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Warning: All OC names were chosen as in-jokes or references to various fandoms. Please keep that in mind, thank you for your time, and enjoy.
A Deafening Distance
Sam tries. One would think him to be the more patient of the brothers, being a bookworm, a geek, a former law student. They obviously never saw Dean when he was around Castiel, when he was showing the angel how to take apart a gun, clean it, and put it back together.
That was about the only useful thing Dean taught the former angel. He wasn't the best example of humanity, but, and Castiel never forgets this, he was the most honest. His very flaws made him perfect, because humans are always imperfect.
Castiel may be the only exception, but that's only when he's not handling a gun.
"Like this," Sam says, standing next to him, adjusting his grip. "Or else the kickback will break your face."
Castiel frowns at the thought. "That would be unpleasant."
"Well, yeah." Sam steps back. "Remember, bullets don't travel in a straight line. You have to compensate for distance, wind, the target's-"
"Is there a difference between shooting a beer can and shooting a ghost?" Castiel interrupts, and Sam sighs.
"Just practice holding and shooting with a shotgun, Cas. That comes later."
He does. The butt of the shotgun digs into the inside of his shoulder as he sights down the barrel like Sam told him to. He finds it a clumsy extension of his arm, a poor substitute for the powers he once wielded, and suddenly the yawning emptiness where his grace should be threatens to swallow him again.
The barrel vibrates, and Castiel realizes that he's shaking. He lowers the firearm, and Sam snaps, "Safety!"
Castiel clicks it back on and bows his head. "I'm sorry-"
"Don't," Sam says, walking over to him and sliding the shotgun out of his hand. "It's not going to happen overnight."
Sam doesn't hear him. He's walking over to the picnic table, opening the breach to remove the unspent shells. His muttering drifts back to Castiel, carried along by a gust of mountain wind, and he wishes he could dissolve into it so that he never has to hear Sam say it.
"You should be the one doing this. You should be the one showing him how it's done."
Castiel is also hopeless around other people. Dean laughed at him for it, telling him they should go to more brothels because he was a riot. Later, when traveling with the brothers had become a necessity, Sam would roll his eyes and pretend he wasn't there.
Now he rolls his eyes and tries to show Castiel what to do and how to behave.
"Okay, I don't know what Dean told you, but you do not go around telling people it's not their fault their fathers didn't love them more," Sam tells him as they hurry out of the third bar in less than two hours. "Just keep your mouth shut and let me do the talking, okay?"
Unfortunately for them the siren is more than happy to talk up Castiel even as he sits quiet and invisible in the corner of the cocktail lounge while Sam makes nice with the people and tries to determine who is infected. The joke is on the siren, though; Castiel knows when he is poisoned, and holds onto his sanity long enough for Sam to slice his arm and stab the creature with the brass dagger.
"How?" Sam asks later. They're at the edge of the city, watching the body burn.
"Sirens change shape according to their victims' wants and desires," Castiel says, although Sam already knows this. The heat from the fire gives him little comfort when he looks at Sam and says, "What I want, what I desire…is not here. The siren was a poor imitation…"
"But you let it infect you anyway," Sam says angrily. "Do you have any idea-"
"The poison would have driven me insane, I know. But it got the job done, didn't it?"
Sam stares at him. The orange firelight flickers, pulling and pushing the shadows on his face. Castiel shudders and looks away at the waiting Impala; it reminds him too much of the gates of Hell.
"We should go," he says, and walks away.
He knows Sam is tempted to sit him down in a public library with a laptop and a list of things to look up while he runs off to wheedle information from police officers, doctors, professors, concerned citizens, lawyers, priests and pastors, and people with really big guns. Two weeks after Castiel nearly bungles the Chupacabra case in Big Lake, Texas, Sam drives them to the local library in Riverside, Iowa, and tells him not to leave the building until Sam calls for him to come out.
"I'm not a child, Sam," Castiel says solemnly while getting out of the Impala.
Sam looks away. "I know," he says quietly and his voice threatens to crack. "But we can't risk it. We almost lost a whole family because you said the wrong thing. Cops didn't even say thank you afterwards"
"Don't." Sam takes a deep breath, hands gripping the wheel tightly. "I…I wish I knew what to do. I really do."
He spends five hours tinkering with the computers and reading half of the library's nonfiction collection. The librarians give him odd looks as they walk by, but he ignores them. His eyes gloss over the printed words, mumbling corrections and annotations under his breath, and soon a whole corner of the library is his.
The librarians seem relieved when Sam calls, telling him to come out immediately.
When Castiel looks back he wonders if that was the beginning of the end. Without Dean they are unraveling. Sam looks like a shadow of himself, his eyes hard and emotionless, all sympathy gone from his voice and his mind. He is turning into something worse than his brother; Bobby warned him not to become a "Gordon Walker" and Sam snapped, told him never to make that comparison, and stormed out of the house, leaving Castiel staring down at his hands and the ex-hunter sighing while he rolled down to his study room and slammed the door.
"Boy doesn't know how to live without Dean," Bobby confessed the next night, when Sam still hadn't returned. "Even when he was off to college he was okay because he knew Dean was out there. Now he's a damn wreck. Should've seen him the four months Dean was in Hell; I mean he literally fell off the map…"
Castiel sat there in the kitchen, feeling small and insignificant and utterly helpless. Even as an angel he wasn't much to look at; he was only an angel of Thursday, only an observer, a watcher, a strategist, a soldier among thousands. Was it his fault he got to Dean's soul first, pulling him out of Hell and forever linking their lives together? Was it his fault his involvement only escalated when it turned out that Michael's vessel refused to listen to all angels but him?
Was it his fault that Dean crawled under his vessel's skin and wrapped himself around his grace long before Raphael struck him down for his defiance?
One night they skip the bar and take the liquor back to the motel room. It was an awful day; they weren't hunting the town's local Hook Man, but an actual serial killer masquerading as one. Sam and Castiel only realized it when the supposed Hook Man broke its M.O. but it took three more deaths to prove it.
They were all children.
With the town in an uproar over the murders, seething with fury and vigilante justice, Sam suggested they avoid the bars; Castiel suspected that Sam didn't trust him to drink around people who weren't in the right state of mind.
They sit on the carpet, sharing a bottle of Johnnie Walker, drinking out of little plastic cups, saying nothing until they're too shitfaced to remember how to care. Castiel can't get the blood out of his mind, though. He can't get the shock and horror and the blank brown eyes of the little boy out of his head; he drinks and drinks until he can't feel anything but he can still see his slick red hands pulling the body out of the abandoned car while Sam pistol-whips the so-called Hook Man onto the ground.
"I wish I died," he blurts out.
Sam stops drinking.
"I'm useless. I can't hunt. I know things, but what use is that when I can't do anything about it?" He grips the plastic cup in his hand tightly. "I'm not an angel anymore. I have nothing to fight for, nothing to live for. Father never answered my prayers and Dean-"
"Cas," Sam says. "Don't."
"Dean said yes because Zachariah killed me."
"Damn it, Cas, I said don't!"
"And why not?" Castiel asks, and then he laughs bitterly. Sam looks taken aback, and Castiel can't blame him because he's never heard it before either. "You know what it's like. You know how it feels living every day without the person you love. I should've died that second time. Instead I'm sitting here on a motel floor drinking everything away so I don't have to be reminded that…every day I'm living because of him."
He stares down at the dull carpet as he lets his voice drift. His left hand skims over the stiff fabric, tracing a sigil while the other grips the cup of whiskey tightly.
Sam is silent throughout his outburst, and then he says, "Why don't you quit hunting, then?"
"Why don't you?" Castiel shoots back.
Castiel has always been better at these so-called staring contests, and after a long tense moment Sam drops his eyes. "Because it's how I remember him."
He sweeps an uncoordinated arm around the room. "You know what your bastard brother Gabriel did to me? He put me through over a hundred Tuesdays and a hundred different deaths, and then three months without Dean to show me that he's my weakness. I can still remember all the things I did. I killed Bobbyjust to draw the Trickster out. Not my proudest moment, Cas. I don't…really talk about it."
"You're always the one trying to make Dean talk."
"Yeah, well, I learned my fucking lesson. Better to bury it and move on. Easier that way." Sam sniffs, drains the plastic cup, and then tosses it in favor of the bottle.
So Castiel stops talking about it.
And then he stops thinking about it.
And then he stops hunting.
"Black coffee and Danish for you, Novak."
"Thank you, Clarice," Castiel says, sliding over three crumpled dollars.
"Why don't you try to the diner down the block? It'll be more filling than this," she says. He only smiles; she tells him this most mornings but they both know he'll always come here to the cornerstone bakery at eight o'clock sharp. Uncanny, she tells him one morning. She could set her watch by him.
He chuckles at the thought, and then steps aside so she can address her next customer.
Castiel has a morning ritual. He walks into the bakery at eight in the morning, buys a cup of black coffee and pastry, sits at the booth next to the back wall, and stares out at the bluish gray street while Detroit stirs, stretches, yawns, and stumbles to her feet.
Some days he reads the newspaper before heading to work. Some days he reads the newspaper and checks his phone. Today the lit screen tells him he has a new voicemail; it probably came in while he was taking a shower.
"Cas, this is Sam. Checking in like usual. Just got off the plane, so I'm going to make this short. If you need anything, just call Bobby. Yeah, uh, that's all, I guess. Bye."
The newspaper has nothing extraordinary to report. The headlines are recycled – "Governor requests another $3B to rebuild Detroit"; "GM completes move to Chicago"; "Jobless rates still standing at 76%." – so he almost never glances at the front page. Habit has him skimming the inner pages for unusual incidents and strange deaths, but Detroit had been relatively quiet and devoid of supernatural events for almost three years, starting the day after it was destroyed. Castiel suspects that the only supernatural thing lurking in the ruined city is him, but he's not an angel anymore.
At nine he turns on all the lights in the cramped local library and begins going through the bin of returned books. Within ten minutes a coworker walks in, juggling her book bag, a sandwich, and coffee. Misha only works mornings – she takes classes at the one open community college in the city, trying to get out of the city – so the early hours are spent in near silence while they sort the books according to the Dewey Decimal System.
When Misha first started working here she tried to talk with him, fill the empty silence before the first patrons walked in, but now she's always listening to her little music player. He doesn't mind; they work out a system of signals and gestures so that she doesn't have to unplug herself and he doesn't have to talk to her.
The head librarian tells Castiel one day that he is the reason why so many people come to the library. Baffled, Castiel asks him what he's talking about, and the man says that very few people had a reason to come here in the months after the dust and smoke settled. Then Castiel showed up a year ago and now the library is receiving funds for renovations and new books.
"I bet half the girls here are after you," Jenny teases, giving Castiel a wink. She works afternoons, and was among the volunteers who came to help clean up Detroit. She never left. "The kids really like you, though."
"As long as we get the kids off the street," Jared says. He too was a former volunteer. "That's our priority."
The newspapers like the report on the violence in the slums Castiel chose as his home. He hates thinking about it, but every night he's spent here is filled with sirens, angry voices, and the occasional gunshot.
Sam meets him every other month or two. The last time they sat in a diner, talking about their post-hunting lives. Sam was now a coordinator with a non-profit organization; he decided to stop by Motor City for a few hours while on his way to Boston for a nationwide conference.
Almost casually, Sam asked if there's a specific reason why Castiel chose Detroit.
"I felt my presence was needed here," he said, pushing around the potatoes on his plate.
"You feel you owe them something," Sam said carefully. "Because we're the reason why this place has gone to hell."
Maybe that's why he tries so hard to keep the children here off the streets. He wants them to read the books, discover the written word, and start dreaming of life outside of this broken world of smoke and concrete. If anything the American cultural mindset tells them that they can get places by working hard and dreaming big. Castiel does his part to make sure they keep dreaming.
He peers over the desk at the boy with the bright blue backpack. "David."
David flashes a cheeky smile before twisting around to get at his backpack. "Miss Jenny says you can help me with my homework 'cause you're not doing anything right now."
"Of course," Castiel says, leaning on the desk and watching in mild amusement as the boy fishes out a well-worn paper packet. "Is it English or math?"
"Well, it's English," David says slowly. "And…maybe afterwards some math?"
Castiel nods. "Find a table. I'll be there in a second."
"Okay!" David grabs his homework and bolts, then checks himself and instead bounces over to the nearest empty table in the library. Castiel watches, and then turns to fish for a pen.
"Why don't you teach?" Jenny asks. She's clicking away at an old computer, chewing her bottom lip.
He's startled by the question; she had never asked why he worked at the library, instead taking pleasure in knowing that there's someone besides her who cares about the children growing up in post-Detroit.
She looks almost as surprised by his question as he is by hers. "Well, you're good with the kids. And you're good to them. That's important. This neighborhood could use more teachers; all you need is a certificate-"
"I don't plan to stay here forever," Castiel says, and then freezes.
He never thought that far into the future, never felt the need to. Since becoming human, since parting ways with Sam, he's found himself drifting in a state of apathy. He did feel an obligation to the city – Sam was right – but he knows it's not forever. Three years feels more like three seconds to a previously near-immortal creature. He just keeps forgetting that humans don't think the same way.
And eventually he'll stop thinking years in seconds, too.
"I didn't…" He falters at the blank look on Jenny's face.
"No, you're right," she slowly says. "You never seemed like someone who'd stay here long enough for that."
He doesn't know how she picked it up, but he'll have to ask her to explain later. There's a child waiting for his help, and so he leaves the front desk, his mind becoming overcast with questions he never thought to ask himself.
Marie is Jenny's girlfriend, and extremely fascinated with Castiel. He's uncomfortable with her unasked-for interest, and tries to ignore her gaze while organizing the books in the carts.
It's been going on for weeks, and all attempts to be as boring and invisible as inhumanly possible fails under her watchful brown eyes. When Sam drops in for a daylong visit she's there, sitting in a threadbare armchair and tracking him while pretending to read a hefty textbook.
"Does she have a thing for you or something?" Sam whispers. Castiel wonders if Sam knows he's leaning very close with his back to Marie, as if shielding the former angel from scrutiny.
"She has a girlfriend," Castiel says. He glances down at the books he's shelving and wonders why humans continue to publish conspiracy theories about the Bible.
An eyebrow climbs up Sam's forehead. "Oh. Okay, then…she's still staring. It's kind of creepy."
Castiel shrugs. "You get used to it after a month."
"A month-Cas, she's been stalking you for a month. What if she's a demon or something-"
"She's not. You think I wouldn't have checked?"
Sam ponders this for half a minute. "Okay, well, I'm going to talk to her."
He pushes himself off the bookcase and walks off, making a beeline for Marie. Castiel sighs and tries to focus on the books in his hands, but instead looks over his shoulder, watching Sam gesticulate emphatically while an unperturbed Marie looks on.
Sam returns with a baffled look on his face.
"She just likes watching you," he says, taking a book from the cart and looking at its spine. "I don't get it."
They spend the rest of the day shelving books and talking about Bobby and Rufus, and when they leave the library to get dinner Jenny and Marie are gone. Castiel forgets about Sam's conversation with Marie until the following Friday. He's making annotations in a recently published book about Detroit's recent history, minding to use a pencil so it can easily be erased, and he gets so lost in the shift from disinterested amusement to an obsession with the truth that he doesn't notice Marie standing in front of him until Jenny comes over and touches his shoulder.
"Whoa!" she says when he jerks away, his mind wrenching back to the present. "Sorry, Novak, didn't mean to-"
"It's nothing," he says smoothly, shutting the book and placing the dull pencil on top of it. He glances at her, and then at Marie. "What?"
"We're going out tonight," Marie says. "Wanna come?"
He stares at her, and then at Jenny. He can't tell if they're serious. "Why?"
"Honestly?" Jenny says carefully. "You seem lonely."
"I know, I know, we shouldn't pry into other people's lives," Marie interrupts. "Just hear us out. You've been working here for almost two years now, correct?"
She waits until he nods. "You have a friend who visits like once every few months, what's his name…Sam, correct?"
"Yes." His eyes narrow as he recalls Sam's last visit. "What did you tell him?"
"That my girlfriend's worried about her coworker and wants my help. A man your age and with your looks shouldn't be hiding in this library. So we want to take you out, have some fun-"
"Detroit isn't 'fun'," Castiel says.
That draws both women up short, and Jenny gives Marie a significant look. "You know, Novak, it's not your responsibility to get this city back on its feet."
"It's all you do. I know next to nothing about you, but I know this – your presence here has really helped the neighborhood, even if you never leave until closing. Remember that mother who came in here with that gift basket and thanked you for getting her twins back in school?"
"Well I just want to give back." Jenny gives him a tentative smile. "You give and give and give, and you never ask for anything in return. And, well, you just seem so sad. I don't know how it's possible for someone to act like there's a purpose in life yet live like there's, well, like there's nothing to live for."
Castiel drops his eyes to the desk, at the cover of the book he was annotating. A finger traces the skyline of the pre-Apocalypse photograph and knocks the pencil off the book onto the table. Faintly he recognizes the pounding in his ear as his heart, but it goes numb as the familiar apathy of an angel takes over.
He draws a basic Enochian sigil on the glossy cover, and then looks up. The women watch him curiously, expectantly, and he doesn't know what to say.
"You know what, I think we can all do with a drink or two," Marie says suddenly. "Let's go, Novak. I know a halfway decent bar a few blocks from here. Might help you loosen up a bit; sometimes you walk around like your head's in the clouds and you're never going to come back down to us."
Jenny places a tentative hand on his shoulder and guides him out. The library goes dark behind them.
It's been five months and two Fridays when Castiel first sees him.
It can almost be called a cocktail lounge; the establishment is unusually spacious and free of the grimy smoke and gloom that seems to cling to the city. He decides it's the view that makes all the difference, watching the array of lights across Detroit River. Windsor, Canada looks particularly beautiful tonight, lively like the starlight.
Castiel has not stepped foot in Windsor since he and Sam were cast there.
Jenny and Marie are nearby, chatting and laughing with Misha, Jared, and Marie's brother Chris. Jenny's attempts to give Castiel a reason to live outside the library and his apartment expanded to include their coworkers but this is the first time Marie's brother accompanies them. He was an engineer in the military, now a civil engineer helping rebuild the city Castiel helped destroy.
Castiel has never seen such beautiful souls gathered together in one place, so full of hope for the future. In fact the lounge is full of the young and hopeful, people talking about their lives and dreams of better things. Sitting here on the barstool, swirling strong Scotch and melting ice cubes, he feels very old and very tired.
"Penny for your thoughts," Misha says, sitting down next to him, swaying slightly as she leans against the glass counter. Her face is tinted red and her eyes not as sharp; she clutches a bright blue drink in her hand and gives him a wide smile.
He ponders the question, not sure whether to tell her thoughts are worth more than pennies or answer her truthfully. He looks at the whiskey in his glass and mutters, "I feel old."
She laughs, slapping his arm. "Don't be silly! You're only what, thirty?"
Older than this city. Infinitely older than the Earth. Just younger than the galaxies. "One doesn't have to look old to be old."
Sudden bitter bile rises up his throat and Castiel hastily takes a sip of the Scotch. It scorches a line down his throat, like inhaling fire, and suddenly he feels the flames of Hell licking at his grace while he falls deeper and deeper into its depths, falling for a cracked and bleeding soul.
"You okay, Novak?" Misha asks carefully, but he refuses to meet her concern head-on. Instead he stares across the lounge, at the people standing around in cliques and sitting down in the sofas. There is another bar on the other side, and his eyes follow the bartender as she moves from customer to customer, taking orders and mixing drinks.
The people here are as well dressed as can be in circumstances like this, wearing skirts and dresses, designer jeans, and pinstripe blazers. His eyes sweep over them, taking in their expressions and postures, gauging their moods, and-
He can't breathe.
There is a face staring back at him, attached to a body leaning casually against the counter, ignoring the hustle and bustle of youth and cheer around him. He's wearing layers, a dark blue jacket over an army green shirt over a black tee and jeans and steel-toed boots; a silver ring flashes on his right hand. His eyes are hooded, hard, and piercing, and Castiel feels like he's being flayed alive. His hand inches up to the amulet underneath his shirt; the cool metal becomes five tons dragging him down to the floor.
And then a group of college students cross the lounge, breaking the spell. Castiel blinks; they have moved all the way to the other side and nobody's there.
I'm seeing ghosts, he thinks, because there's nothing else to say to himself.
"-tomorrow morning. What do you think, Novak? Novak? Hey, you there?"
Blinkers go on and off, on and off. He starts, liquor splashing over his hand, and turns his head to see Marie withdrawing her hand.
"Someone's had too much to drink," Jared quips while he carefully sets the glass down.
"I'm fine," he says. "I just…I thought I saw someone."
Jenny glances over her shoulder at the other bar. "Who?"
He shrugs. "Just…someone."
The others exchange looks, and then Marie says, "Well we're thinking about taking a trip across the border to Windsor tomorrow morning. Might stay there the whole day. You interested?"
No, he thinks.
"Black coffee and Danish," Clarice tells him, setting the Styrofoam cup and pastry down in between them.
Castiel nods and reaches into his pocket for his wallet.
"No, no," she says, shaking her head and waving her hand at him. "You're good, Novak. It's already paid for."
He frowns, his eyebrows drawing together in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"I mean someone came in this morning, asking after you. I asked if he was a friend of yours, and he says yes, he hadn't seen you in a while but wants to know how you're doing." Clarice is rambling; there's nobody standing behind him at the moment. "I told him, why not ask him yourself? Boy just smiles and says, here's for his coffee and Danish, hands me some money, and walks out. Just like that." She leans on the counter, leering at him. "Beautiful man…and what a gentleman, too. Who is he?"
A deep chill crawls inside him and makes itself at home. "I-I don't know," he says, and takes his food to the far corner of the bakery.
He stares at the pastry and the steaming black coffee for a long time. His stomach is roiling, upended and nervous, and his chest hurts, some invisible hand gripping his heart and lungs and squeezing them tight. Castiel rubs his face and stares down at his hands. They're shaking.
Not possible. It's not possible.
The face in the crowd last Friday, and now this. He's hallucinating, or someone's playing tricks on him. Why? Why now? Did he inhale something in the air? Did he eat the wrong thing? Is someone stalking him? Does someone know what he used to?
Castiel looks out the window just as the sun bursts through the mass of dark clouds, golden rays brightening the gray world. There are a few cars in the streets, a group of children going to school, people on their way to work, and a man standing at the corner, hands in the pockets of his dark blue jacket, head tilted up as if to read the dusty street signs.
Castiel blinks and the man is gone.
His mind is a whirlwind by the time he walks into the empty library building and flicks all the lights on. They come on with a soft hum that disappears within the first five minutes, and Castiel walks stiffly over to the bin underneath the slot, half filled with returned books. He's on autopilot, moving the bin behind the front desk and pulling out stacks and stacks of books to sort and place in carts.
He has an option. He still remembers her name, and the summoning sigil. He wonders if she'll burn his now-human eyes out like he once did to Pamela.
And Sam. What is he going to tell Sam?
"Hey," Misha calls out as she walks into the library. She's tugging the white earbuds out and wrapping them around her music player. Ever since Jenny invited her to come out with them months ago she unplugs herself whenever she comes in and talks about professors and classes while he nods and offers advice. He finds he likes listening to her, but not this morning.
Castiel concentrates on the English alphabet and the order of numbers and decimals, planning out the rest of the day.
"You all right?" she asks. "Novak. Hello?"
She snaps her fingers in his face and he starts out of his thoughts.
"Thinking about that person you thought you saw?" she asks.
Everyone noticed his odd silence Friday night and all of Saturday.
Castiel frowns at his transparence, takes a deep breath, and gives her his full attention. "I apologize. I was…up late last night, talking with a friend."
"This the one at the bar?" she asks, peering at his face. He fights not to lower his eyes.
"Well, okay then," she says when she realizes he isn't going to say more. "Let's get these books sorted, yeah?"
The day passes by quietly, full of insignificance. He spends an hour helping Daniel and his classmate John with their homework, thirty minutes ignoring the nervous giggles of a group of high school girls while helping them find books, and two hours reading biblical interpretations of the one year Lucifer spent on the earth.
And then he's idly picking through the frozen section at the local grocery store, bumping elbows with the other residents. He's walking home to the complex and climbing the stairs, his footsteps echoing up and down the stories. Inside he sorts out his purchases and organizes them neatly in the refrigerator, takes the demon-killing knife Sam left with him from a small drawer, and walks into the living room.
Castiel takes down the cheap painting that's more a mockery of wall decorations, pushes up his sleeve, and stares down at the inside of his left arm. It's pale, sickly in the dim orange light of the streetlamps, and he wonders why he never thought of this before.
One quick slide of the serrated edge across his arm, slicing open the veins, and it will be over. Oblivion, almost like the space between the breath he drew before Raphael struck him down and the one after he wakes up in a green field in the heart of China.
Instead he nicks his finger just enough to draw beads of blood, and makes a small circle on the wall. It looks inky in the light, almost blue, which amuses him more than it should while he paints her summons, and then slams his palm on the sigil.
The slap against the wall echoes in his ears. He can hear his shaky breaths. No cars pass by down on the streets, no sirens wail, no planes fly far overhead the city.
He closes his eyes.
"It's safe. You can look; I'm only wearing my body."
He doesn't move. A heel clicks over the floor, and then another, and then there's a cool hand on the arm with the pushed up sleeve. A soft breath against his face, smelling of myrrh and the cold mountain air. Kind words drift to his ear, motherly and achingly familiar.
"Oh, Castiel. Look at you…" Fingertips trace his face, so gentle he feels fragile. "What are you doing here? This city is draining you; it's killing you-"
"Anna," he breathes out.
"Yes. What is it?"
"I…" He swallows, and finally opens his eyes. He looks at her, her young ageless face, the impenetrable eyes and fiery long hair. How long as it been since the last time he saw her, talked to her? "Michael. Where is Michael?"
Her concerned expression doesn't change. He searches her face, looking for something, anything; he wonders if he's able to read her after years of absence.
Anna hesitates, lips parting but silent, and he fills with dread. Slowly, carefully, picking her words, she says, "I don't know. Nobody knows. He…disappeared that day. We've been looking for him, but he's gone."
"Like Father," Castiel says flatly.
She shrugs and glances over her shoulder at the window. "Maybe. Maybe not. Why do you ask?"
She drifts over to the window, tugging on the string to pull the blinds up even higher so she can see what Detroit looks like from within.
"I thought I…saw something," he says. "Someone. I could be wrong."
Anna looks at him sharply. "You should leave this place, Castiel. Go to Sam."
"Why?" He doesn't like the sudden steel in her voice. She's ordering him like she's his superior. Perhaps, he thinks, she expects him to obey as a devout man once did in another lifetime.
"I told you," she says. "This city is killing you."
She reaches out to him but he steps back. "No."
"I decide when to leave," he says. "I'm not ready to go."
"It was his choice," she says, and now stern anger is lacing her words. She takes a step towards him; he takes two back. "You know this."
"He should've let me die."
"But he didn't. He loved you too much-"
"He always does that, always gives himself up for the ones he loves," Castiel says. "He should've looked after himself for once-"
"He ended the Apocalypse for you," Anna says. "You died for him, but he couldn't stop the Apocalypse from happening. He gave himself to Michael to save you, so that you could live to see the world you gave everything for be saved."
He shakes his head like it'll throw the words back at her, but it's true, it's so true, and he can't stand it. His heart aches, his chest constricting, and he tries to breathe, staggers back into the wall dividing the hall and the excuse of a kitchen.
"I'm sorry, little brother," Anna says softly. "I wish I knew what to do."
He doesn't look up from his blood smeared hands until she's gone in a flurry of wings. The small bloody sigil isn't on the wall; in its place is the cheap painting in its hideous frame.
Castiel has never felt so alone in his existence.
"You look awful," Chris says conversationally.
Castiel nods, not really caring.
He hasn't heard from Sam in a month. For the first time in two years he dials the number but all he gets is voicemail.
"Sam, it's me. You haven't called in the past five weeks. I just want to know if you're okay or if you're in need of assistance. That is all."
"Busy," he says dismissively and pours more whiskey into the cracked shot glass.
The women and Jared are playing pool, and Misha is winning. The bar itself is a pleasant change, full of warmth and vibrancy, wood and smoke. The people here are a mix of weary workers and young part-time college students, friendly and mild and so unlike the desolate emptiness outside the door.
The bar seems to slide over him like a second skin, and he knows why, soaks it in because it's just like the nights on the run from Heaven and Hell, liquor and companionable silence and a man with a broken, beautiful soul.
"We're worried," Chris says. "Even the kids at the library are worried. Well, that's what Misha tells me."
Castiel doesn't answer. He wonders if he'll ever get drunk enough to do something stupid.
"Is something bothering you? I know we made it a rule not to pry, but you're obviously not well, Novak." Chris takes a swig of the beer bottle in his hands. "We also made a rule that nothing gets out of our little circle, so if you need to talk-"
"I'm fine," Castiel says, sharpening his tone. Warning him, back off.
He thinks of summoning Anna again. Her presence is a shock to the numbness in his soul, and for a few hours after he felt so aware, so awake. The echoes of her overpowering grace brought a clarity to his life on earth, and like that it was gone and he was crashing back to the mortal plane.
"This city is killing you."
Chris sighs, and sets the bottle on the counter. He places a hand on his knee, gripping it tight when Castiel jumps and tries to pull away, and says, "Listen. Don't hide anything from us, okay? Five months and I know next to nothing about you. So, what do you know about me?"
"You and Marie were born in Georgia, and you moved to Vermont when you were ten and she was seven. You went to West Point against your parents' wishes but Marie supported you. You served in Iraq until shrapnel from an IED nearly killed you," Castiel says. The man's hand is burning through the jeans, and his heart is jumping up his throat. Fingers grip the slick shot glass but he can't raise it to his lips. "You were home for only three weeks when Detroit happened. You've been here ever since, and then Marie came here to live with you. Then she met Jenny…and me."
Chris nods, and his hold on Castiel's leg loosens ever so slightly. "And you?" He pins Castiel with a look, his face suddenly stern and commanding, and Castiel suddenly sees another face, another pair of eyes, a grim mouth telling Gabriel that he's a coward, telling Raphael off for having no faith, telling Zachariah he won't say yes, telling Castiel and Uriel that he won't let them wipe out an entire town of innocents.
"I…" My name is Castiel and I was an angel of the Lord who fell from grace for love of the righteous man who began and ended the Apocalypse. "I'm from Illinois."
"This is new. Where in Illinois?"
Castiel can feel the corner of his mouth lifting in a small smile. "Pontiac. Pontiac, Illinois."
"Got any family there?"
Chris nods, and finally lets Castiel go. He picks up his beer and peers down the bottleneck. "Okay…what about your friend? Name's Sam, right?"
"How'd you meet him?"
It was long foretold… "Temporary job. It was a long time ago, I…don't remember."
"How long have you known each other?"
Beginning with the prophets of my Father, or when I first met him face to face? "Nine years, give or take."
Chris is silent for a long minute, and Castiel escapes back to the whiskey in the shot glass. He watches Marie's brother carefully; a voice in the back of his mind suggests that the others put him up to it, to fish for information and find the source of Castiel's troubles.
"Were you two ever…involved?" Chris finally asks.
Castiel stares at him, not sure whether to give him a straight answer or laugh.
"Guess not, then," he mutters and finishes his beer. "Okay then…why are you here?"
"Because it was your turn to decide," Castiel says easily, feeling himself slip back into the dusty visage of his angelic self, all literal answers and missed social cues.
Chris laughs. "No, I mean…why Detroit? Of all the places in the country, in the world, why here?" He gestures around the bar. "I'm here because I was needed here; Jared and Misha couldn't make themselves leave when their volunteer organization moved on, but you showed up one day and said you wanted to work here. To quote Jared, you came out of the fucking blue. So why?"
You have no idea, Castiel thinks, and when Chris's forehead wrinkles in confusion and when he feels the air moving in and out of his mouth he realizes he said it out loud.
"You're not going to tell us anything, are you?" Chris finally asks.
Castiel looks at the bottle of whiskey. His hand drifts up to the amulet under his tee, running a finger over the crudely sculpt face. Over the years it had become a part of him, a cool light weight on his collarbone, but with that one Friday his mind shifted and the amulet wasn't his anymore. It's his and someone else's, and now he feels it all the time, burning cold underneath his shirts and jackets against his skin.
It can't hurt to tell, can it?
"I lost someone," he says softly, his eyes glued on the amber in the shot glass. "Sam's brother. Here, in Detroit."
He waits for the probing questions – Who is he? What's his name? What did he do? How did you meet? Did you love him? Were you together? What was he doing in Detroit, and why weren't you with him? – and almost sighs in relief when Chris says, "I'm sorry."
"Don't. It was his choice."
Chris doesn't ask after the admittedly strange statement; instead he leans on the counter and gestures to the bartender. "Another Miller." Then he turns to Castiel and places a hand on his forearm. "Hey, I'll be right back. If you want to talk more, I'm all ears."
He slides off the barstool and walks towards the pool tables and the restrooms in the back. Castiel slouches over the counter, staring at the empty shot glass. He hears Chris and Marie talking while Jared says he's going to quit pool before he loses all his money, the soft laughter and clink of glass against glass behind him and around him. He feels a little lighter, a little less like the world is pushing him down into the earth. He can't tell if it's the alcohol or the words he spoke.
Castiel wonders why tonight got him talking when long ago he and Sam stopped. He doesn't say much, remaining purposefully vague because the fewer words said the less he has to think about, but he still let it slip out of his mouth and into the air. Chris isn't like him, will never be like him, but for those fleeting minutes they were similar, they were alike, they were staring him down and daring him.
"If there's anything worth dying for…this is it."
And he did. Twice.
"I did it all for you."
The bartender sets a fresh cold beer down next to him, but doesn't move away. Instead he leans on the counter, looking over Castiel's right shoulder, and mutters, "Not again. Damn it, Leroy."
Then he hears it, loud terse words punctuating the drowsy atmosphere. Castiel looks over his shoulder just in time to see another man drunkenly shout, "Get out of my city, you carpetbagging fag!" and punch Chris.
They aren't talking to him anymore.
In hindsight Castiel knew he shouldn't have tried to interfere. He is a slight man, mortal and weak, and while he has an idea of where to hit to knock someone else out he probably couldn't execute it properly, at least not before he's thrown clear across the room by the assailant.
But Castiel is a slight man with the mind of an angel, and he knows how to work sigils. He knows how to modify one so that it doesn't banish angels, summon angels, summon demons, or bring down the building, but rather create a contained shock wave that throws everyone off their feet and shatters every glass object in the bar.
Jenny didn't know how right she was when she whispered, "What are you?" while the bartender and Jared called for an ambulance and the bar emptied out in a panic.
The weary officers who finally showed up listened patiently while Marie ranted about the alcohol and homophobia-laced attack on her veteran brother, and then asked her to explain, step by step, what the hell happened. As soon as she fell silent he slipped out of the bar, sidestepping the small crowd of people on the street, some from the bar, some who just happened to be nearby, and melted into the shadows. He thought he saw a face - his face – in the crowd, but his mind was buzzing, pinpricks everywhere, and the ground wouldn't stay level; his apartment isn't very far from this area but it took nearly an hour to find his way back, and when he did he on the steps and buried his cold face in his arms.
He didn't leave the apartment that weekend.
Monday finds him on the sidewalk staring at the library. He feels a strange dissonance; today he hasn't stopped by the cornerstone bakery, so no coffee, no Danish, no comments in the newspaper about the bar fight, no voicemail from Sam.
When Misha comes in she doesn't pull out her earbuds. She doesn't even give him a dismissive "Hello"; she ignores him entirely, keeping a safe distance between them while they go through the bin and set the books in the carts for shelving. Without the meandering banter they finish faster than ever before, and while he starts shelving the books she takes out her textbook, sets her feet up on the front desk, and starts reading.
The silence is cold and impenetrable, and he hates it.
Jared doesn't look at him either; he goes straight to his office and shuts the door behind him with a jarringclick.
Castiel stares at the long jagged scab on the inside of his arm and sighs.
Misha leaves an hour early, and Jenny comes in an hour late, leaving Castiel to do double duty. Afternoon hasn't set in so most of the people in the library are older and they've read, heard, seen the news. They know Jenny was there, that her "friend's" brother was involved in the fight, and many are sympathetic, asking Castiel to tell Marie that they hope her brother has a full recovery. A few know he was a veteran of the Iraqi War, and express outrage at the other man's disrespect for people like Chris, people who give and give to the country, and "get shit in return."
Castiel nods as they pass on their words, and lets them dissolve into the chilled air when they turn and leave the front desk.
Jenny doesn't look at him when she comes in. She looks tired, her skin sallow, her dyed hair in disarray. She sits down in the chair in front of the computer with a heavy sigh and rubs her hooded eyes.
Castiel doesn't dare look at her. Her very presence burns his back, and his self-inflicted wound goes painfully hot. He wonders when she's going to talk, but minutes tick by and she says nothing.
"He's not gay," Jenny suddenly says. "He's not straight. He's not bi. He's a war veteran trying to rebuild Detroit."
He adds a new barcode sticker to the back of an old book and takes the yellowed card out of the sleeve on the inside of its cover.
"The other man's out on bail but Marie wants to bring hate crime charges against him," Jenny says after a minute. She seems to be probing him, watching and waiting for him to react. "Cops are putting it down as alcohol-induced assault so she's taking it to court. The lawyer's going to want to know what happened. What ended it."
He shuts the book and pushes it to the side, and then picks up another one. He peels off another barcode sticker and presses it on the cover.
"I don't believe in magic. I don't believe in the supernatural. I don't…believe in God. But I saw you….when you painted that-that circle with your own blood. Just before I got thrown back, I saw these wings, these great big shadows of wings sprouting from your back. Like you're an angel. Tell me I was just seeing things. Tell me I'm just imagining it."
His hand shakes. His mouth is dry. His heart rattles against his ribcage. The amulet burns cold against his skin.
"Do you know why this city is lost?" he asks, and his voice is speaking both to her and to himself.
"Detroit. This city called Detroit…it happened because of me. I died, and I should've stayed dead. Instead I came back to life, but at a price." He feels himself stretch thin as he speaks, his voice raspy and so low he's speaking at just above a whisper. "Didn't you ever wonder about all the things that were happening before Detroit? The wildfires and mudslides, the earthquakes and hurricanes, the famines and plagues, the sudden destruction of towns and the violence overseas? Things were happening under your very nose and all around you; there were forces out there conspiring to end the world forever, and I was at the heart of it."
She says nothing. He can't even hear her breathe.
"Jenny," he says, turning around to face her. She's sitting in her chair, pushed all the way back against the desk like it'll keep her away from him. Her eyes are wide and fearful, her hands clutching the armrests. "I am truly sorry. You were not just seeing things. You were not just imagining it. You and Jared say things have turned around in this library, in this neighborhood, since I appeared. I'm no…guardian angel, but I was an angel. Once."
He flicks his eyes to her. She hasn't budged. She's petrified.
"I'm sorry. Now you know why I try to save this corner of the city. Now you know why I won't be here forever. I wasn't meant to be here…" He lets his fingers skim over a hardcover on the desk. "Not like this."
It's Jared. He's standing behind Castiel, breathless, furious. "Get the fuck out of this library."
Castiel obliges. He lifts his jacket out of his chair, pulls it on, and walks out. He doesn't look back.
"This city is killing you."
There's nothing here for him now. He just has nowhere else to go.
Sam calls two days later, and then everyday for five days, and then it's Bobby, and maybe even Rufus dialed his number once or twice, but he ignores the incessant ringtone, eventually takes the battery out and drops it in the wastebasket.
One evening he wakes up to Gabriel's face hovering above his.
"Hey, bro," the archangel says. "You look like shit."
"Someone's little brother got hold of a summoning sigil," Gabriel says by way of explanation. He steps back as Castiel slowly sits up. "He's been trying to contact you for over two weeks now. Has no idea where you are, so he brings in a heavyweight. Me."
Blearily Castiel realizes he never showed Sam his one-bedroom apartment.
"Cat got your tongue?"
He shakes his head, and then rests it in the palms of his hands.
"Did a little snooping around, seeing what's up in your neck of the woods. You used a sigil to break up a bar fight? Don't you think you went overboard a little? Man, you must've been wasted to think that up-"
"They thought he was gay," Castiel says. "Chris. Marie's brother. They thought he was gay and here to take their city away, and they didn't like it."
"Alcohol-fueled homophobes," Gabriel says. "Must've been ugly."
"I only tried to stop them." Castiel looks up at Gabriel. "They…had us mixed up. He was only trying to get me to talk."
"By touching you inappropriately."
"By showing me he cared. That his sister cared. That the people I worked with for two years cared. And now they're terrified of me. They think I'm a freak, that I'm crazy, talking about Revelation and the Apocalypse and why Detroit happened."
"Well, duh. They didn't know what to look for." Gabriel gestures at the space between them. "They couldn't see what we saw, they didn't know what we know. That's their problem, not yours."
"So what are you going to do?" Gabriel jams his hands in his pockets, turns smartly on his heels, and starts wandering around the living room. He rocks back and forth on his feet, stands on his toes to study the corners and the windows. "Could use some decorations."
He snaps his fingers and the walls turn rich red, the furniture varnished wood and silk covers, cheap paintings into Minimalist originals. The tall thin lamps in the corner brighten the room considerably and Castiel closes his eyes, pressing a hand to his forehead.
"Now that's more like it," Gabriel says. "So, what are you going to do, Castiel?"
Like Anna the archangel becomes quiet. This time it's jarring, since Gabriel is known for his running mouth. And for some reason this annoys Castiel; he lifts his head and levels Gabriel with a look. "Where is Michael?"
Gabriel stares down at him for a long moment, the silence punctuated by angry sirens that rise to a crescendo as an ambulance rushes by along the street down below.
"I don't know," he finally says. "Look, I'm sorry, bro, but I really don't know. Nobody does. He's gone, poof. Just like dear old Dad. And look…even if Michael is out there somewhere, he's not. No human vessel could've survived that explosion. That's why Michael threw you and Sam across the river. Dean-"
"Should've let me die," Castiel says. Claws tear at his heart and his lungs and his mind. "Then I wouldn't have to live like this. Be like this."
"Like what?" Gabriel asks quietly.
"Alone. I wouldn't have to be alone."
Gabriel stares at him for a long time, his eyes humorless and piercing, his jaw working around unspoken words. He starts pacing over the richly varnished floor, and Castiel covers his face with his hands again.
"I'm sorry, Castiel, but I don't know what to do. I can't help you."
"I know. Anna said the same thing."
"Then take her advice. Leave Detroit. It's getting to you, all these deaths, all this guilt, it's getting to your head. Your human head. You're not an angel anymore; you gotta start living like one of them."
Gabriel sighs. "You forget. You move on."
"I learned my fucking lesson. Better to bury it and move on. Easier that way."
The amulet weighs heavily around his neck, and he clutches it now under his shirt. He looks up at Gabriel, who's watching with narrowed eyes.
"He's gone, bro."
Castiel shakes his head. "I've seen him. I saw him at a bar. I saw him on the sidewalk across from a cornerstone bakery. I saw his face in the crowd outside the bar. He's here-"
"Anna is right," Gabriel says. "This city is killing you. And you're going to let it."
Castiel looks away. The Persian rug under the sofa and the coffee table vanish with the beat of intangible wings; the living room goes dim as the lamps disappear and the couch is full of lumps. The walls are off-white and cracking, graced with an ugly fake painting.
He lies back down on his side and curls up, his hand clutching Dean's amulet.
"Move in with Bobby. Help him out. Go hunting with Rufus. Or come to California and live with me. Just get out of that city, Cas. It's killing you."
"Is that what Gabriel told you? Anna?"
"Don't do this to yourself. Just…just come back."
"I've been giving it a lot of thought, too. I'm thinking about hunting again."
"…do you want to come with me?"
"Let me think about it."
Something is off. He can feel it; it strums underneath his skin, pulsing like an anxious heartbeat. The air seems to expand and contract, push and pull, and everywhere he feels the crackle of energy, an overwhelming sense of anxiety and anticipation that drives him out of his quiet apartment and into the streets.
The streetlights flicker as he steps off the bottom of the concrete stairs. Castiel tilts his head up towards the nearest lamp; it hums, stutters, goes black for fifteen agonizing seconds, and comes back brighter, more yellow than orange. As he looks up and down the street all the lights glow brighter, and his heart starts thumping against his chest.
Instead a plane roars overhead, shattering the tension, and then a cold breeze rolls over him as if to chase the plane and he shivers.
There is a bar three blocks over that he started frequenting after being fired; in the months he spent bar crawling with the librarians, Marie, and Chris they never went near his part of the slums, and now he takes comfort in that. He doesn't want to see them again, knowing how much he terrifies them, and he's grateful that the man who owns the bar doesn't give a damn if he was involved in the bar fight that's currently the talk of this side of Detroit.
Castiel wishes he can be somewhere else, somewhere he won't be ostracized for trying to save someone.
Cyrus looks up from behind the counter when Castiel steps inside the bar, bringing in a blast of sour city air with him. His sister Michelle is removing empty beer bottles from a nearby booth; she gives him a tight smile before walking away to dispose of them. Castiel tilts his head, eyes following her until she disappears into the back, and then drifts over to the bar.
"Trench coat?" Cyrus asks while he slides onto a barstool. "Never seen you in one."
Castiel glances down at his getup – colored tee, blazer, jeans, trench coat. He touches the button on the cuff, says, "I haven't worn it in years."
"Never knew you owned one," Cyrus says. "You don't seem the type."
Castiel smiles. "You'd be surprised."
Cyrus shakes his head while wiping down a highball glass. "The usual?"
He thinks about it, not sure if it's a pleasant buzz he wants or oblivion. "Bottle."
While the bartender goes to find a shot glass Castiel fiddles with the sleeve of his trench coat. It was dusty when he drew it out of his closet, smelling faintly of smoke and dirt, gun oil and cheap detergent. When he pulled it on and stared at himself in the cracked bathroom mirror he couldn't see himself, but it still exuded an angelic calm, a comfort he didn't realize he missed.
There is a loud bark of laughter in a corner of the bar and Castiel glances over his shoulder at a group of men standing around the lone pool table. Then he looks over his other shoulder; there three people sitting at a booth with a working light shining down on them, holding cocktail glasses and giving each other slow dreamy smiles.
His mouth suddenly dry, Castiel swallows hard and twists back to stare at the line of liquor bottles on the other side of the bar. Cyrus sets down a shot glass and a bottle of Scotch, and then leans over the counter and says, "Whatever you're looking for isn't here, Novak."
"What do you mean?"
"Why else would you be here?" Cyrus asks, watching him twist off the cap of the whiskey and pour its contents into the shot glass. "Otherwise…well, you don't…belong here."
Castiel pauses, the glass held midair, and Cyrus sighs. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to, but there are those days when you ask for the bottle and I-"
"Don't think you should ask me more questions." Castiel says evenly. He doesn't look up until Cyrus walks away, and then knocks back the shot of whiskey. It burns down his throat and he shudders.
Sam once told Castiel that he was not a fun drunk. Once the alcohol had no effect on him, once he said he could feel something, once he asked why the walls were caving in, once he kissed someone, once he wished he was dead.
"What's so fun about getting drunk when all you're trying to do is forget everything?" he asked when Sam held out the whiskey bottle for him.
Sam stared at him. "I am never getting drunk with you again."
Two-thirds of the Scotch is gone. He stares at the label but the printed words come in and out of focus; he gives up and pours himself another shot.
"Can I help you?" Cyrus asks while standing in front of Castiel, but he's sure the bartender isn't addressing him.
"Whiskey on the rocks would be nice."
Castiel twists the shot glass between his fingers. This is the first time he overhears someone in Dean's voice.
Someone sits down on his right and leans on the counter while letting out a long-suffering sigh. Castiel drains the glass and set it back down on the bar, and reaches for the bottle.
"I've never seen someone finish off a whole bottle of whiskey without knocking out or barfing it up ten seconds later," the person next to him says conversationally, still in Dean's voice.
"You'd be surprised," Castiel says and pours another one.
Cyrus sets down a tumbler of amber liquor and ice cubes and quickly leaves. Out of the corner of his eye Castiel sees the stranger wrapping his right hand around the glass. As he lifts it up and out of sight Castiel catches sight of a winking silver ring.
"It's a shame, you know. Someone like you in a place like Detroit? Well, it's not really Detroit anymore, is it? Post-Detroit maybe, like post-Apocalypse-"
"What do you want?" Castiel asks. He doesn't want to know who this person is. His mind is playing games with him tonight, and he doesn't trust anything outside the glass in his hand.
There is a self-deprecating chuckle from his unasked-for companion, and then the slide and crash of ice as the stranger takes a sip of the whiskey and sets it down on the counter. "I just want to talk. Nothing wrong with that. Haven't talked with anyone in a long time, actually."
Castiel grunts, a noncommittal growl, and briefly contemplates drinking straight from the bottle.
"What's your name again? Didn't catch it the first time."
He's pretty sure he didn't tell the stranger his name. He's also pretty sure he made it plain he wanted to be alone.
"I didn't," he says.
"You don't talk much, do you?"
Castiel shrugs. He raises the shot glass to his lips, and then lowers it. Maybe it's better not to feed the alcohol-fueled deception. He takes a deep breath. "You're not real."
The person laughs. "What makes you say that?"
He wonders how offended the stranger will be when Castiel blatantly mistakes him for someone else. "You're dead."
The laughter abruptly cuts off, and Castiel is suddenly, acutely aware of the heat on his right side. The stranger's presence is hot coal and he resists the instinct to lean away.
"I…shouldn't have said that-"
"No, you shouldn't have," the person agrees. His voice is strained. "But I don't expect anything less of you."
He doesn't understand why this stranger thinks he knows so much about him. It's annoying and he says so.
"Why are you so surprised?" the stranger says. "I know you."
"You don't," Castiel says. "Go away."
He closes his eyes, his fingers curling around the shot glass, and sucks in stifling barroom air. He picks up the boisterous voices of the men at the lone pool table, the clack of cue sticks hitting the billiard balls, the three people sitting at the booth to his left, talking in low lilting murmurs. Cyrus and Michelle are talking at the far end of the bar, and next to him is soft breathing, the slide of an empty glass over the counter, the shift and drag of clothing.
Air brushes against the side of his face, laced with whiskey but unnaturally cool. His breath hitches.
"Look at me."
He tilts his head away, and jerks back when strong incredibly hot fingers grip his jaw and hold him in place. Heat sinks under his skin, a cleaner faster burn than the stuffy interior. It feels like an angel's grace.
"Don't-" He tries to pull away. "Don't touch-"
Nobody in Detroit knows his real name. Only Sam and Bobby call him that. "Who are you?"
"Look at me, Cas."
He's desperately, blindingly drunk. No one drinks a whole bottle of whiskey without losing it, and now this stranger using Dean's voice is calling him "Cas". It's not supposed to happen. This isn't how it works.
This isn't how he finds Michael, if the archangel is even alive.
"Don't." His blood is pulsing, throbbing, and he's suffocating. "Don't call me that-"
He knows that tone, the desperation of a man not easily given to visible shows of emotion. He heard it when the man begged him to go find someone else to stop the Apocalypse, when the man asked him to turn his back on Heaven, when the man told him he couldn't die when there was still an Apocalypse to stop.
Castiel opens his eyes.
It's so cold he can see his breath, yet it's supposed to be the middle of May.
He thinks he sees Cyrus's grateful nod as he's swept out of the bar, an arm wrapped firmly around his waist to hold him up. The rush of city air when they step out wakes him up briefly but he'd like nothing better than to bury his face in the wonderful warmth wrapped around him and close his eyes forever.
He breathes deep, smelling gun oil and cheap detergent.
"Don't smell like angel," he murmurs.
"That's 'cause I'm not."
He presses his nose against the rapid pulse, and then tilts his head to graze the light stubble on the sharp jaw line with his teeth. A shudder, a quick intake of breath, and Castiel's back hits a cold brick wall, held up by strong hands gripping his shoulders until his bones bruise.
He's being kissed so hard his mouth bleeds but he doesn't mind. Hands release his shoulders and tilt his face up; Castiel grabs the dark blue jacket and tugs.
He says, between the slide of tongue and teeth on his lips, "You're not real, Dean."
Dean smiles against his mouth, presses his forehead to Castiel's, and chuckles.