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Kindness of a Stranger

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Kindness of a Stranger
By Anne Higgins

Two Months Ago

Over. It was really over. Dean Winchester lowered the now empty colt and stared at the body in front of him. White sparks still crackled faintly in the bullet hole between the yellow-eyed bastard's eyes. Dead. The demon who had killed his mother 22 years ago was finally dead. By his hand. And he hadn't a clue how he'd done it.

He tore his gaze away from the dead, seeking the living. His brother struggled up off the warehouse floor, his face covered with deep gashes from his battle with the daevas. Need to get holy water on those fast or they'd scar and end Sam's reign as the prettiest princess in all the land. And how the hell could even his thoughts crack jokes at a time like this? "Sammy?"

"'m okay," he murmured the weirdest look Dean had ever seen on such a messed up face. Almost like bliss. Made Dean's stomach twist, but it didn't really surprise him. Murdering Jessica Moore hadn't been the demon's brightest move. Had transformed Sam's motto from 'I'm done with hunting' into 'I can't rest until I get the thing that killed Jess.'

Dean had to look away, however focusing on their equally battered, but miraculously alive, father didn't do much to ease his churning gut. John Winchester wore almost the same look of blissful satisfaction as his youngest son. Didn't feel right taking so much pleasure out of killing anything with a human face. Not that Dean hadn't wanted it dead. Not that he wasn't glad it was dead. But it had been wearing a human body and whoever the poor sap had been, he was as dead as Yellow-Eyes.

He shifted his attention away from his rejoicing family and back to the demonic one decorating the upper floor of the warehouse. During the taunting phase of the evening Yellow-Eyes had said the demon possessing some college chick named Meg Masters was his daughter. Son was in the unknown younger male body. Add those three to the two people the demons had slaughtered to lure first the Winchester brothers, then their father into this trap and the collateral damage on this clusterfuck was too high for the satisfied grins worn by his father and brother.

His stomach twisted again and he dropped to his hands and knees, heaving up what remained of the bar munchies he'd gobbled up earlier in the evening. His shadow contorted in sympathy, dancing in the light of the flare Sam had used to banish the daevas. He wretched again, bile filling his mouth, but the rebellion of his body helped his mind to focus and he managed to recover the sequence of tonight's playtime.

Meg had lured them here, set the daevas on them, then snagged Dad when he'd followed them into the trap just like the bitch had planned. Yellow Eyes and junior had showed when she'd given them the all clear. Real brave of 'em. Let the gal do all the work, then get here in time for the torture and taunting events. Been focused on Dad. Dean and Sam had freed themselves. Smashed the altar making the demons lose some control of their demonic pit bulls, but not near enough to win the day. Though it had given them time to free Dad. Somewhere in there a freaking colt of all things had ended up in Dean's hands. He thought he remembered Dad throwing it to him, too besieged by the shadow demons to use it himself. Sam had set off the flare at the same time Dean had started firing. Over. All over. Unless. …

He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and stumbled back to his feet. They needed to get out of here before the flare died down enough for the daevas to regroup. Should disperse now that Dean had offed their summoners, but it could take until dawn for the magic holding them here to totally vanish.

Neither Sam nor Dad had moved or stopped staring at Yellow Eyes' body. Not helpful. At all. "Sam!" he barked, grabbing his brother's arm and giving it a shake. "Get Dad out of here."

Sam looked like he might protest, but Dean gave him another jerk, forcing him to see their father, who looked beat to hell. Not fun being the main attraction at a demonic fun fest. He nodded and stumbled toward Dad, while Dean grabbed some lighter fluid from Sam's over-packed, but highly useful duffle. Poured the stuff every place he could remember one of them shedding so much as a drop of blood, then laid down a strip of cloth to serve as a wick from the accelerant to the burning flare. Gave him a minute – but not a second more – to get his own battered ass out of there.

The upper floor went supernova with a few feet between Dean and the outer door, but Sam's gigantic paws closed on his arms and hauled him out into the safety of the street. He tried to work up the energy to say something about coming full circle, but decided to save his strength for the need to get a few miles between them and the approaching fire department.

Sam got them to where their vehicles waited, then slipped behind the wheel of Dad's truck while Dean followed the retreat out of Chicago in the Impala. Dean would have liked to have kept driving for at least a few hours, but knew Sam had the right of it when he pulled into a small hotel only a few miles outside of the major suburbs. A glance in his baby's mirrors confirmed he looked the least messed up of the three of them, so he wiped away what blood he could, then went to the office to book a room.

A couple of minutes later he tossed Sam the key and said, "Get Dad inside. I'll grab our stuff." Once inside they split the labor again. Dean got busy with laying down salt lines and some extra-heavy duty sigils to make certain they could risk sleeping, while Sam got Dad, then himself washed down. Thing like a daeva meant first aid wasn't a matter of needles and tread. Took the sizzle of holy water against demonic contamination to treat a wound. Even the worst of their injuries would be gone within a day, two at the most, without the faintest of scars.

When Dean finished up, he turned to find Dad sound asleep in one bed and Sam sprawled all over the other. "Sammy?"

A snorting snore answered him. Both out for the count. Peachy. Dean sighed, took care of his own injuries then curled up in the bathtub with a blanket and a pillow. He slept like shit, of course. Soon as he'd dosed enough to ease his exhaustion, he crawled out of the tub long enough to leave a note, book the room next door, set up his own protection wards, then face-plant his stiff and aching body on a reasonably comfortable bed. As he fell asleep a second time, he tried not to think this was a sign of things to come, but he knew better.


Took a couple of days to shake off the exhaustion of … well, Dean supposed, in a lot of ways, the last 22 years. At least Sam and Dad slept it off. Dean? He was too busy dreading what came next so he tossed and turned a lot. Dreams pretty much sucked when he got that far. Day three Sam called Stanford and confirmed he would return at the start of the fall semester. Even had time to do the 'sleep for a month' thing he'd said he wanted before he had to go. Awesome. Even better, with Yellow Eyes dead or maybe seeing Sam all grown up and in badass action, most of Dad's fear about him being on his own at school had vanished.

So Dean got to sit there silently nursing his coffee while Dad gave Sam the 'I'm proud of you, son, and you have to do what feels right for you' speech. And little brother was all 'gee, shucks, thanks, Dad, you're the greatest.' Did nothing for Dean's sour stomach. Fuck his life anyway. Still he held out some hope Dad might clap him on the shoulder and say 'let's hit the road, son.' Except no.

Instead John Winchester sat there and started talking about a case in Wisdom, Minnesota back in January of 1995. About a pretty nurse named Kate Milligan he'd met when he'd ended up in the local ER. And yeah, Dad-sex, eew. Dad looked amused by his sons' discomfort, then he dropped the bombshell. Told them about a phone call four years ago. Seemed they had a half-brother. Adam. Who'd be sixteen come September. "He's a good kid," Dad said, although it was hard for Dean to hear over the ringing in his ears. "Still don't know if it's the right thing, but I've never told him the truth about what's out there." He shrugged. "Got through more than a decade without knowing it, and I've got a friend in the sheriff's department who keeps an eye out for anything sniffing around."

Dad got up and poured himself a cup of coffee, then talked about how maybe ignorance might keep Adam and his mom safe. Never mind it sort of contradicted everything he ever said or did with his other sons. "I think you'd like him," he said, but he was looking at Sam, not Dean. Made sense when he started going on about the kid getting good grades and being an Eagle Scout. All the shit a dad could be proud of. Like Sam almost was. But Dean had never been.

Even worse Dean could tell how much Dad wanted to be part of the rest of Adam's life. To take him to baseball games and on fishing trips. Be there for the big sixteenth birthday and all the birthday's to come. Yeah, it was clear as glass. If John Winchester ever hunted again, it would be a part-time gig and close to good old Wisdom. So Sammy and Dad had a plan. And Dean? Dean was on his fucking own.

Never one for chick-flick moments or long goodbyes, the next morning Dean checked out of the motel before his father and brother woke up. So they wouldn't think something had grabbed him, he left Dad's old cell phones along with a note. Good luck. D.

Two Weeks Ago

Castiel Novak glared at his computer far more irritated at how long straightening out the firm's books had taken versus feeling satisfied by a job well done. He wondered what his brother's reaction would be if he recommended the firing of every last person in the billing department. Would certainly give him a sense of satisfaction, but he supposed Gabriel would see it as a sign of PTSD instead of righteous indignation over the biggest accounting foul-up he'd seen since his discharge last summer. No, that wasn't accurate. It was the biggest crapfest he'd seen in his entire civilian career.

Wholesale-firings not possible and SEAL policy against having former members carrying around C4, he swallowed down the dredges of his last cup of coffee and set about figuring out the whodunit behind the mess. Didn't surprise him too much when an hour's work later everything traced back to the local head honcho's eldest son. The heir apparent with no interest in following in his mother's footsteps. Castiel understood the feeling if not what almost certainly had to be willful sabotage.

Well aware of the mother's admiration of his blue eyes and the tousled-hair look his younger sister assured him he rocked big time, he invited her out. Over drinks he told her not everyone was cut out for a business career and how trapped a child could feel when faced with a parent's dreams. Made it sound like his own story – which it was -- but she got the message as evidenced by the personnel change when he arrived the next morning.

"So you're headed home," his brother asked when he called.

"Yes and no."

"You know, baby bro, you don't do that covert ops stuff anymore. You can just tell me what you're up to."

He smiled. "A man must keep in practice."

"Cassie –"

"Fine. I'm going to rent a car and take my time driving home."

There was a long pause, then, "If the next time I hear from you is a postcard from Afghanistan. …"

"My reasons for leaving the service were far more involved than an incompatibility with 'Don't Ask/Don't Tell.' I will not be reenlisting."

"Humor me and call me every night."

"Yes, mother. Speaking of whom. …"

"I'll let her know, but you won't be able to duck her calls forever."

"A man can try."

Gabriel snorted, then signed off with, "Good luck with that."

Yes, he supposed he would need it.


Dean hit the wall right shoulder first. White-hot pain lanced through him as the joint dislocated, then again when the poltergeist released him, sending him crashing to the floor and a second shoulder blow.

"Fuck!" he cursed, kicking through the dry wall. A table started zipping across the room toward his unprotected rib cage, but the stupid pissed-off spirit had thrown him right where he needed to be and he tossed the last bag of herbs into the hole with the arm-fist combo he could still move. Exit one loser ghost, stage right.

Supernatural momentum lost, the table skittered to a halt a few inches away saving him from yet another jolt, and he slowly got himself up off the floor. Sweating and heart racing from the pain, he made his way over to the nearest door jam, grit his teeth, then slammed his dislocated shoulder against it.

"Son of a bitch," he hissed as the ball snapped back into place with the same lovely level of pain that had announced its departure. Without the threat of further injury keeping him going, he dropped to his knees and threw up. Made him feel guilty, then he had to laugh. Playing 'dodge the polterbitch' had pretty much trashed the furniture and he was worried about what little his stomach could bring up from last night's dinner. Still he found himself shuffling toward the kitchen in search of something to clean it up with instead of heading for the door.

Damn, was there an inch of his body he hadn't managed to bruise? Again. Been one walking mass of bumps and bruises for the better part of a week now. Started with the wendigo he'd deep fried in Montana. Bitch had gotten in a few good licks before Dean had toasted its ass, then a salt and burn in Wyoming had gone south long enough for his body to become far too intimate with more than a few gravestones. Now this. Made him wonder how Dad had done this on his own for so long. Almost enough to call and ask, but he figured the answer would boil down to 'not a fuck up like you and why are you bothering me?' So pass on that. Really, really didn't want to add the bad names to the sticks-and-stones attacks.

Besides, he hadn't talked to Dad or Sam in three weeks. No need to break the streak now. Not wanting to live through another long silence from his family, he'd blocked their numbers from his phone at the same time he'd disabled the GPS. That way he could pretend they'd actually tried to call or text, had tried to find him by tracking his cell. Not that he really thought they'd bother. Still if he managed to live until June, maybe he'd go ahead and call Dad on Father's Day. Always had when they'd been separated, but oh, wait. He'd be spending it with Adam, maybe even Sammy. No need for Dean to put a loser-pale on the party.

Miraculously he spotted a roll of paper towels as soon as he entered the kitchen, although it took him a few minutes to pick through the debris to reach it. Again he was struck with how freaking stupid this was, but he still wet the paper, cleaned up his mess, then flushed it down the toilet. He glanced around one last time before getting his battered ass out the door. Not much left untouched, and he couldn't help think how much faster two could have gotten the job done. Might have saved a lot of damage, but hey, someone wanting to work with Dean? That was just crazy talk.

With a groan he eased himself into the Impala. Swallowed back another urge to vomit and had to really focus to get his heartbeat to settle down. Shit. Was a freaking poltergeist not a chupacabra or – Deciding naming all the worst crap that could rain down on his parade might be tempting fate, he opted to shut up and drive. On his way out of town, he called the family, told them it was safe to come return to what was left of their home. Apologized for not being able to do something to minimize the damage, then did the only thing he could do – hung up. God, he felt like such a useless douche.

Drove a couple hours west before he decided he couldn't tell if the churning in his stomach was nausea or hunger, so he might as well stop and try to eat something. He was shivering by the time he pulled into a roadside diner pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but Arizona towns could be like that. Whole lot of nothing, then bang! Small town. He counted it as a win, and parked his baby near the front entrance.

Clenching his jaw against the aches and pains, he pulled himself out of the car, but kept shivering despite the sun overhead. Just his luck. Some sort of freaky cold snap in the middle of the freaking dessert. He shuffled around to the trunk, then opened his duffle bag. He'd taken most of the gear he and Sam had when he'd left figuring Sam wouldn't need it much at Stanford. Was pretty okay with that, but he had more trouble with hanging on to Dad's journal. Knew the man probably wanted it back, but Dean didn't have the damned thing memorized yet, and he wasn't going into semi-retirement, so yeah, he'd kept it. To make up for it, he'd left the family photos they'd picked up when they'd done the gig in Lawrence last fall. Gutted him to part with them, but he figured they deserved better than to end up locked away in some evidence box when he inevitably zigged when he should have zagged and ended up in some John Doe #666 plot. What else could he expect when 'Dean Winchester' was already dead and buried. Fuck.

He pulled the only personal item of Sam's he'd kept out of his duffle. One of his gigantic brother's old hoodies. It was soft, warm and big enough it didn't seem oppressive when his skin felt overly sensitive. And hey, basic black so it went with everything. He snorted at himself, then slipped it on.

Once inside, he flinched at the smell of food. So that was a no on something to eat, but he still needed to drink something. Exercising the better part of valor, he settled on the counter stool closest to the rest rooms. Cleaned up enough vomit in the last few days thank you very much. The waitress gave him a wary look as he approached and he glanced around. Everyone else was in shorts and sandals. So not a freak cold wave. Maybe even the other way around. Meant he was coming down with the flu on top of everything else. Awesome.

In the meantime he must look like some sort of addict in withdrawal. He gave her a slight smile. "Think I'd better go with chicken soup, crackers and ginger ale."

Best he could do to signal sick versus 'desperate for his next fix.' Her body language shifted from 'afraid about to be killed' to 'great more cold germs.' Only took her a minute to return with his order, and he swallowed hard at the scent of the soup. He'd really only wanted the ginger ale, but he'd thought maybe, besides cementing his sick-status, he could nibble around the edges. Instead it was turning his stomach.

Moving as fast as he could, he headed for the men's room.


Some old habits not among those he intended to break, Castiel looked up when the bell over the diner door jingled. A young man moving like a very old one, made his way to the counter much to the consternation of the few late-afternoon occupants. Bundled up despite the heat, pale, sweating and obviously in some pain, he looked far from a picture of health, but he had the air of someone seeking refuge versus a place to rob, so he returned to his computer.

Despite the remote location, the small eatery did indeed have a wi-fi signal. A good one at that. So he'd taken the opportunity to check his email and enjoy an extra cup of coffee along with an excellent slice of apple pie. Part of being on an open-ended road trip was never having to hurry on his way when he'd prefer to linger.

Vaguely he heard the new arrival rattle off an order designed to put everyone at ease, and Castiel had to pause to reevaluate him. Obviously sick, yet aware of how others perceived him and trying to help. It reminded him of an old friend or two and centered his full attention on the man at the counter. Broad-shouldered, slightly taller than Castiel, vulnerable, but didn't like it. Sick, but that was not all. Something about the way he shifted on the stool reminded Castiel of a time he'd had to shove a team member's shoulder back in place in the middle of a fire fight. No time for pain killers and mobility had meant survival so no sling or strapping it down. Not the best solution, but a survivable one.

His target had obviously suffered a similar injury with an equally crude remedy quite recently. But he could see signs of other injuries. Discolorations marking old and newer bruises, a reluctance to move the spine or lift either arm. All reminded him of a soldier in a hot zone. Injured and sick. Displaying symptoms he'd seen before. Certain of it, Castiel got to his feet and started toward him even as the waitress returned with the requested soup.

One rapid swallow, two, then the young man was up and disappearing into the men's room. Castiel looked at the waitress. "Is there a doctor in this town?"

She nodded. "Her office is just up the road."

"Please summon her." Trusting she would do so, he followed his quarry. He found him kneeling in the first of two stalls, the door unsecured. He shifted even as he heaved, getting his eyes on whoever had entered. Just as Castiel would have done. "A doctor is coming," he said to announce his desire to go in the 'not a threat' category.

But mess that he was he looked at Castiel with eyes that assessed versus simply seeing. And if he proved to be even remotely what Castiel thought he was, he would see a man in worn jeans and a plain blue t-shirt who held himself like a soldier. "I am Castiel," he said. "I served with SEAL team 8 for five years. Will you let me help you?"

He heaved again and a grimace of pain twisted his face, but his gaze never quite left Castiel. Definitely a man accustomed to the need to watch his back. He spit into the toilet, then said, "Ch-Christo."

Latin. Name of God. Surly someone hadn't named their defenseless child. … "Is that your name?" he asked tilting his head in confusion.

Something about his question made the stricken man ease his guard. "No … Dean."

Ah, now that suited him. "Where are you injured, Dean?" he asked, moving to the sink.

"Just the flu," came the soft answer.

An evasion, not a denial. He wet a handful of paper towels with cool tap water, then gently pressed them against the back of Dean's neck. "No, I believe you are suffering from sepsis." More commonly known as blood poisoning, but Dean groaned signaling he understood.

"Fuck," he mumbled, then he passed out.

Castiel thought the sentiment summed up things nicely.


Dean dreamed of flying. Not a plane. Angel. Blue eyes, low voice. Angel of Thursday. A smirk then the angel snatched up Thor's hammer and vanished into the clouds. Left to fly with his own wings. Too close to the sun. Hot. Falling. Plunging to the ground. Through the ground. Cold. Cold as the grave. Angel. Pulling him out. Up into the sky. Too close to the sun. Hot. Burning. Falling again.


A large iced latte in one hand and his laptop case in the other, Castiel walked the few blocks between the café and the clinic. A stranger in a small town his daily walk, not to mention the drama of his arrival, had drawn more than a small amount of attention. But after three days he inspired nothing more than an exchange of polite smiles and nods of greeting. Uriel always had said he was too pretty to inspire the sort of unease someone trained to kill others with a raisin should.

He smiled slightly remembering the big man, then felt the usual pang of loss that always followed memories of his fallen comrades. He did not miss that aspect of his time as a SEAL, nor did he miss the foolish politics that often sent his team on questionable missions. But he did regret the feeling of satisfaction he'd experienced in knowing he was making the world a safer place.

Gabriel's voice sounded in his head, warning him not to go down that road again. He shook off the past, then turned his mind to the present as he walked through the clinic doors. He kept going through the doctor's office-like setting in the front, toward the back and the few rooms set aside for duty as the town's hospital. More specifically, the third door on the right

Fever-bright eyes turned in his direction. "Hey, Thursday," he muttered, proving it was one of his more lucid moments, even if he did insist on calling Castiel by a variety of nicknames. Castiel had become partial to Cas, but didn't really care for Thor. Had a mission by that name go wrong once and it had left a bad taste in his mouth – even if he did appreciate both the humor and the fact Dean got the connection between his name and all things related to Thursday.

"Good morning," he answered, setting down both coffee and computer on a table next to the comfortable chair he'd had brought into Dean's room. He had no more reason to hold this vigil than an intense dislike for the concept of anyone dying alone. "How are you feeling today?" As he spoke he reached out a hand, letting it rest a few millimeters from Dean's face. Instantly the young man nuzzled against it, proving yet again whatever else he was, his charge was affection-starved. Or at least felt he was.

"Hot," he whispered, but within moments he began to shiver – not due to the fever, but yet another temperature plunge. So little of what Dean suffered made sense. Someone suffering from sepsis generally had either a too high or too low body temperature while Dean's body plunged rapidly from one extreme to the next. The only good news being it kept his high fever spikes from lasting long enough to cook his brain inside his skull. Dean whimpered, "Cold."

"Tell me who to call, Dean," Castiel tried ordering him this time. Pleas had utterly failed to do anything more than let him know there was someone out there who should know what was happening.

A few seconds passed and for a moment he dared hope this time he'd get a useful answer, but then Dean sighed and gave him the same one he had from the beginning. "Won't care."

Castiel fought to keep the scowl off his face as Dean's eyes lost all focus signaling his decent into whatever icy dream gripped him on the downward slide. "That can't be true," he said, then sighed. "I supposed I could be blinded by how beautiful you are." Even standing on the threshold of Death's door, it was impossible not to notice and could indeed be coloring his judgment, but he had survived two tours in Afghanistan and three in Iraq by trusting his instincts, and they practically screamed Dean was a good man. Despite what he'd found in the car.

The first day he'd done nothing. Dr. Katherine Lee had seemed to know what she was doing when she'd swept in to take over Dean's care. She'd found an infected gash on the injured shoulder blade, cleaned it out, pumped Dean full of antibiotics, then started him on IV drips to rehydrate him. It should have done the trick. In fact it had. With an amazing swiftness all markers of an infection in Dean's tissue and blood stream had vanished. No, not amazing. Unnatural -- which fit well with the fact his body continued to react as if the infection not only remained, but was worsening.

Determined to find answers, Castiel had stolen Dean's car keys and searched every inch of the classic car he drove. He'd found a variety of credit cards and law enforcement IDs – all with different names on them – an extremely impressive arsenal and a journal that read like an urban fantasy novel. Or the ravings of a madman. Should all have added up to 'bad guy getting his karmic due' and just in case maybe someone should handcuff him to his hospital bed. Instead Castiel had said nothing and set about reading the journal from cover to cover. A fast reader, he'd finished before he'd fallen into a troubled sleep, plagued by memories of something unexplainable glimpsed on a lonely desert night. Something that had to have been an illusion brought on by residual heat and battle fatigue. Except the unexplainable had been explained half-way through the journal. Cockatrice. A monster with the head of a cock, wings of a fowl, and tail of a dragon. It had slain Rachel with a glance. According to the journal it would battle itself into exhaustion if it saw its reflection in a mirror. Then a simple bullet to the brain would kill it. A most informative book. Except it had told him nothing of how to save Dean.

Dr. Lee came in and checked on Dean while Castiel brooded, then turned to him with a grim expression. "He's showing signs of organ failure." While technically a violation of ethics since he was not a member of Dean's family, she had kept him informed, sharing Castiel's opinion that even a stranger sitting watch was better than no one.

Before he'd found the journal, this would have been the moment when Castiel would have called for an air ambulance to a far more sophisticated facility. But now he knew this had to be some sort of … supernatural illness. Something medicine could not touch, but someone must have the answer. Perhaps the person who had written the journal. Unfortunately, it was carefully written to hide any clue as to who that might be, but he knew it couldn't be Dean since the earliest entries dated back to his childhood. "How long does he have?"

"A couple of days at the most. Assuming it follows a more conventional timeline."

He nodded. "I will stay with him." Once he was alone again with Dean, he said, "And I will find a way to save you."

Green eyes focused on him and he would have flushed in embarrassment if he were a different sort of man. "'kay if you can't," the young man whispered. "So tired … being alone."

In that one rare lucid moment Castiel saw so much pain in those eyes, he found it difficult to breathe. But time was one thing he couldn't waste. "What hurt you?" he asked, gripping Dean's hand.

The eyes fluttered, the skin growing cool to the touch. "Damnit! Tell me!" he ordered with all the authority he had once wielded in the battlefield.

For a moment he thought all was lost, then Dean answered, "Daeva."

It took three hours of research and phone calls taking him deeper and deeper into Dean's world before he finally got his answer. A five minute talk with a man named Bobby Singer and Castiel was reaching into his pocket for the small silver crucifix his sister made him carry for luck. While he listened to Singer rant about 'idjit' Winchesters and how this time he really was going to fill John's ass full of lead, he sterilized it with alcohol, rinsed it with saline, then slipped it carefully into Dean's IV bag. A lapsed, but once good Catholic boy, he easily handled the Latin blessing both Singer and the journal recommended. Instant holy water.

"Where is the damned fool? His father and brother will wanna know," Singer asked, when he'd finished.

A need to protect Dean surged through him and he said, "No, he does not want them called. Should this change I will contact them."

Bobby huffed. "Never met a better man or one so certain he's worthless."

"In my experience, Mr. Singer, such feelings usually originate with family." Castiel came from a large one, and few emotional issues – good and bad – were unrepresented.

"Now, just a minute, who the hell are you?" Singer sounded angry and perhaps a little embarrassed at only now realizing he'd merely introduced himself as a friend of Dean's before catching the other man up in the need to save him.

"Castiel Novak."

"Balls," Singer snapped back, then there was a beat most likely while he processed the odds someone would chose that particular false identity. Generally, when dropping the Novak name, Castiel always recommended going with Gabriel or their cousin, Zachariah, who while unquestionably a dick, was also in the middle of his fourth Senate term. Personally, Castiel believed Zachariah's presence explained a lot about the current state of government. "I … what the fuck?"

No doubt the sort who did this hunting work did their best to avoid people like him, and Castiel had never been one to ignore an advantage. "I do not wish to be your enemy, sir." It was a smooth way of saying 'do you really want to piss me off, bitch?' Gabriel would have been proud. "But I insist on Dean's wishes being respected."

Singer seemed to get the message, although he grumbled for a few minutes. "Fine, I guess those two idjits deserve to worry long as Dean wants 'em, too. But that boy's important to me, and I want in the loop. So you tell him I'll keep his damn secrets long as he wants, but he'd best call me."

"I will, sir." He tried to sound sincerely respectful, but Singer snorted, then hung up.

His attention no longer split, Castiel settled in to wait, his gaze intent on his young friend's face. To his relief, within an hour Dean's color looked better, the paleness fading without darkening into the flush of fever. It should not be long now. Then he would find out if the strange bond formed by his vigil would hold in health.


Dean's angel pulled him from the icy depths of Dante's Hell, but did carry him into the sky and abandon him to the burning of the sun. Instead he set him gently on the ground, kissed him, then vanished. A moment later Dean opened his eyes and knew he was not going to die. A large part of him, regretted this, but almost as if to chide him for such a thought, a warm hand squeezed his, then a low voice said, "That's it, time to be well again." Lips seemed to brush his forehead, but he hadn't quite managed to fully open his eyes enough to be certain. "I will get the doctor."

Before he could say no, stay, his angel left. No. Cas, had left. Not an angel.

"Mr. Winchester?" a woman's voice asked a short time later, and his eyes opened wide. How the hell had the doc known his real name? Fuck, he must have been delirious enough to blab, damned daevas. Huh? Where had that … oh, yeah. He could remember Cas' voice snapping like a drill sergeant -- like Dad's – demanding to know what had hurt him and the answer leaping into his brain. His holy water spit bath must have missed one of the wounds. Wouldn't have thought medicine would have helped, but he learned something new every day. "How are you feeling?"

"Fine." He would have given her the same answer if he were gushing blood from every limb, but it really wasn't much of an exaggeration. Was like waking up one morning after having the flu for days – wrung out, but more than ready to get out of a sick bed.

Dr. Lee gave him a skeptical look, then proceeded to do the usual 'poking and prodding doctor shit.' Felt even better by the time she was done and she didn't give him much of a fight when he asked her to remove the catheter so he could go to the bathroom like a big boy, please. Wouldn't take out the IV though, so he had to drag it along.

While he was washing his hands, the bathroom door opened. He yelped and spun trying to cover the whole 'flapping in the breeze' thing he had going with the hospital gown. Strong hands grabbed him, stopping his momentum before his arm and the IV needle could have a disagreement. "Damnit, Cas…" he trailed off when he saw what the man had dropped when he'd manhandled him. Towel, clothes and kit.

"I thought you might like to take a shower," Cas said, easing out the IV needle. Seemed to know what he was doing, so Dean decided not to worry about it.

Besides soap and hot water? Personal definition of paradise at the moment, and he heard himself say, "God, I love you."

"'Cas' will do. I find I rather like it," he said with a smile, then he left, closing the door behind him.

Dean had gone through the whole drill – teeth cleaned, showered, shaved -- and was pulling on his jeans when it sunk in that these were not the clothes he'd been wearing when he'd collapsed, but they were most definitely his clothes. Kit was, too. All of it stuff that had been in his duffle. In the trunk of the Impala.

He walked out of the bathroom and stared at where Cas was working away on a laptop. Before Dean could think of a sneaky way to ask if the guy had found the secret compartment, Cas said, "My brother gave me an iPhone for my birthday."

Huh? "That's nice?"

"As I suspected, the camera is good enough to record fingerprints."

Okay, Dean was officially not liking the direction this was going.

"I sent them to a former teammate."

Teammate? Yeah, okay, he vaguely remembered the conversation in the diner men's room and something about Cas being a SEAL.

"He works for NCIS now. Been out on a case, so he was just able to get back to me with your file." He tilted his head like some freaking curious bird. "You look remarkably well for someone who has been dead for more than a year."

"Yeah, um. …" Shit. "Is the … FBI gonna show up?"

"Why? The obviously misidentified body of your twin brother was found at the scene of the crime and buried. Case closed."

"Twin brother?"

"I'm thinking Sean Winchester has a nice ring to it."


"I have a less than scrupulous acquaintance who does very good work on identity papers. Between that, a body in the grave and you obviously not being dead, it should be more than enough to get the death certificate changed. Unless you want to be Sean?" Cas frowned. "Personally I think Dean suits you better."

"No, Dean's good. I like Dean."

"Excellent," he said, shutting down the laptop, but he frowned. "This really all should have been dealt with months ago."

Dean shrugged. "Kind of seemed like a good idea to be dead. At the time, I mean." Hadn't it? Or had he simply taken the punch and moved on like always? After all, Sam and Dad hadn't cared he'd been branded a serial killer and buried, so why should he?

Cas scowled. "Fingerprints. Still in the system."

Right. That probably did raise more questions than he wanted asked. Yeah, should have been dealt with by now. Hell, all they'd really needed to do was have him stand there next to the dead body and fake a nervous breakdown over someone looking just like him trying to kill his baby brother. But he and Sam both had gotten so used to covering up supernatural shit that they'd forgotten normal people would eagerly latch on to some sort of lame soap-opera crap about a long-lost killer twin rather than accept the reason Aunt Maude was acting so weird might equal shapeshifter versus senility. And, hey, good luck on the normal life thing, Sammy, because Winchesters obviously did not think like normal people. "Yeah, okay, fix it first thing on the 'to do' list."

"Good. We can leave for St. Louis in the morning."

Did that mean Cas was coming with him? He resisted the urge to jump around squealing something like 'goody, goody, gum drops, and went for a calm, "'We?'"

"Of course," Cas said, closing down his laptop. "I already paid two local boys to caravan my rental back to Phoenix, so unless you intend to strand me here, I'm coming with you." He stood up, got Dean's kit from the bathroom, then headed for the outer door. He paused and smirked. "Besides, I have your car keys."

His baby's keys? Dean yelped in indignation and scurried after Cas as he left the room. They were outside and halfway down the block before it occurred to Dean to worry about their abrupt exit. He was kind of used to sneaking out of clinics and hospitals, but this was less like sneaking and more like waltzing. "Um, what about? …" he made a vague gesture back toward the clinic.

"Bill's paid and you've completely recovered. I think poor Dr. Lee wants to write a paper about you."

His eyes widened. "Uh, that's not good."

"Not to worry, I gave the clinic a sizable donation in exchange for her discretion."

"Dude, you throw money around a lot. Who the hell are you? Besides Cas?" Which was an awesome thing to be, but still. …

"Castiel Novak."

Novak? Crap. "You mean one of the-"

Cas sighed. "For the record, most days I only claim my brother and sister."


"So help me, if the next words out of your mouth even remotely resemble 'why would someone like me want to hang out with you,' I will add spanking you to the 'to do' list."

Caught between outrage and 'yes, please' Dean clamped down his jaw. And not at all because he might have possibly been about to say something a lot like that. Okay, he got it. He needed to work on his issues, especially since they seemed to upset the dude with the hot blue eyes. "So, how about those Mets?"

That got him a glare, then a laugh. Score! Cas shifted what he was carrying to one hand. His freed up one reached around Dean, slipped into the back pocket of Dean's jeans, then pulled him snug up against his own body. Okay, he liked this and signaled his approval by wrapping his own arms around Cas' back. Kind of surprised him Cas was the shorter man. Seemed so larger than life Dean would have guessed he was taller than Sammy. Crap, he'd lost it, then decided that was cool, when Cas followed through with a kiss.

Oh, yum. He eagerly encouraged tongue involvement and totally forgot they were Frenching in the middle of a small-town sidewalk. Sort of. "So worth getting run out of town," he murmured when Cas finally drew back.

Another laugh dripping with the confidence of a man who could buy the whole place and run everyone else off, yet he still seemed really interested in Dean's sorry ass. Literally. The interested part. Not the sorry. Had a great ass and he knew it. "And that's one of the reasons I want you with me."

Dean thought the semantics were off there since they'd be using his car for their road trip, but decided not to argue about it. "Because I'm a great kisser?"

Another quick peck on the lips. "That, too," he said, then started walking again. "But you're also quite adorable."

"Make me sound like a kitten," he muttered, blushing as he fell back into step with him.

"Yes, a little spitting one with a fuzzed-out tail – had one just like you when I was a kid. Even had your eyes." Mirth danced in blue eyes. "Then there's the holy water issue."

Holy water? Guess modern medicine hadn't found a way to deal with daeva cooties. "So you did find the …"

"Secret compartment? Yes, an impressive collection. But while fascinating reading, the journal proved useless to my efforts to save you."

"Then how did you know to use holy water?"

"Intelligence gathering, accepting 'what is, not what should be' and refusing to give up figure prominently in my skill set." He gave Dean a dark look. "Had I not been here, you would have died. The thought of such a thing happening again is unacceptable."

He led Dean to a small, single-story motel, then to the room door nearest the Impala. Dean stopped a moment to coo over his baby, while Cas watched him from the doorway, clearly trying not to laugh. So deep, dark mood broken as planned. Besides, Dean had to make sure 'pala knew he'd missed her.

When he'd finished, Cas pushed open the door, saying, "I'll get us something to eat while you take a nap."

Briefly Dean considered protesting, but his body had been through a lot, and the truth was the short walk had kind of tired him out. Only thing was, "There's only one bed."

"Have we need of two?"

This was happening crazy fast, but the answer was easy, "No."

Cas smiled and gave him a gentle kiss. "Rest well."


"Castiel! How's your young man doing?" the diner's owner greeted him when he walked in. He and Ernestine had become friendly acquaintances over his numerous coffee runs during the last few days.

"Very well, thank you. And I believe more than ready for some of your excellent soup. And perhaps a turkey sandwich."

"And you?"

"I think the same. Plus a ginger ale and an iced tea, unsweetened."

"Coming right up."

He thought about it a moment, then shook his head. "No, he's napping. A cup of coffee first, I need to leave him be for at least an hour."

They chatted for a few minutes, then she left him to his laptop. He sent off a few emails, including one to Crowley about the needed identity set-up for the late, unlamented Sean Winchester. A prompt reply assured him everything would be waiting for them in St. Louis day after tomorrow – fee to the usual account, please. That taken care of, he sent his brother his 'resignation.'

As expected, his phone rang within a minute. "I did not reenlist," he answered.

There was a gusting sound as Gabriel no doubt breathed a sigh of relief. It took him only a second to recover. "So he got a nice ass?"

He'd not told Gabriel about Dean. Such comments were merely part of his brother's questionable style. "Very, and beautiful green eyes."

Gabriel laughed. "You dog, you! And, by the way, thank God! You've needed to get laid for years."

Castiel rolled his eyes. "I have hardly been celibate, merely discrete."

"Right. So, resigning."

"I find I have better things to do than running around trouble-shooting for the family business." Yes, he was good at it, but so where others. His 'job' had merely been a way for Gabriel to keep him busy and away from recruitment offices. "It is far too hypocritical to keep telling our local administrators to stop hiring idiots, especially idiots related to them."

Another laugh. "So something better to do? That translate as living off your trust fund and banging Pretty Eyes?"

Castiel knew he would tell is brother everything. Eventually. But it was a tale better discussed in person and with some measure of proof or he would confirm every fear Gabriel had about his having a breakdown. "Yes, actually." There was more than enough money than he could spend in five lifetimes. Even if he had to keep spending as much as he had this past week.

"I get to meet this one."

"That, too, is part of the plan."

"Good. Got a meeting, so I need to go. Be careful, baby bro. And tell him-"

"Yes, of course, you'll kick his ass if he hurts me. What happened to 'I know you can kill a man with a raisin?'"

Gabriel scoffed. "'Scary SEAL training does not trump 'awesome big brother' power."

Castiel laughed. "No, it doesn't."

"Now, go do everything I'd do." He could almost see Gabriel's eyes wagging. "It's fun."

He shook his head. For all his bawdy talk, Gabriel had been deliriously happily married for eleven years, and Castiel knew he was faithful to her, because that lady? She even scared Cas. "Give my love to Kali."

"Will do. Love you, bye."

He went the text route to let Anna know his change in plans. It was a far less suggestive conversation, but she too ended it with a threat on Dean's person because 'little sister' power was apparently even more awesome than 'big brother.' He told her to argue that point with Gabriel as he was staying out of it, then they ended with the usual 'love you, byes.' It was their sibling thing.

The easy jobs done, he made a strategic decision and sent his mother an email that he was extending his sabbatical indefinitely, but would see her as planned on her birthday. A blissful five months from now.

When he looked up, three hours had slipped by and the dinner crowd was beginning to drift in. He gave Ernestine the go-ahead on his order plus two chocolate shakes. Dean needed calories to restore some of the weight his fever had burned off, and the ice cream should settle nicely in his stomach.

Dean was still sleeping when he returned to the room, but the scent of the soup seemed to wake him. All soft, and sleepy-eyed he padded over to Castiel and settled on the corner of his chair, snuggling up against him, instead of sitting on one of his own.

The healthy scent and warmth radiating from him, made Castiel smile as he coaxed Dean into eating. Something the young man began to do with enthusiasm once he was more awake.

Clean up was a simple matter of pushing the remains into the trash can, and suddenly they were alone in a room with one bed and everything done that needed doing. For a few moments they stared at each other, then it was Dean who stood up and held out his hand, "Take me to bed."

He grasped his hand, walked with him to the bed, then tried not to preen as Dean settled on the mattress, watching Castiel strip down to his boxers with the green eyes he loved so much. His mind faltered on a masculine word that conveyed the same power as 'temptress,' but whatever it was, Dean was the embodiment of it.

Still, when he slid beneath the sheets and took him into his arms, he felt he had to murmur, "If you wish, we can merely sleep."

Dean's boxer-clad pelvis rocked gently against his hip and he could feel the erection matching his own. "Been alone for so long," he whispered, "I need. …"

"Shhh, I feel the same." He pushed boxers aside and shifted on top of Dean. Slowly, gently they explored each other's bodies with hands and lips. Chased away the loneliness with closeness, the cold with the splash of seed against his stomach, his own release spilling deep inside his new lover.

Afterwards, they drifted toward sleep in each other's arms, Dean's head resting on Castiel's shoulder. "Cas?" he whispered.


"How do you know I don't just want you for your money or something? How do you know you can trust me?"

In truth it should be a great concern. But it was not. Nor was such blind faith unusual in his family. Gabriel and Kali had fallen in love instantly – Castiel had been at the party where they'd met and had watched it happen as they'd danced. Anna had fallen with equal swiftness for Balthazar. 'What can I say, baby bro?' Gabriel had said when he'd expressed his wonder over this at their sister's wedding reception. 'We Novaks form profound bonds. Fast and permanent. All you can do is hang on for the ride and enjoy it.'

It was too long a story and sleep too near, so he smiled into the growing darkness, thinking of a stricken young man looking up at him from a men's room floor. "I saw it in your eyes."