"You really were sick, weren't you?" Dean rasped.
Sam sighed, shifting his grip on the wet socks he was using as compression against Dean's side. "I didn't think so, but—"
"Should've had Cas heal you," Dean broke in, pulling away slightly in an automatic reaction to the pain cutting through him at Sam's ministrations.
"We don't need Cas for that kind of stuff," Sam protested, shoving his wet hair from his face and scrutinizing Dean with narrowed eyes. "We need him for this kind of stuff."
Dean looked down at his side and saw that the socks were bright red where Sam had been using them to apply pressure.
"Bastard took a chunk outta me, huh?"
"It sure ain't good." Sam's voice was tight with worry, the cough that followed his statement shaking his whole frame.
Dean reached up a trembling hand and wiped the rainwater from his face. He could feel his body quaking from more than the cold. Between the broken ribs, the probable concussion, and now the wound on his side, he was running short on reserves. He recognized the signs of shock; sitting in a growing pool of rainwater wasn't the best way to combat his body shutting down around him.
"Climb outta here, Sam."
"Don't be an idiot."
"I mean it," Dean reached forward and curled his fingers in Sam's jacket. "Use those ropes and get outta here."
"You c-can…can get back to the Impala…get help…."
"Shut up!" Sam's bellow caused Dean to jerk and drop his hand, wincing as his ribs stabbed him. "I am not having the same goddamn conversation with you every time we—" Sam stopped and Dean thought he was going to cough again, but he just looked down at Dean's wounded side and shook his head, pressing the make-shift bandage against the wound harder in an effort to stop the bleeding. "Do you know how many times you've made me watch you die?"
Dean closed his eyes.
"How about how many times you've stayed behind so you could die with me?"
Dean simply swallowed, blinking rain from his eyes. He remembered.
"You think…think it was easy watching you remember the time you…," Sam swallowed, tilting his chin to the side but still not looking at Dean, "you climbed out of your own grave and know I wasn't there?"
Sam pressed harder on the wound and Dean groaned, covering Sam's hand with his own.
"I gotta stop the bleeding," Sam sniffed. "If I can stop the bleeding, then maybe—"
"'s okay, man." He just needed Sam to stop, for the pain to ease, for just a minute. Just one minute.
"It's not!" Sam shoved his free hand through his hair and Dean saw where the bandage around his wounded wrist had become saturated. "It's…it's real this time, Dean."
"If we don't get out of here, there's…there's no Hell. Or Heaven. Or Purgatory." Sam sniffed again and Dean's gut clenched in reaction to the tears he saw in his brother's eyes. "There's…there's nothing for us. After all we…we fought for. All we've done. It's just…over."
Dean pulled a slow breath in, trying to settle the slow spin of the world around him. He felt oddly weightless, his body at once hollow and filled with ice.
Sam's voice cracked, tears choking him as he said, "We die in a cave, buried in the middle of the Earth, just because we had to kill some goddamned giant bat."
"No," Dean shook his head, blinking slowly. "No, man. You listen to me, okay? You listening?"
Sam dragged the back of his hand beneath his nose and nodded.
"If we don't make it out of here, we die saving people. We die hunting things. We die doing our job, Sam."
He stared hard at his brother, the edges of his vision graying out, but Sam stayed sharp, clear, lit from above by the growing sunbeams cutting through the passing rain clouds. The temporary waterfall began to slow, the frothing river through the center of the cavern still tripping its way to the cave wall. The stretching light of the afternoon sun climbed slowly down the reddish walls and lit the sweep of copper and black that surrounded them.
For several minutes, the brothers simply looked at one another.
"Think anyone'll put that on our tombstone?" Sam grumbled.
Dean smiled slightly. "We won't have one, Sammy."
Sam wiped his face dry, scooting closer so that he could adjust the pressure of the bandage on Dean's side. "Viking funeral, right?"
"Send me off...on the hood of the...Impala." Dean forced his lips to tip up in a confident grin.
Sam's answering grin faded quickly as he pushed Dean's shirt up and re-folded the sock bandage. "What am I supposed to do, Dean?" he whispered, hazel eyes seeking reassurance.
Dean felt his face fold with a pain separate from anything the Olitiau visited upon him. For a brief moment, all he could see was Sam lying way too still on a stained mattress, the silence of death echoing around the dilapidated room they occupied, feeling his heart shattering within his aching chest. He searched his brother's wounded face and knew that nothing he said would convince San to leave him.
"Use my shirt," he said, pain turning his voice hollow. "Tear up the sleeves and make a bandage. Help me get my jacket on."
"It's soaked," Sam protested, looking momentarily stunned that Dean was offering actual constructive instructions.
"So are we," Dean pointed out.
Nodding, Sam pushed to his knees and helped to ease Dean from his outer shirt, pausing when Dean cursed weakly in protest at the jostling of his broken wrist. By the time they'd pulled his shirt free, the waterfall from the top of the cavern had played out and the river had slowed to a merely trickle of left-over water. The inside of the cavern chilled as the sun slid once more behind clouds and Dean knew he'd have to work quickly to get Sam out of there.
"Think the bleeding has stopped," Sam said, wringing out the wet, bloody socks to replace the bandage. "Sort of."
"Just—ahh!" Dean's vision whited out for a moment when Sam pressed the bandage in place, his forearm jostling the damaged rib cage. "T-tie it in place…."
"Jesus, Dean, you're really pale, man."
"Bad lighting," Dean gasped, shivering with cold and pain. "Just tie it."
Sam coughed, and tossed a look over his shoulder at the wet remains of their fire.
"F-forget it," Dean breathed. "Nothing dry left to b-burn."
Sam frowned, tying the make-shift bandage in place. "That's what I first remembered," he said. "Burning."
Dean drew his brows over the bridge of his nose. "What?"
Sam looked up at him. "When I came out of that…that water in the tunnel, I…." He shook his head, his lips pressing tight as he worked to hold back his emotion. "I remembered burning. In…in the Cage."
"You ever wonder why…how I survived that Cage? My soul, I mean."
"Hey, listen to me. Sam? I mean it." Dean reached out once more and grabbed Sam's jacket, drawing his brother's eyes, forcing himself not to think about those months when Sam had been without his soul, moving, acting, talking like Sam but nothing like the man before him now. "You survived because the fire inside of you burned brighter than the fire around you."
Sam flinched away from the compliment, his brows pulling close, eyes darting away. He reached for Dean's jacket, not saying a word as he eased Dean's left arm in first, then with aching slowness slid the right sleeve over Dean's broken wrist. Once on, Sam buttoned the front closed, offering an additional brace if not warmth.
"Tie a stick to the end of that rope," Dean ordered.
"You're gonna throw it up through the opening. Make it a good one – one that could hold your weight."
"Yeah, okay," Sam nodded, pushing to his feet. "I'm with you."
Dean tried not to wince when Sam had to pause to cough, just held his broken arm close to his wounded side as his brother moved around the gray light of the cavern.
"What do you think Bobby would say about us being stuck in this cave, huh?" Sam asked, his voice echoing against the empty space.
"That we're idjits for not having an escape plan," Dean answered honestly. "I still can't believe I let Larkin cuff us together."
"He was going to cuff me," Sam said, suddenly pulling up short in his search and looking over at Dean from across the wet surface of the cave floor. "You remember? I made him nervous."
"I remember," Dean nodded. His vision began to waver as he kept his eyes on Sam. The shadows seemed to grow, closing in around the lanky figure of his brother.
"He was going to cuff me and make you lead him to the…the lair," Sam grabbed a stick and tried to break it against his leg. It splintered and he tossed it away, moving toward another candidate. "Having one of us out of commission like that would have screwed us royally, so," he shrugged, nodding when the next stick didn't break and headed back toward Dean. "You pretty much did the only thing you—hey, hey, hey, Dean!"
He heard Sam's voice, but it had become impossible to keep his eyes open.
"Open your eyes, man."
He could feel Sam's hands on his face.
"Tired," he managed. He was physically unable to say more.
"C'mon, Dean." Sam's voice turned pleading. "Don't do this. We are getting out of here, okay?"
"'kay," Dean whispered, letting his head rest in the hollow of Sam's warm hand, soaking up the heat he felt there into his chilled body.
Sam would get them out. He'd climb up that rope and go get help and they'd keep going, keep hunting, keep fighting that damn good fight until…. What? Until they were dead or all the evil in the world was gone?
How could they possibly rid the world of evil when there were still people in it?
He didn't register the moment he'd slipped from awareness to hide behind unconsciousness, but he was suddenly swimming through screams, seeing Crowley smirk and Ruby wield a large-bladed knife; he was shooting a man in the head with the Colt, watching his own eyes turn black in a mirror.
Demons, he knew, were born of people, their darkness left untended by the light and allowed to grow, fester, poisoning their souls and until they in turn poisoned humanity.
What did he expect to accomplish? The good fight would never end, and he had so much darkness in him…so much that he'd brought it into the world in a great storm cloud, chewing through the land intent on ending everything. She was here and it was his fault…his darkness called her and his darkness kept her….
"…that's it, there you go."
Sam's voice was suddenly back, like a radio dial had been tuned in his head, bringing his brother back to him.
"You with me, Dean?"
"'s dark," Dean managed.
"You keep saying that," Sam informed him, "but there's still light in here, man. Open your eyes and see for yourself."
Dean blinked, seeing the sloping shadows of sunlight paint the interior of the cavern. He realized that he was no longer slumped against the cave wall, but was lying stretched on his back, his jacket opened and the rest of his flannel shirt folded up like a brace against his wounded side. He was also nearly dry.
"How long was I out?" he whispered.
"Long enough to scare me to death," Sam replied. He was crouched, balancing on the balls of his feet, near Dean's head. "Think you could drink some water?"
Dean nodded and allowed Sam to tip his head up and ease the mouth of the flask against his lips. He drank first, then asked, "Holy Water?"
"Beggars and choosers," Sam shrugged. "So get this..."
"You found an elevator to the top?" Dean guessed, trying to decide if he should try to sit up, or just lay there and breathe.
"Better," Sam grinned. "Cops."
Dean looked at him, surprised. "What?"
"You passed out and I…, you weren't waking up, Dean. And I kinda…I lost it a little bit but…then I heard some guy yell down through the crack in the roof," Sam told him. "There's a half dozen guys up there right now rigging up harnesses to get us out of here."
Dean blinked. "Didn't see that coming."
Sam was nodding, his grin infectious. "They're from town. Turns out they were about to pull together a search party for Larkin when the deputy got a call telling him to get climbing gear and head to the Vespertilio Caverns."
"Wait…," Dean heaved himself up on his good elbow. "Who called them?"
Sam's grin widened. "It had to be Cas."
"How would he—"
"I prayed, man. I told you, someone is listening to us!"
Dean felt his frown pull at the cuts on his face. "Sam—"
"No," Sam cut his hand through the air decisively. "I don't want to hear it, Dean. Those guys had no idea where to go until they got that call and the only person who knew where we were going was Larkin and, well…." Sam gestured toward the other side of the cavern where Dean knew the bodies lay. "Cas couldn't get here, but he heard me."
Dean closed his eyes and tried to breathe, ignoring the tightness in his chest, the burn at his side. Something shook inside of him, tripping up his heart and scooping out his lungs. He tasted copper at the back of his throat; it felt like his lungs were heavy and full of fluid.
Getting out of the cave only solved one problem. If Cas wasn't there when they got out….
"What?" Dean blinked his eyes open and looked at his brother, taking in how tired and hurt and damn young Sam looked in that moment.
"Don't start thinking that it doesn't matter if you get out. You've survived a helluva lot worse than this."
Dean slid his eyes away. Should he? After all he'd done…after what he'd released into the world…did he have a right to survive?
"You didn't let it out," Sam said, as though reading his mind. "I did."
"No, stop." Sam pushed to his feet, running a hand through his hair and rubbing at the back of his neck. Dean had to shift his head to keep Sam in focus. "You told me not to. You were going to…to lock yourself away, Mark of Cain and all. And I…," he glanced back at Dean, a familiar expression on his face, "I couldn't live with you dead."
Dean closed his eyes, his breath catching at the base of his throat.
"So I let it out. To save you." He looked down at Dean and smiled. "And I…I don't regret it. Not one second."
"That darkness, Sam," Dean tried. "It's…it was in me."
Sam's smile softened. "There's light and dark in all of us, Dean. We just have to feed the right wolf."
Dean swallowed. "Always were…too smart for…your own good."
Sam's dimples buried deep into his cheeks just as four ropes dropped down through the opening.
A voice called down and Sam stepped away, both brothers watching as men slid effortlessly down into the cave. Dean closed his eyes, letting Sam do the talking. He felt every one of his muscles, every bone filled with something leaden and cold, every blood vessel covered in barbed wire as it slide through his body.
He knew he needed to stay conscious, but it was too hard to stay engaged.
So instead, he listened as Sam explained about the creature and pointed out where Larkin's and the other victim's bodies were located. He listened as their rescuers debated on the best way to get both wounded men up and out of the cavern. He listened as someone was ordered back to town to get help, remembering all-too well the four mile trek back to the trail head.
"'m here," he replied, responding instinctively to Sam's voice.
"They're gonna put a couple harnesses on you, okay?" Sam told him. "Lift you out of here so you don't have to climb."
Yeah, because that would have been possible.
"Awesome," Dean replied, not opening his eyes. He wasn't sure he'd be able to stay on this crazy spinning world of theirs if he attempted something as irrational as sight.
"You stay with me, okay?"
"'kay, Sammy," Dean whispered, shivering slightly as Sam fastened his jacket once more.
He heard strange voices getting close, felt straps from the harness slide beneath his head and shoulders, and another set beneath his back and rear. He almost asked if Sam was going to have to climb but then he was lifted and his bones turned into lava and the scream of pain scraped his throat raw and there was suddenly nothing.
No memories, no pain, no cave, no Sam.
The enticing scent of pine drew him back to the surface. It took him a moment to realize he was still lying down, but now he could feel himself swinging slightly, as though he were laying in a hammock.
"Sam?" His voice was wrecked; if he hadn't felt the vibration in his chest, he wouldn't have believed it had come from him.
"Hey! Hey, there you are."
Sam's voice was immediate and close. Dean blinked his eyes open and realized he was staring up at trees, the encroaching night pulling the clouds away to reveal hundreds of stars between the tops of the Evergreens. Sam was leaning heavily on something—or someone—his face shadowed.
"Why am I…swinging?"
"It's okay," Sam reassured him. "They pulled us out of the cave and rigged up a kind of a travois for you."
If he turned his head he could see poles inserted through the straps of the harness that had been used to haul him out of the cave.
Sam paused long enough that Dean knew his brother was cloaking his pain. "I've…been better."
"You have to climb?" It was bothering him, the thought that he was carried out while Sam had to climb.
"No, they hauled me out, too," Sam reassured him, coughing briefly, the man who supported him adjusting his grip.
"They get Larkin?" Dean whispered the question, feeling once more the swoop in his belly that sent his head spinning much like it had looking over that ledge in the depths of the cave. If felt like the world was slipping further away from him.
"Yeah," Sam nodded, then frowned down at him, something unreadable in his expression. "We're almost back to the trail head. Just hang in there, okay?"
They were almost back to the trail head and a hospital and questions and no possible way to reach Cas. Dean closed his eyes, pressing his left hand against his wounded side and felt the wetness there. Their rescuers got them out of the cave, but had clearly not been equipped to deal with wounds delivered by a giant cave demon.
He tried to figure out how to tell Sam he wasn't going to make it out of this one. He had to find a way to convince his brother that it had to be okay to go on without him this time. No deals, no plea bargains, no coming after him…no angels, no demons, no Heaven, no Hell.
After a lifetime of fighting, Dean Winchester was heading to oblivion. And the odd part was, he could actually accept that fact if he knew Sam would be okay here without him.
"'m here," Dean reassured his brother. "Just…thinking."
"Yeah, well, based on that frown it's nothing good."
The really good stuff? Has nothing to do with our jobs. It's just…it's us.
He suddenly knew he didn't have to tell Sam. His brother would find out soon enough. And there was no reason to spend whatever time his body gave him before it decided enough was enough filling Sam with fear and dread.
His brother lived that reality enough as it was.
"I remember the good stuff, Sammy," he whispered, not caring that six strangers walked among them, listening to every word, not understanding one. "I remember…us."
Sam pulled away from the man supporting him, wrapped his arms wrapped around his torso and angled his head to watch both Dean and the ground he stumbled across. Dean noticed their nameless, faceless rescuer didn't stray too far from Sam, and for that he was grateful.
"Yeah? Like what?" Sam pressed.
"Like…teaching you how to drive," Dean revealed. "Which…which was way w-worse than teaching you…to ride a bike."
"No it wasn't," Sam scoffed, chuckling.
"So much worse," Dean said, closing his eyes against a wave of pain that swept up from the wound on his side. He tried to bite back a groan, but one stole his breath anyway. Before anyone could move to help him, though, he forced himself to continue, to focus on the memory, to keep Sam engaged.
"F-for one, you argued with…with everything I said—"
"I did not!"
Dean smiled as one of the men hauling the travois down the path chuffed a quick laugh.
"You hadn't hit…your growth spurt, s-so you could barely reach the peddles…the Impala was just…it was a lot of car for a skinny k-kid like you," Dean said. "Dad was, uh…hunting, and I t-took you out to this back road in…um—"
"Colorado Springs," Sam supplied, and Dean heard the soft smile there.
"Yeah, that's right," Dean smiled, then gasped as the path grew rough. "Oh, fuck, this hurts," he gasped, holding his body together with his left arm.
"Hang in there," the man pulling his travois entreated.
"You were scared to death," Dean made himself go on, "but…but you weren't gonna let me see it, no way. So, I, uh…I put in—"
"Metallica," Sam recalled, and Dean heard the choke of emotion in his brother's voice. "Ride the Lightning."
"Yeah, and told you j-just to focus on the drums—"
"Which were buried beneath the loudest guitar riff ever."
"And you were so intent on the d-drums, you forgot…you forgot to be scared," Dean continued. "And you…you were a natural, man. Drove those mountain roads like…like you'd been doin' it all your…all your life."
"You let me drive home," Sam said, smiling. "And you fell asleep."
"Trusted you, Sammy," Dean whispered, completely spent. "Knew you'd…be okay…on your own."
"I was only okay because you were next to me," Sam said quietly.
Dean didn't reply, letting the memories slide over him in the starlight. The sight of Sam sitting next to him as the Impala traversed mile after mile. The sound of his brother breathing in a dark motel room, even and steady and the only constant in a world of chaos. The knowledge that there was one person still left in the world who cared where he was, if he was alive, if he was happy.
"We're here, boys," called a voice Dean didn't recognize.
He could see the flash of white and red lights from the ambulance dancing across the tops of the trees and turning the starlit sky to pitch. Voices began to echo around him and he suddenly, desperately wanted to be on his feet, but the moment he tried to sit forward his ribs screamed at him.
Or…maybe that was him screaming because Sam's face came into view rather quickly and he felt his brother's hand gripping his tightly. Before he could say a word, he was lifted from the harness travois and laid on a waiting stretcher. Someone shone a light in his eyes, another stretched straps over his legs. He could see an oxygen mask descending and felt strange hands on his side, peeling away the sodden, make-shift bandage.
"Sam!"Desperation fueled his voice.
"Right here, man," Sam reassured him, reminding Dean that his brother still gripped his hand.
The stretcher was lifted into the back of the ambulance, Sam climbing in beside him, and another man in a white shirt wearing a blue ball cap climbed in after Sam and closed the doors behind him. Dean braced himself for the inevitable exam, the needles, the pronouncement that he was worse off than the town's clinic could handle, but the man in the ball cap moved past his stretcher and slid into the driver's seat.
Without a word to either of them, the man flicked on the siren. Dean tugged the oxygen mask off his face, feeling claustrophobic. He shot a worried glance at Sam when the driver took off, trying to remember the last time he'd seen Crowley, who they might have pissed off, how they could fight this apparent kidnapper as thrashed as they were.
He didn't register the ragged, choked sound of his own breathing until Sam started to reach for the oxygen mask. He could taste blood on his lips and see it on his fingertips as he reached a trembling hand to grasp Sam's wrist and stop him.
"Dean, you need to remain conscious."
He blinked, this time his shared glance with Sam filled with shock.
"I will turn off the siren once we have passed the town and then we will return under cover of night for your car," Castiel continued.
"Cas, how the hell—" Sam started.
"I heard you," Castiel interrupted. "You were quite insistent. And with good reason, evidently."
"You…heard him?" Dean asked, trying to twist around to see Castiel and crying out when the pain seared his torso.
"Easy, Dean," Sam soothed, pulling the oxygen mask off and setting it aside, apparently realizing that Dean was not going to cooperate. "Just hang on a little bit longer."
"S-shit, Sam…," Dean whispered, "…this h-hurts." He closed his eyes against the rising nausea as his body began to shiver in earnest.
"Cas, you need to pull over somewhere, man," Sam called. Dean felt his brother's hand in his once more. "He's looking bad."
"We need to get further away or else we risk being overtaken."
Dean felt his heart slam, hard and fast as though he were running a marathon. His head pounded, his hand shook in Sam's grip, and he was cold, icy, frigid cold.
"His lips are white," Sam shouted up front to Cas. "I'm not kidding, Cas. Get the hell back here or you came all this way for nothing!"
He knew Sam was right, had known it since the creature's talons wrapped around him, but there was still something completely terrifying about the inevitability of death coming to pass. He swallowed hard, his mouth dry, his throat flooded with the coppery taste of blood. He pressed his head back against the stretcher as he felt something flare, hot and sharp inside of him.
A scream climbed up from his gut but he couldn't do more than groan, suddenly overwhelmed by the memory of the Reaper and the weakness that swept his body, the Hellhounds and the fire that tore him apart, the gunshot that destroyed his heart, the angel sword that empty his body of blood.
So many deaths, so much pain, and he was afraid.
He was afraid this time.
"S-sc-scared, Sam." His voice was no more than a hope of sound, but his brother heard him. His brother always heard him.
"Cas!" Sam's bellow was terrible, his anger a tangible thing.
The siren abruptly cut off and Dean felt the vehicle shift alarmingly to the right, sending Sam tumbling across him. When the ambulance jerked to a halt, Sam crashed against the front wall, then scrambled to his feet to peer down at him just as Dean felt his body convulse, the blood that had been choking him spilling up through his mouth and painting his chin and neck as he coughed violently.
"Move." Castiel's voice was firm, the angel's lack of panic calming Dean like nothing else.
He lost sight of Sam, the hand that had been gripping his jerked roughly away. His eyes fell closed, his body shook; a voice in the back of his mind whispered this is it. He was choking and suffocating and holy shit his ribs—
And then suddenly…warmth. Quiet, calm, darkness, peace.
It flooded him, sweeping through him from the touch of fingertips at his forehead to his trembling legs. He felt the cuts on his face fill and mend, the ache in his broken wrist evaporate, the sensation of being crushed from the inside out by his own bones erased. The burning wound in his side closed and he felt a rush of strength shiver through his limbs as his blood regenerated, easing the panicked pumping of his heart.
For several heartbeats, he was weightless, floating in the empty space between pain and healing, unable to open his eyes, to speak, to little more than breathe and feel his heart beating. But…Sam had been hurt. Sam was sick. He needed to—
"Lie still," Castiel admonished, his hand pressing gently on Dean's chest, keeping him down. "I've repaired you, but the damage was…severe."
Dean obeyed, needing a moment to wrap his mind around the lack of pain, the delicious ability to draw a full breath. He suddenly realized after the flood of memories of near-misses, damage, and death that he never again wanted to know what it was like to hunt without an angel as their best friend.
Castiel was quite literally the primary reason either of them were still alive.
"Fix Sam," he whispered after several minutes, not quite able yet to open his eyes.
"I'm okay, Dean," Sam reassured him. "He, uh…got me."
Dean blinked blearily up at the roof of the ambulance. Then he pushed up to his elbows on the stretcher, his legs still strapped down, and looked over at his brother, needing to see for himself that Sam no longer bore the scrapes and wounds from the Olitiau fight. Sam smiled at him, looking as fit and healthy as the last time Castiel healed him.
"Your cough?" Dean asked, relieved to hear his voice returned to his normal timbre.
"Not even a tickle," Sam promised, reaching down to unstrap Dean's legs. "I'm okay."
Dean swung his legs over the side of the stretcher, staring in amazement at Castiel, the angel nearly unrecognizable in the white EMT shirt and blue cap. "What the hell got into you?"
Castiel tilted his head, his blue eyes guileless. "I assure you I have not been compromised."
"He means…how'd you know how pull this off?" Sam waved a hand around the interior of the ambulance.
"There is an amazing wealth of knowledge on Netflix," Castiel replied, blinking innocently at Sam. "For example, karma is apparently a bit—"
"Cas," Dean interrupted. "Thank you, man. Seriously." He raised a hand in promise. "I will never mock Orange is the New Black again."
"Wait, so let me get this straight," Sam half turned to face Castiel. "You…sent a rescue party, stole a car, and managed to coordinate an ambulance heist all from watching shows on Netflix?"
"Not exactly," Castiel tipped his head. "The rescue party was common sense, and your brother taught me how to steal a car."
Dean held his hands up in surrender as Sam shot him a this is why we can't have nice things look.
"But as far as the heist…yes, that would be correct."
"And we are damn glad you did," Dean clapped a hand on Castiel's knee. "Aren't we, Sammy?"
Sam huffed a helpless laugh. "Yeah, we are. Thank you, Cas. Thanks for…listening."
"Your prayers are hard to ignore," Castiel remarked, shrugging. He moved past them and opened the back of the ambulance. "I'm afraid, however, we did not make it to where I stashed the car."
Dean grinned as Sam mouthed stashed the car at him. "How far are we?"
"We are half-way between the Impala and the stolen vehicle."
"So…let's walk back to the Impala," Dean said, wrinkling his nose as he pulled the make-shift bandage away from his side, the blood having dried there and stiffened the material.
He climbed from the ambulance, carrying the scraps of clothing with him so that he didn't leave blatant DNA evidence behind, and waited as Sam jumped down next to him. Though clearly healed, his body still felt a bit suspended, his legs rubbery. He took a deep breath, relishing the feel of expanding his lungs.
"Us not showing up at the hospital is going to raise suspicion right away," Sam cautioned.
"Naturally," Dean glanced at him, grimacing at the mess of blood and cave dirt caking Sam's clothes. He looked down at himself; he looked like he'd survived a zombie attack.
"And we're the only ones who can really explain what happened to Larkin," Sam continued. "We disappear now…they're gonna probably pin his death on us."
Dean nodded attempting to pull his tattered T-shirt closed, then gave up and just re-buttoned his jacket.
"Gonna have to burn these IDs," Sam sighed, looking at his FBI badge before stuffing it into his jean's pocket once more. "Goodbye Agents Stark and Banner."
Dean simply stared at him, waiting for him to land his plane.
"So…we're walking?" Sam sighed and rested his hands on his hips, swiveling his glance between Dean and Castiel.
"Gotta get back to my baby before they decide to tow her," Dean nodded. "And get our clothes from the hotel; we don't have a lot of wardrobe options, y'know."
He turned toward the road where Castiel had pulled off to save his life and lead the way back to the lot where the Impala waited. He delight in the way his body obeyed him. The lack of pain was intoxicating. He almost wanted to run back to the car.
"I am afraid I don't know the reason you were in such dire straits," Castiel confessed. "I haven't really been…myself lately. I did not pay close attention when you left the bunker."
"We were hunting the King Kong of bats," Dean replied.
"An Olitiau," Sam corrected.
"Ah, a cave demon," Castiel nodded. "They are quite rare. In fact, I'm surprised to learn that one was this far north. They are typically found in—"
"Yeah, we did the research," Sam broke in. "And believe me, I was not excited about this one at all."
"You were when you thought it was a serial killer," Dean commented. He bounced his head in concession. "But not so much when we had to rappel down into a cave."
"It had killed several people and," Sam sighed, "Dean was right. We had to do something."
"It would have gone dormant once it completed its lunar feeding cycle," Castiel informed them. "They are much easier to kill when dormant."
Dean shot Sam a glance. "Now he tells us."
"I would have told you before had you asked," Castiel replied.
"You were there when we needed you," Dean dropped back from the lead and rested a hand on Castiel's shoulder. "That's what matters."
They walked in silence for several minutes, then Cas asked, "How did you avoid the amnesiatic qualities of the saliva?"
"We didn't," Sam replied. "We had to…wash it off. Kinda."
Castiel stopped abruptly, causing both brothers to slow and turn, facing him in the starlit night, the waxing moon partially covered by clouds and tossing shadows across their features.
"So you experienced the memory surge," Castiel realized.
The brothers nodded, waiting.
"How remarkable." Castiel tilted his head, then continued walking.
"What, Cas?" Dean asked, hurrying to catch up. Sam flanked the angel on the opposite side. "What's remarkable?"
"Considering your souls have survived multiple lifetimes between Hell, Lucifer's Cage, Purgatory, dying and returning a demon…it's remarkable that you stand here completely sane after surging through the amount of memories you've accumulated."
Dean slowed to a stop, watching as Sam followed suit a few beats later, Castiel carrying forward down the road for a moment before he realized his companions had dropped back. Dean waited until Sam turned around.
"I saw it all," he said, feeling a shiver slide through him as the words hit the air.
Sam nodded, his eyes large and dark in the starlight. "Me too."
"The rack and the blood and Alistair—"
"—Lucifer turning the Cage into his personal playground—" Sam took a step toward him.
"I saw Mom and Dad when I went back in time—"
"—me too, and Dad's spirit at the graveyard in Wyoming—"
Dean curled his hands into fists, his back tensing. "—and the djinn world where you were with Jess and Mom was alive."
"I saw the Campbells," Sam continued, closing in. "And Death putting my soul back in my body."
"I saw Cas when he thought he was God and beat the hell out of me."
"I saw us burning Dad's body—"
"—and ending Bobby's ghost."
They stood quietly for a moment, studying each other, eyes darting as they searched for cracks in the glass, both slightly breathless with confession.
"I'm still me, Sam." Dean stepped forward, attempting to uncurl his fists with concentrated effort.
"Same here, Dean."
Sam's arms were around him before he could say I know, hugging him breathless as he pressed his fists against his brother's broad back and returned the sentiment. When they parted, Sam was smiling, his eyes bright. Dean sniffed and dragged a hand down his face, then looked at Castiel.
"If we could be considered sane before," he said, "then I guess we're sane now."
Castiel simply nodded, then continued to walk down the road toward the Impala. "It was probably the cave," he said, nonchalance coloring his tone. "The minerals in the earth possibly dampened the effects of the demon's poison and helped you retain your grasp on reality."
Sam shared a look of bafflement with Dean, then called out to Castiel, "Is that…typical?"
"No idea," Castiel waved his hands at his sides in an expressive shrug. "But then, you never really were typical humans."
Sam huffed. Dean grinned, laughter simmered up from inside, spilling out like bubbles into the night air. Sam echoed it and they chuckled softly as they headed toward the car. When they reached the trailhead, they hid in the trees until they were sure the rescue party had departed, leaving the Impala untouched.
Dean climbed behind the wheel with a sigh, caressing the wheel with gratitude.
"Damn glad to see you," he whispered to the dash.
"You need a minute alone?" Sam teased.
"Maybe later," Dean bounced a brow in Sam's direction, then checked on Castiel in the back seat via the rear view mirror before turning over the engine and sinking deeper into the seat as the machine purred around him.
"We are swearing off monsters for a while," Sam sighed, settling against the passenger door as Dean pulled away from the trailhead and pointed the car toward the hotel and Kansas. "Especially giant ones who live in caves."
"Tell you what," Dean offered, reaching over to shove Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti into the cassette player. "You pick the next hunt."
"And you'll go? No questions asked?"
"I'll pack your bag for you," Dean held up his hand as a promise, then bounced his fingers against the steering wheel in time to Trampled Under Foot.
From the backseat, Castiel muttered, "I may need to expand my Netflix queue."
a/n: So, there you go; just a story…an excuse for some h/c and a walk down memory lane and a personal desire to spend a little time with these guys again after a lengthy absence. I'm heading back to Paris and the world of The Musketeers next, but I do hope you enjoyed this. As I said at the beginning, it was written to do nothing more than entertain; hopefully for a few of you, it accomplished its purpose.
Thanks, as always, for reading.