The lurching awareness that something was wrong woke Dean from a deep sleep. Cas was curled around him, body hunched into a small parenthesis, knees tucked behind Dean's, an arm tight around Dean's waist. Normally Dean would think about the embarrassment of realizing he was the little spoon and that he liked it, but the sound of footsteps pounding up the stairs echoing out in the hall put the kabosh on any such thoughts.
“Cas,” Dean hissed, shaking him. Castiel made a pathetic, sleepy sound and tried to roll away, but the unmistakable sound of a heavy body hitting the top landing, hard, had Dean jerking at Cas' shoulder.
“Cas, there's someone in the house. Wake up!”
That got the desired reaction. Castiel was alert and out of bed, padding naked over to the door. He cocked his head to one side, and when Dean hissed his name again he held back a hand, motioning for silence. Another thud and the smoke alarms in the house began to wail, followed by men's voices shouting, no longer concerned with stealth after the still of the night had been broken. Castiel cursed and checked the bolt he'd thrown on the door earlier, then hurried over to where Dean was slipping out from under the covers.
“The window,” Cas mouthed.
“I can't leave Sam.”
A shout—his brother's voice bellowing—punctuated this statement, and Castiel's face hardened. He must have intuitively known that arguing would be fruitless, because he began herding Dean towards the window instead.
“Cas, fuck, no! I have to help Sammy, I—”
“Have already been injured enough!” Castiel snapped. “I'm not risking you, Dean.” Using his surprising strength to his advantage, Castiel manhandled Dean until he was practically straddling the open casing.
“I'm not going out without Sam!” Dean insisted.
“Go, and I will help Sam,” Castiel tried to demand, but Dean had already had enough of feeling like the helpless chick in a pulp novel, and besides, Sammy. There was no possible way he could allow him to come to harm.
The doorknob to their room jiggled, and then when the person seeking entry found it to be locked, the entire frame rattled. The door was getting kicked in.
“Dean, go now!” Castiel said, and attempted one last time to push him out the window. What he didn't count on was Dean holding tight to him and pulling Cas out along with him.
They both rolled out on the porch rooftop and off the side, and Dean had a moment of blind terror in which his mind stuttered, oh, shit, this is going to hurt before Cas pulled him close and twisted them, putting his own back between Dean and the ground. They landed with a solid thud, Castiel completely silent except for a sharp whoosh of air leaving his lungs.
“Dean! Cas!” Sam bounded up behind them, pulling Dean off Castiel and, seemingly unconcerned with the man's nudity, quickly checking Cas over for injuries.
“Anna? Where?” Castiel was able to wheeze.
“Here,” she said, appearing out of the woods like a specter. “I was in the living room when I heard them. I was able to sneak out the window.”
“How many of them are there?” Sam asked.
“Don't know,” Anna gasped, and then coughed. A bright bubble of blood burst past her lips. It was then that Dean noticed the way she'd been standing, the way one of her arms was held tight across her stomach.
“Is Cas okay?” she asked.
“I'm fine, I'm okay,” he assured her. “But you, Anna—” The stark fear, the panic in his voice was so at odds to the hyper-calm Castiel that had just pushed Dean out of a second story window because he thought it was the best option to be had.
“I got the keys to Dean's car,” she pressed on. “In my pocket. We gotta hurry, when they see we're not in the house...”
As if her words were a signal, a loud roar came from within the cottage. “Check outside!”
“Time to go,” Sam decided. Dean watched as he scooped Anna up into his arms and ran with her to the Impala. Luckily for them, it had not been tampered with, and Dean darkly thought that was because none of the home invaders had expected them to never wake to defend themselves, let alone escape. They got to the Impala just as dark figures began to swarm back outside, and Dean fished in Anna's jacket pocket for his keys. Tossing them to Castiel, he opened the back door and so Sam could deposit Anna in the back seat, and then all three men crammed together on the front bench. Cas got the key in the ignition and the car roared to life when the closest figure stopped and began shooting at the back windshield. It shattered, sending glass shards flying as Castiel punched the gas.
Dean turned around to look in the back. “Anna?” he gasped. He hadn't heard the woman call out when the glass broke, and when he looked back it was obvious why. Her eyes were wide open and glassy, blankly fixed to the roof of the car. Dean fought back the urge to vomit as the memory of the last time Anna had been in the backseat of his car harshly countered the current reality.
“Dean,” Cas was whimpering, hands white-knuckled on the steering wheel. “Anna, is she okay?”
Dean quickly reached up and jerked the rearview mirror sharply to the right. “Just drive, Cas,” he whispered. Castiel made this odd hitching-squeal noise, and as they peeled out of suburbia and fishtailed onto I-90, the flash of other car's passing headlights revealed the tears on his cheeks.
They're well into Western New York, just on the far side of a town named Westfield when Cas finally pulled off the highway and into the weed-choked, dimly lit parking lot of a disreputable looking motel. Sam wondered what sort of laws they'd broken by crossing state lines with a violently murdered body in the back, and was constituting it as a small miracle that they hadn't been pulled over due to the blown-out back windshield. Cas had been shaking since they crossed the border. Sam had pulled off his sleep shirt draped it over the guy's lap so he wasn't completely bared to the breeze. Dean wasn't dressed in much more, just a pair of boxer briefs. Half-hysterically, he wondered if Cas was expecting one of them to walk into the lobby and book a room, wondered if he had even processed what had happened to Anna yet.
“We can't stop here, dude.” Dean spoke softly, his hand cupping Castiel's elbow. The smaller man gave a great wracking shudder. His hands didn't leave the steering wheel.
“I know, and I'm sorry.”
Sam felt as if he was intruding on a private moment of grief, which he supposed he was. He hadn't known Anna, not in the way that Dean had, and certainly not in the way Castiel had.
“We're going to have to take another car.”
Both Dean and Castiel turned to look at him, their eyes round, like a pair of mated owls. “We can't...I don't want to leave Anna here like this, but sooner or later those guys are gonna catch up to us. We're still too close.” Unspoken was that anyone they could call would, not unreasonably, look at three nearly naked men and the dead woman in the backseat and form the wrong conclusions. By the time those conclusions were disproved, they'd be dead. Infernus had enough crooked cops that jail wouldn't even be safe for them.
Dean swallowed. Sam could tell that he was pushing through his fog of shock and thinking, really thinking, about Sam's point. He half expected an argument about leaving the Impala behind, but Dean surprised him by simply nodding towards the glove box. “You remember how?”
“Of course,” Sam said. While he didn't always agree with Dean's idea of morality, Sam wasn't one to refuse to learn something new, and when they were teens was no exception.
“A car?” Cas spoke as if he were forcing his voice to be heard underwater. Slow, careful, and a bit louder than necessary. “You know how to hot wire a car?”
Sam forced a grin, which felt a million shades of wrong with Anna's bright hair splayed across the back seat, her blood soaking into the cushion. “Advantages to a misspent youth,” he said, fishing what he needed out of the box before stepping out. Being the one to pick and wire the car would give Dean, now that he was a bit more lucid, the opportunity to give what comfort he could to Cas. Hopefully it would be enough to get them moving again, until they found a safe place. Wherever that may be. Sam couldn't think of one now, but he knew it wasn't here.
He picked a car and got it started with moderate ease. As he tripped back to the Impala, he could hear Cas speaking, broken and low, and Dean's rumbling reply.
“I don't want to just leave her here, Dean. She deserves more.”
“As soon as we're clear we'll call someone. She won't...she won't be here long.”
Sam waited another sixty seconds, and then rapped on the driver's side window. “Got the car,” he said. “We have to get a move on, before someone notices what we're doing.”
Somehow he got them out of the car and by the trunk. Forcing it open, Sam withdrew the knapsack of clothes Dean always kept in the back and handed it over to his brother wordlessly before jerking his chin to the waiting Taurus.
An hour later, Dean and Castiel were dressed, an 'anonymous' tip had been left to lead the police to the Impala and Anna'a body, and they were just outside of Buffalo. Dean had been largely silent during the drive, not unusual, but it was Castiel that Sam was mostly worried about. So far he'd been able to keep a check on his pyrokinesis, but only barely. More than once Sam caught a whiff of sulfur only to have it followed by the soft sound of rustling cloth or skin on skin and his brother's voice murmuring a soothing word. Sam worried what would happen when Castiel finally broke down, when Dean's platitudes would stop being enough, and hoped that they weren't in a moving vehicle when it happened.
“Castle Storage,” Dean piped in, breaking Sam from his thoughts.
He grunted in acknowledgment. While their father's storage locker filled with a miscellany of bric-a-brac he'd been unwilling to part with (accumulated from when John had briefly lived in the area) wasn't ideal, it was almost guaranteed to be private. They kept the locker paid. Sam kept intending to drive up and sort through everything, but the two years since their father's death hadn't been conducive to such an undertaking. They could go there and lock themselves in for what was left of the night, hopefully gather their bearings to decide what they were going to do next. Sam didn't know why he didn't think of it earlier.
They made it without further incident to neighborhood the storage center was located in, which Sam thought as only fair, as he believed they'd had enough for the night without getting caught with a stolen vehicle. Ditching the car, they walked on foot until they got to the locker. Luckily Dean's key ring, which he'd had the presence of mind not to leave behind in the Impala, had the unit's key on it, too. They slipped in, Sam latching the door behind them. When he turned around, he was greeted with years worth of accumulated dust, everything looking shabbier than he remembered it to be. Luckily there was a couch buried under a small pile of boxes, and Sam moved forward to unearth it when Dean grabbed at his arm.
“Dude, could you maybe pull on a shirt?” he asked. Only then did Sam see the way Castiel's eyes were fixed to his abdomen, the way he was shaking so badly he almost appeared to be seizing. With that look came the psychosomatic itch, and Sam looked down to see the blood caked across his skin. They only had a bottle of water that had been left in the car they'd stolen, nothing nearly enough for Sam to clean himself up.
“Shit, yeah, um...you have one that'll maybe fit me?” Sam wasn't too hopeful on this front, but with the way Cas was looking at him, he was willing to wear one a few sizes too small.
“Lucky for you I think ahead and happen to have a set of gargantuan sized garanimals in here with your name on them.” Dean's joke fell flat, an obvious attempt to temporarily direct their thoughts away from how royally fucked they were.
“The police are going to think we murdered Anna,” Cas said. It was the first full sentence Sam had heard him speak since they'd left Westfield.
“Yeah, probably,” Dean agreed. He took over Sam's aborted attempt to clear the sofa, stacking the boxes neatly one atop the other beside a dead ficus.
“This is all my fault,” Castiel intoned.
Dean slammed the box he'd been transporting to the ground, hard. “In no way has any of this been your fault, Cas. If it's anyone's fault all this has happened, it's mine.”
Enormous blue eyes regarded Dean with no little shock. “Yours? How could it be yours? I was the one who suggested going to the lake house.”
“Yeah, but why'd you suggest it in the first place? You got caught up in all this because you saved my life when I did something Jackass stupid. This all goes back to that night at the warehouse. If you hadn't come to save me, then you'd still be living your happy normal life and Anna would still be alive.”
“My life would hardly—”
“Alright,” Sam interrupted. “I'm going to stop this right here.” Dean and Cas both stared at him in that way some long-married couples do when someone is brave or stupid enough to break up one of their arguments, equal parts pissed off at each other and united against the interloper. “You can go back and forth about who is more at fault, but the fact is neither one of you are to blame. Infernus, and Lilith, and Alistair, and before them Azazel, they're the ones that started this. Not us.”
“Great, it's their fault. But you know who's going to do something about that, Sam? No one. Because if anyone catches up to us, the best we can hope for is a quick death in jail like Masters got, and you know what? I don't hold out much hope for that, because I was god-damned stupid enough to think I could take them down, but you know what? I can't. All of it—Lilith, Infernus, Alistair—it's too much, too big, and I can't do it.”
“What are you suggesting, Dean? That we run and keep running for the rest of our lives, hoping that no one catches up to us?”
“That's exactly what I'm suggesting!”
“I don't want to run.”
Sometime during Sam and Dean's disagreement, Castiel had drifted over to the sofa and sat on the edge of the center cushion. He was hunched over, and his hands were around his knees like a child awaiting punishment, but when he stated his opinion it was clear and perfectly controlled.
“What's your alternative, Cas?” Sam asked when it became clear Dean wasn't going to. His brother was looking at his boyfriend (no matter what Dean might say, his actions of the past week spoke pretty clearly about what exactly his relationship with Cas was) with wonder. It was as if he knew what Cas was going to say and was trying to decide if he was thrilled or terrified by it.
“Confronting them is crazy,” Dean said carefully.
“Maybe...maybe I am ready for crazy,” Castiel replied.
“I don't want you risking yourself any further for us, Cas.”
“While your concern is touching, at this point it's moot. You have been tortured, Sam threatened, and Anna is dead. Dean, I'm in the thick of this whether you'd like me to be or not. I have special abilities. I suggest it's time that we put them to use.”
It took them another week of stealing and then ditching cars, traveling back roads and paranoid backtracking to make it back to Pontiac, and another week after that to gather everything they needed. The results when they began to put Castiel's plan into motion, though, were undeniable.
“A masked vigilante police are calling Brimstone for the nature of his—and I can't believe I'm saying this, Bill—superhuman abilities—and the tell-tale odor of sulfur he leaves behind is still on the loose tonight. For the past four nights various alleged members of the so-called Infernus organization have been found in different locations throughout the city, bound and waiting for police with evidence of their alleged crimes pinned to their clothing, and last night was no exception. Police say the individuals detained have all told them the same story: that a hooded man with wings of fire apprehended and tied them, where they remained until law enforcement arrived.
“I dislike that nickname.”
Dean turned his attention away from the tv and the anchor who seemed geekily thrilled to be making her report to see Castiel had returned for the day. He had a long, shallow gash that crossed his clavicle and an equally long rend in his pants. Dean could see the torn skin underneath.
“Shit, Cas, you're hurt.”
“It's nothing. Not in the face of this.” Castiel dropped a square of folded paper on the scarred table of the abandoned house they were squatting in. “One of the men I encountered tonight was carrying this.”
“Skeptics are saying this is an elaborate PR campaign from a movie studio for an as-yet unannounced film, but witnesses on the scene insist that Brimstone is very much real, and suggest that the Infernus organization may finally have cause to worry.”
“Is that what I think it is?”
“He came down out of the sky, wings on fire and that man crying, begging him for forgiveness like he was an avenging angel come to deliver us from his evil,” A pudgy blond said from the motel room's tiny television, his face extremely close to the news camera.
“I do not remember that man being there. I believe he is making his presence up.”
Dean snorted as he unfolded the paper to read the single line inscribed within. “Welcome to the world of being famous,” he said as his eyes scanned the information. “You keep this up, and 'Brimstone' sightings are gonna be more popular than Elvis.”
“I really dislike that nickname.”
Dean smirked. “Part of the fun of being a superhero is getting your superhero name from the media, babe.” He announced this as if it were common knowledge, passed down on high from generations, and Castiel was silly for being irritated. Dean re-folded the paper and set it back on the table.
“Tomorrow night, huh?”
“So it would seem.”
“You don't seem very excited. This was one of our big goals, getting a crack at Alistair.”
“It just seems too...”
Castiel tilted his head, then nodded. “Yes. I expected it to take much longer.”
Sam stirred from his corner of the room, breaking his attention from whatever was on his laptop long enough to say, “Cas, didn't you say that Alistair seemed to recognize you?”
“Yes,” Castiel said slowly. “That fact still makes me uneasy.”
“Maybe they're thinking that we're setting a trap,” Dean suggested.
“Exactly,” Sam agreed. “They wouldn't be wrong, either.”
“We'll just have to be careful when we capture him.” Castiel slumped on the edge of one of the motel's lumpy mattress, shoulders bowed.
“Hey, you okay?” Dean asked, treading closer. He placed a hand on the back of Castiel's neck, and Cas rolled his face towards him. The mask that hid Castiel's identity, a bondage fantasy in leather and spandex, provided from a sex shop by a leering Balthazar, was still on. Dean loosened the laces that held it snug and pulled it off, grinning slightly at the sight of Castiel's usually rumpled hair looking downright disastrous after being confined for the better part of the night.
“C'mon, handsome, let's get you to bed,” Dean said. Castiel half-heartedly groaned about taking a shower first, but Dean ignored him, pushing him back so he could unlace his tall boots, a lucky find at a surplus store.
By the time Dean was peeling Castiel's pants off, the superhero was passed out. The past weeks had been spent with Castiel pushing his pyrokinesis to the limit of his endurance. Every morning Cas returned after a night patrolling for Infernus goons and collapsed into an exhausted puddle for a few hours before he was able to wake, shower and eat something.
“Do you really think this'll work?” Sam asked quietly. Dean turned to see his brother had been watching him strip Cas, and for a split moment, he thought Sam was questioning his and Castiel's relationship, until Sam scrunched up his face like he knew what Dean was thinking and hurried to say, “Do you think Alistair will really give us Lilith's location?”
“I think it's our best shot right now,” Dean said, grunting as he pulled Castiel's dead weight up so that his feet were no longer dangling off the end of the bed. Flopping next to Cas, he looked across his shoulder to his brother, who was gnawing at his bottom lip the way he always did when he was worried about something.
“I hope it works,” Sam said. “I hope all this is worth it.”
“It will be, Sam,” Dean said. He refused to believe anything else. “We'll get Alistair to talk, and then we'll take on Lilith, and when she goes the whole pack of cards will crumble with her. You'll see. It has to. Last I check, we only had two dozen safety deposit boxes left. They're finding them fast, Sam. After they get them all, there'll be no reason to make sure that either one of us stays alive. So it'll work.”
Sam smiled, but to Dean, who himself was clawing at whatever hope he could grasp, it looked desperate and strained. “Yeah, Dean,” he said through his grimace.
“Cas is sure this'll work,” Dean insisted. Sam's smile softened into something more real. Dean braced himself for some girly comment like You really care about him, don't you or He's important to you, isn't he but instead Sam just nodded his head, and the newscaster moved on to talking about the weather. Dean reached for the remote and shut the tv off before laying back down next to Cas and resolutely closing his eyes. They would all need to be well rested for the days to come.
“How are you this fine day, my Crucible?”
Alistair's question could have passed for a pleasantry if he hadn't been holding Castiel firmly by his throat.
Everything that could have gone wrong the evening they confronted Alistair did. The first, and most mundane, was that the vehicle they'd been using, (Balthazar's spare with switched out plates) had refused to start and they'd almost missed their window of opportunity. Castiel had nearly insisted on going alone, (and things might have turned out better if he had, he sourly thought) but Dean and Sam had both been astoundingly stubborn.
“You've done too much of this alone as it is. Agreement always was that when you found where any of the big guns were gonna be that we went with you,” Dean had insisted, green eyes fierce. Sam's set jaw had decided it, and in the end they'd stolen another car, just making it to the office building the paper had said Alistair was going to be at as the man in question exited.
They'd jumped, bound, and gagged him with little effort. So little effort that it should have been a tip off, truthfully, but Castiel had simply been thinking that perhaps something was going in their favor for once. Dean drove them to the location he'd picked for their interrogation, which Castiel had recognized with a lurch as the building he'd pulled Dean out of those weeks ago. It wasn't just a bad location strategically (because if Infernus used the building regularly then it wasn't inconceivable for them to be discovered there). He also feared for Dean's state of mind, but the thin line of his lips as he put the car into park silenced the objections that wanted to spring forward.
Sam helped them to haul Alistair's prone form inside, and they'd laid him on a medical bed in a room Castiel had not seen. There were already leather straps attached, and Castiel did not ask Dean how he knew they wouldn't need to bring their own restraints. Instead, he'd helped him buckle Alistair's ankles, wrists, hips, and chin. Sam stepped out as pre-agreed to double check the building to make sure there weren't any Infernus goons lurking in any shadowy corners, leaving Castiel and Dean with Alistair. As the man strapped to the bed began to stir, Dean asked Castiel to give him a few minutes alone with him.
Castiel should have refused. He knew even as he agreed that he should refuse, but he'd hoped that in giving Dean a few minutes with his abuser, with Alistair weakened and helpless as Dean had been, that his companion would begin to really heal. He'd left the room, telling Dean he would give him five minutes, no more. Five minutes seemed like a sufficiently short amount of time that Dean would be able to speak his peace to Alistair, and then when Castiel came back they could commence with their true goal of the day. Even in his own mind Castiel shied away from thinking that they were going to torture him for information, because that made him feel that they really weren't all that different from Alistair and Infernus, hurting someone to get what they want.
Five minutes, as it turns out, was not short enough. When Castiel returned, the bed was empty, the restraints shredded like wet tissue paper, and Dean—Dean was crumpled against the far wall, his back leaving a smear of blood as he scrabbled away from Alistair. Alistair, who looked whole and healthy and like he hadn't been knocked upside the head and then restrained to a bed. Alistair, who was actually smiling, as if it had all been a pleasant game that he was tickled to be winning.
“Cas!” Dean had gasped, “He's like you, he's—”
What Alistair was also became clear when the man in question raised his hand and, with a flick of his wrist, sent a gust of wind hurtling across the room, knocking Castiel off his feet and sending him ass over teacups. Alistair had given Dean an expectant look, the way a man will look at his lover as he's leaving, mingled frustration and desire, and Castiel pushed to his feet with a snarl. He tried to lob a fireball in Alistair's direction, but the other man caught it—just held out his hand and scooped it out of the air—and closed his fingers, extinguishing it.
“You didn't think you were unique, did you Castiel? Special?” Alistair tilted his chin upwards. “Far from it.”
Dean struggled to his feet behind Alistair, charging him with a wild swing of his arm. Alistair stepped to one side, grabbing Dean's outstretched arm as he passed. With a wrenching yank, he used Dean's own forward momentum to spin him around, slamming him back into the wall he'd just picked himself up off of with enough force that the plaster crumbled with his impact.
Castiel stepped forward, a wordless cry pressing past his lips, but Alistair had been anticipating that movement as well, which led to their current positions. Dean, still, unmoving and bloody on the floor, and Castiel with a hand around his neck, tight fingers closing off his air.
“I am very cross at you for stealing away my boy away. He was still greening, you know. All that wet work, nearly for naught! Tsk. But I pulled that lion back by the tail.” Alistair patted Castiel's cheek. Suddenly leaning in close, he tightened his grip and hissed, “I am not going to let you take him from me again. Your purpose has already been served.” His tongue brushed the lobe of Castiel's ear as Alistair whispered, “The gold is mine.”
Dean on the ground at Castiel's feet was all he could focus on. Blood oozed from fresh wounds, and his arm hung at an awkward angle, the shoulder clearly dislocated. Alistair shook Castiel, hard, forcing his attention back on the torturer. Castiel allowed flames to begin licking up his arms and around his neck, but Alistair just laughed.
“You think your party tricks will work on me? Who do you think gave them to you in the first place?” Sniffing, he said, “Poor Megara, so upset about her daddy. So open to...suggestions. When I told her what I needed, she was more than happy to provide. All I had to do was tell her it was the only way to keep you. And of course she believed me.” Dismissively, Alistair continued, “She's just a silly crow. Doesn't know better either way. You and she are well matched tools. Not like me, not like what Azazel was, not like Dean will be.”
“And what's that?” Cas gasped out, struggling against Alistair's grip.
The torturer grinned, baring tobacco-stained teeth that curve inward like a rodent's. “Ascended. Transformed.”
Castiel wanted to ask why Dean, but all he was able to force past his lips was Dean's name. Alistair seemed to understand anyway.
“I've been watching Dean-o for a very, very long time. Way back when he was still playing lackey for his pops. You might say I developed a proprietary interest. Besides, there's sort of a symmetry in fulfilling Dean's potential. The one to bring Azazel down, replacing him? And I do enjoy symmetry.”
What might have happened next Castiel will never know. What does happen is that Sam returns, finally, and Cas has just enough oxygen left in his lungs to hysterically realize that if Sam is there then that means he and Dean have only been in Alistair's grip for ten, maybe fifteen minutes. It seemed so much longer than that. Then Sam was shouting, and there was, of all things, a fire extinguisher in his hands, and he swung it, hard, at the back of Alistair's head. There's a sickening crack and blood sprays across Sam's face. Alistair's body goes limp and falls to the ground, but still Sam is not done. He brings the extinguisher down hard, again. The wet, meaty sound that followed was sure to play in Cas' nightmares for weeks to come.
Sam threw the extinguisher aside. It bounced off the legs of the bed with a metallic clank. Castiel concentrated on breathing, three great mouthfuls, and then he was stumbling to Dean's side, sighing in relief as he saw his pulse, strong and sure, beating at the base of his neck.
“Did you get what you needed from him?”
Castiel looked up at Sam, at the way he wore Alistair's blood across his face unflinchingly. Sam demanded, “Do you know where Lilith is?”
“No,” Cas said, softly. He knelt beside Dean, knees cold on the tiled floor, and worked to pull him upright. Sam crouched to help, and between the both of them they were able to pick Dean up and begin making their way out of the building.
Only later, as they're safely tucked away in their motel, the blood washed away from their bodies and Dean in one of the beds does Castiel speak again.
“You killed him.”
Sam doesn't respond of a long moment. His knuckles were white around the strap of Dean's knapsack, in which he'd been rummaging for fresh clothing. Tersely, he finally said, “You say that like I should be sorry about it.”
“Sam,” Castiel whispered. “A man is dead. I'm not saying Alistair didn't deserve it, because God knows he was a pernicious man, but...you killed someone. You should feel something.”
“I do feel something,” Sam immediately replied. “Glad.”
Giving up on his search for clothes, Sam tossed the bag aside. “I'm sorry if my reaction isn't meeting with your prescribed ideals, Castiel. But I never intended for Alistair to walk away from that building. I always planned to kill him.” Sniffing as if he were holding back angry tears, he added, “I only regret that we weren't able to find anything out before I had to do it.”
“You can't mean that,” Castiel tried to reason. “I may not have known you long, Sam, but that's not you. You're not the type.”
Sam looked over at Dean, and Castiel's eyes followed. They both watched him breathe for the span of several heartbeats, and then Sam said, “After what he did to Dean, there was no way I was going to let him live. None.” He stood and walked to the motel's door then, fishing change out of his pocket as he went. “As I said Cas, I'm not sorry.” Licking his lips, Sam said, “I'm going to get a soda. You want one?”
Castiel shook his head no, wanting to say a lot more but not knowing how. Sam smiled as if he knew, and slipped out of the room without another word.
Dean woke three hours later, confused, head sore and terribly thirsty.
“Cas?” he croaked out. The man was at his side in a moment, Dr. Pepper in hand.
“The machine was out of water,” he said quietly. “And the water from the tap here hasn't improved appreciably since this morning.” The water, when it came out of the faucets of their current motel, was pink-tinged and smelled rusty. Dean was perfectly happy with the Dr. Pepper.
“Thanks,” he said, reaching for the can. Their fingers brushed as Dean pulled it close, and he couldn't help the small smile that brought to his face, even as the memory of what happened crashed through him. “Where's Sammy?”
“Here, Dean,” his brother said, coming up behind Castiel.
“What do you remember?” Castiel prompted Dean, not ungently, but there was a slight urgency to his voice that Dean didn't completely understand.
“We had Alistair,” Dean began. “And he was on the bed. I asked Cas for a few minutes alone with him.” Sam frowned mightly at Dean, which he expected, but then turned the full force of his disapproval on Castiel.
“Hey, man, don't be that way. Not fair to Cas. I can withhold sex now to get what I want.” This had the desired effect of making his brother gag and Castiel blush up to the roots of his hair as well as lightening the heaviness that had settled over the room.
“What about after that?” Castiel asked through his embarrassment.
Dean sobered. “After that, Alistair's eyes snapped open like he'd been waiting for it. He ripped off the restraints and pressed his palm into my forehead. Then,” Dean shifted uncomfortably, “it got kinda weird.”
“Weirder than our usual lately?” Sam asked, brows high.
“Kinda. He started chanting. No idea what it was. Kinda sounded like Latin, but yet not. But he started with the chanting, and then I felt this...I don't know, this kinda...in my stomach, it was—”
“A tight, burning sensation?” Castiel put in, and Dean nodded.
“Exactly! I—wait. How did you know that?”
He and his brother both turned to stare at Cas. Shifting, he locked his eyes onto Dean's and said, “Because that's what I felt. Right after that night with Meg. Right before my powers began to manifest themselves.”
“You think I—?”
“Dean,” Castiel said quietly. “Look at my arm.”
Dean followed his gaze downward, to where his hand was curled around Castiel's forearm. The long sleeve was completely soaked to the elbow.
“This is how it began for me. Small instances of power bursting through. Well,” Cas grimaced. “the first would have been small had I not been sitting in a highly combustible vehicle at the time.”
“I have superpowers,” Dean muttered, still staring at Castiel's sleeve. “I have superpowers!” he said, brighter, and then his expression immediately darkened. “Oh, shit.”
“What?” Sam asked, worry crossing his features so fast Dean thought it was a miracle the kid didn't develop a cramp. “You feeling okay, anything hurt?”
“No.” In fact, Dean felt great, as if all his injuries had simply washed away. But... “I have superpowers of water. Water!”
Castiel and Sam gave him equally blank looks. Dean sighed in impatience.
“Fucking water! You know what that makes me? The lame Wonder Twin!”
Inexplicably, it was Castiel who started laughing, and it was a long time before he stopped.
“Alright, everyone, settle.”
“What he means is sit down and shaddup, or this isn't happening.”
The crowded press of reporters before the low outdoor stage immediately quieted, and Crowley shot Bobby an irritated look.
“Show off,” he muttered.
“Just have to know how to speak to 'em,” Bobby said lowly, before leaning into the microphone and addressing the crowd again.
“Thanks everyone for showing up today. I know you have a lot of questions, so I'm gonna try to make this brief.”
“Singer! Is it true that we were called here today about the recent upheaval in the city, with the unrest within the Infernus organization at the appearance of Brimstone?”
“Who is this yahoo?” Bobby asked the crowd at large, and they all laughed. The reporter flushed, ugly and dark. “I was getting to that.”
“Does it have anything to do with the recent finding of Alistair McKay's body and his posthumously revealed connections to Infernus?” the reporter pressed on, tenacious.
“Alright, that's it. For your impatience, duckie, you get to leave,” Crowley interjected, pushing his suited form close to the mic. The other reporters all shifted at that, but Crowley was insistent. “I meant it when I sent out the release this morning, children. Anyone gets out of line, they leave. So go.” He pointed imperiously at the exit. None of the other reporters spoke up for the man, too concerned with the suddenly plausible possibility that they'd be ejected if they did. Making a complicated face, the man picked his satchel up and slunk out of the assembly like the proverbial dog with its tail between its legs.
“Well, with that settled, I trust there won't be any more interruptions?” Crowley asked expectantly.
“You done?” Bobby asked, amused. The assembled crowd tittered nervously. “I was kinda in the middle of something here.”
“Oh, I do apologize,” Crowley simpered. “Carry on, darling.”
Bobby's jaw tightened at the way the crowd giggled at the pet name, but let it go in favor of getting the press conference back under control.
“As I guess many of you already suspect, we asked you here today at the request of someone else, someone directly involved in what has been happening in our city recently between the Infernus organization and the masked vigilante you lot dubbed Brimstone.”
“Now I know many of you may be wondering why the Gazette didn't handle whatever this is by ourselves. Believe me, that was a question I asked myself,” Crowley said from Bobby's elbow, picking up where the other man left off. “But the gentlemen in question were distressingly adamant. They didn't want just one news source handling their little coming out party. So here we are. I will remind you that there will be no questions accepted today, and no interruptions. Without further suspense, ladies and gents, I give you Brimstone.”
There was a collective gasp, and flashbulbs went off as video camera lights went from red to green to begin recording. Brimstone walked on stage first, suited much as he was during his nightly excursions, dark pants, heavy boots, and leather hood. The only difference was the inclusion of a plain, tight, thin, darkly-colored long-sleeved shirt. That wasn't what got the majority of the attention though, even as unexpected as it was. What really got the reporters going was the two men that followed after him, dressed almost identically. The only sign of differentiation between the three of them were the small white insignias embroidered on the left breast of each of their shirts. The tallest man, just to Brimstone's left, had a circle with a single line bisecting it, which if not seen with the man to Brimstone's right's mark and Brimstone's own could have just been shrugged off as a manufacturer's symbol. The other man's mark, though, to Brimstone's right, was more elaborate, a round circle with a small cross attached below it and a half moon atop it. Brimstone himself bore a triangle with a cross attached below.
To everyone's surprise, it wasn't Brimstone himself that began to speak, but the mid-height man with the more elaborate circle symbol.
“Thank you all for coming today,” he said. “This is going to be brief.”
He didn't pull out any index cards, or nervously clear his throat before continuing. Those present had the feeling that he'd put a lot of thought and planning into his words nonetheless.
“The three of us are the sort of men who believe that everyone creates their own lives through a series of choices. Most of these are small things, like do I want cream cheese on my bagel today, or should I go left instead of right at the intersection.” He paused. “It's called free will. Everyone has it. Our friends, our loved ones, even perfect strangers. Or they're supposed to have it.” During this pause the man did clear his throat, taking a moment before continuing with, “But sometimes, there are those who set out to take choices away from others. They decide that they are going to take, and leave everyone helpless, make them live their lives by their rules. People like those who run Infernus.”
The reporters stirred at this direct mention of the crime organization.
“We find that unacceptable. So call us what you will: vigilantes, nut-jobs, whatever. We don't care. What we care about is finding the people who run Infernus and stopping them.” The direct look the as-yet-unnamed vigilante sends into the News 4 camera is the clip that all the nation's news stations start running almost as soon as they pick up the story. “The dirty cops, the crooked judges, all the people you buy off won't help you. I'm speaking directly to the head of Infernus here when I say: we'll find you. And we're gonna stop you.” Breaking his stare-down with the News 4 camera, the man said, “That's all. Thank you.”
The three men exited the stage to a flurry of questions and demands, the reporters forgetting their agreement for order in the face of the soon-to-be-called heroes leaving with no other information forthcoming.
“They're calling us 'Team Free Will'.” Dean threw the next morning's copy of the Pontiac Daily Gazette on the table, beaming.
“You don't need to be so pleased with that. You practically hand fed it to them. As well as your and Sam's names,” Castiel said tartly.
As expected, the press did their due diligence and researched the symbols on Sam, Dean, and Castiel's chests, discovering them to be the alchemical symbols for Salt, Mercury, and Sulfur, respectively. Since Castiel was already called Brimstone, and the further they dug into Infernus, Alistair McKay, and his connection with Doc Benton of Erie, PA (at least they knew how they'd been discovered, but it was hardly a comfort, having their betrayal and Anna's death come at the hands of someone she'd trusted) and their shadowy obsession with alchemy and immortality, it seemed appropriate. Sam and Dean had been dubbed after their symbols almost immediately.
The trio was camped out in an abandoned house. They were running out of motels they hadn't stayed at. Plus there was the benefit of relative privacy and separate bedrooms, which Dean and Cas had been taking advantage of with relish. Sam was relieved at this development, too.
“Bobby has another treat for us,” Dean continued, gleeful. “As expected, within minutes of our little Iron Man moment, tips began flooding into the paper.”
Sam stepped into the kitchen just in time to hear this last bit. His face brightened, eagerness clear. “And?”
“And the ones that weren't pranks, marriage proposals, or stuff we already knew all had a common thread. A first name for the guy running Infernus, and the city he lives in.”
“Where, Dean?” Castiel and Sam said together.
“Luke,” he said, and added with relish, “from Detroit.”
“It's more than we had before,” Sam said, eyes gleaming.
“A lot more,” Cas agreed.
“So what do you say, guys?”
All three exchanged looks. Dean and Sam were smiling, the relief at having a name and a direction clear. Castiel felt an answering grin of his own tug on his lips.
“I say we're going to Detroit.”
EndThank You and Notes>>