The chirping of crickets faded in and out as Dean heard the sound of a familiar voice and began to follow it. He pushed leaves aside, branches smacking him softly in the face as he forced his way through the underbrush. Moonlight reflected off the ground in shimmering waves, waxing and waning with the cloud coverage above.
The voice was questioning and hesitant, and Dean trailed after the call, trampling vegetation as he went. He finally stepped through the foliage and into a clearing, stopping short as he stared at the figure in front of him. Dean’s breath caught in his throat and he stood still, almost afraid to move. He didn’t speak.
Dean took a deep breath. “Bobby?”
It was quiet for a moment. “Dean?”
With the silence broken, Dean surged forward, closing the distance between them in a few quick steps. He stopped before actually reaching Bobby, eyes wary but hopeful. “Holy shit.” Dean gave him a once over before glancing around at their surroundings calculatingly. “Are you, y’know, alive?”
Bobby patted his hands down his sides, looking around. “I think so. Where are we? Wait, you ain’t dead again, are ya?”
“No, no,” Dean breathed out, walking slowly over. “I uh, God’s sister said she was going to give me what I needed, and then she left.” He pulled a knife out of the inside of his jacket and rolled up his sleeve, cutting a thin slice across his forearm. He nodded at Bobby, who nodded back, and Dean flipped the knife around casually in his palm, extending it hilt first. Bobby repeated his motions and handed the knife back. They both let out a sigh of relief. “Wish I had some holy water to toss in your face,” Dean said, wiping his knife off on his jeans and putting it away.
“You ever gonna let that one go?” Bobby asked with a chuckle. Dean shook his head and stepped close. Bobby met him with a firm embrace. They stood there for a long time, far longer than either of them would care to admit, before Dean cleared his throat and thumped Bobby on the back twice, stepping away. Both of them looked down and away, wiping away tears that they would deny later to Sam. Bobby cleared his throat. “God has a sister?”
Dean laughed under his breath. “Yeah. And you’ll never believe who God was this whole time.” He shook his head, looking around the clearing. The normal sounds of nocturnal animals filled the air. “Man, it’s so good to see you. Sam and Cas will be so surprised.”
Bobby froze when Dean spoke, eyes narrowing. He stepped back. “Speaking of those two. Last time we talked you weren’t doin’ so hot yourself. Somethin’ about the Mark of Cain?”
Dean looked down and to the side, rubbing his hand through his hair. Reliving his greatest failures was likely the worst part of catching his family up when they returned from the dead. Which was probably more normal to him than it should be, now that he gave it a thought. “That’s a long story, but it’s gone, Bobby. I’m okay. Sam and Cas, they saved me.”
The wind whistled eerily and Bobby glanced around. “Whereabouts are we, anyway?”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out. I think this might be the Wharton State Forest.”
“Yeah.” Dean grimaced, rolling his next words around in his mouth before he spoke again. “This is where we burned your body. Amara probably just plopped your soul right back down where your body was last on Earth.” He pulled his phone out and opened the maps app.
“Amara. She God’s sister?” Bobby asked, and Dean nodded.
“Yeah. Chuck, though,” Dean corrected, humming to himself as he got a signal. “He prefers to be called Chuck.”
“God’s name is Chuck?”
Dean nodded, staring down at his phone screen as they started walking. “He’s a nerdy little dude. He was writing those books about me ‘n Sammy.” They picked their way around a large log, slipping slightly in the dark. “He’s also apparently into dudes, too,” Dean added after a peaceful silence. “So take that, religion.” Bobby snorted, and they tripped through the foliage in silence for a few minutes before they finally stepped out onto a well-trod hiking trail.
“Only fifteen miles to the highway,” Dean said cheerfully, reading from a sign on the side of the path. Bobby groaned loudly.
“Shoulda known I’d get my body back only to put it through its paces right away.”
Six hours of cursing and stumbling later, Dean and Bobby cleared the treeline in time to watch the sun rise. They stopped to breathe, but Bobby was scrambling up the incline before Dean could move, flagging down an old Ford pickup that was puttering its way up US 206 North. Dean shook his head and frowned, climbing up behind Bobby to catch the tail end of him thanking the driver.
“We’re less than ten miles from a gas station, he says we can climb in the back and he’ll drop us off on his way to work.”
Dean gave a wave to the driver, a surly looking older black man who Dean could easily imagine fitting in with all of the crusty old hunters he knew, present company included. The driver nodded back. The blue Ford gave a dusty cough from its tailpipe as they pulled away from the shoulder. Dean closed his eyes and exhaled heavily.
“Doin’ alright?” Bobby asked gruffly, and Dean cracked one eye open.
“Shouldn’t I be asking you that?”
“I’ve been in Heaven, I’m just peachy,” Bobby replied. He stretched his legs out in front of him, back settled against the cab of the truck. The miles fell away as they moved.
“I was supposed to be dead,” Dean answered after a moment of silence. Bobby didn’t speak. He had always been good at that, just listening. Waiting for Dean to find the words he needed. Sam was too much like John with that, sometimes. He wanted Dean to have an answer now, immediately. There just wasn’t enough time to think with the way that his dad used to move through the world, and Sam could be the same way when pressed. Dean thought often that maybe things should have been reversed, with Sam as the older brother. Sam was more like John than Dean had ever been.
“I was going to be a bomb,” Dean finally continued. “I was ready, this time. No Heaven, no Hell. Nothing. I was finally going to be done. What do I do now?”
The truck slowed, pulling to a stop alongside one of the pumps at the gas station, and Bobby stood up, offering a hand. Dean looked up for a heavy second and then grasped it. “You do whatever comes next,” Bobby answered, and they climbed down from the truck bed.
Offers of the cash Dean had on hand were quickly dismissed as their savior, who had introduced himself as Earl when they stopped, told them it wasn’t necessary. He pulled away without saying anything else, and the two of them watched him drive off before looking around to take stock of their situation.
The parking lot was sparsely populated, only one car up front after Earl left in his pickup. It was a newer model, red and flashy, and the motor was running as Dean watched the owner walk around inside, chatting with the only employee in the building.
Employee parking proved more fruitful. There was an older model Buick, tan and rust-ridden, parked next to the dumpster. It had been left unlocked and nothing of value was inside. Dean nodded, lips pursed in a calculating frown, and swore to himself to hide the thing well when they were done with it. These folks were definitely hoping for an insurance payout.
Dean dug around under the steering column and stripped the starting wires with a calm that came from familiarity. When the engine started Bobby dug around in the glove box, hoping for a map. He didn’t find one, but did find a charger cord that fit Dean’s phone, and Dean tossed the phone to him. “Find out how far we are from Lebanon, Kansas, would ya?”
When Bobby responded with “What’s in Lebanon?” while squinting at Dean’s phone, Dean waxed lyrical about the Men of Letters and all that had led up to finding the bunker. That then led him into talking about Abaddon, and why he had taken the Mark.
After a few short hours of catch-up and a long but easy silence, Bobby spoke up. “Shouldn’t you be callin’ Sam? Let him know you ain’t dead.”
Dean blinked, nodding. “Shoot, hadn’t thought about that. Thanks, Bobby.”
“I’d offer to do it myself, but I doubt he’d believe it was me,” he replied wryly, and Dean nodded, tapping his left thumb on the steering wheel as he glanced toward the side of the highway. Trees whizzed past and a sign advertising “Hot Coffee 24/7” came up on the right. Dean flipped on the turn signal and followed the signs down a two lane road until he pulled into a truck stop.
They were greeted by a faded exterior, gray brick that was still holding onto its one-time shine of whitewash. The neon sign flickered and buzzed above a yellow door with rust soaked hinges and a single glass panel on the top half. A handmade “open” sign was stuck in place with electrical tape, a sticky note that said “ALWAYS” in block letters duct-taped beneath it.
“Got any cash?” Bobby asked wryly after patting himself down and coming up with no wallet. Dean nodded, fishing his wallet from his pocket before frowning at his phone.
“Sam ain’t answering. ‘M gonna try Cas.”
Bobby nodded, rubbing his head. “Want anything?”
Dean dialed his phone, holding it to his ear and nodding. “Coffee, some jerky. Whatever you want.” He flashed a smile, ducking his head, looking so much like the boy he used to be for a moment. “It’s really good to have you back, Bobby.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he grumped in response, but walked towards the convenience store with a smile on his face.
Miles and miles away, Castiel was climbing out of a crater and hijacking a truck when his phone lit up. He felt some remorse, but couldn’t let that stop him. His eyes burned and the back of his throat felt heavy - Dean was dead and Castiel had already failed him in the one thing he had asked.
“Sam?” Castiel answered the phone frantically, hearing a chuckle in response.
“Naw, it’s the better looking Winchester,” came the familiar drawl through the phone. Cas choked back the beginnings of a sob.
“Yeah, and you’ll never guess-”
“Dean. Something happened. I’m heading back to the bunker as fast as possible, but I fear Sam is in danger.”
“What?” Castiel exhaled heavily, pressing on the gas pedal more firmly. “Cas, what happened? Is Sam okay? Are you okay?” Dean sounded muffled for a moment, likely speaking away from the receiver. Cas could just make out him saying “Thanks Bobby.” There was the sound of another man talking, and then silence. Cas swallowed.
“There was- I don't know. We came back to the bunker, there was a woman waiting for us. She blasted me away. I’m a few hours from Lebanon now, I’ll tell you more as soon as I know.” Castiel flipped on his turn signal, following the signs that led to the highway, heading to Lebanon. “Where are you, Dean?”
Castiel heard Dean laugh, but there was no humor in it. “I’m. Fuck, I’m in New Jersey, Cas.” He could hear now the sounds of an engine starting, of Dean speeding out onto the highway. “Amara and Chuck made up, and she-” Dean cut himself off, and it was silent for a second, and then a new voice sounded out, one Cas had thought he wouldn’t hear on Earth again.
“Hey there, Feathers.”
There was something familiar about wound suturing that made Sam feel, if not comfortable, at least at peace. This probably said terrible things about both his upbringing and his psyche. He was currently drugged to the gills, and felt like he was swimming. Something about medical grade anesthesia really got to him, and he wondered if it wasn’t due to the years of using whiskey to dull the pain instead.
Years of backseat triage and being stitched up in motel bathrooms with nothing more than dental floss, a belt to keep from cracking the teeth right out of his skull and a fifth of whiskey to keep from moving and messing up the stitches had left both surviving Winchesters with more than enough of a pain tolerance. Hell, being shot hadn’t even been that bad on the scale of Sam’s own experiences. Shoot him up with a little bit of actual medicine, though? Down for the count.
He gave his wrists an experimental tug, meeting his captor’s eyes in the rearview mirror. She smirked at him, and Sam rolled his eyes, trying to blow his hair out of his face. Every time they made a turn he tried to peer up and over the back window to see, but with the way his head was spinning Sam couldn’t track down anything concrete. He’d be flying blind when he finally escaped. Sam flopped his head back onto the floor of the trunk, closing his eyes.
Behind his closed eyelids Sam’s mind was whirling, but he did manage to have one moment of clarity. He bowed his head as much as he was able, and then prayed.
I pray to Castiel, Angel of the Lord. I’ve been taken by an English lady. She’s got us in a big black SUV. She shot me, but she had it taken care of by a vet. I’m not sure where we’re going. I’ll pray again when I know. Sam sighed and relaxed as much as he could. Might as well rest if he couldn’t do anything useful.
Dean picked up the phone on instinct the moment it rang, startling awake. Bobby was in the driver’s seat, chugging away the miles between them and Lebanon. “Cas?”
“Hello, Dean.” Dean smiled out of pure reflex, and didn’t miss the raised eyebrows Bobby shot him. He scowled in response, but there was no heat behind it. He put the phone on speaker.
“What’s the word?”
“I’m in the bunker. There’s blood, Dean. A lot of it. No body, though. I have a strong feeling that Sam is alive.”
“Alright.” Dean ran a hand down his face and sighed. “Run me through what happened again, and what you can see.”
“Sam and I arrived at the bunker. We came down the stairs and before I could do anything, she banished me. This was at 2:12 AM. I woke up in a field a few hours away when I got your call, and then drove back here. I saw the blood. If I had to guess, based on the woman’s size, she would have needed to shoot him to control him.”
“She was human?” Dean took a sip of his coffee, slurping on the last cold dregs of it. He grimaced, waving the cup at Bobby, who nodded.
“She was definitely human, yes,” Cas replied. Dean could hear his deliberate footsteps echo oddly through the phone receiver, and he could see Cas in his mind’s eye as he walked through the room.
“Okay. Go to the computer.”
“Dean, you know I distrust those.”
“Gonna have to do it this time, buddy,” he replied, not unkindly. Cas grumbled in response. His low rumble left Dean’s cheeks a little pink.
“I’ve located your laptop,” Cas replied, distaste heavy in his tone. “There’s a lot of pornography,” he commented, and Bobby let out a bark of laughter. Dean took the phone off speaker, pressing it to his ear.
Bobby flipped on his blinker and merged between two semi trucks into the right lane, leaving the signal on for a quarter-mile before taking the exit. He followed the signs past a blinking red stoplight, a tilted and rusted stop-sign that he treated as more of a suggestion, and down a stretch of outer access road until pulling into a rest stop just as shabby as the last. Dean climbed out, stretching his legs, and then meandered into the building.
As he perused the aisles, Dean guided Cas through hacking the Lebanon traffic cameras. He was checking out, listening to Cas alternate between angrily tapping away at his keyboard and sighed heavily when Cas finally announced, “I have something.”
Dean swiped his credit card, and smiled at the cashier on reflex, eyeing him up and down before gathering his things. Dean’s once-over caught on a rainbow pin on the cashier’s lanyard, and he winked as he stepped away. The guy’s face burned, and Dean gave him a smirk before heading outside, phone pressed between his ear and shoulder.
“Whatcha got?” Dean asked, taking the keys from Bobby and sliding into the driver’s seat. He put the phone back on speaker, handing it to Bobby, and gunned it back to the open road.
“At 2:21 AM an SUV ran a red light. There was nothing else for another forty minutes.” Dean could hear the tension in Cas’ voice. “Dean, it’s been hours. Anything could have happened. I should have-”
“Bullshit,” Bobby cut in, and Dean raised an eyebrow.
“For the record, placing blame ain’t gonna get Sam back. I’ve been not dead for less than a day again and I know that much. And two, it ain’t your fault anyway.”
“Bobby’s right,” Dean added, taking a sip of his coffee, and wincing. It was burnt as hell. He missed home, and Cas making coffee when he was there. He’d perfected the art of a well-brewed cup of joe during his stint at the Gas ‘n Sip, and even though it always came diluted with a fresh heaping of guilt, Dean wasn’t above reaping the benefits. “There’s nothing you could have done, Cas. Look. We’re a straight shot east. Google says it’s a fourteen hour drive from here to home, but I’m bettin’ we can shave off a few hours, and we’ll trade off.”
Dean signalled left, speeding up and passing several slower moving cars until the highway was clear in front of him, easing the Buick up to a mildly shaky eighty miles an hour. ”Call Jody, ask if she can run the plate for you,” Dean said, and Bobby gave him a look that he couldn’t decipher. “Then why don’t you take my car, track them down. Don’t engage, but we’ll need the weapons when we meet up. Take your ID, be careful. Call me if anything happens.”
Dean hummed, tapping the steering wheel. “Aw shit, Cas, wait,” he called.
“Gave Sammy the keys,” he replied, frowning. “Spare should still be in my nightstand drawer, under all the pictures.”
“Thank you,” Cas replied softly, and Dean nodded to himself.
“Be safe. Don’t do anything stupid.”
“You as well, Dean,” Cas replied.
“Enough already,” Bobby grumbled. “‘You hang up, no you hang up,’” he mocked, and Dean felt his ears begin to burn. “Worse than newlyweds, I swear.”
“I don-” Cas began before Bobby hung up for them.
As Crowley blinked and slid through space, he scowled. Those pissant lackeys were gone, and it may have been satisfying to kill them, but he was still no closer to finding Lucifer. Crowley shoved his way through crowds of sweaty bodies pushing and pulling in an enticing dance of flesh as they passed one another on the sidewalk. It was disgustingly human. The family photograph that he’d swiped before killing the demons working for Lucifer was clutched in his hand. He bit back a grimace and shoved harder than necessary to keep them at bay.
Crowley still felt off-balance knowing what had happened, that Dean was surely dead in a way that one didn’t return from. Getting hung up over a Winchester wasn’t uncommon for those who moved in their circles. Crowley had started out an enemy, and look where he was now. Look where he’d been when Dean had been, well. A little less and a little more than human. Not that Crowley was hung up on him, or anything. Things had firmly ended when Dean became human again. Before, really. Besides, he still had his pride, thank you very much. Although, he mused, circling back around to his original purpose, not his dignity. No, Lucifer had taken that, and Crowley wanted it back.
“Jamie Ross?” Castiel called. A man was bent over the open engine of the same SUV that Castiel had seen in the video, and he tensed, blade up his sleeve and at the ready. He couldn’t sense anything demonic or magical in origin here, but it never hurt to be prepared.
Castiel took a firm step forward, and then another. The air crackled with the heaviness of ozone. “The blond woman that you drove yesterday, what was her name?”
“Blonde? Sorry, mate, you got the wrong-” he was cut off by Castiel headbutting him, twice. When Jamie still didn’t respond, Castiel slammed him backwards into his vehicle, pressing close. Blade shaken down into his hand, Castiel growled, eyes flaring with the light of his grace. He brought his blade up deliberately.
“Blonde. Name. Now.”
“I-I-I don't know her name,” Jamie stuttered, eyes roving to and fro. Blood poured from his nose in shaky rivulets.
“What do you know?”
Jamie was trembling, hands grasping futilely at Castiel’s grip on his shirt, ineffectively trying to pull away. “Had me take her to a vet, she had some banged up dude in the back. Once I got them there I left, and she arranged transportation from there. Less easy to track, she said.”
Castiel didn’t back down, staring intently into Jamie’s eyes.
“That’s it, I promise! The vet was a Doctor Marion, and he’s not far!”
“So, Jody, huh?” was what finally broke the long silence that filled the stretch of driving through Illinois. Dean snorted. “What?”
“Nothin’,” Dean shook his head, sitting up from where he’d been slouched over in the passenger seat, watching his phone, eyebrows pinched together. He chuckled, forcing himself to engage in the conversation. “Just been wondering how long you were gonna wait to ask me about her.”
“Boy, don’t make me pull over and whup ya,” Bobby threatened, causing a real laugh to spill out of Dean. He looked startled at his own mirth, and Bobby grinned. “Well, come on, now, don’t leave me hangin’.”
So Dean filled him in. He talked about Jody taking in Alex, and then Claire. Mentioning Claire brought them back around to Cas, and before he knew it Dean had been talking about Cas for nearly an hour and wondering what could have possibly led him to think he should say yes to Lucifer. Bobby gave him a wry look as they pulled to a stop in front of another in a long string of gas stations and rest stops.
Dean fueled the Buick up while Bobby took this supply run, coming back with more coffee and sandwiches. Dean perked up when Bobby tossed him a bag of Skittles, thinking back to the weeks of actual childhood he’d managed to scrape together over the years, the old grouch ever-present in those memories.
Dean didn’t imagine that money had been easy to come by back in those days, especially with Bobby trying to feed and care for two growing boys, keep a mess of hunters mobile and organized, and do his own research on top of trying to run the salvage yard. Still, every time he’d come home from the store or stopped by a gas station with them in tow he’d remembered Skittles for Dean and M&M’s for Sam.
Dean slid into the driver’s seat yet again, holding in a grimace as his back twinged. It was a long time since those days, and he certainly wasn’t getting any younger.
Miles of highway were eaten up as Dean tapped his thumb along to classic rock.
“Ya ever think that maybe you Winchesters ain’t too good at tellin’ people you love ‘em until it’s too late?”
Dean raised an eyebrow, but didn’t take his steady gaze from the road. Bobby pressed on.
“Look, it works fine for me. You’re-” Bobby swallowed and ran a hand down the front of his face. “You’re my boys. Blood ain’t a part of it.”
“This got a point, Bobby?”.
“How much emotional repression you think they got goin’ on in Heaven?” Dean blinked slowly and took a sip of his now-lukewarm coffee. “Look, you tell me the guy fought off Heaven’s reconditioning? After he stayed in Purgatory to pay penance, convinced he was gonna fight monsters til he died alone? And you’ve never talked with him about it?” Dean opened his mouth and Bobby shook his head. “I ain’t done, boy.” Dean’s mouth clicked shut. Bobby sighed. “I kinda lost the plot there. What I’m saying is that maybe Cas doesn’t know how important he is.”
“I told him he’s family, Bobby.”
“Idjit! Didn’t you hear me just tell you that boy doesn’t have any idea what family means? Family has seen him as disposable for how long now?”
“I told him I needed him,” Dean admitted in a small voice, and Bobby shook his head.
“Yeah, and he may be semi-fluent in Winchester, but I’d bet anything he thinks you need him like you need a knife or a sawed-off.”
Dean’s forehead was furrowed as he took in what Bobby was saying. Bobby nodded as if proud of himself, and Dean didn’t reply after that, thoughts tumbling and twisting around in his head. They passed into Missouri without further comment.
Castiel trailed behind Doctor Marion’s vehicle in the Impala, keeping his distance. He watched as the man made rounds at several places, always stopping for a chat with the workers at each venue. He seemed to be a popular and engaging individual. Cas’ grip on the steering wheel tightened, and he flipped on the turn signal and followed the vehicle down a gravel drive.
Waiting for him to get out, Castiel reached out with his grace for any observers. Upon finding none, he slipped out of his own vehicle quietly, barely latching the door. A loud slam alerting the veterinarian to his presence would be less than helpful.
Doctor Marion picked up a few bags of animal bedding and Cas was behind him, blade at his throat. “Hello,” Castiel growled. “Let’s talk.”
Some time later Castiel wiped his blade off on his sleeve before turning and healing the collapsed vet and putting him to sleep. He had been moaning as he lay against his desk. Castiel turned away again. While the man may have talked without the violence, Sam’s life was on the line, and there was no mercy to spare. Besides, he had the information. He pulled out his phone, thumbing through his contact list. While this wouldn’t pardon his negligence, perhaps finding the information this quickly would lead to some sense of absolution from Dean.
“Cas?” Dean’s voice was thick with desperation.
“Hello, Dean. I have the information.”
“Where the hell have you been? We’re in mid-Missouri, near Hannibal, maybe seven hours out from home. I’ve been worried sick.”
“I’m sorry, Dean. I wanted to have real evidence before I called.” Dean paused and took a deep breath.
“I was worried about you, dumbass,” Dean bit out. Bobby raised an eyebrow at him and he exhaled. “Yeah, I wanna find Sammy, but I was worried you got hurt or caught too. Don’t know what I’d do if you were both gone,” Dean admitted, and Bobby gave a short nod.
I see,” Cas replied, and Dean nodded.
“Good.” His voice was gruff, and he cleared his throat. “What’d you find?” Dean asked, putting the phone on speaker. Bobby was driving again.
“The man who drove the SUV dropped the woman, who he said had ‘connections,’ off at a veterinarian’s practice just east of Lebanon, where she then organized another ride.” Dean smiled at the way he could hear Cas when he used those stupid air quotes. “I then tracked down the veterinarian and interrogated him. The woman didn’t introduce herself, but paid him one hundred thousand dollars to pull the bullet out of Sam’s leg, stitch him up, and drug him. He gave me her number.”
“Did you call it?”
“No. I had Jody call it.”
“You what?” Dean asked.
“I wanted information, so I called Jody back. She did say to call if I needed anything else, Dean,” Cas admonished. “She said to call her back after I called you.”
“Do you know how to do a three-way Cas?” Dean asked, and Bobby choked out a deep laugh. Dean flushed a soft pink and shook his head. “On a call,” he clarified, flipping Bobby off.
There was silence. “Ok, well could you do that then?”
After a frankly alarming series of beeps the line was ringing again, and Dean heard Jody’s chipper voice. “Howdy, Castiel.”
“You’re on a three-way call with Dean,” Cas replied, and Dean turned the phone on speaker.
“And me,” Bobby replied gruffly, and the silence echoed as they barrelled down the highway. Dean thought he could hear Jody’s brain whirring as gears turned.
“That can’t be Bobby Singer?”
“Can’t keep a good man down,” Bobby replied, and they all politely pretended not to hear Jody sniffling.
“How come you boys just don’t stay dead?” Jody teased, and Dean smiled slowly. He’d had similar thoughts himself, lately. “Anyway, not what we’re here for, although, Bobby, you owe me a hug when we finally rescue Sam. So, here’s the skinny.” Her voice took on a prompt and matter-of-fact tone. Dean liked that about her, the way she could switch right into a no-nonsense work mode. “I called the number from our local line, claiming that we were calling everyone registered in the area on a wild animal warning. She didn’t buy it, and I’m sure she’s probably suspicious, but I tracked her to the general area of Aldrich, Missouri. Only one cell tower in a town that small, so she could be anywhere in the vicinity, but at least it’s a start.”
“Jody, you’re a lifesaver,” Dean enthused, and she laughed it off.
“Yeah, yeah. Just come to Sioux Falls for a visit soon. Castiel, you too, ya hear me? Gotta meet the guy that both Claire and Dean manage to agree about.” Bobby gave Dean a pointed look and Dean rolled his eyes.
“Thank you, I will,” Cas replied, voice carrying that tone that said that humans had confused him once again.
Dean let himself think about what Bobby had been talking about earlier. Was Cas just going through life assuming people only wanted him around, that Dean only wanted him around for what he could do? Before Dean could say anything Bobby was saying goodbye and everyone else was hanging up the phone. Bobby stayed blessedly silent after that as they chewed up the miles between themselves and Sam. Dean stayed lost in thought.
Dean knew what a lifetime of thinking you were only a tool for the use of someone else could do to a person. What had he thought of himself for so many years, if not the same thing? He was angry then, and it ran through him like white lightning, frying its way through his nerve endings one at a time. After everything, and Cas hadn’t figured out what Dean meant when he said I need you and you’re family? Dean had been working to get out of this pit of self-loathing but it was coming back with a vengeance. What about him wasn’t good enough at explaining? Why couldn’t he make it clear enough for Cas? What was it going to take?
It wasn’t that Dean had an aversion to the words, as such. He’d told Sam before, begging him not to leave for Palo Alto. “Come on, Sammy, I love you. You’re my brother. We’re family. You can’t leave.”
He’d told his mom he loved her as a four-year-old, hugging her tight in the kitchen as baby Sammy slept upstairs. He’d even told John, although his dad had stopped saying it back as Dean grew older. Had grunted in response, or uttered a distracted you too, son. He was even sure he’d told it to Bobby at some point as a child. So why was it so hard to tell Cas? What was so different? What kept those words locked away?
Sam didn’t think he could hold out much longer, but he was going to do his best to go down swinging. His only consolation was that when Cas discovered that he was dead he would surely do his best to shepherd Sam’s soul to Heaven.
Psychological torture and mind-sex games aside, Sam could feel himself pulling apart. His brain felt like it did at the beginning of getting his soul back; it felt ruptured and shaky, like a jenga tower about to come crashing down with one wrong tug. He spared a brief thought for Dean, hoping that his older brother was at peace, atoms a part of the universe now. He collapsed against the floor of the basement and let out a wretched wail. His last-ditch effort had been for nothing, and he was going to die here. There were so many things he’d wanted to do.
It felt like such an unsatisfactory ending, above all else, and he coughed weakly before laughing.
“God is dead, you know!” Sam called out, pitching his voice toward the basement door. His hand throbbed.
“Dean killed himself to kill Chuck’s sister, and God died too, or else we’d all be dead!”
Sam hiccuped once, and rolled around until he was on his knees. “You hear me? God is dead! He’s not writing my story anymore. No more ‘Supernatural,’ no more Sam and Dean saving the day!”
Sam collapsed back onto the floor, laughing and crying in equal measure. His head was pounding and it felt like he was going to explode.
Dean drove the last stretch west into Aldrich. The radio was on, but turned nearly all the way down. Bobby was snoring gently in the passenger seat, hat tilted low over his eyes to block out the setting sun. Dean spotted Cas leaning against the trunk of the Impala in the Bait Master’s parking lot. He snorted, wishing Sam were here so he could make an extremely juvenile joke about mastering his bait. Dean flipped on his blinker, pulling off of the business highway and coasting to a gentle stop. His heart flip-flopped around in his chest as Cas looked up and smiled that gummy grin right at him.
Dean stepped out of the vehicle, inhaling the vague smell of gasoline overlaid with frying food and crisp air. Cas made a bee-line to him, pulling Dean into a firm hug that made something clench tight in his chest. “I thought you were dead, and even after you called me it has been so hard to believe.”
“Hey now, I really was dead,” Bobby grumped, stomping out and around the side of the Buick.
“Bobby,” Cas breathed, and then glanced down at his feet. Bobby snorted.
“You can have me incite rebellion in Heaven but ya can’t hug me on Earth?”
“Of course,” Cas replied, stepping forward. Dean was oddly satisfied to see that their hug wasn’t as effortless as his and Cas’ hug had been.
“Alright. Now that’s outta the way,” Bobby grumbled good naturedly, clapping his hands together. “This town ain’t bigger’n a shoebox, and from what you said, Cas, this lady has the big bucks. She won’t be squatting, so let’s find out if anyone is renting.”
Bobby could feel his adrenaline pumping. Asking around town had led them down five little county roads, all of them covered in gravel. Each one had been worse than the last. Dean had bitched about his car the whole way, and Cas replying that he could have just brought the truck he had stolen hadn’t helped. They had just started driving down the last dirt path that was supposed to lead to the farm when they were slammed into by a white SUV that appeared to have come from nowhere. Maybe they hadn’t been as subtle asking around as they should have been.
The Impala spun once before Dean got it under control and stopped. The front windshield had a nasty crack in it and the hood was crumpled. Both front windows had shattered and there were bits of glass covering the dashboard.
Out of the vehicle came a blur of a woman who landed hits on the angel like it was going out of style. Dean dove in without any regard for his form or his own safety, the idjit, although it was per usual when someone he loved was in danger. Bobby eyed the fight as he side-stepped around the perimeter, leaning down slowly to pick up a dropped angel blade.
The woman was monologuing, not guarding her back, and Bobby rolled his eyes before stepping in. She shot at Dean as she went down, and then twice into the air. Her shots went wide each time, although from the blood it looked like she had got the boy in the leg pretty good.
“Idjits,” Bobby said as the woman fell, standing above at the two of them, blade in hand.
Cas was at his side before Dean could blink, hand gripped tightly over his bleeding thigh. Bobby stood over the two of them for a moment more before rolling his eyes and turning to inspect the body of the woman who had attacked them. The woman who had attacked his car. Dean looked despondently over at his baby, forcing himself not to move as Cas’ giant hand warmed his thigh. He could feel the pulse of grace as Cas healed him yet again.
Dean’s eyelashes fluttered. “Thanks, Cas.” It came out softer and breathier than he wanted, and Dean cleared his throat, pointedly not looking at Bobby. He could see the old hunter from the corner of his eye doing his best not to look at Dean either, which Dean appreciated. There were things he wasn’t even ready to acknowledge, let alone think about Bobby seeing.
“Of course, Dean,” Cas replied, standing and reaching a hand out. Dean warred with himself for a long and stupid moment before accepting the help, and letting Cas pull him to his feet. Dean took a deep breath. He could do this. Nut up, Winchester
“You know I was really worried about you, earlier. Don’t do that again.”
Cas frowned. “I thought that you’d prefer me not to call with nothing to show for it.”
“That’s bullshit,” Dean replied, suddenly incredibly angry. More with himself, than anything, but realizing that he was pushing Cas away in his anger yet again just added fuel to the fire. He became flustered when he realized that he was still gripping Cas’ hand tightly. Dean shoved Cas from him roughly and stomped away. “You comin, Bobby?”
Bobby looked up from where he was crouched over the woman and nodded, pausing to pull the brass knuckles from her hands and slip them into his pocket. He grasped under her arms, Dean picking up her legs, and together they put her inside of her vehicle and pushed it off the side of the road and into the treeline. Cas was standing still, squinting at his hands. Bobby stood next to him in silence as Dean pulled branches around to hide the vehicle for a little while.
“It seems like I’m always doing the wrong thing,” Cas said, and Dean’s shoulders hunched as he overheard it. He couldn’t hear Bobby’s response, but as he turned he saw the older man slap Cas on the back once before Bobby walked back over to check on the Impala. Dean followed close behind, not looking at Cas. He just couldn’t bring himself to think about it.
By the time that they got the Impala moving again, driven back into town to check the engine, and then pulled up to the farmhouse nearly an hour had passed. Castiel announced that the warding was too strong, and that they would have to take it down before he could enter. Dean just told him to sit this one out, leaving Castiel to lean against Dean’s car as he and Bobby geared up. He was sure that this was more proof that he was doing things wrong yet again, Bobby’s words of encouragement from earlier be damned.
“You’re not doin’ anything wrong,” Bobby said, not looking at Castiel. His brow was furrowed and his lips were pulled into a scowl, and he was watching Dean cover the car with greenery.
“It feels as though nothing I can do anymore is useful. I fear he still resents me for choices I’ve made,” Cas replied quietly.
“We’ve all made shit choices. Ya don’t see him resenting me or Sam, do ya?”
“I don’t think I’m held equal with the both of you in Dean’s eyes,” Castiel admitted. He stared still at his hands, twisting his fingers around each other.
“That’s bullshit.” Bobby was suddenly eerily calm, and Castiel looked over at him with wide eyes. Bobby’s voice stayed low and even, and he kept his eyes on Dean. “I don’t know everything that happened when I was dead but that’s bullshit. You’re family, son. Now enough with the feelings. Let’s get moving.” Bobby clapped a firm hand on Castiel’s back before walking away, and Castiel waited a few moments before following.
Rocks skittered across the dirt and gravel road as Castiel shuffled his feet, shifting position yet again. The wards were still up, which meant that either there was nothing of import to be found, or Dean and Bobby had been taken as well. With the way their luck skewed, he certainly wouldn’t be placing any bets on the former.
Castiel whirled around, blade at the ready. There was a man in front of him, shorter than Castiel, which he noted with pleasure. It’s not that the vessel he had chosen was short, he had often placated himself, it was that the Winchesters were so very tall. The man was wearing a suit and had his hands held aloft.
“Castiel, right?” The man’s accent was definitely not American. British. “I’m here to extend an olive branch. One of our people went rogue, and took Sam Winchester prisoner. I’d imagine you’d like him back?” Castiel didn’t speak, and the man nodded. “Right. Well, I’m Mick Davies, British Men of Letters, and if you’ll follow me I’ll take down that warding so you can come inside with me.”
Castiel lowered his blade minutely, nodding his head. Mick smiled wryly and turned, walking toward the farmhouse. At the side door he stepped inside, but Castiel could come no further. It already felt like he was trying to slog his way through soup.
“Mick, are you there?” Castiel called loudly after a moment. If this were a trap to get his guard down and let the man enter the house he wanted Dean and Bobby to have warning.
The warding fell; Castiel felt it simultaneously as Mick knocked on a window a few feet away. Mick waved for him to come in, and Cas sighed, opening the door. Inside the farmhouse was chaos. Furniture was kicked over, and a bloody trail smeared through the kitchen, leading from the basement and out the back door. Castiel listened for a moment, head cocked to the side, and then slipped down the basement steps quickly before Mick noticed that he hadn’t followed into the living room.
“Dean,” Castiel whispered, and Dean whipped around from where he was looking at a busted mirror, pistol raised. He lowered it, and then glanced around.
“How the hell did you get in here?”
Castiel frowned. “There’s a man who claims to be one of the British Men of Letters. He claims that one of their agents went rogue and captured Sam.” Dean raised his pistol again.
“What he says is true,” Mick agreed, stepping down each stair deliberately, hands raised as they were before when he approached Castiel. Mick stopped finally at the bottom of the stairs and didn’t step around Castiel.
“Bullets won’t hurt Cas,” Dean said casually. He gestured with his gun. “If I wanna shoot you I can just shoot through him. Why don’t you come on out and quit hiding behind our angel?”
Castiel felt a warmth flush through him at the thought of being included among the things that Dean Winchester claimed, tinged with sourness, as always. He would take a bullet if it meant progress toward finding Sam, of course. As he’d said before, he was always happy to bleed for the Winchesters. Mick stepped around Castiel, grimacing in what Castiel was sure was intended to be a pleasant sort of smile.
Bobby stepped out of the shadows next, his gun lax at his side.
“Ah, Mick Davies,” Mick said, smiling pleasantly. He stepped forward with one hand extended. “And you are?”
“Bobby Singer,” Bobby growled, gun quickly raised. Mick blinked and took a step back.
“We thought you were dead.”
“I got better.”
“Indeed,” Mick replied. “Look, we seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot. I am, in fact, with the Men of Letters, British group, of course. Lady Bevell was supposed to be meeting you and your brother, as well as the rest of the American Hunters. Our leaders decided it was time to check in since you two seem to be partially carrying on the Men of Letters' work here now that the American chapter is defunct.”
“Uh huh,” Bobby nodded, snorting derisively. “And we’re supposed to believe you’re telling us this, why? Out of the goodness of your heart?”
“Lads...if I wasn't sincere, if I meant you harm, there's a dozen ways I could've come in here and taken you all prisoner instead of being unarmed. Not to mention I powered down all the wardings in this shack so your attack dog could come in.” At this Mick looked at Castiel, one eyebrow raised. “I reckon you could finish me off without breaking a sweat. Am I right?”
Castiel raised one eyebrow as well, straightening his back. “I don't sweat under any circumstances.” He heard Bobby’s quiet chuckle and glanced over to see Dean frowning at Bobby, a red splash of color rising on his cheeks.
“Look. Part of our group suspects some kind of malfeasance amongst you American Hunters. No argument – Lady Bevell has gone too far. I was sent to track her down the minute she cut contact. I need to find her. You need to find your brother. Why not work together?”
“Work together?” Dean scoffed and shook his head. “One of your people shot my brother. She kidnapped him.”
Mick sighed heavily and then put his arms down. “Look, I’m getting tired of the back and forth. We acknowledge and apologize for the actions of Lady Bevell, and I’m trying to help make up for it.”
“How are you supposed to track her down if she cut contact?” Bobby asked, still hostile, although he did lower his gun. Mick smiled at him.
“If you’d let me come back to your Men of Letters headquarters I should be able to use your equipment to track her easier here in the states than our people could from home.”
“You got stuff that can do that?” Bobby asked Dean, who shrugged and made an unsure noise in response.
“There definitely is,” Mick replied slowly, looking between them. “Do you not know how to track people with the maps? If they’re carrying any magic from the Men of Letters or affiliated groups with them, you can definitely track them down.”
Dean finally lowered his gun, but his shoulders were still tense. Castiel didn’t release his grip on his angel blade. “Yeah, alright,” he finally said after a long moment of silence. “But you’re riding in the back with Cas. You can come get your own car later. I don’t trust you to drive yourself.” Mick nodded amicably, as if this were an everyday occurrence for him. Castiel supposed it could be, he didn’t really have an idea what the British Men of Letters did or didn’t do.
Mick clapped his hands together, and Castiel looked over, tensed for action. “So, mind if I grab my bags before we go?”
Sam was moving again. He had fought hard, but his captor - Toni, she had told him to call her - had used some sort of mind-control technique on him that left him gasping for air as she dragged him kicking into the sun. His foot hurt, his hand hurt, his leg was still throbbing where he had been shot. Sam felt worse than he could remember feeling in a very long time.
As they waited outside a black SUV with heavily tinted windows sped into the lot and skidded to a halt in the grass beside them. Sam struggled to run when he was passed from Toni to the man who climbed out of the back seat but didn’t make it more than two steps before his knees were kicked hard from behind, sending him sprawling to the ground.
Sam was unceremoniously shoved into the trunk of the SUV after that. As they drove down rough gravel roads Sam tried to keep his head up and pay attention, but the bumping and shaking was sending shocks of fire through his injuries. They drove past a wreck in the distance and Sam’s eyes widened as he saw a white SUV and a busted black Impala with three men standing outside. He could clearly tell that one of them was Cas, but in his fog he had no idea who the other two were. He immediately began to pray again.
In the front passenger seat Toni picked up her phone. “Yes, we’ve just seen the angel. We’re already leaving town.” Sam caught her eyes in the rearview mirror and glared, and she smiled placidly. There was a pause as she listened, and then her expression hardened. “I see. Well, we’ll take care of them, too. Thank you. Please have Ms. Watt’s remains collected and sent home.”
Toni hung up the phone and Sam gave her his best manic grin. “He’s going to find me. Did he kill your torturer friend?” Lady Bevell smiled calmly, unnerving Sam.
“You needn’t bother praying anymore,” she replied and looked back down at her phone. “I’ve been blocking you from angels since I picked you up.”