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The Lamb: Couldn't Wash the Echoes Out

The Lamb


Chapter 7. Couldn't Wash the Echoes Out

Her knock was light on the door, but Sam jerked his head up from the television screen like a cat watching a mouse out of the corner of his eye. The remote fell from his hand and onto the floor. A commercial about some sensational new product muddled into the background as he opened the door. Though only a small woman, Ruby filled the frame. Swirls of dark brown hair framed her pale face. Her dark brown eyes were as deep as bottomless pools. He could have screamed into them and never heard his voice echo back. She smiled-a tiny hint of a smile that drifted across her smooth pink lips like dark clouds falling over a clear blue day. Sunlight seemed to shrink back out of the room. Sam held out a hand and invited her in.

“It’s getting harder and harder to track you down, Sam,” Ruby whispered seductively, almost sadly. “I’ve been looking for you all day.”
“I missed you,” Sam murmured, dropping his eyes almost immediately, like a puppy in trouble for peeing on the rug.
“Don’t be ashamed, Sam. I missed you too.”
“I shouldn’t be seeing you like this. You’re a demon…”
“Do you think Dean would understand? He has no idea what you’re capable of, Sammy. He doesn’t want to know.” She touched his shoulder, caressing the strong muscle beneath the soft cloth of his shirt.
“But…” Sam pleaded, more with his own conscience than with the beautiful woman before him. He’d been keeping secrets for weeks, secrets from the most important person in his life. And yet…maybe it was better this way. Dean had his own problems. He’d taken up a new interest. He had the Slayer to worry about now.
“We have work to do, Sam,” Ruby whispered, touching his cheek with the tip of her finger. “There are demons in this town, powerful demons.”
“I can’t leave them,” Sam frowned, looking back over his shoulder at Dean and Buffy, lying unconscious on their beds.
“It’s okay…I’ll watch them for you.” Sympathy rolled up into her eyes, making them glitter with concern. “Go find the demon, Sam. Stop him. Dean and Buffy are damaged…they aren’t strong enough. They’ll fail.”
“But how will I know where to go?”
“Can’t you smell them yet? Can’t you taste them?”
“What are you…?” Sam blinked, confused. He cocked his eyebrow and twisted his head to one side. “No…”
“Oh Sam,” Ruby pouted. “We have so much to do and so little time.”

Her hand was small, slender, and strong in his. She pulled him across the room and through an open door into the generously designed bathroom. The wall grunted as she smacked his shoulders against it. Her mouth tasted like candied sour apples and her skin smelled like musk and soil. His eyes fell shut but hers stayed open, staring. Watching. Sam’s hands were reluctant to touch her at first, to embrace the body, to accept the demon. He’d always been wary of her when they first came together, but the attention span of his conscience seemed to be wavering. He clutched at her soft black shirt, tore at the hem of her dusky leather jacket, yanked at the hips of her slim denim jeans.

The zipper unzipped and Sam pushed the jeans down over her smooth white buttocks, her toned thighs, her muscular calves. She sat down on his hips and threw back her head to accept the violence of his mouth upon her skin. Break it, she seemed to ask him with her throaty gasps of pleasure. Break the skin and feed on me. I’ll make you stronger, Sam. I’ll help you kill her.

Her blood was an elixir, a drug, ambrosia. He could feel it burn down his throat and flare in his nostrils. He could smell her, and the scents made him feel heavy with drink and yet light like a feather. He flipped her back against the wall and jerked into her, sucking at her veins. Her whimpering, crying ecstasy only made him drive her harder. Could you break a demon? Would she hurt tomorrow? Probably not. At each meeting, he seemed rougher, more brutal, and yet, each time, she smiled from head to toe. With a final grunting moan, Sam pulled back his hands and let her drop to her feet. He stood back, his lips and chin damp, his thirst unbearable. He threw his head beneath the sink’s faucet and turned on the water, filling up his throat with stale, steely tap water.

“We should see more of each other,” she murmured, stroking the side of his face with her fingertips.
“We can’t slow down,” Sam sighed, shaking his head. “The seals…we need to protect them.”
“The seals will only slow her down, Sam. She only has to open sixty-six. There are hundreds. You can’t protect them all. You can’t be everywhere at once.”
“But…”
“You know in your heart that you’ll be fighting this battle in the end, Sam. The only way to defeat Lilith is to kill her. You’re almost ready.” Her hand was light, so light and soft. She didn’t feel evil. She felt safe. Right. “Can you smell me, Sam?”
“I can taste you,” he groaned.
“You can hunt them down by their smell alone. You can…”

She was cut off suddenly by a sharp grunt in the next room. Sam stumbled out of the bathroom, pulling at the button on his jeans. The Slayer was bleeding onto the bed, leaving a spreading dark stain. Sam swore under his breath and grabbed at the small scrap of paper on top of the table. He began to read the words aloud, as quickly and clearly as he could. Dean’s eyes shot open, his mouth in mid-sentence. On the bed beside his, Buffy’s hands struggled shakily to cover the bloody mess that gradually increased over her midsection.
“Sam!” Dean yelled, shoving Sam out of his stupor. He looked up and around. The bathroom door was shut. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Blood came away on his wrist. “Pull the car around!”
“Right,” Sam muttered, grabbing the keys off the table. He ran from the room, glancing only momentarily at the bathroom where Ruby still stood, waiting in silence. He could hear Dean talking as he ran out the door and into the parking lot.
“Buffy! Buffy, you’re going to be okay…”

Sam pushed open the passenger door and Dean slid in, holding the Slayer against his chest. Blood had soaked into his sleeve, his tee shirt, the front of his jacket. He stared out the window, shouting directions at Sam. They weren’t far away from the hospital, but every second counted. Where had they hit her? Where was all this blood coming from? Didn’t she have super powers or something? Shouldn’t she be okay?
“Here! Stop the car!” Dean kicked open the door and lifted her out, still held tightly between his forearms. She was surprisingly light, probably due to her disturbing lack of nutritional intake. Even with all that muscle, she felt more like a bushel of apples than a sack of potatoes. Blood continued to gush from the wound. Dean slammed through the emergency room doors and tried to hold her aloft.
“I need some help here!” He yelled at the staff, most of them still occupied with their own thoughts. A nurse ran up, and an orderly followed with a gurney on wheels. Dean tried to place her carefully on the mattress but she still managed to curse in pain.
“What’s her name?” A man asked, a tag on his shirt labeling him a doctor. The nurse and the orderly began to push the gurney down the hall, just like an episode of E.R.
“Buffy,” Dean gasped, out of breath. He took a piece of the gurney in his hand and helped guide it down the hall.
“What happened? Were you there?”
“She was stabbed in the back with a sharp stick, like a tent spike.”
“Did you see the attacker?”
“No…” Dean huffed. “No.”
“You need to stay here, sir. We’ll take care of her.” The nurse was prying him away, releasing his hand from the bed. He pushed past her.
“No, I’m going…don’t!” Dean quarreled abrasively. “She’s…she’s my wife!”
“We’ll take care of her, sir. Please…please come with me.” She touched his hand and cautiously tore him again from the bed. Dean’s hands dropped uselessly at his sides. He starred at her as they pushed her down another hall. His heart beat like drums in his chest.

“Sir,” the nurse murmured, urging Dean back to reality. He looked down at her. She was a young woman, probably in her late twenties or early thirties. She had dark brown hair, tied back in a simple pony tail. The hair was short enough that when she tied it behind her head, it stuck out in a brief spike before falling down to brush the nape of her neck. Her eyes were blue and crystal clear. She had two freckles beside her nose.
“What?” Dean asked, blinking slowly. His hands felt sticky and damp. He wiped them on his pants, but there was still blood under his fingernails.
“Why don’t you come with me, sir? We’ll get all of your wife’s information.”
My wife, Dean thought, rolling the sound of it over in his head. Where had that come from? She was going into the emergency room. She could have been his twin and they’d still make him wait outside. Why did he make Buffy his wife?
“Sure,” Dean nodded. “I just…it’s in the car.”
“Good,” she nodded, patting his hand. “How about we go and get it?”
“No…I…” Dean paused. He’d have to do some serious searching to find female information in the glove box. “My brother is in the car. He can…help me.”

Sam looked up. He sat behind the wheel, looking up reflexively into the rearview mirror. Every nerve in his body seemed to be tingling. He could smell…something…in the hospital. There was definitely something in there, something that smelled…intoxicating. Dean pulled open the passenger door, knocking the thought away like a pinball thrown off course.
“How is she?”
“Emergency room. I told them she’s my wife.”
“Uh, okay…” Sam frowned, confused. “Why not your sister?”
“It just came out, Sam!” Dean growled as he threw open the glove box and pulled out his batch of IDs. He flipped through them hurriedly.
“Dean, what…what happened?”
“Later,” Dean grunted. “Here.”
Dean pulled out two bright blue insurance cards and a couple of licenses. They weren’t his and he’d never used them. What occasion they’d actually come from was a mystery, but here they were at the right time and the right place. Dean glanced down at the names. Angus and Rebecca Samuels from California. Dean handed the IDs to Sam.
“Hurry,” he said.
“Right,” Sam nodded. Dean got out of the car and Sam peeled out of the lot.

Dean went back into the hospital and looked blankly at a row of empty blue plastic chairs. A couple stood near a payphone. The husband spoke quietly into the receiver while he held his wife’s trembling hand. She wept on his shoulder uncontrollably. It dawned on him slowly, much too slowly, that in the last few minutes, Death had been restored. They were grieving their loss. For a moment, a long moment, Dean’s heart stopped beating.
“Dean,”
Dean spun around to catch himself staring wildly at Castiel. The angel’s face was blistered with concern, his eyes deep and dark pools of agony. Like Dean, his arms hung flaccid at his sides, useless. He’d balled his hands into tight fists.
“Cas,” Dean exhaled sharply. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I saw what happened. The seal…” He started gruffly.
“It isn’t important. Buffy is in the hospital, Cas!”
“You didn’t let me finish. Buffy is very…” The angel paused. His voice seemed to change, to get lost in a sudden and frankly strange emotional change. “…important to the mission.”
“We brought back Death, Cas. She’s going to die in there!”
“She is strong, Dean,” Cas replied. He seemed to gulp as he did it, as if he didn’t really believe it. “She will not die.”
“I need to see her.” He felt his knees tremble, and the blue plastic chairs became more and more appealing. “I need to make sure she’s okay.”

The angel’s eyes fell on Dean Winchester, a man locked in combat with invisible restraints. His eyes pleaded with the doctors and nurses, begging them to work faster, to do everything in their power and more. He felt responsible-that much was clear. In the last few days, he’d made a quiet vow to himself to take care of her, to watch out for her. She didn’t need the kind of lookout that he’d once provided for Sam. She could fight her own battles. Buffy was the Slayer, the Chosen One. She’d faced Hell and Heaven and come back from both. No. What Buffy needed was someone to trust, someone that understood her, someone to keep her heart safe.

That person had once been Castiel.

“D…Angus,” Sam started, walking quickly down the hall with his hand outstretched. He passed the identification cards into Dean’s hand and then looked past him to Castiel.
“Uh…Cas…” Sam frowned nervously.
“Sam,” Castiel grunted without affection. Sam slumped into an empty blue chair and stared at the floor. Dean perched himself on the chair beside Sam and began filling out paperwork. His scrawl was sloppy and difficult to read, but he managed to get through the first page by making up miscellaneous information. He turned the page over and looked blankly at the medical history list.
“No allergies,” Cas said without prompting. “No medications. No surgical history of note.”
“Thanks,” Dean grunted, ignoring the page of information. He signed his name, Angus Samuels, on the dotted line and took the clipboard up to the nurse. She took his insurance cards and let him return to his seat.

Time passed in silence. Dean walked up to the end of the hallway and back down it again. Castiel hovered in a corner, as still as a statue. Sam flipped through a magazine, ignoring every word. At every clicking heel on the hallway floor, Dean’s head whipped around like a cat watching a bird through a window. At last, the doctor that had strolled alongside Buffy down the hallway appeared. Dean zipped across the waiting room and threw himself in front of the man.
“What’s going on in there? What’s happening? How is she?”
“You’re her husband?”
“Yeah,” Dean nodded. “Just tell me. Is she gonna be okay?”
“Your wife has a lacerated kidney and a ruptured spleen. We’re about to bring her in for surgery. This is a very serious condition. The spike, as you called it, went deep when it pierced her back. When the spleen is ruptured, blood leaks into and out of the body. We’re doing everything we can for her, but…” he paused to find Dean’s “name” on the chart. “Mr. Samuels, I need you to take some time to prepare yourself.”
“Just get in there and fix her,” Dean growled through clenched teeth.
“We’re doing everything we can, Mr. Samuels.” He turned to walk back in, but paused in mid-step. “The Corvallis police are here. They’d like to get a statement from you about what happened to your wife.”
“I didn’t see anything…” Dean frowned sourly.
“The police will want to do an investigation. It’s standard procedure. Just tell them what you know.”

The doctor turned on his heel and walked back up the hallway. He turned a corner and pushed open a door with his elbow. The door swung shut again. After a minute, two Corvallis police officers popped into the emergency room through the swinging entrance doors. The color drained from Dean’s face. What sort of story could he make up that didn’t sound ludicrous? Where had he found her? What had “they” taken? Did she have enemies?
“Humans ask too many questions,” Castiel frowned, filling the vacuous space beside Dean. “And not enough.”
“What?” Dean blinked, looking at him.
“I will speak to the police.”
“What do you plan to tell them?”
“The truth,” Cas replied bluntly.
“You can’t tell them the truth, Cas! It’ll completely confuse them. They’ll think we’re both nuts.”
“Finish Buffy’s paperwork,” Cas nodded, pointing to the chair and clipboard Dean had left abandoned. “I will deal with this.”

Sam watched Dean fold himself back into one of the blue plastic waiting room chairs. He kept glancing nervously at the police, their serious faces locked on the bright blue eyes of the angel. Sam could feel his muscles flexing and fidgeting. He’d only been sitting still for an hour, maybe a little more, but it felt like days. His throat was scratchy and dry, and his nostrils burned. He got to his feet, looming over his brother.
“I need some coffee,” Sam said, though neither Castiel nor Dean paid him any attention. Sam looked from one man to the other and took off down the hallway without another word. The linoleum clacked beneath his heels. His skin sparked as he made his way toward the cafeteria.

---

At last, the police officers put their hats back on their heads and their notebooks back in their pockets. They nodded respectfully to Castiel and then to Dean. With sympathetic looks on their coldly etched faces, they left the hospital. Dean had finished the paperwork and turned it in to the nurse. He and Castiel sat beside one another in the waiting room, their backs pressed against the cold ivory wall.
“What did you tell them?”
“It doesn’t matter. They will not ask you for your version of the story a second time. They cannot understand what actually happened. It is beyond their realm of understanding. I simply told them what they wished to hear, the truth they had already imagined.”
“So you lied,” Dean shrugged.
“No. I told them what they believed they already knew. It was their version of the truth.”
“Right. Fine.”

Dean looked down at his hands, stained with Buffy’s blood. His fingers trembled anxiously. How was she doing? Would the surgery be successful? Had Cas told him the truth he already knew in his heart? Was that the actual truth or just a story to keep him from panicking?
“Why was Buffy brought back?”
“I don’t know,” Castiel replied smoothly, accepting the question without surprise. Of course they’d talked about their past. They were intertwined souls, locked together in a strange cycle of life and death. They were such oddly similar people.
“She said she met you in Heaven.”
“Yes. I was assigned to be her guardian in Heaven. I fabricated her version of Paradise. I became a part of her illusion.”
“You fell for her. Hard.”
“I do not understand what you mean.”
“You were in love with her, Cas. And you’re still in love with her. Funny. I didn’t know you angels cared about anything. I didn’t know you could.”
“We feel compassion. We feel anger. Jealousy. Pain. Love is just another emotion. I had never felt it before I met the Slayer.”
“So you didn’t send her back.”
“It was part of my father’s plan, but no, I did not do it. I wanted her to stay.”
“And when she went back, she said her life was never the same. Boy, don’t I know it…”
“Perhaps she should be telling you this, Dean.”
“She might be dying for all we know, Cas. Just tell me. Tell me what happened.”

Castiel got to his feet. He stood solemn and silent for a few minutes. Dean didn’t think he’d talk. Cas kept everything close to the chest. Was it any wonder Dean hadn’t noticed he was capable of emotion? Sometimes, Castiel was about as human as a burrito.
“When she was brought back, she believed she’d been sent back with parts of her soul missing. She had trouble connecting to her friends and family, to her position as the Slayer. She relied heavily on her mentor to do the menial tasks of life while she attached herself to death. When I met her for the second time, before the demon came, she had forgotten me. She had wiped her memories clean, swept Heaven out of her mind. She was able to make the decisions that had to be made because she was disconnected from the people around her.”
“Sounds familiar,” Dean sighed.
“I was sent to Sunnydale to assist in the defeat of the demon Aeshma. My duties had changed. I’d been promoted to a new position. My orders were to send the potential slayers into battle. I was to make sure that those women died. They were to be sacrificed on the mouth of Hell, and their blood would close the entrance. Buffy knew they wouldn’t make it. She knew they would die. She had simply accepted the loss. Or at least, I thought she had.”

---

The scent was intoxicating, like roasting meat over an open flame. Saliva collected in the corners of his mouth, and he licked at it before it could escape down the sides of his chin. His fingers twitched compulsively as Sam etched out a wandering path down a series of hallways. He’d made it all the way up to the fourth floor from the lowly and empty cafeteria. The instant coffee had tasted like shit on his tongue. He’d spit it back into the cup with disgust. The smell, though, seemed to slip and slide through the walls, the air vents, and the floors. He could track the demon by scent first. Taste would come later. Hopefully sooner.

Sam pushed open a cracked white door and slithered inside Pediatrics Room 417. A young woman, maybe fifteen or sixteen, lay still in her bed. She’d been comatose for nearly two years after a motorcycle had smashed into the passenger side of her mother’s mini-van. Her parents came to visit her every other Sunday, but the presents and flowers had stopped rolling in about a month into her bed sore sentence. Today, she would have two visitors.

The first had already arrived. He’d had enough of his current vessel-a hapless drunk with stained pits in every single one of his shirts. Bruce Cobb was his name, and he had about as much to offer his demon host as a warm PBR and a box of raw peanuts. He’s already started to go green around the gills, completely unsuitable for long-term habitation. Black smoke seeped out of Cobb’s ears and nostrils, floating into the shell of Amanda Dune.

The putrid smell of Bruce Cobb’s unwashed, decaying body was too much for Sam. He waited silently in the doorway, waited for the demon to possess a newer host, a fresher host. The alluring scent was enough to overpower any of his remaining free will. Amanda had been in a vegetative state for two years. If she died making Sam stronger, able to defeat Lilith, then at least she could die for a cause. At least her short life would have meaning. Besides, she smelled so much better than ol’ Brucey. Vomit tickled the back of Sam’s throat but he pushed it back down. This was no time to allow his tiny conscience to get the better of him. Her blood wasn’t really her blood. It was demonic, pure and simple. The ingestion served a purpose. The aftertaste wasn’t important. If battery acid would have helped him defeat Lilith, he would have ingested it. He was strong. Stronger than Dean. Stronger than the Slayer. He’d just gotten lucky. Lucky for him, demon blood tasted like the finest filet mignon.

---

“I should have questioned my orders,” Castiel admitted. He turned to look at Dean, and his face was the saddest Dean had ever seen it. His brown eyebrows fell defeated over his cloudy blue eyes. His mouth turned down. His shoulders slumped forward as if crushed.
“Angels are meant to follow orders, Dean. It is humans that have free will. It was my father’s gift to the human race, that they should be able to make their own moral decisions. Angels must do as they are told.”
“Except the Devil, right?”
“Lucifer is my brother. He fell because he questioned our father’s divine plan. He dropped out of God’s favor and descended into Hell. He started his own family.”
“So what happens if you have doubts? If you start asking questions?”
“I will fall.”
“Harsh.”
“I blame myself for her guilt. Every day, she regrets what she did to those girls at the mouth of Hell. She questions. She wonders. She doubts.”
“So do you, Cas,” Dean observed.
“Yes,” the angel agreed quietly. “Yes I do.”

They might have continued the discussion if the hall hadn’t erupted with the sound of walking. Dean jumped back onto his feet, putting aside his conversation with the angel. He could think about Castiel’s issues after he found out the Slayer was on the mend. He could think about what it all meant later. Dean waited impatiently, his hands opening and closing, his teeth on edge.
“She’s in intensive care,” the doctor said, looking at his chart. “We have removed the spleen. It was too badly damaged to repair on its own. However, we have stitched the injured kidney and it should function properly on its own. We will know as she recovers. She hasn’t awakened from the anesthetic yet, but…”
“I want to see her.”
“Yes. I thought you might. Follow me please.”

Dean and Cas stepped in line behind the doctor, following him down the hallway and past double doors into the bank of intensive care units. Dean looked through their glass walls at the patients enclosed within. Most of the rooms were empty. The few patients interred in the ICU had recovered without Death riding their heels. Those that hadn’t recovered had been moved to long-term housing. In Buffy’s room, the lights were dimmed but not out completely. Blinking LED lights flashed on monitors around her bed. The doctor pushed the door open and allowed Dean and Castiel inside.
“I’ll be back shortly. She needs her rest.”
“I’m not leaving her again,” Dean said shortly.
“Our visiting hours end soon, Mr. Samuels,” the doctor frowned.
“I’m not visiting. I’m staying.”
“We are both staying,” Castiel pressed, his voice firm and insistent. The doctor raised his hands as if acquiescing. He shut the door quietly and walked down the hallway without looking back.

Dean yanked a chair across the room and set it next to the bed. He hovered over the seat, looking down at the sleeping woman on the white gurney sheets. Her skin was ghostly pale, as if she’d never awakened from the astral nightmare. Her hair fell around her face and before he realized what he was doing, Dean was sweeping the majority of it away from her eyelashes and cheeks, brushing it behind her ears. Her cheek was hot under his fingers and he traced the shape of her cheekbone with the flat of his thumb. She looked so fragile under the blinking lights, the hazy semi-darkness of the room. His hand drifted to her hand, lying prone at her side. He carefully pulled her palm across his and finally sat down in the chair.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered hoarsely, sheepishly. “I shouldn’t have let you out of my sight. We were vulnerable. I should have kept you safe.”

---

Blood leaked into the bed sheets and dripped across the floor. Sam tore away from the corpse, the thing that finally died in his hands. The erratic beating of the heart faded to a dull thud and then…nothing. The flow of the blood petered out from a rushing flood to a trickling creek. The body drooped pathetically, flaccidly. He’d drained the demon dry. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, Sam heaved the girl up off the bed and over his shoulder. Her head smacked limply against his shoulder.
“I’ll kill her,” he whispered to himself, searching the room for a place to stash the remains. “I’ll kill Lilith and this will all be worth it.”

---

“You know, we’ve been working together for a few months now, and this is the first time I’ve seen her sleep,” Dean murmured aloud.
“It’s the nightmares,” Cas replied from the back of the room. “She can’t sleep. They are one of the few things that frighten her.”
“I know,” Dean nodded, agreeing. “She told me about them, about the potential slayers, the army.”
“The girls in her dreams aren’t really ‘girls’ or even the spirits of the dead. They’re demonic figures, figments of her imagination that she has empowered. Her guilt gave them life, and only see can defeat them. She needs forgiveness, redemption.”
“Is that why she’s here? Not here, in the hospital, but here, with me,” Dean turned her hand over in his and admired the scarred flesh of her palm. She seemed so small and helpless, lying here. She didn’t look like the Slayer.
“Yes,” Cas replied after a moment. “But I do not think it is the fight that will redeem her.”
“What do you mean?”

The room answered in silence, causing Dean to turn around and look for the angel’s answer. He could usually find it written plainly on his expressive face, but this time, the emptiness of the room glared back at him. Shrugging, he turned back to Buffy. Again, his fingers stretched out to soothe her face, to trace the scars and subtle lines. She had one scar over her eyebrow, usually hidden behind a few streams of blond hair. Vaguely, he wondered how many scars he couldn’t see.

The LEDs reflected in her bloodshot eyes when Buffy woke at a little past three in the morning. She moaned softly in pain and tried to adjust to the semi-darkness of the room. Her fingers flexed up into the waiting hand of a sleeping hunter. His palm was dry and papery, but oddly comforting when contoured around hers. Dean snoozed quietly in a chair to her left, but it was the presence on her right that had brought her back to consciousness. She turned her head stiffly and slowly to see Cas bending down. His lips touched her forehead briefly, tenderly. She lifted a hand to him and he pulled it into his cold arms like a soft towel.
“Cas,” she croaked in a whisper, lifting her eyes to meet his. Even in the darkness, he was silvery and obvious, an angel unable to hide in the shadows. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“Buffy,” Cas replied, almost whimpering.
“It wasn’t your fault,” she repeated. “I let it happen. I made it happen.”
It was all the energy she had. She shut off like a burned out bulb. Her eyes dropped shut like closing doors and her lips hung open, as if frozen in mid-thought.

“Has she said anything?” Dean groaned, awakening to a stiff neck and a sore back. The chair had form-fitted to his body, replacing comfort with hardship. Castiel stood still on the other side of the Slayer’s bed, his face faraway.
“No,” Cas replied, shaking his head. “Nothing.”
“How did you…” Dean started and then stopped. He looked down at her still and silent face, the way her lips parted with each shallow breath. “How did you know that you loved her?”
“Angels are not meant to fall in love,” Cas replied without pause. “As I’ve said, we feel. We have emotional states. We do not feel them the way you feel them. We do not express them the way you express them. But… It was at her prom, an important dance in her version of Heaven. She wanted to experience that moment for eternity. It wasn’t something she enjoyed about her real life. She wanted to experience it differently. I took her to the dance. I created that moment for her, from her memories and her dreams, and when she finally saw it…”
The angel’s face dropped to gaze upon the young woman upon the bed. She had changed so much since he’d met her in that perfect place, the place she’d always dreamed about. Would her Heaven be the same now? Would she want the same things?
“I wished for her to be happy. I prayed that she would be happy. I begged my Father to allow her happiness. It was then that I knew.”

For weeks, Dean had been feeling the same way. He couldn’t take care of Sam anymore. They hadn’t spoken, really talked, since he’d come back from the Pit. What was there to say? Sam had his own agenda, his own plan. Dean couldn’t relate anymore. The fight was out of him. The good days were behind them. And then he’d come to realize that Buffy Summers had become the new Sam in his life. She wasn’t really a replacement. She could take care of herself in a fight. She was strong and tough and ruthless but not reckless. She put everyone else in front of herself. She needed someone to look out for her, to make sure she was looked after.

Dean ached for her peace. He watched her struggle to avoid sleep, and he pulled her against him to make sure she was at least comfortable. He stayed up with her. He checked in on her. The way Castiel had talked about her redemption scared him and yet…the fact that she could achieve it all made him want to fight for it. Now, as she slept, he wanted to be inside her dreams, chasing her demons away.

---

She didn’t wake until the middle of that second evening. The nurse knocked on the door and stood in the frame as Buffy’s eyes flickered open. She smiled pleasantly, a sweet older smile with wrinkles around the eyes and lips. The Slayer’s eyes shot open and caught the woman in her gaze. The nurse stopped, impaled by the stare.
“I don’t want it,” she growled through clenched teeth.
“Don’t worry honey,” the nurse replied softly. “It’s only morphine. It’ll make you feel much better.”
“I said I don’t want it,” Buffy grunted.
“Buffy,” Dean interrupted, looking from the Slayer to the nurse.
“Get it out of here!” Buffy squeaked.
“I’ll just…come back later.” The nurse frowned, scurrying out of the room and shutting the door.
“Buffy, are you okay?” Dean asked, tugging carefully at her hand. The room was empty now, but for the two of them. He moved closer to her and his face was sharp with concern.
“I need to feel it,” Buffy groaned, already missing the medication. “I don’t want it to go away.”
“Yeah,” Dean sighed. “Okay.”
“I released her,” the Slayer started, pushing her elbows back on the bed so she could sit up somewhat straight.
“Who?”
“Lilith,” Buffy nodded. “I released her.”
“What are you talking about?” Dean leaned forward in his chair. He looked down at his hand and realized he was still holding her.
“It’s my fault. All of this. Lilith bought your soul because of me. Those girls died because of me. The world is ending because I started it. I did it. I brought Lilith up out of the Pit. I did it.”
“How? When?”
“My army. I let them die on the mouth of Hell. I spilled their innocent blood on the mouth of Hell and it brought Lilith here. It was our sacrifice.”
“Buffy, you didn’t know,” Dean faltered. Images of Hell played out on his eyeballs like reels in an old frame by frame movie.
“It doesn’t matter, Dean. I killed them. I sacrificed them and ended the world. I’ve spent my whole life fighting the apocalypse and it looks like I actually made it happen.” She laughed darkly and sat back against the pillows, sucking back gobs of stale hospital air. “And I sent you to Hell!”
“No,” Dean shook his head. “I sold my soul, Buffy. That’s on my head. I did it. If Lilith hadn’t bought it, someone else would have.”
“But she bought it,” Buffy whispered, the heinous cackling ruining the last of the strength in her voice.
“It doesn’t matter.” Dean got to his feet and bent over to stroke her face. Her cheek was wet with tears from laughing so hard, and her eyes looked haunted and stressed. “I forgive you.”

Her lips were dry and chapped, not romantic or inviting or even very gracious. Still, he kissed her.

Chapter Eight: The Beast You Made of Me