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The Game of God

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--Day 152--

They're all the same; lights out, all's silent on the western front, everyone's home, and no one's fucking sleeping tonight. Hiding like rats and hoping what they don't see and pretend didn't happen will buy them safety with two dead bodies come morning.

"Fuck all of you," he says, pulling his gun and starting up toward the cabin; he'll take care of this shit himself, one bullet at a time.

He's halfway there when the sound of gunfire shatters the night, and he breaks into a dead run, but he already knows he was too late again. Shadows rise from the bleak remains of shrubbery, faceless bodies with mocking smiles, but they vanish before he can get a shot off, and he can't take the time anyway, because maybe, maybe--

He nearly falls on the rotting steps, bursting through the beads in a headlong stumble and hits the floor on his knees, but the burst of pain's forgotten at the sight of Cas--

"No."

--sprawled on the floor by the buffet table, face hidden under bloody hair.

Stumbling to his feet, he makes his way toward the table and dropping to his knees in the spreading pool of still-warm blood. Desperately, he pulls Cas into his lap, but the blue eyes are blank, staring, and he's already stealing the warmth from Dean's hands, growing colder by the second. "No, Cas, please, please…."

--where were you, why weren't you here, why did you let them do this--

"I didn't know," he whispers. "I wouldn't have let you, Cas. They're not worth it."

Lifting his head, he looks around the silent room of people, cowering behind tables and chairs, and wonders if they're relieved, if they thought a thing, a monster, was killed here today and they were safe. Look in the mirror, they'd never see the monster hidden by their human skin. Searching the faces of the men surrounding them, he reads their satisfaction and fading fear, seeing their good work done so well while standing in his blood.

This is what they are, he remembers in surprise. They screamed and they cried and howled it was unfair, like their bloody hands had ever been clean. Scream and scream and scream, like they could understand, but they didn't get it; why should they keep it when they didn't even know what it was? Look what they did with it when they had it; they sure as hell didn't deserve it.

Numbly, he eases Cas back to the floor, stroking one blood-streaked cheek in silent apology for not being here this time, either. Focusing on the thing kneeling only feet away, still holding a gun, sharp clarity washes away the confusion of pain and grief and loss, a wound that won't ever heal, not for the length of his life; all gone, but the rage--that he keeps. That, he never gave up.

Licking his lips, he tastes blood, metal-sharp salt, and thinks: you want to be a monster, I'll show you how it's done.

"It took thirty years to break me," he says, easing to his feet, jeans and boots soaked in fresh blood. "What was ripped out of me in pieces, gutted alive over and over until it was gone, I lost forever, even my name. There was no getting it back, I knew that, but I didn't want it once I understood. Only way," he adds, stepping over the body at his feet, "to take payment for it, and I wanted it all, paid in full with everything, until the end of Time, and that's just to start." He glances at the body on the floor. "You know the price of his life?"

The thing stares up at him in dawning fear, bewilderment, like it's never looked in the mirror, seen the monster there, hiding behind its human face. "I don't--"

"Of course not; you knew not what you did? They always say that." He looks between the five things, seeing startled recognition, wariness: welcome to the party and way too goddamn late. "Do you know who I am? Say it."

The thing on the floor opens its mouth. "Dean--Dean Winchester."

"Wrong: Dean Winchester saw his partner dead on this floor from a bullet to the head. He'd kill you himself, but he took it all back, so he can't take full payment. I can, and sweetheart, I don't have a name. I created myself." He smiles at them. "The price is this: everything, forever, and here's how it starts."

Flexing his hand, he feels the hilt settle in his palm, familiar. The blade is both sharp and dull, stained with old blood that still drips fresh and new, and the screaming's just begun and it's never, ever gonna stop again.

Still smiling, he slits the thing kneeling before him open from throat to bulging gut before slicing him from hip to hip, stepping back to appreciate the spill of organs, glossy intestines like ropes streaked in bright new blood as he collapses forward, hands grasping helplessly at his own stomach and screaming like he's never gonna stop.

Which is true; he's not.

"Do you hear it?" he asks rhetorically, kicking the writhing thing out of his way and pausing long enough to grin into a pair of horrified brown eyes before ripping out its vulnerable throat. Tossing the ruined chunk of bleeding flesh, he clenches his fist around it, sealing all the doors and windows before the frantic masses can reach them, watching them claw desperately and the burning stone and screaming when the blackened remains of their hands crumble into ash. "Might help if you knelt already," he offers, then snaps their legs off at the knee, and the screaming, he's missed this. "Too late. I lied anyway; it wouldn't have helped. I just like to see it."

Piling the sundered limbs as neatly as logs in the center of the room, he tosses the lump of flesh on top and tries to decide what to do next. There's so fucking much, but--crossing back to Cas's body, he drops into a crouch, wiping the blood from his cheek and licking his thumb clean.

"It'll be fine," he assures him, allowing himself one last touch. "There's nowhere they can take you that I won't find you. I'll be right there, just gotta deal with this first. And then--" He laughs softly, pushing himself to his feet: no one's ever done what he's gonna do. "I'll teach you everything, you'll love it, promise. First, though--gotta get you ready so you can learn how. He forgot that part; I won't."

The ripple of familiar power long left unclaimed returns in a gust of dry, dead air and rotting, living, screaming pain, forming the Pit of Hell on earth in all its horror. "Tick-tock, I'm on the clock, people, so let's get this show on the road." Flipping the knife, he grins into their terrified eyes. "So who's first?"


He wakes with a gasp, his hand fisting helplessly for a hilt that's not there. Do you hear it?

"Dean?"

That's his name. Right.

Sucking in a breath, Dean unclenches his hand, stroking down the warm skin of Cas's back beneath his t-shirt. "Yeah, sorry."

Easing away enough to push himself up on an elbow, Cas searches his face. "Another dream?"

"I guess," he answers honestly, wondering why it's so quiet and wondering why the hell he's wondering that, why he expected--something else. "I don't remember."

"Congratulations?"

"Let's go with that, yeah." Tugging Cas back down, he goes in for a kiss, relaxing at the taste and feel, familiar and still new. Threading his fingers through the dark hair, Dean leans back against the pillow to just look at him, trying to believe this is happening. Cas's eyes fall half-closed with a faint smile, leaning into it, and Dean thinks how much he still has to learn about someone he knows better than himself. He's looking forward to it; he wants all of it, everything he can get.

That smile, Christ: happy. He makes Cas happy. He's never made anyone happy in his life. He didn't even know he could, but even he can't write off the evidence when it's half on top of him, practically purring because Cas really likes to be touched and as it turns out, Dean really likes doing it. Evidence (by the way) that wants to give him a bath (Hot, and wash him. Slowly); you can't make that shit up. It's gotta be true.

Resting his head on his hand, Cas studies him for a long moment. "Did you pack my socks?"

What? "I did the packing, Mr. My Laptop And I Need A Moment Alone, so yeah." And hey, while they're on the subject. "Gonna tell you now: you're this close to cheating on me with your laptop and that's bullshit. Feelings count."

Cas raises an eyebrow. "You'll leave me if I spend too much time with my laptop?"

"Of course not," he scoffs; like that's gonna ever happen. "Shoot it, burn it, bury it in the middle of the camp as an example, and you're on the couch for a couple of nights to think about what you've done."

Cas frowns at him (not disapproval, exactly). "That sounds unsettlingly like a plan in which you've invested an excessive amount of thought."

"Does it?" He shrugs (a couple of rounds from the AK-47, maybe follow-up with a .22; burial by the new mess under salt (why take any chances here), where everyone has to walk by it and know he is not to be crossed. Yeah, he's crazy, might as well just own that shit and move the fuck on. Not like he needs the stress of uncertainty in his life; he's got enough stress, thanks). "What about your socks? Dude, you wear 'em every night. You're wearing them right now."

Because Dean (who makes Cas happy: really?) got them off the floor and put them on his feet after round two (and again after round three). He's getting this relationship thing down.

"Yes, but…." He makes a face (yeah, no idea). "Thank you."

Dean smirks. "Thought I'd forget?"

"I didn't think you…." That pause is the stuff of novels in dead languages (which Cas speaks, so). "Noticed."

Now that's interesting. "The socks, you wearing them, or where they were?"

"I'm not sure," Cas confesses, frown deepening. "I'm not even sure why I mentioned it."

"You're weird."

"So sayeth he who thinks plumbing is a job best accomplished without daylight. Speaking of, feeling any inclination toward home repair at the moment?" Cas asks curiously, draping one long leg over Dean's thighs beneath the blankets in what he's gonna guess is supposed to be a hint (no, for those playing the home game).

"Nope." Though that doesn't leave him with a lot of options; it's not like that's his first choice activity when he's exhausted and could be sleeping. "What time is it, anyway?"

"Three hours and twenty minutes before true dawn," Cas answers softly, fingers skimming up his cheek against the stubble with a faint smile. "You should sleep."

God, he wishes. "Eh."

Cas laughs softly. "Or simply lie there and do nothing at all," he whispers, pressing his forehead against Dean's for a moment, and Dean's liking this plan, especially the part where Cas kisses him again. Eyes falling closed, he opens his mouth at the gentle coax of Cas's tongue, rousing him just enough to drape am arm over Cas's shoulders, gathering the cotton of Cas's t-shirt loosely between his fingers in case he gets the idea he should stop or something.

The mattress barely shifts, but that's enough for someone who's lived with Cas to not be surprised when the weight of the blankets and sheet vanish, and Dean opens his eyes on a smile to see Cas's body balanced above him, knees just touching Dean's hips and almost but not touching anywhere else.

He thinks of commenting on stealth ex-angels (and how he isn't eighteen anymore no matter how much his body tries to convince him otherwise) but Cas stretches lazily, lifting his head and through the mess of dark hair the blue eyes meet his like a punch: for a moment, he can smell salt and ozone, an infinite ocean stretching forever around him and surrounded by a storm as vast as the universe in infinite expansion, shots of brilliance like the birth and heat death of a billion stars.

Relaxing back into the mattress, he hopes that works to get the point across because words don't happen when you're staring into infinity. There's a sense of hesitation before Cas kisses him, and Dean opens up for it unthinkingly, because Cas may need an example of what you do when you see a cliff, and it's not and will never be stop.

Time slows into a warm-honey crawl, the world narrowing to the tiny, infinite stretch of this room, this bed, Cas; the taste of Cas on his lips, the barely-there pressure to tip his head back against the pillow as Cas's mouth settles under his ear and the liquid warmth of his tongue dragging endlessly down his throat. Curving around his shoulder, Cas slides his palm the length of Dean's arm in a barely-there caress before closing around his wrist, tugging Dean's hand free from his t-shirt and drawing his arm down, lacing their fingers together against the mattress just above Dean's head.

Dean's got just enough sense left to stop himself from moving his other arm, anticipation building along his nerves until Cas's fingers close loosely around his wrist, catching his breath when Cas bends down to brush a lingering kiss against the palm before threading their fingers together and easing it over Dean's head. Tongue sliding over his upper lip--Jesus, Cas, really not helping--he shifts his weight just enough to push Dean's hands back against the mattress before unthreading their fingers and pulls back, cool gaze evaluating him dispassionately; Dean doesn't move.

"Good," Cas says huskily, like the drag of fresh stubble over bare skin and Dean would do a hell of a lot more to keep hearing that. Sliding his hand behind Dean's head, he leans in for another drugging kiss that ends as he lowers Dean's head to the bare mattress, location of pillow don't care. "I want to look at you," he says in the exact same tone he uses to discuss new ways to organize the pantry. "If I want you to move, I'll move you myself. Do you understand?"

Fuck, words. "Yeah," and is honestly fucking surprised to hear his own voice.

Cas slides Dean's t-shirt up and over his head greyish cotton blur, and he's still processing that when his sweatpants are pulled down his legs and off his feet before he realizes Cas even moved. Superpowers or he's losing time: he doesn't care. Trying not to pant, he concentrates on not moving as Cas spreads his legs, calloused fingers rough as they trail up the unbelievably sensitive skin of his inner thighs, then long fingers circle his ankle, bending his knee against the mattress. He should be a lot more surprised (read: seriously) that he's well past half-hard, reddened, oversensitive skin broadcasting its own shock this is happening, but important brain power is being used to stay still, and everything else is gonna have to wait.

Despite his best efforts, Dean can't stop the image of what he must look like right now from forming wholesale in his mind and feels the resulting heat flash across his face like a forest fire, which doesn't help at all; humiliation isn't a good look for anyone. He hopes (to God; why not?) that Cas doesn't notice.

Then all he can think about is the warmth of Cas's mouth against the inside of his knee, barely a brush of skin ghosting a trail over the shivering skin and pausing at the crease joining his groin. He's so distracted by soft hair brushing against his balls that he's too shocked to react at all when Cas sinks his teeth into muscle and skin and that's just to start.

He's still feeling it when Cas meets his eyes and goes down on him in a single effortless wet slide, and Dean hits overload at terminal velocity. He forgets how to stop himself from moving, so good thing he couldn't right now if he had a knife to his throat; the wet flicker of Cas's tongue dragging the underside and curling obscenely around the sensitized head, the quick, brutal scrape of teeth, there and gone before Dean can realize what it is, and Cas's thumb pressing hard against forming bruise on his inner thigh consume his attention; if he's breathing, he'll be surprised.

Cas stares into his eyes, all he can see, drowning blue spilling over an endless sky dotted with points of light winking into existence before his eyes. It's forever here, but that's not long enough, and the world opens up under him, slamming into orgasm stripped out of ever goddamn cell, sparkling electricity backfiring along every nerve in aftershocks.

Vaguely, Dean's aware of Cas reaching for his left hand, and the feel of something soft and wet on his palm eventually connects to Cas's tongue. Forcing his eyes open again, he catches the last few seconds of Cas's obscenely pink tongue slide the length of Dean's fingers before wrapping Dean's hand around his cock with a catch of breath Dean will never forget. Covering Dean's hand with his own, he slides his fingers between Dean's and pins them both to Dean's stomach before he starts to thrust.

"You have no idea," Cas breathes against Dean's mouth, then breaks off to suck a kiss against the sensitive skin at the join of neck and shoulder, the hollow of his throat. Threading his fingers through Dean's hair, he jerks his head back, holding his eyes and sucks in a breath, stilling, and the hot spill across his belly and chest sets off a sympathetic shudder along his overstressed nerves.

Cas's head drops against his shoulder, and Dean doesn't think he'll ever want to move again.


He may not be certain where his legs are--or if they exist--but the slight shift of the mattress gets his full attention, warning him of terrible things to come and proved one hundred percent right when Cas levers himself up and that means leaving.

He remembers just in time not to move, opening to the warmth of Cas's mouth, but he can't quite stop the niggling worry of where this is leading because it's nowhere good. This time, Cas retreats again, but no farther than the mattress beside him, leaning his head on one hand before dragging his fingers down Dean's chest and belatedly, Dean realizes what he's doing. Wet fingers trail over his stomach, slow and almost careful, leaving trails over the curve of his hip, low on his belly and his chest, circling one nipple, the coolness making it tighten, trailing back down to circle his navel before his thumb paints the second one as well.

Seemingly satisfied, Cas's eyes flicker back to Dean's face, slick thumb sliding across Dean's lower lip, and without thinking, Dean darts out his tongue to lick the tip, tasting the faint, salt-bitter traces. Without hesitation, Cas slides his thumb between his lips, watching intently as Dean sucks it clean, scraping the tip between his teeth before letting it out of his mouth with wet sound and it's almost immediately replaced by two fingers, pressing firmly against his tongue and coating it with the taste of Cas's come.

Pulling his fingers free, Cas replaces them with his tongue, hot and good and over way too fast. "You have no idea how you look right now."

He's right; Dean doesn't, and he wants to keep it that way, thanks.

"Like you're mine." Cas smiles down at him. "You couldn't look more perfect if you tried."

Direct, Vera said: she had no fucking idea.

"I need to get another blanket," Cas says, reaching over Dean's head and threading his fingers through Dean's before easing it down, brushing a kiss against Dean's knuckles before tucking it securely at his side. "It's too cold for you otherwise."

Logic: he hates logic. Reluctantly, he nods, and smiles at him before disappearing into the unknown territory that's not the bed. After way too long--or seconds, whatever--Cas is back, retrieving the sheet and blanket from the floor (how'd they get there?) and conscientiously spreading them before adding the extra blanket. It's nice and everything, but Cas is better than a blanket, and Dean's perfectly happy to let Cas handle logistics; he's pretty good at those. Tucking his face contentedly against Cas's chest, the feel of body-warm cotton reminds Cas never actually undressed and Dean could--in theory--send Cas to get his clothes.

"Go to sleep," Cas says, pressing a kiss to his temple and curling around Dean more securely, and that's the last thing Dean hears before he's out.


There is nothing--and he does mean nothing--natural about getting up before the sun. A side effect of life lived as a hunter is that they generally do their best work at night, and it's not that Dean can't do mornings--he can--but that doesn't mean he wants to, and if someone wants to actually interact with him, it's on their own head what happens next.

He wants to believe Cas was exaggerating that day he explained why he was now handling morning patrol and letting Dean sleep in, but if he's honest with himself, Cas was probably downplaying the probable meanderingly passive-aggressive horror. Dean's not a morning person, let's just get it out there, and everyone's just gonna have to deal.

This absolute truth, however, is considerably shaken by being in Alison's kitchen an hour before dawn, squinting at the coffee pot while still wet from the shower and more awake than he can ever remember being in his entire life. Despite his best efforts to concentrate (on the drip of coffee), it's a losing battle; his entire attention is focused on the faint sounds of the running shower thirty feet and a hall away, where Cas is finishing up and Dean should definitely, definitely still be.

Coffee, he reminds himself firmly before he gets more than three steps (new record: he was halfway across the living room last time), leaning back against the table, breath catching at the slide of soft cotton boxer-briefs against the hypersensitive skin of his cock like sandpaper.

Gritting his teeth, he tries to ignore the spark of heat that follows, pooling low and warm in his belly, but that works just about as well as reminding himself he's twenty fucking years from the age where getting off a few times a day was normal or for that matter, something he could even physically do. Reality begs to disagree, and in case he could possibly doubt it, review the last eight and change hours of his life, it'll wait.

Even now he can't settle; pushing off the table, he's hit with the faint sting from the scratches down his back, the throb of pain from the bruise high on his inner thigh, the unaccustomed ache of muscles just as startled as Dean by this turn of events and telling him all about it. There's an itch like a charge running just beneath the surface of his skin that makes him hyperaware of each brush of fabric, restless, constant, and the only thing at this moment that's keeping him out of that bathroom is he doesn't trust his cock not to forget it can't get hard again (how?), and one more round means he won't be able to wear pants or possibly walk.

It would really help, he reflects fatalistically, if he could actually care and not just assume that he probably should.

The sound of tentative knocking on the door is almost a relief; it stops him just as he reaches the doorway of the hall. "Come in," he says, and convinces himself he doesn't resent whoever that is and God help them.

Amanda pokes her head in, blue eyes fixing on him warily. "Morning," she says, easing in the door like she's hoping he won't notice or something. "How's it going?"

He's not in the shower with Cas and it's still almost an hour until dawn: that's a hard one. "Great," he says, smiling (he assumes, by her lack of flinch). "You want some coffee?"

"Uh." She blinks at him for a moment before nodding. "Sure?"

"Awesome." Turning, he returns to the kitchen and gets out three cups, noting those discarded in the sink and making a mental note to do his good-guest thing and do the dishes when they're done. In a show of--something--Alison's building, like a lot of Ichabod, donated half their allotment of food to the mess to stretch out the food supply, so if they want breakfast, he'll have to go get it from the mess. Or--he is, technically, Chitaqua's leader--order someone to do that for him. "Cream and sugar?"

"Black, one sugar," she responds uncertainly, taking it with a weird look when he comes back the living room before perching in the armchair to the left of the coffee table. "Thanks."

Sitting down on the couch, he leans forward to set the third cup on the coffee table and opens his mouth to ask how everything's going--whatever everything is, probably important?--and just manages to swallow a hiss at the sharp flare of pain up the thick muscle of his inner thigh when he starts to spread his knees. For an endless moment, he can feel Cas's mouth against his bare skin, body memory intense enough that it could be happening right now.

"Dean?"

Jesus Christ. "So--how's everything going?" he manages after taking a drink of coffee, not caring if he sounds normal just that words still work. "Anything--happening?"

Amanda lowers her cup and straightens, and belatedly, he realizes she's about to report and it's even odds how much of this he's going to understand, much less remember and he makes no promises on caring, ever.

"Nothing since last night," she says. "Unless you count 'number of people' outside the entrance point, which has doubled despite the fact patrol's been working all night." He nods and takes a drink to show he's paying attention. "Alison's at Admin with Tony and Lanak working on logistics--the word 'terrifying' would be an understatement here--and Teresa's on west and Manuel east of the perimeter line, reviewing pretty much everything. Naresh's second Rohan is taking volunteers from town to help with crowd control; this is going beyond their regulars and they're exhausted."

She pulls out a notebook from somewhere to brandish briefly for reasons unknown before setting it on the coffee table with an expectant look, and Dean takes another drink while staring at it to buy himself some time to work out why--oh, log book.

"Evelyn's got duty this morning and God help us both if that isn't returned to her before anyone needs to check in our out," Amanda adds, relaxing back into her chair and grinning at him over the edge of her cup. "Joe already checked with Glenn at the daycare, and he says Gary reports everything's fine and is thinking of getting a vasectomy."

Dean winces. "That bad?"

"And doing it himself," she adds. "With his own knife. Possibly within the next twenty-four hours if he has to deal with one more day of anyone under thirty because the twenties are too close to the teens." She shrugs. "There's no reason to keep him there now with Main restricted access even if--somehow--this is about them. No one gets into the town square but teachers, kids, patrol, the town council, the Alliance mayors, and me, you, Joe, and Cas."

He hesitates, taking another drink. "But--"

"Teresa locked the wards around the square," she interrupts, staring at her cup, and Dean freezes. "Before you ask, no one knew what she was planning, even Alison, not until she broke and raised the wards again last night and both Manuel and Alison felt it."

Dean swallows. "You're saying…."

"That they're up until either the symbol is unmade that locked them or she's dead?" Amanda asks, slumping in the chair. "Yeah, and before you ask, Manuel was out with a flashlight trying to find where she put the lock and can't find it. That's assuming she put it in the daycare and I seriously doubt it."

"So could be anywhere in the town." As long as she can connect them back to the wards, it doesn't matter where they are, and while he can't think how she'd manage that, he's also not a witch.

Amanda nods grimly. "She said--and it's true--that it won't take anything out of her unless the daycare is attacked, at which time it's her job to hold them. As you can imagine, that worked really well with Alison and Manuel, which is why Alison slept in her office and Teresa in hers in Admin last night."

Dean snorts a laugh despite himself. "Couldn't even stop fighting long enough to get back here so someone could storm out and sleep on the couch?"

"It's like you were there," she says with a sigh, shaking her head. "They made up this morning, loudly according to sources who are repressing the memory as best they can. So, Gary? We could really use him helping with perimeter duty."

"Yeah, let's pull him out," he agrees. "If anything's coming for the kids, Gary being there won't help."

The sound of the shower abruptly dominates his attention, the memory of wet tile against his back and sliding against it, Cas's low laughter rippling over his skin; for the life of him, he can't remember why he left.

"…Dean?" a voice asks uncertainly, and Dean snaps his gaze to Amanda frowning. "You okay?"

"Fine." Picking up the log book, he scans meaningless scribbles to show he's paying attention before closing it; actually, there is something he wants to know. "Anything else on the 'incident' in the mess?"

"All five are still recovering in the infirmary under guard," she answers soberly.

"By Naresh's people?" She nods. "Who do we have?"

"Joe sent Brad and Lydia, check in every hour," she says. "Brad on the floor, Lydia downstairs being useful to Dolores in sight of the stairs. Though gonna tell you now, none of them are in any shape to walk, much less manage to sneak past Naresh's teams."

"Too bad we can't break their legs just to make sure," Dean says. "When do I get to question them again?"

"When homicide is off the table," she answers flatly, meeting his eyes. "Which will be never. I checked the Alliance agreement myself; soon as Dolores releases them, we have jurisdiction, whatever. And anyway, Dolores cleared them for an hour of questioning last night, and Alicia sat in when Naresh did it. There's a full recording--"

"I want it."

"Alicia's picking up a copy this morning from Admin," Amanda continues patiently. "Naresh only finished getting witness reports at the ass-end of dawn--there were a lot to get--and sent copies to us before going to bed himself, which I understand was when Rohan told Suma where he was and literally went to Admin and dragged him home. Alicia told me she'd have a full report for you before noon, just had a few more things to finish up."

Dean starts to ask why Alicia is doing it when he connects the lack of sun in their lives with working with Naresh all night. "She's up already?"

"This is Alicia," Amanda says in amusement. "If she sleeps, I can't prove it."

"Where is she now? Cas has something for her and her team as soon as we get some light. Probably need the bikes, but we'll use our gas."

"Around," she answers vaguely, waving a hand. "She'll check in an hour past dawn at the latest, no worries." Grinning, she takes a drink of coffee. "I like the building, by the way. Should have enough room for everyone to sleep and not even in shifts if we don't have to. The jeeps had enough sleeping bags, but Walter gave us a few places to look for beds or cots on the old east side of town, so we're making progress."

Dean starts to ask what the hell Alicia is doing this early in the morning (she really might not sleep) when he makes the mistake of shifting his right leg, and the shock of pain is almost lost under the wave of heat at the memory of Cas's thumb pressed right there when he went down on his cock. Closing his hand on the edge of the couch, he rides out the echoes. He's got a plan: get through this, then get up and join Cas in the shower which he shouldn't have ever left in the first place.

"Dean?"

Biting back whatever was about to come out of his mouth, he realizes in horror that unless he's paying very careful attention every time he sits down--and the entire time he's sitting-- this is gonna be the longest day of his life.

"Dean?"

In his peripheral vision, he notes Amanda's staring at him. "What?"

"Seriously, are you okay?" she asks, straightening to peer at him worriedly. "You seem a little--"

"Anything from the other towns?" he asks desperately, aware the shower's been turned off and now he could be in the bedroom with Cas, which is a great idea; why isn't he there now? "Patrol, chickens, cows…sheep?"

Amanda blinks at him. "It's still about an hour until dawn and they're coming and going on dirt roads and through snowy fields both ways using Kamal's updates to--"

"Yeah, right, got it." Faintly, he hears the door to their room close again, and God, he should-- "So you're saying no?"

"No. I mean yeah, I'm saying no…." Her eyes widen. "Dean, are you feeling feverish--"

The sound of knocking cuts her off, and Dean silently blesses whoever that is, calling "Come in!" way more enthusiastically than anything other than a potential fatality could justify. The door opens to reveal Vera and Joe, who look at him before focusing on Amanda, and in his peripheral vision, he thinks he sees Amanda nod before they come inside, shutting the door behind them.

Holding what looks like a bag of food: he could get used to this. "Good morning," he says sincerely, hoping that coaxes them close enough to get that bag.

"We brought breakfast," Vera starts carefully, setting the bag on the coffee table before retreating to the only other chair and Joe for reasons whatever hovering behind it.

"Bless you." Sliding to the edge of the couch (and just barely remembering to keep his knees inside the two inches or less leeway they have apart), he unzips the top to survey in satisfaction the containers of deliciousness within. "What've we got?"

"Uh, pretty basic with this many people, so they're concentrating on what they can make in bulk," Vera answers as he unloads a terracotta tortilla warmer filled with still-hot tortillas, a small container containing a lump of butter (hell yes) and a paper-wrapped hunk of sliced cheese, something rice-based (looks okay, smells like cinnamon), and the potato-onion-tomato-pepper thing that Rabin made last time they were here. "So--how's it going?"

"Really good," he says absently, then realizes maybe he's being rude and you don't do that if you want people to keep bringing you food (see, Sam, he has goddamn social skills). "There's coffee in the kitchen."

"And I'm gonna get some," Joe says, exchanging a look with Vera before retreating--and that is definitely a retreat--to the kitchen.

"Grab me some," she says belatedly, looking at Amanda, and Dean unwraps the cheese while they stare at each other in--as usual--repressed yearning. Christ, he thinks, opening the tortilla warmer, some people just can't see what's right in front of them. Maybe Joe should talk to them or something; he does counseling, after all.

"Butter knife," Dean yells toward the kitchen when he realizes the butter won't spread itself no matter how much he thinks it should. "Third drawer from the sink, left side. And some forks, same place."

"By the way," Vera says casually, "just got back from the infirmary and got some local news. Sudha went into labor last night."

Dean starts to smile then does the math. "Isn't she still a few weeks off?"

"She's primapara," Vera answers, adding with the ghost of a smirk, "First childbirth, and they did the math the really old fashioned way on conception. Dolores asked me to check her this morning--though I explained my experience with childbirth is minimal--and she's doing fine. Volunteer Services is asking about anyone with a medical background, and we already got a couple of LVNs and another EMT, so we're hoping for a midwife to show up. We need all the help we can get."

"How's she doing?" Dean asks as Joe returns with (a) coffee, (b) the butter knife, (c) a selection of forks along with (d) a kitchen chair, which he pulls to sit beside Vera after distributing his largesse.

"We're barely in first stage. She's helping Dolores out in the infirmary while she's waiting," Vera answers after a hesitation so brief Dean wonders if he imagined it. "Teresa and Neeraja have already been to see her. Apparently, the earth really likes childbirth, which isn't a sentence I ever imagined myself saying."

"It does," a husky voice says, and Dean's head snaps toward the hall doorway as Cas emerges, hair shiny-wet and wearing jeans and--Dean's t-shirt from last night. "Be fruitful and multiply is a concept it encourages very much." The blue eyes fix on Dean, warming. "Good morning."

"Hey," he says, standing up, still clutching the butter knife. "Got you coffee."

"Thank you." Sitting back down, he hands over the cup as Cas drops on the couch beside him, unable to stop grinning like an idiot as Cas takes a drink, smiling in appreciation, because Dean makes the best damn coffee in the world.

"Hungry?" he asks, realizing he's still holding the knife. "Got--uh everything you could want here."

"I probably should be," Cas agrees, slumping into the couch and surveying the bounty curiously, one bare foot hooking casually over Dean's ankle and promptly erasing any memory of what Dean was doing and replacing it with what they should be doing right goddamn now. "What do we have?"

It takes several long moments to work out what the hell that's supposed to mean, but he suspects it’s connected somehow to why he's holding a butter knife. "Uh." Food, right. With a renewed spirit of purpose, Dean adds a thin layer of butter to the first tortilla and gives it to Cas; come to think, he's kind of starving.

"Thank you." Dean freezes half-way through buttering his own tortilla as Cas folds it neatly in half and takes a bite, blue eyes falling closed, and oh God.

Abruptly, Vera bursts out laughing, cup just making it to the coffee table before she buries her face in her upraised knees. Bewildered, he glances at Joe and Amanda--no help there--before applying himself to exploring the ricey-thing.

"You should try this," he says after a couple of enthusiastic bites, turning on the couch to offer the container. "Honey, cinnamon, and--no idea, fine, but it's good."

"Holy shit," Amanda breathes, leaning forward and Dean realizes she's squinting at Cas. "Is that a hickey?"

Cas raises his eyebrows, but now that Dean's looking, he can kind of see her point, and it's impressive (if he does say so himself); vividly purple and in territory even a turtleneck would find difficult to reach. "Your powers of observation are, as always, a credit to my instruction."

Vera makes a keening sound against her knees, and seriously, he really wonders about them. Retrieving the second fork, he hands it to Cas and holds the container for him as he takes a forkful with a curious look.

Amanda looks at them in horror. "Oh God," she says. "That's what's wrong with you?"

He and Cas exchange bewildered looks, and Dean swallows before saying, "What?"

"Don't even. Didn't you already have this phase?" Amanda demands.

"Any reason you're all acting weird this morning?" Dean asks, pleased to see Cas respond positively to rice thing, taking the container from him to better consume the contents. Not surprising: the presence of sugar--or something sweet, whatever--is always gonna indicate a winner.

"Nope," Joe says stoically, leaning back in his chair. "In case you need some faith in humanity restored, two of the local non-Alliance towns are sending help. Trevor and Deanne stopped by the new headquarters last night on the way out and we had coffee."

"Coffee is going to change the world," Cas intones, making some serious headway in the rice. "Honey and cinnamon and--ginger, perhaps. Far superior to oatmeal."

"It's pretty good," Joe agrees. "Anyway, they have some excess food and a couple of medical people, which didn't ask, I'll take a couple of wisepeople who know herbs."

"Yeah, I'm taking a shift at the second infirmary this afternoon," Vera says breathlessly as she picks up her coffee cup again and bites her lip when she looks at Dean. "Dolores is getting slammed, and besides Sudha and a few injuries, we got a Diabetes Type I and about three Type IIs I need to check when I leave here before I go on duty. Uh, if that's okay."

"I need to revise the shift schedule in any case. What is that?" Cas asks curiously, and Dean helpfully retrieves the potato thing and trades it for the rest of the rice, in which Cas has done himself proud. Taking a bite, he considers, head tilted, then reaches for another tortilla, scooping two forkfuls into it before rolling it and taking another (really enthusiastic) bite. "Jalapeños are surprisingly versatile. Why aren't these added to more dishes?"

Dean marks down 'jalapeños' on his mental list of 'Things Cas Likes'. At this rate, they should have a full meal in about oh, a year. "I'll ask Teresa for more recipes with 'em." Picking up a tortilla, he follows Cas's example, adding a slice of cheese before rolling it up and taking a bite. "And this recipe while I’m at it."

"What's the medical situation look like?" Amanda asks worriedly, and Dean looks between them as he chews; that's something he doesn't even know enough about to form an opinion.

"Could be worse; most people are coming with their medication in tow if they use it, but being in a car for plus two days did no favors for some of them," Vera answers soberly as Cas rolls a second tortilla and adding a slice of cheese this time. "A few elderly patients who needed fluids and rest, a couple of sprains from walking, a few frostbite first stage--frostnip--and some chilblains, nothing in the amputation range or anything. Not yet," she adds, mouth tightening. "That storm hits tonight--best we can hope for is mass frostbite on those that actually get here."

Cas looks up and finishes a ridiculously large mouthful of breakfast taco in one horrifying gulp; who the hell taught him to eat like that? "Two days? There's nowhere in Kansas it takes two days to get here even with present existing roads. They had maps."

"Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about that," Amanda says, leaning forward. "Xeroxes are so shitty I wasn't sure, but when I looked at them last night, I noticed some of them don't look complete. The maps they brought with them, I mean. We got a pretty good sampling, and--I could be wrong, this is eyeball and squint level shit--some of the routes looked way more convoluted than they should be. I'm talking light green for miles out of the way and I think--again, shitty quality--"

"Some of the more direct routes were erased," Cas finishes for her. "How many do we have now?"

"Upwards of five hundred copies from the parking lots," Amanda answers. " I sent a few of my kids with Sean's team for some breaking and entering practice when they had time yesterday. Claudia left word at the Volunteer Center last night to ask about those and a couple of the volunteers brought me another box this morning that they got from the refugees."

"I need to see them," Cas says, finishing his--holy shit, fourth breakfast taco--and starting to roll a fifth.

"They're all in the new patrol meeting room," she answers smugly. "Took 'em myself so you could check them out."

Cas's taco freezes mid-air only inches from his mouth, and Dean abruptly remembers he may have forgotten something last night. "Yeah, so--"

"New patrol meeting room?" Cas echoes, oblivious to Dean thinking really hard at him to let it go and he'll explain, which even if Dean was telepathic would probably work just as well as words (read: not at all). "What was wrong with the old one?"

"Right," Dean starts, setting down the rice and deciding damage control is in order. "Look--"

"It was in the old building," Amanda answers in confusion. "New building, ergo new room…." She looks between them and then finally sees Dean's very fucking significant look. "You know, I’m supposed to be doing--patrol things, I better--"

"--go, yeah," Vera agrees hastily, getting to her feet and fuck if they aren't practically broadcasting 'look at us be suspicious', what the hell? "Joe, we got--"

"Sit," Cas says casually, and Dean watches as all three drop back down like all their strings have been cut; he has got to learn that 'do or smite' voice. "The Alliance is sending patrol members, chickens, maybe cows or pigs, decided probably at the unexpected meeting with the Alliance for which Joseph gave Dean notes on parliamentary procedure, which reminds me: Vera, Joseph, what happened to the missing pages of the notebook that doubtless covers the unexpected meeting of the Alliance that may or may not have been where Dean softened them up with a plethora of points of order that Joseph taught him?" The blue eyes sweep them all (Dean included). "Dean took them out; of course he did."

Vera groans theatrically. "Christ, Dean, you promised…."

"Joseph, you said the new headquarters," Cas continues. "I was distracted; where is it?"

Dean stares at him, dazed. "How do you do that?"

"Sex, twenty milligrams of methylphenidate, and a cup of coffee," Cas answers, sublimely ignoring the concept of 'rhetorical question' and wait, did he just say sex? "As well as--"

"Second, east end," Amanda says quickly, shrugging at Dean's glare. "What? I don't want mowing duty."

"You don't even live in Chitaqua!"

"Like that would stop him!"

"She's correct," Cas says, staring at Dean as he deliberately bites off half the goddamn breakfast taco. "Dean, is this about what happened in the mess?"

Dean thinks about calm things: orgasms, baths, snow, warm mattresses, murder one; it doesn't help. "You mean the 'incident'?"

For a wonder, Cas can read tone, lowering his taco. "Yes."

"Personal matter," Dean agrees, nodding. "When you were jumped by five armed guys in the mess, where I pried out a fucking bullet from the wall that originated from your new stress ball slash one of them's gun that from the angle was pointed at your fucking head? That incident?"

"You make it sound--"

"Like exactly what happened or did I miss something?"

Cas searches the (totally agreeing with Dean) faces around them. "It was just--my presence. You know it can be upsetting to humans."

"Okay, one, no, it's not, not like that," Amanda says when Dean can't get decide which answer to give to that due to the sheer number. "Cas, I get your opinion of people is…depressingly but probably justifiably low, yeah, but there's 'freaks who are freaky' and 'homicide on the mess floor'. That's not even in the range, and I'd know." She gives Dean an uncertain look before taking a deep breath. "Look, the team leaders weren't just the five percent here, they had reasons of their own…probably, I mean, to take you out."

"They realized they were about to be caught at their killing the non-true believers campaign," Dean says, forcing himself to say the words, aware the room's gone silent. "It wasn't just Vera, Cas; the timing was just convenient. They couldn't afford to let you survive, Cas, not after Vera was dead."

From the corner of his eye, he sees Joe straighten, looking surprised, and on a guess, Dean's not gonna be invited to any future poker games in the camp.

"There's no way you can know that," Cas says with utter and complete truthfulness, but you know what, Dean's gonna go with his gut, just like his goddamn predecessor didn't manage to do.

"When you told me, I checked h--my journal," he answers flatly. "It was all there--Christ, it's fucking math, not like anyone could miss it." He looks at Cas. "You sure as fuck didn't, so what the hell was my excuse?"

Cas stares at him over the potatoes container. "I didn't have evidence--"

"You never should have felt you had to have it!" Dean interrupts bitterly. "You should have been able to--to know you could come to me with anything, and I mean anything, and I'd believe you, no goddamn paper trail required. That's on me; letting it happen in the first place and not--not making sure you knew that."

"Right," Joe says suddenly. "Not saying anyone's--anything, let's move on. Cas, short version: we moved to an empty building Second Street; Second and Syracuse are restricted to current residents and Alliance members, Main is in lockdown and restricted to residents of that street, parents who have kids at the daycare, and Chitaqua. Because the kids--"

"There's still a remote possibility this is a very convoluted plan to acquire them," Cas agrees impatiently. "Why are we on Second? Third was perfectly acceptable."

"The one on Second's bigger," Amanda says, looking encouraging. "Used to be inventory before they built the warehouses for surplus off Main, can fit everyone and not sleep in shifts."

"Right," Joe says, scooting to the end of his chair and looking--God help him, encouraging. "So as of last night, thanks to our fearless leader," and for some reason, he grins at Dean, "the other Alliance towns who were acting like they didn't remember there is no 'i' in 'team' as in 'we're all on the same one and signed a contract saying just that' learned the error of their ways and are sending surplus food and the contracted number of patrol required for mutual defense or in this case, defense against overcrowding leading to violence."

"And the Fall of the Roman Republic Mark II, this apparently happens a lot," Dean mumbles, which weirdly enough makes Vera giggle. "Look, Cas, I'm not sorry I unilaterally decided I'm not okay with you being shot at!"

"What he means," Joe picks up, "is that I had to talk him down from declaring war on the mess and maybe Third Street and Kansas while he was at it while Alicia warned Vera that Amanda may or may not do it herself and she was only like, a third into your report…" Joe trails off, looking at Cas incredulously. "Did you really tell her Alison wouldn't like it if anyone interrupted the meeting for a personal incident and the personal incident was someone shooting at you?"

"It was like question and answer hell," Amanda says in bafflement. "Why yes, my stress ball is a gun but not my gun, oh bullets, on the floor and in the wall and yeah, they're in the infirmary but don't worry about it, what's important here is goddamn art supplies but no crappy pencils and don't bother Dean at Alison's meeting, it'll wait."

Cas (wisely) doesn't answer by way of a mouthful of potato thing, which tells Dean it actually did happen just like that.

"In case this didn't occur to you," Joe starts, then sighs. "Which it wouldn't. It's not just about you--yes, Dean, I know it was and that's the reason you didn't get to talk after that first speech when our allies showed up along with some locals and softened 'em up." Dean settles back with a scowl. "Mutual defense clause," he continues after a warning look at Dean. "Covers monsters and raiders who are people who may or may not also be here, or things that attack members of the Alliance. Second in command of Chitaqua attacked in the mess by persons of unknown affiliation: now we can request help from the Alliance towns."

"To be fair," Vera says reluctantly, "I didn't get the feeling the other mayors didn't want to, but--"

"Not their backyard filled with refugees, yeah," Joe states flatly, and Dean blinks, startled. "Ichabod's fine, it was the other in our midst who aren't one of us so not our problem but we'll help you move 'em somewhere not here."

"No one said that," Vera says quietly.

"That's why until Dean made them, the mayors were trying to work out how to get out of town before Alison made the official call for assistance," Joe answers. "Because if she did, they'd have to tell her either no, won't help--and break the Alliance, which trust me, they do not want to do--or tell her they'll help her resettle her extras somewhere, code for 'anywhere but here so they won't be your or our problem'. Which would have had the same effect, this is Alison we're talking about; she would have broken the Alliance herself."

Dean glances at Cas, but to his surprise, the blue eyes are thoughtful. "How much can we buy from the border? Food, I should say, let's start there. We haven't needed to before."

"We have enough money--" Dean starts.

"It's not a question of money," Cas says, still looking at Joe. "You've taken the measure of Laurence; what will he risk?"

"Not this," Joe answers. "He could authorize a few dozen grocery stores' worth of food shipped over the border, no questions asked, but he won't, not when he can get sure money from what he does now and not risk someone, somewhere, double checking the logs. And before you ask, no, they're all fucking; if he won't, no one at any border station will." He makes a face. "We threaten to walk, he might do it, bleed us dry--and I mean dry, he'll have a damn good guess we have a hell of a lot more than we're telling--and turn in the first genuine lead on the location of Dean Winchester and retire without anyone caring how much he's been raking in from border graft on a pile of money big enough to build his own fortress. They can't find Chitaqua, but we got five towns of hostages and I don't put anything past them use whatever they can get to make Dean come out of hiding."

"Right--" Dean starts, again.

"And if you think you're turning yourself in, no, and no commentary," Joe interrupts. "We'll find another way."

"Right," Dean says slowly, glaring at him. "Any idea how many Ichabod can support for how long? Not including surplus coming in?"

"They're working on that now," Joe answers. "But realistically…let's go with 'not long'."

"Then we're gonna have to steal it for them."

Vera rolls her eyes, but Cas says, "I'm not opposed to this."

"What?" Vera asks blankly.

"After we dump all our MREs on 'em," Dean adds righteously. "And send the teams to the bases we haven't cleared already and every store in the cities to see about canned goods in the destroyed areas that no one's gotten to yet, whatever we can find. Hell, we'll check every empty town if we have to, find out who can hunt, but put it on the table now so no one's surprised when I call everyone in and ask for a plan."

Vera frowns. "The trucks that come through--"

"Yeah, no, piss off corporations, get the military back in force, assuming they aren't chasing people here," Joe answers, looking at Dean suspiciously, then Cas, who smiles. "You--"

"Oklahoma or Missouri, though my preference would be Oklahoma," Cas says. "Avoid upsetting our charmingly corrupt local border guard by upsetting an unknown but doubtless equally venal one on the Oklahoma/Colorado border."

"Do we know that border well enough?" Dean asks.

"We'll do our research first, of course--"

"You're serious," Vera bursts out.

Cas looks surprised. "Very."

"Go into an uninfected state with a giant truck and just--go grocery shopping with a gun?"

"I was thinking after hours, under the cover of darkness--Costco, for example," Cas says reasonably. "Or the other one--Sam's. They sell in bulk."

Dean meets Cas's eyes, sharing his grin. "I like the way you think."

"Okay," Joe says slowly. "So--I have no idea what to say here. Someone?"

"However, the subject--enjoyable as I anticipate it will be--will need to wait. We need to meet with Alison, Teresa, and Manuel as soon as possible," Cas says, looking vaguely surprised that all the potato stuff is gone. "If the storm comes tonight, we don't have a great deal of time. Also, Amanda, I need to see the maps you've found so far."

"Sure," she says, starting to her feet and then hesitating. "Now, or--"

"Now would be best, yes. Let me get dressed. Vera, can you brief me on what Dean left out of yesterday's events, please?"

"Sure thing," she says brightly, because she hates him.

"I'll stay and help Dean clean up," Joe says easily, and Dean tries not to let his expression change. Sounds like fun.


Joe considerately waits for everyone to leave (and for Dean to buy a few more seconds with coffee refills and stacking things neatly in the sink, refrigerator, pantry, or breadbox) before saying, "Seriously, Dean?"

Sitting down on the couch, Dean just remembers the two inch rule and takes a deep breath before saying, "Look--"

"Shut up." Dean shuts his mouth. "Got it, this is why you're acting like a crazy person. No talking," he warns when Dean starts to explain how fuck yeah he's crazy did he just notice or something? "How's this; we'll go fifty-fifty on this one?"

"Huh?"

Joe sits back. "Your team leaders, fine, but after the fact, we hid it."

"Because you were scared for your lives, maybe?" Dean wonders if he's hearing things or something. "What the hell--"

"Or--for reasons that had nothing to do with you. Mostly," Joe allows, grimacing. "Okay, other than the number of questionable reasons most of us had to sneak into the infected zone--and not gonna lie, they're a story in themselves--Cas told you back then, what would you have done? Killed all the team leaders?"

"Yeah," Dean answers hotly, like there's any question of that shit. "Problem with that? I'm not seeing it!"

"Anyone who helped 'em?" He nods, but Joe gets in before he can finish opening his mouth. "What about the ones who did it with guns to their heads? Or someone else's?"

Fuck yes, Dean wants to say; right now, he may even mean it. "How many...."

"Dean, there's a reason Cas never said who was at his cabin that night," Joe answers. "Or if he told you, on a guess, only the ones dead or gone. Tell me you see where I'm going with this?"

Actually, he kind of does. "Fall of the Roman Republic crowning its first Caesar. If anyone survived the civil war, that is."

"Poisoned well, sure, but either everyone had to drink the water or they cleaned it the fuck up," Joe says, nodding. "Dean, they were good at hiding it, even Cas might have missed it if they hadn't decided Vera had to go. They had help doing this, maybe half the goddamn camp whether they wanted to or not."

"And you just--could live with that?" Actually, that's exactly what they'd been doing for the last couple of years, so stupid question. "Looking over your shoulder, working with people you couldn't trust--"

"Dean, once we got out of training, I could trust Erica to throw herself on top of a bomb rather than risk a questionable injury to anyone in the camp," Joe says wryly. "If they ever stopped worrying about Cas--which I doubt, drunk, sober, high, clean, whatever, best part of his day was fucking with them--they had Risa at every meeting and Amanda entertaining herself by stalking them for fun--sorry, combat practice. Détente, it works. Like the Cold War, but less nukes." He thinks for a minute. "Probably the same number of guns, though. Go figure."

"You're saying I’m overreacting?"

"I'm saying share the goddamn sin, Dean: your omission, our commission. We did know what we were doing when we chose not to talk, and I'll cop to being one of the originators of don't tell, don't tell ever. But the poisoned fruit was the team leaders."

Dean blows out a breath. "It's my camp. How can you trust me knowing I let that happen?"

"I guess the same way you trust us knowing we hid it from you," Joe answers with a shrug, fuck him. "Dean, we weren't deliberately using Cas as a stalking horse, but that's pretty much how it turned out. I'm not proud of that, either. It doesn't mean much now, but if there'd been any other way--"

"Share the sin," Dean interrupts, sinking more deeply into the couch. "Cas knew exactly what he was doing. Might as well have fucking dared them; he does that shit." Joe raises his eyebrows. "He never told you about his bright idea to take on archangels?"

Joe blinks at him. "He survived, though."

"No, his Dad resurrected him." Joe's eyebrows leap upward. "It's--" Maybe this isn't the right time for this conversation. Which, he realizes, means there's gonna be a right time, because they're going to have it. Maybe all of it. "Complicated. We'll talk about it sometimes, share freakish life stories."

"My life story," Joe says virtuously, "is goddamn normal. Grew up, moved to Israel to be with my widowed grandmother, joined the Israeli army--"

"--almost shot yourself with someone else's gun. That was still in the holster."

"--fuck Eldritch Horror," Joe growls. "Rabbi, college, got married, got divorced--"

"Broke into a possible FBI black site used to hold test subjects for Croatan research who thought they were signing up for a trial on a new epilepsy drug," Dean says quietly, watching Joe's expression freeze. "Sold your condo, cashed out your 401Ks, and paid out the ass for location and the best forgeries money could buy to get in the door. Only thing I couldn't figure out was how you even knew about it," well, this Dean couldn't, but he maybe didn't care, "but then I remembered--ex-wife. Epileptic?"

"Got it in one." Joe closes his eyes. "She's in that happy group who stop responding to medication. Did the neuro shit, was being evaluated for surgery, but her GP heard about this trial and thought he could get her in. She called me, asked me to take our joint dogs for six weeks."

"Joint dogs?"

"We agreed to joint custody in the divorce," Joe says, looking at Dean like maybe he shouldn't question anyone's commitment to their pet bond. "She didn't make the study at the last minute--got hospitalized for the flu, this happens to her, all the bugs--but by then, I'd heard enough…one of her friends from her support group was in it. Called some people, dissolved everything I owned, did it and ran, because even asking questions was unhealthy at that point."

Huh. "How well did you know ex-wife's friend?"

"Not even her name before Monica told me when I went to visit her in the hospital; they met after the divorce," Joe answers, leaning back in his chair. "Why?"

Honestly, Dean's not sure what to say to that. "You did it for a principle?"

"For the principle that Florida Menendez, a part-time lawyer with no living family, two dogs, and untreatable epilepsy should not be a test subject for Croat," Joe replies. "Or Carolina Ferguson, florist, no living family, one dog, one cat--it takes all kinds, I guess--and untreatable epilepsy should not be a test subject for Croat. Or Miles Sanderson, construction worker, no family, Lily Folgers, no family, Catalina Velasquez, Shaniqua Melton, Brittany Cosco--"

"No family."

"Monica was in four of these while we were married," Joe says. "Her sister--stepsister--was never listed as next of kin, they barely spoke for reasons--drama, Dean, you have no idea--but I was as her husband. Some of the forms asked about power of attorney, including medical, but she never bothered with that because marriage presumes that kind of thing. On this one, I'm gonna bet she skipped right over that section from sheer habit. She was denied within a day of going into the hospital, when I was called, because under the terms of our divorce, until she designated someone else, they were legally obligated to call me."

"She was okay with that?"

"She carried the paperwork in her purse just in case she got hit by a car on the way to work," Joe answers wryly. "Anything to keep Maisie from getting de facto right to anything as only living relative. They did this shit, Dean, it was fun to watch, yeah, and they seemed to enjoy it, so I rolled with it." Joe shrugs, slumping back. "Untreatable epilepsy--it fucks with your brain, sometimes, but they're treated like it's all the time. I knew what she wanted, she told me, and I took notes. Hospital acted like she didn't have a voice; she could use mine." He licks his lips. "Whoever set this up, they weren't very good at it, Dean; it was a stupid mistake, didn't do their homework other than the basics. But--that wouldn't have helped until after the fact; they'd have to be gone for someone to ask questions. Someone had to be their voice, Dean, and might as well be me." He shrugs. "Cleaned up everything I could, got the information I needed, and counted on the fact no one expected anyone to notice this fast. Gave them all the cash I had--which not gonna lie, I wasn't doing too badly--the IDs I bought, and we all ran and didn't look back."

"And you came to the infected zone."

Joe grins. "My chances were better here; at least you can run away from a goddamn Croat, not get it by needle after being strapped to a chair. Heard about a place that might be trying to stop it, and not with human sacrifice." He makes a face. "In a manner of speaking, anyway."

"And Monica?"

"My brother went to see her after I made the six o'clock news and he took over all my ex-spousal duties," Joe says, looking suddenly amused. "She and Maisie made up--having to flee Philadelphia for fear of Croat makes a bond--but funny story; last visit to the border, got a surprise message. Matthew wanted my blessing on his recent marriage to Monica."

Dean take a moment to appreciate that. "Tell me that's a pseudonym to protect his identity."

"It's not," Joe says with a sigh, eyes narrowing. "First sprog will be named Joseph, which my math says should be born in the next six months. I have no idea how I feel about this."

He feels like an asshole; he had no idea Joe was going through--well, anything. His brother, for God's sake. "Uh, listen--you okay?"

"If it's a girl, she's going to hate me for being named Joseph." Joe raises his eyebrows, mouth twitching smugly. "Dude, I was instrumental in my brother and the woman I loved finding the great loves of their lives with each other. All I had to do was marry her, divorce her, commit a list of federal crimes, move to the infected zone, and wait almost two years to make it happen."

Dean blinks slowly.

"I'm a yenta," Joe explains, like it's obvious.

"I really don't think that's a yenta."

"Are you Jewish?" Dean shakes his head; he's definitely not. "Goyim don't get the complexities of 'yenta', it happens. This is Torah definition right here, trust me."

"Are there even yentas in the Torah?" he asks suspiciously.

"Are you a rabbi?"

Yeah, he's not gonna win this one. "Yenta."

"Yenta," Joe confirms smugly. Then, "Josephine, what's wrong with that?"


Dean's first view of Third Street in the cold light of mostly-dawn is about the same as last night's, in which chilled looking groups leave the ward line for the comfort of warmth, food, and medical attention. The crowd outside the perimeter line looks pretty much as miserable as last night and twice as large. Jesus Christ, Dean thinks blankly; what the hell is going on out there?

"How many--"

"Claudia's got people from Volunteer Services tracking that." Squinting, Dean can just make out a vague disturbance that spreads through the center of the crowd like ripples from a pebble dropped in a lake, the dull, nearly subliminal roar fragmenting into shouts. "Last time I asked, she said greater than twenty thousand and left it at that."

As several of Ichabod's patrol jump the fence, the ripples explode into visible chaos, like tornado touching down from a clear sky, and Dean hears someone start to scream.

"Don't," Joe says, hand on his chest before he even realizes he's moved, as more of Ichabod's patrol start pushing through the crowd, and unmistakably, that's Christina vaulting the fence, her team doggedly on her heels. "I'm speaking officially for Alison; Chitaqua's leader cannot get caught up in a riot. Or any of the Alliance mayors."

Dean's education in (something like) politics was tripled yesterday, but since it'd been near zero before, that's still not much. He does get, however, why that would be a problem, especially since he's not a mayor and Chitaqua's command structure makes things--complicated.

"How far have they gotten on the roads?" he asks, trying to follow Christina through that crowd before the vague outline of a man, arm cocked for a punch, vanishes from sight and startled people jerk back and away; so that's where she is.

"Snow plows are still working in shifts," Joe answers. "Three miles, maybe four while also getting cars off the road. And hoping them don't run over anyone trying to hitch a ride, which is pretty much everyone."

Frowning, he finds himself thinking about Cas's table-sized map of Kansas. The only roads represented are the ones that work (he thinks) all in the same shade of brown (no color-based commentary on quality), and are almost lost anyway under the colors of what Dean thinks are the migration lines of people coming here. He wishes he could asked Cas more about what he was doing, other than having some very cartographical feelings, but there were other priorities, like Cas himself.

Those damn grey lines: no rhyme or reason to the naked eye, no, but the four roads feeding into the only working road into Ichabod had been surrounded by them, so deep they left grooves from multiple strokes so dark the grey's almost black. Cas's conflicted feelings (read: thwarted violence), yeah, it was definitely that, but….

And he said he wasn't finished yet.

"We need to meet with Manuel, Teresa, and Alison as soon as possible," Dean says, watching another group released into the care of two volunteers who immediately go up to speak to them, one taking a three-year old from an exhausted woman's arms. "Cas had an idea--it would work even better if that goddamn snowstorm would wait a day or two. What's ETA again?"

"Two hours after dusk at the earliest, but on a guess, we have until midnight before the worst hits," Joe answers, tilting his head toward the alley access, the wood barrier being bricked on the other side as quickly as possible around a newly-installed door and guarded by two residents. "Come on. I'll send someone to admin to see when we can see Alison and Manuel."

Dean waits until the violent movement in the crowd abruptly vanish, like watching a twister disperse in the middle of the road. No rhyme or reason to it: it happens.

"Yeah," he says. "Let's go.


Here's the thing: when Alison insisted all the Alliance people (aka Chitaqua) move to Second, she talked about more space, electricity, plenty of room for everyone to sleep and not even in shifts, give Chitaqua a home base.

All that's true; it's three stories of spacious interiors and what Vera swears are hardwood floors, and the rooms are painted in soothing shades of beige and beig-er, for variety, he assumes. There are even working bathrooms and three showers (why? No one knows), a huge-ass break room on each floor, and the one on the ground floor has an attached kitchen. By description, Dean wondered why the hell it was made storage instead of living space.

Then he saw it.

Alison didn't tell them (because she's like this) that the building in question looks like the horrifying offspring of a really trendy corporate headquarters or something and a gothic-themed prison block. The entire exterior is all weird dark grey stone over solid concrete that someone (crazy) who was probably drunk (and crazy) thought would look modern or something and pulls off 'place you go into and never come out again' while simultaneously sucking all available light and it's not like they get much of that these days. He was told when there used to be regular sunlight, it had a shimmering thing going on, and like that, Dean was immediately reconciled to never seeing the sun again because the last thing this needed was glitter.

Looking down the street at the quaint re-imagining of small-town life complete with fake storefronts, he surveys the building again, which is now larger, greyer, and even more wrong up to and including the huge ass balcony running the length of the third floor overlooking absolutely nothing; Second Street is not what he'd call an inspiring view. Imagine this shit with glitter: no thanks, ever.

"Dean."

It's also unnaturally rectangular, like someone was very exact with the measurements for summoning something purposes; seriously, you could cut something on all these sharp angles. The windows' dead stare down at them is unsettling, but not nearly as much as the fact that they're all exactly the same distance apart as they are from the corners, he knows it, though as yet, no one will get their asses up there and verify the goddamn obvious.

"Are we sure--"

"Dean, the company was probably based out of LA or something," Joe says patiently. "They probably thought they were being--I don't know, trendy. Why does this bother you so much? You never struck me as being into architecture. Or even…" He trails off without saying 'know the meaning of the word' which is insulting but technically not exactly wrong.

"You exorcise enough ghosts, you get a feeling about places," he says, staring incredulously at the brick facing of the gaping door--alcove thing?--that you have to cross for six steps (in darkness, if you don't have the super weird bulb thing they use in there) before getting to the massive wooden double doors like something out of a crappy movie about medieval fortresses, each twelve feet tall; why do you need doors that big? For something really tall that you summoned to come in, maybe? "If this isn't haunted, it should be."

"That doesn't even make sense."

Dean glares up at the window--embrasures?--the taped-over glass like (weirdly striped) eyes and wonders if he should talk to Cas about giving all the kids a refresher on 'how to spot an evil fucking building' because this is ridiculous.

With a deep breath (and Joe pushing him, dude), Dean braves the endless near-darkness to the doors and emerges into the ongoing chaos of a move of buildings + stripping all their jeeps of anything useful they might need. Which means, in layman's terms, anyone coming in this godforsaken building will be met by what appears to be some very serious weapons traffickers offering a decent size war at a discount price and soldiers to fight it. Plus--fuck his life--all the boxes of emergency condoms plus backups in the corner by several boxes of ammunition (along with all their emergency supplies in the jeep, but Jesus, that's a lot of condoms). And…bags of rock salt, which should be neutral but brings it all together in some really creepy way, though he can't explain why or how. He suspects it's because this room may be an unnervingly accurate symbol of Chitaqua's collective priorities and life goals (kill all the monsters; have all the sex). His people need hobbies.

"Dean's here," Joe bellows like he's announcing the second coming, clapping Dean on the shoulder as scurrying soldiers turn to look at him with the cheerful smiles of people who have maybe already been possessed by the ghosts of this goddamn nightmare building.

"Morning, Dean!" echoes around him. Natalie glances up with a smile from where she and Tara are sorting ammunition by type (maybe), and Jeremy waves in passing while carrying four duffle bags with Brad following with three more. Dean hopes those aren't more weapons knowing it's futile.

"Hey," he manages, trying to look professional. He glances up at the three fucking story ceiling and empty art deco light fixtures, textured walls and three floors of activity and visualizes a perky receptionist's desk dead center smiling at him forever and gets it. "This was a law firm."

Joe gives him a confused look. "What?"

"Did some contract negotiating once," he says absently, eyeing the curving metal stairs that joins the three floors in disfavor and how it somehow makes the beige even more utterly lifelessly wrong. "Same feel."

He can feel Joe silently judging him for being crazy. "You're not even trying to make sense, are you?"

"Joe, someone sold their soul for success, defined by having a firm in a freaky grey sparkly building in downtown Ichabod, Kansas. Before it was Ichabod, anyway," Dean explains, knowing he's right. "It's reassuring to have proof there are worse deals to be made, and someone thought making that one was actually a good idea."

Joe tips his head sideways, studying Dean before abruptly reaching out and pressing his palm against his forehead. "No fever. Should I get Cas?"

"Fuck you," he says without heat, shoving Joe's hand aside and ignoring his smirk. "Don't believe me?"

"Not even a little."

"You're a hunter, right?" Dean asks him curiously. "Gotta be born to it, I guess."

"Funny," Joe replies, sangfroid unimpaired.

Lena, on her way to the stairs, grins at him from over an armful of rifles--Christ, how many do they have here? "Cas is in the Situation Room with Amanda and Sean."

"Situation Room?"

"In the back," she says helpfully, pointing with her elbow. "Go right of the stairs, turn right at the first door, turn left and it's three rooms down. Also, Vera said to tell you she's at the infirmary with Alicia; they'll be back in a few."

"Thanks." He looks at Joe. "Hey, go to Admin and find out when we can talk to Alison and either Teresa or Manuel. Oh, and tell Gary he's done. We'll debrief him--sometime, I guess."

"On it," Joe answers with a sloppy salute, and Dean goes to the right of the stairs and turns left into a tunnel-like archway that opens up into a series of three large, interconnecting rooms all in exactly the same shade of beige like--oh, maybe--it's just one room and he's trapped in a loop forever, or at least until he gets into the last room, which just proves his entire point.

Something's wrong with this place.

No Sean but there's Nate, showing Cas something on a clipboard--a clipboard?--with Amanda well on the other side of the room taking stacks of paper out of a box in the definition of 'not going to engage'. Because she knows everything, is friends with Sean (who is seeing Zack and used to be with Nate; how did this shit become relevant to his life?). People being people, he reminds himself firmly, and not the kind that shoot other people (anymore).

"So, how's it going?" he asks when it becomes obvious no one's going to notice him otherwise. It should be a relief after the front room, but it's not.

"Good," Amanda says over her shoulder as Cas nods at him with a flickering glance, eyes unreadable and okay, not good.

"It's fine, I promise," Cas tells Nate (who looks kind of like maybe he's not tracking…well anything). "These are the correct numbers, I assure you."

"Right." Nate squints at the clipboard uncertainly. "Should I--"

"You did very well," Cas says, and there's no way to miss the deliberate note of reassurance in his voice. "I promise, you're done."

Nate nods jerkily, bloodshot eyes only coming up to see Dean when he almost runs into him. "Hey, Dean."

"Hey." He looks between them. "Everything okay?"

Nate blinks at him vaguely. "Yeah, fine. Checking our numbers--bullets, I mean." Dean meets Cas's eyes and reads a lot of not good things. "Got it right this time, so--"

"You were right the first two times," Cas says conversationally, and from the corner of his eye, Dean notes Amanda's really busy stacking and restacking a pile of papers. "I'm sure Tara simply needs assistance with basic arithmetic. You may go."

"Go with God," Dean says seriously, moving out of his way and seeing the faint tremor in his hands, gauze wrapped around two fingers: construction with Tony's crew, almost forgot. "And get some coffee--are you even awake? What time did you get to bed?"

"I’m fine--"

"Around three, when James physically dragged him from Fifth Street and just one more something," Cas says. "He's going to give that clipboard to Tara and go to a room with a bed and/or sleeping bag and sleep until I say otherwise. And that is an order."

Nate makes a face. "Yes, sir."

"Tony would very much appreciate your help when you wake up," Cas adds casually. "I already approved it, provided you rest enough I can be sure you know which side of a hammer is which."

"Got it. Night--sort of." Nodding at Dean, he wanders out, rubbing the back of his head sleepily.

Joining Cas, Dean frowns at his vanishing shape. "He okay?"

"Physically exhausted and likely emotionally as well, which I understand isn't uncommon when one is subject to a series of exceedingly petty acts of passive-aggressive hostility in addition to personal stress," Cas says conversationally, and glancing over his shoulder, Dean sees Amanda stiffen and really doesn't like the sound of this. "Tony was impressed; he told me when he came by to check on Nate that he has a truly startling amount of knowledge on repairing structural stability, which I assume he was instructed in by Winchester House when he worked on it. Tony has reclassified several buildings out of pink-yellow to yellow already and has very high hopes he can double his original estimate of habitable buildings with Nate's help."

"I said I was sorry for making him get his ass out of bed to help out a little for the move," Amanda says, not sounding sorry at all as she slams down another box. "Not like the rest of us aren't on triple shifts during an emergency, but let's keep talking about poor Nate's goddamn interrupted sleep."

Dean really wishes he'd brought coffee or maybe more weapons. A list of safe conversational topics, too. "So--wait, Winchester House really taught Nate how to fix it?"

"Generally, contractors don't last very long there," Cas answers. "Nate's firm, however, was renewed due to unprecedented progress, and I do mean unprecedented, as it's not a house that needs fixing."

"So what was he doing if he wasn't fixing it?"

"He was fixing it," Cas corrects him, and Dean wonders if he's tracking. "From his description of the rooms staying in place after he worked on them, he seemed to be repairing the dimensional rift itself."

Dean doesn't even try to wrap his mind around that any more than he has to. "How?"

"Drywall," Cas says and it takes a second for Dean to realize that's not a non-sequitur. "And paint."

"Jesus Christ," Amanda mutters, but whatever, what?

"You can fix those with drywall?" Christ, no wonder you can't see the bullet holes in their cabin.

"No," Cas says helplessly. "You can't, but apparently Winchester House didn't tell Nate that, and it worked. Whatever your next question is, the answer is 'I don't know' but plan to explore the subject with Nate at the very next opportunity." Looking into the middle distance, Cas looks thoughtful. "I wonder how much Nate has guessed about what happened when he was in the attic."

He's pretty sure that's connected, somehow. "What was in the attic anyway?"

"On a guess, it was," he answers slowly. "Or rather, when Nate wondered where the attic was, it brought him before it remembered it wasn't an attic at the moment and needed to be if Nate was going to be there."

Dean thinks he knows why House needed to be a house. "Seeing Winchester House when it--wasn't a house….is this the part where a glance drives people crazy?"

"No, it's the part where Nate--if only for a moment--existed in the exact same discrete area of interdimensional space that the entity occupied and that is--to say the least--not hospitable to reality as it exists on this plane, much less corporeal life." Cas hesitates, looking at Dean almost apologetically. "Nate shouldn't exist any longer, and yet, here he is, alive and well, which…."

In all the time they've known each other, he's never seen Cas this genuinely thrown by something. "You okay? It saved him, right?"

"Obviously." It takes a second for Dean to hear the amusement laced through the shock for what it is. "If by that you mean, gathered up all the infinite pieces of Nate from inside itself and put them back together correctly before sending him back to continue painting as if nothing had happened, then yes. It can't even consistently maintain its appearance as a house and loses entire floors at times or forgets where to put doors, but it…." Slowly, Cas starts to smile. "I'm impressed. Old Ones don't see humans--they barely see each other other than as prey. As you see a single-celled amoeba, they see everything but themselves. Yet it saw him. It knew him, so well it could gather him up again from infinity and remake him without flaw." His mouth quirks. "And play what I think was multidimensional hide and seek in an infinite house and have fun with tourists and learn about numbers. I wonder if Nate introduced it to television; that would explain a great deal."

"Good God," Amanda mutters, slamming the empty box down, and Dean winces; he forgot she was in here. "Crazy house likes him, you can take that as a recommendation, fine, and he's helping out here like a decent person, fine. That doesn't make him not shitty; it just makes him selective about it. Me, less building skills, better people skills would be my choice, but takes all kinds, I guess."

"You have a very nice room at Alison's with central heat," Cas observes, turning to a nearby table and opening a box with a precise rip of the tape. "People do tend to value least what they have no need of themselves."

Dean sees that hit Amanda and wonders if he really needs to be here for this. "So--"

Amanda spins around, looking at Cas incredulously, but Dean at least doesn't miss the guilt behind it. "He makes his own fucking problems and then makes them everyone else's!"

"I wasn't aware he'd had sex with you," Cas says, reaching into the box and taking out--candles? "Or you were at all involved in his personal life, or Zack's for that matter. I think it was you that said those weren't my business, so it would only be fair for you to follow your own mandate."

"And we'll pick this up later," Dean decides. "Amanda, I need to--"

"Yeah, I got real problems to deal with, not Nate's poor sad feelings when his own fuck-ups come home to roost or Cas playing concerned leader because he recently learned all about feelings," she snaps, then stills. "Sorry. I didn't mean to say that."

"Apology not accepted," Cas says over his shoulder. "But I do appreciate you didn't try to convince me you didn't mean it, merely the act of saying it."

Looking shaken, Amanda takes a quick breath. "Cas, look--"

"You're dismissed," Dean says softly, and has the satisfaction of seeing her flinch. Nodding jerkily, she heads out the door, and Dean takes the precaution of going to close it behind her before looking at Cas. "She had him counting bullets?"

"Tara told Nate that his math was wrong and, from the look of that paper, changed his numbers at least a few times." Setting the box carefully under the table, Cas starts to sort the candles, though the criteria is unclear. Then again, so is the reason they have enough candles to need sorting. Useful if the power goes out, maybe? "For what greater joy could there be than taunting someone too exhausted to know what they're doing, much less fight back?"

Yeah, and she's on Sean's team. Great. "Amanda defended her?"

"No, of course not. She simply didn't see any problem with it," he answers flatly, moving a red candle slightly left and trying not to look like he's rediscovering the stress headache. "She thought it was very funny."

"Cas--"

"Nate didn't want to come back to sleep," Cas says abruptly, turning around to look at him. "James did actually have to almost carry him and not because he was tired, though yes, that was a factor. James and Mira are worried, and if this is why…."

"Not defending--any of them," Dean starts, knowing it's a mistake but it's gotta be said. "This is the definition of 'make your own goddamn problems and also other people's'. People get pissed about that and react. He's been doing this since--when, he got here?"

"Doing what? You mean have sex with people who were very aware of his issues and still indulged and mocked him afterward?" Cas asks, and wow, so this is going even more wrong than he thought. "Or those who did that and at this very late point have decided it's unacceptable behavior that should not be stood for? Or those who he didn't have sex with or even speak to other than in a professional capacity who feel the need to join in the mass condemnation? Or--"

"Point taken," Dean says hastily.

"He's been doing this--whatever that means--since he was thrown out of his family's home, moved to California and got a job in construction while living in a cardboard box," Cas continues bitterly, because Dean can't just be wrong, he's gotta be wrong on a traumatic fucking scale that includes living in boxes. "The one exception--the happiest period in his life--was spent with a cosmic entity that looked like a house who liked him fixing it, and if that isn't an obvious metaphor as well, I'm not sure what to tell you."

Christ. "Right." He needs coffee, Jesus. Staring to add to that, he frowns, searching Cas's face and remembers something. You said Tony wanted to check on Nate--something happen last night?"

"It's not public knowledge yet, as the family needs to be informed," Cas answers, and wow, Dean doesn't like anything that starts like that. "There was a death while they were surveying the library on Sixth for potential use as a shelter; one of the volunteers slipped on a broken tile and fell five stories. Tony told me when he stopped to ask for Nate's assistance again when he was available and ask how he was doing."

Right, it just keeps coming. "He saw it."

"He tried to catch him."

What the hell is wrong with this morning? "You talk to Nate?"

"Briefly, but he was exhausted and I felt rest would do him more good. Tony said the other witness already gave him a report, so he didn't feel there was any need to question Nate until he'd rested and eaten," Cas answers, mouth tightening before turning to look at Dean. "He helped Callisto and her subordinates with the body--which after a drop from over a hundred and fifty feet could not have been pleasant--and then insisted on returning to work until James fetched him and put him to bed. At which time Amanda got him up to count bullets and Tara erased his calculations when he wasn't looking because after over two years, now is the time to punish Nate for his sins with sleep deprivation and sabotage of his work."

"I don't think--"

"Or Sean is insecure regarding Zack's previous relationship with Nate and is expressing it in the most ridiculous way possible," Cas continues, and yeah, that's what Dean was thinking. "Mira and James have been spending a great deal of time with Nate the last few weeks, and I don't think it's unrelated."

"Yeah, I noticed at the party." He wonders how long this has been going on and what exactly James and Mira saw that got them sticking with Nate like this. "You said they're worried. Are we talking the kind of worried where Nate shouldn't be wandering around on five story buildings in case of conveniently loose tiles?"

"I don't think so," Cas says, staring at the candles. "It's not just this, he--have you ever been tired?"

Dean comes up beside him and fixes his gaze on the candles as well. "Yeah," he answers quietly. "So tired I couldn't stop moving even though I wanted to. Couldn't even remember how."

"Yes. I didn't realize--" Cas abruptly stiffens. "Do you hear that?"

Dean actually doesn't (or know why that's relevant), but Cas is already out the door, and Dean thinks coffee and follows him from sheer lack of any other idea what to do. By the time he reaches the front room, Cas is half-way up the spiral staircase, and Dean's got a very bad feeling why there is hammering and ignores the (not exactly bewildered but he's gonna say guilty) eyes on him as he jogs (fast) behind Cas and almost runs into him when he reaches the top.

Across the open area (weren't there more people here earlier?), by a definitely closed door, Sean is hammering (and ruining) the hideously shiny wood paneling. Dean's gonna go out on a limb and say that Nate is definitely not sleeping but may be considering the alternative of jumping out the window after all. And Cas hasn't moved an inch.

Resting a hand on Cas's back--and relieved he doesn't shrug it off--Dean cocks his head. "Hey," he says clearly, watching Sean jerk and almost drop the hammer, "is this why they stopped stalking us?"

Sean turns around and God, the look on his face; great, but Dean is kind of not okay with the reason he's seeing it right now. And this is doing nothing at all for Cas right now, especially after yesterday.

"Where I'm from," Cas says softly, but the entire goddamn building seems to drop ten degrees with each word, "we do our rivals the courtesy of offering challenge when they face us, not smile and wait for them to turn their back."

Looking at Sean's pale face, wide eyes staring at Cas like he's never seen him before, Dean just barely restrains himself from calmly crossing to that door and punching him in his incredibly stupid face.

"Cas," he says softly, pitching his voice for Cas's ears alone. "Let me handle it, okay?"

The blue eyes flicker to him, alien and chillingly cold, but to Dean's relief, it's all surface: leftovers from yesterday in the mess and the argument with Amanda downstairs, which at this rate seems to be setting the tone of the day. Cocking his head, Dean waits, and after a long moment, he feels the tight muscles beneath his hand loosen.

"As a recent victim of a mob," Cas says, which has the happy effect of making Sean close his eyes, "I feel recusing myself from judgment would be best."

"As the partner of a recent victim, I'm okay with doing it," Dean assures him, squeezing Cas's shoulder and catching one corner of Cas's mouth uptick briefly, there and gone. "Any coffee in this building?"

"If there's not, there will be." He glances at Sean briefly before he turns away, and Dean sees the deepening creases across his forehead, mouth thinned and tight, and it's like how Dean found him at their old headquarters last night all over again. He watches Cas go back down the stairs, one hand rising toward his temple in an aborted gesture that he suspects is one fuck of a stress headache already in progress. He makes a note to get someone to find Cas's art supplies stat, or at least an enemy to kill; he's not gonna be picky.

"Look, Dean--" Sean makes the incredibly obvious mistake of saying.

"Shut up." Sean shuts his mouth. "So what, Zack yell Nate's name last night or something?"

Sean flushes, and it's possible he might be thinking about punching him. He kind of hopes so, even better if Sean actually tries; he'd feel better, Sean would feel worse pretty goddamn fast, and he'd have a clear idea of what to do with this. All the times he thought about the consequences of his decisions as Chitaqua's leader, how he'd handle situations of every variety great and small, none had included how to handle a group of (supposed) adults, number of at least two (and he has no illusions that Tara was the only guilty party on Sean's team), getting together to fuck up Nate's bullet homework and mess with his sleep by hammering on the wall for fun and that's the part that he knows that's occurred in the last few hours. Who the fuck does that; this shit doesn't even make junior high level.

"Where are James and Mira?"

Sean seems to be having trouble looking at him. "Volunteer Center with Zack. They got up early to go help out."

"Had to wait until he was alone, right." Sean doesn't answer, but not like it's not pretty goddamn obvious. "That would be when Amanda went to wake Nate up at--what time?"

"Four-thirty."

"To count bullets, and Tara to mess up his count and make him do it all again for over two hours now?" Sean closes his eyes. "So Tara, you with the hammer, I just need to find out what Lena and Kim were doing---did you actually recruit your team to fuck with your boyfriend's ex?"

Sean did do something very much like that, and from the look on his face, not only just noticed but may almost grasp how deeply fucked up this was on concept.

"Great teamwork," Dean adds, for what is a fucking knife for but to twist. Turning, he goes to look down over the railing and the sea of very worried eyes who were casually avoiding the second floor just a few minutes ago for no particular reason. Before he can comment, the door opens and Alicia and her team come in and abruptly stop short, looking around in bewilderment before following the collective gaze upward.

This is Alicia, of course. "Hey, Dean," she says cheerfully, unbuttoning her coat while her team picks up the slack by looking deeply weirded out by the number of unmoving people around them. "I'm free for the next two hours; give me things to do for I bore easily. Perimeter need help? I can do that."

Dean makes an effort not to grin. "And what are you doing in two hours?"

"Could be anything," she admits, cocking her head. "But definitely something. You can't rush revelations, Dean; then it's just guesses and might as well get yourself a magic eight ball and be done with it, you know what I mean? So? Things to do until then?"

"Cas has got a job for you," he answers, and she brightens. "He's in the--"

"Situation Room," Alicia finishes, nodding as she pulls off a glove with her teeth. "Got it, thanks!"

Dean watches her bounce out of sight with her team before scanning the group again and finding his little trifecta, all together and looking very nervous. "You three," he says, and sees Tara's shoulders stiffen. "You want to come up here for a minute?"

"Dean, they were just--"

"Following orders?" The resigned clatter of feet on metal is like music--shitty music, but at least not alt-rock--and he watches them trudge by him like they're going to the fucking principal's office. Surveying them, he can't help but reflect these people are theoretically competent to carry and use military-grade weaponry at their discretion.

"Wait here." Dean goes to the door, knocks three times--habit--and pushes it open to take in Nate sitting on his sleeping bag against the opposite wall right under the window, expression eerily blank. Carefully, he closes the door, and--nothing.

"Nate?"

Nate starts, squinting at him uncertainly. "Insomnia. I was just about to--"

"When did it start, what were they doing, who's involved, and why the hell didn't you report it?" he asks before he can stop himself.

Nate's eyes widen. "Dean--"

"And don't tell me nothing's going on, I just watched nothing make a fuck of a dent in the wall outside the door." Nate's mouth snaps shut. "Why are you protecting them?"

"I don't care." He looks away, shoulders slumping briefly, and Dean gets exactly why Cas asked him if he'd ever been tired; like calls to like, and the only surprise here is Nate was able to hide it this goddamn long. "I'm not just saying that, Dean. Wish I was."

What the fuck do you say to that? "I care."

Nate's head snaps up, looking so surprised Dean would be insulted if he could forget the first half of that convo with Cas a few minutes ago. "Uh." Nate squints at him. "I appreciate it?"

"You lose a point for the question mark," Dean tells him, and Nate's mouth twitches reluctantly as he leans back against the wall. "Look, I get it, but come on; if you gotta start outsourcing because you don't think you're making yourself miserable enough and need the extra help--"

"I'm not doing that," Nate protests, straightening, and there we go.

"That's exactly what you're doing, no matter what bullshit you fed to James and Mira to keep them from reporting it," Dean says, and has the satisfaction of Nate looking away.

"I'm on his team," Nate says finally. "He's a good leader--"

"If he was just being a good leader, he would have reported it," Dean says deliberately. "Friends, on the other hand, are the people that make sure they're around so there's nothing that needs reporting. How long, Nate?"

"About a week, maybe, but it wasn't anything like this. Just…." He trails off, searching Dean's face. "Just fucking with me, that's all, I swear."

"And if I ask James and Mira?"

"They'll tell you the same thing. You know them, Dean," he adds, and Dean doesn't miss the thread of warmth in his voice. "If it was more than that, they would have come to you or Cas no matter what I said."

Yeah, that he believes. "Cas told me what happened at the library."

Nate stiffens, and Dean regrets bringing it up. "Cas said the report could wait. Me and three other guys were on the roof and--"

"I'm not asking for a report," he says hastily. "All I want to know now is if you're okay."

Nate hesitates before nodding. "Yeah. Though that could be the sleep deprivation talking."

"That a hint?" Nate looks at him worriedly before making a face. "Look, get some sleep, okay? Tony wants you back, but it's just a loaner; I'm expecting him to return you in one piece. I'll be pretty pissed if you walk out a window because you fell asleep on your feet."

Nate nods and sighs before reaching for the top of the sleeping bag. "Got it."

Dean watches until he's actually in the sleeping bag before carefully going back out and closing the door with a click that seems to echo. He's halfway to the stairs before he remembers Sean and company are still waiting. He still has no idea what to do, but thinking about Nate slumped by that goddamn window when he opened the door is pretty goddamn inspiring.

"This is done," he says finally, and sees them all nod, very possibly experiencing a vague feeling that has nothing to do with what they did and everything to do with getting caught doing it. Focusing on Sean, he tips his head toward the members of his team. "They were just following orders?"

Sean nods quickly. "Yeah. Dean, it was my fault, not theirs."

Dean waits for the three suspects to deny it; they don't. Good: he can work with this.

"You get this isn't downtime at Chitaqua," he says quietly. "I don't know if you noticed, but right now we have real problems, not your issues with your boyfriend's sexual history. This would have been shitty anyway, but you couldn't have picked a worse time if you tried. Congratulations: you almost beat out Kyle there and only because you didn't add 'high', 'drunk', and 'disobeying a direct order'."

Sean's flush can probably be seen from space right now. "I know, Dean."

"So you probably also know that right now, I can't afford to demote you when I don't have enough teams here as it is. You're good at the job, and more importantly, I don't have anyone to replace you." Sean nods jerkily, and if Dean saw a trace of satisfaction in that, he'd demote him now, but he doesn't. "When we get back to Chitaqua, assume you're losing your team and suspended from patrol for the immediate future." Sean nods again, and Dean turns his attention to the other three. "You three will be off patrol, probably permanently, but I'll leave the final decision to Cas."

"What?" Sean asks blankly, but Dean's watching the other three: shock, horror, anger, a fuckload of regret, but still the wrong goddamn kind. "Dean, why--"

"You're good at your job--most of the time--but they failed at theirs," he answers Sean before turning his attention back to them. "I can't put a team in the field that if they were told to jump off a cliff, they wouldn't even ask for a fucking rope. Or have the common sense to stop their leader from doing it himself. You three couldn't even manage to separate 'work-related orders' from 'being used as a weapon of petty revenge against leader's boyfriend's ex'. I'm not sure you should be allowed to wear weapons at this point, since I can't trust you'd know when it's okay to use them."

"It wasn't like that," Sean argues frantically, while Kim, Lena, and Tara look satisfactorily stricken. "That's not fair, it was me--"

"Fair?"

Dean thinks: let me tell you about fair. Go outside and take a long look at the entrance point where people are waiting who walked all fucking night in the snow to get here when their cars ran out of gas. Talk to Manuel and Teresa about how they feel knowing the people who tried to burn her alive could be out in that crowd waiting to get inside; you know what else? They're gonna let them in anyway, no questions asked.

Tony lost one of his people last night falling from a roof to get just a few more buildings safe enough for shelter; the town is emptying its winter stores to feed the people coming in and when that's gone, there's no grocery stores to stock up from until spring; two weeks ago, they lost sixty-three of their people, ten of them kids, to outsiders coming here pretending they needed shelter and a new place to start over; they're still not turning anyone away.

You go to the mess for coffee and get jumped by five guys and a bullet in the wall that just missed your head just for existing.

All of that--all of it, Sean--and then you can talk to me about fair.

"You want fair?" Who is Dean not to give him exactly what he wants? "I don't have time to deal with this shit right now, and Cas sure as fuck doesn't deserve picking up the slack, so guess what: you're gonna do it for us. So here are my orders; until we get back to Chitaqua, they're still your team and you're responsible for them, which means I need you to watch them every minute that we're here."

"What?"

"I don’t trust them," Dean answers. "But I think that I can trust you to make sure they don't jump off a cliff--or shoot themselves--because someone ordered them to, which at this moment is a genuine concern." Sean stills. "To assure the safety of themselves and those around them, you, personally, will disarm them now and leave their weapons at the front desk downstairs, and they aren't allowed anything more dangerous than a spoon--or a fork--while in this building. When you have shifts on perimeter or have any duties that require leaving this building armed, you will give them their weapons back inside the front door and when you come back, you will disarm them yourself once you're inside the door. Until they are safely behind Chitaqua's wards and I don't have to worry about them being a danger to themselves or others, you will keep them in your line of sight at all times." He just manages not to grin at Sean's expression. "Sean, be the charismatic leader you have proved you are and make sure they don't disobey these orders or you'll have to discipline them. Not sure how, so you'll have to come to me so I can think of something."

"Dean, that's--" Sean bursts out incredulously.

"--petty? You think?" Sean shuts his mouth. "This isn't a life lesson, and I'm not here to teach you the error of your ways, but you might consider this an example of how a professional gets it done when it comes to petty and I'm barely getting started." He cocks his head. "Do you understand your orders, Sean?"

"Yes, sir," Sean grates out.

"Leave their weapons at the reception desk downstairs," Dean says, then frowns. "After we get a desk, so hold onto them until then, about an hour. You're dismissed."

Sean nods jerkily, and Dean goes back to the railing, peering down at the still-silent masses who really need better hobbies, but until then he'll just have to keep them busy himself.

"You got an hour to get this building secure, reception area clear, pick your rooms, get armed, and ready for duty. New shift schedule goes up after the meeting at one; until then, if you need something to do, get your ass to the Volunteer Center and maybe help out people who have walked twelve goddamn hours in the goddamn snow to get here." He searches the blurred faces looking up at him and takes a deep breath: people aren't always good at being people, but that doesn't mean they don't get better at it. "Time to save the world, and this is how we start doing it. And someone find us a desk and a coffee pot." He searches their faces and breathes again; just a bad morning, that's all. It happens. "Dismissed."


"Hour and a half at most, no problem," Alicia agrees as she goes out the door--almost skipping, because Alicia--and finally, he and Cas are finally alone in the Situation Room.

Dean seriously considers locking the door, calmly crossing the room, taking Cas's replacement laptop (thing he will set on fire in the goddamn street) where he's furiously rewriting the shift schedule and organizing them all into a smoothly running militia machine, and seeing how Cas feels about quickies during work hours. Less fun but more work-appropriate, he could update Cas on the Sean situation (handled, thank you). For that matter, this being work hours, he could maybe find out what work he should be doing, being leader and all. It's gotta involve more than disciplining people for acting like cranky six year olds or giving speeches from the second floor to a captive audience, though he's not knocking the rush.

And yet, he can't quite make himself stop staring at the two tables shoved together that was the first thing he saw when he came in and could be considered a concrete display of the concept of non-sequitur.

Ruthlessly organized in horizontal rows by size and vertically by color, with a colony of weirdly shaped ones in the very front, Dean stares blankly at what appears to be a candle army taking up the entirety of two tables. Ten rows of thirty in lines so straight that even a ruler couldn't pull this shit off; this takes the kind of anal-retentive precision that only a stressed (ex-) angel can provide. It's not that Dean objects to candles in general or in a variety of sizes and colors, but--

--does it smell like mint in here? He tears his gaze away from candle central to track down a blue-green example by Cas's laptop, flame burning merrily, and okay, that explains that.

The tables of candles, on the other hand....

"Cas," he starts, surveying their candle army again just in case revelation decides to happen (it doesn't), "I give up. Why do we have three hundred random candles? If you tell me it's because of potential electricity loss so light, that would make sense, yeah, but I don't buy it."

Dean listens to Cas close his laptop and the slide of his chair against the floor before footsteps cross the room to join him in his observation of all the candles…in all the colors and sizes, none of these can be found in stores, oh God.

Reaching to pick one a sky-blue example of the power of completionism in action, he freezes at feel of smooth wax against his fingertips, rolling it over his palm in surprise.

"Dean?"

Frowning, Dean studies the chiseled exterior, narrow veins of lighter blue and off-white twisting across the surface, and scans the decorative swirls for any pattern as he chases down the feeling; it's not the slippery-slimey feel of wrongness he's sometimes picked up when hunting and touching shit he shouldn't, but it's definitely something. "What…."

"Infused wax by a master class practitioner," Cas says calmly, and Dean almost drops it, looking at him incredulously. "She'll be an adept before her fifth decade if I'm any judge of quality. That kind of talent tends to require time to gain strength and precision."

"These are magic candles? Why do we have magic candles?" Dean just barely stops himself from asking if there's such a thing as magic candles: obviously, there are, so might as well get to the important questions. "Wait, where did you even get them?"

"Wendy," Cas says like it's a universal answer to all the questions anyone could ask. "She had them delivered late last night."

"Who's Wendy?" He wonders if this is how Amanda felt yesterday and reluctantly gives her props for not grabbing Cas and shaking relevant words out of him. Wait, candles: that booth Cas was hanging out at, talking to a woman--hey, bet that's Wendy. Who sells candles that are also magic. "Wendy, the merchant you were talking to on New Year's Eve? She's a witch?"

Cas nods agreement. "And sibling to the mayor of Noak," he adds, like he's building a character defense. "She also makes candles for Teresa."

"And she's a witch." Dean looks at the blue candle suspiciously, but--is that blueberry? Fresh blueberries, even, the kind so ripe they're almost bursting out their skin when you eat them. "What do they do?"

"These are primarily related to the influence of mood and state of mind," Cas explains while Dean processes 'witch' from all angles. Cas wasn't wrong about his general feeling on the subject of practitioners, but he does get life as a hunter means he generally deals with the percentage who do harm for fun and not those who just have a talent and do cool things with it. "Nothing that contravenes free will, of course."

"Like what, aromatherapy?"

"Like aromatherapy created to elicit a specific response that always works and exactly as it is designed to, yes," Cas agrees, picking up an off-white pillar candle as long as Dean's arm with a swirl of glittering gold just beneath the surface. "The primal human brain is hardwired to respond to scent, but how can be idiosyncratic and sensitivity is also a factor; these simply take advantage of the brain's own functions while assuring it responds appropriately and without fail."

"How?"

"That's the difference between aromatherapy and a very skilled witch," Cas answers patiently. "Wendy's infusions are successful because they're backed by her will." He glances at the blue candle as Dean sets it down warily. "That one promotes serenity and a placid frame of mind."

Dean looks at it skeptically: he can state without fear of contradiction he does not feel serene or placid. Scent's nice, though. "And that works?"

"Extremely well," Cas answers. "I tested it yesterday and it was very effective."

He starts to ask when and then glances back at the candle still burning merrily by Cas's laptop; now that he thinks about it, he vaguely remembers the scent of mint in headquarters yesterday. Huh: he thought he imagined it.

Surveying the candle table again, he makes himself be open-minded; witches are just people, who can be good or bad at being people like anyone else, they can just be bad at it in weirder and sometimes dangerous ways. Still--candles. Cocking his head, he wonders what the others do: make you happy, sleepy--is that a mood? What does that even mean, a mood, put you in the mood for….huh.

"So," he starts, pretending this is purely an intellectual exercise, "she can do that with anything? I mean, when you say mood, what does that cover?"

"If you mean anger or fear…." Cas shrugs. "She could--and probably very well--but unless I misjudged her severely, she'd probably find that as abhorrent as you or I would."

God, he wishes that was it (also, good to know), but no. "No, I mean….never mind."

There's a long moment of silence before Cas says, "Sex."

Dean stares at the candles intently and doesn't deny a goddamn thing.

"Desire," Cas continues, shoulder brushing against Dean's in an electric charge and if this ends with Dean getting off on vocabulary lessons, he won't be surprised at all. "Hunger. Lust. Obsession. Passion."

Dean glares at him (yes, all that, obviously). "What? Just--"

"Curious?"

Meeting the amused blue eyes, Dean smiles slowly and watches them darken. "That'd be it, yeah."

Pausing to carefully move the candle Dean put down an eighth of an inch to bring it back into alignment with the others, Cas leans back against the table. "Wendy did say she does experimental and custom work, and this would definitely qualify. Considering the subject, she'll need both our consent first, of course, as well as an explanation of what exactly is desired from the final product. To satisfy your….curiosity"

Dean wants to believe that's a dealbreaker (tell her what is desired? Really?) but now that it's on the table--almost literally, like right on the table in front of him…. "If you're gonna be making new friends," he starts, casually appropriating Cas's personal space, "you should introduce me to them."

"I think she knows who the leader of Chitaqua is."

"As your boyfriend," Dean clarifies, hooking his fingers in the waist of Cas's jeans. "Human skills, Cas."

Cas tilts his head, mouth curving faintly. "As you wish."

"So you didn't answer my question--why all the candles?" Dean asks, stepping between Cas's knees and sliding his thumbs over the soft skin above his hips beneath his shirts.

Cas makes a face. "There were so many options. I wasn't sure which I wanted, so.…"

"So got 'em all and figure it out later," Dean finishes, nodding: Snuggies Mark II: All the Candles confirmed. "What'd you trade?"

"I'm not sure," he says, reaching to unnecessarily smooth Dean's unbuttoned flannel, fingers tugging at the edges. "Amanda handled the transaction."

A question he forgot to ask Cas that day: exactly how many Snuggies constitute all the sizes and all the colors including those not found in stores? "How many boxes is all of them?"

"Fourteen that she brought with her, one hundred to a box: twelve infused in various combinations and two mundane, one unscented," Cas says, meeting Dean's eyes with bar none the most effective use of 'innocent' Dean's ever been privileged to see as he tugs at Dean's collar, tongue flickering out to drag across his upper lip. "Amanda assured me that we could afford it."

Dean walks right into it without regret. "Anything you want." And means it.

"Thank you." Reaching up, Cas braces his forearms on Dean's shoulders and draws him closer until he can feel the press of Cas's cock against his thigh, and oh hell yes. Giving up on subtlety, Dean shoves his hands under the layers of flannel and thermal and t-shirt, palms sliding up the sharply cut bones of Cas's hips and over warm skin to settle low on his back, following the outlines of bones and faint ridges of scars he wants to learn by touch as well by sight, Cas's history written into his skin. "Werewolf."

Dean raises his eyebrows, spreading his hand out to the right of Cas's spine and finding all four. Sliding a thumb along the outermost, he feels the thick scar tissue beneath the deceptively thin, raised lines. "Eighteen, twenty months?"

"Sixteen and a half," Cas answers, smiling faintly. "I heal at the same rate as a human, just one that doesn't have their resources divided to fight infection. Or so Vera thinks."

"She'd know." It takes a minute for him to get this is an invitation, that if Dean wants to know, he can ask and Cas wants to answer. Dean has a list and it only grows longer, but on further thought, it's the kind of list where show and tell should be done in nakeder conditions. On a bed. Freeing one hand, he tucks Cas's hair back, knowing he'll never get tired of how Cas stills when he does that, and leans forward, breathing, "You gotta tell me about that sometime," before tasting Cas's smile.