The burgers were a mistake.
That was twice now that Zachariah had tried to reduce Dean into an eating-and-fucking golem, a mindless beast that could be controlled with fresh meat and other, more delectable flesh.
Zachariah hadn't counted on his little helper, his mud-monkey, his weapon of choice having a memory, or at least fragments of one that he could slide together to stay whole, stay strong, even after his descent into hell, where he was harrowed for longer than he'd been alive.
And Dean remembered. Maybe not everything, maybe not always clearly, but that simply meant he was human. What he remembered when he looked at the platter of still-warm cheeseburgers, thick with onion piled on top of the patty, cooled with juicy tomato and crisp lettuce, was that place in Delaware, next to the water, where he and Sammy had eaten their weight in the house special, washed them down with thick shakes, and then had a sword fight with the longest and thickest of their leftover fries.
Sammy hadn't known what was happening, beyond the fact that Dad seemed okay with letting them both eat themselves into food comas, but Dean knew - Dad had finally been able to lay the ghost haunting the Chameleon Motel to rest.
Dean was remembering what Sammy's soft, heavy body had felt like, pressed up against him in the back seat, feathery hair brushing against Dean's neck as Sammy snuggled closer in his sleep, open mouth exhaling the scent of salt. That fragile, innocent weight had been his and his alone to protect, to love, and the enormity of that had filled him up. He wasn't sure if he could ever get back to the simplicity of those days, not with angels and demons swooping in and tilting the game board at their whim.
[rambling. setting too specific. chronology too strict here to mess with. needs to be loose, easy, flowing. also, hungry now. maybe the call girl can bring a bag of burgers with her?]
What is childhood? What is memory? What is it that makes us human?
[not so much philosophical as shitty and pretentious. who the fuck wants to read this? fuck zachariah. i can't believe this lived in my mind.]
Dean would know that parched voice anywhere, the one that always reminded him that water was necessary for life, but maybe not for mere existence.
"Castiel," he greeted, leaning his elbows back against the picnic table and squinting in the sunlight that the angel was only partially blocking. "Pull up a bench."
"I would not wish to disturb the symmetry of this park," Castiel said, but with enough teeth showing that Dean was maybe sixty percent sure that it was less a refusal and more a really tame joke.
"D'you ever wish for anything, man?" Dean asked, watching Sam's head come up slowly in his peripheral vision. Sam could use a little fun, and if some toothless angel-baiting was the ticket, Dean would do it in a heartbeat.
"I wish for you to be happy," Castiel said sincerely, and out of the corner of his eye, Dean saw Sam relax into what looked like a real smile.
"Yeah?" he asked rhetorically. He didn't let himself consider all the motives Castiel might have for his happiness, just sat in the sunshine like he'd never had a Destiny shoved down his throat by more creatures than he could shake a Colt at. "Happiness is a warm gun, you know."
Castiel pulled that Hitchcock move again, that curious head-tilt coupled with the flat gaze. "Happiness is a burger and a beer. Happiness is a warm and willing woman. Happiness is driving your girl. You have many definitions, each for a separate occasion."
"I'm a complicated guy."
Sam snorted loudly enough to startle all the little woodland creatures, but Dean pretended he'd heard nothing that would register on the Richter scale.
"True," Castiel said, and both Dean and Sam eyed him warily. "But this time, I believe it might be simple." He reached out a pale hand toward each of them, touching their foreheads in a gesture that resembled, but had nothing to do with, a benediction.
"Where are we?" Sam asked, while Dean locked his knees and tried to get his bearings. Flying was no fun, even if the trip was over in an instant and there were no demonic pilots in the offing.
"I did not determine your destination." Castiel's voice made them both spin, and Sam actually reached one hand out to grab the angel's lapel.
Sam opened his mouth to argue, but any words he might have uttered were drowned out by the sounds of a carnival suddenly making themselves known at full volume. Nice trick, Dean supposed.
All carnivals sounded pretty much the same, and usually smelled like fried food and saltwater, but Dean took one look at the park laid out in front of them and knew exactly where they were.
"We're in Delaware," he said. "This is the place that I was telling you about, Sammy - the place with the cheeseburgers a vegan would give her left tit for."
"Charming," Sam said, forgetting himself enough to share his epic eyeroll with Castiel. "Dean, please tell me you had a better reason for dragging us out here than your already overindulged stomach."
Dean didn't bother to respond, just closed his eyes and allowed the scents of the fairground to drift into him, relaxing him one by one. There was no way Cas would've pulled the time-travel trick again, not for something like this, so there was no chance they'd bump into themselves as rugrats, no chance of seeing Dad again, hair and beard untinged by grey, hands big enough to palm their heads and steer them, overfull bellies on rubbery legs, toward the safe haven of the car. But the place seemed trapped in amber anyway, everything exactly the same, and Dean couldn't muster up any objections to that.
"Dean?" Sam prodded, stepping forward, nearly bumping into Castiel, who was occupying the space between them like it was his mission in life. Even an angelic barrier didn't mean much when Sam still stood taller than the Castiel's host; he just spoke over the top of his head. "What do you want, Dean?"
He was already here; he might as well see what was up. "Funnel cake," he said, following his nose.
Castiel's face was priceless, the evidence of his struggle with his funnel cake clear - the tip of his nose shining with grease, the dark stubble on his cheeks and chin dusted with powdered sugar. It would have been endearing that he was mimicking them so closely, had he not been so clearly other than human, biting into his cake before the sizzling oil had cooled and not choking even the slightest bit from the sugar. Dean eyed him for any signs of enjoyment before giving it up as an impossibility and starting on his own cooling cake, plucking it apart with fingers he wiped clean on his jeans.
Sam shoved a couple of paper napkins at him, and just for that, Dean made his next cleansing stroke on the knee of Sam's holey jeans, catching skin and hair too. "Jerk," Sam said with no inflection whatsoever, and Castiel finally cracked a smile, watching the two of them. Dean got him next, smearing oil along the sleeve of that damn stupid trenchcoat.
"Now you say 'bitch,'" Sam instructed, going after the stain with a crumpled napkin.
Castiel sat in silence, watching Sam closely, and Dean took that in, surprised that his gut wasn't tightening with dread at the sight of the two biggest - and opposing - forces in his life in such close proximity. "Leave it, Sam," he said after the last bite of funnel cake was gone. "Cas needs to take that thing off anyway. Don't want anyone getting nervous about a guy in a trenchcoat lurking at a children's amusement park."
Cas frowned, like he wasn't sure he got it, but obediently slipped off the coat and flung it over his arm. "Better?" he asked.
"Getting there," Dean said, and smiled at his brother.
Sam was walking backwards so he could keep up the conversation and the eye contact at the same time. The funnel cake had obviously had a mellowing effect - trust Sam to bypass the normal sugar high for a sugar serenity. Seeing him like this, looking innocent and untroubled, set Dean's hands jittering just a little; it should be Castiel who was dazed with wonder, not Sam, Sammy, little brother and baby boy, who should have had places like this as his stomping grounds.
Sam's eyes dropped to Dean's hands, and Dean curled his fingers shut a second too late. Sam tightened his lips and looked around for something to take the edge off. "Hot fudge sundae says you can't take me," he offered, carelessly wagging his shaggy head in the direction of the bumper cars, as if it were a challenge instead of charity.
Even the spotlight of Sam's familiar eyes was too much, and Dean squirmed out of it. "Cas, get ready for the thrill of a lifetime."
"You drive all the time," Castiel pointed out, pin-scratch frown between his eyebrows like he didn't want to have to start a fresh Jane Goodall notebook to record the bizarre behaviors of humans.
"Trust me," Dean said as Sam held up three fingers to the attendant busily propping up the wall and blocking the name of the ride.
Castiel's face smoothed out just like that, and Dean went still, just for a moment, when an unmistakable smirk of amusement flashed across his features; Dean turned to see Sam already wedging himself into one of the cars, his knees up around his ears. "C'mon, man," Dean said. "In you go."
Sam looked up with a smile.
The music started up and the lights went down, and Castiel looked straight up at the ceiling like a kid craning his neck at the sky to see fireworks. Dean guessed he found the show - blue sparks lit against the ceiling as the small wheels turned, getting the electric cars to move - pretty engrossing, if the slack-jawed thing was anything to go by.
Then a redhead with a chewed-up straw in her cherry slurpee plowed into him, and Castiel whipped his head around, looking too more-than-human to ignore, and her cackling stopped abruptly. She maneuvered her way around him, giving Dean the stinkeye for no reason other than proximity, and Dean started to explain what they were doing. He didn't get more than a few syllables in before Sam crashed into him, scooting him ahead by a couple of yards, and by then the name of the game was revenge, and the only words were threats of vengeance.
He jolted Sam directly, then engineered a domino effect five-car chain reaction that set Sam vibrating all the way to the tips of his hair. Out of the corner of his eye, Dean could see Castiel speaking to the cornered redhead, and if the look on her face was any indication, that cherry slurpee was about to become Cas's new shampoo and shower gel, so Dean headed over in that direction. Cas and the girl both got bumped, sending them skidding forward, and Dean got over there in the nick of time, blocking the arm Cas had evidently raised to get a righteous smiting on.
When Castiel realized Dean had figured out his intentions, he attempted the trick Sam had taught him by example, making his eyes large, liquid, and pleading. Dean shook his head and hid a grin. Castiel tried pleading with sign language, raising his eyebrows hopefully as he changed his gesture from openly threatening to the familiar two-finger trick. "Nope," Dean said. "No smiting. These are bumper cars, and you're going to get bumped."
Sam looped back around and crashed into them both and laughed so hard that even Dean was having trouble catching his breath. Castiel eyed them both like they were crazy, then relaxed, brought up his hands, and placed one on each of their heads.
"Did your destination bring you what you wanted?" Castiel asked.
"You were there," Dean pointed out, watching Sam come down from his giggle fit, uninterrupted by the jolt back to the park. It was good to see the kid crack a smile that didn't have a threat behind it; it was less comforting to know that a behemoth like Sam could hit those high notes. "Wait, what did you mean, 'your destination'? You came too - you wanted to come! So it's really 'our destination.'" Dean said triumphantly, sinking down between them. The bench was rough and reassuring under him, and Sam collapsed next to him, leaning into him, worn out from laughter.
Dean looked up at the angel as he brought an arm up to circle Sam's shoulder. Even with his eyes drifting shut, he could hear the smile in Castiel's sandpaper voice. "I misspoke. It was not a destination. It was a good day."
[never going to happen. unless there are parallel universes. would have been nice. save story - might be able to use some of the descriptions elsewhere. need a drink.]