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27 December 2011 @ 11:58 pm
DCMB 2011: Scheherazade of the Super Eight (1/2)  
My apologies for the exceedingly late posting, and for the quality of the finished product. Writing this was like pulling teeth, for reasons I can't quite figure out. You should go check out the artwork by amberdreams right over here. She's done quite a few lovely pieces and deserves your praise.

Beta thanks go to the fantastic sycophantastic and darkjediqueen, who both put up with a lot of stalling and whining from me every time this story didn't go the way I wanted it to.



Title: Scheherazade of the Super Eight
Author: pyrebi
Artist: amberdreams
Pairing(s): Extremely mild Dean/Castiel.
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 17k
Warnings: Fairytale-style madness and unrealistically quick fixes, forced imprisonment, general malice, one bout of non-lethal violence, offscreen deaths.
Notes: Goes massively AU after mid-s6; loosely based on the frame tale of One Thousand and One Nights.

Summary: Dean doesn't know why angels keep recruiting him for impossible tasks. But they do, and now he's apparently the last chance heaven has--not only against Raphael, but against a dangerously unhinged Castiel. Oh yeah, and he has to do it all from the confines of a 10'x16' motel room that doesn't even exist.

--



Scheherazade of the Super Eight



Dean never considered himself a storyteller. Sure, he figured himself for a good enough liar—that’s pretty much a requirement if you wanna be a halfway decent hunter—but they’re not quite the same thing. But any poor sonuvabitch who’s looked death in the eye will tell you that you can pull all sorts of skills from the air when your ass is on the line.

This is the story of a thousand stories.

Yeah, Dean doesn’t know how he pulled that off, either.

--

See, it doesn’t start with Dean. He’s come to learn that things rarely do. Except the falling of the sixty-six seals, maybe, but even then he had some help. Maybe that’s the biggest problem with his life—the story never starts with him, and he just has to hold on for the ride.

No, this story starts somewhere else. This story starts at the edges of time and space, in the dark places between the stars, or the blinding places at their cores, or between the layers of the atmosphere, or amidst the barbules on the wing of a passing crow. Or maybe a shady building in Des Moines? Nobody really knows where Heaven is located, and angels are tight-lipped dicks.

The story starts when Eremiel, a turncoat, misses his chance and only wounds Castiel instead of killing him. Castiel hemorrhages grace, a tenth of his million wings snapped and hanging by shining tendons, and howls out a sound of hurt and fury that shakes the firmament. Eremiel is destroyed instantly, winked out of existence by superior force. The remaining members of the rebellion cower in fear as their leader shudders and shakes and tries to heal.

Dean, meanwhile, is sitting in a motel room in Eighty-Four, Pennsylvania, eating a cheesesteak.

It’s pretty average, as cheesesteaks go.

--

Three weeks later, Dean is standing in a bathroom and shaving, which is a pretty normal start to a morning by anyone’s standards. He’s mindlessly humming “No Quarter” under his breath, imagining that the buzzing of the electric razor is in tune with him as he runs the blades over the lines of his jaw. He looks down to switch it off, looks back up, and there’s a guy behind him in the mirror.

“Shit,” Dean yelps, swinging around.

“Hello,” the man says, then presses his palm to the side of Dean’s head.

There’s a fuckton of pain, like all of his blood vessels are bursting at once, then Dean crumples.

All in all, though, it’s really not the worst way he’s been killed.

--

“Ow,” Dean says, from where he’s lying flat on his back.

The sky above him is blue and cloud-speckled, and the air is crisp and clean. Somewhere not too far off, someone is burning a wood fire, lending a welcome spiciness that’s so unlike the kerosene-and-human-remains smoke he’s been breathing for twenty-odd years.

It’s October 1996, and this is the day that he took Sam out to that park that had been a brickyard so the kid could do a social studies project. They’d eaten ham sandwiches with Miracle Whip and sipped warm sodas and spooked a whole herd of deer as they went digging through the woods for old bricks.

“Oh good, you made it,” says the guy from the bathroom, leaning into Dean’s range of vision. His face is unfamiliar, and he sounds like he’s from some non-city part of New England. His curly blond hair is haloed against the sky, and he almost kind of actually looks angelic.

“Fuck off,” Dean grunts. “You are ruining my fond memories. I don’t care if you’re Metatron or Beelzebub or Steve—I’m out of the angel-helping business.”

“What a shame that you don’t have a choice in the matter,” the guy says, bending down and pulling Dean up by his forearm. “And believe me, we’re far too busy to put up with the likes of you. But you know what they say about desperate times.”

“Raphael serving you guys up some quality whoopass on a platter?” Dean snorts, jerking his arm free and taking a step back.

“If only that were all,” the angel says, with the sort of grimace a guy makes when he knows he’s got a bombshell to drop. “Would you consider yourself Castiel’s...friend?”

“Depends,” Dean says warily. He doesn’t like the direction of this conversation, not a bit. Hell, he doesn’t like the fact that he was just murdered two minutes ago. This whole thing started pretty low and is just spiraling faster.

“This is serious. Are you his friend?”

Dean swallows. “Sure. Yeah, I’m his friend. He’s all right, for an angel. We, uh, we tend to get each other.”

“Good, okay,” the angel nods. “That’s good. Listen to me—he’s gone insane.”

Dean goes rigid. “What.”

“Long story. I need to be back before he is or I’m a dead man, so it’ll have to be the short version. We need you to reach him, because we can’t. So lose the slackjawed expression, because this isn’t just for you, it’s for the entire universe.”

“Look, man,” Dean starts. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about—”

“You will,” the angel promises, then he touches Dean’s sleeve and everything goes white.

--

Everything’s still white a few moments later, which is when Dean notices that he wasn’t knocked out, but rather was transported to a place of absolute nothingness.

He’s not even standing on anything, for fuck’s sake. He’s standing, okay, but on nothing. It’s like a surreal dream, except he’s pretty sure this is actually happening, which makes it infinitely worse. He’s afraid of heights, but this isn’t exactly like that, because to be afraid of a height you have to be afraid of the thing you could fall onto far below. There isn’t anything down below him, just the same emptiness that’s above him and beside him and, as of a few seconds ago, inside his lungs.

Well, at least he hasn’t exploded. That’s always a plus.

So he just stands there, afraid of moving, breathing shallowly and trying to repress the fuck out of some memories of a similar situation in hell.

Some time later (he’s not quite sure how long), something starts happening. At first it’s just a hum, a resonance in the nothing, then a long way in the distance the color changes. Something moves toward him through the white, something of indeterminate shape, and as it grows closer, the noise intensifies.

Dean squints, and he sees it: a swarm of locusts, millions strong, catching light on their wings from a nonexistent source, making a horrible grating, clicking noise. He thinks about a guy’s skull chewed open from the inside out and shudders.

Then, as he watches, he realizes he was wrong—it’s birds, more birds than he’s ever seen in his life, crying and filling the void with the sound of wind through feathers. But they never reach him, just disappear into a beam of light, and what comes out is a man, naked and tiny against the lack of a horizon. His shadow is long and twisting, growing away from the light at his back, and it contorts into strange shapes as it reaches for Dean. Then it splits, fragments, and what leaps out of it is locusts.

The man walks toward him, bringing with him the flocks and swarms, and all around Dean is noise like he can’t believe. The insects are shrill, the birds chaotic. A rush of water like waves hitting rocks, the sound of an amp malfunctioning, shattering glass.

There are words in the cacophony, barely coherent, shrieking things like why and how and who, not thoughts but pieces of questions, and Dean is crouching down, hands over his ears, as the locustsbirdslightnoisemanshadows twist toward him. Just when he is sure that he’s about to be trampled, or swallowed up, or maybe just obliterated—just when he thinks he’s about to find out what it’s like to die when you’re already dead—it all stops.

A long minute later, he cracks open his eyes. There, between his knees, he sees the bland and inoffensive carpet of a cheap motel. He looks up. There’s a TV, a desk, a sink, and two full beds. On the edge of one of them sits the blond angel from before.

What the fuck was that?” Dean hisses, springing to his feet.

“That,” the guy says, “was Castiel.”

--

It goes something like this, as far as Dean can figure out:

A member of Castiel’s resistance turned out to be a traitor, and almost succeeded in killing him. Except he missed the mark and only succeeded in fucking him up instead. Apparently it was a big cosmic to-do, and it was only due to the quick thinking of the rest of the angels that earth didn’t shake itself apart from the stress.

But Castiel wasn’t quite the same afterward. Apparently his faith in his followers was shaken, and that little intended hit was the one-ton weight that broke the camel’s back. Between the stress, the injury, and the betrayal, he kinda...snapped. Ever since, he’s been on a witchhunt for more betrayers, and he’s doing as much harm to his side as Raphael ever did.

According to Jegudiel—who officially has the stupidest angel name Dean’s heard yet—Cas has killed eight followers in the past three weeks, for offenses that range from “throwing” a battle to not answering his questions “correctly.” And ever since the post-archangel-showdown soup-up he received, the rest of his followers don’t really stand much of a chance against him. But they don’t really stand much of a chance against Raphael either, especially without Castiel, so they’re all feeling pretty fucked at the moment.

Which is apparently where Dean comes in. See, Dean is the last being any of them remember Castiel liking. So they figure, hey, why not bring him upstairs, see what happens?

“Okay, listen,” Dean says, at the end of Jegudiel’s info dump. “I am not a consenting party here. I like the guy—kinda. It’s complicated. But that doesn’t mean I wanna be the punching bag for you guys.”

“That’s a shame,” Jegudiel replies smoothly, in that angel way that Dean’s learned basically means tough shit. He looks comfortably detached from the situation, sitting on the opposite bed.

“Oh for—“ Dean hisses. “That thing back there? That wasn’t any Cas I know. What do you expect me to do?”

Jegudiel shrugs.

Dean realizes that there isn’t gonna be any way out of this. He scrubs a palm over his mouth and thinks for a minute. Finally he asks, “What, uh, what happens if he goes after me? If he tries to kill me? I’m already dead, right?”

For the first time, the angel across from him looks uneasy. “Just—try not to let that happen. Let’s err on the side of caution.”

“The fuck is that supposed to mean?” Dean says in surprise, but he’s met with nothing but the sound of invisible wings flapping, and Jegudiel is gone.

Somewhere in the distance, it sounds like there’s a lock falling into place.

--

It turns out that the television shows nothing but static. A cursory glance shows that there are no windows in the room, and the door refuses to open. Dean tries ramming it with a desk chair, but it’s useless. Everything is indestructible, which makes sense—nothing is even real.

He doesn’t know how long he sits on one of the beds. He never gets hungry, never has to take a piss. He just sits and thinks. He thinks about Sam, alone downstairs, and how much trouble always seems to find him whenever he’s by himself. He thinks about Bobby, and about his dad, and about Ellen and Jo, and everybody he knew once. He lists all of the parts on his car, and he maps out the quickest routes from Chicago to Atlanta, and then he maps out the safest ones.

He’s starting to organize his favorite songs by release year when the doorknob turns. Just like that, he’s on full alert. All the muscles in his back tense up, and he reaches for a pistol that turns out to not be in his waistband at all. Fucking angels, of course they dream up a room without a window and a Dean without a gun. So he just has to sit there and wait to see what’ll come through the door.

One minute the door is opening, and the next Castiel is standing in the room. He looks...like Cas. Trenchcoat, rumpled suit, crazy hair—everything Dean remembers from the last time he’d seen the guy, back when he was giving Dean shit for having the gall to put Sam’s soul back in its rightful place.

Only, Dean notices, his expression is really fucking different from that time.

Gone is the self-righteous anger and condescension, and in its place is something indefinable, something sharp and uncomfortable. He walks forward, three stiff steps, and Dean sees it in the way he carries himself. It’s powerful but defensive, like a bird that knows it rules the roost but still has to worry about the fox. Or something like that. All Dean knows it looks wrong on the guy, and he doesn’t like it at all.

“Hey,” Dean says, swinging his legs off the bed and letting his feet hit the floor. “Long time no see, huh?”

“Not the longest,” Castiel replies, and his voice is off—something indiscernible behind the normal tone comes off as too high, almost bordering on shrill. He stalks over, every movement clicking into place, as if he’s forgotten how to move smoothly.

Dean tilts his head up when Castiel reaches him. The angel just stands there, looking at him, for a long long moment. Then he brings his hand up near Dean’s face and Dean jerks instinctively away.

“Stay still,” Castiel says, in a tone that allows for no argument. It’s not like there’s really anywhere for Dean to go, either, what with being locked into a fake motel room somewhere in heaven’s belly. He grimaces as Castiel raises his hand again, but what can the guy really do? Dean’s already dead—and despite Jegudiel’s warning, he hopes that’s enough to keep him safe.

Castiel’s thumb comes to rest lightly on the cartilage of Dean’s ear, all of his fingers splaying out through Dean’s hair, so that the thick of his palm rests just over the temple. Dean breathes shallowly. Castiel’s skin is dry and cool, and he’d swear it has an electric tinge to it.

There’s a jolt, a hot spark of something, like something’s running along all the folds of his brain. It lasts a moment, then another, then another. It starts out just a little too warm, like the tap water in automatic sinks, but it gets worse. There’s no agony, not immediately, just the increasing sensation of hurt, stretching out over a small eternity. Somewhere in the back of his head Dean remembers reading that you can keep lobsters from fighting back in the kitchen by starting them in tepid water rather than just throwing them into a boiling pot. He sure as hell hopes he’s not the lobster in this scenario. Just when he thinks it’s getting to be too much, when he’s about to say something, Castiel pulls his hand away. Dean’s left dazed and too warm, and his mouth feels like he’s just touched his tongue to a nine-volt.

Castiel turns away and starts to pace. “Dean Winchester,” he says quietly, to himself.

“The fuck was that?” Dean asks, after taking a minute to recover.

“You’re you. I’d hoped you weren’t,” Castiel replies, and says nothing else. Dean tries about a hundred different questions, but the angel ignores him and just keeps walking. Every now and again, his lips move a little, like he’s saying something to himself. If he is, Dean sure as hell can’t hear it.

It’s a long, long time of just watching and waiting after that.

“There are no windows in here,” Dean states sometime later, just to say something.

“And?” Castiel replies, pacing back and forth in front of the television. It startles Dean a little—he hadn’t actually been expecting a reply.

Dean frowns. “And motel rooms have windows.”

Castiel stops and looks at him. His eyes twitch narrower then relax, and he shakes his head. Behind him, a window appears as if it had been there the whole time. The courtesy shades are drawn, cutting off any view of outside. “I forgot how needy you are, as a species.”

“Gee, thanks,” Dean scowls. “It’s not my fault you guys can’t pay attention to the details. But hell, I guess you know what they say about ‘em.”

“About what?”

“Details. You know.”

Castiel stares, contaminating the air with electricity.

Dean swallows thickly. “You know, the devil’s in ‘em?”

“Tell me something,” Castiel says, and from his tone of voice it’s clear that he’s ignoring the conversation they just had altogether.

Dean waits for the conclusion, but the angel doesn’t go on. Finally he prompts, “Tell you what?”

“Something. About you. Tell me one of your favorite things. I know you and remade you, and I will know if you are lying.”

“Bullshit,” Dean says. And it is. There’s no way Castiel knows him on that level. If he did, he wouldn’t need Dean to do a damn thing. His stupid angel-sensor thing would’ve told him everything he wanted to know. So this has gotta be one of his tests, the kind that he’s been putting his followers through.

Bullshit?” Castiel echoes, voice ratcheting up again.

“You heard me,” Dean counters.

The nature of the air changes, and that’s the first indication Dean has that things are about to go downhill. And when things go downhill when you’re already trapped and dead, you know you’re in for a world of shit.

Castiel seems to grow larger, angrier. Before Dean can even comprehend what’s happening, the whole room seems to be filled with wrathful angel. He makes a small noise of hurt as his vision splinters—he can see Castiel standing in the middle of the room, the size of a man; he can also see an energy, tense and dangerous and huge, like a beast with an unfamiliar shape and too many eyes, squeezed into the small room.

There’s a hotness to the surroundings, a mixture of chemical fumes and the breath from a huge maw, that sets all of the hairs on the back of Dean’s neck straight up. This isn’t any Cas he knows. This isn’t even in the same league of the old Castiel’s threat to toss him back into hell—this a wild thing that’s playing at civilized, a thing that has no use and no time for him. Jegudiel’s words come back to him like a slap—err on the side of caution. This? Probably not the side of caution. This is the side of being obliterated.

“Okay,” Dean says, placatingly. “You got it. Lemme, uh, lemme think.”

Slowly, Castiel seems to deflate, starts reigning himself back in. Dean licks his lips nervously as he watches the beast collapse in on itself, curling and twining its way inward, until it’s just a dim halo of madness that fuzzes around Castiel’s outline.

This, Dean decides, is not even close to his job description.

“So?” Castiel says, the high-pitched keen of his true voice muted again.

“Uh.”

Dean remembers being young, just a kid, and listening to the Louis L’Amour tapes his dad would pick up at truck stops and library sales. Sure, the men in those stories weren’t always perfect, but they had their wits and their strength and they always won, in the end. He’d liked listening to the tapes, the miles rolling past in the dark, just headlights and the odd flash of a roadsign outside the tiny world that was the interior of the car. He’d liked imagining that maybe Mr. L’Amour was writing about them, just a little bit.

“There was a guy,” Dean says suddenly. “And he was from out East. This is set in the Old West—or maybe it was Oklahoma, is that the West?”

Castiel sits down on the opposite bed and watches him intently now, eyes too bright, like glass marbles mounted in his face. He looks inhuman, like the thing inside the figment of an ad salesman’s body is resting just beneath the surface. “Oklahoma is central,” he says, a note of frustration coloring his tone. “Central isn’t west. Unless you meant west on a world scale, but even that is only a human convention.”

“Fuck,” Dean sighs to himself. He didn’t know why he thought this would be easy. “Look, I’m just trying to tell you the story, okay? Could you just...go with it?”

“You’re obviously not telling it right.”

“You know what? Bite me. This is just something we used to listen to on the road, okay? Between the hunts and the saving people and the nearly dying, sometimes we listened to some books. If I can’t remember every little detail—”

“Tell me that one,” Castiel interrupts.

Dean feels like Castiel’s stare is gonna bore right through him, like it’s a magnifying-glass focus. Hell, he thinks he’s starting to feel a slight singeing sensation. “What?”

“The one about the hunts and the saving people and the nearly dying.”

Dean balks. “That’s not really an, uh—”

Castiel doesn’t flinch. He’s not actually moving at all, not blinking, not breathing. It’s like he forgot how to pretend to be human.

Dean swallows thickly, and begins.

--

The First Tale

When I was fourteen, Dean says, my dad took me on a hunt. Normally, at the time, he woulda left me home. But he’d just had a bad fight with Bobby—they didn’t like each other much; nobody much liked my old man after Mom died, y’know—and he knew it was supposed to be a two-person job. Hell, it shoulda been a five-person job, but nobody ever gets five hunters together, outside a bar with cheap whiskey and salt in all the doorways.

So he takes me along, and because I’m along Sam has to come along, and it’s just a disaster waiting to happen. I’m not concentrating on the hunt because I can’t stop worrying about Sam, and I can’t keep an eye on Sam because I don’t wanna let my dad down. And what ends up happening is I go too far out, and my dad misses his opportunity, and Sammy gets thrown around and breaks his leg.

Well, we waste the sons of bitches in the end, but Sam’s got this compound fracture. I can remember, clear as day, the way the bone looked poking up outta his skin. They’re so white, fresh bones. I dunno if they’re always that way, or they only look it because of the red of a wound, but it’s startling. It makes you sick just looking at ‘em.

So we’re probably a couple of hours from a hospital—way out in the sticks, you know; it was Montana, you can drive for a day and not see more than three living things—so Dad lays Sammy down in the backseat and bandages his leg up as best he can, and then we hightail it out. And we’re just sitting there, quiet, for about ten minutes, then my dad reaches over and flicks on this Louis L’Amour tape he got from a truck stop.

And you know, I’m like cussing-mad, because Sam’s lying in the back seat with his leg busted up all funny, and every now and then, when we go over bumps, he makes these noises like—jesus. You know, I can live to be a hundred and I’ll never get used to hearing people make noises when they’re hurt. It does something to you, right? Well, I don’t know if it does something to you. But it does something to me. I’d give just about anything for nobody to make noises like that again.

So anyway, I’m mad as hell up in the passenger seat, because it’s obvious Sam’s in a lot of pain and my dad wants to listen to a fucking
western? But y’know, I didn’t say anything, because he was holding onto the steering wheel so hard that his knuckles were white. You didn’t know my dad, but I can tell you that you just didn’t talk to him when he was like that.

We happened across a gas station before we found a hospital, and Dad got out to go ask for directions, and he left the tape playing. So I reach over and I flip it off so Sam doesn’t have to listen to it anymore, because he never really liked them the way Dad and I did.

But Sam, he goes, “I wanna know what happens next.” And I twist around, and I say, “you sure?” And Sam says yeah, he’s sure. He wants to know how the story ends.

So I turn it back on, and Dad gets back, and we go off down the dark highway again. And when the tape ended, Dad took it out and put in another one, full of horror stories from the civil war, the sort of stuff Sam liked back them. We hadn’t had it before, so he must’ve bought it at the gas station.

And that’s when I figured out that Dad wasn’t playing them for himself. He was playing them for Sam. There wasn’t much else he could do but help distract him for a little while, but he was trying to make a bad thing just a little bit better.

My dad, he wasn’t always a very good one. And he and Sam, they didn’t always like each other. But I’ve never forgotten that he played some tapes and never yelled at me for that incident. I dunno if Sam even remembers. But I never forgot it.


--

Castiel startles suddenly, eyes going wide and bright. “I need to go,” he says, and just like that—bam. He’s gone.

Dean is left alone in the room for the second time, wondering what the hell just happened. He stands and paces through the room. He can still sense Castiel in the room—not like he’s there, but like there’s some sort of residue of him around. Everything Dean touches shocks him, little zaps of electricity that make his fingertips hum.

He goes over to the window that Castiel had put in and pulls back the courtesy shade.

For a long time afterward, he’ll wish he hadn’t done that.

There’s nothing beyond the window.

Not nothing like “an empty expanse” or “a brick wall,” but a pervasive, gnawing nothingness that’s like the evil twin of the white place Jegudiel sent him earlier. It’s like there’s no world outside the window, like he’s looking out not on forever, but rather never. It’s almost physical, like anger and a vacuum of noise pressing against the glass of the window, feeling out the seals that keeps the pane in place, sending out tendrils that try to work their way past. Dean gets the awful feeling that if he were to press his hand against the window, he’d feel a pressure on the other side, the same as you would when there’s a hard wind blowing against the side of a house. There’s a painful sensation in his midsection, like his insides are trying to curl away from the window, back to the relative safety of the motel room proper. It’s hard to breathe, and he can hear his pulse slowing down.

He’s never seen anything like it, not on earth or in hell. An awful thought occurs to him, and he starts to wonder if that’s where he’d end up if Castiel killed him again. He knows, instinctively, that he can’t handle that.

Finally, finally, he manages to pull the shade back closed. He doesn’t know how long he stood there, looking at the blackness, but the minute he can’t see it anymore he can suddenly breathe. He feels giddy and lightheaded, like he just surfaced from too long underwater. His throat hurts and his chest aches.

He goes and he sits back down on the bed that’s farthest away from the window, his elbows on his knees, and he watches the curtains. They’re inert and quiet, looking as innocent as courtesy shades in a cookie-cutter motel room can.

Dean realizes that he doesn’t want to watch them, because he doesn’t want to think about what’s behind. But this is what his dad taught him to do, to keep an eye on the enemy. Being scared is the best reason to be vigilant, the old man had said.

So he sits there, mind carefully blank, and he watches.

--

Castiel comes back sometime later, bringing with him the stench of burning plastic and fear. The hot chemical smell floods the room and makes Dean want to gag.

“What’s up?” he says, willing himself to sound normal. He thinks it probably works, too, because Castiel walks stiffly over to the opposite bed and sits.

“We’re losing,” he says, bluntly. “We’re losing and he’s winning and everything you’ve ever known hangs by a frailer thread than you could possibly imagine.”

“Oh,” Dean replies, because he’s not sure what the proper response is to something like that. Frankly, he’s pretty sick of apocalypse talk. There’s only so much panic about the world’s continued existence one can produce before it all just kinda runs together. And it’s not exactly like he has much agency up here, locked in a fake motel room with some kind of base hell outside.

“What am I going to do with you,” Castiel says after a moment. It’s not a question Dean’s supposed to answer, he can tell. It makes him uncomfortable, knowing he’s at the mercy of something that’s now more enemy than friend.

“Hey,” he says quickly, before Castiel can muse too long, “you kinda blinked outta here before I could finish earlier. You wanna hear the rest?”

For a moment, Dean’s sure that Castiel can see through the ruse—there was no more to the story, but damned if he isn’t gonna try.

“Certainly,” Castiel replies, after a moment of silence.

“Okay, cool,” Dean swallows. “So, uh, we listened to that tape all the way to the hospital, me and Dad in the front and Sam laid out in the back. And Sam, he just listened all the way there, quiet and content, far as I could tell. But me, I was a mess. I barely remember anything from the drive at all, but there was this one short story...”

--

The Tape’s Tale
(as retold by Dean Winchester from an imperfect memory of Ambrose Bierce’s “Killed at Resaca”)

So there was this guy, a lieutenant. Wait, no, there’s the narrator, and there’s the lieutenant. And the lieutenant, he’s the bravest sonuvabitch you’ve ever seen. This is during the Civil War, and he fights for the North. And he’s always the first into a charge, and the last to leave the battlefield, and he never takes cover.

So all of the guys in his regiment, they’re inspired by him. But in that way where they think he’s damned idiot, but really brave. So they fight harder when he’s there, because that’s the sort of effect he has. And man, he’s lucky as shit, too. But everybody knows the odds will catch up with him sooner or later.

Well, one day they’re down at a place called Resaca—it’s in Georgia, I think—and the general tells this lieutenant to carry a message across the battlefield to another officer. And instead of taking the long way around, through the woods, the guy rides straight out into the open. And of course the Confederate soldiers just open fire on him. Well, all of his comrades charge before they’re supposed to so they can defend him. And there’s gunfire everywhere, and the cannons start in, and the lieutenant is just caught in the middle of this whole mess.

And his luck runs out.

They shoot him down, and after that the battle just peters out, and the Union soldiers come out to bring his body back, and some Confederates go to help them, out of respect. And afterward the narrator gets this pocketbook of his, and inside is a love letter. And the letter says this: “a man from your old company came home injured and told me he saw you crouching behind a tree. I didn’t believe it, because I could bear you dying bravely, but never word of your cowardice.” Or something like that.

So the narrator decides he’s gonna go see this girl, tell her what her words did to the guy she supposedly loved. So he shows up at her house and presents her with the love letter.

She reads it and blushes, but then notices a little bloodstain on it—the lieutenant’s blood from where he was shot and killed. And she goes green and tosses the letter straight into the fire, saying “I can’t stand the sight of blood.”

And the narrator, he’s
pissed. Because this woman, she’d goaded his friend into all this reckless behavior, and gotten tons of men killed because of it, and she can’t even stand to see the outcome. He’s not gonna give her the satisfaction of knowing what sort of man she made. So when she asks how her love had died, all he says is this:

“He was bitten by a snake.”

The end.


“So what’s the point?” Castiel asks flatly.

“The, uh, the point is that bad shit happens if people are pushed too far and have too many expectations placed on them.”

Castiel seems to think about that for a moment, sitting uncannily still. “Like you and Sam,” he says at last.

Dean nearly swallows his tongue. “What?”

“You felt so pressured to keep your brother safe that you sold your soul for him, starting the chain of events that led us here.”

“What?” Dean repeats. “No, that’s not—”

But Castiel just looks at him, looks at him, and there’s nothing human there, nothing that will bend or reconsider.

“Shit,” Dean intones softly, rubbing at his brow with calloused fingers, “shit.”

“That was a good story. Informative,” Castiel says, then vanishes before Dean can respond.

--

Dean just wants to sleep. That’s all he wants to do. But he can’t. He lies in bed for hours, staring at the spackled ceiling and willing tiredness to come to him. He lies on his stomach, face pressed into the slightly flat motel pillow, and imagines that he’ll start dreaming at any moment.

But no, he’s awake, trapped awake, and he can feel every moment.

At some point, a long while later, the door swings open. Just a little, enough to catch but not enough to see outside.

At first Dean is expecting Castiel to come through it, but then nothing happens. The longer he sits there, though, the more he starts to worry that the blackness is on the other side of the door, like it is through the window, and if he waits too long it’ll creep in and get him.

Yeah, it’s not a rational fear, he knows. But you try being locked in a static room for fuck knows how long, and then watching the door swing open on its own. It does things to a guy.

But eventually he can’t stand knowing that the door is ajar but not knowing why or how or what’s on the other side. So he gets up, and he walks gingerly over, and he licks his lips.

Then he pushes open the door, his heart going a million miles a minute.

On the other side is a parking lot. Nice, normal parking lot. Plenty of spaces, trees at the back, looks just like every one attached to every motel Dean’s ever stayed in.

It’s morning outside, in the parking lot. Well, Dean thinks, almost morning. The sun’s not up yet, but it’s light enough for the orange glow of the sodium lights to have switched off. It’s cool and damp, and somewhere there’s a bird calling. It’s the same cheee-chit-chit-chit that he’s heard his entire life at this time of day, from Maine to California, and he realizes that he’s never known what kind of bird makes that call.

“Hello,” a voice says, just to his left.

Jegudiel is leaning against the night-damp wall of the motel block, looking out at the trees.

“What,” Dean replies, with what he feels is a great deal of calmness, given the situation, “the fuck.”

“Thought I’d do a little check in, see if you still existed. Fearless leader is freaking out, but hasn’t mentioned you to the ranks yet. I think he’s trying to ferret me out.” Jegudiel pats his pockets while he’s saying this, until finally he comes away with a crushed pack of Lucky Strikes and a Bic lighter. He makes an offering gesture to Dean and shrugs when it’s rebuffed.

“There’s something not right about him,” Dean says, slowly. “Sometimes there’s this thing in the room...”

“Mm,” Jegudiel murmurs, cupping his hand around the flame as he lights his cigarette. He shakes it out, and after a deep inhale continues, “That’d be his grace, I’d wager. Not enough is real up here, for you. I just cobbled this whole thing together, and it’s not as watertight as, say, an individual heaven would be. Reality keeps seeping through, but you humans don’t know how to process it, so it’ll be sounds and smells, weird feelings and phantoms. Something familiar, if not exactly pleasant. Normally it wouldn’t be a problem, but like I said—it’s kind of a shit job, you know? And Castiel, he’s not being careful enough right now. Be grateful we’re up here instead of back on earth. He’d fry you like an egg.”

“Like an...” Dean echoes. He thinks about Pamela and her seared-out eyes and swallows thickly. “Well, what do you want me to do?”

“Keeping him from killing us would be a good start,” Jegudiel smirks. “And if you can wrangle a little of that human creativity back into him, that would be great.”

“Creativity?”

“Castiel,” he says, with the grim amusement of someone who doesn’t actually find the situation funny at all, “has no imagination.”

Dean double-takes at him subtly, thinks back on all the times Cas had gotten them out of scrapes, then shakes his head. “Wouldn’t say that. Maybe you don’t know him as well as you thought.”

The cigarette hangs from the corner of the angel’s mouth, softening his consonants but not his tone. “Never mistake craftiness for imagination, Dean Winchester.”

“What do you mean?”

Jegudiel inhales deeply, then releases curls of smoke that dissipate into the morning mist. “Craftiness means you can see a situation’s possible outcomes, and hopefully manipulate them to your benefit. Creating a whole new solution, on the other hand? That takes imagination. And that’s what our mutual friend lacks.”

“I still don’t think—”

“No, you don’t. But believe me, we don’t have it on our own. That’s something we have to pick up from you lot. Some of us take to it better than others, of course.”

Dean thinks for a moment of the colorful, flowing cruelty of Gabriel, the flippancy of Balthazar, the smug scenarios dreamed up by Zachariah, the choices and mistakes of Anna. Then the single-minded purpose of Uriel, Michael, of Raphael himself, despite the imagination he claimed on their first meeting.

“What are you saying?” he asks, uneasily. He hates being uneasy, and it always makes him defensive, so the question comes out a lot sharper than he intends.

The angel drops his unfinished cigarette and crushes it out with a heel. “Castiel thinks like Raphael these days. Only Raphael has the better force. You can imagine how that’s going for us.”

Without warning, Dean’s back in the motel room. He’s alone, and the door is shut tight.

There’s nothing else to do anymore, so he sits back down on the bed he’s started considering his, and he thinks, and he waits.

--

“Hey, Castiel,” Dean says, looking up when he hears the door swing open.

The angel slips inside, then stops in the doorway. For a long moment, he stands there. If there’s any kind of setting outside the door, Dean can’t tell. It’s like his eyes slip away from the doorframe back onto Castiel. He thinks, maybe, that Castiel forgot to make an outside, and his brain just isn’t able to accept the void.

It’s not a good sign, as far as Dean is concerned.

“Who was here?”

“Huh?” Dean replies, trying for nonchalant. His mouth has suddenly gone dry. Castiel’s tone is calm, but that kind of calm that means something awful is arriving hot on its heels.

“I can sense them. On the door. Who was here?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dean says adamantly.

It’s the wrong response, because in a flash Castiel is across the room and lunging at Dean.

Castiel’s fingers close over his throat, and up up up Dean goes, sliding against the wall until his feet can’t touch. He’s choking, which is bullshit, because he’s already dead, but there it is. He can’t breathe, and he tries to tell Castiel to stop, to put him down, but all that he can manage are gasps and retches.

“Why,” Castiel moans, and behind his voice is the other one, higher pitched, a shriek just on the edge of Dean’s hearing. “Why are you here? What are you doing here?”

Dean coughs and scratches at Castiel’s hand with blunt nails, heels kicking uselessly against the wall.

“Just tell me what you want!”

Just when Dean thinks he’s gonna black out, that maybe Castiel is going to kill him and he’ll find out if heaven really is the final stop, he’s dropped. His knees buckle at the unexpected weight placed upon them, and he collapses. Castiel wrenches him back up by an arm.

“I just wanna help,” Dean gasps. “I just wanna help.”

Liar!” Castiel spits, and the accompanying shriek threatens to burst Dean’s eardrums. “Who brought you? Raphael brought you!

“No! Fuck!” Dean yelps, as Castiel shakes his entire body. Even if this hadn’t been home turf, the angel still totally outclasses him, power-wise.

Castiel stares, his eyes wild and bright. “Who? Tell me who it was!”

“You’ll kill him!” Dean grunts, pitch going up at the end in pain as Castiel twists his shoulder at an unnatural angle. He doesn’t know if that is necessarily true, but he sure as hell believes it at the moment.

Castiel sinks down onto his bed, slowly loosening his grip on Dean’s arm. Slowly, gently, Dean pulls away.

“I will,” Castiel says quietly. “I will kill him, whoever it is. I don’t want to, I don’t want to, but I will.”

“Why?” Dean rasps, throat tender.

“Because I don’t have time for you.”

Castiel sits on the opposite bed for a long time, and finally Dean says tentatively, “But you seem to be making the time.”

“It’s not easy,” Castiel replies. “Why do they hate me? They want me dead, all of them. Everyone.”

“Not everyone,” Dean counters. “But if you keep killing the people who wanna help, that’s all that’s gonna be left. Self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Castiel makes a noise deep in his throat, and then he breathes. Dean notices, because up until that point he hadn’t been bothering to. Maybe, he figured, that was a good sign?

“Hey, lemme tell you a story,” Dean says.

“Fine,” Cas says, staring down at his hands like he’s thinking.

--

The Tale of Three Brickmakers

“Okay,” Dean says, “tell me if you’ve heard this one before.”

“I will,” Castiel replies. He’s started rolling his tie around his wrist, watching the way the fabric leaves marks on his skin, but he seems to be paying attention well enough.

Dean swallows thickly, feeling the soreness where he’d been choked not moments before.

Once, there were three guys who made bricks. One made his bricks from the red clay he found down near the river—really quality material, like the sort of stuff professionals would use—and his bricks came out heavy and pretty.

Another made his from yellow clay he dug outta the woods. It was sandier and crumbled some, but it made bricks that were lighter and less expensive than the river guy’s.

The third one, he made his from grey clay that he dug out from around a pond. It was the ugliest stuff—really thick, nasty stuff, the kinda stuff that won’t come off your clothes if you get dragged through it by a spirit—but when he’d baked his bricks, they were like rocks. Nothing could break one of those fuckers.

So one day these dudes, they’re sitting around and drinking beers, and they get to talking about their bricks. And of course, they all think that the bricks they make are the best bricks, so one of them says, “fine, let’s put some money on it.”

And they go out and—


“Which one said that?”

“Huh?” Dean blinks.

Castiel is staring at him intently, his tie threaded through his fingers. “Which one offered the bet? Is this another parable of foolhardiness?”

“What?” Dean says. “No. It doesn’t matter who.”

“It always matters who.”

“No,” Dean says. “Sometimes, when people are friends, it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s just something that a group does, and they just...agree. Like no one person has to come up with it, just somebody voices what they were all thinking.”

Castiel does not reply.

So they go out and they all pick up a stack of their best bricks. You know, the ones they’re most proud of.

So the first guy, he says, “Let’s judge them by how they look.”

And they lay a brick out apiece, and the red bricks totally look the best. They look like you could build a courthouse out of them tomorrow and everybody would be impressed. The yellow bricks crumble a bit and look shoddy, and the grey bricks are just ugly fuckers.

And the second guy’s not happy with this, so he says, “No, let’s judge them by portability.”

So they go and get a local boy, and they make him carry as many of their bricks as he can in one go. And he can carry ten of the red bricks, and fifteen of the yellow, but only six of the big grey ones.

“You see?” the second guy says. “Mine are much more practical for the average man.”

But the third guy, he’s tired of his bricks coming in last. So he says, “No no no, we gotta measure them by strength.”

So they each put a brick down on the ground, and the third guy fetches a hammer. The red brick cracks right down the center when it gets hit. The yellow brick shatters into sandy crap. But the grey brick? The hammer just bounces right off, with barely a chip to show where it had hit.

“Mine are made to last,” the third guy says. “They’ll still be standing when yours are rubble.”

So they start to fighting, and each of ‘em thinks that his is the best. And they’re getting madder and madder, and finally one of the guys takes the red brick and just chucks it. It sails through the air and lands at the bottom of the nearby creek. So the maker of the brick gets all up in arms and grabs the grey brick, and he sends that one sailing straight into a ravine. So the grey brickmaker, he’s furious. He fights the yellow brick away from the second guy, and he plans to throw it into the woods. But he’s a big guy, and he’s so used to his own heavy bricks that when he launches the light yellow brick, it goes flying up, up, up away from all of them. It gets smaller and smaller above their heads, and then it just...disappears.

The three of them just stand there, with their mouths hanging open, ‘cause they can’t believe that just happened.

“Well,” one of them says finally. “Wanna go get a beer?”

And they agree that yeah, they do.

So they go and get a beer.

The end.


Castiel waits for a while, then says, “That’s it?”

Dean shrugs. “They decided that they all made bricks with perks. It was a win-win.”

“That is a completely unrealistic finish,” Castiel insists irritably.

“Dude! It’s a story. Not, like, a documentary.”

Castiel makes a noise of deep dissatisfaction, and Dean winces. Maybe that one hadn’t been such a good idea. He’s nervous. Well, honestly? Honestly, he’s scared. He’s scared of Castiel. He doesn’t know what will happen to him if he oversteps a boundary again.

“Uh,” he starts. “Have I told you the one about...”

And Castiel stops frowning and leans closer to hear whatever story Dean can pull out of his ass this time, and Dean just prays that it’s enough.
(part two)
 
 
Current Location: couch
Current Mood: pessimisticweary
Current Music: lawrence, ks (acoustic) - Josh Ritter
 
 
 
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
aceofannwnaceofannwn on December 28th, 2011 07:17 am (UTC)
This is completely AWESOME.
pinch Estelle, dance with Janepyrebi on December 28th, 2011 07:30 am (UTC)
Ah, I'm glad you think so! I feel so bad that I waited so long to post. First I was stuck, then I was embarrassed, then I was stuck again. I really appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment, especially when I've been so rotten. Thank you. ♥
aceofannwnaceofannwn on December 28th, 2011 09:05 am (UTC)
I've been waiting for it for ages, checking every now and then to see if it was up yet, but it was worth the wait. :)
lacking in glittertawg on January 14th, 2012 11:17 pm (UTC)
This is great - I loved the whirling mess of noiselightbugs that is Castiel when Dean first encounters him, and Castiel is wonderfully scary in your description, stripped down of everything he had grown to be in his time around Dean. I really like Jegudiel - his mannerisms and matter-of-factness make him seem like a perfect pair for early season six Cas.

I'm really digging Dean's stories, too - his narration, and his choices of stories, and the meaning underneath them all. I am really sucked in to this fic :D
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )