Dean went out that night planning to hustle pool. He really did. They were short on cash and none of their old credit cards were working. But somehow he ended up sitting alone at the bar, drinking the cheapest whiskey they had. When he ran out of money around 2am, they threw him out.
After Dean spent five minutes trying to fit the key into the ignition without success, even he knew that he was too drunk to drive. He crawled into the back seat and passed out.
He woke up with a man shouting at him. Dean peered up, groggy and confused, and saw that there was a gun in his face. He didn’t really understand what was happening, but the man said something about taking the Impala, and there was no way that Dean was going to let that happen, so he reached back to his waistband for his own gun and--
Dean woke up behind the wheel of the Impala. He was parked on the side of a two-lane highway, in the middle of the woods, at night, and he had no idea how he’d gotten there. He stepped out of the car warily, hand reaching for a gun that was no longer in his waistband.
The trunk of the Impala slammed shut, and Dean wheeled around to find thirteen-year-old Sam standing in front of him, clutching a box of illegal fireworks. Suddenly, Dean knew exactly where he was.
The boy was oblivious. “Come on, let’s go!” he said, and took off. He didn’t seem to notice that Dean wasn’t following him. This Sam was a recording, Dean realized. He’d repeat the same actions forever, whether anyone was there to see him or not. Right. Not creepy at all.
Besides, Dean wasn’t in the mood to relive his greatest hits with a fake Sam, when he’d just abandoned the real one. After everything that had happened to Sam in the past couple of years–Hell, losing his soul, losing his mind, and then bending all the laws of nature to haul Dean and Cas out of Purgatory–the two Winchesters had barely managed to spend six months on the same plane of existence before Dean went and got himself killed again, in the most pointless way imaginable. Sam was going to kick his ass when he got up here.
Dean got back into the Impala. He didn’t really know where he was going yet, but he made his best plans when he was driving. He turned the key in the ignition, and nothing happened. Dean knew every cough and whir of the Impala’s engine as well as he knew the creaks and pops of his own abused body, and this wasn’t the kind of nothing that was caused by a dead battery. It was absolute, as if the thing he’d just stuck the key into wasn’t a real car at all. Which he supposed it wasn’t, strictly speaking.
Dean closed his eyes, grateful that there was no one around to see him, and wished as hard as he could for the car to start. He had no idea how Heaven worked, but he hoped this might be a “clap your hands if you believe in Impalas” kind of thing. He turned the key again. No dice.
Looking out over the dark road gave no hint of where Dean was meant to go. There was nothing but pine forest either way. He picked the direction that the Impala was pointed in, and started walking down the center line. Fireworks shot up over the tops of the trees behind him, and for an instant the air smelled like cordite.
When Dean had been in Heaven the last time, Ash had been able to break into to Sam and Dean’s head-space. He’d said that he could go wherever he wanted. Dean wished that he’d paid more attention to those chalk sigils Ash used, now, because he couldn’t imagine a more depressing way to spend eternity than surrounded by shadows wearing the faces of the people he loved, while the people themselves were forever out of reach.
It seemed likely that Ash had learned how to jail break himself by listening to angel chatter on that police scanner he’d built. Ash was more of a computer nerd than anyone with a mullet had a right to be, but Dean was pretty handy with gadgets. He figured that if he could make an EMF detector out of a Walkman, then he could build anything Ash could build, given enough time. Especially if he had Ash’s equipment in front of him. If this was Dean’s Heaven, then there had to be a version of the Roadhouse lying around somewhere. He pictured it in his mind and tried to will himself toward it.
As soon as Dean got his divine lock pick working, he was going to find Bobby. He flatly refused to consider the possibility that the old coot hadn’t made it here, vengeful spirit or not. Then they’d go looking for his mom and dad, and Ellen and Jo. Maybe they’d find Jess, too, so that Sam could see her when he arrived. This was the one thing he could still do for Sam, here: handle all the leg work rounding up the family, so that when Sam got to Heaven, he’d finally be able to rest. All of them could spend their days drinking in the Harvelles’ bar, watching old movies in Bobby’s living room, and eating pies in Mom’s kitchen. Maybe they’d get a cat and . . .
Dean stopped. He was still on the same road, in the middle of the same forest. This wasn’t the way to the Roadhouse. It wasn’t any place he recognized, really. There were no road signs, no call boxes, no street lights. Just big, empty darkness. He couldn’t decide if he should be worried about how uncooperative his Heaven was, or if he just sucked at being dead right now, like Bobby said he had, early on.
He looked up at the sky and tried to orient himself, but it was hopeless. The stars didn’t form any familiar pattern. They were strewn around at random, as if stuck there by a child’s hand. It reminded him of the glow-in-the-dark stars he’d helped Ben put up in his bedroom, what felt like a lifetime ago. Shiny fake stars pinned on a flat, fake sky. Dean could swear the crickets were playing on a loop. He told himself that he had no reason to be afraid–Zachariah was dead, Raphael and his followers were dead, Michael was in the Cage–but he was afraid, just the same.
He was starting to think that maybe he should stop walking around in the open, unarmed, like an idiot, when something appeared over the hill ahead, round and glowing with cold white light, like a spectacular moonrise. Then Dean saw that it had eyes. Hundreds of eyes, in every imaginable color, faceted like jewels, that covered the wheels within wheels of its spherical body. It was an infinite series of intersecting rings, that spun constantly in all directions, like a gyroscope. The rings looked almost like steel, but the substance was pearlescent and, like an oil slick, contained all of the rainbow within it. The monster left a smear of light behind it that reminded Dean of a slug’s trail.
It wobbled slightly as it floated forward, and occasionally shot out a gleaming, metallic whip that it would wrap around one of the trees, and use to reorient itself. It was so much bigger than the trees that when it did this, it sometimes pulled them up by the roots. It was easily the size of a skyscraper. Dean had seen a lot of monsters in his time, but none like this. This thing could stomp Tokyo.
Dean had frozen when it appeared, and now it stopped, all of its hundreds of eyes fixed on him. He came to his senses and ran for the tree line. Several of the metal whips came flying out after him. He expected them to slice right through his flesh. Instead, they coiled around his limbs velvety soft, but muscular and irresistibly strong. They pulled him off his feet and into the air in an instant. He kicked and tore at them without effect.
It was the voice he’d heard in the back of his head his entire life, hijacked by an outside consciousness. And yet he knew, with absolute certainty, that the person talking was Castiel.
“Cas!” He shouted, struggling against the whips to look around.
Yes, it’s me. Stop fighting.
He sounded mildly irritated, as if he couldn’t understand why Dean would resist getting tentacle-nabbed by a giant eyeball monster. Dean did stop fighting, although less because he accepted that the thing in front of him was Castiel, and more because he was now suspended at least a dozen stories above the ground.
The whips pulled him toward the first layer of spinning rings, and then through it, where he was passed off to another set. It was a sort of tentacle relay race after that, as they passed Dean along at high speed, deeper and deeper inside, rings constantly just missing a collision with his skull. He was not okay with any part of this.
At the end of the journey, Dean was set down on his feet inside a vast, spherical cage. He could still see the rings spinning outside, and the nighttime forest beyond, far away and far below, but the room itself was stable. Thank God, really, because he’d been starting to feel sick. A glowing white substance oozed down the sides of the fixed rings, and gathered in small pools at the bottom.
At the center of the room an enormous pair of wings stood upright. They seemed to be made of the same metallic material as everything else, and it was evident at a glance that their “feathers” were razor sharp blades.
“Cas?” Dean asked, warily.
Dean didn’t know where to begin, so he began with the obvious. “Dude, did you just eat me?”
No, I most certainly didn’t eat you. Cas sounded offended. I’m carrying you. My inner chamber is the safest place for you right now. Anyone who wanted to reach you would have to rip me open.
“What the hell was the deal with the Fay Wray routine?”
There was no time to argue. We’re both in grave danger.
A splatter of the glowing ooze fell on Dean’s face. It was warm and sticky, and he shuddered with instinctive disgust as he tried to wipe it off. His hands came away glowing with a sheen of phosphorescent light.
“Do I even want to know what this stuff is?” he asked.
When I arrived in Heaven I was ambushed by three angels. I took an injury before I managed to escape.
Dean saw the growing pools of light around him in an entirely new way. “This is blood?”
I don’t have blood. It’s a manifestation of my grace.
Dean adjusted his interpretation of what he’d just witnessed from ‘wobbly eyeball monster leaving a slime trail’ to ‘Cas staggering away from a fight, bleeding like a stuck pig.’
“Well, whatever it is, I’m guessing there isn’t supposed to be this much of it outside you. Are you okay?” Dean had no idea how he was supposed to patch up something the size of the Chrysler building.
No. But I’ll survive. Dean flinched. He’d never gotten used to the fact that Castiel didn’t lie when you asked him how he was doing.
“Who were they?” Dean asked. “Why are they after me?” He’d really hoped that he was done with all the angel drama for a while.
It was me they wanted. They were seeking revenge for my attempt to usurp God’s throne, and for the massacres I’ve committed against our race. But there are many others coming for you, even as we speak. On earth you’re hidden among 7 billion humans, and the sigils I carved on your rib cage make you impossible to track. In Heaven, your soul shines like a beacon.
“But who the hell cares anymore?” Dean asked. “Michael’s in the Cage, I can’t be his meat puppet.”
Dean felt Castiel hesitate. When he spoke again, it was cold and efficient, a soldier reporting the situation on the ground.
Between the civil war in Heaven, my extermination of the losing side, and the predation of the Leviathan, there are few of us left. There’s fighting from street to street in the celestial city. The human souls have been left unguarded, and they’ve started to break out of their individual cells and organize. They want to rule, now. When they find an angel they swarm over him like ants, and tear him apart.
Those angels who can, have found vessels and fled to earth, but there aren’t enough vessels left to go around. I hid mine before I came here, to avoid attracting attention. The angels still in Heaven remain because they have no means of escape, or because they’ve decided that they’d rather die at home than live in exile.
Castiel had given Dean some sense in recent months that things in Heaven weren’t going well, but this was the first time that Dean understood that “not going well” meant that Castiel’s species was all but extinct.
“I’m sorry,” Dean said, although he wasn’t. He hated angels, except for Castiel, and he damn well hoped that the human race’s Occupy Heaven movement was entirely successful. He didn’t honestly believe that they’d run the place any better, but they couldn’t run it any worse. The only thing that would make him happier was hearing that demons were going the way of the dinosaurs, too. There was no need to rub Cas’s nose in that, though. They were still his kind, even if they were dicks. Dean figured that most of his kind were dicks, too.
He shook his head. “But I still don’t see what this has to do with me.”
Hester wasn’t the only angel who blamed you for my corruption. But it’s more than that. You were the righteous man of prophecy. It was your destiny to be Michael’s vessel and bring about the end times for your planet. Many believe that when you rejected that destiny, you doomed us. They say that you saved your world, and destroyed ours.
Dean didn’t buy it. Even his massive guilt complex couldn’t make him ignore the fact that they’d brought this on themselves. “And they expect me to fix it how?”
They don’t expect you fix it. It’s past fixing. They expect you to suffer for it. Hell isn’t the only place with racks.
Well, that was just fucking awesome. “What are we still doing in Dodge, then? You came to find me, and here I am. Let’s go before your brothers use me as a pin cushion and you leak your angel juice all over the afterlife.”
As I said, Heaven is in chaos. Exits are no longer easy to find. But I’ve been looking while we talked, and I think I may have . . .
Castiel trailed off. A moment later, Dean saw why. Three angels had appeared on the horizon. At least, Dean assumed that they were angels. One of them had a snake’s tail and the heads of a lion, an ox, and an eagle. The second was a snowflake made out of constantly shifting, prismatic fractals. The third resembled a sweetpea plant blown up to monstrous size. At first, Dean thought that he could distinguish a humanoid body structure in it–two shoots at the bottom, two around the middle, and a leaf on top that might pass for a head–but then it stepped forward by dropping its upper limbs to the ground and bringing its lower limbs up, as if it were somersaulting, and he was at a loss again. All three emanated the same pale, moonlight glow as Castiel. It looked like a Led Zeppelin album cover.
Castiel’s wings slammed shut around Dean. They rattled quietly as they folded, like a set of tightly packed knives, but where the feathers came into contact with Dean they were simply feathers, downy and harmless. Muscles shifted underneath the skin as they locked tight around him. He struggled to push his way out, but the most he could manage was to wriggle up enough to get a view of the outside world.
“Shouldn’t you be using these to fly us out of here right about now?” he demanded, as the three angels closed in.
They have wings, too, Dean. I can’t outfly them. Especially in my condition. I have no choice but to stand and fight. My wings are armored. This is as safe as I can make you.
The snowflake came at them first, its jagged crystal limbs swinging out to slice through one of Castiel’s rings. The ring around Castiel’s . . . equator, Dean decided, turned itself inside out, and exposed a series of triangular blades that slashed through a piece of the snowflake’s crystalline body, creating a spray of liquid light.
The killer sweetpea came at them with a weapon that looked like a long, black thorn, as they were dragged down from behind by what must have been the snake-ox-lion-eagle thing. One of Castiel’s whips shot out and tore off the sweetpea’s thorn, along with much of the attached limb, and it staggered backward.
They were still held from behind, though, and there was an awful, inhuman shriek, like metal on metal, as they were wrenched down. A chunk of Castiel’s ring of blades went flying off to the side. Grace rained on Dean as they rolled to a stop on the ground. Castiel’s light flickered and dimmed, until it was almost extinguished. The rings shuddered to a stop around Dean, one by one.
“Cas!” he shouted, desperate for any kind of response. He got nothing. “Come on, are you with me?” Silence, stillness, darkness. Even the air around him felt colder.
Dean fought against the wings in earnest for the first time, kicking as hard as he could. He wanted to go down fighting, not trapped and helpless. He was ready to grab the–Jesus, the piece of Castiel–that had been torn off, and start swinging its blades at the angels around them. He wasn’t under any illusion that he could kill them, but he could cause them pain. The wings gripped him tighter than ever, though, and he couldn’t budge them an inch.
Castiel’s voice brushed against the back of his mind, then, quick and subtle, a psychic whisper: Wait.
Dean had no choice. He looked up as the three angels loomed over them. Castiel remained lying on the ground, easy prey. When the angels were an instant away from tearing him open, his light flared, brilliant white. He swung into the air, up over the other three, and slashed downward with his remaining blades as he fell, striking all three and slicing the snowflake right down the middle, its wings becoming visible for the first time as they burned black in flame.
Dean expected to hit the ground, then, but they kept falling, accelerating downward like they were going over the first hill of a roller coaster. They spun end over end, all sense of direction lost. The outside world flickered light and dark as they plunged toward absolute black.
Dean woke with something warm and velvety brushing against his face. He batted it away, and opened his eyes in time to see a whip skittering back into the ceiling. Castiel was glowing softly, and his rings were spinning again, although somewhat erratically. Occasionally a drop of grace fell on Dean from above.
Dean pressed against the wings, and they opened. He immediately regretted trying to stand unassisted. The vertigo that hit him was so intense that he nearly fell to his hands and knees, but he managed to stagger over to one of the curved bars of the inner sphere and prop himself up against it in a way that maintained some semblance of dignity. The bar was warmer than he expected, and gave slightly under his weight. For all that it looked like metal, it almost felt like skin. He tried to get a look at the world outside, but there was nothing around them except darkness. The only light came from Castiel.
“Cas, man, what the hell just happened?”
I pretended that I’d suffered a greater injury than I had, in order to take them by surprise. I believe you call it ‘playing possum.’
Dean swallowed a wave of nausea and leaned his cheek against the bar. It was wet with grace, and stuck to his skin.
“Yeah, I got that part. I meant the roller coaster ride afterward. Where are we?”
The Marianas Trench. I located an exit point from Heaven just as my pursuers caught up to us. I needed to buy myself enough time to use it. The two survivors are unlikely to find us here.
The front of Dean’s flannel shirt, where his jacket had fallen open, was soaked through with sticky light. The floor was tacky under his boots. Dean was rapidly becoming lucid enough to realize that Cas was in terrible shape.
“What do I need to do to keep some of this stuff inside you?” he asked.
There’s nothing you can do. I just need to rest for a time before I’ll be able to reclaim my vessel and resurrect your body.
“That’s crap.” Cas had just gotten a piece of himself ripped off because he was trying to save Dean. Dean had been useless during fight, and he’d be damned if he was going to be useless during the recovery, too. “Once, when you were hurt, Bobby was able to recharge you using part of his soul. Why can’t you do that with me?”
That’s impossible, Dean. He was vehement in a way that told Dean it wasn’t true.
“Why?” he demanded.
Bobby was in his body, and you’re not. That makes you weaker. Besides I think moving so quickly between Heaven and earth caused you to go into some kind of shock. It’s dangerous to put your soul under any more strain.
“Right, well, it seems dangerous to let you lie at the bottom of the ocean hemorrhaging, too.” Dean set his jaw. “I’m not dropping this. You let me help you, or you listen to me bitch you out about it for as long as we’re stuck down here.”
The wings rattled in displeasure. It will hurt. A lot.
“Story of my life.” One of the whips wrapped around his wrist and then slid inside it, like an IV. At first he felt nothing. Then fire spread through his veins from the point of entry. Then he was on his knees, screaming.
Dean had no idea how long it lasted. Afterward, he stayed on his knees. It would probably have been more comfortable to lie down, but he didn’t have the energy to fall over. His eyes stayed fixed because he couldn’t think of a reason to move them. He’d let most of his weight fall against one of the wings, and it drooped listlessly over his shoulders. To the extent that Dean felt anything, he felt cold, and the wing was warm, so that was fine. He and the wing were just going to hang out here for a while.
As he gradually came back to himself, Dean noticed that he’d been petting the wing obsessively with his right hand, up and down, over and over. He turned his head enough to look at it. A sheen of rainbow shifted subtly over the surface of the steel gray. Every time he brushed his hand upward, against the grain of the feathers, he half-expected to slice it open. The edge of each feather gave a perfect illusion of razor sharpness. It was strange to watch a blade ruffle and bend.
Dean thought that Castiel must be almost as exhausted as he was. Cas hadn’t said anything since the transfer. He wasn’t even poking Dean with tentacles. His light was brighter, though, and the pools of grace had mostly dried up. The rotation of the rings outside looked steadier.
“Hey,” Dean said, “you still among the living?”
There was a long silence, but finally Castiel answered. Yes. I need some time to recover my strength, but I’m much better. Thank you.
The wings wearily clicked back to their fully extended position. One of the whips smoothed down the feathers, primly combing them into their proper places. If he were a bird he’d be preening, Dean thought. He carded his fingers down the wing again. “Why are these in here, anyway? What good are wings in the middle of your body?”
None. But they’re fragile, relatively, so when I’m not using them they stay in a protected position. When I fly, my form reorients and they flip to the outside. That’s why you didn’t see them the last time.
“What last time?” Dean asked. And then, “Oh.”
You really don’t remember any of it, do you? He sounded disappointed.
Dean was disappointed himself. He didn’t know why he had to remember every last minute of Hell, and none of his rescue.
“I always kind of assumed you were the one who wiped my memory.”
No. I think that some humans are just unable to retain the memory of an angel’s true form.
“Wait. Does that mean my brain gets windexed again when you put me back in my body?”
I don’t know.
Dean hated the thought that there was a future version of himself for whom none of this would have happened. He was sick of supernatural forces screwing with him. There was a little less left every time.
He tottered slowly to his feet. His knees felt like jelly, but after a moment he managed to lock them, and keep himself in an upright position. “Look, I know you’re still recovering, but do you have any idea how long we’re going to be living in a pineapple at the bottom of the sea?”
A little while.
Which wasn’t a helpful response. Dean wasn’t sure how long he’d been away. It could have been hours, or days– time since he’d woken up in the fake Impala was strange–but he was starting to picture Sam in some coroner’s office, identifying his body on a metal slab. The kid had been through enough.
“It’s just, Sam probably thinks I’m dead right now. I don’t want to leave him hanging longer than I have to.”
You are dead right now. Tight and almost accusatory, like it was Dean’s fault. Which it kind of was. Castiel went on more gently. But we’re still in spiritual time here. From Sam’s perspective, only moments have passed since you were shot. It should be no problem to return you before he finds out what happened.
Dean nodded, relieved. “All right, then.” He looked up, and then down, at the infinitely complex patterns of moonlight and steel rotating around him. “As long as we’re stuck here, you mind if I look around the place?” he asked.
I’m not a place, Dean.
Dean smiled. “Fine. Mind if I look around the you, then?”
You really ought to rest. And then, as if he realized how futile it would be to insist on that: But I suppose it’s all right.
Dean turned to make his way out of the center sphere, and something hard clinked under the heel of his boot. He bent down and picked up one of Castiel’s feathers. It was as soft in his hand as all the others. He tucked it in his pocket.
Many of the stable rings were as wide as a city street, and had the diameter of a football field, so walking was simple as long as Dean was on one. Getting from one to the other required jumping or clambering down, though, and negotiating the spinning rings was harrowing at first. They were huge, and fast, and they seemed entirely capable of crushing him. Dean was trying to time a jump around one when Castiel said drily, I’m not planning to hit you. The ring came to a stop in front of him. Dean stepped out onto it, and it stayed stable. He stepped off, and it started spinning again. Because it was part of Castiel. Dean couldn’t entirely wrap his head around that, but he started to move more boldly, and found that the rings swung backward to avoid him, stopped to support him, and came together to help him cross over.
Every time Dean allowed himself to rest, he felt sleep creeping up behind his eyes. Castiel was right, he’d been weakened by the transfer, but Dean wasn’t about to admit it. He could lie down and watch rainbows chase each other across the surface of the rings, if he wanted to. He was just admiring the view.
As he lay there, little whips would slip up under his shirt sleeve or the hem of his jeans, and started slowly twining their way around his wrist or ankle. They clung lightly to his skin, like the fingers of a lover. They released him when he moved on, but they’d start again the next time he paused. It amused Dean that Castiel seemed to think that if he was discrete enough, Dean wouldn’t notice.
After rather more walking and climbing than Dean had been prepared for, he reached the outermost layer of rings. He found himself looking at what he thought of as the equator ring, its massive, triangular blades now directed inward. Each one was easily bigger than he was. He ran his finger along the edge of one and it ruffled, soft as down. He jerked his hand away, incredulous. He pressed against the point, and it bent.
“No way,” he said. “I just saw this thing chainsaw through three angels. These are feathers?”
For you. My nature is liminal.
“‘Liminal.’ Well, that explains it, then.” Dean said.
Apparently, Castiel didn’t understand sarcasm any better in this form than he did in the other. Dean poked at the blade-feather again and shrugged.
He leaned against the curve of the ring he was standing on and peered out. Even from this vantage point, Dean couldn’t see anything. They might as well have been in the darkest reaches of space.
“Any sea monsters down here?” he asked.
A couple. Mostly it’s just tube worms. Castiel’s light got brighter, but all it revealed was a barren plain of mud.
A whip descended and wrapped itself around Dean’s shoulders. “You know, you’re way handsier with tentacles than you are with actual hands,” he pointed out.
The whip uncoiled itself from him and crept slowly back toward the surface of the ring, as if in embarrassment. Dean wouldn’t have thought that a tentacle could express its sense of rejection quite so eloquently. He grabbed it before it disappeared and tugged it back down around him. “I didn’t say stop.” It tightened around him again, and the tip stroked the back of his neck fondly.
Dean found himself staring out into the darkness, half hoping that something monstrous would appear. His fingers tapped uneasily against the warm surface of the ring. There was a question that had been forming in his mind since this started, and he didn’t like where it led him.
“I need to ask you something,” he said, finally. “You had to come drag me out of Heaven because your brothers want to make me suffer for how the Apocalypse went down. Or didn’t go down. That apply to Sam, too?”
He pulled Michael into the Cage. If anything, they hate him even more than you.
“So Heaven is a no-fly zone for the Winchesters.” Castiel didn’t respond. “Neither of us wants to do a reunion tour of Hell. And Purgatory wasn’t exactly birthday cake and blow jobs. But if we refuse to go with our Reapers when we die, then we’ll turn vengeful like Bobby. Neither of us wants that, either.” Still silence. Dean’s hope that there was some obvious solution that he’d missed dried up. “What the hell’s going to happen to us?”
I pulled you out of Heaven. I pulled you out of Hell. I’ll do it again. For both of you. Castiel was all grim determination, but it wasn’t really what Dean needed to hear.
“How many times?” he asked.
As many as necessary.
“That’s not the point. The point is, for how long? I mean, are me and Sam going to be a hundred years old and still stuck in our bodies? Humans are supposed to die, Cas. We’re supposed to get to rest some day.”
I know. I’ll find a way to fix this. I just need time. Hearing Castiel desperate to fix something only worried Dean more. Nothing good had ever come of that.
Even in the worst case scenario, it seems likely that humanity will eventually gain control of Heaven, Castiel continued. Dean wasn’t sure whether “eventually” to an angel meant ten years or ten thousand. He didn’t ask because he didn’t want to know. At that point, you and Sam will be free to enter. You’ll probably be welcomed as heroes.
There was something in Castiel’s answer that Dean didn’t like. It felt evasive. “And you,” he said. “You’ll be able to come back, too.” Half statement and half question.
There was a long silence. Dean had the sense that, under normal circumstances, this was the point where Castiel would disappear enigmatically. But he didn’t have that option now.
I told you, the human rebels tear apart every angel they see. I can’t imagine I’d be welcomed back to a Heaven that they ran. Especially given that the Leviathan I unleashed almost turned their species into cattle, and ate a number of them.
“But the angels . . .”
Want me dead, as well. The only ones who might still have helped me, after everything I’ve done, were the members of my garrison, and the Leviathan killed them all. There’s no combination of circumstances that would allow me to return to Heaven, now. I’ve only survived by hiding on earth, and even at that . . . dethroned kings seldom live long, Dean. My enemies will find me and kill me, or I’ll be locked in the Cage, with the other angels who tried to rule Heaven. It’s something of a miracle I’m not there already.
“No.” Something inside Dean snapped. “No, no, no. You don’t get to do this to me. Heaven is bad enough as it is. Even if I ever make it there for real, God only knows how long I’m going to have to wander around in a hundred billion different serving-sized universes before I find the half dozen people I’m looking for. The one thing, the one goddamned thing, I’m not supposed to have to worry about is you. Because you’re an angel, and it’s Heaven. You’re just supposed to be there. The only thing I’ve ever wanted in my pathetic, miserable life is for everyone to be together. And you’re telling me that even in Heaven I can’t have it.”
I’m sorry, Dean. I’m so sorry.
There’d already been unimaginable fallout from what Castiel had done, and just when Dean thought they’d gotten it all squared away, a new shit storm of consequences came rolling across the horizon. He was angry, again, and part of him wanted to tell Castiel, ‘crawl off somewhere and die then, since unlike me you still can, and me and Sam will deal with the mess you left us on our own.’ Except that there was a chance that Castiel would actually do it, and he knew damn well that wasn’t what he wanted. He’d already tried to cut Castiel out of his life, and he’d failed, utterly. For better or worse, he was never going to be done with Cas, any more than he was done with Sam after he let Lucifer out of the Cage.
“I’m not asking for sorry,” he said. He dug his fingers into the wall, hard. He wondered if Castiel could feel it. He hoped he could. “I don’t care about sorry. I don’t care what you’ve done. I don’t care if you deserve to be in Heaven or not. I don’t care if Sam is a blood-drinking, part demon freak. I don’t care if Bobby’s a poltergeist who made out with Crowley. I don’t care if my dad is an alcoholic son of a bitch who spent his whole life making me do everything he was too scared or weak to do himself. I don’t care if my mom sold my little brother to Azazel. I don’t care if you’re good or evil. Any of you. I just want my family.
“So they won’t let you back into Heaven? Fine. I’ll take over the goddamned place myself if that’s what it takes to get you in. So you die? Fine. I’ll figure out where dead angels go, and then I’ll find you and drag your ass back. So they throw you in the Cage? Fine. I’ll break you out, just like I broke out Sam. And if I can’t, so help me God, we’re all going to move in with you, and we’re going to redecorate.”
He leaned back. His hands were shaking. He could hear his pulse pounding in his ears, and the mad thought occurred to him that he didn’t have a pulse, that somewhere two miles up and a thousand miles away, his real heart was stopped in his chest. It didn’t make this false heart any quieter, though.
I believe you would. And I almost believe you could. There was a smile in it that didn’t entirely cover the grief. Dean could make all the speeches he wanted, but facts were facts, and the facts weren’t pretty for either one of them. The whip at his shoulders tightened around him, and he pressed back against it as hard as he could.
They clung to each other, two strange creatures at the bottom of the world, and Dean stared out at the vast emptiness.
Dean woke up stone cold sober with Castiel’s fingers still on his forehead. He came up fighting, the metal taste of adrenaline in his mouth, his hand on his gun.
Castiel cut him off. “He won’t be hurting anyone else.” Dean leaned out of the back seat of the Impala, and peered around Castiel. There was a body face down on the asphalt twenty feet away, its head at an odd angle.
“What . . . what the hell? Did he . . .?” Dean wasn’t even sure what he was asking.
“He shot you in the head.” Cas said. Dean’s hand rose automatically to his forehead. “You’re fine now. You don’t remember any of it?”
Dean scanned the empty parking lot uneasily. He still felt like he was under attack. “I remember he pulled a gun on me. Next thing I know you’re waking me up.”
“I see.” Dean didn’t like how Castiel said it, he thought it sounded superior and willfully mysterious. Castiel always seemed to know things he didn’t.
“So?” Dean demanded. “What happened?”
“You died. There are still angels who are hostile to you and Sam. Some of them came for you. I thought it was best to return you to your body, under the circumstances.”
“Under the circumstances?” Dean shook his head incredulously and stood up. He immediately staggered back and caught himself against the side of the Impala. He felt like he’d lost a couple of pints of blood, but he didn’t see any.
“The fuck is wrong with me?”
“I was injured,” Castiel said. “I used part of your soul to restore myself. You’ll recover in a day or two.”
“You helped yourself, huh?” Dean didn’t even know why he said it, because it wasn’t as if he’d have told Cas no if he’d asked, but Dean was wound up, and everything grated on his nerves. As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he realized how accusatory they sounded.
“You begged me to take it,” Castiel snapped. “I almost died pulling you out of Heaven.”
“Who asked you to?”
Castiel’s voice dropped, low and dangerous. “Are you saying you’d rather I left you on the rack? Because next time, that can be arranged.”
There was a beat while they both absorbed that, and then Castiel blanched. “You’ve never had to ask,” he said, softly. Dean really saw him for the first time. He looked wrung out. His natural stillness had been replaced by restless motion. His hands worked at his sides. Dean was afraid that he might be about to do something completely terrifying, like cry.
Dean held his hand up. “Okay, okay. Let’s start over, this time with the crazy dialed back from an eleven to, like, an eight. How long was I . . .” Dean hesitated, because no matter how many times it happened it never got less weird, “ . . . dead?”
“Approximately five minutes.” Dean nodded. Sam wouldn’t have noticed he was missing. That was something.
Castiel approached him warily, like he was a wild animal that might bite.
“You said you were hurt. You okay now?” Dean asked.
Castiel stood in front of him and stared him down. Dean started to drop his gaze and look away when Cas slammed him against the car and kissed him, hard. He was tossed into the back seat like a rag doll and pinned against it before he’d had time to form an opinion about what was happening.
Dean had celebrated more than one successful hunt in the back seat of the Impala. Slay the dragon, screw the princess. He’d be okay with Cas doing that, even if it did make Dean the princess, but that wasn’t what this was. Cas wasn’t cocky and triumphant, he was desperate and scared.
Dean’s flannel button down had been deemed unreasonably difficult and ripped in half by the time Dean managed to pull away from Castiel’s mouth. “The hell . . . ?” He started, his forearm wedged against Castiel’s throat, temporarily holding him off.
Cas stopped, and his body yielded slightly. His forehead dropped against Dean’s. “I need this,” he said. Dean could see that he did, and thought he understood why. For days after Cold Oak, Sam couldn’t stop short without Dean stepping on his heels. He’d always figured that a human’s death wouldn’t hit an angel that way, that it would be more like he’d moved to another city, but what did he really know about what made Castiel tick?
“Let me find us a motel room and . . .”
“Here. Now.” Somewhere between an order and a plea.
“At least close the door.” Cas didn’t reach for the car door, but it slammed shut behind him.
Cas yanked at Dean’s under shirt and Dean pulled it off over his head before it went the way of the flannel. The fingers at his belt struggled frantically without success, and Dean had to push Castiel’s hands out of the way and do it himself. He ended up with his jeans tangled around his ankles because his boots prevented him from kicking them off, but apparently that was good enough. Castiel grabbed him around the waist with both hands and flipped him over. Dean scrabbled away, hobbled and graceless, up over the back of the front seat, while hands tugged him backward, and teeth bit down into his shoulder and his back. He eventually managed to open the glove compartment and grab the lube that he kept there for emergencies, and for the look on Sam’s face whenever he had to find a map, and tossed it into the back seat.
He allowed himself to get manhandled back onto his stomach. Castiel’s fingers pushed into him, too rough and too fast, and then Dean was getting fucked into the back seat, hard enough that his arms couldn’t hold his weight. He was sprawled, head down, an arm around his waist and a hand at his hip, pinned by Castiel and tangled in his clothes, unable to move.
Cas was making sounds that were as much frustration as pleasure, as if even this weren’t enough. Dean managed to get one arm out from under himself and reached back awkwardly. He ran his fingers through Cas’s hair and then dug them in under his collar, stroking the only bare skin he could find.
“What do you need?” Dean asked. “Tell me what you need.”
He felt Cas shake his head, but the hand at his hip moved up and hovered over his left arm uncertainly, caught in some inner struggle. Then it grabbed his shoulder, and pressed hard against the scar that wasn’t there. Cas had never done this before, had never even acknowledged that his hand print had once been burned into Dean’s skin. Dean hadn’t known he wanted this, but it sent liquid ice down his spine, and he started to shake.
“God, yes, God, God, oh, God,” Dean chanted under his breath, and the hand on his arm clamped over his mouth, instead.
“Not that,” Castiel hissed, breath hot against Dean’s ear. Dean sucked on the palm in front of him, and Cas came with something like a sob.
All his weight fell on Dean’s back, and they both lay there, breathing hard. After a moment Dean lifted his hand away from Cas’s neck and tried to squeeze it under their bodies, so that he could finish himself off. Cas seemed to come back to himself, and pushed Dean’s hand away. He lowered the arm around Dean’s waist and started to stroke him.
“When I saved you, I carried you inside me,” he murmured against Dean’s ear, thoughtful. “Did you know that?” Dean didn’t even know what it meant. “I used to think that some day we’d be able to . . .” Cas cut himself off. “But this is good, too.”
Castiel’s hand was the wrong pressure, too gentle. Dean writhed under Cas as much as he was able, but he couldn’t get friction.
“Your lips,” Castiel continued, calmly, as if he couldn’t feel Dean twisting beneath him, “wet and swollen. Your fingers in my mouth. The bruises on your throat. The soft place behind your knees you like me to kiss. The arch of your foot, the way your toes curl when I run my finger along it.”
It wasn’t really dirty talk. Dean got the feeling that this weirdly intimate list wasn’t even meant for him. It was more like Cas was trying to convince himself of something. But those words in that voice still gave him chills. “Please,” Dean said, but he was ignored.
“The taste of water on your skin when you get out of the shower. How your smell changes when you’re aroused. Like now. The sound you make when you come.” The hand finally tightened around him, and he came with a bitten-off groan. “There. That. That’s good. That's enough.”
Castiel sat up, and Dean followed, naked and sticky, pants around his ankles. Cas should have looked wrecked, too, but he was perfect and untouchable, the way he always was the moment he wanted to be. Dean almost blushed under the dispassionate gaze.
“Heaven is in disorder,” Castiel said. “It’s best if you don’t die for a while.” And then he was gone.
“What the fuck was that?” Dean asked the Impala. But she didn’t know, either.
When Dean made it back to the motel room, he was relieved to find Sam dead to the world, sleeping in the heavy, untroubled way he had ever since Castiel took Lucifer from him.
He reached into his jacket pocket for his car keys and cell phone, and his fingers touched something soft that hadn’t been there before. He pulled out a steel gray feather the size of his hand. Rainbows rippled deep within its surface. He tossed it on the table next to his keys, and it clattered like he’d thrown down a knife.
He turned back and stared at it. It was a blade. It was shaped to look exactly, deceptively like a feather, but it had a razor sharp edge. Dean picked it up, and the edge ruffled. It was feather that looked like a blade. He threw it down. It clattered. He picked it up. It ruffled. He sat down at the table and repeated the gesture, over and over. Feather. Blade. Feather. Blade.
Dean wondered what he’d missed.