Disclaimer: The characters & universe belong to Eric Kripke and the CW. I am only borrowing them and no (real) harm is intended.
Rated: T, for language & some violence.
Spoilers: Up through Season 5 and specifically for ep. 5.10, Abandon All Hope.
A/N: This was written for 1shot, for an exchange of fic. Go read her stories if you haven't already, because they blow mine out of the water. Also, this is Gen fic, and just an excuse to whump the angel.
Metal rang against metal somewhere in the depths of the salvage yard. Only Singer's angry presence sparked along Castiel's nerve endings as he paused at the iron gates. No one came out to meet him, but no one challenged him when he crossed beneath the gate, either.
Alone, he started out down the dirt lane to the house, and still alone, he navigated the boards slanted over the porch steps.
No one answered his knock.
The hinges creaked when he pushed at the door with the pads of his fingers. Singer would have left them unoiled not from neglect, but as one more flag in the layers of protection built around his house. No weapon popped up to take aim, though, as the creak faded, so he stepped over the salt-filled groove in the sill and down the front hall, skating glances through the doorways on either side until he reached the back room.
"I want my car back."
A bottle dangled loosely from Dean's fingers; his dull gaze was fixed on the window opposite the chair he slouched in. Beyond the glass one of Bobby's outbuildings was visible, its door rolled aside to catch the late-afternoon sunshine. The metallic clanging was loud enough to make the thin panes shiver.
When Dean's announcement received no response, he rolled his head with a wince.
"Well? Can you zap it here?"
Castiel drifted around the doorframe, coat rustling softly. Dust motes swirled. Dean was nothing but smooth blankness against his senses, but he could still read the belligerence in the taut lines of his body.
He slid through the dusty bands of light to the table taking up the center of the room and ran his thumb down the spines of one of the stacks of books piled on it. "No."
Dean grunted. "Figures." The bottle hit the floor with a hollow clonk, and he drew his feet in, slowly, tilting forward in the chair until his elbows rested on his knees. His breath caught only once. "Get 'er myself," he muttered to the floorboards.
"The hell else would she be? Of course Carthage."
"It's far too dangerous to return there."
"Yeah, well, you don't like it, you can always stay here, do some reading." Pushing to his feet, Dean disguised another wince as a scowl at the book Castiel had drawn from the pile. "Or flap off to wherever the hell you were last night."
The book closed softly between his palms. "I didn't know Ellen and Joanna the way you three did," Castiel pointed out stiffly. "I thought my presence would be an intrusion." The corners of his eyes creased. "How do you intend to reach Missouri?"
"Yard full of junkers to pick from. Some of 'em run."
"Your judgment is clouded. You're injured. And intoxicated."
"Can you do anything to fix me up?"
"What can you do?"
The accusing question, an echo of the demon's mocking one, struck like a physical blow. Castiel blinked; and then, very carefully, he replaced the book on the pile. "If you insist on retrieving your car, I can take you there."
"Hell, yeah, I insist. Just one sec." Waving off Castiel's raised hand, Dean limped into the hall. "Sam!" he bellowed up the staircase.
There was a pause, followed by a muffled "Yeah?" from one of the upstairs rooms.
"Gonna go get the car! Stay here, keep Bobby company!" Dean strode back to the angel. "Zap us, quick."
Castiel lowered his hand to Dean's shoulder, and Sam's cry of "What? Dean, no, wait…" was snatched away along with Dean's breath.
Hot smoke choked off his next breath. Dean doubled over, coughing, boots rolling on broken ground, and Castiel's hand tightened again.
"Step back." An insistent tug dragged Dean behind a tall board fence. "Don't move—there are soldiers."
Headlights pierced the blowing smoke; Dean forced back another racking cough as heavy tires rumbled toward them on the rubble-strewn road. In his pocket his phone caroled, and he silenced it hurriedly before dragging his sleeve across his streaming eyes and lining them up to a gap in the boards. A breeze snatched at the smoke, revealing a Humvee, up-armored and bristling with guns, followed by a swaying troop truck, both rolling deliberately down the center of the road.
"National Guard," Dean said. "You can bet they're not letting anyone in town to sightsee." He squinted as smoke billowed across the road again, thick enough to obscure all but the vehicles' taillights. "The car's stashed behind the police station—can you mojo me there?"
Castiel hesitated. "We're only a short distance from the center of town. We should walk." He cast a glance from the corner of his eye at Dean. "If you can manage?"
"It's just a few bruises," Dean responded automatically. He frowned at the angel. "All of a sudden you're jonesin' to hike?"
"For a short distance, and so you can look over the road out, yes."
"Okay, you wanna walk, we'll walk. Might clear my head, I guess."
His phone chirped, and Dean slapped at his pocket in reflex. Sliding the gun from his waistband, he ducked around the end of the fence and motioned Castiel to follow.
Later, authorities would wonder at tornados that could pluck up every citizen of a small city, deposit the women and children beneath a churned layer of dirt in an outer field, and leave the men fanned around them like toppled dominos. Later they'd wonder at the strange deep rifts in the earth, edges beaded with sallow crystals of sulfur.
Later. At the moment, they were still occupied with securing the area, clearing paths into the city, knocking down the persistent fires triggered by ruptured gas lines and fallen transformers.
Carthage crackled with radio traffic, callsigns and ten-codes snapping across the airwaves. State troopers from the barracks down the highway herded a clump of reporters back out of the smoke and falling ash and into a hastily-constructed enclosure of traffic barrels and an overturned van.
"Stay behind the barricade!" one trooper shouted. His eyes were rimmed in raw-looking red above the mask clapped to his mouth. "Anyone without a badge found outside the barricade will be shot!"
The journalists circled the enclosure and then surged back to the front boundary. None quite dared to pass through the cordon, but they hovered just inside it, shouting protests. The trooper set his feet in a wide stance and unholstered his service revolver, triggering a renewed wave of outrage.
At the rear of the pack, one newscaster began to extract herself from the crush, easing backwards with subtle shiftings of her shoulders and hips. When her colleagues had elbowed ahead of her, she jerked her head at the cameraman pacing nearby. "See if you can get down into the ditch without being seen," she mouthed.
"I think they're serious about shooting people." Nevertheless, he let the bulky camera slide off his shoulder to a more secure grip against his side and glanced back, gauging the distance to the edge of the road.
The newscaster flicked a polished nail on the photo ID clipped to her blazer. "They wouldn't dare. Come on, Danny, you want to miss out on the biggest thing to hit since Katrina?" She edged another step backwards, one eye on the commotion distracting the trooper, and then another. The square heel of her boot hovered over open air. Another fleeting glance at the trooper and she bent and skidded down the embankment. "I heard there's a mass grave out there," she hissed from the bottom of the weedy ditch. "We get footage of that, we're golden! Forget working up from St. Louis, we can write our own tickets to L.A.!"
She paused as the cameraman wavered above her. "Danny! Chance of a lifetime here! Danny!"
He squatted down abruptly. "Take my rig—both hands!" he snapped as he passed it over, and then he slid down to reclaim the camera. Dropping below the lip of the ditch, they scurried, bent double, away from the other detained reporters. "Where to?"
"I saw a fence still standing a few blocks over; we can sneak behind it, cut across the main street, and head out the far side of town." Her flowing hair snagged on a trailing bramble and she tore it free with a careless yank, teeth gleaming in a sudden manic grin. "A mass grave on American soil—we have got it made, Danny!"
In the boughs of a huge old maple, something stirred. A head lifted from its cradle of folded arms, tilting as keen ears sifted through a clutter of meaningless sounds to isolate the one with any import.
Its caved-in belly shivered. When it had followed the bitter cold drafts to the surface, only a puzzlingly deserted village awaited. Even when potential fare had begun trickling in, they had called to their fellows in numeric ciphers, not names. And so it had found a new roost in which to wait.
It was nothing if not enduringly patient. One would name another eventually.
They always did.
The voice drifted in under all the irrelevant noise, slid into waiting ears and down, to set like a barb in the empty pleats of its belly. When it rose into a crouch, an invisible line tugged.
Strong feet flexed on the branch. It launched itself in a leisurely glide out into the smoky air.
"What the hell happened to your coat?"
Castiel stepped over a twisted piece of metal and glanced down. "Nothing I'm aware of."
"In the back, dude." Dean snatched at the fluttering coattail, bringing the angel up short. He twisted the fistful of cloth around to the front and shook it accusingly. "It's all charred."
"Oh, that." Castiel gave the blackened hem a disinterested glance and tugged free of Dean's grasp. "There appear to be police vehicles behind that building—I think we've arrived."
"Yeah, great." The back wall of the police station had a hole fringed with dangling wires blown through it, and Dean followed the angel over cinderblocks littering the parking lot. "How'd it get burnt without you noticing?"
"I noticed." Castiel circled a patrol car with a caved-in windshield and a concrete block resting on its front seat and lifted his chin toward the back of the lot. "I'm afraid there's fencing on top of your car."
"Aww, hell." Momentarily diverted, Dean hurried over. Flipping aside a piece of bent metal with "Impound" and a phone number stenciled on it, he rocked experimentally at the chain link. "Shit, her paint's scratched! If I lift it off her, can you flick it aside?"
Tucking his gun away, Dean hooked his fingers into the mesh and heaved. Its airy appearance belied its true weight—the collapsed section barely moved under his efforts. A second later Castiel ducked beneath one edge and lifted, 'walking' it up off the car with hands above his head. Dean caught the top row of links and dragged at it, groaning quietly from the strain, until the whole thing finally folded back and off the car.
"Yeah, I guess that works as well as putting an angel whammy on it," Dean said, a little breathlessly, rolling his shoulders in an effort to ease the hot ache down his spine. Castiel cut his eyes to the side and Dean froze, frowning, because he couldn't always read the blank expressions, but that? That right there was patented 'angelic guilt'.
Castiel moved away, studiously absorbed in kicking rubble away from the tires. "Hey," Dean started, and then his attention was snagged by the Impala again.
"Dammit, these won't buff out." He slid a palm back and forth on the hood, futilely trying to smooth divots gouged to bare metal. For a second he stared down at the car, as if he was watching some other story play out in the reflection of her glossy paint. Then he gave himself a hard shake. "Got touch-up paint back at the yard, though."
He patted at his pocket for the keys. Castiel was standing silently behind the Impala now, arms lax at his sides and chin raised in that 'stoic warrior of God' pose that made Dean want to shake him until he loosened up. "Coming or going, dude?"
"I have nowhere I need to be at the moment."
"Cool. I could use a second pair of eyes on lookout." Dean paused with the door half-open, eyebrows rising questioningly when the angel didn't move. Castiel's eyes were fixed on the car with disquieting intensity. "Just get in, okay? You're gonna blister the paint with that stare."
That got the angel jump-started. He walked, a little stiffly, to the passenger side, and with awkward care curved his hand around the door handle and depressed the button. He watched the door move while he swung it open enough to slide inside.
Dean shook his head as he dropped behind the wheel. All the times he'd objected to the angel popping out of thin air with zero warning, and Cas never seemed to remember not to do it. Now out of the blue he was making an effort? "What did you do, sneak up on Ellen and get an earful from her?"
Castiel turned to regard him with a fathomless blue gaze. "What?"
Yeah, okay, major mistake to say her name so casually yet. Dean clenched his jaw against the yawning pit that had opened up in his stomach and fumbled the key to the ignition. "Never mind."
That is the biggest-ass vulture I have ever seen in my life, Danny thought blankly when he crossed from behind the fenceline and found a dark thing touching down in front of him. He was swinging his rig up in an ingrained reflex to film anything out of the ordinary when its wings – featherless, he realized with growing shock – folded neatly onto its back and a gaunt brown arm uncurled from its chest.
Danny took a step back and the not-a-bird paced him, hand outstretched.
She didn't react to his quiet command beyond looking up from picking her way across the uneven ground. "Do what now?"
"Run. Back to the cops or the Guard, as fast…"
Her scream cut off the rest of his words. Danny heaved the camera up and around into the thing's side; it hunched a shoulder against the crunch of glass and plastic without even recoiling and stabbed its sharp hand to his chest.
Over the roaring in his ears he heard the wild scramble as his partner took flight down the road.
The street fronting the police station was deserted, clogged with debris. Wires dipped low halfway down the block, trailing from a snapped pole buried in the roof of a pick-up. Dean cranked down his window to listen over the deep grumble of the engine. "We good?" he asked finally. "I don't hear any trucks. I think we're good to go, but you'd know better'n me."
Ramrod straight against the seat, hands resting flat on his thighs, Castiel started into the distance. "The soldiers we saw earlier are four streets over, disembarking and spreading outward," he said after an almost-too-long pause.
"Then I'm goin' now, before they disembark themselves any closer." Dean's cell chirped, muffled by layers of cloth and the crunch of glass beneath the tires, but he ignored it and hunched over the wheel, gaze fixed on the end of the block.
"Yeah, yeah, I have another message. I know who it is – again – and I don't wanna deal with his bitching while I'm trying to get us out of here." He cut the wheel sharply to dodge a spill of broken goods trailing from a shattered storefront. "We clear ahead?"
Another pause, and then, "So far."
A car with one rear door left wide open was abandoned in the middle of the road. Dean turned into a cross street to avoid it. The block was lined with stately old trees and broad sidewalks and a series of crisply square holes where houses had stood. He suppressed a shudder and sped up.
"Interstate's out past that shopping center," he said a few minutes later, idling at an intersection. What was left of the building's walls cycled pale red and blue in steady succession. "Got it roadblocked, though."
"Turning right will return us to the back road we arrived on."
Dean turned right. Smoke was blowing heavily again, thick with the stench of burning rubber. Tree limbs, some of them ground to sawdust by the military vehicles, were strewn on the road, along with twisted panels of colored metal, and books, dozens of them, splayed brokenly with pages ruffling in the breeze.
"You'll break the spine, Dean!" Sam squawked in his memory, huge mitt swiping up the book tented over his stomach as he dozed. "Don't dog ear the pages, that's why I gave you sticky notes!"
Dean averted his eyes.
The fence was just barely visible ahead, and beyond it lay unguarded road. They'd be clear of Carthage, heading north, in another two minutes.
"What's—Is that what I think it is?"
Castiel braced one hand on the dash as they rocked to a halt, craning to peer out the window. "It appears to be a body."
"That's what I thought. First one we've seen outside that killing field."
"Perhaps you shouldn't…" Castiel made a grab for Dean's arm, but Dean was already swinging out of the car. The angel swiveled back and fumbled for the door handle – it worked differently than the outer one, prying outward instead of pressing in – and by the time he'd extricated himself, Dean was standing over the body, prodding at it with the toe of his boot.
"Weird – it's dried out – dehydrated – but the clothes are fresh." He nudged again and the body rolled easily onto its back. The hands clacked to rest on the pavement. "Rigor mortis hasn't even set in." An uneasy little shiver worked its way down his back, and he raised his head and swept the smoke-blurred horizon sharply.
"He is beyond help; we should leave him and go."
"In a sec." Dean crouched down, fingers tracing a hole punched through the field jacket the body wore. When he flipped back the jacket flap, a corresponding hole punctured the shirt over the heart. He rapped a knuckle on the chest and it made a hollow drumming sound. "Drained dry," he muttered. "I've seen something like this before somewhere."
It hovered just out of reach, another corpse with skin shriveled tight over cheekbones and jaw. The sun had been brilliant, the air piercingly cold, and he'd been squinting through a pounding hangover. The rest of the memory was cloudy, edged with hurt that warned not to poke deeper. Sammy's Stanford time, maybe? Everything had ached then, and the drinking hadn't blunted the right memories.
Stanford didn't feel right, though.
"Vampires?" Castiel asked solemnly, and when Dean jerked his head up, surprised, reminded him, "You told me about your encounters with them during our drive to Maine. Although I still fail to see how sparkling makes any sense whatsoever."
"It doesn't—don't try to understand it." Dean shifted on his heels, patting down the body. "Vampires don't sparkle and they don't make neat holes like this, they rip entire throats out. This is something else."
He snapped a thick plastic card free of the body's belt. "This says the guy's Daniel Wayne, cameraman for KPLR in St. Louis. He came in from outside to cover the mess here and he must've been killed less than an hour ago because we walked right down this fenceline and didn't see him. Shit." He rose, rubbing his hands hard on his jeans, and sent another long look around the area.
"We should leave."
"Yeah, I think maybe you're right."
He dug out his phone once they were back in the car. The screen showed seven messages, and he sighed, propped his wrist on the wheel, and let them play.
"Dean? Dean! Call me back!"
"Did you really go to Carthage? Are you crazy, Dean? Are you getting these and ignoring me?"
"You are crazy, you pain in the ass! Dean, what's going on there? Call back and tell me you're okay."
"Did you get the car, or are you dead? It's a war zone there, Dean, or didn't you see the news?"
Siiigh. "You're a jerk."
"What the hell, Dean? Ten seconds. It takes ten seconds to hit speed dial and say you're okay. There better be no cell service. Or working landlines. Or any truckers with radios. Send the angel back with a message or something, Dean, I mean it."
"Call your brother, ya dumbass."
Dean blew out a breath and dialed. He got as far as "Hey," before a cascade of yelping cut him off. He rolled his eyes and draped his wrist back over the wheel. "Gonna let him wind down some," he explained when he caught Castiel's sidelong glance.
Sam's voice grew thinner and shriller and finally broke off to suck in a breath. Dean tucked the phone back against his ear. "Hey, I wanted to hang around and have a nice long strategy session about picking up the car, but you know Angel Transport—it waits for no man." Beside him, Castiel turned slowly and deliberately. Dean offered a disarming grin, but it faded rapidly under the weight of the angel's glower.
"Keep your panties on, everything's fine. Banged in and right back out with the car no problem… Hell yeah, that's relevant, it was the whole purpose of… Because I didn't see any point in dragging your ass along, that's why. I told you, we left in a hurry… I am not trying to blame the angel."
Castiel's stony stare was leaving a palpable heat on the side of Dean's face. He switched the phone to his other ear for an excuse to half-turn away. With it held in place by a hunched shoulder, he shot a look at his watch. "About seven hours, give or take. I'm on the road now—I said, I'm on the road. I'll drive straight through—save me some dinner."
Sam had hung up on him. Dean made a face at the cell and snapped it shut, wriggling himself comfortable for the long drive.
"You are the one who requested I 'zap us quick'."
"Yeah, I was just… he won't bitch as much if he thinks it was your idea."
Shit. So not helping his case. Disapproval was pouring through that glacial blue stare, and Dean had the grace to squirm beneath it. "Look, okay, I'm…"
"I will meet up with you back at the salvage yard," Castiel interrupted, voice rougher even than usual, and the seat was empty.
Dean blinked against the faint swirl of air against his skin. Ahead, the road climbed; the sun went down as he crossed the crest of the hill. In his mirror, Carthage lit up, searchlights cracking on in the shadowed streets. The world stilled around him, steel and glass and leather, and Dean leaned forward, popped in the waiting cassette with his thumb, and bore down on the accelerator.
The second husk rolled to rest beneath a charred metal carriage, yellow hair caught in a pool of melted rubber. The creature drifted away, stomach pleasantly stretched, and pushed lazily up into the nearest tree.
Already another quarry beckoned, the line between playing out as it retreated into gathering dusk. No need for haste; the creature wrapped long feet around a branch and half-closed its eyes. When it was a little less sated, it would slide along the connection and find its next meal waiting.
Scraping a long talon around its mouth, it scooped up the last smears of blood and licked them clean.
Cold blue light poured from Bobby's kitchen window, and Dean pulled up into its spill, let the rumble of the engine announce his return for another moment before switching it off. A shadow flickered behind the glass. The screen door screeched and slapped shut and Sam dropped one shoulder to a back porch post, folding his arms while Dean dragged himself out of a seat trying to fuse itself to his spine.
"What happened to us sticking together?"
Dean shrugged; the long drive had burned out all his excuses. "I'm the one wanted her back—seemed fair not to put anyone else at risk."
"He can zap away if shit goes south," Dean said shortly, and bent backwards, one fist in the small of his back.
"You're an idiot. As if he would."
"You don't see him sittin' shotgun, do you?" Dean eased to the back of the car, breath hissing involuntarily when he raised the trunk lid. There was Tylenol 3 buried somewhere under the jumble of canvas and iron, he just knew it.
"That's because ever since you cleared Carthage, he's been sitting at the table pretending to read up on Death." Sam pushed off the post and clomped down the steps. Elbowing his brother aside, he slid one hand down the right side of the trunk and came up with a plastic bottle. "Is it weird that he knocked when he showed up?"
Uneasiness unspooled in Dean's stomach. His fist clenched on the offered pill bottle. "Cas knocked again?"
"Yeah. When did he start..."
It cut down out of the darkness without a sound, no whisper of feathers to herald its appearance. Dean slammed forward onto the rear fender, breath punched from him by a driving weight in his lower back. Something scythed overhead in a solid dark curve and Sam grunted and went sprawling away into the pool of shadows at the foundation.
The weight at Dean's back dug deeper, gathering his jacket into a knot and yanking him around and down off the fender. The back of his head bounced off the hard dirt of Bobby's driveway and then a sharp hand pinned itself to his chest, right over the pounding of his heart.
He wrenched to the side, one leg folding over so he could get a hand to the back of his waist and the gun still tucked there. The thing holding him shifted in response, a matte black shadow that moved above him, and Dean felt heavy feet step up onto his thighs, pinning him with one hand caught behind his back before he could draw and shoot the damned thing.
Dark eyes flashed, underlit with deep red where the fluorescent light from the kitchen caught them. The hand on his chest tightened and Dean thrashed as the dense weave of his jacket parted easily under a piercing talon.
"Dean! Stay down!" Sam's shout was ragged, cut short by gunfire.
Kept his gun, Dean thought with hazy pride. Little shocks traveled down the arm braced on him with each impact, but the bullets had no other effect. The dark curve swept past once more, the talon sunk in Dean's chest withdrawing as the thing turned toward Sam. Bobby's house shook from the force of him crashing into it a second time.
Dean kicked out, hard, before that clawed hand could re-establish its grip, dislodging the thing just enough for him to roll free. Gunshots were cracking over his head again as Sam advanced steadily, emptying the entire clip into the crouched dark shape. All it did was huddle in on itself, rocking slightly while it waited for the thud of bullets to cease.
The back door slammed like another gunshot. Castiel rounded the Impala as Dean was shoving himself into the scant shelter beneath it, gravel biting the heels of his hands. He saw outstretched fingers aiming between his eyes and wrenched aside. "No! Not without…!"
Castiel cast a long-suffering look to the sky, but he spun back around the fender in a swirl of coat. He slapped one hand down on the arm Sam had reached into the trunk, nearly yanking the other off his feet when he then ducked to seize Dean by the shoulder.
Dean got one split-second glimpse of the dark thing unfolding from its tight ball before he was yanked into freefall.
A rush of damp wind met him on the flipside. Sam was making that same long, low 'get-me-off-this-rollercoaster' keening he'd made when Castiel had stolen them out of Carthage; it cut off as he fell abruptly forward into the empty space where the Impala had been a heartbeat earlier.
The ground shifted loosely; Dean lifted one hand and grains of sand filtered off his fingers. The air rushing past his face tasted of salt and resounded with the boom of waves.
"Where are we?" Sam rasped. He straightened, gazing quizzically at the sawed-off shotgun his hand had closed on the instant they'd been whisked away, and then his eyes widened and he looked hastily behind them.
"Outer…Banks." The faintest hitch snagged Castiel's voice. He took three stumbling steps and sat heavily, right at the edge of the dune where the sand was sculpted thin and crisp.
"Any particular reason?" Dean pushed to his feet, hands flicking down his clothes in a quick accounting of weapons. He rubbed a palm over the burning gash on his chest and tried to piece together the disjointed glimpses he'd gotten of the dark thing.
"Far as I could get without…" Castiel made a contained gesture toward the vast, black ocean. "…the risk of falling to the water."
"Oh, no fucking way!" Dean dropped beside him, crumpling a fistful of trenchcoat and twisting it until Castiel faced him. "You could drop us in the middle of blinking around?"
"It isn't 'blinking', and no, normally I would never…"
"'Normally'." Dean stared at the pale smudge weaving ever-so-slightly before him. "Why didn't you just zap that gargoyle?"
"It was not a gargoyle." The pale smudge dipped, obscured by dark, wind-tangled hair. "And in any case, that… does not seem to work any longer. Removing you seemed more effective."
"Shit." Dean's gaze dropped to his clenched fist, and he made himself relax his grip. He slid his hand around Castiel's arm so he could hoist him to his feet. "Take us back. We left Bo- "
A huge hand clapped over his mouth from behind. "Th' h'll!" Dean slurred, wrenching his head in the circle of his brother's arm. "Sa- "
The hand tightened. "Don't!"
"Ge' off me!"
"Shut up and I will!"
Dean quieted. Sam had that panicked 'oh shit' air that meant he was frantically slotting puzzle pieces together and not liking the picture. He nodded; Sam's hand loosened cautiously. Dean shook himself free and flicked his gaze between the other two. "Not a gargoyle?"
"Night demon," Castiel said, a beat ahead of Sam's "Jilaiya. Remember? After the Devil's Gate opened."
"Oh. Oh, fuck."
The memory jolted back, from that splintered time after a Sammy laid out cold and silent in Bobby's back room. The crossroads, and then he had his brother back, and then they were haring off after the flood of demons who'd slipped out the Gate, anything to keep busy, keep on the move, keep Sammy from asking questions.
They'd been in Indiana when the first of a string of drained bodies had turned up on the Montana border; they'd swung back west between cases when Bobby had called. "Never seen this before, you better come take a look. I think somethin' else got out that Gate."
The trail had led west, and not once did they get close enough to lay eyes on the thing doing the killing. Bobby had continued tracking it with another hunter and finally the deaths had centered around Yellowstone, where the jilaiya had found itself a tourist buffet.
"You didn't recognize what drained that cameraman in Carthage?" Dean asked.
Castiel was frowning faintly down at his shoes, nearly buried in wind-sifted sand, and swaying very gently with each new gust of wind. He shook his head. "I only ever saw them roosting, down—down below. They don't often break the surface to feed."
Dean settled a hand between Castiel's shoulder blades and nudged the angel into motion. "Okay. Let's get a move on before it catches up."
Dean herded them over the dune and then down it in an avalanche of loose sand. They crawled over a bulkhead separating beach from street and paused beneath a fogged streetlight.
It was quieter, and marginally warmer in the lee of the dune. Sam stuffed his emptied handgun into his pocket and pulled out his phone. "Message."
"Don't play it." Dean still had hold of Castiel's coat, although the angel felt a little steadier now that they were on solid pavement. "That's how we got into this mess."
"Sorry." Sam's face crumpled. "I must've said your name a dozen times."
"You didn't know. How'd he end up killing the first one, d'ya remember? 'Cuz I don't."
"He didn't. I think it was Olivia. And she's dead."
"She might've told him since they were tracking it together."
Sam held his phone up, tilting it back and forth and squinting in the sickly yellow light at the screen. "If I can get…"
His arm flew violently back, clipped by a solid impact. The phone went clattering across the pavement in pieces.
The jilaiya touched down just outside the pool of light, wings folding into a compact lump high on its back. Dean's hand dropped from wrinkled cloth to the back of his waist and the night demon paced up to him with a serene expression on its flat face. It extended a bony arm even as Dean hauled at the gun and Sam shouted something and snapped the shotgun up.
Dean was bumped back by a body twisting between him and the jilaiya. Castiel huffed out a sharp breath and bumped heavily against Dean a second time, shoulder knocking the burning puncture in his chest. And then Dean's wrist was seized and he was whip-cracked around towards his brother and Sam's yelp was muffled by a wild flurry and rush.
The impact onto hard-packed earth jolted Dean's knees. Sam went lurching sideways, legs crisscrossing in a dizzy stagger until he caught his balance.
Starlight glittered brightly in a black arch of sky. Cold more bitter than the damp chill of the seaside bit at exposed skin. Beside Dean, Castiel was bent forward, sucking in hissing breaths, and when Dean reached for him, he raised eyes gone flat with shock.
"What did you do?" Dean rocked the angel's shoulder until with another hiss Castiel ratcheted upright, hand sliding beneath his coat. When it came back out, his fingers were shining darkly.
"I need a light; tell me you've got a light." Dean tore aside trenchcoat and jacket while the angel swayed and stared at his own smeared fingers with unnerving intensity. Keys jangled and a beam of blue-white light lanced over Dean's shoulder, turning the red patch on Castiel's shirt a dark purple.
"Fix it." Dean pressed at the shirt, watching four separate blotches merge into one larger one and then keep growing. "Fix it, dammit."
"Trying." Castiel spread his hand over the claw marks hole-punched down his ribs. A minute ticked by; a soft hush of wind through the dry scrub startled a jump from Dean and Sam pressed closer.
"Here." Still holding the tiny keychain light high, Sam passed a crumpled bandanna over his brother's shoulder and Dean jammed it between Castiel's bloody fingers and shirt.
"I said I'm trying!" Castiel hunched over, hand sealed to his side, pressing hard. He froze; all three lifted their eyes to the sky.
A dark shape blotted out the brilliant stars. The jilaiya dropped to the desert floor, landing lightly, almost delicately. Sam snapped off a blast from the shotgun, causing the night demon to simply huddle into a compact crouch, limbs folding tightly around itself.
"Hold it off." Dean put a hand to Castiel's chest, urged him backward. He caught Sam's belt in his other hand and dragged him along. Only a dozen steps and the jilaiya shivered itself loose, rising to glide slowly after them. Sam shook off Dean's hand and pumped the shotgun.
"That won't stop it," Castiel said, low and grating. His hand fell onto Sam's shoulder, the other closed around Dean's forearm, and they snapped away.
Forest. Old, deep forest. Thick leaf litter that rustled when Castiel went down and frost that burned Dean's palms when he dropped beside him.
"The fuck, man." Too dark to see, tree trunks crowded close and blotting out any starlight, but the shirt he touched was still dripping wet. Sam shuffled around them, facing outward, head tilted to the sky.
"It won't stop." The hand fumbling under Dean's told him Castiel was talking about the bleeding, not the jilaiya.
"It will—it's not that bad." By touch alone, he folded the bottom of Castiel's shirt up over the wet place and didn't think of Jo. "Press down—you don't need angel healing to stop bleeding, I do it all the time." Sam passed behind him, a whisper of movement in the pitch black. "Hey. Phone's in my right jacket pocket. I got any service out here?"
The side of his jacket dipped. "No," Sam said a second later.
"Figures. We gotta get some place we can call you-know-who and ask how to kill this thing."
His eyes were slowly adjusting to the dark; he could see the pale sliver of Castiel's shirt, the even-paler mist of their breaths. Cas' were puffing out way too fast. "You're gonna hyperventilate," Dean grumbled, fingers steepling over Castiel's breastbone, and then a clatter in the bare branches overhead jerked his attention off the angel.
"In that tree there, sliding down the trunk!"
Dean couldn't see where Sam was pointing, but he could hear the rattle of branches swaying beneath its weight. "Shit, it's fast."
Castiel was scrabbling behind him and he dropped his shoulder so the angel could pull himself up on Dean's arm. A sharp rip of pain went down his back and Castiel pitched forward and caught Sam's waistband and they were gone.
Humidity like damp wool smothered them. Lights gleamed across a slow stretch of water from a small town and mud sucked at their shoes when Castiel jolted a few unsteady steps and Dean followed, handful of coat, hauling upward. "Pressure. Pressure on it so it stops. Shit, you look awful. You're not gonna fly us through something solid, are you?"
An irritated glare was his only answer. Castiel jammed his hand under his coat and flicked a glance at Sam.
"Got reception! I'm dialing now, I'm dialing," Sam muttered. "Hey! It's us. No, listen – Devil's Gate – the jilaiya that got out – yeah. Yeah, we think one followed Dean out of Carthage – I know they latch onto spoken names, I already…"
"Dude, ask him how to kill the thing," Dean gritted out. There was enough light reflecting off the water for him to see Cas had his eyes shut. The shoulders under Dean's hands rattled and Castiel's arm was rigid with the force he was using to press his side.
"Olivia – how did Olivia…"
A descending wing-tip slapped the side of Sam's head, pitching him into the muck. Dean slid one hand down Castiel's arm to lock hands to wrists and stretched, nearly on tip-toe, to catch the front of Sam's shirt in a desperate grab. The resulting jerk nearly unzipped his spine.
They landed hard, as if the ground had caught Castiel by surprise. His heels slammed down and he kept right on going until he thumped onto frozen, rocky ground. Only the wrist wrapped in Dean's fingers kept him from splitting open the back of his head.
A thin river of melted rock trailed through a boulder field and sent up billows of steam where it burned into the sea. Sam stared. "Are we in Iceland?"
"I thought you weren't gonna take us over any oceans." Dean bunched suit jacket in a fist that absolutely was not shaking and pushed it hard against Castiel's ribs, ignoring the way he sucked in a harsh breath and flinched into the rocks at his back.
"Thought a little farther… might throw it off a few moments." His feet scraped restlessly, just once, jamming him tighter to the rock, and Dean put a hand on his knee to still him. The fabric there felt thin and worn.
"I miss the good ol' days when you didn't need bandages."
He twisted to locate his brother. Sam was silhouetted against the fiery glow, hands raised to its radiant heat. "Hey. He have time to give you an answer?"
"Copper knife. He said we need a copper knife." Sam wheeled back, prompting a strong grimace from Dean.
"Dude, you smell like bait—old bait. Does he have a copper knife?"
"Connection broke before he could say."
"Well, call him back and ask him!" Sam ducked so that his hair flopped over his face and Dean groaned. "Oh, you did not drop my phone in that bay!"
"This is fucking peachy."
"You can use my…" Castiel broke off. He seized Dean's wrist, hard enough to bruise despite his waning strength. "Pull me up!" he rasped. "Pull me…"
Rocks clattered down the slope above them. Dean slid an arm around the angel's back from one side, Sam from the other, they heaved forward and up, and the red slide of molten rock winked out.
It was a field this time, the landing jolt even harder this time. Wind redolent with salt and rockweed swept over them while Dean walked them in a tight, wavering circle through waist-high grass.
"Stay up. Stay on your feet. I can't pull you back up right now if you go down."
"Give him here." Sam pushed in to take Dean's place, handling the angel's slack weight easily. "Your back?"
"Holy fuck." Dean bowed over, hands on his knees, and waited out the flashes erupting on the back of his eyelids.
"Hey. Um." Sam jiggled Castiel's arm, trying, and failing, to draw his intense focus off Dean's bent head. "Can you just, like, transport to a metal shop, or do you need to know where one is first?"
"Need to know." Castiel twitched, head rising, and there was a fine edge of panic in the jerkiness of his motions. "Farther didn't help—it's right behind us." Still slumped against Sam, he lurched forward to thrust a hand into the center of Dean's back, and shoved.
Dean rebounded off a steel wall. After the first clanging impact, he let his forehead tip forward to rest on the metal. Distant traffic hummed at the edge of his hearing, and when he cracked an eyelid, he was greeted by artificial light for the first time in what felt like hours.
Sam pulled away and Dean twitched into a feverish grab for his brother. "Hang on, hang on." Sam fended him off. "I want to take a look around."
"Hurry." Castiel's voice was as gritty as the metal under Dean's cheek. He sagged beside Dean, one hand white-knuckled on the rung of a rusty ladder, and when Dean rolled his eyes to the side, he saw ranks of boxcars in a crowded railyard. "We cannot stay too long in a populated area or the night demon will hear another's name."
"I don't see…" Sam moved rapidly between cars, ducking to peer beneath them, hands reaching out to test loose pieces. "Iron, yeah, and steel, chrome… but I don't see anything that might be copper."
"Get back here." Dean heaved upright. "Okay, look, we can't zigzag randomly around hoping to land someplace with a bunch of copper lying around." He closed a hand around the trenchcoat's lapel, because Castiel had started swaying in a non-existent breeze. "You're running on empty, aren't you?"
Castiel's eyes peeled open, resigned but resolute. "It is only touching down that is causing difficulty. I'm having trouble judging…"
"You're having trouble judging how strong my bullshit detector is. Talk."
For a second they faced off, eye to eye. Dean was on a steep slope to exhaustion, hungry, hurting from being slammed into a tree, not to mention freaked out by the Terminator-wannabe tied to him. Castiel was an angel, diminished somewhat but still one of heaven's soldiers.
Castiel caved first.
"It's true, I am having more and more trouble flying. Even healing myself is… delayed. I can no longer exorcise evil with a touch. I didn't bother fixing my coat because it took too much energy. I'm sorry, Dean."
"Okay. Don't freak, just… don't make me guess about this shit, okay? Tell me what's not working, so I can find a work-around. And just so you know, you're not off the hook about how that coat got burned in the first place and how you know you can't banish demons any more." Dean glanced up. "Any second now, so listen—how are you at short jumps around the city? I've got an idea."
"You hanging in there?"
In slow motion, Castiel curled his arm around the lamppost on the street corner, one hip coming to rest on the ornate cast iron. The blood had soaked through his clothes; he rubbed a thumb across the discolored trenchcoat without curiosity. "It is... wearing."
"Extra gravity tonight, huh?" Dean pushed aside the layers to check the claw marks once more. "Are you doing this, or has it stopped bleeding on its own?"
"A little of both, I think."
"Good, that's good." Dean tucked one hand in the crease of the angel's shoulder and neck, rocking slightly while they waited.
Footsteps echoed off the dark storefronts, and Sam jogged down the sidewalk to them. "The store we want is one block over; it's fourth from the corner, pale brick with white stone trim," he reported, and Castiel nodded.
"Can you put us right in the center so there's less chance of triggering a burglar alarm?" Dean asked, and Castiel nodded again, pushed straight, and laid a palm on each of the brothers' foreheads.
When he lowered his arms, they were in a cramped, low-ceilinged shop. Diffused light from the street filtered in the grimy window, sufficient to show shelves crammed with cardboard boxes and piping stacked in bundles and not much else.
Sam snapped his wrist up to check his watch. "I figure we have two minutes, tops."
"You start looking." Dean tipped Castiel back so he was propped against the nearest section of shelving. "And you stay here. No jumping in front of that thing again, either."
Sam was already rifling boxes, moving down the shelves at a fast clip. "These are all just fittings."
"I'm not pelting it with fittings. Look for pipe, dude, pipe."
"I am looking, and I only see that PVC crap."
"It's a plumbing supply store, there's gotta be some somewhere!"
A shadow flitted across the plate glass window. "Ohshitohshitohshit," Dean chanted, flying down an aisle full of pumps and motors and up the next, stocked with sink fixtures. 'Plumbing' implied the transport of water, didn't it? and that implied fucking pipes to carry it in and if he'd gambled wrong they were so, so screwed.
The door rattled gently.
All three of them swung towards it and froze. It rattled again and a dark line insinuated itself in the jamb. The leading edge expanded and resolved itself into a foot and spindly leg that slid further into the store.
Dean was jolted into motion. "Get back, the damn thing can make its bones fold or some shit like that!" He could hear Sam retreating and he reached for Castiel in the murky shadows and Castiel wasn't there. "Cas, you sonuvabitch, where'd you go?"
The jilaiya slithered further in, pausing with a little tug for its hips to pass and again for its shoulders. Dean backpedaled, hands scrambling nimbly over pipes of every conceivable diameter, not a one of them the material he sought. A supple scrape and a final rattle and the night demon had gained entry.
It was still so damned relaxed as it glided up to him—maybe he could hold it off long enough for Sam and Cas to escape, though he was pretty sure it had heard Cas' name spoken.
It'd be after Cas next and that shit was not gonna fly.
His hand fell onto something heavy, with sharp edges, and he hefted it without looking, poised to drive the chunk of machinery into that flat, serene face.
"Here," he heard Castiel say from behind him.
Dean half-turned, and the angel was striding out of heavy shadows at the back of the store, a length of pipe extended and gleaming dully in the scant light. He slapped it into Sam's hands and his brother spun, shouted "Dean! Here!" and pitched it down the aisle.
A bony hand skimmed the back of Dean's bicep. He twisted aside, plucked the copper pipe from midair, and drove it backwards straight through the middle of the jilaiya's belly.
They heaved it into a convenient dumpster, along with all the cans marked 'flammable' that Dean could wrap his arms around without dropping when Castiel pushed him from the store to the back alley. Sam flicked a lighter and the solvents started to hiss and bubble and seconds later there were orange flames shooting ten feet in the air.
"Pretty." Dean stared at the conflagration admiringly. "C'mon. We don't want to be here when the fire department shows up." Castiel squared his shoulders and reached over and Dean held up a hand. "Nope, nope, that's enough for tonight. Saw a couple motels back the way we came. We're gonna pick one and crash 'til tomorrow - later today - 'til I'm done sleeping."
"No, you can't. We'll walk."
Cas wouldn't take either of the beds. Sam hustled himself off to the shower and Dean stood on the threadbare carpet and argued until he realized Castiel had simply stopped listening to him and was settled immovably in the room's single rattan chair. His head was tilted back against the faded tropical-print cushion and his eyes were closed and with the livid spill of dark red down his front adding to the picture, Dean's stomach contracted.
"Jeez, anybody walks past, we're gonna have Homicide kicking our door in." He pulled the drapes tight to the edges of the window. "You okay, Cas?"
The angel cracked one eye. "Nearly."
"You're a lousy liar." Dean lowered himself to the edge of the nearer bed. The shower was still hissing full-force; Sammy was gonna be pissed once he remembered he didn't have any clean clothes to change into. He studied his boots, trying to decide if it was worth the effort to pry them off. No. No, it wasn't. Keeping his face carefully blank, Dean swung his legs up onto the bed and eased flat.
"You gonna be able to flap us back to Bobby's, or should I boost a car?"
"I will manage."
Dean grunted and let his spine relax, one vertebrae at a time. The taps in the bathroom finally squeaked off and idly he counted down. Right on cue Sam started whining to himself and Dean smirked tiredly.
"Hey, Cas, you starting back out on your God Knows Where Tour once you're mojo'd up again?"
Silence stretched between them; Cas was running the question through the angel-Babelfish in his head, Dean figured, and he sank deeper in the mattress, letting him work it out in his own time.
"Of course," Castiel finally answered and Dean nodded. Of course.
"I don't need to tell you to call if you get cut off and come down stranded someplace, do I?"
The silence was shorter this time. "No," Castiel replied quietly.
"Car won't fly around the clouds, but she'll carry three wherever the roads go, if, y'know, we need her to."
The angel didn't answer, but Dean thought maybe the silence between them was a little less heavy now.