The phone was still in his hand when he woke up some vague amount of time later. Enough light through the old curtains that he knew the sun was up, so more than the ten minutes it felt like, but the room was totally still. He had to be the only one awake. And he knew why.
He pushed the blanket toward Sam and sat up, not bothering to say hey. Cas was here, which meant Cas was okay. Beyond that, he didn't even know what to ask.
Castiel tipped his head toward the door, and Dean found himself easing off the bed in an effort to keep Sam from waking up. His brother didn't stir. None of them did, but when he glanced at the other bed he found Jo's eyes open. Sprawled next to Ruby--who was curled up again, and Dean couldn't put his finger on why that was weird--she watched him make his way toward the door.
Cas was gone. He wasn't sure if Jo had seen him or not. She made an "okay" sign with her fingers, though, raising her eyebrows in question. Dean nodded, flashing her a thumbs-up when she frowned. Whether she was convinced or not, she didn't get up, so he'd take it.
"So," he said, closing the door behind him. Definitely more than ten minutes. It looked like the middle of the morning out here. Cas was waiting too close, as always, and there was plenty of room to step away but he just couldn't be bothered right now. "You're not dead."
Castiel gave him a puzzled look. "No," he said. "Was there some expectation that I might be?"
Dean shrugged. "You didn't look so good when you left. And you left with good old Gabe, whose idea of a fun time is duct-taping your mouth shut and banging your head against the wall. So, yeah. I think it's safe to say expectations were not high."
"I see." Castiel seemed to consider this, but all he said was, "Anna has agreed to accept Gabriel's help. Samael is with them."
He didn't know what was going on. He knew what it sounded like, though. "What, you don't get to sit at the big kids' table? Is there a secret archangel club now?"
"It's hardly a secret, Dean." Castiel didn't look offended, but who could tell with him. "I volunteered to bring this information to you."
"Something wrong with your phone?" Dean retorted. It was petty and stupid and if Cas had shown up looking droopy then Dean wouldn't have had the heart to give him a hard time. But he hadn't. He'd shown up looking fine. It had been hours, and he wasn't exactly falling over himself to get to the explanation.
"I knew where to find you," Castiel pointed out. "It seems prudent to avoid broadcasting our primary means of communication more than necessary."
On that he totally agreed. The day Zachariah figured out how to GPS their phones was the day this thing got complicated. "Okay," Dean muttered. "Rather have you with us anyway."
"I have to go," Castiel said. "I must find the other fallen. They'll be as alone as we were, and they have to know who they can talk to."
"Alone?" Dean repeated. "That's what Anna was talking about, you being cut off from each other?"
"Yes," Castiel said. "We must re-establish contact with each other individually. In heaven, this would be straightforward. Here it is more difficult."
"So you can hear them again," Dean said.
"I can hear Anael, Gabriel, and Samael talking," Castiel agreed. "None of the others."
"So, what, it's like a giant reset button? Purge the corrupted files, glue the good ones back together again and hope for the best?" Even he knew it wasn't his clearest analogy ever, but what was he supposed to say? Spell it out for me 'cause this monkey doesn't have a heavenly decoder ring?
"Something like that," Castiel said, surprising him. "The voices of the host are themselves a kind of... carrier wave. Silence it, however temporarily, and you break the link. It has to be reestablished in person."
"You mean everyone stops talking at once and suddenly the angel radio is broken?" Dean didn't know which part was stranger: that it could be that easy, or that it didn't happen more often.
"Someone is always singing in heaven, Dean. Maintaining the connection is involuntary. It's only establishing it that requires intent."
"Okay, so." Dean frowned, wondering if this conversation was really as stupid as it sounded. Cas had someone singing in his head all the time? "You gotta go find someone who has the connection?"
"The fallen will not be welcomed back to the choir," Castiel said. His face was expressionless. "But there may be enough of us that we can... talk amongst ourselves."
"Start your own band," Dean said. "Yeah, good plan." He shook his head, because how had this become his life? "Good luck with that."
In the bright cloudless light of day, Castiel shouldn't glow. But when had it ever been about light? The weird aura that hovered around him was more noticeable from the corner of his eye, mostly because Dean didn't really expect him to be human anymore. Not when he looked directly at him. But when he was looking away, when he forgot, it still surprised him. And there was the glow.
No wings, though. Dean stared over his shoulder, willing their outlines to appear. He wasn't sure if seeing them would make him more or less crazy, but he was looking. Waiting for Cas to go.
"I don't suppose you've destroyed Ruby yet," Castiel said abruptly.
Dean grimaced, the reaction instinctive and the reply just as automatic. "It's on my to-do list. Sam still thinks she's gonna tell us something before she kills us."
"Nothing she told you in the past was useful," Castiel said. "Do you expect that to change now?"
"Like you gotta convince me," Dean said, huffing in irritation. "Try going through Sam. And Jo. One magic marker and they're all, 'oh, she's perfectly safe.'"
"That is not the case," Castiel said.
"Yeah, well." Dean frowned at him. "Don't you have somewhere to be?"
Castiel looked away, staring out across the parking lot like he could see all the way to God. "It's very quiet," he said at last.
Right. Way to make him feel like a jerk. "What, does--regular talking help?" he blurted out. "I didn't think that was the same."
"It's not," Castiel said. "But it is distracting, to some extent."
"Okay." Put on the spot, he couldn't think of a single thing to say. Who wanted to hear him talk? "Uh, we'll probably get breakfast, once everyone... once everyone's up. You want to come?"
"No," Castiel said. "I have to go."
He didn't, though, and finally Dean rolled his eyes. Awkward was an angel trying to make small talk. "Okay," he repeated. "Wait. Just wait a sec, don't go anywhere." Like Cas was showing any sign of it.
Dean clicked the door open as quietly as he could, but it was too late. Jo was sitting on top of the blankets now, cleaning her gun, which he still wanted to take away from her when he forgot sometimes. Ruby was nowhere to be seen, but Sam was pulling on a shirt over by the open bathroom door. "Where's the demon?" Dean demanded.
"Shower," Sam said. "It's permanent marker, so don't say it. I'm watching her."
"More than I really wanted to know," Dean told him. "I'm going for a walk. Back in a few. Try not to die."
Sam just gave him a look. "Back at you."
"Cas still with you?" Jo wanted to know.
"I'm not walking for my health," Dean grumbled. "Don't take your hand off that gun."
Jo just raised her eyebrows, and when did she get so calm? "I'm not the one with an angelic target on my back," she reminded him.
He might have given her that one if he'd stuck around. But he didn't, because Cas was standing right there. Listening. So he shook his head, closed the door again, and jerked his head at Cas. "Come on."
Castiel fell into step beside him, and he actually sounded curious when he asked, "Where are you going?" Dean figured that was something. The most interest he'd shown in anything since he'd come back, anyway. Too bad they weren't actually going anywhere.
"Where were we?" Dean countered. If he had Cas' undivided attention until the sting of solitude faded a little--and it would fade, Dean had vast personal experience with that--then he was going to take advantage of it. "When Gabriel snapped his fingers and my body got left in the back of the car. And where were you, by the way? What happened to your body?"
"We were in heaven," Castiel said, like it was obvious. "I was in heaven."
"Yeah, well, heaven looked a lot like San Francisco to me," Dean told him. "Since when do you guys need cities?"
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Castiel tilt his head. "It looked like San Francisco?"
"No, I just--not San Francisco," he said. "Like San Francisco. Water. Skyscrapers. Bridges. You know, a city. On the ocean."
"Interesting," Castiel said. He almost sounded like he meant it. "It would seem your clairvoyance is somewhat limited in scope."
There were a whole lot of reasons Dean didn't like the sound of that. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that your mind represents concepts it can't fully comprehend with images that are familiar to you," Castiel said. And hey, he'd just answered a question. Score another one for the good guys. "You have recently demonstrated an ability to see beyond what normal human senses can perceive, but clearly it doesn't extend to the full scope of heaven."
"You're saying heaven doesn't look like a city," Dean said. That was really all he'd been asking.
"No," Castiel agreed. "But I don't look like a human with wings, either, and it sounds like that's how you see me now. They are acceptable representations."
"Huh." Dean kind of bought the human-with-wings part of it. Not because it made sense, but because it didn't. He was actually more ready to believe his mind was making it up than he was to try to understand how angel-Castiel and vessel-Castiel fit together. "So where was your vessel while you were in heaven?"
Except apparently he wasn't.
He could feel Castiel looking at him as they reached the end of the parking lot and turned, following the edge of the pavement. "My vessel was destroyed," Castiel said. "This body was recreated for me when I was resurrected. It does not exist independently of me."
Which made about as much sense to him as the usual angel-vessel relationship, so he didn't ask. He wasn't sure he even wanted to know what Gabriel was. "Does Samael have a vessel?" he asked instead. It was the first thing that popped into his head, and Cas had already proven the burden of conversation couldn't be left to him.
"Yes," Castiel said. "You would find her appealing."
Dean let out a surprised laugh. He didn't even know if Cas had meant it to be funny, which was half the joke. "She a looker?" he asked, a smile curling his lips. He was trying to picture Castiel noticing.
"She's tall," Castiel replied solemnly. "She has long curly hair and her teeth show when she smiles. I believe you would enjoy looking at her."
"Yeah, well." Best conversation ever, he thought. "The archangel thing would probably throw me off my game a little. Think she'd look at you?"
He could almost feel Cas frowning. "I don't know what you mean."
"You said you'd never 'had occasion,'" Dean prompted. "Samael's hot. You could make a move."
Castiel didn't pretend not to understand. "Why would I do that?" he asked instead. "I have no interest in knowing Samael in that way."
Dean raised his eyebrows. "Knowing her," he repeated. It was one of those times when he knew he was about to piss Cas off, and he just couldn't think of a reason not to do it. "What's knowing her got to do with it?"
"There is no other reason to be close," Castiel informed him. "What purpose does being with someone serve if not to know their true nature deeply and completely?"
He didn't bother trying to hide his smile. "Man, I totally get where Chastity was coming from with the screaming thing. There are things you don't want to know about someone, Cas. Things it's better just to... keep under the radar. Sex is about feeling good, not baring your soul."
"Knowing someone's soul is a good feeling, Dean." Castiel sounded reproving and Dean got the sense, not for the first time, that God might be lecturing him by proxy for his sins.
"Right," he said. "And how many souls have you known? Deeply and completely?"
"I know yours," Castiel said.
It made him laugh again, which officially turned this into the best morning he'd had in a long time. "Not quite the same," he said with a grin. "Not anything like the same. That and the same aren't even on the same planet."
"Why not?" Castiel asked, and if that wasn't genuine curiosity in his voice then Dean didn't know him at all. Because Cas knew stuff, stuff Dean couldn't even imagine and would never think to wonder about. He even seemed like he cared, sometimes, like the knowing mattered to him. Like understanding was important.
Cas still didn't get humans. Not really. He charted their behavior, and he knew how to manipulate them based on past observations and carefully collected data: do this, and they do that. Do this other thing, and they do something else. Systematic. Predictable.
Dean wondered: if he tried that, would he be able to figure out angels?
"Because," Dean said, and it was so obvious that the only answer he could come up with sounded kind of stupid when he said it out loud. "We don't have sex, Cas."
"Sex is only one expression of closeness," Castiel said. Considering how uncomfortable he'd been talking about it last time, Dean was a little surprised this conversation hadn't degenerated into blushing and neck-rubbing by now. Not that he was disappointed or anything. Just surprised.
"Well, that's the expression we were talking about," Dean said. They were, weren't they? Sometimes Cas would come out with something that suddenly made him realize they were having different conversations, but he was pretty sure they were on the same page about this. "That's the expression I was talking about."
Castiel didn't seem confused. "It's a very human form of closeness," he observed.
Dean couldn't help smirking. Not only were they talking about the same thing, but he knew that tone: Cas was making fun of him. "Oh, and the angelic version of getting it on is so much better, is that it?"
He thought Cas might have smiled, but his tone was serene when he replied, "Few would have the experience necessary for firsthand comparison."
"Yeah, I guess." He was still grinning as they turned along the back corner of the motel's access road. "Is that even allowed? I mean... obedience-wise?"
Castiel, too, sounded vaguely amused. "God did not command us to refrain from sex, Dean."
He gave Cas a sideways look, but still no obvious signs of discomfort. Wasn't that interesting. "I'm guessing he didn't tell you not to eat, either," Dean said, "but you don't do that without being dragged into it first."
There was a pause. Dean waited for the explanation of how that was different, because it always was. Even when Cas agreed with him, he would disagree in principle. He knew Cas thought he was deliberately difficult sometimes--who knew where he got that idea--and sometimes he thought Cas was imitating him just to teach him a lesson.
It hadn't worked yet, but Dean did find it funny.
"No," Castiel said at last. "That's true."
Dean blinked. "So, you're saying we could drag you into sex? For your own good?"
"You've already tried," Castiel pointed out.
"Not you," Dean said, tempted to bump his shoulder but relatively sure it would be like banging up against a wall. "You'll try anything once. Besides, you're a rebel. I meant 'we' as in humans and 'you' as in angels in general."
It took him a step and a half to realize Cas had stopped. He managed to pivot without making it look like he was tripping over his feet. "What?" He was already scanning the air for extra glow, starting with Cas and moving rapidly out from there. No wings. That didn't mean they weren't about to be beaten down by something that could startle an angel.
"I hope you are not about to resume your efforts to seduce Anael," Castiel said sternly.
Dean stared at him. "What?" he repeated.
Castiel just frowned, like he could stare through Dean and make the answer be whatever he wanted it to be.
"Dude, what does this have to do with Anna?" Because he knew for a fact that Cas could stand there staring at him for the rest of the day. He'd done it before. Okay, not to Dean, but Dean had been there, and it had been kind of disturbing.
"You asked if you could drag an angel into sex," Castiel said, and Dean winced. "Given your history, it's logical to assume you're referring to Anael."
"First off, that is so not what I meant." Dean glared back at him. "There's no dragging, okay? That was a joke and you know it, so don't say things like that.
"Second," he added, "no, it's not logical at all. You thought I was talking about you, so there goes your logical assumption theory. Right out the window."
"Just because I make an assumption," Castiel said, and his eyes were definitely narrowed, "that doesn't necessarily make it logical."
"Glad we agree on that," Dean retorted. "Me and archangels, we don't mix. At all. No matter how hot they are. Well," he corrected, "unless they were really, unbelievably, out-of-this-world--"
"You admitted that you were with her," Castiel interrupted.
"Anna?" And see, that was the difference, right there. "Yeah, Anna. Not Anael."
"You call her Anna now," Castiel said. "You still call her Anna."
"Yeah, in case you didn't notice, I'm kind of lazy with names," Dean retorted. "She's hot and so far she's helpful, but she could kill me by looking at me sideways and don't think I don't know it."
Castiel looked... well, slightly less aggravated was probably the fairest way to put it. "Then what purpose could you possibly have in trying to interest angels in human expressions of affection?"
"You don't have to say it like it's stupid," Dean told him. "You touch me all the time." And wow, he had not meant for that to sound so... something. Dirty, maybe. Not that Cas touching him was-–
Geez, he needed coffee. Why were they having this conversation without food?
Castiel was giving him an odd look. "I thought we agreed that we are not having sex."
Coffee. Definitely coffee.
"If you're even using 'affection' as a euphemism for sex now," Dean said, rolling his eyes, "then I gotta tell you, you're throwing the net a little wide. I'm not trying to lure any angels into anything except not killing us. Clear enough?"
Castiel hesitated, like he hadn't expected that. Then he said, "I believe so, yes."
"Good." Dean studied him, because what else did he have to do, and then he remembered. "You're handling this awfully well. Not as embarrassing the second time through?"
"I've given the matter some thought," Castiel said. Just like that. He'd given it some thought. Dean didn't know whether to find that hilarious or kind of weird. Maybe just weirdly hilarious.
"Uh-huh," Dean managed to say, for lack of a better response. "You do anything about it yet?"
Castiel didn't blink, his gaze as level as it ever was. "I'm considering the situation."
"Cool," Dean said. And it was cool--weirdly hilarious, yeah, but also strangely reassuring to see Cas treat it like a tactical scenario. To see him think, possibly plan, even judge the options he came up with against himself. Exactly the way future him hadn't in Dean's vision. Nightmare. Whatever.
"Let me know if you need a wingman," he added, like he really thought he could watch Cas hit on someone without cracking up. Who knew. Stranger things had happened, and he'd give it a try if Cas asked.
"A wingman," Castiel repeated.
"Someone to back you up when you're putting it on the line," Dean said. "Moral support in unfamiliar territory. You know," he said, getting the idea that Castiel didn't, not really, "the guy who makes you look good for the audience."
Castiel studied him, which was less annoying than it used to be. "This is a traditional role in romantic pursuits?"
"Yeah," Dean said. "Traditional. Just make sure it's someone you trust not to compete, you know?"
"To compete," Castiel said. "With me?"
Yeah, it did sound kind of funny when he put it like that. And Dean didn't think he'd meant it that way at all--probably--but seriously, who could upstage an angel? Castiel had a sort of otherworldly confusion that came across as innocence if you didn't look too closely, and Dean would bet it got him in anywhere the looks didn't. Not that he had any idea how to dress. A lot of women liked the disheveled suit look, though, and he definitely had the face for it.
"It's a matter of principle," Dean said, just as the phone in his pocket vibrated. And rang. He'd forgotten to turn either of them off. Pulling it out, he glanced at the display out of habit. "It's the job of the wingman to help you out, not to steal your thunder.
He picked up the call and added, "Yeah," before Cas could ask any more questions.
"We're going next door for breakfast," Sam's voice said. "You want to meet us there?"
"Yeah, I'll be there in a few. Everything okay?"
"I could ask you the same thing," Sam said. "No one's dead yet. Cas all right?"
"He's good," Dean said, gaze flicking to Cas. "Just had some news. I'll fill you in when I get there."
He waited until Sam hung up to say, "You could still come with us, you know. Invitation's open."
Castiel inclined his head, and for a crazy second, Dean thought he might actually agree. Bringing an angel to breakfast? He'd never live it down. He didn't know why he kept asking, except that Cas still looked a little off-balance and it was messing with his head.
"I have to go," he said for the third time. "But I appreciate the... distraction."
"Sure," Dean said with a shrug. "Any time." Closest thing to thanks he'd heard from any of them, and somehow it didn't even seem momentous. It was just Cas. Saying stuff Dean didn't expect. What else was new?
"Hey," he said, when Cas still didn't leave. "Barring forced hunts or demonic intervention, me and Sam figured we'll squat outside Santa Fe tonight. Ghost Fair. If you have time, give us a call."
Maybe that was what he'd been waiting for, because Cas nodded. His wings burst open behind him and he was gone. Off into the quiet. Dean wondered if one of the archangels had to keep talking, non-stop, to keep their underground angel radio on the air. Or did they sing?
Seriously, singing? Wasn't that distracting?
He tried to explain it to Sam and Jo over breakfast, but he ran into a lot more questions he couldn't answer. Like he knew the first thing about angel communication. How would he even know what to ask? Why would he care? And when had Sam turned Jo into someone who thought it mattered?
Ruby kept her head down for the whole first half of breakfast, and that was so not like her. That Dean knew how to handle--in that he knew how to handle all demons, no matter what they were doing. Unfortunately, Sam and Jo had teamed up to keep him from offing her while they weren't looking by making sure one of them was always looking. They didn't let her go anywhere alone, which he approved of. But they also never left her alone with him. Which he also approved of, except for the fact that it kept her alive.
When they mentioned the Ghost Fair, though, she sighed loudly. Jo gave her a sideways look, but Sam kept talking. Dean ignored all demon activity from Ruby's side of the table and looked around for their waitress. He was gonna need a lot more glazed pastry to get through this morning. And if it was technically almost lunch time? So much the better.
"I hate ghosts," Ruby was saying. He hadn't paid attention when she started talking, because hello, like he cared.
"Why?" Jo asked.
At the same time, Sam said, "I know," and Dean glared at him just in principle.
"Because they're lost," Ruby said. "Especially Ghost Fair ghosts; they're deliberately lost, and it's creepy."
"Great," Dean said, waving to their waitress. "That's important, because your opinion matters to me."
"They're lost?" Jo repeated, like he hadn't even spoken.
"Because they won't leave," Sam said. "She calls them lost. They chose to stay; it's not like they missed their Reaper or something. They just didn't want to go."
"So they're bound," Jo said, looking from him to Dean. Dean shrugged.
"Physically?" Sam glanced at Dean too. "I don't think they think of it that way. It's not something that's holding them, it's something they hold on to. So, I mean, yeah... they're anchored here. But they're not angry about it, and they don't cause a lot of trouble, so everyone mostly leaves them alone."
"Can I get another one of these?" Dean asked their waitress. He gave her a smile when she refilled his coffee without being asked, and it gave him an excuse to ignore the rest of the table. And they needed to be ignored: none of them stopped talking for normal people anymore.
"'Cause there's something wrong with them," Ruby was saying. "Or they're cheating."
"You're just mad that you didn't think of it," Sam told her. "It's better than hell, right?"
"It's better than heaven," she said, rolling her eyes. "That doesn't mean it isn't messed up."
"Anything for anyone else?" the waitress asked, looking mostly at Dean. Her smile was sympathetic, like she knew how crazy he wasn't and she was sorry he had to hang around with these losers. He found it funny and sort of true at the same time.
"They're good," he told her. "Thanks a lot."
"I'll be right back," she promised, and he wondered if the salt-and-burn part of the conversation would throw her off more than heaven and hell. Because he could hear it coming.
"So no one tries to get them to move on?" Jo asked, and see? He was proud of her. She was moving through the stages of Ghost Fair confusion faster than your average bear.
"Sometimes one of the religious guys goes on a mission," Sam said, glancing at Dean again. Dean just shook his head, because it never ended well. "They're pretty good at defending themselves, though. Strength in numbers. And some of them are really old; it's hard to find out anything about them."
"They protect the ones who were unlucky enough to die in the age of the internet," Dean added. "And some of them really don't like hunters. You don't want to get on their bad side."
"Oh, ghosts that don't like us," Jo said. "What a surprise." She stacked her silverware on her empty plate and pushed it away from her. "So why are we going to see them, again?"
Dean raised his fresh coffee to her in a mocking salute. "Because some of them do."
"They know the gates," Sam said. "They come from all over, and all of them have seen a gate at least once. They've got some decent lore. They might be able to tell us something about where the action is."
"The gates of... heaven?" Jo looked skeptical.
Ruby snorted, which made Dean want to stab her with a fork. No, actually, her just sitting there made him want to stab her with a fork. Fortunately for her, he saw a delicious pastry coming his way, and it was much more worthy of fork action than she was.
"Yeah," Sam said, exchanging glances with him. "Sure. Among others."
"Thanks," Dean told their waitress. He handed the bill to Sam, pointing at his plate when it earned him an annoyed look. "What? I'm still eating."
So Sam paid--for all of them, even when Jo tried to give him money because she didn't get how it worked--and Dean ate. They made the city limits in good time, but finding the fair was something else. Dean was inclined to blame Sam: his directions sucked. Which Sam insisted was a total lie, because apparently Dean was deliberately sabotaging him, overshooting and not listening and taking wrong turns when Sam had just told him to go the other way.
Dean didn't buy it at all, except for the fact that Sam wasn't usually this bad and Jo had that combination of exasperation and disbelief on her face that reminded him of Ellen. So they rolled into the Ghost Fair later than he'd figured, but it wasn't like it mattered. It didn't close.
It did get weird on them, though. Fast. He and Sam had been once before, and just as a general rule, the ghosts tried to make the place as normal as possible. They were still on earth because they wanted to be, after all. They liked being human. So they kept playing at it even after it was over.
Hunters might not be their favorite people, but they did understand what ghosts were. What it was like to live in a supernatural world. If they left the iron in the trunk and didn't ask too many questions, they usually got an okay reception.
Not today. Today they were shunned. It was being a gunfighter in the old west, on their way to a shootout in the middle of an empty street, except there was no one to meet. People looked away, walked away, practically ran when Dean tried to start up a conversation.
"Dude," Dean muttered to Sam. "What's got them spooked?"
"I dunno," Sam said under his breath. "You?"
Jo thought it was her, being a stranger. Dean figured it was Ruby. Sam, weirdly, stuck to his guns about Dean.
"Seriously," he said, when they stopped to regroup under one of the covered walkways. "Dean, they're not talking to you. Even Ruby got an 'excuse me' when that girl stepped out in front of her."
"No one's said anything to me," Jo offered.
"You get eye contact, though," Sam said. "It's like Dean's not even here."
"Maybe I'm the anti-ghost," he said, leaning up against the corner and scowling out at the street. Freak weather had made the day a lot warmer than it should be, and even the unrelenting sun was starting to make him twitchy. "I have magic ghost repelling powers now. That'll be handy on hunts."
"We should split up," Ruby said, and Dean scoffed.
"Oh, yeah," he retorted. "You get a vote."
"We could stay in sight of each other," Jo said. "I'll hang out here with Dean, and you guys can canvas the other side of the street. At least we'd get a sense of the reaction."
"Or lack thereof," said a voice from behind Dean.
He jerked away from the building and took a step back. Not because of the creepy sneaking-up-on-him factor, but because there were some voices you didn't forget. The one that living people couldn't hear? That was one of them.
"Hi, Dean," Tessa said, still as death with the sun glinting off her dark hair. "I've been looking for you."
"Dean?" Sam hadn't moved, but Dean could feel coiled tension that was ready to go. It occurred to him, suddenly, that Sam hadn't been any other way for days now. "What's wrong?"
There was no avoiding a reaper, but Dean could at least give them a heads-up. "Hey, Tessa," he drawled. He couldn't help glancing around the street behind her, just in case. "You'll understand if I didn't miss you."
"Tessa?" Sam was staring hard at the corner Dean had jumped away from, but it was obvious he couldn't see anything there. "What are you doing here?"
"Who's Tessa?" Jo asked, but quietly, like she wasn't sure she wanted to be noticed.
Smart girl, Dean thought. Tessa was smiling at him, small and secretive and shockingly familiar. He remembered. More than she'd meant him to, he thought sometimes, because he knew stuff about people at that hospital he'd never met. He knew stuff about Cole that the kid definitely hadn't told them. That part was worse and he knew it, but it had stopped when he got called back, so he ignored it.
"You're starting to upset the reapers, Dean." Tessa's expression didn't change, but that wasn't weird. It turned out death was pretty calm. "With all your crossing back and forth."
"Yeah?" That just figured. He'd had demons out for his blood since day one. It seemed cosmically unfair that the angels were getting in on it, but given that, he didn't think having reapers gunning for him was going to make his life much harder. "Tell them to get in line."
"What's going on?" Sam demanded. He'd waved a hand at Jo, but she didn't need much encouragement to step away from the empty space in front of Dean. "Who's she here for?"
Dean raised an eyebrow at Tessa, but she just shook her head. "I was looking for you," she repeated. "Just to talk. I heard you can see us now, and I thought you might like a little warning."
"You heard that, huh?" Dean looked around, just in case her source felt like suddenly revealing itself. "Who says I can see you?"
"Okay, I may not get a vote, but I'm ready to leave," Ruby said. "Anyone else?"
"Shh," Sam hissed.
Dean thought that would have been funnier if he wasn't looking at a third front in their increasingly unwinnable war. "How long have you been following us?" he wanted to know. "Is that why no one's talking? I'm guessing these guys aren't your biggest fans."
"They've already said no to us once," Tessa told him. "It isn't me. It's you."
"Me," Dean repeated, careful not to look at Sam. "What did I do?"
"You're oozing heaven, Dean. They don't want to see that."
"I'm what?" He gaped at her. "What does that even mean?" And did he want to know, was probably the next question.
"You'd know better than I would," she said. She tilted her head, like she was trying to see him from a different angle, and the gesture sent a sharp stab of... something. A familiarity that went straight through him. "I'm guessing it means you've been on the other side of the veil. Recently. No one here is going to talk to you."
"Dude," Sam said. "Do we bail? What's the story?"
"So I'll go," Dean said, eyes flicking to Sam briefly, then back to Tessa. "They'll be fine on their own."
"Most likely." Tessa's gaze had followed his, of course, which was exactly what he'd been trying to avoid. But her eyes slid right past Sam, then Jo, and landed on Ruby, which didn't bother him in the slightest. "That's weird. Is she a--" Tessa squinted, and Dean couldn't remember seeing her hesitate before. "What is she?"
"Demon," he bit out, glaring at Ruby for good measure. "You want her?"
"No," Tessa said slowly. "I don't think so."
Big surprise there.
Tessa gave him an odd look, like she knew what he was thinking. "I mean, I don't think she's a demon."
It was way creepier when someone who wasn't Cas poked around inside his head. On the other hand, what?
"What?" he said aloud. The suspicious look he gave Ruby must have been a good one, because she actually crossed her arms over her chest and looked annoyed. "Looks like a demon to me."
Sam was looking from him to Ruby and back again. Jo was just looking at the space where Tessa stood, like she might be able to see her if she squinted just right. Tessa ignored all of them.
"She looks stuck to me," she said. "She fits right in here."
That wasn't an answer. Dean turned to stare it out of her, but the corner was empty.
"Like one of them wasn't enough," he snapped. He was too aware that he was talking to the air. He spun anyway, scanning the street and coming up with only them. "I hate angels."
Sam looked even more alarmed at that. "I thought you were talking to a reaper."
"Yeah, well, I hate them too," Dean growled. "Tessa's here. Not here here," he added, when Sam shot a sharp look over his shoulder. "Not anymore. She took off. Says she's been looking for me, the reapers are pissed, blah blah blah."
"What'd you do to offend the reapers this time?" Sam wanted to know.
"I guess they're not big on people popping up to heaven for a visit," Dean said. "And according to Tessa, neither are the ghosts. She says no one's gonna talk to you unless I leave."
Sam put his hands on his hips in a thank you, Captain Obvious kind of way, and Dean rolled his eyes. "Whatever," he said. "I'm gonna find the library. Anyone I scare away from there shouldn't be interesting enough to matter anyway."
It was Jo who asked, "What did it say about Ruby?"
"Doesn't want her," Dean said. "Call me when you get bored with ghostville."
He was already walking away when Sam called, "What are you gonna do at the library?"
"It's called research, Sammy," Dean yelled over his shoulder. "I'm sure you've heard of it."
Actually, today it was called googling stuff he didn't have words for, and he didn't know why he thought it would work. He didn't know why he thought there'd be anything to find, and if there was he didn't have a clue how he was going to find it. Let alone what it would mean. But they were here for the ghosts, and he couldn't talk to the ghosts, so he was going to take advantage of the ghosts' freakishly modern resources instead.
He typed "cities that look like Australia" into the search engine. He was glad Sam wasn't here to mock him for it. Like he knew the magic words to make the internet cough up information on the first try.
It was remotely helpful, in that it prompted him with "Sydney Opera House" when he saw the pictures. Yeah, big white things on the roof. That's what he meant. So he typed in "landmarks that look like Sydney Opera House," and then almost immediately tried "Sydney Opera House similar landmarks" and "Sydney Opera House landmark look-alike" instead because he sometimes remembered what Sam told him about useful search terms.
No good. Sadly, "famous roof landmarks" wasn't any better, and finally he typed in "city with sails on the roof" out of sheer frustration. He tried to remind himself there was no reason for it to work. There wasn't any real significance beyond his brain's weird attempt at coherence. But seriously, even the ghosts could tell where he'd been, and he couldn't see it? So what had he seen?
"The third largest city..." Google's summary began, emphasizing his keywords. "...on the roof, five sails representing the Canadian Pacific Fleet."
The next one read, "...of the city, Canada Place is one of the most recognizable landmarks. Characterized by a roof made to look like ships' sails..."
"Canada place," he typed into the search field. He added "roof" and "sails," just to be sure. Then, possibly taunted into it by the "I'm feeling lucky" button, he decided to take his chances with an image search. Pretty high on the list of things you should never do on the internet unless you knew exactly what you were getting into, which he didn't. He also didn't care.
Especially when every single one of the pictures that came up was familiar.
That was it. That was the place he'd seen. It was also the weirdest roof in the history of ever, but what else did he expect from heaven.
Vancouver. Canada Place was in Vancouver, British Columbia, so apparently what he expected of heaven was that it looked like a Canadian metropolis. A Canadian metropolis he'd never been to. That was the best part.
He had his phone out before he'd realized that calling meant talking. Which Cas might not have a problem with, considering, but Dean would still have to think of something to say, and no matter how deserted the library looked he couldn't come up with any version of "Why does heaven look like Vancouver?" that wouldn't draw unnecessary attention.
So he started a text message instead, typing why does heaven look like vancouver? and hitting "send" before he could decide whether the question was a good idea or not. He did stand up and back away from the computer, at least, because he knew how crazy library patrons got about having their internet access blocked by distracted out-of-towners.
Castiel always answered. He also typed really fast, and a moment later Dean's phone said, Perhaps the symbolism is such that you consider Vancouver eternal, beautiful, and safe.
Vancouver is a creepy city in a weird country that I don't know anything about and don't want to, he wrote back. He took the time to put in capitals and apostrophes and everything, just to make it clear how strongly he felt about this.
Or that, came Castiel's reply a moment later.
Dean smirked at his phone. He sent, the symbolism thing still works.
The reply was immediate. Yes.
He was trying to decide whether sending another text qualified as "charmingly interested in Cas' opinion" or "annoyingly incapable of entertaining himself." Then he had to interrupt that train of thought to wonder why he would ever put the word "charming" in the same sentence as "Cas." Especially as it applied to himself, which it didn't at all, and if anyone knew that it was Cas.
So basically, he decided, this was not a situation where "charming" was an option, and he should just embrace "annoying" for all it was worth.
hey, he typed. how come i can see reapers now?
Castiel didn't sacrifice actual English or even punctuation despite the speed of his reply. Where are you?
password, Dean replied, smirking at his phone again. This was fun.
It was even more fun when Castiel's reply came in all caps: CAT PERSON WHERE
Which was hilarious, and Dean was totally saving that message. Except he'd apparently freaked Cas right out, because he'd swear him pushing "send" on the address and Cas appearing next to him happened at the same time. Also happening at the same time was him jumping out of his skin. He managed not to swear, but it was a close thing, and he couldn't even glare properly because Cas was literally breathing down his neck.
"There are no reapers here." Cas wasn't using his library voice, but he definitely was breathing on Dean's skin. So, great, he'd lowered his voice as much as he ever did when he stood that close, but they were gonna get kicked out for inappropriate PDA if he didn't back off right now.
"How do you know that," Dean muttered, waiting for him to notice. He was still trying to train Cas to get the whole personal space thing on his own. "You didn't even look."
"There are no reapers here," Castiel repeated, and now he sounded stern. He didn't move, so Dean didn't either. He could feel an arm pressed up against the back of his own, and he got that Cas was two seconds from whisking him out of here, reaper or no.
"Not anymore," Dean agreed. He actually felt a little bad for sounding the alarm--which he totally hadn't meant to, by the way, hello non-life-threatening question--if it made Cas this upset. "She took off. I was just wondering why I can see her again. All of a sudden." Oops, he thought. The "again" part had just slipped out.
"Tessa," Castiel said. "Tessa is here?"
"That's one of her names," Dean mimicked, irritated and not really expecting Cas to notice. Because of course he knew it was Tessa. Of course he knew everything, and he couldn't even stand two steps away like a normal person.
"Did she come for you?" Castiel demanded.
"I'm still here, aren't I?" He didn't mean to snap, but seriously, Cas was breathing on him. "Yeah, she came for me. To talk. That was it. I think."
He could hear Castiel frowning. He could feel it in the way the tiny space between them got distant fast. "Reapers seldom talk," he said. "Even when they are helping people to cross."
"I noticed," Dean said dryly. "This one's different. We helped her, back when you did your whole impersonating people we know thing. She owes us."
There was a brief pause. "It would seem a great number of people owe you."
He drew in a breath and he'd swear he could feel that trench coat flutter against his skin. Cas was still looking at him, chin at his shoulder, face turned toward his, and Dean couldn't take it anymore. "Cas," he snapped. "Personal bubble. Stay out of it!"
"Oh." He couldn't tell if Castiel sounded surprised or maybe disappointed. "Of course."
"Thank you," Dean grumbled, when Cas took a whole step back. Not that he should be thanking someone for something that was completely obvious, but there were things about humanity that angels apparently got right away--mostly the lying and the violence--and then there were things that didn't seem to sink in at all. Like personal boundaries and family loyalty and when you were supposed to drink instead of talk.
Although, to be fair, Castiel did seem to have the loyalty thing down.
"Excuse me," someone said, and he looked away long enough to see a teenager with sparkly stuff in her hair and bright pink butterfly wings staring up at him. "Are you using that computer?"
Great. A fairy ghost. What, was Halloween late this year?
"No," he said. He'd have gotten out of her way, but he would have walked right into Cas, who seemed to interpret "personal space" more narrowly every time they talked about it. "I'm done," he said, flashing her a brief smile. "Have at it.
"Let's go," he added, definitely not smiling at Castiel. He would have glared if he could have gotten his expression to change that fast, but he couldn't, because Cas was looking weirdly wistful and he could only guess it was because of the quiet angel radio. So he settled for a sigh and a hand on Cas' shoulder. "Places to go, people to smite. You ready?"
Castiel looked confused. "For smiting?"
He still didn't smile, but it was harder than it had been. "No, Thor, to go. You ready to go."
"Do you want me to take you somewhere?" Castiel asked.
"I want you to walk out of the library with me," Dean told him. "It's polite to ask before you just drag someone along behind you. Not that I guess you'd know," he added. The irony of him giving a lecture on politeness was sort of huge.
"Ah." Castiel considered him. "I'm ready," he said after a moment.
Dean just shook his head, and Cas followed him out of the library without another word.
When they were outside, though, he stopped and asked, "What did Tessa say to you?"
Dean turned around. "You really don't walk anywhere, do you."
"We've left the library," Castiel pointed out. "Do you wish to go somewhere else?"
"I wish to walk." Dean imitated him on purpose. Because now that he could stare, now that he didn't feel the barely controlled urge to look away every few seconds--now he didn't want to. The whole staring thing was getting out of hand. "Normal people can talk and do other things at the same time."
Castiel didn't look like he understood, but he did look like he thought it was a stupid thing to argue about. That was pretty clear on his face. Which, okay, Dean might be able to read better when they were actually looking at each other, but did he need to? No. He didn't.
He did walk, though, and Castiel paced along beside him. They hadn't gone more than a few steps before Castiel inquired, "Is this enough of an other thing that you will answer my question?" The sarcastic edge to his voice was unmistakable.
See, that was the thing, Dean thought. He didn't need to be able to read Cas' face, but it wasn't because he didn't care. It was because sometimes there wasn't any way to avoid knowing what he was thinking.
"Look, I'm sorry," he grumbled. "You freaked me out with the appearing right next to me thing, okay?" Actually, Cas had freaked him out by breathing on his neck, but whatever. Same thing.
"I always appear right next to you," Castiel said, which was more true now than it used to be.
"Well, it always freaks me out," he snapped. "How many times do we have to talk about what 'arm's length' means?"
"Dean, what did the reaper say." Castiel didn't bother to make it a question.
His knee-jerk reaction to that tone was to do whatever it said, and it pissed him off that Cas probably knew that. "She said the other reapers aren't real happy with me right now," he muttered. "What with the whole crossing over and coming back thing. She said she was warning me."
"Warning you of what?" Castiel asked.
"That they don't like me," Dean told him. "That they're watching, that no one likes a toll skipper, I dunno. Take your pick."
"That isn't a very helpful warning," Castiel said. He sounded like he hadn't decided whether it was Dean's fault or not.
Dean was sure it wasn't, and also that the lack of helpfulness was pretty obvious, so he didn't say anything.
"Dean." Castiel sounded deliberately patient, in that way he had that really meant, you're being unreasonable but I'm angel and I won't stoop to pointing it out. "Did she say anything else?"
"She said she doesn't think Ruby's a demon," Dean told him, just to see what he'd say.
There was a brief pause, and out of the corner of his eye he could see the head tilt. "Why would she say that?"
Dean shrugged. "Beats me. Maybe she overdid it at the last reaper party. Do reapers party?" he added as an afterthought, mostly because he thought it would be annoying.
"Reapers reap," Castiel said, almost absently. The fact that he'd dignified it with a response struck Dean as funny.
"What, so there's no crossover between reapers and partiers?" he pressed. "There's no, like, swinging reapers?"
"No," Castiel said.
"Are you sure?" Dean insisted. "What about all those people who die at parties? They don't talk it up to the reaper who comes for them?"
"Given that your hypothetical advocate is proof the experience was deadly, I suspect the reaper may not be convinced."
Dean really wanted to have something to say to that, but he was too busy being surprised that Cas was still playing. He figured he might be able to get some mileage out of that. "Hey, is this banter, Cas? Are you bantering with me?"
"I'm talking to you," Castiel said, after a small but noticeable hesitation.
"Needlessly," Dean said. "This is a pointless conversation. Also known as small talk. I'm impressed; I didn't know you had it in you."
"You are the one who made it pointless," Castiel informed him. "I was trying to question you."
"Well, I told you everything I know," Dean said. "Now you tell me something."
This time there was no pause. "All right."
"Why'd you pick Jimmy Novak?" Dean concentrated on the street in front of them, the sidewalk, and the people who wouldn't look at him. It was kind of a relief, for once, not to try and figure out what to do with his eyes. Like talking to Cas on the phone. "As your vessel. You said it was hard finding someone to hold you--was he the only one who could do it?"
"No," Castiel said. "Even archangels have a choice."
"A choice," Dean repeated. "Zachariah doesn't make it sound like I'm one of many, Cas."
"There is only one best choice," Castiel said.
"Is that what Jimmy was?" Dean wanted to know. "Your best choice?"
When he glanced sideways, he could see Castiel frowning. "While it's true that I required a specific kind of person, my choices were not nearly as limited as those of an archangel. Creation is not easily contained. The power that I channel on heaven's behalf is much less."
"So what were you looking for?" Dean asked. "What kind of person?"
"I was looking for someone willing to give themselves to God," Castiel replied. "I found him. Are my other requirements, or his ability to satisfy them, really any business of yours?"
Stung, Dean reacted without thinking. "Considering there's an archangel out there who thinks I'm his best choice? Yeah, I think it's my business! Anyone'll tell you I'm not a man of faith. I'm not willing to give myself to God. So what does he want from me, Cas, 'cause I've got no clue here!"
Castiel's voice was gentler when he answered. "Michael's choice of you is hardly comparable to my choice of Jimmy," he said. "It is understood in heaven that you are meant for him."
"I'm not meant for anyone," Dean snapped, and he saw the glow out of the corner of his eye twitch. Castiel's wings had shifted, and it wasn't an idle gesture. Something about that upset him.
It should, Dean thought. It upset him enough.
"Your choice is also a factor, of course," Castiel said. He sounded like he was saying something in another language: like he understood that it was right, like he'd read it out of a textbook somewhere, but he'd never pronounced the words before.
Dean sighed, feeling the anger go out of him abruptly. "I'm not testing you, Cas. I know where you stand. I was just... I just wonder, sometimes. Why Jimmy. Why not someone else, you know?"
That wasn't exactly what he wondered. But for right now, it was as close as he was going to get.
They'd crossed a street and turned left before Castiel spoke again. "I felt an affinity for Jimmy. And I was... conscious of his physical appearance. Because I knew you would be."
It was like a silent crash. Invisible, unfelt, and numbing. He barely heard the words he managed to force out. "Excuse me?"
Castiel sounded very calm. "You wouldn't have listened to a woman, Dean."
"What kind of a thing is that to say about a guy?" He felt cold all over, and it wasn't the insult to his totally pro-women attitude, thank you very much. The indignation was helping some. It gave him something else to focus on. "I listen to women, okay? I think women are great. Awesome. Better than angels."
He had not just said that.
Except that yeah, he definitely had. And Cas was pissed.
He was also fast, blocking Dean's next step in a swirl of trench coat that sounded like wings. "If you think for one second that your role as heaven's lapdog would have been easier with me in a female vessel, I suggest you reconsider. I know you. I know everything about you. Imagine what I would have been asked to do to keep you in line if my superiors had thought you receptive."
Dean couldn't breathe. There was no air in his lungs at all, and the only thing he could do was stand and stare.
"Just imagine," Castiel whispered, staring back like he could see it. Like he could see it all. "I know you can. It's not that hard."
"You'd have gotten me in bed." He choked the words out, if only to make Cas stop talking.
It worked. Castiel just raised his eyebrows, like nodding would have been too obvious. Like the whole thing was so obvious he shouldn't have to.
Still an evasion. That was familiar enough that Dean could swallow and try again. "You're not that good an actor, Cas."
"I wouldn't have had to be," Castiel replied, his voice very soft.
Dean was afraid to ask what he meant by that.
"Okay," Dean said, careful and brittle and trying to hold himself together. "So instead of coming on to me, you threatened to throw me back into hell. Solid battle plan there. Thanks for that."
Castiel was glaring at him. "You're welcome," he said.
He thought of Uriel, towering over both of them and smirking. He thought of Zachariah, who had the same exact smirk and hundreds of times the power, less hesitation, less restraint. He thought of Raphael, expressionless and maybe crazy. He thought of the way Castiel had leaned in to whisper cold words in Raphael's ear.
He remembered Cas doing it to him, freaking him out with nothing more than proximity and sheer inhumanness, over and over again. And he remembered reacting... not just to the words. And not just with fear.
"You don't know everything," Dean muttered.
"Yes," Castiel said, just as quiet. "I do."
All it took was Dean believing that, and suddenly he knew exactly how screwed he could have been. On so many different levels. He did believe it, too, that was the kicker. He'd always believed Castiel.
He must have asked the question without even opening his mouth, because Castiel added, "I'm the only one. Your soul was my charge. The others have only their observations of your behavior. Which, as you may have noticed, leave something to be desired when it comes to successfully manipulating you."
"Why?" Dean managed. "Why didn't you--" His voice broke, and he tried to shrug it off. "Any advantage you can get, right?"
"Heaven's word should have been enough," Castiel said simply. "Or so I believed. There was no call for games."
"Oh, you learned games." Dean didn't take his eyes off of that face. That clever, tricky, very masculine face. "You could sidestep me and heaven both. Twice. Before breakfast."
Castiel seemed to take this in the spirit it was intended, because all he said was, "I do occasionally find you frustrating."
"Yeah," Dean said. "I get that a lot."
"I tried to make you want to help," Castiel said quietly. "Instead of only ordering or tricking you into it."
Just like that, the rest of the answer was staring back at him. "You wanted to fight me with honor," Dean said, his lips quirking around the teasing. "Not by holding it over me in the sack. Bet you regretted that," he added, smirk widening.
"Not in the slightest," Castiel said, but the flicker of amusement gave him away.
"You lie like a dog," Dean told him. "So why are you still--" He waved vaguely. "Why do you still look like that? I mean, when you came back... you said you had a choice. And obviously you don't have to follow their orders anymore, so."
"I told you," Castiel said. "It's familiar. This is the visage you know."
"This is the one I know," Dean insisted. He didn't dare touch, even if he could, but he let his hands rise, tracing the would-be shape of absent wings above Cas' shoulders. "You can look like whatever you want."
"Then perhaps I have a sentimental attachment, as Anna does." Castiel looked away, but he kept talking. "To a vessel that has been through so much. With you."
The last two words were tacked on, not as though he'd hesitated, but like he didn't expect Dean to hear. To listen.
"Hey." He waited until he had eye contact again, holding a gaze that had always tried to be fair. Even without knowing what "fair" was, apart from divine commands and an abstract balance between good and evil. "Thanks, okay? Really. That was pretty decent of you."
Castiel inclined his head, and the fact that he didn't say "you're welcome" this time made it more sincere.
He didn't want to clear his throat, because it was stupid and obvious, but he had to because he was clinging to normal by his fingernails here. It was decent of him. Then, now, that was all it was: Cas was a decent guy. "So, I guess when I try to set you up, I, uh..." His voice didn't break, and he was grateful for that. "I shouldn't limit it to just women, huh?"
Castiel was looking at him strangely, but Dean couldn't blame him for that. "I would prefer that you not try to set me up at all," he said at last. And that was familiar, that was Cas raining on his parade, and Dean knew how to deal with that.
"Come on, man," he complained, trying not to let the corners of his mouth twitch up. This was serious. "You need some company. It'll make you forget about the quiet for a while; am I right?"
Castiel frowned. "I told you," he said, and the words weren't exactly what Dean was expecting, "I'm considering it."
Dean raised an eyebrow, but Cas wasn't done.
"When I want your input," he continued, gaze still fixed on Dean, "I'll ask for it."
It didn't sound mean. It didn't come anywhere near back off and mind your own business, even though that's how Dean would have interpreted it from anyone else. Something about the way Cas spoke, the way he tipped his head... more than curiosity. More like a promise.
Dean cleared his throat again, because why weren't they walking? He needed to be doing something, anything else. Anything that wasn't standing here and seeing an angel's confession right there in his eyes.
He wondered if this was how Cas felt, staring at him. If seeing everything ever got to be too much.
"Okay," he said. "Well. You do that." He shoved his hands in his pockets and went to push past Cas, because there was a perfectly good sidewalk. "How's the, uh, angel hunt going?" he called over his shoulder, then winced, because "hunt" had probably been the wrong choice of words.
"I should get back to it," Castiel said, and the distant sound of his voice made Dean stop.
When he looked back, Cas hadn't moved from where they'd been standing, although he had turned to watch Dean walk away. "Right," Dean said. Of course he should. "You, uh... you want some company?"
There. Right there, he'd done it. He'd surprised Castiel.
He was pretty proud of himself for that, actually.
"Company," Castiel repeated, like it was a foreign word.
Too late, Dean realized it was the same word he'd used when he was talking about setting Cas up with someone. But it meant something totally different. Any normal person would know that, so he ignored it. "I mean," he said, "you ride along with us all the time, and I know I'm not as useful as you are, but if you wanted someone to... you know, go with..."
It sounded more ridiculous the longer he talked. "I'm just saying," he muttered. "I could return the favor. If you want."
"You would come with me while I seek out angels." Castiel looked suspicious. "Why?"
Dean shrugged, uncomfortable. "What else have I got to do?"
Castiel was standing right in front of him again, studying his face. "You'd have to fly."
"Yeah, well." Like the Angel Bus could surprise him anymore. "Don't drop me."
He thought Cas was about to smile. His frown disappeared and his eyes lightened, but he just lifted his hand and reached for Dean's forehead. Dean didn't flinch as his wings opened, huge and bright behind him, leaving him squinting into light that wasn't there.
A breath away from his skin, those fingers stopped. Castiel gave the impression of tilting his head without actually doing it. "Are you ready?" he asked politely.
Dean felt a grin break over his face. "Yeah," he said.
The entire world disappeared.
Disorienting wasn't even the word, but angels did know how to land. He hadn't fallen yet. It still tied his stomach up in knots, but he could stand there and pretend like he appeared on beaches in the middle of the night all the time. What was it with angels and beaches, anyway?
"Dean." Castiel's voice floated to him, disembodied in the darkness. "Cover your ears."
He made a face that Castiel could probably see, but he put his hands over his ears because he wasn't stupid. He should probably close his eyes, too. Cas would warn him, right?
Dean absolutely did not flinch, but he turned, because he could hear that. Cas had stepped away from him like a few extra feet would matter, face upraised, and Dean's breath was just gone. The sky was dark but Cas was silver against the ocean: all clean lines and a glow like moonlight, if the moon had been sharing his trench coat with him. If the moon was anywhere, which it wasn't. The night was cloudy and the blackness of the air stretched out to meet the dark water somewhere near the horizon.
"Jophiel," Cas called again, and it was like he was speaking right into Dean's ear. Dean pressed his hands harder against his head, just to make sure they were still there. Nothing changed.
Except that suddenly, a fountain of light erupted somewhere down the beach and Dean cringed instinctively. Angels were cool looking. Didn't mean he wanted an angel to be the last thing he ever saw.
"I brought Dean," Castiel said, "and word from Gabriel. Heaven is closed to all fallen but the archangels. Our voices alone must sustain us."
He didn't like that, Cas using the word "sustain." Like it was a matter of life and death. But the light down the beach was starting to make more sense: not formless, not at all. Those were wings that had burst out of the shadows, and they were... different. Narrower. He thought those were longer lines than he was used to.
Great. Now he could tell angel wings apart.
"Castiel." The voice that replied didn't seem to come from that far away. If he hadn't known better, he'd have thought he had an angel on each shoulder, talking right over his head. "Gabriel is with you?"
"Yes," Castiel said. "I would speak with you vessel to vessel."
"Why?" The light was there, just like that, and he could see an outline of the body that faced Castiel. Silver and slight next to Cas, who always seemed small until he was staring you down, Dean guessed "woman" even before she turned toward him. "This is Dean?"
He acknowledged her with a nod, then took one of his hands away from his ears to wave. Then, because he felt stupid, he lowered his other hand too. It wasn't like covering his ears was really doing anything. "Hi," he said.
"Dean," Castiel said, and his voice was suddenly far away. "My sister, Jophiel."
He was talking normally again, Dean realized. That was why it sounded so strange.
"Jophiel," Castiel added. "This is Dean Winchester."
She was staring at him. Which was weirder than when Cas did it, and he wasn't sure why, but he could see her well enough in the darkness to know it was happening. Before he could say anything else--even if he knew what to say--she turned her head toward Cas again and said, "I understand he made the beacon light up."
Her voice was different too. Human. Higher than he'd expected. Must be the vessel, Dean thought.
"Yes," Castiel said simply.
Before Dean knew what was happening, she had folded up in front of him. It took him a second to get that she was kneeling. He stared down at her in shock as she said, "I commend my sword to your service, Dean Winchester."
What the-- It was right there, on the tip of his tongue, and somehow he managed to swallow it long enough to look in Cas' direction. He wasn't crazy enough to go around pissing off unbalanced angels. At least, not ones Cas considered friends, since those seemed to be pretty sparse these days. Dude, what am I supposed to do?
"Jophiel is an honorable warrior of the lord," Castiel said, so quietly Dean had to strain to hear him over the sound of the ocean. "You would be wise to accept her assistance."
"Okay," Dean said, because Cas wanted him to. And apparently the crazy chick had a sword, so no sense getting her all riled up. "Uh, thanks."
Then, because he was kind of a bastard, he said to Cas, "You never kneel."
Castiel's bright and glowing silhouette tilted its head at him. "I died for you," his voice said mildly. "One might think that would be enough."
He couldn't stop a smile that even he suspected was totally inappropriate. Cas was teasing him. There was no mistaking it. It made Dean want to push him, to laugh out loud, to do something, and he just stood there, grinning like an idiot. "Fine," he muttered, trying and failing to keep it out of his voice. "You die, you get a pass."
Jophiel was on her feet again, studying them, and it didn't occur to him to wonder what she saw until she asked, "Would it not be more prudent to travel in the company of an archangel?"
She sounded curious, at least for an angel, but Dean had no idea what she was talking about. He looked at Castiel and found him looking back, but he didn't get anything more than that. So he just said, "I'm with Cas," and it seemed to satisfy her.
He wasn't expecting the angel voice a second later. The word--the name, because it had to be a name--rolled around inside his head like a bell being rung right next to him. "Sachiel," she said.
He put his hands over his ears automatically, but it didn't hurt. It was just loud. As he lowered his hands, there was another angel standing there. Sachiel, he guessed. "Dude," he said. "Do all your names end with 'el'?"
"Sachiel," Cas said, and he sounded a little quick, like maybe he wanted to keep Dean from saying anything too embarrassing. "Dean is with me."
"Oh, yeah?" The words sounded amused and unangelic, and Dean could see flashes of silver as her wings settled against her back. "Jophiel said. I can keep my voice down if that's what you want, but I miss hearing yours."
"He is human," Castiel said, and suddenly Dean thought he wasn't embarrassed. Cas was trying to protect him.
"I can take it," Dean blurted out. "If you want to, you know." He waved, like they could see it in the dark. They probably could. "Talk, or whatever."
"Oh, I like you." Sachiel sounded pleased. "You're used to Castiel, right? I'll speak through my vessel if you can get him to use his real voice."
"Go for it," Dean said. She was easily the most normal angel he'd met since Anna. Not that he'd actually been introduced. Maybe he should fix that. "I'm Dean, by the way. Nice to meet you."
"Same here," Sachiel replied. "Heaven calls me Sachiel. My sword is in your service, Dean Winchester."
"Right," he said. Okay, maybe not the most normal. "I appreciate that."
She laughed, and he wished he could see more than just the angel light around her figure. Which was a weird thing to think, but she sounded... human. It was strange to hear it coming from a glowing silhouette with wings.
"You messiahs," she said. "You never know what to do with us, do you?"
He eyed her, but he should have expected that Cas' friends would be as weird as he was. They all seemed to be waiting for him to say something, so he told her, "I don't know what you're talking about."
"We came to reestablish contact," Castiel said, and his voice had the ring of reality. His real self, the voice he'd been born with--were angels born, Dean wondered? It wasn't much more than a whisper. "Without the rest of the host, the fallen will have to rely on each other."
"It's a dangerous task you've set yourselves," Jophiel said. She wasn't using her angel voice, Dean noticed. "If you mean to seek out each and every one of the fallen--you may find some are not so receptive."
"I'm starting with those I believe to be sympathetic," Castiel said, and his tone was neutral but Dean had a sudden mental image of him rolling his eyes. "As are the others."
"I hear Gabriel," Sachiel remarked. "Convincing him must have been a treat."
"Dean did it," Castiel said without hesitation. "Anael as well."
"With three archangels on your side," Jophiel said, "neither of you are to be taken lightly. So long as you recognize that some will interpret this as a threat."
"I have been hunted for months," Castiel told her, and in his angel voice, no matter how soft, the true meaning of the words seemed closer somehow. Easier to understand. That was the only reason Dean could think of that the word "hunted" made his blood run cold.
He'd heard him say it before. He'd written it off as more bible-thumping creeps trying to haul Cas in for re-education. Nasty, sure, but what wasn't, these days?
He hadn't heard they want me dead. Maybe he just hadn't been listening.
"No one's messing with the angel," Dean said before he thought. "Not on my watch."
Which meant that he had two angelic stares on him, and neither of them was Castiel's. Okay. Maybe not the right audience for that little declaration. But hey, a guy could practice, right?
"As you see," Castiel said, and he didn't sound sarcastic but that was a gift of his, "Dean has my back."
Dean gave him a look, but Jophiel, at least, seemed to take him seriously. "As do we," she said.
"You know why we fell," Sachiel said. "Anything we can do, you know that."
Weird but likable, Dean decided. Castiel was officially allowed to pick his own friends again.
"Thank you," he was saying gravely. "It's good to hear your voices."
"Don't be a stranger," Sachiel said. The words might have made Dean laugh if she hadn't taken a step forward and wrapped her arms around Castiel. Like hugging was a thing he did. All Dean could do was stare. And all Castiel did was return her embrace, carefully but with a kind of certainty that said he wasn't surprised.
Dean was surprised. Almost as surprised as he was when she stepped back and Jophiel reached out, resting her hand against Castiel's cheek. Mirroring her gesture, Castiel's other hand found her face, and Dean watched in horrified fascination as they leaned toward each other. The two of them were glowing, wings brilliant in the night, and they were the most perfect kiss he'd ever seen.
Except they didn't kiss. It was just their foreheads pressing gently against each other. Their fingers were perfectly still while they held each other, somehow closer than he had been with Sachiel, and Dean felt kind of like he should look away. Like if he was a totally different person, he might give them their privacy.
He wasn't that person. He was the guy who watched his best friend not-kiss someone who was freakin' perfect for him and thought, that's so wrong. He was the guy who watched anyway, because would you look at that: Cas did know what to do with a girl. He was intense and careful and he thought about stuff, which was pretty much everything women ever wanted, and he looked so right with a pretty angel leaning against him that Dean didn't think his voice would work right now.
It was completely wrong. Not as wrong as Cas being alone, because Dean was getting really tired of seeing the guy stand forlornly on the side of the road, or at the edge of a crowd, or under some tree somewhere. Apparently being an angel sucked. But given that, getting it on with other angels was definitely not the answer.
He must have missed the end of the hugging and not-kissing because Castiel was beside him and he was talking, he was asking, "Are you ready?" and the tiny courtesy Dean had managed to teach him made him feel almost normal again.
"Yeah," he said. He was beyond ready. "Sure."
The sun stabbed into night-adapted vision and for one panicked second he thought something had gone wrong. He was seeing an angel, Cas had taken them to someone without a vessel, something had happened to Cas himself. Dean was blind.
And then he wasn't, and gee, wasn't random terror a fun way to spice up your angel tourism business. "Hello, human," Dean hissed, feeling like a jerk even as the words escaped. Because Cas didn't know, Cas didn't experience stuff like that, and Dean was the one who'd insisted on coming along. But he couldn't help saying, "A little warning for the extremes!"
Castiel gave him a strange look. "What extremes?"
They were standing in a field. A field covered with snow that, if his feet knew anything about it, was more than twelve inches deep. There was a farmhouse on the horizon, but they were the only people in sight and the wind over the frozen white stuff was brutal. Dean was starting to like this "follow Cas around" plan less and less.
"Where's your guy?" he asked, instead of answering. It wasn't like telling him that snow was cold would mean anything to him. "Or girl?" he added. "What were they doing on that beach, anyway?"
"Shepherding sea turtles," Castiel replied, turning in a circle where he stood. "Camael."
"You're yanking my chain," Dean said.
Castiel gave him a curious look. "I'm not."
Then a guy was just there, which Dean was totally fine with. He was used to it. But when said guy looked just like any other guy, Dean squinted at Cas to make sure it wasn't just the light. It was glaringly bright in the snow; it was no wonder he couldn't see a little angel glow.
Except that he could. Castiel had a pretty halo, lines of light tracing every part of him. This other guy had nothing.
"Castiel," he was saying. "It's good to see you."
"Who are you?" Dean didn't wait for an introduction, because this guy was bad news and he didn't see why they should let him have control of the conversation for a second. "Seriously. You can tell me."
"Dean," Castiel said, and the warning in his tone was clear. "This is Camael. Camael, Dean Winchester."
"Really." Camael's considering stare kept Dean from muttering under his breath about being right.
Which he totally was, by the way. They did all end in "el." Zachariah was a freak of nature.
"Where are your wings?" Dean wanted to know. "If you're an angel, how come I can't see 'em?"
Camael sneered at him, which was, honestly, a lot more familiar than the hugging had been. "Humans can not perceive our true form," he said, like he was quoting. Which he might be: it wasn't true, but his mimic would have been annoying even if it was.
"Dean can," Castiel said. "Vessels can see us as we are."
"Obviously he can't," Camael replied, dismissing him like he was nothing. "So what have the archangels done this time?"
"Could you see Jophiel?" Castiel asked him. Apparently he was more curious about Dean's "clairvoyance" than he was interested in Camael. Which was fine with Dean.
"Yeah." He looked from Cas to Camael again, but there wasn't any missing it. "Sach too. You're all lit up like fireworks. He's just a guy."
That considering gaze turned to Camael. After a moment that Dean used to think about how cold it was, how much longer he'd be able to feel his feet, and whether or not an angel with invisible wings could still smite him, Castiel said, "He looks perfectly normal to me."
He looked kind of pissed to Dean. He didn't get sweeter looking the longer the conversation lasted, which Dean thought was unfair given that he was the one who could feel the cold. Cas tried to question Camael, Camael got more and more irritated with him, and Dean just got colder.
It took three more angels before Cas decided that Dean was seeing the true forms of those who would cleave to him. He actually said that, "cleave to you," and Dean wasn't sorry for laughing at him. If he could only see the glow of angels who were going to listen to him, or offer him their sword or whatever, then it meant he could actually be useful. He didn't want to set the bar too high by keeping a straight face, too.
After five angels, he made Cas take him somewhere with cell service so he could call Sam. It sounded like that idea was about six angels too late, since he found a series of increasingly irritated messages on his voice mail. The last one threatened to pray for Anna again. Dean figured if she hadn't popped in on them yet, they still had time.
"Hey, Sam," he said after the first ring. "Not in heaven."
"On so many levels," Sam's voice replied, "not helpful, Dean."
Yeah. Probably fair. "Cas and I are out recruiting," he said. "You guys okay?"
"Yeah, fine," Sam said. "We ran into a friend, got some help. Do I even want to know who you're recruiting?"
"Do I want to know who you consider a friend?" Dean countered.
"We're eating," Sam told him. "Remind Cas to feed you."
Dean had opened his mouth to reply when he heard the call disconnect. "Bastard," he muttered, snapping the phone shut and frowning in Castiel's direction.
Cas raised an eyebrow at him.
"Sorry," Dean said without thinking. "Sam. He's pissing me off."
Since when did he apologize for snapping at Sam? When had he ever worried that Cas might think it was directed at him? And what did he care if someone took his attitude the wrong way? Cas, of all people, had seen worse.
"He's worried," Castiel said. "I will return you to him."
"Yeah, good," Dean grumbled. "I think his demon horde is multiplying."
Castiel didn't waste time asking. He just zapped them both back to Santa Fe: to the library, in fact, and Dean took a second to be glad he'd put them down outside it instead of inside. By the time they found Sam, though, he wondered if it would have made a difference. Dean felt totally invisible in this town.
"Okay, they really don't like me here," he said under his breath, just as he spotted Sam.
"I don't think it's you," Castiel replied, just as quietly.
The fact that Sam was sitting at an outdoor table with an umbrella, a drink, and three beautiful women was not quite enough to keep Dean from turning to look at Castiel. The fact that Sam was leaning back in his chair, looking halfway relaxed and grinning at one of the women like he'd seen the sun... that might have done it. If Cas hadn't been right there. Not just in his space, but ridiculously in his space, with his stupid wings not quite folded up and electric cold feathers threatening to singe Dean's jacket.
He could see them. He could see the feather that didn't lie flat. The one that interrupted the smooth flight line of the left wing: it was right there in his face. He felt his fingers twitch. It was like brushing Sam's hair back, it didn't mean anything. He could just-–
Keep his hands to himself. Geez. He didn't go around brushing people's hair.
"Sarah," Dean said. He shoved his hands into his pockets and walked away, because that was what he did. "Sarah's the friend. That's unexpectedly human of him."
He didn't have to look to know Cas was following. Sarah was pretty steady, but he was willing to bet Sam hadn't introduced Ruby as a demon and he sure wasn't going to make a big deal of Cas. "Hey," Dean said, pulling a couple of chairs from another table. "Sarah," he added, by way of greeting.
Jo reached out and tugged Ruby's stuff closer to her, waving for her to pull in. Sam shoved his chair in the opposite direction, right up against Sarah's. She was beaming up at Dean, lifting one hand to wave as she made room for Sam. He pushed their chairs into the cleared space at the table, not particularly surprised that Cas was still there. He'd come this far. Why show himself just to take off on them?
"It's good to see you guys again," Sarah was saying. "I should have guessed you'd turn up here eventually, but I figured, with all the other weird stuff going on lately, you must be busy."
"Yeah," Dean said, grudgingly taking the seat next to Ruby. Cas actually hadn't complained about being around her yet, aside from the hating and wanting her dead part. But if there was any chance that she was making him uncomfortable, Dean figured he was more used to it than an angel was. "What brings you to the desert, anyway?"
"Oh, same as you, probably," she said, and the smile he gave her was automatic until he realized she was returning it. Then he glanced at Sam, who'd slung an arm over the back of his chair. On Sarah's side. He was smiling too, like it was natural, like he didn't even realize he was doing it. "Ghosts. Field study. The end of days."
"Oh, you--" Dean looked from her to Sam, who just shrugged. Like it was no big deal. "You know about that, huh?"
Sarah looked up at the sky in a way that was just a little too elegant to be called rolling her eyes. "I heard, yes," she said. "It's quite the talking point in the supernatural community these days."
"Sarah's been doing a lot of work on the emotional imprint and neurological reaction to art," Sam put in. "She's got some hefty scientific corroboration for the transmission of psychic 'ghosts' from artist to audience."
"Great," Dean said, leaning over Cas to take some of Sam's leftover fries. Or maybe they were Sarah's. "So you followed ghosts into the middle of the apocalypse?"
"Basically," she agreed with a smile. "What's your excuse, then?"
It was Dean's turn to shrug. "It's what we do," he said. "Do we order inside? Is there a menu or what?"
There was a menu, as it turned out, and Jo slapped him on the back of the head for not noticing that she'd gotten him one. Sure, the ghost waitresses would talk to her. She'd probably have to order for him too.
"I'm Sarah," Sarah was saying, smiling across the table at Cas. "Are you working with Sam and Dean?"
"Castiel," he replied. "And yes, I suppose you could say that."
"He's an angel," Sam said, and Dean dropped his menu.
"Dude," he snapped.
Sam just raised his eyebrows at him, not even bothering to sit up in his chair. "What? She can take it."
"An angel," Sarah repeated carefully, looking from one of them to the other. She even gave Jo and Ruby a quick glance. Their expressions would have made Dean smirk if he wasn't so irritated with Sam, because Jo looked smug. Ruby just looked pissed, and her host did pissed like a twelve-year-old girl who'd been sent to her room.
"Of the lord," Castiel added helpfully, and Dean flipped the menu up to hide his own expression because the irritation vanished, just like that, and he almost smiled.
The menu might have hidden his face from Sam, but Cas glanced at him unexpectedly and caught the look before it was gone. The answering smirk on Cas' face made Dean laugh out loud. He let the menu fall, because his cover was blown and he really hadn't seen that coming. Cas wasn't just joking. He was joking with purpose.
"Okay, now I'm not sure I believe you," Sarah said, a bright smile lighting her face. She looked like she'd just figured it out. "I'm sure it doesn't take an angel to put up with Dean."
Dean blinked, wondering what that meant, and it was Sam's turn to laugh.
"No, it does," he said, grinning at Dean. "Trust me. The longer you know him, the more you realize an angel is the only one who could do it."
He got it. He didn't know why it took him as long as it did; apparently every single person they ran into was going to think the same thing. "Ignore him," Dean told Sarah. "We're not together. Cas is an actual angel. You want that pickle?"
Her smile faded, and she glanced at Sam.
Sam shrugged. "The second part's true," he said.
Dean didn't bother giving him the finger. And if Sarah had eaten her sandwich without the pickle, he figured it was fair game. He leaned over and took it from her plate without objection--unless Jo saying, "For crying out loud, Dean, tell me what you want and I'll order it," counted as an objection.
Dean was more inclined to count it as his due. He grinned at her around the pickle, and she rolled her eyes. "Cas?" she added pointedly. "Do you want anything?"
Dean opened his mouth to say, "He doesn't eat," but Cas beat him to it.
"I would appreciate the opportunity to try whatever you had," Castiel told Jo.
Dean stared at Jo for a second, wondering if he'd really just heard that--and was she going to blush? Seriously? Then he turned to glare at Cas. "Dude, what was that? I always ask you what you want, and you always say nothing!"
"And you always get me whatever you have," Castiel pointed out. "I thought Jo might not be familiar with this ritual."
"Ritual?" Dean repeated, dumbfounded.
Sam was laughing at him. He was pretending that he was pretending not to, but he totally was. "Dean," he said, leaning back in his chair--conveniently closer to Sarah, Dean noticed. "You have a routine." The bastard was smirking at him. "You have a routine that Cas feels the need to spell out for other people to make sure they get it right."
"What's your point?" Dean snapped, and wow, that was a mistake. He didn't want to know what Sam thought his point was.
"I think it's very sweet," Sarah said. She clearly thought she was doing him a favor by intervening. "So what brings an angel to earth, anyway?"
Castiel tilted his head, like it was so obvious he didn't know why she'd asked. "Dean," he said.
Dean sighed, slouching lower in his seat. "Not helping, Cas," he muttered.
"Yeah, well, you do need a lot of help," Sam said. "No wonder you get your own angel."
"I'm never talking to you again," Dean informed him.
Sam laughed, flicking the burnt end of a french fry at him. "I should be so lucky!"
So as far as he knew, Sarah spent the rest of lunch thinking that he and Cas were big gay life partners or something while Sam laughed at him. If Jo was laughing, at least she had the courtesy to do it silently. And she got them food, which was almost enough to make up for the fact that Cas was eating some sort of stupid chicken salad instead of the best taco ever.
Ruby spent the whole time sulking, which was just fine with Dean.
He got through half his taco before Cas stiffened beside him. No one else looked at him, and Dean didn't want to draw any more attention than they'd already gotten. But those shoulders were thrown back, suddenly, and Dean knew if he turned his head just a little more he'd see bright wings snapping open behind him. He could actually feel a whisper of air across his arm, and he concentrated on keeping his eyes on his food.
"You all right?" he muttered, when Cas didn't disappear. He'd figured Cas was gone. Angel emergency, or whatever. But he was just sitting there. Fork in hand, wings open, totally still.
"Zachariah has found the Roadhouse," Castiel said.
Dean turned to look at him. "What?"
Everyone else was silent.
"Zachariah is at the Roadhouse," Castiel repeated. "Right now."
Jo was already pushing her chair back. "We have to go! Can you get us there?"
Dean reached out and grabbed her hand without looking. He felt her freeze, as stiff under his hand as Cas looked right now. "Hang on a second," he said. "Who else is there? Is he alone? What's he doing?"
Castiel's eyes slid past him. To Jo. "He has your mother," he said.
Dean felt her fingers clench under his. "We're going," she said. "Come on."
"We're not jumping into the middle of an archangel attack," Dean said. "Not without more information!"
Castiel's gaze flicked back to him. He looked... sorry. Frighteningly so.
"Since when are you Mr. Let's Have A Plan?" Jo demanded, yanking her hand out from under his. "Dean, that's my mom. She's one of the best hunters you know. She's only in trouble because she helped you!"
"Look, you don't have to convince me," Dean said. He couldn't take his eyes off of Cas. "But if there's one thing we don't want to do, it's give a bunch of self-righteous dicks more hostages."
"They can probably find plenty on their own," Sam agreed, giving Jo a sympathetic look. "We'll fix this, Jo."
"I would not suggest taking on an archangel," Castiel said quietly.
Dean snorted. "You only say that 'cause they killed you."
The corner of Castiel's mouth quirked upward, and Dean had the sudden ridiculous thought that if the two of them really were picking out curtains, a look like that would probably make his day. Making Cas smile wasn't the easiest thing in the world. It was possible that he devoted a little too much time to a challenge like that.
"Nonetheless," Castiel said. Yeah, that was definitely almost amusement in his voice.
"Okay," Dean said, feeling weirdly better. "So what if we take our own archangel?"
He wasn't big on angels listening in, and the fact that Gabriel chose that moment to appear next to their table kind of pissed him off. Dean glared, and Sam almost fell out of his chair trying to turn around without landing in Sarah's lap. "Message from Anael," Gabriel said in a bored tone of voice. "Zachariah's being a bastard, news at eleven."
"Must have been easy for you to recognize," Sam muttered.
"Yeah, we got the message," Dean snapped. "What do you want?"
Gabriel was staring at Ruby. "Not to be a downer or anything, but you know you're sitting with a demon, right?"
"Where is Anael?" Castiel asked. "Why did she send you?"
"She's keeping an eye on the bastard," Gabriel said. "Wants to know what you want to do. And by you," he added, glancing at Dean, "I mean him."
"I guess wasting Zachariah isn't on the table," Dean said, then immediately regretted it. Cas didn't flinch, but Gabriel gave him an irritated look. And it wasn't like he cared what Gabriel thought--annoying him was actually the good part--but Castiel had been in a funk over killing Zachariah's goons for weeks.
"Look," Dean said. "We need to get Ellen away from Zachariah, and we need to make sure he can't use the Roadhouse to track down anyone else. Should I even ask how he found it?"
"Oh, you mean, after you led him right to it?" Gabriel retorted. "Between Castiel's declaration of eternal devotion and Anael throwing down on top of him, the only way you could have drawn more attention is by calling Michael. Just running away after something like that doesn't really cover it up."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Dean said. "And to be honest, I don't want to." Glancing at Cas, he added, "Do I?" just in case, but Cas shook his head so he figured he was safe.
"Right," Dean continued. "So me and Cas will go, and Gabe will come with us to make sure Zachariah knows who he's dealing with. The rest of you stay here."
"Like hell I will," Jo snapped.
"You show up there," Dean told her, "the first thing Zachariah does is tortures you in front of your mom. Believe me, I've seen him do it and it's not pretty."
"Him torturing you isn't any better!" Jo retorted.
It would be a lot better, actually, but he wasn't dumb enough to say so. "Zachariah's not gonna do anything permanent to me. The angels went to all that trouble of dragging me out of hell, you better believe God gave me a free pass when it comes to their games. Doesn't extend to anyone else."
Jo narrowed her eyes at him, then switched to Sam. "Is that true?" she demanded.
Sam gave a half-shrug, moving his head in a way that could have been a nod. "Kind of," he said. "They probably won't kill him, anyway. Not that I think this is a good plan," he added, giving Dean a warning look. "This is a really stupid plan with a side of brain-dead vegetable, which is what you're gonna be if Zachariah holds you long enough for Michael to catch up with you."
"Yeah," Dean said. "Where is he, anyway? I'm starting to think Michael's a lie. A good story, real impressive and everything, but lacking in the tangible proof department."
He felt Castiel's stare, but it was the way Gabriel rolled his eyes that he was watching. "Very funny," he said. "Say 'yes' and you'll see how how tangible he is."
"Yes," Dean said, because he was feeling reckless and this was a stupid game anyway.
He'd known it wouldn't; Michael was kind of pansy and it wasn't like Dean had meant it. "Kind of unfair, isn't it?" Dean said, his stomach twisting with belated fear. His skin felt cold. "You guys can lie to us all you want, but we have to mean it when we agree or it doesn't count."
"Dean," Cas said. His tone was black, and Dean thought it would be ironic if this was the thing Cas smote him for. He sort of sounded like he wanted to.
"If you ever do that again," Sam snapped, "I will personally wring your neck, Dean."
"Yes," Castiel agreed. Like that was enough. Like that was exactly what he wanted to say.
"It's a fairy tale," Dean said. "I bet Michael can't even defeat Lucifer. It's just something you tell yourself so you can sleep at night. Or whatever you do instead of sleeping."
"It's not a fairy tale." Even Gabriel sounded dangerous, but he was guessing Gabriel wasn't upset about him.
"You're all fairy tales," Dean said. "You with your halos and your harps--give me a break. I was right the first time. The angels Sam believed in, the angels my mom said were out there? They don't exist. The host of heaven isn't any better than we are. The only difference between us is that you guys actually can destroy the world when you have a bad day."
Gabriel gave him that one. Dean could see it in the way he tilted his head, in the expression that said, yeah, okay. Welcome to Sunday dinner. But Cas didn't. And maybe he was the one Dean had been trying to provoke all along.
"The only ones I see destroying the world," he said, very evenly, and that tone would have tipped Dean off except that he didn't need it. He already knew Cas was pissed. "Are you and your brother. I might concede the difference between us is lies in you trying to fix it, except that to say you're the only ones would be to disrespect every angel currently fighting with you."
"Lucifer," Dean told him, "is not human. He's an angel. I'd tell you guys to make better prisons, but since you're the ones who tried so hard to get him out, I guess it wouldn't do much good, would it."
"Excuse me," Jo said. "Is it important to have this discussion now?"
"Shh," Gabriel told her. "You'll ruin the drama."
"We're going," Dean said, getting to his feet. Catching Jo's eye, he added, "You keep the demon from killing Sam, I'll keep Zachariah from killing Ellen. We'll call you when we get there."
He nodded to Sarah, belatedly realizing that if Sam hadn't told her about Ruby, he might have just caused some problems. Oh well. Sam was a big boy; he could keep his two girlfriends off each other's backs. And if he couldn't, Sarah could probably take Ruby's host as long as the binding spells kept her from using her powers. That was the ending Dean was rooting for.
"Well?" he said, staring down at Cas. The seconds while Castiel just looked back at him were mostly spent thinking, geez, we can't even fight anymore. He was used to Cas looking at him like he didn't know what to do with him. Lately, though, he'd swear Cas did know--he just couldn't bring himself to do it. Whatever it was.
Dean was really tired of being the thing Castiel couldn't do.
Then he was standing up, and Sam was saying, "Don't do anything stupid, Dean," like he knew exactly how likely that was, and they were all just gone. Having an unseasonably warm sun with good tacos and people who weren't currently trying to kill him--mostly, he wasn't taking any bets on Ruby--be replaced by a stinging chill and people who definitely did want him dead wasn't an improvement. He needed to work on what he asked for from angels.
Ellen was fine, at least on first glance. Zachariah was totally ignoring her, and Dean might have been a little happier to see Anna taking up all of his attention if he hadn't recognized the guy next to him. "Dude," he hissed at Castiel. "You couldn't have mentioned Raphael?"
"I didn't know he was here," Castiel murmured.
"Wow," Gabriel exclaimed. "Look at this! It's our own private family reunion! Or not so private--do we really need the humans? Come on. They cheapen the atmosphere, don't you think?"
"Gabriel," Raphael said, eyes sweeping over them. "Nice of you to show your face again."
"Wish I could say the same, bro. Your wings are looking a little singed," Gabriel said, and he would know, wouldn't he. "Black isn't the new white, no matter what they tell you on TV."
Dean couldn't tell if Gabriel was really as fearless as he pretended or if obnoxiousness was just an ingrained habit. Barring further evidence, he was gonna go with the "habit" explanation. He couldn't see Raphael's wings.
He glanced at Gabriel again as realization struck: he could see Gabriel's wings.
"Your ragtag band of fallen angels is charming," Zachariah said. He was speaking directly to Dean, but Dean could feel Cas crowding close at his shoulder. Which was weird, since the one time he'd always been able to count on Cas keeping his distance was when there were other angels around.
"They're not necessary, though." Zachariah cast a careless eye over the group. He didn't look surprised to see Gabriel, Dean noticed. "They've already done their job."
Yeah, he didn't have a good feeling about this. The longer Zachariah was distracted, the safer Ellen was, but Dean didn't have anything to say to him. "You believe this guy?" he told Cas. "It's not like I asked him a question. I didn't hear anyone ask him a question. But there he goes. Just likes the sound of his voice, I guess."
Castiel's gaze cut to Zachariah, but he didn't answer. Gabriel did. In a way.
"You gotta like this one," he said, and it was hard to tell whether he was talking to Zachariah or Raphael. Maybe both. "You can't imagine what I've done to him, and he just keeps opening his mouth. Can't keep him down."
"Whatever you've done to him," Zachariah said, "I'm sure Michael can fix it."
Dean snorted, putting an elbow in Cas' side by accident. Whatever, you stand that close to a guy, you take your chances. "Like that's gonna happen."
"You've been to heaven recently," Zachariah remarked. The more casual he sounded, the more worried Dean got. "To think, all this time we've been trying to get you to call Michael to you. When it turns out we could have just taken you to him."
Dean rolled his eyes, because Zachariah's theatrics barely deserved his ridicule. "You don't even know where he is."
"No," Zachariah admitted with a smile. "But we know where he'll be. I guess we have Castiel to thank for proving that we can take you there."
Cas' voice was the last thing Dean heard before that annoying flutter brought the smell of the ocean and the cold feeling of standing too close to an electric fence. It wasn't the same place he'd been before. It wasn't any of the places he'd been before, but there was no mistaking those wide streets and a sky that was a little too blue.
For just a second, even as the sun flashed off the water and stung his eyes, he thought he heard Cas screaming.
"What did you do to Cas?" he demanded, swinging around. Zachariah and Raphael stood behind him, all of heaven at their backs, and the day that impressed him was the day he let the hellhounds drag him back down.
"We did nothing to Castiel," Raphael told him.
"The only thing we're going to do is to you," Zachariah said. "Do you have any idea where you are?"
"Oh, I've got a decent guess," Dean told him. "And if you didn't do anything to Cas, what's he screaming about? Don't you have bigger fish to fry? Like Lucifer? I hear he's out there, but so far, the world's still going. Might want to light a fire under his butt if you're gonna go around making angels scream."
"Castiel is not upset with us," Raphael said.
"Well, he is," Zachariah added. "But it's losing you that's making him yell his head off. I'm surprised you can hear that, actually; he's a long way away. I can assure you, though, tearing out his all-too-human heart is just a pleasant side benefit of handing you over to Michael."
"His heart for your wings," Dean snapped without thinking. "You mess with him and you'll never fly again."
"Ooh, I'm so scared," Zachariah said, widening his eyes. Then he frowned. "Oh, wait, I'm not. Walk up those steps or I'll carry you up them myself."
His heart for your... What had he just said? What did that even mean?
Dean turned around, and okay, they'd appeared at the bottom of a set of stairs. Leading up to an actual geodesic dome. Great. Heaven had liked the seventies. That wasn't reassuring.
"You guys need to update your look," he said.
Cas, he thought, not really sure what he was doing. I'm praying for you, buddy.
He flinched, hands going instinctively to his ears before the flood of impressions convinced him it wouldn't matter. Can'treachyou and don'tsayyes and mostly, the one that almost made him laugh: archangelssuck.
No argument here, Dean thought. He didn't know whether to be amused or worried for his own sanity, because now he was making up Cas' voice in his head? He was walking up the stairs without really thinking about it. It kept the guys off his back, it kept them from asking questions, and he was pretty sure there wasn't anything that could get him up here more easily than it could have back there.
They're sending me into a dome, he thought, just in case he wasn't imagining it. Also, their insults are so third grade.
Dean stopped, staring at the doors on the other side of the paved courtyard at the top of the steps. I thought no one knew where Michael was.
Hisplacehislight. It had to be Castiel; Dean could never think of something so totally incomprehensible. At least to him. On the other hand, Cas seemed to be actively listening for him now, trying to shove actual answers across the distance between them, and Dean might not get it but he'd take it.
"Keep going," Zachariah's voice called from not far enough away.
Dean flipped him off without turning around. He was well aware he didn't have a choice here: this was heaven, and angels ruled. He couldn't fight and he couldn't run. He figured that left sticking it to them as hard as he could, and hey, what do you know. That's what he was best at.
Michael still needed him to say yes and mean it. Dean had thirty years' practice resisting the tortures of hell. And this time he had the time difference working for him: thirty years up here was probably centuries on earth, and by then everyone he cared about would be dead anyway.
Cas? he thought. Want to clue me in on what's going on?
YousummonMichael. He got the distinct sense that whatever this meant, it would be against his will. Or at least, there wasn't anything he'd be able to do about it. Yourpresencehisplace. Weird jumble of him and the dome and Cas hating himself for something. He'llknow.
Great, Dean thought, pushing one of the doors open. It looked like a tourist lobby inside, except that it was totally empty. I meant the telepathy. How are you doing it?
Not that he was complaining. If there was anyone he wanted with him right now, it was Cas. And he did want someone with him. The hellhounds might as well be snarling up the steps behind him, and if he thought about anything except Cas he was going to lose it.
I'mnot, came the reply. Confusion, desperation, terror and impotent rage. The wash of feeling staggered him, and he swung an arm out to brace himself against the information kiosk in the middle of the floor.
He spun, and the room whirled crazily as fury that wasn't his roared through his head. There was no one there.
The problem with thinking at someone was that it was really hard to keep from saying whatever came to mind. Which, this time, was, Ow, Christ! Indoor voice, Cas!
The lobby voice was still talking, and it took him a lot longer than it should have to figure out that it was coming from the kiosk. He couldn't place it, no matter how familiar it sounded, but he was starting to get that it was a recording. Which was creepy all on its own, but at least it wasn't imminent death.
I tripped some kind of recording, he thought. It's talking to me.
You'reinside? He got crippling fear with that, and he was doing just fine on that front himself, thank you very much.
Keep your feelings to yourself, he thought. I've got plenty of that to go around.
Notcontrollingthis. It was almost impossible to hear anything but Cas. He knew the other voice, the real voice--if he could call a disembodied, familiar but unrecognizable voice "real"--was still talking to him, but he had no idea why or what or how.
All he knew was that when his Cas-sense came out with something that felt like, Wantyouback, his whole body screwed him over in response. He could feel everything he'd ever tried not to think about Cas bursting like a balloon inside his brain.
You're not real, he thought. I can't even kiss you. I haven't dreamed about guys since I was a teenager. You'd kill me. I'd be blind and deaf and numb and I wouldn't care. You could destroy me.
He scrabbled for something else to focus on, something to stem the flow of a desperate confession he didn't want to make. This wasn't even real, and he was going to die with Cas thinking he was some crazy nutjob with an angel fetish. Heaven sucked.
It tore a laugh out of him. It was so--it wasn't Cas. It was him, it was something he would say. And maybe he had. Maybe this was all in his head. That would just figure.
"So the stuff's in here," the other voice was saying. "Underneath, and the rest of it's in the car. Do me a favor, though... don't go searching for the rest until you have to. The whole smiting thing isn't as cool as they make it sound."
There was a long silence, and Dean wondered if it was done. What had he missed? More threats of angelic violence? Instructions on how to be a good vessel? How to call Michael, maybe. Although if he'd left a message like that, wouldn't the other angels have gotten it by now?
Dean, he heard again, and geez, how could he have thought he was imagining that?
"Good luck," the voice in the lobby said.
Still here, he thought. Still no Michael, unless that recording was him telling me how to heel or something. Didn't get most of it. Kind of distracted.
Leave, Cas replied.
Dean rolled his eyes, brushing his hand against the kiosk again just to see what would happen. Nothing.
Great, yeah, thanks for that insightful advice, he thought. Got there on my own, but guess what. Turns out I'm in heaven. I can't exactly spread my wings and fly back to earth.
Can'tgetin. The frustration chewed him up, and if Cas was getting half the emotions Dean was getting from him, he probably didn't want to know. Traitors, and the overwhelming image that came with the feeling was Anna and Gabriel. Won'tpissoffMichael.
It was kind of hilarious to hear Cas talk that way, even if he wasn't really talking. Great, Dean thought, feeling around the bottom of the kiosk. Good to know where Anna stands. It wasn't good, it was harsh and painful and he should have expected it. So she'd saved Cas' life. She obviously didn't care about Dean.
Castiel's bitter satisfaction took him by surprise, followed almost immediately by shame. He got the toldyouso pretty clearly anyway.
Jealous? Dean thought. He never would have said it, but he couldn't keep himself from thinking it.
Yes, Cas replied.
The bottom left corner of the kiosk hummed under his fingers, cool and shocky, and the entire back panel slid into the floor. Dean stared at the sword inside for several long seconds before it occurred to him to think, Angel sword.
He said to look in the thing, so I did. There's a sword.
It wasn't his clearest explanation, but a guy couldn't be held responsible for what his brain did when he was surprised. Should he even be surprised? This was Michael's lair. Supposedly. If he had stuff he didn't want to carry around with him, he'd leave it here.
"No," Dean said aloud, and the word was weird in the silence. He shook his head, glancing over his shoulder. It felt like Cas was right there. No, he thought. It's not special, it's just... it's the silver one you all carry. He tried to picture it, in case Cas could get that somehow, but as soon as he realized what he was doing he found himself thinking of all the dirty things he didn't want Cas to picture.
Notpossible. For a horrible moment, he thought Cas was responding to something he'd seen. Then he heard, Can'tbeleftbehind. There was another pause, and then, Swordmanifestation. Can'tseparate.
Dean got the vague sense that this was an angel thing, that he probably wouldn't understand it even if Cas was standing in front of him, but it was still frustrating. The best he could do was guess, and he guessed there was something supernatural about those blades. More than just their angelic wielders: he'd seen Cas pull his out of nowhere, and he'd seen him without it afterwards. Just because he didn't know how it worked didn't mean it didn't.
Maybe it's his spare, Dean thought.
Unlikely, Cas replied, but the tinge of amusement let Dean know that the joke had been appreciated.
So where is he? Dean wanted to know. He reached in, hand closing around the hilt of the sword, and the room burst into noise around him. He jerked away, the sword somehow coming with him as he spun. Scanning an empty room for the voices that had to come from somewhere.
Dean? The panic in Castiel's voice was raw and real and it made him flinch even before it howled in his ears. DEAN!
Yes, okay, what! He thought as hard as he could, which probably made exactly no difference, but Cas was going to deafen him by accident and that would just suck. What did I say about indoor voices!
The crowd noise vanished like it had blown a fuse. The mumbling, the whispers, the clear word here and there: gone. It was just an empty room--a giant, yawning room that was as quiet and creepy as it had been when he'd first come in. Except for the tiny thread of a tune underneath it, maybe a voice, maybe a radio playing somewhere... behind a door, around a corner or something.
Like someone was singing somewhere, and he couldn't quite point to where it came from.
Then Anna's voice was in his head, which he did not in any way enjoy. Michael?
Great. The day just got better.
He heard Gabriel say, Michael. Like he was looking right at him. Like it wasn't a question but a certainty.
Michael, another voice whispered, and then another, and then they were all doing it. The whole stupid invisible crowd, saying Michael's name. Over and over again. He couldn't tell if he was dreaming or hallucinating or what, but finally he couldn't take it anymore and he thought, Cut it out!
The whispers stopped. The singing continued.
Dean? Cas' voice sounded wrecked. Alone and cracking in the sudden quiet, it made Dean want to tear someone apart. Someone had to have done that, had to have made him sound like that, and Dean was going to kill them. It was that simple.
Obviously, he thought. You expecting Santa Claus?
Dean, Cas whispered. He didn't sound any better than he had before. You touched the sword.
Yeah, it's mine now, Dean thought. See you on earth in a few.
He actually did have a plan, but when he rifled through the rest of the secret compartment, it turned out to be unnecessarily complicated. Michael had left all sorts of stuff for himself. Dean did look over his shoulder a couple of times, but hey, the guy had left it here. Unattended. Not coming back for it, no matter what the angels had talked themselves into believing.
The whispers were back, the rising sound of voices all around him, and it put him on edge as much as the obviously empty building. He ignored all of them except Cas, who said his name every few seconds but didn't seem to need anything more than an absent yeah or still here from Dean while he searched. He kept the sword, pocketed what looked like a journal, and spent longer than he should have staring at a disturbingly familiar bracelet.
There was only one charm on it he didn't recognize. It came off in his hand when he touched it: a tiny silver tree. If it was a protective symbol, he didn't know what for. He squeezed it between his thumb and forefinger experimentally, and the echoing dome disappeared.
Huh, he thought, suddenly staring at the actual tree. That was weird.
He could still hear the crush of voices in his head, but he couldn't smell the ocean anymore. He was gonna take that as a good sign. He must have missed Cas' last poke, because the guy got louder the longer he was quiet and Dean's hearing was about to be in danger again. Yeah, he thought deliberately. Still here.
But not where he'd been a few seconds ago. Now he was standing on the side of a very familiar road, staring at a tree Sam had drawn or doodled a hundred times. If he was still in heaven, then something had gotten seriously messed up.
Whether it was them or him was up in the air.
Dean, Cas thought, for like the twentieth time. It was like hunger gnawing at his side. It was an ache that wouldn't go away, pain and fear and loss and-–
Just come here already.
Dean was fumbling in his pockets before he realized he'd said that, he'd thought that, and Cas had heard it. He knew because it crushed him, the ache sharp and crippling when he couldn't obey. Except Dean thought maybe he could, and they were about to find out. Preferably without the rest of the angel network overhearing.
Second number on speed dial. It took half a ring for Cas to answer, and Dean managed to cut him off before he could do something stupid. "Don't say anything," Dean told him. "Just go to 1481 Edar Street in Lawrence, Kansas, and tell me what you see."
He didn't have to, because a second later, Dean was looking at him.
"Huh," Dean said, lowering his phone and trying not to grin like an idiot. "Cool."
Castiel stood there staring at him. His hair looked ridiculous and his coat was askew, like someone had grabbed for it and he hadn't even noticed them trying to pull it off. His pants were dusty, dirt ground into his knees, and Dean was going to kill someone. Right after he got past the grinning.
He was entitled, right? He'd totally just escaped from heaven. Not only had he not been brain-fried by Michael the no-show, he'd left Zachariah and Raphael holding the bag. They might not even know it yet, which was probably the funniest thing that had ever happened in heaven. He could laugh like a freakin' loon if he wanted to. He was justified.
Cas hadn't lowered his phone. "Dean?" he muttered, like he didn't want Dean to actually hear.
Dean raised his eyebrows at him.
Dean, he heard a second later. Are you still there?
Yeah, creepy thing number two hundred, confirmed. Cas' voice was clearer in his head since he'd picked up the sword, the words suddenly separate and distinct. Like the way his little outburst a couple nights ago had knocked Dean's glowy angel blinders lose, and suddenly he could see feathers and color where before there'd been just blurry light.
Standing right in front of you, he thought. Dude, I just escaped from heaven. I should get a prize.
"You have Michael's sword," Castiel said. He lowered his phone slowly, the movement jerky, and he didn't take his eyes off of Dean.
"Yeah," Dean said aloud. He shrugged. "Thought it might come in handy."
Castiel didn't answer.
Dean was all ready to ask him about the extra-disheveled look he had going on when Cas was just there, right in front of him, close enough to touch. But he didn't. "Dean Winchester," he said, and his voice sounded like... he didn't even know. "Swear to me that you are the entity talking to me right now."
He couldn't laugh. He did come within a breath of blurting out, seriously? because wow, Zachariah and Raphael had been way more convincing than he'd thought. He didn't, though, because Cas looked like he was about to come apart and hysterical angels definitely fell into the category of "do not want."
"Told you Michael was a fairy tale," he said instead, giving Cas his best half-smile.
Blue eyes stared back at him for a long moment. Then there was a hand, briefly warm, laid against his cheek. "I would appreciate it," Castiel said quietly, "if you would stop testing this theory of yours. I would consider it a personal favor," he added, in case that wasn't clear enough.
"You got it," Dean said. Because he would have promised Cas pretty much anything right then. "Who do I mess up for making you look like this?"
Castiel tilted his head. Like he wouldn't mind an explanation, but he didn't really care enough to ask.
"Your clothes," Dean said. "You look like you've been talking to the ground."
Not so much as a blink. "I find I'm not at my most rational when you're missing," Castiel replied.
Dean raised an eyebrow. "You're still dirty," he said. "And that wasn't an answer."
"I was distracted," Castiel said.
"That wasn't an answer either," Dean said.
Cas was almost smiling, the corners of his mouth quirking upward and his hand still warm on Dean's face. "That one was, actually. I was distracted: therefore, I'm dirty."
"Lazy angel," Dean said. He couldn't help that it came out more fond than frustrated.
"Dean." Castiel looked more curious this time, and Dean could only imagine what was going to come out of his mouth. "When you pressed me to pursue someone, I told you that I would ask for your input at a later time."
He hesitated, and it was Dean who frowned. Okay. That hadn't been any of the things he'd imagined.
"Yeah," he said warily. "I guess."
"I'm asking for it now," Cas told him.
He wanted to know how Dean felt about someone he was thinking about chasing, and Dean could only think of one reason he'd be asking now. "Why?" he blurted out. He'd never had the best imagination, after all.
The look he got was not sympathetic. It was borderline reproachful. "I think you know why."
The implication that Cas knew--that he'd always known, and it was totally out of Dean's control--made him about as likely to tell the truth as he ever was. Which was to say, not very. He shook his head, pushing Cas' hand away without meaning to, but that was fair. That was right. He should have done it before.
He couldn't handle Cas, and it was better for both of them if he didn't try.
Those blue eyes fell for the first time, looking away. Releasing him. "You don't want me," Castiel said flatly.
"What?" Hearing him say it--hearing him just say it, like he said everything else--was too much like losing something he never knew he had. "No! I mean... no. That's not what I meant. I mean, yeah, obviously, you're--" He waved vaguely in Castiel's direction, but the words weren't there. "Who wouldn't?"
That gaze found his again, but Dean thought it was more out of curiosity than anything else. "This is considered a compliment," Castiel observed. "Is it not?"
"Oh, don't get all angel on me," Dean said, rolling his eyes. "You know it is."
The corner of his mouth quirked, but all Castiel said was, "If my form is pleasing, then it's me you don't like."
"I like you just fine," Dean told him. "It's not you."
"Then this conversation is over." Castiel's voice brooked no argument, but his fingers were gentle when he let them drift over Dean's cheek again. "I will assume I have permission to court you and act accordingly."
"Whoa, wait." Dean tried to raise his hands without shoving Cas away again, because clearly that hadn't gone according to plan. "This isn't a chick flick. No one's courting anyone."
"Agreed," Cas said serenely. "Except I, who am currently courting you."
"You can't just decide that," Dean protested. "You can't just put it all on me, just like that!"
"To be human is to have free will," Castiel reminded him. "You may make your choice without interference from me."
"It's not interference when you're talking about--" Dean broke off as the magnitude of the situation totally failed to register. Cas had just come out and said it and the conversation went on like it was nothing. Like this was a perfectly reasonable thing to be discussing. "Why are we talking about this? You're a freakin' angel!"
"And you're human," Castiel replied. "I am no more worthy than you."
"You're a guy," Dean countered.
Castiel raised an eyebrow. "I am not."
"Well, you look like one," Dean grumbled.
"You are not incapable," Castiel said. "These are foolish arguments, Dean. Say what you're really thinking."
"The reading my mind thing is really annoying," Dean said, frowning at him.
"You're afraid you can't love anyone but Sam," Castiel said.
Dean snorted, looking past him at the house two other kids called home now. "Have you seen Sam? Me loving someone doesn't go well for them, Cas. You should be glad to stay out of it."
"As you may make your choice," Castiel said, "I have made mine."
"Well, great," Dean said, and he wanted it to be more vehement but he couldn't make his voice sound anything but tired. "You're exhibit B, then. Look what helping me has done to you."
"It's changed me," Castiel said. He didn't seem worried about it. "I can think for myself now, Dean. I care about what happens to this world. None of that's going to be different because you say no."
Dean stared over his shoulder, wondering if there was some kind of rehab for people who fell for angels from heaven. "I didn't say no," he muttered.
Castiel just watched him. Like that was new. Dean had thought--well, if he'd thought about it, which he hadn't... he'd figured Cas would be different. If he ever--if they--if anything ever happened, he'd figured it would be when Cas felt less angelic. Dean would probably be drunk, and Cas would have one of his temper tantrums: he'd swear unexpectedly, or laugh, and for a second Dean would forget he wasn't human.
He couldn't forget now.
"They're becoming more insistent," Castiel said quietly.
Dean's eyes went to him involuntarily. "What?"
"The others." Cas' gaze didn't waver, but he looked uncertain as he searched Dean's face. "You can still hear them?"
"The crazy angels in my head?" Dean shook his head. "Not listening. Do I want to know?"
Castiel tilted his head. "You're... not listening," he repeated, as though the concept was difficult for him somehow.
"They're annoying," Dean told him, relieved to have something he could safely complain about. "They're not talking to me anyway."
He adjusted his grip on the sword, and yeah, Cas was right. They weren't whispers anymore: when he paid attention, the voices were loud and talking over each other in a way that could give him a headache really fast. Seriously, he thought, don't you guys ever take turns?
The glow around Cas rippled, his equivalent of a gasp, and Dean would have been more psyched about surprising him if the crowd noise hadn't gone crazy. It was like focusing on it cranked the volume or something, and they were all saying the same thing: Michael. Michael this, Michael that. Michael-I-want-your-attention, Michael-I-have-something-to-say, Michael-we've-been-waiting...
"Demanding, aren't they," he said aloud. "What do I tell 'em? Sorry, false alarm? Michael's still MIA?"
"Perhaps--" Castiel's light had settled, and his expression was hard to read. "The less said, the better."
Maybe it was the part of him that had been leaking through before, or maybe he just knew Cas that well, but Dean got it immediately. "You're kidding," he said, already weighing the odds that it could last more than two seconds. "You want me to lie to angels?"
"They've lied to you enough," Castiel replied.
Dean smirked at that, because he'd totally gotten the sneaky angel. "Payback's a bitch, huh?"
Castiel came very close to smiling.
"Hey, I'm game if you are," Dean said. "They're gonna know, though. I mean, I still sound like me. I can't do that angel stuff you do."
"You can hear the host," Castiel pointed out. "And you did escape from heaven." He frowned suddenly, as though it had just occurred to him. "How did you do that?"
Dean shrugged, since it wasn't like he knew. "One of Michael's tricks, I guess." He fished the bracelet out of his pocket, and it clinked against his phone as he freed it. The tree charm was still loose. "Recognize this?"
Castiel stared at it. "Your mother's bracelet."
"Yeah. Not this one, though." Dean let the bracelet slide, holding the tree up higher. "This is new."
Castiel's gaze went from the little silver charm to the tree beside them.
"Yeah," Dean said. "That's what I thought, too."
"May I?" Castiel asked, glancing back at him.
Dean held it out without a word.
The moment Cas touched it, he disappeared. Dean raised an eyebrow, but before he could even guess, Castiel was standing in front of him again. His gaze came back from somewhere far away when he looked at Dean, and his eyes were very blue. Heaven blue.
"This got you out of heaven," Castiel said.
"I guess," Dean said. "Where'd it send you?"
Castiel just looked at him, and Dean knew.
"It sent you back," he said.
Castiel nodded. He held up the little charm as if to give it back, but his gaze was on it now and the reluctance was unmistakable. He'd only been gone a couple of seconds. Dean wondered how long that had been in heaven: Castiel standing there, weighing wherever he'd found himself against the place he'd left.
"Keep it," Dean said, looking away. "What do I need it for, anyway."
"Michael left it for you," Castiel said.
He snorted. "Dude, the only thing Michael left for me was a messy apocalypse and a bunch of lost angels. If the last couple years are anything to go by, I probably don't want to know what he was doing with Mom's bracelet, but I'm keeping it. The tree thing's yours. I'm sure he'll be back for the rest of his stuff as soon as he gets his head out of the sand and notices what's going on."
"I am less sure," Castiel said carefully. He pocketed the tree charm, though. "Michael passed up two opportunities to find you today alone."
"You think he's messing with me?" Dean wouldn't put it past any of them.
"I think there is a plan," Castiel said, "and it is likely more complicated than we realize."
"You have no idea," Dean translated. He was getting good at Cas-speak.
"I don't," Castiel agreed.
Dean felt his mouth curling upward at the corners, and he didn't do anything to stop it. "So you figure if I don't say anything, maybe they'll leave us alone for a while?"
"I doubt that being left alone is a likely result of anything that may happen," Castiel said. "You do, however, have a significant number of angels waiting for orders. If you were to give them, with the expectation that they would be followed, you might affect the outcome of this... standoff."
"You want me to tell them what to do." It wasn't that he didn't like the idea. He'd been trying to do it all along; it was just that no one had been listening. "I'm still me, Cas. I still sound like me."
"Maybe Michael sounds like you," Castiel said. "Or maybe he would sound like you if you allowed him to take you; I don't know. All I know is that since you joined the choir, 'Dean' isn't the name they're using."
"Well, Dean's who they're getting," he said. "You think I can get them to stay away from the Roadhouse, at least?"
"I think that's the least of what they will do for you," Castiel said quietly. "You're aware that Raphael has returned there."
"What, now?" Dean listened, but he couldn't pick out anything that sounded like the Ninja Turtle angel in his head. Not that he wanted to. "How do you know?"
"Anna just told me." Cas looked... annoyed? "She believes I will want to protect the Harvelles in your absence."
Dean felt himself frowning in return. "That's nice," he muttered, studying Cas' expression. "I guess."
"Not really," Castiel said. "Gabriel could hold Raphael off, and Anael knows it. She's calling in the rest of fallen to emphasize her tactical advantage."
"Well, that's a really stupid idea," Dean blurted out.
Castiel just returned the look, and Dean shook his head. "Let's go. I have a few things to say to her."
To his surprise, Cas didn't reach for him. He circled instead, coming to stand at Dean's shoulder, and Dean gave him a weird look even as he felt a hand rest gently against his back. It used to be instantaneous. Now he could feel those wings burst open behind him, the rush of air, even the way the world tilted and the light changed as they ended up facing the Roadhouse.
It occurred to him that his hair might be as messy as Castiel's if he traveled that way all the time.
Hey, he realized then, looking up. The dragon was back.
"Michael." Raphael's voice rang out, but Dean figured he could wait. Dragons were way cooler than archangels.
Looking around, Dean counted too many angels before he gave up. He could see all their wings. More than half of them were blurry and insubstantial, though, and the sharp silvery feathers of Cas and his friends stood out in sharp contrast. He didn't count Ellen anywhere in the crowd, and he wondered if that was a good thing.
Ellen is inside, Castiel whispered. Except he didn't move, and Dean didn't bother turning toward him. It wasn't his vessel's voice in Dean's head. Or his--whatever he was using instead of a vessel. As safe as any of us, right now.
Dean didn't relax, but at least they wouldn't catch humans in the crossfire. Not directly, anyway.
"Raphael," he said at last, turning to look at him. He was really tempted to add, you little bitch, mostly on Castiel's behalf, but Cas had been the one to advise saying less instead of more. Keeping his mouth shut wasn't Dean's strong suit.
"You are cut off from the host." Raphael's voice was more impressive than he remembered, and he finally got that the guy wasn't actually talking. Out loud, maybe, but not in English.
Good thing he wasn't trying to hide his ability to hear angel voices anymore.
"No," Dean said, not looking away. That was a thing angels did, the staring thing. He totally had that covered. "I'm not."
Deliberately, he thought, I'm not cut off from anyone who follows the last order. He tried to make it as clear as he could. Not that he had a lot of practice, but he thought he'd gotten the hang of paying attention to them when he wanted to be in the loop.
At his shoulder, he felt Cas straighten, so he figured at least one of them had heard him.
Raphael looked away first, staring around at the assembled angels. Dean could see movement. He didn't know what it was--he was counting on Cas to tell him if he needed to duck--until he saw the angel directly behind Raphael kneel. It was just weird enough to make him glance around, too.
They were all doing it. Every last angel gathered at the Roadhouse, with the exception of the one at his shoulder and the archangel directly in front of him. Everyone was either down on one knee or sinking to it as he watched. Facing him. Not looking at him, because their heads were bowed, even Anna's, even Gabriel's... but it was very clear that they were kneeling for him.
Or rather, they were kneeling for Michael.
When Dean looked back at Raphael, the archangel had lowered his eyes and his knees were following them to the ground. "Brother," he said hollowly. "I pray that you may forgive my insolence."
Dean gave Castiel a look that was supposed to mean, Dude, they're your family. What now?
Unfortunately, the expression he got in return was wide-eyed and unhelpful and would have been hilarious under any other circumstances. Which meant it was up to Dean, and he'd never been good at not taunting angels. "Giving up pretty easy, aren't you?" he said. "Shouldn't you have faith or something?"
Raphael's head jerked up, and Dean figured that was it. Game over.
Except that his expression wasn't suspicious. It looked...
"Yes," Raphael said after a long moment. He was staring at Dean like there really was an archangel inside him. One higher up the chain of command than Raphael. "I should."
"Great," Dean grumbled, frowning. "Work on that."
He tried to catch Cas' eye again, but Castiel was looking away. At the ground. The way he shifted was all the warning Dean needed. He reached out and grabbed a shoulder before Cas could kneel, keeping him from joining the rest of them.
"No way," Dean said under his breath. "You died for me, remember? You get a pass."
He didn't think that talking quietly would keep anyone from overhearing--they were angels--but it unnerved him to look around and see Gabriel staring straight at him. Gabriel actually mouthed something at him. Maybe it was because he'd been expecting it, but the word was very clear: Dean?
Dean exchanged glances with Castiel. When he looked back, though, Gabriel had his eyes on the ground again. The smile on his face was unmistakable, but he didn't say anything. Dean wondered how many seconds that would last.
"Okay," he said. Just filling the silence until Gabriel did, because he didn't really want to find out how long angels could kneel. "Pray time's over, guys. Get back to work.
"Except Gabriel," he added. Because he could. "If we're gonna station someone on Earth full-time, we're gonna do it here. You're in charge of making it work."
With a flutter of wings, everyone was on their feet again. Dean was pretty sure that this time, it really didn't have anything to do with him. But Gabriel was glaring at him, so ignoring him in return was not an option.
"I don't want to be in charge," Gabriel said dangerously. "Michael."
Dean smirked at him. Time to put up or pay up. "Tough luck, Gabe. You haven't exactly been knocking yourself out to fight the good fight lately. A little community service will do you good."
Gabriel opened his mouth, and now the game was over. He wouldn't let something like that go. Right?
"Brother." A new voice interrupted, and it took him a moment to recognize the speaker as Jophiel. She looked different in daylight. "Sachiel and I would volunteer our service to the Roadhouse garrison as well."
"Yeah, okay." He didn't think about it, just let the cute girls with the silver wings and the swords they'd given to Dean, not Michael, agree to be his guards. "Anyone else?" How many did they need for a garrison, anyway? He would have asked Cas, except it sounded like something Michael would know.
In retrospect, he should have expected all of them to step forward.
"Whatever," Dean said, giving up. "Cas, sort it out. Me and Raphael, we need to chat." When Raphael's wings stretched, ghostly and grey, up out of his body, he added quickly, "Vessel to vessel."
Raphael nodded once, wings folding in on themselves abruptly. Dean could feel Gabriel's hard stare. "Way I see it," Dean said, because he was going to ignore the trickster until he couldn't anymore, "we're not the ones cut off from the host. You are. You can continue down your little path to disobedience--and believe me, I get disobedience--but no more dragging everyone else with you. No more making up orders and telling everyone it's God's will. You get a choice, they get a choice."
"There is no choice," Raphael growled. He was still using his vessel's voice, at least.
"There's always a choice," Dean told him. "Choosing not to choose, that's a choice. Following orders only gets you to the next order. And if you're going to destroy the whole world, I think you could at least do us the courtesy of admitting it wasn't anyone's plan but your own."
"Our father has a plan," Raphael said. It was for the audience only, and it rang hollow.
"And you don't know what it is any better than the rest of us," Dean said. "So quit screwing around."
Raphael gaped at him, which was strangely satisfying.
He was so gonna die.
"What part of creation wasn't clear?" Dean asked, because he might as well get it all out. Sam had ranted about it often enough. "The part where it was created, or the part where it was supposed to stay created? We've already got a heaven. Let earth do its thing."
"Lucifer's demons come from earth," Raphael said.
"Yeah, well, you come from heaven," Dean snapped. "And let me tell you, I've been tempted, but I haven't written it off yet."
He very carefully didn't look at Castiel when he said it.
Raphael was staring enough for both of them. "What would you have me do?"
"I'm sure it'll come to you if you think hard enough," Dean told him. "Oh, and tell Zachariah to stop pissing me off, would you? The guy's been on my bad list forever."
When Raphael just kept staring, Dean made a shooing motion with his hand. "Bye now."
He was already turning back to Cas, so he only saw Raphael disappear out of the corner of his eye. It was hard to say which of them was more surprised. The look Cas was giving him was borderline worshipful, which--well, it wouldn't be the first time. But it used to freak him out more. Maybe it would have freaked him out this time, too, if he'd been able to say with any certainty what his own expression was doing.
Cas was glowing and warm and very close. Like, angel close. Dean had just faced down Raphael and they were both alive to tell the tale. The Roadhouse was still standing, Dean's adopted family was still breathing, and Castiel's family hadn't even tried to kill him today. Things were about as good as they got.
"So do I take attendance, or what?" Gabriel sounded bored. He also sounded like he was still there, which was all it took to irritate Dean right now.
"You're a big boy," Dean said without taking his eyes off of Cas. "Don't they teach you how to run a garrison in archangel school?"
"I was absent that day," Gabriel said blandly. "Maybe I could borrow your notes."
Dean finally glared at him, because there were a lot fewer angels here than there had been a few minutes ago, but Cas would have to get them both out of here fast if this went bad. "I'm not playing your stupid game," he snapped. "I know you know."
"Are you kidding?" Gabriel's smug expression turned almost gleeful as he grinned. "You're hilarious. No one's owned Raphael like that for a long time. I don't know anything."
So, until he got bored, Dean figured. He didn't like the idea of Gabriel helping them, but it was better than having him against them. Probably.
When he glanced around at the other angels--the ones Cas had picked--he found no Anna and a bunch of silvery glowing wings. He looked again, but yeah: every single set of wings looked strong and solid to his eyes, traced with lines of light that he figured would show individual feather shapes up close. "You picked people who swore to me," he blurted out.
"To you," Castiel agreed. "Yes. If they are to be your army, you should at least be able to trust them."
"My army," Dean repeated blankly.
"We no longer belong to heaven," Castiel said. "Perhaps we must accept a new home. A new allegiance. On earth."
"You all know," Dean said. He didn't look at them, didn't raise his voice--didn't do anything but stand there and watch Cas.
"That you're Dean Winchester?" Castiel smiled. It was simple and unexpected and Dean almost didn't hear what he said next. "Who do you think we gave our loyalty to?"
He should look at them. He should at least glance around, count them, maybe. Commit their faces to memory. But that smile was rarer than a loyal angel, and he couldn't look away.
"Oh, for crying out loud," Gabriel said, and the eye-roll was like a permanent part of his voice. "Just kiss already."
Dean gave him the finger without even glancing in his direction. "Can you take us back to Sam?" he asked.
Castiel gazed back at him. "Only if he is where we left him."
"Good," Dean said, even though he figured Sam was long gone. It would give them a place to start. And it would get them away from all these eyes. Sure, Cas vouched for them, but that didn't mean Dean wanted all of them to have his phone number. "Let's go."
Then he added, "Sorry to run," louder, just in case it wasn't clear that he was talking to them now. "Got another brother to annoy."
Castiel didn't slip around behind him this time. As his wings broke free, though, they arched forward and enveloped Dean. Not touching. Hiding. Shielding both of them from view as Cas leaned in and let his forehead rest against Dean's.
Then the Roadhouse was gone, and it was just him and Cas and the wind.
When his wings withdrew, they were standing in the middle of the desert. The sun was warm and the breeze that lingered around them was mild. There was just one problem: the desert was empty. The only buildings in sight were crumbling stone and clay. If there was anyone else here, they were either invisible or very, very small.
"Cas?" Dean eyed their surroundings warily. "Something wrong with your internal GPS?"
Castiel was looking only at him when Dean finally caught his eye. "We need to talk."
This was how it started, Dean thought. First they died for you, then they thought they could nag you about your feelings every five minutes. "What we need to do is find Sam," he said. "Where are we, anyway?"
"Mesa Verde," Castiel said. "Tell me you have this under control."
Dean frowned. That wasn't exactly what he'd expected. "Uh. Have what under control?"
Cas made a frustrated gesture, and Dean found himself staring: his wing twitched when he waved his hand, a half-shrug that would be invisible to anyone else. Anyone who couldn't see what he really was. "Whatever it is you're doing," he said.
Dean snorted, because that was the funniest thing he'd heard since--well. It had been a pretty funny afternoon, all things considered. "Cas, I have no idea what I'm doing."
"That's strangely reassuring," Castiel said, staring back at him.
This is cool, though. Dean willed the thought in his direction, still not sure whether the sudden telepathy should creep him out or really creep him out. He was withholding judgment, but he figured he might as well make the most of it in the meantime.
If it kept making Cas close his eyes and tip his head back like he was feeling the sun on his face, he could withhold judgment for a long time.
"As pleasant as that is to hear," Castiel said, and his voice was rough and distant when Dean had been expecting--maybe hoping--to hear the reply in his head. "You should probably refrain from doing it."
"Why?" Dean was thinking more, not less. Creepy, yeah, but it was clear that Cas liked it. Which made sense, right? If he was used to hearing constant conversation in his head--which Dean actually thought explained a lot about his attitude--then any voice that made the quiet a little less obvious had to be good.
"Because you're not praying anymore," Castiel said. "Anyone who's listening hears everything you say."
"Yeah?" Dean wasn't really sure where to start with that. "They can hear me talking to you?"
"They can hear you talking," Castiel said. "Whether they realize it's to me or not is open to question."
Dean frowned at him. "They don't hear you?"
"When it comes to keeping things from the host," Castiel said evenly, "I've had an unfortunate amount of practice." He hadn't flinched, but his wings were tight against his shoulders and Dean was starting to get how hard it was to read an angel's body language through their vessel.
"But not here, right?" he blurted out. "That's why you come here. They can't hear anyone here."
Cas had never actually told him that. Dean had had to guess from what he didn't say.
"No," Castiel agreed, giving him a sideways look that was kind of epic in its flirtiness. And really, Dean had never imagined a day when he would use the word "flirty" to describe Cas. "They can't."
"So teach me," Dean said. "Here." He tried to ignore the part of his brain that said he sucked at charming angels, because hello, like he'd ever tried. He'd warm up to it as he went. "Show me how to think private things at you."
"How to think things at me privately," Cas corrected, but his expression was almost a smile.
Dean only shrugged. "I said what I meant."
"Indeed." Castiel didn't look any less amused, but all he said was, "Try thinking something, then."
He smirked, because that was just asking for it. I'm not sure we should open the floor to any random thought that crosses my mind, Cas.
"Not private," Castiel said. "Try again."
Cas made a disturbing and luckily infrequent habit of reading his mind, but thinking something and having him answer like it was a conversation took them to a whole new realm of weird. It was also potentially disastrous, and Dean didn't think the risk should only be on his side. What, you're not going to think back at me?
"Still not private," Castiel said. Before Dean could complain, he added, "Perhaps if you were to stand closer, you might get over the urge to shout everything for the world to hear."
Jerk, Dean thought reflexively.
And Castiel smiled. An actual smile, one that looked surprisingly at home on his face. I do appreciate your honesty, Dean.
The feeling of the words in his head was warm, which he didn't understand since everything else about angels seemed to be freakishly cold. And he could see those wings over Castiel's shoulders, bright and huge and maybe even a little scruffy. The way he liked them.
I'll show you honesty, Dean thought, taking a step toward him. God would strike me down for the things I think about you sometimes.
Castiel didn't wince, and his smile didn't fade. Our father is very forgiving, Dean.
Right. There was a question. One he didn't want to admit he wondered about. So all that anti-gay stuff is BS, right?
Yes. Cas didn't hesitate. He also didn't laugh, or roll his eyes, or move at all, so Dean took another step.
Castiel's wings shifted--just his wings, just the light at his shoulders spilling forward... cloaking him. Leaning, maybe. Toward Dean. Nothing else about him changed, and it finally clicked.
You're not so unreadable, he thought. He didn't really mean to have the revelation out loud, so to speak, but the words formed themselves there in his mind and it wasn't like he had a choice. We just can't see all of you there is to read.
He couldn't tell if it was easier to understand someone like this or if he was that predictable. Either way, Cas seemed to get it. I find it difficult to express myself in human form, he replied.
Which made Dean want to reach out and comb his fingers through those misbehaving feathers, because if that was how Cas expressed himself then it should be awesome, right? He was an angel. Of the lord, as Castiel would remind him. Like there were so many other angels running around who weren't the "of the lord" variety--
Except that there kind of were. He had a hand on Cas' shoulder, an intermediate step on the way to his wings, and he could feel the cool electric shiver when one of them brushed against his skin. There were angels who weren't following God's plan--probably, if anyone knew what it was--and what if Cas insisted on adding "of the lord" because he was? Or he tried to be? Or it was just that important to him, to remember that... to remember?
The feather just above his thumb was out of place. Dean tried not to reach for it, tried to keep his hand where it was, and he just couldn't do it. I'm OCD about your wings, man.
Castiel's amusement was quiet and small against the backdrop of his own light. His true form. Or however much of it Dean was seeing, which apparently was enough. Your behavior is normal, he said.
Dean snorted, but the feathers were warming under his touch and he couldn't let go. The leading edge of a wing that could knock him down was gentle under his hand, and he couldn't resist running his fingers over it, searching for more crooked feathers. Trust me, he thought, staring at his hand. It's not.
For an angel, Cas thought, it would be.
The words were warm and seductive and Dean closed his eyes, trying not to think. Typical angel. He didn't even know what that meant, and he was afraid to ask. He was afraid to ask even the thing he knew he had to, because it might sound too much like--he had to stop thinking.
"Hey," he said aloud, and he wanted it to sound light. Easy. It didn't at all. It was rough and forced and he still couldn't bring himself to ask the question. "Why does... Jophiel," he mumbled, opening his eyes. "Her wings are nice?"
So not what he meant to say.
Dean felt the wing under his hand slip away, and if he hadn't known what that expression meant before he'd know now: hurt, offended, Cas had been vulnerable and Dean had just blundered in. Like he did.
"Yes," Castiel said. "I suppose they are."
"Why?" Dean asked, because he didn't know how to apologize. He didn't even know where to start. "She's fallen, right? Why are her wings so neat looking?"
Castiel's expression did something weird. His wings were silent as they slid back over his shoulders, and Dean made an aborted grab for the one he'd been patting before he realized what he was doing. He couldn't just grab an angel's wing. Geez. What was wrong with him?
"She and Sachiel fell together," Castiel said. "Helping me. So they have remained ever since."
Yeah. That was what he was afraid of. Or hoping for. Or--
"Helping you?" Dean repeated.
"I didn't ask them to," Castiel said. "I shouldn't have put them in that position to begin with."
We've talked about this, Cas. He couldn't not do it, not when Castiel was looking like that and Dean thought that maybe this comfort was all he had to give. Letting people make their own choices.
They should be in heaven still, Cas said. The soft breathtaking sadness of it made Dean swallow.
So should you, he thought. If they're your fault, then you're mine.
Castiel just stared at him for a long moment.
"They fix each other's wings," Dean said, loud and strange in the quiet desert. "So if you were hanging out with another angel all the time, your wings would be all... smooth. Or whatever."
Castiel blinked, and it was like the light resettling. He caught up with the conversation between one heartbeat and the next. "Michael is an archangel, Dean." He sounded as calm and unconcerned as ever. "No one will think it strange that he chooses not to groom me."
"Well, I'm not Michael," Dean muttered, wondering what the word "groom" sounded like in Angel. Was it as loaded a word as "hunted" had turned out to be? "The wing thing is distracting, okay? Let me fix them." He tried to smile, because it hadn't come out any better for having the rest of the conversation first. "I promise not to braid your hair."
It was easier than he'd expected. "My wings are," Castiel said quietly, "and always have been, yours." Without so much as flinching, or saying it out loud, he managed to remind Dean of his promise to court. "You may do with them as you will."
"Dude," Dean blurted out. "Don't say things like that."
Castiel, against all expectation, simply smiled at him. "I would enjoy it, then. I would find it pleasant?"
"That's right you will." Dean couldn't decide whether he should act like it was nothing, pretend it was something else, or admit that all he really wanted was to have his way with Cas' wings. "I give awesome massages."
"While I do not doubt that this is true," Castiel began, eyeing him curiously again. "I'm not sure how much you'll be able to affect me in this form."
Dean stared at him. "You eat," he said. "You fight. You run. All in that form."
"I was referring to my wings," Castiel said. "You may be able to see them, but I was surprised when you got hold of Gabriel's the other day. I assumed that the only reason you could feel mine was our presence in heaven--though the past few minutes would seem to indicate otherwise."
Dean narrowed his eyes. "Did you just dare me to touch your wings?" he asked, sliding his hand over Cas' shoulder and stepping into it so he could reach. The light pooled on his hand, enveloping his fingers. He could feel feathery softness again, more warm than cool this time, and he could see the lines of them up close. He pushed, and they parted under his hand until he met resistance: skin covering what had to be muscle and bone, except it was so light--
It was definitely there. It felt unreal. It felt unnatural, but he guessed maybe it was. The gentle wisps of feather that he'd been straightening out, the subtle disarray of larger, more purposeful pinions--all unnatural, all crazy, all covering something that was just as bizarre. Actual wings. Limbs that Castiel could shift at will, like arms or legs.
I don't look like a human with wings, Cas had said.
He felt like a human with wings. He also felt really ridiculously close, and Dean noticed all at once. He was as far into Castiel's personal space as he could be without actually putting his arms around him--and he was getting there with the reaching over his shoulder thing. When he tried to catch Cas' eye, instinctive and uncomfortable, he found he was too close to do it without risking contact. The only reason they hadn't bumped into each other yet was Cas: Cas was being careful, Cas was letting him touch, Cas was respecting whatever distance he maintained.
Which wasn't much. Barely enough to breathe in. Dean turned his head, totally not freaking out.
"We gotta find Sam," he muttered.
Okay, so he was kind of freaking out. Not human, he reminded himself. Redefines awkward, doesn't care if you're not smooth. Which was good, because he had no idea what he was doing.
"All right," Castiel said quietly. Like he was trying not to scare him.
Dean huffed out a laugh, but it turned out that he had no way to explain it so he just stepped back. Letting go. Cas had stayed with him this long. He wasn't going to ditch him just because he had no idea what to say. Fumbling for his phone, Dean almost dropped it when he felt Castiel's hand on his own.
Not the one that had been buried in his feathers. The one that was still holding Michael's sword.
"Can you make this disappear?" Castiel asked.
Dean looked at him. It was so far from what he was expecting that it took him too long to grasp the question. Longer to come up with a reply that was remotely relevant. "Why would I be able to do that?"
"Because Michael could," Cas said simply.
Dean frowned. "Still not Michael," he said. "I'll carry it. Once we catch up with Sam," he added, "we've got stuff in the car. No problem."
"Until then," Castiel insisted. "It's very conspicuous, Dean."
"Look, what do you want me to do?" Dean glared at him, because he knew how to do that. "It's a sword. I'm human. I can't magically make it invisible."
"I could carry it," Castiel said. He sounded careful.
"Sure, fine, whatever." Dean twisted his hand on the hilt and offered it to him. "Thanks," he added belatedly, when Castiel just looked at him.
The corner of Cas' mouth quirked, but it wasn't a real smile. Dean felt kind of disappointed. He didn't know when he'd gotten so greedy... except, yeah. He totally knew.
"What?" he asked, because Cas could read his mind if he really tried--or even if he didn't really try--and Dean wasn't ready to talk about this. Apparently. Like he wasn't trying. "What are you giving me that look for?"
"I'm smiling because I find you refreshingly predictable," Castiel said. "And that is unexpected to me."
Dean stared at him. "Okay, Ricky Martin," he said at last, shaking his head. "You want the sword, or not?"
Castiel took the blade from him and studied it for a moment. When he lifted his head, it was gone. "Does your cell phone work here?" he asked, as though he already knew the answer.
Dean thought he knew the answer, too, right up until he looked at the display and saw four bars. "Yeah," he said, flipping it open. "What do you know."
"I can't find Sam," Castiel said, while Dean didn't listen to the phone ring. "I could take us to Jo, however. We should probably do something about that if she is to travel with you much longer."
Jo? Didn't she wear a--
She did, Dean realized, but her protective charm was designed to ward off demons. Not angels. Things had changed a lot in the last year and a half, and he really needed to get better at thinking of heaven's soldiers as the bad guys. Most of them, anyway.
"Is that how Gabriel found us?" he demanded, just as Sam picked up.
"Huh?" Sam's voice said over the phone.
"Or he followed me," Castiel said. "I'm afraid I may be more of a liability to you than I realized."
"Not you," Dean told the phone. "Cas is just telling me who heaven can track and who they can't. Jo and Ruby are gonna need hex bags."
"Way ahead of you," Sam's voice replied. "Ruby's already on it; three sets. We've got Sarah with us."
"Don't go anywhere," Dean said, frowning at Castiel as he shook his wings out. "Cas. Not you, Sam. Where are you, anyway?"
Cas gave him an innocent look that seemed to imply he was only stretching and hadn't given a single thought to leaving. He didn't say anything, though, and neither did Sam, and finally Dean got that they both thought he was talking to someone else. "Sam," he said irritably. Why would he need to ask where Cas was? "Where are you?"
"On the road," Sam replied. "Something's got Chuck spooked; just got a text message that involved the words 'fire' and 'exploding' and possibly 'Becky,' which if you think about it--"
"Sounds like a disaster that's already happened," Dean said.
"Yeah, well." Sam's tone said he more than agreed. "You sound remarkably alive. How's that going for you?"
"Funny story," Dean said, exchanging glances with Cas. "Don't believe anything anyone tells you, okay? We're gonna come find you."
There was a pause, during which Castiel tilted his head and Dean thought he could hear voices that weren't Sam above the background noise of the highway. "Jo says you suck," Sam told him after a moment. "Also, Ellen called her, and she wants to know why the Roadhouse is full of angels."
"Right," Dean said. "That. They're, uh... guarding it?" Putting a hand over the bottom of the phone, he frowned at Cas. "What does an angelic garrison do, exactly?"
"A what?" Sam asked in his ear.
"The angels of a garrison fortify, defend, and often launch offensives from such a location," Castiel replied.
"Uh, I might have accidentally turned the Roadhouse into a military base," Dean said, switching his phone to the other hand. "Tell Jo I'm sorry about that. On the plus side, anyone who's there should be really safe."
"Ellen says Gabriel is there," Sam said. "She says he's nice." He didn't add what the hell but even over the phone his tone did it for him.
"He's kind of in charge," Dean said. "It was the only way to keep him out of trouble."
"Oh, he's in charge," Sam said. "Of course. Because the trickster is exactly who I'd want guarding my home."
"Yeah, I know," Dean said. "I hear you. But he helped us before--"
"He helped Castiel," Sam interrupted. "He left you unconscious in the back of the car."
"Look, you were the one who said he'd be a good one to have on our side," Dean told him. "Helping Cas is helping us. And seriously, if he tries anything you know Ellen's gonna stake him before he can finish snapping his fingers."
"Which will do so much good against an archangel," Sam muttered.
"It's not like I trust him," Dean said. "But there's other angels there. They'll keep an eye on him."
"Since when do you trust angels?" Sam wanted to know. "What, did Cas vouch for them?"
"Yeah," Dean said. "He did."
There was quiet for a moment, and then Sam's voice shifted as he said, "Yeah. He says yeah. Okay," he added, and Dean figured Sam was talking to him again. "You want to meet us at Chuck's? Where did Raphael go, anyway? Ellen says you got rid of him and Zachariah, but none of the other angels seem to know where they are now."
"How long ago did you get the message from Chuck?" Dean asked.
"'Bout half an hour," Sam said. "We were already coming after you, but the extra time still won't get us there today unless we take turns."
"Hey," Dean said, catching Castiel's eye. "Chuck's in trouble. Can you take us there?"
"Yes." Castiel reached for him, and Dean ducked out from under his hand and batted it away.
"Not now, geez. Give me a second. Sam?" he added, letting his hand fall when Cas lowered his. "I dunno, I think Raphael was still with us then, but it's not like I was checking my watch. Maybe Chuck saw something. He's not answering his phone?"
"No, just the message," Sam said. "It went to voice mail as soon as I called back. Sarah's been texting him, but so far no answer."
"Sarah?" Dean repeated.
"Jo's too busy being mad at you," Sam told him. "And relaying news from Ellen, since apparently you had better things to do."
"Whatever," Dean said. "You wouldn't believe the new levels of weird we've reached here. The Gabriel thing is nothing, dude, you're gonna laugh your head off when you hear this."
"And you can't tell me over the phone," Sam said.
"Nope," Dean agreed. "I'll call you from Chuck's place."
"That's what you said about the Roadhouse," Sam reminded him. "Ellen says the angels are talking about Michael. But every time she asks them, they tell her not to worry. Guess what, Dean. She's worried."
"Don't believe anything they tell you," Dean said. "Seriously. It's all good."
"Why does it make me nervous when you say that?"
"'Cause you're a compulsive worrier?" Dean suggested. "Don't let Ruby drive. Call you later."
"Don't get killed," Sam said. "Or... angelified, or whatever."
"Yeah, back at you."
Snapping his phone shut, Dean said, "Chuck sent them a text message about things blowing up, and now no one can reach him. Sarah went with them, but they're not gonna make Kripke's Hollow before dark. I told Sam we'd find out what's wrong and let him know."
Castiel was staring at him, which Dean didn't get because he was pretty sure Cas could have overheard the entire conversation.
"Well?" Dean said. He'd said he'd take them. "Let's go."
"You told Sam you don't trust Gabriel," Castiel said. "Yet you told Gabriel that you do."
Dean rolled his eyes. "I trust Gabriel not to kill you," he said. "I don't trust him to do whatever I tell him to."
"Unless you're telling him not to kill me," Castiel said.
"Right," Dean said, frowning. "Wait, what? Why is this a thing?"
Castiel's hands were in his pockets, but one of his wings twitched a little until the edge of it peeked out from behind his arm. He glanced at it, and Dean knew that look. It was Cas looking off to the side, staring not quite at the ground, the way he did when he was waiting for something he didn't need to watch.
"No way," he blurted out. "You're looking at your wings when you do that?"
Castiel lifted his head a little to catch his eye. He didn't answer. He didn't really have to.
Dean couldn't keep himself from grinning. "Is that, like, an angel thing? You look at your wings instead of, I don't know, twiddling your thumbs?"
"Why didn't you want me to kneel?" Castiel asked. "In front of the other angels?" His wings resettled themselves behind him, as though he had straightened up without moving. "It would have been plausible. I would have knelt for Michael."
"I'm not Michael," Dean said, his smile fading. "You don't have to kneel for me, Cas."
"I would," Castiel said, his gaze steady and serious. "If you asked."
"Well, you shouldn't." Dean frowned at him. "I thought we talked about this."
"Would you?" Castiel asked. "For me?"
Why were they even having this conversation? "If you had a good reason," he muttered, shoving his hands into his pockets. He didn't realize he was mirroring Castiel's posture until after he'd done it, and then it was too late to change. "I guess."
"What if you didn't know how good my reason was?" Castiel sounded curious, and Dean hated games like this. Women always tried to do it too, if you spent more than a night with them: posing weird hypothetical scenarios with secret right and wrong answers. It was worse when Cas did it, somehow, because he never gave away the right answer afterward.
"Is there a point to this?" he demanded.
"Yes." Castiel tilted his head, but his wings didn't move and Dean couldn't read him any better than before. "The point is that you want us to be equals, and we are not. I am not concerned with equality. I respect you, and you respect me. If it serves the greater good for others to perceive me as subservient, I'm perfectly willing to kneel."
"No," Dean snapped. "You're not kneeling. End of discussion."
Like he really thought that would be the end of it.
"The symbolism troubles you," Castiel said.
"It matters," Dean growled. "People do stuff like that, they start to believe it."
"I see," Castiel said after a moment. "I understand," he added, when Dean just glared at him. "I will not kneel, then. If anyone asks, I will tell them that you asked me not to."
"Do that," Dean muttered. He was pretty sure they'd all heard him, anyway.
"Shall we go to Chuck now?" Castiel asked. Politely.
So politely that Dean gave him a suspicious look, but he figured he'd been a freak long enough and Cas should get to say something without Dean jumping down his throat. "Yeah," he said. "Let's find out what he's broken now."
Castiel reached out, and Dean was so distracted by the wings that he didn't realize Cas wasn't going for his forehead until he felt fingers brush against his cheek. He refocused, startled, but they were already in Chuck's kitchen and something was shattering. Something ceramic and small: Dean had a lot of experience with things breaking. He guessed a mug.
"Oh my god," a too-familiar voice said. A too-familiar female voice. "Oh my god! Oh m--am I not supposed to say that? Is it bad to say 'oh my god' around angels? I'd get Chuck but he's asleep and actually it's probably better if you talk to me first."
"Becky," Dean said. Not like he'd get another word in for two minutes.
Castiel had stepped to one side and was regarding her curiously. Dean figured he'd like Becky: someone who was as passionate as he was about the gospel, right? And Cas had weird taste. Maybe he'd think her creepy internet writing was cool. As long as he didn't tell Dean about it, Dean was prepared to never think about it again.
"You're Castiel, right? I have to tell you, I am such a fan! I admit that when Chuck first brought up the angels I was all like, they're the new big bad, which was totally cool but this is so much better! I support rebel angels one hundred percent. No, like, two hundred percent. Can I see your wings?"
Dean rolled his eyes. Becky was wearing jeans and a green flannel that fit too well to be Chuck's, but she was barefoot and that was definitely a mug she'd dropped on the floor of Chuck's kitchen. Something that looked like coffee was spreading steadily across the tiles. If she'd gotten here recently then she'd made herself at home pretty fast.
"I don't know," Castiel said, when Becky paused just long enough for him to reply. "Can you?"
Becky squinted at him, and yeah, making herself at home in other people's space was definitely something she did. But Dean had never seen Chuck's kitchen without any leftover food attracting flies or mold or whatever, so Becky had at least been here long enough to clean up. She was probably the only person who could talk fast enough to shut Chuck up, anyway.
"No?" she said at last. "I guess not? Wow, that's disappointing. But that means I'm not a vessel, right, so at least angels can't possess me. That's a good thing. Except I could still pretend they are, like Dean."
Okay, now he was listening. "Excuse me?"
"Here's the thing," Becky said. "Chuck's been writing, but he doesn't think it's prophecy because he doesn't get the headaches anymore and sometimes the visions change. He thinks you broke him. I think you woke him up; you know, got him past his prophet's block or something? But he doesn't listen to me, and he won't call you, and I'm pretty sure the archangel's going to be back any day now.
"Which would be fine," she continued, "except he freaks Chuck out and also, if half the stuff he's been writing about you and Michael is true, or any of it really, I don't think you want your angel friends reading the latest draft of 'Heaven on Earth.' Isn't that a great title? Chuck doesn't like it, but I think it's the best."
This was bad. This was very bad, and Dean didn't know how long Raphael had been running around loose but if he'd just been put in his place by an upstart human pretending to be an archangel, he'd have a few questions for the prophet. "We need to get out of here," Dean said.
"Well, duh!" Becky rolled her eyes. "That's kind of what I've been saying. For like, the last--"
"Where's Chuck?" he demanded, before she could get going again.
"Chuck!" she shouted. "Ride's here!"
There was a crash from upstairs--something bigger this time--and Dean was aware of Castiel watching him. "I shouldn't transport a prophet," he said. "That is an archangel's job."
"Will he know?" Dean asked.
"I could be construed as a threat," Castiel said, and Dean held up his hand.
"Okay, stop right there." He pulled out his phone, muttering, "We're not going there again."
"Bring your bag!" Becky was shouting from the door, and it was actually easier than Dean had expected to tune her out. "Mine too! The ones at the top of the stairs!"
"You're already packed," Castiel observed.
"I packed for both of us," Becky said. "Chuck's been wondering why he can't find his favorite shirt, but seriously, have you met him? It was for the best, I swear. You don't even want to know what he'd bring with him if you gave him the chance. Oh! Muffin!"
Dean ignored this the way he ignored everything else that came out of her mouth, but Castiel repeated, "Muffin?"
need help at kripkes hollow, Dean was typing. love michael.
He sent it to Anna's phone and frowned after Becky's retreating back. "Where's she going?"
"To get Muffin," Castiel said, like that explained everything.
Chuck half-fell into the kitchen at that point, looking rumpled and bleary and pretty much the same as always. "Hey, guys," he said, dropping one bag on the floor and letting the other bang against a kitchen chair. "What's going on?"
"Becky says you've seen the Michael thing," Dean said.
"Well, I came up with this hilarious and totally implausible way to win over the host," Chuck said, rubbing his eyes. "It involves you pretending to be Michael and Cas pretending to be your--" He stopped there, staring at them over his hand. "Wait. Tell me you didn't."
There was a knock at the front door, and Dean drew his gun as he pushed passed Chuck. "Suit up, Chuckles," he said. "We're going for a ride."
It was Anna on the other side of the door. She immediately looked past him to Chuck, who wasn't looking any more awake than he had before. "Is the prophet in danger?" She sounded a little off, but Dean didn't think anything of it until he'd waved Chuck forward--with his gun, because some people needed the reminder.
"Yeah," he said. "I need you to set him up at the Roadhouse for a while. You, me, Cas, and Gabe: we're the only ones who know who he is, got it?"
"Of course." She barely looked at him, and she didn't look at Chuck except to press her fingertips to his forehead. Dean didn't get it until after they were gone, and he rounded on Cas.
"You didn't tell her!"
Castiel only tilted his head. "I didn't tell Gabriel, either," he pointed out. "But he figured it out."
"She thinks she's being tested," Becky said, rejoining them with a giant tabby cat in her arms. "I read this part."
"Oh," Dean said, rolling his eyes at Cas. "She read this part. Great. That makes me feel so much better."
"Are all drafts of the most recent gospel in one of those bags?" Castiel asked. Leave it to him to be practical. About a gospel.
"Yup!" Becky said, brightly cheerful. "Got it all! And I found Muffin. Chuck left his bag, though; could one of you carry it? I know I can manage a bag and a cat, but I'm not so sure about two bags and a cat."
"Why do you have a cat?" Dean wasn't sure he wanted to know, and he was kind of busy typing out another text message, but any moment when he was talking was a moment Becky wasn't.
"Oh, it's Chuck's cat," she said confidently.
Dean paused long enough to shoot her a don't BS me look. "Chuck doesn't have a cat."
"Well, technically," Becky said, "she's a stray. But I've been feeding her, and she's really friendly, and we can't just leave her here! Where would she go for food? What if she missed us? What if she tried to cross the country looking for us, like those animals in 'The Journey Home'? That would be so sad!"
"She's not a stray," Dean said, still typing. "She's wearing a collar."
"Oh, I got that for her," Becky confessed. "I didn't want something else thinking our stray was their stray, you know?"
kh never mind, the text message to Sam said. meet you at ellens.
"Whatever," Dean said aloud. "Cas, can you get all of us?"
Aside from being vaguely offended by the question, Castiel got them just fine. They arrived only a few seconds after Chuck, but Anna was already gone. "Bad form to hang around another angel's garrison," Becky whispered to Dean, and he looked at her in surprise.
"What?" she asked, blinking innocently at him.
"How do you know this stuff?" He had to ask, even if he knew what she was going to say.
"I read the books," she chirped. "So. Where's Sam?"
"Driving," he said shortly. Which was true for the rest of the day, and he used it on at least a dozen people before they started to look at him strangely. It was late enough that he didn't really notice--apparently angel garrisons took a lot of work, he was supposed to know about all of it, and there was a limit to the number of times he could tell Cas to deal with things before he started to look like an abusive boyfriend.
Not that Cas was--he was just--
"You're still here," Dean blurted out, at a particularly confusing shade of two or three in the morning.
He didn't get to go anywhere with that, because that was when he realized that Sam was standing next to him. Huh. No wonder people didn't like the "driving" answer any more. "How long have you been there?" he asked.
"Dude," Sam said. "You need sleep."
"Back at you," Dean muttered.
"Me and Jo switched off," Sam said. "Could be worse."
"You let Jo drive?" He couldn't get as indignant about this as he knew he should be. Maybe he did need some sleep.
"You said no Ruby," Sam reminded him. "I figured that meant Jo was okay."
"Where is Ruby?" Dean squinted at him because the way this was going, she was standing right behind Sam and he just hadn't noticed. She didn't waver into view, though, and Sam shook his head.
"Sleeping," he said. "Jo's watching her. Can I bribe you with, I don't know, Cas, to get you to go upstairs and crash for a while? 'Cause you're not doing anyone any good down here."
He didn't actually remember the rest of the conversation, but he was pretty sure it had somehow led to him being in a dark room alone with Cas, which was... weird, actually. He meant to protest the annoying glowiness of the situation, but the words came out as an inarticulate mumble. Or Cas just ignored his perfectly understandable complaint, which was, if you asked him, equally likely.
Staring at him from somewhere on the bed--Dean thought he might be lying down--at least one thing was obvious. "Your wings," he muttered, trying to separate the words enough for a coherent protest. "No one's fixed 'em yet."
"I've been with you all day," Castiel said. He didn't sound accusing.
"Well, then, I'm a pretty sucky friend." Dean squinted at him, but it was dark and the glow didn't help him see Cas' expression at all. "C'mere."
Castiel didn't refuse, didn't even argue, and when he sat down on the edge of the bed Dean suddenly wondered if this was a dream. It would explain a lot. Like how Cas really had been around all day, and how he hadn't given Dean bad news for almost half an hour now, and how he was putting Dean to bed.
Dean was pretty sure he wouldn't feel this tired in a dream, though.
"Closer," he said, deciding to test his dream theory.
Castiel pulled his legs up on the bed and shuffled awkwardly closer. His wings did a funny thing where they were just... they were shifted in a weird way, and Dean's eyes couldn't handle it. Or maybe his brain was already asleep. The glow behind Cas was full of cold feathers and bright lines, but they didn't give or distort where the line of his body folded in half.
Dean shook his head, ignoring it as best he could. He struggled up, because there were only so many feathers he could reach lying down, and he was vaguely aware of Castiel straightening when he buried his hands in those pretty, pretty wings. Warm. They were warm and not electric at all, and softness pooled around his fingers like light. He was definitely dreaming.
He leaned forward: just enough to see one bright, shimmery feather up close. He only rested his head for a second. There was a brief moment of clarity when he felt his forehead pressed up against Cas' neck and he thought, best friend ever.
Then there was just warmth and relief and comfort.
And it was very warm.
His mouth was sticky and everything felt heavy. And warm. It was light, suddenly. He had no idea where he was or when. He went to push the warmth away, because they were obviously on the road, and this hotel had the thickest covers ever. Except that his hands were rough on something that felt fragile and feathery and he froze because he wasn't...
Dean twisted, uncomfortable under the weight of an angel wing that curved across his body like a blanket. All he saw was dark rumpled hair that vanished a second later when Castiel lifted his head and resettled it on the pillow next to him, looking perfectly awake. "Hello, Dean."
He managed a grunt that was supposed to mean, not gay enough for this, but ended up sounding more like, "You there all night?"
"Yes," Castiel said. He was still lying on his stomach, but he propped his head up on his arms when Dean just kept staring at him. He didn't move his wing. "It was restful."
"I'm not gay enough for this," Dean muttered, and this time it came out more like he meant it to.
"You were very tired," Castiel reminded him. "I thought it best that you not wake."
He didn't actually remember falling asleep, but he was pretty sure there weren't many scenarios that ended with Cas on top of him and still worried about waking him up. "I was dead to the world, Cas. A burning bush could have been on the bed with me and it wouldn't have woken me up."
"Did you have any nightmares?" Castiel asked.
Dean opened his mouth, then closed it again. "Oh," he said, frowning a little. "Thanks."
"You told me you would groom my wings," Castiel said. Pointedly.
Dean stared at him in surprise. "Yeah," he said after a moment. He gave it another second, staring at the light that was spread over his body like a blanket, then figured why not? He was here, Cas was here, and Dean didn't really feel like moving. He was allowed to lie around in bed for a while, right? What time was it?
His hands were gentler on the wing this time, and it still kind of surprised him that he could feel it. It looked real, but it glowed, and the fact that it felt like feathers over muscle and bone was still weird to him. He combed his fingers through them without thinking, looking away from Cas' half-closed eyes in search of a clock.
He found Sam, sprawled over the other bed and still wearing the same stuff he'd had on the day before. "Sam okay?" he murmured, instinctively lowering his voice.
"Yes," Castiel replied. "Just sleeping."
He sounded more relaxed than he had a moment before. Because Dean was right, it was totally like rubbing his back. Nice.
The feathers were slippery under his fingers, so he just ran his hand over them until he found a rough edge, ragged pinion or a fuzzy under-feather that stuck out where it wasn't supposed to. He stared at them as he straightened them out, but the glow didn't leave any impression on his eyes. When he blinked, or glanced away, there was no leftover retina burn to prove he'd been looking at the light.
"Thank you." Castiel's voice was a whisper, breath soft on the pillow beside him. When Dean looked at him, his eyes were closed and he looked about as blissful as Dean had ever seen him. In fact, "blissful" wasn't a word he'd ever associated with Cas. He wondered what it would have looked like if he could have seen Cas' expression when they were in heaven.
He swallowed, the sound loud in the quiet room. He wasn't just lying around in bed. He was in bed with Cas.
With Cas, who was still wearing the same clothes Jimmy Novak had walked out of the house in all those months ago. Or at least, a facsimile of those clothes. "Hey," Dean said, and he felt his voice this close to breaking. He swallowed again instead of clearing his throat. "How big a deal would it be for you to change your clothes?"
Castiel's eyes slitted, tiny slice of awareness peering out from under his eyelids. Tiny for an angel, anyway. It was probably more focus than Dean would ever have in his life.
"Is there something wrong with my attire?" he asked. He sounded more amused than surprised, though, and Dean thought Cas knew perfectly well that lying on someone else's bed with your shoes and coat on wasn't typical human behavior.
"Yeah," Dean said. He lifted his hand to the bend in Cas' wing, uncertain and careful and startled when the joint softened under his fingers. Skin slid over bone, liquid and strange as Castiel lifted his wing, stretching it out a little before letting the muscles relax again. The feathers felt looser, then.
"Yeah," Dean repeated, because it was shockingly easy to stare and it felt... inappropriate. Rude, somehow. "It makes you a huge target. Seriously, Cas, that trench coat is like a cape. We can see you coming for miles."
"I'm a fallen angel, Dean." It was the first time he'd said it without flinching. "Anything that could hurt me will have bigger clues than my coat."
"Is it a big deal?" Dean asked again. "I mean... do you want to keep it?"
He felt the wing twitch under his hands, elbow joint moving infinitesimally, and Dean knew Cas had just shrugged. The rest of his body hadn't moved, but the gesture was there in his wings. "The clothes I wear are of little concern to me."
"Okay, so, could you change them?" Dean insisted. "If it doesn't matter to you--can you change them? Do you have to physically get new ones, like, borrow them from someone, or can you just--" He flicked his fingers, ruffling a feather that he immediately smoothed back into place. "Make with the angel mojo, or something?"
"I could change them," Castiel agreed. "If it's important to you."
"Yeah," Dean said, because he knew that was what he had to say to get Cas to do it. "It is."
Nothing changed, though, and Dean glanced sideways at him.
His hands went still on Cas' wing. His chest did a weird thing where he wanted to laugh and maybe just breathe at the same time and he wasn't sure he could do either one. It wasn't like he'd never seen--but he hadn't, had he. Because it hadn't been Cas. He'd never seen Cas in anything except--
Except in the future that wasn't, when he'd worn jeans and t-shirts and a green army jacket that could have belonged to Dean. That probably had belonged to Dean. He didn't know if that made it better or worse.
"Is this less conspicuous?" Castiel asked politely.
"Yeah," Dean blurted out. "Yeah, it's fine."
Cas' long-sleeved shirt was the same color his tie had been. Dean honestly had no idea what else he was wearing, but he didn't want to get caught looking like he cared. Beyond the practical "don't stand out on the battlefield" application. Suddenly, though, Cas looked a lot less out of place on the bed.
Castiel closed his eyes again, like the issue was resolved, and Dean guessed it was. He stared a little harder at the glowing feathers that lay neatly beneath his fingers and realized two things. One, he was going to have to sit up if he wanted to reach the rest of Castiel's wing. And two, he didn't want to.
It was unexpectedly comfortable, lying here with a weird glowy angel wing on top of him. Like Cas had flung an arm over him before he fell asleep. Not that it was an arm, and Cas definitely wasn't sleeping. But it was kind of... it was the closest Dean had come to waking up with someone in a long time.
"Hey," he muttered. He meant to push Cas' wing, but he ended up stroking it again instead. "Let me up. I'll do the rest of it."
Castiel lifted his wing in a rush of cool air, drawing it loosely to his body without making any other movement. Even his eyes stayed closed, head pillowed on his arm. Dean pushed himself up on his elbows and it hit him all at once: Cas had relaxed. Barefoot, wrinkled khakis so reminiscent of his disheveled trench coat, soft blue sleeves hugging his arms while glowing wings sprawled over his back and spilled off the other side of the bed.
Cas had actually relaxed, and it hadn't taken heaven or going home or stopping the apocalypse to do it. All he'd needed was someone to pat his wings for a few minutes, and all of a sudden he was shining and comfortable. Like an angel.
Dean was suddenly very conscious of having just woken up.
"Hang on," he said, and his voice was rough. Sleepy, he told himself. It was just the morning, the fact that he was just getting up that made everything feel weird and heavy. Castiel glanced back at him, and Dean slid to the edge of the bed and shuffled away. "I'll be right back."
The rooms at the Roadhouse were better than motel rooms: not bigger, just better. He shut himself in the bathroom and tried not to think. He caught his own eye in the mirror while he was washing his hands, and who knew what Cas saw when he looked at him. It had never mattered before. He wasn't going to let it matter now.
He splashed cold water on his face, swished it around in his mouth, and spit it out before swiping a towel over his face. It was just Cas. Just an angel who'd stormed the gates of hell, broken down the doors of heaven, and given it all up because Dean wanted to save his brother. Because Sam was the only one he'd cared about for so long that he'd forgotten how to acknowledge anyone else.
He knew he couldn't ignore Cas anymore even before he opened the door. That was when it became glaringly obvious, though, because Cas had shifted in his absence. He took up the entire bed now, the trailing wing pulled in close enough that it lay flat like the other one. Covering enough of the space that Dean was going to have to push one of them out of the way if he wanted to sit down again.
Which he did. He shot Sam a quick glance, but his brother hadn't so much as moved. Cas must have been here when he came in last night, right? He knew what was up.
"Hey," Dean said quietly, coming up on the other side of the bed this time. He put a careful hand on Cas' left wing, visibly messier than his right despite the brief, aborted effort on Dean's part. "Maybe I should start over here."
Instead of pulling it closer to his body, Cas flexed his wing so the edge of it draped over the side of the bed again. Stretched away like that, it left enough room for Dean to slide onto the bed beside him. He didn't say a word.
So Dean just reached out and brushed his fingers against the bottom of the wing, combing through the neatest part before moving slowly upward. He felt Castiel sigh, and it was a good sound: bone-deep contentment and satisfaction. A lazy morning that Cas actually seemed to appreciate, for once... If Dean had known this was all it took to get him to stop flitting around like a wound-up Discovery Store toy, he'd have done it a long time ago.
He didn't know how many minutes he sat there, coaxing errant feathers back into place, but of course it was the silence that finally woke Sam up. "Guys," he mumbled from the other bed. "Seriously, I'm right here."
"Yeah, you're a real eye in the sky," Dean retorted, not even pausing. "Nothing gets by you, Sammy."
Cas didn't say anything, but Sam lifted his head enough to gaze balefully in Dean's direction. "Are you stroking his wings?" he demanded. "Tell me that's not inappropriate."
That did make Dean stop for a moment. "Can you tell?"
Sam rolled over onto his back and threw an arm over his face. "You're not invisible," he complained.
"No, I mean--" Dean looked down at his hand, a good foot from Cas' body as he trailed his fingers over glowing, partly-there feathers that were perfectly even. "Can you see his wings?"
Sam let his arm slide, turning his head a little to frown back at Dean. "Yes?"
He sounded like he was waiting for a punch line.
"His wings," Dean repeated. "You can see Cas' glowing angel wings."
"Uh, yes," Sam said, his tone conveying his concern for Dean's ability to know things. "Why is this a question now?"
"How long?" he demanded.
Sam looked at him like he was cursed. "How long what?"
"How long have you been able to see them?" Dean felt one of those wings ripple under his hand, but it didn't pull away.
"Since we met?" Sam looked like he was weighing the (very nice) bed against Dean's (very disturbing) insanity. And the bed was losing. "So, like, a year? I guess? More than that?"
Dean patted Cas' wing to get his attention. "Did you know about this?"
"He believes, Dean." Castiel's voice was a little muffled: maybe by his arm, maybe by the pillow. He didn't sound particularly surprised by Sam's revelation. "He has always believed."
"Excuse me," Sam said. "Vessel, right? It doesn't matter what I believe; I can see you."
"I'm a vessel," Dean said. "And I thought he was the freakin' god of the underworld or something."
"That's because you have unparalleled powers of denial," Sam told him.
Castiel mumbled something that sounded like, "And because you're not very nice."
"I'm nice," Dean snapped. "I'm the king of nice. You just make a really scary first impression."
"You still claim not to remember our first meeting," Castiel replied, without lifting his head. "I don't see how you could possibly know what kind of first impression I make."
"Dean," Sam added, sounding aggrieved. "Could you please keep your hands to yourself?"
"What," Dean protested. "This is totally normal. Tell him, Cas."
"Dean's actions are both expected and appreciated," Castiel mumbled. Like he was talking into his pillow. He'd been perfectly clear before, Dean thought. Embarrassed now?
"It's part of our cover," Dean said, before Sam could complain again. "Suck it up."
"Yeah," Sam said. "Speaking of cover. Have you noticed a disproportionate number of people calling you 'Michael' lately?" His tone seemed to indicate that Dean might have missed it, since that was the way Dean was.
"That was an accident," Dean said immediately. "It was totally Zachariah's fault."
"Okay." Sam swung his legs over the side of his bed and sat up, frowning over at them. Castiel still didn't move. "Start with Cas zapping you to the Roadhouse from Sante Fe. Ellen says you disappeared. What happened?"
"Zachariah and Raphael kidnapped me to heaven," Dean said. "They figured if they took me to Michael's secret base, it would trigger some sort of magic angel summoning spell or something."
"For... Michael?" Sam guessed.
"Yeah, it didn't work," Dean said. "Apparently he's MIA."
"She said Cas kind of, uh--" Sam gave the bed an odd look. Gave Cas an odd look, actually, but the way he was becoming one with the bed made it seem like the same thing. "Freaked out."
Dean shrugged it off. "What can I say," he replied. "I'm hard to do without. Found Michael's sword, though. And here's a fun fact for your collection: angels think their swords are non-transferable."
"Wait, you found Michael's sword?" Sam repeated.
"Not the one from the books," Dean said. "Just the generic ones they use to smite each other with. It was hidden in his lair; I found it, and presto. Everyone thinks I'm Michael."
"You're kidding," Sam said.
"Nope." Dean smirked. "Turns out angels are easy."
Castiel mumbled something that could have been a protest but really shouldn't be, all things considered. Then he twitched his other wing aside, stretched out his arm, and offered the hilt of said sword to Dean. Without sitting up. Without so much as rolling over. And it was probably really wrong that Dean was thinking more about how flexible he was than how he'd made a sword appear out of nowhere.
"You should take it back," Castiel said, the words easier to make out this time. "Now that you can do so inconspicuously. I suggest you carry it the same way."
"Yeah, and what way is that?" Dean asked, but he was already reaching for it. Someone handed you an angel sword, you didn't just sit around staring at it. "Inconspicuously?"
"Yes." Cas let his arm fall, and Dean barely heard what he said next over the crush of voices in his head. "If possible."
They were a lot easier to tune out when he wasn't holding the sword. Actually, now that he was holding it, he couldn't remember hearing them at all when he wasn't. He couldn't help looking over his shoulder to make sure it was really all in his head.
He jerked, startled all over again by Castiel's touch. How the guy had managed to sit up, turn around, and reach for him without Dean noticing was beyond him, but then, most angel things were. "Yeah," he muttered, trying not to think shut up as loudly as he could. Trying not to think it at all.
Unfortunately, he wasn't sure the things he was thinking were much better. "How much of this can they hear?" Dean asked, uncomfortable with the noise in a way he hadn't been the day before. Which was saying a lot, since yesterday it had totally creeped him out.
"None of it," Castiel said. He had a hand on Dean's face, gentle against his jaw, but it wasn't moving and his eyes stayed steady on Dean's. "You're not projecting anything to the host except your presence. They're drawn to you; you're novel and powerful and a sign of forgiveness to the fallen. As they become more familiar, their attention will abate."
"Okay." Focusing on Cas made the other voices seem less important, so he did. "Do I answer them, or what?"
"I'm sure Michael has better things to do than to address every angel who seeks his blessing," Castiel replied. His voice was soft and sympathetic and not dismissive at all. And wow, he was... really close.
Sam sighed, loudly, and Dean pulled away. "Yeah," he repeated, not looking at either of them. "Right, crazy angels in my head. What else is new."
Michael. I would speak with you.
It stood out from the crowd--maybe the familiarity, maybe the volume--and Dean caught Cas' eye without thinking.
"Anna," they said at the same time.
"Guys," Sam said impatiently. "If this is private, I can leave."
"Dean can hear the host," Castiel said. "When Michael's sword is in his possession, they are also aware of him.
"Aware of him like, they can find us?" Sam wanted to know.
"Aware like they talk to me," Dean said, frowning. "Like right now. Anna's loud."
"Her voice rings with the power of creation," Castiel said. "You are equally loud when you address us."
"Really?" Dean couldn't decide whether that was a cool subset of creepy or just another disturbing one. "That an archangel thing?"
Castiel nodded once.
Weird, Dean thought absently. He didn't have the same freaky otherworldliness without his trench coat and tie. Sitting there on the bed, wearing a rumpled henley with bare ankles crossed in front of him, he looked... well. Like a human. With wings.
"Dean's not an archangel," Sam said, just as Anna poked his head harder than absolutely necessary.
Michael, she repeated. Sternly.
Yeah, whatever, he thought. I want to talk to you too. You should come by the Roadhouse--
"Hey," he said out loud. "What time is it?"
"Angels don't use human time," Castiel said quietly.
"Well, this one does," Dean told him. "How do you--"
Something shifted, and just like that, he knew. "Anna's downstairs, isn't she."
"She's outside," Castiel agreed. "You told her to come."
"And she just shows up?" he demanded. "She doesn't have anything better to do?"
"You'll find few angels have something better to do when Michael summons them," Castiel remarked, looking faintly amused. Which was better than reproach or exasperation, so Dean would take it.
"Dude," Sam said. "You didn't tell Anna? That's kind of harsh, don't you think?"
Dean huffed out a breath in agreement. "That's what I said."
"No," Castiel said. "You said to choose a garrison, which I did. You did not say, 'Tell everyone I've had sex with that I'm still Dean Winchester.'"
Dean stared at him. He didn't have to look to know Sam was doing the same thing.
"That instruction would have been much clearer," Castiel added.
"Okay," Sam said after a long moment. "So. Just out of curiosity, how did you choose the garrison?"
Thank you, Dean thought fervently. Unfortunately, he was still holding Michael's sword, and the look Cas gave him made him think that he might have broadcasted that last thought a little too loudly.
"Um," Dean said. "I'm gonna go downstairs and talk to Anna?"
He didn't mean for it to come out as a question, but he also hadn't really thought about how it would sound. "I mean, not that I'd rather--well. I can't go talk to her. Right? I'm not done with..." He waved awkwardly at the place where Cas had been stretched out, which might possibly have meant his right wing until Cas had turned around but now vaguely indicated the empty space beside his left.
"You've done enough," Castiel said. It didn't sound accusatory, but it was a long way from the boneless contentment he'd shown before. For the first time ever. Dean was missing it like warmth, like something he hadn't known he needed until it was right in front of him.
"Michael is an archangel," Castiel continued. "It's doubtful he would concern himself with the wings of a foot soldier."
"What if he really liked you?" Dean countered.
Castiel blinked, and the answer was a lot less articulate than he usually sounded. "Then... that would be different."
"You guys are disgusting," Sam said, shoving the blankets back onto the bed as he stood up. He'd managed to get pretty comfortable for someone who hadn't even changed his clothes before he collapsed into bed. "Tell Anna you're sending your general in your place. I'll be down in a few minutes."
He swung his bag over his shoulder and disappeared into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him without another word. "You're not a general!" Dean yelled after him. "You're like a lieutenant!"
Sam didn't answer.
Of course Castiel was still sitting there when he turned around, close and quiet and really... different looking. Dean hadn't expected a change of clothes to matter so much. He could still see Cas' wings, could still feel that intent stare that seemed to come from farther away than the the body sitting in front of him. So why did he feel so much less--alien?
"Why do you look like a human with wings?" Dean blurted out. It wasn't what he wanted to ask, but it was as close as he could get. "I mean, why is that what I see? If it's not what you look like?"
Castiel didn't seem surprised by the question. "Why do I see green eyes and white scars when I look at you? It's not what you look like. It's only a guise you wear, that you may interact with this world. The same as mine."
"This is what I look like," Dean told him.
"It's not what you looked like in heaven," Castiel replied. There was a pause, and then he added, "It's not what you looked like in hell."
Dean flinched, but this time, Castiel kept going.
"I knew you in hell with no physical form whatsoever," he said. "I sought your soul, and I knew it through a crush of others who bore no resemblance to you. The same way you knew me in heaven."
"I don't want to talk about hell," Dean muttered.
"There are days when I don't want to talk about heaven," Castiel countered, surprising him. "But it's a part of who I am."
"What did they do to you?" Dean wanted to know. Because Cas was going to make him talk about this. If not now, someday, and it was too late to run. Maybe it had always been too late. But he was gonna make sure Cas knew what it felt like before he let the guy do it to him. "When they yanked you out of Jimmy and hauled you off to heaven to be re-educated. What was it like?"
Castiel looked at him for a long moment, like he was pulling Dean's unspoken reasons apart. "They forgave me," he said at last.
That was all. Just, they forgave me, and then he looked at Dean like he was waiting for the next question.
"In return for what?" Dean wanted to know. "What did they make you do?"
Castiel tilted his head. "Nothing," he said. "They told me they loved me. That despite my flaws, I was my father's son, and so long as I returned to his service, I would always be forgiven. I suppose," he added, a thoughtful look making his expression distant, "they would say now that I took them too literally."
"That doesn't sound so bad." Dean braced himself, because if he'd learned anything about angels, it was that what you thought you were getting was never what you got. Cas had told him something, and now he would follow it up with a one-line interpretation that changed everything. That was just what he did.
"It wasn't meant to be bad." Castiel sounded flat. "It was meant to be undeniable."
Dean turned that over in his mind. "Something you couldn't say no to?" he guessed at last.
"Everyone has their own hell, Dean." He just said it, like... it was a thing you could say. "Angels were designed to love God. To love, to worship, to serve. To take that away is to take away all purpose. All meaning. One who exists unforgiven and unloved does not exist at all."
Dean stared at him.
"I don't know who I am anymore," Castiel said quietly. "That is the price I pay for the path I follow."
Who ever knew who they were? Dean thought it, but he managed not to say it, and he actually counted that a small victory for his "don't be a jerk" filter. Cas isn't like you, he reminded himself. Sometimes it was impossible to ignore, and other times, despite the wings and the smiting and the way weird clung to him like an extra shirt, it was the easiest thing in the world to forget.
"You're not--" His abrupt reassurance couldn't get past the fact that he couldn't say it. But he was thinking it, he was thinking it so loudly that he thought Cas had to hear it, and if it was an angel thing then he could do that, right? Angels probably told each other stuff like that all the time. And if someone wasn't saying it to Cas, then they should be.
You're not unloved, he thought, pushing the words at him and not caring if the whole stupid host overheard. Because angels should do their jobs, they should be who Sammy thought they were, and if God wasn't going to keep them in line then someone had to.
Someone had to tell Castiel how awesome he was. If it wasn't any of them, then it was going to be him.
Cas heard him. There was no question that he heard. He was looking at Dean the way he'd looked at Gabriel when they stood outside of heaven together. And yeah, Dean remembered that expression. He was absolutely on board with having that look turned on him right now.
Thank you. The words were there in his head, Cas' reply was right there in his head... but it wasn't just in his head. It echoed with the voices of heaven behind it, humming with a power it hadn't had at Mesa Verde. Loud in a way it hadn't been when Dean was talking to him in heaven. Uninhibited, maybe.
Then, weirdly, Gabriel's voice, obvious and obnoxious and uncharacteristically serious as it slid through the crowd to find them and totally freak Dean out. Welcome home, Castiel.
That was when Dean got it. Castiel's voice sounded different because he wasn't hiding it. He hadn't tried to keep his words from the others this time.
Everyone had heard him.
Welcome, Castiel. Jophiel's voice overlapped with three others, and Dean couldn't even separate Sachiel in the swell of agreement that followed. He was pretty sure it wasn't just their--the Roadhouse garrison--he didn't think it was just Castiel's friends talking. He could definitely pick out Anna's voice, warm and genuine, and that just made him feel weird.
Castiel was glowing, though, so he kept his mouth shut and smiled. Funny that the glow mattered, that it could brighten like that... not randomly, Dean guessed, but maybe with the power of communion. The archangels were the brightest thing he'd ever seen, and Cas had glowed more in heaven than he ever did on earth... charging up his grace, Gabriel had said. It kind of made sense that the more connected they were, the brighter they got.
"Thank you," Castiel whispered, and Dean felt his smile widen.
"Dude," he replied, just as quietly. Like the other angels could somehow overhear them when they spoke aloud. "You totally just used me to get back on everyone's good list."
The corner of Castiel's mouth quirked, a sneaky look that Dean couldn't get enough of. "I see no reason to deny Michael's favor," Castiel replied.
"Uh-huh." Dean smirked at him, and his fingers tightened on the hilt of Michael's sword without conscious thought. You're so mine.
This time, the word always echoed in his head.
Get a room, Gabriel's voice told them, all the gravity gone from his tone.
Dean dropped the sword on the bed beside them, because wow, he was over that. He was reaching for Cas--and who knew why, like he had a plan, like there was anything he could do--when he heard the bathroom door rattle, and Sam fumbled the doorknob maybe a little louder than necessary. Maybe a lot louder.
Dean pushed the sword aside and rolled off the bed. He could have sworn he felt one of Castiel's wings brush against his shoulder, but he didn't have time to turn before Sam was tossing his bag back in the corner and eyeing the bed. The sword. He was eyeing the sword, which was on the bed.
"You want the shoulder sheath from the car?" Sam asked. "The leather one?"
"Yeah," Dean said, because he was so not ready to have that conversation. "Probably as subtle as it gets."
"Right," Sam said, his eyes flicking between them. Castiel still sat loosely on the bed, and geez, this moment should get some sort of backward prize because now Dean was the one standing awkwardly stiff beside him. "I'll bring it in after I meet with Anna. Anything you want me to tell her?"
Dean crossed his arms over his chest and shuffled back, leaning against Sam's unmade bed. He was uncomfortably aware the he was the only one still in yesterday's clothes, and why that bothered him, he had no idea. He should be more worried about what they were having for breakfast--or how they were going to pay Ellen for her hospitality, since they weren't about to run a credit card here.
"Whatever," Dean said. Because no, seriously: he had no idea. What did Anna want? Why hadn't Cas told her about Dean? Did he think she wasn't trustworthy? "I'm sure you can handle her crazy archangel ways."
"Right," Sam repeated, rolling his eyes. "I'll tell her Michael said I can do whatever I want, then."
"Knock yourself out," Dean agreed.
"Sam," Castiel said, just before Sam would have opened the door. "I think you should carry this."
He was looking down at his hands. Dean felt Sam glance at him, so he caught his eye and shrugged. He was just as curious.
"What is it?" Sam asked, coming back to the bed.
Castiel held up something small and circular... a metal ring? Dean narrowed his eyes, sure he'd seen it before. But why? Cas probably had all sorts of weird--
"Castiel," Sam said carefully. He didn't make any move to take it. "Is that War's ring?"
"Yes." He turned his hand over and the ring fell, a silver chain tumbling after it and catching before it could go more than a few inches, holding it suspended in the air. "It won't affect anyone if you don't put it on your finger. I suggest you put it somewhere it will not be seen. Under your shirt, or in a pocket, perhaps."
"Why?" Sam demanded. "Why give it to me?"
He didn't sound thrilled about it, so Dean kept his mouth shut. Sam had the skeptical and suspicious part covered, so he figured he could do bitter and judgmental. They knew how to work together.
"Because there are few practical ways to defend yourself against angels," Castiel said. "Especially in a place like this, where banishing one means banishing all."
"No banishing," Dean growled. That was the last thing they needed. "I'll storm that place. Don't think I won't."
"I don't think you won't," Castiel repeated. Perfectly serious. "And I hope such an eventuality does not come to pass. In case it does, however, you should probably take this back."
He offered a second chain to Dean, who reached for it without thinking. Cas twitched his hand away, just long enough to warn him, "Don't touch it," and Dean realized what he was holding.
"I handed it to you," Dean pointed out, plucking the chain out of his fingers without touching the tree charm threaded onto it. "It didn't do anything then."
"I believe it responds to a particular touch," Castiel began.
Dean dropped it onto his open palm. Nothing happened. "See?" he said, picking it up with his other hand. He held it up, but Cas was gone. He was standing in a lobby, not a bedroom. And he could smell the ocean in the air.
"Seriously?" he asked aloud. "Michael, dude, you have a weird sense of practical."
He was holding the charm between his thumb and first finger. The same way he had been when he appeared outside their old house. He frowned, dropped it on its chain for a second, swinging it idly around his fingers. The chain tangled as it ran out of length and the charm came to rest against his skin. Nothing happened until he picked it up and pressed his thumb against the tree again.
He was suddenly standing in Lawrence--where Castiel was waiting for him. For once the guy was underdressed, the weather too cold for his single layer of clothing. Not barefoot anymore, at least. Castiel didn't seem to notice the chill any more than he'd noticed heat through his suit and trench coat.
"If I had told you to touch it," he said, studying Dean inscrutably. "Would you have been more cautious?"
"Hey, when it whisked you back to heaven," Dean said, frowning at the tree beside them. "Did you end up inside Michael's lair?"
Castiel was quiet just long enough that Dean glanced at him, curious, and he was in time to see Cas shake his head. "Yes," he said, despite the gesture. "Just inside. Why?"
"Because that's where I was too," Dean said. He lifted the tree charm to stare at it, like maybe looking closer would reveal some secret he hadn't noticed yet. He put his hand behind it and laid it against his fingers. "It's point-to-point, right? If you're on earth, it sends you to Michael's place in heaven. If you're in heaven, it sends you here."
"So it would seem," Castiel agreed.
"Why'd you give it back?" Dean wanted to know. "You don't want to be able to get into heaven?"
"Of course I do." Cas looked irritated that this was even a question, and Dean almost smiled. He liked impatient Cas. "But I am considerably more capable of evading danger than you, and this provides you with an effective escape route."
Huh, Dean thought. That was actually a good point. "What about Sam?"
"I'll take you back to him," Castiel said. He didn't reach out, though, and Dean watched him circle around behind again.
"Why are you doing that?" he asked, bemused.
"Because you can't fly," Castiel said cryptically. "And eventually someone's going to notice."
He felt Cas' hand brush against the small of his back, and in a rush of airy light, they were back in the room above the Roadhouse. "They can't see my wings," Dean blurted out, before he'd even spotted Sam. Still waiting by the door. He raised his eyebrows at Dean, and Castiel didn't seem to have followed the thought any better.
"You don't have wings, Dean," he said patiently.
"That's my point," Dean said, rolling his eyes. "I can see everyone's wings now. Sammy can see them. You can see them. And I don't have any. Doesn't that seem weird to anyone?"
Castiel tilted his head. "Archangels exert considerably more control over their forms than most," he said. "Gabriel is capable of completely suppressing his angelic appearance, as you know. I suspect the idea that Michael can do the same is of no great surprise to anyone."
"Some disguise," Sam said, shaking his head. "You can do everything, so you don't have to do anything."
"Sounds like my everyday routine," Dean said.
Sam rolled his eyes, his hand on the doorknob. "Good luck keeping him out of trouble," he told Cas.
"Take this," Castiel said sternly. He must have disappeared with the chain he'd offered Sam, because he was holding it out again. "Others notice that the one they know as Michael shares many of Dean's loyalties. Whether or not this ultimately makes you safer, the current ambiguity may be interpreted as an invitation to strike before Michael's will is clear. You must have some protection."
Watching Cas tell Sam to defend himself was sort of... well.
Awesome. It was sort of awesome, and Sam was giving him a look like why is this happening?
Dean tried not to grin. "Guess we can't all have an angelic bodyguard following us around. Having someone else's give you jewelry, though. That's gotta be the next best thing."
The look Sam was giving him now was considerably different, and if Dean had to guess--which he always did--he would have called it the I'm going to make sure all your kids are cursed expression. That was enough to make Dean smirk at him. If either of them lived long enough to have kids, it was going to be Sammy, and Dean would make sure they listened to Zeppelin and Metallica and took care of their totally awesome wheels before his loser brother made them come inside and do their AP homework.
His smile faded a little as he tried to figure out what subject it would be, and whether he could sell a road trip as extra credit, and what on God's green earth he was thinking.
"Look," Sam was saying. "I appreciate the thought. But I'm the last person you want carrying that thing, and I think we all know it."
"You are the only person who may safely hold it," Castiel said. "You have turned your back on greater power than this. I do not wish to see it in anyone else's hands: no human or demon, and certainly no angel. The temptation to try to bend its influence is too high."
"Yeah, well, I don't have a great history of resisting temptation," Sam said.
"Dean tells me you don't make the same mistake twice," Castiel replied. "I believe this to be true."
Sam opened his mouth, glanced at Dean, and obviously changed his mind. Instead of saying anything else, though, he shook his head and held out his hand. He looked at the ring for a long moment after Castiel dropped it into his hand, but eventually all he said was, "Don't put it on my finger, huh?"
"Except to save yourself or Dean," Castiel told him.
It was an exception that Dean took exception to, actually. "Or you," he said aloud.
"I can defend--" Castiel began.
"Oh, shut up," Dean said with a sigh. "I have a sword too, you know." He was already fitting it to the sheath Cas must have retrieved on his way out. Or back. He didn't know why it worked; they hadn't been made for each other and the leather was old... maybe too old to contain a magically sharp angel blade. But nothing snapped or slid and the preternatural glint of the sword seemed muted once it was in place, so Dean didn't question it.
The freaky crowd noise didn't disappear when he let go of the hilt to swing it over his back, but it did get quieter.
"No sword-fighting while I'm gone," Sam told them, pulling the door open. Then he seemed to reconsider, and Dean knew where he was going with it before he even opened his mouth. "At least, no literal sword-fighting," Sam said, and he yanked the door shut behind him while Dean tried to decide whether to congratulate him for a dirty joke or throw something at him for talking that way about Cas.
"Wow," Dean muttered, and the realization was fast and sort of frightening. Jo wasn't kidding: he really had cleaned up his act for Cas. He was so whipped. "I actually thought maybe that was inappropriate."
"Thought what was inappropriate?" Castiel asked. He went to put his hands in his pockets and missed. The flicker of a frown drew Dean's attention even as his hands connected with his pants' pockets on the second try.
"Dude, you have human habits," Dean said with a grin. "I saw that. Don't pretend it didn't happen."
This time, Cas just tilted his head at him.
"You were looking for your coat pockets," Dean said. "I know you were."
"Are you going to put the tree back on your mother's bracelet?" Castiel asked, and the ignoring you now message was pretty clear.
"I'm not wearing a charm bracelet," Dean told him. Cas had magicked a perfectly good chain out of thin air; he could use that. As soon as he figured out how it closed in the back.
"You can't see behind you," Castiel said, like it was a peculiar human failing. "I could help you."
He didn't wait for Dean say, "I think I can figure out a stupid necklace, thanks," just came over and put his hands on Dean's until Dean gave up and let him fix it. He was right there, and Dean said the first thing that came to mind. Well. The second thing.
"That was cool," he told the bedside table. "What you did for Sam."
"I'm glad you approve." The chain fell against his neck, and he felt a warm thumb brush against his skin before Castiel let his hands fall. "Would you like to have dinner with me tonight?"
"What?" Dean jerked away, turning so he could stare at him. "Did you just--" He didn't manage to finish the sentence.
"Is this not an appropriate time to ask?" Castiel looked vaguely disappointed. "I apologize. Jo suggested a quiet moment when we were alone, perhaps after I had done something for which you expressed gratitude. This situation seemed to meet those criteria."
"Jo?" Dean repeated. He couldn't decide whether to be horrified or embarrassed. Or just really entertained, because seriously. Jo. "You asked Jo for dating advice?"
"She was very helpful," Castiel told him. "She explained that lunch is the least significant of shared meals, while breakfast is the most. I understand that dinner falls somewhere in between."
"So you figured it was safe," Dean said, studying him. Permission to court and you are not incapable, no friggin' kidding. Cas wasn't gonna let it go. "The middle ground, huh?"
Castiel inclined his head, not taking his eyes off of Dean. "It seemed prudent."
Dean snorted. "Well, I gotta tell you. I don't really do 'prudent.'"
"No." Castiel looked away, looked down, and Dean could see the big glowing edge of his wing sticking out from behind his elbow while he stared at it. "I am aware."
"So I guess we might as well start with breakfast," Dean continued, watching his head come up in surprise, "and see what happens. I'm thinking right now. You in?"
"Yes," Castiel said, and the tightness in his wings seemed to ease a little. He even smiled, and then Dean couldn't look anywhere else.
"Cas," he said, squinting a little. Because he wasn't blind yet, but sometimes he felt like he was looking at the sun. "I've got no idea what to do here. You know that, right?"
Castiel considered this--a little too carefully, if his conclusion was anything to go by. "I'm given to understand that kissing is customary," he said at last.
"I can't kiss you," Dean said, reflexive and maybe not entirely truthful.
"Ah." Castiel seemed to take it at face value. "That could be a problem."
Dean tried not to smile, because seriously. Cas. He was so honest it was alien. "Yeah, why's that?"
"Because I have not known you to be asexual in any of your romantic pursuits," Castiel replied. Dean was struck by the sudden thought that Cas knew everyone he'd ever banged. "I'm not sure you can find fulfillment with someone you're not physical with."
"Fulfillment's a pretty big word," Dean said. Because of course Cas would go there. Immediately. It was part of knowing someone, after all. "You sure you don't want to start with, like, holding the door for me or something?"
Castiel gave him an odd look. "What door do you need held?"
He didn't want to sigh, but he couldn't quite laugh, either. "The door to your brain," he said, resisting the temptation to reach out and knock on Cas' forehead to make his point. Or just to touch him. It was hard to know the difference, lately. "So I could know what you're thinking. Ever."
"My brain doesn't have a door, Dean." Cas didn't take his eyes off of him, didn't give any indication that he knew a literal answer wasn't the one that was called for here. "But I could tell you what I'm thinking."
Or maybe he did. "Oh yeah?" Dean said. "What's that?"
"That I think you might like kissing me, if you tried it."
Okay. That wasn't what he'd expected, but it probably should have been. He rubbed a hand over his eyes in an effort to block out that accidentally earnest expression. "I know I'd like it, Cas." He'd really like it. A lot. "That's not the problem."
"Then what is?" Castiel still sounded strangely patient, and Dean tried not to be impressed. He knew it wasn't easy to frustrate Cas--he knew through extensive personal experience, since he'd made a hobby of it for the past year and a half. He couldn't tell if Cas was getting used to him or if he had some other reason to be so calm.
"It's not you," Dean blurted out. "It just isn't... it's not what you do." And that wasn't enough. That didn't even make sense. He tried to make Cas do plenty of things he wouldn't normally do. "Maybe this isn't something I want to drag you into."
Castiel frowned at him. "I hardly see how acquiescing to my request could be considered dragging me into it."
"Yeah, that's the thing," Dean said with a sigh. "You didn't ask, Cas. You didn't ask for any of this."
"Only because I didn't know enough to want it."
Dean's gaze snapped back to him. On a list of things he never expected Cas to say, that had to be pretty close to the top.
Castiel was staring at him. It wasn't strange, it wasn't weird... it was the look he always got from Cas, and in retrospect, he should probably wonder about that. But today, right now, Cas was looking at him like there was something he needed Dean to understand and he was going to do whatever it took to get the message across.
"Cas," he began, because he'd never been able to ignore that look.
"Not all prayers are answered, Dean. Once I would have said this is because humans don't know their own hearts as well as God does. Now I think angels may also find their fate to be... unexpected."
"Wonderful," Dean muttered. "Screwing up angels' fate since 1979. Good thing I have something to fall back on, because this whole saving the world thing really isn't working out the way I planned."
"Dean." It was the tone that took no argument, and the question that followed wasn't a question at all. "Will you not give me credit for my own decisions?"
Dean looked at him, but he knew better than to try to answer. "So ask," he said instead. "You gotta ask, okay? I don't interpret the will of God." If God even had a will, which, if he did, he was one schizo freak.
"Will you kiss me," Castiel said flatly, and whether that was confusion or irritation in his voice was anyone's guess.
Dean snorted. "Try to be more convincing, Cas."
"Stop making up rules," Castiel snapped. He stepped into Dean, all up in his space, and it barely even registered as an intrusion. His mouth on Dean's, though, that was new and weird and kind of frighteningly human. Dean didn't know what to do with an angel who didn't try to be, with a Cas who cared more about kissing him than finding God.
Then Cas was turning his head, the words a low rumble in his throat when he continued, "I find you aggravating," like he hadn't done a thing. Like nothing was ever his fault.
"Well, I think you're stupid," Dean muttered.
Castiel's face was beside his, chin almost on his shoulder, and he was much too close to look at. "I believe you have a saying," he remarked, in a normal and too-loud-for-here kind of way. "It takes one to know one."
Dean figured that was fair. He wasn't going to laugh because there were more important things right now. If this was the only chance he ever got, he didn't want to remember this as the day he could have kissed Cas. So he put a hand on Cas' shoulder and slid it up his neck to cup his face, turning him gently toward Dean.
Castiel wouldn't catch his eye. And, okay, maybe he was looking at Dean's mouth, but he'd told him that, hadn't he? He'd said, the stare creeps people out, and if there was any chance Cas was remembering that now then Dean had to fix it. "Look at me," he said quietly.
Blue eyes met his with an intensity that had once been more unnerving than reassuring. His thumb brushed against the corner of that mouth, so rarely smiling and maybe too often closed. Cas didn't say anywhere near enough, Dean thought. About anything.
But maybe it took one to know one.
It had been strange to feel Cas press his mouth to Dean's, but returning the favor didn't feel weird at all. He wouldn't admit to thinking about it--at least not aloud--but you couldn't blame a guy for what his mind did while he was asleep, right? He knew what it would be like to lean in, he knew the feeling of intent. And even if he'd never imagined Cas making the first move, he'd thought he knew what kissing him would be like.
He didn't. It was quieter, warmer, and there wasn't any electric buzz in the air of not-quite-contained angel. It was both more and less awkward: more because it was an actual person instead of a dream, and less because Cas was expecting it. "You don't suck at kissing," Dean mumbled, pressing his mouth against Cas' bottom lip and hoping he wouldn't answer.
Because Cas had to be goaded into walking and talking at the same time. He didn't split his focus, and Dean had no idea why: angel, right? Like he didn't have more than enough to go around. So if Cas was going to talk, he would probably stop kissing to do it. Dean was totally against that idea.
Except that he wasn't, because he had no idea what he was doing and he was going to screw it up if this didn't stop right now.
"Should I?" That voice was rough and real so close to his skin. Cas drew back only enough to form the words, and then his mouth was warm on Dean's again. Careful and close and so distracting that Dean didn't even notice the hand finding its way to his shoulder. His left shoulder, which Castiel gripped tight while the world lit up around him.
He remembered. He jerked away, the blinding white of salvation too much, even in his mind's eye. "Jesus, Cas," and he couldn't stop himself, "you're a freakin' angel, what do you even want with me?"
Castiel didn't let go, didn't let him pull away, followed him. Dean felt a hand brush against his neck, tangle in his hair, and it was instinct more than the split-second he would have had to make an actual decision: to still, to let someone close. To let someone in. To let Cas tip his head down, and to breathe.
"I want you," Castiel said, harsh and forgiving and inevitable as he stared into Dean's soul and saw everything he had brought out of hell with him, "to stop thinking of yourself as a demon."
Because Castiel was already inside him, already knew, and it was this--it was the loathing that hurt him. Not the things he had seen or done. It was Dean's inability to forgive that made an angel ask him to change.
And if that was what Cas wanted, what else could he do but try to give it to him?
"Okay," he whispered. It was all he could say, eyes hot and his throat so thick he had to swallow and was surprised when he still could. They weren't tears. He wasn't--
He saw Cas close his eyes, and he felt the familiar guilt. That he could disappoint someone like this, that a faith as strong as Castiel's could be shaken. But faith could be rebuilt, right? He'd seen it himself. If he could trust Sam again, then he had to believe Castiel's confidence was at least as strong.
Thank you. The words echoed in his mind, sincerity with the strength of heaven behind it, and it finally occurred to him that just going to hell didn't make him unforgivable any more than coming from heaven made angels unbreakable.
He wanted to say "you're the one I should be thanking," but saying no to something like that seemed wrong. Him being grateful didn't make Cas less grateful. You're the best thing that ever happened to me, he thought. You know that?
And maybe everyone could overhear, but he didn't care because Cas replied, I know, and Dean couldn't help but laugh.
Everyone could definitely hear them. It was fuzzy, the way he could tell, but it was happy--it was the weirdest feeling of someone else being happy for him. Literally happy for him, in the way that their happiness became his.
"Is that supposed to happen?" he whispered, not moving. Counting on Cas to know what he meant.
He didn't, but Cas hadn't let go and that was worth a lot. "What?"
"I feel happy." He felt stupid saying it, but he also had Cas' hands on him and his face right there so he went for broke. Dean slung his arms around Cas' waist and pressed a slow kiss into his mouth, pretending it wasn't his whole life on the line if he was pushed away. "Like everything that could be going right is. Like you're here, and everyone's okay, and life doesn't suck."
"Ah." Castiel sounded thoughtful, but there was definitely no pushing going on. "Yes," he said after a moment. "I believe that is supposed to happen."
It felt good, and Dean found himself wanting to laugh again. Instead he went with more kissing, which Cas seemed perfectly fine with. "How much," he murmured, in between gentle presses of one mouth to another, "do they know about what's going on?"
"They?" Cas knew how to keep it short when he was doing more important things.
"The angels." Dean smiled at a kiss that landed on the corner of his mouth, Cas' face warm against his when he tilted his head. So angels knew how to nuzzle. That wasn't exactly what he'd expected from God's chosen warriors. "They were happy there for a second, when I was. Can they--"
"Do they know what we're doing?" Castiel finished for him.
"Spy on us making out," Dean muttered, pressing a kiss firmly against his mouth. Just in case the answer was yes, and he had to stop, this was his moment of rebellion.
It was a pretty tame rebellion, all things considered, and he sent God a little you're welcome prayer.
"No." Castiel's voice was husky and secretive. It made Dean want to step into him, a full-body press that would turn their kisses hot and suggestive, but Cas was still talking. "All they know is what you say. The emotion was perceptible only because it was so prevalent," he added, tipping his head a little more as Dean pressed his mouth to Cas' jaw. "You would not be able to trace it to a single individual."
"I could feel you," Dean muttered. He wanted to lick the skin under his lips in the worst way. "In heaven."
"Because I was talking to you." He heard Cas exhale, slow and measured, and it was actually the first time he'd noticed Castiel breathing since... since the bed, with his wings. He'd seen them rise and fall while he was stroking them, like they were moving with his breath. Now Dean was struggling to stay cool, to breathe normally, and it was more obvious in the face of Castiel's unflappability.
"So talk to me," Dean whispered. If that was what it took to get inside Cas' head, then he was on board.
I love you, Castiel said silently. And he felt it. The force of faith behind those words was staggering, and there was nothing cool or distant about the way they roared and spun and turned his whole world upside-down. They remade the reality of what he was doing: not because he wasn't expecting them, but because he wasn't expecting to believe them.
"Yeah," he wanted to say. "I get that."
But he couldn't say it, because his tongue was somewhere he hadn't meant it to go and he wasn't taking it back. In Cas' mouth: hot and wet and profane in the face of the host. His hands clenched tight, fingers tangled in belt loops and shirt hem and one or two pressed accidentally to the skin beneath. Holding him there. Grounding him.
The only thing that kept him from recoiling in horror was the fact that Cas was clinging just as hard. The hand on his shoulder unyielding, the one at the back of his head encouraging. Cas was kissing him like he knew what he was doing, like nothing Dean did could surprise him. Like when he said I love you what he meant was I want you.
"Mmmph." Dean pulled away with a groan, shaken and burning for more and he had to stop. Any composure he'd been holding onto was gone. "How is this okay?" he demanded, prying a hand from Cas' hip to cup his face, thumb covering his lips to keep him from leaning in again. "This is human, Cas. This isn't what you do."
Castiel wasn't struggling for control, nowhere near as gone on touch and tongue as Dean was, but he was breathing. Steady in and out, an obvious rise and fall of shoulders that was strange to see. "Why was it okay for you to groom my wings?" he replied. His voice was low as his lips moved against Dean's thumb, and oh, that was so unfair.
"Because," Dean muttered, tracing his thumb over that mouth. "That's what angels do."
"Yes," Castiel said, keeping the hand on his shoulder and lifting the other to Dean's fingers against his cheek. "Exactly."
"What, so we're gonna trade?" Fingers stilled by Cas', he found the thumb of his other hand rubbing against the hem of that blue shirt. The desire to grasp, to grope was undeniable. So much for it being a teenage phase. "That magically makes it fine? I do angel things, you do human things, and somehow it evens out?"
"I told you," Castiel said quietly, "that I am not concerned with equality. But a lack of reciprocity is unacceptable."
"Yeah, no." Because Cas was awesome at drawing lines in the sand. "Obviously." Flinch reflex. Date offered an ultimatum, he agreed. Geez. Like Cas was a fling. Like he'd never see him again.
"Except," he mumbled. "You're gonna have to tell me what all that means. Spell it out, Cas, 'cause I can't read your mind."
"That is clearly untrue," Castiel said.
It made Dean smile, and he felt his desperate grip easing a little. "Whatever. What does it mean, Cas."
"It means," Castiel said, no hint of humor in his voice, "that I wish to have the experience necessary to make a firsthand comparison."
Dean stared at him. No way should stuff like that sound so suggestive. It was cryptic and confusing and he was pretty sure Cas did it on purpose. "You know I have no idea what you're talking about, right?"
"Intimacy among angels is not the same as it is for humans," Castiel said. "You asked if it was better. I pointed out that there are few qualified to pass judgment on such an esoteric subject."
The reminder made him laugh, sharp and startled and he shouldn't be. He shouldn't be surprised. But Cas joked like he did everything else: with total conviction that there was no better way to convey his message. "And you're gonna be one of them, huh?"
"I will require assistance," Castiel pointed out. "Is this the sort of research you would enjoy?"
He wasn't gonna get the grin off his face for days. "Oh, I think I could be convinced."
The banging from the hallway wasn't totally unexpected. Dean had been waiting for their reprieve to run out, and humans were actually harder to avoid than angels these days. He still wished it didn't have to be right now.
"Yeah, what!" he shouted, turning his head so he wasn't yelling in Cas' ear. Like it would bother him, but whatever. He could be polite.
"Dean, it's Becky!" Her piercing voice sounded breathless even through the door. "Sam says you should come downstairs right away!"
Dean weighed the fact that it was Becky against the fact that Sam wouldn't have sent Becky unless it really was a disaster. The odds came up in her favor. "Yeah, okay, come in," he said loudly, stepping away from Cas. It wasn't easy, even--maybe especially--with Cas looking like nothing had happened. "I'm on my way."
"Sam said I'm not to go into your room under any circumstances," Becky told him through the door. "He also says to tell you to hurry up and that he's not kidding."
Dean rolled his eyes, but Sam wasn't stupid and keeping Becky out of their room was probably for the best. "Can you at least open the door?" he muttered to Cas. "So she isn't yelling about whatever's going on to the whole building?"
Castiel glanced at the door and Dean heard it bang open. He couldn't help looking over his shoulder, catching Becky's wide-eyed stare even as he jammed his feet into his boots. He'd had enough of running around heaven and Kansas in his socks; he wasn't going to do it at the Roadhouse too.
"Okay," he said, turning back and reaching for the laces. "That works."
"Um, wow," Becky said. "So the whole fading grace thing doesn't keep you from being all angelic, huh? I mean, I assume that's how you opened the door. Also, why are you wearing different clothes? I thought you didn't change your clothes. Not that it's not awesome, believe me, you look way hotter in things that actually fit--"
"Becky," Dean said, yanking the laces tight. "What's with Sam."
"Oh, Jesse's here," she said. "He's downstairs. The angels are really kind of freaked out, if you ask me, but I guess they have reason to be. He likes Sam though, huh? I mean, who doesn't--"
"Jesse," Castiel repeated, like she wasn't still talking. "Dean."
"Yeah, I got it," Dean said. "What's he want?"
"Well, he mostly wants to talk to you," Becky said. "He says he has a message from Lucifer."
"He has a message from Lucifer?" Dean let his fingers do the tying while his eyes sought out Cas, instinctive request for reinforcement, reassurance, information... whatever Cas had, he'd take it.
Castiel had been staring at Becky, but he looked down at the same moment Dean looked up and the resignation on his face said it all. "He is the antichrist, Dean."
"He's a kid," Dean snapped, pulling at the laces of his other boot. His gaze flickered to Cas' feet, to the light workboots that had replaced Jimmy's dress shoes, and he might have smiled if it had been any other conversation. "We're gonna remember that, okay? He's not a demon, not technically, and he didn't mean to hurt anyone. He's got that over all of us."
"Well, you don't actually know what he's been doing all this time, right?" Becky sounded nervous. "I'm just saying, he could have been out hurting people. He's pretty powerful. I mean, from what I've read."
"A power like his could doom heaven," Castiel agreed.
"So he's got superpowers," Dean said, standing up. "So what? God's got superpowers, and he's not exactly burning up the battlefield.
"Nice boots," he added, clapping Castiel on the shoulder. "Let's go."
Castiel wasn't distracted. "I fail to understand how you can compare God to the antichrist," he said, following Dean out of the room. "They are nothing alike."
"Well, they've got one thing in common," Dean said over his shoulder. "I don't believe in either of 'em. People are just people, Cas. You taught me that. Sometimes they make bad decisions, sometimes they make good ones, but at the end of the day, these stupid stories we tell just screw things up."
"Um, don't you rely on stories?" Becky called, hurrying to keep up as they pushed into the stairwell. "As hunters, I mean, isn't that exactly the kind of thing you need? Lore, mythology, all that stuff? Holy books?"
"Doesn't mean they're right," Dean said. He took the stairs two at a time, and he could feel Cas right behind him. "Where's this going down? They outside?"
"No, they're in the main--"
They burst into the bar before she could finish saying main room, because yeah, that was where the action was. Angels were frozen around the edges, at tables and up against the wall, clearing a space like a ring: Sam was in the middle of it, because he always was, and Jesse hadn't gotten any taller since they'd seen him last. Sam towered over him, the way he did, and all Dean heard was the growl of hell from the crackling space between them.
He had his gun up and cocked before the thing could so much as bark. Which it did, a freaky-sounding yip that wasn't familiar, but he could see it: little, yeah, but black and slobbering and invisible to anyone who wasn't already as good as dead. "Back off," Dean snarled. "I'll mess your pack up good."
There was nothing hellhounds hated more than seeing their brothers go down.
"Dean!" Sam sounded horrified. "What are you doing?"
"Hellhounds," Castiel said briefly. "How many?"
Becky disappeared behind the bar with a terrified "meep!" just as Ellen and Tamara came out with mugs and cookies and no apparent concern for the angels who weren't moving. "Dean," Ellen said, and he could hear the frown in her voice. "What have I told you about pulling guns inside?"
"I only see one," Dean muttered, scanning the room as best he could without taking his eye off the one between Jesse and Sam. "Why can I see it, by the way?"
"Don't do that," Jesse said.
Dean's gun flew out of his hand and he reached over his shoulder without thinking. Michael's sword was in his hand between one breath and the next. "You keep those things away from me," he growled, "or we're gonna have a problem. A dead dog problem so big Lucifer's gonna need to start a breeding program just to replace them all."
"There's only one," Jesse said, giving him a look like he was the one being unreasonable. "He's just a puppy. He won't hurt anyone."
"You have a hellhound puppy?" Sam repeated. His gaze flicked from the gun in Jesse's hand to the place on the floor he must think Dean was eyeing. He was off by several feet. Which was stupid, since he had to have heard the thing growl.
"His mom didn't want him," Jesse said. "I'm just taking care of him until he finds a pack that does."
Great. Adoptee angst. Dean was actually going to feel bad about slicing the thing up now. A little. Okay, not at all, but he'd feel like he should feel bad.
"Dean," Castiel said, very softly. And hey, look at that, he did know how to whisper around other people. "I can stop a hellhound. I can't stop Jesse."
Dean got that message loud and clear: don't provoke the kid with the superpowers.
"Fine, whatever," he muttered, lowering the sword. "But for the record?" he added more loudly. "I hate hellhounds."
It was funny, but he almost thought he could hear Castiel's voice before he opened his mouth. "You only say that because they killed you," Castiel informed him.
"Ha ha," Dean grumbled. He eyed the creature to keep from smirking at Cas. Because really, so not appropriate. None of the ways he wanted to look at Cas were appropriate right now.
"You were killed by hellhounds?" Jesse said. There was a note in his voice, a tone so familiar it was strange, and it took Dean a second to get it. It was the sound of an eleven-year-old boy who thought something was cool. "For real?"
The fact that Dean was obviously alive now didn't seem to bother him. "Yeah," Dean said. "It sucked."
That was the moment that Ellen decided she was going to serve them hot chocolate. "Here you go," she said, setting two mugs down on the table next to Sam and Jesse. Dean used the distraction to fumble the sword back into its makeshift scabbard. "Does your... dog want anything, Jesse?"
"No, thank you." Jesse gave her a polite smile. "He's fine. Thanks for the hot chocolate."
"There were some cookies out back," Tamara added. She, at least, sounded like she wasn't sure feeding the antichrist was a good idea. He might not have introduced himself, but all those angels couldn't be sleeping on their feet. They hadn't moved so much as a finger since Dean had burst into the room.
"Thanks, Tamara," Sam said, helping himself. "Can you make sure Becky's okay?"
"I'm fine!" Becky's voice drifted over the bar to them, but she didn't show her face. "I'm fine, Sam! I know you'll protect us!"
Sam gave Tamara an apologetic look, but she waved him off. "I got it," she said, circling them carefully like she wasn't quite sure where the hellhound had gone. It hadn't moved, but she didn't have any way of knowing that.
"Hey," Dean said, narrowing his eyes at the terrifyingly toothy thing on the floor at Jesse's feet. "Is there coffee, at least? Me and Cas were supposed to have breakfast."
"Coffee will stunt your growth," Jesse informed him.
Dean looked up, caught Sam's pointed glance, and grimaced. "Fine," he muttered. "Hot chocolate, then. Pass me those cookies."
"Cookie?" Sam asked, offering the plate to Jesse first.
Jesse considered the plate like it mattered. "What kind are they?"
"The kind where they're cookies," Dean said, reaching in front of him to scoop a handful off the plate. "Who cares?" He handed one to Cas and stuffed another one in his mouth.
"Mmph," he added, giving Ellen a thumbs-up to show his appreciation. She rolled her eyes, turning back toward the bar. Hopefully to get him some hot chocolate. With caffeine. He watched Cas study his cookie out of the corner of his eye, and he tried not to think about breaking off a piece and feeding it to him.
Geez. Cas had opened the door on everything with his "research proposal." Dean was never going to be able to concentrate again.
"No, thanks," Jesse was saying. "You might be trying to poison me or something."
"We're not," Sam said immediately. "We're eating them too, right?"
"Besides," Dean said around a second cookie, "why would we poison the cookies and not the hot chocolate?"
Jesse frowned at the mug on the table, and Sam gave Dean an irritated look.
"Which we didn't," Dean added. "Poison it, I mean. Because that would be stupid."
"Maybe you should stop talking," Sam told him. "Let's sit down, okay? No one's going to do anything to anyone. Let's just call this... neutral ground, or something."
Dean scoffed, glancing around the outside of the room. "Tell that to them."
"They don't like me," Jesse said. "They'll try to hurt me if I let them go. They'll be fine as soon as I leave."
"Okay, well." Dean couldn't really argue with the first part, so he turned a chair around and sat down at the table with the mugs. "Give me another one of those cookies, would you?"
"Jesse has a message from Lucifer," Sam said, taking the seat next to him.
"Well, I had a date with Cas," Dean said. "That's not working out so well, so I think the least you can do is give me another cookie."
Sam gave him a weird look. "What, a breakfast date?"
"You got a problem with that?" Dean countered.
"You're dating him?" Jesse was looking Castiel over with a skeptical expression that reminded Dean of little action figures and their tiny knives. Or maybe anything that involved Jesse acknowledging Cas in any way would remind him of that, he didn't know. But he didn't like it.
"I would be," Dean grumbled, "if people could stop interrupting us for two seconds. This whole saving the world thing--it really eats up your time, you know?"
"Do you have a knife?" Jesse asked Castiel.
"Not at the moment," he replied.
"That's a lie." Jesse's hellhound growled, and Dean wondered where the kid had disappeared his gun to. "You have a sword. All angels have swords."
"It manifests when I need it," Castiel said. "At the moment, it is of no use to me."
Jesse looked at Dean. "Do you need yours right now?"
"Mine's different," Dean told him. "It stays around."
"Because you're not really an angel," Jesse said, sitting down across from him. "Lucifer thinks you are. He says to tell Sam he can save you. He says if Sam becomes his vessel, he'll put you back the way you were and you and Sam can be together."
"That's never gonna happen." Dean reached for another cookie, because he could. Sam was sitting back in his chair, arms crossed over his chest, looking surprisingly unconcerned. Cas was standing on his other side, stoic but cookie-less, which meant he must have eaten it at some point and Dean had missed it.
And if he could be upset about that, right now, then maybe they were all getting too used to this whole apocalypse thing.
"He's lying, too," Jesse said. He was looking at the cookie plate. "When he says you can be together, he means in hell. After you die."
Suddenly it was hard to swallow. Dean reached for Sam's mug, the hot chocolate burning his tongue as he used it to wash down the rest of the cookie. "How do you know that?" he asked, when he could talk again.
Jesse shrugged. "I've gotten better at knowing when people are lying to me."
"Lucifer does not lie," Castiel said.
"He tricks you," Jesse said. "He says things to make you think he means something when he really means something else. That's lying."
"That's deception," Castiel corrected. "Factual truths may be used in the service of deceit."
"Then that's worse," Jesse told him.
"I think we can all agree that no matter what he does, the devil doesn't have our best interests at heart," Sam said. "And if he's found Jesse, that's not good."
"He didn't find me," Jesse said. "I found him. I had some questions."
"Oh, you had some questions," Dean muttered. "Great. How'd that work out for you?"
"Pretty good," Jesse said. "He says I have a trustworthy face."
Sam made a sound that might have been a snicker, though his expression got serious fast when they all looked at him. "Okay, so, you found Lucifer," he said. "We've been trying to do that for a while, actually. Got any tips?"
"He says he'll talk to you in Santa Fe," Jesse offered. "That's where he wants to meet you about the Dean thing."
"Santa Fe," Sam said, frowning. "Why Santa Fe? We were just there."
"The Dean thing?" Dean repeated. "I'm a thing now?"
"Lucifer thinks you're Michael," Castiel said, out of the blue as far as Dean was concerned. "But Jesse does not."
Dean craned his neck to look at him, still standing several steps from the table. "Yeah? What's that mean?"
"That I'm smarter than your average archangel," Jesse said. "Or stronger. Or both."
"Scary thought," Sam said. "No offense," he added, when Jesse looked at him.
"Sorry about your hot chocolate," Jesse replied. It was unexpected in a way that made Dean give the mug a wary glance, but Jesse kept talking. "Ellen was going to call for help. I didn't want her to do that."
Dean was careful not to move. "Is she okay?"
"She's fine," Jesse said. "Just... frozen."
Okay. No more hot chocolate and cookies for them. That was the least of their problems right now. "You can find Lucifer," Dean said. "You can find us, but no one can find you. Lucifer thinks you look trustworthy. You've got us feeding you cookies--or trying to, anyway--so a guy's gotta ask. What makes you come here and tell us the truth?"
If it was the truth, which Dean doubted, but he thought it was still a good question.
Jesse frowned. "Partly because I wanted to come," he said. "I wanted to see what was going on."
Then he shifted his gaze to Sam and added. "Plus, Lucifer is really normal. You guys aren't. In comic books, the good guys never blend in. You can't hurt me, anyway, so I guess I'm okay as long as I don't do anything anyone tells me to do."
"You did what Lucifer told you to do," Dean pointed out.
"Not really," Jesse said.
Yeah, okay. Not really. Dean would give him that one.
"Jesse," Sam said carefully. "We're not going to hurt you, okay? But you should know that someone could. You're not invincible, and it's dangerous to think you are. As long as you care about people, you can be hurt. People can hurt you through your friends, or your family."
"I don't care about anyone," Jesse said. But his eyes went to Castiel in a way that made Dean's shoulders tighten. "Besides, you care about people. I could hurt you back."
"Yeah," Sam agreed. "You could. But you couldn't hurt Lucifer that way. That's what makes him so dangerous."
Jesse looked like he was thinking about that, and all Dean could think was, great. Now they were teaching the kid about emotional blackmail. This meeting was going really well.
"Lucifer cares about people," Jesse said at last. "He'd be mad if something happened to you, Sam." He looked at Dean. "And he really wants to see Michael."
Dean didn't move. "Thought he wanted to meet Sam."
Jesse shrugged. "He thinks he needs Sam to see Michael."
He tried to make that make sense in his mind, but no matter how he looked at it, he was missing something. "Why?"
"Like I know," Jesse said, rolling his eyes. "He says he'll be at the Ghost Fair when they do their weekly welcoming party. I dunno how you're supposed to find him, but he'll probably find you, anyway."
"You gonna be there?" Sam asked. Because obviously that was more important than why or how or even exactly when. Maybe he figured Jesse wouldn't answer any of those questions.
Not that he answered this one either.
"I don't know," Jesse said. "I'm gonna go now. Thanks for the hot chocolate."
"Yeah, sure," Sam said. He lifted two fingers to wave, but Jesse didn't move.
Dean frowned. Not like he expected the kid to stand up and head for the door, but--
He glanced at the door anyway, catching Cas' eye on the way to make sure he was still there.
He was. So was Gabriel. Lounging in the doorway like he'd been there all along. Something about the way he was doing it made Dean look around sharply, and sure enough, he wasn't the only new arrival. Anna stood at the far end of the bar, arms folded, and across the room the third point of their triangle was a striking woman who'd hitched her hip casually against a table.
Cas was right, Dean thought distantly. Samael's vessel was smokin'.
"I can't leave," Jesse said. He sounded confused, like it was the first time he'd tried to do something that failed.
"Surprise," Gabriel drawled from the doorway.
"Let him go," Sam said, getting to his feet to add height to his glare. "He came here to help us."
Gabriel snorted. "Oh, yeah?" His gaze raked over the silent angels, still and statuesque in whatever position they'd been in when Jesse arrived. "Tell that to them."
"He didn't hurt them," Dean said. He still had Sam's mug, and he took another drink of hot chocolate to disguise his swallow before he stood up. Time to see how far Michael's authority went. "Let him go, Gabriel."
He was as startled as anyone when Anna and Samael both dropped gracefully to one knee, heads bowed. Gabriel only stared back, and Dean didn't move. "You too, Jesse," he said. "Let them go."
"They'll come after me," Jesse said.
"No, they won't." Dean didn't take his eyes off of Gabriel. "Everyone in this room is going to stand down. There's plenty of people to fight out there without fighting the ones in here too."
He was very aware of Castiel, standing between him and Gabriel but not making any move to back him up. He could see Sam nod at Jesse out of the corner of his eye. There was a sigh, a grumble from the hellspawn on the floor, and then movement from the angels. Dean didn't know how much they'd been aware of while they were "frozen," but it was looking like not enough.
"Stand down!" he shouted into the rush of air that might be wings and the crackle of power that could be electricity. They were loud in his head, louder than they had been when he wasn't touching the sword, and he wasn't sure if he was yelling at them or over them. "We're not at war with the whole world!"
Now Castiel was at his shoulder. Now Jesse's dog was standing up. Now Gabriel was going down on one knee, and one by one, the other angels followed his example. "Thanks," Jesse said, and just like that, he and his hell pup were gone.
The roar in his head was overwhelming. He couldn't hear a thing. He couldn't even drop the stupid sword because, oh yeah, he wasn't holding it. They weren't individual voices, they weren't words, they were just shrieking wordless cries of concern and curiosity. Tamer than the volume made them sound. Broadcasting the disturbance across the network for every angel tuned in to rebel radio to hear.
Cas, he thought desperately. Involuntarily.
That was all it took. His awareness filled with an angel, one angel, shoving everything else out of his head. Like they were the intruders here. Like Dean wasn't pretending to be the strongest archangel in heaven, so what did he care if the rabble got a little rowdy when he wasn't paying attention?
You always save me, he thought, a little loopy and a lot grateful. Seriously, where did you go when your head turned into a battleground?
He couldn't hear them anymore, not exactly. He knew they were there the same way he knew the right answer was, I always serve you. He didn't know if it was the other angels he could hear saying it, or if he was picking it up from Cas even as he said something else entirely.
You always love me, Castiel told him.
Dean opened his eyes, surprised that they'd been closed and more surprised that Cas wasn't touching him. He still had an angel standing a step behind him when Ellen and Tamara burst out of the back, weapons ready. Unfortunately, he also had a room full of bowing angels, and Tamara looked like she couldn't decide who to shoot first.
"The kneeling thing is gonna get old," he muttered under his breath to Cas.
"Indeed," Castiel replied, and he almost smiled.
"Dean?" Ellen said, and her voice sounded dangerous. Not at all like the person who had served the antichrist cookies and cocoa. Or maybe exactly like a person who could do that. "You want to tell us what's going on?"
"Yeah, sorry about the whole freezing thing," he said, glancing around the room. "You guys make Jesse nervous. You're making me nervous with the bowing, so let's not do that anymore.
"Ellen, Tamara... Gabriel," he added, when no one said anything but they were all suddenly standing again. "Thanks for the backup. Just a little visit from the antichrist, nothing to get upset about."
Sam cleared his throat, and Dean frowned at him. "You got something to say?"
"That antichrist has been talking to Lucifer," Sam pointed out. "Who is apparently expecting us. Or at least me."
"You're not going," Dean said. "Find out whatever you can about this welcoming ritual, whenever it is--"
"Saturday," Sam said.
"Yeah, whatever," Dean said. "See if you can figure out what Lucifer thinks he's gonna get by having you there. Hey, maybe Sarah can help."
Sam didn't give him a look that said, most transparent matchmaking effort ever, which was a surprise and also kind of funny. Because what he did instead was nod, making a thoughtful face that said, one of your crazy ideas might not be totally bad. Dean decided to count it as a win and save laughing at him for later.
"Ellen, you got a second to go over the wards with Gabriel?" He didn't know what the angels were all still standing around for, but he knew how to take advantage of a situation. Even the archangels were still there.
"Yeah," Ellen said curtly. She didn't sound enthusiastic, but she'd put the gun away and the look she gave Gabriel wasn't terrifying. Sam was right: she must like him. "Sure."
Gabriel didn't snark it up, so Dean figured he was fine.
"Um, Dean?" Becky's voice came from somewhere behind the kitchen door. It didn't stay there, of course, he couldn't be that lucky. Emerging into view like an overgrown dandelion, she had to know, "What should I do? Do you want me to help Sam? Because I could, you know. I do a lot of research myself, and I'm very--"
"Late," Dean finished. "Muffin says you're late with the cat food, so dish it up. Then find Chuck. Make sure he's not dead. You think you can do that?"
"Of course I can," she said, somehow looking pleased and offended at the same time.
"Michael," Anna began.
See? This was how it started. One person had a question, they all had a question. He'd never get anything done if he put up with this stuff all day.
"Hold it right there," Dean said. He put up a hand to emphasize how much he wasn't listening. "I'm not here. I'm on break. We know the world's not gonna end before Saturday, okay?" Pointing at Cas, he continued, "You and me. Breakfast. Now."
Castiel didn't exactly protest, but when Dean looked around he realized the flaw in his plan. "Somewhere not here," he amended. "We're driving. Let's go."
Which turned out to be his best idea yet, even after Zachariah showed up and tried to talk shop in the middle of the diner down the road. Dean managed to glare instead of jump, and Cas was getting really good at ignoring archangels. Unreasonably good. Which worked to their advantage on so many levels, not the least of which was status. If Cas could convincingly feign disinterest, which he'd never been able to before, it went a long way toward making everyone else think he was better than they were.
And apparently, anyone Michael liked was better than anyone else. By definition or something. Dean was all about getting Cas into that category, preferably as soon as possible. If he never heard the word "hunted" in connection with Castiel again, it would be too soon.
"Not now," Dean told Zachariah, in a voice that was a lot nicer than the guy deserved. Any voice was nicer than Zachariah deserved, so as far as he was concerned, the fact that they were speaking meant Dean was slumming it.
"Cas and I have things to discuss," he said. "You got problems, you take them to Gabriel."
"Gabriel is occupied," Zachariah said, and wow, could he whine.
"So am I," Dean snapped. "I don't know if you noticed, but you screwed up all of armageddon. Which I now get to fix for you, while you're over there, working your way through the human sins. I mean, come on, the angelic ones weren't enough for you? It's not a bucket list, Zach. At some point you're supposed to realize that growing up means getting a grip. So quit sniveling and go pray or something. It'll do you good."
To his surprise, Zachariah did. Or at least, he disappeared, and that was as much as Dean asked at this point. Especially when Cas made no comment on the scuffle and instead remarked, very calmly, that the cinnamon rolls looked delicious. He couldn't keep the goofy grin off his face as he slid closer to read over Cas' shoulder. "Man after my own heart."
Castiel didn't protest the invasion of space, despite the fact that there was a second perfectly good menu on the table. "I already have your heart, Dean."
He snorted. Or he tried to. It came out as not much more than a breath of air, probably hot against the skin over Cas' collar: there was a lot more of it exposed than there used to be, and Dean wondered, not for the first time, how much he felt. "Yeah?" he said, trying to ignore the part of his brain that urged him to bury his face in that neck and let the rest of the diner pretend they weren't there. "Pretty sure of that, are you?"
"Yes," Castiel agreed. "You're sitting very close to me."
Dean had to laugh at that. It was easier to tell his brain to shut up when Cas was saying practical, obvious things that couldn't be misinterpreted. "You're one to talk," he said, straightening up and reaching for the other menu. "Maybe you're teaching me bad habits; you ever think of that?"
Castiel frowned at him, and it was hard to tell whether he was annoyed by the comparison or just confused. "I didn't say it was unpleasant."
"You don't want to give me a free pass," Dean told him, skimming the breakfast options for himself. Like he needed to. He'd been here a hundred times. "'Cause I will take it. You know me."
He still had no idea how to act around Cas. He never had. But he'd never had quite this kind of audience, either.
"Dean." There was something in his voice that made Dean glance at him--and why were they sitting next to each other, anyway? Cas had been the one to slide in beside him, instead of across from him, and Dean had written it off as a weird bodyguard thing.
Now, though, he couldn't...
He'd never admit it to anyone, but the staring wasn't the worst.
"The voices you hear in your head," Castiel said quietly. "The choir, the sound that overwhelms you... it's a pale shadow of what it was. Those few of us connected here on earth may keep each other from going mad, but we are not what we were."
Turning his head, his eyes fell on Dean's hand and he added, "It's very quiet. I am still very much alone. I don't believe there's anything you could do that I would consider an imposition, no action that would bring you too close and no words that would be too much."
Dean was staring at his hand too, not sure what he was supposed to do about any of that. "I'm not a talker, Cas."
"You are very physical," Castiel murmured. Like he wasn't supposed to say it. Like anyone could be listening.
Dean sighed, letting the hand closest to Cas fall. He braced it against the table, palm up, and twitched it in Cas' direction. "Seriously?" he said, watching him follow the movement and then lift his gaze to Dean's. "You're fine with kissing me, but you have to ask permission to hold my hand?"
Apparently mocking worked now. Cas' fingers laced through his and squeezed hard enough to bring tears to his eyes, which he was so not going to mention. Cas knew anyway.
"I'll break you," Castiel said. He sounded more miserable than before.
Dean scoffed, crushing Cas' fingers in return. "News flash," he said. "I'm already broken. You pick up the pieces, you keep 'em. For whatever it's worth."
"It's worth a great deal." Castiel was still staring at their hands. "Dean... did Michael say anything to you about channeling heaven's power?"
He rolled his eyes, because in Cas' mind that was probably a totally logical followup. "Yeah, he wrote me a book. Why?"
Castiel looked up, studying him sideways in their little booth. "You're being sarcastic."
Dean didn't have time to explain how unsarcastic his next response was going to be, because this was a diner and if they weren't ready to order they were still going to get coffee every five minutes. He appreciated the service more when the waitress didn't bat an eye at their clasped hands, sitting on the table in full view of everyone. The smile he gave her was mostly relieved.
Her answering smile was not at all flirty, which he wasn't used to, but it was weirdly happy, which he also wasn't used to. He could see why Ellen referred so many customers. Aside from the fact that her place had recently been taken over by warriors of God.
"Michael and I, we didn't have a long conversation," Dean muttered, after she left. "He left a message I didn't really hear. How come?"
"Your hands are glowing," Castiel said simply.
Dean looked at them, because okay, that would explain why Cas was distracted. Except that no, they weren't. "Uh, glowing in a figuratively mystical way, or in a real you can see light coming from them kind of way?"
"You can't see it," Castiel said, looking up at his face again.
"Nope." Finally, a weird supernatural thing he couldn't see. Of course it would be about him. "You infect me with some of your angel mojo, or what?"
"Angels don't glow," Castiel informed him.
Dean stared at him for several seconds, then shook his head. "Right," he said. "Obviously."
Castiel's eyes narrowed. "Why do you say it like that?"
"Dude, you glow," Dean said bluntly. "To me, you glow, okay? Sorry, crazy human here. That's what I see."
Castiel considered that. He considered it while he was tearing off the outer edge of his cinnamon roll, which meant that Dean was a little more interested in what his hands were doing than in what he was going to say. His own hand was burning, stinging from the pressure that had bitten into it, but he wasn't about to shake it out while Cas was watching. Fortunately, watching those fingers methodically shred a cinnamon roll was more than enough distraction.
It was weird that it didn't feel more weird to be allowed to stare.
"I don't know what that means," Castiel said at last.
It took Dean a second to get it, but when he did, he rolled his eyes. He knew exactly what it meant that Castiel now thought he glowed. It meant Sam was going to mock him mercilessly for the rest of his life. Dean didn't have any doubt that his brother would find out, so he tried to get it over with as soon as they got back.
"Dude," he said, catching Sam's eye over Becky's head. He really didn't want to go strolling through an angel stronghold if he was glowing somehow, and Sam was with Becky. So it was a tossup which of them wanted to get out of there more. "Come on."
"Oh, where are you going?" Becky chirped. "Because if you're going to do more research I can totally--"
"Important brother conference," Dean said. "No girls allowed."
"Sorry," Sam said, not sounding it at all.
Gabriel stole Cas before they even made it to the kitchen, which was annoying but probably inevitable. He squinted at Dean in a way that made Dean decide not to push it, because if he was starting to look to angels the way they looked to him all the time, he didn't want to know. He didn't want Sam to know either, but denial only went so far.
"So, interesting fact," Sam said, as soon as the door swung shut behind them. "Angel swords aren't transferable. At all. They're not kidding about that: someone else tries to wield it and either the sword burns up or the wielder does."
Suddenly the glowing thing didn't seem as important. "Yeah, okay," Dean said, frowning at him. "Except I'm carrying one right now, and there's no burning going on."
"Carrying it's different," Sam said. "Cas carried it for you and that was all--well, weird, actually. Apparently angels don't do that either. But you don't burn unless you pick up someone else's sword with the intent to use it. Little caveat that keeps them from accidentally offing each other in the field."
"Or in practice," Dean muttered. "'Oh, you dropped your sword, here let me--bzzzt.' Great," he added. "Just another one of heaven's charms."
"Do angels practice?" Sam asked. "Aren't they designed to be perfect warriors, or whatever?"
"Some of them have gotta be better than others," Dean pointed out. "Otherwise no one would win when they fight."
"So, maybe they're designed to be whatever kind of fighter they are," Sam said. "Maybe you trade skills in one area for skills in another."
"If they're all exactly as good as they're designed, why fight at all?" Dean countered. "They'd already know who's gonna lose."
"You think that would stop them?" Sam said. "They're angels; they probably think they're supposed to lose."
"Okay, whatever," Dean muttered. He was willing to lose this argument if it meant they could stop talking about dead angels. "What does this have to do with the not burning up thing?"
"Well, given this bit of angelic trivia--imparted by Sachiel, by the way, fun girl--there's only two possibilities I can come up with. Or three," Sam admitted, "but since the third one is that you're inexplicably the only person on the face of the planet that angel warding doesn't work on, I'd say we're down to two."
Dean snorted, folding his arms.
"One," Sam said. "That's not Michael's sword. Maybe it's a... a blank, or something. A sword that hasn't imprinted on anyone yet."
"A spare," Dean said.
Sam shrugged. "Maybe?"
"I knew it," Dean said. "I should have made Cas put money on it. What's the second option?"
"Well, the problem with the first one is that everyone seems to think you're Michael," Sam said. "And Sachiel agrees with you that it was the sword that did it. The second option explains that, but it's not so great otherwise."
"Spit it out," Dean said impatiently.
"Michael's dead," Sam said. "It's not his sword anymore because he's not around to own it."
"Michael's dead," Dean repeated. He stared at Sam. "That's your explanation. Seriously?"
Sam shrugged again. "You got a better one?"
"Yeah," Dean said. "Angels are crazy."
Sam huffed out a breath of agreement, leaning back against the counter. "I'm not ruling it out, believe me."
"Speaking of crazy," Dean said. "Where's you know who?"
"I hate to be the one to tell you this, Dean," Sam told him. "But Voldemort isn't real. He's a fictional character. Also, I'm pretty sure he dies in the end."
"Ruby," Dean said. "Where's Ruby."
"Oh, her." Sam smirked at him. "Jo's bringing her and Sarah once they finish their next round of hex bags or whatever they're doing. They have some sort of pseudo-coven going over there. It's a little disturbing, to tell you the truth."
"She can't come in here," Dean said. In case he'd forgotten.
"Yeah, funny thing about that," Sam said, his smile fading. "Ellen got the windows at her place fixed yesterday, and she laid down extra protective lines at every opening. Ruby stepped over one before we knew they were there."
Dean stared at him, because obviously he didn't mean salt lines. "She what?"
"Salt lines," Sam confirmed. "She can cross them."
"How?" he demanded.
"No idea," Sam said. "Her eyes still turn black, and every angel who sees her IDs her as a demon."
"Because she is a demon," Dean growled.
"Well, she can do non-demony things," Sam said. "I don't know what else to tell you."
"So, what, you're gonna test her on the Roadhouse?" he demanded. "See what happens if she tries to walk in? It already kicked her out once."
"I know," Sam said. "Believe me, I know. But we have to know what she can do, and the Roadhouse is as good a testing ground as any."
Whether she could cross wards or not, Dean didn't like having her inside them for any reason. "Warn Gabriel," he muttered. "Before you do anything. And Ellen."
"We're not going to bring the place down by trying to walk through the door, Dean."
"Do those binding symbols even work on her?" Dean snapped. "Do you have any idea? If she's hopping the freakin' salt lines she could be doing anything! We don't have a clue why she's here! I don't think it's too much to ask that we tell the owner who we're parading into the building!"
"Okay," Sam said, his face unreadable. He didn't apologize and he didn't shout back. "You're right; it's a good idea. I'll tell them."
"Good," Dean grumbled. "Fine. In the meantime, I gotta find a way to juice up our angels."
Sam didn't have to be told twice. "Heavenly recharge?" he suggested, letting the multitude of Ruby issues slide.
"Yeah," Dean said. "They'd be a lot more helpful if they could fight. If Gabriel could get Cas in, I don't see why we can't rotate the rest of 'em through."
"Except he had to stay with you," Sam said, frowning. "When he took Cas, he had to wait to bring him back, right? I don't like saying it, but we may need him here more than we need him playing taxi driver to heaven."
Huh. That could actually be true. He hadn't exactly thought out the whole recharging plan.
"What if a whole bunch of them go at once," Dean said, except that the more of them there were the more attention they drew, so they'd need-- "What if I went with them? I mean, Michael could... hey." Michael. That was a thought.
Dean glanced around the kitchen, but it was still empty except for the two of them. Ellen had gotten most of her staff out when the apocalypse started turning all Fight Club on them. "Where's Cas when you need him, anyway," he muttered, striding toward the door.
"Usually with you," Sam called after him. "You're dating now? Did you swap class rings?"
"Shut up," Dean said, pushing the door open.
"Dude, someone's gotta say it." He could hear Sam smirking without even turning around. "Could you be any more gay?"
"If it's contagious," Dean retorted, "I got it from you."
He finally spotted an angel he knew, and he had no problem yelling over whatever Sam's comeback was supposed to be. "Hey, Jo!" he shouted, and the nickname was out before he realized who it sounded like. "Geez," he muttered. "That's gonna be weird.
"Jophiel!" he amended, but she was already looking up. "Got a second?"
When she lifted her wings, he knew what she was going to do, but he said it anyway. "Seriously, why do all their names end in 'el'?"
A flutter of air behind him as he turned to walk back into the kitchen let him know that he was the only one walking. Sam answered before Jophiel could. "It's a family thing," he said. "'El' is a Hebrew word for God."
Dean eyed him. "Okay, why do you know that?"
Sam gave him the look right back. "How do you read the Bible and not know that?"
"We are our father's children," Jophiel's voice said from behind him. "We were given his name to carry as a reminder of his love."
"All of you except Lucifer," Dean said. "No wonder he's pissed. And Zachariah, but I don't blame anyone for not loving that piece of work."
"They were given traditional names," Jophiel said. "The reasons they don't use them are not mine to question."
"Yeah, well, I think there should be a lot more questioning going on," Dean said. Fishing the chain out from under his shirt, he was careful this time not to touch the tree charm that dangled from it. "Cas tell you about this?"
Jophiel just tilted her head, so he glanced at Sam.
"Yeah," Sam said. "When you disappeared before."
"He's fast," Dean muttered. Cas' friend or not, he was pretty sure he couldn't just kidnap an angel. "Jo, you want to help me test something?"
"I am at your service," she replied.
"Seriously," Dean told her. "More questioning." He held out a hand to her anyway, since it had taken months for Cas to do anything but blindly follow orders, and this wasn't really the thing he wanted her to ask about. It was just the principle of the thing. "We're gonna go break into heaven."
He wasn't sure Michael's little magic trick would work on more than one person at once. He would rather have tested it on Cas, but he wasn't gonna be a clingy bastard. So when heaven opened up around him, all sea salt and brilliant sky through the windows of Michael's dome--wasn't it ever cloudy here?--it was Jophiel's hand in his and her long, sharp wings at his back.
"Well, would you look at that," Dean said. "I get all the special archangel perks."
He reminded himself not to stare when he looked at Jophiel and saw long curls of light and shining blue eyes in a blissful expression. It didn't work. There was something peaceful about seeing angels here--the first time he'd thought it was just Cas, the fact that he wanted to see Cas home, but he felt it with Jophiel too. It was something so literally awesome that it took his breath away.
If he needed to breathe here, which he felt like he did, so he wasn't about to stop just to find out.
"Hey," Dean said, a little more carefully than before. "If I leave you here, what happens? Can you get back on your own?"
She turned away from the dome to look at him. "My place is with you," she replied. There was no regret in her voice, but he felt bad about yanking her out of a place that she'd given up to help his own crazy angel.
"So come back," he said. "Doesn't have to be right now. I gotta go, though, the weird time thing must be making Sam crazy. Not that it takes much."
"I will travel with you," she said. Then, just as he was starting to think maybe she didn't miss it as much as Cas did with her constant angel buddy to keep her company, she added, "Thank you for involving me in your experiment."
"Yeah," he said, fingers twitching around her cool hand. "Anytime."
When they arrived back in Lawrence, Jophiel glanced at him, and he gave her a sheepish grin. "You mind?"
She got it, and the next thing he knew, they were standing outside the Roadhouse. He didn't think much of it, especially since the dragon had apparently decided to roost on the roof and that took up most of his attention, but Jophiel paused. "The wards have changed," she said, and there was an odd note in her voice.
Dean didn't like the sound of that. "They take you by surprise?"
"Yes," she said slowly. "And... something is wrong."
"Other than the dragon on the roof," he said.
She tilted her head like she could see right through the walls. "There's a reaper inside."
Ellen had made sure there weren't a lot of humans in there right now, and reapers didn't come for angels. Sam's stupid stunt with Ruby must have cost him. Dean had told him, he'd warned him, and all Sam could say was, she's different now. He should have ganked that bitch when he had the chance.
Now he was gonna have to fight a reaper.
He slammed the door open without caring where it went, his eyes tracking for anyone prone or at floor level. And he found him but he didn't make sense: Dean's brain couldn't process the blue shirt and khakis behind achingly familiar wings. Cas, on his knees... it wasn't Sam at all, it was Cas.
It was Castiel at Tessa's feet. Her hand tangled in his hair, twisting his head back in a way that looked painfully unnatural, and Dean was going to bury her. He didn't know what he needed to kill a reaper, but he would. He'd know soon.
"Cas," he said, and it came out stronger than he expected. Tessa just looked at him, and he found Sam out of the corner of his eye. "You okay?"
He saw Cas' eyes flick toward him.
"He can't talk," Tessa said. She sounded almost apologetic. "Consequences of interfering with a reaper."
Cas, he thought, because there was nothing else he could do. I leave you alone for two freakin' minutes.
"Interfering how?" he demanded aloud. "What can an angel do to you?"
He did get an answer, and in Cas' voice, no less. Quiet, even pained, it was still fierce and unrepentant. I am cast out of heaven, Cas told him. If she takes you, I will never see you again.
"You here for me?" Dean added, before Tessa could answer.
Sam was at the bar, and maybe he'd been waiting for them in the kitchen because he was on the far side of it right now. Not any kind of protection when the hand of death was walking around. Gabriel was there too, on the near side, his wings high enough to hide even Sam when he stood in front of him like that.
It wasn't enough to make up for this massive failure of trust.
Gabriel, Dean thought harshly. I leave him with you, I expect him to be protected. How hard is it to keep one angel out of trouble?
"You can talk to angels now," Tessa remarked, not bothering to answer his question.
He and trouble have a special relationship. Gabriel's voice rang in his head like a forging hammer. He must have learned that from you.
"Trust me, it's no prize," Dean told her. "Let Cas go and we can talk."
Tessa didn't move. "I'm not the aggressor here, Dean."
"Cas," Dean said evenly. "Promise the crazy lady of death that you won't try to kill her."
I can't talk, Cas reminded him. And I will make no such promise.
"He says he'll be on his best behavior," Dean told Tessa. "Let him go."
He didn't know how much of the angel radio she was getting, but if she knew he was lying it didn't seem to matter. Her fingers eased in Cas' hair, and a second later he was at Dean's side. "I know you've got a death wish," Dean muttered. "But do you have to be so freakin' literal about it?"
"I suppose not." Castiel's voice was quiet, but it was good to hear it again. Out loud. Even if it did sound more like as you wish, and screw Sam for making him watch that movie anyway.
"Good," Dean grumbled, eyeing Tessa. "So what do you want? This a social call, or you here for someone's soul?"
"It can't be both?" she said with a smile.
He felt Cas tense at his side.
"No," she added, when he didn't answer. "Neither, actually. You blur the lines between life and death, Dean. The reapers can't stop you. So they sent me here to contain you."
Dean eyed her skeptically. "Yeah? And what's that mean?"
"No one knows," she replied. "They're making it up as they go. They'd prefer me to stay uncommitted, but if you press a gun into my hands I think I can figure out what to do with it."
"Wait," Dean said. "Okay, stop right there. Are you offering to help us?"
The way she smiled told him that he'd finally gotten it right. "Consider me your personal liaison to the afterlife," Tessa told him.
He really hadn't thought this thing could get any weirder.