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According to Ellen, there’s something called a summer camp they can use as a base, even though it’s winter. She sent Jo there once, while Bill recovered from a demon-inflicted broken leg.

She’s not going with them, she says, until she finds Jo.

(Castiel knows he'll never see her again.)

****

Dean says they won't head out in the morning. Apparently, it’s not fair to make people travel on Christmas day.

All demarcations of time are arbitrary, but Castiel keeps this thought to himself. Dean’s attempting to be happy and that’s a rare thing, growing rarer every day. If Cas doesn’t look too closely, Dean almost seems like he used to.

(Dean doesn’t realize he’s not a two-personed self, never has been. Castiel? Well. An angel is a plurality, a thing-that-is-many, but Castiel has become solitary, a thing-that-is-one. Where there was a choir, there’s now just one voice screaming. He’s losing his fucking mind and he doesn’t know how to explain this to Dean, to ask him how do you deal with being one thing? Because Dean can’t deal with it. It’s something they have in common now.)

Sam's name hasn’t been said in six months and four days.

****

They incinerated the bodies on their first day, at the junkyard a few miles from here, which will probably still be burning when the sun goes out.

Castiel mostly stays out of Dean’s way and hides himself from the eyes of the people they’ve somehow accumulated. Fortunately this hotel is big, and as per Dean’s orders, the top floor is empty.

They’re one step ahead of the military. There’s nothing standing between them and Chitaqua except a hundred miles of snowed-over road and pockets of infected.

His grace guttered back to life last night, so he doesn’t feel the cold. He gives his coat to Chuck, as they pass in the hall. Chuck’s been scavenging. His arms are laden with toilet paper and towels. He’s wearing a backpack with pink flowers on it.

“Soap,” he says, as he sets it all on the floor. His teeth chatter. “Still wrapped. Gold dust.”

“Okay.”

“Thanks, Cas,” Chuck says, pulling the coat around himself. “I’m almost done up here, I’ll give it back when I…”

“Keep it.”

Chuck’s eyes widen.

“It’s...Christmas,” Cas says. He doesn’t say that it’s a holiday celebrating the birth of a man destined to die in humiliated agony for people that didn’t give a fuck about him.

Thanks,” Chuck says, like Castiel’s performed a miracle.

“Don’t mention it,” Castiel says. He’s unsettled by the affection on Chuck’s face. He moves away but Chuck grabs his elbow.

“Wait, uh, hey. Listen, I know this isn’t a...traditional gift, but.” He reaches into the pocket of his jeans and pulls out a bag containing three thin white rolls of paper. “You want one? Risa gave ‘em to me.”

Cas squints. “What are they?”

“Joints. Weed.” Cas looks at him blankly. “Cannabis.”

“Oh.”

“You don’t have to,” Chuck says. His face is haggard and serious. “It’s just...you look like you’re having...a rough time.”

“I’m hardly unique there.”

“Really? I kinda think you are, actually. I mean, the kind of rough time you’re having.”

Castiel feels his flesh press viciously down on him. It nearly doubles him over. Every day he collapses like a star. Soon there’ll be nothing left but the screaming. “It’ll help?” he gasps.

“It might.”

“Give me one of those.”

*****

Dean finds him sprawled across the giant bed in the Executive Suite, watching the snow fall. The cold’s thinking about getting to him, but it hasn’t yet.

He gave his coat to Chuck. He left the suit jacket in the woods, months ago. His tie, he lost to the gunshot wound of someone who didn’t survive anyway. That was the first time Dean called him useless. It was spring.

(Dean tried to apologize. “Look, Cas, about what I said yesterday. I didn’t mean…”

“It’s fine,” Cas had said. “It doesn’t matter.” Dean flinched like he’d been slapped, but nodded.

That’s also when he first noticed the screaming, Castiel remembers.)

Now he’s laying with his shirt undone and one hand pressed against the slow tolling of his heartbeat. He holds the...joint between his fingers experimentally. It’s still unlit.

“Cas?”

“Yeah.”

“You, uh, gonna come downstairs?”

“For what?”

“It’s Christmas.”

“So I gathered.”

Dean sighs and crosses  to the bed. “It’s good for morale.”

“I don’t have any of that to offer.”

“Yeah, well, what have you got?”

“A joint.”

“Wha--where’d you get one of them?” Dean moves closer to peer through the dim light, his irritation apparently gone, back to where it came from.

“Chuck, by way of Risa.”

Risa? That mousy chick in the Little House on the Prairie dress?” He lets out a low whistle. “It’s always the quiet ones.”

Cas says nothing.

“Uh. I...I have something for you, too,” Dean says after a moment.

Cas raises his eyebrows. He’s becoming hyper-aware of Dean’s moods, and Dean’s nervous. He holds something out. “Eggnog. Traditional Christmas drink.”

“That’s a bottle of rum.”

Dean smiles at him and shrugs. The screaming takes on a different pitch.

Cas sits up. “I...thank you, Dean. But I don’t have anything for you.”

“Share that joint with me and we’ll call it even. Hell, we’ll call it a Christmas miracle.”

“Sure.”

****

Being an angel is simple, Castiel thinks. You give or take commands. You obey or disobey. A brother dies: you feel anguish, you mourn. You receive discipline and you feel fear and, later, serenity. You achieve victory and feel elation. But none of them belong to you. You are the distillation of holy intent: sunlight spearing through clear water; the storm and its eye.

(It’s a lie--of course it is--but Castiel  sometimes tells himself this anyway. Just continuing Heaven’s work.)

Being high creates a similar effect. He thought he’d feel nothing, but what happens is that he feels things and doesn’t care. He can still hear the screaming, but from this distance it’s easy to pretend it’s something else.

Dean’s warm along his back and the half-empty bottle rests between Cas’ thighs. He holds Dean’s wrist and brings the joint to his own lips, inhaling deeply. The air is thick with smoke. Chuck took all of the batteries from the detectors yesterday.

“Won’t they wonder where you are?” Cas hears himself ask.

Dean rests his forehead against Cas’ shoulder. “Let ‘em wonder.”

They sit in silence and Dean takes a drag.

“Cas,” Dean says. “Can I tell you something if...if you promise not to tell another soul?”

“Okay.”

“I’m.” He stops, takes another long inhale, and coughs. His voice rasps when he says: “I’m not...I’m scared. How this might go.”

“How what might go?” Cas picks up the bottle and tips it back. Some of the rum runs down his chin, and Dean swipes at it with his thumb, unthinking. “The Apocalypse?”

“I just...I got this bad feeling that I’m gonna fuck it all up.”

“Likewise, my friend.”

“You think I’m gonna fuck it all up?”

Cas snorts. “No. I think you’re gonna make the choices you make, and they’ll be the choices you make.”

“What the hell kinda logic is that?”

The angelic kind, Cas thinks. “At the end of the world, there are no more good or bad choices. Just a sliding scale of awful ones.”

“Thanks, Bukowski.”

“Whatever that means.”

Dean laughs, suddenly, and it startles an answering laugh out of Castiel.

“You'll tell me, though, right?” Dean asks, still laughing. “If I start to become...if I start to make, uh, more more awful choices than less awful ones?”

Bobby is probably a better person to ask for that particular kind of guidance, but Dean's asking Castiel, and so Castiel says: “Of course,” and means it.

“I just,” Dean says, between gasps. “I just...have this horrible feeling, Cas. What if I become the kind of person who, who, I dunno. Who knowingly sends people to their deaths? Just ‘cause it might give us an edge? What if I start seeing tools instead of people?  What if I do that to you?”

Then you will have become an angel, Cas thinks, and I, a man.

No, not a man, not quite. He stops laughing. He says: “I’m not stupid, Dean. Wherever I go, even to my death, I’ll go with my eyes open. As I’ve always done.”

His grace flares, dims, flares again. Dean feels the contraction of his body and wraps his free arm around Cas’ chest. He digs his fingers into Cas’ shoulder, tight.

“I know it’s bad for you,” Dean whispers. “I...swear. I’m gonna give you everything I possibly can to make it easier. Anything you want.”

Cas brings the joint to his lips one more time. Dean's palm is warm on his cheek. “Alright.”

“And hey,” Dean says, against the back of Cas’ neck. “Maybe...maybe 2011 will be our year.”

“Maybe it will,” Cas says. He closes his eyes and hears sweet singing over the wide and empty plain. He smiles.


Hallelujah, he thinks. Amen.