Title: Map of the World, 3/11
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, Chapter 3
DW - Chapter 1, Chapter 2

--Day 17--

"Not one animal," Dean says again, just to make sure he's not missing something, like hell, sanity.

Sorting through the reports they've received so far--the south and west haven't checked in yet, but it's still a couple of hours until dusk--he tries to put this in some kind of perspective.

"Not even squirrels? Or--" he struggles to remember what kind of animals should be around and fails; his source of food has always come with a side of barbecue sauce or ketchup its natural hamburger form. Chitaqua, on the other hand, has actually hunted when supplies run low, and since they aren't getting army surplus right now, things are gonna get sketchy pretty goddamn soon even with the MREs. "Okay, start over; how the hell long has this been going on and how the hell didn't anyone notice?"

"I don't know," Cas answers flatly, scanning another report. "The last few months have been devoted to tracking Lucifer, which left very little time for taking note of the flora and fauna. In regard to supplies: Chuck would report to Dean when something was needed, and Dean would assign someone to do something about it."


Cas closes his eyes, and he wonders idly if he's counting to ten. "I don't know what he did. I didn't pay attention because I didn't care, satisfied?"

"I didn't mean…" He blows out a breath, wondering if it would help to remind Cas that his experience with food involves a waitress or a drive-through, because nothing can beat spending a night playing competitive inadequacy. Looking down at the map, he traces the routes the teams took across the state and reminds himself that five days in a very few places is barely a sampling, and there's an entire fucking state out there.

And they just happened to be in all the places there weren't any animals.

"Kat reported seeing several towns that seemed to be occupied," Cas says, a thread of uncertainty in his voice as he finishes scanning the page. "She considered stopping to inquire on the status of their livestock, but she wasn't certain how they would react to armed strangers in SUVs questioning them about their supplies."

Yeah, there's no way that can't end in disaster. "Right. So--"

"Of course, it wouldn't be particularly enlightening," Cas continues, frowning at the reports. "The selective breeding that led to the creation of domesticated animals changes how they perceive their environment."

"I have no idea what that means," Dean admits after a moment.

"I don't either." Throwing down the report, Cas stares at it, and Dean wonders uneasily if 'smite' might be an angelic leftover and if the coffee table is gonna be the sacrificed to discover it. Getting to his feet, Cas starts his pacing thing, making the already incredibly small room feel even smaller, as if it's barely able to contain him. "This isn't telling us anything but squirrel won't be a menu item in the near future."

Dean opens his mouth--squirrel?--and then realizes that actually, he doesn't want to know.

"It's telling us that not only are the monsters are laying low, we got missing animals." Dean slumps as he hears the words he's actually saying. "This doesn't make sense."

"None of it makes sense," Cas says brittlely.

Dean kind of wants to just agree and be done with it, but he has the feeling that he and Cas may be approaching the end of their mutual unspoken denial of one really big possibility. "Cas--"

"There is no way to verify when they left," Cas continues irritably, taking the lack of wildlife like some kind of weird personal insult, "but since it's been some time since we--"

"Cas," he says more loudly, resting his chin on the arm slung across the back of the kitchen chair he dragged into the living room. Cas's mouth shuts as he stops mid-pace to give Dean a wary look. "We gonna keep pretending nothing's happened recently here that might, you know, be related to this?"

"I don't see how Lucifer winning the Apocalypse would cause--"

"Yeah, except we don't know what happens when he wins," Dean interrupts before Cas can really get going. "Maybe, I don't know, the animals sensed something."

It sounds stupid enough when he says it, but Cas's expression doesn't help.

"It seems I haven't been clear," Cas answers, glaring at him. "The wildlife fleeing in abject terror would be the only logical response to Lucifer's victory, but generally they would only discover this when there something to actually flee from."

"So they wouldn't have felt something that night--"

"No," Cas says slowly. "They're animals. They can't sense the end of the world."

He really hates when Cas has a point.

"As for the lack of supernatural enemies, most of what we fought would have had no reason to leave," Cas continues with rising aggravation, like the Apocalypse is just fucking with him now. "They were waiting for the moment of Lucifer's triumph, and at least some of them would have known when the Apocalypse was over."

"What if it wasn't over?" Cas stops short, and yeah, time to talk about it. "Cas, how would they have known if it was? Radio, TV, natural disaster, what?"

"Cosmic events tend to be very noticeable," Cas answers, which doesn't tell him much. "Even a human with the most rudimentary psychic ability would have sensed something like this."

"Chuck's a prophet," he points out. "Why didn't he sense it, write a novel about it, whatever? I mean, he still buys the Dean's missing thing."

"Prophecy is divine," Cas answers dismissively. "Chuck's last prophecy was of the Host leaving; after they left, he said there was nothing there."

"The Host didn't make Chuck a prophet," Dean says slowly. "Whether they're here doesn't matter."

Cas snorts softly. "My Father has--using a human expression--left the building."

Elvis references aside, Dean can't really argue that one, since hey, how would he know? "Okay, but what about you? You sensed it, right? Cosmic event and everything."

"I Fell," Cas says automatically, but the blue eyes flicker away, fixing in the general direction of the window. "I didn't feel anything that night other than the moment of Dean's death." The blue eyes narrow on Dean again. "Then I was distracted."

"Cosmic fucking events are pretty distracting. You didn't feel anything, did you?" Cas tenses, but honestly, Dean doesn't actually need him to answer; looking at him is all the answer he needs. "Why the hell didn't you say something?"

"Because it doesn't mean anything!" Cas answers hotly, turning on Dean with something so far beyond anger he's not sure there's a word for it. "I Fell, Dean; all this proves is how much I've been diminished since I was imprisoned in this form!" Looking away, he closes his eyes, adding bitterly, "As if every second of this existence is not reminder enough."

Dean fights down the urge to tell Cas to get the fuck over himself; they really don't have time for this right now. "Cas, I get it, but right now? I don't know if you noticed, but you've got a lot of people depending on you and it's been, what, two weeks since--"

"It's been sixteen days since Dean died."

Dean takes a breath, dialing back his frustration with an effort. It's easy to forget that Cas is grieving, probably because Cas works pretty hard at hiding it. "Sixteen days since the world was supposed to end," he says evenly. "I can do the math in how long that is in Hell, and come on. Either Lucifer's slacking at world conquest or--I don't know, maybe Dean dying wasn't the--"

Cas's head snaps around. "It was."

"Look," he says, groping after what remains of his patience, "prophecy's been wrong before, so what if it wasn't--"

"Dean, in this single instance, prophecy was extremely straightforward," Cas interrupts. "Looking at you is all that is required to know what you are."

Abruptly, Cas meets his eyes, and Dean stills, breath caught in his chest at a glimpse of something vast and impossible; it's like drowning in the frozen depths of an infinite ocean.

Even when Cas was still an angel, it wasn't like this. Otherworldly, awkward, that slightest bit off, weird, sure, but unless he was doing something particularly impossible, it was background noise, barely worth a second look; God knows, he's met people who were worse at being human, and they didn't even have the excuse of not actually being one.

Looking at him now, Dean can't imagine how anyone, anywhere, could mistake Cas for anything but what he is.

"The world has never ended before," Cas is saying as he turns away, leaving Dean blinking at the bare walls of the cabin. "No one knows what happens next."

Feeling unsettled, he glances at the map on the coffee table and says the first thing that comes into his head. "We need to go back to Kansas City."

"No." Looking up, he takes in the slumping junkie almost swimming in a dingy khaki shirt and jeans at least two sizes too big, dark circled, red-rimmed eyes, and tries to see nothing else; he can't. It's like seeing one of those goddamn posters with the hidden picture; once you see it, you can't stop. "When Lucifer rises, it will be there."

"When he rises, we're dead either way. It's not like distance will make any difference, only how much time it takes him to break through the wards." Cas doesn't respond. "Look, if nothing else, Dean's ashes are still there, along with the bodies of the team leaders If they haven't been taken already--"

"Everyone in Chitaqua has protection from the possibility of possession," Cas interrupts, but to Dean's surprise, he hesitates before nodding reluctantly. "They were hunters, however. We should retrieve their bodies so they can be given a clean burning here."

"Yeah," he agrees warily; of all the arguments he could have made for going back, he wouldn't have called that one as one that worked. "So let's go get them." He stands up, swinging off the chair and trying to decide where he can get some weapons without anyone noticing. "Dean's ashes, too. Even burned and salted--"

"The body wasn't salted."

He stops short, staring at Cas. "What?"

"I didn't go there expecting to survive." Cas rubs his palm against his thigh before stopping himself. "This is Dean Winchester. Whatever your differences, neither of you would allow yourself to remain a poltergeist on earth."

"And both of us wanted a fucking salt and burn at death. You knew him well enough to know that."

"Even with the ashes," Cas continues distractedly, "he couldn't possibly resurrect him and has no reason to do so. His defiance of our Father severed him from being able to control life or death."

Dean blinks, feeling something in his stomach drop. "What?"

Cas's head jerks up in belated surprise, eyes wide.

"Lucifer--" Words are hard. "Can Lucifer--I mean…"

"Can't, no, and in retrospect, I should have realized you wouldn't think of that."

"Someone can be resurrected from ashes?"

"The state of the corporeal body has no bearing on resurrection," Cas answers, making a special effort to make it sound like everyone knows that; it's almost reassuring. "Remaking the flesh is simple; joining it to a human soul and giving it life is not." His eyes fix on Dean, filled with something he can't begin to define. "You can't understand, of course. You can create life easily; it is part of your birthright, given the gift of Creation to use as you will. It burns in you so brightly, our Father's greatest creation; it's always drawn us to you."

"Not all of you," Dean manages, unable to look away.

"All of us. To be denied that….love doesn't mean you cannot learn to hate what you are forbidden to touch, only watch." Cas seems to shake himself, frowning. "In any case, in the absence of the Host, there's no one left in this world with the power of resurrection."

Licking his lips, he nods; there probably will never be another time to ask this. "What about you?"

"I Fell," Cas answers almost by rote. "That ability is--"

"Yeah, the mojo's gone, I get that," he interrupts. "But you're not human, either."

Probably the wrong thing to say; Cas gives him a flat look, daring him to keep up this line of thought, but he's never backed down from a dare yet, even a stupid one. Especially a stupid one.

"Look, you still knew just looking at me I was from another time, even when, and I'm pretty sure that's only standard when it comes to angels." Frustrated, he tries again. "Okay, just for the hell of it, tell me this--if you had Grace, could you do it? I mean, is that all that's missing? Is this like healing, it comes from the Host or Heaven or whatever?"

Cas blinks, eyes distant for a long moment, and Dean wonders if at any time since he Fell had he thought any farther than what he'd lost. "Resurrection comes from my Father. The Host has no power to give it or take it away. I think."

Dean thinks briefly of the Host resurrecting Adam as Michael's vessel. "You think? So you don't know?"

"I think," Cas answers tightly, "that the only reason I wasn't killed before the Host left was that I had no useful skills when it came to stopping Lucifer. Resurrection would have been useful. You see where this is going?"

The Host weren't all that bright if they thought mojo was the only thing that made Cas dangerous. "Why did Lucifer burn his body?"

"He thought he could claim Dean's soul, and he found it amusing to make me watch."

The expression on Cas's face, however, kind of implies there's more to it. "What else happened?"


"You were gone for a while." There's a hunted look on Cas's face now. "What else did he do? Why'd he let you go, Cas?"

For a few long moments, Dean's not sure Cas is going to answer, but then he slowly takes a seat on the couch, not looking at Dean. "He was going to kill me."

"Right. But he didn't."

"In battle, he would have, but--" Cas makes a face. "Given the choice, however, he'd spare my life."

"Because he's your Brother." He thinks of the Host and winces; family has a whole different context when it comes to angels.

Cas's mouth twitches, but something in his expression tells Dean it's not from amusement. "He can be very predictable," he murmurs before looking at Dean thoughtfully. "I didn't expect that or I wouldn't have risked going there and left you alone. I didn't have a great deal of time to think."

Dean cocks his head. "What happened?"

"He made me an offer."

"He tried to deal. With you. You're kidding." God, he wishes he could have seen Lucifer's face when Cas turned him down. "Did you tell him to fuck himself before or after you said no? You used those words, didn't you?" Cas blinks slowly, and Dean's subject again to that searching regard. "What? Dude, it's something you'd do. Probably while he was giving you that Grace burn."

"You--" He stops, still staring at him in surprise. "Lucifer is very proud, and refusal tends to--bother him. Once I refused, killing me would be admitting he lost. In this case, there's no urgent reason for my death; I'm not a threat to him, so he can afford to indulge his hurt pride and try to wait me out."

Dean's gotta admit, he didn't think Lucifer was that stupid; the more you know. "Oh yeah, you're a puppy, no threat there." Cas's eyebrows draw together in bewilderment. "Never mind, just saying, it's gonna be a hell of a long wait."

Cas starts to answer before he seems to change his mind. "It was a stupid risk to take, going back. I just--" He wets his lips, looking uncomfortable. "He can be petty, perhaps even especially in victory; it confirms every slight against him was unjust and demand recompense. I didn't know--what he might do to Dean's body."

Dean pauses, startled. It never occurred to him that Cas--of all people--would think like that. "Oh." Yeah, this is uncomfortable. "What did he offer anyway? Power in Hell, all the kingdoms of the world--" Cas bites his lip, and Dean takes a moment to wonder if Lucifer ever met Cas. "You were Jesus on the mountain?"

"Almost the exact words," Cas admits, and this time, yeah, amusement. "In his defense, while it's never worked before, there's a first time for everything."

"That's not a defense."

"This might be," Cas says, looking eerily thoughtful. "Lucifer only reigns in Hell; he doesn't rule it."

Somehow, he's getting this: pride. "So he kills you and sends you to Hell now after you refuse a deal--"

"There's a reason that angels are killed if they won't bend the knee to him. The rulers of Hell are angels, Dean. To put an angel to the rack before all of Hell as if it were a human soul would be a degradation of what we are. For Lucifer to kill an angel is his right, but--

"Pride," Dean finishes for him, rolling his eyes. "Anything's better than being treated like a human."

"There are disadvantages to making your platform how far humans are beneath us and then building a kingdom on it," Cas agrees maliciously. "Even if Lucifer could gird himself to do it--to see an angel so reduced, in his view--the obedience of angels in Hell isn't love; it's fear. And fear is notoriously unstable to maintain in balance. None of my Brothers would see me on the rack when he did it; they'd see themselves."

"He could wipe out all of Hell."

"If we could only be so lucky," Cas murmurs, smiling slowly, and Dean feels himself smile back. "Power is less than useless without understanding its limitations. I doubt the Cage has improved his ability to general, and Hell isn't nothing like it was when he was locked away. Two, three dozen millennia from now, he might even remember earth between the bouts of fighting."

"So I won't hold my breath."

The blue eyes light up for a moment in memory, and Dean takes in his expression, startled. While he spent thirty years on the rack and ten putting other people on it, Cas was fighting his way across Hell to find him. He knows, because Cas told him, that few of the angels who entered Hell survived it, but he never thought about what that meant. Dean didn't come out the same as he went in, but until this moment, it didn't occurred to him that the Cas that left Hell with him wasn't the same one who went in there, either.

"You're correct, however, regarding Dean's ashes," Cas says abruptly. "And the bodies of the team leaders."

"Yeah," Dean says quickly, hearing the faint edge in his voice. "So when do we leave?"

Cas stiffens. "Dean--"

"I'm going, unless you want to take the morphine solution. You're not going alone."

Cas actually looks a little uncomfortable at the reminder. "Of course not. I don't know why I assumed you would embrace common sense at this late date." The blue eyes flicker to Dean, cool and chillingly focused. "I suppose reminding you of the danger you pose to everyone here should you be seen by any being who knows you should be dead is pointless."

Dean flinches at the sudden, ice-edged shot. He'd forgotten--Jesus, how?--that he and Cas aren't actually friends.

"As you're adamant, it would be prudent to bring someone I can trust as well."

Dean nods mutely at the deliberate hit, feeling more alone than he had even those first hellish days here.

"Give me half an hour," Cas says coolly as he turns toward the door. "Wait in the bedroom until I return." He stops at the doorway to give Dean an impersonal glance, eyes resting on his shoulder, where the sleeve hides the fading remains of the sigils. "Having to redraw the sigils is tedious and using ink on the surface of your skin makes them unstable, requiring you to constantly refresh the spell when it fades."

Dean realizes belatedly Cas is waiting for an answer. "You have a better idea?"

"Tattooing them would make it more stable and increase its strength," Cas answers with clinical detachment. "Once cast, the only thing that would remove it would be its counter, and only by the person who cast it. It would be safer."

Cas waits for him to respond, but this time, Dean can't answer, can't even think through an unexpected rush of horror, hand automatically covering the place where the sigils seem to suddenly burn.

With a slight frown at Dean's silence, Cas finally leaves with a rustle of beads, but it's several minutes before Dean can trust himself enough to move, making his way to the bedroom door and dropping onto the bed, shaking so hard he wonders if he'll ever be able to stop.

"Chuck?" Dean says blankly as Cas closes the bedroom door on Chuck's bewildered expression from his perch on the edge of the couch. "You're kidding."

"He met you before, so your existence won't be a surprise," Cas answers, looking more and more like he's regretting the lifestyle of the clean and sober, not to mention his continuing existence. "He was also a prophet and that comes with a certain amount of--knowledge, you might say, which will hopefully shorten how long we must endure the tedium of repeated explanations." He makes a face. "I wouldn't spread the knowledge of your existence to anyone else if there was a way to avoid it."

Sitting at the foot of the bed, Dean just manages to unclench his fingers from the blankets, stretching them surreptitiously. "Maybe once you do the tattoo, it'll be strong enough that he won't see me even if he knows I'm there. Out of sight out of mind, right?"

"That's what I was thinking," Cas says absently, glancing toward the door. "Though I doubt--"

"Would it work on you?" he blurts out, unable to stop himself. Cas's head snaps around, looking at him in bewilderment, like he has no idea what he's talking about. "I mean, if it's stronger--"

"There is nothing on this world powerful enough to conceal you from me," Cas says slowly, eyebrows drawing together. "Dean--"

"Right, former angel, sucks to be you, huh?" Dean shrugs stiffly, not really wanting to hear again how much it sucks to be Cas these days. "Okay, so we're doing this?"

"I'm doing this," Cas corrects him, but the frown doesn't fade. "It's not your responsibility."


"Don't argue with me," he interrupts, then closes his eyes. "I can anticipate what his initial reaction will be, and I won't make you endure it."

Startled, he wonders what the hell Cas thinks Chuck is gonna do.

"I don't think--" Cas shakes his head, glancing toward the door, and even barefoot, rumpled, and looking like he's been on a two year bender, Dean sees the angel who understood duty and what it meant; following it, after all, was the reason he Fell. "Stay here. I will inform you when you should--let him see you."

Dean nods. "I'll be ready."

Even through the muffling of the bedroom door, he gets a pretty good idea of how Chuck is taking it. Hearing the actual words isn't necessary; the tone comes through loud and clear.

When Cas opens the bedroom door again, Dean gets to his feet and follows him out, making himself look at Chuck even though that's pretty much the last thing he wants to do. He only gets a glimpse of searing horror and something even darker before Cas blocks his gaze; shaken, Dean blinks as something cold is placed in his hand.

"That's the key to the armory," Cas says quietly. "It's just behind Chuck's cabin. Choose whatever you feel comfortable using tonight."

"Oh." Cas turns away, glancing in Chuck's direction as he passes Dean on his way to the kitchen. Putting the key in his pocket, Dean looks at Chuck again, currently staring at the floor. "Uh. So--" What the hell do you say at a time like this? "Look--"

Chuck's shoulders drop for a second before he straightens, but he avoids looking directly at Dean. "Yeah, it's--weird."

Jesus, this is going to be a shitty night. "So I'm gonna go--"

"Go ahead," Cas says, leaning against the kitchen door way and looking at Chuck intently, which makes Chuck look down again, hands clenching on the edge of the couch. "Chuck will be fine."

Dean gets the feeling Cas wants him gone like, now. "Got it." Breathing the spell again, he feels it settle over him in a faint tingle. "Be right back."

"Take all the time you need." Glancing back, Dean sees Cas is still staring at Chuck, and what the hell. "We'll be ready when you return."

Castiel watches Chuck slump over when Dean is gone, hands coming up helplessly to cover his face.

"Don't make this more difficult than it already is," Castiel says softly, pushing off the doorway and crossing the room to crouch before Chuck. "Look at me."

Lifting his head reluctantly, Chuck wipes his eyes, gaze stubbornly fixed on the wall behind Castiel. "Fuck you. I can't just--"

"Threats tend to have a counterintuitive effect on Dean. They do, however, work very well on you. Possibly because unlike him, you know very well not only do I mean them, I'll carry them out. Do we understand each other?"

Chuck shivers, wrapping his arms around himself. "Dean's dead, Cas. How can you just--"

"I don't have a choice," he answers flatly, waiting patiently until Chuck finally looks at him. "I understand this is difficult for you, but you can control yourself for the few hours this will take us. After that--"

"What?" Chuck answers defensively before he slumps again. "I don't believe it. How can he be dead?"

It's an unanswerable question, so he ignores it.

"How--I mean, Lucifer, I get that, but--" He gestures as his voice trickles off, How long did Lucifer have him, what did he do to him before he died, was he--

"He broke his neck," Castiel tells him, and Chuck's face crumples. "He didn't suffer. Lucifer couldn't risk taking more time than necessary; he knew of Dean's ingenuity."

Chuck nods, rubbing his rapidly reddening eyes. "You're sure?"

"Yes," he answers. Dean told him what he saw, and five years with one Dean Winchester translates effortlessly to this one, who lacks even the most rudimentary of his counterpart's defenses. "I'm certain."

After a second, Chuck asks, "The team leaders. They all died?"

He hesitates as the brown eyes meet his. "Yes," he answers carefully. "I confirmed their deaths before I went to find Dean's body. We'll collect their bodies tonight as well."

Chuck wipes a shaking hand across his face, craning his neck to look at Castiel directly. "You were the only survivor, huh?"

Castiel nods shortly as he straightens, retrieving his boots from beside the door. When he turns around, he's surprised to see Chuck staring at him, eyes filled with resentment.

"You survived," Chuck repeats bitterly. "But it wasn't for us, right? It was him."

Castiel ignores him, sitting on the chair that Dean used earlier and concentrating on the inexplicably tangled laces.

"You know, it's not like everyone didn't pretty much know where Dean went, you'd go. That's why everyone believed that shit about him getting away. Even me." Chuck takes an audible breath like a strangled sob. "I mean, this is you, and who the fuck cares what happens to the rest of us, right, fuck humanity, Dean dying was your get out of life for free card."

Fumbling the boot, he looks at Chuck, who smiles unhappily. "I guess we gotta thank whatever brought this Dean over, huh? Must have pissed you off when--"


"Shut up!" Chuck shouts, face reddening. "You were here with him first; you got your ass kicked out of Heaven because you didn't toe the line; when the entire angel brigade fucked off, you stayed. Like maybe, some part of it was because you wanted us--wanted humanity, okay--to win. Like maybe you thought we could." Chuck wipes his eyes roughly. "At least we could pretend, you know? I mean, not that you made that easy to do--"

"Chuck, please be silent."

"--but maybe it was okay to believe you were in it for more than just waiting for Dean to die. That you thought we--everything--was worth fighting for." Chuck wipes his face again, frustrated. "You came back. Dean's gone, game over, you're all that's left, and--and you're only here because he is."

Castiel wonders what world Chuck seems to have inhabited before today. "This discussion is pointless. I never wanted--"

"Yeah, what you want, wow--" Chuck laughs with an edge of hysteria. "Jesus, you think anyone wanted to live like this? You think anyone wanted the goddamn Apocalypse? The rest of us, we had to learn to deal. You--God knows what the hell you call what you're doing--"

"We couldn't win," he interrupts, because it's true, because it's self-evident, because there's nothing else to say. It falls like a stone in the air between them, but not for the inevitability, but for what it encompasses: we. Not you. "Even Dean knew that."

"Yeah, he did," Chuck agrees, eyes intent, and for a moment, Castiel's an angel in the presence of a prophet, and there are something thing said that must be listened to, be heard. "Maybe we all did, but we didn't give up, we kept trying. Plain old humans, but we still did it; what the fuck is your excuse?"

He doesn't have an answer to that.

"Yeah," Chuck whispers, the energy draining out of him. "That's what I thought. Not like it matters now, right? How long you gonna keep this up? I mean, don't get me wrong, I appreciate you faking your interest in everyone's survival and everything, but I'm guessing the minute you find a way to get him back to wherever he's from, you're checking out again, so some warning would be appreciated when that happens."

"The wards will protect you whether I'm here or not," he says uncertainly, watching Chuck's shoulders slump further. "Chuck, whatever it is that you want from me--"

"Yeah, I don't know either," Chuck breathes, covering his face. "If you can't get him back--Jesus, how can you stand to even look at him? It's--"

"Very easily. They are nothing alike."

Chuck gives him an incredulous look over the tips of his fingers before dropping his hands again, looking nervously toward the door. "Cas, maybe you can--" he swallows, throat bobbing nervously. "I can't do this. Even being around him--"

"You can," Castiel answers quietly, getting Chuck's attention. "And you will."

Chuck licks his lips. "Cas, you gotta know--Jesus, if the camp knew about him--"

"They won't," Castiel interrupts, closing a hand over Chuck's chin and jerking his head up to meet the wide brown eyes. "No one will know. I would have spared him your reaction, but in this, I had no choice, and you were the least dangerous option."

"You think you can hide him here forever?" Chuck shakes his head, incredulity written into every feature. "Cas, I don't know how you've kept him hidden this long, but come the fuck on."

"Forever, in this case, is relative and will probably be very short."

"And what if--" Chuck swallows under Castiel's stare. "Someone's gonna find out and then what? Even you can't protect him from everyone here, what are you gonna do, kill them all?" Chuck's eyes widen when he doesn't respond. "You'll…."

Castiel lets his silence stretch for a few moments before saying, "I doubt it will be necessary. If it becomes--a problem--we'll leave." At the faint sound of footsteps approaching the porch, Castiel takes a breath. "Chuck, he has enough to deal with. Don't make it worse."

"What?" Chuck asks in bewilderment, but the discordant jangling of beads interrupts him. Castiel notes in approval the two rifles and the handguns Dean had acquired, as well as the excess ammunition. Glancing at Chuck briefly, he finds himself studying Dean again, trying to see him as Chuck must, as anyone else would, tracing out the familiar lines of his face and body, and fails. Not least because in recent memory, he can't recall Dean ever looking at either of them as anything more than necessary liabilities he would be happy to do without.

"Okay, think I got everything," Dean is saying. "So we should--" he pauses, looking at them for a minute. "Uh, so you need more time?"

"Chuck had a question regarding the layout of the city," Castiel answers, giving Chuck a warning look. "Chuck, how long will you need?"

"Ten minutes," Chuck answers flatly as he stumbles to his feet. "Uh, since you got the ammo covered there, I'll just--uh--be right back."

"Cool." Dean shifts the rifle awkwardly as he watches Chuck make his way to the door before turning to Castiel and noticing his frown. "What? I know how to arm myself. You wanna check me?"

He finds himself remembering Dean telling him that he didn't have to work so hard to assure that he didn't like him. "Actually, I do."

"Go for it." Dean's grin widens, spreading his arms in amused challenge, easy. Taking a step forward, Castiel reaches for his belt, and smiles despite all his efforts when Dean says, more quietly but just as amused, "Have fun with that."

Chuck and Cas are both dead silent the entire drive to the city, which is just about as unnerving as he expected. Cas doesn't look at him at all, which Dean's officially both used to and hates, while Chuck stares a goddamn hole through the seat at him when he's not looking. Subtlety, not something they seem to know how to do, and the quality of Chuck's stare makes him weirdly uneasy.

Chuck makes him uneasy. It is seriously a whole new world here.

They go for the team leaders first, all pretty much contained in the area just outside the building where this Dean sent them. Doing a fast count, he's relieved to know they're all still here and relatively intact considering the various nasty possibilities of what demons might do to bodies that they couldn't use.

Chuck produces body bags and gloves from the back of the jeep. Dean's not surprised that they're standard issue for any mission, enough that they'd come with the jeep; the masks retrieved from the backseat were apparently Chuck's own addition and a stroke of goddamn genius. There's been enough time for decomposition to set in, and a lifetime of dealing with the supernatural means Dean can probably identify time of death on a glance even if he didn't know exactly when they died already, but he's never really gotten used to the smell. Even through the mask, he knows he'll still smell it for days, but any little bit helps.

As they carefully place each bagged body into the back of the jeep, he tries not to remember their faces from before; the two intervening years since this day should have dimmed his memory more than it has. That Cas isn't one of the bodies is just a cosmic accident, a fluke, and he has to pause in surprised relief, take a long breath despite the heave of his stomach at the stench of rot. All the times Cas has died--Jesus, way too fucking many--he's never had to deal with the body after. He's fine with bodies after a lifetime of hunting; it's just that Cas, like Sam and Bobby, aren't just bodies even after their dead.

To this day, he still isn't sure what he would have done if he was able to find Castiel's body in that reservoir; most of it is a blur of sleeping, eating, and searching that precluded anything like actual thought that only ended with Sam's insistence that he needed to stop, that maybe there wasn't a body to find. The rules might be different for semi-gods or whatever the fuck Castiel became, he said, and hell, he might have been right. The thing is, he's pretty sure Sam was less worried about Dean on (another) pointless mission looking for something that wasn't there than what Dean would do when found what he was looking for.

Sealing up the last bag, he follows Cas back to the jeep, waiting for him to place it with the others before he strips the gloves off, tossing them with the mask into the bag that Chuck's holding ready for them. Despite the fact the brown eyes are blank and have been since they started, Chuck's hands are surprisingly steady as he waits for Cas before adding his own and sealing the bag to place it carefully in the back seat of the jeep. Without commentary, he takes the shovel Cas extends and follows him to their last stop while Dean takes rear, because no matter what Cas said about everyone being able to fight here, just looking at Chuck tells him that doesn't mean he should have to.

As they approach the end of the alley, he swallows at the sight of the fresh green grass spreading out in manicured perfection before him and has to pause, breathe, the visceral memory of Lucifer standing over Dean's body flooding his mind.

Until this moment, he didn't give any thought to how he'd react to see his own burn sign. Before now, he would have said digging his way out of his own goddamn grave probably burned out anything like sensitivity on the subject. Now, with his--Dean's ashes about to come in sight, he's not sure just how well that theory will stand up to the reality of not just seeing it, but having to actually deal with it.

He doesn't even realize that Cas had paused at the mouth of the alley until a hand on his arm stops him short. "Stay here."

"What?" Dean tries to look at him, but only a dozen or so yards away, the too-green grass--Jesus, it's fucking night, how the hell can the color be so goddamn bright--dips into a dark shape that's about the length of a human body. Dean's body, he reminds himself, not his, not his, because seeing this, seeing this world, was how he escaped having to actually live it. "We should--"

Cas makes no visible effort, but Dean still doesn't even get a step before he's at a dead stop; looking at Cas's hand, the fingers wrapped around his arm aren't even noticeably tense. "Cas, what are you--"

"You're staying here," Cas answers shortly, watching Dean with an unreadable expression. "Someone should keep watch."

"Cas, there's nothing here." Dean doesn’t need to search the entire city to know that; even without special angel powers of whatever, it's not something anyone could miss. He remembers when he got here that first time, going outside to stare incredulously at the devastation, but even then, it didn't feel anything like this, dead and rotting from the inside out.

Cas concedes the point with a reluctant nod, but the grip on his arm doesn’t change, and he's not sure whether he's actually pissed at Cas for doing this, or pissed at himself because honest to God, he doesn't want to go out there. "Cas--"

"This isn't--" He looks away. "This is ours to do, not yours."

Before Dean can argue, Cas lets him go, joining Chuck where he's waiting a few feet away. As they turn their backs to him, making their way across the flawless lawn, he almost follows them anyway before he stops himself. Watching them pause as they reach the right spot, he thinks he gets what Cas was saying; they don't want him there, don't want him near them while they do this. Not when he's a still living, still breathing copy of the man they followed for years and whose death is an open wound. Just knowing he was here was bad enough; having to see him standing there when their Dean is gone would be infinitely worse.

Taking a deep breath, he stays where he is and watches them begin to gather the ashes of their dead leader.

It feels like forever, trying to think about anything but the fact that it's his own future self being shoveled up. Vaguely, he wonders about stray ash or if in this case that could be a problem; a burn with literal cosmic mojo attached just doesn't come up enough for him to have a plan on what to do when a burning lacked that certain something and wasn't done in a crematorium or a contained pyre or a grave.

He watches as Cas kneels on the pristine ground to carefully zip what remains of their Dean Winchester into the bag. Chuck crouches beside him, and even from here, he can see Chuck is shaking, one hand resting on Cas's shoulder for a moment before he pulls back and wraps his arms around his legs, forehead pressed to his knees. Cas doesn't move at all for what feels like years before he smoothes a hand over the bag and picks it up.

Dean quickly averts his gaze to the alley wall, studying the crumbling brick blindly until Chuck scurries past without so much as a glance in his direction, heading for the jeep.

Cas, however, pauses, but even when Dean makes himself look up, he has no idea what the hell he's supposed to say. To his relief, Cas doesn’t seem to expect anything, simply turning away with the expectation that Dean will follow. The silence continues until they reach the end of the alley, and Dean gets a brief glimpse of Chuck's face as he waits by the jeep before he goes to open the back for the last time; the shocked, searing grief is like a slap in the face, freezing him at the mouth of the alley.

He's distantly aware of the sound of the back of the jeep being closed, of footsteps echoingly loud on the loose gravel, but even so, he's surprised by the start of the engine; blinking, he stares at the jeep and wonders if they forgot he was here, or more likely, want to do exactly that starting right the fuck now.

He's still staring when the driver's side door opens and Castiel says, "We should return to the camp immediately. Just because the city seems deserted does not mean it will remain so."

Blinking a little, he nods, obediently walking the few feet between them and climbing inside, nearly stabbing himself with the goddamn rifle. An accidental glance at the rearview mirror gives him a single flash of Chuck's swollen eyes, circled in angry red before he can fix his gaze out the goddamn windshield and pretend the last hours of his life didn't happen.

Halfway back, Cas abruptly breaks the silence. "Chuck, when we return, I need you to locate a copy of your final prophecies."

There's a sound of rustling clothing from the backseat before Chuck's head abruptly appears above the seat between them. "What?"

"There might be something in them to explain Dean's second arrival here," Cas continues, and Dean has to think that life was a lot easier when the supernatural world didn't crossover with shitty sci-fi. "In the absence of the most likely suspects, there may be something from your documentation of Dean's life that might provide a clue. He has had a great deal of experience with time travel, so we should concentrate on those periods to--"

"Why?" Dean says in confusion. "Three times, Cas, and two of those were because of you. What, you don't remember?"

Cas's eyes flicker sideways. "Perhaps rampant drug use has damaged my memory," he says thoughtfully, making Dean want to kick himself for opening his mouth. "Of course I remember. But there may be something that I wasn't there to witness, and since both your memory and observational skills leave something to be desired, Chuck may have recorded something that neither of us would be aware of."

Yeah, he's not talking anymore.

"Under the circumstances, that may be our only hope of discovering anything about how this happened." Cas's eyes never leave the road, but Dean sees his hands tighten on the steering wheel and wonders if there are fingerprints in the metal from when he does that. "Moving in time and space can have an effect on memory retention. Retrograde amnesia is not uncommon in humans."

"Oh." Surprised, Dean wonders why Cas hadn't told him that before. "You didn't tell me that when you sent me back in time. What did I forget?"

There's a weird silence from the other side of the cabin before Cas says, "I had no reason to tell you because there was no sign of it when you returned."

"You never asked--"

"Let me rephrase," Cas interrupts. "I had no reason to tell you because it didn't happen. This isn't a guess, Dean; I was an angel, I know you didn't have any memory impairment. However--"

"You think I have it now? From this?" Dean licks his lips, unsettled by the idea. "I don’t remember what happened that got me here. That's what's bothering you."

"It's on my list, yes," Cas says, giving Dean a short, annoyed glance. "And as I'm not the one who brought you here, there's no way to be certain."

"Certain I don't have random time-traveling amnesia you never mentioned as a side-effect because it's not a side effect and you're making shit up." Possibly, Dean thinks incredulously, to make him feel better. "You think it was deliberate? Like Gabriel did--"

"We'll discuss it after I have reviewed Chuck's work."

Which he takes as Cas's way of saying that's the end of this conversation. His expression is the one Dean's finally categorized as exactly that; he's not getting more right now no matter what he says. Sitting back, he lets the passing road lull him into a semi-conscious haze; if he's careful, he can almost pretend that none of this is happening.

"What's that?"

Chuck's voice so close to his ear jerks Dean back into the present. Scowling, he turns his head, following Chuck's gaze down to his arm, where he notices the bottom of the sigils are visible just below the edge of his sleeve.

"Uh, it's--Cas, what's this really called anyway?"

"I didn't think to name it." Cas glances at Dean's arm as he pushes up the sleeve. "Do humans have particular naming conventions I should be aware of?"

Chuck's head snaps around. "How did anyone know to use it without a name? I mean, do angels just--" he trickles off, like he's not sure how to finish that sentence. "Know it?"

"No, of course not. Everything was given a name when time began."

Dean's pretty sure he's wearing Chuck's confused expression, but in his case, it's more from wondering what the hell they're talking about.

"This didn't exist then," Cas continues. "Hence, it did not receive a name. Here, the rules must be different, unless…" He pauses, giving Dean a sidelong glance. "Do you remember what I told you when I drew it?"

"Dude, I'm not sure you were even using sentences," he answers, but he tries to remember anyway. "Something about hoped for, uh, the evidence of--unseen?"

"'The evidence of things not seen'," Cas says, looking pleased. "King James Bible, Cambridge Edition. I remember now."

Dean glances at Chuck, who looks--Dean's not even sure what that is--then at Cas. "Seriously?"

"I suppose the irony appealed to me. The Darby translation of the Bible isn't nearly as lyrical, and Aramaic lacks…." Cas shrugs, bored. "I was very high. You can call it anything you wish."

Dean looks down at the sigils a little blankly. They'll need to be drawn again when they get back, unless Cas's 'tattoo Dean into not existing' plan is on the agenda tonight. Swallowing, he drops his sleeve, aware Chuck is looking at him. "What?"

"You've been doing it in magic marker or something?" Chuck shrugs at Deans' glare, reaching out a finger and smearing the edge speculatively before he can jerk away. "I may have a permanent marker somewhere. Just saying, doesn't look like it lasts long."

"It doesn't." He really wishing they could get off the goddamn subject already. Once they get close to the camp, he'll have to be a semi-ghost all over again, observing everyone mourning their lost friends and wondering what happened to their lost leader.

"You think checking my prophecies will really help?" Chuck asks Cas suddenly. "I mean, even if we know how he got here, sending him back--"

"Chuck, unless you possess knowledge of time and space that I don't, I don't think you're fit to judge what might be useful."

"Still, if it's not an angel or a god--which not a lot of those left around here--it must have happened in his world." Chuck turns his attention to Dean again. "Were you chasing something with an influence on time or something?"

"I don't know." The last hunts are still a blur of time and exhaustion, which happens when you're doing everything you can to avoid thinking and if hunting was off the table, there was always alcohol. The goddamn city tonight brought it all back, and he's stuck in this jeep and now he can't stop thinking: Bobby, Castiel, the reservoir, everything that went so fucking wrong he doesn't even know where it started, and Jesus, that's the worst part, knowing that. He should have noticed, should have seen it coming, when he could have stopped it, when Castiel would have listened, when--Jesus, he's gotta stop this.

Chuck seems to get it, dropping back into his seat in silence; after a few minutes, he makes an annoyed sound followed by impatient rustling, and Dean shuts his eyes, wondering if there's any way he's gonna be able to sleep tonight.

"We're almost at the gate."

Reluctantly, Dean opens his eyes, seeing the faint lights from the watch and straightens, dragging the words of the spell into his memory. Before he can finish the first word, however, his sleeve is jerked up and something cold swipes across his skin, and the faint tingle he's almost grown used to vanishes into nothing. Grabbing his arm, he jerks around and is hit in the face with the smell of rubbing alcohol, but despite watery eyes, the blurry outline of Chuck holding a piece of gauze and a bottle is pretty goddamn telling as the jeep comes to an abrupt stop, almost throwing Dean into the dashboard.

Wiping his eyes, Dean jerks his damp sleeve up enough to see the sigils are gone, not even an outline left, then at the gate--holy shit, they're coming toward the jeep. Turning around, he stares at Chuck, but Chuck's looking at Cas, unhappy and defiant and angry, Christ; Dean didn't see that before, didn't even guess.

"What the fuck are you doing?" Dean hisses, but before he can move and punch the shit out of him, Chuck's got the door open on the passenger side and is getting out. Hand on the door, Chuck stares back at Cas for a second.

"Yeah, you remember when you asked me what I wanted?" Chuck says, completely random, like this makes some kind of sense. He glances at Dean and then away, too fast for the guilt to do more than register. "This is how I'm getting it." Before Dean can process that--what the fuck?--Chuck is shouting, "We found Dean! He's back!" and holy fucking shit.

"What the hell--" Dean twists around to see the patrol pushing open the gate, people starting to emerge. "Did he just--Cas, what the hell just happened?"

Cas hasn't moved at all, eyes fixed on something in the distance. Dean sees his knuckles go white against the steering wheel, and there's no way it's gonna last long at this rate.

"Cas!" Dean says sharply, and now they're close enough to see him, really see him, and he can see them, too: joy and shock and incredulous, life-changing relief, hope so bright it hurts to see it. For a second (only for a second) Dean feels a hot rush of bitter envy (of the Apocalypse, how fucked up is that?) because he's never been this to anyone, for anyone; no one's ever looked at him like this. "Cas, you gotta do something--"

"You injured your ankle and couldn't walk," Cas says abruptly, then a hard boot collides at the absolutely wrong angle, and Dean has something entirely new and horrible to add to his collection as he feels his ankle not actually snap. "That's why you were delayed," he hears Cas saying over the rush of pain. "We found you while collecting the bodies. You were on your way back. Don't say anything else."

Dean's still trying to remember how to breathe when the door is pulled open and then it's a blur of people and voices and someone yelling for medical supplies and he doesn't have time to think of anything at all.

It's thirty minutes, two painkillers, and the presence of a way too excited brunette who goes by Alicia who may or may not have EMT training at some point in her life before Dean's finally mostly alone in the infirmary, the door closed firmly on the crowd outside. Sitting back on the salvaged hospital bed, he watches Alicia fumble nervously with the gauze and drop it--for the second time--and smiles at her, deciding he's done with dealing with this shit.

"Alicia, Dean is still not entirely cognizant," Cas says abruptly when Alicia finally manages to get his boot off. Taking the gauze from her hands, he steers her back to the door. "I'll do it."

From the relief on her face, he's pretty sure at no point in her life did she think becoming an EMT would end in having to play doctor for her leader. Cas closes the door almost in her face and turns the lock before crossing to one of the dingy medicine cabinets bolted to the wall and takes out fresh gauze. Taking Alicia's place by the bed, he pulls a rickety tray close enough to reach the tape and scissors and just out of Dean's current kicking range.

"What passed for our doctor died a few months ago," Cas says calmly. "She's understandably nervous."

Dean lets his head drop back on the flat pillow, completely unsurprised by the cloud of dust that puffs up around him. "Wouldn't be a problem if you hadn't broken my goddamn ankle."

"It is barely even sprained," Cas answers dismissively as he goes to work. Watching him, Dean has to admit he's knows what he's doing, with the easy expertise of someone who's used to having to treat injuries without the benefit of professional help. "You don't have any visible injuries, and Dean's been gone long enough to require some explanation. It had to be real or Alicia would have noticed, and she's confirming it to everyone now. It will also excuse you from having to deal with the entire camp, at least for tonight, and you can choose how long your recovery will actually take."

Licking his lips, Dean reluctantly admits the logic. Even through the door, he can hear the crowd outside, and he's almost sorry when Cas is done, because that means--Jesus, he's gotta go out there.

"I can't do this, Cas."

Cas takes his time putting everything away before returning to lean against the side of the bed with an unreadable expression. "Dean--"

"Look, I get it's shitty, but we gotta tell them who I really am." Cas's blank expression isn't encouraging. "Come on, we'll tell them that Chuck, I don't know, made a mistake--or lied through his fucking teeth--and…."

"We can't."

Dean stares up at him. "What?"

"They can't know who you really are." Cas eyes flicker to the door with a trace of desperation. "Before, it would have been a risk, but now--"

"Look, I get nothing would make you happier than making me disappear for good!" he snaps. "But making me a goddamn ghost by sigil just so you don't have to deal with me--"

"You thought that is why…" Cas takes a step back, the blank expression hardening. "Dean, how would you react if someone who looked and acted just like your former leader appeared claiming to be from another time?" His eyes narrow. "Before you answer that question, how did you react to a person claiming to be a past version of yourself? I'll wait."

The stupid part is, he didn't even think of that. "They wouldn't believe me."

"No one who met you the first time you were here besides me and Chuck are still alive. So no, I don't think they would wait for an extended explanation of spacetime. Especially since we don't know how it happened."

"But you could tell them--" he trails off at Cas's expression. "They don't know you can tell the difference."

"That would be one reason," Cas agrees, crossing his arms. "Do you have any less suicidal ideas?"

Dean stares up at the ceiling, brown-edged water stains from inexpertly caulked holes, networks of cracks spreading incrementally toward the bare wood of the cabin walls, and wonders what the hell he's supposed to do now.

"Dean," Cas says more normally, "we don't have a great deal of time for you to decide what you will do."

"I don't think I have much of a choice," he answers bitterly, hands clenched into helpless fists at his sides. "Look, can we just get out of here?"

There's an uncomfortable pause. "Where do you want to go?"

The question makes absolutely no fucking sense for an entire second before it hits him that being Dean--at least for tonight--comes with a cabin.

"You mean his cabin," he says flatly. "Right."

"It would have the advantage of…." This time, the pause is longer, and when Dean finally looks at him, Cas is frowning into the middle distance. "Privacy, which would last for as long as it took someone to open the door." He tips his head back thoughtfully, and damned if he doesn't look amused. "To nurse you back to health, of course."

Dean tries to convey by staring how much he isn't up to any kind of nursing, period.

"Not to mention what you might say if someone asks you a question," he continues, amusement vanishing. "Under the circumstances, considering our lack of medical professionals, it would be reasonable for you to be kept under observation. That much, I'd usually volunteer to do."

Dean grits his teeth against the faint throb of pain from his ankle, warning him that whatever Alicia gave him is starting to wear off. He really doesn't give a shit as long as he gets the fuck out of here, because it's possible in about two second he'll be asking Cas if the morphine solution could be put on the table again. Drugged out of his mind for the rest of his life--which isn't gonna be long anyway--is starting to sound pretty fucking good.

"So can we get out of here?"

"Give me three minutes."

Dean nods and closes his eyes, listening as Cas opens the door. The murmur of voices turns into a dull roar before lowering enough to hear Cas's voice. He can't quite make out what he's saying, but whatever it is, it seems to be working. A woman's voice follows, somewhat familiar, and then the door is closing again and Cas is by the bed.

"If you're ready--"

"Beyond. Words." He sits up, letting Cas slide an arm under his shoulders without protest. "Uh, what happened out there?"

"They're leaving so you can rest." Easing Dean to his feet without noticeable effort, they go to the door, and to Dean's surprise, they emerge into welcome silence, not a person in sight. "Vera said she would take care of it, I didn't ask how."

He concentrates his energy on staying upright as they start toward the cabin, leaving Cas to handle the logistics. Despite the lack of visible evidence, he's painfully aware of the gazes following his every stumbling step, unbearably grateful that at least he doesn't have to actually see the stunned, happy faces that believe they're looking at their missing leader.

Going up the uneven porch steps, they pass through the darkened living room, and he only belatedly notices they've bypassed the couch when Cas opens the door to the bedroom and flips on the light. Blinking away spots from the sudden brightness from the bare overhead bulb, Dean stares at the neatly made bed in surprise.

"You have sheets," he observes as Cas flips back the blankets and lowers him onto the bed.

Cas glances at him, flooring him with an actual, honest to God smile.

"I anticipated your decision while you were being taken to the infirmary," Cas answers with a flicker of amusement. "I thought you could manage to remain silent until I joined you there."

"Good call." Swiveling around, he drops back onto the sagging mattress, listening to a soundtrack of protesting springs and creaking wood contentedly. This may be the shittiest mattress in the world, but right now, he doesn't even care, because it's contained in a room with an actual goddamn door. "Why don’t you ever use the bed anyway? Not big enough?"

Cas's grin widens unexpectedly. "I have no idea why you always seem so surprised I have a sex life."

"You don't have a sex life," Dean corrects him as Cas goes into the bathroom. "You have several of them, and dude, come on. Five years ago, you were freaked out by a brothel, and now you're--" There really isn't a word for it, or at least, not one Dean thinks he should use when he's kind of forcibly immobilized in the guy's cabin. "Okay with it." When in doubt, go with a dramatic understatement.

Emerging with a nondescript prescription bottle, Cas glances up from reading the label. "Two years."

"Huh?" He reluctantly levers himself into a comfortable slouch against the peeling headboard. "Two years--?"

"Two years ago," he answers absently, looking back down at the label. "After I Fell. That attempt, as must be obvious, was far more successful."

It takes a second to put together. "You waited until you Fell to try sex? Really?"

"Angels have no biological imperative to indulge in sexual intercourse and while we are within vessels, it's--different without that context." Seemingly satisfied, he gives Dean the bottle. "I know your tolerance for opiates, and you need to be able to sleep tonight, so take two more. I'll get you some water."

Curious, Dean squints at the unreadable label before opening it and verifying the contents as a generic hydrocodone. Taking out two pills, he decides Cas is probably right when he returns with a glass of water. When he's done, he hands Cas the glass and sits back to wait for them to kick in.

"And you picked up the pharmaceutical hobby when group sex got boring?"

Cas's expression doesn't change, but Dean gets the distinct impression that he's surprised. "Does it matter?"

Dean shrugs, but actually, he's kind of curious now. A thousand easy answers, but instead, Cas chose to avoid the question. "Just wondering."

This is the first conversation they've ever had that's really touched on Cas personally, and honestly, if Dean was thinking about what he was saying, he would have expected a much difference response. It's also the longest they've gone--ever--that Cas didn't take some time to remind Dean how much he resents his existence here, and he wants a little more time before Cas remembers that he kind of hates him.

"Cas--earlier, what I said about making me disappear--" Cas's expression goes blank again, but Dean's already committed, so he grimly keeps going. "--it was stupid, and I should have asked--" His imagination fails on how he would have started that conversation. "Okay, I don't know, why no one in the camp should see me?"

Cas doesn't respond for several moments before he finally seems to come to some kind of decision, stiff shoulders relaxing. "I had assumed you understood the reason why. I forgot that your experiences here are from years in your past. You were only here for a very brief time and wouldn't have thought to extrapolate Dean's reaction to the camp at large."

"It's that dangerous?"

Cas hesitates, looking at nothing. "Yes. It wouldn't be the first time someone tried to impersonate a member of the camp, and the results were--memorable."

"Paranoia is a survival trait." He feels like he should follow that a little further, but between the painkillers and this goddamn endless day, he decides to leave that potential trauma for another day. "So--sorry about that."

"There's no reason to apologize," Cas rouses him to say, the blank look fading. "If you'd asked me, I'm not sure I would have been able to come up with a believable lie." One corner of his mouth quirks reluctantly. "Thank you for sparing me the need to do so."

"Why?" He wishes desperately he'd held off on the goddamn painkillers. "Chuck--?"

"Chuck knew you the first time you were here and he's also a prophet; that mitigated the risk." Cas looks conflicted, not quite meeting Dean's eyes. "He and Dean are the only two people here who I knew and who knew me before I Fell."

"You're friends." Cas makes a face but noticeably doesn't deny it. "Okay, really, really familiar acquaintances and shit, whatever. You trust him."

"Obviously that was a mistake," Cas mutters, mouth tightening before he shakes himself. "However, I knew he'd trust my judgment about you. In any case, you're not easy to forget."

Dean nods absently, but he's still stuck on the entire not going to tell him thing. "Why--"

"--wouldn't I have explained if you'd asked?" Cas regards him with a hint of exasperation. "I wasn't certain how you would react. There were two possibilities: you would want to leave, the danger of which you are already aware of, or you would…." He sighs in annoyance. "Dean, you may not be aware of this, but your misery was obvious. I didn't think increasing it, much less adding an element of constant paranoia, would be particularly helpful."

"You were…being considerate of my feelings."

Cas's eyes narrow. "Please pretend to be less surprised."

He's not that good an actor. "Thanks."

"I should let you get some rest." Cas gets to his feet. "Your ankle--and for that matter, your doubtless traumatic experiences before we found you--should give us some time to decide what to do."

"What traumatic experiences are we talking about again?" Dean asks curiously. "Since I can't talk about my actual trauma."

"I'd leave that to everyone's imaginations. They'll come up with much more interesting possibilities than anything you could say," Cas advises on his way to the door. As he opens it, he turns around. "I'll be here tonight if there is anything you need."

He nods, not willing to admit that he's relieved. As Cas flips off the light, door closing almost soundlessly behind him, Dean closes his eyes, but he's pretty sure there's no way he's sleeping tonight.

Dean awakens abruptly, head aching enough that it takes him several moments to realize he's not on the couch. Shifting, he stills at the sound of rusty springs and straining wood, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. There's a window to his right, limned in weak strands of moonlight, and a deeper darkness in the wall in front of him that eventually resolves into a door. Pushing himself up, he starts to swing his legs out of the bed, but the shock of pain--oh fuck, mildly sprained his ass--stops him short. Grunting, he tries to catch his breath as he waits for it to subside, but the pain clears his head enough for memory to slam into him, the entire hideous day rushing back in goddamn 3D surround sound.

"Fuck," he hears himself say, as much for his ankle as his goddamn fucked up life.

There's a soft scrape of wood before the door opens, spilling pale yellow light into the room. "Dean?"

"I'm fine," he answers, annoyed with himself. Cas starts to reach for the lightswitch. "Don't."

Cas's hand falls from the switch immediately, but he comes inside before shutting the door behind him. As he pauses at the foot of the bed, the moonlight washes him of color, but even now nothing can quite drown the electric blue of his eyes.


"I'm fine," he interrupts angrily. If Cas wants to be the object of it, fine. He's been Cas's since he got here, and he thinks he's owed this. "You want something?"

"The list grows longer every day," Cas answers dryly. "Do you need anything?"

"No." It's not really a lie; there's nothing he wants that he can have. "Anything else happen tonight? Lucifer, his army, really determined visitors?"

"No, no, and yes." It's hard to tell in the dim light, but Dean thinks he's amused. "But they left eventually."

"That winning personality of yours probably helped." Even now, he knows that's a shitty thing to say to the guy who's basically running interference for him. "Sorry."

"I've found it useful." To his surprise, Cas sits down on the foot of the bed. "Dean always refused to see anyone when he was injured, so no one was particularly surprised. He worried about its effect on camp morale."

"Wanted everyone to think he was invincible," he mutters. "Yeah, that's something I'd do."

Cas snorts. "I never paid attention to that rule."

"And that's definitely something you'd do." He feels an unwilling smile tugging up one corner of his mouth. "Not like you ever listened to me before."

"I always listened." It's quiet, and it's true, but here, it has a history that Dean doesn't know and can barely imagine. "I just didn't always agree."

"How long did he bitch about it?"

"Always." Cas shrugs. "He thought I did it to annoy him, but really, that was just a bonus."

Dean wants to ask how they were really, if they were still friends, if they were anything but reluctantly bound by what Cas did for him and with him. It's tempting, with Cas sitting here like this in the quiet darkness, like he can ask and maybe he'll even get an answer.

That alone is enough to dry up the words on his tongue. Thinking of Kansas City, when this Dean sent Cas to die, may be the only answer he needs, but that doesn't mean he wants to hear it confirmed. Cas may be crazy--and come the fuck on, it's not like this Dean was much better--but at least he's alive and he's here and he may have changed, but he's still Cas… After a lifetime of losing everyone that mattered one by one no matter how he tried to keep them--Jesus, even giving up Sam, even Sam becoming Lucifer's goddamn vessel doesn't justify that.

Dean shies away from that; he just can't deal with this right now. "What the fuck was Chuck thinking?"

Cas goes still. "Chuck was misguided," he answers flatly, and if that's not a voice for smiting with a vengeance, Dean doesn't know his scary-ass former angels. "I'll deal with him."

"I think it's a little late for that." Which is about all the effort he's gonna put into saving Chuck's ass. "I'm not Dean--this Dean, your Dean, whatever. I don't know shit about this world, he had to know--" Dean stops short, wondering if he can blame shock and Cas's fucking boot almost breaking his ankle for being this stupid. "He was talking to you."

He wonders what Cas will blame for hesitating a split-second before he answers. "What?"

"In the cabin before we left, in Kansas City, in the jeep, right at the gates of Chitaqua: pick one." Cas's expression doesn't change, but that only works on someone who hasn't spent years learning how to read him. "Did he get it?"

"Get what?"

"What he wanted from you," Dean replies softly. "Pay attention Cas, because I'm about to ask you a really important question; you willing risk it?"

Cas hesitates. "I don't understand the question."

"What I'll do if you can't lie to me better than Castiel could in my world."

Cas stiffen. "He was afraid we'd leave."

"He didn't even know I was here until tonight," Dean answers, wondering what the hell he's missing. "Cas, come on, this isn't about me, this is about you! Why--"

"Certainly not for the pleasure of my company," Cas interrupts. "Why do you think?"

Jesus. "Everyone else is dead, right. So why would he think you'd leave now?"

"Because before tonight," Cas answers, "he didn't know that Dean was dead."

"He thought the only reason you were here was because you were, what, waiting for Dean to get back?"


Dean almost says: that's stupid, Cas is all that's keeping Chitaqua running. Of course he wouldn't do that. "You really weren't coming back." Too slowly, it comes together. "That's why everyone believes Dean's still alive. You wouldn't have come back if he was dead."

"No," Cas answers, never looking away. "I wouldn't have."

All at once, Dean's so angry he can barely see.

"What the fuck were you thinking?" he shouts, and only the warning throb from his ankle stops him from grabbing Cas and just fucking shaking him. "Everyone who was in charge here was dead, you knew that! Who was going to--if you weren't here, how would they have--" He has to stop to take a breath, suddenly remembering where they are. He's pretty sure there are people awake still and it's probably not a good idea for them to hear him screaming at Cas, what with the miracle day and all. "You stuck around all this time just because Dean made you? You were just going to die the second he--"

"You think I would live like this for any other reason?" Cas's voice is brutally calm, and somehow, that's the worst part. "Trapped in this rotting--"

"Meatsuit?" Dean interrupts in dawning horror. "It's that fucking lowering to be in the dirt with the rest of us but hey, until you get to die, you're okay with fucking us?"

"Carnality with humanity has never been forbidden, merely procreation," Cas answers with a slow smile. "The pleasure you can provide is almost worth the degradation. At least it passes the time." Dean's still reeling from that when Cas stands up, looking bored. "Is there anything else?"

"Why'd you save me?"

"Because I had to." Cas never looks away. "I didn't Fall for you, Dean, but because of who you are, I still have to protect you."

"There's always a choice."

"If there had been one, I would be dead and you would belong to Lucifer."

For a long moment, it's impossible to draw a full breath.

"I can't even tell what pisses you off more," Dean whispers finally. "That he died, that I'm here and alive, or that you survived at all. Do you even know?"

The door closes, an answer in itself: all of the above, and fuck you. He gets the message loud and clear.

Map of the World, 4/11


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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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