Genre: gen, not actually crack
Characters: Sam (POV), Castiel, Cain, Dean (sort of), bees
Rating: PG-13 for some body horror
Word Count: ~2400
Summary: Sam comes to Cain for assistance as Dean loses out to the mark. Cain devises an unexpected solution.
1. To be raised from perdition, made anew, reconstructed with new skin.
2. To be raised from perdition, made anew, reconstructed in the image of hymenoptera; that is, bees.
Cain takes one look at Sam, the body draped over him and, Sam's sure, the inscrutable presence of the angel adjacent. He puts down his smoker and removes his beekeeper's veil.
"Millenia in Heaven and earth. You'd think I'd have learned to expect disappointment."
"No," Sam insists. He'd planned to come without words; and if he'd found any, he'd planned to shout them. But this comes out quiet. He's not sure what he's even objecting to anymore. But he holds. "No."
He and Cain find themselves at an impasse then, Cain having lost interest and Sam having lost his direction. Wind hisses through Cain's lindens and Sam puffs his hair out of his mouth.
Then Dean starts to slip from Sam's shoulder, a betrayal of inertia, and Sam loses his resolve on top of everything else. It funnels downward and gurgles at the back of Sam's mind, like the last of a storm circling the drain. He stands before Cain with nothing, nothing at all, and waits for something to happen. They are Sam and Dean Winchester, and something is bound to happen, damn it. It would be cruel for that curse to desert them now.
But it's just Cain, and the thrumming, unsettling harmony of his bees and their trees.
Sam hears a rustle of clothing, air, wings, whatever as Cas moves to catch (Dean, catch everything, who knows), but it's impermissible. There's a sonic moan as the air twists between them, and Cas steps back. He can't touch Dean now; Dean's too far gone. There were rules scarred into the universe when Cain received his mark, and Castiel's participation is impermissible. He is an Angel of the Lord, and there's no escaping that.
"So I don't know why you're here," Cain says, as he opens his hives and restacks them, each box at a diagonal from the last, and checks his frames. There's no escaping any of this.
But then Cain says, Come in.
He says, Of course, this isn't the outcome I had in mind. As though Dean were a fucking math problem.
"Sam, pointless anger"--and he rebuilds his hive, sweeps its dead out, removes the wire mouseguard at the bottom--"is unbecoming."
Sam releases the tension in his fists. Cain leads them to a shed. There's a stack of crates where they're welcome to put Dean's body.
Sam stares at him. He doesn't process Cain's words, that murky shade of devil's hospitality.
Sam stares, and he makes no move. Fate swept them up and crushed their bones and Sam will be damned if it's going to lie them fallow now. The world has never been this quiet around them. It is not allowed.
But the mark isn't burning, it isn't crackling, it doesn't burn with the all-consuming power Sam's certain got them here, here at the end of the road, a dead end, a burning, a burning--
"Let him go," says Sam. His hands are empty and he feels like they should be full and that's the extent of his thoughts. "Make it let him go."
The mark is docile, unremarkable keloid. It's not what needs to let go.
"Sam." It's Castiel, or Sam's pretty sure it is. Sound comes only in filtered, queer scraps. There's a humming in Sam's head.
They should be burning Dean's body. He knows that. But that's one thing Sam has never been able to do--burn that last bridge, burn those hands, that face, that heart--and he cannot do it now.
But begging did not bring him back. Waiting will not bring him back. He is not coming back.
Dean is atomizing.
The mark has a primordial power, and to the primordial its bearer returns. Sam hears it from Cas first, and doesn't really hear it. He hears it again from Cain, after a time.
("Call it an unschooled fondness," says Cain, having allowed Sam's brazen catatonia, if there is such a thing.
"Boyking," Cain prods.
After a longer time, Sam's imagination picks up the reel and starts to realize it might be true. Dean is atomizing.
Dean is atomizing.
Creation in reverse. His organs and systems, muscles and glands march across deserts and away from one another, an exodus. They individuate. Nerve clusters disentangle, striations fan out from cords of muscle. His throat pulls away from his stomach pulls away from his bowels and his fingers go dark as the heart leaves them to their own. Tendons peel into swimming ringlets on solo expeditions. Mitochondria migrate.
"Please," says Sam, Dean's hand tight in his own. It's bruised purple and choked blue, and Dean smells like sulfur and phosphorous and carbon and salt. Sam doesn't know what he's asking, has no concept of any outcome in a web of directions. It all seems too impossible.
They'd gotten a parking ticket during their confrontation with Abaddon. That crosses his mind.
Would that atomize, too?
"Cas," Sam says. But he can't look away from Dean.
It's not about Dean, exactly. He knows his brother's face and he knows his brother's body, and anything else looking won't help. The rest of Dean, now Sam will never know. But Sam can't find his own body, can't make it move. Sam just knows he's losing, and he can't tell where that loss stops, if it ever does. But it's already taken more than the body coming to compounds and elements beside him.
Cas puts a hand on Sam's shoulder and it feels like lightning. Uncontrolled energy. It's probably not the best idea, forcing grace so close to Cain's presence; though Sam figures it's not so much that Castiel's coming apart (that makes one of them) but coming unwrapped.
He's talking--Cas is--he's talking this entire time, but Sam doesn't hear any of it. He's not even sure if Cas is speaking in English.
"Hymenoptera," Castiel repeats. He grabs Sam by the shoulder and rips his hand away from Dean's. Castiel's touch burns, unbridled here in the presence of evil as it is in Hell. "That is, the bees--"
Cas has a look, an urgency, that doesn't match the words coming out of his mouth, at least as far as Sam can tell.
"What?" says Sam.
"Cain's bees," Cas insists, as though that's supposed to mean anything at all.
Castiel, naked. Just once. Naked and covered on bees. Sam remembers this well. He hopes Castiel is not planning to regress.
One time, Dean brought a girl home. Her name was Nadezhda and she danced with her ass and Sam knew she was bad news. Dean's reaction to this intel was illegible. "I don't mind bad news," he'd said after a strange pause, without bravado, focus thready or perhaps just distantly cast. It curdled Sam's gut and made him wonder what it was Dean had wanted from Nadezhda in the first place--love, or annihilation. It's a tone Sam will hear more than a few times over the next twenty years. It will estrange them. But that day, they are together. That day they watch great fistfuls of bees languish in the trees outside, where she'd walked with her hips swinging and her darkness secreting. The bees drop still, yellow carcasses onto the Impala and Sam and Dean make an equally still, yellow carcass of Nadezhda in the landlord's bathroom.
The landlord doesn't make it.
Sam makes it. Dean makes it. It's early yet; the universe has to turn, and unfortunately they are indispensable parts.
"Sam." The word shatters all the light in the room, and the light rains down in an unbrilliant tinkle of glass. Castiel is, after all, an angel. When he speaks with raw impassioned force he speaks as an angel does. His words can shatter glass.
But it's just the one bulb. There's no spectacle. Just a sputter, a tinkle, and darkness. Their story is over, and the stage hands are packing up.
"Sam," Castiel shouts, quieter. "The bees."
"What about the bees?" Sam asks, whinier than he thought he was capable of. Then something bounces of his cheek. And then off his palms, upturned and useless in his lap. Jagged remembrance races up his forearms. That's right, Castiel taking him from Dean, that's right that's right where's Dean's hand
Sam closes his fingers over a mass he just makes out, but it's just pieces, small and light and, he realizes in the darkness, just piles and piles of bees, carcasses of bees. In his mind bees become beetles, become flies, become death--and he panics. Because Dean, he needs to protect, he can't let them, he
"Sam," orders Castiel, because it's an order, isn't it. "He's gone."
"No, he's not." He'd just been holding his hand. Cool, but throbbing with a pulse. He just needs to find that hand again.
No he's not. Sam wouldn't have missed that. You don't miss something like that. You don't miss the end.
"We need to go."
And they do. And they end without an ending.
It's still light outside the barn, barely dusk. Sam would have sworn it were midnight, but there's plenty of time yet.
He watches Cain sweep great heaps of bees from out of the barn. Their honey-yellow merges with the straw and clay on the ground and they just look like piles of black, rotted autumn leaves.
Cas had tried to explain the bees to him, though Sam suspects he hadn't tried hard. He'd been technical and circuitous and above all, distracted. He's standing over Cain's piles now, scrutinizing them, and he looks lost and perplexed, too.
"Lemongrass," says Cain, offering Sam a green stalk. Sam takes it.
"Would you like to see your brother?" Cain asks.
Sam doesn't answer, but Cain says, "Good."
He says, "Follow me."
He says, when they've retired from the carcasses of bees and their mass, mounded graves and into the lindens, "He's swarming."
The lemongrass will lure him back, Cain explains. Crush it between your fingers and throw their stalks over the top frame. (He gestures to the box in--since when?--Sam's arms.)
Sam puts down the box, which smells of fresh-cut wood and beeswax, and feels wet as the lemongrass chokes between his fingers. He regards the box numbly. Sheets of honeycomb hang down in evenly spaced partitions inside it. He watches the shadow of smoke exit Cain's mouth and crawl up towards the swarm of bees in the linden.
"Dean is a bee?" Sam asks, and feels stupid. He doesn't care.
"No." No. No, Dean isn't a bee, Sam thinks. Of course; that would be ridiculous.
"Dean is the entire hive."
Of course he is.
One by one, the bees zigzag down from the tree, away from the smoke and towards Sam's lemongrass. It must take a long time, but Sam doesn't register it, not even when the sky goes dark and the bees go quiet and the sun comes up again and they're still standing there, collecting a swarm of bees Sam is supposed to believe could ever be Dean.
"Why is Dean a hive of bees," Sam asks, cadenceless. Several tongue at his hands, where he'd crushed the lemongrass.
"You couldn't let him go."
Cain's tone is not accusatory, but that's what it feels like to Sam.
"Why else would I keep them?" Which isn't an answer at all but is, perhaps, an admission of strange camaraderie. He's far from the first to hold on tight to some ridiculous thing.
The lindens are in full bloom, the bees hum, and Cain gives Sam his brother in a pine box. This is supposed to be beautiful, Sam knows. He is supposed to feel saved. He is supposed to feel that Dean is saved, that he is alive, that he is thriving. But a pine box is a pine box, and bees are not his brother.
Cas is still holding vigil over the bee mounds when they return.
"They're--" Sam begins, by way of explanation. But he stops.
"Like leaves," Cas replies. The words are harsh and tinny, as though they're being spoken from a hollow space. Cas is not his vessel, he's an angel who owns one, and he doesn't bother hiding that. Cain's is old magic, and there are no disguises here. "They're like--fall leaves. It's like watching fall leaves being collected."
"Sure, Cas." If Sam had to guess, the number of times Cas had stopped to watch fall leaves be collected had to be zero. Why would he have bothered? Sam waits with him a while, but when Castiel makes no move, Sam holds his pine box tight and leaves Cas to his own.
Cain is back inside the barn, replacing his light bulb. Sam avoids close inspection of the place where Dean's body had been and now certainly was not.
"What are the piles outside?" Sam asks Cain.
"Obviously." Sam swallows. "But if this hive is supposed to be Dean, then what are the piles outside?"
Cain gives him a withering look, which Sam parses as the succinct equivalent of educating Sam as to the relative importance of Cain's light bulb to Sam's curiosity. "Parts of Dean Winchester that your angel clearly knows well."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
Cain shrugs. "Ask your angel." He finishes with the lightbulb and climbs down from his ladder. "There's a lot inside you Winchesters that's ill-suited to survival. The hive just rooted it out."
Ill-suited to survival my ass, Sam thinks. For the first time in days, he feels the fog in his brain burning off. Up until now, survive is the one damn thing they've been able to do all this time. They've survived.
"What am I supposed to do?" Sam asks. "I mean, what-- With this, what am I--" He opens his box, but his brother doesn't climb out. He withdraws a frame, teeming with bees (with Dean?). Their humming increases in volume as Sam stands up to examine them in the light of the new, sad single bulb.
Dean puts his heads to the comb and his abdomens to the air, and he buzzes furiously. A laciniate shudder creeps up Sam's spine. "What am I supposed to do now?"
"You beekeep, Sam," says Cain, as though it were that simple. But maybe it is. Maybe this is how they win each other back. This is how they win, period. This is how they end.
Sam stares at the bees and their peculiar position. Maybe that's overeager of him. "What's he, uh. ...Is he saying anything? What is he doing?"
"He's lost," Cain says, casting a perfunctory glance toward the frame in Sam's hands. He doesn't wait for Sam's response, or even his comprehension. The bees' abdomens gyrate, thrumming and jittering like a dance so small Sam might have dreamed it.
"He's calling the rest of him home."
Weird POV. I mean, I suppose out-of-it!Sam is out of it, but mostly I'm just kind of 'eh' on the narration here.
Brief notes on this fic can be found here.