Disclaimer: If they were mine, there'd be more whumping and a lot more hugging. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no profit is being made from it. The characters belong to Eric Kripke and the CW. I am only borrowing them and no (real) harm is intended.
Rated: T, for language and some violence.
Spoilers: Generally for Season 4, and specifically for episode 4.22.
Notes: This is angel!whump of the most self-indulgent kind. It's also gen.
I guess it's fanon/canon that Castiel doesn't need to eat, sleep, breathe… but he does bleed in canon, which implies—to me!—a heartbeat. So for the purpose of this story, his vessel still has a pulse, respirates automatically, etc.
Edited 7/31 to fix all the annoying little typos I missed the first 25 times I went over this.
Comfort to the Enemy
Dean's hand is still clutched in Sam's jacket. His brother stares, transfixed, and his grip on Dean's own arm loosens.
Otherworldly light fountains up from the pit in the floor, flooding the chapel. They should be blinded, but the light merely scours them with its power, humming deep in their bones.
Sam takes a step forward.
The windows of the Prophet's dwelling implode in a brittle spray. He yelps and drops into a crouch, one arm thrown up protectively before him.
Light thunders down from the heavens, gushing into the squalid rooms. It rushes pitilessly through the clutter, extinguishing insignificant vermin -- mouse, roach, fly -- in its path.
Castiel has time only to lift his chin, steadfast, before he is seized and snatched out through the nearest empty window frame.
Dean digs his fingers tighter in Sam's jacket and pulls. For a horrifyingly long moment, Sam resists; and then Dean tugs again and Sam blinks, and gasps, and turns anguished eyes to his big brother.
"Sam, outta here! Now."
There's no resistance now as he drags Sam across the chapel. The light is so intense it's drowning him, filling his chest to bursting. Dean squeezes jacket until his fingers go numb, and he crashes through the ruined chapel doors.
It's barely dimmer in the corridor. The light finds every crack in stone and wood and blazes through, shooting a multi-pointed beacon to the sky.
It's blasting up, and out, and whether it's bringing Lucifer or Lucifer's bringing it, Dean isn't sure. He just knows he needs to get them out of this infernal light.
The light's rising from below, so Dean instinctively heads in its opposite direction—down. He lurches along the corridor, hauling a stumbling Sam after him. They come to a door set in the stone wall, and he kicks in the decaying boards. It's only a shallow closet.
The next door they come to is tucked into the angled stonework of a staircase leading to a collapsed choir loft. Dean yanks it open, leaving an arc of soft rotten wood dust on the flagstone. A sagging wooden staircase descends to a cellar below.
"In." He spins Sam through the doorway. "Get in, get in!"
"In, Sam. Go down."
Thankfully, Sam does. Dean waits only until Sam's rattled down the rickety steps, and then he follows, forcing the door shut behind him. Too much light is still pouring around the doorframe and under the ragged sill, but it's the best he can do.
Sam's standing helplessly at the foot of the stairs, head ducked beneath the low ceiling. Dean grabs his shoulder. "Get as far down as we can," he tells him. "As far out of the light as possible."
The corner beneath the staircase is darkest. Dean crowds Sam under the crossbraces, into the cobwebbed angle where stone foundations meet, and pushes him down. Sam sits, boots scraping on gritty brick when he draws his knees up.
"I'm sorry," he whispers.
"Quiet." Dean keeps a hand pressed on Sam's shoulder as he throws a glance around the cellar. The gaps around the door allow a strange half-light to fill the room, revealing drifts of moldy paper, some broken sticks of furniture, and graffiti-splashed walls. There are no other doors or windows, and no light seeps up from between the bricks that form the floor. Dean takes that as a good sign… until the room brightens even more. His skin prickles and when he sucks in a startled breath, he tastes an electric snap on his tongue.
Dean slides down beside Sam, pressing his brother's head to his knees. "Don't look, Sammy. If this shit is anything like angel light…"
"Close your eyes, dammit! Don't look. Don't look at it."
Jammed shoulder-to-shoulder with his brother, Dean clamps the crook of his right elbow over his eyes. He's just twisted the fingers of his left hand through Sam's beltloop when the heavy beat of wings fills the air.
In a blink, Castiel is high above the Earth, plucked up so fast he is still attached to his vessel. He twists in the cataclysmic rush of wind, human and angel selves locked together, gripped at shoulderblades and wings' base by an implacable archangel hand.
A beat later they are far north of the dwelling of the Prophet, and, Castiel reflects grimly, far from Maryland as well. To buy Dean more time, he struggles in the archangel's grasp, throwing himself side to side with enough force that the powerful wings miss a beat. He reaches up and claws at the massive wrist, ignoring the resulting wrench in the roots of his wings.
The archangel banks, giving his captive a sharp shake. The shockwave whipcracks down Castiel's body, tearing loose his hands and snapping his head forward and back. A red-hot brand rips through his upper back.
He twists again anyway, reaching up to once more wring at the wrist while thrashing his lower body violently.
The archangel's hold falters. Feathers rake through gigantic fingers; Castiel feels shafts crush and bones snap as he slips free. Before he slips too far, an impact explodes against the side of his head.
He has been swatted like a bothersome insect.
He is falling. Not Falling, just… plummeting. Towards the ground. He is half in and half out of his vessel, mind ringing in a skull that may not still be attached.
There is an almighty jerk and something in the base of his wings tears. The agony blanks his senses.
When his vision clears, they are climbing, the vessel and Castiel hanging limp from that hand cinched tight around one crushed wing. When he struggles, it is but a feeble token protest.
They reach an altitude where the air thins out. Castiel can breathe only in strained gasps, arms dangling limply from ruined shoulders. The archangel gathers him to his chest in a parody of an embrace, a rushing eddy of feathertips brushing Castiel's face. The grip on his shattered wing tightens, and at the base of his throat, a weighty thumb digs in.
Ah. Here is the price of my disobedience. His Grace torn free, his life snuffed out. Castiel's head falls back beneath the relentless pressure of that thumb, and he prays that Dean was successful. The ache in the pit of his stomach is, he thinks, sorrow.
Below, light suddenly explodes skyward. Pure beams cast a terrible new dawn over the curve of the earth, visible even from their great height.
The archangel goes still, ageless eyes taking in the spreading glow on the horizon. Muscles bunch. Immense wings push off, launching him toward his new target.
Castiel is discarded, forgotten.
Air pressure pops Dean's ears, followed by the deep vibration in his ribcage that usually means bass music turned awesomely loud. Sam makes a pained noise and Dean, arm still clamped over his eyes, digs his feet against the floor and shoves them both deeper into the corner.
The wingbeats are frantic now, and the hair on the brothers' bodies rises and flattens in the pulses of unhearable voices. Light pours through eyelids and clothing and flesh until Dean thinks he can see his very bones an inch from his closed eyes, bizarre x-ray vision he'd rather not have.
And then suddenly, the light is gone. It coalesces into a point high above the convent, and then flashes away. Wingbeats recede after it, taking the prickling sensation of subsonic speech with them. Thick silence closes over the chapel.
At first, they don't dare move. Dean can taste dust and a tinge of brimstone, and he coughs. The sound is barely audible through his stunned ears.
"Sammy? You okay?"
Beside him, Sam stirs, head tilting forward in slow degrees. "Dean? I didn't… I didn't… Oh, god, Dean, did I really…?"
There are after-images sliding all over Dean's vision. He squints through them, loosens his cramped fingers from Sam's beltloop, and hauls himself upright on the staircase's crossbrace. "Shut up for now, Sam, okay? We're sitting in the biggest damn ground zero ever known to man. It's gotta have attracted attention. We need to get the holy fuck away from here." He ducks through the bracing. "You can still hear, right? Your eyes okay?"
"I think so." Sam rises as if his joints are frozen, crawling slowly through the bracing after Dean.
"Then we need to get outta here."
They creep up the stairs, Dean in the lead with his back pressed to the wall. Sam trails in his wake, stumbling on every third stair tread. The harsh scrape of the cellar door opening echoes in the silent corridors.
Nothing stirs in the convent—all beings gathered there have fled across the skies. Dean and Sam duck past the chapel entrance; at its wrecked doors, Sam comes to a jerky stop.
"We… we should…"
"No." Dean clamps his fist around Sam's elbow and tugs firmly. "We shouldn't."
He hauls Sam away from the bodies and the gaping hole in the chapel floor. As fanciful New Age crap as it sounds, he doesn't like the echoes in there. They don't have the time nor equipment to burn the place clean, and Dean doesn't want his brother in that toxic shit for another second.
He bursts through the outer doors and out into crisp night air, Ruby's knife held ready. The property is deserted, and undamaged save for a fresh layer of shredded twigs and leaves cycloned across the ground. A siren wails, rising and falling in the damp air, on and on and on.
"Let's go! We're too damn close to D.C. This place is gonna be swarming with god knows who any second—cops, feds, hell, Homeland Security. Haul ass, Sam!"
"Where?" his brother croaks.
"Bobby's, I guess." The thought stops Dean in his tracks. "Bobby's! The Impala's still at Bobby's!"
"How did… how did you get here then? How did you know to come here?" Sam asks, shame bleeding his voice thin.
"Long story. Where's your ride? How'd you get to Maryland?"
Sam points down the overgrown drive. "Ruby's car," he whispers.
Castiel plummets Earthward, tumbling end over end. His vessel's limbs flop in an uncoordinated tangle around the knot of pain that is his body. Falling too fast to draw breath, his vision hazes out until all he sees is the eerie blaze on the horizon.
A blaze that means he was too late in his decision to help Dean. Regret weaves through the sorrow in his belly, a deep ache he knows is nothing to what Dean is feeling at his brother's actions.
If Dean still lives.
If he does, he is a fugitive. A wanted man who will continue to fight for Sam, no matter that Heaven's and Hell's forces will be arrayed against them.
His own work is nowhere near finished.
Castiel summons the strength to unfurl his one still-functional wing. For a long moment he cannot overcome the tremendous velocity; and then slowly, the joints unfold and tendons stretch. The wing spreads wide, and the 'whump' of air caught within resonates across the dark sky. Castiel flips upright, headlong descent checked.
A rain of feathers is shaken loose by the abrupt slowdown. Each luminous for a beat before dulling, they drift downward, plumes charcoaled by the years besieging Hell nearly invisible in the darkness.
Castiel watches with indifference as they drop away. One-winged, he sinks awkwardly after them, trying, and failing, to settle fully back into the vessel. It is damaged, and so is he. If he can reach the ground without further trauma, perhaps he can put the body right again.
The wing is a worry, though.
The next moment an updraft surges through his tattered feathers, upsetting his fragile balance. He is wrenched into a sharp downturn, the right side of his body dragging heavily like a pivot point. Gravity spins him down, and around, into an ever-descending spiral.
Trying to ascend or even level off with only one working wing will only send him tumbling again. Grimly, he struggles for control as the ground rushes toward him in dizzying loops.
And then Castiel is slamming into the treetops, thick firs and spruces that barely cushion the impact. He rips down through the trees, tearing off boughs with sharp cracks that echo like gunshots through the remote forest. Needles slash past and he feels the rough scrape of bark on skin. In an avalanche of branches, needles, and feathers, Castiel breaks through the lowest limbs and comes to ground with an earth-shaking crash.
Not even decades of fallen needles can soften the landing. As the echoes die away, blackness folds over the angel.
After all the horrors of the night, this one should be far, far down on Dean's list.
But it's not.
This isn't just some ride Ruby boosted for spiriting Sam off to their Prom Date with Destiny; this is indeed Ruby's personal car. Probably stole it in the first place, but it's been in her possession long enough to leave a mark. Evil lingers like a stain in the upholstery and paint.
And he has to drive this piece of shit if he wants to get their asses out of St. Mary's Convent, Ilchester.
He wrenches open the Mustang's door and leans in. Seems Ruby has – had – no fear of it being stolen from her. The key, clipped to a plastic ketchup bottle keyring, dangles from the ignition. He drops into the driver's seat, bashing his head on the unfamiliar doorframe and his knees on the steering column in the process, and jams the seat back.
He's never missed the Impala as much as when Sam slides in the passenger seat, folding himself easily into the cramped Mustang with chilling familiarity. He plunks his elbow onto the armrest and turns expectant puppy eyes to Dean, as he must have done dozens – maybe hundreds – of times with Ruby.
Deans stomach curls over. He chokes back the cry that rises automatically, Sam, why?, and slaps the car into gear.
They drive. Sam, his voice a low mutter, points out the route away from the convent using back roads he and Ruby slipped in on, just as blue and red lights begin to strobe behind them. They skirt the town and head north.
Dean digs his cell out of his pocket and tosses it to Sam. "Call Bobby. Let him know we're okay. I kinda disappeared on him."
He sneaks sideways glances at Sam staring at the phone in his hand. Finally his brother swallows, straightens his shoulders, and flips it open. "Bobby? It's Sam. Yeah, yeah, we're okay. Yeah, Dean's right here, with me. Driving. Yeah, I think so." He flicks an anxious glance at Dean and then goes back to studying his knees. A muscle in his jaw clenches. "Yeah, he's out. I did it. It was me, Bobby. Killing Lilith…" He winces, and Dean can hear Bobby's bellow through the airwaves. "I know. I know it, Bobby. I know what I did." He listens, and his voice is choked when he speaks again. "I will, I swear it." He holds the phone out to Dean. "You want to talk to him?"
Dean raises his voice without taking the phone. "Later, Bobby. We're on our way—tell you everything when we get there. What'd he say?" he adds when Sam closes the phone.
"That I shoulda been smarter than this. And that I need to make it right."
Sam doesn't answer. He turns aside and rests his head on the window, his eyes focused on the darkness beyond it.
When he opens his eyes, not even the light on the horizon remains. Castiel casts out – dean – and finally finds him, still alive, presence faint beneath the fierce battle raging in the sky above him.
Castiel withdraws and huddles into himself. Although it is unlikely his brothers and sisters have the inclination at the moment to seek him out, he goes deeply quiet. He allows healing to trickle slowly, too slowly, through cells sundered by the crash—split head, cracked spine, internal organs burst and leaking. After a disconcertingly long interval, the very worst of the vessel's damage is mended.
However, cut off from the ebb and surge of his brethren's connection, the angelic injuries resist repair. He closes his eyes for another long moment, drawing deep on Grace that flickers ominously under the strain. He must recover enough to re-join Dean.
Pushing shakily to his feet, Castiel raises his eyes skyward, and leaps.
They drive north, making record time out of Maryland and into Pennsylvania. Dean stops at a tiny gas station in the foothills of the Appalachians to replace the fumes in the Mustang's tank with gas and to buy a map; the only things he found in the glove compartment were some ketchup packets, a couple of scratched Now That's What I Call Music CDs, and a registration card issued to a Kristy M. Rubin.
"What's with the ketchup?" he asks Sam, standing beneath the buzzing yellow lights of the pump canopy. He flattens the map across the Mustang's hood while the tank fills.
"She likes – liked – fries," Sam says hoarsely, and flinches when Dean spits out a curse.
"You mourning her, Sam?" he snarls.
Sam wordlessly shakes his head. He peels away from the fender propping him up and sags back into the car.
Dean returns from paying with a fistful of Slim Jims and a bag of chips—meat and potatoes, convenience store style. He offers one meatstick to Sam, and after a brief hesitation, Sam takes it. Dean pretends not to notice that he doesn't actually eat it, just runs it through his fingers, end over end, on one blue-jeaned knee.
They pull back out onto the road. Ruby rode her car as hard as her hosts—the steering pulls to the left, the gears won't engage without a fight, and there's a bitter burning smell when the Mustang gets up over forty. But there is a slick new stereo system fitted into the rattling dashboard. Gotta love a girl – demon, whatever – with priorities, Dean sneers to himself.
Sam taps the window, drawing attention to a roadsign. "Turnpike's ahead, north of Gettysburg."
"Nuh-uh." Dean shakes his head. "Gonna keep to the smaller roads; we'll pick up Route 30 to head west." He cranes to peer at the roadsign as they pass, and shivers. "Gonna give Gettysburg a miss first. Night like tonight, who knows what got woken up out there."
"Yeah." Sam sinks back in his seat, burrowing his chin into his jacket collar. "Remember that re-enactment regiment, the one that got that soldier's spirit stirred up with all their charging around in the woods?"
"That's why I'm giving Gettysburg a miss." Dean hunches forward over the wheel and tries to coax a little more speed from Ruby's piece-of-shit Mustang.
Castiel descends at a steep angle, just barely missing the tree at the foot of his trajectory. He needs… just a moment's respite. His landing drops him to his knees beside a thick knobbly root. He kneels there, stunned and swaying. His back is a ravaged mess and he makes another attempt to heal his twisted wing. The effort exhausts him almost immediately; he tips forward, coming to rest rather abruptly face-first against the trunk.
The tree is an oak, ancient and vast, the branches above just beginning to leaf out. It is not a Grace-born oak, but he draws some measure of strength from it nevertheless. When he is able to raise his head, Castiel casts outward, finding Dean at once. They have drawn nearer, but a great stretch of land still lies between them.
It is only a matter of time until demons pick up the brothers' trail. Sam burned those foul hex bags when he wanted to draw Lilith in, thinking they shielded him and Dean from her sight. Of course they had done no such thing, but low-level demons are another matter. Once they notice the cloaking is gone – and they will – the demons will be tracking the Winchesters again.
Castiel pushes to his feet, walking one hand up the oak's trunk for support. His wingtips drag in the leaf litter and dirt; he tucks up the left one, but the other is too crippled to fold.
In addition to demons, there will be two separate angel factions after Dean—gunning for him, Dean himself would say, and Castiel is oddly pleased to use a term Dean would.
Zachariah's faction wants him as their weapon to bring down Lucifer, and if Dean ends up dead in the process, so much the better to tie up loose ends.
The other just wants him dead, before he kills their Fallen brother.
Castiel wobbles out from beneath the oak's broad canopy. Face tilted to the sky, he casts out – dean – and when he has found his target, leaps.