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 you know belong to Eric Kripke and the CW, the others are my invention. 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 a continuation of Comfort to the Enemy. Apparently my kink for angel!whump was nowhere near satisfied. Also, it's still gen. I've never written so fast before, but this whole thing is about to be kripke'd out of the water once Season 5 starts, so I figured I better get cracking.
The chapter titles are taken from In the Dark of the Sun, written by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne.
Onward once again.
The Devil You Know
Gina King, Detective Second Class, gathered up the curly red mass of her hair and secured it at the nape of her neck with an elastic band. With a papery rustle, she tugged the hood of a biohazard suit snugly over the bright strands corkscrewing around her face, and then clipped her ID to the tab on the breast pocket. Leaving the camera she had been using only moments before on the hood of the nearest police cruiser, she hurried up the convent steps and inside St. Mary's.
The dusty stone corridors were crowded now; someone from the State Police had called in the feds. A young agent with more bluster than experience was barking orders just outside the double doors leading to the chapel. Gina strode confidently past him with the air of someone with every right to be there.
Once in the chapel she stepped to one side and surveyed the scene. Investigators from half a dozen agencies were crawling over the place like swarming insects in the blaze of spotlights and camera flashes, but she looked past them all, seeking proof of the rumors.
It was true. Flanked by a pair of female bodies, one blonde, one dark, was a perfectly circular hole carved in the stone floor. Gina closed her eyes and drew in a long, deep breath. Beneath the cloying stink of blood she smelled something else, something… unearthly. She shuddered.
One of the EMTs roped into assisting the M.E. bumped past her, bringing Gina back to the present. She studied the dead women on the floor. There—the dark one. She stepped lightly around the tendrils of blood sketched upon the stone and crouched by the girl's body. Her eyes were open and already cloudy and sunken, though when Gina touched the clothing over her fatal wound, the blood was still wet.
"What are you doing?"
The voice came from behind her, and Gina twisted to look up into the face of the blowhard fed. "Taking a blood sample," she replied innocently.
His eyes flicked from her face to the ID dangling from her bio-suit and back again. She was sure he was about to order her out of the chapel, but then someone called out, and he gave Gina a brusque nod and hurried off.
A little smile played over Gina's full pink lips. She drew off her glove and pressed one slim, caramel-colored hand into the sticky knife wound in Ruby's belly.
Sam's getting restless.
Dean started noticing it around the time they crossed the Mississippi—the jiggling knee, the drumming fingers, the sideways twist of Sam's head like he's trying to crack his neck, over and over until it's become a tic. He can't blame it on too much caffeine on an empty stomach, either; Sam's let every cup of coffee he's been handed go cold before pouring it out untouched.
His brother startles, all out of proportion to the quiet word. Dean sees his eyes flutter rapidly – blink-blink – before focusing on him. "Yeah?"
"You gotta take a leak or something?"
He doesn't ask 'why?', so Dean has to push it. "You're awful twitchy for someone who doesn't have to pee," he says, turning his attention from the road long enough to stare pointedly at the fingers of Sam's right hand, tapping a silent rhythm on the Nova's door panel.
Sam's hand curls closed and stills. "I'm a little nervous, Dean," he says flatly, and turns away to stare out the side window.
Dean doesn't really want to do this, not here, not now. He flicks a glance at the rearview mirror. Castiel is watching him, expressionless. And then the angel cuts his gaze to the side, to Sam sitting stiffly in the passenger seat of the borrowed Nova. Dean follows his gaze just as Sam jerks his head sideways again and ever-so-slightly begins to tap his fist on the edge of the door.
"Nervous," Dean says, letting skepticism color his voice.
"You don't think I have anything to be nervous about?" Sam asks, still in that flat tone, still not looking at Dean.
And something inside Dean cracks a little more, shedding splinters of sheer hurt that stab deep in his gut. "After the other night you're still doing this, still hiding shit from me?" he asks, low.
"What am I hiding from you? I just told you I'm nervous. You want a more honest word? I'm scared. Okay? You happy with that?"
"No, it's not okay." God, he doesn't want to do this. "You're not 'nervous', Sam, you're withdrawing. From the demon blood."
Sam shakes his head, still staring at the countryside rolling past. "I am not. I burned out every last drop killing Lilith. Every. Last. Drop, Dean. I would've started feeling it before now if it was going to affect me." He does swing around then, and his expression is open and earnest as he faces his brother. "It was just psychological. Ruby said it wasn't actually poison, it was just a crutch. Something to boost my confidence while I got stronger on my own. I have a lot of things to answer for, I know it, but addiction isn't one of them."
"God almighty, you're still buying her bullshit?" Dean bellows. "How do you not get that every word out of her filthy mouth was a lie?"
Sam's face wipes to blankness again, and he turns back to the window. "Not every word. I was there the whole time, Dean, you weren't. Her savior was rising and she didn't have any reason left to lie. She was sincere."
Dean's knuckles turn white on the steering wheel, and he has to will away the urge to rip it clean off and knock Sam silly with it. He could kill Ruby all over again, really happily. Really torturously.
Something dark moves behind his ribs.
He glances at the rearview mirror, and Castiel's eyes meet his, deep and sorrowful.
Out of sight on the passenger side floor, Sam's right foot starts bouncing up and down.
In an Indiana hospital just north of Louisville and the Kentucky state line, Mrs. Robyn Gutmann smiled tremulously and held out shaking arms. "Let me see him!"
And the nurse with the dark, dark eyes silently passed her new flannel-wrapped son to the exhausted woman in the birthing bed.
Dean's usually pretty good at judging diners from the driver's seat, but even he admits he called it wrong on this one.
They're maybe an hour outside Hopewell, Iowa, on a rural stretch with only occasional buildings strung along the road. He figures they can fuel up, hit the toilets, and then he'll be good to pull an all-nighter into South Dakota and Bobby's.
He thinks they're going to need Bobby's panic room sooner rather than later.
Dusty grease slicks every flat surface in the place, and the air smells sour, like dirty dishes left soaking too long. Sam's face is set to 'colossally bitchy' as he slides across the cracked vinyl seat to the window. Even the plastic plants lining the sill look wilted, but the sign outside had promised 'Pies baked on premises' and who can resist that, Dean wants to know.
The waitress can barely stir herself to put down her phone and pick up her order pad. Dean dredges up a smile from somewhere when he orders, but all he gets in return is a hostile snort.
"You want anything, Cas?"
"Coffee, please," the angel says with that careful precision of his, and the waitress sighs and shifts her weight onto one hip to show what a major hassle it is when Dean adds, "And bring him a glass of milk with that."
He figures Sam won't even bother with the pretense of dinner, but he decides to be completely contrary and orders the biggest steak dinner with sides on the menu and then makes a show of cleaning the tabletop in front of him with a paper napkin.
There's no point trying to reason with him when he's like this. Dean leans his head back over the booth to stretch out his muscles, regretting it when he gets a look at the oily grey strings of cobweb dangling from the drop ceiling. His neck sticks to the vinyl when he sits up.
The food is delivered with surly tosses that slop gravy and limp green beans across the table. Castiel cocks his head as if a particularly mystifying skit is being performed and solemnly rescues his teetering coffee cup from the table rim. Sam growls something about ptomaine poisoning and shoves his plate away.
"Move. I want to get out."
"Where are you going?" Dean asks.
"The damn car, okay? Let me out."
The Nova's warded, and Dean can see it through the smeary plate glass, so he scoots out of the booth to let Sam past. Accidentally or not, his brother knocks the table hard as he exits, and Castiel plucks up the glass of milk in his other hand as it sloshes dangerously. Sam slams out the diner door and across the lot, shoving his hands through his hair as he goes.
"Here, give me that." Dean takes Castiel's coffee cup, and pours half of it into his cloudy water glass. He starts to cut the remaining coffee with milk, but he gives the glass a quick sniff and grimaces. "Ah, gross! Don't drink it. I'll get you some at the next decent place we pass, okay?"
He swears the angel looks disappointed. "All right, Dean."
Sam's stalking in a circle around the car, kicking at the ground with every other step. He left a heap of shredded napkins when he walked out, and Dean pushes the scraps into a puddle to soak up the spill. He pushes the fried chicken pieces around on his plate, too, his appetite gone. Castiel is watching him with quiet compassion, arms tucked close to his sides, leaning forward a little so he's not touching the seatback. Dean frowns.
"You okay, Cas? How's your… back?"
The angel looks untroubled, but Dean figures he's covering some pretty steady pain, if the damage to his wing is anything to go by. "You want to, you know, stretch it out or anything before we go?"
Castiel shakes his head. "I do not believe I could get it folded again afterward."
"Yeah, okay." Dean checks out the window again. Sam's still pacing by the car. He's got his hands locked behind his neck and his head tilted backward, staring up at the sky as he shuttles back and forth. Dean gives up on his dinner and slides his dessert plate over. Pie for dinner is perfectly reasonable, after all.
One bite changes his mind. How the hell can you ruin strawberry rhubarb like that? He wipes his tongue on a napkin and shudders, pushing that plate aside as well.
Without the excuse of food to distract him, Dean hunches forward. "Cas? What exactly did Sam do?"
The angel studies him, a hint of puzzlement in his expression. "Don't you remember? He drank the blood of the demon Ruby and at her instigation caused Lucifer to be released."
"No, I know that part. I mean, what did he do after…" Dean has trouble with the words. "…after he knocked me a couple of good ones and took off with Ruby?"
"I found a devil's trap in Ruby's car, Cas." The angel looks away, something like distress pinching the corners of his eyes. "What did he need with a devil's trap, huh? He had a demonic blood bank sittin' on his shoulder already." Castiel still isn't meeting his eyes and Dean makes a frustrated noise. "Cas, c'mon—don't start lying to me again!"
"I am not lying to you, Dean." When Castiel finally returns his gaze, his eyes have gone soft with compassion once more. "But you really should ask your brother that question."
Robyn Gutmann screamed louder and harder than she had just an hour before during transitional labor. The last wisp of black smoke disappeared between her still-unnamed son's sweet pink lips. The newborn's eyes blinked open, hazy blue and uncomprehending for a heartbeat. And then they flipped to solid, shining black, and Mrs. Gutmann's infant cackled shrilly into his mother's face. She screamed until her voice cracked, and flung her baby across the maternity room.
The air billowed. A young man, long-haired, dressed in solid black except for the silver band logos on his t-shirt, stepped out of thin air and over the body of the nurse. Drawing a long golden blade from behind his back, he knelt beside the baby. Soft light gleamed from the blade, and the sound it made as it sliced the tiny throat was barely more than a whisper.
It happens almost too fast for Dean to process. One second he's on the road, leaving that bio-dump of a diner in his dust, and the next Castiel is twisting in the backseat, saying, "Dean. Dean.", gruff and urgent, and something hits the Nova.
He feels it land, feels the back end dip under a sudden addition of weight. He catches a glimpse of dark shadow from the corner of his eye as he swerves, fishtailing the rear of the car around.
Claws skitter on metal and Dean grabs Sam's elbow, yanking him into his side, away from the window. He slams on the brakes and they all three rock forward, he and Sam against the wheel, Castiel into the back of Dean's seat.
A solid black shape clatters from the roof, down the windshield. It slides across the hood, claws scoring thin lines in the paint until they catch, dig in. The thing flips over and Dean's staring through the glass at a nightmare creature, long and low, ropy muscles shifting beneath oily-looking black skin. A head that looks like an ugly-ass cross between a giant ant and a bull terrier wags side to side and then hones in on Dean. Huge eyes bore into him through the negligible barrier of the windshield.
"Holy fuck." Dean shifts into reverse and stomps the gas. The car roars backward and the black thing slips down the hood on all six of its legs, claws scrabbling for purchase. Sam's shouting, alternating "What is that? What is it?" and "Kill it, Dean! Kill it!" and bashing into his side, and Dean kinda needs his arm right now. The thing disappears over the grille and Dean brakes, shifts into drive, and mashes the gas pedal.
The Nova thuds heavily over what feels like a boulder, bottoming out with a harsh scrape as it clears it. Dean glances in the rearview mirror—there's a black lump in the road, and he considers reversing over it another few times except he's afraid the car'll get hung up. The thing felt damn solid the first time he nailed it.
Castiel grabs Dean's shoulder. "That won't kill it!" he yells. "You have to split the head!"
"Oh, great." Dean shoves the door open, Castiel scrambling after him, and heads toward the black thing, drawing Ruby's knife as he runs. It's already uncurling from its protective ball, sinewy legs bracing on the road, wedge-shaped head rising from its, what? Chest? Thorax? and swaying to spit Dean with its eerie dark gaze.
Split the head, Cas said. Dean grips the hilt and slams the knife down into the top of the skull. He half-expects it to bounce off, but the blade slides in as easily as if it's a sawdust-filled practice dummy. He twists, and the thing chuffs out a grunt of sulfurous breath and the head cleaves neatly down the center.
Castiel grabs his arm and yanks Dean back. The thing's legs tremble and unlock and the body slumps into a heap, sending out a mildewy-looking puff of black powder as it collapses.
"Don't get that on your skin," Castiel warns.
"Okay, I'll bite—what the hell is that thing?" Without taking his eyes off it – it's crumbling slowly into loose dark dust as he watches – Dean crouches and swipes the knife through the long grass at the edge of the road.
"Ifrin." The carcass has lost all definition now, and the powdery residue begins to drift away across the road. Sam has gotten out of the car and joined them, and Castiel shifts to one side, just enough to let him see without getting too close. "They're trackers—one of Hell's creatures. I was told we had gotten them all. The demons must have hidden a queen."
"Demonic trackers." Dean stares at the dwindling pile of black dust and then peers around the countryside, all open fields and scattered trees to the horizon. "That's just peachy. And it was looking at me. Why was it looking at me?"
"You're the one being tracked," Castiel says in an infuriatingly reasonable tone.
"Tracking me how?"
"Normally by blood scent." Castiel narrows his eyes, his head tilting slightly. "Were you injured at the convent?"
Dean shakes his head. "Not a scratch." He winces as a thought occurs to him, and turns slowly to Sam, who's looking on with an abstracted frown and scratching idly at the side of his neck. He jerks his head at his brother. "Blood scents—you don't think it followed…?"
"It focused on you, Dean," Castiel says, and Sam's head snaps up and his frown morphs into a hot glare at his brother. "You're their target."
"Yeah, well…" He breaks off and rubs a hand down his face. "You keep saying 'they'."
"Ifrin usually run in packs."
"Shit." Ignoring Sam's still-furious glare, he spins his brother around. "Get back in the car. We'll make a run for it before more show up."
He pushes the old Nova ruthlessly, and manages to get it going a good 25 miles an hour over the speed limit. Sam still looks pissed off as he twists to watch out the back window, but at least his twitching has subsided for the moment.
"I need a knife or a crowbar or something," he says tersely.
"Hopewell's not much further; we'll weapon-up there if we can." Dean presses harder on the accelerator.
They almost make it. They speed past a few farm lanes and houses and then a service station at an intersection as they approach civilization. Ahead in the distance Dean can see crowded power lines, clustered trees with roofs poking up between the bare branches. Rising even higher is the white spire of a church steeple, pointing to hallowed ground. He can fend off demonic creatures from hallowed ground, right?
They almost make it.
In the passenger seat, Sam stiffens. He gasps "Dean!" just as Castiel echoes "Dean." from the backseat and he looks up from the road to catch a flash of black in the mirror.
They're riding the slipstream behind the car, and gaining fast. The Nova rocks as one ifrin leaps onto the trunk; the wheel nearly jerks from Dean's grasp. He hears the screech of claws on metal as he swerves across the center line and back again, but the move doesn't prevent a second heavier 'thud'.
Castiel leans forward and grips his shoulder. "Pull over before they crash us," he says, low, in Dean's ear.
It kills him to concede, but the angel's right. Another 'thud' rocks the Nova, this one aimed at the driver's door. There's a flat grassy area coming up on the right; Dean steers into it, cranking the wheel to slew the car sharply and maybe throw the creatures off it.
"I'll draw 'em off!" he yells, and flings open the door.
"Dean, no!" Sam's out his side in a rush, but Dean charges right past him, still yelling. A black shape flashes by, and he watches in horror as the tracker launches itself at Dean. All six clawed feet hit his back and throw him forward. The head darts down and heavy jaws close on Dean's shoulder.
He throws out his hands first and somersaults, landing heavily on his back with the ifrin caught between him and the ground. Sam feels the impact shudder beneath his boot soles. "Dean, knife!" he yells.
Dean squirms, and then somehow the knife is arcing through the air towards Sam. He catches it on the run, and two long-legged strides have him at Dean's side. He swings, full-arm, without any hesitation.
Dean's already rolling. The demon creature is on top again, in exactly the right place to catch Sam's downstroke. The blade makes a little popping noise as it pierces the skull, and hot sulphur breath belches down Dean's shirt.
Sam grabs the front of that shirt and the ifrin's teeth and claws tear away as he hauls Dean upright. They don't have time to stand and watch the thing disintegrate—already two more are streaking toward them, and another two toward Castiel. Dean sees the angel do that step-half-turn like he's about to shoulder through a swinging door, but instead of vanishing in a quiet rustle, he staggers, off-balance, and pitches onto the ground. The ifrin are on him in a blink.
The other two are rushing Sam.
Their huge dark eyes are fixed on his brother now instead of him, and Dean jumps to get between them. The ifrin barrel past, as if they no longer see Dean at all. Then they spring, one from the left, one from the right, directly at Sam.
Sam lashes out with the knife, catching the closer one across the throat. Momentum carries it into his chest anyway, needle claws hooking his jacket like burrs, the bulk of it slamming him down onto his back. Dean body-checks the second one as Sam falls, managing to knock it off-course enough that it doesn't hit his brother.
The cut throat isn't slowing the first ifrin in the slightest. It jams Sam flat with strong legs, one depthless round eye taking up his entire horrified field of vision as the thing stares intently at him. Then its head dips and its jaws clamp onto the ball of his shoulder and lock tight.
Sam snaps his other arm up and plunges the knife into the back of the sleek black skull. The blow's not quite centered, and he has to jerk the blade side to side before he feels that splitting sensation that means he's been successful. The ifrin starts to slump.
"Knife!" he hears Dean holler, and so he tosses it straight up and then rolls across the ground, trying to pry off the dying creature.
The second tracker is completely ignoring Dean as he continues to slam it aside, so intent is it on reaching his brother. Dean bounces up to pluck the knife from the air, and the slick muscular body worms past him and zeroes in on Sam, who's scrambling away from the carcass through the long dry grass. A clean burst of light from the side makes Sam flinch, and when his vision clears, Dean's wrenching the knife out of the second tracker's head and jumping back.
"You okay? You okay?" Dean shouts. "Sam, answer me!"
"Dean, yeah, I'm…" He's shaking almost too hard to stand up, tries and stumbles back down, and then finally manages to get to his knees. "…okay, yeah, I'm okay…"
"Go back to the car! Get in the car, dammit!"
Dean sprints across the grass—Sam's clear now but Castiel isn't, one ifrin eroding away to dust where he angel-zapped it but the other still snapping viciously at him. It springs up at him as the angel scrabbles backward on his ass, gets knocked down by one scything arm, and then springs again from a slightly different angle as it seeks an in.
It's not trying to pin and hold Castiel like the others seemed to be doing with Sam, with Dean; this one's trying to rip and tear, darting its pointed head like a snake, sharp teeth bared and gnashing. Dean's almost close enough to stab it when it strikes yet again, lightning fast, aiming for the angel's throat.
Castiel somehow catches it, one palm flattening on the sloping forehead. He bears upward against the ifrin as it strains toward him, snapping rabidly. Light flares, another of those bright clean bursts, rays leaking through outspread fingers. The tracker drives forward for another second until the head cracks apart and it goes limp. Castiel heaves its carcass up and off him, and rolls away. He ends on his hands and knees and sways there for a second before pushing to his feet. Dean reaches to help him and gets an eyeful of torn clothing— shirt collar and sideseam and – holy shit – all down the back.
He stumbles as he straightens, right shoulder hanging a little lower than the left. "They knew I was angel, that is why they came after me," he says hoarsely. "But why they suddenly targeted Sam, I do not know." His forehead crinkles in a slight frowns as his gaze sweeps the ground where the ifrins' carcasses are crumbling away into the grass.
"Okay, but that's not what I meant. Are you all right? Your shirts…"
Castiel looks a little bewildered, turning his gaze to the tears in the t-shirt and button-down Sam had bought for him. The scratches beneath are seeping blood, though nothing like the quantities after the archangel got through with him. "I think they could sense I cannot fly."
His answers don't exactly line up with what Dean's asking. "Oh, man, did you hit your head? Get in the car, Cas."
The angel's expression suddenly sharpens. "Yes, we must leave this place quickly. My kin may have felt when I killed the ifrin as I did. I'm sorry—I acted on instinct."
"Don't worry about it; let's just get out of here." Dean herds him to the car, where Sam's waiting, standing on tiptoe on the running board to look up and down the roadway. "See any more?"
"No, but do we really think that's all there are?"
Dean pulls back onto the road. The symbols Castiel painted on the car roof may block them from angel sight, but the demonic trackers don't seem deterred in the slightest. "If we keep going to Bobby's, we'll just lead the ifrin there, won't we?"
"Yes." Castiel is perched tensely on the edge of the backseat, swaying a little with the car's motion.
"Is there any way to get 'em off our backs?"
"Sometimes immersion in holy water can break the trail. It depends on how deeply they have acquired your scent."
"We don't even know how they got it in the first place, let alone how deep." Dean checks the rearview mirror for black shapes hurtling in their wake, and when he turns back, he can feel Sam fuming next to him. "What?"
"It's not always my fault, Dean."
"I didn't say it was!"
"You're implying it. This has nothing to do with my demon blood."
"Hey, you gotta admit it made sense—demon trackers sensing demon blood."
"But they came after you first."
"I know, which is why it would be helpful if we can figure out why instead of bitching."
"I'm not bitching, I'm just tired of taking the blame!" The words practically explode out of Sam.
He's red-faced, the tendons in his neck standing out in sharp relief. He slams one fist on the door panel and for a second his eyes look dark, too dark. Dean's stomach clenches.
"Not blaming you, Sam, I'm not. I said my first thought was that your blood might have attracted them—you show me a hunter anywhere who wouldn't think that. But Cas says they're after me, so obviously it's not your fault. Okay? Can we just concentrate on how to get rid of them?"
Sam's still stewing, rubbing a fist hard on his thigh as he stares out the side window. "Whatever, Dean."
"No, drop it, okay? Leave me alone. Look, there's a hardware store—pull over so I can find something to defend myself with."
He shoves open the door before Dean's fully stopped, and slams it behind him so hard the Nova rocks. Dean bends forward and rests his forehead on the wheel. "Fuck."
"He's getting worse, isn't he?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Fuck," he sighs again. "We gotta get him to Bobby's, Cas. But if we lead another pack of those things there, we're screwed." He bumps his head lightly up and down on the steering wheel. "Screwed," he groans.
"I will do what I can to help."
"Okay." Dean sucks in a long, slow breath and sits up. "What's the best thing – besides Ruby's magic demon-killing knife – for taking out ifrin?"
"Iron. Pure and sharp enough to pierce their skulls."
"Fine. You wait here—I'll go see what I can find."
Dean checks them into a motel on the far side of Hopewell. The row of attached rooms is built to look like a string of log cabins, and the office at the end is flanked by a sagging stockade fence. It's a lousy place to stage their own last stand, but the cracked, weedy parking lot is deserted. No other guests is a plus as far as Dean's concerned, if he wants to keep collateral damage to a minimum.
Inside it's grubby, and the cheap nylon bedspread feels sticky when Dean sets down his accumulation of plastic bags on the bed closest to the door. He starts pouring rocksalt across the threshold the second Sam swings the door shut.
"Go fill the tub," he tells Sam as he continues the line of salt along the windowsill. "Those things turned on you, so if holy water breaks the trail, we gotta get you protected. Go, Sam."
His brother stands in the center of the room, hand clenching on his newly-purchased crowbar, while Dean finishes with the salt. He's working his jaw back and forth and tension is pouring off him in waves. Dean dumps out the bag from the hardware store, picks out a rasp, and pretends not to notice his brother is spoiling for a fight.
"Lemme sharpen that while you go dunk yourself," he says quietly, holding out his hand.
Sam wavers for a second, fuming, before he slaps the crowbar into Dean's palm. "Fine," he snaps, and shoves through the bathroom door.
Dean drops onto the end of the bed. He doesn't look at Castiel, who's moved into the corner for some reason, observing silently. He just braces the crowbar on his lap and starts drawing the rasp over the pointed tips.
Sam slams back into the main room. "The bathroom's gross, and I need, uh…" his belligerent tone falters. "I need a rosary," he finishes in a mumble.
Dean's hand stills. "You don't have one?" he asks with quiet disbelief.
Sam's hair-trigger temper flares right back up again. "No, Dean, I don't have a rosary! I quit carrying one when I… when I…" Just as quickly, his anger drains away, and he sags in the doorway, turning his face aside behind the edge of the door.
"Okay." Dean rises, digging in his jeans pocket. He nods toward the bathroom, where water is gushing into the rust-stained bathtub. "You want me to do it?"
Sam shakes his head, swipes the beaded string from Dean's fingers. "I can," he mutters. He pushes away from his brother and shuts the door firmly.
Dean closes his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose hard between his fingers. "He's crashing faster this time."
"If what he said earlier is true, that he burned out all the blood killing Lilith, then I would expect this."
"What are we gonna do, Cas?"
"We do what you've planned—try and break the scent trail here and then continue to your friend's house and lock Sam into safety until he no longer craves demon blood."
"Like that worked so well last time," Dean mutters, reaching for the tools again.
Castiel drifts over to the bed, head canted slightly away. "I regret I felt following orders was the correct thing to do," he says, low.
Dean draws the rasp over the crowbar again, and then freezes as the words register. He looks up at Castiel, head lowered, gaze cast downward. "That was you," he says flatly.
"We should've known Ruby wasn't strong enough to touch all those wards and let Sam out." He tosses the tools aside onto the bed. Anger, and something more painful, is flaring in his chest, and he doesn't want anything sharp and heavy in his hands. "Angels blaming demons for their dirty work—yeah, saw that one before, too."
"I am sorry, Dean."
"I dunno if that's going to cut it, Cas. I was trying to save my brother, and you wanted to end the world."
Castiel does lift his head then, and there's a touch of desperation in his eyes that Dean wants to ignore. "I didn't, not really. But the things that were shown to me…" He breaks off. "Did you find it easy to defy your father's wishes?"
"No, but this was way bigger! This was using my little brother to bring on the freakin' Apocalypse!"
"Was it bigger than not following your father's directive to kill Sam once he chose this path?"
Dean flinches as if he's been struck. "Shit, Cas. That's cold."
"That's a soldier's perspective," the angel says. "I thought paradise was as worthy a cause as you found the salvation of your brother to be." He looks away again. "In any case, if I had refused, I would have been recalled, permanently, and another would have released Sam", he says in a low voice.
"Recalled?" The slow burn in Dean's chest is eclipsed by a wave of uneasiness.
He tries to catch Castiel's eye, but just then the bathroom door crashes open and Sam bursts through, damp and glowering. "Quit talking about me, I'm not deaf, you know." He shoots Dean a furious glare. "It's your turn." He flings himself down on the empty bed and reaches for the TV remote on the nightstand. "Oh, and the towels suck," he adds with malicious triumph.
Dean glances at Castiel, and the angel inclines his head in a slight nod. He moves to the window, taking up a stance where he can watch outside between a crack in the drapes.
The bathroom is gross. Dean tries not to look too closely as he flips the drain closed and cranks open the mineral-encrusted taps. He hopes those really are rust stains the water's slowly creeping over as the tub fills.
He kneels at the side, whispers Latin, touches the crucifix to the water. The tub's full enough to cover him if he slides way down, so he hangs the rosary on the faucet and strips off his clothes.
Sam used up all the hot water.
I'll get that kid, Dean thinks as he climbs over the side, toes curling. Sonuvabitch, definitely get him, he vows as he sinks, cringing, into the freezing water.
The towels do suck—they're thin and boardy and don't do more than scrape the water around on his skin as he tries to dry off. He ends up using his t-shirt, and after he yanks on his jeans, he goes out to get a clean one from the shopping bags.
Sam's still channel surfing, one foot tapping hard enough that the bed's vibrating without quarters. There's a sigil on the door and Castiel is leaning on the wall with his gaze trained on the gap in the drapes, blood dripping slowly down his right arm.
"Shit, Cas!" Dean crosses the room with quick strides, snatching at his shoulder to swing him around. It looks like he re-opened one of the slashes inflicted by the ifrin to get the blood, and then just pressed the sleeve of his t-shirt into the wound. "What'd you do that for?"
"It will stop bleeding. You said Sam needed protecting."
"So now you're back to helping me protect him? This a permanent decision, or just today's?" It may not be entirely fair, but watching Sam twitch and snarl when he could've been clean by now goads Dean into lashing out.
Castiel's gaze won't settle on his—it skates over Dean, to the floor, back out the window. "I will do whatever is in my power to protect you both."
"I don't need you guys to protect me!" The TV remote smashes against the far wall, and Sam's suddenly on his feet, shaking and sweating and working his hands convulsively. "And stop talking about me like I'm not here!"
Dean spreads his hands wide in a reassuring gesture. "Sam, relax."
Sam swings, slapping Dean's nearer hand aside. "Don't tell me to relax! Is that all you're going to do, just give me orders and talk behind my back? Not even ask me what I think?"
"Is there any point?"
"What?" The blunt question rocks him back.
"Will I get any kind of straight answers from you, Sam?" Dean asks wearily. His stomach's starting to ache and he damn well doesn't want to do this, but… it's been nagging at him ever since he found that devil's trap in Ruby's car, to find out how far across the line his brother might be.
Sam's expression sets into hard lines. "You don't trust me about anything anymore, is that it?"
"Why was there a devil's trap in Ruby's car, Sam?"
He recovers quickly, that's for damn sure. A brief flash of panic washes across Sam's face and then is gone, replaced by disdain. "How should I know? It was her car."
"Bullshit. You were riding with her, you knew what was going on. Why the devil's trap?"
He turns away under the pretense of picking up the shattered bits of remote. "I was getting really good at dragging demons out of people. Sometimes we had to move a possessed person someplace we wouldn't be disturbed."
"Were you getting really good at it because you were drinking from them first?"
Sam flings the pieces of the remote onto the dresser with enough force that they skitter across the top and clatter down into the space between the back and the wall. "I said I was sorry! Why isn't 'sorry' ever enough for you?" he yells.
The words sound angry, but his eyes are shadowed with fear. Deliberately, Dean turns aside and tears open a packet of gauze. He widens the blood-rimmed rip in Castiel's sleeve and slaps the gauze over the deep cut while Sam watches, quivering, thumping one fist against his thigh. "Cas, will you give us a minute?"
The angel wraps his left hand over the makeshift bandage and inclines his head. "Of course, Dean. I'll wait outside."
The doorlatch clicks quietly behind him. Dean gathers up all the tools, and slides Ruby's knife from his belt. He piles them all on the floor under the window and then picks up one of the pair of dining chairs from beside the burn-scarred table. Placing it between the door and Sam, he sits down and crosses his arms. It's not much of a barricade, but it'll slow Sam down a bit if he decides to make a break for the door or a weapon.
"'Sorry' is enough for me when I know the truth about what you're sorry for, Sam," he says quietly. "Sit down."
"You can't tell me…!"
"Sit down, Sam." Dean knuckles the side of his churning stomach as Sam drops onto the end of the bed with a resentful huff. "You're my brother. I'm not going to give up on you. But you have to tell me everything."
Sam glares at him. "What difference is that going to make? Your mind's made up—you think I'm a vampire."
"I do not. I told you, I shouldn't have said what I did, that you were a monster. It's not true and I don't believe that. I wanted you to know that, before the angels made me go and do my destiny crap."
Sam's shaking his head, jaw clenched. "That's not what you said."
"It is so! Didn't you listen to my message?"
"Yeah, and you called me a vampire! You said I was a freak that should be hunted down!" Sam surges to his feet, the words ripping out in a rough scream. Dean leaps up so fast the chair goes over backwards. A horrible suspicion flashes into his mind, tightening his chest until he can't breathe. He lunges for Sam's pocket, knocks his hands aside when Sam tries to fend him off, comes up with his brother's phone.
The message is still there. Sam glares at him, red-faced and breathing hard, until Dean starts to play the voicemail again. Slowly the high color drains away until Sam's face is bleached white. He stumbles back a step, catching himself on the table as Dean's final "Sam, I'm sorry" fades away.
"That's not what it said. That night—that's not what…" He shudders, his face going sickly grey. "You didn't say that—you said I was a freak, a vampire, you said you were coming for me." Sam stares at Dean, and all the abject misery and horror of the past week come slamming back into him like a freight train. He staggers and Dean grabs his arms and pushes him down to the bed. "Ruby!" Sam gasps. "Ruby gimmicked it!"
Dean crouches before him, forcibly keeping his brother from leaping up. "Either Ruby or Zachariah. When the angels were holding me, waiting for you to open the door, he said something, something about you needing a nudge. He might've—hell, he might've been working with Ruby."
"Oh god, oh god." Sam's trying to rock back and forth but Dean keeps his arms in a hard grip and won't let him loose. He's never seen his brother look so lost. "I killed her. You said – I thought you said – Ruby said we'd save the world… so I killed her."
His back heaves. "She was a nurse, she said her name was Cindy. The one Ruby and I went after when Lilith's follower possessed her. I didn't even try to save her, Dean! Oh, god…" He wrenches sideways, trying to throw off Dean's hands.
Dean holds him fast, even as the last core of something deep inside shatters silently. "Tell me, Sammy. Get it all out so I can fix it."
"You can't fix this!" Sam cries. There are tears in his eyes and he stops fighting, just sits there wrecked and allowing the words to pour out like poison. "I made the demon tell us where Lilith would be. Cindy begged, but we took her with us. And when we got to Maryland, Ruby dragged her out of the trunk by her hair and I held her down while she cut her throat. I drank her blood until I couldn't suck another drop out and then Ruby rolled her into a ditch and we left her there!"
Sam crashes forward, forehead to Dean's shoulder. He's shaking so hard Dean has to shift on his heels to keep his balance and hang on to him. "Okay. Okay. This is so not good, Sam, but you know that. We can make it right. It's okay, Sammy."
"You can't fix this," Sam whispers after a long time.
"I can try."
He eases Sam back onto the bed and goes into the bathroom. The towels really do suck, and they don't look all that clean, either, so he wets the already-damp t-shirt he'd changed out of and takes it out to Sam. "Wipe your face. And listen to me. We're not going to let them win—Ruby, Zachariah, any of them. They're not going to use you anymore. So you have to kick the demon blood, Sam. I know it's hard, I know it's gonna hurt, but you have to stop lying to yourself and do it."
Dean drops beside him, shoving the sick feeling in his center down, down behind the dark places left by the rack. "We'll go to Bobby's where you can get through it safely. I'll stay with you while you get clean and then we'll figure out the rest."
"Ruby… Ruby did say I didn't really need the blood."
"Do you feel like you don't really need the blood?" Dean asks, with a weary stare at Sam's knee, which has just started bouncing up and down again. "Sam, you're hooked on it. Maybe it didn't boost your powers, but you just got done telling me you killed a woman to get it. I think maybe you're gonna have to trust me on this—I watched you withdrawing from it before, and even Cas seems to think demon blood is addictive."
Sam flinches and ducks, scrubbing at his eyes. "You trust him? I heard you through the door—he's the one who let me out of Bobby's panic room so I could go after Lilith."
"I don't know who I trust anymore!" Dean throws up his hands. "I'm pretty sure Cas was going to help us until the other angels – Zachariah, probably – found out. They hauled him back and changed his mind for him, did something to get him in line again. But he didn't stay changed. He… shit, Sam, he defied Heaven's orders to help us, and got his ass kicked all over again for it." He pushes slowly to his feet. "I don't think he was lying when he said they didn't tell him much. Finding out his boss may have been dealing with Ruby might've pushed Cas back to our side sooner."
Dean pulls open the door. "At least, I hope it would have. He needs to tell me just what he knew when. Cas?" Dean raises his voice, a frown starting to crease his forehead. "Cas! Where are you?"
He goes out onto the narrow cement stoop, turning slowly in an arc to take in the empty expanse of parking lot. Behind him, Sam rises painfully and scuffs over to peer over his shoulder. "He fly off somewhere?"
"He can't fly, his wing's still too busted up. Cas!"
Dean steps down off the curb to peer in the car, but it's empty, too. There's no one walking along the roadside in either direction; at the moment there aren't even any cars receding into the distance.
"Where the hell did he go?" Dean pivots, scanning the entire area from the tumbledown rooms at his back to the overgrown field across from the motel.
At the end of the covered walkway, a swirl of brown grass and leaves has blown up against the pillar supporting the narrow strip of roof, and something bright white is half-hidden by the debris. Dean crouches down and pulls it out and it's a piece of blood-smeared gauze.
And that's when he knows for certain Castiel is gone.