evitably: ([peas in a pod)
[personal profile] evitably
Title: Let's pretend I'm dead
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: All of season 6.
Wordcount: ~23k
Genre: Gen/pre-slash; horror; angst; casefic.
Characters/pairings: Dean/Samstiel; past Dean/Lisa and Dean/Alastair.
Contents/warnings/kinks: identity issues; suggested incest; substance abuse (alcoholism); PTSD; vague/open ending
Disclaimer: SPN and its characters do not belong to me.

Summary: When Sam's mental wall collapses, Castiel is forced to take matters into hand in order to stop a disaster that could be much bigger than a simple Winchester tragedy - but some things even Castiel doesn't know, and what's behind the wall is one of them.
Art: [HERE] by [livejournal.com profile] davincis_girl, who handled me gently. <3

A/N: Written for [livejournal.com profile] spn_j2_bigbang. Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] viridian_magpie, [livejournal.com profile] callowyn and [livejournal.com profile] switchbladesis for betaing it and doing much more than was requested of them. Thank you; further concrit is still very much appreciated!
Thanks also go to [livejournal.com profile] wendy and [livejournal.com profile] thehighwaywoman for running the challenge!


LET'S PRETEND I'M DEAD



Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
LJ | DW | AO3
To download the complete fic in one file, please go to the AO3 page.


All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another. -Anatole France


***

"You're drunk."

Sam turned around to face Castiel, tearing his gaze from the sky to the drab man that showed up behind him. "Holy shit," he said. "You came."

Castiel shifted his head. Not much of a tilt, not more than a twitch, but enough to let Sam know he was listening.

"I didn't think you would," Sam added and took another swig from his beer. Drinking alone at the motel's parking lot might not have been a good idea. There was an unopened bottle under his arm, which he now he offered it to Castiel, who accepted it without a word.

"Why did you call me, Sam? I doubt it was to drink together."

"The wall. It's failing," he blurted. He raised the bottle to his lips and emptied it. When it was obvious there would be nothing more to drink, Castiel handed the unopened beer back to him. Sam took it, uncapped it, and took another big gulp. He breathed in deeply and admitted, "I don't know how long it's going to stay up. Could stay up until next year. Could be gone tomorrow."

"I know," Castiel said.

Sam froze. "And you didn't tell us?"

Castiel pressed his lips together. "You weren't in a state you could understand, and Dean ... he didn't want to know."

Like that answered Sam's question.

"There wasn't anything I could do."

"So you just--" he waved his arms, not caring when the beer spilled from the rim and ran down the glass to his hand. "--forgot to mention it?" But Sam had to let it go, for the moment. There were bigger things at stake. He took a deep breath, steeling himself."I want you to help me when it happens."

Castiel met his gaze, but then quickly looked away. "I can't."

"That's bullshit," Sam said bluntly. "You just don't want to try."

"Are you doubting me when I say I can't?" Castiel asked, quietly. He took a step forward, closer to Sam. So much closer that he had to tilt his head up to meet Sam's eyes. "After everything?"

"No," he said. "It sounds like you're doubting yourself."

It was Castiel, after all, who'd reerected the wall, stone after stone, back when he'd considered himself God. If anyone could fix Sam's wall and keep the cage behind it, it was Castiel.

Castiel said, "A mere angel cannot rebuild the wall, Sam. There is no precedent for this."

"You can make it up as you go, then." Just the simple thought of the wall being gone a second time filled him with terror. He was desperate. "Just -- think about it, Cas. Help me out. Please."

"I might fail," Castiel warned him, and Sam knew he'd won by the way Castiel narrowed his eyes.

He clasped Castiel's shoulder. "I trust you," he lied. He turned to leave and go back into the room before he remembered to add, "And, Cas?"

But Castiel wasn't there anymore.

Don't tell Dean.

"Figures," he muttered and went back into the motel room.

*

Dean hated Idaho. He supposed the state was fine if you didn't count the state of the roads, but that was something Dean wasn't willing to compromise on, for the sake of a case. He didn't want to consider what they were doing to the shock absorbers.

They didn't seem to bother Sam, though; his brother was fast asleep, curled up as much as he could against the window. Dean didn't know how Sam could sleep as much as he did and still say he was tired, but figured he could give him a break. There wasn't much else to do on their way up to Salmon.

Sam woke up with twenty miles left to go, a little before dusk.

"Morning, sunshine," Dean said cheerfully.

"You drive too slow," Sam grumbled.

Dean went even slower in reply, grinning. "Fast enough for you?" He ignored Sam's groggy glare and the way he burrowed deeper into the seat. "We'll be there in like fifteen minutes and then you can get some more of your much needed beauty sleep."

"Just because you never sleep," Sam started, but at least he didn't finish the thought. Kid could be smart, sometimes.

"Whatever," said Dean, shortly, and sped back up. Not too fast, because he really didn't trust the quality of the road.

Sam must've felt the change in the air between them; he kept to himself that last stretch of the road, staring moodily out the window. After a few minutes of silence -- grating in its intensity -- Dean chilled enough to wonder what had made Sam say that. Out of an unspoken, implied agreement, Sam knew not to bring up Dean's sleep, or at least not directly. To have brought it up--

"You okay?" he asked.

"Yeah," Sam said in a way that told Dean he wasn't.

"Want to stop and eat?"

"Let's just find somewhere to stop and order something in. I'm tired."

You're always tired, Dean wanted to say, but didn't. That was one of the things they didn't talk about.

*

By the time Dean found a motel he liked and drew into the parking lot, Sam was already sleeping again. Dean left him in the car while he checked in, and only woke him up once he had their room key.

"I wasn't sleeping," Sam lied through his teeth after he opened his eyes, fumbling for the door handle. Dean barely managed to avoid getting hit by the door, and so he almost missed Sam's minute shake a second before his legs collapsed under his weight, landing him right back in the passenger seat and knocking his head against the frame. "Ow," he said, dazed.

"Jesus, Sammy," Dean said.

"It's nothing." said Sam, aiming for a smile that ended up closer to a grimace. "Just a little dizzy."

"Dizzy enough to knock your head," Dean observed.

"It's nothing," Sam repeated, and Dean rolled his eyes. Sam looked too tired to think up a proper comebacks.

"Need a hand getting up?" he asked.

It was obvious that Sam wanted to say no, but his hesitation spoke for him. Dean didn't wait for a reply; he bent over and grasped Sam's hand, hauling his little brother that had somehow grown bigger than life to his feet. For a nanosecond he considered letting him go, but then Sam wobbled and Dean ended up tightening his hold on him.

"Let's get you to bed, okay?" he said.

Sam's legs started supporting him somewhere between the porch and the door, but he still clung to Dean, clutching at his jacket, keeping him close until he fell onto the bed nearest to the door.

Dean kept the worst of his worry out of his voice when he said, "I'm gonna get us some food, all right?"

Sam nodded.

"Turkey sandwich?"

"Extra vegetables," Sam confirmed, and Dean was off.

He found a pizza place before he found a place with sandwiches, so he got a couple of trays and headed back. He didn't want to leave Sam alone longer than necessary, man-eating sharlie be damned.

The room was dark, when he returned, and Sam was under the covers, asleep. Dean kept the light off and had some slices of mediocre pizza that was too greasy, then slipped the trays into the mini-fridge and went to bed.

He didn't fall asleep for a long time.

At first there was Alastair in his dreams, kind and gentle as he reminded Dean there was no one else for him. Then came Sam, then fire and blood and lust, and Dean wasn't sure which of the dreams made his heartbeat pound in his ears. Perhaps it was all three, perhaps it was none.

Dean couldn't tell, couldn't remember, and he told himself that he didn't care.

When dawn came, he was wide awake, desperately craving a drink but too exhausted to get up and actually get it. But soon enough, the urge won out and he poured himself half a glass of cheap bourbon he reserved for mornings like this.

Only a little bit of the bourbon remained in the bottle, and Dean had to stop himself from pouring the rest of it. He had to keep alert. Any more would bring Sam down on his head if he smelled on Dean so early in the morning.

Sam muttered something incoherent in his sleep. Dean glanced at him and went over to him, putting his hand on Sam's shoulder and shaking it gently. "Rise and shine," he said. "Time to do some work, sleeping beauty."

But Sam didn't wake up. Not then, and not later when Dean pinched him, slapped him or turned the TV on so loud that his own eardrums threatened to burst -- it was like Sam was dead to the world.

*

The first thing he did was call Bobby. "Sam isn't waking up," he said over the rush of blood in his ears. His ribs felt too tight around him, and if he didn't force himself to breathe just right he'd start hyperventilating.

There was a pause from the other side of the line, heavy and threatening. And gruffly, Bobby's voice: "Is there a pulse?"

Dean startled. "I said he won't wake up, not that he's dead," he snapped, clutching the phone so tightly that his fingers hurt. "I can't wake him up."

A puff of air. "Tell me what happened," Bobby said.

So he did. He told Bobby about how Sam had been sleeping more and more often and be more and more tired; how it took him longer between hunts to become more like his old self. How his hands shook when he thought Dean wasn't looking, and how he'd started tossing and turning at night to a degree he never had before.

He told Bobby that Sam avoided eating if Dean didn't bring up the subject of food first, how he'd gripe about the heat outside while Dean had to wear a jacket.

"And now he won't wake up, Bobby. I tried those smelling salts that psychic gave us two states back -- gave him a nosebleed and sent him convulsing."

"That doesn't really sound like the result of some hunt, Dean," Bobby said carefully. "It sounds deeper than that, and we both know how deep Sam's issues go."

Dean forced his fingers to relax. "Do you think this has anything to do with the wall?" he asked.

"Probably," Bobby said. "But don't you go crying yet. It might be something natural for once."

"It never is," said Dean. "Let me know if you find anything."

Next thing he did was hit the books, Sammy-style. When he pulled out Sam's laptop to look up the symptoms, site after site told him he was dealing with a brain tumor, and came up with brain tumor.

Tumors didn't cause nosebleeds, for god's sake, and when had simple medicine ever been able to solve their problems? Dean slammed down the lid and glared at thin air.

He was not going to lose Sam. Not again, and not when he was all the family that Dean had left.

*

The third thing Dean did was call Castiel.

"Our Castiel who art in heaven --" he started, felt idiotic, and changed the words he'd meant to say next. "I know there's some bad blood between us, Cas, but I really need your help. So, if you hear me. Please come."

He opened one eye and squinted around him, and then the second.

Castiel wasn't there.

*

Dean wet Sam's mouth every twenty minutes and didn't move away from the bed until he saw that Sam was licking his lips, taking in the moisture.

He managed not to go stir crazy only by spending the day checking in with Bobby and drinking copious amounts of brandy. It didn't help his mood -- but it did make him fall asleep in the chair by the desk, arms cushioning his head.

His sleep was fitful. He didn't think he dreamed, but he felt like he'd run a marathon when he woke up, and his fatigue vanished as soon as he saw Castiel standing over Sam's bed, his hand covering Sam's forehead, frowning.

"Cas," Dean said, getting up. "Tell me you know what's going on."

Castiel licked his lips and said, "You won't like it."

"Do I ever?" Dean asked, bitter. "Come on, hit me with it."

"Sam's wall is collapsing," Castiel said. "It's crumbling as we speak, and Sam has no other defense. His experiences in the cage are coming back to him, and, unlike last time, against Sam's wishes."

Dean felt like swaying -- or maybe it was the room that rocked around him. "It's the wall, then?"

"Did you doubt it?"

"No," said Dean.

"You didn't want to consider it."

"Not really." Dean looked at Sam, at his pale face and chapped lips, and asked, "How the hell did this happen, Cas? You were supposed to fix him."

"It was never permanent," Castiel put his hand back against Sam's head. "I was afraid this would happen."

Dean considered him. He said, "We're not going to leave him like this, Cas. No way."

"I don't have the power to do anything about it anymore. This isn't something I can reverse."

Dean was tired of hearing that there was nothing they could do. Dean could remember a time when Castiel could do anything he'd even hoped to wish, calling himself a god. "Like the apocalypse?" he asked.

"I might be able stop the process," said Castiel, ignoring the sting, as always. Dean wondered if he'd even noticed it. "At worst, I might speed it up. More likely, the crumbling will slow down, give us time to try and find a more effective solution."

The doubt was clear in his voice; Castiel didn't think they'd find 'a more effective solution'.

And Dean -- Dean wasn't sure he would ever want Castiel's help again. He'd been proven time and time again that it wasn't worth it.

He glanced at Sam.

"Whatever it takes, do it," he said past a lump in his throat.

Castiel shook his head. Said, sharply: "That isn't your choice to make." He closed his eyes and, concentrated, as if listening to something Dean couldn't hear.

"Sam isn't in his right mind to say anything," Dean said. "I am. Do it."

Castiel smiled crookedly. "Sam's already given me his consent in advance," he said. "I'm trying to gauge whether it's worth the effort by how much of him is left."

Dean froze. "What do you mean, how much of him is left?"

Castiel's gaze was steady on him. "You should already know the answer to that."

Yes, because Dean was a master at figuring out what Castiel meant. Because Castiel had never once left out information, was never ambiguous, had always been completely straightforward with Dean everytime Dean asked him a simple question. "Well, I don't."

Castiel turned back to Sam.

"Cas!"

"The best way to ensure the wall doesn't disintegrate further is to support it by other means," Castiel said. "A stopgap, so to speak."

"Yeah?" Dean asked between gritted teeth. "Where do we find that stopgap?"

The corner of Castiel's mouth curved up in a smirk that Dean couldn't place -- it looked self-assured and confident, but there was a tilt to Castiel's lips that spoke of bitterness. "Heaven."

"That's. That's awesome," said Dean. "So why don't you go there and bring that stopgap, and we can get Sam up and about again?"

"You misunderstand me," Castiel said. "A piece of Heaven will be the stopgap."

"... how are we going to bring heaven down here?"

"We aren't. Sam would have to go there."

Dean let out a sharp bark of laughter. "You're kidding, right?" he asked, but when he saw that Castiel was frowning at him, he felt his stomach churn. "You aren't kidding." He swallowed. "Why aren't you kidding?"

"This isn't a joking matter, Dean."

Dean didn't laugh again, even though he really wanted to; he felt the panic bubbling up his lungs at the thought of Sam going out of his sight. "Sam's not going to heaven, Cas. No way in hell."

"Do you want Sam to die? You can't care for him. Sooner or later Sam's body will give out, and you will have done nothing but prolong his suffering."

"Sam isn't going to die," Dean said. "And he's not going with you to heaven. Find another way."

"I guarantee it's perfectly safe there."

Dean didn't bother to explain how going to heaven and dying meant pretty much the same thing, nor did he give voice to the terror that filled him at the thought. "Forget it."

Castiel frowned at him. "You are aware that you're putting your brother in danger, right?"

"I don't care," said Dean. "You'd better find something else, because we're not saving him like this."

"Fine." Castiel glanced at Sam, at the place where his hand met Sam's forehead. "Try not to kill him in the meantime."

*

The next day, Sam still didn't wake up. Dean was lucky that Sam only pissed himself twice -- the cleanup was awkward and unpleasant, but it told Dean that Sam wasn't all that dehydrated, which he took as a good sign.

Dean thought to complain, to mock Sam and call him a huge, giant baby. But he didn't have it in him, not when Sam was unable to understand him and snipe back. So instead, he opened the windows to let the air in and sat close to Sam, willing him to wake up.

Eventually he called Bobby and told him what Castiel had said. Bobby said he'd try, and Dean hung up before Bobby could tell him this wasn't a problem the two of them could solve alone.

For lunch he got chicken broth and soaked Sam's lips with it as if it were water. For himself he grabbed a beer and the newspaper. Somebody had been eaten in the river overnight. Dean didn't give a damn about that right then -- he threw the paper to the corner of the room.

Castiel's solution looked more and more inviting as the minutes passed and Sam wouldn't get up, and fuck implications. At least then he'd have the hope that Sam would be fine. But it was as if his throat closed up at the thought of calling Castiel and telling him to take Sam away.

He fell asleep sitting with his ass on the floor, back against his bed, looking at Sam.

*

"I found a way," Castiel said at dusk. Dean hadn't even noticed he'd arrived, too tired to care. "You won't like it."

"Spit it out."

Castiel hesitated.

"Goddamn it, Cas! Just say whatever it is!"

Castiel flinched, licked his lips, and stood more awkwardly than usual in the center of the room. "You don't get to say no again, Dean," he said. "You'll have to choose one of the methods. If you don't, I will."

"-- are you threatening me?"

"No. I'm stating a fact."

"Where I'm from, we call that a threat." Dean scrubbed his face. "What's the second option?"

"I take Sam as my vessel," Castiel said.

Dean froze. "I'm sorry?" he asked, worried he might not be mishearing. "Did you say that Sam was going to become your vessel?"

"Pick whichever option you prefer. Either I bring Sam to heaven or bring heaven to him."

Dean's heart thumped in his ribcage. He looked at Sam -- pale, by now, and starting to waste away. He looked at Castiel and saw the face that had once belonged to Jimmy Novak and no other sign that anyone but Castiel had lived in that body. That was what Sam might be. "No," he said. "To both."

"That's not one of your options.”

"I can't, all right?" Dean said, coming dangerously close to a shout. If he shouted now, his voice would crack. "Both of them -- we fought to avoid both of those. No. Find another way, Cas. Sam would rather die than have either happen."

Castiel said, "He wouldn't."

"And how would you know that, huh?" Dean snapped.

And Castiel replied, "He asked for my help when the symptoms started."

With a dry throat, Dean asked -- quietly, small and betrayed, "When?"

"Two months ago."

"And you didn't tell me?"

Castiel said, "He asked me not to."

Dean bit his tongue, stopped himself from saying So fucking what? His thoughts tasted of betrayal.

"He'll die," Castiel said after a long silence. "If he does, he'll return to Lucifer's cage, beyond my reach." He added, quietly: "Let me help Sam, Dean. Please."

It was the 'please' that did it, made Dean come undone, made him realize that he was turning down the only option he could see to stop Sam from dying. "Then I pick door number two. That's the one where you wear him, right? I pick that." At least then Sam would be within arm's reach -- a proof that he was still alive.

He felt sick.

Castiel went near Sam's bed, put his hand on Sam's face, and for a second Dean hoped that this would fail because Sam hadn't vocally agreed. It ate at his stomach, sent bile burning up his throat.

He couldn't look at Castiel when he started getting bright, and then even brighter, and then even more so. He squeezed his eyes shut, tightly; put a hand over them to block Castiel's blinding light, but it was still strong enough to make tears build up in his eyes, stinging them, trying to leak past his closed eyelids.

There was a loud thud of a body falling to the floor. Dean wiped away the wetness in his eyes and zeroed in on Castiel lying prone on the carpet, and Sam's body lying on the bed, unmoving.

Within seconds Sam drew in a loud gasp and sat up. He surveyed the room, first the body on the floor and then Dean. His eyes were clear and alert in his pale face, even if slightly sunken from the time without food.

"Sammy?" Dean breathed out.

Sam said, "No." He got out of the bed gently and flexed his hands, his feet, tilted his neck from side to side to work out the kinks.

"Cas," Dean said and sank down to sit on his bed.

Castiel frowned with Sam's face. He raised his hand and studied Sam's palm, testing the muscles by squeezing it shut and opening it again. A hint of his smell reached Dean as he moved – it was repugnant.

"Comfortable?" Dean sniped.

"I--" Castiel said. His frown deepened. "No. Something is ... wrong."

Dean asked, "How wrong?"

"I don't know yet." He waited for Castiel to elaborate, but Castiel ignored him and kept testing his limits. "Sam is rejecting me," he said abruptly.

"He's always been the smart one."

Castiel shot him an annoyed look. "He should know better than to try to drive me out."

Dean snorted. His heart was still beating like crazy, he'd broken out in a cold sweat, and he wasn't sure his legs would support him if he stood -- but Sammy was still fighting against what he'd taught himself was wrong. If anything, that was a good sign.

It meant Sam was still in there, after all.

And right then, right when Dean started thinking that things would turn out all right, Castiel collapsed to the floor and started seizing.

Immediately Dean dropped to his knees and put his hands on Castiel's (Sam's) shoulders, holding him down, willing him to calm down and stay still. A minute, two, three. At the four minute mark he stopped all of a sudden, lying still on the carpet with his eyes rolled back. "Oh, no no no no no," Dean said again, his horror mounting by the second. "Not again. Sam, look at me. Sam!"

He hauled Castiel back up into the stinking bed without trying to wake him – he already knew from experience that it wouldn't work. But he could do nothing but sit and watch and tap his foot against the floor or fingers against his thigh.

Castiel took almost four hours to wake up. He opened his eyes and made a small whimpering sound that was more air than actual voice, the same fucking sound Sam made when he was groggy, tired and confused.

"Cas?"

He saw Castiel open his mouth and heard another whimper, but no words came out. Castiel was looking up at him like Dean could somehow help him, as if Dean knew what to do.

Dean was familiar with helplessness. It still didn't mean he knew how to make it go away.

*

Castiel breathed too loud. He stomped his feet when he walked. He loomed over Dean when he stood next to him. Dean had forgotten just how tall Sam was. It was freaky and foreign, and Castiel kept being right in his face, breathing on him.

It was a relief to go to bed, really, where he could pretend that it was Sam breathing on the other side of the room. After long enough in bed, in the dark, he almost believed it.

Dean didn't remember falling asleep and he didn't remember what he'd dreamed about. It had left him soaked in sweat, left his hands shaking. Dean wanted a drink and a hot shower, and after that he wanted to go to bustyasianbeauties.com and forget about the world for half an hour or so.

The bourbon helped. A little. Dean didn't even need to turn on the light to pour it.

He glanced at Sam's bed as he turned on the light in the bathroom and the light fell partly on the sheets. Sam was fast asleep, uncharacteristically curled up on his side instead of his back -- and that's when the penny dropped, that morning.

Oh.

That wasn't Sam, in that bed. It was Castiel, and it was Jimmy's body lying perfectly still on the floor.

Dean turned his back to the bathroom, headed back to the bourbon, and took a swig straight from the bottle.

His shower was a quick and unsatisfying, but he came out of it a little more settled. Not as settled as he would've liked, but still somewhat calmer. When he reemerged from the bathroom, Castiel was awake.

"I'm gonna get breakfast," Dean said after he'd gotten dressed.

And was surprised when Castiel joined him when he walked out the door.

*

"Sausage and eggs," Dean said. "And coffee, please."

The waitress turned to Castiel, and asked, "And you, sweetheart?"

Castiel looked like a deer caught in the headlights -- which was fucking hilarious on Sam's face. Dean stifled a snort of laughter and turned it into a cough. Castiel glared at him, and Dean gave up pretending not to be amused.

"The same as him," said Castiel.

"Sure thing," the waitress said. "It won't take long."

Once she'd gone, Dean turned to face Castiel and asked, "Since when do you eat?"

"Since I'm hungry," Castiel said. "That is how it usually works."

"You don't get hungry, Cas," Dean reminded him wearily.

"Clearly."

Dean pressed his lips together into a thin, pale line.

"Nothing about this is normal," Castiel said. "As far as I'm aware, what I'm doing has never been done before. I'm ... making it up as I go."

Yeah, and endangering Sam in the meantime.

"Sam's soul is severely damaged. What little I'm in contact with drains me like nothing I have ever experienced. If I let Sam drain me -- none of us would like the consequences."

"What consequences?" Dean choked out. He wanted to say more, something along the lines of you never told me there could be consequences! but their food arrived.

"There you go," the waitress said, ignoring the tension between them. She set down their plates and their mugs, and filled them with coffee that Dean knew -- from quick jaunts outside while Sam was in bed -- was decent. "Two sausage with eggs with two coffees. Enjoy your meal, and call me if you need anything." She skipped from foot to foot before fleeing.

Castiel picked up his fork and poked at his sausage. He was making a face, almost like the one Sam pulled whenever he smelled something he didn't like.

"Sam never liked sausage," Dean said tersely.

"Oh," said Castiel, but didn't stop poking at it. "The difference between two people's taste buds is astounding."

"I wouldn't know, I only ever had mine to go by." He watched Castiel take a careful bite, and there was Sam's disgusted face. But Castiel didn't spit out the sausage the way Sam used to when he was younger. He chewed it, carefully, and swallowed it down. Then he took the rest off his fork and set it as far from the eggs as it could go while still remaining on the plate. "Guess you don't like sausage either," he said with a small smile.

He waited. Castiel still said nothing, kept trying the things on his plate. Dean coughed, cleared his throat, and then finally said, "What sort of consequences?"

Castiel looked up from his food. "Sam's soul ... it isn't reacting well to my presence."

"What do you mean?" Dean asked, alarmed.

"My nature and the nature of Sam's soul contradict each other," Castiel said. "We are incompatible."

"So what, you're allergic to each other?"

Castiel considered his question. "In a manner of speaking, yes."

"I'll cut to the chase," Dean said. "Sam is going to be fine, right? You can control this?"

"Doubtful," said Castiel, "but I'm trying." He picked some of his eggs and stuck it in his mouth gingerly.

Dean didn't enjoy thinking of that either. He had no idea what Sam could do to Castiel, how his brother's soul could destroy an angel. He looked down at his own food and found he had no appetite at all, whatsoever.

"Are you going to eat that?" Castiel asked him once he'd finished his food.

"No," Dean said and pushed his plate in Castiel's direction. "Have at."

While Castiel was eating, Dean's eyes caught on an abandoned local newspaper on the table behind him. He could only see half of the photograph on the front page, and half the headline; when he reached out to take it, he had the niggling suspicion it would contain something about their case.

He snorted as he saw the headline. "Listen to this," he said, rubbing the bottom corner of the paper between his thumb and forefinger. "They think what's killing people in the river is wolves." He raised his eyes to share the joke with Sam, but Sam wasn't smiling --

"Isn't that for the best?" Castiel asked between bites.

Dean set the paper back down. "Probably," he agreed. Then he hesitated. "But sometimes I wonder, y'know? What it'd be like if people knew what's really out there."

Castiel nodded. He didn't give his opinion on the matter -- he probably didn't have one. Dean doubted angels would think about what would happen if humanity discovered the existence of monsters.

They returned to the motel soon after that, and that was a mistake, because the room reeked.

There was no other word for the stench that permeated everything. Dean wasn't too surprised that it stank, but that he'd gotten used to it over the days was more than shocking.

Castiel gave a disgusted sniff.

"Don't tell me the smell bothers you," Dean said. "It never has before."

"When will you understand that things are different now?" Castiel asked.

Instead of replying, Dean shifted his attention to the body lying on the floor and gestured at it uncomfortably. "Can you do something about him?"

Castiel considered that before wobbling to Jimmy, kneeling down next to him, then making him disappear with a touch to the forehead. He tried to stand back up but couldn't -- had he not put his palms flat on the carpet, he would've fallen down and hit his head against the bedside table. "Give me your hand," he told Dean.

Dean didn't wait to be told twice. He stepped forward and dragged Castiel up. "Where did he go?" he asked.

"Gone," Castiel said, "until I need him again."

"Should I take it that you wiped him out of existence?"

Castiel furrowed Sam's brows. "You wanted him gone."

"Yes, but --" Dean faltered. How could he explain that seeing Castiel get rid of Jimmy's body -- "is he dead?"

"His heart is still beating, but his brain has stopped working."

Dean felt sick. That could be Sam. "Will that happen to Sam, too?"

Castiel sounded very serious when he said, "I hope not."

That reply hadn't comforted him the way he liked. He swallowed the words he wanted to say deep in his throat, and said, with effort, "You should really hit the shower, man."

No matter how much he itched to leave Castiel to his own devices and get the hell away from him for a couple of hours, Dean didn't dare to leave Castiel in the shower alone. For all he knew, Castiel not only had never taken a shower before but had never seen one, either.

So he focused on what he could do to make some of the smell disappear: opened the door and windows to air the room, changed the bedsheets of Sam's bed, and used on the mattress whatever cleaners he found in the car for when he got the rare urge to clean it. He bundled up everything Sam had worn in a plastic bag and put it right next to the door for the next did the laundry.

If he didn't give into the urge to burn it first.

By then Castiel had emerged from the bathroom. He had a towel around his hips, big and fluffy, and once he stepped into the main room he asked Dean, "Where are Sam's clothes?"

It was so bizarre, so odd to hear Sam's voice ask where Sam's clothes could be found, and the weirdest of all was that it wasn't Sam who was doing the asking.

"In his duffel," Dean said and gestured at it. He watched Castiel walk over to it and starting to rifle through the contents, and asked just for the sake of saying anything, "You feeling okay?"

Castiel paused . "For the most part."

"But how are you feeling?"

"Light-headed," Castiel said. "The cause might be a lack of air. Resting may help."

Dean said, "You didn't used to breathe."

Castiel drew in an exaggerated breath, clearly annoyed. "I do now." He picked out clothes from the duffel and started getting dressed.

"Dude, Cas!" Dean said. "Sam looks great, yeah, but I don't think our neighbors want to see his junk." He hurried to shut the door.

Even with the door shut he didn't look in Castiel's direction; seeing Sam dress and undress was normal, something Dean had never really paid attention to. But now it wasn't really his brother who was getting naked in front of him -- it was somebody he'd never seen naked before, and wasn't sure he wanted to.

"The room smells better," Castiel said.

Dean shrugged. "Comes with cleaning." He waited for Castiel to say something else, but to his confusion, there was nothing other than the hiss of Castiel's (Sam's) body slipping between the sheets.

"I know that," Castiel said.

"So why did you say that?"

Then Castiel said the last thing Dean had ever expected to hear out of his mouth: "The silence is awkward."

You never had any problems with awkward silences, Dean didn't say. Because he obviously did now.

*

Dean walked up to Main Road for no other reason than a whim, but decided early on that it was too busy for him, so he started in the direction of Salmon River. Once he hit it he kept walking by the banks until the crowd thinned out as he went further.

He'd left Castiel in Sam's bed, asleep and snoring, and bailed.

He recognized, distantly, that people had died in the river and that this was the reason for his and Sam's arrival. Well, tough luck. The plans had changed, and his top priority wasn't some strangers that would be still alive if they just kept away from the killer river.

Dean's plan had originally been to come into town, kill the monster and find the next hunt, but at this rate there was no chance of killing whatever the monster was.

("Sharlie," Sam had bet against him. To which Dean had pointed out, "They don't come so far upstream. And Salmon River isn't deep enough at any rate." And Sam had said, simply, "We've seen weirder." Dean hadn't had anything to say to that, because Sam was right. On occasion.)

Dean started thinking that the monster was going to die of old age before he and Sam got to it, if ever. It was a shame, really, because Dean could use to kill something, and he doubted that going to the mountains to hunt an animal that didn't fight back would be as satisfying.

Not to mention that he didn't trust Castiel not to get into some kind of trouble if he was left to his own devices. Dean couldn't take the risk that something happened while he was away, killing deer or whatever Idaho had in the mountains.

Jesus. What a mess. He wanted to turn back time to last month and beat Sam over the head until he forgot everything but his own name.

How could Sam not trust Dean enough to tell him what was happening? How could he go to Castiel, whose fault it was in the first place, and not go to Dean?

Dean lingered on that thought, on how it made his insides want to shrivel up in disappointed betrayal. He poked at it to test just how much it hurt, and recoiled when the answer turned out to be 'a lot'. At least he'd done so outside, away from Castiel and Sam and in the sun, where he could warm himself after the sudden chill that gnawed at him had passed.

His phone rang, the ringtone was shrill enough that it drowned out the sounds of the river.

Dean stopped walking and fished it out of his pocket -- had to pat himself to find out in which pocket it actually was, checked the screen, and saw Bobby's name.

"Hey, Bobby," he said into the speaker.

"Good," said Bobby on the other side. "You're still alive. I was wondering."

Dean frowned in confusion. "Huh?"

"You didn't call, Dean."

"Oh," Dean said. "Sorry. Yeah, I'm still alive."

"And Sam?"

Dean wet his lips. "We're working on it."

"Yeah, because that doesn't sound at all ominous. You gonna explain that?"

He thought there was a bit of a commotion close-by; there was a cacophony, made by many people trying to speak over each other. "Cas thinks he found something, so we're focusing on that," he said. In the distance he could suddenly hear the sound of an ambulance's siren, and said, "I need to go, catch you later." He snapped his phone shut, shoved it back in his pocket, and set out in a run in the direction it came from.

The source was a little further downstream, right beyond a curve in the river. The police were there, along with the ambulance Dean had heard and a few people standing by and watching the proceedings with agitation.

The proceedings themselves were harder to catch. There were policemen surrounding a group of hysterical teenagers. A couple had blood streaked across their skin, but the other four looked clean. The medics seemed to agree with his observation, because most of them rushed out to the water and helped a policewoman draw something out of the river.

It took Dean too long to recognize it as a human being, eaten down to the bone and missing three of its limbs, and very, very dead.

His hands were at his jacket pockets even before he could think, searching for his FBI ID, itching to go into the fray and ask his questions. This was what he'd come for.

He didn't find the ID, and that's when he remembered that he'd given up on the case.

It was the force of a habit, he told himself, but even as he thought that he could admit -- at least to himself -- that he wanted to solve it, if only for the blood-covered teenagers that were being herded along the riverbank.

*

He couldn't get the sight of the victim out of his head, on the way back to the motel. Not that he tried – but the alternatives were even less alluring than thinking about dismembered kids. He walked slowly, deep in thought, and didn't notice that the rumor of what had happened had already spread farther than the river.

There were groups of people standing along the street, voices raised in anger. There were teenagers wandering the streets in large groups.

Salmon was a sizeable town, but it was small enough for people to know the victim.

But perhaps on some deeper level he did notice, because when he reached the motel's parking lot he went straight to the car, to the glove compartment, and looked for his FBI ID.

It wasn't there.

Neither was Sam's, for that matter, and several others.

Dean shoved the box back in the compartment, slammed it shut, hurried to the trunk, threw it open and rummaged between the weapons for the IDs that he was pretty sure were not there. If the police got hold of their fake IDs, things would go really bad for him and Sam.

Next he stormed into the room, heading straight to his duffel. Sam was sitting on his bed with a book in his hands, and before he could think about it, Dean said, "Sam, have you seen our FBI IDs?"

He'd gotten the zipper of the duffel open by the time Sam replied, saying, "They're in Sam's jacket."

Dean let out a sigh of relief. He stretched, feeling his vertebrae pop, and ran a hand through his hair. "Thanks, man," he said, and froze.

One day he'd realize that it was Castiel inhabiting Sam's body.

Now that he looked at Castiel with a little more attention, it was obvious that it wasn't Sam. Sam always moved, whether he was fidgeting, or typing something at his computer. Sam almost never held still, while Castiel always carried with him the sensation that he was the eye of the storm: still at the very center, but destructive and ever-moving the moment you looked at the frayed edges.

Thankfully, Castiel ignored his slip. Dean busied himself by pulling out the IDs and making sure they were all there.

Castiel asked, "What happened?"

"Huh?"

Castiel gestured with Sam's chin at the cards in Dean's hands. "What do you need them for?"

"There's been an attack at the river," Dean said with a shrug. "I thought I'd question the survivors, hear what they saw. I bet you they wouldn't say it was wolves. Why they think a wolf would drag people into the water before eating them, or only eat them once they'd been dragged through the water -- I don't get it."

"They prefer to believe in something they understand," said Castiel.

It was such a Sam thing to say, even though it was worded weirdly. Sam would've said something like Yeah, but they don't know what we do.

"Uh, right," said Dean. "That's what Sam and me came here for, you know. Sam thinks it's a sharlie." He bit his lip. "Thought. Whatever."

Castiel said, "Sharlies are peaceful."

"And they don't come this far upriver," Dean said. "Yeah, yeah, I ran it past Sam already. Said it didn't matter."

"You want to go after it," Castiel said.

And yeah, Dean did. Of course he wanted to go after it.

"You shouldn't," Castiel added.

Because it had nothing to do with Castiel whatever Dean hunted or did, he said, "What's it to you?" Castiel's expression turned ... serious. Worried? Maybe. "You're worried it'd kill me?"

"No," said Castiel, slowly.

"You shouldn't." Dean smiled at him. "I know what I'm doing."

"I said I wasn't worried."

Dean shrugged. "You were lying."

Castiel frowned at him.

"It wasn't hard to tell," Dean said.

Castiel hesitated. "I'm not worried that you'll die. But I find myself unwilling to risk it."

"Without you to keep an eye on me?" Dean laughed. "You're a control freak, you know that? You and Sam both." He palmed the FBI ID, slipped it in his pocket, and turned to the door. "I'll be back in a couple of hours, and bring us something to eat then."

He got out of the room, leaving Castiel still seated on the bed with the book in his lap and a frown on his face.

*

Aside from the dead teenager, none of the other kids had been hurt enough to get more than a quick once-over by an EMT. They'd been brought to the police department after being examined, and that's where Dean found them.

"I really don't think this is a matter for the FBI," one of the officers in charge of the incident -- officer Robinson -- told Dean.

Dean said, "We have a reason to suspect there's more to this than just wild wolf attacks." He was looking through a glass wall, at a girl who sat at a desk with her shoulders hunched, people he suspected were her parents close to her, almost touching. She had her hands wrapped around a mug, clutching it so hard that her knuckles turned pale. Her head was bowed.

He couldn't tell if she was crying.

"What do you mean?" Robinson asked.

Dean shook his head and returned his attention to the man next to him. "We think someone might be training them to attack. We don't really know yet, so that's why we're looking into the matter." Robinson gave him a surprised, blank look that Dean ignored. "I want to talk to her, see what she can tell me. That okay?"

He went into the room without waiting for an answer. Robinson didn't stop him.

He cleared his throat when he entered, and gave the girl and her parents the smallest of smiles.

"Delila?" he said gently, and she raised her head to look at him, revealing faint tear tracks across her cheeks. "Mr. and Mrs. Smith?" Her parents nodded at him. "My name is Scott Clark, and I'm with the FBI. Is it all right if I ask your daughter what happened?"

Dean could see their hesitation, the way they looked at their daughter, who was returning her attention to her mug. It was half-empty, Dean could see now, and no longer steaming. "Hey," he said softly to her. "I know it isn't much, but I'm sorry about your friend."

She looked at him again mutely. From the corner of his eyes he saw that her grip around the mug relaxed a little.

"Can I ask you what you saw earlier by the river?" he said. "I need to know what happened so it doesn't happen again."

"Agent Clark, I don't think Delila is up to this--"

But Dean only had eyes for the girl. She was fourteen at the very most, and fragile-looking, but when she heard her mom say that she might not be up to the task, she visibly steeled herself. Dean saw the opening, and decided to use it. "You know, I have a son, a little younger than you," he said slowly, because the memory hurt. "He's a good kid, even if he doesn't always do what he's told. When I think about him going through whatever you did --" he smiled, wryly. "I want to catch whatever did that to your friend, Delila. I want to catch it and make sure it doesn't happen again to anyone else. That's why I ask you to help me out here, because we can't do it without you."

"Listen, you--" interrupted Mrs. Smith.

"It's all right, Mom," Delila said. During Dean's little speech the steel had crept into her face, morphed her features into something sharp rather than fragile. She stuck out her chin in defiance, and announced, "It wasn't wolves."

There was a strange, choked sound from the kid's mom.

Dean nodded. "I didn't think so. Can you tell me what it was?"

Delila hesitated at that.

"Whatever you've got to say, I'll believe you," Dean said.

"It looked like a snake," she offered. "And it was really big, but it had teeth like a wolf, and it came from the water," she said in a rush. "My friend Helen -- she thought it was a piece of wood, that we could drag it out of the water, but then it ..."

Ate her, Dean finished in his head. He let the silence hang in the air for a moment before he asked, "Can you tell me what it looked like? Any sort of detail will help."

She shook her head. "I don't remember anything else."

Dean studied her, glanced at her parents -- the pinched expression on her mother's face, the miserable, furious look on her father's, and nodded. "Thank you for your help," he said and rose to his feet. "We'll do everything we can to catch this thing, I promise you."

*

Castiel was waiting for him at the exit. It was easy to mistake him for Sam, waiting for him to share what he'd found on his end of investigating, but it just ... wasn't the same. If Dean bothered being honest with himself, he was too damn tired to keep up denying that it wasn't Sam he was seeing, but Castiel.

His shoulders slumped as he reached Castiel, and he said tiredly, "You were supposed to stay at the motel."

And Castiel looked down, meeting his eyes, and said, "You wanted me to remain there?"

Dean started walking down the street, not looking back to see if Castiel was following him. "I told you I'd bring back food."

Castiel didn't answer; he probably didn't have anything to say. Dean wanted to think it was because Castiel got his message and would stay in the room next time, but didn't really believe that.

The simple truth was that Dean didn't trust Castiel. There had been a time when he'd trusted Castiel to save the world, but Castiel had worn away at that trust little by little, until all Dean could trust was that Castiel would save his life, and maybe Sam's, too, if he was generous.

Once, Dean had trusted Castiel to make the right decision, and Castiel had thrown it in his face, supposedly in Dean's name. How could Dean trust anything Castiel considered a favor to him?

And the worst thing was that Dean didn't have a choice in the matter. He was being manipulated by Castiel and his brother to accept help that he didn't want but knew was his best shot. He didn't want Castiel trailing him everywhere in Sam's body as if he were Sam.

He realized, suddenly, that he would've preferred it if Castiel had stayed in bed, unable to get out, and left Dean be.

It was a cold realization that spread like ice water in his veins, made him shudder and the hair on his arms stand on end. That was Sam he'd just wished to be stuck in a bed. Not just Castiel.

"Come on," he told Castiel tiredly. "Let's get us some lunch."

*

Years and years ago, only a couple years topside but nearly twenty-five in Hell, Alastair had stood in front of Dean. He hadn't reacted to Dean's whimper of derision or the bloody cuts on his chest that he could rake his claws through to make them hurt worse.

He'd come to talk, he'd said. Had come to have a quiet, polite discussion on why Dean would not get off the rack.

Was it a problem in the service? He asked with a concerned furrow to his brow. Should he get his demons to do more damage?

Maybe it was a problem of payment -- what did Dean want other than stop being tortured? Alastair could be anything he wanted if he got off the rack. He could be Dean's mother, his father.

Even his brother.

At this Dean had growled, pulled at his bonds, dislocated his own limbs from their sockets to get as close to Alastair as he could. "You don't get to have anything to do with Sam, you motherfucker."

For a moment Alastair had looked like he wanted to sew Dean's tongue to his lips for disturbing him during his musing, but then he'd smiled. "Why so agitated, Dean?" he'd asked, and Dean hadn't told him.

He hadn't needed to.

"Why, Dean, you should've told me," Alastair had scolded him, gently. "We would've made use of that a long time ago." And right before Dean's very eyes (regrown that same day in a mixture of mint and cyanide, and fuck, that still burned his eye-sockets and he could feel himself going blind) he dropped the visage he wore for that day (something with clawed wings to go with the claws he called 'nails') and became Sam.

He'd worn a shirt that Sam would've liked, a plain plaid shirt and a loose pair of jeans. Alastair had modeled the new body to Dean, and little by little had taken off articles of clothing, until all that was left in front of Dean was what might've been Sam's naked skin.

Dean had shut his eyes, but Alastair had gotten them back open in no time at all.

"Get out of my brother," Dean had croaked. He hadn't been thinking right, forgotten that it wasn't really his brother.

Alastair had smiled at him, caught him by the chin, and said, "Convince me."

Dean had shaken his head in broken denial. There was blood rushing out of his ears. "Yes," he'd whispered, and for once Alastair had not pushed him to speak louder.

The bonds had melted hotly over his wrists and ankles, dropped him to the burning ground at Sam's feet. He'd glanced up at Alastair, who kneeled in front of him and pecked him on the cheek. "You would lay the world in ruins for your brother," he'd said, laughed --

*

-- and Dean woke up.

*

Dean set up Sam's laptop on the table before he went out to grab some donuts from the closest gas station. He kept the lights off and moved about the room in the relative darkness of the early morning.

He glanced at Castiel, curled up in a fetal position, and stepped out of the room.

Castiel resembled Sam much more when he was asleep than when he was awake.

Castiel was still sleeping when Dean returned. Dean set down half of the donuts and a cup of coffee on his bedside table and moved to open the blinds halfway, letting the still-rising sun spill into the room, and set to work.

He discovered very quickly that Sam had already done most of the research on water monsters and had settled on sharlies as the most probable offender. Dean couldn't resist the smirk that blossomed on his lips; Sam might indeed win their bet, after all, without even being around to know it.

It was quite the sobering thought.

Dean still poked around the lore, checking other various water monsters before he settled on the sharlie as well. They were geographically close, looked like giant logs, and even if they didn't fit the profile, they were at least downstream from Salmon.

By then Castiel had woken up and sat at the table alongside Dean, sipping at his coffee and eating his donuts neatly. Dean occasionally glanced up from the monitor, and each time he did there was a new fleck of powdered sugar decorating the area around Castiel's mouth, which he soon licked clean, reminding Dean to get back to reading vague information about lake monsters and how to kill them.

"A stake between the eyes," said Castiel, throwing Dean out of his thoughts. Dean frowned at him, confused, and Castiel raised his chin. "You asked."

Dean leaned back in the chair and blew out a breath. He didn't remember speaking out loud, but he'd forgotten that Castiel might have answers Dean wanted. "Yeah?" he said. "Any specific stake? Silver? Wood? Iron?"

"Sharlies are peaceful creatures," Castiel reminded him.

Dean shrugged. "By what the girl said yesterday, seems like we've got us some rabid sharlie. Do you know any other creatures that look like a piece of wood that have giant teeth?" Castiel opened his mouth to reply, but Dean elaborated, "On this side of the world?"

"No," Castiel admitted reluctantly, and added, "You shouldn't go after it."

Dean knew Castiel was right; hunting anything that lived in water without a partner was suicidal. Sticking a stake in the wrong spot and drowning as a result meant nothing. If Dean died, he wanted to make damn sure that the monster he was after died with him.

But Dean was already here at Salmon; had already seen a dead civilian and spoken to another victim who'd served as his eyewitness. His fingers twitched whenever he looked at the laptop screen and saw the sketch of a sharlie, eager to wrap themselves around a stake and drive it into its brain.

If Sam had been with him, this job would've been a piece of cake.

Dean glanced at Castiel, met his gaze, and drew his eyes away at the fierceness he saw there. Castiel didn't want him to face the sharlie, and Dean didn't want to risk meeting Sam once he was well again.

"I won't," Dean said, pretending he wasn't affected by the way Castiel minutely softened his extression. Almost like Sam, yet not at all.

Calling Bobby and asking for a replacement couldn't possibly hurt. It would free him to look for something that would help Sam.

Decision made, he closed the laptop, gave Castiel his biggest smile and said, "So how about watching some daytime TV?"

At Castiel's bemused head tilt, he explained, "It's a vital element of being human, Cas. Watch and learn." Dean turned the TV on and settled back to watch an old horror flick that he was delighted to find so early that day. He was curious to see if Castiel would like it, because Sam had no real opinion on it but knew it by heart because Dean would watch it every so often.

Castiel stared at the screen, though, transfixed, and then stared at Dean when Dean forgot himself and cracked a well-worn joke that was supposed to make Sam smile and tease him.

The moment the movie was over he left the room. Castiel had fallen asleep at some point and Dean couldn't help but be thankful for such a small mercy: he didn't want to be questioned about where he went and why. If Castiel saw him going out, he'd probably think Dean was going to kill the sharlie on his own.

It hurt to admit it even in the sanctity of his own head, but if he didn't have Sam to think about, he would've, promise or no promise.

Only once he was outside did he bother to check that he had his phone. He deliberated for a second on whether he should call Bobby now, save it for later, or take on the sharlie by himself after all.

Before he could give the subject too much thought, he pressed 'dial' and waited for Bobby to pick up.

"Yes?" Bobby grunted in his ear after four rings.

"I'm going to need another team to take out the thing in Salmon, Bobby," Dean said. "I can't do it on my own."

Bobby's voice softened a little. Enough that Dean knew that he was worried, that he wasn't really angry. "So you're still alone?"

"Cas's no good. And Sam -- I don't think he's getting better, but he's not getting worse either, I don't think."

"That's gotta count for something," Bobby said.

"It does," Dean agreed. "Can you find somebody for this?"

"Yeah, sure. Gimme 'til morning though, and I'll see what I can get done and get back to you."

"Thanks, Bobby."

"What are you going to do after they get there?"

Dean sighed. "I thought to grab Cas and head your way, look into things and find a way to solve this mess."

Bobby was quiet for a second before he said, "Dean, you haven't told me everything, and that sure is your choice, but to tell you the truth, I don't think we'll find anything."

"We'll find something," Dean said.

"I know you're used to things going your way --"

"--My way?"

"-- but one day your luck's gonna run out, Dean. There's a limit on these things, you know that."

"We'll find something, Bobby."

"I hope you're right, Dean. I really do."

They hung up, and Dean headed back inside. He supposed he could start packing, but even the thought of doing that filled him with a distaste that he couldn't explain to himself.

Looking over at Castiel, he found that his blanket had slipped halfway to the floor. Dean picked it up and settled it more carefully around his little brother's envesseled body, and started when he felt just how hot Castiel's skin was, even through his tshirt. Dean remembered, faintly, that Castiel had said he was feeling light-headed.

Now he knew why.

Dean was about to draw back, but then he heard a tiny whimper, a small sound that was like mewling, and no matter what Castiel said about things being different now, Castiel was still an angel, and something was wrong.

Angels didn't sleep, and didn't eat, and didn't fill awkward silences with inane chatter. Castiel didn't.

The material of Castiel's shirt felt a little damp: almost clammy. Dean didn't want to wake him. Even nightmares were better than no sleep at all, he knew that from personal experience, but something was deeply, deeply wrong.

He shook Castiel awake gently before he could even stop to think that if it was Sam, he would've let him keep sleeping.

Castiel woke up with a wet gasp. His hands flew up to grab Dean's, and the grip-hold was so tight that it made the bones in Dean's wrist shift under the pressure.

"Cas!" Dean yelped. Castiel opened his eyes and let go of Dean as if it was Dean's skin that burnt. Dean rubbed his wrist, flexing it to soothe the pain. "Next time you're having a nightmare, I'm not waking you up," he said.

What followed was an awkward silence; Castiel fixed his stare on Dean and didn't blink for a long time. "It wasn't a nightmare," Castiel said finally. He sounded tired: his voice was hoarse, and he was mumbling. He sat up. His shoulder brushed Dean's arm -- still held in a way that Dean deemed to be the least painful. "It was a memory."

Dean studied the way the shadows played under his eyes and the paleness of his skin. "You're running a fever."

"It's not a surprise," Castiel said. "Sam isn't the average vessel."

Dean's stomach turned. "Don't talk about him like that."

"How?"

"Never mind," Dean said, because he didn't feel like sharing with Castiel how averse he really was to being anything other than human. "Why the fever? How's Sam different than, say, Jimmy?"

"Do you even have to ask?"

Dean shot him an accusatory glance. "Would I ask if I already knew?"

Castiel said, "Humans sometimes do."

"Oh, just answer the fucking question."

Castiel shook his head -- and swayed to the side in the process so hard that Dean had to tighten his hold against his bicep. "You wouldn't understand."

"Try me."

"No," said Castiel.

"Look, Cas, you're in my brother. If anybody deserves to know, it's me. So fucking tell me."

Castiel said, "You can't." He shook his head as if to clear it. "Thank you for waking me up," He let go of Dean and started fixing the covers around him. "I'm going to continue sleeping."

That was unbelievable; Dean wished he had Castiel's willingness to return to sleep after a nightmare.

Dean was about to let Castiel get back to sleep, but something nagged at him. He licked his lower lip, dragging his tongue along the chapped skin. "Cas?" he asked hoarsly, hesitantly. "Is Sam getting any better?"

Castiel fixed Dean with Sam's eyes, Sam's gaze, and let go of the blankets. He considered the question. "No," he said.

*

Dean was used to awkwardness -- it came with the territory of sharing quarters with people you didn't always like. But usually he still loved them.

Castiel was different. As he'd said, he wasn't a person. He wasn't somebody Dean loved. Hell, Dean didn't even like the guy half of the time and he was certain the feeling was entirely mutual.

Then there was Sam.

How could Dean possibly separate between Sam and Castiel when they were essentially the same person? Castiel's personality in Sam's body, shielding Sam's soul from horrors that Dean couldn't even imagine going through.

There was a silent agreement between Dean and Sam. They would do everything for each other. They loved each other. They would protect each other, for better or for worse -- usually for the worse. There was also a silent agreement between Dean and Castiel that they wouldn't go against each other too much. There was mutual respect, there, and a basic level of personal trust that Dean's relationship with Sam lacked.

It was fucking Dean up. Left him tired, angry, confused, protective and ridiculous at the same time. Had Castiel taken anybody else as a vessel, he would've dealt with it just fine.

With the way things were, he wasn't.

*

He got stupidly drunk that night. He usually didn't drink enough to get drunk, but now he decided that he'd had enough and that he deserved to get drunk, dammit. He deserved to forget Castiel, and Sam, and every-fucking-thing that had gone wrong in his life.

That took a lot of alcohol.

Who cared, though? Sam was literally out of his mind and wouldn't stop him from drinking too much, the way he sometimes did when he felt Dean had gone overboard. "You sure that's smart?" he'd say, and Dean would look at the bottle forlornly. "Probably not," Dean would reply a couple of times, but stop when it became clear that Sam would look at him with reproach.

For some reason Dean cared a great deal for Sam's approval. It was stupid. He was older, tougher and better-looking, and still a small frown from Sam about the way he acted could make him change his ways.

The first shot of whiskey he poured for himself burned as it went down his throat. The second one, drunk immediately after, brought tears to his eyes. Dean blinked them away and after the third shot he was starting to feel cheerful.

Fuck Castiel. Fuck him. And Fuck Sam for not telling Dean when he started feeling the wall crumble, for not trusting Dean enough to share that there was something wrong with him. How the fuck would Dean be able to help him, to make him better if he didn't know something was wrong?

Fuck them both. They felt they didn't need Dean? Fine. Dean didn't need them, either.

*

He didn't notice when Castiel woke up a second time, the same way he didn't notice when he'd quit using the glass and drank right out of the bottle.

"You're not supposed to sneak up on me," Dean slurred in Castiel's direction. He was squinting, because Castiel had turned on the lights in the room. "You look like Sam."

Castiel's hand had been soft and gentle against Dean's when he'd taken the bottle away. Sam had never taken Dean's alcohol from him bodily. All he'd had to do was look. Castiel was good at looking, but he wasn't Sam yet. Sam wasn't as warm as Castiel.

"Let's get you in bed," Castiel said. He grabbed Dean by the wrists and pulled him up to his feet. His touch burned.

Dean shrugged him away, pulled back and stood wobbling. "You look like Sam," he said again.

Sam's face softened. "I know," he said quietly.

Dean said, "I think I'm gonna be sick."

He wasn't wrong.

*

"Don't touch me," Dean groaned and batted Castiel's hand away from his shoulder. He wanted to get away from the toilet bowl -- he'd been lucky he'd made it there before vomiting -- but he was too scared he was going to be sick again.

Castiel put his hand back on Dean's shoulder and caslped it tight. It didn't hurt. It felt more like Castiel was steadying him, anchoring him to something that wasn't his roiling stomach.

(Sam had never done that.)

"Drink this," Castiel said and handed him a glass. Dean didn't even check what it was, he chugged it down and only halfway through it, once it had cleared some of the taste of bile from his tongue, discovered it was water.

"Thanks," he said hoarsely. Castiel plucked it out of his hand and refilled it without being prompted. Sometimes Dean wondered if Castiel was a mind reader; he wouldn't be surprised if he was. He didn't think Castiel even knew what to do with a puking human; when would he have learned?

The water settled his stomach, somewhat, enough for him to be able to tear away his face from the sight of his own vomit. He tried standing, but his legs wouldn't support him without Castiel's help.

How embarrassing. But he squared his shoulders -- figuratively, because standing up too straight made him too queasy -- and trudged to the sink to brush his teeth and wash his face and splash a few drops at Castiel 'by mistake' and yeah. Maybe Castiel was right. Maybe it really was time for bed.

He felt well enough to get into bed by himself, even though Castiel had to remind him to undress. He fell asleep within seconds.

There was a reason he didn't get drunk often.

*

He woke up with Sam standing over his bed. Not Castiel, Sam. Dean could tell the difference now; Sam slouched, but he spread himself to the side. Castiel walked differently -- he took more space than Sam. It hurt to admit, but Castiel filled out Sam's body in a way Sam had never tried. He kept his hands closer to his body, hunched his shoulders instead of slouching, and always looked uncomfortable in his own skin.

Mostly because it wasn't his own skin that Castiel was wearing. It was Sam's, and Dean wasn't about to forget it no matter how easy it would make things.

And that was Sam standing over his bed, watching him in the dark, in the middle of the night, breathing so softly that Dean had to strain his ears to hear him.

"Sam?" he asked, bleary, and raised himself up to his elbows.

Sam flinched. For a second Dean thought he'd walk away from him, run away and never come back, but Sam did the exact opposite: he came closer. He came closer and stretched his hand as if he wanted to touch Dean. "Dean," he said softly.

His eyes flashed white.

Dean scrambled back, and to his feet, and said, "Stay back."

Sam frowned. He moved his leg slowly, started to take a step forward, towards Dean.

"I said stay back!"

Sam stopped. "Dean?" he asked. He sounded forlorn, confused. He sounded like Sam, who Dean hadn't seen for a couple of weeks now, and he'd missed him more than he ever thought he could

Dean wanted to go over to him and hug him. God, did he want to do that. But those were demon eyes that had watched him sleep, and this thing inside of Sam -- this wasn't Sam.

Where the fuck was Castiel?

"Don't come any closer," he warned. "I know you aren't Sam."

That knowledge was all he had, though, aside from the clothes he had on him. He had no weapon. Nothing to drive not-Sam back.

"What are you talking about?" not-Sam asked. "Dean, of course it's me."

Dean quirked his mouth in a half smile. "Nice try. Last I checked, Sam wasn't a demon."

The flinch that time drove not-Sam back more than a couple of steps, and he didn't come back forward. His mouth was gaping open, his eyes were wide -- and still milky white -- and he looked so much like Sam that it hurt. "What do you mean," not-Sam said, "demon?"

"Like I said," Dean snarled. "Nice try."

Not-Sam stood still: he didn't respond to Dean, didn't say anything. Didn't move. Dean thought this was his chance to get out of there, if he was just careful enough.

Then not-Sam said, "Oh." His eyes turned hazel, something that Dean only saw because white eyes in the darkness stood out and hazel eyes did not ...

... and he crumpled to the floor like a marionette with its strings cut.

Dean had learned a thing or two about demons in his time, and one of the first things you learned was that demons didn't make your life easier. They didn't take themselves out. They stayed there, right there with you, and made your life hell. Literally.

What not-Sam was doing went against everything Dean had ever encountered: he was playing dead. Or maybe he was dead, but Dean wouldn't count on that. The second thing you learned about demons was that they lied.

Dean didn't forget those lessons. They were branded in his bones, under his skin, beneath his eyelids. He'd had Alastair as his mentor in hell.

Dean did not forget.

He stood stock-still and frozen and waited for a punchline that didn't come for ages.

When the punchline came, it was unexpected. There was light coming out of the demon, out of the thing that looked so much like Sam but wasn't, because there was no fucking way in hell that that thing could be Sam. The light was bright blue and silvery at the same time, pulsating and alive, and was more of the light an angel produced than a demon's death spark.

"Sam?" slipped out of his mouth, against his will.

The light stopped. Not-Sam got back to its feet, slowly; left knee, right foot, left foot. It took it some time to find its balance, to stand up to his height and collect itself.

"Cas?" he asked once he recognized him.

Castiel looked at him, narrowing Sam's eyes in a frown. "You weren't supposed to see that." He strode forward until he was less than a foot away from Dean, looming over him and breathing in his space.

Dean demanded, "See what?"

Castiel said, "That doesn't matter." He stretched his hand in a pale imitation to Sam's earlier, quieter, almost-shier move, and touched his forehead. His palm burned against Dean's skin, and he knew what would come next.

"Sleep," said Castiel.

*

Dean woke up in the morning with a pounding headache and the feeling that he'd had the strangest dream. Sam was there, and Castiel, and Alastair, and it wasn't a memory. At least he was sure of that.

Dean didn't really do 'drunk' anymore. There were some things in his brain that he didn't want floating up to the surface.

It was early enough that the sun was still low in the sky, which was a small mercy. He didn't want to think what his headache would feel like if the first thing he saw when he woke up was sunlight right to his retinas.

He glanced around the room, looking for Castiel, and when he didn't see him he felt his heart start racing. If Castiel had gone out without telling him, Dean wouldn't be responsible for his actions. He was sticking his legs in his jeans when he found him, though -- still in bed, under the blankets, asleep.

*

Bobby called him later, bearing good news. "I found a team," he announced. "They'll get there in two days."

"Awesome," Dean said. "Hey--"

"You just make sure nobody gets in the water."

Dean frowned. "How am I supposed to do that?"

"You'll find a way," Bobby said. "I gotta go." He hung up, leaving Dean to stare at his phone for a second before snapping it shut and shoving it in his pocket. He'd planned to ask Bobby if it was really all right for him and Castiel to make their way to his place, but apparently he'd have to put it off for later, and now he had the task of keeping people away from the water.

There was no way he could drive up and down the river to stop people from getting in. Dean was good, but he wasn't that good.

Unless ...

Five minutes later found him driving off to the distance in search of a public phone. When he found it he looked through his ID stash until he found the wildlife services one -- he hadn't used it in a while; it was under a lot of other IDs. With a smile he called the wildlife services department and identified himself as one Tony Butler, an employee. "There's been an accident near the source of Salmon River," he said. "Chemical waste. Very dangerous. I'm on my way there now, but the local authorities along the river should be notified and asked to keep civilians away from the water."

He answered the woman on the phone’s questions ("No, I don't know what it is yet exactly, but it's from a source that emits highly poisonous waste"), said goodbye, and drove back to the motel.

"You seem pleased," Castiel said while Dean was closing the door behind him.

Dean hadn't expected Castiel to pick up on that, but he chuckled nonetheless. "I guess I am," he agreed, and told Castiel what he'd done to get himself out of the case.

"You find this situation difficult," Castiel said, taking Dean by surprise, and gestured at himself. At Sam, and Dean's amusement fizzled out.

"Actually, I find it infuriating," Dean said. It was easier to admit he was angry than to admit he was scared shitless that he might never see his brother again.

"I'm doing this to help Sam."

Dean shrugged. "Seems to me like it's doing more harm than good. You weren't supposed to get sick; you were supposed to look for ways to fix the wall."

Quietly, Castiel said, "There were complications." He raised Sam's hand into the air up to chest level, and Dean could see it shake minutely.

"That wasn't supposed to happen," Dean realized.

Castiel put his hand back down. "No. Sam's soul is comparable to a wasteland during a sandstorm. There's bleed over from him to me, and from me to him. It won't stop until I gain control of the wall."

"How fucking hard is it to put some tape over a wall?"

"Have you ever been in a sandstorm, Dean?" Castiel asked. He wasn't speaking loudly, but there was something in his voice, that same voice Sam always used to prove a point. "It takes down everything in its way. People, plants. Walls. If it's strong enough, there is nothing that can stand in its way."

Dean's throat felt dry, but he said, "Sam can't be that strong."

Castiel came closer until he stood right before Dean. There was only a foot between them, but Dean wasn't going to let him intimidate him like that, even if Castiel did stand straight and used Sam's height to his advantage.

-- that was new. Castiel had never seemed aware of how differences in height could be perceived.

The air between them crackled; not stepping back suddenly became an effort.

"Sam was strong enough to drive Lucifer back," said Castiel. "His strength of will did not diminish while he was in the cage." He paused, looked Dean up and down, and added, "You should stop underestimating your brother, Dean."

*

It was times like this that Dean missed Lisa so much that it hurt. He missed hearing her breathing somewhere in the room, missed knowing that there was a person who cared about him -- but didn't have the power to destroy the world for him.

He missed having a person who'd understand him even when he was quiet. Who wouldn't insist he would talk.

He missed the sense of peace that Lisa gave him, the pragmatism she'd brought into his life.

He missed being able to forget and not just ignore.

*

That night, Dean dreamed of Alastair. Not Alastair as he'd been, but the Alastair he'd turned into, at the end.

"Do you really think he cared, Dean?" he'd asked him.

Dean, foolishly, had said that yes, he did.

Alastair had traced the contours of his cheek, gentle, and whispered in his ear, "Not as much as me. Never as much as me."

*

He woke up in the morning, early enough that the sun shone through the curtains right into his eyes. He grumbled and turned onto his stomach, nuzzled his face in the pillow. Sleep was tempting, extremely so, and it took him a couple of minutes to realize that what had woken him was a full bladder.

Dean ignored the need to piss and went back to sleep. He was classy like that.

He woke up nearer to the usual time, and this time he couldn't ignore the call of nature. He dragged himself up, leg after leg, and then dragged his feet all the way to the bathroom where he used the toilet and brushed his teeth.

The room was empty when he stepped back into it. No Castiel, no Sam, not even Jimmy's body that that was no longer in existence. Dean was alone in the room, while Castiel, an angel, was fighting his brother's hell in said brother's head, in public.

That could only end well.

Dean got dressed and hurried out. His first stop was the motel's reception desk, where he asked, "Have you seen a guy about this tall--" he raised his hand to estimate Sam's height, "--brown hair, looks really serious and kind of geeky?" At the host's suspicious frown he said, "We were supposed to meet."

"Oh," said the man. "Are you sure? He went in the direction of the river about an hour ago."

"He's a bit of a scatterbrain," Dean explained. "Thanks."

The river's bank was busier than usual. Dean already considered himself an expert on the movement of the Salmoners, and during the early afternoons there shouldn't be all that many people at the same spot.

"What's going on?" he asked a bystander.

"The river got polluted at the source," she said.

"So why are you here?"

"Waiting to see the flotsam." She grinned at him. "There are bets about what color it'll be. Wanna join in?"

It seemed that Dean's brilliant plan had backfired, and instead of keeping people away, it had drawn the curious. Sometimes Dean really hated his brilliant plans.

*

Dean found Castiel standing further down the stream, in a secluded spot without anu other curious souls. Castiel was standing perilously close to the water -- almost like he wanted to step in. He was a steady contrast to the rest of the scenery: still where the river flowed in front of him.

"Cas," Dean said. "What are you doing here?"

"The room was starting to stink," said Castiel.

Dean had to admit, Castiel was right. The room was starting to get rank. Out of habit Dean hadn't let the maids in, and ever since Castiel had taken over Sam, well. No cleaning had been done since then. "That wasn't what I asked," he said.

"What bothers you more?" Castiel asked. "That I went out without telling you, or that I'm using Sam's body to do so?"

Dean didn't have an answer.

"I'm more than capable of keeping myself 'out of trouble'."

Dean blustered. He didn't want to have his own thoughts thrown at him like that. "I didn't say that."

"You didn't have to."

"You remember that there's a man-eating monster in that river," Dean said, trying for nonchalance.

Castiel turned to face him, and smiled. His smile was slow and cold and calculated, and nothing like Sam's. That fact alone sent shivers running up Dean's spine -- it reminded him of Lucifer, two years in a future that would never exist. "You're forgetting that I'm not a man, Dean," said Castiel.

"Sorry to disappoint," Dean said, "but right now? You're as good as a human." He turned on his heel and left.

But Castiel wouldn't let him leave; he caught Dean by the wrist, drew him back to a stop. "I wanted to see the river," Castiel said with an air of desperation in his eyes. He didn't let go of Dean's hand. He looked at Dean with as much intent as he could, as much meaning, as if he was trying to will Dean to understand something he couldn't explain.

Dean understood perfectly well. He pulled his hand out of Castiel's hold and drew himself to his full height. "You were going to try to kill the sharlie," he said quietly.

Castiel turned his face and didn't answer.

It was as telling as any confession Dean would get.

Dean considered his options, and settled on what he knew was the most stupid: he punched Castiel in the face.

Only when his fist connected with Castiel's face and split his lip Dean remembered two things.

One was that it was Sam he was punching. It was Sam's lip he'd split.

Two, was that the skin he hit was as soft as any human's.

"Cas, do you really think you can kill a sharlie on your own when you're like this?"

"I'm still an angel, Dean," Castiel said, wiping gingerly at the blood that trickled down his chin.

Dean sneered at him. "Go tell that to the sharlie when it's trying to relieve you of a leg or two."

*

He called Bobby with shaking hands as soon as he got out of Castiel's earshot.

"Tell me the team's coming here today," he begged as soon as Bobby picked up. His voice wasn't as steady as he would've liked; it raised Bobby's alarm.

"Did anything happen?"

"He's trying to get himself killed," Dean said. "He went after the sharlie on his own."

He could imagine the expression on Bobby's face -- specifically, the arched eyebrow. "He stupid, or what?"

"He thinks he's invincible." He swallowed, trying to wet his mouth. He was so damn angry.

"He did used to be," Bobby pointed out, and sighed. "I don't know what to tell you, Dean. The team should take at least another day, but it could be longer. They're trying to clear out a nest of spriggans."

Dean snickered. "You sure they're going to come out of there with their clothes?"

"Probably not," Bobby said. "But they're feeling hopeful."

Dean dropped his smile. "I fucked up, Bobby. I got people interested in the river instead of driving them away. If the new team doesn't get here quickly, some poor bastards are going to die soon."

"Dean ... these things happen."

He knew that. "But not on my watch, Bobby. Not when I can't do anything to fix this somehow."

"And you're sure Cas can't help? He might not be invincible, but he's still got some power."

Dean barked out a laugh. "Cas doesn't know anything about hunting. He'd just get us killed."

"Well," Bobby said. "Damn."

Dean agreed wholeheartedly.

"You and Cas do what you can, you hear?"

"But--"

"And I'll see if there's someone that can get to you faster than those two clowns. Deal?" he asked.

"Deal."

*

Dean spent the rest of the day sitting by the river, reading whatever he found in the Impala's backseat. Not all of the books had a cover, or even a title, so Dean was often in for a surprise or two. Occasionally he glanced up at the water, making sure people in his line of sight weren't getting themselves wet.

Apparently nobody wanted to get into a river full of toxic waste.

That was good to know.

He stayed there even past sunset, until it got closer to midnight and he started to worry that he would fall asleep there on the riverbank.

He packed himself up and went back to the motel.

*

"You're lucky, Dean," Alastair had said. "Lucky to only have me, now. Can you imagine what it would feel like to have strangers tend to you all the time? With me you will never be bored. There will always be something new and exciting."

Dean would rather have had boring and repetitive, but he knew better than say that.

"The treatment you get is personal. Fitted especially for your needs." There were claws at his hips suddenly, and they burned. "Isn't that right, Dean? No matter where you go or where you are, I will always be with you."

"Fuck you," Dean choked out.

Alastair had purred, "You know exactly what I want to hear," and dug his claws into Dean's skin, deep enough to scratch his lower ribs and beyond, and Dean woke up to find Castiel sitting by his side.

"I have exactly one thing to say about this," he said thickly. "You watching me sleep is fuckin' creepy, Cas."

Castiel ignored that. He asked, "What did you dream about, Dean?"

Dean rose up to his elbows, caught Castiel's eyes, grinned, and said, "None of your fucking business." He then collapsed back onto the bed and watched as Castiel rose stiffly to his feet and returned to his own bed.

Now that his dream was fading and Castiel was no longer looking at him, judging, he could allow himself to relax in the warmth of his bed, and feel the slightest bit of gratitude that Castiel had woken him up.

"Hey, Cas?" he said into the darkness.

Castiel glanced at him, but didn't respond.

"Thanks."

He thought he could hear a smile in Castiel's voice when he said, "Good night, Dean."

"You too, Cas."

Somehow he found himself returning to sleep.

*

Dean wasn't surprised to wake up and see that Castiel was not in the room, and he had a fair idea of where he might've gone.

He wasn't far off in his guess.

While Dean had expected to find Castiel standing on dry soil and simply looking at the river, Castiel was at least five feet into the water, standing there for no reason whatsoever.

It was still early enough in the day that the crowd hadn't gathered by the river yet, and it was a pretty secluded spot besides, so other than him and Castiel, there was no one to hear when Dean started shouting, "What the fuck are you doing, Cas!"

Castiel turned around to face him. The water splashed about his shins, soaking Sam's jeans. Dean would bet anything that Castiel hadn't even taken off either shoes or socks. Castiel's face didn't register any of this, though: not the cold water nor the current. The only thing Dean could see on his face was determination, and that scared Dean so much that he stepped into the water, still shouting, "When will you realize that this isn't a joke!" He tried pulling Castiel out of the water, but Castiel wouldn't budge, and the more Dean tried to move him, the more he marveled at how steady Castiel seemed, even with the fever and the occasionally trembling hands.

"I can handle this," Castiel insisted.

Dean gaped at him. He said, "You can be killed just as easily as me, and you don't have the experience."

"You're a fool," said Castiel.

A fool who was standing just at the right angle to see the serpentine form that suddenly appeared from underwater, water trickling from between its bared teeth back to the river. And it was heading straight toward them.

"Goddammit!" Dean grabbed Castiel by the arm and dragged him back to the bank and as far inland as he could.

Panting, they watched the sharlie rise from the spot where they'd just been. It stared at them balefully, keened a horrible high-pitched sound, and tried coming near them.

"Cas," Dean said shakily, "can sharlies get out of the water?"

"No," Castiel said, and was promptly proven right when the sharlie tried reaching them and failed.

Dean looked at Castiel, "You still think you can take it out on your own?"

Castiel frowned at where the sharlie was retreating back into the deeper water. "Probably," he said, not sounding at all confident.

*

Dean leaned against the bathroom doorframe and studied Castiel battling to get his wet clothes off. Wet jeans were awkward, and wet socks even more so; it was a good opportunity to look at Castiel and size him up -- not as a substitute for Sam, but as a man who wanted to get his hands dirty and dig into a case.

He couldn't figure out what Castiel would get out of killing the sharlie. He wasn't like Dean, who simply enjoyed the act of knowing that no more people would be hurt, and he wasn't like Sam, who enjoyed the rush of the hunt.

Dean had learned to be wary of hunters who didn't share their reasons for hunting.

He cleared his throat. Castiel raised his head up from his wet clothes and tilted it sideways, waiting for Dean to speak.

"That was a stupid thing, what you did back there," Dean said. "You do understand that, right?"

"It's as stupid as going there on your own," Castiel said mildly.

Dean's lips twitched into a smile. "I wasn't going after it. I'm keeping people away from the river until a replacement team shows up."

Castiel furrowed his brow. "You're -- not trying to kill it?"

"You asked me not to, remember?"

"Yes," said Castiel, bewildered.

"So no more stupid moves like this, all right?"

Castiel pressed his lips together in thought. "Are you going back to the river?"

"Gotta keep people out of it," Dean said with a shrug. "Can't exactly do it from here."

There was a hint of steel in Castiel voice as he replied, "You're not going by yourself, Dean."

"Yeah?" Dean asked. "If I don't take you with me, does that mean you'd keep sneaking back to the river until we get out of town?"

"Wouldn't you?" Castiel said with the air of a challenged.

Dean laughed. He thought about Castiel and his reason for going after the sharlie, and decided that for now, it didn't matter. Castiel would go to the river whether Dean was with him or not, and the only way to interfere if something bad happened was for Dean to be with him.

And, a tiny voice in his head said, he actually might be able to watch Dean's back, to cover for him, if something happened.

"Fair enough," he allowed. "We're going back there in twenty. Be ready."

*

They spent the day at the river until they were fairly certain everyone had left. Then they returned to the motel to catch some Zs, and a little before sunrise returned to the river, in time to keep an eye on early risers who felt like having a morning stroll.

The more time passed from Dean's call to the wildlife services, the less curious by-standers showed up, but they were also less careful. Here and there there were children and young adults who tried wading into the water, and Dean and Castiel had to run them off under the guise of worried citizens.

Which was technically true -- at least in Dean's case.

Who knew what was going on in Castiel's head.

Mostly, Dean was bored.

Hunting was only ten percent action; he knew that, had experienced it, but whenever he hunted with Sam, he seemed to get to the action faster. He didn't know if it was because Sam was just that good with wading through the quiet, necessary parts of research or that together they tended to stumble into situations more recklessly than they would've had they been alone.

But right now, even with Castiel inside Sam -- maybe because Castiel was in Sam -- he just felt bored. Needling Castiel was like kicking a sandbag. Ultimately it proved exhausting for the kicker and harmless for the bag itself.

He sat back on the grass, newspaper in hand, and waited.

*

"I see something," Castiel said suddenly. His tone was quiet and urgent, with just enough force to get Dean to shift to a more alert state. He followed Castiel's gaze into the distance, and his jaw twitched when he noticed the sharlie nosing about the water.

"There's no reason for it to come out."

Dean shook his head, imperceptibly. "We've been keeping people out," he said. "It must be hungry. Typical monster behavior."

Castiel tore his eyes away from the creature, to Dean. "Sharlies are peaceful," he reminded him.

"Yeah, and they live in a bigass lake. Guess whatever moved the sharlie here made it go crazy."

Castiel brought his eyes back to the sharlie, which was starting to retreat back into the water. "Does that happen often?"

"What else did you think we hunted?" Dean asked with a shrug. "If you hurt people, we hunt you. If you don't, there's no reason to." He made sure the sharlie wasn't visible anymore before he allowed himself to relax slightly. "Let me know if it shows up again."

"The same goes for you, Dean," Castiel said sharply.

Dean gave him half of a crooked smile in response, but made a mental note to do just that.

*

The people who came to the river grew progressively bolder. They went too close to the water for Dean's peace of mind, inserted their toes or their fingers, and some settled down as close to the water as possible with a blanket, and basked in the sun.

"Could they get any more suicidal?" he grumbled.

"They could be swimming," Castiel said.

Dean had to admit he had a point. "If the sharlie comes up now ..."

If the sharlie came up then, there would be fatalities.

They'd reached a silent agreement: Dean would be watching the humans, and Castiel would be looking for the sharlie. Castiel had the patience for it, and Dean had the experience of judging how people might react if something went wrong.

By the early afternoon they'd seen the sharlie peek out twice more, and wondered just how many times they'd missed it poking its head out of the water. The sport-savvy people had gone off, hopefully far away from any supernatural critters.

They were lucky in that regard; they were lucky that the only people who were on site when the sharlie finally attacked were a small group of high schoolers Dean had eyed warily from the second they got there.

Kids that age rarely reacted well to danger.

Dean saw the sharlie half a moment after Castiel; he was alerted by Castiel's sharp intake of breath, but by the time the words were coming out of his mouth, Dean was preparing to run.

Not run away from the sharlie -- run toward, because those damned teenagers were standing stock-still, looking certain death in the eye.

"Run, you idiots!" Dean shouted at them as he raced over, the ground sending shock waves up his calves with every step he took, the burn of the sudden speed ringing all the way into his tibias. "It can't get away from the water, so run!"

His voice shocked the kids into running, but not all of them went in the right direction. A couple of them went further downstream, along the riverbed. Dean swore under his breath and sped up to reach them before the sharlie.

"Dean!" Castiel called out behind him, but Dean ignored him, let the light breeze carry the word away..

Instead, Dean focused on his breathing and not losing his balance. His legs were starting to get used to the speed; it would be all for nothing if he never made it to the couple and got them out of the sharlie's range.

He made it just in time to wrap his hand around the girl's wrist and pull her away from the river, hoping the guy would follow them.

A sudden shout behind him and the sound of a body hitting the ground told Dean he hadn't.

He let go of the girl and pushed her forward. She stumbled over her feet, hesitated, and he shouted at her as he was turning around, "Go!"

She went.

He turned his attention to the guy, who was still face down in the dirt, and there was no way Dean could pick him up and get him to safety, so he did the next best thing.

"Hey!" he yelled at the sharlie, straining his vocal cords to turn its attention away from the guy at his feet. "Pick on someone your own size!"

The sharlie paused mid-motion, and fixed Dean with its huge eyes. Up close, an inner eyelid became visible, much like a crocodile's. Despite Castiel's words, it didn't look at all peaceful.

"Yeah, you ugly fuck!" Dean continued, leaning forward on the balls of his feet. "You pay attention to me!"

The sharlie reared up and started descending on Dean with an open mouth.

And that was when Dean realized that he had nothing to stake the sharlie with. He'd left his multipurpose stake in the trunk of the Impala, not expecting to literally meet the fangface face to face.

Well.

Crap.

Dean picked up his feet and raced upstream, hopinh the sharlie would leave the guy alone and come after him. He could probably stay alive long enough for the kid to pick himself up and get to safety.

Though after seeing how quickly the sharlie was catching up with him, he corrected his estimation from probably to hopefully. This was when he he really could have used Sam's uncanny tendency to be in the right place at the time.

"Dean!" he heard Castiel.

"Not now, Cas!"

Castiel muttered something that Dean didn't catch and hurried toward where Dean would end up at, running vertically to Dean's horizontal progress.

"Do you want to die?!" Dean shouted at him.

"Dean, catch!"

Instinct made Dean check what the hell Castiel was talking about -- a stake the size of a humerus rushed through the air at him, and Dean startled in recognition: an angel's sword.

The foreign metal cut his fingers as he caught it; he fit his palm around the curve of it, hand remembering the dips of it as if he'd only just held it yesterday instead of two years ago when he'd killed Zachariah.

But the pause had cost him. In the time he was catching the sword, the sharlie came at him at full speed, and Dean only had time enough to hope the sword would work - Castiel never had told him what stake was needed - before the sharlie was upon him. He ducked, coming up from below to bury the blade deep between its eyes.

There was one nerve-wrecking moment during which Dean didn't know if it had worked, even though there was blood and gore spilling down his hand, destroying his shirt. But a second later the sharlie swayed, collapsing and almost crushing Castiel, who'd (apparently) determined that things were safe enough for him to come close.

Dean pulled the sword out of the sharlie's head and held it out to Castiel, who didn't seem to care about the blood that dripped to the ground as he held the blade parallel to his body.

Dean said, "Guess we should tell Bobby we won't be needing that other team after all." He looked down at the sharlie and prodded an unbloodied part of it with his shoe. "We should probably get rid of this first, though."

*

He called Bobby in the morning, letting him know that they'd gotten the sharlie by themselves after all. "So you two finally learned to work with each other?" Bobby asked.

"You're welcome," said Dean.

Bobby sighed heavily in his ear. "So what are you going to do now?"

Dean cleared his throat. "Uh. I thought, maybe I could bring Cas to your place. We could look up things, look for something."

Bobby sighed. "You two can come, but I doubt we'd find anything."

"Thanks, Bobby," he said, ignoring the man's doubt.

He packed up his stuff very, very quickly, considering how long they'd been in Salmon. "We can finally get out of here," he told Castiel, who looked more puzzled than grateful. "Go to Bobby. Get you and Sam all sorted out."

Castiel's expression blanked out.

Dean put down the shirt he was wrapping up before inserting it to his duffel, and stated, "You don't want to get sorted out. What the hell, Cas?"

Castiel blinked. He shook his head slightly and tried to smile. "There's nothing to sort."

"Bullshit," said Dean. "Either you tell me now or I'll get it some other way."

"I've already told you," Castiel said. "There are complications. This is out of your hands. You cannot interfere."

"I shouldn't interfere, you mean."

Castiel blew out an impatient breath. "No. You can't. This is beyond your control."

"That's what you said about the apocalypse," Dean reminded him.

"This is completely different," Castiel said.

"Explain how."

"Not yet," said Castiel. "Hopefully, I'll never have to."

"Yes, because hiding things has worked so well for you in the past."

Castiel shrugged. "Think what you will." He turned around and left for the bathroom, effectively ending the argument.

"I'm not going to pack for you!" Dean shouted after him.

Castiel did not turn around.

Unsurprisingly, Dean found himself packing Sam's duffel as well as his own.

*

A week later Idaho's roads were still terrible, as Castiel bothered to tell Dean from time to time. Dean missed Sam's sleeping form, because when Sam was asleep, at least he wasn't complaining. Most of the time it seemed to Dean that all Castiel did was complain.

"Just go to sleep," Dean said. "That way you won't have to actually feel every single pothole in the road."

"The car is vibrating," Castiel pointed out.

"The car is driving on bad asphalt. Of course it's vibrating. That's what cars do."

"This form of transportation isn't well thought-out, is it?"

"Not all of us have huge-ass wings, you dick."

Castiel slouched down in the passenger seat to sulk, and for one blessed moment he looked remarkably like Sam.

Dean turned on the radio, flicked through the stations until he found something he didn't find too offensive.

"Sam doesn't like that music," Castiel said. "Neither do I."

Dean shrugged. "How would you know what Sam likes? You always paying attention to your vessels' likes and dislikes?"

With obvious frustration, Castiel said, "Sam is not a regular vessel."

"What's that even mean?"

"I can't shut him out. Stopping him from shutting me out is an effort beyond your imagination."

Dean pulled to the side of the road. He killed the engine, pulled the key out of ignition, and got out of the car. He slammed the door behind him.

Castiel didn't come after him. He wasn't Sam, after all. He didn't know that when one of them stormed out of the car it was a sign for an impending heated argument.

Dean took a few calming breaths, and got back in the car. "What you're saying is that you and Sam are fighting for who's going to be in control of Sam's body?"

"Yes," Castiel said.

Dean flexed his palm into a fist and said very very carefully, "You're lucky you're in Sam's body, otherwise I would've punched you in the face again. Get out of him. Now."

Castiel said, "I can't. I have to wait until I gain control over Sam."

"Until you kill him, you mean."

Castiel said, "If that's what it takes."

"I thought the entire point of you helping was not letting him die," Dean said, bitter. He worked his throat a few times to swallow back the sudden surge of bile.

"I'm trying," said Castiel. "But that wasn't my entire reasoning behind decision to help."

Dean shook his head. "I can't believe it," he muttered and started the car. He ignored Castiel for the next three hours and was glad when Castiel didn't push the issue.

*

Dean had miscalculated one thing: Castiel couldn't drive. He was used to driving across the country with Sam, who could take driving off of his hands whenever Dean got too tired, but Castiel not only hadn't ever passed any sort of a driving test, but also didn't have the theoretical knowledge of how to act on the road.

If Dean let him to drive the Impala, they would run over something big and heavy that grew roots.

At any rate, that wasn't the important part. The important part was that they were in the middle of Wyoming -- a little to the east more than to the west -- and there wasn't a motel anywhere close by; nor was Dean alert enough to keep driving until they hit one.

Castiel was of no help at all. He'd fallen asleep once they had made it out of Idaho. His sleep was fitful, in bits and bursts, and he murmured in his sleep things that Dean couldn't make out. Things that Dean was damn sure he didn't want to make out.

So while Castiel would've been more-or-less awake enough to drive if he'd known how, Dean was dead on his feet and he'd swear he'd drive into the next road sign he saw in an attempt to comprehend what it said.

Sometimes Dean really hated not thinking rationally when he was emotional. Sam was better at that, but it was John's dissociative methods that Dean still idolized. For all his faults, the man did know how to plan ahead.

He didn't know why he was thinking about his dad, then; he hadn't, not seriously and in depth, for years now. But somehow -- it was just like when he'd disappeared and Dean had gone to find Sam. The moment Sam disappeared, he sought out his father, even if he could only find him in memories.

Thinking of his father made him think of Alastair, though; made him remember how lovingly Alastair had described each and every procedure he'd ever done on man, and that made Dean feel sick. At least he didn't puke anymore when he thought about it. Forty years with Alastair went a great deal to strengthen his ability to stand every form of imaginable gore.

He was rambling in his own head. How low could he even get? Annoyed with himself, Dean pulled over, killed the engine and the lights, and told a bleary Castiel, "We're staying here tonight."

"In the middle of nowhere?"

"Yes."

Castiel shrugged. "Fine."

Sam always bitched when they had to sleep in the car. "Your back will hurt once you wake up."

Castiel looked at him blankly. "We're sleeping here?"

Dean grinned. "Hell yeah." He took the bench as far back as he could, ignoring Castiel's surprised intake of breath, and made a show of making himself comfortable.

"Good night, Dean," Castiel said after a while.

Dean wanted to pretend to be sleeping. But he said, with a sigh, "Night, Cas."

*

He woke up with the feeling of deja vu . Sam was next to him -- sitting, looming, it didn't matter what word Dean used, it wouldn't change the fact that Sam was right there next to him, staring.

"I miss you," Sam said.

"Sam?" Dean said groggily.

"Yeah," said Sam with a hesitant smile. "It's me."

Dean blinked the sleep from his eyes. "Where's Cas?"

The smile dropped from Sam's face. "Away, for now."

"I'll get him out of you, Sammy, I swear," Dean said. "Just give me some time, okay? Hold on there. Don't let him win."

"No, Dean, don't," Sam said.

Dean frowned.

"Please."

"I'm not going to let him kill you."

Sam shook his head. "He isn't going to kill me. You have to trust me on this. Don't -- don't drive him out. This is better. I swear." Despite his attempts to reassure Dean, Sam looked like he was about to cry.

Dean forced himself to say, "What aren't you two telling me, Sam?"

Sam looked away from him.

"Sam.."

He watched Sam lick his lips and bite them, the white of his teeth sharp in the darkness around them. "There was something," Sam finally said, not much stronger than a whisper. "Behind the wall. I -- I hoped I was wrong, but I wasn't, and if Cas gets out before the wall is fixed -- I don't know what's going to happen. Please, Dean, you have to promise me."

"What sort of thing?" asked Dean.

Sam shook his head in denial. "It's bad."

"We can handle it, you know we can. Whatever it is."

"No," Sam said. "We can't."

Sam raised his hand -- the deja vu struck Dean again, hard and fast, and he was certain this had happened before and how could he not remember when, and how, and why? His heart was beating so fast he thought it was going to burst out, and his stomach felt queasy -- raised his hand, and touched Dean's cheek so quickly that Dean would've thought he'd imagined it, had it not left a burning sensation different to that of Castiel. "Sam," he rasped.

"I wanted to see you," said Sam. "I shouldn't fight Cas, but -- I miss you."

"You're such a girl," Dean said.

Sam smiled. "You're the bigger girl, you idiot."

"I am not getting into it with you."

"You'd lose."

"Sam--"

The smile dropped again. Dean found that he missed it. "Don't. I know what you're going to ask. Don't. I don't --" he cut himself off.

But Dean had perfected the art of reading Sam over the years, and they'd already gone through that bullshit. I don't want you to hate me, Sam wanted to say, and didn't dare to.

"Take care of Cas, okay?" Sam said. "He's going to have a hard time."

Dean said, "This isn't a goodbye."

Sam just looked miserable. "And take care of yourself, all right?"

"Sam!"

Sam closed his eyes, sunk back into the chair, and when Dean saw the eyelids fluttering open again, it wasn't Sam anymore; it was Castiel.

Castiel tilted his head at him. "Did you say something?"

And Dean said, "No. Go back to sleep, Cas."

*

They reached Sioux Falls late that afternoon, and caught Bobby starting on his dinner. Bobby wasn't happy about that, but let them in anyway. "You boys have the worst timing?" he grumbled.

"Of course I do," Dean said. "What's for dinner?"

Bobby shot him a withering look.

Dean grinned.

"You know where everything is," Bobby relented. "And you're doing the dishes."

"Home sweet home," Dean muttered, and went to get a plate and a fork. After some thought, he added a knife to the mix as well as grabbing a set for Castiel. "Sit," he told Castiel, and served him his dinner like he was ten again and Sam was six.

Some things never changed.

"What took you so long to get here?" Bobby asked him halfway through dinner. "You went forty or something?"

As a matter of fact, he had, but he wasn't going to admit it to Bobby. How would he explain it? He had a run-in with his envesseled brother who'd begged him not to save him from his envesseler in the middle of the night, and couldn't get back to sleep after that, no matter how hard he'd tried? "Road was bad," he said. "Didn't want to kill Sam and Cas instead of fixing them."

Both Castiel and Bobby seemed uncomfortable with that bit. Somewhere deep inside Sam's mind, behind Castiel's, Dean was certain that Sam didn't approve of that either.

He didn't give a damn.

"Would've been here faster if Cas here could drive," he added. "We should get to teaching him."

Castiel said, "I don't need to know how to drive."

"Can you teleport anywhere right now?" Dean asked.

"No."

"Then you need to learn how to drive."

Castiel scowled at him. Dean felt like he'd won some unplanned competition.

He did the dishes as fast as he could -- he didn't much care about the quality so long as there weren't any obvious stains and went to catch a have with Bobby at the garage, far away from Castiel.

Bobby was head-first into an engine when he found him. Studying it and not doing anything.

"Is it talking to you?" Dean asked him.

Bobby snorted. "No. I'm thinking at it."

Dean leaned against the hood. "Is it thinking back at you?"

"It says you're an idiot, but that's nothing new."

"Look, Bobby--"

"Don't you 'look, Bobby' me, Dean. I've looked, everywhere. I've looked for things ever since Sam got his soul back, and after the wall broke down that first time. Did you think I haven't?"

"I know you have--"

"And do you know what I've found? Exactly nothing. Zilch. I've been burying myself in books about the subject, called in favors from people I really didn't want to owe anything for, and nothing."

Dean looked away. Tapped his fingers against his thigh. "If we don't do anything, Sam might die," he said quietly.

Bobby's tone softened, grew less frustrated, less shrill. "Do you know that for certain?"

"Cas just about shouted it when I asked him."

"... would letting Sam go be such a bad idea? Dean, the kid's had bad luck from the start. Maybe he could find rest like this."

Half snarling and half rasping, Dean said, "I am not letting him die."

"Dean--"

He forced himself to calm down. "If he dies, his soul goes back into the cage, Bobby. For eternity. I'm not going to let him back in there."

"And you know that, how?"

"Cas," said Dean. "That one he said outright."

Bobby hmmed for a second. Closed the hood of the car, and Dean let the vibrations of it remind him of happier days, when he'd done simple things like fixing cars, and didn't have to worry about his little brother going back to hell.

If he could, he would've gone there instead of Sam.

"Then let's find a way to save him, shall we?" Bobby asked. Dean's relief was more physical than emotional. He could kiss the man, and only barely stopped himself from doing that.

"Hell yeah," he said.

Bobby gestured to the path back to the house and said, "Ladies first."

"Screw you," said Dean with a laugh, but went ahead of Bobby anyway.

*

Castiel didn't approve of them researching ways to get him out of Sam.

"Give me one good reason why," Dean asked him, finally at the end of his rope. "One good fucking reason."

Castiel said, "Sam doesn't want me to."

"Bullshit. I know you have him locked away in some corner of his mind."

Castiel said, "I don't want you to know why."

That stopped Dean short. "Why?" he asked.

"It would only hurt you," said Castiel.

"Lots of things could hurt me, Cas."

Castiel hesitated. "This isn't 'other things'. This is Sam. You have a history of making bad decisions based on your feelings for Sam and your sense of duty."

Dean said, "Don't you start psychoanalyzing me."

"Am I wrong?" Castiel asked, looking him right in the eye.

"Things change."

"But not you, Dean," said Castiel, in Sam's gentle voice that he used whenever he wanted to calm people. "Not about Sam. Believe me when I say there's a good reason why Sam's soul should not be left to its own devices."

"You really think I'll let this go?" asked Dean.

Castiel considered that, and said, "I know you won't, but I'd like you to."

*

"So, there's this wall," Dean said while he was pacing the study. "And it's broken."

"Excellent deduction," said Bobby.

Dean glared at him. "Sam implied that there's something he doesn't want to get out from behind the wall, and if it does it would be bad news. That means we need something to tape the wall, because Cas clearly isn't doing the job right."

Castiel kept quiet.

"So. What we need is glue, and some extra soul wall bricks."

"Very eloquent," Bobby snarked.

"Do you have any better idea?" Dean asked him.

"Not really, no."

"Thought so."

He turned to Castiel. "Cas, do you have some extra soul bricks hanging around?"

Castiel looked at him like he was crazy. "What do you think I've been doing all this time, Dean?"

"He thinks you been twiddling your thumbs after sticking them up your ass," said Bobby, separating a large pile of books in two in order to find a certain text. He glared at them. "Why am I the only one doing all the reading here?"

Castiel picked the one at the top of the pile closest to him and started leafing through it dispiritedly, and Dean picked up with the next one, but didn't open it. "What do you mean, what you've been doing all this time?"

"There is something that the wall held back. I've been trying to keep most of it out of Sam's soul, but due to its nature it's not very cooperative."

"You know, all this talk about 'something behind Sam's wall' is really starting to piss me off," Dean said. "How can the truth be so much worse than you stringing it in front of me and snatching it away once I try to get at it?"

Castiel looked up from the book. "You won't like it," he warned Dean.

"Tough luck," Dean said. "I'm listening."

"Fine," said Castiel. "Since you insist." He stopped talking, and set the book down in his lap. "You'll want to have some alcohol next to you."

"I'll bring out the brandy," Bobby said and heaved himself back out from the chair. "Up and down, up and down," he muttered. "Never a moment's rest."

Dean could've been the one to bring the brandy because he knew where Bobby's alcohol stash was -- namely, the kitchen; Bobby must've cared a great deal to keep going up and down for him and Sam.

*

"What do you know about how demons are created?" Castiel asked him once he was safely on the couch, holding his glass of brandy between both hands. "Namely, about how Lilith and Alastair were created."

Dean thought about it. He remembered Alastair, and Lilith -- bitch visited him down in hell a couple of times, had a couple of 'sessions' with him under Alastair's delighted watch -- and his mind shuddered away from the thought. He forced it back there, to places he'd tried to forget as hard as he could, and didn't find much. "Lilith was the first demon," he said. His tongue felt like lead. "Lucifer's first."

"Alastair was Lucifer's second." Castiel hesitated. "And Sam ... Sam is Lucifer's third."

There was a sudden flash of white-on-black in Dean's mind, a nighttime conversation he'd thought was a bad dream after waking up. He remembered Sam standing over him with white eyes, and him driving him away. "Lucifer's third," Dean echoed dumbly.

"What you're saying, then, is that Sam's a demon?" Bobby clarified from the sideline. Dean sneaked a glance and saw him defeated: the lines in his face stood out and he was leaning against the wall more than standing upright. His voice, when he spoke, was factual and quiet, like he was telling some kid somewhere that one plus one equaled two.

Castiel said, "No, not yet. The demonic aspect of his soul is still contained behind the wall, but some parts of it have been starting to merge with the rest of him. Once it fully merges with Sam, there will be no stopping the demon he would become."

Dean asked, "How do we reverse that?"

"You can't," said Castiel. "If Sam dies, his soul returns to the cage and he becomes a demon there, where he's contained. That's the preferable option. If he remains alive, he will become a demon on earth, where he'll have free movement and complete and utter control over hell as Lucifer's predestined vessel."

Dean grit his teeth. It hurt.

"Why didn't you let him die when the wall started coming down, then?" Bobby asked.

Dean could recognize that he was ignoring questions he should ask, but he couldn't think of them. Didn't even consider them. Sam wasn't a demon, wasn't going to become a demon, and the hell with what Castiel said.

"I didn't know how advanced Sam's situation was," Castiel said. "This is unprecedented."

Dean said, "He was only there for -- what, a couple of weeks? Becoming a demon takes longer than that." Sam couldn't be a demon.

"Time is different in the cage than in the rest of hell," Castiel said carefully. "He was under Lucifer and Michael's direct attention for a very long time, Dean."

"This is a joke," Dean said. He finally remembered to drain his glass of brandy. Castiel came nearer with the bottle, and poured him another glass. Dean drained that one, too.

"You can see why I didn't want to tell you," Castiel said.

Dean shook his head.

"I understand that this is difficult--"

"You don't understand anything!" Dean shouted. His position was ridiculous: he was sitting on the sofa, looking up at the angel that towered over him with a worried frown.

Sam's worried frown.

"Sam is my friend too," Castiel said quietly.

Dean said, "Sam is my brother."

"The moment he becomes a demon--"

"Sam wouldn't let himself turn into a demon," said Dean. "Sam isn't like that." He ignored the trace of a thought that whispered to him that he was.

"You haven't felt his soul. I have."

Dean held his head high for just one more second before he gave into the urge to flee the room. It was closing in on him, choking him, and he needed to get Castiel out of his sight and out of his mind.

He walked out.

*

Bobby found him wandering around the junkyard a couple of hours later. Dean knew he didn't have to search for long -- this was a regular occurrence.

He didn't look at Dean when he started speaking. He wasn't even facing Dean. He stood away, distant, and said quietly, "I talked with Castiel some more. Heard what he had to say."

"He's full of crap," Dean snarled.

"He's got a point, though. What do you think would happen if Sam turned into a demon?"

"He's not turning into a demon," Dean said stubbornly.

"I didn't say he was, I said if. Subtle difference that I'm sure is beyond you."

Dean said, "Cut it out. I'm not in the mood."

Bobby chuckled bitterly. "And you think I am? I just spent the last hour talking to Castiel about how your brother could be taking over hell if he went demonic. Azazel's boy king, remember him? That's your brother. That's Lucifer's plan without Lucifer himself. Sam is the next best thing after Lucifer."

Dean took it in, heard every single word, but he still didn't understand.

"Castiel says he tried to help him, but he misjudged the severity of Sam's situation. He jumped into something he didn't know whether he could deal with because he cares about you two for some reason I can't understand."

"He's got a funny way of showing that," Dean muttered.

He could see Bobby shrug from the corner of his eye. "That's Castiel for us, and for the record, you're not much better. You should stop expecting him to act like a human, Dean. He ain't one."

"Stop trying to defend him just 'cause he isn't human," said Dean.

"Stop moping for a second and use your head, boy," Bobby snapped. "Would I do that? Have I done that before? I told you I spent time talking to him, and Dean, hurting you is the last thing he wants to do. It's almost sweet."

"Like I said, he's got a funny way to show it."

Bobby huffed at him. "Think what you want. I told you what he told me. To tell you the truth I don't think we should interfere with what he's doing with Sam. Let them solve it between each other. From the way your angel tells it, they talk and listen to each other a lot."

"Yeah, the way neither of them would communicate with me."

"They don't want to hurt you."

"Because they obviously aren't now," Dean said acidly.

Bobby raised his eyebrow, "I never said that." He shrugged at him, shook his head. "I'm going back inside. I'll keep looking, come join me once you've stopped moping."

*

The worst thing about it all, really, was that he didn't know what Sam had gone through in the cage. No matter how much Dean had needled him or how many hints he'd dropped, Sam had kept stubbornly quiet over the subject.

Dean couldn't blame him. He was the same in regards to Alastair, after all.

But it was one thing to know what you'd gone through and not sharing it and wondering about what a person you care about greatly had experienced. Was anything similar between the experiences Sam and Dean had gone through? What had been different? How could anything possibly be worse than Alastair?

Dean didn't like thinking about Alastair, but that was something he'd been doing a great deal in the past few weeks. Everything about Castiel and Sam, everything flooded Alastair back onto the surface. His touch, his smell, his voice. His love and his care and how much he hated Dean, and his pride.

Dean had lived for Alastair's pride, once, as much as hell had allowed him to have a life.

Was Sam the same when it came to Lucifer and Michael? Was he kept away from Adam the same way Dean had been alone with Alastair, or were they a source of comfort for each other?

Had there been anything that Dean could've done to help Sam?

The urge to know was like a trail of bile climbing its way up his throat, burning the tissue in its wake and leaving nothing but the taste of ash. Dean didn't think he could stand another night of vague dreams, imagining what had happened.

Even so, he chose to go to bed rather than face Bobby's knowing eyes again and the doubt he'd try to raise in Dean, and Dean was certain that Bobby had taken the brandy with him to keep on with his research.

He wanted to go to bed early, before the buzz of the brandy wore off, and he didn't didn't want to face the man for another finger of brandy.

Not after he'd said that the world was better off with Sam dead.

"Bed" was Bobby's couch, but Dean didn't care, he was used to it. It was as comfortable as a couch could be, and was familiar enough that he'd drift off to sleep without too much effort.

Most of the time when he slept at Bobby's, he didn't dream.

*

He didn't need to open his eyes to know that Sam was standing over him again. "Why is it that you always come out at night?" he asked.

"'You're cute when you're sleepy," said Sam.

"Ha ha," Dean said. "Very funny." He opened his eyes. The first thing he looked at was Sam's eyes, but they were their usual hazel. "You're not a demon," he said, relief coloring his voice.

Sam crouched next to him, dressed in the clothes Castiel preferred to wear for bed -- sweatpants, a tee-shirt. Almost what Sam liked, but not quite.

That was Castiel in a nutshell: almost, but not quite.

"Not at the moment," Sam said. His eyes searched Dean's, and there was a sudden flash of what might've been whiteness. "I wish he didn't tell you."

"You shouldn't have kept it from me. Dammit, Sam, I could've helped."

"You would've tried," Sam corrected him. "And failed. This. I shouldn't keep coming out. It makes Cas weaker and that's the last thing I want. I don't want to become a second Lilith, Dean."

Dean wasn't worried about Sam becoming Lilith. He was worried about him becoming Alastair. "You'd make a better Lilith than her," he said, trying for humor. "You have the better ass."

Sam batted at his shoulder. "That's not funny."

Dean agreed with him. He sat up on the couch, facing Sam -- they were only half a foot apart, and it was a closeness that Dean had missed so much that it hurt. "What's it like, inside your head?"

Sam's face crumpled.

"Tell me," Dean urged him.

"It's like being in the cage, most of the time," said Sam. "With Lucifer and Michael, and sometimes Adam's there too. Time passes strangely. I -- I can never tell when it is. It's lonely, in a way."

Dean wanted to touch Sam, to make sure he was really there. His hand twitched in his lap. He kept it there. "Aren't you communing with Cas or something? That's the impression I got."

"It doesn't work like that," Sam said. He shifted. "We don't use words. We just ... generally know what the other wants."

"Like telepathy?" Dean asked.

"In a way," said Sam, in a way that told Dean that he wouldn't like the answer. After already getting one answer he didn't like that day, he didn't feel like getting another.

Instead of telling Sam he did want to know, he asked, "If it's so bad, why do you keep coming out?"

Sam said in a small voice, "I miss you."

Dean closed the gap between them, and squeezed Sam in a tight hug. He figured that Sam deserved that hug after everything he'd gone through, and the truth was -- Dean wanted that hug himself. It felt good having Sam solid and unharmed in his arms, to feel the warmth of him (and not Castiel's unbearable heat, for once) through his clothes. The moment Sam's arms wrapped around Dean and clutched at his shirt like Sam was planning to never let go -- for the first time in a month, he felt at peace.

"I don't want to go," Sam mumbled into his shoulder.

And for Sam to admit that, he really wanted to stay where he was. "Hey," Dean said. "Hey, Sammy, listen to me, you don't have to. We can find something, and Cas and Bobby will help, yeah? You know they will."

"I do," Sam said. "They won't find anything, though. Dean, I've looked everywhere. I couldn't find anything. I've had Cas look for ways to fix the wall, and he couldn't find anything. Bobby. Bobby's sources. My sources. Anything I could think of and then some, and there was nothing to be found."

Dean laughed, suddenly. Even in his own ears it sounded hysterical "Man, you've gotta stop telling me to let you go. It happens way too much. This had better be the last time this happens."

Sam uneasily joined in on his laughter. "The last time," he agreed.

*

That morning, Castiel did not wake up.

Dean didn't notice at first. He'd noticed not having Castiel's sour face clouding the room with his displeasure, and was thankful for that. He'd noticed that the study was quieter that morning, and was thankful for that as well.

But he didn't notice that Castiel wasn't there.

It was Bobby who'd remarked over a lunch of sandwiches and beer that Castiel was sure taking his sweet time getting up.

Dean furrowed his brows and looked around the room, gobsmacked that he had somehow not noticed. "You sure?" he asked. "Maybe he went out or something."

Bobby raised his eyebrows.

Dean had to admit -- he had a point. Castiel had nowhere to go to go. Hadn't, in fact, gone out much in Salmon either.

"Maybe he's tired?" he tried.

"And that doesn't ring any warning bells?"

"I'll go check on him." He wolfed down the rest of his sandwich and took a fortifying swig from the beer before pushing the chair back and clambering to his feet.

Bobby had put Castiel up in one of his two actual guest rooms. When Dean had asked why he'd never put him or Sam there, Bobby had replied that the both of them had fallen asleep in the middle of research so often that it was just more practical to leave them in the study.

As he climbed upstairs, Dean thought about that, amused. He'd bet anything that the actual reason Castiel got the proper treatment was so he wouldn't distract him and Bobby from their quest to help Sam.

The guest room door was open a crack, but Dean still knocked before pushing it open and entering the room. And there, on the bed, was Castiel.

"Cas?" Dean asked, stepping closer to the bed. "Hey, Cas. Wake up, man."

He put his hand on Castiel's shoulder, just his fingertips against the shirt, and shook him slightly.

Castiel slept on, flat on his back, breathing deeply. He didn't even twitch.

Dean shook him harder. "Come on, Cas. This isn't funny."

The image of Sam in the same position, lips parched and open as he slept on and on flashed through Dean's mind. Sam had been close to dying.

Dean bent over Castiel, put both his hands on his shoulders, and shook him so hard that his neck occasionally arched up a little.

Suddenly, a hand rose up and clutched Dean's wrist. Dean stiffened, looked down at Castiel's hand, looked up at Castiel's face --

And saw Sam looking back at him.

The difference was in the eyes; Castiel's expressions were controlled and hesitant, while Sam's held a warmth and familiarity that Castiel would have never, in a million years, been able to reproduce.

"Sam," he whispered.

Sam smiled. "Hey, Dean."

The words stuck in his throat, and Dean had no idea how to let them out.

Sam let go of his arm and hoisted himself up into a sitting position.

Dean rasped, "You're--"

"Me?" asked Sam, gently.

"Yeah," said Dean, drinking in the sight of his brother's body housing his own self. "Where's Cas?"

Sam shrugged, still with the smile -- gentle and warm and familiar like the feel of the Impala's wheel under his hands -- firmly in place. His eyelids were lowered, hiding the color of his eyes.

Dean kept quiet, waiting for Sam to answer the question properly. He was starting to have a very bad feeling, and the thought of opening his mouth to speak made sweat form on the nape of his neck.

Sam made a move to get off the bed, and Dean automatically moved aside, giving his brother the space to get to his feet.

"Sam," Dean said thickly. "What happened to Cas?"

Sam tilted his head, not unlike Castiel. "I think he's gone, Dean," he said, finally opening his eyes all the way.

They were white.



end

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