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Whumptober 2021

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There’s been half a dozen similar stories in the past few months: a child trafficking ring in a state up north was busted and all the men holding the children were discovered either dead or comatose; an abusive father of two young girls was dropped off at the steps of a police station, reduced to a drooling crippled mess; an anonymous call about a factory with underage workers, and when the authorities arrived they found the teenagers huddled in the corner and the burnt, sightless body of the boss under the desk.

“He saved us,” the teenagers were quoted as saying in the article. Similar words used in the most recent news where a local gang that was using eighth graders to sell their drugs was uncovered in the same mysterious pattern. “It was this man...he just came in like the wind,” said Timothy Grant, one of the 14 year olds who was a runaway that had been promised protection by the gang but was then forbidden to contact his parents. “Everyone who ever hurt us was….gone. And he said we could go home now.”

Sam closes the laptop with a sigh. The descriptions in the reports vary, but there are always a few that are consistent: a man with inhuman speed, and the glowing light that either destroys the evildoer or heals the injured. It could be a rogue angel, or one of Chuck’s little comebacks like Lilith.

He ignores the other option, the faint suspicion niggling in the back of his mind.

No. It can't be.

Whoever it is, he’s finally close to finding them. They’ve been smart; security footage has shown that they change cars frequently. The most recent one was a blue pickup truck left under an overpass in the next town. Sam has been staying in the area, checking headlines and talking with local police to see if they’ve seen anyone with a penchant for dispensing judgement on those who hurt the innocents. Like some kind of vigilante, Sam thinks as he pulls up a few feet away from the dark outline of the barn. He got a call from the lady at the diner across from the motel he’s been staying at, saying her friend saw something outside the abandoned Miller farm. It’s probably nothing, but he's here to check, just to be sure.

The first floor of the barn is empty but Sam knows that someone’s definitely here. There’s a flicker of light in the loft above and the muffled sound of grunting. Sam puts the flashlight in his mouth and ascends the ladder carefully. He keeps one hand free and on the hilt of the angel blade in his jacket. As he gets closer to the top he sees a pair of black shoes and the bare, bloodied feet of another man tied to a chair. The man with shoes has his back to him; he looms over the seated man, one hand pinning his shoulder against the spine of the chair.

Sam reaches the last rung of the ladder in time to clearly see the standing man shove his hand into the other’s chest. Light swirls around the invasion, blazing and white-hot, before he withdraws his hand. The man in the chair slumps back, eyes blank and jaw slack.

He knows who it is even before he turns around. He always knew, in a way. “Cas?”

Cas glances back at him with a twinge of surprise in his eyes before he turns back around. “Sam.”

Sam steps closer to the man in the chair. His fingers are still close to the angel blade in his jacket. “Is-Is he dead?”

“No.” Cas keeps his back to him, folding up a map on the wooden table at his side. He sounds strange. Frigid. “That would be a mercy he doesn’t deserve.”

“W-What are you doing?”  

“Recharging.”

“No, I mean--that’s not--” Sam rubs a hand over his face. “You’ve been doing all of this? All those people--you killed--why, Cas, why are you doing this?” He knew Cas must be devastated after Jack’s death, after Chuck’s betrayal, and some kind of subsequent fallout with Dean, but the reality of what he's been doing still feels like being hit by a tank.

“I’m saving people. Children,” he adds.

So it is about Jack. “Cas,” Sam moves closer, trying to sound placating. He puts a hand on Cas’ shoulder. “I know losing Jack wasn’t easy. I miss him too but this isn't--”

Cas whirls around, eyes burning blue, and Sam finds himself being hurled across the room, crashing into the wooden boards of the wall before landing hard on the ground. He gasps, trying to find his breath, and looks up to see Cas hovering above him, palm outstretched, face wreathed in fury. There’s a slight pressure on Sam’s shoulders; he’s not being pinned to the wall, but it’s enough to tells him that he absolutely will be if he tries to move.

“C-Cas?” Sam breathes. Maybe he's possessed, maybe Chuck is controlling him. He has to get through to him before it's too late. "It's just me."

“Don’t talk about Jack that way,” Cas says, voice low and lethal. “I know what you did. He told me everything.”

“What are you talking about?”

The shadows darken around Cas’ face. “You prayed to him. He was locked in that box because he answered your prayer.”

Oh. This isn't someone else manipulating Cas, this is really him. Sam feels the tug of shame sloshing in his gut but he brushes it aside and instead makes a faint attempt to rise, only to feel the firm nudge of being pushed back. “Look, I know it wasn’t the best thing to do, Cas, but there was no other way, Jack was dangerous, and he--”

“Did you even try to find another way?” Cas snaps. “You fought fiercely to keep Dean from his fate in that box. Yet you were ready to condemn Jack to an eternity of that same fate without a second thought.”

Sam swallows hard. He tries to remember all the mental gymnastics he did to convince himself why Jack had to go in there, but Cas is still talking. “Do you know why other angels don’t usually answer prayers? Because it makes us vulnerable. It’s not considered a wise strategic move because it calls an angel, by name, to a specific place. There’s no time to scope out the destination for danger or to evaluate the potential risks.” He moves in closer, towering above him. “Or if it’s going to be an ambush.”

“I’m sorry, Cas.” He really is. “We didn’t handle it right, and I wish to Go-” he catches himself. “I wish Jack was still here so he could know how sorry I am. But Cas…what you’re doing isn’t right either. You must know that.”

The eerie glow of Cas’ eyes pierce through the night. “You know, when the Bunker’s alarms went off, it wasn’t just because Jack was trying to break out of the box. I could hear him. He was screaming. The same way he was screaming when….” the light in his eyes suddenly dims and Cas’ hand drops back to his side.

The pressure on Sam yields abruptly and he immediately leans forward, gulping for air. He knows what Cas didn’t say; the sight of Jack collapsing in that graveyard, crying out as searing light ruptured from him, still frequents Sam’s own nightmares. “I’m sorry,” he repeats, useless as the words are. “It wasn’t--”

“I loved him.” Cas isn’t looking at him now; he’s focused on some distant point above his head, blinking hard. “You have no idea how much Jack meant to me, how much I--” his voice catches and he turns away. In between the shafts of light Sam can see his jaw working, the bob of his throat and clench of his fist as Cas struggles to compose himself. A cold, sickly way of guilt washes over Sam and he feels almost nauseous. Every excuse and reasoning dries up on his tongue.

After a minute Cas glances back at him, his expression once more glacial. “You and Dean have each other. Don’t come looking for me again.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

When Castiel opens his eyes light comes streaming into his face, momentarily blinding him. All he can make out is the silhouette of Dean Winchester towering over him.

“Get up,” comes the brittle command.

Castiel makes no move, trying to remember how and why he’s stuffed into this small space as his eyes blink and notice the darkness around him. The back of his head is throbbing, but before he can piece his thoughts together he feels himself being yanked out of the trunk of the car.  The sound of silver rattling pulls at his attention and he notices the Enochian cuffs around his wrists. He lifts his head he comes face to face with the copper muzzle of a rifle. It’s one of Bobby’s weapons, brought back from the Apocalypse World. Filled with angel-killing bullets.

It comes back to him now. The pearl. The spell. Sam and Dean. John. Mary. He feels the ache of cuts on his neck and arms, most likely from the fight back at the Bunker. They don’t seem too serious, but with the cuffs on he can’t heal them.

Dean’s finger lightly grazes the trigger. “Walk.” He nods towards the wooded area behind them.

One careless move on Dean’s part and Castiel will try to stop him with something non-lethal like knocking him unconscious; one wrong move on Castiel’s part, though, and he’ll be dead. Or dead faster than he’s already going to be.

So he walks. The gun digs into the back of his neck as Dean follows behind him. Low-hanging leaves slap against Castiel’s face and branches scratch at his cheeks but he keeps moving and hoping that Mary isn’t also marching to her death with the younger Winchester. He hopes she managed to overpower Sam and recite the undoing spell. Back at the Bunker he had reached for her when she’d  fallen down, and it was that moment of taking his eyes off Dean that had lead to the blow on the back of his head.

After walking for about a mile Dean issues another command: “Stop.” He pivots Castiel roughly with a hand on his shoulder and levels an icy glare on him. “You know, I should have killed you back at the Bunker. You come after my brother, you tell me my dad doesn’t belong here--my own father--and then try to brainwash my mom into thinking you’re part of our family?”

“Dean, it’s not--”

A hand slams over his mouth and Castiel finds himself being shoved up against the nearest tree, rough bark scraping against his spine. “But then I realized my dad was right,” Dean goes on, hot breath in his face. “He always is, you know. Creatures like you never learn. I need to send them a warning message. I want them to find you here and know what we do to monsters like you.”

Dean reaches into his pocket and pulls out the keys for the cuffs.  For a second Castiel is foolish enough to think the spell is broken, but as soon as Dean tosses them aside he steps back and points the gun towards the ground at their feet. “Dig.”

“Dean, just listen to me--dig what?”

A slow smile snakes up one side of Dean’s face. “Your grave.”

Castiel stares at him, disbelieving.

The gun slants downward and Dean fires. Pain rips up Castiel’s lower left leg and he collapses to the ground, biting back a yelp of agony.

“Dig,” Dean repeats. “Now.”

The dirt gets stuck in clumps under his fingernails; orange and black beetles scurry between the ruptured earth and sharp pieces of rock cut into his fingertips but Castiel digs and digs and tries not to pray. It takes every ounce of control inside him not to think of Jack, not to think Jack I’m so sorry Jack please don’t hate him. If Jack comes here to his rescue Castiel is going to have to watch his son be murdered and he’d rather die a hundred times than witness that. So he focuses his thoughts towards those he knows cannot hear him: Sam. Mary. Dean, even. You mustn’t blame yourself, he thinks as the earth caves under his fingers. You didn’t know it was me.

“Enough,” Dean finally says, kicking his hand aside.

Castiel starts to stand up. It’s a wobbly ascent with the wound in his leg but he manages to get upright by leaning a hand on the tree beside him. “Dean, please, think about it, you don’t--”

Dean cocks the gun. “Kneel.” His voice is rigid, absolute; his green eyes bright as a blade.

Castiel studies Dean carefully. He can see the gleam of an angle blade tucked in the back of his pants and the distinct outline of another inside his jacket. The Winchester is armed to kill a whole horde of angels. If Castiel did manage to knock the gun out of his hand he would still be killed immediately. With his injured leg running away isn’t even an option.

His knees bend slowly. When he hits the ground the wet grass soaks into his pants legs. “Dean.” He looks up, putting all his hope behind that word. “Just listen. You have to believe me.”

The flash of brass knuckles fills his vision before they connect against his cheek violently. The taste of blood floods his mouth.

“Don’t you fucking look at me,” Dean spits. “Scum.”

Castiel bows his head. He’s said everything he could, begged in every language of the heart, and nothing has been able to get through to Dean. This is going to be the end, and the knowledge of that almost takes his breath away. “Dean,” he gasps, keeping his head down. “Wait. One last thing, and it’s not about me. There’s a boy named Jack. You might meet him and not remember him, but he’s just a child.” A sob breaks over his lips. “Please, please don’t hurt him. He’s not human but he’s not evil. He’s your family.”

“Liar.” Dean crouches down and tips Castiel’s chin up with the tip of the gun. “I already have my family right with me, and I’ll get rid of anything and anyone that tries to get between them.”  

“I forgive you,” Castiel whispers hoarsely. If Dean gets out from under this spell and realizes what’s he’s done Castiel wants him to remember that, more than anything.

Dean laughs, a sharp, cruel sound. “I thought only God can forgive sins.” His finger moves to the trigger. “Not that I want His mercy anyways.”

Castiel shuts his eyes. He doesn’t want the bitter disgust in Dean’s eyes to be the last thing he sees. He thinks of Jack, of the boy’s young soft smile, and prays. Jack. I’m sorry. I love you so much.

A heavy sound echoes through the woods, but it’s not a gunshot. Castiel opens his eyes to see the tall blurry form of Sam at the side. He's pinning a shouting Dean to the ground and reciting a string of words.

The undoing spell.

Then there’s movement to his left and before he can turn around Mary is kneeling in front of Castiel, her hands grazing over his leg and then the lump of her jacket presses over the gushing wound.

“Cas? Cas, oh my god, are you alright?”

“Mary.” He gazes into her eyes, bright with worry and not a trace of hate. “Mary.”  His lungs finally release a breath of air and he leans forward and buries his face in her shoulder.

Mary gathers him into her arms. “I’m here. I'm here,” she repeats, rocking slightly back and forth. “It’s over.” She keeps her arms tightly wrapped around him, a promise to never let go.

 

Chapter Text

 

Ghouls don’t normally travel in packs. They also don’t normally leave the remains of their kills lying out in the open, but maybe overconfidence is another side effect of being juiced up on archangel grace. Claire takes a deep breath, wiping away the blood on her cheek with her shoulder, and tightens her grip on the blade in her hand. She can think of more than a couple of choice swear words to call one Michael not-of-this-world (in more ways than one) but she keeps them in her head because Jody is coming up right behind her.

“You good?”

Claire nods. “Yeah. Let’s just get this done with.” Her back twinges with the ache of too many sleepless nights and too little brief naps in the back seat of the car. She’s been chasing this pack across three states, and was gone from home long enough that Jody started to worry ; when she eventually caught up to Claire it didn’t take much to convince her to let her join. Sam and Dean are off dealing with Other Michael and she hasn’t heard from Cas in awhile. Last time he texted he was on a case in a city nearby, looking for some kind of angelic weapon. She messaged him about joining her, and he said he was on his way, but that was several days ago and nothing since. Probably got wrapped up in Winchester problem #384 again.

Jody twirls her machete and nods towards the dilapidated farm house in front of them, where moving shadows are gathering into a charge towards them. “Shall we?”

By the time the limbs stop flailing and heads stop flying, Claire feels just about ready to collapse and join the bodies littered across the straw-strewn floor. There’s a jagged scratch down her arm that’s bleeding sluggishly and her thumb is broken on the left hand but the ghouls are finally dead. Every last one of them.

Until she hears a low smacking sound coming from the darkened corner of the barn, behind the pile of wooden planks. Jody is still pulling her machete out of one of the ghoul’s neck, and she gives her a quick nod of acknowledgement before Claire rushes over to the corner, blade held high. The ghoul sits crouched on it’s heels, it’s ashen face smeared with blood as it digs into the body in front of it. Long, thick, pulpy intestines spill from the shredded torso, and the ghoul tries to slurp up one last string of rubbery flesh but Claire’s sword meets his neck first. His jaw slackens and his open-mouthed expression goes rolling across the floor with his head.

“There,” Claire exhales.

Her eyes fall to the half-eaten body at her feet. The fabric of the victim’s clothes is barely distinguishable from the blood soaking them from head to toe. Several of the toes have been reduced to chewed-up stumps and the flesh has been ripped off the legs, exposing the femur. From the giant cavity in the chest she can see the rib cage exposed and little pools of blood still spurting noiselessly.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers, looking at the teeth marks in the neck and the mangled face--wide sightless eyes--and--

The machete drops out of her hand, landing with a soft thunk in the hay.

Claire tries to take a step back and instead her knees hit the ground. She hears herself screaming.  

“What’s wrong?” Jody’s footsteps hurry over. “What happened, are you hurt? Did it get to you?”

Claire’s body folds in on itself and the only thing that answers is another scream.

“Claire--” Jody’s voice comes closer, one hand on either shoulder. “Talk to me, what--” The sheriff sucks in a breath and then exhales a small, terrified “no.”

Jody’s seen it. She’s seen him--Cas--lying there, half-eaten, organs  sprawled across the floor. Claire can’t even feel her jaw anymore but she still screams again and again as she is pulled against a warm chest, arms clutching her close.

She jerks out of the embrace and crawls over to the body, as if the magnitude of her voice can reverse time. Can wipe the puddles of blood off the floor. Can make those cold eyes blink. Can make him send one of those ridiculous indecipherable texts with too many emoticons. Can bring that awkward half smile back to his face.

Jody grasps at her, trying to pull her back, and she wrenches away. “P-please,” she gasps, face flattened against the itchy floorboards. “Please, please, please, please,” is the only prayer she can pray right now.

The shadow of Jody falls over her and Claire remains bowed to the ground, immobile. She wonders if she can ever move again; if Jody will have to cut around the wooden boards to carry her away from here.

Then a small shudder of breath makes her pause.

”Claire,” Jody says, disbelief evident in her own voice. “He’s not dead.”

Claire keeps her eyes shut. That image of him is already tattooed into her brain.

“I can feel a pulse,” Jody goes on. “I don’t know--how?”

“Please, please” Claire repeats numbly. If God was ever going to grant her one mercy in life this is the one. She’ll never ask for anything else again.

Then. “Claire?”

It can’t be. It’s just a memory of what he sounds like; how he’d always say her name when leaving voice messages even though it was obviously her number.

Jody’s fingers brush against her hair. “Just look.”.

Claire lifts her head slowly, blinking to clear the blur of red in her misty eyes. She finds herself face to face with two blinking blue eye.  

“Claire.” His swollen lips part. “C-”

She whips her head towards Jody to make sure she’s seeing this too. That this isn’t some hallucination of grief, that she isn’t dreaming somewhere in one of the Bunker’s bedrooms. Jody nods. Her face is wet but smiling.

Cas sucks in a wheezing breath. “C-Can you help me?”

That's when Claire starts to cry.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

8 minutes, 30 seconds

 

Mary clutches at the iron bars of the cage, shaking them back and forth so hard her bones rattle along with the motion. Nothing happens, of course, but she’s not going to just sit there and wait to be blown up. Across the room Castiel has struggled into a half-sitting up position and is similarly tugging in vain at the metal contraption around his legs. The silver bars are twisted from his feet to up and over his knees, keeping him pinned in place.  

They pause for a moment, at the same time, both looking and not looking at each other. They know this won’t work. No matter what they do,  they’re going to die here.

Then they go back to pulling and straining their tired arms anyways.

 

7 minutes, 12 seconds

 

“This is the fun part, you see,” Ketch said, holding up a small black remote in his hands. “Yes, I saw you nick my pocketknife, Mary, but what you’re in isn’t some shoddy pair of American handcuffs. This is the only thing that open the cage, dear, but you'll never reach it.”

“Let us go,” Mary growled. “Or my sons will find you and that’ll be much worse for you.”

“Oh, trust me, it doesn’t get much worse than this. Hope keeps a man a live, but it’s quite the experience to watch it starve right before your eyes.” He placed the remote control down on the table beside the ticking timer and then glanced at his watch. “I really must be going. Wouldn’t want to be caught in a lethal explosion, now would we?”

“Mary.” Castiel’s voice breaks her reprieve. “Throw me the pocketknife.”

 

6 minutes, 01 seconds

 

“That won’t work,” she says after several seconds of watching Castiel stabbing at the metal rods around his legs.  “I think…it’s welded to the floor.”

“It appears so.” His voice is strangely calm but taunt. He stops the hopeless attempt and stares at the small blade. From the firm set of his jaw and the quiet look of acceptance in his eyes she understands that this is the part where they say goodbye. He’s going to say something like he did in that barn with Ramiel, except this time there’s no one to fight for them and no one to save them at the last minute.

She decides to beat him to the speech. “Castiel.” The softness in her voice makes him look up. “Sam and Dean, they think of you as family. They love you.” Tears burn against her eyelids but she carries on. “And I do too.”

He nods. “I know. That’s why we’re going to get out of here and get back to them.” His voice is so steady that it's frightening. As if he knows something she doesn't.

Castiel turns his attention back to his legs and starts using the pocketknife to rip his pants legs open.

“How--what--what are you doing?”

He doesn’t answer.

5 minutes

 

She finally figures it out when he finishes cutting away the last of the pants fabric above his knees.  “Castiel. Cas," she repeats when he ignores her. "You can’t--you can't do that.”

He gives her with a weak smile. “It’s okay, Mary. They’ll grow back.”

“Are you sure?”

“We’re going to get out of here,” is all he says. His hands move quickly, peeling off his overcoat and then stuffing it into his mouth. He risks a glance in her direction, a brief second that lasts much too long, before he raise the pocketknife high and then drives it down into his leg.  

“Don’t!” She hears herself cry out too late. The single syllable is instantly drowned in red.

Blood spurts out, spraying every which way like a cheap horror movie shot but it’s real, slick and dark and gurgling across the linoleum floor. The thin silver glint of the blade flashes up and down, echoing against the sound of wet flesh sucking and splitter. The folds of the coat stuffed into Castiel's mouth darken with saliva drooling out from clenched teeth; the fabric mutes the sound but not the flex of his throat or the bulge of his eyes as he screams and screams.

Mary clamps a hand over her mouth and feels the shape of her dropped jaw. She slams her body against the bars, like she can force her skin to pass through the iron and bring her to reach him. The crack of bone pierces through her skull and Castiel’s shoulders jerk back violently, almost throwing him flat on his back. He struggles up again, his hand hesitating in the air for only a second before he brings the knife down into his other leg.

She stops breathing at the screech of the second bone snapping.

Castiel flops over onto his belly. The coat falls from his slackened jaw and he stares at her with wide, blood-streaked pupils. His torso smears a thick river of red across the rom as he drags himself forward on his elbows. Mary. His lips form the word but only a rush of crimson bubbles pour out. 

She reaches out a hand to him, stretching until she feels the metal cutting into her arm pit.

When Castiel gets to the table in the middle it takes him a few tries to be able to push himself up enough to grab the remote. As soon as his thumb hits the button and the click resounds Mary bursts out, scrambling so fast she collapses on all fours before rising up to run and then dropping back down her knees in front of him.

“Cas, Cas, Cas,” she chants frantically, hands hovering all over but not touching him, not sure where to land where it won’t cause him agony. From the corner of her eyes she sees the neon numbers on the explosive sitting in the middle of the room.

 

2 minutes, 33 seconds.

 

Her body kicks into action immediately. She gathers him up in her arms and flees, bare feet charging across the white hallways and colliding into every corner as she swerves sharply. The shrill beeping of the bomb is on her heels, growing louder with every second until it feels like it’s clawing at her ankles. Her jeans feel damp and she wonders if she got hurt somehow before she realizes that Castiel's severed stumps are still pouring out blood.

They’re just a few meters away from the flashing neon EXIT sign when the air suddenly inhales sharply and then collapses.

Mary ducks, curling her body around Castiel as they are hurled into the wall.

 

0:00

 

When the shrill ringing finally dims and her eyes clear, she finds herself still breathing. That’s the first good sign. Swiping the dust from her face she glances around and sees patches of green and blue in the distance. The outside. The world they’d been shut off to for weeks, one she thought they’d never see again.

She hears a shuddering gasp beside her and looks down to see Castiel slowly untangling himself from her body, neck craned back and nostrils flared, straining to breathe. The shredded flaps of his thigh skin slide across her lap as she clings to him while trying to hold onto the wall and stand up.

“Don’t let go,” she breathes, keeping one arm tightly around him. “Stay with me.” Her eyes run quickly over the rubble around them until she spies a rifle lying under a cracked boulder. She has no idea who or what’s awaiting them when they step out but she’s not going to give them any mercy. The weapon is still loaded, and she braces it between her bruised palms. “Cas? Are you okay?”

He nods against her chest. “Wait.” He shifts back and forth and then heaves himself around to hang over her shoulders, arms looped around her neck. From his right sleeve he draws his angel blade and brandishes it boldly. “Let’s go home,” he says, blood-stained teeth chattering.

Her feet carry her forward, stepping around crushed glass and broken stone. Her pants are drowned in blood, turning stiff in the broad sunlight. Castiel has one arm wrapped around her neck so tightly it's almost choking her. Every time he exhales blood dribbles from his lips, making sticky lines trail down her spine. Her heart hammers like a cymbal, reverberating loud enough to break her ribs but she keeps walking. They’re getting out of here, and they’re getting out alive.