Title: Map of the World, 4/11
Author: Seperis
Codes: Dean/Castiel
Rating: R
Summary: The world's already over and they're already dead. All they're doing now is marking time until the end.
Author Notes: Thanks to nrrrdy_grrrl for beta above and beyond. For two years, even. Set after the events in 5.4 The End.
Spoilers: Seasons 5, 6, and 7

Links:
AO3 - All, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4
DW - Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3



--Day 19--

Dean spends the next day and a half sleeping and pretending he doesn't hear anyone knocking at the doorway, voices calling his name hopefully from the porch, gentle taps at the closed window behind the curtains in the bedroom. At least one thing is going right; everyone's staying out of the cabin, and that much, he guesses he should be grateful for.

Food still appears at regular intervals, though now it's left on the tiny kitchen table. He hates even seeing it, feeling like a pet being fed and watered by a dutiful owner, and that pretty much kills any desire to actually eat it. Cas also left the painkillers on the counter, but while it's food or starvation, he'll cut off his own foot before he takes even one of them. Considering Cas is notable in his utter absence, it's possibly the stupidest form of rebellion possible, not to mention Dean's the one that actually suffers for it, but right now, he doesn't give a shit.

The throbbing of his ankle is a lot better by the time he wakes the second morning, enough that Cas was probably right about how bad it was, though the hobbling around probably isn't doing it any favors. Unfortunately, he only has about thirty minutes to enjoy it before he twists it again on a brief, reluctant foray into the kitchen when he thinks he sees a shadow on the porch and almost knocks himself out trying to get back to the safety of the bedroom with its door and more importantly, an actual lock.

Which means that right now, his entire world is contained within the walls of a tiny bedroom that he can't leave unless he wants to face all the people here who think he's someone else, or redraw the sigils and get the fuck out of this goddamn camp.

It's not that he hasn't thought about it, because fuck his promise to Cas about staying in the camp, he's pretty sure that deal is pretty much over. But even if his ankle was okay, once he leaves, there's nowhere he can go. If anyone's alive who knows him and isn't here, he doesn't know how to get in touch with them or where to find them. If there was anything to work with, he might be willing to risk Lucifer, his still-missing army, and the entire United States government, but he doesn't, and he's still sane enough to know leaving just to spite Cas would be stupid.

He's the most wanted of pretty much everyone in the world right now, and some of them don't even know he's here. Whoever sent him here either hated him a lot or this is the worst possible accident in history.

He's not sure when he drifts off--sleep right now is a matter of a couple of hours before either pain or unremembered nightmares wake him up sweating and terrified with no idea why--but he awakens all at once at the sound of the door and sits up so suddenly the rush of blood makes him dizzy, black spots dancing in front of his eyes.

When his vision clears, he blinks at Chuck sitting in a chair almost against the wall, which isn't all that far but still out of Dean's best lunge on a good day. This isn't a good day, and strangely, he just can't bring himself to actually care. After that little heart to heart with Cas, he's not sure anything else that happens in this hellhole will get any farther than the surface of his skin.

"I'm going to kick your ass," Dean says for form's sake, settling back down and closing his eyes again on the off-chance that Chuck will just go away.

"I probably deserve it," Chuck answers, voice wobbling dangerously. He reluctantly slits open his eyes enough to see Chuck slumping into as good an approximation of a fetal position while sitting in a chair as anyone can get. "I wanted to--to apologize. I didn't mean--"

"Are you fucking with me?"

Chuck's eyes come up from their stare at the floor, and the sincere misery in them is undeniable. "Dean--"

"Get the fuck out of here," he interrupts tiredly, the brief flare of anger burning out almost as soon as it had begun. "I don't care anymore."

"I didn't--I didn't plan it or anything. I knew it was a bad idea, but it was the only one I had." Chuck curls up even more, shoulders shaking, but because this is Dean's shitty life, he doesn't make any move to get up and leave. "You may not believe this, but I really didn't--I didn't think about what it would mean for you."

"No, that part I get," Dean answers flatly, meeting Chuck's eyes, and just barely controls the urge to flinch; Jesus, he's not sure he could do anything to Chuck that's worse than what he's doing to himself. "You were trying to get at Cas, and I was the way to do it. Right now, I'm not the one you should be worrying about here. Talk to him."

"If I could find him, I would."

Dean snorts. "Dude, find the cabin making the most noise and I think you'll be okay."

Chuck jerks his gaze up from where it drifted to the floor. "No, I mean--no one knows where he is. He left orders with Vera and Joe for the patrol yesterday morning to continue the current routes and suspended further reporting, since you'd…." he trails off, probably because of Dean's expression.

"--be giving them their orders from now on," Dean finishes for him. At some point, he's gonna react to this. "Did he leave the camp?"

"No," Chuck answers positively, adding at Dean's skeptical look, "He just does this sometimes. It's not personal."

Briefly, he wonders if Chuck's crazier than he thought. "You get for him I'm like, a hideous duty that he has to see through because even Falling didn't get him a get-out-of-having-a-charge card?" He thinks about getting up but just doesn't see the point. "I’m not him, his Dean, the guy he did all this for. You chained him here for someone he doesn't give a shit about but can't get away from, his own goddamn personal Hell."

Chuck blinks, uncurling a little to give Dean a searching look. "He said that? That he didn't have a choice?" He frowns, eyes distant. "Huh."

"What?"

"How long have you been here again?" Chuck makes a face. "Not his best work, but hey, you bought it, so--"

"He's fucking with me?" Chuck looks at him incredulously, which yeah, that was actually a pretty stupid question. "Jesus, he's like this with everyone? All the time?"

"When he's not high, stoned, or drunk, pretty much." Chuck shrugs. "He won't leave, Dean, not as long as you're here. It's you not being here that was gonna be a problem."

"So you outed me to make sure Cas stuck around?"

Chuck winces. "I get it, it sucks for you, but--"

"It worked?"

Chuck winces again, but at least has the grace to nod. "Look, you have to understand. With Dean gone--"

"Someone had to do the job, and Cas somehow not only got stuck with it, but also made it work." He frowns at Chuck's expression. "How did that happen anyway?"

"Your guess is as good as mine," Chuck admits, frowning uncertainly before shaking his head, brown eyes hardening as he looks at Dean. "No one expected Cas to survive, no matter how it fell out. Everyone thought he came back because Dean was still alive, which what other reason would he do it, but still, he was here. Except Dean's dead, and the only reason Cas survived is because of you. The only reason he's still here is because Chitaqua is the safest place on this planet he could take you. So question: what happens if Chitaqua stops being safe?"

He has no idea how to answer that.

"He hid you because he couldn't take the risk that the camp would kill you even if he was able to explain, assuming they would even stop long enough to listen."

"Cas said something about that." Hearing it from Chuck makes it more real, somehow. "That could really happen?"

"Saying it was only a risk was wildly optimistic on his part," Chuck answers. "It wouldn't matter who you were; nothing was gonna save you if they found out you weren't our Dean Winchester."

"And you outed me without even a goddamn warning--"

"Like you would have gone along with it. Think about it, Dean; how long was this gonna work?" Chuck gestures at Dean's arm. "I get it, the sigils were doing a great job hiding you, but--I mean, it's ink. Doesn't take all that much to break it."

Which Chuck would know really well. "He mentioned a tattoo."

"Yeah, and how long until you got careless about activating it? Or just forgot to do it?" Chuck counters. "You've been here what, since the night Dean died? That's just over two weeks--you're telling me you could keep this up forever?"

He'd been pretty careful about not asking himself that question. "Well, the world is kind of ending, so--"

"It's not over yet." Chuck's expression darkens. "It could happen two ways, okay, but it was going to happen: either you told Cas you can't do this anymore or you forgot and someone saw you. The result would be the same either way: Cas takes you and leaves, and best case scenario, he doesn't have to kill half the camp to get you out of here."

"He wouldn't…." He can't put that in any kind of context. "Chuck, he doesn't even know me. You think he'd…."

"Leave with you if he had to? Kill us to do it? Yeah, he would. He wouldn't like it, but it wouldn't slow him down. You being here at all is a loaded gun to everyone's head. Revealing you--"

"--lowers the chances he'll pull the trigger." What the hell is he supposed to do with that? "So what now? Cas fucked off--"

"He'll be back," Chuck interrupts with a shrug. "Look, trust me on this one; he just does this sometimes."

"Dude, you lost me at 'sometimes'. Try every fucking time we're in the same goddamn room for more than five minutes." Chuck blinks, looking dangerously like he wants to explain--again, and Dean's not sure what's weirder, that anything Cas does has an actual explanation, or that Chuck seems to be doing something a lot like defending him. "Whatever, I just fake it until he comes back."

Either way, he's probably going to have to leave this room, if for no other reason than to hunt Cas's ass down and get him with the current program. Whatever the hell that is.

Chuck nods, getting slowly to his feet, and abruptly, Dean remembers something else. "The bodies. Where are they?"

"The bodies?" Chuck frowns, then his eyes widen in horror as he drops back into the chair. "Uh, at the cabin--" he gestures toward the wall in the wrong direction. "There's this cabin where we--"

"Yeah, I saw it. They burned yet?"

"No." Chuck hesitates. "Cas took Dean's ashes, I think. They're not in the cabin, anyway."

Which might, Dean admits reluctantly, explain why Cas is no-show right now. But that gives him an idea.

"The other bodies, we need to burn them, and we're doing it tonight." He pushes the covers back and slides to the edge of the bed, feeling better now that he's actually got something to do. Might as well do something with this leader thing. "In the kitchen, there's a bottle of painkillers. Bring 'em here while I get dressed."

Experience has taught him that just because his threshold for pain is astronomically high doesn't mean his tolerance for dealing with people follows, and it gets lower the longer he tries to combine the two. When he's hunting, this works out pretty well, but it becomes a lot trickier when he's got to interact with people and regularly remind himself not to kill them no matter how annoying it is to hear them breathe.

Hobbling toward a pile of what looks like clean clothes at the foot of the bed--he deliberately doesn't think about the fact he didn't bring them in here--he grabs a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. By the time Chuck gets back, he's mostly dressed and trying to remember where he left his boots. Shaking out a couple of painkillers from the bottle Chuck mutely extends, he swallows them with the water and drags up his sleeve as he waits for them to kick in.

"You remember the sigils or do I need to draw them for you first?"

"I remember," Chuck confirms, holding the pen uncertainly before sitting down on the edge of the bed. To Dean's eye, even upside down, it looks right, but only one way to find out. Leaning back, Chuck cocks his head, eyes narrowing in thought, but before Dean can ask him anything, he sets the pen aside. "I saw your boots by the door. Should I--"

"Yeah, go."

It's almost embarrassing that Chuck has to help him with them, but by the time he stands up, testing his ankle, he thinks he should be okay. Breathing the activation, he glances at Chuck to indicate it's time to go, but Chuck's staring at his arm again.

"Okay, what?"

"I don't know," he says slowly. "You need some help?"

He debates all of three seconds before deciding he better man up and take it already. "Yeah." If he has to, he could probably do it on his own, but this is not a has-to situation. As Chuck slides under his arm with a grunt, Dean steadies himself as they start toward the open bedroom door. "So you have no idea where Cas is?"

"Nope." Chuck huffs a little as they reach the beads, and it's an effort for Dean not to tear them down just for the hell of it. As they reach the porch, he looks around warily, but no one's around yet, so no way to tell. Once they're down the steps and on flat land, he lets go of Chuck, and okay, yeah, this should work. "I asked around, but no one's seen him, so no point looking. Where we going?"

"Dean's cabin," Dean tells him after a moment of savoring his (limited) freedom, mostly because honestly, he can't think of anywhere else to go. "Where the hell is he? The camp isn't that big. I mean, come on."

"If Cas doesn't want to be found, it gets a lot bigger," Chuck answers unhelpfully, matching Dean's slow pace. "Though gotta say--"

"Does he always pull shit like this?" Dean demands.

Chuck looks at him in annoyance. "Gottta say," he repeats, "that even for Dean, it took a special effort to piss him off enough to bail." His expression crumples briefly, reminded of his Dean's death all over again, before he shakes himself, looking at him curiously. "What did you do--"

"Nothing," he answers shortly. "He's been a dick pretty much since I got here. End subject." Chuck nods quickly, looking straight ahead with a bad attempt at casual, and Dean sighs. "What the hell happened to him anyway?"

Chuck trips over nothing. "Uh, you're kidding, right?"

"No, I mean--he's not an angel," Dean answers, glancing at Chuck. "I thought if they Fell, they became human, and he's--" He struggles for a moment, but there really isn't a word. "Not."

"Oh." Chuck chews his lip uncertainly. "That."

"That." The chewing gets more enthusiastic, and Dean starts to worry about the state of Chuck's lip. "What?"

"Dean wouldn't talk about it," Chuck says, which tells him both nothing at all and some serious, serious shit. "Cas--I don't even think he remembers much of it, honestly."

"Remember…."

"After he Fell. When he got back here," Chuck clarifies, looking uncomfortable. "Dean and Bobby handled it. Mostly, they sent me for books and told me to stay out of the way." He swallows. "You could hear him all the way across the camp."

There's nothing about that sentence that isn't horrifying. "It happened here?" This probably isn't a great place for conversation. Even if they can't see him, Chuck standing around for no particular reason talking to himself might get some attention. Starting again toward the cabin again, he asks, "Bobby was here?"

"Yeah." Chuck skips a few steps before falling into step beside him again "You know this was a twofer for Dean, right? Sam had just agreed to be Lucifer's vessel a few weeks before, and Dean was still…."

He can guess. "Yeah, got it. So what happened?"

"Yeah, so he…wasn't in a great place," Chuck temporizes in what has to be the most epic understatement of all time. "Cas had been pretty much Grace-free for weeks, and we all thought that was it, he'd Fallen. Then--it was so weird. Me and Bobby and Dean were working on Dean's cabin, it wasn't really habitable yet. And Dean was trying to fix the roof and he just went still. Bobby yelled at him that it was almost dusk and we didn't have time for him to screw around, and then he slid to the edge and jumped down and made for Cas's cabin."

Dean considers the distance from the roof to the ground incredulously. "Seriously?"

"Sprained his ankle pretty badly, not that he noticed," Chuck admits, eyes following Dean's. "Bobby was still yelling, and we were halfway to the cabin when I felt--something." He shakes his head. "I don't know how to describe it, like--like the whole world just stopped."

Dean nods as they reach the steps and gratefully lowers himself down, stretching his leg. Leaning absently against the bannister, Chuck frowns at nothing.

"And?" Dean prompts.

"Sorry." Chuck shakes himself. "We got inside--back then, the cabins we were working on had a ramp for Bobby's chair, so Bobby was already in there and with Cas by the time I got there. Dean wouldn't even let me in the cabin. Next day, he installed a lock on the bedroom door and said anyone even tried to go inside, he'd shoot them first and not give a fuck about questions after."

Dean props an arm on the step behind him, staring in the direction of the front gate, not sure he wants to admit that sounds like him, because that means he also can guess why. "What were they doing in there?"

"No idea. I stayed out," Chuck answers in surprise. "I helped with getting supplies and you know, kept the few people we had back then calm about it--no one here now--and went to Bobby's for more books."

Books.

"Are they still here?" Dean asks casually, heart pounding. "You remember which ones?"

"Cas may have them? I don't know, you'd have to ask him." Chuck shrugs. "I don't really remember the titles, sorry. It's been a while. Why?"

"Just curious." He tilts his head back, staring at the edge of the roof and trying to get his thoughts in some kind of order. "So what, now we just wait Cas out or something and he'll come back in his own time? That how it works?"

"Pretty much if you were anyone but Dean."

"How did Dean handle it?"

"Your guess is as good as mine," Chuck sighs. "If Dean needed him for something, Cas would show up. Late," he adds with a faint smile, almost affectionate, reminding him that Chuck is probably just as crazy as Cas these days. "But I'm pretty sure that was deliberate."

Making up shit and hope it works, then. "How's the toilet paper situation?"

Chuck shudders all over: bad, then. "Not really sure how well leaves are going to go over," he answers, looking hunted, which if he's inventory, means he'll probably need to sleep somewhere well-fortified as well as be well-armed.

"Like, there's not any more at all?" Chuck's miserable nod abruptly rearranges Dean's priorities; it's one thing to deal with goddamn end days, but doing it without toilet paper is something else. "There's are at least two major cities we can get to and back before dusk. You're telling me we cleaned them out?" A lot of really questionable bathroom jokes are suddenly uncomfortably relevant and he may never laugh at one again, which just sucks.

"No, it's just, demons? Croats? Supply runs are necessity-only; it was too dangerous."

"Dude, we were in the city last night and there was a real lack of opposition to our pick-up duty. So what are you waiting for?"

Chuck blinks at him with an expression that's a lot like dawning worship. "They might be back," he says slowly, but Dean can practically feel him wanting to dash back down the stars and make a wish list. "I mean, if you ordered it--"

"So this is what power's like," Dean says thoughtfully. Planning a risky mission into a once demon and Croat infested city he doesn't know probably isn't better than sitting alone in Dean's cabin and thinking, except yeah, it is. "I like it. Tell me how it works."

Chuck shrugs, less than helpful. "Dean always planned it out and decided who did escort and who salvaged; we just kind of went along with it."

"So make it up as I go along: got it." He can do this. "Okay, two things. We're burning the bodies tonight--get someone on that. Second, we're going on a supply run in an hour, and everyone's invited. I got some questions for you, so get back as fast as you can. Got it?"

"Got it," Chuck hesitates, giving Dean a searching look. "You know, Cas is--if he finds out you left the camp…"

"Yeah, too bad he's not here to ask about that." Dean grins at him. "Think it might get his attention?"




Dean may have never actually led a formal raid for supplies into foreign and presumably hostile territory before, but the truth is, he actually does know how this works. Dad was military, and for all he was a loner, command was part and parcel of his and Sam's education. Its major applications mostly involved getting civilians the hell away before they were possessed, eaten, dissolved, or just plain killed, but exchange 'civilians' for 'militia' and he figures the same rules apply. He and Sam were small for an army, but he can do the math to encompass something bigger than two. Fake it 'til you make it is a valid plan; God knows it's not like he has a lot of options.

Grabbing his counterpart's journal on his way out of the cabin (some things, he reflects, just don't change at all and keeping a journal seems to be one of them), he skims through it as he walks, looking for standard operating procedure on supply runs, and tries not to be impressed by the fact that this Dean was good at this shit. He had to be, he reminds himself irritably, but adequacy issues don't really respond to shit like logic.

Going in Cas's cabin, he tosses the journal on the couch and turns back to survey the front doorway, tracing each near-invisible sigil to memorize their positions before going to the bedroom and studying the inner frame carefully. It's the same dark wood as the front door, and relatively new compared to the one surrounding the bathroom door and the closet, the wood well-worn and much lighter, the dull heads of each nail easily visible even from the center of the room.

Going back out into the living room, he walks through cabin, checking every door and every window, wondering how the fuck he could have missed something like this. The two exterior doors and the windows, like the bedroom door, all have the same newer, darker framing, but the utility closet-slash-library matches the bathroom and closet, older, lighter, and he's going to guess are what came standard with this cabin, since they match the ones in Dean's. As a pattern, it's unmistakable, but that could have been done when they were repairing the cabins.

Returning to the bedroom, the stark, bare walls almost taunt him in their sheer lack of clues, and he suddenly thinks of the missing animals: look for what should be there and isn't. Stark bare walls, like no one's so much as touched them since they were painted, no strips peeled away, watermarks or the normal wear of people and time--You could hear him all the way across the camp--or a Fallen angel locked in a room.

Grabbing a chair from the kitchen, he pulls it to the bedroom door and climbs up, not surprised to see the splash of paint on the dark frame beneath what's probably about two years' worth of dust. Swallowing, he gets down, staring at the bedroom door: so that's the reason it's got such a good lock.

On impulse, he circles around the far side of the bed near the window, studying the smooth floor beneath the layer of dust and dirt and crouches to run his fingers over the surprisingly smooth surface before studying his fingers carefully, noting the dots of off-white in the undifferentiated mass. Rubbing his fingers together, he feels the unmistakable texture of residual sawdust.

New doorframes, sanded floor, painted walls, all in a room Cas hates from a time he doesn't remember in a cabin Chuck wasn't allowed inside after getting books from Bobby's: plenty of perfectly legit reasons for all of it. He just wishes he knew which of those totally legit reasons it is.

You could hear him all the way across the camp.

Straightening, he dusts his hand clean on his jeans, remembering he's got something else to do right now. Grabbing the journal off the couch and the box of keys from the pantry--he's got a good idea why all the keys are now in Cas's possession, though their storage location really makes him wonder if Cas knows what a kitchen is actually for--he flips it open as he goes back outside and tries to pretend he's not relieved.




Hearing multiple voices approach, Dean looks up from the worn map of Kansas City he found among the debris of leadership, Dean Winchester-style: to wit, shoved with a bunch of papers in a corner under a couple of rusty knives because basic organization is for losers who don't have Sam riding their asses about losing shit.

At some point, he's gonna have to man up and search the entire cabin, see what this Dean left behind, but he doesn't have a lot of hope there's much that's gonna be useful, and in all honesty, finding the city maps were a genuine surprise, neatly folded sheets between pages ripped from old books with print so faded it's a guess on language, much less function and abbreviated diagrams for rituals that Dean finds himself carefully setting aside for later.

"Chuck," he says to the man sitting across the table from him who's begun to look annoyingly nervous, "go. I'll be out in a sec."

As Chuck leaves with an uneasy glance, he scans the sheet one more time, marking the notations on entrance and exit points again, obviously added at different times, which are pretty much the only thing that makes any intuitive sense on a glance. Thick lines of unknown purpose sometimes follow what may or may not be roads in marker, and entire areas of the city are inexplicably crossed out or circled with cryptic notes that could mean anything. On a hope, references to other, more detailed maps, but he hasn't found them yet.

Standing up, he folds it carefully before sliding it between the relevant pages of Dean's journal that describe the first of several missions in the city that's as close as he's got to guidelines and makes a note to himself to ask Chuck who the hell drew these maps and hope they're still alive for a repeat performance. Though not library quality, they're not bad. He's halfway to the door before he realizes that a handgun and a rifle are underdressed these days and forces himself to open up the miniature closet armory, because it's stupid to be this goddamn weird about using these weapons.

Everyone's waiting when he finally comes out, grimly prepared for a small war and making Dean somehow still feel underdressed while carrying more weapons at once than he ever has in his life. Standing on the edge of the porch, he does a quick count and comes up with about half the population, ignoring the sudden silence, and thinks (hopes) that he'll get used to being the center of attention. Not like he's got much of a choice.

"Okay, Chuck told you what we're doing. Sarah, Kyle, Mel, and--" It's an effort, but unfortunately, Cas was right about the number of people who have experience on patrol according to an increasingly reluctant Chuck, "Sid, congratulations, you're promoted to team leaders, we'll get you a nice badge for it later, alright?"

There's some faint, polite laughter, like they're not sure that's a joke. Glancing at Chuck holding the box of keys, he just catches the tail-end of his expression, not enough to identify but enough to make him wonder.

"Chuck's giving you each a copy of the list and keys to the jeeps. Split up everyone and decide who stays with the jeep, who's on watch, and who's playing scavenger. Whoever stays with the jeep, keep the motor running; gas is still more replaceable than people, and ask me what I'll do to anyone who comes back without their whole team. Or don't, just imagine it."

Dean does a quick check in the ensuing silence (not encouraging, but not worrying, either) and chooses the only two faces here he's pretty sure he recognizes by name: Joe, at six foot three and built like a linebacker, is memorable, and Kat, who fortunately is right in front of him.

"Joe, you and Kat are with me and Chuck." Dean pauses automatically for non-existent questions and doesn't sigh; he gets why Cas instituted those long ass verbal reports now as well as written. "Everyone know where they're going? Each of you have four locations and fifteen minutes each; if you run out, improvise. We'll meet outside the city in two hours; more than that, I come after you and no one wants that. We're good?" Dean doesn't wait for an answer since he probably won't get one. "Let's go. Chuck, you're riding shotgun." Because Dean kind of misses driving, like a lot.

"Um, you know I don't usually go on these," Chuck murmurs urgently as everyone disperses. "I'm more the stay at home type."

"So we'll both fake it," Dean says, slapping him on the shoulder before turning him firmly in the direction of the garage. "Let's go."




God, he misses driving.

"You never went on one of these before?" Dean asks as the shitty county roads they've been following for what feels like forever finally comes to a bumpy end. Making a sharp left onto what he'll generously still consider a highway because that's what the signs say and who is he to argue with properly approved signs anyway, he glances at Chuck. "Faster, Chuck, this is not a drill; I repeat, this is not--"

"God, shut up," Chuck answers, twisting to look at Dean worriedly. "I only went along a couple of times when we were short people."

"So what was it like?" The city is getting closer and, if Dean remembers correctly, while everything was all-clear the other night, he's still going to err on the side of avoiding those who work for the military. It just feels right.

"Not like this," Chuck admits, trying with admirable success to sink to his seat. "Dean wasn't usually that--enthusiastic."

"Whole new world," Dean tells him cheerfully. "Anything else?"

"Oh, wait." Chuck digs in his pocket for a second, frantic, then slumps in relief as he pulls out a well-worn map, carefully unfolding it. On a glance, not library-issue, either: hand drawn and with definite signs it was done after Kansas was zoned, like the ones in this Dean's cabin. "Everything's marked here--"

"So you had a map and didn't tell me?" He's made his peace with Chuck making him their fearless leader, but there's no reason not to have a little fun anyway.

"Inventory," Chuck hisses. "I'm not on the planning side of these things; I keep a backup copy."

"So you can't think for yourself?"

"Did I ever give you the impression I did? Sorry about that; no, I follow orders so I don't die or Croat out or get a demon where the sun doesn't shine. Survival, really liking it." Looking bitterly aggrieved that Dean ever doubted he's a follower, not a leader, Chuck opens the map carefully, spreading it out on his knees. "Okay, so it looks like we cleaned out almost everything in a ten mile radius from these points," Chuck spreads his fingers out to indicate three of the ten dark red dots. "Escape points; all of them keep us about the same distance from camp if the highway's out of commission. We never got more than ten minutes once we arrived." Chuck looks up, uncertain. "Longer, there's time to block all our escape points and trap us in the city." Chuck swallows, face turned away. "Dean got it from one of the demons he questioned about how long it took to find us. He had this entire--system for this."

Well, it wouldn't be the Apocalypse if this Dean couldn't indulge in some righteous torture for the greater good. "Great. Show me the point closest to where we haven't already cleaned up. This still accurate?"

"We get regular reports, of course. And--um." Chuck doesn't look at him, very deliberately. "We have a lot of different sources. It's accurate."

Read: torture for accurate cartography as well. Just what he needed to hear. "Right," he says flatly. "How far to that last point from the city limits?"

"Um." Chuck squints down at the map. "Ten miles, I think." He looks worried. "Look, I know you're kinda taking this on faith, but Dean knew what he was doing when he made the rules for this. We don't know why the city was clear last night; could just be to fuck with us because he can."

"Clear all three nights I was there," Dean tells him airily and is rewarded with Chuck's most horrified stare. "It was fine. Keep going."

Chuck's mouth works soundlessly before he manages to say, "I'm saying, this is dangerous. I mean, toilet paper is great and all, but--"

"You might have noticed your Dean's not here," Dean says, watching the road. "What with the making me pretend I'm him and everything."

"Which is why I'm saying you don't know what you're doing. This isn't like hunting alone; there's a lot of people who trust you not to get them killed."

And this just stopped being funny. "Trust me to not get them killed, huh? Cause they think I'm him. Except he's dead. And so we come back to the point--"

"So you're pissed enough at me to risk killing everyone here?" Chucks' voice hits a register Dean formerly associated with helium abuse, or maybe his fairly horrific memories of being forced to watch an opera one Christmas on TV. He never thought any sound could be worse than Sammy's inhumanly well-developed lungs (he had to have had like, four of them or something) and was proven horrifically, mind-scarringly wrong. "Look, I'm sorry! Just, uh, kill me, don't punish anyone else--"

"Oh my God," Dean mutters. "You seriously think I'd get everyone killed because that's fun for me? Really?"

A glance at Chuck's face confirms that yeah, he does.

"Right." Dean draws a breath. "There are ten safe entrance points and the one we're going to isn't ten miles away and Jesus, you can't read a map for shit; it's fourteen miles, forty-six feet. Fifteen minutes is the maximum time limit for all the safe entrance points. Two years, never deviated even once, this entire thing ran like a machine, because you know, infinite number of supplies in a finite space? Makes sense." Reaching back, Dean grabs the bag and tosses it in Chuck's lap as they pass the last safe entrance point. "I read his mission notes while you were getting everyone since I had some time to kill."

Chuck stares down at his lap blankly.

"His map's in there; see, he did the math and I think figured that he'd only get a year out of it before the demons or the army cleared out all the safe points. Huge underestimation, by the way, but what can you do? Lots of demons and not one of them ever thought to just destroy everything in the fifteen minute zone."

Chuck jerks the zipper open, reaching inside and pulling out the journal. He doesn't open it, holding it in one hand like he's not sure what it's for. "Oh."

"There are five more points he mapped himself; he's never gone near any of them except to chart them. Because if no one bothered to figure out a way to catch him when they knew exactly where he might hit and how long it would take, he figured it was safe to bet that they wouldn't immediately catch on if he shook things up a bit."

Chuck nods slowly, eyes fixed on the dashboard like revelation might be imminent and he's waiting for the words to write themselves in gold script right there.

"I thought his plan sounded good. Since I haven't done this before, and I don't know what I'm doing, though, what would I know?" Dean eases his foot from the gas for the turn. "I marked the page in there. You read up while I manfully deal with your crushing lack of confidence."

Chuck, to Deans' epic lack of surprise, doesn't move, fingers closed tightly around the fading brown cover.

"Might want to check," Dean says into the silence, because he's a dick. Chuck (and Cas) have no reason to trust him or even like him. It wasn't him who apparently built an entire camp on the strength of making pathological clinginess a workable long term strategy, and it's not like Dean's ever been unaware that being unable to give up on anything, ever, is not in any way a virtue. Christ, they don't even know him, and he keeps forgetting that. "Better get to reading before the screaming starts," he adds, wondering tiredly if he can stop anytime soon.

Chuck takes a deep breath, staring out the windshield. "I’m good." After a second, he adds, voice wavering a little, "Was hoping I'd get a chance to get more paper anyway."

Dean ignores the implication of an extended olive branch, but he thinks that if he was a better person, a much better person, he'd appreciate the thought.




With the exception of Chuck, no one really seems all that weirded out by his orders. If there's any difference between him and Dean, either no one notices or they just don't care. Feeling incredibly self-conscious, he paces around the two jeeps like it's really useful when there's literally nothing alive in a ten block radius but them.

With Joe and Kat at either end of the street, the entire stay-with-the-vehicle thing is up to Dean, who flagrantly ignores his own orders for someone to stay in the jeep and keep it running; he figures it's close enough to pace around them, and hey, they are still running, so there's that.

Being here during the day isn't any better than being here at night, with added flashbacks to his first time here: running away from Croats and freaked out by the sight of armed tanks rumbling over broken concrete, like the entire world was taking notes from shitty Hollywood blockbusters when it came to life during an Apocalypse. Vaguely, he reminds himself to ask Cas where the hell the military stored their tanks, because Jesus, it may be the end of the world, but that's no reason not to fulfill a childhood dream and drive one of those things.

Dean surveys the still-standing heap of former superstore that once housed groceries, a photo store, budget optometry, and a McDonald's and tries not think about this in global terms. No matter how many times he tells himself that he gets what an Apocalypse means, it keeps hitting him out of nowhere, this incredibly stupid, petty shit that even a camp didn't made quite so concrete. This is--was--civilization, and Dean's not done all his reading, true, but he's heard enough to know this city isn't unique in any sense of the word. This is happening, has happened, is happening, will happen, everywhere, and to all humanity.

It's not that all was well in the world as long as there was still a McDonald's left standing, if Starbucks was still selling hideous overpriced coffee, if Wal-Mart's discount on t-shirts was still going strong, or even that right now he has a massive craving for a Big Mac. It's that he's circling two jeeps running on gas that's only plentiful because there's a real lack of vehicles to use it around here, and gas, from his admitted hazy understanding of the supply chain, like fast food, has to be manufactured by people from the raw resources at hand. Lacking fast food, you can get back to basics and learn to love your Brussels sprouts, but there's really no back to basics when it comes to shit like oil. He just doesn't think, off the top of his head, Lucifer decided to spare the oil industry and just take out the dollar stores and anywhere with a two for one taco deal.

Oil, he thinks; electricity, maybe, but they have generators, and he remembers writing that damn history paper on the industrial revolution, and power grids are great, but there are options that may or may not involve rivers. That was almost half his life ago and he never did get back his grade because they moved on the next day so who the hell knows; planes--see oil; trains, coal still around, how does he not know this shit? Nuclear power plants, Dean thinks with a flash of horror; what's going on with those these days anyway?

Granted, Lucifer's clever plan of wiping out humanity makes all this speculation pointless, since they aren't going to last nearly long enough to worry about returning to horses as their major source of transportation, but a nuclear holocaust doesn't take all that long, if he thinks about it too much, and he's really got to stop.

Chuck, struggling red-faced and panting from three goddamn boxes of printer paper, spirals, and legal pads, makes the mistake of pausing to look at Dean inquiringly and only Dean grabbing the top box saves Chuck from a really painful meeting with asphalt.

He stares at the boxes. "You were serious about the paper?"

"Can't write on leaves; trust me, I tried." Putting the remaining boxes down, he leans over, hands braced on his knees and pants for a few seconds. Dean slings his rifle back and opens up back seat, figuring putting it up himself will reduce the amount of time he'll have to spend pretending like he and Chuck aren't in a really awkward place right now and Chuck will go away.

"Everything okay?" Chuck asks, staying bent over even though there's a real lack of panting now and no reason to stick around.

"Oh, everything's great," he answers brightly. "Was thinking of grabbing a burger--hey, what are closing hours these days?"

Chuck's eyes narrow. "How long am I looking at having to nod in shame so I'll feel less like a horrible human being who kills puppies in their free time?"

"I wouldn't bother penciling in a final date just yet." Adding the last box--fourteen boxes of paper now, what the hell do you write about when life is a dystopian melodrama already?--he shakes his head. "Did you know that more people are--well, were five years ago, anyway--alive now than have died in the history of the world?"

Chuck tries to look like he's following, and also like he's interested. Dean's not ready to grade for effort yet, but he's sure one day he'll get there.

"Well, it's bullshit, so don't believe it. But let's do some math; seven billion and change people living on this planet and in the last five years, we're talking what, a few million--"

"Depends on if you believe the radio these days."

He stops short, feeling unsteady. "How much higher? If Croat's only been around two years--"

"Dying of Croatoan is the least of our problems," Chuck answers with a snort. "Weird thing, international epidemics cause panic."

"Like bombings of major cities?" Chuck looks surprised. "I heard."

"Like mass panic, social breakdown, fragmentation, revolution, any of that ring a bell?" Chuck gestures wildly. "Croatoan isn't what's going to wipe us off the planet; we're taking care of that ourselves. Much longer…." He trickles off, realizing again that with Dean's death, this Apocalypse thing was already won. "Anyway--"

"Where are you getting your information?"

Chuck shrugs, failing at casual. "I pay attention."

Big numbers aren't helping with being calm and leader-like, but they're big enough to feel pretty unreal, so he can deal with it. "Right." He tries to remember where he was going with this. "Math, whatever, Hell has more demons than there are humans, by a couple of magnitudes." This, he has no doubts about whatsoever. "Lucifer's got lots of ways to get them here and not like there aren't bodies to spare. So what the hell are they still doing in Hell? I just don't think everyone salts and burns, and anti-possession sigils can't have made it all around the world this fast. Have they?"

"Magnitudes," Chuck says, and he realizes Chuck's got a familiar look on his face, kinda like the one Dean's been fighting the last hour or so. "Like, we're talking math, as in, numbers. Big numbers--"

Dean thinks: I did not just break Chuck.

"Like, big numbers, millions right?" Chuck nearly walks into the jeep trying to look like he's not about to start crying. "Millions of demons."

"No," Dean says, and God help him, what comes out of his mouth is like the unnatural progeny of John Winchester at his most emphatic and Cas at his most angelically absolute, coated in righteousness; if Dean wasn't so freaked out by his own voice even he would believe unquestioningly. Chuck's head comes up, hopeful; it probably helps if you add in a deeply personal need to believe in the face of all evidence to the contrary. "Not even close, I was just fucking with you. Hey, you want paper, this may be your last chance for a while. We still got room and--" Dean swings an arm over Chuck's shoulders, which unfortunately makes checking his watch impossible, "--five minutes. Need--ink? Toner? Some pens? This is our last stop, so better make it good, okay?"

Chuck nods hesitantly, picking up enthusiasm when Dean nods with him. "Yeah, I should--yeah. Uh, I'll just go--"

"Follow the muse, man," Dean hears himself say; what the hell did he just say? "Go with God."

Chuck retreats toward the megastore with what Dean thinks is more about getting away from him than the last thousand pens in the world. Dean can't even blame him, because he kind of wishes he could get away from himself--go with God, and why the hell would anyone follow a goddamn muse unless they had a death wish? On the upside, Chuck has a way more concrete reason to be afraid than theoretical numbers that he doesn't know are actually not theoretical at all.

"Not millions," Dean says, because he can't handle this, he knows he can't, but he's a fucking master at all the ways you can fake it. "Not even close."

Even if they can hardly remember the vague shape of what it was like to walk beneath an open sky, to wear flesh that never belonged to anyone else, that sliver of time they were here in an existence that spans eons in a place that strips them of everything that made them human, that, that much, Hell always lets them keep. They know that they were human, once, even if they have no context to define the word; they know that this is their home, even if they lost what that means; that both of those things are true and that they'll never have them again. No one could hate humanity as much as those that have been exiled from it; no one, even Lucifer, could possibly hate like a demon does, a hatred that Hell shapes into defining them. "Billions, and that's just the start."

Dean marks time in an empty street while people who think he's the one thing standing between them and the end of everything fill up the jeeps; no demons attack, no Croats lumber past, no tanks skim by, and they're on the back on the road and heading for camp before Dean reminds himself to pretend that the clawing echoes beneath his skin aren't a memory of what it felt like to be nothing but seething, helpless hatred that would raze the planet to burned rock and rotting bones if he was given a chance.

That was a long time ago (it's now, it's always) and he knows now what it means to be human.




Dean ignores Cas's absence by spending the rest of the day helping Chuck and several very enthusiastic volunteers organize their additional supplies and getting more names: Kamal, a Nepalese national who speaks like a thousand languages and wears his black hair in a ponytail, is bar none the most cheerful survivalist he's ever met; Jody, a short brunette whose occasional surreptitious smiles give him some uncomfortable flashbacks to the entire Risa and Jane thing from the first time he was here; and Justin from the watch, who Dean already knows from (invisible) observation never shuts up, ever. That Kamal and Jody don't kill him after the first hour is a genuine miracle on earth.

He learns (between Justin's epic monologues about absolutely nothing) that Kamal's hobbies include translating epic Nepalese poetry into English (hobbies. In an Apocalyptic militia) and that he misses competitive rollerblading, a feeling Jody seems to share and talk about (over Justin when necessary) at length. Which introduces Dean to the concept of competitive rollerblading and the fact in a sixty-something person camp, two people used to do it enough to have opinions about equipment brands. Even by the standards of a non-Apocalyptic world, this has got to be seriously astronomic odds.

Checking Chuck's inventory list with the new updates, Dean does some quick math, trying to work out what a camp this size needs, filtering Chuck's mournful predictions of starvation to get actual facts. Fact: they're probably okay for at least three months, and with the MRE's maybe longer. As far as canned goods, flour, coffee, sugar, toothpaste, and paper products go, they're golden (also so many MREs; thanks, American military), and there's a surprising amount of meat in the third deep freeze he missed the first time around (untyped, not asking), but for the first time in his life, he wonders uneasily how the food thing works when the mess is the only diner around. His understanding of the food pyramid is sketchy at best, but remembering Sam's love affair with salads and lectures on nutrition, life lived on beans, bread, unknown animal, and canned green shit might be horrible for reasons other than the fact they're not hamburgers.

As dusk approaches, however, he finally calls a reluctant halt to the joys of non-starvation and Jody's sad commentary on the lack of concrete pavilions in the camp, aware of the surreptitious glances thrown his way that remind him that being Dean Winchester here means he'll have to lead the way to the night's main event. Keeping Chuck firmly with him--the guy owes him this--he makes his way to the out of the way cabin with most of the camp dogging his heels.

It's not uncomfortable at all. Really.

Dean's footsteps check as he comes in view of the cabin; there's a new addition to the bare ground, and even though he knows what this is for, the sight of the already huge pile of wood makes his breath catch in his throat. He lets Chuck take the lead, noting that several weathered picnic tables have been added, which he supposes makes sense. A fire like this probably takes a while. It's almost a relief when the area begins to fill up. It's not like he can get lost in the crowd or anything, but he can pretend, and somehow--later, he'll still have no idea how it happened--he ends up holding a beer and involved in what passes for normal conversation at a militia camp at the end of the world.

To say it's surreal is a goddamn understatement.

He's always known that people tend to get really attached to those they depend on (caveat: helps if you are also actively saving their lives from, well, Hell). Here, the best hunter still living and their way out of Hell carried the face Dean wears, so he barely even has to try; they do all the work for him. Conveniently, he's apparently the height of conversational excellence these days, which is possibly the number one indicator that the world is so very fucked.

(Dean's conversation hasn't ever been anything but pretty narrowly focused on what he knows--hunting, monsters, classic rock, food, avoiding hideous ways to die, that sort of thing. His expansion to a very specialized skillset via Hell, metaphysics as it applies to angels and the non-corporeal world, and the Apocalypse aren't a really big departure from that. He apparently has an entire collection of hilarious jokes that require a working knowledge of Aramaic and a passing understanding of the creation myths of three major and four minor religions; everyone loves them. If this was high school, he'd be the quarterback and the rebel with the motorcycle and the super sensitive guy that all the girls sigh over at the same time. Not that Dean has any bitter memories from ten to fourteen high schools or anything. He's over it. He's grown beyond that bullshit.)

Being the utter and complete focus of attention distracts him from more than a vague impression of people dragging or carrying wood or buckets of coal. The smell of woodsmoke, however, jerks him out of listening to Mark and Amanda sharing a convoluted shaman-rabbi-shtega in a multidimensional bar joke that he apparently made up and is now the single most hilarious thing ever. Conversation dies off almost like some kind of signal was given, and reluctantly, he turns around and remembers exactly why they're all here.

It's a pretty impressive feat of engineering to build a pyre that's almost twice his height and covering a good thirty feet across. He thinks to burn those bodies, that may be just about the right size. He's always known the math when it comes to what he has to salt and burn.

He glances sideways when someone knocks into him; to his surprise, it's Chuck, one hand wrapped white-knuckled around a half-empty bottle of beer, eyes fixed glassily on the slow curl of smoke rising from the wood, faint glimpses of orange tongues licking at the edges before vanishing. Following the orange flickers upward, he watches several people perched precariously near the top of a couple of industrial ladders pouring salt and kerosene over the wood, making sure that salt inhabits every stray space in the wood. They work with the ease of old habit, something they've done so many times they've lost count, and as Dean takes a drink from his surprisingly full beer, he wonders if they salt the ashes again when they bury them. It's something he thinks he would have done.

"Do I need to say anything?" Dean murmurs as the fire starts to take off, the ladders quickly cleared and taken away, vanishing into the quickly growing shadows as the sun vanishes behind the horizon.

"No. Dean--" Chuck sucks in a shaky breath, taking another swig from his bottle, which from the smell isn't actually beer. Taking a sip from his own, he realizes that's not what he's drinking either, aware of a harsh burn as he swallows it down. "He said words didn't do shit."

Finishing his bottle, he glances around at the people perched on the picnic tables and sitting on the ground just outside the circle of bared earth. In the flickering light of the slowly growing fire, he catches glimpses of pale faces set in grim determination, some crumbling into grief, shiny trails tracing their cheeks, others hidden in shaking hands or nearby shoulders. He didn't realize he was looking for Cas until he realizes he's on his third search of the grieving faces, and he isn't masochistic enough to do that voluntarily without a good reason.

When the first body bag is brought out, someone--he can't tell who or where they are--finally breaks, a heartbreaking sob that drags on and on until he wonders how long they can do that and not stop to breathe. There's no way to know who is being carried out, still wrapped in body bags because a week out in the open hadn't been kind, but it may not actually matter who. This is a small camp, and he doubts anyone is a stranger here.

The sounds of a few choked sounds, strengthening at the approach of each body, ripple through the air like a wave coming to shore on the cusp of high tide, but that's still better than the waiting silence. Beside him, Chuck's nearly silent, but tears run unchecked down his face faster with every excruciatingly long moment that passes. Dean keeps his gaze on the fire, barely wincing at the sharp, unexpected crack of what looks like half the trunk of a goddamn tree and fire shooting upward in an almost blinding gout of red-orange-gold.

As if from a distance, he sees Joe stand up from his perch on the table closest to the pyre and walk slowly toward the line of bare ground, stopping just a few feet inside. Taking out a small book, he visibly swallows as he looks at the faces turned toward him before he closes his eyes and starts to speak, the skullcap perched precariously on his head a vivid contrast to the worn jeans and the flash of a gun holster half-hidden by a flap of his faded khaki jacket. Dean can't hear him--he's not sure anyone can with the roar of the fire--but he thinks he recognizes a prayer for the dead.

When it ends, he pauses, turning a page without looking down, and Dean watches as his lips move in the familiar cadence of Latin. The woman he was sitting beside, who Dean remembers vaguely from the supply run today, has a rosary twisted between her fingers. Pushing back loose red hair with her free hand, her red-rimmed eyes are fixed on Joe as her lips move in a silent echo between choked-off sobs. Another pause, another page, and Dean's mind finally catches up with what he's seeing, and he wonders exactly how many religions their resident rabbi is going to be covering tonight to represent the beliefs of both the still living and the dead.

It's almost obscene to watch, the words that soundtracked orderly funerals in manicured cemeteries spoken as if they could possibly have any meaning here. They belong to a world where coffins held whole bodies surrounded by quietly grieving families in their best clothes who believed, honestly believed, that their loved ones were somewhere better, not one where there was no hope of comforting illusions on what happened next. Oblivion was all you could hope for, because the other option was so much worse.

Gritting his teeth, Dean looks down, staring at the empty bottle still clutched in one hand, fingers yellow white around the neck and hairline cracks starting run up and down beneath the surface of the glass. For a second, he can't remember how to open his hand; it's almost impossible to let it go, the feel of body-warm glass stuck to the surface of his skin. He's so close to the still-growing fire that it feels like the first acid-edge of a new sunburn on skin that's forgotten anything but winter.

Someone touches his arm, quick and sympathetic, before moving on, followed by another, and then another, brief flares of warmth that vanish almost as soon as they begin. It takes him a second to understand why, but then it hits him; they think he's part of this, that these are his people, maybe even his friends. They think he's standing here too close to a funeral pyre playing out the image of a guy who's just too fucking manly to let them see him cry. That's such bullshit he can't even deal with it, because he can't even match names remembered faces except Risa--Erica, Stan, Terry, just words that were once people--but he knows if they were his, they'd get his grief honestly. Christ, they fucking earned that much.

Eventually--forever, seconds, he's not even sure anymore--he's aware that the picnic tables are almost empty, a couple of people just visible sitting against the cabin wall, probably to watch the fire and passing a bottle between them. He appreciates the sentiment; everyone not blind drunk and fucking away the memories until morning is just fucking stupid.

Shifting in preparation to go--where, he has no idea--he realizes that his legs are unexpectedly stiff, and his ankle throbs a warning to get the fuck off his feet. Taking a step, he hears the audible creek of his knees, which probably means he's been standing here being creepy for way too long.

Stiffly, he makes his way to one of the now-empty picnic tables and climbs on top, wondering if eventually the remaining watchers will put the fire out or they'll just let it burn itself out under their increasingly drunken supervision. Under the circumstances, the chances of a wildfire are really not even worth the effort of worrying about. They probably know what they're doing. Because this is a world where burning the body isn't just policy; it's necessary. It's normal.

Swallowing, he unclenches his hands, closing them over the edge of the table, and really wishes for another beer.




Staring at the still dancing fire, he doesn't bother reacting when he hears the creak of wood as someone sits down beside him, close enough to feel the brush of a shoulder against his own. Taking a deep breath, he braces his elbows on his knees and thinks he should probably wonder why Cas is sitting here with him, but it's not like he ever figured out his own Castiel, so why even make the effort.

"You probably wouldn't appreciate that before I met you, I had no context for the concept of frustration," Cas says, pushing an unfamiliar bottle into Dean's hands. Frowning, he takes in the lack of a label combined with the near toxic smell and thinks his life just got marginally less shitty. "There are many words that you've taught me to understand: irritation, aggravation, a rather petty desire to smite, just for a moment--"

"God, shut up." Dean tips his head back for a long drink and almost regrets it. It burns his mouth raw and he can map its entire journey down inch by excruciating inch. Jerking back, he coughs helplessly, trying to draw a full breath, but he can't taste burning wood and ash anymore, and that makes it worth it. "Thanks," he wheezes. "Smart move with the bottle," he adds, "or I'd be out of here."

"I'm sure your hobbling speed would have been impressive, provided your ankle would support you for more than a few steps," Cas observes, taking a drink like it's nothing stronger than water and not even having the decency to cough afterward, the fucker. "Petty," he says more quietly, not looking at Dean. "That is another word you taught me. Five thousand years ago, it was far easier to deal with humanity; I know this empirically. Humans were simple and they were all very much the same."

"Fuck you." Grabbing the bottle from Cas's hand, he takes another drink. It's even worse the second time around; wheezing, he's aware that Cas is slapping his back just a little harder than even a really violent coughing fit could possibly justify. "Stop," he gasps, sitting up more to make Cas stop than because he really wants to, but the rush is fucking amazing. "What the hell is this?"

"The particular combination of substances could possibly awaken an Elder God," Cas says thoughtfully, studying the bottle, "but I'm not sure it's been aged enough to risk trying." He takes another drink, blue eyes fixed on some point in the far distance and utterly sober on a night that no one sane should be.

"Shouldn't you be doing something more, I don't know, naked?" he asks curiously and gets hit with the full force of impossibly blue eyes, unmistakable even set in circles as dark as a new bruise. "With half the camp? That's beneath you?" Before his incredulous eyes, Cas's mouth actually twitches. "No pun intended."

"You've seen the size of my cabin," Cas answers, tilting his head thoughtfully. "I could only accommodate a quarter at best."

Dean's surprised by his own guffaw of laughter, laughing even harder as Cas smiles at him in something a lot like satisfaction. Tilting his head back, Cas takes another drink, and for no reason at all, Dean's mouth goes dry at the stretch of his throat, something buzzing under the surface of his skin like touching a live wire.

"Cas…." He stops there, stumped on what comes next. There's just so fucking much, he can't even figure out where to stop. "What are you doing?"

"Waiting for you to decide that you can torture yourself just as easily in the cabin as here."

Well, fuck. "I'm not drunk enough for this conversation."

"No, you're not," Cas concedes, materializing a lid for the bottle and sliding off the picnic table. "But we have all night to try."

Dean squints at him for a moment--skinny and pale, jeans trying to slide off bony hips and almost drowning in a faded t-shirt--and tries to work out something he's been wondering for a while now.

"I know you're not taller than me," he says, craning his neck. Cas's eyes narrow curiously. "But sometimes you are anyway. How do you do that?"

"Perhaps this is stronger than I thought."

Dean shivers all over at the hand that wraps around his arm; it's barely even a pull, but he obediently slides off the table and this time, his ankle doesn't bother with a warning shot of pain as it folds under his weight. Cas drops the bottle and catches him so fast Dean doesn't have time to do much but stare at the ground and think there are some great perks to hanging around people with even extremely downgraded mojo.

"Thanks."

"I see you haven't been careful with your injury," Cas observes, easing Dean's arm over his shoulders and taking his weight effortlessly. "I didn't really expect anything else by the way you avoided the painkillers I left for you."

"Didn't need them."

"By that you mean sulking?"

That is so completely not what Dean was doing it's unbelievable. "How the hell do you get anyone to sleep with you?"

Cas blinks slowly. "Is it usually supposed to be difficult?"

Dean kind of wants to hit him, and he would, but the faint uptick of his lips when Cas says it makes it hard not to grin back. So he stops trying not to. "Fuck you."

"The human body isn't that flexible," Cas answers almost wistfully, turning them effortlessly toward the cabin. "Trust me, I tried."

Dean doesn't stumble because Cas is mostly doing the heavy lifting and walking for him here. "Too much information," he mumbles, and wonders why the hell he sounds a little breathless, suddenly ultra-aware of the hand on his hip, warm and solid even through a layer of denim.

It feels like only seconds before they're climbing the porch steps, and Dean just manages to avoid a face full of beads, letting himself sprawl on the couch where Cas deposits him, feeling surprisingly warm and comfortably numb and like maybe with the help of Cas's really awesome alcohol, he can get through anything. Even what he watched tonight.

When Cas sits down beside him, he's holding another bottle that looks gratifyingly full, and it's really getting hard to remember why he should be pissed at him. Taking a drink, Dean slumps back into the couch; it burns less this time, and he wonders if that's a good sign or a really, really bad one.

"Do you have to work to be such a dick or does it just happen naturally?" he hears himself say.

"You're angry at me," Cas observes intelligently. "What would help with that?"

"How many bottles of this do you have?"

"I built the still that produces it."

So this is what an apology from Cas looks like these days: Dean would laugh, but he's way too busy drinking, and from the way the room seems to be shifting, he thinks he may have just found something that can surprise his liver.

"I'm not that easy," he lies.

"I'll work on that."

Settling into the most comfortable slump possible, Dean tips his head back on the couch and watches vapor trails cross the ceiling, following them down to waft around Cas as he reaches for the bottle, fingers brushing against Dean's in a bright warmth that leaves a glittering trail along his skin. Raise an Elder God or get blasted out of your mind; only Cas could come up with that combination and make it work. Cas is studying him with an expression that he's never quite been able to interpret, because even Cas's body speaks a different language and sometimes, he thinks even it's not sure what it's trying to say.

"The toilet paper situation is under control," Dean offers into the comfortable silence. Cas's head jerks up, blue eyes way too sharp for the amount of that shit he's been drinking. "Totally nailed it, by the way. Paper, too."

"Chuck took you on a supply run." Cas flickers a glance toward the window, and Dean's kind of hoping that's not Chuck's direction. There's a lot of smiting in that look and honestly, he's not convinced yet that Cas couldn't just will a good smite if he felt inspired enough. "When? This afternoon?"

"You mean when you were sulking?" Dean shrugs, not sure why Cas's surprise bothers him. "It was cool; we got everything. It was great."

Surprisingly, that's true. Being able to actually do something besides stand around being invisible or being their fake Dean really works for him, and he's not gonna feel guilty about that, even if Cas's expression suddenly reminds him of what Cas said about trusting his honor.

"The current situation effectively nullified the terms of our original agreement," Cas says flatly, and Dean wonders in vague horror if mind-reading is still on the table. He should ask about that. "I should have discussed it with you."

"Being around to have a discussion might've helped." Dean snatches the bottle away and takes a drink, wondering what the hell he's saying. "So, you taking off again anytime soon? Better things to do and all that shit."

He doesn't have to look to know he's got Cas's undivided attention. It belatedly occurs to him that it might be possible to be too drunk to have any kind of conversation, because right now, he's not sure what he'll say.

"I could," Cas says finally, getting up without even a goddamn stumble, and for a second, Dean can't breathe, chest tight. "Or I could get another bottle."

Blinking, Dean looks down and realizes the one he's holding is empty. "Oh. Yeah, good idea."

"I thought so," Cas says to him on his way to the kitchen. "Be right back."




Dean has just gotten off one drink from the new bottle when he notices Cas isn't on the couch and there's a weird pulling thing going on around his feet. Blinking, he focuses his eyes with an effort and sees Cas crouching on the floor, staring at the laces of his boots intently before there's a knife in his hand.

"Uh." Dean has no idea how to handle this. "What are you doing?"

"Hold still," Cas answers as he slices through the laces and pulls off his right boot and then repeats on his left, stripping off his socks almost as an afterthought before tossing everything in the general direction of the bedroom. "I need to rewrap your ankle."

That makes sense. Dean takes a small sip, watching Cas produce the first aid kit out of nowhere and go to work. It doesn't hurt, which he should really wonder (worry) about, but it's weirdly soothing to watch Cas doing something so incredibly mundane, the little frown of concentration, the surprising care he takes. It's almost a disappointment when he's done, packing the kit up and pushing it out of the way.

Sitting back on his heels, Cas surveys him with a frown, and for no reason at all, he's suddenly, vividly aware that Cas is kneeling between his legs. In a room that Dean has visually confirmed there are orgies, and in plural.

He takes another drink.

"Why're you here?" Even to himself, he has no idea what he wants to know.

Cas tilts his head, expression unreadable. "You asked me once if it made it harder and I told you nothing could. Do you remember?"

Weirdly enough, he does. "Yeah?"

"I lied." Pushing himself up, Cas takes the bottle from his hands and sits down beside him, close enough that all Dean would have to do is lean a little to touch him. Then the meaning of what Cas said hits him, and he jerks away. "You not being there. That would have made it harder."

He has no idea what to say to that.

"You knew it would help, because that's what you would need, too." He wets his lips, looking uncertain. "Not to be alone."

Dean struggles for some kind of response, but in the back of his mind, there's something like the tick of a clock, counting down the time that's running out. Licking his lips, he tries to pretend he has no idea what the hell Cas is talking about, but when he reaches for the bottle, his hand is shaking so hard he can't even get his fingers around the neck.

"Dean."

Throat closing, he tries again and nearly falls into Cas's lap, watching helplessly as Cas sets the bottle on the floor way beyond Dean's most enthusiastic drunken leap. Straightening, Dean braces a hand on the back of the couch, but before he can work out what to do next, Cas cups his jaw, turning his head until he can't see anything but those impossible eyes.

Home: no Apocalypse, no goddamn official place to burn bodies, no win for Lucifer, cars, McDonalds, hunting to protect a world that wasn't already dead, Sam. Sam. Jesus Christ, Sam.

"You said you can't get drunk enough to forget," Cas says quietly, fingers tightening when Dean tries to jerk away. "Do you remember telling me that?"

He nods, numb.

"Neither can I." Cas doesn't look away. "But I've learned how to pretend."




--Day 20--

Dean wakes up in hell. Kind of.

"God," he thinks he whispers, but his entire body shakes from something that sounds like a fucking gong. "What. The. Fuck."

Dean tries to take some kind of stock of the situation, but his body is a mass of conflicting impulses, most of them ranging from unpleasant to horrific, and his eyes feel swollen and scratchy-dry, skin tight and sore. "Christ," he says out loud, not even caring about the gong in the existential horror of his life. "What--"

"Please be quiet." Cas, he'd know that voice anywhere, but rougher than he's ever heard it even bleeding out after a fight, gravel and smoke and too much whiskey, Jesus. It occurs to him how close that voice is just as whatever he's lying on seems to start moving. Couches, he thinks vaguely, shouldn't do that, and decides he's just not gonna come to any obvious conclusions right at the moment. "You're making it difficult to pretend this isn't happening."

Dean licks his lips with a tongue that feels like sandpaper and fails at ignoring the fact that's denim under his cheek and so fucking not a couch.

"Cas?" Very distantly, he remembers the last, far less traumatic time he and Cas got drunk, which if nothing else proved between them two of them, they could create a whole fucking new standard in competitive drinking. "You okay?"

There's a silence that resembles, on the surface, endless humiliation. "I hadn't tested the potency of this particular distillation as thoroughly as I had assumed." Then, "Apparently, four bottles is excessive."

"Four?" Dean opens his eyes, and it's all brilliant, horrible light and oh God, he hates everything. Shutting his eyes, he buries his face in the warmth of the definitely not a warm, wash-softened flannel couch that happens to have disturbingly prominent ribs. Despite the pounding headache, there's something wrong with that math.

"I didn't share the last one since you had already passed out."

Jesus Christ. Reaching up to rub his eyes, he flinches at the abrasion of his own fingers against the supersensitive skin and realizes what that means. "Did I…" Cry, he doesn't ask; he did, in front of Cas, moving on now. "You have anything to help?" Arsenic is a pretty attractive option; he just doesn’t think he has the hand-eye coordination yet to risk suicide with a weapon. Wherever those are now.

"With the hangover?"

Or that. "Sure."

"It's been a very long time since I had one, but I think…." Cas's voice trickles off and much more upsetting, there's no movement to get up.

"So? Get it."

Another silence, not encouraging. "Can you move?"

Even thinking about it makes him nauseous, so there goes that plan. "No."

"I don't think I can walk anyway," Cas answers, like he's trying to be comforting or something, and Dean feels something not unlike a hand petting his head, and he will, actually, risk a shitty headshot before admitting how incredibly good that feels. "Nor am I sure where the floor is in relation to where I am."

Cas just sounds so defeated, like physics plus Cthulhu's own hangover are fucking him over so hard and he just can't understand why.

"Yeah, it's okay," Dean slurs, keeping as still as he can to avoid reality and not because Cas fingers are now threading rhythmically through his hair. "Me either."

Hazy, unformed memories keep trying to resolve before the headache pounds their asses to dust, and it's the weirdest fucking thing to realize he really doesn't remember exactly what happened last night, and also, that it might be possible to die from sheer self-defense in the grips of a hangover that he's pretty sure Alistair would have thought was kind of overkill when it comes to torture.

As Cas's fingers shift down to his neck, rubbing into the muscles like some kind of touch-morphine of pure goodness, Dean's head clears enough to consider in its entirety where he is and what he doesn't remember that he might have done getting here, and (possibly) how much he should be prepared to deal with knowing for sure.

He's had some honest to God shittily considered hookups, and every goddamn one of them started with way too much fucking alcohol and some general personal misery, so at least it'd be consistent. That they didn't involve guys isn't particularly relevant, because they also didn't involve alcohol that probably kills Elder Gods after it summons them.

He wonders idly if it would be worth it to check and see if he's wearing pants. It might confirm or deny, but then there's the whole hideous light thing, and in all honesty, he's not sure he actually cares that much. This would be so much easier if Cas would have his goddamn drug-fueled orgies in a bed like a normal person. Not like he couldn't get a bigger bed.

"Cas?"

There's a long enough delay that Dean's already considering how big a bed would be necessary--would falling off be a problem? Jesus, imagine laundry day with those sheets--when Cas finally says, "What?" in a really insultingly annoyed voice, like Dean is just bothering him from sheer spite.

"We didn't have sex, right?"

In the history of Dean's shittily considered hookups--and it doesn't say anything good that while he can remember all of them, they're officially outnumbering the well-considered ones--there are certain rules that you just don't break. Asking if it actually happened is right at the top, along with "What's your name again?" and may in fact beat crawling out the window while they're in the bathroom, which as far as his post-coital shitty behavior goes, shouldn't be something he's aspiring to surpass. He hopes guiltily that they didn't; he can deal with a guy, fine, he can even deal with it being Cas (at least he knows his name), but he'll never be able to look at himself in the mirror again if he forgot.

Cas's fingers stop abruptly, and Dean is on the edge of promising a repeat performance in perfect sobriety to get that back--he's still very drunk, he reminds himself firmly--when Cas sighs, and if Dean were sober enough to trust himself, he might think it was regretful. "No."

Taking a deep breath--and rewarded for it with life-ending nausea--he waits for the urge to vomit out a lifetime of meals passes, and then Cas's fingers slide up to his hairline, scratching just right against the scalp, and his entire body just goes boneless in sheer relief. Turning his face into the blissful warmth of soft flannel, he carefully nods. "Okay."




"Guys, is everything--"

"Chuck."

Dean, jerked out of comfortable misery when Cas's hand stops moving, thinks he's never heard a single word able to encompass death and dismemberment and dry leaves in unmentionable places, a lot of them, and that's just how it starts. At this moment, he agrees with all of it and so much more; if he could stand up right now, Chuck wouldn't be breathing--well, panting, from the sound of it--any longer than it took him to--

Chuck, it occurs to him, is standing up and that probably means he can walk. To the kitchen. "Cas?"

"I'll come back later," Chuck is saying, like he just realized if he gets out now, he may live a few more hours. It's cute that he thinks that.

"Cas," Dean says, making a herculean effort and getting his fingers to close around a handful of flannel. "He can walk."

"Not at this moment, if he values his life," Cas says pleasantly, and to Dean's relief, he curves a hand over the back of his neck, fingertips sketching soothing circles against his skin. Chuck makes a helpless, horrified sound, which is as it should be, he thinks contentedly, perfectly happy to let Cas be fucking terrifying at anyone he wants for a greater good. "Chuck, considering how much time the archangels spent repairing your liver on a daily basis, I assume you know a remedy for a hangover. Make one."

"Two," Dean adds, just in case the terror wafting from Chuck means he takes that way too literally. Carefully, he opens his eyes to squint in Chuck's direction, the better to let in less hideous light, and finds Chuck's general shape cowering near the doorway. Positive reinforcement might be needed. "Do it and I'll make sure he kills you fast," he says comfortingly, then goes limp and figures Cas can handle this shit from here on out. He's done his part.

He opens his eyes again when he's viciously jerked upright and his nose held closed; before he can wonder about the sheer stupidity of suffocation--what, not even a pillow?--something is pouring down his throat and oh my God, he just did not know. Batting feebly at whatever unnatural dick (Cas, totally Cas) is holding him down for this, he ends up swallowing anyway and the universe is just horrible, horrible nauseous agony.

…for ten seconds. Blinking, Dean stares up at Cas with blurry eyes--yes, he's crying, and fuck everything, anyone would--and realizes the headache has receded to a sullen burn and he can, maybe, someday, want to think about living again. "What--"

"You'll need the bathroom," Cas says, pulling him to his feet and pushing him toward the bedroom door. "Go."

Dean almost disagrees--actually, he's feeling pretty great--but before he can form the words, he feels something dangerously like a twinge. He looks at Cas, slumping onto the floor by the couch, looking less close to death but also really, really sure, and stumbles another step toward the door as the second twinge warns him that yeah, now, now is good.

"So, you guys don't need me anymore," Chuck is saying when Dean's jerking the bathroom door mostly-shut. "So I'll--"

"Sit down, Chuck," Cas says, but Dean misses what comes next, since he's kind of busy and toilets don't conduct sound all that well.




When he comes back out (teeth brushed three times, a long shower, a change of clothes, and a lot of water) he almost feels normal. Hair still wet, he crosses the darkened bedroom and opens his mouth to tell Cas what he thinks of his post-hangover methods (yeah, it worked, but not the point) when he's stopped short at the doorway, words drying up on his tongue and then forgotten.

Cas is pretty much where he left him, one knee tucked against his chest, feet bare and pale against the rug, looking tired and annoyed, nothing new there, watching Chuck on the nearby armchair with the thousand mile stare that the Host perfected. Even to himself, he can't explain what's different now, but something is, like a thousand tiny things slowly trying to come into focus.

He must make some kind of noise, though, because Cas's eyes snap to him abruptly, and he's only aware of Chuck jerking around from his perch on the edge of a threadbare chair when Cas looks away.

"Feeling better?" Cas says, tilting his head with impersonal curiosity, and for no reason at all, Dean feels a start of wariness.

"Yeah." Leaning against the doorway, he tries and fails to ignore Chuck radiating self-loathing in his direction. From the way Cas looked when he came in here, he can guess what kind of conversation he's so fucking glad he missed. "Chuck, thanks for the--whatever that was."

"Anytime," he says miserably, taking a visible breath before bursting out with, "I'm sorry for endangering your life for frivolous luxuries that my ancestors would have scorned." His eyes dart hopefully to Cas before returning to Dean. "I won't do it again."

Yeah, he called that one. Turning his attention back to Cas, he contemplates the infinite ways Cas can radiate smug self-righteousness like breathing. For a guy who got himself shit-faced on possibly semi-mystical moonshine last night and has sex in a group setting, it's pretty fucking impressive.

"What the hell did you do to Chuck?"

"I told him I was very disappointed," he answers comfortably, the very picture of justice being served in post-hangover repose. "He understands the error of his ways and is prepared to make amends."

"And I will never do it again," Chuck adds right on schedule, knee-jerk pathetic. Even if he squints and turns his head sideways, no matter what Cas says, he just can't see Chuck able to pick up and fire a gun. Chuck's expression gets frantic, and Dean belatedly realizes he's probably freaking him out. "I'm--"

"You didn't do anything wrong," Dean interrupts, looking back at Cas. "I gave him an order, Cas, come on."

"He should have known better than to obey it," Cas answers pleasantly. "And I should have known better than to trust you not to break your word. I won't make that mistake again."

Dean sucks in a breath, feeling like he was punched in the gut. Dimly, he's aware of Chuck opening his mouth before he sinks back into his chair, staring at the floor.

"You seem to be under the impression that we have developed a bond due to excessive alcohol consumption while you shared your feelings in monotonous detail and I pretended to care," Cas says expressionlessly. "We didn't." Over the inexplicable buzzing in his ears, he hears Cas add, "This time, we're not negotiating. You won't leave this camp again."

"How are you gonna stop me?" Before Cas can answer, Dean sees Chuck's face go white and can hear his voice, bitter and honest, saying, Leave with you if he had to? Kill us to do it?

You being here at all is a loaded gun to everyone's head.

"I won't leave the camp again," Dean says, and from the corner of his eye, he sees Chuck relax all at once, and thinks maybe now he believes it. Turning to the door, he tells Cas, "We're done."




Pausing briefly halfway up the porch steps of Dean's cabin, it occurs to him that as of this moment, he's probably actually now supposed to live here and nearly stumbles on the step before he jogs up the rest and makes himself go inside.




Map of the World, 5/11

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If you don't send me feedback, I will sob uncontrollably for hours on end, until finally, in a fit of depression, I slash my wrists and bleed out on the bathroom floor. My death will be on your heads. Murderers.
--unknown, BTS list


That's why he goes bad, you know -- all the good people hit him on the head or try to shoot him and constantly mistrust him, while there's this vast cohort of minions saying, We wouldn't hurt you, Lex, and we'll give you power and greatness and oh so much sex...

Wow. That was scary. Lex is like Jesus in the desert.
--pricklyelf on why Lex goes bad


Obi-Wan has a sort of desperate, pathetic patience in this movie. You can just see it in his eyes: "My padawan is a psychopath, and no one will believe me; I'm barely keeping him under control and expect to wake up any night now to find him standing over my bed with a knife!"
--Teague reviewing "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones"


Beth: god, why do i have so many beads?
Jenn: Because you are an addict.
Jenn: There are twelve step programs for this.
Beth: i dunno they'd work, might have to go straight for the electroshock.
Jenn: I'm not sure that helps with bead addiction.
Beth: i was thinking more to demagnitize my credit card.
--AIM, 12/24/2003


I could rape a goat and it will DIE PRETTIER than they write.
--AIM, anonymous, 2/17/2004


In medical billing there is a diagnosis code for someone who commits suicide by sea anenemoe.
--AIM, silverkyst, 3/25/2004


Anonymous: sorry. i just wanted to tell you how much i liked you. i'd like to take this to a higher level if you're willing
Eleveninches: By higher level I hope you mean email.
--LJ, 4/2/2004


silverkyst: I need to not be taking molecular genetics.
silverkyst: though, as a sidenote, I did learn how to eviscerate a fruit fly larvae by pulling it's mouth out by it's mouthparts today.
silverkyst: I'm just nowhere near competent in the subject material to be taking it.
Jenn: I'd like to thank you for that image.
--AIM, 1/25/2005


You know, if obi-wan had just disciplined the boy *properly* we wouldn't be having these problems. Can't you just see yoda? "Take him in hand, you must. The true Force, you must show him."
--LJ, Issaro, on spanking Anakin in his formative years, 3/15/2005


Aside from the fact that one person should never go near another with a penis, a bottle of body wash, and a hopeful expression...
--LJ, Summerfling, on shower sex, 7/22/2005


It's weird, after you get used to the affection you get from a rabbit, it's like any other BDSM relationship. Only without the sex and hot chicks in leather corsets wielding floggers. You'll grow to like it.
--LJ, revelininsanity, on my relationship with my rabbit, 2/7/2006


Smudged upon the near horizon, lapine shadows in the mist. Like a doomsday vision from Watership Down, the bunny intervention approaches.
--LJ, cpt_untouchable, on my addition of The Fourth Bunny, 4/13/2006


Rule 3. Chemistry is kind of like bondage. Some people like it, some people like reading about or watching other people doing it, and a large number of people's reaction to actually doing the serious stuff is to recoil in horror.
--LJ, deadlychameleon, on class, 9/1/2007

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Fan Fiction is John Cusack standing outside your house with a boombox.
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