Chapter 1: Prologue: Scotland, 1659
Rowena wasn’t like other women. She was clever, but plenty of women were clever. She was beautiful, and that too was a trait shared by many. She was powerful, and that was not so common at this time and in this place. Her father had been a tanner, and when he had died leaving no direct male heir, the land and the house should have been claimed by some male cousin or very distant family member.
And they did try. Each man who came onto her land was turned away, and each relinquished all claims, saying, as they rushed back to their old lives, that the land belonged to Rowena alone. In time, no one questioned it anymore. She did a lot for her community, so it was in their best interests to accept her.
When a child was about to be born, it was Rowena that they called to usher the babe into the world. When sickness would strike, and it often did strike, Rowena would bring her cures. Under their breaths they’d call her a witch, but they’d claim publicly that the healings came about as a result of some God-given miracle. Rowena would let them believe that. It wasn’t important that they acknowledge her as the source of the miracle, just that they respected her a little.
She walked the path from her home, past the pasture full of wooly sheep, toward the trees. In them she’d find the tools of her trade, plants and tree bark, key items for spells. She waved her arms out at her sides, the sun high in the sky warming her bare arms. She stepped off the path into the woods. She stooped and plucked up a couple of mushrooms from the base of a tree that stood tall in a slight clearing. The mushrooms would go into tonight’s soup.
Halfway through her journey into the woods, the world became silent. She stood and looked into the thicker woods where darkness was almost tangible. Danger was lurking. She could feel its approach. Though she’d had limited experiences with supernatural creatures, she knew of them and how to deal with them, at least in theory.
She was somewhat surprised when a man stepped out of the woods. His suit was finely tailored, and not the sort of thing that one would wear in the woods or frankly anywhere near this region. They were all country folk here. “Well, you are not what I was looking for.” His words purred out over thin pink lips.
“I can’t imagine what you were looking for in the woods, dressed like that. Perhaps I could help you.” Rowena braced for an attack, but she put on the air of confidence that she felt the situation demanded. She had her hand in her basket. There was a thin silver blade beneath the plants. She had words that could be said in the right sequence that would give her an advantage. Something in her knew though, that this was not a man, despite his appearance.
He paced around her. “You have power rolling off you. What are you?”
“I’m nothing important, just a girl.” She mirrored his pacing. They formed a circular path facing each other.
“Now you and I both know that’s not true. Just as you know that I’m more than what I seem.” He smiled and his eyes shifted to black.
Rowena did not let her surprise show on her face. Instead she asked again, “What do you want?”
“I’m looking for an angel that has been noted in these woods. He’s been hiding here.” The demon looked around like he thought the angel would just materialize at any moment.
“I’m not convinced that angels exist,” Rowena said as she looked to the woods too. She’d never seen an angel, but that meant little. She’d never seen a demon before today either, but now one was talking with her.
“Oh, but they do exist, and they tend to linger near humans that they’ve taken under their proverbial wings.” He stepped closer to her, and she let him. “I think he lingers here because you are here.”
“If that’s true, then it is without my knowledge.”
“That doesn’t matter. What matters is that he’s watching, and now I’ll draw him out.” He rushed her, and she sidestepped. She dropped the basket and pulled her knife out in front of her. He came at her again, and she sidestepped again, cutting him as he passed. It was a slight wound, and all that she intended. She knew that the demons could heal themselves despite never having met one in person.
“I recommend that you change your strategy,” Rowena smirked.
“Oh, I’m just having a little fun with you. If I wanted to kill you, you’d be dead already.”
“Good thing you think I’m bait then.” She smiled and held the knife up to her lips. She whispered three words over the knife and the demon’s blood.
The demon’s face shifted. His eyes returned to their more human appearance. “What did you just do?”
“Oh nothing of any consequence.” She circled him slowly. “How attached are you to this vessel, dearie?” He stood still as though he were being held in place by something.
“How?” She stood in front of him smiling. Slowly, and with pleasure she began reciting an exorcism. “We can make a deal. Name your price.”
Rowena continued until the final words of the exorcism sent the demon smoke from the body. The body fell to the ground in a heap. She came down to her knees at his side and held her palm over his lips. No breath ghosted from the man’s form. She heaved forth a sigh. “Ah, sorry, dearie. Thought I’d save you at least.”
She stood and motioned toward the dirt with a fast murmur of words. The earth cracked apart. She could move the man to the crevice with a wave of her hand, but instead she stooped to him and took one of his arms and legs in hand and dragged him to the hasty grave.
Once he was buried, she picked up her basket and headed back to the path that lead to her home. She hummed a soft tune, a bar song that her father use to sing when she was a wee girl.
A week passed before she encountered another supernatural creature. This time it was a werewolf. He too was looking for an angel. It was different this time. He didn’t threaten her or even seem interested in her until he sensed her power. “You’re a witch.” He said it in a matter of fact tone.
Rowena had her blade drawn and held in front of her. “I am.”
“Can you heal me?” He stalked back and forth as he spoke as if he’d already transformed into his more animalistic form. “I’ve yet to find a cure for this, but if you know of one...”
“There’s no cure that I know of. How long have you been this way?” She waved a hand over his form.
“Centuries. I’m an old one,” the werewolf said. Rowena stepped closer to him. If he were going to attack, she’d have little defense. “It is why I sought the angel. It is said that they can cure people, especially the archangels.”
“You’re not really people,” Rowena said.
“Most days I am.” There was something about his eyes that made her feel pity for him.
“I’d like to take some of your blood.”
“I’d be a fool to give it to you.” He didn’t back away from her.
“You’ve already shown weakness. You asked for healing, and you let me get close enough to kill you. I didn’t, and you didn’t attack me either.” She settled a hand on his shoulder. “Let me try.”
He pulled out his own knife and drew it across his palm. He let the blood pool. Rowena pulled a bowl from her basket and held it out to him. She collected the blood. “What will you do with it?” he asked.
“I’ll do my best and then return to you in three days.” He nodded, and she left.
When she returned to him, it wasn’t with a cure. She did offer up a comfort. “What do I do with this?” He held the paper in front of him with the words to a simple incantation.
“You speak those words over your own blood, just prior to the change. It will grant you control during the transformation. It is the best I can do.” Rowena looked on him with something like sympathy.
He looked down at the paper. “So, I’ll be conscious of my actions? I’ll be in control?”
“Completely. The rages won’t control you. I’d say that’s an improvement. Your form will still change though.” She settled a hand on his shoulder and said, “I wish I could do more.”
“This is more than I could have hoped for.” He took her hand from his shoulder and kissed it. “I see why the angel chose you.”
“Everyone thinks there’s an angel here. There’s no angel here.” Rowena stepped away.
“In that you’re quite wrong. He is definitely here.” He smiled and turned from her. As he stepped toward the woods. He called back over his shoulder, “Thank you Rowena MacLeod, witch of the Angels.”
“I’m certainly not that.” She turned from him and walked back to her home again.
There was peace until Father Thomas came to her door for his semi-annual talk of faith and her seeming lack of it. She did not go to church or contribute a tithing. It seemed pointless to her. He stood at her door waiting for an invitation to enter. She considered closing the door in his smug face. She sensed interest from him that was less than chaste. It was also dark out. He had no business visiting an unmarried woman at night. It would increase the rumors about her that were already plentiful enough.
“Well, Father Thomas, what brings you to my door?” She took a seat at the simple wooden table. She still had not invited him in, so he stood awkwardly in the doorway.
“May I come in?” he asked. He looked at her, and something about him seemed off.
Still, she invited him in. “Fine, come in.” She waved a hand at the table for him to join her. Usually, he’d expect food and maybe a little drink. Then she could send him off.
He smiled and entered, slamming the door behind him. “You shouldn’t invite the devil into your home, Rowena MacLeod.” He moved toward her like he was flying.
She had to cast a quick spell to shoot him back from her. He crashed into the wall. His large body did its fair share of damage. “Now, why do you need to be damaging my home? I did nothing to you.” She stepped toward him as he sat pinned against the wall.
“Where’s the angel?” he asked past gritted teeth.
“Oh, really, another one of you lot looking for that damned angel. I swear, if I find him, I’m going to have some very tense words with him.” She waved an arm and sent the creature to the opposite wall. “Now what are you, because I don’t recall Father Thomas being so crude?”
“Still Father Thomas, but I’m not as I was.” He winked and gave her a grin that showed long fangs in his mouth. “I’m going to enjoy ending you.”
Rowena actually laughed. “You can’t even move, you pompous ass.” She stalked out of her house to the yard. When she returned with an ax, the vampire looked concerned.
“Now Rowena, I just want to speak with the angel.”
“Really, you don’t want to end me anymore?” She laughed again, and raised the ax. “You were pathetic before, and you’re worse now. Consider this a mercy.” She let the ax swing sharp and fast to his neck. He burst into ash as his head came free. “How nice. No body to bury.”
She set aside the ax and picked up a broom. She swept the ash out the door and sang her song.
A larger collection of creatures came to her on the next night. These ones did not seem keen on talking. They spread out around her house as she was preparing for bed. She stepped out her front door, having already sensed them. There were two on the far side of the house, one in the barn, one in the woods, two in front of her. She was pleased to see that one of them was a female. She was beginning to think that all creatures viewed women as weaker vessels.
Rowena chose to address the woman. “What can I do for you?”
“A vampire came to you last night, seeking an angel.” The woman spoke in a soft monotone. Her hair was pulled back into a tight bun. Her dress was blue and made of very high quality materials. Rowena envied her for that much. Her own dress was made of rough fabrics that wouldn’t be ruined by kneeling in the woods.
“The vampire is no more. I’ve ended him.” She considered the arsenal of spells she had at her disposal. She’d worked on a few spells for demons. Most would only work with access to their blood. She focused on the more distant creatures. The one in the barn was coming to them. She wondered if he’d be a demon or another vampire. Rowena focused on the woman in front of her. “Are you a demon or a vampire?”
She flicked her eyes to black and smiled. So demon then. “Finding the angel is important. There was a prophecy, and we’d rather not see it become more than idle words. Sometimes it is important to put aside petty differences for the greater good.” The female demon smiled at her, as if that would be enough convincing.
“Like I said to the others that came before you, I’ve never seen an angel, never had even an inkling that one is here.” Rowena gripped the doorframe to her home, drawing a little blood from her finger on the rough wood. The demons would be faster than her in hand-to-hand combat. She could slow them with a spell. Sometimes simple was best though. The vampires were too far away, and yes, she thought there were now more than just the one from the barn.
The male demon spoke now, “Everything here smells of angel. There’s no way that you haven’t noticed. You sensed us, what we were. You must be lying.” He turned to his demon partner and said, “I say we end her. Even if she knows something about the angel, it doesn't matter. We know he’s here, and killing her will cause him at least some grief.”
“Perhaps.” The demon woman stepped toward Rowena’s door. There was still some space between them. Rowena’s finger drew slow symbols onto the doorframe. She had a spell to pair with them. She stepped away from the door into her home. She felt the table behind her. The demons stepped into her home, one behind the other. “Yes, you do not seem to be worth keeping.”
Rowena breathed the spell out in one gust of a breath. The symbol moved from the doorframe to the floor beneath them enlarging to encompass a much bigger space. The demons looked at her with disgust. “A simple devil’s trap. Can’t be dealing with all of you at once now.” She smiled. She delivered the exorcism quickly. The bodies fell to the floor, both very dead. Rowena stepped over them to her door. The vampire stood there. “What do you want?”
He just stared at her for a moment like he was trying to decide how best to deal with this turn of events. He looked past her to the bodies, then back again. He took a step back away from her. She reached down to the woodpile at her door and took hold of the ax. “We just wanted the angel.”
“And I just wanted to be left alone.” She held the ax on top of her two upraised palms and whispered a spell that sent it soaring to the neck of the timid vampire. He was dust in an instant. She cast her focus about. There were still two creatures in the woods. The one behind her house wasn’t coming through. She worried about that one. She picked up her ax and headed for the woods.
The ones in the woods were smart enough to spread out a little. Rowena slowed them with a spell. The one still got ahold of her. She got a hand free and swung her ax in a sweeping arc. It caught the demon across his chest. He took a moment to heal the wound, during which time, Rowena breathed her spell, the same spell that held the demon in place before. The other one was already on her, angling his fangs to her neck. He managed to knock her ax to the ground. She moved her leg behind her to get leverage and managed to loosen the vampire’s hold on her.
Rowena dropped to the woodland floor and scooped up the ax in one fluid motion. She swung the ax, and he stepped back. “Perhaps you should run like your friend almost did.”
“Perhaps I shouldn’t play with you before I consume you.” He was rather confident. Rowena smiled, because she was confident too.
“A light in the forest seems necessary.” She continued smiling, and delivered her spell with confidence. The ball of light that formed over their heads was bright and hot. The vampire had enough time to glance up but only for a moment. His body burst into ash.
“I suppose an exorcism will be next,” the demon said.
“I’ve some concerns that it will not be enough to keep you lot at bay. I’m tired of your visits,” Rowena purred as she circled him.
“I’ve no intention of coming back. I can also spread the rumor that you’ve met with an untimely death.”
Rowena hummed around the thought of suddenly being perceived of as dead. “In time they will know the truth. People speak of me.”
“No they don’t.” That was enough to annoy her. She spoke the exorcism quickly to end this conversation and marched back to her home. She added warding to her walls. She took care of the bodies. She saved the blue dress that the demon woman had worn.
She made it her mission to protect herself in her lands. She added warding to the property, everywhere that she could. She placed devil’s traps here and there, to keep the demons from making too much progress. She encouraged plants that could be used in simple spells to repel vampires. She set out weapons around the house and even in the woods. She even took a trip into town to the church. There was talk of Father Thomas going missing. She ignored that. She instead slipped into the back of the church and sought out the treasured books that were tucked away out of sight. She presumed that they would have something recorded about angels.
She was so intent in her searching that she didn’t hear the noise at her back. “What are you doing back here?”
She turned to the young priest, a novice she’d not met before. He was short in stature and seemed nervous in her presence. His dark blonde hair flopped in front of his eyes, in dire need of shears. “I’m looking for a book.” She decided that honesty was for the best.
“You read?” He seemed shocked. It was fair. Most did not read, and almost no country women did.
“Yes.” Rowena was conscious of her form. She did her best to seem small and a little timid. “I’m seeking information on angels.”
“Yes, I’d like to read about them. Can you help me?” She let her head drop a little and looked up at him past long lashes.
“I can, but the books are not permitted outside of the church. They’re quite valuable.” He moved to the shelf and seemed to scan the rows for just the right one. “Here. This one is an excellent one.” He handed her a very large volume. “You may sit here to read it.” He pointed at the desk beneath the window.
Rowena took the book to the desk and sat. She opened it to find some of the most vibrant illuminations. “It’s beautiful.” She ran her hand over the images with reverence.
The priest took a seat on the opposite side of the desk. “It is a true work of art. It is said that the monk that did the illuminations had direct contact with the angels.”
“Do you believe there are angels among us?” Rowena began reading and only half listened for his answer.
“Why yes, of course.”
She looked up at him. “I’m sorry. Of course you do. It’s just hard to believe in something that never makes itself known.” She turned her attention back to the book.
“Then why do you wish to read about them?”
She thought about that for a moment and said, “If so many keep believing that they exist, maybe there’s something to that. I’d like to be prepared for that possibility.”
“You say it like you’re worried about them existing.”
“I am, but only a little.” They fell into silence for a time, and Rowena read. She noted the hidden symbols in the illumination, the sigil that the artist painted into the margin. She copied some things from the book onto a thin piece of hide that she had brought with her. The hide in her possession was not of the same quality as the hides used for this book. Her father would have been impressed. He made the thin hides used for books nearly as often as he tanned the hides for clothing and other things.
When she’d finally felt like she’d learned all that she could, she closed the book. She thanked the priest for his patience and left. She cast a glance back at the church. He watched her as she walked away. A good priest would at least pretend to look away. She didn’t mind. She noted the smile that touched his lips.
She used the sigil she’d found in the book. She painted it onto one of the trees in the woods. Given the images that accompanied it, she was certain that it was a banishing sigil. She wondered if it only worked on angels. It’d be nice if it worked on demons. Although she’d had no more visitations from their ilk since she’d begun warding the property. It was tiring work, but seemed to have made a great difference.
She felt confident going into the woods again. She even felt confident just sleeping through the night. It had been a solid month of peace, and surely, any of the exorcised demons would have returned by now in their shiny new vessels if they could have.
Rowena tended to her flocks and then roamed the woods. She checked her borders to see that they weren’t disturbed. She ended her patrol at the banishing sigil. She took a seat on a smooth stone near the base of the tree and ran her fingers over the bark. She considered activating the sigil, banishing any would-be angel that might be in the woods. It would prevent others from troubling her.
She lowered her hand to her lap and stared off into the distance. She recalled what the demon had said. There had been a prophecy. Rowena knew that those should be taken seriously. Also, the angel, if one actually existed, had done nothing to her except act as a magnet for demons. Surely the angel shouldn’t be faulted for being what it was.
Rowena held her palms upright and asked, “What am I to make of all this?” The question was not for anyone in particular, but the world listened to Rowena MacLeod. A rabbit scuttled out of the brush and nibbled at the grass near her feet. Rowena’s brows came together. It bothered her for the mere symbolism of it. Rabbits were a fertility sign. The creature hopped forward and began nibbling again. Its whiskers twitched a little. The white tuft of tail fur wiggled as it moved to another bit of grass.
She considered letting it be. Rowena was a practical woman, and the rabbit would provide sustenance for at least three days. She gave it a swift death, scooped it up by its back legs, and carried it home.
She went to town again to read more of the angel book. There was also a part of her that wanted to see the novice again. He was pleasant enough to look at, and that was in its own way encouragement. She did want to know more of what one could expect from an encounter with an angel. Were they dangerous? Warriors or protectors? She’d read conflicting stories. Some showed angels as helpers to man, and others painted them as destroyers of man.
Rowena walked to town with her basket swinging at her side. She noted the glances she got. They were nothing new. She wondered if rumors of her demise had been spread. She had avoided town for some days, maybe weeks. She’d lost track of time a little. She stepped into the church and made her way to the back room that she’d visited before.
It was occupied by Father Matthew. He was an older man, with large hanging jowls that showed just where the tithing went. Rowena had never liked him, and near as she could tell the feeling had been mutual.
“Rowena,” Father Matthew said, “what do you think you are doing?”
She hadn’t considered that he or anyone else would be in this space. She’d grown complacent to the point that she ceased thinking of places as off limits to her. She went where she wanted, and had even vanquished some demons in the process, so walking into a small book filled room seemed like nothing, until it was something.
“I’ve come to read from one of your books.” Her tone was confident. Her eyes never left his. She considered utilizing some spell or another to get her way. He hadn’t threatened her though.
“They are not for you.” He stared back at her just as hard, and seemed almost to dare her to act. “You are not welcome here, witch.”
“I was welcome here before.” She stepped closer.
“No, you were not. You were tolerated.” He stood. “That ends now. It has been rumored that you died. Those rumors seemed to have been inaccurate, or you are a devil come back to do us harm.”
“You are a fool.” Rowena stepped even closer.
He lifted his hand and made the sign of the cross between them. “This is hallowed ground.”
“And yet I stand here, not consumed by fire or God’s wrath. What does that tell you?”
He glared at her and held out his crucifix, a fine golden one that hung from his neck on a long golden chain. “It tells me that you are being allowed to test me. Depart, devil woman, vile temptress.”
Rowena laughed. She scanned the shelves for the book, but it was not there. She squinted at them and wondered if the novice had placed it in a different location. “Are you the only man of God assigned to this parish?”
He seemed to hesitate. Her question did come without preamble. “There is Father Thomas as well. He is still missing.” Father Matthew’s answer came with a trembling delivery. Rowena returned her gaze to him. He was afraid of her, despite his bravado. She could see it now.
“You’ve not taken on a young novice, or a replacement for Father Thomas then?” She ran her fingers along the edge of his desk, feeling the dips and ridges of it.
“No. We await Father Thomas’ return.” He swallowed and licked his lips. “Leave.”
“I shall, but only because the book that I seek is no longer here.” She turned from him. As she passed through his door, she said, “Good day to you, Father Matthew.”
It troubled her that there had been no mention of the other young priest and that the book was gone. She walked to the pub at the edge of town. It was no place for polite women, but she did not fear what men could do. She knew what she could do.
The room was loud until she walked in and took her seat at the bar. She was one of only three women in the place, and the others were women of latent morals. Whispers filled the silence. The large man behind the bar wiped endlessly at the same spot of wood in front of him and judiciously avoided eye-contact. She reached over the bar and pulled a glass to her. She slid it down to the other end of the bar where the man stood.
“Fill the glass,” she said as he caught it mid slide.
“Right away.” He sounded like he feared her too. She turned in her seat to take in the room. Everyone’s eyes darted to their tables and away. She’d been in their homes, nursed their children back to health. She’d tended to their sicknesses and needs. She brought them miracles, and now they couldn’t even stand to look at her.
The barkeep set the full glass in front of her. She lifted it to her lips and drank down half of it before setting it down again. She looked at the barkeep. He was familiar. They made eye contact. “They said you were dead,” he said in a near whisper.
“Now, who would say such a thing?” She glanced away from him back into the room. He didn’t reply right away. “It’s plenty clear I’m alive if you’ve got eyes in your head.” She smiled to make the news of her living more palatable.
“I see you are alive, but the news seemed credible. There was to be a funeral.” He moved closer to her, as if to gauge how real she was via closer scrutiny.
“Did someone bother to check the validity of the news? I don’t recall even one soul setting foot on my land to learn more of my untimely demise. Have I not done enough for this community to warrant some care?” She raised one brow with the question.
“Some tried to venture onto your land, but they found the way difficult.” This last came from one of the women, who chose to sidle up to the bar and join the conversation.
“I’ve passed just fine. Ah, well. It is good that I have shown myself then. The rumors can die out, and I can stop seeming like a ghost to you lot.” She drank down another gulp of her beverage and stood. She fished out a coin to toss onto the bar.
“No, your money’s no good here. You cured my wife last fall of the coughing sickness.” The barkeep waved his hand between them.
“Thank you.” Rowena smiled and slipped out of the bar and back into the world. It seemed that her wards had done more than just bar the local demons from her land; they had also made things seem unpassable. And the demon that she exorcised had spread rumors, believable ones, apparently.
She took the path all the way to the woods, then deviated into the trees to collect a few wild herbs for her evening meal. She stood near the tree with the banishing sigil for a moment and considered her day. The sun still hung high overhead. She stopped and picked a few sprigs of rosemary, before moving deeper into the woods for some thyme. She made her way back out to the path and wound her way back along the stone wall that lined her pasture.
In the midst of the pasture she could see a man sitting among the sheep. For a moment, she worried that the wards had not held up and that a demon had found a place within. She passed through the gate to the pasture and headed toward him. She did not fear him. The closer she drew to him, the more familiar his form seemed to be. “Hello, Father.” The novice priest turned to her, his hair flopping into his eyes. He reached up and brushed it aside.
“Please, call me Gabriel.”
Chapter 2: Act One: Lawrence, CA, 2017
Snow blanketed the entirety of the street and sidewalk in front of the Impala Theater. It was still early enough that it was untrampled by the many feet of holiday shoppers. It was even perhaps too early for Dean to be here, running the vacuum over the already clean lobby carpet, but he wasn't the only one that was seeking refuge in the quiet theater.
Rowena was sitting at her usual table by the window, drinking tea. Ash was swearing at his laptop behind the counter. And somewhere in the back was Garth rummaging around for the snow shovels that they'd need soon. Dean shut off the vacuum and took it back to the cleaning closet.
Garth still hadn't emerged. Dean considered going off to help him, but instead caught Rowena's eye. He walked to her table.
The Impala wasn't like all those modern theaters with their too-bright lights and flashy previews played on vast overhead screens. It had a quiet beauty, a serenity that could put one at ease and make them feel like they'd come home. Dean had inherited the place from his father. John had poured years of love into the place. John had restored everything by hand, from the pillars in the theater entryway to the ornate carvings in the railings leading up to the balcony.
Dean honored his memory by tending to the aging theater's ever-growing needs. He made enough money to keep her going. That was a blessing, but the extras, like restoring the curtains and redoing a broken banister were not easy. He had his regulars at least, his classic film junkies and young people seeking nostalgia for lives they never lived.
Then there were the special ones, the ones that get to request that things be added to the menu like tea. It was easy to cave to their wishes.
Dean took the seat opposite her at the little table. She tossed her long, red hair back over her shoulder. Her long dress seemed almost too fancy for a normal day, but that was just Rowena. It was harder to picture her wearing a pair jeans and a t-shirt. The long, vibrantly colored silks and velvets that she wore, were a part of her. Dean had joked that she gave the lobby a bit of class dressed in all of her finery. Dean had added tables to the lobby last year in the hopes that it would encourage lingering and more food purchases. It had worked, kind of. “How's it going, Rowena?”
“It would be better if your employees knew that tea was meant to be hot. Other than that,” she paused to smile at him and then continued, “the day is perfect.”
“Perfect?” Dean glanced across the street again at her very empty store. Rowena's Rarities was an odd place, part antique store, part museum of oddities. She had a back room for tarot readings, which she'd offered Dean numerous times. Dean took her tea cup and pot. “Let me fix this.” He got up and headed for the concession counter.
“Bullshit,” Ash frowned at the screen.
“What's bullshit is serving a customer cold tea that's supposed to be hot,” Dean said.
Ash looked up at Dean as he poured out the tea and started a fresh brew. “Sorry, Dean.” Then Ash looked off toward Rowena who watched them closely. “Sorry, your majesty.”
Rowena just smiled wider and said, “Apology accepted.” It was always like this with them, no true animosity, just tiny battles of wills, usually won by Rowena.
Dean carried the new tea to her table and rejoined her. “I'll never get how you do it.”
“Do what, my dear?” Every word was purred out.
“You spend all day here, but you manage to be there just as customers show up.” Dean glanced at the shop again.
“Well I do have the Sight.” Dean looked back at her. He didn't buy into that, not one bit. She raised the tea pot and poured her cup full. “I could still do a reading for you, any time.”
“I barely have time for these little chats.” He smiled back at her. It was a bit of a flirtation between them, but one that would never go anywhere. Dean was married to his work and his heart was rather attached to someone unattainable. “Speaking of, I need to go drag Garth out to the snow.”
“Be sure to bend at the waist often, Rowena suggested. Dean looked at her with a questioning raise of his brow. “The vision it would present would be most favorable.” She smiled.
Dean started heading off with a laugh. “Are you objectifying me?”
“Only a little.” Rowena's laugh joined his now as Dean made his way to the back of the theater. Garth was leaning up against the wall, two snow shovels propped up next to him as he fiddled with his phone.
“Garth!” Dean snapped. Garth jumped, and Dean found that a bit funny.
“Oh, sorry Dean. Was just…” He slipped the phone into his pocket. “Doesn’t matter.” Garth was all bundled up in a green winter jacket and knit beanie cap. Around his neck was the most garish Christmas scarf ever worn.
Dean asked, “So, who got you the ugly Christmas sweater scarf there?”
Garth looked a little hurt for half a second then seemed to remember who gave him the scarf. “Only my best girl.” He was all smiles.
“So you two are still a thing huh?”
Garth got that hurt look again and said, “Why would I ever leave Bess?” He really looked at Dean then and asked, “You do like Bess right?”
“Oh, yeah. I was just looking to give you a hard time.” Dean reached out and lifted a corner of the scarf. “Figure she must be something awesome if you’re wearing this thing out in public for her.”
“Dean, you just don’t see the hidden beauty in things. This scarf is gorgeous.” It really wasn’t. The misshapen Santa face that adorned one end and the flying sleigh were bad enough, but the reindeer looked like ravenous wolves rather than cheerful Christmas beasts. Rudolph’s nose looked bloody as opposed to just glowy.
“Glad you’re happy. Now help me shovel some snow. I ain’t paying you to sit on your phone with Bess all day.” Garth grabbed his shovel and Dean took the other.
“Well, you kinda pay me to do that just like you kinda pay Ash to sit up front on your wi-fi hacking the government or whatever.”
“I’m not paying for that.” Dean rounded the corner and glanced at Ash who was still swearing at his laptop.
“Sure you don’t.” Garth tapped the side of his nose and said, “Plausible deniability. Good thinking.”
“He’s supposed to be looking into something for me.” Dean wasn’t sure why he was admitting this. It was supposed to be a secret. They went out into the entryway and Dean got right to work on the snow there.
It was a beautiful entryway complete with overhead incandescent bulbs that gave everything a golden glow. The posters that lined the area were a mix of now showing, coming soon, and classic pieces lovingly displayed in well-lit recessed spaces. One such space had just an 8 ½ by 11 inch piece of printed paper with a tasteful font declaring Dean’s favorite film series. Dean gave the spot a glance. He kept meaning to ask one of the artist kids that kept frequenting the place if she could sketch something better for the spot. He wouldn’t bother for most of his midnight showings, but this one was special. It would also likely be showing for a long time to come, so it deserved a respectable poster.
Garth came to his side and tapped him on the shoulder, snapping him out of his thoughts. “You okay?”
“Yeah, just thinking.”
“About the project you gave to Ash?”
“Yeah, I asked him to look for a poster to fit this space. Might have to commission one.” He’d asked Ash to do more than just look for the poster, but that didn’t need to be shared. All the swearing told him that Ash was likely having no luck anyway.
“Bess is very artistic. I could ask her to draft one for you.”
Oh god no. Dean could just picture it now, the misshapen face of the lead actor, the overly elongated limbs. “I’ve already got someone in mind, thanks. I want to throw some work at Claire. She’s going to be heading off to an art school in Southern California, and that shit’s expensive. She’d never take a hand out, but she would take pay for honest work. So, I’ll overpay her and get a poster out of the deal. Win-win.”
“That’s sweet. Plus, she’s seen the flick nearly as many times as you, so she knows the subject matter.” Garth started shoveling again.
“No one’s seen it even close to as many times as I have, but you’re right. She’s a close second on that score.” Dean took the southern side of the entryway and worked toward the curb.
“So,” Garth started and his tone shift made Dean stop shoveling. “About Bess.”
“What about Bess?”
Garth was grinning and looking nervous all at once. “So, I may have mentioned that she’s it for me, right?”
“You may have said something like that. You’re a sappy romantic.”
Now his smile was all big and genuine. “I am, especially where she’s concerned.” He walked over to Dean and pulled out a little box and held it out to him. “I’m giving her this on Christmas.”
Dean reached out and took the box, opening it gently. The ring was simple, but also quite lovely. The diamond in the center was surrounded by smaller diamonds. “Wow, Garth. You really doing this, huh?” Dean looked up at him and smiled. “Congratulations, man.”
“She hasn’t said yes yet.” He took the ring back from Dean and put it in his pocket.
“I might need a venue.” He glanced back at the Impala. “I mean, I don’t make much, but I could pay and do some work trade.”
Dean laughed and slugged him in the arm. “Shut-up. Of course you can use the theater. For free too, in case that wasn’t clear. Idiot.”
Then Garth was hugging him. He did that sometimes. Dean hugged him back. “Now we just need to find you a date for this future wedding.”
“I’m good.” Dean was quick to answer as he released Garth. “Really,” he added when he saw Garth’s look of concern.
“I was just thinking Bess has this cousin…”
“It wouldn’t be too much to ask her if you would just say yes.”
Dean turned and started shoveling again. He figured he could shovel clear down to the corner. Maybe just keep on going. That would be better than this conversation. “There are other options too. This guy in my bio class out at the JC is single.”
Dean turned back to him and repeated, because explicitly saying no in this situation was imperative. “No, Garth. Don’t set me up.”
“You could ask Lisa.”
Dean was actually getting close to the corner yoga studio where Lisa worked. “Been there done that. She and I are good friends.”
“Wait, you dated Lisa?” Dean did a quick turn and decided he’d shoveled far enough. Besides Garth was just going to follow him forever.
“Yeah, it was a long time ago. Like I said, we’re good.” Dean started walking back to the theater. Garth paced him.
They walked back into the theater together. Ash was still where he’d been left. Garth put his hand out, and Dean handed him the shovel. “Sorry, Dean.”
“I know you hate when I meddle in your love life.”
Dean let out a sigh. “You mean well.” Dean glanced at Ash then back at Garth. “I'm just really not interested in dating anyone right now.”
Rowena got up from her table and came over to them. “I've got a customer showing up in three minutes and twenty-two seconds.”
Dean pulled out his phone and started the timer. It was a thing they did. She was trying to prove she had the Sight, and Dean was trying to prove to himself that she didn't. In the end she was always right, and he was always left with amazement. He also spent a fair amount of time explaining to himself just how she did it.
She wandered out into the world like it wasn’t cold and she was hearing music with every step. Dean just smiled at her retreating form. “Maybe you should ask her out,” Garth offered.
“No.” He liked her a great deal, but somehow it never felt like something of a romantic sort. He chalked it up to some of their early interactions. He’d stepped in when she’d been threatened once, actually punched the guy in the face. She’d bandaged Dean’s hand afterwards, and the tenderness of the moment had reminded Dean of his mother. It wasn’t the sort of thought one would want to connect to a future romantic partner. It likely pushed aside any chance that they could be more. She seemed to be fine with their friendship, so at least they wouldn’t have to feel awkward about things.
Garth had gone off. He’d even taken Dean’s shovel without him noticing. Ash was swearing more vehemently now. Dean went to the concession stand. They had four more hours before they’d be showing the first film of the day.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
“That good huh?” Dean leaned onto the glass over the popcorn display.
“I’d say you were pranking me, if I hadn’t seen the films with my own two eyes.” Ash closed the laptop. “There’s just no way that there’s nothing out there.”
“You looked into the production company?” Dean had looked on his own, and had turned up nothing, but he thought that Ash would have better luck.
“Nada.” Ash was drumming at the counter now, like he wanted to punch something and this was venting the excess of energy. “I’d like to look at the container again, see if I missed something.”
“Sure.” Dean waved him around the counter. Garth was holding up a wall in the hallway. “Garth!” Garth jumped again, and Dean laughed at him. “Go man the concession stand area while Ash and I go up to the projection room.”
They climbed the stairs and entered the small, dark room. The old projector pointed out through the square cut-out high in the wall. There were shelves of film reels and a threadbare couch. In the far corner was a large wooden box. They both moved to it and squatted down on either side. Dean’s fingers traced the edges of it with some reverence, before he lifted the large wooden lid off it. It was almost like a small coffin. Inside though was something Dean seemed to live for now. There were seven slots surrounded by packing hay, each containing one precious reel of film. Dean let his fingers trace over the nearest one. Ash pulled out and examined it closely like he was looking for some hidden message in the metal casing.
The crate hadn’t been delivered as other films had. It was set right smack in front of the doors in the entryway. Anyone could have come along and stolen it. Dean thought of that often, how he could have lost all of this before even knowing it existed. He’d been lucky. At the time, he hadn’t realized that. He just found himself cursing at having to lug the heavy thing into the lobby.
That was just before last summer. Now, he’d had months of viewing, and obsessing over each and every story contained within these canisters. The first time he’d watched any of the films, he’d been alone late at night in the theater. He had set up the projector, and made his way out to the theater proper. There were some opening credits and a title sequence as one would expect, but he hadn’t expected them to last long enough for him to get from the projection room to a seat.
The music that accompanied the opener was odd, unsettling. The production company was listed as “Empty Productions.” Dean remembered at the time, thinking that he’d never heard of them. Then the title came up, and he hadn’t heard of that either, “City of Angels Mysteries.” The film itself contained a fair number of cliches straight out of the film noir detective story package deal. It had the tough as nails PI with a steely-eyed focus on just doing his job. It had the gorgeous woman with gams that were duly noted.
Even the case in the first film was simple, and it shouldn’t have captivated him as it did. In the end, he had to assume that it was the little bits that fell between the main story parts. Yes, they were investigating a murder, but there was something about the lonely scenes, the ones where the PI sat in his office looking out on Los Angeles like he could almost see past it. Then there were the other scenes where he’d look dead into the camera and voice his fears. It was disconcerting, almost like he was actually seeing out into the audience, taking them into his confidence.
And if Dean were being honest with himself, the lead actor was certainly worth repeat viewings. He was tall and decked out, in most scenes, in a long trench coat. He wore a hat in outdoor scenes that cast his face into shadows. His eyes, even in the black-and-white world of the film, looked like they were glowing bright and intense. Dean decided that they were blue eyes though he couldn’t be sure. Then there was the voice, the deep dark rough-and-tumble voice that no mortal should be allowed to wield in good conscience. The voice that said, “I’m Castiel, PI,” as he reached out a hand to the clients on the other side of the desk.
They weren't the first words that he’d spoken in the film, but Dean found himself mouthing the words with him each time the scene played.
Then there was the narration, the cliched narration that one would expect from this era’s mysteries. That moment was maybe it for Dean. That moment got the little pin pricks of excitement rippling up and down his body. That moment was maybe the one in which he fell for a fictional character. Or maybe it was when the final scene rolled through to black in the final film. Maybe it took all the way to the end of that film for Dean to be well and truly smitten.
Castiel, who never had a last name, made it through film after film, watching as everyone he cared for either betrayed him or took a bullet that ended their lives. The look of sorrow etched permanently into his features. In the final film, a figure known only as the man in black met with a violent end. His death seemed to be too much for Castiel. He fell to his knees at his friend’s side and came down even lower, pressing his head into the other man’s shoulder. His back shook as he sobbed into the body of this man, who had been in every film. The sorrow was made more palpable by the fact that Cas never turned to the audience. There was no shot of his tear marked face. The credits just rolled and the rain fell as the last scene faded to black.
Ash snapped him back into the present. “I even looked up all the names in the credits. You know what I got?”
“Same as me, I reckon, nothing.” Dean settled back onto the floor and sat.
Ash began removing all of the cannisters and stacking them neatly on the floor next to them. Dean had done this before too. He’d looked for any small hint as to where this treasure had originated. “We could always take a road trip to Hollywood.”
“Don’t think I hadn’t thought of doing just that. I could tell people it was to visit my brother and not get the sad-eyed pity.”
“The pity thing? I thought most people kinda envied you a bit.” Ash sat back onto the carpet too now.
“Garth thinks I’m sad and lonely, keeps trying to set me up with singles ready to mingle.”
“That’s just Garth’s nature. I wouldn’t worry too much about that.” Ash opened up a canister and pulled out the film to look at the edges of the strip. Sometimes identifying information could be found there too.
“Yeah, then there’s the phone calls from Sam, and the looks that I sometimes get from Rowena.”
“Well, your brother is just your brother. He’s all up in romance town with his new wife and wants the same for you. Rowena is something else.”
“I know you don’t like her.”
Ash sighed. “I like her fine enough.” He rolled up the film and replaced it in the crate. “I just think there’s something odd about her.” He looked up at Dean then and said, “The psychic thing is, well, I don’t buy into that. Bunch of tricksters. Kind of hard to separate the cool, tea drinking Rowena from the one that tells grieving people that she can talk to their dead loved ones.”
“Does she do that? I thought she just read tarot cards and sold hippie herbs and funky gifts.”
“She told me once she could connect me with my brother. I politely declined. If Jethro wanted to talk to me from the great beyond, then he’d do it without going through some stranger.”
“Jethro?” This was the first mentioning of a brother Dean had ever heard.
“Yeah, like Tull. He was named after the band.”
“I know what Jethro Tull is,” Dean huffed out. “I didn’t know you had a brother.”
“He died a long time ago. Car accident. We were close.”
Ash interrupted him. “Not the point. I only brought him up because Rowena seemed to think she could talk to him for me or some bullshit. I think she’s full of shit, and at the same time, most days, she’s okay. That’s all.”
Dean let the moment settle before changing tracks entirely. “So, you find anything?”
Ash got up then bent over to replace the lid on the crate. “No. I might have to call someone.”
“Seriously?” Dean had never known Ash to give up or even remotely find a challenge that was beyond him. Well, dating, maybe, but this was tech, and in tech, Ash was a god.
“Look I know I said we'd keep this project between us, but I'm not gonna be able to rest if I can't solve this. Let me call my friend Charlie.”
“You have a friend?” Dean wasn't actually sure what was more shocking at this point, Ash knowing someone outside of work or Ash not being able to do this project on his own.
“She's good at finding people that don't want to be found and dealing with aliases. I think this company name maybe got changed at some point, and that's why we can't find it. She'll know what to do.”
“Then call her. She sounds like the kind of help we need.” Dean got up now too.
“She is. I think you'll like her. She's like girl you.”
“Oh damn, not you too. Don't go setting me up.” Dean tipped his head back on a sigh.
“Wouldn't dream of it. Besides, you lack the requisite equipment. She's also seeing someone, so you're doubly safe.”
They left the room to finish getting ready for the first showing of the day. Dean counted the hours. At the end of the night he'd reward himself with another viewing of episode one. It wasn't his favorite of the City of Angels series, but it was weird to dive into one of the sequels out of order. Dean had patterns after all. There was also the fact that it felt good to live at the beginning of things. Endings are hard.
Castiel stood, looking out his large window at the city. It was night; it was always night. He was illuminated by the light of a lone lamp in his barren office. He was gorgeous, stubbled cheekbones set off by shadows. He took off his hat and walked over to the hatrack by the door. He hung it up there and returned to the window. He talked of the city that never slept, the people with their comings and goings, and how he’d never escape the life.
It was a melancholy start, not because Castiel was feeling sorry for himself. It seemed like he was just hopeless and lost. He was always doing his job, what he felt was right, and nothing good ever seemed to come to him at the end of all of it.
There was a knock on his door. His secretary Anna and his partner Alfie came in. Anna had a wide-eyed look that made her seem perpetually frightened and lips that were full and lush. The wide puffed sleeves on her blouse made her look broader and stronger than most women of that era. Her tight skirt showed off her hips and long legs. She was uniquely beautiful.
Alfie stood at her side. He was young, trim, and all long limbs that almost made him seem like he was still growing. His suit seemed to be two sizes too big for him. He moved away from Anna's side to Castiel. “You called us in, boss?”
“I did,” Castiel said in a low graveled whisper. “Thanks for coming in so late,” he turned and looked at Anna, adding, “both of you.”
“Of course, we came in.” Anna had a luminous voice.
Castiel ran both hands back through his hair, which left it standing a bit on end. He seemed nervous as he began pacing a little between the desk and Alfie. Finally he let his gaze settle on the younger man. “As you know, we haven't had a case in over a month.” They both nodded. It had been pretty bad. Money was more than tight, it was nonexistent.
“We'll get through though, Cassie. We always do,” Anna said.
“'Fraid not. I can't pay either of you, and I won't keep you from getting a real job that can pay.” He tipped his head back and delivered the final blow. “I'm letting you both go. I'm sorry.”
Neither of them spoke. The silence stretched, and they were all startled by the sharp knock at the door. No one moved to get it, and technically he had just fired them, so Castiel did the honors.
“Hello,” the nervous man said as the door opened. He had his hat clutched in his hands. He was wringing the rim of it as he said, “I'm looking for a PI named Castiel.”
“And you are?” Castiel stepped back. The man came in.
“Name’s Chuck, Chuck Shurley. And I need your help.” He looked from Castiel to Alfie like he was trying to figure out who was going to be his savior.
“I'd like to help you, but I was just letting my staff go. Money's been tight, and I was going to hang up my hat on this whole PI gig.” Castiel took a seat behind his desk.
“I can pay you. I'll pay you right now.” Chuck pulled out a large stack of cash and set it on the desk. He pushed it over to Castiel. “They say you're good, best in the biz. I'm gonna need that. I'm gonna need someone quick and clever.”
“You still wanna fire us, boss?” Alfie asked.
Castiel flipped the edge of the money, seemingly doing some rough calculating. “If you want to stay on, looks like we might be back in the game.” He gave his attention to Chuck then and asked, “First you'll need to tell me what this is all about.”
“I'm a writer, and someone is using my stories as guides for committing murders. Cops are starting to think I'm the killer. I need help."
Castiel stared at Chuck like he was trying to really get a read on him. “How am I to know that you aren't the killer in this scenario?”
Chuck looked shocked. “I'm not! Why would I do those horrible things?”
He really did look surprised, but Castiel had no reason to believe him. “Don't know. Maybe you have a god complex. You have a god complex, Chuck?”
“Look, I'm desperate. The killings are getting a bit close to home.”
“What do you mean by that?” Castiel asked.
“I wrote myself into my last book. I'm certain the killer is going to try taking me out at some point. It's only a matter of time.” Anna moved to Castiel's side. Chuck glanced at her. “She told me you could help.”
Castiel looked at Anna and asked, “You two know each other?”
“Things have been slow. I've been moonlighting for Chuck in the evenings. I type up some of his chapters. He handwrites everything.”
“Anna said you'd be able to find this killer, save me before it's too late.” Chuck somehow managed to look even more desperate.
“I don’t fault you, Anna. You had to get a paycheck somewhere.” He turned to Chuck then. “I’ll take your case. First you have to tell me everything, and get me a full set of your books.”
Chuck stood and reached out his hand to Castiel. He took Chuck’s hand, and it seemed certain that the man would never stop shaking it. “You won’t regret this. I’ll make sure you’re entirely compensated. I’ll get the books and bring them over tomorrow morning. Will you be up at noon?”
“That’s hardly the morning,” Castiel said in a monotone.
“It is for men like us. I’ll see you all tomorrow. Thank you.” He was all smiles now as if his life had been saved just by virtue of Castiel taking the case.
“Go home,” Castiel said to Alfie and Anna. “We’ll have plenty to do tomorrow it seems.”
“Right boss,” Alfie said.
Castiel faced the window and the city that never slept. He pressed his forehead to the cold glass and whispered a near silent prayer of thanks to a god he barely believed in. It was hard to keep faith in a city like this.
Anna interrupted his thoughts. “Cassie.”
Castiel jumped and turned to her. “I thought you’d gone with Alfie.”
She moved to his side and ran a hand up his arm. There was seduction in the move and a little of the deeper affection too. “You should get some sleep.” She settled her hand on his shoulder.
“I’ll turn in soon enough.” Castiel took a step back. Anna sat on the edge of Castiel’s desk. “Really, Anna, things are good now for once. You don’t have to worry about me.”
“I’ll always worry about you, Castiel. You don’t take care of yourself. You need someone to look out for you.” She looked like she wanted to be that person in more ways than one.
“Well, it looks like you and Alfie get to keep watching my back for a little longer.” Castiel reached out to the pile of money on his desk and swiped a quarter of the stack to hand off to her. “Take this. Lord knows I haven’t been paying you lately.”
She leaned into his cheek and kissed him there. “Thank you Cassie.”
“Go home, Anna. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Castiel didn’t touch her. He did nod toward the door. Anna pushed off of the desk languidly and moved toward the door. “Goodnight.”
“Goodnight.” She pulled the door closed behind her.
Castiel’s head fell. He gripped the side of the desk and murmured, “Damn it.” It stood out in a movie from this era.
When Clark Gable had said that he frankly didn’t give a damn, it was talked about far and wide. This film came out later than Gone With the Wind , and perhaps Gable’s utterance made this utterance easier for the audiences of the day. It was curious, though, that Castiel said it here, and nothing was made of it. And there was more to consider in this. Why did he say it? What in his situation was so damnable? What did he feel in that moment when Anna was pressing her lips into his cheek and walking away with seduction and unspoken promises left hanging in the air? What was it about the acquisition of a new case and the opportunity to make enough money to keep on getting by that made Castiel so unsettled that he dropped a Damn into his sentence? There was a story in that moment that colored everything else in the series.
Dean's apartment home was on the floor over the theater. It was one of the tallest structures in the area, so he had a view of all of Main Street and the mountains behind the town. He could see down into Rowena's shop and off toward the local high school.
It was a small town, but it had a big heart. There was Rachel's diner down at the corner. When Rachel got sick last spring, everyone chipped in to cover her medical expenses. She was getting better and everyone still made it their business to be on the giving end where she was concerned. It was just that kind of place.
It was likely why the town had drawn some famous types to it in the past. They'd even hosted a couple of film festivals. There was just so much underlying charm. Rowena had told him, when she moved to town a few years back, that it felt like the kind of place you come to if you want to put down some roots.
She'd said some other things too about running from her problems for long enough. Dean listened to her, but he didn’t always follow. One of the things he’d learned over his many years was that sometimes it was enough to just listen.
He’d finished the film late the night before and had not gotten enough sleep. He’d spent too much time thinking about it all. It didn’t matter that he’d seen the film maybe a dozen times already, maybe more. Every time he saw it, he found something new to focus on. This time he was focused on the use of the word damn and on the innocuous scene that followed.
He was so focused that he didn’t hear the customers approaching the concession stand until they were right in front of him, hands on the glass, leaving fingerprints. “Earth to Dean. Come in Mr. Winchester.” A hand waved in front of his face.
“A simple hello would be fine, Claire.” Dean smiled as he said it.
“I did say hello , but you were all zoned out. “ She drummed at the counter. Her blonde hair was curled today and bobbed with a joviality that seemed to match her mood. Next to her was a girl he hadn’t seen before. She had dark hair trapped under a burgundy beret. It was part of the uniform worn by the kids over at the private school down in Newman, the next town over. “This is Marie.”
“Hey Marie. You go to Newman Prep, huh?”
“Yeah, what gave it away?” she snipped.
“So, popcorn?” Dean turned his attention back to Claire.
“Yes, also, I was wondering if we could watch the City of Angels films instead of what you have on the marquee?” Claire turned on her wide-eyed pleading look. It had worked on Dean before.
“Got paying customers in there right now, for the films on the marquee. You’ll have to come by later for your Angels fix.” Dean smiled. She was, after all, as deeply invested in this series as he was.
“I don’t get what’s so special about this series. I Googled it and got nothing. Not even one fanfic about it. I mean if it was so special, people would be talking it up, right?” Marie looked a little bored even as she delivered her passionate string of sentences. Dean wasn’t a fan, but it was still early.
Claire elbowed her. “You can’t judge it until you’ve seen it. It’s awesome.”
Dean cleared his throat. “Speaking of showings, I’m doing the marathon of it this coming weekend, but I don’t have a proper poster.” He nodded toward the entryway, where the sad print job poster lingered. “You up for a quick commission job on the thing?”
“What?” She glanced at the entryway then back at Dean. “You want me to make you a poster? For the Angels’ series? Seriously?”
“Don’t act so shocked. You’re likely the only one I’d trust to do it. You’ve got the talent, and you love the films nearly as much as I do. You’re actually overqualified.” Dean hit the “No Sale” button on the till and the drawer slid open with a ding. He pulled out a couple of twenties. “This enough to get you started with supplies and all?”
Her eyes shot up to his, and she didn’t move to take the money. “You’re trying to pay me before I even do the job?”
“You’ll need supplies. I don’t imagine that you’ve got giant poster paper just laying around.”
She took the money and stared at it. “I have supplies, and this more than covers paper. Shit, Dean.”
“I’ll pay you more when you’re done. If you can get it to me before the weekend, even better.”
Marie chose this moment to pipe in, “You’re gonna need to start on this today.”
“Yeah.” She looked at Marie and added, “After our movie though. I’m not cutting that short.”
“Good.” Marie looked up at Dean and said, “Looking forward to seeing this epic film.”
“Well, if you want the preview, I’ll show the first film tonight, after the last showing finishes. You and Claire can come back if you want. Might get Claire’s creative energies flowing for the art.” Dean grinned at Claire.
“Like I need any more encouragement.” She looked at Marie and added, “So you wanna come back tonight for the late show?”
“Sounds like a plan.”
They took the proffered popcorn and went off to the theater which was showing some new rom-com. They’d see that and the other film later. Dean thought that it seemed like a rather ideal sort of day.
“Look Dean, this film should have volumes written on it for all of the subtext in it. What year was that film made?” Marie was talking a mile a minute, and Dean only caught this last bit.
“I think it was 1944.” Dean knew it was 1944, but he didn’t want to seem too obsessed.
Marie was on a roll, “Seriously Claire, you said like zero about the homoerotic subtext of like every scene in that first film. You did get the memo that we’re gay and eat this stuff up with a spoon right? I mean, come on. When you find a 1940s gay film, you proclaim it from the goddamn mountain tops.”
Claire finally got a word in, “It’s not a gay film though.”
“Look, it’s gay. Did you both just miss all of the very obvious subtext in this?”
Dean and Claire just looked at each other. “Maybe you should spell it out for us, Prep Girl.” Dean was feeling just a little put off by the fact that she had seen the film one time, exactly one time, and she was trying to school them both on the underlying meanings held within it all. That may have come out in his tone a little.
It didn’t seem to put off Marie. She went on. “So that whole opener where he fires Anna and Alfie. Classic noir films always have the dark opener where the hero seems helpless, hopeless, you know. Well this one throws all the cliches at ya. There’s the gorgeous woman that is meant to be the romantic foil for our hero. She’s into him; that much is obvious. He’s a professional, and he’s not gonna mix business with pleasure despite her very clear offer in that first scene.”
“You just haven’t seen the rest, so you don’t know. He gets married later on in the series,” Dean interrupted.
“Yeah, because gay guys never did that back in the day.” Marie slugged him on the shoulder.
“What was that for?” Dean asked.
“Just for trying to derail the subtext talk with your mansplainy business.”
“I wasn’t…” Dean stopped as she raised her fist again. The verdict was still out on whether or not he’d come to like this one.
“So he wasn’t into Anna. That much is clear. She kissed him, and he told her to leave.” Dean and Claire both nodded. Marie continued, “Then he said that little ‘damn it’ under his breath. You all caught that right?”
“I always wondered about that,” Dean said.
“Well, wonder no more. The reason is in the next scene.” Marie flailed about a little, like she was trying to point at the direction of the theater but couldn’t get her bearings straight. “He went to the bar and saw the black-coated man.”
“The black-coated man is a staple in all of the films,” Claire shared.
“I bet he is. He’s the most important piece of the subtextual puzzle.” She gripped Claire’s arm. “Do we ever get to see his face?”
Dean answered for her. “No. The bar scene from the first film is sort of repeated in the last film, and they interact a whole lot more. And although we never see his face, he’s in the last scene of the last film.”
“Shit, that’s big. You all see why right?”
“Spell it out for us, pipsqueak.” Dean smirked as he said it, and Marie looked like she didn’t approve of the nickname.
She continued anyway. “He meets up with the guy in a bar. It’s dark, but all film noir bars are dark. This one is only populated with men. He goes to the back, all confidence and swagger. The filming never gives us a face, but it give us proximity. They stand close to each other, murmured words pass between them that the audience doesn’t hear. They could practically be breathing each other’s air at this point. A minute passes like this, maybe two. You all get how long that is to just stand right up in someone’s personal space.” She grabbed Dean’s arms then and turned him so that he fully faced her. She got real close, as close as Castiel and the black-coated man.
“This isn’t weird or anything,” Dean tried to make it less awkward with humor in his tone.
“Exactly my point. You don’t know me that well, so your instinct is probably to back away from me, leave room for Jesus.”
“Maybe a little.” Dean glanced at Claire just to break the awkward stare down he was getting.
“So you’re saying that they know each other,” Claire said. Marie nodded. “Well, we already assumed that. The black-coated man has been feeding him information, and he continues to do so all the way through the series. Of course he’s comfortable.”
Marie turned to Claire then and got real close to her. “It’s different though. Just because you know someone, that doesn’t mean you stand right up in their space like this. The proximity matters and the duration. Even the way the coats intermingle, and you can’t see where their hands are. It’s all subtext.” The last bit was delivered in a near whisper right near Claire’s cheek. It was too intimate for Dean to feel comfortable anymore. He began moving off to his concession stand to close up for the night.
The girls followed him. “Well, that was educational.” Dean began wiping down the glass.
“You see it right?” Marie asked.
“Yeah, I see it.” Dean glanced back at the theater wondering how he hadn’t seen it before.
“I need to see the rest of the series,” Marie said.
“Well, let Claire finish the poster, and come to the marathon this weekend.” Dean smiled at her, happy with her enthusiasm.
“Will do, Pops.” She looped an arm through Claire’s. “Let’s go get your art on.”
They left on a sea of laughter. Dean thought about what she had said. He thought about it a lot.
The days dragged by. Ash’s friend Charlie finally stopped in to get a look at the crate and the contents. “Ash said this was a personal obsession of yours,” Charlie said as she pulled out one of the film canisters.
“Yeah.” Dean watched her. She was small, but something about her seemed fierce. He figured it was the red hair and the way her eyes looked like they’d seen too much.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got my obsessions too. I’ve seen every Star Trek film at least a dozen times. I’ve got a fair number of words memorized from the Klingon dictionary. I also participate in some Larping on the weekends. So, I’m not judging.”
“Wasn’t too worried about that.” Dean did feel a bit more comfortable though and took a seat on the couch. “Ash tell you about his efforts?”
“He did. I’m not sure what he thinks I’ll unearth. I mean, he looked in all the same ways that I would. Makes no sense for someone to hide a film and everything associated with it.”
“I know. It’s maybe why I’ve become a bit obsessed.” Dean sighed and continued, “It bugs me that all of this effort went into this series, and no one knows a damn thing about it.”
She pulled out the last film and came to the couch. She took a seat next to him and balanced the canister on her lap. “So, what’ll you do with the information if I unearth it?”
“I don’t even know.” Dean looked away then back at her. “I just feel like I’ve got to know more. I want to know why it has been erased from existence. I want to know what happened to the lead actor. I want to know how a company could produce seven high quality films that no one has ever heard of.”
Charlie’s long nails drummed the top of the film canister. “I’ll do my best.” She held out the film to Dean. “In the meantime, mind if I watch this one?”
“It’s the last one though.” Dean took the film from her and moved back to the crate to retrieve the first film instead.
She stopped him with a hand to his arm. “You and Ash have seen the first one at least a dozen times. Am I right?”
“Yeah, what’s that got to do with anything?”
“Maybe the clue is in the end. You can’t keep looking at the same thing hoping to see something new. The first film has given you nothing, and you probably rarely make it to the last film, because you always start over from film one.”
“So you really want to see the end first?” Dean felt a little unsettled by the prospect.
“I really do. Put it on.” Charlie moved to the door that would send her out to the theater. “I’ll see you in there.
The black-coated man was all over this film. They met in alleys and diners. There was even one scene that Dean didn’t remember where it seemed like the black-coated man was in Castiel’s apartment. In one of the alley scenes they seemed to be fighting. Castiel pushed him to the wall and growled out, “I pulled you out of Hell, and you’ll show me some respect.” It was hot. Dean remembered needing a good long shower after watching this film the first time. Thoughts of Castiel pushing him to the wall played in several of his dreamy fantasies.
This part also had the tragic end. It was hard to imagine this series didn’t get some buzz even just with how it ended.
It began in much the same way as they all started. Castiel stared down at the city from his office window, and talked of his regrets. He was alone by this film. Well, almost alone. There was the black-coated man always lurking in the shadows. Castiel had lost everyone he had been close to, his brothers in arms so to speak. This part reintroduced a character from part one. He’d been a simple character then, a throwaway, Dean had thought.
Holy plot twist, Gabriel was more than what he’d seemed. In the first film, he’d just been a guy running a magic shop. He did a trick for Castiel and that got Castiel’s gears turning. It had helped him solve the case. The trick had also been used by Castiel to distract a suspect in a casino in the last part. Basically, everything that Castiel got from Gabriel in that shop had been useful, but it wasn’t clear why the director had included the moment upon the first viewing.
Having Gabriel show up again in the seventh film was unexpected and, at the same time, promising. This time Castiel ran into him at a cafe. He was drinking coffee and gave Castiel the eye. Castiel joined his table as if he’d been overtly invited. He waved to a passing waiter. “Coffee, room for cream and sugar.” Dean always thought it was odd that he didn’t drink it black. It seemed like he would, just because he was harsh himself. “You’ve heard some things.” There was no lead up to this line. It had always bothered Dean that there were conversations that happened offscreen that he’d never get to know. These were Castiel’s first words to Gabriel in seemingly years, if Dean’s timeline was right.
“I’ve heard a lot of things. It’s almost time. The watcher is not watching and the dangers are not close. Running worked and so did hiding.”
“You’ve hidden yourself even better than the rest of us.” Castiel sounded a little bitter as he said it. His coffee came then, and he loaded it up with cream and sugar. He gave it a stir.
“One of us had to. It was the only way to keep an eye on things while the rest of you played your parts.”
Castiel’s face fell into a scowl. He looked off down the cobbled street toward nothing. “There was a murder in the old Elysian Hotel. I’ve been given the case.”
“And you’ll solve it. You always do.” Gabriel raised his cup to his lips and took a small sip. “You’re worried though?” There was sympathy in his tone. He reached over and gave Castiel's arm a gentle squeeze. “It'll be over soon. This will all work out.” Dean wondered again what the director was setting up here. He assumed it was for a future film that was never made, something for after the tragic end of film seven.
Castiel finished his coffee and tossed some change on the table. He got up to leave. “Despite everything, it was good seeing you again. Take care of yourself, Gabe.”
“Always do.” He waved at the seat. “Don't leave just yet. Let me give you a reading.” Castiel sighed, but he sat back down. “You act like I'm offering up torture.”
“It's always the same.”
Gabriel dealt out the tarot cards. Dean remembered how this went. It was all so symbolic. Castiel picked the death card, and Gabe would say something about how it doesn't have to be a bad thing. “Pick.” Gabe nodded at the cards laid out in front of Castiel.
Castiel barely looked at the cards. He motioned to the right, always to the right. Gabriel flipped the card, Death stared up at him. “See, the song remains the same.”
“Maybe this time it's the right death. Maybe this time it's not going to be someone you love.”
“I don't love anyone, so that's a safe bet.” With this pronouncement, Castiel got up again.
“I'm not wrong though. There's something in the wind. Things are changing. Can't you feel it?”
“Nah, same murders, different day. We play our parts 'til we don't. There's no out for me.”
“Well aren't you a good little soldier?” Gabriel's bitterness came through his tone.
“If you say so. See ya around,” Castiel said, turning away. He walked until the scene faded to black.
“Tell me everything about the black-coated man,” Charlie said.
“He's in every film, but you never see his face or learn his name.” Dean watched her pace as he removed the film from the projector and set it back to rights.
“Does he get any sort of back story?” Charlie’s brows furrowed, and she glared at him with the question.
“He's an informant. Castiel goes to him in each film. It's been pointed out to me recently that there's a bit of subtext in his character.”
“A bit.” Charlie laughed. “Subtext is not nearly so blatant. It was framed like the classic mysteries where the hero loses the gorgeous woman that he maybe loved. You got the sweeping camera shot overhead, and the clearly distraught PI on his knees in the rain.”
“Nothing's said outright,” Dean offered up feebly.
“Yeah, ‘cause it's the 40s, man. Geesh. That's also, probably, why it has disappeared. Someone watched this series and said, huh, that's a bit queer. And that same someone likely made it all go bye-bye.” Charlie stopped and came to his side.
“Then it's even more important that we learn everything we can about it.”
“Right,” Charlie said and gave him a half grin. “I don't know you so well, Dean, but I think I like the way you think. And you know what else?” With one eyebrow raised, she answered her own question. “I’m gonna figure out where this set of films came from.”
Claire came in with the poster just before the weekend marathon showing of the City of Angels series. Dean took it to the entryway immediately. Claire followed him. “You really like it?”
“It is amazing, Claire!” Dean had his keys out and was opening up the display space. He took out the printed paper and shoved it into his pocket to throw away later. “Here, help me out with this.”
Claire reached up and held the edge of the poster as Dean unrolled it. He secured it into the space, and then took a step back to admire it. “It does look better than the printer paper title you had going there.” She smiled at her handiwork. “I’m already reworking it on a second poster, but this will do for now, I think.”
“I’m plenty happy with this.” Dean wasn’t lying either. He admired the angled black and white lines that came into the scene that she’d drawn of Castiel standing tall in the center. He was wearing his trenchcoat and hat. He was glaring straight out while the other characters framed him, facing away from him. There was a hill in the background with the Hollywood sign on it. She placed the series’ title on the top in bold block letters. She even did some smaller hand lettering at the bottom. It was very professional.
“You gonna stay open through the holidays?” It was almost Christmas, and the verdict was still out on what Dean would be doing with his time. He’d already internally vetoed going out to California to see Sam. Flying was not his cup of tea. He could spend the day with Bobby and Ellen, but he kind of wanted to just hunker down in his apartment on his own. He realized that this was not something that most would find acceptable, so he hadn’t shared his work plans or much of anything.
“We’ll see.” It wasn’t an answer, but it would get him through. Claire seemed to accept it at least. He paid her for the poster, and she tried to say it was too much, but Dean won that battle. He sent her off and felt a warmth settle over him as he stared at his new poster.
In fact, he was so focused that he didn’t even notice Rowena at his side until she spoke. “So, the obsession persists, I see.”
Dean jumped a little. “Geesh, woman.”
“You had to have heard me crunching through the snow, dearie,” Rowena purred.
“I didn’t. And I’m not obsessed. I just really like this series.” Dean moved back into the lobby. It was too cold out to linger any longer.
“If you say so. The poster looks nice though.”
“It does. Claire did a great job.”
Rowena took her usual seat. “Be a dear and get me my tea, would you?”
Dean wandered over to the concession stand and got her tea going. She stared off at the poster while he worked. She looked a little sad. He wondered about that. She was normally a bit of a joy radiator, always cracking jokes and picking on Ash. She was fun to have around. Today felt different. Dean carried the tea to her table and sat down across from her. “You okay?”
“Just a touch melancholy. I think it will pass in time.” She took a sip of the tea. It needed to steep a little more. She set the cup down and continued to look out the door toward the poster. “The likeness is good.”
“I know. Claire really caught Castiel’s look perfectly.” Dean shielded his eyes from the snow glare.
“I was thinking of Gabriel when I said that. Most don’t capture his eyes right. He has kind eyes. You can tell a lot about a man by his eyes.” Rowena lifted the cup to her lips again.
“I didn’t realize you’d seen the films,” Dean said.
“It’s been awhile.” Rowena looked at him meaningfully.
“Like when I first did the marathon?”
“Something like that.” She set down her cup. “How much longer will you show it for?”
“I don’t see an end to this.”
“All things end eventually. You can’t show this series forever. People will get tired of it and stop coming.”
Dean looked at her. She sounded too serious for this casual conversation. “You sure you’re okay?”
She didn’t reply right away. “You ever been in love with someone, Dean?”
He thought about her question and why she might be shifting the focus. “I have, maybe. I don’t know. I don’t really go in for the love and love stuff.”
“Your immediate response was yes. Who do you love?” Rowena’s gaze seemed to bore in on him.
“No one at present.”
She leaned closer. “You’re lying.”
“Okay then, you tell me. Who do I love?”
Rowena looked over to the poster again. “Let me do a reading for you.”
Dean sighed and tipped his head back. “You know I don’t buy into that stuff. I don’t have a dead family member that I need to contact either. Only got the dead dad, and he and I were good when he passed.” She didn’t reply right away. Dean gazed right back at her.
She stared at him like she was seeing past him. “I know. It was a miracle, wasn’t it. The fire should have killed them all, but it didn’t, not one.”
Dean just stared at her. He never talked about that night. Sam knew about it, how the nightmares plagued him for years. His parents knew too. Of course John wasn’t around anymore to talk about it, but his mom was. Rowena didn’t know her though. Still. He didn’t go around telling people about this and neither did anyone else. “What’re you talking about.”
“Please let me give you this. It’s a gift. I’ve been needing to give it to you for a long time.” She smiled at him. He wanted to question her more, but now he was more curious than anything. She stood and held out her hand to him. He took it, and she lead him out the doors toward her shop.
The snow crunched under their feet as they walked. Rowena wasn’t wearing a coat, and she didn’t seem to be cold. Dean felt a chill run over his body. She let his hand go and unlocked her door. The room was warm and smelled of a heady mix of cedar and sage. Dean had been in the shop before, when she’d first moved into town. He’d helped her unload some boxes. It seemed to be the neighborly thing to do. The place was still full to the brim with items of an unusual sort. Taxidermied creatures posed in chairs and on bikes. There were old mannequins that seemed creepy and lifelike lurking in corners. There were also rows of drawers labeled with the names of various herbs.
Dean took it all in. Rowena raised a hand to his arm and nodded to the back. “So you aren’t gonna murder me and add me to the collection are ya?” Dean tried for humor.
Rowena laughed. “I like you too much for that.” Dean let her guide him.
“So, I don’t believe in this. I’m just agreeing because I want you to tell me how you know about the fire.” Dean sat at the table when she nodded toward the space.
“That’s fair,” she said as she pulled out a deck of tarot cards, seemingly from nowhere. Dean blanched. She began dealing them out face down in front of them both. She waved her hand over them. A look of concern blanketed her features. “I suppose my warding couldn’t last forever here.”
“Huh?” Dean reached across the table and took her hand. She looked afraid, and Dean had never seen her look afraid before.
“Choose a card, but don’t turn it over.”
Dean pointed and said, “This one.”
Rowena pulled out a box, also from seemingly nowhere. She lifted Dean’s card and set it into the box, closing the lid on it immediately thereafter. “Here is your card.” She handed him the box before whispering something over the lid that Dean didn’t understand.
Dean held the box in his hands. The rough wood seemed old and also a little fragile. The clasp was a swirl of metal with a hook running through it. The unfamiliar words were echoing in his ears. “What language was that?” Dean asked.
“Enochian, the language of the angels.” Rowena set her hands on either side of the table. She stared at him with concern. “There is danger coming to you, Dean Winchester. I brought it to your door, and I’m sorry for that. I did what I could to protect you and yours, but that danger is coming again. Enough time has passed now. My child has grown, and the angels have regained their old strength.”
“You aren’t making sense,” Dean stood but didn’t leave.
“That’s okay. You’ll understand in time. I’ve heard the prophecy. Go watch your film, and if things become scary, open the box. Show Castiel the card. He’ll know what to do. The demons can’t see the film. My spellwork has done its part.”
“Well, lady, turns out you’re a little nuts.” Dean slowly backed away from her toward the curtain. He’d run, but that seemed unnecessary. She just smiled at his pronouncement. He ran his hand behind him to the curtain and parted it. He slipped past it and let the barrier drop between them. He made a hasty retreat after that.
Rowena didn’t come back into the theater. Dean did see her across the street milling around in her shop. Charlie stopped back in to tell him that she still had nothing to report. She asked to see the film canisters again, so Dean lead her upstairs to the projection room. It was unlike him, but Dean had not replaced the last film in the crate after the last viewing from a few days ago. He hadn’t even rewound it onto it’s reel.
“This is good,” Charlie said, taking a step over to it. “Mind if I look at the film again?” She was already reaching for it.
“Go for it.” Dean stepped aside.
Charlie picked up an end of the loose film strip and began scanning it with a squinty eyed glare. Dean was growing concerned by the amount of film that was now hanging close to the floor. “Yes!” Charlie jumped a little.
“You found something?” Dean moved closer to her.
“This, this right here, buddy. Look at that. Will you just look at that.” She was pointing with her fingernail at the edges of the film, where thin letters seemed to span over the edges of multiple cells.
“What the hell is that?” Dean finally asked.
“Not a clue!” Charlie still sounded happy. “It’s something though. I mean why would someone put a bunch of writing on these cells? Also, what language is that?” She brought the film strip over to the light board that Dean installed for those rare times that he needed to splice film strips back together again. She laid out the film on it, unraveling more of it. She got out her phone and took a ton of pictures. “I’m gonna head home and do some research. I’ll text you tonight.” She practically bounded out of the room. Dean held the loose film for a moment, then started winding it back onto the reel.
That night, when the text came, he had to bite back his surprise.
Charlie: It’s Enochian. It’s connected to ancient Judaism, maybe.
Dean: It’s the language of angels.
Dean: Something I heard once.
Charlie: Angels don’t exist.
Dean: If you say so.
Charlie: I do.
Dean wasn’t sure what to do with the information. But when his mind felt too full of thoughts and worries, he usually took comfort in watching a film. He made his way down to the empty theater. A storm front had moved into the region and had blanketed everything in very thick snow. He had hung the closed sign on the front doors, proclaiming that they’d reopen in three days. No one would want to wade through the deep snow piles just to watch films anyway.
Dean set the last film in the projector and glanced at the little table next to his couch. He had set the box there, the one that Rowena had given him, the one that she’d spoken over in Enochian. He turned on the projector and took the box with him into the theater, to the front row. He watched Castiel deliver the same lines as always to the audience, to the city that never sleeps, to the eternal darkness.
The theater shook.
The storm outside raged.
Dean gripped the armrests. A loud cacophony rocked the building. Dean stood and turned to look back at the empty seats. The film played on. Castiel’s voice was at his back. Dean moved backwards toward the screen. The building seemed to howl with wind penetrating it through every crack and crevice. The building shook. There were crashing noises coming from outside. “Shit.” Dark forms seeped toward him from the hall that ran out to the lobby, like smoke but more tangible. “Shit.”
Castiel’s voice was still at his back. Dean stood in the space between the screen and the front row of seats. The shadowy forms were getting closer. The room smelled of sulfur. Dean noticed that he still had the box clutched in his hand. He turned to the screen and noticed that Castiel was staring out at him. The scene was different from what it had been every other time he’d watched the film. Castiel should have been knee-deep into his conversation with the client. Instead he was alone on the screen, his eyes concerned.
Dean opened the box. Inside was a single tarot card. He held it up to the screen. Castiel came down into a squat. He seemed to stare at the card. Then, suddenly, and rather startlingly, his giant hand moved out of the screen into the theater and grabbed Dean by the shoulder. Everything became incredibly bright for a moment. Then Dean felt his shoulder burn, as if the place where Castiel had grabbed him was on fire, or Castiel was fire, or made of too much light. Dean couldn’t see anything, but the pain of the moment caused him to scream.
Somehow, he was conscious of being lifted, being pulled from everything. There was noise too, like a high-pitched electronic blast of energy. Dean tried to hold his ears. Everything was pain. And just as suddenly, the intense burning on his shoulder, the feeling of being lifted, the noise, dropped away. He opened his eyes, that he hadn’t remembered closing and found himself on a dirty grey floor, staring at what seemed to be his own, grey hands.
He felt dizziness overtaking him. The edges of his vision were closing in on the center. He tried to raise his head, look up just a little. There was a face in front of him and in that face, kind eyes looking back at him. Dean managed one croaked out word before he passed out. “Castiel.”
Finding consciousness again was like climbing out of his own grave. His mouth felt like it was full of dirt and everything was dark.
He heard words running through his head, familiar words, a familiar voice. Castiel was taking the case from the client, an actress this time. Dean heard her voice purr and simper as she plead her case. He heard Castiel’s reply and her hasty goodbye. He heard the door open and close.
Dean opened his eyes. Everything hurt. Everything was wrong. There was no color, just bright lights switched on over his head. He was laying in a bed that was pressed into a corner. There was a large comforter draped over his body. He wasn't wearing pants or his jacket.
He let his eyes adjust to the room. He spotted his pants folded on a nearby chair and his jacket draped over the back. He swung his legs out of the bed careful not to tumble out after them. He could hear what sounded like Castiel speaking again in the next room. Dean was starting to feel clearer, and that led to him wondering why he was still hearing the characters in the film.
Dean crept toward the chair and gripped the back as another wave of dizziness washed over him. His arm still burned. He glanced at it and noted that his sleeve had been cut off, and that a large bandage had been wrapped around his shoulder.
He opted to pull on the pants. He could look at the wound later. He wondered when his vision would get back to normal. Everything still lacked color.
The voice from the other room, the Castiel voice, went silent. There was a door between them. And in the next moment the door was opening. “You're awake,” Castiel said matter of factly as he strode into the room.
“What the hell’s going on?” Dean scrambled back from him a little.
“How are you feeling?” Castiel moved closer. Dean backed away toward the tiny kitchen space.
“Like I got dragged through hell, or got way too drunk last night. My ears are ringing. Nothing's in color. You’re not real, and I’m having a conversation with you.”
“The ringing should stop soon. Sorry about that. I forget sometimes that my voice can be difficult for some people to hear right.”
“That was you?” Dean blinked a few times. Still no color. His back came into contact with a counter. He stopped retreating. Castiel stopped advancing.
“I'm sorry. A lot happened in an instant. I was more focused on saving you.”
“And the color being gone? That you too?” Dean kept blinking.
“That wasn't me. That's just the film. You get used to it, somewhat.”
“So clearly I'm not actually awake then.” Dean looked around the room. This can’t be real.
“Yeah, and I'm trapped in a movie. That makes sense.” Strangely Dean was starting to feel clarity, and yet everything was still black and white, and he was still talking to Castiel, a character in a fucking movie.
“It does and you are,” once again Castiel spoke in that serious monotone.
“Shouldn't you be getting to the newstand, then the bar? I think that was the next scene.” Dean laughed and pulled on his jacket. The sleeve was burned clear through. “Shit.”
“Are you going somewhere?” Castiel asked.
“Yeah, home. Can't believe my jacket got ruined.”
“I'm sorry about that too.” Castiel dipped his eyes to the jacket. “You can't leave yet.”
“Watch me.” Dean stepped toward the door and opened it. Castiel's office was on the other side, empty. Dean walked to the next door.
“Here, at least take a better coat. That one's burnt.” He held out a black coat to Dean. “It's the least I can do as you try to go home.”
Dean shrugged off the burned coat, wondering what the hell happened to his shoulder and his clothes, but not sure he wanted to fully process all of that yet. He slipped on the new coat and Castiel held open the door. “Well, adios,” Dean said.
“I'm going with you.”
“That's okay. I'm good.” Castiel tipped his head at that. “Really, I don't need you trailing me.”
“I won't keep you from leaving, but I don't want you to become lost. This film has a lot of gaps.”
Dean just stared at him, still unwilling to make sense of any of this. “Fine.”
Castiel followed him out.
Castiel held up a hand to Dean, stopping him a moment as he jogged up to a small newsstand. He tossed a coin to the vender and then came back to Dean, paper tucked up under his arm.
They managed to walk a few blocks before Castiel came to another sudden halt. A dive bar was to their right with its glowing sign looming overhead. “What?” Dean asked.
Castiel turned Dean toward the door and said, “Go to the little room at the back of the bar, behind the velvet curtain. I’ll meet you there.”
“What the hell?” Castiel gave him a little push toward the door. “Okay, okay.” Dean went into the bar. He’d seen the space a million times but from Castiel’s perspective. This was where he’d meet the mystery man. The scene was practically the same as it had been in the first film.
Dean reached out and parted the curtain, and then he stepped behind it. The space was small. He didn’t see the point in staying and was about to leave when suddenly, Castiel was in the alcove with him. “I tried to tell you. We play our parts in here,” Castiel whispered right up next to his ear.
“Personal space, buddy.” Dean pushed him back just a little, but they couldn't separate much in the alcove without ending up in the full bar.
“Once we go out there, the scene ends. I'll be off searching for the killer, and you'll be behind the scenes. There are a few more scenes for us plus the fades. I'll find you during each of those if I can.”
“What do you mean, a few more scenes for us?”
Castiel sighed, “You've fallen into the part of my informant. We have a few more scenes to communicate. We have to make the most of the time.”
“And you're saying that if I step out there, the scene ends, and you'll be gone?” Castiel nodded. Dean wasn't sure why he didn't like this. He had just been trying to get away, but now he was processing this, and Castiel was like a touch of safety. He at least knew what was happening.
A moment passed and Castiel drew closer and spoke near his ear again. “I will get you home. I will not let harm come to you.” There was something fierce, something intense in the way that Castiel delivered his promise.
Dean swallowed back his humorous response. “Okay.” They stood close like this for a bit too long just staring at each other. “How do I get home from here?”
“There's a portal out, but it's at the end of the film, and only a human can pass through it.”
“How do we get to the end of the film?”
“We play our parts.” Dean's head fell then. It was practically rested on Castiel's shoulder. Playing his part involved a lot of not-fun dying at the end. Dean really wasn't feeling it. “Don't worry,” Castiel insisted. “I will protect you. No harm will come to you.” He glanced toward the curtains, then added, “Maybe the dangers in your world will pass by then too.”
Dean looked up and gave him a grin. He had no faith that any of this was going to work out in his favor. Castiel nodded then, and suddenly stepped out of the alcove and into the bar. Dean watched him stalk all the way to the front door before he stepped after him. Castiel didn’t turn or seem to note that Dean was following him.
Dean kept some distance between them. He remembered this part of the film. Castiel walked through dark streets occasionally punctuated by passing cars with headlights so bright that everything burned a little. They moved past one nondescript building after another until they were suddenly in a little alley space with hanging lanterns overhead. It was the beginning of Chinatown.
All the noir films had something like this. Back in the day, American audiences would have thought that anything not American was exotic. The hero leaves the safe path, the familiar streets for foreign streets. Anything could be learned there; secrets were always buried in Chinatown. Even modern noir films paid homage to the concept. Dean had seen Blade Runner a few times and had appreciated the ways in which everything was painted in hues that weren’t quite western.
Gabe’s shop was here, though he was a sandy-haired American. He ran a magic shop on the edge of the neighborhood. Castiel wouldn’t go in the shop just yet. He passed street vendors and other assorted shops. He found a place that was cordoned off with police tape. It was one of the crime scenes connected to the murders that Castiel would investigate in this film. The informant, that would be Dean now, must have given him information on this.
“You want to buy food?” Dean’s thoughts were interrupted by a small man standing next to a cart of steaming hot buns. Just the smell of them was enough to set Dean’s stomach grumbling.
“Sure, buddy.” Dean started fishing around in his pockets. He came up with some change. “This enough?” The guy nodded. Dean handed one of them over to the man and received a rather large steamed bun. “What’s in it?” Dean asked as he took a bite.
“Pork and spices. I make them myself. It’s all I do.” Dean smiled around a second bite. It was good. Really good.
“Thanks.” Dean took a step away and kept watching Castiel as he looked over the crime scene. He found evidence that would be relevant later.
“Hello, Dean.” The voice at his side startled him. The voice came from Anna, Castiel’s secretary from the first film. She couldn’t be in the last film, having died in the first. Despite that, she held out her hand to him.
Dean wiped his palm first then shook her hand. “You know me?”
“I remember you.” She smiled a little.
“We’ve never met.” Dean let her hand go.
She looked off toward Castiel and said, “Well, not in here anyway. It’s so easy for you humans to forget us. It just takes the slightest bit of grace, and you chalk it all up to a weird dream or a passing thought.”
“Look, Anna, I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Dean started to take a step away from her, but she took a step too and stuck to his side. What is she doing here? What am I doing here?
“We met in Lawrence, before all this.” She waved her hand about, seeming to signify the whole of the film world. “I swear, Castiel laid one hand on you and was lost. The mission was simple. Kill the woman and the child, but then you came along and all that took a back seat.”
“I’m sorry, lady, but I only just met you and Castiel for that matter, and killing people would certainly have been a thing I’d remember.”
“Well, you don’t remember that, and it hardly matters. The mission changed. We changed. Once Castiel met you, we had to protect the woman and the abomination. For that matter we had to protect you too. He should have never touched you.” Anna practically spat out the words.
“There hasn’t been any touching going on.” Anna’s eyes darted to Dean’s shoulder. A skeptical eyebrow raised to the heavens. “Well, that was just to drag me into this world. He said he was trying to protect me. That was our first contact.”
“It wasn’t, but it certainly shows how quick you are to forget.” She nodded toward Castiel, who was now making his way into the Waterford building. “I’m going to leave you here now. I have no business in this film anyway. I just had to see if the rumor was true with my own eyes. There’ll be a fade to black as he comes out of the building. You can talk to him then, maybe remember that you met him before.” With that she left Dean standing at the curb. Her walk was languid and a little beautiful.
Time passed. The scene in the building was a little long. Dean tried to remember anything with Castiel that wasn’t from the movie. There was nothing. Anna was crazy. That was the only explanation. Dean crossed the street and stood under the streetlamp to wait. Castiel would see him here at least. There were people wandering about here and there. Dean watched them. Sometimes they’d turn toward him. “What the hell.” Dean squinted and tried to focus on the faces of the people walking across the street. He couldn’t focus. He wasn’t positive, but it seemed as though none of the people had faces.
Castiel stepped out onto the curb. His eyes fell on Dean, and a smile stretched full and bright across his face. Dean let his focus snap to just Castiel and that smile. Dean had dreamed of that smile, dreams he’d not admit to out loud. Castiel came to him. “The fade ends with the client in my office tomorrow afternoon. We have more room for movement now.”
“I’m going to pretend I understand any of this.”
Castiel started walking back toward his neighborhood. Dean fell into step at his side.
“I’m tired,” Castiel breathed out.
“I could just tell you who the killer is, end this early for you.”
“Not how it works.” He glanced at Dean. They walked close, knuckles brushing with each step. Dean felt it like static electricity. Anna was wrong. He hadn’t met Castiel before. He’d certainly remember it, catalogue every nuance of it into permanent memories. But damn if this all didn’t feel familiar, comfortable, good. Castiel broke through his thoughts. “You need to eat.”
“I had a pork bun when you passed through Chinatown,” Dean offered.
“Yeah, hardly a meal.” Castiel’s hand came up to Dean’s elbow and directed him down a side street.
A diner loomed up out of seemingly nowhere. “Oh, Pamela’s Diner,” Dean said.
“Yeah. It’s in this film toward the end, but it gets more attention in film four.” They passed through the door, and Castiel guided him to a booth at the back. Pamela set down menus and Castiel said, “Two cheeseburgers, two vanilla shakes.” Pamela scooped up the untouched menus and left them.
“How do you know I don’t want a salad?” Dean didn’t want a salad.
“They only serve cheeseburgers and vanilla shakes or coffee.” Castiel’s mouth stretched into a grin again. He didn’t smile so much in the film. Dean remembered all the grim-faced stares that he delivered, and the focused menace he seemed to carry in his micro expressions. Castiel’s hands sat folded on the top of the formica table top. His long fingers were woven together. Dean stared at them a little too long.
“I saw Anna.”
“She’s everywhere. I’m not surprised.” Castiel looked away. His expression shifted.
“She said we’d met before. You and me.” Dean watched for a tell.
Castiel looked grim again. He brought his hands down to his lap. “We just met an hour ago. She’s mistaken.” And although Dean would have agreed with him before, something about how he said it seemed like a lie.
“We’ve met before,” Dean said it like he knew it to be true.
Castiel just stared at him. “Sometimes I think that she wants to get back at me for getting us all stuck in here. Like she blames me more for us being here than she does anyone else.”
Dean wasn't too be put off onto another tangent. “How'd we meet?”
“That's a long story, longer than this fade. Let's just say I had a mission in Lawrence, and I failed.” Castiel leveled his gaze on Dean then and added, “That's how we met.”
“What was the mission?”
“I was sent to kill someone and their unborn child.”
Dean sunk back into the both a little further from Castiel. “Well, shit.”
“I said it was a mission that I failed .” Castiel seemed to be boring a hole through the tabletop now. Pamela returned later with their food and slid it across the table rather noisily.
Dean began eating to fill the silence. Halfway through the burger, which was quite good, he stopped and said, “Why’d you change your mind about the whole, you know, murdering people business?”
Castiel had been picking at his food but not eating it. Without looking up he said, “I met you.”
“And?” Dean wiped his hands off on the little paper napkin on his knee.
Castiel looked up. “I’m an angel, Dean. We all are. Well, except for you.” Castiel sighed. “Angels are different. We exist for a purpose. I was an archangel. They called me Cassiel. My mission was to observe and to stop deviation.”
“So you’re telling me that all of the characters in the City of Angels series are actual angels?” Dean laughed. “And you, an angel, were going to kill a pregnant lady.” Dean laughed again. “Look, I don’t believe in all that heaven and hell, angels and demons bullshit, but angels, from what I’ve seen in movies and shit, don’t go around killing pregnant ladies.”
Castiel looked irritated. “I am an angel. I didn’t kill a pregnant lady. You are currently submersed within a movie. How is it so hard for you to believe any of what I am saying? Look around you, Dean.”
And Dean did look around him. It was all so much. It was easier to not believe it. It was easier even to just outright deny it all. “Why me?”
Castiel let out a long frustrated sigh. “I never was good at following orders to the letter. Sometimes I observed for too long. Sometimes I questioned orders, had doubts. Mostly, I followed through with the commands of heaven. It was what I was made for. This mission though, troubled me from the start.” Castiel picked up a french fry from his plate and ate it. “I saw you before I saw the target. Your soul was one of the most brilliant I’d ever seen.”
“So my soul is hot?” Dean smirked.
“The temperature of your soul is of no consequence; although I suppose it would be warmer than most.” Dean started laughing then. “I do not see what you find so funny.”
Dean was slapping the top of the table a little as he laughed. “Shit man. Are you always so literal?”
Castiel tipped his head to the side. “I have been told that I am.” Dean started laughing again. “I’ve been told that I should take the time to observe humor in humanity, that it would be good for me.”
“You’re plenty funny.” Dean picked up his burger and ate a few more bites. He settled back from the table and picked up the shake. He sucked on the straw, and Castiel watched him. “You gonna eat your food?”
“I don’t need to eat.”
“You don’t need to eat or you don’t want to eat?”
“They are the same.”
“Now that's where you're very wrong, buddy. Think of it like sex.” Dean's lips quirked up a bit. “I don't need sex to get by, but I want sex, pretty much all of the time. See, different.” Dean winked. “So, do you want to eat?”
Castiel reached down to his plate and picked up the burger. He took a large bite out of it. His eyes rolled up in his head as he moaned around the bite. He swallowed it down and opened his eyes. “I like this a great deal. This is very good.”
Dean laughed. “Yeah, it is. Maybe you shouldn't deprive yourself.” Dean slowly sucked down his shake and watched Castiel sinfully devour the rest of his food, complete with entirely sexual moaning. When he finally finished seducing his meal, Dean asked him, “So how did my pretty little soul keep you from killing a pregnant lady?”
Castiel leaned back into the seat. “It distracted me. I was sent there to end what was thought to be an abomination, a child conceived by a human and an angel. I’d never understood how an angel could succumb to such depravity.”
“So, I guess that means that you didn’t get up to much cloud seeding in your spare time,” Dean joked.
Castiel seemed to think about Dean’s words for a moment, head tipped again like it had been before. Then understanding bloomed on his face. “No.” He looked away from Dean, and the black and white world made it unclear as to whether or not he was blushing. Dean wondered if angels did blush. “After I saw you, I was uncomfortable with the task. Gabriel used that to his advantage.”
Dean interrupted, “The magician.”
“Well, in here that’s his part. Out there, he is an archangel, the most powerful of us all. Michael would argue that point, and Lucifer might argue it as well, but that doesn’t change the truth.”
“How is this real?” Dean felt Castiel’s foot under the table pressed up firmly against his own. He wondered why it felt right and familiar. Maybe they had met before. He tried to find a memory to tie to it all, but he still couldn’t find anything to latch onto.
Castiel continued his story as if he hadn’t been interrupted. “Gabriel knew why I was there. We fought, but he never was a quiet fighter. He talked through each punch and parry. Midway through it all, I noticed that he wasn’t trying to kill me. It was an elaborate dance designed to keep me from my mission, to give me time to think. And I did think. It didn’t help that you showed up and distracted me.”
“So, what’d you do?” Dean asked.
“I put up my blade, and I listened to him.” Castiel folded his hands on the table. “He asked for time, just a little. He said that if I still felt the same way at the turn of the season, that I could complete my mission.”
“Whoa. He’d actually let you kill his kid? That’s pretty fucked up.” Dean leaned forward into the table.
Castiel leaned forward too. “Gabriel is a notorious liar. He’d no sooner let me kill his child at the season change as he would at the moment I made my presence first known to him. Thankfully,, I didn’t care at the time. I wanted to observe and consider my mission.”
“So, clearly you changed your mind.”
“I did.” Castiel picked up his hat from off the seat next to him. “Come on. We’ll walk back toward the apartment and talk on the way.”
“Is the fade about to end?” Dean asked.
“We still have time.” They got up and left the diner. Castiel put his hat back on and walked close to Dean’s side. “We did this a lot.”
Dean glanced at him and asked, “Did what?”
“Walked like this. You thought I was just passing through town on my summer break from some college that I made up. I guess I lie too. You asked me a lot of questions. It was hard to come up with appropriate lies.”
“So we walked around a lot, and you lied to me. Nice, Cas.” Dean rolled his eyes.
“You use to call me Cas then too.” His knuckles brushed the back of Dean’s hand and sent little ripples of static up his arm. It felt familiar too. “Gabriel would joke when he’d see me. He knew about you. He’d say things like, how’s your boyfriend, or still having trouble understanding angel-human relations?”
“Wait,” Dean said, and stopped in the middle of their walk. Castiel took two more steps before turning around and facing him. “Were we…” Dean didn’t finish the sentence, just let the implications hang out in the air between them. When Castiel didn’t seem to be following, Dean raised his hands and started making sexual hand motions, one finger going at it with the fist of his other hand.
“Oh, no that was just Gabriel’s way of making a point.” Dean fell into step next to Castiel and they continued onward. “There was certainly no lack of effort on your part though. If you had your way, we’d have been,” Castiel made air quotes and continued, “How’d you say it, seeding clouds.”
Dean’s steps faltered. “Pretty sure I’d remember that.”
“We didn’t seed any clouds.”
“Yeah, picked up on that. Guess that’s something angels don’t need to do.”
Castiel shrugged. “Gabriel would beg to differ. He’d say that angels should partake more. That it might loosen them up a little. He has theories. He also brought a whole host of problems down on the head of a good woman because he decided to engage in such activities.”
“You begrudge him that?”
“No, I just think that if you love someone, as he claims to love Rowena, that you don’t risk their life for a passing pleasure.”
“Rowena?” Cas nodded. “Rowena, like Rowena?” Cas nodded again. “Well, that makes sense I guess.” Dean laughed, “So you think that Gabriel didn’t love her because he had sex with her?”
“Yes. I believe that if you love someone, that you do whatever you can to spare them from danger.”
“Spoken like someone that has never experienced a,” Dean made the air quotes now, “passing pleasure.”
“Doesn’t make my words any less true.” Castiel’s building loomed up on the corner. They got to the steps and Castiel stopped. “You should try to get some sleep once we get in there. We can meet for lunch during one of the afternoon fades.”
“Where should I go to find you?”
“Meet me in front of Gabriel’s magic shop. We’ll walk together from there.”
Dean nodded and said, “Okay.”
Castiel started to walk up the steps but stopped. “The evening will be over once I go into the building. You should head up first.” He held the door open for Dean, and Dean squeezed past him into the vestibule. “I know I shouldn’t be happy that you’re here, but I am.”
Dean smiled at him. If this had been a normal date, he’d lean in and kiss him quick and chaste. It hadn’t been, and this was maybe not something that Castiel would want from him. Dean nodded and headed up the stairs to the apartment. He felt Castiel’s eyes on him with each step.
Dean had a moment of worry when he first stepped into Castiel's apartment. There was one small bed tucked into the corner. He wondered if Castiel would come back needing sleep at some point.
He also had nothing to sleep in beyond what he was currently wearing. Dean opted to rummage through Castiel's drawers until he found something. In the end, he found some lightweight cotton pajama pants. He took off his clothes and pulled on the pajamas.
Dean gave his shoulder some consideration before he removed the bandage. He stood in front of the bathroom mirror, mouth agape as he took in the sight of the wound. The raised, hand print shaped burn looked like it wouldn't be healing any time soon.
He finally went to sleep. There was a small thought as he started drifting off that maybe this had all been a dream. Maybe he'd wake up to a world of color again. That world wouldn't have Castiel in it though, so he wasn't sure how he felt about that.
Dean cracked his eyes open and took in the black-and-white world. Castiel sat in a chair facing the bed, watching him sleep. “Thought we were meeting at the magic shop.” Dean started rubbing his palm into his eye.
“We are. I took advantage of a fade to come home and check on you.” Castiel was still staring at him with too much intensity for first thing in the morning.
“Worried that I'd leave?” Dean started to sit up.
“I don't know. Maybe.” Castiel glanced at the door to his office. “Do you always talk in your sleep?”
A moment passed before Dean had a response. He wondered what he had said. His dream hadn't been PG. Castiel had a starring role too. “What’d I say?”
Castiel shrugged, then said, “Not much.”
“Seriously, dude, you gotta tell me.”
“It was mostly noises.” Castiel wasn't looking at him. “You seemed happy. I chose not to wake you.”
“Well I'm up now and lacking coffee. So instead of being creepy and watching me sleep, why don't you make some.” Dean winked to encourage cooperation. Castiel got up and moved off to the kitchen to comply. “I could get used to this.”
“Don't get too pleased with the situation just yet. I've never made coffee before. You're going to be quite disappointed.” Castiel looked over his shoulder back at Dean and winked. This was apparently going to be something they just did now.
“You never finished explaining how I and my very gorgeous soul kept you from following through on your mission.” Dean got up and stretched as he made his way over to the very tiny kitchen space.
“I should not have complimented your soul. Clearly, you fixate on praise.” Castiel continued to fiddle with the coffee pot.
“Here, let me do this. You really don't have a clue.” Dean got the pot brewing, and Castiel watched like he was taking notes for a future effort.
“We talked a lot about your plans for the future, your family, the things that mattered.” Dean turned to him, and Castiel continued, “For all of my time observing, I never really spent time with actual humans. I learned a lot from you. I came to trust you.”
“I'm waiting for the part where things go wrong,” Dean said.
“Well, we are here now.” Castiel shrugged and walked away from the counter. “Things were bound to go bad eventually. It wasn't just the angels that cared about this birth. There was a prophecy, and the demons and the Leviathan got themselves interested too.”
“So, why Lawrence? I mean nothing big ever really happens here.”
Castiel turned back to Dean and said, “That's not true. People are drawn to Lawrence for pretty much no reason at all. People show up for those film festivals from all over the world. One of the biggest gold strikes in ‘49 was in Lawrence.”
“So I guess I'm still wondering why?” Dean asked again.
“Maybe because the last two prophets were born there. I'm not sure. But for no good reason at all, when Gabriel and Rowena finally stopped running, it was in Lawrence that they stopped.”
“You were all there for awhile. Why didn't anyone find them?”
“Rowena’s spell kept them from being located for a time.”
“But you found them early, right?” Dean poured his coffee and walked over to Castiel.
“I knew him better than anyone. I knew how to find him. I was quite determined not to let anyone else find him first.”
“And how did we end up here?”
Instead of answering, Castiel ended up diving across the bit of space between them. There was a loud crack of noise, a gunshot, and Dean's face was smashed hard into the floor, his coffee spilling everywhere. “Stay down.”
“What the hell!” Dean's words were muffled by the hard press of Castiel's body on him.
“Are you okay?” Castiel moved off of Dean. He looked about the room a little terrified.
“Yeah, but what the hell just happened?” Dean looked at the window, not broken. Everything was as it had been. He looked at Castiel. “Are you okay?”
Castiel backed to the door. “The fade is over. That's my reminder.” He was clearly shaken. He turned and rushed out the door.
“What the hell?”
Dean couldn't just sit around in the apartment after that. The sound of the gunshot had been loud. It was as though it had come from inside the apartment. Dean checked all of the walls. Nothing was amiss.
He got dressed and headed out to Gabriel's magic shop. He'd wait for Castiel and hope for some answers.
Standing in front of the shop, didn't work with Dean's normal levels of patience. He fidgeted and somehow cut his finger on a sharp edge of a little sign that was propped on the sidewalk out front. Still he tried to just linger. He only managed to stand out front pacing and leaning against a lamppost for all of five minutes.
The shop was cluttered with items, from top hats to large metal rings. There were odd silver blades on display by the door and shelves of herbs behind the counter. It felt familiar. There was a child behind the counter too with a mop of dark hair.
This wasn’t a character that Dean recalled from the series. “Hello,” Dean said as he moved into the center of the room.
The child stared at him for a beat before yelling, “Dad!”
Gabriel rushed into the room and came to an immediate stop when he saw Dean. “Oh, you. How?” Then he glanced down at the door where Dean was standing. An intricate design was painted on the floor. “So you're possessing look alikes now, huh?”
Gabriel stretched his arm out in front of him and one of the fancy metal blades was suddenly there. “Dad?” The child sounded worried.
“It's okay. Go in the back,” Gabriel said, motioning with his free hand to the doorway behind him. He stepped toward Dean. “How dare you.”
“Look I don't want anything. I'm just meeting Castiel here. Thought I'd ask you questions. I can wait outside.”
Gabriel still stared at him with a ferocity that made Dean afraid to move. “Step forward.”
Before Dean stepped forward, he said, “Please don't stab me.” He took one small step toward Gabriel.
Dean was now uncomfortably close to Gabriel's blade. “Well, that's a relief.” Gabriel lowered the blade and pulled Dean into a hug. “Long time no see partner.”
What the fuck. “So you're not gonna stab me now?”
“Of course not, Dean.” He laughed and stepped back from Dean. “Not like you're one of those demon bastards. You stepped out of the trap.” Gabriel waved at the design in the floor. He leaned into the doorway. “It's okay now, Fergus. He's a friend.”
“Fergus?” Dean's heartbeat was still drumming harshly in his chest. Not every day you almost get stabbed.
“His mom choose the name. It was her grandfather's name.”
Fergus poked his head around the corner. “Can I play back here with Growley?”
“Yeah, of course. Maybe bring us a plate of the danishes. We'll be in the tarot room.”
Gabriel motioned Dean through the doorway and past a thick curtain. Suddenly, Dean realized why the place was familiar. “This is Rowena's shop.”
“Yeah. She and I spent a lot of time running, saw lots of places. This apparently formed from some of our most vivid memories interspersed with the films in your father’s hayloft.” Gabriel waved at the chair opposite his at the tarot table. “Have a seat.”
“I literally just did this with Rowena the other day.” Dean looked around the room which was an exact replica of the other except for the lack of color.
“You aren’t swooping in and stealing my girl are ya?” Gabriel smiled as he asked it.
“We’re friends.” Dean leveled his focus back on Gabriel. He could hear the kid talking to someone in the back. “Someone else here?”
“No, that’s just Fergus talking to his imaginary friend, a big dog named Growley.”
Gabriel tipped his head a little like he was looking for something in Dean’s face. “How long’s it been?”
“Since the fire, since we all ended up in here?” He drummed at the table and added, “I’m trying to determine how long from how old you seem to be. I’ve never been good at that though.”
“It’s been just over nine years since the fire.”
“Wow. Now that’s something. I would have thought that they’d have figured it out by now. And Rowena’s still okay too?” Dean nodded. “A miracle. I thought for sure they’d figure it out,” Gabriel repeated.
“Who?” Dean asked.
“Any of them, the angels, the demons. Shoulda known that Rowena would keep us safe.” Gabriel beamed with pride.
At that moment Fergus came into the room with a plate full of danishes, and Dean was just hungry enough to want to eat the whole plate of them. As Fergus set them down, a low growl came from the doorway. Dean jumped back from the table. “Oh God!” The dark mass of a dog with glowing red eyes filled the entire doorway. The eyes were the first bit of color he’d seen since crossing into the film.
“What?” Gabriel rose and came to his side of the table. He was staring at the same doorway that Dean was, but he seemed to see nothing. “What is it?” he asked again.
“Seriously, you don’t see the giant dog monster in the doorway?” Dean gripped the armrests on the chair. He was certain that if he made any sudden moves, that the creature would attack. Its eyes were entirely focused on Dean. Its mouth hung open, and a long string of drool ran to the floor in front of it.
“That’s just Growley,” Fergus said. He walked over to the doorway and set a hand on the creature. “He won’t hurt you.”
“You see something there, Dean?” Gabriel asked.
“Well, your kid is petting a giant, scary looking monster dog with red eyes.”
Gabriel moved toward Fergus. He didn’t seem to be afraid, just cautious. He came down onto his haunches and was at eye level with Fergus when he spoke. “Growley is real?”
“Of course he is,” Fergus smiled as he answered.
“And he’s standing right here in the doorway?”
“Is he friendly?”
Fergus tipped his head. He didn’t answer for a moment. “He won’t hurt me.”
“Will he hurt me?” Gabriel asked.
“Hurting you would hurt me,” Fergus answered.
“Will he hurt Dean?”
“Only if he tries to hurt us. He watches over us.” Fergus curled his arms around the ‘dog’s’ neck and hugged it tight. The creature closed its eyes like it was enjoying the affection. “He loves me.”
“Where’d he come from?” Gabriel asked.
“There were others. I use to leave food out for Growley. Once when I was playing in the backyard, the others came. They weren’t nice dogs. Growley was bigger, way bigger. He protected me.” Fergus scratched the top of Growley’s head, and the creature nuzzled into the touch.
Gabriel turned to Dean. “What’s the thing doing?”
“He looks happy with the hugs and scratches that Fergus is giving to it.”
Gabriel considered this for a moment then said, “Why don’t you take Growley to your room. You two can play there while I talk with Dean.”
Fergus shrugged, and Growley followed him out of the room. When it was clear that they were alone again, Dean said, “So, what was that?”
Gabriel sank into the seat across from Dean again. His shoulders slumped forward heavily like he was suddenly carrying the whole weight of the world. “Looks like my son has befriended a Hellhound, and I’ve been oblivious to the fact.”
“You aren’t a little nervous about sending him to his room with that thing?”
“Seems like if it wanted to hurt him, it would have done it by now. I’ve been hearing him talk to Growley since,” Gabriel seemed to be processing time for a moment, “maybe since he was six years old.”
“Well, I pity the poor soul that tries to take on that thing. Looked like he’d tear a person to shreds.” Dean felt his hands finally loosen up from their grip on the armrests. A clock in the corner of the room started cooing. A small bird jutted in and out of the front of it. Dean jumped a little. “This place is giving me the heebee jeebees, and I’ve only been here for a little while. How do you live like this?”
Gabriel shrugged. “It feels like home now.” He reached out and started shuffling the tarot cards. “You came to ask me some questions though, so start asking before my brother shows up.”
Dean couldn’t even remember what he wanted to ask. It seemed that every time a question came to him, some new distraction would get in the way, and there’d be ten new questions to ask on top of the last one. It was also a little disconcerting to be without memories of the life that everyone else was just taking for granted. There was a lot that he needed to understand. Some things seemed dangerous, even in this movie world. “What’s the deal with the gunshots during the fades?”
“Oh, that.” Gabriel grimaced a little. “This universe’s little reminder to Castiel to play his part. He did play his part at first, for a long time, actually. I think it was a comfortable distraction. Later, he became frustrated with all of this.” Gabriel waved his hands about to signify everything. “He tried to rebel, but then he had to relive your death over and over. It was like a thousand times or some shitty thing like that. Sometimes he even pulled the trigger. He was so done with it all. Imagine playing out the same scenes for years with no end in sight, and knowing that it always ended with the one person you cared about most dead at your feet.”
“Wait, I’m confused. You know I only just got here right? He couldn’t have seen me die or whatever. I wasn’t here.”
“Yeah, that. Well, it’s not so simple as that. You did get shot, and he keeps having to relive it.”
Dean ran his hands through his hair. Literally all angels need a course in basic communication. “Why don’t you try explaining this in its most simple terms. I clearly don’t know what you’re saying.”
Gabriel got up and walked over to him. “I can show you, but it’ll be weird since it’s not a memory of yours, but instead, a weird part of the film that he sees every time it plays out.” He reached out to Dean’s forehead and held two fingers in front of it. “Is this okay?” Dean nodded.
With the press of Gabe’s fingers to his head, Dean was suddenly sucked into a scene. He was laid out on the cold, hard cement. He couldn’t move, but he could see. Rain fell down in hard splashes all around him. Castiel was on his knees, hands pressed to his stomach. Dean felt the pain of the wound that Castiel was holding. The blood flowed freely. Tears streamed down Castiel’s face. “No, no, no. You aren’t dying. I’m not letting you die. You’re too important to everything. To me.” He pressed harder. “Come on. Heal!”
The scene snapped away again, and Dean gasped as if he hadn’t breathed during the entire moment. ‘What the hell!”
“Yeah, it’s a lot. But maybe now you can see what he’s been going through. He doesn’t have all of his powers here like he did out there. Don’t get me wrong; he’s not powerless, but healing you has always been a no go.” Gabe waved his hand out at the ceiling. “Poor guy has to watch you die every time the film ends. Sometimes I go with him. It’s rough on him. He usually tries to heal you, even knowing that he can’t. I do my best to console him. Sometimes he looks so defeated. There’ve been times when he just slumps over your body and lets the rain beat down on him. Those nights are the worst.” A moment passes in silence, then Gabe looks up from the table with a too large grin. “But hey, now you’re here and that’s a good thing. Maybe it means we get to go home.”
“Yeah, I guess. I don’t really see how, but I guess it’s better to have some kind of hope.”
Gabe said, “Sure is.” He tipped his head as if trying to read Dean then asked, “So, am I right in assuming that you don’t remember any of it, of us?”
“Nothing. I actually thought that Castiel and all the rest of you were just interesting characters that I got to watch on the big screen every now and then.”
Gabriel smiled. “So are you running the theater now?”
“Yeah, ever since my pops passed away.”
“Sorry to hear that. He was a good man.” Gabriel leaned back in his chair. “How about the rest of your family? Your smokin’ hot mom and baby brother doin’ okay?”
“Uh, creepy, and yeah they’re doing good. Mom is off in South America. She signed on with the Peace Corps after dad died. She said she needed to do more with her life or something. Sam went off to Stanford. I’m pretty proud of him.”
“I’ll never forget your family’s kindness. Most wouldn’t have taken in a couple of strangers like that. Your mom and pops were not like most folks.” Gabriel smiled with the memory of that time. “Knowing that we had a safe place in the hayloft at your family’s place made it easier for us to ward the town. Made it easier for Rowena to work on the spell too.”
“Weird. It doesn’t match with my memories at all. Rowena only just came to Lawrence six or seven months ago.” Dean drummed on the table a little with his knuckles.
“She may have left for a time, but she was there with me before. She had a lot more to do. The spell to protect us, the spell that locked us all in this film, it was only part of the plan, and it didn’t exactly go perfectly.”
“What do you mean?”
Gabriel sighed. “I mean, none of us ever intended to get popped off into an eternal movie loop. I mean it’s better than being dead, but this was not what was supposed to happen. I mean, it doesn’t even have sex in it.”
“Wow, uh, that’s not creepy. You want to get shuffled off into a porno or something?”
“No, Dean. Clearly not. I’m just saying that living here without Rowena in a strange noir film was not ideal, just better than watching everyone I love die.”
“How long did it all take, the getting ready?” Dean asked.
“For the spell?” Gabriel asked. Dean nodded. “About three months once we actually started. We were there longer than that.” Gabriel closed his eyes as if he needed to concentrate on the memory.
“So Fergus was born in Lawrence?”
“Yes. Rowena’s pregnancy was different from what most humans would expect. Normally, when a nephilim is conceived, it’s a death sentence for the human carrying the child. There had been a prophecy though. I knew that our child was destined to do great things, and that he had to exist.”
“Even if that meant that Rowena would die?” Dean scowled. It didn’t matter that he knew she survived. What mattered was the risk that Gabriel was willing to take.
“Look, you’ve met her. She’s not like most people. She’s strong, and powerful. I watched her take on a whole gang of demons single-handedly. She barely broke out in a sweat. Somehow I knew that she wouldn’t die from this experience.”
“So you just figured you’d risk her because you had a feeling it would be fine?” Dean was even more disgusted. He remembered what Castiel had said about the situation. He felt inclined to agree.
“No, I knew she’d be fine, clear as day. And at the time, I was not really thinking about all the consequences. I just knew I loved her, and she loved me. And yeah, I get that it all sounds like cheese and such, but it was…”
Dean interrupted, “Meant to be. A more profound bond. Some sort of Hallmark-level romance.”
“Whatever.” Gabriel huffed out a gust of frustration. “It wasn’t as sappy as you and your boyfriend.”
“Castiel is not my boyfriend.” Dean got up and stalked over to the far wall. He dragged his hands up into his hair in frustration.
“Well, just ‘cause you all didn’t do the do, doesn’t make it any less true. Ha, that rhymed.” Gabriel leaned into the doorway with the curtain. “Look, I’m sorry about the whole memory thing with you.” Dean turned to him. Gabriel waved his hand between them, fingers flailing a bit more. “The spell shouldn’t have done that, but it also shouldn’t have put us in the movie either. It was supposed to pop us out of this world and into another one that was more hospitable.”
Gabriel explained too briefly, “Yeah, there’s infinite parallel universes. We thought that maybe another universe might be better. And if it wasn’t, then we’d do the spell again and maybe again. Whatever we needed to do to protect our boy, our family, we were set on doing it.”
“This all sounds really crazy. I’m pretty sure I’m gonna wake up at home with some sort of a wicked hangover or in a hospital with a concussion.” Dean paced back and forth now, a level of nervousness taking over.
Gabriel walked into his path. He reached out a hand, two fingers extended. “It doesn’t make sense that you’d forget so much. You mind if I take a look in that melon of yours?”
“Whoa, you can do that?” Dean stepped back a moment.
“I’ve got some impressive skills. Reading minds is easy.” Gabriel raised his fingers to Dean’s head again and repeated, “You mind?” Dean nodded and Gabriel gently touched Dean’s head. “Whoa, that’s... okay then.”
“What?” Dean stepped back. Gabriel’s hand fell back to his side.
Gabriel looked a little sad. “My brother doesn’t understand how important certain things are.” Gabriel waved back at the table. “Sit.”
Dean did as Gabriel told him. “You saw something wrong in my head?” He was trying not to sound anymore upset, but seriously, everything was wrong.
Gabriel started telling a story right from the middle. Dean blinked past the confusion and listened. “He was so judgemental at first. He was actually going to kill Rowena and our unborn child. Then he saw you past the cloaking spell that Rowena had us hidden in. You were picking pears from your family’s orchard. There’s a metaphor in that I’m sure.”
Dean recalled aloud, “He said that my soul distracted him.”
Gabriel laughed. “Yeah, he went on about that for days.” Gabriel raised his voice into a higher octave, pretending to be Castiel. It was a far from accurate depiction of Castiel’s low graveled voice. “His soul is the most vibrant, the most beautiful thing I’ve seen. I will hump his soul. We will make babies, his soul and I.”
“Pretty sure that’s not what he said.”
Gabriel smiled. “I may have remembered it differently than he did.”
“Quite differently, I’m sure.”
Gabriel continued, “Regardless, he gave up with trying to kill my family and started spending a lot of time with you. Turned out you were good for him. Helped him get the giant stick out of his ass. Made him less of a dick. So thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Dean said.
“Castiel didn’t understand love. He tried to logic everything, and love cannot be logicked. He told me that if I loved Rowena, really loved her, I’d leave her, pull the demons from her in my wake. He judged my choices. He saw nothing but selfishness in my relationship with her. In his view, if you love someone, you don’t let them stand by your side facing danger, you make danger go away.”
“How do you make the danger go away?” Dean asked.
Gabriel looked sad. “In some ways he was right. When I first saw her, before I knew what I was feeling, I could have left. I could have made myself known to my pursuers and popped off to the other side of the world. I didn’t. She was so fascinating. I watched her. I admired her. Then I talked with her. Then I fought at her side. Sometimes we said nothing to each other. We’d just sit out in the field contemplating stars. I remember when she held my hand for the first time. She felt so small beside me.”
Gabriel shook his head, seemingly snapping out of the memory. Dean said, “I believe that you cared for her, but Castiel is a little right. If you love someone, you don’t put them in danger, just to be together. If you love someone, you do what you can to keep them safe, even if it hurts.”
“And that’s why you two are so right for each other. You see things the same way.” Gabriel looked off at the broad rows of books that lined the wall of the room. “It’s not the same for everyone. Some of us believe in free will. We believe in it so strongly that we let those that we love make their own choices about things that concern their future even if their choices worry us a great deal. Some of us also think that love doesn’t mean leaving someone with no memory of the past just because you’re afraid of the future. Sometimes it’s harder to stay and face the world, but you do that because you love someone too much to run. In the end, I loved Rowena too much to take away her choices, and this was as much her choice as mine.”
Dean’s brows came together. “What are you telling me?”
Gabriel got up again. “I think you should have your memories back.” He reached out his hand to Dean’s forehead and stopped just before contact. “It’s your choice though. Do you want them back?”
Dean leveled his gaze at him and said, “Yes.”
Chapter 3: Interlude: Lawrence, CA, 2008
“Throw these out while you're at it,” John Winchester hollered out the door as he tossed two giant garbage bags out the theater doors.
Dean gave him a little salute as the door closed between them. Currently he was sweeping out the entryway, a task which would later turn into shining up the poster cases. It was spring, and they were all getting into the deep cleaning spirit.
Dean started dragging the broom again in large, sweeping paths over the entryway floor. He felt peace in this moment, a warm joy that seemed to exist for no reason at all.
A roll of thunder stopped his movement. Dean stepped out to the curb and stared at the distant sky. California was like that. It didn’t do much to differentiate the seasons beyond the petering out of one for the next. This thunder felt off. The sky darkened, but only on the far southern horizon. Over him the sky was still perfectly blue.
Dean gave the floor at his feet a half-hearted sweep. The main street through town stretched out seemingly forever toward distant hills. Dean looked into the distance.
Thunder rumbled again. A moment later the dark clouds coalesced just over the road. Lightning struck in one jagged electric blue-white cut from sky to asphalt. It was impressive to behold, but not the most unusual thing to happen in that moment.
Dean blinked, then shook his head. Two figures stood on the road near where the lightning had struck. Dean took a step toward them as if that would bring clarity. They were quite far away. “What the hell?” Dean wiped the back of his hand over his brow. “Maybe the heat’s getting to me.” It wasn’t that hot out.
He continued to stare down the long road at them. They walked toward town. Slowly they edged off the road toward the side. It was a little less disconcerting now that they weren’t walking down the middle of the street. The closer they got the more details Dean picked up. The one figure was a red-headed woman. The other was a dark blonde-haired man. The woman was pregnant and walked with a hand splayed out over her stomach. She was fairly far along if Dean had to guess from her appearance.
Dean leaned on his broom, not even pretending to work as they approached. They slowed their steps as they got closer to the theater. Dean decided to speak. “Did you have some car trouble?” His brain was trying to make sense of what he was seeing, and though he had no reason to believe that they had a car anywhere, he hoped that they’d say yes. It would make things easier to digest than the thought that they came out of a flash of lightning or from nowhere at all.
They stopped walking and the woman said, “Yes, we had car troubles.” Her honey-rich Scottish accent rolled over him, making the words feel more like a melody than a mere statement.
“I can recommend a good mechanic,” Dean offered. He was still seeing it, the light, the sudden appearance.
The man spoke now. “That won’t be necessary, but if you could point us to a bit of food. My wife is hungry.”
“Sure, sure.” Dean pointed across the street to Rachel’s Cafe. “They’re great. They have the usual diner grub, but the pie is, well, there’s nothing usual about it. It’s some kind of extraordinary.”
The man’s lips curled up into a half grin. “Sounds like just what we need.” He nodded and slipped a hand under the woman’s elbow. They walked across the street to the cafe and slipped in.
Dean didn’t hear his dad come out to his side until he spoke. Dean jumped a little. “Who was that?”
“Just a couple. They had some car trouble and were looking for some food.”
John hummed at Dean’s side. His dark hair was splashed with grey, and his beard was only halfway to being full. Dean’s mom would harass him about shaving it, but John would just laugh and let it keep doing its thing. Dean was pretty sure his mom was just joking with him anyway. John interrupted his thoughts, “She looked pretty pregnant.” Dean nodded an acknowledgement. “They walk far?”
“Don’t know. Maybe.”
“I’m gonna go check on them. See ya when I get back.” That was like John. He was always sticking his nose into other people’s business if he thought that they were needing some support. It was how they had five extra houseguests last Thanksgiving, and more employees at the theater than they could really justify. John started to step out to the street to cross and turned back to Dean. “Take the damn trash out. It’s stinking up the entryway.”
Dean watched him enter the cafe and take a seat with the two strangers at the table in front of the window. They all seemed to be in good spirits. John was smiling, and the woman seemed to be laughing at something he had said. Dean went back to the entryway and leaned the broom up against the wall, to free up his hands for some trash duty. He snatched the bags from the floor and carried them off to the side of the building to the larger trash bin. It was getting pretty full. Thankfully it would be picked up tomorrow.
Thunder rolled again. The sky above him seemed darker now. Dean walked back out to the curb. He stared down the road and half expected more lightning and mysterious figures. He’d already convinced himself that he was just seeing things. Well, he wasn’t entirely convinced, but in time logic would win out. People didn’t pop out of lightning.
Lightning struck again, but not on the road. It was farther off, past the buildings to the east. The air carried the hint of rain. Dean licked his lips and stepped back to the entryway. He worried a little about the orchard at home. The pears were almost ready for picking, and here they were about to get another fall rain. His time most days was divided between caring for the orchard and caring for the theater. The trees didn’t need much though. They already had a contract with a larger corporation for the fruit. He just had to keep it from dying before they got it picked.
He fell back into sweeping and finished up quickly. At least now if the rains came, the walkway out front wouldn’t get all muddy from the dust. His dad was still visiting over at the cafe when Dean went back inside. He wondered what would come of his father’s meddling this time.
The memories came to Dean in a rush after the first one settled into his mind. In Gabriel’s shop, Dean fell to his knees as the rest shot through his mind like stars. Seasons passed, summer, fall, winter and spring, yet Gabriel and Rowena did not change. A year passed and then two, and Rowena remained large with child. Dean wondered how no one questioned this perpetual pregnancy. Gabriel’s words filled Dean’s mind. “She cast a spell. We always seemed like newcomers to everyone, even your family.” Dean started to feel dizzy with the flood of information. “I’m sorry. I’ll slow them down.” Dean was breathing in gasps now, but the memories were not coming to him all at once anymore. “I forget sometimes how hard it is for humans to process time. You are all such linear thinkers.”
Dean couldn’t open his eyes. He turned his mind to the memories. Rowena and Gabriel moved into his family's barn, ate dinner with them in the main house, and spent a fair amount of time with all of the Winchesters.
There were golden memories of Sam and Gabriel in heated discussions over some point or another made in one of Sam's history textbooks. Once Gabriel argued that one of Sam's books happened to be wrong, which led to Gabriel speaking of the Battle at Gettysburg as if he'd been there himself. Everyone was amused.
There were memories of his mother sitting out on the porch with Rowena, drinking mint tea sweetened with honey. They talked like old friends and not like two women that had just met. This made sense, since there had been far more time passing in those seemingly short weeks of “knowing each other.”
The memories were in vivid color, and full of life. “Rowena and I would leave and return from your home. We’d pass through time. It was the way we kept the demons from tracking us, the angels too. It worked for centuries, but Castiel was persistent.”
Dean saw the memories shift then. Dean was up on a ladder picking pears. He noticed, off in the distance, Gabriel facing a man in a billowing brown trench coat, Castiel. A smooth, silver blade slipped into Gabriel’s hand. Castiel moved in a broad circle, arms wide at his sides. A similar blade fell into his hand too. They were at the far end of the orchard, but Dean recognized the danger. He yelled at them, and Castiel turned to face him, eyes glowing bright blue, visible even at this distance. Dean dropped the basket of pears he’d collected and rushed down the ladder. Dean ran to them. Gabriel waved a hand at him. “Stop!” Dean yelled again, but his body was frozen in place.
Castiel stared at him and seemed to be paying far less attention to Gabriel. “You have to let me end this. The child is an abomination. The damage he can do.” Castiel focused on Gabriel again. “Surely you haven’t fallen so far as this.”
Gabriel laughed. “Are you actually asking me to stand aside as you kill everyone that I love?” The look on Gabriel’s face became suddenly much more fierce. “I knew you were sometimes an unfeeling bastard, but killing innocents makes you an evil bastard too.”
Castiel glanced back at Dean again. “Send him away. He shouldn’t see this.” Castiel waved at Dean’s frozen form.
“Why? Don’t want witnesses when you go on your killing spree?” Gabriel laughed again, but it was cold. “You don’t need to worry. You won’t get past me.” Gabriel rushed toward him.
The time for talking was over. It was difficult to follow the movements of the angels in front of him. Dean felt like everything that he had learned about physics was being called into question. Their bodies would collide and waves of energy would roll out from them. At one point, Dean was moved as the angels shot past him. Sunlight hit the blades as they twisted in the air between them. The force that held Dean seemed to shiver and weaken.
Gabriel collapsed onto his back on the grass in front of Dean. Castiel rushed back toward him, blade raised for the killing blow. Dean felt himself freed from whatever was holding him at bay. He rushed to Gabriel and got between him and Castiel. He held up his hand and said, “No, please.” He closed his eyes, expecting to die in that instant.
Instead, hot breath rolled over his cheek. He opened his eyes in the memory and saw Castiel stopped right in front of his face. The blade was poised against Dean’s chest. Dean took a shallow breath and felt the pressure of the blade’s tip over his heart. For too long, no one spoke, then Castiel breathed out, “What are you?”
Dean blinked, unable to move not because of some other worldly force holding him in place, but because he didn’t know where to move to or if Castiel would even let him. “Please don’t kill him,” Dean’s words fell from him in a ragged whisper.
“His soul,” Castiel said as he slipped back, arm and blade falling to his side.
Gabriel’s hand came to Dean’s shoulder. “It’s okay, Dean. Looks like you gave my brother a little pause for thought.” He squeezed Dean’s shoulder a little more, and Dean took it as encouragement to move out of the way. Gabriel got up then and faced Castiel. “Didn’t you notice it when he first showed up? Not like the boy was invisible.”
Castiel looked away from Dean to Gabriel, but it was clear that he didn’t want to do that. “When he moved between us, the intensity…” Castiel turned his gaze back to Dean. He licked his lips and lifted a hand almost like he intended to touch Dean. “I’ve never seen a soul like his.” Dean stepped back from the touch.
“He’s the Righteous Man mentioned in the prophecy. He’s the one who will save us all.” Gabriel said this and glanced at Dean. “Don’t worry about understanding any of this, kiddo. With your permission, I’m going to wipe this memory. It’ll be for the best, and you’ll be better able to protect the people that you love if you don’t have this clouding everything.”
Dean just stared at him a moment before saying, “I... what…?” It garnered him no answers.
Gabriel turned back to Castiel. “So you can see that I wasn’t wrong?” He took a step toward Castiel. Dean felt a little desire to get between them again, but he didn’t move. “The prophecy is about this, about my child, and it’s about this man.” Gabriel waved a hand at Dean.
“It’s too dangerous. I can’t…” Castiel started.
Gabriel interrupted, “If it comes to it, I’ll end the child myself, Castiel.” One of Castiel’s eyebrows lifted in skepticism. Gabriel went on, “I won’t let the world come to any harm. I love humanity. I won’t bring about its ruin.”
“How can I believe that? The prophecy states that only the Righteous Man can save humanity.” Castiel looked at Dean like he was seeing right into him, and he was. “His soul is going to draw them, but who can say what he’ll do. He’s only human.”
“The child is what will draw them in. Dean will only close the gate. The angels have never understood the prophecy. You’ve all read it as if you think that the Righteous Man was born to kill. The wording was never that.”
Castiel intoned in a deep, rich voice, “And lo when the child is born, the Righteous Man shall bring ruin to the light, the bridge to humanity.” Castiel sighed. “He will destroy the light if your child is born. This cannot be good.”
“He is good. There’s a reason that we call him the Righteous Man, Castiel. He’s going to do good. He also cares for the child and Rowena. Clearly, he also cares about me, if the recent intervention is any indication. My child is not going to harm the world. I believe it with all of my being. If he goes wrong, Dean here, the Righteous Man, and I, we will put a stop to it.”
“How can I believe this? How can I trust that a mere human can do anything in this situation?”
“Spend time with Dean. Learn more about humanity. It’ll be clear.” Then they both turned to Dean.
“I’m sorry, but what the hell is going on here?” Dean asked.
Castiel stepped up to him then and pressed two fingers to his forehead, and everything went dark.
“You have to understand that he didn’t understand back then. Castiel was a good soldier before he touched you that day.” Dean just stared at Gabriel, who hovered over him now in the shop. He’d apparently fallen down during the last onslaught of memories. He had a hand on Dean’s arm. He looked worried. “We can stop now. You know enough to get by. Not sure what I was thinking anyway. Memories are overrated.” He started to get up, but Dean caught his arm.
“You can’t just stop now. I need to know the rest.” Dean started to get up. Gabriel helped him. “You basically just showed me that Cas was an asshole. I don’t get how he stopped trying to kill you, and just saying that I changed him doesn’t really tell me anything.” Dean held the edge of the door jam to keep himself upright. “I’ll be okay. I can handle it.”
Gabriel’s brow shot up, the skepticism clear. “Can’t I just tell you what happened?”
“I don’t reckon you were there for most of it,” Dean said. “You said that I changed him. I don’t see how, but I want to.”
“Okay, but if it starts to look bad, I’m gonna end it. These memories aren’t worth your life or mine.” Gabriel started to raise his hand to Dean’s head again.
“How would this cost you your life?” Dean asked.
“When Castiel finds out that I interfered, he’s likely going to kill me. If he thinks that you were harmed in any way, he’ll definitely kill me.” He raised his hand again. “You ready?” Dean nodded, then the memories came again.
This time they came in a flood of sorts. There were long summer days and walks in the orchard. There were meals at the diner in town with Cas’ knee pressed up against his own. Dean experienced all the emotions, sharp and fast. He could feel his chest heaving with the moments. His heart was slamming hard in his chest. Gabriel was sending soothing words through his mind and slowing down the flow of information.
Suddenly he was in the theater. He’d convinced Cas to see a classic. It was Out of the Past . It wasn’t as popular as some of the classics that they normally showed, but it was a solid story.
Castiel squirmed next to him. Dean tried to ignore it, but when Cas’ leg started shaking and making a constant tapping noise, Dean had finally had enough. He reached over and set his hand on Cas’ knee. Cas stopped moving immediately.
Dean leaned in close to his ear. “What's got you so nervous?” Dean kept his hand on Cas’ leg, and Cas let him.
“Everyone in this is lying. It's a lot of deception.” Cas turned fully toward Dean as he spoke.
Dean suppressed the laugh that threatened to escape. “Of course they're all lying. That's just the type of movie this is. Also, that's just people.” Dean let his thumb sweep back and forth over Cas’ knee. He watched for signs that this wasn't okay. Cas licked his lips.
Dean was about to lean in, finally take his chance. He'd wanted to for long enough now. Cas had been in town all summer. He'd been spending a fair amount of time with his brother, Gabriel, but even more of his time was spent with Dean. He thought that this was the right time to push this out of the buddy business and into the more romantic category. He was pretty sure that Cas was feeling it too. Sometimes they’d just stare at each other a bit too long, and sometimes they’d walk so close that it was like they were pulled together by some invisible force that didn’t believe in personal space. If ever there was a time to lean in, claim Cas’ lips with his own, it certainly felt like now was that moment.
Before he could take the plunge, Cas said, “Why must the world be so full of lies. It would be far simpler if everyone was honest.” And again he looked sincere, and Dean didn't know what to make of that.
“Not everything is.” Dean licked his lips and pulled out some confidence as his lip curled up into a half smile. He said, “I'll tell you a truth.” Dean leaned in closer. Cas didn't back away. In fact he leaned in closer too so he could really hear whatever Dean wanted to tell him. “I'd really like to kiss you now.”
Dean reached up to cup Cas’ cheek. Cas pulled away. “We should go. Actually, I should go.” Then without waiting, he walked down the aisle and out of the theater. It took Dean a moment to feel the full sting of the rejection.
Cas was outside and halfway down the street by the time Dean caught up with him. “Talk to me.” Dean walked at his side, noting the speed at which Cas was walking, like he just wanted to put so much distance between himself and the theater and maybe Dean too.
“There is nothing to say. I've made mistakes. I've let you cloud my judgement.” Dean reached out and tried to stop him. Cas shook him off and kept walking. “No.”
“Cas, come on. Talk to me. Did I come on too strong? I can slow down if you need it, but I thought we were on the same page.”
Cas came to a sudden halt. They'd made it back to the orchard end of the family property. Dean didn't even realize they'd walked that far that fast. Now, with the memories coming through anew, Dean could see why this should have been questioned. Cas had tried to fly off, but Dean had grabbed him at the opportune moment. He was pulled right along with Cas.
Cas looked at him now. “We are not on the same page.” He made air quotes. “We could never be on the same page. You could never understand. You would see things in the same way as Gabriel. You'd question it all, then throw caution to the wind. Well, Dean, there are far bigger issues.” He looked angry, and Dean was having a hard time seeing why. “What are you going to do when I'm gone? Because I will be gone.”
Dean blinked. So was this the issue? At the time Dean had gone from feeling the sting of rejection to feeling like maybe Cas was just trying to protect him from the hurt that would come when he had to go back to his college. Dean felt his heart drum happily in his chest again. Cas cared for him. He had to. Dean stepped closer and set his hand on Cas’ arm. “Calm down.”
“There is no good end to this.” Cas didn't look away, but he also didn't back off either.
“It's okay to be afraid. I don't know how this will end or if it even has to.” Dean gave Cas’ arm a little squeeze. “I just think it matters that we're honest with each other right now.” Dean kicked at a little lump of dirt at his feet. The sun was setting and the sky was half rose colored and half twilight blue. “You care for me?” Dean framed it like a question, gave it the slight rise in tone.
“I have feelings, I…” Cas fell silent.
“So we are on the same page in that regard.” Dean ran his hand up to Cas’ shoulder. “But you don't want to kiss me?”
Cas looked a little panicked. “I have no experience in that regard.”
“Oh,” Dean processed that for a moment then, “Oh, oh shit. Cas, I, woah buddy.” Dean's other hand came up to his own head. He raked his fingers back through his hair. “I didn't know. I assumed. I mean, you're gorgeous. How is it that you've never been kissed?”
“It’s just not something that I do. I…” Cas fell silent again. He swallowed, and Dean watched the bob of his adam’s apple.
“Do you want to kiss me?” Dean let the words out on a breath of air. He let the quiet linger. Cas just stared at him, his eyes running over Dean’s lips like he was trying to decide not on whether or not he wanted to kiss Dean, but rather how deeply and how long he’d like to do it. “Be honest with me, Cas,” Dean encouraged.
Cas swallowed again and didn’t look away. “Though I want to very much. I can’t. My kind, we don’t... There are rules.”
Dean reached out to him and cupped his cheek in his hand. He kept his other hand on Cas’ arm. It seemed to anchor him. “Rules?” Dean let his thumb sweep back and forth on Cas’ arm, pressing a little affection there. “Like your family is a bit religious?”
Cas laughed then, a low rumble that reminded Dean of thunder. “They’re, yes, that about describes them.” Cas looked away a moment, then back. “It describes me too.”
“You can be religious and still want to kiss me.” Dean licked his lips and hoped.
“You said to be honest with you.” Dean nodded at him just a little. “I don’t think it’ll make things easier.”
Cas closed his eyes a moment. “Gabriel says that I’m a good little soldier, a hammer for the cause of Heaven, a mere tool. I used to say that he was wrong to view such a role with disdain. We all had our parts to play. We all had to do what was needed to protect the world from the horrors that could so easily be unleashed.”
“Cas, I’m not sure I’m following you here,” Dean interrupted. His thumb made a small sweep over Cas’ cheek.
“I expect that none of this will make sense to you. You’re just human after all. Honesty, though. That matters to you, and it’s the least I can give to you.”
“Okay,” Dean encouraged.
“I’m an angel,” Castiel confessed. Dean laughed at him. “I was sent here from Heaven to find Gabriel and his unborn child.”
Dean kept on laughing until he realized that Cas wasn’t laughing with him. “Wait. This is the story you’re going with? This?” Dean’s hands dropped to his sides.
“It’s the truth. I’m an angel, and you’re the Righteous Man. Heaven has work for you too.”
“You asshole. You give me some line about honesty, and then you spew this bullshit.” Dean waved his arms out as he spoke.
“I am an angel, and we aren’t allowed to engage with humans in the way that you’d like.”
“Angels aren’t real.” Dean wasn’t sure why this was the path he chose, but it hardly mattered. The whole thing was ridiculous.
“They are, and I am.” Castiel moved back to Dean’s space. “Somehow, in the back of your mind, you know I’m telling you the truth.”
“You know, fuck you, Cas!” Dean yelled. Castiel stood there looking rather intense, brows all bunched up. Dean stalked off toward his home. The barn loomed large against the darkening twilight sky. He redirected his path toward the barn, hoping that Gabriel and Rowena weren’t there. He turned back to Cas, knowing that he would be right there in his wake, and said, “If you just don’t want me, then be man enough to say it. You don’t have to make up some dumb as shit story about being an angel.”
The barn was a place that he’d always thought of as safe. He’d go there to get away, to read, to vent his frustrations. He went there now and shoved the giant doors shut behind him, leaving Cas on the other side. He didn’t want to cry. This didn’t have to be like that. He did want to punch something. They had some grain sacks piled up in the corner. Dean headed toward them.
The doors behind him burst open. Dean turned, half expecting that Castiel would follow him, but not expecting what he saw next. “I’m not lying, Dean.” Castiel waved his hand behind him and the doors snapped shut. The lone light overhead flickered then burst into raining sparks. Castiel leveled his gaze on Dean. There were flashes of light in the barn, but the source of the light was unclear. Maybe it was Castiel. Then two giant shadows appeared on the wall behind him. Large wings filled the entirety of the space.
“Shit.” Dean fell to the ground and scrambled back until he was pressed against one of the posts holding up the hayloft. “Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.”
Castiel came to him then and crouched down to face him. “Fear not.” He reached out and cupped Dean’s cheek in his hand. “Maybe now you can see.” He smiled at Dean. There was so much gentleness in the moment and also power. And though he was afraid, entirely and absolutely afraid, he still wanted to be near him. “Do you understand now?”
Dean stared at him. Cas’ eyes seemed to almost glow, and Dean couldn’t look away. He nodded a little and slowly got up, his back still pressed to the barn post. Cas kept his hand on Dean’s cheek. “You’re an angel.”
“I am.” Cas smiled a little indulgently. The wings flickered away, and the lights stopped flashing. “Maybe now you can see why I couldn’t do as I wished.”
“You wished to?” Dean didn’t finish the question. His brain had been firing in about twenty different directions at once, and now he was standing in the dark barn with a powerful angel cupping his cheek and breathing out words that seemed to ghost over his whole body.
“If I could, I’d stay with you for all of my days. I’d taste what it is to be human.” He looked away from Dean then. “Sadly, I’m not free to make that choice. There are dangers coming, that will require my efforts. I’d be no use to anyone if I were a human, least of all you.”
“I don’t need an angel.” Dean swallowed. “I just need you.” He surged forward and kissed Cas. His lips didn’t part, and Dean was sure that if he opened his eyes he’d see Cas’ own eyes wide open in shock. Dean sucked in Cas’ bottom lip and wrapped his arms around him. He hoped that Cas would reciprocate. All he did though, was keep his hand on Dean’s cheek. He didn’t move or let his lips part. He didn’t press into Dean’s body. He just remained still until Dean stopped.
“I am yours, Dean. But until I know that those I love are safe, I must also be Heaven’s tool.”
He stepped back from Dean then and with a staticy snap of air, he disappeared.
Chapter 4: Act Two: Abominations
The shop was cold. Dean sat on the floor again, shivering as Gabriel settled a blanket over his shoulders. “You okay, kiddo?”
“I’m not sure.” Dean closed his eyes to try and hold onto the memories. “He left.”
“Yeah, he tends to do that,” Gabriel said on a sigh.
“There's more though, more memories.” Dean closed his eyes and tried to stir up the next moment, but it wasn't there, just a long series of days of domesticity.
“I had to stop. You were struggling, and I worried that you'd be damaged if I continued.” Gabriel kept a hand on him. He looked rather worried, pinched brows coming together. “Fergus, bring some water for Dean,” Gabriel called out. “I’m an archangel and my powers are great. Moving through your mind, piecing together the memories that have been buried, it’s a lot for a human. Your minds aren’t meant to be meddled with in this way.” Gabriel sighed. “Imagine a tape that you record on, then erase to record on again. It’s fine for awhile, but eventually, it turns to crap. Just like your mind if the memories get messed with too much.”
Dean could hear the rumbling steps of the child in the hall, the running water and the returning footsteps, slower now. Fergus moved into the room. The bell that hung over the door in the other room jangled sharply. Someone was in the shop. “Here.” Fergus held out the half-full cup to Dean.
“Thanks, buddy,” Dean said, taking the cup. He drank all of it down in a single gulp and then handed it back to Fergus.
“I gotta go play my part. Stay here for a bit. You’re not in this scene.” Gabriel gave him one last shoulder squeeze and left. Dean could still hear him in the next room, delivering the familiar lines. “Cas, old buddy, old pal. So good to see you.”
“Cut to the chase,” Cas’ low voice rolled through the shop. “Where’s Dean?” That wasn’t the line.
“Uh, so, I could show you this card trick…” Gabriel tried to pick up the lines.
There was a loud thumping noise followed by Cas’ repeated words. “I asked you a question, Gabriel. Where’s Dean?” Another thump.
“He’s fine. He’s in the back.” Then in a whisper that still carried to Dean’s ears, “You gotta say your lines or they can get in.”
“I don’t fucking care,” Cas growled out. There were footsteps into the back room. “Dean.” He came down to his knees next to Dean and had Dean’s face in his hands like he was looking for injuries. “You weren’t outside. There was blood.”
“I’m fine.” Dean moved back a little. He looked down at his hand and remembered the little cut he got out front. “I’m not hurt,” he repeated. “I thought you had to play a part, say the right lines or it all goes to hell.”
“I do. I just couldn’t until I knew you were okay.” He got up then and smoothed out his coat. I’ll be back in a moment.” Dean watched him stroll back out to the front of the store. Fergus was still standing by the doorway.
“It’s okay, kid,” Dean offered.
“The bad ones will come now. He let them in.” And Fergus looked truly worried. This was the kid with the rather frightening Hellhound pet, and he looked freaked. Dean glanced over his shoulder out to the shop.
“Maybe they won’t get in. He’s playing his part now.” Dean didn’t know for sure if that was true, but he had to say something, and sometimes a lie’s all you got.
“No, they’re already coming. It’s how Growley came through. Dad didn’t play his part, and the hounds came through. Growley was bigger than those other ones.” Fergus came to Dean’s side and slid down the wall into a squat next to him. Growley came to them and took up space between the door and them both. His eyes glowed red. Fergus curled his fingers into the hair on its back. “They’re almost here.”
“Will it be more Hellhounds?” Dean asked the child.
Fergus stared up at him, and looked much older all of a sudden. His eyes were deep, dark wells. He’d seen much with those eyes and also so little. He closed his eyes and seemed to concentrate. Little wrinkles appeared at the edges of his eyes, and his mouth became a thin slit. “It will be demons this time. They’ll take the unclaimed bodies.”
“How do you know that?”
Fergus gripped Dean’s hand and said, “I can hear them. They’re abominations just like me.”
Each scene had its players and also those secondary characters that filled out the background. They might be the people that are walking across the street or the random man mowing a lawn. These “people” were unimportant. They took up space but didn’t have lines or interactions with the primaries. If they did, they’d need faces.
So it was that the City of Angels series had a fair number of faceless people roaming the streets. Dean hadn’t remembered seeing them before, but once Fergus had mentioned the unclaimed bodies, a sharp memory came back to him. He’d stood at the food cart, and when he’d walked away, he’d caught sight of the men and women across the way. He’d told himself that they were just staring off, bored. It was easier than giving into the fear that he’d been surrounded by faceless beings.
And now he was aware, painfully aware of just how many there were in this film. He wondered how many demons would get through and how they’d fight them while still “playing their parts.” The tiny shop shook a little, then the cacophony of thunder or explosions could be heard outside.
“Castiel!” Gabriel’s voice was filled with anger. “You fool. You fucking fool. If you bring any harm to Fergus, I’ll end you.”
Castiel was back in the room with them, reaching down to Dean. “We need to run.”
Dean took his hand and let himself be pulled up. He was still holding Fergus’ hand. Dean turned to him. “We’re gonna be okay.”
Fergus nodded and Gabriel came to his side. “Come on, son.” Gabriel took his hand. “Is Growley here?”
Fergus nodded. “He’s ready.”
Gabriel said, “Good. We’re gonna need all the help we can get.”
“He said we'll be dealing with demons,” Dean said as they moved out into the shop. Dean turned to Cas. “What's the plan?”
“I'm sorry.” Cas ran a hand up into his hair. It stood up in a wild mess now. “I panicked.”
“We can't fix that now. We just need a plan.” Dean glanced around the room, searching for weapons. “Those things in the theater, were they demons?”
Cas nodded. Gabriel peered past a little slit in the curtain to the street outside. “How close are they Fergus?”
“Close. The first wave will be here in ten minutes.” Fergus fidgeted, wide-eyed.
Gabriel clapped a hand to the boy's shoulder. “Ten minutes. That sounds like plenty of time.” He turned his back to Fergus and faced them, his worry plain on his face. He swallowed and said, “Way I see it, it's them that should be worried. We got an archangel, a rebel angel and the Righteous Man on our team. He turned back to Fergus and added, “Not to mention a Hellhound and a badass kid. We got this.”
“Time's a ticking. What's the plan?” Dean asked again.
Castiel answered, “Maybe we don't run. Maybe we defend this shop. They can only get in from this side. We get weapons ready.” Castiel tossed Dean a smooth silvery blade. “This will destroy them.”
Kneeling at eye level with Fergus, Gabriel said, “Let Growley defend you.”
The room shook, Growley came down into a crouch, and the rest braced for impact.
The one bit of the spell keeping the demons and other assorted bad guys out only worked if the angels played their parts accurately, something that should have been easy for angels that were made to obey. They’d learned the dangers of it long ago when Gabriel had grown frustrated, falling into a rage instead of his lines. To be fair, they’d never tested the limits of the rules. They only knew of them in theory from when they had planned the various possibilities. The specific outcome, being trapped in a film, never quite came into the conversation, but they did run over the rules for being caught in a repeating pattern. This was a real possibility, according to Rowena. So, Gabriel knew, theoretically, what would happen if he deviated from his part, but he didn’t know how bad it would be. Anger, frustration, and even love can make a person, and even an angel, do crazy things. Now here they were again, years later, paying for Castiel’s choices this time.
The door burst open on a blast of energy, and Dean’s body flew back to smack against the wall. Some piece of flimsy furniture crumbled beneath him.
“Dean!” Castiel called back to him.
“I’m fine,” Dean yelled back over the noise that now filled the room. It was as if they’d been tossed into a rough storm. The walls seemed to be screaming. The demons hadn’t moved past the front door yet, and the trap was still there in the floor. The demon that stood in the front had taken the body of a faceless child. Its arms spread out wide at its sides as it screamed at the floor. The noise seemed to vibrate from it, despite it not having a mouth. The floor cracked, and the trap was ruined. “Well, shit,” said Dean.
The demons swarmed into the room. Part of the plan was to fight them in the tarot room, because the space was limited. They’d have to funnel in through the one door. This would keep the number of attackers that they’d have to face down to a minimum. One launched himself at Gabriel who took him out mid-flight. The child demon went after Castiel. His shorter stature made him hard to take down.
A woman looked like she was intending to go after Fergus, but Growley let out a low rumble of menace and launched himself at her, tearing her throat open.
After that it was a free-for-all. Dean could only focus on the demons that came at him. He had little experience in hand-to-hand combat. He’d been in a bar fight once, and he wrestled in high school, but this was decidedly different.
Demons fell, and Dean counted it as a victory when he and the angels were still standing at the end of it all. It could have been hours or days. It felt like forever, but eventually there was just one demon left, and Growley got that kill.
“Do you sense any more demons, Fergus?” Gabriel asked.
Fergus closed his eyes, a little wrinkle formed on his forehead. “No, they’re gone.”
“Good,” Gabriel said. He turned to Dean then and said, “Would you mind taking Fergus to his room for a moment? I need to speak with my brother in private.”
Dean eased himself up from off the floor. His last demon had laid him out, but he’d still won. He made his way to Fergus and said, “Sure.” He caught Cas’ eye before leaving. He didn’t look worried or like he disapproved. Dean settled a hand on Fergus’ shoulder and said, “Come on kiddo. You and Growley did good work today.
They walked around the corner into the hall. Dean started to make his way toward the room at the end, but Fergus took his hand and stopped him. He raised a finger to his lips to keep Dean from talking. He side-eyed the entryway that they’d just come through. Gabriel and Cas wouldn’t see them if they lingered. Dean gave Fergus a little nod. Then they heard the slam of a body against the wall, and Gabriel’s words came next. “You risked my child, you dumb son of a bitch.”
“Technically we don’t have traditional parents.” Dean almost laughed at Castiel’s response.
There was another slam. “If it wasn’t for the fact that this spell requires that we all live out these parts, I’d kill you right now.”
“Glad we’re clear on that.” Castiel’s words were rough and full of snark. “I acted out of concern. You’ve done the same before. Oh, wait. You didn’t act out of concern before. You just had a fit, like some sort of spoiled child.”
“You should have trusted me.” Gabriel sighed, and no body slams seemed to follow. “The time before was vastly more understandable.”
“It was? Doesn’t matter. You yourself said that what we do for love is justified. So, I’m guessing that you’ll need to climb down from your righteous pedestal and go back to just playing your paltry part.”
There was the sound of a body sliding down the wall. “I never intended for anyone to get stuck like this.”
“Have you heard the human saying about intentions?”
Gabriel said, “No.”
“They’re like assholes. Everyone has them, and they all stink.”
There was a moment of silence then Gabriel laughed. “God, Cas, once the stick came out of your ass you became kinda funny.”
“Not as funny as Uriel though.”
Gabriel laughed harder. “Yeah, Uriel was a real riot. What was the joke he told about goats?”
Castiel spoke in some other language that Dean didn’t know. They both laughed again, but louder this time. “I’m sorry. I should have trusted you,” Castiel said once the fit of laughing had passed.
“For what it’s worth, I’m not gonna kill you.”
“Good to know.”
Dean nodded toward Fergus’ room and they headed down the hall. Things felt safe, and no one seemed like they’d be dying today.
They played their parts after that. Dean found himself dragging out the fades. He worried that they hadn’t come up with a solid plan for the end. Castiel, for his part, seemed to be content with dragging out the time too. This did little to comfort Dean. If there was nothing to worry about, then Castiel would be pushing them towards the end. Castiel’s comfort with the slow pace spoke volumes.
By Dean’s reckoning, they’d made it to the midway point of the film. Castiel would have to go to the casino to meet with the black-coated informant later that night. He’d give Castiel the information on where the killer was going to strike next. The client in this film was an actress, who was hitting the tail end of her twenties. She feared that the killer would strike her next since the killer had taken out women in the various other films shot by the director of her film.
The trip to the casino was more than just a place for Castiel to get information from the informant. It was also a place to try to trap the killer. The actress was there, promoting her film, being seen. She flirted shamelessly with Castiel during a dance number. She slipped into his room during one of the nights he was staying at the hotel. He sent her away though, and then the informant arrived. This was the subtext that Marie and Claire would go on about. It was the sort of subtext that was not so subtle.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Castiel broke through the silence.
Dean looked at him and wondered where he could even begin. “Why’d you take my memories?”
Castiel’s face fell. They were in the apartment during a fade that would end with Castiel in a car on his way to the casino. They had time. There was a scene after the fade that focused entirely on the actress. It revealed nothing concerning her villany. That would come out later. The silence that Dean’s question created stretched out between them. It was a palpable thing. Then his words cut through it. “It was caused by the spell.”
“No, it wasn’t. Don’t lie to me.” Dean stepped up close to him. He waited for Castiel to lock eyes with him. “So tell me why.”
He hesitated a moment, seeming to consider other explanations. “The spell was designed to open a very temporary gateway to a parallel world. The Leviathan and the demons were on us. There was no time to talk out how it would be. I did what I had to do.” Castiel looked away, but there was pain in the effort.
“It wasn’t your call.” Castiel looked back at him. “This is the first I’m really hearing about these Leviathan. Got a clue about demons now, thanks to the little battle at Gabe’s place. If the Leviathan are anything like the demons, I reckon we could have handled them too. Memories make people better equipped for fighting, don’t you think?”
“You don’t understand, Dean. You couldn’t. It was surprising enough for you when I told you I was an angel.” Castiel threw his arms out in frustration.
“So you didn’t think I could handle knowing about Leviathan or demons?” Castiel didn’t answer. “That doesn’t fly, Cas. You took away my memories of you. You didn’t wipe out memories of just monsters. It was you. You took you away from me. Why?”
Castiel walked to the window and stared out at the dark city. “It was the only way to give you peace. It was the only way to keep them from you.”
“The Leviathan and the demons?” Dean asked.
“Yes, they’d follow us and the child, but they wouldn’t go after you if we were gone. And if you didn’t know about me, you wouldn’t try to find me and end up drawing attention to yourself, attention that would get you killed.”
“They did come to me though, and wiping my memories didn’t stop that, it just made me ill-equipped to fight them off.” Dean leveled his gaze at him and added, “Even after you erased yourself from my memories, you couldn’t erase what I was, the Righteous Man.”
Castiel snapped around to face him. “How?”
“Did I get my memories back?”
“Yeah,” Dean started. “He thought that it was my call whether or not to have them.”
“When you go back, I can remove them again. It’ll be easier for you.” Castiel started to reach for him like he’d do it right then.
Dean took a step back. “Don’t.” Dean held a hand out between them. “We’re getting out of here together. Why would I want you to erase my memories of you?”
“I’ve only ever wanted you to know happiness and peace. Being tied to an angel won’t offer you either. Just look at what it’s done to Rowena.”
“Not your call.” Dean took a step toward him. “Fade’s ending soon.”
Dean cupped Cas’ face in his hand. “We aren’t done talking about this, but just know that I’d rather be tied to you, angel or not. Capiche ?”
Castiel stared steadily into Dean’s eyes, but he didn’t agree. Instead he stepped aside and grabbed his bag. He headed out the door, closing it behind him with some force.
The Tannin Casino loomed large in the night. Floodlights shone on the exterior and panned left and right to draw in customers from throughout the city. Dean arrived separately from Castiel as the scenes required, but they wouldn’t be separated for long. He strode up the steps to the main entrance. Beautifully dressed men and women moved into the casino around him. Dean noticed the lack of faces on many in the building and did his best to quell his fears. Any wrong moves and there were plenty of possessable bodies to take them out.
Dean wove in and out of the crowds playing roulette and baccarat. The festive night was punctuated with cheers and the jovial sound of a distant band playing. Dean followed the music, knowing that Castiel would be there. He found a spot in the broad entryway to the dance hall. Everything was painted in what Dean assumed was gold. It all had the gilded look despite the black and white of it all.
Dean’s eyes roved over the room, picking out one faceless being after the next. Then he spotted him. Castiel was just standing from the table that he shared with the client, Dee Roman. He held out a hand to her and lead her to the center of the dance floor. The music was fast. A woman crooned into a mic. Castiel whirled Dee through the intricate dance. They moved beautifully. Dean felt a small swell of jealousy churn in his stomach.
The song ended and the next was slow. Castiel pulled her to him, their bodies close and far too intimate. Dean swallowed, and found himself moving toward them. He wasn't in this scene. He had to keep his distance, but he didn’t like it. She was the killer after all. If the story followed its course, she’d be the one to put a bullet in his own chest. And the story had to follow its course. It was the only way for them to get to the portal and to keep the monsters at bay.
Bodies whirled around the room. Happy sounds and another chorus of cheers erupted at his back. The song ended, and finally Castiel took his leave. They would have a scene soon. He’d meet Dean in an empty room just off the dance hall. Castiel caught his eye and motioned toward the room. Dean made his way into it first, not wanting to see anymore of Castiel’s interactions with the woman.
The room was dark, a small window near the ceiling let in a little light from the sweeping movements of the flood lights outside. Dean waited and breathed in the thick air of the room. He knew that they’d stand close, that the film did not share their dialogue. So it was safe for them to whisper freely. The door opened slowly and Castiel slipped in. He moved close to Dean.
“I don’t like how close you let her get to you,” Dean whispered into Castiel’s ear.
“I’m just playing the part,” Castiel replied. His body pressed close to Dean’s.
“Are you playing your part now?” Dean could feel him, all the hard lines and muscles of him. He let his hand drag up Castiel’s arm.
“Everything is a part, but with you it doesn’t feel like one.” Castiel tipped his head back, his gaze locking with Dean’s.
“We haven’t talked about how this ends.” Dean glanced at the door. “She’s going to shoot me at the end.”
“I won’t let you die. I promise you. I’ll get you out that portal, and I’ll heal you too if it comes to that.” Castiel’s hand came up to Dean’s face.
“And you and the others will come through too.” It almost felt like a question.
“Gabriel and Fergus will be there. Rowena will pull them through. Once you are there, you and Fergus have to do the spell, seal the realms. It’s the only way to restore peace. Heaven will stick to Heaven, and Hell will stick to Hell.”
“And you will come through.” Dean took his face in his hands. “Cas, no one gets left behind. Tell me you understand.”
A moment passed in the too warm room. Castiel reached up and brushed back Dean’s hair. “I understand.”
Dean’s heart pounded out a discordant rhythm against Castiel’s chest. Dean knew that Castiel was lying to him. He knew somehow that Castiel had no intentions of passing through the portal, but he couldn’t grasp why. Escaping the film was freedom. Dean would be there, so why wouldn’t Castiel want to go too? Dean determined then that he’d drag Castiel’s sorry ass through that portal if it was the last thing he’d ever do. His hand slipped down to Castiel’s jacket and Dean reeled him in. He pressed his lips to him in that dark room. It was like before in Lawrence. Castiel didn’t reciprocate, but he also didn’t pull away either. “You never kiss me back.”
Dean pressed his forehead to Castel’s. “You don’t want to?”
Castiel took a deep breath. “If I were an archangel, I could do as I wished. I’m no longer an archangel though. Long ago, I broke the rules, and got a reset. I don’t even remember what I’d done to earn that punishment. It’s when I became Castiel. So although you’ve seen Gabriel doing as he wished, a mere angel can’t do that without dire consequences.”
“What sorts of consequences?” Dean asked.
“I’d have to fall, and if I did, I’d have no grace left at the end.” Castiel nudged him a little with his nose. There was affection in the movement. “In the end we’ll all need to be as strong as we can be. The Leviathan will try to breach the border to get at you and Fergus. They won’t know that you’ll be leaving. So I have to stay strong. You’re far too important, and I’ll not risk you just because I have desires of my own.”
“So you desire me?”
Dean felt his heartbeat kick up with the pronouncement. The rest didn’t affect him like that last word. And he also thought that he’d rather have this even if it meant Castiel wouldn’t be as strong. Despite all that, he sucked in a breath and stepped back. Castiel reached for the door and left Dean alone in the dark room to go play his part.
There was a scene at night where the informant went to Castiel’s room. There was no follow-up, no explanation or sharing of the details of that interaction. He entered at night, and the next scene was not until the morning. Dean knew that he would go to him, play his own part, but he needed more. He needed Castiel to know that he mattered too, that he had to be there at the end of it all.
Dean lifted his hand to the door and knocked. Castiel answered, jacket removed, shirt unbuttoned, and sleeves rolled up to his elbows. The faint glow of the room’s light softened him a little. Dean knew not to speak. Castiel moved aside and let Dean in. He closed the door as Dean stepped into his space. They were in a fade now. So much could happen and not happen.
Dean leaned in and kissed the side of Castiel’s neck. He dragged his lips slowly up to his stubbled jaw. He felt Castiel shudder just a bit. Dean reached down and took Castiel’s hand in his, twining their fingers together. He wanted to tempt him into action. He wanted Castiel to choose his desires over restraint. They’d find a way to change the ending. Dean didn’t believe that they had to let the shooting happen. He believed that they could make this work on their terms, write their own ending.
Castiel sucked in a deep breath. “You need to stop.”
“I just want…” Dean didn’t know how to express it. He wanted the intimacy. He wanted the nearness.
Castiel stepped away from him. He unrolled his sleeves and began slowly unbuttoning his shirt. Dean watched him, his breathing becoming more labored. Castiel pulled the shirt free and tossed it onto the chair behind him. “This is a long fade. You should get some sleep.” He nodded toward the bed.
“Are you going to join me?” Dean licked his lips and let his eyes run over Castiel’s bare chest.
“Yes, but not in the way you’re thinking. We have a long day tomorrow and a long series of scenes thereafter. We have to be ready, and while I don’t need to sleep, I’ll lie with you tonight.”
He took two steps to Dean and reached out to him. He slipped his hands under Dean’s black jacket. He slid it down Dean’s arms then, pulling it free, he tossed it to the chair behind him. He began slowly unbuttoning Dean’s shirt. All of his moves were calculated. Dean forgot what it was to breathe. He didn’t know what he could do or not do. He let Castiel lead.
Soon enough, his shirt was gone, and Castiel pressed in close to him. His hands came between them and began unbuttoning Dean’s pants. Dean’s body was already responding with earnest. He could feel himself straining at the zipper. “We won’t be engaging in sexual congress,” Castiel looked down at his pants as he said it.
“We could though,” Dean said.
“The only thing that matters to me is you. That might just be selfish enough of me to ruin everything. I’m surprised every day that I haven’t fallen. Sometimes I think it’s this black-and-white world we’re in. Sometimes I think that the moment I’m out there with you, I’ll crash just based on my feelings alone, and it’ll all be done. I walked in your dreams in Lawrence, and there we did so much more than should have been allowed. I’m lucky to still have my grace.” Castiel leveled his gaze on him.
“Wait, you walked in my dreams?” Castiel nodded at him. “And you’re saying that we had some sexy times in my dreams?” Castiel nodded again. “And if we want to have more sexy times without you losing your mojo, we’d have to do that in my dreams then? Am I following this right?”
“These are dumb rules,” Dean said.
“The dumbest,” Castiel replied. “I’ll have you know, I put time into researching what I was allowed to do. Gabriel was my source, so I am sorry for any future interactions with him that may prove awkward.”
“Well, shit.” Dean laughed and dropped his head to Castiel’s shoulder. He kicked aside the pants that Castiel pushed off. “How much can I touch you?”
“You can touch me all you want, but I’m going to ask you to show some restraint while you’re awake. It is hard enough for me as it is.” Castiel closed his eyes and let his head fall a little.
Dean took a step back. “I’m sorry, Cas.”
Cas opened his eyes and moved back to him. “You have nothing to be sorry for.” He took a deep breath and added, “Gabriel thinks this fade is special. He tried to convince me that we could…”
When Castiel didn’t finish the sentence, Dean said, “We could?”
“Engage.” Castiel’s eyes darted down Dean’s body then back up. “I don’t think that we should take risks. He said that it would just be us playing out parts.”
“This scene is full of subtext. We should maybe honor that.” Dean dragged his hand over Castiel’s hip and pulled him in close.
Dean rolled his hips just a little, enjoying the friction. “Cas,” Dean breathed out on a grind. “Cas,” he repeated.
Dean pulled Castiel back to the bed. Dean shifted their position so he straddled Castiel, pinning his legs around Castiel’s hips. His hips were rolling over Cas, grinding into him.
“Dean, we can’t. Please.”
Dean rolled off of him. He laid on the bed alongside him. He closed his eyes. “Sorry, I just…”
Castiel reached for him and pulled him close. “You need to sleep. Let me just hold you. Perhaps, I can walk in your dreams, and there I can be free with you, if you want that. If we’re lucky, in the morning, I’ll still be an angel.”
Dean nuzzled into the crook of Castiel’s arm and breathed him in. He pressed a soft kiss to Castiel’s chest. “It sounds like a good plan for now.” Dean kissed his chest again. “When we get out, will we try some of this without the dream walking?”
“I don’t know what it’ll be like out there. If we are safe, then I won’t need to be an angel to protect you.”
“Promise me that when we’re safe on the other side, that we get to be together.” Dean thought he should feel guilty for asking. He thought that it was more than he should want. He was asking Cas to give up everything, Heaven, being an angel. It was maybe too much. He regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth. He regretted a lot of things. He felt, all of a sudden, just how selfish he’d been. Dean leaned back and was about to retract every selfish request.
Before he could share his regrets, Castiel reached up to him and cupped his cheek in his hand. “I can be an angel or an abomination. For now I have to be an angel for you. So, I can’t make you promises like that, though I would if things were safe. There is nothing that I want more than to spend my days near you.”
Dean accepted that, and dropped his head back down to Castiel’s shoulder. At least they could have this closeness. At least they could linger here in this fade, pretending that everything might be okay. And maybe, they could have a dream.
Chapter 5: Interlude: Dreaming
The dream came on slowly. Dean was in Lawrence again. He was walking to town from his home. He was alone, but he somehow knew that he wouldn’t be for long. The town seemed quiet. A car or two passed on the road, and there were a few people milling about. He let his eyes roam over their faces, looking for Cas.
As he passed the theater, he saw his father sweeping out the entryway. John looked up and smiled at him, giving him a wave as Dean moved on toward Rachel’s Diner. Dean saw Cas in the window seat, sipping coffee from a steaming mug. He had his brown trench coat folded over the back of the seat. His white button up was rolled up at the sleeves. Dean moved into the diner and joined him.
“So, this is how we spent time together back in Lawrence?” Dean reached across the table and took Castiel’s hand.
“It usually started like this, or in some other simple way. Once I found you in the alley behind the theater, and we…” Castiel looked away then, suddenly seeming shy. It was good to see him in color again. His eyes were mesmerizingly blue. His deep brown hair stuck up in random tufts. Dean wanted to get his hands on him.
“Sounds like the alley was fun.” Castiel looked back at him. Dean continued, “I have an apartment above the theater now. Perhaps you’d like to come up there with me.” Dean let his finger stroke the skin on the back of Castiel’s hand. “We did this before a bunch of times it seems. Why don’t I remember any of it?”
“I’m guessing that Gabriel didn’t get to return all of your memories.” Castiel stood. He pulled Dean up with him. The world fell away and they were in Dean’s apartment. “We interacted plenty in the real world, but we fell in love in your dreams.”
Dean swayed in front of him, and moved closer. He looped his fingers in Castiel’s belt loops and pulled him flush against him. “Say it for me.” Castiel just stared at him. “Tell me you’re in love with me.”
“I’m in love with you,” Castiel said with his graveled out seriousness.
“Tell me about the first time.” Dean leaned in and kissed Castiel’s jaw.
Castiel’s words rolled over the shell of Dean’s ear in an almost whisper. Castiel’s hands ran up Dean’s back, imparting warmth through the thin shirt Dean was wearing. “I saw that you were unhappy. We’d grown close over the time I’d spent here. You held my hand as we walked home together from Rachel’s. I didn’t realize how intimate that act was. It was made more intimate by the fact that we hadn’t given voice to our growing feelings. When we parted, you leaned in and kissed my cheek. I didn’t move for what felt like hours. I just focused all of my attention on that miniscule point of contact.”
“You liked that?” Dean asked as he planted a chaste kiss to Castiel’s cheek. “Bet you liked other stuff more.”
“I liked it more than I realized I could.” Cas leaned back from Dean and cupped his cheek in his warm palm. “I walked in your dream that night. And when you kissed my cheek you didn’t leave to go into your home. You lingered, and you kissed me again. This time you brushed over my lips. I panicked, but you pulled me back to you and held me until it passed. Each time we went farther.”
“Tell me about that.” Dean began unbuttoning Castiel’s shirt.
“I came to your dreams when you were most frustrated with me in real life. You pushed me against the wall of your dream bedroom. I pushed you to the opposite wall. It was a lot of shoving each other around, until it wasn’t.” Cas paused and shed his unbuttoned shirt. “You were gentle with me, like you thought I’d break.”
“What’d we do that time?” Dean licked his lips, and pulled off his shirt.
“We undressed in a rush. I touched you, all of you. I made sure you knew the depth of my feelings for you with each moment my hands were on you. You wanted me to enter your body, so I did. It was far more intimate than holding your hand had been.”
Dean laughed. “You don’t say.” Dean took off his pants and kicked them aside. Cas followed his lead.
“You taught me many things, and then when you’d wake up, you’d think it was all in your head.”
“Yeah, you’re kinda a dick for that.” Dean pressed up against him, their naked bodies slotting together just right. Cas was hard and leaking. “I forgive you.”
“I know.” Castiel raked his hand through Dean’s hair. “If I remember right, you were an exceptional kisser, but it’s been a long time, and I may be remembering it all wrong.”
“Subtle, Cas. Real subtle.” Dean leaned in and kissed him, gently at first, then rough like he really needed to taste him and to remind him of what it was to be kissed by Dean Winchester.
Castiel’s lips parted, and Dean let his tongue slip in. It felt familiar. Snatches of images flashed behind his closed eyes, other dreams, other moments with Cas. They talked and kissed and were so close to each other that they seemed like they couldn’t breathe without the other. Dean pulled his focus back from the memories that seemed to be coming from Cas and focused instead on this moment. He pulled Cas down onto the bed with him. He rolled them both to their sides, despite the fact that he’d lose the delicious weight of Castiel pressing him down into the mattress.
Dean reached between them and took Cas in hand. Dean stroked him slowly. His thumb moved over the slit, dragging wetness around the head. “I love you,” Dean whispered. “Most days I don’t know why, but even when you were gone, and my memories gone, I loved you.” Castiel kissed him quick, then Dean continued. “I watched the movie so many times. I was obsessed. Yours was the last face I thought of every night.”
“It was the same for me here. All of my thoughts were of you.”
They languidly kissed again, like they had time and a future, like this was the beginning of things and not the middle and certainly not the end. Dean began kissing down Castiel’s throat. He had a path that he intended to follow. Castiel let him. Dean lingered at Castiel’s nipples, tonguing thim into hard nubs before he continued onward. He leaned up before he finished his journey. “This okay?” Dean asked.
Castiel nodded, and so Dean took him in his mouth. He put his all into the moment, circling his tongue around the head of him. Castiel bucked up a little, then seemed to get control of himself. His hands gripped the sheets next to Dean’s, then they moved up to hold onto Dean’s hair. “Dean, Dean, oh,” Castiel pulled a little at Dean’s hair as he said it. Dean didn’t let up right away, though he knew the signal Cas was trying to give to him. A moment later and Dean was crawling back up Castiel’s body, pressing his own hardness to the juncture of Castiel’s legs as he settled in.
“You like that a bit, huh?” Dean dipped in and kissed him. “Kinky little angel.”
Castiel laughed at him. “I learned from the best.” He rolled Dean onto his back and kissed him hard, pressing him deep into the mattress. His hips rolled roughly over Dean’s, and it was glorious.
“I plan to.”
Dean’s breaths were becoming ragged. He felt Castiel’s hand sliding between his legs. “We did this before? Like this?”
Castiel’s mouth was close to Dean’s ear. He said, “Countless times.” He pressed Dean’s legs apart more and lined himself up with Dean.
“Whoa there,” Dean said as he set a hand on Cas’ chest. “Think you’re missing a few steps here.”
Cas just smiled. “We always skip those steps. It’s a dream Dean.” Cas traced the lines of Dean’s ribs as he hovered over him. He glanced down the length of Dean’s body. “I’d never hurt you.”
Dean nodded then, and Cas pressed into him. Dean remembered more. He remembered other times with Cas. The images rolled fast through his mind, and he felt his own pleasure increase as each moment settled into his mind.
Cas stilled and stared down at him. Their eyes locked together for a moment as each settled into the moment. Dean rocked his hips a little to let Cas know it was okay to move. There was synchronicity after that, a gentle dance of their bodies together. Somehow Cas had moved one of Dean’s legs up to his shoulder to get a better angle. Dean smiled and said, “Guess I’m much more bendy in here.”
Cas gripped Dean’s shoulder and increased the pace. Dean’s eyes rolled back into his head with each time that Cas found his prostate. In time, stretched out in the dream, they were both reduced to low moans and murmured declarations of affection. Like most of his dreams, when things are good, the colors were bright and full of life. Castiel’s eyes glowed like he was half light himself. Dean moved his leg down and pulled Cas close, so he could kiss him as they both toppled over the edge.
Cas stroked back Dean’s hair as the last shudders of pleasure rippled through them both. As dreams go, this was near perfect, but Dean knew as Cas slipped away to his side of the bed, that like all good things even this would end.
Chapter 6: Act Three: A Shot in the Dark
Dean felt sunlight on his back. The warmth of it stirred him toward wakefulness. He took in a deep breath. He could smell Cas in his pillow, like a breeze that traveled over vast seas. He cracked his eyes open and saw that Cas had left. He wasn’t surprised. Cas had a number of scenes to get through. Dean, however, did not.
Dean closed his eyes again, intent on sleeping and dreaming away the time that they’d have to spend apart.
As Dean slept, his mind slipped back into memories of Lawrence, of the past that now lived in his memories.
Rowena sat at the edge of her bed in the Winchester family’s loft in the barn. The space was nice, well furnished, as the Winchesters had made plans in the past to rent out the space to someone. Once Gabriel and Rowena arrived though, those plans changed.
Castiel was crouched down at her side, setting out the ingredients for an elaborate, time-consuming spell. He grumbled and complained about three other angels that weren’t there yet, Hannah, Samandriel, and Anna. They were the so-called muscle, the angels that would fight while they performed the spell. Several times Castiel looked at Dean. His brows pinched together, like he was struggling to not be angry. He’d asked Dean repeatedly to go back to his well-warded house. Dean refused, and Gabriel did nothing to make Dean comply. So Dean got to stay.
Gabriel sat at Rowena’s back, legs on either side of hers. His arms wrapped around her, just above her waist. He tucked his head over her shoulder and whispered words of encouragement into her ear. She tipped her head back onto him and breathed in quick, choppy little breaths.
“They should be here,” Gabriel growled out. Rowena reached a hand up and settled it onto his. He seemed to calm down a bit.
As if his worry was the very thing that summoned them, the room crackled with the arrival of the angels they’d all been waiting for. The first angel quickly moved to Rowena’s other side. “Anna, so glad you came,” Rowena said. “Did you gather the seeds?”
Anna’s red head nodded as she held out her hand palm up. In it were three large pods, seeds supposedly. Rowena reached out and took them. “Is the pain much?” Anna asked.
“It is, but it is bearable.” Rowena began moving ingredients to the bowl from the preparations that Castiel had made. “I’m going to begin now. Little Fergus will be here soon enough.”
“I can alleviate the pain, my love,” Gabriel murmured near her ear.
Rowena smiled, saying, “No, you need to keep your grace for the resurrection. So much of it will be necessary.”
“Then use mine,” Castiel offered.
“No, I must die if I’m to live. The grace might keep things from progressing as they should.”
“That’s just the prophecy. How about we don’t let that happen,” Dean said as he came into the circle.
Castiel pushed him back from the group. Anna spoke, “And who are you?”
“Leave him be, Anna,” Castiel said.
Anna turned to Dean fully then. “You’re human.” She stepped closer to him. “You have no business here.”
Castiel moved between them. “Leave him be, Anna,” he growled out.
“Oh, Castiel, oh my dear Castiel.” Anna reached up to cup his face. He swatted her hand away. “So this human is causing you to fall, I see. I thought you seemed different, distracted.” She looked past Castiel to Dean. “You must be an amazing human to tempt an angel like our little soldier Castiel.”
“Enough,” Gabriel called over to them. “We have work to do.” Lightning cracked outside. The room seemed to hang onto the glow even as the thunder rolled.
Rowena let out a gasp and her head fell back against Gabriel. When she shot back upright again, her eyes were pure white. Her mouth dropped open, and the sigils on her arms glowed. “The first wave has arrived. The formless demons are making their way to us.” Her voice was low and ominous. Another crash of lightning illuminated the world outside, and a louder roll of thunder penetrated the room. “The second wave of demons are approaching.”
“No,” Gabriel said, as he moved from behind Rowena to stand. “It’s too fast. They shouldn’t be coming through all at once.”
“We have to do the spell,” Castiel said.
“No, the baby has to come first before we can close the gates between the realms and push the demons back.”
Rowena’s head tipped back again and the sigils on her arms turned from bright white to deep purple. Lightning cracked the sky again and the thunder and wind were howling around them. Rowena lowered her head and said, “The Leviathan are coming. They roll over the land, formless and devastating.” Her eyes glowed purple now.
“No, no, no,” Gabriel said.
Rowena took his hand and said, “You need to cut Fergus free. It will be too late if we wait.” Her eyes had returned to their normal color, and her voice was no longer low and ominous. “Please.”
Gabriel drew his angel blade. “I…” Gabriel let the blade fall.
Dean turned to the window that faced the town in the distance. He could see movement, like night shadows spreading too rapidly. Then the lights in the town went dark. “I think they’re almost here,” Dean said.
Castiel grabbed him and shoved him toward the stairs. “Go to your house.”
“No, I’m staying ‘til the end.” Dean shook Castiel’s hand off him.
The moment was interrupted by Rowena. “Do it now Gabriel!”
He hesitated. He stared down at her. He swiftly lifted the blade, and in an instant slashed it across her stomach. The blade clattered to the floor as Gabriel reached down. A bright light pierced the dark room. “Close your eyes Dean,” Gabriel said as he reached into the light that was pouring from Rowena’s stomach. She was breathing heavily. Dean closed his eyes. He could feel the light burning brighter. Then a child was crying. The earth was shaking.
“Hand him to me, Gabriel,” Anna said.
Dean opened his eyes. The room was dark again, except for the candles surrounding the bowl that they’d use for the spell. Gabriel was on his knees. Anna had the bloody baby. “Rowena, come on,” Gabriel begged as he held his hand over her stomach. Her chest did not move. Her head was tipped back, eyes unseeing. “Come on, come on, come on!” A blue glow of light was running from his hands to her body. The wound on her stomach sealed shut. Still she did not breathe.
Anna crouched down on Rowena’s other side. She settled a hand on Rowena’s forehead. Samandriel came nearer and touched her too. Then Hannah and Castiel did the same. Light flowed from them to the woman splayed out on the bed. And time became a palpable thing, something you could see and taste and touch. Dean could feel the seconds falling. The dangers were coming nearer and nearer, and Rowena was not alive.
“Come on, Rowena, come on!” Gabriel glanced back toward the window, toward Dean. “How close, Dean?”
Dean looked out the window. He could see movement in the orchard, but it had slowed. It wasn’t like it was in town. “They’re in the orchard.”
“Rowena and I warded the property to give us a little more time, but it won’t be enough.” Gabriel turned back to her once more time. “I need you.” He laid his head on her chest, a small sob escaped him. “You don’t get to leave me, not yet.” Dean stared at them. He saw the baby reach out then, his small bloody hand came to rest on Rowena’s chest. His eyes glowed golden.
In an instant, Rowena shot up from the bed, gasping in air. All the angels except for Gabriel moved away and seemed to be bracing for a fight. They each dropped angel blades into their hands from seemingly nowhere.
“I'm okay,” Rowena said as she caught Gabriel's eye. A beat later and she started pulling ingredients from the bowl, adding in new items. “Hurry, give me the candle,” she said to Gabriel.
“We don’t have time for the spell. They came too fast.” He still handed her the candle.
“You’re right. We don’t have time for that spell, but I always have a back-up plan. I can’t open a portal to another world, but I can put you and our son somewhere safe while I work out the spell.”
“You can’t do it alone,” Gabriel said.
“I can. I just need more time if I do it alone.”
“Years, Rowena. We talked about it. You can’t. They’re already here.”
Rowena smiled and said, “I’ve thought of that too. I’ll slow them so much, they won’t be able to do a damn thing. It’ll buy me all the time I’ll need.”
Dean looked out the window and saw the darkness moving up the sides of the barn and his house. “They’re here. They’re on the house and the barn.” Dean was torn. He could stay and fight the ones coming to the barn or go to the house to fight the ones there. Then he saw it, the first lick of flames on the far end of the house. “Shit, shit, shit. The house is on fire.” He bolted for the stairs.”
“No, Dean!” Castiel grabbed him. “Let me go. You stay here.” Castiel moved past him and down the stairs. Dean watched him from the window.
Rowena began chanting something in another language. Gabriel said, “You sound like us. You’ve been practicing.”
She just smiled at him. She pour bowl after bowl of ingredients into the spell bowl. “Hold each other,” Rowena said. Gabriel took back the child. “Take good care of him, love.”
Dean half focused on them and half on Castiel who was fighting the dark forms as he tried to extinguish the flames. The fire was growing. “I can’t just stand here doing nothing.” Then he saw his family emerge from the house. Castiel waved them toward the barn. They were running. They came to the loft.
“What the hell,” John shouted. “What are those things?” Dean directed them to the far wall. Castiel burst back into the room.
“We have to do this now, Rowena!” Castiel shouted as he slammed the door shut behind him.
“Hold them.” Rowena waved a hand at the other angels. “I’ll pull you all back when the spell is ready, or when I can’t keep them back anymore.” She looked at Castiel. “You can’t stay. I’m so sorry. I need all of your grace poured into this.”
Castiel said, “We always knew this was a possibility. I’m prepared.”
Rowena waved at her head. “Will you be…” Then her eyes darted to Dean and the others. The barn sounded like it was being torn apart.
Castiel turned to him and spared a glance at John, Mary, and Sam. “At least you’ll be safe.”
“What do you mean?” Dean asked. Castiel turned to Dean’s family and raised a hand to Sam, who seemed to stumble a little, then his eyes closed. He did the same to Mary with the same result. He moved his hand to John next who took a step back.
“Oh no you don’t. Just what in the hell are you?” John said.
Castiel brought out his wings and said, “I’m Castiel, angel of the Lord.” The shock was so great that John didn’t move when Castiel reached out to him and tapped two fingers on his forehead.
Lastly Castiel turned to Dean. “I’m going with you,” Dean said.
Castiel’s face fell a little. “No, Dean. You need to stay here. Rowena will need you for the final spell. Besides it’ll be better for you. Loving angels never brought any human any good.”
“No, Cas. I’m going with you,” Dean stepped closer and took hold of Castiel’s arms, the fabric of his coat bunching up in Dean’s fingers.
Castiel reached up and cupped Dean’s cheek in his hand. “If only it were that simple.”
Dizziness overcame Dean, and his eyes closed against the light. When he woke, the room was empty, and the sun had come up. He did not remember anything about angels or witches or demons.
There was just the fire, and their miraculous survival.
The days passed with some speed in the film. It wouldn’t be long now. Dean could feel the end creeping toward them. The spell that pulled the angels into the film was similar to the spell that would have opened a portal to another world. It involved a death, a selfless sacrifice. Rowena’s death served that purpose. It had also involved various items from distant lands, most of which were gathered by Gabriel and Rowena during their long years of running.
The portal at the end of the film flashed into existence each time the film ended. It never lingered long enough for one to escape through. A spell could keep it open; a spell that, like the first spell, required a sacrifice. Dean’s death would serve as the sacrifice in this case. Dean was not looking forward to this, but he trusted that Cas would save him. He trusted that it would be a temporary sacrifice. Still.
He sat at the window in Castiel’s apartment staring down at the city that would be his home for just a little longer. He considered walking down to Chinatown, or over to the park. Castiel would be home soon, a sizable fade would come up after his current scene. They could maybe talk or something.
The door opened, and Castiel walked in. He smiled at Dean as he strode over to the window and took a seat next to him. “Hello, Dean.”
Dean reached out and took his hand. “Heya, Cas.” They stared at each other for a moment, just breathing in the silence before Castiel said, “I thought we could go to Pamela’s for lunch.”
“You asking me on a date?” Dean laughed a little.
“If you’re saying yes, then I am.”
“And if I’m saying no?”
“Then I’m just asking you to go to this restaurant so I don’t have to learn how to cook.” Castiel winked. “It’s about convenience.”
Dean stood up. “Then yes, I’ll go with you on this little date.”
“Are you just saying that because you don’t want me to cook?” Castiel joined him and they walked out of the apartment.
“My reasons are my own,” Dean said.
The streets were lined with faceless figures. It was a bustling day. They wove in and out of the crowds talking about nothing in particular. When they got to Pamela’s she waved a hand out toward the sea of empty booths. They went to the same booth that they had shared on the first night.
“Whatcha having?” Pamela asked as she drummed her pad with the end of her pen. She looked down at them, but it seemed like she wasn’t really seeing them.
Dean said, “Two cheeseburgers and a strawberry shake.”
“Fries?” Pamela asked. Normally she just wrote down what was said and didn’t speak to them again.
Castiel tipped his head to the side. “Yeah,” he said. She turned and marched back to the kitchen to hang up the tag. “That was different,” Castiel muttered.
“Maybe she knows it’s the end,” Dean offered.
“She’s just a character, not an angel or demon or anything truly sensient.”
Dean hummed then asked, “So why does she get a face, but so many don’t?”
“She talks to the main characters, so she has to have a face. I imagine that her image comes from someone that actually existed.” Castiel drummed on the table and added, “The spell likely pulled characters and plot lines from the film that we were cast into.”
“So most of what we know about why you’re here, why Fergus could be dangerous, and why I’m the Righteous Man comes from the prophecy right?” Dean asked.
“Yes, all of the angels have studied it, and have learned of all of the dangers that are possible.”
“So, I hear you. I just think it’d be easier to understand if I heard the prophecy itself.”
Cas folded his hands together on the table in front of him and said, “You wouldn’t understand it. You don’t speak Enochian.”
“You could translate it for me.” Dean shrugged. “I’m sure it’d be close enough.”
Cas closed his eyes a moment then said, “It won’t be the same, but,” he paused a moment, then opened his eyes to continue, “The world of men can be brought to an end by the corrupted soul, uniter of those below. The Righteous Man will come between the dark and the light, sealing Heaven, Hell, and the earth from passage. The child, nephilim born of an archangel and a powerful woman, will usher in the dark time, the path to destruction that only the Righteous Man can fix.”
“So that little bit is all you angels are going on?” Cas nodded. “Really? You were going to kill a kid over that?”
“I simplified it a great deal. It is far more complicated in Enochian.” Castiel sounded rather irritated.
“Look, even if it were a little more complicated, that is really not enough to justify murder.”
“Angels studied this. Even the Scribe of God worked on interpreting it for us. We understood what it meant, what would come of all of it.”
“I’m just saying, it doesn’t seem so obvious to me. Seems like things aren’t as set in stone as you think. Like, what if me fixing things, just looks like me being friendly to the kid and not treating him like some sort of potential supervillain?”
“That thought had occurred to me before,” Cas said. “There are many ways that all of this can go. It is why I’ve chosen not to follow Heaven’s rules. Not killing Fergus or Rowena, helping them instead, it seemed like the right thing to do, despite the prophecy.”
“Good. I’m glad you aren’t just fulfilling some dumb prophecy here with me. Seems like we shouldn’t all be assuming that there’s no room for free will.”
“There’s always room for that,” Cas said.
Castiel reached across the table and took Dean’s hand in his.
“You sure are affectionate today,” Dean said.
“I guess it just feels like the end of things.” Castiel looked away.
“You’re not gonna let me stay dead now, are you?” Dean asked with a slight laugh, but it sounded strained.
“Never in a million years.” Castiel turned back to him and added, “You won’t be hurt under my watch.”
“Well, except for the dying.” Dean cringed.
Castiel looked away again. “Yes, except for that. I’ll do what I can to keep you from experiencing pain.”
“Yeah, thanks for that.” Dean squeezed his hand. “I’ll be happy when we’re out and a little more free.”
Castiel dipped his head. “You have plans for when you’re home again?”
“So many.” Dean lifted Castiel’s hand to his lips and pressed a kiss to his knuckles. “I hope you don’t mind.”
Castiel just smiled. Eventually Pamela brought the food. They ate their burgers and shared their milkshake like they were in some sort of 1950s teen romance. When the meal ended they walked slowly back to the apartment. The moon was bright and full. “In your world the moon matches this one. Sometimes I’d tell myself that we were both looking up at the same sky.”
Dean let his arm wrap around Castiel’s waist. Castiel draped his arm over Dean’s shoulders.
“I sometimes went on long drives in my dad’s car,” Dean said. “I’d head down some lonely road into the middle of nowhere. I’d park and look up at the sky. I always felt like something was missing. Or maybe - someone.”
“We use to do that together when I was there.”
“I know.” Dean pulled him into his side a little more. “I guess that even when I didn’t have my memories, I knew I was missing something.”
“I guess I didn’t do a very good job.”
Dean let him go. “Not actually the point there, buddy.”
Castiel stared at him, head tilting again like he was trying to see where the conversation derailed.
“I know,” Castiel tried.
“No, I don’t think that you do.” Dean huffed out a breath and started walking again. “You’re part of me now, part of who I am. You can’t erase that. I missed you even without knowing what it was that I was missing. I longed for you.”
Castiel caught up to him and stopped his progress with a hand on his shoulder. “Dean.”
“I know. I sound cheesy. I’ll dial it down.” Dean rolled his eyes.
“No, I just,” Castiel started then turned away. “I’m so sorry.”
Dean wrapped his arms around him, tucking his chin over Castiel’s shoulder. “I know.” He kissed him softly on the cheek and repeated, “I know.”
The angels gathered at Gabriel’s shop. They were all ready and waiting out on the sidewalk when Castiel and Dean arrived. “Growley’s coming too?” Dean asked as he took in the vision of the giant black, slobbering mass next to Fergus.
“Of course he’s coming,” Fergus said. He stretched his tiny kid hand up to the mop of black hair and scratched at the creature’s neck. It looked frightening, and at the same time, it looked pleased. Dean shook a little and turned away.
Hannah hadn’t spoken much, but somehow she ended up walking alongside Dean while Castiel spoke with Anna and Gabriel. Samandriel walked alongside Fergus and discussed the Hellhound.
“I certainly hope that you still plan to die today,” Hannah said.
Dean froze up for a moment, then continued walking. “Wow, great bedside manner there, Hannah.”
She looked at him, confusion washing over her features. “I don’t know what you mean. We are outside, and there are no beds here.”
“So literal, just like Cas,” Dean said.
“I worry that he puts too much stock in you,” Hannah went on. Dean sent her a raised eyebrow. “You are, after all, just one man.”
“Well, apparently I’m pretty righteous too.” Dean gave her a wink.
“So they say. I’ve yet to see much evidence of that.” She shrugged, her brown hair blowing back in a little breeze that kicked up.
Dean had to laugh. “You and me both, where that’s concerned. I mean, I try to do things right and all that, but I’m far from being a saint.”
Hannah said, “Being the Righteous Man does not mean that you have to be a saint.”
“Well, then maybe I am the Righteous Man, because Lord knows I’m not a saint.”
Hannah let out a frustrated little sigh. “The Righteous Man could be a saint. They are not opposites.”
Dean laughed. “You really don’t like me much, do you?”
“You are frustrating.” She quickened her steps, but Dean did too. “I have only observed you from a respectable distance, but you seem to be impulsive and troublesome.”
“Sounds about right.”
“What Castiel sees in you is a mystery.”
Dean laughed again and said, “Apparently, my soul is gorgeous.”
Hannah stopped walking, so Dean did too. Samandriel and Fergus moved around them. Hannah looked at him past a squint, getting closer to his face as she did so. Dean stared back, waiting for her to say something. Her eyes dropped, taking in the rest of him. “It is a fine soul.” She continued walking.
“So it is gorgeous. I knew I was hot stuff,” Dean drawled. She glared at him, and he smirked back.
“Don’t be so full of yourself.” They’d fallen behind the others a little, but it was fine. They walked on in silence for a few minutes before Hannah said, “I worry about Castiel. It will be difficult for him today.” It was almost like she was talking to herself more than to Dean.
Dean had worried over that too. He remembered the panic that spurred Castiel to action at Gabe’s shop when he found a drop of Dean’s blood outside. This was bigger than that. “Hannah.” Dean reached out a hand to her elbow as they walked. “Can I count on you to get him through that?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, make sure that he plays his part. Don’t let him veer from the plan.”
She nodded. “I’ll do what must be done, but, as you know, Castiel makes his own rules. It seems as if he met you and immediately tore up all of the plans he’d ever made in favor of chaos and mystery.”
“Sounds like Castiel.” Dean sighed and said, “He’s been too confident, like he has other plans that we’re not in on. Just keep an eye on him.”
“”I’ll do what I can. You have my word.”
As they made their way to the city square where the last of the drama was meant to unfold, Castiel dropped back to his side. There was a tall brick building looming over the square. In the distance they could still see the skyscrapers that made up the city. Castiel seemed to be watching him out of the corner of his eyes.
“You worried?” Dean asked.
“No. Are you?”
“I said I wouldn’t let anything hurt you,” Castiel said as he directed Dean into the last alley before the square.
“That’s just what worries me.” Dean leaned back against the rough brick wall.
Castiel tipped his head to the side and considered him. “You want to be hurt?”
“No. But I don’t want anyone else to be hurt either. If saving me puts anyone else at risk, I don’t want to be saved.” Dean pressed his palms into the brick, felt the grit of the wall behind him.
Castiel came closer to him. “You deserve to be saved, Dean.”
“Over Gabriel?” Dean leveled his gaze on Castiel and went on, “Over Hannah? Over Anna? Over Samandriel?”
“Yes!” Castiel practically growled out.
“Over Fergus?” Castiel didn’t respond, so Dean added, “Over a child, Cas?”
Castiel pressed in closer to Dean. Their chests were firm against each other. “Yes.” This yes was quieter. “When I pulled you out of that nightmare in the theater, it wasn’t for nothing. You, Dean Winchester, deserve to be saved.”
“And so do they.”
The intensity of the moment lingered in the air, thick with their words. “I love them, Dean, but it isn’t the same.”
“What are you saying, Cas.”
Castiel looked away from Dean, but didn’t back up.
Gabriel came to the entry of the alley. “What the hell are you two doing? We don’t have time for a make-out session.”
Castiel backed away. Dean shook out his sleeves and smoothed out his shirt. Castiel marched off ahead of him. Dean looked back to the alley as he stepped out onto their path. There had been a scene there before. He was sure of it. Castiel had told the informant that he deserved some respect. Dean shook his head and thought that maybe it didn’t matter at this point. He’d be temporarily dead soon anyway.
The beginning of the scene played out, a whole lot of verbal exposition. Dee Roman seemed stiffer, more tinted with evil. Dean waited for the line that would signal his own part. The others waited by the brick building a little out of the shot but also where the portal would open. Dean kept glancing toward them. Hannah eased out of the spot and came nearer. She nodded, and Dean nodded back.
“Thankfully, no one ever has to know that I killed anyone,” Dee said.
That was Dean’s signal. He moved toward Castiel as Dee leveled the gun on him. Castiel’s eyes darted to him. Dee noticed Dean and aimed her gun at him. Castiel moved between the gun and Dean as Dee pulled the trigger. “Cas!” Dean shouted. The bullet slammed into Castiel’s chest and sent him back into Dean’s arms and the ground. Dee seemed shocked for a moment.
“Well, that’s not how it should have gone,” Dee said. Her eyes shifted to black. A scream tore the air as shapeless black masses started pouring from the alley’s and shadows between buildings. It was like they were there all along, just waiting for the freedom that one mistake would give to them.
Hannah rushed to them and stood over them. Everyone froze. Even Dee, who had been so intent on killing Dean a moment before, just stood there, gun aimed down at her side. Dean felt Cas push up from him. His breathing was labored. “I said, nothing would hurt you.” Castiel glanced at Hannah, who immediately reached out to Dee and broke her neck. She fell to the ground in a dead heap. “Go to the portal, Dean.”
“You’re coming with us.” Dean was shaking. He had his arms wrapped tight around Cas. “Hannah!”
Hannah came down to them. “He has to die. I’m sorry Dean.”
“No.” Dean ran a hand through Castiel’s hair. “You’re an angel. A bullet wouldn’t kill you.”
Castiel’s eyes fell shut. Hannah said, “It would if he gave up his grace.”
“What?” Dean scrambled a little and started pressing his hands to the wound to stop the bleeding. “Fuck! Hannah, fix this. You have to fix this. Heal him!”
Castiel raised a hand to Dean’s face. He cupped his cheek. His words were a barely there whisper. “You're not a powerful witch. You're just a man, and there were no guarantees. You mean too much to everything. To me.” He pulled Dean down to him and kissed him. Then his hand fell.
Dean choked back a sob. “No, no, no.” He shook Cas, but he didn’t respond.
Then Dean looked to where the others were and saw the gaping hole in the world. The portal glowed large and was blue along its edges. He could see Rowena beyond it. Gabriel and the angels were performing their part of the ritual with Fergus. Hannah was still at Dean’s side.
“Go to the portal, Dean.” Hannah pulled him up. At first he didn’t fight her.
“No, you have to heal him.” He pulled himself from her grip and fell back to his knees.
“I will, if you go to the portal.” She pulled a vial up from inside her shirt. Blue light swirled in it. “It’s a risk. It shouldn’t work. The vessel is dead, and angels can’t possess the dead. Castiel said that this world doesn’t follow the rules, though. He said we had to write our own ending. So I’m going to get him back, and you’re going to get clear of here, go to the portal.”
“You’re going!” She lifted him and shot him clear to the portal. “Keep him there Samandriel!”
Samandriel held Dean down. “Don’t watch them. It could blind you,” Samandriel said.
Dean forced himself to look away as Hannah held her hand over Castiel’s chest. It was then that he noticed the way the shadows moved from the buildings in a slow ooze toward them. “Guys. Something’s coming.” Dean motioned toward the buildings.
“Shit,” Gabriel said. “The warding should have kept them back longer.”
“You knew they’d be here?” Dean asked.
“Of course. It was the only way to clear them out of Lawrence. We’re closing the passage between realms. We don’t want them stuck with us,” Anna said.
“Time to go!” Gabriel stood, pulling Fergus to his side. “Hold him,” he said to Anna and Samandriel.
Fergus clung to Growley as they stepped forward. “We have to wait for Cas,” Dean said as he pulled at Gabriel’s sleeve.
Gabriel smiled. “You’ll pull Hannah and Castiel through.” He nodded to the portal and added, “I have to go through with them. There’ll be some fighting to do on the other side. Rowena can only hold them back for so long.”
Dean let him go. They passed through the portal. Dean turned back to Hannah. She was still leaning over Castiel's body. Time moved slowly. The shadows crawled toward them. Dean stood and made his way back to Castiel’s side. Hannah said, “Come on, Castiel.”
Her tone worried Dean. “How long will it take?”
She didn’t answer. Dean took Castiel’s hand in his and squeezed it. “Come on, you bastard. You don’t get to leave me.”
Suddenly, Cas shot up. He looked from one to the other and said, “Did the Leviathan come through?”
Dean yanked him into a hug. “You idiot!”
Hannah nodded toward the building. Castiel got up. “We need to go,” she said.
They went toward the portal. Around the square the wards crumbled. The Leviathan no longer oozed. They rushed toward them, barring the path to the portal. Both Castiel and Hannah manifested their blades and framed Dean between them as they prepared for battle. “There’s too many of them,” Hannah said as she slashed at a mass that reared up in front of her. It shot back away from the blade.
The Leviathan roared in one voice around them, growing upwards as they did. “Just press on toward the portal,” Castiel yelled. “Slash at everything that moves.”
It took all of their effort to maintain the path that they had barely carved toward the portal. “We have to get to it before it closes,” Hannah called out.
“Get Dean through,” Castiel shouted from behind Dean. The dark form before him swooped close and knocked him back against Dean.
“Not without you. I’m gonna drag your ass through the eye of that needle if I have to die to do it!” Dean held the back of Castiel’s coat and inched back toward the portal. It was just a few feet away. Hannah slashed at the darkness, two hands firmly grasping her blade.
Suddenly, the way to the portal wasn’t blocked. The Leviathan made a collective roar, speaking with one voice. “Just a taste of him. Just give us a taste.”
“Now, Hannah!” Castiel yelled. “I’ll hold them off! I’ll hold them ALL off!” With that he shoved Dean toward Hannah and the portal with all of his strength. They passed through the bright light of it. Dean screamed until the air seemed to be choked from his lungs.
The portal closed as Dean passed back into the theater. Rowena caught Dean in her arms.
Dean managed to turn toward the screen for one dizzying second. He saw Castiel surrounded by darkness, slashing away at all of it.
Everything in front of him faded to dark. Dean fell.
Dean came to in the theater, lying in front of the large, empty screen. Hannah hovered near him. Consciousness seemed to slam into him fully. “Cas!” The screen was bright with the light of the projector, but there was no Castiel. He got up and staggered toward the screen. Everything swam in front of him.
Dean took in the space around him. Gabriel and Rowena sat near Fergus, hands stroking the child’s back as he clutched the very still form of Growley.
Hannah’s hand touched Dean’s back, tentatively. Dean jerked away from her.
Unrattled, Hannah informed him, “The spell’s complete. Rowena has closed the realms.”
Dean looked at his palm and saw the remnants of blood there, the blood needed to complete the spell. He felt dizzy again.
“No,” Dean whispered. “How do we get him past the barrier? How do we get Cas back?”
“We don’t,” Hannah said.
Dean pressed his palms to his eyes, trying to stop the spinning. The light was so bright as it bounced off the screen, too bright. His legs gave out and he collapsed into a heap on the floor.
He could hear Rowena as if her voice was coming to him from far away. “Poor boy. Dean carried you through. We must get him to his bed so he can rest.”
Dean tried to call out for Cas, get them to try. He felt his body being lifted. The world was dark, and he felt so alone.
Chapter 7: Act Four: The Final Act
Christmas came and went. The theater remained locked up.
One night, Dean heard the pounding on the door below, and the sounds of Ash’s shouts outside the theater door. He yelled down from the apartment at him to go away.
Dean drank away his sorrows the first week. It had been bad enough just knowing that he’d failed Cas, that he hadn’t held on and pulled him through, but that his own blood was used to seal the way back made it all worse to him.
Where Anna went was a mystery. But Hannah and Samandriel stuck around. Dean found the two of them just sitting in the empty theater when he eventually returned. He yelled at them to leave, but they didn’t. He threw a garbage can at Hannah, but it didn’t even get close to her. For their part, they just sat in silence and let Dean rail against them.
Dean stormed up to the projection room intent on torturing himself further. He began rewinding the reel to playback the last film, to see Cas again. As he did so, he could see that it was not as it once was. Each cell was ruined. The whole reel was black. Dean began unspooling it onto the floor in front of him. The whole thing ended in a black heap at his feet. He cursed and screamed. He threw a lamp that was in the corner, breaking the mirror on the far wall.
It was then that he noticed the box that housed the other parts of the series. He tore open the lid and began pulling out reel after reel. He unspooled just enough of each to see that they were ruined too. It was all one world, so it had all been destroyed with the spell. Dean felt the wet splash of a tear that fell from his cheek. He hadn’t even realized that he was crying until then.
Dean pushed that emotion aside. He pulled a reel out at random and carried it out of the room against his chest. He strode out of the theater with determined steps. The bite of the winter air seemed to snap him out of the haze he’d been in. He marched through the snow that had built up around the entryway of the theater, but he only got two steps into his march before he stopped. He glanced around, noting how quiet everything was. Then his eyes fell on the poster that Claire had made. Cas’ eyes seemed to stare out at him.
Dean walked back to the poster and leaned his head against the frame. He pressed his palm to the glass, feeling the cold of it. “Cas.” He moved back and shook his head. He looked to Rowena’s shop and remembered the mission. He burst through her front door, somehow knowing that she’d be there. “Rowena!” Dean shouted. “Rowena, you get out here and fix this, or I’ll fucking burn this place to the ground.”
Gabriel came out of the back of the shop, alone. “Dean,” he started, but Dean cut him off.
“Don’t act like you care. Long as it wasn’t your family, you were fine with all of this.” Dean waved his arms around.
Gabriel moved toward him, too fast for a human. His face was serious as he pressed Dean back against the door. “He’s my family too, you ignorant asshole,” Gabriel growled out at him. “He shoved you out of that hell. He made the sacrifice. I didn’t want him to, but that bastard did it. He made that choice. You can come in here and yell, and act like we’re the villains here, but it was my brother that did this. You can hate all of us. You can hate him, but I think the dead deserve better than that.”
Dean just stood in the room, shock painting his features. He could feel the pained rise and fall of his chest. Gabriel let the silence stab him. “He’s not dead.” Dean clutched the film to his chest, held it like it was all that mattered.
“He is, Dean.” Gabriel set a gentle hand over Dean’s, over the film reel. “We looked at those. Rowena said there was nothing she could do. All the cells were black. Castiel is in that empty place.”
“You have to bring him back. You owe him. You owe us.” Dean shoved Gabriel, but it was weak. “Come on you bastard! You owe us.” He slammed his fist into Gabriel’s chest.
Gabriel put his arms around Dean and said, “You think we haven’t tried?”
Dean gave up then and shoved himself away from Gabriel. He went back to the theater, made a sign declaring the place closed, and then retreated back to his apartment above.
He woke the next morning to find Samandriel sitting at the foot of his bed. “What the fuck!” Dean jumped back toward his headboard. The room was bright with sunlight streaming into the room. “Samandriel, what?”
“We’ve been told to keep an eye on you. It was my turn.” Samandriel got up and walked to the kitchen. “I’ll make you coffee. Castiel showed me how.”
“No.” Dean got up and pulled on a robe. “Who told you to do this?” Dean knew though.
“Castiel. He told us you’d be mad for a time, but that you’d understand eventually. He wanted us to protect you.”
“Get out,” Dean said as he pointed to the door. “You all can just watch me from the other side of the door.” Dean glared at him. Samandriel made no move. “If Castiel thought that I needed to be watched he should have followed me out and watched me himself.” Dean jabbed another finger at the door. “Go!”
Samandriel started for the door. “I’m sorry, Dean. If it helps, he cared more for you than anyone.”
“Guess what,” Dean said. “Doesn’t help.” He slammed the door behind the angel.
The day passed, then another, and a week, a full month. He had texts from Ash, Garth, and even Rowena. He ignored them all. He was content to just rot away in his room. In time he’d have to do something. He ate what little was in the apartment. He drank to excess. He clutched at the film reel as he slept. Cas was gone.
And the winter grew harsher.
A month into his solitude, the outside world decided to invade his space. Ash and Garth had apparently grown worried. They contacted Mary and Sam, who came out to Lawrence to help. No one knew. No one could ever understand. Still, they had a locksmith open up the theater. They came to his apartment and nearly fell apart when they saw him barely alive, a shallow shell of a man curled into the bed.
Dean had grown too weak to protest. He let them take him to the hospital. He had no answers for their questions. He let the silence speak for him for as long as it could.
And the season changed. Mary stayed on in Lawrence to keep an eye on Dean. Sam went back to his life. Dean put on a front that said, it’s all fine now. People asked what happened, but Dean would just lie, say he’d gotten some sort of brutal virus that made him all weak.
He made a life of routines that seemed normal. With any luck, they’d all stop worrying and go back to leaving him alone. Ash came back to work and so did Garth, but things were different. There was distance between them all now.
It was because of the distance that Dean was shocked by Garth’s hand on his shoulder. Dean jumped. “Hey there. Sorry. Didn’t mean to frighten you.” Garth looked nervous.
Dean pulled a smile up, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “What’s up?”
Garth scratched a hand through his hair and then kicked the heel of one foot with the other. “I, um…”
“Well, spit it out, Garth. Some of us have work to do.” Dean leaned into the broom handle, trying for casual. He knew that he was intimidating now, with his surly attitude.
“Remember when you said I could use the theater?” Garth just stalled right there and then said, “Well, never mind. I can see I’m imposing.”
Dean reached out and grabbed Garth’s arm before he could scurry off. “Stop. What do you mean by use the theater?”
“It was just about the wedding.” Garth started to go again, but Dean wouldn’t let him.
“You’re getting married here. I said it was fine, and I meant it.” Dean’s memory came back fast. He also knew that he had to honor the agreement. “When’s the blessed event.” His tone still carried a bit of bitterness, but that couldn’t be helped.
Garth smiled. “We would like to do this in April, before the summer crowds. We could even do a weekday or weeknight, so you don’t lose any business.”
“Nobody gets married on a weekday.” Dean rolled his eyes. “Pick a Saturday in April. We’ll put it on the marquee.”
“Really?” Garth’s grin spread wide.
“Really?” Dean had to laugh, a genuine laugh.
Then Garth went too far. “Beth still has that cousin that I could set you up with.”
Dean shoved the broom at Garth. “Sweep this area up.” He stated, heading for the door and turned back, saying, “And if you even remotely try to set me up with anyone, I’ll call the whole thing off.”
Garth looked shocked, but Dean couldn’t let it bother him. “Of course.” As the door was closing between them, Dean heard Garth say, “Thanks.”
Everyone came out for the wedding. Beth and Garth picked the last weekend in April. They became regular fixtures around the theater in the days leading up to the wedding. Dean threw himself into the task of cleaning and preparing for the event. It kept him focused on everything but what he’d lost. He avoided Rowena, who thankfully didn’t take up residence in the lobby with her tea.
Some days were harder than others, and he thought that the wedding day would be one of the hard ones. With all the talk of love and love , he couldn't imagine that it would feel at all pleasant to find himself attending any of the festivities. Still, he owed it to Garth to be there, so he'd push through.
The ceremony took place in the first theater. They packed all the seats and even had people standing on the sides. Beth came down from the projection room. Her hair was piled high and curly. Her eyes sparkled. Garth started crying immediately.
Dean leaned against a wall, unwilling to take a seat from someone else. Ash came to his side and mirrored his posture. He leaned into Dean a little and slipped him a flask. Dean subtly and quickly brought it to his lips and gulped down a bit more than he should.
“Thanks,” he whispered as the officiant spoke of Garth and Beth's undying love.
Ash whispered back, “Bachelors gotta stick together at these things.”
Ash stuck by Dean's side, and though it should have annoyed him, it didn't. They held the reception in the lobby and Dean found himself seated with his mom, Ash, and Claire. There were some empty seats too, but it seemed like no one would be claiming those.
“It was a very nice ceremony,” Mary said.
Ash raised a glass, “To the happy couple.” A few other tables raised glasses and echoed him.
Mary leaned into Dean and asked, “Do you know those two?” She nodded off toward the concession stand where Hannah and Samandriel stood. They stood out in their business attire and too-serious expressions.
Dean said, “Yeah,” and hoped he wouldn't have to elaborate.
Ash interrupted, “Well look what the cat dragged in.” Dean turned just in time to see Gabriel and Rowena enter. Fergus stood between them in a small suit. “Looks like your girlfriend upgraded, Deano,” Ash said with a laugh.
“Looks like it.” Dean got up and said, “Excuse me a sec while I go say something friendly.” Ash laughed at him.
Dean got to their side and Gabriel reached out a hand. “Hey, Dean.”
Dean took his hand then dipped down to the kid. “How you doing bucko?” Fergus shrugged. Dean ruffled up his hair. He looked up at Rowena. “Is he mad at me?”
“He hasn't spoken since we got back.” Dean could see that her eyes looked unhappy now that he was close.
“Hope you don't mind us being here. Your friend Beth invited us. Said the whole town was coming. We thought it'd be noticed if we stayed home.”
“You all still living in the shop?” Dean asked.
“For now.” Gabriel took Fergus’ hand and walked into the room. Rowena stayed behind. The two of them watched them go until Gabriel took a seat at Dean's table right next to Mary.
“What's our story?” Dean asked.
“I finally saved up enough money to get my husband and child here from Scotland.” She set a gentle hand on Dean's shoulder. “I've been trying to get him back. I need you to know that I haven't given up.”
Dean just looked at her. “Gabriel said he's dead.”
“Yes, but as a former dead woman, I don't view that as the end.” She leaned into his arm.
“Sometimes, what's dead stays dead, Rowena. Cas didn't have anyone there to save him.”
There was laughter drifting to him from his table. “Sometimes I'm just too stubborn to give up.”
Dean choose to ignore her hopeful words. “And Fergus?”
Rowena looked off toward her son. “He’s never lost anything he loved. He loved that dog. I think it’s more than losing the dog. I think he’s afraid now.”
“At least he’s safe.”
“Yes,” she said with a sigh. “I wish he knew me well enough to know that I'll always keep him safe.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s been so long, Dean. My boy doesn’t even know his mother.”
Dean reached out to her and pulled her into a hug. “Guess you’ll have to make sure to make up for lost time.”
The loneliness was sometimes too much. Dean eventually sought a cure for it. He made a standing arrangement to have dinner with his mom every Wednesday. It helped, but he still has six other nights to fill. It was this fact that drove him from his apartment one night to the shop across the street.
It was late, but not so late that anyone should be asleep. The shop was even still unlocked. The bell jingled as he entered. Rowena sat behind the counter, a streaming mug between her hands. “Hello, Dean. We were expecting you.” She smiled over the brim of the mug as she took a sip.
“Is this one of those witchy things you do?”
“I keep telling you, I have the Sight.” She rounded the counter and looped an arm through his. “We're going to watch a movie. Do you like Thor ?”
“Uh, yeah!” Dean pulled away a moment and sheepishly asked, “You sure I'm not…”
Rowena slugged his arm. “Stop that.” Then she pulled him into the living space behind the tarot room. Gabriel was sitting on the sofa. Fergus was on the floor, arranging mosaic tiles into complex shapes. All of them looked like dogs.
“It's something he does now,” Gabriel said.
Dean came to Fergus’ side and sat on the rug. “Hey buddy.” Dean picked up a couple of tiles and started arranging them into a shape. He didn't realize that he was making an eye until there it was, all big and blue.
Fergus was watching him. When Dean stopped fidgeting with the tiles he had left, Fergus took his hand and guided him to the couch.
Rowena had retreated to the kitchen to make popcorn. When she came back it was with the largest bowl imaginable. “Wow, Ro, you think Dean wants that much popcorn,” Gabriel said.
“From what I hear, you can't watch a movie properly without popcorn. Now pretend you eat.” She looked down at Fergus and said, “You too.”
Dean laughed and helped himself. The film started, and though Dean had seen it before, he hasn't seen it with Gabriel's commentary. “He is entirely too attractive to be Thor.” Gabriel was flinging a bit of popcorn as he spoke. “Seriously, the real Thor had a big ole scar right across his face. He was strong, but imagine what kinds of actual muscles your have to have to lift the real hammer.”
“So you're saying Thor was not a Hemsworth,” Dean asked, while trying to suppress a laugh.
“Not even close. He was quite a bit lumpier, and his hair was darker, what hair there was.”
This went on throughout the film. Dean would ask questions, and Gabriel would go off. It was an unusual evening. It was also just what Dean needed. At some point Fergus curled up against Dean and feel asleep. “So he sleeps?”
“He always has,” Gabriel whispered. “He needs less than most.”
Rowena scooped him up and carried him off to bed. Dean got up. “Guess that's my cue.”
“We're gonna watch Hocus Pocus tomorrow. It'll likely piss Rowena off. You should join us.”
“Sounds like something I shouldn't miss.” Dean gave Gabriel a quick pat on the shoulder and said, “See ya tomorrow.” Then he left.
The days passed like this. Some days he watched movies with them, others he babysat Fergus while Rowena and Gabriel went out. He took Fergus to the farm to have dinner with him and his mom. Another time he brought the whole family over.
Somehow it was working. He was letting himself drown in them just enough that he didn't have to feel like dying. And most of the time it was good.
And some nights it wasn't.
Dean still had the tarot card that Rowena had given to him. It had somehow gotten under one of the seats in the theater. Dean found it not long after he'd come back.
Some nights he'd find himself alone in the dark theater. He'd sit in front of the screen and hope for a miracle. Some nights he'd hold up the card and tell himself that maybe there was still a little of that magic left, and that Cas would reach out from the screen just like before. But it never happened. The screen stayed blank and empty.
It was another of those hopeful and hopeless nights. It was a little late, and the crowds had gone home. Dean had the latest Marvel film slated for the next couple of weeks, but this week was the opening week, so it was extra busy.
He lazily ran the broom down each row, cleaning up before turning in for the night.
Ash strolled in and hollered up to him, “Hey Deano!”
Dean paused his sweeping and leaned on the broom handle. He stared down at Ash and said, “Hey Asho!”
“That sounds too much like asshole.” Ash laughed and came further into the room. He wasn't alone. “Was wondering if Charlie and I could watch the movie after we close up?”
Dean came down the steps. “Well, hey there, Charlie.” He hugged her. She stiffened up, and he released her. “Sorry.”
She tipped her head to the side, then laughed. She pulled him into a rib splitting hug. “No, I'm sorry. We are definitely huggers.” She let him go and gave his shoulder a sharp slug. “You just never returned my calls or my texts. Kinda thought you were pissed at me for something.”
There had been a lot of messages, but Dean couldn't deal with them. She would have wanted to talk about the films, about all that she didn't find. There was nothing to find, and Dean already knew that. “Now, Charlie,” Dean put on his most charming smile. “How could I ever be pissed at you?”
“So Ash told me that you seem to be done with your old movie obsession.” Dean pretended not to notice the way Ash was trying to send her a message via the too tight half hug he suddenly gave her.
“Well, all good things have to end eventually.”
Charlie suddenly looked a bit too sad for the moment. “I kinda hoped that series wouldn't be one of them. The subtext alone made it worthy of some eternal love. Guess I'll just have to wait until you decide to break it out again for a revival showing. Maybe by then I'll have the full picture to share and not just a weird half tale.”
Dean looked away. “There won't be a revival.” This was the first time he'd told anyone. He started to walk up the steps to the projector room. He could hear them following. Dean walked to the corner, where the crate rested under a thin layer of dust.
Ash whispered a little too loudly, “What part of forbidden subject confused you?”
Dean waved them over and opened the lid. He pulled out a reel. He gently stroked the edge of the tin before opening it. “It's all I have left of him, and it's nothing.” Dean unspooled the black reel full of empty cells.
Charlie reached out and set a hand on his. She pulled the strip up to the light and looked closely. “How?”
“Long, sad, completely unbelievable story.” Dean sighed and set the film and canister back into the crate. “They're all like this.”
Ash came down to his side and looked down at the film. “Whoa, buddy. Was this why…” He stopped suddenly as if realizing that he was treading on forbidden ground.
Dean answered anyway, “Yeah.”
“I’m sorry, Dean. I know this film meant a lot to you,” Ash said. Then he followed up with, “Well, shit.”
Dean laughed at that. “Couldn’t have said it better myself.”
“This sucks,” Charlie said. “Now the only evidence that I wasn’t crazy is gone with the proverbial wind.”
Dean’s brows came together. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, the guy I met with out in L.A. had the original film. I went out their and watched it. He wouldn’t believe me when I said I’d seen it before, but that it was not the same actors.”
“Wait, what?” Dean stood a bit too quickly.
“I left you a message about it,” Charlie said.
“I deleted everything on my phone without listening. I was a mess.” She stood in front of him. He gripped her arms and said, “Tell me about the film. Is Cas in it?”
She shook her head first before answering. “He’s not. That’s what was weird about it. The series had a different name. It wasn’t made by the same production company. It didn’t star any of the same people. Even the subtext was different, as in not there.”
“That doesn’t make sense. Why would a low budget PI film series get entirely remade by a whole new cast?” Ash asked.
“It didn’t,” Dean murmured. He turned away from them.
“Tell us Dean,” Charlie said as she pressed a hand to the small of his back. “I gotta know.”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I tried. Worst still, you’d both think I’d lost my mind.” Dean ran a hand up through his hair.
“Dean, I already think you’re a little nuts, so really there’s nothing you can say that’ll make it any worse.” Ash moved to the couch and sat like he was ready for a long story.
Dean turned to Charlie and waited a beat. She gave him a nod of encouragement. Dean closed his eyes, took in a deep breath, and told them his story.
Dean had worried more than a little during the telling. By the end, Ash just said, “I’m popping downstairs to fetch us some drinks.”
When they were alone, Dean said to Charlie, “Tried to tell you.”
Charlie just stared at him for a bit then said, “I don’t think you’re nuts.” She folded her hands in front of her and leaned forward onto her knees. “I shouldn’t believe you, because that story is batshit crazy.”
“Yeah,” Dean started.
“I believe something happened, something weird.” She got up and paced the room a little. “It was weird enough in L.A. that I got a copy of the film. I wanted to show it to you.”
“I don’t know if I can watch that. Without Cas, it’d just feel…”
“Wrong,” Charlie finished. “I know. It felt really wrong when I watched it too, and I wasn’t near as obsessed as you.”
“It wasn’t that,” Dean said as he scratched his hands through his hair. “It wasn’t an obsession. It was…” He stopped and leaned over his knees. “I loved him, and though I didn’t remember it, I knew that something was missing. Something in my head seemed to seek him out in whatever way it could.”
“That makes sense. Maybe I was the one that was obsessed then. I really wanted to understand.” Charlie sat back down and went on, “When you didn’t answer my calls or texts, I didn’t think I could just drop it. I tried to get Ash to help me out even.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I needed a copy of one of the films to show to Marv down in L.A. Ash wouldn’t send me one, and you were a little M.I.A. so I made my own mini version to show him.” Charlie pulled out her phone. “I didn’t have much, but I had these shots that I took of the film from the last time I was here.”
Dean reached out and snatched the phone from her hand. “Charlie!” Dean was swiping through the images that had been on the lightboard. “Shit, shit, shit, Charlie!” Dean looked at her, eyes wild. “You lead with this! You goddamn lead with this!” Dean rushed out of the room and down the stairs two at a time. Ash called out as he rushed past and out the door.
“Dude! My phone!” Charlie called out as she followed him across the street and into Rowena’s shop.
The bell jangled viciously as Dean rushed in. “Rowena!” Dean yelled. “Rowena, Gabe!” Dean was already heading back to the tarot room with the phone. Rowena came out with Gabe, clothes all askew.
“Dean?” Rowena was straightening her clothes. “What are you doing here?”
Dean held out the phone toward Rowena and Gabe. “We can use this. Tell me we can use this!” Charlie stood with him.
“I don’t know if there’s enough.” Rowena took the phone and stared at it long and hard. “We might have enough.” She looked up at Dean then said, “Maybe then…”
Dean tried to keep from bursting. “You’ll try?”
“I can’t promise it’ll work. This is a photo of a film. I don’t know if it’ll work.” She sounded like she was just as excited as Dean though.
Gabriel jumped in, “How soon, Ro?”
“I have what I need from the last time. I can put it together tonight. I just don’t know if we can get him out. I think I can restore the film world, but that’s…”
Dean interrupted, “Look, start with that. We can work on the next step after. At least if we do this, he’s not dead.”
Charlie said, “Wait, you all are saying you believe this?”
“You said you kinda believed me,” Dean said.
“Well, I was mostly trying to comfort you.” She looked back and forth between Rowena and Dean.
Ash asked, “So you all are saying that Dean was telling the truth?’
Gabriel stepped toward him. “It might be best if you all just agree to a therapeutic mind wipe. It really would be easier for you.”
Charlie stepped back to Ash’s side. “Uh, not so fast buddy.” She picked up the nearest object to her which happened to be an umbrella. She wielded it in front of her. “Ain’t nobody gonna do any mind wiping today.”
Dean held out a hand between them and said, “Don’t worry. Gabe is just offering. You can say no.”
“Then no!” Charlie said.
“Listen dearies, the sooner we start, the sooner we finish. Help me gather the ingredients. Many hands make light work,” Rowena practically sang as she started gathering items from the shelves. “Get that crate Dean, and put these into it.” She started lining up things on the counter. Dean started filling a crate. Charlie and Ash got a couple of crates as well and began loading up.
“I’ll go get Fergus. We’ll meet you all over there.” Gabe threw Dean a wink and a grin. “Looks like we might have found some hope after all.”
With that they headed back to the theater. Dean heard Ash behind him, talking to Charlie. “This is nuts right?”
“Yeah,” she said. “But it feels like it just might be real too.”
The spell was complex, and it was well after midnight when it was finally ready. The film was stationed just next to the bowl. Rowena set the phone on top of it. “I’m afraid this might not survive,” she said as she looked at Charlie.
Dean saw Charlie’s expression falter and said, “I’ll get you whatever replacement phone you want.” He fished in his pocket and pulled out his wallet. “Here.” Dean passed her his credit card. “Just so you know I’m good for it.”
Charlie handed it back. “Let’s just deal with that after all this is done.”
“Well, if we’re all ready let’s begin,” Rowena said as she stood behind the bowl.
Dean handed her his tarot card. “Can you send this to him in the film. Like how you sent the angels into the film last time?”
“The card would be much easier.” She looked down at it and smiled. “Oh, clever boy. You aren’t an angel though.”
“I know, but someone once told me I was the Righteous Man, and that’s gotta come with some perks. Also, I reckon we'll have a few angels willing to help too.”
“Worth a try.”
Gabriel had called on the angels to join him. Anna, Hannah, and Samandriel stood with him around the theater. Rowena had told all of them to stand away from the spell. She didn’t want them to get hurt. Fergus was up in the projection room, far out of the way. Rowena began speaking over the bowl, adding to the ingredients already present. She lit several candles. She breathed a final series of lines over the ingredients and then there was silence.
Dean said, “Shit.” Charlie took his hand. “It didn’t work.” Ash took his other hand.
“Dude,” Ash said and pointed toward the bowl that was glowing blue. Then the light erupted into a wave that washed over the entire room. It knocked the three of them back a step. “What the fuck was that?”
Dean let their hands go and stalked over to Rowena. “Did it work?” She was staring down at the remnants of the spell. “Did it?”
“I don’t know.” She reached down and picked up Charlie’s phone which was smoking a little. “Here’s to hoping.”
She handed Dean the film canister. “I’ll take it to the projector.”
Gabe came to his side and said, “We can check it here.” Dean shook his head. The canister felt hot. He was worried that it would be as burnt as Charlie’s phone. “Go then.”
When he got to the room, Fergus stood. “Dean.”
“Hey buddy.” Dean came down into a crouch. “You doing okay?”
“Yeah,” he said, looking past him to the door.
“So you’re talking now?” Dean reached out and ruffled up his hair. The boy smiled.
“Only when I have to.” Fergus reached out and tapped the edge of the canister. “He’s in there.”
“Castiel?” Dean asked, trusting every word this kid said before he even said it.
“Growley.” Then Fergus smiled and added, “And Castiel too.”
“You little punk.” Dean set up the film and got it playing.
Castiel stood at his window in his little black-and-white world. He stared down at the dark city, and he spoke. Dean sat in the front row and waited. A tall woman entered the room, her hair some light color, maybe blond. She hung her jacket on the rack and came around the desk to Castiel. “Have you slept?”
Castiel looked confused. “I don’t require sleep.” His eyes darted around the room.
A moment passed and the tension grew thick in the silence. The door opened again and a young man in a suit came in. His smile seemed strained. “Heya Castiel.” He took a seat and slipped a cigarette into his mouth.
Castiel said, “Don’t smoke in here.”
The young man looked past Castiel to the woman. “What’s the deal with him, Hannah?”
Hannah said, “Don’t pester him, Hank. He’ll tell us when he’s ready.”
Castiel turned back to the window. The street lights outside filled the world below with an eerie glow. A car drove by. “We’ve got a case.”
“‘Bout time,” Hank said. “I’ve been livin’ on onion sandwiches. Thought the Depression was behind us.” Hank got up and limped over to the window to join them. “So, what’s the deal?”
Castiel shook his head and said, “There’s been a murder at the old Elysian Hotel. I said we’d take it.”
Hannah leaned into the space between Dean and Charlie and said, “I did a much better job than her.”
Dean looked back at her face then up at the screen. The movie Hannah could not have been less like Hannah. Samandriel leaned in next and said, “At least Alfie died in the first one. I’m kinda glad I don’t have to see someone else playing that part.” It all felt a bit too surreal.
Anna added, “Same.” A few moments passed and then Anna said, “Castiel seems off, confused or something.”
“Yeah,” Dean said. He leaned forward and asked, “How can we get him out?”
Rowena replied, “Be patient. It’ll happen when it’s time.”
Dean drew upon some well buried store of patience and watched the film. It was rather different from the other film. It was full of different lines, and the characters seemed flatter somehow. Dean decided that having lived in the other version, he was maybe a little biased. One of the biggest differences was the black coated man, the informant. He was all over this film, but Castiel never put himself too close. The director even filmed the scenes in a way that included the character’s face. The subtext was rather missing from this version.
“Well, it’s about time we got to my scenes,” Gabriel announced.
Castiel walked into the diner and straight to the usual booth. The new Gabriel went by another name, Marv. “Whoa, that’s the guy I talked with in L.A.”
Charlie took Dean’s hand. Dean said, “He must be in his 90s.”
“No, he looked just like that.”
Gabriel got up and walked toward the screen. “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.” He held a hand up to his brow like he wanted to more easily see off into the distance. “Really?”
“What is it?” Rowena came to him and rested a hand on the small of his back.
“Somehow we’ve got the scribe of God in this thing. No wonder things went a little wonky with the first spell.”
Castiel was about to leave when Marv pulled out a familiar box. “Rowena,” Dean said as he pointed to the screen. It was his box, the one that held the tarot card.
“Despite everything, it was good seeing you again. Take care of yourself, Marv.”
“Always do.” He waved at the seat. “Don't leave just yet. Let me give you a reading.” Castiel sighed, but he sat back down. “You act like I'm offering up torture.”
“It's always the same.”
Marv opened the box and dealt out the tarot cards. Dean held his breath just waiting for what would happen next. Castiel usually picked the death card. “Pick.” Marv nodded at the cards laid out in front of Castiel.
Castiel barely looked at the cards. He motioned to the right, always to the right. Marv flipped the card, Death stared up at him. “See, the song remains the same.” But then Castiel leaned in closer.
“Maybe this time it's a different kind of death.”
Castiel picked up the card and looked at it closely. He didn’t turn the card to the camera, so what was on it was a mystery. “There's something in the wind. Things are changing. Can't you feel it?”
“Nah, same murders, different day. We play our parts 'til we don't. There's no out for me.”
“Well aren't you a good little soldier?” Marv’s tone wasn’t bitter like Gabriel’s had been.
“If you say so. See ya around,”Castiel said, turning away. He walked until the scene faded to black.
Dean let out the breath he’d been holding. Half of him expected Cas to just turn the card right toward the screen. He’d hoped that the message on the card would be enough, but Cas was always one to overthink things.
The scenes played out, and Castiel played his part through each. Then the end drew nigh. There would be death. Castiel walked to it with confidence, trench coat billowing in the wind. Dean wondered what it would look like without the demons and Leviathan. Maybe they’d still be there.
“Come on, Cas,” Dean spoke to the screen. “Come on.” Everyone was standing now just beneath the screen. Dean turned to each of them. “You all hold on for all you’re worth.”
“We won’t let go,” Hannah said at his side. Her steely-eyed gaze was hard set on the screen.
“He’s gonna try to fight this. He thinks he deserves to be in there or something. We can’t let him choose that.”
Gabriel said, “What about free will?”
Dean shot him a glare. “He can have free will here.” He focused on the screen again. “Besides, he’s wrong. He hasn’t done anything that warrants punishment or being trapped in some repetitious film world. He thinks he’s protecting me. He’s not, and the sooner we get him out, the better.”
Gabriel nodded to Rowena, and she began her second spell of the night. The Enochian words rolled off her tongue like a song. The shot rang out on the screen, and the informant fell. Castiel came down to his knees next to the body, that wasn’t Dean. Rain began to fall. The scene was different from before. Castiel was holding the tarot card in his hand. The camera showed the words hastily scrawled on it in Dean’s own hand. I need you.
The theater shook, and black masses oozed down the walls. Dean yelled, “Cas!”
Castiel stood and turned toward the camera. He seemed to be looking out at the chaos that was filling the theater. Castiel came down into a crouch and reached out through the screen. Before he could grip Dean’s shoulder and pull him into the film, Dean grabbed his large, fire-hot hand and pulled. Hannah and the others grabbed him too, and they all pulled. “Come on, Cas!” Gabriel yelled.
The room shook, and Castiel’s eyes were wide with shock. His head was through, but he was still holding himself in the other world. “Please, Cas. I need you. Let us pull you through.”
Castiel looked down at his other hand. The tarot card was still firmly in his grip. Something in his look changed, a softening in his eyes. He turned the card to face them. It was the very thing that Dean had done when he’d wanted to be saved. Now it was Castiel’s turn. He held the card there, and they could finally all reach through.
Castiel fell past the screen and onto the floor. Rowena stopped chanting her spell, and the dark forms disappeared. Dean fell to his knees next to Cas. “Gotta say, I was a little worried that you’d come through all big.” He brushed back Castiel’s hair and stared down at him, affection crinkling up his eyes.
“The demons?” Castiel looked around the room.
Rowena answered, “Just parlor tricks. We thought you might need motivation.”
“I don’t know what to say.” Castiel got up and smoothed out his coat.
“You say thank you,” Gabriel said as he clapped him on the arm. “And you learn how to stop being a martyr.”
Gabriel pulled Rowena into his side and the others stood around like they were frozen. It was clear that no one knew what to do next. “Well, shit,” Ash said. “I don’t think I’m entirely sober, but maybe if I go home and go to sleep, I can convince myself that this was just some sort of wacky dream.”
“I’m gonna second that. Mind if I crash on your couch?” Charlie came to his side.
“Mi couch, es su couch.” Together they walked out of the theater.
“Guess that’s our cue too.” Gabriel lead his family out of the theater. Dean noticed that Fergus wasn’t alone either. The boy smiled over his shoulder, hand settled in the back of a fierce looking Hellhound. The other angels followed them.
It was odd, being alone with Castiel after all this time. Dean didn’t know what to do with his hands. Castiel stared at him for far longer than most would find comfortable before he spoke. “Are you angry with me?”
Dean took a step closer. “No. Why would I be angry?”
“I lied to you. I stayed behind.”
“You had your reasons.” Dean moved closer still.
“You should have left me there.”
“You know I couldn’t do that.” Dean reached out and dragged his fingers down the length of Castiel’s arm. “If it had been me, would you have left me in there to rot?”
“Never.” Castiel sighed. “You are the Righteous Man. You are important.”
“Maybe I was. I’m not anymore. I think I played my part. Now, I’d like to move on from all of that.”
Dean’s lip quirked up into a half grin. “Yeah, and maybe you can help me with that.” He leaned in, and pressed his lips to Castiel’s own. He wrapped his arms around Castiel’s waist and hoped that this time, maybe, Cas would finally kiss him back. He didn’t though. Dean pulled back and looked at him. Castiel was breathing heavily and staring at him. “You okay?”
“I’m bracing myself for what comes next.”
“What do you mean?”
Castiel brought his arms up around Dean. “I’ve thought about this a lot. And this is not a dream.” He dragged his hands up and cupped Dean’s face. “I hope I do this right.” He pressed into Dean’s lips then and kissed him for all he was worth.
Dean wondered how it had ever been enough before, the unrequited kisses he stole, the many dreams, and the mere closeness. This, this was everything. Somehow they moved from the theater to Dean’s apartment. They ran into walls and doors along the way. There were several times that Dean thought that any corner on the way would do. Cas was dragging his lips down the side of Dean’s neck, and the scrape of stubble was sending electric waves of excitement all through him.
His apartment was a mess. The bed was unmade. There were dishes in the sink, and the counter was likely sticky. Dean knew he’d let things go. He’d given up. Now here was Cas, and he was thinking about the mess he was bringing the guy home to. He broke the kiss. “I gotta clean up just a little.”
“No.” Cas pulled him back in. Dean broke the kiss again. “It has been 142 days, eleven hours, and,” Cas looked past him to the wall clock and added, “seven minutes since the last time I was near you.”
“I’m not going anywhere. The place is just…” Dean waved his arms out at his side. “Oh, what the hell.” He pulled Cas back in and held him. “God, I missed you.”
They moved to the bed and sat on the edge of it. Castiel stroked the edge of Dean’s cheek. “I had no concept of time when I was in there, until the new film started. I didn’t know what to make of it. There was darkness, then that.”
“We thought you looked confused.”
“Understatement.” Castiel kissed him quick. “Then there was the tarot card, and your message.”
“I hoped it’d be enough to convince you to come home.”
“I’ll always be trouble for you Dean Winchester.”
“I always liked a little bit of trouble,” Dean said with a lopsided grin.
They were done talking for now. Their movements were less erratic. Castiel wore so many layers that it took some time to free him of them. Dean did his part to make his own disrobing more efficient. They crawled back over the rumpled sheets together, Castiel laid out beneath Dean.
Dean rolled his hips a little into the firmness beneath him. Castiel was wet and wanting. “How do you want this?” Dean asked.
“Just like this,” Cas breathed out the words into Dean’s ear. He trailed down his jaw to his throat. He rolled his hips too, seeking out the same friction.
Dean fumbled around his nightstand for his lube. Castiel didn’t stop to help one bit. “I’m just gonna help this along a little.” Dean got his hand between them and held onto Cas. With each upstroke, he ran his thumb over the tip. His own body ached. He rocked into the crease at the juncture of Castiel’s thigh. “I love you, ya know.”
“I know.” Castiel pulled Dean’s arms up and threaded their fingers together. He moved Dean onto his back and rolled over him languidly.
Dean had thought about this countless times, how it’d go, what they’d do. He never considered the peace that would come to him during the act. There was so much strength in Cas, so much power in each thrust. Yet all Dean could focus on was the way he was looking down at him. His eyes were full of tenderness. “Cas,” Dean breathed out into the space between them. “More. Just like that.” Castiel quickened his movements. The friction and slide of them together was everything. Dean knew he was toppling over the edge, and wanted to give just as good as he was getting. He wrapped his legs around Cas and held on tight. His fingers scratched at Castiel’s back as he tried to just hold on. “This, this. Oh, yes.”
Castiel went first, and for that, Dean was quite pleased. He followed mere moments after chasing Cas over that finish line. It didn’t end there though. Castiel was back at Dean’s mouth, sucking in his bottom lip, swiping his tongue through Dean’s mouth like he couldn’t taste him enough. When he finally let Dean breathe, he said, “How often can we do this?”
“Why? You liked it?” Dean was smiling into The crook of Castiel’s shoulder.
“Too much. I fear you may never be allowed to leave this bed.”
Dean pulled back and looked at him. “Well, humans require food and such, so you might have to allow for some time outside of the bed.”
“Food can come to us.”
Dean laughed. “Yeah, leaving the bed is overrated.” Dean dragged a shirt over to clean them both up then tossed it to the floor. “I missed you.”
Cas rested his head against Dean’s forehead. “You were the first thought in my head just as soon as I became conscious.” Castiel raked his hand through Dean's hair. “You'll be the last thought I have too, someday many years from now.”
“So between now and then, what should we do to fill the time?” Dean lifted his head and grinned down at him.