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Rough and undistinguished on my bones

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Dean's first reaction, once he had time to feel instead of just move, was to think it was truly unfair that Cas had to stagger from getting beat up by his fellow angels to getting shellacked by Lucifer. Seemed like taking humanity's side was more like choosing to be the pigskin, dropkicked by everyone else. Without Castiel, Dean and Sam would have been dead, so Dean felt justified in being pissed on his behalf.


At least Cas managed to get them out on the road before passing out across the backseat. (Dean wasn't even going to wonder about how he'd managed to bring the car halfway across the country. Angel powers were awesome, except for how the angels had mostly refused to use them for more than sleight-of-hand.)

Sam was barely responsive, but Dean was chalking that up to regret—Winchesters didn't go into shock. Dean was seriously considering skipping 'I told you so,' except he thought that coddling would probably make Sam feel even worse.

Neither of them, anyway, were in any condition to respond to Dean's conversational gambits. It wasn't exactly like talking to himself when he was out alone on a hunt, but it didn't feel much better, what with Sam so distant he might as well have been on the other side of the planet and Castiel with his blood slowly drying in runnels on his face, breathing so shallowly that Dean kept checking the rear-view mirror to make sure that he didn't need to pull over and start CPR.

And yeah, Dean felt crappy that he'd left Castiel alone to fight Zachariah and the holy host on Dean's behalf, and worse that it had all been for nothing. Zachariah and Lucifer had both won: they got their apocalypse, and any moment now Dean expected the horizon to turn red with flames.

But he kept driving, because that was what he did, until his eyes started drifting shut and the silence from the car's other two occupants got too hard to ignore.

There was a motel exactly where a motel ought to be, and Dean pulled into the lot. He got a double, not thinking, and then realized that he'd probably end up on the floor, which all things considered was not the worst thing that had happened in the last twenty-four hours and yet still felt aggravating enough to make him want to slam his fist into a wall.

At least the room was on the other side of the building from the office, so nobody saw him guiding Sam into the room like Sam was some roofied college kid, walking where he was pushed. And nobody saw him hauling Castiel in a fireman's carry, Castiel's tie drooping ridiculously down Dean's back.

Then it was back to the car for the bags. He didn't know whether the first aid kit would do Cas any good, but he knew the weapons would make him feel better, so it was worth the third trip.

When he returned to the room and shut the door for the night, he found that Sam had curled up on his bed, giant man in a little kid's pose. Dean rubbed his hand over his face, fighting off the emotion that threatened to overwhelm him, and went to make sure that Castiel was settled. The angel looked way too much like a corpse missing only his casket. The best Dean could do was to get a washcloth and wipe away the worst of the blood. Castiel didn't stir with the shock of cold and wet, but he was still breathing. It was freaky to see how he'd bled without any bruising, like a doll or something. Dean wished he could apologize to Jimmy Novak. He wished Cas understood that there was something to apologize for.

Maybe someday, if by some bizarre accident they survived, Dean would be able to explain to Castiel why Dean was still mad about Jimmy and Claire.

Dean salted the doors and windows and made sure the hex bags were intact, then eyed the chair by the window. It didn't look comfortable.

In the end, he grabbed a pillow from Sam's bed and laid down on the floor. He hadn't bothered with anyone's shoes; too much chance they'd have to leave fast.

There was never any time.

Dean turned over, punched the pillow hard enough that he felt the shock of the stiff carpet underneath, and tried to get some rest.


Dean woke, brain gummy with sleep, to the sound of retching. His back hurt and his shoulders hurt and his head really fucking hurt, but somebody was near to choking to death, so Dean forced himself upright.

Turned out to be Sam, who didn't really start puking until Dean had him positioned over the toilet. Dean didn't mean to look, but the stuff coming out of Sam was black and mostly liquid, and under the stench of bile it smelled like what it was.

It wasn't anything he didn't already know, and it sucked a mile high.

When Sam had gotten sick as a kid, he'd always wanted Dean right there with him in the bathroom, rubbing his back and bringing him glasses of water. Dean knelt by Sam, who was taking up most of the room, and put a hand on his back. Sam had sweated through his T-shirt, but he was coherent enough to shrug Dean off.

Dean went back to check on Castiel.

Good thing too, because Sam's distress had apparently been some kind of trigger. Cas was heaving too, curled up on his side, nothing coming out but a trickle of saliva. Just in case, Dean grabbed the wastebasket and put it by the side of the bed. Angels didn't eat, as far as he knew, so that implied nothing to bring up. Even though Castiel's skin was pale and clammy, he didn't stink like an actual human body would, which, well, Dean didn't even want to get into the mechanics (metaphysics?) of that.

Once he'd decided that Cas wasn't actively dying, he could have gone back to his berth on the floor, or watched from the chair. But Sam was still making gagging noises in the bathroom; Dean could see his forehead pressed to the porcelain, and Dean remembered enough bad nights of his own that he could almost feel it against his own skin, chilly and calming, a piece of stability in a swiftly whirling world.

He sat next to Castiel and slid his hand down the angel's back, wondering what the wings looked like to other angels. Castiel shivered under the touch, and Dean repeated it, watching how his hand moved over the tan fabric.

"Dean," Castiel murmured, barely moving his lips. He blinked. His pupils were huge, and not quite the same size. Dean couldn't treat a human's concussion, much less an angel's, but he couldn't keep himself from reaching out and cupping Castiel's cheek in his hand, rubbing his thumb over the sweep of cheekbone, cool and a little sweaty to the touch.

Dean bent over nearly double so that their faces were close enough to talk quietly, without disturbing Sam. "Hey," he said. "How're you doing?"

"Not well." Dean's stomach dropped even though he'd known better than to expect a comforting lie. "I will—recover. But Lucifer's power is great and—I can no longer protect you."

"Dude," Dean chided. "You've already—I mean, it's our turn. Don't know what we can do, but anybody, fallen or not, who comes after you is gonna have to go through us first."

"You have reconciled, then," Castiel said, and his lips turned up. They were so pale, even paler than usual, like he'd been washed in milk.

Dean couldn't help the glance over his shoulder, checking that Sam was still hunched over the toilet. "I don't know," he admitted. "I think so."

Castiel's eyes closed, slowly. "Will you—my grace will restore itself, if there is time. But I would—please, don't leave me."

Again, Dean's head jerked back, even though Sam couldn't possibly have moved; Dean was just grateful Cas couldn't have seen Dean's reaction. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I'll be right here."

And then he was exhausted, too, and it wasn't wrong to lie down next to Castiel. Wasn't wrong to curl up behind him and throw an arm over his waist, just to feel him breathing. The fabric of his trenchcoat was cool, not holding any body heat, but Dean edged up close enough that his breath bounced off of the nape of Castiel's neck, warm and a little sour.

Dean drifted with the rise and fall of Castiel's back.

There was a clunk from the bathroom. Dean managed to ease himself away from Castiel instead of shoving him to the floor in his haste; by the time he got through the door, Sam was off his knees and fumbling with their toiletries.

"Here," Dean said, soft as he could manage, and got out the toothpaste and Sam's toothbrush—left behind when he'd gone off with Ruby—then unwrapped one of the flimsy little plastic cups and filled it with water.

Sam brushed his teeth and drank carefully, small sips with pauses in between.

"So," Dean asked, "am I gonna have to tie you down again?" The bruises on his neck throbbed in time with his pulse.

Sam stared down at his water as if he could use it to scry. "Don't think so," he said. "It hurts, but—it's different now." He didn't say whether it was Lucifer's rising or his own realization that he'd been wrong that accounted for the change, and maybe he didn't even know. The cup crumpled in his hand. "Dean," he said, and he was crying, hitching sobs in between the words, "I killed—a possessed woman, an innocent, I killed her—"

Dean had let himself forget what Ruby's demon-killing knife meant, mostly because it had become too hard to keep track of all the humans who suffered because of them. He couldn't tell Sam that what he'd done was acceptable; he couldn't uphold some great Winchester standard of behavior. He wrapped his arms around Sam, letting them hide their faces from each other. "You're gonna be okay," he said, believing it because he had to. "I'm not lettin' you go again."

"I can't," Sam moaned, messy and boneless, soaking Dean's shoulder. "What I did—"

"I know," Dean told him, sure as cold iron. There was no making up for what they'd done, separately and for each other. There was no balance sheet where they got to offset rescues versus lives squeezed short and souls shriveled into cinders. There was only going forward, saving what could be saved.

Sam cried until he was hiccuping, sleepy against Dean's chest. Dean eased him to his feet and brought him back out. Castiel was still on his side, motionless as a stone sculpture. Dean hesitated for a second, then pushed Sam down on the other side of Castiel's bed. It was a queen, so there wasn't much room when Dean laid down between them, but he felt shockingly better, almost safe.

Sleep hit him like knockout gas, before he could even stash his gun under the pillow.


The next time he woke up, Cas had managed to flip himself over so that Dean was the one being practically nuzzled from behind. Castiel's knee was nudged between his legs and his right arm, heavy as if it were actually made of marble, was draped over Dean's chest. None of that was as important as what was going on the other side, which was Sam pushed back to the far edge of the bed and staring at them—at Dean—as if he were storing up the pictures because he didn't expect to get another look.

Dean might have missed how far Sam was falling, but he always knew the general direction of Sam's thoughts. "Get your ass over here," he ordered, low enough to be mostly a growl, because if the choice was between cuddling and having Sam take off in the throes of some delusion that he wasn't good enough to stay, Dean could marshmallow up with the best of them.

Sam blinked, then wriggled forward until their faces were only an inch apart, their knees brushing. Dean could feel the heat coming off Sam, somewhere between fear and embarrassment. Dean was way too tired to worry about any of that. He reached out and flattened his palm over Sam's heart. Sam's T-shirt was stiff with dried sweat (at best, and Dean just wasn't dealing with that right now, so it was dried sweat), but Dean could still tell it was him underneath.

Dean curled his fingers into the fabric, making sure Sam couldn't go anywhere. Sam's breath was hot and minty. Dean tilted forward, not making any attempt to get out from under Castiel's grasp, and kissed Sam on the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes so as not to see Sam's shock.

And while Dean wasn't looking, Sam pushed himself closer, moving down on the bed so that his face ended up mashed into Dean's chest, his hand curving around Dean's shoulder, more than covering Castiel's mark. He snuggled into Dean like the past decade hadn't happened, like he trusted Dean to protect him.

Dean let go of Sam's shirt, just because the angle was going to cramp the hell out of his wrist, but he made sure to keep his hand on Sam, resting on Sam's side, smooth skin over hard muscle. He could have let Sam's touch wake him up all the way; he could feel the electricity lurking right under the surface of the red, raised scar on his shoulder, waiting for Cas or Sam or, better, the both of them.

But they needed rest more. Rest, and then the fight, like always.

The funny thing was, Dean had spent most of his life completely terrified. Scared near witless of everything that could happen to him, to his family. Now Lucifer was risen and Hell was reaching up to claw him back into its embrace, and nobody but a few fragile humans and one maybe-fallen angel was prepared to stand up against the apocalypse, triggered by the petty politics of angels. But Dean felt calmer than he had in years, quiet in the deepest reaches of whatever soul he had left.

They were most likely going down, and it was going to be ugly. Still, Dean had what he wanted on both sides of him. Castiel had chosen him over Heaven, and Sam had figured out that Hell had nothing on offer that was worth the price. They'd all crawled over broken bones and glass to get here; they'd all taken sacrifices, willing and not, which maybe meant that there wasn't as much difference between humans and angels and demons as everyone liked to pretend.

The three of them would lose, if they lost, together. If that wasn't good enough to deserve God's help, well, then: they'd just have to do it themselves.

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