Morning happens a little at a time. A door slams. Tires squeal in the parking lot. Dean's phone chimes to tell him it's eight o'clock. Dean grunts but doesn't open his eyes. He doesn't want to move. He swallows thickly. His throat is dry from breathing in the heater all night. He reaches over and slaps at his phone until he finds the snooze button.
What feels like ten seconds later, Dean's phone chimes again. A train horn blares. The plumbing hums behind the walls – someone starting their shower. Dean cracks one eye, just enough to see Cas sitting beside him on the bed. He's fully dressed except for his shoes. The TV is on, the volume down low. A finger of grayish light is wiggling through the gap in the curtains.
Dean hits the snooze button. He brings the phone with him as he rolls over and buries his face in the pillow. It's rough against his cheek, and it reeks of industrial-strength bleach. He wrinkles his nose but settles. Quietly, Cas says, "Dean." He brushes his hand through Dean's hair. Dean huffs out a noise and shifts closer. Cas is so fucking warm.
Just as Dean starts to drift off, his phone chimes again. Groaning, he gropes around in the sheets until he finds it. He kills the alarm and closes his eyes. Cas says, "Dean," again and slides his hand down to the side of Dean's neck. He thumbs Dean's pulse. Then something icy and bright bursts through Dean's chest – something that feels like getting splashed with cold water from the inside.
Dean jerks upright and coughs out, "Jesus Christ. You – not cool, Cas."
"Sorry," Cas says. He doesn't look sorry at all. A smile is tugging at his mouth. "I didn't want to leave while you were sleeping."
"Leave?" Dean asks, rubbing his face. His hand smells as bleachy as the pillow. "Where are you going?"
"You – what?"
"You gave me the idea." Cas stands and walks over to his shoes. He looks at them; a split-second later, they're on his feet. He turns back to Dean and explains, "Yesterday, you said Uriel might've hidden the Staff before I caught him at that warehouse."
Dean blinks at him. "Okay, yeah. But why Brazil?"
"Uriel rarely came to earth. He disliked the noise and the smell and the –"
"Yes," Cas admits. "Uriel did find humans obnoxious and... primitive." Pausing, he glances at the TV. It winks out with a buzz. "I assumed he hid it at the warehouse because it was expedient. If he took it somewhere else, he would've chosen a location familiar to him. The Jardim Botânico is the only place on earth he visited with any frequency."
"Yeah, all right." It isn't much, but the way things are going, they can't afford to look a gift lead in the mouth. Even if it is kind of thin. Yawning, Dean gets up and walks around the bed. He says, "Sounds good."
Cas asks, "What about you?"
"Ellsworth's meatsuit crashed in Wichita when he wasn't on the road. I'm gonna head down there and poke around a little."
"Would you like me to fly you there?"
Dean shakes his head. "No." It's tempting – catching the Angel Express would save him a three-hour drive – but then he'd be stuck there until Cas finished communing with nature. Scanning the matrix. Whatever. Dean isn't above stealing a car to get back, but that's too big of a risk when Henriksen's so far up his ass. "I'm good."
"I may be gone a few hours," Cas says. He palms Dean's hip, pulling him close. "Be careful."
"'Course," Dean says, leaning in. His morning-breath is at least a misdemeanor – his tongue feels like it needs a shave – so he kisses Cas' jaw instead of his mouth. "Always am."
Cas narrows his eyes. "Pray if you need me."
Cas zaps out with a burst of wind that flaps at the curtains. Outside, the sky is still a heavy, steely gray. Dean grabs his kit off the nightstand and shuffles into the bathroom. He eyeballs the shower for a second. He doesn't need one – Cas cleaned them up last night – but he could use it. His thighs ache. It's a good ache, but not something he wants to deal with all day. But he doesn't have time. Not if he's going to make it to Wichita by noon.
He settles for brushing his teeth and slapping some water on his face. He runs his wet hands through his hair until it looks like he might've combed it. He leaves his kit on the sink and walks over to his bags. He throws on jeans, an old Zep tee, and a dark red shirt – the sum total of his clean clothes. He brought a few other things, but they all need to be washed. He'll have to hit the laundromat at some point tonight.
He tucks his gun in his jeans and slips the demon shank into its sheath. After trying all his pockets, he slides his angel blade into his sleeve. It's a little awkward – it keeps catching in the fabric and banging the crease of his elbow – but it's the best he can do. He heads outside. The parking lot is nearly empty again; last night's cheaters and tourists have already crawled back to their real lives.
A light mist is veiling the Impala's windshield. Water is dripping off its wing-mirror, plinking into a puddle that's filmed with oil. The rain seems to be holding steady at a drizzle, so Dean walks over to the KwikMart that shares the Sleep-EZ's parking lot. As he's crossing the tarmac, he fires up Waze on his phone and checks the southbound traffic on I-70. It isn't bad. It isn't great, either.
Sam calls just as Dean reaches the KwikMart's door. Dean almost ignores it; calling him back on the road would kill some of those three hours. But Sam might have something – he never calls this early just for shits and giggles. Dean puts the phone to his ear and says, "Morning, Sammy."
"Good morning," Sam says brightly. "Where were you last night?"
That doesn't sound promising. Dean grumbles, "Christ. You asking 'cause you missed me, or 'cause you guys found another freaky body?"
Sam laughs. "No, no body. I called you last night to see how it went with Henriksen, but you didn't pick up."
"Yeah. Sorry about that." Drizzle is catching in Dean's hair. He ducks under the rusty, corrugated awning drooping over the propane cage. "I turned it off when I got to the motel."
"Motel? You –" Sam hesitates like someone is too close to his desk. After a beat or two, he asks, "Did something happen?"
"Just – you know. Staff shit."
"Start with Henriksen. How bad was it?"
"Yeah, I figured," Sam says. "Bobby's had his door closed all morning, and he didn't pick up when I called." Dean hears slurping – Sam drinking his coffee – then, "He did text me a picture of his middle finger."
Dean snorts. "Cranky old bastard. Henriksen's probably riding him like a carnival gag." A woman walks by with a can of Red Bull in each hand and an umbrella tucked under her arm. Once she's gone, Dean says, "He threatened me with obstruction. I told him to shove it."
"And after that?"
"After that, I went back to my place. I – some angels tried to roll me."
"Dean," Sam says. He heaves out a sigh. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah. Cas showed up, and he sent 'em packing." Dean toes at the pile of wet cigarette butts next to his feet. "He – my place ain't safe anymore, so we, uh. We grabbed a motel."
"You –" Sam cuts off with a noise. One of the precinct's phones rings to fill the pause. Sam asks, "Together?"
"You – he, um." Sam sighs again. Louder. "Dean, he's an angel."
An old truck rumbles into the parking spot facing the propane cage. Dean turns away from the roar and the exhaust, saying, "Yeah, I noticed."
"And you – isn't he going home once this Staff stuff is all wrapped up?"
Dean grits his teeth a little. "He is. I'm just making hay while the sun shines."
"Look, Sammy, I got a lot on my docket today. If you just called to give me a hard time, I'm –"
"Actually, I called for a reason," Sam says. He pauses to slurp more coffee in Dean's ear. "Ellsworth's sister finally got back to us."
"Yeah? What'd she say?"
"That she hasn't seen him in years."
Dean huffs. "You believe that?"
"Jody does, yeah." A phone rings on Sam's end again. Dean hears a voice that sounds like Walker. It rises and falls – he must be walking past Sam's desk. Sam says, "The sister married a friend of his right out of high school. About ten years in, it went sour. Ellsworth sided with his buddy when they split. She's only seen him three or four times since."
"Huh." The dog in the truck's front seat starts to bark. Dean plugs his other ear and asks, "Anything on the buddy?"
"Dead end," Sam says. "He team-drove with Ellsworth for a few years after the divorce, but then he got diabetes and KDOT yanked his commercial license. He dropped off the grid after that. The sister figures he's in Vegas; his gambling problem was one of the reasons she gave him the boot."
"Fuck." Dean tips his head back against the propane tank and sighs. Skipping a stop in Hutchinson saves him an hour or two, but he's getting tired of running into brick walls. "Anything on Wichita? I was just about to head down there."
"That's a dead end, too." Sam pauses again. Dean hears papers shuffle on that end of the line. "It's a garage apartment. Ellsworth used it as a flop when he wasn't on the road. He shared it with a pair of roughnecks from a rig down in the Gulf, but they had their schedules worked out so they weren't there at the same time." He gives Dean a second to swallow all of that. Then he says, "Look. I got to get back to work. If I hear anything else, I'll –"
"Yeah, I know. Thanks, Sammy."
Dean hangs up and pockets his phone. He shivers as the wind toys with his collar. The rain has picked up a little in the last few minutes; it's hitting the KwikMart's graffiti-scratched windows at a slant. The murky puddle under the propane cage is starting to ebb toward his feet. He edges away from it and scrubs a hand through his damp hair. He hates not having any leads. He hates not having a next move.
He briefly considers praying to Cas and hitching a ride back to Brazil. If nothing else, it would give him something to do for the next few hours. But Cas is busy with angel stuff; Dean would probably just get in his way. He chews on it for a couple more minutes. Then he decides to drive over to his office and get Kevin packed up. Salted windows will only keep Crowley out so long, and the angels seem to be playing for keeps. The Sleep-EZ has free Wifi. If Kevin needs a quiet place to write, Dean will get him a room.
Coffee first. A caffeine headache is already budding behind his eyes. The KwikMart is stuffy inside, like the crappy weather has kicked the heater into overdrive. The smell of cheap hotdogs and commercial-grade floor cleaner is louder than the fluorescent glare from the lights. He pours himself an extra-large medium roast and grabs a packet of powdered mini-donuts. He hesitates at the rack of burn phones near the register, standing there long enough that the clerk starts giving him the eye. He eventually settles on what's probably the last flip-phone in existence. It's just forty bucks, and he'll only lose about ten minutes of his life teaching Cas how to use it.
"Going on the lam?"
Dean jumps so far out of his skin that he jostles his cup and slops hot coffee over his hand. Hissing under his breath, he shakes it and wipes it on his jeans. Then he turns around before she gets the chance to stick a gun in his back. She's wearing brown today – a dark coat over a darker wrap-around dress. Her hair is tied up with a beige and brown scarf. She looks exhausted. The shadows under her eyes are the color of an old bruise.
"Bela," he says sourly. He takes a pointed glance around the KwikMart. A sign advertising three-for-five taquitos is hanging over her head, and the magazine stand behind her is stocked with softcore porn. "Man, you weren't kidding about slumming it."
"Places like this really are more your speed." She gives him elevator eyes that stop at every floor twice. "I'm surprised to find you out of your coffin this early."
"That's cute," Dean says, rolling his eyes. "What d'you want?"
"Enoch wants to see you."
Dean shakes his head. "Pass." He might be desperate for leads, but Enoch's just a nut – a nut who wants him dead. "He threatened to kill me yesterday."
"He admits he was... hasty the last time you spoke. But he has some information he's willing to share."
"What kind of information?"
"He didn't say." She brushes a stray hair away from her face. "Only that you'd find it useful."
Dean's caffeine headache is starting to put its back into it. He mutters, "Whatever," and turns toward the register. "Gimme his room number. Maybe I'll swing by later."
"I'll take you there."
Dean stares at her. "What makes you think I'd get in a car with you? What makes you think I'd get in a Prius?"
Bela sighs sharply and pulls a hunk of crystal out of her pocket. It fills her entire palm. It doesn't look like much at first, just the same kind of hippie hoo-ha Linda sells in the front of her shop. Then Dean notices that it's pulsing with pale, white light. Before he can take a step back, Bela grabs his arm. She barks out a word – something choppy and harsh. Dean feels a familiar tug under his ribs, and then everything goes black.
It's jerkier than flying with Cas – jerky enough that Dean's stomach gives a lurch. He stumbles around like a drunk when his feet hit the ground. His shin bangs into something he can't see. Once his vision comes back, he finds himself standing in a fancy hotel suite. It's the Oread; the windows are set into a naked wall made from ugly, orange-yellow stone. The other walls are the same creamy white as the plush carpet. Dean shakes himself a little. Then he turns in a slow circle so he can get his bearings and sneer at the expensive, art deco furniture.
Bela looks at him curiously. "You've done that before."
"Yeah," Dean says, glancing down at himself. His hands are empty; he must've dropped everything when the lights went out. "Once or twice."
"He said you'd been chumming around with an angel, but I – I didn't believe him."
"Yeah, well. I'm just full of surprises." Dean fumbles his blade out of his sleeve. "Where is he?"
"I'm here, I'm here," Enoch says, walking in from the next room. He's still in yesterday's frumpy cardigan and dirty khakis. His hair is still a rat's nest. At least he wiped the strawberries off his mouth. He frowns at Dean's blade and holds up his hands. "That won't be necessary, Dean. I just want to talk."
Dean just tightens his grip. "All right. Talk."
Enoch smiles at Bela and says, "That'll be all, dear." Bela barely hesitates. Then she turns for the door without a word. Her heels clack against the hardwood cut-away, sharper than gunshots. Once she's gone, Enoch gestures at the boxy, lime-green sofa. He asks Dean, "Care for a drink?"
Dean glances at the decanter on the coffee table. A crystal almost identical to Bela's is waiting beside it, glowing softly. Dean could use a belt – he doesn't give a shit that it's just after nine – but he wouldn't put it past Enoch to try and dose him with something. Sitting, he says, "No thanks. I'm good." He points at the door with his blade. "What've you got on her?"
"Dear, sweet Bela," Enoch says. He sits in one of the overstuffed chairs across from the sofa and sighs sadly. "I'm not blackmailing her, if that's what you're asking. She works for me because I can help her. Her soul is in danger."
It hits Dean all at once. "She made a deal. She made a deal, and she – her bill's coming due."
"Soon. If you listen closely –" Enoch cocks his head to the side "– you can almost hear the hellhounds licking their chops."
Dean doesn't know how old Bela is, but he figures she's still in her twenties. If her ten years are winding down, she must've been young – just a teenager. "What'd she want?"
"One of the old favorites, I'm afraid."
"Indeed," Enoch says, clucking his tongue. "She stood to inherit a great deal if her parents would just get out of the way. Unfortunately for her, they were hale and hearty, so –" He spreads his hands. "She asked a demon to help them shuffle their mortal coils. Now that the bomb is ticking, she regrets being so... overeager."
"And you – you can junk her contract? Keep her outta the hotbox?"
"I have a trick or two up my sleeve." Enoch reaches for the decanter. "Are you sure I can't tempt you? It's five o'clock somewhere."
Dean shakes his head. "No thanks."
Enoch shrugs again and slops about three fingers of scotch into a tumbler. He swirls it around a little before saying, "Enough about Bela. I brought you here to discuss the Staff. What do you know about it?"
"I know what it is," Dean says carefully. "I know what it can do. I know a whole lotta assholes are looking for it."
"Demons, you mean."
"Angels," Enoch says, his mouth twisting. "Vexing creatures, aren't they?"
It's a stab in the dark, but Dean's got nothing to lose. He gives Enoch and eyebrow and says, "You oughta know."
Enoch barks out a surprised laugh. Then he wags a finger and Dean and says, "Clever. You're very clever. But I suppose that's why you're a detective." He pauses to throw back some scotch. "What gave me away?"
"That little Portkey you whipped up," Dean says, nodding at the crystal. "And you sent Bela to fetch me. I figure you're having trouble spying on me with your mojo."
"I am," Enoch admits. He taps his thumb against the rim of his tumbler. "I lost sight of you sometime last night. Hex bag?"
"Something like that."
"Something like Castiel, you mean." When Dean doesn't bother denying it, Enoch asks, "What's your interest in the Staff?"
Dean shrugs. "I'm just trying to keep my head attached to my neck."
"Really. You're not at all interested in helping your savior get home?" Enoch leans back in his chair and gives Dean a smug smile. "Yes, I know all about that. I confess, Castiel is the real reason I brought you here. I want to know how deeply he's entangled you."
"It ain't like that," Dean says. His caffeine headache is beating like a drum. "Cas wanted to keep me out of it. Crowley dragged me in when he tried to kill me."
Enoch huffs out an irritated noise. "Demons. Always going in like a lion when they should act like a lamb." He helps himself to the rest of his scotch. "I sent Crowley to suss you out because I thought a little fear might make you more cooperative. But he overplayed his hand. And you – well. I forgot that you've dealt with demons before."
"Occupational hazard," Dean mutters. He leans forward, laying the angel blade across his knees. "You know, I don't get you two working together on this. I mean, when it's all over, who gets the Staff?"
"We plan to split it."
Dean stares at him. "You're gonna – you can do that?"
"Of course," Enoch says, nodding. "Its strength diminishes with each division, but half is still nothing to sneeze at. You could split it... oh, ten or fifteen times before its power becomes a party trick."
"And then what?" Dean asks. "Hell uses their half to make trouble, and Heaven comes down to save our sorry asses? Heaven uses their half to scare us whenever they think we're outta line?"
Enoch smiles like a knife. "Who said anything about Heaven?"
"You – you want it for yourself," Dean says slowly. Fuck. He should've known. "Why?"
"Because one day, all of this will end," Enoch says. He gestures in a way that's bigger than the inside of his suite. "Lucifer will rise, and Heaven and Hell will fight a mighty battle on earth. Heaven believes they'll win, but I was God's scribe. I know exactly how much of his word was pulled out of his ass." He snorts out a laugh. "Let them fight. With the Staff in my pocket, I'll survive either way."
Dean just breathes for a second. This is so far above his pay-grade that his head is starting to spin. His shin hurts. The drumbeat behind his eyes is getting stronger. He rubs his hand over his face and sits up straight.
He says, "Well, you're wasting your time with me. I don't know where it is."
"But you know where Castiel is."
"I ain't seen him since last night."
Enoch gives Dean a slow, thoughtful once-over. Then a dirty leer crawls across his face. "This morning, I think. I can smell him all over you." He rolls his tumbler between his hands. "He's a curious thing, our Castiel. Been enamored with humanity since the beginning. I don't see the romance, myself. You guys tell fantastic stories, but you're boorish and bad-tempered. Smelly. Limited." He looks at Dean pointedly. "Stupid."
"You've spent your whole life chasing after things that could kill you in the blink of an eye. If that's not stupid... what would you call it?"
Dean puts a shrug in his shoulder. "Someone's gotta do it."
"Indeed," Enoch says, sighing. "You stop at a diner for a bite to eat. But you overhear something strange. So you have to drive across town to check it out. And you have to rush in without knowing what you're up against." He shakes his head sadly. "And when you end up surrounded, you set the building on fire in your haste to save your sorry skin."
Dean hefts his blade. "Angel or not, you keep talking like that and I'm gonna ram this through your throat."
But Enoch just continues, "And then comes Castiel. He's so close to what he's been seeking, but he sees the fire. He hears one of his stupid humans screaming in pain. So he abandons his task – a task he believes he was given by God. He rescues you from certain death, but it costs him everything."
"I didn't ask him to. I never –"
"Then some children go missing. And you have to go investigate. You have to chase that rawhead into a stinking, moldy basement. You manage to slay the dragon, but you electrocute yourself. And when your heart gives out, Castiel flies to your side and heals you. He saves you from your own stupidity again."
"Listen, I –"
"And now – now he's back. And he's wrapped himself around you like a vine. And you have to help him, because you feel like you owe him your life."
"I'm telling you," Dean snaps. There's a knot in his throat the size of a fist. "It ain't like that."
"But it is," Enoch insists. "When rumors put the Staff in Lawrence, he came to you because you're you. And you – well. You let yourself get sucked into this Easter egg hunt because he's him." He gives Dean a smile that's full of teeth. "Drama, intrigue, and romance. I couldn't have written it better myself."
Dean hefts his blade again. Before he can do anything, something slams him back into the couch. Grunting, he tries to move, but he's frozen solid from the neck down. Enoch laughs. He pours himself another finger of scotch and knocks it back in one swallow. Then he stands and walks around the coffee table. He pats Dean on the head like he's petting a dog.
Cas. Cas, I'm in trouble.
"I considered killing you," Enoch says quietly. "But that'll just send Castiel into a rage. If he's angry – truly angry – he might destroy the Staff to spite me, even if it means he never gets back into Heaven." He fists his hand in Dean's hair and yanks Dean's head back, forcing Dean to look him in the eye. "Holding you hostage might convince him to cooperate, but I think... I think it would be easier just to get you on my side."
Pain explodes in Dean's chest, sharp and furious and bright. Endless. It sears through every part of him, slicing down into his stomach and stabbing up into his throat. He chokes out a thick, wet nose. Blood fills his mouth. He can't breathe; tears well in his eyes as an invisible hand squeezes the air out of his lungs.
Cas. Cas, please.
His scar throbs. Everything goes black.
"... if you've harmed him in any way, I'll –"
"Relax, Feathers. I only stabilized his wounds. Then I summoned you – which was no easy task, I might add. Not the way you're warded." A huff. "Who are you hiding from, then? The Lord himself?"
"No. Just everyone else."
Dean groans. He can't open his eyes. Everything hurts; he feels like he's been hit by a truck.
A hand touches his face. A voice – no, Cas – Cas says, "Dean, keep still. You're badly injured."
A slow sweep of grace courses through Dean's body. The heat and chill and light feel muted, like Cas is being cautious. Like he's trying to be gentle. It stretches on so long and sweet that Dean starts to shake, overwhelmed by the way it sparks and slides under his skin. From having so much of Cas so close. He turns into Cas' palm and whines out a noise. Cas shushes him, brushing his other hand through Dean's hair.
When Cas finally eases away, Dean tries opening his eyes again. The light in the room is blinding. It takes him a second to figure out where he is – the Oread. Enoch's suite. He's lying on the couch.
He takes a few deep breaths. Before he can try sitting up, Rowena leans over him. She brings a cloud of lilac perfume with her; it smells cold, like flowers left in a mausoleum. She lays a slim hand on Dean's forehead and hums softly. It almost sounds like words – something that could be a spell.
Cas bats her away. "He's fine."
"Just checking your work."
"My work is fine. He's fine."
"Hey," Dean gripes. He has to drag his voice up from the bottom of a well. "Stop talking about me like I ain't here."
"I'm sorry," Cas says quietly. His mouth softens. "Can you move?"
"Yeah, I think so." Dean grips the back of the couch and levers himself up. He runs his tongue over his teeth. Grimacing, he asks, "Why does my mouth taste like an old shoe?"
"That'd be the potion I gave you," Rowena says, pulling her hair over her shoulders. She's wearing purple today – a shade too livid and bright for the dullness of the suite. "I dosed you to stop your internal bleeding. I didn't have my supplies, so I had to work with scraps from around the room."
Dean bristles a little – he hates witchcraft – but he makes himself say, "Thanks." He grabs the scotch off the coffee table and helps himself to a shot straight from the decanter. It goes down as smooth as silk, but it doesn't wash the grit off his tongue. "What happened?"
"You were beaten," Cas says.
"No, that's – I remember that." The air smells burnt, like magic and old smoke. He looks at Rowena and asks, "Why are you here?"
It comes out accusatory, but Rowena barely rolls her eyes. She explains, "Crowley summoned me early this morning. He wanted me to look in on Enoch. I overheard him talking with that woman what's been running errands for him – Bela, I believe? The way he spoke... I thought he might try something like this." She crosses her arms. "We have a deal, Winchester. I won't have you dying before you hold up your end."
"And you just –" Dean waves his hand. "You just busted in like the cops?"
Rowena shrugs. "The ward on the door was simple enough. A novice could've opened it."
Dean treats himself to another shot. It goes down even lighter and smoother than the first. "How'd you get rid of him?"
Rowena points at the floor. A scorched patch of carpet is edging under one side of the coffee table. It almost looks like a pair of sooty feet. She says, "I threw holy oil on him and started conjuring a fire. Seemed the quickest way to get rid of an angel." She shrugs again. "He certainly flapped off in a hurry."
Cas splits an odd look between Rowena and the singed carpet. Then he sits down beside Dean and draws him into a hug. He smells good – ozone and fresh-cut grass. He huffs out a noise against Dean's jaw.
"You need to be more careful."
"Yeah, I'm starting to get that."
Cas huffs again. "I heard you praying. I could feel you, but I couldn't find you."
"Sorry." Dean knows Rowena's watching them, but he – he doesn't care. He palms the side of Cas' neck. "I forgot you can't see me anymore."
Rowena clears her throat. "Well. Now that you lads are sorted, I'd best be off. I wouldn't want Crowley to catch me slumming."
She grabs a long, black shawl off the back of the chair. After shaking it out, she swirls it around her shoulders. Murmuring under her breath, she drags her hands over her hair and face. Her hair fades to a silvery-white, and her face ages about twenty years, lines forming around her mouth and at the corners of her eyes. The spell leaves an aftertaste in the air – something bitter and earthy and dark.
As soon as she's gone, Cas pulls back to look at Dean's face. Frowning, he asks, "Enoch did this to you?"
"Yeah," Dean says, nodding. He sets the decanter on the table so he doesn't buy himself another shot.
"And he – Rowena believes he's an angel?"
"Are you sure?"
Slowly, Dean says, "Yeah, I'm sure. He knocked me around with his mojo." He squeezes Cas' knee. "Why? What's wrong?"
Cas' frown deepens. "Dean, I know every angel in Heaven. None are named Enoch."
"He – wait, wait. He said – fuck." Dean snaps his fingers a few times. "He said he was God's scribe."
"No," Cas says. His voice is almost a whisper. "No. That's not possible."
Dean's legs are achy and restless, and post-healing exhausting is starting to tug him down. He stands to get his blood moving again. "He talked about writing. He said he'd seen God's word – whatever that means."
"If Enoch is God's scribe, then his true name is Metatron." Cas leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. Lightning flashes through the window behind him. Rain is running down the pane in thin streams. "He's been missing for millennia. Why would he return for the Staff now?"
"He said he wants it for himself."
"That doesn't make sense," Cas insists. A stubborn crease gathers on his forehead. "His place at God's feet was a cherished one. He would be welcomed back in Heaven without question."
"No. I mean, he wants it for himself," Dean clarifies. "He said Heaven and Hell were gearing up for some kind of fight. He wants the Staff as insurance in case Heaven loses. He figures it will help him keep his head above water." When Cas doesn't say anything, Dean presses, "Is that true? Is there some kinda Revelations shit coming down the pike?"
Cas is silent for a long moment. Then, quietly, he says, "There is an apocalypse prophecy, but it – it's centuries away from being fulfilled. And it's unlikely it would unfold the way it's recorded in the Bible."
That's a deeper, darker rabbit-hole than Dean can handle right now. He asks, "Any luck in Brazil?"
"No. What about you?"
Cas sighs. "I'd hoped you'd find something. Ellsworth is the last solid lead I've had since Pontiac."
"Pontiac," Dean mutters. Something – fuck. He doesn't know. Just something. It's nagging at him like meat between his teeth. "You went to Pontiac chasing a rumor, right?"
"And a demon told you where the Staff was stashed?"
"Yes." Cas gives Dean a curious look. "What –"
Dean waves him off. "The demon. You – tell me about the demon."
After a short pause, Cas says, "The vessel was a young woman, maybe twenty years-old. She was recently possessed – so recent that she's suffered a minimal amount of harm. I intended to exorcise her and heal her when I finished questioning the demon."
"She was rescued," Cas says. Another flash of lightning arcs across the sky. "I'd taken her to a motel. Seven demons swarmed the room. I smote six, but the other managed to break the devil's trap. She –"
"She smoked out," Dean finishes. Something doesn't feel right; demons don't usually play team sports. "The girl – what'd you do with the girl?"
Cas pauses again. Then he says, "I healed her and wiped her memory. After that, I returned her to her place of employment. She served food at a local restaurant."
"It was a diner," Dean says. His pulse is hammering under his skin. "One of those boxcar jobs. It was right off the highway."
It clicks into place all at once. Clicks like a gun going off.
Dean snarls, "Fuck," and clenches his fists. "Fuck." He kicks the coffee table; it tips sideways and crashes to the floor. The tumblers shatter. The crystal wobbles in a circle. The decanter rolls into the chair, glugging scotch onto the carpet. "God fucking damn it!"
"Dean," Cas says quietly. He touches Dean's shoulder, right over the scar. Nudges until Dean turns around. "Dean, what's wrong?"
"We've been had." Dean hurls one of the ugly, art deco lamps across the room, but the sound of smashing glass only makes him grit his teeth. "This was an inside job."
"I don't understand."
Dean scrubs at his hair. "Enoch – or, Metatron. Whatever. After he got here, he started talking about you. How he knew you'd rope me into helping you. And he knew everything about us – about you pulling my ass outta that fire." He can't breathe. He feels like he's being strangled from the inside. "Too much – he knew too much."
A horrible look crawls across Cas' face. "Dean –"
"I should've fucking seen it," Dean shouts. He'd been a wreck afterward – so screwed up about his dad getting burned alive that he couldn't think straight – but still. "I can't believe I didn't see it. Rougarous don't live in packs. And that chick at the diner, she said they chased her out. That's – they would've eaten her."
"You think," Cas starts – slowly, like he can't make himself finish. Like if he doesn't say it, it won't be true. "You think Metatron set us up?"
"I know he did," Dean says. His hands are shaking. "He put the rougarous in that warehouse. He put some kinda ward on the door so they couldn't get out. Then he stuffed a demon into a waitress and had her tell a story my dad couldn't refuse." A hysterical laugh claws into Dean's throat. "The sonofabitch probably set the fire, just so we'd start screaming on cue."
"Why?" Cas asks. He looks lost. Gut-punched. "Just so he could end my search?"
Dean nods. "Yeah. He'd never rest easy with it – not with you still on the job."
"All right," Cas says. He stares out the window for a few seconds before continuing, "If this is true... where is the Staff now?"
Dean barely has to think about it. "Pontiac. It's probably still in Pontiac. I bet it never left that warehouse." He catches his hand in Cas' sleeve. "When they yanked you back upstairs, they told you it'd been moved. You – did you go back?"
Cas shakes his head. "No. I believed them." There's a rough hitch in his voice. "They told me it had been moved, and I believed them."
"'Course you did. You guys are supposed to buy whatever Heaven is selling. Metatron was counting on it."
"Dean," Cas says. He grabs the front of Dean's shirt. "Dean, I'm sorry. Your father –"
"Don't talk like that. This ain't your fault." Dean wants to wrap Cas into a hug. Kiss his jaw. But he shouldn't. Not anymore. An empty ache spreads through his chest as he says, "C'mon. Let's go get your ticket home."
Cas pauses. Then, quietly, he says, "No."
"What–? Why not?"
"If I take the Staff to Heaven now, Metatron and Crowley will kill you. We need to deal with them first."
Dean would rather just rip the band-aid off. Get it over with. But he knows Cas is right, so he makes himself nod. He pats his waistband and hip to check for his weapons. His forty-five and the demon shank are fine, but his angel blade is on the floor. As he stoops to get it, he notices a piece of paper stuck to the bottom of his boot. It has a number written on it – KS: D-3-6-7-4-2.
"What's that?" Cas asks.
"Looks like a license plate," Dean says, shrugging. "I'll run it when we get back to the office."
"Your office isn't safe."
Dean folds the paper and stuffs it into his pocket. "We ain't staying long. I just wanna get Kevin outta there before anymore heavy-hitters show up."
"Fine," Cas says. He takes Dean's hand.
Dean lets himself be pulled in.
They land in the front office, right beside Kevin's desk. Kevin isn't there, but his backpack is on his chair, yawning open around his books. Half a pot of coffee is turning to stone on the machine. Kevin's computer is on stand-by. It perks up with a soft chirp when Dean steps away from Cas and bumps the monitor with his elbow.
It's almost eleven. Kevin doesn't really keep to a schedule; he makes snack runs whenever the office is slow, or whenever he has writer's block. Dean tells Cas, "He's probably just grabbing some lunch," and heads into his office. He hopes he isn't lying to himself.
He flips on the overhead light and Alastair's floor lamp. The combined glare stings his eyes so much it makes him blink. That second shot of scotch was a mistake. Between its slow burn and the aftermath of getting healed, all Dean wants to do is curl up and sleep for a month. The rain's constant throb isn't helping things any. Dean sinks into his chair and rubs his hand over his face.
There's a pink post-it stuck to his landline – a note from Kevin that says, "Took your motion to dismiss to the courthouse. You're welcome."
Dean relaxes a little. He unsticks the post-it and folds it in half. He tosses it at the wastebasket, but it catches on the rim and flutters to the floor. It's in good company – a ripped business-reply envelope and two empty ballpoint pens – so Dean leaves it there. He sighs and rubs his face again.
Cas walks in from the front office as Dean is fishing his phone out of his pocket. His tie is crooked and loose. He's carrying two mugs of coffee. He sets one on Dean's desk before grabbing one of the client chairs.
"Thanks," Dean says, clearing his throat.
The coffee is sour and thick from sitting on the burner, but Dean's so desperate that he'd drink mud if it had any caffeine in it. The first sip burns his tongue. It smells like tar and tastes worse. Still, he chokes back as much as he can in one go. Then he thumbs his phone awake and dials Donna's number.
She picks up on the third ring, saying, "Dean-o," in a sunny voice. "I'd ask you how it's hanging, but I think I already know."
Dean digs up a laugh. "The rope ain't around my neck yet. You got a minute?"
"For another weekend warrior? Of course I got a minute." She pops her gum in Dean's ear. "Whatcha need?"
"Kansas license plate. D-3-6-7-4-2."
"A commercial vehicle, huh?" She pauses to peck at her keyboard. A fax machine starts beeping as she says, "Alrighty. Looks like a 2013 Peterbilt 367. It belongs to a – oh. Oh, heck."
Dean pauses as he reaching for his coffee. "Lemme guess. Joseph Gregory Ellsworth."
"Listen, Donna. I don't wanna get you in a fix, but I gotta find this heap. If it turns up anywhere –"
"Oh, I know right where it is." She snaps her gum again. Then she slips into a whisper, saying, "It got repo'ed about a month back. It's sitting on an impound lot in Wichita. A place called Heavy Haulers on Kellogg Drive."
"Thanks," Dean says. He hangs up and looks at Cas. "You get all that?"
"Yes. Heavy Haulers. Kellogg Drive, Wichita." Cas sets his coffee mug on Dean's desk, right beside the out-dated calendar. "If Metatron has been looking for this truck, maybe Ellsworth stole the Staff after all."
"Maybe." Dean's gut is telling him it's in Pontiac. Still, he says, "Wouldn't hurt to check it out."
They both stand. Dean walks around his desk. Before he can start checking his weapons, Cas touches his arm. "No, Dean. I'm going alone."
"No." Dean shakes his head and works his angel blade into his sleeve. "No way."
"This could be a trap."
"'Course it's a trap."
The air rustles like Cas is getting ready to rip it in half. "You could get hurt."
"So could you," Dean points out. He – fuck. He doesn't need to be babysat. Anger burns in his cheeks and jaw. "Stop trying to bench me just 'cause I'm a stupid human."
"No. I dislike putting you in danger," Cas says. He moves his hand up to Dean's shoulder.
Dean shrugs him off with a grunt. "You know what –? Fuck you. I hunted for years without you, and I'm gonna keep hunting after you fly back upstairs. I can watch my own ass."
"Dean," Cas says sharply. Light glints behind his eyes. "Do you have any idea what you mean to me? Any idea at all?"
Dean looks away. "Don't. Not when you ain't gonna be here much longer."
Cas makes a low, rough noise. He grabs the back of Dean's neck and yanks him into a kiss. It's hard and fast and filthy – more teeth than tongue. And then it's over. Cas zaps out with a snap of wind. Leaves Dean holding onto nothing.
"Better get used to it," Dean mutters.
Rain rattles against the windows, brighter than buckshot. The sky is dull and dark and colorless. Dean makes himself breathe; restless anxiety is gnawing at his anger. His gut is churning double-time. He's never been good at waiting, but it's worse when he's stuck sitting out a fight. He hates not being there. Not knowing what's going on. Not being able to help.
He heaves out a sigh and scrubs at his hair. He downs the last of his nasty coffee. Then he finishes the cold mouthful of dregs Cas left behind. After that, he heads into the front office and puts on a fresh pot. He spills grounds all over the table, and he slops enough water everywhere that steam curls up from the burner. He paces the length of Kevin's desk while he waits for it to brew.
He's halfway to wearing a trench in the floor by the time Kevin finally comes back. Kevin pauses in the doorway, holding a brown bag of what smells like burritos. He blinks at Dean for a second before saying, "Sorry. I didn't get you anything. I didn't think you were coming in today."
Dean waves him off. "Don't worry about it. Just get in here."
Brakes squeal out on the street. Kevin asks, "Is everything okay?"
"No. This thing with Cas is getting kinda hot." Dean pulls out his wallet and tosses two c-notes on the desk. "You gotta clear out for a coupla days. If you don't wanna go home, take that –" He points at the money "– and get a room at the Sleep-EZ. Me and Cas are in five, so shoot for something on the other side."
"Good idea," Kevin says. His mouth twitches. "I don't want to hear you two doing it all night."
Dean glares at him. "This ain't a joke. When you get there, salt the windows and draw a devil's trap on the door."
Kevin sobers immediately. Nodding, he says, "Okay, yeah." After a pause, he pokes the burrito bag. "Can I eat first?"
Dean wants to say, "No," but he knows that's just his nerves talking. Five more minutes isn't going to matter. "Yeah. Just make it fast food. We –"
The air splits open behind him, whipping up a wind that blows all the papers off Kevin's desk. He whirls around expecting Cas. Instead, he finds a red-haired woman swaying on her feet. A red-haired angel. Her face is bruised, and she's bleeding from her mouth and throat. Grace is leaking out of her from a dozen places at once.
She wheezes out a wet, raspy noise and sinks to her knees. She sways again. A bundle drops out of her jacket and rolls across the floor. She reaches for it, hunching down onto her elbows. It's too far away.
She grabs at Dean's jeans. "Dean Winchester?"
Dean crouches down beside her. The light pouring out of her makes her shimmer like a mirage. "Yeah, that's me. You – what's your name?"
"Anna," she whispers. "Castiel. Wanted you to have that." She coughs, spattering more blood on her lips. "Safe. Keep it safe."
"Yeah, I will," Dean says, forcing his voice steady. "I'm gonna keep it real safe." She must be from Cas' garrison. One of Cas' friends. I have a sister named Anna, but I haven't seen her in almost a decade. Carefully, he touches her hair. "You – can we help you?"
She coughs again, deep in her chest. More blood bubbles from her mouth. "Can't – can't fly. Heaven. Send me to Heaven." Her eyes flutter closed. "I'll survive if you – Heaven."
"Okay, yeah. We can do that."
Dean shakes the angel blade out of his sleeve. He starts to stand up, but Kevin says, "Got it." His hand is already bleeding. Wincing, he slaps it to the sigil on the wall. Anna blazes out in Dean's face, heat and light and a sharp crest of ozone. He turns away from it, closing his eyes. Once she's gone, he leans over and grabs the bundle.
It's about two feet long. It's wrapped in burlap and tied with twine. A warding symbol is drawn on it – nothing Dean has ever seen before. He worms a finger into a loose fold until he finds paper. Underneath that is a layer of what feels like felt. He digs a little deeper, biting his lip when he finally touches wood. It's unfinished; his fingernail catches a rough edge. It doesn't tingle or spark or hum. He isn't sure how the Staff works – if he needs to think at it to get it going. He's afraid to try. If it suddenly starts raining frogs, Crowley and Metatron will know something's up.
Kevin's eyes widen. "Is that –?"
"I think so, yeah," Dean says, getting to his feet. "It's – fuck. I gotta ditch it. It ain't safe here. Not without Cas."
"I don't know yet." That's a lie, but Dean figures Kevin's better off in the dark. He shrugs into his jacket and hides the Staff underneath it. On his way out the door, he pauses to point at Kevin's desk. "C'mon. Pack your shit and get outta here."
Kevin gives him a salute. "Sure thing, boss."
Out in the hallway, Dean prays. He starts with, Hey, Cas, but stops because he doesn't know if the airwaves are clear. If Metatron is listening in somehow. Or Crowley. His best bet is keeping it vague. Gotta run an errand. Be back in half an hour. Forty-five, tops.
He hesitates when he gets to the parking lot, because – fuck. The Impala is back at the Sleep-EZ. With all the crap that's happened this morning, he'd forgotten about that. He glances at the Continental. A steady stream of water is pouring off its fender. Benny's place is only a couple of blocks away; walking there would be faster than hotwiring an old car on a cold, wet day. Dean zips his jacket closed around the Staff. He hunches his shoulders against the wind and walks up to Sixth.
He heads a block west, passing a nail salon and a donut shop and a payday loan that also rents mailboxes. The light from their neon signs paints the wet sidewalk pink and blue and green. The next building in line is a "massage" parlor that gets raided by the cops about once a month. After that is a hole-in-the-wall that sells fried chicken. The heavy, greasy smell makes a queasy feeling rock through Dean's gut. He shivers. A river of rainwater is rushing in the gutter, deep enough that it's nearly lapping over the curb.
Traffic is almost zero, so Dean jogs across the street against the light. He splashes through a puddle when he gets to the other side, soaking his boots and the bottom of his jeans. The building on the corner is for lease; three kids are sneaking cigarettes in its shadowy entryway, smoke clouding around their heads. Benny's place is right next door. Like most pawn shops, it looks closed despite being open. Rusty accordion gates are drawn across the windows. The "We Buy Gold and Silver" sign is dark; Benny never remembers to turn it on.
The door jangles open. Benny's liquid, Louisiana drawl rolls out to greet Dean at the first display case. "Well. Look what the cat dragged in."
"Morning, Benny," Dean says, taking a quick glance around the shop. A guy is lurking near the rack of used electric guitars. Benny is slouched on a stool behind the jewelry counter, his hands in the pockets of a red and black flannel coat. A fisherman's cap is angled over his eyes. "How's the weather treating you?"
Benny shrugs one shoulder. "I was born on a houseboat. I ain't afraid of getting wet." He scratches his jaw and gives Dean a long, up-and-down-look. A smile rustles his beard. "You buying, selling, or pawning?"
The door jangles again – Guitar Guy letting himself out. Dean waits a couple of beats. Then he leans his elbow on the counter, right beside an old Victrola. He says, "I need a favor."
"C'mon, chief." Benny tsks under his breath. "We've talked about you using me as a safe-deposit box."
"Last time," Dean promises. Like he didn't say that the last time. Or the time before that. Or the time before that. "I'm really in a spot."
After a pause, Benny asks, "Stolen?"
Huffing, Dean shakes his head. "No way." That's how they met; three or four years ago, Dean helped Benny out when the cops accused him of being a fence. "I wouldn't do that to you."
"Yeah, I know," Benny says. He chuckles a little. "I'm just giving you a hard time." He raps his knuckles on the counter – a sharp, uneven drumbeat. "Let's see what you've got."
Dean unzips his jacket and hands Benny the bundle. Benny looks at it for a second. Then he looks up at Dean and raises an eyebrow. He tugs at the twine. Worries the warding symbol with his thumbnail. Hefts it like he's trying to gauge its weight.
Eventually, he mutters, "Whatever floats your boat," and walks into the back room. A minute later, Dean hears the slow creak of a floor safe being opened. It closes again with a clang. As he comes back out, Benny asks, "You want a ticket?"
"Yeah. Just in case."
Benny gives him another eyebrow. "In case of what?"
Dean waves that off and slips the ticket into his wallet. "Thanks, Benny. I appreciate it."
He turns and heads for the front of the shop, winding past all the stuff that's on hock – a vintage tea kettle, a worn pair of ballet shoes, a bunch of electronic junk, a pair of fifties cabinet TVs. Saxophones hang from the wall. A drum kit is collecting dust underneath them. One of its cymbals is cocked against a stack of milk crates full of original vinyls.
As Dean reaches the door, Benny says, "Hey. Just how deep is this hole you've dug yourself?"
Dean glances over his shoulder and forces a smile. "About five and a half feet."
The storm is still holding steady when he gets outside. Rain is tapdancing on the sidewalk. Wind is jerking Benny's accordion gates. The municipal trashcan across from the pawn shop is flooded, welling with soggy garbage – chip bags, newspapers, Starbucks cups, plastic sacks. Dean zips his jacket and flips up his collar. He stuffs his hands in his pockets and hurries back down the street.
Okay, Cas. I'm on my way back.
Thursday, part 2 »»»