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Exceptional Circumstances

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I.

"That's Dean, all right," Sam conceded. "Bobby, the first thing he did when he got all 'angeled up' was to hop over to Hoosier Mama's in Chicago for some banana cream pie. It's definitely Dean."

"S'good pie," Dean muttered defensively from the couch, curled over the paper box.

"I can't believe this," Bobby growled, leaning against the doorway to the kitchen with his arms crossed over his chest. "After all this, you still go and say 'yes' to Michael? You bloody idjit."

"I didn't say yes to Michael," Dean corrected, if somewhat indistinctly. "Also, the first thing I did was detox Sammy. The second thing I did was to get pie, while he was sleeping off the angel aspirin. I still got priorities, guys."

"You're both idjits," Bobby said, by way of response. "Why the fuck do I bother?"

"If you didn't say 'yes' to Michael'," Sam added flatly, "Then what?"

"Angel telephony," Dean tapped at his temple, then shovelled more cream pie into his mouth. "Michael got tired of waiting for results from his feathery douchebag minions and came to talk to me himself. It turns out that he's actually rather reasonable."

Sam threw up his hands. "So you did do a deal with Michael! Dean, you just spent all this time bitching me out whenever I tried to get stronger, and now you..."

"It's not the same as downing demon blood, Sam. I've got a year of being 'angeled up'," Dean cut in. "Michael told me that the Lucifer and Michael shakedown was the 'prescribed' ending, but not necessarily the ending. Humans can make their own endings. That's the whole point, apparently, of being 'made in God's image'. It isn't the 'meatbag' look, it's our soul."

Dean paused when he realized that Sam and Bobby were wearing identical what-the-fuck expressions, and grumbled, "Okay, I didn't really understand that either, but moving along," he added sharply, when Sam opened his mouth, "Think of this sort of like a trial period... thing. With no soul deals or addiction problems."

"Did you just negotiate some sort of... hire-purchase deal with an archangel?" Sam demanded, incredulous.

"Not really, more like a license. Or a terms contract." Dean corrected, and at Sam's arched eyebrow, continued, "I met a lot of lawyers in the Pit, you have no idea."

"How's this sort of deal even possible?"

"We can believe that an archangel can recreate the world into reality television but not sub-let his mojo to his True Vessel for a bit?"

Sam hesitated. "Okay. Maybe you've got a point there."

"Any way, Michael conceded that according to the Big Damn Script, the 'Righteous Man' gets to pick the ending, so he's just coming along for the show for now."

Sam scoffed. "Just like that?"

"Just like that," Dean nodded, and scooped himself another mouthful of pie.

"So he's not in your head right now?"

"Nope. Said he had better things to do right now." Michael had actually seemed vaguely relieved about the New Deal, as though he was taking some sort of pre-apocalypse vacation. It wouldn't be surprising; Dean had come away from the dream meeting with the impression that Michael had Dean's problem with Sammy, except massively magnified. Herding legions of douchebag siblings around, all of whom had nuclear abilities, probably got tiring after a few millennia.

"And what happens after the year?"

"If we're still shit out of luck, he takes over," Dean conceded, with a blithe wave of the spoon. "But hey, a year, right? And I'll be able to eat pie anytime, from anywhere."

Sam groaned. "That had better not have been sold to you as one of the perks."

Dean assumed a hunted expression. Sometimes Sam made out like he was reading minds. "Uh. No?" he offered, just as Bobby rolled his eyes and growled, "Balls."

"So, um," Sam settled onto the couch and confiscated the pie, despite Dean's yelp and grabbing hands, "Be serious, Dean. If this was such a good thing, how come Cas ran off the moment you woke up, huh?"

"I don't know, maybe he needed some space? I don't know if you've noticed, but Cas isn't usually around unless we ask him to be." Dean gave up trying to retake his pie after some moments of abject indignity. Sam always had longer arms. "What's your point, Sam?"

"My point is that I'm not going to be convinced that what happened to you is a good thing until I hear it from Cas." Sam told him evenly. "My point is that the last time I saw you, you were... you weren't all there, Dean, you haven't been all systems go for... well, since you came back, really. And now you're-"

"It's called finally getting somewhere, Sammy." Dean folded his arms. "We didn't have a lot of hope before. Now we've got a year's worth of breathing space and a new card up our sleeve."

"You think that he'd have learned about these kinda deals and how they turn out after the last one he did with the crossroads demon," Bobby muttered gruffly, stamping over to his desk to pour himself a shot of whisky. "Dean, you stupid bastard."

"Call Cas, Dean. Get him here. If he's fine with the new you, then I'm... I guess I'll be fine with it, too."

"Fine." Dean closed his eyes theatrically. "Castiel, get your feathery ass back down here and talk to me, amen." After an empty pause, he added, more cautiously, "Please? This is me asking nicely, Cas."

"Nothing." Sam always did like stating the obvious.

"I'll go find him." Dean pushed himself off the couch. "You can't have any of my pie. I'll be back."

II.

The lease/license/deal with Michael's powers was, Dean had to admit, pretty awesome. One moment he was sitting on Bobby's couch, and in the next, he was standing in some sort of hollowed out sandstone cave. Shafts of light fed in through the jagged squares of windows to his left and right, and pitted, broken slabs of gray stone were the remnants of what were probably once benches, lining a narrow walkway to a shattered stone altar.

Sitting on the largest piece of the altar with his elbows over his knees was Castiel, who looked very surprised to see him. "Dea... Michael," Castiel corrected, getting to his feet, eyes narrowed, fists clenched, like he was wavering between fighting or running off again.

"Uh no, it's still Dean. And you're staying here until we talk," Dean added, as the angel tensed up. "Or I'm just going to chase you around the universe until you get tired. This place is sort of... caveman chic, don't you think? Is this where you go when you're not with us? Because Bobby could totally lend you a room, man."

"This is where I come when I have questions." Castiel ran a palm briefly over a slanting slab of altar. "This cave is one of the first places of worship that was crafted by your kind. God has long since left his House, but I find the echoes soothing."

So it seemed that the angelic version of a security blanket was old churches. Not creepy at all. "Sam wants to know why you ran off."

"Because you gave in, Dean!" For a nerdy looking angel, Castiel could go from zero to all guns blazing in the blink of an eye, with added shock value. It was always like being savaged by a quiet fluffy animal, no matter how often it happened. The quiet ones were always the scary ones. "I've killed my brothers for you! I've rebelled from Heaven for you! I believed in you. And you gave in."

"Hey, hey, hold up for a sec," Dean raised his palms up. "Calm down, Cas. It's still me, isn't it?"

"I don't know why-"

"It's still me, isn't it?" Dean repeated, gently.

Castiel shot him a desperate look, then dropped his eyes. "Not entirely."

"What do you mean, 'not entirely'? I'm still in the driver's seat, Cas. Just because I got my hands on some angel mojo doesn't mean that I'm now someone else, all right? We can work with this, Cas. I've got a whole year to myself, and I'm far stronger now. A year's a long time, and I've got some ideas about what to do next."

The angel was still staring at his feet, and with a sigh, Dean took a step closer. "Cas..."

Instantly, Castiel shut his eyes, sucking in a tight breath. "Dean, could you... could you hide your wings? You are making me uncomfortable."

Dean looked over his shoulder at the wide expanse of nothing, puzzled, then back at Castiel. "Uh. Fine work on the humour front there, Cas, but I was trying to be serious."

"You have more than five senses now, Dean," Castiel muttered. "Fold your wings inwards."

"Cas, I really don't..." Dean hesitated, as he felt rather than saw a blur in reality over his shoulder, and as he concentrated, the blur seemed to coalesce slowly, like an image coming into focus, and abruptly, he could see them. A pair of wings. Insubstantial, and a pale gray, the span of each wider than the room, each beautifully formed pinion dipping into the floor, the wall. As he reached behind his shoulder to touch one of the feathers, he felt a faint electrical tingle, ticklish and not unpleasant. "Awesome. You mean these have been out the whole time?"

Castiel was... Castiel was blushing. "Yes, Dean. Fold them inwards."

"Um." Insubstantial muscles that he'd never had allowed him to pull the wings up, awkwardly, over his back, like the weirdest fucking cloak ever. "Like this?"

Castiel didn't even open his eyes. "No."

It took some mental strain and experimentation, but eventually silently instructing the wings to go invisible and stay that way seemed to work. Castiel opened his eyes, looking relieved, as though Dean had been... "Cas, was that the angelic equivalent of flashing someone?" When Cas merely looked bewildered, Dean clarified, "You know, uh, whipping it out? Acts of indecent exposure?"

Castiel looked up, at the ceiling, but he was blushing again. "Ah. Well. You weren't to know."

"So," Dean added, mildly, "That first time we met, in the garage..."

"I had no choice! Neither of you were going to believe that I wasn't a demon." The angel looked agitated now, which wasn't much of an improvement. "I apologize."

Day one of Dean Winchester becoming a pseudo-angel: heal brother, get pie, accidentally flash another angel. Hallelujah. Somehow, everything seemed like it was going as it always would have been. "No offense taken, man." Awkward. "So, um, you accept that I'm me, right?"

Castiel's eyes darted around the room as he shuffled his feet, then he exhaled loudly. "For now, yes."

"Great! Come back with me and repeat that to Sam. Everyone can stop freaking out, and we can concentrate on the end of the world."

"I... I need a moment." Castiel was staring at his feet again. "I will follow you as soon as I am able."

"Hey, I'm good with the Angel Express now, Cas. If you're out of juice, I'll take us both."

Castiel backed away hastily as Dean took another step forward, hand outraised, and stumbled over a rock to fall heavily against the wall. With a last, panicky look, he abruptly disappeared, with the usual sound of a flutter of wings, and with a sigh, Dean closed his eyes and concentrated.

This time, Castiel was on a white strip of a beach, on some sort of tropical island, the endless blue of the ocean melting into the sky in the horizon. "Stop following me, Dean!"

"Not until you tell me why you're acting like I'm some sort of monster!"

"Your wings are showing again, Dean." Castiel was facing the forest, his back resolutely to Dean. "You're meant to fold them each time you use them to fly."

Dean concentrated. "Fine. Happy now?"

"You're like a child with these powers. Michael would have known that. You can't face Lucifer as you are now. You can't even face any of the stronger demons. You'll waste your year, or worse, you'll hurt yourself, and then Michael will take over."

"Okay, so I need a teacher. I can learn, you can teach."

Castiel sighed. "You were born human. You've always been human. You can't just pick up how to use Michael's powers the way you can pick up using one of your rudimentary projectile weapons."

"Me and my shotgun are hurt," Dean padded through the warm sand to Castiel's shoulder. "Look. Maybe I'm leaking angel mojo everywhere, or whatever it is that's freaking you out. But this is our best shot right now, and I intend to take it. So you can be Mister Miyagi for a while and teach me how to use this, or..."

"Or what, Dean?" Castiel glanced at him, jaw set.

"Or I guess I'll keep following you around and annoying you until you give in," Dean plastered on his best shit-eating grin, but Castiel merely scowled at him. "The deal's been made, Cas. You can be angry with me all you want. It doesn't change that I've already made my choice. I'm asking you to trust me on this one. I'm asking you to help me. Can you do that?"

Castiel glared at him, for a long moment, then he sighed again and looked away. "I will. I must."

"Good." Dean said, relieved. "Thanks. For everything." At Castiel's arched eyebrow, Dean added, somewhat self-consciously, "I mean, I guess I never got to tell you. Raising me from hell. Sticking with us all this way. Breaking ranks for us."

"It's called having faith, Dean. And I do have faith in you." Castiel watched the surf break on the beach, white froth flowing back towards the sea, then he set his shoulders. "I'll meet you back at Bobby's. I just need a moment to... absorb the change in circumstances."

"Okay, Cas." Dean could do that. "Well. Now that that's all over. Uh. See you later, then."

Let it be known that Dean Winchester could handle a chick flick, All-The-Feelings, I-Trust-You-Please-Trust-Me moment as well as anyone without coming off as being too emotionally stunted. Relieved, Dean concentrated on moving himself back to Bobby's place.

Sam was finishing Dean's pie when Dean reappeared in the living room. "Whoah!"

"Oh, fuck you too," Dean glared. "That was mine."

"Cas didn't come?"

"Thank you, Captain Obvious." Dean settled into the couch. "He's occupied right now, and he'll come over when he can."

"Okay," Sam looked dubious. "In the meantime... Dean, when we spoke to Raphael, he shorted out the Eastern seaboard when he showed up. Where you're concerned, the lights and the house are still fine. Are you sure that you got all of Michael's powers?"

Dean shrugged. "Gabriel doesn't short out his bit of the world when he shows up. Maybe Raphael just likes to show off. Besides, it seems that I need training."

Sam snorted. "Huh."

"What do you mean, 'huh'? And where's Bobby?"

"Bobby's in the scrap yard. Who's going to teach you?"

"Cas, obviously. He's the only angel we've met so far other than pre-Terminator-Anna whom I haven't felt like punching out after five minutes of contact... what?"

Sam managed to stop laughing after his second attempt. "It's just funny, Dean. We used to have to teach Cas about the human world. People skills. Working the television, even. And now he's going to teach you about being a not-angel. It's like the tables have turned."

"Yeah, well, it seems like they have protocol like you would not believe," Dean grumbled, tilting his head back to press his skull over the edge of the couch. "Anyway, I was thinking. Firstly, and obviously, Lucifer can be killed by one of those angel-killing swords. Lateral thinking - what are those swords made out of? Can they be made into shells and loaded into the Colt? Secondly, the last time a shakedown happened, Michael stuffed Lucifer into that cage. The cage's still there, maybe we can do it again."

"You were just 'thinking'?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing, Dean," Sam murmured, then he smiled, if tentatively. "I guess hire-purchase deal with an archangel or not, it's good to have you back."

"I've been back for months," Dean pointed out, but Sam only shook his head wryly and pushed himself to his feet.

III.

Castiel reappeared when Bobby had passed out asleep over his desk and Sam was beginning to nod off; Dean had already taken a few naps over the couch.

"Dean, your wings are showing," Castiel muttered, eyes again resolutely closed.

"His what?" Sam looked over sharply at Dean, then back at Castiel, and then mouthed, I think Cas just made a joke.

"Long story, Sammy." Dean forced himself to concentrate. After a moment, Castiel visibly relaxed. "Okay, Cas. Tell him."

"Dean is still himself for now." Castiel stated woodenly. "It was still a reckless, foolish and unexpected decision, but I suppose that reckless, foolish and unexpected decisions are normal for Dean."

"Hey," Dean glowered, but Sam chuckled. "Feeling better, Cas?"

"No. But I accept Dean's judgment for now."

Dean rolled his eyes, but Sam noted quickly, "Dean had some ideas while you were out."

It seemed that melting down an angel-killing sword was out of the question - each angel apparently created their own blade, as an extension of themselves or something, and the blades were therefore by their nature only unmade when the angel fell or went nuclear. Castiel did, however, start to nod slowly at the possibility of re-using the cage.

"I know that you need the key," Castiel said, as Sam flipped tiredly through the latest book that he was going through. "Its form and existence however would only be known to the archangels. They forged the cage."

"You could ask Michael." Sam glanced at Dean.

"Yeah, about that," Dean coughed, "He's taking this self-determination thing very seriously. For the whole year, the only help I'm getting from him is the powers. Everything else is going to have to be by my own steam. Raphael's an asshole, so I guess the last one in the count is bloody Gabriel, who's so good at hiding from his brothers that I can't get a bead on him."

"I'll make enquiries about his whereabouts." Castiel volunteered. "According to what I've heard, he's found a way to resist responding to summons or scrying. But he's been on Earth long enough to have developed habits. There must be places in which he prefers to reside. We should be able to find him in one of them."

"Good. You do that." Dean agreed, and Castiel straightened up with a faint smile, though he didn't meet Dean's eyes, and disappeared with a sound of fluttering wings.

"Whoah." Sam stared at him, wide-eyed. "Dean, did you do something to Cas?"

"What? Why do you ask?" Dean was not about to explain the Wings Incident to his little brother. Even under torture.

"He just smiled."

"Angels are allowed to smile, Sammy. In fact, I think it was kinda meant to come with the job description," Dean pointed out dryly, and at Sam's skeptical glance, added, "What?"

"You're effectively an angel now, aren't you?"

"Without the usual stick-up-my-ass attitude, sure."

"If you have Michael's powers, you're probably stronger than Cas now, yeah?"

"I guess." That was a funny thought to contemplate. Bringing Castiel along on hunts used to be equivalent to bringing out the big guns, what with the teleportation, mass smiting, super strength, spells and occasional time travel that summed up non-douchebag angelic usefulness. If he was stronger than Castiel now-

"Angels really, really seem to like following orders from stronger angels, don't they?" Sam continued, with his reserved Big-Brother-Is-Being-Stupid-On-Purpose expression.

Dean pressed a palm over his face. "Are you making this into a sex thing? Because I don't think that my brain can handle that. This is Cas we're talking about, Sam. You know, the angel who got spooked when I took him into a brothel? They don't do sex things."

"Sure, Dean," Sam said dryly. "I mean, Cas has always firmly been in your fanclub, but that look he just got? It's like you asked him to be the Dean Fanclub President."

"Aww, did you want to be President, Sammy?" Dean smirked, just to see Sam roll his eyes at him and bury his nose back in the book. Seriously. The ideas that Sam got, sometimes. It had to have to do with his height. All that blood having to pump all the way up to his brain sometimes picked up some crazy on the way. Castiel was happier because they had a nice trump card now, that much was obvious. "I'm going to get more pie. I'm thinking the blueberry one from Square Meal, in New York."

"You know, some people might, when getting 'angeled up', do... other things," Sam suggested, without looking up.

"You mean, getting us some burgers instead while I'm at it?"

"I was referring to, I don't know, working miracles," Sam muttered.

"Turn some water into a fifty-year-old Macallan?"

"...Never mind."