enigmaticblue: (sam dean cas)
[personal profile] enigmaticblue
And Ten Thousand Fall
Author: enigmaticblue
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I don’t own these characters; Kripke & Co. do. Too bad, so sad.
Spoilers: Through early S6, but generally pretty vague.
Pairings/Characters: Gen, Dean, Sam, Adam, Castiel, a few others.
Word Count: ~7500
Warnings: I’m choosing not to warn, but this is pretty much hard-core angst. If you’re concerned and/or don’t mind being spoiled, you can contact me privately.
Summary: The archangels find a new way to wipe the slate clean.
A/N: Written for the [community profile] hc_bingo prompt: “pandemics/epidemics”. The title is from Psalm 91, and is used somewhat ironically.

Dean generally doesn’t pay attention to the news unless he’s looking for a case, and then he looks for the weird stories hidden in the back pages of the paper. He sees the headlines that talk about a new strain of flu, but Dean doesn’t pay any attention. After all, what’s one more flu outbreak? Sam mentions it to him in passing, but it’s not like they’re going to pay for flu shots when they could use that money to do something else.

Besides, Dean hasn’t had the flu in years. His dad had always claimed that enough alcohol would kill off any germs, and Dean hasn’t seen any evidence to discredit that theory.

So, he doesn’t see any reason to worry when Sam turns on the evening news and the pretty blond woman lists the symptoms and advises plenty of fluids and a trip to the hospital if there are breathing problems.

Even when she announces that there have been a few deaths, Dean doesn’t worry—not until Cas visits his dreams.

He and Sam have just finished a hunt in Utah near Provo, and the vengeful spirit has been disposed of easily enough—the bones salted and burned, the spirit sent on to wherever spirits went. They find a motel for the night, and Dean falls asleep quickly, his brother’s deep breathing a lullaby in the bed next to his.

When he opens his eyes to see a lake and a dock, the sky dark and threatening, Dean knows this is going to get ugly.

“Dean,” Cas begins. “I need to talk to you.”

“Figures,” Dean says, because he hasn’t seen Cas since the business with Raphael. “What do you need my help on this time?”

“I can’t talk about it here,” Cas replies, and glances around like they’re being followed, and Dean has a strong sense of déjà vu. “I need you to do something for me.”

Dean sighs, because he knows he’s not going to get out of this one. “Yeah, man. What is it?”

Cas hands him a piece of paper. “You’ll find your brother Adam here. I thought you would want to know. I’m going to try to stop it, but if I can’t, you have to find Jimmy and Claire next.”

Dean frowns. “You’re wearing Jimmy, Cas. What are you talking about? Stop what?”

“Promise me,” Cas demands, and Dean hasn’t seen Cas this scared since the other angels dragged him back to heaven for reeducation. That alone would worry the hell out of Dean, but there’s also a sense of finality in his voice, like he’s already given up. “I’ve spent too much time here already. I have to go now. Promise me you’ll look after Jimmy and Claire if it comes to that.”

There’s nothing to do but promise him, because this is Cas, and Dean can’t stop feeling guilty about Adam, lost to the Pit.

“I promise,” Dean manages to say. “Shit, Cas. What the hell is going on?”

“You’ll see,” Cas intones ominously. “I want to stop it. I’m going to try, but—” He shakes his head. “I’ve stayed too long.”

“Cas—”

“I have to go. They’re too close. Goodbye, Dean.” And there’s that finality again, like this goodbye is permanent, like he doesn’t expect to see Dean again. Dean’s throat feels suddenly tight.

“Cas, wait—” There’s the sound of thunder, and the flash of lightning is so bright Dean closes his eyes.

When he opens them again, he’s back in the motel room, Sam snoring lightly a few feet away. The folded piece of paper is in his hand, and Dean flips on the bedside lamp to read it. Acute Psychiatric Unit at St. Theresa’s in Los Angeles, he reads with a snort. He wonders if that was someone’s idea of a joke—setting Adam down in the City of Angels after serving as a meatsuit for the archangel Michael.

He rolls out of bed and shakes Sam awake. “We gotta go, Sam. I just heard from Cas.”

Sam groans. “Can’t it wait until morning?”

“He gave me Adam’s location,” Dean replies. “Up and at ‘em.”

Sam doesn’t argue after that, just climbs out of bed and throws his things in his duffel. “What else did Cas say?” Sam asks as he runs a hand through his hair, pushing it out of his face.

“He said there was something he was going to try to stop, but if he couldn’t, we had to take care of Jimmy and Claire.”

“I thought Jimmy was gone,” Sam says.

Dean shrugs. “That’s what I thought, too, but Cas says if things get bad, we need to look after them. Hell if I know why, or what Cas is trying to stop.”

“I guess we’ll find out.” Sam doesn’t sound too worried, though, and Dean’s wonders what the hell is going on with his brother that he seems so detached from everything these days.

After Dean finishes gathering his things, they head to the car, and Dean wishes they’d had more time to sleep. It’s going to be a long, hard drive to Los Angeles, but he knows they’ll drive straight through. Cas’ urgency has been transmitted to Dean, and Adam is family. Dean isn’t going to leave him hanging.

~~~~~

By the time they hit Los Angeles, the flu outbreak is the only story. The newscasters are telling people to limit contact with the public and only go out if they have to; there are worrying statistics on the number of people who have already died, but Dean isn’t thinking about anything but springing Adam.

When they arrive, everybody looks harried, from patients to staff. They’re directed to a Dr. Richards, who doesn’t look like she wants to spend any time at all talking to them until they tell her they want to take a patient off her hands.

“Oh, good,” Dr. Richards says fervently before she bites her lip and flushes. “Sorry, it’s just that a hospital is not a good place for people right now. This many people in a concentrated location—let’s just say that people are more likely to get sick here than anywhere else.”

“We understand,” Dean assures her, trying to project dependability. “We’re his brothers, and we just found out that Adam is here. He’s been missing for a long time.”

Sam doesn’t say anything, even though this is where he normally would have chimed in. Sam has his hands shoved in his pockets, peering around him with a bored expression on his face.

He doesn’t seem to feel much these days, and Dean has to wonder when the dam is going to break, and he thinks it has to be soon. And if it’s not soon, Dean fears for Sam’s sanity, and he wonders how far he can trust this new Sam.

Dr. Richards frowns uncertainly. “We’ve had him on suicide watch. You’ll have to make sure he takes his medication and keep an eye on him.”

“There are two of us,” Dean says persuasively. “He won’t be alone. Right, Sam?”

Sam smiles coolly after a long pause. “Right.”

Dr. Richards nods. She’s pretty, her dark skin striking against the white lab coat and blue scrubs, her dark eyes anxious. “All right. I’ll release him to your custody. I wouldn’t normally, but this is…”

She trails off, and Dean realizes that she’s said more than she’s supposed to, and that worries him, because she hasn’t really said anything at all.

She forces a smile. “I’m glad Adam has family looking out for him.”

“We’re just glad we found him,” Sam says, and he offers a smile that usually gets him whatever he wants.

“This way, then.” Dr. Richards leads them through a maze of hallways to a rather Spartan rec room. Adam is the only one there, sitting in a chair by the window, staring outside, wearing a set of green scrubs. He turns as they enter, looking at Dean and Sam disinterestedly. His eyes are dull, with barely a flicker of recognition.

“Hey,” Dean says, for lack of a better greeting. “Good to see you again.”

“He’s got some delusions,” Dr. Richards says in an undertone. “He thinks he was possessed by an archangel and spent time in hell.”

Dean lets out a laugh that he hopes doesn’t sound too forced. “Yeah, crazy talk. We’ll keep an eye on him.”

“We’re here to take you home,” Sam says, as though that means anything to a Winchester. Winchesters don’t have a home; Dean has figured that out after long years on the road with his dad, and his failed attempt at an apple pie life with Ben and Lisa.

Adam just stares at them, his face slack and expressionless. “Yeah, okay,” he finally says, as though it means nothing at all, and hell, maybe it doesn’t to him. Maybe he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about where he is.

“Make sure you fill his prescriptions at the pharmacy before you leave,” Dr. Richards directs. “I have to go.”

“Sure,” Dean replies. “Thanks for your help.”

She’s gone with an uncertain smile, and Adam rises slowly from his chair. He eyes Sam and then Dean dubiously. “He promised me I’d see my mom.”

Dean doesn’t bother playing dumb. “Angels are dicks. They lie all the time.”

Adam nods, as though this isn’t exactly a surprise. “Yeah. I figured.”

He and Sam flank Adam on the way out. They stop to pick up the clothes he’d been found in, and fill his prescriptions at the in-house pharmacy. Adam had more pills than any one person should probably be taking, but Dean fills them without comment. He figures if Adam decides he doesn’t want to take them later, he’ll let it slide. Dean just wants out of this place.

Psych wards give him the fucking creeps.

They usher Adam out to the Impala, and Dean doesn’t know about Sam, but he keeps expecting someone to prevent them from leaving. No one does, though, and they get to the car without incident.

Adam doesn’t say anything at all—doesn’t protest, and Dean wonders what he’d do in Adam’s place, whether he’d object or just go along to get out of the hospital.

They get out of Los Angeles without too much trouble, although Dean can’t find a radio station playing anything but news of the flu and how it’s spreading. They’re giving body counts now, too. Confirmed deaths are hitting the high triple digits, and Dean has to wonder how many deaths have simply gone unreported.

They’re an hour or two outside of Los Angeles and its suburbs when they hit the first snag. A roadblock is never something Dean wants to see, and he slows when he comes up on the flashing lights.

“Is there a problem, Deputy?” Dean asks as a man in a tan uniform bends to look in the window, keeping a good twelve inches between himself and the Impala.

“We’ve closed down the roads,” the man replies, as though Dean can’t see the roadblock for himself. “Sorry, but you’ll have to go around.”

“Is there a way around?” Dean asks peevishly, because he doesn’t like the idea of a detour, not when he has people to see to. He still remembers what he promised Cas, and he’s starting to worry about Bobby and Lisa and Ben—not to mention Cas, who seemed in over his head.

The deputy gives him directions around the town willingly enough, and Dean eyes the gas gauge uncertainly. He knows that they’ll have to stop soon, but with the roads blocked off like this, there’s no chance of putting up a fight.

“What’s the mileage on this car again?” Sam asks, his voice low and amused with a pointed look at the gauge, its needle perilously close to empty.

Dean barely keeps himself from snarling. “I think she’d survive death by falling angel, unlike your douchey car,” he says patting the steering wheel, his voice low and tight, and he can see the faint hint of a smile around Adam’s mouth in the rearview.

Sam just smirks, and Dean can’t reconcile the brother he knew with the one sitting beside him now.

“We’re still going to have to make it cross-country,” Sam points out, his voice reasonable and careless, and Dean has to wonder if he even gives a shit that people are dying. “You think we can, or should we steal a car with better mileage?”

“We’ll make it work,” Dean promises, even though he knows it’s flimsy at best. It’s all too possible that they won’t make it, that they won’t find their way to Bobby’s, that they won’t be able to find Jimmy and Claire, or Lisa and Ben. Dean knows it’s all too likely that he won’t ever see Cas again.

He shoves that thought aside ruthlessly, along with his fear, and checks on Adam. “You okay back there?”

Adam nods without looking away from the passing scenery. “Sure. Why wouldn’t I be?”

Dean doesn’t answer, just focuses on following the deputy’s directions to get around town.

~~~~~

They press east, retracing their steps more slowly than they’d come. The larger cities don’t have quarantines set up, but a lot of the smaller towns do, and they have to pick their way around, sometimes going miles out of their way.

Dean stops when they hit Las Vegas. He doesn’t trust Adam to drive, and he and Sam are running short on sleep. They need to catch 8 hours in a real bed and eat something that doesn’t come out of a convenience store.

Sam doesn’t say much of anything when Dean stops at a Motel 8 outside of town, but he helps chivvy Adam along. Dean asks for one room with an extra cot, and they get cleaned up before trying to find a diner. A lot of places have signs that say “Closed for Sickness” so it takes longer than Dean’s growling stomach wants to allow.

The pizza place they find is a hole in the wall with cheap laminated tables and red vinyl tablecloths that are there more for ease of cleanup than décor. They order an extra-large all meat combo, and maybe it’s because they’re the only customers, but their pizza comes out in record time.

It’s good, loaded down with grease and gooey cheese, on a crust that folds easily. When Dean adds in a pitcher of beer, the atmosphere turns almost festive. For the first time, they almost feel like family.

“Where to next?” Sam asks after his third slice, slowing down a bit now that his initial hunger has been sated. “Jimmy’s?”

Dean shakes his head. “No, we need to check on Bobby first.”

He can’t put his finger on why it’s so important; it’s out of their way if their next stop is going to be the Novaks’ place. Dean has learned to trust his gut over the years, though, and his gut is telling him that they need to make a stop at Bobby’s before heading east.

East to Jimmy Novak’s and the object of Dean’s promise to Cas; east to Lisa and Ben.

Sam just shrugs. “Whatever.”

“Adam?” Dean prompts. “Is there anywhere you want to go?”

Adam shakes his head. He’s looking a little more relaxed, but he hasn’t said more than a handful of words all night. “No. I don’t have anywhere to be.”

When they get back to the motel, Dean stays outside to make a couple of phone calls. He calls Bobby first to let him know they’re coming. “How bad is it there, Bobby?” Dean asks.

“It’s pretty bad,” Bobby admits. “Lots of people are sick, Dean, and it doesn’t look to be getting any better.”

“Is it supernatural?” Dean asks.

Bobby coughs. “I was hoping you’d be able to tell me.”

“Cas was worried,” Dean says. “More worried than I’ve ever seen him. He looked like someone who knows he’s on a timer.”

“And you’d know that look,” Bobby says, then coughs again. “Get some sleep, Dean. I’ll see you three when you get here.”

“Take care of yourself, Bobby.” Dean ends the call and immediately dials Lisa’s number. He drums his fingers nervously against his leg, willing her to pick up. Relief floods him when he hears her voice on the other end of the line. “Lisa. Hey, babe.”

“Dean.” There’s real pleasure in her voice. “Is everything okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Dean says quickly. “We’re fine. I was calling to check on you and Ben. Are you guys okay? This flu—”

“They shut the school down to keep the flu from spreading any faster,” Lisa replies. “I’m keeping him home with me, and trying to limit contact with anybody who might be sick.”

“Good,” Dean says. “That’s good.”

“Is this something—do you know what’s causing this?” Lisa asks.

“No.” Dean closes his eyes. “I don’t know. We’ll be there as soon as we can, but a lot of towns have initiated quarantine, and we’ve already had to take a lot of detours. We’re going by Bobby’s first, and then we’ll head straight your way.”

“Do you want us to meet you at Bobby’s?”

Dean’s tempted to say yes, and he almost does, but then he thinks of all the things that could go wrong. If Lisa and Ben stay put, Dean knows where they are, and there’s nothing he can do about the flu. He can’t protect them from a sickness.

“No, stay put,” Dean says. “We’ll be there as soon as we can. Take care of yourselves, okay?”

He’s almost pleading; he hates the idea of getting there too late, of losing Ben and Lisa to something he can’t see, and that he certainly can’t fight.

“You do the same,” Lisa replies.

Dean struggles against the words lodged in his throat. “Hey, you know I, uh…”

“Yeah, I know.” Lisa sounds amused, as she usually does when he tries to talk about his feelings and fails miserably.

He clears his throat. “Okay, then. I’ll see you soon. Be careful.”

“Take care of yourself.”

He hangs up because he can’t think of anything else to say and leans back against the side of the motel. He can’t see any but the brightest stars and satellites, and he wishes he could find some answers there.

“Cas?” Dean calls softly. “Cas, I really need to know what the hell is going on. Please, get your ass down here.”

There’s no answer, not that Dean expects one, and he just keeps staring up at the invisible stars.

~~~~~

Dean trades off driving with Sam in Sterling, Colorado, and they find a McDonald’s that’s still serving. The death toll keeps rising with every radio broadcast, and when they flip past a station, Dean catches part of an announcement: “Doctors say there’s no explanation for how quickly this is moving, nor can they give any reason why so many are being struck down.”

“Do you think it’s Pestilence?” Sam asks out of the blue. “With so many people getting sick, it seems like something he’d do, right?”

“Cas took care of him,” Dean replies. “He’s dead.”

“I came back; maybe Pestilence did, too.”

“If one of the horsemen is back, that means all of them could return.” Dean stares out the window. “But Pestilence was bringing back the Croatoan virus. This thing sounds a lot more like Captain Tripp.”

Sam stares at him. “Seriously? You’ve read The Stand?”

“It’s a classic.” Dean knows he sounds defensive, but he does read. “And I saw the miniseries.”

Sam snorts, and Adam chuckles from the back seat. “No comments from the peanut gallery,” Dean orders, and that gets an actual laugh from Adam.

“Since when do I have to listen to you?” Adam asks.

Dean grunts and shifts in his seat. “I’m going to sleep. You two, keep it down. I know you’re normally chatterboxes, but try to restrain yourselves.”

He dozes on and off right up until they pull through the gates to Singer’s Salvage. Dean unfolds himself from the passenger seat, feeling his spine crack and his knees creak. When they don’t see Bobby, Sam and Dean grab their things from the trunk—Adam doesn’t really have anything—and the three of them enter the house.

Bobby is coming out from the direction of the kitchen, moving slowly—more slowly than he’d moved in his wheelchair—and he’s coughing. It’s a terrible wet, hacking sound, and when Bobby finally catches his breath, he’s red-faced, his eyes streaming.

“You need to sit down, Bobby,” Sam says gently, and for a moment, Sam’s the brother Dean used to know.

Dean looks at Adam, and he actually looks concerned. Dean wonders again if the pills are bleeding all the emotion out of Adam, but maybe that’s a good thing.

“Did you take your pills?” Dean asks, not knowing if Sam had remembered to check.

Adam gives Dean one long, considering look, and then says, “No. I don’t like how they make me feel.”

Dean doesn’t like a lot of the painkillers they hand out for exactly the same reason, so he can’t fault Adam for not wanting to take his meds for that reason. “I don’t care if you don’t take them, just so long as you don’t do something stupid.” He hopes he doesn’t have to spell out what “something stupid” would be.

Adam nods, and Dean wonders if he could extract a better promise than a movement of the head, but he doesn’t think it will make any difference. He knows there wasn’t anything Sam or Bobby could have said to prevent him from saying yes to Michael. Dean figures there probably isn’t anything he can say now to keep Adam from killing himself.

“It was easier to just drift,” Adam says suddenly. “I wasn’t telling them what they wanted to hear, but that way, I didn’t have to…” He trails off and says wistfully, “I just wanted to see my mom.”

“I know.” Dean puts a hand on his shoulder tentatively. “We’re going to look after you.”

Adam shakes his head, and just shuts down again, and Dean has no idea what wrong thing he said. “Don’t worry about me,” Adam finally says, shrugging off Dean’s hand and walking out of the kitchen.

Dean wants to call after him, to tell him that Winchesters take care of each other, and that he’s a Winchester, whether he wants to be or not. But it seems as though he and Sam have been doing a piss-poor job of even taking care of each other lately, and he doesn’t think Adam will accept those words from him yet.

When he gets to the kitchen, Bobby’s sipping from a steaming mug, his coughing under control for now. “Started a few days ago,” Bobby’s explaining. “And it’s just been getting worse.”

“Is it typical?” Sam asks.

“From what I can tell, yeah.” Bobby sighs heavily. “I know this because the sheriff was kind enough to stop by and tell me, but the doctors don’t know how to treat it. You start coughing, your lungs fill up with fluid, and then you—well, drown is probably the best word for it.”

“What if we took you to the hospital?” Dean asks, wondering if he sounds as desperate as he feels. Bobby’s voice has that same note in it Cas’ has, as though he’d already accepted the inevitable. “Couldn’t they do something for you?”

“They’ve tried that,” and Bobby’s voice is gentle. “The docs have tried draining the fluid, and the lungs just seem to fill up faster. No one can explain why.”

Dean swallows. “Then if it’s supernatural, we can stop it. We can figure out where it’s coming from and stop it.”

“Might want to check with that angel buddy of yours,” Bobby replies. “But I’ve been researching for the last few days. I got nothing.”

That sets off another spate of coughing, and Dean turns and strides out of the house, letting Sam clap Bobby on the back. Sam’s bedside manner had always been better than Dean’s, at least up until recently, and he’s acting like himself again, like he cares.

Dean half-jogs into the middle of the salvage yard, surrounded by the remains of cars, rusted out and stripped of usable parts. Sometimes he feels like one of those cars, like he has nothing left.

He dials Lisa’s familiar number, and lets out a breath he doesn’t know he’s holding when Ben answers. “Hey, buddy,” Dean says, struggling to keep his voice even, to not let the fear bleed through. “How’s it going?”

“I’m bored,” Ben says in his typical teenage whine, and Dean has to swallow the laugh that bubbles up. This, at least, is entirely normal. “Mom won’t let me go anywhere.”

“She doesn’t want you to get sick,” Dean points out implacably. “And neither do I.”

“Are you coming home?” Ben asks.

Home, Dean thinks. “Yeah, I think I am. I have to look after a friend of mine, though. You remember Bobby?”

“Is he sick?” There’s a shadow of fear in Ben’s voice, and Dean closes his eyes. “Is he going to be okay?”

Dean sighs. “I hope so. Is your mom there?”

He can hear muffled voices in the background, and then Lisa’s voice like a lifeline. “Dean. How is he?”

“It’s a bad cough,” Dean manages to say. “He says his symptoms are the same as everyone else’s. How are you?”

“We’re fine,” Lisa promises. “Not even a scratchy throat here.”

Dean nods. “Be careful. I just—I needed to talk to you. And we might be a few days.”

“Take the time you need, Dean, and if you want us to meet you there, we will.”

“Maybe,” he says, because he’s thinking of Jimmy and Claire now, and Lisa’s place isn’t too far away from theirs. “We’re going to be in your neighborhood after…” He stops, unable to say it.

“Okay. Keep me posted.”

Dean doesn’t try to respond, to say anything about love or missing her. He can’t, not when anything he could say would feel too much like goodbye.

He ends the call then tilts his head back and shouts, “CAS!”

Dean screams until his throat is raw and his voice is gone, until the sun peeks up over the horizon, turning the eastern sky red and orange. Cas hasn’t appeared, and Dean knows that whatever Cas had been trying to do, whatever he had tried to stop—Cas has failed.

“Dean.” Sam’s voice comes from behind him, and Dean turns. Sam’s expression speaks volumes, and Dean’s already shaking his head. “He doesn’t want to go to the hospital,” Sam says, as though reading Dean’s mind. “He wants you to sit with him awhile.”

Dean follows Sam into the house. He can hear Bobby’s coughing even from downstairs, and the deep, gasping breaths in between. “Hey, Bobby,” Dean says as he steps into the room.

Bobby manages to wave a hand at him, but anything else he might have said is swallowed up in another coughing fit. His hat is missing, but he’s still fully clothed except for his boots, lying on top of the half-made bed.

Sam gives Dean a none-too-gentle nudge towards the chair next to the bed. “I’m going to check on Adam,” he announces and leaves Dean alone with Bobby.

Dean has no idea what to do, no idea what to say, and so he just reaches for Bobby’s hand.

Bobby holds on tight and keeps coughing.

~~~~~

Dean is still there hours later when every breath is a gurgling struggle, Bobby’s mouth open and eyes closed. Sam sits on the other side of the bed, head bowed. His face is a mask of grief, and Dean spares only a moment to wonder where Adam is before focusing on Bobby again.

He recognizes the death rattle when he hears it, each breath coming harder with a longer pause between, as though Bobby’s gathering what little strength he has left. Then the air seems to still, the silence becoming a living thing when Bobby sighs one last time.

Dean has to swallow hard, choking back tears, and he’s mostly successful. When he glances up at Sam, Sam’s blinking rapidly, and his shoulders are shaking. It’s the most emotion Dean has seen from him yet, and he wants to take back every half-formed wish that Sam would let him see a chink in that smooth façade.

They just sit there for a moment, each of them wrapped up in grief, and Dean’s the first to square his shoulders. He’s lived without Sam for a year, feeling as though he was missing half his limbs, and losing Bobby is a lesser horror.

And Dean hates that his life even allows him to think that.

“We gotta go,” Dean says simply.

Sam nods and sniffles like an overgrown kid, wiping his eyes and nose with the back of his hand and the sleeve of his shirt. “I know. We should—Bobby would want us to salt and burn.” He glances around the room. “Maybe we should come back here, after.”

Dean can’t allow himself to think that far ahead, but he nods. “Not a bad idea.”

Adam is in the living room when they carry Bobby downstairs. Under any other circumstances, Dean knows that he’d be cursing and Sam would be bitching. But carrying Bobby, they’re completely silent.

Adam follows them outside, and they pause for a moment. The crisp air of late fall feels good after the stuffy heat of the house, and Dean breathes in deep.

“Are you going to bury him?” Adam asks.

Sam’s the one to answer. “No. Hunters salt and burn bodies. It keeps the spirit from coming back.” He pauses. “Bobby would—would have wanted it that way.”

They find a spot in the middle of the salvage yard, and Adam helps them gather wood silently. Dean has built more than a few pyres in his time, but this one is hard. For every log he lays on the pile, there’s a memory of Bobby, and his throat feels thick and closed off.

When there’s enough wood and lighter fluid to ensure a good burn, they lay the body on the bier. Adam’s standing off, just a little separate, and Dean glances at Sam.

“Go ahead,” Sam says softly, stepping back next to Adam.

For just a moment, Dean wishes he were the praying kind. He feels like he ought to say something, but he’s got no words.

In the end, he just lights it up.

~~~~~

They’re back on the road the next day, speeding towards Pontiac, Illinois, and the Novaks. By now, Dean figures that this is probably as bad as Cas thought it might get, and so he’ll keep his promise, even though he has no idea what they’ll find.

Fifteen minutes outside of Sioux Falls Dean sees someone standing by the side of the road, thumb out. He immediately thinks of Anna when he sees that it’s a woman with bright red hair, but as he slows down, Dean notices that this girl’s hair is more orange than red, and she’s taller and heavier than Anna had been.

He can see the quick flash of fear on her face and her uneasiness when she realizes that the car holds three men. She approaches Sam’s window cautiously.

“Need a ride?” Dean calls out.

She looks them over, and he can see her calculating the odds, weighing the risks. “I don’t—”

“It’s okay,” Sam says quietly. “We’re headed to Illinois, and then to Indiana, if you want a lift.”

Dean doesn’t know if he should try to convince her to come along for the ride or not. She’ll likely be one more burden, but he also knows that she’s going to be safer with them than anybody else.

“I’m Dean,” he says. “These are my brothers, Sam and Adam.” He points. “And I think you’ll be safer with us than you will be anyone else who might come along. Where are you headed?”

She hesitates for another moment before saying, “My parents live in St. Louis. I was here for school, but I don’t have a car, and…” She takes a deep breath and says, “I’m Kate.”

Dean doesn’t know why she ends up in the car with them. He can see that she’s on edge and jittery for the next hour after they’ve stashed her duffel bag in the trunk, and she’s climbed in next to Adam.

Sam asks a couple of questions, though, and that’s all it takes to get her talking, a nervous babble that matches the way she twists a strand of hair around her finger over and over.

“Sorry, sorry,” she finally says. “I talk when I’m nervous. I shouldn’t talk so much, I know, but I haven’t been able to reach my parents, and…” Kate closes her mouth with a snap.

“It’s okay,” Dean assures her. “We’re all trying to get somewhere. We’re all trying to find people we care about.”

Kate nods and glances over at Adam. “What about you? You haven’t said much.”

Adam shrugs, but he flushes a little, and Dean realizes that he and Kate are about the same age. Maybe she’ll be able to pull him out of his shell. “I’m just along for the ride,” he says.

“Are you guys looking for your parents?” Kate presses.

Dean meets Adam’s eyes in the rearview and shrugs, indicating that Adam can tell her whatever he pleases.

“Our folks are gone,” Adam replies after a moment. Then he adds, “They’re my half-brothers.”

Kate doesn’t get the whole story, but she does get part of it—that Dean and Sam’s mom died when they were little, that their father raised them, that Adam’s mom raised him. Bits and pieces of a life, sanitized for public consumption, and Dean wonders if that’s what Sam did with Jess, telling her only those few things he thought she could handle knowing.

It’s a hard day’s drive to Pontiac. More and more gas stations have closed up, more and more diners and restaurants have signs saying, “Closed.” The signs don’t even bother explaining why they’re closed now because it’s pretty damn obvious.

When they pull up in front of what had been the Novaks’ home, Sam looks over at him. “You think they still live here?”

“Hell if I know,” Dean replies. “I’ll go up and ring the bell, see if anyone’s home. If they aren’t here, maybe whoever’s living here now will know where they’re at.”

The door opens after Dean presses the doorbell for the second time, and Dean sees Jimmy standing there, his eyes red and weary. He’s wearing jeans and a t-shirt, and clearly hasn’t shaved in a while.

Jimmy blinks at him, then says, “Dean,” like a man who’s just woken up. “I thought—I thought you might come.”

“You mind if we come in?” Dean asks. “I’d rather not have this conversation on the porch.”

Jimmy blinks again, and he still looks a little stunned. “I—yes, of course. Come in.”

Dean doesn’t see Amelia, but he gets a glimpse of a girl on the stairs and a flash of blond hair, and he knows that Claire’s around. Dean waves at Sam, and after a few minutes, they all shuffle inside, staring at one another expectantly.

“Do you want something to drink?” Jimmy asks, a little helplessly, as though he doesn’t know what else to say but doesn’t know what he’s going to provide either.

“Just water,” Sam says. “Why don’t you let Adam and me get it?”

Jimmy nods and tells Sam where the glasses are, then he just sort of folds in on himself on the couch.

When he doesn’t say anything, Dean asks gently, “Where’s Amelia?” Jimmy just shakes his head, and Dean rephrases the question. “When did she pass?”

“She was one of the first in the area,” Jimmy manages to say. “She—the doctors did everything they could, but nothing they did seemed to work. Nothing.”

Dean swallows, knowing that helplessness all too well. “You haven’t been sick?”

“Claire and I are fine,” Jimmy replies, and he glances up at Dean. “Cas said—he had a message for you. When he realized he wasn’t going to make it, he said…” Jimmy trails off.

“Take your time,” Dean says, even though what he really wants is to reach out and shake the message right out of Jimmy.

“He said that Raphael had found another way to wipe the slate clean,” Jimmy manages.

The half-formed questions that have been rattling around in Dean’s head ever since Cas’ visit now crystallize—why would Cas ask Dean to look after Jimmy and Claire, but not Amelia? Why had he and Sam and Adam not gotten sick, while Bobby did?

They had one thing in common—they were all vessels.

“It’s in the blood,” Dean murmurs.

Jimmy nods jerkily. “I think so.”

“What does that mean?” Kate demands.

Dean just shakes his head, but Sam speaks from behind her. “It means that we all have a natural immunity.”

Kate gets it almost immediately, worry and hope warring on her face. “That means—I have to get to St. Louis.”

Dean is already shaking his head. “I can’t. My girlfriend and her son are in Indiana. I have to see them first. We can take you to St. Louis afterwards, but—”

Kate shakes her head. “No. I can’t. Maybe—”

“We’ll find a car for you,” Sam says. “And then we’ll give you a place you can go after you find your folks, if that’s what you want to do.”

Jimmy looks from one face to another, and then he says, “We can’t stay here. There are too many people…” He lets out a choked laugh. “I have no idea what to do next.”

“Cas made me promise I’d take care of you,” Dean says. “So, I will.”

He excuses himself a few minutes later and goes out on the front lawn to try calling Lisa. This time, the call goes straight to voicemail, and Dean fights to control the panic in his chest. “Lisa, or Ben, I need you to call me as soon as you get this message, okay? It’s important. We’re coming.”

Dean takes a few deep breaths, and bows his head. When he looks up, Claire is staring at him. She’s about Ben’s age, Dean thinks, and her eyes are hollow pools of misery. He realizes that she probably got her father back just as she lost her mother. He wonders whether it’s a bargain she would have made if she had the choice.

And then it hits him that Claire is the reason Cas dropped Jimmy back into his old life, because Cas knew that he wasn’t going to make it, and Claire would need someone.

They just stared at one another for a long time, and then Claire gave a little sigh and said, “Did Castiel talk to you in your dreams, too?”

Dean doesn’t see any reason not to tell the truth, so he says, “Yeah.”

Claire nods and heads back inside, and Dean doesn’t try to find out what that means. He’s still stuck on the message he’d left for Lisa, wondering if they’re too sick, coughing too hard, to answer the phone.

He doesn’t know whether he can afford to hope that they’re somehow immune.

The front door opens and closes behind him, and Sam comes up next to him. “They didn’t answer?”

Dean shakes his head. “He’s—he’s not really my kid, you know?”

“I know.” Sam hunches a little closer to Dean. “It’s cold out here. Come inside.”

Dean stares at his phone, still in his hand, and finally nods. “We can leave in a few hours for Cicero.”

“The drive won’t take long,” Sam replies. “And you need to get some sleep. There’s no point being immune to this thing if you wind up sick from something else.”

Dean opens his mouth to argue, and Sam breaks in, “Dean. Trust me, I know you want to get there, but you need some sleep. A few hours anyway. I’ll wake you in four.”

Dean’s eyes are gritty and sore, and he can feel the exhaustion pressing down on him. For the first time, he wonders what Jimmy and Claire see when they look at him, if maybe his face is just a reflection of their weariness and grief.

“Okay,” Dean finally agrees. “Okay.”

Sam squeezes his shoulder, and Dean closes his eyes and concentrates on the warmth and weight of Sam’s hand.

~~~~~

Sam is the one who finds a car for Kate. She doesn’t ask where Sam got it, maybe because she knows that stealing a car is nothing in the face of this strange sickness. She thanks them before she leaves, clearly distracted, and Dean takes her phone and programs his number in. “Call if you need something,” he says.

“Anything,” Sam adds.

She shares a look with Adam, smiles at them all, then drives off.

Dean’s used to meeting people and saying goodbye again, even after fear and adrenalin have forged strong bond. Still, he feels a small pang watching Kate drive off, mostly because he’s not sure how many people are going to survive this mess. How many vessels are there?

And what the hell are they going to do as more and more people die? What kind of world will be left to them?

Maybe that’s the point, Dean thinks. The angels—Raphael—wanted the slate wiped clean, and they’re going to get it, but with plenty of vessels left to talk into saying yes.

They crowd into the Impala; Dean’s driving, Sam’s in the passenger seat, and Claire sits between Jimmy and Adam in the back. Dean knows it would have been easier to leave Claire and Jimmy behind, to come back for them once they’re done in Cicero. They’re planning on coming back to the Novaks’ house anyway, but Dean doesn’t like the thought of leaving Jimmy alone.

Jimmy is all he has left of Cas. Leaving Jimmy and Claire now will feel too much like breaking the promise he made.

The roads are almost empty. Dean passes one other car, going the opposite direction, and the driver doesn’t so much as slow down. Dean figures they’re in as much of a hurry as he is, and probably for the same reasons.

Lisa and Ben take up all his thoughts; he wants to drive up to their house and find them alive and well and waiting for him, but if they’re not—

It would be terrible to arrive and find them already dead; it would be worse to watch them die as he had watched Bobby die.

Dean hates God, hates the angels, hates fate or destiny or what-the-fuck-ever for bringing them to this point.

He slows down when they hit the Cicero city limits, suddenly reluctant to arrive to find his worst fears realized.

No one speaks. No one tries to tell him that everything will be okay.

He goes about five miles an hour down Lisa’s street, and the Impala rolls to a stop outside her house. Dean just sits there, hands gripping the steering wheel tightly.

“We can wait here,” Sam says softly.

Dean nods jerkily and opens the door. He’s halfway up the front walk, still dragging his feet, when the front door swings open and Ben comes running out. Dean has his arms around Ben before he even realizes he’s moving. He crushes Ben to him, holding tight, feeling the lump in his throat dissolve just a little.

“Hey,” Dean manages. “Miss me?”

He can’t ask where Lisa is, suddenly doesn’t want to know, because he’s just so damn grateful that Ben’s alive he doesn’t want it spoiled.

But then he glances up, and Lisa’s walked out the door towards him, slowly but steadily, and she’s smiling faintly.

“Hey, stranger,” she says, welcome in her voice, and Dean pulls her into his arms and just holds on and on and on.

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enigmaticblue

August 2017

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