The year is 1994, Dean is fifteen, and the boy’s name is Aiden.
He’s a pale, frail little thing, with dyed black hair that hangs in loose waves down to his shoulders. He has black nail polish and tight black t-shirts and even tighter black jeans tucked into a pair of oversized boots. He listens to weepy music about vampires that drives Dean crazy and calls himself Nothing after a character in a book who is, near as Dean can tell, also a vampire.
Aiden is also, according to everyone, the resident town faggot.
Dean doesn’t remember how they met, exactly, other than maybe they didn’t so much have a moment as an inexorable spiral. That small-town outcast pull between the willowy goth and the dirt-poor drifter’s son. He does remember Aiden being particularly good at petty theft. That’d pissed Dean off, too; Aiden’s mom had been a dentist, his dad a lawyer. Dean remembers their house as some kind of pure-white fantasy mansion although, in retrospect, it had probably been just the sort of place regular people lived. Regular people with jobs that paid money and didn’t involve death and monsters.
They hadn’t been friends, exactly. Too much about Aiden pissed Dean off, reminded him of everything he wanted and didn’t have and didn’t want and had in equal measures. All the same, they’d ended up spending a lot of time together, lifting shit from the Gas-n-Sip to take home for Sammy, or just loitering around the town avoiding adults and other kids in equal measure.
“You’re lucky,” Aiden had told him once. “A week, two. Then you get to blow the place. I’d sell my fucking soul to get out of here.”
“Don’t be a fucking retard,” Dean told him in reply. They’d been in the ruins of a long-abandoned drive-in theatre, Aiden watching Dean take out cans with a rifle.
“No, for real,” Aiden said. “You don’t get it, man. This place… these people. Fucking mundanes. I hate them. They just… they don’t get it. Going to their shitty little school to get their shitty little jobs and live their shitty little lives. Mom and Pop and a white picket fence in the suburbs. Fuck that shit, man.”
“Whatever, man.” Those thing sounded pretty good to Dean. He was halfway through taking down another line of cans—smooth and fast and accurate, because fifteen years old and this already came as easy as breathing, maybe easier—when Aiden added:
“Take me with you.”
“I’ll pay you.”
“I’ll… I’ll blow you.”
“What the fuck?” He missed the shot, too. Heart rate jerking high and palms suddenly sweaty. He turned to Aiden, who was staring at him with huge, soft, kohl-smeared eyes.
“I’m good,” Aiden said. “I swear. And I don’t mind. You… you’re hot.”
“Dude. What the fuck? I’m not… not a fucking—”
“I’ll wear a dress. You can… can pretend I’m a girl. I don’t mind—”
“That— that’s fucked up,” Dean said. Because it had to be, right? Dudes didn’t… they didn’t do that, and…
And, the thing was? Aiden was… pretty. With big wide eyes and long slim legs and soft plush lips. And a part of Dean—a very small, very secret part—thought, Maybe it would be all right. To have someone…
Except, what he said was:
“You’re messed up, man.” And started walking away.
“Dean! Dean, please. Please, man. D-don’t leave me here. I’m… they’re gonna kill me, man. Please.”
Dean had, though. Left Aiden in that field.
The next time they’d seen each other had been three days later. It’d been nighttime, with Sammy fed and in bed and the growling in Dean’s belly just loud enough to send his back out into the streets. Looking for something, anything.
He’d gotten two blocks before hearing the sobbing. And the rest of it.
“Choke on it, fucking faggot! Yeah. Yeah. You love it. You fucking love it, don’t fucking tell me you don’t. You perverted little piece of shit. Gonna teach you… teach you what God thinks of cumstains like you. Gonna drag that faggot little ass right back to Hell where it belongs. Cocksucking freak!”
Dean doesn’t remember much of the rest of it. The feeling that’d flooded through him, filled him, like a force pouring through his skin until it felt as if it would split. Too big to remember, except in bursts and flashes; the sound of his feet on the pavement, the look on the faces of the two men, the way Aiden had been curled in over himself, shivering in front of a piece of shit old truck.
And then the knife had been in Dean’s hand, and the two assholes had started shouting again—in surprise this time—and they’d tried to fight back but, really, what could two grown human men do against a hunter’s son?
He hadn’t killed them. He still isn’t sure if that’d been the right call.
Afterwards, he’d cut Aiden free. The guys had taped his legs and hands together and his mouth shut. When Dean had pulled the tape off the latter, Aiden had spent a good fifteen minutes throwing up on the pavement. Something other than vomit had come out, first, but Dean hadn’t asked what it was. He hadn’t wanted to know.
Instead, he’d taken Aiden back to the motel. Dean had cleaned him up in the bathroom, Aiden choking back sobs so as not to wake Sammy. He’d been beaten pretty bad, but Dean knew how to deal with that. Neither of them had said anything. Mostly, Dean had been thinking about the long length of chain attached to the back of the pickup. The way the owner had snarled gonna drag that faggot ass, the way Aiden had said they’re gonna kill me.
And Dean, who’d spent most of his life hunting monsters.
It’d been Aiden who’d kissed him first. He’d tasted like the Jack Dean had given him to wash out his mouth, and his lips had been just as soft as they’d looked, his body firm and lean and good where it’d rested between Dean’s thighs.
Dean had lost his virginity eight months prior and this hadn’t been anything like that. That’d been hot and awkward and urgent. This had been… soft. Gentle. Not even a sex thing, really. Just comfort, leaning agains the cold bathroom tile, Aiden curled on his chest and nuzzling and sobbing against Dean’s jaw.
“I’ll kill them,” Dean whispered at one point. “I’ll hunt them down, and I’ll kill them. That’s what I do. I’m good at it.”
“What’s the point?” Aiden said in reply. “There’ll be more. There’s always more.”
There has to be a point, Dean thought, cold and clear, arms curled around Aiden’s trembling shoulders. There has to be.
He’d fallen asleep right there on the tiles, lulled by the warmth of another body on his. When he’d next opened his eyes, it’d been to see Dad, staring down with a curled lip and a face covered in blood. He’d thrown Dean’s duffle onto the tiles and said, “Get up. We’re leaving.” Then stalked out.
Aiden had rolled away in terror at the first fight on John and had been cowering behind the toilet when Dean said, “I’ll talk to him, okay?” and scurried out after his Dad.
The conversation had gone something like this:
“Dad, hey, um—”
And then Dad had thrown Dean against the motel wall, hard enough to crack the plaster. “Now you listen to me, boy, and you listen good. There is no son of mine gonna be a fucking pansy-ass faggot, you hear me?”
“Dad, it’s not—”
“I said, you hear me? This is no life for… for that. For bein’ soft. This is a hard life, Dean, and a hard world, and the sooner you learn that the sooner you don’t get the rest of us killed. Get it?”
And somewhere, Dean thinks, in some better universe, some better Dean had spat in John’s eye and told him to go to Hell.
In this world, Dean had mumbled, “Yes, sir.”
And that’d been that. He’d left Aiden beaten and terrified behind a shitty toilet in a shitty motel in Shitsville, Shitsconsin.
It hadn’t been the last time Dean had walked away from the warm arms of another guy without so much as a backwards glance. But it’d certainly been the first.
The tickling makes him sneeze, and the feathers move. Actually, the whole bed seems to move; a weight shifting both above and behind. Like he just startled some kind of living blanket.
Dean opens his eyes.
They’re still in the street outside Chuck’s house. Sammy is a big snoring lump of bedding on the far side of the burnt-out bonfire, the space between filled with empty bottles and the pots they’d raided from Chuck’s kitchen to cook up ramen. The sun is high, the air is warm, and Dean feels like he’s buried under the thickest, heaviest duvet he’s ever experienced.
Thing is? He isn’t. He has a blanket, but it’s one of those woven cotton hospital sort of things. He can see it, just like he can see his arm lying next to him on the mattress. No heavy blanket in sight.
Behind him, the shape gives a snuffling sort of moan and buries itself closer against his back. As it does, the feeling of weight intensifies, just briefly, before settling once again.
Dean closes his eyes, and turns over his hand. He tells himself he’s not at all surprised to feel his fingers sink into warm feathers.
“Jeeze, Cas,” he mutters. Cas says nothing, apparently deciding to continue catching up on an eternity’s worth of missed sleep, face tucked between Dean’s shoulder blades, wings wrapped tight around them both.
Dean knows he should get up. He’s pretty sure Cas’ magical invisible wings won’t actually stop him; will just go back to being as insubstantial as they usually are if he tries to push through them. He knows he should do this but, well.
Wings. Angel wings. That he can touch. And, so sue him, but he’s curious.
It’s not like he’s petted a lot of birds in his day—approximately none, in fact—so he doesn’t really know if what he’s feeling is similar to something earthly. The feathers are soft, almost insubstantially so, and crackle slightly with the lightning-ozone feeling Dean associates with Cas’ grace. There’s flesh beneath them, what feels like bones and muscle. When Dean presses against it, Cas makes another snuffling sound, all the invisible little feathers fluffing up and tickling against Dean’s throat and jaw. It’s… cute.
And then his fingers find… something. Sort of like an orb of skin, protruding from the fluff. It seems to have some kind of seam along the bottom edge and when Dean presses it it gives, just slightly, and then twitches and holy shit it’s an eyelid.
Dean jerks his hand away. Groping Cas’ wings is one thing, groping his weird-ass wing-eyeballs is something entirely different. It must not feel great for Cas either, because he shifts with more intent, sucking in a deep breath in the way of someone waking up.
Dean wills the blush away from his face, and tries to settle his expression into something that totally doesn’t broadcast Got Morning Wood From Copping a Feel of an Angel’s Wing-Eye. Then he sits up.
As suspected, Cas’ wings return to being imagination-only as soon as Dean moves through them. By the time he’s done stretching—he’s both un-hungover and un-sore from digging, both of which he assumes are side-effects from sleeping next to an angel—Cas has rolled over onto his back and is blinking and scowling up at the sky as if blaming it for being awake.
“Morning, sunshine,” Dean drawls. “How’d you sleep?”
“Sleeping is not the problem,” Cas says, continuing to glare at the sky. “It’s waking that’s unpleasant.”
Dean huffs and leaves him to it, instead staggering his way back into Chuck’s house. He detours via the Impala, grabbing fresh clothes and his Dopp kit. There’s still water enough coming through the pipes to take a morning dump and have a shower, albeit a cold one. This is both a blessing and a curse; it melts the remainder of the angel-induced chubby but is also non-conducive to a good old fashioned jerk-off over the same. Dean figures that’s probably just as well. His… feelings for Cas are still mostly boxed and packaged and filed away in the Fucknope Warehouse. Closer to the door than maybe Dean would like but it’ll have to do for now.
Cas is… Cas. He’s just lost his entire home and everyone and everything he’s ever known. If he’s a bit clingier than usual it’s a totally normal and reasonable response to the shock. It’s not like he has anyone else to turn to.
In other words, Dean shouldn’t read anything into it.
He continues to aggressively not read into it as he brushes his teeth (with bottled water; the taps might run but Dean doesn’t trust what’s coming out) and walks back outside. By the time he emerges, Sam has rekindled the fire and is brewing coffee with the overpriced AeroPress Dean used to give him shit for and now would happily pray to. Cas is already huddled over a mug, scowling at the contents, and it’s all-too easy to imagine his wings mantled up like a surly, half-asleep vulture.
“How’s the hangover?” Dean asks his brother, voice pitched just a fraction too loud.
Sam doesn’t fail to notice, but just scoffs and rolls his eyes. “Cas fixed it,” he says. “But he can’t fix his own, so be nice.”
Being nice involves fixing breakfast from whatever they can find in Chuck’s kitchen, which ends up being baked beans on whole wheat crackers, coupled with a side of dried fruits to appease the Health Gods (i.e. Sam).
“Food and water’s gonna start to be a problem,” Sam muses, sipping coffee and staring into the fire. “We need to plan better.”
“Bobby’s isn’t that far,” Dean grumbles, and ignores the look Sam gives him in return. The one that says assuming it’s still there.
“If there’s a camping or a surplus store we should stop,” Sam says instead. “Grab MREs, camping gear. Something to purify water. Ammo.”
“We might have to start hunting like normal people.” Said with the a bitter, sardonic little smile of someone who’s never once fired a gun for the purpose of obtaining food. “No more motels. No more diners. No more laundromats. This is it, Dean. This is the end of the world. Whatever’s here now is all there’s going to be for a while. Maybe forever.”
“That’s… kinda depressing, man.”
Sam shrugs. “Just stating facts. And Cas says time travel is out, so that’s it. We’re stuck here.”
“I’m sorry,” says Cas, as if his sudden inability to massively rewrite the laws of physics is something shameful.
Dean waves him off. “Could be worse,” he says, thinking of a doped-up Cas and a Sam-that-wasn’t. And of himself, bitter and cruel and empty.
Right now, sitting on mattresses in an abandoned street outside a dead man’s house, they might not have much. But they still have each other, and that’s going to have to be enough.
They raid as much out of Chuck’s house as will fit in the Impala. Food and medical supplies, mostly (Chuck has a frighteningly well-stocked cabinet of painkillers to go with his liquor collection), but also clothes and blankets and other random items. The nights are mild enough but the threat of winter is looming, Bobby’s place or not.
Cas is still caught in whatever weird funk grabbed him yesterday; quiet and sort of snappy, even as he stands too-close and constantly pokes at Dean with his grace. Dean, in turn, finds it hard to keep his hands to himself, offering far more back-pats and playful punches than he’d normally be inclined to. If Sam notices, he says nothing.
Brooding or not, they’re in the Impala and on the road by what is almost certainly noon. Chuck’s phone seems to have kept the time, despite being turned off, and it’s a surprisingly comforting link back to a world of TV and microwaves.
The morning is mostly uneventful. The further they get out along the highway the less intense the destruction, to the point where they even pass a few other moving cars and through what look like tentatively populated towns. Giant angels might be on the rampage, but people are still trying to do their best.
They need to stop for gas just before sundown, because Baby might be many things but fuel efficient is not one of them. The station looks abandoned when they approach it; no lights or fires, no one coming out to greet them, plenty of bullet holes in the glass. There’s still gas in the reservoir, though. It’s a pain to get out without the pumps but they’ve done it enough times before to know the drill.
Sam loses the toss so Dean leaves him to teach Cas the ropes. There’s a little shop attached to the gas station and Dean wants to check it out, to rifle through the shelves to see if there’s something they can loot, even if it’s only bottles of warm soda.
It’s obvious within five seconds of pushing through the smashed-up door that they aren’t the first people to have stopped here. The little shop is wrecked, shelves toppled and stuff spilled out all over the tiles. Most of the non-perishable and non-food items are gone. Dean walks the place all the same, and gets about halfway through when he feels the cold barrel of a shotgun press against his lower back.
“I’ll do it. Don’t think I won’t.” The voice is older, female. Wavering, just a little, but there’s steel underneath.
“Oh, I believe it, sweetheart.” Dean says. He puts his hands up.
The gesture earns him a pat-down, and doesn’t protest when he feels the pistol dragged out of his jeans.
“Turn around,” orders the voice. “Keep your hands up.”
Dean obliges, nice and slow. “Easy,” he says. “No need to get excited.” He isn’t really talking to the woman. She’s seventy if she’s a day and five foot if she’s an inch. She handles the shotgun like someone who’s been doing it her whole life but her hands are twisted with arthritis and the end of the barrel shakes. It’ll still be enough to make Dean’s life unpleasant if she pulls the trigger, but he’s isn’t too worried. Not with the way Cas looms over the old lady’s shoulder, unnoticed, his face stuck firmly on its “Implacable Soldier of Heaven” setting.
“We don’t mean any harm,” Dean says. “We’re just here to get gas.”
“Steal gas, you mean,” the woman snarls. “I know your type. Don’t think I don’t.”
“We didn’t know anyone was here,” Dean says, as if it would’ve mattered. “My name’s Dean. The moose outside is my little brother, Sam. The angry duckling behind you is Cas.”
The woman tenses up and, yeah. She hadn’t known Cas was there. People never do, when Cas isn’t interested in being found.
“You’re bluffing,” she says.
“If Cas makes some noise, will you promise not to shoot me?” Dean tries on a roguish grin, gesturing to Cas with his eyebrows as he does.
Cas says: “I don’t want to hurt you. But I won’t let you hurt Dean.”
There’s a pause, long and awful. Then: “Seems you boy’s’ve got me at a disadvantage.” She lowers the gun. “Take what you must. I won’t… won’t try and stop you.”
“I’ll take my gun back, for a start,” Dean tries. “And your name.”
“Barb,” is the answer to that. Spoken in an appropriately sharp tone as it’s owner retrieves Dean’s pistol from the pocket of her threadbare grandma cardigan.
“This you store?” Dean asks, eyeing the destruction.
“What’s left of it.”
“You’ve had trouble here before,” Cas observes. He’s off high alert, eyes unfocused and brow drawn down into an adorable little ruffle. Dean can feel his grace shifting, exploring something outside of human senses.
“Oh, only the usual,” Barb says. “Young men with loud cars and big guns, thinking they can take whatever they want, and damn anybody else.”
“I understand,” Cas says. “We will pay you for the gas.”
“With what?” Dean asks. He has a roll of cash in his wallet, collected (i.e. looted) in the first days after the Landing. Back when they’d though maybe there’d be something familiar on the other side. Somehow, he doubts Barb will take it.
Barb is studying Cas, measuring his sincerity. Luckily, Cas projects sincerity like Regan MacNeil projects vomit.
“Medicine,” Barb says eventually. “Antibiotics, painkillers. If you wanna ease your conscience, that’s what I’ll take.”
Cas gets that unfocused look again. “Someone you love is sick.” It’s not a question, and Dean is pretty sure Cas already knows the answer. He feels a sudden, intense surge of pride for his little lost angel’s nascent people skills.
“My husband,” Barb says. “Shot by the last lot we got through here. Dug the bullet out but couldn’t stop the sepsis.”
“Take me to him.”
“You a doctor?”
“I can help.”
“Cas is great,” Dean adds. “Patches me ’n’ Sammy up all the time. Hell, I’d still be dead if it weren’t for his magic fingers.” He grins at his angel, easy and laconic, and gets a bitchy squint in response.
“Fine,” Barb says, watching the exchange. “But only you.” She points one gnarled finger at Cas. “You”—the finger slides around to Dean—”stay out here.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Dean says.
Dean watches Barb lead Cas out the back of the store, then goes out to check on Sammy and give him the 411.
Twenty minutes later, and to say Barb is happy with Cas’ angel mojo would be an understatement. She keeps touching him with wizened fingers—on the hand, on the cheek—even as she grasps her dazed-but-recovered husband.
Mr. Barb is called Jack. He’s a tall, thin man with a big, snag-toothed smile who both obviously adores his wife and is startled that he’s still alive to be with her.
“Thought I was a goner for sure,” he keeps saying. “Leaving Barb alone like that…”
“Hush now,” Barb says. “Don’t think about it.” She’s busy ladling out a rich, chunky soup into a bowl in front of Cas, having insisted everyone stay for dinner.
The soup is venison and root vegetables and pretty damn good, especially compared to the canned and dried crap they’ve been living on. Cas makes small-talk about spices and Sam is overly enthusiastic about wild yams or whatever, and somewhere in the middle of it Dean ends up spilling pretty much their entire life story to the intently listening Jack.
It’s… weird, he thinks. Not having to hide what he is or what he does. Or used to do. Whatever. He tells Jack about hunting and growing up on the road, about ghosts and demons. About losing Mom (to death) then Sammy (to school) then Dad (to revenge), then getting them all back in some form or another only to lose them all over again. Multiple times. He’s not sure Jack entirely believes him—about the ghosts and demons, maybe, but the time-traveling angels not so much—but it doesn’t matter when Jack nods sympathetically and fetches Dean warm beer and asks thoughtful questions.
It’s only when Sam and Cas return that Dean realizes they and Barb have been gone. He’s about to ask when he notices what Sam is brandishing in his hands, huge shit-eating grin and all.
“Is that… is that pie?”
It is, indeed, pie. Apple pie. Forget Heaven; Dean has no idea what kind of grandma miracle Barb used to conjure apple pie after the end of the world but he’s converting to her religion immediately. Particularly when she brings out ice cream to serve along with it.
“Solar,” Barb says. “People always used to laugh at us; we ran the gas station and spent all our savings getting the house off the grid.”
“But we saw what was happening to the prices,” Jack adds. “And what with everyone talking about the climate change all the time…” He shrugs.
“Smart,” Sam says, around a mouthful of pie.
“I suppose this wasn’t really the disaster we were planning for,” Jack adds. “But we do okay.”
“This is better than okay,” Dean says, gesturing at the pie. “This is fucking fantastic.” Then, immediately flushes and mumbles an apology when it occurs to him maybe saying fuck in front of someone else’s grandparents isn’t the best plan.
“If you don’t mind me asking,” Jack says, “where are you boys headed? Not a lot of movement on the roads lately.”
“There was at first,” Barb adds. “People who’d lost everything but their lives, fleeing the Creatures. There were rumors for a while of safe places down south. Camps. But, well…”
“The… Living Creatures aren’t attacking humans,” Cas says, very carefully. “They’re destroying infrastructure. Cities. If people are dispersed, they should be… safe.” It feels like the wrong word and it makes Cas wince to say it, but it’s close enough to what they know.
Jack and Barb just nod. “Figured as much,” Jack says. “Suppose it’s why they haven’t bothered with us.”
“It’s not the Creatures that scare me.” Barb fingers lace between her husband’s, squeezing gently.
“You should be careful,” Jack says. “If you’re going to keep heading north.”
“Why?” asks Sam.
“There’s people up there… They’re not good people.”
“They’re the ones who…” Barb trails off, gesturing to Jack. “The sort who take what they want and to hell with who says otherwise.”
In other words, the people Barb had mistaken Dean and Sam and Cas for. Dangerous and armed.
“We can handle ourselves,” Dean says, and tries not to think of the itch in his palms as the start of a hunt.
They don’t stay the night, although it’s made very clear they’re welcome to. Barb insists on giving them what’s left of the pie (not much), and Jack gives them four more full gas cans to put in the Impala’s trunk for later. Then it’s handshakes and hugs and Cas ends up with lipstick on both cheeks from Barb’s grateful, tear-stained kisses.
“That was nice,” Sam says, cradling the pie as they drive away. “It was nice to, y’know. Know that there’s still something left. That maybe we can rebuild.”
“There will always be something,” Cas says, from the back seat. “Humanity is very adaptable. That’s the point of you, why Father… why Father created you. So you would surprise him with your ingenuity.”
“‘Emergent behavior’?” Dean quotes.
“Yes,” says Cas, but he won’t meet Dean’s eyes in the rearview as he says it.
(“I know how to drive, Dean,” had been the pouty complaint when he’d suggested it. Which, as it had turned out, meant Jimmy had known how to drive, and Cas had sort of inherited the basics second-hand. Dean had still been extremely glad the roads were both wide and utterly empty.)
“Dean. Dean, wake up.”
The hand shaking his shoulder is warm and gentle and Dean both wants it to stay where it is and to also stop moving. He mutters something to that effect into the upholstery, and gets a warm, soft chuckle in response.
“I know, Dean. But this could be trouble.”
Two hours of sleep or not, Dean manages to haul himself upright, blinking as Sam pulls Baby to a stop.
The road ahead is barred. The long wall looks like it was assembled from wrecked homes and doesn’t seem particularly stable. But it’s festooned with razor-wire and the single, car-width gap has nail-stuck chains laid across it like ugly, spiky snakes. Whomever erected it doesn’t want anyone to get through without a fight.
In this case, “whomever” is an assortment of four guys with assault rifles and ill-fitting Sheriff’s uniforms.
“More of these assholes,” Dean mutters. “Betcha the last slice of pie they’re not real deputies.”
Sammy scoffs. “That guy’s shirt still has a bloodstain around the bullet hole. So, no.”
Cas says nothing, but he’s sitting ramrod straight in the passenger seat, eyes tracking one of the men as he approaches the car.
Sam winds down the window, cracks his best gormless grin, and asks, “Can I help you?” Dean, meanwhile, leans forward over the front seat enough to hide where his hand is reaching for the gun underneath.
“Morning, gentlemen,” drawls Officer Friendly. “Won’t keep you long. Just a quick check for contraband, you know how it is.”
“Right,” says Sam. “What kind of ‘contraband’, if you don’t mind me asking.”
“‘Fraid I can’t tell you that, sir.”
Two more “deputies” are stalking around the car, peering through the windows. Dean gives one a jaunty wave and tries not to look like a guy hiding a loaded gun behind his calves.
It’s not at all clear what they’re looking for; guns or drugs or booze, and there’s plenty of all three in the Impala, albeit not out in the open. One of the officers gives sharp whack on the trunk that makes Dean snarl a startled, “Hey!” but they aren’t asked to open it.
Instead, the two dudes finish their lap, then nod to Officer Friendly. He turns back to Sam.
“You’re free to go. Thank you for your cooperation.” He gives a signal, and the spiked chains are dragged off the road.
“Thanks,” Sam says. He starts crawling the car forward, through the roadblock, knuckles white on Baby’s wheel.
It’s not until they’re a good half mile down the road that everyone finally starts to relax.
“What the hell was that?” Dean asks, not really expecting an answer.
“What do you think they were looking for?”
It’s Cas who answers:
Dean’s eyebrows hike up in surprise. “People?”
Cas nods. “I could feel it in their minds.”
“Jesus,” says Sam, and Dean can’t help but agree.
The place looks mostly intact, and very out-of-place. There’s a huge white church looming over an old-fashioned sort of general-store-slash-old-style-saloon, plus a little cluster of crappy wooden houses with chronically peeling paint. There are people on the street, though; tending vegetable gardens and herding animals and a bunch of other antiquated rural stuff that gives Dean the creeps. It’s like they accidentally stumbled into some kind of faux-1930s Stepford Commune.
It’s not just Dean with the creeps, either. Cas has got that unfocused, distant sort of look about him again, and his voice is deep and solemn when he says, “Something isn’t right here.”
For normal people, Dean supposes, this would be a clue to step on the gas and get the fuck out of dodge. But they aren’t normal people; they’re hunters (and an angel), which is probably why they end up parked outside the saloon, preparing to go inside.
It’s not quite a textbook Western moment when they enter—with the pause in the honky-tonk piano and all—but it’s close. The bartender is a sweaty old dude with a bad rash on his neck who straight up gives them the squint and the, “Don’t see many of your type around here,” when they approach the bar.
“Just passing through,” says Sam.
The bar still takes cash, which is odd; another relic of a world the apocalypse forgot. It also does burgers and fries, and they order those and a round of beers.
The beers arrive chilled, and Sam studies his for a while before asking, “Where’s the power coming from?”
“Generator,” the bartender tells them after a while. “Just for the kitchen. And the church.” The lights in the bar itself are a motley assortment of candles and lanterns.
“Nice,” Sam says. “That must take a bit of gas to keep running.”
The bartender’s eyes flick to where the Impala is visible through the front window. “So must that car of yours.”
Sam scoffs. “It’s my brother’s car,” he says. “And yeah, she does.”
“You’re just being a bitch because I won’t let you buy a Prius,” Dean says, right on cue.
The bartender smirks, just slightly, and it feels like progress.
When they come, the burgers are meat and cheese and pickles, just like they should be; none of that frou-frou salad shit Sammy insists on. Dean devours his then most of Cas’, when the angel doesn’t.
“Something wrong with the burger?” asks the bartender whose name, uncovered in a conversation about the Impala, is Sal.
Cas blinks, startled, as if being suddenly woken up. “What?”
“The burger,” says Sal. “Got a problem?”
“No,” says Cas, squinting at Sal as if unsure why such a small and petty mortal should dare address him.
“Cas is just, he gets carsick, you know?” Dean adds, when it’s clear Cas isn’t going to elaborate. “The burgers are great, man.”
Cas blinks at Dean slowly, as if processing this excuse. Then, very deliberately, he reaches out a devours a singly fry. His movements are jerky, inhumanly mechanical. Like he’s only half-paying attention to what his vessel is doing which, knowing Cas, is entirely possible. He’s been in Soldier of Heaven mode since they got out of the car, grace curled tight, like he’s ready to draw his blade and smite some bitches any second. There are maybe a half-dozen other guys in the bar but they’re all too busy being drunk at noon to register as much of a threat.
“Cas?” Dean asks quietly, when Sal slips away to talk to another customer. “Wanna share with the class?”
“I’m… unsure,” Cas says, still in that mechanical monotone that means his attention is somewhere else. “There is great… grief here. Great pain. It’s… overwhelming.”
Dean scowls at Sam, who just shrugs, and they do another scan of the bar. Nothing’s changed, but they both know that doesn’t mean much and that Cas can sense things they can’t even imagine.
They finish their burgers and Dean downs Cas’ beer. He’s thinking about hitting the head when the doors burst open, and a guy in dirty camo stumbles in, reeking of gin.
The drunk all-but collides with the bar, close enough that Dean can smell the sour, blood-and-vomit stink of him. Cas’ head, meanwhile, has swiveled like an owl’s, his bright blue eyes focused intently on the newcomer.
“Sal!” the drunk roars. “Sal, get out here and gimmie a drink you dumb sumbitch!”
The other men in the bar start muttering, huddled in together, and when Sal emerges from the back it’s with the sort of knuckle crack bartenders use to signal that additional nonsense will not be tolerated.
“Higgs,” Sal says. “I think you’ve had enough.”
“Like shit I’ve had enough,” the drunk, Higgs, slurs. “Gimme the Jack. Now. Leave the bottle.” He slaps a wad of notes down on the bar, far more than a bottle’s worth.
Sal eyes the money like it’s poison. “I don’t want your money, Higgs. I want you outta my bar. Go home. Sleep it off. What’s done is done.”
“What’s done is— She was my girl, Sal! My little… my little girl. And he… and…”
Sal shoots a glance sideways, to Dean and Cas and Sam. It’s brief, but Dean sees it. “She ain’t your little girl no more, Higgs,” Sal says, tired but not unkind. “You know that.”
“Like hell I do!” Higgs slams his hands down on the counter. “I know… all I know is he took her! Tol’ me… tol’ me the Devil got in her and he took her and an’ now he won’t even let me see her! He won’t even let me see my little girl!” Higgs breaks down, sobbing against the countertop.
“You’ll see her tonight,” Sal says. “You know that. One more time. You’ll get to… you’ll get to say goodbye.”
Dean isn’t even pretending not to listen by this point; has pretty much been on high alert since the name-drop of his least favorite archangel (though, to be fair, it’s a pretty close run for that particular title).
Sal sees the interest, and he sighs. “I know it seems… We’re God-fearing folk,” he offers, by way of explanation. “And after the Living Creatures…”
“It’s my Jenny!” Higgs wails again. “My sweet little Jenny. She isn’t… she wouldn’t…”
“Let me guess,” says Dean. “It was little things, at first. Saying things she wouldn’t normally say, doing things she wouldn’t normally do. You brush it off, think, ‘I’m being paranoid, she’s just had a bad day, hasn’t been sleeping’… any excuse. Except the little things become bigger things. Outbursts. Violence. Suddenly, you can’t ignore it any more. It’s like you’re living with a stranger. Like you look into her eyes and there’s nothing left, nothing you recognise. Nothing human.”
Both Sal and Higgs are staring at him, Higgs open-mouthed, Sal with a hard-edged contemplation. “Now how on God’s fallen Earth,” the latter says, “would boys like you know about a thing like that.”
“Call it a… professional interest,” says Sam.
“Not many folks with a ‘professional interest’ in the doings of the Devil. And, no offense, but you don’t strike me as men of God.”
Dean just snorts, but Sam says, “Bit of a dangerous profession nowadays, isn’t it? One a man not want to advertise.”
Sal gives them the squint eye again. Or, rather, he gives Cas the squint eye. Dean supposes it makes sense; if someone had to guess who were the bodyguards versus who was the priest.
“Can you… can you help her?” Higgs barely breathes it, like even the thought of hope is too much. “Can you help my Jenny?”
“If she truly is possessed,” Cas says, “we can try. If nothing else, the demon will be banished.”
“But can you save her? Will she survive?”
“It’s… not guaranteed,” Cas says, gently. He’s back in his vessel again, movements no longer jerky and alien. “If there’s something left to save, we will save it. If not, then at least her body will be spared the ignominy of misuse.”
“You’ve done it before, then?” Sal asks. “Banished demons?”
Cas nods. “More than can be counted. You could say it’s my… divine purpose.”
Sal nods. “You’ll have to talk to Brother Justin,” he says. “The sermon’s scheduled for sundown.”
“‘Sermon’?” Sam scowls.
“Brother Justin likes to do ‘em public, like.” Sal shrugs. “Been that way since before the Creatures. Since the Landing, though, folks have been… it’s not just a show any more, y’see. It’s survival.”
“The presence of demons neither repels nor attracts the… ‘Creatures’.” Cas doesn’t actually make air quotes, but Dean can see his fingers twitch beneath the bar counter.
“That so?” says Sal. “What’re you, some kind of expert?”
Cas opens his mouth but Sam cuts him off. Probably just as well, given Cas’ scowl. “Where can we find Brother Justin?”
“Up at the big house, where else?” He’s still giving Cas odd looks, though, and that means it’s time to bail.
They thank Sal for the burgers and hand over a wad of bills that’s both far too much and completely worthless, all at once. Dean claps the quietly sobbing Higgs on the shoulder before they leave with a, “We’ll do what we can for your girl, okay?” and gets a muffled sniffle in response.
The light in the street is blinding after the dim bar, and they squint against it as they walk towards the church. It’s an aggressively white building with a sloped, black-tiled roof and the sort of steeple that makes it look like architect had a fetish for fucking clouds. It’s set back from the road, behind a neat little garden and down a neat little white stone path. Dean hates it immediately.
Cas isn’t a fan either, judging from the way he stops dead just inside the gate and glares up at the building like he’s debating whether to resume his Creature-shape and scoop the whole thing out of the earth.
“Cas?” Sam asks.
“There are no demons here.”
“You sure?” Dean asks. “You were kinda wiggin’ out on us in the bar.”
“This place… seethes with suffering.” Cas’ expression is caught between that of someone forced to witness a kitten-kicking and the look Sammy used to get after being served a hot, fresh Cup-a-Fart.
“And you’re sure it’s not demons?” Sam presses. Then, when this earns him Heaven’s Bitchface: “It’s just… we haven’t seen any since the Landing. You keep saying things have been different for you since then. Maybe it’s the same for them. And maybe the reason we haven’t found any is that we don’t know what we’re looking for any more.”
Cas’ constipated squint gets even bitchier. “I… suppose it could be possible,” he finally admits, though it sounds like it physically pains him. Dean can’t blame the guy; millennia of Hell-busting certitude, and now Cas isn’t even sure his demon-dar still works.
All that existential angst in the grace feels like a battalion of ants marching underneath Dean’s skin. So he claps Cas on the back and says, “Whatever. I’m sure we’ll figure it out.” He starts to steer them both towards the church and, after a moment, Cas allows the manhandling. Dean won’t deny the little thrill it gives him, every time. Maybe even more that Dean’s seen Cas’ true form (or some three-dimensional approximation thereof). Who wouldn’t dig it? Something that powerful and that ancient surrendering enough for Dean to steer him up the pathway, fingers digging into the short hairs at the back of his warm neck.
Not quite the same as running his fingers through feathers, but. Well.
The church doors aren’t locked, which surprises Dean but no one else, so he doesn’t mention it. Inside is a small foyer sort of area, then a big open room with a stage and a lectern at the head. The front half of the room is filled with chairs; the back half is empty floor space fenced off on either side of the aisle. The whole place feels more like a lecture hall than what Dean expects from a church. It certainly doesn’t inspire him with awe of the divine. It feels more like the sort of place he might accidentally stumble into a seminar on timeshares.
Although, come to think of it, given what he’s seen of angels and of Heaven, maybe this bland corporate nightmare is exactly the right atmosphere.
“Hello?” Sam calls into the space, voice bouncing off the vaulted ceiling. “Brother Justin?”
“I didn’t know we were expecting guests.”
The guy has slipped in behind them, because of course he has. He’s in his late forties, maybe, with a cut-back hippie haircut in Unidentifiable Blondish. He’s wearing a slim-fit cassock that Dean could totally see (oh, just for example) Cas rocking, but which Brother Justin ruins with the sort of soft middle reserved for big dinners and too much port.
“Brother Justin?” Sam lurches forward, hand out for the shaking. “Hi, sorry to bother you. My name’s Sam, this is my brother Dean, and our friend Cas.”
“I know who you are,” says Justin, with the kind of smug, self-satisfied smile Dean associates with assholes and angels. And especially asshole angels. “I suppose I should welcome you to our little community. How are you finding New Eden? We’ve had so few visitors, recently.”
“It’s, um. It’s nice,” Sam says. “We’re just passing through, but we, well. We heard you might have a problem and we think we can help.”
“Demons,” Dean says. “Heard you got a girl possessed by a demon.”
Brother Justin’s eyebrows hike. “I see,” he says. “I assume you don’t mean in the metaphorical sense.”
“You know we don’t,” Dean says.
Brother Justin inclines his head, just slightly. “Not many people,” he says, “still believe in the ability of literal demons to take a human’s soul. Even now, when God’s vengeance purges the sinful from the Earth”—Cas twitches, just slightly, but says nothing—“people still deny the obvious truth.”
“Um, well,” Sam says. “Not us. I mean, we believe in demons. Possessing people. One hundred percent. Been there, done that—”
“Literally,” mutters Dean, smirking, and earns himself a punch in the arm which, ow. Sammy does not pull.
“—exorcised the lot. With the, you know. Latin and the salt and the devil’s traps. The works.”
“I… see,” says Brother Justin, who Dean is certain totally doesn’t. Then, as if to confirm: “You’ll have to forgive me, but… only a righteous man has the strength to redeem a soul taken by the Devil.”
“Oh, I’ve been told I’m a very righteous man,” says Dean who is suddenly, one-hundred-percent certain the so-called “Brother” Justin is full of shit. And also wouldn’t know how to get a soul back from Lucifer with an illustrated step-by-step. “Like, basically the Righteous Man, isn’t that right, Cas?”
“Who here’s saved souls from Hell?” Dean continues. “Hands up.” He raises his hand, as does Cas. “See? Total pros.”
Justin stares at them, calculating, and Dean gives his best shit-eating grin in return. He’s pretty sure Sammy is trying not to face-palm, while Cas is being his usual awkward, overly earnest self. Ignore us, Dean silently broadcasts Justin’s way. We’re just nutjobs. Nothing to see here.
After a moment, Justin seems to come to a decision. “There’ll be a sermon at sundown,” he says. “The… poor creature you’re here to see will be saved then. You’re… welcome to attend.” In the sort of voice that implies they totally aren’t, but assumes they’ll show up regardless.
“Yeah,” says Dean. “Thanks, man. Totally. Would love to. Always good to watch another professional at work, y’know?”
“Indeed,” says Justin, when he really means get out.
Dean is more than happy to oblige him.
Ten minutes later. They’re off church grounds and wandering the town. New Eden. Dean doesn’t have a destination in mind, exactly, but every instinct is screaming hunt and so hunt he will do. Maybe it’s demons, maybe it’s not. Whatever it is, it’s been too long coming and Dean is restless.
“C’mon, Sammy,” he says. “You can not tell me that guy didn’t give you the creeps.”
“Well…” Sam hesitates. “I guess… he didn’t seem to know what we were talking about. For the exorcism.”
“And he was dressed like a Catholic, even though that’s an evangelical church.”
“Sure,” says Dean, who knows about as much about priests as Brother Justin knows about demons.
“And there does seem to be… I dunno. This real Children of the Corn vibe to this place, y’know?”
“Yes!” agrees Dean, at the same time Cas says:
“There are no women.”
The statement actually brings Dean up short. “What?”
Cas stops walking as well, and turns to face him. “There are no women,” he repeats. “Or children. On the street, or in the bar, or in the church. Only men. Adult men.”
There’s a brief pause as they both consider this, then Sam sucks in a breath. “Holy shit. He’s right.”
Dean tries not to think of Officer Friendly and his just a quick check for contraband. Instead, he says, “There’s something going on here. I don’t know what it is. But I think it’s about time it stopped.”
They wait until sundown. The hours are mostly spent roaming the town, chatting to the odd local (all men, Cas was right) and then, when the time gets closer, raiding the back of the Impala for supplies, just in case.
It still totally might be demons. In fact, Dean’s hoping it is demons. He’s just no longer sure who those demons are going to turn out to be.
They aren’t the first people to get to the church for Brother Justin’s “sermon”, but it’s close. And it’s here, in the street beneath the steeple’s looming shadow and the tolling of its bell, that they see their first women.
They’re dressed like cheesy portraits of the Virgin Mary; plain cream dresses and shawls wrapped around their heads. Some of the shawls are pale blue, others brown, plus a few in black or startling scarlet. It’s uniform enough that Dean assumes it’s exactly that, though thinking about the possible meanings gives him a kind of queasy feeling.
The women walk in little clusters each headed by a man, their heads bowed and shawls over their eyes. They’re all barefoot, near as Dean can tell from the brief flashes of toes beneath the skirts.
“Sammy,” he murmurs, then isn’t sure how he’s supposed to finish.
“I see it,” says Sam anyway, voice tight and hard.
“Noncp cnila, noncp tibibp,” growls Cas.
In the church, they take seats in the back row of the men’s area. The women, meanwhile, gather on the floor in the fenced-off part behind. They kneel with their foreheads on the floor, like they’re about to start yoga class, but there’s a lot of murmured whispering, too.
“Their prayers are very loud,” Cas mutters. He’s got that glassy look in his eyes again, and Dean can practically hear his feathers rustling. “Some are devout, others merely desperate.”
“You gonna be okay?” Dean asks. Cas doesn’t answer, just closes his eyes and balls his fists tightly on his knees. He’s reaching out with his grace, trying to soothe the women behind them. Several gasp, and when Dean turns, he sees one big brown eye peeking from beneath a red shawl. It stares back at him with a mixture of fear and defiance, the girl behind it no more than twelve if she’s a day. Dean gives her a grin and a wink, then raises his finger to his lips in a shushing motion. She ducks back down quickly.
Slowly, the church fills up. Dean sees Higgs but the man won’t meet their eyes as he slides into a chair in the front row. A boy of about twelve goes up with him, three more women—two in blue shawls and one in brown—peel away and head to the back.
The last people in are the men in the deputy uniforms. Dean recognizes two from the roadblock but there are maybe half a dozen others. All armed. Dean has his own gun and knife, of course, but mostly he has an angel strung as tight as a wire next to him. One flash of light and Cas could nuke this entire building. Dean has a sudden, powerful wish that he’d worn sunglasses.
The last one in is Brother Justin, walking behind of a train of altar boys. The boys are dragging two big, wheeled boxes. One is heavy duty black with silver clasps like a roadie case. The other is covered by a canvas tarp that doesn’t quite manage to obscure the bars beneath.
To Dean’s left, Sammy is slouched in his chair. He looks relaxed and politely bored, but his arms are crossed and Dean knows—because he knows his brother—that it’s because his hand is already curled around his holstered gun. To Dean’s right, meanwhile, Cas is muttering under his breath in Enochian, eyes closed and rocking back and forth like he’s praying. If Dean concentrates, he can feel the warm, soft feathers spread out behind them, cradling the silent assembly of women and girls with protective, empathic grace. The men in the rows in front, meanwhile, keep turning anxiously to look behind. Trying to catch sight of the judgement they can feel but can’t outrun.
Brother Justin ascends the stage and takes the lectern. Behind him, the boys arrange the two boxes—one on either side—as the dying sunlight streams in through arched windows, washing the room in bloodied red.
When Justin speaks, the words are more-or-less what Dean expects. He has them stand—has the men stand—and reads passages from the Bible about sin and damnation.
Cas doesn’t stand, so neither does Dean. If an angel of the Lord isn’t impressed with displays of piety, then he figures he’s safe. Sam gives the standing thing a go the first time, though gives up when it becomes apparent the exact direction this farce is headed. (Despite everything, Sam still believes in God. But he doesn’t believe in the fickle God of wrath and rage and gets angry at people who do. He’s angry now. Dean can feel it radiating off him in vicious, white-hot waves.)
Justin’s ranting morphs into spittle-soaked descriptions of Hell; of the fire, and brimstone, and eternal torment, yadda yadda. This is the stuff that pisses Dean off, in the way he always gets pissed off when ignorant assholes who’ve never been to Hell try and describe just how fucked-up that shithole of a place had been. They’re always just so… unimaginative. It’s all “burn in eternal hellfire” but it’s never about the glimmer of hope when the guard changes, when you make it out the door and there’s an empty hall behind it and, shit, there’s one guy but you can take him, you can, you took one of the knives before you left and the guy ahead is distracted and it’s easy, too easy, to slide the blade between his ribs except demons, they’re not always assembled in the way you expect and the blade misses the heart, hits a lung instead, and the guy still goes down and you watch with your one remaining eye, the one they didn’t make you eat, staring wide with the lids long-since flayed, as the demon gasps and chokes and claws at you, useless, its paws catching on the sharp exposed blades of what’s left of your ribs and its blood is black and thick and killing it is a mercy, really, no different from what you used to do, back in another life, and as you slide the blade home you feel warm breath on your neck and an approving voice that says—
And then it’s just this shitty church in this shitty town with this shitty preacher, but Dean can feel Cas curling around his soul, gripping him tight and raising him from the memory.
Dean has his eyes screwed shut, thumb and forefinger digging into the inner corners hard enough to bloom red-black fractals behind the lids. Sammy’s voice is pitched low, and trembling, because it’s not like Dean’s the only one here who’s had a shitty time below the crust.
“It’s just… your, um. Your halo…”
Dean forces his eyes open, chokes back a laugh. Hell’s torturer with a halo. What even is his life?
“Yeah,” Dean murmurs, low enough so that only Sammy can hear. “It’s just… you know…” He inclines his head towards the stage.
“Asshole’s full of shit,” Sam growls, equally softly. But there’s a vehemence in his voice that’s surprising.
“Think Cas is about ready to blow.” Dean’s head is so close to Sam’s he can feel his brother’s stupid hair tickling his skin. “Be ready to duck and cover.” Sam is here, he thinks. Sam is here, Cas is here. Everything’s okay. It’ll all be okay.
He feels more than sees Sam nod, then they both straighten up. Meanwhile, Brother Justin is saying:
“—remember Jennifer Higgs, come to us not two months past. Plucked from the perdition of the ruined world, bought into our bosom and our family. A troubled girl, surely, but trouble is what follows on the heels of the fall. We did for her what we could, as God commands us do for all the lonely sinners.
“And yet, the seed of rot that was planted in her grew, and bore ripe fruit. Some of you know this.” A general murmur of agreement. “That Jennifer was caught with the Devil himself, working witchcraft upon young Sebastian Bower.”
Cue darkly muttered words and self-righteous calls for redemption. Dean hates them. Every one of them. He’s pretty sure he knows exactly how this shit went down, and that Dickifer—piece of shit though he may be—had nothing to do with it.
“‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live’!” Justin roars, warmed up now to his cause. “And what is a witch but a whore who spreads her legs in Satan’s bed?”
(Here Sam sucks in a sharp, disapproving breath. Dean would bet the last slice of Barb’s pie that he’s thinking about Jess.)
“A fallen soul!” Justin says. “A lost soul! Three nights I stayed with her, begging that she might renounce the sin within her heart. Begging her to renounce Lucifer’s seed.”
(“Amen!” say some of the men in front. Dean takes careful note of whom. It’s not all of them. Thank whomever still watches over this forsaken world.)
“Yet she would not renounce it!” Justin is pacing, now. Back and forth in front of the tarp-covered cage. “And it was then I knew! I knew, Lord help me, that Jennifer Higgs was gone. And that all that was left? Was Satan’s whore!” And here, Justin pulls the tarp from the cage.
There’s a girl inside, because of course there is. Jennifer, Dean assumes. She’s naked, cowering in the far corner of the cage, covered in blood and filth and… and wounds Dean doesn’t want to think about, one “professional” to another.
He feels sick.
“Baltim vomsarg,” growls Cas, his eyes still closed but his face contorted into a vicious grimace.
“Tonight!” Justin rages. “Tonight, we save a soul! Tonight, we send one of Lucifer’s spawn screaming back to his bosom!” He stalks over to the roadie, kicking open the lid. From within, he draws a long, steel rapier and a hand-held blowtorch. “Let the fires of Hell reclaim that which has crawled from out the Pit!”
“Amen!” cries the crowd, as Justin applies the blowtorch’s flame to the rapier.
(“Dean!” says Sam, low and urgent. “Dean, this… We have to—”
“No!” It’s Cas’ hand the flies out, as if to hold them both in place. “Have faith.” He still hasn’t opened his eyes.
“You’ve gotten be fucking kidding me,” Dean mutters, but he doesn’t stand and doesn’t draw his gun. Fuck you, Cas, he thinks, hoping Cas can hear it. And this is only because it’s you, got it?)
“Jennifer Higgs,” Justin says, stalking towards the cage, red-hot rapier in hand, “may God have mercy on your soul. May the Holy Light be your guide. Let not the dragon—”
“Fuck you!” Jennifer is suddenly animate, pressing herself against the back of her cage. “My name is Ginebra Ariza-Calderón. You fucking kidnapped me, you fucking piece of shit!” Her voice has the stripped quality of someone who’s spent a lot of time screaming.
“Step back, Satan!” Just cries. “Do not tempt us with vain things! What you offer is evil! You drink the poison yourself!” And here Justin raises the rapier, and—
And there’s a voice, from behind. Rough and feminine, but ringing clear and loud.
“Justin, this is enough.”
There’s a woman, standing, at the back of the hall. She has a black shawl and it’s still pulled down over her face, but she’s nonetheless turned to the direction of the stage.
“Sit down, Delores,” Justin snarls. “The bearers of Eve’s sin do not speak in the house of the Lord.”
“No,” says the woman, Delores. “No, Justin. This has gone on long enough. I… I’ve been weak. Watching you… these girls…” Her voice waivers. “But no more. I won’t stand for it.”
“The Devil is ever watching for weakness, Delores,” Justin says. Dean should be surprised at how quickly he can switch from murderous-sadist to consoling-patriarch. Should be, but isn’t. He’s seen Justin’s kind before. “I know our road is hard, but God sends us these trials to test our strength. You know that.”
“I… I used to,” Delors says. “I thought I did. But… an angel spoke to me, Justin. He said I was right to doubt. That I should trust in my heart. To know that cruelty and subjugation could never be the will of a loving God.”
“Angels do not know doubt,” Justin declares, in the voice of a man who’s picking up what he himself is putting down. “You know that. Doubt is Satan’s doorway.”
“And love is God’s,” Delores counters. “And this? This is not love.”
“This is a father’s love,” Justin says. “I know it’s difficult for a daughter of Eve to understand, but—”
“I hear him too!” And, suddenly, another girl is standing up, pulling the brown shawl back from her eyes. “The angel. He spoke to me. He told me not to be afraid. To be strong, not cowed.”
It’s like an avalanche. Once the second girl stands, a dozen others do as well. Some pull back their shawls, others don’t. But all of them are defiant.
“Enough!” Justin roars. “Can’t you see? Blinded as you are by vanity and pride? The Devil walks amongst us! See how he tempts the weakest of the sexes? Husbands, fathers, I call on you now. Do your duty unto God and—”
“No!” And now it’s a dude standing up. He’s maybe Dean’s age, paunchy and kinda sweaty-looking. He walked in with a pretty big harem, if Dean remembers correctly, but he’s nonetheless standing up to Justin like a champ. “No, Justin,” he says. “This is wrong. You know this is wrong. We”—a gesture to the other men—“know this is wrong. I… I’ve been afraid. The Creatures…” He trails off, eyes dropping for a moment, before raising again with increased fury. “I would’ve done anything, anything, to have prevented what happened. But this? This wouldn’t have stopped it. If the Living Creatures really are the vengeance of God, then this”—another gesture around the hall—“can’t be what He wants as repentance! He is love! And this? This isn’t.”
There’s some muttering amongst the men, but not enough. Not nearly enough. Especially when the assholes in the deputy uniforms begin to reach for their guns.
“You see?” Justin is reheating his rapier again, stalking back and forth along the stage. “This is what Satan does! The sower of discord, the bringer of adversity! She”—pointing at Ginebra—“brought him here! She opened the gate!”
“Fuck you!” Ginebra screams. “I didn’t do shit, you fucking monster!” Then, to the crowd: “Help me! Please! One of you! Do something!”
Cas murmurs: “Brin iadpil. Gi chismicaolz, od murifri blans isli.”
And then, a bunch of things happen at once.
The first is that Justin stabs at Ginebra with the rapier; she dodges, he misses. The second is that both the standing dude and a bunch of the women scream, “No!” and lunge towards the stage. The third is that two of the not-deputies pull the trigger. The fourth is that Cas vanishes in flap of wings so loud it echoes even above the gunfire.
The noise startles everyone into stillness, which means they’re all watching a moment later, when Cas reappears in the centre aisle. Dean can’t see his face from where they are but Cas’ shoulders are hunched with fury and the whole room is so overcharged with pissed-off grace that the lights flicker like lightning.
“You!” Justin snarls.
Cas has one fisted hand extended. Very slowly, he opens it, the bullets he plucked from the air falling onto the carpet like lead snow.
“Holy shit,” mutters Sam. Dean can’t do anything but nod in agreement. It’s not that they don’t know Cas is powerful, exactly. It’s just that most of the time he wanders around looking and acting like a lost, socially maladjusted office worker. It’s easy to forget that the Cas they know—the Cas that’s their friend, who squints in confusion at their terrible jokes and politely endures their boisterous roughhousing—is also Castiel, divine distributor of Heavenly wrath.
And in that moment, watching Cas face down Justin in Dean’s old jeans and Black Sabbath ’78 tour shit, it suddenly occurs to Dean to wonder if that disconnect might just be intentional.
“Kill him,” Justin says, gesturing to the not-puties.
“Everybody get down!” is Dean’s contribution, as he and Sam dive into the gap between the seats. There’s a whole bunch of screaming after that, then an extended burst of automatic gunfire. It feels like it goes on forever, but it’s probably ten seconds, tops. Dean crawls on his elbows until he can get a view into the aisle, where Cas is still standing, implacable and uninjured, as if the bullets aren’t even there. Which, Dean realizes, they aren’t; the guns are certainly blazing but it’s like a movie set, like everyone’s shooting blanks.
It takes the Officer Friendly brigade a bit of time to work this out, but when they do, they stop firing. Most of them start looking at their guns as if trying to check for faults. One even fires into the ceiling, and is rewarded with a face full of plaster for his efforts. Dean’s legitimately shocked no-one shoots their own foot off out of sheer incompetence.
Cas says, “Enough. Your weapons cannot harm me, and I will not allow you to use them to harm others.”
Justin has come to the front of the stage, and is looking at Cas with an ugly kind of hunger. “What manner of demon are you?”
“Oh man,” Dean tells the woman cowering on the floor just behind him. “Cas fucking hates being called a demon.”
“I am no more a demon than you are a man of God,” Cas says. He starts walking towards the stage.
“Get back!” Justin says. Then, apparently remembering he’s supposed to be an exorcist. “I… I cast you out, unclean spirit! I cast you out, satanic power! in the name and by the power of our Lord! I command you, begone and fly far from the Church of God, from the souls made by God in His image!”
Cas pauses in his approach, just beneath the stage. “You cannot use my Father’s name to cast me from my Father’s house,” he says. There’s another flurry of wingbeats, and he disappears and reappears on the stage, right in front of Justin.
“Begone!” Justin calls, raising his blade. “I cast you out! In the name of our Lord! I— I cast you out!”
“He winging it,” Dean tells the woman next to him. “Trust me. I’ve done like, so many of these things. You’ve got to do it right. You say shit like that to a real demon, it’s just gonna laugh at you before it punches your lungs out.”
The woman’s eyes flick to Dean, then back to the stage. “What… what is he?” she asks, voice barely a whisper.
“I think you know that, sweetheart,” Dean tells her, not unkindly.
She nods, jerky and unsure. “The angel.”
“Castiel,” Dean says. “But you can call him Cas.”
Justin is still busy trying to exorcise Cas, who’s just watching him with intense contempt. Dean doesn’t think he’s even seen Cas use that expression before, at least not on a human. Everyone else in the room seems frozen, crouching behind seats or cowering on the floor. Even the not-puties seem uncertain, looking between each other and their weapons and the stage, like they know they should be intervening but don’t actually want to risk it lest they draw Cas’ ire.
“You blaspheme in Father’s name,” Cas is saying. He’s got the divine reverb thing going on in his voice, and it carries easily over Justin’s frantic murmurings. “You defile His children. You corrupt their hearts to turn them against one another. And for what? To water the rotted garden of your own sinful pride.”
“I do the Lord’s work!” Justin insists. “You cannot tempt me, demon! The wicked must be purged! Only the righteous will be saved!”
“As you wish,” says Cas. The corner of his mouth turns up into an uncharacteristically vicious smirk. One that sends a chill down even Dean’s spine. “But I think you should remember what they say about wishing.”
Justin’s had enough, apparently. He roars, lunging forward with the rapier, and Cas doesn’t so much as blink as it plunges straight through his chest and out the other side.
“That doesn’t work,” Dean tells the woman next to him.
Justin is realizing that, too. He looks at the rapier, then at Cas, then at the rapier again. He stumbles backwards.
Cas, meanwhile, reaches up, grabs the rapier, and pulls it free. He throws it to the ground with a metallic clatter, but the sound is eclipsed by the thunders flap of feathers as Cas manifests his wings.
“Holy shit,” Dean hears Sam say. So, yeah. They’re really there; it’s not just something Dean can see because of whatever soul-whammy Cas did to him on the ship.
Cas’ wings are more-or-less the same a they appear on his Creature-self, albeit scaled down; huge and void and iridescent black, littered with the bright blue orbs of his eyes. Against a human body, however, it’s easier to see he’s got six of the things. Two are open and mantled up, flight feathers splayed in the most glaringly obvious display of “gonna smite a bitch” Dean has ever seen. The other four are folded around Cas’ body—two at his chest and two at his hips—and trail behind him in a sort of giant feathery robe which should look silly and totally, totally doesn’t. Particularly not with the way flashes of burning grace peek through the feathers, each glimpse as searing as the sun.
Dean read about seraphim once, not long after Cas’ resurrection-slash-promotion. Phrases like “holy fire” featured pretty heavily. Dean’s pretty sure that, should Cas open those other wings, all that’s gonna be left of New Eden and surrounds will be a giant, smoking crater.
Justin, meanwhile, has fallen to his knees on the stage, his face contorted into that of a man who knows he’s not just royally fucking fucked, but that he has no one to blame for it but himself.
“Heaven help me,” he says.
And Cas replies, with a voice like an earthquake:
“There is no Heaven. There is only me.”
Then he puts his hand on Justin’s head, and unleashes his grace.
“Don’t look!” Dean manages. He presses his own face hard into the floor, grabbing the woman next to him and doing the same. She yelps, but there’s no time for complaining when, in the next moment, the world goes white.
Dean can see it, even through his eyelids, even with his face turned away and pressed against the shitty cheap carpet tiles. The explosion of grace rolls outwards like a shockwave, bathing the entire church with its terrible glory. Dean feels it pass over him; as an intention action, not just an effect. Like it touches his soul, recognizes him, and moves on. The number of choked-off screams he can hear mark the people who weren’t so lucky.
The entire thing takes maybe three seconds. When the light fades, he blinks, vision dark and swimming and eyes protesting catching even the barest glimpse of something they were never made to see.
Dean rolls over, groaning, and manages to pull himself to his feet. Beside him, Sam is doing the same.
The church, meanwhile, is suddenly looking a lot less populated.
It’s not everyone, and something about that unclenches something inside Dean’s gut. Maybe two thirds of the men, and even a handful of the women. In their places are warped bone-white pillars that collapse into ash at even the slightest disturbance.
Cas is still on the stage, still with the wings. He’s facing the audience, now, but his eyes are downcast and there’s something… exhausted about the slump of his shoulders. He seems to be muttering something to himself, though not loud enough to hear.
No one else is moving.
And then Cas says:
“When Father brought the first human souls to Heaven, he displayed them to all the angels. He said to us that you, humanity, were His finest creations. And that we, his first children, were to love you as Father loved you; above all others, including Him.
“Not… not all angels could bring themselves to do so. Chief among them Lucifer. He refused Father’s Word, refused to love humanity, refused even to believe you worthy of such love. For that he was cast from Heaven. And not only that, for such was Lucifer’s pride that he vowed to prove to Father just how unworthy His new children were, how loveless and forsaken. He twisted human souls into his ways, the first of what you call demons, and sent them out to spread his poisoned gospel.
“I have fought Lucifer and his spawn for millennia, at great cost. Yet I do it gladly, because I do not believe humanity deserves to be lost to the fires of Hell. And yet…” Here Cas pauses, fists clenching and unclenching at his side. Then:
“And yet, I will never understand… You are creations of such love and such wonder. Why then would you inflict upon yourselves the same crimes Lucifer wrought? When you fail to love, when you treat each other with contempt, or as tools. When you deny the value and humanity of those around you, you commit the same sin that saw Lucifer caged. You turn your backs on the most sacred command of our Father. I don’t… I don’t understand why…”
Cas stops again, then finally looks up. His expression is wrecked, destitute and devastated and the whole damn thesaurus. It makes Dean’s heart ache to see it.
“These are troubled times,” Cas finally says. “Something awful has happened, and I don’t know what or why or how to stop it. Maybe… maybe there is no way, no perfect behavior or divine prayer. Maybe the only thing that can be done is to live in defiance of the division, the misery, the depravation. To love each other, as God commanded, yes, but also because we are all so worthy of that love. That is all I can do, and all I ask of you in return. To please, be kind. When we love, no one and nothing is forsaken.”
And then another flurry of wings. And Cas is gone.
Dean goes to Ginebra, first. She’s still sitting in the corner of the cage, knees drawn up and hand plastered over her mouth. There’s not a single mark on her; not a scratch, not a drop of dried blood. Dean sags with relief, offers a quick prayer of thanks to Cas and his mojo, then gets to work picking the padlock on the cage. The thing is nothing special, just some ten dollar Walmart piece of shit, and it drops off easily enough. Ginebra watches Dean warily as he throws the door open, curling tighter around her own naked body.
“Hey,” he says. “Let’s get you outta there, huh?” He shucks his jacket and flannel and throws the latter to the girl. Then steps back and turns away as she emerges and pulls it on. She’s not tall and, buttoned up, the shirt comes to nearly her knees.
“Ginebra, right?” Dean says, once she’s dressed. Then, at her nod. “You all right?” He winces. “That’s a dumb fucking question. You gonna be all right?”
Ginebra shrugs, arms curled around her waist. “I just… I was just trying to get home,” she says, voice rough and quiet. “After the Creatures, I… there were men on the road. They said they were from the Sheriff’s department. That they were looking for contraband. I was with m-my boy— boyfriend. They sh-shot him and… and they took me and…” She has the shell-shocked look of someone who’s just seen Hell, someone who’s cried and screamed for so long it’s like there’s nothing left of either inside and never will be again. Dean knows the feeling.
“Hey,” he says. “It’s okay. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”
Ginebra seems to consider this. “I… I want to,” she says. “I want suh-someone to know.”
“Th-the priest. He ‘g-gave’ me to one of his m-men. As a ‘w-wife’. Told me my name was Jennifer Higgs and I ha-had to do everything my ‘husband’ said. Said it was… that the Creatures were God’s punishment for p-people like m-me.”
“Dude was full of shit.”
Ginebra gives a wet sort of snort, not quite a laugh, not quite a sob. “There was… was a kid. Seb. He, um. He s-said he could get me out. If I… I… y’know.” Dean nods, because he doesn’t, but he can guess. “I was… I would’ve done anything. I’m not p-proud of it but—”
“Hey. Hey, you don’t have to justify shit to me. It’s okay. You did what you had to.”
Another nod. “I don’t know if he s-sold me out, or… or what. But Justin found us. Said I was a w-witch. Tempting boys into sin. He, um. I’d seen him. It’d happened to an-another girl. About a m-month ago. And I… I th-thought…”
“Better to die screaming than live like you were.”
There’s a pause. Ginebra has started shivering, the hard, wracking shudders of someone in shock. Girl’s barely old enough to drive, and Dean wants to reach out and hug her and just… just make all the shit she’s just been through never have fucking happened. Except he can’t, and he figures the girl probably doesn’t want to be touched right now, especially not by some strange dude she’s never met. So he keeps his hands to himself.
Eventually, Ginebra says: “Th-the… the guy. With the…” She gestures to the place Cas had been standing.
“Cas,” Deans says. “Castiel.”
“He, um. Was he… he really…”
“An angel? Yeah. Dude’s grade-A certified Heaven’s export.”
“In a Black Sabbath t-shirt?”
Dean huffs a laugh, but says nothing.
“You know the shit of it?” Ginebra asks. Then, without waiting for an answer: “I’m a fucking atheist.”
“You wanna know a secret?” Dean replies. “Me too.” When he flashes Ginebra a grin, her eyes are focused just above his head. On his fading halo, if he had to guess.
“Right,” she says, lip curling into half a smirk. “Right.”
Then she screams, leaps forward, and drop-kicks the shit out of all that’s left of Brother Justin.
Sam, who’s been doing a bang-up job on damage control, goes overtime trying to convince the terrified remnants of New Eden that the Living Creature that’s suddenly appeared in their backyard is, “Totally, fine, really, he’s probably just tired after, um. Blasting half your congregation to shreds.”
“Nice, Sammy,” Dean mutters, which earns him an elbow in the ribs.
Because, yeah. Big Cas is back. He’s sitting just behind the church, arms crossed and heads tucked and wings folded tightly around the lot. He looks, and feels, miserable.
“You should go talk with him,” Sam suggests, after Dean throws one-too-many unsubtle looks in Cas’ direction. “Make sure he’s okay.”
“Don’t wanna leave you down here by yourself,” says Dean, which is true. What’s left of the town is… dealing. Or trying to. In its slow, shell-shocked way. The families that really seem to’ve been families are huddled together, fathers and brothers crying and begging for forgiveness from wives and daughters. The remaining women have gathered in their own groups. Someone’s started a bonfire and a bunch are burning their scarves and dresses, standing defiant in jeans or underwear or straight-up nothing at all in front of the flames. Other people are praying, reaching their hands up to Cas’ enormous, unmoving shadow.
There’s no angry shouting, no outbursts of violence. The Officer Friendlies all got nuked along with Justin, but Dean is still restless and on edge. Still watching the shadows for some asshole Cas missed with an AR-15, looking for revenge.
“I’ll be fine,” Sam says. “I think everyone’s forgotten we’re even here.” Because, really. What are two drifters in comparison to the wrath of a real-life angel?
Which is how Dean finds himself back in the church. Someone’s cut the power to the place and it’s creepy in the dark, wafting ash catching in the beam of Dean’s penlight. He finds his way up into the bell tower, hauling his ass up way too many flights of stairs. He’s wheezing by the time he gets to the top, because most of Dean’s day-to-day exercise involves short bursts of sprinting for his life, not sustained marathons. (So sue him.)
Nonetheless, the view over the balcony is pretty fucking spectacular.
“Nice view,” he announces, because he knows Cas will be listening. “Though I guess you’d be used to it.” For all its height, the church bell tower barely reaches Cas’ ankle. (Or, well. The wrists of the hands he uses to walk. Same thing.)
For a moment, Cas makes no indication he’s heard Dean’s comment. And then, very slowly, he extends a hand downwards, until it’s level with the tower balcony.
Dean known an invitation when he sees one, so he hauls himself up over the balustrade and drops down into Cas’ palm. Cas waits until Dean is more-or-less in the centre before moving, which Dean appreciates, and Cas makes no comment when the motion sends Dean tumbling to his ass with an indignant squark, which ditto.
Cas lifts his hand until it’s cupped with its pair, just beneath Cas’ giant heads. He lowers the heads close, as if Dean is something that smells particularly good and Cas is after a whiff. Then he rearranges his wings over them both, until only a small triangle of star-struck sky remains. The arrangement is… intimate. Dean tries not to think too hard about it, just gets himself settled in the groove between two enormous fingers.
“I MISS IT, SOMETIMES,” Cas eventually says.
“Mm?” Dean prompts, because the statement feels more like the beginning to a story than the end of a conversation Dean’s missed.
“HEAVEN. WHEN OUR DUTIES WERE DONE AND WE WOULD ROOST TOGETHER IN THE GARRISON. WE WOULD SHARE GRACE AND GROOM WINGS AND SING PRAISE AND KNOW THAT WE WERE LOVED AND WE WERE RIGHTEOUS. I MISS THAT.”
(Non. Stop. Angel. Orgy, Dean tries not to think. He also tries to stamp down the associated visual. He knows it’s wrong on multiple levels, factual accuracy being the main, but still can’t quite shake the image of writhing naked, sweaty flesh and silky, caressing feathers. Of Cas lying in the middle of the pile, with stormy bedroom eyes and a beckoning hand and… Yeah. No. Boxed and packed away.)
“Yeah,” Dean says instead. “Sorry. Guess I’m kind of a shitty substitute, huh?”
There’s a strange ripple in Cas’ grace that Dean’s mind wants to register as a shocked gasp. It’s only for an instant, then the grace rushes back, as warm and enfolding as a goose down duvet.
“OH. I DON’T… IT’S NOSTALGIA, THAT’S ALL. I MISS IT. I WOULDN’T TRADE FOR IT.”
“You… wouldn’t?” There’s no way Cas is saying what it sounds like he’s saying. Cas can be… abstruse sometimes. There’s no reason this has to be any different. No reason for Dean to think Cas is saying that—
“THINGS WERE SIMPLER,” is what Cas is saying. “BUT WE WERE SIMPLER, TOO. FOR ALL THAT I’VE LOST, I’M SO MUCH MORE NOW THAN I WAS. I CAN’T… I CAN’T REGRET IT. I DON’T KNOW IF THAT MAKES SENSE.”
Dean shifts, sinking into the weird angel-flesh of Cas’ fingers. It’s warm, and surprisingly comfortable, and coupled with the gentle undulations of Cas’ grace Dean’s starting to feel a hazy sort of euphoria. Like booze but without the sour, liver-destroying, tomorrow-regretting undertones.
“I guess,” Dean says, stretching lazily and throwing one arm above his head. “I guess it’s like… Yeah. I think I get it.” He pauses, trying to parse how to say what he next wants to say. “It’s like when Mom was alive,” he finally says. “It was… I mean. For a little while there, it was… really great. Prefect, you know? Pure apple pie. At least, that’s how it seems. But the reality is… I think in hindsight? I don’t remember it all that well. Just the good bits. And even then, it was just me and Mom and Dad. And I wouldn’t… I mean, if Lucifer or whatever popped up tomorrow and said, ‘Okay, you can have that. Forever. But we take Sammy in exchange’? Then I wouldn’t do it.”
“YES,” says Cas. “YES. LIKE THAT.”
Dean makes a humming noise, shifting to get more comfortable. His two hours of sleep in the back of the Impala suddenly don’t seem like nearly enough.
“DEAN?” Cas says, after an indeterminate amount of time.
“I THINK… I THINK I’VE DONE A TERRIBLE THING.”
Dean’s eyes snap open, and he scowls up at the long thin groove of Cas’ mouth. “What are you talking about?”
“I TOOK SOMETHING THAT BELONGS TO GOD. I… I JUDGED SOULS. “
“You mean Justin?”
“YES. HIM AND THE OTHERS. I JUDGED THEM, AND THEY WERE DESTROYED BECAUSE OF IT. I JUDED OTHERS, AND THEY LIVED. THIS IS… ONLY GOD MAY JUDGE THE SOULS OF HUMANS.”
Dean sighs, runs a hand down his face. “Cas,” he says, honestly, “I am too fucking tired for theology right now. All I know is that Justin was an asshole, and he hurt people. And now he’s a dead asshole, and isn’t hurting squat. Hoo-fucking-ray. Excuse me while I don’t lose sleep over it.”
“BUT I HAD NO RIGHT TO DO IT.”
“Yeah, maybe not. But you did. It’s done.”
Cas seems to think about this, clicking his bird-head beak and snuffling his lion-head nose. Finally, he says: “YOU ARE NOT A ‘SHITTY SUBSTITUTE’.”
Fuck, thinks Dean, even as his mouth says, “I dunno. My fingers are a bit small to groom your wings, man.”
“IT IS NOT THE SIZE OF YOUR PHYSICAL VESSEL THAT COUNTS,” Cas says, completely innocuously, near as Dean can tell. “IT’S YOUR SOUL. I’VE SAID BEFORE YOUR SOUL IS… INCREDIBLE. IT’S MORE THAN ENOUGH.”
Dean has no idea what to say to something like that. Doesn’t even know where to start saying something to something like that. He huffs an exhalation, loudly, and shifts against the firm-soft surface of Cas’ palm.
Cas’ grace is still curled around him. It’s hard to describe in physical terms; like the comfort of being embraced coupled with the desire to impart pleasure of a massage. It’s not sexual, exactly, except for where Dean’s filthy mud-monkey brain is suggesting that it totally could be, seventy-plus stories above the world and hidden by a curtain of feathers. What would it matter if he rolled over and rubbed himself against one of Cas’ giant fingers? He did it before. The world hadn’t ended (again).
It’s easy. Safe, even. So long as he keeps thinking of Cas as a force of nature and a voice in his head. A bolt of divine inspiration. Not a scruffy guy in Dean’s t-shirt, one of the few people Dean will tolerate drooling on Baby’s leather. Cas isn’t human, technically doesn’t even have a gender. Being… close to him doesn’t make Dean weak, doesn’t put Sammy in danger. If he lets himself have this, it’s just… it’s just blowing off steam after a case. Dean’s done that before. Not many women in the life, after all, and sometimes it’s just… easier to get off with someone who knows.
Cas knows. Cas probably knows better than anyone.
Dean’s hand is on his hip, his dick half-hard from Cas’ soul-fondling. It would be easy to just… press. Just to… to take the edge off after a shitty day. To just rub the heel of his hand over the hot, solid jut of his dick and…
“OH. OH, YES. THAT’S… VERY NICE.”
The giant feathers overhead shiver, the downy coverts fluffing up like cloud passing over the gleaming sky.
Dean presses a little harder. “You can feel that, huh?”
“I FEEL THAT YOU FEEL IT,” Cas explains. “IT MAKES YOUR SOUL… PULSE. IT’S… PLEASANT.” The world around Dean moves as Cas pulls his hands closer to his heads.
Dean sighs, lets his eyes fall closed and his thighs fall open. Fuck it, he thinks, then tries not to laugh at his own pun. A few more hot, firm strokes of his hand makes him admit it isn’t enough. So he pops the button on his jeans and slides down the zipper. Reaches inside and frees his dick from his already-damp boxers. He runs his fingers down the shaft. Once, twice. Sighs and shifts again, feeling the warmth pool within his hips.
He’s pretty tired, so he doesn’t rush the pace. Just pumps himself nice and slow and steady, thumb swiping down the damp slit, gently rolling into the familiar tunnel of his own, calloused palm. It’s a bit rough, bit dry, but a swipe of his tongue on his palm can deal with that.
Cas is being very, very attentive to the proceedings, in his own weird angel way. His grace is almost suffocating, sending electric little ripples across Dean’s skin. Every now and then he sends out murmuring little thoughts into Dean’s brain; calls of encouragement and adulations over Dean’s “beauty” that would earn him a punch in any context other than this.
When Dean speeds his fist up, the pulsing sensation of Cas’ grace does as well. Every now and again there’s a sensation like a knife-edge of ecstasy, like Cas wants to open Dean up and pour inside but knows he shouldn’t without permission. And, okay. Dean can do this. For all that Cas has done for them, for all he’s helped, Dean can give a little back in return. He can be the substitute for Cas’ garrison. A poor one, no matter what Cas says (because how could Dean, of all people, be anything but). But he can try.
Dean goes tighter, faster. Stops languishing in the feel and starts trying to actively chase his climax. He tilts his head to the side, finds the strange angel-hide of Cas’ palm, and runs a tongue along the surface. It’s like licking a battery—tingling and forbidden—and Dean does it again. He isn’t sure Cas notices. Cas is too busy holding Dean’s soul while Dean jacks off; is to busy trying to keep his grace to himself to allow it.
Dean feels the start of his climax, tingling through his toes. Just before it hits he manages to gasp out, “Cas! Now! In— In—”
It’s not the most eloquent consent in the world, but it works. Cas says, “OH!” with such an intense feeling of wonder. Then he’s praising Dean open and pushing inside.
As before, the intensity of it tears Dean’s orgasm right out of him. He arches his back, helpless, as his hips thrust up into nothing and the cum bursts from his dick in hot, helpless pulses. He feels incalculably full; a human with a seraph stuffed inside, stretching and opening and pouring into every crevice, gorging him on emotions too big to be coming from his own tiny, mortal mind.
Joy. Gratitude. Relief. Love.
The second orgasm hits him right on the tail of the first one. It hurts, tearing a rough cry from his throat even as he continues to soak his shirts in the last dregs of cum. The pain startles Cas, who’s instinct to heal kicks in before Dean can tell him otherwise, and it’s like someone just jammed a pipe right down Dean’s dick and filled his balls back up with cum. The result is indescribable; a sensation too big and too overwhelming to be classified as either pleasure or pain. Dean sobs, dick still pulsing, hands hanging limp and useless by his sides, heart pounding and breath gasping and body worse than useless as it’s used and used again by Cas’ unfathomably endless self.
Not long after that, Dean blacks out, his mind shutting down and refusing to process any more sensations. All things considered, it’s probably for the best.
When he next comes back to himself, he’s curled in a fetal position, still on Cas’ palm. His body has the weird over-perfect feeling that indicates Cas has given him a good cleaning scrub, both inside and out. His dick—now blessedly soft—is still hanging out of his jeans but all the cum is gone, which is probably just as well.
Cas, of course, is snuggling; his grace pressed warm and flush up against Dean’s soul. He must sense that Dean’s awake, because he making a contented purring noise with one of his physical throats. It’s feels like lying on top of Baby’s hood as she hurtles down the highway at a hundred miles an hour and it occurs to Dean, in that moment, that he may just be, very slightly, in over his head. Because, very belatedly, he’s just remembered the other thing seraphim are associated with, other than fire, is passion.
“THANK YOU, DEAN,” Cas rumbles, voice nothing more than a pure double-shot brain injection of happiness and joy. “THAT WAS VERY GOOD.”
Dean opens his mouth, closes it, reconsiders, then finally says, very sincerely:
“Don’t mention it.”
He watches the stars for a long time after that, before finally falling asleep.