It’s a Thursday when the angel lands, because of course it is.
They don’t know it’s an angel, not at first. Not sitting in some shitty bar just outside of Nowhere, Oklahoma. The TV is an ancient, flickering piece of junk from circa before Dean was born. It’s the bottom of the ninth in some playoff between the Godawful Losers and the Whoknows Whocares, when suddenly the footage cuts to an image of the Eiffel Tower collapsing into a heap of smoking rubble, red text in the top left of the screen proclaiming the scene to be LIVE.
“Hey. Hey, Dean. Check this out, man.”
Dean is halfway through a bottle of Jack and in no mood to watch terrible baseball. Meaning Sam has to physically turn his head—one hand covering either ear—to force his eyes up to the screen. A slurred curse dies in Dean’s throat as his whisky-slow brain catches up to what he’s seeing.
The footage is grainy, shaky. It’s obviously a cellphone but the perspective is from above and through a window, and for a moment that doesn’t make sense—-what building is above the Eiffel Tower?—until Dean catches sight of the giant balloon in the foreground and realizes what he’s seeing isn’t Paris, France, but rather The Paris, Las Vegas.
Later, there’ll be a lot of talk about that. About how the first place the Heavenly Host decided to level was Vegas, that temple of vice and sin. For now, the entire bar goes still and silent as every head turns to watch the Tower fall, and then the building behind it.
At first, it’s not entirely clear what’s causing the destruction. There’s too much dust, too much distance.
Then, glowing bright and terrible against the dull grey Vegas sky, a shape that is unmistakably a wing.
“Holy shit,” says Sam, voice barely audible even in the trembling silence. “Is that a…?”
“I… dunno, man,” says Dean, because he doesn’t. “But I sure as shit hope not.”
Like a lot over the next few months, that hope turns out to be worth shit.
The media never name the angel that levels Vegas. Most channels won’t even call it an angel; that comes much later, after similar landings take out New York, Washington, LA, and Austin. But it is one. An angel. Fully manifest in the world. Not within a vessel, nor as incomprehensible burning light, but as a horrific, skyscraper-tall monster; a fever-dream mishmash of limbs and wings and heads and eyes. When it screams, glass shatters and brains bleed. That first attack kills more people by pure exposure to the angel’s awful grace than it does with falling rubble or searing fire.
After the forth or fifth, though? People get used to it. Kind of.
That first night, Dean spends a good ten minutes in that shitty bar, paralyzed, eyes glued to the TV, watching the first footage roll in. At first, he tries to tell himself it’s an ad—everyone does—for some new film or game or whatever. Godzilla vs. Las Vegas, something like that. Except there’s a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach and a searing pain behind his eye that has nothing to do with the booze or the exhaustion. He knows. He doesn’t know how he knows, but he knows.
By the time the first sort-of-clear pictures of the Vegas Angel pop up on the TV he’s already on his knees in the car park, screaming Castiel’s name.
Cas never comes. Not that night, nor the next, nor the next. Neither does anyone else.
And all around them, cities fall.
They do the best they can, even if it isn’t much. They’re trained to hunt, to stalk monsters in the dark. But the angels don’t hide in daylight and don’t need careful tracking. Half of them are visible from space. They don’t even target people, not really. Mostly, they smash cities, content to let starvation and disease clean up the survivors.
“I don’t know what to do,” Dean says one night. They’re sitting by the side of a half-ruined road in what used to be Delhi, Louisiana. “We weren’t trained for this.”
Sam has an old CB radio and looks up from fiddling with the controls. Mostly, it broadcasts static, but sometimes they catch survivors.
“We were trained to help people,” he says eventually. “That doesn’t always mean killing monsters.”
Dean sighs, looking down at hands that haven’t pointed a shotgun at anything non-human since the Vegas Landing. They haven’t had to; the angels tear through ghosts and demons as easily as buildings. Anything out there that’s smart is in hiding. Anything that isn’t, is dead.
Dean wonders what that makes him.
That night, he prays to Cas, just like always. Just like always, he gets nothing in reply.
It’s the Chinese who use nukes first. They’ve got an angel in Beijing and at least six patrolling the coat, but the government blasts Hong Kong in its test run. Accounts are sketchy, but they’re all consistent on the outcome; the Hong Kong Angel vaporizing the warheads into smoke right out of the air.
A few more countries try the same, after that. Not a single missile hits its target. And still the angels rage.
Three months after the end of the world, Dean trades Baby for a school bus. He cries when he leaves her—a single, appropriately masculine tear—in a garage in the ruins of Trenton, New Jersey, but they’ve run across more survivors then she can carry.
Dean and Sam ward the garage with every protective rune and sigil they can think of, Dean whispering promises that he’ll return. They ward the bus in the same way, teaching the two-dozen-odd dirty, terrified people how to do the same.
“And this… this will protect us from the Living Creatures?”asks a wide-eyed mousey librarian, formerly of Missouri. “Living Creatures” is how the media had taken to referring to the angels, back in those last few days of television. Someone’s cute idea of a joke, Dean supposes, and it makes him wince every time he hears it.
“Maybe,” he answers, because the end of humanity is no place for lies.
“They’re wards against spying an, uh, Creatures and Creatures in human form,” Sam explains, voice calm and patient. “We’re not sure they work on the big guys, but it’s the best we’ve got right now.”
The librarian nods, and returns to painting her section of ward, brow creased in serious contemplation.
They see it as a procession, around a hundred people walking across the road, clutching weapons and gardening tools. A man is being pushed at the front of the column, sack over his head, hands fastened behind his back with cable ties.
“Jesus,” says Sam, which causes half the bus to mutter darkly (blasphemy has been taken seriously, since the angels came). “That’s the most people we’ve seen in one place for months. What do you think’s happening?”
“Dunno,” says Dean, grabbing a pistol from the duffle beneath his feet. “But I don’t like it.”
The bus is still slowly rolling when Dean jumps out the door. Sam curses and pulls it to a full stop, scrambling for his own weapon as he does. The sky above is hot and clear, nothing but dust and rubble for miles. The procession stopped at the sight of the bus, and is now watching Dean with wary eyes. Their prisoner is on his knees on the ruined road. He’s wearing a black shirt and black dress slacks, and Dean’s bad feeling starts to get worse.
“Hell of a time for a school trip,” says the man holding the prisoner. He’s in his fifties, maybe, and wearing a sheriff’s uniform Dean would bet his molars wasn’t earned.
“Seen Hell,” Dean says as he approaches. “This ain’t shit in comparison.”
“That so?” says the Sheriff. “I think you’d better move along, boy. We don’t want no trouble.”
There’s a woman standing next to the Sheriff, equally as grim-faced. She’s holding a rope noose in front of her like a shield.
“Looks like someone might disagree,” Dean counters, gesturing to the prisoner.
“Those who spread the Unholy Word must burn!” shrieks someone from within the mob and, Yup. There it is.
They’ve passed corpses already, hanging rotten and bloated by the side of the road. Men in white collars, in skullcaps, in robes. A few more Sam IDs as Buddhist monks or Hindu pujari, though it’s the Abrahamic religions that’ve been hit the hardest. Poor assholes. Dean’s never had much time for religion but if anyone is blameless for the current shitty situation, its a bunch of old dudes going through the worst job crisis imaginable.
“Yeah,” says Dean. “I don’t think I can let you do that.”
The Sheriff scowls. “Look around you, boy. The world’s in ruins. They”—a rough kick to the bound priest’s back—”allowed this. The hubris of those who would think to know the mind of God!”
“No argument with you on the former or the latter,” Dean says, voice easy even as he’s counting weapons, reactions, positions. “It’s just the middle where you’re talking out your ass.” There are a lot more worried looks in the mob than angry ones, Dean thinks. These people are terrified refugees, not militant fanatics. A shootout still won’t be fun—Dean’s not counting on any backup from his own bus of huddled masses—but, maybe, if he can take out the Sheriff…
If you’re still out there, Cas, Dean thinks. Now would be a good time.
“God is punishing us,” the noose-woman says. “He sends his angels to cleanse our sin!”
“Lady, Heaven doesn’t know any more about where God is or what he wants than you do, trust me.”
The woman looks at Dean like she’s seeing him for the first time. It’s not a pleasant look. “You,” she breathes, knuckles white against the noose. “You’re one of them!” Then, to the crowd: “He’s one of them!”
Things happen sort of quickly, after that. There’s gunfire, from both in front and behind. A few screams, the thunder of footsteps as the mob is faced with the sudden reality of an enemy that can fight back.
Dean, meanwhile, lunges for the Sheriff. The Sheriff who brings up his own weapon—quicker than Dean was expecting—aims for Dean’s heart, and pulls the trigger.
It’s the exact moment the kneeling priest lurches upright, knocking the shot wild with a well-placed head-butt.
The bullet grazes Dean’s left arm, tearing a gash in his already-abused jacket. He ignores the sharp lance of pain, instead grabs the startled Sheriff, disarms him, and presses the pistol to his head.
“That’s enough!” Dean roars. “Everyone get back!” To his left, Sam is helping the still-bound priest away from the startled mob, shotgun trained on the crowd.
“I don’t normally shoot humans,” Dean adds, “but I will if I have to.”
The Sheriff makes an aborted sort of wriggle, as if trying to escape. The butt of the pistol against his temple puts an end to that.
“Here’s how it’s gonna go,” Dean tells Noose Lady. “We’re taking the priest and this asshole here as collateral. I so much as think any of you pieces of shit are following, I start throwing his”—digging the gun barrel into the Sheriff’s temple—”body parts out the window. As soon as I can no longer see a single one of you in the rear view, whatever’s left of him goes free. Got it?”
“You’re making a mistake, boy,” says Noose Lady. “We’re only trying to do what’s right. You’ll come to see things our way, in time.”
“Keep tellin’ yourself that,” Dean says, hauling ass—and the Sheriff—back to the bus.
Sam’s on the gas before the doors shut, Madison-the-librarian cutting the priest’s bonds and pulling off the hood. Dean double-takes at the face underneath.
“You’re a chick.”
Which earns him a raised eye. “We’ve been ordaining women since the nineties, Mister…?”
“Dean,” says Dean.
“Mister Dean, then. I’m Larissa Jones. I owe you my life.”
Dean just makes a noncommittal grunt, too busy handcuffing the Sheriff to the front seat.
“You’ll regret this, boy,” the Sheriff says, voice slurred from the blow to the head. “Giving succor to the likes of her.”
From the back of the bus, the rest of their makeshift little group eyes them with growing fear.
The Sheriff doesn’t make trouble, either, just eyes Dean with a hard, flinty stare when he’s escorted from the bus. “You think you’re doing good, boy, but you’re not. You’re proud. And the Living Creatures? They can smell it. And they’ll come for you. Mark my words. They’ll come.”
Dean just scoffs. “Tell me something new, asshole.” Then Sam slams the doors, and they drive away.
They’re outside of Aurora, Nebraska, when Pastor Larissa catches Dean praying. Their group is a convoy now; three busses plus a camper, nearly a hundred souls all up. They’re chasing a rumor out west, of a cruise ship preparing to take refugees to Hawaii. The angels haven’t hit Hawaii. No one knows why, but it’s as safe a place as any and any destination is better than none.
Dean doesn’t get down on his knees or press his palms together or any of that. His prayers are quiet, personal. Away from the camp at the end of the last watch, just the pinkest blush against the horizon.
“Castiel,” he says. “If you’re still out there, man, we could really use a hand. This is a mess. A real grade-A fuckup and… and I don’t know what to do. This is so far beyond me, man. How’m I supposed to fight things a thousand feet tall? I don’t even know what’s going on. After all that shit we went through, that Sammy went through, it’s like… it’s like it was all for fucking nothing, y’know? What’s the point, stopping one Apocalypse if there’s always just another—”
The loud crunch of a boot stops Dean short, his eyes flying open to see Pastor Larissa not five feet away. She’s carrying a bucket of water and a little bag of toiletries, and is eyeing Dean with open curiosity.
“Wouldn’t’ve taken you for a praying man,” she says. “Not with the way you talk about the Lord.” There’s no judgement there, just fact.
Dean scoffs. “God’s a dick,” he says. “I’m not talking to him.”
Larissa nods. “Castiel’s an angel’s name,” she says. It’s not a question.
“You eavesdrop on prayers a lot, lady?”
“Not often, and never intentionally. But we’ve all got our vices and you’ll have to excuse me if mine’s curiosity over the man who put himself between me and a bullet. Someone who prays to angels and covers his bus in Enochian.”
“Angel,” Dean clarifies, after a moment of consideration. “Not angels. The others are dicks, too. Dicks with wings.” Certainly there’s no one else Dean would be praying to. He’s pretty sure Sam has tried, for all the good it’s done them.
“I see. And your angel. Does he answer you?”
Dean sighs, scrubs a hand across his face. “Not recently. Haven’t seen his feathery ass since his brothers started smashing up the place.” Because why the hell not? The world’s already gone to shit.
“Maybe he’s out there helping them.”
Dean scoffs, waves a hand dismissively. Tries to tamp down hard on the little voice inside that says, Maybe…
“Not Cas,” he says instead. “He’s helped us kick Heaven’s ass before. No way he’d be into this.”
“You talk about him like he’s your friend.”
“Yeah, well. He is.” Dean’s best friend, really. Except for Sam, who doesn’t count.
There’s silence for a little while, Larissa regarding Dean with dark, kind eyes. He has trouble meeting those eyes, so looks away. “Think I’m crazy yet?”
Instead of answering, Larissa takes a step closer, sitting next to Dean on the old park bench he’s been perched on.
“About a week before you found me,” she says, “I had a family come through my church. They’d come up from the south. The wife, Jules, she told me they’d been driving through some leveled town when one of the Creatures appeared in front of them. Just like that; first the road was clear, then it wasn’t.”
Dean nods. The angels can still fly-slash-teleport, which is another reason they’re so terrifying.
“The Creature unleashed its Voice, straight at the car—”
“They don’t target people.”
Larissa makes a conciliatory gesture. “So I’ve heard. Nonetheless, that’s what Jules told me. Sent her little girl blind and her husband catatonic. The husband was driving at the time, and lost control of the car. They would’ve gone headfirst into a wall, except a hand caught them.”
“A second Living Creature picked up the car before it could crash. That Creature fought the first, car cradled against its chest the entire time. Jules told me she’d never believed the Creatures were really angels, not until that moment. It wasn’t anything physical, just… a feeling. God’s love and God’s wrath both buzzing on her skin like the air before a thunderstorm.
“In the end, the second Creature killed the first; sliced one of its heads clean off with a blade the length of a football field. The corpse supposedly burst into a shower of light, and the remaining Creature devoured the lot. Then it lowered the car gently to the ground, and breathed some of the light over the chassis.
“When the light dimmed, the Creature was gone. And Jules’ husband and girl had been healed.”
Dean thinks for a moment. “And you believe this story?”
“I don’t know,” Larissa says, honest and open. “I want to, because I want to have hope. For the world, and for a loving God who would not abandon his children.” She pauses. “And yet…”
“Pretty convenient there were no other witnesses,” Dean finishes for her. “I’m betting dad and daughter don’t remember anything?”
“The first Creature, then nothing that couldn’t be explained by a car crash.”
“Was the car wrecked? I thought you said”—Dean almost, almost says “Cas” before catching himself—”the second angel caught it?”
“The car was damaged enough that there could have been a crash…”
“Or it could’ve just been damage from getting picked up by a giant hand during a sword fight.” Yeah, Dean knows how this one goes.
“I took a photo of the car,” Larissa says, pulling a cell phone from her pocket. Dean is startled to see it; the phones lines have been out for ages and so is most of the power. “I keep it off most of the time,” Larissa explains, noting Dean’s surprise. “But I have a little solar charger when I need it.” The phone bursts to life and she starts swiping through the screens.
“I thought someone should bear witness. For… for the future…” She trails off, the words the future hanging hot and ugly between them. Then: “Here it is.”
She hands the phone over. The second the glass-and-metal case hits Dean’s palm, he knows what he’s going to see. Feels it in his bones like a deep, awful shiver. Like the words, They’d come up from the south.
“There’s one other thing Jules told me,” Larissa says. “The second Creature, before it put the car down? It looked to see who was inside.”
Dean swallows thickly. “Yeah. I bet he did.” His eyes never leave the phone’s screen, and the photo of the old, beat-up, 1960s Chevy Impala.
Maybe because there’s no proof, because he wants to believe the story—wants to believe his version of the story—so badly it’s like a physical ache.
He does tell Cas, though. Or tells the uncaring universe in Cas’ name.
“And I just… if it was you, man, I’m… I’m proud of you.” The words choke on his tongue but he forces them out anyway. “I’m not sure if you’re getting these, whether you’re looking for us or… or you know where we are but you’re not here. Hell, I don’t even know if that stupid story was real or if it was even you. But… but I hope it was. So… yeah. Come find us, hey?” Then, after a pause. “And I don’t care if you’re stuck as a thousand foot tall Godzilla monster amen.”
They’ve barely hit the edge of the city before it becomes clear that isn’t going to happen; they see the smoke long before they see the angel.
They stop the convoy and climb out into the road, watching in a sort of mute, incoherent numbness. Sam has picked up a pair of binoculars somewhere along the way and he and Dean share them, sitting on the roof of their first bus.
“Who do you think it is?” Sam asks.
Dean shrugs. “Not Cas,” he says, because no one else is listening.
“Yeah,” Sam agrees after a moment. “You can feel it, can’t you? Something in the grace.”
“Didn’t expect it to be so strong. I mean, we’re, what? Ten miles away? At least.”
Sam nods, eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “I guess it’s different,” he says eventually. “Like a floodlight behind a pinhole versus one behind a window.”
Dean takes the binoculars and studies the angel. It’s hard to tell scale at this distance but it hangs over the ruins of Provo like one of the ships from Independence Day. Except made of blue-white fire. And wings. And eyes. Basically, it’s pretty fucked up.
“It’s like something out of the Burgess Shale,” Sam says, when Dean hands back the binoculars.
“It’s like, this fossil formation. From back before evolution had decided on the whole ‘four limbs and symmetry’ thing. Shit that came out of there was so weird scientists didn’t even know how to put it together.”
“God’s rough draft,” Dean says.
“Sometimes I think—” Sam starts, then cuts himself off.
“I think… What if Cas won’t show up because, you know”—he gestures to the whirling horror of an angel—”and he’s worried we won’t…” A gesture indicating both of them.
“Then he’s a fucking idiot,” Dean says, no hesitation.
Sam nods. “Yeah,” he says. “Damn straight.”
The city is a ruined mess by the time they arrive, of course, but that’s not why they’re here. They’re here for the ship.
“I see it!” Sara, a schoolteacher from Kansas, reports from the front of the bus. “It’s there! In the bay. Oh, God. It’s there. We’re getting out of here. We’re escaping.”
Dean and Sam just exchange looks, and say nothing in reply.
“We’ve got food enough for a thousand people, a little more if we ration,” the captain, Jake Bonham, tells Dean. “You’re close to last. If we take more, things are going to be tight.”
They’re on the bridge, watching the last of the refugees load onto the ship.
“Interesting patterns you’ve got on the side of your buses, there,” Bonham says after a while.
“They keep the Creatures away,” Sam explains.
“Hm,” says the Captain, and Dean can already see him picking paint colors in his mind.
They stay in port a week longer than planned, scrawling Enochian on the side of the ship in four-story letters. It’s hard going for all kinds of reasons; getting the paint, getting the gear, getting enough blood. Most everyone pitches in, and despite everything, the mood on the ship seems to lighten.
“It helps people to have something to do,” Bonham says. “Even if it doesn’t work, it’s better than being helpless.”
It must be a curse, because not twelve hours after he says it, the aft rigging fails. Three dead and six injured, two critically. There are doctors and nurses on board, even some limited medical supplies. “But there’s only so much we can do with what we have,” one of the former tells Dean. She’s pushing forty but still beautiful; South Asian, with long dark hair and large dark eyes. Dean fucks her in one of the empty passenger cabins—it’s been hard to find time to himself in the mass huddle of the convoy—and tries not to think about how the color of her skin makes him think of a battered trench coat.
Afterwards, he and Sam lead a party out to scrounge supplies from the ruins of San Francisco General.
They go armed. Dean’s seen (and been in) enough zombie apocalypse movies to know a lack of actual zombies is no guarantee of safety. Besides, Dean is still half-waiting for the other shoe to drop. For Croatoan to resurface or demons to pour forth or… something. Something they can fight.
They get in and out of the hospital without firing a single shot. Don’t even come close, in fact, despite running across several other groups of survivors. People are worn and tired and curious, and by the time they get back it’s with a truckload of supplies and a dozen more souls than they set out with.
Bonham sighs when they step onto the deck, but he doesn’t turn them away.
The angel arrives about a day before they put the last lines on the ship’s wards. Dean is in the top deck’s nightclub when it happens. The place is the sort of middle-class frou-frou nonsense he’d never walk into in real life, but it has plenty of liquor and people to pour it. The ship’s inhabitants are still working out whether they need money or bartering in this new, post-apocalyptic world. There’s no consensus yet, but people seem content to do the jobs they know just because they know how to do them. Dean’s not going to say no to someone prepared to pour him a whiskey at ten in the morning.
He’s working his way through the bar’s selection when there’s a commotion behind him. The other barflies and assorted hangers-on are standing, pressing themselves up against the windows overlooking the city.
“Shit,” Dean’s bartender says. “It’s a Creature.”
Dean tells himself his heart doesn’t speed up at the words. “The city’s already gone,” he points out.
The bartender’s face has gone ashen and sweaty, and his hand shakes when he points out the window. “Look for yourself, dude.”
He can’t see much from this distance, just a huge shape moving slowly through the rubble. There’s something awkward about its gait, like it keeps stopping and starting.
“What’s it doing?” Dean asks no one in particular, at the window himself now.
“Looking for something, I reckon,” says a man with a loud tourist shirt and a thick Australian accent. “It’s hunched over, see?” He’s watching the angel through a fancy-looking camera with telephoto lens. He hands it over to Dean and the angel is suddenly discernible in all its terrible, zoomed-in glory.
It’s grey, is the first thing; its skin marbled like living stone. It has three heads an a human-ish torso, sitting atop a segmented body like an insect. It has at least three sets of arms Dean can see clearly, with more below it’s using to walk. Its center head is, again, human-ish, though the only features are a long slash of a mouth sitting below a huge curving crest. Sort of like some mad clockwork triceratops, carved out of pale bone. Dozens of bright blue eyes dot the crest, each moving independently of the others. The angel’s other heads are below the first, emerging from its shoulders. One is sort of like an eagle, the other sort of like a lion, though—like the center head—they have no features other than their giant maws.
There are more eyes, scattered across the angel’s chest, and more still glistening in its wings like jewels. Its huge, black-hole dark wings. Like living tears in the sky. Two arch up over its shoulders, but more seem to sit folded around its lower body like a shroud.
It’s definitely looking for something, heads lowered to the ground as it picks its way carefully through the rubble. It isn’t smashing buildings or tearing up roads. At one point, it seems to step on something that startles it, and the little shocked jump causes it to dislodge a piece of nearby building. Dean watches, heart hammering so loud he’s sure the rest of the bar must hear, as the angel catches the falling masonry. Then looks around guiltily, before gently placing the rubble on the ground.
Dean can’t breathe.
He’s out of the bar before he remembers moving, barely managing to return Shirt Guy’s camera. He runs into Sam on the deck—they literally crash into each other, hard enough to hurt—and says, “I think it’s—!” at the same time Sam exclaims, “Did you see—?”
There’s a moment where they stare at each other, defaces morphing from shock into something like giddy hope. Then, in unison: “The bridge!”
There’s a box of emergency flares on the bridge, as well as the controls for the ship’s horn and PA. They’re both breathing hard by the time they make it up the stairs, bursting through the door and earning startled yelps from the assembled crew.
“What’s going—?” Bonham starts, lowering his own pair of binoculars.
“No time!” Dean says, scrabbling for the flares. It’s not true, exactly, so much as he simply doesn’t know how to explain what is happening. He’s right. He knows he’s right; he can feel the edges of the angel’s grace, warm and familiar like the smell of apple pie or the leather of Baby’s seats.
Sam must’ve found the ship’s horn because the bass blasts through the stillness of the city like a Nolan trailer. Somewhere, Bonham yells, “What are you doing? You’ll get us all killed!” But Dean’s already out the door, pelting through corridors and vaulting stairs until he stumbles out onto the deck. There’s a huddle of people, watching the angel, and Dean raises the flare gun and yells, “Everybody get back!”
Then he fires.
There’s a moment of absolute stillness as the red smoke of the flare arcs upwards, then bursts into an unmistakable cloud.
The angel, already watching from the sound of the horn, stands up.
“Cas!” Dean screams. He isn’t sure if his voice will carry that far across the city, but damn if he isn’t going to try. “Castiel! Ca—!” Something warm and solid slams him from the side, and he goes down against the deck. He cracks his head against the boards hard enough for his vision to swim, then there are hands and fists and bodies all over him. The other passengers, desperate to keep him from drawing the angel’s attention.
“Damnit, let me go!” Dean hauls himself to his knees, throws a few punches and takes a few in return. “Dumbasses. He’s a friend! Ca—!” A hand clamps over his mouth before he can call again. He bites it, and there’s a yelp as it’s owner pulls back. Dean stumbles forward, freed, and risks a glance over the horizon. The angel—Castiel, because it has to be—is getting closer. Moving faster, now, though still trying not to cause more damage. There are people in the city, Dean thinks. He doesn’t want to squash anyone. The realization makes him laugh, big and hysterical and proud, and he opens his mouth as if to let loose another call.
The distinctive sound of someone clicking the safety off a gun dissuades Dean from the course of action.
“I knew you were trouble the moment I saw you.”
Bonham is behind him, circled by terrified passengers. He has a pistol pointed straight at Dean, grip steady and sure. Sam is behind him, bleeding from the temple and on his knees between two crew. One of his eyes is swelling shut and his nose looks broken, but he still manages to communicate intent to Dean.
“Put down the gun, man,” Dean says. “You don’t want to be doing that right now.”
“I don’t think it matters what I do,” Bonham says. “Given your monster’s headed right for us. We’re all dead anyway. Maybe I feel better if I take you down with me.”
“Look. No one’s getting dead. Cas is… We know him, okay? I think he’s been looking for us, and—”
It’s the wrong thing to say. Dean knows it as soon as the words are out of his mouth. Damnit. He’s supposed to be better at this.
“Well,” says Bonham. “If it wants you, then I guess we’d better make sure it doesn’t find you.”
A bunch of things happen at once. Sam roars, and lunges at Bonham. Bonham fires, the loud crack of the pistol and the familiar smell of gunpowder. Sam’s tackle connects and Bonham’s shot goes wild, though not wild enough; Dean feels it connect with his gut, that unmistakable shock of pressure in the second before the pain. He grunts, forced to his knees on the deck. There’s a half second of commotion, of angry shouting and movement.
The the sound of wings the size of a skyscraper, and a shadow blots out the sun.
It’s the grace that hits him first, a wave of pure, overwhelming, righteous love. His whole body hums with it; the warmth of a bonfire, the embrace of a lover, the first bite of cinnamon apple pie. The bullet in his intestines is nothing compared to the joy in his veins and he stands, eyes locking with Sammy who’s doing the same. Sam has the sort of expression Dean hasn’t seen for over twenty years, and Dean is so lost in it—in the way the lack of hurt and pain leave his brother looking so young—that it takes him a moment to realize they’re the only ones still standing.
Everyone else is on their knees, or cowering with their foreheads on the deck. Some are praying. All eyes—the ones that aren’t closed—are fixed pointedly above Dean’s head.
There is… a mouth. It’s a thin, lipless line the size of a bus. This close, Cas’ “human” face really doesn’t look very human. Too severe and too gaunt, face too featureless and crest arcing up into a sky turned to void by enormous, mantled wings. The constellation of eyes above are mostly fixed on Dean, a few more on Sam, one or two on the rest of the ship. Two rows of clawed fingers rest lightly on the deck to either side of the face, each one the size of a marble column. All-in-all, the effect is like a child peering in through a dollhouse window. One where Dean’s the doll.
Hello, Dean, no one says. Dean hears it anyway.
“Cas!” Cas’ grace is infectious. It leaves Dean feeling giddy and drunk, happy in a way he doesn’t ever remember being. “It’s good to see you, man.” He takes a few stumbling steps forward, until he can slap his good hand against Cas’ strange not-nose.
Cas’ skin is… indescribable. Like trying to touch sunlight. The contact sends shuddering waves of joy and love crashing over Dean, enough to leave him reeling. Cas is happy to see them.
He’s not so happy about the bloodied handprints Dean leaves in his wake. They evaporate as soon as they’re placed, but Cas must notice and starts making a low, angry rumbling. He can’t speak, Dean supposes, unless he wants to destroy them all, but the huge mouth opens, just a little, as if in contemplation.
Something nuzzles itself against Dean’s back; Cas’ lion-head. It’s sniffing him, mouth parted and nose huffing hot, dry gusts that ruffle Dean’s hair and clothes.
“Just a bit of blood,” Dean says. “I’ve had worse.”
“You got shot.” Suddenly, Sam is there. He also gives Cas an awkward sort of hug-punch. “Hey, Cas. Good to have you back.”
A sound behind them reminds them they have an audience. When they turn, they see Bonham, trembling and clutching the handgun once again. His eyes are huge and glassy, mouth working in soundless gasps. His arms tremble as he points the pistol first at Sam, then Dean, as if trying to decide who to take out first.
“Hey, okay, no,” Sam says. “Calm down, man. You really don’t want to do that.”
Cas moves, (humanoid) head raising and attention focused and—
Holy shit, no. His head’s not raising; it’s flipping backwards. To reveal a maw full of huge, curved teeth in the place where his chin and throat should be.
The growling intensifies, and a third massive hand appears above the railing of the deck. The intent is very, very clear: any violence against the Winchesters will be met in kind.
Dean meets Sam’s eyes and the message there echoes the one he’s feeling: deescalate. So he does.
“Cas! Cas, no man. Don’t. They’re just scared. They—” He moves wrong, jarring his midsection, and the action makes him gasp as the pain rushes in and his vision rushes out. He’s spared a humiliating face-plant into the deck by Cas’ lion-head, which is suddenly there beneath his trembling hands, helping him stay upright.
(The head feels sort of furry, despite not being furred. And if Dean clutches it a little tighter than is, perhaps, manly? Well. Who’s going to tell?)
Sam is saying:
“This is a refugee ship. There are thousands of people aboard, fleeing the… Um. You know. The other angels. We were headed for Hawaii. That’s the captain, Jake Bonham. He’s a good guy, Cas. He’s just scared. Don’t blame him for this.”
Dean nods. “Yeah, man. People’re… its messed up.” The lion-head beneath him lets out a noise that sounds like a sympathetic purr and feels like being wrapped in a warm, fluffy blanket.
Sam turns to Bonham, hand outstretched. “Give me the gun,” he says. “No one needs to get hurt.”
Bonham’s eyes keep flicking between Sam and Cas, although the gun is no longer trained on anyone in particular.
“This is Castiel,” Sam says. “He’s our friend. He won’t hurt you, but he won’t let you hurt us, either. Okay? So give me the gun. Everything will be fine.”
Sam is so sure, so confident, so calm, that Dean’s heart clenches, tight and warm, inside his chest. He’s so proud of his baby brother, and he’s still drunk enough on Cas’ grace (and also blood-loss) to say exactly that.
“Man, that was a smokin’ speech,” he murmurs. “Sammy… he grew up just fine, don’t’cha think?” The world is going a little soft around the edges. Dean slumps against Cas’ crazy giant eyeless monster lion-head in compensation.
The head whines slightly in return.
Bonham is crying, eyes red and cheeks shiny. His shoulders wrack with sobs that choke from his throat in awful, gasping heaves. But he’s lowered then gun, and doesn’t raise it when Sam steps forward. When Sam takes it, Bonham makes no move to stop him. Is too busy, in fact, falling to his knees on the deck.
“Forgive me,” he sobs. “Please. I was only trying… I didn’t… Oh, God. Please forgive me.”
“Can’t speak for God,” Dean hears himself say, “but of course Cas forgives you. He’s a giant girl that way.” His own voice sounds strange. Sort of… watery and far away.
“Dean?” The world is sort of dark and fuzzy, but Dean can still hear footsteps coming his way. “Shit, Cas. He’s crashing. He’s lost a lot of blood, he…” The sensation of vast movement, big enough to stir the air across Dean’s fevered skin.
Sam’s voice again:
“Don’t worry ‘bout it, man. I’ll be fine. It’s just…” A pause. “Actually. I mean… we’ve got… there was an accident the other day… and people have infections from the road, and…”
There’s a noise, soft but heavy, and a collective gasp from the people still on deck. And then…
Be healed, Dean Winchester. By the light of my grace, I make you whole.
Dean gasps, sharp and sudden, back arching as the bright blue-white light of grace floods through his body. His whole body feels pulled taught and blown open at the same time, bright and shivering and real. It’s not the first time Dean’s been healed this way, but something about is more intense. Not filtered through the pinhole of a vessel or dimmed by the veil of death. This is the Real Deal, the whole nine Touched by an Angel yards, and Dean nearly creams his jeans like a kid from the sensation.
He comes back to himself, panting and whole, on the deck of the Lure of the Sea, one hand still braced against Cas’ lion-head. The blood is gone, as is the hole in Dean’s gut and (presumably) the bullet as well. Even his shirt is mended and the crick in his shoulder he’s been nursing for the last few weeks has unwound.
Hallelujah. It’s a miracle.
Sam is similarly healed, as is everyone else on the deck. The expressions of horror from the assembled mob have transformed into rapturous devotion, with multiple people taking to their knees in voluntary supplication.
For his part, Cas slowly withdraws the two fingers he’d pressed gently against the deck. The wood beneath is scarred in rings of Enochian, and Dean gets the sinking feeling there’s going to be a prayer circle around the spot by sundown.
A big hand claps Dean on his shoulder. “You all right?” Sam asks.
“Yeah. Y’know Cas. Good as new.” Dean straightens himself, patting the lion-head as he does. Pleasure hums through the air’s latent grace, threaded through with a kind of altruistic pride.
“You can feel that, right?” Sam asks.
They both turn to Cas, who’s gone back to watching them with constellation eyes.
“Wish we could talk to you properly, big guy,” Dean says. “But I’m guessing we’d do the exploding thing if you tried.”
Cas’ expressions as a human suddenly make a lot more sense, knowing his actual (probably?) body is lacking three quarters of its major facial features. Still, the grace around them hums in a kind of contemplation.
“What is it?” Dean asks.
When Cas starts to move, there’s a chorus of gasping and shouting from the crowd. He’s raising his hands, cupping them until they form a kind of makeshift wall of terrifying, many-jointed fingers between Dean and any onlookers. Even Sam gets pushed out of the space, gently but firmly, grumbling all the while.
When the hands stop, it’s just Dean and Cas inside the wall. Dean raises a querying brow. “Cas?”
Cas’ mouth, the one on his human-ish face, splits open. Except instead of a tongue, a dozen writhing, void-black tentacles spill forth and rear up in front of Dean.
It’s not that Dean’s afraid, exactly. Cas’ grace is still oozing love and devotion into the air and, well. It’s Cas. The guy who pulled Dean out of Hell. Cas isn’t going to hurt him, and if Cas is currently a thousand-foot-tall three-headed monster? Well. That’s still what he always looked like. It’s just Dean who couldn’t see that before.
So Cas doesn’t want to hurt him. It still doesn’t mean that being confronted by a mouthful of writhing black tentacles isn’t weird as hell.
(Or weirder, really, given Hell isn’t that “weird”, per se, but… semantics. Whatever. Tentacles.)
One of the tentacles rests itself lightly on Dean’s shoulder.
“Dude,” he says. “You know I’ve seen porn that starts like this, right?”
The tentacle against his shoulder rears back a little, and Dean thinks he can feel hesitation in the grace.
“Just… tell me one thing,” he says. “Whatever you’re trying to do. Will it help us, y’know. Talk. Or whatever. Without my head… pew.” He mimes an explosion with his fingers. “Nod your mouth tentacles for yes, shake for no.”
In unison, the tentacles nod.
“Okay,” Dean exhales. “Okay. Um…” He knows he shouldn’t ask, but… “Will it… will it hurt?”
Vehement shaking, coupled with an offended ripple of emotion. Like Cas can’t believe Dean could even suggest it.
“Right,” he says. “Right. Sorry, I just… Yeah. Right.” One deep breath. Then another. This—whatever it is—will be fine. It’s just Cas. He’s asking permission. No problem.
He asked Jimmy, too, says a traitorously awful part of Dean’s subconscious. It sounds like Crowley. Dean stamps it down.
“Okay,” he says. “Yeah. Let’s go. Do it.” Stop being such a fucking girl, Winchester, says a completely different awful internal voice, this one sounding like Dad.
The hands behind Dean curl a little closer, like they’re trying to offer comfort. It would be fine. Weird, and kinda gay (is it gay when it’s a skyscraper-sized monster of no discernible gender?). But fine. Whatever. The tentacles doing the same thing? Not so much.
There are two curling behind his shoulder-blades and two more behind his legs. Dean tries not to think of porn and he very much tries not to think of the tentacle that’s wrapping itself around his neck and head.
“At least you don’t drool,” he tells Cas, forcing laughter.
The tentacles have the same nothing-everything feel as Cas’ skin. Not unpleasant, not painful. Just… there. Dean forces himself to relax. It’s Cas, he tells himself. It’s just Cas. And then…
It’s like before. Like being healed by Cas’ grace, in the same way that a static shock is like ECT. The tentacle around Dean’s head tightens, just slightly, and suddenly his vision goes white and his body convulses as a force as old as the universe and as large as time gently slots itself into his soul. This time he does come, maybe more than once, not so much from arousal as the fact his body doesn’t know any other way to process such an intense level of not-pain. It’s like the opposite of Alastair’s rack, like every nerve in his body is on fire with pleasure while every brain cell is screaming love so loudly it’s like the word has transcended any kind of sensible meaning.
This, Dean will realize later, is what is meant by “religious ecstasy”. The overwhelming feeling of having his mind and body opened and given a full tune-up by something beyond human comprehension. This is having his soul cradled gently in the hands of an instrument of God, and being found not wanting.
Later, Sammy will ask him what it felt like. Dean will shrug and say, “Weird.” No way in Hell, Heaven, Earth, or any other realm he’s ever going to be saying anything different.
When he comes back to himself, he’s still on the ship’s deck. He’s standing, but only because Cas’ fucked-up mouth tentacles are holding him up.
“Sonovabitch,” he mutters, grinding the heel of a hand into his eye. He feels like he’s suffering from the worst Bizarro-world un-hangover ever. Like he’s just been on a six month bender of yoga, clean living, and phenomenally great sex. He staggers upright, the tentacles slithering away, making no attempt to stop him. At least the inside of his jeans remains blessedly dry. Fuck. Chained to a fucking comet. Fuck.
The voice isn’t loud, exactly. It’s just… incomprehensibly massive, yet comfortably far away. Like listening to a recording of a nuclear explosion. It’s also not actually a voice so much as it’s Dean’s brain processing having heard one. Like telepathy, or whatever. It doesn’t sound (or register as having sounded? whatever) anything like Jimmy. It doesn’t sound like anything Dean has a name for.
Well. He has one name for it, he supposes.
“What the fuck did you do to me?”
“REARRANGED PART OF YOUR SOUL SO THAT WE MAY COMMUNICATE,” says the enormous-far Cas-voice. “I APOLOGIZE IF IT WAS UNPLEASANT.”
Dean huffs a shaky, hysteric sort of laugh. “I feel like I’ve just had the most mind-blowing orgasm of my life,” he blurts, because apparently being drunk on endorphins and angel grace makes him stupid.
“OH. YES. GOOD. I BELIEVE THAT IS THE APPROPRIATE PHYSICAL REACTION TO HAVING ONE’S SOUL TOUCHED BY LOVING GRACE.”
“Thank, man. You really know how to make a guy feel special on his big day.” Dean is not blushing. Blushing is for girls.
The house-sized head above him tilts quizzically. It’s a small motion writ impossibly large, and just so Cas that Dean has to laugh. He wonders if pre-Jimmy Castiel would’ve made the same gesture. Somehow, he suspects not.
“DO NOT MISUNDERSTAND ME,” Cas says. “IT WOULD NOT OCCUR IF WE DID NOT ALREADY SHARE A UNIQUE AND PROFOUND BOND.”
Dean is trying very, very hard not to notice Cas’ explanation is sounding more and more like the aftermath of a bad prom date.
“That… that’s great, Cas. Just to be clear, only I can hear you, right?”
“Right. Great.” The last thing he needs is for Sammy to have caught any of that. He’d be such an insufferable little asshole about it, and not at all helpful in Dean’s current course of action, which is to shove the whole incident into his mental FUCK NOPE: DO NOT TOUCH box as quickly as possible.
It’s a pretty full box. More of a warehouse, really. One fast expanding into a town.
Dean throws the proverbial bolt back on the Fucknope Warehouse and turns to knock against Cas’ giant palm. It was a nice gesture, Dean supposes, for Cas to shield him from prying (brotherly) eyes before administering the tentacle bad touch. “We done here?”
The hands unfold. Dean absolutely forces himself to stay rooted in place, despite the way his heart rate spikes and his skin bursts into a cold sweat. It’s just Cas, he reminds his body. No need to wuss out just because he’s bare inches away from a fast-moving object than could, quite literally, squash him like a bug.
A collective gasp greets Dean when he emerges from behind Cas’ hands. The deck is crawling with people, far more than were out here previously. There are a lot of cameras for a post-apocalyptic wasteland, plus one or two people with sketchbooks, and an awful lot of prostration and mumbled prayers. Dean feels a shiver of disgust beneath his skin. An hour ago these people hated and feared the quote-unquote “Living Creatures”—the monsters that destroyed their homes and families—and now they’re praying to one. A part of him suggests that reaction might just, maybe, be slightly hypocritical, though he stamps it down fiercely. It’s not the same when he prays to Cas. He knows Cas, and Cas knows him. They’ve gone through Hell together, literally. The only other person here who can say anything even close to the same is Sam. Everyone else can fuck off. Cas is his angel, damnit.
Sam is reading some kind of map, because he’s a huge nerd, and leaning on one of the hands Cas has resting on the ship’s deck. “You guys have fu—” is as far as he gets, before double-taking at the sight of Dean. “Holy shit, man. What did Cas do to you?” He looks up at Cas, slack-jawed.
Dean has a sudden fit of panic than his excursions in gay angel hentai are somehow obvious, but when he re-checks himself he looks… like himself. “What’re you talking about?”
“IT IS A SIDE-EFFECT. IT… SHOULD FADE IN TIME.” Cas’ voice—Cas’ entire grace—flips suddenly and acutely into what Dean can only describe as “shifty”.
“Ca-aa-as…” he drawls, threatening. As if there’s anything at all in the universe Dean could could do against a full-sized angel. (As if that’s not their entire problem to begin with.)
“It’s not… bad,” Sam hedges. “Just… a different look for you, is all.” He looks like he’s trying very hard not to burst into laughter. Dean gives hella stink-eye until Sam relents. He draws a sort of circle around his head with his finger.
“… what?” No way Sammy means what Dean thinks he means.
“Excuse me, um… Your Grace?”
It takes Dean a second to realize the woman shuffling forward is addressing him, rather than asking a question. She’s also holding out a makeup compact and can’t quite meet his eyes.
“What the fuck did you do to me, Cas?” Dean demands again, snatching the offered compact. The mirror on the thing is tiny, and he has to keeping moving it around to try and see what all the fuss is about. Behind him, Cas gives a very convincing impression of whistling innocently with his hands behind his back while simultaneously not shifting a single feather.
“Son of a bitch! Cas!”
Sam, the little shit, bursts out laughing. And Dean? Dean is just left staring at his brand new halo, pulsing gently in the mirror.
“I AWOKE IN SIBERIA,” he tells Dean, with Dean relaying dutifully to Sam and both trying to ignore their enraptured audience. “BUT DID NOT KNOW MYSELF.” Dean’s still getting used to Cas’ weird mind-voice. It’s kind of… heavy. And ponderous. And Dean is almost positive it’s actually in Enochian, not English.
“What do you mean, ‘awoke’?” Dean asks.
Cas shrugs; an enormous shift of multi-socketed shoulders that sends people on the deck gasping and falling to their knees. “I WAS NOT AWARE, THEN I WAS. THOUGH IT FELT… STRANGE. LIKE I WAS MYSELF, BUT NOT MYSELF.” A brief pause, then: “I… I BELIEVE I DESTROYED KRASNOYARSK. I DID NOT MEAN TO, BUT I DID.”
“The angels are targeting cities,” Sam muses, when Dean relays the information. “Do you know why?”
Cas starts to shake his enormous center head before stopping and seeming to reconsider. “IT FELT… LIKE KRASNOYARSK WAS A BLEMISH. UNHOLY. WHEN IT WAS… GONE I FELT SATISFIED THAT THE LAND WOULD RETURN AND THUS WOULD GOD’S ORDER BE RESTORED.” Another pause. Cas’ grace ripples with enough grief and shame that half their audience has started weeping. “THERE WERE A MILLION SOULS IN THAT CITY. I… DON’T KNOW HOW MANY…”
“Hey.” Dean breaks off his Samlation to punch one of Cas’ giant hands in the most reassuring way he knows how. “Don’t blame yourself for that. It wasn’t you.”
“It sounds like you were dreaming, almost,” adds Sam.
“ANGELS DO NOT DREAM.”
“But you’re not trying to destroy us now,” Sam continues. “So what snapped you out of it?”
“YOU.” Somehow the answer is both alarming and unsurprising, all at once. “YOU PRAYED TO ME, TO THE CASTIEL YOU KNEW. BECAUSE OF THAT, I WAS ABLE TO REMEMBER WHO I WAS. AND THAT I DID NOT WISH TO DESTROY CITIES.”
“It’s been weeks though, man,” says Dean, thinking of Larissa’s story about the family in the car. “Where’ve you been?”
“I KNEW YOU WERE CALLING ME,” Cas says, “BUT I COULD NOT TELL WHERE YOU WERE. THINGS HAVE… CHANGED. I HAVE BEEN SEARCHING FOR YOU. BUT… THERE WERE OTHER THINGS I WANTED TO SEE, ALSO.”
“Heaven,” guesses Sam.
Cas nods, another staggering wave of grief rolling from him like a tangible force. “IT IS GONE.”
“What do you mean, ‘gone’?”
“I MEAN IT IS GONE. IF I TRAVEL TO THE PLACE IT SHOULD BE, THERE IS NOTHING.”
“Like… the gates or whatever are closed?”
“NO.” Cas is getting frustrated, wings shifting above like storm clouds. Storm clouds full of eyes. “IT IS… NOT LIKE RETURNING TO A LOCKED HOUSE. IT IS LIKE RETURNING TO A VACANT LOT THAT LOOKS NEVER TO HAVE BEEN OCCUPIED.”
Sam and Dean exchange looks. “Jesus,” Sam mutters. “That’s… what could do something like that?”
“I DON’T KNOW. AND IT IS NOT LIMITED TO HEAVEN; HELL AND PURGATORY ARE SIMILARLY GONE. AS ARE THEIR INHABITANTS.”
“That might explain the lack of demons,” Sam suggests.
“But not the angels,” Dean points out. “If they’re here, why not everyone else?”
“PERHAPS THEY CANNOT EXIST ON A WORLD SATURATED IN UNFILTERED GRACE,” Cas suggests, slowly, as if proposing a theory he himself isn’t sure of. “THE RULES FOR THESE THINGS SEEM… DIFFERENT NOW.”
“Like how we can look at unvesseled angels without our eyes catching fire,” Dean adds.
“NOT PRECISELY. THIS IS STILL A VESSEL.” Cas is studying a pair of hands, opening and closing the fingers. Each hand as two thumbs, one on either side of the palm. Looking at them makes Dean feel sort of queasy.
“You have three heads,” Dean points out instead. “Plus you’re, what? A thousand feet tall? Not many humans I know look like that.”
“IT IS NOT A HUMAN VESSEL. YET, IT IS A VESSEL. I BELIEVE I CREATED IT.”
“You created a body for yourself with a mouth in its neck? Dude. What the fuck?”
For a guy with very few facial features, Cas still gives some hella-impressive bitchface. He also opens his horrific neck-mouth, leering at Dean with the rows and rows of huge white teeth that line the inside. “SAYS THE BEING WITH EYES ON ITS FACE.”
A minor panic breaks out on the deck, probably at the sight of the mouth. Sam tries to quell it while Dean’s busy pulling faces at Cas.
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Sam is saying. “They’re just idiots.” Then: “Guys, can you not?”
“PLEASE RELAY TO YOUR BROTHER THAN IT IS NOT MY FAULT HUMANS DO NOT APPRECIATE THE MAJESTY OF GOD’S FIRST CREATIONS.”
“Hey, Sammy. Cas wants you to know he’s a prissy little bitch.”
“Yeah, okay. I’m sure that’s exactly what he said.”
“YOU KNOW I COULD BE LITERALLY ANYWHERE OTHER THAN HERE RIGHT NOW. MARS, FOR EXAMPLE.”
Cas sighs, the exhalation enough to ruffle hair and clothes across the deck. “YOUR INSIGHTS ASIDE, THIS VESSEL IS A CLOSER APPROXIMATION TO WHAT YOU WOULD THINK OF AS MY ‘TRUE FORM’.” He even does the air quotes, the sassy little shit. “HENCE I BELIEVE I CONSTRUCTED IT MYSELF SUBCONSCIOUSLY, IN THE SAME WAY HUMANS TEND TO IMAGINE THEMSELVES AS THEMSELVES WITHIN DREAMS.”
Which, yeah okay. So it’s not like Dean didn’t know Cas’ real form wasn’t a scruffy, tragic, adorable-looking corporate nobody. Still. He’d always just assumed it was some kind of non-corporeal glowing light… thing. Not a multi-headed, thousand-eyed horror fresh off a Slayer album cover. Dean’s seen demons less terrifying than Cas’ true form. Hell, Dean’s (more-or-less) been a demon less terrifying, at least in the physical sense which, a) is veering way too far into the Fucknope Warehouse, and b) probably says some bullshit about not judging based on physical appearance blah blah blah that Dean is currently too sober to be entertaining.
And, okay. Now both Sam and Cas are staring at him, waiting for the translation. Which, shit. “Er. Right. Um. Cas says he thinks he graced himself up a vessel based on his real appearance by accident.” Close enough.
“NONETHELESS, THESE CONSTRUCTED VESSELS ARE IMPERFECT FOR THE CONTAINMENT OF OUR GRACE,” Cas continues. “I DO NOT KNOW IF THIS IS DUE TO THE SIZE OR THE LACK OF A HUMAN SOUL TO ACT AS—”
“Whoa, whoa. Back up.” Dean’s holding up his hands. “‘Lack of a human soul’?”
Sam’s head snaps around at that, too. “Cas?”
“AH,” says Cas, multitude of eyes very intent on looking at anything not ending in “-inchester”. “YES. UM… YES.” He nods, just slightly.
“Damn,” says Sam after a moment.
“Poor sonuvabitch,” Dean mutters. And if Heaven’s gone… damn.
“I DID NOT MEAN FOR THIS TO HAPPEN,” Cas says. Which, yeah. Duh.
“We know, man,” Sam says. “I don’t suppose anyone meant for this to happen. I mean, the Apocalypse is one thing, right? But this…” He trails off, scowling.
“The other angels,” Dean puts in. “They’re like you were? Before you… woke up?”
A giant nod. “YES. I HAVE… ENCOUNTERED SOME. THEY ARE HOSTILE, AND DO NOT SPEAK. THE BOND WE ONCE SHARED AS THE HOST IS GONE.” There’s a pause, a hesitation, and Dean can feel Cas debating whether to confess something. When he does, Dean isn’t surprised. “I SLEW MY BROTHER THEO IN LAWRENCE. WHEN HE DIED, I… I TOOK HIS GRACE. I—”
“Wait,” says Dean, mouth kicking over from translating to interrupting. “Lawrence Lawrence?”
Cas blinks. It sort of rolls across his eyes from left to right like a really weird stadium Wave. “YES.”
“There was a family there, yeah?” Dean says. “In an Impala?”
“… YES. HOW—?”
“A priest told me. We saved her a while back. The people in the car escaped, started telling a story about a… a good angel.”
“IT DID NOT FEEL VERY GOOD,” says Cas, at the same time as Sam says:
“Wait. Dean, what? You didn’t tell me this.”
Dean winces. “Um,” he says.
“Look, Sammy, I—”
“No, Dean. Shut up. Someone told you they saw Cas save a bunch of people in an Impala, from an angel, in Lawrence, and you didn’t think that was something I might like to’ve known about?”
“I didn’t know it was Cas, okay? Or that it was in Lawrence. It was just a dumb road story. It didn’t—”
“Our entire life is a ‘dumb road story’, Dean! I can’t believe you didn’t tell me ab— Hey, wait. What’re you doing?” This last isn’t directed to Dean; it’s to a group of people who have started to lay objects near one of Cas’ hands. Fruit, by the looks of it.
Dean exhales, glad for the momentary reprieve. At least until:
“YOU SHOULD NOT KEEP SECRETS FROM YOUR BROTHER, DEAN.”
“Yeah, okay, man. Thanks. I know. I just…” Didn’t want to get my hopes up, he doesn’t finish. It seems stupid, now. Like if he didn’t tell Sam, then maybe his super-secret wish for Cas to’ve been okay would be more likely to come true. Which it did. Fuck.
“MM,” says Cas. Actually straight-up beams the suggestion of dubiously contemplative humming straight into Dean’s brain. Self-righteous, hypocritical little bitch.
Sam, meanwhile, is trying to sort out the fruit people.
“—husband was sick,” one woman is saying. “Sepsis. He was injured on the road. We had no medicine. He was delirious, close to death. And now…” Her voice hitches with tears. “Now he’s sleeping. Tired, but healed. What kind of person would I be if I didn’t try and give thanks to… to the angel”—here her voice takes on a kind of breathy wonder—“that saved him?”
“Ma’am,” Sam says. “I get that, I do. But you should save your food. Cas, Castiel, doesn’t eat. Or need, um, stuff. But you will. If you want to thank him, um…” Here he looks back at Dean, expression clearly signaling help me.
Dean is perfectly happy to let Sam hang—anything that’ll keep him distracted right now—except that Cas shifts in a way that manages to suggest gentle throat clearing. Then says, “THERE IS SOMETHING I WOULD REQUEST? IT WOULD NOT BE IN REPAYMENT—GOOD WORKDS DO NOT INCUR A DEBT—”
“Yeah, right,” snorts Dean, under his breath.
“—BUT IF PEOPLE WISHED AN OUTLET? THEY COULD PRAY. FOR MY BROTHERS. THAT THEY MAY RETURN TO THEMSELVES. I DON’T KNOW IF IT WOULD WORK, BUT… IT WOULD MEAN A GREAT DEAL TO ME.”
Dean looks up, face screwed into a dubious sneer. “Seriously, dude? After all the shit they’ve put us through? Put you through?”
“THEY ARE MY BROTHERS,” Cas states. “THEY DO NOT DESERVE THIS.” As if he expects Dean to just… get it.
And, damn him, but Dean does.
He sighs. “Hey, sweetheart.” He steps forward, tries to ignore the way the woman bows and murmurs Your Grace as he approaches. “Cas says, if you’re up to it, he’d appreciate it if you could pray for his bros.”
The woman blinks, slowly. She’s looking at Dean but her eyes keep flicking upwards. Almost like she’s afraid to look as Cas which, shit. She probably is. Dean was never very good at dealing with the religious. It’s one of the reasons Jimmy left him feeling so… itchy. One of. The one he’ll admit to in dayt— oh yeah, hi there, Fucknope Warehouse. Left the door open again, huh?
“Pray,” she repeats. “For… his ‘bros’?”
Sam rolls his eyes, very distinctly at Dean. Then he turns to the woman and says, much more gently, “The other Living Creatures are other angels. They’re Castiel’s brothers. Something terrible happened to them. Cas— Castiel believes it’ll help if people pray for their, um, redemption.”
Praying for angels. Shit. What a world.
A terrible half-second passes, then the women is nodding like a dashboard dog on a potholed backroad. “Yes,” she says. “Yes, of course.” Now she does look up, hands pressed together. “Your Holiness. Thank you.” She bows.
“I AM NOT THE POPE,” Cas says, grace radiating fond amusement. “OBSEQUIENCE IS NOT REQUIRED.” He seems to think for a moment. “IN FACT, IT IS ANGELS WHO ARE TO SHOW DEVOTION TO HUMANS.” And then, before Dean can dissuade him, he’s folding a pair of hands and bowing all three giant heads over the ship’s deck.
“He says ‘you’re welcome’,” Dean translates, just as the poor woman faints dead away.
“Can you get us to Hawaii?”
Cas’ huge head tilts in contemplation. “‘US’?”
“The whole boat,” Dean clarifies. “It’s where we were headed.”
“No angels have hit Hawaii yet,” Sam adds. “That’s the rumor, anyway.”
Cas rears back, apparently to study the ship itself. It’s probably about as long as Cas is tall, but Dean has no idea what that means in relation to Cas’ ability to fly-slash-teleport, particularly over such a large distance. The powers granted by Cas’ grace don’t always work in the ways Dean expects, or in accordance with boring little human problems like the laws of physics.
“IT WILL BE TIRING,” Cas says eventually. “BUT I BELIEVE SO. MY GRACE IS NOT INFINITE AND I AM STILL… UNUSED TO CERTAIN ASPECTS OF ITS NEW FUNCTION.”
“Even a bit of a boost will be a big help,” Sam says. “We’ll be cutting it fine on fuel and food as it is.”
“OF COURSE. I’LL DO WHAT I CAN.”
Getting Cas on-board (pun intended) is one thing. Getting Captain Bonham into the idea is something else entirely.
By the time they track him down, he’s a good three glasses into a bottle of Lagavulin, head in his hands as he sits at one of the lower deck bars. One of the ones with no external windows.
His eyes go very wide when he sees Sam and Dean approach, then he raises his chin and gives a passable impression of a man determined to go to his grave with pride. “I did what I thought I had to,” he says, words only slightly blurred around the edges. “Whatever you do to me, I don’t regret it.”
“Dude, what?” Dean says. “Relax. We’re not going to shoot you, Jesus.”
“We’re here with an offer,” Sam adds. “Cas says he can fly the boat to Hawaii.”
“… Cas.” Bonham says the name like he’s testing out the shape of it in his mouth.
“You know,” Dean says. “Angel guy. Three heads, wings, big on arms and eyes? Y’can’t miss him. Literally can’t miss him; he takes up half the skyline.”
Bonham squints at Dean. “You’re glowing,” he says after a moment.
“I moisturize,” Dean snaps because, no. He does not want to talk about the halo. There are quite a lot of mirrors on the ship, as it turns out, and he’s been trying very hard not to look at his reflection in any of them. The halo Cas left him with is… a halo. A glowing blue-white nimbus behind his head that stays eerily two-dimensional no matter which way he turns. He looks like a goddamn walking J.J. Abrams film.
Bonham shrugs and turns back to his whiskey, pouring himself so many fingers it may as well be a hand. “You’re asking my permission to have your monster take my ship and all the souls on board,” he says. “And if I say no?”
“We’ll probably do it anyway,” Sam says. He shoots a look at Dean, who shrugs. Sounds about right. The trip is five days, max, in a ship this size. Still, a lot could go wrong at sea in five days. And they’re only guessing the Creatures won’t be out there in the water.
“Of course you will,” says Bonham. “Men like you always do.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Dean snaps.
Sam, meanwhile, ignores it. “We swear that no one on the ship will be harmed.”
Bonham shrugs. “Do what you will,” he says. “We’ve already established I can’t stop you.”
It’s not exactly permission, but Dean shares a glance with Sam and they both shrug.
“Close enough for rock and roll,” Dean says.
“Secure all possessions,” Sam’s voice comes over the PA, blasted through every inch of the ship. “Including yourselves and your families. Make sure all decks are clear, including any personal balconies. The last thing we want is people falling overboard; even if Cas catches you, the impact is going to suck.” And so on and so forth. Dean tunes out in favor of pacing around the ship and checking and re-checking their own stuff.
He and Sam have grabbed two of the cabins on the lower decks, much to the consternation of the group of people who’ve decided they’re latter-day saints and have been trying to install them in one of the fancy rooms upstairs. Dean doesn’t need some fancy-ass cabin with a TV that doesn’t work and its own mini kitchenette. Particularly given he doesn’t exactly intend to stick around. They’ll get Cas to haul them to Hawaii but, after that, there’s got to be something. Something they can do. Dean feels like he’s been running on autopilot since the first angel landed the knock-out blow on The Paris, but he’s started to get that old hunter’s itch again. There are a lot of people they left behind on the mainland, if nothing else. Dean thinks they should probably get their shit together enough to do something about that, and sooner rather than later.
Securing their gear takes all of ten seconds, stuffing duffles into cupboards. A lifetime of traveling light is suddenly an asset, here at the ass-end of the world, and Dean tries not to think about it too hard, particularly when he ends up helping a bunch of strangers haul boxes of things like photo albums and heirloom china dining sets into their own rooms. It gives him something to do.
His halo’s faded out, thank fuck, but people still know who he is and are terrified and in awe of him in equal turns. Somewhere along the line the title “You Grace” has stuck. It pisses Dean off but he can’t do much about it unless he wants to make a bunch of terrified refugees cry.
There’s a place that does burgers and fries wedged in between a bar and a pool on what Sam refers to as the Lido deck—apparently, the map he had been studying earlier was of the ship itself—and they meet up there to grab something and watch the sun set over the bay, washing everything out in blood-red and hellfire orange.
“This is fucked-up,” Sam says eventually. “Even for us.”
Dean shoves a handful of fries into his mouth. “Yup.” The fires are covered in hipster herbs and truffle bullshit Dean had sneered at on the menu but which, in the privacy of his own brain, he can admit actually tastes pretty good. The world might be ending but apparently the chefs of the Lure of the Sea have decided this is the night to break out the good stuff.
Behind them, Cas is sitting on the pier and waving a pair of hands around in complicated patterns. Sam must catch Dean staring, because he says: “You know the whole thing where angels are supposed to know every human language? Turns out that includes sign language.”
“Huh. Who’s he talking to?”
“PASTOR LARISSA,” Cas adds, because apparently he’s still an enormous eavesdropping creeper. “I AM TELLING HER OF MY BROTHERS, THAT SHE MIGHT LEAD PRAYERS FOR THEIR SALVATION.”
“Cool,” says Dean, taking a swig of whatever hipster craft beer the bar had deigned to serve him.
“Cas talking to you?”
“Yeah. How did—”
Sam, the little shit, just grins, finger drawing a circle around his head.
Dean just huffs at nothing, and shoves another handful of fires into his mouth.
Neither is Dean, for that matter. Not for lack of offers—apparently being considered a saint gets you hella tail, who knew—so much as the prickling awareness of Cas’ grace. It ripples on his skin and itches in his soul, placid and fond, and it’s not a bad feeling so much as it’s like trying to jack off while being stared at by a fucking puppy.
“Fuck,” Dean announces to his ceiling. He has no fucking clue what the time is. Time’s one of the things that’s been harder to track since the angels came; they lost it the first time their phones died and never quite managed to get it back. Nowadays, it’s either day or it’s night, sunrise or sunset. Things like twelve-minutes-to-three or 9:46 stopped existing with the power grid.
Dean hauls himself out of bed, bare chested but still in his jeans. An old habit from long hunts and restless nights. Always be ready, even in sleep. Doesn’t matter than Hell’s closed shop and they’re being watched over by a giant living weapon; the gun still goes under the pillow, just like it always does. Dean can’t sleep without the ugly, hard feel of it beneath his skull.
Tonight, he can’t sleep with it, either.
He hauls his ass out of the room. It’s been cold at nights and there’d been a wind picking up over the bay, so he grabs the blanket off the bed before he goes. It’s too-white and too-soft and too-fluffy, and hangs over his shoulders like a mockery of someone else’s life. One with apple pie and picket fences, where salt stays in the cupboard and angels and demons are just Sunday school fairytales.
Shit. For a guy who can’t sleep, he sure is tired.
The ship is dead, or near enough. The odd light filtering beneath the odd door, the odd murmur behind. Nothing else, no other lost souls wandering the corridors at ass-fuck o’clock. When he left his room, Dean had a half-formed plan to raid the first bar he stumbled across. Find a bottle of something hard and expensive—another life’s bottle to go with his other life’s blanket—and drink enough to pass out. Somehow, however, he finds himself walking up endless flights of stairs until he stumbles out onto the deck.
There are so many fucking stars now. Like God himself jizzed glowing clouds across the heavens, a thousand million twinkling little droplets smirking down at the filthy ball of rock below, and for a moment Dean feels weak with the enormity of it. Of that brilliant eternal blanket humanity has spent the last hundred years slowly replacing with its own pitiful, halogen-fueled alternative.
“IT WAS THE FIRST THING I NOTICED, WHEN I CAME TO EARTH. HOW DULL THE SKY SEEMED. HOW EMPTY.”
Dean blinks, turns just enough to see the giant dark shadow of Cas, looming on the other side of the boat. Cas’ constellation of brilliant blue eyes are all looking down at Dean, and for a moment Dean wonders why, when there’s something far more interesting up above.
“‘S one of the things I like about the road,” he hears himself say. His voice comes out close to a whisper, but he knows Cas can still hear him. “If it’s the middle of nowhere and we don’t make it to a motel. I can pull Baby over and just…” He gestures upwards, thinking of warm summer nights, of falling asleep on the Impala’s roof, stars slowly rotating behind his eyelids.
Cas moves, uncurling slowly to lower a huge hand next to Dean. Dean looks at it, then up as Cas.
“THE VIEW UP HERE IS VERY GOOD.”
Dean shrugs, and climbs into the enormous palm.
He initially tries standing, though that lasts about as long as it takes for Cas to start moving. Then inertia kicks in, and vertigo, and the sudden realization that he’s quickly climbing hundreds of feet above the ground with nothing but the hand of an angel to keep him there.
“I WILL NOT LET YOU FALL.”
Dean’s ass hits Cas’ palm just as the words register. There’s something in them, some kind of dark and fucked-up irony, and he has to bite down on his tongue to stop himself blurting out, I can’t say the same. It’s either funny or tragic and like hell Dean’s going to weep under the stars cupped in an angel’s hand. So he laughs instead, flopping backwards so he’s lying down fully, bare feet kicking off the edge and over the long void below.
Dean doesn’t know how long he lies there, hand covering his eyes, laughing until he feels the tears roll down the side of his face despite his best intentions. Cas must know what’s happening, but for once he doesn’t say anything. Just holds his hand open and still, high above the ruined Earth.
It takes Dean a moment to register what’s woken him up. Then the sound comes again: a distant bass roar, reverberating beneath a drumming sort of hiss.
Dean’s hand is already reaching for the gun he didn’t bring when Cas’ voice folds over him like a warm, downy wing.
“IT’S ONLY A STORM. GO BACK TO SLEEP.”
When Dean’s eyes flick up, he sees the curve of another hand, cupped over him like a roof. In the gap in front of him, rain sluices down over the bay, glowing night sky only partially obscured by clouds.
Dean watches the rain until his eyelids droop closed, and he falls into sleep one more.
He comes to sometime around the dawn, the smell of ozone in the air and the feel of the sun caressing his cheek. Awareness of where he is feels distant and unimportant. Not when he can’t remember a time he’s sleep so deeply or so soundly, so unplagued by nightmares and safe in the knowledge nothing in the universe could possibly sneak up on him, high above the world and cradled in loving grace.
Dean can feel it now—really feel it—warm and soothing across his soul. With his eyes closed and his mind half asleep it feels like he’s a flickering little LED, being gently petted and caressed by a living, breathing star.
“YOUR SOUL IS BRIGHTER THAN THAT, DEAN.” And, it’s funny, because the voice is still huge but Dean gets the distinct impression it’s whispering. Reverently. “YOUR SOUL IS THE BRIGHTEST AND MOST BEAUTIFUL I’VE EVER KNOWN. EVEN THE SOOT AND FILTH OF HELL COULD NOT DIM IT, FOR ALL THEY TRIED.”
“Jesus, Cas,” Dean mutters. He doesn’t want to think about Hell. Not ever, but especially not now. Not bathed in light and grace, dual warmths that coalesce into a sharper heat below his belly. His body is responding in the usual way, sleepy and safe, dick a hot heavy presence inside his jeans.
He shifts, curling deeper into the stolen blanket, thighs turning flat against the bed. Body-warm and the perfect combination of soft and firm, all at once. Dean sighs, hips building into a slow and steady roll, friction radiating little waves of pleasure in time with the warm pulsing in his soul.
“OH. OH, YES. THAT IS… OH.”
Dean hums, happily, mind thick and sleepy and half-dreaming. It’s good, it’s warm, it’s safe. The jeans aren’t right; too rough and tight. That’s easily fixed, though, with the pop of a button and the flick of a zip, and… oh, yeah. His dick is thick and damp against his palm, leaking from the head, musky and sex-ready and male. His palm is rough and familiar where he spreads precum down his shaft, fingers gun-calloused and mechanic-dry.
“THIS MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD. I WANT YOU TO FEEL GOOD. YOU’RE SO BEAUTIFUL WHEN YOU FEEL GOOD.”
Dean huffs laughter, hand still jacking slowly on his dick. Because, yeah. That’d be right. Cas being some kind of weirdly over-innocent, totally sincere pillow talker.
“Cas,” Dean mutters, face turning to hide a smile against the pillow. Cas’ hands would be smooth, Dean thinks. The hands of an office worker, even when they’re gripped on the hilt of a blade or burning the sin from a demon. They’d be soft on Dean’s skin. Warm, gentle. Hesitant but eager. Eager to please, to serve, to save.
“YES. YES, LIKE THAT. I WOULD… I WOULD LIKE THAT. VERY MUCH.”
The curls of light get closer, the touch more intimate, more insistent. It feels good, too good, and Dean’s fist speeds up in time to the sensation. Heat pooling in his belly alongside the heat growing in his soul.
“God, Cas,” he murmurs. “More. Please… closer…”
A pause in the pulsing glow. Dean growls in annoyance at the loss, trying to replace it with the friction of his hand and never quite getting there.
“Fuck, yeah. C’mon. I’m nearly… I just need…” Something else. Someone else.
And then the light pushes in.
Dean opens beneath it, soul splitting and swelling as the grace pours inside. He cries out, back arching and hips thrusting mindlessly as climax hits in a sudden rush, like every piece of warmth pooled beneath his skin is flooding its way out his dick in hot, wet spurts. The force of it steals his breath and blanks his mind, world replaced by nothing but the hum of endless white, pure and clean and eternal, as sacred as Heaven and profane as sweat and skin and the heady musk of cum.
And then, very abruptly, Dean wakes up.
He wakes up propped up on a knee and elbow, hand fisted around the still-jerking dick poking out of his half-opened jeans. He has the ship’s blanket thrown over his back and the strange marble-gray of Cas’ palm beneath him and holy shit he just jacked off onto an angel.
The wet spot sits there, glimmering beneath his belly in the dawn light, a sickly yellow-grey against the church-stone marble beneath it.
Dean thinks, very clearly:
I am going to Hell. Again.
Dean’s body jerks as Cas pulls back his grace. He feels spread-open and empty, vulnerable and cold, and has to bite back a cry of anguish in response. He’s not… Jesus. Jesus, this is fucked. He just… and Cas. And…
“DEAN?” Cas sounds more insistent, now. Voice sliding from sleepy pleasure into something like alarm. Fuck. He probably thinks…
God only knows what he thinks.
Dean groans, nuts up, and flops himself over onto his back. He’s not quite game enough to remove the forearm from across his eyes, though. Not when he knows he’ll see Cas peering down at him from above, giant and alien and uncomprehending and… fuck! How is this Dean’s life? How?
“WAS… WAS THAT NOT CORRECT?” Cas is saying. “I KNOW IT IS DIFFERENT WITH HUMANS, BUT…”
“What?” Dean risks a glance from under his arm and, yup. There they are. Three giant monster heads, peering down at him.
“IN HEAVEN, TO EMBRACE ANOTHER WITH GRACE IS AN EXPRESSION OF DEEP AFFECTION. IT… I HAD THOUGHT…” He trails off, grace a flurry of anxiety and something approaching mortification.
Shit, thinks Dean. Way to overreact to a fucking angel hug, you freakshow.
He exhales, big and loud, and tries to ignore the fact he’s been given more accidental, yet mind-shattering, orgasms by a giant alien weapon of the Lord in the last day than what he’s managed with human women for a month.
“‘S fine,” he manages to say, patting Cas’ palm reassuringly. “Just… took me by surprise, is all. Not used to, y’know. Getting hugged in the soul.” Dean forces laughter. “Plus, you sure you wanna keep touching that, man? You know where it’s been.”
And he tires to make it a joke, he really does, but:
“YOU HAVE THE SOUL OF A RIGHTEOUS WARRIOR, PURE AND FIERCE. IT IS AN HONOR TO BE PERMITTED CLOSE.”
Fuck. Dean is not blinking back tears. Fuck no. It’s just… way, way too fucking early to be getting a crash-course in Angel Sexuality 101. Which is… completely weird and fucked-up, go figure. Righteous warrior soul his ass. Fuck.
God, so much about Cas make sense, now that Dean’s finally met his giant-ass self. Also, Dean’s never going to be able to look another angel in the eye for as long as he lives, and then some. Not now that he’s going to spend it imagining Heaven’s garrisons as some kind of eternal, grace-fondling, incorporeal orgy. No wonder Cas gets so nostalgic about the place.
Also, that whole alternate future end-of-the-world vision Cas thing? So much more sense, now.
Which is probably why Dean asks:
“So you get up to that a lot in Heaven, huh? Bumpin’ grace and whatever?”
Cas is quiet for a moment, and Dean thinks he starts to feel a little sad around the edges. “IN THE BEGINNING,” he says. Which, shit. He means the beginning of the universe because holy crap what even is Dean’s life? “IT WAS THE WILL OF FATHER”—nope, not touching that one, moving on—”THAT HIS FIRST CHILDREN”—ditto, gloss over, angels are weird—”CELEBRATE EACH OTHER WITH THE FREE SHARING OF THEIR GRACE. THIS IS HOW WE ACHIEVED COMMUNION WITH EACH OTHER; THE SHARING OF THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS.”
See? Future!stoner!Cas? So much more sense. So much.
“I’m guessing it’s not like that now?” No way did uptight assholes like Uriel and Zachariah come from the Planet of the Non-Stop Angel Orgy.
“IT WAS THE FALL THAT FIRST CHANGED THINGS.” Because of course it was. “AFTER LUCIFER… THERE WAS A CONCERN THAT THOSE WHO HAD SHARED HIS GRACE MAY BE DOOMED TO SHARE HIS CORRUPTION. OR THOSE WHO SHARED GRACE WITH THEM IN TURN.”
“I get it,” says Dean. “Like Heaven’s first STD.”
“WITH THAT, AND WITH THE RETREAT OF FATHER, WE BEGAN TO GROW… DISTANT FROM EACH OTHER. OVER TIME, THE SHARING OF GRACE BECAME LIMITED TO THOSE CLOSEST WITHIN A GARRISON.” Cas pauses, and Dean can feel him considering before adding: “SOMETIMES I WONDER IF THAT WAS THE START OF IT.”
“Start of what?”
“EVERYTHING. THE APOCALYPSE, THE WAR. THE HOST HAD GROWN FRACTURED AND SUSPICIOUS. UNLOVING. PERHAPS IT WAS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE WE TURNED ON EARTH AND ON EACH OTHER.”
Dean thinks about this for a moment. Then:
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” he begins, “but… what you’re talking about? It kinda sounds like free will. I mean, God told you to do a thing, then you… didn’t?”
Cas shifts, huge wings hitching and ruffling in the still, morning air. “PERHAPS. I DON’T KNOW. I SUPPOSE IT NO LONGER MATTERS.”
“Maybe, maybe not.” Something is tugging at the back of Dean’s mind, some half-formed connection he’s still too, ahem, post-orgasmic to form. He lets it go; the theology isn’t really his strong point. Hell, a few years ago, Dean didn’t even believe in God, let alone angels and free will and all the rest of it. Maybe that’s still true. Knowing someone exists (or close enough) isn’t the same as believing in them. Dean believes in Sam and he believes in Cas. Or he tries to. It’s enough. Not to mention he’s had his fill of distant, impossible-to-please father figures in his life without adding another one.
This is all way too heavy to be thinking about as ass-crack o’clock. Particularly with the spunk from one of the weirdest-yet-most-satisfying orgasms of his life slowly drying half a foot away.
Dean does his best to surreptitiously wipe up the mess with the blanket, then just sits back and relaxes and watches the sun rise bright and full above the bay.
“All right, Cas. Pick us up.”
Dean and Sam are back on the bridge (or whatever it’s called when its a ship for the sea, not space), Bonham hungover and surly standing behind a console that looks straight out of Star Trek. They’ve just got the last all-clear from the teams sweeping the decks, and now it’s go time.
Actually getting lifted out of the water is just as nauseatingly terrifying as Dean suspected. The entire ship lurches, inertia kicking in hardcore as Cas gets a couple of hands around the hull and hauls it up. It’s awkward, like a dude trying to pick up a kayak, and there are a few awful moments of rocking back and forth as Cas tries to get the balance right.
Dean, of course, had previously declined a chair out of stubbornness. Right now, wedged between a bulkhead and a console, he is, once again, forced to regret his life choices.
“Man, sure am glad this chair has a seatbelt,” says Sammy, because he’s a little bitch.
Eventually, the rocking subsides.
“I’M READY,” Cas announces. Dean dutifully relays this to the bridge. Bonham nods, and picks up the PA speaker to start the countdown.
“Ready to launch in five…” he starts.
They’d worked out the wording beforehand. Honestly, Dean’s got no idea what this is going to be like. They’ve flown on the Angel Express before, but not like this. And Dean had never been a fan in the first place.
They’d argued a lot over whether to describe the sensation to people as “flight” or “teleportation”. In the end, both had sounded terrifying enough they’d chosen “launch” instead.
“… Two,” Bonham is saying. “One. Launch.”
“Go, Cas,” Dean mutters, at the same time as the deafening crack of giant wings unfurling rolls over the ship. It’s both a sound and a force, strong enough to slam Dean into the bulkhead and to whip up angry waves in the bay. There’s one flap, then two, and then the world turns inside-out, and they’re gone.
In retrospect, they probably should’ve thought of that.
“Hold fire!” Bonham is yelling into the radio. “I repeat, hold your fire! We have nearly twelve hundred people on board! Civilians!”
“That’s a negative. We have over a million on the island, Captain,” comes the voice from the asshole on the other end of the radio.
“For God’s sake! The… the Creature is non-hostile. It carried us here on request. It’s no danger to your people.”
“That’s not a risk I can take,” comes the voice. Then: “I’m sorry. We… we’ll try not to target the ship.”
“Cas,” Dean says. “Cas, they’re going to start shooting.”
“YES, I KNOW.”
“I hope you’ve got a plan, because—”
“MORTAL WEAPONS CANNOT HURT ME.”
“That’s great for you, dude. But I’m more worried about the rest of us.”
“Please,” Bonham is saying. “I’m begging you. Hold your fire. You’ve never been able to shoot the Creatures before! Have some faith, man!”
“I’m sorry,” says the voice.
Of all the shitty, terrifying things Dean’s seen in his life, watching helpless out the window of a cruise ship with a half-dozen missiles headed straight for him is ranked right up there. “Cas, c’mon,” he murmurs, and hears Sam do the same. Then Sam’s hand is gripped around his wrist and there’s no way it ends like this. Not after everything, and—
And then the bridge goes dark.
There are screams, and the world shakes, and for one moment Dean thinks, Looks like Hell’s not so gone after all. And then an enormous glowing blue sun opens in the void.
Or, rather, not a void. Just the dark of Cas’ wings, wrapped around the ship like a shield. A huge, multi-lobed pupil rolls across the blue sun, contracting sharply as the eye tries to focus on Dean.
“THEY’RE FIRING GUNS,” Cas says. “I WOULD PREFER IF THEY STOPPED. THE IMPACTS… ITCH.”
Dean laughs, he can’t help it.
“ALSO, I HAVE CAUGHT AND DISARMED THE MISSILES. DO YOU THINK THEY WOULD LIKE THEM BACK? I CAN’T IMAGINE MORE WILL BE FORTHCOMING ANY TIME SOON.”
Bonham has switched to the internal PA, trying to calm the ship’s screaming, terrified inhabitants. While he’s busy, Dean grabs the external radio.
“Hey, assholes,” he says. “Cas wants to know if you want your missiles back.”
There’s a pause on the end of the line, then: “Who is this?”
“The best friend of the giant fucking angel, you dickbag. We’ve got a boat of refugees to drop off at your port and you’re making it pretty fucking difficult. Now, Cas is a patient guy, but if you keep shooting him he’s going to have to hit back. And, trust me, you do not want to see what happens when he does.”
“Are… are you threatening us?”
“No! I’m telling you to hold your fucking fire so we can drop off this boat of tired, huddled masses.”
“PERHAPS I SHOULD HAVE LANDED ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ISLAND,” Cas muses.
No fucking shit.
Cas is careful when he puts the boat back down into the water, eyes watching the shore as if anticipating another attack.
“No funny business,” Dean orders through the radio. “You’ve had your warning. Shoot at us now, and we hit back.” He’s not entirely sure how empty this threat is. Cas will protect the boat but he isn’t enthusiastic about smiting a bunch of mortals who are just trying to protect their island, even if they are assholes.
As it turns out, the issue is moot, and no further aggression is forthcoming. Instead, the navy sends out a boarding party, instructing everyone on the Lure of the Sea to stay where they are. Twenty minutes later, the ship is crawling with asshole people in asshole uniforms, searching rooms and questioning survivors.
At one point, things get a bit tense on the deck. Sam and Dean are out there with Bonham, and a Lieutenant gets a bit demanding with regards to what he keeps referring to as “control of The Weapon”, by which he means Cas.
And, sure, maybe Dean’s attitude isn’t exactly what Sam would describe as quote-unquote “helpful”, but when things escalate to shoving and hands reaching towards guns, Cas takes notice.
Having a three-headed monster taking a sudden interest in his person cleans up Lieutenant Shitbag’s attitude, or at least gets him to back off long enough for Sam to say, “Look. Do you have anyone a little more… specialist we could speak to?”
The “specialist” arrives on a new boat some time later. He’s a tall, bookish sort of man in a too-neat uniform who introduces himself as Rabbi Miller.
“Dean Winchester,” says Dean. “This is my little brother, Sam, and my guardian angel, Castiel.”
Miller adjusts his glasses, looking up at Cas in awe. “Incredible.”
“Cas would say hi,” Dean adds, “but his voice would make your brain leak out your ears.”
“I’ll bet,” Miller mumbles, eyes still fixed on where Cas is regarding him with placid politeness.
Miller sits with them for a good hour, grilling them on Cas and on the other angels and a bunch of obscure theological and historical points Dean has no idea about, but which Cas successfully answers. It seems to be this, more than anything else, that convinces Miller Dean and Cas really can speak to one another. That, and also when Dean has Cas do the opening arm movements to the Macarena.
“I taught him that,” Sam announces.
Miller blinks at him with an expression that seems to be half amused and half horrified. “But… why?”
“Uh.” Sam shoots Dean a look that says help, but, nope. Dean’s not touching this one. “Well… we’d had a few drinks, and there was this party of coeds in the bar who put on the song. And it’d, um. We figured that we might, y’know… um…” Try and get laid, is the end of that sentence, except Miller is staring at Sam with open-mouthed horror, and Sam is getting this look like it’s only just occurred to him he’s telling a story about getting an angel of the Lord drunk and disorderly—for the purpose of obtaining casual sex, no less—to a fresh-faced, overly earnest young rabbi.
Dean’s composure slips enough for him to let out a snort of laughter. It earns him some seriously vicious bitchface, plus a darkly muttered, “Oh, I’m sorry. Maybe instead we should talk about you taking the angel to pick up prostitutes.”
Dean just shrugs, completely unapologetic. “Was good enough for Jesus.”
Miller just turns his eyes upwards and says, completely sincerely, “I’m not sure these two are even within an angel’s power to help.”
“IT IS AN ONGOING PROJECT,” Cas says, and Dean’s shocked the dryness in the tone doesn’t evaporate the ocean.
By nightfall, the Lure of the Sea is docked in the civilian port, the military and local police working on escorting people off-board. Sam and Dean watch from the Sun Deck, rapidly warming beers dangling from their fingers.
“You know they aren’t going to let us go, right?” Sam says.
Dean huffs. The thought had crossed his mind.
“They’ll want to use us to use Cas.”
Rabbi Miller had hinted something to that effect. “It’s going to be a hard sell,” he’d told them, voice low and eyes watching his fellow uniforms stomp all over the deck. “What’s left of the government is searching for something, anything they can use against the Living Creatures. The idea of having a Creature under their control… people aren’t going to let go of that easily.”
It’s not that Dean’s worried, exactly. He’s pretty sure that, between the three of them, they can get out of whatever the military can throw their way. It’s just being able to do that without flattening half of Honolulu that’s gonna be the tricky part.
“Cas,” he says, “you ready to get us out of here? Just us this time.”
“YES. THOUGH IT IS NICE HERE. I VISITED THE VOLCANOES EARLIER.” Cas has been a bit more mobile since the violence died down, spending the afternoon wandering up and down the coast and fluttering off at various points. When Miller had asked what Cas had been doing, Dean had replied, “Sightseeing.”
“Have you thought about what we’re going to do next?” Sam asks. He has the tone of voice that suggests that, even if Dean hasn’t, he certainly has.
“Step one is get Baby back.”
“Right. And after that, I thought… we should probably start looking for people. See who, you know. Made it.”
It’s something they’ve been avoiding. Avoiding by saving an entire cruise ship of people, true, but, well. Isn’t that the hunter way? Avoid your own problems by solving someone else’s. It should be a motto or something.
“Bobby,” says Dean, because starting with the second entry on his list seems safer than the first.
“And Lisa,” Sam adds, almost hesitantly, and so much for keeping things on the emotional even keel.
Which is probably why Dean counters with, “The Campbells,” and wonders how this managed to degenerate so quickly into Sam and Dean’s Greatest Hits of Shitty Family Drama.
“Chuck,” is Sam’s next suggestion which, yeah okay. They probably should’ve though of before.
It occurs to Dean they’re fast running out of humans they know, which is kind of depressing, when Radio Cas comes back online with:
“AMELIA AND CLAIRE.” Then, after a pause. “IF… WE ARE MAKING A LIST?”
So make that Sam and Dean and Cas’ Greatest Hits of Shitty Family Drama. “Yeah, man,” says Dean. “Of course.” Then, to Sam: “Cas wants to find the Novaks.”
Sam nods. “Yeah, that works.” Then, as if the thought just occurred, “Hey. Can Cas track people?”
“THINGS ARE NOT AS THEY WERE,” Cas says. “IF PEOPLE CALL TO ME DIRECTLY… A VAGUE DIRECTION, PERHAPS.”
“It’s better than nothing,” Sam muses, when Dean’s done translating.
No one says anything about the other angels, or the missing Heaven, or finding out what the hell happened to screw everything up so severely. They don’t need to. By this point, sorting out all that stuff’s pretty much a given.
“Ready to blow this family fun ship?” Dean says.
“Downstairs in ten? Think we’re entitled to raid a few storerooms, considering.”
Dean throws back the rest of his beer. “I’ll start packing.”
“Wait, what the—?”
Because, yes. There it is: one extremely human, extremely naked, Castiel. Waiting patiently for Dean’s return.
“Yes,” says Cas.
“You’re… you again.”
“I was always me, Dean.”
“Yeah, but… human you.” Dean moves into the room, shutting the door firmly behind him. “I thought you said Jimmy was, y’know. Gone.” He drops Sam’s already-packed duffle on the floor as he enters.
“Yes. This isn’t Jimmy. As I told you, things have… changed. So I recreated this vessel. I thought it would be more appropriate for our next task.”
Dean opens his mouth to argue, thinks better of it, and says, “Cool. Okay. You want some clothes with that?”
“If you think it would help.” And, yeah. That’s definitely a smirk. Asshole.
Dean turns to rummage in his duffle, grabbing some jeans and a shirt and—after some thought—some underwear that are all passably clean and as free of bloodstains and holes as any of Dean’s clothes ever are. He throws the pile in Cas’ direction and busies himself with packing his own shit, trying not to listen to the sound of cotton sliding up lean, naked thighs.
He is not blushing thinking about Cas wearing his only slightly dirty boxer briefs. No way. Just like he’s not thinking about cumming on Cas’ palm or about the soft warm press of Cas’ grace or… or fucking angel mind-orgies or…
Jesus. Fuck. Cas is back. Human-sized, human-shaped, human…equipped Cas. Dean is so, so screwed.
He’s so very resolutely not thinking about things that he doesn’t hear footsteps in the corridor until Sam’s bursting in with a, “Dean, we gotta move, th— oh. Hey, Cas.”
If Sam is startled to see Cas, human and barefoot and wearing Dean’s clothes, he pushes it down behind a, “We gotta get out of here. Now. They’ve noticed Cas has gone and they’ve sent in the big guns.”
From somewhere in the distance, Dean thinks he can hear the heavy sound of boots fast descending the stairs.
“Ready when you are, man,” he says, hefting his stuff.
“Right.” Sam grabs his own duffle, then they both turn to face Cas.
Dean grins. “New Jersey. Time to go rescue Baby.” He gives Cas the address of where they left her, the knowledge folded and kept safe in Dean’s mind all this time.
“Very well,” says Cas, and reaches out to touch both Dean and Sam’s brow.
The door bursts open not long later. But by that time, the room is empty of everything but the faint smell of lightning.