They’re fucked. Like, really, really fucked.
Dean’s got his brother’s forearm clasped in one hand and the steering wheel in his other, and in his rearviews he can see the heavy black smoke roiling through the air as if it were alive and sentient. The only thing between them and their imminent doom is the sleek black shell of the Impala, and while she’s gotten them out of quite a few scrapes in the past, he doesn’t think she’s quite up for this one. At least he gets to die in his car, the way he’s always wanted to. By the looks of it, she’s gonna be his coffin.
He isn’t ready to die, not with the Mark off his arm, not with his family waiting for him – Jody and Donna and Claire and Cas –
Fuck, he thinks, I didn’t get to tell Cas, and the thick black dark is on them and in them and Dean is choking, he’s being buried alive – there’s dirt in his ears and eyes and mouth, wet and muddy, and he’s got to dig up, dig out, kick out of his coffin and reach the surface, but he claws and claws and he’s getting nowhere, there’s nothing, he’s underground and his lungs are filling with cold peat he’s dying he’s going to die –
The pressure is relieved all at once and he flails upward, hands raking at nothing, half-blind in the artificial white light. There’s something propping him up – cushions, he realizes, and he leans away from them, his arms wrapped securely around his midsection, charting the fierce rise and fall of his chest as he steals great, gulping lungfuls of air. He feels utterly wrong in his skin, dirty and caged-in, and if he could he’d shed it like a snake, get it the hell off.
“I got you out as soon as I could,” Cas says grimly by the side of his head, and Dean jumps, squints around. “There was a – distraction, but it’s taken care of.”
“Sam,” Dean croaks.
“He’s fine – he woke up earlier, and now he’s asleep. You should do the same.”
He’s tired, but sleep is unfathomable. If he sleeps, he knows, he’ll only get sent back to that place, the earth crushing in on him, consuming him, and right now he doesn’t think he could bear it. Maybe it makes him weak, maybe it makes him a child, but after that – he can’t.
His eyes have mostly adjusted to the light and now the blurry, tan shape beside him has resolved itself into Cas’ trenchcoat. Before he really knows what he’s doing he’s reaching out and gathering up a handful of fabric, not pulling or tugging but simply holding on.
Castiel hesitates, unsure, and then rests his hand, so excruciatingly gently, on Dean’s shoulder. “Dean. You are safe,” he says.
He is, maybe, but the rest of the world – .
“How do we – how,” Dean says. He’s close to tears, the frustrations and failures of the past few weeks overwhelmingly unfixable, everything gone so goddamn wrong. “What are we supposed to – ?”
“I don’t know,” Cas says. “I don’t – and I didn’t mean to, I didn’t – .”
“Cas,” Dean says. “I know. It’s okay.”
It isn’t, not really, and it probably won’t be for a while. But for the first time in a long time, Dean isn’t stifled with rage, blind with the need to kill, and he savors it, embraces the quiet, calm still in his head. He isn’t happy, certainly isn’t complacent – he’s gonna fight this thing for all he’s worth, once they’ve got the means – but he isn’t angry with Castiel. Which is probably why he finds it so easy to yank him down by his lapels, cup a hand around the back of his neck, and crush their mouths together.
Cas’ lips are dry and slack and Dean tries to soothe them with his tongue, runs it slow and sensual across the bridge of his mouth, not demanding or pushing, and Cas – Cas isn’t moving.
Dean pulls away, hands sliding back, and Cas stays there, frozen, his eyes huge and shocked. Neither of them blink or breathe and it’s Dean who breaks the silence with a bout of stupid, nervous laughter.
“Well, shit,” he says. “Shit. Sorry, man, I – . Guess that cat’s outta the bag, huh?”
He’s trying to keep it together, stay casual, but inside his guts are churning with frantic horror. He’s ruined them. Everything they’ve gone through together, everything they’ve done, and he had to go and kiss his best friend. Fuck. He’s the worst fucking idiot in the world.
“Dean,” Cas says, touching two fingers to his lips.
“How ‘bout we forget this ever happened? Write it off as, I dunno, head trauma due to the whole black murder cloud experience – ”
“Dean. Look at me,” Cas says, tipping up his chin, and when their eyes meet Cas’ are wide and blown dark with wonder. “I could not forget,” he says, dipping down dangerously close, their faces a hair’s-breadth away. “I would not want to forget.”
It’s Cas who closes the distance, Cas who brings his hand up to curl at the nape of Dean’s neck. He kisses like a starving man, tongue and teeth and desperate, hungry lips, no finesse but all the passion in the world, a thousand words trapped in the awed touch of his mouth.
As much as he hates it Dean has to break away to breathe, and Cas goes right on kissing a wet path along and then under his jaw, down his neck, and if Dean didn’t know any better – because who’d worship a thing like him – he’d call it worshipful. Cas kisses and licks and Dean squirms, fists his hands right back in Cas’ trenchcoat and holds on for dear life.
“I never thought,” Cas says, the low buzz of his voice vibrating up and down Dean’s skin. “I never knew – .”
“Not even with your – ah – angel vision?”
“You know I wouldn’t do that, Dean,” Cas says, and then he latches down on Dean’s neck with his teeth and lips and sucks hard.
Dean yelps and grabs at his hair out of reflex – and God it’s soft, thick and sleek between his fingers, and his tugging turns to petting. Cas pulls off and Dean pokes at him, fakes indignation.
“Dude,” he complains, rubbing his neck. “That necessary?”
Cas gives him a worried look. “Was that not – okay? I don’t want to make you uncomfortable – .”
“Nah, it’s fine. Jeez. Took me by surprise, is all.”
“Good,” Cas says. “Because I want to kiss every inch of you.”
Dean feels heat rise to his cheeks. If anyone else’d said that to him he’dve kicked ‘em off and gone his separate way, but this is Cas – weird, dorky, intense Cas – and he’s always been the exception, maybe even before he understood why. What he’d forgive Cas – God, it scares him, even now.
He can’t find the words or the strength to vocalize this, so instead he goes in for another kiss, forcing Cas to slow down this time and savor the brush and slide of their mouths together. Cas’ face is stubbly and rough – hell, he’s stubbly and rough himself; the last few days haven’t been easy – but he likes it, appreciates the reminder that it’s Cas he’s kissing, Cas who is making him shiver and sigh and melt. He’s hard – and shit, just from a few touches, what Cas does to him – but this, the two of them together, it’s only peripherally about sex. For months the Mark had driven him onward with a punishing push for sex and death and food that fell to ash in his mouth, and now that he’s got a handle on his head, now that he can say no, it’s novel enough that he’s content to sit back and abstain. His desire is a quiet calm ache, nothing like the burning, throbbing need of the Mark, and he can sit back and ignore it, kiss Cas and not shake with the need to own him.
Cas blinks at him, sends him a slow, sweet smile, full of affection and trust, and Dean feels his heart swell, strokes Cas’ familiar cheek with the backs of his knuckles. It’s lame and girly but right about now all he wants to do is hold Cas close, feel the warmth of his skin and bury his face in his hair.
Fuck it. They’ve been through hell and probably they’re still gonna die. He can allow himself this.
“C’mere,” he says, and pulls Cas onto the bed, pushes at his chest until they’re lying side-by-side, draws them up close together so that they’re touching all over. He’d like to get that stupid trenchcoat off, feel the shape of Cas’ solid body, but he finds that he’s too exhausted to do much more than run his hands in lazy circles over Cas’ back, his limbs heavy with fatigue, his head sinking into the pillows. Cas brushes a kiss onto his forehead and against his will his eyelids flutter downward, vision going blurry once again.
“Sleep,” Cas says, lips moving against his cheek, and he does, falling down and down into safe comfortable oblivion, rest without thought, his angel sitting vigil at his side.
Sam wakes up feeling antsy, dehydrated, and generally miserable. He’s sore all over, the sort of familiar rawness that comes from getting flung around into walls, though recently he’s gone through nothing of the sort – just the darkness roiling over him like a thick soup, and then the blind, scrabbling fear, the touch of Lucifer’s cold hand against his cheek –
He shudders. He’s pretty sure, logically speaking, that Lucifer wasn’t actually there, that the whole thing had been a product of his battered, traumatized mind, the thing playing off his weaknesses and trapping him inside them, but it’d felt real enough, awful enough, that he’s still shaking off the aftereffects. If it weren’t for Cas, that would’ve been it – he’dve been trapped in there forever, the freezing, burning cold of the Cage constricting down on him, his every nerve peeled bare – but it wasn’t, and Cas was there, and Jesus Christ he’s got to get over it.
It would’ve been no more than justice, anyway, if he’d gone under and stayed there. He hadn’t been the one to break this particular seal, not directly, but his hand was in it as much as Cas’ was. He’d kept the book; he’d gotten Charlie killed. He’d pressured Cas to finish the ritual.
He’d convinced his brother to kill Death.
All he can do is try and make up for it, the way he’s been trying almost his entire life. Nothing but mistake after mistake for years and he’s never going to set the balance straight now, his missteps too heavy on his shoulders to allow him forgiveness, room to breathe. He has survived and survived and at every turn, every opportunity, he’s done the wrong goddamn thing – .
At least Dean is still alive. That, he thinks, is not a mistake.
He heaves his sorry carcass out of bed and heads toward the kitchen with the intent of making coffee and stops, startled, halfway down the hallway. The mouth to the main area of the bunker’s painted in flickering orange-red, flashing in and out on the low white ceiling.
Fire, his mind supplies, and he’s ready to run for it, get his brother and salvage what he can – but no, there’s no smoke, no heat, the color too bright and artificial for a flame, and his yell for Dean dies a silent death in his throat. Instead, he goes to investigate, and the view into the main room forces a new, biting fear into his chest.
He remembers, not so long ago, opening the door from the outside and finding Kevin with his crossbow in the middle of the floor down below, lit on all sides by urgent blinking alarms, the flashing, whirring lights. It’s much the same now, only sans Kevin, the insistent red and yellow bulbs glinting off the mess of buttons and exposed wires on the weird, extraneous control panels they’d never quite gotten around to understanding. Charlie could figure it out, he thinks, and his heart aches. Charlie could dismantle it and build a whole new, doubly efficient version – but Charlie isn’t here, and this is Sam’s problem, now.
The center octagonal table is likewise flashing red all over, the map on its surface choked with hundreds upon thousands of tiny, red dots, all blinking in concert. When Sam gets close enough to peer at it curiously he sees that a great deal of Canada and nearly half the United States has been greyed out, the pearly, translucent material of the tabletop gone cloudy and opaque, like someone had added a drop of ink to it.
“God,” Sam says, leaning in close, his fingertip tracing around the shadowed spaces. He’s wary of touching them directly, as if they might bleed out of the table and tangle around his body, take him back to that dark, cold place.
He knows what this is. He knows what this means. The map makes it look manageable – small, orderly cutouts, their boundaries neat and clean – but he knows there are people trapped in there, confused and afraid and alone, and Sam can’t – he’d done this, he’d done this and he hasn’t got a solution – .
The one saving grace to the whole thing is that the grey areas don’t seem to be expanding. Maybe the map hasn’t caught up yet, maybe it’s dead wrong, but if it’s working the way it’s supposed to, the fog has stopped advancing for the moment. It isn’t a relief – there’s too much gone wrong for relief, for celebration – but it’s better than what it could’ve been. Better than he’d expected.
The red marks, those are another story entirely. Once, they’d indicated angels, and now – he isn’t sure. They are clustered in groups or pinned in solitude, shifting around highways or remaining still. One or two are moving steadily across the ocean, like they’re tracking the movements of a boat, or a plane. Sam can’t parse it.
There’s the sound of socks padding on tile and when Sam’s head snaps up to see, Dean’s at the cusp of the room in his dead-guy-robe and boxers. Behind him Cas hovers protectively, his arm outstretched and ready, as if Dean’s an invalid in danger of toppling over. His worry’s unfounded, though, because Dean looks comparatively well-rested, his mouth curved in a soft, fond smile, his eyes lazy and glazed-over with sleep. He’s lost all the manic tension he’d been carrying around with the mark, the constant ready flex of his forearms, and Sam’s so glad to see it he could cry. He still moves with all the grace of the predator he’s proved himself to be but as he lopes into the room there’s a carefree looseness to his limbs that Sam’s missed desperately.
“Hey, Sammy,” he says, his voice fond. “What’re you doin’ up?”
“Uh,” Sam says. He has to slow down his brain and rewind, because that was not the greeting he’d been expecting. “Not – tired anymore? I guess?”
That’s not really true at all but Dean nods sagely, wandering down toward the table with Cas stuck to his back.
“Whatcha looking at?” he says, bending over the map, and huh – there’s a vibrant green-and-purple hickey spilled out over his neck that certainly wasn’t there the day before. Unless he’d snuck a friend into the bunker while Sam was passed out half-dead in his bed, unless the darkness had a penchant for teenage necking, the list of culprits is narrowed down considerably.
Well then, Sam thinks. Okay.
He’d never been sure if Cas’ longing looks and personal space issues had been an angel thing or a Cas thing or a I’m-head-over-heels-for-Dean thing, but this solidifies that, then. His brother had been more of a sure bet, what with the mooning over Cas’ trenchcoat and the desperate unfailing loyalty he usually only granted blood relations, but he was so goddamn entrenched in his Dad’s antiquated ideal of manliness that Sam was sure he wouldn’t be able to come out and admit there were feelings of any kind between the two of them.
Inevitable is not the word he’dve used. Maybe, unlikely. Or, doubtful. But here they are, Dean sporting a hickey the size of Texas and Cas sneaking glances like Dean’s the sun and stars and moon all rolled into one guy-shaped package, and Sam’s left feeling kind of – . Well. Kind of mixed up, is all.
“Hello?” Dean says. “Earth to Major Sam – ”
Sam coughs. “Yeah, what? Sorry? Um, the map, right?”
“Ye-e-es,” Dean says, drawing out the word between his teeth. “You understand any of this, space captain?”
“You’re hilarious, really,” Sam says, and it’s like they’re brothers again, natural stupid banter bridging between them, Dean’s self-congratulating smirk and his own mock-serious pout.
He feels immediately guilty for feeling glad about it. People are being tortured – because of him, because of his actions – and he’s thankful that he can repair his relationship with his brother?
“Right, yeah,” he says, when he sees Dean’s smile start to fade around the edges. “I was thinking, uh, this whole section’s where the black smoke’s rolled in – ” he points, here and there, still refraining from touching – “and the red stuff, I dunno – .”
“Better not be any freakin’ angels,” Dean mutters. “How come the fart cloud ain’t moving?”
Sam doesn’t bother to protest his brother’s terminology, knowing that – much like the Jefferson Starships and the Batcave – it’s already a lost cause. “I dunno, I was wondering – .”
“Let me check,” Cas breaks in, and he squeezes his eyes shut, takes a huge, grounding breath through his nose. His hand squeezes tighter and tighter around Dean’s arm, knuckles turning white, but Dean stays still and quiet, lets him work through whatever the hell it is he’s doing. When his eyes fly open seconds later he slumps sideways and Dean hardly even has to move to steady him, the two of them falling into place next to each other like it’s the most natural thing in the world.
Sam feels another surge of – something – and he chokes it down. “Cas,” he says. “What is it – ? What did you see?”
“The darkness,” Cas pants. “It’s stopped spreading.”
“I don’t know. It’s – hovering. Trapped.”
“Trapped? Like – it's being held back?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. I can’t – it’s difficult to look at.”
“Hey,” Dean says. He strokes a piece of wayward hair off Cas’ forehead, and Sam pretends not to notice. “That’s okay. If you can't do it - you don't have to.”
“And all the other stuff?” Sam says, anxious to know the damage. “The red parts – ?”
“Monsters,” Cas says, and Sam and Dean share identical glances of confusion. “They’re all monsters.”
They break for coffee. To Cas, it can only ever taste like molecules, atoms and electrons buzzing dry and tasteless on his tongue, but he takes a cup for politeness’ sake – no coffee, no sugar, none of the hazelnut syrup Dean teases his brother for enjoying so much. He likes the smell, in any case, as it reminds him of late nights and cold mornings over small-town newspapers, roadtrips encroaching through the night and beyond, all the small human breakfast habits that were once unfamiliar and are now, through observation and participation both, comfortable ritual. He lets the cup steam under his nose and watches Dean through the glaze.
He is beautiful even in the grim fluorescent light of the kitchen, his soul glowing golden in and around him, bright as a star and just as strong. Not even yesterday the Mark had been wound through it red and thready, its light pulsing new and fierce, desperately hungry – and yet the difference is not so drastic, Dean holding onto himself through it all with his commendable will. Castiel cannot lie: he still found it beautiful, as he is wont to find near anything Dean does beautiful, the sure arc of his body in motion and the cruel artistry of his violence.
Now, though, he can brush against Dean’s soul and not feel it sting, not feel it snap out at him. He passes his fingers through it, his elbows, his wrists, and it goes to him gladly, buttery-soft and warm as a sunbeam, and he savors the touch, stays as near as he dares. Before Dean might have reprimanded him of the extreme closeness, as he had when they’d first met, but now – . Cas reaches for him and reaches for him and Dean allows it, even welcomes it, and it’s so much more than he ever hoped for.
He is still unbelieving. He plays the moment over and over again in his mind’s eye, even as he speaks of other things; that initial, terrifying kiss, Dean pulling away with his apology, he himself struck blind and dumb; and then the second, when Dean had accepted him, drawn him in at last, and they’d burned bright together. He’d accepted his place at Dean’s side, close but not so close, but then Dean had turned it all on its head. All his millennia of experience, all the fish he hasn’t stepped on, and Dean Winchester can still manage to take him by surprise.
He has loved Dean so long, and so deeply, that he can hardly imagine himself otherwise. He had never treasured his memories so much as after he’d met Dean. Knowing had meant more. Staying had meant more. Everything had been augmented and tinged with desperation because suddenly there’d been Dean at the epicenter of it all, Dean to fight for – and, by proxy, his entire world, humanity and family and divergence, familiar to him now as the freckles on Dean’s back.
And now – he can touch. It’s a miracle of life and breath and love and he can touch. Even with Sam keeping watch across the room they have gravitated together, shoulders brushing, Dean’s hand feather-light at Cas’ wrist. They’ve always been drawn to each other and this, Cas thinks, the actualization of their partnership, is a relief, a blessing, water after a drought.
Juxtaposed against the decaying world, they shine all the brighter. He would like to feel guilty, but he does not. He helped cast the spell, he unbound the darkness, but for this – for Dean free of the mark, placid and newly, clumsily gentle – it is worth it.
His priorities are – unconventional, but not wrong. Couldn’t be wrong, with the way he’s feeling.
Dean takes a sip of his coffee and makes a face, his eyebrows jumping upwards. “Oh,” he says. “This is – good.”
“Yes?” Cas ventures. Dean’s wonder is marvelous to see, but for all accounts, misplaced. “It’s the same coffee you usually purchase – the store-brand, with the green label – though I suppose, since you seek it out regularly, it must have some quality – ”
“Nah, I mean – man, never mind, you dork,” Dean says. He’s exasperated, but fondly so, and Cas basks in his attention like a cat in the sun. His eyes are drawn to Dean’s mouth, his lips – the fine indents at the crease of his smile – . He is aware that it would not be appropriate, given their audience, but he would very much like to kiss Dean right now.
Sam sets his mug down on the counter and the sound is too loud in the small kitchen. Dean looks away, over to his brother, and the moment is broken.
“Cas,” Sam says, coughing a little. “Talk to us about the monsters. Are they from Purgatory? Are they part of the – the thing?”
“Fart cloud,” Dean insists.
“I don’t know,” Cas says, perturbed. “I’ve never – I’m not sure.”
The creatures are alien to him, newly forged and wrong, their origins muddied and uncertain. He can feel them clamoring in the back of his mind, uncountable slimy mewling things clogging the air and water with their filthy, unnatural bodies, and they are real but not, and he isn’t sure how to put it into words. He feels like he should know this, perhaps once had, but the information is inaccessible to him as he is now.
“They are borrowing the bodies of those trapped in the cloud,” he tries. “Not their humanity, but their – physical forms – ”
“But we ain’t talking classic zombies here, are we,” Dean says.
“No, we aren’t. I expect we’ll see – hybrids, and half-breeds, much like we did with the Mother of All.”
“But in the bodies of – actual people?” Sam says.
“Something like that,” Cas says. “I don’t – I can’t articulate it, I don’t know – I’m sorry, I – ”
“Nah, hey, you did good,” Dean says. He huffs a dull, unhappy laugh. “Guess that’s it then, huh? We just gotta – dive in.”
Sam gives a grim nod. “Not much else we can do.”
“I hate this,” Dean admits, and Sam turns to stare at him like he’s got a second head. “Feels like we’re always cleaning up something.”
“This isn’t forever,” Cas says.
God have mercy, may it not be forever.
John Winchester wakes up with a splitting headache, a mouthful of dirt, and eight dollars in cash. He’s wearing his Sunday best – that is, jeans that only have maybe two or three minor holes around the knees, and a button-down with no major bloodstains – and, from what he can see, he’s free of broken bones and gunshot wounds and other debilitating injuries of the sort one expects when they come to inside a goddamn dumpster. Not half a minute ago he was playing a hand of poker with and losing to his beautiful wife and now he’s got wet coffee grounds soaking into the ass of his pants and a halo of chicken nuggets around his head.
He doesn’t know what’s going on but he sure as hell doesn’t like it. He figures, this point, he’s deserved his rest, after all the bullshit he’s been through. He did his time in Hell, fought one war abroad and a whole different one on his own soil, slogged through mud and blood and rain for no reason other than that he felt it was right and now he’s been denied eternal bliss yet again. Heaven was supposed to be his final destination, his reward for a hard job done mostly okay, but instead he’s been torn from his wife and all else that’s holy and tossed – wherever this is.
Jesus Christ, this goddamn dumpster stinks.
He isn’t eager to spend a whole lot more time in it but he also doesn’t want to spring out and make himself the obvious target for whatever’s waiting out there, so he shucks off the stale burger buns decorating his shoulders, rises into a crouch, and uses a handy piece of cardboard to nudge open the lid without exposing anything of his own.
Nothing happens. He wiggles the cardboard around a little, gives it a minute. Still, nothing.
Finally, he peeks out himself, blinking in the harsh line of sunlight. It’s, what, midday – ‘round twelve hundred hours, looks like – and there isn’t a single cloud in the sky. He can see asphalt and the hood of a dinged-up shit-brown car, gleaming dully in the heat, and not a whole lot else.
He doesn’t much like the idea of abandoning his dumpster-cum-foxhole but he isn’t getting much from inside it so he flings the lid open and rolls out like an amateur, tearing his pants on a sharp jag of dumpster lid on the way down. He lands half on his stomach and half on his forearm, gritty, sandy parking lot digging into his bare skin. He’s damn lucky there doesn’t seem to be anything that wants to kill him hanging around, because it’dve been a stellar opportunity for it.
He stands, dumpster at his back. He’s landed – apparated? appeared? – outside a fast food restaurant with smudged, greasy windows and a corrugated roof. It’s standing slightly apart from a strip of several similar flat-roofed, brownstone stores, all sharing a large parking lot that opens out into a busy freeway.
He isn’t alone. Nearby there’s a young mother who’s shooting nervous, perturbed glances over her shoulder as she hustles her two kids into her minivan, and further down the way are other shoppers with strollers and fancy department store paper bags. Several of them, he notes, are wearing surgical masks, and he wonders if he’s wandered into an epidemic.
They don’t look like much of a threat, but he’s not about to let down his guard. Evil comes in all shapes. And right now – he doesn’t know for sure, doesn’t know much at all – but he might have a target on his back. Something resurrected him. Something took him out of his Heaven and back into this world, and he’s sure they’re tracking him now. Coming back from the dead, that doesn’t just happen. Hell, it doesn’t ever happen, in his experience. There has to be a reason behind it – something big. Something powerful – so much so that he won’t be able to take it down on his own. He needs to talk to someone that can help.
He stomps into the restaurant. “Hey,” he says to the girl behind the counter, who’s making a face like she’s bitten into a sardine. “This place got a phone I could use?”
It does. He trades his cash for change and goes to work on the sticky, oily buttons. He shakes off his sudden excited anticipation as leftover adrenaline from his rude awakening.
It’s purely business, is his reasoning. There’s something he has to kill, and his family – together, as a team – are the people to do it. It has nothing to do with the Sam-and-Dean shaped hole in his chest where his children ought to be and everything to do with efficiency.
But Dean’s primary cell phone number goes nowhere, as do his secondary and tertiary ones, and Sam’s emergency family-only cell is out too. Ditto for Bobby’s phones, and the Roadhouse main line. He can’t remember Ellen’s cell number off the top of his head, but she’s probably gone and changed the damn thing too, way his luck’s been going so far. She’d most likely hang up on him anyway, even if he did get through.
He slams the phone into the receiver. Goddamn idiots swapping their phones around, making his job that much harder. He’d kept the same number through most his cell-phone-having life for the sake of incidents just like these. Sam, meanwhile, he was always chasing after the latest, shiniest gadget like a horse after a carrot, and where was the sense in that – .
“’Scuse me,” someone says behind him. “You finished here?”
John glares over his shoulder at the intruder, a short, scrawny guy with a sharp nose and a snotty, holier-than-thou smirk. The potential consequences of punching out some random civilian in the middle of a crowded restaurant slightly outweigh the visceral satisfaction so John decides, narrowly, that he’d be better off abstaining.
“Yeah, I’m done,” he grunts, and turns, intending to cut off the conversation.
The little guy pops his gum. “Good,” he says, “’cuz you sure aren’t gonna find your sons like that.”
“The fuck did you say?” John snarls. His hand goes to the small of his back where he usually keeps a gun tucked into the waistband of his pants but right, mysterious arrival via dumpster, so he’s got nothing but his own two fists and, if he wants to get creative, a phonebook on a chain. “What are you,” he says, readying himself to shove past and run, if need be. “What the fuck’d you do to my family?”
“Jeez, nice to meet you too,” it says, chewing noisily. “They’re fine. Ish. So relax. I’m here to help, you big, paranoid lug.”
“To help?” John says, and finds himself trusting the thing even less. “You come looking for me? How’d you find me?”
“How do you think,” it says, and rolls its eyes. “Winchesters, I swear to Dad.”
“You,” John realizes, and in the place fear ought to be, a flash flood of anger sweeps through him, hot and sharp.“You’re the one who brought me back.”
He’d had the dreamless peace of death, a permanent retirement in the house he’d once thought he’d raise his children in, his own slice of peaceful, unchanging landscape. Most of all he’d had Mary, beautiful, patient, loving Mary, and the promise of a quiet eternity to spend with her – and then this miserable thing stuck its clammy hands into his home and wrenched everything away like it had the goddamn right, and now it’s standing here telling him it was going to help. He clenches and unclenches his fists.
“Give the man a prize!” it says. “You’re welcome, by the way – resurrection isn’t easy work. Usually you go through the Big Man, but since He’s on vaycay, I had to do it on my own dime.”
“Put me back,” John says quietly. He’s shaking with anger.
“No can do, kid – not yet. You think I went through all that just to send you back again? No chance. Buck up, ‘cuz we got a whole lot to do.”
“I don’t owe you anything,” John says. “I didn’t want this. I didn’t ask for this.”
“Neither did I,” it snaps. “You think I wanna babysit your ass? You’re the last person I’d want to hang out with – near the bottom of the list, at least. But I don’t get a choice, and neither do you. There’s a shitstorm coming round the corner, and I hate to say it, but the world needs you back. Sam and Dean need you back.”
Hearing his son’s names spoken out loud sends a flare of protective heat racing up his spine, and he steps forward and lifts his chin, lets himself loom. “The hell do you mean, the world?” he says. “What do my sons have to do with your bullshit? You told me they were safe – ”
“They are. I wasn’t lying – they’re peachy keen, they’ve got all their bits where they ought to be, but when the shit hits the fan – well. Without your help, who knows. I’m trying to tell you – this is bigger than just you, it’s bigger than your family – ”
John finds he doesn’t much give a shit. “Call them,” he demands. “Right now. I’m not going anywhere until you get them on the goddamn phone.”
“What, seriously? Je-sus. You’re a recalcitrant sonuvabitch, you know that? You’re lucky I’m so patient. But if that’s what it’ll take – .”
It whips out a phone from thin air and starts to poke at its screen. John adds matter out of nothing onto the list of creature traits that he’s been silently compiling, alongside resurrection and fucking annoying. It is not, so far, a helpful list.
“Contacts… aaaand – hey, here we go. If he doesn’t pick up, I’m not leaving a voicemail – well, howdy, Dean-o!” it says, and John leans forward, inclines his ear toward the phone. “Howsit hanging? Hopefully toward Cas, am I right?”
“’Scuse me?” someone says at the other end. “Who is this? How’d you get this number?”
It – could be Dean? John can’t tell. The gruff, curt voice coming over the line sounds only peripherally like the son he’d raised and it’s driving him crazy, not knowing him from Adam, when back before his death he’d been able to pick Dean’s voice out of a stadium-full of people.
“It’s me!” it says. “Your good-ol’ brother in law, Gabe!”
It could be any random Midwestern guy posing as his son but, also, maybe if the kid’s voice dropped several octaves, maybe if he gargled a bowl of nails, he might come out the other end sounding like this. Jesus, how long has it been? What if he’d come into a point in the future where his son, somehow, was older than he was when he’d died –
The thing – Gabe – makes a face. “C’mon – Gabriel, remember? Fast times at Elysian Fields? The slow-dancing alien thing? Don’t tell me you can’t remember the slow-dancing alien thing.”
Maybe-Dean’s voice immediately ratchets up ten decibels. “Gabriel? You motherfucker, where have you been – ”
“Woah, woah – not helping, bud. I’m here with your Dad – ”
“My what – ?”
“ – and he wants to chat with your or something, I don’t know, he’s not listening to me. Maybe you can talk some sense into him, huh?”
“Gabriel,” maybe-Dean says, after a pregnant pause. “Get over here right the fuck now.”
“Okay, but, howabout we – ”
Dean hangs up.
“Oh well,” Gabe says, tossing the phone over his shoulder. “Guess we’ll hafta drop by, then, huh?”
“The fuck was that? He didn’t sound too glad to hear from you,” John says, backing up as much as the phone booth allows. “You aren’t working together.”
“Okay, not per se,” Gabe says. “But they’ll be glad to see you anyway. Believe me.”
“I don’t,” John says.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, who cares,” Gabe says, and pokes him in the forehead.
His stomach goes inside out. I am dead, John thinks, and he’s mostly relived, if a little disappointed that he hadn’t been able to meet his sons – except it’s not Heaven he’s seeing, but a large, unlit room, tall-ceilinged and windowless.
“What the hell,” John says, wobbling. It feels like the floor’s shifting underneath his feet. “The fuck did you just do?”
“Suck it up, big guy. ‘S just a little metaphysical flight.”
“Flight,” John says. Sure. Whatever. Add it to the goddamn shitty list.
Directly in front of them is a long, pale table, its face marked with a browning map of the world, and each landmass is dotted all over with thick clusters of tiny red light, all blinking urgently. John sees the heavy blacked-out country-shaped blots, and though he doesn’t know what it means, it gives him an ominous feeling in his gut.
“Where – ” he begins to say, but then there are heavy, running footsteps, and a shape – broad and bulky all over, wide-legged – comes barreling at them out of the red-tinged dark.
“What the fuck have you done,” it says, and then the light hits its face and there’s no doubt about it – that’s John’s eldest son all right, filled-out and worn around the edges but still bearing the same delicate features he always has, Mary’s long eyelashes and slender nose, her cute freckles, all of it together just this side of pretty. He has a facefull of prickly stubble, a stubby silver sword in his right hand, and a look in his eyes like he intends to rip Gabe in half.
“Well, hello to you too – ” Gabe starts to say, and Dean strikes like a snake, practiced and sinuous, his odd sword sliding up under Gabe’s chin before any of them can blink. He is assured and unfaltering and – dangerous, John thinks, with a stir of pride. That’s his boy.
“You come skulking back after how many years – after Cas, after Purgatory, after goddamn Metatron – and you think we’re gonna welcome you back with open arms?” Dean growls, and John has no idea what the hell he’s talking about but his anger is palpable. “‘Hey, man, good to see you, thanks for disappearing on us?’ Fuck you.”
“Didn’t realize you missed me so much, sweetheart,” Gabe says. “I’m flattered.”
“We needed you. We could’ve used you.”
“Aw, you had it all under control. It all worked out, right?”
“Oh, yeah, it worked out great. You know what’s been going on lately? You understand what bullshit’s been raining down on our heads – ?”
“Yeah, actually, I do,” Gabe says. “And honestly? Seems to me like a break glass in case of emergency situation, so – I broke the glass.”
“The hell’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means,” Gabriel says, nodding over at John, “to torture the metaphor a little further – now we’ve got a weapon on our hands.”
“A weapon?” John says, like it matters what Gabe wants to call him.
For the first time, Dean looks over. His hands wobble.
“Dad?” he says, and for a moment he almost sounds like a kid again, twelve years old and shaking John awake after a hard night spent on the sofa, glass of water tucked up against his chest. And then –
“I apologize for the wait,” someone says right in John’s ear.
John’s fist goes swinging without any input from his brain. Muscle memory and impulse, something there where there hadn’t been before, so of course he’s gonna try and catch it with a roundhouse. He puts his full body behind the blow, twisting his waist and stepping into it the way he’s been trained to do.
It’s a lot like hitting a steel door, except with less give. John hears several somethings pop, can feel the ligaments in his hand rearranging themselves into new and unpleasant shapes, and somewhere over the pain, far, far away and fading fast, he’s vaguely worried that he’s ruined his hand for life.
“Motherfuck,” he chokes out, staggering backwards. The latest arrival to their party gives him a cool, assessing look, like he’s a curious bug.
“Your father has broken his hand on my face,” it observes in a voice like a goddamn cheese grater.
“Cas,” Dean says. “Thank fucking Christ. We got a situation here.”
Cas, John is pretty sure, is a girls’ name. He tries to focus on this instead of the grainy, throbbing pain in his hand. He needs to keep his mind clear, in case – God, in case of a thousand unpredictable things, all of this so far out of his depth he’s got no hope of breaking the surface, and there’s no way he can carry himself through a fight now, even if he knew how to kill these things –
But Cas, thankfully, doesn’t seem to be holding a grudge for whatever superficial damage John might have managed to do to his spotless cheekbone, his attention held completely by the being trapped beneath Dean’s sword. “Is that – ” he says, staring.
“Heya, Cassie,” Gabe says. He gives a cheeky little wave.
“Gabriel,” Cas breathes, something like awe in his voice. “Brother.”
Brothers, John thinks, as Cas takes a few small steps forward, his arm halfway outstretched, like a broken wing. They’re the same breed, then, whatever they are, the same sort of steel-skinned, teleporting, irritating monster. This particular one, though, came at Dean’s call, like a trained dog. He wonders what the hell kind of stupid trouble his sons have gotten up to in order to have something like this on a leash.
“You were dead,” Cas says. “Your wings were burnt up – I saw it.”
“Archangel, baby,” Gabriel says, and winks. “We work in mysterious ways.”
That cuts right through John’s pain-addled brain. “Archangel?” he says. “They’re not real. That’s not – you’re not an archangel.”
“Hell yeah I am,” Gabriel says. “How else could I have dug you up? Or – hey, here, look. I’ll heal your hand for you. Ta-da! Done. Bam. Archangel.”
His hand, as promised, abruptly stops feeling like it had been run over by an eight-wheeler. He flexes it, makes a fist, mimes pulling a trigger. Everything seems to be in working order.
But that’s not proof. Lots of things can do healing magic. For instance –
“You’re a witch,” John says.
“What, are we in Salem now? I’m no witch, but I’ve ridden a broomstick or two in my time, if you know what I’m sayin’ – ”
“This is incredibly asinine,” Cas says, and in the dim, red light around him, shadowy wings coalesce and flex, rising out crooked from his shoulders. They are threadbare and patchy, nearly bald of feathers in several places, but they are, without a doubt, wings.
John takes a step back and nearly trips over the table. “Uh,” he says.
“I am Castiel, angel of the Lord,” Cas says. “That being is the Archangel Gabriel, and you are John Winchester, who stood steadfast in Hell, Heaven, and Earth, son of and heir to the Men of Letters, member of the bloodline of Michael, father to the Righteous Man.”
Those words, in that order, do not make any goddamn sense to John. “What the fuck,” he blurts, entirely at a loss, and Dean starts and looks over, like he’d forgotten he was there at all. John can’t blame him, since if what Castiel’s got to say is to be believed, he’s got a goddamn archangel pinned under his blade. The idea makes John a little nauseous.
“Cas,” Dean says, quietly, and shakes his head as if he’s dislodging water from his ears. His voice takes on a gruffer, more commanding tone. “Cas – is he real?”
The wings slide back. Castiel tilts his head. “Yes, Dean. That is indeed your father’s soul. He’s human.”
“That’s right!” Gabe says. “I brought him back! Me. Gabe. Your new very bestest buddy.”
Dean takes a huge, shuddering breath, his chin tipping up, the sword falling slack at his side. He looks for a moment like he’s at war with himself, his knuckles ghostly white and straining, eyes flashing with bottled-up emotion, pain and fear and betrayal but also stark, honest hope, fragments of tentative relief, all of it confused and murky and colored with animosity.
“Dad,” he says finally, voice thick.
“Hey, kiddo,” John says. “Good to see you.”
“Yeah,” Dean says, giving a tight, conflicted smile, “you too.”
Neither of them move. John isn’t the hugging type, and neither is Dean – he used to be, back when he was in elementary school, far more clingy and needy and tactile than any boy child should be, but John’d been able to iron that out of him, thank God – so it’s not like either of them would want to put on a display.
He isn’t disappointed. Not even a tiny bit. No big deal. That kind of thing was always more Sam’s style, anyway, and it was ridiculous when he did it, too.
Speaking of which.
“Where’s your brother?” John asks.
Dean makes a face. “Out. He’s fine. Gabe – why? How’s he s’pposed to get us out of this mess?”
“What mess?” John snaps, pissed at being shrugged off, pissed at the lack of respect, pissed at the cavalier answer when he’s being dead fucking serious. He’s restrained himself heroically throughout this entire goddamn nonsensical conversation, all this bullshit cryptic angelic idiocy, and he is sick and fucking tired of being ignored. “What are you talking about? I want a goddamn explanation, or – ”
“Woah, re-lax,” Gabriel says. He’s smirking, like the whole thing’s fucking funny to him, and John wants nothing more than to drive his fist into his face, hand-breaking bulletproof cheekbones or no. “We were getting there, buddy. Holdjer horses.”
“Fuck you,” John says. “I didn’t get pulled down to listen to you ramble. I need answers – ”
“The world is ending,” Gabriel says, shrugging. “Again. And I’m thinking we’re gonna need all the help we can get to save it. That means you, bucko.”
lmao i double hate this chapter but aNYWAy
Sam’s phone begins to ring when he’s knife-deep in what for all accounts appears to be a demon. It sputters, shivers, and collapses backward onto the corpse of one of its friends.
He answers the phone with his free hand. “’Lo?” he says, wiping the knife off on his shirt. “Dean?”
“Yeah. You on your way back?”
“I am now. Got jumped by a bunch of demons at Starbucks – guess they recognized me, ‘cuz they were just sitting around – ”
“Great. Awesome. Hurry it up, wouldja? Like – double time.”
“Uh. All right,” Sam says, grabbing an abandoned, untouched paper cup off the counter. “I’m fine, thanks for asking.”
He pops the lid and sniffs – cinnamon something-or-other. It’ll have to do. Not as good as his soy vanilla cappuccino with bonus chocolate sprinkles but that got splattered all over the floor as soon as his demon friends jumped him, so he hasn’t got much of a choice if he wants to get his caffeine fix. All the employees have long since scattered and, according to Dean, apparently he hasn’t got the time to scout out another coffee place.
“Sam, I’m not kidding,” Dean says. He sounds vaguely winded. “Get your ass over here. I don’t wanna ruin the surprise, but – fucking Gabriel showed up – ”
“ – and he brought Dad along with him – ”
Sam very narrowly avoids spilling his borrowed coffee all over himself.
“ – so if you could please haul ass – ”
“They’re dead,” Sam says, mashing the phone up against his ear with his shoulder and fumbling his keys out of his pocket with the other hand. “We gave Dad a funeral pyre – he was ashes, we made sure – ”
“Guess that don’t matter so much when you got archangel mojo,” Dean says weakly. “Cas says it’s them, for real.”
“Shit,” Sam says. “Why?”
“Ugh,” Dean says, with a great deal of feeling. “Gabriel’s got a plan.”
John doesn’t want to sit a war table with monsters and abominations but it looks like he’s gonna have to do it. The world is ending and he’s chained to the earth with the guarantee that if he tries to take the fast track to Heaven, he’s getting yanked right back again, no questions asked. He’s never ducked out of a fight in his life and he’s not going to start now but he misses his wife and he misses the quiet and this whole thing, it’s just weird. He’s glad to see his son, glad to see that he’s keeping up the life, but they’re as good as strangers now and he doesn’t know what to say. They’d never been talkative before, comfortable in the long, natural silences in between their destinations, the hush-hush of the road and the pulse of the engine, but this different. It’s goddamn awkward, is what it is. Doesn’t help that Castiel’s parked his rigid ass in the seat across from him, and now he won’t stop staring.
“Angels, huh?” John says bleakly, and Dean gives a lukewarm, what-can-you-do kinda shrug.
“You get used to ‘em,” he says.
John can’t imagine a universe in which he ever gets used to Cas’ piercing, watchful gaze, but he doesn’t push it. Dean’s always been a weird kid.
“Must make a helluva hunting partner,” he says.
Dean snorts. “We do okay,” he says.
“Dean is a very good hunter,” Castiel pipes up. “He doesn’t need my assistance.”
Dean lets out an uncomfortable laugh. “That’s not at all true, man. You’ve saved our hides a buncha times. Wouldn’t be here without you.”
“That right?” John says. The words guardian angel flash through his brain entirely unwanted.
“Totally,” Dean says, fidgeting. Cas frowns.
“Arguably,” he says, “many of the situations I saved you from were my fault in the first place. The leviathan, for instance – ”
“Cas?" Dean says. "Drop it. Old news.”
“Not to me, it isn’t,” John protests. “What’s a leviathan?”
“Hungry Hungry Hippos from Hell,” Dean says. “Not important, they’re all wiped out anyway.”
“If they weren’t,” Cas muses, “I wonder if they could be killed by the First Blade? It seems to work on most other things. Though I suppose in the absence of the Mark – ”
“Wow, hey!” Dean yells. “Sam is here! Heya, Sammy! Get down here!”
John recognizes this as the distraction it is but the door at the top of the weird-ass spiral staircase is actually opening, and Dean's on the mark - that's Sam stumbling through, all right, his hair as long and girly as ever. He’s got three bulging grocery bags in his left hand and a cup of coffee in his right.
“What’d I miss?” he pants, scrambling down the stairs. He sets his groceries down and comes over, and holy shit but the kid got big. John’d known he’d be tall, but not this tall, and certainly not this built, his lean muscle obvious even through the button down and jacket he’s wearing. Kid’s broader across than his dad is, and it’s freaky, is what it is. Children shouldn’t be allowed to grow bigger than their parents.
At the same time, though, he’s got a starved, haunted look about him, his eyes sunk deep in their sockets and his movements full of a cautious guilt, like he’s not sure he should be allowed to take up space. He hunches over into himself like an apology.
John doesn’t appreciate it. He’d taught them better than that, spent hours drumming it into them – use what you’ve got, hold yourself well, let the world move around you – but of course Sam isn’t going to listen to him, isn’t going to follow his rules, even though they’re tried and true, trustworthy as they come. Of course.
But that doesn’t dismiss the fact that this is his son, grown and well, so John turns to face him, a fond smile on his lips. “Sam,” he says, nodding.
“Dad,” Sam says. He swallows heavily. “Dean’d said, but – wow. Hey.”
“Believe me, I’m as disappointed as you are,” John says, and he’s cheered to see a small, amused smile curl his son’s lips.
“I am glad to see you, I am. It’s just. Weird. It’s been a while.”
“How long?” John says, disregarding his sons’ twin looks of surprise. “How many years?”
“Did Gabe not tell you? Jesus, what an asshole,” Dean says. “It’s been, what, Sam, eight years?”
“Just about, yeah,” Sam says.
Eight years. Jesus fucking Christ. Eight years since he last saw his boys. That puts Sam in his thirties. His son is thirty goddamn years old.
He’s missed – a lot. He hates feeling so lost with his own sons. It isn’t as if he had the goddamn choice to stay, but if he could’ve – .
“So, uh,” Sam says, his voice lowered to a whisper. “Is Gabriel – ?”
“Unfortunately,” Dean says. Cas shoots him a glare.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Gabriel’s voice says from the balcony, and they all jump. Sam’s stance, John notices, immediately goes a thousand times more tense, his brow dropping dangerously. “Glad you decided to show up, Sammy. How ‘bout we get this party started?”
John would much rather talk to his sons, figure out what the hell’s going on, but the archangel’s insistent, and so they settle down to talk, Sam glaring daggers across the table at Gabriel, Dean watching Castiel exasperatedly.
“So you did – ” Sam gestures at his father – “this.”
“Okay. But – why?”
“Here’s how I see it,” Gabriel says. “They’re playing dirty, so why shouldn’t we?”
“And by playing dirty,” Dean says, “you mean resurrecting the dead.”
“Bingo,” Gabriel says. “We need crowd control, right? So I figure – we scoop up a couple A-listers from beyond the grave, kit ‘em up, and let ‘em loose.”
“That is insane,” Sam says.
“Yeah! I know! Who d’you want?” Gabriel says, bouncing in place. “No particular order, let’s go, c’mon.”
“Bobby Singer,” Dean says without hesitating. “And Ellen an’ Jo Harvelle.”
John’s stomach drops out. “Ellen and Jo?” he says. “Bobby? They’re – .”
He shouldn’t be surprised. They were hunters, for fuck’s sakes, more likely to get run through than live to retirement age, but it still hurts to hear it. Jo was just a baby.
“What happened?” he says. “Why – ?”
“Demons,” Dean says succinctly.
“Not like it matters anyway,” Gabriel says cheerfully. “They’ll be up and kicking b’fore you know it. Who else should I add to the pile?”
“What about – you know,” Sam says. “Them.”
“Absolutely not,” Dean says. “If you’re thinking of the assholes I’m thinking of, there’s no way in hell. Let ‘em rot.”
“No, God, you’re right. Yeah. I wasn’t – I just – .”
“Nah, I get it.” Dean says, and shrugs. “S’just a bad idea, is all. How ‘bout instead – .” He pauses, and takes a deep breath through his nose. “Mom.”
Emotions swell in John’s chest – hurt for his motherless son, deep, deep longing for his wife, but also an overwhelming fear for her safety.
“Dean,” he says, as gently as he can. “Mary’s at peace. I’d like to see her again, too,” he admits, looking away, “but – it just isn’t practical. Not for this.”
His sons stare at him. “Oh, right,” Sam says. “You didn’t know.”
Dean, not-so-subtly, kicks his brother in the shin underneath the table. A flurry of complicated little looks pass between them, none of which John can follow.
He leans his elbows on the table and puts on his Dad Face. “Dean. Sam. What is it that I don’t know?”
More looks are exchanged. Dean gestures wildly with his eyebrows, and Sam scrunches his nose around a whole lot.
“Mom was a hunter,” Dean says finally. “A real good one. She was from a family of ‘em.”
“That isn’t funny, Dean,” John says.
“No,” Dean says. “It isn’t.”
For the second time in so many minutes, John’s heart is in his throat. Mary – . Mary, a hunter. Right under his nose, and he’d never known – never so much as suspected, not before or after, blinded by grief and hate and rage. Sweet charming cocky Mary with her steady hands and tempering glare, she’d known about spirits and bloodsuckers and haunts, about demons, probably took down a few herself and she’d never said, she’d never – . Had she even tried to protect the house? To save their boys?
God fucking dammit. He runs a shaky hand over his mouth.
“She grew up in the life, like us,” Sam supplies. “But she got out, once she met you.”
“No she didn’t,” John snaps. “No one ever gets out, goddammit – she should’ve known. She knew about everything, she could’ve – ”
“Don’t you dare blame this shit on her,” Dean says, low and dangerous. “It’s not her fault.”
John starts, surprised at his vehemence. He’dve expected it from Sam, sure, but not Dean, not his good, faithful child. Both of his boys are teaming up on him now, like he’s in the wrong for resenting his wife her secrets. They could’ve had a family – a home – and while he’s long stopped wishing for those things himself there was once a time when it was everything, when his dreams had walls and a roof overhead.
“Dad,” Sam says. “She didn’t know any of it was coming, okay? Even if she did – we couldn’tve handled it then, right? I mean, no Colt, no arsenal – . We were pretty screwed.”
But they could’ve done something. They could’ve tried. Maybe Sam wouldn’tve been bled on, maybe Mary wouldn’t be dead – maybe they’dve have actual resources to lean on, not just two kids and a former Marine in a classic car – .
When he gets back – if he gets back – he and Mary are going to have a discussion.
“So-oo-oo,” Gabriel sing-songs, and they all jump. “Hate to undermine the drama, here, but – is that a yes or no for Mary Winchester?”
“No,” John says definitively. “Yes,” Dean says over him, equally certain.
“Ugh,” says Sam.
“Man,” Gabriel says. He looks positively gleeful. “You kids’re better than telenova.”
“Oh, shut up and do your job,” Dean snarls. “How come you ain’t zapping monsters on your own damn time? You’re a goddamn archangel. Flex those wings, wouldja?”
“I’m using everything I’ve got to keep Entropy from spreading,” Gabe says. “You want me to turn my back on that, it’s your funeral. Also, mine. And everyone else on this miserable planet’s.”
Sam makes a noise like, whumph. Dean scowls and scrubs at his nose.
“I’m only one angel,” Gabe says. “I can only do so much without the support of my brothers.”
“Cas – ”
“Cas is a mid-range seraph with broken wings,” Gabriel says, and Cas flinches. “As much as we all love him – some of us more profoundly than others – he doesn’t make for much of a police line. The archangels who maybe could’ve cleaned this mess up are, thanks to you three, dead or trapped in Hell. So you got me, and you got my plan, and either you can go along with it or you can die.”
“Okay, wow, zip it up,” Dean says. “We got it, all right? We’re gonna help you.”
“Good,” says Gabriel.
There are more names that John mostly doesn’t recognize, though he’s done protesting. Dean’s being tight lipped, and while John’d usually commend him for that, he’s the kid’s father, for Chrissakes. He has a right to know. He’ll corner one of ‘em later, he decides, and force the last eight years out of them, learn what the hell’s a Mark and a First Blade and how the fuck they got a bunch of angels to hang around in a basement.
Eventually Gabriel says he’s got enough, and vanishes into the ether, presumably to raise the dead. Mary’s name, to John’s endless relief, is not on his list.
Castiel wanders off on foot to do God knows what and Dean follows soon after, stuttering a quick excuse. He and Sam are left alone at the table, and the tension is palpable. John’s got plenty of questions but no idea how to tactfully breach any of them. How goes the demon blood is probably not a good conversation starter.
“Guess you’re gonna be staying here for a while, huh,” Sam says. “How ‘bout I get you a room?”
“A room,” John says, standing to follow him. “What the hell is this place?”
“Um. Dean calls it the Batcave, but it’s more like – uh. A safehold, I guess. For people like us. Hunters, I mean.”
People like us. “So you and Dean – you live here?”
“Yeah. It’s nicer than a hotel room, and way better protected, so we stuck around.”
“Huh,” John says, trying to picture it. “How d’you find a place like this?”
“A… friend led us here,” Sam says. “He left it to us after he died, basically – oh, hey, here we go. This one’s empty, I think – yeah. C’mon.”
It is. The room is small and very beige. John likes it immediately.
“Dean’s two doors to the right, and I’m right across from him, if you need us. And, uh – if you go down the hall and take the left turn, that’s the bathroom. So, yeah.”
“How big is this place, anyway,” John says, rubbing the starched bedsheets between his fingers. Cheap, but not at all bad.
“Big. It’s mostly storage rooms, but there’s also a really great library, so – . You should go look, actually, you’d like it. Just – don’t touch anything that looks, uh. Cursed. We’ve had some close calls in the past.”
John tastefully lets the slight slide. “Never thought you’d go back into hunting,” he says instead.
“Yeah, me neither. But you don’t really – you don’t get to choose,” Sam says, and he sounds very far away. “It isn’t up to me. And that’s okay, it is, as long as Dean – .”
There is a lengthy pause, and in it, John recalls a question that’d been haunting him since he’d heard mention of it at the table.
“Sam,” he says, and lowers his voice, just in case. “Did Dean – did he kill an archangel?”
Sam sputters a startled laugh. “Oh my God, no,” he says. “I mean – not like he couldn’tve, just that – . Nah, it was Cas. The other guy was trying to end the world? So Cas sorta took things into his own hands, and – . Yeah.”
“Good for him,” John says, surprised. The kid didn’t look like much, but if he had the balls to take down a threat like that, he was all right in John’s book.
“I guess,” Sam says, and shakes his head, still a little lost in his own thoughts. “Look – I’m gonna let you get some rest, okay? You’re probably tired, so I’ll just – .” He backs out the door hurriedly.
John isn’t tired, though, and he’s really quite fascinated by the existence of the bunker, so he goes exploring instead. There is, as Sam’d mentioned, an impressive library, as well as a firing range, a dungeon, and a staggering arsenal of both magical and non-magical weapons littered about the place. It’s a handsome place, worthy of the Winchester name, and he wonders who, exactly, this friend Sam had spoken of had been. He wouldn’t mind having something like this for himself.
On the way back he hears voices coming out of the room that had been pointed out to him as Dean’s, and he stops to eavesdrop. He is a father, after all.
“…your wings get like that,” Dean is saying.
Cas says something unintelligible, and Dean sighs.
“Shoulda guessed. The douchebag.”
“…killed him when we had the chance,” Cas says, his voice fading in and out.
“Yeah, I know. Hey – it hurt? Anything I can do? I…”
His voice fades to a low rumble, and John pulls away. How the hell you’re supposed to patch up celestial multidimensional shadow wings is beyond him, but that’s why he’s the field guy and Cas is the angel. Maybe he could go to a veterinary clinic later, pick up some bird medicine. For birds.
Turns out blowjobs don’t do much for fucked-up angel wings, Dean finds out, but it’s still decent stress relief, and he can’t complain. He’d never imagined he’d enjoy it, God forbid, but he really, really did, having Cas at his mercy, the small, surprised noises he’d made, the desperate tug and cling of his fingers; it was power and affection and a closeness he’d never experienced with anyone else. He’d choked once or twice and the taste, at the end, was less than pleasant, but the look on Cas’ face afterwards was so, so worth it, the lazy, stretched-out awe in his eyes, the exhausted upward curve of his mouth. Thank you, he’d said, very solemnly, and Dean had laughed and smacked him with a pillow.
It’s a little strange, how comfortable he feels afterward, Cas draped naked across his chest like a sack of stubbly concrete, their hands tangled together above the covers. Dean probably couldn’t move him if he tried but for once it’s okay, because even though usually he’s a love ‘em and leave ‘em kinda guy he’d be happy to stay like this – God, forever, if time and luck permitted it. Him and Cas and this beautiful memory-foam mattress and he’d be nothing but happy.
He’d known already but lying together like this, it’s hitting him full force: he needs Cas. He probably couldn’t survive without him.
Ain’t that a kick in the pants.
OKAY SO i was editing it and i decided im going to split it up into 4 parts instead!!!!! so. one more chapter after this one!! yeeyy
Castiel spends the night. He does not sleep anymore, now that he has his true Grace returned to him, but it matters exactly not at all if he can stay curled around Dean like this, feel the rise and fall of his chest, the press of their bare skin. He’s watched over Dean thousands of times but never so intimately as this and he finds himself hanging on to every minute shift, every puff of breath. He could endure an eternity in this position, were Dean patient enough to stay.
He isn’t, of course, and he wakes refreshed and eager come morning, his lips finding Castiel’s right away.
“You’re still here,” he says, after. “You hung around.”
“Yes,” Castiel says, feeling suddenly anxious. “Would you rather I have left – ?”
“No! No, I’m glad you did, it’s great,” Dean says, drawing him into another kiss. “Good, I mean. You don’t, you know, do that a lot, so – . I thought with Gabriel showing up, you might wanna – .”
He did. Part of him, at least, had wanted to spend time with his brother, but there were far more important things to be dealt with. He had loved Gabriel, had mourned him sorely, and seeing him again was a beacon of hope, an indication that they might be able to win this newest war.
But there was nothing – nothing – that he would put before Dean Winchester.
“If Gabriel had asked,” he says, slowly, so that Dean might not miss a word, “if he had begged – I would not have gone with him. Not for anything. My place is here with you.”
“Jeez, Cas,” Dean says, laughing awkwardly. “You’re an intense motherfucker, anyone ever tell you that?”
“You. Several times.”
“Cas,” Dean says, his voice suddenly very serious. “I know you got shit to do, but – when you’re gone, I can’t, it’s – . I want you to stay, okay? I need you here.”
“I wasn’t sure,” Castiel says. “I didn’t know if you wanted me here. I couldn’t – .”
His mind is spinning. Dean had said no, after the angels had fallen, and there’d been a silent echoing no present in the bunker ever since, so he’d been careful to keep away, careful to remember he wasn’t entirely welcome – but Dean’s saying these things like it’d been Cas’ choice the entire time, which it had been, in part, but only because he thought he hadn’t been allowed back in –
“Course I want you,” Dean says, like it’s the easiest thing in the world. “You’re always welcome here, Cas.”
“Then I’ll stay,” Castiel says. “I’ll stay.”
It takes them half an hour to get out of bed and another ten minutes to clean up after, so they are unsurprised to find someone has already started breakfast when they finally get out of the bedroom. They arrive at the kitchen together, Dean first, Cas at his back, and Dean comes up short in the doorway. “Right,” he says, almost to himself, and then, louder: “g’morning, Dad.”
John Winchester grunts in reply. He is seated at the breakfast table behind a bowl of oatmeal, his right hand in a death grip around his spoon, his eyes burning with unanswered questions. He is glaring at all and sundry, including Sam, who appears to be the one to have made the oatmeal.
“Morning. Good to see you up,” Sam says through an excruciatingly fake smile.
Dean grins obliviously and sails over to the table, flopping down in an empty seat. Cas does the same. He can feel John’s eyes on him and he ignores them, content to watch Dean sprawl out instead. Their ankles touch underneath the table and Dean does not move away.
“Oatmeal me, Sam,” he says. “Hurry it up. ‘M starved.”
“This is not a restaurant,” Sam gripes, but he turns to serve them all the same, collecting two bowls out of the cupboards.
“May as well be. I can’t believe you own aprons. For cooking,” John says, in disbelief, and Sam’s false smile becomes even harder. It appears to be a point of contention between the two of them.
“I know, right?” Dean says, and Sam glares. “Oh, c’mon. Things are fuckin’ ridiculous, Sammy.”
This, Castiel knows, is an outright lie: Dean does not find the aprons ridiculous. Castiel has himself witnessed Dean, clothes covered in flour, egg white, and one of the aforementioned ridiculous aprons – tied neatly in the back – lift an entire homemade chocolate cake out of the bunker’s oven. Not to mention the ribs, and the hamburgers, and the brownies, and the (mostly disastrous) pies.
However, for Dean’s sake, he will not mention any of this. He does not entirely understand the reasoning behind it – and nor will he ever – but he is nonetheless aware of Dean’s need to protect the fragile, human concept of his masculinity, particularly in front of his father, who is crouched in the corner of the kitchen like a warden. Castiel can’t help but resent him for it, if only a little.
I am in love with your son, he thinks at the slope of John’s forehead, the snarl of his beard. I will carry him more carefully than you ever have. I will accept him more fully than you ever could.
Sam sets down a bowl in front of each of them, and Castiel pokes it tentatively with his spoon. He hadn’t liked oatmeal as a human and he doubly doesn’t like it as an angel. All that slimy, choking texture. Ugh.
“Why come the angel’s eatin’ breakfast,” John rumbles.
“I dunno, he’s hungry. Leave the man alone, he just woke up. You want coffee too, Cas?”
“Please,” Castiel says, not bothering to correct Dean’s falsities.
“Coffee, too,” John says. “God help us.”
Dean hands him a mug of coffee and, as he takes hold of the handle, he hears Gabriel’s voice, clear as a bell in his ear. He sets down the mug and tilts his head to get the best reception, squints until his eyes are nearly shut. The squinting does not help, but it makes him feel better.
Hello, baby brother! Gabriel is saying. Someone had a crazy night last night, huh?
Not particularly, no, he answers.
Aw, Dean not putting out? I can fix that for you –
Please do not.
You’re a big ol’ stick in the mud, you know that? All business, none of the good stuff.
“What’s he doing,” he hears John say in the background.
I’ll cut to the chase, since you’re no fun and all, Gabriel says. I went after a whole buncha souls –
“Talking with his brothers,” Dean says.
- as per the list, and you’ll be happy to hear Operation Rent-a-Cop is a go as of this morning.
“How many of the fuckers are there?”
That’s good to hear, Castiel says.
They’re real worked up about it. I’m trying to hold an orientation seminar and they’re all, take me back! Incredible.
They were settled in their Heavens. It does make sense.
Like I said. Stick in the mud. You gotta get laid, my friend, I’m telling you. If Dean isn’t cutting it, I can fix up a couple look-alikes. Man, imagine two of ‘em –
Castiel forcibly closes the connection, his ears burning. “Gabriel informs me that the resurrections have been successful,” he says, entirely too loudly, and all three Winchesters stop and stare.
“Uh. That’s – that’s good news, Cas,” Dean says slowly.
“Where are they?” John cuts in.
“Oh,” Castiel says. “I’m not sure. I might have hung up.”
“That’s not important,” says Cas. “But he said something about an orientation – ”
“Yeah, that could be literally anything,” Sam says. “Call him again, Cas, please? Ask him where everyone is, and also – what he wants us to do?”
“What he wants us to do,” Dean scoffs churlishly.
Sam rolls his eyes. “It’s not like we’re getting much of anything done, Dean – .”
Castiel lets their bickering fade into the distance and, against his better judgement, reaches out again for his brother. Gabriel, he calls. Are you still there? I have questions.
So do I, Gabriel says. How about a whole roomfull? All naked and oiled up –
“Augh,” Castiel says aloud.
“What – ” Dean begins, and Cas waves him off, gives him an awkward thumbs up.
Please, brother. I’m being serious.
Same here. You a lingerie man? ‘Cuz word on the street is, so’s Dean.
Castiel is absolutely not going to remember that and bring it up later. Gabriel, please, he begs. Just tell me – where are the candidates?
We’re kickin’ it at my pad, right now. I’ll let ‘em roam free as soon as they’re up to speed, which’ll be soon.
And then – ?
I’ll send you a map.
He is gone entirely. Cas can no longer sense him at all, let alone speak to him. He loves his brother, but – he is also frequently intolerable.
“Well?” John says. “You get news?”
“Gabriel has the hunters gathered in one location,” Castiel says. “He claims he will tell us where they are after he has set them up. Beyond that – I do not know. He’s gone off the air.”
“Goddammit, Gabriel,” Dean says. “Why d’we ever work with him?”
“’M sick of waiting on angels,” John says. “The world’s ending and we’re eating breakfast. We should be out there fighting.”
Sam nods grimly. “I hate to say it, but – we have to do what we can, right?”
“Right,” John says. “So let’s go end some sonsabitches.”
“All right, let’s do this thing,” Dean says, leaping up. His face, though, does not speak of enthusiasm at all, but of tense, unhappy doubt and thick foreboding, and Castiel knows – once again, and this time without reason, he is afraid of himself.
Cas follows him to his room, where he has begun to suit up. He roots around in his drawer, lifts out a weighty knife, and tests its blade against his thumb.
“What d’you think, Cas? Good enough for our friends outside?”
“Perhaps. Dean,” Cas says, coming to sit next to him. “Are you all right?”
“What? Yeah, I’m great. Should I take the salt shells or the regular kind?”
“Dean – . Do not lie to me. I know you aren’t well.”
“Cas – ”
“You aren’t. I can tell. You’re worried about the absence of the Mark – ”
“Okay, yeah, I’m worried about the goddamn Mark,” Dean hisses. “Wouldn’t you be? But it’s not a big deal, so let it go, okay?”
“This is the first time you’ll go to fight since you lost it,” Castiel says. “It is a big deal, Dean Winchester, even if you refuse to acknowledge it. But I’m telling you – whatever happens, you will be fine. Sam is there, and I am there, and we will not let you fall.”
“But what if I – can’t?” Dean says, and looks down at his hands. “Maybe I’ve lost all of it. Not just the Mark, but – everything. I don’t know if I can do this at all.”
“You can. I know you can.”
“I don’t want to,” Dean says softly, and laughs.
Cas’ breath catches in his throat. Dean is open and cleaved raw next to him, his honesty a painful, writhing thing, and Cas would like to preserve it forever. He’s never seen Dean so wrung-out.
This is all his.
“Someday,” he finds himself promising. “We’ll be done with this. We won’t have to anymore. Never again, if you don’t want to.”
“Never again,” Dean echoes him.
They kneel together on the floor until Sam comes to ask if they’re ready to come along, and then they warily follow John out into the world.
John hasn’t killed anything for a long while now (eight years! his brain helpfully supplies), but it turns out it’s much like riding a bike, if the bike had tentacles and fangs the size of daggers. He’s never seen monsters quite this breed of ugly, humanoid but only just. Their eyes are huge and bulging, the whites streaked with red, and their mouths are hardly enough to hold in their jagged, uneven teeth, so they curl out over the jaw, wet with drool and viscera.
They find the first group of the things right at the end of the road that leads down to the bunker – eight of ‘em, all told – and as soon as Sam kicks off the skirmish with a blast of rock salt from the shotgun John falls right into the fight as if he’d never left it in the first place. He drops two of them from the get-go, neat, accurate shots from his pistol, two to the chest, one to the head, and Sam’s not far behind, his machete arcing deadly across the neck of the thing to John’s back. The angel’s decided to be useful, too, stabbing at the things with his silver blade.
But Dean – Dean is lethal. He moves with the grace of a man half his size, as economical and sparse as he is deadly, the knife in his hand an extension of himself. It flashes in the air and, just like that, great furrows are opened up in the things’ bodies, their throats cut through, their abdomens torn red and sloppy. He cuts through the bulk of the group before John’s second victim’s even hit the ground.
“Goddamn,” John says to himself, and is immediately tackled by another creature. He stabs it to death gleefully with the dagger he’d had in his belt.
When he stands, Dean’s finished with the last of the group. He stands there with his clothes and face streaked with blood, his shoulders rising and falling with exertion, mangled bodies littered at his feet.
“Dean,” Sam says. He sounds wary, like he’s calming a feral animal. “Dean, you good? We okay?”
“’M good,” Dean grunts. He wipes his knife off on his shirt and stomps around to the side of the Impala.
John doesn’t miss the nervous look that Sam and Castiel exchange.
“Dean,” Castiel says carefully. “Should we – ”
“Aw, sonuvabitch,” Dean yells over him. “The fuckers scratched her.”
“Um. What?” Sam says, inching over.
“Look – c’mere, right there. Goddammit. All across the side door – ”
John goes to squint at it. It’s a pretty goddamn bad scratch, and his anger spikes up again. He wishes he could kill those motherfuckers all over again.
He turns to share his outrage with his sons, but they look fucking relieved, goddammit, Sam especially, a big goofy smile on his face.
Sam never did get their attachment to the car, anyway. Kid was too stuck in his own head to know much about family.
When Gabriel finally does show up with news it is ten pm and everyone but Sam has retired to bed. He hasn’t got the energy to be suspicious or contrary so he greets Gabriel with a tired wave and a lackluster, “hey”.
“Hey yourself, kid,” Gabriel says. “You look terrible. Still alive, though, so I’m guessing Dean didn’t lose his shit on this one?”
“Please just tell me what’s going on,” Sam says. “I don’t want to argue, or play any games, just please – . Please.”
“All right, okay. Jeez. Touchy tonight, aren’t we? Here’s your map – you can show that to your friends later. We’ve got people everywhere the cloud isn’t. It’s all written down. Easy.”
“Thanks,” Sam says. He tucks the map – a printout, it looks like, with names scribbled on it in a childish script – into the pages of the book he’s got resting in front of him, and leans back into his chair. He is so very, very tired. He doesn’t want to be here, or really much of anywhere. He should have been left behind. Cas should’ve left him behind.
Gabriel is studying him openly. Sam frowns at him, and he shrugs.
“You got the short end of the stick, didn’t you?” he says. “Daddy’s back, andon top of that you get a front row seat to the Dean And Cas Show, all romance, all the time.”
“Gabriel,” Sam says. “Don’t.”
“I’m just sayin’. You know, I could fix it for you. Wouldn’t be easy – wouldn’t be natural – but I could rip ‘em apart.”
“God, no,” Sam says, horrified. He sits up straight in his chair, fingers clamped to the leather. “How could you – no. Jesus. What is wrong with you?”
Gabriel gives him a small, genuine smile.“You’re a good kid, Sam,” he says, and vanishes.
But Sam is not. He isn’t, and he never will be – for a multitude of reasons, and now this, one last thing to add to the list, another slight against his brother, against Cas. He would never – not ever, not in a hundred years, not even if he could do it and get away with it scot-free, his brother none the wiser. He wouldn’t. He wouldn’t. He – could –
He falls asleep in the straight-backed chair, uncomfortable and miserable, his thoughts winding around Dean and Cas and things he would never, ever do, save for in his dreams.
They go out hunting again the next day, beat up and bloodied as they are. John is heartened by the map, which Sam had shown them over breakfast, and he fights with renewed energy, knowing that they’ve got support all over the country. It’s a faint, distant hope, but one that he thinks he could get used to. His sons are enjoying it too, he thinks, though he can’t be certain. Sam fights like a man possessed and, between him and his brother, they might have a chance to wipe these things out.
John couldn’t be prouder.
They get back late and heat up leftovers from the fridge, all four of them sat crosslegged on the floor, spilling old hunting stories. At first it’s remember when, John and Dean reminiscing about the old days, and then Sam, shy and stilted, talks about the time he’d played poker against an ancient witch, and from there the boys open up some. Castiel jumps in as well, eager to share, and he gives away anecdote after anecdote (though John suspects they are heavily edited): Sam and Dean freed a lesser god. Sam and Dean killed a dragon. Sam and Dean gutted a hellhound. Sam and Dean met a bunch of vegetarian werewolves (and only killed some of them, to John’s ire).
Sam cuts it short, claiming a much-needed shower, and so John wanders through the library on his own for a while, sifting through the books. There’s a touch of everything, witchcraft and astrology and good-old monster anthologies, and John’s a chapter into a book about angels when his cellphone goes off. It’s Rufus, with good news about his territory: he isn’t seeing any more of the tentacle creatures, and he’s damn happy about it, too.
John’s skeptical, but when he checks the map in the main room, it seems like Rufus is telling the truth. They’re mostly gone, save a few dotted here and there across the state, and though the rest of the map is cluttered up as per usual, this one clear spot is promising. He goes right away to tell Dean, hurrying past the kitchen and down the hallway.
“Rufus called with an update on Minnesota,” he says, and opens the door.
He stares for half a second at his son, and the angel, who are on the bed.
He closes the door.
“Oh fuck, oh fuck – fuck – ”
“At least we were still dressed,” Cas says.
“Don’t even joke, Cas, fuck,” Dean says, running his hands through his hair. “This is – this can’t – Jesus fucking Christ, Cas. He wasn’t supposed to know. He wasn’t ever supposed to know.”
“He was going to find out eventually,” Cas says. “He’s an observant man.”
“He wasn’t supposed to be here, I never thought – this shouldn’tve happened – .”
Dean lands on the bed with an abrupt thump, his face cradled in his hands. It’s like he’s a goddamn teenager all over again, red-faced and mortified on the motel sofa with his hands up Catherine Young’s skirt, only this time Catherine Young is a guy – and not just any guy, but Cas, who’s been at his side through near everything they’ve gone through, given up life and home and belief for Dean – and the room is his, the bunker is his, and he’s way past fourteen, well versed in John’s fumbling birds-and-bees tab-a slot-b speech, not that it’d included particulars on these tabs and slots. There’d been the unspoken supposition that both Winchester boys would grow up all-American red-blooded male, and so Dean had looked away and looked away and looked away and made sure his Dad had never, ever suspected he might have inclinations that go both ways, never given any of it away for goddamn years, and now he’d been back for all of a day and a half and he’d seen, he’d seen him and Cas – .
He can’t be – that – to his Dad. He can’t be that person.
This is the worst. The. Worst.
“Have faith,” Cas says, sinking onto the bed next to him. “Your father is more forgiving than you may suppose.”
“Easy for you to say,” Dean says. “Your Dad’s not – .” He waves his hands around wildly, indicating the space around his face. “ – And walking in on you – .”
“Maybe He is, maybe He is not,” Cas says. “I would like to think, though, that He would not mind.”
“Unless you forgot, some of our Dads aren’t benevolent omnipresent celestial beings, okay? Mine ain’t gonna be okay with – . Us.”
“You don’t know that, Dean. You won’t until you speak to him,” Cas says serenely. “You should get that much closure, at least.”
“Augh,” Dean says.
John doesn’t think about Teddy the way he doesn’t think about the rest of the war, all of it part and parcel of one long, nightmarish, muddy marathon he’s deposited quietly into the same secluded place he puts every unbearable thing he’s ever endured, muffled but not forgotten. He cannot forget. (He doesn’t want to forget.)
Teddy was some guy and John was also some guy, and they were both a long ways away from their girlfriends and a long way from comfort and God was it hard to sleep in that humidity, the sweaty, close quarters, the slimy pull of their dirty clothes, so eventually maybe they fell into these rituals of getting by. He did a favor for Teddy, Teddy did a favor for him. It was economical. It made sense. They were friends and companions and they were getting through this goddamned mess together, so, might as well. They sure as hell never kissed, but Christ, if those are the creature comforts you feel you need, he isn’t going to judge.
He isn’t about to explain this to his son.
But he gets it. He doesn’t want to fucking see it, or talk about it, but he gets it. They aren’t ass-deep in jungle but the idea’s the same – make it better, just for a moment. Get me the fuck out of here.
That Cas is more of an it than a he, more monster than person, is a roadbump. He’d never thought angels were subject to the same sort of fleshy desires as men, but also he’d never thought a whole lot about angels at all, really, save until about a day ago, so the whole thing’s mostly moot. He tells himself it doesn’t matter in the long run, long as the kid doesn’t get himself smote.
The bunker, while large, is still finite, and he runs into Dean in the hallway outside the bathroom some time later. They nearly mow each other over, both lost in their own heads, though what’s got Dean so concerned John’s got no idea.
“Uh,” Dean says. “I’m not gay.”
“Didn’t figure you were,” John says.
They stare at each other.
“It’s just,” Dean says. “You almost die, or end the world, and you – .”
John turns his face away, embarrassed for him. “Look,” he says. “Just – lock the damn door next time, understand?”
Dean puckers his lips like he’s about to argue and then, like a flip of a switch, his irritation drains away. “Got it,” he says. “You wanna fill me in ‘bout Rufus, or…?”
John fills him in about Rufus. Done and done, and they move on, as they always do.
Later, sleepless in his room, he lets his mind drift backwards for the first time in a long time.
Teddy died, his chest shredded into mulch by some skinny kid with an assault rifle. It had happened in the space of a blink, a turn of the page; one minute Teddy was there, hiking along beside him, and the next he wasn’t. It was as easy and random as that.
For a while after he came home, John dreamed about that moment, only drawn out by hours and hours, the spray and pop of blood, the surprised claw of a blueish hand. There were other things, too, an orange sky, emaciated mothers, blood dried black and thick as pitch, but always there was Teddy falling back into the mud.
And then Mary died, and his dreams grew into flames and yellow eyes, blood on baby-skin. After Teddy he thought he had survived the worst, that he’d lived it and left it, but he was wrong.
There is nothing too terrible.
When he’s had it – which has been rare in and of itself – Sam has never known what to do with space. For all his excitement over a room of his own, he’d been frozen stupid when the door’d swung open into his dorm at Stanford; too much room, and nothing to put in it. It remained bare up until he’d met Jessica, and then it’d been her converging into his space, leaving her indelible mark all over, her trinkets and pottery and pictures of her friends in cheery handmade frames.
There’s no Jessica at the bunker, so his room remains as personable as a jail cell, walls bare and peeling in places, a single, nondescript bare bulb on his desk, soldier-straight lines of books on the creaky shelves over his bed. His clothes are still packed into his duffel bag, which he’s tossed into the wardrobe; when they need a wash, he takes them downstairs, dumps them into the laundry machine, refolds them, and deposits them back into the bag.
Dean’s clothes spill out over his dresser drawers, gather in drifts on the floor. Alongside the dead man’s robe he’d appropriated, of course, there’s the other antiquated bits of clothing he’s discovered around the bunker, furry smoking jackets and tassled hats, and also the odd modern sock or tie that’s not part of his original wardrobe – for someone who changes his clothes once every apocalypse, Castiel still finds a way to litter his underthings around, get them all mixed up with Dean’s.
But Sam’s not a decorator, a nester. He doesn’t live here. He doesn’t know how.
Dean slinks in when Sam’s reorganizing his books for the umpteenth time. He’s cowed and harried, uncomfortable, and Sam knows immediately that whatever news he’s come to deliver, he doesn’t much want to be delivering it.
“You goin’ by color this time?” he says. “Number of stains?”
“It’s relaxing,” Sam says.
“Uh. Okay, buddy,” Dean says. “You do you, right? Non-judgmental zone here. No judgment.”
Sam rolls his eyes. “Spit it out, man.”
“Yeah, okay, I – . Yeah. So, look, figured I oughta – before it. You know.”
Sam waits patiently in the face of Dean’s hemming.
“Me an’ Cas,” Dean says, after a huge, diving breath. “We’re, like. Uh. A thing.”
“Uh-huh,” Sam says. He shoves a book onto the shelf testily.
“No, like – Sam, we’re together,” Dean says. “Together together. Not dating! I mean, maybe dating? I dunno. But we’re definitely – yeah. Okay?”
“Got it the first time, thanks,” Sam says. He’s a little tetchy. He doesn’t want to talk about this particularly.
“Wow, okay,” Dean says, leaning back, his eyebrows raised high. “Jesus, what’s got your panties in a twist?”
“What do you think?” Sam snaps. He tosses his pile of books onto the bed next to him. “This thing with Cas, you can’t just – it isn’t him, you can’t – .”
“I thought you’d be okay with it,” Dean says. His face is crumpled like a child’s, his eyes round and sad, and all at once Sam regrets, earnestly, having ever said anything at all. “When other people – you’re usually all sympathetic and shit, I thought – ”
“I am! I am,” Sam says hurriedly.
“Yeah. Sure you are.”
“No, man, really, I am. I’m glad you told me, I’m glad you’re – y’know, with Cas, or whatever, it’s just – a lot, you know? This, and everything, it’s all – piled on.”
It’s a weak excuse but Dean’s accepting it, his posture going chastised and forgiving.
“Yeah. I know. ‘M sorry.”
“Hey, nah – don’t apologize, it’s not your fault,” Sam says hurriedly. “How come you’re telling me, anyway? You hate this shit.”
Dean makes a face. “I do. It sucks. This sucks. But Dad kinda, uh – figured it out? So I thought – ”
“Dad found out?” Sam says. “Oh, man, I wish I coulda seen that – ”
“Fuck off, asshole – nothing happened, anyway, so fuck you – ”
“His face, though, oh my God – ”
“You’re a dick, and I hate you,” Dean informs him, but he’s visibly relieved, his shoulders unrounded, his eyes light and clear. He looks good, and if this is what it’s going to take – if this is what Sam has to do – then so goddamn be it. It’s worth it.
“I’m happy for you, man, really,” he says.
“Yeah, okay, you giant girl,” Dean says. “No need for Hallmark shit.”
Sam watches Dean leave with a skip in his step. His heart doesn’t break, because he hadn’t expected anything in the first place.
He can do this. He can.
Sam manages at last to catch a moment of sleep at around six am, only to be beaten awake with a pillow not twenty minutes later.
“Holy shit,” he says, flailing. “What the fuck – ”
“I have an idea,” Dean says, dropping the pillow onto Sam’s face.
Sam grabs it and throws it at the wall. “This better be, like, the best idea, ever,” he says, rubbing a tired hand over his face.
“Actually it’s kinda terrible,” Dean says.
“Then why in God’s name did you wake me up – ”
“Because we’re on a time limit, okay? Gotta get this shit started.”
“Or not started at all, since apparently it’s so terrible – ”
“Rock and a hard place, Sammy,” Dean says sagely. “Now, listen up. We’re maybe getting somewhere with the fart zombies – ”
“The – excuse me?”
“ – But, the cloud still stands, right? And there’s a whole bunch of people stuck in there.”
“Yeah,” Sam says. “I know, man. I haven’t – I know.”
“But we can fix that, okay? We can. We just need to get Gabe some help.”
“Help? What help? We are the help, Dean.”
“Real help. Archangel help.”
“Oh, no,” Sam says, realization dawning. “No, that’s – no – we are not gonna spring the Cage – ”
“I know it sounds insane, but we can’t let this sit,” Dean says. “There’s one way I can see this going down in our favor, and this is it. How long d’you think we can rely on Gabriel?”
“Not very,” Sam says. “But, Dean, they’re gonna be pissed. They’re gonna want to trash the planet, not save it – .”
“Then we only take out one of ‘em, okay? Michael, since he’s not, you know. The devil. We tell him he can stay if he agrees to help us – ”
“But he can’t stay, Dean! If he hangs out for more than a minute he’s gonna be setting off earthquakes all around the globe!”
“Then, I dunno, we don’t actually let him stay? We kick him back to Hell anyway? I don’t know – ”
“We’ll have to set up barriers,” Sam says, running the possibilities over in his head. “Not holy oil, something that keeps him confined to one place but still allows him to work. And something we know for sure can banish him.”
“That’s the spirit, Sammy!” Dean crows, clapping him on the back. “Let’s raise an archangel!”
“I can’t believe I’m agreeing to this,” Sam says into his hands.
Castiel finds both brothers huddled together in the library, poring over stacks of books. Sam’s reading aloud, his finger brushing against the page.
“Says here… kill the first demon at the altar of the bespoiled chapel – ”
“Yeah, okay, been there, done that,” says Dean. “Next?”
“Dude, that’s all there is in the – Cas!Uh, hi. I mean, good morning.”
“You are reading about Lucifer’s Cage,” Castiel says.
The two of them exchange a look. A silent consensus is reached.
“Yeah. We’re looking into ways to get rid of the darkness. For good,” Dean says.
“By raising Lucifer,” Castiel says, and it isn’t a question.
“Michael!” Sam says. “We want Michael, not Lucifer.”
“Not that it matters, since we can’t open the goddamn thing anyway,” Dean says. “We don’t have the rings, we don’t have any goddamn rituals – .”
“Gabriel might be able to do it,” Castiel says.
“He’s an archangel,” Castiel says. “He’s very powerful.”
In all truth he’s a little befuddled they hadn’t thought of it before, but he’s long ago learned not to question the mysterious patterns through which the Winchesters’ brains work.
“Let’s go ask, then,” Dean says.
Before breakfast John catches Gabriel mulling over the map in the main room.
“Looks like they aren’t coming back, once they’re culled,” he says, tapping his fingernail against the glass.
“That why Minnesota – ?”
“I don’t know why Minnesota. But I know the population’s gotten smaller.”
“That’s, it’s good. Great. Listen, Gabriel,” John begins, and the archangel looks over at him knowingly.
John clears his throat. “You can see all of Heaven, right – ? Yeah, so – there’s a guy, name of Teddy Beckett – Theodore, I guess – ”
“Yeah, I know the one you mean. He’s kickin’ it in Heaven. Don’t you worry.”
“I wasn’t,” John says, and he wasn’t, but it feels as if a great weight has lifted off his shoulders anyway. He shifts from side to side. This next thing is maybe too much to ask, but he’s been working damn hard here, and with not much to show for it, so he bites the bullet and goes for it. “Do you think – once I get back to Heaven – is there any way I could visit – ”
“Gabe!” Dean cries, stampeding through the door, Castiel and Sam following close behind. “Just the asshole we need – oh, Dad. Were you doing something – ?”
John sighs. “No, nothing,” he says. The moment’s gone, and he isn’t going to attempt it again. His request hadn’t been a big deal, anyway, nothing he couldn’t live without.
“Great,” Dean says. “Gabe – ”
“Castiel suggested you might be able to break open the Cage,” Sam says eagerly. “Is that true? Could you get in there?”
“What? Me? No way,” Gabe says. “You saw what it took for Cas to get in and out. I can’t do that and keep the planet stable at the same time.”
“Oh,” Castiel says. “I thought – . Oh.”
“It’s only logical that you did. I am pretty awesome, after all.”
“What cage,” John says.
“Uh,” says Sam. “Well – okay. It’s this – kinda like a, I don’t know, a prison cell, and it’s holding the other two living archangels.”
“It’s in Hell,” Castiel says helpfully.
“Right,” John says. Of course. “And you want to openit.”
“They wanna pop out Lucy and Mike, and get ‘em to take care of the Darkness,” Gabriel says. “Oh, relax. Of course I knew what you were planning. You idiots are so transparent.”
“Wait – do you mean Lucifer?” John says. “You want to free the Devil?”
“No! No. We only want Michael,” Sam says. “We think we can bind him, too, to make sure he helps us – there’s a whole spell – but we need him up here, first.”
“That could be doable,” Gabriel says.
“What – you just said – ”
“You asked if I could break open the Cage, which I can’t. But I can probably fish out Mikey. The thing wasn’t built for him – he doesn’t belong there, and it knows it. It should be happy to spit him out.”
“Spit him out, huh?” Dean says. “Just like that?”
“It’s a little more complicated, but – sure, just like that. In theory, we should be able to perform his summoning ritual, and since he isn’t being held there, he’ll come over.”
“That… doesn’t sound like it’ll work,” Sam says.
“And who’s the expert here? Not you, kiddo, that’s for sure – ”
“Let’s give it a shot,” Dean says. “If it goes through – awesome. If it doesn’t – .” He falls silent, his mouth puckered bitterly.
“We’ll find another way,” Castiel says. “Dean, we will.”
“Hm,” Dean says.
“Gimme twelve hours,” Gabriel says. “I need to find some stuff. And then – we’re gonna free us an archangel.”
Gabriel declares the bunker unfit for Michael’s summoning so they find an abandoned warehouse and set about preparing it for his arrival. John’s done summonings before, though only under the direst of straits, and this one’s by far the most complicated he’s ever seen, chock full of precious metals and suspicious dried animal parts and a whole lot of blood – procured from where, he doesn’t really want to know – and it’s got to be assembled together in a gigantic bronze cauldron over a olive tree bonfire or the damn thing refuses to work anyway. There’s also a ceremonial horn to be blown, after everything’s been sufficiently pulverized and whisked and burnt, and it’s overall so needlessly ostentatious he’s already begun to resent the archangel on principal.
The worst part, though, is the binding spell. It takes a full hour and a half to draw out the gigantic interlocking sigils, but together they manage, marking it down first with chalk and then going over it a second time with paint. From close up it looks like a gigantic Celtic knot has woven itself into the concrete, otherworldly and impenetrable, and for the first time John thinks the plan might just work.
“Okay,” Dean says. “Get ready – ”
He closes the circle. He blows the horn. It makes a ghastly, warbling noise, high and thin, and out of the corner of his eye John sees Sam clap his hands over his ears reflexively.
They wait. And wait. Dust falls from the ceiling; a rat skitters by through the shadows.
“Great theory, genius,” Dean mutters.
John groans and tosses down his chalk stub. He’s got it all over his shirt and arms and under his fingernails, too, and all of it for nothing.
“Look, okay,” Gabriel says. “It was a shot in the dark, all right? We didn’t know if it’d work – ”
“It worked,” someone says behind them, and they all spin at once, their weapons drawn and ready.
The speaker is a squirrely, unassuming man with patchy stubble and matted, slept-on hair. His blue terrycloth bathrobe is hanging open at the front and underneath John can make out a pair of faded yellowish boxer shorts and a saggy undershirt. One of his grubby socks is hanging half-on, half-off his foot, and the other’s pulled up his hairy shin as high as it can go. He does not look much like an archangel but between Cas and Gabe John’s learned not to presume.
“Chuck?” Dean says.
“Uh. Yeah. Hey, guys,” Chuck says, shuffling from foot-to-foot. “Don’t freak out, okay?”
“Don’t freak out? Is he – are you wearing Chuck as a meatsuit?”
“What – no! No one’s wearing me as a meatsuit. It’s only me, okay – ”
“Yeah, ‘scuse me if I’m suspicious.”
“You vanished, like – five years ago,” Sam adds. “We thought you got exploded, and now you’re here – . And you said the summoning worked – ”
“It did! I mean, it would’ve. But – I just can’t let you break the Cage.”
“You can’t letus,” Sam says.
“Sorry, no,” Chuck says. “It’d kinda screw a lot of things up.”
“Oh, my God. Don’t tell me – you’re a goddamn angel, too,” Dean says. “Chuckstiel of the Lord – ”
“He is no angel,” Castiel says. He sounds a little thunderstruck.
“Oh, shit,” Gabriel says.
“Hello, my sons,” Chuck says. “It’s good to see you again, after so long.”
Sons? John’s about to say, but he’s near bowled over by Dean, who’s gone lunging forward, his face unrecognizable in his rage. “Hell yeah, it’s been a long time, you bastard,” he’s yelling, his knife up and ready.
“Dean!” Sam says, and grabs him bodily. “Do not – do not.”
But Dean’s on a roll, now, and he struggles in Sam’s hold, trying to claw his way out. “Why? Why did any of this have to happen? You could’ve stopped it – you were there and you were watching it and you just – you son of a fucking bitch, you fucking self-centered piece of shit – ”
John has seen his son angry before, many times, but never like this, never so blindly, or hatefully. He’s surprised Sam’s able to hold him back at all, though he’s glad for it, as even though he doesn’t know who or what exactly Chuck is supposed to be he’s sure beyond a doubt that he’s deadly powerful – not an archangel, but something more.
“It isn’t my place to interfere,” Chuck says.
“Then why are you here,” Sam says coldly.
“Because you were about to do something terrible, like I said,” Chuck says, and sighs. “Look – I know you’re angry at me. But I love you guys, I do, and I don’t want you to commit to anything irreparable. Which you almost did. These wards don’t work, okay? They’re gibberish. Michael would’ve torn through them and let the Darkness loose and – ”
“And that’s where you draw the line.”
“I don’t want to lose this planet,” Chuck says.
“So fix it,” Dean snarls. “If you love us so much – .”
“I shouldn’t. I really shouldn’t – ”
“Dad,” Gabe says. His voice is shaky and sad, robbed of its usual exuberance, and he looks worn down and small, his face turned away, his eyes cast down. “Please.”
Chuck sighs. He smiles, his eyes sad, and disappears.
It feels as if all the air in the room goes with him. John sags.
“Who was that?” he says. “What happened?”
“Fuckin’ useless son of a bitch, that’s who,” Dean says viciously, tearing away from his brother. “That motherfucker – ”
“No,” Cas says, leaning forward, one hand on his brow. “The monsters – everything. It’s gone, Dean.”
“Woah, what?” Sam says.
“He’s right,” Gabriel says slowly. “It’s all vanished. Huh.”
“Well, I’ll be a sonuvabitch,” Dean says. “Little fucker was useful after all.”
“But – who was he?” John says. They all ignore him.
“I dunno about you, but I’m gonna go get hammered,” Gabriel says cheerfully.
They glance between each other.
“I know a place in Lebanon,” Dean offers up.
The bar is nicer than the places than John used to frequent, more of a college hangout than a spot where rednecks come to cheat at cards and beat each other senseless. He hovers at the doorway for a moment, lost, and Gabriel corners him.
“You,” he says, pointing. “You are going back tomorrow.”
“Good,” John says, and Gabriel, assured that his message has gotten through, wanders off to get drunk on his own. John’s not sad to see him leave.
He’s got one more day, so – one last hurrah, then, before he gets to see his wife again. He’s looking forward to it, though he’ll miss his sons.
John signals the bartender and gets settled in next to his son, who’s already got a bottle of his own.
“Guess we’re celebrating, huh?” he says.
“Guess so,” Dean says. “Feels kinda – cheap, y’know?”
“Hmm,” John says. The bartender comes over with his bottle, and he takes it gladly. “Y’know,” he says, feeling expansive. “’M happy I got to be here. See you two grown, you know?”
Dean chuckles. “Sammy turned out good, didn’t he?”
“So’d you,” John says. He’ll probably regret all this mushy shit later, but hell, he’s not gonna see his kids for a while. Might as well get it all in.
“Wouldn’tve said that a week ago,” Dean says under his breath. He’s starting to look melancholy, and John searches the room for a distraction. They’re supposed to be celebrating.
“Hey – how ‘bout her,” John says, nodding towards a pretty, plump redhead. She’s got wide hips and a soft stomach, rosy-red cheeks.
“Uh?” Dean says absently.
John watches her eye them coyly, then turn to whisper to her friends. “Think she likes you,” he says, chuckling.
“What?” Dean says, and snorts. “Oh – Dad, no – .”
“C’mon, have some fun,” John says. “Not every day you stop the world ending.”
“Eh – s’starting to become a theme,” Dean says, turning back to his drink. “Think I’ll pass, though, thanks.”
Kid’s tastes must’ve changed in the meantime. Not a big deal – it’s a smallish bar, but there are a lot of people packed into the space.
“Okay,” John says. He scans the crowd, sets his gaze on a tall, ponytailed dancer. “Howabout her?”
“No. Dad,” Dean says. “Cas is it for me.”
John blinks. “What?” he says.
“Cas,” Dean says again. “I thought you – Dad, he’s it. He’s not some one-time thing, he’s my – God, my everything, and – . I’m not looking for anyone else, okay?”
“What?” John repeats, utterly baffled. “Like – you wanna marry the kid – ?”
“Hell,” Dean says, and his mouth curves in a small, shy smile. “It’s legal now, so – sure, why not? If he’ll have me?”
“I don’t,” John says. The idea is utterly foreign to him, so bizarre that it nearly loops around again to funny, but Dean isn’t in on the joke. “I – what?”
“I might have a life ahead of me, Dad,” Dean says earnestly. “Not cursed, or dying, or fucking shit up for everyone else – a life. A future. And there’s – stuff. There’s so much. ”
John sputters. He should probably offer sage words of wisdom, maybe a little edifying advice – knock his son’s stupid goddamn head back straight – but he’s fucking out to sea right now. Dean wants to – marry the angel? Dean wants to marry the angel. Dean wants to marry –
“I never thought I’d get here, but I did, and Cas – he’s it,” Dean says, stars in his eyes. “He’s – . I fucking love him, shit. And I’m not letting that go. In fact – hell.” He smiles and sets his bottle down on the sticky countertop, rises to his feet. “I’m gonna – .”
John watches his eldest strides right up to that goddamnable useless angel and, in front of everyone in the bar, hunters and family and friends and strangers, kisses him full on the mouth.
Red cheeked, they step onto the dance floor together, Dean with his hands on Cas’ back and elbow to guide him into the fray, and they join the mess of spinning, joyful bodies, slotting in like there’d been a place reserved for them. Cas looks bewildered but also deeply, honestly captivated, taken, like a man in love. John has to look away.
“You know about this?” he says to his other, saner son. He’d never figured that, out of the two of them, Dean’d end up being the pansy. Not that it’s – wrong – it’s just weird – .
“It’s not – I don’t like it,” Sam says quietly. He laughs, an ugly, breathy thing that gets lost in the contents of his glass. “I don’t like it. But he’s – happy. Isn’t he? And that’s – it’s all I’ve got.”
Across the room, Dean slots his face into Cas’ neck, whispers something into his jaw. Cas laughs and squeezes him and they sway together, enraptured, in a space all of their own.
John goes back before first light. Heaven kills his hangover, thank God, because it took an awful lot of drinking to forget the image of his son in liplock with another man. Man angel. Whatever. Even now, as he’s trying to relax with his wife, a cold beer, and a handful of cards, his brain keeps calling it back up – Dean going, I fucking love him, shit, the two of them with their hands clasped, their cheeks brushing –
“Did you know,” John says, “our son is gay?”
“Hm? I don’t think he is, sweetheart,” Mary says serenely. She watches him over the top of her hand. “You gonna call it?”
“He’s getting gay married,” John says. “To an angel.”
“Aw. Cute. Wonder if they’ll let us watch the ceremony.”
“Did you hear me? A guy angel. Our son is marrying a guy angel – ”
“John Winchester. Your son is a grown man, and if he wants to marry his boyfriend he damn well is going to marry his boyfriend whether you like it or not. You are dead and buried and you aren’t getting in the way of their happiness. Now – are we gonna finish this game, or what?”
“I fold,” John grumbles.
“A wise decision.”