Title: Map of the World, 2/11
Author: Seperis
Codes: Dean/Castiel, et al
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
AO3 - All, Chapter 1, Chapter 2
DW - Chapter 1

--Day 10--

"…tell Chuck to make me papers. I know how to cross, you know that."

Dean flattens himself against the wall by the door of Cas's cabin. Cas is late in his vanishing act come dusk, and he's got company, which he so isn't interested in seeing. In the pause that follows, he risks a glance inside to see Cas and a woman, and surprisingly, both are fully dressed.

Tall and angular in a faded grey long-sleeve t-shirt and jeans, she looks like she's about to go on patrol, locked hair twisted into a knot at the back of her head, with sharp brown eyes and a full mouth currently a tight line of dissatisfaction, and the dark skin has the unmistakable grey edge of someone running on almost empty. Rifle slung with professional ease over one shoulder, she stares at Cas like she's trying to decide if applying the butt of her rifle to his head will get her anywhere. From experience, Dean knows it won't.

"Chuck doesn't have the latest credentials to pass the border," Cas is saying stiffly, not quite meeting her eyes as he fishes a flannel shirt from under the couch and tugs it on. Very much not the guru wear Dean's learned to loathe on sight, though even by his standards, its seen better decades. Also sober, which Dean's learned is a privilege, not a right. "It's too dangerous at this time."

"They should know what's happened." Dean jerks back against the cabin wall when she turns, wondering if Cas kept angelic hearing like he kept the strength and deciding if he did, he probably learned to control it by sheer self-defense in a camp this size. "Look, I don't need papers, I know the weak points even at the eastern checkpoint. Just let me--"

"No one is allowed past the patrol perimeter at this time," Cas answers flatly, and even without being able to see him, Dean can guess the look on his face. "That's an order, Vera."

There's an uncomfortable silence before she says acidly, "Understood. Permission to leave, sir?"

Dean winces. Cas is just lucky he doesn't have a middle and last name to drag out and throw at him; that tone just begs for it.

"Vera…yes, you may go," he says finally, and Dean eases farther from the door for her to pass him. She may not be able to see him, but Cas is probably going to realize he'll be showing up soon and just a guess, he's pretty sure this is something Cas really wouldn't want him to see. As she comes outside and goes down the stairs, anger obvious in every jarring stride, he doesn't have long to wait, Cas coming out and then stopping short on the stairs with an expression that Dean can't read.

He tries to remember if she's was among the groupie contingent he's seen coming and going from a distance; there's no way to tell, though if she is, he's guessing Cas isn't going to be enjoying her company for a while. Holding his breath, he watches Cas lingers on the porch before he abruptly returns inside for a few minutes. Sinking down in the shadows, he waits for Cas to leave, not moving until he's well out of sight at the cabin.

Just inside the door, he pauses, looking around with a critical eye. He hasn't once found a single sign of random bouts of orgies (something he's checked for very carefully since that couch is kind of his home away from home right now), and the drug paraphernalia isn't what he'd call hidden but definitely shoved out of the way. While the number of empty bottles hasn't noticeably decreased, they seem to be migrating consistently toward the kitchen and within view of the trash.

If Cas were less a dick, Dean would kind of think this is some kind of half-assed try at being thoughtful.

Despite the slightly improved living conditions, Dean notes that the pile of newly-washed clothing behind the couch that seems to be Cas's idea of clothing storage grows and wanes but never finds its way into something like a closet or a dresser. Washing dishes seems to be on an at-need basis, and tentative exploration has confirmed nothing in that kitchen works. The dishes thing he gets, but there's an actual bedroom here, tiny but functional, the bed stripped to a clean if dingy mattress and cheap box springs, but everything's under a layer of dust. The closet, which currently holds a haphazard pile of watermarked boxes and a truly impressive arsenal, at least shows Cas has some of his priorities straight.

A life lived in motels of the budget variety means that Dean isn't exactly an expert on long-term habitation, but he stayed enough with Bobby (and Lisa) to get the basics beat into him and Sam reinforced it with prejudice. Thinking about it, he's uncomfortably aware this isn't entirely unfamiliar; say, if Cas had spent his life-skills learning time in a variety of crappy motels and didn't grasp translating that to less-temporary living conditions.

Dean thinks, appalled: so this is what happens when everything you need to know about life is based on the gospel of John Winchester, as interpreted by a Sam-less Dean.

In unholy emphasis of who exactly took care of Cas's human-training, Cas keeps his books and his weapons immaculate, the books kept in a tiny room off the kitchen that was probably a glorified utility closet in a former life with obviously recently augmented shelving. Feeling masochistic, Dean pulls open the bedroom closet door to confirm the reason that he should never be placed in charge of a small child, a pet, a houseplant, or a Fallen angel unless the conditions are wartime and Sam is willing to be his fulltime co-parent.

In contrast to the bedroom--and for that matter, the rest of the cabin--the former closet is immaculate, dust free and redolent with fresh gun oil and enough herbs to make Dean want to sneeze on principle. At some point it had been thoroughly gutted and stripped down for its new and improved personal arsenal use, the top third of the back wall pegged to hold a survivalist's wet dream of guns ranging from handguns to the kind of rifles that usually require active duty in the military to even look at, much less use, all meticulously cleaned and ruthlessly organized by type. Below them hang several sets of knives from the basic pocket and utility up to a machete kept at razor sharpness line the wall beneath them. The bottom third of the closet is taken up by neatly installed shelves with the top holding an assortment of worn leather and battered metal cases where specialization is key. There are blades made of pure lead and blessed silver to bronze so ancient they can't even hold a decent edge and covered in faded runes. Some of it he recognizes from what Bobby had had, some from other hunters he's met, some from pictures he's seen in books, but the rest is a mystery.

Crouching, Dean does a quick inventory: a neatly folded dropcloth beside cleaning and repair kits in well-worn cases showing frequent use take up the second shelf, while the third holds boxes of ammunition sorted by type and function in carefully separate stacks of regular, silver, and salt. A triple line of bottles of holy water make up half the bottom shelf, along with a half-empty box of cases for more salt loads and a smaller one of scrap silver. There are bags of herbs as well, each neatly labeled. On the floor are industrial size bags of rock salt slumping against stacks of water-marked boxes taped enthusiastically enough to discourage surreptitious exploration but a quick feel confirms they're mostly books.

Stepping back, he doesn't need to be told who was responsible for designing the collector's edition of the hunter's ultimate arsenal; one of his most recent explorations of Dean's cabin showed him the even more impressive prototype, and on a guess, one of these is probably in every cabin here. Even if he didn't see Dean's, though, he would have known who made this for Cas.

Shutting the closet doors, Dean wanders back to the couch, dropping on it with a squeal of ancient springs and cloud of dust as he thinks over what should have occurred to him before. This is Dean fucking Winchester of the dystopian future, and in Apocalyptic times sentimental attachment to old friends need not apply. Cas may do junkie as a lifestyle choice, but the Dean Winchester here wouldn't have let him get away with that when it came to what mattered, and all that ever mattered was killing Lucifer. He was way too pissed at Dean sacrificing his team, sacrificing Cas, to wonder why he had chosen to bring Cas along at all.

John Winchester's training is the kind of thing that's bone-deep, inescapable no matter how far you go and God knows, Sam did his damndest and still couldn't lose it. Staring around this suddenly familiar cabin, he thinks that some things must pass in the blood or something, because if he peels away the cheap gloss of the hedonistic druggie, his own fingerprints one universe over are all over Cas.

Tipping his head back, he thinks about Vera here earlier, asking permission for something and Cas saying no. Cas gave her an order and didn't bother to tell her why, and how fucking familiar that is when he imagines the voice giving it is Dean's.

More than that, though: she listened.

It belatedly occurs to him that for a camp whose fearless leader is noticeable in his absence, it's running just fine.

--Day 11--

Dean's first visit to the hellhole that is Chitaqua wasn't in the kind of circumstances that encouraged a lot of observation. Evacuating Cas's cabin at dawn on the eleventh day of Apocalypse Almost Now, he's suddenly aware of the camp slowly awakening to yet another Lucifer-free day that to them is business as usual and he still has no idea what business as usual even is.

Watching discreetly from one of the least-grimey windows, Dean waits as Cas does his usual morning ward-checking routine with the grim determination of someone going to their own execution, vanishing into the early morning fog that's been a feature of Dean's entire stay and won't clear until well into the day as the temperature sluggishly rises to something just around muggy with an option to abruptly drop to clammy without warning. This much of Cas's day Dean nailed down in post-cabin-chat inspired avoidance.

Like he's on some kind of sadistically inclined internal clock, Cas reappears thirty minutes later, emerging suddenly from the fog slouching in the too-big army jacket like the most depressing miracle in history and making a straight line for his cabin to eventually meet with his groupies for their regularly-scheduled bouts of debauchery.

Only Cas, Dean reflects depressingly, would apply a strict timetable to his wild fits of hedonistic indulgence. In all honesty, it really couldn't have happened any other way.

Once he's sure Cas is cabin-bound for the morning (noon will see a mysterious lunch appear on the porch, and while he knows Cas can't teleport, he has yet to catch him at it), Dean emerges from the cabin into the slightly-lessening fog and decides it's about time to find out what kind of wards can protect this camp from not only Lucifer but possibly from his entire army.

There's a well-worn path that despite the low visibility is almost impossible to miss, which explains how Cas can do it when the only sign of true dawn is an overall lighter shade of dark in the general direction of the east.

When he gets to the walls, he scans them carefully until he finds the sigils, all well-worn and from the look of them, frequently refreshed with a convenient knife, though few show bloodsign at all, much less anything fresh Considering the number and that Cas is the only one he's seen out here, he'd probably bleed out well before he got more than ten feet if he tried to do them all.

While some of the individual sigils are familiar, the way they're put together isn't like anything he's ever seen. On the surface, they look almost random; there's Enochian, no surprise there, Sanskrit, hieroglyphs of various origins, even Latin thrown in like an afterthought mixed with complex whorls and shapes that have no relation to any language he has ever seen. Trying to read it is impossible; even looking at it for too long makes his head ache, like there's more there than his eyes can actually process.

Taking a step back, he cocks his head, unfocusing his eyes from the specific symbols to get the pattern as he calls up every memory of every goddamn time Sam shoved a book in his face with an excited expression or Bobby explained something he'd recently found and wishes he'd paid more attention, but he thinks he's getting the gist from simple familiarity with the rules that govern ritual magic.

This isn't an active ward, or at least, not one that requires a lot of regular maintenance, okay. From what he can tell, someone who knew what they were doing had pulled elements from a lot of different places and shoved them together, though how the hell they're joined is pretty much a guess. Setup alone would have taken weeks, maybe even months depending on how many people worked on it. He's familiar enough with Bobby's work to recognize him in the design, though, and on a guess, his consultant was a certain former angel with the entire history of time in his head and zero inhibitions using what he knew. Following the pattern, he finally finds the most painfully complicated mix of symbols he's ever seen in his life, the beginning and ending of the entire goddamn structure tied together into a single key, and every line of it is coated with a layer of fresh blood.

Lucifer needed Dean's blood to breach the camp, and seeing it, that makes sense; these kind can't be opened and closed at will, not without destroying them and remaking them every time. So somewhere in here is a way to recognize who has the right to cross them and this being a place where paranoia would be a survival trait, he's guessing it's selective to the point of working on an individual level. More than that, he's not sure, but Jesus, if Sam could see this--

With an effort, he pushes the thought of Sam aside; like Cas, he's on a time limit, but unlike Cas, ignoring it still works.

Concentrating on the constant, inaudible hum, it strengthens, almost as if it's aware of his attention, which is not a thought he wants to follow. It's not unpleasant, though, skating along the surface of his skin like a tuning fork leashed to a perpetual motion engine. He can't imagine the kind of power it would take for him to feel it like this; for that matter, he still can't figure out where the hell the power's coming from or how the hell they got the power to raise it in the first place.

On impulse, he reaches out and ghosts a touch over one of the key sigils, still tacky with drying blood, and only has a moment to think what before the hum changes and everything stops.

Abruptly, the world expands, rippling outward around him like he's a pebble dropped into the limitless depths of an infinite ocean. It sees him, knows him,recognition expressed in warm, welcoming tides washing against every nerve; even more than that, he knows it, too.

Pulling back in surprise, mouth dry, he stares at the sigils; he gets now where Cas was coming from that morning in the cabin. As far as the wards are concerned, he and the other Dean Winchester are one and the same, and all the power invested here, wards that can lock out fucking Lucifer, he could shut down as easily as he breathes.

With the memory of forever still trembling on the tips of his fingers he also thinks he knows how they got these up in the first place. His mind is crowded with memories of when he felt this before, where, but mostly of what he can't remember at all: when he was consumed within it, an infinite flashburn of light and brightness and truth in crawling darkness, a promise in a place that was nothing but lies.

It's repurposed into something else now, but he'll never not know it; he's looking at where Cas placed the last of his Grace before he Fell.

Dean spends the rest of the morning observing the three members of the watch doing their damnedest to look less bored with the sheer lack of activity at the camp entrance. This must be the shit job you get when you've fucked up or something; he's never seen four more miserably bored people in his life, and being that bored, the best source of information he could have asked for. Settling himself close enough to listen to the combination of complaints and gossip, he wonders how it works out that the end of the world actually lowers the amount of supernatural activity. What he's getting from them by implication is that boredom is a pretty new development.

Then again, there's a lot of new developments, not least of which is that three days after Dean arrived here (apparently starting the day with an interrogation and intimidation was, for Cas, the equivalent of coffee), Cas abruptly called the camp into a meeting that defined the new world order until Dean Winchester's presumptive return. Patrol was reorganized and seems to be focusing on a slightly extended local route and the perimeter of the city where Dean died. It makes sense, since the implication is that they're watching for Dean, or would, anyway, if they weren't forbidden to enter the city at all, and for the most part, they don't seem to wonder why.

As the camp comes to life more and more as noon approaches, Dean finds himself watching everyone go about their duties with the assurance of long-formed habit, occasional laughter drifting from the makeshift garages where the mechanics seem more interested in shitty apocalypse jokes than maintenance, others lingering outside the cabin that seems to house the general mess if the fact people seem to emerge carrying food is any indication. Which explains why, despite the fact Cas's cabin was stocked exclusively with alcohol and enough drug paraphernalia to supply several respectable crack dens (Cas doesn't seem to realize some shit should be kept out of sight) and never cooks, when Dean shows up every night, there's always food waiting.

Dean ignores the fact that he will never be able to make another angel-stalker joke in his life, too fascinated by the mundanity of life being lived at the end of the world in observation.

From his perch on the porch steps of one of the empty cabins, he watches Chuck and another person emerge from another cabin, gesturing toward a mound of freshly dug dirt some distance away from the inhabited part of the camp with a worried expression that Dean hopes doesn't mean those are supposed to be latrines. Cas's cabin as well as Dean's both had running water, but the situation with the generators had been a sharp reminder that, like electricity, plumbing might not be something that can be taken for granted.

As they walk toward the mess, still talking, Dean gets up to investigate Chuck's cabin more closely, remembering his comments on the toilet paper supply. Rainwater barrels line entire back, strapped inexpertly into place and slumping slightly, which would be a problem if they weren't almost empty. Circling around, Dean notes that all but two windows are boarded up from the inside, and both of those on a glance seem to be Chuck's living quarters.

Glancing toward the mess to assure Chuck's not on his way back, he slips inside the front door, pausing to let his eyes adjust to the dimness before trying the first of the two doors. It's the bathroom, and--after flushing the toilet from sheer morbid curiosity--still working, so maybe not latrines, after all. He checks out the window again for Chuck before he tries the second door, unsurprised it opens on a touch. Going inside, he carefully shuts the door and flips on the light and looks around the room that houses the camp supplies.

Hastily installed shelves are shoved up against three of the four walls, nailed into place, he notes approvingly, circling the small table and chair in the center of the room stacked with paper bearing Chuck's unmistakable scrawl. Stacks of canned goods fill the top three shelves along the back wall, bags of flour and cornmeal and sugar stuffed at the bottom, and coffee alone take up two shelves all on its own, toilet paper and paper towels among other non-food goods on the shelves nearest the door, but the number of empty shelves outnumber the filled ones and from the wear on them, that's new. Two ancient industrial refrigerators flank the door, both supplied with cheese and packages of foil wrapped bundles with indecipherable names but less than he would have assumed; a glance in the freezers shows the same situation. Closing the door, Dean does the math in his head and doesn't like what he's coming up with on what's required for a camp this size.

Where they're getting their supplies is also in question; the abandoned cities are the obvious answer, but while he hadn't seen many perishables, they definitely had meat and that had to have come from somewhere. They could be trading locally or something, but there's also the possibility they have to hunt, which considering this is Kansas makes him wonder uneasily what they might be hunting. Frowning, Dean turns in a circle, taking in the shelves again, and get a glint of foil on the right bottom shelf. Dropping into a crouch, he takes in the stacks and stacks of depressing beige packages and pulls out one, turning it in his hands thoughtfully before putting it back as he gets to his feet.

Slipping out of Chuck's cabin, he looks around, trying to decide where to be invisible next. Chuck's cabin marks the edge of the inhabited cabins, and taking in the view, he thinks about the fact that for a camp that's been a permanent residence for years, no one seems to notice they're living in refugee conditions.

He'd spent two nights working on the generators after seeing the state of the first one Cas showed him . The only real surprise was that they were still working at all, haphazardly gathered together in hastily built sheds and apparently forgotten until they went out and needed more gas. How the hell they'd been going this long is a mystery: fishing out the weeds growing up around and into them, he replaced the worn parts with newer ones cannibalized from several broken ones stored behind the garage that, given access to a hardware store or hell, a Home Depot, he could have probably gotten running fine. As far as he can tell, no one's even noticed the repairs, much less wondered who did them, but considering where they live, they may think a good elf is involved. From the sheer lack of anything but the most superficial maintenance, it's actually the most likely explanation for why they're still able to run at all.

The cabins themselves aren't much better; the only difference between those in use and those that aren't being the people inside of them; windows are regularly boarded up and doors left half-fallen off their hinges, those with porches slumping alarmingly into the ground, those without accommodated by shittily constructed stairs or nothing at all between the ground and the door. The industrial cable strung between the cabins and the generators is showing enough wear to indicate replacement should have happened like, yesterday, but the risk of a camp-wide fire seems to elude everyone even when it starts to spark, which occurs way too frequently for Dean's peace of mind.

Wandering the lush, overgrown grass and weeds that grow on either side of the well-worn paths between cabins, vines twining between the wheels of a few rusting gas grills that seem to still get some use and weaving traps for unwary feet, he wonders irritably why no one could take the time to get a goddamn lawnmower. Life on the road had adapted him to variable living conditions, but this is ridiculous.

Lost in thought, he didn't realize how far he wandered until he finds himself surrounded by nothing but weeds and the sounds of the camp almost inaudible. He looks around, surprised to see what looks like the roof of another cabin peek above the sea of weeds and a few scraggly tress. Curious, he continues toward it, wondering why it's so far from the rest of the camp and why on earth there's a path to it until it comes fully into view and he's abruptly standing on the edge of a wide swath of ground stripped down to bare dirt.

The clearing extends from his feet to the cabin in a wide, rough circle, the center burned black. Reluctantly, he crouches, running his fingers over the ground, already knowing what he'll find: rock salt glinting among traces of old ash that clings to his fingers, mixed with glimpses of familiar blackened splinters and the faint, unmistakable smell of kerosene. Glancing up, he notes the piles of brush and roughly chopped wood on one side of the cabin, numbly following the industrial wire from the roof to the four heavy wooden posts strung with camp lights that mark the boundaries of a rough square of methodically salted earth big enough to minimalize the risk of setting off a wildfire.

Standing up hastily, he wipes his hand on his jeans, giving the cabin a glance as he starts back toward the camp; he can guess what kind of supplies are kept in there.

Absently, he climbs back onto the porch, thinking of the bodies that were left in the city and those freshly cut logs. He gets why Cas forbade patrolling the city, but he's gotta know why they have to go back for the bodies of Dean's team. If Cas won't, promise or not, Dean'll do it himself; he's sure as hell got the time.

Reaching for the beads, he looks up and stops short; it's not dusk yet, but it's way too late to have remembered that.

There are things you just don't want to ever see, ever and family having sex is pretty high on the list. He really should have been paying attention to the time, since no matter the world, Cas pretty much always qualifies as family. Even so, Dean can't remember he's supposed to move; at that moment, if anyone had asked, Dean couldn't have reliably told them his own name.

It's not that Dean doesn't get there's a difference between theoretical knowledge and live action verification in the naked sense. It's not like Cas's groupies are subtle in their comings and goings, or that Cas has developed any concept of shame. He just hadn't thought about it except in the most abstract, Cas's casual mention of orgies, his nightly vanishing act into various cabins throughout the camp, the people who show up at the cabin between dawn and dusk, all ending in a fade to black that Dean was perfectly happy not to think about any more than he had to.

He has no idea how long he stands there as reality slams into him in full color and stereo sound; later, he'll wonder, uncomfortable, if he'd even wanted to. The Cas he'd become unwillingly familiar with, brittle edges and too-wide smiles, bitterness and disappointment shaping every word, who wore his human body like it was a degradation, wasn't anywhere in this cabin. Dean's gaze finds him instantly among the bodies, unmistakable and vividly alive in a way Dean hadn't seen him before. Watching the long-fingered hands skim up the length of a woman's back, cup an unshaven male face for a kiss that seemed to last forever, the distant indifference is absent and open desire taking its place, uninhibited and unleashed; Cas tilts his head back against the worn rugs as the woman sits up, straddling his chest, smiling up at her in a flash of brilliance, nakedly enjoying her as much as he enjoyed her touch, losing himself in the kind of pleasure that only comes from being shared.

He's still sees that smile when he's sitting on Dean's porch and makes himself think of anything but that.

So the groupies: he might have been wrong about that.

Before yesterday, he never really thought about the various times he saw people wandering to and from Cas's cabin other than to note to himself Cas's hedonism seemed to involve a terrifying worth ethic, which is so not a surprise. This is Cas, and be it rebelling against the Host, war in heaven, godhood, better living through chemistry, or adventures in sex, when he commits to something, moderation is not in his vocabulary. Now, however, from the safety of this Dean's porch, he watches the participants of Cas's group orgasm project trickle out only minutes before dusk, almost immediately noting another small group approaching, and it's not that he's gonna start wondering what kind of stamina a former angel has (or dangerous kinks), but they're way too well-armed for a quickie.

He waits until they're inside before getting up, bracing himself in case he's wrong, then makes his way toward the cabin, wondering when he got used to being invisible, enough to have lost even the memory of a sense of exposure when he walks before a camp full of blind eyes. He hears voices even before he gets up the porch stairs, and pauses, listening.

"…no," Cas is saying. "I mean, yes, please continue. This is utterly fascinating."

Peering through the beads, he spots Cas near the couch, looking the worse for wear and facing still-dressed camp members, and has to bite his lip to keep from grinning. That particular expression he knows from the inside out; it's when Cas is pretty sure everything is going to hell and has hit the why-not stage of what to do next. In general, this ends in Cas doing things like taking on groups of archangels, carving Enochian into people's bones, Molotov-cocktailing his brothers, and putting banishing sigils in unusual places for surprise-related purposes. Dean didn't see his expression when he came to the conclusion opening up Purgatory was a workable plan, but he suspects it had looked a lot like this.

"Very well," Cas says abruptly, cutting off the way too earnest guy currently saying something about rocks while staring at Cas with an expression that makes Dean deeply uncomfortable. "Does anyone have anything useful to report?"

"Same as yesterday," a woman drawls, and Dean recognizes Vera leaning against the wall, regarding Castiel thoughtfully. "Might help if we knew what it is you want us to be looking for."

"I didn't think I needed to instruct you in your duties," Cas answers sharply before closing his eyes with a pained look, and Dean's pretty sure he doesn't imagine Vera's flicker of satisfaction. "Anything that might explain current events would be helpful."

Vera nods, doing the most expert weaponization of respectful attention that Dean's ever had the privilege to see, and just for that, he really wishes he could get to know her. "Yes, sir."

As far as Cas's impulse-driven decision making skills are concerned, Dean's gotta admit that keeping a paramilitary camp running during an Apocalypse is definitely not his worst, not least because it seems to be working out pretty well. He's got the calm certainty thing down, and being dead sober, all that time being an angel seems to assert itself enough for Cas to project the kind of confidence that from experience Dean knows can convince anyone of almost anything when he puts some effort into it.

Cas pauses as he picks up a stack of paper from the coffee table, eyes scanning the room and stopping short on Dean. He smiles back, leaning against the doorway casually.

"There will be no alterations to the route," Cas tells them, interrupting the low-voiced argument going on between two of the men. "Continue your observations as instructed and report immediately if you find anything unusual. I'll expect your full reports in twenty-four hours. You're dismissed."

Dean jerks to the side as they obediently turn to leave, waiting until the last clears the porch before going inside and watches Cas drop onto the edge of the couch, looking--actually, Dean's not sure.

"Hey," he tries, making his way to the opposite side of the coffee table, and tries to remember if that's always been there. "What's up?"

Cas doesn't look up from whatever he's reading. "You're early."

"I got bored." Dean glances at the door. "Was that the patrol?"

"The night shift, yes," Cas answers shortly, frown deepening as he flips to the next page. Giving Dean a glance, he hesitates, but his cover is pretty obviously blown. "Feel free to entertain yourself while I finish this."

"What is it?"

"Reports from last night." Flipping another page, Cas tilts his head. "When I said to record all their activities, I didn't expect them to interpret that quite so literally."

Dean eyes the stack warily; that's a lot of paper. "All of them wrote reports?"

"Only whoever is leading the patrol team that day is required to do so, but as they're taking turns, perhaps they misunderstood." Cas gives him a sardonic look and extends the report. "Feel free to examine it for yourself. In addition to monotonous descriptions of the variety of rocks and flora on their current route, it goes into surprising detail regarding the unacceptable length of lunch periods and the unconsciousable number of bathroom breaks."

"You're kidding." Dean nicks the reports from his hand and skims the first three pages. Years of dealing with how humanity recorded information in the days before Gutenberg means that if Dean knows the language, he can read it. He's gotta be honest, though; illuminations and calligraphic flourishes are one thing, but no one should be able to print this small without magic being involved. "You're not. Is he saying nothing is going on but a need for bladder control? For six pages? Why?"

"You skipped the riveting description of the current state of the roads and the number of potholes per mile," Cas answers tiredly. "Phil is unnaturally fond of words, relevant or not, but unfortunately, everyone seems to suffer from the same problem."

Dean glances up at the strain in Cas's voice. "You're not gonna tell them what they're looking for?"

Cas doesn't look at him. "No."

Crouching, he pages through the stack to give himself time to think, pausing to read snatches of the other team members' reports, but none seem to hit the level of the first one; the nearly page-long description of the skyline is almost hypnotic in its sheer level of monotonous detail.

"How long do you think you can--"

"I don't know," Cas interrupts. "I'm surprised it's lasted this long."

Right, okay. Turning his attention back to the stack, Dean frowns. "What exactly did you ask them to do?"

"Record everything that they observed. None of them have ever led the patrol, and some have never been on regular patrols at all, so any attempt at correction could cause them disregard something important."

"None of them?" Dean whistles. "Talk about a learning curve." Dropping the reports back on the coffee table, he starts to ask why he wants reports at all--if he's watching for Lucifer, whoever sees that probably won't wait to write a report about it--but stops short. "Wait, what happened to the leaders?" Cas raises an eyebrow. "You're kidding. That's who he took to Kansas City?"

"The entire command hierarchy," Cas confirms, slumping on the couch. "That the patrol doesn't know what they're doing is probably the only reason they seem to be oblivious to the fact that I don't either."

"And you just...took over patrol?"

"The camp," Cas answers bitterly, and the last of Dean's amusement dies. "Do you have any idea how to run a militia? That isn't a rhetorical question." Dean shakes his head mutely. "Apparently, there's more to do than fight evil and drink to excess during downtime. Chuck came to inform me that, among other things, the toilet paper situation has become untenable, and I'm responsible for doing something about it. I informed him that I don't care, but I doubt that will inhibit his ongoing assessment of the situation. It hasn't stopped him yet, and our current situation isn't going to improve."

Dean has a bad feeling about this. "Are there any--is anyone left here who can even fight?"

"You don't come here if you can't."

Cas abruptly gets to his feet to restlessly pace the length of the room. It's weirdly fascinating to watch; he doesn't do it like a human does even now. He walks like he expects the universe to clear a path for him, knocking into a low table hard enough to bruise himself without noticing, looking vaguely surprised when walls show up like they've personally offended him and smiting's on the table.

Dean's familiar enough now with Cas's habits to recognize that he probably hasn't indulged in anything particularly recreational other than a lot of orgasms. The faint, languorous looseness still lingers beneath the surface tension, and all at once, Dean remembers what he saw earlier before he ruthlessly pushes it aside.

"The problem," Castiel says quietly, "is that if they question me on what we're doing now, I don't have any answers to give them."

From Dean's observations so far, the likelihood of anyone here asking a question would be a lot higher if even one of them was actually capable of conceptualizing the idea that orders might have reasons, much less that they could be questioned. It wasn't just the team that this Dean Winchester sent to die to give him a shot at Lucifer; it's the watch, perfectly happy to watch absolutely nothing, and the patrol, who took Cas's orders today and didn't even seem to care what they were or why he gave them and looked surprised when Vera asked Cas a question. What went down that night they attacked Lucifer hadn't been a one-off; that had been policy.

"Tell me about the checkpoints," Dean says abruptly, getting Cas's attention again. The radio's occasional mention gave enough context to confuse the fuck out of himself. "In Kansas, I mean, there are three of them--"

"Six," Cas corrects him. "Four are not general passthroughs, however, and are restricted to military use only."

Military use: interesting. "How long have they been up?"

"Twenty-one months, from what we were able to find out. Kansas was the third state that was isolated to slow the progress of the epidemic. Any area where Croatoan has become epidemic is quarantined and its borders guarded to prevent the spread of further infection."

"Infection zones." Dean thinks of that conversation he overheard between Cas and Vera. Getting between uninfected states would mean a lot of shitty routes unless you could just go through: solution, credentials. "But you can cross at the passthroughs?"

"No one can leave a state once it's been zoned infected," Cas says, confirming Dean's growing suspicions. "The two checkpoints that allow crossing the border are for commercial use to carry products between uninfected zones when going around them would require…." He frowns, irritated. "I think crossing the Canadian border in some instances, which from what I understand Canada frowns upon and does so very heavily armed."

Canada's armed: who saw that coming? "How many states are infected?"

"You've been listening to the radio," Cas says, looking amused. "Yes, that would confuse you; they're very careful not to be too specific when reporting the news. Though it does make one wonder how on earth you can pretend half a country doesn't exist."

"Half the country…." Dean takes a breath.

"Though it's probable they're not pretending."

"Not all the zones are public knowledge?" Dean asks. "So no one knows how bad it actually is."

"No one knows their true extent, no," Cas agrees. "We had informants at the checkpoints, but unfortunately, they're rotated out every six months--I assume due to the stress of keeping people trapped behind the borders of infected states or more likely, to lower the chances of bribery--so our latest information is somewhat out of date."

"So we can get across the border?"

"Any member of Chitaqua, or you?" Cas's mouth quirks at his expression. "I thought that might be where you were going with this. I wouldn't advise trying."

Dean hesitates, eyeing Cas's expectant look. "Just tell me why and get it over with."

"You might not be first on the ten most wanted list for the FBI," Cas admits after a moment, and for no reason at all, he's getting the impression that Cas has been looking forward to telling him this, "but I doubt it."

Okay, he didn't see that coming. "I'm supposed to be dead--"

"Yes, faking your own death is among the charges," Cas agrees easily, seating himself on the arm of the couch. "I forgot that one."

"What else am I wanted for?"

"It's a very long list. Do you want it in categorical or alphabetical order?" Yeah, Cas is enjoying himself. "If it's any consolation, so am I. I haven't been out of this state since we arrived here for that reason."

When he stopped being able to teleport, he interprets. He make an effort not to ask to see what he's wanted for these days; it's gotta be amazing. "So they'd recognize me."

"There is no one living on this planet who would not recognize you, and I'm not even sure that's not literal."

"Holy shit." He has no idea how to deal with that. "Why didn't you tell me before?"

"I didn't think that we'd live long enough for it to become a problem," Cas answers, regarding him sardonically. "Yet we continue to survive, so why not. Even if we could bribe the checkpoint guards to allow you to cross--which is unlikely--there are very few places that your name and your face are not very well known. The current reward being offered for your capture contains more zeros than I was aware your treasury contained and for those trapped in infected zones, a way out of them."

"Just my capture?" For some reason, Dean doesn't like that.

"They don't want you dead," Cas says. "Not yet, anyway. They need you as a very public example of justice being served."

"What the hell do they think--" He cuts himself off, wondering if he really wants to know. "Just tell me."

"Treason against the United States government as well as acts of both domestic and international terrorism," Cas recites. "Among the many, many charges listed: planning and executing attacks against military personnel to break quarantine when infection was confirmed and deliberately causing the uncontrolled spread of the Croatoan virus."

Dean stares at him.

"The evidence, when not conveniently circumstantial, was manufactured," Cas continues with deliberate indifference. "Dean didn't cause the spread of infection."

"But he did break the quarantines," Dean says, watching Cas's carefully neutral face. "Attacks on the military?"

"For the purposes of assuring the escape of those who were trapped in the infected zones, yes. None of them were infected and they did not cause the spread of the virus."

"Right." Dean blows out a breath; that's not all of it, not from the way Cas looks right now. "What else?"

Cas hesitates, looking into the middle distance. "My familiarity with the current political structures in this world is superficial at best. When I was a member of the Host, it was not relevant, and since I Fell, I've been--here."

"You said no one on this planet doesn't know my face," Dean says, mouth dry. "What does that mean?"

"When the government introduced Dean as the cause of the spread of Croatoan, his activities on the borders of Canada and Mexico were considered evidence that he caused its spread beyond the United States."

"You're saying the entire world thinks I'm responsible for Croatoan?"

"For obvious reasons, international news is not entirely reliable," Cas says evasively, which means that yeah, they do. "It might be some consolation to know that while Chitaqua as a whole is considered equally guilty, very few of their names are known."

Dean nods blindly; he knew this could get worse. "Right. Except yours."

"Jimmy Novak, alias Castiel." Jesus Christ, Cas is a freak, because he sounds really goddamn amused. Looking up, Dean is completely floored by the slight grin. "You don't see the humor."

"Not really, no."

The grin widens, reminding Dean that Cas is actually kind of crazy. "It helps to have cultivated a sense of dramatic irony."

"Really?" Because Dean's not seeing it.

"Maybe you had to be present at Sodom's destruction to appreciate it."

Dean blinks, wondering if Cas is trying to make him feel better. Shaking his head, he straightens, dismissing his current status as the most wanted man in the world with an effort.

"So I'm pretty much stuck in this camp even if Lucifer's having an extended post-victory vacation," he says, trying not to sound bitter and failing. "There's nowhere I can go, that's what you're telling me."

Cas looks away before Dean catches his expression. "Nowhere that you would not be recognized as Dean Winchester, no."

"Okay." Suddenly, Lucifer looks like a much less depressing topic. "Speaking of Lucifer, hey, anything happening with the end of the world yet?"

The world is right again as Cas remembers he really doesn't like him all that much.

"I told you the first night, I do not know the sequence of events after Lucifer's triumph," Cas says flatly. "Why do you--"

"I'm over the shock and dick treatment in Dean's cabin last week," he answers challengingly, crossing his arms. "So you know what? Fuck a timeline; we're going to talk about what's not happening right now. I don't know if you noticed, but the end of the world is stalled."

To his surprise, Cas just nods. "I noticed that, yes."

"That was easy." Suspiciously easy, actually. "Got anything else? Like why we're not all dead?"

"The wards are very powerful, which would be a factor had he tried to breach them."

"Or if his army was here to try. Not seeing an army, Cas."

"Your grasp of the obvious is breathtaking." Dean's never wanted to punch anyone as much as he does right now. "Unfortunately, we must live in ignorance, since the only person who can explain its absence is not currently available for questioning."

Dean tries to remember just how fast Cas is. It might be worth trying just for the sheer satisfaction of wiping that smug look off Cas's face. "Yeah, I don't think questioning Lucifer is on the agenda."

"It isn't," Cas agrees, "because he is not here to question."

"Yeah, and…you don't mean in the camp, do you?"

"On this plane." Like it's incredibly--wait, breathtakingly obvious. "His presence is as unmistakable as his absence."

Dean smiles over gritted teeth. "How long has he been MIA?"

"Since we left him in the city."

That's new. "And that's not worth mentioning before now?"

"That he left? No. Nor did I care why he did," Cas throws out, because God fucking knows it's been five entire minutes since he reminded Dean that he hates everyone and everything and especially being alive to have to deal with all of it. "However," he adds with noticeable reluctance, "even gathering his entire army shouldn't take this much time."

"Three years and change," Dean agrees, because his Hell to Earth math is pretty damn good. "How long would it take him to gather an army?"

"Less time than it took you to think to ask that question." Cas gazes into the distance, expression speculative. "I could think of many reasons he might be delayed."

"And?" Dean cocks his head curiously. "What are they?"

"I haven't bothered to actually think of them. They all depend on knowing something I have no way to discover."

"He killed the only person who could end the Apocalypse and the only thing he does is burn Dean and beat you up before going home? What the hell is he waiting for? I mean…" Dean glances at Cas and stops short, words frozen on the tip of his tongue. He'd forgotten how it felt to be the sole focus of Cas's attention, tangible as a physical touch and impossible to escape, like standing in a spotlight the size of a planet.

Even that morning in the cabin when Cas had told him he wasn't human, he hadn't really grasped what that meant; seeing this, he wonders how he missed it. He isn't living a mortal life as a not-quite human; an incorporeal being whose existence was defined by the infinity of time and space is trapped in the limits of a finite space, imprisoned in the sharply defined limits of a human body with no possibility of escape but death.

Dean stares at him, shocked silent; even Hell in all its horrors wasn't that cruel.

"You'll have to excuse me," Cas says abruptly, getting to his feet, and Dean lets out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. Pausing at the doorway, he glances back, giving Dean a sharp smile. "It's growing late, and I have much more enjoyable ways to spend my time than this Good night."

--Day 12--

The radio makes a lot more sense when he assumes that they're lying through their teeth. The tension in the news briefs is a lot easier to hear, too. He guesses that's probably the natural result of someone with a military rank wearing a gun standing a couple of feet away making sure they're following the right script.

There's no way to tell how many cities were destroyed before Houston, unreported within infected zones that the public has been happy to ignore if that was the price of their own safety. They'll probably keep thinking that until they see the planes in their own skies, and from what Dean can tell, that's not just a vague possibility; it's gonna happen and probably soon.

While it's impossible to be sure about the current locations of all infected zones, the East-coast heavy reporting gives him a hazy idea that a lot of the Midwest may be terra ignore it these days. The previous Dean Winchester in residence didn't leave much of a paper trail, with the occasional brief note from informants tucked between pages of books Dean recognizes from his and Sam's or Bobby's collections, masses of undifferentiated papers and a notebook holding up one leg of the table he has yet to feel inspired enough to check out. A skim of his journal, however, confirms that most of his attention was on the supernatural threat in the general and Lucifer in particular, which sure, that makes sense. Except for the fact that while he was chasing Lucifer for the great battle that wasn't, the world was falling apart piece by piece and from what he can tell, on the rare occasions this Dean paid enough attention to notice, he really didn't seem to care.

Cas's collection of patrol reports covering a single week already outnumbers everything that the other Dean collected in his entire tenure in Chitaqua. Taking a stack with him back to this Dean's cabin, he spends most of the day reading through them, starting with the earliest, which by date (Cas has patrol date them, Jesus) was five days after he arrived.

Despite the sheer repetition and unholy minutia that the truly anal among them (Phil) seemed to think was worthy of documentation, it's interesting reading. From them, and using the journal as a reference point, he gets not only the current patrol routes, but a hazy idea of what the patrols were trained to look for and how it must have worked under this Dean. Even more interesting, though, is seeing the changes Cas made to standard operating procedure, especially requiring written reports when his memory is probably just as creepily perfect as it was before and this could all be done in oral form.

On a guess, Dean thinks Cas isn't just doing this to keep the patrol distracted from wondering what the hell is going on (though great idea, he'll give Cas that one). The fact he's not making any attempt to lower the word count is pretty telling, and he's got an idea why. An angel's used to a shitload more information at their fingertips--or gracetips, whatever--and Cas is restricted to his human body in all its limitations. Even if he could tell them what to look for, he probably couldn't afford to take the risk that would make them miss something he didn't expect and needed to know, or worse, didn't know how to explain. As a very roundabout way of training an entire militia to be very thorough spies, it's not the worst way to go about it.

In the piles of uninspiring narratives, however, Vera and a member of group checking the perimeter of Kansas City, Joseph, break the curve by combining brevity with thoroughness. Dean concentrates on theirs, marking cryptic one line references to other missions, the history of the occasional skirmishes at the borders stuffed into only a few words, and when he puts those together with the little he's picked up around the camp, he thinks he gets the other reason Cas is taking a minimal approach to instruction. The lack of supernatural activity--all of it--is worrying him, and not just because it might mean that Lucifer is preparing to march on earth with his full army of whatever will fight for him. Reading between the lines--and especially the pages that have been folded back numerous times, ink slightly blurred from fingers that aren't Dean's or the writer's--Cas is beginning to wonder if it's because of Lucifer at all.

It's a chilling thought. Like maybe Lucifer's not taking advantage of his victory because there's something else out there that's keeping him safely in Hell and out of its way.

All the more reason to be there for the evening patrol report, Dean thinks philosophically. He really doesn't to miss this.

An hour before dusk, the night patrol straggles toward Cas's cabin trying to look enthusiastic and ready for duty when they're already resigned to a night of being bored out of their minds followed by a writing an essay about it. Thinking about it, that might explain the creative license being taken to the most recent reports that are starting to resemble the beginnings of a mediocre survivalist novel.

Dean's flawless timing assures he arrives in time to ignore Cas's alarmed look and settle himself in the kitchen to watch how Cas, formerly of the Lord (and most recently of the Junkies), exercises his people skills.

It's just as amazing and weird as he expected.

Cas's entire strategy seems to entail everyone else talking as much as possible while looking interested--or trying, anyway--and answering questions if they occur--which is not often. That Cas doesn't know what he's doing isn't nearly as obvious as it should be, which Dean puts up to the fact that anyone who looks that utterly serious can generally get away with almost anything.

It's the same group from yesterday, which reminds him to find out what kind of schedule Chitaqua has for patrol, but makes it a lot easier to put names to faces and get a decent idea of the kind of people Cas is dealing with.

Vera takes up valuable wall space to give Cas the best performance of respectful attention he's ever seen, but he gets the impression it's also genuine; of all four members of this patrol group, she's the only one who seems to have some idea that something else is driving Cas, even if she's doesn't know what or why.

Phil--short, brown-haired, and terrifyingly focused on every move Cas makes--begins a soliloquy not unlike his reports: long, boring, and way too interested in what his team members should be doing in a unsettling amount of detail (fifty-six potholes, recited in order of size and severity; seriously?).

The tall blonde behind Phil, Amanda--or at least, she turned around when Vera said that name when they came in--doesn't say anything, but like Vera, she's weaponized listening, and despite the fact she's ungodly hot, Cas noticeably avoids looking in her direction, which isn't easy considering she towers over Phil. Dean can't prove it on two days of observation, but he doesn't think it's an accident that she keeps a wall at her back and a line of retreat to the door at all times.

The fourth member, a tall guy with stringy black hair who's natural position seems to be a disconsolate slump, hangs back with the sulkiest expression Dean's seen since Sam, age eight and denied permission to go to the State Fair because they were moving on the next day. By process of elimination using last night's reports, Dean figures this must be Sidney, who's only claim to fame so far is that when he's not staring resentfully at the floor, he's doing it to Cas, who ignores it so completely that Sidney looks about two seconds from doing something incredibly stupid.

Someone, Dean thinks, isn't happy with the current situation, and that someone is wearing a miniature armory and looks like he knows how to use it. Despite himself, he moves to hover in the kitchen doorway, watching Sidney until he finally gets back to making the floor the object of his discontent. Sure, Cas is a dick, but Sidney gets no points for acting like doing his goddamn job is a waste of his time, and looking like that at anyone who's technically on his side isn't cool by any stretch of the imagination.

Vera, who seems to be this night's patrol leader, is the last to report, succinct in summarizing the events of the night before, much to Cas's almost-visible relief. Before he can relax, however, she straightens from her slouch against the wall. "Cas?"

Cas's eyes flicker to her with a hint of uneasiness. "Yes?"

"Chuck's wanted me to ask you about the supply sitch," she says, cocking her head. From Cas's expression, that isn't the question he expected. "We're about three weeks from this being a problem, and he's pretty worried about the--"

"Tell him to explore the myriad uses of leaves," Castiel snaps before closing his eyes in a visible effort to stop himself and completely missing Vera's here-and-gone smirk, Amanda finding the far wall really interesting, and Phil's glare--Sidney, no surprise, doesn't react at all. "I'll speak to him. Is there anything else?"

Vera shrugs, straightening the rifle at her back unnecessarily. "That's it."

"Then we're done today. Please report anything unusual immediately." At Phil's hesitation, an unexpected note of command creeps into his voice, the kind he used to use when talking about anything from the Lord's work to the bitter reality of the limits inherent in cell phone plans. "I expect your reports in twenty four hours."

Dean waits long enough for the patrol to vanish out the door and out of sight, Vera in the rear, before he abandons the kitchen, ignoring Cas's steady stare of accusation to drop on the couch and pick up the latest reports.

"It's not like they even knew I was there."

"I don't know what you found so amusing," he answers flatly, which makes Dean grin at him before flipping to Vera's latest report for a sneak peak of future events. They're getting more acidic every time, and remembering that conversation he overheard, he's getting the impression that every one of these is a continuation of that argument. He just wishes he knew what exactly she had in mind that she was willing to risk the border guards, who was important enough to contact about Dean's disappearance.

"You wouldn't."

Joe's team isn't due until tomorrow morning from their check around Kansas City with strict instructions to not enter for any reason, so he's saving Vera's for last, since it's gonna be the only interesting reading and motivate him to get through the rest. Phil's is beginning to have some worrisome asides about the moon and its allure and beauty, which is weird since he has yet to see a break in the constantly overcast sky. Dean's not sure where that's going, but it's definitely going somewhere.

"If it wouldn't be too difficult for you, try to avoid requiring the sigils to compensate for your lack of control," Cas answers tersely. "Not to mention hysterical laughter is annoying."

"What do they do again?" Dean asks curiously. "You said I'm not invisible or anything--"

"You're not, technically speaking." Cas looks around the room with an irritated frown, as if searching for something. "When someone sees you, they are--convinced, I suppose--that nothing is there. Humans," he adds, falling into the voice of angelic superiority specifically to irritate Dean, "are trained from childhood to trust their perceptions. The dichotomy is enough to make them avoid the source of that mental dissonance, and they forget it."

"Who are you going to believe, magic or your own eyes?" Dean says with a smirk. "Nice."

"It's not as effective," Cas says slowly, and kind of like maybe he's talking between his teeth, "if it must combat two of their senses at once."

"So sex is probably out of the question," he answers flippantly before he thinks better of it, and right, he had to go there, didn't he?

Cas's head snaps up. "Personally, I would enjoy the novelty." There's a genuine note of bitterness somewhere in there, though, and Dean has just enough time to wonder where the hell that came from before he adds, "Your disappointment in my activities is, as always, crushing."

Whoa, didn't see that coming. "You gotta know that you aren't doing anything I haven't--that he probably hadn't done," Dean answers a little desperately, wondering in existential horror what the fuck he'd become. Bed hopping with an entire connection speech is a-okay, but getting it on with a dozen people is like, wrong? Cas raises a mocking eyebrow, and Dean grudgingly adds, "Or seriously thought about."

Cas's expression doesn't change, and Dean wonders if this is the middle of an entirely different conversation, and for that matter, not with the current Dean Winchester.

"I apologize," Cas says abruptly, looking away. "I haven't been sleeping well. Or at all, really."

Disarmed, he swallows. "I get being around me is--" he forces himself to keep going, "--a problem for you, but if me being here every night is fucking with you like this, I can stay at Dean's cabin."

Even saying it makes him faintly nauseous. It's bad enough to be there during the day, but most of the time, he can distract himself from the fact he's more or less a ghost in his own dead self's cabin. At night….

"No." Cas doesn't glance at the sigils on the doorway, but Dean remembers what he said that night, habitation rules are ridiculous. He still has no idea what that means exactly and a glance through Cas's books haven't given him much to work with. Establishing domicile he gets, but why it has to be here, specifically, he doesn't. "In any case, whether or not we're in the same place has no effect on the fact you're a problem."

Dean doesn't wince; it's all he's got, but he'll take it.

"However, you can absolve yourself of any responsibility for how well I sleep," Cas adds, looking surprised by what he's saying. "That has nothing to do with you. I'm becoming accustomed to your presence."

"Thanks," Dean tells him, startled. "Glad to hear it."

Cas seems to accept that, padding through the open bedroom door toward the bathroom, one hand rubbing absently at the back of his neck, and Dean sees a flash of dark red edged in the beginnings of purple where his collar pulls down, an outline that is not at all unlike teeth, and wonders all over again when the fuck Cas sleeps. When he comes out again, for an unguarded minute Dean can see the exhaustion underneath the brittle calm, which goes to show responsibility and hedonism just don't mix, especially with the schedule Cas is doggedly keeping to like it's his last hope of sanity. This may be the first documented case of sex actually adding to someone's stress level, Dean reflects depressingly. He hadn't even known that was possible.

"If it helps," he offers when Cas rubs his eyes tiredly, "you're doing the leader thing okay."

"You're a terrible liar." Cas glances at him with a flickering smile that he thinks may actually be genuine. "I now appreciate Dean's restraint during meetings when I was sober enough to provide commentary and he was fully armed."

"If I see you start to draw on one of them, I'll stop you," Dean assures him. After a second of thought, he adds, "And I wasn't lying. I don't like you that much. You're doing okay."

Cas pauses. "Thank you."

"What's Sidney's problem anyway?" he asks before he can think better of it. Cas looks at him blankly, but Dean doesn't think he didn't understand the question. "Just curious."

"His team leader was among those who died in Kansas City," Cas answers too casually. "It's stressful for everyone right now--"

"Because Dean's not here or because you're in charge?" he asks deliberately, watching Cas's face carefully. "Gonna go out on a limb and say it's you."

Cas raises his eyebrows in exaggerated surprise. "That bothers you?"

"Yeah," he answers honestly. "I mean, above and beyond you're the only person who even knows I'm here, it'd be shitty to show up and find someone shot you in the back for the glory and the dream of running a camp low on toilet paper."

"They wouldn't--"

Cas catches himself a moment too late, and Dean goes still. "'They'?"

"It's not important," Cas says dismissively on his way to the kitchen. "But I appreciate your concern. That's what you say when people tell you things you don't care about and you want them to stop, correct?"

Dean reminds himself firmly that he's not here to fight, though it's starting to feel inevitable whenever they're in the same given space "Fine, but you might think about finding something to keep everyone occupied and not considering mutiny. I get why you don’t want them in any of the cities right now…."

Holding an unmarked bottle, Cas stops in the kitchen doorway. "You do."

It's not a question, but Dean treats it like one anyway, since he's kind of tired of guessing and Cas may just give him some answers.

"The military," he answers casually "Chitaqua had a deal with them. So Dean wouldn't be shot on sight or arrested or whatever? You worked with them."

Crossing the room, Cas tugs a second bottle from somewhere, dropping it into Dean's lap. Kicking the coffee table back a few feet from the couch, he sits down, giving him the entirety of his attention. "Keep going."

"You're worried that if anyone runs into someone from the military, they may want to talk, and patrol may ask them how the search for Dean's going," he says, picking up the bottle and trying not to react to that much undiluted attention focused on him all at once. "What is--"

"Beer, Joseph has a useful hobby," Cas interrupts. "What search for Dean?"

"The one you told them the military was doing," he answers as he twists off the lid, taking a wary drink and fighting not to moan. Joe's got a gift. "I'm guessing that's the reason everyone here isn't wondering why they aren't spending every moment searching for him themselves."

"Dean's standing order was not to search for him should he go missing--"

"Which I'm guessing by this time, everyone would start ignoring," Dean finishes for him. "You needed to make sure they wouldn't go looking anyway."

To his surprise, Cas smiles at him, some invisible tension easing, and it hits him how alone Cas is right now. End of the world, his leader dead, hiding Dean, doing a job he doesn't know and hates, and lying to everyone about pretty much everything because the alternative is worse. Thinking of Sidney, of Cas's aborted 'they', he adds in 'may be in danger of being killed' and has to admit he'd be drinking like a lifestyle choice by now.

"You're correct," Cas says, taking a drink from his own beer before studying Dean thoughtfully. "You saw the MREs in supply? You haven't been to the armory yet--"

"There's an armory?" Dean asks, trying not to sound too eager and from Cas's expression, failing badly. "Where?"

"I'll leave you the keys in the morning," Cas answers, smile widening, before he continues. "Soon after Kansas was quarantined and the military units arrived, Dean was able to negotiate a deal with them. We received supplies and information, and they had our help patrolling the cities and eliminating those infected with Croatoan."

"So they'd look for him."

"They liked him a great deal," Cas answers, taking another drink before Dean can identify the here-and-gone flicker of something on his face. "The team leaders were the only other ones who had contact with them, but I couldn't risk that patrol might take it on themselves to speak to the first person in a uniform they saw."

Dean nods. "How long do you think you can keep it up?"

"When I told them that, I didn't think we were going to survive long enough for it to become an issue," Cas admits, looking annoyed with the continued existence of the world. "As that seems to be in perpetual delay, however…."

"And Kansas City is where you think Lucifer will start when he comes back." Cas's startled expression tells him he got it in one. "Lucifer would like the entire ending the Apocalypse thing to start in the place he killed the only person who could stop it, not really a surprise."

"Yes." Cas's mouth quirks. "Archangels are prone to bouts of melodrama. When his army arrives, it will be, if possible, literally on the ashes of Dean's body." There's a long pause before he murmurs, in a voice Dean doesn't recognize, "He can be surprisingly predictable."

"So you need something for them to do," Dean says, cocking his head. "Preferably something that keeps them busy and not fomenting rebellion when you turn your back. Which gotta say, when it comes to Sidney, don't turn your back. Just a suggestion."

Cas's smile fades, but this time, he doesn't blow it off. "Being deposed wouldn't necessarily be unwelcome."

"Yeah, if you survived it, but I'm guessing there's a reason you haven't quit yet," Dean answers, meeting Cas's eyes. "You said no one else would do the job, but what you meant was too many people wanted it, right?"

"With both Dean and the team leaders gone, there was no clear line of succession," Cas answers, turning his bottle absently. "I'm not sure what would have happened if I hadn't accepted, but it wouldn't be an improvement, even by my standards."

"There's something you're not telling me."

Cas rolls his eyes before taking a drink. "That list is very long, Dean. I appreciate your concern--"

"But you don't care," Dean finishes for him, not hiding his frustration, and Cas pauses, bottle half-way to his lips. "Tell me another one. Something makes it worth getting up every morning, and it's not the orgies."

"They are fun." Cas puts down the bottle, subjecting him to a searching look before saying, "You read the reports today? They aren't particularly stimulating reading, which is possibly the only thing that is at all interesting about them."

"Nothing's happening," Dean agrees reluctantly. "On a guess, the current peacetime is weird."

"Even minus an apocalypse, I would call it unprecedented in human history," Cas replies. "However, the explanation for this seems to be that there is nothing within a fifty mile radius of this camp that might be a danger to us." Before he can absorb that, Cas adds, "In fact, I suspect that may also include most forms of wildlife, unless patrol is editing itself when it comes to fauna while waxing lyrical on every other conceivable subject."

"The animals are gone?" He has to have heard that wrong.

"Or hiding extremely well, yes."

Dean mentally reviews the reports with a sinking feeling and realizes Cas is right. Phil, at least, would have used a sighting for at least two pages of material. "How'd I miss that?"

"Generally, it's more difficult to notice what's absent, rather than what's there," Cas answers, taking another drink.

"You saw it." Cas shrugs, not looking at him, and Dean files that away for later thought. "What about the rest of the state? If it's just here or--"

"I thought about that," Cas says, sounding annoyed. "But I don't--I may not have been clear enough on this point, but I don't actually know what I'm doing. Patrol, at least, I had experience with from observation, but this…."

"Think of it a long patrol," Dean says encouragingly. "You said everyone here can fight?" Cas nods in surprise. "So get everyone split up into teams--you always do four people or that just patrol?"

"Yes," Cas answers, setting the bottle aside. "That's how they were trained."

Interesting, and something he's gonna follow up one day. Tipping his head back, he tries to think what they've got to work with realistically. Mobilize everyone not needed to keep them in working plumbing and food, split up the state, and send them out for a fast and dirty check of what's going on. The reports will be unreal after over a week under Cas's paper fist, but they'll also be thorough as hell. Straightening, he looks at the kitchen table; he needs a map, like, now.

"You could…." He trails off belatedly when he realizes Cas is watching him. "Uh, not that I--uh, know how this works." He already knows he's gonna regret this, but he says it anyway. "I could help you figure it out, if you want."

Cas gets to his feet and goes to the kitchen before Dean's got the last word out, getting the stack of maps by shoving everything else to the floor and then ducking under the table briefly before returning to the living room . Dumping a second bottle in Dean's lap, Cas kneels to spread one out on the scratched surface of the coffee table--he tries to remember if he'd always had one of those or if it's a new for no particular reason--anchoring it with a bong (used recently, he notes in private amusement) and an empty bottle fished from under the couch. Unearthing a broken pencil, he makes a mark on the map.

"We're here. This is the local patrol route," drawing a circle so perfect it's gotta be some kind of leftover angelic power. "Dean designed our patrols to protect the camp and to assist the military in containment of the major cities and on the border."

Dean's head jerks up. "Wait, the borders? Keeping people in?"

"Keeping Croatoan from getting out of--or into--the state once we'd successfully isolated them in the cities," Cas answers. "Dean's agreement with them was to handle the supernatural threat, nothing more."

In the spirit of retaining his own sanity, he decides to believe it. "That's it?"

"Yes." Cas continues outlining the patrol routes, and Dean watches as Kansas City, Overland Park, Olathe, Topeka, and then Wichita get their own circles before adding the eastern border and sitting back. "With the additional requirement that any demon discovered was ours, no questions asked." He shrugs, indifferent to demon-torture in exchange for services rendered. "The army units assigned to the major cities quickly discovered they were fighting more than human monsters, and their training was often not sufficient to deal with it. That's part of the reason Dean's help was accepted."

Dean studies at the map, the cluster of circles in the east with a single exception for Wichita in the south, eyes travelling over the uncircled vastness west of Topeka. If the military was having problems handling the reality of every fairy tale they ever heard, the civilians couldn't be doing much better, but then it hits him: infected state. Croatoan spreads fast, he thinks numbly; quarantined to avoid the spread of infection, the people who lived here had been acceptable casualties. After this long….

"That's everything I remember." Blinking, he takes the pencil Cas offers him, wondering what he's supposed to do with it when Cas glances expectantly at the map and then at him again. "What do you have in mind?"

Dean stares at Cas blankly. "What?"

"Currently there are sixty-five members of Chitaqua still alive," Cas says, apparently interpreting that as a request for more information about their resources. "Eight are needed for local patrol, eight for watch, and Chuck should be excluded from consideration as he handles our supplies, of course--"

"Wait, Chuck can fight?"

Cas raises an eyebrow. "Yes."

Until this moment, Dean entertained the vague hope that he was actually in a shitty dream after too much Jack or something, but that's blown out of the water. Apocalypse, sure, random fucking time travel, fine, but Chuck able to pick up a gun--and know how to use it--isn't the stuff that even his brain would be able to come up with.

"Dean taught him," Cas adds straight-faced, but the blue eyes are suddenly animated, a glimmer of someone else lurking in their depths: not so bitter, not so jaded, not so goddamn angry that it burned out everything else. Someone Dean wouldn't mind meeting, maybe.

"Oh." Still clutching Cas's pencil, he stares down at the map, trying to figure out what he's supposed to be doing here. He's read enough of this Dean's journal to be painfully aware of how much he doesn't know; it's not just the history he's missing, but what this Dean learned how to do. Reminding himself of what this Dean became and how it ended doesn't change the fact that while they both began as hunters, this man became so much more than that, and was really fucking good at it.

It's gotta be the idea of Chuck fighting or something, he thinks bitterly; there's no fucking way he's feeling inferior to a fatalistic dick who tortured demons and turned his own lieutenants into bait for a chance to fail at killing Lucifer. Willing bait, willing to die just because he told them to. Because they believed in him.

"How many other people do you need--minimum--in the camp to keep it running other than watch and local?" Dean asks a little desperately, and then realizes that's actually a good question. "Mess, laundry…whatever."

Cas hesitates. "Five?"

"I like it," Dean says firmly. "Supplies: give 'em those MREs. How long are you willing to let them be out of the camp?" He really wishes right now that the cell towers weren't a casualty of isolation; they could really use some phones. Tentatively, he starts at Chitaqua, mentally dividing up the state into something vaguely possible, then starts to sketch potential routes. "Five days work for you?"

Cas hesitates, eyes following Dean's penciled lines uncertainly. "I don't know how much time they'll need to be thorough. If it can be done in five days--"

"We can't be thorough in less than a month and a shitload more people, but five days will give us an idea." He pauses, tapping his pencil on the map when Cas doesn't answer. "Cas?"

"How long do you need--"

"We can finish this tonight," Dean answers, meeting Cas's eyes. "Everyone doing overnights are back tonight, right? They can all leave tomorrow morning." Cas nods slowly as he stares down at the map, but Dean's pretty sure what he's seeing right now isn't anywhere in this room. "You mind if I stick around when you give them their orders?"

That gets his attention, startled blue eyes meeting Dean's, wide and relieved and grateful, there and gone in an instant like a flash of lightning across a clear sky and leaving nothing but a retinal burn to prove it was there at all.

"Not at all," Cas says, looking down at the map again, and Dean swallows, wishing desperately he didn't see that look; he thinks he might like to get to know the guy who made it.

Map of the World, 3/11


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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.
-- Tweeted by JRDSkinner

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