Characters: Dean, Sam, Castiel
Rating: PG-13 for language, a mature scene in the first chapter, and some darker themes throughout
Spoilers: Set in Season 5 after 5.05, Fallen Idol. Anything up to that point is fair game.
Summary: There are things that make him human. Deciding what those are will become the difference between sanity and madness. When a demon forces the issue, Dean and Sam fight back the only way they can: together.
Disclaimer: They're not mine. More's the pity.
...continued from part 4A...
The darkness faded slowly to gray; white, smeared images tracking up through his vision like the beginning of an old movie reel.
He was warm.
He'd forgotten what a pleasant sensation that was. A sigh of muscles as they relaxed under the spray of a shower. A slip of contentment as hands wrapped around a mug of coffee on a cool day.
It took him a moment to realize he could see. But what he was seeing didn't really track with what he thought he should be seeing.
Where the hell…?
"Hello?" he called hesitantly.
He turned around, his boots causing dust mites to bounce up from hay scattered beneath his feet and dance in a beam of sunlight that cut a path in front of him. On the other side of that sunbeam, slouched on a bale of hay and leaning against a large pole, was the angel who'd knocked Castiel on his ass and tried to spear Sam with warehouse glass.
"Are we…in a barn?" Dean asked, spreading his hands out from his sides as he moved slowly forward.
He paused, head tilted slightly in curiosity, when the angel put a piece of straw in his mouth.
"I allowed my vessel to select the setting," the angel said. "I've never done that before. It's…interesting." He looked around, taking in the rural setting.
"You picked a Kansas farmer, man," Dean lifted a shoulder. "Don't expect The Ritz."
"Yes, well, the lack of rain is refreshing," the angel commented.
Dean quirked his lips in a tolerant grin. "So, we just gonna shoot the shit, or is there a reason you brought me here?" At the angel's guileless expression, Dean went cold inside. "Am I…already dead?"
The angel shook his head, pushing himself to his feet. "If you were dead, you would be in Heaven. And it would be your Heaven."
Dean glanced around once more at the stalls, the bales of hay, the farm implements affixed to the wall. "Okay, so…no."
"You are not dead," the angel confirmed, "but you are not really alive either."
Dean frowned. "Do all you guys talk in riddles? You should have a guidebook."
"We do." The angel lifted an eyebrow. "You call it the Bible."
"A guidebook that everyone understands," Dean shot back, dropping his chin and lifting his eyebrows.
The angel pressed his lips closed as if making a conscious decision not to be baited.
"You have a choice to make, Dean." He nodded over Dean's shoulder.
Confused, Dean frowned, turning slowly to face the entrance of the barn. To his surprise he didn't see an open meadow or field of corn as he'd expected. He saw a dark, rain-soaked alley. At one end, Castiel shoved a knife into the belly of a demon. At the other, Sam sat against a building, surrounded by water, holding Dean's body.
Dean was dizzy for a moment, looking at his own body. He looked terrible. His skin was almost blue, his mouth partly opened, his eyes sunken and lidded. He lay limp, completely unresponsive to Sam's grasp and pleas. He looked…dead.
"You sure I'm not dead?" Dean asked, his voice razor thin.
"There is one way to come out of this and save more than just yourself," the angel said, his voice soft at Dean's ear. "Say yes to Michael."
Dean half turned to face him. "What's your name again? Adosomething?"
The angel looked surprised. "Castiel spoke my name?"
Dean arched an eyebrow. "Oh, he spoke a few things about you."
"Well…Adonael…I'll tell you the same thing I told your evil twin. You can stick your yes where the sun don't shine."
The angel pursed his lips. "It is unwise to continue to fight your destiny. The longer you resist, the more people will die."
"Pretty sure a helluva lot of people'll die if I say yes. Including my brother."
"There are casualties in war," Adonael shrugged.
Dean turned away, looking back at his body in Sam's grip. "It's not worth it."
His words echoed oddly in his ears; he saw his own lips move and frowned in confusion.
"Peace on Earth for eternity. No more war. No more pain. No more loss."
Dean faced the angel. "The death of millions of innocent people. The complete destruction of humanity's way of life. My brother. I will not sacrifice all of that to fight your Holy War."
"You would die to save him? Again? Will that stop anything? You saw the future, Dean. You saw that he will say yes—he will allow Lucifer his vessel. You will lose him anyway. Is resistance really worth that?"
"Let me tell you something, you arrogant prick," Dean growled, stepping toward the innocuous-looking farmer with an angel's eyes. "The future is nothing. What I saw? Just somebody's story. That is my brother out there." He thrust a finger toward the opening behind him. "And he is worth everything. All of it. He is the only thing that's worth it."
This time when his words echoed, he didn't flinch. He simply stared with stone-solid eyes back at the angel.
"You said yes once before," Adonael calmly reminded him.
Dean flicked an eyebrow. "And look how great that worked out."
They stared at each other for another moment, both unwilling to yield. Dean watched as something unreadable shifted in the angel's eyes and he felt himself growing cold.
"So be it," Adonael said softly. And with that, he was gone.
He was gone, the barn was gone, warmth was gone, sensation was gone. Dean turned and saw Raya hurrying back toward Sam, something captured in her hand. He blinked as the vision began to fade, curling in from the corners until the only thing he could make out was his body in his brother's arms. His breath was like lead in his lungs, his body a block of unresponsive ice. The silence that now surrounded him pressed close, shutting out even his fading vision.
The air rasped out through Dean's blue lips and Sam knew it was his brother's last.
"I found it, I got it." She slid up close to them, water splashing over Dean's form and handed Sam the syringe with a trembling hand. "Where do you put it in?"
"Neck," Sam said, remembering the puncture wound. "Move his shirt."
Raya pulled down the collar of Dean's shirt and Sam removed the plastic tip from the needle with his teeth. He took a quick breath and then plunged the needle into his brother's neck. He pushed the liquid into Dean's body as quickly as he could, chest tightening with the fear of what if what if what if….
What if the demon had been lying? What if he were actually killing his brother? What if it didn't work? What if what if what if….
A scream tore through the alley as the liquid moved into Dean and Sam shot his eyes up, seeing Castiel standing off to the side as the blonde junkie arched her neck, the black smoke of the demons soul burbled up through her mouth and ran in a dark river down to be absorbed into the Earth and back down to Hell as the remaining demon stood, hand out, face impassive.
Castiel caught the hosts dead body before she hit the ground, looking at the demon for one brief moment before it, too, fled the scene, its bounty retrieved.
The syringe was empty. Sam pulled the needle out and tossed it aside, pressing his palm over the now-bleeding puncture mark.
His brother was so still, his body completely pliant.
Sam shook him. "Dean?"
And without warning, Dean's back arched, his neck curling backwards, his head pressing into Sam's leg as his mouth opened in a silent scream.
The darkness was sadly familiar.
For one moment, Dean was willing to accept death simply to be rid of the darkness.
And then the fire hit him.
Liquid fire burned through his body with unmitigated vengeance, igniting his bones, turning his lungs to ash, searing the backs of his eyes. He couldn't even scream; the heat stole his breath, trapped his voice, rendering him helpless to it. He tried to pull away, too done in with pain to register that he could feel his body moving.
On the heels of the fire, came the noise. Screams and screeches, discordant guitar chords and crash of metal. He rolled away from it, slamming his hands over his ears, but unable to block it out.
And then the world exploded in light. Brilliant, horrific, nuclear in its intensity. His eyes ached with it, watering in retaliation of the heat. He could smell his body burning, smell the blood and sweat, smell the dirt and the rain. The tang of copper coated his tongue, gagging him with the taste of blood.
He was going to disintegrate, collapse inside himself as the pain ate through him, senses returning to him with fury, unable to maintain it, unable to control it, unable to bear it.
And then arms wrapped around him.
He felt them. Their grip somehow, impossibly, dampened the pain. Somehow, impossibly, cooled him. Somehow, impossibly, kept him safe.
The scream seemed to crawl from Dean's gut, breathy and heartbreaking at first, building in ferocity until Sam's heart shrank inside of him as the sound tore through the night. He couldn't hold Dean still—couldn't hold him at all.
Dean's scream seemed to shake the air, calling Castiel's attention, cowering Raya, and turning Sam's blood to ice. He reached for Dean, trying to do something—anything—to stop the horrible, painful sound from bleeding through his brother.
He called out for help. But we were prevented from hearing. Until his heart broke. And the sound shook the Heavens.
Sam knew this had been the sound Castiel had heard. Dean rolled to his side, curling his legs up, covering his ears, his eyes squeezed tight. Sam scrambled over to face him, seeing the blood from the glass wound as his brother's shirt rucked up as a result of his thrashing. The rain continued to wipe away the red, but it still flowed.
"Dean, hey," Sam tried, cupping his brother's face as the scream faded to a ragged cry. "Hey, it's okay, you're okay."
His eyes were bleeding. Sam drew his head back in shock. Blood ran in thin streams from the corners of Dean's eyes.
Sam felt something crack inside of him at the sight. It was a pain so intense he put his hand against his chest as if to hold his heart in place. Moving his thumb carefully, he wiped the blood and rain from Dean's face, feeling his brother tremble, hearing the sharp retort of the breaths Dean dragged into his body.
"Dean?" He could barely whisper it, the pain in his chest so intense.
Dean simply continued to breathe, his body tight. Sam reached out with both hands, oblivious of Raya's closeness, Castiel's approach, the muck in the alley, the abating storm. He gripped Dean's shoulders and lifted him, putting his brother's back to his front, and wrapped his arms around Dean, pulling them both back against the building in an attempt at shelter.
"I know you can hear me, man," Sam said, his voice a low rumble of sound as Dean shook against him. "You just keep breathing, okay? That's all you need to do."
Dean arched slightly away from him, but Sam held him tight.
"You're right, Dean. It's worth it. This fight we're in, it's worth it. We're worth it."
Dean's rapid breathing began to slow.
"I didn't do it, Dean."
The trembling began to abate.
"I didn't have to."
"Hey, there you are."
"Are you h-hugging m-me?"
"Absolutely not. That would be weird."
"D-Don't let go."
The sharp pain in Sam's chest dissolved, leaving him with tears burning his eyes and slipping unnoticed down cheeks cold from rain water. The thunder was all-but gone and the lightning little more than forgotten camera-flashes.
But still the rain fell.
"I'm not going anywhere."
"I c-can feel."
"I figured that out. Can you see?"
He watched as Dean blinked his eyes open, lashes gathered in spikes by the rain, the bruised left one still blood-red, but otherwise normal.
"It worked, then," Raya said.
Sam had almost forgotten about her. She sat in a puddle, looking all of twelve, staring with large, dark eyes at Dean. A bruise was blossoming on her cheekbone and her lip was bleeding, but she seemed otherwise intact.
"Raya," Dean rasped.
"Dean," she replied. "Helluva first date."
Sam felt Dean smile. He'd never realized how his brother's body seemed to relax into the gesture, but his shoulders sagged back against Sam's chest and his spine seemed to straighten.
"You were amazing," Sam told her. "If you hadn't…." He didn't want to think of the ramifications of what could have happened if he hadn't had help.
Raya glanced away, rubbing at her eyes with the palm of her hand. "Yeah, well," she shrugged. "Nice to do something right for a change."
Sam turned slightly, keeping Dean against him. Castiel stood a few feet away, holding the demon-killing knife in one hand, blood dripping from the tip, and the wet gym bag, heavy with their discarded weapons, in the other.
"It is finished."
"Where is she?" Dean asked, squinting up at Castiel. "The…the demon chick."
Castiel rested his eyes on Dean, not answering for a moment. Sam couldn't read his expression, but that wasn't anything new. With the exception of a couple moments of human-like clarity, Castiel's expressions were an enigma.
"The demon was taken by those she partnered with; her host," Castiel turned and looked toward a small figure laying in the semi-protection of the club's minuscule overhang, "lies there."
Sam turned to look, dropping his arms away from Dean's chest as he let his eyes rest on the sad figure. A girl who it seemed had plenty of her own demons, living her last hours with only a real demon for company. Her profile looked peaceful in death. Peaceful, young, and, strangely, nothing like Jessica's.
He felt his chin tremble, suddenly missing her so much in that moment his bones hurt. He had to release that ache. He needed it to go away. He just wasn't sure how.
"Taken?" Dean rasped, his pain-saturated voice jerking Sam back to the present.
"The bounty was reinstated," Sam said. "Her teamed turned on her."
Dean dropped his head back against Sam's collarbone. "Well, they were demons. No surprise there."
"We should leave this place," Castiel said.
"You look like crap, Cas," Dean commented.
"Your appearance is not much better," Castiel returned.
Raya stood, wavering for a moment. Castiel reached out an arm and balanced her. She nodded her thanks, then looked back down at the brothers.
"We're pretty lucky no one heard this ruckus. I'm guessing the storm and the club sheltered most of it. But…this time," she glanced at Castiel and took a step back, out of his reach, "I gotta call it in."
"What are you going to say?" Sam asked.
"Well," she looked past them at the sad body of the blonde woman. "She lived a hard life. Don't think it would surprise many that she ran sideways of a few dealers."
"You won't say anything about…." Sam trailed off.
"Demons? You two?" Raya half-laughed. "Nah, your secret identity is safe with me. Nothing like seeing the man behind the curtain to shift your perspective."
"What curtain?" Castiel asked.
"Never mind," Dean and Sam replied together.
Raya crouched down in front of Dean. "Will I see you again?"
Sam felt Dean go still against him, the slight tremors still coursing through his body blending with the post-adrenalin-rush shivers from Sam.
"Anything's possible," Dean replied.
She reached out a wet hand and smoothed Dean's hair from his face, trailing a gentle finger down Dean's check. Her eyes softened, the lines smoothing out and disappearing as her eyes tracked the path of her finger and landed on Dean's mouth.
For a moment, Sam felt that he should leave, give them privacy, but then he realized that the only thing holding Dean up at the moment was Sam's body.
"It was me, Dean," Raya said, her voice barely audible over the rain.
Dean shifted his head against Sam's chest as he looked over at her.
"I heard what she—it…whatever—said to you. Last night? You were with me."
Dean nodded stiffly.
"You believe me?" Raya tilted her head.
Sam could feel by the tension in his brother's body that Dean wasn't convinced.
"Sure," Dean replied, his voice tight, as if he were forcing sound.
"Believe me," Raya ordered, resting a hand gently on Dean's chest—her every movement showing that she was aware of his wounds, his brush with death. Leaning forward on her knee, Raya bent close, cupping Dean's jaw and kissing him.
Sam looked away, toward Castiel. He may be the only thing keeping his brother upright at the moment, but that didn't mean he had to watch Dean be convinced that he hadn't unknowingly made love to a demon. He noticed, however, that Castiel watched with unabashed curiosity.
Shaking his head, Sam waited until he saw the cop standing once more before glancing back.
"You boys going to be able to get out of here okay? I'd offer you a ride, but—"
"No!" Sam spoke up quickly. "No, it's okay. We got it."
"Are you going to be okay?" Dean asked her.
"I think so," Raya said, looking up, rain trailing down her face. "I'll call this in…take care of them," she tossed a wave toward the three bodies in the alley, "and go home to Steve."
"Who's Steve?" Sam frowned.
"Her plant," Dean replied. "It's better if you don't ask."
Raya smiled down at them, then moved toward her Cooper, reaching in and pulling out a CB handle. Sam sighed, suddenly very weary.
"You okay, Sammy?" Dean asked in a rough voice.
Dean huffed a weak laugh.
"You hurting?" Sam guessed. He knew Dean would have pulled away from him a long time ago if he'd have been able to.
"He is bleeding," Castiel informed them, the tapering rain still bouncing from his lips. "He fought me in the warehouse."
"What, are you crazy? You fought an angel?"
"He was rather adamant about getting his way," Castiel said with a benign tilt of his head. He slipped the knife into the gym bag, hefting it in one hand.
"I didn't know," Dean closed his eyes, "how hard I was fighting…I just…I had to get here."
"Well, it's a good thing you did," Sam said, drawing his feet under him while supporting Dean. "'Cause I don't know if—"
"Don't." Dean bit off the word with a grunt of pain as Sam leaned him forward. "No what ifs."
"Okay, man," Sam agreed as he pushed away from the wall and moved around to Dean's side, keeping one arm on his brother's back for support. "Here, let me help you up."
Sam reached out and Dean grasped his hand, thumb over thumb, and for a moment both froze. It was an instinctive, automatic gesture, one they'd done so many times, and yet this time it was different.
Dean gripped his hand, hard, his wounded eyes resting on their overlapping fingers. Sam swallowed as he watching his brother's fingers flex. There was so much captured in a touch: safety, threat, comfort, pain, reassurance, resistance. To not have that—beyond sight, beyond hearing—Sam imagined that to be the true Hell.
"I take it back, Sam."
"What?" Sam whispered.
Dean didn't look up. "When I said…that I wish I couldn't feel anything…."
"It's okay, Dean."
"No, it isn't." Dean raised his eyes and Sam froze.
It was as if everything Dean had seen—whatever nightmare he'd been trapped inside while the virus claimed him—was echoing from his eyes in that moment. It hurt to look at him, but Sam couldn't bear to look away.
"You gotta know this, okay?"
The rain slowed. Their bodies shivered. The bass beat of music from the club was audible with the passing of the storm. The brothers remained still, one slouched in pain, the other on his knees in support, hands clasped tightly, joining them.
"There's so much…pain…in our lives, Sam. It's everywhere. All around us. Inside us."
Sam nodded, silent.
"And sometimes it's…it's so much, y'know? It's too much."
Dean closed his tortured eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, Sam saw something had shifted. Blood still scarred the left, but the opened wound he'd seen a moment ago was masked once more by a wall of determination. By the fire and fight that had always been so much a part of Dean.
"But I think we're supposed to feel that, so that we don't forget."
"What the alternative is like. I said yes once before. I climbed—" his voice cracked, but his eyes stayed solid, "down off that fuckin' rack and I tried to make it go away. But it was just waiting for me. I don't want to forget that. Especially now with these…angels on our shoulders."
Sam nodded again, a lump in his throat.
"Sirens," Castiel said suddenly. "Approaching from the west."
Dean didn't move, his eyes focused on Sam's. "Don't forget, Sam."
"I won't forget," Sam promised. "And I won't let you forget."
Dean nodded, his shoulders relaxing, his wounded body once more curling forward.
"Think you can stand?"
"I can sure as hell try."
Gripping his brother's hand, his arm around Dean's back, Sam pulled him upright, Castiel stepping in quickly to support Dean's other side. Before anyone could say another word, the world twisted, Sam's stomach dropped, and the alley disappeared.
"Son. Of. A. Bitch. That hurts."
Castiel returned them to the warehouse where they'd left the Impala. Travel via angel transport was far from smooth—especially if one didn't have the balance to stick the landing—and the trio staggered in the dust, Sam's strong arm reaching out to catch them against the Impala, jarring Dean's wounded side.
"Sorry," Castiel grunted. "It's harder with two."
"Are you bleeding?" Sam asked the angel, causing Dean to look over at his friend with worry.
"I am," Castiel nodded, releasing Dean and sinking slowly to his knees, the wet bag falling useless at his side.
"Those demons really did a number on you, huh?"
Castiel pressed his fingers to his nose, then his lip. "I'm unaccustomed to…damage."
"Well, the Winchester Clinic is now open," Sam sighed, opening the back door of the Impala and easing Dean down until they were eye level.
"You got one helluva shiner there, brother," Dean informed him. He grabbed Sam's hand as his brother pulled away. "And it looks like you were punching a brick wall. Who were you working over?"
"A brick wall," Sam smirked, "disguised as a demon."
Dean nodded, exhaustion giving one long, lusty tug on his will. He leaned to his left, exposing his right side and winced as he pulled up his wet shirt to inspect the wound.
"I know what I said, but," he hissed as he pulled away what remained of the ruined bandage, "I'm kinda glad I couldn't feel this mother go in."
"Or come out," Sam reminded him. "That wasn't fun."
"Looks like I only tore…six stitches."
"You only had eight to begin with, you freak."
Dean swallowed back the nausea that always flooded him when he was weak from hunger and blood loss. He closed his eyes, leaning his head against the seat.
"I just wanna get dry," he sighed.
"We can't go to a real clinic," Sam lamented, his voice close. Dean didn't open his eyes. "At least not around here."
"Too many demons," Dean agreed softly. "Comin' out of the freakin' woodwork."
"Speaking of," Sam said, moving to the Impala's trunk. "Better make sure no one gets any bright ideas to follow us back here."
Dean heard the shake of salt in the spare gas can.
"And since I seem to be the last man actually standing," Sam whined, "I guess I'll do it."
"I will ensure you are not followed when you leave," Castiel said, slowly pushing himself to his feet.
"Thanks, Cas," Dean replied, his voice soft. For a minute he floated, fading, sinking into the familiar smell and give of the Impala's embrace. He was so tired…so tired.
A searing, white-hot bolt of pain stabbed through him, causing him to jerk upright and open his eyes with a curse.
"Sorry," Sam sighed. He was prodding Dean's side with the tips of his fingers. "I gotta re-do these if we're gonna keep you together long enough to get out of here."
Dean found that—oddly—he didn't mind. He could feel the pain. Feel Sam's fingers. Feel skin on skin. He didn't want to move, didn't want the touch to go away. But Sam's frown was expressive; his brother needed to bookend this fight, move from this point to the next and find a way to declare within himself that this was, for now at least, over.
"So…table?" Dean suggested.
Using the edge of the Impala's door frame, Dean hauled his body forward, prevented from falling face-first to the ground by Castiel's strong arm.
"Thanks," Dean said, resting his hand on the Impala's side for a moment. "Man…I sure woulda missed this car."
Sam rolled his eyes. "We get bloody saving his life and he's all misty-eyed over the damn car," he said to Castiel.
Without so much as a shrug, Castiel lifted Dean's arm and slid it over his shoulders, easing him away from the Impala and toward the make-shift med center.
"Perhaps that's because it's your home," Castiel intoned, his gravel-rich voice soft.
Sam and Dean looked at him with twin expressions of surprise.
"Aw, Cas," Dean drawled. "You ol'softie."
"Get him up there," Sam nodded toward the table.
Dean frowned at the table's height. "How did I get up here the first time?"
"I carried you," Castiel revealed.
Sam moved away as Dean stared at his friend. Glass shards left over from Adonael's tantrum littered the table. Dean heard Sam sweep them away, but couldn't pull his eyes from Castiel.
"I heard your voice," he said softly. "I was…everything was gone, but I could hear your voice."
"I allowed it," Castiel nodded. "You would have gone insane in your own prison."
Dean nodded, looking down at the table top, but not shifting forward yet. "Yeah. I would've. And…how did you know that?"
"He's been watching us for a long time, Dean," Sam told him. "A really long time."
Dean looked away from Castiel, meeting Sam's eyes. "Creepy."
"Yeah," Sam agreed.
Castiel frowned. Dean moved away from him and leaned on the table, trying to hoist himself up. His arms shook and the pain that shot through his side drew out a deep-throated groan of pain.
Sam grabbed his shoulders and Castiel pushed his knees forward and then he was slumped on the table top, panting from the exertion.
"Well, that pretty much sucked."
"Here." Sam handed him several pills and a bottle of tepid water.
"Antibiotics and pain meds. Cas knocked over a hospital."
Dean's eyebrows shot up as he looked over at Castiel.
"It wasn't local." Castiel reasserted his original protest.
"Nice going, Cas!"
Sam tipped his hands up in a shrug as if to say, I give up. Dean swallowed the pills, then lay back stiffly.
"You might want to clean up those hands first," he said to Sam in a thin voice.
"I will help," Castiel offered.
Dean watched, directing Castiel softly as he cleaned and taped up Sam's split knuckles. The bruises on Sam's face would simply have to heal with time; they had nothing but pain meds to help those along.
"This is…y'know, gonna hurt," Sam apologized as he leaned toward Dean with the antiseptic.
Dean nodded once, gripping the edge of the table—he could feel the edge of the table—to brace himself. Sam began to pour.
"Son of a fuckin' bitch," Dean cried out. "Oh, damn damn damn."
"Sorry." Sam's voice was tight.
"Just finish it, Sam. Good freakin' Christ that burns like a motherfu—"
"Now, I'm really glad you couldn't feel this the first time around." Sam's frown dug deeper into his forehead, drawing the lines of his mouth down. "I think it's infected, Dean."
"We've dealt with that before."
"We're gonna have to stop at a clinic somewhere," Sam told him as he reached for the suture kit. "We don't have enough supplies here if it is."
"Fine. Whatever. Just so long as it's nowhere near Kansas City."
He focused on the broken windows far above them, the water running down the interior of the wall, the curious eyes of the pigeons peering down, the lines of old wood and rusted metal, anything except the pinch and pull of the needle sewing his body back together.
"That bruise on your chest is impressive," Sam commented. "I think I see the shape of the Virgin Mary."
"You see the size of that freakin' needle she had?" Dean shot back, his mouth trembling around an appreciative grin.
"Yeah. I did."
"I still don't—" he hissed as a stitch pulled roughly, "—don't get it. Why she did this."
"To get the Eye of God," Castiel said.
"To punish you," Sam replied.
Dean shook his head, his eyes on the vaulted, warehouse ceiling. "I don't know. I think it was more than that."
"What did you do to her?" Sam asked.
Dean heard him suck in a breath, as if trying to physically pull the words back inside.
"I mean, I know what you…. Y'know what? Forget I said—"
"She was the first one," Dean replied softly.
The wood smelled old—dust mixed with mildew and time. It reminded him of Pastor Jim's fishing pond. The dock that stretched out into the small body of water smelled exactly like this. He missed that place. Missed the peace.
"She was angry and…and bitter. A real bitch, y'know? But she…she was a person, too. Until I got to her. I just…I turned off inside. I didn't see her, didn't hear what she was saying. I didn't allow myself to feel…anything."
He was aware of the silence broken only by the sound of the rain. He was aware of the tears waiting, hot and ready, at the back of his throat. He was aware that his voice shook, exposing weakness he wasn't strong enough to protect.
But he kept talking.
"Alistair…well, let's just say he taught by example. And he was a good teacher. And I did things that…."
He couldn't finish. There was a wall in his mind. He could only go so far, remember so much, and he'd hit that wall. It was transparent when he slept. It had slipped away completely when the virus wrecked him. But it was back and he couldn't even think the words, let alone speak them.
"I don't really blame her for wanting revenge. It wasn't human, what I did to her."
"But you were," Sam said.
Dean blinked, pulling his eyes from the ceiling to rest on Sam's battered profile. "What?"
Sam looked up, his eyes finding Castiel. Dean followed his eye line.
"He is right, Dean. It's why you carry so much pain with you. And, I believe, it is why she carried so much hate for you. You were there together. In Hell. And yet you held onto the one thing she lost."
"I helped take it from her."
"How many years were you on the rack, Dean?" Castiel stepped forward, close enough to touch. "How long were you tortured? How many times did you die only to be returned for their amusement?"
Dean felt his face heat up and he looked quickly away, unable to stop Sam from knowing, afraid to open his mouth.
"You are not without sin. You have failed and will fail. But," Castiel sighed sadly, "you try again. You endure and persevere. You are human. And I am beginning to think…that is the only thing that will save us all."
Dean swallowed the knot of tears at the base of his throat, clenching his jaw tight as he felt the pinch of his skin, the punch of Castiel's words. He wouldn't allow himself the release of tears. Not in this moment. Not with these eyes on him. They'd already seen too much, knew too much.
He stayed quiet. And breathed.
"Almost done. You still with me?"
"Never left you, Sammy," Dean said, hearing the weariness in his voice, feeling the seduction of sleep, fighting to stay in the game. He'd been fighting for so long. And now they were fighting both sides.
He felt the last tug, then the soft gauze placed over the wound. He heard Sam tear off the ends of the tape. He listened as Sam moved back to the med kit, gathering up what he needed to clean Castiel's wounds.
"This is so weird," Sam muttered.
"Indeed," Castiel agreed, keeping his face still as Sam used antiseptic on some of the deeper cuts.
Dean rolled to his left side, pushing himself upright slowly, watching as his brother mended his friend. His eyes took in the interior of the warehouse and he shook his head.
"It's a mess in here."
"Courtesy of one greedy-assed angel," Sam muttered, taping a butterfly bandage on the worst of Castiel's cuts. "I can't believe I'm gonna say this, but…why didn't they help us?" He looked over at Dean. "I mean…they didn't even…try to save you."
"Who knows, Sam." Dean shook his head sadly. "They got some twisted logic, you ask me. No offense, man," he lifted a hand in Castiel's direction.
"You don't think…," Sam pressed his lips together, looking down. "You don't think it was because of me?"
"You?" Dean asked, confused.
Sam looked up at him, and his eyes were pleading. "Because I'm…because of what I did. Who I'm supposed to be."
Dean felt his stomach drop. Once again, he'd been so wrapped up in his own hell that he hadn't thought about what it might be doing to Sam. How these past two days had to be putting him through the wringer.
"It's not because of you, Sam."
"How do you know?"
Dean looked at Castiel, meeting the angel's eyes, realizing with that glance that his friend already knew what he was about to say.
"He, uh…came to me. In a dream. Or something," Dean said.
"Who did?" Sam frowned.
Sam looked at him, mouth open, but before he could ask, Dean continued, "When you were in the alley, before you got the antidote…I saw you. Holding onto me. And he showed up and said that I could make it all go away. All I had to do was say yes."
Sam blinked at him, face drawn as if weighing his next words.
"I told him to stick it," Dean said, looking down at his hands, rubbing the thumb of one into the palm of the other. "Kinda makes me wonder, though. What might've happened if you hadn't gotten the antidote."
The brothers looked up at Castiel who averted his eyes.
"I have no answers for you. This is all very different. Confusing. My father is missing. I am spying on my brothers. I am in a body that is not mine, in a world that doesn't want me." He turned back to them, his expression as devastated as Dean had ever seen it. "I am basically alone in this fight."
"You're not alone," Dean replied immediately, his eyes serious, pinned to Castiel's. There was no way the one person—being—who kept him from going slowly insane as he was trapped in the dark and quiet was ever going to feel alone. Not while he was around. "You got us."
He grinned, straightening, then winced as the motion pulled at his bruised chest and wounded side. Curling in once more, he forced out in a tight voice, "We'll be your wingmen anytime."
"Wing…men?" Castiel frowned, the lost-boy look replaced once more by irritated curiosity.
"Dude, I didn't tell you—"
"The rain stopped." Dean interrupted Sam with the realization. "You hear that? It finally freakin' stopped."
"Good. Let's get the hell out of Dodge," Sam nodded.
"We're in Kansas City," Castiel corrected.
Sam flattened his lips, waving a hand through the air, dismissing him. He gathered the supplies, then moved around the table to help Dean down, slinging Dean's arm over his shoulders and leading him to the car.
"We have to dry the weapons," Dean said, his tired mind ticking through a to-do list.
"We can do that when we stop at the clinic."
"We need to restock the salt and Holy Water."
"So we'll stop somewhere with stores and a church."
"We need to change out of these wet clothes before we get in the car," Dean said when they reached the Impala.
"Dean, we can dry the car out later," Sam said with an exasperated sigh. "Stop trying to run the show."
"Sure, okay," Dean groaned as he leaned against the passenger side of the Impala. "Just though you might not want to freeze to death in the meantime."
Sam rolled his eyes. "Fine."
It was a slow process. Removing wet clothes when his body felt like one large wound was not an activity Dean was in a hurry to repeat. He stood shivering, clad in only his boxers as he slowly dried his body with one of their spare towels, the coarse material a welcome caress against his bare skin.
He was forced to wait for Sam to find him some clothes because he couldn't be sure he'd be able to stand up again if he bent down to search the duffels himself.
"I got jeans and a T-shirt, but all your long-sleeves are still damp."
"I'll be okay."
"Dude, I can see you shaking from here."
"We can turn the heat up."
"Here. Take this."
Dean caught a black hooded sweatshirt awkwardly against him. "This is yours."
"Yeah, but it's dry."
"Fine," Dean grumbled.
Using the Impala as a prop, he pulled on his jeans, relishing the feel of the dry clothes on his cold skin. The T-shirt was a bit more difficult, causing him to bite back a groan as he stretched his right arm over his head, pulling at the damaged skin. By the time he'd pulled on Sam's hoodie, he was completely wiped out and shaking from more than the cold.
The scent that wrapped around him curled in his gut, holding his heart in a gentle grip. Musky, warm, with random odors from their life: herbs, leather, oils, ink, salt. It was all Sam. He closed his eyes, remembering.
Times with Sam. Times without Sam.
Sam running off he was young. Sam leaving for Stanford. Sam leaving him on the side of the road in Indiana. Sam walking away from him at that picnic table.
Dean had felt a momentary freedom each time. A sort of guilty elation that he was duty-free, released from obligation. But it never lasted very long. And when it faded the fear and loneliness that rushed in to fill that hole had been overwhelming, crashing waves of emotion against a heart almost too battered to withstand the onslaught.
The voice seemed far away. Everything felt far away. He needed it to be far away. He needed a break from angels and demons and revenge and memories and guilt and Hell and destiny and pain, God, so much pain.
A hand was on his arm, gripping him, balancing him.
"Hey, you okay? You started to—whoa, Dean, hey!"
Dean's knees buckled and he was going down, caught in his brother's grip, stopped from hitting the ground by Sam's strength. He couldn't decide if he was grateful or disappointed.
"Open the door, Cas." Sam's order was a bark of sound.
Dean heard the creak of the Impala's hinges and allowed himself to be set inside her once more. Sam's hands were on his face, at his throat, checking, reassuring. He pushed them away.
"'M okay," he mumbled. "Just…just freakin' tired."
"Not to mention you're running a fever." A cool hand pressed against his forehead. "And low on food."
"Mmm," Dean blinked his eyes open, pulling his brother into focus. "Food. Food is good. We should get some food."
"We will," Sam promised. "Soon."
Sam stood, holding a balled up pair of wet socks in one hand, his equally wet boots in the other.
"I don't have any dry socks for you," he said in apology.
Dean took a breath, then looked up at Castiel, sliding his eyes back over to Sam. "I'll change when we get…wherever we're going." He narrowed his eyes. "Where are we going?"
Sam's grin made him young. He straightened, hooking an arm on the door of the Impala.
"I have an idea."
a/n: Thanks so much for reading! One more chapter to go—some mending, some connecting, some truth-telling. I hope you come back for the wrap-up, found here in Part 5: http://gaelicspirit.livejournal.com/99300.html
All My Life by the Foo Fighters