A/N: A companion piece for In Excelsis, but it reads just fine on its own.
THE MOUNTAINS IN REPLY
When Sam feels the world lurch around him and his stomach makes a break for his throat, his first thought is that Castiel has finally given up and just apparated him ten thousand feet in the air.
A split-second later, his boots hit the ground with a jarring thud and he realizes that the angel only dropped him - at worst - ten inches. It's enough to knock him off balance; he takes it at the knees and falls into a floundering crouch, Castiel's coat sleeve torn from his grasp in the process.
Stone, he processes, with a blink, and sunlight - trees. And - mountains. And - it's cold. Too cold to be out here in a hoodie and jeans.
Two feet in front of Sam, the angel falls to his knees, palms sliding to the thighs of his rumpled dress pants as the cheap trench coat billows around him. Castiel's blue eyes are wide and shocked, focused on the horizon.
"Sorry," mutters Sam. "I didn't mean to - are you okay?"
He realizes he can hear the angel breathing, quick gasps of air that puff visibly from perpetually dry lips. Sam's own breath frosts in the chill breeze, but that's normal.
He should not hear Castiel struggling.
"What'd they get you with?" he asks, and Cas doesn't answer, but it doesn't matter - a moment later, Sam can smell it. It is rich and dark and the farthest thing from pure he could possibly envision. Corruption, black and sweet, wafts on the wind.
Sam swallows, hard, and he's half sorry despite himself when the motion doesn't send that sick hot power sliding right down his throat.
Stop it, he thinks, and shoves himself up to his feet. He realizes that he's still holding Ruby's demon blade in his right hand; grimacing, he slides it back into the sheath along his lower spine.
Castiel rolls his eyes to look warily up - far up - at Sam, but the hunter just paces three steps behind the smaller man so he can get a look at whatever Castiel just got hit with. Darts, it looks like; two of them, sleek and metallic and cold, puncturing right through the trench at the back of the angel's left shoulder. They look like tranq darts, but Sam knows they're not. He can smell it. He can even see a hint of crimson there, soaking through beige fabric.
"Hold still," says Sam, and he braces his palm at the base of Castiel's neck, leaning down to jerk those two slender ampoules out of the angel's flesh. He doesn't mean to be ungentle, though he hears the angel hiss.
He would apologize, but the scent of demon blood is in his lungs, and he cannot breathe. Castiel is like marble beneath his hand, stiff and unyielding.
The flat stone shelf they're on drops off about twenty feet away, leaving only empty air and the view of treetops and distant snowy peaks. Sam walks to the edge, sees the fifty feet of empty air below, and glances down only once at the darts in his hand; then, bracing himself, he hurls them as far away into the forest as he can.
When he turns, the angel's ice blue eyes are watching him. Castiel's shoulders heave, slight but desperate, with every breath he takes.
Sam swallows, again. "Are you - will you heal?"
He thinks, for a moment, that the angel won't answer - he is already thinking, oh shit - but then Castiel grates out a low, flat, "Yes." And Sam suspects that Castiel is angry, but the blue gaze shutters and the angel sits back on his haunches, tense and shaking. "I'll return you," adds Cas. "I need a minute."
"No rush," replies Sam, feeling awkward; he reaches in a pocket, and flips open his cell phone only to stare helplessly at the display, which indicates there is no connection here at all. "Uh," he adds, "Except, Dean is having a heart attack. Like, right now."
The night after Sam and Dean have their big stupid non-tearful reunion by that one familiar bridge, they pull into a cheap motel outside Nowhere Special and Sam books the room while Dean calls Bobby to tell him where they are. Dean has the phone in one hand, holding it awkwardly to his ear while he maneuvers his bag onto the bed. "Yeah," he says. "Yeah. Okay. We'll check in when we get there."
Then he hangs up, and Sam's about to ask him what he wants for dinner - he is entirely prepared to let it be Dean's choice, on account of the Apocalypse and his lingering, soul-crushing guilt - when Dean hits a different button and makes a second call. "Hey baby," he says, casually, sorting through his bag for a clean shirt, "What are you wearing?"
Sam, just about to head for the shower, freezes like a startled deer.
"I'm kidding," explains Dean to the phone, after a moment - his brother's lips are quirking - and Sam rolls his eyes at the ceiling. Dean throws a roll of socks at his head and continues, "I solemnly promise never to call you that again. No, I know what you're - tie? Suit? Trenchcoat? You should think about going tie-free sometime. Really cut loose."
Sam quirks an eyebrow, but goes back to digging for his toothbrush. The first pair of dirty underwear he comes across gets tossed at Dean, who agilely ducks out of the way while still saying, "Dude - no, I don't - I'm not calling about - it's a nice fucking tie, okay? I'm just checking in. We're at... uh... the Wonder 8 on the west edge of Pittsfield, room 312. No, everything's cool. You?"
Only Dean would say 'everything's cool' during the friggin' Apocalypse. Then again, only Sam would be concerned with good dental hygiene.
"Okay," says Dean, "Later." Flipping shut the phone, he shoots an easy, amused look at Sam; it says silently, angels, huh?.
Sam can offer only his best blankly incredulous expression, which is not sufficient for Dean's purposes; his brother's good humour flickers. But they have a truce, a new and very careful truce, so Sam musters half a chuckle and Dean pretends he is fully engrossed in checking the restaurant flyers on the nightstand. "Hey," he says, "they have Thai."
"Thai always sucks," offers Sam, and then remembers, "but you pick." He has toothbrush and new jeans. "I'm gonna wash off some of this road."
Sam probably shouldn't have said that, about Dean, because it makes Castiel's lips go thin and the angel wasn't looking so hot to begin with. Cas - damn, even Sam is thinking of him as Cas half the time - sucks in a deeper breath and forces himself up on one knee, moving to rise. "I'll return you," he repeats, determined.
Sam spreads his hands, palm out, as though he were warding off a bear. He thinks the gesture is probably equally ineffective against bears. "Dude, no, he can wait. I can wait. You look like you'd drop me in the Grand Canyon by accident."
He can't be that far off the mark, because Cas subsides before he's more than begun to lift those two outstretched fingers - and the fingers, Sam notices, are less than steady.
"Um," says Sam, as the angel wilts back to the cold stone, "is there any - can I help?"
"Step back," grits Castiel, and Sam blinks - but then the scent of demon blood comes to him again, strong and coaxing, and he shudders.
He realizes, it's in the angel now.
Sam glances toward that view, checking where the drop is, and then he moves as far from Castiel as he can.
Sam has lost track of what town they're in and what motel this is; he only knows that something wakes him, and when he rolls over, rubbing a hand across his eyes and peering into the dimness, the first thing he sees is Cas's ghostly figure looming at the foot of his brother's bed.
"Jesus!" he yelps, automatic, and Castiel doesn't turn his head but he does murmur, reproving, "Sam." The angel's face is pale and ethereal and impassive.
"Sorry," mutters Sam, who isn't, really, but he's trying belatedly not to wake Dean - the figure sprawled across the other mattress has yet to shift. Sam blinks, and the angel is still just standing there, unmoving, hands loose at his sides in the darkness. He appears to be watching Dean.
Sam waits a few beats. Castiel doesn't twitch.
"Okay, seriously, what are you doing?"
He thinks that Cas's expression flickers - as though the angel maybe does intend to answer his question - but then it all settles into confusion, like Castiel can't find the right words, and silence reigns.
Sam huffs an annoyed sigh and buries his head back in his pillow. Pressing his face to the worn cotton pillowcase, he wills oblivion upon himself.
In the dark, he listens to the nearly imperceptible sound of Dean's breathing. He hears his own heart thumping in his ears. Outside, a car drives past on the not-too-distant highway.
After several minutes, he says, "You're still there, aren't you."
The angel, obligingly, replies, "Yes."
"Fucksake," intervenes Dean, then, voice rough with sleep and irritation both. "Sam, go to sleep. Cas, get lost."
Sam cracks an eyelid and sees Castiel's chin come up an inch, but then there's a distant sound of wings and that spot in the room is empty.
"Thanks," mutters Sam, but Dean says only, "I swear I will bitchslap you using solely the power of my fucking mind."
Sam gets two more hours of sleep before Dean wakes up sweating and contorted, gasping a curse at the dawn. His brother is not quiet about stomping into the shower.
Sam watches the fog of his breath in the air, and jams freezing fingers further into his pockets. They're high up, he thinks, glancing again at the horizon. The whole of the range is laid out before them, misted and awe-inspiring - if he were much in the mood to be inspired. The air is thin and crisp in his lungs. He turns his head and looks up, at the peak looming above; he supposes he is lucky. They could be higher.
He is also lucky that Dean isn't here. This is awkward enough without his brother trying to cling to the nearest tree.
He is looking everywhere but at Castiel, so he studies his own boots for a while. He is surprised to spot the thin, straight line etched into the stone, bisected by his leather toe. Sam follows the line with his eyes; he traces out runes, sharply etched, obscure and delicate. The angel is at the centre, and near Cas, Sam thinks he spots a stain lingering in those lines. It's a familiar shade of brownish red.
"This some kind of sacrificial altar?"
Castiel, tense and practically doubled over, still takes half a second to roll his eyes toward the sky. It is the expression Dean has dubbed, 'Surrounded By Idiots.' Sam suspects it is more along the lines of, 'Why God Why.'
"No," mutters Cas, but by then Sam has already figured it out. He feels, momentarily, a phantom ache in his ribs, where equally obscure sigils are just as delicately etched.
"You?" he asks, and the angel nods, hissing in a breath. Pain flares behind glacier eyes.
"Occasionally," grits Castiel, "one needs.. a place of safety."
Sam sucks in a breath through his nostrils, and - yeah, there's demon blood, still. Cas reeks of it. Power shivers through the air. The hunter braces himself, though, and paces back across the stone surface, tracing his footsteps along one of the rock lines. The angel eyes him carefully, but says nothing.
When Sam gets to that stain, the place where the lines are darker, he nudges his boot over one of the dark splotches and watches it flake away. "This you, too?"
"Two days ago," grants the angel. "It was of little consequence."
"Yeah," says Sam again. He stares down at that fading blood, and suggests, "Don't tell Dean."
It isn't that Castiel is rude to him, or even unpleasant. It's just that Sam started the Apocalypse, and the angel kind of wanted him dead a good year ago, when this entire mess could've still been stopped.
The worst part is that he's not sure Cas is wrong.
Also, and Sam hates to be petty about this, but - it's kind of grating when Cas spends three quarters of any given conversation locked in a staring contest with Dean. Like now, when the angel has appeared in the parking lot and they're all standing around in the grey morning drizzle. Castiel is standing six inches too far inside Dean's personal space, and the two of them are playing intenser-than-thou while Sam fidgets impatiently with the strap of his bag and thinks about how it's a hell of a lot drier inside the car.
He's thinking about demons, too, because Dean is saying, "So what do you want us to do, then?" and Cas is saying, "Head toward Delaware and I'll have more to tell you tonight," and Dean is saying, "Shit, man, that's a hell of a long drive, are you sure?" and Cas is saying, "The glyphs I found are -"
"What kind of glyphs?" Sam feels the need to establish his presence. He's not sure if things are better or worse when Castiel turns his head, politely, to look at him. The blue gaze is impassive and guarded; the calm weight of the angel's immortality falls on Sam like a shroud.
"Here," says the angel, reaching into the pocket of his trenchcoat. He withdraws a folded sheet of paper and holds it out to Sam. "I made you a copy."
Sam blinks, taking the sheet. He is careful not to touch Castiel's fingers. He wonders how Dean can stand having the angel so close all the time - maybe his brother can't sense that looming hint of lightning that suffuses the air around Cas. Sam can feel it like a prickle of needles across his skin, raising the hairs at the back of his neck.
He looks down at the paper, unfolding it, and runs his gaze over the gracefully copied lines of some arcane language. Where did Castiel get paper and a pen? he wonders, but then again, such things are not exactly hard to come by. It's just, angel.
"They're Glagolitic," notes Cas. "My interpretation is at the bottom, but each symbol has multiple levels of meaning. I'm not certain of the column running down the left. Text me if you think of anything."
Paper, pen, and a cell phone, Sam reminds himself. It's a weird world. "Right," he replies, but by then Castiel is already looking at Dean again.
"Be careful," intones the angel.
Dean shrugs, but he's watching. "Don't mess any feathers."
An instant later, all occupants of the parking lot are Winchester.
"Your boyfriend hates me," observes Sam, and Dean rolls his eyes. "Ha fucking ha."
Sam is still cold, but there's no use complaining about it; he has moved to stand at the edge of the rock shelf, so he can look out over the drop. Below, the mountainside slopes away from him, wreathed in trees. Across, he sees the distant peaks going dim and purple as the sun begins its slow descent.
He doesn't want to be here after dark, but there doesn't seem much point in nagging about that, either.
"Where -" Sam half turns, to look at Cas, and he starts; the angel, too, is staring at the distant mountains, but Sam isn't sure that Castiel can see them. The angel is unnaturally still, kneeling on the cold stone with the trenchcoat pooling around him. Cas's left hand is down for balance, fingertips pressed lightly to rock; Sam wonders, abruptly, if the angel is praying.
He doesn't look devout, though. He looks like he's in pain. Sam can see the whites ringing those wide cerulean eyes.
Sam curls his hands tighter within his pockets, and then tries again. "Where are we, anyway?"
He isn't sure if he'll get an answer, but after a still moment, Cas sucks in a breath and says, low-voiced, "Montana."
Sam considers that. "Why?"
The air rattles in Castiel's lungs in a highly unnatural way, but the angel doesn't move. "It's pretty."
Sam supposes it's as good a reason as any.
Sam is not entirely sure what to make of the 'Cas' thing. Dean gives nicknames to lots of things - usually big, scary, ugly monsters, because Dean does not show weakness and stupid names are just one way of dragging the world down to his level. Sam gets that. But he's pretty sure that at some point, Dean forgot that 'Cas' is actually something else entirely.
Pulling the steering wheel to the left, Sam turns the Impala into the parking lot of some cheap motel in downtown Dover and asks, "Uh... you know that giving him a nickname doesn't actually make him less dangerous, right?"
"What?" Dean is busy, slouched down in the passenger seat and punching his thumbs at the keypad of his phone. "Cas? Why?"
"Because," says Sam, "you are texting an angel of the Lord. About pizza."
"Fuck yeah, I am."
Sam slides the Impala into a parking spot, and turns off the ignition. The car's engine rumbles to a halt; Metallica dies in the tape deck. Sam is briefly thankful for the latter. "He's a messenger of God," he tries again.
"God has an issue, he can take it up with me. Cas'd love that, anyway." Dean flips shut the phone and slides it into his coat pocket, stretching his shoulders. "Also, I'm tired and hungry and we fucking had to drive to Delaware, so you know."
Sam sighs, rubbing his free hand over the leg of his jeans. Dean reaches out for the car keys, snatching them away, a jealous lover.
"Remember when he tried to kill a kid?"
"I remember when he tried to kill the Antichrist. Do not pull the bitchface." Dean shoves the keys safely in his pocket, impatient, and opens the car door, preparing to unfold himself onto cracked concrete. "We need the guy, Sam. Treat him like an asshole, go ahead - see how that goes."
By the time they're checked in, the very unimpressed angel is standing beside the Impala, hair ruffled, a flat white square box held in one hand. His expression is beyond flat.
"Dude," says Dean, "you are the best." He takes the pizza box and claps Castiel on the shoulder as he passes, all in one motion. "Okay, beer would've made you even more the best," he adds, "but still - thanks, Cas."
Sam, lagging behind, sees Castiel's expression shift from patent irritation to momentary puzzlement, and something that isn't sure whether or not to be pleased; the angel turns his head to stare at the back of Dean's head, a fine line appearing between dark eyebrows. That's when Sam figures out that Castiel doesn't know what to make of the whole thing, either.
It makes Sam feel a little better, anyway. He's not the only one who thinks his brother is insane.
"Did you go to Italy?" Dean is incredulous.
Castiel says nothing. He just stands by the car. Sam stops in front of the angel, and says mildly, "I looked up those signs. Come on and we'll see what I can pull up on the laptop."
It takes a second for those blue eyes to make their way back to Sam, but Castiel remains, as always, studiously courteous. The angel inclines his head.
"Did you go to Italy?"
Cas's expression does not change. "Of course."
Sam snags a slice of pizza on his way in. He has to admit, it's tasty.
If Dean were here, he'd be doing something useful. Sam is pretty sure of that. Or Dean at least would have something to say - and maybe that something would involve more swearing than any divine being should hear at one time, or in fact ever, but the current silence is pretty uncomfortable considering all Sam can hear is Castiel trying to breathe.
Oh, and birds, he notices. There are birds, chirping somewhere in the trees.
What do you do with a poisoned angel?
Sounds like it should be a song.
Sam thinks the reek of demon taint is less, now, or maybe he's adjusting; the desire to slit Castiel's throat and feast on the hot rush of dark power is - maybe he should stop thinking about that.
Sam can handle it, though, he's determined, which is why he walks back over to where the angel kneels, staring at the mountains. When Cas's wide eyes slide over to him, cautious and potentially alarmed, Sam spreads his hands again, palms out.
He folds himself down onto the rock surface - damn, that is cold through his jeans - and settles, cross-legged, near the angel. Close enough to touch, but he doesn't.
Castiel watches him for a moment, then swallows, and goes back to looking at the jagged, distant crags. The sky is tinted pink.
"Okay, we've been over this." The second time Sam wakes up to find Castiel lurking in the motel room, it hasn't gotten any less creepy. The younger Winchester closes his fist around his pillow and peers with muzzy irritation across the dark, cheap space toward the side of Dean's bed.
Cas looks back at Sam, silently; his gaze glitters in the night. The angel nods, infinitesimally, and vanishes.
An hour later, Dean rises violently from the sheets, and Sam genuinely isn't sure whether his brother is coughing, or choking back a scream. He tries asking, of course, but he doesn't appreciate the subsequent accusations about his attraction to goats. Or any other barnyard animals, for that matter.
Sam sits there. He watches Castiel now, because the angel doesn't seem to care; Cas's skin has an unpleasant grey tone, and he trembles with a steady vibration. The angel's breathing is harsh and laboured, but the blue eyes are steady on the horizon and Sam is certain now that the scent of demon is fading. He can feel, beneath it, the rising sharp electricity of Castiel's presence.
When Sam shivers, Cas stretches two fingers out to the side and briefly touches the back of Sam's hand. Before the hunter can react, he feels warmth spread from the core of his chest, wiping away the chill of the evening air.
They sit in silence for a while longer, until Sam finally comments, "Yeah. It's pretty."
Cas nods, the barest jerk of his chin. Sam is a little surprised when the angel bothers responding: "This world - my Father's creation - it's beautiful. In difficult times, it is... helpful to recall why it shouldn't be destroyed."
"In that case," says Sam, "it's really pretty."
Castiel snorts, a soft chuff of air, and Sam is quietly amazed, because he didn't think the angel was capable of anything even close to a laugh.
The first time they encounter anything in Delaware, Dean takes a claw pretty deep to the thigh. Sam sends Castiel for drugs, and if that actually means 'sends an angel to rob a pharmacy', he prefers not to think too hard about the details.
When Dean's blood is making the needle slippery in Sam's hands, the scratchy bedsheets are beyond ruined, and his brother's every second breath takes the form of profanity, Cas appears in the room with his hands cupped around multiple little orange prescription pill bottles.
"Thanks," mutters Sam, distracted, but as usual, Castiel's attention is on Dean.
"Should I," begins the angel, but Dean looks up and catches sight of Cas with all those little bottles.
"Oh hell no," he slices out, interrupting. "'Less you can fuckin' heal me with a touch again, you drop those right now and get out."
Sam and the angel both blink.
"Dean," says Cas, and Dean barks, "Drop 'em and go."
Sam sees Castiel's lips thin, something jumping in the line of the angel's throat. Then a feathered breeze wafts in the room, and the bottles are all next to Sam and the angel is gone.
"Do not let him near that shit again," growls Dean, and Sam frowns down at his brother.
"Because we're living in an after-school special now?"
"Shut up and stitch."
Half an hour later, Sam dries his now-clean hands on a probably-less-clean bathroom towel, then fishes out his cell. Sorry, he texts to Castiel. He's an ass.
To his surprise, a minute later the phone chirps and he flips it open to read Castiel's reply: :(.
"Dude," he says, startled, "did you teach the angel emoticons?"
"Yeah," answers Dean after a moment, drowsy now. He's lying there in the shreds of his bloody jeans, bandage wrapped snug around his thigh. "Why - what's he say?"
"That you're an ass." Sam shrugs, shutting the phone away.
Dean grunts, just before Sam says in disgust, "You are totally high right now, do not call - oh for chrissake. I'm going for a beer."
Sometimes Sam thinks about things too much. Which is why, by the time Castiel's breathing has evened out (the sky has gone from pink to orange to red), the hunter asks, "If it's about saving the world, though, is nice scenery the best you can do?"
Cas tilts his head to the side, that aggravating, birdlike gesture, and looks at Sam - who does his level best not to squirm uncomfortably beneath the cool steadiness of that alien gaze.
"I mean," clarifies Sam, "I'm guessing heaven has, um, trees, or things that are better than, or - to be clear, here, I'm absolutely not trying to talk you out of stopping the Apocalypse. I'm just saying, though, if you want a reason, shouldn't it be about people? You don't want to go patch yourself up while you watch over Manhattan?"
The angel blinks at him, once, and then says calmly, "Your cities teem with suffering. With avarice and violence and... sin."
Sam's eyebrows spike upward. "So... you don't like people?" Hey, says his inner voice, maybe you should stop trying to talk the angel out of stopping the Apocalypse. Sam thinks about things too much, he agrees with himself, and Sam also does not know when to shut up.
"I don't understand why you choose this world over paradise," concedes the angel, in that rough, rasping voice.
"Then... why...?" Sam raises his right hand, palm up, and gestures vaguely.
Castiel looks back to the sunset. "I have placed my faith in Dean," he says, and his tone is utterly, carefully neutral.
Sam kind of wants to ask if the angel regrets that, but on some questions, the inner voice wins.
The night that Dean wakes yelling Sam's name, staring blankly at the wall - no, through the wall - and shaking fit to rip himself apart, Sam flies out of bed, says steady and reassuring things until his brother can see him again, and gets Dean a glass of water. The motel's wallpaper is like torn and faded vomit.
Sam palms his cell phone and heads into the washroom, where he sits himself down on the side of the tub and texts Castiel. He can't sleep, he types, and hits 'send'. Then he waits, head bowed and eyes shut, the cool plastic of the phone pressed to his temple. A moment later he hears the voices from the next room - a brief exchange, Dean's tired rumble and Cas's gravelly bass.
He waits several minutes longer, until he himself is starting to drift - until he finds himself swaying over cracked linoleum - before he shoves himself up and wanders back out to the main room.
"Hey," he says to Castiel, and he stumbles past the bed where Dean now lays supine; he throws himself down on his own mattress, and falls back into exhaustion.
He almost dreams of Lucifer that night - he is almost sure he feels Jessica's hands - but in the morning, he cannot remember anything but the soft black of shadow feathers.
When the first stars are visible on the horizon and the birds have fallen silent, Castiel draws in a slow, easy breath and rises, unfolding himself from the carved rock shelf. "Close your eyes," he says, before the other man can move.
Sam does so.
He feels the sharp jolt of the angel's divinity crackle across his skin; it is glorious and terrifying. It tastes of ozone and feels like the calm at the centre of a tornado. It causes something within him, something dark and angry and squirming, to flinch away - he resists. Determined, he grits his teeth and holds absolutely still. There's a flash, bright and nearly unbearable, that shines through his eyelids and leaves the red afterimage glowing when he tries to blink the world back into place.
When Sam can see again, Castiel is still standing on the rock face, a slight man in a pale coat and unremarkable shoes. The angel shifts his shoulders and tilts his head to the side again, as though stretching - or folding himself back in, testing the fit and feel of Jimmy Novak's body.
"We will return to Dean," Cas intones, calmly.
Sam shoves himself up to his own feet, looking down at the angel. "Hey," he says, awkwardly, "Thanks."
Castiel offers another of those small, sharp nods, not commenting, and he reaches two fingers to Sam's temple.
The second time they encounter something in Delaware, it is a trap. Because it's always a trap, and apparently having an angel on one's side doesn't make these things any easier to avoid.
That's how Dean ends up with his back against the wall, trying to compensate for his limp and using a tire iron - a tire iron - to defend himself against three demons. (Two demons, because Castiel has wrenched one away and slammed his holy palm against its forehead, triggering a shrieking exorcism.)
That's how Sam ends up twenty feet away, tossed backward, down on his ass and rolling - he comes up just in time to jam the blade of his knife into an oncoming woman's chest. He feels kind of bad about killing the host, but he doesn't have much choice - and then again, she's a bleach blonde wearing an abysmal shade of plaid.
There are three demons converging on him, and he can barely jerk a glance back over his shoulder - but then he does turn, because the kid with the black eyes has a gun.
It's a boy. Maybe six years old, still with ice cream stains on his Transformers t-shirt.
"He says, come back, Sam," smiles the boy, who is missing a tooth. "He says we need you."
The kid's finger closes on the trigger, and Sam can do nothing but raise a hand. Across the room, his brother yelps his name.
In the instant the kid fires, Castiel is there, between Sam and the boy. It doesn't sound like a gun; something hisses, thunks low and swift into Castiel's back. Sam sees the angel's eyes widen, but then Cas's hand is on him and the room lurches and they're twenty feet away. Cas grabs Dean and then lurch to the motel; Dean swears, and Sam straightens, and Castiel steps back from them both.
Sam sees Cas stagger, and it's instinct that has him reaching out to wrap his hand around the angel's upper arm. It's just, he picks the worst moment possible, because the world goes all haywire again and the next thing he knows, he is falling.
Castiel bends the world again, shifting it from sharp piney peaks to grungy, nicotine-stained motel. Their phones chirp almost simultaneously once they're back in range of a signal, and yes, Sam is absolutely sure he does have voicemail, but he's getting the gist of it in person. It involves a lot of yelling.
"Where the fucking hell have you fucking been, you cannot just fucking disappear like that and maybe you could turn on your goddamn cell phones what the hell -"
"Dean." Castiel sounds slightly taken aback.
"And do not fucking 'Dean' me, I swear to god -" This time Castiel is not the one invading personal space; to his credit, the angel holds his ground with Dean only two inches from his nose. Green eyes are on blue, and at this exact moment, green is clearly winning.
"Hey Cas," interrupts Sam, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck, "Why don't you try finding us some decent Thai food? I am friggin' starving."
Miraculously, everyone shuts up. Castiel does not look at Sam - he does not take his eyes from Dean - but after a moment's very still silence, he vanishes.
"Fuck," says Dean.
"Yeah," replies Sam. "We got that part."
His brother grits his teeth, and closes one hand into a fist, punching it ineffectually at the wall. Then, deflating, he says, "Are you okay?"
"Is he okay?"
"Dude," says Sam, "We'll explain." He pats a hand on his brother's shoulder as he slides past, feeling worn flannel over taut tension. "But I need a hot shower. And then we eat."
"After which, we plan, because those bitches are toast."
Sam thinks of needled darts, and blood, and the sick taint of addiction. "Oh hell, yes," he says, and then he looks for a clean towel. He adds, for good measure, "Delaware sucks."