Vague spoiler for episode 7.18 (Party On Garth) or for episode 7.19. One or the other. You've been warned.
After the attack at the motel, the Winchesters had wrapped the bodies of the former demons in a large tarp and stashed them in the trunk of their newly stolen brown car. Castiel supposed it was good that they'd traded up from the orange car. Three corpses never would have fit in the little hatchback. Even in the brown car, the fit was tight. Then Sam, Dean, and Castiel piled into the car to drove in stifling silence. Dean fiddled with the radio dial, turning it on and spinning through the stations in rapid succession before finally giving up and turning it off again. Most of the stations were little more than static with the occasional flicker of music and talking, like ghosts trapped in limbo. Sam didn't comment and after a while, Castiel saw his head drift till his chin rested against his chest. A while later, a thin snore escaped Sam's lips. It was the only sound besides the rumble of the engine and the crunch of pavement beneath their tires.
While the sky was still dark overhead, Dean pulled onto an old dirt road. The brown car bounced over the rutted track. It was hardly more than a twin set of frozen divots heading into the dark woods. Everywhere around them were featureless trees and thin, scrubby plants sticking out of the snow. Sam's head flopped to the side, glancing off the passenger side window. Somehow he managed to stay asleep. Castiel watched the moon flit between the formless grey clouds. Without warning, the car pulled over to the side of the narrow road. Dean smacked Sam on the arm to wake him and they both got out without a word. Castiel stayed where he was. No one had said anything to him in hours.
Dean thumped on the roof of the car and pressed his face close to the back window. His voice was muffled, breath fogging the glass until he was barely visible. "You coming or not?"
Castiel stared at him. "Me?"
There was a grumble. Then Dean yanked the door open. "Either you come with or I cuff you to the door. Your choice."
Castiel slid across the seat to the open door and joined them at the back of the car.
The trunk popped open. Sam took one end of the makeshift packet of dead bodies and Dean took the other. There was a clunk and a thump as they collected shovels and the two of them headed into the woods. Castiel followed behind like a shadow, picking his way over the uneven ground and trying not to get too much snow in his shoes. He regretted not buying boots. Now he understood why the Winchesters favored them.
They walked in the dark with only the sound of their footsteps and the wavering beam of the flashlight in Dean's hand. It was silent as the confessional and Castiel found himself watching the trees and the slip of the sky overhead. Heavy white clouds had moved in to block the stars, promising snow in the near future.
Castiel wasn't sure how they knew when to stop but it was a perfectly synchronized dance. Sam and Dean stopped, laying aside their heavy burden and they took up their shovels. A glance passed between them as Dean tested the ground around him with one toe. He found a spot that was soft enough and they dug. The points of their shovels bit into the ground, measuring out a trench about six feet wide. Castiel stood beside a tree and frowned at his injured hand. He wondered how many days it would be before he could free it from its splint.
The slice of shovels in frost hardened dirt and the grunt of exertion went on for a long time. Slowly Castiel started to droop, leaning more and more heavily against the tree at his side as his eyelids sank. The pitter patter of falling earth was like a lullaby.
Castiel stood at attention suddenly, almost losing his balance. He looked around. The trees were empty but he could have sworn he'd heard someone talking. Beside him the Winchesters were busy rolling bodies into the hole they'd dug. They didn't seem to have noticed anything. Castiel turned in a full circle.
Long delayed dawn peeked through the clouds, turning them a pale yellow. Shadows retreated across the forest floor. Nothing could hide there. And even if it could, Sam and Dean should have heard it. They scattered salt and lit the bodies ablaze, undisturbed.
Castiel stared at the ceiling over the lumpy couch he was attempting to sleep on. Dark, unfamiliar timbers pressed down upon him. He'd been sleeping in motel rooms so long he'd forgotten how to sleep anywhere else. Not that he had many experiences with which to compare it.
His angels were still stashed in his bag. He might have felt more at ease if they'd been beside him like always. He could have used their strength.
When they'd arrived, Sam informed Castiel that the cabin once belonged to a hunter friend of theirs named Rufus. The name meant nothing to Castiel. He couldn't remember ever meeting the man but he nodded at the information all the same. Castiel didn't missed the shadow that crossed Sam's face when he asked where Rufus was.
"Dead," Sam said.
Somehow Castiel felt he might share some blame in that too. The almost accusation lay there in the way Sam wouldn't quite meet his eyes.
"The Leviathan don't know about this place. We should be safe here," Sam continued. Then he'd handed Castiel a blanket and told him to get some rest. Castiel thought it would have been more honest if Sam had just told him he didn't want to talk about it.
So Castiel stared at the ceiling and pretended to sleep while the Winchesters lay on their own cots and pretended to sleep. Castiel was not fooled. He doubted he had fooled them either.
He didn't know what he'd heard in the woods. Maybe it was just a dream. His sleep had been peppered with voices and memories that didn't belong to him, perhaps relics of Jimmy. Or maybe they were the kind of dreams that people always dreamed. He had no way of knowing. Someday he would be able to ask Sam or Dean. Surely they would know. They had been human all their lives. They must know how these things worked. At least he presumed so.
Eventually Castiel slept.
He stood in a field though he had no recollection of how he'd gotten there. He didn't remember leaving the cabin or going outside. There was no snow on the ground. Everywhere he looked there was an endless expanse of tall, green grass waving in a pleasant breeze. Flowers that he recognized as columbines dotted the field. They waggled their strange petals at him in greeting. The field went on for miles before it arched up to the slope of a mountain painted blue by the distance.
Castiel turned in a circle.
Everything was still and silent except for the whisper of the grass. Or at least it should have been.
It was faint.
Castiel looked up at the blue sky arching overhead. Not a cloud to be seen. No matter how he squinted, there was nothing to see beyond the sky. Only blue. Miles and miles of blue forever and ever.
It was… peaceful. The kind of place his little resin angels would feel at home in. He would have been unsurprised to find them frolicking in the field. Perhaps dancing in a circle with flowers in their wavy hair.
For now he was alone.
He cocked his head to one side and listened. The sound was still there, barely audible, the source hidden. The bells. Castiel squinted into the distance until his eyes watered but he couldn't see the bells. Eventually they would find him instead. He felt sure of it. He just had to be ready when they did.
Castiel opened his eyes. The peace of the field still clung to him like the scent of wild flowers.
Dappled light filtered in the windows of the cabin. It spotted the floor beside him like lace. Castiel placed the time as late afternoon. He had fallen asleep after all. Sam was snoring quietly on his cot, feet hanging off the end, toes uncovered. Castiel sat up. Dean was nowhere to be found.
Castiel went to the window. The promised snow had collected in the trees and clumped together on the ground looking pristine and brilliant. Soon it would be dingy and littered with leaves. A draft passed around him and Castiel turned. Nothing had moved. Sam still slept. He was alone. So why didn't he feel like it?
Castiel dropped back onto the couch and shoved his feet into his shoes. It took him two tries to tie them. His fingers had become no more agile since Sam had initially wrapped them.
He tiptoed out of the cabin, closing the door quickly behind him to keep from waking Sam with the sudden gust of chill wind. The air was colder outside than he had expected. Even after months spent experiencing winter, it always caught him by surprise. Castiel wondered if he would ever truly get used to it.
Castiel tucked his thick, wool coat around him and settled on the top step. His breath fogged the air. He watched it drift away, swirling into the wind. Then he bowed his head and folded his hands.
He hadn't prayed properly in weeks. Bouncing from town to town, place to place, chasing jobs and his own memory of the Winchesters. At one point, he'd almost started to think he was mistaken. Perhaps he would never find them, wasn't meant to find them. After everything he had done, all the people he had harmed, more than he could ever put a number to, maybe he was not meant to accomplish the task. Hell on earth. Endlessly searching and never finding. Like Sisyphus and his rock. Or perhaps, more apt would be Orpheus. Because Castiel had achieved his goal long ago and he had not trusted in it enough to keep it. But by some miracle, the Winchesters had found him and they had accepted him. However begrudging, they had done it. And for that Castiel could only be grateful.
"Thank you, Father. I don't know if you're listening or if you had a hand in leading me to the Winchesters, but thank you. I will…" He swallowed thickly, forcing the rest of the words out through chapped lips. "I will do better this time."
"Aren't you a sorry sight," commented a familiar voice from behind Castiel.
Castiel started and was on his feet in a moment. Bobby stood just beside the door to the cabin, arms folded, and looking much too pale.
"Hello to you, too," Bobby said after an exceptionally long pause. "Mind holding up your end of the conversation here? I've been bored outta my mind."
"You shouldn't be here," Castiel said.
"Neither should you. But here we are. Guess we're just lucky."
"They don't know," Castiel said after another moment's thought, "do they?"
"Not far as I can tell. Believe me, I've been trying but so far they don't hear a word I'm saying to 'em. Damn boys always were stubborn." Bobby smiled faintly, fondness clear in the curl of his lip. Then he flickered like a candle flame about to go out. "Didn't think it'd be so damn hard when I stayed. Movies make it look so easy."
Castiel glanced around to make sure that they were still alone. Not a tree branch rustled and Sam still seemed to be fast asleep on his cot. When Castiel checked, Sam had rolled onto his side. He twitched and kicked his legs before falling still again. "What happened?" Castiel asked, turning back to Bobby.
Bobby tapped his forehead. "Some dick shot me." He smiled darkly. "The head Dick. Levi boss."
Castiel felt suddenly cold. His stomach churned until he forced it back into stillness. "I'm sorry," Castiel whispered. It seemed that everywhere he turned he had more to apologize for.
"We can get squared away later. First you gotta do me a favor."
"What?" Castiel shifted and looked away, back at the cabin.
"Need you to give a message to the boys."
Author's Note: References, references everywhere but not a drop to drink. Or something like that. I'm pretty proud of the fact that I worked in two mythology references in two sentences. Woo hoo. And one of them was a subtle reference back to Supernatural. Bonus points!
Sisyphus was cursed to roll a boulder up a hill only to have it roll back down again. Forever. For more info feel free to browse Wikipedia or your nearest book on Greek mythology. Dean also used the analogy in Adventures in Babysitting.
Orpheus is also from Greek mythology. After his wife (Eurydice) died and went to Hades, Orpheus travelled to the underworld, charmed Hades and Persephone with his beautiful music, and was allowed to take Eurydice back. With one warning: Eurydice would follow Orpheus out of the underworld but he was not to look at her until they'd both reached the land of the living. Just before they left the underworld, Orpheus turned back to see if Eurydice was there. Because he hadn't heeded the warning, Eurydice was taken away from him a second time. Permanently. So. A nice happy story but it's one of my favorites.
Now that that's all explained, time for the chatter. There was much debate (and probably a lot of me sounding like a crazy person) about whether Sam and Dean would bury the now dead meatsuits or if they would salt and burn them as a precaution. So I had them do both. Can't be leaving dead bodies all over the place when they're trying to lay low. If you disagree, feel free to complain at me. I'm always up for a good crazy sounding debate.
This chapter took me FOREVER to write and it's not that actiony but it can't all be demon ganking and snail speed Walmart shopping. I hope you'll forgive me. And Cas. He needed some time to stare at things meaningfully.
As ever, sorry for making you guys wait so long for updates. Much to do. And now tumblr has sucked me in and swallowed my soul whole. I keep posting Supernatural/Misha related cartoons there. It's a sickness I tell you. And while I'm apologizing, I apologize if this chapter isn't as well edited as usual. My printer decided to start eating the paper instead of printing on it (very sad. I drew a cartoon about that too) so I'm stuck editing onscreen instead of taking the unholy red pen to my printed chapters. I hope to have it fixed soon. In the meantime, yell at me about any glaring errors. I can't pay you (except in more fanfiction) so don't ask. (:
Shameless plug: I'm mixeduppainter over on tumblr. Come visit me and encourage my procrastination.