The angel comes outside quietly. The door sighs closed behind him, and his feet barely rustle the welcome mat.
It's a cool, moonless night. The sky is patchy with grayish clouds and a lazy breeze is circling the motel's parking lot. Mary is sitting on the narrow planter-box underneath their room's window; tufts of bluestar and columbine are bristling against her back. Mud is caked on the soles of her brand new boots. They cost Dean close to a hundred dollars ─ enough for two weeks' worth of groceries in 1981.
Castiel's shadow cuts a wide stripe across the uneven, concrete path leading to the vending machines. Mary studies him for a moment, frowning at his unkempt hair and his shapeless coat. He has blood on his collar ─ Dean's blood ─ and he needs a shave. In the last fourteen hours, Mary has seen him steal a car, knock a federal agent unconscious, and level an entire warehouse. He stabbed another angel, and he beat a man half to death to get information about Sam. He also rescued Dean from a Men of Letters ambush. He carefully healed Dean's wounds, and he hovered beside Dean's bed until Dean finally drifted off to sleep.
Dean had called Castiel a friend back at the bunker, but his voice had caught as he said it. Mary suspects it's more complicated than that ─ that things between them haven't always been easy. She asked Dean how they met, but Dean just grumbled and shrugged and changed the subject. Then two Men of Letters goons showed up and tried to stuff them into a van.
A train whistle breaks the awkward silence. Mary rests her elbows on her knees and says, "An angel. If my father was still alive, he'd owe me five dollars."
"You believed?" Castiel asks quietly.
"I wanted to." Mary had been raised as a hunter, and her parents had descended from families of hunters. As a child, she hadn't questioned their interpretations of the lore, but as a teenager, it had seemed unfair for Hell to be real if there wasn't a Heaven to balance it out. "You aren't quite what I pictured."
A smile tugs the corner of Castiel's mouth. "Dean said the same thing, shortly after I ─ shortly after we met."
"How did you meet?"
Castiel hesitates. A soft, sad look crosses his face. "He ─ it's Dean's story to tell. You'll have to be patient with him. Parts of it might be difficult for him to talk about."
"Is it bad?"
"Some of it, yes," Castiel admits, nodding. "But there's also a great deal of good. More than he's willing to give himself credit for. He has saved many, many lives. He's rid the world of abominable creatures ─ things you can't even fathom. He's repeatedly risked himself on the barest hope of sparing someone else."
The weight in his voice makes Mary pause. Carefully, she says, "He means a lot to you."
Castiel nods again. "Yes. He ─ he believed in me when I didn't deserve it. And he taught me how to be more than just a soldier."
The breeze catches an empty soda can and drags it across the tarmac. It rattles over a pothole, tumbles end over end a couple of times, then tips sideways and rolls underneath Castiel's truck. The Impala is parked beside it, its chrome tarnished by the motel's sodium lights. Dew is starting to settle on its hood. Mary stares at it for a moment, grateful for the familiar touchstone. Everything else in her life has changed.
She only knows Dean as a little boy ─ a gentle, sweet-natured four year-old who'd drawn brightly-colored pictures and left plastic army men all over the house. He'd loved grape jelly and hated strawberry. He'd liked being held and having his hair stroked as he fell asleep. He'd built towers out of Legos. He'd cried when he skinned his knees. Mary's having trouble reconciling those memories with the man who'd found her standing over her own grave. That Dean had carried a gun. He'd stolen a car so he could drive them back to Kansas. When the ambush came, he'd been determined to protect Mary; he'd held his own against two men with brass knuckles and blackjacks until Castiel showed up and dragged them to safety.
Mary feels sick just thinking about it ─ his swollen eyes, his split lip, the blood pouring from his nose and mouth. Whatever Castiel did to their attackers had shook the ground like an earthquake; Dean had groaned and dug his fingers in the dirt. He didn't answer when Mary called out to him or when Castiel crouched beside him. He clutched weakly at Castiel's coat when Castiel touched his face to heal him.
In the back of her head, her father's voice is reminding her that she can't trust strangers, and that anything that isn't human is by definition a monster. She shrugs it off and says, "Thank you."
Castiel tips his head to the side. "For what?"
"For rescuing us. For healing him. You ─ he would've died."
"I'm just glad I arrived in time. I can't ─ he's had too many close calls."
"God," Mary mutters. She suddenly can't breathe. Guilt is gnawing at everything inside her chest. "This isn't what I wanted for him. Or Sam. I wanted them to be normal. I wanted them to have regular lives. I wanted ─"
"They know that."
"It's my fault."
Castiel shakes his head. "You are not responsible for the choices your husband made after you died."
God, John. That's another subject Dean has stubbornly been avoiding. All Mary knows is, he dragged their sons into hunting and then died and left them to do it alone. "I made a deal." That night was literally a lifetime ago, but it all comes flooding back at once ─ the cicadas in the trees, John's snapped neck, a yellow-eyed demon moving her father's mouth. "If I hadn't done that, none of this would've happened."
"You were manipulated that night, by more than just Azazel. They understand that."
"They don't blame you," Castiel insists. "I know for a fact that your memory has helped both of them in dark times." A door slams upstairs; he glances up, then looks back down at Mary. Gently, he touches her shoulder. "It's late. Dean plans on starting early tomorrow."
Huffing, Mary rubs her gritty eyes. "I guess you're telling me I should go to bed."
"I'm suggesting it," Castiel says, his mouth almost wry. "I learned years ago that telling a Winchester to do anything is pointless."
"You ─" Mary sputters out a laugh. "Are you implying my sons are difficult?"
"Dean and Sam are the best men I've ever known," Castiel says quietly. "They're also impulsive, reckless, pigheaded, and obstinate."
"They get that from their father."
"I assumed as much."
Mary laughs again. Then she sighs and gets to her feet. The gravel scattered across the path crunches under her boots. She glances at the Impala as she turns toward the room; its windshield is veiled with dew. A puddle of antifreeze has formed underneath Castiel's truck. The motel's vacancy sign is washing the parking lot in a slow sweep of yellow and short bursts of red.
She pauses as she reaches for the doorknob. "Wait. We only have two beds. Are you ─"
"I don't require sleep," Castiel says, shrugging. "I'll watch over you."
Mary blinks. "You ─ do you do that a lot? Watch them sleep?"
"I've done it a few times over the years."
"Creepy, yes. Dean has told me."
"It's sweet," Mary says, shivering. "I was going to say it's sweet."