Dean should have been paying more attention. At least, a little more attention to where he was putting his hand. Tiny, sharp teeth pierced his skin, and a freezing cold seeped through his hand. He pulled his left hand back in shock and stared at the small cockatrice that was hissing at him. He pulled out his gun with his good hand and shot at the creature as it fled. His first two attempts missed, but the third flew true, straight through the cockatrice's head. It took a few more steps before stumbling over, dead and spasming.
Dean's breathing quickly became ragged as ice pulsed up his arm. He knew what was going to come. There was no stopping the venom of a cockatrice. He slumped onto a cluttered workbench of the small lab he had been searching and raised his left hand in front of his face. Already, the pads of his fingers were turning a soft grey, and he was having trouble bending them. He didn't look up as he heard heavy footsteps run into the lab.
Dean dropped his hand and shook his head. 'It's too late, Sam,' he said quietly. He watched with a disconnected fascination as his brother crouched in front of him and took his hand. Long hair obstructed Sam's face, and Dean reached out to move it aside. 'You need a haircut.'
'And you need a doctor!' Sam said as he looked around for anything he could use. 'Keep moving your fingers,' he instructed. 'Don't let it take hold!' His eyes landed on a strap of leather, and he quickly grabbed it. He struggled with Dean, forcing his brother to remove his coat. He pushed Dean's shirtsleeve up and tied a tourniquet just below Dean's elbow.
The town they had stayed the night in wasn't too far away. Surely, they had a hospital. And if that didn't work, then Sam remembered passing a sign that led to the office of mad scientist. He hoped he wouldn't have to rely on the latter.
Dean knew what was happening. He had seen it happen plenty of times to unfortunate hunters and civilians alike. First, the ice-cold feeling of stone running through your veins, weighing down your muscles, muddying your mind until you couldn't think straight. Then came the hallucinations. He couldn't trust what his eyes were seeing. He could no longer feel his hand. Hell, he couldn't even see his hand. Every time he turned his head to look or try to raise his arm, he would catch sight of a tentacle or a wing. Five minutes ago—if he could trust his judgment of time, which he probably couldn't—he could have sworn his hand had been replaced by a carrot.
He was being carried through an orchard by a moose. In a flash, his eyes focused on his brother and the wooden buildings and painted signs of a familiar town passing by in the background. So, not a moose.
'Sam…Sam, it's no use,' Dean managed to slur. He felt so cold, and his arm (or what he could feel of it) felt heavy. He tried to move his hand. Tried to see what was happening. Instead of a foreign appendage, he saw his hand. The grey had taken over his whole hand, and patches were appearing along his wrist and up his forearm. His fingers were frozen in a partially bent position. It wouldn't be too much longer, now. Once the stone reached his heart, the rest of his body would quickly follow.
Sam was speaking to him. Or squawking at him. He couldn't be sure with the beak that Sam had suddenly sprouted. He didn't have much time left, so he whispered his goodbyes as best he could as he shivered in his brother's claws. He shook his head as he was bumped around. No, Sam didn't have claws. Sam wasn't a crab or lobster or… What was Sam? Who was Sam? Was he supposed to care?
The moose was back, and it was threatening a small dog. Dean tried to tell the moose to leave the dog alone, but he was gently pulled aside. He looked over and was blinded by a bright light. The light faded and in its place stood a beautiful angel. The angel stared at him, bewildered, before smiling at him.
'Everything is going to be all right,' the angle spoke with a gruff voice.
So he was dead. At least, he made it to Heaven. He had been certain that he had earned a one-way ticket to Hell. But why did Heaven feel so cold? And why was that stupid moose there, too?
Something tightened around Dean's arm, and there was sharp pain in his neck. The angel and the rest of the world faded away, and Dean fell into the cold, black abyss of night.
There was a soft, rhythmic noise in the dark. One-two. One-two. One-two… Dean frowned as he tried to place it. He was no longer cold. He was no longer in the laboratory. He slowly opened his eyes as he recognized the sound as his own heartbeat ringing through his ears.
He covered his eyes with his arm to block out the bright sunlight that sifted through a nearby window. Had it all been a dream? It had to have been. No one lived through a cockatrice bite. Not without the best doctors and equipment around, and there was no way the town they had stopped in had a hospital with such doctors.
He slowly sat up. His bed felt different. More comfortable than he had remembered. He scratched at his chest as he grunted. Apparently, he had fallen asleep in his holster. And slept on his arm, if the numbness was anything to go by.
And he had deemed it necessary to wear a glove?
He frowned as his fingers stopped moving. He finally noticed that he was not in the cheap room he and Sam had bought for the night. He was in a small bedroom. A bedroom with a lot of freaky-looking things in jars. His heart thumped loudly in his chest as he looked down, dreading what he would find.
Against his chest was his hand. Or, at least, a very good representation of his hand—as far as sleek, metal hands went. It came away from his chest as he lifted his arm. The weight was…similar. Different, but nothing too noticeable. The fingers flexed, obeying his commands as if they were his own. He turned his new hand over and marveled at the workmanship. Whoever Sam had found did an incredible job. The joints of his knuckles moved easily and soundlessly. A dull green dome of glass adorned his wrist, and he tapped it curiously with his index finger. It flashed with a bright light then gave him the time.
There was no way in hell he and Sam could afford this. This was what the rich and powerful got if they ever found themselves without a limb. Regular, working class Joes got whirring gears and ticking pieces that had to be wound up like a watch or a toy. And the response was nothing like what he was getting from the new hand.
His eyes wandered up his new arm, taking in every little detail. There were small lines weaving across, barely noticeable. Dean traced them with his fingers and flinched in surprise as a small panel popped open, revealing a small, gun-like device. His stomach clenched at the prospect of Sam having sold them into servitude just to keep him alive.
He pressed the panel down, and it gave a soft click as it locked back into place. He continued his exploration along his elbow and found that the false arm stopped just below his deltoid, wrapping snuggly around what was left of his arm. There was a bit of leather snapped to its side, attaching the arm to the harness that Dean wore, leaving his shoulder bare. He reached around and felt another piece on the opposite side as well.
He moved his arm in its full range of motion, and found that the leather straps were attached to the harness by a strong bit of elastic.
'The arm should last, but the harness straps will have to be replaced on a regular basis.'
Dean sucked in a quick breath, his head turning to see a man standing in the doorway. He watched warily as the man entered the room and approached the bed.
'At least, until I can come up with a better solution apart from bolting it to your humerous… Which is always an option. Crude, but effective,' the man said as he sat on the edge of the bed next to Dean.
There was something familiar about him. Not quite as tall as Dean, a slighter build… It wasn't the dark, messy hair that was familiar, nor the small frown on chapped lips. A small noise caught in Dean's throat as he recognized the other's eyes from his fevered state. The shining, curious, blue eyes of his angel. Dean felt his stomach clench as he blushed. He could just imagine what sort of lines he had been spouting off. And how bad they must have been to earn the displeased frown he was receiving.
'Could you unclench your fist?' the man asked. 'And possibly relax. You won't be needing those as of yet.'
Dean looked down. The small gun had been revealed along with vicious-looking spikes along his knuckles and the back of his new hand. He slowly unfurled his fingers and the spikes rolled back. His knuckles neatly flipped to the rounded pieces he had seen before. He leaned forward, resting his arms on his legs. He stiffened as the other man lightly touched his back with one hand and closed the open panel on his false arm with the other.
'Who are you?' Dean asked.
'My name is Castiel. I…I saved you.'
Dean frowned at the hesitation in Castiel's voice. 'Yeah. Thanks for that. This is some job you did,' he said, flexing his new fingers.
A glimmer of a smile crossed Castiel's face at the compliment. 'Thank you.'
Without the cockatrice's venom running through him, Dean could properly appreciate the man's smile. But that wouldn't matter if he and Sam were too far in the hole. Unless Castiel wanted a bedmate in exchange. He would be more than willing to swing that. Certainly wouldn't have been the first time he would have traded services with a pretty face. 'How much?' Dean asked, cutting right to the chase.
'How much is it gonna cost?' Dean clarified. 'How fucked are me and my brother?'
Castiel shook his head in confusion. 'The cost has already been negotiated. Your brother and mine are…well… The laboratory that the two of you were investigating? They are procuring a few items for me, and the rest will be covered at a later time.'
'Items,' Dean repeated. He couldn't think of anything in a mad scientist's lab that a respectable doctor could possibly want.
'Some…scientific equipment and materials,' Casitel carefully replied. 'Doctor Azazel had quite the collection…'
Dean stared at Castiel in silence as the pieces fell into place. He recalled seeing a sign in the town and making a mental note that he and Sam would have to pay a visit to the advertised office after their original job of finding a lead on Azazel. 'You're a fuckin' Maddy,' he whispered. He barely managed to duck the fist that flew at his head.
'What the hell?!' Dean quickly removed himself from the bed before Castiel could strangle him. He backed away as he tried to find something, anything, that he could use to fend off the crazed scientist. He paused when he noticed that the other man hadn't moved from the bed. He had had plenty of run-ins with mad scientists, but this was…different. For one, he had never seen black veins creep up the side of anyone's face, let alone a Maddy's.
'Take it back, or I'll take back my arm,' Castiel growled with a smile. He shifted so that he was perched on the edge of the bed. His head jerked to the side as he watched Dean. 'With interest.'
Dean didn't like the way Castiel was eyeing him—a mix of hungry, amused, and angry. He especially didn't like the way it was turning him on. …Not in the least. He took a step back and swallowed, and Castiel placed a foot on the floor. 'Look, uh… Sorry,' he said, taking another step. 'Didn't mean to offend you or anything… It's just what you guys are called, right?'
Castiel stood and licked his lips. 'Not by anyone…living,' he replied. He swayed a little and blinked as he shook his head. 'Forgive me. That was uncalled for,' he said. 'I am not very…appreciative of that term.'
'I can tell,' Dean said, keeping a careful eye on the other. The veins were gone and so was the crazed look in Castiel's eyes. 'Are you…okay?'
'Yes. Of course. Why?' Castiel asked innocently.
Before Dean could answer, the sound of voices and a door closing caught his attention. He didn't want to take his eyes off of Castiel—just in case the scientist took another trip down Crazy Lane.
'Hey, Cas!' a voice called out from somewhere in the house.
'In here, Gabriel,' Castiel replied. He grimaced and looked down as Dean backed against the wall.
'Stop watching that guy sleep and give us a hand! This is your crap!'
Castiel winced and flicked his eyes toward Dean. He moved toward the door, half-expecting Dean to either block the way or stay as far from him as possible. 'I'll send your brother up,' he said quietly as he left the room.
With Castiel gone, Dean made his way back to the bed and let his legs give out. He stared at the floor, as the shock of what had happened to him finally set in. He had been bitten by a cockatrice. He was alive. He had lost his arm, but he was alive. All thanks to a Maddy. By all rights, he should be dead.
He looked up as he heard familiar footsteps draw near. Relief flooded him when Sam's face came into view, complete with sideburns and floppy hair. No antlers or tentacles in sight. 'Sammy…'
Sam quickly walked over to Dean and placed his hand on Dean's left shoulder. 'You're okay! He did it… God, Dean… I was so worried…' His eyes traveled over Dean's bare shoulder and down his upper arm to the prosthetic. When he had first come into the room, he had thought Dean's arm had been bandaged. He hadn't been expecting to find his brother fitted with a new arm. That wasn't part of the agreement. 'What… Dean, we can't afford that! I barely managed to get them to agree to me showing Gabriel where Azazel's lab was!'
'Well, I didn't ask for it!' Dean shot back. He could feel his heart race as panic rose up. What had they gotten themselves into? Sam should have just let him die. 'I didn't ask to be dragged to some Ma—mad scientist's secret lab!'
'No. It's fine… We'll give the arm back, and leave it at that,' Sam said as he paced.
'Kinda hard to do when it's made specifically for Dean-o there,' a voice said from the doorway.
Sam turned to face the man he had spent the past two days with, scouring Azazel's lab. He was actually beginning to trust the shorter man, but if everything had just been a ruse... 'Gabriel, this wasn't part of the deal,' he said, waving his hand at Dean's arm.
Gabriel came into the room and barely glanced up at Sam. He approached Dean and leaned over to examine the prosthetic, letting out an impressed whistle. 'Cas really went to town on that… What the hell did you do to get him to agree to this?' he asked, raising his eyes to meet Dean's.
'Nothing!' Dean leaned away from Gabriel's leer.
'Did you threaten my little brother?' Gabriel quietly asked, his expression going cold.
'Hey! He threatened me!' Dean said as he stood, forcing the shorter man to back up.
Gabriel crossed his arms as he looked between Sam and Dean. 'Either way, the arm's extra.'
'And what do you want in return? My kidneys?' Dean asked hatefully.
'You're kidneys wouldn't begin to cover the cost of that arm. That's quality workmanship there,' Gabriel replied. 'Try throwing in a lung. Maybe your brain, since you're not using it.' He let his eyes drift down as he smirked. 'Or some other organ you wouldn't miss. Too badly… Transplants are all the rage these days.'
Dean grabbed the collar of Gabriel's shirt and pulled him close. 'Or maybe I could just not turn you two in. Ever think of that?' he said lowly.
Gabriel stilled at the sound of fabric ripping and the feel of cool, sharp metal lightly grazing his skin. He gave Dean a charming smile. 'C'mon, now. No need to be turning anyone into the local authorities. Besides, we're a vital part of this community.'
'I thought you two were leaving?' Sam asked with a raised brow. 'Something about the local magistrate growing suspicious?'
'Well… The sheriff is on our side,' Gabriel said defensively. 'We saved his daughter's life. He likes us. You guys should like us, too.'
'Well, I don't,' Dean growled, tightening his fingers.
'Uh… How 'bout this: You guys have a nice little wagon! Take us to the next town over, and we'll call it square!' Gabriel said, still smiling and careful to keep the distress out of his voice.
A soft creek came from the doorway, and all three men looked to find Castiel leaning against the doorjamb with a curious look.
'Is everything all right?' he asked.
'Just fine. Right, guys?' Gabriel replied. He gently patted Dean's arm as he looked to Sam for support.
'Look, we aren't going to turn you in,' Sam said with a sigh. 'You haven't performed any mutilations, and you both seem pretty sane—'
'No. Not that one,' Dean interrupted, pointing to Castiel. 'That one has something' goin' on with him.'
'It's not his fault!' Gabriel argued as he pulled away from Dean, ripping his shirt.
Dean blinked as he noticed that the blades on his knuckles had flipped back out. He breathed in sharply and looked up at Sam with wide eyes. 'I can't… I don't know how to control it.'
'You need to calm down,'Castiel said as he came into the room. He waved off his brother as he cautiously approached Dean. 'They react to your emotional state. With time, you should be able to call upon the weapons as if you were flexing a muscle. But, for now, it's completely reactive.'
'You weaponized him?!' Gabriel hissed as he tugged at Casitel shirt sleeve. 'What is wrong with you?!'
Castiel bit his lip and stared at the floor. 'It seemed like a good idea at the time…' He flicked his eyes back up to Dean. 'You're a hunter…of monsters and…well…Maddies. I thought you would benefit from an extra weapon. There's a bladder to store holy water for dousing the razors.'
Dean opened his hand, dropping the bit of cloth he held and forced himself to calm down. He looked at Sam and raised his brows, flicking his eyes in the direction of Castiel and Gabriel.
'See? That new arm's full of surprises,' Gabriel said. 'That's worth your silence, right? And a ride. Next town. All we're asking. Or a couple train tickets. Good deal, right?'
Sam shrugged at Dean. 'We'd be getting off cheap,' he admitted. With Dean's nod, he looked to Castiel and Gabriel. 'All right. We'll drop you off at the next town. How long do you need to pack?'
'We'll be ready by morning!' Gabriel said delightedly.
'No. That won't work,' Castiel said. He had been staring at the wall and slowly turned his head to stare at Dean. 'Your arm's a prototype… It'll need maintenance,' he said carefully. 'How are you going to find someone to keep it running when they don't understand the technology? That's a custom hookup. There would be a lot of…invasive questions to answer if you tried to get someone else to look at it. Where did you get it? Who made it? What were you doing…cavorting with a…a…well…me.' He held his breath as he waited for Dean.
Dean narrowed his eyes at Castiel. He could have sworn he had seen a flash of black creep up Castiel's neck just toward the end of his little speech. 'Are you asking to come with us?' he asked.
'What? No! Cas, we are not staying with them!' Gabriel said as he pulled Castiel away. He lowered his voice to a harsh whisper as he shook his brother. 'We're getting off easy! The less time we spend with them, the less chance they get it in their heads to off us!'
'They're after Azazel,' Castiel calmly whispered back.
'Yeah, and I got you everything worthwhile from his lab. We're good.'
Castiel shook his head and looked down. 'I can't use anything. Not for what…we want. I'm no closer to a cure.'
Gabriel looked away with a heavy sigh. 'What do you need?'
'His notes would be best.'
Gabriel nodded and turned back to the other brothers in the room. 'We're stickin' with you until we find Azazel,' he said firmly.
'No way. Next town, and you're gone,' Dean replied.
'I don't think you have much choice,' Gabriel said with a smile.
'I can live without an arm,' Dean said, rolling his eyes. 'C'mon, Sam. We're leaving.'
'Oh, you can live without an arm. No problem. But can Sam live without his liver?' Gabriel asked, his smile turning to a smirk.
'What? My liver's fine!' Sam said in confusion.
Gabriel shrugged. 'Maybe next time you won't let me cook for you. It's called "insurance," Sammy,' he said. 'Just in case your brother threatened mine, or you reneged on our deal… Just covering my ass. You understand.'
Sam's heart was beating quickly. 'You're lying! There was nothing you could have used to poison me! Not without me noticing.'
'Cas isn't the only Maddy in the family. I just hide it better,' Gabriel replied, losing his smile. 'You wanna live? We're coming with you. And you better decide quickly. You only have a few hours before your liver starts to deteriorate.'
A soft click echoed through the room. Sam glanced over to see Dean's false hand clenched, spikes revealed, and a small gun sticking out of his forearm. 'Dean…'
'Fine,' Dean growled. 'But the moment we catch up to Azazel, you two are gone. And we ain't paying for anything for you two. A ride is all you're getting.'
'That's more than enough,' Castiel said, placing his hand on Gabriel's arm. 'Thank you. We'll retrieve Sam's cure and begin packing.'
'We leave at sunrise,' Dean said. He watched as the pair of Maddies disappeared into the hall and listened as they descended the stairs before he turned on Sam. 'They are not coming with us.'
'Dean, we just—'
'No. They give you your cure, then we fuckin' leave. And on the way out, we turn them in, and let someone else deal with them,' he said. 'There's a reason you don't cut deals with Maddies, Sam. And we just saw it. You can't trust 'em.'
Sam huffed as he crossed his arms. 'They're not monsters, Dean. Gabriel's just looking out for his brother. You'd do the same.'
'I wouldn't poison someone just to get my way!'
'No, but you've done more than your fair share of threatening,' Sam reminded. 'Dangling a cure in front of you, or shoving a gun in your face? It's just different means to getting the same results.'
'But they're Maddies! Both of them!' Dean stalked to the doorway and gestured to the hall. 'If we let them come with us, we're gonna have to watch our backs the whole time if we don't wanna wake up with our fucking hands switched with our feet.'
'That's already been done,' Castiel said as he ducked under Dean's arm. He carried a glass of golden liquid and handed it to Sam. 'Drink this.'
Sam took the glass and eyed it warily before downing it in one go. He grimaced and pulled a face at what had apparently been whiskey.
'It's to cover the taste of the antidote,' Castiel explained. 'It is…a lot harder to swallow on its own.'
'Thanks,' Sam said, coughing as he handed the glass back.
Castiel held the glass in his hands and looked over his shoulder at Dean. 'I understand if you wish to leave now. There is nothing keeping you here, and Gabriel is preoccupied, but…I would like to continue to work on your arm,' he said quietly. 'As I said, switching limbs has been done before. I'm more interested in what hasn't been done.'
'And what about your brother?' Dean asked gruffly. 'Is he gonna poison us every chance he gets?'
Castiel shook his head, biting his lip. 'No. Gabriel prefers to make small toys and trinkets. This was a…very unusual circumstance. We do not…needlessly experiment. We prefer to help.'
Dean watched Castiel. There was something that Castiel wasn't telling him. He assumed it had something to do with Castiel's earlier change in personality, so he left it at that. 'Fine. But the moment either of you turn crazy—'
'It won't come to that,' Castiel assured Dean. 'You two should get some rest. Gabriel and I will pack what we need. Help yourself to anything in the kitchen, but stay out of the red cupboard.'
'Do we even wanna know what's in the red cupboard?' Dean asked, giving Sam a look. He knew exactly which cupboard he'd be opening first.
'Rabbits,' Castiel replied. 'Dead, of course. But it's rather gruesome. There may be a squirrel or two. I can't rightly recall.'
'Rabbits?' Sam repeated.
Castiel nodded. 'There is nothing wrong with them, so…I suppose you could cook one if you wanted. Gabriel eventually does. He brings them home from the market, and I dissect them.'
'I don't think I want any rotting rabbit. Thanks,' Dean said, staring at Sam in disbelief.
'They're kept quite cool. It's a frigid cupboard,' Castiel explained. 'Like an icebox, but better.'
'Right… Uh… Thanks,' Sam said as Castiel left. After a while, he spoke up again. 'Dissection's not so bad. Regular doctors do that, too…'
'We're not eating the rabbits.'
'Did he drink it?' Gabriel asked as Castiel stepped off the stairs.
'He didn't question it,' Castiel replied as he set the empty glass onto a nearby end table.
Gabriel sighed in relief and took a swig of the bottle he held. He had been hoping that his lie had been believable. To his own ears, it sounded like the dumbest thing he could have pulled out of his ass. 'So they bought it. Good. Not good. Now, they're gonna be paranoid. God, I don't even know how rat poison works!'
'I assured them we wouldn't cut them up or poison them,' Castiel said.
'Oh, good. So, don't,' Gabriel said sternly, shaking the bottle at Castiel.
Castiel frowned as he leaned his head back, squinting at Gabriel. 'I have no intention of—'
'Not you. Chompy. Keep him down.'
Castiel leaned forward as thin, black veins crept up his neck. 'Do not call me that,' he hissed. He snapped his teeth at Gabriel. There was no reaction, and he stood back with an unimpressed glare. 'You're no…fun.'
'I mean it. Don't give them a reason to ditch us or kill us. Got it?'
Castiel crossed his arms and looked away with an irritated sigh. He blinked a few times before looking back at Gabriel, uncrossing his arms. 'Everything will be fine,' he said. 'Now, tell me what happened to that,' he said, pointing at a small box with a charred coil sticking out from a splintered side.
'Oh, that,' Gabriel said with a carefree wave of his hand. 'Funny story, actually.'