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The worst thing about exsanguination, Castiel thinks, was that it could take time.

A long time if one knew what one was doing.

The people who have trussed him up like a Thanksgiving turkey and splayed him out half-naked and bleeding on an altar are quite likely crazy, but on the exsanguination front, they know what they are doing.

He isn’t sure what is worse: the cutting sting of the razor blade as it traces out an ancient rune on his chest, the biting cold of the marble slab beneath him, or the twisting betrayal of his partner, Uriel.

He and Uriel had been working together in the FBI for years and while they didn’t go to baseball games or go fishing or hang out at one another’s houses, he thought they worked well together. He thought they shared a certain camaraderie.

He certainly never expected Uriel to chloroform him and carve him up like a fine piece of steak.

They’d been tracking this particular cult for months. Steeped in demon worship and Judeo-Christian mythology, they believed they were bringing about the apocalypse. Raising Lucifer from Hell.

Castiel never would have guessed in a thousand years that Uriel was a member of the cult. That he’d been a member since he was a young boy. That they needed a sacrifice, needed a betrayal to open the gates of hell.

And a whole lot of blood, apparently.

Castiel keeps his eyes focused straight upward, never once looking at Uriel as he spouts off on why he is doing this, on what he hopes to accomplish, on how he’s dreamed of this day since he was a boy.

Uriel even went so far as to say he was sorry Castiel hadn’t been responsive to any of the subtle attempts Uriel had tried to lure him into the cult. Uriel had been poking at Castiel’s belief system for months, trying to find a way in, and each time had been shut out.

Castiel supposes this was the end of his life. In this dark, deserted house, miles from anywhere. Hearing strangers chant around him, seeing candlelight flickering out of the corner of his eye as he stares at the intricately drawn runes and talismans on the ceiling. He’s been studying ritual lore for years and even in his death, he is trying to memorize the pattern, trying to make out each shape and line, trying to figure out what it all meant, what it all adds up to.

Trying to ignore the feeling of blood running down his sides and pooling beneath him on the cold marble slab.

He’d struggled against his bonds when he first woke up, when he first realized his position - laid out on a slab, wrists and ankles tied down, naked from the waist up. He’d struggled against Uriel as he leaned over him and started carving signs into his chest. Struggled more when Uriel took his blade and cut shallow but wide gashes in each of his wrists.

He tried to twist his hands free, hoping that maybe the blood would make his skin slippery enough to slide through the rough rope. He wasn’t sure what he thought he would do once he got free, surrounded by Uriel’s acolytes as he was. He just knew he had to try.

That seemed like a long time ago. As knowledgeable as he is, he recognizes each stage of hypovolemic shock as it comes. He can feel his heart, fast and light. He can feel the cold sheen of sweat on his upper lip, his forehead, his neck. Castiel is cold now, tired. Sluggish and slow. He blinks lazily at the ceiling, the dark lines painted seeming to swim and shift above him. Moving like bored snakes, curling and twisting. Uriel is saying something in a language he doesn’t recognize. All consonants and clicks, growls and grunts.

He doesn’t recognize the sound of a shotgun when it first rings out. It is followed by a strange burning and choking sound. He turns his head to one side and sees a tall, young man plunge a knife into one of the acolytes. Again comes the sound of burning and choking as the acolyte seems to flicker and burn from the inside before falling to the ground. Castiel blinks again at the sound of several more rounds of a gun.

Then screaming.

Then chanting.

Latin.

Over his years of working with the supernatural, the bizarre, the cultish and the strange, he’s acquired a strange conglomeration of skills, one of which was Latin.

He thinks he was hearing an exorcism.

He turns his head and sees several of the acolytes twitching, retching, shrieking. Several fall to their knees and then…

He blinks again, not sure what he sees as black smoke plumes from their mouths, swirling thick and dark above their heads, streaming to the windows and out into the night.

The bodies fall over.

It’s quiet.

Darkness starts creeping in around the edges of his vision and he can’t feel his legs anymore.

A face appears in front of him. A beautiful face. Another man, his features forming an expression of worry and focus. Castiel can make out the green of the man’s irises, the candlelight bathing his features in warm, soft light. All perfect proportions and pristine angles.

“Hey,” says the young man. “You’re going to be okay.”

The man leans over Castiel and unties first one wrist, then the other. He takes his eyes off Cas’ face for a moment, his face directed to the side. Cas traces the lines of his profile with his eyes, still just as lovely from the side as it had been from the front.

“Sammy, you calling an ambulance?”

Faintly, as thought it was coming from far away, down a tunnel, Castiel can hear the other man, Sammy, dialing a cell phone and speaking urgently in it.

The first man, the one with the startling green eyes, is wrapping a bandage around one of Castiel’s wrists, intently focused on his task. Castiel has to try the name four times before he manages any sound behind it.

“Uriel.”

The young man looks up at him. “What?”

Castiel swallows dryly and whispers the name again. “Uriel.” He has to know what happened to Uriel.

“Is that your name? Uriel?”

Castiel manages a small shake of his head, his lips moving, trying to form the words. The young man is working on the other wrist now but seems to be familiar with his task, able to lean his ear close to Cas’ lips to listen as his fingers worked.

“Partner. Betrayed me. Uriel,” he manages.

“He the big dude who was spouting off when we showed?”

Cas nods slightly.

“Sorry, man. He got away. But we’ll be on the lookout for him.”

He feels bandages being pressed against his chest and is surprised when it doesn’t hurt.

“What’s the ETA on that ambulance, Sam?” The man’s voice is terse. Tense.

“Ten minutes. Dean, we gotta leave before the cops get here.”

Dean. The beautiful stranger has a name. Dean.

“Just a few more minutes,” Dean says.

Castiel sighs slightly when blissful warmth drapes over him, envelopes him, surrounds him. A jacket. The man’s - no, Dean’s - jacket. It smells like gasoline and gun oil. The warm weight of it makes Castiel want to close his eyes and sleep.

“Hey, now. No sleeping.”

Castiel feels a light tapping on his face, a pressure on his shoulder and he blinks open his eyes. His thoughts, getting slower and more sluggish, are just now processing the words of his two rescuers. He frowns slightly and tries to speak, again, his lips moving before any sound comes out.

“What?” Dean asks, turning his ear again to Castiel’s lips.

“I am the police. FBI,” Castiel whispers.

Dean turns his head and grins at him. It’s stunning.

“Yeah? Well, in the interest of full disclosure I should probably tell you that I’m wanted in six states. Dean Winchester.”

”Dean!” the other man, Sam, exclaims.

Dean ignores Sam, his eyes focused on Cas. “You gonna arrest me?”

Castiel blinks a few times, his world going fuzzy and grey until he manages to reply.

“No.”

Dean smiles at him. “What’s your name?”

“Cas.”

Dean’s eyebrows go up slightly. “Cas? What’s that short for something? Wait, don’t tell me. Casper?” Dean asks.

Cas manages a tiny shake of his head. In the distance, he can hear the faint sounds of sirens. Dean must hear it too because he turns his head slightly and his eyes narrow, like he’s judging the distance of the ambulance by its sound.

The dark edges of his vision close in further. He can’t see Sam out of the corner of his eye anymore, can’t make out any of the acolytes on the floor, can’t see anything but Dean. Dean, who is turning back to him and frowning slightly.

“Dean,” Sam says, a warning tone coloring his voice.

Dean ignores him. “Castor?” Dean tries. “You don’t have a brother named Pollux, do you?” he teases lightly.

“Castiel.”

Dean’s lips quirk slightly. “Castiel? What’s that from?”

He only means to blink, but his eyelids are heavy, so heavy and he can’t open them again.

“Dean, we gotta go, man.”

“Cas? Cas? Open your eyes, the paramedics are almost here.”

“Dean!”

Then everything goes dark and silent.

***

Castiel looks around his office and sighs at the mess.

It shouldn’t be surprising that Internal Affairs tore it apart. After all, he shared it with Uriel.

But did they have to be such slobs about it?

He sets his briefcase down by the door, takes off his new trench-coat and suit jacket and surveys the mess. There are papers strewn about, and a clean spot where Uriel’s computer used to be. His own computer is turned off but Castiel is sure that all the files have been thoroughly searched. He steps over to his desk and pulls on one of the drawers. His pristine filing system seems to be mostly intact, although the papers have obviously been shuffled through.

Castiel supposes he should just be grateful that Uriel didn’t manage to incriminate him as well in his betrayal.

He’d woken up in the hospital, unsure as to how he got there. He was informed by a dour faced doctor that a number of narcotics were found in his system and he was lucky he didn’t bleed out. The preliminary first aid he received at the crime scene saved his life.

That’s when a set of federal marshals Castiel didn’t know came in and demanded his statement. It seems they’d found the prints of Dean and Sam Winchester at the scene, wanted in six states for murder, robbery, desecration of church and city property and a possible kidnapping across state lines.

Castiel had given them his statement regarding meeting Uriel after hours, being taken by surprise and then waking up, bleeding out, strapped down to the altar.

After that, he claimed, he couldn't remember.

The marshal, Henricksen, watched him with careful, knowing eyes. Asked Castiel if he remembered two young men, Sam and Dean, arriving on the scene.

Castiel shook his head and said he did not.

Henricksen asked if Castiel recalled if Sam and Dean had been involved in the ritual, if they had participated.

Castiel said he couldn’t recall.

Henricksen had smiled, the grin not reaching his eyes and presented his card to Castiel. He asked if Castiel remembered anything, in the interest of supporting his fellow lawmen, could he please drop him a line?

Castiel replied he wasn’t likely to remember anything more. While his memory had always been excellent, the doctors had mentioned there had been a number of narcotics in his system and he doubted he’d recall anything of use.

Though if he did, Henricksen would be the first to know.

Castiel sits down at his computer and turns it on, he’s still not exactly sure why he didn’t tell the marshals about Dean and his brother Sam. Only that it seemed wrong to repay the kindness that had been shown to him by turning them in.

He’d been released from the hospital on Friday evening and spent the weekend reading Dean Winchester’s rather extensive file, as well as that of his brother Sam.

It was interesting reading to say the least.

He read about their broken upbringing, their mother dying in a fire six months after Sam was born. How their father dragged them from one end of the country to the other; John Winchester amassing quite the record himself.

On the surface, it was pretty straight-forward. Mother dead when the boys were still young, father that didn’t bother to raise them and had a criminal record of his own, passing on his legacy of lawlessness and criminality to his sons who were only too capable of picking up his felonious mantle and carrying it on. The perfect example of the legacy of crime.

Only… not.

Sam had almost gone the path of the straight and narrow. Earned a scholarship to Stanford and had done quite well in pre-law before dropping out and joining his brother on what was turning into a lifelong crime spree.

Although, for serial criminalists, they weren’t very exciting.

Small cities, even smaller towns, maybe a medium sized city or two. They didn’t seem to be after money, nor fame. They’d be off the radar for months at a time and then their prints would surface in some obscure missing persons case or bizarre murder.

Witnesses seemed surprised when asked about them. Claiming they thought the Winchesters had been cops, feds, US Marshals, priests for God’s sake. The witnesses or persons of interest were always so surprised to hear that the Winchesters were suspected of any wrongdoing. Several times witnesses had informed the authorities that there must be some mistake.

And there were a few cases were witnesses had been downright belligerent, refusing to speak to the cops and say anything against the Winchester boys.

Something was… off. Something was going on, only Castiel didn’t know what it was.

But he remembered a pair of bright green eyes, smiling at him, telling him he would be okay. A strange man taking time to bandage his wounds and staying with him until the ambulance was closer.

He’d be dead if not for Dean and Sam Winchester.

He also remembered Dean saying they’d ‘be on the lookout’ for Uriel, which, to Castiel, implied some kind of follow up.

He doesn’t know what it all means.

But he is determined to find out.

He logs into his email and starts going through the messages that piled up while he’d been in the hospital. Then he pulls up Dean Winchester’s file again and makes a list of subsequent files for requisitioning.

It takes the clerks about four hours to pull the paper and electronic copies of what he wants. Castiel’s glad he stopped for a quick lunch once he sees the mass of paper work and size of the data drive they’d prepared. He settles down and starts reading.

Once or twice he glances over at Uriel’s empty desk. Even though Castiel had been front and center for his spectacular betrayal, he finds himself slightly surprised every time he looks over and finds it empty.

Some other officers stop by to say they’re glad he’s back, their eyes nervously darting over to the empty desk as well. A few of the admin assistants pop by as well, one of them shyly presenting him with a casserole which he graciously accepts.

They stop by again when they call it a night.

He doesn’t stop working when it starts turning dark outside, except to turn on a few more lights.

He digs into the cold casserole when his stomach rumbles and continues to read the files associated with Dean or Sam Winchester. By the time he’s plowed through half of the glass dish and looks up at the clock, he’s surprised to see it’s almost midnight. He sighs and rubs his eyes. It has to be there. There has to be something. He absently scratches at his chest, through the layers of his dress shirt and undershirt. The healing tissue itches like crazy and he knows he shouldn’t scratch but it’s late and he’s tired.

When his cell phone starts ringing from his pocket, it takes him a couple seconds to recognize what it is, fumble it out and check the number to see if he recognizes it.

Unknown

“Castiel Novak.”

“Isn’t it past bedtime for all good little FBI agents?”

Castiel pauses, hearing the words on the phone. The voice is not all together unfamiliar but he can’t quite place it at first.

He has a sudden flash of memory of where he last heard that voice.

“Hello, Dean.”

“Wow, impressive memory you got there, Cas. You only heard me once and you were almost dying at the time too.”

“Yes, it was a memorable experience to say the least.” Castiel strains to hear the background noise coming over the phone. Faintly, he thinks he might be able to hear the distant sound of a car approaching and then zooming by. A highway kind of sound. He also hears the low murmur of a television on and that too is somewhat familiar and he’s surprised when he realizes it’s the local newscaster he’s hearing over the phone. Dean must be watching the local news. Which implies he’s somewhat still in the area.

“How did you get my number?” Cas asks.

“Your coat was at the scene. Had a bunch of your little cards in it.”

“So you took one?”

“I took the coat. ‘S good coat. Never know when I’ll need to look like a feeb.”

“Stealing evidence from a crime scene is a federal offense, Dean.”

Dean laughs slightly, warm and low over the phone. “Well, they can put it on the list. So, you’re sprung from the hospital.”

“Are you keeping tabs on me?”

“Isn’t there some kind of saying? You save a person’s life and you’re responsible for it?”

“Thank you for that.”

“For what?” Dean’s voice rising slightly on the question and he sounds honestly confused.

“For saving my life. You did. The doctors tell me I would have died without your assistance.”

There’s a short pause on the line and Castiel would think Dean had hung up if not for the continued drone of the newscaster in the background. “Well. You’re welcome. Uh, listen, you should probably know, we haven’t caught up with your old buddy yet.”

“Uriel,” Castiel says lowly. “Are you pursuing him?” This is certainly another piece to the mystery of Dean Winchester.

“Guy tries to open a portal to the other side and doesn’t succeed? He’ll probably try again so, yeah, we’re pursuing him.”

Castiel frowns at Dean’s words. “Uriel said that too, the other side. What does it mean?”

There’s another pause from Dean and Castiel can almost hear the wheels of the man’s brain turning.

“What do you remember from that night?”

There’s no question to what night Dean is referring. He’s been thinking of it since he woke up in the hospital and Castiel is almost afraid he already knows what Uriel and Dean mean when they say the other side. Castiel thinks back to waking up, foggy and cold. He recalls the chanting, the symbols on the ceiling, Uriel’s grandstanding. He’d spouted off about portals and openings, calling forth creatures from the other side. He needed a key for his portal and ‘the betrayed man’ apparently fit the bill. Uriel carved into Castiel’s flesh with precision and intent and Castiel finds himself now tracing over the distinct lines of his scar through his shirt and the lingering bandages.

“Quite a lot, in fact. Uriel was… vocal about what he was doing.”

“What did he say?” Dean asks immediately, his voice going razor sharp.

“He said he needed a key for his doorway and I would do. A good man betrayed would be a sufficient sacrifice. You must have seen the symbols he… carved into me.”

“Yeah,” says Dean quietly. “I saw them.”

“He also had runes and symbols written on the ceiling.”

“Yeah?” Dean asks and Castiel can hear him sitting up, hear the sounds of paper shuffling. “Fuck, I didn’t think to look up. You remember what they looked like? Were they like the ones on you?”

“I remember them quite well. I had nothing else to look at for some time and I studied them, trying to figure them out. They were to be the last thing I saw before I died.”

“Well, fuck,” Dean’s tone is regretful.

“Fortunately for me,” Castiel continues, “that was not the case.”

“You think you could draw a few? From memory?”

“Yes.”

“Do it,” Dean commands easily. “Anything you can remember. Then take a picture of it and send it to this number.”

Castiel frowns. “What are you going to do, Dean?”

“Listen, this guy, Uriel, he’s a big fish and big fish don’t stop playing around in their ponds till they get what they want.”

“Why does it matter? Is this some form of profiling?” Castiel asks, feeling consternated.

“We need to figure out what kind of a door he was going to open and what he was going to bring over.”

“You say that like you think it’s real, Dean.”

There’s another stretch of silence on the phone. “What else do you remember, Cas?”

Castiel closes his eyes and again focuses on the night in question. “I remember… screaming, from the cloaked figures. Hearing your shotgun and not understanding what it meant at first. Hearing you and Sam speaking in Latin.”

“It’s not as dead as they say it is,” Dean teases softly.

“It comes up quite often in my investigations. Various cults or groups think that words have some kind of power by speaking them in Latin.”

“Sometimes they do.”

“It sounded like an exorcism,” Castiel continues. “What you and your brother were saying. It sounded like a Roman Catholic Exorcism.”

He hears Dean take a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Yeah.”

“Dean,” Castiel says. “Exorcisms aren’t… well. I’ve seen many things during my time at the FBI. Things that have made me think about the world, about the religion I grew up with, about my own faith. But none of it… it was never… There’s never been anything truly supernatural about what I’ve seen. I wish there had been.”

“Yeah, humans are the worst,” Dean agrees and Castiel is marginally surprised. “But…”

“But what, Dean,” Castiel prods at his silence.

“Send me those drawings, Cas,” Dean says suddenly, deflecting the question. Castiel can hear the rustling of bed clothes as Dean moves on the other end of the phone. “Anything you remember. Send them to me.”

Castiel has a sudden thought. “Dean, are you and your brother insane?”

Dean’s laugh is low and throaty over the phone, rumbling deep. Castiel has never been known for his tact and doesn’t often get the chance to question suspects because he’s known for asking touchy or uncomfortable questions as though they were routine and mundane.

“You know sometimes, I wish we were. Listen, try to keep yourself out of trouble. I may not be around to rescue you next time.”

“You still haven’t told me what you intend to do.”

“I told you. Your old pal Uriel is a big fish. I’m going fishing.”

The line disconnects and Castiel frowns at it for a moment before disconnecting himself and putting it down.

Although he’s pretty sure it’s futile, he sends the number to the IT department to see if they can get any records pulled up on it. Glancing at the clock and wincing at the time, he stuffs a few of the Winchester’s case files into his attaché case and heads home.

He mulls over what he knows as he drives, a disturbing suspicion staring to tickle the back of his brain with improbability and doubt. Doubt that Dean and Sam Winchester are criminals, or at least, not the kind of criminals their records imply. He eats a quick dinner once he’s back in his small apartment and then sits down on the sofa, taking a moment to check the messages on his phone.

”Huh. You must be back at work. How are Los Federalis treating you? You working a desk job now? Pick up the phone and let me know you aren’t dead, bro. And dinner. My house. Sunday night. Don’t make me come get you or I’ll take you to the strippers again.”

Castiel grimaces as he deletes the message from his brother Gabriel. He decides to send text instead of call. It’s late, but Gabriel is probably up but Castiel doesn’t feel like having a conversation at the moment. He sends a quick note letting Gabriel know he’s fine after his first day back and immediately, as though Gabriel were waiting on him, gets a reply back.

I’m at the bank. You should come.

Castiel frowns and texts back. What bank? Are you in trouble? Do you need to borrow money?

He gets some kind of cartoon character back, sticking his tongue out at him.

No. THE BANK. My new club. REMEMBER?

Castiel rolls his eyes and replies back that, yes, he (now) remembers Gabriel’s new club and asks how it’s doing.

Smokin.

I trust that is a good thing, Cas replies.

Srsly. Come out. U need the fun.

He assures Gabriel he’s fine and then ignores the next six texts that come in rapid-fire succession, each one trying to woo Castiel to the club with promises of wine, women and song. He sets his phone on silent and settles back. He pulls out the case files and starts to review them again.

The niggling doubt from before, about the world of Dean Winchester, starts to take shape.

It’s not a shape he’s at all comfortable with.

If he factors in the conversation he just had with Dean - if he starts to let his mind wander toward the improbable, the unlikely, the supernatural, he’s not sure he likes the picture at all.

Looking at the case files with a tentative paranormal slant, they actually start to make more sense. Disappearing people, bodies turning up in strange and unusual places - if at all - with even stranger and more absurd damage and markings. Puzzling criminology findings, bodies with abnormalities that cannot be explained, graves dug up and seemingly desecrated.

No, not desecrated. Salted and burned.

Eye witnesses accounts that were dismissed for being too far-fetched or simply crazy, evidence that was destroyed or went missing.

And at the center of it all - the Winchesters.

They appear to show up after the ‘unnatural’ events have already started.

Once they leave, no further events are reported.

Castiel sits back on his sofa and scratches absently at his scar tissue again. The scars on his wrists don’t itch nearly as badly as the ones on his chest although he’s sure it’s the ones on his wrist he’ll have the most problem with, out in plain view.

That is, if he ever wears short sleeves again. He already noticed the barista at the coffee shop checking them out surreptitiously. He feels a strange urge to point out that he knows they are going the wrong way, horizontally across his wrist instead of vertically, but that the goal wasn’t suicide but his death by exsanguination.

He’s not sure why it bothers him more that people would think he did it wrong than he did it at all.

It’s definitely a little tidbit he’s not sharing with the Bureau appointed shrink he has to meet with in order to get reinstated and stay on active duty.

Thinking of shrinks leads him to mental disorders which, oddly enough leads him back to Dean.

He hadn’t been joking when he asked Dean if he and his brother were insane. He’d been perfectly serious. He can still hear Dean’s low laugh in his ear at the question. He didn’t seem particularly concerned if Castiel thought him mad. He seemed rather amused by it.

Looking over the case file photos strewn out in front of him, Castiel can see exactly why Dean answered the way he did.

You know sometimes I wish we were.

Castiel pulls some blank paper out of his computer printer and grabs a pencil from his attaché case. He thinks back to the night of Uriel’s betrayal. Blinking quickly he glances around and finds the room too bright. Getting up, he shuts off all the lights except for the one in the bathroom and makes his way in the semi-darkness to the sofa. He starts to sit down on it and then thinks better of it and stretches out on the floor.

Pencil between his fingers and paper underneath, he lazily scribes light circles on paper as he lies on his back. He can’t actually see what he’s drawing but he finds this method generally works well for him. He stares up at the darkened ceiling and remembers the other one he found himself under. Castiel can almost imagine he can smell the incense, hear the chanting, feel the cold table under his back and legs.

Castiel starts to sketch.

He can tell some of his pencil strokes are jagged and don’t match up, but this is just his free form, no judgement allowed, and he continues on.

Castiel’s surprised when he turns to look at the glowing DVD clock to see that it’s one in the morning. He’s been lying there for nearly two hours. Muscles groaning and joints popping, he pushes himself up to the sofa, grabbing his sketches as he goes. He starts to absently flip through them. The symbols don’t make any sense to him, aren’t anything he’s seen before. Castiel starts re-sketching some on clean sheets of paper, clearing up smudged lines or places where his pencil completely drifted and a line that should be inside a symbol is sitting to the right of it.

When he’s done, Castiel has about five sheets of good drawings - clear, concise, and as detailed as he can make them. He spreads them out on his coffee table, edges touching, taking up most of the available surface. He takes his phone out of his attaché case and sets it down next to the drawings.

Castiel stares at both of them for a while.

Does he mean to send them to Dean Winchester? Dean Winchester - wanted in six states on felony charges. Dean Winchester - with his green eyes and impeccable timing who saved Castiel’s life. Dean Winchester who Castiel wishes he could dismiss as simply crazy and dangerous but who he suspects is all too sane and involved with things that before tonight Castiel would have said were impossible.

Castiel remembers all of that night. Remembers black smoke pouring out of people’s mouths as the Winchesters chanted a Latin exorcism. The smoke had swirled up, teeming and heaving, pushing out of windows and bodies dropped like stones. Some of the people that had been caught and arrested claimed no memory of what happened, others said they remembered but it was like ‘they weren’t in control’ of their bodies.

Two had committed suicide.

Castiel had dismissed their claims as the usual duck and dodge many captured criminals did. ‘Guilty by reason of insanity’ generally led to less secure psychiatric hospitals instead of maximum security.

Now, it seemed demonic possession was very much a possibility.

He picks his phone up and turns it over a few times in his long, deft fingers before finally sliding it on and snapping several pictures of the drawings. Each page gets its own picture, and then one of all of them together, arranged as he remembered it.

Castiel touches his shirt, feeling the slightly raised skin underneath and eschewing his modesty, takes his camera, goes to the bathroom and strips off his shirt.

The scar lines are pink against his pale skin. The doctors had carefully told him that grafts may be a possibility but that they needed to wait to see how the original wounds healed. The symbol stretches across his chest, down his sternum and reaches the top of his belly. He’s never thought too much about his body. He isn’t a gym rat, but he isn’t a couch potato either. His job requires him to be fast and capable and his body is a representation of that, rather than of endless bicep curls that served no real purpose, nor of too much time spent lounging about.

But now, seeing the angry lines crossing over his skin, Castiel wonders if he will ever be able to look at them without remembering what happened.

He raises the camera to the mirror and takes a quick picture, only checking to see that it’s in focus and complete before turning away and shrugging back into his shirt. He types quickly, checks that the auto correct hasn’t completely destroyed his message and then, before he can think too much on it, hits send.

He shuffles into his bedroom, suddenly feeling the weight of his first full day back at work hit him like a mack-truck. He tosses his phone on the nightstand and shucks his pants and shirt, rooting around until he finds his soft, academy t-shirt buried in the covers. It’s the only thing Castiel owns that doesn’t make his scar tissue itch or sting. He slides under the covers and makes a conscious effort to not stare at the ceiling.

He can’t stop thinking about the green of Dean Winchester’s eyes.

***

When his cell phone starts vibrating with a grating ‘bzzzz’ on the nightstand table, it takes Dean a few fumbles to slap it silent. Squinting at the screen he’s surprised when he sees it’s from Castiel Novak.

Mr. FBI himself.

Dean ignores the tingle in his stomach at the sight of Cas’ name on his phone and so what if he’s already got it programmed into his contacts. He couldn’t be bothered to memorize any more numbers than he already had (Bobby’s junkyard, Bobby’s fake FBI line, Bobby’s fake CIA line, Bobby’s fake I-don’t-care-who-you-are-I’m-in-some-serious-shit-here line, Sam’s cell, Sam’s emergency cell, and Pizza Hut) so Cas got entered in.

Totally as simple as that.

He squints against the bright light of his smartphone cutting into the darkness of the hotel room. He glances over at Sam’s bed but the contrast in light leaves him only seeing a vague Sam-shaped lump. He turns back to the phone and checks the message.

Here are the drawings you requested. I would be very interested to know what you ascertain. CN

Dean smirks to himself. Ascertain. Jesus, who uses that word in a text?

Castiel Novak, that’s who.

Amusement pushed aside, he starts looking at the images that Cas sketched and sent over. With Bobby’s help, they had been already sure they were dealing with Enochian, but the majority of the language is still just gobblydegook to Dean’s eyes. He thinks he might recognize a few of the basic symbols, having started to review the Enochian alphabet, but it’s mostly a jumbled mess. He flips through the pictures Cas sent, stopping on each one for a minute or so, already thinking about ways he and Sam can start researching it all tomorrow. Maybe send them to Bobby too. He’d bitch and moan that he ‘wasn’t at their beck and call and wasn’t google for Chrissakes’ but Dean knows he’s just as invested in this as they are.

It’s not every day that someone tries to open a portal to Purgatory.

That’s exactly what Uriel is trying to do, according to what they’ve already learned. Right now, though, they don’t have fuck all to go on.

They don’t know if Uriel’s working under a time frame or an underlying schedule and they sure as fuck don’t know why he’s doing it. But with the symbols from Cas and the rest of the details they got from the failed ceremony, they’re hoping they can figure out how.

Until then, it’s not like they don’t have all kinds of weird shit to look into. Dean thinks he sees the signs of a werewolf two states east, Bobby’s heard rumors of a vampire clan to the south, Sam thinks he’s got a line on a poltergeist even further south and they just read in one of the local papers today that a fourth hiker has gone missing one county over.

The skeletons of three other hikers had previously been found stripped of flesh, muscle and tissue. At this point, they aren’t sure if they’re looking at a psycho serial killer (which the newspapers are all over) or a wendigo. Just by virtue of it being closest, Dean thinks they’ll probably head over just to check it out. If it’s a wendigo, they’ll put it down.

If it’s a serial killer, they’ll leave that one to the feds. There are too many freaky things out there for the Winchesters to be stopping human crimes.

Although, maybe it would give him another reason to call Cas.

Dean always considers it a ‘win’ when they can foil the bad guy and save someone in the process. He feels like maybe he was predisposed to kind of like Cas since Cas represents both. They managed to stop Uriel from opening a doorway to monster-land and Cas is still alive, so thumbs up all around.

Before he called Cas tonight, he told himself that what he was feeling was just plain, misguided, pent-up lust. The guy had been dying when Dean found him, for crying out loud. But Dean couldn’t stop thinking about Cas’ steady gaze. The way his eyes had stayed focused on Dean the entire time. The way they hadn’t been full of fear or terror. They’d been somewhat calm, centered. Intense.

Even though he’d been laying there as the bulls-eye of sacrifice centered, Cas had been… composed, Dean guesses is the word.

He can kind of respect that.

Hearing Cas’ voice on the phone tonight had been somewhat of a shock. Dean had expected a higher pitched tone, maybe an upper-class accent of some kind to match the finely boned features and delicate wrists (so he had checked the guy’s wrists out, they had been bleeding at the time and Dean was bandaging them. It wasn’t a crime, for fuck’s sake.)

Instead, Cas had a deep, gravelly voice; full-toned and even-timbered.

Kind of sexy.

But, Dean is still all about the case. Completely. ‘Human sacrifice’ plus ‘ancient angelic language’ times ‘door to purgatory’ equals ‘bad, very bad’ no matter how you look at it.

But that didn’t mean that Dean couldn’t appreciate… things. Things with blue eyes and deep voices that went straight to Dean’s -

He shakes his head. Focusing on the drawings, that’s what he’s doing. He’s thinking about Enochian symbols and how many old, dusty, smelly books he’s going to have to look at before they can decipher these glyphs. That’s all.

He flips to the last picture.

Dean’s split-second, first thought of ‘holy shit, dude sent me a dirty picture!’ is quickly replaced when he immediately takes note of the angry red lines raked across Castiel’s pale (and rather nice) chest.

He and Sam have already done up a sketch of what they could remember, but he has to admit, this is much better than their haphazard and rushed drawing.

All of the symbol is visible - inflamed tissue burning hot pink against the white skin of Cas’ torso. Cas’ face isn’t really in the picture; just the bottom where his five o’clock shadow has darkened his jaw.

Dean kind of wishes that his face had been in the picture.

Not that matters. You know, to read the symbol. Whatever.

He stares at it a long time before finally sending it off to Sam and Bobby, even though, he sort of doesn’t want to. He fires off a quick ‘thanks’ to Cas before smirking to himself and starting a second message.

’Didn’t realize we were already @ ‘exchanging of naughty pics stage.’ Guess IOU.’

With any luck, maybe someday Cas Novak will cash that check.

He snorts to himself. Yeah, right. The only way he’s gonna hook up with a fed is if he’s in handcuffs.

Although that has possibilities as well.

Shaking his head again at his filthy, dirty mind, Dean tosses his phone back on the nightstand and shuffles down in bed to go back to sleep.

***

Castiel’s first reaction at seeing Dean’s text is to frown, eyebrows coming together sharply in consternation as he reads the words once, and then again.

His eyebrows draw apart rather quickly once he figures it out and he dismisses the quick bolt that travels down his spine. It’s completely ridiculous and improbable. He is a federal agent and Dean is a known and wanted felon who has numerous case files and a rap sheet long enough to make most feds raise a few eyebrows. Pushing the thought aside, he snaps back the bedclothes and gets up to start his day.

By the time he’s back at the office, he’s convinced himself to forget the insinuation of Dean Winchester’s text and focus on work.

Nearly as bad as Uriel’s betrayal and attempt to sacrifice Castiel is the mountain of paperwork it generates and the seemingly mandatory head-tilts and concerned looks he gets. He manages to plow through a good portion of the paperwork before lunch - including requisitioning a new badge and gun - both of his being ‘misplaced’ during the ritual.

After lunch it’s another follow up meeting with the government psychologist, only thankfully this time he isn’t still in hospital scrubs and feeling a little exposed - mentally and physically - but is instead in her plush downtown office overlooking the river. The psychologist finds him too distanced and withdrawn and encourages him to ‘open up and let loose’ about ‘what happened.’

He can’t help but hear the air quotes around a lot of what she says.

Castiel tries to vocalize that he doesn’t feel traumatized. He doesn’t feel insecure or frightened. It’s a dangerous world and dangerous things happen. In this case, they happened to him. It’s part of his job, he explains, being in danger, knowing you might die. The fact that it was his partner who placed him in that position was very surprising, but doesn't change the fact that it’s the same position he lives in every day.

She pauses and looks at him silently for a long time. He doesn’t move and stares back. She sighs and says that as long as he keeps coming in for weekly visits, she’ll clear him for field work.

He thanks her for her time – even though the federal government compensates her quite well for it – and leaves.

Back at the office his supervisor pops by to see him, with the requisite head tilt and concerned expression, and talks in circles about relationships and their tangled webs, clicking with people or not ever quite fitting and how you can never really know the true heart of someone.

It takes Castiel a couple of minutes to piece together that he’s is trying to offer him condolences and comfort in his own stilted, convoluted way. Castiel makes the appropriate listening sounds - (mm-hmm, yes, of course, very true). When the subject of another partner is brought up, Castiel skillfully manages to deflect and postpone at the same time.

He ends up dodging the assignation of a new partner and somehow has his supervisor nodding in agreement to Castiel letting the Bureau know when he would feel ready to accept a new partner.

After that, Castiel gets to work.

He’s still got all of Dean’s case files and he starts reading through them again, separating them into two piles: ‘worth a deeper look’ and ‘not enough information to pursue.’

By the end of the work day he has a solid five files that he thinks are worth him investigating. Three of them are several states away but there’s two that are within driving distance.

His former current cases, the ones he was working with Uriel, were all pulled and reassigned while he was in the hospital and Internal Affairs investigated what happened; at the moment, he doesn’t have any irons in the fire. Having worked in the Bureau for several years, he knows it’ll be a few days until his supervisor and peers think he’s back up to snuff after being injured. Castiel figures he has at least this week to pursue his own investigation of Dean Winchester’s world.

Part of him is hoping to find out what Uriel was up to and what his betrayal meant. But the other part of it is plain, unbridled curiosity and a drive for knowledge. Having had a peek into this strange new world, Castiel feels like he has to find out more.

He sends a quick email to his supervisor, giving him the barest details - case file number and a brief note that he’s following up on a possible connection to Uriel - before heading out to the small town of Pine Falls.

While he’s newly without a partner, he doesn’t find the drive lonely or quiet. He puts the radio on an all talk station, just to have something in the background, but he doesn’t really pay attention to what the voices are saying. It’s a small highway to Pine Falls - undivided, single lanes on each side. The road is long and flat enough that he could pass anyone going too slow, or someone wanting to blaze down the pavement could pass him. He’s mostly alone on the road except for a tanker truck in his rear view mirror that gets farther away as he drives.

The next morning, Castiel finds himself on the doorstep of one Mary-Louise Rawlings. Castiel had read the case file once over dinner last night and twice over breakfast. Mary-Louise had been questioned extensively by local police after her husband went on a seemingly unprovoked killing spree. As near as the local police could figure out, Mary-Louise’s husband, Ted, started off by killing the family dog and cat, disemboweling them. He then moved onto stray animals in the neighborhood and then the local zoo, drawing national media attention. The media coverage had reported an ‘unknown predator’ in the area and Animal Services was on high alert.

The Winchesters had arrived right after the giraffes were found eviscerated.

It had been quite a shock to everyone, including Mary-Louise, when her husband Ted, who had been acting a little distant and strange lately, was seen climbing out of the next-door neighbors second story window.

Upon police arriving to investigate the scene, Pat and Sally McMahon were found sans intestines. The police tied Ted to the stray animal killings and then the carnage at the zoo. The manhunt for Ted was on.

Details in the case file get… fuzzy after that with no real timeline or concrete chronology. Dean and Sam Winchester were in town. They were charged with impersonating Federal Agents, carrying concealed weapons, obstruction of justice, public nuisance, public indecency and several traffic violations.

Ted Rawlings was never heard from again.

The Winchesters managed to leave town.

When Mary-Louise had been questioned, she refused to speak about the Winchesters, telling local police they should ‘leave those poor boys alone.’

As she opens the door to his brusque knock, Castiel thinks her face is surprisingly bright and open for someone whose husband is presumed dead. She’s in her mid-forties, but life it seems has been fairly kind to her, leaving her relatively unwrinkled. Her hair is perfectly coiffed in dark curls around her face, framing her large brown eyes.

“Yes?” she asks.

“I’m Castiel Novak. I’m… a friend of Dean’s.”

He doesn’t know why he said it. He fully intended to introduce himself as he always does; as a federal agent. But as he opened his mouth to say it, it wouldn’t come out.

Her face morphs and he has a hard time reading all the emotions. A brief flicker of fear, one of unease. Perhaps a curl of fondness and then one of distrust.

“Oh?”

“Yes. I mentioned to Dean, and Sam of course, that I was passing this way and they asked me to stop in and check up on you.”

“Oh, well. I’m fine. I’m good.” She shrugs. “You know, as expected.” Her eyes are searching his, slightly wary.

“Of course.” The trick in any successful examination is trying to make the other person think you already know what they don't want to tell you, without crossing any boundaries to immediately raise suspicion that you don’t know. “So you’ve been well?”

She nods a bit. “Sure. Mostly.”

He nods in return. “And no further… trouble?” he asks, raising his eyebrows.

Her eyes go wide. “I thought, I mean, they said that Ted… that he… that…,” she glances around as if she’s worried the neighbors might hear. She leans in closer and clutches the collar of her shirt. “That he couldn’t, you know, come back. He wasn’t one of those kind of things.”

Castiel falters for a moment and seeing the fear on her face he shakes his head. “Oh, no. I mean, yes. Completely taken care of. Just an inquiry on part. My apologies.”

She visibly relaxes and nods to herself, calming herself down. Something about his demeanor must have convinced her finally because she doesn’t appear nearly as wary. “Sorry, sorry. I’m sure in your… line of work that this is all de rigeur. But for me, finding out my husband was, you know,” she glances around again and makes a strange clawing motion with her hand that he has no idea how to interpret. “It takes a little out of you, you know?”

He nods again, completely out of his depth. “I’m sure.”

“But, no problems since, fingers crossed, so… I mean it probably infected him on that business trip to Des Moines, god only knows the places he went and the people he hung out with. He was always… well… my mother warned me but you know how it is.”

She seems to tell him that ‘he knows’ a lot and he can’t help but find it totally ironic.

He manages a quick, reassuring smile and nods again.

“Without a body the insurance is a mess and I’ll be lucky to get a penny out of his pension but at least… well,” she repeats. “It could have ended so much worse.”

“You were lucky,” he hedges.

“Oh my god, when I think about what he could have done…” she shakes her head. “I mean, if he had ended up being one of the ones that cocooned or molted-” she shudders. “The property damage alone would have been a nightmare.”

“Truly,” he intones.

“But,” she says brightly. “Dodged a bullet.” She gives a nervous kind of laugh. “Oh, poor choice of words, you know, with the silver bullet and all.” She waves her hand. “Listen to me chatter. Would you like some tea?”

“Oh, thank you, no. I’ve… well, I think I’ve done here what I came to do, so I should, head out.”

Again she nods. “Are you on a case? Hunting?”

He bobs his head slowly. “Yes. Yes, I am.”

“It’s not in town, is it?”

“No,” he shakes his head. “No, miles away. Miles.”

She breathes a sigh of relief. “Good. Good. Well, it was nice of you to stop by and you tell Dean and Sam that if they’re in town they’re welcome here any time. I’ll make them a nice casserole and some of that pie Dean likes so much.”

“I will definitely keep that in mind for when I see them next.”

She seems to be thinking on something and then in a sudden movement she bolts forward and hugs him fiercely. “Oh, you young fellows out there. When I think of it… You boys stay safe.”

“Er, thank you,” he manages to croak out awkwardly. She pats his back twice and lets him go, going back inside and shutting the door in one fluid movement.

He stares at the door for a second before making his way woodenly back to his car. Once inside, he puts both hands on the wheel.

… if he had ended up being one of the ones that cocooned or molting…

… silver bullet…

… he wasn’t one of those kind of things…

He’d known what he was looking for when he started investigating. But it was one thing to have suspicions and it was entirely another to have those suspicions confirmed.

If he can even say that.

What did he really find out? What does he even know?

He turns the key in the ignition and starts driving. Lost in his thoughts, it’s several minutes before he realizes he’s going the wrong way to go back to his hotel. He makes quick work of checking out, reviewing the other case file that he wanted to look into further and then he’s on the road again.

***

Fucking wendigoes, thinks Dean. They look like starvation victims, all thin skin stretched taut over protruding bones, but they pack a solid punch when they want to.

He pushes himself off the ground where he landed when the wendigo tossed him like he was a paper doll. His hands scramble in the dirt of the cave for his gun, his mind frantically chanting gun, gun, gun, gun. The wendigo is upon him in seconds, clawing at his legs, pulling Dean toward him, his sharp claws tearing through the denim of Dean’s jeans and scoring the flesh below.

Dean hears the familiar crack of a shotgun and the wendigo’s claws release him and he hears it howl. Dean looks up and sees Sam taking his second shot.

Sam rarely needs more than one shot and never more than two.

The wendigo drops like a stone, brackish blood oozing from its wounds, seeping into the dirt floor of the cave.

Sam steps over and helps him to his feet and as Dean dusts off, he takes another look around the cave.

Skeletal remains, rotting flesh, personal items are all strewn about. He shakes his head.

“If we didn’t have to cart it all down the mountain to do it, I’d suggest burning it all. What a fucking mess,” Dean curses.

Sam takes in their surroundings as well. “Yeah. I’ll give the state troopers a call after we burn the wendigo, point them in this direction. Maybe they can identify some of the remains, return some of the stuff to family.”

“Yeah,” Dean nods, toeing the corpse of the wendigo with his boot. It’s gonna be bad enough to haul this motherfucker down the mountain so they can burn him.

Just another day in the life.

***

Castiel has even more for his brain to chew on after he finishes speaking with Evan Pincolo.

Evan and his girlfriend Katie had been attacked by something. The police said a lone killer, likely not working with a full deck, probably some poor bastard that should have been locked up a long time ago in a mental institution.

Evan said vampire.

The police kind of thought Evan needed the special short bus with the jackets that did up in the back.

They’d been jumped coming home late from the theatre. Evan’s police statement said a man came out of ‘thin air’ and attacked Katie, biting her on the neck. Evan tried to fight him off but with the blood spraying and the screaming and the teeth (he mentioned the teeth several times), Evan admits he broke down and ran for his life.

Katie’s body was found by the cops an hour after Evan made it to the police station to report the attack. Her throat had been ripped out, a third of her blood volume missing and not found at the scene.

Dean and Sam Winchester had shown up there too, posing as federal agents (again), their fingerprints only coming up in the system after the body of one Steve Johnson had been found decapitated in his apartment.

The coroner had noted Steve had ‘significant dental deformities - possibly genetic’ but no further testing had been done.

Evan didn’t seem to know Dean and Sam, but did seem to remember there were two younger federal agents who’d asked him some very specific questions and didn’t give him the stink-eye when he said the v-word.

Evan didn’t know Steve Johnson, didn’t know how he was what he was. All Evan knew was that his girlfriend had been killed by a vampire and then some feds showed up, asked him some questions and two days later, they matched the DNA of one decapitated Steve Johnson to saliva found in Katie’s throat wounds.

Evan started going to church again after a ten year absence.

It all gives Castiel a lot to think about on his drive back home. On the one hand, he feels like the information he’s got, along with his previous suspicions, puts the case files in a whole new light.

A pretty obvious one at that. One where there appear to be all kinds of creatures that go bump in the night.

On the other hand, he has a hard time processing that information. How can there be such unnatural things in the world? Isn’t he long past the age where he thought paranormal monsters were real? He knows there are human monsters in the world; he’s spent enough of his life as an FBI Agent hunting them. Serial killers, murders, rapists, kidnappers…. He’s seen enough to make him believe that there is nothing as fearsome as man’s inhumanity to his fellow man.

But now… faced with the possibility… no, the knowledge, he supposes, that there are things out there living by a very different set of unnatural rules, and that there are men like Dean and Sam Winchester who seemingly hunt them down and dispatch them…

It makes his brain hurt.

It’s late evening when he makes it back to town and he stops off at the local market to pick up some things to toss together for dinner. He had enough of diner food and drive-thru on his impromptu journey that the idea of having carrots and peas with supper appeals to him.

He’s standing in line at the checkout when he sees the headline on the front page of the newspaper.

State Troopers Find Trove of Remains and Belongings

It’s the kind of headline that makes an FBI man reach out for the paper, wanting more detail. He scans the article as he waits.

State Troopers responded to an anonymous tip last night and found a ‘gruesome stash’ of body parts and personal items belonging to missing persons apparently stretching back several years.

‘It’s like a sick horde of trophies,’ a trooper who wished to remain unnamed said. ‘Legs, ribs, cell phones, books, wallets, backpacks… whoever this guy was, he was one sick puppy.’

County coroner sources indicate that at least four separate victims have been identified from the grisly find with one of them matching a missing persons report for a lost hiker filed two years ago. Further identification is expected to take several days.

Sheriff Mason indicated that at this time, the state had no current suspects but indicated they were ‘devoting significant manpower’ to the investigation. Mason also noted that the fingerprints of two individuals ‘known to authorities’ were found at the crime scene, but couldn’t comment if these individuals were considered dangerous to the public or not.

Continued, page A2, Gruesome Cave of Horrors

“Sir? Your turn?”

He looks up sharply and realizes that the line in front of him has cleared out and he’s standing in front of an empty till. He sets his small basket down.

“Just the paper, thanks.”

The checkout girl shoots a dirty look at his discarded basket of groceries and rings through his paper. With a nod of thanks, he leaves.

It seems he has one more scene to visit.

***

Dean’s just getting out of the shower when Sam’s phone rings. He hears Sam answer it and then call through the bathroom door for him.

“Dean, it’s Bobby.”

Dean fights his wet legs into jeans and shrugs into a shirt, still tugging it down over his body when he steps out into the motel room. Sam activates the speaker phone on his cell and sets it down for both of them to hear.

“Whatcha got, Bobby?” Dean asks.

“It’s more what I’m hoping you got. Or what you can get.”

Dean looks at Sam quickly and frowns. “Uh, okay.”

“Your fed buddy, Castiel?”

Sam smirks and looks at Dean pointedly and Dean rolls his eyes. “He’s not my… whatever. What about him?”

“Think he’s got access to any of his old partner, Uriel’s, belongings?”

Dean looks again at Sam and shrugs. “Don’t know. Why?”

“Well, those pictures you sent me, I sent them along to a buddy of mine and he seems to think he’s seen them before in a grimoire. Trouble is, he doesn’t have it anymore, but he figures they’re the kind of things that are probably written down in a lot of heavy mojo books. Door to purgatory would ring a lot of nut jobs’ bells and they like to write shit down and pass it on.”

“So, what, you figure maybe Uriel had a book or grimoire or something with these symbols written down?” asks Sam.

“Could be,” replied Bobby. “He had to get his info from somewhere and I’m hoping it’s a grimoire of sorts. The thing is, these symbols are kind of like graffiti in a way. Everyone’s got their own style - add a dash of Phoenician here, a flick of Mandarin there and presto chango, you just one-upped your symbol from ‘talk to dead guys’ glyph to a ‘bring the dead back to life’ marker.”

“You want us to see if we can track it down?” says Dean.

“Well, you boys are kind of hot with the feds in that area right now, but if your boy Castiel is as helpful as he appears…”

“He’s not my…” Dean sighs. “I’ll ask him.”

“Get back to me.”

The cell phone clicks as Bobby hangs up.

Dean looks up to see Sam staring at him.

“What?”

Sam shrugs. “Methinks the man doth protest too much.”

“Shut it, Shakespeare.”

***

Castiel flashes his badge, completely oblivious to the fact that it’s upside down. The state trooper waves him by anyway, used to seeing all manner of feds show up. Castiel tucks the badge back in his suit jacket and starts looking around the dismal cave. High powered lights are strung around the perimeter, casting a harsh, cold glow over the area. It’s been picked over by crime scene techs, other feds and state troopers. Most of the personal effects that had been there have likely been taken away for processing, but Castiel can see bizarrely empty spots like beacons shouting ‘evidence used to sit here!’, familiar to him after all these years.

He wanders around, not interacting with any of the techs still lingering. At this point, most of the real evidence is likely already collected and it’s the rookies’ jobs to sift through the dirt, take scrapings off the wall, and complete all minute and gruelingly meticulous tasks to finalize the case work while the big guns work on the human remains and artifacts already removed from the scene.

He’s not so much here to see any evidence, or try to find a needle in a haystack. He’s more here to get a sense of the scene. He tries to put away what he knows from previous case work and look at this while thinking what lived here, instead of who.

He finds it’s what he doesn’t see that pings his radar. No fridge, no bed, no toilet, no running water.

However, the place definitely looks lived in. If a human lived here, even one who was a cannibal, there’d be evidence of it. Humans are notoriously messy dwellers. They like their comforts - a chair, a desk, a bench, the aforementioned fridge - even if it was only to store other human’s remains.

But there’s none of that here. It’s more like a… den than a dwelling.

His cell phone rings and he automatically reaches for it, pulling it out of his pocket. He recognizes the number immediately. Being a federal agent, he’s not so stupid as to put the name of a known and wanted felon in any of his personal devices, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t already memorize the number.

“Hello, Dean.”

“I’m flattered. You know my number,” Dean drawls over the line.

Two state troopers are moving past him, having a conversation about the area and Castiel turns his body slightly to give them berth.

“Where are you?” Dean immediately asks.

“I’m at a crime scene. In a cave,” Castiel replies and decides to put his cards on the table. He lowers his voice and turns away from the crowd. “It’s probably rather emptied out since you were here.”

There’s a pause on the phone and Castiel swears he can hear Dean smile slowly. “Oh, yeah? What makes you say that?”

“I read the article in the paper. Fingerprints of two known felons were found here on some of the victim’s belongings, but so far, no forensic evidence linking them to the human remains has been found. Preliminary reports from the coroner are… inconclusive. He thinks the remains were contaminated by animals in the area feeding on them, corrupting any evidence that was likely left behind. But you already know that what lived here wasn’t human, don’t you?”

He can hear the slight rustle of clothing and imagines that Dean is shrugging on the other end of the line. “Not a lot to go on, Cas. Sounds pretty circumstantial to me.”

“Mary-Louise Rawlings says next time you’re in town, you should stop by for casserole. And pie.”

There’s a longer pause this time and then Dean sighs. “Damn, that woman’s pie is really good. Meringue a mile high. I didn’t even know such a thing as butterscotch pie was out there.”

“She’s still very grateful for the… assistance you provided.”

“She was a nice lady.”

“Dean,” Castiel says, his voice low, “what lived here?”

“You’re sure you wanna go all the way down that rabbit hole? It goes pretty deep. Gets pretty dark.”

“I think that Uriel already forced me into it. Didn’t he?” Cas counters. “And I think that if I want to find out what he did to me and why he did it, the answer is down this rabbit hole.”

“Fair enough. You know, the Native Americans have a myth about a creature that feeds on human flesh. They call it a wendigo. In a lot of their myths, it’s a spiritual creature that possesses a person, makes it crave human flesh, drives the host mad. Part of the myth is that it can never be satisfied, no matter how much it eats. It’s always hungry, can’t be stopped unless you kill it.”

“Wendigo,” Cas repeats, turning the unfamiliar word over in his mouth. “How does one kill it?”

“Shot to the head usually works on a lot of things. Then to be extra sure, you salt and burn the body. Usually keeps most things down.”

“I see.”

“Do you? ‘Cause they don’t exactly teach this in FBI 101.”

Castiel wanders outside of the cave, ducking under the crime scene tape and heading back down the well-trampled path that leads to his car. “When I was… when Uriel… when you rescued me, I… saw the black smoke.”

“Ah. You know, I wasn’t sure if you remembered that.”

“That… smoke. It was… living inside those people, wasn’t it?”

“Demonic possession. Only two ways out of that. Death or exorcism. I favor exorcism, but sometimes… sometimes they get the jump on you.” There’s a moment of silence on the phone, the only sounds Cas’ slightly labored breathing as he strides down the hill. “You wanna ask again if my brother and I are insane?”

“I think it would be easier if you were. But you’re not,” Cas says, sure of the words.

“Unfortunately, no.”

“I take it you didn’t call just to be social.”

“Well, this conversation is going to go a lot easier than I expected if you’ve gone all Mulder on me.”

“I don’t understand that reference.”

He heard Dean’s slight chuckle, throaty and amused. “No? Little too close to home, I guess. Here’s the thing, Cas. Chances are good your old pal, Uriel, had a book, a grimoire it’s called. Spell book.”

Castiel mouths the word ‘grimoire’ turning it over the strange syllables like he did ‘wendigo.’

“Could be a lot of the translations of the symbols you drew are in that book.”

“All of Uriel’s personal possessions were seized by the FBI. Our office, his home, his car. I believe nearly everything of interest is in evidence.”

“Yeah,” Dean replied. “That’s kind of where you come in. See, Sam and I can’t exactly waltz back into town pulling the FBI cover. Kind of only works until our prints show up in the system and then, the jig is up.”

“Stealing evidence is a crime,” Castiel says, more to himself as he ponders it than to Dean.

“C’mon, all the cool kids are doing it,” Dean cajoles, his tone light.

“I’ll see what I can do.”

“That’s the law-breaking spirit.”

“Have you found anything further on Uriel or his plans yet?”

“No,” replies Dean and Castiel feels a keen sense of disappointment at the words. “But we’ve got our feelers out. Like I said, he’s a big fish and he’s going to pop up again, it’s just a question of time.”

“And what will you and your brother do until then?”

“We keep doing what we’re doing. Hunting.”

“Is that what you call it?”

He can hear the shrug that Dean’s body must be giving in Dean’s tone when he answers. “What else can we call it? We find big bads and put them down. It’s not like we have a penal system for them.”

“Why do you do it?”

Dean lets out a wry huff. “What else am I gonna do, Cas? Get a haircut and a real job? Pretend I don’t know what’s out there?”

Castiel doesn’t have a reply to that. It makes all too much sense. “How should I contact you if I do find the book?”

“I’ll keep this phone. You can text. Or call. Whatever,” Dean adds quickly.

It’s at this point that one of them should say something to end the call. Perhaps something clever or charming, witty or profound. But the silence stretches out on the phone between them, neither one jumping in with anything to add. The only sound is that of the woodland underneath Cas’ feet as he heads back to his car, his breathing only slightly labored. Dean’s breaths are nearly inaudible on the phone by comparison.

After another thirty seconds of silence goes by, Dean clears his throat.

“So, uh, yeah. That’s it.”

Castiel doesn’t know what makes him reply, “Be careful, Dean.”

Dean laughs and when Castiel shivers at the sound, he tells himself it’s from the cold of the encroaching night.

“Why, Cas, I didn’t know you cared.”

The call ends abruptly and Castiel keeps the phone by his ear for a few seconds of total silence, not realizing at first that it’s over.

He finally pockets his phone and makes his way back to his car, already contemplating how he’ll access impounded evidence. As the victim of Uriel’s crime, his interest in the evidence won’t be extraordinary, but given how notorious Uriel’s betrayal has become in such a short amount of time, it will be difficult to remove anything he finds.

If he finds anything at all.

He spends a lot of time that night researching wendigos and then making a list of other supernatural creatures. He really doesn’t know how absurd is too absurd when you’re making a list of things you thought weren’t real. He has wendigos, vampires and werewolves on his list immediately and starts adding things as he comes across them. Skin-walkers, jikininki, poltergeists, ghosts, rakshasas, goblins, ghouls… He’s not sure where to stop. Before now, if he’d come across a list of this nature, he would have dismissed it entirely, but now…

Before he can over think it, he types out a quick text.

Is there anything that isn’t real?

He’s surprised when his phone buzzes only moments later and feels… something at the fact that Dean appears to have immediately grasped what he was referring to.

Sasquatch.

He types back. I’m disappointed in that. Surprisingly so.

He feels a flush of amusement when he sees the reply.

Kind of a bummer, no?

Despite his recent findings, he goes to bed feeling more content than he has in years.

***

As Dean hangs up, he can feel Sam’s eyes on him.

“What?”

Sam gives him a look and then shrugs. “Nothing.”

“Don’t ‘nothing’ me.”

Sam smirks. “You’re smiling.”

“So?” Dean shoots back, feeling defensive.

Sam raises his hands in a gesture of surrender. “So, nothing. Nothing,” he repeats but his smirk turns into a full out grin. “Is your Castiel gonna go looking for the grimoire?”

Dean resists the urge to protest that Castiel isn’t ‘his’ and nods. “Yeah, he said he’d check it out.”

“You told him about the wendigo?”

“He was in the cave. Guess he’s been putting two and two together and coming up with ‘freaky-four.’ Dropped in on one of our old hunts. Doing some recon it sounds like.”

Sam nods, hands clasped and hanging between his knees as he sits on the hotel bed. “He seem okay with it?”

Dean makes a face. “‘bout as okay as anyone can be finding out what’s out there, but yeah. I think he’s doing all right.”

“Good, good,” Sam replies, still grinning ridiculously at Dean.

“Seriously, what?”

Sam shakes his head. “I’ll go grab us dinner, you just, hang out. Think about… things.”

Sam gets up and Dean’s eyes follow him, squinting in confusion. “What things? Stop being such a dramatic princess, Sammy.”

The last part is shouted as Sam chuckles his way out the door of the hotel room.

***

No one really looks at Castiel twice when he signs himself into the evidence locker that’s holding all of Uriel’s items.

He guesses he should just consider himself lucky that Internal Affairs never believed for a moment that he had anything to do with what Uriel was involved in.

He feels weird going through Uriel’s things. Like some kind of strange voyeur. But he also feels a sense of entitlement too. He needs to go through Uriel’s things, he deserves to know why Uriel used him, for what purpose.

He also feels a underlying sense of sorrow. They weren’t close friends, but he had imagined the two of them as comrades in arms. Colleagues. Rifling through evidence boxes and items, he has to keep distancing himself, remind himself that Uriel is a criminal. Uriel betrayed him.

He tries not to remember their shared pride and victory over successfully closed cases or investigations going well. He thought they worked well together. He can’t help but wonder, was it all a lie?

And if it was, how was he blind to it for so long?

He checks over the evidence list again and sees what he’s looking for - journals, books and papers, in boxes 12 to 14, shelf 5. He pulls the boxes down and immediately spies a well-worn leather bound book.

It practically screams ‘grimoire’ and he’s a little taken aback at the simplicity of it all. But he supposes that maybe the universe owes him one.

He sits on the ground, cross-legged, ignoring the dust that is sure to cling to his suit and flips through it. He can see instantaneously that it’s what he wants; the symbols are there as well as notes in another language. Latin or perhaps something else, he’s not sure. The evidence tag on the book suggests this is one of their key pieces, and given the nature of Uriel’s crime, he’s not surprised. He carefully signs the book out and heads to the local copy shop.

He spends longer there than necessary, flipping through pages, trailing his finger over passages. He finds an entire section dedicated to the symbols that are forever carved into his chest and it takes him a moment to shake himself out of his reverie and copy the pages on the high-end, industrial copier. He doesn’t know why, but he separates those pages out from his growing stack and folds them, tucking them into the inside pocket of his jacket. He feels almost… protective of them. As though because the symbols are carved into his chest, they somehow belong to him.

As he fingers the cover of the book, he realizes it’s a little too thick, too soft on the inside. He picks at the slightly curled edge of the inside cover and pulls a little. It folds back and he can see even more pages tucked into the binding of the book. Glancing around, he grabs a pair of sharp scissors from the copy help-desk and slices the rest of the binding away.

The pages he pulls out are filmy thin, tissue paper, nearly translucent in places and the ink… He brings them up close to his face and squints. No, not ink.

Blood.

The brownish-red is stark against the thin, pale paper. He tries to copy them but finds the bleed-through of light makes the copies illegible. He hesitates and then folds them carefully up again, matching their previous creases and tucks them into his pocket along with his other papers.

He feels less like an FBI agent and more like a criminal. He had figured a copy of the book would be enough for Dean, and there really was no need to steal it if he could make a copy, but taking these pages is a federal offense. Although he wonders exactly how Uriel will be tried once caught. Although gruesome, what Uriel did to Castiel is only considered aggravated assault with intent to kill. Given the circumstances and with a good lawyer, he could easily plead not guilty by reason of insanity.

As for Dean’s assertion that Uriel was attempting to open a portal to the other side… well it’s not as though they can charge him with crimes of a supernatural nature.

Castiel is no fool. He can easily see how Dean and Sam do what they do, and why it needs to be done the way it is done. In secret and silence, under the radar of the police. No one would believe them and the justice system is hardly capable of handling such cases.

He resolves not to feel guilty for taking the pages from FBI custody and sealing the inner cover back up like he never opened it.

Although, he does feel guilty about tucking the other pages, the ones about the symbols carved into his chest, into his suit pocket and not including them in the copy he’s preparing for Dean and Sam.

He can’t explain it. They feel… personal to him. Private.

He texts Dean when he’s done, letting him know that he has procured him a copy of what he is confident is Uriel’s grimoire.

You made copy?

It was not necessary to steal it permanently. A copy should suffice. he replies back.

Boy scout comes Dean’s reply.

As a matter of fact, yes I was, he sends.

One of these days we’ll have to see about getting you to cut loose ;)

It occurs to him that Dean might be flirting with him a little bit. It makes his ears go warm and he looks around surreptitiously, as though someone will suspect what he’s up to. He can’t even remember the last time someone actively flirted with him.

Worse, he can’t remember the last time he flirted back. He’s suddenly nervous, wanting to say something confident and flirtatious in reply but having no idea what.

It’s a moot point anyway as another text comes in from Dean telling him to send the book to a Bobby Singer in South Dakota. Dean notes him as a ‘friend’ and Castiel feels his heart sink a bit. Dean probably has a lot of ‘friends’ in a lot of different places. He sends back a quick confirmation that he got the address and then, eyeing the copier, decides to make a full copy of the book for himself as well before heading to the post office.

Just because Dean has a ‘friend’ looking into it, doesn’t mean Castiel can’t research it as well.

***

It seems as though now he’s looking for strange and bizarre cases, they are everywhere.

He starts a small collection of files of interest in his file cabinet and quickly has to upgrade his storage when he fills it within a month.

A lot of things don’t make it all the way up to the FBI, so he finds himself trolling local police databases for more information. Missing persons, disturbed graves, reports of strange disturbances… in the absence of any new casework being assigned to him, he has time to investigate them all.

If he wasn’t so busy chasing ghosts, ghouls, vampires and werewolves, he might have gotten around to pestering his supervisor for some regular casework. As it is, he’s busy enough following up on leads he finds in the several newspapers he now subscribes to that he barely notices that he hasn’t been assigned anything new.

Dean sends some sporadic updates on Bobby’s progress, or lack thereof, on Uriel’s grimoire. Castiel carefully notes everything that Dean says down and has started his own research. He begins by brushing up on his Latin and starting on Enochian and Phoenician. He makes meticulous, almost fussy notes on his copy of the grimoire. He keeps the pages with the copies of the symbols on his chest taped up on the wall in his office at home and he stares at them every day, wondering if they will ever be decipherable to him.

He sends Dean questions about the things he comes across in the local papers and older FBI files. Sometimes Dean is quick to burst his supernatural bubble, stating the report Castiel is looking at sounds more like a human monster than a paranormal one, or the ravings of a mad man reported in the newspaper don’t sound like anything of interest. Other times Dean fires back a quick one word reply of his educated guess: ghoul, poltergeist, poltergeist, ghost, revenant, poltergeist.

Castiel is surprised at how many times ‘poltergeist’ or ‘ghost’ is the answer and he tells Dean that in one of his texts. Dean sends back:

Shrug. Nothin wrong with a salt and burn. Piece of cake. Can’t all be wraith.

He hurriedly starts researching ‘wraith’ after that comment and adds it to his growing list of creatures.

He plays a game with himself when Dean calls, trying to figure out where Dean is by any background noises or any details Dean divulges. He never tells Dean his guesses, not wanting Dean to even know he’s trying to figure it out.

When he hears loud traffic in the background, he pictures Dean sitting in his car, perhaps on some kind of stakeout. Sometimes he hears a television playing low in the background and he can picture Dean stretched out on a bed, legs crossed at the ankle, body loose and relaxed.

He thinks about Dean a lot that way. He shouldn’t, but he does.

Sometimes Dean calls to tell him more information about the grimoire and they end up on the phone for an hour; Castiel asking question after question. Are sirens real? How do you kill them? How would it feel to be under the influence of one? You were? When? What happened? Why do some people come back as ghosts and others as poltergeists? What if you can’t find the body to salt and burn?

Sometimes they talk about things other than the paranormal. Castiel once made the mistake of telling Dean about his brother’s new club and how Gabriel is always harassing him to go. Dean asks him why he doesn’t and Castiel admits that he doesn’t really have anything in common with the people who frequent Gabriel’s club. They’re flashy and everything in their lives seems disposable - money, phones, friends. They will attempt to speak with him and he will find them intrusive.

Dean says sometimes it’s nice to go someplace loud and just let everything else get drowned out.

Castiel wonders if that’s what Dean does, but he doesn’t ask.

Dean promises the next time he’s in town, he’ll take Cas out for a drink.

Without thinking, Castiel asks if that would be before or after he’s finished dodging his arrest warrants. As soon as the words are out of his mouth, he wants to snatch them back.

Then suddenly, Dean laughs.

“Are you gonna arrest me, Cas?” Dean asks, humor lacing his tone.

“No,” Castiel answers honestly. “I told you the first night I met you I wouldn’t arrest you.”

Dean laughs again only this time it’s lower, softer.

“So you did.”

Another one of their long silences stretch out on the phone where neither of them say anything. Castiel has never minded silence and minds it even less when it’s with Dean.

“But you should go. To you brother’s club. Have a drink,” Dean finally says, breaking the silence.

“Perhaps,” Castiel replies.

“Tell you what, if you go to your brother’s club, I’ll head out right now and go have a drink somewhere and if someone comes up to talk to you and you don’t like the look of them, you can tell them you’re already having a drink with someone. Me.”

“Ah yes, the invisible drinking partner. I’m sure that will go over fantastically.”

He can hear Dean shrug. “It’ll most likely get them to leave you alone.”

Castiel considers this and agrees. “All right. I will go for one drink.”

“Better make it two, I’m not a cheap date.”

Dean hangs up before Castiel can say anything in reply, although truth be told, he’s at a loss for words. He’s both confused and excited by Dean’s flirtations. He’s never quite sure how to react. He doesn’t know Dean well enough to know if this is just how Dean interacts with everyone or if he’s actually flirting with him, instead of just someone. Castiel has never been good at flirting. Gabriel has attempted many times to ‘school’ him in art but each time just left Castiel feeling confused and flustered and Gabriel bemoaned the fact that they were of the same genetic material.

He considers just staying in, going over case files or watching television but it feels dishonest. He changes quickly into a pair of dark jeans, casual shirt and jacket and heads out to Gabriel’s club, The Bank.

When he gets there, the line to get in stretches down the building and around the corner. He parks his car about two blocks away, stuffs his hands in his pockets and walks, head down toward the club. He has to pass by the bouncers and maitre’d to head toward the end of the line. As he’s going, he feels a tap on his shoulder.

“Cas!”

He turns around and finds himself facing Gabriel’s partner, Balthazar.

“I thought that was you, little devil, trying to sneak by.”

“I was heading for the line.”

Balthazar rolls his eyes and, making eye contact with the bouncers, points at Cas.

“This is Gabriel’s brother, Castiel. If you ever see him wandering about aimlessly, phone social services. He’s probably reported lost.”

“Very funny,” Castiel intones.

“What’s funny is you lining up like one of the heathens. Get inside, your brother fancies himself a bartender tonight.” Balthazar hits him good-naturedly on the back and sends Castiel through the front double doors.

The music that could be heard outside is overwhelming inside. The heavy bass is matched by the strobe lights and Castiel blinks a few times trying to make his eyes adjust. He peers over the heads of the crowd, looking for his brother; when he finds him, he wishes he was surprised.

Gabriel is lying down on the bar while two very beautiful women pour liquor right from the bottle into his mouth. He takes several swallows and then hops to his feet on top of the bar - his body small but strong. Though Castiel can’t actually hear him over the music he can see Gabriel hooting and hollering and then he jumps down behind the bar. The two women jump up on the bar and start doing some kind of tandem dance and - wow, he tilts his head slightly at them and wonders if he should be arresting them for lewd public acts.

He’s pushed along by the throng of the crowd and finds himself a few steps from the bar just as Gabriel spots him.

“Baby bro!” Gabriel yells. Or at least, Castiel presumes he yelled it since he really only saw Gabriel’s lips move and didn’t actually hear anything about the bass of the music. As he reaches the bar, Gabriel leans over it and grabs him by the shoulders hard, pulling him in and leaving a sloppy, whiskey laden kiss on his cheek.

He remembers now why he usually avoids his brother’s clubs.

He wipes off his face with the back of his hand and, this close to Gabriel, can faintly hear his brother introduce him to two waitresses standing close to the bar. How they manage to hear anything at all confounds and amazes Castiel. They both nod - one a younger, attractive looking man who seems to look Cas up and down, and the other another stunning woman who appears to have no interest in him.

“You shoulda told me you were stopping by!” Gabriel shouts at him, leaning over the bar as he places a beer down in front of Cas.

“I didn’t know myself.”

“Whoo! Look at you! Mr. Spontaneity!”

Castiel manages a weak grin and, as he raises the beer to his lips, gives a quick thought to Dean, wherever he may be.

***

Dean pockets his phone and stands up from where he was lounging on the bed. Sam looks up at him and smirks.

“Going for a drink?” Sam asks, with a twinkle in his eye.

“Nosy Nellie,” Dean grouses as he slides his arms into his leather jacket.

“You’re in the same room as me, Dean, I’m hardly eavesdropping.”

Dean rolls his eyes. “Whatever. Did you wanna come?”

Sam smiles. “No, no. You go on. Have your drink with ‘Cas’,” he replies, making air quotes around the name.

Dean pockets his room key and heads out, leaving Sam chuckling to himself.

There’s a pub at the other end of the parking lot and Dean ambles down the pavement, the low amber light of the street lamps lighting his way. He shoves his hands into his pockets as he walks. It’s not a cold night, but it’s not warm either. Before he knows it, he’s stepping inside, hearing the sounds of an old jukebox blaring out 70s rock. A place like this would’ve been called a saloon in the old days - reliable, worn, full of locals and regulars getting together to toss one back. He jerks his head in greeting at the bartender and orders a beer, tossing down some bills to pay for it at the same time.

He settles into the bar stool, not looking around. He doesn’t need to really, he got all the details of the joint when he walked in and his peripheral vision has been honed from years of hunting. He rarely needs to turn his head around to get the lay of the land or keep apprised of what’s going on around him. It’s not really a surprise when a couple of people try to sit next to him and engage him in a conversation. A pretty girl at the start of his beer, a prettier boy near the end. Dean doesn’t even glance over at them, just nods once or twice, gives a couple of one word answers and keeps focused on his beer. They both give up after a few minutes.

He hasn’t really been interested in anyone for a while.

Not since….

Well, that’s a kettle of fish he doesn’t know if he wants to bust open. He knows damn well when it was that he stopped being interested in other people and started looking forward to late night phone calls from nerdy federal agents and discussions on werewolves, wendigoes and witches. He spins his beer bottle in his hands, picking at the edge of the label. It’s a dumb crush he’s got, he knows that. Fed like Castiel and hunter like Dean? It’s got ‘bad idea’ written all over it.

In big, capital letters. In bold. Underlined.

He swigs back the last of his beer and when the bartender catches his eye, Dean crooks his finger to order another one.

Bad idea though it may be, it doesn’t stop him from letting his mind drift once in a while. And if maybe once or twice he’s had some ‘personal’ time in the shower while thinking about blue eyes and messy dark hair, well, no harm no foul, right?

Right.

He puts down a few more bills to pay for his next beer, enjoying the first sharp swallow of his fresh beer on the heels of the warm-ish remainder of his first.

He wonders what Cas is drinking. If he’s holding his own beer in his long, slender fingers.

Dean bites the inside of his lip.

Really fucking bad idea.

***

After two beers, a glass of water, numerous pleadings from Gabriel and one very distinctive, unmistakable and hard pinch on his ass, Castiel is more than ready to call it a night.

Even with all his skills as an FBI agent, he has no idea who pinched him. The club is so crowded there were easily four people within pinching distance.

None of them held any interest for him, so he let it go.

It seems impossible but the club has gotten even more populated since he arrived. A quick glance at his watch shows him it’s just past eleven, which must be when all the party goers really get their game on. He manages to wade his way through the crush of people, nod at the bouncers and then he’s blissfully out of the muggy interior and in the fresh, crisp air of outside.

He takes the walk back to his car slow, enjoying the relative silence after the ear-drum pounding he received in the club. He can hear his ears ringing faintly and he bemoans the loss of his youth.

But that’s not just ringing he hears.

He pauses, not even wanting the sounds of his footsteps cluttering up his hearing and he strains.

There they are.

The sounds of a struggle.

He knows the sounds well. He’s been in enough fights with suspects in his time, assisted on enough busts to recognize them for what they are. They are the sounds of one person trying to force another person to do something they don’t want to do.

They’re coming from the gap in between the two buildings just in front of him.

He’s thankful that he feels completely ill-prepared for life in general without his gun, and hence never leaves home without it. He draws it from his underarm holster, equally glad he took Balthazar’s advice on an exorbitant tailor to custom fit a jacket that would conceal his weapon. He falls into the creep-step that is the hallmark of many a law professional. He presses his body up against the wall and peers around the corner.

He immediately sees a woman being dragged by the wrist deeper into the alley and it’s readily apparent, she doesn’t want to go.

“Federal agent, hands up,” he declares easily, his low register always giving the words more power.

The man spares one glance over his shoulder and smirks at the sight of Castiel leveling his Berretta at him.

“I don’t think you can stop me with that little pea shooter,” he drawls. He’s easily taller and broader than Castiel, but Castiel knows he has training on his side.

“Again, federal agent, put your hands up and let her go.”

The tall brunette is struggling wildly against her captor, probably twisting her wrist viciously in the process. The man just hangs onto her as though she’s negligible.

In a split second, the man hisses and….

flashes his fangs

At Castiel.

Castiel has a moment to think, wow, vampire, before the man pushes the woman against the brick wall of the alley and rushes at him.

Castiel doesn’t flinch and shoots him once in the shoulder and then again in the right knee-cap.

The man, no, vampire, stumbles and falls on his shattered knee, bracing himself with one hand. He looks up at Castiel and hisses; his mouth is a cavern of sharp calcium stalactites and stalagmites, pinioning forth in a gruesome display. He starts to push himself up.

And he’s pissed.

In his mind, he can hear Dean’s voice, low and even. It’s a shame you can’t stake them because decapitation really is a bitch to pull off.

Decapitation.

Castiel shoots him once in neck, the creature’s jugular letting loose an impressive spray of cardinal fluid.

The vampire staggers, back to his knee and then resumes the motion of pushing himself back up.

Castiel shoots him again in the neck, adding to the arterial spray that’s arcing out. The creature falls backward this time, skull hitting the pavement with a loud ‘thwack.’ Castiel steps closer, gun lowered and kicks at the vampires feet.

He doesn’t move, but upon further inspection, Castiel can see his eyelids blinking, mouth working. The teeth are retracting in and then pushing back out. In and out, in and out.

It’s a little sickening.

He hears a scurrying sound and turns just in time to see the brunette make a run for it away from them both.

She really is making good time given the height of her heels.

Keeping a few steps in between the possibly dying vampire and himself, he switches his gun to a single hand hold and pulls out his phone.

Dean answers on the first ring.

“Cas, are you calling to see how drunk I am, and how easy that might make me?” Dean’s voice is smooth and sinful.

“I need to know if shooting a vampire in the neck, possibly severing the spinal cord counts as decapitation.”

“Where the fuck are you?” Dean’s tone immediately shifts from flirty to all business.

“In an alley outside my brother’s club and…” Castiel’s ears strain. “The gunshots are drawing the police.” he looks down at the vampire whose teeth are still going in and out but at a slower rate. “I think it’s still alive.”

“Jesus fuck!” Dean exclaims. “Are you sure it’s a vamp?”

Castiel directs the phone’s camera to the creature and gets a shot of it with its teeth out. He hits send and waits for the tell-tale ‘whoosh’ to tell him the picture’s been delivered.

“Fair enough,” says Dean on the phone as he sees the shot.

“Is it enough that his spinal cord is likely severed?” Castiel repeats. The sirens are getting louder and he really doesn’t want to be caught with the body. He’s a federal officer and he shot to kill against a man that appears unarmed.

It won’t look good.

He’s supremely glad he took one of his personal firearms and not his standard issue, which would already have ballistics entered in the system.

“Dean,” he prods.

“I don’t know, Cas. It’s never really come up.”

“What do I do?”

“Fuckit, shoot it again in the neck, just to be sure. Sammy and I’ll - ”

Dean’s voice is cut off by the sound of Castiel firing into the creature’s neck. Its teeth were stuck on descent and remain partially protruding.

The sirens are almost upon Castiel.

“I have to go,” he says sharply, disconnecting the call, stuffing the phone in his pocket and the gun back in his holster. He exits out of the alley way and finds a small pack of club goers carousing loudly just half a block ahead of him. He jogs to catch up, making himself appear part of their merry revelry. He sees the police cars speed by, sees the cops look out the window and see a group of kids, drunk, but harmless.

He makes it back to his car and then his apartment, shrugging out of his jacket and quickly taking his gun to his kitchen. Not that it would turn up in any ballistics reports, but he’d prefer to have it cleaned just in case.

Castiel can likely never use it again, lest it be traced back to him. He leaves it dissembled and locks it in one of his small lock boxes. Then he carefully takes off everything he is wearing and sends it through two wash cycles on hot. It wouldn’t be enough if they were seized, but it’s definitely enough to pass a cursory inspection. He quickly showers and tosses on a pair of sleeping pants and a t-shirt. He stands in his hallway, hands on his hips, thinking.

He doesn’t think there was anything about tonight that would leave behind enough evidence for probable cause. There’s the woman, but she was frightened, under attack. He doubts she got a very good look at him and even if she did, she didn’t actually see him shoot the vampire.

Not that Castiel could use that as a defense.

He’s saddened and surprised by how easy it would be for him to get away with the shooting. Castiel knows he had just cause, knows there wasn’t anything else to be done, not after what he’s learned from Dean but if it hadn’t been a monster, if Castiel himself had been some crazed punk on the street… He sighs. It’s too easy to see why there are so many unsolved crimes.

Castiel sits down with a beer he grabbed from his fridge and if this isn’t an unusual day, a three beer day, he doesn’t know what is. He casually flips on his phone to check his messages.

He finds six missed calls from Dean and four texts. He calls him immediately, not waiting to listen to any of the messages nor read the texts.

“Jesus fucking Christ that better be you Cas!”

“Hello to you as well, Dean.”

“Are you okay?”

“Of course I’m okay. Why wouldn’t I be?” Castiel asks, eyebrows drawn together in confusion.

“Oh, I don’t know,” says Dean sarcastically. “Maybe because you were in an alley with a goddamned vampire and you hung up on me!

“I had to hang up on you. The police were coming and I needed to leave.”

“Did you skip over something there? Vampire. You could have been hurt, you could have been bit.”

“But I wasn’t.”

“That is so not the fucking point!” Dean exclaims. “Jesus, you’re not… you’re a …”

“I’m a federal agent, Dean. I’m hardly a damsel in distress.”

Dean lets out a sharp exhale. “You don’t know what’s out there.”

“I know more than most. More than I did before,” Castiel counters. “What would you have had me do, Dean? There was a young lady who was being taken against her will. It’s my job to uphold the law and protect the innocent. The fact that he turned out to be a vampire and I know what I do… well, it’s actually quite fortuitous.”

“Fort-” Dean sputters. “What?”

“Fortuitous. Lucky. Advantageous. Serendip-”

“I know what it fucking means,” snarls Dean into the phone. “He could have killed you.”

“I was hardly unarmed. And as I said, I’m a federal agent and was already in the process of doing something when I realized what he was.”

“It was still a risk,” Dean grumbles, but Cas can tell from his tone that he’s been won over.

“My job entails many risks,” Castiel answers quietly. “As does yours.”

“Fine, fine. You’re a fucking hero and you saved the damsel and slew the monster.”

“Did I? Slay the monster? Do you think it’s dead?”

There’s a pause on the phone while Dean considers. “I dunno, man. We’ve always -” he makes a sort of chopping sound, “-with the head. I’m not sure if severing the spinal cord is enough. How do you even know you hit it?”

“I’m an excellent marksman.”

“Of course you are,” Dean says dryly. “Well, if you didn’t kill it, some coroner is going to get the shit scared out of them tonight and if they’re lucking, Sucky McVampire will clear out before draining any of them.”

Castiel sits up. “Do you think that’s what will happen?”

Dean lets out a mirthless laugh. “They don’t tend to wake up from being almost killed in a good mood, Cas.”

Castiel starts looking around for clothing. “I’ve got to get to the morgue it was taken to,” he says more to himself than Dean.

“Whoa, whoa. Didn’t we just discuss this? This is not your job.”

“And I told you, protecting people is my job. I have to go, Dean.”

“Goddammit!” Dean swears. “Just… Sammy and I can be back in town in a day or so. Just… if it’s not dead, you gotta take the head right off. I mean, like clear off. Inch between head and body.”

“I understand what decapitated means. You don’t have to explain,” Castiel replies, though his words hold no anger.

“And Jesus, don’t get caught,” Dean continues. “I mean don’t get bitten either, but definitely don’t get caught.”

“I will be careful, Dean.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Dean grouses. “Look, if either happens, you call me. Or Bobby. You got Bobby’s number?”

Castiel bristles slightly at the name of Dean’s ‘friend’ Bobby Singer. He still has no idea what the nature of their relationship is. Sam and Dean appear to stay at Bobby’s at times, and in a pinch, it always seems to be of him they speak.

“I will not need it.”

“Just fucking remember it,” Dean says and he rattles it off and Castiel goes through the motions of repeating it back.

“I have to go, Dean.”

“Wait, just-” Dean says quickly, his words hanging into dead silence.

“I told you, I’ll be careful,” Castiel repeats lowly.

“Don’t get dead, Cas.”

“I won’t,” he promises and then hangs up before Dean can stop him again.

In minutes he’s dressed and out the door. As a federal agent living in the city, he’s already got a good guess of the first hospital they would have taken the creature too. He’ll check there first, and if it’s not there, he’ll move down his list.

***

Dean tosses his phone down on the bed and yanks out his duffle, starting to stuff things inside. He’d only just gotten back from having his drink when his phone rang and it had been Cas. Dean’s mood had gone from ‘pleased’ to ‘petrified’ to ‘pissed’ and ramped up to ‘pack and go.’

He can feel Sam’s eyes on him.

“What?” he snaps.

From his perch on his bed, Sam looks down at the duffle and back up at Dean.

“We need to go back,” says Dean as though it’s obvious. “He’s got at least one vamp in town. Could mean a whole nest.”

“Did he say that?” asks Sam.

“No, he didn’t,” Dean huffs. “He doesn’t know, Sammy. He’s… this could be trouble.”

“And I’m not saying it isn’t,” clarifies Sam. “I’m just… he is FBI.”

“Why does everyone feel the need to remind me of that?”

“I’m just saying. If anyone can handle themselves, it’s Castiel.”

“Just shut up and start packing. It’s a hunt. That’s what we do, isn’t it? We hunt?”

Sam nods. “Yep. Packing,” he replies and Dean knows he’s being placated.

At this point, Dean doesn’t care if he’s being unreasonable or oversensitive or what-the-fuck-ever. He just wants to head back to town and see if Cas is okay.

Because where there’s one vampire, there are usually more.

And he and Cas are friends now. After a fashion.

Hunters help each other out.

Not that Cas is a hunter because he’s not. He’s a suit. Hell, he already got himself in a shitstorm mess with the whole Uriel thing.

And look how that turned out.

Not that you ever see that kind of shit coming, but still.

He stuffs the last of his clothes in the bag and goddamn, it’s time to do laundry, and heads to the bathroom to grab his shaving kit. He packs up Sam’s while he’s in there and tosses it to him on the way out.

“What? Now? Right now?” asks Sam.

“You got somewhere you gotta be tonight other than driving to a hunt?”

“Dean, it’s one in the morning. We can’t even check out.”

Dean rolls his eyes. “‘Cause we’ll be in so much trouble if we don’t check out.”

“Look, I get you’re worried about Cas, but let’s just… give it till morning.”

“He’s staking out morgues tonight for a vamp!”

“And if he finds one tonight, he’s going to have to deal with it on his own. We’re still gonna be a day out.”

“He needs back up.”

“Again. Federal agent.”

Dean purses his lips together, fingers digging into his shaving kit. “Fine. But we leave tomorrow.”

“Absolutely.”

“Early.”

“I’m not the one that usually sleeps in,” Sam replies quickly.

“Bitch.”

“I’ll let that one go because you’re worried about your boyfriend.”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” Dean protests and Sam eyeballs him again.

“He’s your something all right.”

***

Castiel has never minded the morgue. He knows a lot of people find them distressing or unnerving but he’s never been one of them.

Death is a part of life. Everyone lives, everyone dies. Although he does not speak of it much, he is a spiritual man. He believes in the idea of a soul, of an afterlife. The human body to him is nothing but a vessel and after the inhabitant departs, there is nothing to fear from the dead.

He supposes he has to amend that somewhat. There is generally nothing to fear from the dead. Although, in his current research, he hasn’t yet found anything where dead bodies are dangerous.

It’s usually the departing souls that cause problems - ghosts and poltergeists.

The dead are just the dead. Unless they were supernatural to begin with, in which case he still feels confident in his original thought that he doesn’t truly have anything to fear from the dead.

He also finds that presentation is nine-tenths of the battle when it comes to asserting his authority as a federal agent so although he dressed hastily, he made sure to put on one of his nondescript dark blue suits. People tend to let him pass if he looks like he’s on business.

It feels strange not wearing his trench-coat over top but he hasn’t gotten around to getting a replacement for the one he lost the night of Uriel’s betrayal.

The one Dean took.

He likes thinking of Dean having it. A secret, fanciful part of Castiel wonders if perhaps it will afford some kind of safety to Dean, like a talisman.

He puts his frivolous thoughts aside as he enters the main processing area of the morgue. He stops at the desk and when the attendant looks up, an almost bored expression on his face, Castiel flashes his badge quickly, not actually giving the young man to read his name printed on it. He’s pretty much hoping ‘guy in a suit’ is all the attendant will be able to recall if he is questioned.

“I’m here about a body.”

The young man snorts. “Yeah. It’s the morgue, man.”

Castiel frowns at him and the smirk on the young man’s face melts away and he coughs slightly. “I mean, uh, you know. It’s kind of what we do.”

“He would have been brought in a few hours ago. Gunshot wound to the neck.”

The young man looks unimpressed. “We got a lot of bodies tonight. I’m still processing the paperwork,” he says sullenly, tilting his head toward the stack next to him.

Castiel leans over and starts shuffling through the files, ignoring the young man’s indignant huff. He finds the file he’s looking for. Multiple gunshot wounds to the body, specifically the neck. Room three, drawer twelve.

Without another word, Castiel strides down the hall confidently, entering the swinging doors with the number three on them. The give a token squeak when he pushes them open before making a quiet swishing sound as they close.

Other than himself, there are no living people in the room. There are three examination tables set up - instruments polished, clean and at the ready, but there are no current occupants on any of the tables. Castiel didn’t want to bring anything from his apartment, thinking it could perhaps be traced back to him and he figured he’d have a plethora of choices at the morgue. He looks around and spies a wicked looking scalpel. He quickly dons a pair of surgical gloves before he picks it up.

He easily finds drawer twelve and stares at it for a moment, wishing he could tell what will happen when he opens it. Not wanting to dwell on it any longer, he opens it, and gives a tug on the sliding table that holds the body. It comes out with its own set of squeaks, the inhabitant still sealed up in the black body bag.

The bag is just as still and motionless as he would expect for a corpse. Like ripping a bandaid off he tugs the zipper back firmly, scalpel at the ready.

In the stark light of the morgue, the creature is just a young man on a table; pale and grey. Bodies in real life are never as sanitized as they are on TV. The gaping wounds in the creatures neck are puffy and pink, covered in blood that’s dry, but looks tacky. His hair is in disarray and he looks like he needs a shave. He has the stench of ‘death’ on him.

But he is blissfully still.

For a moment, Castiel questions what he saw in the alley. He wonders if perhaps although he felt sober, he wasn’t. Maybe he was drunk. Or it was too dark. Castiel steps in closer and slides a gloved finger inside the mouth of the body.

The slightly yellowed fangs are still extended. Not just the two incisors he’s come to expect from popular fiction and culture, but a mouthful of sharp points. Just as he remembered.

He’s relieved to find them still there.

Looking over the body, it does appear to be well and truly dead. It’s rather anti-climactic after his conversation with Dean. Castiel was almost sure he was going to have to decapitate it.

He wonders if he still should. He glances around. It would make quite the mess and if it isn’t worth it…

Overkill seems like too funny of a word to use in this situation, but that’s what it would be.

He puts the scalpel down and takes out his phone.

Still dead. That’s good, y/n?

Dean’s response is immediate. He must have been waiting for word from him, Castiel thinks and feels his ears go slightly hot at the thought.

Good. If he wasn’t dead, he’d be up and pissed..

Castiel pockets his phone and is about to leave when it occurs to him that perhaps the body hasn’t been processed yet. It’s a busy city and the police are stretched thin. Decision made, he unzips the body bag the rest of the way and starts checking pockets.

He hits the proverbial jackpot in the back pocket. Wallet with ID. He quickly slides it next to his own, zips the body back up and locks the drawer closed.

He can hear his own earlier words to Dean echoing in his head.

Stealing evidence from a crime scene is a federal offense.

He’s sure his heart is beating loud enough for people to hear it as he leaves the morgue. His entire life, he’s done the right thing. He’s followed the rules, stuck to the well-worn path, listened to his superiors, dotted all his i’s and crossed all his t’s.

And now, he’s just taken evidence from a crime scene.

But it doesn't feel wrong, exactly. He knows he’s doing it for a good reason, for the greater good, in fact. He stole the perp’s wallet to find out who he was, so he can maybe find out more about him, if there are more like him.

So if he breaks the rules for the greater good, is it still considered wrong?

The question weighs heavily on him as he scans the address on the driver’s license of one Dwayne Parks, who now resides in one of the city’s morgues. Castiel recognizes the cross street of the address and figures if he wants to do any recon, he better do it before the police find another way to identify Parks and head over to his place themselves.

He may be new to the supernatural and paranormal, but this part of an investigation is familiar to him. Find a person of interest, and then find out everything you can about them. Where they live, where they work, who their friends are, who their enemies are, where they shop, what they do in the spare time. At least one of the above things will generally lead to some piece of information that will assist in the case. Sometimes you get several things all at once and very quickly and that’s that.

Sometimes getting that crucial piece of information is like getting blood from a stone. But either way, the routine is the same, the job is the same.

Castiel is very good at his job.

***

Parks’ apartment is an average bachelor pad.

Average looking sofa, average looking wardrobe, average bedroom, bed unmade, laundry on the floor.

The kitchen is cluttered with appliances that Castiel recognizes from late-night infomercials. It seems that if an appliance promised to make life easier, Dwayne Parks purchased it. Castiel opens the fridge and shuts it again quickly when the stench of moldy and rotten food overwhelms him.

So, it would appear that Parks may have been a vampire for a while. Or he just didn’t shop for groceries as often as he should.

But there’s nothing obviously wrong with the apartment. If Parks was a vampire and still living in his place, nothing appears to be excessively creepy or supernatural.

Castiel spies a stack of mail on the counter and picks it up. Recognizing the name of the local power company, he opens it.

It’s this month’s statement, but looking at the power consumption graph, Parks hasn’t been using much of anything for the last week of the month.

Perhaps he wasn’t living her after all.

Castiel sees something else in the mail pile. Fliers for Gabriel’s club, The Bank.

It’s several blocks away from Parks’ apartment, but close enough that he might have been interested and ended up going. The attack also happened in close proximity to the club.

It seems like Castiel has to pay his brother’s club another visit.

But not tonight, he notes as he checks his watch. It’s past four in the morning and his eyes are gritty from the late hour.

That night, he dreams of Parks. Dreams of finding him in the alley, about to bite into the young woman. Parks’ teeth are pearlescent and glow in the eerie way that dream objects refuse to conform to the natural laws of physics. When he orders Parks to stop, Parks smiles and Castiel can’t stop himself from moving forward, lowering his gun and saying ‘My, what sharp teeth you have.’

Dean is suddenly behind him, whispering in Castiel’s ear.

“That’s werewolves, Cas. Not vampires.”

He turns to look at Dean, confused as to when Dean got there. They are suddenly no longer in the alley but back in the farmhouse where Dean and Sam first found him.

Where Dean rescued him.

Castiel sees a copy of himself stretched out like the sacrificial lamb he was on the alter, covered in blood only this time, he’s already dead. Dream Dean walks calmly over and starts untying him from where he’s bound and Castiel can only watch as Dean pulls his other body off the table and it slides to the ground in a heap.

In the way of dreams, Castiel’s eye is caught by something shiny on the ground next to his other, lifeless form. He bends over and picks it up. It’s a gold skeleton key, warm to the touch, heavy in his hands.

“Whatcha got there, Cas?” Dean asks.

“It’s a key,” he says inanely.

He feels the warmth of Dean’s body blanketing his back as Dean steps up behind him, hooks his chin on Castiel’s shoulder. Dean’s arms snake easily around Castiel’s waist and the solidity of Dean is surprising. Castiel wants to lean into him, to turn around, but he remains stuck, focused on the key in his hands.

“What’s it open?”

Castiel turns the key over, examining it. “I don’t know.”

“Gotta open something. All keys do.”

Castiel flips it over, noting small carved letters down the body of the key. He squints at them, bringing the key up close to his eyes.

It’s his name, carved into the warm metal. Castiel’s name brandished across the key.

“You know,” Dean says, his voice low in Cas’ ear, Dean’s breath warm and slightly damp against the skin. It sends a thrill down Castiel’s spine and he turns his head slightly, moving his ear closer to Dean’s lips. “The thing about keys is-”

He wakes with a start, the clock-radio screeching and he blinks at the numbers. It’s only six am, not even two hours since he returned home but he’d forgotten to turn off his alarm. His fingers stumble blearily against the contraption before silencing it and ensuring it won’t turn on again. He flops back down on his pillows, resolving to go in late to work. He’s still on limited duties anyway and doubts anyone will really notice.

The dream is still sharp and clear in his mind and he turns the images over: Parks, Dean, the altar, the key.

The details start to become fuzzy as he drifts back to sleep. Images that were clear and sharp minutes ago start to fade and become disjointed. As he falls asleep, though, he can still feel the warmth of Dean, pressed close behind him.

***

When Castiel wakes again it’s 9:00 AM, and although less than five hours sleep isn’t ideal, it’s enough to get him out of bed and starting his day. He keeps his shower short and stops for coffee and a muffin on the way to the office and makes it in by 10:15. He can’t help but notice he’s still getting the sympathetic head tilts and sad eyes from most of the women, knowing nods and grim smiles from most of the men.

Uriel’s betrayal has made him infamous.

It gives him a free pass on being late. No one says a word about it.

Using the desktop link to local law enforcement he finds the report on Dwayne Parks who is, as of yet, unidentified in the system. He wishes for a moment that he’d only taken the driver’s license and not the entire wallet so that Parks wouldn’t be listed as a John Doe. He may have died a vampire, but he was human once and Castiel is sure someone is missing him. He can’t worry about that now, however. Curious as to what the local police do know, he skims the file. They’re currently classifying it as a mugging or unknown attack. Without any witnesses (and here Castiel spares a thought for the young woman), they don’t have much to go on. The ballistics report is pending for the bullets recovered from the body. He knew they were likely to recover the bullets and has pretty much written off his personal side arm as unusable now that those bullets are logged in the system.

He pulls up the coroner report and notes that yes, he did sever the spinal cord, and makes a mental note to tell Dean. The coroner noted ‘several dental deformities’ and indicated that dental records might be the way to go to identify the body.

Not likely, thinks Castiel grimly.

Satisfied that the police don’t have anything to lead back to him, he closes the file. It’s too early to call Gabriel, so he starts scanning the current police files looking for any attacks that include strange bite marks to the body.

Three hours later, he thinks he might have something. He’s got three missing persons reports with no leads, one dead prostitute and four animal services reports all coming from the same area of town. The animal services reports are for dead animals found. Local vets had worried for a while they had some kind of epidemic making its way through the pet population when four separate groups of dead cats and dogs were found. They later identified the animals as dead by exsanguination.

The working girl had been found by one of her peers, dead in a room they sometimes ‘shared’ for ‘entertaining’. She too had been found with ragged knife wounds in her neck wounds that the coroner stated were post-mortem.

Which would be a smart thing to do to a victim if you were a vampire trying to stay below the radar, thinks Castiel.

The missing persons reports all detail young victims (one male, two female) out clubbing or socializing with friends, who had gone missing on their ways home, never to be seen again. Family and friends interviews all indicated that none were the runaway type. One was pre-med, one worked full time at a local coffee shop and the last had almost finished a bachelors’ degree in fine arts at the university. Neither of them screamed unreliable nor ‘dangerous lifestyle’.

He prints out a map of the area and marks off the body dumps of the animals, the dead hooker and the last known locations of the three missing people. He’s got a pretty big area marked out in the warehouse district. The district is working its way up the social ranks; parts of it have been converted into upper class lofts, bakeries and specialty shops but the trend though hasn’t worked its way through the entire area yet. There’s a definite line of demarcation where upscale meets downtown and Castiel bets he’s seeing the intersection of the two.

Even if it’s not a lead on his vampire, it’s still worth checking out. He may end up solving a human crime.

Deciding it’s definitely time that Gabriel should be awake and at work, he decides to head over to the club. He’s got a pretty good photo of Parks from the DMV and figures he can show it around and see if anyone recognizes it or has any information.

There are no bouncers at this time of the afternoon but the doors are open when he tries them. The club looks completely different, dark and empty during the daytime where it had been full of light and people during the night before. A stockboy in dirty jeans and a t-shirt who looks barely old enough to be stocking the liquor hesitates in front of Castiel.

“Uh, can I help you?”

“I am Castiel. Gabriel’s brother. Is he here?”

The boy jerks his thumb toward the back where Castiel can see a long hallway with doors on either side. He can hear Gabriel before he sees him, complaining loudly.

“Payroll is boring.”

“Yes, well, if you hired a bookkeeper based on skills with a computer instead of… elsewhere… you’d manage to keep one for longer than five minutes and they would do it for you,” Balthazar replies easily.

“I want someone nice to look at!” protests Gabriel, just as Castiel opens the door to his office and enters. “What’s wrong with that?” Gabriel looks up from behind his desk at Cas and smiles. “Cas! Twice in twenty four hours! To what do I owe the honor? Wait - am I under arrest?”

Balthazar turns slightly from the chair he’s in to face Cas. “Tell me he’s finally under arrest. We have a bet - he gets arrested, I get the club.”

Castiel frowns. “No. Why would you think you were under arrest?” he asks, eyes narrowing.

Gabriel waves a hand. “Minor misunderstanding. Very minor. Hardly worth mentioning. You’re not dying are you?”

Castiel’s head tilts slightly at the non-sequitur. “No, I am not dying.”

Gabriel shrugs. “Just checking.”

“I am here in an official capacity,” Castiel begins, reaching into his pocket for the photo of Parks.

“You said I wasn’t under arrest!”

Castiel rolls his eyes and pulls out the picture of Parks, putting it on Gabriel’s desk. “Do you recognize this man?”

Gabriel looks sideways at him. “Depends,” he hedges.

“No, it does not depend, do you recognize him or not?” Castiel replies tiredly, used to Gabriel’s dodging over the years.

“I might,” Gabriel shrugs. “Why?”

“He’s a suspect.”

“Of what?”

Gabriel always was nosy. “Of a crime,” Castiel answers easily. Two can play the coy game.

Gabriel eyes him carefully. “In the club?”

“No.”

Gabriel visible relaxes. “Oh. Then yeah, I recognize him. He comes in here sometimes, with his buddies. Kind of rowdy. Chats up some girls. The usual. The servers don’t really like him.”

“Why not?”

Gabriel shrugs again. “Say he and his friends were weird. But they always pay their tab and it’s not a crime to be weird.”

“You would know,” Castiel says quickly.

“Yeah, well, it runs in the family,” Gabriel fires back. “What’s he done?”

Castiel pockets the photo back in his jacket pocket. “I would like to return tonight and if this man’s companions return, I would like you to point them out.”

“You want me to engrave an invitation so you can RSVP?” Gabriel asks dryly.

Castiel is already on his way out the door. “Not necessary,” he calls back over his shoulder.

Back in his office, Castiel takes his phone out and starts texting.

Is it likely that vampires travel in groups and if so, of how many?

He hits send and is surprised when the phone rings one minute later, Dean’s number displayed on the screen.

“Hello, Dean.”

“Where are you?”

Dean’s voice is sharp, demanding and in the background, Castiel can hear the familiar sounds of driving - tires on pavement, the change in pressure as other cars are passed, the slight rumble of the engine.

“In my office, why?”

“What do you mean ‘is it likely vampires travel in groups?’”

“It’s a simple question. Are they similar to pack animals, or are they more solitary creatures?”

“Why do you want to know?”

Castiel looks up quickly and seeing his office door closed, goes on. “I believe that our creature had friends of a similar nature.”

“Jesus, Cas,” Dean starts and then pauses for a moment. “You can’t just… You’re not… this is dangerous!”

“I’m aware.”

He can hear someone in the background, Sam he thinks, saying something that sounds like ‘Federal Agent’ before Dean’s voice comes clear over the line again. “Shut your pie hole.”

“Pardon?” Castiel asks, confused.

“No, not you, just… Look, this is a dangerous gig, and you can’t just…”

“Dean, I am only gathering information.”

“Yeah well so far your ‘gathering information’ has led to you killing a vampire and taking a midnight trip to the morgue and now you want to know how many vamps are in a nest.”

“Is that what it’s called? A nest?”

“Focus!”

“I am focused. As I said, I think I may have a lead on some associates of our creature and I would like to know how many may be involved.”

He hears Dean make a strangled sound. “Sammy and I are headed back to town, just hang tight until we get there.”

“I’m not planning anything dangerous, Dean. I’m only going to be doing some reconnaissance at my brother’s club.” There’s a knock at his door and he cuts Dean’s next strangled sound off. “I must go.” He hangs up just as a fellow agent, Rachel, pokes her head in his office.

“Don’t know if you got the email, but there’s a meeting in the boardroom. Workload assignment. In five.”

“Thank you, I will be there.”

She gives a quick nod and smile and she’s off. He can see his phone already lighting up with text messages.

Do not even THINK about doing anything on your own.

He quickly types back.

Do not be alarmed. I am quite good at my job.

He pockets his phone to head off to the meeting before he sees if there’s a reply.

***

When Cas suddenly hangs up, Dean curses loudly and looks at his phone twice to make sure it’s working and that Cas really did hang up instead of them being disconnected.

“Son of a bitch!” he repeats and then hikes one of his knees up to hold the wheel while he starts texting.

“Hey, hey, hey!” exclaims Sam, leaning over and putting one of his hands on the wheel. “Eyes on the road, man!”

“Does he think it’s some kind of game? Whack a mole with vamps? This is dangerous shit!” Dean mutters as he types on his phone.

“Jesus, no texting while driving!” Sam shouts and yanks the phone out of Sam’s hands just as Dean hits send.

“Hey! That’s my phone!” Dean yelps.

Sam turns it off and shoves it in his back pocket with one hand, all the while keeping his eyes on the road and his other hand on the wheel. “And you can have it back when you aren’t driving.”

Dean mutters at him but finally puts both hands back on the wheel. “There, happy now? Ten and two, just like driver’s ed.” He shakes his hands a little bit in a jazzy type motion, ignoring Sam’s scowl.

“What’s Castiel planning on doing?” asks Sam, having only heard one side of the conversation.

Dean presses down on the gas pedal harder. “Guy thinks he’s Buffy now or something. Asking how many vamps are in a nest.”

Sam’s eyes widen. “He found a nest? Really?”

“What? No,” Dean replies, trying to keep his eyes on the road. “He’s trying to find out if there is a nest. He’s heading for trouble. He says he’s doing recon tonight at a club. Can you believe that shit? Recon.”

At Sam’s silence, Dean glances over. “What?” he asks when he sees Sam’s face.

“Doesn’t sound dangerous,” Sam shrugs.

“Doesn’t sound… What? Sammy! Vampires.”

“Dean, he’s going to a club. Where there are people. Lots of people.”

“And apparently, vampires!” Dean proclaims, slapping the wheel for emphasis.

“Of which he already managed to kill one! Federal agent!”

“Jesus, not you too. Just because he’s some kind of fed doesn’t mean he can handle this.”

Sam doesn’t say anything, only eyes Dean pointedly.

“What?” Dean says loudly.

“I just think you need to examine why you’re so upset.”

“I told you, it’s not safe!”

“Dean,” Sam says, with more patience than Dean probably deserves. “Have you noticed that you’re a little… protective of Castiel?”

“Of course I am. Dude is in a dangerous situation.”

Sam nods. “Sure, sure, but I’m just saying, you’re… you know, maybe overreacting.”

Dean glances over and glares. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’m just saying, you know, over the last little bit, you and Castiel… the phone calls, the texting…”

“We’re working a case here. We’re trying to figure out what Uriel was up to!”

“Um, yeah,” drawls Sam. “How many of those phone calls and texts actually have to do with Enochian translations?”

Dean’s mouth opens and closes a few times. “It’s hard to do that shit over the phone.”

“Exactly,” Sam says.

“‘Exactly’ what?” Dean shoots back. “What?”

“I just think that, you know, you’ve maybe developed - ” he stops suddenly as Dean shoots him another big-brother-death-glare, “- or maybe you’re starting to develop -” the death glare gets worse, “-you know, sometimes these connections evolve-”

One of Dean’s hands starts to clench into a fist.

“And you guys had an intense first meeting -” The fist opens and closes a few times.

“Spit it out, Samantha,” Dean growls.

“And-I-think-you-developed-feelings-for-him,” Sam rushes out.

“I’m worried about him.”

“Yes,” Sam nods. “Because you’ve… - startedhavingfeelingsforhim,” he spits quickly.

“What are you? A twelve year old girl?”

Sam huffs out an exasperated breath. “I’m just saying that there have been a lot of late night phone calls. Texting.”

“And I told you, we’re working on that Enochian.”

“We’re working on the Enochian with Bobby too and I didn’t hear you chatting him up at 2 am the other night.”

“You listening in on my life now?”

“Kinda hard not to when we’re together all the time. Dean, look, you’re allowed to have feelings-”

“Thank you very much, Oprah. Did you get a free set of breasts with your new vagina?”

“And,” Sam continues, raising his voice over top of Dean’s. “Maybe you and Castiel share some kind of, I don’t know, profound bond-”

“Profound bond? I’m bonded now?” Dean cuts in, eyes askew at Sam.

“I just…” Sam says, dauntless in the face of Dean’s expression. “You don’t have to talk to me about it-”

“Really? Because it kinda seems like you wanna make me.”

“But if you want to,” Sam says, raising his voice again. “I’m here for you.”

Dean rolls his eyes. “I wish you’d be somewhere else for me,” he mutters.

***

The bouncers at Gabriel’s club recognize him this time and wave him through the line, much to the chagrin of several of waiting patrons. Once again, the club is dark and loud - full of young club-goers wearing the absolute minimum of what they can get away with. He makes his way through the throng as he did before - careful not to knock over anyone who is too drunk to stand straight, but never stopping. He spots Gabriel tending bar, pouring shots with a smirk and tossing one back himself before sliding the other three toward a group of co-eds. As if feeling the weight of Cas’ stare, Gabriel looks up and jerks his head in greeting. As Cas comes up to the bar, Gabriel pours another shot and pushes it toward him. Cas takes one look at it and slides it off to the side.

“I’m working,” Castiel says, trying to shout over the loud throbbing music.

Gabriel pushes the shot back in front of him. “So am I,” he shouts back, taking another shot of tequila. Cas frowns at him and Gabriel rolls his eyes, taking the shot back from Cas and shooting it back himself. He jerks his head to the left a bit and Cas lets his eyes trail off to the side, seeing a group of three young men sitting at a table, joined by three girls. The guys are good looking, well built, probably young professionals if not still in college.

“Those are your buddy’s friends,” Gabriel yells over the music, Cas leaning forward to hear him. “Not sure where your buddy is.”

“I told you, he’s a suspect,” Cas replies, not adding that he’s dead.

“Whatever. Just promise me you won’t make any arrests in the club. Bad for business.”

Gabriel pours him a diet soda, dropping a straw in it and sliding it across the bar before moving onto paying customers. Cas settles in a bit to watch the three men. He feels his phone vibrating against his chest and pulls it out of his coat pocket.

We just hit town. Where u at?

He texts back with nimble fingers. At a club. Have spotted suspects.

The reply is almost immediately. What club? Do not DO NOT move.

The bank.

What bank?

My brother’s club. It’s called the Bank.

Dean’s reply is a little longer in coming and Cas imagines Dean plugging the name into his phone to find directions.

Got it. DONT MOVE.

Castiel stares at the screen for longer than necessary, not sure he understands how he feels about Dean’s emphatic and repeated demands. On the one hand, Cas thinks he finds them insulting. He is a federal agent and is trained to tail and apprehend suspects. On the other hand, he feels something warm curl low in his stomach at the… protective nature of Dean’s messages.

He can’t even remember the last time someone, other than Gabriel, was so interested in his well-being.

He’s so wrapped up in his thoughts he doesn’t notice when Gabriel slips in front of him again and plucks the phone from his fingers. He makes a move to snatch it back and Gabriel steps backward, using the bar in between them as a barrier as he shamelessly reads the texts on Cas’ phone.

“Cassy,” Gabriel teases, raising his eyebrows. “You got a girlfriend?” Gabriel reads over the words again. “Or maybe… boyfriend?”

Cas tries to make a move for his phone again, coming up and slightly over the bar, but Gabriel just moves another step back. He smiles gleefully at Cas and Cas knows he let Gabriel see too much of his expression.

His brother has always been very good at reading him.

Gabriel tries to scroll backward through the messages and Castiel is glad he had the foresight to keep deleting texts from Dean as they came in.

“He’s a… colleague.”

“Bull shit,” Gabriel shouts over the music. “One: I know your face and you’ve got more than a work expression on and two,” Gabriel holds up two of the fingers from his other hand. “You don’t have his name on your phone.”

“So?”

“So all your precious federali friends are listed by last name, first name and badge number. But this guy…” Gabriel continues flipping through Cas’ phone, relaxing his posture and coming back closer to the bar. “Not even one name. Interesting.”

Cas takes the opportunity of Gabriel’s attention being on the phone to reach over quickly and snatch it out of his hands.

“We’re working a case together,” Castiel protests.

“Is that what the young kids are calling it these days?” Gabriel smirks. “What’s his name?”

Castiel pauses for a moment, not about to tell Gabriel and then decides that fighting Gabe will only make it harder. “Dean,” he says succinctly.

Gabriel makes a comically impressed face, mouthing the name over again. “And it looks like Dean is coming here?”

“Yes. He’s likely bringing his brother as well.”

“Kinky.”

It’s Castiel’s turn to roll his eyes. He’s about to tell Gabriel to mind his own business when the trio that he’s been watching start to get up, gathering their things together. And it looks like the girls are going with them.

“I must go.”

Gabriel’s teasing face disappears and his hand snakes out and catches Castiel’s wrist. “Hey, seriously, should you wait for him? Is he your backup?”

“I will be fine, Gabriel.”

“I don’t want to be on the receiving end of another late night phone call telling me you’re in the hospital, bro,” Gabe replies, face drawn.

Castiel pulls his hand free gently but firmly. “I will be fine,” he repeats.

Gabriel points at him. “You call me tomorrow,” he orders.

Castiel nods distractedly, watching the departing group weave through the crowd and starting after them.

***

Not that Dean would ever admit it to anyone ever but those little maps that came on most phones these days were genius.

It wasn’t like Dean didn’t know how to read a regular map, but with these things you just plugged in your starting and ending location and presto! Route mapped out. Follow the blue dot. He didn’t even need an address for the club, just the name.

Dean makes sure to keep his goofy grin off his face as Sam watches him map out the route that will take them to The Bank. And there it is - a little bit across town and over to the east.

Perfect.

“So,” drawls Sam, “what’s the plan?”

“The plan is we make Cas tell us what he knows and then convince him to go the hell home and forget he ever learned there are things that go bump in the night,” Dean scowls, keeping his eyes on the road.

“Yeah, ‘cause that’s been working out so fantastic so far,” Sam says.

Dean’s eyes fly over to him for a moment and then flick back to the road. “So help me God, Sammy, if you start another touchy-feely craptastic conversation…”

“Don’t hurt yourself protesting too much,” Sam interrupts and Dean’s scowl deepens. “I’m just saying, Castiel doesn’t really seem like he’s gonna drop it, Dean.”

“Oh, he’ll drop it,” Dean says assuredly.

“Ri-i-i-ght,” Sam says slowly.

“I don’t even know why I’m explaining this to you!” Dean says hotly. “You know hunting is dangerous.”

“Yeah, for your average civilian, sure. But Dean. Castiel is a federal agent. And frankly, it’d be kinda nice to have one of those on our side for a change.”

“Don’t you get any funny ideas under that mop top hair that this is all gonna work out,” Dean warns. “We’re gonna find out of there’s a nest of vamps and if there is, we’ll shut it down. End of story.”

“Well, yeah, until we find out what Uriel is up to.”

Dean grimaces. Fuck. Right. Uriel. “Okay, we get rid of the vamps, find out what Uriel’s up to and then, bam, end of story.”

“And you’re going to stop Castiel from investigating the supernatural how?” asks Sam.

Dean flicks his eyes over again, taking in Sam’s slight smirk. He tosses his phone in Sam’s lap.

“Just tell me when we get close to the club.”

***

So far, it’s pretty much like every other federal stakeout Castiel has been on.

Mind numbingly boring.

And a little cold.

He wishes he’d planned better for this. Perhaps brought some coffee. He couldn’t afford to be distracted so he’s banned his phone to his pocket, on silent mode. Not even the vibrate feature is active.

It’s embarrassing how many stakeouts are nearly compromised by phones that won’t stay quiet.

The group of young men and the women joining them for the evening leave Gabriel’s club and stumble-walk to the warehouse district a couple of blocks over. They seem, for all intents and purposes, like your average Saturday night crowd. The men are loud and slightly bawdy; the women laughing along to jokes that are in very poor taste. They aren’t openly drinking liquor, although Castiel thinks one of the women might be carrying something in her purse. Two of the three women and one of the men are smoking up a storm now that they are out of the club, the cherry-red tips of their lit cigarettes easily visible in the night.

Castiel hangs back as the group entered a more posh looking warehouse. Some of the buildings along this street are slowly being brought up to date - getting turned into trendy lofts and high end shops. It appears that the building the group just went into wasn’t fixed up yet, but is slated for upgrades.

After listening at the door for a moment and not hearing anything, Castiel lets himself in. He can always claim to be lost if they see him.

He finds himself in a dark and empty foyer, the sounds of the party-goers sounding slightly above him. He spies an old staircase at the far end of the hallway.

Looks like he’s going up.

***

Parking the Impala is always a challenge. It’s huge and modern parking spaces just aren’t made for it.

So, trying to find a spot to park the Impala late at night close to a club is akin to shoving bamboo sticks under his fingernails. Dean swears he can feel his blood pressure rising as he drives in circles looking for a parking lot or open space. He finally just rips around back and parks the Impala in the loading zone of the club.

“What?” he says to Sam’s look. “No one’s delivering this time of night anyway.”

Sam’s expression clearly says ‘Good luck getting out of the impound lot on that excuse’ but they both know if it come to that, Sam will boost Dean over the impound fence, or distract the guards or feed the guard dogs, or whatever it takes to get the Impala out.

It’s not like they haven’t done it before. It’s just that it’s always a real fucking hassle.

They bypass the huge line up front and make their way to the front doors, earning jeers and shouts from the crowd. They get stopped by a bruiser of a bouncer at the front door.

“There’s a line,” the bouncer says without preamble, jerking his chin toward the crowd.

“Our friend’s inside,” Dean says, trying to ignore the fact that he has to look up to the guy. The bouncer must be 6’6’’ the way Dean’s craning his neck.

“Lotta people got friends inside,” the bouncer says. “They wait in line.”

Dean hauls out his phone and texts Cas.

Get your ass outside. We’re here.

There’s no response.

Dean scowls. “Look. His brother owns the club.”

The bouncer just stares at him.

“Seriously. He was just on the phone with me.”

The bouncer is silent.

“Castiel?” Dean pushes. “Ring any bells?”

The bouncer eyeballs him, eyes going down and up Dean’s body and then Sam’s before he clicks his headset. “Gabe, got some dudes out here that say they know Cas.”

Dean sighs in frustration and maybe a little bit of relief. The bouncer listens for a second and then turns back to Dean.

“You Dean?”

“Yes!” he nearly shouts. The bouncer nods once and lets them pass. If Dean wasn’t so anxious about seeing Castiel again, he might shoot a smug look at the people hissing at him from the line up, but at this point, he can’t be bothered.

As soon as he’s inside, he starts scanning the crowd for the spiky hair that tops Castiel’s head, frowning when he doesn’t spot it. What he does see is a smaller, lithe man with elfin features making a bee-line for him and Sam.

“Dean?” he questions and Dean nods. “You must be the brother. Got a name?”

“Sam.”

“I’m Gabe, Cas’ brother,” the smaller man yells over the noise.

“Where’s Cas?” Dean shouts over top of the music.

Gabe frowns. “I thought he was meeting you.”

“Ya, here!” Dean exclaims, gesturing emphatically.

Gabe opens his mouth to start shouting again and then seems to shake himself a bit. “Office,” he says and jerks his head for them to follow.

All his nerves vibrating, Dean follows after Gabe. They thread their way through the crowd, with Gabe touching people lightly on the shoulder to get them to move out of his way. They must know him because everyone has a smile for him and easily makes way for the trio to pass. Half a minute later, they’re in a small office, the din of the club lessening as Gabe closes the door to shut out the noise of the club.

“Where’s Cas?” Dean repeats again.

“He left. So I was right. You don’t exactly look like law enforcement,” Gabe counters, looking up and down Dean.

“We’re specialists,” Dean replies back.

Gabe looks unconvinced. “Right. Specialists.”

“What do you mean, he left?” asks Sam, trying to diffuse the immediate animosity that sprung up between Gabe and Dean.

“He was watching some guys and they left so he left. I thought you guys were working this case together.”

Dean grinds his teeth. “There is no case. Your brother is not on the ‘case,’” he spits out. “Sam and I can handle it.”

“Handle what?” Gabe replies, eyes narrowing.

“Look, do you know where he went?” Sam breaks in.

“You think he’s in trouble?” Gabe asks, going around to his desk and sitting down, flicking on the computer.

“Uh, well, I wouldn’t say trouble…” Sam hedges.

“Why, you know where he is?” interrupts Dean.

“I can find him,” Gabe says intently, typing into his keyboard.

All ears now, Dean comes around one side of Gabe, while Sam comes around the other.

“How?” Dean asks, leaning over Gabe’s shoulder and watching his screen.

“I have a tracking chip in his phone. If he’s got it on him, I know where he is.”

“You lo-jacked your brother?” Dean says incredulously.

“I got a late night phone call telling me my baby bro was in the hospital recovering from being a participant in some freaky ritual against his will, you bet your ass I lo-jacked him.”

Not a bad idea, thinks Dean and looks over at Sam to see Sam appraising him with the same look.

“Got him,” says Gabe, snapping both of their attentions back to the screen. “He’s a couple blocks away, warehouse district.”

Dean and Sam both lean in a bit closer, each of them memorizing the map laid out on screen as quick as possible, just as John taught them.

“Got it,” Dean says quickly. “Sammy?”

“Yeah, I got it too.”

“Should I be calling the real cops?” Gabriel asks them, no amusement in his tone.

“We got it.” Dean’s voice is tight and flat.

“You tell him to call me.”

Dean’s already at the door, making an exit but Sam nods once. “We will.”

***

Castiel is no stranger to a stakeout going bad.

It just doesn’t usually happen so fast. And generally, there aren’t so many teeth involved.

It’s pretty tame for a while. The trio of young men lead the ladies upstairs to where they have some couches, tables and a stereo system set up. The women are a little giggly, mostly drunk but having a good time. They roll their eyes when the men say they have plans for the warehouse. How they are going to be spending big money and making even more, some kind of import/export business.

Honestly, the men barely know what they were talking about. The young men are talking circles around one another.

The women aren’t dumb and Castiel can see them exchange looks that say they know exactly what to think about the garbage the men are trying to feed them.

On one of the couches, one of the men tries to get closer to one of the women, sliding closer to her, putting an arm around her. She seems to be shyer than her friends and her body language is screaming that she’s uncomfortable with the whole thing. Casanova tries to steal a kiss, she pushes him away nicely but firmly with the heel of her hand pressed against his chest.

He doesn’t take the hint and Castiel sees the whole thing going pear-shaped.

Her face steels and she pushes him away again, her eyes widening when he doesn’t budge. Castiel is already pushing his way through the door, making a huge ruckus when the young man, no, vampire opens his mouth wide and leans forward to bite the woman’s neck.

Castiel’s gun is out, he’s firing, but the vampire is moving, struggling to keep feeding as his victim struggles and Castiel’s shots, while hitting the vampire, aren’t doing any real damage. The women are screaming and Castiel can see one of them almost being bitten out of the corner of his eye and he’s just realizing he’s lost sight of the third vampire when he hears someone yell ‘duck!’ and then he’s pile-driven to the ground by a solid weight.

There’s a swish sound and a spray of blood, red, warm and wet.

He thrashes slightly underneath a foreign weight on the ground and then flips over onto his back.

And comes face to face with Dean Winchester.

“Cas,” Dean says, slightly out of breath and with a spattering of blood across part of his cheek. “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?” He grins.

His eyes never leaving Dean’s, Castiel’s hand twitches between them pulls out his gun.

Dean’s grin gets wider. “Too bad,” he says ruefully.

“Dean!”

At Sam’s shout, Dean snaps to attention and catches a wicked looking knife his brother has thrown for him, seemingly snagging it out of the air. He’s up on his feet before Castiel can really process it and then a head gets severed from a body and that’s one less vamp they have to worry about. Castiel pushes himself to his feet and takes stock.

There’s a dead vampire close to where he was standing before Dean tackled him and Castiel can only assume that Sam dispatched it when Dean pushed him to the ground. The one that Dean decapitated is a few feet away and the third one, the one Castiel shot, is also lying in two pieces, presumably also by Sam Winchester’s hands.

Two of the women are huddled together in a corner, clutching one another closely. The third, the one that the vampire was trying to bite is off to one side, staring at the Winchesters and Castiel and then over to her friends. She bolts suddenly for her friends and they pull her close.

Castiel immediately holsters his gun and makes his way over to them. They flinch as he approach, pulling themselves in tighter.

He holds his hands out in a calming gesture. “I’m with the…”

“Whoa!” Dean shouts suddenly. “No introductions!”

Castiel’s eyes flick to Dean briefly and then back to the women. “Are you injured?” he asks instead.

Two of them shake their heads while the other manages to speak. “No,” says the brunette. “What were they?” she asks suddenly, her eyes flat and hard.

Castiel’s eyes flicker over to Dean again and Dean shakes his head once. “They are dead now.”

She holds her friends closer, looks from Cas to Dean, to Sam. “Who are you?” she asks, her voice shaking slightly.

Sam steps over and hunkers down in front of them, the women leaning slightly back as he does.

“We’re here to help. We take care of this sort of thing.”

“This sort of thing,” the brunette repeats, staring at Sam. “Jesus Christ, that’s fucked up.”

Sam’s lips curl in a depreciating smile. “Yeah. Are you sure you’re okay? All of you? No bites?”

The talkative one looks over her friends and then back at Sam. “No.”

“Can we give you ladies a ride?” Sam asks, gesturing behind himself to Dean and Cas. The brunette’s eyes narrow quickly. “To a hospital or maybe a public place and drop you off,” he amends.

“No offense, mister, but we’d be pretty fucking dumb if we did that twice in one night after what just happened here,” she says sharply and then seems to realize she’s potentially trash talking a dangerous guy.

Sam seems to get it and just laughs self-deprecatingly. “Yeah, I guess so. Uh, how about I call you guys a cab,” he says, pulling out his phone.

The three women stagger to their feet, holding off Sam and Castiel’s offers of help with sharp glances and slight flinches. One of the girl’s shoes has snapped off at the heel and she’s holding it like some kind of weapon at the ready. By some kind of unspoken arrangement, one of them always manages to keep Dean, Cas and Sam in her eyesight until the trio of them make their way to the door where they back out slowly, keeping each other close as Sam takes them downstairs for a cab.

Which leaves Castiel and Dean… and three dead vampires.

“Sooooooo,” Dean drawls. “Come here often?”

Castiel looks over at him. He’d thought that perhaps he’d imagined how striking looking Dean was. Perhaps it was the blood loss or the incense burning. No one’s eyes could be that shade of green, no one’s features could work so well together.

Then he’d seen a few of Dean’s mug shots and had realized, no, he really hadn’t imagined it.

Even so, seeing Dean in person is still… surprising. His mug shots didn’t do him justice.

It’s not a phrase Castiel thought he would ever think about someone.

Dean’s looking at him waiting for a response, one eyebrow raised slightly, cocky grin. Dean’s one of those people that when he looks at you, he really looks at you. As though there’s nowhere else he’d rather look.

“Cas,” Dean says lowly, questioningly. It’s the same voice Castiel has heard many times on the phone, but somehow it, too, is more in person than he recalled. “You okay, man?”

“I suppose this is a regular night’s work for you,” Castiel finally manages. His voice is lower and more gravelly than usual.

Dean shrugs, checks over the knife he’s still holding and finding some blood on it, walks over to one of the couches and wipes it off. It’s so… functional, casual, that it’s almost amusing.

“I’ve had better, I’ve had much worse,” Dean says easily, finding the knife’s discarded sheath on the floor and sliding the blade home. Dean’s eyes shift from playful to serious. “Care to tell me what the fuck you thought you were doing going after a nest of vamps? By yourself?”

“It was meant only to be reconnaissance,” Castiel says with a shrug of one shoulder.

Dean squints a bit like he didn’t quite hear him right. “Reconnaissance? When I busted in here, you were about to become fang food!”

“How did you find me?” Castiel counters, ignoring the obvious.

“Your brother.”

“My brother?”

“Your brother has you lo-jacked and you know what? Kinda seems like a fantastic idea since you like to run off after vampires with no backup!”

“My brother has me lo-jacked?” Castiel repeats.

“So not the fucking point, Cas!” Dean exclaims. “I told you, this shit is dangerous.”

“I appear to have emerged unscathed,” says Castiel.

“Only because Sammy and I showed when we did.”

“I’ve been in worse situations, Dean.”

“Yeah, I know, I busted you out of one not that long ago, remember?”

Cas presses his lips together firmly. Of course he remembers. He’s got the scars on his chest on the off chance that he ever forgets. The thought that Dean appears to think that Castiel needs rescuing is quickly losing the bloom of fondness, the petals of it curling with burden and indignity.

“Of course,” Castiel replies stiffly. “Then it appears I am twice in your debt.”

Dean sighs. “Look, man, I didn’t mean… It’s just… You’re new to all this shit.”

Castiel has no wish to continue discussing this with Dean, certainly not where they are currently located. “It would be prudent to move this discussion elsewhere. We are standing in the middle of a crime scene.”

“Dude, my whole life is a crime scene,” Dean says tiredly but starts making his way to the door. Castiel glances around, going through the events of the night in his mind again and reviewing the scene looking for anything that might have a set of his or the Winchesters’ fingerprints.

The Winchesters are well known to the system, but it would be disastrous if Castiel’s prints were found.

Sam and the women are nowhere to be found when they finally get outside.

“Where’s your brother?” Castiel asks.

Dean shrugs. “He probably took them a couple of blocks away to catch a cab. Wouldn’t be good to get one right at the crime scene.”

Castiel nods. “Of course.”

“How did you get here anyway?” Dean asks.

“My car is at Gabriel’s club. I followed them here on foot.”

Dean’s anger flares back to life again. “So you had no backup and no car when you went in there?”

Castiel’s eyebrows come together in another frown. “What good would my car have done me if I had been attacked by vampires?”

Dean opens his mouth to argue, realizes he has no rational, logical answer and shuts it again with a click. “Let’s just get you back to your car. You should call your brother too.”

Castiel frowns at the suggestion but pulls out his phone and calls Gabriel anyway.

“So you’re okay,” Gabriel asks for the third time.

“Yes,” Castiel answers tiredly. “I am quite able to take care of myself despite what you and… others seem to think.” He glances sideways at Dean as he makes the statement.

Dean appears to ignore him.

“Speaking of your new special friend,” starts Gabriel. “Yowza! What a looker! And his brother! Honestly, what kind of deal with the devil does it take to get genetics like that?”

“Good night, Gabriel,” intones Cas lowly and then hangs up on the next lewd thing his brother was surely about to utter.

They’re halfway back to the club when Dean’s phone buzzes he reads a new text quickly.

“Son of a-” Dean mutters and then sighs.

“Problem?”

“Yes. No. Yes,” Dean says in succession. “Sammy took the car.” He pauses and rubs his chin and lips with his hand, looking slightly awkward and young in the street light. “Uh, can I get a ride?” he asks, looking up sheepishly from under his eyelashes.

“Of course,” Castiel says easily. It’s not as though he would strand the man who just came to his rescue. “I’ve actually been meaning to speak to you about some of Uriel’s symbols we’ve been investigating.”

“See there you go with this ‘we’ business again, Cas,” Dean starts.

Castiel feels a surge of anger well up. He’s not a victim. No matter how he may sometimes feel like it in the middle of the night when he remembers the way Uriel carved into his chest or when he can still hear the ominous chanting in his ear. He is not helpless. He is not in need of being protected or rescued. So, he cuts Dean off. “If you don’t wish to speak of it with me, than we won’t, but make no mistake, I will not stop investigating Uriel and his actions. Yes, you happened upon what Uriel was doing and you rescued me and for that I am grateful, but if you think you can persuade me to stop by repeatedly informing me it is dangerous to pursue my investigation then we have nothing further to say to one another.”

Dean stops still and stares at him and Castiel feels a surge of triumph at the surprised look on his face. He increases his speed, walking faster back toward the club and his car.

“Whoa, whoa,” Dean calls from behind him and Castiel can hear his fast footfalls as he catches up, sees him out of the corner of his eye as he falls into step beside Castiel once more. “You’re pretty tough for a nerdy little dude.”

Castiel stops once more and glares at him. Dean holds up his hands in a gesture of surrender.

“All right, all right. Truce. Sorry.”

Castiel searches his face for a moment, looking for any insincerity and, finding none, turns away again and resumes their walk back toward his car.

“So, uh, you were saying, about the symbols?” Dean asks and Castiel can hear how careful he’s being with his tone.

Castiel risks a quick glance sideways at him and nods once quickly. “Yes. I believe I may have broken part of the code, or at least, be making headway towards its decipherment.” They’ve finally reached the back lot of the club, the bass of the music a pulsing beat in the background. Castiel takes the last few steps to the driver side of his car and looks over the roof at Dean.

“I suppose I could scan and email them to your phone,” he pauses, not sure what he’s going to say next until the words are out of his mouth. “Or you could come back to my apartment with me and we could review the drawings.”

Dean smirks. “Cas, are you inviting me back to your place to see your etchings?”

Castiel frowns, unsure how to interpret Dean’s tone. “Yes,” he says simply, deciding to go for the straightforward, obvious answer.

Dean’s smile seems wry and amused, but not cruel, Castiel thinks. Dean’s eyes flick away for a moment and then back at Cas.

“All right. Let’s go see your drawings.”

***

Dean’s gonna open a can of whoop-ass on his brother.

Sam had texted Dean saying that he’d taken the car to go check them into a motel, but he was sure Dean could get a ride with Castiel.

And then he’d added one of those stupid winky faces.

Dean’s going to kill him.

Sure, he likes Cas. In that general ‘dude’s a good guy’ kind of way.

And maybe he’s had some… thoughts about some… extracurricular activities with the guy.

Whatever.

It’s not any of his sasquatch brother’s business.

Dean had time to think about it on the car ride back into town and although the list of reason’s he and Cas are a bad idea is short, it’s compelling.

Cas is a fed.

Dean works… outside the law.

Cas is apparently on the straight and narrow.

Dean’s world is all about the crooked and ugly.

The car ride back to Cas’ place is mostly silent. Cas doesn’t seem to be a music kind of guy. Dean had flipped the radio on and couldn’t find any preset stations. No cds, no mp3 player. Nothing. Dean tries not to stare at Castiel’s long fingers or slight wrists as he turns the steering wheel to make a turn.

Normally he doesn’t put this much thought into things. If he likes someone and there’s an opportunity, he’ll sleep with them. Maybe that makes him promiscuous or maybe it makes him a ‘seize the day’ kind of man. Doesn’t matter. In his line of work, there’s not a lot of time for anything so you gotta grab things while the getting is good.

But with Cas…

It’s weird, because he’s gotten to know him. They’ve talked on the phone. Texted. Emailed. If Dean thinks about it, it might be the first time in his life that getting to know someone hadn’t consisted of only time spent in the sack.

He knows that Cas takes long pauses to think things over and won’t say something unless he’s sure. He knows that Cas sometimes doesn’t have dinner until late at night if he’s been at the office too long. He knows Cas is smart - able to teach himself a shitload of Enochian without assistance from Bobby. He knows there’s no time of day when Cas’ voice doesn’t sound sleep-roughened and deep, always like he just rolled out of bed.

But he also knows that Cas is not all that savvy when it comes to flirting.

If there’s one thing Dean is absolutely sure he’s good at, it’s flirting.

Cas seems somewhat… perplexed when Dean flirts. Hell, it’s a lot better than getting socked in the face, which has only happened to Dean twice (and that one time didn’t count - seriously, no one was that grabby when they were drunk unless they want to be grabbing something. Dean tries to steer clear of dudes that can’t admit what they like especially when what they like is other dudes, but sometimes one manages to slip through his radar).

With Cas, though, Dean’s spidey sense is confused. He’s pretty sure Cas likes him. Although he’s not sure if that translates into Cas likes him. When he’s talking to Cas on the phone, he gets the impression he has all of Cas’ attention, all his focus. Which may be just because of the case they are working regarding Uriel but maybe not. Cas talks to him about other stuff, asks him questions and Jesus this sounds like a chick flick moment, but Cas values Dean’s opinion and Dean’s knowledge. He listens when Dean talks.

Dean will chew off his own hand before saying any of this out loud.

So yeah, he’s pretty sure Cas likes him in a general sense. He just can’t figure out if he tried something if he’d get the response he’s hoping for.

He kinda doesn’t want to fuck up what they’ve got either. He likes talking to Cas. Likes hearing his brain work, figuring shit out. He likes being the guy that can answer Cas’ questions.

Cas steers the car deftly into a small space in an underground parking garage and they take the elevator up to the floor his apartment is on. Dean looks around as Cas lets him in. The furniture looks comfortable, the place is clean, but there’s not a lot of personal shit around - a degree on the wall, a few awards from the FBI and then, affixed with a thumbtack is a picture of Gabriel and Cas. Cas is in jeans and a sweater, Gabriel is in a leather jacket and leather chaps (and Christ Dean didn’t need to see that). They’re standing in front of a dilapidated building, Cas with his hands in his pockets, Gabriel doing some kind of complicated gesture with his hands. Dean flicks the picture and Cas looks over.

“What’s this from?” he asks - it’s the only personal item on the wall so he feels compelled to ask.

“Gabriel’s first club. It was… a distinct location.”

“Seedy joint?” Dean asks.

Castiel nods as he carefully takes off his shoes and coat. “Yes. Fortunately, he’s moved on since then. Gabriel once remarked I didn’t have any photos of him and he came over one day and tacked that up.”

Yeah, sounds like a brother thing to do, Dean thinks, thinking of all the shit he does to Sammy.

“You guys close?” Dean asks.

Castiel shrugs. “We are brothers. We know the best and worst of each other.”

Dean nods. “Yeah, I get that.” He feels a little weird standing there in his coat and shoes after watching Cas take off so he hurriedly kicks his own shoes off and drops his jacket on the floor.

“‘s nice place,” he says, looking around at the subdued tones. It’s nicer than most of places Dean’s been in since… well since he can remember.

“It suffices,” Castiel replies. He leads the way from the front door, past a sort of TV living area and small kitchen to a smaller room in the back. Cas flicks on two small lamps and the room is bathed in a gentle, yellowish light. It’s clearly an office with a desk that looks well used and a cork board with paper tacked to every square inch. It reminds Dean a lot of the case walls that he and Sam put together on their hunts.

Cas’ board is dedicated to Enochian, Phoenician, Greek, Latin, verses from biblical texts and ancient tomes. Dean immediately gravitates toward it and starts taking in the information, agreeing with Cas’ Greek and Latin on some translations but noting others for debate.

He pokes at one symbol immediately.

“This is one of the ones from… well, you,” Dean says awkwardly. It’s one of the symbols he remembers seeing carved into Cas’ chest. Bobby hasn’t had much luck with deciphering anything that was actually carved into Cas but Cas clearly has this one marked. He’s got it broken out into pie sections, each one with a notation next to it in what Dean’s sure is Enochian. He’s been learning from Bobby but unfortunately hunting doesn’t leave much time for him to devote to it.

He taps the paper. “What have you got here?” he asks.

http://www.supernaturalwiki.com/index.php?title=Angel_Banishing_Sigil

Cas invades Dean’s personal space like he has no concept of the term, his fingers trailing over the drawing.

“Each symbol separately has its own unique meaning, of course, but when they are put together, such as they were on my chest, they also take on a comprehensive meaning that is … more than the sum of their individual translations. Also, the placement of the symbol in relation to the others gives it another layer of meaning. The symbols themselves are quite easy to translate, or at least, the general idea of them is. All of them have several… interpretations of translation but the main idea is the same. Here,” says Castiel, running his fingers to the first quadrant, one of the ‘N’ symbols, “is the symbol for allowance or permission. It is mirrored here,” Castiel points his finger to the other ‘N’ symbol. “This mirroring of the symbols, I believe, is representative of the two sides of the portal that Uriel was trying to open.”

“What about the one near the bottom?” Dean asks, pointing at the other ‘N’ symbol.

“Ah, that one I believe is actually a different symbol. Yes, it looks like an ‘n’ but if that is what they were trying to use it as, they wouldn’t have turned it on its side. I believe that one is the symbol for transmutation, in which one thing becomes another. Essentially, the transmutation of myself, a man, into a key. The key meant to open the portal.”

“What about the squiggly bits?” Dean asks, waving his hand in front of the other symbols.

“I am not sure. I’m still working on those.”

“You sent this to Bobby yet?” Dean asks, pulling out his phone and taking a snapshot.

He swears he can hear Cas frown. “No, not yet. I was hoping to get further along.”

Dean nods absently and when he turns around to say something, Cas is still right there, all in his space.

Normally, when someone is in your personal space and you turn and face them, they back off immediately.

Not Cas, apparently.

This close, in the low light of his office, Cas’ eyes are dark blue. He stares unabashedly at Dean and Dean can’t help but want to crack a deflective joke or make some self-deprecating remark under the scrutiny of Cas’ gaze.

He manages to keep his mouth shut and stay still.

Cas’ eyes sort of flicker over Dean’s face, as though he’s cataloguing or taking stock or… something. Dean’s not sure. He definitely feels as though he’s being measured somehow.

It’s slightly heady. Dean spends a lot of his life trying not to be noticed - trying to duck under the radar of the local authorities or sneak into a house or creep up on demons. But with Cas, it’s like he’s really being noticed, but there’s nothing negative or derogatory about it. It’s inquisition and curiosity.

The way Cas just stares at him with no ego, no hesitation, unrepentantly is…

Well, it’s pretty fucking sexy.

Dean licks his lips, almost nervously and Cas’ eyes dart down towards the movement and back up again to Dean’s eyes. Before he can think about it too much, Dean closes the minute distance between them and presses his lips against Castiel’s. Cas’ lips are slightly chapped, warm and dry and Dean freezes as he realizes he’s getting nothing back from Cas. No movement, no tilt of the head. Nothing.

He pulls back and Cas is still staring at him intently and Dean wants to fidget but forces himself still. He manages a wry smile. It’s fine. It’s all fine. He’ll make as good of an exit as he can and that’ll be that.

“Well, I guess I read this totally wrong,” he says, his voice low and a little shaky. “Uh, sorry.”

Cas still doesn’t move back or away from Dean. He tilts his head, birdlike. His eyes flick down to Dean’s lips again and then Cas is the one moving forward and Dean is a little unsure of what’s going on and then Cas’ lips are against his and this time it’s not some kind of chaste, ‘let me just try this out kiss’ like the one he’d been going for.

Cas is invading Dean’s space unapologetically and Dean finds himself pushed up against the cork board, his hands coming up and gripping Cas’ shoulders, his lips opening under Cas’ and then Cas’ tongue is in his mouth and it’s hot and wet and slick and fuck Cas has that whole sexy librarian thing going on with the uptight personality and repressed expressions and then this kiss underneath it all.

He’s a lot stronger than he looks. Dean wouldn’t have pegged him as all that muscular - and he’s not - but there’s a lean, leashed strength to him. He’s got Dean pressed up against the wall, his hands curling around Dean’s neck and Dean can’t keep his own hands still, clutching any place he can get a good grip on - arms, shoulders, back and then he’s grabbing Castiel’s hips and jerking him closer, pressing their groins together.

Dean starts tugging at Castiel’s shirt and Cas freezes for a moment, body going stock still, until Dean runs his hand under the shirt, up Castiel’s back. The skin on his back is smooth and hot. It’s been a while since Dean’s been with someone, longer still since that someone was a man. Dean had forgotten how men run hotter than women - how their muscles shift and move underneath their skin differently.

The kiss breaks and Cas is staring at Dean again, the same unblinking studying stare that Dean finds… well not nerve-wracking but… piercing. Like Cas can see past all of Dean’s bullshit. They’re both breathing hard, their hips pressed together and Dean can feel the hard length of Cas’ erection against his leg just as he’s sure Cas can feel his. There’s a subtle rock and sway of their bodies, both of them still shifting against one another. It’s almost careless and lazy, or at least it could be if not for the way Cas looks like he’s trying to read Dean’s mind.

“You’re very surprising,” Cas murmurs lowly, eyes trailing over Dean’s face, his hair, his jaw and back up to his eyes.

Dean smiles. “What you see is what you get,” he says with a half shrug.

Cas continues to stare at him, eyes roving. Dean can almost see his brain working behind the blue irises. “No,” says Cas in reply. “No, I don’t think so.”

Dean feels uncomfortable now, under Cas’ eyes, like they’re seeing too far into him, into who he pretends to be and what he pretends he needs to get by. He’s just about to make a smart-ass comment when Cas moves and they’re kissing again.

He gets his hands down the back of Cas’ pants and really wishes he had the foresight to get them undone first because he doesn't’ want to abandon the supple skin under his hands now. Cas’ hands tug Dean’s shirt out of his pants and with a deceptively quick and ruthless motion, Cas rips it open, sending some buttons flying.

It’s both sexy and funny and Dean laughs into Castiel’s mouth.

“I would have taken it off if you asked,” he murmurs against Cas lips.

“It was in the way,” Castiel answers back simply.

Dean laughs again and hopes his pants fare better than his button-down just did. He’s pretty glad he’s got a t-shirt on underneath. He’ll at least have something that wasn’t ripped open to wear in the morning.

Castiel mouths at Dean’s neck and he obligingly tips his head back, baring it for Cas, feeling the rough drag of Cas’ stubble against his own. Cas’ deft fingers are slipping under Dean’s t-shirt and pulling it up and over his head. There’s a dizzying moment when Dean’s encased in fabric and darkness and then Cas’ lips are on his neck again and Dean wants to purr like a cat.

“You, uh,” Dean stammers, “you got a bed around here somewhere?”

Castiel pulls back and does his freaky staring thing again and Dean works hard not to fidget.

“Don’t you?” Dean manages, feeling pinned by Castiel’s gaze.

Cas’ hands slide down Dean’s arms, land on his hips and he jerks Dean away from the wall and turns him, walking him backward out of the study. Dean tries hard not to stumble, fights the urge to turn around and look where he’s going, but he manages to let Cas direct him down a short hall and into his bedroom.

It’s dark, the only illumination coming from the open door and the lights in the study filtering hazily down the hall. Dean kinda wishes he could stop and turn some lights on - he’s always been a lights on kind of guy - but Cas has already got him backed up against the bed and tumbling down on it. He pulls Cas down on top of him and when he slips his hands under Cas’ shirt, Cas freezes again, like he did before. He pulls back slightly, kneeling partially on the bed, and takes off the overshirt he’s wearing, leaving him in a plain white tank.

“This,” Castiel says, his voice hesitant and strange - something in it Dean’s never heard before. “This stays on,” he finishes, tugging slightly at the tank.

As he tugs at it, Dean sees the top of the scars peeking out over the edge of fabric and he suddenly gets it. He sits up a bit, reaches for Cas, runs his hands over Cas’ hip.

“Yeah. Okay.”

Cas still seems unsure, his gaze slightly wary until Dean grins at him and leans forward a bit more, sliding his fingers under the waistband of Cas’ pants.

“But these,” Dean says, his grin widening, “these really should come off.”

They pull and tug at their own pants, at each other’s pants and Dean manages to get Cas down on the bed and under him and it’s fantastic. He wishes the press of soft fabric against his chest was the press of skin but he’s not about to suggest anything that Cas is uncomfortable with. He maps Castiel’s body with his fingers, his lips, mouthing over Cas’ collar bone, dipping his tongue into Cas’ clavicle. Cas hands are strong, firm against Dean’s flesh - fingers pressing into Dean’s glutes, pulling him harder against Cas’ hips as they rock and thrust against each other. Dean sucks on Cas’ lower lip and then pulls back, a soft sucking sound when his mouth breaks its seal against Cas’.

“Can I…?” Dean starts and then trails off. It’s dark, but his eyes have adjusted. Cas is staring up at him, body undulating beneath him and Dean wants so badly. Cas’ erection is pressing into his hip, his own cock thick and hard - his balls tight and heavy. “Do you…” he starts again and his words trail off on a groan as Cas’ hips jerk up quick. He bites his lip and drops his head against Cas’ neck, breathing in the scent of him, hearing Cas breathe in his ear and say his name.

Castiel noses against Dean’s ear for a second and then one of his hands disappears and Dean feels Cas’ body stretch and strain beneath him as Cas reaches over to his nightstand and slides on of the drawers open. A quick glance shows Dean exactly what he needs.

“Is this… I mean… Okay?” he manages.

The cords in Cas neck flex and strain as he lifts his head to catch Dean’s lips in a hard, wet kiss, tongue sweeping into Dean’s mouth hotly before he pulls back and shifts again under Dean, this time turning onto his stomach. Dean has to exhale hard and grasp the base of his cock at the sight of Cas’ stretching out underneath him, bringing one knee up and out to the side, and then looking over his shoulder at Dean, eyes lidded. His shoulder blades are sharp pyramids underneath the soft cotton fabric of his shirt, his shoulders rounding out nicely to his arms. His waist is lean and the dip at the small of his back is just…

Dean leans forward and mouths at the soft skin right above the swell of Cas’ buttocks, taking a moment to map the area with his tongue. Cas lets out a long sigh of pleasure and Dean’s lips press against Cas’ skin in a smile. Dean sits back on his heels and fumbles in the unfamiliar drawer. He tries not to take his eyes off Cas but after grabbing a pen twice and poking the sharp corner of a book under his nail once, he curses and has to peer inside to see the contents.

Cas laughs at him and then takes the finger that Dean impaled on the book cover and sucks on it slowly. It shoots straight to Dean’s dick and his hips jerk unconsciously.

“This is going to be over real quick if you keep that up,” Dean says, voice rough and low. Castiel gives Dean’s finger one more dirty swipe of his tongue and then lets it go.

He’s quick prepping Castiel - quicker than he’d like to be but the sounds Cas is making - the sighs, the groans, the long drawn out way he says Dean’s name - are pushing Dean to the edge and he’s just a little nervous that this will all be over before it starts.

And then he’s pushing into Cas and Cas reaches behind and clutches at him. Cas presses his face to the mattress and moans longingly as Dean pushes into him slowly. The angle is not for harsh, quick thrusts; Cas is still on his stomach on the mattress, leg frogged out to the side. But it’s fantastic for a slow, luscious fuck and that’s what Dean tries to do. Tries to push in deep and firm and then pull out slow and lazily even though every muscle, every fiber in his body is screaming at him to grab Cas’ hips as hard as he can and just thrust.

He can hear Cas saying his name over and over interspersed with breathless ‘yeses’ and gasps and Dean wants to keep fucking Cas like this forever. Wants to feel the drag of his skin against Cas’, hear Cas breathing hard, hear his own heart thudding madly in his ears, but his body starts winning - pushing in harder, pulling out faster. Cas groans and grunts, his hands fisting into the sheets, urging him on saying ‘yes’ and ‘more’ and ‘please’ and each one of them goes through Dean like a shot of lightening.

Dean reaches a hand under Cas and hauls him up to his knees and Cas braces his head and forearms on the mattress as Dean starts slamming into him. He can still hear Cas repeating his name, can hear himself saying Cas’ name as he thrusts, trying to get as deep as he can. He grasps Cas’ hard length in his hand and starts jacking him off to the rhythm of his thrusting and fuck, he’s not going to make it. He can feel his balls tightening up, can feel his orgasm pooling in his spine - bubbling and roiling, spilling through his groin and his blood is on fire.

Cas shifts a bit underneath him, knees going out wider and on Dean’s next thrust, Cas shouts Dean’s name and Dean tries to keep the same angle, thrust the same way and manages to wring out four more shouts from Cas before he feels Cas’ body tighten up and then Cas is coming and it’s hot and wet over Dean’s hand and so tight around his cock and Dean manages half of one more thrust before he’s coming too. His breath locks up in his lungs and his hips jerk with tiny thrusts and fuck he never wants it to end and he tries to chase it as it tapers off, leaving him gasping for air, head resting against the dry fabric of Cas’ shirt.

He rests there for a moment, forehead against Cas’ back, feeling Cas’ lungs expand and contract as he catches his breath. Dean spans his hands over Cas’ waist, rubs small circles with his thumbs over his back, trying to catch his own breath. He indulges himself in a few more inhales, breathing in the scent of Cas and Cas’ shirt - a heady combination of sex, clean sweat and laundry detergent - before pulling out carefully, slowly, and getting up on shaky legs. He wobble-walks to the bathroom, discarding the condom and getting a washcloth from Cas’ pristine laundry pile on a shelf and cleans himself of quickly and efficiently. He tries not to curse when he stumbles over their clothing on his way back to the bed in the dark.

He ends up tripping and falls the last few steps, landing on the bed with a thud and making the whole think shimmy and shake.

“I had imagined you much more suave and seductive,” Cas says, his voice well-fucked out and low. He’s turned himself over on the bed, seemingly unabashed at his partial nudity. He’s loose-limbed and relaxed, head on the pillow, arms haphazardly at his side, cock resting soft and almost vulnerable against his leg.

Dean manages a wry grin at himself as he gives Cas’ body a few swipes with the washcloth before making a motion to chuck it off to the side. Cas snatches it from him deftly and overhands it over to the closet where it lands easily in his laundry basket.

“I’m suave,” Dean protests, kneeling over Cas and bending down to kiss him lushly on the lips. “Seductive,” he whispers, his lips moving over Cas’ jaw and then he noses at Cas’ ear a bit.

Cas surrenders to the attention in a simple, unhindered way, baring his neck for Dean and relaxing further into the pillows. Dean’s chest clenches at the sight and he brackets Cas with his elbows, lowering his upper body down to rest against Cas’. The feel of cotton instead of warm skin is not what he’s used to, but he likes it. He likes the heat of Cas’ body, the way he’s all noodle-relaxation and supine skin.

Dean’s never really been for ‘after-play’, he thinks - not until now. He’s generally all for foreplay because it leads up to the big event and hey, the big event is pretty fucking nice. But at times, he’s also been known to leap-frog right over foreplay, provided everyone’s on board with that idea.

But this… this is completely out of his normal repertoire. He’s running his lips over Cas’ stubble, not even really kissing him, just learning the texture of his face. He can feel Cas’ long, deft fingers running over Dean’s back, down to cup his ass and back up again. Dean feels sleepy and kind of dreamy, oddly content to stay in a bizarre, slightly uncomfortable position of half-crouching over Cas while he runs his nose against the soft lobe of Cas’ ear and then across Cas’ cheek and then against Cas’ nose.

“I saw a cat like you once, in the pet store,” Cas murmurs. He’s falling asleep even as Dean nuzzles him and the drowsy, slightly dopey look on his face makes Dean want to nuzzle him even more. “He was scrappy, standoffish until this little girl picked him up and then he rubbed his face all over her.”

“‘m not a cat,” Dean says, kissing Cas on the lips once, and then again. He should totally be offended by that. Those are almost fighting words.

“He was a very handsome cat,” Cas adds, apropos of nothing.

“Mm-hmm.” Dean’s knees and arms finally make their displeasure at their awkward position well-known and he shifts and stretches out on his side next to Cas. Castiel turns slightly toward Dean and it’s effortless for Dean to wrap his arm around Cas’ waist and tug him a little closer. He hitches up one of his legs and swings that over Cas too, effectively trapping him with his body to the bed. Cas lets out a kind of sigh, his eyes blinking shut drowsily and Dean has this urge to pull him even closer.

So he does.

He should get up. He shouldn’t stay. He should get dressed, call a cab or catch a bus or just fucking walk. He shouldn’t be curled up in Cas’ bed, eyes getting heavy, body feeling weighted and sleepy.

Cas is an FBI agent. He has a real badge and a registered gun. He puts his laundry in the laundry basket and probably uses fabric softener. He pays utility bills and buys groceries - probably eats vegetables and free range chicken or some shit like that. He doesn’t live out of a duffle bag, in run down motel rooms. He doesn’t drive from state to state, endless city after endless city hunting things that go bump in the night. He doesn’t dodge law enforcement at every turn.

He is law enforcement.

Dean should get up. He should ignore the way Cas has turned his face into Dean’s neck, his nose almost touching Dean’s skin, each exhale creating a hot, slightly damp patch, each inhale making feeling a little cool. He should slide out of bed without waking Cas - he’s good enough at it that it wouldn't be a problem - get dressed and walk out the door.

Instead he manages to hook one of the bed blankets with his foot and then reaches down to grab at it, pulling it over them both.

***

These strange dreams are almost normal to Castiel now. He’s sure it’s just his subconscious’ way of dealing with all the information he’s been taking in lately regarding supernatural creatures and Enochian translations. Like a giant computer, his brain is cataloging and organizing the information and it only makes sense that the result would be a strange mish-mash of lore, myth and reality.

He just wishes he didn’t find them increasingly disturbing.

They are back in the deserted house where Uriel tried to open his portal to hell.

Where Uriel tried to kill him.

Castiel is stretched out again on the altar, arms and legs bound. Uriel stands above him with the knife he used to carve symbols into Castiel’s chest. He runs his thumb over the blade of the knife, wincing slightly when it slices the soft skin open.

“Brother, I’m sorry it came to this.”

“We are not brothers,” Castiel says.

“Brothers in arms. Comrades. We’ve shared much over the years.”

“We’ve shared nothing but lies and duplicity,” Castiel replies and Uriel sighs.

“I suppose you would see it that way.”

“What other way can I see it?”

“There is a purpose to what I’m trying to do here, brother. A noble purpose.”

“How can it possibly be noble for you to kill me?”

“Is it any better that the world is falling into chaos? Into anarchy? Without God present, there is no order, no structure. We need a ruler, a leader, to call us to arms, to unite us.”

It baffles Castiel at times that Uriel could have been so blinded, so misled, and Castiel never saw it.

There is a sound from the corner and both men turn and look. Dean stands off to one side, bathed in an unnatural light, looking like some kind of vicious savior with his torn jeans, bloodied knife of his own and dark expression.

Castiel blinks and Dean is suddenly beside him, cutting his right arm free.

Uriel is gone.

“He sought to make me his key,” Castiel says to Dean, his own words sounding strange and unusual - the words of dreams.

“Well, it’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Dean says with a shrug, leaning over Castiel’s body to free his left hand. “The thing about keys is, anyone can use them.”

Castiel can feel his eyebrows come together in a frown. Dean helps him off the altar and he stands on shaky legs. Dean’s arms come around him, warm and secure.

“I don’t understand.”

Castiel feels the motion of Dean’s shoulders, of his back, as he shrugs. He pulls Castiel close, their chests pressed against one another - Cas’ scarred and bleeding one to Dean’s cotton-covered one. Castiel wants to curl away, aware that he’s bleeding all over Dean, imprinting him with a reverse stain of the symbols on his chest. Dean’s arms tighten around Castiel, keeping him close. “Keys are pretty neutral. Open a lock, close a lock. The key doesn’t care.”

“But I’m not just a key,” Castiel protests. Dean turns his head and Castiel can feel Dean’s soft lips against the cartilage of his ears, can hear the inhale and exhale of Dean breathing.

“No, you’re not.”

He awakes with a start, arms and legs jerking sharply. He immediately feels something constrict around him and his first response is to start struggling, trying to pull away.

“Easy, Cas, you’re okay, you’re fine.”

It takes him another moment to recognize Dean’s voice, close in his ear, just like it was in the dream. He forces his body to relax and takes stock of where he is.

He’s safe, in his bedroom in his bed. Dean is curled up behind him, arm slung over him, his chest pressed up against Castiel’s back. He can feel the naked warm length of Dean’s body against his own, Dean’s knees behind his, Dean’s thighs against the back of his legs. He relaxes a bit more, minute movements of his muscles, letting himself sink back into bed.

“I was dreaming,” he says simply, not sure what else to add.

“I got that much,” Dean replies, his voice low and deep. “About what?”

Castiel doesn’t say anything at first, not sure he wants to answer truthfully but not able to think of anything quickly enough to fill the silence. He can feel Dean breathing easily, his chest rising and falling softly as he waits.

“Uriel. You. That night.”

Dean doesn’t offer any platitudes or meaningless comfort. He hums a bit, a sort of affirmative ‘hmmm’ sound. Castiel feels his thumb rub along the seam of the shirt he’s still wearing.

“I’m surprised you’re still here,” Castiel says bluntly and feels Dean chest huff with laughter.

“Way to make a guy feel welcome, Cas.” Dean’s tone is wry and amused.

Castiel shifts and manages to flip himself over, onto his back. Dean props himself up on an elbow, dropping his head into his open palm.

“I would have thought that I made my feelings on your presence well known last night.”

Dean’s eyes rake over him and Castiel stares openly back in return.

“I guess you did,” Dean murmurs. He starts to lean in, somewhat hesitant, like he’s not sure what Castiel’s response will be. Castiel is amazed that there is anything unsure or tentative about Dean. He reaches out, threads one hand around Dean’s neck, fingers slipping up into the short hair at his nape and pulls him closer. He kisses Dean as deep as he can manage, loving the feeling of Dean’s tongue wet and slick against his own. Dean shifts his weight, lining his body up on top of Castiel, matching their hips together. Castiel rocks his hips up, slowly, gently and Dean matches his movement, licking at Castiel’s mouth. Castiel has to break the kiss to breathe, his lungs needing more oxygen and he has to see Dean. He stares up at him, eyes wide, unblinking and when Dean makes a movement to dip back down to kiss him again Cas stops him.

“No, like this. I want to see you.”

Dean blushes and looks slightly uncomfortable - a small, embarrassed smile touching his lips, but he doesn't stop, doesn't try to lean down again. Castiel thinks of them last night, thinks of how Dean fucked him deep and slow at first and then harder and faster. Dean rocks against him now, their cocks rubbing against each other, the smell of sex in the air and he watches Dean’s eyes, his face. Watches as his mouth opens slightly more, feels him gasp for air, feels his body start to tighten against Castiel’s.

Dean’s face is open and rapturous and Cas never wants to stop looking at him. Dean stills for a moment and Castiel is fascinated by the way his eyes crinkle at the corner a bit, the way he sucks his own lip between his teeth and bites down hard and then he feels Dean come hot and wet against his stomach and Dean’s eyes finally close, his face stunning and euphoric.

“You’re beautiful,” Castiel gasps and then he feels his own orgasm overtake him, his hips pushing up against Dean and he comes with a sigh, feeling warm and weighted down by Dean’s body.

He cradles Dean as he slumps down and to the side a bit, wanting him close, reveling in the feeling of Dean’s body limp and relaxed against his own. Dean sighs against Castiel’s neck and Castiel cards his fingers through Dean’s hair.

“Let’s never leave this bed,” Dean mumbles.

“It will be difficult to procure supplies from here,” Cas says absently, fingers threading through Dean’s hair, massaging his scalp lightly.

“I don’t care. Make it happen.”

Castiel feels a smile tugging at his own lips at Dean’s lazy tone. “Maybe your brother will bring us food.”

“Fuck, Sammy,” Dean says and rolls away from Castiel and paws at the floor for something. Castiel side feels cold and chilled without the warm press of Dean against him.

Dean’s back a moment later, scrubbing his face with one hand and checking his phone with the other. He flops down on the bed again, against Castiel and Cas feels the brief panic that surged up recede.

Dean makes no motion to hide the phone’s screen from Cas as he reads and Cas unashamedly reads the messages over his shoulder.

Sooooooo u got a ride from Cas?

And when I say ride I mean actual drive.

I want no details. Let me know ure alive and leave it at that.

Srsly no details!

Dean smirks and Castiel watches his fingers type quickly on the phone. “I’m tempted to scar him for life, but it’s a little too easy with that boy,” Dean says.

At Cas’. Am fine.

He flicks the phone off and tosses it down on the pile of clothes on the floor. “What do you have for food in here?”

Castiel raises and lowers one shoulder as he thinks. He’s not sure the last time he went grocery shopping. He stumbles out of bed, thinking to head for the kitchen but at the sticky feeling on his skin decides to head for the shower first. Without a word, he grabs Dean’s fingers and pulls him along, leading him to the bathroom.

“Sexy shower time,” Dean says with a grin. “I like.”

Cas flicks on the shower and then stops stock still as he realizes he has to take his shirt off to get in. It’s ridiculous for him to be standing there in his undershirt and nothing else but the coverage it offers more than makes up for how foolish he feels. He’s got Dean’s fingers in one hand and the hem of his shirt in the other and doesn’t know what to do.

“You know, I should probably call Sammy. See if Bobby’s touched base with him and make sure that nothing weird happened last night,” Dean says and his tone is so casual and incidental that Castiel could almost believe that Dean didn’t notice the fact that Cas is standing there like a mannequin, half facing the shower, conflicted about what to do. Like it wasn’t completely obvious that he was suddenly uncomfortable.

Dean tugs his fingers free from Castiel’s grip and heads back into the bedroom.

“Dean,” Castiel calls, voice low and soft. “Thank you.”

He doesn’t turn around but he swears he can hear Dean’s smile. “You can thank me after I make breakfast. I make a mean scrambled egg.”

Dean pulls the door shut behind him and Castiel is left alone in the bathroom. He can finally tug his shirt off and he feels doubly naked with out when he sees the familiar scars on his fair skin framed by beard-burn on his neck and a little on his shoulder.

His shower is quick, perfunctory and he’s wrapped in his bathrobe and back out in his bedroom in minutes. Dean’s on the bed, sheet casually draped over him, on the phone.

“Yeah, I’ll get some pics of what Cas has translated and maybe send an email or something off to Bobby.” Dean looks up at him and winks boyishly and all Castiel can do is stare at him. The lines of Dean’s face are incredible. Proportioned and cut without being overly angular or sharp. Castiel wants to stare at him endlessly, trying to figure out the exact proportions of his face. “We can meet up for lunch or something and see what’s up and where we’re at.” Dean listens for a moment and then rolls his eyes. “What did I tell you about that Dr. Phil crap? Jesus, I’d kick your ass but my dad told me not to hit girls.” Dean pauses again, then rolls his eyes again at what he hears and hangs up without saying goodbye. He tosses his phone down and rolls off the bed easily, wearing his boxers from yesterday.

“Is everything all right with your brother?” Castiel asks.

“Yeah, he just… likes to pretend he’s a tele-shrink or something,” Dean says with a shake of his head and Castiel wonders what it was that Sam was saying to Dean. Dean leans into his space and kisses him quick on the lips once and then passes by him heading into the bathroom. Castiel hears the water start up and takes the opportunity to get dressed quickly, knowing he won’t be seen.

He feels like he’s got his armor on again once he’s safely clothed in his usual attire of an undershirt and a button down over top. The scars are much better than they were but the angry red of them still stands out sharply on his chest and he wonders if he’ll ever have a day when he doesn’t think of them. He doesn’t consider himself vain and he’s been scarred in the line of duty before - a bullet graze on one of his arms, a knife wound on his hip - but there’s something so precise and… insidious about the sigils.

Malevolent.

He tries to push them out of his head as he hears the shower stop. He belatedly realizes that perhaps Dean would like some privacy as well and nearly scurries out of his bedroom to the kitchen to start a pot of coffee.

He surveys the meager offerings of his fridge and sighs somewhat forlornly at the contents. By the time Dean comes out of his bedroom - hair darkly damp, sharp and pointy at the ends - Castiel has made buttered toast and set it out on the table with two mostly empty jam jars.

“Hey, I thought I was going to make you scrambled eggs?” Dean said, sitting down at the table and stuffing a whole piece of toast in his mouth.

Castiel puts a cup of coffee in front of him and raises an eyebrow while offering a can of powdered creamer. Dean shakes his head and swishes back some of his toast with black coffee.

“That would necessitate me having eggs, I’m afraid,” Castiel replies, snagging his own piece of toast and trying to decide between the dregs of the strawberry jam or the dregs of the apricot jelly.

“Not much for groceries, huh,” Dean asks, snatching the apricot jelly out from under Cas’ fingertips with a smile.

“No.” Castiel ponders the question for a moment. “Buying groceries is a tiresome chore.”

Dean snorts in laughter. “I wouldn’t exactly know.”

“Do you tire of it?” asks Cas, thinking of Dean’s life on the road, the endless stream of motel rooms and diners.

Dean takes another hot sip of his coffee and Castiel can tell he’s not so much thinking about his answer as thinking about how to phrase it.

“Been doing it so long, I don’t know how to do anything else.”

Castiel nods at Dean’s words. He thinks he understands. He’s about to ask Dean another question when his cell phone rings from the bedroom. It takes him a few rings to get up and retrieve it, noting it’s another FBI number calling him as he does.

“Novak,” he answers.

“Castiel, it’s Rachel. Listen, I know you’re just back to active duty and… well, it’s pretty much a given they won’t give you this case anyway due to the circumstances but I thought you should know.”

“What are you referring to, Rachel?” Castiel asks, meeting Dean’s inquisitive eyes from the kitchen table.

“We’ve got a body,” Rachel starts, her voice somewhat hesitant. “It’s been… well, the same thing that was done to you was done to it, to him I mean.”

“Uriel,” Castiel says lowly and at the name, Dean stands up and steps closer to Cas. Cas holds a few fingers over the phone, “A body has been found… similar to… what was done to me.” He tips the phone so that Dean can hear Rachel as well. Dean leans in close to him, the sudden heat of him making Castiel realize he’s gone cold.

“Looks like,” Rachel continues. “This guy wasn’t so lucky to have an eleventh hour intervention. He bled out.”

“Where are you?” asks Castiel. Out of the corner of his eye he can see Dean’s expression - grim and serious.

“East village, Lealand street. In the old King Phillip hotel, the one they’re tearing down for condos. Second floor. Same set up as the farm house where you were found. Symbols, carvings… hoping to hell that’s animal blood all over the walls but not holding out too much hope.”

“I am on my way,” Castiel replies and Dean makes a motion with his hands and mouths the words ‘we’re on the way.’ Castiel shakes his head once and Dean’s eyes narrow.

Oblivious to the exchange, Rachel continues, “I’ll tell the beat cops to let you in. You’re not officially on this case but I figured… well.”

“I appreciate it, Rachel. Thank you.”

He hangs up and Dean’s already talking, heading to the front door and stuffing his feet in his shoes.

“We’re going with you. Me and Sam.”

Castiel shakes his head. “You’re wanted by the authorities, Dean. Accompanying me is remarkably stupid.”

Dean grins confidently. “No one is gonna look twice at us, you watch.”

***

They’d ended up waiting for Sam to come get them from Cas’ apartment, Dean making ‘get out of the car’ gestures with his hands as soon as he pulled up. With a roll of his eyes, Sam relinquishes the driver seat to Dean.

“‘nother body?” Sam asks, getting into the passenger side.

Dean slides into the driver side of his baby, feeling the urge to check her over for dents, scratches and iPods after Sam’s been at the wheel. “Ya, one of Cas’ fed buddies called.”

Cas gets into the backseat, sitting somewhat awkwardly. Dean adjusts the mirror a bit so he can get a better view of Cas, straight-backed and solemn in the reflection. He hears Sam snicker at him.

“What?” Dean scowls.

“Nothing,” Sam says with a laugh, shaking his head.

Thanks to Cas’ precise directions, they’re at the crime scene less than thirty minutes later. Dean pulls a spare sport jacket out of the trunk to match Sam’s business casual attire and Cas’ suit. He tucks his fake badge in one of the inside pockets and, feeling Cas’ eyes on him, turns to face him.

“I would reiterate that it would be a better idea for me to go in alone,” Cas says lowly.

“Look, I get that you’re… worried or whatever. But trust me, Sammy and I can handle ourselves. Feds at a crime scene are usually too busy taking notes and doing their jobs to notice other feds.”

“But you’re not other feds. You’re criminals.”

Dean glances around, feeling his heart thud, but thankfully, the real feds are all inside the building and no one seems to be about.

“Jesus, Cas, a little louder next time, so all the cops can hear you.”

Castiel frowns. “You know what I mean.”

Dean glares at Sam who jerks slightly and then seems to realize that Dean wants to discuss something with Cas alone.

“Oh, yeah. I’ll… uh.. Well,” is all Sam manages before taking a few steps away.

Dean takes Cas’ elbow and turns him slightly, putting his back to his brother.

“I told you, you don't have to worry about us and frankly, we’re better suited to being here than you. We see this kind of stuff a lot.”

“As do I, Dean.”

Dean makes a kind of ‘yeah but’ gesture and then follows up with the actual words. “Yeah, but usually, you’re not a-”

“I’m not a victim,” Castiel interrupts.

Dean winces because that’s exactly what he was going to say but from the cold look in Cas’ eyes he clearly has baggage with that word.

“Hey, man, I wasn’t going to say that you were. As involved. I was going to say normally you’re not as involved.”

Cas’ eyes kind of drift over Dean’s shoulder to the building and Dean thinks that maybe he might be getting somewhere but then Cas seems to harden his jaw slightly and turn back to Dean.

“We’re wasting time,” Cas says and steps past Dean, past Sam and enters the building, leaving them both behind. Sam wisely keeps his lips zipped as Dean adjusts the cuffs of his coat, steels his own jaw and follows behind.

True to Dean’s word before, the other agents, the real agents, take no note of Dean and Sam - they are just additional suits in a room full of agents.

Most of them take notice of Cas though.

Dean’s not sure if Cas notices how the other agents are watching him. He’s sure that the details of Uriel’s betrayal were the topic of many meetings, water cooler gatherings and idle chit chat. It’s not every day that an FBI agent takes one of his own and carves him up. A few conversations dry up as soon as Cas enters the scene of the crime. If Dean and Sam had been worried about being spotted it would have been a moot point as soon as Cas arrived.

Cas’ expression never changes as he enters the room, his eyes taking in the surroundings, somehow bypassing actually looking at the agents and instead cataloguing everything else. Dean watches as Cas goes immediately to the bloodiest spot in the room where a body is covered by a red-spattered sheet. Cas looks down at the symbology on the floor and then he tilts his head upward.

Dean sees the sigils on the ceiling above the body, the same as the ones that were above Cas when the Winchesters busted in and saved him. Cas kneels at the body, crouching down and Dean wants to rush forward and stop him, yank Cas back before he can pull back the sheet covering the body.

But he can’t draw attention to himself and he’s too late anyway.

Cas has already pulled the sheet up, his eyes flicking over the body beneath quickly at first and then… lingering for a moment.

He drops the sheet and Dean feels like he can breathe again. He feels like he’s able to move when Sam steps toward Castiel, following his brother.

“It is the same,” intones Cas lowly, somewhat unnecessarily. They knew before they arrived that it would be the same thanks to Rachel’s call but somehow, having it confirmed is still a blow. Cas steps away from the body toward an unoccupied corner and like he’s a gravity well, Dean feels compelled to follow him.

Castiel turns his intense blue gaze on Dean. “How do we know if it worked?” he asks.

Dean frowns. “What? You mean Uriel’s plan?”

“Yes.” Castiel’s eyes dart back and forth between Dean and Sam. “Has a portal been opened?”

Dean turns to his brother who unhelpfully shrugs. “I don’t know,” he says.

Castiel purses his lips together. “There would be signs, wouldn’t there? Some sort of disturbance?”

Again, Dean and Sam exchange glances and finally Sam pulls out his cell phone. “I’m gonna call Bobby and see if he’s got anything,” he says, stepping away from Dean and Cas to another area of the room, already dialing the number.

Dean waits for him to be a bit further away and then glances around to make sure no one’s in direct earshot.

“You okay?” he asks.

Castiel looks past Dean, over his shoulder to where the corpse is lying.

“I’m fine,” he replies, not looking at Dean.

“Really? How ‘bout you look me in the face when you say that?”

Cas’ eyes flick to Dean immediately. “I’m fine.”

Dean wants to curse. “Works in the movies,” he mutters. “I’m just… you know, it must be rough. Seeing that guy there.”

Cas is again staring over Dean’s shoulder, looking up to the ceiling and the floor, reading the symbols. “I’ve seen similar and much worse in my duties before.”

Jesus, thinks Dean, he suddenly gets why Sammy is always so frustrated with him when Sam’s trying to talk about something and Dean just refuses to. “Yeah, I get that. It’s just. You know, this one hits a little close to home.”

Cas’ eyes come back to Dean again. “I’m fine,” he says for the umpteenth time and Dean makes a vow to never say that to Sammy again.

Or at least this week.

Castiel suddenly steps past Dean and starts talking with another fed, asking if the coroner has already taken preliminary samples for a toxicology report and then following up by asking who the agent in charge is.

Dean can’t really follow him. If they hadn’t already been in this town and already fingerprinted and made by the feds it would be one thing. But they’re known. Sure he feels perfectly safe being a guy at a crime scene playing the role of just another fed doing his job, but it’s another thing to go up and start getting in people’s faces, having conversations and possibly being noticed.

He and Sam can’t take that kind of chance after they’ve already been noticed by local enforcement.

Sam sidles up to him casually, slipping his phone back in his pocket.

“What’s the word?” Dean asks, watching Cas move through the room speaking to agents. A lot of them seem to be a little nervous talking to him - their eyes flicking from the corpse on the ground to Cas and back again.

“Bobby says nothing strange about last night.”

“Really? All right,” Dean mumbles. “Gotta be good news, right?”

He can see Sam make a hesitant gesture out of the corner of his eye and he finally shifts his gaze from Cas to Sam.

“What?”

“We gotta get some good shots of the scene and the…” Sam hesitates and gestures to the body. “The… victim,” he finally finishes. “Bobby’s concerned about why there was no… disturbances.”

“What? Why? No news is good news.”

Again Sam hesitates. “In the grand scheme of things, yeah. No news is good. But… we need to figure out why.”

It takes Dean about three seconds to process that statement. “Wha-? Oh fuck.” He feels his stomach roll over and he again looks for Cas in the room, finding him standing with three other agents, two women and a man, by the entrance.

Sam grimaces. “Yeah. It could be the whole ceremony is bullshit from the get go or…”

“Or it could be the way our boy Uriel set it up…” Dean doesn’t even want to finish his thought.

“It will only work with Castiel now,” Sam finishes, staring at Castiel himself.

Dean can hear the grinding sound his teeth make as he clenches his jaw. “Motherfucker,” he curses.

“Well, if that’s the case,” starts Sam, “at least we can be pretty sure Uriel’s still in town.”

“Yeah,” Dean grouses. “And gunning for Cas.”

Cas is making his way back to them looking as somber and serious as he ever does. It’s completely inappropriate but Dean’s heart gives a few extra thumps watching Cas deftly make his way through the room.

“I have just spoken with some fellow agents and it turns out the local police have been inundated with a stream of missing persons in the last two weeks. The victim here was one of them,” Cas says, inclining his head toward the body. He glances around slightly and then moves a little further into the corner, placing his hand on Dean’s elbow and pulling him along and indicating with his eyes that Sam should follow. Once they are tucked into a corner, he continues. “It occurs to me that Uriel would have needed more bodies to host… well. To host,” Castiel finishes.

“What you mean the demons?” Dean asks lowly and Castiel nods once. Dean can see Sam nodding out of the corner of his eye as well.

“Yes. Two of the previous hosts are dead. Suicide. The remainder are still heavily involved in the legal proceedings as defendants. Uriel would be foolish to use them.”

“Too conspicuous,” Dean murmurs, rubbing a hand over his jaw.

“Exactly,” agrees Castiel. “I believe you said it was demon possession. It seems likely that this recent string of missing persons is the result of those demons taking new hosts.”

“Shit,” Dean replies. He looks up at Sam whose face looks like Dean feels - a little sick and grim. Sam finally tilts his head a bit and speaks.

“The good news is, that much demon activity leaves traces or energy.”

Castiel turns to Dean seeking confirmation of this statement and Dean nods. “Yeah. Bringing a bunch of hell-suckers to one place tends to light up the supernatural world with a big spot light.”

“How do we make use of that? Is there a person we need to contact or some kind of spell or ritual we can use?”

“We can call Bobby again. See if there’s a local psychic that he knows of around these parts. Someone who’s probably already familiar with the way the energy of the town is laid out,” Sam says.

Dean looks at Cas and smiles. “If you’re a good little agent, we’ll even pony up and get your tarot cards read.”

The wry look Castiel gives him in return makes Dean’s heart give another few thumps again. He can feel his grin split wider.

“C’mon Cas, let’s get thee to the psychic.”

***

From the diner booth where he sits with Sam, Castiel watches Dean pace in the parking lot while he talks on the phone with Bobby. Though he wishes he didn't feel compelled to keep his eyes on Dean - with his graceful body and lithe movements - he finds himself drawn to watching him.

"I'm sure Bobby will be able to put us in touch with someone local or maybe have someone swing by."

At Sam's words, Castiel manages to force his gaze from Dean and instead stare at Sam, seated across the table from him.

Sam's large hands cradle a cup of coffee and Castiel frowns seeing one sitting in front of him and another in front of the empty space next to him. For Dean, he surmises.

He didn't even hear the waitress stop by.

"Your... friend Bobby seems most knowledgeable," Castiel says thoughtfully, wrapping his own long fingers around the cup and studying the wisps of steam rising as though they themselves are portents or runes.

He sees Sam nod out of the corner of his eye. "Oh yeah. Bobby knows a lot of hunters in the biz. A lot of other kinds of people too. Psychics, book dealers, artifact traffickers. He's got a pretty good library himself."

Castiel's no stranger to interrogation. He knows a good opening when he sees one. "So, you've been to his residence, then?"

Again Sam nods. "Yeah. The junkyard. We don't really have much of a home base but if we did, it would probably be Bobby's."

"I see," replies Castiel, feeling something sink in his gut.

He's sure Dean has a lot of... friends. A lot of acquaintances the country over. He's never in one place very long and leads a nomadic lifestyle. Castiel is likely just another blip on his map.

"You are very close, then. To Bobby. You... and Dean."

"Yeah," Sam says lowly, spinning his cup a little. "I think..." he takes a deep breath and lets it out, staring out the window at Dean like Castiel did earlier. "Sometimes I think he's more of a father to us than our own dad was."

Castiel's fingers still on the mug. This is... surprising. He had just assumed Bobby was a young hunter like Sam and Dean. "Pardon?"

"It's just," Sam continues like he doesn't really hear Cas. "Dad tried. I know he tried. I get that now and he did the best he could. But sometimes he just dropped us off at Bobby's or Pastor Jim's. Jim was another hunter that Dad knew," Sam clarifies by explanation. "And when I think of my childhood, I think of them a lot instead of my dad. My dad and I... we didn't really get along, you know? And Dean..." Sam sighs again. "Dean wanted to be just like Dad and I don't know if Dad ever saw it or he saw it and he... I don't know, used it. Not in a malicious way. Just... Well. He did the best he could. Like I said. But there were some long summers at Bobby's and when I think back, I think it was Bobby that taught Dean to shoot. Taught him the most about cars. Talked to him about hunting. About our mom. I don't know if Dad ever talked to us about our mom."

Castiel feels his face flush slightly with his embarrassment at having assumed that Bobby was some kind of ... ‘port in a storm’, when in actuality, Bobby is a mentor and surrogate father to Dean and Sam. He turns to look out the window again, watching Dean as he lazily flips his key ring around his finger and nods to something he's hearing on the phone. Dean suddenly looks up, right at Cas and winks at him. Castiel can feel his blush deepen, the heat of it quick across his face and he looks back at his cup of coffee with a slight smile on his lips.

"He likes you."

Castiel's eyes flick up to Sam who looks a little amused as he stares at Castiel. Castiel doesn't know what to say in return so he only nods his head once.

"We don't get to make a lot of... well, connections with people in our line of work," Sam continues. "We're pretty much in and out and onto the next town, the next hunt, the next big bad before people even have time to remember us."

"It must be very difficult for you."

Sam shrugs. "We're used to it, I guess. But Dean... he likes you."

Again Castiel nods solemnly. "I like him too."

Sam smiles. "I figured as much," he says. "But, you know. A brother's gotta check.”

Castiel opens his mouth to say that he understands but the bell above the diner door tinkles and both he and Sam look over as Dean strides in, flipping his cell phone shut and coming over to the table. He slides into the booth next to Castiel, his thigh and hip bumping up against Cas' and resting there. He grabs his coffee and takes a deep slurp.

"We gotta date with a psychic. Pamela Barnes. About half an hour from here. We got time to eat and then we hit the road."

"Bobby vouches for her?" Sam asks.

Dean grins, sharp and quick. "Hell yes. And get this, she called him right before I called to tell him to send us over. Now that's what I'm talking about!" Dean exclaims. "A psychic should know you're coming before you even know it yourself, am I right?"

He leans back in the booth, long limbed and graceful and if Castiel didn't know better, he would swear that it's happenstance that once of Dean's hands ends up on Cas' knee under the table. But it happens so easily, so smoothly, that it couldn't be anything other than an intended motion. He glances slightly sideways at Dean who has picked up a menu with his other hand and is perusing the plastic covered surface with serious gaze. Castiel surreptitiously inches his own hand over and slowly, so slowly, places it over top of Dean's. Without any break in his studying of the menu, Dean's fingers thread through Castiel's under the table, securing them together soundly.

The waitress comes by to take their order and Cas’ eyes, used to picking up things from suspects, cannot fail to miss how her gaze gets caught by something and flickers toward it.

His wrist, he realizes. The scar is still pink and prominent. He tugs his fingers free from Dean’s grasp and pulls down on the sleeves of his shirt and coat, hoping they’ll be long enough to stay put even though his arms are bent. Dean’s fingers stay on his knee and press against him slightly.

He knows Dean saw too. Saw the waitress look over, saw Castiel tug his shirt down. It shouldn’t matter. She’s a stranger. He owes her no explanations. And Dean knows the truth of what happened. He knows that Castiel didn’t inflict those wounds on himself.

Still, he feels crowded and uncomfortable all of a sudden and wishes he wasn’t seated on the inside of the booth. He wishes this were just another case, another investigation, another job that he could leave at the end of the day.

He hears Dean order for him, a sandwich and with a salad on the side and it occurs to him that although they’ve not spent much time together in person, they have learned each other over their phone calls and texts. Dean picked for him exactly what he would have picked for himself. The waitress is gone just as quick as she arrived but his discomfort lingers.

Dean and Sam talk shop - demons, poltergeists, what they expect or don’t expect from the psychic, game plans, Uriel, devil’s traps. Castiel manages to keep up with most of the conversation but he’s still amazed at how much he doesn’t know. It’s like learning a new language. He can understand what they’re talking about, but cannot participate.

After lunch, they head out to the psychic’s. Sam offers the front seat but Castiel just shakes his head. He somehow prefers the back; prefers being able to watch Dean from the rearview mirror, watch the back of his head, his hands on the wheel - the confidence and dexterity he displays as he drives. Castiel thinks back on the night before and though he’s never considered himself a prude, he’s certainly not wanton and thinking about last night makes his stomach do a crazy somersault.

He wonders if Dean will spend the night again. Will he have to ask? Will it be assumed? Castiel isn’t sure what the rules are and he doesn’t know how to figure them out.

Pamela Barnes lives in a small bungalow-style house in an older part of town. It’s worn, but well-loved with cracked paint on the window frames and porch steps that sag gently in a smile shape. They creak when the three of them step upon them, but not ominously; just in a way that indicates that they are old and worn, but still sturdy enough to stand on.

Dean knocks on the door and it’s only moments before it swings open and a strikingly beautiful woman with long, dark hair and cat-like eyes is staring up at them.

“Hello boys. I’ve been expecting you.”

She turns around and Castiel can’t help but notice how both Sam and Dean take a moment to stare at her denim clad ass, adorned with some rhinestone work on the pockets. He suppresses his frown. Dean can look at whomever he likes; it’s not as though Castiel has any claim over him. Still, he can’t help but feel a flare of disappointment.

However by the time they follow her into a small dining room and take the seats she indicates for them at the table, Dean appears to be all business again, looking around the room and taking stock. Dean sits to her right, Sam to her left, leaving the chair across from her to Castiel.

“Pamela Barnes?” Dean asks.

“That’s me,” she replies with her whiskey-soft voice. “You sure didn’t waste any time getting over here.”

“Well, Bobby said you’d already called him and invited us over. No time like the present,” Dean replies, his drawl lazy and relaxed even as his posture is prepared and at the ready.

Pamela taps the table and examines each one of them in turn. First Dean, then Sam and then finally her eyes linger on Castiel. Castiel doesn’t look away, matching her gaze. She eventually smiles and then pulls out a deck of tarot cards.

“So, tell me exactly what you boys are looking for.”

“Don’t you know? You called Bobby,” says Sam.

“I know you’re looking for something, but not what. I’m good, but I can’t see everything, Sam.”

“Did Bobby Singer tell you our names?” Castiel asks, wondering.

“Dean and Sam’s name, yes. Yours… yours I already knew.”

“How?” barks Dean.

She looks from Castiel back to Dean, shrugging as she shuffles. “Just the way it works sometimes. You’re looking for something.” It’s a statement, not a question.

Castiel nods. “Yes. Demonic activity. A lot of it, if we’re not mistaken. And rather recently.”

She makes a ‘hmmm’ sound as she shuffles the cards and then sets them down, pushing them to the center of her small, square table. Dean reaches out but a look from Pam stops him.

“Castiel, if you would please cut the cards.”

Castiel reaches out and takes what he believes to be an even half of the deck and sets it down.

“And again, with the top half of what you took first.”

He sees Dean’s sharp eyes out of the corner of his own but no one says anything as Castiel cuts the cards again.

Pamela scoops them up, shuffles them once and starts laying them out. She deals out five cards and pauses, looking them over, before she speaks.

“Tell me, Castiel, about the man who betrayed you.”

Castiel can feel his eyebrows go up in surprise, sees Dean and Sam shift slightly in their seats. He manages a slight shrug.

“Uriel was…. My partner. We worked together for many years. There were many difficult cases, many long nights working. He was the funniest agent I knew.”

He can sense the surprise from Dean and Sam at his words but he doesn’t pause to look at them. He keeps his eyes on the cards, as Pamela does.

“I truly never suspected any duplicity or wrongdoing from him. I was… completely surprised. Even in retrospect, I still feel surprised. And saddened.”

Pamela deals out a few more cards. “And the night of his betrayal. It was dark,” she says, and then places another card. “You were alone.” Another card is laid on the table. “Dying.”

He sees Dean shift anxiously in his seat but he doesn’t have the extra fortitude to offer him strength at the moment.

“Yes.”

She deals out three more cards. “Surrounded by demons. The same ones you seek now.”

“Yes,” he answers again.

“Do you know where they are or are you just going to keep hammering at him?” Dean says suddenly, his anger quick and hot in the room.

Before Castiel can do anything, Pamela is stretching out her hand and patting Dean’s. “Easy, tiger. I’m not trying to hurt your boyfriend, I’m just reading the cards.”

Castiel waits for Dean to protest that he’s not Castiel’s boyfriend.

The protestation never comes.

Pamela deals a few more cards, shifting and shuffling a few of them around on the table while she makes non-verbal sounds of thinking. She drums her fingers a few times and then pushes back from the table, bending low to rifle through some books she has before pulling a large, fat, dusty volume off the bottom shelf and dropping it on the table with a ‘thunk.’

“What? What’ve you got?” Dean asks.

She flaps her fingers at him as she flips through the pages of her book. The tome so old Castiel can smell the dusty paper - slightly moldy and yet dry and vanilla-y at the same time. She runs her fingertips over the page, reading. Castiel can’t read the text from where he sits but it appears Sam can and at Dean’s inquisitive look, Sam shakes his head and shrugs his shoulders.

She closes the book with a snap, sending trails of dust up in the air.

“Your partner, the man who betrayed you, he’s not kidding around this time. He’s holed up in a holy place, a place of worship, although I don’t think it’s been used for some time.”

“What, like an abandoned church or something?” asks Sam.

Pamela nods, pulling all the cards together in a pile. “Yes. He’s angry that he’s been unsuccessful so far and this time he means to go whole hog. Places where people gather and pray tend to have… residual energy. A lot of people gathering with a lot of intent over a long period of time. It leaves a mark.”

“Where?” Dean demands.

Pam shakes her head. “Sorry, Dean. It doesn’t work that way. I don’t know where.”

Castiel sees Dean about to say something, something sharp, and he chooses to speak before it can happen. “There can’t be too many places like that in town. Certainly not ones that were well populated.”

Dean turns quickly to him and then to Sam, who is nodding as well. “He’s right. Churches, the big ones, are usually pretty good and keeping records of their land purchases and their building usages. If it was a smaller church, a smaller denomination, we might be shit outta luck, since those can be dodgy.”

“No, it had to have enough people to leave behind a significant amount of energy,” confirms Pamela. “The… bones of it would be old.”

“That’s it? That’s all you’ve got?” Dean asks.

“For you? Yes,” confirms Pamela. “Although I would like to speak to Castiel alone, in the kitchen while you show yourselves out.”

This time, Castiel manages to place a hand on Dean’s elbow to cut him off, nodding to Pamela as he does. “Very well. Dean, Sam, I shall meet you at the car.”

Dean makes a loud sound of annoyance and stands up, nearly tipping his chair over. Pamela pushes back with a lot more grace, turning away and walking toward, what is presumably, the kitchen.

Castiel follows her, hearing Sam and Dean leave through the front door. Pamela fills a kettle with water and strikes a match, deftly lighting the gas stove.

“He likes you. A lot,” she says.

“I’m… aware,” Castiel answers, somewhat shyly.

“Are you?” she asks, elegant eyebrow raised, eyes lively and knowing.

He feels himself flush and she laughs a little, low and throaty.

“You shouldn’t doubt it. He’s not one to make attachments but he’s… pretty attached to you.”

“Is this why you asked me to stay?”

Her expression sobers. “No. No it’s not.”

“Do you have additional information?”

She nods almost hesitantly and he feels something unpleasant settle in his stomach.

“I don’t know how much can be changed. How much is predetermined and how much can be altered.”

His stomach tightens a bit at her expression and her words. He feels as though a dark cloud is settling over him.

“So many things are already in motion and with this much power involved it’s … hard to say how it will settle.”

“Will Dean die?” he asks suddenly, the words out of his mouth before he realized he had any intent to say them.

“No,” she says quickly. “I’m nearly sure of it. Not Dean nor Sam.”

She stares up at him, her green eyes, serious and… sad.

“Oh,” he says quietly, at a loss for anything else to say. “I… see.”

“I don’t know for certain,” she continues, placing a hand on his arm. It’s warm and solid against the fabric of his jacket. “I only know that it’s… very likely. And yet…” She pauses, her eyes narrowing slightly as she looks past him, through him. “It’s not quite there.”

“I don’t understand.”

“It’s as though it does and does not happen. Both. Simultaneously. I can’t quite tell.” She licks her lips. “You’ve another energy around you. A favorable one. One that wants you to succeed.”

“It’s not the Winchesters?” Castiel asks.

Pamela shakes her head. “No. It’s older, stronger. But far away. Distant. It’s tied to your faith.”

“My faith?” Castiel is surprised. He’s always considered himself faithful, spiritual, even though he’s not a regular church goer.

“Yes. Your faith in good, in wanting to do the right thing. Your faith that there is more out there than this.”

Castiel ponders this, feeling it weigh heavy on his mind, although not unbearably so. It’s more… heavy in intent than in weight.

“It is your faith that can save you, I think. But I don’t know definitely. I’m sorry.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for,” Castiel answers automatically.

“I do know that it’s a choice. Your choice,” Pamela says, her eyes finally gaining their focus back and looking at him again.

“Then there must be no other option,” he says firmly.

Her eyes narrow slightly. “I look at you and I see a key,” she says.

“It’s what I have become, I believe. Through the ritual.”

“I feel…” She frowns. “I feel this need to tell you that a key locks a door as well as unlocks it.”

He feels as though something is sliding into place inside him, but he isn’t sure exactly what. “I have had dreams with similar words. What does it mean?”

Pamela shrugs, apology still written on her features.

He is torn. He feels compelled to believe her and yet, at the same time, he feels that it is foolish to do so. He knows there are supernatural things out in the world. He has seen them with his own eyes now. And he knows that Pamela knew they were coming to see her before they had even really known themselves.

On the other hand, he knows he is a good agent. A good soldier, for lack of a better word. He has faced criminal elements many times and has succeeded. He is trained, he is smart and he is determined.

But there is something about this… thing with Uriel, something about the ritual and the situation that feels…like a runaway train. He feels swept up in it and he’s not sure how much he can rely on his strengths and fortitude to break his momentum.

He’s not sure how much faith he has.

“How much time do I have? Do you know?”

“I… . Soon.”

They stand there for a moment, in her kitchen which smells faintly of lemons and soap, with her mismatched dishes and cheery Formica counter top, staring at one another silently.

Finally, he manages to swallow around the hard spot in his throat. “I should go. They are waiting for me.”

She lurches forward suddenly and hugs him; fiercely and tightly and he startles somewhat. It’s happened in his career before that people, overcome by emotion have reached out to him, but not so much that it’s ever become something he’s been good at or easy with. He manages to pat her awkwardly on the back and then, just as she pulls away, she kisses him on the cheek.

“Vaya con dios,” she whispers.

“Thank you,” he says, his voice soft and low. The kettle whistles loudly and she turns abruptly from him toward the sound, pulling it off the stove.

He makes his way out of her homey kitchen and through the dining room, back out the front door. Dean’s in the driver’s seat, tapping his fingers against the wheel impatiently while Sam is on his smartphone, probably researching already. Dean looks up quickly as Castiel comes down the porch steps and toward the car.

Castiel gets in the back seat, ignoring Dean’s pointed look in the rear-view mirror. He pretends he doesn’t see and looks out the back window instead. He hears Dean tap his thumbs a few more times against the steering wheel before he starts the car and pulls out onto the street.

“Why don’t you drop me at City Hall,” Sam says, still reading text on his phone. “I can do some research into places there and you guys can continue to work on the Enochian, maybe linking Bobby in or something.”

“I would also like to log into the FBI mainframe and see what they have, if anything, on this latest murder,” Cas replies.

He sees the back of Sam’s head nod. Dean remains silent.

They pull up to City Hall after a few silent minutes of driving. Sam and Castiel both get out - Sam to leave and Cas to slide into the passenger set. He’s just settled himself in when Sam leans into car one more time before he closes the door.

“I’ll get a cab back to the motel. I won’t wait up,” he says with a smirk and he shuts the door firmly.

“Mouthy,” Dean mutters, but there’s no real heat behind his voice. “So.”

He doesn’t say anything else and Cas turns his gaze from the retreating form of Sam toward Dean.

“So,” Cas repeats.

Dean gives him an expectant look, eyebrows going up. “Well?”

“Well, what?” Castiel asks back.

Dean’s eyes go wider. “Well what did Miss Psychic have to tell you that was so all-fired secret and important?”

Castiel shrugs. He’s not willing to share his secret with Dean. If this is going to be the only time he has with Dean, if their moments together are measured and so countably finite, he doesn’t want to tell Dean. He doesn’t want to spend those moments tense and unhappy or arguing with Dean about how to proceed.

He just wants to enjoy the moments he has.

When he speaks, it’s with the slow cadence of someone trying to figure out what to say while they’re saying it. “She just… wanted to talk to me. About you,” he finishes.

“Me? Why? What did she say?” Dean asks, eyes narrowing.

“She said you liked me,” Cas says and feels his chest warm at the way Dean blushes and looks away, suddenly busy with steering and pulling them back out into traffic.

“Oh. Well. Sure, I… I mean, you know.”

Castiel feels a real smile tug his lips. He turns to the window where the sun is shining in. He closes his eyes. It’s warm and bright on his face and he hopes that it can warm the chill that’s settled into his heart at Pamela’s words.

The sun doesn’t do much for his heart, but Dean’s hand, sliding over his knee moments later and threading through his fingers, does.

***

Dean knows he’s good at hunting. He’s always had a kind of knack for it - he keeps his head cool in heated situations and doesn’t panic.

But he full on hates research.

He gets why Sammy likes it. It’s methodical and measured - like following breadcrumbs through history and science. Clue A leads to B leads to five possibilities and each one needs to be fleshed out and examined. Like one big logic puzzle or decision tree.

And it’s not that Dean can’t do it. He can. He has.

He just doesn’t like it.

But from the way Cas is hunkered over his laptop, backlit screen illuminating his face, making him seem ghostly white except for the stubble cropping up on his cheeks and jaw, he’s totally into it. He hasn’t moved in an hour except to type, click his mouse, and grab the cup of coffee that Dean set down next to him. He hadn’t even looked up when Dean placed it, just murmured a quiet ‘thank you,’ and started sipping away. His brow has remained solidly furrowed, lips slightly pursed as he thinks. Every now and then he breathes in deep and then lets out a long exhale but he doesn’t get up or shift.

Dean is bored.

And hungry.

It’s tough to say which one is going to win out.

Hunger ends up winning out over boredom first. When his stomach growls for the second time and Cas hasn’t so much as twitched in forty minutes, Dean walks over and shuts Cas’ laptop screen.

Cas turns his furrowed eyes up to Dean. “I was in the middle of something.”

“Like you don’t have your auto-save set to go off every five minutes. I’m hungry. Let’s eat.”

“I’ve nothing by the way of groceries in the apartment.”

Dean smirks to himself. That must be Cas speak for ‘I’ve got no food.’ He shrugs. “So we go out, we order in. Whatever. I’m easy.”

“Yes, I found that out last night.”

It takes Dean a moment to realize that Cas is joking and then he laughs. “Did you just make a joke? An honest to God joke?”

“I’ve been known to make them in the past.”

“And dude, you’re as easy as I am. I don’t even think we’ve had a first date.”

Cas looks a little sad and thoughtful for a moment. “No, I don’t suppose we have.”

“Well, let’s go. We’ll head out, grab a bite. Make it date night.”

Cas pauses, eyes flickering downward and then back up. “Would you mind, if perhaps, we could just stay here tonight?”

Looking down at Cas’ earnest and open expression, Dean feels like he couldn’t ever tell him no. “Sure. You wanna order in or I can go out and grab something?”

Cas sets his computer aside gently and stands up, into Dean’s space, unselfconsciously. “I think I have some menus.”

Cas is just about to turn away when Dean grabs his hips and pulls him in for a dirty kiss that leaves Castiel looking slightly befuddled and a little dazed. Castiel blinks at him twice in mild confusion.

“What was that for?”

Dean shrugs. “Felt like it.”

Cas does that thing again where he seems to be studying Dean’s face - his eyes roaming over each of Dean’s features. Dean tries not to flinch under the scrutiny but when his stomach growls again, he laughs a bit, breaking his nervous tension.

“Dean Winchester’s stomach waits for no one,” Dean says.

“Apparently not,” answers Castiel and he hunts down the neatest stack of takeout menus Dean has ever seen.

They’re even alphabetized and organized by food type.

He knows he’s in deep when instead of finding it prissy or dickish he just thinks it’s kind of nerdy and cute that Cas is so meticulous. He chooses deep dish pizza and Cas only offers a shrug and tells him whatever he wants is fine.

He orders and then manages to tackle Castiel to the couch and sprawl over him. They’re too big to really fit on the couch together. Cas has to rest the soles of his feet on one of the cushions, pushing his knees up a bit and one of Dean’s legs dangles over the edge, his knee touching the floor as he straddles Cas’ hips.

“Seriously,” he says against Cas’ lips. “This is a couch for hobbits.”

Cas shifts a bit, trying to fit them together better and he manages to hit Dean in the side with his knee and then almost clips him with his arm. “I didn’t have this intent in mind when I purchased it. I was more concerned with the scotch-guard.”

Dean chuckles into Cas’ mouth as he kisses him. Cas’ fingers thread their way through his hair, massaging into his scalp and he wants to hum with the pleasure of it. “I believe you. This couch is horrible.”

He rocks his hips a bit and the couch makes horrible squeaking and squelching sounds that are anything but sexy. He sputters out a laugh and has to bury his face in Cas’ neck for a second. It’s so ridiculous. He’s trying to be smooth and suave and he’s got a couch made for dolls and scotch-guarded leather that sounds like… he can’t even think what it sounds like without losing his shit and laughing again. He pulls back to look at Cas and Cas does that weird staring thing again, where he looks at Dean and doesn’t blink - doesn’t look away. His pupils are large and owlish in the low light of the room.

Dean doesn’t really feel like laughing anymore. He slowly lowers his lips to Cas’, touching them once almost chastely, and then again with more intent. He licks across the seam of Cas’ lips and then sucks on Cas’ bottom lip for a bit. When Cas finally opens his mouth, Dean doesn’t waste a moment before diving his tongue into the wet heat and licking inside. Cas sighs and seems to sink down further into the couch; Dean lets his own weight drop a little more, sinking with him.

He manages to sandwich one of his arms underneath Cas and uses the other one to pull Cas’ shirt out from his waistband, sliding his hand around Cas’ hip. Cas’ skin is warm and taut, and Dean can feel the bony protrusion of Cas’ hip bone under his thumb and he presses down on it a bit. Cas’ hands slip under Dean’s shirt, across the expanse of his back and it feels like he has all the time in the world to be here, on this god-awfully uncomfortable couch, pressed into the heat of Cas, kissing him senseless.

He can’t remember the last time he kissed someone without the thought that it was just kind of a stepping stone on the way to something else. But this moment is just all about the kissing - all about mapping Castiel’s lips, his jaw, his neck - figuring out the texture and dips of it with his own lips - darting his tongue out to taste the skin at his pulse point, and then again just under his ear lobe. Dean feels no real sense of urgency to do anything else other than try to learn Cas by touch and taste.

The apartment buzzer eventually goes off and he has to extricate himself from Cas’ pliant warmth, adjusting his pants a bit and fluffing his shirt out in a way that always sorta screams to him, ‘I’m totally trying to hide a partial hard-on’ and answer the door. Even the two minutes it takes for the pizza girl to arrive at the door isn’t enough to calm him down, apparently, given the embarrassed blush-smirk combo he gets from her when he answers the door and she peers behind him to see Cas kind of blinky and dazed on the sofa.

He tips her a solid ten bucks and tells her to have a great night and he hears her murmur, “Not as great as you,” as she walks back down toward the elevator.

When he turns back, Cas is staring at him with a sort of lost, sad look on his face. It makes Dean pause, sliding the pizza on the kitchen counter. He frowns.

“What’s wrong?”

Cas takes a deep breath like he’s about to speak and then closes his mouth and shrugs, looking suddenly bashful. “I like having you here.”

Dean feels a grin split his lips. “I like being here.”

Cas doesn’t smile back and in fact looks more forlorn. He pushes himself off the couch and comes toward the kitchen, stepping into Dean’s space with no preamble or awkwardness. Their hipbones bump slightly as Cas presses himself up against Dean, sliding his arms around him.

Dean feels a little uncertain all of a sudden with the strange mood Cas seems to suddenly be in.

“Are you…? Uh…” he stammers.

“I wish…” Cas begins, voice low and warm in Dean’s ear. He sighs. “We wasted so much time,” he finally says.

Dean gives him a squeeze, arms tightening around Cas’ frame for a moment. “We’re not wasting any time now.”

Cas pulls back slightly. “No, I suppose not.”

Dean waits for a minute, thinking that this moment, whatever it is, will pass.

But it doesn’t. Cas continues to stare at him, not saying a word. Dean squeezes him again.

“Dude. Pizza,” he prods.

“Of course,” Castiel replies, like he hasn’t just been scrutinizing Dean wordlessly.

Cas pulls away and goes to one of the cupboards taking out plates and the finding napkins from another drawer. Dean almost laughs when he also gets out knives and forks. It’ll probably be the first time Dean’s ever had knives and forks handed out with pizza, but if it’s how Cas rolls…

He thinks he can get used to it.

***

As Dean cleans up, putting the pizza in the fridge and loading the small dishwasher, Castiel takes a moment to call Gabriel. As soon as the phone picks up, he can hear the muted din of noise that indicates Gabriel is in his office and not out on the nightclub floor. The music, while audible, is not as pulse-pounding as it is when Gabriel tries to talk while tending bar.

“If this is about those kids, I swear that ID looked legit,” Gabriel says as he picks up the phone.

Castiel smiles. He is fond of his brother and does love him. Gabriel has always been larger than his frame implied. Big ideas, big dreams, big presence. “Hello, Gabriel.”

“You wouldn’t arrest your favorite brother, would you?”

Castiel can tell from Gabriel’s tone that he’s had a couple of drinks already tonight. “You are my only brother.”

“Even worse! Oh my God, the tragedy! It’s so Cain and Abel! Don’t do that to us, Cas. Because then I’ll have to break out of jail and take you on some roadtrip to loosen you up and there’ll be strippers and too many chocolate bars and I might leave one in your suit pocket and it will be ruined and then you’ll have to walk around naked and it will be horrible for your pale skin.”

“I’m not arresting you.”

“Oh thank God. I knew I could count on you, bro!”

“How are… things?”

“Is this a social call?” Gabriel asks, his tone confused.

“I just wanted to check in with you. Talk.”

“Jesus, who died?” Gabriel jokes back and Castiel can feel himself flinch a bit at the words. Before he can stammer anything out, Gabriel begins chattering on about the club, about his liquor license nearly expiring, about having to hire and fire another assistant, about Balthazar wanting to change the menus again…

Castiel lets the chatter flow over him, soothing and familiar.

“… and so I said to him, if you think that’s obscene, you should’ve seen what happened last week! Let me tell you, those are words you should never say to a judge.”

“I’m constantly amazed that you aren’t incarcerated.”

“Pfffft. They can’t lock me up or they’d be out of a place to carry on their own crazy shit. I’ve seen some people do some things if you know what I mean,” Gabriel says, voice taken on comic tones. “But seriously, you sleeping with that hottie or what?”

He looks up immediately at Dean, as though Dean could hear Gabriel over the phone. Dean looks very good in his kitchen, Castiel thinks. He’s relaxed and easy as he wipes up after dinner, putting the pizza in tupperware and breaking down the pizza boxes for the garbage. Dean looks over and catches him staring and winks, lips curling into a smile. Cas blushes and stammers a bit but before he can answer, Gabriel is hooting and hollering in his ear.

“Woooooo, you are! Nice! Rawr. Go get’em. So bring him by! Let me chat him up, totally above board of course. And, um, you know. Bring his brother, or whatever.”

“Perhaps.”

“I’m serious. Come by when the club’s closed and I’ll be all ears. And hands. Kidding! Kidding! I’ll keep my mitts to myself. Unless you bring his brother.”

In spite of himself, Castiel laughs softly at Gabriel. “I would like that,” he says and given what Pamela told him earlier this afternoon he hopes that he’s not lying by omission.

There’s a muffled crash of glass and Gabriel swears. “Oh shit, listen that didn’t sound good. I gotta go.”

“Of course, goodbye, Gabriel.”

“Bye.”

Dean drops down on the sofa beside him, the weight of him drawing Cas closer as he turns his phone over in his hands.

“Your brother?”

Castiel nods. “Yes.”

“They can be a pain in the ass but they’re good to have around,” Dean says.

He nods for lack of anything to add to Dean’s statement.

“I worry about him,” Cas suddenly blurts out, surprising himself. “He’s very… impulsive and I worry what would happen to him if I weren’t around.”

“He seems like he does all right. Got a business, looks like it’s doing well,” Dean replies, swinging an arm around Cas and pulling him in closer. Dean’s warm and firm and Castiel wants to just lie there and not think for a minute. “Besides, it’s not like you’re going anywhere.”

Not if he can help it, Cas thinks.

They spend a few more drowsy after-dinner minutes on the sofa before Cas pushes himself up and heads back to the office, Dean trailing after him with a quiet sigh. He pulls out the pages he took from the Grimoire, the ones he never gave to Dean and Bobby. It’s not as though Dean can tell which pages they are, but he still feels slightly exposed and… guilty, working on the translation of them with Dean in the room.

Dean seems pretty engrossed in taking over the internet searches for different translation meanings and interpretations on other parts of the Grimoire. Despite being focused on his task, Castiel does spare a few moments to steal some glances at Dean. He can’t help but wonder what would have happened if they’d met under different circumstances. Would he have figured out Dean was some sort of felon? Perhaps even arrested him? Or would he have somehow deduced that Dean wasn’t entirely guilty of the crimes of which he was accused. At least, not in the way in which he was accused of them.

How could it have ever worked between them? A felon and an FBI agent. Maybe Castiel would have broken the law to help Dean. He likes to pretend they could still have had some kind of relationship - in another time, another place. He wants to believe that some higher power would be at work, bringing them together and ensuring they stay that way.

He stares at the foreign words scribbled on the pages in front of him, the squiggly lines blurring and shifting.

He wants to have faith that there is a higher plan and that someone, something knows what it is doing and wants Castiel and Dean to succeed.

He doesn’t know if that makes him devoutly faithful to an unknown being or completely, absurdly insane.

If it’s the latter, he prefers to never find out.

He sighs, trying to focus his eyes on the pages again. He feels like he is very close to understanding them, close to making sense of the strange language, the bizarre phrases. If he could just make out a few more words, he has a sense that it would all fall into place.

Perhaps he was foolish in keeping these pages from Dean, Sam and Bobby. He’s not sure know if it was shame, pride or simple folly that possessed him in the first place. He pushes up from the table and takes them over to the fax machine.

“You got something?” Dean asks, not looking up from the computer.

“No. Just some… more things to send Bobby. Perhaps he will have better luck than me.”

He doesn’t want to tell Dean he kept these pages back to begin with. He keeps his back to Dean as he sends them through the fax.

“Bobby’s brain’s gotta be a crazy place to be man,” Dean says. “You know he speaks Japanese? Probably a dozen other languages.”

“You’re all an odd assortment of talents, aren’t you?” Castiel replies, turning to look at Dean.

Dean looks up and grins. “You say that like you’re not one of us now, Cas.”

Cas blinks a bit in surprise at Dean’s words. “I thought you were trying your hardest to keep me out.

Dean’s grin fades and his eyes turn serious. “Much as I hate to admit it, you’re pretty in this now.”

“I understand you were born to this life,” Castiel says lowly. “But even if you hadn’t been, knowing what’s out there, do you think you could turn your back on it? Pretend that you didn’t know it was all real?”

Dean taps his thumb on the table as he stares at Cas, his green eyes dark and deep in the low light. “Probably not,” he admits.

The fax machine finishes feeding the paper through, indicating it’s done with a long beep. It seems to break through Castiel and he realizes how tired he is. He pinches the bridge of his nose.

“I think it’s bedtime for all good little FBI agents,” Dean says, standing from the desk chair and coming over to Castiel.

Castiel feels the weight of the day press in on him. Seeing the body at the crime scene had been like seeing an alternate version of himself. What could have been.

What still might be.

Then there is Dean. Beautiful Dean standing in front of him, looking somewhat worn and sleepy himself. Castiel reaches his hand out and clasps Dean’s fingers in his own, feeling the calluses of Dean’s hands and slightly dry skin. Castiel is tired and for a moment, he forgets himself and lets his head fall forward, forehead resting on Dean’s shoulder.

He hears Dean chuckle softly and his other hand comes up and clasps the back of Castiel’s neck.

“Tired?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s go to bed. We’ll check in with Bobby and Sam tomorrow and see where we’re at. Maybe even stop off and see Pamela again.”

He lets Dean lead him to his own bedroom and there’s nothing sensual or sexual about the way they both strip down - Dean to his boxers and Castiel to his briefs and his undershirt. He must admit, he feels somewhat relieved. He wasn’t sure he would be invested in anything else given what’s weighing on his mind.

He crawls into bed and somehow ends up partially draped over Dean; Dean’s arms around him solid and warm.

“I totally knew it,” Dean says quietly. “Stealth cuddler.” His voice is soft and pleased.

Castiel just shifts down deeper, breathing in the scent of Dean, feeling Dean’s skin against his face, hearing Dean’s breath and heart in his ear.

“I don’t think I can hate Uriel for what he did,” Castiel says, starting to drift off into sleep.

“Hm? What?” asks Dean, voice a confused rumble in Castiel’s ear.

“I don’t know how you and I would have met otherwise.”

He’s not sure if he falls asleep before Dean speaks or if Dean just doesn’t reply.

Castiel dreams.

He is walking down a long hallway in which there are many doors. It’s dim, not well lit and he can’t quite tell where the ambient light is coming from. He looks down and in his hand is the key, the key with his name stamped into the metal. It’s warm and worn under his fingertips. He passes by doors without looking at him, knowing the door he seeks is up further ahead.

Castiel finds it.

Etched in the dark grain of the wood is the same symbol that’s carved into the flesh of his chest. He places his hand over the sigil and feels the wood pulse beneath his touch - somehow almost alive. He feels an echoing pulse in the markings on his chest. He takes the key and slides it into the keyhole.

“Cas.”

He turns his head to the side and sees Dean, far away, down at the end of the impossibly and improbably long corridor. He stands motionless, far away and yet intangibly close at the same time.

“I’m sorry, Dean.”

He hears the words in his own voice and isn’t sure if he spoke them aloud or not.

Castiel turns the key, locks the door.

He awakes with a start, arms thrashing out and something immediately tightens around him.

“Hey, hey, shh. You’re okay.”

The animal part of his brain must process the sound of Dean’s voice, the scent of Dean’s skin, before his higher brain functions can because he begins to relax before he’s really aware that he means to.

“Bad dream?”

Dean’s voice is morning deep and a little rough in Castiel’s ear. He likes it. He takes a deep breath and rolls slightly away from Dean, pushing his hair back with his fingers and settling on his back.

“Not… entirely,” he admits, staring at the ceiling. He’s not sure why he’s so unsettled. Given some of the other dreams he’s had, this one was relatively tame.

There is faint light coming in the window; it must be early morning. A quick glance at the clock confirms it’s just past six.

Dean suddenly slaps him on the thigh and he starts slightly.

“You know what the cure for bad dreams is? Donuts. Imma get us some coffee and donuts. What’s your favorite kind?” Dean asks, sliding out of bed and pulling on his pants.

“Of donut? I don’t have one,” Castiel admits, propping himself up on his elbows to watch Dean get dressed.

“What? Everyone’s got a favorite. Sammy likes those ones with the raisins in them. I like the ones with the rainbow sprinkles.” Dean pauses and winks. “But if you tell him that I’ll say you’re a dirty rotten liar. C’mon. Maple? Boston cream?” Dean’s eyebrows quirk. “Jelly?”

Cas frowns. “I really don’t know. Sometimes I get one of the low-fat muffins.”

“I bet you’re a jelly.” With his pants and shirt now on, Dean leans over Cas and studies him. “Or… you might be sour cream glazed.”

Dean studies him again for a quick moment and then darts forward, pressing a fast, hard kiss to Cas’ lips. “I’ll be back. Keep the bed warm,” he smirks.

Castiel hears Dean just at the front door before he calls out, “My keys are on the hook by the light switch.”

Dean doesn’t answer so Cas isn’t sure if Dean heard him or not.

He sinks back down into the warm and soft sheets, rolling onto his side and pressing his face into the pillow. It smells of Dean - like clean sweat and soap and something that is uniquely him.

He dozes, at least he thinks he does because the next thing he knows, he’s sleepy, drowsy - the worst kind from going back to sleep early in the morning. He feels heavy and lethargic and just can’t face getting up. He’s aware of a ruckus from the front door, footsteps entering and then silence.

He’s fairly sure he doesn’t want to get out of bed even for Dean and his donuts.

He snuffles into the pillow a bit even as he mumbles, “Did you not find the keys?”

There’s no answer and he forces himself up a little higher into consciousness.

“Dean?”

When the attack comes, Cas is wholly unprepared for it. Hands grab him and something goes over his face and head immediately. He struggles - fists flying out, legs kicking - even as he dragged from his bed and lands hard on the floor.

There must be at least three of them. He can feel one set of hands flip him over onto his stomach and hold his shoulders down as another is pulling his arms behind him and securing them with something strong and tight - plastic zip ties, he thinks.

He kicks out again and feels his foot connect solidly with someone’s jaw. There’s a muffled curse and then there’s a hard and swift punch to his left kidney. He feels his ankles get similarly secured as his wrists, the plastic zip tie digging into his flesh.

He wriggles like an eel, still trying to move. When he’s unceremoniously flipped over onto his back, he kicks both his feet out and hits someone in the chest, hearing them fall back to the floor with a crash that sounds like it was his nightstand lamp. He snaps his feet out again, hoping to strike at someone else but feel nothing.

“Goddamn, he packs a wallop,” Cas hears and feels a grim sense of satisfaction at the note of pain in the unknown voice.

“Yes. He’s quite strong and skilled.”

That voice he knows. Castiel stills immediately.

“Uriel.”

“Brother,” Uriel says, and it’s eerily like Castiel’s dream when Uriel called him the same thing. “It appears I have need of you still.”

“Fuck you.”

He’s not one normally given to swearing but the words fall from his lips easily even though he’s bound on the floor with cloth over his head.

Uriel sighs and Castiel hears him move closer. Castiel cranes his neck in vain trying to figure out exactly where Uriel is and places him somewhere off to Castiel’s right. He hears the shuffle of clothing rustling and then Uriel’s voice is by his ear, as though he were crouching next to Castiel.

“I’m sorry it had to come to this.”

Castiel wants to say something more, something dangerous, he isn’t sure what. All he manages is to open his mouth before he feels the prick of a needle in his thigh. His world starts to go wobbly and uneven, his lips heavy and thick. He tips off to the side and feels the warm bulk of Uriel catch him before he hits the ground.

He feels Uriel pet his hair softly, fondly. “Your sacrifice will not be in vain, brother.”

He tries to worm away from Uriel’s embrace but his world goes sideways and he feels like he’s falling.

Then he feels nothing it all.

***

Cas must live in some kind of weird donut shop vacuum, Dean thinks, because he had to drive for twenty minutes before he saw the tell-tale sign of fresh baked yeast and brewed coffee.

Although it’s early, there’s already a line up at the popular coffee and donut shop and Dean doesn’t even try to maneuver his baby into the drive-thru line. She’s a beaut and a classic but she doesn’t always fit through the tight corners and curves that modern construction allots for four wheels.

Besides, being in the donut shop he’s awash in the heavenly scent of baking donuts and he can stand in front of the display case and try to decide what kind of donut Cas is.

Yeah, definitely sour cream glazed, Dean thinks. Understated, under-appreciated, a little crunchy on the outside and surprising dense and soft on the inside.

Holy fuck, he’s got it bad.

It makes him a little dizzy for a second, realizing how bad he’s got it for Cas and he feels a fine bead of cold sweat form on his upper lip and his forehead. The girl in the hairnet at the counter is looking at him funny and he realizes it’s his turn to order and he’s standing there, leaning against the cold pasty case, breathing through his mouth, trying to calm down. He manages a weak smile and she gives him a nervous one in return.

“Um, two large coffees, one double cream one black, and six donuts: three sour cream and three rainbow sprinkles.”

She still looks dubious but rings it all up and a few minutes later he’s back in the cool morning air and he feels like he can breathe again.

He has no idea how this is gonna work, if it’s gonna work. Cas is a fed and Dean’s a wanted a felon. He spends all his time on the road chasing after things that go bump in the night while Cas sits at a desk and has an apartment.

This could be the scariest thing he’s ever done.

Or the dumbest.

Or both. Simultaneously.

By the time he makes it back to Cas’ apartment, he’s got the sick-nervous feeling back and he keeps telling himself that it’s stupid - there’s no reason to get into any of this now. They’re still working the job.

There’ll be plenty of time for freak-outs later on and Jesus, Sam is going to hand him his ass because he was so right and Dean’s got it for Cas and now he’s probably going to have to talk about his feelings or some dumb shit and Sam will make him watch daytime talk shows and use a body scrub or something.

He comes around the corner of the hallway, balancing the drink tray with coffee and the box of donuts and stops short.

Cas’ apartment door is open.

Cas isn’t the kind of guy to run out for the paper or to take the trash out and leave the door open and Dean knows he locked it behind him because Cas had yelled out where his keys were and Dean had seen them and scooped them up.

He quietly, carefully, sets the coffee and donuts down and wishes he’d brought his fucking Colt with him instead of leaving it in the Impala where it’s currently not doing a lick of good. He thinks about going down and getting it but he doesn’t want to waste the time it would take. He inches over to the door and listens.

It’s silent. There’s nothing from the inside.

He eases the door open further and peeks around the corner and sees nothing but Cas’ apartment - the same as when he left it.

He steps quietly into the hallway, eyes alert, body ready. He’s not sure if he’s relieved or disturbed as fuck that there doesn't seem to be anything amiss.

And then he makes it to the bedroom.

There’s obviously been a struggle - bed sheets strewn, lamp broken, nightstand tipped over, the rug folded and twisted up. Dean’s stomach clenches tightly.

“Cas!” he calls out loudly, no longer caring to keep quiet. If Cas is still around, Dean needs him to make some kind of sound, give a signal.

There’s nothing in response.

Jesus fuck, he’s gone and from the looks of it, not willingly. Dean turns in a circle, completely at a loss for what to do. He pushes his hands through his hair. Holy fuck, he was just here, he was just fucking here and Cas was sleeping and Dean just left him and now he’s… he’s…

His phone vibrates and it scares the shit out of him for a second and he spins ready to fight before he realizes what it is. He pulls the phone out and sees Bobby’s number. His hands are shaking even as he answers it.

“Bobby?” he asks.

“Where’d your fella get those pages he sent me last night?” Bobby says, not pausing for a greeting.

“What?” Dean can’t make sense of Bobby’s question.

“Castiel. He sent me those pages last night. Where’d he get ‘em?”

Bobby’s voice is abrupt, gruff and Dean is so flummoxed he can’t even respond. He’s still turning in a slow circle, looking around the room like Cas will just appear out of somewhere.

“I don’t… oh fuck.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Shit, Bobby. I went out for coffee and I just… when I got back… he’s… someone just fucking… they must have grabbed him.”’

“Your fella? Castiel?”

“Yeah, he’s… Jesus, Bobby, I don’t know what happened. I was just gone half an hour, maybe forty minutes.”

“Where’s Sam?”

“The hotel,” Dean answers. “I think. I mean-” he presses the heel of his hand against his one of his eye sockets. Fuck he can’t think. He takes a breath and forces his brain to work. “The hotel. He’d be at the hotel unless he went to the Y to work out or something.”

“Where’re you at?”

“I’m at Cas’. Jesus, they must have come in as soon as I left. I just… we figured that they’d need Cas for the spell, but I… I mean… I … Goddamit!” he shouts.

“You stay put, I’m gonna get Sam on the horn and when he gets there, you boys call me. We gotta chat.”

The phone goes silent and Dean drops it back in his pocket and turns another full circle in the bedroom, looking for something, anything.

He finds two unused zip ties leading him to figure that they must have used some on Cas when they (whoever they were) snatched him.

Other than the clutter and mess, there’s nothing else.

Not a goddamn thing.

When Sam shows up, Dean’s still pacing the small space, on his way to wearing a nice path into the utilitarian carpet. Cas’ phone sits charging on the counter and Dean wants to smash it into little bits. He knows Gabriel’s got a tracker in it and fat lot of good it does them now when Cas wasn’t even properly dressed when he was taken, let alone armed or with his phone.

Sam calls Bobby back and they put him on speakerphone. Sam’s spreading out the bulk of his latest research in Castiel’s office, trying to find spots not already taken up by Castiel’s work.

“I was asking Dean, where did Castiel get those pages he sent me last night?” Bobby says, voice gruff over the phone.

Sam looks up at Dean and Dean shrugs. “I have no idea. It was just something he always seemed to be working on. Why? You didn’t have them?”

“No, I didn’t have them,” Bobby says, his voice terse and tense. “And it might have done me a fuck lot more good if I had. I need to know if you boys are holding anything else back.”

Again, Dean and Sam exchange a look, both of them looking slightly bewildered.

“Bobby,” Sam says, “we’ve sent you everything we have. I mean, I don’t know what Castiel sent you the other night but, uh…” Sam looks over at Dean again. “We don’t have anything else.”

Bobby makes a non-committal sound - a sort of half grunt.

“What the fuck is this all about?” asks Dean, barely able to stand the tension.

“Those pages your fella sent last night, he’d got them mostly translated, which is pretty fucking impressive given that he only just started learning this kind of thing.”

Dean feels a quick flare of pride and satisfaction at that, but it’s short lived. “But…”

“But it would’ve been a site better if I’d had them before. I got access to a lot more shit then he does and I could’ve had this translated sooner. And this shit is important.”

“How important?” asks Sam.

“Shutting down an apocalypse portal important,” Bobby grouses. “Look, Dean, I don’t know how to say this so I’m just gonna say it.”

Dean feels his stomach clench up at those words and he can’t even look up from the phone, can’t look at Sam. He doesn’t want to see his brother’s sympathetic eyes right now, doesn’t want to feel anything soft or warm. He just needs to think and get through this.

“Say what?”

“Your fella Castiel, he and I have been working on some of the other translations in the book, the grimoire of Uriel’s. Based on that it’s been pretty clear that Castiel was the key to opening up that damned portal.”

“I know all this, Bobby,” Dean growls.

“Yeah, well these pages I got last night make clear is that Castiel is a key that works both ways. He opens the portal, and he can close it.”

Dean feels the weight of those words sink in but he’s not sure he really gets it. He chances a glance over at Sam who looks just as confused as Dean feels. It sounds like good news but Bobby’s tone is anything but happy.

“I don’t get it,” Dean says, leaning over the phone. “So he can close it too. That’s good news, right?”

Bobby sighs. “It’s good and bad.”

Dean thumps his fist on the table in frustration. “Don’t dance around it, what’s it mean?”

“Dean,” Sam says quietly and Dean knows what his brother is trying to do. Dean knows he’s about five seconds away from losing his shit but he doesn’t care.

“It’s all about intent,” Bobby’s saying. “Castiel had about 80% of these pages translated but he was missing some of the more… subtle words. Some of them are have a couple meanings and some are double talk and then others-”

“Jesus Christ, spare me the grammar lesson,” Dean bites out.

“I’m trying to tell you this in a way you’ll understand, idjit. Your Castiel is a key that can open or close a portal to the other side but to use that key - to make it work, make him work-”

Bobby stops talking and Dean wants to turn the whole desk over. It’s infuriating and maddening and he just wants to know what it all means so he can find Castiel and shoot something.

“What?” Dean asks.

Bobby’s voice is low and quiet when he finally speaks. “The door gets cracked open with the ritual and if Uriel kills Castiel, the portal opens.”

“I know that, Bobby. Jesus, what are you trying to say?”

“It opens because that’s what Uriel wants. You get me? It’s about Uriel’s intent. He nudges the door and then kicks it open by completing the ritual. Cause that’s what he wants. But if the ritual starts, and the portal is partially opened and if someone else who wants the portal closed gets involved, it can be shut.”

“Great,” says Dean. “That’s actually good news, right? How do we do that?” He looks over at Sam.

And feels his heart clench.

Sam’s eyebrows are anxious and furrowed and he’s looking at Dean like he’s sorry, he’s so sorry. Dean can’t speak for the lump that’s suddenly in his throat, thick and hard, clenching around his vocal chords.

“The only way to close the doorway is if you… if Castiel is killed by someone who wants the portal closed,” Bobby finishes and it’s like a sucker punch to Dean’s gut.

He manages to swallow once around the knot in his throat. “Well, then we gotta get there before they start, right? I mean, that’s what you’re saying. If the portal’s already open then it’s too late but as long as we find him before that -”

“Dean,” Bobby says and Dean starts shaking his head the second he hears Bobby’s tone. He sees Sam out of the corner of his eye, body tense, head bowed, worrying his lip.

“Based on what I’m reading, that doorway is already open.”

“No,” Dean says simply.

Bobby continues on. “It started that first night, before you and Sam got there.”

“I’m telling you no,” Dean counters, flinging off Sam’s hand on his arm roughly.

“By the time you boys arrived, based on what I’ve got translated now, it’s too late.”

“You go back to that fucking grimoire and you figure it out,” Dean snaps.

“I’m still gonna be working on it, of course I am,” Bobby says. “And I know you’re gonna be looking for Cas. I’m telling you, if you find him-”

“We’re going to find him,” Dean says, cutting Bobby off.

“I don’t see another way out of this, boys. I’m sorry, Dean. When you find him, the only way to close this doorway-”

“No,” Dean says again, voice low and resolute. “There’s gotta be some sort of, I don’t know, failsafe and if we gank Uriel, I bet this all falls apart.” He can feel his hands shaking, feel his whole body shaking and he tries desperately to still himself. He needs to stay focused.

“And that’s the next thing I’m looking into,” Bobby says and his placating tone makes Dean grind his teeth. “But if that doesn’t pan out-”

“It’ll work!” Dean exclaims angrily. “I’m not- we’re not gonna-” he hears his voice start to waver and it’s horrifying and terrible and he feels a hot sting in his eyes and a painful ache in his throat and Sam’s hand is on his arm again and he barely manages to shrug it off and shuffle away from him. He can’t bear the thought of being touched right now.

“Bobby,” Sam says. “I’ve got a couple of places lined up that I think are likely locales. Maybe we can go over them, see what you think?”

Bobby sighs long and hard into the receiver, his breathing filling the airwaves. “Yeah. What’ve you got?”

Dean can’t listen to this. He can’t sit here and listen to co-ordinates and likely places and half leads. He stalks out of the office, slamming the door behind him as hard as he can and he wants to kick it when it won’t make a satisfying noise. It just shuts with a muffled click; it’s not heavy enough to shut with a bang.

He ends up going to the sofa and stares down at it, fists clenched at his sides. Stupid, ridiculous hobbit sized sofa and before he knows what he’s doing, he’s kicking it and pulling the cushions off and upending the coffee table before he sends his foot right into one of the sofa tables as well. It folds like a house of cards and he ends up using one of the legs as a bat and beats the fucking awful sofa that’s too small for two grown men.

After about ten good hits, he’s a little out of breath and feels worse. Feels stupid and impotent but still just as angry. He tosses the piece of wood aside and plunks down onto the beaten sofa, the exposed springs digging into his butt.

God he’s so fucking stupid. He was so stupid to think he could have something with Cas and that it wouldn’t all go to shit. So stupid to leave Cas alone, no matter how many times Castiel said he could take care of himself. So stupid to ever expect fate or God or whatever to be on his fucking side for once.

From where he sits on the sofa he can see the lonely picture of Castiel and his brother Gabriel on the wall. Tacked up off-center and by its self.

He doesn’t know if Cas has any other pictures of himself.

Sam comes out of the office minutes later and Dean can see him out of the corner of his eye, inching forward into Dean’s line of sight.

“Dean-”

“Just… don’t. I don’t wanna…” Dean scrubs his face with his hands. “What’ve you and Bobby got for a location?” he asks and he hopes with every cell in his body that they’ve got something.

“We’ve narrowed it down to two likely places-” Sam starts.

“Gimme one, you do the other,” Dean interrupts.

Sam makes one of his bitch-faces. “Yeah. No. That’s a horrible idea and you know it.”

“If you’ve got two places and there are two of us, well, I know I’m no college man like yourself but it seems pretty straight forward to me.”

“Dean, I know you’re upset right now.”

“Stop,” Dean commands. “Stick to the hunt.”

Sam huffs out a breath. “Fine. It’s stupid to split up. One of us could end up being alone fighting a demon army. Now I know you’re thinking, jesus, you’re hoping it’ll be you,” Sam says, waiting for his words to sink in. “What if it’s me?”

Fuck it, Sam is right and Dean knows that, he knows it but he just… The thought of going someplace, of getting all ready and then going there and finding nothing is a sick weight in his gut.

But he doesn’t want to think about Sam by himself hunting either. Jesus, it’s bad enough that Cas is… that Cas is…

“All right,” he says, voice gruff. “Where to first?”

***

Castiel hears the chanting, smells the incense and is confused.

It’s so familiar but he’s been dreaming of it for weeks and he can’t tell if it’s a memory or a dream or-

He pulls hard on his arms, finding them secured to an altar. His eyes snap open and above him he sees the symbols, the one’s he knows intimately well by now. He looks down and sees his chest, bared and scarred. His eyes move around taking in the people chanting, the candles, the incense the stained glass windows, the old brick walls and -

“Brother, you’ve awoken.”

“We aren’t brothers,” Castiel says, echoing the words from his dream.

Uriel’s smile is sad and terrifying at the same time. “I’m sorry you feel that way. I feel so close to you, Castiel. You are the symbol of my life’s work. The pinnacle of my dreams. We’ve shared much and now we’ll share this.”

The chanting is background noise - incessant and unintelligible. He estimates there are no more than twenty robed people in the room, standing around the perimeter.

It is only Uriel and himself at the altar.

Castiel pulls at the ropes binding his wrists and feet. “This is madness.”

Uriel looks disappointed. “I’m sorry you won’t be able to see the culmination of my work, of our destiny. But you will forever be held in reverence by me and amongst my chosen disciples. Your sacrifice is great. It will not be forgotten.”

Castiel thinks about all the time he and Uriel spent together - long hours working cases, time spent alone on stakeouts or in the office reviewing reports, tracking down criminals in seedy locations with only each other for backup. He’s angry at Uriel for his betrayal but he’s also sad. Sad for the lost comrade, the lost partnership. He thought he could count on Uriel. He thought he was always safe with Uriel at his back.

And now he’s at the wrong end of Uriel’s knife.

Again.

Uriel makes quick work of slicing through the scar tissue on Castiel’s wrists and he feels the warm, wet blood start to run out. As before, it’s not too deep, not too harsh - it will take him time to bleed out.

“Was it all a lie?” Castiel asks.

Uriel pauses and wipes the blade off on a kerchief, his movements practiced and fluid. “No. Not all of it. Indeed I do see us as brothers, comrades in arms. But our world is broken, Castiel. You of all people should know that. Think of what we’ve seen, what we’ve cleaned up after. The crime, the drugs, the violence. The world needs a change.”

“Uriel,” Castiel pleads, pulling at the bindings, willing Uriel to listen to him. “This is madness,” he repeats.

Uriel shakes his head. “I wish you could understand. This will be a purge, a cleanse. It’s always the most difficult to clean out the infected tissue; the debridement of a wound is painful, messy work. But the end result is healing. The world will be better for it.”

Castiel searches Uriel’s eyes and is somewhat surprised that he doesn’t see the shine of madness or insanity. Uriel is as calm, as stoic as he ever was.

“You truly believe, don’t you?”

Uriel looks somewhat relieved by Castiel’s question. “Yes,” he says emphatically. “Do you know how beautiful it will be? This new world? My only regret is that you have to die for it be born. After that night, the night you were rescued, I hoped that using you to start the ritual would be enough. I prayed that I could find another sacrifice to take your place and complete the ritual, but unfortunately, it didn’t work.”

“I am the key,” Castiel murmurs. He can still feel the blood dripping out of his wrists, cold where the air touches it, but also warm, right at the pulse point. It creates a strange dichotomous feeling against his skin. The smell of the incense is cloying and thick, crowding into his nostrils and taking up all the space. It burns through the back of his throat down to his lungs. He shakes his head a bit finding his thoughts getting cloudy and slow.

Uriel nods sadly. “You are the key wielded by my intent. If only my intent were enough, Castiel, you could be spared. I would gladly take another in your place but though my will is strong, you are already the key. The only key.”

Uriel turns from him then, head hanging low and bereft and walks toward the circle of demons, his low baritone joining in their chant. Castiel tries to follow him with his eyes but the angle is awkward and painful for his neck, the position difficult to hold. His head falls back down on the table. He doesn’t suppose it matters anyway.

The incense is heavy in the air, reminding him of a drug bust gone bad when the felons had set their entire supply on fire. In the time it took for the agents to get contained breathing apparatus, they’d all started to feel the narcotic effects - blurred vision, confused thoughts, auditory and visual hallucinations. He can see the smoke drifting up from the candles and coiling lazily across the ceiling and he imagines he can almost make out the form of a snake, a cobra, fanning out its hood, flicking out its forked tongue and lapping at flames.

He plays Uriel’s words over in his head, something pulling at his brain, something pushing toward the edge of it - annoying and prevalent, like a splinter in swollen flesh that you cannot see but most definitely can feel. He thinks about himself as the key. His strange dreams float through his head. Dean rescuing him, telling him about keys; telling Castiel that he’s not just a key. Pamela telling him that keys both lock and unlock; that his death is his choice. The symbols on the pages he kept back form Bobby. The squiggly lines, the transmutation, his dream about locking a door and telling Dean he’s sorry. Uriel saying he wished it could be someone other than Castiel, that Uriel’s intent is strong enough. He thinks about what Pamela told him about faith.

The curlicues of smoke and incense across the symbols etched in the ceiling are grey and wispy and the seem to writhe and move out of time with the rest of the world.

And in them, Castiel sees a vision of himself.

He frowns, staring up at the ceiling. The chanting seems very far away, out of step with his hearing. In the way that clouds have a shape and a form, he sees a door in the smoke, sees himself closing it and then falling away, breaking off into wisps that fade into nothingness.

He suddenly understands. He feels like a prophet, shown a vision.

He is a key, a key that can open or close the portal. The key only follows intent, does as its master bids. But Castiel is also a man and can be the master of the key. His death is the linch pin but it is but it is the intent behind it that forces the nature of the ritual. Uriel started Castiel’s death and wants the portal open.

But if Castile choses, if he choses to die, and at the same time wishes the portal closed, it can be done.

All he has to do is chose.

And act.

Just as quickly as the feeling of euphoria had spread over him at his understanding, at his clarity, a feeling of despair and futility chases it away. He is bound. He cannot free himself.

He has the answer but is unable to use it. He ponders what he could have done differently, how he could have changed this event to avoid it. Pamela had stated that his death would be his choice, but he sees no choice in his current situation. Rather if he’d had any choice in the matter whatsoever, he’d still be safely ensconced back in his apartment, in his bed.

With Dean.

Dean.

Castiel’s heart aches when he thinks of Dean, of wasted time and missed chances. He thinks about their relationship, the phone calls late at night, hearing Dean’s voice low and quiet in his ear, and then finally feeling Dean’s body, his skin, his calloused roughened hands, his sharp green eyes. It seems impossible that he could be given such a gift, such an opportunity, and lose it all.

Castiel thinks of Dean hearing about his death, or perhaps he and Sam will be the ones to find him, stretched out, pale and exsanguinated on this makeshift altar.

He prays that’s not what happens.

Although he’s not entirely sure to whom he’s praying.

He twists and pulls his wrists and arms and can’t be sure if he’s imagining it or not when he thinks the ropes are slightly loser on the left hand side.

No one’s come forth to stop him so either it’s not, or they are so secure with his bonds it doesn’t matter.

But he cannot just lie here and do nothing, so he continues to yank and tug at his arms, turning his wrists and fingers at strange angles trying to get some purchase.

The smoke undulates and twists above him, complex and incomprehensible shapes and curves. He closes his eyes, choosing instead to think of Dean.

***

The saying is, it’s always in the last place you look.

Dean thinks that’s horseshit. Of course it fucking is. Why in hell would you keep looking after you found what you were looking for?

But he can’t help that phrase from running through his head as he and Sammy leave the first sacred grounds they went to empty handed.

As much as he hates to admit it, Sam was right. If they’d split up, Dean would be at this empty, busted up church by himself and Sam…

Well, Sam would be fighting for Cas’ life.

At least, he thinks so, because if Cas isn’t at the next place, he doesn’t know where they’re supposed to go next.

His hands ache with the grip he’s got on the Impala's steering wheel and he can’t even apologize to his baby properly right now because all he can think about is Cas.

Cas sleep-warm and blinking up at him from bed, hours earlier, as Dean smiled down at him and tried to figure out what kind of donut he liked.

Cas’ serious, solemn face and his creepy-bird stare that Dean thinks he might actually love a little bit.

And he’s never been one to toss the L-word out there lightly.

Cas’ blue eyes and gravelly voice and five o’clock shadow and goddamnit how is this happening? Dean can’t lose this, he can’t lose Cas. He didn’t even know he fucking wanted this except for those few times, drunk, late at night, unable to sleep in a cheap hotel room, staring up in the dark, longing for something and then telling himself that it didn’t fucking matter. He had his car, he had Sam, he had hunting, he had Bobby.

It was all he needed.

Now he knows how completely fucked he is. How much he wants this thing with Cas. He’s so fucking scared he’s gonna lose it before he even really knew what it was like to have it in the first place.

He coaxing all the speed he can out of the Impala and still make the turns without fishtailing out of control. The centrifugal force pulling on his insides makes his stomach lurch in protest.

It’s on the outskirts of town, an old, abandoned church built in a small hamlet that couldn’t complete with the bigger cities around it. People must have moved, died, turned their backs and never come back because all that’s left now, according to county records, is an old building that no one wants to tear down because it’s kind of pretty and people used to pray there. It’ll stay standing until the city expands far enough that commercialism burns out any residual sentimentality or guilt and then it will be bull dozed to the ground. The cemetery, if there is one, will be relocated and any holy relics that anyone finds either absconded with or sent back to the church - depending on the guilt factor of the finder.

They see cars parked at the abandoned building from further out and Dean flexes his hands on the wheel and floors the gas harder until Sam speaks up.

“Whoa, whoa, what are you gonna do? Drive on through the front doors?”

“Yes.”

Sam puts one hand on the wheel and the other on Dean’s knee. “Dean, you can’t… we gotta be smart about this.” He gives the wheel a jerk and the car zig-zags wildly. Dean shouts in anger and annoyance before pulling over.

“What? You gotta a better idea?”

“We do this like any other hunt. We gather some intel and then go in. Jesus, Dean. What if-” Sam huffs in exasperation. “What if they have Cas stretched out across the front entranceway?”

“That’s bullshit, Sam, that wouldn’t happen,” Dean says angrily.

“You’re right, probably not. But what if? You could kill him by just-” he waves his hands madly, “driving in there without thinking. Just think.”

“I can’t! All right? Is that what you wanted to hear?” Dean shoots back, surprising himself with his own words. “I just - Jesus Sammy, there’s gotta be some way out of this.”

“We’ll figure it out,” Sam affirms and although Dean’s not sure he believes him, he feels something fierce and big swell up in his chest for his brother in that moment.

“Okay?” Sam asks.

He manages to nod. “Okay. Okay.” He stares ahead in the distance at the old church. He feels something. It’s not foreboding he’s not so… overly dramatic to call it that. But it’s definitely something cruel and hard in his gut.

He takes a deep breath. They just have to bust in there and break Cas out. Easy as pie. Hell, he’s already done it once before. Then Bobby will call them with some magical Bobby thing and they can sort this all out.

He can do this.

They can do this.

He sends up a silent prayer to a God he’s never been sure he believes in.

Please, if you’re there, if someone’s there, don’t let me fuck this up. I can’t fuck this up. I’ve hardly ever asked you for anything, but I… need this one thing.

I need it.

I - need him.

“Dean.”

Sam’s voice breaks over him like water on rocks and he has to shake his head a bit.

“Yeah, okay. Let’s go.”

***

It starts as a tingling in the back of his brain.

Cas’ eyes are still closed. He can’t see his hands at this angle so it made no difference to his struggle whether he kept them open or not.

He’s certain he’s getting somewhere with his bonds, certain that he’s making progress when he feels it - like ghostly fingers playing across the nape of his neck.

He feels his body pebble in gooseflesh, chilled and unnerved by the sensation. He can still hear the chanting, can hear Uriel’s voice mixed in with them all and still feels the sting of betrayal.

The strange, prickly sensation works its way down his neck to the top of his spine and then finger walks itself down each vertebrae until he feels like he has liquid energy pooling in the base of his lower back.

He doesn’t want to pay attention to it, doesn’t want to think about what it means. He can hear the voices getting louder, getting more excited, more frenzied. He pulls harder at his wrists and is shocked when he feels the rope on one side give. He blinks his eyes open and turns his head and looks over…

His wrist is almost free.

The thick rope must have been too large to hold the knot securely and all his tugging and pulling did pay off. He glances around, bleary eyed and his head spins with vertigo as he rotates it.

The room reels out in front of him, darker now than before. He sees the backs of Uriel’s acolytes, the back of Uriel himself, kneeling before some kind of makeshift alter, separate and apart from the one that Castiel is laid out on.

He doesn’t know if it’s futile or not, only that he has to try. He manages to wrench his body on its side and starts working on his other hand, trying to keep one eye on the demons and another on his work.

He recognizes bits and pieces of the language they’re chanting in. It’s the same Enochian that he’s been learning; the foreign words and syllables falling easily from Uriel’s tongue.

The curling and coiling sensation in his lower back intensifies and he feels like … he’s being watched. Although surely if he were, someone would have stopped him.

He’s got his other wrist free and his heart is pounding loud enough that he can’t believe it can’t be heard over all the chanting. He sits up and starts frantically working on one of his legs, the work going easier, faster now with both hands.

He hears a strange cracking or peeling sound and he starts, looking around anxiously but either no one else has heard it or no one else cares. His heart beats faster, harder and he has the strangest notion it will pound its way right out of his chest.

He’s got one of his ankles free. He feels like he could vomit at any moment, he’s so full of adrenaline, fear and preparation for a fight. He has to force himself not to just pull maniacally at the bonds, not to just shout and curse and try to wrench free like a wild animal, but to focus methodically and precisely at getting himself untied. He’s so close, he’s so close, he could actually make it out of here-

Oh.

His hands stutter to a stop for a moment. He can’t make it out of here. Can he? That’s part of the choice. His fingers go back to work on the last of the ropes. He needs to be in control - no matter what, he can’t face his end strapped down to this alter out of control. Freedom first, then he can decide what to do.

The rope finally gives way, the last of his bonds sliding off his ankle as he tugs it free.

And hears all hell break loose in the church. He hears Dean’s voice and he wants to weep.

Castiel slides off the altar, its surface slightly slick with his blood, and falls to the ground. He hears gun shots, chanting still, Uriel’s voice above it all, and more chanting - Sam’s deep baritone, the same words he heard before, the night he met them.

Met Dean.

There’s more gun fire and a disciple or demon, he supposes, drops dead next to him, her body expelling black smoke in a riotous swirl. He cringes away from it, as if it would burn or despoil him if he touched it.

Attached to her hip, is a knife.

Without thinking about it, he dives. He’s a federal agent and in his hands a knife is just as deadly as any other weapon. He’s just standing up, knife clutched in his grip when the pain blossoms hot and sharp in his chest.

He gasps and falls forward across the altar, clutching at his chest with one hand.

“You see? You are too late, brother. It’s too late.”

He looks up and makes eye contact with Uriel, who is crouching behind one of the pews.

“Cas!”

Dean’s voice makes his head turn sharply and he sees Dean, at the back of the church, struggling, fighting with demons that haven’t yet been exorcised or perhaps humans who, like Uriel, are invested in the portal opening. There are three of them crowding Dean but he’s holding his own with the sawed off end of his shotgun swinging like a bat, even as Sam continues chanting and scrubbing at the corner of one of the huge demon sigils painted on the floor, trying to break its magic.

Another cold, sharp pain spears through his chest and he lurches forward slightly, curling over the altar, blood spilling forth from his lips.

“It’s true, it has come to pass, for though you are the key, you are also the door, such is the circle, such is the way of it,” Uriel crows.

Cas looks down and can see his chest shifting and surging and it hurts, sweet Jesus it hurts.

He can hear Dean calling his name, shouting and grunting with effort, trying to fight his way through, to Cas.

Cas feels something split and give, inside him and there’s a bright light. He looks down and sees, impossibly, a luminous silver crack bisecting his chest, straight through the sigil carved into it. It burns cold, like dry ice, but with sharp teeth digging into him.

And the answer is just there. In his mind, in his hand, whispered in his ear by an unseen presence.

Let it be your will, your choice, my child.

He feels such peace in that moment, such a sense of calm. The pain is still there but its not crowding out his own thoughts. He grips the knife and lifts it to his neck.

He glances over to where Dean is and sees him, sees Dean, sees his green eyes, even from this distance, widen. Sees him struggle and go manic like a wild animal, shouting Cas’ name.

“I’m sorry, Dean.”

He know that Dean can’t hear him but hopes the look in his eyes, on his face, is enough.

He presses the sharp edge of the blade to his neck and thinks close close close, I want it closed as hard as he can. He feels it sink in, almost painless, feels blood spurt and blossom hot and wet, hears Dean shouting and he feels such sorrow, such loss, such love for Dean in that moment.

He falls, feeling the impact of his body hitting the ground, feels the blood continue to rush out of his neck.

Suddenly Dean is there, over him, pressing his hands to his neck and Castiel tries to bat them away.

“Fuck, fuck FUCK, goddammit you aren’t doing this, Cas! Jesus Christ help me, Sam! Sam! I need help!”

Dean’s pressing down on his neck, his hands warm and slippery with Cas’ blood and Cas wants to tell him it’s fine, it’s okay now. He can feel the pressure in his chest easing, can feel something sliding shut, closing over. Castiel can feel the warmth of something akin to fingertips press against his forehead and it confuses him. Dean’s hands are still on Cas’ neck.

“Holy Christ, Cas, please, stay with me, just… fuck!”

He thinks Dean might be crying, his voice breaking and Cas puts one of his hands on top of Dean’s and presses lightly. Dean’s eyes snap from Cas’ neck to his eyes and Castiel takes the moment to stare at Dean, as he loves to do, to stare at his features. Though they are twisted in grief and panic, he is still beautiful.

He thinks he might even mouth the word but he knows no sound escapes his lips and the last thing he sees, as darkness starts creeping in on the sides of his vision and black is pooling at the edges, is Dean leaning over him, getting closer.

He thinks he might feel Dean’s lips on his.

Then… nothing.

***

Dean’s always been able to push through.

Push through a sprained ankle on a hunt when he was sixteen to kill a werewolf. Pushed through bullet holes and knife wounds when he was older to gank some demons. Pushed through almost losing Sam to a bad hunt a few years back and managed to get him to the Impala, get him to a hospital and then pushed through waiting for the news that finally came that he was gonna be all right.

With Cas slack and limp, dead, in his arms and Sam breathing hard behind him, it takes a moment to process that there are still some humans alive in this mess and maybe more, he doesn’t know, and he needs to do his fucking job.

He gently lays Cas down on the ground, wincing when Cas’ head hits the floor with a soft thud. He takes his outer shirt off and drapes it over Cas because he knows, he knows Cas hates, hated, those scars on his chest and didn’t like them being exposed. He feels Sam’s hand on his shoulder and looks up to see Sam’s face scanning the church for foes or danger, even as he’s trying to comfort Dean.

He pushes to his feet, feeling the sticky wetness of Cas’ blood on his hands, his jeans. He and Sam split up, Sam to one end of the church, Dean to another.

He finds Uriel babbling to himself in a corner, tucked behind one of the pews and Dean feels such a rage surge up in him at the sight.

“No, no, it was supposed to work, he was the key, he was the portal. My brother betrayed, my sacrifice for the world, my gift to them. It can’t be, it can’t be finished.”

Dean is too tired to deal with this shit. He sighs wearily and is about to step forward and grab Uriel by the shoulders, slap some sense into him, beat him senseless, he’s not sure what, but Uriel flinches and jerks, and there’s a gun in his hand.

He eats a bullet by his own hand before Dean can stop him.

Or maybe he could’ve stopped him but he just didn’t care enough to do so. Either way, one less thing to worry about.

He hears Sam call his name, worry laced in his voice and he looks over to see Sam’s concerned face looking back at him. He manages some kind of expression, he’s not sure what, and Sam seems to understand that Dean isn’t in danger, Dean’s okay, and goes back to trussing up some humans that are still alive.

Dean’s not okay.

He finds a couple of sigils and signs etched in the ground and he scrapes over them enough to disable them, keep them from being active. He flips over a few bodies, checking to see if anyone’s left alive, but all he finds are dead humans and leftover demon hosts. Some killed by him, some killed by Sam, some dead by their own hand.

No less than twenty minutes later and he and Sam have met up after their grisly tasks and are at the back of the church. Dean’s pointedly not looking toward the front where their makeshift altar was.

Where Cas’ body is.

“I figure we head back to town, call the cops and tip them off, they can come out here and clean up. Do…” Sam waves to the humans he’s got tied up. “I don’t know what with them. Charge them, commit them, let them go?” He sighs. “I don’t know, man.”

“Yeah,” Dean breathes.

“Uh,” Sam says, faltering a bit. “If you want, I can, uh, go get the Impala and we can… take Cas with us. Maybe give him a hunter’s funeral? Or not. You know… just… whatever you want. Whatever you need.”

Sam’s looking at him like he thinks Dean might break and maybe he isn’t so far from the truth. But Dean wouldn’t even know where to start having a nervous breakdown or whatever.

He wants to go get good and drunk.

He wants to go back to Cas and flop down into his bed and smell his pillows.

He wants to go hunt something and kill and then kill it some more. Kill it a few unnecessary times until something gives and he doesn’t feel so…

So he doesn’t feel.

He finds himself nodding before he means to and saying, “Yeah. I, uh,” he clears his throat. “I think I’d like that.”

“You know, um, maybe you should go get the car and I’ll… get Cas.”

He shakes his head at that. “No. I’ll do it.” He slides his hand into his pocket and pulls out the keys, handing them over to Sam, pausing when he sees his hands, brown-red with blood.

Sam takes the keys gently and hesitates, even as Dean is already turning and heading toward the front of the church again. He feels a deep, heavy weight in his chest that gets more hard and painful as he steps until he finally reaches the end of the aisle and bends around the corner and sees -

“Sam!”

He hears Sam’s footfalls as he races up the aisle, hears him come to a stop right behind Dean, and then feels him clutching at his shoulder.

“What? Oh my God, where - ?” Sam starts only to stand there with his mouth hanging a bit open.

On the ground, where they’d left him, where Dean had left Cas, is only Dean’s plaid shirt, soaked in blood.

Dean reaches out, picks it up off the floor. The ground beneath the shirt is pristine. No blood, no signs of anything, really. They look around, at each other, at the other bodies - still in the same place, at the church - still old, broken down and empty but for them.

“Where did he go?” Sam finally says.

Dean opens and closes his mouth several times but nothing comes out. He can’t think, he can’t breathe. He doesn’t understand and isn’t sure he wants to, isn’t sure what it means, if it means anything. He and Sam have seen crazy shit their whole lives and he doesn’t know what to make of this.

“What happened?” Sam asks, but it’s clear he doesn’t expect any answers from Dean, he’s just saying out loud what they’re both thinking. What they’re both wondering.

He stands there, unable to move until Sam finally nudges him. “Let’s… go back to Cas’ place. Call Bobby and… I don’t know, man, see if we can figure this out.”

Dean nods but he’s reluctant to leave, reluctant to walk away from this place, the last place he saw Cas. But he knows, intellectually, that he can’t just stay here, in this church, staring at an empty spot on the ground. He runs his hand over his jaw and nods again, finally following after Sam when he tugs on Dean’s t-shirt.

He looks back several times as he walks out of the church. Looking for something, anything. He isn’t sure what.

But nothing happens.

***

Castiel opens his eyes and sees nothing but blue skies and white clouds above him.

Which is not what he was expecting.

He sits up, feels the short, green grass under his hands, sees the big, wide trees surrounding the small clearing he’s in and breathes in deep, smelling fresh air and dirt.

No incense. No black smoke.

He listens carefully and hears no chanting, no gunfire. Only the sound of the wind in the leaves of the trees.

He looks down and finds himself in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. He runs a hand over his chest and can’t feel the ever-present scars. With nervous fingers, he feels along his neck, searching for the slash wound he self-inflicted. He can feel a thin line of tougher flesh but no gaping wound, no blood.

He is barefoot and when he stands, the grass is cool and only somewhat prickly under his feet. It’s soft but he still feels small pokes from the blades as he turns in a circle. He squints. In the distance, he thinks he can make out a person and a horse.

He heads toward them.

As he gets closer, he sees the person is a woman, her long black hair wavy and messy, spilling down her back. She’s in riding gear and is brushing down the horse - a beautiful chestnut beast who shines in the sunlight.

“Hello?” Castiel asks.

She doesn’t turn, keeps brushing her horse.

“You’re a long way from home, Castiel. A long way.”

“Yes, I… what is this place.”

“We’re between,” she says, bending over to drop the brush in a steel bucket. She turns around, dusts her hands off on her pants and steps closer. “Now, let me look at you.”

She cups his face with her hands, which feel rough and well-used - like she works for a living. She has gorgeous honey brown eyes that flicker amber and gold in the light, framed by high-arched brows. Her skin is flawless and his eyes travel over her face, starting at her widow’s peak hairline, down her straight nose with it’s slightly too-large rounded tip and then her pale-pink lips which are curled in a small smile.

She smiles wider as she regards him.

“It’s good to see you up close again.”

“Who are you? Do we know each other?”

“I know you.”

The way she says it - low, confident and sure - has Castiel’s heart beating in his chest. He feels as though he shouldn't be staring at her but he can’t help himself.

“Are you God?”

She doesn’t answer, dropping her hands and turning back to her horse. She runs a hand over his face and mane.

“This beast has a will of its own. A free will, although some might argue that. But anyone who has tried to tame an animal will tell you that they can be as willful as humans, if not more so.”

“Why am I here? I must be dead. I had to close the portal,” Cas says, trying to step around into her line of sight.

“You did. Don’t worry.”

“Was it a test?” Castiel frowns.

“No,” she answers quickly, fixing the horses bridle and bit. “Never a test. I don’t test people or play games.”

“Then why?”

“Free will is a difficult mistress. Everyone has it. It is theirs to do with as they wish. I cannot stop that.”

Castiel comes around to the other side of the horse. The horse noses at him, pressing its velvety snout into Castiel’s armpit and then his neck, sniffing him and snorting. Castiel startles back slightly.

“He won’t hurt you. You’re safe with me,” the woman says.

“Why am I here?” Castiel repeats.

She sighs, petting her animal. “I have… a fondness for you, Castiel. In a million in one universes, you face incredible odds against all manners of evil and in a million and one universes, you try to do the right thing every time. It’s… heartwarming. And heartbreaking.” Her eyes flick up again and meet his. They are sad and luminous, fathomless. “You try. You don’t always succeed, you don’t always make good decisions, but you always try. You and Dean both. My toy soldiers.”

At the sound of Dean’s name, Castiel feels his heart clench. Dean. Oh, how he left Dean. The final images of him that Dean will surely carry for the rest of his life. But Castiel did what had to be done, what was right. He knows that.

“Of course you did,” she says, pulling the thoughts right out of his head. “And I hope to reward you for it, in this universe, even if I do not always in others.”

“I don’t understand,” Castiel says. “I didn’t do it for any reward.”

She smiles, steps around her horse and cradles his face in her hands again. “I know. And that is why I wish to reward you.” She stretches up on her tip-toes and presses her lips to his forehead.

It’s the third time that day his world flickers into nothingness.

 

***

Dean drives while Sam is on the phone with Bobby. Sam had seemed reluctant to let him take the wheel but since the other option was Sam driving while Dean had to make actual, logical conversation with someone, Dean just held his hand out for the keys and Sam dropped them back in Dean’s hand without saying a word.

Dean listens as he hears Sam explain to Bobby everything that happened in detail, pausing at times when Bobby must ask a question and then clarifying or reiterating something. His hands tighten on the wheel as Sam gets to the part where Cas freed himself and then slit his own throat.

Sam then tells Bobby how they went back to get his body and it was just gone. Bobby has a few questions about that and makes Sam go through in painstaking detail where everyone was in the church, where the symbols were placed, which order they had destroyed them in, who was left alive and who wasn’t.

He doesn’t have any answers for them but he says he’ll keep looking.

The only thing that Sam says after he hangs up with Bobby is, “Bobby says he’s sorry, man. About Castiel.”

Dean manages a tight nod and keeps driving.

He pulls over at the first pay phone he sees and Sam runs out and makes a quick anonymous tip to the local cops about the abandoned church and what they’ll find there, hanging up as soon as he’s done talking before anyone can ask him any questions.

Sam gets back in the car and drums his fingers nervously on his knee, fidgeting slightly. Dean knows his brother well enough to know that he wants to say something so he turns in his seat and glares at him.

“What?”

Sam scrunches up his nose a big. “Just. We don’t have to go back to Cas’. I mean, we can go, if that’s what you want, but we don’t have to if you don’t want to. We can just go to the motel and… pack up. Get outta town. Head to Bobby’s and maybe catch a hunt from there.”

“I might’ve left something there,” Dean lies effortlessly. He knows damn well he didn’t but when he thinks about just skipping town, just leaving without going back to Cas’ place… he can’t do it.

Sam nods. “Sure. Sure. Good idea. Check the place out.”

“I’ll drop you at the motel, you can pack up and check out while I go to… Cas’,” he says, stumbling a bit over Cas’ name. “I’ll swing by when I’m done. Pick you up and we’ll leave.”

“Um, yeah. If that’s what you want. I don’t mind going with you if you want some company-” Sam starts but Dean cuts him off.

“No need for company. Just checking around,” he says bluntly.

“Sure. Sure,” Sam repeats. “Sounds good.”

Sam doesn’t say anything else, not even when he gets out of the car at the motel. He pauses, hand on the door, hesitating closing it and Dean sees him give that look and all he can think is Please, Sammy, don’t say anything right now. I can’t listen to you right now.

Sam must know him well enough or think better of it because he just purses his lips a bit in a grimace that’s trying hard to be a reassuring smile but just isn’t. He shuts the door with a heavy click. Dean’s half way to Cas’ place when he feels his phone vibrate in his pocket but he doesn’t have the heart or the energy to pull it out and see what it says. Probably just Sam telling him how much time he needs to get all their shit together or Bobby trying to offer his condolences directly.

It buzzes twice more before he gets to Cas’ and without looking at the screen, he presses and holds the power button, shutting it off. He’ll deal with his avoidance issues later.

Or he’ll just keep avoiding them, he thinks with dark humor. Sam will hound him, he’ll pretend he’s fine until he can push it far enough down and then Sam will either believe he’s fine or berate him for burying his feelings. Sam will eventually get tired of haranguing him to talk and give up and things will go back to the way they were.

End of story.

He only finds a spot big enough for the Impala two blocks away and has to walk the rest of the way to Cas’, pulling his leather jacket around him and stuffing his hands deep into his pocket, hoping that no one sees the blood still on him.

He probably should’ve showered and changed at the motel first.

He probably shouldn’t have come here at all.

The door is unlocked - Dean had only pulled it shut behind him when he left - hadn’t really been in a frame of mind to lock it. He steps into the apartment and even though he knows what the place looks like, he can’t help but stop and stare, taking stock.

His eyes hit the photo of Cas and his brother, Gabriel, tacked up on the wall and Jesus, he’s got to tell Gabriel what happened. He can’t let him wonder and worry when he realizes Cas is gone, missing. He owes it to Cas to tell his brother. He doesn’t know what he’ll tell him - doesn’t know how he’ll explain why there’s no body, or Uriel and his freakshow cult, the demons, the portal… Fuck.

He’ll try to stick to as much of the truth as he can. If something ever happened to Sam, Dean would want to know the truth. Gabriel deserves no less.

He’s still staring at the photo on the wall when he hears a sound from the bedroom and Dean’s a fucking moron because he’s unarmed. He knows better than to ever be unarmed but he just didn’t think, couldn’t think when he got here and now someone is in Cas’ apartment and holy fuck that makes him see red.

The door to the bedroom opens and -

There’s Cas.

His eyes light up in surprise and relief at seeing Dean.

He’s in jeans and a t-shirt, feet bare, hair mussed as though he’d had a nap or forgot to comb it after towel drying it. He looks healthy, whole.

Alive.

Dean stumbles back, knocking into the table by the door and falling back on it a bit, tripping over his feet as he tries to get his bearings.

“Christo,” he spits and Cas frowns and does his bird-like head tilt-y thing.

“I am not a demon, Dean.”

“How did - you can’t - I was - you were dead. I saw you die.”

Cas looks as bewildered as Dean feels. “I don’t know,” he says with a frown. “I remember being in the church, you were there and I was - dying.” He pauses. “Then… there was something. I can’t… but then there was nothing.”

He takes a step out of the bedroom doorway and Dean stumble-steps sideways into the kitchen. His heart is racing and feels a little sick and he might be forgetting to blink because his eyes are burning.

“Then what?” he demands.

Cas looks dumbfounded. “Then I was here. In my bed and it was like… I was only waking up. I tried to call you but there was no answer. I feared… I feared something had happened after I… after.”

Dean pulls his silver lighter out of his pocket and tosses it at Cas and wants to cry in relief when Cas just reaches up and catches it, frowning at it before looking at Dean with confused eyebrows.

“Silver?” he asks and Dean nods. Castiel holds it up for Dean to see, pinching it between his fingers and there’s no burning, no smoke. No anything.

“I don’t know what to say to you, Dean. I am as amazed and perplexed as you.”

Dean barks out a laugh that sounds slightly hysterical even to his own ears. Cas takes another tentative step forward and when Dean doesn’t move he continues, coming all the way out of the bedroom doorway, through the short hallway and into the kitchen.

Until he’s standing right in front of Dean.

“You’re covered in blood,” Cas says quietly.

“It’s yours,” Dean manages.

Castiel’s eyes are worried and sad and Dean’s afraid to blink. Afraid that if he does, Cas will disappear.

But, when Dean breathes, he can smell Cas. If he listens hard enough, he can hear his quiet inhalations and exhalations. He stares at him warily but wanting, wanting so badly to believe, to have this. But he’s scared. Things like this don’t happen to him, to hunters. They live a short and brutish life and then they die and if they’re lucky, they’re burned and they finally rest.

The supernatural never works in their favor. They may use it to combat evil, kill creatures and demons but it comes with a heavy price that usually sucks all the good out of their life.

They don’t ever really win. They don’t get happy ever after.

Except, maybe they do, this one time, he thinks, he hopes.

He prays.

Cas reaches out and places a hand on Dean’s bicep. His grip is warm and firm and a sigh punches out from Dean’s lungs. Cas’ eyes are steady and calm as he examines Dean, looks him over and waits.

Maybe he gets a happy ending.

His foot stutters and his body starts to lean slightly toward Cas and then it’s like he’s falling forward, toward Cas, into Cas and Cas’ body is against his and he’s pulling him tighter and closer and Jesus, he wants them closer still. He feels Cas’ arms come carefully around him, encircling him and Dean unashamedly buries his face in Cas’ neck and feels his own body start to shake.

Cas is warm and solid. Alive.

He pulls back slightly and then kisses Cas carefully, tentatively like he’s worried he’ll break him or something.

“My scars are gone,” Castiel says, taking Dean’s hand and sliding it up underneath his t-shirt slightly and Dean’s fingers tremble as he feels the smooth, unmarked skin, warm and soft. “Except for this.”

Cas tilts his head back slightly and, under his chin, in the soft hollow of his throat where his jugular lays, there is a fine, silverly line bisecting the otherwise unblemished skin. Without thinking about it, Dean leans forward and presses his lips to the scar, feeling Cas’ pulse under the skin. Cas shivers slightly and Dean smiles against his neck. He snakes one hand around Cas’ waist and drags the other up to Cas’ nape, threading through his soft hair.

“I have to call Sam and then we’re having amazing celebratory ‘holy shit you’re alive’ sex.”

“You’re filthy,” Cas says, almost primly. “You should take a shower. And then you should eat, and probably rest. You look exhausted, Dean.”

Dean laughs quietly at the thought that he could possibly sleep now that Cas is with him.

“Well, I think you might owe me some sexy shower times,” he says, tongue darting out to lick at Cas’ lips which are still a little chapped, miraculous return notwithstanding.

Cas smiles slightly. “Yes. I think I do.” He tugs on Dean’s fingers, pulling him toward the bedroom and master bath.

Dean resists slightly, keeping Cas close to him and Cas frowns in confusion. Dean wants to tell Cas he loves him, wants to say the words out loud, see Cas’ face when he hears them, know that Cas believes them.

“I…” Dean starts, and fuck, why is this so hard? “I wanted… I wanted to say, because I never did before and maybe you don’t know, Jesus how could you when I didn’t know myself but I just… I… I…”

Cas smiles and presses a quick, light kiss to Dean’s lips. “I know. I love you too.”

Dean feels relief like he’s never felt before. Cas knows. Cas gets it. Cas understands, thank god.

All his concerns about how this could all work, with Cas, about Cas being a fed and Dean being a felon - Dean doesn’t care anymore. Whatever it takes, he’ll make it work.

When Cas tugs at him again, this time, Dean lets himself be led.

***