I started catching up on Lost and I might have to picspam the shit out of 'Some Like It Hoth' because everything Miles Straume does is like rainbows in my heart. Miiiiiiles.
In other news, here is a fic. It's the first time I've written anything akin to a whodunnit plot. There is actually something for the characters to do besides get over some feelings! Though there is some of that too. So here we go, I guess!
The title turns out to be from "Will You Smile Again" by Trail of Dead, after all.
Heaven Sent You Downstream
Supernatural. Dean/Castiel, Sam. PG13. Spoilers through 5x04. Much love and thanks to inveterate sexyfaces serialkarma and sgrio for betareading.
Half casefic and half 'The End' episode tag in which Dean 1) investigates some disappearances in the mountains, and 2) finds it difficult to leave the future behind. Takes place after Castiel spirits Dean away from the motel, and before Dean meets up with Sam. ~11,100 words (Part 1: ~5000 words)
Dean introduces himself as Special Agent Plant and catches himself before he says, "And this is my partner, Agent Page." It gives him a sour feeling, but there's a sheriff to mislead and a terrified hiker to question, and Dean has no time to linger on the absences in his life.
Later, he's back in the motel room with a slice of pizza in one hand, Sam on the phone, and Sam is saying, “So, what, shapeshifter?”
Maybe it's a siren, Dean says, and Sam says no. A siren comes to you as a new love, not as people you already know. Didn't the hiker get pushed around by something that looked like her sister? Dean shrugs. Maybe it's a demon. Sam says maybe, sounding dubious. Sam says probably not, and Dean lets it go.
It's just a quick detour, this hunt. Something quick and easy to clear his head after Zachariah's Back to the Future extravaganza. When he told Sam he was going to drive upstate and check out some disappearances in the mountains first, there was enough of a sigh in Sam's “You're what?” for Dean to know that Sammy was just gonna grit his teeth and bear it. This is their job, after all. They may be each other's weaknesses, but they still have things to hunt, people to save.
"No heroics," Sam warns. "Just kill the thing and come home."
Dean quirks his mouth. 'Home'. The Winchesters don't have a home, just the Impala and each other. They still use the word anyway. It's become shorthand for 'where I am'. “It'll be difficult for me to not be heroic, Sammy,” Dean says.
He can imagine Sam making his bitchface again. He can imagine Sam with black eyes and a white suit, his foot on Dean's neck, and his smile being the last thing Dean sees before he sees nothing at all.
He can't get the taste of 2014 out of his mouth.
Dean wakes up in the middle of the night and waits to remember who he is, when he is.
Was that really the future or just some angel trick? When he thinks of how ready Future Dean was to send his friends to their deaths, and how misplaced the devil's smile looked on his brother's face, Dean becomes sure it was a trick. But when he thinks of Cas's body twining around his own, of the warmth of it sweat-slicked beside him, Dean is less sure. There had been a tangible sense of relief that came with unfolding himself in Cas's arms. Something right, or at least something like clarity and inevitability somehow compressed into the desperate creature Cas had become.
“I missed you,” Cas had murmured into his skin. “I miss you. I miss you.”
Then Dean was zapped back to 2009 and Cas is the same Vulcan he's always been, popping into his personal space to blab about Lucifer before dashing off to look for God. In this life, he has never kissed Dean, never looked at him with such naked hunger, never bit Dean's lip hard enough to draw blood. (There is no cut on Dean's lip; he returned from the future whole.) He tries not to draw comparisons when this Castiel appears, but it's hard. Castiel appears half a foot away from him and Dean's eyes are drawn to the curve of his mouth. He finds himself wondering how much one kiss would change things anyway.
On the nightstand, his phone buzzes with a text message and Dean reaches out to fumble for it. It's from Sam, and it reads: i dont think its a shifter.
So Dean calls Sam, pretending he cares more about shapeshifters than he does about grabbing onto a familiar anchor. He pushes the future out of his head and waits for his brother's mystified “What are you doing still up?” before he jumps straight into “What do you mean it's not a shapeshifter?”
“Okay, so you said this thing liked slapping its victims around a little, right?” Sam's sounding pretty perky for three in the morning. Does he ever sleep? Does he ever say no to research? What a nerd, Dean thinks fondly.
“Pulls their pigtails and pushes them around, yeah. Laughs at them. Or so says the one hiker who came back.” Dean rolls over on his back and rubs his eyes. “Said it'd keep disappearing and reappearing.”
“And that's not what a shapeshifter does,” Sam says. “It tries to blend in. Shapeshifters try to trick you, not heckle you. And it can't just vanish and come back, they're not ghosts.”
“You saying it's a ghost?”
“No! Look, if this is what I think it is, then--”
But then Dean hears a flutter of wings, and he looks up to see a familiar trenchcoated figure standing at the foot of his bed. “Cas?” Dean reaches over and turns on the lamp on the nightstand, and blanches at what he sees: the angel is pale and drawn, shaking, bloody nose, unsteady on his feet.
“Dean,” Castiel rasps, before dropping to his knees.
“--really tall and has red eyes,” Sam continues. “It's gonna smell like tobacco--”
Dean's already out of bed and by Castiel's side, propping him up against the bed as the angel breathes unevenly. He gives Cas a once-over, makes sure he isn't bleeding anywhere else as Sam on the phone goes blah blah blah, goes yadda yadda as Dean runs into the bathroom and soaks a washcloth under running water.
“--why only one hiker made it back,” Sam speechifies. Jesus christ. “Disorientation is its M.O., and she was just lucky that it got bored with her when it did. To take it down, you--”
“Sam, I gotta go,” Dean cuts in. “Cas is here.”
“This will just take a minute.”
“He's hurt,” Dean explains, and hangs up. He hands the washcloth to Cas, who presses it against his nose. “Cas, buddy, what happened?”
“I don't mean to disturb you at this hour,” Cas wheezes.
“Doesn't seem to stop you from disturbing me anyway,” Dean mutters. “Okay, don't go anywhere, I'm going to get some ice from outside.”
As he wrangles with the ice machine, Dean's phone rings in his pocket. He ignores it.
Back in the room, Castiel accepts the makeshift icepack and declines the shot of whiskey. “I don't mean to--” Cas begins, “I didn't know where else...” He settles on, “Thank you.”
“You're welcome,” Dean says, and tries not to worry about how an angel of the Lord needs an icepack for a nosebleed. “Dude, what happened?”
“I was chasing demons.”
Dean raises his eyebrows. “And?”
“I caught them.”
“Fuck yeah. Hope they're roasting happily back in the pit.”
“I didn't exorcise them.”
This takes a few seconds to register. “...What? Why?”
Castiel hesitates. “I couldn't.”
“You what?” he barks.
“I couldn't exorcise them,” Castiel cracks out, and Dean puts a hand on his shoulder to steady him, but also to grasp tightly and shake.
“What do you mean you couldn't? What kind of an angel are you?” Dean demands, and he doesn't mean to sound so angry but the past couple of months – fuck, this last week alone – are catching up to him. All the things he didn't want to think about, all the horror of a future dystopia that he's convinced himself he will avert: they're resurfacing.
What if Cas stops being an angel? What if Sam says yes?
“I just need to...” Castiel's brow furrows, as if unsure of the words. “I just need to rest.”
“You need to take a shot of this whiskey is what you need. Does this happen often?”
“No,” Cas says firmly, ignoring the whiskey, “but I rebelled against Heaven, Dean.” Castiel removes the ice pack from his face and touches his blood gingerly, examining it on his fingers. “They've cut me off from the Host. They'll weaken me to find me. It's both punishment and strategy.”
“No one's gonna punish you,” Dean snaps.
“I don't plan to let them,” Castiel says, and looks up at Dean with the artless sincerity to which Dean has become accustomed. There is something else there too, the same hardness in Castiel's eyes that Dean saw there in Bobby's hospital room the last time they were all together.
Dean holds his ground. “Good.”
In the pause that follows, Dean thinks of reaching out and touching Castiel's cheek, the way Cas from 2014 so easily reached out and touched his, so easily shifted closer to Dean, like an old habit, like Dean - though bewildered - might never presume to say no. (It had been Cas who kissed him first, but Dean who pulled them towards the bed.) He glances at Castiel's mouth and neck and curve of collarbone, and finds himself remembering things that haven't happened in a world that shouldn't exist. Then Dean thinks, stop.
He thinks, just stop.
Cas says he'll stay until he regains his strength, and Dean wakes up the next day alone. There's nothing in the room to hint at a visit from a bruised-up falling angel except for the melted icepack on the table.
“So what's next on your to-do list?” Dean had asked last night, already drifting off to sleep on the bed.
Cas, seated stiffly at the table, replied, “I'll go to the Esagila.”
“Not a who. A what. The Esagila is the temple of Marduk.”
“No, Marduk is a who. He's the Babylonian god of light and healing, also known as the Shepherd of the Gods. I will summon him and ask if he has information on my Father.”
And that's when Dean gave up and went to sleep. If Cas wanted to blabber on about ancient pantheons, he was with the wrong Winchester.
So it's morning and Dean eats what's left of the pizza for breakfast and throws his stuff in the car. The sooner he ices this thing, whatever it is, the sooner he can get back to Sam. The sooner they can change the future. (Destiny can't be changed, Dean, Castiel had said those many months ago when Dean couldn't save his parents, could never have saved his parents. All roads lead to the same destination.)
The sooner they can change the future, the better. He starts up the car and pops AC/DC in the tape deck, because 'Back in Black' is always an excellent way to start the day.
(I can't believe it's really you, said a Castiel who wasn't supposed to exist, who looked at Dean in a way that made him feel like an impostor. They were both impostors there anyway, of a sort.)
Gwen, the one hiker who returned after the creature stole the hikers away, said she had seen something tall and dark behind the trees, something that moved quickly, but clumsily. Something that laughed like a drunk and shrieked like a horse. It was probably a deer, she said meekly, but after Dean pried the filter off her, she confirmed that sometimes the creature looked like her sister. Sometimes it would talk to her and it would sound exactly like her sister, and it wouldn't stop pulling Gwen forward and pushing her back, pinching her arm and scratching her neck.
“I knew it wasn't actually my sister,” Gwen fretted. “My sister is in Colorado, but I thought...”
“What did you think?” asked Special Agent Plant.
“I don't even know, I just...” She shook her head. “I just kept following her. It. I just kept going.”
“You kept going, or it made you go?”
But Gwen just kept shaking her head and saying I don't know, I don't know.
The trees stretch tall around him, and the dense canopy cuts the sun into narrow beams of green-gold light. It's a nice day for hunting monsters, if a little warm, but then again the last creature Dean hunted had led him into the sewers, so this is definitely a step up. Okay, technically (paradoxically?), the last thing Dean hunted was the devil in 2014, but he's not sure if alternate universes count anyway.
2014 may not be real, but for something unreal, it has a surprising amount of staying power. He knows that seeing Lucifer as Sam will never be something he can talk to his brother about, for the same reason Sam never talks about those hundred Tuesdays where Dean died over and over again: it hits too close to home, it strikes too many chords. It may be an illusion, but it is exacting in its cruelty.
Dean follows the trail Gwen took, and he can almost pretend he's on a nature hike instead of a hunt. He runs into other hikers and campers, and he shows them ID and tells them to get out of here, there's been a rabid wolf sighted in the area. He leaves them to panic and argue with each other, and continues on his way, keeping an eye out for tall shadows between the trees, keeping an ear out for crazed laughter.
He runs into fewer and fewer people the deeper into the woods he goes, but still no monster. It's going on 2 p.m. and the quality of sunlight has changed from the crispness of morning to the oppressive heat of the afternoon. Dean shrugs off his jacket, and allows himself a fifteen minute stop to wolf down a sandwich and check the map. There's an X where Gwen reappeared, and best-guesstimates of where the other hikers vanished. He considers his own position, and thinks maybe he should head south.
He checks the time again. If Dean can kill this thing before the sun goes down, he can probably make it to Sam before tomorrow.
Dean stops in his tracks when he smells tobacco, tightening his grip on his gun.
Didn't Sam say something about tobacco? Shit, Dean should have called him back. What else did Sam say? Red eyes? There's no reception out here and no time to call Sam if there were. Something crunches underfoot a few yards away and Dean has his gun out in an instant.
There is something lithe and dark that flickers behind the trees. A grunting sound, could be human, could be animal. Wendigo? Werewolf? Sidhe? He can't quite focus on the darting shape. The smell of tobacco becomes uncommonly strong, prickling his nostrils, but he steels himself. Dean Winchester has been to Hell and back, and he's not afraid of whateverthefuck monster you put in front of him.
“Come out into the open, shitbag!” Dean yells.
It's not a monster that steps out.
The man is dressed in jeans, a frayed blue shirt, and a military surplus jacket. He's all scruffed up, and the look in his eyes gives off the impression of permanent intoxication. “Hi, Dean.”
Dean stares. “Cas?”
Castiel from 2014 raises his eyebrows, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. “Did you miss me?” he asks, and then he throws his head back and laughs.
The year 2014 clings to him now, roiling behind Dean's eyelids and under his ribs: it is everywhere, having climbed out of his memories to diffuse through the air. Castiel's eyes flash red, and Dean feels himself pulled in like a moth to the flame, has to tell himself to resist resist resist.
Cas steps forward and Dean takes a step back.
“You're not Cas,” Dean manages, but it's hard to say the words, and harder still to believe them. Of course the man in front of him is Cas. Why wouldn't he be? (THIS IS NOT CAS, he reminds himself.)
“Who else would I be?” Cas asks, wide-eyed. Dean fires two rounds at point-blank range and somehow misses. The bullets sink harmlessly into a tree.
Dean takes out the knife, and Castiel says, almost pityingly, “Dean, put that away.”
“I don't do requests,” Dean says through gritted teeth, and lunges forward to gut the creature, but he ends up tumbling into the dirt because suddenly Cas is gone. When Dean looks up, the angel is walking off the trail, weaving between the shadows with a bizarre and ponderous swagger.
“Cas?” Dean calls out, panicked that it's not Cas, panicked that it might be.
Castiel pauses and glances over his shoulder. “What are you waiting for, Dean?” He smiles around his cigarette. “Come on.”
“Where the hell do you think you're going?”
“I have something to show you. Come with me.”
And Dean knows he should say no, he should end this fucker right here and now, but he can't, because it's Cas, but no, no no, it's not Cas, and Dean should kill it. He shouldn't be following it anywhere.
“Dean,” Cas says again, with the gravely tone of the Castiel who hasn't fallen, and the impish smile of the one who has.
Dean deflates, and he doesn't mean what he says next (or so he'll tell himself later), it's just the monster's mojo. But that doesn't change the fact that he says: “Okay.”
On his last day in 2014, Dean woke up at dawn when his future self nudged him with his boot.
He blinked blearily into consciousness, and realized that the uncomfortable weight on his stomach was Cas, contentedly asleep using his belly for a pillow. Future Dean gave them a smarmy “this is so cute I could puke” smirk, then toed Cas awake, a little harder, before going off to do whatever it was that tyrannical douchebags do when they're preparing to kill the devil.
When Risa announced a ten minute ETD, Dean saw Cas and Future Dean caught in a hushed argument some distance away. Dean wasn't close enough to hear, but he took in Cas's tired expression, his crossed arms, and general air of disinterest as Future Dean hissed some angry lecture. Occasionally Cas tried to get a word in, but Future Dean would interrupt him, and Cas'd look down at the ground, up at the sky, anywhere else but at his fearless leader.
Eventually Cas put his hand on Future Dean's shoulder and said something that shut him right up. It was the first time Dean saw his future self look like he felt sorry for anything, and maybe he was even going to say something in reply, but then Cas turned around and left.
“Lover's tiff?” Dean asked when Cas fell in step with him.
Cas just rolled his eyes.
Halfway to the sanitarium, Dean asked – more for small talk than anything else, more to reach out to to the ex-angel, who was the only one here who knew him – “So, hunting the devil. You think we're gonna live to tell this tale?”
It was meant to be a joke, but Cas stopped in his tracks and turned to look at Dean with a considering expression on his face. Dean stopped too, uneasy. That was another thing: when this Castiel deliberated instead of simply reacting, it was a warning sign.
Cas said, “I guess you will.”
Castiel walks with a strange uneven gait. He moves fast even though the trees grow densely this far off the trail. There isn't as much light, and the shadows are full of tricks: sometimes Cas's arms appear longer than a human's should, sometimes it looks like Cas's legs are bent the wrong way. Sometimes Dean loses him between the trees, only to have Cas materialize beside him and laugh as he slams Dean against a tree.
“I'm glad you're coming along,” Cas says, restraining him with minimal effort as Dean writhes in his grip. “I'm glad you're here with me.”
“Fuck you, you son of a bitch,” Dean spits out. “I'm going to end you.”
“You haven't yet,” Cas says, and he kind of has a point.
They've been walking through the woods for a few hours now, and the more they walk, the more Dean loses things. The world slides away from him: he can't remember what that hiker said about this creature, he can't remember what Sammy said about it, about Cas. He can barely remember why he should want to kill Cas instead of following him, but Dean fights to keep the impulse alive. He knows it's important somehow, and it throbs dully in his chest – kill Cas kill Cas kill Cas – over and over again until the syllables lose their meaning, stubborn but confused.
Dean doesn't put things off, and he isn't sure why he hasn't pulled the gun on Castiel by now, why he hasn't taken out his knife and stabbed him. This isn't even the real Casti... But then Cas glances over his shoulder and gives him a stilted grin, and Dean is pulled along like a dog on a leash, his weapons untouched.
On and on they go, with Cas too quick for him and Dean discombobulated as he finds himself urged forward by an easy word, held back with a casual shove, pushed against a tree, pushed down to the ground as Cas laughs delightedly at Dean's struggle to escape.
“Aren't I your friend?” Cas chuckles, pinning Dean's wrists to the dirt. “The future is now, Dean. You shouldn't be afraid of it. You shouldn't be afraid of me.”
“Fuck you, you fucking bastard, fuck you, I'm gonna--” Dean curses desperately.
“Are you afraid?” Cas asks.
His face is inches from Dean's and Dean is calling him all sorts of names, when Castiel kisses him, warm and feather-light.
In 2014, the morning lost its chill as the sun rose steadily higher.
“What do you mean, you guess I will?” Dean demanded.
Cas adjusted the strap of his gun. “We gotta make sacrifices, right?” he said hesitantly, as if he found the words unwieldy, as if he was just parroting someone else. Dean thought of Cas's argument with Future Dean, and wondered if Cas was parroting him.
Then Risa trudged past and told them to get a move on, so they did, because when Risa told you to do something, you did it.
Back in the present, up in the mountains, Dean will wonder: where is Risa in 2009? How is she doing right now? Is she healthy? Is she happy?
He will walk through the woods with the future leaking out of his head, and the long shadows will continue to play tricks on him because in the oncoming twilight, sometimes Cas's silhouette will appear to shift, and Dean will see not his friend's face, but something wilder and elongated and dark. Cas will open his mouth and Dean will think he can hear the cries of the dead, unless those are just regular woodland critters. Yeah. Critters.
And always, always: the gray stench of tobacco. The smoke gathers around Cas's head like a halo, and Dean will wonder if he'll be able to get the smell out of his clothes.
Dean lies stunned on the ground, frozen.
Castiel doesn't close his eyes as he kisses him. He watches Dean like he's waiting for a reaction, and the reaction Dean gives him is a violent jerk and a box to the ear. Cas falls off, and immediately Dean is on top of him, furious and hurt and holding a knife to his throat.
Somehow it's this kiss that breaks through the veil. Dean remembers everything: why he is here, why he should kill this creature right the hell now, how it is not Cas because Cas is off in Babylon or something, and how he still needs to get back home to Sam.
He really should've called Sam back.
“I'm gonna string you up and beat the living crap out of you, I swear to fucking god,” Dean hisses.
Castiel makes a face as if genuinely offended. “Dean, don't you know who I am?”
“I don't fucking care anymore. Take it to your grave, mirrorverse.”
“Even if I weren't Castiel,” the creature says, “how do you know that knife will work on me?”
Dean replies, “I'll take my chances.”
And there is something in Cas's tone that makes Dean hesitate, something pleading and ominous. Cas's eyes glow a faint red, just around the blue of his irises. Oh shit, Dean thinks, and feels his tenuous grip on reality shift.
“Am I just going to be something else you sacrifice?” Cas almost sounds disappointed.
“What?” The words catch on a blurred memory, but before Dean can force it into clarity, Cas says:
“We gotta make sacrifices, right?”
2014 rushes back to him, and in his mind's eye, there is Cas weighed down by guns and mortality, and there is Cas lying under him with his fingernails digging into Dean's back, there is Cas crunching down on pills and when Dean kissed him later he'd tasted like a fucking pharmacy. There is Cas, that final morning, with an air of resigned loyalty about him that only made sense later, when Dean found out his future self planned to lead them all to slaughter.
If you can't change yourself, then what can you change? If you can't control your own future, then what do you control? Dean promised himself to never become that hollow man from 2014, he swore. When he said to Castiel, “Don't ever change,” he was talking to himself too.
“Dean,” Cas cuts across his thoughts, “don't you recognize me?”
What a stupid question. Of course he does. This is Castiel. Cas, who gripped him tight and raised him from perdition, who defied the will of Heaven and killed his brothers, who did all of it for Dean.
Dean sits up and removes the knife from Cas's throat.
Cas's cabin in Camp Chitaqua smelled like the morning after: the sour smell of spilled booze, stale smoke, and the musk of sex. It stank, in other words, but Dean was comfortable here, away from the surreality of the world outside. He understood, perhaps, why Cas preferred to be away from it also.
There was a part of Dean that was still surprised at how easy this felt, like maybe he had just forgotten about it and had to be reminded by Cas trailing kisses along his shoulders. Remember this? It was like looking at one of those Magic Eye pictures and finally, finally getting it. Everything falls into place as you see the colors raised into patterns that are almost tangible.
“So you and me,” Dean asked, afterward. “I mean, you and him. Other me.”
Cas shrugged. “Yeah.”
“Since Sam... you know.” Cas frowns. “You mean we weren't.... When Zachariah brought you here, we haven't--”
“Dude, you were like, a monk. The one time you actually came close to getting some ass, you scared it off and we had to exit through the back.”
Cas chuckled. “How things change.” He rolled over onto his stomach, and looked into Dean's eyes. There was one thing that hadn't changed at least: his habit of staring at Dean like he meant to memorize him. “So where does that leave you, when you go back?”
“What do you mean?”
“When Zachariah zaps you back to 2009. If he does.” Cas tilted his head. “Will you start this,” he gestured vaguely between them, “with me then? For all you know, maybe this trip is what started it – started us – in the first place. Zachariah zaps you up here, I seduce you – apparently – and you like it so much that you decide to try it out once you're back where you're,” Cas tensed his jaw, “where you're supposed to be.”
“This is making my head hurt,” Dean replied, because he really didn't want to think about it.
“Or what if you change the future,” Cas mused, “and avert all this. No croats, no living in shitty camps, Sam's still with you, I still have a stick up my ass... What if you stop everything, and the me right here right now? I cease to exist, and you're stuck in another timeline with a Castiel who doesn't want you back.”
Dean raised his eyebrows. “If this is the only world where you'd ever want me, then I'm not sure we're meant to be, sweetheart.”
“I hate this,” Cas muttered, looking down. “I hate seeing time in only four dimensions. I don't understand it anymore.”
“What?” Cas sighed, but he obeyed, shifting closer to Dean and sliding an arm across his waist. Sliding his whole body over him until Dean was trapped between Cas and the bed, Cas's hands pressed into the mattress on either side of Dean's head. He looked at Dean as if he were something to be figured out, and Dean could see desire pooling in Cas's eyes again, in the way he parted his lips and wet them in anticipation.
“Come here,” Dean whispered.
Cas lowered his head and his mouth tasted of vicodin and beer.