The second dose of morphine still wasn't enough.
Dean swore, put the needle aside and stroked one hand through Cas' sweat-soaked hair, gently, very, very gently. It was the only place he'd found Cas could be touched without flinching. "I'm sorry, buddy," he whispered. "Hold out a little bit longer and we'll try again, okay?"
Dean had no idea how to dose someone who could drink a liquor store and walk off with nothing worse than a bad hangover. He'd doubled the previous dose and soft moans still filled Bobby's cramped panic room, as if every minute or so someone stuck a knife in Cas' ribs and twisted it. Even unconscious his muscles were tense with pain, his breathing ragged gasps that shook his whole body.
And Goddammit, the wounds on his back were still bleeding.
The street's so crowded when Dean steps out of the bar he almost doesn't hear his phone ring, snapping it open right before it goes to voice mail. And then there's so much static he almost hangs up. "Someone there? I said, yeah, go ahead." More static, and then right before he ends the call there's another sound, barely audible: "...Dean?" "Cas? That you?" Static, then breathing. "...escaped..." "Escaped? Escaped from what? You sound like you're calling from the moon." "Don't...don't know where I am." Dean slows to dead stop in the middle of the sidewalk, ignoring the irritated people forced to stream around him. Something's wrong. Cas' voice, the tone, everything's wrong. "That's okay," he says, gentling his voice, like he's coaxing a wounded animal out of an alley. "I'm in Phoenix, standing at the corner of Grand and 15th. You don't know where you are, you just come to me. Okay? Come right to me." "I..." The breathing speeds up. "I can't." Dean feels the marrow in his bones turn to ice. "Dean..." He can hear confusion spiraling down into panic. "Shh, shh," he says. "Don't move. Don't hang up and don't move. I'm on my way. You understand, Cas? I'm gonna find you." The breathing shudders. "Hurts." Dean squeezes his eyes shut. "Just hang on, Cas. I'm coming, I swear to God." The next words come out in a choked whimper. "Help me." Dean feels something tear in his chest, like a scab ripping off a wound. He walks through the next two hours in a fugue; every second spent finding Sam and getting his soulless ass in gear is a hammer pounding at the inside of his skull, and it feels like it takes days to trace the call. He keeps the phone glued to his ear, talking to Cas until he has no idea what he's saying, if he's even making sense. When they do track the signal it's coming from the northeast and a little over twenty miles away (if Dean hadn't been so pissed off at God he would have sent him some thanks that Cas had managed to get himself so close.) They find him face down and shivering in the scorching Arizona desert, his back drenched in so much blood Dean doesn't know what his heart could possibly still be pumping. His eyes open when Dean touches his shoulder, wide and dazed with shock and blue as the sky. Cas is still holding his phone, clutching it so tight he's cracked the casing. "Dean?" he says in a bone dry whisper, like Dean's a mirage. "Told you I'd find you, Cas." Cas starts shaking harder. It takes Dean a few moments to process that he's crying.
More static, and then right before he ends the call there's another sound, barely audible: "...Dean?"
"Cas? That you?"
Static, then breathing. "...escaped..."
"Escaped? Escaped from what? You sound like you're calling from the moon."
"Don't...don't know where I am."
Dean slows to dead stop in the middle of the sidewalk, ignoring the irritated people forced to stream around him. Something's wrong. Cas' voice, the tone, everything's wrong. "That's okay," he says, gentling his voice, like he's coaxing a wounded animal out of an alley. "I'm in Phoenix, standing at the corner of Grand and 15th. You don't know where you are, you just come to me. Okay? Come right to me."
"I..." The breathing speeds up. "I can't." Dean feels the marrow in his bones turn to ice. "Dean..."
He can hear confusion spiraling down into panic. "Shh, shh," he says. "Don't move. Don't hang up and don't move. I'm on my way. You understand, Cas? I'm gonna find you."
The breathing shudders. "Hurts."
Dean squeezes his eyes shut. "Just hang on, Cas. I'm coming, I swear to God."
The next words come out in a choked whimper. "Help me."
Dean feels something tear in his chest, like a scab ripping off a wound.
He walks through the next two hours in a fugue; every second spent finding Sam and getting his soulless ass in gear is a hammer pounding at the inside of his skull, and it feels like it takes days to trace the call. He keeps the phone glued to his ear, talking to Cas until he has no idea what he's saying, if he's even making sense.
When they do track the signal it's coming from the northeast and a little over twenty miles away (if Dean hadn't been so pissed off at God he would have sent him some thanks that Cas had managed to get himself so close.) They find him face down and shivering in the scorching Arizona desert, his back drenched in so much blood Dean doesn't know what his heart could possibly still be pumping. His eyes open when Dean touches his shoulder, wide and dazed with shock and blue as the sky. Cas is still holding his phone, clutching it so tight he's cracked the casing. "Dean?" he says in a bone dry whisper, like Dean's a mirage.
"Told you I'd find you, Cas."
Cas starts shaking harder. It takes Dean a few moments to process that he's crying.
They'd had him bound by his wrists. Dean could still see the faint impressions of Enochian sigils from the inside of the cuffs pressing into his skin, and they'd seared a binding link into his palm. At some point he'd broken his right arm fighting the restraint and it had healed at an bad angle; Dean knew he would have to rebreak and set it, but Cas was so far from being able to handle that process that it almost wasn't worth thinking about.
He hadn't been restrained the whole time, though. It was almost faded, but Dean could still see the outline of a bruise on his shoulder, one that was clearly a handprint. It had still been bright and livid when Dean had first seen it, as fresh as the two gashes down his back and Dean wondered why they'd unstrapped him for that. Maybe the whatever truss they'd had him tied to didn't give the right angle. Or maybe they were just sadistic sons of bitches who wanted to feel him struggle.
Dean knew he was obsessing about the bruise. Just thinking about it made bile burn at the back of his throat; he kept fighting the urge to wipe it off, a smudge of filth that had no right being on Cas' skin. It was like they still had their hands on him and there was nothing Dean could do about it.
It was even on the same shoulder as his own handprint. Like a taunt.
Dean watched the bruise slowly fade until it could only be seen in his memory.
Dean always knew when Cas had come to by the way the room went quiet. It didn't happen often and never for very long, brief flashes of consciousness like a drowning man surfacing for a gasp of air. This time he'd gotten up to wash his hands when he felt the quiet and shook his head; of course Cas would wake up in the five seconds Dean wasn't right there.
He stepped back into Cas' frame of vision slowly, hands up to show him they were empty. He felt Cas' wounded animal eyes watching him, wary, waiting to be tricked. Dean wondered for the thousandth time what kind of mind fucks they'd put him through.
He sat in the middle of room, well out of reach (Cas winced at the loud scraping sound when Dean dragged the chair back and that was stupid, Dean knew he had to be more careful). He let Cas watch him until the tension around his eyes relaxed by a fraction. "Okay if I come closer?" he said, keeping his voice quiet, conversational.
Cas nodded, eyes still fixed on Dean, and he moved the chair closer to the bedside. "You know where you are?"
Cas' eyes darted around the room for a few moments, then he nodded again.
Dean leaned forward, just enough so he wasn't looming over Cas. "You won't get punished for talking, Cas. I promise," he said, fighting down flashbacks of Alastair's favorite how-long-can-Dean-keep-from-screaming game. Plenty of time to deal with his own resurfacing bullshit later. "Nothing bad's going to happen. I won't let it."
Cas' eyes bored into him so intensely Dean felt like he was reading his soul. His fingers drifted up to brush the jagged scar across his throat, as if fighting between believing Dean's words or the evidence carved into his skin. He licked his lips, then clenched one hand into the bed's ancient sheets, like he was bracing. "This is Bobby's panic room," he whispered.
There was a tiny, defiant spark in Cas' eyes, and that was a beautiful thing to see. "Dean," he said, tense, like he expected to hit by lightning.
Every time Cas woke up one of the first things he did was say Dean's name. Like a test. Dean felt like his stomach was full of acid every time he thought about it, that the sons of bitches had specifically hurt him for saying Dean's name. "Yeah, Cas. It's me."
It was hard for Dean to breathe with his chest suddenly full of broken glass. "Told you." He leaned further down, hating himself to his core. "I'm going to ask you something, and I know it's going to be hard but I need you to answer. Promise me you'll try, okay?"
Cas' brow furrowed, the expression both familiar and wrong when matched with his too-wide eyes, but he nodded yes.
Dean closed his eyes for a moment. "I need to know who they were, Cas. I need you to tell me their names."
Cas' breath shuddered in his chest, his eyes immediately narrowing with suspicion and Dean felt a sharp pang of guilt. He knew he was pushing, Cas was nowhere near lucid enough for this but not knowing was killing Dean. The only information he'd managed to coax out so far was how long they'd had him: two of your weeks, information both heartening and incredibly frustrating. Seriously, what did that even mean? Actually two weeks? Longer? Somewhere time moved like in Hell? (Dean couldn't let himself think that, that would mean five years.)
Still, it was such a cryptically Cas response.
And that had been an easy question compared to this. "You promised you'd try," he reminded, feeling like he should be thrown into the Pit when Cas' eyes went dark with despair. "Cas. You trust me?"
Cas nodded, whispering "yes" into the mattress. A tear slid down his face and Dean had to clench his hands to keep from wiping it away.
"Then trust me. No one's going to hurt you. I promise."
Cas closed his eyes, his body wracked by agony that for once had nothing to do with his wings. Dean knew it wasn't Cas trusting him that was the problem; back in the Pit he'd lost count of how many times he'd seen Sam show up to rescue him, or his Dad, had felt that hope flare up only to see the image distort into Alastair's laughing face, a new sharp knife all ready to make him suffer for wanting to escape.
Finally Cas whispered three words - Josiah, Samael, Melchior - and God, that was the bravest thing Dean had ever seen. "You are so fucking awesome, Cas," Dean said, fingertips threading through his hair until he felt the tension shake itself out of him.
Cas shook his head. "Broken," he mumbled, an anguished, almost vicious twist to the word.
Dean paused. "Hey," he whispered, lips close to Cas' ear. "So was I, and you put me back together, right?"
Cas didn't respond. His resolve was cracking; even though they'd clearly ingrained him to stay quiet he couldn't keep it up, harsh, jagged moans escaping with each breath. Beads of sweat wound down his face and he squeezed his eyes shut. "Dean."
He filled another needle with morphine; even if it wasn't enough to do more than take the edge off, anything was better than this. Cas sobbed when the needle went in and Dean finished quickly, murmuring reassuring nonsense. "It's medicine, Cas. It'll help."
Dean watched as the combination of the drugs and the pain dragged him back into unconsciousness. Just before the end he scraped up one last moment of awareness, wrapping his hand around Dean's arm and staring, not at him but into him, and Dean got the message. Don't you dare leave again, you son of a bitch.
Dean was good with that. Hell, if Cas wanted him to sit there for the rest of his damned life, he was good with that.
Dean thought he finally had the dose right. It was hard doing everything one handed - Cas was still clamped down on his arm, and hurt as he was Cas was still strong - but he'd managed, and this time about a minute after he pushed the plunger on the syringe he felt Cas' tense muscles start to relax. The relief was so powerful Dean shook.
After a few minutes more Cas twitched, his eyelids fluttering. "...feel strange..." he muttered, the words slurred, like his mouth was full of cotton.
Cas startled, like he hadn't realized he'd spoken aloud, and Dean put one hand on his head. "It's all right," Dean said, stroking his thumb along his hairline, keeping steady eye contact. "You're with me, remember?"
Cas nodded, a dreamy, oh, right look on his face. "Safe."
"Damn straight." He leaned closer. "You said you felt strange. Strange how?"
Cas shook his head. "Strange."
"Does it hurt? You feel pain?"
He paused for a moment, considering, then shook his head. "Far away," he said. "It's there but can't touch me."
"Good, Cas, that's good. That's how you're supposed to feel."
Cas looked up at Dean, eyes soft and dilated. "How did you do that?" he asked in amazement, like Dean was some kind of wizard.
Dean chuckled. "It's just drugs, buddy. I didn't do anything."
"Like the medicine you gave me when I drank. Soothing my hurt."
Dean never thought he'd be so thrilled to hear Cas sounding like his weirdo angel self. "I'm doing my best." He leaned down. "Do you remember where you are?"
Cas nodded slowly. "Bobby's," he said, and that was a good sign, the first time he'd remembered. He blinked, as if he didn't remember exactly why he was at Bobby's, then his eyes widened. "Got...got away."
"Damn right you did. Probably panicked the holy hell out of them when they turned around and you weren't there."
"They cut me," he whispered, his voice starting to shake. "They..." His eyes went wide as it all came back in one horrible surge and God, did Dean remember what that felt like.
"Cas. Cas, look at me," he said, crouching down to eye level. "Don't think about it now. You need to rest." His eyes were like looking at ancient stained glass windows with cracks all through them. "Cas, please, stop fighting the drugs."
But he could see the morphine already blurring the edges, blunting his panic until Cas looked confused as to why he'd been upset in the first place. He rested his head back on the pillow and stared up at Dean, blissed-out wonder slowly creeping in and glazing his eyes. "Floating," he murmured, his voice sleepy.
"Morphine's good stuff."
Cas squeezed his arm, staring at Dean almost in adoration. "You made me fly, Dean."
It was like being hit in the chest with a mallet. Dean took several deep breaths and then pushed everything down deep into his stomach, forming a tight, venomous ball. "Just rest, Cas. You need to let the drugs do their job and rest."
Cas' eyes slowly closed and he sighed softly, surrendering completely to the morphine. Still, when the grip on his arm went slack Dean had a moment of irrational panic, holding his fingers to his pulse until Dean was sure he hadn't overdosed him after all. Then Dean carefully placed one hand between the gashes on his back, watching for a reaction. When he didn't get one, no flinching, no groans of pain, not even a twitch, Dean let out a long, shaking breath.
He stripped off the blood soaked gauze and makeshift bandages, the best Dean could do when even the slightest touch had made Cas shudder in agony. A sluggish drop of blood dripped down his side and Dean carefully wiped it away, setting a towel up under Cas to catch any more while he disposed of the bloody dressings. He didn't know why the wounds weren't healing (oh yes you do, whispered a vicious voice in his head, one he firmly told to shut the hell up), but they still looked as fresh as the first moment Dean had seen them.
He told himself this isn't Cas over and over until he could look at the wounds with a clinical eye, like he was treating some poor son of a bitch who'd been mauled by a monster, something he'd done hundreds of times without blinking an eye. Thinking like that, Dean could see the wounds were bad, rough-edged and so deep Dean could see white, exposed bone, but strictly based on that he'd seen worse. This he could handle. It would take a long time and a metric fuckton of stitches, but this he could treat. He unwrapped the sterile needle and thread Bobby had set up for him - he was glad Bobby hadn't listened when he'd insisted he wouldn't need it, that Cas would just heal - and pressed the needle into Cas' skin.
(He's standing in a drafty barn staring at a man wearing a suit and trenchcoat, one who's just shrugged off a demon-blade to the chest. The air crackles with energy and it sounds like there's a fucking hurricane outside, thunder clapping so loud his ears hurt. Lightning strikes illuminate the barn and Dean can't move, he can't breathe, all he can do is watch as black wings of shadow unfold against the far wall, enormous and impossible and powerful.)
This isn't Cas, this isn't Cas, this isn't Cas, he repeated to himself until he could smother the memory back down. This was just a job.
He'd never stitched a wound so carefully in his life.
The entire time he whispered three words to himself, Josiah, Samael, Melchoir, holding them against his heart like a brand.
Dean finally placed the last stitch, gave Cas another shot, then leaned back in his chair with his hands over his face, his eyes burning with exhaustion. He heard a knock at the door and glanced back to see Bobby glaring through the tiny bolt hole, just like he'd been for...oh, about the last two hours or so. Dean shook his head and dragged himself out of the chair to let him in; the last thing he wanted to do was talk to anyone but Bobby looked pissed enough to rip the door off its hinges if Dean made him stew out there any longer.
His back ached from hunching over and he rolled his shoulders as he pulled the heavy door open; Bobby gave him a long, searching look, and quirked one eyebrow. "Don't you look like shit."
Dean chuckled. "Feel like it, too," he said, flexing the cramps out of his fingers.
Bobby nodded over to Cas. "How's he doing?"
"Finally figured out the dose I need," Dean said, shrugging. "I was starting to worry he was immune to the stuff." He closed the door tight as Bobby walked into the room. "We're gonna need some more soon, by the way."
"Yeah, because morphine's so easy to lay hands on," Bobby groused. A beat went by, then Bobby said, "Already put an order in with my guy," he said, and Dean grinned. "Should be here soon enough."
"Knew you'd be on it," Dean said, rubbing his throat, and Bobby handed him a bottle of water.
"Would've been colder," he said, "but someone didn't want to let me in my own damn room."
Dean let that go, downing half the bottle in one swallow and putting the rest aside for the next time Cas woke up; he didn't get thirsty like a human but that didn't mean he wouldn't want some. "Hand me those bandages, would ya?" Dean said, hoping to distract Bobby from staring him down like a bug pinned to the wall. Bobby complied, moving to help Dean bandage Cas up until Dean put up one arm, motioning him back.
"You don't have to do this all by yourself, Dean."
Dean pressed his lips together. It wasn't that he didn't think Bobby would do a good job - if he was hurt he sure as hell would want Bobby Singer patching him up - but Cas trusted him. The last thing he needed was to be wondering whose hands were on him. Dean was the one he'd called and Dean was the one he looked for, no way was he going to force Cas to endure someone else touching him until Dean was sure he was okay with it. "Don't push it, Bobby. Just do me that one favor."
"You're about to say I don't understand."
God, Dean wanted a beer. "You don't. And don't take that the wrong way, Bobby, because I'm glad as hell you don't."
Bobby looked like he wanted to argue the point but thought better of it. "You been real quiet, boy," he said, leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. "You barely said a word when the two of you drove up with him."
"I was a little busy."
Bobby shook his head. "Reminded me of Sam those months you were dead. And he's the type to go quiet when he's upset, you're not."
Dean shrugged. "Sounds like you shouldn't worry about it, then."
"No, you idjit, that means I have to worry more when it's you doing it."
Bobby shook his head. He watched Dean apply the rest of the bandages, not even hiding that he thought Dean had gone a little crazy. "You did a good job stitching up those cuts."
Dean felt his lips curl. Bobby must be worried about him; he usually wasn't one for coddling but calling the wounds on Cas' back cuts couldn't be called anything but, especially since Bobby had taken a good look when Dean first dragged Cas in.
Anyone with eyes could see they were tears.
Dean is four years old and running around the backyard, jumping after butterflies. When he cups one in his hands he crouches down, tearing off each wing, feeling the delicate things rip apart like tissue paper. Suddenly his mother's right next to him, pulling him back by one arm. "What are you doing?" she demands, and it's the only time he can remember her raising her voice to him. He looks down at the little pile of wings, the crippled butterflies crawling in the grass, and he's enveloped by shame. She kneels next to him, stroking his hair. "Sweetheart, why would you do something so terrible?" Dean shrugs, not able to look at her. "I don't know." "Look at me, honey." He drags his eyes up, biting his lip. "They can't live without their wings, Dean. Do you understand?" He nods, although he doesn't, not really. It will be a little over six months before he grasps what death really means. "You can't hurt things just because you're stronger. It's not right." He nods again and she kisses his forehead. "Good. Now run inside, it's lunchtime."
Suddenly his mother's right next to him, pulling him back by one arm. "What are you doing?" she demands, and it's the only time he can remember her raising her voice to him.
He looks down at the little pile of wings, the crippled butterflies crawling in the grass, and he's enveloped by shame. She kneels next to him, stroking his hair. "Sweetheart, why would you do something so terrible?"
Dean shrugs, not able to look at her. "I don't know."
"Look at me, honey." He drags his eyes up, biting his lip. "They can't live without their wings, Dean. Do you understand?"
He nods, although he doesn't, not really. It will be a little over six months before he grasps what death really means.
"You can't hurt things just because you're stronger. It's not right."
He nods again and she kisses his forehead. "Good. Now run inside, it's lunchtime."
They had cut him, though. Dean finally had an answer to something he'd wondered about their swords; he knew it still had to be a lethal shot to actually kill, but never knew whether the divine crap that let the swords kill also affected their healing. As it turned out, wounds from the swords did heal.
But they scarred. The jagged scar across his throat. (Dean tried not to picture Cas' terror when they'd slashed his throat like that; it should had been lethal, it wasn't done carefully enough not to be. They must have healed him, and Dean wondered how long they'd let him feel himself choking and bleeding out before they'd gotten around to it.) A Glasgow smile carved almost up to each ear, and that hadn't been done quickly, he could see the slight alternations the path of the blade had taken as it was pulled through inch by inch. Interrogation marks down both arms, the kind where you twisted the knife right before yanking it out.
And then there was the patchwork of thin white lines marring his back; Dean hadn't gotten as good a look at his chest but knew it was in similar shape, including a long, y-shaped scar Dean was going to have nightmares about. This was a different hand than the one who'd slit Cas' throat and carved his face; right-handed instead of left, a careful, precise, surgical touch whereas Asshole #1 had been all about stupid brutality.
Dean traced his fingers down Cas' back, feeling the narrow, raised scars where the blade had been pushed between each vertebra. There was a incision at the base of his spine, and Dean knew that was from when they'd exposed the nerve cluster there. Long lines tracing his ribs, remainders of cuts Dean knew went deep enough to score bone.
Dean knew because every cut Asshole #2 made was as if the angel had been doing his very best Dean Winchester impression. It had been made clear to Dean that all the angels knew what Dean had been up to in Hell, but this guy had clearly studied him, all but signing "Hi Dean, I love your work" into Cas' skin. He'd taken Cas apart stroke by stroke, exactly they way Dean had done to thousands of souls. As if Dean had been the one doing it.
And he couldn't imagine the bastard hadn't made sure Cas knew exactly that. He closed his eyes, picturing Asshole #2 leaning over Cas, taunting him as he sank the knife into his back, whispering that this was what the Righteous Man would have done to him in Hell. And after all that Cas had still thrown himself towards Dean the first chance he got.
But even the worst of it - and Dean knew exactly how much pain each of those scars translated to - it had all healed. His eyes kept dragging back to the bandaged patches. "Those should have started healing by now. Everything else did."
He saw Bobby shift against the wall, his eyes softening with a look that twisted in Dean's gut like a corkscrew. "It might not be something he can heal, Dean." Bobby let out a breath. "At least we know now we can keep him comfortable..."
Dean's hands clenched into fists. Old people in hospitals were "kept comfortable." Those were the words you threw around while waiting for the Reaper to show. "He's not dying, Bobby."
Bobby's eyes flickered. "Okay."
They can't live without their wings, Dean.
Dean's chest burned. Cas could. After he came back from the banishing trick he'd been grounded and sure, he'd bitched and complained but he'd been okay. Hell, he'd taken out a Horseman.
But what if they weren't gone, Dean? said the same vicious, mocking voice from before. What if they were just clipped? What then?
Dean knew the real problem wasn't that he was hearing Alastair's voice in his head.
The problem was that he was good with it.
The tip of Alastair's knife comes up under Dean's chin, forcing Dean to meet the demon's eyes. "Oh, Dean," he says, his breath reeking of blood and festering rot. "I promise you, someday you'll be thankful you met me."
"Bobby, send Sam in here. I need to talk to him."
Bobby's eyebrow raised in alarm. "What about?"
"Just need to talk to Sam."
Bobby took a step towards him. "Dean, what are you thinking about?"
Dean gave him a look, and whatever it Bobby saw in his eyes, it was enough to make him back off. "Boy, I..." Then he shook his head and stalked out of the room.
Enough time passed that Dean thought Bobby wasn't going to send Sam in after all - he knew Sam wouldn't refuse, curiosity about why Dean wanted to talk would be killing him. He'd just given Cas a new shot of morphine - each dose lasted a little over four hours, and there was usually a window of twitching restlessness to signal Dean that it was time for another so he could avoid forcing Cas to wake up - when Sam knocked on the door.
Dean took a deep breath. Dealing with his brother's soulless stand-in always sent his blood pressure skyrocketing, but for the first time he was exactly who Dean needed. He opened the door then sat back down, stroking Cas' hair as the morphine wiped the tension lines back out of his face.
Sam whistled when he got his first good look at Cas' scars. "Wow. That's worse than I thought it would be." There was no empathy, no concern, just mild surprise and the sick sense that Sam was kind of impressed.
Dean smiled. Good.
Sam cocked his head to the side. "Bobby said you wanted to talk to me?"
Dean nodded. "I need that giant brain of yours to do some research for me. Bobby's not going to like it, so you're gonna have to work around him."
Sam quirked an eyebrow. "What are you thinking about?"
It was almost funny, how different that question had sounded coming from Bobby than it did now. Dean didn't answer, just handed Sam a piece of scrap paper covered with drawings of the sigils the restraint cuffs had pressed into Cas' skin. "I think these are some kind of binding or depowering symbols. I want you to dig up any rituals that would do the same trick. Especially if they're depowering. And I need a summoning ritual, a good one, one that doesn't need that giant thing Bobby has, he'll never let me use it."
Sam glanced over at Cas and Dean knew he didn't have to elaborate on what he wanted to summon. "That's a big order."
"You can do it." He looked up and locked eyes with Sam. "I need them stuck in their meatsuits and depowered. Make this happen, Sam."
He could see Sam pondering the proposal. It would be difficult, especially with Bobby looming over his shoulder, but it was also a challenge. "I'll see what I can do," and Dean saw the nerd gears in Sam's head turning. His brother might not have a heart anymore, but he was still the smartest son of a bitch Dean had ever known. "Should I call in..."
"God, no." Their psycho excuse for a grandfather was the last person Dean wanted poking around.
Sam left, and all Dean could do was sit back and wait for good news.
He remembered reaching for butterflies fluttering just out of reach.
Dean didn't know if Sam was extra motivated or if Bobby had decided to be passive-aggressively helpful by leaving just the right lore lying around, but it took Sam all of six hours to come back with answers. He detailed out the ritual, the prep needed, and Dean felt warm excitement spread under his skin like a fever.
"Set it up, Sam. Have it all ready to go in...about two hours," he said, estimating when Cas was due for another shot; that would give them four hours and he would need every second of it. He wondered if Bobby could get his hands on an IV, save Cas the stress of cycling down from the drugs each time. He should have thought about that before. Bobby probably already had, he'd ask about it before they headed out. "Clear a space, we won't do it too far away."
"Look what else I found," Sam said, holding up an ancient vase. "Bobby's been holding out on us, he must've put some oil aside for an emergency."
"Enough for two rings, maybe three."
Dean traced one fingertip along the scar stretching across Cas' cheek. "Fire it up, Sammy."
Bobby was pissed. "You tell me what you're planning, Dean."
"Not a chance."
"I know he found the oil. Whatever you two are thinking about doing, it's stupid. And it's not gonna undo anything."
"It's not about undoing. It's about reminding." Bobby grabbed his arm. "Bobby, I appreciate the concern but do not manhandle me."
"Dean, I am trying help you. I don't want to see you go off and do something you can't come back from."
Someday you'll be thankful you met me. "Hey, Bobby, c'mon. It's me." He gave Bobby what he hoped was a careless grin. Bobby might scoff, but Dean thought it was almost sweet that after all these years Bobby still believed there was such a thing as coming back.
He glanced over at Cas. "Mind if we have a minute?"
Bobby raised his hands and backed away. Dean sat down and heaved a huge sigh. "I'm sorry as hell, Cas," he whispered, "but I've gotta go take care of something." Cas' eyes were closed, his features soft and relaxed. Probably he couldn't even hear him. "Bobby's gonna sit with you and I'll be back before you even know I'm gone." Dean leaned forward, lips to his ear. "I'm gonna make sure you're safe, like I promised."
He felt other words lodge in his throat like needles, words he knew he probably should have said a long time ago. As much as he wanted to, though, he couldn't now. It would be a cheat. Worse, it would be like giving up, saying there wouldn't be another chance.
And anyway, Dean told himself Cas already knew. He watched Cas sleep for a few long moments, the way he used to catch Cas watching him sleep when they were just starting to feel each other out. He didn't remember when he'd stopped minding it.
Dean pressed a kiss to his lips. Probably that was something he should have done a long time ago, too.
He got up and looked at Bobby; a week ago it would've mattered to him that Bobby had seen that. "I'll be back in four hours. Bobby, he so much as twitches you call me-"
"I know how to sit bedside, Dean." Bobby took off his hat, raking one hand through his hair. "Anything else you want to say?"
Dean paused by the door. "Stay out of the yard."
The flames were already high by the time Dean got there. He crouched outside the circle and stared at the unconscious angel; Sam apparently hadn't been as gentle as he could have been with the summoning. They'd decided to start with Josiah, partially he was the first on the list and because at the time it had seemed like the douchiest of the three names. "Sam. You sure you want to be around for this?"
"You kidding? This is like getting to watch Picasso paint."
Josiah didn't look all that angelic, from what Dean could see. He was wearing some poor schlub with bad hair, the kind of guy who looked like he lived in indie record stores. Just a little bit like Ronald Reznick, that poor doomed son of a bitch.
Why would you do something so terrible? I don't know.
I don't know.
Dean felt the last few years slough off like a shapeshifter's skin. He was calm, hard and sharp as a blade. Like he'd been those last ten years in hell; he took out his knife and smiled at the way it fit in his hand. That was the trick about Hell, the one Bobby and Sam had never understood; Hell didn't change you.
It revealed you.
Dean had pulled the wings off butterflies because he'd liked it. He'd liked destroying something beautiful with his own hands. He'd liked seeing the helpless things crawling around, knowing he'd done that.
Sammy may have had the demon blood, but Dean carried Hell in him. Maybe he always had, and that's why Alastair had taken such a shine to him. It spread out behind him, tangling up everyone he loved, and there was nothing Dean could ever do to make up for it.
But that didn't mean he couldn't give it a shot.
Josiah stirred, slowly coming to, and Dean smiled. "You all must have just about shit yourselves when you realized he was gone."
The angel blinked at him, then tilted his head to the side. It was so similar to the way Cas looked when he was confused that Dean's free hand balled into a fist. "Dean Winchester. I hadn't thought there was any chance Castiel could have lived through his little trick. I assume I was mistaken."
"Cas is tougher than he looks. You bastards should have figured that out by now." He gestured with the knife. "Big mistake, letting him get to his phone. Should have jacked that when you took his sword." He raised his eyebrows. "By the way, you should give that back right about now."
Josiah smiled. "Really? I'm surprised. I thought Castiel would have become all too familiar with it."
Dean felt like he'd been gut-punched. It had never even occurred to him they would use his own sword. "Give it back."
"I don't have it," he said, sounding bored with the proceedings.
That was all right. Dean still had options two and three. "Can he survive what you three did? And don't fucking lie to me," Dean said, the doubt in Bobby's eyes suddenly settling in his stomach.
Josiah looked like he was considering the question. "Perhaps," he admitted. "If you could call it surviving." Dean evaluated the statement; angels could lie, but most of them were crap at it and he was betting Josiah was, too. Anyone who like the sound of his own voice the way he did usually didn't bother trying to lie, anyway. Another head tilt. "Is that why you summoned me?"
Dean actually laughed. "You are some delusional sons of bitches," he muttered under his breath. "Raphael order it?" The angel's expression shuttered and Dean indulged in a triumphant smile. "Didn't think so. He'd want in on things if he had. Bet you three all have your asses in a sling now that you had Cas and lost him, though, don't you." He stared at the angel, letting him stew in the idea. "You the chucklehead who held the knife?"
The angel nodded, lips curling up. "At times."
Dean picked up a discarded bolt from the ground and threw it into the circle, watching as Josiah caught it in his left hand.
Asshole #1, then. Good to know. "You're the one who sliced his face," Dean said, keeping his voice carefully neutral. "Guess if I was stuck with a mug like yours I might be tempted to slice up someone who hadn't lost the meatsuit lottery, too." He stood up, straightening out the the crick in his neck. The angel inclined his head, actually looking proud of himself. Dean could never get over the sheer arrogance most angels walked around with. "He scream when you carved his face up like that?"
Josiah's expression soured. "No. He only screamed the once."
"That's because Cas is a tougher son of a bitch than you are." He watched the implication sail right over the angel's head.
He wondering if that had been Josiah's hand bruised into Cas' shoulder, what his role had been when they held Cas down and ripped pieces out of him. He was about to ask when Josiah spoke. "He prayed you would deliver him," he said, his eyes hooded like a snake's, and Dean felt like he'd suddenly stepped neck-deep into ice water. "When it became clear our father had closed his ears to his pleas."
Dean ran his tongue over his lips. He almost couldn't imagine the pain Cas must have been in to skirt that close to blasphemy. When they'd opened up his spine, maybe. "That what got his throat slashed?"
Josiah sneered. "The sacrilege was physically painful."
That they'd broken his faith was worse than what they'd done to his body. Dean thought back over the past two weeks, thought over his dreams. Of course he'd dreamed of Hell, of knives and pain and blood, he always did, but had any of those dreams been out of the ordinary? More vivid than normal? How many of those dreams had been Cas reaching for him and Dean not understanding?
Dean supposed in the end it didn't matter. In a way, the prayers had worked; Cas was safe now, and Dean was going to make sure he stayed that way - starting with Threat #1 right in front of him. "You still curious about why you got summoned?" Dean crouched back down. "You and me are gonna send a message to all of your asshole brothers and sisters. They need to know how this war's gonna go from here on out."
Josiah blinked in confusion. "The war is over," he said, as if Dean had just told him the sky was orange.
"You wanted the war over, you shouldn't have left Cas breathing. And you shouldn't have given me extra incentive to see you bastards bleed." He showed off his blade, letting it catch the light. "Bought this knife at a yard sale a couple of years ago. Told Sam I just thought it looked cool, but the truth is I used to have one just like it. Somehow I knew it would come in handy." He looked at the angel, who was looking distinctly more nervous than a few minutes before. "You might not have noticed yet, but your mojo's disrupted while you're in there," he said, gesturing at the sigils lining the outside of the circle. Sam had walked up, a cruel smile of anticipation on his face. "Now I know one of you bastards is a bit of a fan - and really, with this face who wouldn't be - but I think some of you up there have forgotten why Michael was so hot to jump my bones in the first place."
Josiah's eyes darted between Dean and Sam. "You're the Righteous Man."
Dean rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, but what made me the Righteous Man, huh? You remember?" He let out a patient sigh. "The reason I was supposed to yes to Michael was that I'd already said yes to someone else."
Understanding dawned in the angel's eyes. "You don't dare. Such an act would blacken your soul..."
"Yeah, before you finish that I've already killed one of you bastards, or didn't you notice Zachariah's been a no show at the Heaven office parties. And my brother's soul can't come to the phone right now, so there's not much blackening that can happen there." Dean smiled, grim and feral. "You shouldn't have put your hands on him." He stepped into the ring.
Josiah screamed more than once. Much more than once.
It turned out the hardest part was getting the wings to show. He was surprised at how deceptively delicate they were. Almost fragile.
Dean remembered being a happy little boy, chasing down butterflies.