please, baby, please,” and tears at his hair. Castiel pulls off when Dean is close—he knows the signs, after all this time—and spits into his palm.
He's quick working him open, and then Dean is crawling onto his lap. He lowers himself onto Castiel's cock and throws his head back. Castiel gasps at the homecoming.
He grabs a fistful of Dean’s hair and kisses him hard. Dean curses into Castiel’s mouth, but the way he moves is surprisingly gentle, lifting up and nearly off, then easing down again, rocking his hips forward. He's warm inside, he's so warm—has he done this with anyone since Castiel; has he wanted to?
Castiel cries out. He gently cradles Dean’s neck and hip and comes with his face pressed to Dean's shoulder, kissing his skin the way he did the first time in Bobby's spare room.
Dean has gone soft. He pants as he splays a hand on Castiel's chest and creates a space between them, lifting off with a winces. Dean stumbles to the wash basin to clean his hands and comes back with a damp rag.
The way he wipes Castiel's fingers clean is more intimate than what they just did. Castiel counts Dean's freckles in the moonlight through the cabin window. He sees the worry plain on Dean's face, desperate to ease it.
He takes the cloth and tosses it into a shadow, cupping Dean's face and drawing their mouths together again. He wraps his fist around Dean and kisses him, squeezing when his cock begins to fill. Dean squirms on his lap and groans. When Dean is close again, Castiel drops between his legs to take him as deeply as he can.
Dean comes down his throat. Castiel doesn't pull off right away, marveling at the way Dean pulses between his lips, how he tenses with every swipe of Castiel’s tongue. Dean lies still and allows his cock to soften in Castiel’s mouth.
Their history dictates that Dean will get up and leave now that it's over, but he curls naked into Castiel's side and sighs. He cards his fingers through Castiel's hair and lets Castiel cover him with blankets, lets Castiel slide a thin pillow underneath their heads, lets Castiel kiss him goodnight while Sam slumbers in their bed across the room. Dean makes so many allowances, all but one.
“Why won’t you let me love you?” Castiel begs.
“Cas, you know I...” Dean slurs into his neck.
He doesn’t finish. He doesn't kiss Castiel's mouth again and doesn't give permission, not for this, but he doesn't leave. It's enough.
Castiel wakes up naked and cold.
His back aches from a night on the floor, but he welcomes the bruising on his neck and chest. He tenses his stomach muscles to pull himself into a sitting position and replays the movement of Dean's hands mapped onto his skin.
There was something different in Dean's movements last night. Castiel felt wanted. Dean hasn't made him feel that way in a long time.
He can't trust they'll pick up where they left off or that Dean even wants that. Dean was upset and intoxicated, and Castiel took advantage of that. It's probably immoral for a human to do that, but he wanted it. He's used to taking what he wants if he means to survive. Dean taught him that.
His mouth is dry. He crawls naked to the wash basin and cups a hand of water to clean it, spits it into the bowl and rubs a second handful over his face, working it into his hair to push it away from his forehead. It's too cold to bathe today. His skin prickles at the crisp air, goosebumps rising over his arms and chest. His dick is shriveled between his legs, but he recalls Dean's hands on him and the heat of Dean's mouth and the sensation of Dean underneath him, and it goes half-hard.
He hears movement on the other side of the curtain. Dean is checking on Sam. Maybe Dean will revisit his living arrangements, agree to live in this cabin again with Castiel. It was his cabin originally. By all rights, as the camp's leader, the largest and best-equipped cabin should still be his. It has direct access to the camp's water supply, and the best strategic position, nestled in the back of camp, farthest from the gate. Dean has never asked Castiel to give it up, and Castiel has always hoped that Dean would come home.
He won't ask today. It's too soon. They need time to figure out if this is viable, or if they'll only make each other lonelier being together again. Still, the thought of Dean with sleep-tousled hair and bruises on his body, just a few feet away, makes Castiel's chest feel like bursting.
He'll never stop loving Dean, no matter what transpires between them. That thought, the very notion of loving Dean Winchester, fills him with a satisfaction that makes him smile, sigh fondly as he fills a kettle with water and lights the burner.
Tea is a luxury, but this morning calls for it. They'll lean against the porch railing and drink tea the way they used to, with their shoulders almost touching. Dean was always careful to maintain an image of power. It was the only way to maintain control over the camp, he said. If they knew he was soft, it would mean mutiny.
Castiel never understood Dean's position. It was no secret they slept together, but Dean insisted their relationship appear casual on the surface, and over time it grew casual. They took other people into bed with them: first one partner, then two, until Castiel was surrounded by a group of willing participants and not Dean. Maybe it had been Dean's way of extracting himself from the relationship, ensuring Castiel had other people to help him learn to be human.
If it made Dean happy, Castiel was willing to go along with it. So he went along with it time after time. But after Detroit fell, Dean never moved the beads aside again, never crawled onto the center of the woven rug, never put a hand on Castiel's chest and pushed him onto his back. Not until last night.
Castiel makes a decision: he won't let Dean walk out again. They can fix this. They will fix this.
He brews two mugs of tea and finds his shirt, pulls it on with a pair of semi-clean pants. Arranges his hair. The little moisture he worked into it has dried. He picks up both mugs and pushes the curtain aside with an elbow, smiling as he looks to where Chuck is bent over next to Sam's bed.
“Chuck,” Castiel says with surprise. His face falls. He can’t help the way his voice betrays him, how it strains and breaks.
“Cas, hey,” Chuck says, his voice just above a whisper, like he fears he might wake Sam.
“Have you seen Dean?”
“If you mean his taillights, then yeah. He took off first thing this morning with the team, soon as it was light. Asked me to check in on Sam.”
“Took off?” Castiel repeats and doesn’t drop the mugs. His heart slams in his chest along with the increase in pounding at his temples and in his wrists. “Did he say when he’ll be back?”
“Couple weeks.” Chuck sounds confused, like he can’t quite believe that Castiel doesn’t know Dean’s plan. As second in command, he should.
You bastard, Castiel thinks as his eyes begin to burn. You son of a bitch. Last night was a goodbye.
“Of course,” he murmurs and sets down the mugs with shaking hands. He hides them behind his back and watches while Chuck cleans Sam’s face with a cloth and pulls the sheet over him.
His eyes spill over. He brushes the tears away without blinking.
“Guess that means you’re in charge now,” Chuck says. He smiles at Castiel and crosses his arms over his chest. On the bed, Sam goes on sleeping.
“Yes,” Castiel says distantly and cannot tear his eyes from Sam’s face.
“Well, if there’s any changes to the routine, you let me know.”
“Yes,” Castiel repeats. He gives a forced smile in return. “Thank you, Chuck.”
“Yeah, no problem,” Chuck says and heads out.
Castiel stands beside Sam's bed in disbelief, left behind again: first by the angels and now by Dean, in a ruined area of Kansas. He doesn't move for a long time.
He's overcome by nothingness, hardly aware of the air in his lungs, hunger, the stinging in his eyes. The sensations are removed from him, echoed from somewhere very far away.
Frightened and alone, he tears open the cabinet, knocking the cans and food packets aside as he reaches for the vial of Percocets he knows is still there. Yellow tablets tumble happily into his palm.
Castiel prescribes himself a temporary euphoria and doesn't wake for a day.