Castiel was not stupid.
Nor was he nearly as addled by drugs as his colleagues seemed to assume. Probably a leftover of his heritage: he couldn't fly, had no power to heal, could not feel the glory of god. But drugs weren't as strong in effect or long lasting.
A dubious benefit, in Castiel's opinion.
Nonetheless, whatever else he was or wasn't (mostly wasn't) Castiel was not stupid, and he knew when Dean 'sent them on ahead' that his role this time wasn't scout or advance guard or even as Dean himself had once called him 'hammer' but a very simple one, and that was 'bait.'
He didn't particularly mind.
The former angel was tired. (Dean had called him an ex-angel once, "like ex-girlfriend," he'd explained, in a black mood, and Castiel who was at that point only human after all had punched him in the face. Dean had punched back, and Castiel had had his nose broken for the first time.) He'd been watching the man he'd fallen for disintegrate by degrees for four years. Dean was still fighting, because that was what Dean did, but Castiel could see in the set of his shoulders and the hollowness of his eyes that Dean was more despair than man by now, a shadow and less of his former self.
Castiel wished that he'd done something sooner. Disobeyed sooner, fallen sooner. But he knew that wishes meant nothing, and prayers meant even less.
And that led to here. Risa on his left and Mark on his right, a perfect living distraction. Three years ago Castiel would have fought Dean and insisted on going with him to face Lucifer. Two years ago he would have fought Dean, furious that the man he'd given up everything for could do this to him. Now it didn't matter, and if bait was what Dean decided he needed to be, then that was what he would do, and if Dean didn't expect him to walk out of this death trap, then he wouldn't. He would die, probably not bravely or well, and in all likelihood, he was well aware, Dean would die as well.
"It's damn quiet. Where are all the Croats?" Risa sounded irritable, as she often did. Castiel tilted his head and listened.
"Waiting, probably. Further up ahead." They both glanced at him. He looked back, blandly.
"Got anything else to contribute?" Risa asked, now caustic. Castiel knew she didn't like him. He suspected that it had something to do with Dean. Once, that thought would have horrified him. He was rather amused by it now.
"No," he said, "Although there is no real point in keeping our voices down. They'll still smell us." He tilted his head and listened harder. There was something, it seemed, just on the edge of hearing. It made him twitch.
"You seem even more distracted than usual. Care to share?" Risa sniped, and Castiel shook his head again. It was like buzzing, like the unpleasant feeling of dread magnified by thousands and in the air rather than himself.
"I don't know," he said, wondering if Dean had somehow… but no.
Castiel heard the Croats first, and looked up, the others a moment later. An army of them, by the sound of it. Castiel breathed in deeply. Risa's head came up and she cocked her gun. Mark lifted his rifle. Castiel drew the sword that Dean hadn't been able to make him give up. Risa turned around to back down the hallway to a defensible position, but Castiel knew what she'd find there.
She hadn't figured it out. "We've been trapped," she said, followed by, "Son of a bitch!"
"Just fight," Castiel said, and heard the hollowness in his own voice. "That's all. Fight until you can't stand anymore."
And then they were into it. Blood everywhere, and some of it was his own, probably, but he couldn't have cared less, throwing himself into the fight heedless of pain and the death throes of the Croats. He heard Mark scream and then trail off into a gurgle and didn't bother to send up a prayer.
"Cas," Risa yelled, and he turned to see she was pulling the trigger but there was only the click of an empty barrel. "Castiel!"
A moment later her guts were spilling out on the floor and she toppled.
Teeth sank into his arm and he stuck his sword through the young woman's eye, wading forward. "Come on!" He heard himself roar, and thought he sounded very like Dean as he'd known him once, "What are you waiting for!"
The building seemed to lurch sideways, and the buzzing built to a shrill whine. He knew before it happened what was going to. "Close your eyes," he yelled, without thinking, and wondering why he bothered because there was no one left alive unless you counted the Croats. "Close your eyes!"
He closed his own just in time as light blazed forth from everywhere and even if he knew it was Lucifer's victory, the sound of the Croats screaming was almost music to his ringing ears.
Castiel opened his eyes.
He was lying half under a dead man – a dead Croat, he corrected – whose lips were dripping blood. He shoved the carcass off his legs and staggered to his feet.
They were all dead. There must have been hundreds, and they were all dead where they fell. And he was alive. No doubt that oversight would be corrected soon. If he had time…
Castiel knew where he would find Lucifer, and with him, Dean. He limped down the stairs, feeling blood trickling down his arm and leg from bites that would probably get infected (but what did it matter?) and more bruises than he could count. It was quiet.
His feet crunched on the gravel as he limped toward the garden. He hoped only that the devil had not…desecrated Dean's body too terribly. No doubt this was exactly what Lucifer wanted, but he had everything else, and Castiel was tired.
He turned the corner, bracing himself, and stopped.
Two bodies. Two, not one. He blinked in incomprehension, and they both stayed just where they were. Castiel went to Dean first, in the vague hope that somehow… but his head was twisted to the side at an unnatural angle and he knew without looking too closely that his friend was definitely dead.
He turned to stare at Lucifer's vessel. No movement, no sign of life, but it didn't fit together. Lucifer wouldn't have abandoned his chosen vessel. And even if Michael had finally gotten his head out of his ass (an expression learned from Dean) he wouldn't have left his chosen vessel.
Castiel's brain felt slow and stupid. Lucifer seemed to be gone. Dean was dead, but it seemed that he himself was alive. He waited, half expecting the devil to reappear, and laughing at his folly, but all was perfectly quiet.
"God?" he said, finally, hesitantly, but there was no answer from that quarter either.
And then he realized that the other body, what had once been Sam Winchester, was breathing. Alive. He stared at Dean Winchester's erstwhile younger sibling in disbelief, and thought, loud and clearly, that there was no justice in the world at all if Dean died and Lucifer's vessel was allowed to live.
He moved forward anyway, feet like weights, and turned the man to his back. His eyelids were fluttering, eyes moving back and forth. Perhaps he was wrong, Castiel thought dully. Perhaps something had happened, who knew what, but this was still Lucifer.
In that case, he reminded himself, it hardly mattered what he did.
He left Sam where he was and went back to Dean's body, straightened his limbs and closed his eyes. Of all the human emotions, he knew grief best of all, but what he felt most right now was numbness.
It would hit him later, Castiel knew.
A soft moan from behind him and the former angel turned slowly, almost reluctantly, to watch Lucifer's former vessel struggle toward wakefulness. Castiel could only guess what it would feel like, but he knew from Jimmy Novak's oh so distant memories that it was not a pleasant feeling, and he was far less than one of the most powerful archangels. He did not feel a huge amount of sympathy.
He could have left. Taken Dean's body and gone somewhere private to give him what last rites could be done by a fallen, human angel, and to grieve. He stayed where he was. The others were dead and he knew that it wasn't, at least not completely, Sam's fault. There were others who had failed, he himself among them.
Castiel refocused on Sam, but he was still not awake. He sighed, and took Dean first, brought him to one of the cars that they had taken here, and laid him down in the back seat. He went back for Sam and it was only with effort that he could drag the still unconscious younger Winchester back and prop him up in the passenger seat.
He sat down in the driver's seat, examined the steering wheel and the gearshift, and took a deep breath before turning the keys in the ignition and hoping that experience from watching and one or two driving lessons was enough.
Castiel concluded that he was lucky that there hadn't been any other cars on the road.
He considered returning to Camp Chitaqua, but he didn't really want to, and he didn't think that they would take too well to having Lucifer's former vessel among them, even if it was former (however that had happened). Particularly seeing as their leader was-
He glanced into the backseat. Dean might have been sleeping, except that he never slept that well.
So he drove until he found a street with empty houses all along the row, and picked one with a nice garden. Then he reprised carrying/dragging the Winchesters out of the car, left Sam just inside the front door and took Dean out to the back.
He found a shovel in the garage.
Castiel dug the grave carefully and methodically. It wasn't his first, though it was certainly the worst. His limbs felt twice as heavy as they should have, and he was exhausted and numb and still half expecting that he would open his eyes and find himself dead any minute now. Six feet deep went too quickly, and he laid Dean to rest with a sigh and no words. He didn't feel that there were any that were particularly appropriate.
Castiel felt a little as though he should have been crying, or rending his clothes, or one of the other many things that mourners did to express their grief. Then again, he thought, perhaps this numbness was a more fitting expression, considering who it was for. Both he and Dean had been at least partly dead for a long time now, just waiting for their bodies to get the message.
And yet here he was, Castiel thought. Still alive. A guardian angel with nothing to guard.
He heard a sound from inside the house and retreated to find Sam struggling to rise, one hand gripping a table by the stairs with white knuckles and the other braced against the wall.
Castiel took a few more heavy steps forward and looked down at Sam as his head turned and bleary hazel eyes stared at him in confused incomprehension. "I expect," he said, dully, "That this will be unpleasant."
"Cas?" Sam said, his voice fractured and hoarse, and he let go of the table and grabbed Castiel's sleeve like he was clutching a lifeline. "Dean – tell me Dean's alive-"
Castiel stared down at him, throat closed, and it was almost a relief when Sam's strength gave out and he slid to the floor, teeth starting to chatter together. "Oh god," he said, "Oh god – I need, Castiel, please, I need – don't let me…"
It was tempting to stay just where he was and bear witness and nothing more. He knew the signs of withdrawal, whatever it was from, and even if Sam Winchester had survived thus far, it seemed likely that going through that ordeal would kill him now. And what did it matter, after all? Maybe Lucifer was gone, and maybe he was not, but the world was still a wreck, ending if not ended.
He thought of Dean, though, and a boy with more faith than God's messengers deserved, and how they had repaid that faith. Castiel knelt and reached out hesitantly, awkwardly, to lay a hand on Sam's already sweating forehead. "Hush," he said, and though he knew his voice was too rough to be properly soothing, perhaps it would do. "I will help you."
And Sam's head turned, barely, into Castiel's hand even as his muscles seized and a faint and desperate whimper squeezed out of his throat. It struck him as funny. They were both broken and neither of them had anything but each other. Who would ever have imagined?
"We need to move," he said, when the initial spasm seemed to have passed. "There isn't a panic room in this house, but I will find a space that will do."
Sam's eyes rolled up to stare at Castiel. "You didn't – answer," he said, even as the former angel struggled to drag him to his feet. "Dean. He's – alive, right? He has to be alive-"
Castiel gritted his teeth so he didn't say something cruel, no matter how much he wanted to, and instead said nothing at all. "Cas?" Sam said again, more urgently, but his eyes were already blurring and slipping out of focus, and he didn't feel the need to answer.
Sam screamed for almost twenty-four hours straight.
"No! Please, god, it's not – let me go, shut up shut up no more just no more please, stop…"
Most of the time, Castiel paced back and forth and pretended to sleep. He found beer bottles in the basement that weren't too bad, but they were gone fast, and when he was drunk he cried and thought about Dean and grace lost. Sometimes he got a cold washcloth and held it on Sam's forehead, trying to ease the heat that was burning through his body. Sometimes there were words to go with his hallucinations and sometimes there was just screaming and wrenching, desperate sobbing.
At least, he thought, there was still no sign of Lucifer.
Castiel prayed for understanding, but no one answered him as no one had answered him for years, for what seemed like forever. There were no orders now, not from Dean and not from Heaven; he was on his own with the man who had invited Lucifer into his skin.
The second day, Sam fell silent, and that was almost worse.
It wasn't over. His temperature was still ridiculously high and he curled into himself as much as the bonds that kept his demonic seizures from throwing him around the room would allow. But he didn't make a sound. Castiel paced more and thought again of leaving. Either Sam would survive or he would not. Castiel was doing little but keeping him company – company he was hardly even aware of – and offering comfort that was little more than false. If they had antibiotics, perhaps, but…nothing, they had nothing.
Someone knocked on the door around midday, as Castiel was giving up on getting Sam to drink something. He still had his sword and picked it up, useless though it would be against demons, and went to the door. There were three people standing on the doorstep and staring at him.
He waited. Finally one of them stepped forward, clearing his throat. "Castiel," he said, "We're from the camp. We've been looking for you."
"What for?" He asked. He was well aware of how little use he was, most of the time. They glanced at each other and the one who seemed to be playing at leader spoke again.
"We heard you were there when Dean Winchester died and Satan was banished," he said. And then cleared his throat and added, "And that you had his meat suit with you. Alive."
Castiel looked at them in silence for a few moments, and finally said, "And?"
"And we want him," spoke up one of the others, in the back. "We want proof that the devil's gone. Who better to give it than the man he was sharing a skin with?"
"You're missed too," the first man added. "We could use you, rebuilding."
Castiel noted that they did not ask where Dean was buried. "And once you had your proof," he said, after a moment. "What would you do with him then? And how would you know to begin with?"
"What does it matter?" said the third man. "He's hardly got to be human anymore."
Castiel looked at all of them, and shook his head. "No," he said.
The leader seemed to be genuinely surprised. "No what?"
"No," Castiel said again, "I won't come back. No, I won't hand him over to you. You have better things to do. This is something I have charged myself with. Please don't come back again."
The leader straightened, starting to look indignant. "Surely you aren't defending-"
"Do I need to?" Castiel asked, and it was no effort to put the sharp note in his voice. "Dean is buried around the back. You may pay your respects, and then leave."
He closed the door, and stood there for a while, very quiet. There was still no sound from the living room. He listened at the door until he heard the footsteps moving away.
He stalked back into the living room, his hands clenched into fists. "How is this not your fault?" he hissed to the prone figure on the sofa, curled up like he was trying to vanish. "Tell me why I shouldn't blame you, tell me why I'm still here when you welcomed Lucifer in, give me one good reason why you aren't the abomination that my brethren name you! They wanted me to hand you over, and the only reason I didn't was because Dean wouldn't have, and it's because of you that Dean's dead!"
"No," said Sam's voice, barely a whisper, and his hand groped for and grabbed Castiel's sleeve as he had when he'd first woken. "Don't – it's not true. Don't say – Cas, tell me Dean's alive- he's just pissed, that's okay, as long as he's alive-"
Castiel jerked away, pulling out of Sam's weakened grasp, and stood, the numbness in the center of him filling up with rage and grief. "He's dead," he said, voice cracking. "He's dead because you weren't strong enough. To say no to Lucifer, to keep Lucifer from killing him, and he died."
"No," Sam whispered, "No, this isn't real, this is just – this is just-"
"It's real," Castiel said, viciously, and heard his own cruelty and didn't care. "It's real, and this is all there is, this is all I have, you."
He turned on his heel, didn't watch Sam curl into himself and start making plaintive, desperate noises that weren't quite sobs but hooked into Castiel's chest all the worse. He stopped halfway to what was left of the kitchen, and turned back with a sigh, anger fading too fast and leaving him empty all over again.
"I'm sorry," he said tiredly, but Sam didn't answer, murmuring under his breath too quietly for Castiel to hear. Like a coward, Castiel hoped that he wouldn't remember this later, or else that he would pass it off as a hallucination. He wished there were still alcohol in the basement, or something. He could have done with a little bit of blankness.
Sam's fever spiked during the night. Castiel could almost feel him burning up just from a hand resting on his forehead. He managed to pour some water down Sam's protesting throat, but it came back up as thin bile not an hour later. He held Sam down as he thrashed in the throes of a vicious nightmare, mouth open but throat still too raw to scream. Castiel prayed that it would end and Sam's body would give out, and then was glad that no one was listening when he remembered that would leave him alone.
It hurt the worst when Sam started calling for Dean, his voice hoarse and raw but the name still recognizable. Castiel closed his eyes and weathered it, though every time he wanted to lash out all over again; whose fault was it that Dean wasn't here to come?
He managed to hold his silence, and waited through the night, trying to force water into Sam whenever he could, not knowing what else there was to do.
Castiel was half asleep when morning came and he realized that Sam's eyes actually seemed to focus on him. Castiel stopped, halfway to replacing the ineffectual cool, damp cloth on his forehead. "I'm sorry," Sam said, his voice barely audible, and then his eyes slid closed with what sounded too much like a death rattle.
When Castiel checked hurriedly, though, Sam was still breathing. The former angel closed his eyes and tried not to feel exhaustion seeping through his veins like a living thing.
"I don't know what I'm doing here," Castiel said to the apparently unconscious man. "I have no purpose. No guide. I don't think, even if you live, that you can give me that."
He didn't realize that he'd slept until he opened his eyes with a crick in his neck and a protesting back. It took him another moment longer to realize that he was being watched: Sam's eyes were open, and tracking, relatively clear. They just stared at each other for several moments, and then Castiel cleared his throat.
"Yeah, I think so." His voice was barely audible, and he coughed weakly. Castiel had nothing to say, and silence ensued. He felt exhausted, and feeling Sam stare at him was making his skin crawl.
"Are you hungry?" He asked, finally. "There's some canned food downstairs." Not much, but some. Enough, probably. Maybe. Sam turned a faint shade of green, though, and shook his head, barely.
Castiel frowned. "It has been…several days, at least."
"Longer than that." Sam's body curled into itself a little, eyelids dropping to cover his expression. "I'm not hungry. It's fine."
More silence. Castiel shifted uneasily in his chair. He had the feeling that he should have been insisting, and he knew very well that it was anything but fine, but he didn't really know how to go about bringing up either. Instead he said, "What do you remember?"
Sam flinched, and his voice dropped a few octaves and several notes in volume. "Enough." Whatever that meant. Castiel opened his mouth, but Sam spoke up again, and his voice was hollow this time. "I thought I…you said Dean was…dead. That was real. Wasn't it?"
Castiel nearly wanted to flinch himself, feeling suddenly ashamed. He should have broken the news more gently. He should have… "Yes," he said, finally. "It's…true." He half opened his mouth to say that it wasn't Sam's fault, not entirely, not exactly, but he couldn't make the words come out, not when he couldn't believe them himself.
Sam made a strange choking noise, and turned his head away. Castiel listened to him breathe unevenly for a few moments, then stood up and reached out hesitantly. "Sam-"
"You should go," Sam said, and Castiel could hear the sound in his voice of trying not to cry. He remembered the same from Dean when the news had first come from Detroit. The hollow space inside carved a little deeper.
"Yes," he agreed, "I probably should."
Silence again, and Sam asked, "Why don't you?"
"You aren't yet well enough to be on your own," Castiel said, because he wasn't sure why himself and it was the simplest answer that presented itself. Sam snorted.
"Don't wait around for that," he said, quietly and bitterly. His face was still turned away from Castiel, and Castiel had a feeling he didn't want to see his expression anyway. It might too much mirror his own.
Castiel sighed. "I would rather not be alone," he tried, and Sam made a faint huffing sound.
"Couldn't you find someone better to not be alone with?"
"No," Castiel said, his own frustration stirring again. "Evidently," and regretted it the moment the words were out. More silence, and Castiel half opened his mouth to offer an apology, but Sam beat him to it.
"Sorry," he said, voice back down to a whisper, "I'm sorry, Cas. You deserve better. You really do."
"No," Castiel said, feeling worse than before, "I," but he could tell by the set of Sam's shoulders and the sound of his breathing that he was either unconscious again or pretending to be, and his apology felt worthless now.
He went to the kitchen and made tomato soup out of one of the cans instead, boiling the water over a fire out behind the house, a few feet from Dean's grave. "What do I do?" He asked, aloud. "What do I do now?"
He went back inside with two bowls of soup, trooped upstairs, and found Sam rolled out of bed and curled up on the floor, tears streaking down his face as he made strangled sobbing noises, rocking back and forth with his eyes closed tightly.
Castiel squeezed his own eyes closed, set the bowls of soup down, and then knelt, slowly, slid his arms carefully around Lucifer's former vessel, and held him as best as he could, trying to breathe steadily. "It's all right," he lied, as solidly as he could. "Just sleep. Just rest."
Sam eased, far too slowly, and lay at last only shuddering in Castiel's arms. His shoulder was damp, and all that Castiel could think was how strange the world was, and always had been. "I'm sorry," he said, inadequate as it was, and even though Sam couldn't hear him. "There is so much I should not have done." He almost hoped for an answer, but he didn't get one.
He stayed where he was, only shifting to lean against the bed, and hoping that he could at least do some good.
Sam woke up before he did and blinked at Castiel in confusion, and the former angel was only glad that the other didn't ask questions that he didn't have the words to answer. There were hollows around Sam's eyes and Castiel thought that he must look the same. He let the other pull away and pushed the bowl of soup in his direction without thinking.
Sam ate the soup even though it was cold and he looked like he was going to be sick with every bite. Castiel watched him closely, swishing the spoon through his own bowl and waiting for something, he didn't know what.
"Where," Sam said, suddenly, and then winced, pressed a hand to his throat, and swallowed before trying again. "—where is Dean buried?"
Castiel blinked, once, and then pointed toward the back door. Sam stood up, abandoning the remaining half of the soup, and went outside. After a moment, Castiel followed. Sam was standing by the mound of earth with its simple cross marker, his shoulders shaking.
"The last memories I have," he started to say, and then stopped. Castiel didn't want to ask, and stayed on the porch, knowing there was something he was meant to do and not willing to think hard enough to see what it was. Sam took a deep breath.
"It's over now, isn't it?" he said, finally. "He – Lucifer's gone. The apocalypse is…over."
Castiel shifted, slightly uneasily. "It seems that way." Sam nodded, slowly, then turned around and trudged past Castiel, back into the house. He followed more slowly, stepped into the kitchen and found Sam with the knife drawer open, examining one of the blades, turning it back and forth.
He stilled. "Sam?"
Sam looked up, briefly, his eyes dull and his voice even duller. "If that's it," he said, "If it's…over, then the world doesn't need me anymore."
Castiel took a slow step forward. "No," he said, and Sam just stared at him.
"No," he said again, more fiercely. "That's not the way it works."
Sam lowered the knife, and stared at Castiel. "Why not? I'm tired, Castiel, I'm tired and fucked up and my brother is dead, how does anything work anymore? I don't know what you want, I don't know what you're trying to do here. You don't want to be around me and I-"
"You're not the only one," Castiel said, and couldn't keep the bitterness out of his voice, because he'd heard the same thing from Dean, over and over, and sometimes he wondered how the man he called his friend could forget that he wasn't the only one who had suffered loss. "You're not the only one who is tired and fucked up, you're not the only one who lost everything." Sam's head went down, and Castiel sucked in a breath. "Don't," he said, before anything could be said. "It doesn't matter. All I mean is – that you're not the only one."
There was a brief silence, and then the knife went down, and after a moment Sam set it on the counter and moved away, rubbing a hand over his face. "I don't know what to do," he said, and Castiel felt a brief brush of dark amusement.
"Yes, well. Join the club."
"You sound like-" Sam cut off, choked. His expression spasmed. "God," he said; whispered. "Cas. What are we going to do?"
We, Castiel thought, and closed his eyes. "I don't know," he said. "Anything." He took a deep breath, and let it out. "But not alone."
Sam turned his head slowly, dropped his hands and looked at Castiel. His face flickered between doubt and unwilling hope, and finally he dropped his eyes. "Not alone," he said, "All right."