AN: Sorry if this feels a bit like a cheat, reposting an old Interlude, but it's the only way I could communicate with some of you. PLEASE DO NOT FREAK OUT AT THE SUDDEN CHANGE IN FORMATTING! No content has been lost or deleted, although I have taken down the chapter following this Interlude because it needed to be edited and placed into the new format, so when I put it up this week you'll get that chapter plus about 3/4 more story as part of the longer episode. I've changed the fic formatting from chapter format to intro and episode format. My goal is to have 22 episodes in total, like a real season. My ultimate goal is to finish this fic by the end of the summer, although I'll need all your lovely support to ensure I stay on task. As you can imagine, longer fics might make updates a little more sparse, but I'm going to do my best to stick to a weekly schedule, biweekly at most. You're all still getting the same amount of content (actually, a bit more considering the length of the episodes...) As usual, updates about the fic and process can be found on Twitter, and a prettied up version of this fic, complete with graphics and track listings, can be found at my dreamwidth account. Thank you all for understanding and I'm sorry if the sudden change from 42 chapters into 18 gave anyone a heart attack.
Castiel sat at an unpolished wooden table, head tilted to one side as he listened to unfamiliar music play in the distance.
He frowned, surveying his surroundings in confusion at how he had ended up there. The location was unfamiliar to him personally, but he had seen it enough in Dean's dreams when he retained his grace to be able to recognize it with ease.
The room where he found himself was one large common area, with walls of panelled wood where old broadsheets and posters had been tacked up. The chamber was a split level, with tables and booths crammed into the upper level, as well as contraptions his brain recognized as a jukebox and pool table. A square island countertop in the middle of the room was surrounded by various unmatched stools; judging by the rows upon rows of bottles lining the back wall and the half-opened boxes of beer, he appeared to be in a bar of some kind. A window beside the bar showed a cramped kitchen and a staircase to the backrooms above. The entire place smelled of cooking, wood smoke and dust.
Castiel wondered when those scents had come to represent comfort to him.
"This is the Roadhouse," he said to no one in particular.
"Close enough," a familiar voice agreed, and he glanced up.
Ellen was sitting behind the bar, pouring what Castiel recognized as whiskey into a shot glass. She nudged it forward, and Castiel found himself abruptly sitting up at the bar, reaching for the offered spirit without any actual intent to drink it.
"You doin' okay, honey?" she asked. "You've had a rough bit of it."
"The experience of the past few days was far less trying than the months preceding the Apocalypse," Castiel replied, rotating the glass of amber liquid until the light hit it in such a way as to cast a tiny prism against the peeling wood of the bar top.
"S'not what I'm talking about," Ellen pointed out.
Castiel knew instantly what she was referring to – or rather, to whom. And as comfortable as he felt in Ellen's presence for whatever reason, he did not want to discuss the growing complications of his bond with Dean. Instead, he chose to imitate the Winchester way of dealing with unwanted enquiries.
"I do not trust the demon," he changed the subject. "It is possible that working with her may offer some advantage, but barring destroying Crowley, her ultimate intent is to return Lucifer to Earth."
Ellen looked thoughtful. "Then I guess you're gonna have to work around that. You used to be some sort of angelic strategist, didn't you? And the boys aren't exactly slouches in that department."
"I would not credit me with any strategic ability of late. This entire situation is my fault," Castiel said quietly, disliking the sensation of guilt which arose in him at the thought of his culpability. "There would have been no archdemon if I had not interfered."
"Maybe," Ellen allowed. "But it could have been a lot worse." Off Castiel's disbelieving look, she sighed, "You boys and your lack of imagination."
"What do you mean?"
"You know Raphael wanted the Apocalypse started again no matter what. He's still lookin' for a way into Purgatory, right?" she asked, and when he nodded, she went on, "And who's to say if you left things as is, you wouldn't have figured out his plan too late? He would've opened it up, restarted everything and freed his brothers. Likely Dean'd be dead, because he is your Righteous Man, right? And Sam and Adam would be memories, considering how long they would've been downstairs. So the Apocalypse would go off without a hitch this time, meaning a hell of a lot of people would die."
"Perhaps. But right now we are still fighting a battle on two fronts," Castiel said, feeling something akin to dejected. "Not to mention that through all of this, Sam and Dean are insistent on saving Adam."
Ellen shot him a smile that was both sympathetic and chastising at the same time. "You really think everything is supposed to work out orderly all the time?" She snorted, put down her rag and made a 'come here' motion. "You come 'round the back with me, and I'll show you what that looks like."
He had barely considered the act, and he was already on his feet, while Ellen ducked under the hinge section of the bar and started toward the entrance of the bar. Both of their movements were fluid and instantaneous in a way which would not have occurred in waking consciousness.
The world wavered around him at that thought, and he forced himself back into the moment.
Ellen pushed open the heavy wood and screen front door to the roadhouse, and gestured for Castiel to take a look.
Outside it was far too bright, and he was forced to blink several times before his eyes adjusted to the harshness of the glare; it took him a moment to realise that it was not just his eyes being forced to adjust, but his brain as well.
The world before him was a skeletal shade of its former self, looking like no place he had ever seen on God's beautiful creation. The landscape was meticulously flat, with no sense of altitude or terrain, and the ground seemed at once without texture yet crumbling like disused brick. Sand and ash seemed to cover everything, glowing with heat that lacked the lively, nurturing warmth the sun usually provided. The complete uniformity of the land allowed him to see far in the distance to plains he instinctively knew had once been oceans but were now nothing but collections of salt and bone. The sky was grey, the air stagnant and constricting at the same time.
The feeling of warmth from the interior of the Roadhouse was long gone.
"This is what total order will do – what Crowley could do once he figures out just how to use his new abilities, if he were so inclined," Ellen said quietly. She turned to Castiel, and smiled at him comfortingly even as the guilt welled up again within him. "But that's an 'if', Cas."
"And what 'if' I can't stop him?" Castiel asked.
"First of all, remember that it ain't just you," she chastised him, "And second of all, if there were no such thing as a loophole, how would you have gotten Sam home in the first place? How would you even be dreaming this right now?"
Castiel's eyes widened, and he could feel awareness beginning to creep up on him.
"You think on that a bit," Ellen's voice had become echoing, and he could hear something like static in the distance. "Oh, and Cas – don't forget this."
Even as his vision began to white out, he saw her hold something up to him –
"The amulet," he murmured as wakefulness forced itself upon him.
He was alone in the motel room which Dean had procured for them; the latter was nowhere to be seen, and neither was the demon, to Castiel's relief. Dean had refused to allow her to stay with them, although he had allowed her into the room with them while they planned their next move.
The television in the room was the source of the static noise, and he peered at it disinterestedly for a moment – some film with scenes depicting brightly colored fields and forests which dissolved into globules of paint – before shaking his head.
He needed to empty his mind of irrelevant thoughts and to focus on remembering his dream. Even as he sat up, trying to review the information he had been given, it was already fast trying to escape his grasp, like too much sand trickling between the gaps in his fingers.
He grasped for the obligatory motel stationary beside his bed, barely taking heed of the hastily scribbled note there ('Me & demon bitch getting stuff to keep the angels outta your head. Be back soon. Don't go outside, cops still looking for us.') and started to jot down the details from the dream.
Once again their escape from a hospital had heralded media attention – likely because of the involvement of a respected doctor in the community, thanks to Meg's involvement – and although they were no longer in Buffalo, Dean had insisted they needed to lay low for a few days.
That reasoning wasn't lessened by the harried phone call Dean had received from Sam after they had gotten their things from the motel room where Death had cornered them. Castiel wasn't sure what Sam had said, but Dean's expression had turned grim and he had insisted right then that they make sure Meg was 'on the level'.
Only a long phone call to Bobby – including one which involved him sending them a cellphone video of him putting himself through various tests with silver and holy water, as well as a close-up shot of his own anti-possession tattoo – had temporarily put Dean's mind at ease, and even now Castiel knew his charge was not comfortable with the arrangement.
The demon appeared to be their partner, but how far she could be trusted was debatable. Dean wouldn't even let her out of his sight, which apparently meant that where he went, she went. Castiel had the distinct feeling that she was simply humouring them for her own purposes, but at the moment there was very little he could do about it.
He had just finished scribbling down the last distinct thoughts of his dream and started to puzzle over them when the tinny sound of his new cellphone began to ring. He reached for it, immediately expecting it to be Dean, but the number was unknown.
He frowned, debating with himself for a moment, and then cautiously picked it up.
The familiar voice of Gabriel's newest vessel crackled over the phone line, and he winced at the volume. In whatever incarnation, Gabriel was loud. "Gabriel. How did you get this number?"
"Dude, former all-powerful archangel that knows how to use the Internet. It wasn't hard."
Castiel made a face, momentarily considering the ramifications of the angels suddenly learning how to manipulate mortal technology. They had already begun to delve into the fringe sects of the Abrahamic faiths to bring about their aims, it would not be long before they moved on.
Gabriel seemed to sense his thoughts, because he added, "Don't worry, man, Raph's group is way too update to even consider that for at least another decade."
"What do you want?" Castiel wanted to know.
"I got a call from my mom the other day and heard there might be some shit going down back stateside," the teenager once known primarily as Jason said, not beating around the proverbial bush. "Care to explain?"
"I am unsure what your mortal family is referring to, but events have been convoluted for several weeks now," Castiel pointed out.
"Well, you're gonna have to fill me in, because we're in Panama at the moment and flying back is gonna take some time," Gabriel grumbled.
Castiel could sympathize; mortal means of travel were slower than he liked. Of course, mentioning such a thing to Dean often incurred an expression of wounded disbelief, and so Castiel had long since stopped voicing the opinion.
"Well? Spill the beans already."
Castiel chose not comment on yet another senseless idiom and instead launched into an explanation of the events since last seeing Gabriel. He was careful to leave out his dreams which featured Dean in less than platonic ways. He had not yet discerned their meaning, and he knew instinctively that the mocking he had endured from Balthazar would pale in comparison to what Gabriel might put him through.
"I dunno what to say, bro," Gabriel said to him when he finised. "At least you're dreaming about a hot chick and not Raphael?"
"I believe that is what tipped them off to my location the last time," Castiel agreed. "Although, in this case I may have been unconsciously reaching out to Balthazar and he was forced to give up my location so as not to compromise his cover."
"Damn. You'd think those two knuckleheads would have figured out a way to stop that before now," Gabriel grumbled.
"I believe they are both so used to troubling dreams that they do not view them with the same immediate concern as I do," Castiel protested.
"Still, with the amount of times they've been dreamwalked in the past? Hell, Raphaelwas doing it to me the minute I started getting my grace back. And you think I like to talk?" Gabriel chuckled grimly. "I only managed to stop that once Kali showed up with a bunch of charms." He paused, like he was considering something, and then offered, "The little bit of juice I've got seems to make 'em more powerful. I could charge up some bone talismans or a dreamcatcher for you, if you think it'll help. We got extras when we were down in New Orleans."
Castiel was silent for a moment, frowning at the offer. There was something off about the interaction, and it took a further second before the reason for that clicked into place. "You are expressing concern."
"In my experience, you have never expressed concern for anything which did not immediately affect your own wellbeing," Castiel pointed out.
Gabriel snorted indelicately. His words were defensive when he spoke, "Yeah, well, blame the soul. I do a lot of shit I never used to. Don't get used to it."
"It is highly unlikely you will retain all of your grace within a mortal lifespan," Castiel pointed out.
"Gee, thanks for that," Gabriel said dryly. "You know what? Forget the offer. Go have more nightmares for all I care."
"Now that I know there is a manner with which to ward myself, I will do so," Castiel replied, half-defiant and half-placating.
"Whatever," Gabriel said, although Castiel thought he detected something akin to satisfaction in his voice. Someone said something in the distance, to which Gabriel gave a muffled reply, and then he was back speaking to Castiel. "Well, I gotta go. The old ball and chain's been on my ass about even calling you. She wants us to not get caught even more than I do, I think."
"Understandable, considering her status." Castiel expected the phone to be hung up, but there was another lengthy pause. "Is there something else?"
"Just be careful, okay, bro?" Gabriel said, sounding uncomfortable. "I have a feeling you won't be in communicado for a while, so just…keep your head on."
"How else would I keep it?" Castiel wanted to know, frowning at the colloquialism, but Gabriel had already hung up.
He glanced up at the television, noticing that the scene now depicted a man attempting to navigate a dark, grey field of human faces, attempting not to step on any one. For whatever reason, Castiel almost felt as if he could relate.
TBC - kudos to reviewers coming soon!