The crocotta is a lanky kid just out of his teens, and he nearly smells as bad as the garbage piled around the basement. Dean hoists him into a bridal carry and tries not to breathe him in. Getting up the stairs is tricky; the concrete steps are narrow and steep, and the bulb dangling above Dean's head is burned out, so he can't see what he's stepping on. His left shoulder rides the wall the whole way up, and the crocotta's feet keep catching on the sticky, broomstick bannister.
When Dean reaches the landing, he kicks the door closed behind him so the rats and roaches don't get out. He'll call Mrs. Voorhees with the bad news in the morning. During their interview, she mentioned having a couple of grandkids living up in Jefferson City. Hopefully, they'll drive down and help her clean up the mess her "tenant" left behind.
The rest of the house is spotless. Dean walks down a hallway lined with framed needlework and family photos. The pink shag carpet matches the rosebud wallpaper. In the living room, floral couches are crowded around a busy, pink and blue rug. Lace curtains are hanging in the window, and bits of pink crochet are spread out on every flat surface. The china cabinet in the dining room is full of decorative plates. Most are either covered in roses or painted with scenes from Gone with the Wind.
The Impala's reverse lights hit the front of the house like a police spotter. Dean ducks out of the doorway; the crocotta's feet clip an endtable crammed with tchotchkes and Dean grinds his teeth as they rattle around. He heads outside once the porch goes dark, hovering in the shadows while Sam pops the trunk. It's a tighter fit than the stairs, but Dean doesn't want the crocotta stinking up the Impala's back seat. Sam grabs the thing's feet and they stuff him inside head first.
As he's closing the trunk, Dean says, "We gotta get outta here. Bingo's done at nine."
"Yeah." Sam nods and pulls out his phone. "I'll find us somewhere to build a pyre."
It's a cool night, windless and slightly humid. The sky is clear and dotted with stars. Dean heads for the driver's seat, his boots crunching the loose gravel scattered across the driveway. An owl hoots in trees. Sighing, Dean slides behind the wheel. The grasshoppers whining in the neighbor's hedge are so shrill they're making his teeth rattle. He closes the door to drown them out.
He digs his phone out of his pocket and calls Cas. It goes straight to voicemail.
"Hey, it's me. I'm just checking in. You know — again. Call me when you get this."
Dean hangs up and drops his phone on the seat. His hands reek, so he gets out of the Impala, walks back up the driveway, and crouches down beside Mrs. Voorhees' garden hose. The water comes out ice-cold and smelling faintly of rubber, but Dean doesn't give a shit. He wrings his hands under the stream for a few seconds, scrubs them on the weedy patch of grass around the spigot, and gives them another rinse. A shadow looms up behind him just as he's finishing up — Sam. He has a brown, garbage-water stain on the tail of his shirt, right at his hip.
"You want some of this?"
Dean passes him the hose and heaves himself to his feet. His knees pop; they sound like a handful of buckshot hitting concrete. He wipes his wet hands on his flannel as he heads back to the Impala. His phone is waiting for him on the seat: No New Messages.
Sam climbs in before he can try again. "Hey. You ready?"
"Yeah. What've you got?"
Sam holds up his phone; it's open to Google Maps. "Okay, so, there's a county road about a mile south of here. Heading east on it will put us in the boondocks."
"Great. Let's do this."
Mrs. Voorhees lives in the north end of Wardsville, on a dead-end gravel strip she shares with another quaint, whitewashed farmhouse. Dean doesn't want to make too much dust or noise, so he eases out of the driveway and keeps it under twenty until he hits pavement. Friendship Road cuts southeast before bumping into the state highway that serves as Wardsville's main drag. This leg is mostly residential; they pass two or three cottage businesses and another dozen houses just like Mrs. Voorhees'. The Impala's high-beams are the only lights on the road.
The state highway forks beside a Catholic church that feels too big for a town Wardsville's size. In the yellow flare of a lawn light, its marquee reads "Pray for Peace." A pair of deer are cropping at the scrubby grass around it; one looks up warily as Dean swings east on County M. It's narrower and darker than the state highway, but it's a straight shot and surrounded by empty prairie. Dean gives it two good miles before pulling onto the soft shoulder.
He looks over at Sam and asks, "You wanna cut the wood or wrap the body?"
Sam snorts. "Neither."
"We'll toss for it," Dean says, holding out his fist. "Loser cuts the wood."
"Best two out of three?"
"Stand up and accept your role," Cas says gravely. "You will stop it."
"If I do this, Sammy doesn't have to?" Dean asks.
"If it gives you comfort to see it that way."
Huffing, Dean shakes his head. "God, you're a dick these days."
He walks a few feet away, gravel crunching under his boots. A train whistle blares in the distance. Usually, Cas' marble statue routine is just irritating, but tonight Dean's ready to punch him in the face. Listening to Sam scream for the last day and a half has frayed his nerves like an old cord. He stuffs his hands into his pockets, clenching his fists. He knows what he should do — what he needs to do — but this angel crap is so far above his pay-grade that just thinking about it twists his gut into knots.
Taking a breath, he says, "Fine. I'm in."
"You give yourself over wholly to the service of God and his angels?"
"Yeah," Dean says, rolling his eyes. "Exactly."
Dean turns around. If Cas is signing him up to get screwed, he wants Cas to look him in the eye while he's doing it. "I give myself over wholly to God and —" his lip curls "— you guys."
"You swear to follow his will and his word as swiftly and obediently as you followed your own father's?"
"Yes," Dean says tightly. "I swear." Thinking about his dad is like a knife between the ribs. Christ, if John Winchester could see his sons now — one strung out on Hell juice and the other about to bend over for a bunch of feathered dicks. "Now what?"
"Now you wait, and we will call you when the time comes."
A beat passes, and then another. Dean waits for Cas to say something else, but Cas just stares, his face carved from shadows and cold light. He tilts his head, narrowing his eyes in a way that makes Dean feel stripped down to his bones. His skin is crawling. Fucking angels. He bites the inside of his cheek to keep himself from looking away first.
A car turns down the street behind Bobby's house, rattling like it's dragging its muffler. This close, Cas smells like an oncoming storm, ozone sharp enough to cut through the thicker, dust-and-oil stench of the salvage yard. Dean takes a step back, his heel catching on a rock. For some reason, he thinks of the crossroads deal he made for his brother, and the tense split-second before he'd leaned in to seal the deal. The demon had devoured his mouth, so much sulfur curling off her tongue that he'd nearly gagged.
"That it then?" he asks, clearing his throat. "We're good?"
Cas fits his palm over the handprint on Dean's shoulder. Then he says, "Yes," and disappears with a sound like a gust of wind.
They stop for breakfast in a flyspeck called Westphalia. The only paved road in town is US 63, and the only restaurant in town is a no-name joint right across from the cemetery. It's shaped like a house — probably was a house until someone ripped out the fireplace and put in a grill. It has four narrow booths and an eight-seat counter. The server/cook is an older guy with a greasy combover and a hand-rolled cigarette drooping from the corner of his mouth.
Money is starting to get tight, but Dean's stomach is growling. He orders a sirloin and eggs with home fries and a short-stack, and he blinks at his coffee while he waits for it to arrive. The table wobbles when he leans his elbow on it. The wood is varnished in fry-oil and scarred with knife graffiti. A handwritten card stashed behind the ketchup bottle is advertising an early-bird dinner special on Sunday afternoons.
Dean rolls his shoulders. They crashed in the car last night because cops had been lurking in the parking lot of their Jefferson City motel. It could've been anything — that flop wasn't in the best neighborhood — but Dean hadn't wanted to take chances. He'd headed back to Wardsville and cruised County M until he found an abandoned barn just the Impala's size. He's paying for it now; his neck is stiff, and a dull ache is gnawing at the base of his spine.
When the food comes, they eat in silence. Sam butchers an egg-white omelet and leafs through a Jefferson City News-Tribune that cost a dollar-fifty in laundry quarters. Before the sun hits the horizon, the predawn sky is the color of an old bruise. Once it's up, light slices through the diner's dusty front window like a knife. It cuts a bright-white stripe across their table and glares furiously off Sam's glass of orange juice. Dean shifts away from it, letting it beat at the back of his neck instead of the side of his face.
Sam waits until Dean is sawing his pancakes into sixths before asking, "You doing okay?"
Dean doesn't really have an answer for that, so he just forks some pancakes into his mouth. He grunts quietly and nods.
"You've been kind of —" Sam shrugs and flip-flops his hand.
"I'm alright," Dean insists, chewing.
Dean nods again and eats more pancakes. His mom is gone. Cas is — more or less — gone. Dean hasn't felt this hollow since he crawled out of his grave.
Finally, he shrugs and says, "Yeah." The last thing he needs is Sam trying to shrink his head in a greasy spoon in Bumblefuck, Missouri. "I'm good."
Sam fiddles with the newspaper. "I just — I'm worried I pushed you into this case."
He hadn't, though — not really. He just showed Dean the article and let nature take its course. Three dead teenagers — almost four; the crocotta had been working on his next victim when they showed up — and the sheriff's best offer had been "satanic cult." Of course Dean was going to saddle up.
"Nah. It's just been —" What? A weird couple of weeks? Months? Years? Dean can't remember the last time his life made sense. "You know how it is. I just gotta keep pitching 'til I find the zone."
"What about you?" Dean asks. Sam took Eileen's death hard — hard enough that Dean thinks there might've been something there. Or maybe there could've been, if they'd checked their snail mail in time to give her a place to crash. "How're you doing with mom and —" He waves his hand and reaches for his coffee. "You know. Everything."
Sam pauses for a second. Then he says, "I'm fine," and grabs the bill. "I'm low on cash. You want me to put it on a card?"
"No, I got it."
"Okay. I need the bathroom. I'll meet you outside."
Their bill is almost twenty-five; Dean digs thirty out of his wallet and pins it down with the ketchup bottle. The booth is so narrow that getting out is a struggle; the vinyl seat creaks and whines under his ass. Once he's on his feet, he drains the last of his coffee and heads for the door. It's late enough now that the diner is starting to fill up. Five guys in flannel and overalls are spread out across the counter; the empty stools between them look like broken teeth.
Outside, the sun is climbing, nudging the sky from gray to blue. It's still morning-cool; the bushes guarding the diner's front door are wet with dew. A farm truck lumbers down US 63, black clouds of exhaust puffing from its tailpipe. A lazy wind tugs at Dean's collar as he walks over to the Impala. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and wipes his greasy mouth on his sleeve.
Cas' phone goes straight to voicemail again.
"Hey, Cas. I — I ain't gonna lie, I'm really starting to get worried. Lemme know if you're alright."
Dean hunches over at the bottom of the steps, his shoulders shaking as he tries to catch his breath.
"What's so funny?" Cas asks.
Dean slings his arm around Cas' shoulder. "Oh, nothing," he says, still wheezing a little. "It's been a long time since I've laughed that hard." He pats Cas' back. "It's been more than a long time. Years."
That sobers him a little; he frowns as he digs for his keys. It's been years since he's done much of anything. The hits have really piled up recently — his dad disappearing, his dad dying, Sam dying, his demon deal, Hell, all this angel crap. Dean can't remember the last time he took a night just for himself. He picked up that cute Oktoberfest chick, but that was months ago. Before that — he doesn't know. Maybe those twins he met right after he sold his soul.
A gust of wind whips down the alley, flapping the lapels of Cas' coat as he waits for Dean to unlock the Impala. His head is framed by one of the brothel's dirty windows. The curtains are open, casting a sharp, yellow flare that hits the overflowing dumpster underneath it like a searchlight. The stench of garbage and piss is overwhelming. Across the alley, the rear walls of two brick apartment buildings frame the kind of motel that charges by the hour and doesn't ask for last names. The sign over its door buzzes as it struggles to keep itself alive.
"Fuck it," Dean mutters. He opens the trunk and grabs his bag, then jerks his head at Cas. "C'mon."
"What are we doing?"
The motel is dingy inside, everything yellowed by cigarette smoke and age. When Dean and Cas walk in, the old guy at the desk tucks a brown-bagged bottle out of sight. A naked lightbulb flickers above his head, hanging from a dusty chain. Dean pays for an hour — it's all he's got left; the wad he gave Cas to pay Chastity just cleaned him out. The guy grunts and hands Dean a key, then waves him toward a staircase with a wobbly rail and balding carpet running up the center of the steps.
Their room is yellower than the lobby. It smells like cheap pot and stale beer, and the door groans like it's dying as Dean closes it. He sets his bag on the nightstand, nudging the lamp and push-button telephone out of the way. The telephone nearly takes a spill, but Cas catches it with his mojo. Snorting, Dean shrugs off his jacket and flannel, then sits in the only chair and unlaces his boots. Cas hovers uncertainly by the foot of the bed.
"Dean, why are we here?"
"Remember what I said back at the house?" Dean asks, kicking his boots away. "I ain't letting you die a virgin."
Cas tilts his head. "But you —"
"We ain't talking about it." Standing, Dean pulls his t-shirt over his head and walks over to Cas. "We're just gonna do it."
Cas gets a little wide-eyed again, but he lets Dean unknot his tie, tipping his chin up as it slips away from his collar. He helps as Dean tugs off his coat and suit jacket. Dean brushes their mouths together as he works the buttons on Cas' shirt; he hasn't kissed a guy since Sam got back into hunting, but Cas is more or less the type of guy he picked up back when he worked his own gigs from time to time, dark hair and full lips and a strong, rough jaw. The slow prickle of Cas' stubble sparks a shiver of heat down Dean's spine. Cas doesn't quite kiss back, but he doesn't shy away from it either.
As Dean unbuckles Cas' belt, he asks, "Why'd you say all that stuff to that chick? You know, about her dad."
Cas pauses, giving Dean one of his narrow, middle-distance looks with his slacks and boxers halfway down his ass. "It seemed improper to engage in such a personal act with a complete stranger."
Dean bites back a laugh; hookers aren't exactly a personal connection kind of set-up. He probably should've told Cas that before he sent him in there. "Well, you know me pretty good, yeah?"
"I know you intimately. I've held your soul. I rebuilt your body after I raised you from perdition."
Dean doesn't know what to say to that — hell, there isn't anything he can say to that — so he ignores the uneasy tug under his ribs and crowds Cas back toward the bed. He gestures for Cas to sit, then gets Cas' slacks all the way off and drops to his knees between Cas' legs. Cas isn't anywhere close to hard; Dean wonders if it's because of nerves or some kind of angelic stubbornness. Unless — unless Cas just doesn't want this. That thought makes Dean hesitate for a split-second, but when he finally leans in and mouths at Cas' soft dick, Cas makes a quiet, inspiring noise and grabs Dean's shoulder, his fingers digging in hard enough to bruise.
"Yeah?" he asks, sliding his hands up Cas' thighs. "You like that?"
"Dean," Cas says, a hitch in his voice.
Dean huffs out a laugh and leans back in. He sucks Cas easy and slow, humming a little when Cas' dick fills and pushes against his tongue. He hasn't done this enough to really be good at it — he's always been too embarrassed by how much he likes it — but Cas clutches at the ratty bedspread, his breath catching each time Dean's tongue curls around the head. His thighs tremble under Dean's hands. Dean pulls off once Cas' hips start to twitch, stroking him a few times before patting his leg and getting to his feet.
"Just sit tight. I need a couple minutes."
Dean strips off his jeans and tosses them on the chair, then fishes the lube out of his bag. He can't find a condom, but he figures it doesn't matter; he crawled out of his grave clean and angels don't get sick. The bed creaks painfully as he climbs onto it, and the mattress has a sinkhole so deep he feels like his ass is on the floor. The first finger goes in easy, but the second burns slightly, just enough to make him hiss through his teeth. He likes to do this for himself when he beats off, but with Sam around it's hard to find the time. It's been a couple weeks.
Cas turns toward Dean, the bedspread rustling as he settles on his knees with his hand resting in his lap. He's touching himself idly, his eyes wide and a hot flush spreading on his cheeks, and that uncomfortable ache unfurls under Dean's ribs again. This isn't the first time he's done this for an audience, but Cas isn't watching Dean's hand. He's watching Dean's face. Dean suddenly feels self-conscious, weirdly exposed. He tips his head back, blinking up at the water-stained ceiling as he angles his wrist toward his prostate. By the time he works in a third finger he's riding his hand, rolling his hips enough that the headboard shakes against the wall.
"Dean," Cas says, shifting to kneel between Dean's legs. His dick bumps sticky-wet against the inside of Dean's thigh. "Are you all right? You're heart rate is —"
"Yeah, I'm good. I'm really good. I'm just — fuck." Dean fumbles for the lube, squirting enough on his hand to slick Cas' dick. "C'mere."
Cas sinks into Dean too fast, but Dean swallows the startled noise that tries to crawl out of his throat. He doesn't want Cas to panic and stop. Cas hesitates for a few moments, wringing his hands at Dean's hips and breathing hard through his nose. The flush on his cheeks has burned down to his neck. He doesn't move until Dean digs a heel into the back of his thigh.
It's awkward as hell. Cas' knees keep slipping on the bedspread, and the mattress is so bowed that Dean doesn't really have the leverage to meet his thrusts. Cas ends up sprawled over Dean's body, his arms bracketing Dean's head and his hot breath fanning against Dean's jaw. The angle means he misses Dean's prostate more than he hits it, but it still feels good. Dean still feels perfectly fucked-open and full. Cas has an awed and open look on his face, his eyes bright and his mouth slack, and Dean curls a hand into his hair, tugging him down for a kiss so he doesn't have to see it. He wraps his other hand around his dick, stroking himself hard and fast.
"Dean," Cas says roughly. "Dean, I —"
"It's alright. It's gonna feel awesome. Just let it happen."
Cas shudders against him, clawing at the bedspread. He comes with a low, filthy noise, his eyes just barely flashing silver-blue. The lights flicker and the mirror in the bathroom shatters. He rides it out with a few more shaky thrusts, then slumps against Dean's chest. Dean slides his arm around Cas' shoulders, letting Cas breathe into the hollow of his throat as he finishes himself off.
Ballard is smaller and shittier than Westphalia, but it has a gas station and the Impala's needle is nudging close to E. The gas station is also small and shitty; it's crouched right where Bb Road crosses State Route 18. It's just two pumps and a shed cobbled together out of shipping palettes, hubcaps, and sheets of corrugated iron. A rusty bell clangs as Dean swings into the driveway. Both pumps are open, so he grabs the spot with the most shade.
He pauses as he's climbing out to ask Sam, "You want anything?"
Sam glances at the shed and shakes his head. "No."
It's a little before ten, but it's already gearing up to be a hot day. The sky is a clear, cloudless blue, and the sun is high and bright. Heat bakes Dean's face and neck as he walks across the tarmac. A pair of parking spots are set facing the shed; a 70s, wood-panel station wagon is using both of them. Empty propane cans are stacked at its nose. A hand-painted sign asks people not to smoke near the pumps.
The shed is sweltering inside. Sweat starts beading at Dean's hairline as soon as he ducks through the door. There isn't much to look at — junk food, cigarettes, lottery tickets, car doo-dads. A cold case stocked with soda is wheezing against the back wall. Dean isn't hungry yet, but snacks on the road will save them a twenty-dollar lunch stop. He grabs a bottle of Mountain Dew and a bag of beef jerky for himself and some power bars and a couple of bananas for Sam. He pays the kid wilting behind the register in cash because his credit cards are ready to break.
Sam blinks at him when he passes the bag through the window. "What's this?"
"Bananas," Dean says, wiping his sweaty face on his sleeve.
"Are they ripe?"
"They looked alright."
"How would you even know?"
Dean wouldn't know; he hasn't eaten a banana since he was a kid. "They ain't brown, and they ain't green." Sam has the newspaper open in his lap, so Dean points to it and asks, "Is that a job?"
"Maybe." Sam folds the newspaper down to one article and holds it up. "Desecrated graves in Arkansas. Could be a ghoul."
Dean nods and says, "Yeah. Could be." Then he raps his knuckles on the Impala's roof and walks around to pump the gas.
The Impala needs about twenty gallons, so Dean leans back against the driver's-side door and fires up Google Maps on his phone while he waits. Pushing another ten minutes west will put them at I-49; from there, the Arkansas state line is about two hours south. They're in the neighborhood, and ghouls are usually a milk run. But Dean isn't — fuck. He doesn't know.
"Well?" Sam asks.
"I — maybe." If they grab a room in Springdale or Fayetteville, they could wash off the crocotta stink and find a pool hustle or two and get started on the ghouls in the morning. "Lemme think about it."
The gas nozzle is bent; Dean has to wrestle it back onto the pump. The driveway bell clangs again just as he figures it out. A truck pulls up behind the Impala — a late 80s or early 90s Ford with a grimy tennis ball on the antenna and a rattle under the hood. It's solid tan instead of two-tone, and it doesn't have split rails lining the bed, but at first glance it's close enough to make Dean's gut lurch.
He chews his lip as the truck's door creaks open. A blonde chick in feed store overalls hops out of the cab; Dean stares at her so long that she shoots him a dirty look and mutters, "Asshole," under her breath.
He rubs his face and climbs into the car.
"Well?" Sam asks again.
"Arkansas." Dean's hand shakes as he fits the key in the ignition. "We — Arkansas."
"Fuck," Dean mutters, tossing his bag on his bed.
Their motel room is exactly how they left it. Sam's running shoes are sitting by the door and Dean's fed suit is hanging over the back of a chair. An empty beer bottle is waiting on the green and yellow counter. Dean isn't sure staying here is a good idea. Sam had argued that they might as well since tonight has already been charged to Dean's credit card, but Dean's itching to hit the road. Not that it matters; if Gabriel decides to come after them, a couple hundred miles won't make a difference.
"I can't believe we even tried talking to that sonofabitch."
Sam mumbles, "Yeah," and slouches into the chair by the door. His knees knock against the tiny, whitewashed table. "When he told us who he was, I thought —" he sighs and shakes his head "— I don't know what I thought."
Cas is lurking near the nightstand like a statue; his face is stone cold. Dean asks him, "How long've we been gone?"
"Nine days," Cas replies gruffly.
"Nine? We — Jesus Christ." Dean scrubs his hand through his hair. "That's nine days we coulda been looking for the Colt."
Sam huffs. "We still don't have any leads on the Colt."
"Bobby said something about demon omens in Tuscaloosa. If we leave now —"
"If we leave now, you'll drive into a ditch before we get out of Ohio." Standing, Sam gestures for the keys. "I'm going to grab us some burgers. You want anything in particular?"
Dean waves him off. "You — just get whatever."
The door whines as Sam lets himself out. Once he's gone, Dean ducks into the bathroom to piss and slap some water on his face. His reflection looks tired; stubble is shadowing his jaw, and the bags under his eyes are the color of an old bruise. He watches himself yawn. They hadn't needed to eat or sleep in Gabriel's freakshow TV-land, but Dean is starting to feel it now that they're out. His stomach is growling and exhaustion is curled up at his feet, ready to pounce.
He comes out wiping his wet hands on his jeans. Cas is pacing the narrow slice of carpet between the beds, his shoulders stiffer than usual and his fingers curled into the sleeves of his coat. Dean doesn't know what to say to him — "it's gonna be alright" is bullshit, and "I'm sorry your long-lost brother turned out to be a raging asshole" might get him punched in the face. Cas inches farther away from Heaven every day, but he's still touchy about other angels.
Dean pats Cas on the back on his way to the kitchen. Cas pauses for a second, then starts pacing again with a dull sigh. His coat dances around his legs. Dean opens the fridge, looking for something that'll take the edge off his hunger, but the only food is a brown banana and a moldy, half-loaf of bread. He grabs a beer and chugs the neck in one swallow. It doesn't help the ache in his gut, but it feels good going down his throat. He's had a greasy, ashy taste in his mouth since he lit that holy oil on fire.
Cas comes up behind him, his loafers catching on the kitchen's sticky linoleum. Dean turns around, about to ask if Cas wants a beer, but Cas crowds him back against the counter and leans into his space. His coat smells like the inside of that warehouse. His eyes are hard-lined and dark.
"Dude," Dean says.
Cas just leans in closer. He kisses Dean roughly, all teeth and sloppy tongue. When Dean tries to pull back, Cas growls into his mouth and fists a hand in the front of his shirt. And Dean gets it — he really does. Gabriel knocked Cas around like a toy, and then he laughed about God's permanent vacation and said the apocalypse was a bullet-train that couldn't be stopped. Cas is frustrated and angry, maybe even a little embarrassed. And he can't kick Gabriel in the teeth, so he's biting at Dean's jaw and gripping Dean's hips hard enough to bruise.
It's a stupid idea. They already did this once, and that — fuck. Things were awkward for a couple weeks afterward; Cas kept giving Dean long, thoughtful looks that flushed over Dean's skin like a sunburn, and Dean talked too fast and too loud to cover it up. His day-trip to 2014 hadn't helped anything; that Cas flirted with him shamelessly, touching the small of his back when they walked in the same direction and talking with his lips too close to Dean's ear as they'd looked over his other self's plans and maps. But when Dean opens his mouth, the only thing that comes out is a thin, needy moan. Cas works his thigh between Dean's, and he knots a hand in Dean's hair, tugging as he presses wet kisses to Dean's throat.
"Okay," Dean mumbles, arousal curling around his spine like a snake. "Yeah, okay." Dean's beer is trapped between their bodies, the butt of the bottle digging into Dean's belly, and he misses the mark when he reaches back to set it on the counter. It shatters beside his foot, the beer hissing as it foams into a puddle under his heel. Cas shoves his hand down the back of Dean's jeans, palming the curve of Dean's ass as he yanks him closer. Dean can't stop rolling his hips. He's practically riding Cas' thigh, but the pressure feels good against his dick, heavy and solid and hot.
Cas is panting into Dean's mouth, so Dean kisses him, sliding their tongues together and wrapping his hand around the back of Cas' neck. Cas moans, throaty and deep. He's hard as a rock. He shifts until their dicks are just about side by side, and Dean shudders, twisting his fingers in Cas' collar as heat rushes under his skin. He should be embarrassed by how close he is to losing it, but Cas won't stop pulling his hair. He keeps sucking Dean's lower lip into his mouth. He drags a kiss down the line of Dean's jaw, and he pins Dean harder against the counter, one foot skating in the spilled beer as he leans in.
Dean chokes out a noise and snaps his hips. His dick rides against Cas'; he comes with his mouth falling open and his eyes squeezed shut and the edge of the counter cutting a blunt stripe across the middle of his back. Cas thrusts against Dean a few more times, then gasps out Dean's name, shivering as he curls in on himself. The windows rattle. The lights flicker a little. His thumb bumps the dip behind Dean's ear.
The sixty-five bucks left in their motel fund is enough for a room at the Fayetteville Arms — a beige, double-decker dump a few blocks north of where US 62 meets I-49. The place is a piece of work: peeling paint scars the walls and dying shrubs lurk underneath the dusty windows. A mountain of old gum and cigarette butts fills the concrete ashtray guarding the manager's office. Four vending machines are lined up beside it, wheezing in the late afternoon sun. Three have been bashed in; the fourth is buzzing and flickering like a busted neon sign.
When Dean walks inside, a woman with half a pack of Juicy Fruit in her mouth asks, "King or two queens?" in a bored voice.
Dean glances at her nametag. "Hi, Denise. I need two queens." He offers her a smile as he adds, "Ground floor. My knees ain't what they used to be."
Denise says, "You and me both, sweetheart," and leans her elbow on the counter. "Ground floor is singles only. If you want two beds, you gotta hike."
Dean hesitates. He hates bunking upstairs, but it's not like he and Sam can share. The last time they tried it — about five years ago — they both hit the deck at least twice.
"How 'bout two singles?" Denise asks, snapping her gum. "Connecting doors. We'll call it a hunnert-n-ten instead of a hunnert-n-thirty."
"I — um." Dean doesn't have it, not without dipping too far into his hustling seed-money. "Just one."
"You want a rollaway bed?"
Denise studies him for a second. Her fingernails are two inches long and the color of a plastic lawn flamingo. She snaps her gum again and says, "For a face like yours —? No charge."
The room is standard — faded wallpaper, colorless carpet, an ugly, floral bedspread hiding a mattress that's bowed in the middle. The kitchenette is tiny, and the fridge rumbles like a jet taking off. The window unit clanks and coughs as Dean flips on the AC. He chucks his gear on the kitchen table and heads straight for the dingy, yellow bathroom.
"Hey," Sam barks. "It's my —"
Dean shuts the door in his face. Then he strips down and yanks the handle on the shower. The plumbing rattles so hard the tiles jump, but the water comes out fast and hot. Dean spends a lot of time soaping off the crocotta stink. Once he's done, he wastes another few minutes just standing under the spray. It doesn't help the ache at the base of his spine, but it beats some of the knots out of his shoulders and neck.
His clean clothes are in his bag, so he walks out wrapped in a towel and dripping on the carpet. A cloud of steam follows him through the bathroom door. After he waves it away, he finds Sam sitting at the table, hunched over what smells like a burrito. He looks up just long enough to give Dean the finger.
"Where'd you get that?"
"Taco truck across the street."
"Anything for me?"
Sam points at a greasy bag waiting on the counter. He grunts, "Carne asada," and takes another bite of his burrito. When he's done chewing, he asks, "You leave me any hot water?"
"I think so."
"Dick," Sam says, rolling his eyes.
Dean's feet are making a puddle beside the bed. Once Sam's gone, he throws on some boxer-briefs and a t-shirt and tosses his wet towel toward the bathroom door. The rollaway came while he was in the shower; he opens it and spreads a blanket over it so he won't have to wrestle with it when he's tired and drunk. His stomach growls. He grabs the burrito bag and sets it on the table. Before he opens it, he calls Cas.
"Cas, please. Just lemme know if you're okay."
Cas heaves out a moan, his eyes fluttering closed as he turns his face into the pillow. "Dean, Dean."
"Keep it down," Dean hisses, thrusting into him again and again. "Everyone'll hear you."
Cas shudders underneath him, his back arching as he claws at the sheets, but his next noise catches in his throat. He's already come once, gasping through an orgasm that dimmed the bedside lamp while Dean was still working him open. He's boneless now, letting Dean dig bruises into his hips and angle his ass however he wants. Bobby's attic bedroom is stuffy and hot, the air thick from being trapped under the low sweep of the roof, and sweat is dripping down Dean's face and pooling in the dip of his throat. Cas' skin is flushed pink and burning under Dean's hands.
Dean snaps his hips too hard and too fast, his thighs slapping against Cas' ass. Cas shoves his arms under the pillow, grabbing the spokes in the headboard so Dean doesn't pound him off the mattress. The bed is shaking like it has Magic Fingers, its metal frame rattling and its feet shrieking against the floor. Cas moans again, a filthy rumble that tightens the heat twisting in Dean's gut. Dean grits his teeth at how much noise they're making. He isn't worried about Bobby or the Harvelles — Jo and Ellen don't know him well enough to ask and Bobby knows him well enough to leave it alone — but Sam is a nosy sonofabitch. If he overhears them, he'll give Dean shit about it until the day they die.
That might be tomorrow. Dean's swagger is bone-deep these days, and he kept it up all night out of habit, but he isn't stupid enough to think taking a Hail Mary shot at Lucifer is going to end well for any of them. His nerves are scraped raw. Having Cas clutched around his dick is taking the edge off a little, but anxiety is still a cold weight in his gut, sitting there so heavily that he's fucking Cas like he's the last thing on earth. He's chasing Cas' impossibly tight heat like he'll come through the other side without his heart still hammering in his chest and a sour-sick taste still burning the back of his throat.
The bed keeps smacking against the wall. The blanket is an uncomfortable lump under Dean's shin. He palms the back of Cas' thigh, urging him to bend his knee a little more and open himself up. He runs his hand down the long, sweaty curve of Cas' spine, then leans back enough to watch his dick slide in and out of Cas' hole. He traces Cas' rim with the pad of his thumb. Cas' breath hitches; he rolls his hips, his shoulders flexing as he leans up on his elbows.
"Touch me," he says, his voice quiet and rough. "Dean, Dean —"
"Yeah." Dean wraps his arm around Cas' waist, pulling Cas into his lap as he sits up on his knees. "C'mere."
He tries to hold off until Cas comes again. He tries. He bites his lip as his balls start to draw up, and he closes his eyes so he can't see Cas' flushed, sticky-wet dick pushing through his fist. But the new position lets him fuck Cas too deep, too deep. The tension inside him snaps after a handful of jerky, uneven thrusts. He strokes Cas hard and fast, moaning as he mouths kisses along the cord of Cas' neck. When his dick slips out of Cas' body, he catches his come with his fingers and works it back in, fucking Cas like that until he drags Cas over the edge.
Hustling pool is a long night's work. Dean doesn't head back to the motel until well after last call. Nearly everything else in Fayetteville closed up hours ago; the streets are empty, and the only light around is the orange-red glare from the motel's vacancy sign. Dean checks for cops twice before jaywalking across Old Farmington road. A Cheetos bag follows him most of the way, rattling at it skims over the asphalt with a sluggish wind.
Dean pats the money hidden in his jacket's knife pocket. The crowd was pretty thin when Dean got to the bar, so he started off rolling dumb college dudes for their loose twenties. That eventually drew some sharks, but by that point Dean wasn't really sober enough to be playing against professionals. He usually keeps his head when he's on the job. This time, he — he doesn't know. He won more than he lost, but he lost plenty. He walked away with six hundred and change when he could've pulled well over a grand.
The lamp is on in their motel room; the light glares at him through a gap in the dusty curtains. His keycard won't cooperate. A horn blares on the interstate as he's figuring it out. Red light, red light, red — green light. The door swings open so fast that Dean stumbles coming in. Sam is sitting on the bed, his head down and his arms resting on his knees. He's got one boot off, and — drunk. He's drunk. His shoulders are slumped, and his hair is hanging in his face. Dean just stands there for a second, blinking; he can't remember the last time Sam overdid it.
Clearing his throat, he asks, "You alright?"
Sam looks up and says, "Dean." He clasps his hands, wringing them a little. "Dean."
"Yeah, Sammy. I'm here." The room is hot; Dean shrugs off his jacket and drops it on the table. "What's up? It ain't like you to come home with a full tank."
"I wasn't — I didn't, um." Sam sighs and bats his hair out of his eyes. "There was a woman at the bar, she looked just like mom, and I — I started thinking, I started thinking that she's trapped — she's trapped." He sighs again, and the toes of his bare foot curl against the carpet. "Dean, she's trapped —"
"I know. But we — we're gonna get her back."
Dean leans back against the wall and sucks in a breath. His last shot is sliding around in his gut. "I don't know. But we — we're — we —"
"They killed Eileen," Sam mumbles. He isn't crying, but his eyes are wet, and Dean — Dean takes another breath and tries not to puke. "I — she, uh. She —"
A door slams upstairs. Dean shuffles closer and pats Sam's knee. "C'mon, Sammy. Time for bed." He points at Sam's foot and continues, "Get your boot off and go to sleep."
Nodding, Sam bends down and tugs at his laces. His sleeves are unrolled; the unbuttoned cuffs flap around his wrists. Dean watches him for a minute, then moves over to the rollaway. It squeaks and groans as he sits, pitching side-to-side on its wheels. The blanket bunches up underneath his thighs.
"Dean," Sam says quietly. His boot is off and his sock is hanging from his foot. "Cas —"
"But he — you —"
"I said don't."
Sam huffs. "Dean. It's okay if you — if you're —" he balls up his sock and tosses it on the floor. "It's okay. You — we, we'll get him back."
It hits Dean like it's happening all over again — the angel blade spearing out of Cas' chest, the light flaring behind Cas' eyes, the wing-shadows scorched into the sand. Dean had stroked Cas' hair. He'd tried to rub some warmth back into Cas' hands. He isn't sure how long he knelt there, mumbling, "Please, please," while the moon rose and the water beat at the shore.
Eventually, Lucifer's freak hellspawn came outside. Jack touched Cas' forehead and brought him back to life. Then he reached out his hand and took Cas away.
"Cas made his choice," Dean says, his throat tight. "He picked a side, and it — it wasn't ours."
"Just — shut up. You — shut up and go to bed."
Dean's hand shakes as he lifts the whiskey bottle to his mouth.
"That's not him in there," Cas says quietly. "Not really."
Sam screams again, a desperate wail that chases its own tail around the panic room. Dean's chest feels hollow. "I know."
"Dean, Sam just needs to get it out of his system. Then he'll be —"
"Listen, I just —" Dean closes his eyes, taking a breath so the whiskey stays down "— I need to get some air."
He climbs the cellar stairs two at a time, and he closes the bulkhead doors behind him so Sam's voice doesn't follow him outside. It's a fairly mild night, almost warm for February in South Dakota, but still Dean shivers as he crosses the salvage yard. He's been fear-sweating since Sam juiced Famine's stunt demons; his sleeves are damp at the armpits, and his collar is so clammy it's sticking to the back of his neck. His next shot of whiskey burns all the way down. It settles in his gut like a stab wound.
Something scuffles in the pocket of shadows along the fence, near where Bobby keeps his dumpsters — a raccoon maybe, or a possum. Dean walks around the side of the house, gravel crunching under his boots. He cuts between two haphazard stacks of old tires, then skirts the rusted-out husk of a '71 Dart. It's crouched beside a shit-kicker pickup truck with no windshield and a bashed-in front end. His shirt catches one of its empty headlight sockets, the material snagging with a noise that sets his teeth on edge.
He can't hear Sam anymore, but his chest still feels hollow. Listening to Sam dry out hadn't hurt this much last time, maybe because there'd been so much other shit going on. He'd been worried about Lilith and the seal she'd supposedly been breaking, and Bobby had been riding his ass more than usual, and he'd been so incredibly fucking angry at Ruby. Imagining the look on her face when he finally rammed his knife into her throat had kept him from thinking about Sam too long or too hard. Now he just feels helpless. Useless.
He goes for another shot, but the heaving in his gut tells him it'll just come right back up. He pauses with the bottle halfway to his mouth, then lets his arm drop to his side. Even the smell is too much. Eyes stinging, he takes a breath and looks up.
"Please," he mumbles. The sky is empty and dark. "I can't." He swallows hard; it feels like his throat is closing up. "I need some help. Please?"
The salvage yard is quiet. Dean paces a restless circle, then leans back against the Impala, the whiskey bottle bumping his thigh. He wipes his wet face with his sleeve. He knows he should go back downstairs and check on Sam, but he can't make himself move. He hasn't slept much over the last three days. He's fucking tired, and a slow ache is spreading up from the base of his spine, clawing at his muscles as it climbs into his shoulders.
Up on the highway, a big rig blares its horn. Dean shivers again, this time because his skin is crawling. Pinpricks skitter up and down his arms and across the back of his neck.
"We've talked about this shit," he says, digging his heel in the gravel. "Spying on people ain't polite."
"I wasn't spying," Cas says gruffly. He's behind Dean — behind, and somewhere to the left. "I overheard —"
"Humans call that eavesdropping."
"It wasn't intentional." Cas comes closer, melting out of the shadows cast by a pile of dented tailgates and doors. He's bleached out by the moonlight, his face bone-white and his coat almost colorless. "Prayer travels to Heaven through an open conduit."
"Like a party line?"
"In a way."
"So... what? All our bitching and moaning is just broadcast on angel radio for everyone to hear?"
Cas pauses for a moment, then says, "It's unlikely that every angel in creation would be listening, but essentially, yes." He looks up at the sky, a frown waiting at the corner of his mouth. "We've been removed from earth for so long that many simply ignore the human... frequency."
Shaking his head, Dean mutters, "Jesus Christ. You guys really are a bunch of dicks."
Cas doesn't argue with him; he's still looking at the sky. It's cloudless and dark and scattered with stars. Bobby's tow truck is lurking behind him, its boom cutting a black line that angles above his head. Cas' tie is crooked and loose. For some reason, it makes him seem almost human. Almost.
Another horn honks on the highway. Dean asks, "How is he?"
"Distressed. He appears to be hallucinating."
Dean growls, "Fuck," and takes a shot. He breathes through the afterburn so he doesn't puke on his boots.
"As I said before, he just needs to —"
"Shut up." Pressure is building behind Dean's eyes again. He needs to check on Sam. He needs to go to sleep. He needs — fuck. "Just shut the hell up."
"Dean, I —"
Dean loops his free hand in Cas' tie and yanks. Cas stumble-steps forward; he sways into Dean with a grunt and steadies himself by grabbing the Impala's roof. The Impala jolts against Dean's back and the whiskey bottle thunks against its door. Dean kisses Cas hard, biting the well of Cas' lip before shoving his tongue into Cas' mouth. Cas makes a low, throaty noise and fists his hand in the front of Dean's shirt.
Dean grunts, "Yeah," without looking up from the map spread across the Impala's trunk. The 4G is spotty this far from Fayetteville, so he's sweating in the Arkansas sun while he works out a route to Subiaco the old-fashioned way. "What?"
"Drink this," Sam says, holding up a bottle of water.
Sam prods his arm. "Drink it."
Dean huffs and snatches the bottle from Sam's hand. The water is so cold it burns his throat. He chugs about half of it, then thumps the bottle down on the trunk. He scrubs at his hair and tries to focus on the map. His skin feels too tight, and a throbbing headache is squeezing the base of his skull.
An old truck rattles past them, headed southbound on I-49. It sounds like it's getting ready to throw a rod. Sam leans his ass against the Impala's fender, grumbling under his breath as he juggles his water and his phone. The Impala jerks and whines. Sam holds the phone over his head and moves it around. His shadow cuts across Dean's map, blotting out everything north of the Missouri state line.
He freezes suddenly. "Got it."
"Wikipedia. City pages usually have a map, so I —" Sam sighs. "It's not loading."
Dean waves him off. "Forget it. I saw it a second ago."
Sam digs his heel into the dirt mounded on the soft shoulder. "You — we, uh."
The map catches on Dean's water bottle. A condensation stain starts inching toward Fort Smith; Dean sighs and tugs it away. "Dude. What?"
"I was just thinking... we don't have to do this. I mean, we haven't been home since — you know. We could —" Another truck rumbles by. Once it's gone, Sam continues, "We could give this one to Monroe. Or Marion."
Monroe lives down in Louisiana and is almost sixty. Marion is closer — northern Mississippi — but she busted her ankle helping Sam ambush those British fucks. Dean shrugs. "We're here."
"Okay, but —"
"Found it." Dean taps Subiaco with his finger. It's nestled between the river and Mount Magazine State Park; they just need to push down I-49 another thirty miles, head east on I-40, then work southeast on a couple of state highways. "C'mon. Let's hit the road."
Dean rolls his hips, moaning, "Fuck, fuck," and clutching at the seat. The Impala dips and leather squeaks under Dean's knees. Cas shifts closer, his hands bruising into Dean's waist as he thrusts up against the curve of Dean's ass. The Impala dips again, and Cas' foot bumps the front seat. They don't really have enough room, but Dean hadn't wanted to risk doing this inside the house. They've got some heavyweight shit on the calendar tomorrow; Sam and Bobby might've gone to bed, but there's almost zero chance they're actually asleep.
Cas shudders. He tucks one hand underneath Dean's shirt, holding it at the small of Dean's back, and he slides the other down to Dean's ass, using it to pin Dean in his lap. He jerks up against Dean like he's fucking him, short jabs of his hips that feel filthy-hot. Dean curls his fingers in Cas' collar, his knuckles brushing the space below Cas' ear. Heat rushes under his skin, and his dick twitches against the fly of his jeans. Cas tips his head back, his throat flexing and pulling as he swallows a noise, and Dean leans closer, his dick riding against Cas' belly as he bites the cord of Cas' neck.
"Lemme hear you," he says. They've never talked much while they do this, but tonight -- Dean doesn't know. This morning, he more or less said goodbye to his brother. He needs everything Cas can give him right now.
He grinds down against Cas hard, his knee slipping on the seat, and he smiles against Cas' temple when Cas gasps and bucks up to meet him. The air inside the Impala is sex-humid, nearly thick enough to chew. Dean slides a slow, open kiss down the sweat-damp slope of Cas' cheek. He slots their mouths together, all teeth and tongue, and Cas bucks up again, moaning. It's low and greedy and loud, just like Dean asked, and a bolt of want arrows straight into Dean's gut. He could probably come like this, just rocking in Cas' lap while Cas pants against his jaw and teases the cleft of his ass through his jeans.
Cas brings one hand around to cup Dean's dick, rubbing with the heel of his palm a few times before he opens Dean's fly. Dean coughs out, "Shit, yeah," when Cas runs his fingers down the length of it, his whole body jolting as he fucks toward Cas' fist. He's so close. He squirms in Cas' lap, desperate for it, his hands white-knuckled in the sleeves of Cas' shirt. His thighs shake. Before he can really find a rhythm, Cas wraps an arm around his waist and shifts him onto the seat.
He ends up propped against the door, one arm wedged between his body and the seat and one leg sprawling into the footwell. Cas strokes him a few times, his hand firm and sweaty and perfect, then kneels up to shrug off his own shirt. The salvage yard's security light is glowing through the steam on the rear windshield; its sodium flare yellows Cas' skin and silvers the banishing sigil scarred into his chest. Dean traces it with the tips of his fingers, sketching out the triangle at the top and the blocky five-shaped rune in the middle. Cas shivers a little, then leans in between Dean's thighs for a quick, sloppy kiss. When he pulls back, he slides down Dean's body and sucks Dean's dick into his mouth.
"Oh, God. Cas — Jesus."
He scrabbles at Cas' shoulder, his fingernails digging into Cas' skin. Cas obviously hasn't done this before, but that's not making him shy. He just takes Dean's dick as deep as he can and fists his hand around the rest. It's a weirdly perfect contrast, the almost-dry drag of his palm and the scorchingly wet heat of his mouth. Dean arches into it, his head lolling against the window. He should probably be embarrassed by the noises he's making — how he's whining behind his teeth and gulping for air like he's drowning — but Cas just keeps sucking him in and in and in. Cas isn't bothering to swallow his spit; he's just letting it run down Dean's dick and slick up his fingers.
Cas loses his groove for a second; Dean's dick bumps the roof of his mouth and the seat jostles and creaks. Dean looks down just as Cas tucks his hand between his legs to rub himself through the front of his slacks, and — fuck. Cas getting off on this only adds fuel to the fire burning in Dean's gut. Choking out a moan, Dean pushes his fingers into Cas' hair and tugs Cas' head back. Cas' eyes are wide and dark and the head of Dean's dick is waiting on the well of his lip.
"Do it," Dean says breathlessly. "Get your dick out. I wanna see."
Cas fumbles with his zipper, then hums out a noise and sucks Dean back in. Dean slides his hand to the back of Cas' neck, sitting up a little so he can watch. It's too dark to see much beside the steady jerk of Cas' arm, but Dean can hear it: a sweaty, skin-slap sound that's almost dirtier than the flick and curl of Cas' tongue. Dean comes with his fingers scratching at the seat and his heel digging into Cas' leg. It rolls over him so quickly he doesn't have time to give Cas any warning, but Cas just sucks him through it, easy and slow. A beat later Cas is coming too; he turns his face into the inside of Dean's thigh and breathes out a noise that has Dean's name curled into the end of it like smoke.
Dean just lies there for a minute, his heart hammering in his chest and sweat prickling his skin. A dull ache is spreading up his thighs. Eventually, Cas sits up on his knees. He frowns at the come on his hand, and Dean tosses him his flannel. Cas wipes his hand and mops the seat, then drops it somewhere behind him. Dean yawns. He stretches his arms over his head, wincing as something pops in his shoulder.
"It's late," Cas says, his voice rough. "You should sleep."
Dean huffs. "My brother is swan-diving into Hell tomorrow. Ain't no way I'm sleeping."
"Remaining awake won't change anything. Sam has made his decision. If you —"
"I know. I just — it ain't gonna happen."
After a tight pause, Cas says, "I'm sorry. If I still had my grace, I could put you to sleep."
Dean looks at him for a second. The steam has started clearing off the windshield, thinning enough to let in a little more light. Dean touches the sigil scar on Cas' chest again, this time tracing his thumb around the circle. Cas did that for him. Cas did that, even though he expected Dean to let him down. Thinking about it tugs at something under Dean's ribs.
He clears his throat. "Don't worry about it. I probably woulda said no anyway."
Cas leans over Dean's body, reaching past Dean's hip to grab his shirt from the footwell. Dean catches Cas under the arm, sliding his hand down Cas' side as he tugs Cas down. Ducking his head, he noses at Cas' jaw until he finds Cas' lips. Their kisses are usually rougher, at least two parts desperate times and half an argument, but Dean takes his time with it now, lazily licking his way into Cas' mouth. He wraps his arm around Cas' waist, then sits up and twists around until Cas is lying under him on the seat.
"Dean? What —?"
"I was — uh. I was thinking we go again. You know, since I ain't sleeping."
Lightly, Cas touches the handprint on Dean's arm. "Yes."
Subiaco is bigger than a flyspeck, but not by much. It's mostly just farmland crisscrossed by two state highways and dotted with the kind of mobile homes that don't have wheels. The main intersection has a post office, a gas station, a self-service car wash, and a deserted general store with faded boards rotting in the windows. Looming just north of that is a Benedictine abbey that dates back to eighteen-something. It's a hulking, gothic thing, all sandstone and red tile and deep-set rose windows. Just looking at it makes Dean's teeth itch.
"You sure about this?" he asks.
"I guess, yeah," Sam replies, tugging at his collar. His fed suit is gunmetal gray and wrinkled across the shoulders. "I mean, it is their cemetery."
Dean grunts and straightens his tie. They tried scoping out the boneyard when they first rolled into town, but they couldn't get close enough to see anything. The last leg of the coffin road was marked Private, and it cut across the backend of someone's farm before hooking into a thick line of trees. Dean thought about ditching the Impala and walking it, but then a big guy in a straw hat and black coveralls came out of a shed near the gate. He lumbered over to the cattle grill with a pitchfork across his shoulders and stood there until Dean pulled away.
The abbey's bells clang — once, twice. Dean scrubs at his hair and follows Sam up the front steps. Sam flashes his badge at the first monk they meet inside — a portly guy in his late thirties who herds them through a bright, vaulted entryway and down a long corridor. Everything smells like wood polish and candle wax, and Dean's fed shoes squeak on the reddish, marble floor. The corridor leads back outside and onto a covered walkway that overlooks a grassy courtyard. A neat pair of sandstone paths cut the lawn into quarters. A small statue of St. Benedict is waiting at the crossroads; red and yellow flowers are blooming in the bushes framing his pedestal.
The sun is blazing overhead. Dean slouches into the shade, leaning his shoulder against one of the pillars holding up the walkway's roof. Sweat is prickling at his hairline and beading behind his ears. He yawns; the sleep he didn't get last night is starting to catch up with him. An exhaustion headache is hammering at his temples. His eyes feel gritty and raw.
Another monk turns the corner at the end of the walkway. As he approaches, Sam elbows Dean's side and mutters, "Incoming," under his breath. This guy is seventyish — tall and thin with heavy jowls and sparse patches of white hair wisping behind his ears. He's dressed in a plain black habit and wearing a large cross around his neck. Once he's close enough, Sam says, "Abbot Willams?" and flashes his badge again. "I'm Agent Oakley and this is Agent Allman. We have a few questions about the disturbance at St. Benedict's Cemetery."
"Ah." Abbot Williams smiles. "You must be the loiterers my groundskeeper just called about."
"That's us." Dean's jaw tics as he swallows another yawn. "Now, those graves —"
Abbot Williams hums quietly. "Dug up, I'm afraid." He pauses to cross himself and murmur something in Latin. Then, "Very unfortunate. The dead deserve their rest."
Dean's gut twists. He takes a breath before asking, "Can you tell us anything else?"
"I'm afraid there isn't much to tell. Like I said, the whole thing was very unfortunate, but —" Abbot Williams spreads his hands. "You and your office needn't worry about it."
"We —" Dean glances at Sam. "You —"
"It's already been dealt with."
Dean bites back an irritated noise. They passed the sheriff's office on their way through Paris, but Dean didn't stop because the newspapers made it sound like a waste of time. Yesterday's Jefferson City News-Tribune said law enforcement had no leads; this morning's Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette said the case was still open. After twenty-plus years on this job, Dean's had his fill of slack-jawed county mounties with no clue.
Sam asks, "So, the perpetrators have been found?"
The abbot's mouth works around something he doesn't say. He gives Sam a long, appraising look before asking, "Do you hunt, my son?"
Sam blinks at him. He gets as far as, "I, uh — I ," before clearing his throat. "I — yes."
"We both do," Dean says slowly. He should've realized sooner — some of the earliest hunters were monks and priests, and St. Benedict is a patron against witchcraft — but his hangover is just bad enough that is brain is mostly white noise. "Big game, if you catch my drift."
Abbot Williams nods. Lowering his voice, he says, "Only a few of us still keep watch these days. Too few, I'm afraid. But we were a decent match for three ghouls."
"You, uh." Dean tries to picture this guy blasting a monster between the eyes, but he comes up blank. "Three?"
"Yes. I —" A monk walks by; Abbot Williams waits until he's gone before continuing, "I was expecting it, of course. There had been rumors in town about strangers lurking near the Protestant cemetery on the northern highway. McKendree, it's called."
"Right," Sam says. They cruised past McKendree after getting chased away from St. Benedict's, just to check it out. It's exactly the kind of boneyard ghouls usually avoid — no vaults, no mausoleum. It's right off the highway, and it faces a farm. "And nothing there was disturbed?"
"No." Abbot Williams shakes his head. "I presume it was too exposed. Carrion eaters do like their privacy."
A door opens behind them. The monks in the room are praying — Help me, great St. Benedict, to live and die as a faithful child of God, to run in the sweetness of His loving will, and to attain the eternal happiness of Heaven. Dean grits his teeth and says, "Alright. If you got it wrapped up, we — we'll just be on our way."
After saying, "Yes, of course," Abbot Williams hesitates. An awkward look crosses his face. "Forgive me, my sons. We normally provide travelers with a bed for the night and breakfast in the morning, but..."
"No, it's — we get it." The throb in Dean's temples has moved behind his eyes. "You gotta lay low."
"We do, yes," Abbot Williams agrees. "But not so low as to let you leave empty handed." A bright smile creases his wrinkled face. "How are you boys fixed for ammunition?"
"You gotta trust me, man."
Cas narrows his eyes. "Or what?"
Dean hesitates. He'd really hoped he could still talk Cas out of this shit. That they could still — fuck. If Cas backed down now, Dean could probably forgive him. He's not sure he could trust him again, but he could probably fucking forgive him.
A cold weight settles in his gut. He says, "Or I'll have to do what I have to do to stop you."
"You can't, Dean. You're just a man." A dark, unreadable look clouds Cas' face. "I'm an angel."
"I don't know. I've taken some pretty big fish."
Cas looks away. "I'm sorry, Dean."
"Well, I'm sorry too —"
Cas zaps out before Dean is finished, and it feels like all the air in the room goes with him. Dean stares at the empty space for a few seconds, then sighs and rubs the back of his neck. His chest aches, and his skin is crawling with both exhaustion and nerves. He frowns at the windows; the useless angel-proofing sigils cast ugly shadows on the floor.
He grabs the rot-gut bottle Bobby keeps in the bottom drawer of his desk and pours two generous fingers into a dusty coffee mug he finds on the mantle. It smells like paint thinner, but Dean knocks it back in one go. He paces for a couple of minutes, the floorboard creaking under his feet and the rot-gut bottle bumping against his thigh. A car rumbles past the salvage yard. The clock in the kitchen ticks. Dean sighs again, then sits on the couch and takes off his boots.
Wingbeats rip the silence in half. Dean pours himself another drink instead of looking up. "I got nothing more to say to you."
"Dean, I —"
Sigil-shadows dance around Cas' feet. He stares at Dean for a moment, his shoulders slumped and his hands clenched in tight fists. The plumbing in the upstairs bathroom rattles and thumps. Dean waits; it's not like he's really got a choice. His angel blade is in his bag. Even if he had it, he doesn't think he could make himself use it.
His anger drains in a sudden, exhausted rush. Eyes stinging, he says, "Just get outta here."
"Dean, you don't understand."
Dean almost laughs — he does understand. He can't count the number of times he's been trapped in a corner and up to his neck in bad choices. That's how he ended up in Hell. But cracking open Purgatory with Crowley — Jesus Christ. There's no way that won't go wrong. There's no way that limey bastard doesn't have something up his sleeve. Cas is just too fixated on Raphael to see it.
"Cas, please," Dean says, his voice sticking in his throat. "Just go. We got nothing to talk about — not unless you call this Crowley shit off."
"I can't," Cas says quietly. "If I renege now, Crowley will continue on his own. He'll take all the souls for himself. With that kind of power, he could bring Hell on earth."
"Not if I shove my knife up his ass first."
"Damn it, Cas." Dean stands and rubs his eyes with the heels of his hands. "This ain't about Raphael, or Crowley. It's about you going behind our backs. It's about you lying to us. You —"
"I'm trying to protect you."
Dean grits out a noise. "I hate to break it to you, but I'd take another apocalypse over Purgatory's greatest hits slithering out of some hole you drilled in the matrix."
"It wouldn't be like last time," Cas insists. He takes a step closer; the tail of his coat brushes Dean's knee. "Raphael wouldn't give you a choice. You almost capitulated to Zachariah. Raphael is far more... persuasive."
A knot is burning in the back of Dean's throat; he drowns it with a swig of rot-gut straight from the bottle. Another car drives past the salvage yard, its brakes squealing as it turns the corner at the end of the block. Dean hasn't been this close to Cas in — it's been awhile. The night before Sam took his header into the Pit. He still smells the same, a nose-stinging hint of ozone clinging to his coat. After a moment, he carefully touches Dean's shoulder. The handprint is long gone, but something hot and uncomfortable unfurls under Dean's ribs.
He whispers, "Just go. Don't make me banish you."
Cas kisses him.
"Don't," Dean says, pulling away. "Don't do this."
Cas kisses him again, and this time — this time, Dean lets him, closing his eyes as Cas cradles his face in both hands. Cas' fingers brush through Dean's hair. He nips at Dean's lips, and he rubs his thumb at the corner of Dean's mouth, and he licks his way inside soft and slow. He's apologizing with his body; Dean's done it so often himself that he recognizes it from the other side. It's how he told his high school girlfriends he was skipping town the next day, and how he said sorry to Lisa when he got moody and quiet and drank too much. He doesn't bother telling Cas that it isn't going to work. It's easier to let Cas tug the bottle out of his hand and lower him to the floor.
Subiaco isn't a motel kind of town, so they turn around and head west until they hit Paris. Just off State Route 22, they drop fifty-five dollars for a double at a flop called the Charmant. Sam thinks that's French for something like charming or lovely. Dean has no idea — he dropped out of high school halfway through Spanish 101 — but if it's true then it's a bad joke because the room is a fucking dump. The hiss of a running toilet greets them at the door. The wallpaper looks greasy, and the ceiling is rusted with water stains. The lint-colored carpet is so sticky and stiff that walking on it sounds like stepping on crumpled paper.
"God damned monks," Dean gripes, tossing his gear on the closest bed.
Sam huffs out a laugh. "Hey. They packed us a pretty good doggy bag."
Dean can't argue with that. Abbot Williams sent them off with three jugs of holy water, two dozen rosaries, a shoebox of silver bullets, and a burlap sack of consecrated iron rounds. And he refused to take any money. All he wanted was their phone numbers, in case the abbey's posse ever needs back up.
"Besides," Sam continues, "if it wasn't for them, we'd be spending the night in a graveyard."
Instead, they're spending the night in a roach motel with by-the-hour Wi-Fi and no cable. Dean mutters, "Yeah," and sits down at the plastic patio set pretending to be a dinette. The chair wobbles like its legs are going to collapse. "You want pizza or Chinese?"
Sam doesn't answer. He's busy poking around behind the nightstand — probably trying to find an outlet for his laptop charger. Dean pulls out his phone and thumbs it awake. He's got a taste for shrimp fried rice, but after a long loading pause, Google tells him the only Chinese places in town are a two-star joint named Happy Wok and a drive-thru Panda Express. Sighing, he clears his search. He wants something that delivers, and he doesn't want to regret it in the morning.
"Survey says: pizza."
Sam grabs the remote and flops on his bed. The headboard thunks against the wall. After humming for a second, the TV speckles to life. The sudden wash of light and noise makes Dean look up from his phone. He watches as Sam browses the motel's handful of channels — local news, a M*A*S*H rerun, a commercial for Chick-fil-A, a commercial for Crazy Jimmy's Used Cars. Sam pauses there, tapping the remote against his thigh as a dude dressed like a lion tamer yells at the camera from the bed of a souped-up 70s El Camino. Behind him, a skinny kid is waving a pair of flags that say "Deals! Deals! Deals!" and "Low APR." A pretty redhead in a stars-and-stripes bikini is throwing handfuls of money in the air.
Dean snorts and skims the list of pizza places. There's a Domino's and a Pizza Hut and a trattoria called Piero's. When he looks up again, Sam is circling back to the news. He lands on that channel just as a seven-day weather forecast fades into a commercial. It starts with a lush, green garden and the kind of floaty music played at new age shops and hippie art fairs. Birds are chirping, and a bubbling stream is ribboning through the grass. Young deer are nibbling at bushes bristling with red and pink flowers.
A dark-haired guy in a crisp, tan suit comes into the frame, and he — fuck. Fuck.
Sam clears his throat. "Is that —?"
"Yeah. It's the — it's Jack."
The birds trill softly as Jack asks, "Are you alone? Are you unhappy? Uncertain? Are you unsure of your role in the grand scheme?"
Dean stands and walks over to the TV. On the screen, Jack almost looks human. Almost. Dean probably wouldn't think twice if he didn't already know better.
"The world is violent and frightening." Jack's slow, melodious voice rolls over Dean like a wave. "People have lost their way. They have lost their faith." Dean feels a strange tug in his gut — a pull telling him that he needs to go somewhere, do something. "Often, they feel as if God has abandoned them."
Sam is staring at the TV, bug-eyed. Dean shakes himself like a wet dog and mutters, "He — he's — shit."
Jack continues, "The answers you seek can be found in Eden." He smiles and spreads his hands. An orange butterfly is flitting around his head. "Eden is a community of peace, prosperity, and love. No one hungers. No one fears." The butterfly perches on his shoulder. "Everyone is welcome."
Words in bold, yellow text flash at the bottom of the screen — For more information, call 1-208-555-1099. Now that Dean's thinking straight again, his skin is crawling. He hedges back to the nightstand and digs in the Bible drawer until he finds the motel pad and pen.
"Eden awaits you. Join us."
Dean stares at the water. A sick, heavy feeling stabs straight through his gut. "Damn it."
You said it," Bobby agrees. Blood is oozing from a cut on his cheek. "Those... whatever-you-call-'ems —"
"Leviathan," Sam says.
"Right. If they're in the pipes, they got themselves a highway to anywhere."
The whirlpool has cleared; all the black sludge is gone. And Cas — Cas still hasn't come back up. He isn't coming back up. Dean takes a breath and clenches his fists.
"Awesome," he mutters.
The water ripples, pushing something shapeless and brown into the reeds growing along the bank. It — fuck. It's Cas' coat. Dean reaches down and fishes it out. Water sluices off it, making a puddle around his feet.
"Okay," Dean says shakily. "So, he's gone."
Bobby nods. "Yep. Rest in peace, if that's in the cards.
The rising sun glints off the water. Now, the surface is as smooth as glass. Dean folds the coat in half — once, twice. It smells like a dirty fish tank, and it's dripping water all over his jeans. He curls his hand into it and tries to swallow the knot burning in his throat.
The news is back on. A blonde in a blue, Joan Collins suit is talking about a robbery at a Springdale liquor store.
Dean's skin is still crawling. He waves at the TV and asks, "What the hell was that? Is he —? Is this some kinda Waco crap?"
"So, he's... what —? Angling to be the next Chuck? A new Jesus?"
Sam chews his lip for a second. The toilet gurgles as he shakes his head and says, "No. I don't think so. He didn't — he didn't really get religious."
"Dude. He was talking about God."
"Yeah, but —" Sam makes a slow, circular gesture. "He was vague. He didn't quote the Bible or roll out any fire and brimstone. Maybe it's — I don't know." He drums his fingers on the ugly, brown and green bedspread. "Maybe it's about happiness. He said something about peace, right?"
Dean sighs and rubs the back of his neck. "Yeah. Peace and love, or... whatever."
"He's offering paradise. A utopia."
Dean grumbles, "Great," and paces the length of the bed. The sticky carpet whisper-rustles under his boots. "That's just what we need — Lucifer's kid setting up some kinda hippie commune. I mean, he's — you know this ain't on the level."
"Probably not." A car coughs to life in the parking lot. Sam chews his lip a little more before saying, "But it's Lucifer's kid. I'm not sure we can do anything about it."
The TV flashes, bleaching the dingy walls a bright white. The news is still on. An older guy with a combover is giving a sports recap in a voice like a gravel pit. Dean sighs and looks at the notepad he's holding. 1-208-555-1099. He worries the paper with his thumbnail before tossing the notepad on the nightstand and sinking down on the edge of the bed.
"I'm calling 'em."
"What?" Sam asks, sitting up straight. His headboard thunks against the wall again. "You — are you nuts?"
Sam clears his throat. "Dean." He swings his feet to the floor and leans his elbows on his knees. "You know, Cas isn't —"
"This ain't about Cas."
"Dean, come on. You —"
Dean just shrugs him off. All he can think about is Jack — Jack walking out of the lake house, Jack calling out Cas' name, Jack holding out his hand and saying, "Castiel, it's time to go."
Cas hadn't looked back.
Dean snatches the receiver off the room's landline. His hand shakes as he punches the number into the keypad. After two rings, a soft and automated female voice says, "Thank you for calling Eden. If you are interested in learning more about our community, please leave your address after the tone. A representative will visit you shortly."
"Yeah — I, um. Paris, Arkansas. The Charmant Motel, room seven."
As Dean hangs up, Sam says, "Dude. You —"
Wings beat at the air. Dean shivers; he hasn't heard that sounds in years. He — fuck. There's no way. There's —
"Do not be afraid," Cas says woodenly. A thread of ozone cuts through the room's dusty, stale-smoke fug. "I'm an angel of the Lord. I've come to escort you to Eden."
The bed creaks as Dean stands. Clearing his throat, he says, "Cas," and takes a cautious step closer. "Hey, Cas. It's me. You — it's us."
Cas studies him for a long, tense moment. He's wearing the same coat but his tie is new, striped in different shades of green. He's standing too stiff, too straight. He blinks at Dean a few times; his eyes are wide and blue and blank.
Cas tilts his head to the side and says, "Do not be afraid," again. "Eden is a place of peace, prosperity, and love."
"Yeah," Dean says slowly. He — time. He needs more time. Glancing at Sam, he drops his hand to the side and mimes pouring something in a circle. He leans in and catches Cas' eye as he tosses Sam his keys. "Tell me about it."
"No one hungers. No one fears."
Sam inches his way to the door. Dean says, "Yeah, okay. That sounds great. Anything else?"
"Everyone is welcome."
"Sure, yeah." Outside, the Impala's trunk squeaks open. "So, uh — where is this joint, anyway? Up in Heaven?"
"Heaven," Cas murmurs. He pauses again; behind him, the TV flickers. "No. Eden is here on earth. You — we must go now. Gather your things." His jaw tics. "Each human is permitted one suitcase of personal belongings."
"Cas," Dean says. He should wait for Sam, but he — fuck. His heart is beating in his throat. "Cas, c'mon. You gotta snap outta this."
The windows shake, and the TV gutters like a dying candle. Cas flexes his hands a couple of times before saying, "I've come to escort you. We must go."
"Cas, please." Something clunks in the parking lot — the Impala's trunk. "C'mon. I know you can hear me."
"We must — we must go. Eden awaits you."
Dean grabs Cas' shoulder, squeezing a little. His chest aches. "Cas, look at me."
Cas narrows his eyes. The glint behind them is wrong — gold instead of silver-blue. He shrugs out of Dean's grasp but hesitates as he takes a step back. His jaw tics again. Shaking his head slightly, he asks, "Dean?" in a rough voice.
Sam edges back into the room with their jug of holy oil at his hip. Dean says, "Yeah. Yeah, it's me. You — are you okay?"
"Dean." Slowly, Cas reaches for him. He brushes his fingers along Dean's jaw, then slides his hand down and palms the side of Dean's neck. "Dean."
"Yeah, I'm here," Dean says, catching Cas' wrist. His skin is cold. Dean can practically feel Sam watching them, but he doesn't move back. He takes a breath and skims his thumb over Cas' pulse. "You —"
Cas shoves Dean away. His eyes burn gold again as he says, "No. I can't — I can't be here. You — I have to go."
"Cas, no." Dean scrabbles at his sleeve. "Wait. Cas — Castiel. You —"
Cas zaps out right in his face.
"I seem to be able to help to some degree. What's your issue?"
Dean breathes through the lump in his throat and focuses on the road.
They cross into Oklahoma just as the sun hits the horizon. Dean squints against the sky's angry, yellow-orange glare and taps his fingers on the wheel. The highway widened into four lanes for the push through Fort Smith, but right over the state line it narrows back down to two. Long cracks crisscross the asphalt. Traffic is light, so Dean leans on the gas. His skin is still crawling. The radio is droning with something that's two parts music and one part static.
The burnt husk of a silo rears up on their right. Sam clears his throat and asks, "So, uh... where are headed?"
Dean — he doesn't know. When he got in the car, all he cared about was putting the Charmant in his rearview mirror. Shrugging, he grunts, "West."
Sam drops it for the next five or six miles; he frowns out the window as they roll through a sleepy podunk called Cameron. They pass a metal shed wholesaler and an elementary school. At the business loop, the highway picks up a suicide lane Dean uses to get around a semi doing fifty-five. The radio spits out more noise — a dull hum that's barely louder than the rumble of the Impala's engine.
Finally, Sam sighs under his breath. He says, "Okay," and shifts in his seat, angling his shoulder against the door. "What were you thinking back there?"
"I, uh." Dean cuts Sam a quick, sideways glance and tightens his grip on the wheel. "I don't know. I just —"
"You wanted to find Cas."
"I — yeah."
After a long pause, Sam says, "Look, I get that you —"
"Sammy," Dean warns.
Sam just presses on, "I get that you're worried about him, but —"
"No shit I'm worried about him," Dean snaps. Sam was still inside the lake house when Jack mojoed Cas back to life. He wasn't there when Cas' face went blank. He wasn't there when Cas turned away from Dean without a word. "You saw how he was — completely checked out. The lights are on but nobody's home."
"Yeah, but —" Sam sighs again. Road shadows twist and dance across his face. "What if Jack had shown up?"
"But he didn't."
Another pause. The radio buzzes; they're deep enough in the sticks now that static is the only thing coming through. Sam asks, "So, what's the plan? Put down some holy oil at our next stop and try again?"
"I —" the Impala jolts over a pothole; Dean grits his teeth and jerks the wheel. "I guess, yeah."
"Okay, but what if it isn't Cas this time? What if it's Jack? Or — I don't know. He could have a dozen angels under his thumb."
"Dude." Sam huffs out a frustrated noise. "I'm not saying we shouldn't try. I'm just saying we should have an actual plan before we direct dial Lucifer's kid." The seat creaks as Sam straightens out and stretches his legs. "Have you been —?" he cuts off with an awkward gesture. "You know. Calling upstairs."
"No," Dean says, flushing. "I — no."
Dean scratches his jaw and looks out the window. The sun is fading fast; in the shitty light, the prairie grass hugging the shoulder is more gray-brown than green. They pass a weathered sign that says they're three miles from Poteau and two miles from US 59. Dean switches off the radio because the constant crackle and hiss is digging under his skin.
They clunk over another pothole. Dean clears his throat, but he only gets as far as, "I — I, uh," before his face heats again. Praying has always been too much, too close. It's always left him feeling stripped down and hollowed out and vulnerable. "Look, that's — it ain't a private chat," he says finally. "Any wingnut could be listening. Jack could be listening. I — I didn't —"
Sam saves him by saying, "Hey. It's alright. We'll get him back." He pauses, squinting as oncoming headlights flare through the windshield. "We'll figure something out. We always do."
"Cas." Dean arches up, digging his heels in the dirt as he fucks into Cas' fist. "God, Cas."
Cas makes a low, rough noise against Dean's throat. He strokes his hand up the length of Dean's dick, then runs his thumb over the head, right along the slit. Dean shivers and hisses Cas' name again. The tension in his gut finally snaps; he comes gasping, his thighs shaking and his hands bunched in the folds of Cas' coat. Cas touches him through it, slow and soft. He pushes his other hand into Dean's hair, and he bites a kiss into the skin just below Dean's ear.
Something rustles in the trees. It must not be nearby because Cas keeps rolling his hips and rutting against Dean's thigh. Dean tugs at Cas' scrubs, but Cas just hitches closer and closer and closer. He bites another kiss into Dean's skin, right at the bolt of Dean's jaw, then leans up and catches Dean's mouth. It's all teeth and tongue and heat. He moans again. His beard scratches Dean's chin.
He murmurs, "Dean," in a dark voice. He touches Dean again, rubbing two sticky fingers at the base of his dick, just above his balls.
"Cas." It's too much too soon. Dean shudders all over; twigs and dead leaves crackle under his shoulders and back. "Cas."
"Again." Cas' breath snags as he grinds down against Dean's thigh. His scrubs are yawning away from his collarbone, exposing the long line of his throat. "I want to see you come again."
Dean mumbles, "Can't," but Cas palms him, his hand huge and come-wet and warm. Dean's body flashes cold for a split-second, and then his dick is pulsing, aching as it fills. His toes curl, and he digs his fingers into Cas' shoulders. "Cas, fuck."
It's different this time — sharper and brighter. The heat sparking under Dean's skin is so intense it's all he can do to keep breathing. Cas jacks him steady and slow, his fingers skimming over all the spots that make Dean gasp and twitch. Dean's blood is rushing in his ears; underneath that throb and hum he can hear himself gulping for air like he's drowning.
Cas sits up on his knees and yanks his scrubs down far enough to get his other hand on his dick. His eyes glint as he says, "I want — I wish I was inside you. You have no idea how you feel, how you look."
Dean swallows hard and closes his eyes. He sucks in a breath that tastes like wood-rot and damp earth. Cas starts stroking him faster, and everything narrows to the arousal coiled in his gut and the tight heat of Cas' fist. His balls draw up — sweet pressure that has him squirming and jerking his hips. His thighs ache. His legs feel like water, but he can't stop pushing himself into Cas' hand.
Cas asks, "Are you close?"
"Yeah," Dean says, clutching at Cas' shoulders. He has dirt on his knuckles and monster blood under his nails. "I — yeah."
Cas hunches closer, bracing his elbow in the mulch beside Dean's head. He says, "Dean. Dean, look at me," then kisses Dean's forehead and cheek and the corner of Dean's mouth. Something soft and warm uncurls inside Dean's chest. It makes him shiver; he feels like he's dangling from a string. But then Cas lines them up and wraps a sticky, sweaty hand around their dicks. After a few strokes, Cas thrusts against Dean and comes. His eyes flash, and his throat flexes and pulls around a gorgeous noise, and Dean can't help but follow him, he can't.
The trees rustle again. Cas heaves out a breath and slumps against Dean's chest. A minute passes, then another. They don't usually linger after they fuck, but Dean — he figures it can't hurt just this once. Cas is heavy and solid and warm, and Dean has been freezing to death ever since he landed in this place. He skims his hand down Cas' back and blinks up at the colorless sky. The portal is an angry, seething blister to the north, a black hole crackling with blue and white light. It isn't far; Benny thinks they'll reach it some time tomorrow.
Dean says, "Hey," and nudges Cas' side. "You gonna clean us up?"
Cas murmurs something in Enochian. He tips his head up and kisses the hollow of Dean's throat.
Dean waits until Sam is snoring before grabbing a beer from the cooler and climbing out of the Impala. He tries to shut the door quietly, but the latch catches with a click that feels louder than a gunshot. The car pitches a little — enough that Dean winces — but Sam just grunts and buries his face in the jacket he's using as a pillow. A beat or two later, he starts snoring again. His shirt is bunched up under his arm and a blue and brown striped saddle blanket is covering his legs.
A horn blares in the distance. The Impala is parked alongside a farm road north of Highway 39. A sagging, split-rail fence separates the soft shoulder from an overgrown field that smells like manure and hay. They're about a half-hour outside Purcell — just far enough from Oklahoma City that the sky is dark and the stars are bright. Dean glances at Sam again. Then he walks about fifty feet from the car, wading through prairie grass that's clumped with stinkweed and nearly ankle-deep.
He pauses under a tree smaller and shorter than the one the Impala is using as a garage. A sluggish wind is nudging the branches. Dean leans back against the trunk and watches the stars wink between the rustling leaves. His beer bottle is cold and wet from sloshing around in ice water; between sips, he picks at the wrinkled label with his thumbnail.
Anxiety slithers around in his gut. Anxiety and — he doesn't know. Something. The last time he prayed to Cas — really prayed — Cas was still possessed by Lucifer. Dean usually waited until he was drunk; he'd knock back a few shots, then slump into the ugly green couch in Cas' room and beg Cas to fight, stay safe, come back, come home. On good nights, he'd stumble back to his own room once he wrung himself out. On bad nights, he'd pass out there, and he'd wake up in the morning with an aching head and a sore neck and a bruise on his side from the couch's wooden arm.
Headlights flicker up on the highway. Dean shifts his weight, digging his heels into the mulch at the base of the tree. His chest feels tight. A sick-sour taste is burning the back of his throat. He drowns it with the bottom of his beer and lobs the bottle at the scraggly brush growing along the fence.
"I, uh — I don't know if you got your ears on. If you do, I — I'm —"
Dean cuts himself off and rubs his hand over his face. The branches above his head creak and sway, pushed by a burst of wind that smells like stinkweed and road dust.
"I'm worried about you, man. Whatever Lucifer's kid is trying to do, it ain't kosher. And you'd see that if he didn't have your head all screwed around."
Something scurries through the brush — a squirrel maybe, or a jackrabbit. Dean could use another beer, but he doesn't want to wake Sam. He glances at the Impala, then tips his head back against the tree and closes his eyes.
"I'm gonna get you outta this. I don't know how yet, but I — I'm gonna. You — I need you to come home."
Lightning zigzags across the sky, flashing so brightly that Dean looks up from his laptop. He glances out the window and — shit.
An ache settles in Dean's chest, like a huge hand is crushing everything underneath his ribs. It's the same as before — Cas is wearing his scrubs and his filthy coat. A five-day beard is shadowing his jaw. He stares at Dean long enough for the sky to light up again. Then everything outside plunges into darkness. Before Dean can catch his breath, Cas is gone.
He tosses the laptop aside and climbs out of bed. He knows he's just seeing things, but he still walks over to the window. The next crack of lightning just shows him his own reflection in the glass. Beyond that, the motel's parking lot is empty. The rain is coming down in heavy sheets that shatter on the tarmac.
Behind him, Sam stirs. "Dean? What's going on?" His blankets rustle as he sits up and kicks them away. "You alright?"
Dean looks out the window again. He can't get any words out; on his third try, he finally says, "I don't know. I just saw something."
"Uh, you saw what?"
Standing, Sam asks, "Cas?" His bare feet rasp against the carpet. "Where?"
"I —" Dean nods at the window. Water is pouring from the flooded eaves. "Right there. And — and — and earlier, on the road." Thunder rumbles overhead. "I feel like I'm seeing him."
Sam hesitates. "That's... not possible. I mean, you said it yourself — you made it out and he didn't. Right?"
Something sour and hot crawls up into Dean's throat. He says, "I tried so damn hard to get us the hell out of there," and turns away from the window.
"I know you did."
Sighing, Dean paces over to the wall. "You know, I coulda pulled him out." He can't stop thinking about it — Cas' arm slipping out of his hand, Cas tumbling back into the dirt, Cas shouting his name as the portal snapped closed. Guilt throbs in his gut like an open wound. "I just don't understand why he didn't try harder."
Sam says, "Dean," and walks over to him. "You did everything you could."
"Then why do I feel like crap?"
The Impala is low on gas, so their first stop in the morning is a Fuel & Go on the eastern fringes of Purcell. It's still pretty early when they pull in the driveway; the stretch of sky above the pump islands is just starting to get some color. Dean shuffles over to the mini-mart, yawning as he dodges the oil stains slicking the tarmac. The only other car in the lot is a dark green Cheech and Chong van that's coughing out exhaust as the driver warms up its engine. An empty soda can rolls behind its rear tires, then darts away to hide itself underneath the Fuel & Go's rusty propane cage.
Inside, the mini-mart is brighter and whiter than Dean's ready to deal with before the sun is even up. He heads straight for the coffee station in the back and pours two large cups with pop music jangling in his ears and the smell of industrial-strength floor cleaner crowding into his nose. His stomach is on edge from the five beers it took to put him under last night. A full truck-stop breakfast is out of the question, so he grabs some fruit-and-twigs cereal bars for Sam and two plain bagels for himself. As he's paying, he also picks up an Oklahoman and a Tulsa World.
Dean tucks the papers under his arm and lugs everything else outside. The van is backing out; Dean sidesteps it as he heads for the pumps. An ad for dollar donuts buzzes over the speakers. Sam climbs out of the Impala and sets his laptop on the hood.
"Watch the paint."
Sam doesn't even look up. Instead, he says, "I think I've got something."
"Something like a job?"
"No. Something like Cas."
A hollow feeling digs into Dean's chest. He hands Sam a coffee and asks, "When did crappy gas stations start giving out free internet?"
Sam jerks his thumb over his shoulder. "The Starbucks next door is giving out free internet." He takes a long sip of his coffee, then sets the cup down beside his laptop. "Anyway, I think I know where he is."
"Yeah. Get this — a couple weeks ago, someone named Jack Kline bought three thousand acres of isolated farmland."
The Fuel & Go's driveway bell clangs as a truck lumbers into the parking lot. Dean asks, "Where?"
"Steele County, North Dakota." Sam turns the laptop toward him, but the screen is at a bad angle. All Dean sees is glare. "Near an unincorporated area called Greenview."
Dean just stands there for a second because he isn't sure what to make of all that. North Dakota is at least a two-day haul from where they are now, and driving up there is pointless if Jack still has his meathooks in Cas' brain. Sam seems to be waiting for a response, so Dean grunts, "Huh," and moves to the Impala's rear. "Alright."
Thankfully, Sam doesn't push it. He gives Dean a long, irritated look that Dean mostly ignores, then closes his laptop and ducks back into the car. The speakers crackle again, this time with a spiel about Fuel & Go Rewards Points — nine fill-ups and the tenth is free. Dean flips up the Impala's license plate and opens the gas cap. Last night's car nap left a dull ache wrapped around the base of his spine; wrestling with nozzle turns it into a throb that beats like a drum.
The Impala needs about twenty gallons. Dean leans his hip against the trunk and leafs through the Tulsa World while he waits. There isn't much to see at first — a car accident, basketball trade rumors, a court decision about taxes. Tulsa's murder rate is going up. Dean gets to the bottom of page eight before he finds anything worth reading. It's a blurb about four teenage boys in Boise City who were hauled home to their parents after spelunking in an abandoned grain elevator. The police caught them on a dirt road at the edge of town, running from what they described as a floating white figure.
The nozzle clunks. After hanging it back on the pump, Dean nabs directions to Boise City on his phone. It's a six-hour drive; they could take it easy, stop for lunch in Woodward, and still roll into town in time for an early dinner.
Dean folds the paper until the article is on top. As he slides behind the wheel, he passes it to Sam and says, "Here. Check it out."
Sam frowns. "Is — is this a job?"
"Yeah," Dean says, nodding. "Haunting in Boise City."
"Dude. We —"
Dean cuts him off by starting the engine. "I know. It's our third gig in a row. But it's a salt and burn, and we — we're in the neighborhood."
After a long pause, Sam shrugs and says, "Okay, sure."
"And I know what you did to Cas after he got outta Purgatory."
"After I rescued him from Purgatory, you mean. At the cost of many angels' lives."
Dean doesn't give two shits about dead angels. He snarls, "You screwed with his head, and had him spy on us." His blood is pounding in his ears.
Like a born liar, Naomi barely hesitates. "Well, it is true that I've spoken with Castiel many times — trying to reach out to him, trying to help him." She looks at Dean sadly as she continues, "Dean, you must have noticed how Purgatory changed him. I mean —" her mouth twists "— he's been unstable in the past, but I was shocked to see how damaged he is now."
"Stop, okay. Don't — don't try to... spin this." All Dean can think about is the crypt — the tile bruising his knees, the pain searing through his cheeks and jaw, the blood filling his mouth as Cas' knuckles splintered his teeth. Cas hadn't recognized him at all; his eyes had been empty and cold. "You think I don't know that you told him to try and kill me?"
Naomi huffs out a soft, thoughtful noise. "Yes, I suppose that's how he would hear it. When I learned of the Angel Tablet, I did tell Castiel to get it at any cost. That's my job — to protect Heaven." Pausing, she spreads her hands. "I'm a warrior, just as you are. What would you expect? And now... Castiel is in the wind with a hydrogen bomb in his pocket, and I — I'm scared. For all of us."
"Save it," Dean says. He swallows hard and clenches his fists at his sides. "See... I don't trust angels. Which means, I don't trust you."
"And yet —" Naomi glances around the houseboat "— you haven't warded this place against us." She pauses again before saying, "I know," gently. "You're hoping Castiel will return to you. I admire your loyalty. I only wish he felt the same way."
That one lands like a punch to the gut. Dean just stares at her, breathing in ozone mixed with the stench of burnt bacon and eggs and trying not to puke.
"I know you don't want to believe it, Dean, but we're on the same side. Shutting the Gates of Hell. Bringing Castiel in from the cold." She offers Dean something close to a smile. "Take a moment. Think about what I've said."
"Alright." Dean tosses his napkin on the table and leans back in the narrow, plastic booth. The bench is so hard and flat that his ass is starting to go numb. "What's the scoop?"
Sam's mouth is full of turkey and swiss. He grunts out a "wait" noise as he's swallowing it, then says, "Okay, so, the elevator belongs to Bartlett Grain, and it's about a hundred years-old. It's been abandoned since the late sixties, but they never bothered to knock it down." He shrugs and reaches for his soda. "I guess they didn't need the land."
Dean says, "Huh," and pokes at what's left of his soggy, microwave chimichanga. Boise City is small enough that two strangers loitering at the local diner for three or four hours would've attracted unwanted attention. Instead, they've been waiting out the last stretch of daylight at the Love's Travel Center off US 412. "Any funky deaths?"
A tired and rumpled family of five shuffles past them on their way to the Subway counter. Once they're gone, Sam says, "Yeah. Back when it started out, Bartlett Grain was Hart-Bartlett-Sturtevant Grain. Apparently, Sturtevant lost everything in the Dust Bowl and took a header off one of the storage towers."
Dean knows where this story is going. "So, who pushed him? Hart or Bartlett."
"Depends on who's telling it."
"Right." Dean pops a leftover chunk of shredded beef into his mouth. Licking his fingers, he says, "Smart money's on Bartlett."
Sam snorts. "Yeah, probably. Otherwise, it'd be Hart Grain now." He rattles the ice in his cup and pecks at his laptop one-handed. "Looks like Sturtevant is buried locally."
"See?" Smiling, Dean slaps the table. The napkin dispenser at this elbow jumps. "I told you. Salt and burn."
After a pause, Sam says, "Yeah," again. He fiddles with his sandwich wrapper for a moment before asking, "And then what?"
"And then what, what?"
Sam sighs quietly. He has mustard at the corner of his mouth. "Let's say we get this guy buttoned up tonight — are we going home tomorrow, or are you just going to find us another job?"
"I don't know," Dean says, shrugging. He digs at a scar in the table-top with his thumbnail. "I mean, you know how it is — if a job turns up, a job turns up."
"That doesn't mean we have to take it."
"Since when don't you wanna work?"
"Since we still haven't been back to the bunker."
Dean scratches his jaw. He doesn't want to think about the bunker right now. "Whatever."
"Dean, you —"
Dean shuts him up by snapping, "C'mon, it's after six," and sliding out of the booth. When Sam just glares at him, he adds, "We gotta get a move on." Then he turns and heads for the door.
Outside, Boise City is on a slow boil. The sun is an orange-red smear hanging low in the sky; heat is shimmering up from the asphalt, and the air tastes gritty and burnt. After three hours of commercial grade AC, Dean feels like he's roasting in an oven. He mops his forehead with his sleeve and ducks into the Impala. A minute or two later, Sam joins him. He looks ready to spit nails, so Dean cranks up the radio. He swings out of the parking lot and onto the highway with the chorus of "Abracadabra" rattling in his ears.
The grain elevator is on the southern edge of town, crouched alongside a curve in US 412 — its last real curve before it cuts southwest toward the New Mexico state line. It hooks through the downtown business district first; they pass a Food Pride and an auto repair joint and a historic brick courthouse and a combination gun dealer and pawn shop. A faded water tower looms over the crumbling, sun-beaten shell of an abandoned motel. After that, everything opens up into grassy fields lined by split-rail fences and fronted by squat, ranch-style farmhouses.
About a mile down, a backroad called Cimarron Avenue splits off the highway and veers straight for the grain elevator. The only paved chunk crosses what's probably a stream during the wet season; the rest of it's just a groove worn into the red, Oklahoma dirt. The Impala clunks over deep potholes and spits out a steady gravel spray with its rear tires. Bartlett Grain's land is barren and flat — no brush, no trees, no sheds or outbuildings. The elevator they want is loosely sandwiched between two younger models. One looks like it dates back to the sixties; the other might've been built in the nineties. The newest is hunkered down beside a Quonset hut that's probably used as an office.
After cruising the place twice, Dean stashes the Impala on another dirt track just south of the highway. Sam opens the door and climbs out before Dean has even killed the engine. They grab their gear in silence, both packing a bag with shotguns, salt rounds, crowbars, and flashlights. The road is rocky and crisscrossed with ruts, so they stick to the narrow, weed-clumped strip that passes for the shoulder. They kick up clouds of pinkish dust as they skirt brittle patches of prairie grass bleached piss-yellow by heat and drought.
The trek back into town takes about fifteen minutes. By that time, Dean's breathing hard and sweating harder; his flannel is soaked at the collar and under the arms. The sun has finally kissed the horizon, leaving the grain elevator backlit by a rapidly purpling sky. Dean stares up at it while he waits for his pulse to stop throbbing. He glances at Sam and whistles through his teeth.
"What're the odds this craphole ain't gonna cave in on us?"
Sam shrugs one shoulder. His bag thumps and clanks against his hip. "Fifty-fifty."
Dean looks at the grain elevator again. Two tall, peaked towers flank a service area with a sagging roof that's lost most of its green shingles. Termites and bad weather have chewed through the wood slats, exposing the frame's bent and splintered ribs. A patchwork of aluminum siding covers part of the northern wall — probably a last-ditch attempt to keep the dump upright while the new silos were being built. The metal is warped and wind-battered and streaked with rust. One of the towers still has a grimy pane of glass in its window. The other is strung with cobwebs so heavy they flutter in the sluggish breeze like laundry on a line.
"Alright," Dean says, blotting his sweaty face. "Let's see if the sonofabitch is home."
"Talk to me. Are you sure about this?" Dean knocks back a mouthful of beer. "I mean, it's one thing me and Sammy slamming the gates to the Pit. But you — you're — you're boarding up Heaven. And you're locking the door behind you."
Nodding, Cas says, "Yes. I know."
"You did a lot of damage up there, man. You think they're just gonna let that slide?"
Cas sets his beer on the bar and runs his thumb along the edge of the label. "You mean, do I think they'll kill me?" He nods again, and a sad expression clouds his face. "Yeah, they might."
"So this is it." Dean swallows hard and looks away. The ache in his gut is sharper than a knife. "ET goes home."
Boise City's cemetery is a square, dusty speck of land about five minutes outside of town. It's boxed in by a wheat field, a wobbly dirt track, and a pair of county roads that lose their pavement where they cross at its southwest corner. Dean rolls up close to nightfall, so he parks right alongside the brick wall that leads to the main entrance. The gate rusted away years ago. Dean walks in through an empty, wrought-iron arch that creaks and groans as it sways with the wind.
Sturtevant died in 1936; he's planted in a gray area that straddles the old, overgrown cowboy boneyard and a newer section with flat markers and gravel paths and hedges that look like they've been trimmed recently. Past the 1960s, the scrubby lawn gives way to red dirt scattered with rocks and patched with crab grass and weeds. Dean finds Sturtevant in the middle of a crooked row, wedged between a huge, half-dead bull thistle and a sunken plot without a headstone. His inscription is just his name and death date and a weather-worn squiggle that could be a stalk of wheat.
His grave is outlined with cement. The area inside the curbing is littered with crap — sticks, bird bones, dead leaves, broken glass. Beneath that, the dirt is packed so tightly that Dean has to stand on the shovel to break ground. He digs down about a foot, then pauses to peel off his flannel. Now that the sun has gone down, the sweat-damp spots feel clammy and cold.
An owl hoots in the tree behind him. He rolls a kink out of his shoulder and moves a little more dirt. He pauses again, leaning his weight on the shovel. He's not sure why he ducks his head and mumbles, "Hey, Cas." The last time he dug a grave, Cas had just walked out of his life.
"Cas, I — I, uh."
They ended up burning Kelly. Sam built her a pyre at the edge of the shore, just above the waterline, and Dean watched the flames crackle and twist while knocking back Devil's Cut straight from the bottle. Before that, Dean had tried burying her; digging the hole had given him something to do besides think about the empty, stabbing ache in his gut. But the land behind the lake house was too sandy and loose. Once he got about two feet down, the sides started caving in.
Dean snarls, "Fuck," and hurls the shovel. "Fuck." Dirt sprays on his jeans, and the shovel clanks against a headstone. He looks up, even though he knows Cas isn't there. His eyes sting. "We had a plan, damn it. We — we had a plan. We were gonna take care of this Jack crap together. But you — you skipped out with the Colt and you — you —" a soft, thin noise shudders in Dean's throat.
"Lucifer — he fucking shanked you right in front of me, and I couldn't — I couldn't, um — I — fuck."
The owl hoots again. Dean rubs his eyes with the heels of his hands.
"I didn't need you to go out and win this thing on your own. I didn't — I needed you to stay."
Dean walks out of the bathroom wiping his hands on one of the motel's sandpaper towels. Cas is right where Dean left him — sitting on the edge of the bed with his head down and his bum arm resting on his knees. Light from the TV is flashing on the side of his face. He glances up when the floor whines under Dean's feet.
Quietly, Dean says, "Hey." He balls up the towel and lobs it toward the bathroom. "How's it feel?"
Cas flexes his fingers a few times. Shrugging, he says, "The pain has dulled somewhat."
"Good. That — that's good." Cas' cut isn't very deep, but the center of the palm hurts like a sonofabitch. Dean grabs a bottle of store-brand Advil from his bag and rattles it to make sure there are more than two or three pills in it. As he hands it to Cas, he says, "Here. Take one every coupla hours."
Cas frowns at the bottle for a second before setting it on the bed. "Dean, I don't need these. I can get pain relievers at the Gas & Sip."
Dean's throat tightens. He grumbles, "Just take 'em," and crouches beside the bed. Carefully, he touches Cas' wrist. "Lemme see."
Dean turns over Cas' hand and squeezes the tip of each finger. A corner of gauze is poking out past the Ace bandage, right at the ball of his thumb. "No tingles? If it's too tight —"
"It's not too tight."
"You should probably —"
"Keep it elevated," Cas finishes. He sounds tired. "I know, Dean. You already told me."
Brakes squeal in the parking lot. Dean says, "Sorry," and rubs the back of his neck. "Sorry. I just — uh."
"Dean, it's okay." The bed creaks as Cas gets to his feet. "I'm okay. You can take me —"
"Where, Cas? Where am I gonna take you?"
Cas just looks at him; his throat bobs as he swallows something unsaid. They've been dancing around the issue since they pulled away from Nora's place, but it's after midnight now, and Dean can only bullshit playing doctor for so long. Cas shifts uncomfortably, picking at a hole in his jeans with his good hand, and heat crowds up underneath Dean's jaw. He's suddenly furious — at himself, at Ezekiel, at Metatron, at everything.
He booted Cas from the bunker with about two hundred in cash and a credit card worth close to seven-fifty. He told himself it would be enough, but he'd been too twisted up about the whole thing to think about what would happen if it wasn't. Cas has been on his own for a couple of months, and crap like buses and motels and diner dinners can really take a chunk out of the wallet over a long stretch. Cas doesn't know how to hustle pool. He doesn't know how to flirt is way to a discount. He doesn't have a car to sleep in; Dean never showed him how to steal one.
Dean grabs his bag and lays the room key on the nightstand. He can't make himself meet Cas' eyes; he looks at the yellow, water-stained wall behind him and says, "The room is paid 'til the end of the week." It isn't much, but at least Cas can crash in a bed for a few nights. He can take hot showers in the morning and load up on the free donuts-and-coffee breakfast.
"You got an early shift tomorrow. You — uh. You should probably hit the hay."
Cas walks around the foot of the bed. "What about you?"
Dean — he doesn't know. Rexford is big enough to have another flop in town with an empty room, but Dean already shelled out for this one, and his own belt's so tight that he'd be playing poker right now if he hadn't realized Cas was in danger. His best bet would be heading home. Lebanon is a three-day haul, but he figures he could make it as far as Montpelier tonight before he conks out and wraps the Impala around a tree.
"I'm just gonna..." He trails off and turns for the door.
After a pause, Cas says, "Dean, wait." He comes up behind Dean and catches his elbow with his good hand. This close, he smells like the cheap vodka Dean used to clean his cut. "You should stay."
"Cas — you, uh. I —"
"Please." Cas' lips skim the shell of Dean's ear. "I want you to."
Dean leans his forehead against the door and breathes out a noise. He doesn't deserve this. He's not sure he ever did, but he really doesn't deserve it now — not after sending Cas away. He should go. He should get in his car and drive off and let Cas live his new, human life. But Cas slides his hand down to palm Dean's hip and he murmurs something Enochian into the curve of Dean's shoulder.
Dean drops his bag next to his feet and turns around. He says, "Okay," then fists his hand in the front of Cas' shirt and kisses the corner of Cas' mouth. "Yeah, okay."
Their first stop in the morning is a coin-op laundromat in Guymon. It's a dinky, stucco building on the south end of Main Street that shares a corner with a five-stool hamburger stand and a bedbug motel. The sun-warped roof droops over a row of dusty windows and a neon sign that sputters and snaps as it spells out Open All Nite. The parking lot is empty, so Dean swings into a spot right out front. Sam gets out without saying a word. He walks toward the street as Dean shoulders their laundry bag and heads inside.
The smell of stale soap greets Dean at the door. He's alone except for a homeless guy napping on the lime green plastic chairs beside the detergent dispenser. He grabs a washer by the windows so he can keep an eye out for the hamburger stand opening for breakfast. The only whites in their bag are socks; he crams them in with the flannels and jeans to save himself the extra dollar-fifty.
The washer clanks a couple of times before humming to life, and the noise is just loud enough that the homeless guy grunts and shifts in his chair. Dean paces over to the dryers and back, swinging his arms a little to get his blood moving. Then he yawns and rubs his eyes. It's still so early that the sky is more gray than blue.
A service truck lumbers into the lot and parks beside the motel's vending machines. Once the engine sputters off, a chick in blue coveralls hops out and starts unloading crates of soda from the back. Dean watches her work for a few minutes, then yawns again and heads outside to check out the newspaper stands. His options are a skeevy personals rag, a classifieds circular, the Oklahoman, and the Guymon Daily Herald. Since Guymon is only half an hour from the Texas line, there's also the Amarillo Globe-News.
Dean buys all three newspapers, feeding nickels and dimes into the slots because the laundromat's dryers only take quarters. He walks back inside just as the washer begins hissing its way through the rinse cycle. The homeless guy is snoring. Dean slouches into one of the plastic chairs and unfolds the Amarillo Globe-News in his lap.
Before he's done skimming the front page, Sam comes in with two coffees from the Love's across the street. He hands one to Dean and says, "Here."
Dean just looks at him. "You get the stick outta your ass yet?"
"You want that or not?"
"Yeah, I want it. What's it gonna cost me?"
Sam sighs under his breath. "You're a dick." He pauses for a second, then points at the papers and asks, "Are you trying to find another job?"
A caffeine headache is budding behind Dean's eyes; he drinks some coffee before saying, "Dude. I told you — if a job turns up, it turns up."
"And I told you — just because a job turns up doesn't mean we have to take it." Sam sighs again and leans his ass against the washer. "We can't Tom Joad it forever."
Sam says, "Because we're not in our twenties anymore," and tucks his hair behind his ears. It's greasy at the roots. They slept in the car again last night, and they haven't had a real shower since Fayetteville. "We have a home. Why am I the crazy one because I think we should use it?"
Dean snorts. "C'mon on. You —"
"Dean. It's been a month."
Dean retreats behind his coffee. He hasn't really been keeping track, but that sounds about right. After Cas left, he stumbled into the only bar in North Cove and stayed there until he got eighty-sixed, which took about a week. Jody called to check in the next morning, and when she heard about Mary she insisted they stop by for dinner. They made the three-day trek to Sioux Falls, and Dean spent another week drinking on her couch. Then some college kids died messy a hundred miles north in Watertown; Jody dragged them along because Claire is still out hunting on her own. It turned out to be nothing, but they lost four days looking into it. After that, Sam found the crocatta gig, and Dean — fuck. He doesn't know.
"Fine. Whatever." Dean looks Sam in the eye and puts a shrug in his shoulder. "So it's been a month."
Sam shifts his weight, crossing his feet at the ankles. The checkered tan linoleum whines under his boots. He says, "Dude. Talk to me. What's up?"
"I just —" Dean huffs and scratches the side of his neck. "I don't get why you're in such a hurry to go back. I mean, those British fucks bugged it, and Ketch —"
"We can sweep for that kind of stuff," Sam points out. "Charlie showed me —"
"Don't," Dean snaps. The last thing he needs right now is a reminder of all the people who've died on his watch. "You — don't."
Sam says, "Dean," but doesn't finish his sentence. Instead, he just stands there and frowns at Dean for a minute. Behind him, the washer gurgles as the rinse water drains. "This isn't about Ketch, or the British Men of Letters spying on us. This is about Mom not coming home with us. It's about Cas —"
"Shut the fuck up about Cas."
"You — Cas isn't — he, um — he — " Dean cuts off and clears his throat before grating out a "Fuck" that whipcracks off the dingy tan walls. The homeless guy leans up on his elbow and blinks at them. Lowering his voice, Dean says, "Alright. Fine."
Sam taps the lid of his coffee cup with his thumb. "Look, if you really need some more time — okay. Take it. But drop me off in Oklahoma City first so I can steal a car."
"So... that's it? You're leaving today, no matter what?"
The fight bleeds out of Dean in a rush. He folds up the paper and tosses it on an empty chair. "Yeah. We — yeah."
Dean's phone rings as he's opening the door to his motel room. He's juggling a pizza box and the key and a brown-bagged bottle of bourbon, and he's been expecting Crowley to call for almost a week; he doesn't look at the display as he stabs the screen with his thumb and puts it to his ear.
After a pause, a voice rumbles," Dean," and — damn it. Cas.
Dean isn't sure what to say — they haven't talked since he argued with Sam about Gadreel — so he just grunts, "Yeah," again and closes the door with his hip.
"Dean, where are you?"
Cas lets out a sigh that's bristling with impatience. "Dean."
Dean sets the pizza on the sticky kitchenette counter and scrubs a hand through his hair. The last thing he needs is one of them coming after him, but Metatron's party trick clipped Cas' wings, and it's not like Sam would fucking bother. "Poplar Bluff, Missouri."
"You've been avoiding my calls."
"No, I haven't. I just — I've been busy."
Dean says, "Hunting," because the truth is he hasn't done jack-shit. He took Cain's murder mark so he can kill Abaddon and maybe get something right for a change, but since then he's been cooling his heels in a shitty motel, watching M*A*S*H reruns and drinking himself to sleep while he waits for Crowley's stunt demons to dig up the First Blade.
"You've been hunting? Alone?"
"Hey, I'm a big boy. I've been watching my own back for years." Dean scrubs at his hair again and sits on the edge of the bed. It's not really his business anymore, but he still asks, "How's Sam?"
"Healed." Another pause. Dean hears road noise in the background — wind, engines, tires humming over asphalt. Eventually, Cas continues, "He misses you."
"No way," Dean says, snorting. "He wouldn't piss on me right now if my ass was on fire."
"That's... not true."
A door slams upstairs. Dean flops back onto the bed and says, "Cas, stop trying to bullshit a bullshitter. I know him better than you."
Cas hesitates before admitting, "Fine. He's still angry. But I think if you —"
"Save it." Back on the bridge, Sam had been chewing nails when he told Dean to go. Dean swallows a tired noise and stares up at the cracks spidering across the ceiling. "You ain't gonna fix this."
"Dean." A driveway bell clangs on Cas' end of the line; he's probably putting gas in that tacky land-yacht he calls a car. "Dean, I miss you."
"I — I, uh." Dean closes his eyes and rolls onto his side. He hides his face against the scratchy, turquoise bedspread and sucks in a breath that reeks of commercial-grade dryer sheets. "Look, I gotta go."
"You should come home."
Dean can't — not until he ices Abaddon. If he manages that much, he'll at least have something to show for himself. He'll be able to say he fixed a problem for once instead of screwing everything up like he usually does. But explaining all the Cain crap to Cas is just going to start an argument Dean's too sober to start and too drained to finish, so he hangs up and turns off his phone and swats it across the bed.
Lebanon is a little over three hundred miles from Guymon. On paper, that's a six-hour drive, but road construction outside Dodge City and a long lunch stop in Hays stretches it into something closer to eight and a half. They roll into town around two — just when the sun is hottest and highest. The Impala chases a heat mirage up the last leg of US 281, and swinging right onto School Avenue puts a bright, yellow-white glare in the rearview mirror. School Avenue is only paved until Main Street, and it's scattered with loose gravel all the way down. Dean takes it easy past the abandoned high school and the volunteer fire department and the handful of slumping, whitewashed houses that mark Lebanon's northern city limit.
His gut churns as they bump down the narrow dirt track that leads to the bunker. He turns up the radio, grits his teeth at the static, then switches it off and drums his fingers on the steering wheel. The bunker comes into view around a slight bend; the weeds crawling up the hillside toward the power plant are sun-bleached and dry, and a recent wind has blown a bunch of rocks and dead leaves across the road. Dean idles the Impala in the shade of the retaining wall while he waits for Sam to open the garage. Once inside, he parks down the center rather than three-pointing into one of the bays. The shop lights are sluggish after a month of downtime; they whine and buzz for a full minute before finally flickering on.
Dean grabs his bag and slams the Impala's trunk shut. He opens the back door and frowns at the cooler for a few seconds, then decides it can wait until tomorrow. The only things in it are three inches of water and half a six-pack of low-budget beer, and it's a two-man job and Sam is already heading for the stairs. Dean follows him down and into the dull, familiar thrum of the war room. The map table's glow is too dim to cut the shadows, and the air smells musty and stale. In the library, it picks up a sharp, metallic tang; with Cas and Kelly in the wind, he and Mary had mopped up Ketch's blood in a hurry.
Mary's dark green jacket is hanging over the back of a chair. Sam pauses beside it; he stares at it for a long time before touching it with the tips of his fingers. His hand is shaking. When he looks up at Dean, his mouth is tight and his eyes are wet. A sick, hollow feeling digs into Dean's chest.
"Sammy," he says roughly. "We're gonna get her back."
Sam nods and looks away. "Yeah."
"I mean it." It's a promise Dean knows he can't keep, but it's the best he can do right now. "I — we're gonna get her back."
Cas catches Dean's arm in an iron grip and shoves at his sleeve.
"What have you done?
The hallway that leads to the bunker's bedrooms has a loose tile a good third of the way down. Dean usually avoids it when he's sober, but tonight he's just deep enough into a bottle of Jim Beam that he forgets about it until it rattles and scrapes under his feet. The noise ricochets off all the tile wainscoting, and it's so sudden and loud that he stops dead and glances at Sam's door. But Sam doesn't come out — and doesn't come out, and doesn't come out — so Dean leans his shoulder against the wall and helps himself to another shot.
His head swims as he straightens out, and the hallway slowly tilts to one side. He mutters, "Shit," and grabs at the wall, but he ends up banging his elbow on something and slopping bourbon all over himself. He hisses, "Shit," again, sways a little, and then plants his hand on one of the doors so his feet don't get away from him. It's Mary's door, because he — fuck. Just because. He traces his fingers over the brass Men of Letters symbol before curling them around the handle. It takes him a few minutes to open it; he just stands there, breathing in the Jim Beam soaking into his sleeve and listening to his pulse pound in his ears.
A thin layer of dust has settled on everything in the room. Underneath that, Dean catches a hint of the citrus shampoo Mary used. He scratches his jaw as he looks around — at the hair ties on the dresser, the spare boots under the nightstand, the reloading press on the desk, the bottle of hand lotion on the narrow shelf above the mirror. Several lore books are stacked on the ladder-back chair beside the door. A blue and yellow quilt is folded across the foot of the bed — a handmade, pioneer-looking thing she picked up at Goodwill right after she came back and left behind when she bailed.
Cas' room is across the hall. It's emptier than Mary's; Cas didn't move in until right before the whole Lucifer shitshow, and even then, he really just used it as a place to squat while everyone else was asleep. And he didn't do it all that much. Dean only talked him into coming back to the bunker after a job a handful of times, and on most of them, he was gone before Dean woke up in the morning.
Dean's gut lurches. Sam ordered pizza for dinner because all the food in the fridge is moldy; the four shots of bourbon Dean had for dessert are floating on top of half a meatlover's with onions and extra cheese. He closes his eyes and tips his head against the door jamb and breathes hard through his nose until the seasick feeling passes. Then he chokes down another shot and steps into the room.
He forgets where he was going with that as soon as he says it. When it doesn't come back to him, he shrugs to himself and takes a slow, unsteady five-cent tour of the room. He drags his hand over the desk and its chairs, and the ancient gas heater, and the rotary-dial telephone, and the ugly, green, Naugahyde couch. He sways into the dresser, hip-checking it hard enough that the old fan perched on it wobbles. He catches it before it topples over, then huffs under his breath and shuffles around the bed. Everything tilts again. The headboard smacks the wall when he sits.
He lifts the bottle to his mouth, but a bourbon burp bubbles in his throat, and it burns so much it makes him cough. He sputters and wipes his eyes and sets the bottle on the nightstand. It clunks down beside a book — Rumi's poetry, written in Farsi. Cas bought it at a used bookstore back when he was on the road with Hannah.
"'The real beloved's that — 's that one who's unique, who's your — your — your beginnin' and your end.'" Dean huffs again and rubs the back of his neck. The sick feeling that crawls up into his throat has nothing to do with the booze. "Fucker. You — you weren't s'pposed to leave this time."
He grabs the Jim Beam and knocks back another shot. His gut doesn't want it, but he grits his teeth and blinks at the ceiling until he's pretty sure it's going to stay down.
"T'gether," he mutters, his voice thick and rough. "I fuckin' told you that I — that we — damn it. T'gether."
He closes his eyes and fists his hand in the bedspread. "Just come back, 'kay? I want you to come back."
"So... batteries?" Dean asks. He catches Cas' eye as he drops his bag on the table and sits down.
Quietly, Cas says, "I'm fine."
"No, you're not." The thought of losing Cas chills Dean down to his bones, but he leans back in his chair and puts a smile on his face. "How long you got?"
"Long enough to destroy Metatron, I hope." Cas pauses, then shakes his head a little and adds, "But without an army..."
"Well, hey. You still got us."
Cas says, "Dean," and shifts in his seat. His voice dips. "Those bombers... you don't really think that I —?"
"Cas, you just gave up your entire army for one guy." Shame spears deep into Dean's gut; he'll never deserve the faith Cas has in him, or all the chances Cas has given him. "No. There's no way that you blew those people away."
Cas looks at him for a few seconds. Frowning, he asks, "Do you really believe we three will be enough?"
Honestly, Dean doesn't. But besides bravado, he's never had much to give Cas but his knife in a fight and a few nights in the same bed. "We always have been."
Sam looks up from his laptop and chirps, "Morning."
Dean grunts. The library's lights are too bright, and his tongue feels and tastes like the bottom of an old shoe. "Is it?"
Snorting, Sam says, "Nope. Not even close. It's after two."
Dean grunts again and rubs his gritty, stinging eyes. A few minutes ago, he woke up in Cas' bed with cottonmouth and a pounding headache and half a boner; his brain is still grinding its gears.
After a short silence, Sam goes back to whatever he was typing. The keyboard clacks start to make Dean itch, so he points at the laptop and asks, "What's that?"
"It's, um —" Sam grimaces slightly. "It's Jack. Maybe." When Dean just blinks at him, he nudges the chair beside him with his foot and gestures for Dean to take it. "Here. I'll show you."
"Yeah, alright." Instead of sitting, Dean heads for the coffee carafe on the sideboard — a souvenir from a haunted diner they cleared out in Bar Harbor a few years back. "Just lemme —" He unscrews the cap and peers at what's inside. "This better be coffee."
"What else would it be?"
"Right. Like I'd brew tea the morning after you go on a bender."
That's a standing invitation to about three different arguments. Dean would rather chew off his own foot than have any of them, so he shrugs and pours himself a cup of coffee. It's tepid enough to be leftovers from Sam's breakfast. It's also so sour and thick it makes the hair stand up on the back of his neck.
He chokes down about half of it and refills his mug. Then he slouches into the chair Sam offered him and says, "Okay. What've you got?"
The laptop is open to a satellite map of North Dakota. Sam says, "Alright. So, this —" and pokes at the touchpad until it zooms in on a pin south of State Route 200 and north of a crossroads town called Luverne. The land around looks like empty prairie. "This is the farm Jack bought. I — uh." He grimaces again. "Probably."
"I mean, we can't be sure," Sam admits, waving his hand. "But everything fits. It was purchased in Jack's name, just days after he was born. And if he's really building a commune or a compound or... whatever, he's going to need privacy and space, right?"
"Okay, well, this farm is over three thousand acres — which isn't as big as it sounds, but it's a pretty decent start. And most of these —" Sam zooms out a little and points to the handful of nearby podunks: Sharon, Pickert, Blabon, Hannaford, Walum. "They've got populations under a hundred. Sherbrooke is a ghost town."
Dean tugs the laptop closer and switches to street view. The farm's western border is a county highway lousy with combine ruts and sloppy tar patches. Dean follows it north for a mile or two — far enough to see a field bristling with overgrown cornstalks and a barn that's one bad storm away from collapsing. According to the watermark in the corner, the photos were taken in 2012.
His throat feels rougher than an old piece of sandpaper; he swallows a few times before croaking out, "Yeah, you're right. Gotta be him." He's not sure what Sam thinks they can do about it. "Anything else?"
"Yeah." Sam reaches for the keyboard and flips to a different tab. "This Eden place has a website."
Dean sighs and rubs his face, then folds his arms on the table and studies what's on the screen. The website has the same look and feel as the commercial they watched in Fayetteville. The background is a mint green so pale it's nearly white; pastel flowers are crawling up the left side of the screen, and the text is in a black font that's all sleek lines and neat curves. The About section has a headshot of Jack and a blurb similar to the spiel from the commercial. The Contact section lists the phone number Dean called as well as an email address — firstname.lastname@example.org. There's also a collection of overwrought testimonials and a photo gallery of people farming, milking, barn-raising, and well-digging while giving Stepford Wife smiles to the camera.
Sam changes tabs again and says, "And a Facebook." The page is called Join Eden, and the header is a panorama of Jack standing beside a building that looks like a barn but could be a church. "It also has a Twitter, but it's pretty much the same as this — resident endorsements and pictures of shiny, happy people."
Dean mutters, "Fuck," again and scrolls down to a shot of a girl Claire's age grinning as she wrestles with a butter churn. Her eyes are blank. "How many people do you think he's got roped into this crap?"
"It's hard to say. A couple hundred, maybe? I mean, it could be —"
Sam cuts off as the front door rattles. After a quick pause, the lock clicks like it's turning over. Then the door creaks open and thunks closed. Slow, cautious footsteps hum down the metal staircase in the entryway. There's another, longer pause. It's followed by more footsteps — rubber soles squeaking against the war room's tile floor.
It has to be one of the British fucks — maybe a straggler from Sam's raid on their compound. Dean gets to his feet and grabs the snub-nosed thirty-two he keeps in the sideboard's drawer. He looks over at Sam just as Sam pulls out the nine-millimeter holstered under a bookshelf. He nods at Dean, and they both level their guns at the doorway. The footsteps hesitate. Then — fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck.
"Hello, Dean," Cas says quietly.
Dean just stares at him for a minute, his mouth dry and his heart hammering in his throat. Cas looks — he looks tired. He's wearing jeans and dirty tennis shoes and a faded, blue t-shirt under a gray hoodie. His face is flushed, and his hair is sweat-stuck to his forehead. The bags under his eyes are the color of an old bruise.
Dean's hand shakes as he sets his gun on the table. He opens his mouth but nothing comes out. He's been hoping for this for weeks, and now — Jesus Christ. A strangled noise punches out of his throat. He clenches his fists at his sides.
Sam saves him by saying, "Hey, man. It's good to see you," and clapping Cas on the shoulder.
"Yeah," Dean manages finally. "Yeah. Are you, uh — are you —" He can't make himself say still brainwashed, so he ducks his head and gestures awkwardly. "Are you... you?"
Cas nods. "Yes. I'm... me." He starts to say something else, but his voice trails off as he sways on his feet and bumps his shoulder against the wall.
Sam catches his arm. "Dude, are you okay?"
"Did he hurt you?" Dean asks sharply. Anger coils inside his chest like a snake. "Did he —"
"No," Cas says, shaking his head. "He didn't hurt me. I'm just — I walked a fair distance in the heat, and I haven't eaten."
"You —" Eaten. Cas hasn't eaten. A wild, panicked feeling rises in Dean's throat. "Are you human?"
Cas hesitates before tucking two fingers under the neck of his t-shirt and pulling out a thin, silver chain. The tiny vial hanging from it is seething with blue-white light. "Presently, yes."
Dean stares at him in horror. "Dude, are you nuts? You just got that back!"
"It was the only way I could escape him completely."
"Okay, but —"
Sam barks, "Guys, cut it out," loud enough that Dean jumps. "Cas is hungry, and we don't really have any food. I'll go pick something up." He sticks his hand in Dean's face and wiggles his fingers until Dean slaps him away and gives him the Impala's keys. He looks at Cas and asks, "Burgers okay?"
A smile tugs Cas' mouth. "Yes. I'd like that."
Someone knocks at the door. Dean sets the pictures on his nightstand and says, "Yeah."
After a pause, Cas comes in. He frowns a little and says, "You look terrible."
Dean feels terrible. He's wrung out from the demon cure and jittery from being a person again after weeks of nothing but anger and smoke. His skin doesn't quite fit right. He's not sure it ever really will.
Still, he snorts and says, "You know, it wouldn't kill you to lie every now and again."
"No, it wouldn't kill me. I just — you —"
Dean grumbles, "Forget it," and rolls his eyes. The bed dips as he gets to his feet. He says, "You, on the other hand — you're looking good. So... are you back?"
"At least temporarily. It's a long story — Crowley, stolen grace. There's a female outside in the car." A long silence stretches between them. Then Cas shakes his head and says, "Another time."
"Well, thank you for, um... stepping in when you did." Guilt spikes through Dean's gut. He turns around so he won't have to look Cas in the face. "What did Sam say? Does he want a divorce?"
"I'm sure Sam knows whatever you said or what you did — it wasn't really you. It certainly wasn't all you."
Dean starts gathering up the books on the bed because it gives him something to do with his hands. "I tried to kill him, Cas."
"Dean, you two have been through so much." Dean rolls his eyes again — becoming a demon and pulling a Jack Torrance isn't the same as stopping an apocalypse or shanking a sonofabitch like Dick Roman — but Cas continues, "Look, you're brothers. It'd take a lot more than trying to kill Sam with a hammer to make him want to walk away."
But Sam did walk away, after that bullshit with Gadreel. Dean deserved it — he gets that now — but since then he's been worried that Sam might wake up one day and see that he could have a shot at a real life if he packed a bag and put Dean in his rearview mirror.
Cas is looking at him sadly, so Dean huffs under his breath and says, "You realize how screwed up our lives are that that even makes sense." That gets him a laugh — a real one. Cas doesn't do that very often, so Dean adds, "I'm glad you're here, man," before he can think about it too much.
Cas smiles. He starts for the door, but halfway there he stops and looks back at Dean. "Hey, maybe you should, um... take some time before you get back to work. Allow yourself to heal. It's, uh — I don't know. The timing might be right. Heaven and Hell... they seem reasonably back in order. It's quiet out there."
With that, he walks out into the hallway and closes the door behind him. Dean just stands there for a few seconds and breathes through the ache in his chest. Then he opens the door and calls out to Cas.
"Hey. Wait up."
Cas stops and turns around. "Dean?"
"What about you?" Dean asks. He scrubs at his hair; he's not used to it being so long. "You want me to rest up before I get back on the road, but what about you? I mean, I figure you could use a break too. You could knock off for a few days and hang around here."
Cas shakes his head. "I wish I could, Dean." He gives Dean another long, sad look. "But I have things I need to do, and limited amount of time in which to do them. This new grace won't last forever."
"Right. Yeah." Dean back-steps toward his room. "I'll, uh. I'll see you around."
"Dean, I'm sorry."
"No, you — it's cool, dude. It's cool."
The closest burger joint is fifteen miles away in Smith Center. That's thirty-five minutes round-trip, plus another twenty for the food if Sam hits up the diner off US 36 instead of a drive-thru. Dean doesn't want to spend an hour staring at Cas across one of the library's tables while his ass goes numb in a wooden chair. He herds Cas into the room Sam calls a den because it has a TV and a pair of avocado armchairs and an ugly, rust-colored, corduroy couch.
After that, Dean heads into the kitchen and tries to find Cas something to munch on. But the place is dry; Sam must've cleaned out the moldy food while Dean was sleeping off last night's Jim Beam. In the fridge, he finds three bottles of water, a six-pack of Mountain Dew, and a jar of mayo. The freezer is empty except for an iced-over package of chicken breasts that would take longer to thaw than Sam with the burgers. He checks the pantry just in case, but it's down to a bag of brown rice he doesn't remember buying and a sleeve of hot dog buns that are covered in fuzz.
He hears footsteps in the hall as he's digging in Sam's granola drawer. When he looks up, Cas is standing in the kitchen doorway.
"Dean, please don't trouble yourself."
Dean waves him off. "I'm not. There's gotta be —" He yanks open the cupboard he uses to stockpile beef jerky, but there's nothing in it. "Damn it." Cas is looking a little green around the gills; Dean shuts the cupboard and says, "Go sit down before you fall down."
"Go." Dean grabs a water and a Mountain Dew and nudges Cas' side until he turns around. His fingers just barely skim the small of Cas' back. "I'm right behind you."
Cas sighs under his breath, but he walks back down the hall and into the den. He shrugs out of his hoodie and drapes it over one of the armchairs. When he finally sits he does it stiffly, with his back straight and his knees together and his hands folded in his lap.
"Okay, now, drink this," Dean says, handing him the Mountain Dew. All that caffeine is going to chew a hole in his brand new human stomach, but that's better than splitting his head open because he faceplanted into the coffee table. "It'll help your blood sugar. Then you gotta drink this." He holds up the water before setting it on couch, right at Cas' hip. "You're dizzy 'cause you're dehydrated."
Cas murmurs, "Thank you," and knocks back a mouthful of Mountain Dew. He makes a face as he swallows it — something split between shock and disgust.
Dean can't help chuckling a little. "Sorry. It kinda tastes like jet fuel until you get used to it."
Cas nods and takes another sip. He dials back the wince this time. Then he sighs again and says, "Dean, I'm sorry."
Cas just continues, "You were right. You and Sam — you were right about Jack. I should've listened to you. I should've —" He frowns and fiddles with the Mountain Dew cap. "I should've —"
"Stop. Stop." Dean shifts toward Cas, leaning his back against the arm of the couch, but he can't meet Cas' eyes as he admits, "Look, I ain't gonna lie — I was mad when you skipped out with Kelly. I was mad as hell. But I — Jack had already scrambled your eggs, right?"
"Yes," Cas says, nodding again. "His grace connected with mine when he helped me overpower Dagon. That allowed him to sense my thoughts, and that granted him an immense amount of control over my actions."
"And after you — after you, uh —" Dean clears his throat a couple of times. "After you came back, when you two disappeared, was he —"
"Yes. His birth, Kelly's death — it only made him more powerful." Pausing, Cas reaches up and touches the necklace through his t-shirt. A faint glow is just visible through the blue cloth. "Early on, I tried to leave him. I tried to leave more than once. But he always... redirected my attention."
"Okay. So, what changed?"
"I heard you pray," Cas explains. "The first two times —" He huffs softly and looks away. "The first two times, he noticed you pulling at me and put you out of my mind."
"What, um." Dean's face heats; he remembers praying to Cas during his booze adventure, but he's not exactly sure what he said. "What about last night?"
"Last night, you prayed while I was visiting a family interested in Jack's project. I heard your voice, and I —" Cas' mouth twists sadly. He picks at the couch's ribbing with his thumbnail as he continues, "The distance gave me some clarity."
Dean flushes again. He scratches his jaw and asks, "So, his mojo only works when he's up close and personal?"
"Yes and no," Cas says. "The humans at Eden — he touches them as they arrive and subverts their free will. He convinces them that living there is what they want. And as long as they're in his presence, they don't question it. When they aren't..."
"They start seeing through the matrix."
"Okay," Dean says. He leans over and grabs the water bottle and pushes it into Cas' hand. "What about you? Your... connection, or whatever."
Cas drinks some water before saying, "Our connection allows him to influence me from anywhere. At your motel room, he felt his control slipping and he... reasserted it."
"Jesus Christ." Dean blows out a breath and rubs his face. "So, if you were juiced up right now, he'd still be pulling your strings."
"I — yes." Cas looks at Dean for a long moment, then frowns down at his hands and sighs. "After you prayed, I flew to Wichita and removed my grace. He reached out as it was leaving me, but it was already too late."
"You — wait. Wichita?" Cas told him he walked a fair distance, but that's — no way. "How did you get here?"
"You — what —?
"I hitchhiked," Cas says again, slower. Confusion dents the space between his eyebrows. "I'm sure you've done it before."
Dean's hitchhiked plenty of times, but he always had a knife with him. Or a gun. Or both. "We ain't talking about me. We're talking about you, getting in a car with a stranger."
Cas says, "Three strangers," like that makes it any fucking better. "My last ride — her truck broke down about fifteen miles west of Mankato. I walked from there."
"Alright." Dean rubs his face again. He tells himself that Cas is here — he's here, and he's alive, and he got Jack out of his head, and he didn't get murdered walking down the highway. "Alright." When he says, "You're gonna stay here?" he doesn't mean for it to sound like a question.
After a pause, Cas says, "I'd like to. I — if that's okay."
"Yeah. You — of course it is."
They ride back to the motel in silence. Dean doesn't turn on the radio, and he doesn't try talking to Sam. He barely checks the rearview mirror because he doesn't want to see Cas looking back at him. He changed his shirt after they dropped Claire off at her friend's, but he's still covered in blood. The last thing he needs right now is a cop in his face, so he takes it easy as he pushes down Ladd Street toward the block of flops on Pontiac's south end of town.
The motel's parking lot is nearly empty on a Tuesday night; the vacancy sign washes the puddles on the tarmac a dirty blue. Dean pulls into a spot right in front of their room. The Mark aches as he grabs his gear, but it's a dull, quiet feeling compared to how it screamed and writhed while he was slicing through Randy and those goons. He flexes his hand a few times, then shoulders his bag and heads inside without waiting for the others. The room is stuffy and stinks like cheap cigars.
He tosses his bag on the table and sits on his bed. He hears Sam and Cas talking as he unlaces his boots — not the words, just the rise and fall of their voices. Sam says something sharp, and Cas burrs in reply. Dean figures they're arguing about who has to come in and "deal" with him. Cas must draw the short straw because someone knocks at the door and Sam wouldn't fucking bother.
After a pause, Cas asks, "Dean?"
"Yeah." Dean yanks off his left boot and starts tugging on his right. "If you wanna come in, come in."
The door opens about six inches and sticks; the security chain rattles as Cas wrestles with it. Once he's inside, he closes it and puts his back to it. He just stands there for a minute and studies Dean with narrow eyes. He doesn't say anything.
Dean lobs his boots into the corner and sighs. "You need something?"
"Lemme guess... he wants to blow off some steam, and he left you to babysit because he's afraid I'm gonna pull a Psycho and stab everybody in this dump."
"You frightened him tonight."
Dean frightened himself tonight, but admitting that would be like looking down after walking off a cliff. He can only keep pretending to be okay as long as Sam and Cas keep pretending to believe it. He shrugs and chucks his socks toward his boots. "Yeah, well. Shit happens."
Cas says, "Dean," and leans back against the door. "Talk to me."
Dean gets to his feet and snags a beer from the cooler. He kills the neck before asking, "What do you want me to say? That Randy guy was a douche, and that loanshark woulda hurt Claire without stopping to blink. If you want me to feel bad for shanking them —" He scoffs and knocks back another mouthful of beer. "Ain't gonna happen."
"It's not those men who worry me," Cas says, moving closer. He hesitates slightly before touching Dean's shoulder. "It's you."
Dean tries to shrug Cas off, but Cas is crowding him; he's got nowhere to go. His hip bumps the table, and the Mark doesn't like that — it doesn't like being trapped. It flares on his arm, so hot and bright that before he can stop himself he shoves Cas square in the chest.
Cas lets himself be shoved, so Dean does it again. And again. And again. He does it until Cas' back hits the wall and the ugly still-life at his shoulder rattles in its dusty frame. Cas tilts his head to the side, and Dean sucks in a breath. The Mark is beating like a drum; he can feel its furious pulse under his jaw and at his wrists and in the soles of his feet.
Gently, Cas palms the side of Dean's neck. Dean jerks a little, caught between leaning into it and pulling away. It's been awhile since they've done this; Cas had been in Idaho, living at a Gas & Sip and going through the motions of being a human. Picking it up again now is a bad idea, but Cas' eyes are wide and dark and Dean's dick is perking up. He presses closer and pushes himself against Cas' hip.
Cas' thumb skims the dip behind Dean's ear. "Will this help?"
Dean should balk at that — he's not a fucking charity case; he doesn't need a pity handjob because Cain's bullshit is giving him a bad trip — but he wants it now that Cas seems to be offering. He drags a wet, open kiss down the line of Cas' jaw, and he bites down a little too hard when he gets to Cas' throat.
"What if I said yes?"
"Okay?" Dean bites Cas' throat again, harder. Cas doesn't make a sound, but he shifts slightly, and his dick nudges against Dean's thigh. Bingo. "What if I said I wanted to fuck you?"
Cas just looks at him. "Okay."
"What if I said I wanted to rip that suit off you? What if I said I wanted to bend you over the table?" His whole arm is on fire, the Mark seething as it urges him to throw Cas down and cover him in bruises and pound into him until neither of them can walk. "What if I said I wanted to split you open on my dick? What if —"
Cas kisses him. The Mark goads him into making it rough; he shoves his tongue into Cas' mouth, and he nips at Cas' lip so hard it nearly gives between his teeth. Cas allows it for a beat or two, but then he sighs softly and cradles Dean's face in his hands. He rubs his thumbs at the corners of Dean's mouth. He skims his fingers over Dean's cheek and brushes them into Dean's hair.
The Mark flags a little, and Dean's head clears long enough for him to say, "You oughta go."
Cas says, "No," and noses at Dean's temple.
"I could hurt you."
"You could try."
The Mark takes that as a taunt. It flares up again, and Dean snarls and fists his hand in Cas' shirt, using the grip to turn them and walk them toward the bed. When Cas' legs hit the mattress, he stumbles and sprawls back. His dick is pushing against the fly of his slacks. Dean climbs on top of him, straddling him, and plants a hand on his chest. Cas catches Dean's wrist and strokes his thumb over Dean's pulse.
Shivering, Dean says, "Cas, c'mon. You don't want me like this. I'm —"
Cas' eyes flash silver, and — Christ. His grace might be fritzing out, but he could still level the whole town without breaking a sweat. He hooks his fingers in Dean's collar, digging his knuckles under Dean's jaw until Dean has to look at him.
"If you hurt me, you'll know it."
Jody calls as Dean is measuring Bisquick into a bowl. She can't want anything good at seven-fifteen in the morning, but Dean sets the Bisquick box aside and tucks the phone against his ear.
She cuts right to the chase, saying, "I've got revenants in Wyoming and possibly-vampires in Ohio."
"The bodies are dry, but the bite-marks are all wrong."
Dean swallows a sigh. "C'mon." This is the last thing he fucking needs; Cas hasn't even been back a full day. "You — are you serious?"
"Claire is in Utah, and Donna is neck-deep in sheriff's stuff." She pauses for a second, and Dean hears a wind-whistle in the background. She must be driving. "Walt is in Canada, Marion is still laid up, and Monroe didn't answer his phone."
"Good to know I'm your... what —? Fifth resort?"
"Save it, kiddo. I would've called you first, but I know this isn't the best time for you. But I'm really in the weeds here." Something crackles and hums on her end — probably her police radio. The static continues as she asks, "So... revenants or possibly-vampires?"
She pauses again. "I'll take the revenants. Wyoming's close enough to Claire that she can meet me. Maybe I can get her to come home this time."
"Yeah," Dean mutters. Despite his best efforts, Claire's got hunting fever. If it doesn't burn out soon, she'll be ganking monsters the rest of her life. "Good luck with that."
"I'm going to need it. You boys take care of yourselves."
"We always do."
Jody snorts right in his ear. "Yeah, sure you do. You're heading to Campbell. I'll send you the details when I get to back to my desk."
Sam walks into the kitchen as Dean says, "Okay, thanks," and hangs up. He's just coming in from a run; he's red-faced and breathing hard and rolling a bottle of water against his sweaty forehead.
"Who was that?"
"Jody." Dean cracks an egg into the Bisquick bowl; they might as well eat something before they hit the road. "She, uh — she found us a job."
Sam just looks at him. "Really?"
Dean grunts, "I know," and cracks another egg. "I know. But she called the whole roster and we're the only guys not working on something."
Sam chugs some of his water before saying, "Alright. Whatever." Condensation drips over his wrist and hits the floor: pat-pat-pat. "I guess I'll... grab a shower and pack a bag."
Dean sighs again, then pours some milk into the bowl and whisks it until it looks like batter. Once that's done, he wipes his hands on a towel and heads for Cas' bedroom. He knocks — once, twice. He shifts his weight uncertainly while he waits and waits and waits for Cas to answer. He doesn't want to barge in, but he also doesn't want to leave without talking to Cas first.
Finally, Cas asks, "Dean?" in a rough, tired voice.
"Yeah, it's me. Can I come in?"
The door whines as it swings open. Cas is still in bed, leaning up on his elbows with the blankets down around his feet. He's wearing a pair of sweats Sam cut into shorts for running in the heat and an old t-shirt of Dean's that's too tight across his chest. His hair is a wreck, and he has a pillow-crease on his cheek.
"I — um." Dean clears his throat and tries again. "Jody just called. We gotta clear out a vamp nest in Ohio."
After a long pause, Cas nods and says, "Okay."
Since Cas doesn't offer to come along, Dean doesn't ask. He's not opening that can of worms unless Cas makes him. Instead, he says, "We have food now, Sam and I went to the store after you passed out. There's peanut butter and jelly stuff, and canned soup, and microwave shit in the freezer, and —"
"Dean." Cas scratches his neck, and the grace necklace tugs out of his shirt. "I'll be fine."
Dean looks away. "Yeah. Okay."
Dean means it when he says he wants to sleep for four days, but that's not what happens once he gets back to his room. He only makes it as far as stripping down to his boxer-briefs and a t-shirt. After that, he just sits on the edge of his bed, his shoulders slumping as he stares at the wall and nurses a bottle of Red Label. His hand itches for the First Blade.
Two shots in, someone knocks at the door. Dean doesn't feel like talking right now, but he figures it's Cas, and Cas — Cas is a stubborn sonofabitch. He'll stand in the hallway all fucking night if that's what it takes.
"Yeah, I'm up."
As he lets himself in, Cas says, "I assumed as much." He crosses the room and stands in front of Dean.
"Look, I'm alright."
"No, you're not."
"Seriously, man. I'm —"
Cas says, "Dean," and reaches for the whiskey.
Dean jerks back and puts the bottle to his mouth, but he only manages one more shot. After that, it's just easier to let Cas take it away. He doesn't have the energy for anything else. The Mark's bloodlust always comes on like a heart attack, and it floods out of him the same way — furious and quick. He feels like an empty shell afterward, worn out and hollow and sore.
Cas sets the bottle on the dresser. Then he shrugs out of his coat and hangs it over the back of Dean's chair. His tie catches on his collar as he tugs it loose. He toes out of his shoes and rolls up the sleeves of his white shirt. When he's done, he carefully touches Dean's shoulder.
"What —? No. I'm —"
"Dean, please." Cas slides his hand up to Dean's neck. "Lie down."
An argument rises in Dean's throat, but when he opens his mouth, nothing comes out. He sighs quietly; he's so tired, and it's easier to just give Cas what he wants. He stretches out on his side, blinking at the darkness after Cas turns out the light. A moment later, the headboard trembles as Cas climbs into the bed. He spoons himself against Dean's back and wraps his arm around Dean's waist.
"Shhh. Be still."
Dean doesn't think he'll be able to sleep. Exhaustion aside, he's still thrumming inside from Cain's death, like a live wire arcing under his skin. Cain had provoked the Mark's anger worse than anything Dean's killed since he took it; he can still feel it twisting and writhing on his arm. He can still feel Cain's blood on his hands.
The First Blade gnaws at him. For a split-second, he wonders if he could make Cas give it back. Cas' grace is rotting faster by the day; Dean could roll over, pin him down, get a hand up under his throat, and —
Cas must feel him tense because he presses closer and brushes a kiss against the back of Dean's neck.
He says, "'Everywhere the murmur of departure; the stars, like candles, thrust at us from behind blue veils.'" He's reciting something; Dean doesn't know what it is, but the cadence of his voice is easing the jittery ache in Dean's chest. "And as if to make the invisible plain, a wondrous people have come forth."
"A poem," Cas says, his lips moving against the curve of Dean's shoulder. "Go to sleep."
The Mahoning County coroner's office is in the basement of a beige and blocky building ten minutes north of Campbell in Youngstown. Sam is already outside when Dean swings into the parking lot, pacing in a circle as he waits under a black, concrete awning. Dean pulls into a spot that faces the cemetery across Oak Hill Avenue. He turns the radio down until "Thunderstruck" is just a buzz in the speakers. He leaves the engine running so he won't lose the AC.
The Impala dips as Sam climbs in. Dean lowers the radio a little more and says, "Howdy."
"Hey. So, I was —" Sam wrinkles his nose. "What's that smell?"
Dean says, "Gyros. Extra onions," and pats the grease-spotted paper bag sitting between them on the seat. "Coroner give you anything?"
"Well, the bodies were drained."
"What about their necks?"
Sam shakes his head. "Not a vampire, not a vetala." He pulls out his phone and thumbs through it for a second, then hands it to Dean and says, "Check it out."
"Huh." It's a close-up of the latest victim's wound. Vampires and vetalas tend to chew their food, but this guy just has a single, clean puncture to jugular — large and more or less triangular. "Pretty tidy for a bloodsucker."
"Yeah, I was thinking the same thing." Sam leans his shoulder against the door and tugs at his tie. "What if — what if this isn't our kind of deal?"
"What, like a human?" Dean looks at the picture again. "What'd they use? A giant screwdriver?"
Sam replies, "The coroner thinks maybe a chisel," and puts his phone back in his pocket. "You talk to the family?"
"Yeah," Dean says, nodding. "Lander Kostopoulos, twenty-four. Lived at home with his parents and a younger brother. The brother turned twenty-one last week, so they went down to Drakos' to throw back a coupla beers. He popped out for a smoke and never came back."
"This happened right out front?"
"No. Campbell's got one of those twenty-five-feet-from-a-door ordinances, so he went around back."
"Did he know the other victims?"
"Not really. The first one — Reeta — they dated in high school for a month or two, but —" Dean shrugs. "In a town this size, it probably doesn't mean much." His stomach growls; the gyros smell fantastic. "C'mon. Let's go back to the room and eat."
"And when you finally turn — and you will turn... Sam, and everyone you know, everyone you love... they could be long dead. Everyone except me. I'm the one who will have to watch you murder the world."
Their room at the Sunshine Inn is on the second floor. Dean hates bunking on the second floor, especially in places that just have one staircase, because it's too easy to get trapped with no way out besides hopping over the balcony and hoping for the best. But they cruised the only other flop in Youngstown on their way into town, and it looked like the kind of joint that charged by the hour. Their third option was a motor court on the other side of Campbell, so far east on US 422 that it was right on the Pennsylvania line.
Sam's in the shower; the noise from the spray is a dull hum behind the bathroom door. Dean can't make himself settle, so he paces the narrow space between the beds and looks around the room. There isn't much to see, just dishwater carpet and blue, floral wallpaper that's peeling where it meets the door frame and baseboards. Grimy fingerprints are smudged around the light switch. The curtains might be beige underneath all the dust.
Dean shuffles into the matchbox kitchenette and grabs a beer from the fridge. He pops the top and sits on the bed and starts flipping through the motel's TV channels. He skims past a Biggerson's commercial, an episode of Cheers, an episode of The Big Bang Theory, and notice for a class-action asbestos lawsuit that's just a fraught voiceover and a lot of scrolling text. He pauses on an episode of Game of Thrones, but the motel's connection to HBO is so bad that the picture is fuzzy and a pinkish, horizontal line keeps zigzagging across Jon Snow's face.
The next channel is the news. Sighing, Dean drops the remote on the bed and leans back against the headboard. He drinks his beer and listens to a cute brunette talk about high temperatures and heat warnings while pointing at a weather map of the Midwest. He nearly jumps out of his skin when his phone buzzes on the nightstand. He watches Cas' name flash on the screen for a second before picking up.
He's greeted with an earful of static; Cas lost his phone the night Jack was born, so he's using one of the shitty burners Dean keeps in a box under his bed. "Hey. You okay?"
Cas says, "Yes, Dean," and huffs out a quiet, irritated noise. "Stop worrying. I can make a peanut butter sandwich. I can take a shower without accidentally drowning myself."
Dean flushes. He's called Cas four times since they left the bunker; the guy's probably feeling a little crowded. "I know, I know. I'm just —" He scrubs at his hair, then tips his head back against the wall and starts over. "What's up?"
"I've been thinking about Jack."
"You, uh — okay. What about him?"
Cas pauses before saying, "At this point, removing his grace is impossible. Once he was born, it fused with his soul. And I don't know of any spells or talismans that can contain a nephilim's power. If we're going to stop him, we'll likely have to kill him."
"Yeah." Dean figured as much, but he hasn't been thinking about it too hard because that would mean locking the door on his mom and throwing away the key. "Any idea how to do that?"
"A Hand of God."
Dean snorts under his breath. "Awesome." They've got a snowball's chance in Hell of finding one of those. It'd be easier to convince Chuck to come back from his family vacation. "Next time I'm at the store, I'll pick one up."
"Sorry." Dean sighs and fiddles with the tab on his beer can. The scrollwork on the headboard is digging at his shoulder. "I'm just —yeah."
"How's your hunt going?"
The TV flickers as the news fades into a car commercial; Dean stabs at the remote to turn down the volume. "Well, it's some kinda bloodsucker, but I don't know what. It's draining dudes through one big hole in the neck."
Cas hums thoughtfully. "Is there anything connecting the victims?"
"Just some Greek restaurant," Dean says. The plumbing clunks behind the walls — Sam shutting off the shower. "The first one was their weeknight bartender. The other three were customers."
"Did you say a Greek restaurant?"
"Yeah. Town's got like six of 'em, which is... kinda weird, since it's so small."
"It could be a strix."
Static screeches in Dean's ear. He asks, "A what?"
"A strix. It's a bird of ill-omen native to Greece. They drink blood." Cas pauses before continuing, "Classical mythology depicts them as owls, but in reality they take a human form. Their beaks are hidden inside their mouths and extend when they feed."
A beak would explain the weird neck wound. Dean says, "Great. How do we kill it?"
"If I remember correctly, a bronze dagger to the heart. I'll check the lore, and if that's not the case I'll call you back."
It's late by the time Dean finally decides to turn in; he doesn't expect to find Cas' door open when he reaches the hallway. He stops in the watery square of light cast by Cas' lamp, leaning his hand on the jamb as he looks inside. Instead of in bed where he belongs, Cas is sitting at his narrow desk and reading a book. His coat is off, but he's still wearing his shoes and tie.
"You oughta be resting," Dean says.
Cas huffs under his breath. "Dean, I'm fine."
The strange thing is, Cas looks fine. His eyes have cleared, and the color has come back to his skin. He's lost the gamey, woodsy, wet-dog stink that followed him around while Rowena's spell had its teeth in the back of his neck. But Sam and Dean nearly had to carry him out of that warehouse. He fell asleep on the drive back to the bunker, and he swayed a couple of times going down the garage stairs.
His fingers smooth over the pages of the book, so Dean steps inside and asks, "What're you reading?"
"Rumi. He was a poet, among other things." After a pause, Cas tips his head to the side and continues, "'If love withholds its strengthening care, the lover is left like a bird without care, the lover is left like a bird without wings. How will I be awake and aware if the light of the beloved is absent?'"
Something warm and soft curls into Dean's chest, but he's too tired to think about it right now. He's too tired, and earlier he took a few too many blows to the head. He knows what Cas wants. Most days, he wants the same thing. But he can't see a way for them to work it out — not the way he lives. Cas deserves better than the truck stops and cheap motels and dive bars that make up Dean's daily landscape. Dean's got nothing to offer him. He's just a piece-of-shit hunter who went to Hell because he couldn't live without his brother and has spent the years since then just trying to keep his head above water.
He clears his throat and says, "Yeah. That — that's nice." Then he moves over to the desk and rests his hand on the back of the other chair. "C'mon. Go lie down."
Cas huffs out another noise. "I told you, I'm fine."
"Dude, seriously. Your meatsack has been through the ringer the last coupla days. You —"
"What about you?"
"We ain't talking about me."
The desk wobbles a little as Cas stands. Quietly, he says, "Dean, please. Let me heal you."
Dean's jaw is throbbing like a second heartbeat, but he shakes his head. "No. I'm — I ain't hurt that bad, and you need to rest."
"My grace is intact," Cas insists, his voice sharp at the edges. "Healing you wouldn't tax my body." He pauses for a moment and flexes his hands at his sides. "Just admit that you're punishing yourself."
Dean looks away. "Maybe I am."
"It isn't necessary. I'm not angry with you."
But Cas should be, because Dean nearly fucking killed him. He only remembers hitting Cas in quick, fury-blurred flashes, but he knows the Mark had screamed like a banshee and urged him not to hold anything back. He isn't really sure why he didn't kill Cas, except that when he looked at Cas' bloody face, the fire raging inside him guttered for a split-second, and then he planted the angel blade in a book instead of Cas' chest.
Before Dean can say anything, Cas continues, "When I came here that night, I knew the Mark had you in its thrall. I expected you to react the way you did."
"Yeah?" Dean clutches at the back of the chair, digging his nails into the old wood. "Then why did you bother?"
"If there was a chance — any chance at all — that I could save you, then I —" Cas spreads his hands. "I had to take it."
Dean's chest aches. He takes a shaky breath and says, "That doesn't change anything. It just means you're a dumb sonofabitch."
"Maybe I am."
Having his words thrown back at him makes Dean grit his teeth, but Cas is watching him with a soft, sad look on his face, so Dean keeps his mouth shut. They just stand there for a minute or two, listening to the clock tick on the nightstand. Cas' collar is turned up slightly, just under his ear.
Dean says, "C'mere," and hooks his fingers in Cas' tie. His knuckles bump Cas' throat. "You won't rest if you ain't comfortable, and you ain't gonna be comfortable all buttoned up like some corporate dickwad." He unravels the knot and tugs until the tie slips free. "There."
Cas opens his mouth, then closes it. Dean tosses the tie on the table and switches off the lamp. The room goes dark, but in the light creeping in from the hallway, Dean can still see Cas' face — the angle of his jaw and the curve of his mouth. He makes himself turn around.
When he reaches the door, Cas says, "'Love is reckless; not reason. Reason seeks a profit. Love comes on strong, consuming herself, unabashed. Yet, in the midst of suffering, love proceeds like a millstone, hard surfaced and straightforward.'"
Dean makes himself say, "Goodnight, Cas," and go back to his room.
Campbell is about a thousand miles from Lebanon. A drive that long would normally take Dean two days, but he catches a second wind as he crosses into Missouri. After that, he decides he's willing to push on through for another six hours if it means sleeping in his own bed.
They roll into town sometimes after two. That late, Lebanon's streets are empty. They're also dark enough that Dean bumps over every rut and divot on the dirt stretch of School Avenue. He hits his high-beams as he creeps down the frontage road that leads to the bunker, and crickets whine at him from the bushes while he waits for Sam to open the garage. Getting out of the car makes a dull ache bloom in his knees. He yawns and rubs his face as he grabs his gear and hobbles down the stairs.
He drops his bag on the first table in the library and opens the mini-fridge. He hefts a bottle of El Sol at Sam and asks, "Beer?"
"No," Sam says, shaking his head. His cheek is red; he conked out somewhere between Hannibal and St. Joseph with his face pressed against the seat. "I'm calling it a night."
Sixteen hours behind the wheel has put a knot in Dean's spine that'll probably never get untied. He grunts like an old man as he slumps into a chair, and again as he leans down to tug at his boots. Once they're off, he kicks them under the table because it's easier than picking them up. He just sits there for a few minutes, flexing the stiffness out of his feet and drinking his beer. When the bottle is empty, he sets it on the table and heaves himself up.
The hallway's emergency lamps are burning so low that the floor and the walls looks greenish and sallow. Dean can see well enough, so he doesn't bother turning on the lights. He makes his way down with one hand skimming the lip of the wainscoting. Just as he reaches his room, Cas' door creaks open. Cas walks out into the hallway, catching his foot on the loose tile. He hop-steps away from it and blinks at Dean.
"Oh." He's wearing a white, v-necked undershirt that's been washed thin and a pair of gray sweatpants. "I thought I heard something. I didn't think you'd be back tonight."
"Me neither, but —" Dean shrugs. "What're you doing up so late?"
Cas frowns. In the crappy light, his collarbones are all shadows and angles. "My internal clock is... screwed up. I napped for six hours this afternoon and now I can't sleep."
Dean bites back a laugh; he's lucky if he gets six hours in a whole night. He says, "It's 'cause you're living underground. You don't have the sun telling your brain what to do. The first coupla months Sammy and I lived here, we were fucking useless."
"I'm sure I'll adjust eventually." Cas pauses for a moment, then asks, "The creature — was it a strix?"
Grimacing, Dean says, "Yeah." He never likes running into a monster he's never seen before, but this one — Christ. When it opened its mouth, its front teeth fused and elongated into a pointed, razor-sharp beak that went well past its chin. It snapped at Dean's neck more than once, and it let out unholy screeches that felt like getting icepicked in the ear. "That Greek restaurant I told you about — it was the owner's uncle."
Cas nods and scratches his side. His tattoo peeks out as his shirt rides up.
"Alright," Dean says. He looks away so he doesn't get caught staring. "I gotta turn in."
He reaches up to clap Cas' shoulder as he passes, but Cas shifts sideways to give him more room and his hand ends up skating across the hollow of Cas' throat. A heartbeat later, they're standing nose to nose. Dean bites the inside of his cheek and tells himself that he shouldn't — that he just shouldn't. But Cas murmurs something Enochian and brushes his fingers down Dean's jaw. They trail over Dean's lips, and Dean — Dean opens his mouth. He curls his tongue around the tips, then sucks them in with a slow, wet sound that seems to echo around the hallway.
"Dean," Cas says, his voice rough.
Dean mumbles, "Yeah," and grabs a handful of Cas' shirt. "Yeah." He tugs a little, and then they're kissing, awkward and sloppy around Cas' fingers until Cas slips them out of Dean's mouth and grabs Dean by the hip. He works his other hand into Dean's hair, and his teeth catch the well of Dean's lip. Shivering, Dean shuffles them back toward Cas' room. Cas' shoulder knocks against the wall twice. On the third try, they make it inside and Dean closes the door with his foot.
They kiss and kiss and kiss. Cas pulls away once — just long enough to yank his shirt over his head — but he ducks back in as soon as he drops it on the floor. Then they're kissing again, all stubble and heat and the wet catch of their lips. Cas keeps making low, breathless noises that go straight to Dean's dick. Dean can't stop touching; he cups Cas' face, then slides his hand down to Cas' neck, then runs them across Cas' shoulders and down his chest. He palms Cas' sides and sucks Cas' tongue into his mouth. He thumbs Cas' nipples until Cas rumbles out a moan and bites the hinge of Dean's jaw.
"C'mere," Dean says, urging Cas closer to the bed.
They stumble over something — Cas' shoes, maybe. Dean hip-checks the nightstand, and the clock tips over on its face. Cas tugs Dean around, nudging him back and pushing him down on the bed. Every muscle Dean has hurts from the drive home, but he swallows a grunt and shifts until he's stretched out in the middle of the mattress. The blanket smells like Cas — laundry detergent and the cheap shampoo in the bunker's shower. Dean's shoulders twinge as he leans up on his elbows and watches Cas strip out of his sweats.
Cas' dick is hard and flushed and gorgeous. He strokes himself a couple of times, easy and slow, then moves to the side of the bed and braces a knee on the mattress like he's going to climb up. Dean opens his jeans, lifting his hips so he can shove them off and kick them away. Before he gets them past his thighs, Cas bends down and licks a hot stripe up the length of his dick.
"Jesus," Dean hisses. He fists his hand in the blanket and bites back a moan so he doesn't wake up Sam. "Cas, fuck."
Cas just sucks him in and in and in, all soft, lush heat and wet, wet tongue. Dean chases after it, arching off the bed despite the ache in his legs. He mumbles Cas' name again, then brushes his fingers through Cas' hair, then skims his hand over Cas' shoulder. Arousal thrums under his skin, warm and bright. He grabs Cas' arm and tries to draw him closer. Cas pulls off his dick with a sound that's filthy and slick. But instead of turning and crawling between Dean's thighs, he throws his leg over Dean's body.
Dean says, "Fuck," again and steadies Cas by the hips. He muffles a moan against Cas' skin as Cas' dick bumps his jaw and slides across his cheek. He shifts until he can get his mouth on it; he sucks a kiss right at the base, then works his way up until his tongue is rolling over the head. Cas shudders and gasps out a rough, dark noise around Dean's dick.
The headboard rattles. Dean's thighs shake as Cas takes him in deep, deep. It's too much — the drag of Cas' lips, the tight heat of Cas' hand, the flutter-catch of Cas' throat. At the same time, Cas' dick fills Dean's mouth, stretching his lips and pushing on his tongue. Dean swirls his tongue and hollows his cheeks and bobs his head to meet Cas' jerky, shallow thrusts. He runs his thumb over Cas' hole — dry, no pressure, just a tease — and a shudder whips up Cas' spine. His free hand clutches Dean's shin, his nails biting into Dean's skin.
They finish a beat apart — Cas first, and Dean right after. Cas' dick pulses in Dean's mouth, his come hitting the back of Dean's tongue, and Dean has barely swallowed it before the tension in his gut snaps — before he's shivering and arching and digging his heels into the bed. It takes him a long time to catch his breath afterward; he closes his eyes while he waits for his heart to stop pounding and hides his hot face against the inside of Cas' thigh.
Eventually, Cas rolls off him. The headboard rattles again. Dean sits up with a grunt and a wince.
"Are you okay?" Cas asks.
"Yeah. I'm just —" Dean sighs and stretches his arms over his head. "Too much driving."
Cas looks at him for a moment. Then he slides closer and touches Dean's shoulder. "Lie down."
Dean scoffs, but Cas just nudges and nudges at him, and somehow he ends up sprawled out his stomach with his face buried in Cas' pillow. Cas strokes his hands down Dean's back, slow and soft, then slides them back up and kneads at Dean's shoulders. And Dean — fuck. He really should go back to his room, but before he can move, Cas straddles his hips and digs his thumbs into the knots in his shoulders.
Dean slams his bleeding hand against the sigil on the wall. A dark, growling noise rumbles around the room as the floor sparks and flares under Lucifer's feet. Lucifer's eyes widen. His body — Cas' body — starts to shudder and twitch.
"Cas?" Dean asks. The growling noise gets louder, and Lucifer jerks and gulps for air. Something writhes beneath his skin; Dean clenches his hands into fists and tries not to puke. "Castiel, show yourself."
Lucifer sways on his feet. Slowly, his expression changes, and then Cas — Dean knows it's Cas — blinks and asks, "Dean?" in a thick, groggy voice.
Dean swallows hard and moves closer to the flames. His heart is beating in his throat. "Cas."
Confusion creases Cas' face. "What are you doing? What — what's going on?"
"Cas, listen to me. We don't have a whole lotta time." Breathing — Dean just needs to keep breathing. "You gotta —"
Cas starts to shake. His knees dip. He doubles over with a horrible grunt.
"Cas!" The flames are licking the toes of Dean's boots. "Castiel, show yourself!"
Dean is nodding off with a book in his lap when Sam knocks on his door jamb and looks into his room. "You up?"
Jerking, Dean blinks himself awake. He grunts, "Yeah," and rubs his face for a second. "Yeah. I'm up."
"What are you reading?"
"I, uh —" Dean closes the book around his finger and frowns at the cover. "It's called The Multiplicities of the Universe. It's — you know. For Mom."
Sam's mouth tightens a little. He's wearing the yellow and blue flannel Dean hates. "Anything to it?"
"No," Dean says, shaking his head. "I'm thinking this guy wanted to write fiction but couldn't land a publisher." He sits up straight, and the pillow behind his back tumbles to the floor. "How'd Cas do at Walmart?"
"Good. He got a pair of boots, and about two weeks' worth of clothes, and some deodorant and stuff. He also picked up a new phone."
"Great." Taking Cas shopping had been Dean's idea, but at the last minute he punted the job to Sam because he's a fucking coward. "That's great."
"Yeah, not so fast." Sam walks over to the bed and tosses a newspaper in Dean's lap. "I saw this while we were checking out. Five icepick murders in a month, in a town with like eight hundred people."
"They were stabbed behind the ear."
Dean unfolds the paper and shakes it open. It's a Hastings Tribune; the article Sam circled has the headline 'Another Man Found Dead in Kenesaw' underneath a photo of a bodybag laying on a scrubby patch of grass beside some railroad tracks. The actual copy is only about two hundred words, and it doesn't say very much.
"Sounds weird." He refolds the paper and wings it toward the foot of his bed. "You thinking kitsune or wraith?"
After a pause, Sam says, "I'm going with wraith. Kitsunes don't need to feed that often."
"Kenesaw's up by Hastings, right?"
Sam nods. "Yeah. About twenty miles west." He grabs the paper from the bed and taps it against his thigh. "You want to wait until morning, or —"
"No." It's still early, and Hastings is only an hour away, which puts Kenesaw at an hour and half. Dean would rather go up there and get started than sit around the bunker the rest of the day with his thumb up his ass and a hunt hanging over his head. "Let's just do it. Ready in forty-five?"
Once Sam is gone, Dean sets his book on the nightstand with the others he pulled out of basement storage — Parallel Landscapes, Universal Paradoxes, Paradigms of Alternativity, Lateral Time-Travel in the New Age. He swings his legs off the bed, but he ends up just sitting there for a minute, scratching his jaw as he makes a list of the crap he needs to do besides pack a bag. Sam just went to the store, but they're already low on bottled water and beer. Eating some sandwiches before they go would save them from dropping thirty bucks for lunch at Hastings' piece-of-crap Biggerson's. They need ice for the cooler. The Impala could use some gas.
Eventually, Dean sighs and gets to his feet. He digs his bag out of his closet and starts going through his clothes. He grabs another pair of jeans and a couple of flannels and a couple more t-shirts. His boxer-briefs and socks are in a load of laundry he hasn't put away yet; he's lugging his basket over to the bed when Cas calls out to him from the hallway.
"Dean, are you busy?"
Dean says, "Nah. Just packing," and stuffs a clean pair of socks in his bag. "What's up?"
Cas pauses in the doorway before coming inside. He's wearing a gray henley and black jeans, and Dean can't really look at him. It's been three days since — since. Since they sucked each other off; since Cas rubbed Dean's back and Dean passed out in Cas' bed and woke up with Cas curled against his side. Pretending they're just friends has been the only thing keeping Dean's head on straight for years; he never realized how much doing that depended on him making himself scarce in the morning.
"Sam says you're leaving for a hunt."
Cas pauses again. His necklace chain is peeking above the collar of his shirt. "I'd like to come with you, if — if that's okay."
Dean fiddles with the boxer-briefs in his hand. He's not surprised, but it's the last thing he wants to hear. Angel or human, Dean's pretty sure that watching Cas get hurt again would fucking end him. He'd lose his shit so badly he'd be looking for his marbles for the rest of his life. But he can't tell Cas no. Between Naomi and Lucifer and Jack, Cas has spent too much time having other people make his decisions.
He tosses the boxer-briefs into his bag and says, "It's up to you, buddy."
"I —" Cas just stares at him for a second; he probably came in expecting an argument. "Okay."
"We're outta here in forty-five, so you gotta hurry up and get packed."
Dean shouldn't. He knows he shouldn't. He knows that thing in there isn't really Cas. But watching him walk around the bunker for the last fourteen hours has rubbed Dean's nerves so raw he's practically climbing the walls. His skin is crawling. And he can't sleep — not with that bastard under his roof.
Finally, he breaks down and walks into the library. Lucifer looks at him with Cas' face and says, "Great. Here comes the other one."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Your brother was just in here, poking a stick at me. He had some questions about my favorite aunt."
Dean snorts out an ugly laugh. "Right. Like you'd tell him the truth."
Sighing, Lucifer says, "Dean, Dean, Dean." Hearing his name out of Cas' mouth when it isn't really Cas makes Dean grit his teeth. "I know you aren't going to believe this, but we're on the same side here. I want Amara dead as much as you."
"Well, she hurt me. Call it a quirk, but —" Lucifer shrugs. "I'm not all that fond of people who hurt me. But mainly, she's competition. If anyone is going to destroy Dad's grand achievement — well." He twists Cas' mouth into a smile and points at himself with his thumbs. "It's going to be me."
Dean just looks at him for a few seconds. Then he pours himself a drink from the fancy decanter on the sideboard. His hands are shaking, so he ends up sloshing more scotch on the tray than he gets in his glass. It's still about three fingers; he knocks it back in one go and pours himself another.
"Hey there, Bucko. Take it easy. You're drinking like the Devil stole your boyfriend's meatsuit."
Dean sucks in a breath. "He ain't —"
"Save it," Lucifer says, waving his hand. "I mean, even if that little melodrama you staged the other night hadn't been a dead giveaway, I can read his thoughts. All of them. And let me tell you —" He whistles through his teeth. "Wow. Some of them are doozies."
"Shut up," Dean snaps. He can barely breath around the lump in his throat. "Just shut the hell up."
"Touchy, touchy." After a pause, Lucifer leans back in his chair and kicks his feet up on the table. "I have to admit, I thought it was gross at first — my own brother, slumming it with one of you parasites. But once he stopped fighting me, I got to see the whole picture. I mean, I still think it's gross. But I do love a good tragedy, and you two are definitely a tragedy." He sighs sadly. "Two tramp steamers, crashing into each other in the night, just —"
"You know, when he first let me in — back before he gave up the good fight, all he did was worry about me hurting you. Sam too, but mostly you. It was pathetic, really."
Dean shuts his eyes for a second. He needs another drink. "I want — lemme talk to him."
Lucifer barks out a laugh. "Did you just —? Wow. You've really got it bad." He tips his head to the side like he's thinking about it, then wrinkles his nose. "Still, no. Bringing him up always gives me indigestion. Besides, I really put the squeeze on him after that stunt you and Crowley pulled. You might be off his Christmas list."
"You sonofabitch, I swear —"
"Dean," Sam shouts. He gives Lucifer a long, murderous look, then grabs Dean's arm and tugs. "Come on. He's just going to fuck with you all night."
Lucifer screws Cas' face into a smirk. Dean turns around and follows Sam out.
"Are you sure about this?" Sam asks quietly.
Dean isn't sure about it, but they've kicked in doors for less. Shrugging, he says, "It's all we've got."
"Yeah, but —" Sam shows him some teeth. "It's pretty thin."
Dean shrugs again and leans his hip against the tool shed they're using as cover. They don't have any real leads because Kenesaw is the kind of place where strangers and city folks get sideways looks. They probably raised less hackles posing as three good old boys just passing through than they would've if they'd come in as feds, but the geezers at the local watering hole still clammed up like bear traps when Sam brought up the murders over beers and idle chat. The bartender had been the only person willing to talk, and she'd talked way too much. She'd told them about the first victim's divorce, and the second victim's gambling debts, and the third victims fatty liver, and how the fourth and fifth victims' affair was the town's open secret.
"Look, the murders started after she moved back from college," Dean says, ticking it off on his fingers. "All the victims were last seen at the bar she works at. And, she wasn't happy about those half-dollars I gave her."
"Nobody wants change for a tip," Sam argues. Crickets are chirping in the bushes behind him. "And she barely flinched. It's not like she started burning up."
Dean waves that off. "They're only forty percent silver." After he paid for his beer, he'd plunked two '66 Kennedy heads on the bar. She'd blinked at them, joked that he must be harder up for money that she is, and pushed them away with two fingertips and a tight mouth. "I know it ain't —"
Something rustles in the grass. They both jump as a pair of field mice scurry past their feet. A moment or two later, Cas melts out of the shadows cast by the shed and the crooked cottonwood growing beside it. He has a leaf stuck in the collar of his shirt.
He says, "The boyfriend just left."
"Finally," Dean says, throwing up his hands. They've been waiting around outside for over an hour. "What about her?"
"She appeared to be getting ready for bed."
Dean shifts his weight a little. He's tired of standing out here — the fucking crickets are starting to give him a headache — but they should wait another thirty of forty minutes. Once she falls asleep, they can just sneak in and stick a mirror in her face. If they see something ugly, they stab her. If they don't, they sneak back out and she never knows they were there.
He looks at Sam. "Well?"
"I think we —"
Sam cuts off with a grunt as something hits him from behind. He staggers forward a few steps, then slams into Cas, hard enough and fast enough that Cas lurches back against the shed. It groans like it's about to collapse, and Dean grabs Cas by the arm so he doesn't hit the dirt. He pulls his knife with his other hand. A twig snaps. The moonlight streaming through the cottonwood shifts, and — shit. It's the wraith. She's wearing a blue or gray nightgown that grazes the tops of her knees. Her brain-sticker is out. In her other hand, she's holding a gun.
"I had a suspicion y'all were hunters," she says tartly. The bun on top of her head bounces as she moves. "I mean, you —" she points the gun at Sam "— you were asking too many questions about stuff that just ain't your business. And you —" she narrows her eyes at Dean and huffs. "Silver's sixteen dollars an ounce these days, sweetheart. And you —" she rounds on Cas "— you were watching every little single thing I did."
Dean looks at the gun. It's a pocket pistol, and small even for that — a twenty-two, or maybe a twenty-five. The wraith is handling it kind of awkwardly; she hasn't used it much before tonight, if she's used it at all.
"What are you gonna do with us?" he asks.
She replies, "What do you think, genius?" and hefts the gun slightly, but her wrist is turned out too far and the barrel is drooping toward the dirt.
Dean lunges at her. She screams and lifts the gun, but Sam and Cas both lunge in as well, and Sam gets his knife around and slices the top of her wrist. She screams again and drops the gun and Dean tackles her to the ground. Something hisses through the grass — either Sam or Cas kicking the gun away. The wraith bucks up and aims a knee at Dean's groin, but Dean dodges it and gets his hand around her throat. He lost his knife; all he can do is keep her sticker out of his head long enough for Sam or Cas to gank her.
They roll around in the dirt until they pitch up against the shed. Dean ends up flat on his back, and his sleeve snags on a ragged lip of corrugated iron at the shed's base. The time he wastes trying to yank it free gives her an opening to fist her hand in his collar. Her knuckles graze his throat — a light touch, but enough that he starts feeling a little seasick. The sky spins above his head as she leans down and gets her sticker lined up below his ear.
Cas rears up behind her, then hooks an arm around her neck and swings his knife. He manages to find her chest despite the way she's struggling, but the knife goes in about three inches south of her heart, so she just shrieks and claws at Cas' sleeve. The stench of burnt skin crowds into Dean's nose as he stumbles to his feet. When his vision clears, he sees Sam snatch a handful of her nightgown. He lifts his knife, but her confusion juice finally hits Cas. His knees buckle, and all three of them go down in a heap.
The wraith kicks herself free and starts crawling toward a glint in the dirt, and — fuck. It's Dean's knife. He dives for it, but she gets her hand on it first. She heaves herself to her feet and takes a swipe at Cas. On her second try, she shanks him right in the arm. He bellows out a noise that Dean feels in his gut.
Snarling, "Fuck," Dean grabs her around the legs and pulls her down.
She lands hard, her forehead hitting the ground with a sharp crack. It doesn't kill her, but it stuns her for a few seconds. Sam wrenches her onto her back, and Cas plants a knife right in her heart.
"So," Mary says slowly. She has both hands wrapped around a coffee she picked up at their last pit stop, right over the Missouri line in Grandview. "Castiel. He's an angel, but he hunts with you and your brother."
"Yeah, sometimes," Dean says, nodding. "Sometimes, he — uh. Sometimes, he gets roped into doing stuff for Heaven."
Mary hums under her breath and looks out the window. They're about forty minutes outside of Aldrich, pushing down a two-lane state highway that's lined on both sides by grassy soft shoulders and overgrown junipers. The classic rock station they picked up in Clinton is buzzing with static; Dean spins the dial a few times, then gives up and switches the radio off. After that, he puts both hands on the wheel. The Impala has been pulling hard to the right ever since that British chick crashed into it.
Eventually, Mary says, "My parents — they didn't believe in angels. Or Heaven, or God — any of it. But I —"
"You did." It isn't a question.
"I wanted to." After a sip of coffee, she continues, "It just didn't seem fair, otherwise. I thought if there were monsters and demons, then there should also be a light at the end of the tunnel."
Dean can't help snorting. "Heaven's kind of a mess. God skipped out years ago, and the angels — I don't know. Cas is different. He cares about things. About people. But the rest of 'em are —" He stops himself short of saying dicks. "They ain't exactly a barrel of laughs."
Mary pauses again. Then she asks, "How did you meet Castiel?"
"I — um. It's a long story."
"We have the time."
Dean swallows hard and white-knuckles the wheel. "I can't — I don't — I don't wanna talk about it. Not — not right now."
"Oh. Oh, honey. Is it that bad?"
Mary gives Dean a look that's full of pity. He hates it, but he figures it's better that disgust or horror, which is what he'd get if she knew about Hell — about all the nasty shit he did while he was down there.
Dean swallows again and says, "Worse. But — uh. You were right."
"When I was little, you used to tell me angels were watching over me. And he is."
Dean grabs a flashlight and the sack of tape and dental floss and bandages they call a medical kit from the trunk. He tells Cas, "Lemme see your arm."
Blood is seeping into the sleeve of Cas' henley, but he says, "I'm fine." In the flashlight beam, he looks sweaty and pale. "We should help your brother with the body."
They're about thirty minutes south of Kenesaw, down Highway 1A past the old cemetery and the outlying farms. There isn't a tree for miles with branches worth cutting, so Sam's digging a shallow grave to fill with grass and dry brush. Burning a body like that takes longer, but getting it set up is way less grunt-work.
"Sam's alright," Dean insists. He gestures for Cas to sit on the lip made by the Impala's open trunk. "I wanna see your arm."
Cas grumbles in Enochian — whatever it is, it sounds rude. But he walks over to the trunk and sits, and he doesn't argue when Dean starts pulling the henley over his head. His wound is narrow but fairly deep, and just looking at it makes Dean's heart beat so fast that his chest aches. The wraith stabbed into the meat of Cas' arm, but she easily could've nicked his bone. If her aim had been better, she would've shanked him right in the chest.
"You're gonna need stitches, but that's gotta wait 'til we get home." Dean's hands are shaking. He doesn't have enough light, and Sam's a better tailor anyway. "I'm, uh — I'm gonna get you cleaned up, and then I'm gonna wrap this so it doesn't start bleeding again."
Cas nods. "Okay."
Behind them, Sam is pouring butane on the wraith. Dean watches him for a few seconds, then tucks the flashlight against his shoulder so he can play doctor with both hands. Cas grits his teeth as Dean rinses the wound with bottled water, and he hisses a little as Dean splashes it with a couple fingers of vodka. There aren't any clean rags in the trunk, so Dean pats it dry with a piece of gauze. The gauze comes away pink with just two or three spots of blood.
Dean's peeling the backing off a butterfly strip when Cas says, "I'm sorry."
"No sweat." Dean's voice dips; he clears his throat — once, twice. He mumbles, "Shit happens," and presses the butterfly strip over the wound.
Cas winces at the pressure. "I know it does. But you didn't want me to come on this hunt, and I —"
"I never said that."
"Dean, I know you prefer it when I'm... juiced up."
Sam's makeshift pyre lights with a noise like distant thunder. Dean asks, "Dude, where're you getting all this? I never said that either."
"You didn't have to," Cas says, looking away. "I could see how horrified you were when I told you I was human again."
"That's not —" Dean huffs out an angry noise. "I don't know, Cas. Maybe I was upset. You take off with Satan's kid for fucking weeks, and then you come back and tell me you had to rip out your grace just to get away from him."
"Maybe I was worried about you getting hurt." The flashlight slips off Dean's shoulder and hits the ground. "Maybe I was worried about you protecting yourself. I mean — shit. How many times are you gonna make me watch you die?"
Cas looks at him for a long moment before saying, "My grace didn't save me at the lake house."
"Damn it," Dean snaps, his gut twisting. "That ain't what I'm talking about. I'm talking about you being human. You could — you could get mugged. Or hit by a car. You could catch some weird disease. You could —"
"How do you think I feel?" Cas demands. The pyre burning behind him is casting his face in shadows, but Dean can still see the color rising in his cheeks. "When I think of all the monsters you've hunted when I wasn't there to heal you, I —"
"Yeah? Well, it sure as shit hasn't stopped you from leaving."
Cas recoils from that like he got slapped, but Dean can't stop himself now that the dam's broken.
"I mean, I even asked you to stick around and find Kelly with us. I asked you, and you — you looked me right in the face and said okay, but then you skipped out the second my back was turned."
"And you stole the Colt."
"Dean," Cas barks. The Impala dips and squeaks as he gets to his feet. "I didn't want to steal the Colt, but Heaven had a plan —"
An ugly laugh rattles in Dean's throat. "Lemme tell you something, pal. I don't give a fuck about Heaven's plans."
Cas pauses to blow out a breath. "We were to bring Kelly to Heaven and destroy Dagon if she interfered. Destroying Dagon required the Colt, and the angels knew you had it. If I hadn't given it to them, they would've taken it from you by force."
"And that's supposed to make it okay?"
"What did you want me to do?" Cas asks. He's close now — close enough that Dean can smell him, a bite of vodka underneath all the sweat and dirt and blood from the hunt. "Watch them torture you and Sam until you died, or until one of you finally relented?"
"No. I wanted you to —"
"Guys," Sam cuts in. His hair is sweat-stuck to his temples, and his jeans are dusty to the knees. "Is everything okay?"
Dean slaps a Joker smile on his face and yanks another butterfly strip out of the box. "Yeah, Sammy. We're golden."
Cas coughs out thick, wet noise and struggles to sit up. A horrible shudder wracks his body. Mary touches his shoulder; both their hands are covered in blood.
As Dean moves closer, she catches his eye and shakes her head a fraction. Still, he forces his voice steady and asks, "Cas, how bad is it?"
Grunting, Cas fumbles with his tie and tugs at his collar. Black veins are branching and writhing underneath his skin. "Crowley's right. You should go."
"No. You listen to me. You — look, thank you. Thank you." Cas looks at Sam and Mary, then at Dean. "Knowing you — it's been the best part of my life. And the things —" he grunts again and grits his teeth "— the things we've shared together, they have changed me."
Dean closes his eyes for a second. His chest aches like it's been clawed open from the inside.
"You're my family." Cas has lost too much blood; sweat is beading on his face, and his skin is waxy and gray. He looks down and whispers, "I love you," and Dean digs his nails into palms and tries not to puke. "I love all of you."
Pausing, Cas sucks in a few shaky breaths. Then he continues, "Just please, please, don't make my last moments be spent watching you die. Just run. Save yourselves." He struggles to sit up again. "And I will hold Ramiel off as long as I can."
Dean shakes his head. Watching Cas die will pretty much kill him, but if this is it, he isn't leaving Cas alone.
An email alert about Jack buying another farm hits Dean's inbox around nine in the morning. He tries to bring it up to Cas about four different times, but Cas spends most of the day in his room, and Dean can't make himself knock. But after dinner, Cas settles down in the library with a book.
Dean gives him a few minutes, then walks in with two open bottles of beer. He plunks one down in front of Cas and pulls out the chair beside him.
He says, "Look, I know you probably don't wanna, but we gotta talk about Jack."
Slowly, Cas closes the book he's reading. He splits a tight frown between Dean and the beer before asking, "Where's Sam?"
"He's downstairs, trying to fix the Colt. Why? We gonna need a mediator?"
"I don't know. Are we?"
Dean's been avoiding Cas for the last two days, so he figures he deserves that. Instead of biting back, he holds up his hands and promises, "I'm good if you are."
After frowning at him again, Cas nods and says. "Fine. What would you like to know?"
"First things first — my mom." Dean thumbs at the sweat on the neck of his beer bottle. "Is Jack our only shot at finding her?"
Cas shakes his head. "No. Having Jack open another portal would be... simplest, but it's not the only way. There are spells that can break the barriers between dimensions, although they're difficult to perform."
"Great." That sounds like Book of the Damned level shit, and — Christ. Even if they had a witch on deck who could do that kind of heavy lifting, Dean isn't sure he's willing to risk it. "What about killing him? You mentioned a Hand of God... is that all we got?"
"You ain't sure?"
Cas pauses behind a swig of beer. Then he sets the bottle down and starts picking at the label with his fingernail. "Jack is an unusual situation. Nephilim sired by seraphim are born as babies, and those not culled by Heaven grow into their powers over time. During that period they are dangerous, but there is a tipping point once they reach adulthood where their souls outstrip their grace. After that, their power atrophies."
"Meaning, they can see true forms, and they stop aging. But they cannot fly, and they can only manipulate their surroundings in a crude sense. An angel blade can kill them." Cas takes another swig of beer before continuing, "Jack was fathered by an archangel, so... all bets are off, as you would say."
"Okay, okay." Dean drums his fingers on the table. "Right after Amara got out, when those angels ganged up and took a shot at her with a big-ass lightning bolt — would that work?"
"It could," Cas says, nodding. "But most of those angels died. I doubt any of the others would be in a hurry to try something like that again."
Dean sighs; if the bad news keeps coming, he's going to need a real drink. He says, "Alright," and pulls out the map he printed of Greenview, North Dakota. He unfolds it on the table and pushes it toward Cas. "He's set up here, right?"
After studying it for a moment, Cas nods again. "Yes." He circles an area with his finger — the same area Sam pinpointed last week. "Here."
"I'm asking 'cause this morning, he bought another thousand acres, right next to what he's already got." Dean leans back in his chair and swallows some beer. "So... either he's rounded up some more people, or he's thinking about it."
"Probably," Cas agrees. He starts picking at his beer label again. "Although if I had to guess, I'd say the latter. Jack is a meticulous planner. He wouldn't bring new people to Eden before he could accommodate them."
"Alright." Dean's chair creaks as he shifts and leans his elbow on the table. "So, what's the deal, there. Peace, love, and happiness?"
"Essentially, yes. He wanted to create a world without war or hunger or fear."
Dean huffs and says, "Yeah, but without free will. I ain't gonna lie, it sounds a lot like what Heaven was gonna do if they won the Apocalypse."
"Dean," Cas says quietly. "I didn't know. Coercing people into joining him — it wasn't what he showed me."
"Look, I believe you. But I gotta know — what did he show you?"
Cas looks away. He pauses for a long time before saying, "He showed me a world without monsters. A world where you and your brother were living a normal life. Where your mom wasn't burdened by decisions she made thirty years ago. Sam was going to school again. And you — you — you were —"
"What —" Dean clears his throat. "What about you?"
Cas shrugs. "I wasn't there."
"You really think that's what I want? Some cardboard cut-out world where you ain't around?"
"You know what —? Forget it." Dean gets to his feet and grabs his beer. "Just forget it."
"It's a gift," Dean says quietly. He grabs the tape and holds it out without looking up. "You keep those."
After a pause, Cas takes it back. "Oh." He starts to say something else, but then changes his mind and turns for the door.
"Cas, you can't — with everything that's going on, you can't just go dark like that. We didn't know what happened to you. We were worried. That's not okay."
"Well, I didn't mean to add to your distress. I —" Cas pauses again, then says, "Dean," and walks back into the room. "I just keep failing — again, and again. When you were taken, I searched for months and I couldn't find you. And then Kelly escaped on my watch, and I couldn't find her, and I — I just wanted — I needed to come back here with a win for you. And for myself."
Dean turns in his chair. "You think you're the only one rolling snake-eyes here? Me and Sam — we had her," he says, spreading his hands. "We had Kelly and we lost her."
"And if you find her again?"
"Sam's working on it. Of course, he's hellbent on finding something that doesn't mean killing her. Or her kid."
"Right. And if he doesn't find something?" A frown tugs at Cas' mouth. "If you run out of time, could either of you kill an innocent?"
Dean pauses long enough that Cas frowns again and catches his eye. Huffing, Dean looks away for a second. Then he looks back at Cas and says, "We will find a better way."
"You mean... we?" Cas asks, gesturing between them.
"Yes, dumbass. We." Standing, Dean continues, "You, me, and Sam — we're just better together. So, now that you're back... let's go Team Free Will. Let's get it done."
"I'd like that."
Dean says, "Great," and heads for the door. "I'd like a beer.
He walks down the hallway and into the library. The beer he snags is the last one in the mini-fridge. The library is empty; Sam's laptop is open and running at his favorite table, but Sam isn't there. He's probably downstairs, digging through the bunker's pathetically thin lore on angels. Most of what they have either rehashes the war in Heaven or details the roles the angels are given in Revelations. Their only source on nephilim is a joke; it tries to debunk their existence by disputing those verses of Genesis and Numbers line by line.
When Dean gets back to his room, Cas is sitting on his bed in his shirtsleeves. His coat is folded on Dean's chair with the tape resting on top. After Dean comes in, he stands again and edges past Dean to close the door. He takes the beer out of Dean's hand and sets it on the desk. Then he slides his hand up to Dean's neck and pulls him in for a kiss."
Cas murmurs, "Dean, please," and strokes his thumb behind Dean's ear. "I want — I need —"
"Okay," Dean says, hooking his fingers in Cas' tie. He shouldn't — walking away the next day gets harder and harder each time — but Cas almost never asks. They usually end up in bed together because Dean's trapped in his own head and needs a way out. "Yeah, okay."
It only takes Cas about half an hour to come after him. Dean doesn't really feel like talking anymore, but he grunts, "Yeah," when Cas knocks because he knows Cas will just wait him out.
Cas lets himself in slowly. After closing the door, he just stands there and stares at Dean without saying anything. He's wearing a green and blue flannel he picked up on his shopping trip; his eyes look unreal.
Finally, Dean asks, "What?"
Cas takes a couple steps closer. "'A moment of happiness, you and I sitting on the verandah, apparently two, but one in soul, you and I.'"
"Don't." Dean closes his eyes and turns away. "You — don't."
An awkward silence chases around the room. Dean moves to his desk and starts shuffling through all his books and notes and maps. The clock on his nightstand ticks like a bomb. He jumps a little when Cas comes up behind him and touches the small of his back.
"Maybe I should go."
A lump builds in Dean's throat. He asks, "You in a hurry to mop bathrooms and nuke taquitos again?" even though he knows he's being mean.
"Don't talk about it like that," Cas says quietly. "I did the best I could in Idaho."
Guilt churns around in Dean's gut. "I know. I — I shouldn't've said that. It was my fault you were even out there in the first place."
"Dean." Cas tugs his sleeve until he drops the books on the desk and turns around. "I don't blame you for that. I know Gadreel forced you into an impossible choice. But it wasn't easy for me. I left here with a few hundred dollars and a fake ID, and that was it."
Dean nods and looks away again. He has to swallow a few times before he can say, "Look, if you really wanna go, I'll get you whatever you need... money, or a car, or — anything. But don't go just 'cause you think that's what I want."
"What do you want?" Cas asks. "For us to remain as we are? Falling into bed at random intervals without ever talking about it?" He touches Dean's sleeve again. "It's been eight years."
Dean snorts out a noise that's almost a laugh. He knows it's been that long, but he's never let himself think about it too much. Ignoring it was easier than admitting exactly how much Cas means to him.
"No. I'm — I —" He sits on the foot of his bed and rubs his face with both hands. "I love you."
"And I love you," Cas says easily. "I've loved you for years. I loved you before I truly understood what it was, when it was just a soft, restless ache inside my grace." Pausing, he moves to stand between Dean's legs. He strokes his fingers through Dean's hair as he continues, "That doesn't mean we can do this. We might've... missed our window."
"You really believe that?"
Cas looks at him for a moment before shaking his head. "No." He slides his hand down to Dean's cheek. "I was just giving you an exit strategy."
"I don't want it." Dean grabs Cas by the hips and pulls him closer. "I want you. I want us to — we should — we, uh —"
"I want that too, but I —" Sighing, Cas sinks to his knees. He rests one arm on Dean's thigh and tugs the grace necklace out of his collar. Its light fills the space between them, blue-white and bright. "I once told you that I'd rather be here with you, and that's true. But once we've dealt with Jack, I intend to restore this. When I do —"
"Heaven won't let you just slum around with me and Sam all the time." Dean nods and palms the side of Cas' neck. "It's cool. I get it."
"Are you sure?" Cas asks, his voice dubious around the edges. "You don't share well."
Dean huffs a little, but — Hell. He can't exactly argue with that. "Look, I want you to stay here. With — you know, with me. Permanently. But it ain't house arrest. If you gotta go punch Heaven's clock now and again —" He shrugs. "I'll be alright, as long as I know you're coming back."
Cas says, "I'll always come back," then leans up and kisses him. It's soft and slow at first, just Cas' lips brushing and catching against Dean's again and again and again. But Dean chases Cas' mouth when Cas pulls back and starts to stand, and their next kiss is hot and open and wet. Dean breathes into it and pushes his hand into Cas' hair. Cas skims his fingers down Dean's jaw, then plucks at the collars of Dean's shirts.
"Take these off," he says, getting to his feet.
Dean shucks his flannel and lobs it away, but instead of losing his t-shirt, he hooks his hands in the waist of Cas' jeans and helps him with his belt and button and zipper. He tugs Cas' jeans and boxer-briefs down past his hips. As soon as Cas' dick is out, he tugs Cas closer and sucks it into his mouth.
"Dean." Cas makes a low, dark noise and cups the back of Dean's neck. "You — oh, oh."
Dean drags his tongue up the length, then teases Cas' slit, then hollows his cheeks and draws Cas back in. Shuddering, Cas murmurs Dean's name again. He thrusts a couple of times — shallowly, but enough to fill Dean's mouth — but after another moan, he pulls out and plucks impatiently at Dean's t-shirt.
"Why are you still dressed?"
Dean laughs and shrugs out of his t-shirt. "Alright, alright." He wastes a few minutes on his boots, yanking at the laces while Cas steps out of his jeans and digs the lube out of Dean's nightstand. Once Dean's naked, Cas pushes him back on the bed and nudges him onto his stomach. The headboard trembles as he settles between Dean's legs.
He skims his hand down Dean's back and dips his thumb into Dean's cleft. Dean braces himself for a cold press of lube, but Cas' fingers just skate over his hole instead, easy and dry and so light it makes Dean shiver. Cas does it again, and again, and again, humming out a smug, pleased noise when Dean arches his back and grumbles into the pillow. He does it one more time — slow, slow. Then he slides down the bed and gives Dean the flat of his tongue.
"Fuck." Dean arches again and snaps his hips, caught between pushing back against Cas' mouth and squirming away. "Cas — Jesus."
Cas just grips Dean's thighs and nudges, opening him up a little more. He drags his tongue up from behind Dean's balls, then laps at Dean's hole until everything is warm and wet and slick. Dean's thought about this, but he never realized it would feel so fucking good. And Cas is relentless, his tongue flicking and teasing and curling; all Dean can do is clutch at the sheets and ride it out. His legs start to shake. His voice breaks as he grates out Cas' name.
Cas pulls back slightly and murmurs something Enochian against Dean's skin. He runs his fingers over Dean's hole a few times, then slowly eases one inside. It goes in tight with nothing but spit for lube, but Cas leans back into kiss and lick around it, and heat sparks and flares underneath Dean's skin. Rocking his hips, Dean pants, "Cas, c'mon." Finally, Cas grabs the lube and slicks his fingers. He gives Dean one, then two, working them in and out as he bites kisses up the curve of Dean's spine. By the time he slips in the third, Dean is cursing and riding his hand.
"Dean." Cas shifts until he's stretched out on the bed and urges Dean into his lap. "Come here."
Dean's legs feel like water, but he straddles Cas' hips and lets Cas' dick ride the cleft of his ass. "Like this?"
"Yes," Cas says, tipping his head back. His throat flexes and pulls around a moan. "I want — I want to watch you."
Arousal thrums in Dean's gut. He lifts up and lines Cas up, and then Cas is pushing inside him as he slides down and — fuck. Fuck. He closes his eyes for a second and listens to his blood pounding in his ears. Having Cas' tongue in his ass has coaxed him so close to the edge that it won't take much to send him over. He pauses to suck in a few deep breaths, and when he finally moves it's an easy roll of his hips.
Cas grits out another mouthful of Enochian. Then he arches up and digs his nails into Dean's hips. A sharp ache is building in Dean's thighs, but he plants his knees and rises up until Cas almost slips out and then slowly sinks back down. Sweat is pooling in the dip of his throat, and the headboard keeps bouncing against the wall. His heart is jackhammering in his chest.
Cas won't stop staring at him. His mouth is hanging open, and his eyes are wide and dark. He runs his hands up Dean's sides, then slides them back down. Then he brings one between Dean's legs and wraps it around Dean's dick. He thrusts up as he twists his wrist, and Dean loses his rhythm, his hips stuttering between Cas' dick and Cas' fist. After a few strokes, the tension in his gut finally snaps. He comes hard and fast, his thighs shaking and he gasps Cas' name again and again and again.
Dean barely catches his breath before Cas grips his hips and thrusts, fucking him hard but slow. There's no way Dean's going to come again, but it still feels good — Cas holding him in his lap and filling him up, tagging his prostate just enough to keep a soft thrum underneath his skin. Cas is gorgeous, his face flushed, his chest heaving as he pushes up into Dean and again and again. He tugs Dean closer and kisses the hollow of Dean's throat. The noise he makes when he comes is rough and filthy and raw.
Dean's thighs are still shaking. He sighs and slumps against Cas' chest, resting his forehead against Cas' collarbone. He should get up and grab them a rag and some water and maybe find their boxer-briefs. But Cas has an arm around Dean's waist; he's stroking Dean's back and nosing at Dean's hair. Dean sighs again and presses his lips to Cas' skin.
Dean drops to his knees and looks down at Cas. A spot of blood is spreading on his shirt. In the moonlight, Dean can just make out where Cas' wings are etched into the sand. He closes his eyes and swallows hard. He can't breathe. He can't — fuck.
Behind him, the water laps at the shore. He rubs his stinging eyes and grabs Cas' hand. It's still warm. He brushes his thumb over Cas' knuckles — back and forth, back and forth.
"Please," he mumbles, his voice catching. "Please." He's not sure who he's talking to; Chuck's gone, and he wasted the favor Amara gave when he let Lucifer drag his mom into that portal. "Fuck, please."
He leans closer to Cas, his shoulders hunching. He strokes his other hand through Cas' hair, then touches Cas' cheek and jaw. A sob rips out of him — a harsh, desperate noise that rattles in his chest before punching out of his throat. He touches Cas' cheek again, then curls his fingers in Cas' tie.
Footsteps crunch in the sand. Dean doesn't look up. He squeezes Cas' hand and chokes out another sob.
The air starts to hum. A soft, dark voice says, "Castiel," and Cas opens his eyes.
Dean wakes up as the big spoon. His arm is wrapped around Cas' waist, and his mouth is pressed to the back of Cas' neck. Their legs are tangled, sweaty where the sheet is twisted around their shins. Dean kisses Cas' shoulder, then leans up enough to see the clock on his nightstand. It's just after nine, which is later and longer than he usually sleeps. He doesn't want to move, so he settles in and kisses Cas' shoulder again.
Cas sighs out a soft, bleary noise and mumbles, "Dean?"
"Go back to sleep."
Cas says, "Okay," but then he sighs again and rolls over, nudging Dean onto his back. He tucks his head under Dean's chin and hooks his thigh over Dean's. His half-hard dick pushes against Dean's hip.
Dean brushes his hand through Cas' hair, then skims it down his back. Cas arches into it and presses a kiss to the hollow of Dean's throat. It's slow and open and wet, and Dean tips his head back and shivers. His dick perks up a little — enough that he thinks about pulling Cas on top of him and doing something about it.
Before he can, there's a knock at the door. After a pause, Sam says, "Hey, I — uh. Are you guys decent?"
Heat flushes Dean's cheeks, but — Hell. He was going to tell Sam anyway. He says, "Hang on," and tugs the sheet up to their waists, then gropes around on the floor until he finds his shirt and pulls it over his head. "Yeah, we're good."
Sam opens the door enough to poke his head through. "You don't have to get up. I just wanted to tell you I'm heading out."
"Where?" Dean asks.
"Eileen — she had a lockup in Sioux City." Sam opens the door another foot and leans his shoulder against the jamb. "Her parents were legacies, so I want to check out her books."
"For what? Mom?"
"Yeah. Or Jack."
"Okay," Dean says. Beside him, Cas yawns. His hair is everywhere. "You okay going alone?"
Nodding, Sam says, "Yeah. I'm just going to do a turnaround. I mean —" He chews his lip for a second. "Unless..."
"Well, Claire's back with Jody and Alex, and they're only an hour from Eileen's unit. I know we got a lot on our plate right now, but —" Sam spreads his hands. "A couple days wouldn't hurt."
Dean says, "Yeah," and nudges Cas' shoulder. A couple of days sounds great. "How about it? You up for a family trip?"
"Yes," Cas says, smiling. "I'd like that."