Notes: Once again, this assumes the hospital conversation of On the Head of a Pin included nothing to do with Uriel (…because I forgot about it).
It's a long drive. Dean's got no music, no book, no one to talk to, and nothing to focus on. He spends most of his time staring out the window at the passing fields, towns, fields, barns, and more fields. The road is at least smooth and flat, but with Cas not up to par and without any weapons he can't allow himself to fall asleep. Not that he could do much if a demon popped up to attack them now other than try to spear it with a coke bottle. Castiel doesn't open his eyes once.
Warren has an actual bus station, admittedly just a small one-room building with two benches and also, most importantly, a payphone. Dean drops his last quarters into the slot and waits for the tone, then punches in Sam's number. Castiel sits on the bench with his back bent in a steep curve, arms resting on his knees.
The connection clicks in and then, glory halleluiah, starts ringing.
Sam picks up on the third ring, sounding like he's got his panties in a serious twist. "Yeah?"
"Dean! Where the hell are you?"
"In Warren. Did you get my message?"
"Yeah, man, I drove all the way down to Dry Creek! Didn't see you anywhere!"
Dean suddenly regrets the ducking through fields.
"Yeah, well. Where are you now?"
"On my way back to Little Rock, a few miles out from Warren. Figured maybe you'd gotten a bus that far, or something."
"Well, we didn't. Get your ass back down here and pick us up."
"Cas is with me." Dean glances at the angel, who doesn't react to his name.
There's a pause on the other end, and Dean knows what's coming next. He anticipates it as the phone beeps a warning. "Look, I'll tell you when you get here. Meet us in the bus sta –" there's a second beep, and the call drops. Dean slams the receiver down and curses. But it'll be enough. Sam'll be here soon.
Dean walks over to Castiel, damn crocs flapping like clown shoes on the stained linoleum floor, stops by the angel's side. "Sam's on his way down. I'm going to take a leak."
He doesn't bother to wait for the angel's silence, just heads off towards the door marked Gents.
The bathroom's the standard bus station edition; cracked tiles, graffiti, and overlying it all the stink of urine and cigarette smoke. Dean's just zipping up when the door swings open on complaining hinges and Castiel hurries in with an intense expression. He looks much less imposing bursting into rooms without his coat.
"We need to leave," is all he says, walking straight past Dean and over to the far wall. There's a small window set into it about five feet up, thick frosted glass covering an exit about two feet long and a foot tall. Castiel reaches up and grabs the lock, which completely fails to open under his hand. Dean looks around for something to break the glass with, and misses whatever it is the angel does to blow the window right out of its frame. He glances back at Dean over his shoulder. "Give me a boost."
With no idea what the hell's behind them, Dean bends down and lets Castiel put one worn leather shoe on his linked hands, shoves the angel up and straight through the window smooth as a letter through a slot. He hears him land outside with a hard thump. Out in the station heavy footsteps approach. Dean steps back, gets a running start and half jumps, half dives through the window. He lands in a smooth roll on the other side, which ends up being less smooth when he has to throw himself harshly to the side to avoid smacking into the building on the other side of the alley. Castiel's kneeling a few feet away from the window, trying to lever himself to his feet. Dean hurries over to him.
"What's going on? Demon?" He pulls Castiel to his feet by grabbing an arm and slinging it over his shoulders. The angel immediately begins to struggle towards the exit of the alley, Dean taking the hint and helping him along.
"What is it?" Dean plunges his free arm into his pocket to grab the salt.
"Esriel's comrades," growls the angel, in a voice that sounds like it's been sandpapered.
"Well, this'll do fuck-all for that." Dean drops the box. They round the corner and peel out onto the sidewalk of a busy street – a man in a wrinkled business suit staggering drunkenly, supported by a younger man in a trench coat with no pants and plastic crocs jammed hastily over his feet – hurrying desperately past a fancy women's hairdressers. It would be funny, if it weren't likely to be deadly.
"Dude, seriously, since when do you people carry vendettas? What'd I ever do to them?" Dean shoulders his way through a herd of high-schoolers who stop and stare.
"It's not what you did… it's what you are," replies Castiel, struggling for breath, which Dean knows is probably not a good thing.
"Yeah, well, I can't help that."
"They believe they can."
"I'm so glad you chose now to grow a sense of humour!" Dean hangs a sharp left onto a narrow side street of ugly industrial stores – wholesalers and trade offices – whose lights are all out for the night. The streetlights are spotty and dim at best. "Is there any way to fight them?"
"For you? No. And… I'm not likely to win at the moment."
"Peachy. Is there any way to hide from them? Or send them away, like Anna did before? Something?" He says it as Castiel's legs begin to buckle, and he's forced to drag the angel over to the cement steps of a paint store. Every nerve Dean has is screaming at him, the knowledge that he has no weapon, no protection, no plan battering him from all sides until he can hardly think.
Even hunters never reckon with having to fight angels.
On the steps, Castiel is close to hacking, his breaths coming as raspy gasps, and he's curled awkwardly over the cement. He doesn't bother to try to sit up.
"I can't banish indefinitely… can't hide us completely."
"Hey, I'll take incomplete over smiting any day." He'll take anything over sitting here doing nothing out in the open. "If we can hang on 'til Sam gets here with the car and the arsenal…"
"I need a knife."
Dean looks around as if expecting to find one just lying on the pavement. And then his eyes catch the sign above the store across the street. Carmichael's Woodworking.
He's in and out in under five minutes, returning with a free chisel lying heavy in his pocket and broken glass in the soles of his shoes. Castiel isn't looking much better, but he's nearly sitting up now, back twisted like a cat to watch Dean hurry across the street. His eyes shine in the dusk.
"Here," says Dean, and hands him the chisel. "That's the best I could do."
"Take off the coat." Cast takes the chisel in his right hand without once looking at it.
"I'm not going to like this, am I?" Dean shrugs off the coat anyway, then makes to sit down next to the angel. He freezes as headlights sweep over him and a rattling GMC Jimmy coughs past. "This is kind of open," he mutters, dropping onto the cool steps.
"There's no time." Castiel reaches out an rests a light hand on Dean's shoulder – the unmarked one. Draws it closer, and raises the chisel. Dean stiffens. "It won't hurt."
Shockingly, it doesn't. Dean looks away as soon as the angel puts the cold metal against the skin of his upper arm, but there's no pain. Just a light pressure, so light he thinks the angel is tracing out his pattern beforehand. Until he looks down, and sees the bright blood flowing down his arm.
Castiel is carving something – Dean can't tell what with the blood – in clean, straight strokes, one line at a time. The fact that he's doing so with a chisel doesn't seem to be giving him any trouble, and Dean suspects that anything with an edge would have done as well. There is no consideration, no thought; the angel cuts the sigil into Dean's flesh in flowing lines as though he's done it a thousand times. As though he's signing his name on Dean's skin, leaving his mark. Again.
Castiel finishes with no more ceremony than he started with, simply lowering the chisel and then pressing two fingers over the slashed skin. The angel's touch is soft and warm as a southern breeze, and has very little of anything human about it. Dean stares at his arm, and then runs a finger through the pool of crimson over the cuts. Underneath, the skin is whole, the wounds closed.
"Huh," he says, and looks up. "So, what, now I'm dampened from angel … radar … Cas?"
The angel's eyes are closed, and as Dean watches he slumps to the side. Dean reaches out to grab him, and shakes him. "Cas! Cas, wake up. This is not a good time for a nap!"
Castiel's eyes crack open, but he says nothing, and he doesn't look at Dean. "I begin to find this constraint… irritating."
"Yeah, well, it's called having the shit kicked out of you. Let's go." He pulls on the coat again, then grabs the angel's arm and pulls him to his feet, helping the angel down the stairs. Castiel is uneven on his feet, leaning even more heavily against Dean now. They stumble into a side street, Dean pulling Castiel's arm awkwardly over his shoulder and helping him along more carefully when his feet begin to fall out from under him.
"Cas, what kind of a search radius are we looking at here? Do we need to get out of town, or are we pretty much doomed anywhere on the continent?"
"They search by sight… and by sense. We are hidden … from sense."
"So we need to stay out of sight."
"They search from above. Somewhere low, dark."
"A basement?" Dean scans the alleyway; there are only a few grungy doors, and no windows at ankle height. No apparent basements.
"That would do."
The streetlights are on now, lighting the twilight in dim incandescence, tinted slightly orange from the cool filaments. Dean turns out into the wider street and hurries along as fast as Castiel can stand, painfully aware of the eyes on them, of the open skies above. He feels like a damn soldier, waiting to be strifed from the sky. At the next corner he catches a hint of glass in the alleyway and peels in, Castiel stumbling on an empty box. Sure enough, there's a set of stairs leading down beneath street level to a wooden door. The window beside it is dark.
With none of the light from the street flowing over the lip of the stairs' well, it's difficult to see, but Dean thinks there's a layer of dust over the doorstep. Of course, that could just be wishful thinking.
Either way, it turns out to be irrelevant; he reaches out to find that the door is locked, and he has nothing even remotely capable of picking it with him.
His immediate inclination is to doubt that this is the worst day he's ever had – getting killed by Hell Hounds probably beats it – but seriously. Seriously.
"If you can't open this door," he says to Castiel in a voice that's so thick with frustration it's practically more emotion than sound, "then so help me I'll …" he trails off, partially because even furious as he is with this whole damn situation he can't think of anything to threaten an angel with, and partially because Castiel raises his hand. There's a quiet click in the darkness, and the door slips open quietly. "Good," snarls Dean, and stumbles inside, pushing the door shut behind them.
It turns out, in fact, to not be so good, when he hits the light switch and nothing happens. The streetlights are on outside, and he remembers seeing lights on in the building, so it's not a power disruption issue. He props the angel up against the wall and stumbles further into the room, one arm raised in front of him. It's completely dark; wherever the window is, there must be something covering it.
The ground underfoot is hard – concrete or linoleum – and he doesn't come across anything until he hits the far wall, which is cold and bare. On the way back something brushes the top of his head, and he's down on his knees with one hand in his pocket, heart in his throat, completely blind. He stands slowly, reaching out, and clasps a hand over a naked bulb hanging from the ceiling on a wire. He feels around, but finds no cord to turn it on. Almost certainly, the power to the apartment's been shut off.
"You know," says Dean, "if there is any way this day could get worse short of your friends finding us, I'd really like to know how."
Castiel says nothing. Huffing, Dean marches back over to him, hits the wall and has to walk along it until he finds the angel and takes him into the room and helps him sit down next to a wall further from the door. It's enough time to cool his head.
"I'm gonna go out and call Sam again, give him our address. I've probably got just enough change. You stay here and try not to do anything to screw up our karma even further."
Castiel says nothing.
"Right," says Dean, and walks out, after stumbling into the wall.
He peeks out to get the street name and address, and then slinks the opposite way through the alley to avoid anyone who saw their entrance and might still be hanging around.
Dean's got a decent sense of direction – nothing to write home about, but he doesn't get lost going out for beers in unfamiliar neighbourhoods – but he forces himself to pay extreme attention to his route, noting landmarks and directions taken because if he forgets he's sure he won't find Castiel again. It's just like the pre-cell phone dinosaur era all over again.
He ends up at a corner store, the neon light from the signs painting the phone booth out front a pale patriotic red and blue. He slips inside, trying to ignore the smell, and rustles the last of his change out of his – Castiel's – Jimmy's – pocket. Irritated with himself, and wishing he didn't know why, he shoves the nickels and dimes into the slot. The phone rings three times before clicking in.
"Dean? I'm at the station, where are you?"
"Cas spooked. Said someone's after us. Some of his friends."
"The angels are after you? What the hell'd you do?"
"I don't know! Look, we're squatting in a cellar, come pick us up."
"Where?" Sam's voice is eager, and he barks the word out.
"We're –" he pauses to remember, not for any other reason. But as he does so it just happens to occur to him, a tiny worm of a suspicion slithering in through the thick pulp of his thoughts, is this Sam? Castiel's faked a call before. Was it coincidence company showed up right after he gave Sam their location. "uh, 17 Nicholson." Nicholson: are you really you?
Shit. Dean slams the receiver down and bolts out into the street, spinning wildly to avoid a passing minivan whose horn tears through the quiet evening, and continuing on without slowing. He sprints the full length of two city blocks through alleyways, taking abandoned boxes and fallen garbage cans like hurdles and nearly tripping in his awkward shoes, before he remembers Castiel's words they search from above. Dean throws himself up against a rough cinder-block wall so fast he's surprised he doesn't give himself road rash, panting hard in the shadows. From then on he creeps back, scuttling across streets at the darkest point, head down to keep from catching something's eye.
He's on the run from angels. How screwed up is that?
Then he remembers he's on the run from angels with an angel, and gives it up as a lost cause. His life's never been even close to normal, but after Dad hared off after Yellow Eyes, it took a steady nose-dive right off the cliff of the even conceivable.
He sneaks along the last alley with his back to the wall, jacket providing a cackling whisper as it scratches lightly against the brick. He stumbles down the dark stairs, and comes up against the door still facing the centre of the alley; opens it and slips inside, just another shadow.
"Cas?" he asks the darkness, hands clenched in uncomfortable fists for lack of a better weapon – as though they would do any good against anything strong enough to have taken out the angel.
"Yes," says the rough voice. Dean lets the door close and takes a few steps towards the centre of the room, feet flapping loosely in the crocs.
"I called Sam," he says, with his driest sarcasm. "Guess who it was?" There's no answer from Castiel, just a quiet scratching shift, worn silk against brick. "Damn well not him," continues Dean, anger revealed like an overripe fig splitting open to let the bright festering insides spill out. He squats down, facing the angel's general direction, anything more than that a mystery in the dark. "Now would be a good time to tell me what the fuck's going on. Who's after us – after me?"
There's a long pause. Dean, recognizing this as a conversation that's going to take some time, sits down on the cold cement floors, running his fingers over the dusty cracks and raised specks as he does so. The air smells faintly of turpentine and damp earth, an odd mix. It's not that far from the smell of corpse-burning, and that keeps his mind on the subject at hand rather than the battery of peripheral thoughts fighting for his attention (Where's Sam? Do they know where we are? Can you fight angels? Did he get the message I left?) He sits, uncomfortable, uneasy, and waits.
Finally, Castiel breaks the silence, in a slow voice like tires crunching over dry gravel. "There are … disagreements in our ranks, Dean. You know that an angel who chooses to Disobey may also choose to Fall."
"Like Anna," Dean nods once, sharp and heavy as the beat of a long pendulum.
"Yes. However, it has become apparent to me that not all those who disagree with our orders take that course."
There's a terse few seconds while Dean takes in the implications of that, the meaning behind the dry words, and then spits them back again rough-edged. "You mean there are rogue angels? Angels running around out there with the power to smite entire cities, out of control?"
"You did not object to Anna's 'going rogue,'" points out Castiel. Dean's angry enough to ignore the jab for favour of doing more damage.
"Anna had almost 3 decades of being human to help her keep her priorities straight. These guys just have … how many millennia of thinking of us like insects?" That sparks a thought, and he doesn't have to wait for the angel not to answer the rhetorical question. "Wait – did they get Uriel?" Not wanting to tempt fate, he hasn't brought up the short-tempered angel's disappearance with Castiel, but he hasn't failed to notice it, either.
"Dean, this is not a topic I could discuss even with my brethren..."
"Yeah, but no one's trying to skewer them."
There's a stretched, musty silence, and the pieces start to fall into place. It raises the hair on the back of Dean's neck. "…Or are they? That whole thing with Alastair – you never found out what was killing angels, or how. But now you know." Dean lays the words down careful and exact as a bricklayer constructing a wall.
"Yes," says Castiel, sandpaper-rough.
"And it's you. Angels are killing angels. The front lines are fighting demons, while the back lines stab them in the back." Even his incredulity is dulled by the sheer size of the discovery.
"It's not a war; our casualties were notable, but not high. Very few have realised, as I have, that dissent is present in our ranks."
"Uriel did, and they got him?"
"Dean – Anna killed Uriel."
"Anna?" Dean sits up so fast he scrapes his knuckles on the uneven concrete.
"Yes. To stop him from killing me."
There's a long, uneasy silence, in which Dean valiantly doesn't say "I told you so," and at the same time marvels. Uriel had always been a bastard, but he'd still been, well, an angel. And, hard as it was even to think it, for Dean he'd been somewhat protected by his association with Castiel. A friend of the more sympathetic angel couldn't be a complete jerk, right?
Wrong, apparently. Almost dead wrong, for Castiel.
"So. Uriel. Mr. Polite in the suit with the renaissance décor."
"Esriel," supplies Castiel.
"Right. That's two. How many more are we talking about here?"
"I have no way of knowing. Uriel's comrades must know he failed to persuade me; they will not reveal themselves to me."
"Ballpark. A couple? A dozen?"
"Perhaps as few as four or five. But if this treason has spread beyond my garrison… there could be hundreds. Although, I refuse to believe – that's not –" Castiel grinds to a halt, voice glacier-cold, withering, and Dean wonders what emotions are seething beneath the veneer of ice, if any.
"Well, that's reassuring. For all we know, you're the only angel in Heaven still following orders."
Castiel is ominously silent, and the darkness feels heavier now than before, thick and inky and suffocating. Dean suddenly wonders how long the angel's been living – been fighting – with that immense burden on his shoulders. Intensely awkward, he uncrosses his legs and re-crosses them in the other direction with a whisper of fabric from the trench coat.
"Right. We know how. We know who, kind of." More like not really at all, but they won't get anywhere whining about it. "So: why?"
Outside, a motorcycle revs and screams its way by, the high windows shivering slightly behind their cardboard covers. Castiel doesn't move one inch as far as Dean can tell. He tries to imagine the angel sitting there against the wall, brick probably pock-marked and water-stained, back straight despite the hole in it, watching Dean with bright eyes set in a dark face.
"It doesn't matter," says Castiel, long after the motorbike's grumbling echoes have died away and left them in silence again. His dismissal, for all its brusqueness, is somehow unconvincing. Rather than blowing up and alienating the angel, Dean just presses.
"Yeah, it does. They tried to kill you, they tried to kill me. For all we know, they even tried to kill Sam –" he stops to swallow thickly, and force the fear and rage back into the pit of his stomach – "and I want to know: why?"
More silence. Dean's not good at these long, slow confrontations. He's too restless, too physical, and sitting still and quiet rather than just going over there to shake sense out of the angel is making the bones in his hands ache. But he does, forces himself to wait while Castiel painstakingly adjusts his principals, and probably even more so his loyalties.
Dean's only hint that the angel's finished, that he's ready, is a raspy breath. And then he begins.
"You know," Castiel says in a dry lecture-town, "that Lucifer was an angel."
"Yeah, sure, better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven, and all that jazz."
A pause, Dean wondering if he's offended the angel, but when he goes on it's in exactly the same bland tone.
"That's the view which you have all taken, which your churches and authorities and poets all hold: that Lucifer Fell due to his pride; that his desire for power seduced him from Heaven's light. From your point of view, it is an understandable line to take. Lucifer was proud, and powerful – strength and grace unparalleled even amongst our highest ranks. Like you, I believed for countless years that pride was Lucifer's downfall." Castiel pauses for a slow breath, silk rustling against brick again. "I believe now that that is merely what I was taught to believe, and what you chose to believe. Because the truth was not too only painful, it was incredibly dangerous." Castiel stops, dropping seamlessly out of his lecture.
Dean finds he's risen to his knees without noticing, tense as a piano-wire, knuckles resting against the ground. "Cas?"
The angel sighs. "Lucifer Fell because he no longer believed, Dean."
"Believed? Believed what?" Castiel's tone suggests he should know, that it's obvious and evident, but he doesn't and with the air tense as a thick yellow afternoon before a thunderstorm, he doesn't have the patience to work it out. His hairs are all standing on edge, nerve ends tingling.
"That there is a God," says Castiel, dropping the five words easily as smooth stones into a still pond.
Dean gapes. Sits there struggling silently for several seconds trying to make sense of the angel's words, and fails.
"But – you're angels. God's your Father. How – don't you know?"
Anna spoke of her unknowable Father, of the insecurity, the uncertainty, the blind faith. Made it perfectly clear to him, and really all that needed was being John Winchester's son. But still, he didn't, and can't believe it. Not entirely. It's just – he can sympathise, but understand? How could anyone, any human, understand? It's incomprehensible – how can they not believe in the existence of their Father? His skull's beginning to ache just thinking about it.
"Dean, I don't share their disbelief. I don't, but… I can understand it. I hope that I will hold my faith always, that I will not waver. But Lucifer was older than me. Much, much older. I was young when he Fell, and I did not understand. Now, I do. Perhaps one day…" There's a tiny, bony click as the angel snaps his jaws shut. A harsh breath, and then, "In any case. It seems some of my brethren now feel as Lucifer did. And in their darkness, they remember his strength and beauty, and shift their allegiances."
"Does he know?"
"I have no way of knowing. I hope – I pray – not. If there are angels in our ranks taking order from Hell… It is becoming clear that the Apocalypse is something which doesn't concern the Earth alone. As it draws nearer, the conflict is threatening to tear apart Heaven as well, to destroy not only all that we have, but all that we are. And it may be that there are very few others who realise it."
A pause, in which Castiel takes an audible breath. It's deep and gruff, and sounds like the breath of a man who's just struggled to the top of a mountain. He lets it out, long and slow, as heavy seconds tick by and carry away the raw edges of his words.
"I shouldn't have told you this, Dean," he says, when his speech has been blunted, slightly. "This knowledge is dangerous – extremely so."
"Well, it's not like they weren't trying to kill me already or anything," points out Dean with a lightness he doesn't feel. "And besides, I've got no one to tell."
"You have Sam."
"I trust Sam."
"I don't trust his demon friend. As long as they're in contact, Dean, you can't trust him with this. If Hell discovers it has sympathisers in Heaven's ranks –"
"Yes. We will all burn, either in Falling or with knives in our hearts. And if we are destroyed, all those in our fields, all those in our light, will either perish or burn with us. Heaven will fall."
There's nothing to say. Nothing that will make this truth any less terrifying. Dean, joints aching with the need for activity, the stifling drive to do something to take his mind off this sudden crushing weight that's been dropped on him, stands abruptly. Walks to the far wall and back, footsteps shuffling and slightly muffled by the rubber.
"Promise me you won't tell Sam, Dean. This is not a matter of trust: I wouldn't have told you, if it hadn't been necessary, and even now I doubt my choice. It is simply too great a risk. Promise me."
"Alright. Fine." Dean spits the bitter words out distastefully, just another stake driven between him and Sam. It seems the world holds nothing but stakes for the two of them, these days.
"Thank you," says Castiel, and Dean blinks at the calm gratitude in his voice.
"Yeah, whatever. Look, what are we going to do about this? I mean, this is kind of a major problem."
"For now, we must find and stop Esriel's comrade or comrades. Beyond that… we can decide when we get there."
"You know, I wish that just once, you'd have a plan I could be on board with." Dean sighs and walks over to the wall under the window, leans against it and reaches up to pull a corner of cardboard away from the glass. "How long until you're good to zap us back to Sam?" He can't see anything from down here; the nearest streetlight is out, and the road is hardly lighter than the room. He lets go of the cardboard, it swings back weakly towards the window.
"It shouldn't be…" Castiel stops, and then there's a shuffling sound. Out in the street, there's a flicker from the burnt-out light.
Dean doesn't move, and doesn't hear Castiel move either, which is why he nearly punches the angel in the face when he drops a hand onto Dean's shoulder out of nowhere and pulls him back away from the door.
"They can't know we're here, they can't track us," hisses Dean, but the assurance sounds empty even to him.
"They can't track you," replies Castiel, so quiet even Dean's straining ears barely pick up the murmur. "Our conversation distracted me; my guard wasn't complete."
"Can you fight them?"
"One, perhaps. More, no."
Dean is expecting to hear the footsteps come down the stairs, and counts on it more than he should. He doesn't hear them. But there's no way to miss the flash of light which blows the door right off its hinges, because it blinds him.
Castiel shoves him hard from behind, hard enough to throw him halfway across the room with a strength he never would have expected from the angel, and he falls the rest of the way on his own, slamming into the wall and falling to the floor. He can't see anything except the fireworks exploding against the backdrop of his retinas, but he hears the two angels meet with a sound like a kick connecting with a punching bag. There are no words exchanged, no greetings, no warnings. Just a scrambled fight in the darkness, illustrated for Dean solely by the swish of fabric and the sound of blows connecting. If either angel is at all hampered by the darkness, there's no sign of it that he can pick up.
It doesn't take Dean long to scramble to his feet, but even so all he can do is stand against the wall, fists raised and muscles hard as wood, waiting for an attack he can't predict. He has no way to tell who's winning, and no way to tell whether he should be getting the hell out of here or not, although he suspects the answer to that is pretty damn obvious. He stays anyway, not sure whether it's to help Castiel or to hope for his protection. Not sure, when it comes down to it, what kind of weight Castiel pulls in his ranks.
Something sparks, silhouetting Castiel with a woman in front of him with her back to Dean, in a brief burst of white light. Darkness, and then another spark like a tiny flash of lightning, this time the two angels in profile, and he can see that it's something they're holding which is sparking with a sound like a fuse blowing each time they connect. It doesn't take much imagination to know what they're fighting with. Weapons that can kill an angel, in the hands of another angel.
Another flash, this time Castiel pushed up against the windowed wall. Another, and another, and another, a near-continuous flashing hum like the light of a mosquito-trap. She's going for his throat, Dean sees, while he blocks with his own weapon. Sees the movements in a jerky sort of stop-motion photography through the white light's strobe. Sees that Castiel's face is drawn and bloody, and his shoulders are stooped. Sees that her movements are strong and sharp and show no signs of fatigue. Sees that Castiel will loose.
Dean has no weapons, nothing but a box of salt, a few pennies and a ball of receipts belonging to a man who might not even exist anymore. As if that matters: even if he had a shotgun and an iron knife it wouldn't do any good. If he could wish for anything in the world right now and have it granted, it still wouldn't do any good.
He goes anyway.
There's no plan, no idea. He just can't let the angel be killed in front of him without doing anything. He lunches across the room at full speed and tackles right into both of them, knocking the woman down and away from Castiel. The light goes out. Something slams into his shoulder, something like a mallet, and crushes him down on his back into the hard cement with what feels like the weight of a semi behind it. It's like landing on a bed of hot coals, scorching pain licking across his whole back, blackening and burning the bones, and a red fog closes over his eyes for an incalculable while.
When it parts again he can hear heavy panting, and cloth shifting, and something dragging on the ground. He pulls himself up onto his elbows despite the pain, and shuffles back until he hits the wall. Lies resting against it for several aching breaths before beginning to try to haul himself to his feet.
They're fighting again, and now he can here muttered whispers, the dry hissing sound he recognises from Castiel's using magic, or whatever that counts as in the hands of angels. They're cut off by a heavy blow every time, and he can't tell who it is who's trying to use magic or who's stopping it. Then a long burst of light, Castiel parrying a blow at his chest, looking exhausted, face covered in blood. The woman looks pressed and battered, but determined. The light goes out.
"Run," breaks out Castiel's voice from the far corner, hard pressed. Dean can hear him panting. There's a snort from the other angel, but she says nothing. A flash of light, Castiel's eyes staring sharply at Dean over her shoulder. He is doing nothing but defending, retreating, losing ground and falling into corners.
"Let me help," says Dean, thick as though speaking through a mouthful of marbles, meaning tell me what to do.
"You can't help him," replies the other angel, harsh and unimpressed. "Run if you want; I'll finish you next."
"Run; she can't find you." Cloth tearing, a heavy weight striking something. Light crackling, Castiel half-squatting against a wall, blocking a blow above his head. It goes out and there's a shuffling thud, Castiel falling. "Run!"
"Like hell." Dean dives across again, hits the woman full in the back and slams her into the wall with all his weight, elbow catching the back of her neck and ramming her forehead into the bricks and pins her there for several seconds. And then she recovers and breaks loose. Her backhand strikes him in the stomach, and throws him right across the room. Dean's expecting the blow enough to roll with it, and hits the wall with his right side shoulder-first. He tumbles down to the ground feeling as though someone's filled his shoulder joint with white-hot iron, landing in an uneven slump.
Light sizzles through the room, different this time, warm and pale gold. It lights up Castiel, hand against a bloody rune on the wall behind him, the other angel frozen pushing away from the wall with her long silver weapon hanging from one hand. Castiel rises unsteadily to his feet, using the hand still pressed against the rune for leverage. In his other, he holds his own weapon, the one he took less than 24 hours ago. The other angel doesn't move, stands still as a pale pillar in the buttery light. She's dressed in light, loose slacks, white heels and a knee-length knit jacket that accentuate a slim figure. Her bobbed strawberry-blonde hair is all in disarray around a delicate face, and if it weren't for Castiel standing beaten and bloodied next to her Dean wouldn't have believed she could stand up to a single punch. But then Jo had been much the same, and she'd fought like a tiger.
"You and Esriel always were close," says Castiel, words choked out gruffly along with a trail of blood. "How many others are there?" His hand slips slightly on the rune, and she shifts with an electric crackle.
"You can't believe I would tell you." There is no fear in her voice, but no mocking either. Just a tired acceptance, and beneath that firm resolve.
"We've served together for millennia."
"Not any longer. I won't betray my comrades."
"You've already betrayed them. Betrayed your Father, betrayed your brethren, betrayed Heaven. Sister, will you not repent?" Castiel is straightening, finding a new bastion of strength, and with it his voice is clearing. Losing its pained gruffness to gain a new, sharper pain.
"I'm not your sister, Castiel. Not anymore. There is no Father; the only ties which bind us are our loyalties."
Dean, who has in this time been pulling himself unsteadily to his feet, finally finds them and leans against the wall for support.
"You won't repent?" asks Castiel, again, hand pressing more firmly against the bloody sigil.
She closes bright cat-green eyes. "I have chosen. I will follow my brothers."
There's a long pause, in which neither of them move. Dean finally shifts, unable to stand still anymore, and breaks the moment.
"Dean. Close your eyes." Castiel doesn't look at him, doesn't look away from the angel in front of him, caught in her awkward pose. His face displays nothing but a kind of hard, patient resolve. Dean does as he's told.
In the blackness, there's a wet sound, and then a thump. And then, with a whiteness that burns into his eyelids, a crack of thunder.
When he opens his eyes again, there's just darkness. No sound, no light.
"Cas?" he asks, after a moment, uncertain.
A light hand drops onto his shoulder, and the fire beneath his skin flares up. He curses and jerks away.
"Sorry," says the angel, quietly. "We need to leave." Dean can't pick any emotion out of his hard tone, but there's more strength there than there has been all day.
"No kidding," says Dean. And then, "Where … to?"
Halfway through his question, the world blinks out and then back in again, and they're standing on grass in the hazy glow of streetlights. Dean looks around, and in the yellow-orange light can see that they're standing on the gentle slope of a hill overlooking a small pond. A park, somewhere.
"You got your mojo back."
"So it seems." Castiel, standing beside him, is looking resolutely out at the pond.
"You're all fixed up?"
"Close enough," says the angel flatly, and Dean has no idea what that means. Whether he is, and just doesn't want to say so, or whether he's really not but equally doesn't want to bring it up.
"You've really got to learn how to have a conversation."
"I believe we're having one," returns the angel, still staring at the still water. And then, after a moment in which Dean stares, "I can bring you back to Sam now. He's alright, it seems. He's in Little Rock."
Dean sighs, a weight he hadn't noticed cut loose from his shoulders and falling away. "That's good."
"You will keep your promise?"
"Are we not going to talk about the fact that another angel just tried to kill us? What if there are more out there?"
"It is possible, although Esriel and Mariel were always a close pair, and they kept to themselves; it is likely that if they chose to take action they did so alone. Whether that is true or not, tonight we have sent a message. Two of their force are dead. They won't try again so lightly, and they can't make a larger attempt without attracting attention. I can't promise anything, but I believe you will be safe, for the time being. I will try to keep an eye on you."
"Peachy," grits out Dean thickly. "And you?"
"I can look after myself," says Castiel, with the first sign of temper Dean's seen in him in a while. Dean shrugs with his good shoulder; the angel knows as well as he does what happened today, he can draw his own conclusions. Probably, he already has. Dean wonders just how far he's adjusted his loyalties to include Dean. To include a more human perspective.
"So that's it. We're not going to do anything? Just wait and hope they don't either?"
"There's nothing you can do, Dean. I will keep an eye on our ranks, and I investigate where I can. That's all we can do, apart from making sure no news of this reaches the demons. Absolutely none," he repeats, stark and strong.
Dean makes to cross his arms, stops at the red-hot tendrils of pain that wrap themselves around his bones and hisses instead. "Right, right."
"I promised, didn't I?" snaps Dean. Castiel turns to face him, finally, eyes glinting in the streetlights. His expression is hard, and just slightly weary.
"Yes. You did. Don't forget." His shoulders slump, just slightly, and Dean can see that he isn't fully right yet, is still stiff and awkward and pained. Dean wonders how much of that comes from his wounds, and how much from his actions. The angel cocks his head to the side a fraction, face lightening, or maybe that's just an effect of the streetlamps. "And: thank you."
Dean's opening his mouth to ask for what, but they're not in the park anymore. Are now standing on a thin carpet in a hotel room. Or rather, he is. Alone, in his T and boxers. Except for Sam, sitting up hurriedly from his slump over his computer. Dean flinches at the sudden brush of cold air on his bare skin; the trenchcoat is gone. And finds that there's no pain, no fire, no aching. He's been returned exactly as he left, not much more than 24 hours ago now.
The damn angel has dumped him back like a piece of luggage, without giving him any time to prepare, any warning at all, and on top of it hasn't even stuck around to give him a hand. Thank you his ass.
Because now he has to face up to telling Sam that he can't tell him where he's been, or what he's been doing, and watch yet another wedge split them further apart.