Follow the White Rabbit
I do not own Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural or Angel.Written for fun, not profit.oOoOoOoChapter 10: Follow the White RabbitoOoOoOo
"The hardest thing in this world…is to live in it."
The words left Dawn's mouth, not her sister's, but even still, she could feel the pinpricks behind her eyes, tears gathering as she was flooded with the emotions she'd felt that day on the tower. She pushed it down. This was not that day. Buffy was alive. Buffy was fine.
Because Buffy was not here.
Dawn sucked in another breath. "Be brave. That's what she said. 'Be brave. Live. For me.'"
The last of it was spoken so quietly that she wasn't sure if he'd heard her.
Castiel watched her, his body leaning forward slightly, as if he thought she might be cracking open along the seams. He studied her a moment longer, his eyes wide, bright. "Yes," he agreed. "Those will do."
Dawn shook her head, breaking from the moment. "Cas…you shouldn't…this plan. It's a horrible plan. You get that, right?"
"Yes," he agreed. "It is. Horrible. I will likely fail in my attempts. But, it is necessary."
Dawn took a step forward, resting a hand on his shoulder, begging him to reconsider, but his frown only deepened. She opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted when Castiel stiffened, turning the both of them to face the corner of the room.
They were no longer alone.
She felt a shiver run down her spine at the sound of her name on his lips. Sam was standing, feet spread, knife in hand, as if he were readying for battle. Dawn locked eyes with him, anxiousness and relief colliding in her throat and not letting a single word of welcome pass.
Dean was a foot away from his brother, blinking in surprise, as if he hadn't really expected to see Dawn or Castiel in the room. As if his arrival was just as much as a surprise to him as it was to her. There was a third man as well, standing between the two, and just behind them. Dawn guessed he must be an angel, if he'd just popped into existence with the guys in tow.
Dawn shot Cas a sideways, questioning glance, but he was caught up in staring at the three newcomers, a look of open guilt on his face.
"Sam, Dean…" He swallowed. "I see Balthazar has been in contact with you."
"We couldn't find Dawn." Sam said it like it explained everything. He swallowed hard enough for her to see his throat tense. "We prayed to you, but you didn't answer."
"I required her presence," Castiel replied.
Dawn rolled her eyes. Well countered, Captain Obvious.
"Cas? What the hell, man?" Dean asked, and fifty more silent questions seemed to follow.
The look on his face—Dawn shuddered. She totally didn't want to be the cause of that look any time soon. But, the oldest Winchester's eyes didn't echo the dangerous grimace. They were full of hurt. Confusion. And it suddenly clicked, why the guys were here. To rescue her…from the bad guy. Their best friend.
"I brought them to talk some sense into you," the other angel—Dawn had to assume was Balthazar—noted, as if he were explaining why he'd added peas to a casserole. "Whatever you're up to, dimensional doors are never one's friend, and these mud monkeys seem to have such sway over you… Hope you're not upset, Cassie."
Castiel raised a hand to stop him. "I understand…"
"Dawn, are you okay?"
Dawn smiled back at Sam, hoping it looked sincere. "This is just a little mix-up, Sam. I'm fine."
Both brothers' brows wrinkled. "Mix-up?"
"That's not necessarily correct," Castiel said, carefully reaching up to remove her hand from his shoulder. "Dawn is merely defending me. I was…" He glanced at her, as if asking permission to quote her. "…I was being a 'wanker.'"
There were finger quotes involved. Dawn winced for him—sometimes she regretted hanging out with Spike as a teenager.
The group was silent, waiting for more. Balthazar loudly clapped his hands together once, but failed to break the tension. "Well, that was decidedly easy. Job well done, apes. Now, if you'll excuse me—"
But the angel stayed put when Castiel took a step forward. "I wanted to use Dawn to open a door to Purgatory."
Dean made a face. "Purgatory?" His eyes narrowed. "Like the same Purgatory Crowley's looking for—that Purgatory?"
The shamed look on Castiel's face must have spoke for itself, because Dawn watched the Winchesters exchange glances, putting two and two together. Maybe jumping straight to five.
"Cas, please tell me you didn't make a deal with a demon…" Sam's mouth opened and closed. "Are you for real?"
"It it was a damn good deal, too."Oh, look, my least favorite person,
Dawn thought, grimacing at the sound of the male, British voice. She didn't want to glance over her shoulder and see whatever had made the guys in front of her look as if they were about to shit bricks. But she did.
The demon, Crowley, was back. And this time he'd brought a friend, a rather stern looking black woman in a suit. Dawn had been in this situation before, trapped between two scary-lethal forces. It hadn't ended well in the past. She didn't expect it to end well now.
"Unfortunately, Mr. Regretful decided to not hold up his end. So I made new friends."
Castiel's gravely voice returned. "You don't know what you've done, Crowley."
The demon quirked one brow. "I rather think I do. Now, if I were you, I'd get out of our sandbox while you still have your wings attached."
"Oh, dear," Balthazar breathed, letting out a short, frightened chuckle. He paid the demon no heed, watching the woman intensely. "Raphael…You're looking well. Hope you won't hold that little salt trick against me, brother."Raphael.
. Dawn's eyes widened. Ohcrapohcrapohcrap!
She instinctively moved closer to Castiel but wasn't fast enough. The woman—Raphael—raised one hand. "Oh, Balthazar, Castiel—punishing you now would teach you nothing. You're dismissed."
With a flick of her wrist, the two angels disappeared, leaving Dawn sharing a worried glance with the Winchester brothers.
"I'm diggin' the new suit," Dean said, his bravado not quite cutting it.
Dawn bit her lip to keep from commenting. How the hell hasn't he been eviscerated yet? Oh, wait, he probably has been… The lesson didn't take.
"You two on the other hand, might, for once in your lives, prove useful." She, he, it, didn't spare the Winchesters even the slightest smile, her comments straight to the point. Her eyes shot to Dawn. Without seeming to move, she was already in front of the girl, looming over her despite her own lacking height. "If you behave, I can spare them the pain they deserve. Do you understand me, Key?"
"Dawn, don't listen to—"
Sam was cut off when he was flung against the wall behind him, Dean joining him a split second later. The demon, Crowley, had him locked them in his sight, a smug grin on his face as he kept them in place.
"Don't interrupt, moose."
Dawn suddenly lost her ability to summon a witty retort. Buffy would be pissed.
Instead she simply nodded. "What do you want?" she managed.
Raphael cocked his head. The expression on his vessel's face was so unmoved, neither satisfied nor displeased, that Dawn knew without a doubt that she wouldn't be able to talk her way out of this one.
"I believe you know," the angel said. A slender blade slipped from her sleeve, and she raised the tip to the crease of Dawn's elbow. "Your job is simple. Stay where you are and concentrate. This will all be over soon enough."
Dawn figured she would go down in history as 'the one who nodded'.
She hissed through her teeth when the angelic sword bit into her skin, drawing a long, vertical line down her forearm. A wave of dizziness washed over her before the first spurts of blood could even fall to the cement floor at her feet. Her pulse pounding in her ears, the shouts from behind her barely registering.
She blinked, forcing herself to concentrate. Dying or not, she wasn't checking out just yet. Or, at least, that was her thought before her knees folded, dropping her to the floor like a bag of potatoes. Instinctively, she cupped the flowing wound but it didn't do any good.
Whatever the demon had started reading in the background was working… Dawn could feel energy building in the room. The angel grabbed her by the shirt collar, pulling her back from the puddle of blood just as the portal opened with a flash of blue-white light.
Lightning crackled out of the manhole-sized opening, striking the ceiling. Debris rained down over them. Dawn watched in horror as the doorway expanded, already wider than a kiddie pool, and swallowed the floor. It would be at her knees in seconds.
"What is this
It took Dawn a moment to realize that the hissed question had come from the angel at her side. Raphael was glaring daggers, but not at Dawn—his focus was on Crowley.
"This is the wrong
door!" he snapped.
Dawn's head felt heavy, but she turned it, watching the demon's mouth gape open. Crowley caught himself before the expression could stick.
"Bloody lawyers and their bloody payment plans," he growled. Then his shook out his shoulders, as if dropping the anger from his disposition. "There might be a detail or two of our arrangement that I left out… Such as how I received these instructions in the first place."
"I will tear you limb from limb," Raphael promised.
The shout stilled the angel. Raphael's gaze turned to the center of the room, where Castiel and Balthazar stood, looking haggard from their last 'dismissal.' Castiel glanced over his shoulder, giving the Winchesters a look that Dawn couldn't see from her angle, before he turned back to his angelic brothers.
Crowley stepped away from the trio. "May the best idiot pay my due," he said, with a wink. "Crowley out."
The angels in the room didn't even twitch when the demon disappeared or when the Winchester brothers dropped off the wall with a clatter.
"If this is your doing, Castiel, you should know, it was a foolish move. I can open another door, if I wish—find the souls you've sought." Raphael cocked his head at the other two angels, his voice low. "But, I will destroy the Key before I allow you to use it. You've already lost this battle."
"No. You will not harm this girl." Castiel's body grew ridged, and he glimpsed Dawn, just for a moment. Dawn could almost hear his voice in her head, repeating those words she'd spoken. He nodded once in confirmation before glaring up at the other angel.
"You've opened a door, Raphael. It's time you walk through it."
He moved faster than Dawn could follow; one second at the center of the room, the next beside her, holding on to Raphael's arms, even as the arch-angel's sword dug into his side. The two locked eyes, but neither had the time to rethink their actions as Castiel pulled Raphael down. The electricity of the portal bounced in waves as the two angels hit the open doorway, and disappeared. Into the Never.
Dawn leaned forward, her body ready to give out as the floor at her knees gave way to the growing vortex, but a hand grabbed her wrist, pulling her back from the edge. Her vision darkened, and Dawn felt it, the stilling of her heart.
She was dead.oOoOoOo
"It was only for a moment," Balthazar assured.
Sam's knees hit the cement with a painful jarring, but he ignored the sensation, pulling Dawn up into his arms. She was breathing again and the wound at her arm was sealed, the skin left without a scar. Sam felt Dean's fingers against the back of his neck, simply there to steady him, even though the portal had closed seconds earlier.
Dawn blinked up at him, dazed. "What…?" she asked.
Balthazar leaned over the pair, a brow raised as he interpreted the question. "Oh—yes, sorry. I had to kill you a moment there, to close the door, which I find to be a rather silly fallacy. You weren't hoping to fall through it, were you?" He looked up, giving Dean a stretched frown, mockingly sheepish. "Didn't really think it through at the time," he said, at a stage whisper.
"That door led to the Never?" Dean asked. "Why the hell would Crowley open a door to Dawn's home?"
He didn't receive an answer.
Sam felt his heart galloping against his chest, almost afraid to hear Dawn reply to Balthazar's inquiry, but she shook her head, her hair tickling his chin when he leaned down to kiss it. When he pulled away, she still looked tired, but her eyes were wide.
"I wasn't… I don't want to leave." Sam cupped her cheek with his hand, hoping to God that was honesty in her eyes. Her breathing hitched, as if she suddenly remembered what had happened. "Castiel fell?"
Sam nodded. He felt his brother's fingers tighten a bit, and then pull away. "Jumped," he heard Dean add, "took Raphael with him. Can we…is there a way to open the portal back up?"
Sam hadn't even let his mind get there yet—he felt like a dick, but he'd ran to Dawn before even processing what had just happened to the two angels.
"In theory," Balthazar said. The answer was soft, too sincere for the cocky angel. Sam stared up at him, confused. The angel shook his head. "In theory, yes. But, children, the Never is called that for a reason. Because Father insisted we Never
visit it. It's forbidden."
Sam frowned. "By 'we,' you mean the angels?"
"Yes, buffoon, that's what I mean." But there was no bite in the words. Balthazar swallowed, as if keeping down whatever was on the tip of his tongue. "And, the whole threat of being ripped apart by the trip is enough incentive for the lot of us not to try and visit. I'm afraid Castiel and Raphael are gone… Castiel knew it would be a one-way trip when he pushed Raphael into into the vortex. The self-sacrificing idiot."
Dawn stiffened in his arms. "He didn't tell me that part…"
Sam caught her tear with his thumb before it could roll down her face and pulled her against his chest, holding her tight.
"Christ, Cas…" The muttered words belonged to Dean.
Sam reached up without looking, tugging his brother's sleeve until he dropped down onto the floor beside them. The brothers didn't embrace, but the closeness was enough. Always had been. Sam didn't have to meet Dean's eye to know he was broken by the loss of their friend.
Balthazar gave the group a self-pitying smile and stepped away. "Now, if you don't mind… I'm going to go lick my wounds halfway across the world. I've got family to mourn. Oh, and Winchesters and Co.? Don't call me. Ever."
Sam nodded in agreement, even though the angel was no longer there to see him. He felt Dean's hand on his back, rubbing a circle between his shoulder blades.
"Been a long day," Dean said, his voice choked. "What do you say we borrow a car, get to Bobby's, and sleep for a week?"
Dawn's voice was muffled against Sam's shirt. "Sam said I'd like you."
"The lady approves." Dean smirked, trying to hide the sadness in his eyes. He pushed himself up to his feet again. "Be back to pick you two up. Meet me out front of…where ever the hell we are…"
Sam watched his brother leave, knowing Dean was getting out before the disappointment could show on his face. The last hour had cost them too much.
He shook his head. It would heal, with time. And, he wouldn't let it hang. Eventually, they'd find a way to open the portal again and let Dawn get a message to her sister. And let all of them have some closure.
Dawn pulled herself up, letting one of her arms wrap around his neck. "So, I know it's kind of non-typical, but is it too early for me to say—"
Sam smiled, planting a soft kiss over her lips. "Tell me when one of us hasn't just died. When we have a day that doesn't involve angels and demons."
She shook her head. "That might be a while. I'm guessing the universe is going to try to screw us over whether I actually say it aloud or not," she countered, and smirked up at him.
He leaned into her, breathing in her scent, feeling her with a body he wouldn't have had back if she hadn't cared for him in the first place. Twenty-four hours. Less than. That was how long he'd known her like this, wearing this form, but he couldn't stop himself from wanting her, in every sense. She was right; the universe would already know, whether he said it or not.
"What do we do now?" she asked, looking more awake. "I mean, demon guy's going to be an issue, I'm sure, and I don't know how long Bobby's going to be able to stand me drooling on his sofa. On the plus side, I'm never going to find out if that research paper bombed. On the not-so-plus side, I have zero equipment, and I'm thinking a hunter needs more than a knife and a broken crossbow."
Sam considered the answer while she babbled. It left a smile on his face. "First? Dean's going to insist you train better. Guns and combat."
"I'll kick his ass…" She huffed. If I don't, Buffy will kick mine when she finds out.
"You know, after he's properly distracted. You figure flashing him would help?"
Sam snorted. "Don't you dare."
"Yeah, that'll probably only work on you."
It slipped out before Sam could help himself. "Damn. I love you."
Dawn pulled away from him. "Love you, too, bubble boy."oOoOoOoEpilogueoOoOoOo
Fire licked at her back, the blaze just enough to scorch her bare body. The chains rattled as they slackened, lowering her closer to the pit of coals. She hissed through her teeth, the sting of sweat rolling over her brow blinding her.
"I never said the instructions were for Purgatory," she said, and swallowed spit and sulfur. "And you never asked."
A hand trailed over her slick thigh, as far as it could go before being stopped by the round pit of embers beneath her strung out body.
"Oh, darling, I've realized as much, in retrospect."
She closed her eyes against the pain at her shoulder blades as the hooks there spread out further, tearing flesh, as if they were intended to split her down the middle. "I don't know why you're upset, Mr. Crowley." Lilah forced a bitter chuckled out of her throat. "One Key in exchange for one angel. You're the party who chose to deliver two instead."
"The contract was fulfilled," he agreed. "And, I'll find my door to Purgatory… Right place. Right time. One twist of the ol' Key…"
"Then why am I still here?" Lilah growled.
"The contract was fulfilled… But it didn't work out in my favor, now did it, darling?" He stepped around the pit, coming to a stop beside her. She could see the glint of the axe's blade from the corner of her eye. "Now, do you recall what you promised me if I didn't come out of the arrangement a happy fellow?"
Lilah licked the salt off her lips, watching the weapon rise. "Me," she whispered.
The axe fell.
Crowley smiled grimly. "Did you miss that last part? Don't worry, love. We'll do it all over again tomorrow."oOoOoOoWhat was lost, Never found.
Twisting, turning, through the…
Castiel groaned, feeling his vessel come alive. Pain shot through every nerve, sending streams of fire from his fingertips to his toes. He shivered against the sensation, then grew still, taking a long, necessary breath.
Necessary…but it shouldn't have been.
He felt his heart pounding in his chest, his lungs swelling with a need to satisfy the burn of deprivation. Castiel had felt this way before, a few years back…When he was weaker, and more man than angel.
Grimacing, he lifted his hand, touching his side. The prodding hurt, and he bit his lip when his fingers came away wet. There, that spot—it was where Raphael had stabbed him. Perhaps the blow had weakened him severely…Perhaps he'd—
Castiel remembered then, what had happen in those seconds. He had killed his brother and himself in one deft move. Or, so he'd thought. But, if he'd succeeded, then why could he feel pain coursing through his body? It made no sense.
He opened his eyes, nearly blinded by the light overhead, but a shadow fell across him, blocking it. It was a young woman, long blond hair falling over her shoulder, her face stony.
"What did you do to Dawn?"
Castiel knew her then. He could see the Key's likeness in the curve of her jaw, hear it in the tone of her hardened voice. He parted his lips, breathing in shallow gasps until the words came back to him…
"The hardest thing in the world is to live in it." His voice scratched on its way up, giving him pause. "Be brave. Live for me."
Buffy Summers' face lost its severity, her eyes wet with remembrance. "What did you say?"
Castiel licked his dry lips.
oOoOoOoEnd Notes: I know I'm not the first to play around with connecting our "Key" to Purgatory (because, come on, we all know the Key isn't completely de-activated, right?), but hopefully this story was original enough to keep you entertained.
It occurs to me that you didn't actually get to see Bobby throughout this whole story. This will not do. He'll have to show up in the sequel. Oh, have I mentioned the sequel yet? Yeah, I'll be writing one of those so you can see what those pesky lawyers are up to, if Crowley is completely ditching his Purgatory plans, and how Buffy takes to having a fallen angel on her shoulder. Even though I'm usually a Buffy/Dean girl, I'm thinking it might go in a Castiel/Buffy direction...he's got that whole brooding, pop-culture ignorant, way-older-guy thing she seems to like so much. Thoughts? This story might be a couple months down the road, as I have several other WIP that require my attention, like, right-the-hell now.
Anyhow, I hope you enjoyed the story. Thanks for reading!