Hazy in the distance, barely distinguishable over the horizon, there rests a house. It’s made from old, cheap wood that on its own shouldn’t still be standing but put together to make the house it appears solid. You stare at it from a safe distance and don’t see any movement inside.
You blink and the world goes dark for a fraction of a second. Once the world reappears you find yourself looking through a different viewpoint. Like a bird flying south, you’re gazing down at the house. Somehow, the unusual sight made perfect sense to your disoriented brain but as quickly as it appears it disappears and once again you’re back on the dusty ground facing the horizon.
The images seem like they should be important to you but you simply don’t understand their relevance.
Shutter speed fast, you’re directly in front of the house and the smell of charred wood hits you like a fist. Being this close, you can see that the house isn’t as perfect as you initially thought. Starting from one of the lower east corners of the building, the wood is completely black and burnt through at places. The damage stretches up the side of the house and consumes the entire left side of the second floor. The rooms inside can be clearly seen through the missing walls and it’s a miracle that the house is still standing.
You think the warmth you’re feeling is coming from the sun but you soon realise that such choking heat could only be achieved through fire, surrounding walls of fire at the very least, but you check the house and the damage is already done. The fires have long since gone out; somehow the heat still remains.
A flash of yellow catches your eye. It’s strange, almost like sunlight being reflected off a mirror but you can clearly make out the beam and it’s completely opaque. If you reached out for it you’re pretty sure you’d be able to wrap your fingers around a substance that was purely the colour yellow.
Glancing behind you, you try to establish where the beam is coming from. Following the path, you see it growing stronger and brighter the further it moves from the house and once it hits the opposite horizon, which is eerily empty of any mountainous peak or natural foliage, it explodes into a sky-high wall of swirling yellow and black. The sight unsettles you so you turn back to the house.
The beam hits the front door. You wonder if it cuts clean through.
The porch is raised a few steps and you test the first one. It doesn’t creak like you expect it to but it also doesn’t feel like wood under your foot. In fact, it doesn’t feel like anything; it feels like a resisting force but not a solid one. You tread the last few steps anyway and stand just to the side of the beam and the door it collides with.
You reach out for the handle but a tugging sensation holds your arm back. Fighting against it, the struggle shocks you awake.
“Cas! Castiel, wake up!”
Instead of jerking awake, Castiel regained his sense of reality slowly. Yellow and black drained from his vision only to be replaced by shades of red and orange. The first thing that really registered with him was a blistering heat that was too real and too lifelike to belong in a dream.
A strong grip tightened around his arm and pulled suddenly, dragging him across the ground and away from the source of intense heat. Castiel rolled onto his back to find Dean towering over him, eyes wide and hair wild. Once he had realized that Castiel was awake, he sighed in desperate relief and dropped onto his bent knees.
“What the hell, Cas?” he demanded, sounding out of breath.
Sweat trickled down Castiel’s face and settled into the hollow of his neck. “I feel like I’m on fire,” he replied truthfully.
Dean laughed but it wasn’t his usual mirth filled sound, this time it was a bit manic.
“That’s because you almost were,” Dean spouted hysterically.
Castiel turned his head to the side and saw that they were indeed only a few feet away from their campfire. He could still feel the danger from here.
“You were having a nightmare or something and you wouldn’t wake up,” explained Dean, a little calmer now that Castiel was awake and definitely not on fire. “I tried calling out to you but it didn’t work and then you started thrashing about. By the time I’d gotten over to you, you’d almost rolled right into the fire.”
Castiel tried to sit up but his limbs were shaking ever so slightly and it made the action a little difficult. Sensing his struggle, Dean helped him sit up with a gentle hand on his back. There was a rustling to their side and both men looked over at Sam who was sitting up on his elbows looking confused and lost. He caught sight of Dean and Castiel huddling together and narrowed his eyes.
Dean frowned at Sam and then fondly shook his head. “Go back to sleep, Sam. Everything’s fine.”
To his credit, Sam looked suspicious for a second but eventually dropped back down and rolled over, putting his back to them. Dean muttered something to himself about conclusion jumping brothers and returned his attention to Castiel.
“What were you dreaming about?” he ventured. “It helps to talk through your nightmares, or at least that’s what my dad use to tell me.”
“I was standing in front of a house. It had been burnt down recently,” said Castiel in a carefully measured voice.
It had been a few days since he’d been allowed to read through their father’s journal and he was now aware of a large part of the brother’s lives before demon hunting became their profession. Fire was understandably a touchy subject for them both, but Dean especially.
Dean swallowed. “And?”
“Fire had damaged some of the first floor and nearly all of the second and I seem to recall a vast amount of yellow.”
Dean shuffled around until he was sitting cross-legged opposite Castiel, who eventually followed his example while putting his back to the crackling fire.
“Yellow?” he questioned.
“Yes. Either, this yellow substance had caused the damage or it was trying to ward me away from the house, I’m not quite sure. When I tried to approach the house, something pulled me back and I woke up.”
Dean didn’t like the sound of Castiel’s dream. There was something horrifyingly familiar about a burnt down house and the colour yellow but it didn’t make much sense that Castiel was the one having vivid memories of an event that never happened to him. Castiel’s past may still be blank but this was Dean’s past not anyone else’s. Even Sam’s recollections were hazy at best.
“Where’s my dad’s journal?” asked Dean, the non-sequitur not bothering Castiel in the slightest.
“It’s back with Sam’s belongings.”
“Good,” Dean nodded repeatedly. “I think you should probably take a break from all this reading for a while, Cas. Reading scary stories before bedtime is not doing you any favours,” he joked and patted Castiel sharply on the back.
Castiel frowned at the hand and then at Dean as he slowly stood up and stretched his legs.
“I’ve had dreams like this before, Dean,” he admitted. “Long before I read your father’s journal.”
This made Dean pause. He turned back to Castiel, looking down at him, trying to gauge just how serious he was being. Castiel held that same expression he always held, that gravely grim face that was seconds away from declaring something bad. Castiel wasn’t the kind of man to mess around. Dean moved back over to Castiel and resumed his position opposite.
“What do you mean, before? Before before or just, you know, recently?” Dean grumbled ineloquently. Hope spiked in his chest at the idea of grasping some straws from Castiel’s mysterious past but a sense of unease also came with following this thread.
“While I was with the church, they used to often talk about me. I guess I was the most interesting thing that had happened to most of these men and I was often the subject of discussion,” Castiel mused quietly, clearly confused by the idea of being described as interesting. “Anyway, apparently, during the first few days whilst I was basically comatose, I was having numerous nightmares.”
“I guess it’s not surprising. Something big must have happened to you to lose all your memories. Nightmares sound like the least of your worries,” Dean added sympathetically.
“Even once I had recovered, the nightmares continued. They were never as bad as they were the first few days but they were all very similar. Although, they did stop for a while…” Dean subconsciously leant forward at Castiel’s dramatic pause, “when I met you.”
Dean cleared his throat uncomfortably at Castiel’s blunt admission. “What?”
“This is the first time, in a long while, that I’ve dreamt like this. They stopped when I met you and Sam.”
Running his hands hurriedly through his hair, Dean exhaled loudly.
“Okay, let me get this straight. You’ve been having these dreams for as long as you can remember which, admittedly, isn’t that long, and they stopped when you met us. But now they’re back with a vengeance,” Dean catalogued out loud. “What exactly do you usually dream about?” He was almost afraid to know.
“They’re disjointed images once I’m awake unfortunately. I see the house a lot and it’s always the same house. I also see a woman. She moves around the house, sometimes she’s there sometimes she’s not. The fire and all this yellow are new.”
Dean groaned and buried his face in his hands, scrubbing at the feeling of uncleanliness.
“I don’t like this, Cas,” he moaned into the curve of his hands.
“I’m sorry,” Castiel answered dejectedly.
When Dean raised his head enough to peek at Castiel over his fingertips, he saw him looking weary and defeated. It wasn’t a good look for him, Dean decided.
“It’s not your fault,” he reminded Castiel truthfully. “But I think we can guess why the demons are so interested in you now.”
Castiel regarded Dean with a cocked head; the tilted look resembling a puppy the more and more Dean saw it.
“Why? This is why.” Dean waved a hand in Castiel’s direction and was dangerously close to shouting at this point. “You’re this walking enigma with creepy-ass prophetic dreams, Cas. They’re after me and Sam but I can say, with complete certainty now, that you’re involved with us somehow. You may not remember it but you’re part of this.”
“I suppose so.”
Dean choked out a laugh, half real and half hysterical. Abruptly, he stood up.
“I don’t know how to deal with you most of the time,” he said with an air of fondness.
Dean gently pushed at Castiel’s shoulder, urging him to lie down again. Castiel’s body moved immediately at the slight inclination.
“Don’t be,” Dean muttered and turned to leave Castiel. “I know you won’t but try to get some sleep.” He went back to the blanket he had haphazardly thrown don’t onto the ground and tried, in vain, to get comfortable. “Just stay away from the fire this time.”
Their routine continued as the days passed, only, instead of just accepting their lives as they were now, the three men found that they were beginning to enjoy each other’s company without an underlying sense of obligation.
Before, Dean and Sam hadn’t always gotten along; there were often times when one completely irritated the other but, due to the unspoken bond of blood, the tension would have to be buried and repressed. With only one other person around to watch your back, you couldn’t afford to hate that person and have them hate you back. Distractions like that are what cost lives.
With an extra person around though, thoughts could be shared more freely. Irritations could be brought out into the open and discussed until they were resolved or they simply drifted away. And, if that didn’t work, there was always someone else around to talk to behind their back. Sometimes, all that was needed was an ear to vent to and that could easily be solved by having an extra person around.
Surprising probably all three of them, Dean was the one to grow closest to Castiel. All the evenings bonding over repeated nightmares and half-remembered pasts had connected them in a way that Sam would never understand. Castiel seemed to trust Dean and any time he felt he needed to get something off his chest, it was Dean he approached. Sam should have felt rejected but every evening when he looked across the fire to where they were sitting close together, he’d be reminded that Castiel was probably Dean’s first true friend and that thought amused him so much being left out ceased to bother him.
However, it was Castiel, who got stuck in the middle more often than not, that probably had the worst deal. Due to their strengthening bond, whenever Dean had a problem he would inevitably go to Castiel; usually when Sam did something that was particularly annoying or Sam-like. Castiel was also the only person Sam could talk to when he thought that Dean was being particularly stubborn or idiotic.
Castiel would always listen amicably and nod in all the right places, sometimes even honestly agreeing with some of Sam’s complaints about his idiot brother and humouring Dean when he trash-talked Sam.
Somehow, their system worked. It’s amazing how quickly people could bond over shared dislikes.
After almost a month of travelling together, there were still no signs of any demonic activity and Dean was getting ready to crack. It wasn’t that he wanted to be attacked he just wished he knew what they were planning. Anything was better than endlessly waiting for the kick he wasn’t sure was coming.
Whilst they had begun their trail by heading south, by the second week, they had steadily been tilting eastward. With still no destination in mind, they were at a bit of a loss of where to go next. Yellow eyes was still the priority but without any minor demons to clue them in, they had no idea where he might show up next. Dean was beginning to think they would need to change their usual strategy if they planned on getting anywhere useful.
Shifting the reins to one hand, Dean used his free hand to ruffle his hair, letting the passing breeze shake some of the dust out as he rode. The sun was pretty much directly above them at this point and Dean was being forced to squint against its brightness. He’d donated his hat to Castiel this morning when he had approached Dean, unsure and worried, to complain about a pain in his head. Dean had since spent the day shielding the sun from his face with a hand cupped over his eyes.
Every now and then, he’d feel the brim of his hat press against the base of his neck as Castiel would sway from the motion of the horse’s canter. Now that regular interaction with horses had pretty much negated Castiel’s unease at riding, his feelings towards them had simply morphed into a solemn dislike. They all knew Castiel was much happier sharing and, truthfully, Dean wasn’t all that bothered. Buying a third horse was still at the bottom of the list of things to do with their limited supply of money; food was at the top. Getting Castiel his own hat was a new addition.
The pressure on the back of his neck increased and without looking Dean guessed Castiel was sitting hunched over with his head leaning on Dean’s back. For a second, Dean worried, but Castiel’s grip was still firm around the material of his jacket at his waist so he curbed his initial instinct.
A dark spot on the horizon caught his attention instead. The blob soon grew bigger and more defined as they moved closer and pretty soon Dean thought he knew what it was.
“Now this might be the heatstroke talking but is that a house?” Dean shouted across at Sam, who was riding by his side.
“It sure looks like it,” yelled Sam, suspicion lacing his words.
“What the hell is a house doing all the way out here?” Dean slowed the horse into a trot so that he could talk to Sam a little easier.
“It’s probably abandoned,” Sam informed Dean, ignoring him when he sent a look of disbelief his way. “I think this use to be farm land but because of the droughts I guess the owners were forced to move.”
“How the hell do you know this stuff?” Dean asked in exasperation. Sam was like a walking encyclopaedia sometimes.
“We go to a lot of places, Dean. People talk. You should try listening every now and then.”
Dean scoffed and squinted through the sun to get a better look at the house. It didn’t give off an abandoned vibe as far as Dean could tell but he also couldn’t see any movement. Both horses had slowed down to a more leisurely pace but they were still closing in on the building rather quickly. With their luck, Dean grimly thought to himself, they’d probably get shot for trespassing.
“You alright there, Cas?”
Sam’s voice was clearly meant to be teasing but Dean could hear the subtle worry in his voice and started to focus on the touch at his neck. In answer, Castiel groaned, mumbled something unintelligible and rocked his head sideways, rubbing the hat against Dean’s back.
Dean couldn’t risk twisting around on the horse without dislodging Castiel and most likely sending him sprawling onto the dirt. Instead, he whipped his head over to Sam, his brow starting to furrow in concern.
“What’s he doing, Sam? He didn’t fall asleep, did he?”
Sam frowned, unsure. “I don’t think so.” He carefully pulled his horse over to Dean’s and reached out to place a hand on Castiel’s back.
Instantly, Castiel twitched and tried to move away from the gingerly applied pressure which left him nowhere to go but forwards. Dean would deny it later when Sam found the time to tease him about it but he let out a small, definitely manly, yelp when Castiel’s grip suddenly tightened to uncomfortable levels. Castiel moaned again and, this time, Dean swore he heard his name hidden amongst the rest of the gibberish.
“Do you think he has heatstroke?” guessed Sam.
“Maybe. It could be; he did say he had a headache this morning,” Dean mused, wishing he could turn around and get a good look at Castiel. “What should we do?”
Looking around, they were in the middle of nowhere, stuck in an area equal distances between anything resembling a town. Except for the house.
“He needs some shade, Dean. I guess we have no choice but to try the house.”
Dean agreed but he wasn’t particularly happy about it. Castiel crowded closer and Dean could feel the excess of heat coming off him as he propelled the horse forward with his boot heels.
Upon closer inspection, the house was clearly abandoned. A low wood and wire fence surrounded the building and had deteriorated so much in places that huge gaps left the fence useless. The ground under-hoof had slowly gotten harder as they approached and by the time they reached the boundary the ground was so dry that it was littered with cracks and holes. Carts that had once had horses to pull them lay scattered around the site, all strangely left behind despite still being in usable condition.
The house itself was just as miserable looking. Every window was missing its pane of glass and the front door hung at an angle on its hinges. The wood was clearly rotting and load bearing planks were probably groaning under the stress.
Dean reached the house first and gripped Castiel’s arm around his waist when he abruptly brought the horse to a standstill. With a hand still on Castiel, he twisted around, lifting his leg over the horse’s head until he was seated in a somewhat awkward sideways position. But at least now he could see Castiel’s face more clearly.
Without Dean to lean on, Castiel had immediately hunched over on himself and Dean had to gently pry him up straight. His skin was clammy to the touch even through his shirt. Dean reached up and knocked off his hat with a sweeping hand, bringing it back to press it to Castiel’s forehead. He was hot, sweating profusely and, now that they had stopped the horse, Dean could feel that he was shivering as well.
“Cas?” tried Dean, hoping that he wasn’t too feverish to react. “Can you hear me?”
With what looked to be great difficulty, Castiel lifted his head to glare at Dean with hooded eyes. There was recognition in his action but the fever had drained him a fair amount.
Sam stopped close by, slipping down off his horse and quickly wrapping the reins around a post from the broken fence. Once he was down, he shifted hesitantly on his feet, not sure what he could do to help.
“Sam, come here and hold him up a second,” Dean ordered, giving himself a chance climb off.
Now on the ground, Dean reached up to grab a hold of Castiel’s loose arms and pulled. Castiel fell with a boneless ease that frightened Dean. The crushing dead weight would have knocked him off his feet had Sam not caught them both. Close now to complete unconsciousness, Castiel let himself be clung to and with Dean’s damp panicking hands he was having trouble keeping a steady grip.
“Get his feet. I don’t think I can carry him on my own.”
Sam swiftly did as he was told and heaved Castiel’s legs up off the ground and together they clumsily carried him towards the house. The slight incline of the porch proved problematic at first but once Dean hooked his arms under Castiel’s armpits and around his chest they manoeuvred him up and inside.
It was even worse inside. Cobwebs covered almost every dark corner and dust coated every surface in sight but they ignored it and quickly found a downstairs bedroom.
Sam carefully placed Castiel’s feet back on the ground and moved over to the bed. He knocked away the cobwebs that got directly in his way and grabbed the corners of the sheets. He ripped them all off with a flourish, hoping to take the layer of dust with it. Once it was relatively clear, they gently moved Castiel over to lie down.
Dean dropped down to sit next to him and, with a handkerchief, began wiping the sweat off Castiel’s face. It was definitely cooler inside but his skin was still overheated to the point that it was pulsing.
“See if you can find some water somewhere; we don’t have much left,” Dean ordered, entering a kind of full-mothering-mode that Sam hadn’t experienced in years. “There might be a pump outside and if it hasn’t been used in a while there might be some left.”
Sam quickly disappeared leaving Dean and Castiel alone. Reaching into his jacket, Dean found his flask; it was filled with holy water but that wouldn’t matter. Tilting Castiel’s head, Dean brought the flask up to his chapped lips and was relieved to see him sip at it without fuss or difficulty.
Placing both the half-empty flask and the handkerchief within reach, Dean began to unbutton Castiel’s shirt, pulling the halves apart to let some air reach his heated skin. As he moved down to tug off Castiel’s boots, he happened to notice his lips moving wordlessly.
“Cas? Cas, you with us?” Dean lightly slapped at Castiel’s cheek but his lips continued to mouth something.
“You’re going to have to speak up, Cas, I can’t hear you,” said Dean smoothly while bringing himself closer.
“I’m sorry,” Castiel croaked with a wrecked voice that made Dean’s heart clench unfairly.
“It’s not your fault, Cas. We should have gotten you a hat long ago,” he chuckled but didn’t really feel the humour. Castiel looked absolutely miserable.
“I’m sorry, Dean,” he repeated a little louder this time. “I tried but…”
Dean frowned, not entirely sure what Castiel was getting at, maybe the heat had fried his brain more than he’d realised.
“Tried what? You mean this morning? About the headache? See, really, it’s my fault. I should have figured it out.”
Castiel weakly shook his head in faint annoyance. Apparently, Dean was completely off the mark.
“Too late…I was too late…sorry,” he mumbled incoherently, growing more frenzied at each word. “I couldn’t do it…I couldn’t save…I failed…I –”
“Cas, calm down.” Dean pressed a hand onto Castiel’s chest. Some of the heat had gone but by the looks of it, it had just moved to his brain instead.
Dean was beginning to panic. Tears were starting to well up in Castiel’s eyes and were soon trickling down the side of his face. Whatever world his frazzled brain had concocted for him, it was quickly tearing Castiel apart.
“You,” he suddenly snapped, eyes frantically flitting around until they rested on Dean. “I saw you…you looked so…so sad. I just couldn’t do it.”
“Do what?” Dean implored. Maybe if Castiel said everything he needed to then he would snap out of his apparent trance.
There was a pregnant pause and for a moment, Dean thought Castiel had finally passed out but then with such deliberation and importance Castiel said, “Stay. I couldn’t stay.”
Castiel’s eyes were wet and so blue that Dean could only stare at him in desperate confusion. The conviction in Castiel’s voice was throwing him off. By all means, the words were gibberish but he seemed to be so sure of something.
He struggled until he could sit up straight; he pushed away Dean’s hands when he tried to coerce him into lying back down. Facing Dean, who was perched on the side of the bed, he reached out his shivering hands and cupped the sides of Dean’s face. Ignoring how clammy and damp they were against his cheeks, Dean simply waited with bated breath.
He then stifled a surprised gasp when Castiel gently pulled his head closer to place a lingering kiss on his forehead, all the while murmuring a quiet litany of ‘I’m sorry’.
Dean was pretty sure his heart was either going to burst out of his chest or simply give up considering how fast it was beating. He felt like he should be crying. Isn’t that what people did when they were being comforted so sweetly and with such heartfelt emotion? The problem was that Dean had no idea why he was being spoken to so earnestly, or why he was being comforted in the first place. He almost didn’t care.
The tension immediately snapped and left the room at the quiet exclamation of surprise. Sam stood in the doorway to the bedroom, a pail of water in his hands, staring guiltily at Castiel intimately cupping his brother’s face. Dean sighed, spell finally broken, and tried to pry Castiel’s resisting fingers off.
“I think he’s lost it, Sam,” Dean explained, attempting to remove the guilt Sam was falsely feeling, thinking he had interrupted an important moment between the two. “He keeps saying he’s sorry. Maybe he’s hallucinating, or something?”
Sam didn’t look entirely convinced but he came closer with the water to peer down at Castiel. Dean had managed to manhandle back down by pressing both of Castiel’s hands to his warm chest with one of his own.
“He does look flushed,” pointed out Sam and, if Dean wasn’t too busy being worried he would have sworn there was a teasing lilt to his tone here.
“I…I think he’s asleep,” whispered Dean as he stared down at Castiel’s still form with trepidation.
Carefully and gingerly, Dean lifted his hands from Castiel’s body and waited to see if he would twitch or suddenly reach out to grab him again, but he just continued to lie still, eyes closed and breath coming out in quick pants like a dehydrated dog.
Sam crouched down over the pail and soaked a small swatch of cloth he had found, that looked vaguely clean, in the water. Squeezing off the excess, he draped it over Castiel’s forehead and stood back.
“I don’t know what else we can do for him, Dean. If he wakes up again we should try and make him drink something but, other than that, I don’t know,” sighed Sam in defeat.
Without jostling the sleeping figure, Dean slid off the bed, meandered around the pail on the floor to grab Sam’s arm and dragged him out of the room. Once they were a safe distance away, Dean let go and whirled around, hands nervously flitting from his hips to his hair and back again.
“You should have heard him, Sam,” said Dean, while twitching like an inexperienced outlaw on his first job. “He really believed what he was saying. It was freaky.”
Trailing over to the dusty dining table that was circled by worn wooden chairs, Sam settled onto one of them; he hoped that if he appeared calm that maybe Dean would take it as a hint to calm down himself. Dean was either too far gone or he just didn’t care because he immediately began pacing.
“Well, what exactly did he say?”
“He just kept saying he was sorry. That he’d tried to save someone but he’d failed and that he was sorry. Jesus, Sammy, he even started crying. I didn’t know what to do with him.”
Sam watched Dean worry and pace; ignoring the blatant fact that he’d left the touching kiss out of his brief reprise. At some point, Castiel had wormed his way onto Dean’s short list of people he gave a damn about. Admittedly, it was less of a list, more of a single name - Sam’s - but as of a short time ago, the list had doubled in length. It was a little endearing if Sam thought about it. Dean could really mother someone when given the chance.
A dim light of an idea burned in Sam’s head as he thought about what Castiel had said in his fevered state. He was a bit wary about divulging it to Dean as there was no telling how he’d react but it made sense and Dean deserved to know his theories.
“Did you ever think that maybe what he was saying was true?”
Dean stopped pacing and slowly turned to face Sam, his expression unreadable even to him, when he’d thought he’d seen everything his brother had to offer.
“What do you mean?” he asked carefully.
“Well, he doesn’t remember anything beyond the past four years, does he? Maybe this is what he forgot. You said yourself that he was crying and it must have been an emotional event that made him lose his memories. It kind of fits, Dean.”
“Maybe…,” started Dean, clearly dubious about Sam’s theory to begin with. But then something must have sparked in his mind because he began to shake his head. “But it couldn’t have been a memory, he said he saw me.”
“He said he saw me and that I looked sad. If this is a memory then he’s not the only one with some form of amnesia, Sam, because I’ve never met him before a month ago.”
“Maybe that part was the fever talking,” Sam tried weakly with a half-hearted lift of his shoulders.
Dean sighed noisily and began pacing again.
All they could do now was wait.
Dean was stuck in a state somewhere between being awake and asleep. If he really focused, he could see Sam slumped over the table, head resting on his folded arms, as he snored ever so slightly; but if he let himself drift, he could picture Castiel lying on the dusty bed just as they’d left him, shirt open and cloth across his forehead. He didn’t particularly like looking at either, hence the in-between state he was currently stuck in. Hopefully, this state would at least give him the appearance of having rested because that was all he needed at the moment.
Castiel had scared him today, or was it yesterday now, he wasn’t sure, but it didn’t really matter. Castiel had scared him, regardless of what day it was. He wouldn’t even be their responsibility if he and Sam hadn’t talked him into joining their insane escapade. Dean had never had someone stay with him voluntarily; family didn’t count, that always carried obligations, ‘friends’ were different, you have to work to keep friends. Castiel made him feel a strange sense of responsibility unlike anything he’d ever felt with Sam and he wasn’t sure what to do with it most of the time.
In some sort of foggy understanding, Dean could tell that the wind was picking up outside and a distant, barely there, part of himself told him to wake up.
The missing glass from all the broken windows slid unpleasantly across the floor creating a noise eerily similar to nails on a blackboard and Dean was still trapped in a kind of sleep paralysis, forced to only listen and watch. The crooked door rattled on its hinges but didn’t swing open due to its awkward angle. Outside, through the empty window frame, Dean spotted a mass of swirling black clouds and struggled to gain some control over his limbs before it was too late.
Sluggishly, he managed to drag his feet off the table and move out of the reclined position in which he’d been trying to sleep, uncomfortable though it was. As the blood slowly flowed to his feet, it left a heavy trail of itchy pains that made his legs feel like his boots were lined with lead.
“Sam!” Dean shouted with a mouth that refused to cooperate.
He didn’t know how successful he’d been trying to wake his brother up because, before he could check, the smoke had streamed through the empty window and, with an added extra-dickish-move, barrelled straight into Dean’s chest knocking over his chair and punching the air out of his lungs.
Dean and the chair skidded across the floor; the chair stopping half way but Dean continuing until his spine crashed into the wall. On the plus side, he was pretty sure the shock had awakened his limbs again; the down side was that he didn’t think he wanted to move anymore anyway. He groaned in perfect representation of how his back was now complaining.
“Aw, sorry, Blondie. I didn’t mean to put you out of commission so soon. We wouldn’t want you to not be able to fight back now, would we?” crooned a sickly sweet voice hovering somewhere over Dean. He had his eyes closed from the pain but he still cringed at the use of the royal ‘we’. He hated the royal ‘we’. It was patronization at its most infantile.
A foot quickly squirmed its way onto Dean’s chest, the heel digging threateningly into the fleshy spot just at the end of his rib cage. With, half faked, labour, Dean forced his eyes open, blinking furiously to clear the blur and focus on the person above him.
It was a woman this time. A little older than the ones Dean usually saw slinking around the bars they passed through. As of late, with money being a bit tight, they had taken to avoiding the bars, simply avoiding the temptation of alcohol altogether as Castiel had put it. Dean had hoped that this was one of those barely there jokes that Castiel like to try every now and then but he really couldn’t be sure; Castiel had a poker face to beat any Dean had ever seen.
Anyway, if they’d taken the time to stop by the last bar they’d passed, Dean was almost certain they’d have seen this woman posing by the wall, hoping to catch the eye of a man that took her liking. She was wearing a lot and very little at the same time. Skin was on show but her dress was so very layered, lazily hiked half way up her leg, that she was probably several sizes smaller than she looked.
“Couldn’t you find someone a little more threatening?” coughed Dean, his usual bravado lacking without the full use of his lungs.
“I thought you’d prefer this to getting manhandled by a dirty rancher, Dean,” she replied, putting on a pout so thick Dean felt genuinely sorry for the woman who was being used.
“Hey, I’m not complaining about the view, it’s the pointier footwear that bothers me.”
The foot in question wiggled slightly, emphasis dripping off the heel trying to bury itself under Dean’s ribs.
“I’m glad they do something for you because they’re murder on my ankles,” she sulked.
“Dean, what the hell?” moaned Sam, somewhere over her shoulder, having just woken up.
“Great reflexes, Sammy,” Dean sighed, fear immediately spiking through his brain.
The woman turned at the hip to regard Sam coolly, her foot on Dean didn’t let up in the slightest despite the change in her attention.
“Don’t get jealous, Sammy,” she teased the nickname out with pleasure, “you’ll get your turn. Just sit and wait patiently.”
She nodded at the chair he had almost knocked over when he’d eventually jolted awake and with clear reluctance and force Sam dropped back down. All he could do was scowl at her, which he did with ferocity. She just smiled back.
The smile quickly dropped though when Dean fisted the ankle on his chest and rolled. Thankfully, demon-possessed humans still retained the very human disadvantage of clumsiness and the shock, coupled with the awkward position in which she was standing, meant that she stumbled and fell to her knees.
As quickly as he could, using her surprise to his advantage, Dean pinned the woman to the floor and caught the flask that Sam tossed him out of reflex. Uncapping it with his teeth was unpleasant but he soon had it held over her mouth.
“Stop moving or I’ll pour this down your throat,” he threatened, shaking the flask slightly to let drops splatter across her skin.
She winced and stopped moving but narrowed her eyes at Dean as though he had just said something completely stupid.
“I may not look it but I’m still stronger than you,” she growled, obviously not pleased with the turnabout of positions.
Dean smirked. “Yeah, but are you faster? I can’t say for certain what it’s like, but I’m pretty sure, for you, drinking this stuff is like drinking fire. I bet you can’t smoke out when you’re choking on holy water, either.”
The demon stayed quiet, glaring at Dean, eyes flicking to pure black and back again in anger, giving him an answer to his unasked question.
“Yeah, I thought so.”
Dean was aware of Sam rising out of his chair somewhere to his side but didn’t let his attention waver from the thing underneath him, who instead of glaring was now lying limp and smiling.
“Coming here today was a reward you know,” she said almost wistfully, causing Dean to wince. “I told the Boss everything that happened last time we met up, about what you did, what you said, what your brother did and…he almost flayed me right there and then. You don’t scare him, Winchester, you never did. You and your brother are playthings that he’ll eventually lose interest in.”
The flask in Dean’s hand shook, not out of fear but out of barely controlled anger. These monsters had taken his family from him but they acted as though that was nothing. He was all set to upend the flask and readied his other hand to clamp over her mouth to keep the burning fluid in her throat, when she continued with a smirk.
“But your friend, he’s a different story.”
For a completely brainless second, Dean thought ‘What friend?’ It’s always been just him and Sam, against the world, but then he remembered Castiel lying weak and helpless in the other room, a mystery to him but apparently a point of interest for the enemy.
“Shut up. He’s got nothing to do with this,” growled Dean.
He wished he could have sounded more certain especially when the demon cocked her head to side and forced her stolen face into a look of mock pity.
“Oh, don’t start getting attached to it, Dean. You’re just making it harder for yourself. Do you remember what I said about possession?”
Dean blinked at the apparent change in subject and then smiled a smile he hoped was at least partway convincing.
“How stupid do you think we are?” It was rhetoric but Dean could see that she’d answered in her head anyway. “Demon possession is the least of our worries.”
Hidden securely under his shirt, etched in ink on his chest, was a ward Dean had found very early on. It had to be re-drawn often but the mild nuisance was nothing when compared to the comforting sense of protection it provided. The same symbol appeared on Sam’s chest as well.
“What about your friend?” she asked with the tone of a person who already knew the answer.
As it turns out it really wasn’t that they were stupid, the real problem was that Castiel was incredibly stubborn. On one of the nights that he poured through the book, he had flicked past the anti-possession symbol in their father’s journal, and had immediately commented on its dark magic connotations.
Then Dean had pulled down the collar of his shirt, until the black ink was visible, and attempted to explain to Castiel, rather ineffectively, how important it was. It was the first time Dean had caught a glimpse of what he could only assume was Castiel the Preacher and not Castiel the amnesiac.
Since then, every time Dean brought it up, Castiel would refuse to have it copied onto his skin, citing some religious crap Dean would ignore. Due to the lack of demon sightings, Dean had wavered more often than not, usually to avoid a fight, and it wasn’t until now that he realised how stupid he was being. Yes, stupid. What he should have done was have Sam hold him down while he drew, whether Castiel agreed or not. Screw dark connotations. What was darker than having a demon walk around wearing your body as a suit?
Dean could feel sweat beginning to form on his forehead as he stared down at the smirking demon. Sam was around somewhere, Dean couldn’t see him but he called out to him anyway, his eyes never leaving the woman.
“Sam, go check on Cas.”
Boots creaked and floorboards whined as Sam went into motion. He moved into the edge of Dean’s sight and then disappeared again into the bedroom. He came back out seconds later, shaking his head.
“He’s not there, Dean.”