Multiple answer questions, choose one:
1.) One day, say in the morning, it suddenly comes on to tell you that your commute to work is only 14 minutes with a three minute delay on Rundberg, you:
a.) appreciate the terrifying precision of Google's traffic stalking
b.) wonder when on earth you got that program.
c.) Google, how do you know where I work?????
2.) You're driving home and stop at the pharmacy, where you are helpfully told you are three miles from home and the next bus is at 4:52 along with a complete bus schedule of the bus stop that when you turn in your seat is, indeed, right behind you, you:
a.) appreciate that google has done the impossible and actually figured out Austin's actual, as opposed to theoretical, bus schedule.
b.) wonder if that stop was always there.
c.) ....Google, are you watching me?
3.) You're at a red light and across the street is the local grocery store HEB. When you look at Google now---you are stupid like that--you notice HEB is a place of interest for you and offers links. You:
a.) appreciate the existence of links because insanity while driving is a bad idea.
b.) seriously, what the fuck.
c.) wonder if you banged Google that night you got drunk and are now in a LTR with it.
Other Sources of Dissonance
Apart from my apparent relationship with google, all the pharmacies--ALL THE PHARMACIES--thta are named walgreens in my city are out of methylphenidate. Among the ritalin family, it's the only one I can tolerate and also, I like what I know (this is why if I ever get married, it's gonna be a fangirl most likely, and current running are svmadelyn, amireal, or taraljc, as I have known them the longest; I like what I know and the longer I know, the better I like, and I found a nice condo and will marry for a shared mortgage), but today, today was different. I was at CVS, in a strange pharmacy and my prescirption is indeed correct but the pills are not pink and round and saucery but yellow and shaped not unlike round Pez--sharp edged, I mean. I looked it up in the pill identifier, then called my mother to do the same, and all say this is but another variation, but it is not pink and it's very weird and the yellow is not unlike that of very pale pus.
High-stress work week is over, mostly. As Christmas is coming up, we can downgrade to Yellow-Red alert, which I can deal with, and I have a nice weekend to go with it. This is making me happy.
SPN novel of never-finished actually did sort of finish; at the request--seriously, request--of my beta, it's been split into parts due to it being at this point 277,000 words, or roughly 600 pages. So technically speaking, Part I, of 126,000 words, is now complete and final draft.
Again, this started as a writing exercise of six pages. The first part was originally eighteen thousand words, because it was supposed to eventually get me to the fun part which was going to be much later. Then came I have no idea.
I don't draft--I write linear, as in, even if the timeline is non-linear, I write straight through. This has been in ten total drafts, not including 45,000 cut sections I didn't like or need to rework or are sort of--floating sections I may or may not use. I can actually tell how this happened. When I started, it was an exercise, then it grew and I thought I might post it. Then other things happened in my life and I started writing my id to see what happened.
Here's what I discovered--writing one's id in massively raw form is weird, but when I got bored with it, I just cut it and started again on a new tangent. About halfway through this process--this is how I have 45,000 words of cut scenes--I realized my id was less sex based and more complicated plotty world-building tech-magic based, around the time I was also having people explore a free trade zone under the auspices of the Mormon complexes in Utah who were providing warding and security in Salt Lake City for all manner of militias, religious groups, and technopagans. Also, massive destruction (this is when me and miss porcupine exchanged consolation emails on how we end up staring blankly at our Word documents wondering how many cities we destroyed and perhaps competing but not really because that sounds weird).
There is no kink-meme for people who just really like plot, but this does explain why I've never--that I remember--written in one of them. Left to my own devices, orgasms are immediately followed by battles between good and evil, possibly in Salt Lake City at this rate.
(In case anyone is curious why Salt Lake City--norabombay and my ex-bil, as ex-bil is Mormon (or lapsed Mormon, he's not really practicing) and after norabombay recommended it, I sketched out an end of the world scenario--he's used to this from me--and asked him about the viability of Salt Lake City for the supply situation and a good place for post-apocalyptic trade. Apparently giant yes, go there. My others were Colorado Springs and Detroit.)
I still have no clue if I will post this--for one, I gotta get a second beta or my current beta will probably kill me for doing this to her--but writing it is possibly the most fun I've had in years just to build a world and a society and a history like this the way I haven't ever tried to do before. Other authors have done it, but this one works on a five year plan, and I think the longest period I ever covered in depth was a few months. I don't actually know if I can do this, but it seems silly at this point not to admit I plan to try.
Beginning of current fic. I actually kind of want to see how it reads outside an MSWord doc. Set--in this universe--after the ending of 5.4 The End.
"You look good on your knees, little brother."
Castiel ignores the mocking voice; from the corner of his eye, he can see pristine white-clad knees emerging from the gloom. All of his attention is focused on the corpse sprawled on the unnatural spread of vividly green grass contained by the rotting remains of a long-dead city, suffocatingly hot air drenched in cloying rose and dying honeysuckle.
"I didn't think you meant to survive," Lucifer continues, amused. A white-clad foot brushes Dean's hip, and one lax arm falling onto the ground with a meaty thump that Castiel feels like a punch to the gut. "I know he didn't mean you to."
"No," Castiel answers, brushing his fingers against one cooling cheek, rough with stubble. The green eyes are half-closed; nothing looks out from behind them now, all the light in the world quenched with a single bullet that didn't succeed and a broken neck that did. "He did not."
Beneath the hard gloss of amphetamines, Castiel can sense the bone-deep exhaustion dragging against every movement of his body. Just beyond Dean's hand is the Colt, temptingly close for all its apparent uselessness.
"Brother. Why have you come to me?"
"I didn't." Castiel tips his head back to look at Lucifer hidden behind Sam Winchester's face. "I came for him."
Lucifer's expression goes blank for a moment. "Ah, one of those pointless human rituals of mourning. You always were conscientious to a fault. Don't worry, Castiel; his ghost won't walk the earth. I have just the place for him. I promised Sammy, after all."
Castiel doesn't flinch at the sudden burst of fire that engulfs Dean's body, arrowing upward to the sky in a showy burst of heat and light that never touches the pristine green of the lawn. Squinting toward the dancing red orange licking at the dark sky, Cas supposes that it might very well be visible at the camp. The flames die as suddenly as they began, leaving nothing but charred ash behind.
"Where did he go?" Lucifer says suddenly, frowning in concentration. "How--"
"You were there when the rules were written, and yet, you forgot," Castiel answers. "I didn't."
"Tell me." Castiel watches Lucifer reach for his throat without interest, hard fingers closing tight around the fragile flesh, skin impossibly hot, drawing him to his feet. "Tell me what you did."
"We have to ask," Castiel answers calmly. "We cannot take. We cannot lie to them. We can promise anything within our power, but we cannot break any promise we make. I claimed his soul in Hell and absolved him of his sins. I created the flesh that housed his soul and breathed life into his body." Castiel tips his head back. "And before he took his first breath, I promised him that Hell would not touch him again."
"No human soul has the right to ask for that."
"A technicality." Castiel meets Lucifer's eyes. "You have no power over him. You never will."
Abruptly, Lucifer's hand tightens, and Castiel's feet hang inches above the ground; faintly, he can feel something pushing around the edges of his mind, poking, pressing, searching for a way inside, when the last of the Host had taken that last connection with them when they left. There's a faint sense of withdrawal and disbelief, anger coiling up ready to strike before a flood of confusion, and Castiel hits the ground hard enough to rattle his teeth.
"I could kill you," Lucifer says musingly, as if this is new and traumatizing information that might somehow have escaped Castiel's attention. He's never been that high, and it's not like he didn't try. "I could leave you here to rot the rest of your days. The vessel's looking a little worn around the edges; I could just--speed that up a bit." Lucifer wiggles his fingers. "Ask yourself, do you really need two legs?"
"Or I could fall upon my knees and worship you," Castiel says tonelessly. "Your material is outdated."
"Not like you're not halfway there already." Lucifer grins down at him smugly. "It's not the worst idea I've heard today, though," he glances at Dean with a smirk, "there was some competition for that."
"'All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it." Castiel wonders when this will be over. It's the end of the world; he can't imagine Lucifer doesn't have enough to do. "When has that ever worked?"
"You'd be surprised." Lucifer watches him thoughtfully. "I can't give you back your Grace, per se--"
"--but I can offer you a place at my side." Lucifer shrugs. "You know, the usual; at my left hand, raised above all, in Hell and on Earth, for all eternity--"
"Yes," Castiel says, incredulity breaking the surface calm; this can't be happening. "I can see how you might consider that a tempting offer."
"--or I can offer you their lives," Lucifer adds smoothly, undeterred. "All humanity, I mean. A kingdom on earth, blah blah blah, you know that part. But that kingdom is every human still living and they'll be yours to do with as you will. For the length of your mortal life. Think of it as a thank you for your hard work on their behalf. They get a lovely parting gift before the send-out of all time. For all time, for that matter."
Abruptly, Lucifer has Castiel's undivided attention. "What?"
"It's a good deal, little brother." Lucifer says, warming in the face of Castiel's interest. "Not like I don't have at least a century of entertainment with those of our brethren who remain within Hell. I know a million ways to remove an angel's wings, and I certainly could use the time to invent a few more."
"This world and all that is in it?"
Lucifer's smile widens. "Yes."
"All the human lives that dwell here?"
"I'll even throw in a clean-up and a paradise on earth," Lucifer adds persuasively. "Come on, Cas. Doesn't get any better than this."
"Including Sam Winchester, whole and undamaged?"
Lucifer hesitates, going still; the nearly-human ease in his vessel evaporates, the glow growing unchecked, surpassing human tolerance until he's nothing but brilliant light and the wide sweep of wings that could shadow the whole of earth until the end of time.
"Yes. Vessel and soul; see, I didn't even make you spell it out." Lucifer cocks his head. "Say yes, Cas. Let's get this show on the road."
Castiel finally understands what people mean when they say that their breath was taken away; the description is misleading, but the effects are definitive. "You can do that."
"It can be done, yes." Lucifer's eyes narrow. "I'm not actually all that interested if you really think life in ape form appeals to you, Cas. I have things to do. Give me an answer."
We can't lie to them, Castiel thinks. And we can't promise what we cannot do. "Then why are you offering me this?"
"You're my Brother," Lucifer answer quietly. "I never wanted this, Castiel."
"I know." Castiel meets his eyes. "And that doesn't answer my question."
"I could kill you where you stand. Do you accept my terms?"
"As I am not standing at this moment, I would like to see you try. Why," Castiel says slowly, spacing each word with care, "are you making me this offer?"
"You're food for worms otherwise," Lucifer snaps, taking an abortive step toward him. "And then you're a plaything for Hell in whatever form you have after the dirt you're wearing dies. Say yes."
"Faustian bargains have no appeal for me."
Lucifer blinks, going still. "What?"
"I thought that was clear. I will observe the formalities, then." Castiel says, because he can't stop himself, "Get thee hence. Be gone. Go away. Fuck. Off."
Getting unsteadily to his feet, Castiel begins to walk back toward the alley leading to the street, feeling the dark eyes crawling over his back; it would probably be counterproductive to the moment at this point to pause to verify that the truck is actually in this direction.
"I'm not fucking around, Castiel," Lucifer says quietly, though his voice is easily audible in the silence of the city. "You can't be this stupid."
"My leader has been killed, I am still alive, and I am also very, very high. Only two of those things were expected and I did not anticipate having to deal with either, so my judgment is probably extremely compromised." Castiel pauses at the yawning mouth of the alley; he can faintly sense the demons around him, but even within the narrow confines of the alley, there's no sign of imminent attack. "Under the circumstances, I don't think this is the appropriate time to make life decisions."
"You think you're going to live long enough to make any more of them?"
"My judgment is impaired, not my memory." Castiel turns to see Lucifer hasn't moved from the pile of ashes that was once a man. "If you have to offer, there are rules, even for you. We have to ask. We cannot lie. We can promise anything within our power, but we cannot break any promise we make. And we have to let them go if they refuse."
"'We'." Lucifer's expression is unreadable. "What makes you think the rules apply to you, Cas?"
"Because if they didn't," Castiel says evenly, "you wouldn't have made that offer, asked that question, and I would already be dead."
"There is that." Lucifer shrugs unexpectedly, waving Castiel toward the alley with a casualness than isn't reflected in his voice. "We'll talk again soon, Castiel. You may leave now."
"Yes, that is what I was waiting for," Castiel answers, turning away. The sense of demons vanish with Lucifer; Castiel closes his eyes, concentrating, but there's no sense of any demons or even Croatoans close enough to be a threat. In the few minutes it takes to reach the jeep, the sense of absence doesn't change; even so, Castiel glances at the bodies of the demons that surround the jeep, marking the black stains of true death on each one before he opens the door and slides inside, staring at the steering wheel blankly.
He's not sure how long it is before there's the sound of impatient shifting from the floorboard of the passenger side seat. Taking a breath, Castiel makes himself look down at the Dean Winchester glaring at him, cellphone still clutched in one hand. Vaguely, Castiel wonders what exactly it will take to convince him that even if cellphone towers still existed, he doesn't believe they reach alternate worlds. Or at least, not very often.
"Cas," Dean says warily, green eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What the hell--"
"I am not nearly high enough for this," Castiel tells him, starting the engine to drown out any potential protests, of which he knows there will be many. "Or not enough, I'm not entirely sure. Stay there until we are beyond the city's limits."
"Why--" The roar of the engine cuts him off, and Castiel concentrates on getting them back out of the city without incident. He indicates that Dean can rise once they reach the highway, climbing into the seat with a quick, wary glance at Castiel before fixing his attention on the night outside. "When--"
"Dean died approximately thirty minutes ago." Castiel notices, as if from a distance, his hands are beginning to shake. With the ease of long practice, he controls it. "I assume you were returned to your timeline immediately after? How long has it been since you left?"
Dean gives him a startled look. "Two--almost three years, I guess. How did you--never mind, special angel power?"
"You've also changed your clothing," Castiel says flatly, seeing Dean start in surprise in his peripheral vision. "Who brought you this time? Zachariah? Why?"
"No. I was--" Dean stops short, looking confused. "On a job, I think."
That is not, in any way, reassuring. "You don't remember? Why did the Host send you this time?"
"I don't think they did." Dean's expression shifts into something that Castiel can't interpret. "Zachariah's dead. And the Host--they're kind of distracted right now. It's complicated."
"I see." Castiel hadn't realized reality could mimic the effects of a particular unpleasant acid trip with such devastating accuracy. "That narrows the possibilities a great deal."
"Really?" Dean turns hopefully in his seat. "So who--"
"Perhaps we should start," Castiel interrupts, "with everything you remember before you arrived here?"
Dean's mouth falls open. "What, everything? Since the last time I was here or--"
"Yes," Castiel answers quickly; at least it will pass the time. "Let's start there."
Intellectually, Castiel understand that shock is highly individual and often nearly invisible to those not experiencing it. He listens to his own voice coolly summarize a slightly edited version of the night's disastrous events to those on watch as if from a distance with no clear idea of what he's saying, hyperaware of Dean Winchester on the floor of the jeep listening to every word with an incredulous expression that doesn't change even after they're safely within the walls of the cabin.
Castiel takes only enough time to wash away the worst of the blood, returning to find Dean sitting on his couch, hunched and staring at nothing. Just looking at him is jarring, out of place, even after Castiel is able to block the migraine-inducing resonance of a person displaced in time and space. He's grateful that he bothered to learn that trick the first time, even though he hadn't expected to have any need to use it again.
Castiel isn't sure how long he stands numbly at the door of the bathroom before Dean's head snaps up, green eyes narrowing in fury as he gets to his feet. "What the hell was that about?"
The sense of the question eludes him even as he watches Dean stalk toward him, still talking at a dangerously high volume, dissonance in every particular; jeans and t-shirt and jacket, newer boots, unarmed, younger in more than years, but all of it pales before the body memory of Dean's cooling body before Lucifer burned it into ash and dust.
"--didn't tell them he was dead! Why did you…" Castiel has no idea what Dean is saying to him, only aware of the short, sudden stop only a foot away with an expression that Castiel can't remember how to interpret. "Cas?"
Castiel crosses to the couch, leaning over the arm enough to retrieve the mostly-full bottle he'd never expected to finish, because he hadn't expected to survive tonight; because he'd never expected to survive the end of the world; because no one survived Dean Winchester and he has no idea how it feels to be the first.
"Cas?" Dean's standing in the middle of the room where Castiel left him, and it's possible that this is what sympathy looks like on Dean Winchester's face; he'd forgotten what that might look like. "Cas, what happened back there?"
Castiel realizes his fingers have gone numb around the neck of the bottle. "I had to--" he pauses to concentrate on the surprisingly difficult task of unclenching his fingers. "I had to see his body."
"Shit." Dean closes his eyes briefly. "Sorry. I just--that was only an hour ago here. It's been a while for me. Are you…"
Mercifully, Dean cuts himself off before the word 'okay' can be added; the novelty of a Dean Winchester editing himself in any way is fascinating. "It took longer than expected. Lucifer distracted me soon after I found him."
Dean goes still. "Lucifer."
"Yes." Twisting off the lid of the bottle, Castiel takes a drink, aware of the absence of the familiar burn. The wariness he expects from Dean; the worry he doesn't, and isn't sure what to do with, so he offers the bottle. "Would you like some?"
"Castiel," Dean says quietly, making no move to take it. Shrugging, Castiel starts to take another drink before the bottle is abruptly jerked out of his hand. "Cas," Dean says urgently. Frowning, Castiel watches as Dean drops on the far side of the couch, bottle out of easy reach. "Talk to me. What. Happened? Why was Lucifer there? He was waiting by the body?"
"No, he arrived after I did." Castiel shrugs on the issue of Lucifer's motives. "I assume he was gloating. If you aren't going to drink that--"
"Focus," Dean says sharply. "Did he see you?"
Surprisingly, direct questions make this easier. "Yes, of course he did."
"Jesus," Dean breathes, sitting back against the armrest. "What did he want?"
"Apparently to ensure a full burning so Dean's soul would be released from this plane." Dean's eyes widen, confusion abruptly vanishing behind a shuttered look that means Dean understands exactly why Lucifer would want to be sure Dean had nothing to bind him here. "Under the circumstances, it was rather convenient."
Dean looks away. "Yeah."
"If he had been less impatient," Castiel continues, "it is possible he might have wondered why I didn't object to it being done immediately." Castiel studies the ceiling; it offers very little in the way of enlightenment. "He was never what one might call insightful."
Dean jerks his gaze back to Castiel. "What?"
"He had no claim to press, so it didn't matter whether Dean burned or not," Castiel says absently, taking advantage of Dean's confusion to lean over and retrieve the bottle; Dean doesn't seem to notice. "After your soul was retrieved from Hell, all claims to it were rendered null."
"Run that by me again? I sold my soul; I thought that was pretty much a forever kind of thing."
"Of course it is, but not for you. That was the point--" Castiel pauses at the growing confusion on Dean's face and takes another drink. "Even if you hadn't been absolved, the Host laid siege to Hell and took your soul from him. He lost his claim."
"Like, spoils of war?" Dean hazards, looking like he's not sure whether to be insulted.
Castiel shrugs, no longer paying attention. "As good a term as any."
"You told me you could throw me back," Dean says, expression abruptly switching from confusion to anger. "Fuck, half the goddamn Host threatened me with that shit. They were lying? You were lying?" Dean saves him the trouble of finding an answer that would satisfy him, rolling his eyes as he slumps back into the corner of the couch. "Right, angels lie, news at five. So what happens to my soul now? No Hell, no Heaven--wandering the ether or something?"
"I do not know," Castiel answers honestly.
"Great." The anger drains away as abruptly as it appeared, followed by a faintly challenging glare. "You told Lucifer that and he just--let you leave?"
"After I refused his offer, yes," Castiel says absently, taking the last drink from the bottle. He doesn't notice an appreciable difference in outlook yet and considers his options. Sliding to the floor, he pulls a box from under the couch, wondering where his lighter is. "Do you have a lighter?"
Twisting around, Castiel pauses at the expression on Dean's face. "A lighter?"
"A--" Dean's eyes flicker to the box in confusion; Castiel helpfully holds up a baggie. "Seriously? You're doing that now? Wait, what offer?"
Castiel rolls his eyes. "What he always offers. It was neither unique or memorable. Now, unless you have further pointless questions, Lucifer has won, and what we no longer have the luxury of is time, so yes, now. Now is all there is."
For a few long moments, Dean is silent. "Lucifer won," he echoes quietly. "I forgot about that."
"I am endeavoring to achieve the same," Castiel says absently, but the words spoken in Dean's voice, edged with disbelief, make him fumble the lighter with suddenly clumsy fingers. "As this is the first time the world has ended," Castiel adds more steadily, aware he's crushing the bag to avoid acknowledging his hands have begun to shake, "there's a lack of reliable information on the exact progression of events. This wasn't--" supposed to happen, Castiel thinks, and for a second, he can't see anything but Lucifer standing over Dean's motionless body. "I don't know how long we have. Possibly not even until morning."
"Then we gotta get out of here," Dean starts, trailing off in belated realization of how ridiculous that is.
Castiel says it anyway. "Dean, where on this world do you think we can go?"
"Fuck." Abruptly, Dean slides down beside him, taking the box and removing the papers before closing it. Spreading out one translucent-white square, he holds out his hand "Give me that."
Castiel loosens his hold enough to drop the bag in Dean's hands, watching as Dean expertly rolls the joint before licking the edge to seal it shut. Taking the lighter and lighting, he takes a long drag, eyes closing as he blows out the smoke in a soft blue-grey curl. "I was wrong," he says, tilting his head back against the cushions as he passes it to Castiel. "Now's just fine."
The world is a faintly hazy mass, and Castiel is experiencing a faint urge to eat when Dean finally says, voice thick, "He made you an offer."
"Yes." In retrospect, Castiel has no idea how Lucifer could have expected any other answer.
"Nothing you wanted?"
"It doesn't matter. I sacrificed everything, and we still lost." Castiel frowns at Dean's puzzled expression and tries to elaborate. "I want to go back to the day I Fell and tell myself that no matter what I choose to do, we are going to lose."
Dean goes still. "Yeah," he says softly, taking another drag, blowing out the smoke in a single breath. "But you didn't. Ask him for that."
"Of course not." Castiel pulls the joint from Dean's limp fingers. "What would be the point?"
Castiel doesn't remember his dreams often, though he's hallucinated during non-REM sleep; being a former aspect of Creation means there is very little of the biological side of humanity that he doesn't know like the meaning of his name, at least in theory. Opening his eyes at an unexpected noise, he sees dawn sunlight beginning to spill through the window nearby; it's tomorrow after all. He'd never thought there wouldn't be one, and yet he suspects they've now acquired at least three. "I'm sleeping."
"Not anymore," a familiar voice says, the ripple of amusement not quite concealing something darker. Raising his head, Castiel focuses on the doorway, where a Vera-shaped entity is idly looping a beaded string around her wrist. Seeing that she has his attention, she lets it slide away, crossing to perch on the arm of the couch, boots knocking his feet out of her way before she leans forward to rest her elbows on her knees and smile. It's not at all reassuring. "Good morning, Cas. Long night?"
"What are you doing here?" Sitting up, Cas is almost painfully aware of the fact that despite his best efforts to the contrary, he has somehow managed to achieve perfect sobriety. He's not sure how he allowed that to happen. "You're on night patrol."
"Just got back." Vera's smile, if anything, widens as she reaches up to push a stray twist back into the rough knot of locked hair before fixing him with cool brown eyes, dark skin faintly ashen in the early morning light; she looks tired, he thinks vaguely. "You know, it didn't even occur to me there was a reason you suddenly assigned me to nights."
Assigned her…. "I didn't--" Castiel stops himself from asking her at what point he had anything to do with assigning patrols; it had apparently already happened. "--think the reason was a mystery."
"That's what you're going with?" she asks incredulously. "Really?"
Castiel pauses; he has no idea where this conversation is going.
"Let's make this easy on us both," Vera continues flatly, not waiting for a response. "You wake up at dawn no matter what time you fell asleep, you haven't actually experienced a hangover since before I even got here, your memory isn't affected by anything and God knows you have tested it enough to be a goddamn natural law, and prevarication is what you do to buy enough time to lie. So we're done with the excuses part of the conversation. You want to tell me what the hell is going on now?"
Sobriety is terrible; he wonders how he allowed this to happen. "You want to know why I put you on night shift."
"I know that part," she says, surprising him, as he has no idea. "You thought that way I wouldn't catch you. What I don't know is why the hell you think sneaking out every night to search the city by yourself is--no, what the hell is up with that? You're not usually that stupid."
Castiel doesn't flicker a glance in search of his pants. They could, quite literally, be anywhere in this camp, and in any case, their location is now apparently separate from that of his keys. "I see."
Vera waits for a few pregnant moments before finally saying with an unmistakable quaver in her voice, "Cas, tell me--here, you can lie to me--that you aren't going to the city while you're fucked up--"
"Unless you wish to count speed, no," Castiel says automatically. The faint unease blossoms into panic between one breath and the next as he fully absorbs the implications of what she told him. "I'm not an idiot. Vera--"
"Because two days no sleep, that's good for you," she says acidly, but the relief in her voice is too strong to give the words weight. "Cas, why--I mean, I get you're searching for Dean, but--"
"I had reason." Castiel closes his eyes to control a surge of adrenaline so strong he feels himself start to shake. "Has anyone noticed the jeep is missing at night?"
"No," she says promptly. "Auto seems to think the new dawn is ten. Cas, look, I get this, you're worried that he--"
"He's alive," Castiel says doggedly, trying to think; he needs her to leave, soon. Now. "But I cannot simply--"
"Sit and wait, yeah, I get you." Vera looks down, the anger draining away. "Cas, you--I get it, but we can't afford the risk--" She cuts herself off, looking up sharply. "Tell me you get why this is a problem."
Castiel makes himself meet her eyes. "I won't go alone again," he says quietly. "That I will promise you."
Vera bites her lip, nodding as she pushes herself to her feet before pausing to add, "Or--"
"I will not go to the city alone during the day either," Castiel says patiently. She smirks back at him, shoulders relaxing all at once. "Go to bed. It was--a lapse in judgment. I won't do it again."
"You sure you don't want my report now?" she says before waving a hand on her way to the door. There are reports, apparently; Castiel will never truly trust his own drug induced stupors again. "I know, I know; see you later."
"Yes," he says tightly, barely waiting until she's left before pushing himself to his feet and trying to decide if he cares enough about clothing right now to look for it; finding a pair of jeans on the floor makes the question null. Scanning the room briefly as he pulls them on, he turns to the small room where his books are stored. A glance tells him four are missing, and calling up the titles, Castiel catches his breath; Dean had certainly known the right questions to ask.
She would have checked the garage before coming here, he reminds himself and if there isn't a jeep missing now--Castiel sucks in a breath, so relieved he has to catch the door to steady himself, black spots hovering in front of his eyes. Three nights, he thinks, sinking to the floor before he falls: three nights alone in the city, and if Lucifer had seen him--
Castiel cuts off that line of thought before it starts; this won't happen again.
Getting up, he finds his boots and a shirt, palming his knife on his way outside; it's early enough that he should be undisturbed while he confirms the jeep is here before he refreshes the wards. It's a mindless enough task, one he can do in his sleep, and it gives him time to scroll through the last three days of memories he'd ignored to discover exactly what this Dean was trying to accomplish. If he's fortunate, he might even be able to decide how to deal with him; historically, success is doubtful, but that doesn't mean he won't make the attempt.
The end of the world, he reflects, seems to be taking an inordinate amount of time; he's almost certain the time left should have not be in days, plural.
Castiel opens the door of Dean's cabin, pausing at the sight of the man slumped at the scarred table, head pillowed on the open pages of one of the books Castiel had so helpfully recommended two nights before. He's not sure what he expected when he saw him again, how difficult it would be to see this version of the man he'd always known he would follow to the very end of the world, even if he'd always assumed he wouldn't survive it. To his surprise, it isn't difficult at all; it's a very different Dean Winchester who mumbles into the open pages of the book, younger, softer, whose sleep is still a refuge that bitterness has no power to touch.
Even knowing he had to be within the confines of the camp, Castiel can't breathe for the sheer relief of seeing him, peaceful the way that Dean Winchester hadn't been in years.
A Dean Winchester, Castiel thinks, suppressing another shock of panic, who sleeps on despite the fact Castiel wasn't careful to be quiet when he unlocked and opened the door. Who isn't even armed, Castiel realizes, and with it, another surge of panic that he can't control; Dean had arrived here with nothing but his handgun and that may be the only weapon he took when he went alone into the city.
Shutting and locking the door behind, Castiel forgets how he'd decided to handle this; dropping his bag on the edge of the table, he shoves it back before kicking the chair out from under Dean, watching him hit the floor hard enough to knock the breath out of him. Disoriented, Dean doesn't move for a moment, trying to catch his breath, giving Castiel enough time to pick up the overturned chair. Pushing himself up, he sees Castiel, but confusion combined with familiarity slows him even further, giving Castiel time to plant a foot in his chest and shove him back to the floor. Castiel settles the chair over him, pinning Dean to the floor, the legs locking Dean's arms to his side with minimal leeway.
"What the fuck--" Dean yells, shoulders just coming off the floor in belated reaction. Even Dean's reflexes reflect the fact he lives in a very different world. Castiel sits down, pinning one of Dean's shoulders to the floor with his boot hard enough to get his undivided attention, ignoring Dean's grunt of pain.
Leaning forward, Castiel meets the furious green eyes. "I knew you were slower than he was," Castiel says pleasantly, "but I thought I could use the practice. I didn't realize how optimistic it was to assume you were capable of being even that. What are you doing?"
"Let me go," Dean grates out, flinching when Castiel increases the pressure on his shoulder . "Cas, what--"
"You might say I had a revelation this morning." Drawing his knife, Castiel leans farther down, ignoring the audible gasp as he shifts his foot enough to slit Dean's left sleeve to the shoulder. The black ink from marker that Castiel vaguely remembers using to draw the symbol on his arm is faded enough that it probably won't last until sunset. "Dean," Castiel says, straightening, "this is possibly the most important question I will ask you, so pay careful attention. What are you willing to risk to test which of you is better at lying to me?"
Dean's expression is unsurprisingly free of fear, but the anger is mixed with something that he's not sure how to define. "I won't lie."
"Good choice." Castiel watches Dean carefully. "I was not so high that I don't remember how many times you asked me to help you do something foolish, I just didn't care. Unfortunately, sobriety assaulted me at dawn, and you will pay the price for it. The books and that symbol I understand, but what exactly did you think you were going to accomplish going into the city alone for the last two nights?"
"What the fuck do you think?" Dean says incredulously. "I was trying to find the place where I appeared so I could figure out how to get back!"
Castiel can't breathe for a moment; while he'd guessed the reason Dean was going into the city, it hadn't occurred to him that Dean might not even know where it was he had appeared.
"--you weren't really all that helpful when it came to research," Dean is saying when Castiel can think again. "What the hell was I supposed to do?"
Castiel nods; he remembers this conversation. "When you asked me, I told you--"
"You told me to try prayer," Dean answers bitterly. "That was a lot of help, thanks."
"That is because the chance of prayer being of assistance to you is higher than anything else in this world," Castiel says flatly. Dean starts to answer, but Castiel cuts him off. "I thought I explained; your arrival was caused by a deliberate manipulation of spacetime by someone who has the ability to both see and control it. You are human and your mind is not designed to even comprehend the multiplicity of time in its entirety, much less hope to manipulate it with any degree of success. How much more clear should I have been?"
Dean licks his lips, looking marginally less certain. "But--
"The ability to manipulate time isn't necessarily a matter of power," Castiel continues. "It can only be accomplished with any degree of success by those whose true form exists outside of both time and space, and even then, the ability to do so is inherent to their beings from the moment of their origin."
Dean's eyes narrow. "What about finding someone who can do that?"
"Dean," Castiel says, as gently as he can, "this is the end of everything. Those who didn't join Lucifer and had the power to leave did so before Lucifer purged the rest. There is no one on any plane of Creation who survived him in their true form."
"Bullshit," Dean breathes, skin the color chalk. "You're lying. There's gotta be a way, someone--something--"
"Your lack of faith is devastating," Castiel answers, remembering what he's supposed to be doing here. "You went alone and unarmed into a city that is populated almost entirely by not just Croatoans and demons, but a variety of supernatural entities without any idea of where it was that you manifested--
"Fuck you." Dean glares at him, pallor vanishing beneath the flush of anger. "You might have given up, but I'm sure as hell not going to. The world is ending, sure, but it's not over yet."
Strangely enough, he has a point. Castiel ignores it. "If you are attacked," he says, tilting his head, "how does this story end?"
"You care if I'm killed?" Dean responds bitterly, reassuringly incredulous. "Seriously?"
"Lucifer has tried for some time to breach the defenses that were designed to protect this camp," Castiel says pleasantly. "His lack of success has been a constant source of frustration, not least because of the simplicity."
Dean's eyes narrow.
"So simple," Castiel continues, resting his elbows on his knees, "that it made them utterly impossible for him. For all their complexity, the key to destroying them only requires one thing; Dean Winchester's blood, freely given."
Dean frowns in confusion. "What does that--"
"When you go alone into the city," Castiel says softly, "being killed is probably the least likely outcome should anything there should see you. Anyone in the city who found you would have no reason not to curry favor with the one who won the war. Now tell me, Dean, how this story ends."
Slowly, comprehension dawns. "They'll give me to Lucifer." Dean stares up at Castiel. "You think--"
"Your tolerance for pain, not to mention your experience with torture, would be a challenge even for him," Castiel admits, ignoring Dean's flinch. "Especially considered 'freely given' is subject to interpretation. But I doubt he'd need to resort to such time-consuming measures when there is a much easier option available."
Dean mouth, half-open as if to reply, shuts with a click.
"You were correct; I lied to you." Castiel watches as the color drains from Dean's face. "There is someone left who has both the ability and the power to manipulate time. All that would be required would be meeting the price he would set in payment for the favor. How does this story end, Dean?"
"You think I'd deal with him," Dean says, voice stripped of everything, even shock. "You think I'd give him the camp to get back."
"It's the end of the world and Lucifer will kill us all anyway," Castiel responds calmly. "Under the circumstances, you could easily justify it as simply benefiting from what all know is inevitable. This time, you would have a far less personally valuable item of trade to offer, and one, I assure you, Lucifer will not hesitate to accept. After all, death is the very last thing that Lucifer has in mind for those who followed Dean; there is so much he can do to us before we're permitted that luxury, and he will have all of time with which to do it."
"You can't believe that," Dean whispers in disbelief. "Cas, you can't think I'd ever--"
"Make a deal with Hell?" Castiel tilts his head. "Of course you would. You've done it before."
"You son of a bitch."
"After all that we have given," Castiel says softly, implacably, "after all that we have lost, I will not permit you to shorten what little time that remains to us. He will not breach the boundaries of this camp until there is no one and nothing left for him to take. Do you understand me, Dean?"
Dean doesn't answer, eyes fixed on some point in the middle distance. Finally, he takes a long breath, looking at Castiel with an expression that Castiel doesn't think he will ever be able to forget. "Yeah," he answers, meeting Castiel's eyes. "I do."
"I don’t trust you," Castiel tells him. "I doubt you are genuinely intimidated even now, and any threat I made would be pointless, since you must know that the face you wear is a guarantee that I can't actually kill you. And if anyone in the camp were to discover that you were here…" Castiel hesitates briefly, glancing at Dean's arm, almost painfully relieved that Dean had both thought of the need for concealment and approached Castiel at a time when he was least likely to wonder if what Dean wanted was even possible. "I can't predict what the response would be to your presence, and this is not the time to find out. That does not leave me with many options to choose from." Reaching back, Castiel pulls out the small case he'd acquired in the infirmary from the bag. Dean's eyes narrow before recognition sets when Castiel opens it and removes a bottle. "This is one of them."
The color drains from Dean's face as the green eyes fix on the bottle. "Morphine."
"We do not have a large supply, but as there will be much need for it in what little time remains, it will be sufficient for my purposes."
"Drugging me," Dean says blankly. "Got it."
"It has two advantages," Castiel says. "It would render you harmless and once you were under its influence, you would eventually find the euphoric qualities pleasant. I don't actually have to offer you a choice in this; in fifteen seconds, you wouldn't even care."
Dean's expression doesn't change, and Castiel wonders if Dean had heard anything that he said since he realized what it was that Castiel intended to do to him. "Dean," he says without any noticeable result. "Dean," he repeats more urgently while putting more pressure on his pinned shoulder, grimly aware that Dean's response to pain is far more a product of habit than he's ever admitted, even to himself. Even breaking his shoulder might not be sufficient to get his attention. "Dean, look at me. Do you understanding what I'm offering you?"
Slowly, almost reluctantly, Dean's gaze shifts to Castiel as if he'd forgotten he wasn't alone. "Yeah," Dean says finally, the blankness burned away beneath a wave of rage mixed with revulsion. "I got it."
Castiel doesn't permit himself the luxury of looking away; with Dean, this will only work once, and he has no margin of error. The silence stretches into minutes, but Castiel is content to wait for Dean to break it; patience may be the only virtue that Castiel can still claim to possess, and he's had since before time began to learn it.
"What are you waiting for?" Dean says finally, one knee shooting up in sheer frustration followed by a hiss when the motion is interrupted by the chair's lower rung. "Let's get this over with."
"I told you that this was a choice," Castiel answers mildly. "I want to know your decision."
"You--" Dean starts to struggle in earnest; the sheer lack of success doesn't seem to affect his motivation in any appreciable way with a frantic edge that suggests that Castiel has very little time to accomplish his objective. "Why the hell are you even asking? So you'll feel better about what you're doing? You think I don't get--" Dean stills, head falling back against the floor. "Fuck you, Cas," he breathes, staring at the ceiling. "He wouldn't have to deal. All he'd have to do is show up at the gate with me and every fucking person here would walk out of their own free will. Right?"
Castiel nods. "Do you understand my dilemma?"
"I get it," Dean repeats, looking at Castiel. "So get it over with."
"Promise me you will remain within the confines of the camp at all times and make no attempt to leave," Castiel says quietly. "Can you do that?"
"Yeah," Dean answers automatically, blinking at Castiel in confusion. "What--"
"Before full dark, you will return to my cabin," Castiel continues. "Otherwise, your time is your own to do with as you please. As long as you wear that symbol and avoid egregious errors, you will not be seen. Will you abide by these rules?"
Dean nods warily. "Yeah."
"Then we have a deal." Putting away the case, Castiel stands up, removing the chair and stepping back, watching Dean sit up warily, hands loose at his sides. "There are seven hours left in the day. What you do--" Dean's on his feet before Castiel finishes the sentence; catching the punch, Castiel shoves him into the wall hard enough to knock the breath out of him. "I told you that you weren't as fast as he was," Castiel tells him, shoving Dean's arm up behind his back until Dean grunts in pain. "What I didn't tell you is that neither of you will ever be as fast as I am. He had practice with that. You don't. Do not attempt that again or I will not be so understanding."
Stepping back, Castiel lets him go, watching as Dean turns around, taking his measure and the fact Castiel hadn't bothered to put any distance between them. To Castiel's surprise, Dean doesn't try again, but the green eyes fixed on him with an unsettling intensity, which is exactly what Castiel had been trying to avoid.
"I like the junkie better," Dean says deliberately, cocking his head. "When did you figure out that everyone else did too? Even Dean?"
Dean's aim has never been less than flawless, cutting into the raw edges of an open wound that even time could not bother itself to heal. It's only a moment, it's the first time, and it's forever; nothing, he thinks hazily, should be able to still hurt like that.
"They never bothered to hide it," Castiel replies with forced indifference, reaching for the bag blindly, grateful to feel his fingers sliding over the strap. "Is there anything else?"
Something flickers across Dean's face before Castiel turns toward the door. "How do you know I’m not lying?"
"The same way I knew you would never deal with Lucifer. Your honor I trust, your understanding of consequences I do not. Now that you understand, I assume you will not risk everyone here for what cannot be changed," Castiel answers as he unlocks the door. From the corner of his eye, he sees Dean go still. He still hasn't moved by the time Castiel shuts the door behind him.
Three endless days later, the world is still continuing to end, and Dean studies the stacks of books he still hasn't read and wonders if this is what Lucifer might consider funny.
Between Dean's timing and Castiel's completely unsubtle determination to never actually look at him again, this is the first time he's had to consider where the electricity for the lights is coming from (the switch doesn't work when he comes back to the cabin). Even so, that manages to take a backseat to sound of Castiel's voice saying, "Someone tried to fix the generators again. It seems they failed."
Freezing with his finger still on the switch like an idiot, Dean blinks into the gloom, eyes adjusting to make out the shape of the couch and the man stretched out on it. "More like broken them." Pausing, Dean scans the room a little frantically, but there's no one else around, clothed or not. He's not ready to deal with Castiel's social life right now. "What happened?"
"My understanding of the results of the industrial revolution are more theoretical than you seem to believe," Castiel says with a faint snort. "I have yet to care enough to discover the extent of the problem."
"When'd it start?"
"I don't know," Castiel answers without interest. "I assume Dean's cabin was not affected?"
Dean pauses at that; so Castiel's paying attention after all, like the creepy stalker angel he apparently still pretty much is. "No idea," Dean answers, squinting a little into the darkness, trying to get a better read on Castiel. "Mysterious lights going on and off in the missing leader's cabin. I'm not sure how I feel about anyone attempting to exorcise me."
"I didn't consider that," Castiel says, sounding amused. There's a faint sense of movement from the couch. "Have you found anything of use to you in your research?"
Unsettled, Dean shakes his head before answering, "Not yet." Unable to stop himself, he adds, "Haven't summoned Lucifer to deal, either."
"There is a spell for that," Castiel answers. "Would you like me to show you where to find it?"
"You don't have to work this hard," Dean assures him. Something's off here, and it's not just Castiel is fucked up in general. "I really don't like you already."
Castiel lifts one shoulder in the impression of a shrug. This close, it's impossible to dismiss the pallor of Castiel's face as a trick of the darkness, skin bleached of all color in brutal contrast to smudges like bruises beneath glassy eyes. Feeling like he's walking on glass, Dean crosses to the front of the couch and eases into a crouch. "Cas, what's going on?"
Castiel frowns at him, as if he'd just noticed Dean's presence, and every hair on Dean's body goes on alert. "Why are you still here?"
Because that's what I promised you I'd do, Dean almost says; he doesn't. "Why do you want me to come back here every night?"
Castiel's eyes flicker to the door briefly. Dean would have missed it if he hadn't been watching Cas so closely. Glancing back at the beaded curtain--Jesus, what the hell--Dean pauses, narrowing his eyes as he studies the frame of the missing door, then pushes to his feet and goes to the doorway, seeing dark smudges too regular to be shadows. Running his fingers over the wood, he feels the unmistakable curve of a sigil beneath his fingers, so shallow they'd be invisible unless you knew exactly what you were looking for. Dean can feel the faint tackiness against the pad of his index finger: the blood was refreshed an hour ago, tops.
Dean traces the line of sigils to the floor where it meets the salt line before checking the other side, then the length of the top; it's not like he needs to, but it buys him some time to indulge himself in the pleasant fantasy of getting the hell out of here. Whatever's going on with Castiel, he really can't work up the energy to give a fuck after the last week--
Castiel is sitting up when Dean turns around. It's been a week since the Lucifer won, a week since the world started to end, and a week since Castiel watched Dean Winchester burn in front of his eyes. And Castiel is the only one who knows.
"I wasn't supposed to survive him. That was never part of the deal."
Two years and a week ago, Dean had watched in disbelief as he watched his own ghost of Christmas future send his team to die, sent Castiel to die. They'd known what Dean had sent them to do; even then, that hadn't been in question. Dean understands being willing to die for a person, a cause, an idea, down to his bones; he also understands the difference between choosing to step in front of a bullet for someone and someone stepping behind you because they know you'll take a bullet for them. It's not that he thinks the Dean Winchester who watched Castiel walk away to die in that alley didn't know the difference; it's that he just didn't care.
When Castiel looks away, the faint light catches on a shimmer trailing down the pale skin like a punch to the gut. Dean realizes his hands are clenched into fists, fingernails digging ragged half-moons into palms already tacky with blood; a little distantly, he wonders if that should hurt, because he can't feel a thing.
"I do not think it is possible for me to get drunk enough to forget, not anymore," Castiel whispers. "But that does not mean I cannot spend the night trying."
"Where's the generator?" Even with Castiel looking right at him, Dean's not sure he's seeing anything in this room. "I saw a toolkit at Dean's. You think you can wait that long? I'll make it fast." Taking a deep breath, he makes himself meet Castiel's eyes. "Cas--" Dean licks his lips. "Me being here, is it gonna make it harder?"
"Nothing can make it harder."
"Okay," Dean breathes, surprised at his own relief; he hadn't been sure what answer he'd wanted to hear until he had it. He's not even sure if he'd have cared if it had been different; he can't leave Castiel like this. "Okay. Where's the generator?"
Castiel swallows. "Dean--"
"I can't get drunk enough to forget, not anymore," Dean adds roughly. "Sometimes I can pretend, though. I'll show you how it works. Where's the generator?"
Slowly, Castiel nods, another gut-punch of blue eyes and searing grief and maybe something like relief, there and gone in a breath. "I'll show you."
Dean doesn't get drunk enough to forget that night, either. But he pretends he does.
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