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But Water Is Wider

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Neal startled awake for the third night in a row. He'd always been able to do that, make the jump from deep sleep to alertness in the space between heartbeats and he'd never appreciated that particular talent more than during the past few nights. He held his breath and kept completely still; when his fingers twitched the sound of the sheets rustling against his skin sounded louder than a siren.

The room was still, his easel still exactly where he'd left it with his hat still perched on top. If anyone so much as breathed on it the wrong way it would fall, knocking over the paints set up below and waking Neal before anyone could get too close. Peter would have a field day if he knew Neal had resorted to such a juvenile trap but sometimes even Neal Caffrey needed a security blanket. He moved his eyes just enough to see that the salt line spread in front of the door was still solid.

It was. Good.

The silence stretched long enough that Neal could pretend that maybe he was wrong. Maybe he didn't know exactly what had woken him.

The illusion shattered a moment later when he heard a low growl. He felt his muscles tense at the sound, something primal reaching out and wrapping around him; the growl vibrated through the floor like music played through speakers with the bass turned too high. All at once Neal jolted upright at the sound of something heavy hurling itself at the door, the growling louder now, sharp like the sound of bones breaking. He heard something scratching at the door, a steady, heavy scraping Neal knew wouldn't leave any signs in the daylight.

When the howling started it took every shred of willpower Neal had not to press his hands over his ears like a child hiding from a storm. The shrieking seemed like it went on for years; Neal reached under his pillow, wrapped his fist around the knife he'd started hiding there and kept his eyes trained on the door. He knew it probably wouldn't do any good but it felt better than having nothing

All at once the howling stopped. The growling, the scratching at the door, all of it just ended like Neal had imagined it the whole time. Just stopped, just like it had the past two nights and Neal didn't understand. He sat up and pressed his head against his knees, willing his dinner to stay in his stomach where it belonged. Neal Caffrey did not retch in terror all over his bedsheets. Not two nights in a row, anyway.

He watched the light blink on his anklet until his heartbeat got back under control and he could think like the smooth operator he was supposed to be. And just like the past two nights he could only see one solution: run. Peter would never understand and God knew Neal couldn't explain it to him, but running was his only option now. He had resources, he always did but he couldn't access them staying here.

He was about to snap off his ankle bracelet when his phone rang and Neal picked it up out of habit. When he heard Peter's voice he wished he hadn't. "Neal?" he said, somehow sounding surprised that Neal had answered his own phone. "Are you up?"

"Apparently," he said, raking one hand through his hair.

"Why?"

He sighed. "I lead an exciting life of mystery, Peter. What do you want?"

He could almost see Peter smiling through the phone. "We've got them. I don't know if we can get them both, but I know for sure we can grab one and that's all we need. Get over here and finish tightening the noose."

"I can't." Which was a ridiculous thing to say, because of course Peter wasn't going to accept that.

"Why not?"

"I just can't get over there now. You can close this one without me."

"No we can't, you're the contact, they already trust you. We lose them now they'll be out of the state by morning."

"Peter...."

"Neal," Peter said, the change in his voice making Neal's resolve wilt into nothing. He could count on one hand the number of times he'd heard Peter Burke plead for anything. Especially plead him for anything. It was the same tone that had made him pause just long enough to keep him from getting on that plane with Kate. Neal still hated Peter for that sometimes, late at night when he'd had one too many.

And it was that tone spoken over a file Neal could tell at a glance was in no way official that had kept Neal from running three nights ago. He could only hope he'd live long enough to hate Peter for this one, too. "It's for Victor," he heard Peter say, as if there was anything else to argue about. "I've been living with this case for two years now, Neal, I don't know if I can do two more. And if we lose them tonight...."

Neal sighed. "Give me twenty."

"You have fifteen." Peter hung up but Neal could hear the smile back in his voice. He definitely already hated him for this. He didn't know how El put up with the man.

He pushed himself off the bed, his legs shaking so hard that for a second he thought they'd buckle under him. Pull yourself together, he told himself. Get through this one last job, then he could make his escape.

One hot shower and vintage suit later Neal pulled his hat over his eyes as he stepped over the salt line, careful not to disturb a single grain, and wished he'd never heard of the Winchester brothers.

***

Dean paced the paced the corridor, careful not to make eye contact with any agents as they walked by. His suit collar itched, he was surrounded by feds and Sam was in lock up. They'd had hunts go bad worse than this, but right at that moment Dean was having a hard time thinking of any. He flashed a grin at a female agent who looked at him just a little too closely. The way the guy in charge had looked at him when they'd cuffed Sam was bad enough, he didn't need anyone to start wondering who he was and whether he was supposed to be there. Even though they'd been working the case from different sides and there was no way anyone should be able to connect him with Sam Agent Burke kept glaring at Dean like he'd run over his dog. Dean put his phone to his ear and pressed send, swearing when the call went straight to voice mail. Again. "Dammit Cas, answer your phone."

"Why have you called me twenty times in the past hour?"

Dean spun around, feeling his heart almost leap out of his chest. "Jesus, what did I tell you about doing that?" He dragged Castiel off into a side corridor before anyone could see him and wonder whether he was supposed to be here either. "And check your voice mail."

"I would have if you'd left any," Castiel snapped back. "I was only able to find you because Sam showed me how to activate the GPS function."

Dean gave him a hard look. "You okay? You're crankier than usual." Dean brushed sand out of his hair. "Where the hell were you?"

Castiel sighed. "I was searching in the Sahara. There was a sand storm."

"Good lead?"

"Yes, and I would like to get back to it." He let out another frustrated sigh. "Why did you call me?"

"Sam got nabbed by the Feds," Dean said, gesturing at the office building around them. "I can't get close to him and couldn't figure out any other way to get him out of here."

Castiel's brow furrowed. "Is he in danger?"

"Like physical danger? I don't think so, these guys don't seem like the waterboarding types." He saw Castiel narrow his eyes and cut off the so then why did you call me now? bitching before it could start. "We've always had real bad luck with feds, Cas. Things always go wrong. Last time a lot of good people got killed, and that's on us."

Castiel lowered his eyes. "There's no shame in being fooled by Lilith." He looked around at the headquarter walls as if he were offended by their existence. "Where is he being kept?"

Dean shook his head. "They've got him in interrogation right now, it'll be easier to wait until he's alone again." He could see Castiel's foul mood coming back. "Look, if you'd answered your phone the first time we'd be free and clear."

Dean realized throwing this all on Cas probably wasn't the most productive way to do things, but his own fuse was running pretty short. Fortunately, Castiel chose not to rise to the bait, especially since the two of them bickering in the hallways was the worst way to keep a low profile Dean could think of. "You were the one who encouraged me to search for God," Castiel reminded him.

"Hey, you spring Sam and you can go right back to it. I'll even help."

"I doubt you'd like the Sahara." He brushed more sand out of his hair. "I'm not very fond of it myself at the moment."

"Maybe you'll find a tip that God's hiding out in the Playboy Mansion jacuzzi."

Castiel just frowned at him, his brow furrowed again. "That seems very unlikely," he said, as if comparing that to his mental list of possibilities and honestly, seeing Cas that baffled almost made all this worth it for Dean. "But I suppose if you think---" His entire posture changed, tension standing him up straight and his expression going sharp. "Did you hear that?"

Dean just blinked at him. "Hear what? No, Cas, I didn't...." Before he could even finish his sentence Castiel whooshed away in a flutter of wings, in such a hurry the backdraft slammed doors closed and blew sand everywhere. Dean waved at the agent who poked a head in to check on things, pretending to be on his phone again as if nothing weird had just happened. When the guy mercifully left him alone – the first thing that had gone Dean's way all weekend – Dean stared at the empty hallway. "Guess I'll just wait here then," he muttered under his breath.

***

Diana closed the door to the observation room behind her and accepted the coffee from Jones with a grateful sigh. "Why did we let ourselves get dragged out of bed at 3 AM again? And by again, I mean for the third night in a row?"

"Because Peter's the boss and he knows we don't have social lives."

"Speak for yourself," Diana teased back, grinning at Jones' mock offense. Anything to keep herself awake and on her feet.

"He still out there?" Jones said, nodding toward the hallway outside.

"Still there and checking out my ass every time I walk by."

"Exactly how many favors does Peter owe you now?"

"He knows I'm keeping a list." She took a sip of the coffee; it was just under scalding but Diana was so thankful for the caffeine she didn't care.

"Peter didn't mention why we're not arresting that guy and throwing him in there with the other one, did he?" Jones said, jerking his head toward the fidgeting figure sitting across from Peter in the interrogation room.

Diana studied their suspect. Other than the fact that he'd been caught with a forged FBI badge she wasn't sure why he even was their suspect; they'd caught the thief behind the art theft and she'd sworn up and down she'd only met the man calling himself Agent Tyler two days before. She even claimed he'd torched the painting as soon as they'd gotten their hands on it, although there was no proof of that. There was no proof of anything involving this would-be Agent Tyler aside from the forgery, him or the other man currently lurking around their building, but Peter had acted like nabbing the actual thief was beyond the point. "Peter's not talking to anyone lately, aside from Caffrey. Where is he, anyway?"

"Sacked out in one of the other interrogation rooms. Peter's been riding him even harder than the two of us." He crossed his arms, drumming his fingers. "Is it my imagination or is Peter wound a little tight lately?"

Diana shook her head. "I wouldn't be surprised if he has more coffee than blood in his veins at this point." She narrowed her eyes, watching the man calling himself Tyler fidget in the chair. He was a big man but handsome and clean cut, even if he didn't have quite the polish she'd come to expect from pros like Caffrey. He hadn't put up a fight when they'd arrested him, turning around and putting his hands up like someone who was no stranger to arrests. The more she watched him the more she thought the fidgeting was a put on; there wasn't the usual concealed panic she was used to seeing from perps caught in the act, no bargaining. Everything about the case and this suspect hit her instincts in all the wrong ways.

"So, Mr...Tyler," they heard Peter say, starting the interrogation. What followed was nothing out of the ordinary and Diana let her exhausted mind uncharacteristically wander.

She regretted that a few minutes later when Jones went stiff beside her, jolting her back to attention. "What the hell is that?"

Diana could only frown as she saw Peter pull out a thick file folder, definitely not one from their own records room. "I have no idea." When Peter reached over to switch off the interrogation room microphones Diana and Jones could only stare at each other in shock.

***

Sam had to admit, he'd been interrogated in worse places. It was killing him to know that he'd have to tell Dean he'd been right, hunting in New York had been a horrible idea, but at least the cells and interrogation rooms here were clean and well lit, a far cry from some of the backwoods jails he'd found himself in.

That was about the only bright side Sam could find. He wished he knew what had happened to Dean; he hadn't heard anything about him getting arrested but it wasn't as if the feds were going to tell him anything. He studied the agent in front of him, a man who'd introduced himself as Agent Burke. Sam would have thought a lifetime of hunting would've made him a good judge of character but the guy he'd come to know had actually been named Neal Caffrey had snowed him completely. He doubted anyone who a man like that worked for would be any less impressive, and this Agent Burke had a sharp way of looking at him that made him feeling like he could peel Sam's skin off with just a look. Smart, Sam thought to himself. This guy is smart. Don't try to get to fancy here.

Still, when the interrogation started it hit all the usual notes and Sam found himself falling back on his usual answers, the ones long, sad experience had taught him to keep cops at bay. The interrogation was so normal, in fact, that when Burke pulled out a thick file Sam didn't even notice.

This was a mistake. Sam would realize later he'd completely underestimated how smart Peter Burke really was. He saw Burke turn off the microphone and had just enough time to think about how strange that was before Burke leaned forward. "I think it's about time we stopped playing games. Sam."

Sam plastered on a fake smile, his heart pounding in his chest. "Okay, you caught me on the fake ID, but that doesn't mean...."

"Sam Winchester, twenty-six years old," Burke said, paging through the file. "Born in Lawrence, Kansas. It says your mother died in a...house fire when you were six months old." The way he'd said house fire raised the hair on Sam's neck, like he didn't believe a single word of that. "Your father kept you and your brother on the move after that, it says here." He took a page out of the folder and slid it across the table, and Sam felt his mouth go dry when he recognized Dean's mugshot, the one from that shifter mess a few years ago. "That wouldn't be your brother, would it? Because my agents tell me he's skulking around my halls planning some kind of half-cocked rescue as we speak."

He could hear Dean's voice telling him Stick with the story, Sammy. "Look, I don't know anything about this. I thought I was here about that painting...."

The look on Burke's face withered Sam's words in his throat. "This was never about any painting." He went back to the file, that sudden, angry edge in his voice fading back to professional boredom. "It says here that you and...Dean?" He looked up at Sam, one eyebrow raised. "I take it your parents were big Rat Pack fans? Neal's gonna love that."

"They're family names," Sam said, the words coming out before he could stop them and he saw Burke's lips curl up at his victory.

"It also says here the two of you are connected to numerous murder cases, missing persons, vandalism, and oh look, grave desecration. Interesting hobbies you two have."

Sam swallowed hard. "Look, I'll answer any questions about this painting but I don't know anything about...."

"Of course you do." Burke closed the file, his eyes hard and angry as he stared holes into Sam. "But I'm not interested in those right now. Or in that painting. I only have two questions I want you to answer." Sam fidgeted as Burke leaned forward, his arms on the table. "First, I want you to tell me why Victor Hendrickson sent me a file full of information about you and your brother. And then I want you to tell me how he really died."

Sam felt a bead of sweat roll down his neck and did his best to ignore it. He should have expected this. He was sitting across from an FBI agent, of course this was about Hendrickson. That wasn't the kind of thing that just stayed a guilty nightmare. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said, a smooth, well-practiced lie.

He could tell it didn't fool Burke for a second. "Why don't you sit here for a while and try real hard to remember." Then he gathered up the folder and left the room, leaving Sam alone with just his thoughts and a dark, guilty pit in his stomach for company.

***

Diana caught Jones' eye as Peter stepped out of the interrogation room, his lips set in that thin line that said his mind was already one hundred miles ahead, planning his next move. She'd always admired Peter's ability to treat the world like a chess game, it was part of what made him such an asset to the Bureau, but it did come with some weaknesses. For instance, if you did it in just the right way, when Peter worked himself into this state of mind, especially when he was as exhausted as she knew he had to be, it could be so easy to catch him off guard.

Diana smiled to herself as she saw Jones move into position. It was bad enough Peter'd dragged her out of bed three nights in a row; if he was going to do it because he was working some mystery case, she sure as hell was going to find out why. "Hey, boss?" she said, waving Peter over. "I need to ask you about something."

An on his game Peter Burke would have known there was something fishy about that, but all Diana saw in his eyes was exhaustion as he frowned and walked toward her. "Sure. What about?"

"It's...private," she said, putting on an embarrassed shrug. "Mind if we talk in your office?"

Peter frowned again at that, but he nodded and let her lead the way. When they were both inside she turned around, leaning against his desk. "Sorry, Peter. This is an intervention."

Peter turns around just in time to see Jones close the office door, thumbing the lock closed and standing in front of it with his arms crossed. "An intervention?" Peter said. "What do you---" He sighed, his shoulders slumping. "Is it another year already? Look, I promise, I'm not growing the mustache back...."

"No, no, there's still three months left for that," she said, waving that away. "We're having it catered."

"There'll be a cookie cake," Jones deadpanned.

"But then...." Peter looked between them, at an uncharacteristic loss. "What's this about?"

"What's in that file?" Jones asked.

"And why did you turn off the microphones?" Diana saw his expression go tight and thought oh no, this could be bad.

"Don't ask me that."

"The question's already out there. What is going on?"

Peter crossed his arms, quiet for a moment. "I don't want the two of you involved in this. I didn't want Neal involved either but I couldn't find a way around it."

Diana narrowed her eyes. "I'm just going to pretend you didn't say that."

Peter shook his head. "This could be your career. Both of your careers," he said, backing up so he could make with eye contact with both of them.

"Maybe you could let us make that decision, huh?" she said, taking a step toward him; she looked over at Jones and saw him nod in agreement.

Peter looked between them again, then – possibly because he realized they had no intention of letting him out of the room until they got some answers – he let out a soft, defeated sigh. "This doesn't leave this room." He was quiet for a few seconds, staring at the floor. "Have either of you heard of an agent named Victor Hendrickson?"

Jones frowned. "Yeah. Yeah, he gave a lecture when I was at Quantico."

"We were roommates there," Peter said. "Brilliant mind. An expert at finding connections, took chances, even ones that seemed crazy at the time. The kind of agent who drives supervisors crazy." Peter smiled to himself. "A lot of agents start with that kind of passion but Victor never lost it. I tried to bring him in here but he wouldn't have it. He was drawn to the dark cases. He said I could have the thieves, he'd take the murderers and we'd make the world safe from there."

"I remember the memorial," Diana said, keeping her voice gentle. "There was an explosion in a police station out west, right? In Colorado?"

Peter's lips twisted. "That was the official story. They classified that file for a reason, and don't ask me how I got my hands on it." He sucked in a harsh breath, his eyes going hard. "There was an explosion, but everyone in that station was already dead long before it. And the bodies, they...." The look in Peter's eyes made Diana sick. "Victor shouldn't have died like that. No one should."

"What does that have to do with tall, dark and floppy-haired over in the other room?" Diana said, desperate to pull Peter away from the images in his head.

He shot her a grateful look. "Three days before the explosion he sent me this by messenger," he said, pulling out the battered folder, "with a note saying that if anything happened to him I was the only one he could trust to put this to bed.." He opened it, paging through papers and handing one photo to Diana, the other to Jones. "I didn't even look at it until he died. Maybe if I had...but that doesn't matter now. Their real names are Winchester," he said, and when Diana looked down she recognized the suspect sitting the room down the hall. "That's Sam," Peter said, nodding to her, "and that's Dean," he said as he glanced over at Jones. "Brothers, originally from Kansas, no current fixed address. And if the information in here is to be believed, they've spent the last few years going from one end of this country to the other committing every crime you can think of, despite being legally dead for most of it." He rubbed his forehead, suddenly looking ten years older. "Look, both of you, this is as off the book as you can get. I'm glad Hughes is gone this week because he'd have to smack us down."

"Why aren't we arresting this joker?" Jones said, waving Dean's mug shot.

"With what evidence? I'm not supposed to have this. From the look of this, Victor wasn't exactly working from the book either. I'm sure he has a forged ID like his brother here but I don't want to take the chance he runs."

"Do you think they were behind the explosion?" Diana asked.

Peter hesitated, then shook his head. "They were spotted out of town long before the explosion, but they were definitely there. I need to know what really happened in that station house. Victor deserves that much." He looked at both of them. "Feel free to back out now."

Diana looked across the room at Jones, who shrugged. "You want me to keep a tail on this one?" he said, tapping Dean's mug shot.

Peter sighed. "Can't say I didn't warn you two."

"Yeah, we're all wild and crazy rebels," Diana said, staring down at her own mug shot. "When do we go in for round two with Sam here?"

"Let him stew some more. If I don't go home for a few hours I think my wife's going to tie me up."

"Kinky," she said, grinning at his dirty look."I guess I'll call Christie and tell her I'll be home late. Hopefully she wasn't serious about throwing all my stuff out the window."

"I'm glad you two are on my team," he said, taking the mugshots back and closing the folder. He waved Jones aside and opened the door. "Let's hope we don't wind up in an interrogation room ourselves when this is over."

***

Castiel skulked around the corner, head cocked to the side to catch the faint scratch of claws on tile. He'd been curt with Dean without meaning to be, the frustration of his own hunt shortening his temper. Despite what he'd told Dean he wasn't at all sure this new lead would yield results; they always seemed like good leads before slipping through his fingers like so much sand. He kept telling himself this was a test by his Father, that if he endured this trial he would finally be rewarded with answers.

Sometimes he wondered if he'd merely learned how to lie to himself a little too well.

Castiel pushed all of that aside. He breathed deep, the faint tinge of sulfur burning his lungs. This was a hunt with a quarry he could lay hands on, one he could see and touch and smell. One that could bleed. He caught the scent again, down the hallway across from him, and felt his lips curl. This was the kind of hunt he'd been created for.

He caught his first glimpse of his target, a large, dark shape pacing outside one of doors and paused, glad there was no wind to carry his scent. He'd never seen a hellhound like it before; the sleek fur was tipped with silver, giving it an ethereal cast as it moved, its claws glowing a metallic silver as they clicked across the floor. The creature's lips pulled back from its snout, revealing long canines that gleamed the same silver as the claws as a low growl rumbled through the air. Castiel felt the sound slide under this skin and attack his Grace like a blade.

He tightened his grip on his sword. Hellhounds were dangerous opponents, in many ways more dangerous than the demons who controlled them; even if an attack by one couldn't be fatal to an angel that was made up for in brutality. He'd had to fight off more than he cared to remember on his way to finding Dean in the Pit and his Grace still bore faint scars from those battles.

Castiel indulged in a grim smile. He was going to enjoy these next few minutes of petty revenge.

The creature lowered its head, the powerful muscles in its shoulders bunching and his fur bristling as it readied itself to charge the door; Castiel pounced just as it leaped, throwing it off balance and forcing it to twist into an awkward landing. He swung his sword in a tight arc, stabbing it through the creature's spine. It yelped as it collapsed to the floor, its back legs limp and useless, and Castiel wrapped one hand around its muzzle to keep it quiet. It struggled for a few more seconds and Castiel straddled it, using his weight for leverage. Even crippled it was stronger than him, something that alarmed him more than he cared to admit, and he squeezed one hand around its throat. It took almost a minute of steady pressure but the creature finally quieted, staring up at Castiel with yellow eyes that glowed with hate.

Castiel removed his hand from the hellhound's muzzle and wrenched its head around, mindful to keep out of the range of its claws. "Who is your quarry?" he demanded, twisting the his blade in the wound when he didn't get an answer fast enough.

The hellhound whined, panting for a few seconds before snarling at him, a sound that would have been meaningless to anyone else's ears. "Caffrey," he repeated, pronouncing the word carefully. "How many in your pack?"

The creature snarled again and Castiel was so surprised he almost dropped it."For one soul?" The hellhound let out a sharp, whining bark, so close to a human laugh Castiel felt his borrowed skin crawl. "Who is your master?"

This time there was no answer. Which shouldn't have been possible. "I compel you to name your master," he ordered, tapping his Grace to lend power to the words.

The only response he got was for the hellhound to bare its fangs at him in an expression that looked alarmingly like a sneer.

He heard a sound on the other side of the door and knew he didn't have any time to solve this disturbing new mystery; he grabbed the hellhound's head and twisted, snapping its neck in one motion, then backed away as it dissolved into bile and caustic black smoke only he could see. He ducked behind a corner as someone came out of the room, a man he judged to be somewhere around Dean's age, dark-haired and dressed in a suit. The man glanced around the hallway, eyes wide like he'd woken suddenly from a nightmare. Castiel closed his eyes and stretched his senses until he could hear the Pit's claim echoing in the man's heartbeat. So. This was indeed Neal Caffrey.

Castiel watched the man shake his head, as if that was all it took to force the nightmare to be false, then he saw Caffrey straighten himself, smoothing his expression the way he'd seen Dean do when he felt weak and didn't want anyone else to see. Caffrey then walked down the hall toward the din of the busier part of the building, so distracted he never knew Castiel was there watching.

***

Dean almost jumped out of his skin when he felt Castiel just appear back beside him. "Dammit, Cas, we talked about that." Dean frowned, taking a good looked and realizing Castiel's face was flushed and his hair mussed up, even more than it usually was. "Fuck, what is this all over you?" he asked, pointing out the black, still wet stains on the bottom part of his coat.

Castiel stared at his coat curiously, as if Dean had made the stains appear by pointing them out. "I had to take care of something," he said, glancing at Dean in a way that told him there was hell of a lot more to that.

"What does that --- hey, there's the guy in charge," Dean said, dragging back around the corner as Peter Burke came out his office, flanked by his two flunkies. "And that's the guy who got Sam caught," he told Cas, pointing out the young guy in the suit coming up from the other offices, his hat slung low over his eyes as he leaned against the wall, seemingly making a point of not looking at anyone.

"Is it now?" Castiel said, his words almost carefully bland.

Before Dean could ask why Castiel was acting so weird he saw Burke turn around, his face lighting up as an attractive, dark-haired woman walked up and threw her arms around him. "Man, look at that," Dean sighed, more wistfully than he'd intended. "No cop should be able to score a wife that hot." Dean's lip reading wasn't the best, especially at this distance, but he made out the words home soon? from her and soon, promise from him and Dean knew that would be their chance. She glanced in their direction and Burke quickly pulled her attention back to him; between that and the way the black cop kept staring at him Dean was starting to wonder if he was getting paranoid or if they were all just playing with him.

He put the thought aside. Once they got Sam out of here, it wouldn't matter anyway. "Okay Cas, looks like our chance is coming up, Burke's gonna be heading out...." He trailed off when he saw the look on Castiel's face; the guy was always intense, he didn't have any other setting, but this was something new altogether. When he put his hand on Castiel's arm he jumped like Dean had startled him, possibly the most un-Cas like thing Dean could think of. "Dude, you okay?"

"I'm fine," he said, nodding in a vague way that screamed to Dean oh hell I'm not. "I have something I need to attend to."

He was gone before Dean could say another word.

***

Elizabeth sighed as she hunted through her bag for her keys. Three nights of Peter not sleeping had meant three nights of her not sleeping, which meant that she'd gotten all the way to work before realizing she'd forgotten the plans for the event they had to get perfect by the next day. She wished Peter would believe her when she told him that when he slept on the couch to "not disturb her" it only kept her from sleeping anyway. She'd much rather have him for a few hours and be woken up then have to deal with another night of that.

She hoped he'd been telling the truth when he said this case was almost wrapped up. The sooner this was out of the both of their lives, the better.

Elizabeth felt a faint tremor of premonition as she pushed the key into the lock, one that told her to forget about the plans and just leave. The little voice was convincing enough that she paused for a moment before shaking it away as she turned the key and opened the door. It was just fatigue talking, fatigue and worry about Peter.

As she walked into the apartment the feeling only got stronger and it was only seconds before she spotted the trenchcoated figure sitting on her sofa. "Please leave," she said, her heart hammering in her chest. This is what happened when she didn't trust her instincts. His head turned toward her, blue eyes intense as he tilted his head, studying her, and Elizabeth swallowed hard. "You don't belong here."

"I don't belong here?" he said, his voice a low, venomous rasp.

"Castiel, don't...."

He stood up, rounding on her with fury in his eyes. "Sister, what are you doing here?"

Chapter Text

Elizabeth took a deep breath as she closed the door behind her, wondering how many more chances she would have to feel air in her lungs. "I didn't think it would be you," she said, turning around to face him. "I've been waiting so long for someone to find me but I never thought they would send you."

His brow furrowed. "You think I'm here to bring you home?"

"Aren't you?"

He shook his head, letting out a soft, almost scoffing sound. "You have been gone a long time." He tilted his head again. "I'm curious. Who did you think would be sent?"

Elizabeth hugged her arms across her chest, the shock of finding Castiel sitting in her living room after not seeing another angel for so long settling into a wary uneasiness. This wasn't at all how she'd always imagined this conversation would go. "I don't know. Uriel, maybe. He was usually sent out for these kinds of things."

He made that scoffing sound again and Elizabeth felt the uneasiness turn into alarm. None of this was like the taciturn brother she remembered. "You can lay that worry to rest," he said, a bitter twist to the words.

"Why?"

He looked down at the floor, his expression changing into something that turned her stomach to ice. "He's dead. For nearly a year now."

"What? How?"

He glanced at her curiously. "You and he were never close."

"That doesn't mean I wanted him dead." In fact, she could count on one hand the number of her siblings she'd disliked more than Uriel but that didn't dull the shock of finding he was gone.

"You only say that because you don't know what he was doing." He shook his head. "If you returned home now you would find many missing voices." He looked back at her, the fury in his eyes tempered by something raw that made her want to sink into the floor. "We thought you lost. Anna fell and then you disappeared. Right before the Siege."

"Castiel, I'm not a solider, I was never going to be part of the Siege...." She trailed off at the look on his face; it was a flimsy excuse and she knew it.

"No one at the garrison knew what had become of you. We grieved for you."

She could only sigh. "I wasn't trying to hurt anyone."

"Elisheva...."

"It's Elizabeth now."

It was like she'd slapped him. The look in his eyes went hard as he examined her again. "You're dampening your Grace. You're even allowing your vessel to age."

"Well, of course I am. I didn't want to be found, remember? And humans tend to notice after a while if you just don't age."

His voice was soft when he spoke again. "Why did you do this? You knew Earth was being opened to us again after the Siege. We needed you."

Elizabeth sank down on the couch, confident now that why ever Castiel had reappeared in her life, he wasn't going to drag her back to Heaven in the next five minutes. "It wasn't planned," she finally said. "I did intend to return when my mission was over. Then a week before I was supposed to go back the gallery where I was working was robbed and the agent they sent to investigate was funny and cute and...just terrible at flirting. Honestly, just the worst you've ever seen," she said, smiling at the memory. "And he was honest. And courageous and...noble. He shines, Castiel. You look at his soul and he shines. I never realized how disappointing we are until I met a human who really was everything we're supposed to be." She let out a long breath. "So I was curious. And I was selfish," she admitted. "I decided, okay, I'll overstay another week. Just one week. Then it was a second week. Then I just stayed." She looked up at him. "Do you like coffee?"

He frowned, clearly thrown by the change of subject. "I...don't know?"

"I'll make us some. This is definitely a conversation that needs coffee." She got up, watching him fidget from the corner of her eye as she turned on the coffee maker. "You can sit, you know."

"I'm fine," Castiel answered, as if he thought he could get back control of the conversation if he just kept standing.

"Suit yourself." She breathed deep as she poured out the coffee. Elizabeth knew Peter would never believe how literally she meant it when she said coffee smelled better than Heaven. "How do you take it?" she called back to Castiel.

"Take what?"

Elizabeth grinned. "You look like a milk and sugar person." She walked back over with the two mugs, placing one on a coaster on the table and taking a long, bracing sip from the other. "I should have left when I knew he was going to propose," she said, staring off into the memory. "I'd been planning to, actually."

"What changed?"

She looked up at him, glad that the hostility was gone from his voice. "There was a case. It was a forgery ring; all of these 'forgotten' works by great masters were surfacing and being sold through private dealers, just to make it all seem more exclusive. Peter's worked hundreds of variations on that over the years, even by then it was practically routine, but when it came time for the arrest things went wrong." She took another sip of coffee, the taste bitter now. "The leading story on the news that night was about two FBI agents shot in Queens and Castiel, I swear, I would rather be stabbed than ever feel that way again. That was the last time I flew." She could still feel that moment she first saw Peter safe and sound, as if it lived permanently in her bones. "He was fine, just grazed, but the other agent died."

 

"If he had died he would be in Heaven."

"I didn't want him to be. And I know exactly how terrible that is, you don't have to tell me." She tapped her fingernail against the mug. "He told me that he'd been shot at before but this was the first time he'd been afraid to die because that meant he would never see me again. He may as well put a tether on me," she said, shaking her head. "He proposed two weeks later and I never once regretted saying yes." She looked up at him. "Aren't you going to ask how I could choose one human over all of Heaven?"

To her surprise he sat beside her with the heaviest sigh she'd ever heard. "Humans are vexing," was all he said.

She stared at him for a long moment, then pressed his coffee mug into his hands. "Drink this before it gets cold," she said, smiling when he took a sip as solemnly as if he were receiving communion.

He frowned for a moment. "Should this be sweeter?"

"I'll get you some more sugar," she said, taking his mug to stir in another cube. "I saw you at the station with the Righteous Man," she said, keeping her tone carefully light as she handed him back his coffee.

"Dean," he said, as if all of Heaven didn't know his name. "His name is Dean." He took another sip of coffee, nodding absently when it seemingly passed inspection. "I'm not here to bring to bring you back to Heaven."

"I'd gathered that." She put her mug back down on its coaster and squeezed his arm, encouraging him to look at her. "Whatever brought you here, I'm very glad I got to see you again."

He looked away, his lips twisting into a bitter line. "I think you're the only one of our family who would say that to me now." He let out a long breath. "I've been barred from Heaven. Cut off. I can't even hear any of their voices any more." The look in his eyes when he turned back to her was so breathtakingly desolate she reached out to hold his hand. "If you brought me to Heaven now you would probably be rewarded."

"I would never," she murmured. The sentiment only strengthened when she took a careful look at him, past his vessel and into the frayed wreck of his Grace, and while seeing the torn and tattered edges was upsetting it was what she would expect from someone in exile. What sent her heart up into her throat was the faint spiderweb of cracks running all through him, such clear record of his Grace being ripped apart and stitched back together over and over again it was like she was could watch it happen. Only one thing caused scars like that.

He caught the look on her face and flinched away. "I didn't know it was so obvious."

She traced along his hairline, an analogous spot to one of the scars. "I won't apologize for looking." She was having a hard time fighting down the righteous fury as she gazed into the depth of the suffering he'd been put through; living with humans had only increased her already keen dislike of torture, especially when it hid behind euphemisms like persuasion. "If I go back I wonder if they'll do that to me."

"That won't happen," he insisted, as if just saying the words could make it true.

"It should never happen." She squeezed his hand again."I'm very proud of you, Castiel." He gave her a sideways glance, as if he thought she was making fun of him. "Stop that. I am. We've both seen brothers come back from persuasions as shells, they were so broken."

"I did break," he said softly. "I'd discovered information that could have prevented the final Seal from breaking." He turned back her, fresh horror in his eyes. "You don't know how corrupt we've become. Heaven is helping to orchestrate the Apocalypse. They allowed the Seals to break, time after time. I found this out and they recalled me before I could tell Dean. By the time they were done with me I'd been...persuaded to keep silent."

"Oh, sweetie, please don't do this to yourself." She could only sigh when he looked away again, shame etched in every line of his face. "Did you tell Dean?"

"By then it was too late."

She rolled her eyes. "But you told him."

Now he just seemed confused, which at least was a step up from the self-flagellation quicksand he'd mired himself in. "Yes?"

She sighed, resisting the urge to explain this the way she would to a five-year-old. "So after being dragged kicking and screaming from your vessel, and don't you dare pretend that isn't how it happened, and going through what we both know is a lot more than just persuasion, you then turned around and did the one thing they'd tried to brainwash you into not doing. Then you apparently rebelled enough that they exiled you completely. Castiel, don't you see how miraculous that is?"

"They did rather more than exile me then," he murmured, but she could tell he hadn't thought about it like that before. Before she could ask what he'd meant by that his expression shuttered. "I don't want to talk about this anymore."

"Okay." She propped her chin up on one hand. "Tell me about this Dean, then."

His lips pressed together. "He's stubborn. And profane, and indulges in a long series of vices. I think he creates new forms of blasphemy just so I can censure him for it. I've never known a being who had to question everything the way he does."

"That does sound vexing."

He stared down at his hands. "I understand what you mean. How a soul can shine." He glanced up at her, his brows suddenly furrowed. "How did you know Dean as the Righteous Man before I said his name?"

"Because you marked him," she said, nudging his shoulder with her own. "Why did you do that?"

She didn't think she'd ever seen her brother look embarrassed before. "I was wounded fighting our way back out of Hell. I wanted to make sure that if I...fell in battle the next of the garrison sent would be able to find him. I forgot to remove it when we finally did escape, and once I rebuilt his body it was too late. I didn't know it would bleed through that way."

"I was so afraid for you when they said they were just sending you into Hell. I'm glad I was wrong." She leaned against the back of the sofa and raked one hand through her hair. "And again, I know, my timing sucked," she said, enjoying the sideways glance he gave her at such language. "Especially so soon after Anna fell." He pulled away from her and she touched his arm. "I'm sorry. I know you two were close...."

He flinched away, hissing in a sharp, pained breath. "Please don't."

She stared at him, understanding coming in a slow, cold wave. "No." The look in his eyes was the only confirmation she needed. "When?"

"That depends on your definition of time."

"Who found her?"

"Michael," he whispered, still not able to look her in the eye.

She took both of his hands in hers, squeezing hard until his eyes darted back up toward hers. "Castiel, tell me everything that happened since I've been gone. Everything I've missed."

The bitter twist was back on his lips. "You won't want to be in the same room as me if I do."

"You're my brother. Nothing you're going to say now can change that." He was still looking at her like she was going to stab him if he said the wrong thing. "Castiel," she sighed. "Have some faith in me, would you?"

Those were the right words. She could actually see him make that leap as he started to speak, starting at the Siege and working back from there.

***

She wasn't surprised about Uriel. He'd been a smug loose canon even with Anna to rein him in and she could almost sympathize with not wanting to serve under the kind of madness Michael had fallen into, even if the only other choice he could see was another kind of madness – or at least she could if he hadn't decided that murdering his way through the garrison was the way to achieve that particular goal. She frankly wasn't surprised by anything Castiel told her about Michael, or Raphael and Gabriel either, for that matter; the archangels had so little to do with their younger siblings they were little more than names spoken in hushed tones anyway. At least Gabriel had managed to be disappointing with flair.

What did horrify her was the sheer number of brothers and sisters she would never see again. If she returned today she didn't know that she would recognize Heaven anymore.

Castiel was quiet for a long time when he finally finished speaking, absently scratching Satchmo behind one ear (he'd padded over midway through Castiel's story and unceremoniously dropped his head in her poor brother's lap, demanding attention like he'd known him for a thousand years.) Elizabeth hadn't been away from home so long she couldn't recognize someone waiting for judgment. She squeezed his hands, trying to get him to look at her. "Castiel," she sighed. She leaned forward and kissed his temple, right on his hairline over the crack in his Grace. "I'm very glad you found me, brother."

The look he gave her was so nakedly grateful she felt her eyes well up. Just then she heard a key in the door and turned around. "That's Peter," she said, looking at the clock in relief. "And only an hour late. That's punctual for him that past few days."

"I'll leave...." Castiel started to say before she put one hand on his sleeve.

"Why? I want you to meet him." She had to turn away to keep from laughing at the flash of sheer panic on his face, then a second later Peter walked through this door and it was too late for her poor brother to make an escape.

Peter's shoulders were slumped with exhaustion but he still brought himself up short when he saw a stranger in his apartment, his eyes going sharp. "Am I interrupting something?" he said, one eyebrow arched to take the sting out and make the words teasing. "I could walk back out and come back in...."

"Oh, stop it," she said, walking over to throw her arms around him. "You said you wouldn't be late," she whispered through her teeth.

"I know, hon, I'm sorry. This case should be done soon, I promise."

She pulled herself away and went back to Castiel, half-dragging him up from the couch. "Peter, you remember how I told you once there was that one side of my family I wouldn't talk about?" He nodded, waiting for her to finish. "This is my brother Cas," she said, nudging him forward. "He's actually having the same trouble with them right now."

Castiel gave Peter a formal nod. "El...izabeth told me a great deal about you," he said, glancing over at her for approval.

Peter just answered with a friendly clap on the shoulder, startling Castiel so much he took a stutter step to the side. "Hey, great, any family of El's is always welcome." He gave Castiel a curious look. "We've never met before, have we?"

Castiel shook his head. "Not before today."

For a second Elizabeth thought Peter would remember seeing him at the station, but he finally just shrugged the thought away. Elizabeth said a silent prayer of thanks for exhaustion. "Hon, I'm gonna grab a shower. If Neal or Jones calls, could you pick up? Neal especially, he barely said two words to anyone after we made the collar."

"With the amount of sleep you've been letting him have I'm surprised he managed those two."

"I know. We're all in the same boat," Peter said, giving her a quick peck on the lips. "You too. This'll all be over soon." He nodded over toward Castiel. "Your brother sticking around? I'll feel less guilty if I'm abandoning you with some company."

"Um...I...have someone waiting for me," Castiel said, eyes wide at the attention going back to him.

Peter shrugged, giving Elizabeth another peck on the cheek and she nodded to him over Peter's shoulder, giving him leave to escape. She was relieved to see him move to use the door – she didn't want to have to explain her brother disappearing into thin air – but he paused with his hand on the knob, looking over his shoulder. Peter slipped away to take his well deserved shower and while she wanted nothing more to join him something made her stay. "Castiel? Is everything all right?"

"Peter mentioned a Neal. Did he mean Neal Caffrey?"

Elizabeth frowned. "Well...yes. He's a consultant, why do you know his name?"

He tilted his head to one side. "Is this Caffrey precious to you?"

She opened her mouth but couldn't find any words. "Yes," she finally said, fear spreading like ice through her stomach. "He is. To both of us."

Castiel frowned. "He's made a crossroads deal," he said softly. "And it's come due."

It took a second to remember how to breathe. "No."

He shook his head. "I killed a hellhound earlier today that had his scent. I heard the claim in his heartbeat. If you listen you'll hear it too."

"Castiel...."

"I'll be vigilant. I swear to you." A second later he was gone in a quick flutter of wings.

Elizabeth stared at the empty space in reality for a moment, then she slid her phone out of her pocket and pressed send on the second number in her contacts, her hands shaking too hard to even consider dialing. She had to lean against the couch when she heard Neal's voice on the other end of the line. "Elizabeth? Hey, what's up?"

"Neal, are you okay?"

"What? Yeah, I'm fine. Pretty beat, but we all are."

She could hear the din of New York City morning traffic behind him. "But are you okay?"

There was the slightest pause before Neal spoke. Elizabeth didn't think anyone aside from herself and Peter would ever have noticed it. "Of course I am."

Elizabeth tightened her grip on the phone. She'd heard that quaver in his voice once before, during a different phone call. "Don't do it."

"El, come on, I don't know what you...."

"Neal." She heard his breath catch. "Let us help you."

If it hadn't been for the sound of traffic Elizabeth would have thought she'd lost the call. "You and Peter mean the world to me," he finally said. "Whatever happens, you guys should know that."

"Neal, you don't have to do this on your own."

"I'm glad you called. Don't worry so much, okay? You know I'm always fine." And with that the call ended, the phone a heavy weight in Elizabeth's hand.

***

"A freaking angel?"

Castiel gave him a look and Dean felt the other agents hiding out in the commissary turn around to stare; he ducked his head, avoiding eye contact with any of them and made sure to lower his voice. "Sorry. But seriously, you're telling me Burke's wife is actually an angel. Of the Lord."

"There isn't any other kind," Cas said, frowning in that way that meant he thought Dean was making fun of him and didn't know why.

"Man, and I thought she was out of his league before." He took another sip of truly terrible coffee. "I thought you guys didn't...y'know, do that stuff.

Castiel squirmed in his seat, like the whole topic was mortifying. "It's rare, but not unheard of. You could say Gabriel did something similar when he posed as a trickster all this time. "

"Guess I just didn't expect to find an angel slumming as some cop's wife." He gave Castiel a hard look. "You okay?"

"Of course I am," he said, his brow furrowing.

"'Cause things tend to get a little...stabby when you have family reunions lately."

Castiel dropped his gaze, playing with a loose thread on his coat. "Elisheva...Elizabeth," he said, correcting himself, "has been absent from Heaven long enough to be unaware of how things have changed. She thought at first I was there to take her back."

"What's the deal with that, anyway? That night in the barn you said no angels had been on Earth for two thousand years. I did some asking around about Burke and they've been married at least ten."

Castiel shook his head. "We haven't been allowed to act openly or in numbers in two thousand years. Our wars have been elsewhere." He steepled his hands and Dean felt a twinge of irritation as he recognized the look of Castiel trying to explain Heavenly things to Dean's puny human brain. "Not all angels in a garrison are soldiers. Some are administrators...."

"Like Zachariah? Middle management dicks?"

"You could put it that way, I suppose," Cas said, frowning like he wasn't quite sure that was appropriate.

"So, was that her deal? Cause she doesn't seem the type."

Castiel only shook his head again. "No. Elizabeth is...." The frown deepened as Castiel searched for the right words. "The Enochian doesn't translate cleanly."

"Give it a shot."

Castiel drummed his fingers against the table. "One who goes before and gathers wisdom to prepare the way," he finally settled on.

Dean ran that through his mental translator, which always got a workout around Castiel. "Scout, maybe?"

Cas sighed. "I suppose that's adequate. It lacks some nuance." He tilted his head as he chose his words. "Human society changes very quickly. Two hundred years is a significant number, let alone two thousand, and there have been times when we've been required to blend in to accomplish various missions. Look at the dream world Zachariah created for you. In depth knowledge of human culture is needed for that kind of deception. To say nothing of gathering intelligence on demon activity - they've been active among humans since the first day of their creation. Having advance knowledge of their plans and location is the best weapon against them."

Dean took a second to parse that. "So you're saying she was...what, undercover?"

Castiel nodded. "She was sent ahead to prepare the rest of the garrison for our eventual deployment." His eyes went distant. "It's a prestigious duty, and a very dangerous one. Uriel believed that only angels can kill angels but if our weapons are used against us we're very mortal. Our Father granted very few of us the subtlety to observe humans for long without either giving ourselves away or attracting unwanted attention."

Something about the way he phrased that made Dean narrow his eyes. "That sounds a lot like the way nature scientists talk when they're out studying monkeys, Cas." Castiel's lips quirked up as he considered that and Dean rolled his eyes. "Cas."

"You're the one who came up with the comparison."

Dean decided he would get Cas back for that later. "So she was here doing her spy thing and decided to go native? Am I reading this right?"

"When she didn't return at the appointed time we feared the worst."

"Wait a second, if you guys have angels whose whole job is to tell you about humans why do you suck at it so bad? You sleep through that briefing?"

"As I said, we thought her lost," Castiel said, annoyance sharpening his words. "And I was in Hell for a good portion of the 'briefing,' as you put it." He didn't add fetching you, but with the glare he was sending in Dean's direction he didn't need to.

"Relax, Cas. Just messing with you." He leaned back in the cheap plastic chair, studying Castiel. "Dude, seriously, I don't think I've seen you this happy before." Castiel gave him another Are you teasing me? look and Dean raised his hands. "I mean it. This is practically giddy. Y'know, for you, anyway."

Castiel lowered his eyes again, like he was embarrassed Dean had noticed his good mood. "I am very pleased to see my sister again."

"Well, zap me and Sam out of here and the two of you can go back to getting reacquainted." Castiel shifted in his chair, glancing up once, and Dean got a bad, bad feeling. "I'm not gonna like any of this, am I."

"The human you pointed out to me before. Neal Caffrey," he said. "He's made a crossroads deal that's come due. Hellhounds have already been sent. I fought one earlier today."

Dean hoped that the way the word hellhound sent ice up his spine didn't show on his face. "So that's where you...." He couldn't finish the sentence; the knowledge that a hellhound had been so close squeezed his chest like a vise. "And that's our problem now?"

"Caffrey is dear to Elizabeth," Castiel said, as if that would be all the explanation needed.

And yeah, Dean had to admit that worked pretty well. "So you're just gonna stop him and his stupid hat from getting dragged off to hell, then? Just like that?"

Castiel tipped his chin up, like he thought Dean was testing him. "Yes." Then he looked down again, that flash of angelic arrogance melting away. "But it's a hazardous task. If you'd rather me remove you and Sam first...."

Dean clapped him on the shoulder. "Dude, if you think I'm letting you kick the crap out of some hellhounds without me you're nuts. Stumbling over hunts is usually me and Sam's gig, we must be rubbing off on you. We'll make a hunter out of you yet, Cas."

Castiel looked at him like he wasn't quite sure if that was supposed to be a compliment or not, but at least he seemed to take it as one. "I appreciate your aid."

Dean leaned forward, elbows on the table. "So, what's the plan? We find the demon that has the contract and we gank it, right? Can't be Lilith any more, so that's one point in our favor."

"It won't be that simple. I tried to get the name from the hellhound before I slew it and it refused me. That shouldn't have been possible---"

"Wait, you can talk to hellhounds?"

Castiel raised his eyebrows, as clear a don't interrupt me look as Dean had ever seen. "As I was saying, I should have been able to compel the creature. I don't know why I couldn't. And the beast itself was strange. I've never encountered one like it before. Whoever this demon is, they've sent an inordinate number of hellhounds for this soul, more than twice the number sent for yours."

Well, that was a brand new nightmare Dean had never known he'd been missing out on. "Didn't know there'd been more than one," he muttered, his skin crawling. "You think the hounds are dangerous to people other than Caffrey?"

"I'm not sure," he said, drumming his fingers against the table again. "Everything about this is very strange."

"Hey, you know I'm in," Dean said, pushing the upcoming hellhound freakout far away until he could drink enough to deal with it. "Where do you want to start?"

"We should inform Sam," Cas said, pressing two fingers to his forehead before Dean could do anything to stop him.

***

Sam didn't know what woke him. Some sound. He blinked his eyes open, first taking in the florescent lighting in the room, then the hard table he'd fallen asleep on. It took a full second for him to focus enough to make out Castiel peering at him literally inches in front of his face.

So of course Sam reacted the way any sane person would: yelping and jerking back so quickly he almost tumbled backward in his chair. "Cas! Jesus. No." Castiel just straightened up, giving him that confused bird look he was so good at. "Don't add angel-induced heart attack to the ways I die, okay?" Sam glanced over at the mirror along the wall and suddenly remembered exactly where he was. "Shit, we probably have every agent in building watching right now."

"Nah, Sam," he heard Dean say, the first time he realized his brother was also in the room. "Cas has his mojo on."

"And at any rate, this is a dream," Castiel said. "Any onlookers would just see you sleeping."

Which seemed to be news to Dean; he spun toward Cas, eyebrows practically up into his hairline. "Whoa, wait. We're in his dream? Did you take me into Sam's head?"

Sam raised his hands, wanting to cut this off before it went any farther. "Look, I don't care how you're talking to me, just tell me you're getting me out of here."

He saw Dean and Castiel share a look and felt his stomach sink down toward his shoes. Cas settled against the mirror and Dean look the chair across the table from him. "We got a problem, Sam."

"You're telling me. Dean, the guy in charge, Agent Burke? He didn't care about the con I got caught on, that was just his excuse. Once he sat me down all he kept asking was about Hendrickson and what went on in Denver."

"Fuck." Dean leaned back for a second, letting that sink in. "Fuck, that makes sense. That's why he keeps looking at me like I'm some bug."

Sam narrowed his eyes. "So what else is going on? Because honestly, that's really bad enough."

Dean glanced over at Castiel and let out a breath. "Okay, just to sum things up, remember your buddy Caffrey? He's got hellhounds out to drag him down to the Pit and we're going to do something about it. Oh, and Burke's wife is actually an angel. At least she's one who's on our side for once."

Sam blinked at that. "Okay." He was beginning to hope this actually would turn into a garden variety nightmare any second now. "And you're not busting me out of here....?"

"Cas says there's something weird about these hellhounds and that there's enough of them running around that they might not just be after one guy. I know everyone here's a fed but when it comes to this they're still civilians. Someone needs to be here keeping an eye on things."

Sam saw the way his brother's hand flexed on the table and knew his mind was back in a dingy Colorado motel room, watching a news report about an explosion at a police precinct and hearing the words no survivors. He should have known he wouldn't be the only one feeling Victor Hendrickson's ghost during all this. "Timing's kind of funny, isn't it. Us just happening to be here when this is going on."

"Yeah, we're a bunch of lucky sons of bitches."

"I'll keep my eyes open. But Dean, if a hellhound does show up...."

"That's why I'm giving you this," he said, brandishing Ruby's knife.

"No. No way. You need that, you're the one..."

"Sam I've got salt, guns and two really motivated angels. You've got jack. You're taking this and you're not gonna argue."

Sam slumped down in his chair. "You were totally right about coming to New York, by the way."

"I'm always right, Sam. Should have figured that out by now."

Just then they heard the sound of a muffled, tinny ring tone; Sam knew he didn't have his and he frowned at Dean. "That you?"

Dean shook his head. "That sound like AC/DC to you?" It took another second, but they both turned to stare at Castiel, still leaning against the mirror lost in his own thoughts. Dean sighed, rubbing his forehead like he had a migraine coming on. "Dude. You gonna get that?"

Castiel just blinked at him, his brow furrowing. "But...both of you are here," he said, sliding the phone out of his pocket and looking at it like it had been possessed. He flipped it open and pressed it to his ear as if he thought it might explode any second. "Um...hello?" It only took a second for his eyes to go wide with alarm. "Why? What happened?" He listened for another few seconds, then nodded once. "We'll be there." He stepped forward and touched Dean's shoulder, and with a flutter of wings they were both gone.

Sam startled awake, alone in the FBI interrogation room. For an instant he thought that really all had been a dream – right up until he realized he had Ruby's long knife clutched tight in one fist. He quickly tucked it away out of sight, hoping with everything he had no one had seen it.

No one came bursting into the room and Sam felt his heart slowly stop pounding, thankful that finally at least one thing had gone his way. He closed his eyes again, expecting to hear growls coming from every corner.

Chapter Text

Dean hated when Castiel zapped him places; he didn't know what flying felt like to angels but Dean always felt like he'd been squeezed out through a tube like so much cake frosting. He opened his eyes and didn't see anything, which wasn't all that unusual (although only being able to see in black and white for a while was the more common fun side effect of taking angel airlines) but after few seconds Dean realized it really was just dark. His felt fabric brush his face and as his eyes adjusted he realized they were in some kind of closet; he took a breath to ask Cas what the hell when he felt Cas' hand clamp over his mouth. There was just enough light for him to see Castiel glare Quiet at him, and when Dean felt resentment start to build up he choked it down. He'd said he was with Castiel on this, and that meant following his lead, at least for now. Hunt first, bitch about how the hunt was handled later, Dean knew anything else tended to get people killed. He nodded and Castiel moved his hand away, just in time for them both to hear voices coming from the next room.

The closet was open just a crack and Dean crouched down, trying to get the best view he could; he saw Burke pacing in and out of his field of vision, grumbling into his cell phone and trying to knot his necktie one handed. When the call ended he pulled his arm back, like he was about to hurl the phone before thinking better of it, and Dean saw Elizabeth Burke walk up, take the phone and put it aside as she repaired the hash job he'd made on the tie. "You'll find him," she said.

"But why now? That's what I don't get, why run now?" Dean saw him shake his head. "He's been too quiet, I should have picked up on it...."

"You can ask him when you find him," she said, although Dean could tell by the tense way she held her shoulders that the optimistic tone was a lie. She planted a quick peck on his cheek as she finished straightening his suit jacket.

"I'm sorry I wasn't home longer," he said, kissing her back, and Dean rolled his eyes. If these two were this sappy all the time he didn't know how anyone put up with them.

Burke made to pull away and she handed him something Dean couldn't make out. "Don't forget this," she said. "Not that I want you to shoot Neal."

Dean saw Burke let out a rueful, I'm such an idiot breath as he holstered the weapon, then he felt Castiel shift beside him. "That was clever," he murmured, waving Dean away when Dean sent him a questioning look.

Dean just shook his head and went back to spying; Burke kissed Elizabeth one more time before rushing out, the phone back to his ear as he barked orders to whatever poor son of a bitch was on the other line. Elizabeth walked out of his field of vision, and it was only a few seconds later that he heard the door slam closed. Before he could say anything to Castiel about maybe they should get out of here he heard her voice. "It's safe now, you two."

Castiel just answered with a quizzical look when Dean glared at him, as if he couldn't imagine why Dean wouldn't know she could tell they were there the whole time, then Dean swung the door open. "Guess all angels are fuzzy around boundary issues," he grumbled, his mood not improved when they both ignored him. He stepped into a nice-decorated apartment that made him afraid to touch anything; he spotted Elizabeth leaning against the couch, rubbing her forehead, and when she looked up he saw gratitude mixed in with the worry.

"I didn't mean you had to come right now," she said, her lips tipping up into a tired smile.

"Yeah, well, don't tell Cas things if you don't want him to take it literally." He felt Castiel's eyes cut toward him and answered by narrowing his own; he'd promised Cas he'd help but that meant Dean was absolutely also going to tease the guy in front of his sister and there was nothing Castiel could do about it.

Castiel clearly decided to deal with Dean by ignoring him, turning away and studying Elizabeth. "He didn't forget his weapon," he said, a statement instead of a question.

She seemed to find the very idea of that hilarious. "Peter, just forget his gun? No, no, no," she said, shaking her head. "If he wasn't running on five hours sleep over three days there's no way that would have worked.

"Can someone please fill in the only human in the room?"

Castiel glanced over at him. "Conventional weapons would do nothing against a hellhound," he said, as if Dean didn't already know that. When Dean didn't seem to be getting it Cas sighed. "They don't have to look like swords, Dean."

"Oh!" Dean said, looking back at Elizabeth. "That is pretty smart."

"Thank you," she said, running one hand through her hair. "I just wish that was all he needed. I keep picturing him finding Neal and them being there and Peter not seeing them coming...." Before she could even finish the sentence Castiel disappeared in a flutter of wings, blowing papers all over the room. She gave Dean an apologetic look. "I swear, I didn't mean for him to do that."

"I tell you, dude is fucking thrilled. He'd probably fly up to the moon if you said it was a good idea." He leaned against the arm of the sofa. "He Captain Literal up in Heaven, too?"

"He's very earnest, if that's what you mean," she said, still looking fondly at the empty space where Castiel had been. "Very quiet, too. And very smart, especially when he's underestimated." She pushed her hair out of her face as she looked at Dean. "Feel free to run for the hills now."

"Nah, I got the afternoon free. Gotta kill the time somehow." He crossed his arms, catching himself running his hands down hellhound scars he knew should be there. "Although if I did I take it Caffrey would have already beaten me to it."

"He has a tracking anklet, it only has a two mile range. I thought we could contain this, if we could know where he was I thought at least we'd know where they'd be...." She let out a long sigh. "Neal's very smart too. He's only been dark twenty minutes but that's plenty of time to get out of the city."

"Can't you use angel power to find him?"

She shook her head. "I tried a locating spell years ago, and it didn't work then. If Neal Caffrey doesn't want to be found he doesn't make it easy."

"When Cas gets back we can have him try. He's good at that, he tracked someone through time once."

Dean saw her expression darken. "Is it really as bad as he says?"

Dean hesitated for a second, then nodded. "If he's saying it's bad, I'd probably multiply it by ten. Guy's not exactly popular upstairs. Look at how happy he is to finally run into one of his sibs who doesn't want to stab him before saying hi."

"I've missed a lot." She drummed her fingers against the back of the sofa, giving Dean a sideways look. "Can I see it?" she said, the corner of her mouth tugging up.

Dean frowned until she gestured at her shoulder, then he just rolled his eyes as he pushed up his sleeve. "Angel chicks just can't get enough of the handprint," he groused, grinning so she knew he really wasn't upset. "How'd you even know it there, anyway?"

"Oh, sweetie, you broadcast," she said. "You might as well have Righteous Man flashing over your head whenever any of us look at you."

"Great," he said, fighting the urge to bury his head in his hands.

"This is sloppy for him," she said, clicking her tongue. "He must have been in a hurry."

"Any idea why he put a big handprint on my shoulder?"

"He never told you?" she said, looking up at him, and to be fair Dean knew he'd never asked. "He said he'd been wounded getting you out of hell and wanted to make sure that if he couldn't get you out himself whoever they sent next would be able to find you."

Dean didn't like the way that thought curdled in his stomach. "Cas never told me he got hurt dragging me out."

She just patted his other, unscarred shoulder. "The two of you were in Hell, not at a day spa. Of course he got hurt during all that."

"I don't remember anything about it. Him getting me, I mean. As far as I knew, one second I was in the Pit, the next I was clawing my way out of my own grave. Which was a totally dick thing to make me do, by the way."

"I doubt you having to do that occurred to him, really, especially if it wasn't an explicit part of the mission. Like you said, literal. Especially before meeting you," she said, smiling like she knew a private joke.

"I...I wasn't the one who hurt him, was I?" Dean asked, not sure why the thought had occurred to him. "I mean, down there I was...."

"I doubt it," she said, giving his shoulder another reassuring pat. "There's much nastier things down in the Pit than even Dean Winchester." She touched just the edge of the handprint and Dean flinched away, stifling a very un-macho giggle. "Did that hurt?"

"Nah." He was not blushing he was not blushing. "Just feels...I dunno. Weird."

"How about when he touches it?"

It took Dean a second to realize where he'd lost track of the conversation. "Beats me. How the hell would I know?" She just gave him another look, arching one eyebrow, baffling Dean as to what he was doing wrong. She didn't press, though, backing away and letting Dean roll back his sleeve. "So, you really think your husband can track down Caffrey?"

"He's done it before," she said. "If anyone can track down Neal, it's Peter."

"Yeah, well, I'm not big on sitting around waiting for hellhounds to attack someone."

"Neither am I." She tapped one manicured fingernail against her teeth. "There might be something we can do to find him. I don't know if it'll work, be we can try."

"You got something? Another spell?"

"Not quite. Peter took the car, so if we'll...."

"Aw, man, please not again. Cas zapped me twice already today, I can only take so much."

"I was going to say we'll have to take a cab. That okay?"

"Oh. Yeah. Sure. Where the hell are we going?"

***

Elizabeth knocked on the door, sending an anxious glance toward Dean and the handgun poorly concealed in his waistband. She'd debated with herself on the ride over whether it would be smarter to leave Dean outside but she finally decided that the time she'd have to spend convincing him to go along with that would be more time than they could spare. Not to mention how horrible she would feel leaving him alone, especially since Castiel was looking after Peter.

Besides, whether he was with her or not, this was either going to be the best idea she'd ever had or blow up spectacularly. As it stood she felt guilty enough imposing on a friendship this way, but she didn't have time to dwell on that before Mozzie opened the door. "Mrs. Suit!" he said, surprise and delight in his voice and Elizabeth felt her heart sink. If he really was surprised that meant he hadn't even heard about Neal. "Tell me this means you've finally decided to leave that oaf you married."

"Sorry to disappoint," she said, feeling her lips tug up at the familiar, good-natured sparring. "Mozzie, I need your help. It's about Neal. Can I please come in?"

"Of course," he said, opening the door wider. "Mi casa es su casa, you're always welcome." She walked in, cringing when Dean followed without saying a word. "You...and heavily armed stranger I've never met before," he said, giving her a sharp look. She mouthed I'm sorry to him as he turned to Dean. "And you are...?"

"Friend of the family," was all Dean said and it was all Elizabeth could do not to roll her eyes. If she ever was blessed enough to be in the presence of her Father she knew the only question she'd want to ask would be why He'd seen fit to make men with so much testosterone. And there was something angry in Dean's voice she didn't understand at all. "Where'd you get this book?"

"Excuse me, I didn't get that. Who are you, exactly?"

It wasn't until she noticed how Mozzie had put himself between herself and Dean that she realized what was going on. "Mozzie, no," she said, putting one hand on his arm. "He is, really. He just has very bad manners." Dean glared at her and she answered with one of her own before sighing. "Dean, this is my friend Mozzie, Mozzie, this is Dean Winchester."

To her surprise, Mozzie narrowed his eyes at the name, surprised instead of aggressive. "No relation to John Winchester, are you?"

Now it was Dean's turn to be surprised. "That's my dad's name, how the hell did you know that?"

Mozzie just let out a scoffing, pffff sound, clearly enjoying having one over Dean. "You wouldn't believe half the things I know." He nodded over to the bookshelf Dean was examining. "He's the one who gave me that book, I'll tell you that. Sort of a...mutual exchange of favors a while back."

Elizabeth didn't think she could have been more surprised if Mozzie had turned out to be yet another angel himself. "Are you a hunter?"

"Are you?" he said, both eyebrows shooting up.

"No," she replied, happy she could at least say that honestly. "Like Dean said, he's a friend of the family."

"Well, that answers a few questions," he muttered under his breath. "And no, I'm not. I like living too much. Still, the best way to keep living is to know how the world really works." He sighed, his shoulders slumping as he seemed to force himself to accept that Dean was standing there poking at his things. "You said this is about Neal?"

"He went dark, just a little while ago. Mozzie, do you have any idea where he might go?"

Elizabeth didn't think she'd ever seen Mozzie this surprised so many times in one day. "He didn't tell me he was cutting the cord."

"We think he's in real trouble and not the kind he can get out of by himself, no matter what he thinks." Since the moment Castiel said Neal had made a deal she'd been fighting back the image of him strapped to one of the racks she knew made up the Pit, had tried to stop hearing his voice begging for help as some demon gouged out his eyes and carved his face from his skull. It hit like being doused in ice water that Peter would find his body torn apart and she wouldn't even be able to lie that he was in a better place. "Mozzie, if he contacts you promise me you'll call. This is life and death. More than that."

"Hey. Sure," he said, alarm on his face. "C'mon, don't cry, okay? This is Neal, he'll be fine. He always is." She hadn't even realized she was crying; when she sniffled he handed her a handkerchief, barely hiding his panic. "Hey, you want some tea? I just made some. I'll get us some tea."

She nodded and he disappeared into the back room so quickly she almost could have thought he'd flown. "Dean, what do we do now? I was really hoping he would be here."

"We focus on the hounds if we can't figure the demon. Kill all of them."

"They'll just send more. You don't wipe out a debt by killing the debt collectors." She crossed her arms as she ran through their options. "If the hounds catch him I'll pull him out."

"Yeah, if it took all that time for Cas to grab me I don't think it's just that easy," Dean said, keeping his voice gentle. "And it'll blow your cover with the idiots upstairs. I say we summon Crowley and make him tell us who wound up with the contract. This is a crossroads thing, he has to know."

"Fine, we summon him. How do we make him tell us? With what leverage?" Dean just raised one eyebrow and Elizabeth was so appalled she took a step back. "No. Absolutely not."

"It's the only language they understand down there."

"Um." They both turned to see Mozzie standing a few feet away. "Not that I was eavesdropping," he said, handing Elizabeth a small mug of green tea, "but there is a ritual to summon a demon right onto a devil's trap."

Dean could only stare. "Bullshit."

"Sure, you caught me, I just made that up for no reason," Mozzie snapped. "Or maybe you don't know everything that exists, how about that?"

"Mozzie," Elizabeth said, getting between them. "Is that true? I've never heard anything like that either."

She could actually see him make the conscious decision to ignore Dean's existence. "There is a ritual that does that. It's actually in that book right there," he said, pointing to the book he said John Winchester had given him. "It only works on a single demon once, but why would anyone want to summon the same demon twice?"

Elizabeth threw her arms around him, remembering at the last second to temper her strength so she didn't pick him right up off the ground. "Thank you, thank you, thank you," she said, kissing him on the cheek. "Neal has no idea how lucky he is to have you as a friend."

"Hey...uh, thanks," he said, blushing bright red. "I want that book back when you're done with it."

"You have my word," she promised before Dean could chime in.

He glared for a second but then went back to paging through the slim manual. "It says here we have to do this outside."

"I know the spot," she said, tugging him out the door by one sleeve. "Let's go."

***

Mozzie stared at the closed door for a long, long second, absently rubbing his cheek where Elizabeth had kissed him. Well. That had all been unexpected.

He went into his back room, crouched in front of his bureau and opened the third drawer on the left. When it was just slightly over halfway out he reached underneath and found the pressure plate that popped the hidden drawer underneath. He tapped open the false bottom on that (because really, who hides something valuable in the first secret drawer?) and pulled out the cell phone he kept for just such emergencies. Well, maybe not exactly this kind of emergency, this was exactly the kind of thing he tried hard to stay out of, but emergencies nonetheless. It didn't matter how hard Neal was running, Mozzie knew he would pick up if he saw the call was from this phone.

And sure enough, after two rings there was Neal's voice. "Hey, Mozzie, what's on fire?"

Apparently you very soon. "So, rumor has it your conscience finally caught up with you and you're making a long overdue bid for freedom."

Oh, that was much too nervous to be Neal Caffrey's laugh. "Yeah, guess you could say that."

"And were you going to be telling me about this any time?"

"Would you believe I was just about to call?" And no, Mozzie didn't believe that but he absolutely believed Neal was about to ask him for a favor. "Mozzie, you remember that box I gave you a while back? The one I said I hoped I would never have to ask for again?"

"Of course. And before you ask, of course I have it."

Mozzie thought that if Neal's sigh of relief wasn't the longest ever uttered in the history of man, it was at least a close second. "Good. I'm headed over there now."

"So, what tropical island are we retiring to?"

"Sorry, buddy. I have to fly solo on this one."

That was really the only confirmation Mozzie needed. "Well, get over here so we can say our overwrought goodbyes."

Neal actually laughed at that before hanging up. Mozzie stared at the blinking number on his phone for a long, long time, terror tying him into uncomfortable knots. Then he took a deep breath and dialed the phone again. Too much to do and too little time.

***

Castiel skulked around the corner, turning up his hearing to make out the conversation Peter was engaged in on his phone. "---telling you, Peter, the guy's gone. He's a ghost."

"How did that happen? I thought we had people on the doors."

"We still have people on the doors. That's what I'm saying, that's not how he left."

Castiel heard Peter let out a long sigh. "Walk me through this, Jones. What happened?"

"Wish I knew. Last I knew he was in the commissary, I had eyes on him myself, then I blinked and he was gone."

"What about his brother?"

"He's still in lock up. If this guy did take off running, he left his brother behind."

Castiel saw Peter shake his head. "That doesn't match the history. He'll be back for Sam, you can count on that. We just have to wait it out." Castiel had to admire how well this stranger could read Dean without having met him. It was a rare tactical skill and helped him understand what his sister saw in the man.

"Winchester was talking to someone, someone no one could ID. White guy, dark hair, wearing a suit and a trenchcoat."

Castiel saw Peter pull up short and winced. "Oh yeah? When?"

"A little bit before Caffrey went dark, maybe an hour or so ago."

"Couldn't be, then." He glanced behind and Castiel flattened himself against the wall; that was the second time Burke had almost spotted him. "Keep eyes on Sam. The brother will show up, hopefully the mystery accomplice too. Any luck with Neal?"

"I wish. We've got spotters on his usual haunts but nothing yet."

"Good job. Keep at it, I'll be there soon, I just have a lead of my own I'm working on."

"You do find Caffrey, kick his ass for the rest of us, okay?"

"You got it."

Castiel was so absorbed in his eavesdropping he didn't hear the growling until it was almost too late. He leapt forward as the creature sprinted past him, tackling it to the ground and dragging it back around the corner. It was the same strange color as the one he'd killed at FBI Headquarters, complete with the same unexpected strength; it managed to snap at his throat once before Castiel wrestled it back to the ground.

He could not remember the last time he was this angry. "Why are you attacking that human?" he hissed, holding it down. "He is not your quarry." The beast's acidic tongue lolled out of his mouth as it panted, trying to get away. And just like before it refused to answer him. Castiel narrowed his eyes. "Fine then." He took a deep breath, marshaling Grace and focusing it in his hands. "I bind you to my will."

The backlash when he touched the creature's flank caught him off guard; hellhounds as a rule weren't strong willed creatures but he supposed he should have expected that to be proven untrue by this strange breed like everything else. He was just relieved he managed to keep enough focus to avoid losing the spell; he drew the sigil on the beast's skin, thankfully a simple one, and indulged in a sneer when the thing whined as the mark burned in. "None of your pack are to harm Peter Burke," he murmured, pronouncing the Enochian in a slow chant, feeling the rush of Grace as he expanded the mark to all the hellhounds keening for Caffrey's blood. He couldn't call off the hunt, nothing but the demon that held the leash could do that, but he could at least manage this. "You shall not spill his blood nor taste his flesh nor break his skin," the chanted, the ancient words of the ritual propping him up. "To this and these words I bind thee and all thine." He drew his sword and slit the beast's throat, and not a moment to soon; in the instant between the final syllable and his drawing the blade he felt enough Grace rush out that he doubled over in pain. If he'd waited even another second he creature would have been free and would have been in great deal of trouble.

He curled up against the wall of the alley as the hellhound dissolved into so much bile and fought to catch his breath; he'd never been this winded by a binding spell before but these creatures were strong and he'd returned from death a shell of what he'd been. Considering that he couldn't even slay demons anymore he supposed he should be grateful he could at least still bind them.

It took a few painful seconds for his vision to clear; he realized his phone was ringing and wondered how long that had been happening. It took two tries to fish the device out of his pocket. "What is it?"

"Cas?" Dean said, clear alarm in his voice. Castiel knew he must truly sound terrible if just three words had made Dean so concerned so quickly. "You okay? Why're you out of breath? "

"I had something important to do."

"How's your brother-in-law?"

It took a moment for Castiel to remember what that phrase meant. "You can tell Elizabeth he no long needs to fear the hounds."

"Hey, great, just what I wanted to hear. We're about to do a summoning and we could use the extra mojo."

Castiel nodded, forgetting that Dean couldn't see it. "I'll be there." He glanced back around the corner once, watching Burke talk to someone else on his phone. Then, confident he was safe, Castiel reached out for his sister's Grace and flew toward it.

***

Peter ended the call, sliding the phone back into his pocket. He hated when important calls had inconvenient timing; as glad as he was to have taken that he wished it had been five minutes later.

Maybe Elizabeth's long lost brother wasn't Dean Winchester's accomplice, the timing for that didn't seem to match at all, but Peter was absolutely sure this Cas had been following him since he left the house. It was half the reason he'd gotten out of the car in the first place; after spotting him three times in twenty minutes Peter had wanted to make sure he was actually being followed and not just having stress-and-insomnia based delusions.

Fortunately, only one of them knew New York well enough to know the corner Cas had ducked behind was actually a blind alley in a city not exactly known for them; he'd watched the alley entrance the entire time, waiting for his new brother-in-law to venture out.

When the call ended and nothing came out of the alley besides a could of pigeons Peter realized he should take the initiative and approach, very sure of what he would find.

What he did find was debris. Debris and a clear spot where Cas had been standing but nothing else, not even marks to indicate he'd climbed over the back wall.

He was going to owe Jones one hell of an apology when this was all over.

***

Mozzie paced the floor, checking the time every five seconds. Neal was taking a long time, especially without calling; Mozzie could only hope he was just busy dodging two legged hounds and not the other kind. He also hoped he was completely wrong about what was going on with Neal, but he knew the chances of that weren't good. He'd never been the type to engage in wishful thinking and, as much as he admired Neal and his many talents, this was exactly the kind of idiotic trouble only Neal Caffrey managed to find himself in.

When he heard Neal's knock at his door the relief almost took him off his feet. Mozzie took a second to make sure the the house was in order and to perfect his poker face before opening the door. The last thing he wanted was for Neal to run from him, too.

It had been about a week since Mozzie had seen Neal but when he opened the door he thought Neal looked five years older. "You don't look like someone enjoying his first day of freedom."

Neal brushed past him, throwing himself down into a chair. "Been a rough few days, Mozzie." He looked up, the circles under his eyes almost as dark as bruises. "You said you have the box?"

"Of course," he said, pointing to the small metal box inscribed with symbols along the edges. "You know the Bank of Mozzie guarantees all deposits." It had taken him almost a year to translate those sigils and when he'd finished all he'd wanted to do was throw the thing into the ocean. "You sure you know what you're doing?"

"No," Neal said, raking one hand through his hair. "No, I'm not. I'm just hoping it works."

"So, where're you headed? I hear great things about Aruba."

"Better if you don't know, Mozzie. It's safer for everyone."

"Fair enough." Mozzie drummed his fingers on the table once, working hard to keep his voice even. "So I guess, all that's left is goodbye, good wishes and oh, by the way, did you sell your soul?"

Neal spun around to look at him and Mozzie had to admit, getting the drop on Neal like this was so satisfying. Neal plastered on of his perfect fake smiles. "C'mon, Mozzie, you know that sounds...."

"Don't you dare." Mozzie pointed to the box. "Did you think you could just give me that to hold and I wouldn't find out what it was? You don't exactly need that to hide from the feds."

"None of it can hurt anyone," Neal argued, thankfully deciding not to further insult Mozzie's intelligence with more lying. "It's all protective, just to help me hide." He slumped in the chair. "How long have you known?"

"That you're in over your head? Since the day we met. About this? This I wasn't sure about until earlier today when Elizabeth Burke showed up at my door, looking for you – and that woman is worried about you, Neal – with one of John Winchester's kids trying to figure out how to summon the demon in charge of crossroad deals. That was probably the biggest clue."

"El was here? I don't...how does she even know about any of this stuff?"

"Apparently she's from a hunter family, which, by the way, explains a lot about her terrible taste in men."

Neal sighed. "I told her not to worry."

"Well, apparently the idea of you being torn apart by hellhounds and in hell for all eternity is the kind of thing that just gets under her skin." Mozzie pulled up his own chair. "Why did you do something this stupid?"

Mozzie didn't know why he'd even asked the question. All of the really stupid things Neal did always had the same explanation. "Kate," Neal said, as if that was the total explanation.

"Tell me you didn't try to bring her back from the dead."

"No...well, no," Neal said, and that was an ominous little break. "This was a long time ago, back when we first fell in with Keller."

"Oh, and I'm so surprised to hear that name come up."

"It's not his fault this time." He looked up at Mozzie. "You remember that museum job? The Cassatt forgery?"

"I remember not being a fan of it, sure."

"Yeah, Kate neither. The forgery was actually the easy part, the tricky thing was getting it into the museum in the first place. That wing was under renovations, so it wasn't under heavy guard; I was going to do the switch and Kate was lookout." Mozzie saw his fingers clench. "She fell. The scaffolding gave way and she..." Mozzie gave him a drink and he downed it in one gulp. "She was in a coma and the doctors said she wasn't ever going to come out of it. It was my fault, Mozzie, if there was something I could do I had to do it."

"How did you even find out that was an option?"

Neal leaned back in the chair. "I met this thief in Boston. Kind of a fence for things that shouldn't exist. She said that the only advice she could give was to go out to a crossroads, and that if I was dumb enough to do it she would see me in hell some day."

"And you did it anyway."

"It was for Kate, Mozzie. The demon even made it so no one else remembered the fall happened."

"I'm surprised you didn't try to refinance after the whole mess with the plane."

Neal ran his tongue over his lips. "I did. It just didn't work."

Mozzie could only sigh. "Of course you did." Then he did some mental math and realized something wasn't adding up. "Wait, this doesn't make sense, you didn't even know Kate ten years ago. What kind of stupid deal did you make?"

Neal gave him a baffled, How do you know all this? look. It was kind of insulting, since it was Mozzie's business to know things. "That's the part I don't get, it was supposed to be ten years. Then four days ago this...I don't know, guy shows up and says there's been an 'adjustment' to the deal, that they were collecting early. It wasn't even the same demon I'd made the deal with. That's when I started hearing the hounds. I would've run then but Peter handed me this Winchester case and I couldn't."

Mozzie stood back up and leaned against the wall. He really, really hoped Neal would forgive him for this. "That enough?" he called out.

Neal jumped out of the chair when Peter strolled out of the back room. "I don't know how much of that I believe," he said, shaking his head, "but I guess so."

Neal gave Mozzie a poisonous glare. "Don't you even say a word, Neal. Think of this as a sign of just how much I don't want you in hell." Making that call to Peter had felt like making a crossroads deal himself.

Neal turned back to Peter. "I didn't want anyone else involved in this."

"El's involved."

"I didn't want that either."

Peter sighed. "Neal, when are you gonna figure out that you have people who can help you when you're in trouble?"

"You can't help me with this."

"Why not?" he said, getting into Neal's face. "Because you need help Neal, whether you want it or not. Now what're we doing? What's the first step?"

Neal let out an exaggerated sigh of surrender. "I need to make sure I have everything." He looked back and forth between Peter and Mozzie. "Is that allowed?"

Peter backed away and let Neal rifle through the box on the table. Mozzie couldn't help cringing when Peter leaned close to him. "When he gives me the slip," Peter said, knowing as well as Mozzie did every word of Neal's mouth had just been a lie, "where's he going to go?"

"Can't I have any principles left today?" Peter gave him a look and Mozzie knew he was caught. "Suit, you owe me."

***

Castiel arrived in an isolated corner of Central Park to find Dean and Elizabeth arrayed around a large, complicated devil's trap. He crouched next to it, examining the design; there were both summoning and binding rituals wound into the structure in a way he hadn't seen before. "Where did you find this design? It's very advanced."

"Caffrey has some weird friends," Dean said, shaking his head. When he walked over to Castiel, examining the black stains the hellhound's bloodspray had left down the front of his coat Castiel wished he'd thought to remove them. "Shit, Cas, another one?"

Elizabeth sent him an alarmed look, one he waved away. "It was nothing. And I performed a binding spell to spare Peter any further trouble on that front."

"He better save you a drumstick when Thanksgiving rolls around." Castiel had no idea how that connected to his previous statement but it didn't seem the time to ask; the power seeping from the devil's trap was already affecting the surrounding area, turning the warm day gray and cold. Dean paged through a slim volume of lore, frowning as he tried to find his place. "Okay, Cas, it says here this is a three person job. You stand at the top point there," he said, pointing across the trap, "and the two of us will make the base of the triangle. Man, I wish Sam was here, he's awesome at this shit."

Castiel took his appointed place, careful not to disrupt the lines of the trap. When Dean began the summoning a wind picked up, billowing his coat behind him; he could hear the whispers of the damned as the conduit to Hell snaked its way through the Earth and was intensely grateful Dean couldn't. The voices were soft and beckoning, whispers on the wind of a thousand crossroads and while he'd scrubbed the Pit's claim from Dean's soul he didn't think it above the demons to try to take back their stolen property. He felt the boundaries between dimensions begin to blur and buckle under the force of the ritual as the words reached down through layers of reality like a giant hand. The wind picked up, turning into a swirling vortex a swirling vortex centered on the trap. Dean finished the last words of the incantation and the energy exploded outward, forcing Castiel to raised one arm to protect his eyes. When the debris cleared there was a single figure standing in the center of the trap.

Castiel felt his lip curl when he recognized Crowley's familiar sneer. "Well, isn't this friendly," he said, looking from Castiel to Dean to Elizabeth. "Is this a party? Should I have worn my nice jacket?"

"Shut up, Crowley."

"You brought me here, Dean. And went to some considerable trouble," he said, looking at the trap with undisguised contempt. "I thought we'd wiped knowledge of this ritual right off the planet years ago."

"Yeah, demons suck at their job, what a surprise."

Castiel saw Elizabeth sigh. "Dean, that's not helping."

"You should listen to your lovely new acquaintance, and may I compliment you on improving the quality of your company." Castiel felt his hands ball into fists at the leer on Crowley's face, and the sideways glance Crowley sent his way told him the demon had noticed. "Now, I'm betting you didn't summon me away from my important business simply to bask in my magnificence. Let's get down to business, shall we?"

Elizabeth spoke first. "Hellhounds have been sent after the soul of Neal Caffrey. We want the name of the demon who holds his contract."

"Ah." Castiel saw interest creep into the demon's expression. "I was wondering when this would come up."

Castiel was surprised Dean had managed to maintain this much patience. "Look, are you gonna spill your guts here? Cause I'm really looking forward to an excuse to literally spill your guts for you."

"Charming as ever. In that case, my answer is no."

"You're gonna be in there a damned long time if you don't start talking."

"As much as I love being in your enchanting company, I'm not intentionally prolonging this ordeal. I won't tell you the name of the demon because I don't know it."

Castiel frowned. "All crossroad deals fall under your purview."

"And that is true. What's also true is that after Lilith's untimely demise we've undergone some...restructuring. Explored our options as it were."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"It means that not very long ago we received a very attractive offer for that very contract. You know me. I can never resist a deal. Names just get in the way."

"Someone bought it? Who the hell would do that?"

"Oh, your two angel friends know the value of souls but that's the odd thing. Upon death the soul still comes back to me. Apparently just the contract was all our mystery friend wanted. Well that and a fair number of hellhounds."

It rankled Castiel that they were all letting Crowley play them like this. "Release him, Dean. If this is true he has nothing of value to tell us."

"You don't want me to leave before getting to my favorite part. Included in that lot were specifically the hellhounds who made Dean here our happy tenant for so many years."

Castiel saw the blind terror of that take over Dean for a moment. "That's a lie," he said. "Once a hellhound has been sent on a hunt it can't be used for future ones."

"Very true," Crowley said, and Castiel could tell he hadn't missed the impact of his words on Dean. "One hunt and all they're good for is breeding and barbeques. They never quite manage to lose that scent. I can't imagine why someone would want used ones." He stared down Dean as he spoke, an obscene smile on his face.

Elizabeth stepped forward and broke the line of the trap, releasing Crowley. In the blink of an eye he was gone, leaving his words to sink into them all like a poison. Dean was shaking when Castiel put one hand on his shoulder, startling like he hadn't noticed him approach. "What the fuck, Cas? Who's after me now?"

"It doesn't matter. They won't touch you."

"Dean, I had no idea you were part of this," Elizabeth said, but Dean shook his head.

"No. No, it's cool. We keep your boy Caffrey breathing, that's only good for me. Whoever's after him's gotta be the same douchebag after me, right? We gank the dick we solve two problems."

"What do you propose we do next?"

"Keep an eye on Caffrey. Draw the bastard out."

Castiel looked to Elizabeth. "There's an advanced locating ritual I could try. We should go somewhere quieter."

She nodded. "Let's go back to the apartment. And anyway, Peter might come back with news."

Castiel glanced at Dean, who squeezed his eyes shut at the idea of flying again but nodded his assent. He pressed his hand to Dean's forehead and spread his wings, already focusing on what he would need for the ritual.

The band of fire that wrapped around him threw him so off balance he staggered forward. "Cas? Cas, what's up?"

Castiel looked over at Elizabeth and saw she'd felt the same thing. "We're tethered," he spit out, looking around as the bindings seared around his wings. "Something's here."

Elizabeth took a step toward them and a ring of fire sprung up around her, close enough that she had to stumble back to avoid the flames. "Something's been watching us," he said, drawing his sword. The memory of falling into Lucifer's trap at Carthage pressed all around him.

The baying came from the south; Castiel made out four distinct creatures, coming in teams of two. He stationed himself in front of Dean; for a moment he debated telling him to run but Elizabeth was right. If he did kill these four more would just be sent.

And it wasn't as if Dean would listen to him. He heard the click of Dean's gun and shook his head. "That won't have any effect on them, Dean."

"So what's the plan?"

Castiel saw the first of them approach and raised his sword. "Stay behind me."

***

Elizabeth had never seen beyond Hell's gate, but if demons created personal hells the way Heaven crafted individual paradises she thought this would be hers. She got as close to the flames as she dared and watched Castiel prepare himself to fight off the first wave. She hadn't even smelled the oil. Dean was stubbornly stationed behind him, aiming his gun at the empty air with only the wide set of his eyes to betray the waking nightmare he'd found himself in. Elizabeth didn't catch what Dean said to her brother, but just from his body language she could see he had no intention of doing the wise thing and running for his life.

If they all survived this Elizabeth told herself she was locking the two of them in a room until they figured things out.

The first hellhound galloped by, tinted a strange silver color and slather dripping from its jaws as it bayed for Dean's blood. Castiel braced for the charge, skewering the creature through the chest; the impact drove him down to one knee but the hellhound let out a quick yelp, dead before it hit the ground. It dissolved into bile and caustic smoke, forcing Castiel to back up a step as he flicked the gore from his blade. The poison released by its packmate's death gave the second its chance; Elizabeth saw Castiel's sword go flying as he caught the hellhound's muzzle just before its jaws could snap around his neck.

Castiel's leverage was bad; he jerked his head back just in time to avoid being swiped by its claws. Dean called out, "Cas!" and took a step to the right. He fired two shots into what Elizabeth knew looked like empty space to him; while the bullets themselves had little effect getting shot surprised the hellhound enough for Castiel to wrestle it down and snap its neck in one smooth motion. She saw her brother's lips curl up; battle was prayer for the soldiers and each victory exaltation. She hoped with everything she had that their Father was listening.

The next two came much faster than either of them could have expected. One passed within an arm's length of the fire circle and Elizabeth lunged for it, reaching over the flames to drag it into the fire. For one horrible instant she thought it was too strong for her, that it was going to pull her out of the circle and through the deadly flames, but at the last second she set her jaw and took a step back. She ignored the hellhound's snapping jaws and took one more step back, then another. Finally she had it across the border and threw it into the flames. All she'd been hoping for was to break the circle but the creature shrieked, burning to a crisp in the space between heartbeats.

And then she understood.

She lifted her head to warn Castiel but saw it was too late; the hellhound was already in mid-bound. She saw his eyes cut toward his sword for a fraction of an instant and wondered if he would take that gamble. Castiel was fast, one of the fastest fliers in the garrison and if he went for his weapon she knew it would only leave Dean exposed for a half a second, perhaps less.

She felt the fear mix with pride when she saw him square his shoulders against the attack. If she'd had Peter standing behind her she knew that would be her choice, too.

Elizabeth closed her eyes and focused on using the hellhound's ashes to douse the flames. The sharp cry of pain a few seconds later washed through her like acid.

Elizabeth was done with her family being hurt. She was done.

Chapter Text

Dean could hear the damn thing coming and he kept waiting for Castiel to go for the dropped sword, kept waiting until Cas gave him quick over his shoulder look and Dean realized he was just going to stand there and take the attack. Dean had never wanted to strangle anyone more in his entire life.

He told himself Cas could do this, he'd killed the last one barehanded but he knew that had been luck.

There was that split second where time slowed down to nothing, the way it always did when something bad was about to happen, then he saw the hellhound hit Castiel like a wave.

He thought Cas must have misjudged either its speed or its angle of attack or both; he didn't have time to catch it like the last and barely managed to get one arm up in time to keep it from ripping out his throat. Dean had told Sam when he'd first started hunting that it was natural to freeze up sometimes, that it was nothing to be ashamed of. He wished Sam was there to remind him of that now; when he heard that growl so close Dean felt all of his joints lock. He was back in that house in Illinois, back feeling teeth drag him to the floor and feeling claws rip him open. Castiel let out a startled grunt as his legs buckled under him; Dean could see he was pinned under the thing, his arm in its jaws, bloodspray outlining the shape of hellhound's muzzle. Cas' eyes were locked on the hound as he tried to pry its jaws open, then Dean saw his eyes go wide and his back arch up. Within a second his right side was soaked red with blood; that had been a claw, Dean felt it like it had scored down his own side. Dean wanted to move, wanted to help but it was like it was all happening far away in a fog.

Dean couldn't see but he didn't need to, he all but felt it when the hellhound shook Cas. His whole body jerked up and Dean heard a sharp crack that sounded like a gong. Castiel let out an ugly sob of pain, almost like he was too surprised to scream; Dean saw him instinctively try to curl up around his broken arm and he heard the hellhound let out a staccato growl, almost like it was laughing.

That broke Dean out of it. He dove for Castiel's sword, grabbing it and getting back to his feet with a quick roll; Cas had lost enough blood now that Dean could almost make out shape of the hellhound's head. Castiel's eyes were glassy but to Dean's relief he was aware enough to realize what Dean was trying to do; he reached out with his good hand and grabbed the thing by what Dean guessed was the scruff of its neck, holding it still even though Dean could tell he wouldn't be able to keep it up for more than a few seconds.

Dean didn't need more than that. He took a deep breath and stabbed down with the sword, right between the thing's shoulder blades. He'd never used a blade this sharp before; he braced for resistance when the sword hit bone but it slid through up to the hilt, so cleanly Dean stumbled down to his knees. Castiel groaned again when the impact jarred through him and Dean twisted his blade, wrenching it as hard as he could. He felt the hound shake under him for a second, then let out a high-pitched whine when he twisted the blade one more time. Within seconds Dean felt the resistance against the sword evaporate and smelled something foul and acrid but he didn't waste any time wondering about it – Castiel was still curled on his side, his eyes squeezed shut, soft moans catching the edge of each breath. "Jesus, Cas. Jesus. Let me see how bad it is." Castiel waved him off, then pushed himself to his feet, cradling his ruined arm against his chest.

"That hurt," Cas snarled.

"You're just fucking lucky you heal."

"No," Castiel said, shaking his head. "It shouldn't. It shouldn't...shouldn't hurt this much." Dean realized he was swaying on his feet; he reached out to steady him and when Cas looked up Dean felt his blood freeze. His irises were blown wide and Dean could see pinpricks of light deep in his pupils. He groped for Dean like he couldn't quite see him, missing completely; Dean rushed forward to grab him when his legs collapsed under him, fear wrapping around his spine when Castiel clutched onto him, trying to hold himself up. "Something's wrong," he said, the words slurring.

"Why aren't you healing, Cas?" Dean said, lowering him down to the ground.

"Like...like to know that myself."

Blood still poured from his arm like someone had turned on a faucet; Dean felt the shakes start to kick in as he unknotted the tie around Cas' neck and cinched it tight around his arm just above the elbow, trying to stop the blood flow. He glanced around as he tried to remember how much blood someone could lose in one shot before their blood pressure dropped to nothing. "Cas? Cas, you gotta look at me."

Castiel's head picked up at the command; the bites on his arm and the claw marks down his side were outlined in light now, too. "What's wrong with me?" he whispered, eyes wide and the tone hazy and distant, like they were talking about someone else bleeding out on the grass.

"Doesn't matter," Dean said, tipping Castiel's chin up to force him to keep looking at him. "You're gonna be fine. You're a big bad angel of the Lord, right? That means you can't get taken out by one mangy hellhound. You hear me?"

He didn't think Castiel did, shock was hitting him too fast and too hard. "Is this what it felt like when you died, Dean?" he whispered.

"Jesus, Cas, don't worry about me right now." Dean could feel the pulse in his neck fluttering and swore; his breathing was bad too, coming in harsh, fast gasps, and Dean had heard people trying to breathe with blood in their lungs too many times to not recognize the sound now. "Keep talking, okay? You gotta stay awake."

Castiel nodded like he didn't understand the question and hoped that was the right answer. "Dean? Why...why would Peter save me a drumstick on Thanksgiving?"

Dean didn't know why that made his chest go tight. Cas asking a Cas question should have been reassuring. "'Cause you did him a favor and that's the best part."

"Is it?" He shivered so hard his teeth chattered.

"Yeah, definitely. And don't ever let Sam tell you otherwise, kid has no taste."

"Do you think they'll invite me?"

"Sure they will," Dean said, desperate to keep him talking. "You're family, right? That's what family does."

"That's not been...my experience." His eyelids fluttered, panicking Dean so much he shook him awake. He smothered down the spiral of guilt when Castiel whimpered and opened his eyes with a betrayed, why did you do that? look.

"Told you, Cas, you gotta stay awake or you won't make that dinner."

"What...part will you have?"

Dean didn't know how Castiel was dredging up enough energy to humor him, especially since he seemed to be going out of his way to be obvious about it. "Me and Sam'll do our own thing, like we always do."

"Oh." He seemed to need a second to grasp that. "I wouldn't be welcome?"

"Hey. Of course you are. What kind of stupid question is that?"

"Family...you said."

"You ditch me on Thanksgiving I will be so fucking pissed off, Cas."

"Would...would never...." His brows drew together in confusion. "I don't understand what we're talking about anymore."

"That's okay. That's okay, just keep talking."

Instead Castiel leaned his head against Dean's shoulder, like he'd forgotten how to hold it up. "I still don't.... Battled hellhounds many times." That was what tied Dean up in knots; it wasn't even the pain ripping each word apart, it was that he was so surprised about it. He shivered against Dean, another choked moan shaking out of him and Jesus, he was really glowing now, light pouring from the wounds like it was blood.

A shadow fell across them; Dean looked up, ready to go to war with anything that would come after Cas now but that rage fell away when he saw Elizabeth standing over them. For a second Dean was back in that barn in Illinois; lightning cracked from the blue sky and there was a split second where he could see past the the human mask to all that power coiled in on itself like a building storm. Wings of shadow spread behind her on grass, the temperature of the air dropping ten degrees.

Castiel looked up like he'd felt her approach; Dean saw his lips move but he couldn't make any sound come out. "Shh, little brother," she whispered, and Dean recognized the way Cas was looking at her now. It was the way Sam looked at him when hunts went bad, the way Sam had looked to him since he'd been a little kid, the perfect confidence of Oh good, you're here now. You'll fix this. She pressed two fingers against Castiel's temple, the same way Cas always did to Dean. "Rest now."

The glow faded and for one second the pain was wiped from his face, then his eyelids fluttered closed. Dean caught him as he went limp.

Elizabeth straightened up and stared down at them for a second, the gentleness in her voice when she'd soothed Cas an absolute contrast to her eyes now. Dean had seen Castiel mad plenty of times, but this was different. This was wrath.

She touched Dean's forehead, pressing her other hand back against Cas' temple. "Hold on to him," she said, an apology in her voice. "It's been a while since I've done this."

Dean had just enough time to grab Castiel and hold on tight before the world warped around him.

***

Sam was just on the verge of falling asleep again when he heard the growl. He bolted back upright in the chair, one hand going instinctively to the knife in his belt.

The next time he heard the growl if came from on top of the interrogation table, inches from his face. Sam threw himself backwards, tipping the chair over as he pulled out the knife; he felt suffocating weight settle on his chest and cringed at the sound of jaws clacking shut in the empty air. Noxious, hot breath his face but Sam pushed that aside, gritting his teeth as he stabbed up with the knife. He heard a high-pitched whimper and felt claws rake into his shoulder in a single spasm, then he saw a shimmer of light as the thing...Sam didn't know, dissolved.

Burke's two lieutenants chose then to burst into the room, guns drawn. "What the hell was that?" asked the female agent, taking the whole scene in a glance.

Sam raised his hands, letting the black stained knife fall to the floor. He let the other agent haul him up and drop him in the chair. "You won't believe me if I told you."

He saw them share a look; they holstered the guns and the guy picked the knife up from the floor with a cloth as the female agent sat across from him. "Where did you get that?" she said, her voice sliding into interrogation mode. "And what's...what's that all over it?"

"It smells like sulfur in here," the other one said, and Sam saw his jaw go tight.

"Well?"

Sam just sighed. "I told you, you guys won't believe me."

"You're bleeding," she said, nodding toward his shoulder, "and you didn't do it yourself, there's no blood on that knife. As long as you're in our custody, that means you're our responsibility. Who attacked you?"

"It wasn't a who." He sighed again. "Fine. It was a hellhound."

Her eyebrows went up to her hairline. "A hellhound."

"Yeah. They're trackers from hell, your buddy Caffrey's got a bunch of them after him. I don't know why they're lurking around here, maybe they can't find him and they're trying to draw him out."

"A hellhound," she said again, as if she couldn't quite believe she'd heard Sam right.

"I said you wouldn't believe me."

The other agent was still staring at the black gore on the knife. "You're saying these things are from hell? That makes them demons, right?"

She sighed. "Jones, don't indulge him."

"Yeah, that's right," Sam said, turning around to give him a curious look.

Jones nodded. "That means we need salt, right? Salt's what keeps out demons?"

Sam felt his mouth drop open. "Yeah. Yeah, it does. How did you...?"

The other agent looked like she wanted to ask the same question. "Jones, what the hell?"

"My uncle Rufus gets some Johnnie Walker in him, he can tell some stories." He straightened up, handing the knife back to Sam over his partner's obvious objections. "That knife's special, right?"

Sam nodded, taking it back and making sure lay it between him and the other agent on the table. "It can kill demons," he said. Sam tapped his fingers against table. "Actually met your uncle," he admitted. "He's a character, man."

"Am I the only one who hasn't lost my mind?" She looked up at Jones. "You're saying you believe him?"

Sam felt Jones give him a hard, steady look. "Yeah. I think I do."

She rubbed her forehead, seeming to need a second to let that sink in. "Diana," she said after some obvious thought. "If we're fighting...I don't believe I'm saying this, demons, I guess we should be on a first name basis."

"Sam Winchester," Sam said.

Her lips quirked up. "We know."

"Diana, there's more of those things out there. I don't know if they're going to attack, but we have to be ready."

"And we do that how?"

"Get everyone out. The hellhound attacked me, I don't know why, but if it's after me then people need to get as far away as they can."

Diana shook her head. "We have people in custody, we can't clear the building." She leaned back in the chair. "We could fake a bomb threat. Something like that, get the nonessentials out and set the whole building on lockdown."

"Then we do that. Get as many people out and barricade as best we can."

"I got a bag of salt in my car," Jones said. When all the eyes turned to him, he shrugged. "Look, that's the kind of birthday present my uncle sends."

She nodded and he left the room, closing the door behind him. She turned back to Sam with a venomous glare. "If you're making all this up...."

"If I was making all this up don't you think I'd come up with a better story?" She crossed her arms, seeming to accept that with a sigh. "Can I call my brother?"

She shook her head as she slid her own phone against the table. "Make it quick."

He nodded, making sure to talk right in front of her to show he wasn't hiding anything. He frowned as the call went to voicemail twice, letting out a sigh of relief when someone finally picked up on the third try. "Sammy?" he heard, after a long, uneasy pause.

The tone in Dean's voice raised the hair on the back of Sam's neck. "Dean, everything okay? You didn't pick up."

"Didn't recognize the number." Sam heard his brother let out a shaking breath. "You get sprung?"

"Not yet. You were right about the hellhounds, one jumped me right in the interrogation room."

Another pause. "You okay?"

Sam didn't like Dean's voice at all. "Yeah, thanks to the knife. The agents here are being...surprisingly cool about everything. We're working on barricading the building now." He leaned over the table. "What happened? Are you okay?"

Dean actually laughed at that, a short, jagged sound. "I'm fine. Not a scratch on me."

"Dean...."

"Everyone's breathing, Sam, that's what matters. You keep yourself safe, this should all be wrapped up soon." The call ended and Sam stared at the number blinking on the screen, his stomach in knots.

"Everything okay?" Diana asked, taking her phone back.

Sam let out a deep breath. "Ask me that again when this is over."

***

Neal stumbled into the abandoned warehouse, one hand clamped over his bloody arm. When he'd had Mozzie burn through a perfectly good fake identity to buy the place he hoped he'd never have to use it. He muttered a word in a language he had absolutely no business knowing and the space illuminated, revealing a sigil carved into the floor and words in yet another language no one on Earth should know and felt his heart finally start to slow down. A hound had almost gotten him on the subway getting here; he'd had to dive onto the platform just as the doors closed and counted himself lucky the car had been empty. He liked to think he wouldn't trap someone innocent with a hellhound just to save his own skin but he really didn't want to put that to the test. He still felt the burn of the demon's teeth on his arm; the bite had been barely more than a graze but Neal had never felt pain like that his life. And he was pretty sure he'd dislocated his shoulder getting away, but that shouldn't matter now.

The attack had made him lose the box but he always had a backup plan. He looked around and smiled; it had taken a hell of a lot of talking to more strange "experts" than he could count and a good chunk of his personal treasure trove but if there was one place on Earth that was demon proof, this was it.

"Not exactly how I pictured your taste in safe houses running, Neal." Neal could only stare as Peter strolled out of one of the shadowy corners. "Could use some help with the décor," he said, looking around. "El knows a couple of people."

"What do you have on Mozzie?"

"Apparently a common interest in you being alive."

Neal shook his head. "Great, Peter, you found me, now get out of here. Go home."

"Only if you come with me."

"You know I can't do that."

"Well, I'm certainly not explaining to El how I left you to get eaten alive." He let out a short sigh. "I still can't believe I'm saying things like that."

"I'm fine. There's no safer place on the planet."

"What's your plan, Neal? Stay here forever? Not exactly a lot of amenities."

Okay, so Peter technically had him there. Neal realized he was too tired to bluster any more. "I thought I'd have more time."

"Well, I'm not leaving here without you, so stop arguing with me and let's come up with a plan."

The warehouse doors creaked open and Neal spun around, a bead of cold sweat running down his back. "Is that supposed to happen?" he heard Peter say, far away, like Peter was standing in a well.

Neal swallowed hard. "No."

Two hellhounds padded through the open door; short muzzles sniffing the air. They looked like wolves drawn by someone who didn't understand proportion; long, muscular forelegs made their backs slope like hyenas, sharp shoulder blades moving under bristled fur as they stalked into the room. Their metallic claws gleamed as they clicked on the floor, walking right over sigils and traps a dozen books had promised Neal would keep them out. Neal saw both their heads turn to him as they caught his scent, tongues lolling out like they were excited huskies.

When they snarled Neal felt it in his bones. "Peter, stay back, please."

He all but groaned aloud when instead Peter stepped up beside him and drew his gun. "Don't ask me that again."

"Peter...."

"I'm not going to sit here and watch while your soul gets dragged off to hell, Neal," he snapped, aiming his gun at what to him was empty air. "Can you see them?"

"A gun's not going to do anything."

"Can you see them?"

Neal nodded. "There's two of them. One's at 11 o'clock, one's at 2." They lowered their heads in unison, muscles bunching as they charged. "Here they come."

Peter swung the gun to 11 o'clock and fired twice; the first sailed over the hellhound's head but then he lowered the gun and the second shot caught the creature full in the chest. To Neal's shock the hellhound dropped with a strangled yelp, light flashing all through it as spasmed once before dissolving into smoke and foul-smelling bile. The second hellhound skidded to a stop, turning to look at its packmate, then it turned back to Neal like he had done the shooting. It growled as it launched itself at Neal, slaver dripped from its jaws.

Peter spun around and fired again, hitting the hellhound through the neck with a perfect shot. The hellhound did a somersault through the air, landing hard and lying still for a few seconds before dissolving like the other.

The silence afterward was like a thing Neal could touch. Peter cocked on eyebrow at him, a clear I told you so expression on his face. "What kind of weapons do you guys carry?"

Peter never got the chance to answer. The warehouse shook, like a giant had reached down from the sky to shake it. The open doors flew backwards, cracking off their hinges; lightning crackled over the protection sigils on the walls, creating strange shadows. Neal felt a force tug him forward, forcing him to stumble down to his knees just as a man walked into the warehouse. "There," the man said, lips twisting up into a smirk. "That's a little more respectful, don't you think?"

"You," Neal breathed, recognizing the stranger who had come to him that night to tell him the terms of his contract had changed.

Peter raised the gun and pointed it at the stranger. "Who are you?"

The man sighed, gesturing once; Neal saw Peter sway on his feet and threw himself backward to catch him, grunting as pain spiraled from his injured arm. "What did you do?" he said, panic grabbing him until he found Peter's pulse.

"Put him to sleep. Unless you want him to be involved?"

Neal shook his head. "Don't hurt him. He has nothing to do with this."

The man pursed his lips. "Not precisely true, but I have no real desire to hurt him. Not unless I have to. He is family of a sort, after all."

Neal pulled Peter into his lap so he wasn't lying on the cold floor. "What are you waiting for? You caught me, get on with it."

The man smiled. "Eager to jump into the Pit, aren't you."

"Who are you?"

"I'm surprised you never managed to find out. My name is Xaphan."

"I know that name," Neal said. The longer he kept this thing talking, the longer he had think of a way out. "You're a demon. You set fire to Heaven when Lucifer fell."

The smile went wider. "I did." The lightning flashed again and Neal felt his heart almost stop when he saw enormous, shadowy wings spread across the warehouse wall. "You've been a very useful little pawn, Neal."

"What are you waiting for?"

Xaphan tilted his chin up. "A third party. Don't worry. I'm sure she won't be long."

Chapter Text

Dean felt his stomach try to come up through his throat when they landed back in the Burke living room. "Sorry," Elizabeth said, putting both hands on his shoulders to steady him. "Was the landing too rough? I'm out of practice."

Dean shook his head. "Nah, that's about the same as when Cas does it." He waved her away when she tried to help him with Cas. "It's okay, I got him. I got him."

Castiel let out a breathy moan when Dean laid him out on the sofa, the pain lines around his eyes deepening. "Why's he still all cut up?" he said, sitting on the edge of the coffee table as the adrenaline rush faded and left him shaking. "I thought you healed him."

Elizabeth leaned against the arm of the sofa and trailed her fingers through Castiel's hair. "I could only stabilize him," she said. "And that's only going to hold if he stays quiet."

"What the hell happened back there? Even Cas didn't know what the fuck was going on."

Her mouth set in a thin line. "The hellhounds were enchanted. That's why they have had that color, why their teeth and claws looked metallic," she said, forgetting Dean couldn't see them. "There was a spell cast on them so their teeth and claws would have the same effect as our blades."

Dean felt his stomach drop. "That's why you can't fix him."

She nodded. "Not until the spell is broken. He should actually heal on his own then." Castiel stirred, his head tossing and she murmured to him in Enochian, glancing over to Dean. "Tell him you're here."

"Cas, buddy, I'm right here. You're gonna be okay." He looked up at Elizabeth to know if that was the right thing to say and she nodded.

"I realized it when I was able to kill the one by dragging it into the flames. Holy fire is only instantly fatal to us. Or things enchanted to be like us."

"I don't get it. Why take the hellhounds that want to eat me alive and angel them up like this?"

"I don't think you were ever the target, Dean." She traced one finger down one of the scratches on Cas' cheek. "I think this was an assassination."

It took a second for Dean to put that all together. "I don't...I don't get that. Crowley said this dick went out of his way to get the hellhounds that would go right for me."

"Follow that thought. Pretend you'd never stumbled into this hunt, because I'm not sure if the reason you're being targeted now wasn't just convenient timing. Imagine you found out some mystery threat had armed himself with the hellhounds that killed you. What would you do?"

Have screaming nightmares for the rest of my life. "Try to figure out the bastard's name and kill him."

"And when you couldn't? And more to the point, what would he do when he found out you were being targeted?" she said, nodding down at Castiel.

It doesn't matter. They won't touch you. Dean felt guilt swallow him whole like some giant snake. "The son of a bitch used me as bait."

"If it makes you feel better, I fell for the same trick. You were targeted to draw out Castiel, Neal was targeted to draw me out." She gave him a sharp look. "And stop that. This isn't your fault."

Dean shook his head. "I froze. Like it was my first fucking hunt. It wouldn't have been half as bad if I didn't freeze up." He was not going to cry in front of her like some green teenager. "A while back we were in this little town called Carthage, me and Sam and Cas and two other hunters, Jo and Ellen. We were all there trying to stop Lucifer from raising Death, because that is our fucking lives lately," he said, his hands balling into fists. "Lucifer's demon bitch lackey sicced hellhounds on us and I froze up then, too. One of them had me and I froze up. Jo turned back to save me and...." He strangled down the memory of hearing Jo scream, knowing it should have been him. "She died. She and Ellen, they both died and Jo, she was younger than Sam, y'know? She was just a fucking kid." He'd never talked about Carthage, not even to Sam. Letting everything fester like an open wound had been easier than saying out loud he should be dead instead of Jo and Ellen, especially when he knew Sam would only lie and say that wasn't true. "She was so tough about it, too. Way tougher than I would have been. Watching her suffer like that was...." There weren't words for it. "I can't do that again."

That was when something Elizabeth had said stood out for him like a beacon. "Wait. You said him. You know who did this."

Elizabeth nodded slowly. "I've been tethered before, but today was the first time it felt like fire." She glanced at Dean. "Have you read the Dictionarre Infernal?"

Dean just blinked at that. "Sure. Of course. I reread it every summer just for kicks."

She gave the sarcasm a disapproving look. "It's a book on demonology. It purports to explain the hierarchies of hell." Her lips quirked up, as if remembering a private joke. "Some of our Father's prophets don't stop themselves from taking artistic license."

Dean remembered some of the descriptions from Chuck's novels. "Tell me about it."

"Xaphan's described in that as a demon who set fire to Heaven. You can't imagine how put out he was by that. He called it libel."

"Which, the demon part or the setting fire to Heaven?"

"Oh, that he did. More or less anyway." She furrowed her brow and it was really kind of uncanny to Dean how well she and Cas could pass for brother and sister. "Did Castiel ever tell you how they finally caught Lucifer during the Rebellion?"

"In case you haven't noticed, Cas doesn't do a whole lot of talking."

"I suppose that's true. Before Lucifer rebelled we didn't have weapons that could kill each other. We didn't have holy fire. We didn't need it, why would we? Then Lucifer and his supporters started the War and we all had to play catch up." There was the same far-off look in her eyes Dean knew was in his own when he thought about Carthage and Cold Oak. "Xaphan created the rings of fire and he had a hand in creating our blades. He never met a problem he couldn't come at sideways." He voice went soft. "He used to give us our missions in the old days. He taught me everything I know."

"How'd he wind up on the roll of shame, then?"

"The Prophet thought he was on Lucifer's side because that's where he was for most of the war."

Dean's brows drew together. "Spying?"

She nodded. "Michael's eyes and ears. Everything he learned about blending in with humans he used on Lucifer."

"Fuck. I hate it when the bastards are smart." He started to rake one hand through his hair before remembering he still had so much blood all over his hands. "What's our plan?"

"There's no our here, Dean. I'm going to go deal with him and you're staying here," she said, handing him Castiel's sword. He hadn't even noticed when she'd taken it from him.

"Like hell. I'm right there with you...."

"Dean." That focused fury was back on her face. "I need you to stay here and take care of my brother."

Shame hit Dean like ice water. Of course Cas couldn't be left alone. "You stay. If he starts bleeding again I can't help him."

She shook her head. "I can't help him here. I'm not even sure he can hear me, he's in so much...." She shut her eyes. "This is what I never missed, the soldiers coming back from battles torn to pieces. It's why I do what I do. Everyday I get to see people on the best day of their lives and get to know I made that happen." She crouched in front of Dean, her hands on his shoulders. "Dean, take it from someone who left Heaven for the exact reason he did, trust me, yours is the voice he needs right now."

Dean wasn't in a place where he could even begin to process that. "But...okay, but take this," he said, offering her back the sword. "You're not even armed."

She just shook her head again, closing his hand around the hilt. "If I take it you won't be armed if any hellhounds come back. And I have all the weapons I need." She pressed a light kiss to his forehead before standing again. "Go clean yourself up. There's a shirt you can wear hanging up. I'll sit with him until then."

Dean didn't even remember walking to the bathroom; he just found himself bent over the sink, staring at his own reflection. He hadn't realized just how drenched in blood he was; it was all over his hands and up his arms, spattered all over his clothes, even streaked on his face. He wondered how many times over the past few years he'd found himself covered in someone else's blood when it should have been his own.

He heard his phone ring and let it go to voice mail. It rang again and he did the same thing; he was in no condition to talk to anyone right now. When it rang for the third time Dean finally shook himself out of it and picked up; the number of people who'd want to talk to him this much was pretty much two, and when he didn't hear swearing over the he knew this couldn't be Bobby. "Sammy?" he said, bracing himself against the sink for more bad news.

He could almost see Sam's ears prick up. "Dean, everything okay? You didn't pick up."

"Didn't recognize the number," he answered, although until the third try he hadn't even looked. "You get sprung?"

"Not yet. You were right about the hellhounds, one jumped me right in the interrogation room."

Dean felt his heart stop for a second. He wondered if Xaphan had given it orders to go after Sam to draw Dean out, which would drag out Cas. If Sam got hurt because of him too Dean didn't know if he could take it. "You okay?"

"Yeah, thanks to the knife. The agents here are being...surprisingly cool about everything. We're working on barricading the building now." It would figure that Sam could make friends with all the feds. "What happened? Are you okay?"

That was just funny. "I'm fine. Not a scratch on me." He tried to scrub the sound Cas made when the hellhound almost ripped his arm off out of his brain.

"Dean...."

"Everyone's breathing, Sam, that's what matters." Sam didn't need to worry about this; by the time he saw Sam again Cas would either be back to his annoying cryptic self or...Dean actually couldn't even form that thought. Either way, there was nothing Sam could do one way or another. "You keep yourself safe, this should all be wrapped up soon."

He hung up before Sam could argue. "Pull yourself together," he said to his reflection. Cas needed him. It was up to Dean to keep him safe if the hellhounds showed back up and damned if he was going to screw that up. He scrubbed the blood off his hands and arms, changing into the clean T shirt he found, then rooted through the medicine cabinet and grabbed bandages, gauze and any other first aid gear he could find.

Dean took a solid, bracing breath and stepped back out. Elizabeth caught his eye immediately, her lips tipping up when she saw the supplies tucked under his arm; he realized he hadn't asked if could raid her house but she didn't say a word about it. "Go on, kick your brother's ass," he said, pulling up a chair. "I got him, go."

Elizabeth ruffled one hand through his hair. "I have to find him first." She said something to Castiel in Enochian, smoothing back his hair. "You two take care of each other." She disappeared in a flutter of wings, leaving the two of them alone.

The silence made Dean hear growls everywhere. He pulled the chair up closer, arranging Cas' sword next to him on the table for easy access and set up the first aid supplies in a row. Castiel's breathing was faster than Dean would have liked, the rough, shallow gasps of someone trying to breathe around pain. "You're a son of a bitch, Cas," he murmured, carefully cleaning the scratches the hellhound's claws left on his face. He knew infection was the least of their worries right now but Dean had been trained too well, and anyway he'd never been good at just sitting on his hands. "It almost killed me when my dad decided to die instead of me, you know me well enough to know that. You know that and you still tried to do the same thing, and this time make me watch."

He stroked his thumb along Cas' hairline before moving down, checking to make sure he hadn't missed any stray scratches. "Your sister said I've gotta keep talking to you but Cas, man, I'm sorry, Sam'll tell you I suck at that." He found another faint scratch on Cas' neck and stopped himself from visualizing how bad that could have been had the claw gone any deeper. "You'd be better off with Sam here," he said, gently swabbing down the length of the scratch. "Kid's awesome at sitting bedside, he can talk your ear off. Kept me awake for two days once when it looked like I had a concussion and he couldn't drag me to a hospital."

He couldn't put off looking at the arm any more; he picked up the scissors he'd found and started cutting away Cas' sleeve. "Don't you dare bitch about me about ruining your coat when this is all over," he said, hoping that was the extent of their problems by then. Once the suit jacket and coat were out of the way Dean concentrated on the shirt; it was blood soaked and shredded enough that strips were stuck to the wound and Dean knew he had to be careful.

Castiel's breathing hitched when Dean touched the arm, what little color he still had leeching from his face. "Shh, Cas," Dean murmured. "You gotta let me look at it. I'm not gonna stitch it but I gotta at least wrap it. You'll feel better when everything's not exposed to the air like this, I promise." Castiel quieted, pain lines deep around his eyes, and Dean wondered how much of that he'd really absorbed. Dean finished clearing the last pieces of the shirt, wincing when Castiel let off a soft whimper as Dean peeled off the last strip.

Dean hissed out a breath through his teeth. He knew that if Cas had been human he'd be losing the arm; the wounds were wide enough he could see the jagged cracks zigzagging through the bones. He wished he had a good splint but the arm looked stable enough to do with just a tight wrap, even if it was nowhere near healed. He cleaned everything as best he could, careful not to jostle him enough to start the bleeding again. "I get the feeling Elizabeth thinks we're...." Dean felt silly even thinking about saying it out loud. "She says you and her went AWOL for the same reasons but, you know, she married the guy she ran off for," he said, measuring out a length of bandages and starting to wrap the arm. Castiel's head tossed, his breathing going ragged, and Dean whispered, "Shh, shh. I'm almost done here."

Once he was done with the arm he went back to stroking his thumb across Castiel's forehead until he quieted again. "So I guess I should have left you in the Sahara this morning, huh?" he said, moving the coat aside and starting to cut his shirt away from the gashes down his side. He tried not to think about what would happen if Elizabeth couldn't find her firebug brother. He didn't know what would be worse, watching Cas actually die or having him linger in this much pain. "If she can't find him I'll drag his ass out of Heaven myself, Cas, I promise." That Xaphan had used Dean like a sword felt like a crank tying his insides into a hard knot. "It's my fault you're in this mess, I'm gonna make it right. I don't like being anyone's weak spot."

The gashes down his side were deep and Dean worked slowly; this would be fatal on a human too and Dean tried as hard as he could not to think about Jo. As he worked he wondered how this compared to what had happened to Cas while he'd dragged Dean out of hell. He wondered if Cas had told him then what the mark had been for and he'd just lost those memories along with everything else about the rescue. He wished he knew what the hell Castiel had been thinking because he knew damn well that if he'd been too hurt to bust out of hell the demons wouldn't have killed him. They'd have kept him, and Dean felt like throwing up thinking about things going just a little bit worse and some other angel finishing the job and leaving Cas there. "Don't know why you bothered putting this thing on my arm, Cas. You should have saved the effort, 'cause I wouldn't have gone with any of your dick brothers they would have sent. No way." Dean didn't know if that was true – he knew there was every chance he could have been so desperate to get out of hell he might've left Cas there without a second thought – but God, did he want it to be true.

When he finished Cas looked like he was breathing easier, and Dean hoped that wasn't just wishful thinking. Dean wiped off his hands and picked up the sword, testing the impossibly sharp edge. "Here's how it's gonna be, Cas. You kept your promise to me about the hellhounds, so I'm gonna make one of my own." He leaned in close to Castiel's ear. "Those things come back, it's not gonna be like last time. They're not going to touch you. Over my dead body, Cas, I swear, and all of fucking Heaven had been be listening."

***

The FBI building was eerie and quiet with so much of its personnel evacuated. Diana scanned the quiet floor, fighting down the hard knot of dread forming in her stomach. Issuing the evacuation order had gone off without a hitch, same with locking down the building. She wondered if working with such a consummate liar as Neal Caffrey was rubbing off on her.

She scanned the room, looking at the agents they hadn't been able to lie out of harm's way; everyone was at their stations, tense but working through the lockdown protocol. She wished she'd been able to tell everyone what the situation really was, but "We have reason to believe a pack of demon dogs have been released from hell and are currently on their way to tear apart one of our prisoners" wasn't the kind of thing you put on an official memo.

Even if it actually was the truth. She retreated back to Peter's office, hoping Sam was right and betting on the hellhounds coming right for him would pay off. He and Jones had given her a primer on demons and what would and wouldn't work on them (salt, holy water and Sam's magic knife, yes, anything else you were out of luck.) Diana still hoped with every fiber of her being that this was all an exhaustion-induced nightmare. She'd even go along with hallucination, if that meant she would be safe and sound in bed next to Christie at the end of day.

She picked up one of the shotguns they'd commandeered from SWAT; Sam and Jones had been busy packing every available firearm with rock salt, something Sam had assured them would actually work. They'd turned the office into a staging area; Sam had painted an elaborate pentagram on the floor he claimed would be able to trap the hellhounds if they walked over it, which she knew Peter would be thrilled about when he got back.

Peter wasn't answering his phone; in fact the calls were going straight to voicemail, which meant he'd turned it off or broken it and considering that he wasn't the only thing trying to track down Caffrey neither of those options did much to thaw out the ball of ice slowly growing in her stomach.

Diana put the thought aside. Whatever trouble Peter and Neal had found themselves in, she couldn't do anything to help. They had their own fight coming right here. "How do we look?" she said, quieting her thoughts and turning back to Jones and Sam.

"As ready as we're gonna be," Jones said, wiping salt from his hands. "How's everyone out there?"

"Nervous but they seem to be buying it," she said, glancing out the window. "I told them Sam was actually undercover. I guess they think that if we let Caffrey work here we'll hire anyone."

Sam gave her an affronted look but seemed to get she was kidding. She picked up one of the salt-packed shotguns. "So, this will really work?"

Sam let out a long sigh. "Hope so. Hellhounds are tough."

Jones shook his head. "I'm not looking forward to the paperwork we'll have to fill out if we actually fire one of these things in here."

"Think of it this way," Diana said, putting the shotgun back on the table. "If we're filling out paperwork, that means we've made it through this."

"I hear you on that."

Diana backed away and let them get back to work; they were sharing stories about Jones' crazy uncle and most of that sounded like gibberish to her anyway. She slid her phone out of her pocket, needing a second to build up her courage before hitting one on her speed dial. "Diana? Hey, tell me you're on the way home." Diana didn't answer and she heard Christie let out a short, frustrated sigh. "Not again."

"Sorry. I...have to work late." If the lockdown order had made the news, apparently Christie hadn't heard.

"I wish you'd never talked me into moving up here. No, I wish we'd never heard the name Peter Burke, and I wish we'd never moved."

"Sometimes I agree with you."

"What's going on? Why did you call, you're not even late yet."

Diana hadn't fallen in love with the woman because she was slow on the uptake. "I just wanted to hear your voice."

There was an endless moment of silence. "What's going on?" Christie said, stark terror in her voice now. "What's wrong?"

That was when they all heard the growling. All three of them turned to the door in unison as the scraping and howling at the door turned deafening. "What is that?"

"I love you," Diana said, ending the call. She put the phone on silent when it rang against almost immediately, then slid the it back into her pocket as she picked up one of the shot guns and aimed it at the door.

The door broke open and Diana fired.

***

Castiel's eyes flew open. "They're here." Dean saw his eyes cut toward the door; a split-second later he heard that growling cut through him, then the sound of something heavy hurling itself at the door. "Go."

"What, cause you'll hold them off?" Dean tightened his grip on the sword. "Only way I'd do that is if I thought they'd go after me and leave you alone."

"Dean...."

"Cas, if I leave you here to get ripped apart I don't deserve to keep breathing, so shut it." It took everything Dean had not to bitch at Cas what, you don't think you deserve to be saved? Maybe later, when they'd all survived this and they were busy drinking themselves stupid to forget it. "We gotta get out of here, the room's not defensible. You think you can walk?"

Castiel nodded, which Dean knew was probably a lie but he didn't waste time calling him on it. He helped pull Castiel up to his feet, Cas' face white and his mouth a tight line. He managed to stand for two whole seconds before his legs collapsed under him; Dean wrapped one arm around his waist to hold him, feeling Cas breathing hard against his collarbone. "Steady, Cas, I gotcha."

"You're not a weakness, Dean," Cas whispered.

Dean felt heat flush all through him. He hadn't actually believed Castiel had been able to hear him during all that. "Yeah, well. Your jerkass brother played me like one."

"That doesn't make it true."

Dean shook his head. "Not the time for mushy stuff, Cas." He pulled Castiel's good arm around his neck and shifted his own arm around Castiel's shoulders. "C'mon. If there's more than one we've gotta bottleneck them."

He half-dragged Castiel to the bathroom with its narrow doorway, slamming the door and locking it just as he heard the front door give way. He sat Castiel down on the floor and looked around, trying in vain to find anything to brace the door with. "There's a window," Castiel murmured; Dean looked down and saw the bandage around his arm already stained bright red.

"We can't move fast enough for it to do us any good."

"You could." He looked up at Dean, curling up again around his wounded arm and side.

"Stop trying to get me to leave you to get torn apart, Cas."

"Why...why is it all right to make me watch you die?"

Dean crouched beside him, angling his body between Cas and the door so whatever broke through would have to go through him first. "Either we both get out of this or neither of us do. And if these things drag us downstairs, we'll just wreck the place until we fight our way back out."

"Like we did before," Castiel murmured.

For one instant Dean could almost touch those lost memories, violence and blood and fear mixing together the way they only could in the Pit. It hit Dean that maybe the reason Cas had assumed Dean would be able to hear him way back when was because he always could before. "Yeah," Dean said, his throat dry. "Just like that."

Cas' eyes were fluttering closed; Dean felt a shiver run through him when Castiel leaned his head against his shoulder, right against the handprint. "You'll be okay, Cas." Dean didn't think he'd ever believed anything more strongly than he believed that.

"You sound very sure."

"You're not?" He could hear the hellhounds getting closer now. "Your sister's gonna kick some ass and then you're gonna be back to fighting strength." When Cas didn't respond Dean took the second to lean down. "Hey. She said you were her little brother, right?" Castiel nodded. "Think about it. If Sam was counting on me the way you're counting on her, is there any way I would ever let him down?"

Dean saw something very close to hope flash across Castiel's face. The hellhound started throwing itself against the door, long vertical cracks appearing in the wood. "Dean?" Castiel whispered, his voice so faint it was barely audible. "Were you...were you afraid when you heard the hounds coming?"

Dean remembered standing in that room, helpless to do anything but let them come. "Scared out of my mind." His heart clenched tight when he felt Castiel's cold fingers wrap around his, squeezing so hard he felt his fingers start to go numb. "Stay with me, Cas," Dean whispered as the door started to give way.

Dean knew he wasn't the most emotionally aware guy in the world. Sam was the emotions guy, Dean's opinion on things had always been that if it wasn't a problem he could solve by punching it in the face, he'd deal with it later.

So he guessed it figured it would take a hellhound growling in his face and a dying angel shivering against his shoulder for him to realize Elizabeth Burke had read him exactly right.

***

It wasn't until the second locating spell fizzled that Elizabeth realized what she was doing wrong. "Never take the obvious solution," she muttered to herself. She remembered being a barely formed bit of nothing, back at the beginning of all things, and listening to Xaphan telling his wide-eyed pupils how to slip in among these strange new beings their Father had created. "'Come at your problems sideways and you'll always have the advantage.'"

The universe had been a simpler place before Heaven burned. She wondered if Xaphan had traded on his undeserved infamy to gain that audience with Crowley. Or even worse, what Xaphan had offered him in trade.

Elizabeth shook those thoughts away; brooding on them couldn't help anyone and there just wasn't the time. Xaphan treated everything like a training exercise, he always had, and Elizabeth forced herself into that old frame of mind. She was looking for Xaphan, who was looking for Neal. All she had to do was follow that trail to its logical conclusion. Honestly, that it took her so long made her wonder how she could ever have been considered one of the brightest angels in the garrison.

She closed her eyes and relaxed, letting the walls she'd built her human life around crumble as she tapped her Grace for the first time since she accepted a diamond ring from a human who shined when he smiled. She felt her wings unfurl as she reached for Peter's soul, feeling her breath catch the way it always did when she finally glimpsed it. Like holding the brilliance of Heaven in the palm of her hand.

Elizabeth let the warmth of his soul rush through her, bolstering her for what would be before her when she opened her eyes, then she let out a long breath and stepped forward.

She found herself in a drafty warehouse, the walls and floor covered in binding and protection runes from more traditions than even she could recognize at a glance. For a moment the world narrowed down to Peter lying pale and still in Neal's lap, but he was breathing and she could hear his heart beating strong and steady. That would have to be enough for now. She felt Neal's panicked blue eyes staring at her and she tried to give send him an apologetic look as she turned to Xaphan. This will all be over soon, Neal. I promise. "It's been a long time."

Xaphan tilted his chin up as he studied her. "You don't sound surprised to see me."

"You'd be disappointed if I was." His vessel was a man in a stylish suit who wore his middle age well, with brown hair reaching past his collar and an impeccably groomed beard. She tried to remember where she might have seen that face before, he seemed so familiar, before realizing he'd been the lead in the play she'd dragged Peter to on their last date night. "I like that actor," she said, regret tinging her voice.

"That's because you have excellent taste," he said. She could see the jagged edges of his Grace grinding against each other, vicious scars that would never heal. Michael had been cold and cruel after caging his brother and he hadn't spared his allies his wrath; Elizabeth had heard rumors of the loyalty tests their eldest brother had put Xaphan through after his service among Lucifer's people but he'd always been careful to hide the evidence of it until now. She recognized the tactic for what it was and steeled herself against sympathy. "What gave me away?"

"You still like to play with fire."

"Ah," he said, like a chessmaster who'd fallen into a beginner trap. "I suppose I do have a trademark." It had been a long time since something could make her feel young but Xaphan still had the knack. "It's time to come home, Elisheva."

"That hasn't been my name for a long time."

His lips quirked up. "You've been on Earth too long. A little over a decade is hardly the blink of an eye."

She felt her hands ball into fists. "Take the spell from the hellhounds."

"No," he said, as if that was an absurd suggestion. "He doesn't deserve your mercy."

Elizabeth remembered Castiel looking up at her as his own blood choked him and his dying Grace bled out around him, seconds from his eyes emptying and his wings burning themselves out into the grass. It hurts. Sister, please, it hurts. "Haven't we lost enough brothers?"

That was the wrong thing to say; Xaphan's expression turned sour. "And how many of those losses were at Castiel's hand? Do you even know?" he said, a low simmering rage in his voice. "Or has he told you how wronged he's been by Heaven? Castiel received the first genuine miracle since our Father left and all he did was repay it by bloodying his hands even more."

"Self-defense isn't a sin."

"Treason is. Duty is supposed to be hard. We don't have the luxury of defying orders to just because our conscience rankles." He crossed his arms, letting out a frustrated sigh. "I'm sure he gave you a very sympathetic story but that doesn't change that he's a war criminal. His very presence makes it less likely the Righteous Man will say yes. Michael wants his vessel and he wants Castiel eliminated. This seemed like an elegant solution."

"You think killing Castiel will make Dean say yes to Michael?"

"Do I think isolating and traumatizing Winchester will make him weak? Yes, I think that's a certainty. I made sure to send some hounds after the other Winchester to sweeten the pot. Their capacity for self sacrifice is quite frankly astonishing." He sighed again. "This is the end of days, Elisheva. It's time to come home."

She shook her head. "I made a vow I can't break."

Xaphan gave her a disappointed look, one that would have tied her into knots in the old days. "I'm trying to help you. I don't want you to...." He let the words die, letting the shape he was in speak for itself. "Michael is so focused on his vessel and Lucifer now that he can't see anything else. That won't last. When the battle is over there'll be an accounting and he'll know who didn't report. He's killed in the field already."

"You're that sure he'll win?"

"Lucifer winning isn't something I care to contemplate."

"Those aren't the only options." She took two steps to the right, keeping eye contact with Xaphan and hoping the relief didn't show on her face when she got him to turn his back on Neal.

"I hope you're not putting your faith with the Winchesters."

"And with my brother."

"Am I not your brother any more?"

"You attacked my family," she said, unable to keep the rage of that from boiling beneath her skin. "If you wanted to talk to me you should have just done that."

"I couldn't take the risk you would flee." His lips thinned for a moment. "And we are still family. I hope you believe that."

"Call off the hounds and tear up the contract. Then I'll go with you."

"El, no," Neal said, shutting up when she gave him a warning look. She made eye contact with him for an instant, then glanced over to Peter and back to Neal. He swallowed whatever he'd been about to say and Elizabeth took the chance to send another glance towards Peter's gun before turning her attention back to Xaphan.

"I can't do that," he said. "Michael doesn't know about you but he's pleased about the hellhound part of the plan. It's too late to drop that." He lifted one eyebrow. "And you were lying just now, anyway." She flushed that he'd caught her; she couldn't break the vow she'd made to Peter, no more than she could stop her heart from beating. Elizabeth saw the regret in Xaphan's eyes as he she felt him tap just the slightest part of his Grace.

The world stopped turning when she felt Peter's heartbeat start to slow. The horror of that moment made everything that came next so much easier.

Elizabeth saw Neal take Peter's gun from his hand and aim it, the muzzle shaking in the air; she kept Xaphan's attention focused on her, forcing herself not to look at Neal and swallowing the instinct that screamed at her to warn her brother what was coming.

The gunshot sounded like a clap of thunder. Light flashed through him as Xaphan staggered forward a step, eyes wide; he turned around and saw Neal with the gun and nodded once to himself before his legs gave out from under him. Elizabeth caught him when he fell, the churning guilt easing when she heard Peter's heartbeat at full strength again. "You...you gave him...." he gasped out, blood on his lips. She nodded and his lips curled up in an almost rueful smile. "Always was...my best student." He looked up at her and Elizabeth knew this was what Castiel saw whenever he closed his eyes. "I didn't think you would choose them," he whispered.

"Why did you make me choose?"

He pressed a kiss to her forehead. "Let's...hope your luck with Michael runs better than mine."

She cradled his head against her shoulder. "I forgive you," she whispered into his ear. Holding grudges did no one any good now. "I do." She felt him sigh at hearing those all-important words, then he spasmed once, his hands clutching tight onto her arms for an instant. He took three shallow breaths that ended with a long, rattling sigh, then she squeezed her eyes shut against the rush of his dying Grace. Elizabeth laid him down and stepped back, forcing herself to watch as his wings burned black into the floor.

When that was done she walked over to Neal, gently taking the gun from his hands and laying on the floor as she crouched in front of him. "I thought you didn't like guns."

"I don't," he said, eyes darting between her and the body on the floor. "So...you and...and him, you're both...."

"Angels," she said. "Is that okay?"

To her surprise he flashed her that Neal Caffrey smile, just a slightly shakier one than his usual. "I'm not actually that surprised." He looked down at Peter still unconscious his his lap. "Is Peter okay? I don't know what that guy did...."

"He's fine. You're both fine. You took good care of him."

Neal shook his head. "Other way around." He looked up at her, suddenly looking very young. "Is it over?"

Elizabeth closed her eyes, listening to his heartbeat but she couldn't hear any claim. "It's over. I promise, it's all over." She brushed his hair off his forehead. "Let's all go home."

***

There were two hounds. The first was no sweat, Dean stabbed it right through the chest as soon as it barreled in but the second wouldn't go down so easily. He knew he'd cut it, he'd felt the sword slide in between a pair of ribs but the stab hadn't been sure enough to be lethal; the thing had him pinned down beneath it, sharp claws on his shoulders and its foul breath in his face. He kept hitting it but it was fast, dodging out of the way so all the blows were just glancing, barely more than parries to keep the thing's teeth away from his throat. He could see Cas slumped over and still when he looked up, blood soaking through the bandage on his arm and that pumped adrenaline through his veins like nothing else. He had to buy them time, just a couple more seconds.

That was a charge run through the air. He felt the hellhound pause, letting out a low whine, almost like it was confused, then Dean didn't even have time to blink before Castiel was right there, dragging the hellhound off of him. Dean heard the thing's jaws snap once, then a loud crack and the sound of something heavy dropping to the floor. Castiel staggered back a few steps, bracing himself against the tub as he lowered himself back down to the floor. "Are you hurt?" he asked, and Dean could hear the effort he was putting into keeping his voice steady.

"Nah, I'm good," he said, pushing himself back to his knees. "You okay?" When Cas nodded Dean let out a long, exhausted breath. "Told you." He shifted over next to Castiel, close enough to see how hard he was shaking. "Dude, you sure?"

He nodded again. "I just need a moment."

Dean unwrapped the bandages from his arm, relief coring him when he all that damage was completely healed without so much as a scar.

He could feel Castiel's blue eyes watching him. "You were right," he said softly, like an admission. "It did feel better when you wrapped it."

Dean traced down the path of one of the now-healed wounds; he felt Castiel shiver, just the faintest tremor running under his skin, and Dean didn't know why, just that this had to happen now. He leaned forward and kissed Cas, his thumb tracing down the stubble along his jaw and then down to his neck so he could feel Cas' pulse racing.

When he pulled back Cas tried to follow after him, his lips so wet and flushed Dean wanted to go back for more. And honestly, getting to see Castiel this surprised almost made the whole thing worth it. "We're not getting married."

Castiel nodded, his eyes still wide. "All right."

Dean just grinned. He reached behind him to grab the sword from where he'd dropped it, handing it to Castiel. "Here," he said, "I'm guessing you want this back---"

The sword clattered to the floor as Castiel cradled Dean's head and kissed him, the desperate press of his lips like a dam breaking. He let Cas pull him closer, Dean straddling his lap as Castiel started trailing his fingers over Dean's body, slow, deliberate movements like he wanted to catalogue every inch of him. When he finally reached the handprint Dean felt him shudder, letting out a soft breathy moan like he'd waited forever to do this, then when he pressed his hand over it Dean lost his breath for a second, feeling like the touch went all the way down to his soul.

So he was going to have to tell Elizabeth she'd been right about that too.

He pushed Castiel down to the floor, the feeling of Cas reaching up to grab a handful of his hair going right to his groin. "We should get outta here," he whispered into Cas' ear, and Dean didn't think he'd ever get enough of how Cas was already gasping for air. "Your sister'll kill us if we do this here."

Castiel nodded, wrapping his arms around Dean. When Dean opened his eyes he found himself in the backseat of the Impala, safely tucked away in the FBI impound. The way Cas was looking up at him, eyes hooded like he was waiting for Dean to tell him he'd done the right thing, instantly made Dean forgive Sam for getting his baby thrown into impound in the first place. His blood was running so hot he barely felt the post-flight hangover; he kissed Castiel again, the way Cas was beginning to arch up under him already shutting off some of his brain's higher functions.

Dean pulled his shirt off and tossed it down to the floor, followed quickly by Castiel's tie. It hit Dean that this was what they should have done the night before the fight with Raphael and he could only shake his head as he opened Cas' shirt and trailed one hand down his skin.

Dean told himself that if he was going to be that slow a learner, the least he could do was a good job making up for it.

***
Diana backed up to the wall, shotgun braced against her shoulder. Sam hadn't thought the infrared would work and she wished he'd been right; being able to see the things coming and not being able to stop them was a thousand times worse than them staying impossible, invisible monsters.

And Sam seemed to be wrong about the salt, too. "They supposed to keep coming like this?" Jones said, firing off a shot as one walked right over the salt line.

"They never could before," Sam answered, the knife balanced in one hand as he waited for them to get close enough. "You guys get the opening, you run for it."

"Not in the job description," Diana said, firing off a shotgun blast of her own. That at least got its attention; she saw it turn to her, its mouth open in a low growl, its legs bunched under it as it got ready to leap.

She braced for the impact, eyes shut. A second passed. Then another. She cracked her eyes open and saw the hellhound up against the edge of the circle, snarling as it paced along the border of the trap. "What just happened?"

"Don't know," Jones said, poking the monster with the butt of his shotgun. "Maybe they remembered they're demons."

Sam brandished the knife as he stepped forward. "Let's take them out before they change their minds."

***

Sam finished telling the true story of what had happened inside that Denver police precinct; he wondered if he should be surprised that he still remembered everyone's name but it seemed like the whole thing had happened two weeks ago, not almost two years. That had been their first big mistake dealing with Lilith.

Sam just wished it had been their last. When he ran out of words he looked over the room, Burke sitting across from him with Diana on his right, Jones leaning against the two way mirror. Sam glanced over at Caffrey, standing against the door with his arms crossed, jumping at every sound the way Dean had for weeks after Carthage.

"You swear that this is a true and factual account?" Burke said, as if this could ever be an official report.

"I do." Sam hoped like hell the past couple days had been enough to put Victor Hendrickson's ghost to rest. They owed him that much.

Burke nodded, closing that battered file folder. "You're free to go," he said. "Try to stay out of trouble, okay? I can only sweep so much under the rug."

"I can't make that kind of promise."

Burke just shook his head. "At least you're honest about it. If you're...hunting in my jurisdiction," he said, raising one eyebrow, "at least give me a head's up. I'll see what I can do."

"That I think I can manage."

Peter tapped the borders of the folder into neat edges. He glanced around for a second, then leaned forward. "My wife wants to have a family dinner at the end of the month," he said, an almost conspiratorial tone to his voice. "All three of you don't show up I'll never hear the end of it."

Sam grinned. "Dean ever answers his phone again, I'll let him know. " After he'd dispatched the last of the hellhounds he'd called Dean; it had taken two tries to get him to answer. "Sam? Everyone alive?" he'd said, out of breath. When Sam had said yes Dean had cut him off, saying, "Good. Listen, I'm right of the middle of something. Catch you later."

That Dean hadn't actually managed to end that call, letting Sam hear all too clearly what Dean had been in such a rush to get back to, was something he was never, ever going to divulge. And really, if Dean was happy, Sam was happy, even if it put images in his head he really wished he could unsee.

"Everyone else, take a week's leave. Don't worry about the paperwork, I'll take care of it. You all earned it. See you Monday." Burke nodded to Caffrey and they both left, leaving Sam there with the very surprised and, frankly, delighted Diana and Jones.

"Well, I don't know about the two of you," Diana said, "but I'm going to go home, kiss my girlfriend, get into bed for a week and try to convince myself this has all been a horrible nightmare."

Sam thought he and Jones were both a little envious as they watched her leave. "What about you?" Sam asked.

"Don't know," Jones said, his expression thoughtful. "Can't remember the last time I had a week off at a stretch."

Sam drummed his fingers against the table. What the hell. "Actually got a voice mail from your uncle last night. Apparently he's in the middle of a werewolf hunt upstate somewhere, heard me and Dean were in the neighborhood and wanted to know if we wanted in. Which means if must be a pretty big hunt if he's asking for help, because it's usually not his style." Sam looked up at him. "You want in?"

Jones eyebrows shot up. "Yeah?"

"Hey, after hellhounds a werewolf or two should be no sweat. Dean and Cas'll come up for air at some point but 'till then I'm short handed. So, you interested?"

Jones grinned. "This is exactly why my mom stopped inviting my uncle to barbeques. Hell yeah, I'm interested."

Sam grinned back, the promise of a nice, old-fashioned hunt in front of him, one that had nothing to do with demons or hellhounds or the end of the world. "Cool. You drive and I'll fill you in on everything you need to know about werewolves along the way."

Jones shook his head. "Your life always this weird?"

"You kidding? This is nothing. One time there was this racist truck...."

***

Elizabeth jumped up from the sofa when she heard Peter's keys in the door, feeling like she could breathe for the first time all day when he wrapped his arms around her. "See?" he said. "Told you I wouldn't be long."

"And this time you weren't," she teased back, burying her face against his chest. "Neal's not with you?"

"He said he had to drop in on Mozzie, let him know he was alive and uneaten. He said he'd probably be back later."

Neal had insisted on going to his loft after that night, only to show up at their apartment at three AM, wide-eyed and shaking. Elizabeth didn't know how long it would take until his dreams stopped being full of growls and fangs, but she was just so thankful he was finally asking for help. "He thinks you're getting a big head," she told Peter.

"I haven't earned that?" he answered. "Plenty of men call their wives angels, but mine is the real thing."

"You are smug," she said, relaxing against him. That particular revelation had gone much more smoothly than she'd always pictured, although she supposed the events leading up to it had primed Peter to accept practically anything.

"How are you doing?" he murmured into her ear, all teasing put aside.

"I can't sleep," she admitted. "I can't stop going over what happened. I keep trying to think of things I should have said, what I could have done differently."

"Hey." He tipped her chin up. "You didn't create the situation. Neal and I are still here because of what you did."

"I know. I do. But he was still my brother and I killed him, whether I pulled the trigger myself or not."

"More people would have died if you hadn't," Peter said. "I know that doesn't help now, but it will. It never gets back to being the same but it does get better, I promise." He combed his fingers through her hair, the way he always did when he was upset. "Do you think he was right? That other brother of yours, Michael, is he coming next?"

She shook her head. "I don't know. It depends on how the war goes."

He pressed a light kiss to her forehead, just the way he had at the end of their first date. "We'll be ready for him," he said, and even if she wasn't sure that was possible she knew that if it was, Peter was the one human she would trust to manage it. "Although I get now why you don't talk about that side of the family."

"How did the team take the news of the night off?"

"From the looks of things Diana and Jones were about to nominate me for sainthood."

"They won't know what to do with themselves." She let out a deep, rueful breath. "So, when do you have to get back to the office?"

"Actually, since Hughes comes back tomorrow I'm taking the week too. The criminals of the world will just have to behave themselves for a while."

"You're taking a vacation."

"Hey," he said, sounding wounded. "I have been known to relax once or twice in my life."

"Once or twice being a generous estimate." She felt Peter's hand slide under her blouse and arched her back into the touch. "So, what is Peter Burke going to do with all that free time?"

He leaned in close and Elizabeth didn't need to see it to know he had that wicked smile on his face. "I'm sure I can think of something."

-fin-