Spoilers: through 6.11
Beta: The awesome sandymg
Disclaimer: Not mine. 'Cause if they were, season 6 would have been a lot easier on both of them.
Fade to White
Fade to White
Dean tilts his head back and feels the progression of the bead of sweat as it trickles from his temple past his eyebrow and then down the side of his face, just missing his ear.
A knock on the sauna door.
Straightening causes the next dribble of sweat to veer into his right eye and it stings like a bitch, but he only blinks. No point in wiping at it, only make it worse.
The opening of the wooden door permits a blissful draft across his chest.
"It's time for you to come out now, Mr. Winchester."
He admires the fit of his black suit in the mirror, and adjusts the knot of the silk tie. He looks good.
He might be the new kid on the block, but they are going to respect him from the get-go.
The sizzling hostility as he walks to the conference table would have intimidated a lesser man. Dean coldly meets the eyes of every one of the bodies around the table. A couple of men drop their gaze at his challenge, and one of the women smirks. But there is no softness, no mercy in any of them.
Dean knows he can match them hardness for hardness.
The razor-sharp black man standing at the head of the table gestures. "You all know Dean Winchester." It is not a question. His voice is velvet steel.
Heads nod. "I know some of you have had differences of opinion with Mr. Winchester in the past. I, myself, have not seen eye-to-eye with him on matters of cosmic importance. However, I want you all to understand that those disagreements with him are in the past. He is working with us now and I am certain his expertise will provide the edge to give us victory in the coming battle."
" …vanished, Bobby." Sam inhales deeply to keep his voice from shaking. Not that he is going to fool Bobby. In the three weeks since he'd been resouled he's not been away from Dean for longer than two hours. Couldn't be apart longer. Sharing the same footage of earth was nothing new for them, but this was different. At least for him … Proximity, or lack of it, doesn't seem to affect Dean. Which was why, when Dean said he was going on a pizza run, Sam had resisted jumping up to go with. Dean has already picked up on Sam's new clinginess and has joked about it some.
Sam didn't want Dean to know how much more than a joke it really is for him right now.
How the continuous murmur in his head can almost be ignored when Dean is next to him, but its insistence increases in direct ratio to the physical distance between them.
Right now his brain is writhing with the need to be scratched.
"Sam? You still there, boy?"
"Uh, yeah, Bobby, just having a little …" he trails off, not knowing what to say. "What do I do, Bobby?"
"You go find him, Sam."
"But what if he … what if I'm not … What if he left on purpose?"
"Stop and think, Sam. After all Dean went through to get you back, you think he's gonna walk out on you now? If he's been gone for over a day, it's because something's got him. And you're gonna have to figure out what."
"We weren't hunting anything here, Bobby, just stopped because Dean was tired. I was gonna look for a case after he got back with the food."
"And you haven't eaten anything at all, have you?"
"Uh, no …"
"So this is what you're gonna do. You're gonna go back to the pizza place and get something to eat, and you're gonna check around to see if Dean even made it there. And you're gonna go over the likely route he'd of taken and look for any signs of anything suspicious. And then you're gonna call me back. I'll be seeing if anything is active around there."
"Okay, Bobby." He should have been able to figure those steps out by himself. If Dean had been here the twisting itch in his head would have been quiet enough for Sam to take the appropriate action. The problem is that Dean isn't here.
Raphael watches, pleased, as Dean Winchester answers every intimidating stare with arrogant confidence. A trait that was intolerable before. But now ... now it will be working for him. He steeples the slender fingers of his new vessel and waits until all eyes of his inner circle have returned to him.
He is aware that in human terms he had gotten 'lucky' when the thorn in his side had walked past the storefront church serving as one of his field headquarters; even luckier that the lieutenant in charge had the intelligence to act quickly and render the hunter unconscious before he could react.
Only 'luck' did not exist. Raphael has chosen his subordinates skillfully. And set watchpoints carefully. And his superior grasp of tactics will win this war.
Dean Winchester is going to net the prize. Because Raphael might despise the festering mud-monkeys, but he understands them enough to know that Dean can get Castiel for him.
Pillows. Or marshmallows. Maybe a snowdrift?
Thinking about cold felt nice … But snow isn't soft enough. Swimming? Weightless in water sounded right … And wet, yes, he was as wet as if he had been in a pool … or a lake …
What had he been thinking about before his mind had turned … fluffy?
"Mr. Winchester? Raphael is ready to meet with you again."
This time Dean grabs the towel from the bench and wipes the perspiration from his face before it burns his eyes.
It's been three fucking days.
Sam is going out of his mind.
He's sitting in the Impala with Dean's Led Zeppelin mix tape on repeat, desperately trying to metaphorically sit on his hands. Trying to tie himself up in his brother's music to distract from the feeling of mosquito bites covering his brain.
Mosquito bites and chicken pox. With poison ivy thrown in.
When he finds himself scratching the steering wheel again he decides to try another cold shower.
Dean is the only one at the table eating. Which is a little odd, but he's not going to pass up a steak dinner. He gestures with his knife as he chews, swallows, and continues telling the rest of the team how to most effectively bottleneck the anticipated attack.
He's finished his meal, which included some damn fine lemon meringue pie, and Raphael has dismissed everyone else. Dean stands to leave as well, but stops as Raphael addresses him.
"Your understanding of Castiel's priorities is invaluable."
The malice on his commander's face, coupled with the predatory arch of his shoulders, makes Dean think of a hawk about to swoop down on a helpless rabbit. He can picture wings … Dean shakes his head to erase the fanciful thought.
"Think on what will draw him to us."
Dean literally feels the shock of icy lightning in his head and involuntarily grabs his temples while fighting not to show any weakness.
Images flicker through his mind, too fast for him to put in context, but he recognizes the black-haired man in the rumpled trench coat, knows that is the enemy whose defeat he will engineer.
Dean leans against the table, breathing heavily, trying to grasp one of the stampeding flickers to understand it …
"Relax, Dean. What you need to remember will be there when you join me tomorrow."
Raphael rests his hand on Dean's back and the chill of it travels through his suit jacket and his shirt and his mind goes white …
Bobby's presence doesn't help, exactly. But it does distract a little, at least when they are face to face talking over the lack of ways to proceed. Or the myriad of possibilities of what could have happened to Dean. Not enough clues, too many choices …
Suddenly a burning wave travels through his head. Sam squeezes his eyes shut and tries to imagine a bottle of calamine lotion being poured inside his skull.
The visual doesn't help.
" … to contact him?"
"What, Bobby? Who?"
"Castiel." Sam must look pretty bad, Bobby hasn't called him an idjit since he got there yesterday, even when Bobby has to repeat himself three and four times over for Sam to make sense of what he's saying.
"Oh." He could try that, couldn't he? "Don't know if he's around to answering, but yeah, I can try … calling." Sam almost said praying, but he doesn't do that anymore. 'Cause nothing good has answered his prayers since … don't go there.
"Um, I'm gonna try outside."
Sam tries thinking the words but finds himself simply standing there shuddering, so he calls for Cas out loud. Puts what he thinks is his strongest card on the table.
"Cas, it's Dean. He's missing. We can't find him anywhere. I know you're busy with Heaven's war but it's Dean, Cas. Can you come for him? Please?"
Powerful. "I'm the one who gripped you tight and pulled you from Perdition."
Implacable."You can go wherever you want." "I want to go see Sam." "Except there."
Commanding. "Stand up and accept your role. You are the one who will stop it."
Sorrowful. "We've been through much together, you and I. And I just wanted to say, I'm sorry it ended like this."
The steam-filled room does not bring peace this time. Words and faces … one face, demanding, reproachful, empathetic ...
"I killed two angels this week. My brothers. I'm hunted. I rebelled. And I did it - all of it - for you."
"You and your brother destroyed the world and I lost everything, for nothing."
"I rebelled for this? So that you could surrender to them?" Blows strike Dean's head, his chest. Blood pours from his nose. "I gave everything for you. And this is what you give to me."
Another face, one he knows better than his own. Grim, determined.
"You heard me. Yes."
Sam said 'yes.' Because Castiel kept Dean from saying it first. And now Sam is gone.
It burns, it burns, it burns.
Sam rakes his fingernails over his body - forearm, thighs, neck, palm, scalp - in a path he has repeated with increasing ferocity over the last twenty-four hours.
"Stop it, Sam."
"I can't, Bobby, I can't ..."
He wants to rip at the scabby barrier in his mind, wonders if he just scratches at a corner if the itching would lessen.
He scratches his arms again instead. Threads of blood leak from the abused skin.
He has to do something.
"Bobby, can you drive me to the pizza place again?"
"No, I just ... I have to get out of this room, and maybe we'll see something if we drive the route again."
The odds are infinitesimal that they will find anything different, they have gone over Dean's route at least a dozen times. Dean is missing so completely it's as if he never set foot in Beloit, Wisconsin.
"Whatever's got Dean has some powerful mojo," Bobby mutters as he drives the couple miles from the motel to the carryout place. "It's like he's been swept off the planet."
Bobby has tried several locating spells. Sam had contributed blood to the last one, the one that Bobby really hadn't wanted to use because it was borderline messing with some "dark stuff, Sam" but Sam had insisted.
Sam didn't know what triggered the moment of clarity, maybe thirty seconds when the need to scratch stopped and he could think ...
The itch was back but Sam struggled to hold on to his thought.
"Mojo, Bobby, when you said that ... what the an- " He stopped mid-word dragged his fingers through his hair, digging his palms against his temples.
"Hold on, Sam!"
"Angels, Bobby, angels, angels have that kind of mojo. And look there."
He pointed to the far right doorway in the row of shabby stores across the street from the pizza place.
"Holy Angels Fellowship Church?"
"I don't know, Bobby, I just have this feeling ..."
Bobby made it to the entrance and back before Sam could get more than his legs out of the car. Bobby's face was grim.
"Dammit, boy, there's symbols etched all around the door frame. Enochian symbols."
"I need to be the bait."
"Are you certain?" Raphael watches intently for the reaction to his words. The briefest confusion clouds those green eyes, then Winchester nods with his jaw clenched tightly.
Raphael allows a momentary flash of smugness at the precision of his work in the human's mind. Zacariah's manipulations had been done with the subtlety of a sledgehammer when he had tried to break Dean Winchester's will. Raphael has finessed which memories – which emotions – he allowed to surface in the hunter's mind.
Raphael's genius has been in allowing the most delicate breach of the barricade around Winchester's soul so that fragments of Castiel's alleged friendship are woven into the human's hatred of the angels.
Because Raphael has finally seen how to leverage the Winchester brothers and win his war.
He's been staring at Bobby's book for hours without any of it reaching his eyes, much less his brain.
He's picked the skin around his left pinky raw. It matches the rest of his fingers now.
Bobby had wrapped his forearms in gauze and made Sam put on a long-sleeved shirt.
"Don't bleed on my book, boy!"
He hasn't slept in days. He knows he went more than a year without needing it, but that wasn't him. That was what Dean called RoboSam.
Sam is afraid to close his eyes even though he can barely keep them open. The inside of his skull is a mass of vicious pricks, the barrier that he has struggled to ignore having expanded to leave no more room for coherent thought. He puts a finger against the bone between his eye sockets and rubs. The pressure seeps through and eases the itch behind his eyes.
He knows this is a bad idea but the relief in that spot is overpowering and Sam continues the motion. Unfortunately as the itching eases there, it is magnified elsewhere and Sam struggles to resist the need to scratch the rest of the festering wall that fills his entire head.
He forces his hand away from his forehead and moans as the piercing barbs return to the spot he'd momentarily salved.
He is pleasantly muzzy in the humidity. The towel around his shoulders protects his back from the heat of the wall he leans against, just as the towel under his thighs prevents his legs from being singed.
Thick, white towels.
White is important.
But he doesn't know why.
"Have you tried calling for Cas again? Maybe if you tell him his brethren are involved in Dean being missing he might pay attention." Bobby is bitter. Sam doesn't blame him.
Sam is sitting in the car when he calls for Cas. His fingers pick at the steering wheel, flaking off little bits of it.
Dean will be so pissed.
"We think maybe the angels have him, Cas. Please, you gotta help us. Him. Please, we can't find him …"
He doesn't expect an answer anymore. Cas apparently has better things to do …
The unsmiling man who escorts Dean from the sauna hands him a black tee shirt and jeans instead of the suit. He apparently anticipates Dean's question because he states "Your clothing for the summoning of the traitor, as Raphael has instructed."
Even without the name being spoken, revulsion pulses through Dean. He sees the unblinking bright blue eyes of the man who betrayed him, and Dean can't stop the icy shudder that briefly shakes him.
He focuses on the boots he is handed to distract himself from the intensity of that remembered face. Not Cas, his friend. Castiel, warrior angel. Who beat him bloody to stop him from … from doing something. Something that would have saved Sam …
Dean is at the door to the war room without being aware of walking there, he is so preoccupied trying to make a coherent picture of the images ghosting through his head. Except every time he is close to grasping one of the scenes it fades into whiteness and he cannot touch it.
"Cas! Bobby … we think the angels have Dean … There are symbols on the door of the Holy Angels Fellowship Church …"
Cas vanishes and reappears.
"You are correct, Sam, those are Enochian, and the warding is that used by Raphael's army. If the angels – Raphael's angels – have Dean, you will not be able to find him. Neither will I."
"Have you looked? I mean, what about the …" Sam gestured at his ribs.
"Since I was brought back with increased powers I have been able to sense a trace of Dean and use it to locate him, even with the protection on his ribs. I cannot do the same for you. I can only come when you specifically call me." Cas looks disturbed. "Right now there is no trace of Dean Winchester on this earth."
Dean does not like being tied to the posts.
"We discussed that this is necessary, Dean. Castiel must be lured here thinking you are in danger. He does not believe you know the depth of his treachery against your brother."
The ice in Raphael's measured words will listen to no argument, but Dean tries anyway. "Just being surrounded by demons should be enough to bring him here if he still thinks I'm valuable to him."
"Castiel is wary, he will suspect a trap. If he sees you helpless against the demons, he will be less careful." Raphael takes Dean's chin in his hand and the cold of it travels through Dean. "You will have your revenge and we will strike down the head of the traitors in one maneuver. Only for this have I consorted with the filth of Hell." Raphael looks with revulsion at the demons who have surrounded the two of them.
"It is time."
"Sam. You must not scratch."
Sam doesn't understand the words at first, he is lost in his struggle.
"Can't … hurts. Burns. Cas … I need Dean."
The angel's fingertips brush against Sam's forehead, steady, and the chill that fills Sam's head feels as welcome as sudden silence in a pounding storm.
"Yes. It is as you surmised, Sam, your bond with Dean acts as a layer of insulation between Death's wall and the rest of your mind. In Dean's absence its surface has become inflamed."
Sam has grasped Cas's hand to keep Cas from moving it away.
" 'S better now, Cas. When you touch me. It's easier."
"I'm sorry, Sam. My grace can only provide a respite, and only while we are in physical contact. I must leave to search for Dean."
Raphael tightens his lips. Winchester's spirit is strong. His efforts to break through to his real memories have brought more images to light than Raphael would have thought possible, but it will not be of consequence in a few more moments.
In fact, if Dean Winchester remembers, his cries to Castiel will be even more effective.
Dean knows he is the good soldier who sacrifices himself for others. He holds to that thought as Raphael vanishes and a dozen black-eyed sons-of-bitches surge toward him. He tugs against the ropes on his wrists and ankles, but Raphael's men have done an efficient job and there is no give in them.
Dean spits in the demon's face. He may have agreed to be the bait but he will not make it easy for the devil's followers to toy with him.
"Oh my, you have forgotten your manners. It's a good thing Alastair is gone, he would be so disappointed."
Alastair … the name chills him. Dean does not know why. He doesn't want to remember that name …
The blandly smiling meatsuit makes the first slice along the curve of his jaw.
And Dean screams to set the trap for his traitorous friend.
Cas has returned and rests his hand in Sam's hair as Sam hunches on the edge of the mattress. Bobby pushes his cap to the back of his head and shuffles papers on the motel desk. Sam can't help the sigh the respite of the angel's touch gives him.
"I cannot remain much longer. A cadre of demons are roaming near River City, Iowa, and their pattern indicates they are searching for something. Possibly one of heaven's missing weapons. I must investi –"
Castiel's stiff jerk and snap of his head do an exceptional imitation of a compass needle lining up with true north.
"Dean is in trouble."
Sam doesn't even ask, just seizes the back of the trench coat and holds on as the world winks out.
Filthy symbols have been carved into his torso, front and back. Brutal memories of years spent on – and off – the rack are bubbling up with each searing slash. Though even as his nerves scream, Dean knows this demon is an amateur.
"Raphael isn't going to be too happy if you kill me," he snarls at the butcher.
"You poor deluded thing." The knife slices from the hollow of Dean's throat to his navel and Dean arches in pain. "Raphael said once he has the angel we can do whatever we like – "
A blast of air accompanies the appearance of two bodies in the space beside Dean. One is the ramrod figure of Dean's enemy, but behind him is one Dean had grieved as lost forever. And at the sight of that horrified face the cottony cloud in his head dissolves and Dean remembers.
"Cas! It's a trap!"
Still clutching Cas's coat, Sam's feet steady and he straightens, knowing Dean is exactly two steps behind him and to the right.
The frantic buzz in his mind is muted even before Sam turns.
"Dean!" Seeing the wrecked, spread-eagled body, fear-fueled adrenaline propels Sam at the torturer and he seizes the knife before the demon can react. Sam stabs it in the chest and then Castiel speaks and black smoke erupts from its mouth.
Sam begins to cut the ropes binding Dean. Chaos erupts but Sam only focuses on his brother.
" 'S a trap, Raphael used me to get Cas to come … He's gotta get out, Sam, you gotta go with him! Now!"
"Not leaving without you, Dean."
"He messed w' me, Sammy. Made me think Cas was my enemy. 'N' you were dead 'cause of him."
The last binding is severed and Sam catches Dean's weight. There is no place to put his hands that isn't lacerated and Dean gasps, sinking against Sam for a moment.
Then he pushes himself forward, pulls the knife from Sam's hand, and thrusts himself against the attacker about to plunge a two-foot blade into Cas.
Sam has time to think that's not a demon before he's in the deadly melee and fighting for all three of them.
Dean is struggling to wrench the blade from the enemy's hand, but Dean is too weak and only delays the downward arc a moment. That is enough for Cas to twist away, coat billowing, and seize the wrist of the other angel.
Dean is on his hands and knees, the knife Sam liberated from the torturer sliding under the angel combatants' feet.
"Cas! Get us out of here!" Sam reaches for Dean's shoulder. His hand slides in Dean's blood.
"I can't! I am unable to transport out!"
"Sigils … to keep Cas trapped." Dean gasps.
Sam braces as the swarm of demons attack.
"Sam!" Dean has recovered the knife and holds it up for Sam. There are too many and the knife is worthless, cannot kill any of the demons, but Sam fights to stay between them and Dean. He slashes without mercy for the hosts, hears Cas grunting behind him, can't look, tries to keep one leg in contact with Dean, hears Dean groan, when abruptly his throat is being crushed from a distance, nothing he can physically repel but he slashes at the bodies around him anyway as the edges of his sight go black and his lungs are burning but at least it's not his brain on fire now and then Cas is shouting words and the pressure releases and Sam nearly falls as he gasps air into his chest and the world explodes.
Dean must get up, must undo the trap he was part of … He will not grovel on the ground while Cas fights for his life and Sam … Dean pushes himself to a hunched stance and sees Sam thrust the knife into a demon's eye … Raphael's angel has his weapon nearly at Cas's throat and Dean simply hurls himself against the black-suited body which rocks in response and the blade comes toward Dean but the angel's arm is snapped, the knife ripped free and plunged into its neck while Cas yells …
An eruption of white heat blasts Dean as he falls with the dead angel.
A frozen moment. Then the demons surge again, Dean staggers semi-upright for a second time. The angel-killing dagger in Cas's hands keeps the attackers away from him.
Dean shouts, "Cas! Binding sigils – on each arch of the courtyard!"
Cas doesn't answer, just hurls himself at the closest entrance. An arm catches Dean from behind, he cries out at the raking of his cuts as he is jerked in tight to another demon's body.
A sharp point digs into his side.
"No one move! Or Dean Winchester is dead!"
Dean sees Cas stop and no, Cas has to deface the ward or they're all dead … Dean rams his head back into the demon's face ignoring the knife that plunges between his ribs and the stricken cry of "Dean!" He knows there's a struggle going on but he's on the ground again and this time he's not getting up. …
Dean is down and Cas is fighting off demons halfway across the courtyard and Sam is yelling a Latin exorcism even as he is throwing himself at a demon heading for Dean when there is a thunderous clap and the demons by Cas shrink down and another figures materializes next to the angel who stops swinging.
The damned Abomination that is Sam Winchester has threatened his carefully crafted plan, upset the trap that was laid for one. Raphael is forced to involve himself personally and he manifests next to the angel who has betrayed Heaven.
"Castiel! This is over! If you surrender I will allow you to live. If you do not, you will be dead in moments."
Even now Raphael is still surprised at Castiel's refusal to capitulate to his inexorable defeat.
"I cannot do that, Raphael! You want to destroy the humans to save the earth and that is wrong."
"Then I have no choice, brother." There is a wicked gleam of metal as Raphael raises his hand.
Dean is unprotected, unconscious. And while Sam feels the exhaustion of the last several days, his head is clear as he decides. He rolls to his feet as he slashes the throat of the demon he tackled, then darts toward the other entrance arch, like a football player making a desperate end run. As focused as the robot he had been, he sees the angular marks scraped into the granite.
Hands grab him, he pushes them off and keeps going until he reaches the stone and scrapes the knife across the sigil, disfiguring it.
"Cas! Go!" Sam starts to turn but vicious pain pierces his spine and he falls.
There is a cool cloth on his forehead and he is thirsty. Muttering reaches his ears, he can only make out the word 'idjits' repeated several times.
"They will be awake soon. They are all right."
"Cas?" Dean croaks, forcing heavy eyelids open.
Air swirls around his head, there is the rustle of cloth.
"Is Sam …?"
"Your brother is okay, Dean."
Memory scorches. How could he have believed Cas was his enemy? "Cas, I'm sorry, I don't know …"
"It is not your fault, Dean. Raphael had tampered with your mind."
"I should've known …"
A groan from the other bed interrupts him, and Dean struggles to sit up, get his feet on the floor.
Sam knows it had to be Cas that got them back to the motel and Bobby. And turning to look at Dean he sees that Cas has done his healing mojo on Dean. Undoubtedly him, too, from the flashback of that last stabbing pain …
"What happened?" Sam asks.
Cas's blue stare centers on him. "When you broke their defenses my brothers were able to come to me. Raphael was not prepared for the sudden onslaught." Cas lets out something like a snort. "My brother was not prepared for the Abomination."
Sam squints and hears the shuffle of Dean coming to his side. "That what they call Sam?"
Sam gets it. "I was Lucifer's vessel."
Green eyes meet his, tired but clear. "You saved the world." Sam shrugs. "You saved me." Dean holds Sam's gaze. "Thanks."
Cas's hand is suddenly in Sam's hair again. Sam feels the blessed coolness. Dean looks at them oddly but says nothing. "You saved me, too, Sam. I thank you."
Bobby's eyes meet Sam's from across the room, staring pointedly at where Castiel is touching his hair. Cas drops his hand. Sam wishes it was back but can't bring himself to ask.
"Musta been some foolery they were pullin' on you, Dean."
Dean almost laughs. He hates how easily he was taken in. They played him like the proverbial fiddle. "Was the white towels, man."
Everyone turns to stare and this time Dean does chuckle. "I thought I was in this sauna … wrapped up in these super fluffy white towels. Dude, you woulda loved 'em." Dean faces Sam as he volunteers this. "They were big enough to cover your ginormous body."
Sam feels the laugh come up from deep in his gut. It's been so long it feels almost painful coming out of his throat. "They kept you with fluffy towels … ?"
Through his own bursts of laughter Dean lets out, "They were really soft … "
Even Castiel smiles.
When the merriment calms, Bobby looks over at Sam and catches his eye. Sam knows what's coming even before the words are spoken.
"Sam? Think it's time you let Dean in on what's goin' on with you, boy."
Dean is instantly on alert, all remnants of laughter have fallen off his face. Into the lingering silence he says, "Sam?"
Their five minute respite is over. Sam wishes for a long moment he did have a huge fluffy towel to sink into, to wrap around himself and keep it all at bay. Keep the nagging itch forever on hold. Just let it all fade to white.
"I know I should have said something before …"