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Heaven's Most Wanted

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+ + + +

Now

“Dean?” the voice asked, pulling Cas back into consciousness. “Here, take a sip of this.”

A glass was held to Cas’s lips; the water was nectar to his parched lips.

“Dean?,” he asked.

“Yes, honey, we got that – your name’s Dean,” the voice chuckled. Cas managed to open his eyes and saw a woman with kind brown eyes smiling at him. “It’s been the only word you’ve said for two days.”

The cloudiness began to leave his head, and Cas struggled to sit upright. “Uh, where am I?,” he asked.

“You’re in our tent city,” the woman said, gesturing around them. Cas realized they were under a makeshift shelter, created by four tall poles and a tarp. He looked around and saw at least forty other people of various ages and ethnicities. Most were sleeping or cooking over an open flame. “Here, finish drinking,” she said, holding the rim of the glass back to his lips. He drank, grateful for the water reviving his parched throat.

“Are you hungry?,” she asked.

Cas had to think a moment – was he? His stomach was making noises and contracting oddly. “I believe so,” he answered.

“You rest here,” she said. “I’ll be back with some soup for you in a minute.”

“Wait,” Cas said, reaching out and grabbing her arm. “How long have I been here? How did I get here?”

“Big Mike – one of the watchmen – found you by the roadside three days ago. You were disoriented and talking, but honestly, honey, nothing you said made sense except your name.” She laid a hand on Cas’s head – “Don’t worry, Dean, you’re welcome to stay here as long as you need. I’m Gloria, by the way. If you need anything, you let me know.”

Cas nodded numbly. He felt he should correct her but hearing that name – somehow the sound of it fractionally eased the constant ache he carried inside him.

He consumed the soup that Gloria brought him without even asking what kind it was. It was nourishment, and it filled his empty stomach. He was so tired, so worn… His stomach full, he laid back down on the pallet and pulled his vest tightly around himself. He closed his eyes and waited for the onslaught.

Every time his mind relaxed, he was overcome with memories. His human brain, it seemed, was overwhelmed with categorizing all of the information from a millennia of angelic existence. It also insisted on replaying his last days as an angel over and over again. From his observations of the Winchesters, he assumed that ruminating was a human thing. Perhaps he could ask Dea—perhaps he could ask Gloria tomorrow.

The why of his remembering didn’t really matter. The fact was that he remembered, and it tore at him every second of every day.

I’m not wrong, Dean. I’m going to fix my home.

It felt like forever since Metatron had taken his grace. Cas remembered waking on the cold forest floor, running to a clearing where, with tears in his eyes, he had watched his brothers and sisters rain down in fire upon the earth.

He hadn’t realized he was completely human at first, even though he had felt Metatron slice into his neck, drain his grace from his body. But this time, he wasn’t left with, as Pestilence had put it, even “a speck” of angel.

From what he could tell, he was one hundred percent human.

His initial impulse had been to find Dean and Sam, and he’d made his way to the closest town with just that intent. But the fallen angels were wreaking havoc upon the earth and most were wrathful and looking for him.

Castiel was the most wanted being in the universe.

+ + + +

Then

When Sam regained consciousness, he was in a hospital room. Dean was sitting in the chair by the bed, his forehead resting on the edge of the bed, Sam’s hand in his.

From his brother’s even breathing, Sam knew he was asleep, and he was sure that for however long he’d been in the hospital, Dean hadn’t been sleeping, so he tried not to move and just lay there a moment evaluating his injuries. But Sam couldn’t tell anything was wrong with him; he was shocked to realize he actually felt good.

Sam should be half-dead, and he knew it. What had happened?

Dean jerked awake to find Sam watching him. When he saw that Sam was awake, the light in Dean’s face made Sam’s heart hurt. His brother smiled one of those rare, soul-filled smiles.

“Sammy,” Dean whispered, raising forward to envelope his brother in a bear hug that Sam gladly returned.

Discovering that Dean was Heaven’s Righteous Man had made perfect sense to Sam. He’d known all his life that those singular moments where he saw the real Dean, and not just the guy layered in bravado, bad-assery, aggression, and snark, hinted at his brother’s extraordinariness. Sam hadn’t been allowed a glimpse of Dean’s soul in a long time, but that smile…. Well, it revealed Dean’s heart.

And Sam could read that heart. He saw the happiness and relief in his brother’s open face, but he also saw a hint of worry in Dean’s eyes, a suggestion of tenseness in his body, and he knew that all still wasn’t well.

“How’s Cas?,” Sam asked, bypassing any questions about himself – he was alive, after all – and deciding to get straight to the point.

Dean’s face closed in on itself. Sam waited, giving his brother a moment to compose himself, to formulate an answer that he thought wouldn’t betray what he was really feeling.

If he only knew how obvious he is, how obvious they are, Sam thought. But it was a small thing to pretend that he didn’t know, and it was a gift that Sam, knowing that Dean needed time and space, gladly gave.

“I don’t know,” Dean finally answered. “Metatron tricked him, I know it. I tried to tell him, Sammy –” His voice hitched a little despite his best efforts. “The angels fell, so either Cas is dead or he fell too, and I have no idea—” Dean’s face contorted with the emotion he was holding back.

Dean was sitting close enough to touch, and for once, Sam acted on impulse and reached for his brother’s hand. Amazingly, Dean let him hold it, even squeezing back. They sat in silence for a long while.

+

Dr. Rickman came in and checked Sam’s vitals. The older man was short and plump with a lush white beard and looked for all the world like Santa Claus. Sam fought the smile that rose at the association. He and Dean watched expectantly as the doctor checked his tablet and typed in a few notes.

“Well, Mr. Smith, I have good news,” he said. “You’re going to be released this afternoon.”

“That’s great,” Sam said.

“Yeah, it is,” Dean added. “Thanks, doc.”

Dr. Rickman looked at the two, observing how much lighter and kinder the older one seemed now. The man had scared more than a few nurses while guarding his brother’s bedside. The older Mr. Smith’s black eye and cut cheek had only added to his imposing demeanor, and it was no accident that an extra security officer had patrolled the floor during Sam’s stay.

The older one hadn’t scared him, though, and the doctor could see that Sam returned his brother's fidelity by how attuned he was to him. Whatever these two had been through, they were survivors because of each other. That much was plain to him. The brothers' bond – even if slightly codependent and intimidating – actually warmed the doctor’s heart. He’d seen too much of everything but devotion in his thirty years of practicing medicine.

“You boys take care of each other.” He gestured at Dean, but spoke to Sam, “You’re lucky to have him. He was ready to tear the world apart to get you better.”

Dean smiled tightly, and Sam laughed. “I’m sure he was, doc.” If you only knew the half of it. “Thanks for taking care of me.”

Dr. Rickman nodded. “To be honest,” he said, “I’m not sure how you got better. You were nearly dead when you were brought in, and we did what we could, but -- you’re an out and out miracle, Sam Smith.”

Sam felt alarm at those words and shot a hard look in Dean’s direction, but his brother wouldn’t meet his eyes.

“Whatever brought you back, I’m glad it did,” Dr. Rickman said with a warm smile. “The nurse will be in shortly with your discharge papers and the instructions for your outpatient regimen.” He walked to the door but paused and looked back, “Both of you take care,” he said.

“Sure thing, doc,” Dean answered.

“Thanks again,” Sam said.

When the doctor left the room, Sam rounded on Dean. “What did you do, Dean?,” he hissed.

Dean rolled his eyes. “Nothing, Sam. Can we not look a gift-horse in the mouth for once?”

Sam knew he was making a bitchface, but he didn’t entirely buy Dean’s innocent act, no matter how good it was. He started to go into full-on bitchy mode, but then he thought back to what had happened in the church, what they both had said, and he decided to just let it go. Sam sighed heavily.

“You’d tell me if there was anything I needed to know, right?”

“Absolutely,” Dean answered. Sam looked his brother in the eye, and Dean met his gaze evenly.

Sam nodded slowly. “Okay, then.” He pushed away the twinge of doubt he felt; they had enough to deal with.

+

To say that the Winchesters had their hands full was an understatement.

They had drafted Charlie and Kevin and every other hunter they could contact to help. Between the angels and the demons and all the usual supernatural creatures, not to mention Crowley on lockdown in the dungeon, their world was in an uproar.

Some of the angels were finding the novelty in being earthbound; a few even sought the Winchesters out to help seek a solution to the Metatron issue. But Castiel’s bond with Dean and Sam was notorious in heaven, and many held them partially responsible for what had happened.

Most of the displaced angels were mad as hell and Abaddon was attempting, quite literally, to raise hell.

Life was just peachy, as Dean said.

Sam was surprised at how well they’d both handled things, though. His recovery continued, and while he didn’t want to tussle with a demon anytime soon, he was feeling good. Dean also seemed okay; Sam knew he wasn’t entirely, but his brother was doing what he always did – putting his feelings in a lead box and burying them in order to focus on the task at hand.

That particular coping mechanism had driven Sam crazy for decades, but he recognized now that it actually had probably kept Dean alive all these years. How else had the man survived becoming Alistair’s star pupil or fighting his way across Purgatory to save his angel?

His angel. Sam wondered where Cas was, if he was okay. He prayed to him regularly, not only for Dean but because Cas was his friend too.
There was still no word, though. Sam had even asked Charlie to do some quiet digging, but even with her skills, she’d come up empty.

As the weeks passed, Sam tried to keep Dean distracted from the grief that he knew was just below the surface. Charlie was pretty intuitive, and she would often jump in to help without even a signal from Sam, and together, they’d pull Dean away from the abyss.

Sam wondered, though, what they would do when Dean was no longer able to distract himself with their invented bickering over Harry Potter or microbrews or the merits of indie rock. He prayed that Cas came home before then.

+

Cas felt like he’d been walking forever. Some motorists had stopped and offered him a ride. After the last one, though, he chose to walk; he didn’t want to find himself in an awkward situation again.

His last ride had been in a tractor-trailer with a burly trucker who seemed friendly enough. If Cas had been an angel, he would have been able to read the man’s true nature.

They had driven through Wyoming and stopped at a visitor’s center near the southern border. Cas was embarrassed that he hadn’t realized what was going on; from Dean’s memories alone, he should have known and understood. Though from those memories – the things you learn when you rebuild a man after saving him from the pits of hell, he mused – Cas realized that what had happened could have been much worse. But it had been bad enough.

The trucker, Jim, had asked Cas if he wanted to stay with him through the next leg of his journey. Cas grateful to not have to find another ride, had said yes. Jim had gone into the store and when he got back in the truck, he handed Cas a bag of chips, a soda, and a condom.

Cas still remembered trying to figure out why the man had handed him a prophylactic. He knew what it was; he knew what it was used for; but it had taken him a moment. To be honest, it had taken until Jim reached over and began undoing Cas’s belt.

That was when Cas knew he’d lost the ability to smite someone. If he hadn’t, Jim would be a charred heap of human detritus.

Instead, Cas left him bruised and bleeding. He suspected Jim wouldn’t be taking advantage of hitch-hikers any time soon – the drop kick he’d delivered to the man’s groin when the fight went outside the truck’s cab pretty much ensured it’d be a while before Jim was able to walk straight, let alone anything else.

Cas smirked in satisfaction at the memory of the man crumpled on the pavement. Another man’s memory flashed through his mind, only it was a young Dean left on the ground as the man who’d hurt him walked away unharmed. Cas felt that the beating he’d delivered to Jim had been on behalf of Dean and others like him as much as it had been for himself.

So Cas walked. He told himself that he wasn’t heading for Lebanon, even as geography told him otherwise.

The leather of Jimmy’s shoes was worn thin. A piece of glass had even pierced a hole in the sole of one, and Cas learned quickly to avoid puddles if he didn’t want a cold foot. He now knew he hated squishy socks and achy toes.

Somewhere in Nebraska, he fell asleep on a park bench and was rousted out by the police. A kind woman, though scantily clad, heard the ruckus and convinced the cop – a man she seemed to know well – that Cas was with her.

He asked her later why she’d helped him. “You looked like you needed a friend,” she said.

Her name was Jenny, and he stayed with her for a few days. She’d encouraged him to, said she could tell he needed to rest. That was true. He did. He was so tired that his bones hurt.

He slept on her couch for nearly three days straight. When he finally woke up, he was disoriented, which Jenny found amusing. She showed him to the bathroom and made him something to eat. They talked, and he found her story fascinating. She was a good person, and he thought for the millionth time that it was unfortunate that so much of humanity was judgmental and didn’t consider the personal stories that motivated acts seemingly outside the norm. Besides, he pondered, what was normal?

He thought of the Winchesters. To the normal world, Sam and Dean would be considered sociopaths, practically serial killers. Yet Cas knew they were two of the most important men in a world that wouldn’t still exist were it not for them.

Perspective, he thought, is truly a gift from God.

Jenny was motivated to gain money to help her brother, who’d sustained a traumatic brain injury in a car crash while she was driving. He was in a coma, but she held out hope for his recovery. She showed Cas the books and journals she’d collected that shared statistics that established, for her, that such a hope wasn’t completely fruitless. There were miracles, after all. But when the money ran out, her hope would run out too. So she worked double shifts at the factory, and she used the only other asset she owned – her body – dancing at a local stripclub.

Cas accepted that. He understood that guilt, that drive, that compulsion. He didn’t ask if the commodification of her body went any further; it didn’t seem important to him.

His last night there, he was still sleeping on the couch, but he woke up when Jenny came in around dawn. She had been crying, and her mascara was smudged.

Cas hadn’t known what to say, but he hugged her, knowing that hugs seemed to make most humans feel better, and he wanted to comfort this woman who had allowed him to stay here, who had offered him so much when she had so little.

“Is everything okay?,” he asked.

“Yeah, it will be,” she said. “Bad night. Asshole customers. You know, the usual.” She laid her head upon his chest and wrapped her arms around his waist. He realized that he could feel her heart beating.

Something about that realization began a very human chain reaction that he didn’t quite understand until it was happening.

Heat flooded throughout his body, and his hardening penis pressed against the dress pants that he still wore at all times.

“Is that a gun in your pocket?,” Jenny asked. Cas didn’t know it, but she was being cheeky, giving him a moment to recover. But Cas, being Cas, looked at her and answered quite seriously, “No. I don’t have a gun.”

Jenny laughed and reached up on her tiptoes to lightly kiss Cas’s cheek. “You’re adorable, Cas,” she said. “Don’t ever change.”

Maybe Cas remembered someone else saying that to him, and how the warmth in the voice had sent a shiver through his grace that he hadn’t then understood. Or maybe Cas simply liked Jenny – she was kind and attractive and warm, in spirit and body. Whatever the reason, Cas tightened his arms around her, pressing his growing erection against her in a silent question he didn’t entirely realize he was asking.

Jenny looked deeply into his eyes. If Cas could have read her mind, he would have known that he puzzled her, that she understood he wasn’t like everyone else and that's why he’d quickly become dear to her. She also knew that after tomorrow, he’d be gone, and she held no illusions about ever seeing him again. Though he’d been sketchy with sharing the details of his own story, Cas’s heart was clearly already taken.

But she was drawn to him, to his light, and if she could have him for tonight, she would.

She took his hand and led him to her bedroom, leaving him on the bed while she quickly showered.

“Take your clothes off, Cas,” she said. He did, and he lay on the bed, listening to the shower run and wondering what this was going to be like. He remembered Meg, but she had been a demon. The trucker had been aggressive and violent, and when he had grabbed at Cas’s groin through his pants, Cas had experienced nothing but blinding rage.

This, however – this pulsing of blood and heat – this was quite pleasurable, in a way different from what he had experienced with Meg or even with Dean. The thought of Dean sent another wave of heat coursing through his body; Cas wondered if he’d ever see Dean again, and if he did, how would the hunter react? Things were so messy between them, so full of hurt and confusion, and though all Cas wanted was to wrap Dean in his arms, he didn’t know if that could ever happen. Even if the world weren’t falling apart, they still had to contend with the fact that Dean was Dean and Cas was Cas.

Cas sighed and blinked to clear his eyes. Sad thoughts weren't exactly an aphrodisiac, and for a moment, he wondered if he could even perform. But as Jenny came back into the room, his body reacted despite his musings. Cas saw a beautiful person. He didn’t notice the scars from the car crash that she artfully covered when dancing so that prying eyes wouldn’t see. He focused his thoughts on her and what was here. For the next few hours at least, he didn't want to face the loss that threatened to engulf him.

Jenny was shy in her nakedness, which surprised him as she seemed so confident in all other ways. She didn’t meet Cas’s eyes as she opened a dresser drawer and pulled out condoms. He watched her walk towards the bed with interest; she was very different than the images he’d seen in Busty Asian Beauties. She was much more real, and he liked that.

She leaned forward and hesitantly kissed him. He kissed back. Her kiss was different from Meg’s, from Dean’s. But it was still pleasurable, and he liked it. He could taste the spearmint from her mouthwash, and her lips were soft and tasted like cherries.

Dean had tasted like whiskey, coffee, and a golden summer day – but Cas wasn’t going to think about that right now. He wasn’t.

When Jenny placed a hand around his base, caressing the sensitive skin, then sliding her hand up his engorged shaft -

When she flicked her thumb over the head, smearing beads of precome –

When she placed her mouth on him, sucking and blowing and teasing with her tongue until he throbbed painfully –

When she cupped his balls and gently stroked him till he squirmed –

When she pushed his eager mouth between her legs and guided him till she was panting his name –

When he kissed her deeply, tasting himself on her tongue and knowing her taste was on his –

When he sheathed himself inside her, thrusting in and out, filling her –

When his world exploded into pleasure and light, and their joined cries filled the small room –

When he lay beside her, spent, and watched the gray of dawn shift into day -

Cas still remembered the taste and feel and smell of summer.

+

to be continued...

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Then

When Cas woke up, Jenny was still sleeping; she looked so peaceful, so human. He slipped out of bed and took a shower. He used the strawberry scented soap that he found in the shower caddy; he liked strawberries, and he also liked imagining what Dean would say about it – he’d bluster and mock, but in fact, he’d like the way it smelled too.

Cas shaved and dressed. He brushed his teeth and flossed. These basic human functions he had mastered, thankfully.

He felt like he had a basic handle on sex too – Jenny had seemed to enjoy last night, and he had welcomed those couple of hours of distraction.
It was time to leave, though. He had to get back on the road, continue this pilgrimage to … wherever it was. He told himself once again that he was not going to Lebanon. Looking closely in the mirror, Cas attempted once more to straighten his tie. He never could get it quite right.

The bed was empty when he finally came out of the bathroom. Jenny was dressed and waiting for him in the living room. She smiled and handed him a duffel bag.

“What’s this?,” Cas asked.

“A couple bottles of water, some crackers, a spare pair of socks, a bus pass, and a few other little things to help out.”

Cas reached out and hugged her. She hugged him back.

“Take care of yourself, Cas,” she said, opening the door.

“You too,” he said with a small smile. He didn’t look back; he heard the door shut before he was even on the stairs.

Cas walked to the bus stop, tightening his trench coat around his wiry frame. It was a cool and foggy morning, and he thought longingly of a comfortable bed, a soft comforter, and the weight of a warm, muscled arm…

He told himself to stop thinking of impossible things.

+

Sam got up at 5 a.m. He didn’t want to; he and Dean had just gotten back from a tough job in Oregon the night before. But he had to find a new case for them, something weird and interesting and non-angel related.

He didn’t know how much more Dean could take before he cracked.

His brother was saying all the right things, but there was a tightness to his eyes, a thinness to his voice, and dealing with the constant angels and demons mess was only making it worse.

Sam suspected whatever was ailing Dean wasn’t just about Cas, but he was hesitant to prod too forcefully. Poke Dean Winchester too many times, and you just might wind up with a broken nose – or worse. Sam liked his face just like it was, thank you very much.

Charlie met him at the research table, still in her flannel pajamas and wearing her glasses instead of contacts.

“Coffee – counter – get your own,” she muttered, taking a long gulp from the steaming mug in front of her.

Sam smirked. “Gee, thanks, your highness.”

“Don’t sass me, sasquatch,” she said. Sam laughed; Charlie really had become the little sister he and Dean had never wanted.

He returned to the table and carefully set his mug beside his laptop. Charlie was already scanning through files and reports on hers.

“Find anything?,” he asked.

“Non-angel related and appropriately distracting?,” she asked. “Not yet. But I’m still looking. Give me time.”

The next 20 minutes passed in companionable silence as they trolled forums and newspapers and police records. Charlie found a report about miracles in Des Moines but Sam pointed out that miracles probably meant angels. He found an article about ritual murders, but she reminded him of the recent spike in demonic rituals. Avoiding angels and demons seriously limited their pool of potential cases.

Sam glanced nervously at the hallway, listening and watching for any sign of Dean. He hoped that his brother slept in today; the plan would work better if all the details were ironed out before he presented the case.

Charlie noticed Sam’s worried and watchful expression. “We’ll figure it out, you know.”

“Yeah, I hope so,” he said.

“So… not to be a busybody…” Charlie hesitated as Sam gave her one of those classic Winchester what-are-you-about-to-ask-me-that-I’ll-kick-your-ass-for looks. “But, um, Edlund’s books didn’t cover the latest season in your adventures.”

“Thank God,” Sam muttered.

“Thank Chuck, you mean,” Charlie corrected, getting a glare from Sam for her trouble.

“Okay, okay, sorry,” she said, fighting back a laugh. Sam was totally pulling what she’d come to think of as bitchface #10. She’d never believed Dean’s complaints about Sam’s arsenal of bitchfacery and found the truth of his range hysterical. Sam, however, didn’t find her amusement funny, so he rolled his eyes and shifted into #8, which really set her off in a fit of giggles.

Sam shushed her. “Charlie, if you wake Dean up, all of this is for nothing. Be quiet.”

“I know, I know. Sorry,” she said, pulling herself together. Once composed, she went back to her original question: “So about the books – or rather, about what’s not in the books –”

“Yeah?,” Sam asked with a resigned air. Sometimes the only way out was through, he knew, so he braced himself for whatever she was about to ask.

“Why aren’t Dean and Cas together?,” she asked.

Sam raised his eyebrows. “Have you met my brother?”

“Yeah, and I mean, I get it, kind of – Dean the lothario, Cas the smiting angel and all that. But, damn, Sam, this pining and longing… this can’t be something that didn’t come up before Heaven broke?”

“It’s complicated, Charlie.”

“Does Dean know that you know? That I do?”

“No,” Sam responded emphatically. “And you cannot tell him, Charlie. Do you understand?”

“Maybe it would help if he knew he could talk about it –”

“Do not push him,” Sam said. There was a cold steeliness to his voice, and Charlie physically recoiled at his tone.

“Okay, sorry, Sam,” Charlie mumbled.

Sam reached out and grabbed her hand, squeezing lightly. “I’m sorry,” he said. “But you’ve got to understand –” He paused and searched for the right words.

“Understand what?,” Charlie prompted.

“Dean has his own demons to deal with – ”

“—literal or metaphorical?”

Charlie.”

“Just asking. I can’t ever tell with you two.”

Sam sighed. Charlie made him sigh a lot, now that he thought about it. “Technically he has both, I guess, but I’m talking metaphorical here.” He swallowed. “He doesn’t know that I know anything about anything, and it has to stay that way until – if – he’s ever ready to talk. Understand?”

“I guess, but –”

“No buts, Charlie. Dean has to figure out his feelings for Cas on his own. Not everything was in those books. There’s stuff you don’t know. Stuff no one needs to know. Stuff that should’ve never happened. Promise me you’ll leave it alone.” He stared Charlie down until she reluctantly nodded.

“But if we can’t find the guy, the point’s moot, and Dean spends the rest of his life pining for something he can’t even admit he lost,” Charlie said sadly.

“Yeah, I know,” Sam said. He rubbed his forehead, his frustration evident.

“So, back to Operation Fallen Angel,” Charlie said. “I can check the federal and state databases and run my facial recognition software again. Maybe Cas’ll pop up this time.” She laid her small hand on Sam’s giant one. “We’ll find him, Sam, one way or another.”

“God, I hope so,” Sam said. “But first, let’s find a job – I need something to keep Dean busy.”

Kevin stumbled through the research room right about that time and came back from the kitchen clutching an energy drink. “What are you guys doing up so early?,” he asked. “It’s barely 6 a.m.”

“Looking for a case,” Sam said.

Kevin nodded. “Something to keep Dean occupied?”

Sam gave Kevin a measured look. The kid picked up on more than he gave him credit for. “Yeah,” he answered.

“I’ll help,” Kevin said.

Sam couldn’t help his look of surprise. Kevin saw it and shrugged. “Your brother drives me crazy sometimes, but the guy is miserable. I wish there was more we could do to help him.”

Sam nodded. “Me too,” he said.

“Me three,” Charlie added.

Kevin pulled his laptop out of his messenger bag, and they all went to work.

+

An hour later, they were still looking, and Sam’s eyes were blurring. “I’m going to put on another pot of coffee,” he said.

Charlie glanced over. “Take a break, Sam,” she said. “Kevin and I got this.”

“Yeah,” Kevin said. “I think I might have found something. I need a few minutes to run a check, though.”

Sam nodded and shuffled into the kitchen. He put the coffee on and leaned against the counter, listening to the percolation and smelling the aroma that filled the room. The conversation he’d had with Charlie replayed in his mind; he hoped he’d handled it okay. When it came to Dean and his secrets – well, Sam wanted to respect his brother’s privacy, especially on that front.

Besides, what little Sam did know simply wasn’t his story to tell.

+ + + +

1995

Every weekday afternoon, Dean and Sam would meet midway between the middle and high schools and walk over to the recreation center. Sam would suit up and play with the soccer team, and Dean would hang out until practice, or the game, was over. The fall of 1995 was one of the only seasons that the Winchesters had stayed in one place long enough for Sam to participate, and he was having the time of his life.

Sam was so focused on playing that he really didn’t notice what Dean was doing. Sometimes, he’d hear his brother’s cheers or instruction yelled from the sidelines. Fairly often, he’d finish practice to find Dean making out with some girl under the park’s notorious “kissing tree.” Other times, he’d find Dean playing basketball with some of the older guys.

By mid-season, the court became the more likely place to find Dean.

One afternoon, Dean walked Sam to the recreation center, but he was preoccupied and not acting quite like himself.

“You okay, Dean?,” Sam asked.

“Uh – yeah, sure Sammy.” Dean smiled and reached down and tousled his brother’s hair. Sam made a face and shrugged his brother’s hand off; Dean laughed.

“So, you playing basketball today?” Sam asked.

Dean didn’t answer right away, and when he did, he spoke slowly, as if he were choosing his words carefully. “I have some errands to run, so probably not. But I’ll be back by the time practice is over at 6, okay?”

Sam nodded. He saw his teammates already doing warm-ups. “See you later,” he called, taking off across the field.

Sam threw himself into the game. He loved everything about it: the warm-ups, the drills, the scrimmages, and the actual matches. Every day, he worried that John would come home and uproot them, and he wouldn’t be able to finish the season. So he had sworn to squeeze every last drop of normal soccer goodness out of this experience, and that’s exactly what he was doing.

It was only when practice ended that he realized Dean hadn’t returned. He didn’t have change for the payphone, and he didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that he didn’t have a ride. A slip like that had nearly landed him in foster care a few years earlier, and the thoughts of child services scared Sam more than wendigos. So, he quietly grabbed his bag and walked to the motel that the Winchesters currently called home.

He could hear the yelling from the edge of the parking lot. There was a lot of yelling in this neighborhood, but this voice he recognized. His stomach sank; dad was home, and he was pissed.

Sam slipped behind the dumpster and peeked around the edge, in an attempt to see what was going on before he walked into a hornet’s nest. Dean had taught him well.

John was standing in the doorway of their room, yelling at whomever was inside. Dean, Sam figured, wondering what his brother had done. John disappeared inside and then reappeared, dragging someone out of their room. Sam didn’t recognize the half-naked person at first. But after a moment, he did: The guy had played basketball with Dean at the rec center. His name was Mark, and he was one of the few people that Sam had ever heard Dean identify as a friend. He had even joined them at the diner last week for dinner. Sam had thought he was nice.

Dean came to the room’s door, yelling too. Sam couldn’t make out the words, but he could hear the panic in his brother’s voice.

Dean distracted John enough that Mark was able to break away. The guy ran to his car, and without even bothering to put his shirt on, jumped into his ’87 mustang and peeled out of the parking lot.

Sam looked back to their room right as John slammed the door shut. But Sam could still hear his father’s voice and Dean’s. He also heard loud thuds that told him more than he wanted to know.

Sam didn’t want to go anywhere near the room, so he walked back up the road a block or so and climbed one of the giant oak trees that lined the street. From his perch, he could see if Dean was coming, and then he could pretend that practice had run late, and “run into” him without anyone knowing what he’d witnessed.

Honestly, Sam wasn’t sure what he’d seen, but as he replayed the fight in his mind, he realized that Dean had only been wearing boxers. So did that mean that Dean and Mark had been…? No, Sam thought. Dean loves girls. Like, really loves them.

But the memory of his brother’s panicked voice filled his ears. And he suddenly remembered seeing Dean wink at Mark exactly like he’d winked at Sarah Marshall, the hottest girl Sam had ever seen.

Sam cringed for Dean – if Sam was right, and if Dean and Mark had been together together, then John had flipped his shit for sure. Sam climbed down from his safe spot, determined to go back and interrupt whatever nightmare was raining down on Dean’s head.

Tossing his bag over his shoulder, he started back down the road and almost immediately ran into Dean.

“Dean!,” Sam exclaimed. He couldn’t tell his brother what he’d seen, so he asked, “What happened to you?”

“Don’t worry about it, Sammy. I’m fine. You should see the other guy,” Dean smirked.

Dean’s bottom lip was split, his left eye surrounded with a darkening bruise. He was wearing too many layers of clothing for the still-warm autumn evening, which told Sam that there were more wounds than he could see.

In that moment, Sam wanted to hurt John and fury burned through him.

Dean must have seen something in Sam’s face because he reached an arm out and pulled his brother to him. “Really, Sammy, I’m okay. Don’t you worry.”

Sam nodded. He stepped closer to his brother and let Dean tighten his arm around his shoulders, and together they walked back to the motel.

To say it was a tense evening was an understatement. John wouldn’t look at Dean, and Dean wouldn’t look at his father. Sam tried to fill the loaded silence with stories about school and soccer, but he was grateful when it was finally late enough to go to bed.

He pretended to fall asleep immediately. He heard his dad tell Dean to start packing, that they were leaving in the morning. Sam felt sick. He had finally started to feel like a normal kid doing normal afterschool stuff, and now they were going to have to move. Again.

Dean said no, and by the silence that followed, Sam knew that John was trying not to react to his eldest son’s insubordination. Though today’s altercation with Dean wasn’t the first time that John had gotten physical, John always hated himself for not being able to control his anger. Because he’d already lost control with Dean, he would try especially hard to check his temper now. Dean knew this better than anyone, so Sam wasn’t surprised to hear his brother take advantage of their father’s regret and argue for letting them finish out the semester.

“You’re not staying here, Dean,” John yelled. “My son’s not going to – to—do that. It’s not gonna happen in my lifetime, so whatever possessed you to think that was okay? Well, you’d better forget it right now. Because it’s not, and it’s never gonna be.”

Dean didn’t respond for the longest time. When he did, Sam had to strain to hear his brother was so quiet, even though the bedroom was directly off the living room.

“Dad—”

“I don’t want to hear it,” John snapped. “I said no.”

Dean sighed. Sam could picture his brother biting his lip and steeling his features into a mask that he thought no one could read. Another long moment passed.

“Okay, then. I’ll leave. Let Sam stay. Let him finish his soccer season and his semester.”

“I can’t do that,” John said. “I’ve got work to do. We’re all going.”

Dean’s voice – it was as sharp as the machete he kept under the bed. “No, we’re not.”

“Oh really?”

“Oh really,” Dean said. “You see these bruises? If you don’t let Sam stay here, then I’m going to go file a report with the local authorities, and we’ll see how long it takes you to weasel out of that.”

John didn’t respond. Considering that Sam’s eyes were bugging out of his head, he figured his dad was in shock too.

“You wouldn’t,” John finally said. “You know that family means everything.”

“Yeah, family does,” Dean said. “And that means Sam gets to finish his soccer season, and he gets to finish his semester.”

“You’re still not staying in this town.”

“Fine,” Dean said. “I’ll go to Bobby’s for the next few weeks. You let Sam finish, and you let him go to practice, and you let him be a normal fucking kid, Dad. Do you hear me?”

“Yeah, I do,” John said. “And did you hear me?”

“Yeah. I heard you,” Dean said.

Sam clenched his eyes shut when Dean came into the bedroom and laid down on the other bed. John always took the sofa bed in the living room, so they had a bit of privacy.

“Dean?,” Sam asked.

“Yeah, Sammy?” Dean sounded tired.

“Don’t leave. Please.”

Dean didn’t say anything for a minute. When he did, his voice was thick. “I have to, Sam, but you’ll get to finish your season, and I’ll see you in a few weeks.”

Sam told himself that he was too old to cry, but he couldn’t help the sniffle that escaped him. Dean drove him crazy sometimes, but he was going to miss him.

The bed dipped, and Dean lay beside him. Sam curled up next to his brother, just as he had when he was younger and had nightmares.

“It’s going to be okay, Sammy. Dad was such a dick to me that he’ll feel bad and be extra nice to you. Don’t worry.”

“Will you call?”

“Absolutely. As often as I can. And you’ve got the number to Bobby’s. Call collect, and I’ll pay him back, okay?”

“Okay,” Sam said.

“Five weeks, Sam, that’s all,” Dean said. “I promise. I’ll come get you myself, if it comes to it.”

Sam nodded, feeling a little better, though not by much.

Dean wrapped his arms around him, and Sam listened to his big brother humming Led Zepplin. A hitch in the song and a droplet of moisture on Sam’s neck told him that his brother was crying. Sam pretended to sleep, grateful that Dean couldn’t see the tears running down his own face.

+ + + +

Then

Sam shook his head to clear it of that awful memory and wiped the standing tears from his eyes. He had never told Dean what he’d seen, what he’d realized.

Though his soccer team had actually won the rec league, the victory had been a hollow one. Sam had never completely forgiven his father, especially as he’d witnessed the ripple effects from that day – on Dean’s life, his outlook, his relationships.

Dean would’ve been with Cas for years by now if it hadn’t been for all of that baggage, Sam thought. He could have been happy all this time, if only...

Charlie came bouncing into the kitchen, breaking that line of bitter thinking. She’d obviously had more than enough caffeine, Sam thought wryly, wishing he could siphon off some of that energy.

“Come on, Winchester,” she said, grabbing his hand and pulling at him. “We’ve found the perfect job.”

“Sure, sure,” he said. “Give me a minute.” He grabbed and refilled his mug.

“You okay?,” she asked. “You don’t look so good. What happened?”

Sam shrugged. “Nothing. I’m fine.” He headed back towards the research room, coffee in hand. “Tell me about the job.”

+

It was a classic poltergeist. Kevin had checked the records and confirmed that the century-old house in Hastings, Nebraska had no known connections to angels or demons.

“It was rebuilt after a fire in 1879,” Kevin said. “It looks like they just cleared off the burned out hulk and built right on top of the foundation.”

“Tell me they recovered all the bodies – assuming there were bodies?” Sam said.

“Oh, yeah, there were bodies,” Charlie said. “A family – mom, dad, and two kids.”

"And there have been more tragic deaths since, so there are lots of possibilities," Kevin said.

“So when did the poltergeist activity start?,” Sam asked.

“Last year,” Kevin said. “There’s even a write-up in a national paper about the spirit activity, so your cover can be writing a follow-up piece.”

Sam pursed his lips. “Okay, that sounds promising. Any ideas what kicked off the poltergeist?”

“Poltergeist?” asked a tired voice.

“Good morning, sunshine,” Charlie said in her brightest, I’m-the-little-sister-you-love voice. She got a grimace in return.

Dean sank into the chair near Sam. “Coffee, Red. Please?”

Charlie obligingly went to the kitchen to get him a steaming cup of joe.

“So what’s the word, guys? We got a job?,” Dean asked.

“We do – or, rather, you do,” Kevin said. He went over the details with Dean, who quickly perked up thanks to the news of old-fashioned spirit activity and a gigantic cup of coffee.

“Let me get a shower, and we can get packed and on the road,” Dean said with more gusto than he’d shown in over a week.

Sam, Charlie, and Kevin shared triumphant looks after Dean left the room.

“Now, y’all go do your ghost thing, and I’ll use my mojo to find Cas,” Charlie said to Sam.

“And I’ll go ahead and scout out another case,” Kevin added.

Sam nodded. “Thanks guys,” he said.

+

By noon, Sam and Dean were cruising along US 281, heading for Hastings. A mix-tape was blaring, and Dean was cracking jokes about not drinking the Kool Aid.

+

The case was pretty straightforward, but that was what Sam had wanted. Posing as reporters from a start-up magazine they rather unimaginatively identified as Midwestern Hauntings, they got the backstory on the house and its inhabitants and pretty quickly deduced that a woman who had been murdered inside the house in 1950 was the culprit.

They dug up her grave, salted and burned her bones. For good measure, they concocted what they called the Missouri-special using Angelica Root, among other things, and placed the mixture in the north/south/east/west corners of the house on all its floors.

By the evening of the second day, it seemed that the case was closed, but Sam suggested that they stick around for an extra day, just in case.

“We’re so close to home,” Dean said. “We could just do a drive-by check tomorrow.”

“Nah,” Sam said. “Let’s just pay for another night and take a day off. Tomorrow we can hit up the Hastings Museum, and you can convince me that visiting the birthplace of Kool Aid is awesome. Then we’ll check the house and make sure there’s no spirit activity.”

“Okay,” Dean said. “Hey, think they have a statue of the Kool Aid guy? I want my picture taken with him.”

Sam rolled his eyes at his brother and Dean smirked.

Things felt like normal.

+

Dean realized that this job was intended to be a distraction. He was grateful for it.

Their “day off” turned out to be leisurely – he and Sam slept in, grabbed brunch at a nearby diner, walked through the downtown and historic district, and then hit the museum. It was small but interesting, and he’d had his picture taken with the Kool Aid man statue. It was good to explore a town they’d worked in. Too often, they passed through without any chance to really see anything beyond whatever supernatural piece of crap they were chasing.

It didn’t take long to work their way through the museum, even though they were taking their time. As they left, Dean caught sight of an ice cream shop beside the bus station.

“Hey, Sammy, want an ice cream cone?” he nodded at the shop.

“Sure,” Sam said. “But I want two scoops, and you’re buying.”

“Actually, Warren Rivera is buying, but okay,” Dean said, pulling his latest faux-credit card out of his wallet. “I’m getting all-you-can-eat sprinkles.”

Sam shook his head. “I am not dealing with you on a jacked-up sugar high, Dean.”

“You’re not the boss of me, Sam.”

Dean was enjoying the banter, the feeling of taking a break from all the madness.

He and Sam were walking into the shop, and Dean was reaching for the door when he saw a flash of tan in that particular shade through the window of an arriving bus. He froze. He couldn’t help it, no matter how ridiculous he knew it was to think….

“Dean? You okay?”

Dean stepped away from the shop and watched the passengers departing the bus. He had to be sure. Here came the person wearing tan.

He clamped his hand down on Sam’s forearm, and Dean heard his brother hiss in pain.

“Dean!,” Sam exclaimed. "What the--"

“Oh, God -- Sam – Sam, look,” he said, pointing. “Am I seeing things? Tell me, man.”

Sam looked in the direction of the bus. Dean had a terrible feeling that he was losing his mind, that this was him finally cracking. His lead box was broken, and his marbles were spilling all over the ground.

Dean watched Sam’s face closely. He saw his brother’s eyes widen, heard him gasp, and felt Sam grip his arm in return.

“Sam?” Dean asked. He could hear the begging tone in his voice. “Sam? Am I losing my mind?”

Sam shook his head. “No, man.” Sam grinned. “It’s Cas –”

Dean turned back around. Sure enough, Cas was standing on the sidewalk, carrying a small duffel, and looking exhausted. He hadn’t seen the Winchesters yet.

Dean couldn’t move. He just stood and stared.

Sam nudged him. “Dean. That’s Cas.”

“Yeah, Sam, I’ve got eyes.”

“Uh-huh. And why the hell are you still standing here?”

“I – uh – I don’t know,” Dean stuttered.

“Then go.” Sam let go of Dean’s arm and pushed lightly. That was all it took.

Dean took a step or two and then launched into a full-out run. He yelled out “Cas” so loudly that he startled the disembarking passengers – several skirted quickly out of his way.

The man in the trenchcoat whirled around. His piercing blue eyes widened in shock and when Dean enveloped him in his arms, he hugged back with a fierceness that made those same startled bystanders blush.

But those bystanders hadn’t seen anything yet.

Dean traced Cas’s face with his thumbs, looked into the blue eyes that, even without angelic grace, bespoke of bottomless depths and hypnotizing power.

“I thought I’d lost you,” he whispered. Cas pulled Dean tighter and then they were crushing their mouths against each other, pressing and insistent.

Dean wasn’t sure who yielded first, but when his tongue slicked over Cas’s teeth, plumbing the depths of his mouth, it felt like coming home.

A groan ripped out of Dean as Cas’s tongue danced against his own, craving, needing, wanting – Dean poured himself so deeply into Cas that he wasn’t sure where he ended and where Cas began.

Eventually, they both had to breathe. Dean pressed his forehead to Cas’s.

“Goddammit, but I’ve missed you,” he whispered.

“Don’t blaspheme, Dean,” Cas said. His eyes sparkled. “But goddammit, I’ve missed you too.”

Dean laughed, low and throaty, and claimed Cas’s mouth again.

Neither could have cared less about the bystanders smiling, blushing, whistling, clapping, and – in the case of one sasquatch at least – taking photos.

+

Charlie’s phone beeped. She was in the middle of running her facial recognition search, so she was only half paying attention when she checked the message.

She screamed so loudly that Kevin came running from the shower, wrapped in only a towel and dripping water all over the floor. “What is it? What’s wrong?,” he demanded.

“Look, look,” she screeched, holding the phone out to him.

Kevin grabbed it, scrolled through the pictures, and gave a triumphant yell and fist pump.

“I know, right?” Charlie said, jumping up and down.

“Thank God,” Kevin said.

“Thank Chuck,” Charlie corrected, earning an eye roll from the prophet. “Hey, think we should throw them a party?”

“Uh – only if you’re jonesing for Dean to kick your ass,” Kevin said, handing Charlie her phone. “I’m heading back to the shower.”

Charlie waved him off and scrolled through the pictures again.

“Damn, but those two are seriously hot together.”

She looked around the empty room, and then scrolled-through yet again – more slowly this time.

+

to be continued...

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Then

Witnessing the reunion between Dean and Cas warmed the cockles of Sam’s heart. He didn’t know if he’d ever been as proud of his brother – he had a feeling that Dean would freak out when he realized what he was doing (and in public no less), but the fact that he’d finally acted on his feelings for Cas was freaking amazing.

Dean and Cas were attracting quite a bit of attention, yet both were completely oblivious to the world.

When Dean’s hands disappeared under Cas’s trenchcoat, Sam realized it was time to intervene. He approached the engrossed pair.

“Uh…. guys?”

No response. Except for what sounded like a groan from Cas that made Sam blush.

Sam cleared his throat – loudly.

Still nothing.

“A bucket of cold water might work,” a smiling passerby remarked.

“Yeah, maybe,” Sam replied wryly. He couldn’t help thinking that the person who threw cold water on Dean Winchester wouldn’t live to regret it. Sam personally wanted to see forty, but the way things were progressing, Sam figured it was now or naked.

He took a breath and laid a hand on each of their shoulders.

Dean and Cas pulled apart and looked at Sam with dazed expressions. Sam tried not to notice how swollen their lips were or that Cas’s scruff had scratched Dean’s face.

Sam said, with as much apology as he could muster, “I think we – I mean, you –might need to move this inside.”

He managed not to react as Dean’ s eyes cleared and widened in realization at where they were and what they’d been doing. Dean's face flushed, and he took a small step away from Cas, who surprised the younger Winchester by hugging him.

“I’m glad to see you, Sam – I didn’t know you were here too,” Cas said.

“Yeah, you were a little busy,” Sam said, laughter in his voice. “It’s good to see you, Cas.”

They stood there awkwardly for a couple of seconds. Sam kept an eye on Dean, who had that freaked expression that meant he wanted to bolt. From what Sam could tell, Cas was just glad to see them and was oblivious to Dean’s turmoil.

Sam waited for the explosion that didn’t come. He was more than surprised when Dean suggested that they get out of there. Sam raised his eyebrows at his brother in an unspoken question.

“Diner, Sam. We’re going to the diner,” Dean said, rolling his eyes. He grabbed Cas’s hand, though, and Sam’s grin grew wider. Dean turned his back on his brother, leading the way down the sidewalk to a small mom and pop café on the corner, next to the museum.

Sam tried to ignore how pink Dean’s ears were, but he failed miserably.

+

Cas could still feel Dean’s lips, the play of his tongue. He was grateful for the looseness of his trenchcoat since it seemed that his body was experiencing another chain reaction. He wondered if Dean’s was too.

He had felt surprise before, but never as a full human. The rush he’d felt, the hammering of his heart, the heat in the pit of his belly – and all at the sight of those familiar green eyes latching onto his, of Dean running towards him and enveloping him in his arms.

Seeing Dean through completely human eyes for the first time, Cas noted what other humans did – the line of Dean’s jaw, the softness of his lips, the brightness of his eyes. But Cas didn’t see Dean as magnificent because of how he looked.

As an angel, Cas had taken no notice of physicality. When he had looked at Dean, he had seen his soul, which, no matter the circumstance, managed to burn brighter than any soul Cas had ever encountered.

Even in hell, well on his way to becoming a demon, Dean’s soul had remained extraordinary.

As Cas walked with Dean towards the diner, he felt a pang at the realization that he’d lost the ability to see that beautiful thing.

Dean pushed the diner door open, and a small bell jingled. A grandmotherly waitress walking by with a tray of food called out, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”

“That’s not true,” Cas said. Dean rolled his eyes. “It’s not, Dean. You know that.”

“It’s from a movie,” Dean said. “You’re just as literal as ever, aren’t you?”

“Is that a bad thing?,” Cas asked.

Dean shook his head and smiled. “Nah. It means you’re still you.” He tightened his grip, and heat traveled up Cas’s arm, flooding his body. It was entirely pleasurable, Cas thought – maybe too pleasurable. With that realization, he excused himself to the restroom. He felt Dean’s eyes on him as he walked away.

+

“So,” Sam said, distracting his brother from watching Cas walk away. “Table or booth?”

“Booth,” Dean said. “There’s one in the back corner.”

Dean slid into one side, Sam the other.

“So – anything you want to tell me?,” Sam asked.

“Like?”

“Seriously, Dean?”

Dean fidgeted in his seat and wouldn’t make eye contact. He started rearranging the sugar packets in the condiment basket instead. “You and I both know that you knew already,” he finally said.

“Okay, yeah, I knew,” Sam admitted. “When did you?”

Dean’s mouth twisted wryly. “Not sure.”

Sam raised his eyebrows.

Dean shrugged. “Really. I mean, now, I think that part of me has known for a long time.” He stared off thinking for a moment. “But the night before we ganked Dick was the first time…”

“Whoa, wait. You guys got together then? And you didn’t tell me?”

“Slow your roll there, gossip girl,” Dean said, but he didn’t elaborate.

“Well?” Sam asked.

“We kissed,” he said quietly, “that’s all.” Dean traced an invisible pattern on the formica tabletop as a soft look played over his features, and Sam smiled despite his best efforts not to.

Dean noticed and steeled his features. “Shut up, Sam.”

Sam shook his head. “I’m not making fun, Dean. I can’t even tell you how happy this makes me.”

Dean looked skeptical. “Seriously? Why?”

“You and Cas – you’ve been through a lot,” Sam said. “He’s literally been to hell and back for you; you’ve been to heaven and back for him. You macheted your way through Purgatory to find him, while he nearly died to keep the leviathans away from you. You’re the perfect coup—“

Dean cut him off. “We’re not a couple, Sam. We’re not gay.” Dean had that haunted look, the one that Sam was fairly certain had everything to do with the shit that had gone down when they were younger.

Baby steps, Sam reminded himself. “I didn’t say you were, Dean,” he said in his most reasonable voice. “All that matters is that the two of you make sense and that you love each other, which you obviously do.”

Dean was quiet for a moment, and the tension in his face eased. He nodded slowly.

Before Sam could say anything else, Cas returned and slid in beside Dean. Sam watched them watch each other, and their expressions – well, he had no doubts about the extent of their feelings. Once more, he found himself wondering what all had gone down in Purgatory.

He just hoped they didn’t fuck this up.

“What can I get you boys?,” the grandmotherly waitress asked.

“I’m afraid I don’t have any money,” Cas said apologetically.

“Don’t worry about that, Cas. Just order what you want,” Sam said.

They placed their orders, and she brought their drinks. Dean requested a pitcher of water after Cas drained his glass in one long gulp.

Sam noted the shabbiness of Cas’s coat, the thinness of his face, the purple shadows under his eyes. Judging by the look on Dean’s face, he was noting those details too.

“So, Cas – care to fill us in?,” Dean asked.

“Not really,” Cas said, looking down at the napkin he was twisting in his hands.

Dean laid a hand on Cas’s thigh and gently squeezed. Sam pretended not to notice.

“Tell us anyway,” Dean said.

Cas sighed but did begin to talk. He told them about Metatron killing Naomi, stealing his grace –

Sam interrupted. “Wait – so you didn’t fall like the other angels?”

“No,” Cas said. “Metatron cut my throat and drained my grace.”

Dean’s expression was thunderous. “What do you mean he cut your throat?,” he growled. Sam winced at the guttural sound of his brother’s voice and the threat it promised.

“Just that – he cut my throat and drained my grace, which he used to complete the spell that ejected the angels from heaven.” Cas paused. “He did heal me after, obviously.”

Dean slammed a fist onto the table, startling the other patrons in their section. Sam smiled and gave a small hand wave to let them know everything was okay.

“Dean,” he said with a warning in his voice.

His brother gave him that look – the one that promised hell-bent, drawn-and-quartering vengeance. Sam inclined his head in unspoken agreement.

Cas rolled his eyes at their glowering. “If anyone gets to gank Metatron, it’s me,” he said.

“Don’t you think you might want some help?,” Dean asked, eyebrows raised.

“Maybe,” Cas said noncommittally. “But don’t forget that I was an angel of the lord before humans walked this planet. Just because I’m human now doesn’t mean that I’m a helpless kitten who needs avenging.” He reached for the pitcher and poured himself another glass of water.

Sam’s eye twitched at the idea of “Cas the kitten.” But – wait – what did Cas say about being human?

Dean connected the dots before Sam did: “You’re human? For real?”

“Apparently,” Cas said. “I can’t smite or heal, and I’m experiencing all the typical human urges and needs. It can be quite distracting.”

Dean was staring intently at a crack in the tabletop; the slight blush staining his cheeks told Sam exactly where his brother’s mind had gone.

Sam cleared his throat. “Uh, okay. So what happened after he healed you?”

“He cast me down into a forest somewhere in northern Washington, and I came to as my bro—as the angels were falling.” He paused and bowed his head. “It was one of the most horrifyingly beautiful things I’ve ever seen… and I caused it,” he said softly, his loss heavy in his voice.

Dean rubbed the back of Cas’s neck, and the broken angel leaned into the touch, though he didn’t lift his head.

Dean’s eyes were shiny, and he looked at Cas with such empathy that it made Sam hurt.

He barely remembered that night, but his brother had told him about it: It was like something out of Spielberg movie, Sammy. Angels hurtling to the ground, blazing trails through the sky, their wings burning off.

How had Cas been able to bear watching that – let alone living with the guilt? Sam wondered, not for the first time, just how well the former angel was adjusting.

The waitress arrived just then with their food. Dean had ordered his usual bacon cheeseburger with sides of fries and onion rings and a chocolate milkshake; Cas had ordered the same. Dean was practically salivating, and, despite his heartbreak, Cas’s eyes lit up when the greasy smorgasbord was set in front of him.

Such a matched set, Sam thought.

Cas was quiet, though, and weariness etched the fine lines in his face. Sam noticed; so did Dean.

Dean smirked at his brother’s grilled chicken salad. “Want a side of testosterone to go with that, Sammy?,” he asked.

“Shut up, Jerk, and eat your murdered cow” Sam said, scowling.

Cas smiled at their banter and visibly relaxed. Sam and Dean grinned at each other - Inventing distraction from the various apocalypses was a Winchester specialty.

All three dug into their food, saying little else until they were finished.

+

Dean pushed his plate away. “I’m stuffed,” he groaned.

“May I have the rest of your fries, then?,” Cas asked. Dean looked at him with surprise; Cas had eaten every bite of his food. If he was still hungry, then that meant…

“Cas, when was the last time you ate?,” Dean asked, pushing his plate towards him.

“Jenny gave me some snacks for my trip, but I ate the last of them two days ago,” Cas replied.

“Why didn’t you call us? Come to us?” Dean asked. He wanted to ask more, like Where the fuck have you been? Why didn’t you let me know you were alive? But he swallowed those questions – wrong time, wrong place.

Instead, he asked, “And who’s Jenny?”

Dean pointedly ignored Sam choking on the sip of water he’d just taken.

“You were both safer if I stayed away,” Cas replied calmly. “And Jenny is a friend of mine.”

Dean didn’t like either answer.

+

The set of Dean’s jaw told Sam that it was time for the third wheel to depart. Sam excused himself to the restroom and texted Charlie:

“Text me that you need help with Crowley in 10 minutes.”

She replied almost immediately:

“Will do, boss.”

By the time Sam got back to the booth, Dean had apparently gotten past his anger enough to tongue Cas’s tonsils again. The grandmotherly waitress was thoroughly amused.

“Aren’t they the cutest?,” she said when she came by to pick up the signed receipt.

“Oh, yeah,” he replied. He wondered how she’d react if he told her she was fangirling over a former angel of the lord and the righteous man, forged in heaven, hell, and purgatory, and both completely lethal.

Aw hell – who was he kidding? If he squinted just right, even he thought they were “cute.”

Charlie’s text couldn’t come soon enough.

+

Dean figured his brother would invent an excuse to leave, and Dean was okay with that. Quite frankly, he wanted privacy to talk to Cas about where he’d been, what he’d been doing, and just who the hell Jenny was. He hadn’t liked the look on Cas’s face when he mentioned her at all.

When Sam left, though, Cas took the opportunity to quickly press his lips against the hunter’s with only the comment. “We should have done this much sooner.”

Next thing Dean knew, he had his hand on the back of Cas’s head and was lost in the former angel's mouth. In public. Again.

His twinges of reservation fell away as Cas’s tongue moved against his own. Dean didn’t even realize Sam had returned to the table until his brother’s phone rang.

+

Dean and Cas broke apart and looked at Sam with glassy eyes. How he managed not to laugh at their glazed expressions, Sam would never know.

“Who’s that?” Dean asked.

“Charlie,” Sam said. “Crowley’s making her nervous.”

“You have Crowley?,” Cas asked, surprised.

“Yeah, he’s in our dungeon,” Dean answered.

“So does she need us to come back?,” he asked Sam, already knowing the answer.

“You know how excitable Charlie is,” Sam said, shrugging. “But if you guys don’t mind, I’m going to rent a car and head on back to Lebanon.”

“I think we’ll manage,” Dean said with his most lascivious look. He might play along with Sam’s little subterfuge, but not without imparting some scarring mental imagery.

“Yeah, I bet you will,” Sam said, shaking his head.

+

They walked back to the motel together; Sam packed his duffel and hugged Cas goodbye. “I’ll see you soon, Cas,” Sam said.

“He’s coming back to the bunker, isn’t he?,” Sam asked his brother.

“Yeah, he is,” Dean said, ignoring the look of protest on Cas’s face. “No arguments, Cas. There’s two of us, and one of you, and we’ll drag you there if we have to.”

“He’s right, Cas,” Sam said. “You’re family, and where we go, you go.”

Sam couldn’t have responded more perfectly, Dean thought. That statement killed the objections on Cas’s lips, and the honorary Winchester simply nodded.

+

While the travel-weary former angel showered, Dean walked Sam out. “You sure you don’t want to take the Impala? Or are you really going to rent a car?” he asked curiously.

“Thanks, but no. I’ll probably just borrow one,” he said with a grin.

Dean laughed. “Just don’t get caught.”

“No way,” Sam said. “I learned from the best.”

His little brother suddenly engulfing him in a hard hug surprised Dean, though he didn’t hesitate in returning it.

“I’m glad for you, Dean,” Sam said. “Do me a favor?”

“What?”

“Don’t over-think this, Okay?”

“Believe me, Sam. I’m trying not to.”

“I know – just don’t let… don’t let the past fuck up one of the best things that’s ever happened to you. Remember what I said earlier – all that matters is that the two of you make sense and you love each other, okay?”

Dean nodded. “Thanks.”

“Anytime,” Sam said, taking off across the parking lot. He’d only taken a few steps before he stopped and turned around, “Hey, Dean?”

Dean hadn’t moved. His hands were jammed in the front pockets of his jeans, and he was staring at the ground.

“Yeah, Sam?”

“Take a few days, if you need,” Sam said.

Dean ducked his head. “Maybe,” he said.

“I mean it. Charlie, Kevin, and I can hold down the fort, okay?”

Dean nodded, and when he finally looked up, Sam saw that rare smile on his brother’s face again.

Sam waved and headed for the second-hand car dealership down the street. He’d seen a 1975 Ford truck parked in the back lot that’d suit his purposes just fine.

+

to be continued...

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Then

Cas shut his eyes and leaned his forehead against the slick tile as the hot water from the shower sluiced down his back. He sank into its warmth, enjoying the way it relaxed his tired muscles. It had been an amazing yet exhausting day.

+

Dean watched his brother walking away until the evening’s shadows obscured Sam’s form. Then the reality of the situation sunk in: Sam had left so that he and Cas would have privacy.

That was unsettling. So were the butterflies in his stomach. What was this? He was Dean fucking Winchester, and if hell and purgatory hadn’t broken him, he could certainly handle being alone with Cas.

Still, his hand trembled a bit when he opened the door. Seeing Cas naked, except for a motel towel wrapped around his waist, and fumbling through Dean’s duffel, didn’t exactly help his nerves.

Matter of fact, for a moment, Dean forgot how to breathe.

“Sorry,” Cas said. “I don’t have any clean clothes – I was going to borrow something, if that’s okay?”

“Uh, yeah, sure,” Dean said, walking over and digging through the bag. He handed Cas a clean pair of boxer briefs, pajama pants, and a t-shirt. Cas’s fingers grazed Dean’s as he took the clothes; the contact was like an electrical charge.

Instinctively, Dean pulled Cas into his arms, splayed his hands across bare skin, and kissed him deeply. The former angel kissed back, and the world fell away.

Flashes of awareness pulsed through Dean’s consciousness: the feel of Cas’s wiry body under his hands, the slide and drag of tongues, the smell of sandalwood, and the taste of spearmint.

It was the realization that Cas had lost his towel and was fully naked that jolted Dean back to reality. Cas was against the wall, his blue eyes lust-blown, his lips kiss-stung. Dean was in no better shape, though he was still clothed and figured he should exert some restraint.

But then Cas shifted, his hardness pressing against Dean’s own, pulling groans from both of them. Dean pressed back lightly, letting Cas push against the friction of his jeans.

Dean wanted nothing more than to strip his clothes off and revel in skin-on-skin contact.

But Cas’s face was tinged gray and weary lines surrounded his eyes.

Dean leaned forward and kissed Cas softly, tugging gently at his bottom lip. “You need to sleep.”

“I need other things too,” Cas said, running a finger along Dean’s jawline.

Dean smiled. “Yeah, you do, but you’re getting the abbreviated version tonight.” He reached between them, taking Cas’s dick in hand – This, Dean was a master at, and he quickly had Cas moaning into the crook of his neck as he came.

Dean pressed a kiss to Cas’s clavicle. “Let’s get you cleaned up and into bed,” he said. “You look like you need to sleep for a week.”

Cas nodded wearily. “I feel like it too.” He sat on the edge of the bed, completely oblivious to his nakedness.

Dean went into caretaker mode, doing his best to be oblivious too. He got a washcloth and knelt in front of Cas, washing him clean and resisting the temptation to kiss his muscled abdomen.

Cas ran a hand through Dean’s hair, and the hunter raised his eyes to him. Dean couldn’t help thinking that this position was perfect for…

He cut off the thought and picked the clean clothes up off the floor. “Here,” he said, handing them to Cas. He pulled the covers back on one of the beds, and Cas climbed in.

“Where are you going?” Cas asked, barely able to keep his eyes open.

“Shower,” Dean said. “I’m not leaving, promise.”

Cas nodded, and in a breath, he was asleep.

Dean checked the salt lines and devil’s trap, as he did every night wherever he was, and he double-checked the hex bags that Cas had placed around the room. Cas needed to get inked up, he thought. He thought of how vulnerable Cas really was, how many of the angels were really after him, and he felt fear.

That said something, considering how little there was in the world that scared a Winchester. The suggestion that he might lose Cas again only made him more emotional – and it had been a damned emotional and surreal day already. That he was tossing a cum-soaked shirt onto the dirty clothes pile only emphasized that fact.

Dean shucked off the rest of his clothes, grabbed his other set of pajamas, and headed for the shower. He intended to take a long cold one.

+

Cas was still asleep when Dean finally emerged from the bathroom. The hunter hesitated between the beds, unsure if he should crawl in beside Cas or take the spare bed.

As if he sensed Dean’s question, Cas moved in his sleep, leaving a space that seemed an open invitation. It was one Dean accepted.

As he lay in the darkness, listening to Cas breathe, Dean focused on the fact that, in this moment, he was happy. Screw the angels and the demons – Sam was alive and well, and Cas was beside him.

But he also heard the echoes that made this all so hard for him.

+ + + +

1992

Growing up, Dean had always known he was “pretty” – enough people had told him, women and men alike. He was probably 10 before he realized that, sometimes, John purposefully let Dean’s big green eyes and deceptively innocent face cajole a hesitant landlord or suspicious busybody into accepting whatever story the Winchesters were doling out that day.

Considering that Dean had encouraged Sammy to use his puppy-dog eyes to their advantage more than once over the years, it wasn’t a manipulation that particularly bothered Dean, then or now. As a matter of fact, as soon as he’d made the connection, Dean had chosen to hone his ability to smile and wink and persuade others based on his sheer adorability.

John Winchester usually hunted alone, but every so often, he’d work with someone. When Dean was 13, John agreed to help a hunter named Pete take out a La Lechuza in Presidio, Texas. Dean thought the story of a bruja who shapeshifted into a giant owl and hunted prey was cool, and he begged to go along. John finally relented.

It was spring break at the schools the boys were currently attending, so Sam stayed with Pastor Jim, while John and Dean headed for Presidio to meet Pete. John gave his eldest son instructions all the way, and Dean did his best to remember every word. He wanted to do well, to make his dad proud of him.

John warned Dean to stay out of Pete’s way, and Dean quickly understood why: Pete was a gnarled, burly, backwoods survivalist type. He wasn’t happy that John had brought his son, and even though Dean proved himself useful tracking the Witch Bird, Pete made jokes at Dean’s expense all weekend – from his delicate features to his cracking voice.

Dean took it like a man, like his dad had taught him. But the joking bothered John, and he kept Dean even closer than usual. That much Dean had noticed.

Las Lechuzas usually avenged wrongs and hunted criminals; hunters often left that sort alone. This particular one was indiscriminate and killed whoever crossed her path. She was particularly aggressive and nasty, and the hunt took a turn for the worse when she separated John from Pete and Dean.

After an hour or so of fruitless searching for John, Pete took Dean back to the campsite, telling him they’d wait there. Dean was beside himself with worry, and when Pete laid a hand on his head, Dean took it as a comforting gesture.

Dean used to wonder if Pete had taken his lack of resistance as an invitation. Next thing he knew, Pete had him by the back of the neck and was pressing his mouth against Dean’s. He had flailed and pushed at the hunter, but Pete was bigger and stronger. Dean felt helpless against the invasive probing of his mouth.

But then he remembered the switchblade in his right back pocket.

He got it out but before he could use it, a shot rang out, and Pete howled in pain, collapsing to the ground.

Dean, shocked, stared at his father, covered in blood from his fight with the Witch Bird and mad as hell.

“Dad?” he croaked.

“Get to the car, Dean,” his father ordered. “Take the shotgun with you.” Dean grabbed it and his duffel and left, striking out into the darkness without a second thought. He’d take what lurked in the dark over something like Pete any time.

After he was a good mile from the campsite, he vomited until bile burned his throat. The half moon lit the trail through the brush well enough that Dean could identify some of the vegetation. He picked some early dandelions, eating them for the bitterness that he preferred to Pete’s sour breath.

He’d gone about another mile when he heard a second gunshot, and his heart caught in his chest. He wondered if his dad needed help, but he couldn’t make himself turn around. He saw the Impala gleaming in the moonlight, parked where the access road turned into the walking trail, and walked faster.

Inside the Impala, Dean felt safe. He locked the doors and rolled up the windows and waited, eyes on the trail. He had the shotgun ready – if Pete showed up, he would shoot him.

Thankfully, it was John who came barreling through the brush, carrying their camping gear and splattered with blood.

Dean got out of the car and helped load their gear.

“Is everything – okay?” he asked his dad.

John laid a hand on his eldest son’s head. “Everything’s fine, Dean. Let’s get out of here.”

As they drove down the road, the only thing John asked was, “What else happened?”

“Nothing,” Dean answered. “That was bad enough.” He wasn’t sure if he wanted to ask, but decided to anyway: “I heard a gunshot, Dad. What happened?”

“Nothing he didn’t deserve,” John said, reaching for the volume and turning the radio up. “Get some sleep, son.”

Dean leaned his head against the window and shut his eyes, listening to the low rumble of the Impala’s engine. He wanted to ask his dad why it had happened, why Pete thought that was okay – but he had a feeling that the conversation wouldn’t go well.

John never mentioned that night or Pete again, so Dean didn’t either.

+ + + +

1994

Dean was fifteen the first time he blew a guy for money. The way he saw it, he’d had no choice.

John had left the boys at a motel in the-middle-of-nowhere that was southwest Iowa, while he investigated a tip about the Yellow-Eyed Demon. He’d paid for three nights and left them $30.

On the third day, there was no sign of John, and Dean was worried. He had been frugal, but he only had $10 left, not nearly enough to cover a fourth night at the motel. He walked the neighborhoods looking for odd jobs and managed to make $35 raking leaves and chopping wood.

That would get them another night in the room, but the only food they had left was flat soda, stale bread, and cheesecrackers.

He trolled the neighborhoods the morning of the fourth day, but only managed to make $15 doing odd jobs. It just wasn’t enough. The town didn’t have a pawnshop and none of the bars would let him play pool. Panic set in, and Dean began working through the list of emergency contacts:

Caleb was hunting a wendigo.

Pastor Jim, according to his answering machine, was at a seminary retreat and wouldn’t be back until the end of the week.

Bobby didn’t answer, though Dean left at least three messages – each one more desperate than the last.

And that was it – there was no one else that John trusted enough for the boys to turn to. Even Bobby was grudgingly on the list, because he and John butted heads so often, but John knew that he loved the boys, so there he was.

Dean held his head in his hands and wondered what he was going to do.

In the end, he told Sam that they were going on an adventure. They walked down to the small grocery and bought as much as they could for ten bucks; Dean kept out $5 plus his pocket change to use the next day.

They ate, packed their duffels, and went to bed. Sam slept like a rock; Dean tossed and turned but managed to get in a couple of hours. When John still didn't show, they checked out on time, without drawing too much attention from the manager, whom Dean suspected wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed anyway.

The game wasn’t inventive, and the adventure wasn’t fun. Dean’s only idea was to walk as far as they could. Sam went along with things at first, but the further they went and the more tired they became, the whinier he got. Dean kept reminding himself that Sammy was only 11, but he was fast losing patience.

Just when he didn’t think he could take anymore, they came up on a truckstop. He took Sam inside and ordered him a soda and a side of fries, ignoring the rumblings of his own stomach. Dean went to the payphone to try Bobby again, but there was still no answer. Dejected, he sat on a bench outside the rundown diner and tried to figure out his options.

That was when the trucker came walking by. “Hey kid, what’s wrong?” he asked. For a second, Dean thought maybe he could ask for help, but when he looked up and saw the look in the guy’s eyes – well, he knew what that look meant now.

He didn’t want to do it, but he didn’t know what else to do, so he smiled his most winning smile and said, “Life’s just peachy.”

The trucker took a seat beside Dean, and they talked for a few minutes. Then he led Dean around the building, where the bathrooms and shower stalls were. The boy came back out with a sour taste in his mouth, a hickey under his shirt collar, and $50 in his pocket.

It wasn’t much money, but it was enough to get them to Bobby’s. A female trucker gave them a ride to the bus station the next town over, and they were on Bobby’s front porch by dawn.

Dean still remembered the look on Bobby’s face – he had been in the hospital with pneumonia and was just released the afternoon before. Dean’s messages had torn at every heart string the man had, and he’d been trying to track the boys down all night.

Bobby had enveloped them both in tight hugs and sent them to take showers and change while he made breakfast. Dean had felt Bobby’s eyes on him all day and had always wondered if he knew what Dean had done to get them there. Dean hoped not.

+ + + +

1995

One afternoon, at the rec center, Dean was watching Sam’s team scrimmage when a pretty girl from his biology class sat down beside him. Her name was Maggie, and they flirted for a few minutes before heading to the kissing tree, where Sam found them still making out an hour later.

The next day, Dean met Mark on the basketball court; they had a fun, competitive game. Mark was athletic, sarcastic, and friendly, and Dean was drawn to him. They played daily for over a week. When he put Dean in a headlock for blocking his shot, Dean felt heat explode across his skin everywhere Mark touched, just as it had with Maggie.

That night, Dean dreamed that he was having a threesome with Maggie and Mark. It was a good dream.

Dean knew his dad’s opinions about sexuality and manliness, but John was out of town. Plus, it wasn’t like Dean didn’t like girls too, so he let himself enjoy the time he spent with Mark. They went to a movie together; Mark came to dinner with him and Sam; and then the last afternoon they played basketball together, Mark kissed him.

The court had been muddy, and they were in the rec center bathroom washing up after their one-on-one game. They were joking around like always when their eyes met and everything changed. Suddenly, Mark was kissing Dean, and Dean was decidedly kissing back. It was awkward at first – stubble and muscle when he was used to smooth and soft, but it was good.

The sound of kids tromping down the hall broke them apart. “Tomorrow?” Dean asked. “My place at 4?” Even to himself, his voice sounded rough and unsure.

Mark nodded. “I’ll be there.” He passed a finger over Dean’s lips, and then they walked back outside like it was any other day, though Dean knew it most certainly wasn’t.

The next day, Mark had knocked hesitantly at the door, and when Dean opened it, they fell into each other’s arms. In moments, they were on the bed, undressing and watching, touching and tasting.

It was amazing.

And then John walked in, and everything went to shit. Dean blamed himself.

When he showed up at Bobby’s, battered and bruised, Dean felt broken, and he didn’t speak for two days.

On his way to Sioux Falls, Dean had called Mark from a bus station payphone. He hung up without saying a word when he heard his friend’s voice. After all, he thought, there was nothing he could do to fix what had happened.

As the weeks went by, part of him wanted to talk about what had happened, but he couldn’t bring himself to. What if who he was changed how Bobby felt about him?

So Dean ignored Bobby’s concerned looks and subtle questions; he waited for his bruises to heal; he coasted through classes at his new school, failing everything except gym; and he steeled himself against exposing those vulnerable parts ever again.

+ + + +

Then

The memories were overwhelming, and Dean squeezed his eyes shut in an attempt to tune them out. He thought of Purgatory and its purity, how it had stripped away the baggage that he had carried for years and revealed the truths of his heart.

How he felt about Cas was one of those truths, and it was the forever kind of truth.

All that matters is that we make sense, and we love each other. Dean let the sounds of Cas’s even breathing lull him to sleep.

+

Dean woke up tangled in someone – arms around waists, a leg flung over Dean’s, a head on Dean’s chest.

It took him a minute to place where he was, who he was with. When he did, he smiled and tightened his arm around Cas, dropping a kiss on his head.

He lay there peacefully, watching the light in the room change as dawn became day.

Around 8, he gently disentangled himself and dressed. Cas’s stomach was growling in his sleep, and Dean decided to pick up breakfast and have it waiting for him. He left a note for Cas on the nightstand and slipped out of the room.

He walked to the diner. Everything he saw looked different than it had yesterday morning: the sky was bluer, the grass greener, birds were singing… and with that last thought, Dean told himself to cut it out before he turned into a Disney heroine.

The bell on the diner door jingled, and the grandmotherly waitress – he saw now that her nametag read Irma – came to take his order.

“Where’s your boyfriend?,” Irma asked.

Dean felt himself flush. “Uh, um… uh, he’s still asleep,” he said. Then his face burned with the realization of how that had sounded.

Irma laughed and patted Dean on the shoulder. “Sorry, sweetie. Didn’t mean to embarrass you. Y’all are a cute couple. Now, what can I get you?”

Somehow he managed to squeak out an order for two breakfast specials with coffee and orange juice to go.

+

When he walked back into the room, Cas was sitting up in bed and channel surfing. His eyes lit up, though whether that was at the sight of Dean or the sight of food, the hunter didn’t know.

“I hope you like scrambled eggs,” Dean said, setting the food out on the small table in front of the window.

“I don’t know,” Cas replied. “I’ve never had them.” He took the seat across from Dean and helped himself to one of the coffees.

Dean stared at him a moment before shaking his head. “I didn’t think of that. Sorry, Cas.” He handed Cas his tray of food and sat down with his own.

“Don’t apologize, Dean. They’re just scrambled eggs. I’ll probably like them.”

“No - I mean – I’m sorry you have to deal with this whole humanity thing.”

Cas paused in the middle of heaping strawberry jam on a slice of toast to tilt his head in that curious way he had. “Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “There are perks.”

“Oh, really?” Dean asked. “Like what?” He wanted to know what Cas would say, but the former angel said nothing, he just gave Dean one of those bottomless looks that promised the universe.

Dean looked away, swallowing hard and reaching for his coffee. He looked back and Cas was still giving him that look and with strawberry jam on the edge of his mouth too. Suddenly all Dean could think about was what that jam would taste like when he licked it off –

Dean focused his attention on his bacon and eggs. Dammit, Winchester, get it together, he thought.

“Problem, Dean?” Cas asked with a glint in his eyes.

The bastard knew what he was doing, Dean realized. When the hell did he learn that?

“Nope, no problems here,” Dean said. “Eat your breakfast.”

Cas smirked as he took another bite of toast.

+

Dean passed his leftover eggs to Cas, who did, in fact, love scrambled eggs. He noticed again how thin Cas looked and decided it was time to open the can of worms.

“Okay, Cas, we have to talk.”

“About?”

“Don’t play that way with me. You know what about and start from the beginning: Why didn’t you let me know you were alive? Why didn’t you immediately call me or Sam?” Dean paused to compose his voice before adding, raggedly, “Do you realize that I was afraid that you were dead?”

Cas met his gaze, his blue eyes sad. “I do now, and I’m sorry. My staying away was – is – safer for you, and for Sam.”

“Don’t give me that safety bullshit,” Dean said, more loudly than he’d intended. He knew from experience that he couldn’t bully Cas into anything. He pressed the palms of his hands against his eyes, willing his blood pressure to go down. “Okay, sorry. Just tell me what happened, and I promise to listen.”

“I told you that I woke up somewhere in northern Washington.”

“Yeah, and?”

“After I watched the angels fall, I walked to the closest small town. I don’t know its name. I was going to call you and Sam, but then I ran into Muriel.”

“And who is Muriel?,” Dean asked.

“The angel of June. We fought together in the first war against Lucifer. She had fallen in a field outside the town. I attempted to help her, but when she saw it was me…” Cas paused, looked down at the table and steeled his features. “She tried to kill me. I can’t blame her, and part of me thought I should let her.”

“Cas – ”

The former angel shook his head. “Dean, you and I both know the terrible things that I’ve done. If Muriel had killed me, it wouldn’t have been an undeserved death.”

“Bullshit, Cas.”

“No. It’s the truth. But when she attacked me, I thought of you, and Sam, and what we’ve been fighting for all of these years, and I pulled out my angel blade and fought her off.” Cas paused, sadness in his face. “I can add her name to the list of angels I’ve killed.”

Dean understood Cas’s grief, but he needed him to stay on track. “So what changed your mind about contacting us?”

“Muriel didn’t know that it was my grace that completed the spell. She was only angry about before. I knew then that once the angels realized that Metatron used my grace, that I allowed him to trick me, that they would come after me.”

“But how would they know it was your grace?,” Dean asked. “If Metatron ejected everyone, there’s no one for him to tell, right?”

“That’s true,” Cas agreed. Dean didn’t like the way Cas was avoiding eye contact. “But they would know – an angel’s grace is marked, so it’s similar to identifying someone from DNA.”

“Huh.” Dean said, still not liking the hedgy look in Cas’s eyes but deciding to go with it. “Okay. So when you realized that, you went into hiding instead.”

“Yes.” Cas told Dean about his several weeks walking, hitchhiking, and busing across the country, though he didn’t mention the trucker incident or Jenny. After he explained how he came to be on the bus in Hastings, he said, “I told myself I wasn’t coming to Lebanon, but geography begs to differ, I think.”

“Well, to whatever universal force that had me and Sam outside that shop when your bus pulled into Hastings of all places, I am actually grateful,” Dean said.

“Me too,” Cas said quietly. He took a sip of his now-tepid coffee. “I didn’t stay away from you to hurt you.”

“I get that,” Dean said. “Doesn’t make it feel any better though.”

Cas nodded.

“So,” Dean said. “Did you make any friends along the way?”

Cas arched an eyebrow at him. “What?”

“You mentioned someone named Jenny," Dean said as casually as he could manage. "Who’s she?”

“A friend,” Cas said. “She gave me shelter and helped me when I needed it.”

“And?”

“And what?” Cas was being deliberately obtuse, and they both knew it.

Dean knew that what he wanted to ask was what he definitely should not ask, yet the words still came out of his mouth: “Did you fuck her?”

“Why ask that, Dean?”

“Dammit, Cas.”

Cas looked down at his coffee before he spoke. “You’re not going to like my answer.”

+

Cas watched as conflicting emotions warred in Dean’s face. He wasn’t surprised when Dean shoved his chair back and stood up, announcing that he was going to take a walk. On his way out the door, he stopped and without looking back at Cas, said, “Don’t go anywhere.”

Cas didn’t regret the time he’d spent with Jenny, but he did regret that it bothered Dean. He couldn’t have imagined that despite his intention to stay away from the Winchesters, the bus pass Jenny had given him would run out in Hastings, not twenty-five feet from where they were standing.

Yet another miracle that gave him hope that the Divine was in the details.

Cas looked out the window, but he didn’t see Dean. If he knew the hunter, Dean would walk around for an hour or so before he came back to the room. And then they needed to straighten a few things out.

For now, though, he was warm and fed and still so very tired. He climbed into bed and channel surfed until he found a Dr. Sexy marathon starting. He was asleep before the first episode finished.

+

Dean stalked down the sidewalk. He was angry that Cas hadn’t come directly to him after the angels fell. But while he didn’t like it, he understood Cas’s reasoning and knew that were their positions reversed, he probably would have done the same.

He was really furious over this faceless woman, as ridiculous as he knew that was, and he was mad at Cas for fucking her.

It took him an hour of angry walking to finally admit that he was acting like the jealous boyfriend. So, wait – Did that mean that he wanted to be a couple?

And if they did become a couple, then what were they -- if he liked guys and girls but chose to be with Cas, and if Cas – a multidimensional wavelength of celestial intent who happened to become human while in a male body – liked guys and girls but chose to be with him, then what the hell did that make them?

And why was Dean even thinking about any of this? What did it matter?

All that matters is that we make sense, and we love each other. But did they really make sense?

All Dean knew for sure was that he didn’t want Cas with anyone but him.

Dean found himself in front of a thrift store and went inside. He came out with a bag of clothes for Cas – a hoodie, a couple of t-shirts, a pair of cargo pants, an unopened package of boxers, some socks, and a pair of tennis shoes. He went by the drugstore, and then picked up an extra large meat lovers pizza and a six-pack on his way back to the motel.

Cas was asleep when Dean came in, the Dr. Sexy marathon still playing. He set the pizza on the table and put the beer in the mini-fridge.

Then he stood there, watching Cas; peaceful and curled up on his side, the sleeping man looked nothing like a former angel of the lord. Dean stripped down to his t-shirt and boxers, crawling in behind his angel and wrapping his arms tightly around him. His last conscious thought was how good it felt.

+

Dean woke up to Cas nuzzling his neck; he could get used to waking up this way, he thought, running his hand up and down Cas’s back.

Cas gently kissed Dean’s throat. “Are you still angry?,” he asked.

“No,” Dean said. “I don't like it, but I’ve got no right to be mad.”

Cas raised his head, looking Dean in the eye. “Why don’t you have a right to be mad?”

Dean’s cheeks grew pink. “It’s not like we’re going steady or anything, right? Plus, if you like girls, well, in case you didn’t notice –” he gestured at his noticeable erection – “I’m not one.”

Cas rolled his eyes and pulled away from Dean, moving to the other side of the bed. “Don’t do this, Dean.”

“Excuse me?”

“We both know that you wouldn’t have gotten mad if you didn’t want this, want us, but we also both know that you have issues with our being together.”

“Why don’t you have any issues with it?” Dean asked.

“The body of the person means nothing to me. You forget that I spent millennia seeing everyone’s true form." Cas paused and picked at the bedspread. "Yesterday was the first time I ever really noticed your human face.”

“I didn’t know that,” Dean said quietly. “What did you see when you looked at me, then?”

“Your soul,” Cas said. “Yours is exceptional. If there’s anything that I’ll miss about being an angel, that's it.”

Dean tried to process that statement. It was hard to believe that seeing his soul was what Cas would miss most. “Really?,” he asked, disbelief in his voice.

“Really,” Cas said.

Dean reached for Cas’s hand, and they intertwined their fingers. “I don’t care that you’re you,” Dean said. “I can’t explain it. I know what I feel, and that’s really all that matters to me. I just get a little crazy sometimes, and I say things, and I don’t even really know why.”

“Yes you do,” Cas said softly.

Dean looked up at him confused. “No, Cas, really, I’m not doing this on purpose.”

“You misunderstand me, Dean. I know that you’re not reacting this way on purpose, but I also know why you’re reacting this way.”

Dean was silent, processing. Cas rubbed his thumb over Dean’s in a comforting caress.

“Cas, when you were elbow-deep in my soul, what exactly did you see?”

“Everything up to that point in your life.”

"Shit," Dean said, looking horrified.

Cas tightened his grip on Dean’s hand. “Your ability to love someone regardless of gender is part of what makes you special.”

“Tell that to my dad,” Dean said with a bitter laugh.

“Gladly,” Cas said. “Your father was a good man, but he didn’t handle things well when it came to you. And that’s something you already know.”

Dean nodded. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“It is so,” Cas insisted, leaning forward and forcing the hunter to meet his eyes. “And you need to hear this too, and believe it, Dean Winchester: “I existed before humanity was even a gleam in my father’s eye, and you’re the most beautiful soul I’ve ever seen.”

“How is that possible, Cas?” Dean asked, hating the tears that were welling in his eyes.

Cas reached out and wiped them away. “It just is,” he said, leaning forward and kissing Dean on the mouth.

Dean kissed back, hesitating only a moment before he pulled his t-shirt off and kicked off his boxers. “Your turn,” he said to Cas, pulling his borrowed shirt over his head; Cas shucked off his pants and boxers as Dean retrieved the drugstore bag from the table and emptied the contents on the nightstand.

He looked up and caught Cas staring in a way that made Dean’s body hum in anticipation. He leaned over and kissed Cas possessively before pulling away.

Cas looked disappointed and Dean chuckled. “All in good time,” he said. He decided to work his way up, and he slid his hands up Cas’s legs, kissing the inside of his knees, then the sensitive part of his inner thighs. He nipped gently at Cas’s balls before running his tongue up and then taking all of Cas into his mouth. Cas groaned when he pulled off with a pop.

He massaged Cas behind his balls, grinning as Cas squirmed. Dean squirted lube onto his fingers before taking Cas into his mouth again, licking and sucking. He gently slid a finger inside Cas, letting him get used to the feel. It had been a long time since Purgatory. He took his time before he added a second and then a third and began thrusting in and out. Every time he hit Cas’s prostate, he could feel the explosion building in his mouth. He pulled off, and held Cas at the base, reluctant to let him come so soon.

Cas was writhing, grabbing at the sheets, and begging for mercy. Dean leaned forward and kissed him, moaning as Cas pulled him down and deepened the kiss. Their cocks rubbed together and the friction nearly undid Dean.

He pulled away from Cas’s sexy, swollen mouth. “Not yet,” he said, placing a finger on Cas’s lips.

Dean put on a condom, looking up to see Cas watching with eyes black with lust.

Cas instinctively knew what to do, wrapping his legs around Dean as the hunter positioned himself. He leaned forward and kissed Cas again. “Do you want this, Cas?,” he asked seriously. Though he was so hard it hurt, he didn’t want to push Cas too far too fast.

“Dean,” Cas gasped. “If you don’t fuck me this instant, I will find a way to smite you.”

Dean laughed and claimed Cas’s mouth again as he slid inside, and Cas hissed at the pressure. Dean held still a moment, until he felt Cas moving against him, and then Dean began moving his hips in slow, measured thrusts.

Cas came first, Dean’s name on his lips, and strings of white running across his stomach. Within seconds, Dean followed, his vision erupting into white starbursts.

They lay together after, dazed and sated. Dean lay his head against Cas’s chest, listening to the beating of his very human heart while Cas ran his fingers through Dean’s hair.

+

They slept for a few hours, and then ate cold pizza at midnight before winding up back in bed. This time, Cas took the lead, teasing Dean mercilessly before finally pushing him over the brink.

Sleep, pizza, and sex – Dean’s holy trinity. They kept the cycle up until the pizza was gone.

+

“Dean, I'm starving,” Cas complained. “Will you get up and take a shower?”

“That requires moving,” Dean said. “And I can’t move, thanks to you.”

Cas pulled what Dean was coming to think of as his bitchface #3 – looked like angel boy had a range, just like Sam – and threw a pillow at Dean’s head.

“Get up, or I’m leaving your lazy ass here, and I’m not bringing you anything back – not even a piece of pie.”

“Fine, fine,” Dean muttered, showering while Cas dressed, dried his hair, and checked his hex bags. Cas was impatiently pacing at the door long before Dean was ready.

They went back to the diner, and Irma was happy to see them. She took their orders and promised that the food would be right out, along with some complementary pie. “I wondered if you two had left town, but I see you’ve just been busy.” She smiled and said to Dean, “We called those love bites back in my day – looks like you’re well loved.” His hand flew to his neck, and his face went scarlet. Cas laughed, and Dean kicked him under the table, which only made Cas laugh harder.

Dean and Cas had gotten to the diner late, and they were still eating when the surly “bus boy,” who was at least sixty and covered in military tattoos, came out to mop the floor.

“What’s the deal with that guy?,” Dean asked Cas. “He keeps giving us the stink eye.”

The guy saw Dean watching him and started towards their table. Irma saw and intercepted him, ordering him to take the trash out.

Dean settled the bill with her, and she apologized for Arty. “I’m sorry if he offended you,” she said. “I’d fire him except he’s had such a hard time since he was discharged – I just try to keep him away from people.”

“You’re a kind person, Irma,” Cas said.

“You’re a sweetie,” she said, patting Cas’s cheek. Dean grinned at Cas’s discomfort. “I’m going to miss seeing you two in here. Come say goodbye before you leave town. I’ll save an apple pie for you.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Dean said. “You had me at pie.”

“Cheeky devil, aren’t you?” she asked, laughing.

“Yes, he is,” Cas replied seriously. Irma’s laughter followed them out into the cool night air.

“Want to walk through town?,” Dean asked.

“Sure,” Cas answered.

Dean knew they were being followed from the get-go, as did Cas. They weren’t trained fighters for nothing. They slipped into an alleyway and waited.

Neither was surprised to see Arty.

“Well?,” Dean asked. “What the hell do you want?”

“For pansies like you two to go to hell.” The sneer on Arty’s face made his meaning clear.

Dean moved across the alley with lightning speed and slammed Arty against the brick wall. He pressed his forearm against the overweight man’s windpipe and stared into his eyes.

“Been there, asshole. Didn’t care for it.” Dean gave Arty the look that had terrified monsters all over purgatory. Cas knew it well; this guy didn’t, and what he saw scared him so badly that he peed himself.

Dean looked down at the gush of liquid running down Arty’s pants leg and smiled evilly.

“Now, Arty. Who gives you the right to say anything about me or the man I love? Huh?”

“Uh – uh, nobody,” Arty managed to choke out.

“That’s right,” Dean said. “Next time you think about being a bigoted douchebag, you think twice, you hear me?”

Arty nodded his head, his eyes wide.

Cas laid a hand on Dean's shoulder. "Let the fat man go. He looks like he's about to have a heart attack."

"Better a heart attack than what I'd like to do to him," Dean muttered. But he released Arty all the same.

"You're crazy," Arty said, backing away.

"Yeah, people keep telling me that," Dean said. "I advise you not to forget it.”

Arty looked like he was about to say something else and thought better of it. He tore out of the alley as fast as his soaked pants and overweight legs would let him.

“Feel better?” Cas asked Dean.

“Much,” he said.

They resumed their walk and headed for downtown. Everything looked different by starlight, Dean thought.

"You called me a man, Dean."

"Yeah, I know."

A few heartbeats later. “And you said you loved me."

"Like you didn't already know that," Dean said, reaching for Cas's hand and lacing their fingers together.

Cas raised Dean’s hand to his lips. “I love you too.”

Dean decided to see what kissing Cas by starlight was like, and it was awesome.

+

to be continued...

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Then

Charlie and Kevin were sitting side by side on the couch, munching popcorn and watching Star Wars: A New Hope when Sam got home. Charlie pressed pause, and in unison, they both leaned back to see who was behind Sam and grinned when there was no one there.

“So, where’s our fearless leader?,” Charlie asked, smirking as she elbowed Kevin, who elbowed her back.

Sam rolled his eyes at them. “C’mon guys, grow up,” he said, tossing his duffel in the corner and plopping in a chair.

Charlie’s mouth twitched, and she narrowed her eyes at Sam, initiating a stare-down. Sam gave up barely a minute in and grinned. “Okay, fine. He’s with Cas, and they’re ‘bonding.’” His use of air quotes sent Charlie and Kevin into hysterics.

“Oh, I cannot wait to see them in action,” Charlie said.

Kevin flinched. “Uh, I can. I don’t like PDA in general, but a cuddly Dean Winchester? That’s truly a sign of the apocalypse.”

Sam nodded his head. “Yeah, you’re not entirely wrong there. Seriously, though, no pressure on them – I mean it, Charlie,” he said, pointing a finger at the redhead. “We act like we know nothing and notice nothing and let them come to terms with whatever this is on their own, and they’re the ones who tell us what’s going on. We make no assumptions. Understood?” He gave both Charlie and Kevin “the look.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Charlie muttered.

“I value my life, Sam,” Kevin said. “I’m not saying a word about anything. Now, can we get back to watching Luke ogle his sister?”

Sam laughed. “Yeah –oh, wait. How’s Crowley?”

Kevin shrugged. “The same. We served his meals through the slot in the door, and when he whined about being bored, I gave him a copy of The Devil Wears Prada.”

Sam laughed. “You realize he probably enjoyed it, right?”

Kevin’s mouth twisted. “Hah. Yeah, you’re probably right, but at least it kept him quiet.”

“By the way,” Charlie said, punching Sam on the arm. “You’re it.”

“It?,” Sam asked, clearly confused.

“Well, we didn’t go into the cell at all, so…,” she said.

It took a minute for Sam to understand. “Aw, hell,” he muttered.

“Glad you’re home, Sam,” Kevin said, grinning widely as he unpaused the film and the orchestral score filled the room again.

+

Sam stood quietly outside the dungeon not wanting to go inside. It was disconcerting to see Crowley partially depowered, and Sam felt a twist of guilt that he hadn’t finished curing the demon, along with a sense of relief at his own present state of aliveness.

He had put on a jumper and had his plastic gloves in his pocket. It seemed inhumane to make Crowley use a waste bucket, but what else were they going to do? Put him in a bedroom on the hall where they all slept?

Steeling himself, he lifted the locks and entered the room.

“Moose!,” Crowley exclaimed. “Good to see you – how are things?”

“They’re fine, Crowley. You need anything?”

“If I said yes, would you really get it for me?,” Crowley asked.

Sam raised an eyebrow at him. “Depends on what you asked for. We’ve been through this, Crowley. You help us, we help you.”

“Hmm. Sorry if I don’t trust moose and squirrel. You two aren’t the most reliable. And, after all, I have people looking for me.”

“No you don’t,” Sam said brusquely, pulling on his gloves and heading for the curtained-off corner.

“I have loyal subjects —”

“You’re not the King of Hell anymore, Crowley,” Sam said. “Deal with it. Abaddon wants your head on a pike, and most everyone else just thinks you’re dead. I encourage you to think carefully about your choices.”

Crowley didn’t say anything else; his typical sass and snark seemed defused since the aborted “cure.” That, Sam thought, was nearly as unnerving as the very human expressions that flitted across the quasi-demon’s face. Crowley might tell himself that he was still the King of Hell, but he wasn’t.

Of course, Sam didn’t know how long the partial cure would hold. He and Dean had already discussed contingency plans for if Crowley went full-on evil again. Sam just hoped they’d be able to take him out before he struck.

They didn’t talk again while Sam focused his attention on carefully completing the grossest chore he’d ever had to endure.

+

His first day back, Sam had waited anxiously for Dean and Cas to show up or for his brother to call upset. When no call came, Sam relaxed, sure that whatever was going on between the two – between the couple – must be good.

So he let himself enjoy a couple of quiet days at the bunker. He sorted files and gathered lore about angels and knights of hell. Meanwhile, Kevin was working on deciphering the angel tablet, and Charlie was helping Sam set up a database to track the overwhelming number of supernatural incidents since the angels fell.

They were just beginning to settle into a routine when everything went to shit.

“Uh, Sam?” Charlie asked hesitantly, interrupting his sorting of some old Men of Letters files.

“Yeah?,” he answered, not really wanting to know what had put the “I’m starting to freak out” tone in her voice.

“You need to read this,” she said, handing her tablet to him. He scrolled through the story and the statistics.

“Shit,” he said. “I have to call Dean.”

+

Dean didn’t hear his phone vibrate; he was too busy moaning as Cas simultaneously fucked him and jerked him off.

Cas collapsed on top of him, and Dean wrapped his arms around him. He loved the way Cas felt warm and solid; he loved having Cas come inside him – he simply…

“I love you,” Dean said softly into the dark.

Cas pressed a kiss to Dean’s clavicle. “I love you,” he said.

They fell into a peaceful sleep, waking only as night turned into dawn.

“I’ve told you about what happened with me. What about you and Sam?,” Cas asked quietly as the room took on a bluish-grey tint.

“There’s not much to tell,” Dean said. “I talked Sam into not finishing the trials, and it damn near killed him. The doctors basically said he was on the way out and wouldn’t regain consciousness.”

Cas pulled himself out of Dean’s arms and looked down at the hunter. “What did you do?,” he asked.

Dean shrugged. “I took care of it.”

Cas moved so quickly that Dean had no time to anticipate. One minute they were talking, and the next minute, Cas had knocked him out of the bed and pinned him to the floor.

“Dean,” he said with every ounce of “I would smite you given half a chance” he could muster. “What the fuck did you do?”

Dean wouldn’t meet his eyes; instead, he half-heartedly pushed at Cas’s hands, but the former angel pressed back even harder. “What, Dean? Tell me now.”

“I made a deal with Death,” Dean whispered.

Cas released his hold and fell back, eyes wide. “What? What kind of fucking deal do you make with fucking Death, Dean?”

“The kind where I get to save my brother.”

“Dammit,” Cas said, running a hand through his hair. It was mussed, messy sex hair, and Dean loved it.

“What do you have to do?,” Cas asked, his voice flat.

“When he asks, I have to do him a favor,” Dean said. “No questions asked.”

Cas flung himself onto the floor beside Dean, realizing they were both going to have rug burn. “But what if you do have questions.”

“Then I figure I’ll just kill myself,” Dean said calmly. It was the calm that pushed Cas over the edge. He jumped to his feet and pulled on his pajama pants before stalking into the bathroom and slamming the door.

Dean hit the floor with the back of his head. The self-inflicted pain helped numb the anxiety roiling in his stomach, but it didn’t take away the sinking of his heart.

That went fucking well, he thought. He got up and put on his pants. He knocked at the bathroom door but there was no answer. He tried the knob, and it was unlocked, so he slowly opened the door.

“Cas?,” he asked hesitantly.

Cas didn’t look up. He was sitting on top of the toilet, his face in his hands, and his shoulders shaking with silent sobs.

“Cas,” he said softly, wrapping his arms tightly around him. He kissed the top of Cas’s head and then lay his cheek against the soft, dark-brown curls. Dean didn’t know that he was crying too until Cas looked up.

“You’re crying on me, Dean,” Cas said, taking Dean’s face in his hands.

“No I’m not,” Dean said.

“Evidence says otherwise,” Cas murmured, pressing light kisses along the tears’ tracks.

Dean took a deep breath. “When I made that deal – I … I didn’t want to. But I’d just talked Sam into not closing the gates so that he’d live. If he had died and the gates stayed open – he would have died in vain,” Dean managed to say.

“So, once more, you’ve traded your life for his,” Cas said with some bitterness.

“No,” Dean said. “I’ve only promised to do Death a favor. It could be as simple as reaping someone, or – hell – maybe he’ll just ask me to pick him up a Chicago style pizza from the Windy City itself.”

“We couldn’t be that lucky,” Cas said somberly. His breath hitched. “If he – if he asks you to do something you don’t want to do, will you still kill yourself?”

Dean looked at Cas, and Cas saw misery in those beautiful green eyes. “I guess it depends. I don’t want to leave you, Cas."

“And I don’t want you to leave,” Cas said before pressing his lips to Dean’s in a bruising kiss. Dean’s lip split, his blood binding them, the bitter tang a symbol of their frustration at being yanked around by a fickle universe.

“Bed,” Dean breathed against Cas’s lips. They were naked again when Dean pushed Cas onto the mattress. They kissed deeply, tongues twisting, fingers running lightly up and down bare skin. He broke the kiss and moved his mouth along Cas’s jawline, down his throat.

Dean kissed his way down Cas’s body, flicking his tongue across Cas’s nipples, sending goosebumps across his skin. He took Cas into his mouth and pushed lubed fingers inside, stroking and thrusting until the man beneath him writhed in pleasure-filled agony. Cas’s moans pushed Dean to the brink, and he had to pull off and back to regain control.

“Damn, Cas,” he said.

“Inside me,” Cas murmured. Dean obliged, looking down to watch his cock enter Cas. The feeling that together they were whole, that once inside of each other they pulsed in a rhythm unique to them… it was something amazing that sex with anyone else had lacked.

He shuddered as his balls pressed against Cas’s sensitive skin, and they lay there a moment, panting – overcome with the sensations of being fully sheathed and of fully sheathing. Cas ran his hands through Dean’s hair, tugging until Dean lifted his head, and pulling the hunter’s mouth towards his own.

Neither heard Dean’s phone vibrating this time either.

They kissed and fucked until their bodies trembled and tears ran from their eyes. When Dean finally let Cas come, he followed mere seconds later. This time, Dean collapsed bonelessly, and Cas held him tight. “You can’t leave, Dean,” he said.

“We’ll figure something out,” Dean said.

“Does Sam know?,” Cas asked.

“No,” Dean answered. “And he won’t, not unless he has to.”

“That won’t end well.”

“Maybe not, but it’s the way it has to be,” Dean said stubbornly.

Cas tightened his hold on Dean. Entwined, they eventually slept.

+

Sam had to leave Dean another voicemail: “Call me as soon as you get this.”

“They okay?,” Charlie asked.

“I hope so,” Sam said, fighting the urge to go look for them. It wasn’t like Dean not to check his phone, but his mind was probably on other things. Sam shook his head to clear the images that flooded through at that thought.

“What’s the news?,” he asked Charlie.

“Not good,” she said, handing him a stack of print-outs. Together, they scoured through the latest intel.

+

Dean woke up to blinding sunshine pouring through the cheap mini-blinds. He covered his eyes with his hand and took a minute to orient himself. Cas was gone; the shower running. Dean remembered their daybreak conversation, that Cas now knew about his deal with Death.

Dean hadn’t wanted to share the worry that he carried, but knowing that Cas knew made him feel better in some small way. He hoped the knowledge wouldn’t change things between them.

Judging by the look on Cas’s face, it hadn’t. “Morning,” the former angel said, as he fluffed his wet hair dry and dug through the few remaining clean clothes for something to wear.

Dean noted the bareness of Cas’s skin. “We need to get you inked up,” he said abruptly, pulling himself to a sitting position. “We should do that today – we should’ve already done it.”

Cas shrugged noncommittally. “We can. The hex bags and charms seem to be working, though.” He turned and tossed a clean towel to Dean. “You need to shower. I think today’s our last day here.”

“I thought we might stay until tomorrow,” Dean said. “Unless you’re tired of my company,” he teased.

The heated look Cas gave him assured that wasn’t the reason. “Sam’s left you messages,” he said, pulling Dean's phone out of the duffel and tossing it to him. "I think we were too distracted to hear it."

“What? When?,” Dean asked, scrolling through his received calls. He started to press send but thought better of it and laid the phone on the bed.

Cas was digging deeper into the pile searching for socks. Dean slipped his arms around Cas’s waist from behind and rested his chin on his shoulder.

“I wish we could stay here,” Dean whispered as Cas leaned into him. “Things are simple here, just us.”

“They are,” Cas agreed. “But remember, they can be simple out there too.”

Dean said nothing but dropped a kiss onto Cas’s shoulder before heading to the shower.

+

Sam tried Dean’s phone again. This time, his brother answered.

“Dean, is everything okay?”

“Yeah, Sam, everything’s fine. What’s up?,” Dean asked.

The tightness in his brother’s voice was a classic Dean response to other-shoe-dropping. Sam clenched his jaw, hating to be the one to drop it, but he couldn’t hold off anymore.

“I think you and Cas need to come home,” he said. “Have you been watching the news?”

“Uh… no, we’ve, uh—,” Dean stammered.

Sam graciously cut Dean off. “I emailed you a list of articles,” he said, glad that Dean couldn’t see the grin on his face. “You should be able to access them on your phone.”

“So give me the basic rundown,” Dean said.

“Things were relatively calm until 36 hours ago – it looks like Abaddon and some angels got into it, demolished part of downtown Salt Lake City.”

“Casualties?”

“Yeah – at least 50 dead. They were indiscriminate about who they killed, too. They killed children, Dean.”

“Where are they now?,” Dean asked.

“Charlie’s trying to track them, but she’s only been able to find small outbursts of angel activity – Dean, we’re not sure, but we think they’re tracking Cas. Based on what he told us, at least some of the incidents parallel his trail.”

“Goddammit,” Dean shouted. Sam heard him hit something.

“Breathe, Dean. We’re still ahead of them. They can’t teleport, and if you can get Cas here in the next 24 hours, we should stand a shot of protecting him.”

Dean was silent a moment; Sam knew his brother, knew he was working through the possibilities.

“It’s one o’clock now,” Dean said. “We’ll be home tonight.”

“Be safe,” Sam said.

“You too, Sam,” Dean said.

+

“So the angels are tracking me?,” Cas asked.

“How’d you hear that?” Dean asked. He’d purposefully not said anything specific on his end, hoping to keep that info to himself.

Cas shrugged. “Good hearing and commonsense,” he said. “I knew they’d come.”

“Well, they’re not getting you,” Dean said. “Don’t start, Cas,” he snapped, cutting off the let’s be rational look that he hated because it was always followed by something that he didn’t want to hear.

They packed quietly, occasionally brushing fingers, touching hands. It didn’t take long to get everything ready. Dean loaded the car, and Cas did a sweep of the room, wiping down fingerprints and removing as much of their presence as he could.

Dean was leaning in the doorway by the time Cas finished in the bathroom.

“Everything’s wiped down, but what about that?,” Cas asked, nodding to the bed.

“Got it covered,” Dean said, holding up a couple of the utility trash bags he kept in the trunk. Together, they stripped the bed and bagged the linens and towels.

“Do you really think stripping the room is going to help?,” Cas asked.

“I don’t know, but it can’t hurt."

“It’ll hurt the bill,” Cas remarked.

“No, it’ll hurt Warren Rivera’s bill,” Dean corrected with a roguish grin.

Cas rolled his eyes.

They each grabbed a bag, and though Dean had told himself no chick flick moments, he couldn’t help putting an arm around Cas and pulling him close before they walked outside. He leaned his forehead against his friend’s. “I’ve been happy here, with you,” Dean said.

“I didn’t know what happiness was until you,” Cas said, tracing Dean’s jawline with his free hand.

Dean brushed his lips against Cas’s – a soft touch weighty with promise – before they broke apart. One more look around the room, and they left.

+

The diner was bustling with patrons when Dean and Cas stopped by, but Irma made a point to come talk with them.

“You boys leaving?,” she asked.

“Yes,” Cas answered. “We head out after lunch.”

She patted each of them on the cheek. “Well, y’all don’t forget ol’ Irma,” she said. “I surely won’t forget you two cuties.” She motioned at Dean’s neck. “Still well-loved I see,” she said smiling.

His cheeks reddened, but he gamely responded. “Yes, ma’am. Wouldn’t have it any other way.”

She laughed delightedly. “Your food’ll be out soon, boys. Just know the kitchen's running a bit behind.”

“Dean,” Cas said. “What will we do if someone finds Irma?”

Dean thought for a moment, tapping his fingers on the table. He saw a jewelry store across the way. “I’ve got an idea,” he said. “Be right back.”

Cas watched through the window as Dean walked across to the store and came out moments later carrying a small bag that he took to the trunk of the Impala.

Cas couldn’t see what he was doing then, so he just watched everyone in the diner. As far as he could tell, everyone was human, which was a relief.

Dean slid back into the booth. “What’d you do?” Cas asked.

“I got Irma a present,” he said, showing Cas the mid-sized locket engraved with a rune for good health in his hand. “I put equal parts of your hex bag ingredients in it – not as much as a bag itself, but hopefully it’ll work."

“What if she opens it?”

Dean showed him the locket's melted hinges. “I used my mini propane lighter to weld them. Don’t touch – the metal’s still hot,” he said. That’s when Cas saw the fresh, bright pink burn marks on Dean’s index finger and thumb.

“You’re a good man,” Cas said with a smile.

“Whatever,” Dean said but looked pleased nonetheless. “We’ll give it to her when we leave.”

Their food came, and they ate, mindful of the time. Dean watched, though, as Irma made the rounds.

“Cas?”

“uh-huh?” Cas mumbled, his mouth full of fries.

“Go to the restroom. I’ve got an idea to keep Irma from talking, but you can’t be here.”

Cas nodded and left the table, sidestepping Irma with a smile.

“You need anything, hon?,” she asked Dean.

“Actually,” he paused, as if watching to make sure Cas was out of earshot. “You can do me a huge favor, Irma.”

“Anything, sweetie.”

“His family’s not so – um – excited about our being together,” Dean said, gesturing at Cas’s retreating back. “His brothers are especially jerks, and the last time they found him, they beat the shit out of him.”

Irma placed a hand over her heart. “Oh my,” she said. “Did he press charges?”

“He tried, but – well, his dad’s well known back home, and pulled strings and got them off.”

Irma clucked her tongue and shook her head. “What do you need from me, sweetie?”

“His dad has people looking for us. If they find us –” Dean made a gesture that he hoped conveyed all that could happen. Irma’s eyes grew wider, so it seemed to deliver his message clearly enough.

She patted Dean on the arm. “Don’t you worry,” she said. “I won’t breathe a word to anybody. Though I will miss the sight of you two – I rarely see so much love between people.”

Dean smiled and placed his hand over hers, squeezing lightly. “Thanks, Irma. We’re going to miss you, too.”

+

Arty was mopping the restroom when Cas walked in. The man grunted in Cas’s direction.

Cas gave him a measured look and went to wash his hands, wondering how much time he needed to kill for Dean’s plan.

Arty was pretending not to watch him, but Cas knew he was. He also knew that Arty was a weak link.

“So, Arty,” he said casually. “Remember the other night in the alley?”

Arty didn’t answer, just looked at Cas with narrowed eyes.

Cas reached into the largest pocket of his cargo pants and pulled out a hunting knife that he removed from its sheath.

He walked over to Arty, ignoring how big the man’s eyes got, how labored his breathing. He pulled a hair out of the man’s head and smiled when Arty flinched.

“Watch,” Cas said softly, passing the hair over the blade that sliced it in two. “Now, imagine this blade sinking into your skin, slicing your flesh open, shredding the muscle – all the way down to the bone,” he continued in a sotto voice.

Arty’s wide eyes flicked between Cas and the blade; he pressed his body into the wall behind him.

“If you ever tell anyone anything about me or my friend, we’ll know, Arty. And we’ll come back for you,” Cas promised. “You won’t like it if we do. Understand?”

Arty nodded. Cas searched his eyes and saw nothing but blind fear. He felt a twinge of conscience at manipulating the man this way, but bigoted bullies rarely responded to anything else but bullying.

“Don’t fuck with us, Arty. We know where you live, and we have a lot of toys like this one,” he said, fingering the cool hard metal of his blade. “Forget you ever saw us.”

“O-okay,” Arty stammered out.

“Good,” Cas said. He re-sheathed the knife and returned it to his pocket before he left the restroom.

“All good with Irma?,” Cas asked, sliding back into the booth.

“Yeah, all good.” Dean caught sight of Arty wheeling the mop bucket into the ladies’ room. “What’ll we do about him?” he asked, nodding at the man.

“Already done,” Cas said.

“Yeah?"

“Oh, yeah. I think he’ll have nightmares about us for the rest of his life.”

“Good,” Dean said.

+

Irma refused to take payment for their meal, though Dean surreptitiously slipped a generous tip into her apron pocket. She hugged them both goodbye and cried real tears when Dean presented her with the locket.

“Wear it and think of us,” he said, slipping it around her neck.

“That I will, dear,” she said, fingering the engravings. “What does this mean?,” she asked.

“It’s a rune for good health,” Dean said. “We thought the locket would help keep you safe."

“Well aren’t you the kindest thing,” she said, pressing papery lips to his cheek.

“It looks good with your uniform,” Cas said. “You should wear it everyday.”

“I will,” Irma promised, kissing Cas’s cheek too.

“Now, here’s an apple pie for the road, and you boys come back by if you’re ever in the area, you hear?” she said, putting the box in Dean’s hands.

“Yes, ma’am,” the hunter said obediently.

“Take care, Irma,” Cas said, walking out first.

Dean grabbed Irma’s hand as he walked past. “Please?,” he said. “Don’t forget –”

“I won’t,” she promised. “Not a word. You two be safe."

“We’ll try,” he said with a wry smile, following Cas to the car.

+

They didn’t speak until they were on the highway.

“This isn’t the way to Lebanon,” Cas observed.

“We’re heading to Hebron first,” Dean said. “I know a guy there who can ink you up proper before we head home."

He handed Cas a notepad. “Draw out the sigils you need,” he said. “Pen’s in the glove compartment.”

They were in Hebron within the hour, and the guy – a tattoo artist named Patrick who had gotten roped into the supernatural world after a demon possessed and killed his wife – was willing to do the tattoos right then. So Cas stripped to the waist and took position in the chair. Dean sat nearby, overseeing. These had to be perfect.

“So what do these mean?,” Patrick asked.

“Better you don’t know,” Dean said. “They’re not universal like these,” he said, indicating the anti-possession tattoos they both wore.
Patrick nodded, wise enough not to ask any more questions. He stopped after three hours. “You sure you want me to keep going?,” he asked Cas.

“Yes,” the former angel said. “I want them all done now."

“Okay,” Patrick said. "It's your pain threshold." He picked the gun back up and resumed his intricate, painstaking work.

It was nearly 9 p.m. before he was done. Cas had been in the chair for over six hours. He’d had his anti-possession tattoo put in the same location as Sam and Dean’s; the protection sigils decorated his shoulder blades.

Dean watched as Cas examined the sigils in a mirror. He tried not to think about how hot Cas looked with tattoos but failed miserably. Cas caught his eye in the reflection and grinned at him. He busts me every time, Dean thought.

“Thank you for doing these so well,” Cas calmly said to Patrick.

“Hope they help,” Patrick said.

“Me too,” Cas said, turning so that Patrick could smear ointment across the fresh tattoos and apply the bandages. He gingerly slipped his shirt back on.

“Thanks, Patrick,” Dean said, handing the man a wad of cash. “Same deal as always.”

“No worries, man. Anything for the Winchesters after what you did.”

“How is Brittney, anyway?,” Dean asked.

“She’s awesome – smart as hell and playing little league and kicking ass” Patrick said. He smiled wistfully, “I wish her mom could see her.”

Dean clasped his shoulder. “I know. I’m sorry we couldn’t save her.”

“Don’t apologize,” Patrick said brusquely. “You saved my daughter from that demon bitch. That’s worth more than you know.”

Dean held his hand out, and Patrick gripped it tight. “Take care, man.”

“You too,” Patrick said.

“You take care, too,” Patrick said to Cas. “I’d ask your name, but I think it’s better I don’t know.”

“I think you’re right,” Cas said, reaching to shake Patrick’s outstretched hand. “Thanks."

+

Dean and Cas drove by Hebron’s claim to fame: the world’s largest porch swing. Cas was less than impressed, which made Dean laugh. But as the distance shrank between them and the bunker – and the real world with its very real teeth and talons – the more tense Dean became.

Cas knew talking was no use when Dean emoted like this. So he reached a hand out instead. Dean saw and took Cas’s hand in his. They laced their fingers together and held on tightly. Dean relaxed fractionally, which allowed Cas to also; after a few minutes, he dozed off.

“We’re here,” Dean said. Cas opened his eyes groggily and saw the entrance to the bunker in the Impala’s lights. He looked over as Dean lifted their clasped hands to his mouth, pressing a light kiss to Cas's knuckles.

“Cas –,” Dean paused. Cas could feel the tension and uncertainty rolling off of Dean. He’d expected it, though he hadn’t expected Dean to talk about it. He turned and looked Cas in the eye. “You know me,” he said. “You know I love you, right?”

“Yeah, Dean. I got that about six shags and four declarations ago,” Cas said with amusement in his voice.

“Smartass,” Dean muttered. “Just – if I get weird or whatever, just know it’s me and not you, okay?”

Cas squeezed his hand and leaned forward to kiss him lightly. “I know.” He pulled back and gave Dean a level look. “Know this, though, you get too weird or whatever, and I’m going to kick your ass.”

“Fair enough,” Dean said. “Guess we better go in, then.”

+

to be continued…

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Then

With Charlie’s help, Sam spent the afternoon transferring the intel to a map, using red Xs for demonic incursions, blue for angelic, and green for Cas’s known locations.

When they finished sorting and marking the data, they stepped back and surveyed their handiwork. The large map nearly covered the tabletop, and it was lit up like a Christmas tree.

Charlie’s forehead crinkled in worry, and Sam watched her nervously twist her long hair into a bun, securing it in place with a pencil. She caught his eye and smirked. “Want me to put yours in a bun too? It’s long enough.”

Sam rolled his eyes and responded with a grunt before turning his attention back to the map. Red, blue, and green marks randomly peppered the map, at least at first glance. Sam knew there was something here to figure out.

He stared at the map until his eyes hurt. With a groan, he rubbed his eyes and stalked to the kitchen for a glass of cold water. When he came back, it was like he’d been trying to find the hidden image in a painting – and from this slightly different perspective, he thought he could see it.

He pointed at central Kansas – of course, he thought. It’s always freaking Kansas. Charlie walked over. “Found something?,” she asked.

“Think so. It looks like the angels and demons are meandering towards a convergence somewhere around here.”

Charlie examined the map before nodding in agreement. “I’d buy that.” She pointed to the locations where red and blue marks overlapped some of the green Xs. “How worried do we need to be?,” she asked.

Sam’s lips thinned into a tight line, and Charlie sighed in response.

“Can we keep him safe, Sam?,” she asked.

“We have to,” Sam said. “I can’t live with anything less, and Dean sure as hell can’t.”

“Yeah,” Charlie said softly. “I get that.” She tapped her fingers on the table. “I’m going to sift through the federal database again. Maybe I can rustle up something useful.”

"Thanks, Charlie,” Sam said, reaching out and giving her a light, one-armed hug.

“What can I say? I have to help my boys,” she said with a grin before grabbing her laptop and heading for a separate research table.

Sam took one last look at the map before deciding to get comfortable with his own laptop. He wanted to compile the latest reports of violence and casualties and try to rough out a game plan before Dean and Cas got home.

He was so engrossed in his research that he didn’t notice Kevin’s presence until the prophet awkwardly cleared his throat. “Whatcha need, Kevin?,” he asked, keeping his attention on the screen. When there was no answer, he looked up and raised an eyebrow inquiringly.

Kevin was staring at the floor and rubbing the back of his neck.

Sam sighed internally. This wasn’t the time for a heart-to-heart, especially since he had a good idea what the conversation was going to be about. Sure enough…

“Uh – Sam – you know I’ve tried to help but – uh – … ” Kevin trailed off.

“What happens with Crowley now?,” Sam finished for him.

“Yeah,” Kevin said. He shrugged. “I know he went through some kind of change, blah, blah, blah, but I’m really not comfortable living this close to him, Sam – I’m sorry. I’m just not.”

Sam nodded his head. “No apologies, man. I get it. And know that we had no idea he’d be with us this long.” Sam paused. “I’m not sure when we’ll get rid of him, but I think it’ll be soon.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Sam said. “Crowley may be the bargaining chip that can save Cas.”

“He’s another winner,” Kevin muttered. Sam knew from Dean how the angel had yanked the prophet out of his chair and essentially threatened him.

“You know he’s coming with Dean,” Sam said gently.

“Yeah, I know – and look, I don’t mind about Cas, not really. Him being here will make Dean happy—or, at least, happier than he’s been, and that’s all well and good. But Crowley is a different story. I’ll be glad when he’s gone.”

Sam noted Kevin’s slumped shoulders, his downturned mouth, his eye contact with the floor – all out of whack with his usual image of the peppy prophet – and he realized that even more was going on here.

“Has Crowley said anything else about your mom?,” he asked.

“No,” Kevin said shortly. “And I haven’t asked. I’m not sure I want to know.”

“Let me find out, then,” Sam said. “And – Kevin?” He waited until the young prophet looked up and made eye contact. “We’ll get him out of here as soon as we can, I promise. If it makes you feel any better, it creeps me and Dean both out having the former King of Hell in our dungeon.”

Kevin gave a tight smile. “Yeah, okay.” He kicked at the linoleum floor. “I guess I can deal for a bit longer.”

“How’d you handle taking care of him while I was gone?,” Sam asked, mentally kicking himself for not having the foresight to consider Kevin’s discomfort before taking off. He knew it hadn’t crossed Dean’s mind either – both of them had their Winchester blinders firmly in place, as always.

“I – uh - I pretended he was a dog?” Kevin shrugged at Sam’s amused expression. “Mom and I always fed the strays in our neighborhood, so I pretended he was a stray.”

Sam snorted. “Makes sense – thanks for helping despite everything.”

Kevin gave him a serious look that Sam couldn’t quite read. “I’m in this – trying to save the world and all – but there’s only so much that I can deal with.”

“Understood,” Sam said. “We’ll do what we can as fast as we can.”

Kevin regarded Sam a moment before nodding somberly. “I’m going to get back to it then.” Sam watched as the young man shuffled back towards his bedroom where he usually holed up and translated at all hours.

Sam rubbed his face and contemplated what he’d told Kevin: It was the truth. Crowley would prove his value in a trade. His ass would certainly pacify Abaddon, and if she reined in the attacks, maybe the angels would back off too.

He doubted it, but maybe. Another idea came to Sam – one that Dean definitely wouldn’t like, but desperate times and all that. He jotted a note to himself in the margin of his legal pad.

His phone buzzing with an incoming text broke his concentration. He checked the screen: “cas inking up. home by 11.”

Sam typed back: “ok. no tramp stamps.” His mouth twitched as he imagined his brother’s reaction. He hesitated only a second before sending another message: “srsly - get your name spelled right.”

Almost instantly, his phone buzzed again: “Payback = bitch.”

Sam laughed, pocketing his phone as he headed for the kitchen. It was nearly 7:30, but if he fed the masses now, then maybe Charlie and Kevin would take the hint and go to bed early.

He wanted the chance to talk with Dean and Cas alone – and to give them both time to acclimatize to the bunker after their time in Hastings.

I’m such a good brother, he thought smugly. He’d considered setting up a room for Cas or putting some extra linens in Dean’s but decided against it. Knowing Dean – and Cas, for that matter – this was a situation best worked out by the two of them.

As he rooted around in the freezer for potential dinner options, he wondered what would happen if he got them a welcome home gift – maybe some condoms and lube? He chuckled at the idea but then his hair fell into his face. As he brushed it back, he remembered just how far Dean’s payback could go. Since he never wanted a repeat of the Nair episode, he decided to just leave Dean be.

+

Over the past few days, Sam, Charlie, and Kevin had fallen into a comfortable routine. It reminded Sam of a college-roommates-type of dynamic. Kevin had joined Sam in the kitchen, throwing together a salad while the frozen pizza baked. By the time food was ready, Charlie had queued up the next episode of Fringe, and all three plopped on the sofa with food and beers in hand.

Before the episode ended, the pizza was demolished and they were all in a carb-loaded stupor. Halfway through the second episode, Kevin roused himself. “I pulled an all-nighter guys – I’m heading on. Let me know if Olivia finally lets John go.”

“Night,” Sam and Charlie echoed. When the credits rolled, Charlie asked if he was up for another, but Sam shook his head no, glancing at the clock before he could stop himself. It was after 10.

“Worried about them?,” Charlie asked.

“Nah,” Sam said. “Dean texted earlier, said they’d be here by 11.” He wondered if he needed to say anything, needed to ask – nope, Charlie was her usual genius self.

“Hmmm. Maybe I should make myself scarce so that the three of you can talk,” she said.

Sam inclined his head. “Might not be a bad idea,” he admitted.

Charlie smiled at him. “I’ll see you in the morning, then,” she said, ruffling his hair as she walked past.

“Charlie!,” he sputtered.

“You love it,” she retorted, grabbing her gear and heading to her room.

Sam watched her go. He had to admit, he did kind of love it.

He sprawled back on the couch and started the next episode. He had been watching David Robert Jones’s mind games for about 20 minutes when he heard the rumble of the Impala. Sam started to stop the episode but paused to consider his options.

Going with his gut, Sam sunk into the corner of the couch, shutting his eyes and calming his breathing. He was a pro at feigning sleep, and this way, Dean and Cas could sort technicalities out without an audience. Then, he’d “wake up,” and they’d talk.

+

Dean opened the door quietly, and held it open for Cas to enter. “Welcome home,” he said softly.

Cas smiled at him, sliding his hand along Dean’s waist as he walked past. It was a butterfly-quick motion, yet the touch sent a flush through Dean – and not simply because he wasn’t quite sure how this was going to translate in what passed for the real world in his life. Dean knew his cheeks must be pink when Cas smirked at him.

Rolling his eyes at the former angel, Dean led the way into the bunker. He realized then that they hadn’t talked about sleeping arrangements, and it seemed awkward as ass to bring it up now… shit.

The bunker was quiet and dark except for the low sounds of the television. Dean saw Sam’s feet hanging off the couch's end, which meant Sasquatch was asleep. Good. We can figure this out without an audience, he thought. He looked back at Cas, who was carrying the weapons duffle.

“Where does this go, Dean?,” Cas asked.

“Just drop it there,” Dean said, gesturing towards the corner. “We can service the guns and sort everything out in the morning.”

He watched as Cas set the heavy bag quietly against the wall, near one of the walled-in bookcases. Cas turned and, finding Dean’s eyes on him, tilted his head with a questioning look.

Dean took a deep breath. “Uh – we didn’t talk about where you want to sleep.” He ducked his head and hated the fact that a new flush of heat was suffusing his cheeks.

Cas’s eyes danced, but his face remained placid. “You know where I want to sleep,” he said, and the amusement in his voice resonated in Dean’s ears. “But what do you think we should do?”

Dean considered his friend for a minute. He appreciated that Cas was giving him the freedom to keep some distance until this didn’t feel so new, until he knew exactly how this was going to change their day-to-day lives. But dammit. The simple thought of sleeping in his bed – memory foam or no – all alone was enough to create an aching hollow place in his chest.

Decisively, he heaved his duffle over his shoulder with one hand and simultaneously reached the other out to Cas. The momentary look of surprise on Cas’s face wrenched something in Dean’s gut; he didn’t like realizing what Cas had expected. There was so much he wanted to say, to explain, but instead he just tightened his hold on Cas’s hand and said gruffly, “This way, then.”

+

Though Sam couldn’t see what was going on, he could hear well enough. The exchange between his brother and his friend made him smile, and after their footsteps faded down the hallway, Sam rearranged his long limbs and settled further into the couch.

Who knew? Maybe he’d actually get some real sleep before they were ready to talk.

+

“So this is your room,” Cas said. “I didn’t see it last time I was here.”

“Uh, yeah,” Dean said, surprised at the emotions fluttering in his stomach. He realized suddenly that he was worried about what his room said about him. He surveyed the room himself, noting the weapons that decorated the walls and the shelves, the neatly arranged desk, the picture of his mom…

“It’s a nice room,” Cas said. “I can tell it’s yours.”

“That a good thing?,” Dean asked, hating the neediness underlying the question. He dropped his duffel on the floor and heading to the closet. He slipped off his jacket and was hanging it up when two strong arms slipped around his waist from behind. One hand slid up to splay across his heart while the other hooked its fingers in his belt loops.

“Of course,” Cas said softly before kissing Dean’s shoulder blade, the warmth of his mouth seeping through the soft fabric of his henley, and then working his way up Dean’s neck and pressing a light kiss to the hunter’s jaw.

“So are you going to hang that up?,” Cas asked, resting his chin on Dean’s shoulder.

“Huh?” Dean asked before realizing that he still held the jacket and hanger in his hand. “Oh, uh, yeah.” He quickly hung the hanger on the curtain rod.

Cas chuckled softly.

“Think that’s funny, do you?,” Dean asked.

“Yeah, I do.”

Dean grinned before he pivoted swiftly, taking Cas by surprise. His friend stumbled a bit, but Dean caught him, holding Cas tightly to his chest. He leaned his forehead against Cas’s and looked into his eyes. God, I could lose myself in that ocean, he thought. Maybe I already have.

Dean smiled, his dimples deepening when Cas ran a thumb over his lips.

“I like that smile,” Cas said.

Dean quirked an eyebrow at him. “What’s different about it?”

This time it was Cas’s turn to blush. “You – uh – you look happy.”

Dean leaned in and lightly brushed his lips against Cas’s. “I am happy,” he murmured. “You?”

Instead of answering, Cas pressed forward, claiming Dean’s mouth with his own. They kissed deeply and slowly until Dean reluctantly pulled back.

“We should probably go talk to Sam,” he said. He didn't let go, though, instead keeping one hand around Cas's waist and running the fingers of the other along Cas’s right cheekbone and jawline. His breath caught as Cas leaned into the touch and turned his head to kiss Dean's palm.

“Look at it this way – the sooner we talk, the sooner we can go to bed,” Dean said.

"You trying to convince me or yourself?," Cas asked cheekily.

"You, of course," Dean said, offering the most lascivious look he could muster.

Cas burst into laughter and drew back.

“Hey, I’m trying to seduce you here,” Dean complained.

“Then don’t wiggle your eyebrows quite so much,” Cas retorted, pressing a chaste kiss to the corner of Dean’s mouth. “Come on,” he said, taking Dean’s hand and pulling him towards the door. “Let’s get the damage report.”

+

to be continued...

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Then

Dean would’ve put money down that Sam was faking sleep when he and Cas had first gotten home. It was a ruse he’d appreciated, so he hadn’t questioned his brother’s still form stretched out on the couch.

Now, though, as he and Cas stood over Sam, it was all too clear that the kid was asleep – as in, snoring, zonked out sleep.

“Should we wake him?,” Cas asked, eyebrow quirked in amusement.

Dean considered his brother – and then considered Cas’s still swollen-lips from their brief make-out session. He dragged his eyes back to Sam. “I’d like to say no, but I think we have to.” He smacked Sam’s left boot, and his brother jerked to consciousness.

“Huh? Oh – uh – hey, Dean, Cas,” Sam said, smiling sheepishly. “How was the trip?”

Dean and Cas looked at each other and simultaneously shrugged. A wide grin split Sam’s face.

“Alright, stop it,” Dean said, rubbing a hand across the back of his neck, which was suspiciously growing warmer with each passing second.

Sam swung upright and stood, but he didn’t lose the grin. He clapped his hands on their shoulders and squeezed gently. “It’s good to have you both home,” he said. He looked directly at Cas when he said both, and Dean could tell the former angel got the message.

“It’s good to be home,” he said. Dean met his eyes, falling into the familiar blue gaze. Sam loudly clearing his throat brought them both back to present.

“This way, guys,” he said with an eye-roll that Dean could practically hear. Sam led them to the research table where the chartered map lay and handed Dean a file folder of documents.

Cas and Dean scrutinized the map for a long moment. “See what I meant?,” Sam asked.

“Yeah,” Dean said, sighing with frustration. “Don’t worry, Cas. We’ll figure something out.” He flipped open the folder and began perusing its contents.

Cas shrugged. “It’s okay.” Dean’s head snapped up and he stared at the man; he knew that tone, and he didn't like it. A glance at his brother showed the same suspicion Dean felt etched on Sam’s face. But before Dean could blow his gasket, Sam asked the million-dollar question:

“What do you mean it’s okay?”

Cas glanced over at Dean, who was staring a hole through the papers in his hand, jaw working furiously, before meeting Sam’s eyes. “I knew they would come for me,” he said, with a slight shrug. “There’s only so much I can do, so I’m just… it’s okay. If they take me – if they exact revenge – well, we all know I’m not innocent.”

+

Sam gaped at his friend’s cavalier response. “Cas – I – I don’t get it. How can you be so nonchalant about this? After…” Sam’s voice trailed off, but his glance at Dean finished the sentence for him.

“Because he’s a goddamn hypocrite,” Dean snapped, turning and walking out of the room. The sound of the bedroom door slamming reverberated through the bunker.

“That went well,” Cas said dryly. Sam said nothing, waiting. Cas was running his hands through his hair – a very human gesture the youngest Winchester wasn’t quite used to. The former angel paced before placing his palms on the table and bowing over the colorfully marked map.

“He’s right. I am a hypocrite,” Cas said quietly.

Cas raised his head and stared at the wall. “But I’m also the person – the being – who decimated heaven, wrought destruction on Earth, and then gave Metatron what he needed to lock heaven and expel my brethren. If ever anyone deserved punishment—”

Sam cut him off with a handwave. “You realize you’re talking to Lucifer 2.0, right?,” he scoffed.

Cas stood straight in protest. “But that was—”

“Different? Okay, why?” Sam asked in his patent, I’m the patient Winchester but if you don’t get with the program I’m going to kick your ass voice. Cas ignored his tone.

“Because you said yes to save the world,” Cas retorted pointedly. “That’s very different from what I did.”

Sam walked closer to the shorter man and looked down at him until Cas met his eyes.

You were trying to save the world, Cas. You didn’t know how the purgatory souls would affect you, and you didn’t know what Metatron was doing. Like you said, if you hadn’t gone against Raphael, the apocalypse would have happened, and earth would be destroyed – and Dean and I would be dead.”

Cas stood quietly, arms folded across his chest, head tilted, and contemplating Sam’s words. After a long moment, he inclined his head slightly and Sam let out a whoosh of air he hadn’t realized he was holding in.

“You have to fight,” Sam said. “You can’t just let them take you. You can’t just leave Dean – again. Do you understand me?”

Cas looked up at Sam. There was earnestness in the hazel eyes, and there was an underlying threat that Sam verbalized for the former angel:

“If you get yourself killed, I’m going to kick your ass.”

Cas’s mouth twisted at Sam’s logic, but he nodded. He glanced towards the hallway and a troubled look flitted across his face.

“What else did you need to show us?,” he asked.

Sam looked over at the documents lying on top of his laptop but shook his head. “It can wait till morning,” he said. “I wanted to read some more hunters’ reports first, anyway.”

The younger man pulled out a chair, moved the papers, and popped open his laptop, preparing to go back to work. He looked up at Cas, who was watching him uncertainly. “Go, Cas. You need to talk to Dean before he goes nuclear.”

Cas nodded and headed towards the hallway. Sam hesitated, but well…it needed to be said.

“Oh, and Cas?”

The former angel stopped and looked over his shoulder.

“We don’t know if the bedrooms are soundproof yet. Can we not find out tonight?”

Cas rolled his eyes and flipped Sam off before disappearing down the hallway. Sam stared as Cas’s footsteps receded down the hall. Then, his shock gave way to mirth, and his shoulders shook with silent laughter until tears ran from his eyes.

Yeah, Cas was definitely home.

+

Cas stood outside the door for a moment unsure if he should knock or just go in. Steeling himself, he opted for the latter.

The only light on was the soft desk lamp. Dean was in his usual sleeping attire – boxer briefs and a well-worn t-shirt – and sitting on the bed, back against the headboard. His ankles were crossed, his arms folded across his chest, and his expression was a cross between stony and thunderous.

Only Dean Winchester could manage to look both expressive and still at the same time, Cas thought.

Shutting and locking the door behind him, Cas crossed over to the empty desk chair and took a seat. He slipped off his shoes and socks before propping his feet up on the edge of the bed. Though their feet were mere inches apart, Dean still wouldn’t look at him, wouldn’t say anything. Cas leaned back and put his hands behind his head; and then he wiggled his toes.

“Stop that,” Dean said.

“Stop what?”

“That.”

“This?” Cas asked, wiggling his toes again.

Dean rolled his eyes and kicked at Cas’s foot. “Seriously, man. It’s weird seeing a former angel of the lord wiggle his fucking toes. Stop it.”

Cas laughed. “How can you say that with a straight face?,” he asked. “You can’t take seeing my wiggling toes, but you love when I wiggle my –”

“Okay, stop right there,” Dean said, bounding off the bed.

Cas stopped laughing and put his feet on the floor, clasping his hands in his lap. He watched as Dean commenced to pacing.

“I am a hypocrite,” Cas finally said.

“Damn right you are,” Dean muttered.

“So are you.” Dean stopped mid-pace and sent a sharp look Cas’s way. Cas shrugged at him and waited to see what Dean would pull next from his repertoire. If anyone had a virtuoso range in the displays of anger department, it was Dean – with Sam a close second, Cas thought.

“Oh, yeah?” There it was, the challenge underlying the retort. Dean was bruising for a fight, but Cas just didn’t have it in him to give, not tonight – not when he didn’t know how many nights he had left.

“Yeah.” Cas leaned back again, lacing his fingers behind his head. “Tell me, Dean, how did Sam take the news of your deal with Death?” He watched as the color drained from Dean’s face. “Oh, yeah, that’s right – you haven’t told him. And why is that exactly?”

Dean stopped pacing and sank onto the bed. Cas noticed how the hunter’s strong hands smoothed over the soft mattress almost lovingly – His heart constricted at the awareness of Dean’s attachment to this room, to this bunker, to Sam, to himself… to the life that they all might have if only the universe would leave them alone.

Dean looked up at Cas, nearly a century’s worth of weariness in those green eyes. Cas wanted to reach out and stroke his face, to put his mouth to Dean's and make him forget about the threats they would face in the coming days. But he didn’t. He tightened his grip on his fingers, bidding them to keep to themselves, and he waited.

“Okay,” Dean said heavily. “We’re both hypocrites.” He laughed bitterly. “What good does that fucking realization do either one of us, Cas?”

“It keeps us honest,” Cas said somberly. Now he let himself pull his chair closer to Dean, to take Dean’s hands in his.

“You did what you did to save Sam, because you thought you owed it to him. I did what I did to save my family, and now –”

“Now you think you owe them your life?”

“I think I owe them atonement.”

Dean tightened his grip on Cas’s hands. “More than a year in Purgatory wasn’t enough? A year of being Naomi’s puppet, of having her drill into your brain – wasn’t that all atonement too? I remember you said you were doing penance.”

Cas bowed his head over their joined hands and said nothing.

“You were so happy when you first got out of Purgatory, Cas, before Naomi fucked with your head.”

“I thought I had redeemed myself,” Cas said softly.

You had,” Dean insisted. “You can’t undo what you did when you were hopped up on soul power, but you fixed what you could, and you’ve kept on doing good, even in the midst of Naomi trying to control you, Cas.”

“I killed Samandriel; I nearly killed you,” Cas reminded him.

“Yeah? Well, I’m still sorry that I didn’t knife Crowley when he was wearing Mrs. Tran. Think how much trouble that would have saved us,” Dean said. “Point is, none of us is perfect. Hell, Sam and I probably qualify as sociopaths, and let’s not start tallying how many people and creatures we’ve killed.”

He shifted his hands, and Cas raised his head, meeting Dean’s gaze head-on. “You say you’re not willing to let me go? Well, I’m not willing to let you go without a fight, Cas. I don’t give a damn how much you think you deserve to be punished.”

Dean pressed his lips to his, and Cas felt himself melt into the warmth and the insistent, sudden pressure. Before the kiss could deepen, Dean pulled away, and the absence of his lips created a physical ache. Cas opened his eyes to see the hunter’s own mesmerizing ones bare inches away.

I need you,” Dean breathed against his mouth. “Don’t make me fucking tell you again.”

Before Cas could vocalize his own need, Dean’s lips were on him again, his tongue inside Cas’s mouth, plumbing its depths.

Without pausing the kiss, Dean yanked at the front of Cas’s shirt with one hand, sending buttons flying, while the other unfastened his jeans. Cas shrugged out of both garments and climbed onto the bed, pressing Dean back into the mattress. He rubbed the tautness of their boxers together, groaning at the friction, and he ran his hands under Dean’s t-shirt, tracing the warm skin underneath before pushing it up and over Dean’s head. Cas yanked off his own t-shirt and tossed both to the floor. Dean grinned at his impatience and he was still smiling when Cas’s mouth returned and insistently demanded a continuation of their very thorough, mutual exploration.

Eventually, Cas pulled his mouth away from Dean’s swollen lips and worked his way down Dean's throat, across the hollow of his neck, and down his chest, softly sucking, nipping, and licking. Dean moaned, and Cas hummed against the lightly freckled skin, the soft vibration of his lips sending tremors through Dean.

He reached for the waistband of Dean’s boxers, pushing them down as Dean did the same for him. They both gasped with the sensation of escaping from the restricting cloth, of rubbing against one another’s sweat-slicked skin. Cas lined himself up against Dean and the rubbing of their cocks was nearly enough to push him over the edge tonight. Cas bit his lip to steady himself and leaned his forehead against Dean’s, trying to even out his breathing.

Bracing himself over Dean, Cas reached a hand down to wrap around their straining cocks; a small sound escaped Dean, and Cas looked down into the green eyes staring up at him. When Dean pressed up and ran his tongue against Cas’s teeth, asking for entrance, Cas gladly gave it. And when Dean’s hand joined Cas’s to bring them both to maddening, reaffirming release, the feel of the heart hammering inside his chest reminded Cas that this was what it was to love. And it was worth everything.

He collapsed on top of Dean, who wrapped his arms around Cas’s body, holding him tight despite the cum covering their stomachs. Together, they maneuvered themselves into the center of the bed and onto their sides, entwining their arms and legs, and pressing their foreheads together.

They lay together as their breathing calmed, and their hearts slowed to normal rhythms. Cas loved the feel of Dean in his arms, of his taste on his tongue, of his smell on Cas’s skin.

“Summer,’ Cas murmured half asleep.

“What?” Dean asked softly.

Eyes shut, Cas ran a hand along Dean’s cheek. “You taste and feel and smell like summer.”

He felt the corner of Dean’s mouth quirk and the quick press of Dean’s mouth to the palm of his hand.

“Sap,” Dean said, rolling onto his back and drawing Cas with him, mindful still of the bandaged tattoos. Cas nestled his head under Dean’s chin, pressing his lips softly to the skin at the base of his throat.

“I need you,” Cas murmured, relaxing against Dean’s warm body. “Always.”

As sleep overtook his consciousness, he barely heard Dean’s throaty response: “I know.”

+

With Cas comfortably in his arms, Dean was able to sleep dreamlessly for more than his requisite four hours, not waking until well after six.

Cas was still snuggled up to him, which Dean liked more than he was entirely comfortable admitting. Awareness of Cas brought awareness that they hadn’t exactly been rosy fresh when they fell asleep, and Dean wrinkled his nose at the dried stickiness on his body. Pressing a kiss to Cas’s head, he gently disentangled himself, smirking as an unconscious Cas burrowed into the warm spot Dean left behind.

One long, hot shower later, Dean was dressed and in the kitchen, where Sam was already brewing coffee.

“Early morning?,” Dean asked.

“Long night,” Sam responded, taking a deep gulp of his coffee. “Want some?”

“God, yes,” Dean said, grabbing his favorite skull and crossbones mug from the cupboard and holding it out to Sam, who filled it to the brim.

They sat companionably for a moment, ingesting caffeine and waiting for their bodies to fully charge.

“You and Cas okay?,” Sam asked.

Dean looked at Sam and recognized that look – Sam was worried. “Yeah,” he answered. “We’re as good as we can be, all things considered.”

Sam nodded, his relief evident. “So what’s the plan?”

Dean chewed on his bottom lip a moment. “I’m not sure yet. He’s not giving himself up, and while he should be safe here, he can’t live under house arrest forever. He won’t.”

“I was thinking we could trade Crowley,” Sam said.

“Yeah, that might work,” Dean said. “Trade him to Abaddon with calling the angels off as part of the deal…”

“If she’ll go for it,” Sam said. “She’s majorly pissed if the eyewitness reports are correct. And she’s recruiting some of the fallen angels.”

Dean nodded, pursing his lips, contemplating. “How is our very own son of a witch, anyway?”

“In the dungeon, reading chick lit and snarking. It’s weird, Dean – he’s still an asshole but every so often he says something that…” Sam’s voice trailed off.

“That reminds you he’s not entirely evil anymore?”

“Yeah.”

Dean sighed. “Which means that if we trade him, we’re trading a former King of Hell asshole and guaranteeing him a torturous death to protect Cas.”

Sam didn’t answer, taking another long sip of coffee. He walked over to the counter and refilled his cup before holding out the nearly-empty pot to Dean. “Refill?”

“Please,” Dean said, holding up his drained mug.

Sam filled it and then rinsed out the now-empty coffeepot before setting up another brew.

Dean laughed dryly. “Not even seven and we’re on our second pot? That can’t bode well.”

Sam was leaning against the counter, eyes closed, tapping his fingers on his leg. Dean gave him a minute, but when Sam just continued the tapping, he couldn’t take it anymore.

“Out with it, Sam. What else?”

Sam opened his eyes and scrunched his face at Dean. “You’re really not going to like it.”

“If it keeps Cas alive, doesn’t matter if I like it,” Dean said matter-of-factly.

“We call Ezekiel,” Sam said flatly.

Dean set his coffee mug down and walked over to the liquor cabinet, pulling out a half-full bottle before walking back to the table and adding a finger of Irish whiskey.

“You want?” he asked Sam. He expected his brother to say no and was both surprised and worried when Sam instead held out his own mug.

They sat back down at the table and drank their spiked caffeine in silence. Dean knew Sam was letting him process, and he appreciated it. They’d met Ezekiel in the initial fall-out after heaven broke, and while he seemed okay, Dean was wary of letting any angel near his.

But desperate times called for desperate measures.

“Do you think he would help us? We can’t offer him much,” Dean finally said.

“He claimed he just wanted to help,” Sam said. “If that’s true, then we wouldn’t need to offer him anything.”

“But will he want to help Cas?” Dean stared at the floor as he asked, working to hide the fear from his voice, the tears prickling at his eyes.

Sam didn’t answer for a moment, and when Dean looked up, his brother’s hazel eyes were on him, steady and reassuring.

“We won’t know until we ask,” Sam finally said.

Dean nodded, passing a hand over his face. He considered a few more moments.

“Let’s do it,” he said. “Neutral meeting place away from the bunker, and Cas stays here.”

“Okay, then,” Sam said. “Want me to send it?”

Dean suddenly felt too weary to speak and just nodded. Sam bowed his head, Dean looked away.

He got up and began pulling food out of the refrigerator. He might not be able to make this heavenly shitstorm disappear, but he could feed the troops. And maybe cooking would get his mind off of said shitstorm for a few minutes.

A few moments later, Sam’s shadow loomed over him. “Want some help?,” his brother asked, watching as Dean spooned freshly mixed blueberry batter into the never-used muffin tins stocked by the original Men of Letters.

Dean didn’t answer, instead asking, “Done already?” He motioned for Sam to step back, and then opened the door of the preheated oven, sliding in the muffin tins.

“Yeah. Just asked him to meet us at Bobby’s at noon the day after tomorrow. Told him one of our burner numbers too, in case he’s gone twenty-first century.”

Dean got a bowl and a box of pancake mix down from the cabinets.

“You’re going all out,” Sam observed. He walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out a slab of unopened bacon. “Don’t forget this, though.”

Dean grunted and rolled his eyes as Sam grinned at him. Dean silently mixed together the dry mix, milk, and eggs in the bowl while the skillet heated up. He was mulling over their plan – there weren’t a lot of options.

“So we go and just see if he comes?,” Dean said.

Sam nodded. “I know – too simple. But we can’t do anything else until we know where he really stands.”

“Okay,” Dean said, pouring a round of batter into the sizzling pan. “I’ll check our supplies after breakfast, see how much holy oil we have left and dig out all the angel blades.” He saw the look Sam threw his way and shrugged. “Listen, if he’ll give help, I’ll take it, for Cas’s sake, but I’m going in there ready for battle. We’re not taking chances with any of our lives.”

“Fair enough,” Sam said. “In the meantime, I’ll keep researching Metatron’s spell. If we can figure out how to reverse it, that could be our chip to play.”

Dean nodded in agreement and gestured towards the oranges piled on the counter.

“What?,” Sam asked.

“You wanted to help, right? You get to prep the oranges. I hate messing with the skin on those damn things, no matter how good they taste.”

Sam laughed and set to peeling the oranges and pulling the slices apart. It wasn’t lost on Dean that this was the most domestic they’d ever been in their lives.

It was more than kind of nice, he mused, pulling out a large frying pan for the bacon.

+

The smells of frying bacon and brewed coffee wafted through the bunker and rousted everyone else out of bed.

“Mmmm, somethin’ smells good,” Charlie said sleepily, after she shuffled into the kitchen and fell into the chair beside Sam, who was reading online while eating his breakfast.

“Is it normal to be so alert before 8 am?,” she asked him, leaning against his shoulder.

“Yes,” Sam replied primly.

“Lazy, lazy,” Dean admonished her, bringing over a pan of fresh scrambled eggs and adding them to the artistic smorgasbord on the table: a stack of golden pancakes, still-warm blueberry muffins, perfect bacon, orange slices, and freshly sliced strawberries.

“Shut up,” Charlie said with a smile, standing to hug Dean. “Glad you’re home.”

“Hey, Red,” Dean said warmly, wrapping his free arm around her and squeezing gently. “Good to see you.”

“Where’s Cas?,” she asked.

“Still asleep,” Dean said. “Who would’ve thought an angel wouldn’t be an early bird?,” he added with a grin. Charlie’s smile turned impish, and even Sam grinned as Dean's cheeks turned pink at the realization of what he’d subtly admitted to.

“Eat,” he growled in mock annoyance, pulling away from her. Charlie laughed as she reclaimed her seat.

“Wow, what’s all this?,” Kevin asked, rubbing the sleep from his eyes as he came in from his room.

“Don’t question the breakfast gods,” Charlie ordered as she made herself a plate. “Just enjoy the bounty.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice,” Kevin muttered, grabbing a plate and loading up. “Glad to have you back, Dean,” he said.

“You’re only saying that because you missed my pancakes,” Dean said with mock sadness.

“Isn’t it all the same thing?,” Kevin asked, prompting an exaggerated eyeroll from Dean that set the others to laughing.

Charlie reached out and smacked Kevin on the arm. “Before I forget, prophet-boy, want to head into town with me later? I thought we’d hit the tech store and get some more gear. I need to soup up my computer for that translation program that I've been working on.

“Sure,” Kevin answered. “When do we leave?”

“Around ten? And maybe we can even hit a movie like normal people afterwards?”

“What’s normal like?” Kevin mused. “I’ve forgotten.”

“Oh, you poor kids,” Sam muttered. “You’d think they’d spent their lives monster-hunting or something,” he said to his brother.

Dean scoffed. “They’d be in the looney bin by now,” he said.

“Umm – haven’t you both been in the looney bin?,” Charlie asked.

Dean pointed his spatula at Charlie. “Touché,” he acknowledged.

“We seriously have to destroy those goddamn books,” Sam muttered.

“Like I told you, Sam, e-books – so, good luck with that,” Charlie retorted.

“Can’t you use your hacking skills to find and destroy them?,” Sam asked.

“Perhaps – but the question is, would I?” Charlie asked grinning as she side-stepped Sam’s outstretched sasquatch hand and avoided getting her hair ruffled.

“I’m heading for the shower,” she said. “Kevin, meet me out front at 10?”

“Sure thing,” Kevin said, carrying his and Charlie’s empty plates to the sink. “Want help with clean-up?,” he asked Dean, who was still frying pancakes.

“Nah,” Dean said. “Go ahead and do what you need to.”

“Translating it is, then,” Kevin said with a sigh. “Too bad God didn’t believe in CliffsNotes.” With a huff at his own small joke, he headed back to his room, passing Cas along the way.

Sam and Dean shared a look as they heard Cas apologize for how he’d yelled at Kevin all those months ago.

“It’s fine, man,” Kevin said. Other things were said in low tones they couldn’t hear, but it all sounded friendly.

“Sounds like that’s sorted,” Dean said to Sam.

“Yeah, now if we can just get rid of Crowley, all will be well.”

“Well, let’s deal with that problem after breakfast, shall we?,” Dean said.

“Fine by me. Give me another one of those pancakes,” Sam said, lifting his plate and expertly catching the one Dean flipped fresh from the pan.

“Those hunter reflexes really do come in handy, don’t they?,” Cas asked from the doorway, amusement in his voice. He was running a hand through his still-wet hair and wearing clothes Sam recognized as Dean's.

“That they do,” Dean said, pouring another round of batter into the pan.

“Mornin’, Cas,” Sam said.

“Good morning, Sam,” Cas said, glancing over at Dean, who had his back to them. He walked over to the counter and poured himself a cup of coffee before taking the seat beside Sam.

“So what did you find out last night?,” Cas asked Sam.

“Some Nebraskan hunters emailed me coordinates of reported altercations – I did some cross-referencing, and it looks like Abaddon is recruiting among the fallen angels.”

Cas's expression was shocked, and the former angel looked over at Dean, who was studiously evaluating the brownness of the pancake he was flipping. Sam grimaced at his brother’s deliberate avoidance.

“I told Dean that earlier this morning,” Sam said, explaining away his brother’s lack of shock. “But what I hadn’t told him yet, was that I can’t tell what exactly she’s after – just hell or heaven and? Could she take over heaven?,” he asked the last question directly to Cas, who tilted his head at Sam and pondered a moment before answering.

“She is one of the first,” Cas said. “She shouldn’t be able to gain entry to heaven, but with everything in chaos, if anyone can find a way around it, Abaddon can.”

“So not comforting, Cas,” Dean said from the stove.

Cas shrugged. “You’d rather I coddle you?”

Dean snorted at the notion. So did Sam. He didn’t know anyone who wanted to be coddled less than his brother. Out of the corner of Sam’s eye, he saw Cas’s mouth twitch in amusement.

Plunging ahead, Sam launched into the details about the casualties and how many angels had joined up with Abaddon already. This was news for Dean too, so Sam assumed both men were paying attention. It took a few minutes before he realized that Cas’s eyes were fixated on Dean’s back – or his ass? No, his mind was not going there – and that Dean’s ears were suspiciously pink for someone who was simply frying one last pancake.

Sam sighed inwardly. It was that damn coddling comment…some kind of x-rated code, I’d guaran-damn-tee it.

“Blue bunnies invaded next,” he said with a blatant smirk.

It took a minute or two, confirming his suspicions. Then, simultaneously, both Dean and Cas said, “Huh?”

Sam shook his head at them and handed a plate to Cas, nodding at what was left of the morning’s bounty. “Help yourself, Cas,” he said. “Dean, you should eat too before everything gets cold.”

Cas piled eggs and bacon on the plate, sitting it at the empty space across from him and Sam. As Dean walked over with the last batch of pancakes, Cas gestured at the plate, and picked up another empty one to fill for himself.

Dean split the fresh pancakes between his and Cas’s plates before taking his seat. Dean reached out and lightly touched Cas’s wrist in silent thanks. Sam saw the gesture and something relaxed inside of him.

Sam had sworn to never admit it to his brother or to Cas, but for years now, when the two of them fought, he felt like a kid caught between fighting parents. Their bond – profound or whatever – was a cornerstone in his life, and he relied upon it. Seeing them work things out had filled him with a hope and peace that he couldn’t bear to lose, and he couldn’t bear for them to lose it either.

Grabbing another muffin and some fruit, Sam set his refilled plate on top of his now-closed laptop. He poured himself a fresh cup of coffee and carefully gathered everything into his hands.

“Where’re you going?” Dean asked.

“To work in the library,” Sam answered. “Thanks for the awesome grub.”

“Your turn tomorrow,” Dean smirked.

“Cereal it’ll be, then,” Sam said cheerfully. He headed for the door before pausing and looking back. “Guys?”

His mouth full of muffin, Dean raised his eyebrows. “What?,” Cas asked sipping at his coffee.

“Make sure you’ve done – uh – whatever it is you need to do to get your heads back in the game, okay?” He gave them both deliberately pointed looks.

At the doorway, Sam looked back, “Oh, and uh – Cas?”

“Yeah?” he asked.

“The bedrooms aren’t completely soundproof. Just so we’re clear.”

+

Dean watched Sam exit the room. “Well, that wasn’t awkward at all,” he muttered, taking a long swig of orange juice.

Dean noted Cas’s flushed cheeks and laughed. “Welcome to the world of entirely not-subtle Sam,” he said. “Don’t worry - you’ll adjust quickly.” He smiled at Cas, taking in his damp, rumpled hair and freshly shaven face. The sight made Dean’s insides do warm, twisty things that had nothing to do with breakfast.

He was sorely tempted to truly test the lack of soundproofing in the bunker and teach his smart-ass brother a lesson.

Instead, he piled strawberries onto his pancakes and drizzled everything with syrup, before digging in. He and Cas enjoyed their breakfast in a comfortable silence punctuated by lingering looks and casual touches. Only as Dean washed the remaining dishes and Cas rinsed and dried did the hunter finally break the silence

“What we talked about last night –” He paused. “I meant it, you know. All of it.”

“Yeah, I know,” Cas said, taking the last plate from Dean’s hand and running it under fresh water before buffing it dry with a soft, yellow towel. “I did too.”

Dean slipped his arms around Cas’s waist, hugging him from behind. He lightly kissed the side of Cas’s neck. “We’re going to figure something out.”

Cas reached a hand up and ran his fingers through Dean’s soft, brown hair.

“For both of us?,” he asked.

“Yeah,” Dean said softly. “For both of us.”

Cas leaned back against him and closed his eyes. Dean pressed his cheek to Cas’s hair, inhaling a mango scent that had to be from that frou-frou looking bottle that Charlie kept leaving in the shower.

He more than kind of liked it and pulled Cas even more firmly against him.

+

“I’m going down to the firing range,” Dean announced, pushing away from the table where he’d been servicing their firearms and sharpening their knives for the past two hours. “Cas, you coming?”

“Thanks, but no. I’m still working through this scroll about the Knights of Hell,” Cas answered, looking up from his reading. “Have fun, though.”

“Sam?”

Sam was standing precariously on a rickety stepstool, getting access to the tip-top shelf of the bookcase and reaching for a leather-bound tome. “Huh?,” he asked, climbing back down and clutching the book like it was gold.

“Nevermind,” Dean muttered, “Have fun with your book, Gollum.”

Sam rolled his eyes at his brother, and he heard Dean’s laughter echoing even after his brother had left the room. He looked at his watch – noting that Dean had managed to sit still for thirty minutes longer than usual. That’s progress, he mused.

Taking his seat at the table where Cas was working, Sam flipped open the book. He loved the smell of old volumes, but he would never get used to the mildewed, ancient smell of… oh, lord. Was this another one of those books made of human skin? Sam jerked his fingers back.

“What’s wrong?,” Cas asked.

“I’m – uh – not sure what this book is made of,” Sam admitted. “It smells weird – not quite like the usual ancient book.”

Cas took the volume and turned it over in his hands before sniffing it. His nose wrinkled in disgust.

“I can’t identify its make-up for certain, but I think you’re right to wonder,” Cas said, dropping the book back on the table. “And I think we should probably wash our hands.”

“Good idea,” Sam said.

After both had scrubbed their hands nearly raw and doused them in alcohol too – can’t be too careful, Sam thought – he grabbed some latex gloves from the medicine cabinet and pulled on a pair.

Breathing through his mouth, he picked up the book and started again. Cas eyed the book with distaste and went back to his own ancient scroll of nothing more exotic than Xuan paper.

Sam lost track of time. Though the smell didn’t improve, in the first pages the book mentioned God, the tablets, and even Metatron. No author was identified, and it had no title, so who knew where the volume had come from, but Sam lost himself in sussing out the details. This might actually be something helpful.

Halfway through, someone set a plate bearing a sandwich and fries in front of him. Sam lifted it and set it to the side, not bothering to look up.

Occasionally, Sam heard a noise from Cas’s direction or from the outer edges of the room, but his attention was entirely on what he was reading.

Abruptly, he smacked his hand, palm-down, on the table and looked up. Only Cas was in the room – he’d apparently been engrossed in his own translation until that moment. Now he stared at Sam with his pen poised mid-word over the legal pad where he’d been writing. He raised an eyebrow at the younger man. “Everything okay, Sam?”

“Have you told Dean?,” Sam growled out the words.

“What are you talking about?,” Cas asked, his expression carefully neutral.

Sam glared at him. “You should have told us, Cas.”

Cas laid his pen down and sank back against his chair. “What does the book say?”

“Paraphrased, it says that for Metatron’s spell to work, he had to have the heart of a nephilim, the bow of a cupid who’s just made a match foretold by heaven, and the grace of an angel in love with a human.”

The former angel sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “What good would my telling you have done, Sam?”

“We could have—”

“You could have done nothing. We didn’t know about the spell, and even now, Kevin’s having trouble translating much of anything off the tablet. The only thing that could have kept the lockdown from happening was if I had not been so naïve, if I had listened to Dean.” Cas leaned his face in his hands, and Sam saw for a moment how the enormity of what he had unintentionally wrought still wrecked him.

Sam pulled his gloves off and reached a hand out towards Cas, tapping the tabletop. Cas looked up.

“You have to tell him, Cas.”

“Why? Dean knows how I feel about him… and you know as well as I do that he’ll take this on as his own burden, as part of his guilt.” Cas stared down at his hands, which were now knotted in his lap. Sam tapped the table again, this time turning his hand over, palm up. Cas seemed to get it, finally, and laid a hand on his. Sam squeezed his friend’s smaller hand gently.

“I know you want to protect him, Cas. I do too. But this isn’t the way to do it. He’s in danger now too, even more than usual, and if he finds out about the spell from anyone else, he is going to flip his shit.”

Cas gave Sam a long, considering look. Though Sam certainly didn’t see in Cas’s eyes what Dean did, even he thought that blue gaze was compelling. As an angel, it had come across as supernatural; as a human, it was definitely preternatural; and at times like this, Cas looked like he was comprehending the convoluted workings of complex universe.

Huh, Sam thought. I guess that he actually is. Right now, Cas’s gaze was unfocused, as if he were looking out over a great abyss on the edge of oblivion.

Sam squeezed Cas’s hand firmly, offering reassurance and trying to bring Cas back to reality. He was glad to see those blue eyes re-focus and to feel his friend squeeze back.

Sam’s mouth twisted into a half-smile just as a throaty voice asked from across the room,

“So, who wants to tell me what’s going on?”

+

to be continued...

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Then

When he'd asked Cas to forgive him if he got weird – well, Dean had fully expected to be weird over adjusting to life at the bunker with Cas.

But so far, this thing with Cas felt as natural as breathing. That first night in the bunker, Dean had lain awake, Cas’s head on his chest, listening to him breathe. Each soft inhale and exhale sparked a warmth in Dean's chest.

Their moments together as human and angel had been special for their brevity, but Dean felt the way he did whether the nerdy dude had wings or not. With that thought, Dean had tightened his arms, smiling as his sleeping friend snuggled even closer – there was little that could match holding a warm and pliable Cas in his arms. The lines of the other man’s body fit against Dean's own, as if they were a matched set.

Hell, Dean had thought. Maybe we are.

In that dark room, Dean had pushed aside his niggling worry over Cas's human frailty. Pressing a kiss to the top of Cas's head, entangled with the man who had forever altered his life, Dean had closed his eyes and slept, deeply and dreamlessly.

That morning had been comfortable too, though a small part of him had been relieved that Cas hadn't gotten up early. While Sam seemed thrilled with the progression of his and Cas's relationship, and Dean was fairly certain that Charlie and Kevin were on board too, he'd wanted to feel his way into this new balance.

It hadn't been hard…hadn't even been weird. They'd been home for less than twenty-four hours, and it felt like Cas had always been a part of bunker life.

Of course, Cas had been in the bunker before, so that had helped, though Dean cringed to remember how that had gone down. When Cas, who'd been recovering from an angel blade wound, no less, had tried to apologize for taking the tablet and heading to parts unknown, Dean had practically bit his head off.

Dean had wondered if they would need to talk about that and decided if Cas brought it up, they would. Otherwise, Dean was treating it like water under the proverbial bridge. So what if we have a record high water level - that's normal for most cou... for most people, right?

But as they'd quietly eaten breakfast that morning, Dean had remembered the odd but useful assortment of groceries left on the counter after Cas’s last stay. Dean hadn't noticed them at first - what with the angels falling and Crowley being captive, it had been a busy few days. But when he'd seen the copy of Busty Asian Beauties, Dean had realized who'd gone shopping. After all, who else but a clueless angel would buy him porn? He'd wondered then if he'd ever be able to say thank you. He'd lost sleep wondering, in fact.

Watching as Cas had taken another bite of strawberry-laden pancake, a warmth suffused Dean. Cas was here and loved him. Dean had reached out a hand and lightly brushed Cas's, loosely tangling their fingers together before smiling and leaning forward to lightly kiss him, licking away the smidgen of strawberry syrup at the corner of his mouth.

Things should've always been this way, Dean had mused.

After the kitchen was clean, Dean had initiated an impromptu make-out session, not even caring a little bit that he had Cas pressed up against the kitchen sink where anyone could walk in and see. Dean realized then that for all his worry, there really was nothing to figure out: He and Cas were together, and that was all that mattered.

By the time that Dean and Cas had joined Sam in the library, Charlie and Kevin were off for the day. Sam had asked Cas to tackle an ancient Chinese scroll about the Knights of Hell while he tracked down an obscure journal that was supposedly in the archives. Sam told Dean there was a Latin treatise on demons that needed translating, but he had declined, choosing to empty their duffels and service their weapons and blades instead.

Though research grudgingly had its time and place in his life, Dean almost always preferred work that occupied his hands. Every so often, he'd glance over at Cas and Sam, both of whom always managed to remain engrossed in the most sedentary of tasks.

I could dance naked right now and neither one would notice, he'd thought -- only to catch a glimpse of heat in Cas’s gaze, the same look that he'd given Dean in the tattoo parlor. Dean's breath had caught in his chest, and his jeans suddenly felt tighter. With flushed cheeks, he’d focused his attention back on the gun in his hands, reassembling it methodically.

By the time he’d regained control, Cas didn't look so... um...whatever anymore. But Cas was still eyeing him intensely, even though it was well documented how that affected Dean. Dean's impulse had been to look away again, before he’d decided that what was good for the goose...

So he’d turned on the patented, Dean-Winchester-special, “come hither” look. Judging by Cas’s blown expression, it remained more than effective.

Dean had been deliberately dragging the tip of his tongue across his bottom lip when Sam bellowed:

"Enough! Goddammit, Dean!" Sam had pressed his palms against his eyes and groaned loudly while shaking his head vigorously.

Dean's mouth had twisted at his brother's obvious discomfort, but he told himself not to laugh. A look at Cas revealed he was also struggling to rein it in.

With a grin at his now-further-scarred little brother, Dean had re-focused his attention on the task at hand, which sadly wasn't seducing Cas. Not right now, anyway.

With his hands busy, though, Dean’s mind had been free to ruminate over strategies and scenarios. Eventually, his inner turmoil had infected his precision, and the second time he’d nearly slit his finger on a blade finalized the decision: It was time for a break.

After checking with Cas and Sam, Dean had headed for his second-favorite room in the bunker. Well, the firing range wasn't really a room, but damn Dean loved that their home had one. After he'd fired two-clips worth of head and chest shots at targets, he'd felt better. So what if he'd fantasized at least half of those bullets hitting Metatron right in his smarmy face. Now that he’d thought about it, that asshole looked an awful lot like Booger from Revenge of the Nerds -- surely that wasn't intentional?

His bout at the firing range had energized him. Dean had felt so good that he voluntarily checked on Crowley, who had actually seemed glad to see him, even greeting him with a chipper, "Hey squirrel, where's our moose?"

He had been a bit discomfited when Crowley had fucking sniffed him. And when the King of Hell had given a slow, knowing smile, Dean’s blood began to boil. Before the demon could speak, Dean had tapped the handle of Ruby's knife, which he’d tucked into his belt as a precaution.

"Ah, ah, ah," Dean had said. "Don't screw with me, Crowley."

Crowley had raised an eyebrow and calmly replied, "Oh, I think that's a job for our Cas, don't you, sweetcheeks?"

Dean hadn’t even realized what he was doing until his fist connected with Crowley’s left cheekbone.

The demon had cackled with that too-obvious confirmation. He’d only stopped when Dean picked up his half-read copy of Bridget Jones's Diary, flipped to the end, and calmly pulled out the last twenty pages. He’d then folded the torn-out pages and crammed them into his jean’s pocket.

"Figure out the ending now, bitch," he’d snarked, turning on his heel and stalking out of the room.

"I didn't mean it, Dean," Crowley had said. "I swear --" Without looking back, Dean yanked the doors shut and secured them, leaving the demon all alone with his futile rage.

Dean had then found himself back at the firing range. This time, he’d pretended that he was shooting Crowley in the face. Even then, it took another half an hour of target practice before he’d felt calm enough to head back upstairs.

He’d found Cas in the kitchen, taking a tray of fresh, hot fries out of the oven. A stack of fresh sandwiches and a platter of cooling fries were already sitting on the table. Dean had waited until the hot pan was safely set on top of the stove before approaching.

Dean could taste salt on Cas's lips, and he’d briefly wondered if they were going to have to discuss the perils of high sodium. They’d rested their foreheads together lightly before Cas pushed him away.

"I have things to do,” Cas had said peevishly.

"It's a human custom to kiss the cook," Dean had said, tightening his arms around Cas’s waist.

"I don't believe you."

"It's true. Swear." Dean had tried his best to look innocent.

Cas had suspiciously narrowed his eyes at Dean.

"Oh, come on! Do you really think I'd fuck with you like that?"

Stepping out of Dean’s grasp, Cas had given him his patented smiting look. "Yes," he’d answered unequivocally.

"I'm wounded by such accusations,” Dean had retorted, grabbing an already-cooled fry from the platter on the table.

Cas had dumped a handful of fries on a plate with one of the all-the-trimmings sandwiches and handed it to Dean. "Shut up and eat," he’d commanded sternly. But Dean had seen his mouth twitch.

Dean had reached for the plate and swooped in for one last kiss before Cas could stop him. He’d grinned lasciviously at the cook in his kitchen, grabbed three bottles of water, and headed out to the research table.

Cas had joined a few moments later, two more plates in his hands. He’d put one in front of Sam, who was completely oblivious to everything around him. Dean had shaken his head in response to Cas's expression of inquiry. Sam had ignored the water too, and Dean knew that when Sam got like this, there was no snapping him out of it until he was ready.

When Sam mechanically moved the plate off to the side and kept reading, Cas had stepped away and joined Dean. They’d eaten lunch as quietly and companionably as they'd eaten breakfast, with Dean scrolling through his favorite news sites and Cas reviewing his translation notes.

I could get used to this, Dean had thought, looking around the room.

After lunch, he and Cas had made short work of cleaning the kitchen. And if Cas's lips brushing across the back of his neck had led to plate breakage...well, it had been an ugly plate anyway.

Dean had tossed the broken pieces into the trash, firmly ignoring the self-satisfied smirk on Cas's face.

"Go solve the mysteries of the universe," he’d said to Cas.

"I thought I was," Cas had said. Dean had shot a look at him, but no, Cas wasn't being sarcastic. That was definitely his serious face.

Dean had realized long ago that he’d never get used to how Cas saw him. But a reminder like that…well. Before he’d even known what he was doing, Dean was pulling Cas into his arms and kissing him soundly. When they’d finally broken for air, Dean had taken one look at Cas's mouth, which appeared thoroughly debauched, and thought, We're like fucking honeymooners.

"We'd better get back to work," Dean had murmured against Cas's lips. He’d wanted nothing more than to haul the former angel to the bedroom and have his way with him, but the fate of the universe was hanging over them, as usual.

"Yes," Cas had agreed. Yet Dean had still felt Cas's teeth tugging gently at his bottom lip, and somehow they wound up against the wall -- again.

"Dammit, Cas," he’d growled shakily, taking a long step away from the kiss-stung mouth that apparently would be his eternal undoing. Cas had been nonplussed, though, simply pushing himself off the wall, smirking at Dean, and walking calmly back towards the research room.

When the hell did he learn to be such a tease?, Dean had wondered – then he’d recalled all the times that he had teased Cas.

Dean had rubbed his forehead and shook his head. Holy hell, he’d thought, I've created a monster.

Shaking his head at his own foolishness, he’d begun preparing for the trip to Sioux Falls – the trip that he was all too aware he hadn’t yet mentioned to Cas.

Dean put on a load of laundry before heading to the garage, where he’d spent some time with Baby, checking her oil and tire pressure. Then he’d checked the arsenal to see what needed to be stocked.

As he’d pilfered the weapons cabinets and refilled the holy oil flasks, he’d wondered if Ezekiel would show and what would happen.

He didn't trust the angel, pure and simple. Sure, Ezekiel seemed nice enough -- his vessel had a kind demeanor, and he spoke with an old-fashioned cadence that conveyed gentility and sincerity.

But Dean had always had trust issues.

They’d met the angel right after heaven broke. The fact that Ezekiel had crossed their paths just in time to help him and Sam escape from a cluster of angels riding their asses was appreciated but a little too convenient for Dean's liking.

And it hadn’t helped that Ezekiel seemed to know them and Cas too. Granted, the Winchesters and heaven’s most wanted angel were fairly notorious, but there was something about it all that just didn’t set right with Dean – then or now.

Sam, of course, had wanted to give ol' Zeke the benefit of the doubt. "He could help us, Dean," he'd argued.

"What's in it for him?," Dean had pressed. "There's no way he's turning ranks on his heavenly comrades to help us without some kind of kickback."

"Cas did," Sam had countered.

"Cas is --- " Dean had broken off and blushed at Sam's narrow-eyed gaze. "Cas is different," he’d finished defensively.

“Uh-huh,” Sam had responded with a dramatic eye-roll, the implications of which Dean had resolutely ignored.

Dean had suspected then that if Sam still hadn't been a bit shaky on his legs post-dying and all, the argument wouldn't have been so easily won. But after only a few rounds of verbal sparring, Sam had reluctantly given in, and he’d told Zeke that they'd be in touch if they needed his help.

Dean hadn't even bothered asking how Zeke took the news. He had just wanted to get as far away from every angel -- well, every angel except the one he was searching for -- as quickly as possible.

And now he had Cas here, and Dean was going to keep him safe, no matter what.

Dean had refocused his attention to loading the arsenal. Yet a fleeting thought took his mind down an avenue he usually avoided, and he’d found himself contemplating how Chuck might narrate this chapter of their lives – knowing Dean’s luck, he’d be described as "pensive and brooding."

Dean had immediately cursed the errant train of thought. Fuck Chuck and his goddamn gospels.

Any reminder of how often he, Cas, and Sam had been batted around like the playthings of a bored cat never failed to piss Dean off. He’d slammed the trunk lid down and leaned against it, palms down, breathing heavily to calm himself.

Once he was calm, Dean had decided to go check in with Sam and Cas. But as he’d walked into the main room, he’d seen how his brother was talking to his angel. Dean had come to a halt and folded his arms across his chest, observing.

He hadn’t been able to hear what they were saying, but he could read these two men like a book, and he’d seen concern in Sam's face and reluctance in Cas's. When Sam had taken Cas’s hand in his, Dean's stomach had sunk.

+

“So, who wants to tell me what’s going on?”

Dean heard how throaty and raw his voice sounded, and he hated it. He also hated the look the look of understanding that Sam threw his way. And he especially hated that Cas wasn’t looking at him.

Dammit. Whatever they were about to tell him was bad. Really bad.

That sunken feeling was now a yawning maw.

Sam shot a questioning look at Cas, who nodded. Dean saw Sam squeeze Cas’s hand lightly before he rose from his chair.

His brother stopped beside him and clapped Dean on the shoulder. “I’ll give you guys some time,” he said quietly. “And… uh…. Dean?”

“Yeah?”

“Just remember that no one could have known this.”

Dean narrowed his eyes at Sam, who beat a hasty retreat. Dean still stood, employing the measured, one-eyebrow-cocked look on Cas, even though he knew that it irritated him to no end.

Dean stood until Cas finally met his gaze. Sighing, he gestured at the empty chair beside him.

When Dean pulled the chair out roughly, he twisted it around before sitting and folded his arms over the back.

“So you’re leaving me for Sam?,” Dean asked. He immediately had to bite his lip to avoid laughing at Cas’s appalled expression.

“What? Where--?” Cas was practically speechless, which Dean found pretty damn funny.

“Joke, Cas,” he said. “You’re making me fucking nervous. I’m trying to lighten the mood.”

Cas grunted. “Not funny,” he said, going back to staring at the papers spread before him.

Dean cleared his throat. “Just spill it,” he said gruffly, bracing himself.

Cas took a deep breath. “Okay,” he said. “It’s about the spell’s ingredients – the one that Metatron used to expel the angels.” He paused.

“Yeah?,” Dean said. “The nephilim heart, cupid’s bow, your grace – what else have you found out?”

Cas rubbed the back of his neck. “Well. There was a specific reason that Metatron took my grace. He…uh… he needed the grace of an angel in love with a human.”

Dean scrubbed a hand over his face. “Well, I didn’t see that one coming,” he said. “So I caused this too?”

Cas grimaced. “I told Sam that’s what you would say.”

Dean stared at the floor, processing, and internally cursing the dickbag that was Metatron for the millionth time.

“It’s not your fault,” Cas said emphatically. “If it’s anyone, it’s mine because I trusted Metatron when I shouldn’t have, when he hadn’t earned that trust. I was naïve and stupid and –”

“Cas, shut up,” Dean said tiredly.

Dean saw the look on Cas’s face and shook his head. “I’m not being an ass. I promise. We just can’t go down this road. You don’t want me blaming myself, and I don’t want you blaming yourself. Okay?”

Cas thought for a moment and then nodded. “Okay,” he said.

“So what’s the punchline to this bad joke? What’s the antidote?,” Dean asked.

“We don’t know yet. But if an angel in love with a human broke heaven, it’s likely that a human in love with an angel plays a part in fixing it.”

“You realize that your dad has a fucked-up sense of humor, right?,” Dean said, pressing his palms to his eyes.

“Better than anyone,” Cas said somberly. “You realize this means we have to keep you safe?”

“Yeah,” Dean said sourly. “So not looking forward to being under house arrest.” He stood and kicked the chair back under the table, feeling a burst of satisfaction as the wooden legs clattered loudly across the floor.

He glanced over at Cas and could see the tension radiating through the former angel’s body.

“Hey,” he said, reaching for Cas’s hand. “Come here.”

He folded Cas into his arms and allowed himself to lean into Cas’s. He slipped his hand under the t-shirt that Cas had borrowed from him that morning, rubbing the warm skin. Cas had one hand buried in Dean’s hair as the other massaged the back of his neck.

Dean felt his tension begin to ebb and judging by the decreasing knots in Cas’s back, his was too. Dean let himself enjoy the feeling and wondered, vaguely, if this is how cats always felt. If so, no wonder they purred. He was pretty damn sure Cas was purring, and hell, maybe he was too…

Right then, Cas whispered, “I’m sorry” into his ear.

“No apologies,” Dean said resolutely. “Between you, me, and Sam, we’ve broken the world an obscene number of times. We’ll work it out, just like we always do.”

Cas chuckled. “Your confidence never ceases to amaze me.”

“When you’ve got an angel on your shoulder, confidence is easy,” Dean teased lightly.

“Not exactly an angel anymore,” Cas said. Dean caught his note of bitterness and felt a twinge of guilt. When Castiel first laid a hand on you in Hell, he was lost...

Pressing his lips to Cas’s ear, Dean whispered: “You’ll always be my angel.”

Cas said nothing at first, but then Dean felt his shoulders shaking. Worried he’d upset him further, he drew back, but only found Cas’s eyes twinkling with restrained mirth.

“Are you laughing at me?,” Dean demanded.

Cas shook his head, but Dean saw his mouth twitch.

“Dammit,” he groused, “I’m never saying anything sappy again.”

At that, Cas gave in, leaning his forehead against Dean’s shoulder and laughing, belly-deep and full-bodied. Dean held him and smiled, loving the sound of Cas laughing – really, truly laughing as he’d never been able to when he was an angel.

Cas’s mirth was contagious, and Dean didn’t really mind that soon they were both laughing at his sappiness. After all, it had very much been a so-not-Dean-Winchester thing to say.

That didn’t mean it wasn’t true, though.

Dean kissed Cas, brushing his lips gently over that lingering smile and those dimples. He wondered if that sight would ever not warm his heart?

He surely hoped not.

He also decided that laughing at his sappiness merited some payback, preferably served naked. Cas won't know what hit him, he thought smugly.

+

to be continued...

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Then

Sam gave them thirty minutes before he came out of his bedroom. He stood in the hall a moment, listening, but he didn’t hear anything – no yelling, no breaking of things. So he headed back for the main room.

And found them sucking face. Again.

Sam cleared his throat. No response.

He walked closer and did it again – loudly. This time, they heard, and they broke apart, looking sheepish. Sam huffed a small laugh. My God, he thought, if anyone had told me five years ago that Dean would spend every spare minute making out with a former angel – who happened to be in a male vessel at that – I’d have shot the being on sight, certain it was a shifter or a demon.

Sam wisely kept that thought to himself, and asked dryly, “So did you actually talk or just make out?”

Dean rolled his eyes as Cas responded seriously, “Yes, we talked.”

“Good,” Sam said, nodding his head. “So what do we do now?”

“We find the reversal spell before the angels do,” Cas said, threading his fingers through Dean’s. “So that Dean stays safe.”

Dean squeezed Cas’s hand. “You both realize that I’m not the only one in danger here, right?”

“Yeah, but you’re more likely ---,” Sam began.

“No more likely than either of you,” Dean said firmly, squeezing Cas's hand once more before releasing it. “Look, Cas here is hunted, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. The days after the fall, how many angels did we have to fight off or run from, Sam?”

“Too many.”

“That’s right. They were after us to get to Cas. Now, if they’ve figured out that I may be more than just bait, how are they going to come after me?”

“Through the rest of us,” Sam said quietly.

“Exactly.” Dean looked over at Cas, who was staring off into space, thinking. “I’m right, Cas, and you know it.”

Cas inclined his head before turning a glare on both Dean and Sam. “Neither of you told me that angels had come after you because of me.”

“Wasn’t important, was it Sam?”

“Nope,” Sam said, in clear agreement with his brother. For good measure, he gave his friend a look that dared contradiction.

Cas knew that look and recognized its match in Dean’s features. He pressed his mouth together, and the furrow between his brow told both Winchesters what he thought of their silence.

But he let it go. Mountains were more moveable than Winchesters on matters like this – and Cas should know, considering how many ranges he’d helped his brothers and sisters carve out of the Earth.

“So we need contingency plans,” Cas said instead.

“Yeah,” Sam agreed. “We hit the books, see what we can find about the reversal spell.”

““I’m going to find out Charlie and Kevin’s ETA,” Dean said, pulling out his phone. “And as soon as they get back, they go on lockdown.”

“They’re not going to like it,” Sam remarked.

“Tough,” Dean said. “I’ll handcuff them to their chairs if I have to. The three of us are used to this shit, but they’re not – not really. And nothing’s happening to them if I can help it.”

Dean walked away, tapping out a message on his screen. Sam turned to Cas and gestured at the table. “I guess we should take our stations?” Once they were both settled at the table where Sam had been working, he handed Cas a sheaf of paper. “Will you read through these and see if there’s anything I’ve missed? And I’ll finish the book – there’s not much left.”

“Of course,” Cas said, taking the pages.

With a sigh, Sam pulled on his plastic gloves and opened the smelly book. He said a silent prayer that its closing pages would be useful.

+

Dean,” Sam said. He was seriously getting annoyed at his brother, who was wearing a path out in the floor.

“You’re working yourself up for nothing – Charlie just texted you. They’re fine. Would you sit down?”

For once, Dean appeared to listen to his brother, pulling out a chair at the closest empty table and sitting down.

But then, oblivious to Sam’s aggravation, he began thrumming his fingers on the tabletop. If I grit my teeth any harder, they’re going to break, Sam thought.

“Cas, would you tell him to calm the fuck down?,” Sam griped to the older man, who was calmly reading and making marginal notes and clearly ignoring the rising tension between the Winchesters.

Cas raised an eyebrow and looked over at Dean, who was staring at the bunker’s door and who’d added a tapping foot to his one-man percussion section. He looked back at Sam and said calmly, “The only way I know to calm him down from that is not something that we have time for right now.”

And with that innuendo-laden statement, Cas went back to reading; apparently, Dean’s antsiness didn’t affect his concentration like it did Sam’s.

Sam grimaced. If I kill Cas, is it angelicide? Or would that be fratricide too?, he wondered. His fuming intensified with Dean’s jumping back to his feet and resuming his pacing. Seriously, how am I supposed to concentrate?

Sam stood, ready to knock some sense into his brother, and Dean turned as if he sensed the coming challenge. They glared at each other and right as they might have gone from irritation to ass-kicking, the bunker door opened.

Sam heard Cas murmur, “Saved by the kids.”

They were, though. As soon as he saw Charlie and Kevin, Dean relaxed; he met them at the bottom of the stairs and grabbed the heaviest bags from the staggering prophet.

“Did you buy out the whole store?,” he asked, as they hauled the bags into the research room, dropping them on the empty table where Dean had been angsting only moments before.

“Not quite,” Charlie said. “We left the eight tracks and cassettes behind. Sorry, gramps.” She grinned at Dean.

He rolled his eyes. “Shut it, Red. I’m not that much older than you.”

“In earth time, no – but hell years? Those count, dude.” Sam snickered, but Charlie got him too. “Your soul had even more time in hell than his, Sam – so how old does that make you?”

“Stop reading those goddamn books, Charlie!,” Dean ordered.

“Sure, I’ll stop… because I’m already finished with the whole series.”

Sam groaned, setting Charlie off in a gale of laughter.

“Oh, yeah,” Kevin said. “Speaking of those books, I meant to ask – Did you two really threaten to kill a depressed teddy bear?”

“Kevin, no,” Dean said. “Charlie, how could you?”

“How could I what?” she asked innocently. “He’s the new prophet. He’s only researching what the previous prophet did.”

“If Chuck weren’t already dead, I’d kill him myself,” Dean grumbled.

“Not if I killed him first,” Sam said.

“So, the bear?” Kevin asked.

Sam let out a huge sigh. “Yes, there was a giant talking teddy bear, and a racist truck, and a yellow-eyed demon, and a trickster archangel who zapped us into tv land, and zombies, and –”

Cas cleared his throat and looked at them all pointedly. “Is now the best time for this?,” he asked.

“Seriously?,” Sam said. “Now you get involved?”

“Well, I am older than all of you combined – and someone has to be the adult.” Cas’s delivery was deadpan.

Dean and Sam’s faces contorted as they simultaneously said, “Shut up, Cas.”

+

Though Dean’s phone call had squashed their movie plans, Charlie and Kevin’s shopping extravaganza had included swinging by un fabuloso restaurante mexicano.

Charlie and Kevin carried the bags of food into the kitchen and unpacked the multiple orders of rice, refried beans, guacamole, salsa, burritos, quesadillas, and tamales on the table. Dean followed them, leaving Sam and Cas to finish their work.

He was setting out a stack of plates and a handful of silverware when Charlie finally asked him – he’d known it was coming; she and Kevin had been eyeing each other since he’d walked in the room.

“So, what’s the big freak-out about?”

Dean didn’t answer at first, walking over to the refrigerator and pulling out a cold six-pack.

“You have to tell us what’s going on,” Kevin said. “We deserve to know.”

Dean popped the lid off one of the beers and leaned against the sink.

“Yeah, you do,” he said, taking a drink. He eyed them both. “And we’ll tell you everything over dinner. That good enough?”

“Over dinner,” Charlie said.

“You promise to tell us everything?,” Kevin said.

“Yeah, I promise,” Dean said.

“We’re gonna hold you to that,” Charlie said, punching him on the arm as she went past. He heard her call out, “Dinner’s served, bitches.”

He took another sip of his beer and hoped that his lie didn’t show in his face; Dean would tell them about the spell, and Cas, and Ezekiel, but there was no way in hell he was telling anyone else about his deal with Death.

Kevin had already loaded up his plate and was heading out to one of the larger tables in the research room. Dean pushed himself off the counter and began making his own plate. He wanted one of those special sauce burritos before his sasquatch of a brother came in here and grabbed them all.

+

By the time all five of them were seated around the table, the delicioso smell of their dinner had permeated the bunker’s main living spaces. None of them cared; other than Dean’s breakfast specials, the tastiness of comida Mexicana was something they could all agree on.

Sam did wish that Charlie would’ve remembered a side of grilled veggies. He tucked into his food without voicing that complaint, though.

Once everyone had cleared their plates, Sam figured it was time they have a family meeting – he gave Dean the eye, and his brother nodded.

Dean leaned back in his chair. “Everybody ready to talk?,” he asked, looking over at Charlie and Kevin, who were in the process of explaining how the tardis worked to Cas.

Sam grinned at Cas’s obvious befuddlement over tardis mechanics; he glanced over at Dean, who was smiling too. There was something else in Dean’s face too, a softness that wasn’t usually there. Sam looked away hastily. He’d seen glimpses of it ever since they’d found Cas in Hastings, and he was glad it was there, but he wished their lives had better timing.

What if... Sam cut the worry off and focused on what Dean was saying; he was telling Charlie and Kevin that they were on lockdown and both looked mutinous.

“It’s the safest thing for you,” Sam said, adding in his two cents. “And it’s temporary.”

“Yes,” Cas agreed. “Even if we don’t succeed, if we’re dead, you two can go about your business.”

A silence fell across the group. “Way to kill the mood,” Dean said, setting his beer on the table.

“It’s the truth,” Sam offered, though he wished Cas had softened the blow a bit for the youngest two of their motley group.

“Yeah, I know,” Dean said. “So,” he said, flicking his eyes up at Charlie and Kevin, who were both a little shell-shocked, “we’ve got a plan, but we need your help.”

Sam took over here, “I updated the incursion map this morning, and they’re moving closer. Now that we know more about Metatron’s spell –“

“Wait, what did you find out about that?,” Kevin asked. Sam explained, and Kevin listened, managing only a slightly wide-eyed look at Dean and Cas who were carefully not looking at each other during this part of the conversation.

“We need you to go at that angel tablet, though,” Sam said.

“We need to know the reversal,” Dean added. “We figure it involves me and Cas, but we need to know for sure. Otherwise, we might give them what they need without even knowing it.”

“So how are we keeping you two safe?,” Charlie asked shrewdly.

“We’re on lockdown too,” Cas said. “Dean is, anyway.”

“My ass,” Dean said. “You’re on lockdown if anyone is. And I get that I need to be careful, and after Sam and I get back–“

“When Sam and I what?” Cas asked, turning to Sam after Dean clamped his mouth shut and refused to meet his eyes.

Sam didn’t want to answer, but when Cas did that narrow-eyed, smitey thing, he sighed and answered for his suddenly-speechless brother: “Sioux Falls. We’re going to meet an angel.”

“We as in 'all three of us'?”

“Uh…. No,” Sam said. Oh shit.

“And when is this meeting taking place?,” Cas asked in a too-measured voice.

Sam swallowed and opened his mouth to answer, but Dean finally joined in the conversation.

“We’re leaving tomorrow,” he said tiredly. “I was going to tell you, Cas. We only decided this morning.”

“So let me get this straight,” Cas said, warming up and directing his ire at both brothers. “The two of you made arrangements to meet with an angel - which angel?”

“Ezekiel,” Sam answered.

“Ezekiel?,” Cas spat out the name, “And you’re meeting with my brother to discuss me, I’m assuming?” At nods from both Winchesters, he clenched his jaw. “Yet you didn’t see fit to include me in any of this? And you were going to leave me behind?”

A terrible silence resonated in the cavernous room.

Sam caught Charlie’s eye and tried his best to transmit a silent message: Escape. She and Kevin understood and slipped out of the room posthaste.

Locked in an angry stare down, Dean and Cas didn’t even notice.

Sam wanted to leave, but he didn’t think he could just yet. It had never crossed his mind to involve Cas in their meeting either, so this one wasn’t all on Dean’s bullheadedness. He opened his mouth and said so, which resulted in Cas yelling at him, too.

“We’re sorry,” Sam said.

“Speak for yourself,” Dean growled. “I’m not sorry. If I could’ve kept you from finding out at all, that’s exactly what I would have done.”

“Oh, really?” Cas said. ”There’s quite a lot that you like to do without anyone finding out, isn’t there?”

Sam didn’t like the taunting edge to Cas’s voice, and what he’d said – well, Sam wasn’t sure if he’d ever seen Dean turn quite that shade of purplish rage before.

“Go, Sam,” Dean said. Sam obeyed his older brother without question, reaching the sanctity of his room just as the first crash echoed through the bunker.

+

There was a hesitant knock at Sam’s door; instead of calling out, he walked over and opened it to find Charlie and Kevin standing there.

“Um…. We thought we could watch an episode of Fringe together?” Charlie said, holding up the next disc in the box set.

“Get our minds off the parents fighting?,” Sam asked.

Kevin snorted. “You said it, not us.”

“Come on in,” Sam said. He stepped out into the hallway for a moment but as something crashed loudly and deep voices raised in intensity, he came back in and shut the door firmly.

“Hey, Charlie, think you can fix my surround sound?”

The echoes of another crash filtered through the heavy door. “On it, boss,” she said with a wry smile.

After Charlie fixed the wiring – and the amplified sound surely helped drown out Dean and Cas’s argument – Kevin produced bags of gummy bears. Sam tossed them each a bottle of water from his mini-fridge, and they all assumed their places. Sam settled into his side of the bed, lacing his fingers behind his head. Charlie snuggled into the pillows she’d hoarded away from Sam, though she ceded one to Kevin for his makeshift lounge chair.

Once they were all settled, Sam pressed play, and they lost themselves in the world of Walter and Peter Bishop. As the second episode ended, Sam suddenly realized that he could hear the score without any punctuating yells or crashes.

Charlie and Kevin realized it too, and all three sat up straight, listening carefully.

“Think they killed each other?,” Kevin asked.

“Nah,” Sam said. “But I think we should leave them be a little longer.”

“Are you sure?,” Charlie asked. “I bet at least one of them’s bleeding.”

“Likely,” Sam acknowledged. “But we need to remember that we’re talking about two extremely physical warriors who’ve survived purgatory… and who are stupid in love with each other. Do we really want to risk going out there right now?”

Charlie’s eyes widened as she realized. “Oh,” she said.

“I vote a resounding “let’s stay the hell right here and watch another episode or five,” Kevin said. He hesitated and added, “If that’s okay with you, Sam?”

“Sure,” Sam said. “Y’all can stay in here as long as you want.”

“Can we have a slumber party?,” Charlie asked.

Sam laughed. “Sure. Just don’t be offended if I fall asleep. Dean and I still leave for Sioux Falls tomorrow.”

“Are you sure about that?,” Charlie asked. “Cas seemed pretty set against it.”

“Yeah, and he’ll still be pissed. But Dean will go because Ezekiel may be the only one who can help us.”

“What can we do to help?,” Kevin asked.

“Just do what you’ve been doing, Kev – Find the reversal spell. Keep looking for information about Metatron.” Sam glanced at Charlie, “If you can update the incursion map, that’ll help. We need to figure out a way to predict where they might strike next. And keep compiling the Knights of Hell info because Abaddon’s also gonna be riding our asses.”

Charlie and Kevin shared a look and nodded. “Okay, Sam,” Charlie said.

“And what about Cas?,” Kevin asked.

“Cas will occupy himself, I’m sure,” Sam said. “But if you can help get his mind off things, that’d help. And for the love of God – or Chuck or whomever,” he modified, rolling his eyes at Charlie, “stay inside and listen to the detailed instructions that I can guarantee Dean will dole out in the morning.”

“So he’s serious about all that?,” Charlie asked.

“Yes,” Sam said firmly. “And I will help him kick your asses if either of you get taken because you didn’t follow orders.”

Charlie grimaced, but she didn’t say anything. Sam hoped she took him seriously; he knew Kevin would. The kid had already seen too much crap up close and personal to not take angelic and demonic threats seriously.

“Next episode?,” Charlie asked, remote in hand.

“Yes,” Sam and Kevin answered. Charlie pressed play, and Kevin broke out a fresh bag of gummies and passed them around.

“Oh, wait – before I forget, I have another question about the books,” Kevin said.

Charlie paused the disc, grinning at Sam’s gut-deep groan. “Seriously, Kevin?”

“Well, it’s about Dean and Cas…” Kevin’s voice trailed off.

Sam sat straight up on the bed. “What?,” he asked, horrified. “Dean and Cas are in the books? That’s not possible –“

“The unpublished ones are online now, too,” Charlie said. “Didn’t I tell you that?”

“No, you didn’t,” Sam said, glaring at her. “I’d remember.”

“What about Dean and Cas, Kevin?,” Sam asked.

“Apparently, they’re known as “Destiel” – you know, because of their names? Dean plus Castiel. Anyway, were they really into each other from the beginning? Since Cas raised him from perdition?”

“I think something was there,” Charlie said. “Have you read the one where—”

“Stop,” Sam ordered. “No, no, no,” he said, rubbing his eyes with his palms. “No. I don’t want to know, and I’m telling you both – never ever ever tell Dean or Castiel that there is anything in there about them.”

Sam saw the mischievous glint in Charlie’s eyes and gave her a stern look. “I mean it. If y’all think he wants to kill Chuck now, God himself won’t be able to save the dude. Dean was horrified at being described full frontal with Cassie, let alone…” Sam trailed off, pondering. With a furrowed brow, he asked, “Destiel? Really?”

“Yeah,” Kevin said. “Isn’t it weird? It’s a portmanteau.”

“Huh,” Sam said with a shake of his head. “Seriously, though. Let’s never mention this again outside of this room, okay?”

Kevin and Charlie both gestured their agreement, though as the episode started up again, Sam heard the prophet ask quietly, “Which one were you talking about? I’m only on – “

Sam purposely didn’t listen to any more of their conversation. He didn’t want to know anything else about those goddamn books. Closing his eyes, he let the cadence of Walter Bishop’s voice lull him into sleep.

+

to be continued . . .

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Dean yanked an unopened bag of ice out of the freezer, slamming it on the edge of the cast iron sink. The sound reverberated through the kitchen, and he slammed the bag over and over, long after the frozen hunk of ice broke back into cubes.

His lip began to throb, though, and he finally stopped with the slamming. He ripped the bag open and scooped out handfuls of ice, filling two heavy-duty ziplocks.

It was only after the fact that he noticed the pink tinge to the unused ice; checking his hand, he realized that the skin across his knuckles had split too, blood welling in intricate and painful patterns.

“Dammit,” he muttered, shoving what remained of the bag into the sink. The echoing clatter of each melting, detaching cube reminded him that things were falling apart.

He braced his hands on the counter and leaned heavily against the sink, the edge biting his hipbone. Dean bowed his head and breathed deeply, trying to regain his composure – he hadn’t felt so out of control in… well, in a while.

He timed his breathing, inhaling for three beats, then exhaling for three. Some faraway part of him sensed someone enter the kitchen; some not so faraway part chose to ignore that presence, even when the bags of ice clinked with movement.

Cold plastic pressed gently against Dean’s swollen bottom lip, and he opened his eyes to see familiar blue ones watching him. Tension radiated through Cas’s body, and his eyes still held a shadow of anger. But they also held concern.

Something inside of Dean loosened. He placed his hand over Cas’s, squeezing gently.

Dean felt the tension in Cas’s outstretched arm relax, and his gut lurched with the realization that their fighting had left Cas uncertain too.

Keeping his hand on Cas’s, he turned away from the sink and slipped his free arm around Cas’s waist, pulling him close. Cas came willingly, leaning his head against the crook of Dean’s neck and sighing as Dean’s cheek rested against his hair. Dean felt Cas’s dry lips press agasint the hollow at the base of his throat – it was a feather-light touch, nothing more, but it was enough to make Dean’s breathing hitch.

His arms felt empty when Cas stepped back, and Dean fought the urge to yank Cas back against him; he knew that their argument wasn’t finished yet.

Cas pulled the ice pack away from Dean’s lip and lightly touched a finger to the split that still welled with blood.

“Sorry for that,” he said.

Dean shrugged and reached a hand out, rubbing his thumb lightly along Cas’s swelling cheekbone, steeling his jaw as Cas winced. “Sorry for that,” Dean said.

He grabbing the other bag of ice he’d been preparing. “Here,” he said, trading Cas the baggie that had been on his lip for the unused one. “Keep this on your cheek.”

Cas took it and held it gingerly against his skin. “I swung the first punch, though,” he said.

“Yeah, you did,” Dean snorted. Cas’s eyes flew up, and Dean could tell that he was waiting to see what came next. Dean rolled his eyes. “But who swung second – and third? It’s not the first time we’ve fought, and we’re both at fault here, Cas. Stop beating yourself up over splitting my lip; it’s the least I deserve, anyway.”

Cas opened his mouth to protest, but Dean cut him off. “I shouldn’t have left you out of the conversation. It was a dick move, but –“ and Dean paused a moment to lean down and catch Cas’s downturned eyes. “I don’t want you leaving the bunker. Not until we have a game plan. Are we clear on that?”

“Are you giving me an order?,” Cas asked sharply.

Dean stared at the wall over Cas’s head for a moment before meeting his narrowed gaze again and finally answering: “I can’t say I’m not.”

“That’s what I thought,” Cas muttered. He took another step away from the hunter, tension in his movements as he paced back and forth. “I’m not your soldier, Dean. You’re not my commander –“

“Dammit, Cas, I know that. This isn’t about me underestimating you because you’re human now. Would you let that shit go?”

“Sure - when you let your shit go,” Cas scoffed, tossing a dark look Dean’s way.

Dean crossed his arms over his chest and pressed his lips into a thin, hard line. Cas met his glare, rage for rage. Both were pissed, both wanting still to fight it out, to resolve what couldn’t be fixed with blood and fists, the same way they dealt with everything else.

But that wouldn’t work for them, and Dean knew it. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair in exasperation.

“Cas, can we just - not do this?,” he said. “You can knock me into kingdom come, and you’re not going to change my opinion; I can’t change yours either – can we just – can we please, stop fighting?” Even Dean heard the pleading in his voice, and he shut his eyes against the tears prickling in his eyes. Damned if he was going to add to this sobfest. Eyes shut and head bowed, he waited to hear what Cas had to say.

Next thing Dean knew, he was against the sink, the cold metal against the skin of his back as warm hands worked his shirt up and a seeking mouth claimed his. Dean opened his eyes wide, but what he saw in Cas’s – it was just too much.

He shut his eyes again and muttered against Cas’s lips, “I’m sorry I hurt you.” Cas started to say something, but Dean swallowed his words. They were lips and teeth and tongues, strong hands and hot skin and thudding hearts.

Rubbing, pressing, stroking, consuming – somehow, they made their way from the sink to the table and eventually to Dean’s room, where they sank upon the bed and carried each other to the edge over and over until finally, they came together, calling the other’s name, the taste of one another on their tongues, the breath of one another on their lips.

Dean saw stars that night, and for a moment, Cas thought he could still hear the heavenly host.

+

Sam woke up hanging half off his bed, snow on the television screen, and silence in the air. It took him a minute to realize that Charlie was using his chest as her pillow, and when he raised up to look around the room, he saw Kevin’s head on her shoulder. Sam snorted. What a slumber party, he thought.

He carefully disentangled himself from the pile and slipped his pillow under Charlie’s head, holding back a chuckle as she clutched it in her sleep. He shook his head at just how familial it all felt and stretched his long limbs, taking note of the clock. It wasn’t even five… and Dean on a good day would threaten Sam with bodily harm for waking him so early. A Dean who’d had at most a couple hours of sleep? Sam shook his head at the thought. He wasn’t dealing with a sleep-deprived, pissed-off, and angsty version of his brother. I’ll just have to be quiet, he thought, slipping out of his room to make some tea. He preferred coffee, but he didn’t want the aroma to roust anyone just yet.

+

Dean was lying awake, trailing his hand up and down Cas’s back as he slept and staring at the ceiling when he heard Sam’s door click open and closed. He huffed a small breath; he’d known Sam would get up at the butt-crack of dawn. He listened closely to see if Sam was coming to his door, but no – it sounded like he was heading for the kitchen. Good, Dean thought. I’m not getting out of this bed until I absolutely have to.

He moved to cuddle up closer to Cas, waking him.

“Dean?,” Cas muttered sleepily.

“Shh, go back to sleep. Just getting comfortable,” Dean said, wrapping his arms around Cas’s middle and smiling as the sleeping man nestled his head under Dean’s chin, just how both liked it. He kissed the top of Cas’s head before pressing his cheek to the dark, soft hair. Dean closed his eyes and let the rhythm of their breathing lull him to sleep.

It never crossed his mind to think about the shape they’d left the main rooms in.

+

Sam, however, was standing in the middle of the research room, arms akimbo, frustration written on his face. He’d heard them – he’d known they were out here fighting, but my God. This was ridiculous. Chairs and a table overturned, books tossed. His notes scattered and Kevin’s too. A smear of blood on the top of the table closest to him, drops of blood on the floor. Grabbing his laptop, which had thankfully been recharging on a shelf away from the melee, Sam followed the drops into the kitchen, noting where they pooled at the freezer and then again at the sink. The now-empty bag was in the sink, and ziplocks of water sat on the counter.

Well, at least they had the sense to apply ice, he groused, setting his laptop on the table.

And then he noticed the clothes. It was one thing knowing that your brother had finally found the love of his live. It was another to see full-on evidence of how that relationship was consummated – again – in the kitchen that the entire family shared.

He was tempted to leave it all – the shirts tossed on the counter, the boots kicked across the floor. Sam rolled his eyes. Did they have no self-control? He was totally giving Dean shit about this when he finally dragged his horny ass out of bed.

Sam filled the kettle with water, kicking the discarded clothing into a central pile, and put it on. He chose a strong black tea and put the bag in a cup, carrying it over to the table, taking a seat and booting up his laptop for his daily headline reading.

His bare foot touched a cloth something under the table. With another roll of his eyes, Sam glanced under and saw that it was a pair of jeans… whose, he didn’t know, and he didn’t want to. He snagged a wrinkle of fabric with his toes and pulled the jeans out from under the table, standing to kick them to the pile he’d created. And then he saw the boxers twisted up inside the jeans.

Oh shit, he thought, looking at the table with horror. He didn’t want to look closer, but… but his laptop was sitting there… and his mug… and he’d had his hands on the table top.

Sam forced himself to look closer, and Christ almighty. Yeah, he saw something. Several splatters of something, though thankfully all on the far side of the table. Goddammit.

If it weren’t the end of the fucking world, I would so pull Dean’s ass out of bed and make him deal with this, Sam grumbled to himself.

He yanked his laptop off the table and set it on top of the refrigerator, fairly certain that surface had been left unmolested, and put his tainted mug in the sink. He grabbed a pair of plastic gloves, the Clorox, and a cleaning rag out of the supplies cabinet and attacked the counters and tables, intent on disinfecting the shit out of everything.

As he put away the supplies, he wallowed in the sad fact that brain bleach didn’t exist because he sure as hell would love some right about now, though maybe Clorox’s strong aroma would burn out those brain cells. “Wishful thinking,” he muttered. Sam then kicked their clothing into the far corner of the room; he’d done more than his duty, and he wasn’t carrying the clothes themselves to the laundry room, thank you very much.

By that time, the kettle was softly humming, so Sam made himself a fresh cup of tea and took it and his laptop out into the trashed research room.

He’d take blood over that any day.

+

With confirmation of just how involved Dean and Cas’s confrontation had gotten, Sam left them alone, figuring – rightly – that neither had been asleep for long. That left Sam to take his time reading the headlines and drinking his tea. He also re-organized his research and mapped out angel incursions within a couple hundred miles of Sioux Falls.

Charlie and Kevin stumbled into the room around eight and took in the shambles with wide eyes.

“Do we need to be worried?,” Charlie asked.

Sam snorted. “No,” he said, ignoring her questioning look. He was so not explaining what he’d found in the kitchen ever.

Kevin groaned at the sight of his workstation – his neat stacks of books had been toppled, and his papers were a mess. “Be glad yours wasn’t overturned,” Sam remarked.

“Seriously?,” Kevin asked. “They flipped yours?”

“Yeah,” Sam said. “It took me an hour to sort everything out.”

Charlie shook her head. “Any sign of them this morning?”

“No,” Sam answered. “And I’m leaving them alone. I don’t think they got much sleep, and I don’t want to be in the car with a sleep-deprived Dean for six hours.”

“Makes sense,” Charlie said. “Coffee?,” she asked Kevin.

“God, yes,” the prophet muttered from between the towers of books he was restacking.

“Coming right up, boys.” A moment later, she stuck her head back in the door. “Ahem – so, do we need to worry about the surfaces in here, boss?”

Sam couldn’t help laughing at the look on her face. “No, I already cloroxed everything.”

She nodded and a moment later, Sam heard the water running as she filled the coffee pot.

“Surfaces? Clorox?,” Kevin asked. “Did they fight in there too?”

“Um… not exactly,” Sam said.

Kevin looked perplexed for about thirty seconds. Then, “Oh,” and his face turned red.

“Tell me about it,” Sam muttered, going back to work.

+

It was after 9 before Dean woke up, and his first thought was about how good Cas felt in his arms, skin-to-skin, warm and bare.

He’d run his fingers through Cas’s hair, brushing his fingers along the nape of his neck, and Cas stirred against him. Mere minutes later, Cas had him pressed into the mattress, intent on reminding Dean that he was not the boss of him.

Dean was fine with that. More than fine, actually.

An hour or so later, completely spent, they untangled their heavy limbs and dragged themselves to the shower. Somewhere between white sparks exploding behind his eyes and forcing himself to leave the bed, Dean had remembered the state of the main room and the likely state of the kitchen. (He’d been a little distracted at the time so wasn’t really sure how they'd left the kitchen. He also couldn’t find his jeans – what the fuck?)

He dreaded seeing the smirk he just knew would be on Sam’s face. Because there was absolutely no chance that everyone hadn’t seen that mess. Dean’s cheeks were burning before they even made their way to the main room.

Sure enough, Sam smirked; Kevin’s face went pink; and Charlie was – well, Charlie. Nothing fazed her.

“So you both lived?,” she asked.

“Huh? Uh – yeah,” Dean said.

“We expected bloodshed after all the yelling and the things crashing,” Charlie said, eyeing them both. “I think you came out pretty good with just a split lip, skinned knuckles, and a bruised cheekbone. But you two really need to learn to use your words,” she said primly.

“We’ll work on it,” Cas muttered. Dean cast a look in his direction and noted that even Cas’s cheeks were pink.

God, this is awkward, he thought. Determined to end this walk of shame, Dean clapped his hands together loudly, “So!,” he exclaimed too loudly. “What’s on the agenda?”

Sam gave him a knowing look, but went along with him. “I’m checking for angel and demon activity around Sioux Falls but the gear’s packed and stowed – we can hit the road whenever you…“ Sam hesitated, glancing back and forth nervously between Cas and Dean, but neither responded, so Sam simply restated lamely, “We can hit the road whenever.”

“Well, coffee first,” Dean said. “Is there any left, Red?”

“Just made a fresh pot,” Charlie said, looking up from the translation code she was working on.

“Cas, you coming?” Dean turned before he could answer, and Cas quietly followed.

Charlie, Sam, and Kevin exchanged a look. “Do we need to run for cover?,” Kevin asked.

“No,” Sam said. “They’re past the big bang now. We might hear some yelling but that’s all.”

“Next thing you know we’ll be in family therapy,” Charlie muttered.

Sam laughed. “That’s a one way ticket to the looney bin for all of us,” he said. “Just imagine trying to explain Dean and Cas to a therapist.” Even Kevin laughed at that. Sam continued in a falsetto, “Oh, yeah, doc, they have communication problems because they come from different worlds. See, Dean’s the righteous man of biblical prophecy who nearly went demonic in hell and Cas is Castiel, Angel of Thursday, currently human…”

All three were laughing at this point. “I could sell it,” Charlie managed to say between giggles.

“You probably could,” Sam admitted. “But I am having no part of it. I have no desire to wear a straight jacket ever again.”

“We could get them a copy of that Love Languages book,” Kevin said.

Sam and Charlie stared at the prophet like he’d grown a second head.

“What?,” he asked defensively. “My mom made me read it. It’s useful.”

Sam and Charlie guffawed loudly, their belly-deep laughs proving so contagious that even Kevin joined in.

+

Dean and Cas could hear the others cracking up; Dean said a silent prayer that it wasn’t about him or Cas, but he wasn’t overly hopeful – especially after he’d seen where their discarded clothing had been piled in the corner of the kitchen.

Cas had dug out his boots and Dean’s too, and they’d shoved their sock feet into them without looking at one another. Dean’s cheeks burned with the awareness of just how obvious they’d been, and Cas was pretty subdued himself.

Dean got down the coffee cups while Cas carted their clothing back to the bedroom. By the time Cas returned, Dean was sitting at the table, his coffee in hand. Cas’s was waiting on him, with cream and sugar added just how he liked.

Funny how all of this has come to feel like routine in just a few days, Dean thought.

Cas quietly took the seat beside him. Dean watched as Cas carefully studied the steam rising from his cup. After a moment of that, Dean leaned heavily back in his chair, finally getting Cas’s attention.

“So?,” he asked.

“So,” Cas said.

Dean rolled his eyes. “Are you going to stay?”

“Is it my choice?”

Dean gritted his teeth. Every fibre of his being wanted to yell No, but that wasn’t going to get him anywhere with Cas, who was watching him way too closely right now.

“Fine,” he ground out. “It’s your choice. But if you come and get yourself killed, I’ll kill you myself.”

Cas raised an eyebrow at that phenomenal display of logic. Why can’t I think before I speak? Dean wondered. “Oh, shut up,” he snapped.

Cas chuckled, and the sound lightened Dean’s heart.

“So?,” Dean repeated, holding his breath as he waited on Cas to answer.

After a long minute, Cas finally spoke. “I’ll stay,” he said, and Dean exhaled in relief. “This time,” Cas added. “But you’d better be careful, Dean Winchester, and I mean it.”

“Yes, dear,” Dean said wickedly, leaning over to kiss Cass on the temple before taking their empty cups to the sink.

“Don’t ‘Yes, dear,’ me, Dean,” Cas warned.

“Fine. Yes, assbutt,” Dean corrected, smirking when Cas groaned.

Cas wrapped his arms around Dean’s waist and kissed the back of his neck. “I mean it; be careful. Ezekiel is a good soldier, that I can say with certainty, but you must remember that I was a good soldier, too.”

“And that turned out okay,” Dean remarked, leaning against Cas.

“Not until after I’d talked you into torturing Alistair and released Sam from the panic room,” Cas reminded him. “A good soldier does what he is told; you have to find out who Ezekiel is following before you can trust him.”

Dean nodded somberly, Cas’s comments only cementing his own worries over this attempt at forging an alliance. He turned and pulled Cas into his arms. “We’ll be careful. I promise,” he said.

“You’d better,” Cas said, closing the distance between them and kissing Dean with bruising force.

Dean wondered if the feel and taste of Cas would ever not light his body up like a Christmas tree. He sincerely hoped not.

+

Dean and Sam were on the road by 1 p.m. Dean felt a twinge of guilt that Cas was staying behind, even though it was technically by his choice. Dean told himself that it really was for the best, and he knew that it was. Besides, Charlie and Kevin shouldn’t have to deal with Crowley on their own again.

Dean had anticipated that Sam would try to get him to talk during the trip, and sure enough, he did.

“You two okay?,” Sam asked.

Dean side-eyed him. “Yeah, Sam, we’re fine.”

“Were you fine before or after you trashed the rooms?”

“Shut up.”

Sam laughed. “Seriously, dude. The two of you have got to start talking.”

“We talk plenty.”

“Sure you do,” Sam said.

“We do,” Dean said defensively. “We just… uh…” Dammit. He could feel his ears turning red.

“I get the picture,” Sam said. “Trust me. Please, for the love of god, don’t explain.” Sam waited a moment before asking the question he really wanted to. “Are you okay about the spell and what that means?”

“You mean the fact that Cas was a target because of his feelings for me, and now we’re both targets because we finally acknowledged how we both feel?”

“Yeah,” Sam said. “That.”

“It’s what I get for listening to your bullshit and getting in touch with my feelings,” Dean groused.

"You’re not sorry about that," Sam said firmly. “Don’t even pretend, not with me.“

“Fine,” Dean muttered. “I'm not sorry about - uh - about Cas. But this just goes to show you, Sammy, that shit follows us around every time we even glance at normal."

“True,” Sam conceded, tapping his fingers on his leg. "Yet we keep fighting for it.”

"Yeah, cause that's what we do," Dean said, flipping on the radio, signaling the end of their sharing and caring moment.

He ignored Sam’s wry smile, only looking back over at his brother after Sam had leaned his head against the window and shut his eyes. The peacefulness of Sam’s face, the fact that his brother was alive – these were all things Dean had fought for, paid for with his own life. And he would do anything, had done everything, to keep his brother alive and well.

But he wondered, not for the first time, just how Sam would react if he found out about Dean’s deal with Death.

Dean also wondered if he could bear leaving Cas, if that’s what it came down to, in order to keep Sam alive.

Six years go, that would have been an easy question to answer. Now, Dean wasn’t so sure.

For a moment, he wondered what his father would think of him now, but he quickly pushed that idea from his mind. He had a pretty good idea of what his dad would say, especially about Cas, and for once, Dean was glad John wasn’t around to say anything at all.

+

It was dark by the time they got to Sioux Falls, so they delayed reconnaissance till dawn and checked into the Barracuda Motor Inn, about a mile from Bobby’s place. Dean left to pick up a pizza and some beer while Sam laid out their research and set out their weapons for yet another servicing round.

They ate and drank while watching an old Godzilla movie on the classic channel, and then they set to work. It’s almost like old times, Sam thought.

Sam dove back into his research, while Dean did the weapons check. All was quiet until Sam decided it was time to ask Dean more questions about the night the angels fell. He hadn’t been able to get Dean to talk about it, and he needed to know what really happened. Though Dean was a good liar, Sam had been certain for a while that his brother was hiding something more than just his feelings for Cas.

Dean was having none of it, though.

“I’ve told you all I know, Sammy,” Dean complained. “They fell; you collapsed; I took you to the hospital; you were cured. End of story.”

“That doesn’t make any sense, Dean. The doctor said I was circling the drain – how do I suddenly recover? Especially without any angel mojo nearby to heal me?”

Dean shrugged. “How am I to know?”

Sam compressed his mouth in the way that Dean had christened Bitchface #15. He didn’t care; if it took being a bitch to beat this out of his brother, he would. He hated it when Dean played dumb just to control the situation, and that’s exactly what he was doing.

He grabbed the papers he hadn’t yet told Dean about and shook them in his brother’s face.

“Stop lying to me, Dean. It says right here that the Trials cause the death of whoever attempts them – whether or not they’re completed. I was doomed from the beginning, and we just didn’t know.”

Sam saw the flicker of fear in Dean’s eyes, and he knew he had him. Dean had done something – but what?

“You didn’t make a demon deal, did you? Did you?,” Sam yelled, getting in Dean’s face.

His brother sprung up and got back in his – or as much as he could being four inches shorter. “No, Sam, I did not. Been to hell, got the t-shirt, remember? Much as I’d do for you, becoming a demon again isn’t on the table.”

Sam caught that “again” – that was something Dean had never let slip before, but he didn’t press that point, not right now.

“So what did you do?,” he asked.

Dean stared him down a moment, and Sam could clearly see the emotions warring on his brother’s expressive face.

“Are you alive?,” Dean finally asked.

“Yeah,” Sam replied sharply. “What the fuc—“

“Be grateful you’re alive and shut up about it, Sam. I mean it. Just let it fucking go.” And with that, Dean turned on his heel and stormed out of the room. The Impala roared to life, and Sam heard her speed off into the distance.

Sam fought the urge to vomit. Dean’s bar for degrees of self-sacrifice was pretty high, and he’d seen real fear on his brother’s face… what had Dean done?

He grabbed his cell and called Cas, but all he could confirm was that, yes, Cas obviously knew, but no, Cas wouldn’t tell him. Not that his friend blatantly admitted any of that, but luckily for Sam, Cas couldn’t lie for shit.

“Whatever, Cas,” Sam finally said. “Just tell me this: Do I – Do we – need to be worried?”

Sam knew he wasn’t imagining the quaver in Cas’s voice as he replied, “Y-yes. But there’s nothing we can do. What’s done is done.”

Cas ended the call, and Sam sat there, head in his hands. The tension that had been wound inside of him since he’d found that passage earlier that day exploded, and his body trembled from the recoil.

With a shaking hand, he laid his phone down and made his way to the bathroom, where he took a hot shower and then climbed into bed.

He was still awake when Dean crept into the dark room a little after midnight, but he wasn’t going to say anything to his brother.

Instead, it was Dean’s voice that cut through the dark silence. “I know you’re awake, Sam,” he said. “I can tell by the way you’re breathing.”

“Are you going to talk to me about it, then?,” Sam asked.

“No,” Dean said. “But I’m going to remind you that you and Cas being alive is everything to me; I’m alive right now, and everything’s just fucking fine, okay?”

“But Dean—“

“No buts, Sam. It is what it is. And in the meantime, we’re going to kill some evil sons of bitches and raise a little hell. You with me?”

Sam tried to keep the tears from his voice, “Yeah, Dean. I’m with you.” He hadn’t missed that “right now” and was more afraid than ever of what Dean had done.

“Good,” Dean said. “Get some sleep, Sammy. It’ll all be okay.”

Sam listened as Dean went about his nighttime ritual before crawling into the other bed. Long after Dean’s breathing evened out, Sam stared at the red light blinking in the ceiling smoke detector and wondered if he could live with whatever Dean had done this time to keep him alive. Sam knew that the answer was “no.”

He thought of Cas and Dean and how happy they’d been for these too-few days they’d had together. And he wondered if Cas could live with whatever Dean had done, if his friend wouldn’t come to hate Sam for being Dean’s reason for self- sacrifice yet again.

It was the wee hours of the morning before Sam finally managed to doze off, but his worry haunted his dreams. When Dean woke him up at 6, acting as if nothing had been said, and Sam returned the favor, the foreboding still hadn’t dissipated, and Sam knew it wouldn’t. This was fear that he’d carried ever since he’d watched Dean die for him all those years ago. In a way, it was ironic, Sam mused. The sacrifice that helped ensure Dean was the righteous man was the very one that had set Sam on the path to inheriting hell.

It seemed that the universe still wasn’t through fucking with them, though.

Dean’s right, Sam thought. Shit really does follow us around every time we even glance at normal.

+

to be continued...

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Without Dean or Sam, Cas felt adrift in the bunker. Sam had asked Cas to finish translating the Knights of Hell scroll, and it waited for him at the research table where he had worked the day before. He was reluctant to interrupt the balance Charlie and Kevin enjoyed, though. As soon as the Winchesters had left, the two had settled into work with intensity. Kevin was examining the tablet and various documents strewn across the tabletop, and Charlie’s fingers were flying over the keyboard as she worked out the code for the program she was developing.

Cas watched them a moment from the doorway before going into the kitchen to make a pot of tea. During his weeks on the run, coffee had been an extravagance, so he’d bought a cheap, off-brand box of variety teas – even when he’d only had the hot water from a public restroom tap to steep the bag in, the warmth and weak flavor would seep into his bones. It had become a comfort, and he needed that now.

There was good tea in the cabinet – Cas could smell it through the packaging, and he pulled out a tea bag and a large mug and waited on the water to boil.

He didn’t like that Dean and Sam had left him here. He especially didn’t like that Dean hadn’t intended to take him at all, to give him any kind of say.

Dealing with Dean’s control issues was a war, though, not a battle, and Cas well knew that. He absently touched the still-tender bruise on his cheek and winced. Cas had his own issues to deal with too. He wondered if they’d have time to work them out, or if Death would come calling first.

The kettle whistling interrupted Cas’s morbid train of thought, and he poured the water into the mug and settled at the table as the teabag steeped, turning the water a rich brown shade. He watched as the color unfurled in the water, and he wondered.

What am I doing? How am I ever going to fix… everything? He bowed his shoulders and hung his head, letting the steam rising from the mug hit him in the face. When Dean was around, Cas could focus on him and forget – sort of – the role he’d played in breaking heaven. But alone? Cas’s soul felt heavy under the weight.

It didn’t matter that Metatron had tricked him; the one thing Cas was convinced of in this world, besides the immutable truth that Dean Winchester owned his heart, was that if he had only been a better son, a better angel, heaven wouldn’t be broken right now.

For what was certainly not the first time, Cas wondered if he could be a good enough man to fix it. He was so lost in his thoughts that he didn’t realize his tea had cooled or that Kevin had wandered into the kitchen.

“You okay?,” Kevin asked, opening the refrigerator and perusing the contents.

“Hmm? Oh, yes, I am. Thank you,” Cas said, glancing up at the young man. “How is the translation coming?”

“Painfully slow,” Kevin answered. He took a canned soda out of the refrigerator and popped the top and turned back towards Cas. “I could use some help, actually,” he said, giving Cas a meaningful look.

“Only you can read the tablets,” Cas said.

“Yeah, but I could use help with figuring out what the translation means. The leviathan tablet was cake compared to this one, and even the demon tablet wasn’t so difficult. I don’t know what it is that makes the angel tablet so damn confusing.”

“It likely has something to do with the fact that heaven is my father’s home – of course he would make those documents harder to understand than those about his natural opposites.”

Kevin was staring at him; Cas quirked his eyebrow. “Something wrong?,” Cas asked.

“Sorry, man,” Kevin said. “It’s just – when you say stuff like ‘my father,’ it kinda freaks me out.”

Cas huffed a small almost-laugh. “Me too,” he said, standing and picking up his mug. “If you’d like, I will look over your translations.”

Cas returned Charlie’s small smile as he entered the room, and the three of them worked industriously until Sam called. He barely had time to say “hello” before Sam launched into a panicked explanation. Charlie and Kevin could hear Sam’s tone, though not his words, and when Cas saw the worried looks they exchanged, he nodded encouragingly and took the call into the kitchen.

He couldn’t tell Sam anything that would make him feel better, and in fact, he knew he’d made his friend feel worse. When he ended the call, he found himself once more sitting with a bowed head, a weight upon his shoulders, and worry in his heart.

He didn’t want to walk back into the research room, to have to reassure Charlie and Kevin that everything was okay, so he didn’t. His stomach rumbled, and he decided to focus on rifling through the refrigerator and the cabinets to make dinner. That was something he could do.

The freezer was his friend, and he quickly had the family-sized lasagna in the oven and broccoli steaming on the stovetop. It was simple fare, especially in light of the smorgasbord that Dean had effortlessly whipped up, but Cas was proud of it – everything was edible and the smell was actually quite delicious.

By the time he let the others know that dinner was ready, he’d regained a sense of calm, and when Charlie suggested that they watch a movie while they ate, Cas thought it was a good idea. He’d come to appreciate humanity's enjoyment of distraction.

Charlie and Kevin seemed well acquainted with the background of the film, and while they explained quite a bit to Cas, he still didn’t understand everything. He quite liked that Steve Rogers character, though.

+

Cas had gotten used to Dean’s presence so quickly that sleeping without him felt foreign. He twisted and turned in the bed, trying to get comfortable, and he checked the phone that Dean had given him a hundred times, but there were no messages. He picked up the phone to call or text at least twenty times, but always hesitated and decided against it, knowing that Sam and Dean were likely still arguing.

He woke up shortly after dawn to a cold bed and a lonely heart. The guilt that always hovered at the edge of his consciousness threatened to envelop him again, and he wished fervently that Dean were there. The screen of his phone lit up with an incoming message, and Cas grabbed it – It was a simple message: “good morning, sleepyhead,” but it was from Dean, and Cas could hear him saying it and picture the indulgent smirk that accompanied it.

A warmth suffused him, and the reminder that – no matter his flaws and what he’d done – Dean loved him was enough to push the shadows back. Cas smiled and texted back, “good morning – miss you.”

“Miss u too. Will call after,” Dean texted.

“Be careful,” Cas sent back.

“Always.” How someone could manage to sound smug in a text was a mystery to Cas, yet Dean did.

After that, Cas managed to roust himself out of bed and got dressed. He fixed himself a mug of tea and a piece of toast for breakfast and then buried himself in translations and reading. If he was focused, he couldn’t worry about Dean or Sam or the angels or Dean’s deal. He had been working steadily for at least two hours before Charlie and Kevin were up.

Cas couldn’t help smiling at Charlie’s bleary-eyed confusion. “What time is it?,” she asked, after she saw the stacks of papers and notes piled around him.

“Early yet,” he said. “I’ve been up since before dawn.”

“Did the early bird get the worm, then?,” she asked.

Cas pursed his lips. “I’m not a bird nor do I gather worms… how does that reference apply to me?,” he asked, quite seriously.

The quirk of Charlie’s mouth told him it had been a joke, and he sighed in exasperation. “These human sayings – must there be so many?,” he asked.

The peal of Charlie’s laughter filled the room. “Don’t worry about it, Cas,” she said, patting his arm as she walked by. “Between the four of us, we’ll make sure you have a well-rounded education in humanity.”

“I don’t know whether to be thankful or worried,” Cas said.

“Guess it depends on who’s teaching you what,” Charlie said with a twinkle in her eye, heading on into the kitchen where Kevin was having a verbal argument with the malfunctioning coffee-maker.

Cas couldn’t help a pleased smile at Charlie’s teasing and apparent affection. He glanced at the time and saw it was barely 9 a.m. – at least five hours before they’d hear any word. He turned his attention back to his notes.

Staying busy was a necessity right now.

+

Dean carefully navigated the Impala down the washboard road that led into Singer Salvage Yard; the property looked much as it had when they’d met Crowley here – had that really been only a few months ago?

He swallowed hard as the burned out shell of the place that he’d once thought of as home came into view.

“Hard to see, isn’t it?,” he asked Sam.

“Yeah,” his brother said, his voice thick.

Dean nodded and made a u-turn in what used to be the driveway, parking the impala so that she faced the road, just in case they needed to peel out of there.

It took them about an hour to check the perimeter, to refresh Bobby’s old devil’s traps and add a few of their own, and to pour a defensive line of holy oil. Dean spray-painted angel and demon warding on a wall of junk cars not far from the impala. They took point there, the warding to their back, the defensive line of holy oil to the front.

Sam stood stiffly, watching the area through narrowed eyes. “Now what?,” he asked his brother.

Dean was in the process of climbing on top of the cars. He kept going until he was higher than Sam and carefully positioned himself so that he could jump straight down to his brother’s side if need be. He checked his weapons – the knife hidden in his boot, the gun at the small of his back, the various box cutters and Ruby’s knife stashed along his person, the long-range rifle by his leg. He laid his angel blade out across his lap, running his finger along the metal where it shone in the morning sun.

He looked down at Sam and said simply, “We wait.”

“You check your gear?,” Dean asked.

Sam snorted. “What do you think?” But he inventoried the arsenal he was carrying anyway. He pulled over an empty oil drum and flipped it upside down, tossing a scrap of mostly-clean plastic over the rusted bottom before using it as a stool.

Thirty minutes later and Dean felt his grim, silent determination morphing into grim, silent antsy-ness. Judging by the tune Sam’s fingers were tapping out on that drum, his nerves were also on edge.

Dean checked his watch – nearly noon. “Think he’s coming?,” he asked.

Sam looked up at Dean before answering. “Hope so.”

Dean nodded. He stood up on the hood of the car, mindful of balance because even in the yard’s heyday, Bobby’s piles of junk had always been precariously stacked. He looked out over the yard, using the rifle’s scope as a telescope. Everything appeared calm at first, but then he saw movement – someone was threading their way through the cars.

“Sam – two o’clock.” Both Winchesters took defensive positions, Sam dropping behind the oil barrel, Dean dropping to his stomach.

“Ezekiel?,” Sam asked his brother, voice low.

“Don’t know. Don’t think so,” Dean answered, peering through the scope until he got a look at the face. “Nope. Got black eyes.”

“Alone?” Sam was looking around but he couldn’t see anything.

Dean fired off a shot. “Hopefully,” he said.

“I hope that was a devil’s trap bullet,” Sam said.

Dean dropped neatly to the ground beside his brother and gave him a disgusted look. “What do you think?,” he asked before walking out to retrieve the demon.

Sam covered Dean; neither Winchester saw anyone else.

They’d dragged the demon back to their post – it had possessed a skinny kid, and Dean felt sick as he saw how neatly his bullet had pierced the kid’s temple. If the kid’d had a chance, Dean had taken it from him.

As if on cue, Sam said. “It’s not your fault, Dean.”

Dean cut his eyes up at his brother but didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to; Sam knew there was no way Dean believed that.

“Seriously, Dean. Look,” Sam said, reaching down and peeling back the bloody collar of the kid’s button-up shirt to reveal a series of stab wounds peppering his torso. “The meatsuit’s been toast for a while.” Dean nodded, swallowing back down the bile that had risen in his throat at the sight of the wounds.

Dean kicked at the demon. “You gonna talk?,” he growled.

The demon spat at the feet of the glowering Winchesters and grinned.

Dean exchanged a look with Sam. “What do you say, Sam? Do we get to rough him up a bit?”

“I think we get to rough him up a lot,” Sam said.

Dean kicked the demon one last time. “We’ll let you think about it,” he said. “We’ve got better things to do right now.”

Though demon couldn’t move of its own free will, Sam fetched a demonic chain from the Impala’s trunk. They trussed the demon up, gagging him and blindfolding him too and then shoving him in the trunk of a nearby Oldsmobile. Dean spray-painted another devil’s trap on it for extra security.

“That should hold him,” Dean said, tossing the empty can aside and wincing slightly as it bounced loudly off of something metal. Probably not the smartest way to dispose of the can, he thought.

“Heads up,” Sam said, nodding behind Dean, who immediately turned, stepping into a defensive stance.

The man walking down the drive was tall, fit, but with a slight limp. At that distance, only his light brown hair and his clothing – khakis and a navy pull over – were visible.

“That Ezekiel?,” Dean asked.

“Looks like,” Sam said, peering through the binoculars he’d snagged from the trunk.

Dean subtly checked the holy oil line and turned his back to the road long enough to hide the angel blade under his jacket sleeve, securing it to his right arm.

“You got yours on?,” Dean asked. Before they’d left Lebanon, Cas had quickly fashioned leather straps that allowed them to hide the blades until – if – needed. He’d promised better-constructed ones for next time, and while Dean hoped there wouldn’t be a next time, knowing their luck…

Sam nodded, and they stood side-by-side, waiting on Ezekiel.

When he got within earshot, Dean quipped, “Fancy meeting you here.”

“You invited me here, did you not?,” Ezekiel asked, his brow furrowed in confusion. Dean rolled his eyes. God save us from more clueless angels, he thought, immediately taking it back: He’d rather have clueless than vengeful.

Sam shot Dean a look. “Yes, we did,” Sam answered. “Thank you for coming.”

Ezekiel inclined his head. “Why did you call?”

“You said you wanted to help,” Sam said. “Is that true?,” Dean asked cutting Sam off.

“Yes. As I told you, Dean, some of us still do believe in our mission. And that means we believe in Castiel…and you.”

Sam raised an eyebrow and said sideways, low, to his brother, “You didn’t tell me that.”

Dean flushed, well aware of why he’d kept that particular part of the conversation to himself. Ignoring his brother, Dean raised his voice to address Ezekiel, who was watching them quizzically. “And what exactly do you believe about Castiel these days?”

Ezekiel looked surprised. “Do you know where Castiel is?” Dean’s radar pinged, and he responded cagily.

“You know that I’m looking for him, Zeke – I’m gonna call you Zeke, okay?,” Dean said. “If we find him, what will you do?”

Ezekiel watched him closely. Dean didn’t like it; he wondered if Zeke could sense – or, God forbid, smell – Cas on him.

“He is my brother,” Ezekiel said simply. “I will treat him as such.”

Dean regarded the angel warily, knowing that to a dick angel, “brother” wasn’t necessarily a term of endearment. “Does that mean you’ll help us find him and keep him safe from the douchebag angels and demons gunning for him?

“I will help, yes,” Zeke said somberly.

“And what do you want for helping us?,” Dean asked.

Zeke steadily returned Dean’s gaze. “I will be content helping my brothers and sisters get back to where they belong,” he answered.

Dean turned to Sam, and they had one of their silent conversations: Don’t like it. Me either. Something’s off. Yeah, but we’re fucked. So we do what we gotta do.

Reluctantly, Dean gave Sam a nod, and his brother said, “Okay, then. We need information. We need to know what the angels are doing – we’ve been tracking the incursions, and they seem to be organized.”

Zeke nodded slowly. “They are. Naomi’s apprentice, Bartholomew, is leading them. Orders are to neutralize Abaddon and to find Castiel.”

Dean held a hand up, silencing Sam before he could reply. “And are you following these orders?,” he asked Zeke.

“If I were, would I be here? Orders also include neutralizing the Winchesters,” Zeke replied calmly.

“What’s their endgame?,” Sam asked.

“Bartholomew wants to control heaven, earth, and hell,” Zeke answered.

“So another ‘new god,’” Sam said.

“No,” Zeke corrected reproachfully. “Father has been gone for a long time, but he is still out there. Castiel is proof of that.” He paused. “Still, he is not involved at this time, and Bartholomew is nothing if not an adept tactician.”

“While Dad’s away the mice will play,” Dean muttered.

“I do not understand that reference,” Zeke said, prompting both brothers to roll their eyes.

“Why are you willing to go against Barty then?,” Dean asked. “If he’s the new sheriff in town, isn’t he going to be pissed at you?”

Zeke stared at him until Dean began to feel uncomfortable. “Your speech is hard to understand at times,” Zeke finally said to Dean, who grimaced in response. “I am willing to help because it was not my father’s plan for the angels to control every plane; chaos is guaranteed if such an event comes to pass. I want heaven returned to its rightful state.”

Dean watched Zeke closely as he talked – he didn’t know the angel well enough to distinguish between his tells and his vessel’s quirks, but something still seemed off to Dean.

He felt Sam’s hand brush against his arm and looked up; is brother was giving him the It’s your call look again. Dean sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face.

“Fine. We’re going to trust you, Zeke, because we don’t really have a choice, but let me make one thing clear – you screw us over, and I will stab you in your face.”

Zeke returned Dean’s narrowed gaze and nodded in agreement. “I understand,” he said.

“Good. Sam?”

His brother took over the conversation: “Can you find out what they know about Cas? And if they’ve found a reversal spell to open heaven back up?”

“Yes,” Zeke said, nodding. “It may take a day or so. How should I contact you?”

“We’ll give you a cell phone,” Sam said. “Do you know how to use one?”

Zeke’s mouth twisted wryly. “I am older than the ground you stand on,” he said. “I think I can figure it out.”

“Well, do that,” Dean said sharply. “And when you get the information, call us, and we’ll arrange a meeting.”

Dean knew he was coming off like an asshole, and he didn’t much care, but he could tell that Sam did. “We appreciate your help, Zeke,” Sam said. “We do want to fix things.”

“Yes,” Zeke said. “That is something that all of heaven knows about the Winchesters.”

“I don’t know how to take that,” Dean said.

“Take it however you want,” Zeke answered.

+

After Zeke left – and though Sam had offered, he had refused a ride – Dean hauled the demon out of the trunk.

“Now, we get to play,” Dean snarled, dropping the bound meatsuit to the ground. “Or have you decided to tell us what you know?”

The demon was definitely more subdued than he had been hours earlier, but he remained defiant. “I’m not telling you Winchesters anything,” he said.

“You sure about that?,” Sam asked, darting a look at his furious brother. When pushed, Dean could go pretty far on the torture scale, and judging by the fury in his face, which Sam knew came from feeling helpless, this was not a day to push him.

The demon spit at Sam’s feet in answer.

“Well, then. That settles it, Sam,” Dean said, crossing his arms and eyeing the demon speculatively. “Before we get started, let me formally introduce myself, since you obviously don’t know. I’m Dean Winchester, and I spent ten years as Alistair’s apprentice, and you just signed up for the torture round.”

Sam didn’t miss the demon’s flinch at Alistair’s name. Neither did Dean.

“Get my bag from the trunk, will you Sam?,” Dean said. Sam did, handing the heavy bag to his brother and ignoring the clink of metal on metal from inside its depths. He knew what was in there, and he knew what Dean could do with it.

“You want me here?,” Sam asked, already knowing the answer.

“No,” his brother said curtly. “Just watch the perimeter. I’ll yell when we’re done – or he will,” he said, tossing a hard grin at the demon.

As Sam walked away to take post, he heard the demon’s begging begin before Dean had taken the first tool from the bag. Per their unspoken agreement, Sam would keep his back to the scene, studiously watching the horizon for additional threats. He wouldn’t turn around when he heard screams, and he wouldn’t ask questions when Dean called him to help move the remains, which would be bundled in plastic.

Dean could be one scary son of a bitch when he wanted to be. Judging by the already-intensifying begging, Sam anticipated this wouldn’t take long. The demons that lacked the sense to know who Dean was usually figured it out pretty damn quick. Or they died painfully.

Sam was right about Dean’s persuasiveness and the demon’s loquaciousness, and they were back on their way to Lebanon by five. It was a quiet drive, other than Sam calling Cas to update him. There wasn’t much to work through yet. The demon hadn’t had much information, but he admitted that Abaddon had a special interest in Cas; seems she’d gotten her hands on an angel who knew that Cas’s grace had locked down heaven.

From what they could tell, though Abaddon wanted Dean and Sam too, the demon’s orders didn’t seem to be motivated by any special knowledge, just her general hatred of the Winchesters. The demon was able to tell them that Abaddon wanted Crowley’s head on a pike – not exactly news, but good to know.

“If he’s still valuable to her, we can use that,” Dean had said.

Sam had chewed his lip. “Even if he’s not entirely the same being?” He’d watched as Dean bit the inside of his cheek – a tell he’d never quite conquered, at least around his brother. Finally, Dean had looked up and said, “I still say better him than Cas.” There had been a challenge and question in Dean’s face.

Sam hadn’t thought twice about his response, nodding in immediate agreement. The tension in Dean’s face had relaxed some, and they’d packed up the car and hit the road.

They’d rolled into the garage after midnight and quietly unloaded the car. Sam watched his brother, who’d grown more pensive the closer they’d gotten to Lebanon.

“Everything okay?,” Sam asked him.

“Uh? Oh, yeah,” Dean said, hiking the heavy weapons bag up higher on his shoulder for better balance.

“You sure?”

Dean rolled his eyes. “Yes, Sam,” he snarked, grabbing for his jacket from the backseat. “I just… um…”

Sam stood patiently, listening without being obvious that he was waiting. He knew how this worked.

“What do you think Ezekiel knows? About me and Cas, I mean?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yeah, I’d say so – if he knows it’s my fault Cas was vulnerable, what if that affects whether or not he helps us? Whether or not he double-crosses us?”

Sam suppressed a sigh of relief; he thought Dean’s worry was more to do with embarrassment or general sensitivity. Strategy, he could handle easily. “It might change his decision, yeah,” Sam said with a shrug. “But if it does, we do what you said: We stab him in the face.”

Dean’s mouth twisted in a wry smile. “We are men of our word, after all.”

“That we are,” Sam said, as they headed for the door. He paused in the doorway, blocking his brother’s way for a moment. “You know, though, that ‘you and Cas’ is the one good thing out of all this, right? No matter what, you two aren’t the problem.”

Dean didn’t answer, just nodded, but Sam saw his jaw clench, and he reached out and whacked Dean on the shoulder before adding playfully, “Unless you fuck it up, that is.”

“Shut up,” Dean growled, but there was a light in his eyes, and Sam knew that if nothing else, for right now anyway, Dean got it.

+

The main room was dark, so Dean quietly set the weapons bag in a corner, and he and Sam went their separate ways. A faint glow emanated from under Dean’s door, and he expected that Cas had been waiting up. He hesitated before putting his hand on the doorknob – his stomach was fluttery, and Dean Winchester didn’t do fluttery. What the fuck was happening to him that seeing Cas made him feel this way?

With a breath, Dean told himself to buck up, and he opened the door, braced for – well, whatever. There was a good chance that Cas was still upset over not going or that he was still worried about their plan to use Ezekiel.

Dean wasn’t expecting to see Cas propped up against the headboard, head tipped back awkwardly, sound asleep, with a novel loose in his lap.

It was just so damn... cute. And when Cas’s breath wheezed out softly, Dean couldn’t help but smile.

He quietly shut and locked the door, setting his bag down, and quietly stripping down to his boxers. He walked over to Cas, who was still sleeping soundly, and carefully lifted the book out of his hands, setting it on the bedside table. Then, leaning forward, he cupped Cas’s face and gently kissed him on the mouth.

Cas sleepily opened his eyes. “Dean?”

“You expecting somebody else?,” Dean asked lightly, looking into his eyes.

“Maybe,” Cas said, with a small smile.

“The hell you were,” Dean growled teasingly. He kissed Cas again and rubbed his thumbs across Cas’s cheekbones lightly before standing straight. He leaned backwards until his back popped.

“Long drive,” Cas observed.

“Yeah,” Dean muttered.

“Come over and lie down,” Cas said. “I’ll rub your back for you.”

Dean quirked an eyebrow at him, but he didn’t hesitate. His back was in knots, mostly from tension, he guessed, and the thought of Cas’s hands on him was already making him feel better.

Dean stretched out on his stomach on the bed, pillowing his head on his arms. Cas dug around in the nightstand table, and Dean caught a familiar whiff.

“What you planning there, Cas?” he asked.

“It’s massage oil, Dean,” Cas said, a note of reproach in his voice. “I’m going to use it for its intended purpose for once.”

Dean’s answering chuckle turned into a hiss when the cold oil dribbled across his back. He heard Cas rub his hands together, and then felt their warmth on his back. Dean moaned as Cas worked up and down his back, kneading at a steady pace.

It didn’t take long for Cas to work Dean into a relaxed and fuzzy glow. He felt disconnected from his body, as if he were floating, anchored only by Cas. Those deft hands worked lower, brushing firmly but delicately down his sides, tracing his body. When Cas reached for the waistband of his boxers, Dean needed no prompting to lift up so that Cas could remove them.

Cas dribbled more of the oil on Dean’s body and began working it into his glutes – now, that wasn’t seductive at all, Dean thought sarcastically, and he opening his mouth to make a smart-ass comment when Cas’s mouth joined his hands, pulling a gutteral moan from Dean instead of a quip.

“Like that?,” Cas asked, his tongue tracing its way up Dean’s spine.

“Yeah,” Dean groaned. Cas mouthed across the back of his neck, and his ghosting breath sent shivers across his skin. Dean raised his head from his folded arms to look at Cas, who was watching him with lust-blown eyes and dark, swollen lips.

Dean rolled on his side and pulled Cas to him, fitting their naked bodies together. He leaned his forehead to Cas’s and they looked into one another’s eyes. The depth he saw in those blue eyes made him nervous, but it was reassuring too – Cas was the one person in this world who saw him entirely as he was, didn’t look away, and still loved him entirely. He hoped Cas saw the same in Dean’s own eyes.

He turned his face slightly so that he could kiss the angel who’d pulled him out of hell, the angel who was now a man… because of him. He tugged at Cas’s bottom lip, seeking out Cas’s tongue with his own.

Cas wrung another groan out of him by closing his hand around Dean’s swollen cock and his own, bringing them together, and moving his hand in strong, sure strokes. As Cas worked them both, Dean moaned against the lips now curved in a smile.

Somehow, Dean managed to regain control of a few brain cells, and he reached down to join his hand to Cas’s, smearing his fingers with their precome. He waited a moment, distracting Cas with his tongue and his thrusting hips before he slid his hand along the other man’s back and down his ass. Cas gasped with surprise when Dean slid a finger, then two, inside him, finding his prostate and keeping time with Cas’s hand.

Dean felt his body tightening, could tell by Cas’s breathing that he was close too. They began to lose control; their thrusting and stroking frantic, their mouths desperate. Dean’s other hand joined Cas’s, and he worked him inside and out. Cas was a writhing mess, and Dean wasn’t any better; their bodies taut as they strained against one another.

They managed to bring one another off at nearly the same time, swallowing one another’s cries, and when they lay boneless in one another’s arms, Dean gently wiped a drop of wetness from the corner of Cas’s eye, ignoring its mate at his own.

Dean grabbed tissues and wiped their stomachs, lightly kissing Cas’s as he cleaned him. Dean settled back against his pillow, taking Cas with him. Cas pulled away to turn off the lamp, but then he snuggled back up against Dean, resting his head on Dean’s chest.

Neither spoke; their ragged breathing and erratic heartbeats were thunderous noises in the dark room. Dean tightened his arms around Cas, who pressed himself more firmly against Dean in response. And they lay together, limbs entwined, until they fell asleep.

+

to be continued...

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Then

Dean woke up early, Cas still tight in his arms. He splayed his hand across Cas’s ribs and felt his friend’s heartbeat – it brought a smile to his face, even as it made his eyes sting.

Not for the first time, Dean wished they could just live… no apocalypse, no saving the world. Just him and Cas and the rest of their family – maybe all even living in the same town. Sam practicing law, Charlie and Kevin running an IT company, Cas teaching or something….Dean thought he might enjoy restoring classic cars for a living and maybe they could even run a place like Sonny’s and help out kids who needed somebody.

“You’re thinking too loud,” Cas mumbled against his chest.

Dean huffed softly and gently ran his hand up and down Cas’s back. Cas raised his head, resting his chin on Dean’s chest and watching him with those piercing blue eyes.

“What’s on your mind?,” Cas asked quietly.

Dean didn’t want to say – but at the same time, he did. “I was just – uh – thinking about –uh – nice things,” he finally stammered out.

“I can think of a lot that’s ‘nice’,” Cas said. He softly kissed Dean’s chest and grinned as the hunter’s breath hitched. “What in particular has you awake so early?”

Dean continued to rub Cas’s back, but he avoided direct eye contact – he didn’t really know how to say this. Wasn’t it already implied, after all? But he swallowed hard and blurted it out, just in case. “Do you ever think of what we could have if we weren’t on the front lines? Of the life we could’ve lived?”

“No,” Cas said somberly. That one syllable – and that tone – sank Dean’s heart. He nodded wordlessly and made to slip out of bed, but a pair of strong arms clamped around his midsection and a muscular body weighed on top of him.

“What the hell, Cas?” Dean grunted, pushing back against his friend.

Cas simply tightened his hold until Dean couldn’t move at all. Cas glared. “Dean, that’s not what I meant.”

“What did you mean, then?,” Dean asked, knowing he sounded petulant and – dammit all to hell, he didn’t do petulant.

“Don’t you ever think about the destruction I’ve caused?,” Cas asked rawly.

“No—“ Dean began, but Cas interrupted.

“Liar,” Cas said, pressing his face into the crook of Dean’s neck. He’d relaxed his grip on Dean enough that the hunter freed his arms and wrapped them around the now shaking former angel.

Dean clenched his jaw. He was lying, and they both knew it. Dean knew all too well what Cas’s choices – along with his and Sam’s – had done to the world. He sighed and said quietly, “I know what happened, Cas. I know.”

“Do you?,” Cas asked, his voice muffled, his breath hot on Dean’s skin. “I smote thousands – on earth and in heaven….” His voice broke again. Cas shuddered with the tears he was holding back. When Dean felt wetness tracking down his neck, he simply clasped Cas tighter.

They were safe in the cocoon of Dean’s bedroom, and while he couldn’t fix Cas’s regret and sorrow, he could hold on until the wracking sobs eased. He gently but firmly rubbed Cas’s back, pressing the occasional kiss to whatever his lips could reach – the top of his head, his ear, his temple.

Minutes – or maybe hours – later, Dean felt a hand slide up his neck and dexterous fingers gently traced the contours of his face. He placed his hand over Cas’s and brought it to his mouth, gently kissing its palm.

He felt the slight upturn of Cas’s lips against his neck. He kissed the palm again before releasing Cas’s hand, and went back to holding Cas securely with both arms. Cas’s hand rested on Dean’s neck, his thumb brushing back and forth across Dean’s pulse point.

“I meant that I can’t believe what I’ve already been given,” Cas finally said. “I don’t deserve this, let alone anything more. I don’t dare hope for more.”

“I get it, Cas,” he murmured, threading Cas’s tousled hair through his fingers. “I can’t say I think I deserve anything more either – but I’d damn well take more if I could get it.”

“I would too,” Cas said. He raised his head and looked at Dean, his eyes luminous in the dim room. “I just – I can’t let myself pretend. It’s torture to me, to imagine the life we could have had.”

Dean understood Cas perfectly. Instead of speaking, though, Dean rolled them onto their sides, slotting their bodies together, exchanging light, reassuring touches and soft, languorous kisses. There was nothing frantic about this; it was comfort, safety, redemption - it was love.

They held one another, Cas’s face tucked back against Dean’s neck; Dean’s cheek resting against Cas’s soft hair. Warmth coiled in Dean’s chest, a feeling of belonging that he associated entirely with Cas. Dean closed his eyes and allowed himself to rest.

A poignant hush enveloped them. When Cas eventually took Dean’s hand and tugged him out of bed, they didn’t talk, not even as they showered together, reverentially washing and shampooing one another. Blue eyes gravely considered green as strong hands graced across slick skin in wet caresses, as skillful lips and supple tongues chased away words.

Silently, Dean and Cas said all that needed to be said.

+

Dean zipped his jeans and buttoned his favorite red-checked plaid shirt, watching as Cas pulled on a soft gray Henley with faded blue jeans – both borrowed from the hunter’s closet.

He slipped an arm around Cas’s waist and helped tug his shirt down. “I like you in my clothes,” Dean murmured, nuzzling Cas’s cheek.

Cas smiled and leaned into the touch, sliding a hand along the soft flannel covering Dean’s arm and wrapping an arm around his waist. Still contemplative and subdued, both took refuge in the embrace.

A loud crash echoing through the bunker broke their reverie. They jerked apart. “What was that?,” Cas asked.

A string of profanities uttered at a Moosian decibel made both Dean and Cas flinch.

“Sounds like our cue, Cas,” Dean said, opening the bedroom door. “After you,” he said with a bow and wave of his hand.

“Never let it be said that you’re not chivalrous, Dean.”

“Oh, God,” Dean groaned. “Never let it be said that I am. Open the door yourself next time.”

Another crash interrupted their banter and they hurried down the hallway into the great room. Dean skidded to a stop, Cas at his heels, and took in the sight:

Sam was in the midst of a god-awful mess of books and a broken table and computers and wires and things that Dean didn’t recognize. Sam was pushing his hair out of his face and muttering; Charlie was red-faced and trying to see what equipment was still in one piece; and Kevin was – well, Kevin was in the corner, at his own table, working away with sound-canceling headphones insulating him from the chaos.

“Need some help, Sammy?,’ Dean asked.

Sam glared at him and then turned a dark look at Charlie, who seemed very intent on the wires she was untangling.

“Was that a yes or a no?,” Dean murmured to Cas, who simply shrugged in response and raised his eyebrow questioningly.

Dean took a breath and headed into the fray, knowing that Cas was right behind him. Dean reached for a processor lying on its side in the floor. “This stuff going to be okay?,” he asked Charlie.

“Hope so,” she muttered.

“So what happened?,” Dean asked, careful to keep his voice neutral and even.

Charlie darted a look at Sam, who might as well have had steam coming out of his ears and was also patently ignoring them. “I kind of - uh – overloaded the table?,” she said.

Cas toed lightly at a splintered table leg. “You think?,” he asked wryly.

“Shut it, angel boy,” Charlie snapped, digging back through the pile of tech and materials. Despite the ratcheting tension in the room, Dean bit his lip to keep from laughing and watched Cas duck his head in what might have been seen as chagrin except that his shoulders were shaking with repressed mirth. Dean schooled his features and took charge.

“Okay, Charlie, I’ll help you get your equipment out. Cas, help Sam, will you?,” Dean asked, nodding at his brother who was digging out his notes and books and various scraps of paper. Cas nodded and gestured for Sam to stay at the monitoring table and re-organize his work as Cas finished recovering the materials from the mess.

Dean and Charlie untangled all of the cords and wires and set her equipment upright. Cas moved on to removing the broken table’s parts after he’d finished gathering Sam’s work, and the three of them worked quickly and silently. Dean noticed that Charlie kept sneaking glances at Sam, who was pointedly ignoring everyone and everything except the notes he was re-assembling. It wasn’t like Sam to be so angry, so Dean finally asked Charlie to elaborate on what had happened. She sighed and reached under a pile of the detritus to pull out Sam’s laptop.

“Oh,” Dean said.

“Yeah,” Charlie said, looking down at the mangled remains. “I can pull off his information, no problem, but it means –“

“It means I can’t get this translation finished this morning like I’d wanted,” Sam said grimly from behind Dean, who turned to see his younger brother picking up another book from the floor.

“I’m sorry, Sam,” Charlie said.

“I know you are, Charlie,” he replied. “But dammit, I told you the table couldn’t take that load – the least you could’ve done was move my stuff before…”

Dean interrupted. “Okay, okay,” he said, holding his hands up between them. “This all sucks, and it’s not a good situation, but it’s not the end of the world – as we all know firsthand, right?” He grinned, waiting on a response to his joke. When he only got squinty, narrowed stares in response, he rolled his eyes before breaking up the squabble-in-the-making.

“Sammy, go do what you can with what you have and cool down,” Dean said, pointing his brother in the direction of the monitoring table and Cas, who was re-cataloging his notes on the Knights of Hell scroll.

Sam dutifully stepped away, and Dean turned his attention to the little sister he’d never known he wanted. “Charlie, let’s get you set up so that you can download Sam’s hard drive.” Dean reached out and laid a hand on her head for a moment, stepping closer as she leaned into the touch. “Just give him time to cool off,” he said softly. “It’ll be okay.”

Charlie nodded, but Dean heard a telltale sniff as she went back to work. Dean’s mouth twisted in sympathy, but a look at Sam told him that his brother was not ready to play nice just yet. He turned to check on Kevin, who was completely oblivious. Dean shook his head; the kid could study through the apocalypse – which now that he thought about it was maybe part of the prophet job description.

Leaving Kevin to the rock, Sam to Cas, and Charlie to the tech mess, Dean headed off to the storeroom to locate another work table – he was pretty sure he’d seen a sturdy fold-up table in there.

In the end, it took hours to get everything sorted. A monitor and a keyboard joined the casualty list with Sam’s laptop, and one of the towers made horrible rattling sounds when Dean moved it, but – so far – it seemed to be working.

The fold-up table did, in fact, hold most of Charlie’s gear, though Dean lined up the heavier equipment underneath it. “Let’s not tempt fate, Red,” he’d said with a smile, though she was still too upset to respond with more than a nod. He squeezed her shoulder gently, leaving her to resurrect Sam’s hard drive in peace and went over to see how things were going with Sam and Cas – which wasn’t well, if the set of Sam’s jaw was any indication.

+

“What can I do?,” Cas had asked Sam after they’d ferreted out and relocated the younger Winchester’s materials. Sam hadn’t answered at first, but Cas was used to his taciturnity and had simply waited. After a few moments of silent rifling, Sam had handed him a stack of scribbled notes.

“Can you help me get these back in order? They’re my notes from that book – the one that talked about the spell.”

“I’ll do what I can,” Cas had answered. “Was there anything in the book’s last pages?”

Sam had pressed his lips into a tight line. “I’m not sure,” he’d admitted. “I was working out the translation on my laptop --” He broke off and dug through for the book in question.

Cas had understood then why Sam was so upset. Though Sam hadn’t said much about it, Cas was well aware that he was hoping to find a solution that they could all live with.

“Here’s the book,” Sam had said, holding it out to Cas, who took it gingerly, wrinkling his nose in distaste at its smell. “Gloves are over there at the wash station,” Sam had added.

Cas had nodded and set everything down, donning a pair before getting to work.

By the time Dean joined them, Cas had managed to put the notes back in order and was finalizing the translation of the Enochian passages. “Here, Sam,” Cas said, handing him a legal pad filled with Cas’s careful handwriting.

Sam took the pad and read over it, the tension in his face easing immediately. “Cas, you’re a miracle-worker,” he said.

Cas shrugged even as his cheeks pinked at the praise. “You realize that the book’s last page has been removed?,” he asked.

“Yeah,” Sam said. “I think it’s the page we needed too.”

“How do you know?,” Dean asked. “Besides that being just our luck, I mean.”

“The previous three pages discuss the spell that broke heaven,” Cas explained. “These last paragraphs discuss the consequences of expelling the angels and set up a cautionary note of ‘If this ever does happen, then…’”

“But that’s where it ends,” Sam said.

Dean reached over and ran his finger along the barely visible edge of paper sticking out from the binding. “It feels ripped,” he said.

“Yes,” Cas agreed. “Did you find out the origin of the book, Sam?”

“I checked the archival logs, but there’s only a notation that the book was added on the same day that Henry –“ (“our paternal grandfather,” Dean clarified for Cas) – “traveled to our time.”

“That can’t be coincidence,” Dean said. “The book gets here and logged before Abaddon attacks and all the Men of Letters are killed?”

“Yeah, it’s fishy,” Sam said.

“It gives me hope, though,” Cas said. When Dean and Sam turned to him, eyebrows raised in unspoken questions, Cas elaborated: “On the very day that you met your grandfather and learned about the Men of Letters legacy, this book, which at the least tells us that there is a reversal, becomes part of the archives – there’s a larger plan here,” he said. “I just can’t suss out the details yet.”

Silence followed Cas’s observation, until Dean said, “Well, we can’t save the universe on empty stomachs. Cas, come help me make some soup and sandwiches. Sammy, carry on with your wizarding ways and –“ Dean dropped his tone and clasped his brother’s shoulder, “talk to Charlie? Poor kid feels terrible.”

Sam looked over and saw her still working on his laptop. He sighed and nodded, “Yeah, I’ll do that.”

“Good,” Dean said, squeezing his brother’s shoulder lightly before releasing it. He gestured at his angel and grinned. “Come on, Cas. You can cut the crusts off their sandwiches.”

Cas rolled his eyes but followed Dean into the kitchen. Once they were out of sight of the others, though, Cas couldn’t resist grabbing Dean by the arms and pinning him against the wall, claiming Dean’s mouth with his own.

Cas could tell precisely when Dean caught up, and he pulled back, looking into Dean’s lust-blown eyes and noting his already pinker-than-normal lips.

“You go from – how do you say it? – zero to sixty in milliseconds,” Cas said smugly.

“Hi, Pot, I’m Kettle,” Dean said sarcastically, reaching a hand around the back of Cas’s neck and pulling him into a longer, deeper kiss. Both were panting by the time they broke free – Cas’s hands had slipped under Dean’s shirts and splayed across the bare skin of his back; Dean had a hand threaded through Cas’s hair, the other snugly clasped around Cas’s waist.

Dean shook his head and lightly pushed Cas back. “If we don’t stop, I’m going to have you naked and on the table, man,” he said, grinning. “As irritated as Sam was over the other morning, I don’t think we want him to walk in on that.”

Cas laughed and hooked his finger in Dean’s empty belt loop, pulling the hunter away from the wall and directing him towards the main prep space in the kitchen. “You realize how Charlie’s table was weakened, don’t you?,” Cas asked. “Her equipment’s heavy, but there’s no way she broke it.”

Dean was already pulling cans of tomato soup out of the cabinet; Cas retrieved the cheese from the refrigerator and grabbed the bread.

“Yeah, I figured it out when I saw that splintered table leg,” Dean said, dumping the now-opened cans into a soup pot. He turned the burner on medium and got out a cast iron pan to grill the cheese sandwiches Cas was assembling. “Let’s keep that to ourselves, though, shall we?” he said, bumping Cas’s hip with his own.

Cas bumped him back and nodded in agreement, handing Dean the first two sandwiches to grill. They sizzled when Dean laid them in the preheated pan.

“But what about Charlie and Sam?,” Cas asked. “I don’t want our – um – whatever,” he said, rolling his eyes at Dean’s amused expression, “to be the reason he’s mad at her.”

Dean nodded. “I’d fess up if I thought it would fix things, but it won’t. He already said he would apologize, and really, he knows that his hard drive is retrievable, especially with Charlie here. He just freaked because he’s stressed over… stuff,” he finished lamely, not wanting to open a conversation about Death deals and apocalypses again.

“Grab a plate,” Dean said, using a spatula to remove the now-brown and crisp sandwiches and stacking them. He laid two un-grilled ones in the pan as Cas set the plate onto the counter and grabbed a ladle to stir the boiling soup.

“I can do that,” Cas said, taking the ladle from him. “You focus on not burning the sandwiches.”

“Like that could ever happen on my watch,” Dean retorted.

“Is that a dare?,” Cas asked, running his free hand back under Dean’s shirt and dipping his fingers below the waistband of his jeans, smirking at Dean’s sudden inhale.

“That’s cheating, Cas,” Dean muttered gruffly.

“All’s fair in love and war,” Cas said, applying one last caress to the skin he’d kissed only hours ago. He ignored Dean’s snort and stepped away from the stove, washing his hands and getting down a set of bowls. He ladled steaming soup into them as Dean switched out the sandwiches again.

“Think we should take lunch out there to them?,” Dean asked.

“Since Kevin has yet to even realize we’ve been in the room with him, yes,” Cas said. “Are there trays?”

Dean pulled down some metal ones from the top-most cabinet, laughing when he saw that they were decorated with 1950s-era cartoon figures. “These should work,” he said.

Dean set a tray in front of Kevin, but he physically had to remove the kid’s headphones and tell him to eat. Kevin complied, but there was no denying that his eyes were glazed over and his movements robotic. Dean tousled the kid’s hair and left him to it; he knew better than to try and break Kevin completely out of the prophet-zone.

Sam and Charlie had made up and were sitting together, Sam listening intently as Charlie explained how to search his now-downloaded data via her laptop. They were so energetically geeking out that they barely noticed Cas setting the sustenance-laden tray on their table.

Cas watched them a moment, a bemused smile on his face, until he felt Dean clasp his hand lightly.

“So the kids are alright?,” he asked, brushing his thumb over the back of Cas’s hand.

“Seems so,” Cas answered, lacing their fingers together as they walked back into the kitchen.

Cas set up their lunch as Dean carried a tray to Crowley. They’d already discussed how disturbingly easy it was to forget that the King of Hell was even in the bunker, and the knowledge that he might not be for much longer wasn’t comforting at all.

By the time Dean returned, Cas had their food on the table, and he’d even sprinkled extra cheese on Dean’s soup.

“How is he?,” Cas asked, noting the tightness around Dean’s eyes and mouth.

“Fine,” Dean answered. “Bored, apparently. Snarky as ever, but…” his voice trailed off.

“But?,” Cas prompted.

“There’s something pitiful about him, Cas – I mean, I still think he’d gank us given half a chance, but he’s … somehow, he’s different, you know?”

Cas watched as Dean pulled out a chair and sat down heavily. “Do you want to release him?,” he asked. “Give him a real chance to choose his path?”

“No,” Dean said firmly. He looked up at Cas. “I might feel conflicted, but he’s our only bargaining chip, and regardless of how he is now, he’s imparted pain and suffering for centuries. We can’t afford to think otherwise.”

Cas nodded slowly, and when Dean asked if they could talk about something else, he shifted the conversation to discussing his translation of the Knights of Hell manuscript and its detailing of their origins and history.

“Does it talk about how to kill one?,” Dean asked. It did, and Cas explained the few tried and effective methods, grateful to see a spark of hope flare in Dean’s eyes.

As they talked, they sat close enough for their knees to press together and for their feet to touch. Neither could resist their desire for contact, which Cas chalked up to the fact that both were well aware that the fragile peace and comfort they’d found could be wrecked in seconds.

And when Ezekiel called that afternoon – at least a day earlier than they'd expected – both knew that its destruction might be imminent.

+

to be continued...

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Then

Dean loved the open road, and though the air was chilly, he kept his window cracked, enjoying the light breeze against his skin. US 24 towards Wichita was a fairly bland drive, but it felt good to be out with Sam and Cas. Sam was passed out in the passenger seat and lightly snoring. Dean huffed a breath and glanced in the rearview at Cas, who was watching the monotonous scenery through heavy-lidded eyes.

“You should rest,” he said softly. Blue eyes met his in the mirror; Cas looked pensive and worried his bottom lip. Dean could see the fatigue of the weight that Cas was carrying, and he mustered a smile, trying to convey comfort and love to the tense man in the backseat. Cas’s mouth quirked, and he reached a hand out, placing its palm against the back of Dean’s head, threading his fingers through the soft, brown hair. Dean tilted his head back into the touch, loving the feel of Cas’s fingers working against his scalp. Dry lips pressed gently against the back of his neck, but before Dean could respond, the lips and the hand pulled away. Dean glanced in the rearview again and saw Cas comfortably reclined, eyes shut and lips set in a gentle smile. No one saw him, but Dean smiled too.

While Dean carefully merged onto US-81, he contemplated the wisdom – or lack thereof – of this plan. Ezekiel had offered to meet them at Singer’s Salvage Yard. But Dean had quashed that idea because of time, so Sam had suggested a Biggerson’s located on the outskirts of Wichita.

Dean hadn’t liked the idea, and he’d argued with his brother. “I don’t like it,” he’d said. “You know these bastards don’t give a fuck about collateral damage – what if we get people killed?”

“I don’t think anything’s going to happen,” Sam had said earnestly. “Zeke seems trustworthy so far.”

Dean had glared at his brother. “Has he earned that trust?,” he asked bluntly. “Or do you just have some kind of freaking angel crush going on here?”

Sam had narrowed his eyes and squared his shoulders. Dean had instinctively pulled himself up to his full height and squared his own, braced for Sam’s response – whatever it might be.

“Cas said Zeke was a good solider,” Sam had begun.

“Which isn’t necessarily a good thing,” Cas had quietly interjected from where he’d been sitting at a research table reading a lore book. “I was a good soldier too.”

Dean’s lips settled into a hard line. He didn’t want Cas going down that road right now. He glared at Sam, whose eyes had widened at Cas’s connection; Sam shook his head at the angel but let the comment slide. He didn’t, however, give up trying to counter Dean’s objections: “Okay, so maybe we don’t know Zeke,” Sam had said, “but he’s helping when he could have just smote us. That has to count for something, right?”

“No, it doesn’t,” Dean had retorted, running his hand through his hair, leaving it a spiky mess and pointedly ignoring the way Cas’s eyes tracked the movement. Dean laced his fingers behind his head and turned towards his brother. “But we’ll give him a chance because we don’t exactly have other options right now. We go prepared, though – each of us armed with an angel blade and holy oil, along with our usual,” he’d said.

Sam had nodded in agreement. “All I ask is that we give him a chance. I think it’s the right thing to do.” Sam had looked towards Cas, for affirmation Dean had supposed, but had instead found the former angel’s eyes trained on Dean, who was watching back.

With a snort, Sam had gathered up his books and headed towards the door. He’d paused after only a few steps, though, and looked back at Dean and Cas. “And Dean?”

“Yeah?,” Dean had asked.

You’re the one with the angel crush, dude.”

Dean flipped him off, but Sam only smirked and headed out of the room. What Sam hadn’t seen was the downright bashful expression on Dean’s face as he looked at Cas; nor had he seen the way Cas had simply smiled and stood, crossing the floor and slipping into Dean’s outstretched arms.

The warm memory brought another smile to Dean’s lips; he scrubbed a hand over his face in disbelief – he seemed to smiling a lot these days. He checked on his passengers, glancing over at his sleeping brother before checking his angel in the rearview. Cas was slumped in the seat, head leaned back, eyes shut. Dean noted the sweep of Cas’s cheekbones, the stubble peppering his jaw, the pale pink lips he’d been sucking on only hours ago….

The Impala drifted over the rumble strip. “Dammit,” Dean muttered, yanking the car back on the road. Clasping the steering wheel tightly, Dean told himself to keep his eyes on the road and to think of anything but his angel.

+

Dean deftly backed the Impala into a space that would allow for a quick exit from the busy Biggerson’s parking lot. He shifted the car into park and whacked his brother on the arm. Sam’s head jerked sleepily from the window of the passenger seat. “Already?,” he mumbled sleepily.

Dean snorted and turned the car off. “Yeah, princess. Wakey wakey,” he said with a precocious grin. Sam muttered something about smartass older brothers getting what’s coming to them as he stretched in the cramped space. Dean ignored him, instead turning back towards Cas to find him fully alert.

“Did you sleep?,” Dean asked.

“Just dozed,” Cas answered with a shrug. “I’ll sleep when we’re home safe.” As soon as the words left his mouth, Cas suddenly became extremely fascinated with examining his hands.

Dean sure as hell wasn’t going to let that slip slide, though. “Home, huh?,” he asked, unable to keep the warmth from his voice.

“Um – yes?,” Cas said quietly. He hesitantly looked up at Dean, who impulsively reached out and grabbed a fistful of Cas’s shirt, hauling him forward and kissing him thoroughly. Sam groaned, but Dean ignored him and the accompanying slam of the passenger door as his younger brother exited the vehicle.

The heady sensation of Cas’s tongue sliding against his left Dean not caring one iota that his brother was tapping on the glass with his knuckles.

Cas drew back, panting slightly. “I think Sam wants us to stop,” he said.

Breathing heavily himself, Dean muttered, “Screw Sam.” He leaned forward and claimed Cas’s mouth again.

He was possessively kissing Cas’s jawline when the passenger door flew open. Without looking, Dean knew that Sam was pulling a bitchface, and his tone confirmed it. “This isn’t the time to play tonsil hockey,” Sam sniped. “Don’t we have a heaven to fix?”

Unabashed, Dean quirked his eyebrow at his brother and said smugly, “We were just getting started.”

Sam growled unintelligibly, but before Dean could retort, Cas murmured his name.

“Fine, fine,” Dean said, releasing his hold on Cas’s shirt and running a thumb lightly across the other man’s jaw. “Are you sure about this? I don’t like Zeke knowing you’re with us.”

Cas grabbed Dean’s hand, holding it to his face. “He likely already knows,” he pointed out. “And I may be able to read him better than you or Sam. I need to see him, Dean.”

Dean nodded slowly, his reluctance showing. “Okay, then,” he said. “Let’s go find out what brother dearest knows.”

Dean swung his door open and got out of the car, Cas following his lead. Dean took a moment to stretch his arms high above his head and to lean backwards until his back popped. He shrugged his neck side-to-side, feeling it creak and crack. The warm hand that started rubbing small, soothing circles at the top of his spine made him sigh in relief.

“You okay there, old man?,” Sam asked, grinning at his brother.

“Shut it, Gigantor,” Dean quipped. “I saw you doing your yoga shit out the window.”

“You were too busy tonguing Cas to see me doing anything,” Sam retorted laughing.

Dean heard a scandalized “Oh my” from a middle-aged woman walking by. Then he noticed two older women in a nearby car watching them with open curiosity; one said something to the other and both of them laughed.

Dean’s face heated and he tensed. Cas withdrew his hand. Dean felt its loss keenly, and he wanted to tell him that everything was okay, but he just couldn’t. Instead, he gritted his teeth and stuck his hands down in his pockets. Glaring at the pavement, he brusquely said, ““We should go in. Zeke is probably here already.” And, with that, he headed towards the restaurant. He could feel the tension behind him and imagined Sam’s chagrin and Cas’s irritation, but Dean didn’t look back to confirm either.

Dean stepped into the crowded restaurant, carefully but quickly performing a visual survey of the environs. He kept himself in front of Sam and Cas – that way, if anything attacked, it had to go through him. But Cas stepped up beside him, and Dean instinctively knew that Cas was giving him his patented “don’t protect me; I protect you” look. Dean ignored him, instead nodding towards a back corner. “There he is,” Dean said.

Just then, the perky blonde hostess stepped forward. “Party of three?,” she asked. Dean noticed with some amusement that she wasn’t shy about giving all three of them a once over. He reflexively returned the favor, and she smiled directly at him. At that moment, Cas shifted a half step closer to Dean – and Dean found himself turning slightly away from the man he loved. Shit, Dean thought, but it was too late to take it back. Cas tensed and shifted back. Though Dean tried to make eye contact with Cas, the other man was studiously examining the room.

Dammit, Dean thought. He knew he’d just made things a hundred times worse. He realized that the hostess’s flirtatious smile had become one of wariness. He managed to croak out, “Uh – we’re meeting someone.”

“Is your party here?,” she asked in a tone that was merely cool and polite.

“Yeah, he is,” Sam answered. “Thanks.” Dean couldn’t miss the sharp look that his brother threw his way as he neatly stepped from behind Dean and headed towards Zeke. Cas followed, his back stiff. Dean’s stomach clenched, but as much as he wanted to grab Cas and apologize, this wasn’t the time. So he stamped down his turmoil and brought up the rear, keeping a close watch on the room at large.

The others in the room were eating – families with loud children, an elderly couple at the window, a group of teens dressed in marching band gear. Dean winced at the carnage that could come down on these innocents.

Ezekiel seemed oblivious to their approach, only looking up when Sam loomed over him. Dean watched Zeke with suspicion – what kind of soldier didn’t watch the room? Before he could say anything though, Zeke’s eyes settled on Cas, and he stood.

“Hello, Castiel,” Zeke said.

“Ezekiel,” Cas replied, inclining his head. “How are you?”

“I am – adjusting. How are you, brother?”

Dean figured he was the only one who noticed Cas’s slight flinch at the use of “brother.”

“I am fine,” Cas answered, sliding into the booth on the vacant side. Zeke took the hint, re-seating himself and Sam sat beside him. Dean cast his eyes around the bustling restaurant once more. Something felt off, but there was nothing obviously amiss.

Sam reached out and grabbed his sleeve. “Everything alright?,” he asked quietly.

“Yeah, think so.” Dean said, shrugging his shoulders at Sam’s questioning look. Dean slid in beside Cas, who was talking with Zeke about the angelic fallout. Dean tried to listen to their conversation, but he couldn’t shake the apprehension crawling up his spine. Sam had the privileged vantage point, back against the wall and facing the room at large, so Dean signed for him to watch. Sam scowled, his expression clearly saying, Do you think I'm stupid? Dean didn't care that he'd irritated Sam; he needed to know that someone was able to surreptitiously scan the room every few seconds.

“Hael is dead?,” Cas was asking Zeke.

“Yes. She did not survive the fall,” Ezekiel answered. “Many did not.”

Cas took a breath. “Who else died?,” he asked.

Ezekiel recited a long list of names, including Ephraim, Barachiel, Jehoel. Dean didn’t recognize any of them.

Dean didn’t have to be fluent in Cas to know that he was mad at the hunter; his angel hadn’t looked at him since they’d entered the restaurant, and Dean couldn’t blame him. But Dean also didn’t need to be told how much Cas grieved for the angels who’d died, how the mantle of guilt he’d been carrying was becoming heavier with every name.

Under the broad tabletop, Dean surreptitiously reached a hand out and laid it on Cas’s thigh. Though Cas didn’t look at him, after a couple of heartbeats, he dropped his hand under the table and laid it on top of Dean’s. Dean immediately turned his hand palm up, lacing his fingers through Cas’s and squeezing gently.

Warmth burst in his chest when Cas squeezed back. Dean hadn’t realized how scared he’d been that he’d fucked everything up until that moment.

Sam kicked him under the table. “So, Dean, what do you think?,” his brother asked.

“Um –” Dean had no clue what they’d been talking about. He realized that he was beyond distracted, which meant he was a fucking danger.

As if he could read his mind, Cas squeezed his hand once more and released it, even as he covered for Dean. “Aggravating the situation should work to our advantage,” Cas said to Sam. “We lack the means to neutralize Abaddon or Bartholomew on our own, but if we set them against each other –“

“Godzilla vs. Mothra, part deux,” Sam said with a grin.

“I don’t understand that reference,” Ezekiel and Cas said at the same time.

Dean and Sam exchanged a look before cracking up. Dean lightly nudged Cas's arm with his elbow. “We’ll have a monster movie marathon after we save the world,” he promised.

Cas’s eyes flashed with something – hope, Dean thought it was – before he looked away, smiling softly. Dean looked up and caught Zeke watching them closely; it was discomfiting.

Dean relaxed against the bench’s high, padded back. “Course you’re welcome to movie night too, so long as you don’t screw us over before then,” he said gamely, nodding at Zeke.

“I don’t understand that reference, either,” Zeke said.

Dean shook his head. “Friggin’ angels,” he muttered.

Luckily the waitress came buzzing by to take their orders. “Are we ordering?,” Sam asked.

“Yes,” Dean answered, shrugging at Sam’s look of surprise. “I’m starving.”

Sam rolled his eyes and ordered a salad. Dean really wanted the Turducken but he thought of Ranger Rick and blue goo, and he just couldn’t do it. So he got a bacon cheeseburger and curly fries instead. When Cas ordered the same, both of them were subjected to Sam’s “you should eat more healthy” bitchface. Neither cared.

The waitress looked to Zeke, but he only requested another coffee refill. It reminded Dean yet again of the difference between Zeke’s fallenness and Cas’s – Angels didn’t get hungry. He sadly wondered if being able to enjoy a good bacon cheeseburger was any degree of consolation prize for his angel.

The waitress’s interruption gave Dean the opportunity to take over the conversation, and he did so with his usual finesse. As soon as she turned her back, Dean asked abruptly, “So what’d you find out?”

Sam and Cas both gave him a hard look, but Dean ignored them, staring at the angel he wasn’t sure they should be trusting.

Zeke met Dean’s gaze. “Bartholomew knows that Castiel is with you.”

“That was a safe bet,” Dean said.

“Yes,” Zeke acquiesced. “He is looking for Crowley.”

“Crowley?,” Sam asked in a deceptively innocent voice.

“The King of Hell,” Zeke said. “I believe you are acquainted with him?”

“Maybe,” Dean answered. “Why is he looking for Crowley?”

“Bartholomew believes that an alliance with the King of Hell will allow him to dispose of Abaddon,” Zeke said.

Cas nodded. “It will take more than just Crowley to kill Abaddon,” he said. “Does Bartholomew have Pluto’s bident?”

“As in God of the Underworld?,” Sam asked.

“Yes,” Cas said. “Fitting, isn’t it? A weapon of the underworld to kill a knight of the underworld?”

“He has operatives locating it now,” Zeke answered. “At last report, he expects to have it in hand by the end of this week.”

“What else can kill Abaddon?,” Sam asked.

Dean watched Zeke as he answered. “Not much,” Zeke said. “The bident is the easiest to locate. Cain’s murder weapon is another.”

“Nothing else?” Sam asked.

“Well, there is one other, but I believe it is – how do you say it? – off the table?,” Zeke answered.

Sam looked at him curiously, but Dean already knew. Cas had told him at lunch the day before, over their soup and grilled cheese.

“The Michael Sword,” Cas clarified.

“As in—?” Sam pointed to his brother.

“Yes,” Cas said. “But since Michael is still in the cage, and Dean has declined to serve as a vessel, the option is moot.”

“Damn straight it is,” Dean said. “How do we get the bident or Cain’s murder weapon – do we even know what Cain used? The bible doesn’t say. Or mine doesn’t, anyway.”

Before Zeke could answer, their orders arrived, and Sam, Dean, and Cas dug into their food as if they were casual diners enjoying a meal with an old friend. Cas sort of was, Dean thought.

The waitress smiled brightly as she brought them extra napkins and a pitcher of water. “You boys let me know if you need anything else,” she said.

“Thanks,” Sam answered for them. Dean and Cas had both taken huge bites of their burgers and with mouths full of meat - well, they couldn’t be bothered with pleasantries.

Zeke watched Dean with open fascination. “You really enjoy that burger,” he commented.

Dean grunted in agreement.

Zeke shook his head and muttered, “Interesting.”

Dean glared at him, unhappy at feeling like a bug under an angelic microscope. He swallowed. “So?,” he asked.

“So what?” Zeke answered.

“So what was Cain’s murder weapon?” Dean knew Cas’s theory, but he wondered what Zeke’s hypothesis was.

“According to legend, Cain used a bone knife, made from the horn of a ram that Adam had instructed him to sacrifice,” Zeke answered.

Dean nodded, considering. Cas thought something similar, but… “Could it be anything else?,” Dean asked.

“Other legends mention an obsidian blade, but the angel rumored to have found it has been missing for a long time,” Zeke answered.

“And who’s that?,” Dean asked.

“Balthazar,” Cas answered quietly.

Dean knew, even if no one else at the table did, that Cas had killed Balthazar – an act of murder that haunted him to this day. Dean pressed his leg against Cas’s, thigh to knee, hoping the touch grounded him, kept him from going to the dark place where his sins haunted him.

Dean focused on the angel in front of him. “So how are we going to do this?,” he asked.

“'We?' What am I supposed to do?,” Ezekiel asked.

Sam answered before Dean could: “You said you would help us, that you want your brothers and sisters back in heaven.”

“Yes,” Zeke said, “and I got you information, as you asked.”

“You did,” Sam said. “And we appreciate it. But Abaddon wants heaven, so we have to get rid of her in order to get rid of Bartholomew in order to get all of you back where you belong.”

“In other words, we need more than Bartholomew’s mythical weapons grocery list,” Dean said.

Zeke considered Dean. Fucking angelic microscope, Dean thought, raising an eyebrow at the angel with what he hoped was an entirely inappropriate level of “fuck you” attitude. Sam kicked him under the table again. So Dean figured his eyebrow raise hit the desired mark. He threw a glare Sam's way too, though; Dean was not going to appreciate that bruise tomorrow.

“Bartholomew’s people are gathering. If the bident is delivered as its locators have promised, then Bartholomew will attack Abaddon next week. He wants her threat removed.”

“Where will he attack?,” Sam asked.

“They will confront one another at Stull Cemetery,” Zeke answered.

Dean couldn’t believe that Stull was – once more – the site of an angelic/demonic showdown. “How do we know you’re not lying?,” he asked, not trying to hide his belligerence.

“Dean,” Sam said warningly.

Zeke held up a hand. “No, Sam. I understand your brother’s apprehension and distrust. It’s only rational.”

“So?,” Dean asked.

Zeke said, “You do not. But Castiel,” he nodded at his brother, “knows of my reputation in heaven. That is the only endorsement I can offer.”

Dean snorted.

“Is my reputation so poor, then?” Zeke asked Cas.

“I have told Dean that you are a good soldier,” Cas replied. “But as you will find, brother, here on Earth, being a good soldier is not always the best way to be.”

Dean moved his hand in a there-you-have-it gesture, while Sam’s response was, as it often was, a bit more rhetorically savvy: “We believe that you have a good reputation,” Sam responded. “But, like Cas says, what works in heaven rarely works here. We’re just wary.”

Zeke inclined his head. “I can understand that reasoning. I will endeavor to earn your trust.”

Dean narrowed his eyes at the angel; there was something about his tone that he just didn’t like. But Sam cut him off before he could say anything else and thanked Zeke for his understanding.

“What will you do with the information I’ve provided?,” Zeke asked.

“What part of ‘we don’t trust you yet’ don’t you get?,” Dean asked rudely, earning the stink-eye from Cas and Sam. Grunting in irritation, Dean shoved a handful of fries in his mouth and chewed very aggressively as he listened to his brother and his angel engage in diplomacy.

The frisson of uneasiness lingered, and Dean warily looked around the now-thinned-out dining room. He saw nothing unusual, and everyone appeared to be human.

Cas’s knee nudged his in an unspoken question, and Dean nudged back in answer. He stood abruptly, not even caring that Sam was still picking Zeke’s brain about Bartholomew. Cas slipped out of the booth too and faced the room, watching its activity, as Dean pulled out enough money to cover the bill, tossing it on the table. “Let’s go,” he said, to Sam.

Sam and Zeke gave Dean inquiring looks. “I think we need to get out of here,” was Dean’s only response. He couldn’t explain it, but Dean knew they needed to go – now.

As he’d expected, that was enough for Sam. Dean didn’t have anything to say specifically to Zeke; it’s not like they were buddies enjoying a meal, after all. This was basically collusion with the enemy for what he hoped would be the common good. But who the hell knew how this would all turn out.

They were walking through the restaurant’s foyer, heading for the outside door when Dean just knew. “Down!,” he yelled, reaching out to Sam and Cas and knocking them to the ground as the foyer’s floor-to-ceiling windows exploded. Instead of dropping to the floor with them, Zeke ran into the parking lot without a word or a backward glance.

“Rat bastard,” Dean muttered as he pressed his face to the floor and covered his head and neck with his hands. He felt the sharp sting and burn of glass shards embedding in his exposed skin. A few larger pieces pierced the denim of his jeans and the flannel of his shirt, puncturing his skin; he cringed under the assault.

It was over in a matter of moments, the last of the flying glass clattering to the floor. Dean raised his head. “Sam? Cas?,” he asked.

Cas cautiously raised his head. “I’m fine,” he said. A quick look told Dean that Cas had injuries similar to his own. Dean turned his head to see why Sam still hadn’t spoken. His eyes widened in fear when he saw a large piece of glass protruding from the back of Sam’s neck, and the blood pooling beneath his brother’s downturned face.

“Sam!,” he said, crawling over to his brother and checking his vitals. “Sammy!” There was a pulse, a weak one, but it was there. Dean felt relief, but he didn’t know how they were going to get out of there. He looked up at Cas, who was crouched and watching the parking lot, angel blade in hand. “Who’s out there? Angel or demon?,” Dean asked.

“Angel – I think,” Cas answered. “Though I can’t be sure. How is he?”

Dean ran his fingers lightly around Sam’s neck, trying to assess the damage. He felt the point of the glass shard beneath Sam’s chin and had to swallow the bile that instantly rose in his throat. “We need to go,” Dean said. “But I don’t know if we can move him. It’s such a large piece. I’m afraid he’ll bleed out.” He pulled out his phone and was calling 911 when a tall shadow approached.

Cas stood and brandished his blade. “I am not hear to fight, brother,” Zeke intoned. “I am here to help.” Without giving Cas or Dean time to respond, Zeke reached towards Sam. Dean didn’t register that Zeke had yanked the glass out of Sam’s neck until after blood had sprayed across his face.

“What the fuck!,” Dean yelled, reaching to apply pressure to Sam’s wound.

“Don’t,” Zeke said, pulling Dean’s hands away and laying his own on Sam’s neck. Dean watched in horror as blood pulsed between the angel’s fingers, running across the back of his hand.

Dean felt Cas’s hand on his shoulder, but he didn’t look away from Zeke, whose eyes were closed, his brow furrowed. He and Sam were suffused in a soft glow.

After a long moment that could have only been seconds, Sam raised his head. Dean drew a ragged breath, realizing that his lungs were burning from want of oxygen. Dean barely spared Zeke a glance as he lunged forward and grabbed Sam’s upper arm.

“You okay, Sammy?”

“Uh – yeah. What happened?,” Sam asked as he struggled to an upright position.

Dean helped haul him to his feet. “You nearly died,” he answered, his relief evident in his tone.

“Ezekiel healed you,” Cas added, stepping to his sagging brother’s side, barely reaching him before he lost consciousness. Sam slid over and reached an arm around Zeke’s waist, helping Cas keep him upright.

Dean reached to help right as another explosion sounded in the parking lot. “We have to go,” he said. “Now.”

“What about Ezekiel?,” Cas asked.

“Leave him,” Dean said.

“No,” Cas answered flatly.

“Look, we don’t know if we can trust him! He could have led the winged dicks straight to us,” Dean argued.

“He healed Sam,” Cas countered.

“So?” Dean snarled. “We don’t have time for this. Come on.”

Sam shook his head at his brother. “I’m with Cas on this one,” he said. “Didn’t you say I nearly died?”

Dean rolled his eyes in answer; an almost immediate explosion of glass in the parking lot sent them all into crouches again.

“Fine,” Dean snapped. “Get him in the car. I’ll cover you as best I can.” He drew his gun and stood slowly, surveying the parking lot. He didn’t see anyone, nor did he hear any high-pitched noises, so he hoped the assailant had retreated – though why it hadn’t taken them out while they’d all been down he didn’t know.

Dean positioned himself between the greater expanse of the parking lot and Sam and Cas, who had their hands full hauling an unconscious Ezekiel to the Impala. It was parked far enough away that the car remained intact, but it also meant they had further to walk, exposed to whatever was out there. Dean knew he wasn’t an impenetrable shield, but he’d go down swinging to keep them safe, and he was ready to shoot, stab, or hit – whatever was needed.

But nothing approached. Dean scrutinized every bush, tree, car – he saw shattered glass from windshields and windows peppering a line down the middle of the lot, straight into the restaurant’s foyer. But he saw nothing else, heard nothing else.

It didn’t make sense. He remained on guard as Sam manhandled Zeke into the backseat; Dean felt knuckles drag lightly across the small of his back and turned to see Cas getting in behind the driver’s seat. Sam took the passenger seat and slammed his door shut.

Dean opened the driver’s door and slide inside his baby in one smooth motion. “We good?,” he asked.

Sam nodded. “Think so. Cas?”

“Yes,” Cas said. “Let’s go.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice,” Dean muttered, cranking the car and slamming it into reverse, pealing out of the lot.

He watched in the rearview as emergency vehicles piled into the diminishing Biggerson’s lot. He still had a niggling feeling that whatever that had been, it wasn’t over. He threaded through the evening traffic, heading for the exit that would get them back on US 81.

Dean cast his eyes around the car, taking in the set of Sam’s jaw, the slackness of Zeke’s. He turned the rearview mirror so that he could check on Cas and the other man met his gaze in the mirror: Dean saw stoic resignation, among other things he was still scared to fully claim.

He also saw a beaded line of blood across Cas’s left cheek and nicks along his exposed skin. Dean had almost forgotten. He navigated the Impala into the outermost lane and turned off onto a side road.

“Sam, I’m going to pull off on the shoulder. Hop out and get the first aid kit from the trunk, okay?”

Dean parked the car, and his brother hurried to retrieve the kit. Dean turned back towards Cas and laid his right hand on the other man’s knee.

“Cas, I’m sorry for –.” That was all Dean could get out; he didn’t know how to finish the sentence. Luckily for him, Cas was fluent in Dean, and he laid his hand on top of Dean’s, squeezing gently, careful of the cuts they’d both sustained.

“I know,” Cas said. His eyes met Dean’s, and who knew how long they’d have sat there, lost in one another, if Sam hadn’t clambered back in the car.

Dean turned back to the wheel and pulled back onto the road, heading back towards the highway. Cas leaned back in his seat while Sam played medic, barking orders and passing out gauze.

The bubble had burst, Dean knew. Heaven and Hell’s asshattery was, once again, front and center and threatening to ruin their lives. He listened as his brother and his angel bickered about the most effective way to wrap gauze and besides wanting to roll his eyes at the ridiculousness of the argument, he wanted to hug them both till they couldn’t breathe.

Dean knew one thing: He wasn’t losing his family this time – come heaven or hell.

+

to be continued….

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Then

“Bazinga!,” Charlie exclaimed, punctuating the air with an energetic fist pump.

Kevin pulled his headphones off his ears and quirked an eyebrow. “I take it you’ve got it working?,” he asked.

“Hell to the yes,” Charlie replied. “Come take a look.”

Kevin pushed his chair back and stood, groaning with the movement. Muttering under his breath, he clasped his hands together and stretched towards the ceiling.

“You’re nearly as tall as Sam like that,” Charlie smirked.

“Shut up,” he retorted, relaxing into his normal posture and walking over to the corner of the research room that she’d converted into her lab. “What am I looking at?,” he asked, peering over her shoulder.

“Genius, Tran. You’re looking at genius,” Charlie gloated. “See?,” she asked, pointing at the screen.

“No,” Kevin replied. “I see squiggles and code. My brain hurts from those damn tablets, Charlie. Can you just tell me instead of making me play guessing games?,” he asked wearily, rubbing his forehead.

“Fine, fine,” Charlie muttered. Her fingers danced across the keyboard and Kevin watched tiredly as the mess onscreen began the conversion process. “Just wait,” Charlie said, tapping commands into a text box that had popped up.

Kevin’s eyes grew large. “Shit,” he breathed.

“Told you,” Charlie said with a grin.

Kevin threw his arms around her neck and squeezed till she shrieked. He grinned at the screen, at the now-transformed squiggles and code from the demon tablet. “It worked,” he said. “Oh my God, I won’t have have to spend my life deciphering stones anymore.”

Charlie laughed. “Yeah, it worked. You’re still going to have to decode it, though,” she said.

Kevin shrugged. “So what if it’s not 100% English; it’s a hell of a lot closer than Metatron’s transcription. Have you tried the angel tablet?”

“You mean the one you’ve been clutching like it was your precious?,” Charlie asked snidely. “Um… no. Toss it my way and let’s give it a whirl.”

“Hell yeah,” Kevin said, retrieving the tablet for Charlie. “Let’s wand this bitch.”

Charlie paused in setting up her wand scanner to give Kevin a confused look.

“Because you’re – you know, about to use the scanning wand and.. uh… nevermind,” he said sullenly.

“Shake it off, Tran,” Charlie quipped. “Hang out with me and your retorts will get cooler, I promise.” She grinned and went back to calibrating her equipment.

Kevin rolled his eyes with exaggerated scorn that only made Charlie giggle. He couldn’t help smiling back. “Hurry up, Bradbury,” he urged. “I want your tech skills to put me out of a job.”

“Let’s hope we’re all put out of a job – the universe-fixing, monster-hunting sort of job, anyway,” she said.

Kevin didn’t say anything for a long moment, just watched Charlie fine-tuning her settings and performing a test scan of a section of the tablet.

“From your mouth to God’s ear,” he said softly.

He walked over to the beeping printer and loaded a fresh ream of paper before emptying the print tray of the already-completed translation pages. He flipped through them and carried them back to his seat. Popping back on his headphones, he grinned at Charlie, and she grinned back.

For the first time in weeks, focusing on his work didn’t make his stomach knot up with anxiety. Instead, he felt a flutter of something he’d almost forgotten about – hope.

+

Barely an hour later, Charlie shook Kevin’s arm, trying to get his attention. The look on her face snapped him out of the prophet zone.

“What is it?,” he asked sharply. “Who is it?,” he amended, noting the cell phone in her hand.

“Dean,” she said. Kevin snatched the phone out of her hand.

“What’s wrong?,” he asked Dean. “What happened?”

“We’re fine – we had a bit of trouble, but we’re fine,” Dean said.

Kevin exhaled loudly, nodding before he realized Dean couldn’t see him. “Good,” he finally managed to say, stamping down his anxiety.

Dean hesitated before taking on the big brother tone that Kevin had grown to appreciate. “Really, Kev, we’re good. But we’re bringing back a guest, and I need your help.”

“A guest?,” Kevin asked. “I thought you said we couldn’t adopt any strays.”

“Haha,” Dean said drily. “It’s not a cat, it’s an angel.”

“An angel?,” Kevin asked, alarmed. “Which one?”

“Ezekiel,” Dean said. Kevin listed as Dean answered a question Sam asked. He heard the brothers conferring, catching an errant word here and there – “angel,” “warding,” “protection.” He heard Dean’s voice turn slightly aggressive and Cas’s voice interjected then; Kevin couldn’t tell what he said, but Cas sounded smitey.

Kevin rolled his eyes; obviously, they weren’t on the verge of the apocalypse just yet. “Uh – Dean? guys?”

“Yeah, hold on,” Dean muttered into the phone. Kevin put the phone on speaker so Charlie, whose curiosity had her all up in the prophet’s personal space, could hear. They both laughed when they heard Sam tell Dean to “put the damn phone on speaker.”

A few moments later, the phone crackled to life. “Okay, Kev,” Dean said. “Sorry ‘bout that. We’re still working out how best to do this.”

“To do what?,” Kevin asked.

“We need to house Ezekiel,” Sam said.

“Where?” Charlie asked. “With us? Cause – uh – guys, not sure how I feel about that.”

“Me either,” Kevin said.

“Me either,” Dean muttered.

“Shut up, Dean,” Sam said before answering Charlie. “No, not with us. The small storeroom off the garage.”

“The one near the dungeon? Near Crowley?” Kevin asked. “What if he’s on their side; is bringing him here wise?”

“I can’t say that it is,” Dean said.

“But you can’t say definitively that it isn’t,” Cas said pointedly.

Smi-tey, Kevin mouthed at Charlie, who bit her lip to keep from laughing.

“I’m going to send you a sketch of the sigils we need, Kevin,” Cas said. “We need you and Charlie to prepare the room before we arrive—”

Dean cut him off. “Just in case Ezekiel is a threat,” he finished smugly.

“It’s the smart thing to do, Dean,” Sam said. “Quit being an ass.”

“Doesn’t Ezekiel have anything to say about all this?,” Charlie asked.

“Uh – he’s kind of unconscious,” Dean answered.

“How’d that happen?,” she asked.

“We’ll fill you in when we get there,” Dean promised.

“Kevin,” Cas said, “Dean’s sending you the sketches now. All but the last two can be in paint.”

“Let me guess,” Kevin said drily, “They need to be done in blood.”

“Yes,” Cas said. “Be careful that you don’t cut yourself too deep.”

Kevin shook his head at Cas’s clinical tone. “No worries, Cas. I’m a pro at bleeding myself now.”

“Seriously, be careful,” Sam said.

“Yeah, we don’t want to have to search out another prophet at this stage in the game,” Dean added.

“Ha ha,” Kevin retorted back at Dean, ignoring the slap and muttered “asshat” from Sam and Dean’s responsive “Ow!.”

The phone crackled, and then Dean’s voice rumbled through, clearer now that he’d turned the speaker option off.

“You got the sigils?,” Dean asked.

Kevin held the phone out and checked, scrolling through screen-by-screen. “Yeah,” he answered. “We should be able to do these no problem.”

“You’ve got about an hour before we’re there,” Dean said. “Seriously, don’t go too deep.”

“No worries, Dean. If I wanted to off myself, I’d pick something less painful than slicing open a vein. You guys just get home safe.”

Dean harrumphed. “Well, okay then. See you.” He disconnected before Kevin could even reply.

“Aw,” Charlie said.

“What?,” Kevin asked.

“Come on, Tran. Don’t tell me that you can translate the Word of God but you can’t translate Winchester?”

“Nah, I got it: We’re family. Kill yourself and I’ll kill you – the Winchester Way,” Kevin deadpanned.

Charlie cackled. “Think Dean knows how obvious he is?”

“No,” Kevin said, shaking his head emphatically. “If he ever figures out how easily translatable Dean-speak is, he’ll kill all eyewitnesses.”

Charlie “hmmmed” thoughtfully. “You know,” she said. “I’d have agreed with you about that until just a few days ago, but now that he’s got Cas, he’s different.”

Kevin inclined his head. “True,” he said. “But still, the day Dean is publicly cuddly without caring who sees or hears him is a day I can’t quite imagine.”

“Maybe today’s that day,” Charlie joked.

“Doubt it,” Kevin said. “More like it’s the day he’ll kick our asses for not having his angel cell ready in time.”

“That is more likely,” Charlie said. “So where’s the spray paint?”

+

Forty-five minutes later, the small room was transformed. They’d pushed the boxes to a single wall and set up a cot, stacked with a pillow and some blankets. A small table beside the cot held an LED camp lantern.

“Do they need bandages?,” Charlie asked.

“Didn’t say,” Kevin said, studying Cas’s texts closely. Some of the sigils he’d recognized, but a few were new, and he didn’t want to screw up. He knew from experience how bad things could go because of a simple typo.

“What else can I do?,” Charlie asked.

“Grab the holy oil,” Kevin said, nodding towards the clay urn sitting near the door. “Pour a large circle around the bed.”

Charlie nodded and went to work while Kevin pulled out the knife that Dean had given him for his birthday. He lightly rubbed his thumb across its edge, testing the sharpness before he bit his lip and sliced into his forearm. He turned his arm so that the blood drained into a bowl. When a small pool gathered, he held his arm up and applied gauze, tightly wrapping an ace bandage over the wound.

He grimaced as he began painting the door with the most intricate sigil. He couldn’t remember what it was like before – before he knew about sigils and blood spells and how to decorate a room to keep supernatural entities out, or in, as the case may be.

That Kevin Tran – that sheltered, privileged mathlete – was dead. As Kevin dipped his fingers in the still-warm blood from his own body and finished sketching out the sigil, he smiled grimly.

He might not be the same Kevin, but he damn well sure knew how to survive now. Like Dean said, that was worth something.

+

Charlie and Kevin had just slumped back into their research positions, exhausted from their hurry to finish the room when the motion alarm began to beep.

They jumped up and checked the feed from the security cameras Charlie and Sam had rigged up a few months ago. “The ‘rents are home,” she said. “Should we go help?”

Kevin shook his head. “If they’re still bickering like they were an hour ago, I think we should stay out of their way.”

Charlie nodded and stood at the monitor, watching. “You know, without the sound, I can almost pretend this is a Three Stooges movie.”

“Ha! I wouldn’t tell them that,” Kevin said. He huffed a laugh as the three men pulled an unconscious angel out of the back seat and made their way to the door – with more than one near-drop and mouthed expletive.

“So which one’s Curly?,” he asked.

“I thought you’d never ask,” Charlie said with a grin. “It’s –”

The sound of the door slamming open cut her off.

“Bombs away,” Dean yelled, and the clang of his dropped weapons bag reverberated through the bunker.

“Was that smart, Dean?,” Sam asked.

“Actually, Sam, it was. My damn hands are full of angel ass – not a word, Cas – and I don’t want any of us tripping over the fucking bag.”

“And if it had exploded?,” Cas asked.

“How stupid do you think I am?,” Dean demanded. “Would I actually drop something explosive that fucking far in our fucking house?”

“Well – ,” Sam started.

“Sam,” Cas warned.

“I saw you cringe, Cas,” Sam said. “You thought dropping it was a bad idea too.”

“Wait – you cringed, Cas?” Dean said; his voice sounded wounded.

“Maybe,” Cas muttered. “I’m more worried about us dropping Ezekiel right now, though – careful, Dean!”

“I am being goddamned careful,” Dean barked. “Why don’t the two of you worry about the appendages you’re fucking responsible for.”

Kevin and Charlie looked at one another wide-eyed and stepped even further away from the stairs as the halting foursome made their way down with many more stumbles and glares and curse-words.

Dean caught sight of Kevin. “Get the room’s goddamned door open,” he ordered.

“Yes, boss,” Kevin said, heading for the hall.

“Well don’t just stand there, Charlie,” Dean said. “Go help him.”

“Open the door?,” she asked, perplexed.

“Go!,” Dean roared before turning to yell at a still-bickering Sam and Cas to shut up.

Charlie hurried after Kevin. “Holy hell, they’re in bad moods tonight.”

“Still want to do family counseling?,” Kevin asked, as he double-checked the wards. “Check the holy oil ring again, will you? And here” – he reached into his bulging cargo pants pocket and pulled out a mini-bottle of holy oil and a lighter. “Keep these in your pocket at all times. You’re carrying holy water too, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir,” Charlie said, patting the pocket on her left pants leg before sliding her new weapons into the pocket on her right. “Ring looks good,” she said.

A cacophony of rumbly voices and crashing sounds edged closer. “You might want to slide out of the way,” Kevin advised, holding the door as far open as he could.

Charlie slipped into a corner and watched as Cas backed into the room, Ezekiel’s feet on either side of his hips. Dean squeezed in, holding up part of the unconscious vessel’s trunk and ass, and Sam had the shoulders and head. Charlie dashed forward and snatched the blankets off the bed, tossing the pillow into place as the men dumped Ezekiel without further ceremony.

“Goddamn,” Dean said, leaning forward, hands on his knees and breathing heavily.

“How many times are you going to say that, Dean?” Cas asked primly.

“Don’t give me that ‘don’t be blasphemous’ bullshit, Cas. Pretty sure fucking a former angel of the lord means that ship has already sailed.”

Cas glared at Dean – whose face began turning crimson as soon as the words had left his mouth – before turning his back on the now-speechless-and-self-outed hunter. “Charlie, Kevin, thank you for your help. Sam, I’ll be in my room, but I’ll be back to check on Ezekiel later.” Cas emphasized later, making it even more clear to the room that “later” meant when Dean was not there.

“You are so sleeping on the couch tonight,” Sam said smugly, after Cas had stalked from the room.

“Shut the fuck up,” Dean growled. “Can we just work, please?”

Sam rolled his eyes but helped his brother arrange Ezekiel on the cot and fasten his restraints. By the time they were done, Dean wasn’t as red as Charlie’s hair any more, but he was still flushed with embarrassment, and Cas was still conspicuously absent.

“We good?,” Dean asked.

“He’s restrained,” Sam answered. The edge to his own voice had softened now. “You want to go check on Cas?”

“Not particularly,” Dean responded, holding up a hand to silence Sam’s rebuke. “But I will. You got this?”

“Yeah, I’ll take first watch.” Sam grabbed the camp chairs Kevin had left out and set one up on the outside of the holy ring.

“I’ll be back in a minute.”

“I won’t hold my breath,” Sam said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dean asked.

Sam scoffed. “You’ve got some groveling to do, brother. I think it’s going to take you longer than a minute.”

Dean sighed. “Yeah. Dammit.”

The elder Winchester was stomping down the hall when Sam turned to eye Kevin and Charlie, still frozen in their positions. Sam smirked at them. “I can see you, you know. You’re not chameleons.”

“I was hoping we were,” Charlie said.

“Me too,” Kevin muttered.

Sam shook his head. “It’s just one of those days,” he said. A loud banging and muffled yelling echoed through the bunker. “And it’s not over yet,” Sam said with a sigh. “Why don’t you guys go pick out dinner?”

“Delivery or DiGiorno’s?” Charlie asked.

“Surprise me,” Sam said, pulling out his wallet and handing her a credit card.

“Lando Organa - seriously?,” she said. “We’ve gotta work on your pseuds, man.” She took the card and left the room.

“Hey, Kevin?,” Sam said, stopping him from following Charlie.

“Yeah?”

“Nice work,” Sam said, nodding to the walls. “Dean’ll tell you that too, when he gets past his tantrum.”

Kevin raised an eyebrow. “I know… and, no offense, but it looked to us like you were all having tantrums, not just Dean. He was just the loudest – is the loudest,” Kevin amended, inclining his head towards the ongoing door-banging.

Sam stared at Kevin for a moment before nodding slowly. “Touché,” he said. “Yeah, guess we all were. Sorry you and Charlie had to see it.”

“So are we,” Kevin said with a wry smile before turning and following Charlie. He found her in the kitchen with an array of delivery menus spread out. “What are you in the mood for, Tran?,” she asked.

“Well, we’re not allowed to leave the bunker, and I am not up for poking the overprotective bear that is Dean Winchester tonight, are you? And what can we order that won’t be suspicious – what do we say? ‘Please leave the pizza outside the supposedly abandoned building in the middle of nowhere?’” Kevin shrugged his shoulders. “Sorry, Charlie.”

Charlie sighed. “Yeah, you’re right. Maybe we could get someone to do a grub run?”

Kevin gave a short laugh. “I’ll let you ask.”

Charlie curled her lip. “On second thought, let’s just throw something together.”

“Now that’s a smart plan, Bradbury,” Kevin said, clapping her on the shoulder.

An hour later, they’d whipped up an odd assortment for dinner and made up a miles-long list of needed supplies for the next grocery run: They’d found a large frozen meat-lovers pizza that Charlie had topped with slices of a semi-fresh green pepper. Kevin had made the last two boxes of macaroni and cheese and tossed a steamable bag of mixed veggies in the microwave.

Dessert was the last box of Thin Mints from Sam’s last excursion into town. “Scouts,” he’d explained when they all stared at him carrying in ten boxes of various types of cookies. “They give the big eyes, and the sob stories, and what am I supposed to do?,” he’d complained.

Charlie eyed the spread they’d pulled together. “It’s not egg rolls and moo shu pork, but I guess it’ll do,” she said.

Kevin chucked the warm veggies into a bowl and set them on the table. “It will,” he said. “I’m going to tell Sam the food's ready – that means you get to go tell Dean and Cas,” he said with a grin, jetting out the door before Charlie could respond.

“Dammit,” she muttered.

+

Dean knew he’d pushed Cas too far. After the way he’d acted at the restaurant, and then their argument over what to do with Ezekiel, and now he’d equated their relationship to blasphemy in front of their entire family…

Yeah, Dean had dug himself a hole this time. How many did that make for just today?

He sighed and came to a stop outside their bedroom door; he took a deep breath and reached for the handle, steeling himself as he turned it.

Only it didn’t turn.

“Sonofabitch,” he muttered. “Cas, it’s me, open up,” he said.

“No,” came the terse reply.

Dean stared at the door, counted to five, and tried again. “Come on,” he said. “Open the door.”

“No.”

Rage flushed over Dean, and he pounded at the door. “Open the goddamned door, Cas,” he shouted.

He kept pounding until the fleshy part of his hands hurt, until he felt his rage flagging, and the fear and anxiety he constantly held at bay crawled up his spine again.

He stopped and sagged against the door instead, leaning his forehead against the cold wood. “Come on, Cas,” he said hoarsely. “Let me in,” he pleaded. “Please?”

A few minutes passed in silence. Dean turned his back to the door and slid down to the floor. He drew his knees up to his chest and rested his arms on his knees. He bowed his head and squeezed his eyes shut against the prickling.

The door opened suddenly and Dean fell backwards, catching himself on his elbow.

Wordlessly, Cas held a hand out and helped the younger man to a standing position. They stood, Dean’s left hand in Cas’s right, just staring at one another.

Finally, Dean coughed uncomfortably and looked down, rubbing the back of his neck with his free hand. “I’m – uh – sorry, Cas,” he mumbled.

Cas squeezed his hand until he made eye contact again. “For what, Dean?,” Cas asked.

“For being a jackass? For saying something I don’t think and should have never said?”

Cas regarded him solemnly. “So you don’t think we’re blasphemous?”

“No,” Dean said soberly. “I was just pissed off and being a jerk, and as soon as the words came out of my mouth, I was sorry.”

“Are you done being a jerk now?”

“Probably not,” Dean admitted. The left corner of Cas’s mouth ticked upwards with humor at Dean’s blunt honesty. “But I’d like to be.”

Cas softly closed the door before turning and pulling Dean into his arms. Dean buried his face in the crook of Cas’s neck, breathing in the scent of the bodywash they’d both used that morning. It smelled better on Cas than on him.

“We almost lost Sam today,” Dean murmured, his voice hitching over his brother's name. “I could have lost both of you, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.”

Cas’s arms had tightened around Dean as he’d spoken, and Dean felt the anxiety loosen its claws as the warmth of Cas’s hand moved reassuring up and down his spine. Dean held Cas closer in response.

Dean raised his head and leaned his forehead against Cas’s. They stood there, entwined, for a long moment – Cas offering calm reassurance, and Dean drinking it in.

Cas finally broke the silence. “Today was bad,” he agreed. “It could have been much worse.” Cas sighed. “I can’t tell you things will be okay, Dean – I daresay things are about to get very bad, one way or the other,” he said, cupping Dean’s face and rubbing his thumbs along his cheekbones, not mentioning the faint wetness at the corners of Dean’s eyes. “But I can tell you that I’m here right now, and so are you, and I think we should make the most of what we do have.”

Dean opened his eyes and looked into Cas’s blue ones. “Are you telling me I don’t have to sleep on the couch?,” he smirked.

Cas sighed, exasperated. “You anger me in ways I can barely contain,” Cas said. Dean’s smirk disappeared; his face lost the glimmer of amusement it had held for a few precious seconds. “No – Don’t look like that,” Cas said, still running his fingers along the contours of Dean’s face. “You make me feel in ways I can barely fathom – anger, passion, love… I can’t live without you Dean, and considering how fucked up the world is right now? There’s no way I’m going to exile you to the couch. That type of relationship foolishness is for people who don’t recognize how perilously close we are to death.”

Dean nodded slowly, his eyes a soft, tear-shined green. He leaned forward and kissed Cas lightly, murmuring, “Love you.”

“Always,” Cas breathed back, nipping at Dean’s bottom lip.

Dean tightened his arms around Cas and walked the slightly shorter man backwards towards the bed. Boots were kicked off and clothes hastily discarded before they tumbled onto the memory foam, determined – by unspoken mutual agreement – to give it even more to remember.

+

Charlie had approached Dean and Cas’s room with caution. The yelling had stopped over an hour ago, but with these two – well, they were still learning to use their words.

She had her hand up to knock on the door when she heard words – namely, “Dean” and “Cas”… and, uh, directions. She flushed bright red and beat a hasty retreat back down the hall.

Kevin was in the kitchen making a plate; he craned his neck to look behind Charlie. “Where’s Dean and Cas?,” he asked.

“Uh – busy,” Charlie stammered, blushing.

“Busy, huh?,” Kevin asked, grinning.

“Shut up, Tran. You set me up,” Charlie accused.

“Yep,” Kevin said. “No way was I going near their room right now.”
.
Before Charlie could respond, Sam came shuffling into the kitchen.

“Who’s watching Ezekiel?,” Charlie asked.

“He’s still out cold,” Sam said. “Figured I could step out for 10 minutes or so, stretch my legs and grab some grub.” He picked up a plate and grabbed a beer from the refrigerator. “Where’s Dean and Cas?”

Kevin started laughing. Sam blinked in confusion. “What? Do they know dinner’s ready?”

“Doubt it,” Charlie said. “They wouldn’t have heard me even if I’d told them.”

Sam stared at her a moment. “Oh,” he said. He swallowed hard. “Sorry I asked.”

“I’m sorry I heard,” Charlie snarked.

“Better you than me,” Kevin said, shoving half a piece of pizza in his mouth.

“Ditto,” Sam muttered, piling his plate with pizza, macaroni, and veggies before heading back towards the storeroom.

“Payback’s a bitch,” she warned Kevin.

Kevin grinned messily. “Bring it, Bradbury.”

“Remember you said that, Tran.”

Kevin smirked and headed for the TV room; Charlie followed.

Fringe?,” he asked.

“Absolutely,” she said, plopping down on the couch beside him. She gave him a sweet smile -- “Fringe tonight, payback later.”

Kevin rolled his eyes at her and pressed play.

+

to be continued…

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Then

Sam didn’t know he’d fallen asleep until his head jerked sharply. He groaned and shook himself slightly, trying to wake up.

When that didn’t clear his head, he stood, stretching his long limbs and checking Ezekiel, who was still unresponsive. According to his phone, it was barely 1 am – not even late by Winchester standards.

Sam exhaled loudly and gathered up his plate and empty soda can to return to the kitchen. He walked softly through the darkened bunker; except for the distant sound of a shower – and he was so not investigating to see who that was considering he had a very good idea – all was quiet. Kevin and Charlie had cleaned the kitchen, so Sam tossed his trash in the can and washed his single plate and fork before placing them in the dish rack.

He grabbed a fresh soda and headed back towards the storeroom, taking a moment to peek in on Crowley. He opened the grille and peered through the small slit, making out a paper plate with half a piece of pizza on the table in the middle of the room. Crowley was stretched out on his cot, the LED lantern turned down so low that his sleeping figure was barely discernible.

Sam started to close the grille when a weak sound filtered out; peering back in, Sam couldn’t see anything moving, though the wavering trill grew louder. He pressed his ear against the grille and heard an odd huffing sound. Sam looked again, just as Crowley turned onto his side – and after he turned, the sound ceased.

“The King of Hell snores,” Sam muttered. “I don’t believe it.” He quietly shut the grille and trudged back to the storeroom.

Sam cracked open the cold soda and sank back into his chair, stretching his legs out in front of him. He watched the rise and fall of Ezekiel’s chest and wondered how this was all going to go. That they were playing with fire here, he understood – the question was at what point would the fire kill them?

That thought reminded Sam of whatever deal Dean had made, and he shuddered. His mind once more ran through the possibilities he’d come up with, each making him feel sicker than the last, and he quickly pushed the topic from his mind.

He instead focused his mental energies on reconstructing the day’s events, though things were a blank between walking into the Biggerson’s foyer and waking up lying covered in glass. After they’d gotten back on the highway, he’d asked for details that Dean refused to give; Cas would have told him, but a glare from Dean kept Cas quiet.

When Dean had stopped to fill up the Impala, though, Sam had taken advantage of his brother stepping inside the gas station to pay for fuel and grab some supplies. Cas gave in to Sam’s pleas but wouldn’t give much detail. Just learning that a piece of glass had impaled him through his neck had been enough to satisfy his curiosity, though.

Now, Sam wondered. Why did Ezekiel heal him? Was the angel really on their side? Or was Dean right to suspect him of orchestrating the explosion to start with, to be worried about bringing him to the bunker?

These were questions that Sam couldn’t answer yet. He finished his soda and decided to check the warding. When he confirmed that it was intact, he pulled his phone out – it wasn’t even 1:30 yet. With a sigh, he flopped back in his chair. He considered texting Dean and Cas for one of them to relieve him, but he really didn't want to interrupt...whatever. Plus, it wasn’t like this was hard - just boring. Sam checked his phone’s battery and decided to play Plants vs. Zombies. Maybe he could add some more plants to his garden.

Sometime later, a warm hand on his shoulder gently shook him awake. Sam jerked, disoriented.

“It’s okay, Sam,” said Cas’s gravelly voice. “Everything’s fine.”

Sam looked at his phone, but it was dead. “What time is it?”

“Almost 2:30,” Cas said. “You should have been relieved hours ago. Why didn’t you call?”

Sam snorted. “You know why,” he said, giving Cas a pointed look and proving that, yes, former angels could blush.

Pink cheeks or not, Cas rolled his eyes at Sam’s grin. “Go on to bed, Sam. I’ll take over till morning.”

“Where’s Dean?,” Sam asked.

“Sleeping,” Cas said.

That shocked Sam – Dean was usually the one managing watch rotations. “Really?,” Sam asked. “That’s a surprise.”

Cas shrugged. “I told him to get a decent night’s sleep,” he said.

Sam started to quip that Dean never got a decent night’s sleep when he realized that was Cas’s point. Cas was taking care of Dean, and, what’s more, Dean was allowing Cas to take care of him – That told Sam quite a lot. So he swallowed his sarcasm, nodded at his friend, and headed for his room.

Sam didn’t even flip on his light; he shut his door and shucked off his shoes, shirt, and jeans before falling into bed. He burrowed into his pillow and was nearly instantly asleep.

+

After Sam left the room, Cas inspected the warding and checked Ezekiel. Cas knew that healing injuries as severe as Sam’s had exhausted Ezekiel’s grace.

He took the chair that Sam had vacated and leaned back, watching Ezekiel through narrowed eyes. There was no way he would have left the angel behind after what he’d done for Sam, but Cas had his own concerns. Namely, he was timing how long it took Ezekiel to regain consciousness: If it took a couple of days or so, then Ezekiel was allowing his grace to replenish naturally – or, rather, as naturally as it could considering that Metatron had dismantled the Host. If it was any sooner, then Ezekiel was drawing on his vessel’s soul to charge his grace, an act typically considered unconscionable.

Cas wasn’t a complete hypocrite; he remembered borrowing soul power from Bobby so that he could ferry Dean and Sam back from their adventure with Samuel Colt. He had felt guilty for that, but he’d at least had Bobby’s permission and insistence. Cas also still remembered what the millions of Purgatory souls had felt like – the power coursing through his system, the madness that had taken over his being… it wasn’t a good memory.

Looking at Ezekiel, Cas frowned. He had never “used” Jimmy’s soul. Even when he first rebelled, he protected the man’s soul as well as he was able. If Ezekiel was soul-tapping, then that was a bad sign. Because any angel worth its wings knew that a drained soul would cease to exist.

Cas thought of the souls that he had destroyed, and he winced. Bowing his head, he prayed, reviewing the litany of sins he'd committed. While his contrition would never bring absolution, the knowledge that he was choosing to remember, to actively seek atonement as well as he could, brought him a measure of solace.

+

Dean woke up a little after 6 a.m., disoriented at finding himself alone. It took him a moment to realize that Cas must have turned off his phone and alarm so that he could sleep.

Four hours sleep was more than enough, all things considered, and Dean swung out of bed, pulling on a pair of pajama pants and a worn t-shirt. He chose not to slip on shoes in the interests of sustaining the ringing silence in the bunker’s hallways.

Like any hunter, Dean automatically scanned the storeroom before he entered it, taking in the sigils, Zeke’s still form, and Cas. Dean walked silently into the room, smiling at his angel, who had dozed off. Cas’s head was nodding slightly back and forth, and Dean was reaching a hand out towards those soft dark curls when he froze: There were tear tracks running down Cas’s cheeks, and when Dean looked down, there were bloody crescents in his angel’s palms. Dean knew that the wounds weren't from the explosion earlier, which had left both of them with an abundance of shallow scratches and knicks; Cas had inflicted these himself.

Dean’s heart constricted. He knew Cas was having a hard time, just as he knew there was little he could do to help. But before his thoughts could go any further, Cas snapped to alertness, sitting straight up and grabbing Dean’s arm with a steel grip.

“Just me,” Dean said softly, not even commenting on the vise-like pressure that he knew would bruise.

Only a second or so later, Cas reached full awareness, offering a chagrined “sorry” before slumping back in the chair.

“No need,” Dean assured him, stepping closer and running a hand through Cas’s hair as he’d wanted to do. Cas leaned into the touch, turning himself to rest his head against Dean’s stomach and wrapping his arms around the hunter’s lean hips.

“Rough night?,” Dean asked. Cas didn’t answer, but he didn’t need to. Dean’s jaw was tight, but his strong hands were comforting as he held Cas. Dean cursed himself inwardly - He of all people should have realized how hard it would be for Cas to spend the late night hours awake and alone. He silently swore that he’d be damned before he left his angel to the nightmares again.

After a few long moments, Dean asked, “You want to go lie down now? You might be able to sleep since it's morning. I can take over.”

Cas still didn’t speak, simply shook his head no, and tightened his arms around Dean. The hunter settled one arm snugly around Cas’s shoulders, holding his head against him with the other. Dean wished one of the others were up so that he could take Cas to the safe bubble of their room, but the bunker remained silent as a tomb. Dean looked around the room for anything that might make a comfortable place for them to sit – he wasn’t leaving Cas, but as much as he loved the guy, his feet were freezing against the concrete.

He finally spied something that would work – a stack of old rugs and a couple of throws.

He tightened his hold until his angel looked up at him. Cas smiled sheepishly. “Sorry,” he said.

“No apologies,” Dean said. “I just need to step over here for a minute, okay?”

Cas drew back, still looking embarrassed. Dean cupped the side of his face, keeping eye contact and rubbing his thumb along the other man’s flushed cheek.

“Hey,” Dean said, “I mean it. Nothing to apologize for.” Dean slid his hand down, taking Cas's. "C'mon." He pulled the other man to his feet and led him towards the back wall.

Dean hauled the rugs off a box and tossed them onto the floor. The two of them arranged the rugs in front of the wall, soft-side up, creating a decent-sized pallet. Cas spread one of the throws over the rugs, and Dean held onto the other for them to actually use. (Seriously, his feet were freezing.)

Cas kicked off his shoes and settled onto the rug, leaning against the wall; Dean sat beside him and wrapped the throw around his cold feet.

Cas chuckled when he realized why Dean had been so anxious to get off the concrete. “Shut up,” Dean groused, but he didn’t mean it. The sound of Cas’s laugh – however small – warmed his heart, and when Cas took his frozen feet in hand and rubbed warmth back into them… well, Dean may or may not have uttered a couple of semi-pornographic moans.

Once Dean’s feet were warmed, Cas turned up the bottom throw to tuck around them, and he tucked the spare throw around Dean too.

“You’re making me feel like a burrito,” Dean complained. “Besides, aren’t you cold?”

“My pants are thicker, and I’m wearing long-sleeves and socks. I’m fine,” Cas said. He rummaged around the boxes and found an old but seemingly clean army blanket, and he brought that over for them both to use.

Once Cas spread the blanket up to their shoulders, Dean slipped his left arm around Cas, and pulled him to his chest. His angel willingly complied. Dean reached for Cas’s left hand with his right and turned it palm up, raising it to his lips. The crescent-shaped cuts weren't deep, but they were red and raw. Cas’s hand twitched, and Dean gently laced their fingers together.

They sat in the echoing silence for a long while. Eventually Dean asked, “Better?”

“Much,” Cas said softly, pressing a light kiss over Dean’s heart in thanks and nestling more snugly against him.

Dean swallowed hard and tightened his arms, letting the warmth and coziness envelope them. When he glanced down sometime later, Cas’s eyes were shut, his dark lashes stark against the purplish shadows under his eyes. His even breathing told Dean that he was finally asleep.

Dean leaned his head back against the concrete wall, and he kept vigil over his sleeping angel.

He kept a wary eye on Zeke’s unconscious form too; no matter what he’d done for Sam, Dean still didn’t trust the guy.

+

Sam came into the storeroom around 8 a.m., and the sight of his brother and Cas brought him up short.

Dean motioned for him to leave. Sam bit back the questions he wanted to ask and left the two of them alone.

+

Dean didn’t move again until he felt Cas stir an hour or so later. Dean smirked; the smell of coffee was wafting through the bunker, and it had probably filtered through Cas’s sleep – dude loved his caffeine, said he’d never forget how amazed he was when humans figured out how to make coffee.

But Dean really didn’t want to let Cas go, so when his angel sat up and pulled away, Dean felt bereft. Cas rubbed the sleep from his eyes and looked back at Dean, reading the hunter well. He leaned forward and kissed Dean – a soft kiss that turned long and languorous.

Someone cleared her throat, and Dean and Cas broke apart, looking up with equally dazed expressions.

“Hey, guys - uh... sorry?,” Charlie said. “Sam sent me to see if you were awake and ready for a break.”

“You taking over?,” Dean asked. Cas stood and reached a hand for Dean, pulling him to a standing position too.

Charlie waved her Ipad. “Sure am. I’m going to catch up on some reading while I take my turn.”

Cas stood and reached a hand to Dean.

“The pallet’s infinitely more comfortable than the chair,” Cas remarked, indicating it with his head.

Charlie headed for it and then paused mid-stride.

“What?” Cas asked.

“Uh.. Um..” Charlie stammered, turning red.

Cas looked at her with confusion, but Dean read between the lines. “Nothing happened, Charlie - my god,” he said with exasperation.

“Sorry, sorry,” Charlie said. “Just, with you guys, I never know…”

Dean growled an unintelligible response and dragged Cas out of the room.

Perhaps Charlie had a point, he thought five minutes later, when he had Cas pushed up against the wall in their bedroom after a quick detour for a pair of socks turned into the long route.

As he slid his hands under the hem of Cas’s long-sleeved t-shirt, tracing the still-healing edges of his tattoos and eliciting a groan that set Dean on fire, he decided that he didn’t care if everyone thought that they were having sex constantly.

After all, they kind of were.

+

It was nearly ten before Cas and Dean made their way into the kitchen. Sam was pouring himself a fresh cup of coffee, and he quirked an eyebrow at the two slightly disheveled, obviously debauched men.

“You know what you two look like, right?,” he asked.

Dean smirked, but before he tossed out a smart-ass remark, Cas answered.

“Your brother looks sated, as he should,” Cas said calmly. “I imagine I do as well.” And with that, he walked over and took the coffee pot from Sam, ignoring the younger man’s gaping mouth.

Sated?, Sam mouthed at him; Dean answered by shrugging his shoulders and throwing an excessively lascivious look towards Cas. His angel didn’t see the look, though; Cas had a mug of coffee in one hand and was pouring the already-mixed batter Sam had left out with the other. The pre-heated waffle iron hissed as the cool batter filled its crevices.

Sam sighed. “Just come get me after you’ve had breakfast,” he said, stressing the last word as if it were code for something dirty.

“Why do you say it like that, Sam?,” Cas asked, turning his head to look at his friend.

“Oh, no reason,” Sam said smoothly.

Dean snorted. “He’s giving us a hard time, Cas, because of – uh – because of what happened in here the other night.”

“Oh,” Cas said, nodding. “Sorry about that. Next time we’ll clean up after ourselves.”

Cas was pouring Dean a cup of coffee, so he didn’t see Sam’s eyes widen comically. “How about next time you guys use your bedroom,” Sam retorted.

“Sometimes that’s just not practical,” Cas responded seriously, handing off the mug to Dean’s outstretched hand and turning his attention back to the waffle iron.

Sam looked scandalized, and Dean couldn’t hold back his laughter any longer. As soon as Dean let loose, Sam was gone, and then Cas was laughing too.

“I don’t even know why I’m laughing,” Cas said, finally getting a hold of himself enough to pop out the done waffle and pour out a second one.

Dean pulled himself up from the chair he’d collapsed in and, still chuckling, walked up behind Cas, wrapping his arms around the other man’s waist. Cas immediately relaxed into the embrace.

“Don’t ever change,” Dean murmured into Cas’s ear, chasing his words with a light kiss.

Cas didn’t say anything, but he ran his left hand through Dean’s hair, pulling him closer. He smiled at Dean’s hum of happiness.

Neither saw the amusement on Sam’s face give way to a thoughtful, indulgent smile, and Cas was taking the fourth waffle from the iron before they realized they had been left alone.

+

Dean and Cas joined Sam in the research room around noon, freshly showered with still-damp hair and dressed in their usual attire of jeans and pull-overs. Sam didn’t bother asking why it had taken them nearly two hours to finish breakfast and grab showers. After all, the fresh hickey on Dean’s collarbone, which hadn’t been there when they were in the kitchen, told the story. The matching one on Cas was apparently the sequel.

With a huffed laugh that got him a quirked eyebrow from Dean and Cas, Sam motioned at the chairs across from him. Cas slid into one, while Dean grabbed the other and spun it, straddling the seat and leaning his forearms across its back.

“Hit us,” Dean said. “What’s the latest?”

“Charlie’s translation program is working,” Sam said with a grin. He gestured over at Kevin, who had his back to them, and was bent over his papers.

“Awesome. How’s it going Kev?,” Dean called out.

“Oh, he can’t hear you – he’s totally zoned out and wearing his heavy-duty earphones,” Sam said. “But, point is, the program translated the entire demon tablet into – uh…” he trailed off, checking his notes. “Old Akkadian. Kevin said it’s still a bitch to translate, but nothing like Metatron’s scribbles. Do you know it, Cas?”

“I knew every language. Now that I’m human, though, the information is still there, but accessing it is different – takes me a bit longer,” Cas said wistfully.

Dean clapped him on the shoulder. “So maybe it takes you a bit longer, but hell, you’re the only human on the planet who speaks Old Ackbar –“

“Akkadian, Dean. This isn’t Star Wars,” Sam sniped.

“Whatever. Akkadian, then. My point is that Cas’s idea of ‘a bit longer’ is still pretty damn fast. You translated that Knights of Hell scroll in no time.”

“He’s right, Cas. And if you and Kevin are both working on the demon tablet, then maybe it’ll be done by the time Charlie finishes with the angel tablet.” Sam stood and walked over to Kevin’s table, tapping him on the shoulder.

Kevin pulled off his headphones. “What?”

“What did you want Cas to read?”

Kevin turned halfway. “Oh, hey guys.” Dean smirked and waved back. “Come look, Cas,” Kevin said. Cas came up beside Kevin, who gestured at the many stacks of papers covering the table-top, each neatly fastened with a binder clip. “I think I’ve got the stacks divided up into ‘chapters’ – kind of how they are on the tablet. But it’s taking me a bit to figure out which ones are most important. What do you think?”

Cas scanned the top page of each stack. “I wish I could do this more quickly,” he muttered.

Kevin, who’d been watching wide-eyed as Cas read, grimaced. “I’m the damn prophet, and you’re translating way faster than me. I think that’s pretty good.”

Sam exchanged amused looks with Dean. Cas, unconvinced by Kevin’s protest, narrowed his eyes in concentration.

“You look like you’re going to shoot laser beams,” Dean observed, grinning madly when Cas flipped him off without otherwise acknowledging his comment.

Sam choked back a laugh. Kevin didn’t have quite as much control. Cas rolled his eyes at them before selecting a stack.

“This portion addresses the ways to destroy emissaries of hell. It may have more on how to kill Abaddon.”

“Good,” Kevin said. “I’m working on the section that talked about demon bombs – thought maybe it’d reveal more weapons. This part here,” he tapped another stack in the far corner, “is about the Trials, so I figure we don’t have to worry about it as much.”

“There are eight stacks total – what are the others about?,” Sam asked.

“The hierarchy of hell, its origins, maintenance, defensive maneuvers, and gatekeepers,” Kevin answered.

Cas’s brow furrowed. “Gatekeepers?”

“Yeah.” Kevin gestured at a line of script. “It says something about keepers of the universal balance – do you know anything about that?”

“There are many theories, but I’ll have to comb through my memories to see what I can find.”

“What are you? Data?”

“I don’t understand – I’m not data.” Cas looked confused - and hurt.

“No, you're not,” Dean said, steel in his voice. “You’re human, Cas.”

Sam realized that Dean, for all his love of Star Trek did not want his angel teased, and he tried to smooth things over. “Kevin meant it as a joke, Cas - because you have so much knowledge that you can search it like a computer. Data is the name of an android on Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

“Oh,” Cas said. “I see.”

“No offense, Cas,” Kevin said earnestly. “I was just teasing.”

Cas didn’t really respond; Sam noted the tightness in Cas’s jaw and knew that the joke had bothered him. He watched as his friend added the “gatekeepers” section to his other before reclaiming his seat beside Dean. He pretended not to see his brother lay a hand on Cas's thigh and squeeze gently.

Sorry, Kevin mouthed at Sam, slipping his headphones back on and training his attention back on the translations. Sam sighed and went back to his table. Cas was already reading through the pages, and Dean – well, he was a little wired.

“So that takes care of Cas and Kevin - what about us?,” Dean asked, tapping his fingers on the table.

“We have to figure out what to do next,” Sam said. “Cas, is it weird that Ezekiel hasn’t woken up yet?”

“No. It’s actually a good thing – I meant to tell you both earlier, but I’m worried that angels may be using their vessels’ souls to fuel their grace. If Ezekiel wakes soon, then I’ll have to assume that’s what he’s doing.”

“What does that do to the vessel’s soul?” Sam asked.

“If the soul isn’t allowed to replenish, it will dim until it ceases to exist,” Cas explained. “We – Angels – are supposed to protect souls at all costs…” He trailed off, staring at the paper in front of him.

Dean cleared his throat. “So if angels are siphoning off souls, then they’re breaking protocol?”

Cas nodded, swallowing hard before continuing: “And if they’re breaking protocol, then it can be a slippery slope.”

“How long do you think Zeke should be out, Cas?," Dean asked.

“It had to take a lot of energy to fix Sam. I’d estimate he shouldn’t wake before tomorrow midday.”

“Okay, then, we time him, and if he wakes up early, we go on alert.”

“Okay,” Sam agreed. “So if Zeke is out until at least tomorrow, then that gives us a few more days to work out our offensive plan.”

“Since we have some time, I recommend that we finish these translations – the tablets should be useful,” Cas said.

“So do I have to actually research or can I just ready the weaponry?” Dean winked at Cas, who shook his head and smiled.

“Research, Dean,” Sam said dryly. “If Godzilla vs. Mothra part deux is going to work, we have to know our enemy.”

“Fine,” Dean said with an exaggerated sigh. “Hand me whatever dusty tome you want read.”

“Glad you’re so amenable,” Sam said with a grin. “But I was thinking you could take over the map work.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, I’d rather dig through the tomes.” Sam gestured at the computer. “According to the latest intel, the incursion sites form a large circle around Lawrence –”

“Of fucking course,” Dean muttered. “Hand me that.”

Sam passed over the laptop, and the notebook where he’d been recording data. The map itself was still laid out on another table.

“So what are you reading?,” Dean asked.

“Some angel lore, various translations of Genesis. I figured that if Bartholomew has located Pluto’s bident, maybe we should try to find Cain’s murder weapon as a back-up, especially since we don’t know if we can trust Bart.”

“That won’t be easy,” Cas commented.

“Finding the weapon or trusting Bart?,” Sam asked.

“Um – both?,” Cas answered. “I do know that we can’t trust Bart.”

“He’s that bad?,” Dean asked.

“That bad,” Cas answered succinctly.

“Hmmm.” Sam leaned back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling, thinking. “What if we try to summon Balthazar – the spell would still work, wouldn’t it, Cas?” Sam dropped his chair back down on all four legs and looked over at Cas. “Even though Heaven’s closed?”

But Cas wasn’t paying Sam any attention. The former angel had turned inward; his eyes vacant, and his mouth set in hard line.

Sam looked over at Dean, but he didn’t need his brother’s narrowed gaze to tell him he’d said something that had struck a dark chord with Cas - again. This had to be about Balthazar, Sam surmised, but before he could say anything else, Cas spoke in a clipped tone.

“It won’t work because Balthazar is dead.” Cas stood abruptly; Dean grabbed his wrist.

“Cas?“ Dean said.

Blue eyes met green, and Sam glanced away, awkward at witnessing the unspoken conversation.

Peripherally, he saw Cas gently pull at Dean’s grip, and he barely heard the soft, “I just need a minute.”

Dean nodded somberly and released the other man’s wrist. The brothers watched Cas walk quickly from the room.

“What was that about? I didn’t mean -- ,” Sam began.

Dean cut him off with a handwave and a brusque, “Not my story to tell. Just – can we put Balthazar on the list of things we don’t talk about? Ever?”

“Yeah,” Sam nodded. “You need to go after him?”

Dean shook his head. “I’ll give him his minute. If he takes too long, then yeah, I’ll go. You saw his hands, I’m guessing?”

Sam nodded. “I wasn’t going to say anything – they weren’t like that when he relieved me last night.”

“No,” Dean said. “He did it sometime between then and when I went to check on him. Being around Zeke triggered him, I think. You know how it is.”

“Nightmares, then,” Sam said.

“Nightmares, daymares – he’s wracked with guilt, Sam.” Dean paused, scrubbed a hand over his face, and breathed heavily. “There’s only so much I can do…” He trailed off, staring off into space for a moment.

Sam hesitated, but he wanted to know how worried they should be. So he plunged ahead anyway. “Does he usually hurt himself?”

Dean shook his head. “Not that I know of – not physically, at least,” he amended. “I don’t think he consciously did it this time, and even if he had…” Dean paused and took a breath. “Well, we both know there are worse things.”

“Like what?,” Sam asked slowly, not wanting to provoke his brother, but wanting to have a clear picture of Cas’s state of mind.

“You already know,” Dean said bluntly. “We’ve both been there.”

Sam nodded but said nothing else, as Dean stood, signaling an end to the conversation. His brother flipped his chair around and re-settled himself, pulling the laptop closer. “Let’s get to work,” Dean said, proceeding to do just that.

As they worked, Sam thought about Cas, wherever he was in the bunker. Sam saw clearly that Dean and Cas were much stronger together than either was on his own – and that was saying something, considering who each was in his own right.

“You’re good for each other,” Sam said abruptly.

“Yeah, yeah,” Dean said. He pointed at the books and papers in front of his brother. “Work, Samantha,” he ordered.

“I mean it, Dean.” Sam hadn’t meant to blurt it out like that, but he wanted his brother to understand – to get that everyone could see how he and Cas were together, to accept that their…relationship…was something real that could – universe willing – outlast the current apocalypse.

Dean stopped typing and caught Sam’s gaze. “I know, Sam,” he said seriously. “Didn’t I say, ‘Yeah?’”

Sam stared as Dean’s response sank in. Dean smirked, and Sam rolled his eyes – as he knew Dean expected. But Sam smiled when his brother wasn’t looking.

Around 1:30, Charlie texted, asking to be relieved. Dean stood before Sam could. “I’ll take over,” he said.

“You sure?,” Sam asked.

“Yeah – I can work in there as good as here, anyway.” He snapped the laptop shut and grabbed it and the notebook with one hand, tucking a pen behind his ear with the other. “And here comes Cas to keep you company in my absence,” Dean said, smiling at the blue-eyed man walking into the room.

Sam watched as Dean met Cas halfway, as they bent their heads towards one another in a whispered conversation. Dean reached for Cas’s hand, lacing their fingers together as they talked. Cas nodded at something Dean said, and the younger man raised their joined hands between them, brushing a gentle kiss across Cas’s knuckles.

Sam continued watching them surreptitiously and caught himself gazing at them fondly – He couldn’t help it. Dammit, he thought. They are a cute couple.

Sam idly wondered when would be the best time to spring that particular compliment on his brawny big brother and snorted loudly at the thought of how Dean would respond.

“You okay there, Sammy?,” Dean asked, looking back at Sam with concern. Cas also looked at Sam inquisitively.

Sam tapped his chest with his fist, as if he’d been fighting off a cough. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

Dean nodded, and turned back to Cas, loosening their fingers and sliding his hand up to cup the back of Cas’s head, pulling him close. Dean kissed Cas gently on the forehead and smiled that soul-filled smile Sam so rarely saw before letting go and heading down the hall.

Never let it be said that Sam wasn’t good at pretending. When Cas took the seat across from him and settled into work, Sam was (and had been, of course) intently working.

“Everything okay Cas?,” Sam asked a few moments later.

“Yes,” Cas responded simply, flipping through the pages until he found where he’d paused his translating.

Sam could see that Cas’s posture was relaxed, and even his eyes seemed lighter.

He’d always known that Cas had the power to save Dean; it had taken him longer to realize Dean had the power to save Cas.

Sam felt a flood of affection towards both men – his brothers, he realized. He rubbed at his suddenly teary eyes, glad Dean wasn’t here to give him hell for being a sentimental idiot. But then he realized that he didn’t want Dean to hear about it from his significant other either. Thankfully, a hasty glance assured Sam that Cas was oblivious to everything except the translation he was working on.

Relieved, Sam got back to work.

He wondered, though, how long he should wait before springing the “cute” verdict on Dean - Sam was pretty sure his bestowing the compliment would get a rise out of his brother.

And Sam couldn’t wait.

+

to be continued…

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Then

Ezekiel woke up at 4 a.m. the next morning – early enough to raise Cas’s suspicions but late enough to suggest that he was telling the truth. “I have managed to repair my grace,” he responded enigmatically when Dean questioned him.

With no bald evidence and with Zeke’s continuing impassivity, Dean reluctantly agreed that they should accept what he said.

“But I’m going to keep an eye on you, Zeke – and if you step one feather out of line, I’m going to stab you in your face. Got it?,” Dean growled.

Ezekiel looked placidly at Dean and responded, “It is not rational to use feathers as instruments of measurement.”

Dean spluttered, Sam guffawed and even Cas had to bite the inside of his cheek to stifle a laugh. Red-faced, Dean stomped out of the room. Sam shot Cas a questioning look, but got a headshake in response. The message was clear: Let him go. Dean needed some breathing room, so they’d give it to him.

Cas turned his attention back to Ezekiel, addressing him directly. “What happened at the restaurant?”

“I do not know.”

Cas narrowed his eyes, recognizing a certain tightness in Ezekiel’s expression. “Let me rephrase, then,” he said. “What – or who – caused the explosion that nearly killed Sam?”

Only Cas noticed Ezekiel’s flinch. But both Sam and Cas noticed how carefully the angel chose his next words.

“I suspect it was a supernatural force.”

“No shit, sherlock,” Sam muttered. As soon as the words left his mouth, he rubbed his face in exasperation. Am I turning into Dean?

Cas shot a look at Sam, one he usually reserved for Dean’s smart-assery, but turned his attention back to Zeke.

“What’s your relationship with Bartholomew? Are you following his orders?,” he asked. Direct questions were the best approach here; it would be harder for Zeke to hide behind semantics that way.

“As I told the Winchesters, I’m helping Bartholomew restore the angels to heaven.”

“And you’re following orders?”

“I am.”

Sam asked a question that prompted an extended conversation about the current state of Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, and the Veil. Ezekiel had details they hadn’t heard, and without his angelic attention span, Cas was diverted from his original line of questioning.

Later, Cas would realize his mistake.

+

Charlie and Kevin were staring enraptured at the computer screens set up side by side on the largest research table when Dean came stalking into the room.

“Look it, De—” Charlie broke off her words, frowning at Dean. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Dean said gruffly. He rolled his eyes at Charlie’s disbelieving look and walked up behind Kevin, peering over his shoulder. “What’s up?”

Kevin grinned. “Good things.”

“Did you already translate the tablet?” Dean asked hopefully.

“Not quite,” Kevin said. “But we’re making progress.”

Charlie pointed at the screen on the left. “See? There’s the scan I made of the tablet.”

“Looks like gibberish to me,” Dean said.

“It looks like gibberish to all of us, including me,” Kevin said. “I have to concentrate so hard that it feels like my head’s going to explode just making out one word.”

“Quit complaining,” Charlie said, swatting Kevin on the arm. “Watch,” she commanded.

Dean and Kevin watched as she highlighted the upper-left quadrant and copied the text into a translation box. She switched to the middle screen, enlarging the box – and proceeded to pull the text apart, layer by layer.

“It’s palimpsestic,” Kevin said, excitement clear in his voice.

“And that means?,” Dean asked.

“A palimpsest is a manuscript where the original writing has been partially erased and written over – but traces of the original are still there.”

“So Metatron recycled a tablet for the Word of God’s Guide to Angels?,” Dean asked.

Kevin shook his head. “No. He purposefully wrote in layers; he created a tablet so intricate that the prophet can barely decipher it.”

Charlie explained. “By de-layering the text, we can separate the manuscripts.”

“I’ve already translated the upper-right-hand quadrant of the top text,” Kevin said.

“What’d it say?” Dean asked.

Kevin grinned. “That there’s a way to put those winged dicks back into heaven.”

“Awesome!,” Dean said. “You kids rock.”

“Charlie rocks,” Kevin said. “My brain would’ve bled before I could’ve deduced all this.”

“Long live the Queen, bitches!” Charlie grinned up at Dean, laughing as he ruffled her hair.

Dean and Kevin watched as Charlie worked her magic on the faded script. “How many other texts are there?,” Dean asked.

“There are three layers,” Charlie said. “The top is the Angel Tablet and the bottom I’m still trying to reconstruct.” She hovered the cursor over the faintest image. “See, it has the faintest lettering because it was the most erased. It’s mostly just impressions, like what you’d see in a notebook, when you write on the first page but can see the indentations from the pressure for pages?”

Dean nodded his understanding. “Well, this is like the next-to-last page in the stack,” she said.

Dean pursed his lips. “Can you still decipher it?”

“It’s going to take some time and Charlie’s program, but yeah,” Kevin said. He pointed to the first line, which looked like nothing more than a few dots and dashes to Dean. “I guess it’s my prophet power filling in the gaps, but I can read that.”

“Well, good on you, kid,” Dean said, clapping the prophet on the shoulder. “What’s the middle layer, then?”

“You’re not going to like it,” Charlie said.

“You mean there’s something I could like less than angels locked out of heaven and all the monsters in the known universe battling it out on the earthly plane?”

Charlie and Kevin exchanged a solemn look before Kevin answered.

“It’s the Human Tablet.”

Dean stared at them. “The what?”

“You heard right,” Kevin said.

Dean scrubbed his hand over his face. “Jesus,” he muttered. “So what does it tell us – how to wipe humanity off the planet so the winged dicks and demons have full reign?”

“Doubt it,” Kevin said. “I don’t know what it says yet – ” Charlie cut in.

“The layering is slowing my program down,” she said. “But we should at least be able to separate the layers today, maybe even get the Angel tablet processing. Oops – and there’s the next quadrant.” Charlie plopped down in her seat, concentrating intently as her fingers flew across the keyboard.

“Is this one translating into Old Akkadian too?,” Dean asked, but he held held up his left index finger in the universal “wait a minute” signal before Kevin could answer. He dug his cell phone out of his right pocket and, one-handed, typed a quick text.

Kevin watched, bewildered.

“It’s okay,” Dean reassured. “Just hold those prophet thoughts a minute.” Within seconds, his phone buzzed twice in quick succession. He read the messages, sighed in relief, and tucked the phone back into his right front jeans pocket.

“Seriously, dude. What?,” Kevin asked again.

“I asked Sam and Cas to double-check the warding on Zeke and Crowley – to make sure the silencing spell was in place. I don’t want either of them hearing any of this.”

Kevin paled. “Oh, shit,” he said. “That would really suck.”

Dean nodded in agreement. “All's good, though. Both are still in a bubble of silence.”

"So, old Akkadian?," Dean asked again.

"The Angel tablet's apparently not translatable," Charlie said. "It's coming out as is."

"It's an archaic form of Enochian," Kevin clarified.

"I thought Enochian was archaic," Dean said.

"It is, but the Angel Tablet doesn't read like other Enochian documents. There are sections that are glossolalia-like. That is, they resemble what some people call speaking in tongues," Kevin explained. "But while Charlie's program really can't translate those passages, I can make sense of them."

"So, prophet brain filling in the gaps again?"

"Apparently," Kevin answered. "I was having trouble translating before because of the Tablets' layering. Now that they're separated, it's easier. Even though the Enochian's not what I'm used to, with some work, I can manage. I expect that the Human Tablet will translate, though, like the Demon one did."

"Speaking of...," Dean said, walking behind Charlie to watch over her shoulder. “Progress?”

“Yep,” Charlie answered brightly. “Second quadrant is done. Printing the top layer for you now, Kevin. I’m going to play with the resolution of the others while the next quadrant separates.”

Kevin walked over to the printer and grabbed the still-warm copies, reading through them. He looked up and grinned at Dean. “This is going to work. We’re going to win.”

Kevin’s infectious optimism prompted a smile from Dean. “Yeah, Kev, we are.” Dean watched as Kevin reclaimed his seat, poring over the documents.

Neither Kevin nor Charlie heard Dean mutter under his breath, “I’ll make sure of it.”

+

“But once Heaven’s re-opened, the souls trapped in the Veil will ascend?”

A sharp rap at the doorframe cut off Zeke’s response to Sam’s question. Dean leaned into the room and announced that it was family meeting time.

Sam narrowed his eyes, reading his brother’s micro-expressions; nodding, he stood. “We’ll finish this later?,” he asked Zeke, walking towards the door.

“We will. In the meantime, I will tell Castiel what you need to know about Bartholomew’s loyalists.”

Dean snorted. He was standing in the doorframe now, arms crossed, glaring at the angel he still didn’t trust.

“Cas is with us,” Dean said.

“You said it was a family meeting. I assumed…”

Sam cut Zeke off. “Cas is family.” He picked up the clay urn sitting in the floor by the door and poured a fresh, thin circle around the bed where the angel sat.

Cas, who had been silent during the exchange, stood then, and pulled out a matchbook. “Apologies, Ezekiel. I’m sure you understand.”

“Of course,” the angel intoned. “I would do the same.”

Cas tossed a lit match to the floor, and the dancing flames of the holy fire enclosed Ezekiel. “Someone will be back soon,” Cas said.

“If you do anything –“ Dean warned.

Zeke interrupted Dean, speaking calmly. “I understood your warnings the first time. You have my compliance.”

Dean nodded. Instinctively, he and Cas joined hands as they left the room; neither noticed Ezekiel noticing their laced fingers.

But Sam did. He finished reviewing the wards once more before following the other two men. He paused in the doorway and looked back. “Do you have a problem with them?”

“With Dean and Castiel?,” Ezekiel asked.

“Yes. I watched you watching them. You know.”

Ezekiel regarded Sam evenly. “Yes.”

“I’ll repeat my question once more: Do you have a problem with them?”

“No, I do not,” Ezekiel responded solemnly.

Sam eyed the angel, noticing how his vessel’s body language remained neutral, and he remembered Dean’s warning that they couldn’t trust the angel’s tells, or lack thereof. Something niggled at the back of Sam’s mind, and he felt a flare of alarm. He couldn’t identify why yet, so he opted for simplicity.

“Good. Keep it that way.”

His tone made the unspoken clear: If need be, more than one Winchester was willing to stab Zeke in the face.

+

Sam caught up with Dean and Cas just outside the research room. “So what’s up?”

“I’m going to let Kevin and Charlie tell you,” Dean replied enigmatically. “They worked for this, so they get to tell you.”

“Sounds big,” Sam said.

Dean laughed. “Just wait till you hear the details.” He tightened his hold on Cas’s hand. “I think you’re both going to be surprised.”

Minutes later, Sam was staring at the computer monitors, completely dumbfounded.

“Are you fucking kidding me?,” Sam asked. “There’s a human tablet?”

“You had to have considered the possibility, all things considered,” Cas said calmly. He was also peering intently at the screen, but without Sam’s shock.

“Yeah, but we’d hoped we’d be dead and gone before it was dug out of the earth,” Dean said wryly. He released Cas’s fingers; he slipped his arm around the former angel, resting his palm in the small of Cas’s back instead.

Cas inclined his head, acknowledging Dean’s comment before flashing a rare grin at Dean. “But of course the Winchesters would be the ones to find it – you two are at the heart of everything, it seems.”

“Har har,” Sam said dryly.

“Yeah, I’m with Sasquatch, Cas. Shut it.” The pressure of Dean’s palm rubbing gentle circles across Cas’s lower back undermined his threat, though.

“Are you going to make me?” Cas raised a challenging brow.

Dean met the mischievous blue gaze squarely. “I could.” Dean’s hand stilled, and no one could see – but Cas could very much feel – Dean increasing the pressure of his palm and dipping his fingers into his waistband. When fingertips brushed against skin, Cas’s body went rigid.

But one too many sexually charged seconds resulted in Kevin making a gagging noise, Charlie erupting into giggles and Sam into guffaws. The sound interrupted the impromptu staring challenge, and both Dean and Cas sported pink cheeks by the time the other three calmed down.

Charlie grinned at Dean and the flush still staining his cheeks. “So what do we do now, O Fearless Leader?”

“Brat,” he muttered. It was a term of endearment coming from Dean, and Charlie punched him just as affectionately in the arm. “Ow,” he said with mock-injury.

“Can we focus, fearless leader?,” Cas asked with a cheeky grin.

Dean rolled his eyes and stepped away from his distracting angel. He paced around the room, unconsciously shifting into the military stance that came naturally to him before turning back to the others – Sam and Cas standing with arms folded, waiting to plan; Kevin and Charlie hunched over the computer, reading the screens, and waiting for his instruction.

These were his people, and he had to keep them safe. And he would keep them safe, if it was the last thing he did. He hoped it wouldn’t have to be.

“First, we decide how to handle Zeke,” he said. Dean looked at Cas. “So what’s the verdict? Can we trust him?”

“Maybe,” Sam said, just as Cas said, “Absolutely not.”

Dean raised an eyebrow. “Okay, let’s try that again.”

“He hasn’t given us a reason to distrust him,” Sam said reasonably. “And he saved me, which doesn’t make sense if he means us harm.”

“It makes sense to me,” Cas said. At Sam’s questioning look, Cas sighed. “There’s a reason I didn’t smite you when I met you, Sam, despite the fact that all of heaven knew you were drinking demon blood and knew where your path would lead. Despite Uriel’s objections, orders made it clear that if heaven wanted The Righteous Man, they had to save his brother.”

Dean shrugged. “They weren’t wrong.”

“No, they weren’t,” Cas said. Sam hung his head a moment but nodded, acquiescing the point.

“Plus,” Cas added. “Saving you gets them Dean and myself now.” Sam’s head jerked up at that, and Dean’s mouth quirked in a smile as his brother got it.

“Thanks, Cas,” Sam said.

“You’re welcome, Sam.”

Dean stifled a smile and cleared his throat. “Okay, Hallmark moment over? Can we get back to business?” He ignored the simultaneous glares from his brother and his angel.

“We need to get Bart and Abaddon on the board at the same time and set them on each other,” Dean said. “And Crowley’s going to help us do it.”

“You mean the practically human pathetic mess you have locked up?,” Cas asked.

“I mean the psychopathic King of Hell who has damn near killed us more times than I can count,” Dean countered.

“I’m with Dean,” Sam said. “We all know Crowley’s not who he was – ”

“But that doesn’t exonerate him," Dean finished Sam's thought. "It can’t. And he’s our only real bargaining chip.”

“Not true,” Cas argued.

“Oh, yes it is,” Dean retorted. “And if you take that thought one word further, I’ll kick your ass, Cas.”

“Seconded,” Sam added

“Thirded,” said Charlie.

“And fourthed,” said Kevin.

Cas dropped his head. Dean reached out and cupped the back of Cas’s neck. When the former angel looked up, they could all see the sheen in his eyes.

“It’s off the table, Cas,” Dean said, his voice low and serious. “Let it go.” Cas nodded, and Dean gently squeezed the back of his neck, before sliding his hand down Cas’s arm and lacing their fingers together.

This time, Sam cleared his throat to break the mood. “So, how are we going to use Crowley to set off Bart and Abaddon?”

“Don’t worry, little brother,” Dean said with a grin. “I’ve got a foolproof plan.”

+

to be continued…

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Then

“I’m not so sure this is foolproof,” Sam groused to his brother.

Dean side-eyed his brother. “You got a better idea?”

Sam sighed heavily and shook his head. “What if telling him backfires on us?”

“It won’t,” Dean said with certainty. “He wants out of here, and he wants his throne back. This is his shot. Otherwise, we start dosing him with human blood again until he’s the equivalent of – what was it he called Cas during his bees and honey phase?”

“A wet ball of fur.”

“Yeah, that.” Dean shrugged. “We both know Crowley will take evil and vindictive over kitten-hood any day.”

Sam nodded. “Okay, then. You going to do this, or am I?”

“You. I’ll save my biting wit to drive the point home.” Dean grinned at his brother. “He likes you better anyway, Moosie.”

“Shut up, squirrel,” Sam retorted.

Dean snorted with laughter and unbolted the door, stepping back so that Sam could pull it open and walk in.

Sam flipped on the overhead light as he stepped into Crowley’s small room. The former King of Hell was sitting on his cot, back to the wall, arms folded across his chest, and blinking blearily at the sudden brightness. Sam started, though he tried to suppress the reaction; it was simply disconcerting to see the former King of Hell in a wife-beater and boxers.

“So, Moosie, what’s the occasion?,” Crowley drawled.

Dean snickered behind Sam, who barely resisted the urge to turn around and punch his brother in the arm.

“We have a proposition for you,” Sam said.

Crowley artfully ached an eyebrow. “I’m all atwitter - Tell me more.”

“We’re going to give you the chance to get your throne back.”

Crowley actually looked surprised at that. He stood suddenly, drawing himself up to his meatsuit’s full height. He narrowed his gaze at Sam, and comprehension momentarily dawned on his face. “You’re going to make a deal,” he said flatly. “And I’m the currency.”

Sam gave him a curt nod. Crowley looked over the younger Winchester’s shoulder at Dean. “What’s brought this on?”

Sam grimaced and stepped to the side, allowing Dean to step closer and enter the conversation. Crowley might have a soft spot for Sam, but when it came to strategy, he only ever listened to Dean. Sam wondered why Dean hadn’t yet figured that out.

“We need Abaddon off the board. Getting you back into power is the best way to make that happen.”

“The devil you know?” Crowley asked, a knowing smile quirking his lips.

Dean nodded, his own mouth set in a grim line. “Unfortunately.”

“When?” Crowley asked.

“Within the week. We’re working on the details now.”

Crowley met Dean’s eyes unflinchingly, the demonic wheels already turning. He nodded once. “Okay then, boys. I’ll play – for now.”

“Don’t expect a free pass,” Dean warned. “None of this makes us square.”

“Believe me, I’m the last person to think we’ve settled our debts. Though I did think we were friends, Dean. You wound me.”

“In your dreams,” Dean snarled. “If I’d had my way, we’d have gone with our original plan.”

“Which was?” Crowley asked.

“To stab you in your brain,” Sam answered.

A flash of all-too-human disappointment marred the other man’s features. Sam swallowed hard at the reminder that Crowley wasn’t quite Crowley anymore. But the quasi-demon still sniped like his old self.

“Oh, boys,” Crowley purred. “I love you too.” He grinned at the Winchesters’ simultaneous snorts of disgust and walked over to the chair where the crumpled remains of his once smartly pressed black suit lay.

“Word of advice, boys? When selling merchandise, presentation is everything.” He tossed the clothing at Sam, hitting him square in the chest.

“Get my suit cleaned and pressed. Then we’ll strategize. In the meantime, I need a ceremonial bowl and some fresh blood.”

“Not happening,” Dean ground out.

“Whatever you say, Squirrel,” Crowley said. “I’ll just go back to my life of luxury, sleeping on this cot and reading chick lit all day.”

Dean folded his arms across his chest and glared at Crowley. “We’re managing this rodeo,” he said. “You’ll do what we tell you or you can stay in this room for the rest of your natural life – which won’t be long, I promise you.”

“He means it, Crowley,” Sam added. “We’ve counted on you being useful; if this goes ass-up, you lose your value.”

Crowley’s snarky tone didn’t match the flicker of fear that Sam saw in his eyes. “I always have been a piece of prime real estate,” he said smugly. He held out his forearm, revealing the binding mark they’d burned into his flesh so that he couldn’t escape his meatsuit. “You’ll need to break this.”

“Not a chance,” Dean said.

Crowley rolled his eyes in exasperation. “I need access to my full abilities – or at least as many as I have left. You two idiots have weakened me enough with your stupid experiments.”

“If the binding is broken –,” Sam said, holding up a hand to head off the protest he anticipated from Dean. “If – then we’ll do it right before we release you, not before.”

“What’s to stop me from doing it myself?”

“What’s stopped you so far?,” Dean asked knowingly.

Crowley couldn’t quite repress the shock on his face. Dean let loose a short laugh. “Oh, yeah, chuckles. We warded this room against every damn thing I could think of, including you trying to damage that.” Dean gestured at the brand and winked smugly at the former King. “Come on, Sam,” he said. “We’re through here. Let’s get the bastard’s suit cleaned so that we can get this show on the road.”

The brothers turned their backs on the quasi-demon, who called out, “What if I change my mind?”

“We go back to our original plan,” Sam answered in a steely tone. He turned to close the door. “Sweet dreams.” He pulled the door closed without waiting for a response.

Dean was further down the hallway, outside of Zeke’s room, speaking with Kevin.

“What’s up?,” Sam asked, eyeing the folded note that Kevin had just passed to Dean.

“Kevin’s found something,” Dean said, reminding his brother with a flick of his eyes that, at this close distance, their conversation wasn’t protected from Zeke’s prying ears.

Sam nodded his understanding and smiled at Kevin’s barely repressed glee. “Is it worth the wait, shortstop?”

“Oh, yeah,” Kevin said. “Just wait till you see.” He turned to go back into the room, stopping when Dean clapped him on the shoulder and squeezed reassuringly.

“Thanks, Kev. One of us will relieve you in a couple of hours,” Dean said.

“No rush,” Kevin said. “I’m good – really. Charlie set up a secure account so that we can communicate, and I can work just as well in here as out there; you guys can’t.”

“Still. We won’t leave you on angel duty indefinitely.” Kevin nodded and headed back towards the pallet that he’d turned into his own comfortable nest.

Zeke caught Dean’s eye and inclined his head in acknowledgement.

“We going to talk to him now too?,” Sam asked in a low tone, as Dean returned Zeke’s acknowledgement.

“No,” Dean said, closing the door. He motioned for Sam to walk ahead. “We need the fully formed plan before we set him in motion.”

They walked quickly and quietly down the hall, and their entrance into the research room drew Cas’s attention from his reading. “How’d it go?”

Dean shrugged, pulling out the chair opposite Cas and dropping into it. “Fine. We told him.” Dean looked around the room. “Where’s Charlie?”

“Nap. She’d pulled an all-nighter,” Cas answered. “So how did Crowley react?”

“He wants to run things, and he wants the binding symbol broken.”

Cas shook his head. “Absolutely not. He’ll take advanta—”

“I know, I know,” Dean said, cutting him off. He met Cas’s gaze evenly. “I told him no on both counts. I might want Abaddon and Bartholomew dead, but I’m not being entirely reckless.”

Cas muttered something under his breath as he bent over the page that he was filling with his careful script. Sam huffed a laugh, drawing a glare from both of them.

“What was that?”

Cas looked up, annoyed blue meeting irritated green. He tapped dropped his pencil, tapping his fingers on the table. “It is atypical for you to not be reckless, Dean. Pardon me if I have trouble believing that you can refrain.”

Dean snorted but reached across the table to grab Cas’s fidgeting hand. He rubbed gently over the healing marks on Cas’s palm and laced their fingers together. “I’ve got something to live for,” Dean said solemnly. “I promised you I’d be careful. I meant it.”

Both looked down at their joined hands and noticeably tightened their hold on each other. This time, when their eyes met, there was something softer there, and…

Sam cleared his throat, deciding it was a good time to remind them that he was in the room. They simultaneously released the other’s hand and looked up at the younger man.

“So, what’d Kevin give you?,” Sam asked his brother. Cas looked at Dean expectantly.

“I don’t know – he just said it was important.” Dean unfolded the note, his eyes widening as he scanned the page. Without saying anything, he passed the page to Cas. Sam walked up behind his friend, and they read it together.

“It’s a spell,” Cas observed.

“It’s the spell,” Dean clarified.

“It’s not all here,” Sam commented.

“No,” Dean answered. “But Kev’s postscript says he’s working on the rest of it. But it’s…”

“Incontrovertible proof that what's been wrought can be undone,” Cas finished for him.

They all three shared a look of triumph until Dean scrubbed a hand over his face. “We can’t get too excited, though – not till Kevin figures out the ingredients, and we figure out whether or not we can procure them.”

“We already figured that if the original spell required Cas’s grace, then the reversal would require something from one if not both of you,” Sam said. “What if we’re right and fixing heaven requires something that no one’s willing for either of you to pay?”

Dean and Cas exchanged a long look before Dean answered. “We’ve talked about that. Neither of us wants to do anything extreme, Sam. But if we can put those winged dicks back where they belong?” Dean shrugged. “I can’t say no to that.”

Sam eyed his brother and Cas with the same wary glance. “Somehow, that’s not reassuring,” he commented.

“I understand your concern about far Dean would go, Sam, and I also understand your determination,” Cas said, switching his gaze to Dean. “You both know my personal stake in this too.” Cas paused and rubbed at his throat as he continued to study Kevin’s note. “But I have a proposal that might serve us all well.”

Dean’s eyes lingered on Cas’s throat, as did Sam’s. They exchanged looks of barely repressed rage as Cas unconsciously touched the now-healed wound where Metatron had cut his throat to drain his grace.

Sam swallowed his anger. “Okay, what?” he asked, giving Dean time to school his features into a more neutral expression.

“Yeah, let’s hear it, Cas,” Dean added.

Cas looked up from the page. “That we all solemnly swear to consult one another before taking any action when it comes to anything dealing with heaven and hell.” He regarded the brothers evenly, waiting for their response.

Dean grinned. “For a second there, I thought you were going to ‘solemnly swear you were up to no good,’ Cas.”

“I don’t understand,” Cas said, perplexed.

“Harry Potter,” Dean responded.

“Like I know what that is,” Cas huffed.

Dean gasped in feigned horror and then laughed. “Don’t worry. It’s not important. We’ll catch you up on all the pop culture you can stand after we fix the universe.”

Dean looked up to find Sam’s appraising eye on him. “What?,” he asked defensively. “It was just a reference, Sam – Christ. I forgot he hadn’t seen the films or read the novels yet.”

“No, that’s not it,” Sam said slowly. “Of the three of us, you are most likely to run off and do something stupid, with Cas a close second.” Sam ignored Cas’s denial. “I promise to consult with both of you before I do anything regarding heaven and hell. Can you two make the same promise?”

“It was my idea,” Cas said stiffly.

“So, easy for you to promise, eh?,” Sam asked.

“Yes, I promise,” Cas retorted.

“Dean?” Sam and Cas asked simultaneously.

Dean studied them both before answering. “I’ll do whatever I can to –“

“Nope. Not good enough,” Sam said, cutting his brother off. “Do you promise or not? Don’t make me dig out the oath breaking spell I discovered last week.”

Dean rolled his eyes. “Fine. I pro—“

“Hands on the table,” Sam ordered. “No finger-crossing, toe-twisting, whatever-the-hell-else you do that lets you think you’re not lying when you really are…”

Dean slammed his hands on the table. “Fine,” he practically shouted. “I promise to consult with both of you before I do anything regarding heaven or hell. And I also promise to kick both of your asses if either of you reneges on your promises!” He punctuated the last with very aggressive finger pointing.

“Duly noted,” Sam said. “I make the same promise back – ass-kickings all around if either of you decides to be a martyr. Understood?”

Dean and Cas sullenly nodded.

“Why aren’t you throwing your own addendums out there?,” Dean asked Cas, who’d gone back to perusing Kevin’s fragmented translation.

“I don’t need to. I know what I’ll do if either of you breaks your word.”

“Care to tell the class?,” Sam asked wryly.

“No,” Cas responded. “I prefer for my vengeance to be a surprise. And, trust me, you’ll hate this surprise.” He gave each Winchester a pointed, severe look before focusing back on the note.

Sam and Dean shared amused looks. “Okay, then. I think we’re good,” Sam said. He held up the balled-up suit he still held in his hand. “I’m going to drop off Crowley’s dry cleaning and run some errands while you guys work.”

Dean tittered. “Not a word,” Sam warned. “Or you can take it.”

Dean swallowed the laugh and smirked instead. “Fine, fine. Grab some grub while you’re out?”

“Sure,” Sam said. “What do you want?”

Cas and Dean answered as one: “Burgers.”

“Man after my own heart,” Dean said with a smile as Sam laughed and shook his head.

“Want a side of grease with that?,” Sam teased.

“I don’t think that would be appetizing,” Cas answered seriously.

“Joke, Cas,” Dean said, his eyes twinkling as Cas blushed.

Sam elbowed Cas’s shoulder gently, letting him know it was all in jest, and Cas ducked his head in a way that Dean found all too endearing.

“I’ll be back later, guys,” Sam said, walking over to grab his cell phone from its charger. By the time he’d turned around, they had fallen into one of those stares.

He rolled his eyes – not that they noticed. “Jesus,” he grumbled. “Can you at least wait until I leave the room before you start with the eye sex?”

“Huh?,” Dean asked, tearing his eyes away from Cas and giving his brother a bewildered look. “Sex what?”

“Eye sex, Dean,” Sam answered. “Can the two of you not – please?”

Cas looked confused. “Ignore him, Cas,” Dean said reassuringly. “We’re fine.”

“Yeah, well, you don’t have to see it,” Sam grumbled. He stomped away, taking the stairs loudly. Before he went out the door, though, he glanced back and saw that Dean had moved to sit beside Cas. Their heads leaned towards each another as they read over the documents. Sam watched as Cas slipped a hand up to thread his fingers through the short hair at the back of Dean’s head. When Dean turned to press his lips to Cas’s temple, Sam’s face flushed at witnessing such an intimate moment.

Averting his gaze, Sam left, shutting the heavy door quietly behind him.

+

When Charlie stumbled into the research room nearly an hour later, hair askew and eyes still bleary with fatigue, the first thing she saw was Dean’s overshirt in the floor. She squeaked and slapped her hands over her eyes.

“Who’s there?,” she called out.

“Oh, for crying out loud, Charlie,” Dean complained. “We’re working.”

“Nude? Or –”

“So because I took off my flannel shirt I must be nude? What’s wrong with you?”

Charlie removed her hands and placed them on her hips, glaring at Dean accusingly. “You forget that I caught your naked ass doing things to his naked ass not three days ago,” she griped.

Dean had the grace to flush. “Ah, well, uh - that’s what you get for not knocking first.”

“Dean, shut up,” Cas muttered. The former angel’s face was aflame with mortification. “I’m sorry, Charlie,” he said to the red-headed spitfire. “I didn’t know you witnessed – uh – that.”

“Oh, no worries, angel-cakes,” Charlie said with a grin. “You’re both hotties, though I didn’t appreciate the sight quite as much as some fangirls might.”

“Fangirls?” Cas asked. "I still don't understand that term."

“Leave it alone, Cas,” Dean warned. “Charlie – never, ever tell him about that world.”

Charlie grinned. “I make no promises, handmaiden.”

“Since when are you her handmaiden?,” Cas asked Dean.

“Since the moment he laid eyes on me,” Charlie answered for the blushing hunter, walking over and tousling his hair, grinning at Dean’s groan.

She eyed the stacks of books and piles of papers. “So, boys, what are we into now?”

By the time Sam got back, with salads, burgers, fries, and beer, Charlie, Cas, and Dean had organized what information they’d found.

Charlie had logged onto her computer and showed them how to operate the communication channel she’d set up. Though Kevin was still on angel duty, the four were able to exchange notes and ideas. Charlie read the communications as Dean and Cas worked; that way, she could keep an eye on the translation program. The angel tablet had processed, and the human tablet was sequencing now.

“Kevin’s got the first ingredient translated!,” Charlie exclaimed.

“What is it?,” Dean asked, casting a worried glance at Cas, who looked equally nervous.

“The tear of a reaper crying over the death of a human,” Charlie read. “Seriously? Do reapers even cry? I would think that’d rust their scythes.”

“Haha,” Dean said dryly. “Though I can’t imagine one crying, can you, Cas?”

Cas worried his bottom lip, brow furrowed in consternation. “No, I can’t,” he said. “But what about the reaper who’s helped you before?”

“Tessa?,” Dean asked. “She might help, but she doesn’t strike me as the crying type.”

“No, but because of you and Sam she’s probably had more human contact than most reapers – maybe it’s rubbed off on her?”

Dean didn’t look confident in the idea. He looked over at Charlie. “Kev’s sure that’s the ingredient?”

“Yeah,” Charlie answered. “I just double-checked.”

“I’ll add it to the grocery list,” Dean said with a sigh.

“Can you add loose-leaf black tea?,” Cas asked. “I’m out.”

“Always a comedian,” Dean muttered, even as his lips curved in a small smile, a match to Cas’s.

Charlie watched the two surreptitiously and smiled herself. They really are too damn cute, she thought.

+

When Sam walked in, bearing burgers, fries, salads, and beer, Cas jumped up to give him a hand.

“Thanks, Cas,” Sam said, handing him the two six-packs. Cas set them on an empty spot on a nearby table and hurriedly straightened up the randomly tossed books, making room for the rest of Sam’s haul.

“Oh, thank God,” Dean groaned out. “I’m about to die of starvation here.” He leaned back in his chair and stretched.

Cas, who was carrying one of the six-packs towards the small refrigerator they kept in the corner of the research room, leaned down and wrapped his free arm around Dean’s middle, patting his stomach lightly. He pressed his stubbled cheek against Dean’s, pressing close as the hunter wrapped an arm around his head. “I doubt that,” he said softly before stepping away.

Dean frowned and ran his own hand across his t-shirted torso. “Did you just call me fat?”

Sam let out a bark of laughter, as did Charlie. Dean glared at both of them.

“No. But you know that it’s hyperbolic to claim starvation when you consumed a bag of chips not three hours ago.” Cas pulled a cold six-pack from the mini-fridge, replacing it with the warm one.

“Hyperbolic? I just know that you like to use big words, Cas,” Dean groused. Cas ran a finger along the back of Dean’s neck when he walked past.

“You like it when I use big words, Dean.” Cas dropped his voice a register. “Remember?”

Dean stared at him. He opened his mouth to say something, but only a stutter came out. Cas grinned wickedly, and Sam chose that moment to interject.

“Food’s on,” he said loudly, with a pointed look at Dean and Cas. “Did you want a salad, Dean?,” he asked.

“What do you think?,” Dean asked.

“Yeah, I know. But I got you a special one,” Sam said, handing over a clamshell with writing on the lid. Dean popped it open and grinned.

“You’re the best,” Dean said.

Cas peered over his shoulder and arched an eyebrow at Sam. “Really?”

“Hey, if a heaping dose of extra bacon bits gets the infidel to eat some lettuce and tomatoes and whatever else I could fit in there, then yes. Really.”

“You didn’t forget my bacon cheeseburger did you?,” Dean asked.

“Of course not,” Sam said drily, tossing a sandwich wrapped in greasy paper to his brother. Dean neatly caught it one-handed.

Cas shook his head and picked up his own salad – sans the bacon – and burger. He stood there a moment, looking over the spread.

“Did I forget something?,” Sam asked.

“Um – fries?,” Cas said sheepishly.

Sam chuckled. “Right here.” He set a side-serving of them on top of Cas’s tray.

As Cas took his place beside Dean, pushing their notes safely to the side, Dean looked over and grinned. “Fall off that hypocritical higher ground yet?”

“Be quiet,” Cas said. “I’m eating.” He took a big bite of his burger.

Dean snorted and stole one of Cas’s fries. “Hey, these aren’t half bad! Did you get any extras?” he asked Sam.

“Of course, Dean. I live solely to clog your arteries,” Sam said, handing another side of fries over.

“Charlie, will you ask Kevin if he wants to be relieved? He’s been on duty for hours,” Sam said.

“Uh, yeah, sure. Hold on,” she said distractedly, fingers flying across her keyboard. A moment later, she called out, “Bazinga!”

Sam retracted his forkful of salad from his mouth. “What?”

“You guys want to know the next ingredient?” All three men looked at her expectantly. “It’s the feather of a fallen angel.”

“Wait – the next ingredient? What was the last?,” Sam asked.

“Tear of a reaper,” Charlie answered.

“Why couldn’t it be easy?,” Sam asked no one in particular.

“Because we’re Winchesters,” Dean responded matter-of-factly. “Nothing’s easy for us.”

Sam inclined his head, reluctantly acquiescing the point. He had a sudden epiphany and turned wide-eyes on Dean. “But the feather of a fallen angel is an easy one.”

“I may have fallen, but I have no feathers now,” Cas said. “And the other angels can’t manifest their wings on this plane.”

“You mean he doesn’t know?,” Sam asked Dean, who was examining his salad with great intensity.

“Huh?,” Dean asked. His ears were turning red, and he wouldn't look at anyone.

“He doesn’t know!” Sam exclaimed. “Oh. My. God.”

“Know what?” Cas asked. He and Charlie exchanged looks of confusion.

“Ikindofkeptsomeofyourfeathers,” Dean said.

Cas stared at Dean. “What?”

“You heard me,” Dean said, stuffing a large forkful of greens and bacon bits into his mouth and avoiding eye contact with everyone.

Cas looked to Sam, who was trying desperately not to laugh. The younger Winchester bit his lip a moment before answering.

“When you were smote the first time, at Chuck’s?”

Cas nodded, grimacing at the unhappy memory.

“We found a few feathers –“

“Three,” Dean interjected, still staring at his salad and consuming another huge forkful of greens.

Sam bit back a smile. “Yes, three feathers. They were black, like Dean remembered from that first night in the barn, so he figured they were yours. Henry – our grandfather – used one in a spell, but there should be two left.”

“Where are they?,” Cas asked. “I can tell you for sure if they’re mine.”

“They’re in the Impala’s arsenal,” Sam answered.

“One is,” Dean muttered.

“What’s that?” Sam asked, another smile lurking at the corners of his mouth.

Dean wiped his mouth with a napkin and pushed his chair back noisily. Without a word, he left the room.

“Is he okay?,” Charlie asked. “Can I have these extra croutons, Sam?”

“Help yourself. And yeah, he is,” Sam answered. “He’s just… sensitive.”

Cas set his own half-eaten burger on its paper and wiped his mouth. “Should I go after him?”

“You’d know better than me, man,” Sam answered, taking a bite of his veggie burger.

Before Cas had to decide, they heard the sound of Dean’s returning footsteps.

Without making eye contact with anyone, he handed a long wooden box to Cas. After a moment’s hesitation, Cas opened it and took out the single black feather.

He held it carefully by the shaft and stared at it in wonderment. “It’s mine,” he said.

“Told you,” Dean said to his brother.

Cas laid it gently back in the silk-lined box.

“Hey, the liner matches your eyes,” Charlie said. Dean’s face flamed red, and Charlie grimaced at her faux pas. “You know what? I’m just gonna take Kevin his grub and hang with him for a while.” With an armload of food and beers, she beat a hasty retreat.

“I’ll relieve you both shortly,” Sam called out. Charlie nodded, but she didn’t say anything. Sam watched his brothers warily, unsure if he should stay or go. He tried to catch Dean’s eye, but his brother seemed intent on staring a hole into the tabletop.

Another minute passed, and Cas was still staring into the open box, one hand carefully tracing the silk and the delicate feather lying upon it. Sam wondered what was going through his mind – did he find it weird that Dean had kept the feather or was Cas too overwhelmed with the evidence of his former angelhood?

With that, Sam realized that regardless of whether or not they knew it, they needed a moment to themselves.

He stood and grabbed his burger and beer. “I’ll – uh – be back in a few,” he said.

After Sam was gone, Dean spoke. “I picked that color on purpose.”

Cas nodded. “You knew the feathers were mine?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

“You’ll laugh.”

“Tell me.”

Dean sighed. “Sam argued that if you’d been smote that your feathers couldn’t have survived, that the archangel must have lost those after the release of angelic energy caused them to manifest.”

“Sound reasoning,” Cas mused. “Why did you think differently?”

“When I touched them – they… uh…” Dean swallowed hard. “I felt sparks.”

“Sparks?”

“Like electricity. Humming under my skin – Sam couldn’t feel it, neither could Chuck.”

“But you could.”

“Yes,” Dean answered.

Cas shut the box and traced his hands over the careful carvings that decorated its outside.

“You carved these?”

“Yes.”

Dean fidgeted as Cas traced each of the sigils he’d carefully researched and planned out.

“So,” Dean said. “Lay it on me.”

Cas turned towards Dean, confusion writ on his face if Dean would’ve just read it. “What?”

“Tell me how weird it is, how creepy, blah, blah, blah,” Dean said, gesturing towards the box without raising his eyes.

“It’s not weird or creepy,” Cas answered, but his voice broke as he spoke and that caught Dean’s attention.

Cas’s eyes were filled with unshed tears, and when he blinked, they cascaded down his face. Dean reached over and gently took the box from Cas, setting it carefully on the table and folding the slightly smaller man into his arms. Cas let him, resting his face in the crook of Dean’s neck.

Dean made shushing noises as he rubbed circles on Cas’s back and pressed his lips to the shell of Cas’s ear. He resisted the hot prickling behind his own eyes until he felt one lone tear make its escape; then, the dam burst.

He clung to Cas as he fought his own sobs, remembering his horror at Chuck’s story, the bottomless grief at finding the feathers, and the relief at learning Cas had been restored. He thought about every other time he’d lost Cas too, and Dean tightened his arms. Both were lost in waves of emotion, and Cas held onto Dean just as tightly, clutching at the fabric of his t-shirt.

When Dean had control of his voice, he asked, “Do you miss it?”

Cas’s answer was muffled against Dean’s neck, but it was clear. “Sometimes.” He pulled back and wiped his face with the back of his hand. “But I would miss this more.”

“Good answer,” Dean said softly, reaching out and brushing the back of his fingers against Cas’s cheek.

“Do you miss it?,” Cas asked seriously.

“The mojo?”

Cas nodded, his expression earnest.

“Do I miss having heavenly kick-ass powers on speed-dial?” Dean shrugged. “Yeah, sometimes.” He reached out and lifted Cas’s chin with his finger. “But I would miss this more.”

He leaned forward and touched his lips to Cas’s, brushing slightly against the familiar contours. “You feel that?,” Dean asked.

Cas opened his eyes slowly. “The feel of your lips? Yes.”

“And what else?”

“There’s an energy – a thrumming - but there always is when you touch me,” Cas admitted.

“Well, that’s how I feel every time I touch you, angel feathers or no,” Dean said, reaching out to brush back one of the soft curls framing Cas’s face.

“Really?,” Cas asked, a gentle smile gracing his features.

“Really,” Dean said, smiling back. He stood and pulled Cas to his feet. “Ready to call it a night?” He brought Cas’s hand to his mouth, brushing his lips across the very-human knuckles that still bore faint marks from the explosion at Biggerson’s.

“What about Ezekiel?”

“It’s Sam’s night to take watch,” Dean answered.

“Okay, then,” Cas said. He picked up the box. “I can read this, you know,” he said.

“I’d hope so, or else I did a piss-poor job researching the translation,” Dean said.

“When did you design and build the box?”

Dean self-consciously rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand. “Uh – I kept them in a plain box for a long time – for years. But after Henry stole one for that spell, I realized that I needed to take better care of them. When I finally had some privacy where I could work on it without Sam’s helpful commentary, I finally… uh… yeah.”

“So you carved these words after Purgatory but before I broke heaven.”

“Before Metatron broke heaven, but yeah.” Dean slipped his free arm around Cas and pulled him close. “I meant them long before that.”

“Me too,” Cas said, leaning into Dean’s embrace. They closed their eyes and held onto each other, which is how Sam found them only moments later.

Sam cleared his throat loudly to let them know he was there. “Sorry,” he said. “Came back for the rest of my food.”

“You’re fine, Sam,” Cas said.

“Yeah,” Dean added. “Thanks for giving us a few minutes, but you don’t have to go.”

Sam assessed his brother and decided Dean was sincere; he reclaimed his seat at the table and dug back into his salad.

“So how’d Cas take the news of your feather fetish?,” he asked with a grin.

“You asshole,” Dean muttered, rolling his eyes affectionately.

“Quite well,” Cas said to Sam.

“See,” Dean crowed to his brother. “I told you it wasn’t creepy for me to keep them.”

“Of course not,” Cas said. “Just as it wasn’t creepy for me to watch over you while you slept.” Cas grinned at Sam, who promptly started laughing.

“Hey - hold on,” Dean protested. “That’s not the same thing at all.”

“How is it different?”

“B-because it just is,” Dean sputtered as Cas smiled enigmatically at him.

“Yeah, you’re not gonna win this fight, brother,” Sam observed. “You should quit while you’re ahead.”

“Listen to your brother, Dean,” Cas said. He held the precious box carefully in one hand and Dean’s in the other.

“What? You’re ganging up on me now?”

Cas shook his head and tugged gently at Dean’s hand. He turned to Sam, “Goodnight, Sam. We’ll see you in the morning.”

“’Night, Cas, Dean,” Sam said.

As they headed for the hallway, Sam couldn’t help calling after them, “Remember that the bedrooms aren’t soundproof!”

In perfect synchronicity, Dean and Cas flipped him off, setting Sam into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. Later, during his shift on angel watch, he’d think about how much more they’d all laughed since Cas had come home.

+

to be continued...

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Then

“A dragon’s scale,” Sam muttered. “Of freaking course.” He finished transcribing the last ingredient from the Sumerian demon-repellant spell he’d been working on. Since Cas couldn’t zip around the world and gather the ingredients for a demon bomb, they needed a back-up plan. According to the scribe’s notes, this worked, though within a much smaller radius. Still, Sam mused, being able to take out even five demons at a time would be helpful… if the Men of Letters have enough dragon scales. His mouth twisted at the idea that they might not.

“Problem, Sam?,” Ezekiel asked, looking up from the book he was reading.

Sam shook his head.

“I could be of help.”

“Likely,” Sam acknowledged, meeting his gaze. “But –“

Cas entering the room, a mug of tea in one hand and Dean’s dog-eared copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the other, interrupted whatever Sam might’ve said.

“You’re early,” Sam said, glancing at the time. It wasn’t quite 5:30 am.

“Woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep,” Cas said with a shrug. “I thought I’d go ahead and start my shift.”

“I’m okay with that,” Sam said. He saved the file he was working in and shut his laptop. “I’ve got to check our inventory.” He stood and stretched, cracking off a loud yawn that left him smiling sheepishly.

“Maybe you should get some sleep first,” Cas said, eyeing Sam shrewdly. “When was the last time you slept more than a couple of hours?”

Sam tried to calculate. Cas shook his head. “If you have to think about it, it’s been too long. Leave a note for Dean – you know he’ll be up soon – and he can check on whatever you need. Get some sleep.”

Sam nodded, the movement interrupted by another deep yawn. He clapped Cas on the shoulder as he went by. “Thanks, Cas.”

“You’re welcome,” Cas said, giving Sam a small smile.

Sam made his way back to the library, where he printed out his notes and translations and left a detailed note for Dean. He was pretty sure they had some phoenix ash left from their fight with Eve, and he knew there was a small box of fairy wings – how they’d been acquired, he did not want to know – on an upper shelf in the store room. He snickered at the memory of their discovery; he had thought the box was empty. Dean had seen the wings, thanks to his adventure on the flip side with Oberon. The dragon scales Sam wasn’t so sure about, though he thought there were some stored near the wings.

He yawned again and shook his head. He wasn’t going to worry about it right now. Cas was right; Dean would happily do all of this while Sam caught a few Zs. Keeping Dean busy was a necessary thing, anyway – he so did not do waiting around for the shoe to drop well. And if Sam had to hear his antsy brother say that one more time, he was going to start up a prank war just to keep him occupied.

Sam folded the page in half, wrote DEAN in large block letters and left it standing on the edge of the table, the books, laptop, and papers organized neatly behind it. He flipped out the light in the research room and made his way down the dim hallway to his room. He shucked off his clothes and crawled under the covers. Sam had a long-standing habit of counting to sleep – he was so tired this morning that he was out before he hit double digits.

+

After Sam left, Cas claimed the still-warm spot on the pallet. He looked over at Ezekiel, who was watching him with a curious expression.

“Do you require anything, Ezekiel?”

“I am fine,” the angel answered. “But…” He trailed off.

“But what?”

“You have become very close to these humans. It is what drew heaven’s derision upon you.”

“They mean everything to me,” Cas answered. “And that’s not what drew heaven’s derision. It’s what drew Raphael’s and his supporters’.” He narrowed his gaze at Ezekiel. “I thought you were on humanity’s side.”

“I am.”

“Then doesn’t that draw derision upon you?”

Ezekiel watched Cas contemplatively before answering. The former angel took a deliberately long sip of his tea. “Not in the way that you would think,” Ezekiel finally said.

“I don’t know what you mean by that,” Cas said.

“No, I do not expect that you do.”

Cas waited, but no further response came from Ezekiel, and he turned his attention back to his book. He was reading about Harry’s first Christmas at Hogwarts when Ezekiel’s voice interrupted.

Cas bit back an irritated sigh. “Yes?”

“When will I be allowed to leave, brother?”

“I’m not –“ Cas broke off his words. “You’re not a captive,” he said instead.

“No?” Ezekiel asked. He set his book aside and stood. “Then I would like to leave.”

“You cannot leave yet.”

“Then I am captive.”

“You are… detained,” Cas said carefully. “Once we have our plan in place, you’ll be free to do as you like. As long as you are here, though” – Cas gestured to the room at large – “you cannot roam free. Consider it a security precaution.”

“How much longer will it take to develop this plan? Bartholomew will be wondering where I am.” The angel paused before continuing, curiosity in his voice: “Why did you show them the sigils to silence prayers?”

“It was a necessary defensive maneuver.”

“But the sigils silence your prayers as well.”

Cas took another long sip of his tea. “I no longer pray, Ezekiel.”

“That is blasphemy, Castiel. You have fallen in every way imaginable –“

“That’s your opinion,” Cas retorted. “I am no longer angel, but I am stronger than ever.”

“How is that possible?,” Ezekiel asked, confusion writ upon his normally impassive face.

“Because God willed it,” Cas said. “When the plan is set, Dean will talk with you. Then, you may go and you may pray as you like.”

“You defer to him,” Ezekiel stated. “He is your new God.”

“I am my own man,” Cas replied. “You cannot understand what I mean, and I am sorry for that, Ezekiel. But here? We all work together. I am under no one’s command.”

“You were a good soldier once.”

“I was,” Cas agreed. “And then I got better.”

After a long moment, Ezekiel broke from Cas’s unflinching gaze, taking his book back in his hand and opening to where he’d left off reading. For the first time, Cas got a good look at the title, and he smiled at Dean’s sense of humor.

He wondered what Ezekiel thought of Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons…but not quite enough to ask. Instead, Cas settled back against the wall and sipped his tea as he slid back into the angel-free world of Hogwarts.

+

Dean had set his alarm for 7, knowing that if the next few days went as planned, he’d be working on a sleep deficit soon enough. With the alarm’s first beep, though, he jolted awake. The lack of limbs tangled with his told him that Cas was already up. He must have relieved Sam early, Dean thought.

Pushing the covers back, he shivered at the sudden chill and quickly slipped on his robe. He started to kick the boxers he'd hastily discarded last night to the corner, where he’d left his shucked off jeans and shirts, but he remembered Cas’s annoyance at how careless he was with his dirty clothes.

“It baffles me, Dean,” Cas had said. “You’re so careful with your clothes when they’re clean, and you live with almost military-order in every other aspect of your life. But you can’t pick up a dirty shirt and place it in the hamper?”

Cas had spoken with such exasperation, but instead of getting defensive, Dean had felt that warm heat expand through his chest, the one that he got whenever he was reminded of what he and Cas had built between them.

Even this morning, he felt that warmth. So, he picked up his dirty clothes and dropped them in the hamper. He went so far as to change the bedsheets and set the dirty ones aside to wash.

This should score me some Susie Homemaker brownie points, he thought smugly, as he pulled the comforter up on their clean bed. Their bed. He wondered if he’d ever get tired of how good that sounded – how good that felt to say.

He imagined not.

One hot shower later, Dean dressed in his usual uniform of jeans and flannel, but left off his boots for now. Taking a detour through the laundry room, he put on the load of linens, refusing to feel embarrassed that this was the third time he’d changed their sheets this week.

The bunker was silent, and he resisted the urge to check on Cas, instead padding softly into the kitchen to put on a pot of coffee and to make breakfast. While the coffee perked and the oatmeal cooked (the good kind, not that instant shit), he stepped into the research room, flipping on lights and turning on computers.

Sam’s note caught his eye immediately, and he opened it, reading quickly. This could be good, he thought. The demon bombs had been an awesome defense, but without angel air, it was impossible to get what they needed – and neither he nor Sam had wanted to emphasize that to Cas. Once more, he found himself appreciating how tenacious Sam could be in his research, though Dean didn’t feel the need to remind Sasquatch of that.

Dean scanned the list, grimacing as he read the part about fairy wings. Yeah, he could get this stuff together. If he remembered right, they should have enough to make at least ten repellant bombs. With the pre-recorded exorcism and Kevin’s arsenal of long-range salt-water guns, along with Ruby’s knife and the spare angel blades, they were as set as they could be on the demon front.

The angels were another matter entirely, and Dean scrubbed his hand across his face and into his hair, unknowingly leaving it in spikey disarray. I’ll deal with them later, he thought grimly, heading back to the kitchen to finish rustling up some grub for the troops.

A half-hour later, Dean had a pot of oatmeal ready and an array of sliced fruit and toppings set out for everyone to serve themselves buffet-style. He set out a tray and loaded it with two bowls, two mugs of fresh coffee and one of tea, and a saucer of cut fruit. He sprinkled both bowls with sliced almonds and began hunting through the cupboards for the sugar cubes Cas liked.

“Looking for these?,” Kevin asked, grinning when Dean jerked, obviously startled by the prophet’s quiet entrance. He held out the box of cubes to Dean.

“Where’d you find those? And how’d you know what I was looking for? Are you psychic now, too?” Dean groused, taking the box and fishing out three cubes and dropping them into Cas’s hot tea.

Kevin laughed. “They were in plain sight on the counter, dude. You must be slipping. And of course you were looking for Cas’s sugar cubes. Who else would you make breakfast in bed for?”

“I’m not making him breakfast in bed,” Dean retorted. “He’s on angel duty, and I thought –” He looked up to see Kevin’s expression of blatant disbelief, and his mouth snapped shut.

“You thought you’d treat him to breakfast on the pallet?” Kevin asked with a grin. “That tray looks really nice,” he said, pointing at it. “Very artistic.”

“Shut up, prophet boy,” he said, ruffling Kevin’s hair with fierce affection as he stepped to the pantry so he could store the box of sugar cubes in its proper place. Dean pointed to the stove and the spread of oatmeal toppings. “Breakfast is as served for you as it’s going to get. Don’t mess up my kitchen.”

Kevin threw him a small salute. “Yes, sir,” he said.

“Smart-ass,” Dean muttered, grabbing the tray and stalking– carefully, so as not to disturb the tray’s contents – out of the room.

“Takes one to know one,” Kevin sang out as Dean went down the hall. I’ve taught the kid well, he thought with a smirk.

+

Dean peeked into the storeroom before entering. Both Zeke and Cas were reading; the former noticed Dean and watched impassively as the hunter stepped into the room. Cas was so absorbed in his novel that he didn’t notice Dean’s presence until the laden tray was set down beside him.

“Mornin’ sunshine,” Dean said quietly.

Cas smiled and stuck his bookmark into the book, shutting it and setting it aside. “You made me breakfast?”

“Well, I made enough for everyone, but I brought you yours special. Remember that later,” Dean said with a wink.

Cas chuckled. “Like you’d let me forget.”

Dean picked up one of the coffee mugs and carried it over to Zeke. “Black, right?” he asked.

“Yes, that is how I prefer it,” Zeke answered, taking the mug from Dean’s outstretched arm. “Though you know that I do not require liquid or solid nourishment.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. It just seemed rude for us to eat while you just have to sit there and watch.”

Zeke gave Dean a thoughtful look that made the hunter slightly uncomfortable. “What?,” Dean finally asked.

“You brought me coffee as a kindness, even though you do not trust me.”

Dean shrugged. “Maybe. Drink it; don’t analyze me.”

Zeke nodded. “As you wish.”

Dean let out a strangled sound. “What?”

“I will do as you suggest,” Zeke said.

“So you’re not mocking the Princess Bride?”

“I do not understand that reference.”

“God help me,” Dean muttered. “Forget I said anything, Zeke. Just drink your coffee and read your book.”

Zeke didn’t say anything else, though he looked as confused as a typically stoic angel could. He settled back on his cot, and did as Dean suggested.

Dean could tell that Cas was trying to hide his amusement, but he failed miserably – the dancing lights in his eyes and the quirk at the corner of his mouth were dead giveaways.

“Shut up,” Dean said. “And scoot over.”

“I didn’t say anything, Dean.” Cas did scoot over, and Dean sat down beside him. With both of them sitting cross-legged, they could easily reach the tray.

“You wanted to.”

Cas gave him a wry smile and added a spoonful of blueberries to his oatmeal and some strawberry slices. Dean loaded his bowl up with sliced peaches, and he was adding a spoonful of blueberries when he noticed Cas surreptiously searching the tray.

“What are you looking for?”

“Oh, nothing,” Cas said.

“You’re looking for the sugar cubes, aren’t you?” Dean asked, a wide grin on his face. I know my angel, he thought.

Cas nodded sheepishly – both Dean and Sam regularly teased him about how much he liked sugar.

“I already dropped three cubes in. Just stir it; they should’ve dissolved by now.”

Cas did and took a sip, grateful for the fresh tea.

“Thank you, Dean,” he said softly.

Dean lightly bumped his shoulder against Cas’s. “I live to serve,” he said. “Hand me a slice of the cantaloupe?”

“As you wish,” Cas said, spearing a piece with a toothpick and handing it to Dean, who took it without saying anything at first.

“Do you understand that reference, Cas?”

“Yes.”

It didn’t matter how many times Cas said he loved him or any of the other sappy stuff that would never leave their bedroom… Cas’s answer sent a spike of heat through Dean’s body. He gripped his bowl and tried to focus on anything except how badly he wanted to lean Cas back on the pallet and show him how much he meant to Dean.

Instead, Dean settled for asking, ““You know it goes both ways?”

“Of course…. Buttercup.” This time, Cas lightly bumped his shoulder against Dean’s.

Dean leaned into the touch and shared a soft look with Cas before snorting lightly. “Eat your breakfast before I can’t resist the temptation to put on a show for your brother there.”

“We’ve scarred your brother. Why not mine?” Cas asked with an impish grin.

“Respectfully,” Zeke interjected. “I would prefer that you did not.”

Dean’s ears grew pink, but he still shot an amused look at the angel. “Hey, how are you liking the book?”

“It is… erroneous and blasphemous, yet compelling,” Zeke answered. “Do you possess the sequel?”

“Somewhere, yeah. I’ll find it for you after breakfast.” Dean nudged Cas, who was still staring at his brother, with his elbow. “Eat your oatmeal before it gets cold.”

“Yes, dear,” Cas murmured. Dean rolled his eyes but didn’t say anything. His oatmeal was getting cold too.

They ate their breakfast quietly, occasionally touching hands or knees or elbows. Dean found it soothing, even with Zeke sitting on his cot.

When they finished and had stacked their used dishes neatly on the tray, Zeke spoke again.

“Castiel says that I am not being held captive, but that I am being detained.”

Dean shot a look at Cas, who nodded. He turned back towards Zeke. “That’s one way of putting it.”

“Do you have another?”

“Uh – not really.” Dean stood and ran a hand through his already mussed hair. “You’re not our captive, but we can’t just let you wander around, and we can’t let you go yet. You’re our link to Bart, and we’re figuring out how to proceed. So, yeah, ‘detained,’ is probably the best word.”

“When will I no longer be detained?”

“As soon as we get our ducks in a row,” Dean promised.

“I did not know that you had ducks. How do they impact –“

“For christ’s sake,” Dean interjected. “I just meant that when we have our plan in place and ready, then you can go.”

Cas stood to hand him the tray, and Dean nearly leaned forward to kiss him – barely stopping himself in time. He didn’t say anything, but he side-eyed Zeke, who was watching them curiously.

Dean looked back at Cas, raising his eyebrows and doing his best to plead for understanding with his eyes. Later, he mouthed.

Cas regarded him solemnly, his blue eyes tracking the shape of Dean’s mouth before meeting his green eyes. Cas got it, though, and he nodded slightly. Dean looked for and didn’t see any shadows of the hurt he’d inflicted at Biggerson’s.

Dean didn’t look away, but he didn’t give voice to the wordless conversation they were having. Instead, he simply reminded Cas, “Kevin will switch with you at lunchtime.” He checked his watch. “So you’ve got about four more hours. You good? Need another book?”

“I’m good,” Cas replied. “It would be helpful to have something else to do, though. Maybe bring me some translations to work on?”

“Will do,” Dean said. He turned to leave and said to Zeke, “I’ll bring you that other book too. If Cas reads half as fast as you, you must be nearly done.”

“Twice done, actually,” Zeke said. “I simply began re-reading it for something to do.”

“Nerd angels, man,” Dean muttered.

“I did not hear you –”

“You weren’t supposed to,” Cas said, answering for Dean. The hunter could hear the laughter in his friend’s voice. “Dean was being humorous.”

“So I missed the joke?” Zeke asked.

“Yes, you did. Don’t worry about it – most angels do.”

Dean wore a grin for the next hour, at least. Even digging out the dragon scales and then having to count out freaking fairy wings didn’t wipe it off.

+

By the time Sam came into the research room, refreshed and ready, Dean had finished assembling the ingredients for several repellent spells and moved on to studying the incursion map.

“See that?,” he asked, gesturing at the map once Sam came to stand beside him.

“See what?,” Sam asked, taking a sip of his coffee as he surveyed the map.

“This,” Dean said, tracing a pattern with his finger. “And this.”

Sam’s eyes widened, and he set his mug down. “They’re retreating.”

Dean nodded. “Pretty sure. The last locations that Charlie tracked down yesterday confirm it. The angels are on the run.”

“From Abaddon?”

“That’s my guess, which means Crowley may be an even better bargaining chip than we thought.”

“So how are we going to go about this?”

“We’ve got His Highness’s suit cleaned and pressed, and we let him make a few blood-distance calls. While Crowley sets up his game pieces, we inform Zeke that we’ve found the King and release him to go bargain with Bart: In exchange for keeping Cas safe, we’ll give Bart Crowley and help him fight Abaddon at Stull.” Dean paused. “Then it gets tricky.” He ignored Sam’s snort of amusement.

“We’ll contact Abaddon,” Dean continued, “Tell her that we’ll trade Crowley in order to keep Cas safe, and we’ll help her fight Bart at Stull.”

“Mothra vs. Godzilla,” Sam said.

“In Technicolor and surround sound.”

“So what do we do once the monsters are fighting? Run far and fast?”

“Basically. We grab the bident if we can, and we take out as many angels and demons as possible. The fewer there are, the less it matters which side wins.”

“What if Crowley turns on us, Dean?”

“Oh, I guarantee he will. But he wants his throne back, and that gives us time to play. Before we let him go, we’re going to draw enough blood for one of those spells Cas told us about. If he fucks with us before we’re ready to relinquish control, we summon his ass back here and stab him in his brain.”

The brothers stared at the map as if it would foretell the events of the coming battle.

After a long moment, Sam said, “You know Cas is going to insist on coming.”

“Yeah, I know,” Dean said heavily. They stood in silence another long moment. “I’m going to find the ceremonial bowl. You want to fill Captain Evil in on our plan?”

“No, you do it,” Sam said.

“Me? Why? He likes his Moose better, you know that.”

“Shut up, Dean. He might like to give me grief more, but you’re the one he’ll listen to when it comes to strategy.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Yeah, right,” Sam insisted. “You go lay it out for him, while I get the supplies.”

Dean huffed. “Fine.” He detoured to the liquor cabinet for a shot of hunter’s helper on his way, though. Years of experience had taught him that it was much easier to deal with Crowley after he’d imbibed.

+

Sam didn’t want to feel like Crowley’s valet, but he kind of did, with the newly pressed suit in one hand, and the ceremonial bowl and knife in the other. He’d gone ahead and gotten him some shaving cream and other supplies that should help Crowley regain his fastidious glory.

He had taken his time getting everything together, to better give Dean more time to set up the details. When Sam entered Crowley’s room, the two were hashing out the finer points of the agreement.

“No blood.”

“Yes, blood. Three syringes full,” Dean said. “Or I kill you now.” He pulled Ruby’s knife from his belt and played with it. Sam watched Crowley eye the deadly blade, and Dean’s equally deadly hands.

“Fine, then. But I want to make three calls – and you don’t get to eavesdrop.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Dean said.

“Two calls and you don’t get to eavesdrop?”

“Two calls, and we listen to every fucking word.”

Crowley fidgeted, as he considered Dean’s offer. “I need something.”

“What?” Dean asked, injecting enough boredom into his voice for Sam to know that his brother was about to play hardball.

“I have a weapon –“

“What kind of weapon?,” Dean asked.

“If you’ll kindly let me finish, Squirrel. I was about to say that I have a weapon guaranteed to kill Abaddon.”

“There’s only one of those, and the angels have it,” Sam said. Dean shot him a dark look that clearly said shut up.

“Oh, do they?,” Crowley cackled. “They wish they had this weapon. Got if off that euro-trash angel Cassie used to hang out with.”

“Balthazar?,” Dean asked, unable to keep the surprise out of his voice.

“Yeah, him,” Crowley answered smugly.

“The two of you did not work together.”

“No, not like me and your Cas, but we made a few deals when the second apocalypse was nigh.”

Dean played with the blade and walked closer to Crowley. “So what do you have? Don’t waste my time.”

“I’ve got the First Blade, my lovelies.”

“Yeah, right,” Dean said.

“Yeah, right,” Crowley said, echoing Sam’s words and tone from earlier in a way that made Dean uncomfortable. “It’s hidden.”

“How do you know no one else has gotten it?,” Sam asked, his mind calculating the leverage that the Blade might give them.

“Because, besides you lot, I’m the only being in the world who knows it still exists, and I’m still the only one who knows where it is.”

“So tell us,” Dean said.

“No, darlings. But I’ll show you.”

“Like hell you will,” Dean said. “You’re not leaving here till we get this plan in motion, so you can tell us where the First Blade is, or you can try to take out Abaddon without it.”

“Faulty tactics, Dean,” Crowley said. “That plan leaves all of us dead.”

“At least it’s all of us and not just us,” Dean retorted.

Sam saw when comprehension dawned in Crowley’s eyes. Though the King respected Dean’s strategies more, he somehow always thought he could bully the elder Winchester until circumstances proved otherwise. He took advantage of the lull to step forward and set the bowl and other things on the table; he draped Crowley’s suit over the back of his chair.

“So,” Sam said. “Where is it?”

Sam and Dean stared Crowley down until he acquiesced. The King of Hell’s shoulders sagged. “Fine. Brandon, right outside of Sioux Falls. Safe deposit box under dear old Bobby’s name.”

“Why Bobby?” Dean asked.

“Eh,” Crowley shrugged. “I might have done it as retribution for him denying that he used tongue.”

Crowley smirked when Dean and Sam both flinched at that memory.

“You boys can’t get access without me, you know. Only I know the glamour I used for the photograph ID,” he added smugly.

“You don’t know our resources, asshole,” Dean said. He stepped to the table and tore open one of the syringes and three of the vials they’d bought in bulk from an online medical supply company. "Make a fist," he said to Crowley.

As each vial filled, Dean pulled it out and passed it off to Sam, who closed it, labeled it, and placed it in a tray.

"Now it's your turn, Squirrel," Crowley said snarkily.

Dean glared, but he tore open a fresh syringe and a couple of vials.

“Here, let me,” Sam said. He drew two vials full of Dean’s blood, emptying each into the ceremonial bowl. “That enough?”

“It’s gonna be,” Dean said, rolling his shirtsleeve back down. “Now, Sam, you know what to do, and I’ll play monitor as this douchebag makes his calls.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah – why? Do you want me to go with as back up?”

“I’ll have back-up,” Sam said. He resisted the urge to be annoyed that Dean thought he didn’t want to handle the job on his own. He took a breath instead and clarified, “Don’t you want help dealing with him?”

Dean tossed a glance at Crowley, who was watching them with open curiosity. “Nah,” he said with a wink at Sam. “He gives me any trouble, and I kill him. Easy peasy.”

“You wouldn’t –,” Crowley protested.

“Oh, wouldn’t I,” Dean snapped. “Don’t tempt me.” Then he said to Sam, “Go on. If you head out now…”

“Yeah, I can make it back by morning.”

“You got the number?”

“Yeah, Dean,” Sam said drily. “I’ve got the number.”

“Just checking,” Dean said with a cheeky grin. “Go on, Sam. We’ll be fine. Won’t we, Crowley?”

Sam shook his head as Dean turned a smarmy grin on Crowley before pulling out the wooden chair and stretching out in it. “Make your calls, rat bastard. I’m not leaving till you do.”

Sam picked up the tray and shut the door on their bickering. After depositing the tray in the special refrigerator Charlie had installed and calibrated in their infirmary, he headed to his room to grab an overnight bag and weapons.

He waited till he was in the Impala before pulling out his cell phone and pressing the fifth entry on his speed dial.

+

“Again,” Dean said, tipping his chair back on two legs and narrowing his eyes at the redhead who rocked a violent eye-roll in response.

Dean dropped his chair to the floor, folded his arms across his chest, and cocked an eyebrow.

Charlie groaned. “Fine,” she muttered. She sat up straight and primly folded her hands on the tabletop and recited:

“Kevin and I are to stay here in the bunker while you three go save the world. We are not to leave the bunker for any reason; you’ll set the alarms when you leave, and if anything tries to attack, the bunker will go into automatic defense mode and nothing short of Lucifer can get in here. After we get the all clear from you, we can see sunshine again.”

“And if you don’t hear from me? Or Sam or Cas?

“We call Garth or Jody, find out what’s going on. If all hell – or heaven – has broken loose, we stay in here. If all is well, then we can leave.” Charlie paused and leveled a look at Dean. “You’d better not get yourself killed, handmaiden.”

Dean inclined his head. “I’ll do my best, your highness.” He stood and started pacing, going over the basics aloud; he wanted Charlie and Kevin safe, no matter what. “Sam and I made a run to the store yesterday; you guys are stocked up with enough essentials to get you through the apocalypse. You’ve each got guns and ammo, and we re-stocked the back-up arsenal…”

“Dean?”

“Yeah?” He stopped walking and looked at Charlie, who was wide-eyed and chewing her bottom lip nervously.

“You are planning on coming back… Right?”

Dean pressed his lips together, taking note of the worry furrowing Charlie’s brow. He wanted to promise her everything would be okay, but he couldn’t.

“I always plan to,” he said. He grinned and added flippantly. “I can’t let you drink all of my beer, now can I?”

“Don’t try that deflection crap on me, Winchester.”

Dean’s forced grin faded, and he sighed. “I’m not making you a promise I can’t keep, Charlie. We all want to make it through this, to come home…” His voice trailed off as he watched Cas reshelving a stack of books on the other side of the room. His eyes flicked back over at Charlie. “But the odds are against us; we all know it.” He shrugged. “But you’ll be okay, I promise.”

“I’m not worried about me, dumbass,” Charlie griped.

“Well, I am,” Dean retorted. “Now, what’s the security code that you’re only going to use once you get the all clear?”

Charlie picked up a notecard filled with Dean’s careful handwriting and read, “8675309 -- Wait a minute,” she said, smirking at Dean. “Tommy Tutone? Really?”

Dean grinned, a real one this time. He tapped the table with his knuckles. “Yep, and don’t you forget it – You use that code only after you get the all clear. I’m serious, Charlie. Capiche?”

“Yeah, I capiche,” she said reluctantly.

“Good. Now –“ A ringing cell phone interrupted Dean’s thought. He turned to look at Cas, who was holding a stack of books in one hand and digging into his jeans pocket with the other. His jeans slipped down, showing a sliver of skin under the t-shirt he was wearing. Even from this distance, Dean could see the dark mark he’d sucked into the skin last night. He liked seeing evidence of his claim on Cas.

“You okay there, Dean?”

“Huh? Uh, yeah,” Dean said, not taking his eyes off of Cas, who’d managed to awkwardly set the books down and answer his phone.

“Uh-huh,” Charlie answered smugly.

“What?”

“Oh, nothing,” Charlie said airily.

Dean grimaced at her but before he could say anything, Cas joined them. “News?,” Dean asked.

“Yes,” Cas answered. “It was Sam. He and Jody were able to get it.”

Dean let out a loud breath. “Awesome. So in less than 48 we’ll be playing Angels & Demons for real.”

Cas didn’t answer. He just slipped his arm around Dean’s waist, pulling Dean close. The press of Cas’s side against his was soothing, comforting. Dean leaned into the touch, slipping his own arm around Cas.

A shuttering sound drew Dean's attention, and he looked back at Charlie to see her messing with something on her phone.

"You did not take our picture," he said.

"Maybe I did, maybe I didn't," she retorted.

Dean groaned. "Why would you do that?"

“Because you two are too cute,” Charlie answered simply.

“We are not cute,” Dean griped.

Cas side-eyed him skeptically.

“What? We’re not,” Dean insisted.

“You so are,” Charlie said.

“Oh my god,” Dean said. “We’re not cute – we’re – we’re – “

“Adorable?” Charlie suggested. “Sweet? Endearing? Lovey-dovey? MFEO?”

“What the hell is M-F-E-O?,” Dean asked.

“Made For Each Other,” Cas answered, earning shocked looks from both Dean and Charlie. “What? I like that one,” he said.

“No, Cas…just…No.”

“Then are we ‘cute’?”

Dean rolled his eyes. “Fine. What the fuck ever. We’re cute, then. Happy now?,” he asked Charlie.

“Freakin’ thrilled, Winchester,” she said with a grin.

“Whatever,” Dean grumbled. “I need to shoot something,” he muttered. “You can find me in the firing range.”

Dean turned to walk away, when a hand slapped his (admittedly) firm ass. He jumped and looked back at Cas – “What the hell?,” he asked, completely gobsmacked. Cas slapped me on the ass in front of Charlie!

Cas grinned wickedly and arched an eyebrow.

Heat rushed into Dean’s face. He knew that face – and he liked it. A lot. Cas knew it too, and that twinkle in those blue eyes told Dean that he knew exactly where else heat was rushing.

Charlie cleared her throat loudly, interrupting their stare-off. Dean shook himself, remembering that he’d sworn on his Lord of the Rings box set to not expose her to anymore of their sexcapades. His cheeks burned with the memory of what had prompted that oath too.

“Are you okay, Dean?” Cas asked, in a tone that suggested concern.

Dean knew better, and he stepped close, brushing his lips across Cas’s ear and whispering, “You’re going to pay for that, you know.”

He felt Cas’s hand settle on his hip, his fingers hooking on an unused belt loop. “Promise?,” Cas murmured.

Dean lightly bit his ear lobe in response and had the satisfaction of seeing Cas flush red; Dean’s work done, he stepped away and headed for the door, smiling as the sound of Charlie’s laughter followed him.

+

to be continued...

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Then

Dean carried two cups of fresh coffee into the research room. He’d gotten a look at Kevin, who was working so intensely that he hadn’t even noticed Dean. He figured the kid could use some java.

“Here you go,” Dean said, setting the large mug on one of the table’s few blank spots.

Kevin looked up at him as if just realizing he was there. “Thanks,” he said, rubbing at his eyes.

“How long you been up?”

“Um… since about 3?”

“But you didn’t go to bed till midnight,” Dean pointed out.

Kevin huffed. “No, but it’s not like we’ve got all the time in the world. I mean, if this goes as planned, you guys head to Stull in what – two days?”

“Something like that,” Dean acknowledged.

“Well, I’ll sleep when I’m dead –“

“Please don’t say that,” Dean said with a groan. “Winchesters cannot joke about dying because – well, we die.”

Kevin rolled his eyes but then said with a grin, “So I’m a Winchester now?”

“Of course. Where’ve you been for the past year?,” Dean said with a grin.

Kevin smiled and took a long sip of coffee, jerking as it burned him. “Hot,” he muttered.

“Yeah, go easy there, Kramer.”

“Kramer?”

“Yeah, on Seinfeld? The neighbor with the bad hair who spilled...uh, you know what? Nevermind,” Dean said, noticing Kevin’s blank expression.

Dean pulled a chair out and took a seat. “Tell me what you’ve got here.”

Kevin launched into a detailed explanation of the demon tablet, which he and Cas had completed. There was little else that was revolutionary, but still they’d found interesting things that they all wished they understood better, like details about hell’s origins and the so-called gatekeepers.

“Nothing else explaining what that means?,” Dean asked.

“No, and what’s weird is I found a similar glyph on the Angel tablet. Charlie hasn’t gotten to that quadrant yet, but I think it’s going to wind up being about gatekeepers too.”

“What about weaponry? Weaknesses?”

Kevin shook his head. “Nothing too new helpful on that front. The bombs, which we can’t get materials for. Another version of the mini-bombs recipe Sam already found out about. And some information about how if the gates can be monitored – or reset, or something – then the demonic overflow can be halted.”

“Nothing else?” Dean asked. “That seems remarkably unhelpful for the Word of God.”

Kevin shrugged. “I don’t know what to tell you – Cas and I went through it twice. There’s info about the hierarchy of hell, its metaphysical purposes, blah, blah, blah, but in terms of what we can use to save our world? Not much.”

He rifled through some pages and pulled out one marked with a red X and handed it to Dean.

“What am I looking at?,” Dean asked, scanning the page of squiggles and marks.

“The last two lines – see how they’re different.”

Dean looked, and yeah, they were different. “Why are the symbols different?”

“That’s something I want to figure out.” Kevin spread his hands out to indicate his materials. “I can’t find anything that explains those last lines, and prophet brain isn’t working.”

“Wait a minute – even you can’t translate it? Does Cas recognize it?”

“Nope, and that’s when we knew it meant something. How we’re going to crack it, we don’t yet know.”

“Huh,” Dean said. “Well, let me know what you find out.” He leaned back in his chair and took another sip of coffee. “So what about the other tablets? You and Charlie and Cas have been working pretty hard core.”

“We’re making good progress,” Kevin said. “But I’m worried we can’t finish in time to help you take on Bart – Dean?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you have to go after him this week? Can’t it wait?”

Dean stared at his coffee a moment before meeting the prophet’s gaze. “I wish we could, but it’s only going to get worse. Right now, they’re disorganized. The angels are retreating but hell’s still in chaos. If we don’t try now, Godzilla or Mothra’s going to get their shit together, and then we won’t stand a chance.”

Kevin nodded, but he didn’t look any more settled. Dean leaned forward until Kevin met his eyes. “Look,” he said. “We’ve got a plan, and we’ll be as prepared as we can. I have every intention of us having weekend-long marathons of Fringe and Game of Thrones and all that fun stuff as soon as we set the world to rights, okay?”

“Yeah, okay,” Kevin said, but he dropped his eyes and appeared to study the papers spread out in front of him. After a long moment, he cleared his throat. “Well, you might want to know that the Angel tablet has some defensive information.”

“Oh really? Like what?,” Dean asked, letting Kevin change the subject.

Apparently, there were “angel bombs,” sort of like the demon bombs, and damn but Dean wanted to get his hands on some of those. The ingredients were weird shit, though – Kevin said Cas had confirmed it would be near impossible to obtain them. “One of them is hair from an albino goat that’s indigenous to an isolated Himalayan village,” Kevin said.

“Yeah, we don’t have the frequent flyer miles for that,” Dean said. “Anything else? What about the spell – I know it needs more than the tear of a reaper or an angel feather.”

Kevin started to snicker – Charlie had filled him in on Dean’s fetish – but Dean’s glare quashed it before it fully formed. “Uh – not yet,” Kevin said. “The rest of its glossalia-like. I’m working on it, though. We have gotten through a significant portion,” Kevin stressed. “Cas has the quadrants that seem to deal with origins and rules and stuff – he’s working on them now while he’s on angel duty.” Kevin pointed to the papers in front of him. “And I’m working on the parts about the gates and the heavenly trials.”

“Heavenly trials? That might be promising.”

“Only if you want to die while doing them – I translated that bit right before you came in here.”

“Oh,” Dean said. “Yeah, let’s scratch that for now. Any mystery text on this one?”

“Now that you mention it, yeah,” Kevin said. “It’s the same – dialect? – as what’s at the bottom of the demon tablet, but it’s not the same text. There are similar postscripts on the Human Tablet and the bottom tablet – though that one’s so faded I haven’t yet made out what it’s even about yet.”

Dean chuckled. “Maybe it’s the Cat Tablet.”

Kevin laughed. “They do rule the world. Or so Grumpy Cat thinks, anyway.”

“Grumpy Cat?”

“It’s a meme.”

“A what?”

Kevin opened his mouth to explain but then closed it and shook his head. “Nevermind.”

“You kids with your texting and cats,” Dean said.

“Shut up, old man.”

“Respect your elders." Dean added, "Speaking of, I need to take Cas some coffee. You want another?”

Kevin looked into his half-full cup. “I’m good for now. But thanks.”

As Dean walked towards the kitchen, Kevin called out, “I’m totally telling Cas you called him old.”

Dean looked back. “Dude, he is old. He helped create the continent we live on, for Christ’s sake.”

“Does that make him a cradle robber?”

Dean paused mid-step and turned back towards Kevin, grinning. “Guess it does. Oh, man, I’ve got to tell him that. And as for you, short-stop,” he pointed back at Kevin. “I know where you live, and I’m not above putting Nair in somebody’s shampoo, so if you want to start something, know what you’re getting yourself into.” With a smirk, he turned back towards the kitchen.

“Dick,” Kevin muttered.

“Nair,” Dean shot back.

In the kitchen, he refilled his coffee and poured two more – one for Cas and one for Ezekiel. He also put on a pot of water in case his angel wanted tea later. It was a balancing act carrying three mugs, but he managed.

Cas and Ezekiel were playing chess when he entered the room – the sight took him by surprise, but in a way, it was nice. Cas’s family sucked, so if Ezekiel happened to be his only decent relative, Dean’d be the first to welcome him to the family.

Cas took his mug with a grateful smile, and Ezekiel seemed pleased with his too.

“Who’s winning?,” Dean asked.

“Castiel,” Ezekiel said. Dean tried not to smile at the angel’s obvious displeasure.

Dean put his hand on Cas’s shoulder. “Good on you,” he said with a warm smile, sliding his hand reassuringly down Cas’s back.

“You ready for a break?,” he asked.

Cas shook his head. “I’m fine.”

“Zeke? You good?”

“I am fine,” the angel answered. He narrowed his eyes at Dean. “You are tense today. Is your plan coming together?”

“Yeah, it is. I promise, we’ll talk as soon as Sam returns. I’ll have news for you then.”

Ezekiel nodded. He glared at Cas as one of his pawns was removed from the board. “I do not like this game, Castiel.”

“Give it time,” Cas said. “You’ll get the hang of it.”

“Maybe you should play Battleship instead,” Dean offered, taking a sip of coffee.

Ezekiel snorted, earning looks of surprise from both Dean and Cas.

“I do not like that one either,” he said.

Dean sputtered. “When did you play Battleship?”

“Your brother convinced me to play. He sank all of my battleships. It was most unpleasant.”

Dean laughed so hard that he couldn’t breathe. Cas did too.

“It is not humorous,” Ezekiel said. “I had no battleships left by the time the game was completed.”

Dean lost it again. “So Sammy sank your battleships and you got pissed? Zeke, we might make a passable angel out of you yet.”

“I do not know what that means.”

“Why am I not surprised,” Dean said dryly. “I’ll leave you two to it, then. Cas, text if you need anything, okay?”

Cas nodded, and Dean – still dealing with random bursts of laughter – left the two alone with their game.

By the time Dean rejoined Kevin in the research room, Charlie was with him. She was supervising her program, trying to improve the resolution of the human tablet and the bottom one. She explained what she was doing, but after “See this, Dean,” he zoned out.

“Uh- yeah, Charlie. Sounds good,” he said, smiling and nodding until she gave up trying to explain. “I’ll just be over here reading old-fashioned books, okay?”

“Okay, Methuselah,” she said, rolling her eyes and going back to her computer.

Kevin chuckled at Charlie’s Methuselah crack but kept his attention on his work. Dean got settled with his own books at another table, and they all worked steadily – the only sounds the click-clacking of keyboards, the occasional rustle of paper, and the scratching of Dean’s pen.

Around noon, the alarm beeped indicating that someone was outside. Charlie and Kevin startled and looked at Dean with alarm.

“It’s okay,” he said, checking his watch. “It’s gotta be Sam.” He walked over and peeked at the live-video feed from the front camera. “Yep, it’s him.”

Almost immediately, the front door’s lock turned and Sam came in. “Hey guys,” he said as he stomped down the stairs with entirely too much energy and looking awfully bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for a guy who’d just driven at least 12 hours round-trip.

Dean eyed him suspiciously. “So, how’s the sheriff?”

Sam rolled his eyes. “She’s fine. Said hello and that she’s on standby.” He dropped his shoulder-bag on the research table and his duffel onto the floor.

For a second, Dean thought he was wrong… but then he noticed the faint pink tinge to Sam’s ears. He grinned at his brother, who scowled in response. Busted, he thought, but I’ll let it slide. Jody’s good people.

Instead of wise-cracking, Dean just asked, “So what’s the scoop?”

Sam pulled a wooden box from his bag and handed it to Dean. “It’s this.”

Dean cracked open the box, revealing a knife made of a dark, sharp blade and a bone handle. He picked it up to examine it, looking closely at the seamless joint where the blade and handle fused. It looked more like art than weaponry.

“What the hell?,” he asked. “This is the First Blade?

Sam shrugged. “It was in the safety deposit box. Will Cas be able to tell if it’s the real deal?”

“Maybe,” Dean said, placing the blade back into its wooden box. “He’s on angel duty. Charlie –“

“On it,” she said. She grabbed her Ipad and headed for the hallway.

“So are y’all making any headway here?,” Sam asked.

“I’ve found some lore, nothing concrete though. And even Cas isn’t a hundred percent sure about what’s true.”

Sam gave Dean a quizzical look. “Why not?”

“I was not stationed on earth at the time,” Castiel answered, walking up behind Sam and coming to stand at the side of the table. He had his hands in his jeans’ pockets and looked for all the world like he’d always been human. “I was assisting with the troops fighting Lucifer. And Father guarded the first humans, particularly after Gadreel gave the serpent access to the garden.”

“Gadreel?” Sam asked.

“An angel guarding the gates,” Cas clarified. “He’s been imprisoned in heaven since.”

Dean whistled. “Talk about a life sentence.”

“Yes, I am certain it has been… unpleasant for him,” Cas said. He looked thoughtful a moment and added, “If Metatron’s spell truly emptied heaven, then there’s a very good chance its prisoners are also free.”

“You don’t have any Dahmers or Gacys up there, do you?,” Dean asked, laughing when Cas looked at him blankly.

“Let’s just try to avoid any criminal angels,” Sam said. “The so-called good ones are bad enough – present company excluded, of course.”

“I’m no longer an angel,” Cas said. The somberness of his tone made Sam flinch a little.

“Uh- sorry, Cas. I didn’t mean—“

Cas shrugged. “It’s okay, Sam.” He reached for the box and opened it, looking at the Blade curiously. “Did either of you touch the blade?”

“I did,” Sam said. “Just to check it. Was that wrong?”

“Did you feel anything when you touched it?”

“Uh… no? Just feels like a knife to me.”

“Dean?,” Cas asked.

Dean exchanged looks with Sam. “Yeah, I picked it up – to look at it. What, is it cursed? Like those damn ballet slippers?”

Sam let out a bark of laughter, eliciting a dark glare from Dean.

“No, it’s not cursed per se,” Cas said. “But I heard rumors of what it could do. It was rumored that it possessed an affinity for certain archetypes – you two fit the brothers archetype, so I wondered.” He shrugged.

Cas pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and used it to protect his hand as he picked up the knife. He held it up to the light and turned it this way and that. He inclined his head. “Interesting,” he said.

He looked up at Sam and Dean, who were both staring at him. Cas nodded towards the Blade. “Can you not hear it?,” he asked.

Sam shook his head vehemently. Dean looked at Cas a moment before hesitantly nodding, once.

“Of course it would be you,” Cas said. “Dean, what did you feel when you touched it?”

Dean sighed and rubbed the back of his neck as he considered what to say. “It felt powerful,” he finally said. “Like an itch getting under my skin.” While talking, he reached towards the knife – when he looked down and saw his outstretched hand, he pulled it back as if he’d been burned.

“What the hell?,” he asked.

“It speaks to you,” Cas said. “I can hear its…heartbeat, for lack of a better word, an effect of my originally angelic nature, I imagine. But you – it wants you. Don’t touch it again, Dean.” He turned his steely, smitey, blue glare on the eldest Winchester. “I mean it.”

Dean swallowed as fear and arousal washed over him. “Uh-okay,” he managed to croak out.

“So is this like a warhead?,” Sam asked. “If we wind up bargaining with it, are we arming the enemy?”

“To a degree,” Cas said. “But the blade works best for those it calls. It’s chosen Dean for now – until Dean dies, it won’t work as well for anyone else.”

“What happens if I use it?,” Dean asked.

“It marks you. That much I know – how that claim manifests? I can’t say,” Cas answered. “Stay away from it,” he warned again as he carefully put it back into the box and shut the lid, making sure the clasps clicked into place.

“Are we going to be able to use the blade? Or did we waste our time?,” Sam asked.

“It can be used,” Cas answered. “Dean just can’t be the one to do so. It’ll have to be you or me, Sam. It will let us use it, and it will feed off of our rage, but then it will let us go. It won’t do the same for Dean.”

He handed the closed box to Sam. “Hide this,” he said. “Put it somewhere that neither I nor Dean will think of. Enchant it if you have to, but hide it.”

“Right now?,” Sam asked as he took the box from Cas’s outstretched hand.

Cas glanced over at Dean who was watching the box intensely. “Preferably,” he answered.

Sam looked at Dean – who was oblivious to their attention as all of his was on the box – and back at Cas. “Will do. Distract Golem there?”

“I don’t understand that reference,” Cas answered with exasperation, “but yes, I will distract him.”

Cas reached out and grabbed Dean’s hand, startling the other man from his reverie. With a huff, he pulled Dean along. It took Dean a couple of seconds to get it, and then he followed willingly.

Cas led him into their room – their room – and shut the door behind Dean before pressing the hunter up against it. Cas’s lean body fit flush against Dean’s more muscular build.

“Distracted yet?,” Cas asked, dropping his voice a register, mouthing lightly along Dean’s jaw, working his way down his neck.

“Um… maybe?,” Dean said, reaching a hand down to palm himself.

Cas grabbed his hands and held them against the door. “No,” he ordered, smiling devilishly. “You touch yourself when I tell you to and not before.” He kissed Dean, teasing his bottom lip with his teeth as he sinuously rolled his body against Dean’s.

Dean heard a whimper and realized it had come from him. He shut his eyes and leaned his head back against the door. “Fuck.”

“That’s the general idea,” Cas murmured against Dean’s neck as he sucked a light bruise into the skin. One hand held Dean against the door, as the other unfastened the pinned man’s jeans. Dean stared at the ceiling a moment, fighting for control, groaning as Cas pushed down his boxers and took him in hand, wrapping strong, nimble fingers around his already-aching dick.

He managed to push back against Cas’s hold, and the other man looked at him knowingly.

“Yes, Dean?,” he asked, one eyebrow cocked tauntingly as his thumb pressed against the slit; his other hand fondling Dean’s balls. Cas smiled when Dean sagged against the door.

“No fair,” Dean muttered. He reached for Cas, sliding a hand around his neck, pulling him close and crushing their mouths together. He poured himself into Cas until he wasn’t sure whose breath was whose, whose heartbeat was pounding in his ears. Without breaking contact, they divested one another of all clothing, leaving a scattered heap of jeans and shirts and kicked off boots. Cas pressed himself against Dean, raising up on his toes so that they’d fit flush. Both groaned at the sensation. Dean dropped his forehead to Cas’s shoulder and grabbed ahold of Cas’s waist before sliding a hand up and between Cas’s shoulder blades, pulling him as close as possible. Dean shivered at the full-body contact. He raised his head and kissed Cas’s jaw softly before kissing him hard on the mouth. Against those perfect lips, he growled, “Bed, Cas – now.”

Cas gladly complied.

+

Sam headed back into the research room after hiding the box as well as he could. Kevin was still hard at work, but Charlie, Cas, and Dean were nowhere to be seen.

Kevin slipped his headphones off when he realized Sam had come back into the room.

“Did you hide it?,” he asked.

“Yeah,” Sam answered. “Where is everybody?”

“Charlie’s still on angel duty and Cas and Dean are – uh….wherever they went when you left.”

Sam sighed and checked his watch. Cas had begun “distracting” Dean about twenty minutes ago. “We’ve got work to do,” he griped, “and they decide to –“

“lalalalala,” Kevin sang as he stuck his fingers into his ears. He only removed them when he was sure Sam had stopped talking. “Listen, dude, whatever they’re doing, I don’t want to know. I know enough.”

Sam chuckled at Kevin’s emphasis. “You’re right - me too.” He grabbed the books and notes Dean had been working on. “I’ll try to finish this since I doubt we’ll be seeing them for a while.”

Kevin tossed Sam a spare pair of headphones. “You might want these,” he said, as he pulled his back into place and resumed working.

Sam laid them aside, not intending to wear them; he’d always hated how headphones cramped around his admittedly larger-than-usual head.

But he’d barely read the first page before he was reminded, once more, that the bedrooms in the bunker weren’t soundproof.

“Goddammit, Dean,” he muttered, grabbing the headphones and motioning for Kevin to turn up the music. The prophet did, but not without a “told-you-so” grin that made Sam roll his eyes and flip him off.

Judging by Kevin’s bark of laughter, Sam’s irritation didn’t even faze the kid.

+

It was after dinner before Cas and Dean emerged, freshly showered and clearly still basking in the afterglow.

As they passed through the room towards the kitchen, Sam glared at his brother, but when he noticed the looks on their faces, the way they held hands with their fingers laced so tightly Sam could see the whites of Dean’s knuckles… his irritation quelled. He realized that they probably thought this was the only time they had left and that was like a punch in the gut for him.

He looked down at his papers and blinked rapidly, trying to regain composure before they came back. Sam had learned emotional repression from the best, and by the time the two returned, their plates piled high with meatloaf and mashed potatoes and veggies, he was okay. He still couldn’t meet their eyes, though. And he also couldn’t not-see how they never stopped touching one another.

It made his heart hurt. He cleared his throat and asked his brother about Crowley.

“No, I haven’t talked to him,” Dean said. “I was waiting for us to get confirmation on the Blade.”

“Is our contingency plan in place, Cas?,” Sam asked.

Cas nodded, chewing for a moment before he swallowed and spoke. “Yes. I’ve transcribed the spells that will recall him; I’ve left copies in the archives and one with the blood samples.”

“So now we need to find a demon to be our contact with Abaddon. Who’s going to do that?,” Sam asked.

“Already done,” Dean said. “After he made his blood calls, I may or may not have coerced some additional information out of him.”

“So we have a contact?”

“Yep. Her name is Cecily, and according to Crowley, she’ll play all sides until she sees who’ll win.”

“We don’t have a lot of time left,” Sam said worriedly.

“Cecily works at the Department of Motor Vehicles headquarters in Kansas City,” Dean said. “If we leave here early in the morning, we can be there, deliver the message, and return by noon.”

“Do we have to go in person?,” Sam asked. “Couldn’t we – I don’t know – skype her or something?”

Cas shook his head. “Part of what sells this is that it’s you two brokering the deal. Everyone knows who the Winchesters are, but by that same token, a shifter or ghoul could impersonate you.”

“So we talk to Crowley and Zeke tonight. Let Zeke go, and then head out for Kansas City – get back here by noon. Set Crowley up, then head for Stull and then save the world?”

Dean dropped his fork loudly onto his plate. “You’re killing my appetite, Sammy.”

“It just – it sounds impossible. How can we cover that much ground and still be there when the showdown happens?,” Sam asked.

Cas smiled. “You always have before.” He took a sip of water before continuing. “Plus, there is the fact that Ezekiel’s information is old. We know the Stull fight is coming; we just don’t know when. We’ll give him time to reach Bart, make the deal, and then confirm where and when we meet. We may get a short reprieve before we go to battle.”

Sam pretended not to notice that his brother obviously reached for Cas’s hand after Cas spoke. He also pretended not to notice that Cas obviously grasped Dean’s hand right back.

He didn’t want to ask, but he had to. “Do you really think we three will be enough?”

“We always have been before,” Dean said. “And just in case, provisions have been made for Charlie and Kevin – Jody and Garth are on standby, and the supplies and weapons are stocked. They’ll be okay.”

Sam nodded. He realized then that Dean and Cas’s chairs had migrated closer and closer until, now, they sat flush side-by-side. His earlier thought flashed through his mind again, and his heart twisted.

He picked up his empty plate and stood. “I’m just going to take this into the kitchen and get the dishes taken care of. You guys finish eating, and we’ll take care of Crowley and Zeke when you’re done.”

Sam would never tell them that he looked back and saw Cas lean his head against Dean’s shoulder or that he saw tears in Dean’s eyes when he pressed his lips to the top of Cas’s head.

Instead, Sam walked into the kitchen and pulled out his phone, firing off a text to Jody.

+

An hour later, after Sam had fetched Charlie and Kevin and Zeke’s plates (turned out the angel enjoyed the taste of meatloaf even if he didn’t need to eat) and added them to the pile, the kitchen was clean. Dean had carried in his and Cas’s stuff and washed it himself. And then they’d gone into action.

They dealt with Crowley first. Dean allowed Crowley to make another blood-distance call, and from what they heard and from what Crowley promised, he arranged for his loyalists to congregate in Lawrence and await his signal. He hedged around admitting that he’d be with the Winchesters, but he did specify that he’d made an unlikely alliance to help them take down Abaddon.

After he’d finished his call, Crowley told them the password that would convince Cecily to meet with them.

“Wallaby?,” Dean repeated skeptically. “You’re the King of Hell and the best password you could come up with was “Wallaby?”

“And what’s your password?” Crowley countered. “Zepplin? Oh, no – I’ve got it. EarthAngel. That’s it, isn’t it, Squirrel?” Crowley cackled as Dean sputtered.

Sam barely managed to keep a straight face because he knew, as well as Dean, that – yes – on the latest batch of borrowed credit cards, Dean had picked “EarthAngel” as their password.

The warning glare that Dean sent his way helped Sam control the laughter bubbling inside him. But he promised himself that if they lived through the weekend, he was so going to give Dean shit about this. Maybe Cas will even help, he pondered. He realized Dean was talking seriously again, and he re-focused his attention.

“This will work, won’t it?”

“Yes, Dean,” Crowley said with exasperation. “It will work. My demons are loyal. There may not be as many of them, but the ones that are left? Yes, they’ll do as I ask. Cecily will double-cross you, but we want her to. And you got the Blade, correct?”

“Yeah,” Sam answered. “We’ve got it.”

“Then, there you go. We meet up with Abaddon, one of you knifes her, I take back Hell, and we call it square – “ Crowley held up a hand before Dean could say anything. “For the time being. Then we all go back to trying to kill one another per usual. Deal?”

“Deal,” Dean said, taking Crowley’s outstretched hand.

“Feel free to use tongue,” Crowley said, trying to pull Dean towards him.

Dean broke free. “I am so not kissing you, Crowley. Take the handshake. That’s all you’re getting.”

“Pity,” Crowley remarked. He looked Sam up and down. “What about you, Moose? Care to seal the deal?”

“Uh- no,” Sam answered, opening the door and allowing Dean to leave first. He grabbed the tray with the remains of Crowley’s dinner and left without another word.

Dean was standing out in the hall waiting, and he shuddered when he saw Sam. “I feel like I need a silkwood shower,” he said.

“You and me both,” Sam said. “Why don’t you check in on Zeke, and I’ll take this to the kitchen and get Cas.”

Dean nodded and headed towards Zeke’s accommodations, where Charlie and Kevin were teaching him how to play Go Fish. Apparently, he wasn’t enjoying this game any more than he’d liked chess or Battleship.

“I have no fours,” Zeke said in his somber voice.

“Now, what do you do?,” Charlie asked patiently – and perhaps just a tad condescendingly.

Dean snorted when he saw the bitchface Zeke delivered. Sam had some serious competition now in that category.

“Okay, kids,” he said, clapping his hands together loudly. “We need to have a meeting. Charlie, Kevin – do you guys want to sit in or head back?”

The two shared a hesitant look. “I’d rather not know,” Kevin finally said.

“Me too,” Charlie said. “We’ll just get back to work? More later, Z-man.”

“Who is Z-man?,” Zeke asked Dean.

“You are,” Dean said with a laugh at Zeke’s confusion. “It’s a nickname – like how I call Castiel “Cas”? A shortened name.”

“Oh, and like you call me Zeke instead of Ezekiel?”

“Yeah, exactly.” Dean grabbed one of the chairs and turned it around, straddling the back and folding his arms over the top. “So, you ready to talk shop – I mean, talk strategy?”

“If you have your ducks together, then yes, I am,” Zeke answered.

Dean let loose a short laugh, shaking his head at Zeke's continued confusion. Before he could explain, Sam and Cas entered the room. “Well, the gang’s all here,” Dean said as the two men got settled. “So let’s talk.”

+

“You have the King of Hell?,” Zeke asked somewhat incredulously.

“Don’t sound so surprised,” Dean said defensively.

“But you are – surprising,” Zeke said slowly. “What do you wish me to do with this information.”

“Our priority is Cas,” Dean said, inclining his head towards Cas, who was sitting on the other side of Sam. Cas bowed his head and wouldn’t look up.

“You will give up your leverage for Castiel?,” Zeke asked.

Sam and Dean answered as one: “Yes.”

Zeke sat quietly for a moment. “Very well,” he finally said. “I will take your offer to Bartholomew. I believe he will agree to guarantee Castiel’s safety in exchange for Crowley.

Dean and Sam exchanged a look. When Dean looked over at Cas, the older man still wouldn’t meet his eyes.

“How will I contact you?,” Zeke asked.

Sam handed him a cell phone that Charlie had programmed specially with tracking software and a spy program so that they could keep track of Zeke’s communications. “Our numbers are programmed in. You talk to Bartholomew, tell him we’ll meet him at Stull before the big showdown happens, and we’ll make our trade.”

“Thank you, Sam,” Zeke said seriously, pocketing the phone. He stood. “Am I to leave now?”

“Yeah,” Dean said. “Cas and Sam are going to take you wherever you need to go, but we’ll need you to – uh –“

Zeke saw the hood Cas held in his hand. “Wear the hood as I leave?”

“Yeah,” Dean said.

“I am amenable to that,” he answered. “I would do the same.” He hesitated before adding, “I would like to say goodbye to Kevin and Charlie, if I may?”

Dean, Sam, and Cas shared a look of surprise. “Uh – okay,” Sam said. “I’ll go get them.” He stood and walked quickly from the room, leaving Zeke alone with Cas and Dean.

The room remained silent, and Zeke began straightening up the area where he’d lived for the past few weeks. He picked up the books Dean had loaned him and handed them to the hunter.

“Thank you for these,” he said.

“You’re welcome,” Dean replied automatically, unable to quite hide his surprise.

Zeke paused a moment before adding. “I meant what I said all those months ago.” He looked over at Castiel, including him in his address. “Many of us still believe in our mission, and that means we believe in the two of you. Castiel has sacrificed everything for the love of humanity, for the love of you,” Zeke clarified, directing his last words at Dean.

“I will speak to Bartholomew, and I promise, I will do what I can to barter for Castiel’s safety.”

“Thanks, Zeke,” Dean said.

“Yes, thank you, Ezekiel,” Cas said.

Zeke nodded but before anything else could be said, Sam returned with Charlie and Kevin in tow, and a quick flurry of goodbyes ensued.

Dean muttered to Sam, “I can’t tell if he’s really a good guy or if we’re just having a Stockholm party here.”

Sam snorted. “Let’s hope he’s a good guy. I really don’t want to have to stab him in his brain.”

Dean watched as Zeke reached a hand out to Cas, who hesitantly took it before returning his angelic brother’s grip and small smile. “Yeah,” Dean said. “Me either.”

+

Dean walked with Cas, Sam, and Zeke to the garage, and after needlessly giving Sam and Cas unnecessary advice, he’d let them leave. Watching Sam drive Baby out of there had left Dean feeling empty and wishing fervently he was going and not them. But they’d agreed that one of them needed to stay behind – just in case – and he’d drawn the short straw. He still suspected Cas had rigged the draw, though.

Dean was heading back to the research room when his phone rang. The display read Garth. “Finally,” he muttered, answering the call with an abrupt, “Yeah?”

“What kind of greeting is that, compadre?” Garth’s perky voice asked.

Dean rolled his eyes but managed to suppress a groan as he walked to the front stairwell, well out of Kevin’s range of hearing. “How are you, Garth? Enjoying the lovely weather?”

“I am, as a matter of fact. I can see a duck pond from the window here, and the way the moon’s reflecting off the water – “

“Garth.” Dean couldn’t have kept his impatience from his tone if he’d tried (which he didn’t).

“Okay, fine. Target acquired, and mission accomplished, chief.”

“And where was she?”

“In a remote cabin outside of Townsend, Tennessee, just like Crowley said.”

“No problems?”

“Nah. My cousin and I took down the two guard demons without breaking a sweat. They weren’t the sharpest tools in the shed – didn’t even know Crowley was missing. Apparently, he’d had them all on a communication blackout and after the fall, that worked in Mama Tran’s favor.”

“So they just kept following his orders all this time?” Dean couldn’t believe their luck. Ever since he’d gotten Crowley to give up Mrs. Tran’s location, he’d been afraid of what Garth would find.

“Yep – kept her supplied with food, water, and crappy magazines. I’ve got her checked into the local hospital just to make sure she’s not vitamin deficient or anything.”

“How’d that go down?”

“Uh – loudly? But I’m wiry. I wrangled her in here anyway.”

Dean stifled a laugh at that image. “Thanks, man.”

“Yeah, glad to help. She’s not happy she can’t come to Kevin, by the way, but I explained things to her, and I think she gets it.”

Dean thought of Mrs. Tran’s…tenacity, he’d call it, and he was grateful he hadn’t had to tell her. “They can video chat,” he promised.

“I’ll let her call as soon as the doctors finish with her,” Garth said. “It shouldn’t be too much longer. We’re going to head to the houseboat and hunker down there and await the bat signal.”

“Sounds good,” Dean said. He scrubbed his hand over his face. “Hey – I, uh, I already told Charlie and Kevin that if anything happens—“

“Nothing’s going to happen, Dean.”

“Let me finish, Garth. If anything happens, you and Jody are our backup. If you don’t get the signal from me, I need you to haul ass here.”

There was a pause over the line. “If that happens – it won’t, but if it does – do I bring Mrs. Tran with me?”

“Yeah,” Dean said. “He’ll need her.” He looked in Kevin’s direction and couldn’t help smiling at the young man who was already back to work and beebopping along to music. “I’m gonna go share the good news. Thanks again, Garth.”

“Anytime, chief,” Garth said. “And- Dean?”

“Yeah?”

“Be careful – Sam and Cas too.”

“Yeah man, you too.”

Dean ended the call and slipped his phone into his shirt pocket as he strode into the research room. He couldn’t hold back his grin as he walked over to Kevin and deftly plucked the headphones from his head.

“Hey!,” Kevin protested in annoyance.

“Hey yourself,” Dean said, grinning as he tossed the headphones on the table and sat down in the chair across from Kevin.

“What are you smiling at?,” Kevin asked, his forehead crinkled in annoyance.

“I got news.”

“Oh yeah? Like what? You win the lottery or something?”

“Nope – you did.”

“What?” Kevin looked at Dean completely puzzled.

Before Dean could answer, his phone buzzed. “Hold that thought,” he said. He knew without checking the screen who it was.

“Hey,” Garth said. “She didn’t want to wait. Is Kevin around?”

“Yeah,” Dean said. “Hold on. I’ll skype you.” He ended the call and fiddled with the touchscreen on his phone before calling Garth back. He adjusted the screen as Garth’s face came into focus.

“I’ve got work to do, Dean,” Kevin complained. “Can’t you do your video chat somewhere else?” Kevin reached for his headphones, but Dean grabbed them with one hand and tossed Kevin his phone with the other.

“This call’s for you, kid.”

Kevin barely caught it, glaring at Dean before looking down at the screen where the tired and weary face of his mother smiled back at him.

“Kevin!,” she said, her voice breaking.

“Mom?” Kevin asked. “Is it really you?” His voice broke, and he looked up at Dean with tear-filled eyes. “It’s really her? You’re sure?”

“Yeah, man. Garth’s with her. She’s good.” Dean stepped close enough that he could look into the screen. “Mrs. Tran, I’m glad you’re okay.”

“Thank you for taking care of my son,” she said.

Dean ruffled Kevin’s hair and smiled at her. “He’s family – you’re both family,” he said. “We try to take care of our own.”

“Thanks, Dean,” Kevin said, his voice thick with emotion.

Dean smiled and felt tears burning in his own eyes. “I’ll be in the living room if you need me.” He left Kevin alone and stopped by the kitchen where Charlie was making a fresh pot of coffee. Dean filled her in while the coffee perked, and they made some fresh popcorn. Then they took their hot mugs and snacks to the living room, where they’d be out of Kevin’s way.

Charlie turned on the television, and they settled into the couch, but Dean couldn’t even say later what they’d watched. Instead, his mind was spinning with what was and wondering what would be.

+

to be continued...

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Then

In the end, they enjoyed a five-day reprieve.

The morning after Zeke had left, Sam and Dean traveled to Kansas City and, after undergoing the standard fare of salt, silver, mirror tests, were allowed to meet with Cecily. She was a very composed, intelligent demon, and Dean could practically see the gears turning in her head as the Winchesters imparted their already-agreed upon spiel: They’d captured Crowley and wanted to trade him to Abaddon in exchange for their family’s safety. She was more than happy to work as their go-between and didn’t seem to question their ruse at all.

Dean wondered if they could really be so lucky.

After he and Sam got back to the bunker, all five of them spent as much time together as they could, even though they didn’t have the occasion to indulge in escapist movie marathons and frivolity seemed out of place. But they worked together – researching, readying the weaponry, networking with other hunters so that everyone knew what was going on.

Two days after he’d left, Ezekiel called: Bartholomew would accept Crowley in exchange for Castiel’s safety. The fight at Stull would happen in three days time, and the Winchesters were to bring Crowley at dawn, before Abaddon arrived.

After the call ended, Sam said, “I still don’t see how they can be so organized about the face-off. It’s like…”

“High noon in the West,” Dean finished for him.

“Yeah, that,” Sam agreed.

“It is an archaic system,” Cas said. “But that preparation is what makes such battles so terrifying – they begin, and everyone knows the stakes, and everyone fights till the end.”

Dean drummed his fingers on the tabletop as they pondered Cas’s comment. “Well, at least now we know,” he said.

The others nodded, and collectively, the knowledge of the oncoming battle was a relief, but anxiety also ratcheted up, especially for Charlie and Kevin. Cas, Dean, and Sam were unfortunately more familiar with the feeling that “This was it.”

On their last evening, Dean looked around as his found family enjoyed their dinner – he’d made his specialty burgers with sweet potato chips – and he realized that even if he’d never had the “apple pie” life, what he’d found instead was even better.

He felt the pressure of a warm hand on his thigh and covered it with his own, palm to back, before threading his fingers through Cas’s. He met Cas’s eyes and smiled softly, fighting the burning prickle in his eyes. Those shiny blues told him he wasn’t the only one feeling emotional tonight.

After dinner, they all went back to work until the wee hours, when Dean finally declared it necessary for everyone to get at least four hours. As he left the research room, he hugged Charlie and Kevin goodnight and warmly clapped Sam on the shoulder as he passed by. Cas followed him silently.

Dean opened the bedroom door and stood still, allowing Cas to walk in first, and then he shut the door behind them and locked it. Wordlessly, they stripped down to their boxers and crawled into bed, fitting themselves snugly against each other. Cas laid his head on Dean’s chest, his arm across Dean’s waist. Dean’s arms clasped Cas tightly. They lay together in the room’s quiet darkness until they eased into sleep.

For the first time in their lives, Dean and Cas’s “last night on earth” was exactly what they needed. It was heady and comforting and, quite simply, profound.

+

Dean awoke to Cas’s gentle fingers tracing sigils across his chest. He kept his eyes shut a moment, enjoying the sensation and translating what Cas was saying. Warrior. Truth. Beloved.

At that one, Dean slid his hand down and lightly smacked Cas on the butt. “Don’t get sappy on me,” he murmured, opening his eyes to see Cas’s sleepy blues watching him.

Cas’s mouth quirked but instead of saying anything, he raised up and met Dean’s lips in a languid kiss. Then he pulled away and tucked himself back against Dean’s side. His head nestled under Dean’s chin, and he draped his leg across slightly bowed ones.

Dean hugged Cas and pressed a kiss to the dark curls that were tickling his nose. He loved that; he loved…

“I love you,” he said.

“I know,” Cas answered.

Dean smiled. “Did you just Han Solo me?”

Cas didn’t say anything. Dean’s left hand began tracing Cas’s vertebrae, outlining each, tenderly mapping his spine.

A moment later, Cas said, “I love you.”

Dean’s hand stilled, and he slipped his arm back around Cas; his jaw worked with emotion when he felt a drop of moisture fall onto his bare chest. “I know,” he finally managed to say.

+

That evening, Dean and Sam checked the Impala’s arsenal one last time, carefully packing the mini-demon-bombs and stocking the first aid supplies.

Meanwhile, Cas worked with Kevin and Charlie to finish the compilation of the translated angel tablet. They were down to the wire and still hadn’t discovered anything earthshattering – and they needed earthshattering.

When they finished piecing together the patchwork of paper and notes, Kevin stepped back and surveyed their work. “Shit,” he muttered. “We’re missing sections still.”

Cas sighed and ran a hand through his dark hair, leaving it standing up in tufts. “But we worked through all the impressions we had. Did we miss any? Did something not get processed?”

Kevin flipped through his work. “I don’t have any untranslated pieces. Charlie?”

“I’m checking, I’m checking.” She sorted through the files on her computer. “Is this it?,” she asked.

Kevin came to peer over her shoulder. “No, that section we’ve got already.”

Charlie bit her lip and changed the screen. “What about this one?”

“No -- shit, Cas. What do we do?”

Cas looked hopeless for a second before he steeled his features. “We do what we can,” he answered. “You start reading through the scanned images, see if you run across the pieces we’re missing, and I’ll keep looking through the paperwork. They have to be here somewhere.”

“What about me?,” Charlie asked.

“You help Kevin,” Cas answered. “Maybe we can find it quickly.”

They couldn’t. An hour later, when Dean came to get Cas, they were all still hunting for it. Cas told Dean what was going on, and while Dean tried not to react, the tightness around his eyes spoke volumes.

Dean clapped Kevin on the shoulder and said, as reassuringly as he could, “You’ll find it. Just call us when you do.” But they all knew what was riding on this translation and stood awkwardly for a moment until Dean cleared his throat.

“Almost time to go,” he said. “Sam’s loading Crowley. We’ll be on the road within the hour.”

“What happens next?,” Charlie asked.

“We head for Stull; we’re supposed to rendezvous with Crowley’s men before we head in to meet with Bart and Abaddon. If all goes as planned, shit will go down at dawn, and they’ll kill each other while we run like hell.”

“And if it doesn’t go as planned?”

Dean reached out and pulled the little sister he never knew he wanted into a hug and kissed her on the head. “It’ll be okay, Charlie.”

“Do we need to go through the protocols again?,” he asked her and Kevin.

They both answered “No” vehemently, provoking laughter from Dean and Cas that helped break the tension.

“Well, come on, then,” Dean said. “Sam will want to say – he’ll want to see you guys,” he amended.

By the time they all trooped into the garage, Sam had Crowley hooded, shackled, and secured in the back seat of the Impala.

“Yeah, that’s not going to attract any attention,” Kevin observed. “Anyone who sees him is going to think you’re all psychopaths.”

Cas took out a sharpie and looked at Dean. “May I?,” he asked.

“Only because it’s the end of the world as we know it,” Dean said. They watched as Cas drew a series of runes under the window. They were nearly indiscernible from the Impala’s paint job. Then Cas shallowly cut his arm, and smeared the blood across the markered-runes. He pressed his palm to them and muttered some words no one else could hear.

By the time he stepped back, Kevin and Charlie were staring at what looked like an ordinary man – no hood, no shackles – sitting in the backseat.

“Magic,” breathed Charlie.

“In a manner of speaking,” Cas said.

“You’ve gotta teach me how to do that Cas!”

“Gladly,” he said, looking a little surprised as Charlie flung her arms around him. He recovered, though, and hugged her back.

Everyone said their goodbyes that weren’t, and within minutes, Dean was watching Charlie and Kevin in the rearview as he navigated the Impala through the garage.

“They’ll be okay,” Sam said from the passenger seat.

“Yeah,” Dean said. He turned his head slightly. “What’s that noise?”

“I don’t hear anything,” Sam said.

“What does it sound like, Dean?,” Cas asked.

“I dunno. A low hum? Maybe one of the speakers is going.” He reached over and fiddled with the volume control.

Cas shot a look at Sam, but the younger man didn’t notice. Cas opened his mouth to say something but then glanced at Crowley, who, though silent, was sitting there tensely, listening to every word through his warded hood. He stayed silent and settled back against his seat, half-closing his eyes so that he could better watch Dean surreptitiously. Only the furrow in his brow belied his worry. 

Just then, “Ramblin’ On” began, and Dean turned up the volume – hum be damned. The rest of the ride passed without conversation.

+

They met with Crowley’s point-demon, Jake, in a 24-hour diner in Lawrence. Young, thin, and unassuming, Jake looked like any other kid until his eyes flashed black.

“Why are you with them?,” he asked, tossing his head in the Winchesters’ direction. “They’re public enemies one, two, and three.”

“Yes, yes, I realize,” Crowley said. “As do they. This is an arrangement of mutually assured destruction.”

Jake eyed Crowley, as if looking for clues that the King was lying, but Crowley looked like his old self: dapper and spry. Cas had removed the warded hood once they’d gotten far enough away from the bunker, and he’d temporarily removed the spell-cuffs for this meeting. The binding rune remained in place, though, and despite Crowley’s loud protestations that had ended with Dean yelling for him to “nut up,” Cas had carved a pair of sigils on himself and Crowley that bound them, in a sense: They had to stay within a certain distance of each other or else suffer debilitating pain.

Dean had lightly touched gauze to the welling cut on Cas’s arm. “I hate that you had to scar yourself again for that jackass,” he said softly, inclining his head towards the still-complaining Crowley who was having his wound covered by a purposefully-less-than-gentle Moose.

Cas had met Dean’s eyes. “I didn’t do it for him,” he said.

Dean hadn’t said anything. Instead, he’d slipped his other hand up Cas’s neck and brought their foreheads together. They’d leaned, just touching for a moment, and then Dean had pulled back, quickly kissing Cas on the forehead as he did so.

After his cursory visual inspection, Jake nodded. “Yes, my King. I am simply being cautious.” 

“As you should,” Crowley acquiesced. “Now, where are my demons?”

Jake said that Lawrence was teeming with supernatural activity – Crowley’s demons were in hiding; Abaddon’s were throwing down, killing civilians and angels and whomever they pleased. “They took out a nest of vamps yesterday just for sport, left nothing but blood and bone and stuck the heads on spikes for all to see. The local law enforcement went crazy – until her people went and possessed most of them.”

“How has she filled her ranks so quickly?,” Crowley asked.

“She’s been calling in deals early, and – so I’ve heard – making deals without revealing the fine print, then claiming payment immediately.”

Crowley hit the tabletop with his fist. “That revenge-driven ginger is going to destroy everything. She doesn’t know the first thing about finesse.” 

“And you do?,” Dean asked skeptically.

“Yes, Squirrel, I do.”

Dean opened his mouth to snark back, but the table moved with the force of someone – Sam or Cas, Dean wasn’t sure which – kicking him in the shin. His lips thinned in irritation, but he settled back into the booth and remained quiet.

“So what should we do, Your Highness?,” Jake asked.

“You’re to converge at Stull at daybreak,” Crowley said. “Moose, Squirrel, and Angel here have agreed to pretend to hand me off to Abaddon as insurance against Bartholomew. You all are to attack; we’ll take out Abaddon and re-establish our dominance in hell.” Crowley leaned back and eyed Jake speculatively. “That sound good enough for you?”

Jake nodded. “Yes, sir. We have a few people inside Abaddon’s ranks too; I’ll get word to them so they can work from the inside.”

“Good,” Crowley said. “Oh, and one more thing: Barty’s forces will be there too, so tell our boys to be prepared for some angel-on-demon action. With any luck, it’ll be very West Side Story.”

Dean noticed that Jake looked startled at that reference, and he cast a narrow-eyed look at Crowley, but the demon seemed his usual self – or, rather, whatever usual meant for him these days.

“Not a fan of musicals?,” Dean asked, poking to see if there was anything there.

“Uh – no, not really,” Jake said. He stood and delivered a half-bow to Crowley. “My King, is that all?”

Crowley gestured for Jake to go away. “Yes, yes,” he said. “Hop to it. If you’re not there at daybreak, I promise – it will go badly for all of you.”

Jake swallowed nervously and ducked his head before turning and exiting the diner.

Dean slapped the table with the flat of his hand. “So,” he said brightly, “who wants some pie?” Without waiting for a response, he motioned for the waitress to bring four slices of pie and a round of fresh coffee.

Crowley looked disgusted, Sam groaned, and Cas rolled his eyes. Dean smirked at all of them and said, “We’ve got maybe five hours till hell truly breaks loose, and I can’t have pie? What-the-fuck-ever.”

+

Dean parked the Impala off an old country road about five miles from Stull so that they could get a couple hours sleep. He’d thought they’d have trouble out of Crowley, but the demon was still suffering from some degree of humanness and was fast asleep. He cuffed the sleeping bastard with the spelled irons and attached a short length of chain that Sam snapped around his wrist. Then Sasquatch stretched out across the front seat to catch some sleep himself.

Dean and Cas were left to their own devices, and they spread a blanket on the ground nearby – Cas still couldn’t go far because of the binding rune he currently shared with Crowley. Dean folded one arm behind his head like a pillow, and Cas laid his head on Dean’s shoulder. Dean didn’t know when they’d dozed off, just that he lay there staring up at the stars twinkling in the nightsky and conscious of Cas’s muscular frame against his own.

He did sleep, though. Sam woke him just as the late night cacophony began to sing the night away. His long-limbed brother settled on the blanket beside him.

“You sleep okay?,” Dean asked.

Sam huffed a laugh. “Yeah, I guess.”  He reached out and pulled up some grass just for something to do. Dean watched as Sam did it over and over, and he glanced down at Cas who was cradled against his chest, sound asleep. Dean felt that warm glow inside of himself again.

“Remember that summer Dad left us with Pastor Jim for a weekend, and the church secretary taught us how to chain together daisies?,” Dean asked.

Sam grinned, as he relived the memory. “I do,” he said. “You made that blonde girl a flower necklace and had her eating out of your hand for the rest of our stay.” Sam looked fondly at Cas. “Did you make him one too?,” he asked with an impish grin.

“Nah, he loves me for me, not for my skill with a flower chain,” Dean said with a roguish grin.

The laughter faded from Sam’s face. “That’s true, you know. Cas does love you for you.”

Dean nodded, shifting his gaze from his brother’s face to the sky above them. “Yeah, I know,” he said thickly. He waited a moment to ask, “You talk to Jody?”

“Yeah,” Sam said somberly. “She knows what we’re up against – that’s, uh… that’s why I haven’t said anything. I told her upfront I wasn’t going to make any promises I couldn’t keep.”

“She’s good people,” Dean said.

“The best,” Sam agreed. They sat in silence for a long moment, trying to avoid the inevitable, as the night sounds quieted.

“Dean.” 

“Yeah, I know. Give us a minute?”

“Sure.” Sam stood and brushed off his pants. “I’ll be in the car.”

Dean nodded his thanks at his brother and then tightened his arm around Cas. “Hey,” he said.  “Cas?”

 A little jostle had Cas raising his head and blinking blearily at Dean. The sight made his heart clench as he wondered if he’d get to see it again. He gave Cas a small smile. “Sorry, but we’ve gotta go.”

Cas looked up to see the moon’s position. He nodded and sat up, rubbing his eyes and stretching. Dean laughed to himself – Cas’s limberness made Lisa seem downright inflexible by comparison.  Trust me to wind up with someone who really is “bendy.”

Cas stood and stretched again before turning and holding a hand out and helping Dean to his feet. Dean pulled Cas into an embrace, and they just stood there in the soft breeze, breathing in the air.

Cas pulled away and picked up the blanket, folding it neatly. He carried it to the Impala, where Dean opened the trunk for it to be stored. Dean took advantage of the quasi-privacy afforded by the trunk lid being open for a lingering kiss that Cas returned fully.

“I wish…“ Dean didn’t know how to finish the sentence and shook his head in frustration.

“Me too,” Cas said, cupping Dean’s face with one hand and brushing his thumb across his cheek. He smiled gently. “We have to go, though.”

Dean nodded and shut the trunk, grateful that – once again - it didn’t matter that he didn’t know what to say; as always, Cas already knew what was in his heart.

+

Dean backed the Impala into a small off-ramp entrance into Stull Cemetery, hoping it would offer a quick exit if – no, when – they made their escape. The pinkish light of dawn illuminated the old boneyard, and the battered tombstones and untended foliage looked like something from a Burton movie.

“Here we are,” Dean said, putting Baby into park. “Your people here?,” he asked Crowley.

The King of Hell cocked his head; “I can sense demons, yes. Other things too. Let’s hope they’re mine.”

“Yeah,” Sam muttered. “Let’s.”

They all clambered out of the car, angel blades at the ready.

“Dean,” Cas said, nodding towards the cemetery gate, where Ezekiel stood. Another angel, dressed in a suit with gel-slicked blonde hair and a too-crisp smile, walked up to him. The two spoke, and then began walking towards the Winchesters. 

Dean and Sam stood slightly in front of Cas and Crowley in a pre-arranged formation. (Cas hadn’t liked it one bit, but since he wore the binding rune, he didn’t have much choice.)

“Boys, you’re not giving me to that angel,” Crowley said in a low voice.

Dean shushed him and snapped, “Play it by ear. We’re going to honor our deal.” Crowley quieted. Dean looked over at Sam and saw his brother looked as alarmed as he felt.

“Where’s Abaddon and everybody else?,” he muttered.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this, Dean,” Sam said. Dean did too. The hair on the back of his neck stood up, and he felt that same apprehension he’d felt at Biggerson’s – only magnified this time by a thousand.

Bartholomew and Ezekiel were less than thirty feet away when it happened: A contingent of demons suddenly appeared between the angels and the Winchesters and Crowley.

“Those your people?” Dean yelled.

“No,” Crowley said grimly. “They’re hers.”

“Shit,” Dean muttered. “Back to the car – now.” They turned, but it was too late.

Abaddon, dressed head-to-toe in black leather, was leaning against Baby’s shiny exterior and smiling broadly.

“Hello, boys,” she said. “Care to give me a lift?”

“Right back to hell, you ginger bitch,” Dean snarled. Abaddon flicked at him, sending a pulse of power that flung him against a nearby gravestone.

“Dean!,” Sam shouted.

“Oh, I forgot. You two like to do everything together. Here’s one for you too, Sammy,” she said brightly, sending Sam hurtling across to join his stunned brother.

Abaddon eyed Cas and Crowley. “Hmmm… I see your binding magic, Angel. Do you realize how easy it is to break? Of course you do… but did you realize how much it will hurt?”

With a gleeful laugh, she sent a burst of power that sent Cas to his knees, clutching his forearm in pain. 

The severing affected Crowley, too, but he stared Abaddon down, refusing to kneel to her. “How did you transport your minions here? That's beyond your power.”

“Oh, I made a little deal with Metatron. Seems he hates your boys here and that angel over there” – she nodded towards Bartholomew, who was fighting off some of her goons – “as much as I do.”

“You cannot do this, Abaddon.”

“Oh, I already have, Crowley.” She walked towards him menacingly. “And now I’m going to finish it.”

“You sure about that, love?,” he asked, nodding behind Abaddon. She whirled around, but Jake threw holy water at her. She screamed and teleported away.

Crowley turned and pulled Cas to his feet. “Undo the cuffs,” he ordered. 

“No,” Cas said. 

“Dammit, Castiel – undo the cuffs or I can’t help, and you need my help.”

Cas looked around at the hordes of demons and angels and various other monsters pouring into the graveyard and turned a steely look upon Crowley. He grabbed the cuffs and began unfastening them.

“If you betray us, Crowley –“ 

“I know, I know. You’d better tend to your boys there and let me organize my men.”

Cas ran to help Dean get Sam up. The youngest Winchester swayed a bit but quickly got his bearings.

“Crowley?” Dean asked.

“Organizing his troops supposedly.”

“What about Abaddon?,” Sam asked, rubbing his forehead with a muttered “Ow.”

“Jake threw holy water on her and she teleported. She’ll be back, though.”

“So what do we do now?,” Dean asked.

“We fight,” Cas said grimly. “Incoming two and five o’clock.”

It felt like hours but maybe was only minutes – later, none of them would be sure. But they fought. They stabbed and gutted and slit and parried. But in the melee, they were separated. Cas had taken on an angel from his old garrison, and Sam and Dean were fighting a group of demons back-to-back when Abaddon reappeared. The periodic humming that Dean had been hearing escalated into a full-on white-noise buzz. Next thing he knew, he’d pulled the First Blade from its sheath on Sam’s belt and had it in hand.

He barely realized what he was doing enough to wonder how he’d known Sam was carrying it and which sheath it was in. He certainly didn’t hear Sam screaming his name or Cas turning and watching, horrified, as Dean wielded the blade. 

He swung at Abaddon, who screamed as the Blade ripped through her skin; bright red light shone. The buzzing surged even louder in Dean's head.

“What is that?,” she yelled.

“Your murder weapon,” Dean snarked. Strength and energy flushed through his body, and he lunged for Abaddon again.

“We’ll see about that,” she said, releasing a wave of power that knocked Dean to his knees and pinned his arms by his side. She grabbed a handful of his hair and yanked his head backwards, forcing him to look into her eyes.

“Ah, what do you think about that, lover?,” she crooned. “Ready to come play my way?”

“Let go of me,” he warned.

Abaddon tsked. “Not till you surrender that nasty little blade.” She reached for it, but the contact burned her fingers, and she yanked her hand back. 

“I haven’t seen anything like that in a long time,” she said.

“Yeah, well, Bart’s got his own toy to use on you,” Dean said.

Abaddon laughed. “The bident? Oh, honey, that thing lost its power long ago. This Blade, now… that’s something different.”

Dean managed to move despite Abaddon’s efforts, though a fresh wave of power locked him in place again. He looked at her closely and noticed her drawn features. “It’s draining your power, isn’t it?,” he asked with a laugh. “You can’t hold me here forever, you know. And when I get free, I will kill you.”

Sam and Cas approached Abaddon from behind, but with a twist of her wrist, she threw them like ragdolls; Cas landed in a lump just a few feet away after bouncing off a tree, but Sam flew all the back to where she'd thrown him the first time. His head even bounced off the same gravestone, and he fell to the ground unconscious. 

“You bitch,” Dean muttered.

Abaddon shrugged. “I like symmetry. Plus, he’ll have a better view of me killing you from there.” 

As Abaddon bragged, Ezekiel approached stealthily and threw something in their vicinity. It erupted into a bright flash – screams filled the air. The demons were reduced to ash, except for Abaddon, whose skin was now black and flaky.

“Dammit,” she said. “I just ran out of moisturizer.”

She leaned down and pressed her blackened lips to his, smiling at the horror on Dean's face. “See you later, lover,” she promised before disappearing again.

Once she was gone, Dean could move, and Zeke came close enough to offer a hand and help Dean to his feet. “Thanks,” Dean said. He looked around and saw Sam, still unconscious; then he saw Cas –

“What’s he doing to Cas?,” Dean said, breaking into a run.

But Ezekiel caught up to Dean, grabbing him by the arms and holding him firm despite the muscular man’s attempts to break free. “I am sorry,” Zeke said somberly, touching two fingers to Dean’s forehead and rendering him unconscious.

He took the First Blade from Dean’s limp hand and slipped it into the pocket of his cargo pants. Then, he picked Dean up and slung him over his shoulder and walked towards the angel who had similarly incapacitated Castiel.

“Ready, brother?,” the other angel asked.

Ezekiel answered, “Yes, Gadreel.”

 

+ +

 

When Sam came to, he jerked immediately to a sitting position. Crowley was standing nearby, leaning against a tombstone. 

“Bout time,” the demon said, studying his nails.

“What happened?,” Sam asked, quickly taking in that the cemetery was now abandoned and quiet. “Where’s Dean? And Cas?”

“Are you sure you want to know? You’re not going to like what I tell you.”

“Tell me, goddammit.” Sam stumbled to his feet, swaying from the effects of the concussion Abaddon had given him.

“It appears that everyone double-crossed everyone here: Your boy Ezekiel was working for Bartholomew, not against him. Abaddon and Metatron made a deal to take out myself and Bartholomew. And I – well. Did you really expect me not to make a few plans of my own.”

“The West Side Story quip. I knew that had to mean something,” Sam muttered, scrubbing a hand over his face.

“Ah, you’re not as slow as I thought.” Crowley stood and dusted off his suit. “Well, I suppose we should get this over with.”

Sam’s hand went to his belt, but his weapons were gone. Crowley shook his head. “Seriously, Moose? As if I didn’t know you’d go for my neck as soon as you woke up.”

“Where did you take Dean and Cas?,” Sam said.

“Oh, I didn’t take them. The angels did – wonder what they could want with those two, hmmm?” Crowley cocked an eyebrow at Sam, who was visibly distraught.

Something minute shifted in Crowley’s expression, and he backed away from Sam. “I’m going to take pity on you, Sam, just this once, and let you live. But realize this, Moosie – this time, you are well and truly on your own.”

With that pronouncement, Crowley snapped his fingers and disappeared.

Sam stood there stunned, reliving how he’d felt in Dick Roman’s lab after Dean and Cas had disappeared, how Crowley had taunted him then.

“Fuck you,” he muttered, yanking out his phone. “I listened to you then, you bastard, but this time I’m going to find my brothers.”

+

“Sam?,” Charlie said. “Iseverythingokay?What’shappened?Whereareyou?” 

“Charlie! Breathe,” Sam ordered. He heard the tears in her voice and realized she’d been crying – out of worry for them. His chest seized, and he had to take a deep breath before he could speak again.  “I need you to calm down, okay?”

Charlie sniffled. “Uh-o-okay.”

“You breathing?”

“Yes,” she answered in a small voice.

“Okay, I need help, and I need it fast.”

“What’s wrong?”

Sam took a breath and delivered the news quickly: “The angels took Dean and Cas. I need to find them. Is there any way you can do an aerial survey or something?”

“I can do you one better than that,” Charlie said. “I can track them.”

“How?,” Sam asked. He was doing a visual survey of the cemetery, and he’d found Dean’s cell phone broken into bits. “Dean’s cell is toast. Cas’s probably is too.”

“I –uh – lowjacked all of you?”

“You did what?”

“It’s a good thing, right? I mean, this is how I’ll find them for you. Give me 30 minutes, and I can give you an addy. How long have they been missing?”

“I… I don’t know,” Sam said, hating the fear leaking into his voice. “I was knocked unconscious, and by the time I came to, everyone was gone – they could have been taken hours ago. I just don’t know.”

“It’s okay, Sam,” Charlie said, offering the soothing words this time. “Want me to put you on speaker while I work?”

As much as Sam wanted to say yes, to hear the comforting sounds of home, he said no. Shoving the phone back in his pocket, he finished his survey but didn’t find anything else helpful. He did find his gun and Ruby’s knife in the Impala, which made him snort at Crowley’s weird sense of honor. He re-armed himself and slid into the driver’s seat. He wanted to sob when he realized Dean had left the keys in the ignition. But Sam shook it off and tried to calm his nerves while he waited for Charlie.

His ringtone had never sounded so shrill.

“Where are they?,” he asked, not even bothering with pleasantries. 

“About a half hour away from you, in a warehouse. Sam –“ Charlie hesitated.

“Yeah?”

“You shouldn’t go alone. I managed to hack into the owner’s surveillance system – there are dozens of angels in there, including Ezekiel. You won’t make it past the entrance.“

“I don’t have a choice, Charlie.”

“Yes, you – “ Charlie cut off and another voice came on the line. It took Sam a second to realize who it was.

“Mrs. Tran? You’re supposed to be with Garth on his houseboat.”

“Don’t even start that nonsense with me, Samuel Winchester.” Sam flinched. It had been a long time since someone had used his full name like that. “Garth dropped me off here and headed straight for you. He should be there in less than an hour.”

Charlie grabbed the phone back. “Give it an hour, Sam. Please.”

Sam considered his options. “Fine. Email me everything you have about the warehouse and send me a location where we can meet and figure out our plan.”

“Done, boss. And, Sam?”

“Yeah?" 

“Please be careful.”

Sam bit his lip. “I’ll try, Charlie. Can you put Mrs. Tran back on the phone?”

“Sure.” He heard her hand the phone over.

“Mrs. Tran? Will you look after –“

She cut him off. “Sam, don’t worry about anything here. We know what to do. You get Dean and Castiel and bring them home. We’ll be here when all four of you return.” 

“Thank you,” he said. He rubbed his eyes, hating the prickly heat building up. This was all too much. “I’ll check in soon,” he said and abruptly ended the call.

His phone beeped with information, and he headed for the rendezvous point, praying that Garth’s estimated time of arrival was correct.

+

“Tell us, Castiel,” Bartholomew demanded, using an angel blade to draw a zig-zag pattern on Cas’s bare chest and running his finger through the rivulets of blood.

He walked over to Dean and rubbed Cas’s blood across his mouth. Both men were restrained – wrists bound to metal beams overhead, feet spread and bound to iron hooks in the floor. They were naked from the waist up, their skin already showing the signs of the beatings they’d taken. 

The angels hadn’t wasted any time. Ezekiel watched from the corner, his arms folded across his chest. Dean saw him and spat Cas’s blood in his direction.

“You bastard,” he said.

“Why is he the bastard, Dean?,” Bartholomew asked. “You’re the one who held him captive – or, wait, was it detained?”

Dean glared at Bartholomew and at Ezekiel.

“Leave him alone, Bartholomew,” Cas commanded. “Your issue is with me.”

“My issue is with whoever enabled that spell – and rumor is that it had to be an angel in love with a human, so that means both you and ken doll here are my issue.”

“No,” Cas lied. “It had to be the grace of a rebellious angel, and Metatron used mine.”

“Funny, but I don’t believe you. Tell us how to reverse it. You have been with the prophet all this time – I know that he’s told you.”

“He hasn’t, Bartholomew. We’re still searching for the reversal.”

Bartholomew shook his head and gestured at the angel standing in the corner, the same one who had carried Castiel in. “Gadreel, show our fallen brother how skilled you are, will you?”

Cas watched in horror as Dean fought the pain of Gadreel’s torture. A few angelic punches left a blossoming dark blue bruise across Dean’s abdomen. When Gadreel began carving into Dean’s skin, Cas yelled profanities and pulled against his own restraints but to no effect. Dean managed to make eye contact with Cas once and mouthed “Live” before succumbing to unconsciousness. Cas let out a guttural scream.

“Stop, Gadreel,” Bartholomew said. The angel continued his bloody work as if Bartholomew hadn’t spoken.

“Ezekiel,” Bartholomew called. The angel stepped forward and, without looking at Dean, put Gadreel into a chokehold and yanked him backwards.

Bartholomew looked at Cas and shrugged. “He hasn’t gotten to come out to play for a while. He doesn’t know when to stop.”

Cas stared at Bartholomew, tears running down his face. Dean’s labored breath filled the room and the spreading bruising and odd angles of some of his bones assured Cas that Dean was very much in trouble.

“Please, help him,” he begged.

“I don’t think so, Castiel. You were always a good soldier until you met that mudmonkey. He’s not worth an angel’s time.”

“You know nothing about it.”

“I know that if you do not tell me what I need to know, I'll have him cut open and let you watch as he’s turned inside out.”

The bile rose in Castiel’s throat. He looked over at Ezekiel, who had quietly sent Gadreel into a deep sleep. “You allowed this? You enabled it?” 

Bartholomew turned to Ezekiel. “Yes, Ezekiel. Tell him how you know how to follow orders so that your brethren may be returned to heaven. Tell him that you are not tempted by these flawed abortions that our Father favored above all else.” 

Ezekiel stepped over to Dean and touched his forehead; his wheezing stopped and the blue tinge left his skin. 

“I did not give you permission to heal him,” Bartholomew said, a warning in his voice.

“You need him to live, do you not? He was seconds from death.”

Cas’s gut clenched. He had suspected the same; it didn’t help to hear it confirmed.

“Fine,” Bartholomew barked. “Since you saw fit to indispose Gadreel, then you have the pleasure of ensuring that Castiel talks.”

Ezekiel approached, taking the angel blade from Bartholomew’s hand. He weighed it in his hand, as if he was checking its balance. He looked at Castiel, who glared at him with anger and disgust. 

Then he turned to Bartholomew and said, quite calmly, “No.”

+

“Sam,” Garth said. “Three more at twelve o’clock.” They were hiding on a rooftop a couple of buildings over, trying to get a lay of the land. Charlie had sent them everything she could find, but part of the building had been built in the 1950s, and those plans weren’t online. Of course, it was just their luck that Dean and Cas were in that part too.

“Dammit,” Sam muttered. “They are fucking everywhere.”

 “We need a distraction.” Garth adjusted his extra-crunchy hex bag and grimaced. “Remind me to get a template for the hiding sigils from Cas,” he said. “I don’t care if I have to tattoo my whole damn body; these hex bags smell.”

“Hopefully we’ll lock those winged dicks back in heaven and won’t need the bags or the sigils,” Sam said. He was studying the scene below trying to find a weakness, just like Dean had taught him all those years ago.

“We could sneak up and throw down some banishing sigils, but they’re so short range…”

“I don’t think we’d get more than one or two down before they got us, Sam.”

Sam nodded in agreement. Just then his cell vibrated. “Yeah?,” Sam answered. Kevin, he mouthed at Garth. Sam listened intently. “Are you serious? Kevin, you are a fucking genius – Yeah, send ‘em on. We’re waiting.”

“Kevin found the missing pages from the angel tablet, and he’s found a spell that’ll incapacitate the angels, freeze them into their vessels for at least a short period of time – so we can freeze and then banish as we go.”

“Awesome,” Garth said. “What do we need?" 

“Blood and an ability to talk quickly while enunciating.”

Their phones vibrated with a text message from Kevin. They both read over it, practicing the words. 

“Well, I guess we’re set then,” Garth said. “Who’s bleeding first – me or you?”

Sam rolled up his sleeve. “We both are,” he said. “We’re not going to have time to draw the spell over and over, so…” He trailed off and looked at Garth apprehensively. “You don’t have to do this. You can just be my back-up.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Garth said with a wave of his hand. “My lady likes scars – says they make me look distinguished.”

Sam’s mouth twisted in a wry grin. “Okay, then. You carve me, and I’ll carve you.”

An hour later, they snuck into the building’s common area – one from each side. At Sam’s signal, they both muttered the words to the spell, pressing the bloodied palm of their opposite hand to one of the sigils carved into their forearms.

The angels collapsed, and Sam quickly drew a banishing rune on the floor from his own blood and sent them off to wherever the fuck they were going these days.

The two worked systematically, freezing and banishing – or stabbing when the opportunity arose – as they made their way towards the blue dots on the GPS that marked Cas and Dean’s location. 

+

“What did you say?,” Bartholomew demanded.

“I said No,” Ezekiel replied calmly. “I did not agree to torture. I followed your orders because I thought you had heaven’s and humanity’s best interests at heart, but I see now that you care nothing for either. This is about you, brother, and your desire for power.”

“The mudmonkeys have infected you too,” Bartholomew snarled.

“No, brother. This is simply wrong.”

At that, Bartholomew launched himself at Ezekiel, who wielded the angel blade and stabbed Bartholomew through the heart.

Cas closed his eyes against the onslaught of white light erupting from Bartholomew, and he hoped that Dean’s eyes were completely shut. The light faded, and he felt his restraints being removed.

“I am sorry, Castiel,” Ezekiel said. “I did not know –“

Cas sagged to the floor with the loss of tension from his limbs. He could barely move, and he suspected that he had some internal bleeding, but he was not the priority. “Help Dean,” he ordered Ezekiel. “Get him out of here.”

Ezekiel hesitated but then nodded and handed Cas the angel blade that he had used to kill Bartholomew.

Ezekiel released Dean from his restraints and caught him carefully, cradling the man as if he were a child. He looked at Castiel. “I will be back for you.”

Cas simply nodded, managing to stay upright until Ezekiel left with Dean. Cas fell over; his last conscious thought was surprise that the concrete floor felt so smooth against the cuts on his face.

+

Sam saw Ezekiel coming down the hall carrying Dean’s limp form. Fear and white-hot fury pulsed through him.

He stepped out, angel blade in hand. “What did you do to my brother?,” he demanded.

Ezekiel came to a halt. “Please listen, Sam. Dean is alive – but barely. You must get him to a hospital.“

“Heal him,” Sam ordered.

“I cannot,” Ezekiel said. “I did all I could for him. I promised Castiel –“

“Cas is alive? Where is he?”

“He is back there,” Ezekiel jerked his head in the direction from which he’d come. “But he insisted Dean be brought out first.” Ezekiel looked around. “Where are my brothers?”

“We’ve been banishing you sick fucks,” Garth piped up from behind Sam. “It’s your turn, asshole.”

Sam held up a hand. “He’ll get what’s coming to him, Garth, but right now, he’s helping us get Dean out of here.”

They were near the exit when the smell of smoke filled the air.

Sam and Garth looked at one another in horror. “Oh God,” Sam said. “I have to get Cas.” He started to run back down the hall, but Ezekiel stopped him.

“No, Sam.” He paused as if listening. “This fire is Gadreel’s doing. You will not survive an encounter with him.” He set Dean gently on the floor. “The two of you should be able to make it out of here. I will go back for Castiel." 

Before Sam or Garth could argue, Ezekiel turned and ran back down the hallway. An explosion in another part of the building had them cowering.

“We have to hurry, Sam,” Garth said. Sam snapped to, and between the two of them, they got Dean out the door and to the alleyway where they’d stashed the Impala. They situated Dean in the backseat as well as they could. He was breathing, but his pulse was thready, and he was so pale and bloody– it reminded Sam of when he’d been electrocuted on that rawhead hunt and nearly died.  Sam ran his hand through his brother’s hair lightly, wincing at the blood that came off on his hand.

“Don’t wake him, Sam,” Garth said.

Sam looked up in surprise. “Huh?”

“Don’t wake him,” Garth repeated. “Look at his arms, his knee – he’s in bad shape, man. He’ll be in so much pain he’s liable to hurt himself more.”

Sam nodded, finally cataloging the individual injuries Dean had sustained. He swore again that all those angelic bastards would pay for this.

“Let's go get Cas," he said. 

+

Ezekiel found Castiel unconscious, and he scooped his brother’s frail human form into his arms and headed back the way he had come. 

As he turned the corner, Gadreel intercepted him. “Where are you going with that, brother?”

“I am taking Castiel to his family,” Ezekiel said. “Move out of the way, Gadreel.”

“I think not,” Gadreel replied. As he watched Ezekiel lay Castiel gently on the floor, he began whistling an oddly cheerful tune.

Ezekiel stood and faced Gadreel. “Do not make me kill you, Gadreel. You have suffered enough.”

Gadreel laughed – a crazy, maniacal sound that bounced off the walls of the narrow hallway.

“Very well,” Ezekiel said. Gadreel made the first strike, but Ezekiel was ready – more than ready. Unlike Gadreel, he had been honing his craft in his Father’s service; he knew that he would quickly defeat his brother, who had only insanity and a lack of self-preservation on his side.

Quickly enough, Ezekiel had dispatched Gadreel. He flinched as the white light illuminated the hallway and broken wings imprinted themselves across the concrete walls. 

He turned to Castiel and gingerly picked him up again and started back towards the exit. But the minutes that Gadreel had delayed them were precious, and Ezekiel quickly realized that the fire now spreading throughout the floor had trapped them.

“You deserved better than this, Castiel,” he said. Ezekiel considered his options. The fire was too strong for him to barrel through; his vessel would incinerate before he could get Castiel to safety. There was only one thing left that he could think of: 

He set Castiel against the wall and pressed his forefingers to Castiel's forehead, healing the deepest cuts on his body and the worst of his internal injuries. He couldn't afford to do more but he thought it would be enough to keep Castiel alive. Pulling a regular knife from his pocket, Ezekiel then dug deeply into his arm, drawing enough blood to sketch a forbidden sigil upon Castiel’s bare chest. He murmured a few words in a long-forgotten language and pressed the palm of his hand to the bloody symbol.

With a loud boom, Castiel disappeared. “I hope you are safe, brother,” Ezekiel said.

Using the knife, he quickly traced a banishing sigil on his own chest. A fireball raced down the hall and Ezekiel could feel its heat when he activated the sigil, sending himself he knew not where.

Instantly, the fire engulfed the hallway, burning away all traces of what had transpired there. 

+

Sam and Garth were waiting in the access drive beside the exit they’d escaped through. Though it had only been minutes since they’d left Ezekiel, they had hoped he’d be waiting for them. Instead, smoke billowed from the building’s towers, and flames shot out through the windows of the upper floors.

“Want me to go check?,” Garth asked, looking up worriedly from his phone. Charlie had just sent directions for the quickest route to the local hospital.

Before Sam could answer, the air shook with a loud explosion. “Oh God,” Sam said, his eyes huge. “Oh God.”

“Drive, Sam – Drive!” Garth yelled, as a series of percussive blasts went off in the building. Sam threw the Impala into reverse and pealed out of there, spinning onto the road and away from the building. 

“Watch,” he said to Garth. “They have to be coming out. They have to. They have to.” Sam kept repeating those words over and over, one eye on the road and one on the rearview mirror.

When the windows in the building blew out, Sam stopped chanting. He slammed on the Impala’s brakes and watched the rearview in open-mouthed horror as flames billowed out of the windows and the exit they had used.

Garth grabbed Sam’s arm and squeezed – painfully hard. “Sam,” he said. “Sam. We have to go. We have to get Dean to the hospital.”

Sam nodded and put his hands back on the wheel, squeezing so tightly that his knuckles were white. “Read me the directions,” he said grimly. “I am not losing both of my brothers today.”

+

to be continued...

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Now

Sam was leaning heavily against the wall, rubbing his forehead with one hand and clutching his cell phone tightly with the other. Though it had been ringing – vibrating, rather – off and on for five minutes, he didn’t want to answer. It stopped and he sighed, grateful for the reprieve. 

Seconds later, his phone buzzed again. He didn’t bother checking caller ID. Steeling his features, he answered, “Hey Charlie.”

“Sam! We’ve been trying to reach you. What’s going on? How’s Dean?”

“It’s – uh – not good.” Sam lifted the phone away from his mouth so that she wouldn’t hear his choked-back sobs. She heard anyway. Her sharp intake of breath was audible over the line.

“We’re coming, Sam. You need us there – Dean needs us.”

NO,” Sam said thickly. He cleared his throat before continuing: “Listen, I appreciate it. Dean would too – but I don’t know who’s still out there, who’s gunning for you, but I can guarantee they are, and if you think I’m going to risk any of you, you’re crazy. Dean didn’t – isn’t –“ Sam’s voice cracked, and he had to pause a moment. “He’s not going through this for nothing, you hear me?”

Charlie’s voice sounded small over the line. “Okay.”

Kevin grabbed the phone. “This is bullshit, Sam,” he said. 

Sam sighed. “I know, but I can’t protect you. Cas is gone, and Dean is – “ He cut off that sentence and bit his lip, staring at the white-tiled ceiling. He counted ten squares before speaking again – this time in a tone that brooked no argument:

“Stay there with your mother and with Charlie,” he told Kevin. “Keep the network running, keep working on that translation. I’ll keep you all posted.”

Kevin huffed but didn’t argue. “Where’s Garth?,” he asked instead.

“He went back to the warehouse to …” Sam trailed off. He couldn’t even say the words.

Kevin made a choking noise and had to clear his throat. “Yeah, I – I understand. Don’t worry about us,” he said.

“I won’t if you promise to batten down the hatches and follow Dean’s protocol to the letter. Absolutely no exceptions. Understood?” Sam asked.

“Understood,” Kevin said quietly. “Stay in touch – even if you can’t talk, text, okay?”

“Yeah, okay.” Sam heard Mrs. Tran demand the phone.  When she came on the line, her voice was full of sympathy and understanding. It was almost more than he could bear. 

“How long has he been in surgery, Sam?”

Sam looked at the clock on the wall. “Maybe 30 minutes?”

There was a long pause. “Who can I call for you? You can’t sit there alone, and it’s going to be a long night.” 

Sam knew immediately.

+

Dr. Baird, a middle-aged man with kind, light-blue eyes, inventoried Dean’s injuries, which even with Ezekiel’s intervention in the warehouse were alarming: Broken ribs that “miraculously” hadn’t punctured his heart or lungs, a ruptured spleen, a severe head injury, contusions, several knife wounds, and a busted knee.

“What the hell happened to him?,” the doctor asked.

Sam answered honestly: “I don’t know. He was like that when I found him.”

Dr. Baird looked askance at Sam and blatantly inventoried his appearance. Sam resisted the urge to hide his hands, knowing that while he was covered in blood, the lack of abrasions supported his innocence in regards to Dean’s injuries. He was also grateful that Garth insisted he put on a jacket before entering the hospital – the sigils carved up and down his arms would’ve definitely been hard to explain.

“Did you report it? I need to speak to the investigating officer,” Dr. Baird said.

“I made a call,” Sam said, grateful for the small comfort of a half-truth. “I don’t know what’s happening yet.” He ran a hand through his hair and fought the wave of futility crashing over him. The doctor must have recognized the signs because he reached a hand out and clasped Sam’s shoulder, squeezing gently.

“Your brother goes back into surgery on the hour. Do you want to see him?”

Sam nodded and followed the doctor wordlessly. Dean looked small in the bed, tubes and electrodes attached. The hiss and beep of machines punctuated every breath he took. His face was bruised and tape held his eyelids shut. Stitches decorated his arms. The room began to spin, and Sam wanted to vomit. He grabbed the bedrail to steady himself.

A nurse recording Dean’s vitals looked at Sam with concern. “You okay, hon?” she asked.

Sam bit back the very Dean-like urge to snap at her for asking a stupid question but settled for nodding instead.

She offered a sympathetic smile and patted him on the arm as she left the room. “You’ve got about two minutes left before they come to take him.”

He nodded again, waiting until she was gone to grasp Dean’s cold hand. As large as Dean’s hand was, it looked small against his. Sam’s breath caught in his throat.

“You’d better live, Dean,” he said. “Or I’m gonna kick your ass.” He squeezed his brother’s fingers lightly, not expecting a response but hoping for one.

He heard the gurney being pushed into the room, and he lay Dean’s hand gently back on the bed. “See you soon, big brother.” Sam stepped back into the hallway, where a waiting nurse took him by the arm and led him to the waiting room.

He sagged into a nondescript chair in the corner of the room and dropped his head into his hands. He fought the sobs threatening to wrack his body, and he dug his fingernails into his palms hoping the pain would distract him – it did, until he remembered the half-moon wounds that Cas had inflicted upon his own palms.

Sam cried then, not caring who heard or saw. 

Sam had been staring at the clock for 10,800 seconds watching every damn one tick by when a hand touched his arm. He startled violently.

“Hey – just me,” said a familiar voice.

He realized who it was and reached out, wrapping his arms around Jody’s small frame and resting his head against her stomach. She carded her fingers gently through his messy and matted hair, murmuring words of comfort. 

They stayed like that for several minutes, until Jody clasped one of Sam’s hands and freed herself from his embrace. She held his hand with both of hers and settled into the chair beside him.

“How is he?” 

Sam shook his head. “I don’t know – still in surgery.” He looked at the clock. “Hopefully he’ll be out soon – wait. How did you get here so fast?”

Jody hesitated a moment before answering. “I was already on my way when Linda called – just had a bad feeling.” She shook her head sadly. “I wish I’d been wrong.”

“Yeah, me too.” Sam calculated the distance quickly in his head and cocked an eyebrow at her. “You totally violated your principles and used your sirens, didn’t you?”

 “All the way,” Jody confessed. She squeezed his hand gently. “How are you?” 

Sam shrugged. “I’m a little banged up. But I’m okay.”

Jody eyed him shrewdly. “You sure?” 

“Yeah. I hit my head, and my arms could use some gauze, but I’m not worried about me.”

 Jody bit her lip, noting the lines of weariness and worry etched into Sam’s expression. “And Garth?”

Sam looked at her blankly. “Uh - he’s okay. I guess? He must still be out there? I just – I couldn’t… I can’t think about that, so I guess I haven’t let myself worry about him.”

“I’m sure he’s fine, but I’ll call him,” Jody said. “See what he’s discovered.”

Sam let out a bitter laugh. “Yeah. Like Cas’s body?” He stared desolately at the clock again. 

“You know I didn’t mean that, Sam,” Jody protested. She watched him with compassion. “I know it looks bad, but maybe Ezekiel and Castiel got out a different way.” She laced her fingers through Sam’s. “Don’t give up hope – you need it too much right now.”

Sam nodded once but didn’t look away from the clock. When Jody stood suddenly, Sam tightened his hold on her hand. 

“Thank you for being here,” he said quietly.

Jody offered him a gentle smile and squeezed back. She slipped her hand from his and pulled out her cell phone. Sam watched her leave the waiting area and realized that while he couldn’t say he felt better, having Jody here kept him from feeling alone.

+

After Dean had been admitted and taken in for surgery, Garth had settled Sam in the waiting room. Then, he’d fired off texts to Charlie and the gang and suited up: He had a crime scene to investigate.

Though it had died down, the fire was still burning at the warehouse, and there were emergency personnel all over the scene. Garth chose to use his FBI badge and the pretense that he was investigating potential violations of federal statutes regarding chemical use.

“I need access to the site to determine whether or not to call in a special environmental team,” he explained to the lead police officer at the scene.

The female officer looked Garth up and down – he really did look like an undertaker in his fed suit – rolled her eyes, and waved him past the barriers.

“Thank you,” he murmured, ducking under the police tape and weaving through the traffic barrels. 

The area of the warehouse where the angels had been, and where Dean and Cas had been held, was a smoldering husk. After performing his own survey of the grounds – or, at least, as much as he could survey in civilian clothes – Garth watched as a third charred body was carried out. He nonchalantly walked over to where the body was being laid out with two others, and slipping on a pair of plastic gloves, he lifted each sheet – holding his breath until he confirmed that none were Castiel. These were the three angels that he and Sam had killed as they fought their way into the warehouse. 

Two firefighters came out of the warehouse in full gear and headed right for the truck closest to Garth. As they divested themselves of their helmets and tanks, Garth took the opportunity to approach.

“Evenin’,” he said, flashing his badge quickly. “Can I ask you guys a few questions?”

The tallest firefighter looked at his partner and shrugged. “Sure. What do you need to know?”

Garth worked through a list of questions ranging from whether or not they’d seen any evidence of chemical leakage to how far they’d worked through the warehouse. He learned that they had cleared the entire section where the angels had been.

“And these folks died in the fire?,” he asked, nodding towards the corpses. “Think it was arson?”

“I’d guess so,” the tallest firefighter said. “But I doubt we’ll ever know for sure. The fire started in the manufacturing wing.” He pointed at the flames still visible through the holes where windows used to be. “So it may have been combustion from improperly stored chemicals.”

“Do you expect to find any more bodies?,” Garth asked. 

“No,” the shorter firefighter answered. “If anyone was in that wing, they’d have been incinerated, and the rest of the building’s been cleared. There are no other retrievable bodies in there.”

Garth nodded. “Thanks for your service and your time, guys,” he said, shaking each man’s hand vigorously.

He waved officiously to the lead officer as he left the crime scene. Once out of sight, his shoulders hunched forward, and he shoved his hands deep into his pockets and pondered the options:

One, Cas had been taken further into the building and was nothing but ash now.

Two, Cas had somehow escaped.

Garth sighed, not wanting to even consider the former and hoping with every fiber of his being that the latter was true. He hadn’t seen Dean in months, but in the few phone conversations they’d had since Cas had come home, he’d heard a change in the other man’s voice, a lightness that suggested Dean was finally letting go of the ball of anger he’d carried around so long. 

Garth felt certain that losing Cas would break Dean’s spirit for good.

A quick call to Charlie confirmed that Cas’s GPS location had never gone further into the warehouse; it had stayed in that one location for hours, only moving after Dean’s had, as if Ezekiel had fulfilled his promise. “It goes wonky about halfway down the hallway, though,” she said. “They’re there, and then they’re not, and I can’t pick Cas’s reading up now.”

“Any chance the locator just stopped working?” 

“Maybe,” Charlie admitted. “I had to go with a different supplier than usual, so it’s not as high-quality as I prefer. I’d sewn it securely into his pants cuff, and even if they stripped him naked, it would still emit a signal. So unless someone was carrying Cas’s pants down that hall…”

“Thanks, Charlie,” Garth said, feeling more hopeful than he had in hours.

He investigated the area around the warehouse, just in case Ezekiel and Castiel were somewhere close. About two blocks away, Garth finally turned onto the street where he’d parked the Impala. He heard a cat yowling, as if it were in pain, and a terrible clatter down an alley. He stopped and peered into the dark recess between two industrial buildings. A loud moan confirmed that there was more back there than just a cat. An alley cat, Garth thought – and then winced at his own flippancy and chastised himself. So not the time for puns.

With his gun in one hand and his flashlight in the other, he proceeded cautiously. What he found made his heart seize.

Ezekiel was lying against the brick wall that closed in the alleyway, bleeding from a sigil carved into his chest. After a visual survey confirmed the angel was alone, Garth tucked his gun away and went to his side.

“Hey, hey,” he said, slapping the angel lightly on the cheek. Ezekiel moaned, and his eyes fluttered.

“Where’s Castiel?,” Garth demanded. 

Ezekiel turned his head towards Garth, but his eyes were unfocused. He muttered something unintelligible.

Garth grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him – hard. “Where. Is. Cas.” 

Ezekiel murmured something, and Garth leaned close. He could only understand “sent Castiel” and “tried to save.”

“Dammit,” Garth cursed, shaking the angel again. “Where is he?”

Ezekiel’s eyes fluttered shut, and his head lolled. Garth cursed as he tried to leverage the angel up. He tucked himself under Ezekiel’s arm and began the difficult process of getting him out of the alleyway. Garth was much stronger than he looked, but he couldn’t help wondering, why do they always have to be so much bigger than me?

It took nearly thirty minutes to get Ezekiel the half-block to the car. The angel had roused to semi-consciousness a couple of times but remained incoherent. Garth managed to open the car’s back door and finagled Ezekiel into the backseat. The angel fell over, and Garth pushed his long limbs inside. The angel didn’t react to any of Garth’s manipulations. 

With a loud sigh, Garth scrubbed his hands through his hair in frustration as he tried to figure out what to do next. He poked at Ezekiel, but when there was no response, he slammed the door shut loudly and leaned against it breathing heavily. He pulled out his cell phone to call Sam and saw that he had texts from Charlie – Dean had made it out of his first surgery and was in his second – and a missed call from Jody. 

Garth pressed “send,” hoping that she was with Sam and could serve as go-between. He didn’t think the youngest Winchester was in any place to talk right now.

“Garth?”

“Hey, Jody. How’s Sam?”

“He’s hanging in there,” she answered. “How’s the… investigation coming?”

Garth didn’t miss how she stumbled over the question. “Am I on speaker?,” he asked.

“No – do you want to be?”

“Uh – no. Let me tell you what I know, and you can tell Sam, okay?” Jody agreed, and Garth filled her in with how he’d found Ezekiel, what the firefighters had said about the warehouse, what Charlie had said about Cas’s tracking device.

Jody listened quietly. When Garth finished, she asked him to hold on, and he waited patiently as she gave Sam an abbreviated version. Sam’s voice came on the line.

“Is he conscious?,” Sam asked.

“No,” Garth answered. He told Sam what Ezekiel had mumbled. “I don’t want to get our hopes up, Sam, but it sounds like Cas might still be alive – but how do we pull an angel out of a coma?” 

“Fuck if I know,” Sam said, exasperation clear in his voice. He was silent a moment, and then he cleared his throat. “Take the bastard to the bunker and lock him down. When he comes to, he’s telling us everything he knows if I have to carve it out of him myself.” 

“Will do.” Garth hesitated. “How is… everything?”

Sam’s breath hitched and Jody’s voice came back on the line.  “Garth? Yeah, sorry. He just can’t… “ Her voice trailed off.

“I get it,” Garth said. He paused before asking, “That bad?”

“Yeah,” Jody said. “He’s in surgery now. We expect to hear something within the next hour or so. I promise to keep you posted.”

“Give Sam a hug for me?,” Garth asked. “I’d come back by the hospital but if Ezekiel comes to….”

“Sure,” Jody said. “And don't worry about coming by here. It’s best to get him under lockdown while he’s incapacitated. I’ll keep you posted about Dean - and Sam, too.”

“Thanks, Jody,” Garth said. “You guys take care.”

“You too.”

Garth ended the call and leaned back against the car a moment, looking up at the starry sky and saying a prayer for his friends. Then, with a heavy sigh, he got behind the wheel.

He focused on driving Dean’s Baby carefully, navigating the side streets to avoid the emergency vehicles going to and from the warehouse scene. After a quick stop at a convenience store for energy drinks and caffeine pills, Garth headed for the highway. 

He looked in the rearview at Ezekiel’s crumpled body. Garth’s thin frame shook with rage, and he threatened the unconscious angel: “If you can hear me, you’d better wake up.” Garth swore when Ezekiel didn’t respond and blinked rapidly to clear his eyes of unshed tears.

He pulled out his phone and called Charlie to discuss the preparations for the angel’s incarceration.

+

“Mr. Smith?”

Sam shot to his feet. “Yes?”

“Your brother’s in recovery,” Dr. Baird said. He addressed Jody, who was wearing her uniform. “Are you the officer investigating the case?” 

Jody stood. “Hi,” she said extending her hand. “May we speak for a moment?” She shot a look at Sam and led the doctor a few feet away. She pulled out her credentials and handed them to Dr. Baird. “I’m Sheriff Jody Mills, from Sioux Falls in South Dakota.”

Dr. Baird looked at her with surprise. “That’s a long way,” he said, closing the leather wallet and passing it back to her. “Why are you handling this case?” 

Jody shrugged as she put the wallet away. “It’s a long story,” she said. “But the short version is that Dean’s one of my special undercover operatives. He was investigating a suspected drug smuggling ring that originated in Sioux Falls; his cover was blown, and they retaliated.”

The doctor shook his head in sympathy. “They sure did a number on him.”

“So I heard.” Jody sighed. “One thing –“ She stole a glance at Sam who was watching them. “Sam there thought that Dean had retired from undercover work. So if you have any questions? Ask me…I’m not sure how much more Sam can deal with.

Dr. Baird nodded his agreement. “No problem. Will you be here or do we need to request extra security? We usually do with cases like this.”

“I’m here indefinitely, as a cop and a friend of the family,” Jody promised. “You might ask for an additional security patrol, but my guys are hunting down the people who did this to Dean.”

“I can do that,” he said, scribbling on the notepad he held.

Jody motioned for Sam to come closer. “Now that we’ve settled that, what can you tell us about Dean’s condition?,” she asked.

Dr. Baird smiled kindly at Sam. “He’s not out of the woods, but he responded well, and his vitals are stronger. You can see him briefly in” – the doctor looked at his watch – “about an hour.”

“Good, good. Thanks,” Sam said.

“Your brother’s a fighter –“

“Yeah, he is,” Sam interrupted.

“He needs to be. The next 24 hours are crucial. I’ll be checking on him regularly, and I’ll update you if his condition changes.”

Sam nodded. “Thanks, doc,” Jody said.

“You’re welcome, Sheriff Mills. Mr. Smith, a nurse will get you when your brother is settled.” 

Sam collapsed in his chair and rested his head in his hands. Jody came and sat beside him, rubbing comforting circles on his back. 

“I need to call Charlie,” he said. “And Garth and –“

“No you don’t, Sam. I’ll update them.” 

“We’re going to have to lie, you know,” he said.

“To Charlie and Garth?,” she asked, confused.

“No, to Dean. We can’t tell him that we don’t know what happened to Cas.”

Jody regarded Sam soberly for a moment. “You realize that as soon as Dean comes back to himself, and he realizes –“ 

“Yeah, but he’s got to have the will to get back to himself first,” Sam said. “He’ll end the world trying to save me, I know, but Cas is – Cas is his heart. I don’t know if he’ll survive thinking that Cas might be dead, again.”

Jody pressed her lips together in a line. “We’ll do what we have to, then.” She brushed Sam’s hair back from his face. “It’s going to be okay, okay?”

“I want to believe you,” he said gruffly.

“Then do,” she said. “Just sit back and rest. I’ll be back in a few.”

Sam did as she said, settling back, leaning his head against the wall, and shutting his eyes against the harsh lighting. He quickly found that he couldn’t rest, so he simply waited, listening as the wall clock loudly counted each passing second.

Tick, tock. Tick, tock.

+

Eighteen hours later, Sam was still waiting. He’d been allowed to see Dean briefly, and it’d been no easier seeing his brother frail, injured, and hooked up to machines.

He and Jody were sitting in a special waiting room outside of ICU when a flurry of alarms sounded through the air. Through the door’s panel window, Sam saw people running into Dean’s room, and he was up, pounding on the door loudly and repeatedly pressing the admittance button – protocol be damned.

All he succeeded in doing was attracting the attention of a security guard who informed him he could sit down or be escorted out. So he sat, and held Jody’s hand, and couldn’t look anywhere but at that door.

By the time a doctor came out, Sam was a nervous wreck.

“Mr. Smith?” This doctor didn’t wait for Sam to answer – which was good because Sam couldn’t speak – and took a seat across from him and Jody. “Your brother’s had a set-back.” She proceeded to explain that the preventative measures taken during surgery weren’t alleviating the building pressure in Dean’s brain.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Smith.”

“Wait – what? Don’t be sorry – fix him.”

“We’re doing what we can.” The doctor paused. “Have you called the rest of the family?”

It took Sam a moment to understand what the doctor was saying, and he stared at the woman, slack-jawed. Jody answered for him. “We have. May we see him?”

“One at a time,” the doctor said. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you in.”

“Sam,” Jody said, pushing gently at his back. “Go. Be with Dean.”

Sam stood at Dean’s bedside, faced with the evidence of his brother’s worsening condition in the form of even more horrifying hospital accoutrements. He wondered if Dean’s spirit self was hovering, as he had nearly ten years ago, after the wreck. Sam had been able to sense Dean then. Now? All he could feel was the chill of central air conditioning.

He had no idea that someone else was in the room with him, her eyes filling with tears as she listened to him voice how proud he was of Dean, how sorry he was for everything, how Dean didn’t deserve this...

He also had no idea when a tall man dressed all in black joined her. 

“Why, Tessa, how very human of you,” the man said, startling her. She blinked rapidly, and his index finger captured a fallen tear that he then transferred into a tiny glass vial. He held the vial up to the light to confirm that the drop of moisture was safely inside.

“I do believe that’s a first.” He raised an eyebrow at the reaper. “Crying for a human?” 

She shrugged. “These humans are different.” She looked around the room. “But Dean’s soul hasn’t separated from his body – why?” 

“He’s more tied to the physical world than ever,” the tall man said. “And it’s not his time.”

Tessa looked shocked. “But he’s on my list.”

“He’s not on mine,” the man responded. “All in due time.” He disappeared, leaving Tessa standing in the corner, watching with curiosity instead of grief now – even as the machines monitoring Dean began to beep and Sam was hustled out of the room. 

+

Sam resisted returning to the waiting room until the nurse confirmed that a sensor had simply come loose. Sam extracted a promise that he could come back in at the top of the hour; only then did he exit the main area of the ICU.

He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw Jody talking to a man – a well-dressed, lean, dark-eyed man carrying a black cane adorned with a silver handle.

“Why, hello Sam,” the man said genially.

Jody looked back and forth between Sam and the man. “You two know each other?”

Sam’s jaw worked in anger and fear, and he clenched his hands into fists. “You can’t take him – get the hell out of here,” he ground out. 

Alarmed, Jody made to get up, but the man held up his hand. “No need, my dear. I’ll be leaving soon.” He stood and adjusted his long black coat.

“You can’t take him,” Sam repeated.

The tall man gazed dispassionately at Sam. “I do as I want, Sam Winchester.”

“Please,” Sam said, his voice breaking.

“What’s going on?,” Jody asked in alarm.

“This is Death,” Sam spat out.

“Death? As in – “

“The Grim Reaper? The Dark Angel? Yes, yes, I’ve heard it all.” Death smirked. “But I’m here to speak with Sam about his brother. Please excuse us, Ms. Mills.”

Death transported himself and Sam to a deserted corner of the hospital’s rooftop. Sam’s knees buckled from the abrupt change of scenery.

“What do you want?,” he asked as he regained his balance. 

“It’s more what you want,” Death said. “I assume you want your brother to live?”

Sam nodded.

“Then I’m here to offer you the same deal I gave him.”

“Wait – he made a deal with you?”

“Who else had the power to save you?,” Death asked archly. 

Sam had no answer to that.

Death gave Sam a once-over and sighed heavily. “I detest being drawn into human affairs, yet you Winchesters are like a spider’s web.” He brushed at his jacket sleeve. “And I’m caught by the filaments.”

He stared off into the distance, considering. “Or perhaps you’re caught in my web. Hmmm. I suppose the distinction doesn’t matter at the moment. Very well. Here’s my offer, Sam: I’ll restore your brother, and you owe me a favor.”

“Done.”

Death arched an eyebrow. “No worries about the fine print?”

“No. Save Dean – now.”

Death regarded Sam evenly. “You two are very alike. By the way, you may need this,” he said, handing Sam the vial.

“What is it?”

“A reaper’s tear. Tessa sends her regards.” Death inclined his head. “This concludes our conversation for now.” He pointed his cane towards the rooftop exit. “You may take the stairs.” 

“Wait!” 

Death arched an eyebrow at Sam.

“What about Cas?” Sam swallowed. “Can you tell me where he is?”

Death tsked. “Afraid not. Spoilers, you know.” He smiled enigmatically and disappeared, leaving Sam gaping. It took him a second or two to gather himself and head for the exit, running down the stairs and through the hospital, alarming everyone who saw him.

Stopped again by security guards, he was trying to explain his behavior when Jody found him and came to his rescue. She was allowed to escort him back to the ICU, though he was warned in no uncertain terms that one more outburst would get him thrown out of the hospital, dying brother or no. 

As they walked into the ICU waiting room, Jody asked Sam where Death was. “I think in there,” Sam said, nodding towards the main ICU door. Through its view panel, they could see nurses running into Dean’s room. When Dr. Baird followed them, Sam began pressing the admittance button over and over until he got the desk nurse’s attention. 

“Sir, you need to sit down,” she said sternly.

“They’re in my brother’s room – what’s wrong?,” Sam demanded.

“I don’t know your brother’s condition, sir, but have a seat, and I”ll send someone out.”

Jody tugged at Sam’s hand. “Come on, Sam, sit.” He listened, reluctantly.

Luckily, they only had to wait about fifteen minutes before Dr. Baird came out to greet them. The smile on his face immediately put Sam at ease.

“Mr. Smith, Sheriff Mills, I have excellent news: the pressure in Dean’s brain is back to normal, and his vitals are strong.” The doctor smiled. “Would you like to see him?” 

Sam and Jody were allowed to sit with Dean for the rest of the night. Sam was holding his brother’s hand when it twitched in his.

He looked up to see Dean’s alarmed green eyes. “Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Sam said. He turned to Jody, “Will you—?”

“Yeah,” she said, heading out the door.

Sam turned and looked Dean straight in the eye. “You’ve got a tube in your throat. Don’t panic, okay? Blink if you understand me.”

Dean blinked just as Dr. Baird came into the room. “Sam, I need you to step back.” Sam did, standing next to Jody at the wall.

Dean’s tubing was removed, and he looked over at Sam, catching his eye. He croaked out, “Sammy – where’s Cas?”

Sam froze. “Uh – uh – he’s okay. Just stepped out.”

Dr. Baird shot a look at Sam and then looked back at Dean, whose agitation was already increasing. “Dean, we’re going to sedate you.”

“No,” Dean said. “I don’t wa…” His voice died mid-word, and he looked pleadingly at the doctor.

“We have to, Dean.” The doctor administered the sedative and stood there as it took effect. Dean’s eyelids drooped. “When you wake up, you’ll feel better.”

Sam shot forward and grabbed Dean’s hand. “We’re here, Dean. We’ll be here when you wake up.” Dean grasped Sam’s fingers before succumbing to unconsciousness. 

Once Dean was under, Dr. Baird turned to Sam. “Who’s Cas?”

“His – um – his partner,” Sam said, stumbling over the label that Dean hadn’t even used yet.

“Well, I advise you to get Cas here before Dean wakes up again – or else come up with a story that will keep him calm. Your brother’s recovery is damn near miraculous, and we don’t want to tempt fate.”

Sam nodded numbly and took the chair next to Dean’s bed. After the nurses and doctor left the room, Jody came up behind Sam, placing a hand gently on his back. 

“What are we going to do?,” she asked. 

Sam shook his head wearily. “I don’t know yet.”

+

Charlie answered her cell phone on the first ring. “Sam?” 

“No, it’s Jody.”

Charlie took a breath, trying to hold her fear in check. “How’s Dean?”

Kevin, Linda, and Garth paused in their work.

“He’s – “ Jody hesitated, and Charlie’s stomach dropped before Jody continued. “He’s okay - He’s going to recover.”

Charlie’s breathing hitched in a half-sob, eliciting a fearful “What happened?” from Kevin and concerned looks from Linda and Garth.

Charlie wiped at her eyes. “He’s okay,” she said with a watery smile.

Kevin whooped and pulled Charlie into a bear-hug. Linda bowed her head in thankful relief, and Garth happily punched the air.

“Hold on, Jody,” Charlie said. “I’m putting you on speaker.” She flipped the phone open and laid it on the table. “Tell us what’s going on?”

“It’s a long story,” Jody’s voice sounded tinny. “But the short version is that he’s stable, and the doctors are amazed. He may actually be released in 48 hours.”

None of the four clustered around the phone could stop smiling. 

“And how’s Sam?,” Linda asked. 

“Better. He’s with Dean now, won’t leave his side of course.”

“Has Sam been seen yet? Did he take care of his wounds?,” Garth asked. 

“Wounds?,” Jody asked.

“We kind of carved our arms up,” Garth said, looking down at his own gauze-covered forearms.

“I’ll make sure he’s taken care of,” Jody promised. “How are things there? How’s Ezekiel?”

“Things here are good,” Charlie answered. “Kevin’s working on that last piece of the angel tablet, and we’re making progress with the human tablet.”

Garth cut in. “And Ezekiel’s unconscious, but he’s locked down in the dungeon using the angel trap warding."

"Angel trap warding?," Jody asked.

"Yeah," Kevin interjected. "Another gem from the angel tablet. So even if Zeke wakes up, he won’t be going anywhere.” 

“Good,” Jody said. She hesitated – “And what about Cas?”

“We’re still checking camera feeds and recent admits at hospitals and county jails, etcetera, within a hundred-mile radius,” Charlie answered.

“Any idea what happened?,” Jody asked. 

Garth cleared his throat. “The way Zeke said that he sent Cas somewhere – I really do think he got him out. Zeke’s got a banishing sigil on his chest, so apparently he did whatever he did for Cas and then banished himself out of the fire. If we could just talk to him…”

Garth’s voice trailed off, and Linda spoke up. “I’m researching the whole ‘how to revive an angel’ thing,” she said. “Hopefully we can question Ezekiel soon.”

“Find what you can,” Jody said. “I’ll call my contacts, too, and put out an APB for anyone matching Cas’s description. If we’re lucky, maybe we can find him before Dean regains full consciousness. The doctors sedated him, so we haven’t had to tell him Cas is missing. I’d rather we not have to go there.”

“So would we all,” Garth agreed.

A loudspeaker rumbled in the background. “Listen, they just called my number – I’m picking up take-out for Sam – but I’ll call again soon. Let me know if you learn anything?”

“Sure thing,” Charlie promised. She closed her phone and high-fived Kevin.

To no one in particular, Linda asked, “Should we be worried that Dean made a miraculous recovery?”

Garth snorted: “Probably.”

Charlie and Kevin exchanged a look.  “Most definitely,” Kevin agreed. “But, sometimes, ignorance is bliss.”

“And I am blissfully ignorant right now,” Charlie said. “Let’s just try to find Cas before Dean wakes up.”

That was an idea they could all get behind, and they gladly burned the midnight oil for their friends: Kevin hunkered down with the translations, Linda searching the archives, and Garth and Charlie sifting through feeds and reports.

+

“Dean?” the voice asked, pulling Cas back into consciousness. “Here, take a sip of this.”

A glass was held to Cas’s mouth; the water was nectar to his dry lips.

“Dean?,” he asked.

“Yes, honey, we got that – your name’s Dean,” the voice chuckled. Cas managed to open his eyes and saw a woman with kind brown eyes smiling at him. “It’s been the only word you’ve said for two days.”

The cloudiness began to leave his head, and Cas struggled to sit upright.

“Uh, where am I?,” he asked.

“You’re in our tent city,” the woman said, gesturing around them. Cas realized they were under a makeshift shelter, created by four tall poles and a tarp. He looked around and saw at least forty other people of various ages and ethnicities. Most were sleeping or cooking over an open flame. “Here, finish drinking,” she said, holding the rim of the glass back to his lips. He drank, grateful for the water cooling his parched throat.

“Are you warm enough? You were half-naked and cut up something terrible when we found you. I bandaged your cuts – thankfully none were too deep.” She gestured at the shirt and vest he was wearing. “I dressed you too; sorry about the colors.”

Cas looked down at the long-sleeved orange t-shirt and the red quilted vest. “It’s fine,” he murmured. “Thank you for helping me.”

She pulled a ratty blanket up over Cas, tucking it around his legs. “Are you hungry?,” she asked. 

Cas had to think a moment – was he? His stomach was making noises and contracting oddly. “I believe so,” he answered.

“You rest here,” she said. “I’ll be back with some soup for you in a minute.”

“Wait,” Cas said, reaching out and grabbing her arm. “How long have I been here? How did I get here?”

“Big Mike – one of the watchmen – found you by the roadside three days ago. You were disoriented and talking, but honestly, honey, nothing you said made sense except your name.” She laid a hand on Cas’s head – “Don’t worry, Dean, you’re welcome to stay here as long as you need. I’m Gloria, by the way. If you need anything, you let me know.”

Cas nodded numbly. He felt he should correct her but hearing that name – somehow the sound of it fractionally eased the ache gnawing inside him.

He consumed the soup that Gloria brought him without even asking what kind it was. It was nourishment, and it filled his empty stomach. He was so tired, so worn… His stomach full, he lay back down on the pallet and pulled his vest tightly around himself. He closed his eyes and waited for the onslaught.

He knew that he was an angel – or, rather, formerly so. He could already feel the pressure hovering at the edge of his consciousness, as if his mind couldn’t decide whether he was angel or human. He knew that when he relaxed, he would be overcome with information as his now-human brain, was – once again – overwhelmed with categorizing the remnants of millennia of angelic existence.

Even so, Cas’s memories remained a jumble. He’d see flashes – a bus stop, a kindly waitress, the bunker, a battle. He saw glimpses of Sam, Charlie, and Kevin – and Dean, always, always Dean. But he couldn’t quite make sense of the random data; their sum total hovered just at the edge of his understanding.

The memories that were coherent seemed stuck on repeat, replaying his last days as an angel over and over again. From his observations of the Winchesters, he assumed that ruminating was a human thing. As he listened to the camp settling into its quiet, nighttime routine, he thought that perhaps he could ask Dea—perhaps he could ask Gloria tomorrow about whether or not she ruminated and how she dealt with it.

Because the why of his remembering didn’t really matter. The fact was that he remembered, and it tore at him every second of every day. This, he knew, was truth.

I’m not wrong, Dean. I’m going to fix my home.

It felt like forever since Metatron had taken his grace. Cas remembered waking on the cold forest floor, running to a clearing where, with tears in his eyes, he had watched his brothers and sisters rain down in fire upon the earth.

He hadn’t realized he was completely human at first, even though he had felt Metatron slice into his neck, drain his grace from his body. But this time, he wasn’t left with, as Pestilence had put it, even “a speck” of angel.

From what he could tell, he was one hundred percent human.

After the fall, his initial impulse had been to find Dean and Sam, and he’d made his way to the closest town with just that intent. But the fallen angels had been wreaking havoc upon the earth and most were wrathful and looking for him.

Castiel had known then that he was the most wanted being in the universe. 

Now, he wasn’t sure what was happening or who might be looking for him. He didn’t even know how he’d gotten here. Gloria had said he’d had a weird symbol painted onto his chest when they’d found him, but she couldn’t recall it well enough to draw, and she’d washed away the dried blood tending to his wounds.

He rubbed at the makeshift bandages covering the shallow cuts on his chest. He wanted to leave here and find Dean and Sam, make sure that they were safe, and fill in the gaps in his mind. But this time instinct told him to wait. So he curled up on his borrowed pallet and focused on clearing his jumbled mind until things made sense again.

And he dreamed of vivid green eyes, of tender lips mouthing across his skin. 

+

to be continued...

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Now

“Sam,” Jody said, shaking his shoulder. 

“Huh?,” Sam said blearily, raising his head. He’d sprawled in his chair, finally succumbing to the fatigue that fear had been holding at bay.

She nodded towards Dean. “He’s waking.”

Dean’s eyes were still closed, but he was twitching and agitated. Sam pulled his chair closer to Dean’s bedside and grabbed his hand; the contact did seem to help calm Dean. When Dean finally opened his eyes, it took a minute or so for them to clear; as soon as they did, Sam saw awareness kick in and his brother went straight into flight mode.

Dean yanked his hand away and snapped to a sitting position so quickly that Sam jerked backwards. In seconds, Dean ripped away the various sensors still attached to his body, setting off a flurry of alarms.

“Going somewhere, Mr. Smith?,” Dr. Baird asked sardonically from the doorway.

Dean froze in the middle of removing his IV and grinned sheepishly. “I really hate hospitals, doc. I’m fine – can I go?”

Sam knew better than to buy Dean’s sheepishness and, apparently, so did the doctor: 

“You were in critical and worsening condition less than eighteen hours ago, so – no. If there’s no decline in your condition by tomorrow afternoon, I’ll release you then. But not before.” 

Dr. Baird walked over and reattached the heart monitor and Dean’s IV. Addressing Sam, he asked, “Did I happen to mention that my brother is in the armed forces?”

“Uh - no?” Sam answered, sharing a what-the-fuck look with Dean.

“He gets that same spooked look every time he’s in the hospital too. Last time, his commanding officer had to request a special guard, just to ensure he didn’t leave in the middle of the night.” 

Dr. Baird gave Dean a stern look. “There is an extra guard on this floor, just so you know.” 

Dean sunk back against his pillows with a muttered curse. When he saw the smirk Sam was wearing, he flipped his brother off. 

“I’ll be back to check on you during rounds,” Dr. Baird told Dean before leaving the room.

“Just a suggestion – but maybe next time unplug the machines before you try to make your escape?,” Jody said smiling.

Dean rolled his eyes but smiled back at her. “Hey, Mills. Didn’t see you there.”

“Hey, you. Good to have you back with us.”

“Yeah, how did that happen again?” Dean turned a sharp look towards Sam, who shrugged noncommittally.

“Miracles happen.”

Dean snorted. “Yeah, right. We’re talking about that later.”

Dean finally looked around the room, actually inventorying his surroundings, taking note of what was there and what wasn’t. He looked at Sam head on. 

“Where’s Cas?”

+

Cas woke from a troubled sleep. He pulled himself to a sitting position and groaned with the exertion.

He’d always wondered what humans meant they said every muscle in their bodies hurt. Now, he thought he understood.

Gloria looked up from the novel she was reading. “Good morning -You look much better today, Dean – how are you feeling?”

“Better, I think,” Cas said hoarsely. “Where am I?”

Gloria’s brow furrowed. “In a tent city? Do you remember –“

Cas cut her off. “No,” he said. “I mean, what city? What state?”

Before she answered him, she made him follow her finger in an H shape and recite the months of the year backwards, beginning with May. He did both to her satisfaction, but when she asked him where they were, he still couldn’t tell her.

“Oh, you poor thing,” she said, brushing his hair back from his forehead. “You really did hit your head, didn’t you?”

Cas knew there was more at work here than a simple head injury, but he chose the path of least resistance and nodded – wincing as the sudden movement unleashed a stabbing pain through his skull.

“Hey, now, you be still and rest,” Gloria said, plumping his thin pillow and helping him lay back. “You’re in Topeka, Kansas - Welcome to the neighborhood.” She smiled kindly. “I’ll be back in a minute. I’m going to get you some aspirin and some water.”

“Thank you,” Cas murmured.

“It’s the least I can do,” she said. “We help those who can’t help themselves.”

As Cas watched Gloria walk away, he felt immense gratitude for her charity. He couldn’t help musing on his changed existence, though. He kept wondering, as a one-time Angel of the Lord now human, homeless, and injured, had he now truly “fallen”? Or had he risen? 

Garth found Kevin sitting at the research table, staring into space. “What’s up?”

“Dean’s being released today,” Kevin answered absently.

Garth pulled out the chair across from Kevin. “How’s he doing?”

Kevin looked at Garth and shook his head. “Physically, he’s fine. But Sam says he didn’t handle the news about Cas well – which we already knew he wouldn’t.”

Garth watched as Kevin tapped his cell phone on the tabletop. “And?”

Kevin sighed. “And they’ve had to keep Dean sedated. He apparently tried to leave as soon as he woke up yesterday, but the doctor wouldn’t have any part of it. Put an extra guard on his room and everything. After Sam explained what happened and what we’ve found out...Dean freaked, and the doctor had to knock his ass out again.”

Garth winced. “Oh shit. You know he just woke up even more pissed.”

“Pretty much,” Kevin agreed.

Garth looked around at all the notes and scattered pieces of text. “So, we’d better have something to tell him when he asks – unless the Men of Letters stashed some tranquilizers somewhere.” 

Kevin snorted. “For Dean? We’d need elephant tranqs. Sam said the doctor is amazed by Dean’s ‘high tolerance’ levels.”

“Hmmm. Maybe Sam can swipe some spares?”

Kevin laughed. “He already did – even persuaded Jody to cover for him while he raided the pharmacy.”

“I’m surprised she went along with that,” Garth said, laughing.

Kevin shrugged. “Jody knows Dean.” He pulled his laptop over and started rifling through the stacks of notes. “And so do I – like you said, we need to have our shit together. Sam would’ve already broken Dean out of hospital, but he’s trying to give us time to work.”

“How’s Dean taking that?”

“’Bout as well as you’d expect. He’s got a million questions, and Sam’s filtering information to him slowly. Oh, Sam did ask us to send him a photograph of the updated incursion map.”

“I can do that,” Garth said, pulling out his phone and walking over to it. Charlie had switched colors, using orange marker to indicate demon activity and purple for angelic, since the Stull showdown. As he snapped pictures, he studied the map: Lawrence was an explosion of Xs in both colors, and away from the epi-center, it was clear that the angels were in full-on retreat. “I wonder what happened that shifted power further from the angels?”

Kevin came and stood beside him, pointing to the warehouse’s location. “Well, there was a lot of angelic activity in this vicinity that night – shops being blown out, some human deaths, several demon deaths. But after the fire – silence. What did you guys do?”

“We only killed three – and they were just average angels, from what I could tell – and the ones who didn’t run away, we froze and banished. I’d guess we removed about 30 before we ran into Zeke?” 

Kevin pondered the map. “Did you see a blonde-haired angel in a suit? Looked like a used car salesman?”

“Not that I recall. Why?”

“That’s Bartholomew, their leader. He was there – Charlie saw him on camera, walking towards the part of the warehouse where Dean and Cas were being held. If something happened to him…?”

“That’d make sense,” Garth acknowledged, looking up from the email he was composing to Sam. “From what I can tell, most angels don’t do well without a governing force.”

“Yeah. Cas said that teaching angels about free will was 'akin to teaching poetry to fish.'" Kevin and Garth’s amusement at Cas’s description quickly gave way to a somber pause. 

Garth cleared his throat awkwardly. “Guess we should get to it, then. What do you need me to do?”

He followed Kevin back to the research tables. “This is what Cas was reading before they left,” Kevin said, handing Garth a book on Cain & Abel lore. “He was paying close attention to the First Blade and its effects.” 

“Why?,” Garth asked.

“They didn’t tell you yet?” When Garth shook his head, Kevin continued, “They’ve got the First Blade – “

“You mean Cain’s weapon?”

“Yeah, and it was having some kind of freaky effect on Dean that was really worrying Cas. He texted me while they were on their way to Stull, telling me to find out everything I could. I haven’t had time with all of this” – Kevin gestured at his tablet notes. 

“I’ll jump right on it, then,” Garth said. “You focus on the tablets.”

Kevin settled back into the chair he’d claimed as his and pointed at the lore book Garthw as holding. “I always thought that story was interesting, but the reality’s just creepy. Cas said he could hear the Blade’s heartbeat and that it was ‘speaking’ to Dean.”

“Oh, that’s not weird at all,” Garth said sarcastically.

Kevin smirked. “Just another day in Winchester world, I guess. Oh, and there are a couple more books and some of Cas’s notes on that shelf over there. He was keeping them out of the way so that Dean wouldn’t worry.” 

Garth retrieved the materials, adding them to his own stack. He looked at Kevin’s towers of papers and books. “And how’s your work coming?” 

“I’m making progress,” Kevin said. “Now that I’ve found those missing pieces, I can put them together – the angel trap info was in that part – and I’ve got one more passage to go. I’m also still working on the glossalia section that talks about the reversal spell.”

“And then,” Kevin continued, nodding at Charlie who’d just wandered into the room and was booting up her computer. “It’s on to the human tablet and the third layer.” 

“You’d better hurry, then,” Charlie said. “The human tablet will finish processing by this afternoon; I’ll have the quadrants all printed before dinnertime.” 

“Thanks, Charlie,” Kevin said. He watched as his mom carried in a tray of snacks and set it on the one empty spot of Charlie’s table. “Thanks,” Garth said, reaching over and grabbing a cookie. Linda didn’t say anything; she just patted Garth’s shoulder.

Kevin hesitated before asking, “Do you guys really believe that Cas is okay?”

Garth answered first: “We have to… until proven otherwise, we have to.”

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen,” Linda said, taking the seat across from Charlie. “Garth’s right; we have to believe, not only for ourselves, but for Castiel and for Dean.” 

A heavy silence filled the room again, and again, Garth broke it. “What do you mean by the third layer?” 

“We figured out that the angel tablet is a palimpsest,” Charlie explained. “It’s composed of layers – the top is the angel, the middle is the human, and the third is… well, we don’t know yet. But we’re going to figure it out.”

Kevin glanced at the clock. “And the sooner we do that, the better off we’ll be. I have to point out that Dean Winchester, he of little patience on a good day, will be home in less than eight hours.”

“I can’t wait for our fearless leaders to return, but I really want to have something substantial to show them – I think it will help,” Charlie said.

“I think you’re right,” Linda said. Garth nodded in agreement.

The room soon echoed with the noise of research: the tap-tapping of computer keys as Charlie processed tablet impressions and Linda worked feeds and missing persons reports; the scratching of pen to paper and the rustling of pages as Kevin and Garth worked through their materials. And that comforting cadence – so comforting that Kevin even left his headphones off – chased away the hours.

+

“You sure you don’t want to ride with Sam?,” Jody asked. She had driven the three of them from the hospital to the alleyway where Garth had left his car.

Dean smirked weakly at Jody. “This may be my only chance to sit in the front of a police car when the sirens are on.”

Jody cocked an eyebrow at him, clearly not buying his reasoning. He sighed. “I just… He’ll want to talk about feelings and shit, and I just – I can’t.”

She nodded, patting him gently on the arm while avoiding his still-sore stitches. “Okay, then. I’ll tell him.” She handed him a thermos of tea. “Drink this; it’ll make you feel better.” With a sympathetic smile, she shut Dean’s door and walked over to Garth’s car, where Sam waited in the driver’s seat.

Dean opened the thermos, breathing in the aroma of herbal tea. He sipped slowly, as he used the side-mirror to watch Jody and Sam talking. When Sam caught Dean’s eye in the reflection, Dean looked away.

A minute or so later, Jody climbed into the driver’s seat of the SUV. She pulled a pillow from the back seat and handed it to Dean. He bunched it up and placed it against the window. Once comfortable, he closed his eyes. 

When Jody turned the radio to a classic rock station a few miles down the road, Dean smiled automatically in appreciation of her musical tastes. If Sam doesn’t marry her, I wonder how she feels about polyamory? It was an errant, flippant thought – but one that immediately conjured the image of piercing blue eyes, the touch of strong, nimble fingers, the whispers of a beloved voice… Dean pressed his fist against his mouth to stifle a sob.

He only remembered that Jody was barely a foot away when a gentle hand rubbed his upper arm. She said softly, “It’ll be okay, Dean. We’re going to regroup at the bunker, figure out a direction, and then we’ll find him. The best thing that you can do right now is to get some rest.” 

Dean didn’t answer, instead shrinking further into the seat, turning his face into the pillow. He tried to focus his thoughts, to keep them from scattering into a million pieces like his heart.

He didn’t know if he was succeeding or if the sedative that he knew full well Jody had slipped into his tea was working. He didn’t really care. He was just grateful for the oblivion of sleep.

+

Charlie looked up from her phone. “Sam just texted – they’re on their way.”

“What’s their ETA?,” Garth asked.

“Around dinnertime, depending on traffic.” 

“So, uh, how do we deal with this?,” Kevin asked. They all know what “this” he meant.

“We act as normal as possible,” Linda said. “But be tactful – don’t talk about Cas unless Dean mentions him, and if he does, let him lead the conversation.” 

Charlie got up and walked over to the spot where Cas usually worked. Notepads with his handwriting were stacked neatly. “Should we put his stuff away? Or at least remove it from direct sight?”

“No,” Linda said. “Dean has to deal with things in his own way…It may be painful for him, but he’ll also take solace in the evidence that Cas lives here. It’ll give him hope.” 

Kevin thought of how his father’s pipe had always lain on the mantle, in the spot where he’d left it all those years ago. He wrapped his arm around his mom’s shoulders and kissed her on the temple.

Linda wiped her eyes and batted his arm away. “You get back to work, Mr. God’s Only Prophet.” With an affectionate grin, Kevin did as she said. 

“I’m going to make dinner,” Linda announced. “Did Sam ask for anything specific, Charlie?”

“Um – hold on,” Charlie said, scrolling through the message. “Tomato rice soup? He says the recipe is in Dean’s cookbook – that’s the black journal on the shelf above the stove,” she explained.

“I can do that,” Linda said. “What else does Dean like? In case he doesn’t want soup?”

They answered as a chorus: “Burgers.”

“Burgers it is, then.”

+

When Dean walked through the door a few hours later, Charlie and Kevin practically dogpiled him, and Garth wasn’t far behind. Dean hugged each back, his smile genuine but strained.

He saw Linda, though, and froze. “Mrs. Tran – I’m, uh, sorry we didn’t get you out of there sooner – “

She cut him off. “Not another word like that, Dean Winchester,” she said, folding him into a hug. “Come have dinner. You’ve lost so much weight since I last saw you.”

Dean allowed her to lead him to the table where dinner was waiting. When Linda set a bowl of soup and a freshly grilled burger in front of him, he ate – sort of. Everyone else at the table chattered about inane stuff that he realized must have been pre-arranged. He tuned them out and concentrated on forcing himself to swallow a few spoonfuls of soup. It was good and, normally, he would’ve loved this. Without Cas, though…. Nausea washed over him, and he set his spoon down. 

He glanced around the table – at Linda and Kevin talking, Garth joking with Jody, Sam, and Charlie – and suddenly, it was all too much. Dean took a deep breath and reminded himself that everyone at the table meant well. He began counting out a rhythm, as he did on hunts to stay calm, but even that didn’t quell his growing sense that this was all wrong.

He suddenly realized that Charlie was talking to him. “Huh?” he asked.

“I asked if you want to watch a movie? I downloaded the newest SpiderMan…”

Dean stared at her a moment as the suggestion sunk in, and he couldn’t hold back any longer. He jumped up, knocking his chair backwards and flinging his silverware and napkin onto the table. “No, I don’t want to watch a movie. I don’t want to eat dinner. I want to find Cas.”

He stormed out of the room, leaving everyone in tense silence. 

“Well, we saw that coming from a mile away,” Jody said. 

“Charlie –“ Sam began apologetically.

Charlie shook her head. “You don’t need to say anything, Sam. I get it.”

“We all do,” Garth volunteered, and everyone nodded in agreement.

“Thanks,” Sam said, as he set Dean’s overturned chair to rights. “And thanks for dinner, Mrs. Tran.”

“My pleasure, Sam. Let us know what we can do?”

“I will.” Sam took a deep breath and followed after Dean; he knew exactly where his brother had gone.

+

By the time Sam reached him, the target was already peppered with bullet holes, albeit not as precisely as usual.

“Don’t talk to me,” Dean snapped, reloading his gun. He aimed and began firing again.

Sam pursed his mouth but listened to his brother. He pulled out his gun and took position in the firing booth next to Dean’s. For the next thirty minutes, the only sounds were gunfire and the clicks and snaps of reloading guns.

When Dean finally slammed his empty-again gun down, Sam put his down too. Dean didn’t say anything for the longest time; he just stood there with his hands braced on the counter. Sam watched warily, waiting to see if the powderkeg that was his big brother would explode again. 

“We did all of that to keep Cas safe,” Dean finally said. “And it didn’t work – we basically handed him over on a silver platter. And that rat bastard Ezekiel…” Dean spat out the angel’s name and slammed his palm down on the counter; the sound reverberated through the room.

“They took you, too, Dean,” Sam pointed out. “It wasn’t just about Cas – we were all played.”

Dean shook his head. “They used me to get Cas to talk. Bart only knew rumors that the grace had to come from an angel in love with a human.” Dean’s voice cracked on that last word, and he cleared his throat before continuing. “But he had no evidence. He was grasping at straws.”

Sam nodded, watching as Dean ran a hand anxiously through his hair, leaving it in spikey disarray.

“They tortured me,” Dean said, pausing as if waiting for Sam to say something.

“I figured,” Sam said quietly. 

“But they didn’t torture me for anything specific – My torture was Cas’s torture. I don’t know what they did to him after I –” Dean swallowed hard. “I don’t know what they did to him.”

“He was well enough to order Ezekiel to carry you out of the building first,” Sam pointed out. “So no matter what they did, it wasn’t so much that he couldn’t do as he’s always done.”

Dean huffed. “Yeah. Put me first. That makes me crazy.”

A bark of laughter escaped Sam, earning him a side-eye from Dean. “Seriously? That’s rich, coming from you. You’re the most self-sacrificial bastard I know.”

“Shut-up,” Dean muttered.

“It’s true,” Sam asserted. He watched Dean a moment, seeing the deep lines around his eyes, his mouth – his brother looked tired and worn. Weary was the word that came to mind. That realization made Sam’s heart hurt.

“Garth and I really do think that Cas made it out; there’s no evidence otherwise, so that’s what we’re going with, okay?”

“Yeah,” Dean nodded. He rubbed a hand across his heart. “I like to think I’d know if he died, you know? That I’d feel it…” His voice trailed off.

“I think you would know,” Sam said. “And if you didn’t, someone from the supernatural world would tell us. Crowley hasn’t called us gloating yet. And Death said –“

Dean’s head snapped around. “Death? When did you talk to Death?”

Oh, shit, Sam thought. “Uh, at the hospital. He paid us a visit.” Sam talked faster to divert Dean away from his mention of Death. “And I asked about Cas, and he said, ‘No Spoilers.’ If there’s something to spoil, doesn’t that mean there’s something there?”

“Maybe,” Dean admitted, but he still didn’t look convinced. 

“Isn’t that what popular media does? I mean, you even complained about how Dr. Sexy, M.D.’s writers always said “no spoilers” about that one storyline,” Sam argued.

“Yeah, but Sam – come on,” Dean said. “You’re assuming then that Death has the same interpretation of what ‘spoilers’ means as some television show. I mean… really?”

Sam sagged a little. “So it’s not a perfect example,” he said. “But it’s an example on the side of hope.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Dean said, staring off past Sam. 

Sam glared at his brother. “Don’t you dare give me that maybe crap, Dean. And if you give up hope on finding Cas, I swear to God that I will beat your ass.”

“Did I say I’ve given up hope?,” Dean muttered.

“No, but you’re acting like –“

Dean cut his brother off. “Listen up, Sam, because I’m only going to say this once, and we’re never ever going to talk about it again. Okay?” Sam nodded. “I haven’t given up hope, but I can barely function… it feels like my heart is missing. I am so fucking glad that you’re here and in one piece – you know I am. But I am pissed off at the universe that the man I love – who I finally admitted I love – is missing again and maybe – I didn’t say he is, but maybe – is injured or dying or dead. So cut me some slack...It’s all I can do to not burn the world down right now, okay?”

Sam saw Dean’s tear-filled eyes and, on impulse, folded his older (yet smaller) brother into his arms – and was shocked as all hell when Dean held on tightly.

“It’ll be okay, Dean. We’ll get him home,” he said reassuringly. “I promise.”

Dean nodded and stepped away from Sam, wiping his face with the back of his hand. “So let’s get to work, and bring him home, then.”

They left the shooting range, and once in the darkened hallway, Sam asked, “Do you want to see Ezekiel? He’s in the dungeon.”

Dean hesitated but shook his head. “No. We need him able to talk, and at this moment? I really, really want to kill the bastard.”

Sam grinned at his brother. “I’m proud of you, Dean.”

Dean looked at Sam as if he’d grown a second head. “What the hell for?”

“For holding back. I remember when Azazel did… what he did to Jess.” Sam grimaced at the memories. “The desire for revenge just consumed me.”

Dean shook his head. “Don’t be proud of me just yet. I’m jonesing for revenge, all right. I’m just biding my time.” He smirked at his little brother. “After all, Hell hath no fury like a pissed off Winchester.”

Sam laughed off Dean’s comment, even though it made him uneasy. In the days to come, his memory of that exchange would send chills down his spine. 

+

Charlie paused in her work and cocked her head, listening. “How do you think it’s going down there?,” she asked.

“Well, if we can’t hear gunshots anymore, they either killed each other or they’re talking,” Kevin answered matter-of-factly.

“Talking’s good,” Garth said. “They don’t do enough of it.” 

Kevin snorted. “You don’t have to tell us. We live with them.” 

Garth laughed. “Touché.” He held up the Genesis scroll he’d found in the archives. “Want to hear what this says?”

Charlie and Kevin looked at him expectantly. “According to this, the First Blade is predestined to be wielded by certain individuals and none shall be so powerful as Cain – except for one: ‘If The Righteous Man of the Michael Sword shall possess the Blade in its entirety, then the Blade shall possess him.”

Charlie swallowed hard just as Kevin breathed, “Oh, shit.”

Garth’s brow crinkled in confusion. “What am I missing?”

“According to prophecy, Dean is the Michael Sword and the Righteous Man,” Charlie explained. 

“What?! So does that mean –“

Garth bit off his words as Dean and Sam came into the room. Luckily, the brothers didn’t notice the abrupt shift in conversation or that Kevin quickly took the scroll from Garth and nonchalantly rolled it up, slipping it discretely between his piles of materials.

“Where’s Linda and Jody?,” Sam asked.

“In the kitchen,” Charlie answered. “Jody said to tell you to check in when – uh…” she trailed off, not sure how to complete that sentence.

Dean turned red. “Listen, um…”

“Not a word, Dean,” Charlie warned, jumping up to hug him. He hugged her back and pressed a kiss to the top of her head.

“I second that,” Garth said.

“Thirded,” Kevin added.

“Thanks, guys,” Dean mumbled. He walked over to the table and surveyed the mess of notes. “What can I do?”

“Read up on how to wake an angel?,” Kevin asked, passing Dean a lore book. “I had an idea, actually – if we can find a spell to harness soul power, we can jumpstart him, so to speak.”

“Hmmm. That might work,” Dean said. “But messing with the soul is dangerous, and a sick angel – hell, a healthy one – can accidentally drain a soul, and then there’s nothing left.”

“So we find a really good spell?,” Kevin asked. “Or some way to control the soul drainage?”    

“We’ll find out,” Dean said. Dean saw Sam retrieve his laptop and head for the door. “Where are you going, Sammy?”

“Kitchen,” his brother said guiltily. “Thought the ladies might want company.”

Dean saw through the excuse and let it go. After all, he didn’t really want to sit nearby as they combed through police and hospital reports looking for Cas. He didn’t think he could bear it. He also didn’t think he had the fortitude or calm to help.

A few minutes later, Sam returned, carrying something in his hand. “I almost forgot. Death sent us this, too.” He set a small vial on the table. 

“And what’s that?,” Dean asked.

“The tear of a reaper,” Sam said. “Seems Tessa cried a few over your near-demise.” 

Whatever,” Dean said.

“The evidence is right there, brother,” Sam said. “At any rate, now we have two ingredients for the spell. Do you know what the rest are yet, Kevin?”

“Working on it,” the prophet said. Charlie picked up the vial and set it in the box with Cas’s third feather.

“So, if nothing else, we may have a real shot at fucking up Metadouche’s master plan for heavenly domination? That’s good news,” Dean said.

“Oh, yes it is,” Sam agreed. 

“What about hell?,” Garth asked. “Is Crowley in charge now or Abaddon?”

“I figure they’re fighting over Hell like dogs with a bone,” Dean said. “And I don’t really care which one wins so long as I get to kill the other.”

“Any word about the angels?,” Sam asked. 

“Just that they’re in confusion,” Charlie said, motioning towards the incursion map. “I’m keeping track of everything, and there’s still a lot of angelic and demonic activity around Lawrence, though it seems to be moving west.”

Dean walked over to the map and studied it a moment. “The angels are all over the place – there's no strategy here,” he observed, picking up the notebook and scrolling through the notes Charlie had compiled on each incursion. “And there’s no way three demons should’ve taken out five angels.” He turned back towards his friends. “Do we know what happened to Bart?”

“No,” Kevin answered. “I’m wondering if he got offed.”

Dean nodded. “That'd make sense. So if the angels are scattered and Hell’s experiencing a civil war – “ He ran his hand through his hair, mussing it. “Man, everything is seriously fucked.” 

No one disagreed with him. 

+

Several hours later, Sam returned from the kitchen and looked around the research room. Without taking her eyes off her screen, Charlie filled him in: “Garth went to bed, and Dean went into the living room to work.” 

Sam nodded. Kevin saw him and pulled his headphones down around his neck. “Hey, Sam – I need to talk to you.”

“That sounds ominous,” he said, taking the seat across from Kevin.

“Because it might be,” Charlie muttered, holding her hands up in surrender when Kevin shot a dark look her way.

As Kevin explained what Garth had discovered, Sam drummed his fingers on the tabletop in increasing frustration.

“Shit,” he muttered. “That’s why Cas kept asking Dean about the hum he heard in the car, on the way to Stull.”

“That tracks,” Kevin said. “Cas texted me from the road, telling me to keep researching the lore.”

“So what does the Blade do to the wielder?,” Sam asked.

“This scroll doesn’t say,” Kevin said, handing Sam the manuscript Garth had been reading. “But it does refer to another scroll, and Garth’s been digging through the archives because according to the logbooks, it is here - somewhere.” 

“So where is the Blade?,” Kevin asked. “Maybe we can just get rid of it?” 

Sam shook his head. “I don’t know. I had it and Dean took it off me at Stull to use on Abaddon – I don’t know what happened to it after that. He had no weapons when we found him, so maybe it’s already lost?”

“We can only hope,” Charlie said. “Though I’d rather know for sure that it lay at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.”

“Me too,” Sam said. “So let’s keep this between us for now, okay?”

“I already asked Garth and he promised,” Kevin said.

“Mum’s the word,” Charlie said, making a zipping motion across her mouth. 

Sam stood and smacked the palm of his hand lightly against his chair’s back. “Every time we find out something else, it’s just more, isn’t it?” 

“Seems that way,” Charlie acknowledged. “But we’ll figure it out.”

“We will,” Kevin agreed.

“Not like we have a choice, eh?,” Sam said with a bit of a smirk. He turned towards the living room. “Anyone check on Dean lately?”

“No,” Charlie said. “We figured he wanted space.”

Sam nodded. “Probably. I’ll check on him, though. See if he needs anything.” 

What he found, though, was Dean sound asleep on the couch, a book open on his chest, papers scattered in the floor alongside his prone form. Sam was pondering whether or not to wake him when Jody came quietly into the room. 

“Don’t,” Jody said softly. “Let him be. He might not be able to sleep in their room.”

A lump formed in Sam’s throat – he should’ve thought of that. He nodded and instead quietly and carefully gathered up the materials Dean had been reading, stacking them all neatly in the floor. Jody found a blanket and covered Dean with it.

Dean slept peacefully through everything. “That’s not like him,” Sam whispered. “Normally he has practically superhuman awareness and reflexes.”

Jody bit her lip. “Well… I may or may not have slipped another sedative or three into his coffee.”

Sam shook his head in bemusement. “Never admit that to him,” he warned. 

+

When Dean woke up hours later, he was disoriented. He rubbed his eyes blearily and only realized where he was after reaching for Cas. Then he remembered that Cas wasn’t here.

Fear clutched his gut, and he shot upright, any vestige of sleepiness obliterated. Dean realized that all he could hear was the hammering of his own heart – the bunker was dead quiet. Checking his watch, he realized why: It wasn’t even 5 a.m.

He tossed the blanket covering him aside and placed his sock feet firmly on the floor. He sat very still for a moment, trying to get his bearings. He had an awful taste in his mouth, and his head felt stuffed with cotton – he recognized those effects: She drugged me again, he thought. Dean reached for the bottle of water he remembered setting on the floor and shook it, grateful to hear sloshing. He downed what was left, which helped with the taste but still – yuck. New rule: Never take a drink from Mills

Dean reached over and turned on the lamp, illuminating the room in a soft, yellow glow. He contemplated the stacked research materials in the floor and remembered their utter lack of useful information. He considered other strategies that might garner quicker results, and it was that line of thought that led him to the dungeon, to standing over the angel that had betrayed him and his family.

Zeke looked even more statuesque than he had after Biggerson’s. Dean stared down at the angel, and he could feel the rage filling him. He didn’t realize he was clenching his fists until his fingers cramped from the pressure.

“Wake up, you rat bastard,” he ordered. “I need to know where Cas is – and I need to know why you did what you did!”

Of course, Zeke didn’t respond, and Dean had to resist the urge to inflict bodily harm upon the comatose vessel. He lifted up the bandages covering his chest, revealing that the banishing sigil hadn’t yet healed.

Dean grimaced. “So your batteries really are dead. Just our fucking luck.”

He threaded his fingers behind his head and stalked around the small room. The demonic warding from Crowley’s stay had been overlaid with angelic warding, and Dean instinctively noted that everything was in place, as it should be. 

He also considered their situation: If Zeke was truthful before about considering the vessel’s soul sacrosanct, and if he still felt that way, then the bastard could be unconscious for days, maybe weeks. Of course, if he’d lied about that and did steal energy without the soul’s consent, then that gave Dean yet another reason to gank him.

Dean wanted to break things in frustration. And that goddamn hum wasn’t helping – it just kept getting louder and louder…

That realization brought Dean up short. Where was the sound coming from? He thought back, and he hadn’t been aware of it until he’d entered the dungeon. He surveyed the room – and suddenly, he knew.

He walked straight over to a clutter of things lying in the corner, outside the wardings, and rifled through until he found the First Blade. Warm to the touch, it resonated with something inside of Dean. He suddenly felt better than he had since regaining consciousness and learning about Cas – he felt powerful and strong.

Impulsively, Dean slipped the knife into the secret inside pocket of his overshirt, checking to make sure that it didn’t make the fabric hang oddly. Satisfied, he glared at Zeke once more. 

“You’d better wake the fuck up soon, you sonofabitch,” he growled. With that, he left the dungeon, only to run right into Sam.

“How is he?,” Sam asked. “How are you?”

“He’s still half dead. I’m fine.”

Sam eyed Dean - his brother seemed off somehow. Sam couldn’t put his finger on it, but…

“What?,” Dean asked defensively.

“You look different,” Sam answered flatly. 

“How so?” Dean asked with a roll of his eyes. “Am I not wearing ‘near-death-experience’ like a mantle today? Speaking of, we still have to talk about that.” 

“It’s not that,” Sam said, refusing to let Dean redirect the conversation. “Something’s different. What happened? What did you do?”

“Nothing. I just checked in on our resident traitor – What the fuck’s your problem, Sam?” With a huff, Dean stalked off towards the research room. 

Sam watched him walk away. “Yeah. That wasn’t weird at all,” he muttered sarcastically. He checked Ezekiel himself and saw nothing out of place. The angel’s bandage was a little loose, so Sam re-taped it. He was putting the tape back in the supply cabinet when his phone buzzed with a text from Charlie: “Got a hit on guy matching C’s descrip.” With that news, Sam quickly checked the warding and hauled ass to the research room, praying that the lead would pan out.

Unfortunately, it didn’t, and even more unfortunately, Dean had been in the room when Charlie found it. On paper, the description of the unidentified man admitted to a Lawrence hospital matched Cas’s, but it took Jody one phone call to disprove: The nurse had entered the patient’s age wrong; he was 48, not 38.

Dean’s face was the picture of devastation, and he headed straight for the shooting range. 

In his absence, an emergency family meeting was held, with Jody laying down ground rules for how to discuss potential leads – how to verify them, when to announce them, and to whom.

Essentially, Dean wasn’t to know anything else unless it was a sure thing. 

+

In the shooting range, Dean fired off clip after clip. He slipped off his overshirt, and his hand brushed the Blade. The resulting tingle that traveled up his arm was thrilling. He pulled out the Blade and held it reverently, running his fingers across its shiny, solid form. It soothed him. When he imagined using it to gut Crowley and Abaddon, warmth curled in his middle.

Dean heard footsteps coming down the hall, so he quickly hid the Blade again. Sam asked if he was okay, but Dean was in no mood for platitudes. He didn’t answer, nor did he acknowledge Sam’s concerned puppydog eyes. Instead, Dean declared that he was going to take a shower.

But he hadn’t really thought that through. It was his first shower since coming home, and while he was definitely due for one, being in there reminded him of Cas, of pressing him against the tiled wall – and being pressed up against it himself. He thought of water running in rivulets down slick, steam-kissed skin, of a deep voice chanting his name.

Dean showered quickly, but he couldn’t escape the memories. Even removing his stitches didn't clear his mind. When he wiped at the steamy mirror so that he could see to shave, he saw red-rimmed green eyes and blotchy skin and decided not to shave his scruff after all. 

But then he realized that he didn’t have any clean clothes. Dean wrapped a large towel around his waist and grabbed his pile of dirty garments, not even thinking of the Blade still hidden in his shirt’s pocket. He went straight to their room – only to freeze with his hand upon the doorknob.

He didn’t know if he could go in there.

Jody came down the hall and immediately intuited what was going on. “Why don’t I get your clothes?,” she offered.

Dean wanted to say yes, to spare himself. But he couldn’t. He shook his head and without looking at her, entered the room, shutting the door firmly behind him.

He made himself look around. The room was as they’d left it – neat and orderly. Their dirty clothes in a hamper; their things put away. The carved box holding Cas’s feather sat on the shelf above the bed. A newly framed photograph of them was on the dresser. Their bed was neat with plumped pillows and smoothly-drawn covers. He could almost believe that Cas was simply down the hall, reading through some esoteric and ancient tome.

Dean dropped his dirty clothes into the hamper before pulling a clean pair of comfortable jeans and a Henley from the closet. He grabbed a pair of boxer briefs out of a drawer and pulled them on – only to realize they weren’t his. He started to change but, after a moment’s deliberation, decided that it made him feel better to know they were Cas’s. When Dean finished dressing, he hung his towel over the hamper to air dry.

He sat on the edge of the bed and considered what to do next. Should he go out there and help with the research? Or could he stay in here, where he could pretend – if only for a few minutes – that everything was okay and that Cas would come walking in the door at any moment? Dean gave into temptation and curled up on the bed. He reached for Cas’s pillow and clutched it close to his chest.

Later, the dampness of the pillowcase would tell him that he had been crying. He would wipe at the tears running down his face as some distant part of his mind wondered when they had started.

And he would shut his eyes and hug Cas’s pillow tight.

+

to be continued...

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Now

Cas lay on his pallet, dozing as he listened to the soothing sounds of the tent city.

A rustle at the tent’s entrance broke through his doze. “I brought you some lunch – soup and a grilled cheese sandwich,” Gloria said. Cas roused and sat up very slowly. Any sudden movements left him nauseous and in pain.

“Feeling better?,” she asked, waiting patiently as Cas got situated.

“Some,” he said, wincing slightly as he leaned against the wall constructed from wooden pallets. Gloria set the battered metal tray gently on his lap. Cas lifted the cup of warm soup to his lips, drinking deeply. 

Glora pulled over a small wooden stool and sat beside him. “Your color’s better,” she remarked. “Do you want to try walking today?” 

“I do,” Cas said. “I appreciate your hospitality, but I need to find my friends.”

Gloria nodded in understanding. “They’re probably worried sick about you.”

“Maybe?” Cas’s brow furrowed. “I still can’t remember how I wound up here… But I need to make sure that they’re okay.”

“Well, we’ll do what we can to get you on your way. Meanwhile, I’m sure you’re getting bored in here.” Gloria stood and walked over to a plastic storage bin where she kept her books and papers. She fished out a couple of novels and handed them to Cas. “If your head allows, here’s some reading to help you pass the time. I’m on kitchen duty all day, but you rest up, and you and I will take a walk before sunset, okay?”

“Thank you,” he said, taking the books. After Gloria left the tent, Cas read the titles – The Hunger Games and Angels & Demons. The second title struck a chord with him, but he couldn’t quite remember why. As usual, his mind seemed intent on skirting around things, leaving with only the vaguest of impressions… kind of like the dream he’d had about calloused fingers and green eyes that had left him in a most embarrassing situation this morning. Luckily, Gloria left for kitchenwork at sunrise, so he’d had privacy to deal with things.

Even now, just thinking about that dream caused … reactions that Cas really wasn’t in any position to handle. 

He finished drinking his soup and ate the sandwich. He set the tray aside, saving some of his water for later. He did feel some better – not nearly as weak or shaky as he had yesterday. He wondered how far he’d be able to walk this evening and whether or not he could get access to a phone.

Cas checked his bandages; the shallow cuts across his chest had scabbed over and were trying to heal. He still had some massive bruising, particularly along his ribs and his left thigh. It almost looked like he’d been kicked repeatedly. Gloria had said more than once that she didn’t understand how he didn’t have internal bleeding. He wondered too.

Weariness washed over him, and his head began to throb, so Cas set The Hunger Games aside for later. Easing himself back down on the pallet, he rested his head gingerly on the thin pillow, shutting his eyes and willing himself back into a light sleep.

Maybe when he woke up, his world would make sense again.

+

A loud hum woke Dean from a fitful sleep. He lay still for a moment until he got his bearings, but that sound

It pulled him to the hamper, and he dug through his clothes, extracting the knife from its hidden pocket. Once he had it in hand, the Blade hummed differently – Dean rubbed his finger along its sharp edge, slicing deeply enough to draw a running line of blood. He watched, wide-eyed as the Blade absorbed that blood, as his finger healed over. That’s…weird, he thought. Some part of him knew that he should go find Sam, tell him something was wrong.

But then the godawful humming finally dissipated, and the ensuing silence was such a blessed relief. Dean lay back down on the bed but couldn’t go back to sleep. He got up and began pacing again – only where the reminders of Cas had been comforting hours before, now they stirred up something dark and violent within him.

He found himself outside the dungeon and distantly wondered why he wasn’t more surprised at that. The First Blade was clutched in his hand, and Dean wanted nothing more than to plunge it through Ezekiel’s heart.

That seemed like a very good idea in the moment, so Dean threw open the doors and entered the dungeon – only to be flung backwards before he could cross the threshold. He slammed so hard into the shelving that boxes and containers scattered everywhere.

The impact stunned Dean, but he quickly got up and approached the door cautiously. He thought that Ezekiel had awakened and was poised for a fight, angel powers at the ready.

Dean was surprised to see Zeke still unconscious. From the doorway, he looked around the room, and it was empty except for the angel. He wondered what had repelled him, whether or not an extra protection spell had been cast.

The sight of Zeke stoked Dean’s anger, and spell or not, he tried to enter the room again and once more found himself hurtling backwards through the air. 

He picked himself up off the concrete and snarled, “The hell with this.” He shot one last look of loathing at Ezekiel before stalking off. 

+

Linda stood and stretched. “I’m going to make some fresh tea – would you like some?” 

“Yes, please,” Jody said, looking up from her computer. “Are you having any luck?”

Linda grabbed the kettle from the stove and began filling it with fresh water. “No – nothing has made it past the first check. You?”

“Maybe,” Jody said. “I’m checking a new possibility now.”

“Did you give Dean his soup at lunch? Or did Sam?”

“Actually, Garth did – why?”

Linda carried the kettle to the stove, jerking her head towards the stove. “Because his bowl is in the sink, and it’s practically full. He’s not eating.” She set the now-full kettle on the burner, turning the gas flame on. 

Jody shook her head. “I know. And he was so upset over the mis-identification that whatever he ate probably made him sick.”

“So what do we do?”

Jody leaned back in her chair. “What can we do? It’s not like we can force him.”

“I bet there’s a spell… Oh, hey son,” Linda said, as Kevin entered the room and headed for the refrigerator.

“Hey mom – why exactly are you talking about spells?,” Kevin asked.

“Just considering our options for how to get someone to eat,” she answered.

Kevin quickly put two and two together. “Mom, no. Dean hates witches and witchcraft, and if you cast a spell on him, he will never forgive you.” 

“Does he even have to know we cast one?”

Mom.” He glared at her as he retrieved a can of soda.

Linda shrugged. “Just wondering.” She set out two fresh mugs and dropped a teabag into each. “Maybe I should make something fresh today?” 

“Maybe chicken noodle?,” Jody asked. “At least it won’t remind him of his mom.”

“Good point,” Linda said. The kettle began to steam, and she poured the hot water into the waiting mugs. She handed one to Jody and set the other at her own workspace.

“Oh my god,” Jody said.

“What is it?”

“I think I’ve found him.”

Just then, Sam came ambling into the room. “Kevin says y’all are planning to hex Dean into eating? You know that’s not going to work, right?”

Jody ignored him. “Look at this,” she said. Both Linda and Sam came to stand behind her, looking where she pointed at the screen.

“Is that –“ Sam peered at the screen. “Is that Cas?” 

“You tell me,” Jody said, starting the 15-second bystander video over. It showed a disoriented man wandering down the highway, naked from the waist up with a symbol drawn on his chest. His hair was dark and mussed, and he had tattoos, but the video quality was too poor to make out their design or his facial features.

“It might be,” Sam said cautiously. “You find anything else?”

“I’ve got a written report here, from the local PD.” Jody switched screens so that Sam could see for himself, even as she summarized what she’d already read: “The guy was wandering along southbound Hwy 70 in Topeka the same evening as the warehouse fire. According to an eyewitness report, he was bloodied and bruised and had a so-called devil’s mark on his chest.”

“So where is he now?,” Sam asked. Linda stepped over to her laptop and began typing quickly. 

“That same eyewitness didn’t try too hard to help him – satanic connections are scary, you know,” Jody added, her eyes twinkling at Sam, even as he grimaced in response. “But they saw him collapse near the bridge.”

“Look,” Linda said, turning her computer around so that Sam and Jody could see the satellite view she’d pulled up. “If it’s him, he wasn’t far from a known homeless camp. He might be taking shelter there.”

“Play the video again?,” Sam asked. He watched once more, and shook his head. “I want to believe it’s him…”

“It’s the best lead we’ve had,” Jody confirmed. “On the road in thirty?”

“Yeah,” Sam said. “You tell Garth; I’ll tell Dean.”

+

Sam knocked lightly at Dean’s bedroom door. “Dean?” When there was no answer, he opened the door slowly – The bed was mussed, and there were a few dirty clothes in the floor, but Dean wasn’t in the room. 

He was pulling the door closed when he noticed that Dean’s keys weren’t on his desk – and he’d appropriated those from Garth within minutes of getting home. Dean didn’t mess around with his keys.

Sam had a bad feeling. He stepped into the room and checked the closet: Dean’s favorite jacket was gone and so was his duffle. Sam looked under the bed, and Dean’s emergency weapons bag was gone too.

“Shit,” he muttered, taking off and running as fast as he could to the garage. Maybe he could catch his brother before –

It was too late. The Impala was gone.

But why would Dean run?, Sam wondered. Dean hadn’t known about the lead in Topeka… What if he got the information from Zeke? Sam headed for the dungeon next, expecting to find black wings scorched across the room. But Zeke lay unconscious and untouched. 

This didn’t make any sense. Even if he was revenge-bent, Zeke was right here. Sam told himself to back up and view the scene objectively, as if it were any other case.

He pretended he was investigating any other scene. That’s when he noticed the supplies in the floor. They had been stacked neatly on the shelving, and the pattern suggested something large had impacted, sending them flying. Was that something Dean? But if so, who threw him since Zeke was obviously still comatose?

Sam checked Zeke again, and the angel showed no signs of having moved, even his bandages were exactly as Sam had left them earlier. Then Sam noticed the doorway, and how the overlapping angel and devil traps butted right up to the threshold.

The warding only repelled angels and demons, Sam reasoned. What else could have thrown Dean backwards? He nudged the stone threshold with his foot, and when it moved, he reached down and pried it up: underneath lay a piece of rubber tubing painted with protection marks that was capped at each end. He removed one of the caps and salt fell out.

Smart, Sam thought. We should make some of these and carry them in the Impala - portable salt lines. His brow furrowed, as he considered why a salt line would affect Dean? He reminded himself to pretend it was any other case.

So he went through the inventory of investigative questions he always considered. The first one being “Are there any known supernatural connections?” That one made him laugh because – well – Winchester. But then he thought of the First Blade and Kevin’s warning about its power on the wielder.

The Blade had been missing since Stull, though. And Dean definitely didn’t have it at the hospital, so how could he have gotten it? And from where? That’s when Sam noticed Zeke’s cargo pants and their unbuttoned pockets. Oh no – Dean had the Blade when he went after Abaddon, and Zeke captured him right after that.

He looked around the dungeon and noticed the pile of miscellany topped off by Zeke’s hoodie in the corner. Sam dug through the pile, finding an angel blade, a knife, matchbook, and other small things… but no First Blade.

Sam ran back to the research room, where Jody and Linda were filling everyone in on the possible Cas lead. His loud, “Who emptied Zeke’s pockets?,” startled them.

“Me?,” Garth said, casting a worried look at the others. “What’s wrong?”

“The First Blade – did Zeke have it?,” Sam demanded. 

“No, he only had an angel blade and a couple of knives – nothing that looked like a jawbone.” Garth said, reassuringly.

“Not a jawbone,” Sam said, shaking his head. “The lore’s wrong. It’s an obsidian blade with—“

“A bone handle? Oh, shit,” Garth said. He jumped up, but Sam stayed him with a gesture.

“Too late. It’s already gone,” Sam said tiredly and sagged against the wall.

“So Dean is… ?,” Jody asked.

“Yeah, he’s gone too.” Sam swallowed the bile rising in his throat.

Garth looked sick and sank back into his chair. “I - I’m so sorry, Sam.”

“Not your fault,” Sam said. “We didn’t know what it looked like either, until we had it.” 

“Wait – What do you mean Dean’s gone?,” Charlie asked.

“I mean gone, as in left the building gone,” Sam retorted.

“We’ll see about that,” Charlie said, opening a program on her computer.

Sam felt something like hope. “Are you telling me you already lowjacked him again?”

“Um… I never stopped?” Her fingers flew across the keyboard. “Okay. Here we go: He changed clothes, so … crap, his cell phone’s still here. That’s not good. Oh, but his duffel’s active. He took it?” Sam nodded, and Charlie tapped out a few more codes. “There’s a faint signal emitting – I don’t know how long it’ll last. That’s an old one.”

“Exactly how long have you been tracking us?,” Sam asked wryly.

Charlie looked up at him wide-eyed. “How long have I known you? Besides, aren’t you grateful for it now?” Sam kind of was, but no way was he admitting it.

“He took the Impala, right?”

“Of course.”

“Well, she’s much easier to track. If he gets into an area with crappy reception, I might lose the connection, but it’ll still give us more comprehensive data than the duffel tracker.”

“So where is he?”

“Give me a minute…” Charlie pulled up a satellite map and zoomed in, turning the laptop around so they all could see and pointed at the red dot on her screen. “He’s on US-24 East.”

“Where’s he going?,” Linda asked. “Is he heading for Topeka? Does he know Castiel might be there?”

“No, no one had a chance to tell him,” Sam said. “I’d guess he’s heading back to Lawrence – He probably figures there are enough angels and demons lingering that he can force a fight. And he’s probably right.”

“Lucky for us Topeka’s on the way, then,” Jody said.

“Yep, time to suit up if we’re going to play Feds,” Garth said. “Caravan, Jody? In case we need to split off?” 

“Sounds good.” 

Garth quickly dug through the materials he’d been reading and handed a scroll to Kevin. “Before I forget, here’s the other scroll that’s supposed to have First Blade info – I can’t translate fast enough to do it now.”

Kevin unrolled it and skimmed its contents. “Give me 20 minutes – go pack, and I’ll update you all before you leave.”

Kevin slammed the scroll onto the table and then winced when ancient fragments broke off. “Dammit.”

Sam was adjusting his tie. “What does it say?”

“That the First Blade can tarnish the Michael Sword… But how does that translate to a salt line affecting Dean?

“I don’t know,” Sam said. “He drove the Impala, and it’s warded – so I don’t think he’s, you know, turning into anything inhuman.” Sam swallowed hard at the very thought of Dean not being Dean. “But something’s going on. Does it say anything about how to undo the Blade’s effects?”

Kevin unrolled the scroll again and cleared his throat. “Loosely translated, it says, “A convergence of fallen and risen can blunt the Blade.’”

“What does that mean?,” Charlie asked.

“I don’t know,” Kevin said. “I can’t find any other references to convergence.” 

Sam thought a moment. “Well, if the Blade tarnishes the Sword, then is Dean fallen? And if Abaddon ascends to Hell’s throne, she’s risen? So, when Dean kills her, the Blade releases its hold?”

Kevin worried his bottom lip between his teeth. “I don’t know, Sam. If the Blade was born of murder, wouldn’t it be upset if Hell gets knocked off its axis? Why would it let Dean go then?”

Sam slumped and ran his hands through his hair. “I don’t know.”

Jody came through, suited up in her sheriff’s uniform and carrying her bag. Garth followed in his black suit and crisp red tie.

“Let me grab a vial of Crowley’s blood and a copy of the spell, and we’re good to go,” Garth said.

Sam zipped his bag and slung it over his shoulder. Linda came hurrying from the kitchen with a tote bag filled with treats. “Here, it’s a small thing, but there are some bottles of water, some snacks, and a thermos of soup for Dean…”

Sam hugged the small woman and kissed her on top of the head. “Thanks, Linda.” He took the bag from her and then turned back to Kevin and Charlie.

“You two are still on lockdown,” he said, pointing at them. “And we desperately need that spell, Kevin.” 

“I’m on it, Sam.” Kevin gestured at the papers in front of him. “I’ll be in touch as soon as I’m sure of the translation.”

“Charlie, keep tracking Dean. Let me know if you lose him or if he stays stationary for more than a half hour.” 

“Will do, boss.” Charlie punctuated her promise with a mini-salute. 

Sam then turned to Linda and hesitated before saying, “And uh – you’re on lockdown too, you know.”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, Sam, I know. Go find Castiel and Dean. We’ll work on unraveling the mysteries of God’s word while you do.”

Jody and Garth were already at the stairs, talking – and something about Garth’s agitation gave Sam a very bad feeling. “What’s up?,” he asked.

Garth shook his head. “I’m sorry, man.”

Sam froze, noting the look on Garth’s face. “For?”

“You had three vials of Crowley’s blood?”

“Yeah?” Sam really had a bad feeling now.

“One’s missing.” 

+

Awareness came back to Dean about a hundred miles outside of Lebanon.

He slammed on the brakes, unsure of where he was or what he was doing. The loud blast of the tractor-trailer’s horn behind him – right on his ass, he saw, looking in the rearview – had him instinctively yanking the Impala onto the shoulder. The truck barreled past, still blaring its horn over the near miss.

Dean brought his baby to a stop and, with shaking hands, put her into park. Where the hell am I, he wondered. He felt like a sleepwalker – or, rather, a sleepdriver – and it scared him.

He relied on decades of training: Get your bearings. He looked around – he was on a highway but wasn’t sure which one. Then, he saw an exit for Topeka ahead. Okay, that puts me on 81 South…heading for I-70 East maybe? He glanced at the clock, and his stomach dropped at the hours he’d lost. The last he remembered, he’d been in his room, lying on the bed holding Cas’s pillow. How the hell did I get from there to here?

Whatever had happened, Dean was sure that Sam was furious and worried out of his mind. He dug into his jacket pocket for his cell phone – but instead of finding his phone, he found the Blade. 

His fingers brushed against it as he searched for his phone, and that hum filled him, soothed him. He took the Blade out and clasped the bone handle tightly.

While Dean remembered that only seconds before, he’d been terrified, now, he didn’t know why. After all, he knew what he was doing: He was going to kill those responsible for hurting his family, for hurting Cas. 

He slid the Blade back into his pocket, and with steady hands, shifted the car back into drive and navigated back onto the highway. Dean was focused on nothing except following the Blade’s direction and exacting as excruciating a revenge as possible.

Those bastards deserved it.

In Topeka, Jody, Sam, and Garth split up to cover ground faster: Jody went to check in with local law enforcement, while Sam and Garth tracked down the eyewitness who had little to say other than, “Is that dude famous? Will my video go viral?”

Later, Sam wasn’t sure whose teeth he’d heard grinding in frustration – his or Garth’s.

After that waste of an interview, they started canvassing the stores and houses along the highway itself. Everything came up empty – no one remembered seeing a man of that description and any camera footage available was aimed in the wrong direction. 

Together, Sam and Garth worked towards the tent city, parking Garth’s car close by and walking in. Near the bridge, they encountered a tall, bearded man, who introduced himself as Mike. He was friendly enough, and he offered to escort them through the tent city.

A resident guide theoretically would make them more approachable, but as they walked through the barrier of trees that separated the tent city from the highway and from casual prying eyes, Sam realized that wasn’t the case. Even with Mike by their side, the sounds of habitation that had filled the air only moments ago stilled once the faux agents stepped out of the trees and into broad daylight. 

Sam mentally kicked himself for not shedding the Fed disguise; his brother would have thought of that first-thing. It was too late to change their attire now, though, so Sam and Garth followed Mike through the now-practically-deserted main thoroughfare that ran through the center of the city. 

Sam noted as much of his surroundings as he could – makeshift homes built from pallets and sheets of metal, topped with tarps and plastic covers. It was an organized place, with clearly delineated areas. He saw a “kitchen,” a few rows of living quarters, a recreational space. Sam was impressed with what he saw, and judging by how Mike carried himself and how the few people still out responded to him, Sam felt sure he was with one of the leaders.

As yet another person slipped quickly out of sight at Sam and Garth’s approach, Mike came to a halt and smiled wryly at the two “agents.” “People ‘round here aren’t too talkative. But, as you can see, nothing bad’s happening here.”

“We didn’t think there was,” Sam said reassuringly. 

“Then what exactly do Feds want in our city?” Mike turned and began walking Sam and Garth back the way they had come.

“We’re actually trying to find a friend,” Sam explained, telling Mike the time and place of the suspected sighting.

“Yeah, I saw a guy that night – dark hair? Medium build?” Mike shook his head. “Don’t know what happened to him, though. Sorry.”

Mike led them back through the trees, to the side of the highway. “You got a business card? If I hear anything, I’ll let you know.”

“Sure,” Sam said, pulling out a card for Agent Angus Young and wishing once again that he’d rethought the Fed angle. He knew the card would only heighten Mike’s suspicions and, sure enough, the big man gave Sam a narrow-eyed look. 

“You might check with the local law enforcement - A floater was found downstream the other night.” He pointed towards the river. 

Sam’s stomach heaved at the thought of Cas being a floater. Suddenly, all he could see was the sinuous stretch of water wending through the landscape. He held his hand to his mouth and turned away, trying to not make a spectacle of himself. It didn’t work.

Mike eyed him with even more suspicion. “That all, agents?,” he asked gruffly. “I got rounds to make.” 

“Yeah, thanks,” Garth said, stepping in and shaking the big man’s hand. He tried to pass him a twenty-dollar bill, but Mike curled his lip in disgust and walked away, leaving Garth shame-facedly repocketing his money.

Sam still looked green, and Garth patted him comfortingly on the back with one hand while dialing Jody with the other. “Don’t panic, Sam. Not till we know more. Dude’s obviously got issues with Feds; I think he’s full of shit.” Garth pointed to some large rocks piled together. “Sit down while I talk to Jody.” 

Sam did as Garth said, resting his head in his hands until he got his equilibrium back.

“Hey, Jody,” Garth said. “What’s your status?” He listened for a moment. “Yeah, we’ve got a guy saying he saw someone matching Cas’s description, but he doesn’t know what happened. But he also said that there was a floater in the nearby river, suggested that it might be – yeah. No, Sam didn’t take that idea so well.” He listened again. “Sure. We’ll wait here, see what you find out.” 

Garth ended the call and then took a seat beside Sam. “It’s going to be okay, Sam. I know a lot of bad shit has come your way, but we’ll find Cas, and we’ll get Dean back too.” 

Sam nodded wordlessly. They sat in silence for several moments until Garth’s phone rang.

“Jody?” Garth listened and then whacked Sam on the arm. “That’s good news. Yeah, I’ll tell him. We’ll meet you at the station in thirty.” 

“Not Cas?”

“Nope. Jody insisted on seeing the body. The floater had brown eyes, not Cas’s baby blues.”

“Oh, thank God,” Sam said, bowing his head in a silent prayer of thanks.

Garth put a comforting hand on Sam’s back. “Sit and breathe for a minute, Sam. Jody’s wrapping up paperwork and Charlie’s last text said Dean’s still driving, so we can take a minute, okay?”

Sam nodded. He focused on the meanderings of a Monarch Butterfly, watching as it flew through the brush, alighting indiscriminately upon Queen Anne’s lace, milkweed plants, and sky-blue asters. 

It was the calmest minute he’d had in weeks.

 +

When Cas woke up, he saw that someone had hung black plastic sheeting on the open areas of Gloria’s shelter, safely hemming him in from the bright sunshine that had been making his head hurt worse. He appreciated the gesture, even as he wondered how he’d slept through it.

Now, though, he couldn’t see out of the tent. He also realized that his nerves were just a little on edge; when the flap that now hung over the doorway moved, he was truly startled, relaxing only when he saw it was Mim, a fifteen-year-old runaway who liked to talk with him.

He started to say hello, but Mim was holding a finger to her lips, so Cas stayed quiet. People were walking past the tent – three of them, it looked like. One shadow looked like it belonged to Big Mike; he couldn’t place the other two.  

Mim came and sat on the ground beside him. She looked nervous. 

“Who’s that?,” he asked quietly.

“Some Feds,” she answered. “Looking for somebody.”

“Who?”

“Don’t know. So long as it’s not me, I don’t care.” Gloria had told him that Mim had run away from an abusive household. Cas could see the girl’s deep-seated fear that the Feds were looking for her.

Cas wanted to pat her on the shoulder, but Mim shied from physical contact – wouldn’t even let Gloria hug her. He offered a verbal reassurance instead: “I’m sure Mike will keep you safe. You’re one of his people now.”

Mim shrugged. “I’d hope so, but just because people mean well doesn’t mean that they always do well.” 

Cas couldn’t argue with that, though he was sorry Mim had learned that lesson so early in life. They sat in silence for several more minutes, until the blurry shadows walked past the tent again, heading back towards the main pathway. He wished he could understand what was being said, but the voices were too quiet.

Mim waited with bated breath another minute or two before poking her head outside the flap. “The coast is clear,” she told Cas. “Thanks for letting me crash here.”

“Any time. You’re welcome to stay longer if –“

Mim shook her head. “Thanks but I promised Gloria I’d help with dinner. She’ll be pissed if I don’t. Maybe we can play cards later, though? I’ll teach you how to play rummy.”

“I’d like that.”

Mim waved as she slipped out of the tent, leaving Cas alone in his quiet space. He was tired of sitting, of being sequestered, so he catiously got to his feet. He felt shaky at first, but it’s not like this was a big shelter – and his pallet took up extra floor space, making an already small area even smaller. Cas thought he could walk around the tent several times over without a problem.

It only took twelve steps to walk the perimeter of open space in Gloria’s tent.

It only took thirty-six steps before Cas was trembling with fatigue and nausea. Gingerly, he eased back onto his pallet and lay there, staring up at the sheet of corrugated metal that served as the roof. He wasn’t so sure he was up for the evening walk he and Gloria had planned. 

Cas sighed in frustration. He wanted to find Dean – Sam, too. He was still sorting out pieces, but he knew now that he’d been with them before whatever had happened that had led him here. His dreams of Dean, especially, were…. Well. Cas hoped the dreams were memories resurfacing, and not errant fantasies made more vivid by his current struggle to parse reality.

With each passing day, his worry about the Winchesters increased. He’d taken to meditating to find a sense of calm. He would’ve prayed, but he didn’t know who might be listening, and he didn’t want any of his family to find him. Cas mindfully calmed his breathing, reminding himself that there was nothing he could do right now except recover. He told himself to evaluate the situation like a soldier, and as much as it pained him to admit, right now, in his physical condition, he was more of a liability than ever. Dean and Sam were safer without him.

His heart clenched painfully at that thought, and Cas reached out, fumbling for the copy of The Hunger Games that Gloria had loaned him. He hadn’t been reading because the glare had been too much for his eyes to take, but he thought he might be able to in the now-plastic-tinted light of the shelter. He was grateful to find that while he still didn’t want to make any sudden movements, he was able to read. He welcomed the distraction.

Katniss and Peeta had just been presented in the Tribute parade when Big Mike lifted the tent flap. “Hey Dean? Got a second?”

Cas looked up from his book. “Sure, what’s going on?” 

Mike stepped in and answered quietly, “Those guys who were here earlier?” Cas nodded. “They were looking for you.”

“What?” Cas asked, surprised. He thought back to the shadows he’d seen walking past – could that have been…? 

“They didn’t say why, but one called you a friend, so I got his card.” Mike handed Agent Angus Young’s business card to Cas. “I don’t trust Feds, though, so I threw them off your trail as well as I could – told them to check on the floater from the other day. I figured if I was wrong, and he was your friend, you could call him.” 

Cas stared at the card numbly. Wouldn’t he have known if Sam and Dean – particularly Dean – had been right outside his tent? “What did they look like?”

“One tall with totally non-regulation hair. That was Young. The other was so thin I could’ve snapped him like a twig. Didn’t get his name, though.” 

Cas was confused. The one agent could be Sam – the hair especially suggested it might be – but the other? That wasn’t Dean, and he couldn’t think who it might be.”

“Did you see their car?,” Cas asked. “Was it a…” He trailed off, the word escaping his fuzzy memory. He finally settled on “…a black classic car?”

“No – it was an ugly-ass, ancient station wagon with wood paneling. I know the government’s broke, but damn. It’s a disgrace to even think federal agents might drive around in something like that.”

Cas didn’t think the Winchesters would drive such a car. As the hopes he didn’t know had been raised sunk, he felt ill again – his head heavy and his body weak.

“Oh, hey now,” Mike said. “I didn’t mean to upset you.” 

Cas handwaved Mike’s concern. “I just – I just need to rest.”

“You do that, then. Gloria’ll kick my ass if I mess up your recovery.”

Cas mustered a smile at the image of petite Gloria taking on gargantuan Mike. “Thanks, Mike.” 

“Anytime.”

After Mike left, Cas wondered if he were missing something. Could real agents be looking for him? Had he broken a law before… whatever had happened? 

Something hovered at the edge of his mind, information that he desperately needed to put all the pieces together. He reached for it only to have a searing pain remind him that his memories couldn’t be forced.

Cas marked the page in his book with Agent Young’s card before setting it aside and curling up on his pallet in a fetal position. He pulled the thin blanket over his head and tried to quell the emotions roiling through him. He would find the Winchesters; he always did – why, then, did he feel so wretched? So wrecked? So alone?

The sharp pain in his head mutated into a pulsing ache that, combined with his heartache, left Cas once again anticipating the oblivion of sleep. Right now, it was his only escape.

+

to be continued...

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Now

Charlie flinched at the terrible crash reverberating through the research room. Shaken, she looked over at Kevin, who looked positively shattered – and angry. She quickly put together that he’d hurled something into the bookcase across from him, sending books and artifacts flying.

She swallowed and forced herself to ask. “What’s wrong?”

“I finished translating the reversal spell,” he said quietly. He wouldn’t – or couldn’t? – look at her.  

Charlie’s stomach sunk. “Kevin?”

Without saying anything, he handed her a piece of paper covered with his handwriting. She read it; blinked to clear her eyes, and read it again. “No,” she said. “This can’t – no.

“I know,” he said.

“We can’t tell them.”

Kevin finally looked at her. “But how can we keep them from finding out?”

Charlie paced the floor between their tables, thinking. She shrugged. “We lie. Tell them it can’t be translated.”

“Cas will only translate it for them, then.”

“Not if you destroy your initial translation of the glossalia – he won’t be able to then. And if he doesn’t come home, then it’ll never be an issue.”

“Cas not coming home will kill Dean as surely as the reversal spell,” Kevin said pointedly.

Charlie sank back into her chair. “Oh, god.” She dropped her face into her hands. “I didn’t mean that – you know I want Cas home. I just…I just…“

“Yeah, I know,” Kevin said with a resigned sigh.

+

When Linda walked into the room, Kevin and Charlie were watching the dying fire in the ceremonial bowl. The distress and resignation on their faces set off her alarm bells: “What’s happened now?”

In fits and starts, Kevin explained what he'd discovered. Linda bowed her head a moment, and then stood, clapping her hands loudly. “Okay, you two. Snap out of it.”

Kevin and Charlie exchanged disbelieving looks. “Snap out of it?,” Kevin asked, his irritation clear.

“Yes. Snap out of it. What did we say about faith earlier?,” she scolded. “We can’t just give up now. First, we have to get Dean and Castiel home. Then, we can worry about putting heaven back together. And we’ll find another way.”

Kevin hesitated. “I promised Sam I’d text as soon as I had the translation… but I can’t do it.”

“No, you can’t,” Linda agreed. “Hand me that," she said to Charlie, gesturing to an empty copy box.

Charlie passed it over. "What are you going to do?"

"We are going to box this stuff up and focus on something useful - We’ve got what we can use from that tablet – right? Except that last bit?" Kevin nodded. "So let’s get everything else out of sight,” Linda said.

Between the three of them they quickly sorted out the angel tablet materials.

“Is there anything else here that we need?,” Charlie asked, stacking up the printouts of the tablet impressions her program had produced.

“I’ve copied the most useful things – the few spells and such – into my journal, so no. I’m still working on that one last quadrant that I hope is about the First Blade, but that’s all I’m keeping out.”

“Did you copy out the reversal spell?,” Linda asked.

Kevin nodded towards the steaming ashes in the bowl. "Yeah, but that's all that's left of it." 

"Good," his mom said. “Is this everything?”

Kevin looked around the table. “Yeah,” he said.

Charlie put the lid on the box and Linda taped the box shut. 

“Should we hide it?,” Charlie asked.

“I don’t think so,” Kevin answered. “They’ll likely notice materials are missing anyway. It’ll be less suspicious to say I packed up what I didn’t need and then just point to here.” He picked the box up and carried it over to an empty spot on a bottom shelf.

Charlie didn’t look convinced. Linda slipped one arm around her and reached for Kevin with the other. Linda rubbed Charlie’s back comfortingly and squeezed her son’s hand. “Don’t you two worry. We’re going to do all we can to keep them safe.”

Charlie nodded and wiped an errant tear away; Kevin wouldn’t look at his mother, but his eyes were suspiciously shiny too.

Brusquely, Linda delivered orders. “You,” she said, pointing at Kevin, “get to work on that last quadrant. And you,” she pointed at Charlie, “finish printing out those impressions of the human tablet.”

She watched as they resumed their places before telling them that she was going to check on Ezekiel. When she was well away from the research room, she paused a moment in the darkened hallway to lean against the wall. She looked heavenward.  Please, she prayed. Someone help us.

After a long moment, she straightened and wiped her eyes. She adjusted her blouse and skirt, and continued towards the dungeon, her sensibly heeled shoes tapping a brisk cadence that echoed down the hall.

+

Ezekiel was sitting up when Linda opened the doors to the dungeon.

“I do not know you,” he said. “Where are the Winchesters?”

“Why do you want to know?,” Linda asked, crossing her arms over her chest and staring him down. Kevin had explained to her that so long as she stayed on this side of the angel trap, she was safe.

The angel didn’t answer her. “Where is Castiel?,” he asked instead.

Linda’s eyebrows shot up. “Castiel? Where do you think he is?”

Ezekiel shook his head. “I do not know. The spell I cast – it is difficult and its effects erratic. I had hoped he would be found quickly. Was he not?”

Linda glared at him suspiciously. Ezekiel held out his hands, palms up. “I acknowledge that I acted wrongly,” he said. “I am sorry, and I want to make amends. Please – tell me if my brother is okay.”

Linda pursed her lips but didn’t answer. “Wait here,” she finally said. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

Linda went back to the research room and interrupted Kevin and Charlie’s work. “Either of you know how to tell if an angel is lying?”

Kevin’s head shot up. “He’s awake?”

“Yes,” she said. “He says he wants to make amends, and he’s asking about Castiel.”

“What’d you tell him?,” Charlie asked.

“Nothing,” Linda answered. “We can use what we know – or don’t – as leverage to find out what he knows.” She turned to her son. “You’re the prophet. How should we handle this?”

You don’t,” Kevin said, smiling grimly. “I do.” He stood and slipped an angel blade into his waistband, striding towards the hallway. 

Charlie and Linda shared surprised looks as they fell into step behind him.

+

Sam answered on the first ring. “Kevin, slow down. I can’t understand – look, just. Kevin, breathe.”

Garth turned the radio off. “What’s wrong?”

“Don’t know - Pull off up here,” Sam instructed. He waited until Garth brought the car to a stop and then pressed a button on his phone. “Okay, you’re on speaker. Try again.”

“Zeke’s awake. He did get Cas out –“

“To where?”

“Doesn’t know. Cast a forbidden spell to teleport him out of the warehouse. Says he couldn't control the landing, but that Cas shouldn’t have gone more than thirty miles or so away.”

Sam sat silent, calculating. “So, Topeka. He has to be there, that has to have been him.”

“Maybe Big Mike was lying,” Garth said. “I mean, he made it clear he doesn’t trust Feds.”

Sam shook his head. “Maybe. But why wouldn’t Cas have shown himself?”

Kevin offered an answer: “That may be because of the spell. Zeke says it can cause disorientation and memory loss and other injuries, particularly when it’s cast in such unstable circumstances.”

Sam felt a small bubble of hope. He looked at Garth, and the thinner man nodded, pulling out his phone out and dialing Jody. “Hey - Yeah, we pulled off. Double back and meet us? Sounds good.”

“She’s turning around,” Garth said to Sam, pocketing his phone.

“Have you found anything else?,” Sam asked Kevin. “Anything about the translation?”

“Nothing useful,” Kevin said truthfully before deftly redirecting the conversation. “I’ve started working on the human tablet, and I’ve found a reference to the First Blade, but I can’t tell if it’ll be useful or not. I”ll let you know as soon as I do.”

Sam breathed loudly. “Okay. Thanks, Kevin.”

Linda spoke next. “Sam? What do we do about Ezekiel?”

“If you have to cuff him, a set of spelled cuffs are –“

Linda cut Sam off. “No, he’s not hostile. He’s… um… He’s actually really upset over what he did – keeps talking about penance and making things right.”

Sam gritted his teeth. “Tell him we’ll talk about that when we get Cas and Dean back. Kevin, cast that protection spell we used to keep Crowley from –“

Kevin interrupted. “Already did. I know a suicidal supernatural being when I see one.”

“Good,” Sam said. “If anyone kills him, it’s gonna be me. Linda, will you find out everything you can from him about Bart, Metatron, and everything else?”

“I can do that,” she said. “He did already confirm that Bart is dead and that the angels are likely in chaos.”

“And they are in chaos,” Charlie piped up. “Things have been fairly quiet, right? But in the past six hours? Three skirmishes in Lawrence alone.”

“Demons involved?,” Sam asked.

“Yeah. Looks like demons are attacking and the angels are having their asses handed to them. So much for being mighty warriors.”

“Oh, they’re dangerous as all fuck,” Sam assured. “But without a leader, they lose focus.”

“And Dean’s heading right into that,” Garth muttered.

“Yeah, not a coincidence,” Sam said to Garth. Then, “Keep an eye on them, Charlie. Alert us to any definitive patterns you see.” He hesitated. “Uh – any news on Dean?”

“Still driving,” Charlie answered. “But he’s close to Lawrence. I’ll let you know where he goes.”

Sam’s brow furrowed. “Thanks, Charlie – we’ll be in touch.”

He ended the call just as Jody’s vehicle pulled onto the shoulder behind them, lights blazing.

“So, time to split up – which do you want?,” Garth asked.

“I’ll take Dean, you take Cas?”

“Works for me, compadre. We’re totally having a party when we get these two crazy kids home.”

Sam snorted. “I’ll buy the fucking party hats.” He got out of the car, grabbing his gear from the backseat. “Stay safe, man. Keep me posted.”

“You too,” Garth said, throwing Sam a small salute as he shut the door.

Sam headed for Jody’s vehicle, watching as Garth pulled a completely illegal u-turn across the grassy median to head back towards Topeka. He pulled open the SUV door, flinging his bag into the backseat and then climbing into the passenger’s.

“Change of plans, I take it?,” Jody asked.

“Yeah. Short version? Cas is very likely in Topeka; Dean is very likely in Lawrence about to get into trouble. We need to hurry.”

“That we can do,” Jody said, flipping on her sirens and pulling out on the highway. She looked over at Sam and said, “You – uh – might want to buckle up and hold onto that bar, there.” She gestured at the hand-bar above Sam’s window.

Sam laughed. “Alright, speedracer. Go for it.”

Jody grinned – and then she floored it.

She absolutely did not laugh when Sam had to use one of the barf bags that she’d long ago learned to keep in the glovebox for nauseous prisoners.

She may have smirked though…just a little.

+

Dean’s boot caught in a wrinkle of the loose, faded carpet and sent him sprawling in a graceless heap. His armload of supplies – including the Blade – scattered.

He got up and scoped out the ratty motel room. The time blinking on the ancient radio alarm clock took him by surprise. Had he really lost another three hours? How? And why?

Dean rifled through the supplies he’d dropped, recognizing that they were for a summoning spell. But who was he summoning?

Then he saw the vial of blood lying on the table. Crowley.

Anger burned in Dean’s gut, and he wished he’d killed the bastard when he had the chance. But… he knew that he needed to contact Sam, to check in on the search for Cas.

Cas.

At that thought, Dean felt a pain so wrenching he could hardly breathe. He doubled over and told himself to calm down – to breathe. He began picking up the ingredients and methodically placing each on the table. The repetitive motions were calming.

The Blade had fallen under the edge of the bed. As Dean reached for it, he hesitated. A part of him knew that the Blade was the problem here, knew that he needed to leave it where it lay, turn and run out of this room, get in the Impala, and drive straight back to the bunker.

Another part remembered how the Blade’s handle fit just so in his grip, how it made him feel powerful and calm – invincible. He needed that feeling again. He needed it so that he could find Cas and bring him home.

He picked up the Blade, suddenly certain that only it could help him do that.

+

Cas’s pulsing headache eased away, leaving a peculiar lightness in its wake. He kept his eyes shut, absorbing his environment: the sounds of people talking, the smell of Gloria’s beef stew wafting through the air, the feel of his thin, scratchy blanket against his skin. He let it all wash over him, and as he did, he realized – 

His mind was no longer a jumble; things had slotted into place.

Suddenly, a barrage of memories flooded him – his journey across several states, the angels, Jenny, Hastings, Dean…. Dean. His smell, his touch, his taste.

Cas’s eyes opened wide, but he wasn’t seeing the corrugated metal above him; he was seeing green eyes boring into his, feeling the press of Dean’s body, the ghosting of his hands. Cas wanted to lose himself in the sensory memories, but he couldn’t. He forced himself to reach for the other memories, the ones that still wanted to hide, and he pulled them into the light.

Stull. Gadreel. Bartholomew. The Warehouse. Dean’s torture. Ezekiel. Fire.

Cas gasped at the thought that Dean might be missing – might be dead. Did Ezekiel get him out? Who had gotten Cas out?

He flung off his blanket and shoved his feet into the boots Gloria had found for him – a half size too big, but serviceable. His stomach growled, and he quickly ate the bowl of stew someone had left for him.

Then he began to prepare. 

+

“Really, Dean? Is all this pomp and circumstance necessary?,” Crowley asked, gesturing at the elaborate devil’s trap spray-painted onto the ceiling.

“You tell me, Crowley,” Dean said, teasing the Blade in his hands. He looked up and met Crowley’s confused expression. “I thought we were partners.”

The dull green of Dean’s eyes told Crowley that something was very wrong. He saw what Dean was playing with and swallowed hard. 

“Of course we’re partners – what happened out at Stull was an accident. I told my guys to protect you. Castiel, too. We were outmanned and –”

“So you didn’t get any kind of kickback for letting the angels take me and Cas? You didn’t get a free ride out of there?”

Crowley huffed. “Who would’ve given me a free ride? Abaddon wants my head on a platter more than yours, remember.”

“I don’t think it was Abaddon you dealt with.” 

Crowley drew himself up tall. “What makes you think I dealt with anyone, you impudent prat?”

“The fact that Sam woke up to an empty field with only you there – waiting on him. That just screams deal.” Dean shrugged and stood. “Guess I should thank you for making sure no one killed my unconscious brother… but I’m going to kill you for what happened to Cas.” 

Crowley laughed nervously. “Why don’t I call Moose, Squirrel?” He pulled out his cell phone. “We can get this all sorted out to all parties’ satisfaction, I’m sure.” 

“The only thing that’s going to satisfy me is killing you,” Dean said. He stepped so close that Crowley could see the sweat beading on his forehead.

Crowley stared at Dean blankly as the hunter stepped closer. 

The former King of Hell bit his lip and tried again. “Come on, Dean. Let’s work this out. We have a history, you and I. That can’t all go to waste now, can it?”

As Dean seemed to consider Crowley’s offer, the demon relaxed fractionally. That was a mistake.

Dean moved so quickly that Crowley didn’t even register what was happening until it was too late: The obsidian blade drove upwards through his chin, its tip protruding through the demon’s skull.

Dean met Crowley’s wide, dead eyes and smirked. “Thanks for the memories.”

Crowley’s dying vessel emitted a bright orange light that erupted into a full-on blast when Dean twisted the Blade. He yanked the Blade out of Crowley’s skull, watching with detachment as the body crumpled gracelessly to the floor.

Dean panted, his skin flushed and crackling with power. The moment was practically orgasmic. He held the blood-covered Blade up to the light and watched it absorb its tribute.

Dean’s lips curved into a thin, tight smile. He slid the Blade back into his waistband, grabbed his gear, and left. 

+

Cas was dismantling his pallet when he heard someone enter the shelter; out of the corner of his eye, he saw the tropical print of the scarf Gloria wore as a headband.

“I’m so sorry, Gloria, but I can’t take our walk. I’ve remembered” – he paused as that warmth associated with Dean spread through his chest again – “everything. And I have to get to Lawrence to find my friends.”

Gloria laughed – but it wasn’t the comforting, familiar sound Cas had heard so many times since she’d found him. This time, it was chilling. He froze, mid-fold, and the blanket slipped from his hands.

“That you do, Dean. But not for the reasons you think.”

Cas whirled around, pulling his angel blade from his waistband and dropping into a defensive posture.

“Do you really think you can take me, blue eyes?,” Abaddon asked. She flicked her wrist, sending a wave of power that knocked away his weapon and sent Cas to his knees.

Cas met the black eyes watching him from Gloria’s face. “Please don’t hurt her,” he begged.

“What? This old thing?” Abaddon laughed when Cas flinched. “Little late for that, dear. She’s all gone.” Abaddon pulled open Gloria’s blouse to reveal a gaping knife wound. “If it makes it any better, she never knew what hit her.”

“It doesn’t,” Cas said bitterly.

“Did you at least enjoy the beef stew she made? She was quite excited to make it for you. You reminded her of her blue-eyed son who died in Afghanistan – it was his favorite dish.”

Cas closed his eyes and swallowed. He’d sensed a deep-seated grief in Gloria, but he hadn’t asked questions.

“So,” Abaddon asked, closing the distance between them. “You’ve been lazing around here, calling yourself Dean for days. Why are you in such a hurry to find your friends now? What gives?”

He refused to answer. She put her finger under his chin. “Aw. Don’t be like that, Castiel. You and I, we can talk.”

“I don’t think so.”

Abaddon shrugged. “Suit yourself. But you should know, I’m in no mood to play games.” With another flick of her hand, she sent a band of power around Cas’s neck, tightening until he lost consciousness.

She smiled. “Sleep well, angel.”

+

Garth had snuck into the tent city disguised in ratty clothes; he’d streaked his face with dry clay dust and mussed his hair. He’d hunched his shoulders, drooped his eyes, and changed his walk, hoping that would be enough to get him past Big Mike.

So far, so good, he thought, working his way through the outer perimeter. It’d been fairly easy to peek inside the open living spaces. Most were empty, as it was dinnertime. Garth’s stomach rumbled. Man, whatever they’re cooking sure smells good.

There was no sign of Cas, and no one was talking about a Cas or a Castiel. He heard one young girl ask another if she’d taken Dean his dinner – Garth had figured it was a coincidence, though an oddly timed one.

He’d finished checking nearly all the shelters when he saw one completely shielded with tarps hanging down the sides and even across the door. Why didn’t I notice that earlier?, he wondered – then he remembered. They’d been walking through here when a cluster of people had made a run for it, completely breaking their concentration and upsetting Big Mike. That was about the time their tour had ended.

Garth edged closer to the shelter, trying his best to act nonchalant. He heard voices and halted his approach; one was male, one female, but that’s all he could make out. He didn’t know Cas’s voice well enough to identify it, but Sam had described it as “gravelly.” He frowned. Was the voice he could hear gravelly?

He didn’t want to bring the wrath of Big Mike or any other watchmen on his head, so he quietly slipped away, hiding himself behind a large oak tree across from the shelter.

An older, kindly looking woman stepped out of tent. Garth quite liked her colorful scarf… until he saw her eyes flash black. Two men approached – two demons, he realized – and listened to her orders.

They stepped inside the tent, and Garth waited anxiously to see what happened next. He kept a hand on the angel blade that he now carried at all times, just in case. However, he was still taken by surprise, jumping as a voice whispered into his ear:

“Don’t even think about it, little hunter.” Abaddon slid her hand over Garth’s and pulled the blade from his grasp.

Garth gulped, sure he was about to die. Then he saw the limp form that the demons were carrying out of the tent.

“Cas,” he whispered.

Abaddon laughed. “You’re another one of the Winchesters’ darlings, aren’t you? Well, come join the party, pet.” She whistled loudly, and another demon appeared.

“Your highness?”

“Escort this fellow to our dear Castiel’s destination, will you?”

“Big Mike won’t let you do this,” Garth protested. Maybe if he made enough noise the watch would attack Abaddon and her minions; she could teleport, but they couldn’t…

Abaddon destroyed his idea with a smirk. “Oh, he’s mine now. Thanks for leading me to him, by the way.” She laughed at Garth’s shock. “Who do you think helped me get close enough to this bag of bones to possess her? And who told me all about your visit this afternoon?” She tsked. “My, oh my, but you must feel royally stupid right about now. After all, you could have ‘saved’ dear Castiel this afternoon if you’d only known the magic word.”

“The magic word? What are you talking about?”

She smiled coldly. “Dean.”

Garth’s stomach dropped. The Dean the girls had been talking about, the Dean one of the few residents who would talk to them had mentioned – Dean had been Castiel.

Abaddon reached over and tousled Garth’s hair. “Don’t worry too much about it, dear. As they say, stupid is as stupid does.”

She teleported away, leaving Garth and his demon escort alone.

“Who was that?,” Garth asked, stalling for time.

“Queen Abaddon,” the demon answered, tightening his hold on Garth’s arm. “Now, let’s go.”

Garth subtly reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a round object. The demon saw the movement and grabbed Garth’s hand, confiscating the small bauble. “What do you think you’re doing?,” he demanded. “What is thi—"

Boom. Garth covered his face with his arms as a burst of white light left a pile of ash in its wake.

“Sorry, dude, but you’ve been fired.” Garth smirked, and then took off through the woods, heading for his car. Once inside, he dialed Charlie and gave her the update. “Can you find their vehicle?”

“Of course you’d be where there are no damn cameras but – wait a minute…” He heard typing and muttered cursing before Charlie came back on the line. “Okay, they’d parked at the convenience store about a quarter-mile away. I hacked into its system and got what we need. They’re in a black van that the idiots stole from a rental company.”

“How do you know that?,” Garth asked.

“Because they didn’t change the plate till after they parked at the store – rookie mistake, though it let me trace who owned the car. And now, thanks to the fact that they obviously don’t know the rental company lowjacks all its cars, we get to track them. I’m sending the information to your phone now. You can follow them straight to their destination.”

“Thanks, Charlie.”

“You’re welcome. Was…” – she hesitated – “Was Cas okay?”

“He was unconscious when I saw him, but in one piece. Keep thinking good thoughts.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I will.”

Garth ended the call and then checked the map. Once he had a direction – towards Lawrence, surprise, surprise – he pulled out onto the highway and dialed Sam.

+

“You’re sure it’s this motel?,” Jody asked. “I don’t see the Impala.”

“Her text says Red Motel, room 13.”

His phone buzzed with a new email from Kevin: “Dean heading 4 industrial district (warehouse?). Equipment interfering w/ tracker. Charlie says MoL r springing 4 Bond-quality next time.”

“God, I hope there’s never a next time,” Sam groaned, simply texting back “Thanks.”

“Here we are,” Jody said, pulling into a parking space outside room 13. He drew his gun and checked it; she did the same.

He approached the door cautiously, signaling for Jody to stay behind him, which earned him an eyeroll.

The door wasn’t locked or even fastened – and there was no salt line, a rookie mistake in a town currently infested with angels and demons. He pushed it open and flipped on the light.

“Holy shit,” he breathed.

Jody came up beside him and stared, wide-eyed. “That’s Crowley, right? Date-from-Hell who tried to hex me to death?”

“Yeah,” Sam said, checking the very dead body. “I can’t believe it – I hated the bastard, but I can’t believe Dean actually killed him.”

“You think he used the Blade?”

Sam nodded. “This was vicious – look at the entry and exit points. I mean, he stabbed through Crowley’s skull! That’s brain matter,” he said, pointing to something on the floor that Jody had no desire to investigate closer.

“We have to find Dean,” Sam said. “If the Blade’s influencing him, then what if killing Crowley increases that influence?”

“Any idea where he might be?”

“Kevin says he’s heading towards the warehouse. I’d guess he’s searching for clues about Cas, so I say we head there. Maybe we’ll get lucky and catch up with him.”

Just then, Sam’s phone rang. “Garth?”

“I found Cas, but so did Abaddon.”

“He’s alive? Wait – Abaddon?”

“Yeah, they already had Cas – he’s alive, but unconscious. They’ve got him in a van, and they’re heading for Lawrence.”

“Any idea where?”

“Based on what Charlie just sent me, I’d say the industrial area.”

“She’s tracking them?”

“Idiots stole a rental car, so she hacked into the company’s tracking system.”

“Awesome,” Sam said.

“Where shall we rendezvous?”

Sam thought quickly. “What about the Gas ‘n Sip about two blocks from the warehouse? Remember it?”

“Yeah, I do. See you there in twenty.”

Sam looked at Jody and smiled weakly. “Ready for another adventure? Apparently it’s time we take on the Queen of Hell now.”

Jody fanned herself. “You Winchesters and your sweet talk.”

Sam rolled his eyes as Jody rose on her tiptoes to kiss him lightly. “We’ll get through this, and we’ll get everyone home. I promise.”

He nodded soberly and folded her into a hug, which she quickly extricated herself from.

“Okay, enough sharing and caring,” she said. “We’ve got a hell bitch to take down. Let’s go.”

“Oh my god,” Sam said. “Did that just happen?”

“What?” Jody asked, puzzled. “The hell bitch comment? Not my snappiest retort, but…”

“No, the sharing and caring thing. Are you trying to freak me out?”

“Samuel Winchester, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Let’s go.”

He shook his head as he followed her out the door, hanging a Do Not Disturb sign on the door. He called the front desk and extended Jack Smyth’s stay in room 13 by two days. He figured that would give them enough time to get back and clean up Dean’s mess.

Or we’ll all be dead and none of it will matter, he thought bitterly. 

+

Cas raised his head from the concrete, blinking blearily at Abaddon’s preening. He moved his arms and legs experimentally, relieved that everything still worked but disheartened by the fact that chains anchored in the floor secured each of his limbs.

“Oh, that’s much better,” Abaddon said, flexing her arms and stretching her back. “Josie is by far my favorite meatsuit. Nothing else feels quite right, you know?”

“No, I don’t,” Cas said. He cast his eyes around the room, attempting to discern where they were being held.

“So this vessel really is your first?”

“It’s not a –“ He broke off, refusing to finish the sentence.

Abaddon let out a peal of laughter. “That’s right – it’s not a vessel anymore. When did it become yours? When the prophet’s archangel-on-a-chain smote you or when Lucifer did? Or was it when you became human? Where did dear old Jimmy Novak go?

Abaddon stepped closer and pulled Cas to a standing position. His chains rattled loudly in the large room. She whispered in his ear, “Does Jimmy possess carnal knowledge of our dear Dean Winchester? Or is that all you, Castiel?”

Cas’s cheeks reddened, and his jaw clenched in frustration. When he wouldn’t make eye contact, she smiled and stepped away from him.

“You know, I didn’t truly believe those rumors until just now.” She looked him up and down. “I have a whole new respect for you, Cas.”

This time, Cas stared her down. He gritted out, “What do you want from me, Abaddon?”

Abaddon crossed her arms and eyed Castiel. He injected as much strength into his weak and aching limbs as he could – He did not want to appear feeble in front of her.

“You’re my leverage,” she explained. “I want Dean to fulfill his potential, to use the Blade at my direction. You’re going to help me make that happen.”

“Why Dean?”

“Why not Dean?” She shrugged. “Or do you mean besides the old prophecy about the Michael Sword being the strongest Blade-bearer since Cain? Or maybe it’s just because I enjoy his pretty green eyes?”

Cas’s eyes had widened at her mention of the prophecy.

Abaddon let out a peal of laughter. “You mean that you didn’t know about his potential to be Cain II? Oh, this is going to get interesting, then.”

She stepped close to him again and scraped a fingernail lightly along his jawline, leaving a pink line in its wake. “Just to be clear?,” she breathed against his ear, “If you don’t play my game, I’ll burn off those lovely tattoos and take your body as my own. Then I’ll kill everyone that you’ve ever cared about, starting with your beloved Dean. You will feel their bones break in your hand, and you will wear their intestines around your neck. Understand?”

Cas swallowed, hard, and nodded. He did understand that Abaddon would happily make him do such things.

“Good talk,” Abaddon said brightly, leaning forward and pressing her lips lightly to his. “We’ll do this again soon.”

She disappeared, leaving Cas alone with the crumpled heap that had been his friend. He sank to the floor, chains clanging against the cement. He mustered up enough energy to arrange the chains so he could lean back against the wall.

He felt so worn and weary – the liveliness he’d felt after he’d awoken with his memory restored had dissipated entirely. He looked over at Gloria’s body and thought of how loved she was, how much she would be missed…

Cas closed his eyes sending stray tears trickling down his cheeks. He kept his eyes shut and focused on breathing evenly, on remaining calm. He couldn’t fall apart. Now that he knew Dean was still alive, he had to strategize and be ready for whatever came next.

So he rested, and he waited.

Dean was coming.

Using the Blade to kill Crowley had invigorated Dean. He threw his gear into the Impala’s trunk and slid behind the wheel. He pulled his baby out onto the highway and turned the radio up.

Later, he’d realize that he never really knew where he was going – he had driven according to instinct, letting some indefinable pull navigate his journey.

He wound up parked outside an abandoned factory, a mile or so from the burned-out hull of the building where he and Cas had been held. A flicker of awareness sparked at the thought of Cas, but it just as suddenly extinguished. As if from a great distance, Dean watched himself retrieve his weapons from the trunk and walk inside the building. Though its virgin territory was dark, he automatically knew which hallways to take, which stairs to climb, which equipment rooms to cut through.

When he found himself face-to-face with Abaddon, he wasn’t the least bit surprised. Neither was she. 

“Hello, Dean. ‘Bout time you took a girl’s call.” She gestured at the demon who had been performing a summoning spell.

She leaned back in her makeshift throne, a large wingback chair that looked entirely out of place in this stripped-out assembly room, and eyed him speculatively. “The question now is what kind of conversationalist are you? Will you make this worth my while?”

Dean snorted. “I’m not here to play BFFs with you. I came to kill you; why did you bring me here? Are you that stupid?”

Suddenly, Dean was against the wall, choking. Abaddon flicked her wrist, and he hit the back of his head - hard - before falling to the floor.

“Not stupid, dear. Just completely unafraid of you and that sacred toothpick you’re carrying these days.” She stood up from her chair and sauntered towards him. “Now, you ask what I want – it’s simple really: I want you to be my very own personal Knight of Hell, wielder of the First Blade, demon extraordinaire.”

“Why in hell do you think I would do that?”

“Because you like the Blade, and the Blade likes you, lover.” She used her power to pull Dean upright. “And I have it on good authority that you used said Blade to knife that pesky former King of Hell, which means you’re working off a super power high right now.”  She pulled him close enough to run a hand through his hair, clutching a handful tightly and forcing him to look at her, to meet her eyes. “I can help you make that feeling permanent, and then you can become who you were meant to be.”

He stared at her; she smirked, releasing his hair and stepping back. With a flick of her wrist, she relaxed her power’s hold on him too. Dean stumbled a bit as his feet hit the concrete.

The distant part of Dean was screaming for him not to ask. But his voice still croaked out, “How?”

She smiled. “I thought you’d never ask. Walk with me.”

Again, the far away Dean begged his body to stop, but the Blade’s Dean followed Abaddon along the hallway. They stopped outside a door guarded by two demons.

“It’s quite simple, really. All you have to do is use the Blade to kill the person in this room; once the Blade absorbs their blood, you’re my Knight forever.” She shrugged. “Easy peasy.”

She nodded to the demons. “Open the door, boys.” She used her power again to give Dean a little push into the dusky room. “Give a yell when you’re done, yeah?” She smiled again, and the door slammed shut.

The part of him that was wholly Dean knew instinctively where she was going with this, who she had behind that door.

Yet seeing the stark blue eyes of his very-much-alive angel staring at him left him weak in the knees, and Blade or no, Dean couldn’t breathe for a moment.

“Dean? Is that –?”

He opened his mouth to say yes, to say how much he’d missed him, how worried he’d been, how much he –

But that wasn’t what came out. The voice that came out of his mouth wasn’t Dean.

“Hello, Castiel.”

Cas looked at Dean in confusion. The timbre and cadence of his voice was all wrong, and his eyes… Cas flinched when they flashed black.

Cas pleaded, standing as quickly as the heavy chains would allow and pressing himself against the wall. “Dean, this isn’t you. You have to put down the Blade, get it away from you.”

“No I don’t, Castiel. The Blade is what makes me powerful. I used it to kill Crowley, you know. The rush –“ He shook his head. “It was amazing. It’s fading now, though.” He paused and stepped closer to Cas. “I just have to do one more little thing – and then I’ll have that power forever. Do you know what that is?”

Cas pressed his lips into a thin line and shook his head. A terrible feeling took root, and he began to suss out exactly why Abaddon had needed him so badly.

Dean leaned forward and whispered. “It’s you.” He reached out a hand and cupped the back of Cas’s neck, his thumb brushing under Cas’s ear – just like he always did. Cas wanted to believe this was his Dean, but this man’s eyes were a dull green, shadowed by the black that wanted to manifest. This man’s smile was wrong; his laugh was off. 

Cas shut his eyes, turning his head away.

“Aw, don’t be like that, baby.” Dean closed the distance between them, crushing his mouth against the shorter man’s unwilling one. Cas tried to pull away, but Dean only tightened his grip on the back of Cas’s neck and pressed more insistently against his mouth. Dean bit Cas’s lip, enabling a painful collision of teeth and forceful tongue. Blood trickled down Cas’s chin, and his jaw ached. He groaned in protest, but Dean only pinned him to the wall, their bodies now in full contact. 

This is what pain truly is, Cas thought as his traitorous body responded to the one it knew so well. Having Dean – yet it’s not him. Tears welled in his eyes and trickled down his cheeks. Familiar lips brushed over the salty tracks before claiming Cas’s mouth again.

As he plundered Cas’s mouth, something flickered in Dean. His hand instinctively skimmed up Cas’s side, as he’d often liked to do. Cas inhaled sharply at the intimate gesture, and Dean pulled back, shaking his head. He looked at Cas. “What’s happening?,” he whispered.

Confusion clouded Dean’s face, but Cas felt a spark of hope as he saw the light returning to Dean’s eyes. Cas surged forward and kissed him – claimed him. Dean hesitated only for a second – and when he kissed back, there was nothing brutal in his touch. They melted into each other until their lungs burned from want of air.

When Dean tore his mouth away, both men were panting. Dean leaned his forehead against Cas’s, though he kept his eyes shut. “God, I missed you,” he whispered. “I just… Cas, I don’t understand. What’s happening?”

“It’s the Blade, Dean. It’s trying to control you, to turn you into a Knight. You have to get rid of it – don’t touch it again.”

Dean nodded and touched his lips to Cas’s again, licking gently at the still-bleeding bite. “I’m sorry.” Cas answered by nipping at Dean’s bottom lip, taking it between his own…

They didn’t even know Abaddon had appeared until she coughed in faux politeness. Dean whirled around, placing himself between Cas and the Queen of Hell. 

“Seriously?” Abaddon rolled her eyes. “Are you an actual Disney princess, Dean? I mean, really – true love’s kiss is all it took?”

“Shut up,” he ground out.

She sighed laboriously. “And the snappy witticisms make a comeback. I’m disappointed, Dean, truly. I had such high hopes for you. I guess I’ll have to settle for secondbest, then. Remember what I promised you, Castiel?” Her smile was sharp and feral. 

Cas swallowed hard - He remembered well. He looked around, frantic for anything that might break his irons. Just then, Dean’s hand curled back just enough to touch Cas’s arm. Cas almost smiled when he realized that Dean was slipping him a paperclip.

“I won’t let you hurt Cas,” Dean snarled, setting off an argument to keep Abaddon occupied.

Cas hid his hands behind Dean’s broad back and managed to work the locks open yet keep his core still. Then, he surreptitiously pulled Dean’s spare knife from his back pocket and waited for whatever signal Dean would give. Cas still didn’t have high hopes for his survival, but even if his legs weren’t free, at least he’d have a fighting chance now. 

Abaddon was laughing. “It’s cute that you think you have a choice here, pet.”

“There’s always a choice,” Dean countered.

“Even when you murdered Crowley?”

Dean stared at her, confounded.

“That’s what I thought,” she said. “You don’t even fully know what you’ve been doing. If Cas there wasn’t your one-and-only, you’d have already gutted him and been knighted. Face it, Dean, you’re on a one-way road to hell.”

“He is not,” Cas spat out. “I made sure of that – my garrison made sure of that.” 

Abaddon inspected her nails. “You two are quite the hot couple, but I’m tired of this, boys. Dean kills Cas and becomes my Knight; or I kill Cas, and Dean becomes my Knight. Either way, I get my Knight and blue-eyes here dies.” 

Dean blanched. “That’s not happening.”

“Oh, it is. But I’ll let you choose how.”

She unleashed a wave of power that had both Dean and Cas against the wall. The irons from Cas’s wrists hit the floor with a bang.

“Inventive, I’ll give you that,” Abaddon said, noting his freed wrists. “But you’ll still die half-chained. What’s it going to be, Dean?” 

The fight drained out of him, and he said dully, “I’ll do it.”

Abaddon looked surprised. “Huh. I thought I’d get to play longer.” She released both men and motioned in Cas’s direction. “Let the Blade do its work, Dean.”

Cas watched nervously, dropping the knife he’d managed to hang onto. He had no intention of fighting Dean – no matter what. 

Sounds outside the room caught Abaddon's attention, and in the split-second that she glanced away, Dean sprang forward and drove the First Blade straight through her heart. The room exploded into dizzyingly brilliant bursts of orange and white light.

+

It had taken them a while to find Dean. Charlie had tracked the Impala into the heart of the industrial district, but then the signal disappeared. “I don’t know what happened – a spell, interference from a nearby factory – I just don’t know,” she’d told Sam.

“I think we should start at the warehouse, work our way out from there,” Garth said.

Sam and Jody agreed, and so it began. Sam spotted the Impala, parked carefully out of sight between two derelict buildings. He wanted to split up, but Garth and Jody wouldn’t hear of it. They entered the building closest to Dean’s car first, but that wasn’t it. After a survey of the other building’s empty first floor, Sam was ready to move on, but then Garth spotted a boot print in the dust. Sam recognized it as Dean’s, a mirror to his own, except a couple sizes smaller. They pressed on.

They encountered several demons one floor up. Luckily, Sam had a mini-demon-bomb leftover from Stull, and it quickly cleared the area.

Inside a large room furnished with a large wingback chair and a small table boasting a now-lukewarm martini, they crossed paths with four more; one managed a slice at Garth’s arm and another bruised Sam’s ribs pretty severely.

“Sam,” Jody called. “There’s something going on down here.” She jerked her head in the hallway’s direction.

Sam nodded and slit the throat of the demon he was fighting, just as Garth took out the fourth. The passageway was vacant, odd considering the sounds coming from the room at the end of the hall.

Light spilled from the room, illuminating the hallway. “Oh god,” Sam said. He ran into the room, Garth and Jody behind him… and all three came to a screeching halt.

Dean yanked the First Blade from Abaddon’s chest, and her body crumpled to the concrete. 

Sam watched in horror as the blood flowing from Abaddon’s chest flowed across the floor towards Dean, rising into the air, and adhering to the Blade. Oblivious to everything and everyone else, Dean stared at the Blade with a mixture of fear, loathing, and longing on his face.

Cas was frantically working at his leg irons, but he couldn’t get free. “SAM,” he yelled.

Sam jerked his head towards Cas, who was yelling. “Get the Blade away from him – NOW.”

Sam ran to his brother, grabbing the hand that held the blade. “Dean! Let it go,” he ordered. Dean looked up at him, and Sam’s stomach dropped as Dean’s eyes flashed black.

A punch sent Sam flying. He staggered back to his feet, terrified to see Dean holding the Blade out so that the blood could reach it faster.

With a nod at Garth, the two men rushed Dean, tackling him to the floor. The Blade shifted in Dean’s palm, and his eyes flashed briefly to green.

Dean still wouldn't release the Blade; he even tried to stab Sam with the Blade. They managed to keep Dean on the floor, though it helped that the Blade’s thrall was doing something to Dean – his reflexes were slower, his reactions off. It’s as if he’s been drugged, Sam thought.

Sam finally gave up trying to pry the Blade from Dean’s clenched fingers. “Sorry, brother,” he said, drawing back and punching Dean repeatedly in the jaw. It took three hard punches for Dean to lose consciousness. 

“The blood,” Cas yelled. “Get him away from it.” Garth pried the Blade from Dean’s hand, its obsidian edge dripping blood and gathering even more and dropped it to the floor. Sam kicked it to the other side of the room, and the blood trail shifted directions, working towards the blade. Then they dragged Dean away from the Blade and the blood.

Cas was still working his chains, but his hands were shaking so badly that he couldn’t spring the lock.

“Here, let me do that,” Jody said, crouching down beside Cas. She took the paperclip from his hand and smiled at him. “It’s good to see you, Cas.” 

He collapsed back against the wall, relieved that help was here. “It’s good to see you, too – all of you.” Jody released the irons and gently rubbed the flesh they had bound. She reached up and brushed Cas’s hair back, taking note of his unfocused eyes and his gray-tinged skin.

“You okay?” 

He nodded. “I need a knife.”

Jody handed him hers, inhaling sharply when he sliced into his left forearm. “I’ll never get used to how easily you guys do that.”

Garth and Sam had an unconscious Dean balanced between them, carrying him towards Cas and Jody. “Bring him here,” Cas said, fighting to stay above the waves of fatigue crashing over him. 

Dean was laid next to Cas, head pillowed on his thigh. Cas used his blood to draw an Enochian symbol on Dean’s forehead and said something inaudible before sagging back against the wall.

“What was that?,” Sam asked.

“Spell,” Cas murmured. “Will keep him unconscious till we can….” His voice trailed off.

“Cas!,” Sam said. “Till we can what?” 

Cas roused himself enough to lay his right arm protectively over Dean, his thumb resting against the hollow of Dean’s throat. Blackness hovered at the edge of Cas’s vision, and he reached for Jody with his free hand. She grabbed it and squeezed. “What is it?” 

“Don’t separate,” he murmured. “Use spelled cuffs to –” That was all he got out before darkness overtook him. 

“Poor things,” Jody said, pressing a kiss to Cas’s forehead and laying a gentle hand on Dean’s head.

Sam and Garth snorted.

“What?”

“You realize that these two have terrorized heaven, hell, and purgatory, right? Monsters hide under the bed to get away from them,” Garth said with a grin. 

Jody glared at him. “That may be, but they’ve been through hell the past few months –“ 

Sam coughed, “Years.”

Jody rolled her eyes. “Whatever. They deserve a break.”

Sam crouched beside of Jody, raising Cas’s eyelids and checking his pupils. “Think he’s okay? Do we need to make a hospital run?”

“I think he’s just exhausted,” she said. “Did you hear what he said?”

Sam shook his head.

“He said not to separate them and to use the spelled cuffs. Then he lost consciousness.”

Sam looked at his brother, whose right hand still twitched and whose skin was flushed and sweaty. “Wild guess that he meant to use them on Dean.”

“I think so, too.”

“Do we have them here?,” Garth asked.

“There should be a pair in the Impala’s arsenal.” Sam dug in Dean’s coat pocket until he found the keys and tossed them to Garth.

“I’ll be right back.” 

 Sam caught eye of the Blade, lying in the far corner of the room. “Hey, Garth,” he called out.

“Yeah?”

“Grab a curse box too.”

“’Kay.”

Sam sat on the floor beside Jody and looked at his brothers. He laid his hand on Dean’s head and bowed his own as his eyes began burning.

Jody laid her hand on his arm. “Hey, are you okay?” 

He nodded. “I’m just –“ His voice hitched. “I was really afraid that we wouldn’t...” 

Sam sat up straight, releasing his hold on Dean and clasping Jody’s hand. She threaded her fingers through his and squeezed. “I know.”

+

to be continued...

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Now

Garth carefully navigated the Impala closer to the building, parking her on the lawn just outside the door. He noticed the mud splattered across her sides and winced – maybe he could give her a wash before Dean was in a position to notice.

He opened the Impala’s trunk, lifting the false bed so he could root through the arsenal. It only took a moment to locate the cuffs and an empty curse box; he checked the latter’s warding and seriously doubted it could hold the Blade for long, but maybe it would buy them some time. He tucked both items into an empty duffel and also grabbed a rucksack of salt, a can of red spray paint, and a small bottle of lighter fluid. As a last thought, he snagged a couple sticks of dynamite and an unloaded explosive device with a remote detonator. 

Swinging the duffel’s strap over his shoulder, he shut the trunk and turned to walk into the building, freezing when he saw a group of people approaching from way down the street. Garth squinted, noting that something just seemed… off. He pulled out his phone, grateful he’d upgraded to one with a better camera, and zoomed in.

There were ten or so, looking all around – almost as if they were tourists. One man spoke to another, and the respondent’s eyes flashed black.

“Oh, crap,” Garth muttered. He swallowed nervously, guesstimating that if they didn’t increase their pace he had maybe five minutes before they got close enough to do anything. He popped the trunk again and pulled out two long, tightly coiled, clear hoses. After he checked the caps on the ends, he stretched them out so that they lay on either side of the Impala, stretching from the exit of the building where his friends were all the way into the street. He quickly glanced at the lines, ensuring that the hose-encased salt maintained unbroken lines and poured actual salt lines to close the gaps from the middle of the street to the parallel-running brick wall.

Garth straightened, his back popping at the sudden movement, and glanced towards the approaching group before sprinting back to shut the Impala’s trunk. He quickly re-shouldered the duffel, retrieved the can of spray paint and painting large devil’s trap at the exit, just in case any demons made it past the salt lines.

He paused and scanned the progressing group. They’d clearly seen him but still hadn’t increased their speed. He wondered what that was about.

“They’re waiting,” said a voice a few feet to his left. Garth jumped, pulling his gun as the young man held his hands up in mock surrender. “I mean no harm,” he said, flashing his eyes purposefully. The demon looked at the salt lines, toeing the clear hose that he couldn’t cross. “Smart,” he said.

Garth gulped. “Waiting for what?,” he asked.

“For the King,” the man said enigmatically.

Garth looked confused. “You mean the Queen? She’s dead.”

“We know Queen Abaddon has perished. It’s not her we wait for.” The young man smiled. “It’s quite a shock, actually – a Winchester taking the throne? I never would have dreamed…”

Garth stared at him in horror. “No,” he breathed. “That can’t be.”

The demon chuckled. “Oh, but it is. That’s how it works, you know. The one who deposes inherits the throne.”

Garth felt the blood drain from his face. With a shaking hand, he raised his gun.

The demon smirked. “You know better than that, hunter. Bullets can’t kill me.”

“No,” Garth said, firing a single shot that lodged in the demon’s breastbone. “But a devil’s trap bullet will keep your ass stationary.”

As the demon gaped at him, Garth pushed him – hard – toppling him backwards onto the grass. Garth stepped forward, stabbing him through the heart with an angel blade, before retreating to the safety of the salt lines. A last look over his shoulder revealed the group of demons standing in the road, watching with open curiosity. He breathed deeply before taking the stairs two at a time, stopping at each landing to spray a devil’s trap on the door and drop a line of salt barring entry between the main building and the stairwell.

When he reached the floor where his friends were, he peered out the window only to see the demons still motionless and staring. He shuddered. “That’s just creepy,” he muttered as he spray-painted a trap on this landing too. Considering that there were now more than twenty demons outside, Garth didn’t think he could afford to be too careful.

He propped open the door, flipping down its rusted stopper, before running back to the room. Harried and out of breath, Garth announced, “We need to get out of here pronto.” He dropped the duffle on the floor and dug out the spelled cuffs, handing them over to Sam.

“What’s going on?,” Jody asked, a look of alarm on her face.

“Demons,” he said curtly. “Outside. I’ve got a barrier up, but I don’t know how long it’ll last.”

“Shit,” Sam cursed, fastening the cuffs around his brother’s ankles and wrists. “Did they track us here?”

Garth hesitated. “Worse.”

Jody narrowed her eyes at Garth and used her imposing figure-of-authority voice that brooked no hedging: “Garth, what could be worse?”

Garth sighed and scrubbed his hand through his hair. “They’re waiting on the King of Hell.”

“But Crowley’s dead, Abaddon too,” Sam said. “Who are they –“

The color drained from Sam’s face as he put two and two together. “NO. That is not happening.”

Garth bit his lip. “I’m sorry, Sam. A demon outside said that…um… that whoever deposes inherits the throne.”

“Fuck tradition,” Sam snarled. “My brother is not the King of Hell.”

“Sam,” Jody said, laying a hand on his arm. “Let’s just – Look, we don’t know what’s going on, and Cas is our best chance of information. Let’s get to the bunker. We can figure all of this out from there.”

“I’m with Jody,” Garth said. “I laid down some wards and traps and a line of salt – if we hurry, I think we can get to the Impala. We’ll have to abandon the other cars for now.”

Sam nodded. “The Blade – You got the curse box?”

“Right here,” Garth said, digging it out of the duffle. “Let me do it. I’d rather that thing not come in contact with any Winchester every again, okay?”

“I can get behind that,” Sam agreed.

Garth handed him the dynamite and the explosive. “Can you get this set up? We can’t leave the bodies,” he said, looking over at Gloria and Abaddon’s bodies. 

“Dean’s the munitions expert, but I ought to be able to do something basic.” Sam handed Jody the lighter fluid. “Can you prepare the bodies?”

Jody took the fluid and nodded grimly.

While Sam and Jody worked, Garth approached the cast-off First Blade cautiously. He was more than a little freaked that the pool of blood that the Blade had been lying in was gone now. The concrete was a completely normal, clean, pale gray.

He used a bandana to gingerly grasp the bone handle, noting that the blade itself now shone a dark black-red. Even he could sense the power emanating from it, and he looked back at Dean, who though unconscious, twitched as if he wanted to reach for something.

Garth shook his head and carefully dropped the Blade into the curse box. He covered it with salt and locked the box securely. Then he shoved it into his duffle, which he zipped shut and slipped on like a backpack; he didn’t want a Winchester even carrying the damned bag. 

Garth huffed a small laugh. I guess putting the First Blade inside the duffle does, in fact, damn the bag. 

+

As Sam, Garth, and Jody maneuvered nearly four-hundred-pounds of unconscious muscle to the Impala, Sam found himself grateful yet again for Garth’s quick thinking. His preventative measures had given them a relatively safe space to get Dean and Cas to the car. 

They’d worried about separating the duo after Cas’s mumbled warning to Jody, but it couldn’t be helped. They hadn’t had the time or materials to make a litter strong enough to carry the two men and the combined weight had been too much for Sam and Garth to manage.

So, they’d taken each down the stairs, one flight at a time, Jody waiting on the landing with whichever one had been carried down first. While Sam and Garth caught their breath before tackling the next flight, they’d set Dean and Cas side-by-side, hoping the brief flesh contact would keep Dean grounded.

When they finally reached the exit, Sam stepped out to survey the situation. It was unnerving to see the demons that were standing at what could almost be called a respectful distance from the salt hose-lines. He made a mental note to find out who'd beaten him to the punch in making portable lines.

He stepped to the Impala and opened the passenger-side backdoor; it would open and stay in the salt-line; the other side didn’t have as much clearance.

He looked back at Jody, who was watching the demons with carefully restrained alarm. “Jody,” he called softly.

She nodded and walked towards him, her hand on her gun. “You get in first,” he said. “I’ll bring Cas and you can help me get him in. Then we’ll bring Dean.”

Without a word, she climbed in. Sam headed back to get Cas, leaving Garth to guard Dean. Sam moved as quickly as he could, not liking the crackling energy in the air. Jody grabbed Cas under his arms, pulling him in as Sam pushed. They quickly got him situated, and Sam went back for Dean.

But Garth stopped him. “Sam, what about the salt lines? Didn’t salt repel Dean in the bunker?”

Sam’s mouth twisted in worry. “Yeah, but he made it past the devil’s traps in the stairs fine.” He leaned over and lifted one of Dean’s eyelids, relieved to see the familiar green irises. “No black eyes – maybe it’s the Blade carrying the demonic taint.” 

“Yeah, that’d make sense…” Leaving Dean slumped against the wall, Garth stepped outside to the nearest section of the line. The body of the demon he’d killed still lay in the grass, and he studiously avoided looking at it. Holding the duffle’s straps in one hand, he reached towards the salt line, only to find his arm – and the duffle – pushed back forcefully. “Well, that answers that. If we get it past the salt line, will it go into the Impala?”

“It should,” Sam said, “so long as it’s in the curse box. Other cursed objects have passed the warding.”

“What about demonic objects?”

“Well, Crowley rode with us to Stull.”

“Good point. Let’s get this show on the road then.” Stepping back inside, Garth looped one of Dean’s arms around his neck, and Sam did the same on the other side. Together, they stepped from the confines of the exit into the sunlight, Dean draped awkwardly between them.

Sam grunted as Dean almost immediately slipped. “This isn’t going to work,” he complained. “We can’t get him to the car like this.”

“Uh – Sam?” Sam looked up and alarm crawled up his spine when he saw Garth's wide eyes that were focused on something behind Sam.

Sam fought his sense of dread and forced himself to look over his shoulder. The demons had fallen to their knees, their eyes trained on Dean, who had begun twitching again, his fingers curling and uncurling as if he were trying to hold onto something. Like the Blade, Sam thought, swallowing hard as fear's icy chill engulfed him. 

He froze and barely heard Garth’s voice, urging him on. Finally, Garth shouted, “Sam! Move! Grab Dean’s arms.” That broke through his daze and, robotically, Sam did as he was told, slipping his hands under his brother’s arms as Garth grabbed his legs. Later, Sam would never be entirely sure how they got Dean into the Impala’s backseat.

He had seen Jody, who’d been anxiously watching the obeisant demons, quickly thread Cas and Dean’s fingers together, holding their much-larger hands securely between her own. Sam saw the same alarm he felt on her face and Garth’s, and when the flesh-to-flesh contact had an almost instantaneous calming effect on Dean, all three breathed audible sighs of relief.

Once Dean was secure, Sam slipped into the driver’s seat and started the car, watching Garth walk ahead to the road, carrying the duffle. Sam waited until Garth set the bag at the edge of the poured-salt line, before driving the car forward slowly. All the while, he kept an eye on the demons congregating to his right, and he prayed the salt lines held.

When he reached the road, Sam leaned over and opened the passenger door before steering to the left and driving over the hose. He cringed as it thumped under the front wheels. He watched as Garth swiftly kicked away the poured line and threw himself into the passenger seat, carrying the duffle over the broken line. As soon as the bag was clear, Garth slammed his door shut and said, “Let’s get out of here.”

That was Sam’s plan, but they had one more thing to do first. He braked gently and checked the sideview mirror. The demons still stood in a line along the unbroken salt line, and none seemed to be in pursuit. “That’s just weird,” Sam said. He handed Garth the detonator. “You do the honors.”

Garth nodded and turned around, watching out the back window as he pressed the button, sparking an explosion on the upper floor. As the shockwaves traveled, Sam pressed the gas pedal to the floorboard. A quick glance in the rearview revealed flying rubble; it looked like the demons had scattered, too.

Sam didn’t comment when Garth fished out a small watergun and a flask of holy water or when he filled the gun and passed it to Jody. He flinched, though, when he heard Garth tell her, “Just in case.”

“That necessary?,” Sam asked, disliking the resentment even he heard in his tone. 

“It’s just in case,” Garth repeated.

Sam’s lips pressed into a thin line, but he nodded and chose to focus on driving. When he thought to check the gas gauge, he felt a flood of relief that the tank was full. He hoped they could make it to the bunker without stopping because nowhere else felt safe right now, and Sam had learned a long time ago that Winchesters shouldn’t tempt Fate.

Especially since she was probably still pissed over that whole Titanic thing.

“Yes, I understand,” Linda said into the phone. “Let us know when you’re close, and we’ll be on the lookout.” She ended the call and sat at the kitchen table for a moment, head bowed.

She heard someone walk into the kitchen and looked up to see Kevin, worry clouding his eyes. “Mom?”

Linda shook her head and smiled. “That was Jody. Everything’s okay – for now, at least. They’ve got Dean and Castiel, and they’re all on their way here right now.”

Kevin let out a whoop and grabbed her hand, pulling her to her feet. “Come on, then. We have to tell Charlie.”

Charlie was in the research room organizing print-outs, and she visibly relaxed at the news. “But are Dean and Cas okay?,” she asked.

Linda hesitated. “Jody said that there were complications with the Blade, but that Dean was in one piece and that as far as they can tell, Cas isn’t hurt, just exhausted.”

“Complications?,” Charlie asked, arching an eyebrow.

“She didn’t give details,” Linda said, her own worry evident in her town. “But we do know that they’re going to come in exhausted and on a mission to fix everything, so I suggest that you two finish up what you can. I’m going to throw a casserole in the oven, and then I’ll be back to help.” She looked over at Kevin. “How’s that translation coming, anyway?”

Kevin grimaced. “Charlie’s program converted the Human Tablet into Old Akkadian, just like it did with the Demon Tablet. It’s a bitch – oops, sorry – a pain to translate, and there are some missing bits where the etchings in the stone degraded, but I’m making progress.” He picked up a legal pad and handed it to her; Linda took a seat, skimming as she listened to her son. “So far, it’s mostly Genesis stuff – honor God, don’t kill, etcetera. There is a mention of the First Blade, but it only says that it’s not intended for humanity.”

“Then why does it even exist?,” Linda asked. “Didn’t a human create it?”

Kevin rifled through his journal, flipping to a page. “This is my translation of the last fragment from the Angel Tablet – not the spell-we-shall-not-speak-of, but the other fragment,” he clarified. “According to this, the First Blade is an instrument of divine origin.”

Linda rolled her eyes. “What exactly do the Angels consider divine, then?”

“Well, remember that – as Dean always says – angels are usually dicks with wings,” Charlie supplied helpfully. “The real heaven isn’t what they teach in Sunday school.” She drummed her fingers. “That’s interesting, though.”

“Why?,” Linda asked.

Charlie looked up at her. “According to legend, Cain created the Blade and was the first to use it, but if the Blade is of divine origin, and if it’s not meant for humanity – then what was Cain?”

“Have we found any evidence that he wasn’t entirely human? The Bible lists him as Abel’s twin, right?,” Linda asked.

Kevin shrugged. “Wouldn’t be the first thing the Bible got wrong.”

“And if Cain isn’t quite human, then that brings us back to whatever Jody meant by ‘complications’ and what the Blade’s done to Dean,” Charlie murmured.

Though the investigative enthusiasm in the room dampened immediately, Kevin offered hesitantly, “But that is something about the Blade that might prove useful. If it’s of divine origin, then maybe we figure out a way to summon Metatron or even use Zeke and somehow dull it. There was that prophecy about the convergence of risen and fallen –“

“Oh,” Linda said, sitting up even straighter than usual. “I almost forgot – Jody said that apparently the prophecy was literal.”

Charlie’s forehead wrinkled in confusion. “What do you mean? What converged?”

Linda felt her cheeks heat up. “Dean and Cas? Apparently physical contact between them broke the Blade’s hold over Dean.”

Charlie’s eyes twinkled. “What kind of physical contact?”

Kevin made a face. “Ugh. Shut up. The mental image I have now can’t be worse than what actually happened.”

“Kevin,” Linda said reprovingly. She nodded towards the bulletinboard where Charlie had pinned up several photos, including one of Dean and Cas making dinner – smiling widely and completely at ease. “They’re really quite a cute couple.”

“Oh, yeah, cute. Just wait till you catch them half naked and gyrating,” Kevin grumbled.

“Kid’s got a point,” Charlie agreed. “They’re quite… um… loud.”

Charlie turned towards Kevin, who was wearing a cheshire cat grin and flipped him off. “I haven’t forgotten that I owe you for that, you know,” she warned.

Linda realized she probably didn’t want to know, but she asked anyway. “For what?”

“He set me up – sent me to give Dean and Cas a message when they were fu…um.” Charlie blushed and stuttered. “Um. When they were occupied. And I could hear them through the door. Explicitly.”

Kevin’s laughter filled the room, and he only got louder when Charlie growled another warning at him. 

Linda fought back her own grin and silently left the room to get dinner started. She felt like having food for the troops was one way she could contribute and help out the people who’d kept her son safe.

As Linda worked, she listened to the echoes of laughter and ribald teasing. It helped pass the time dicing the chicken and preparing the broth and vegetables. She finished by combining everything and covering the mixture with a generous layer of breadcrumbs. When the casserole was in the oven, she set out everything she’d need to steam vegetables and make rice. Once she knew when Jody and the boys would be there, she’d finish pulling everything together.

In the meantime, she would help Charlie and Kevin. When she returned to the research room, both were hard at work, but the air was lighter in a way that made her smile. Somehow, we’ll get a good end out of all of this, she thought. Somehow.

+

Sam pulled into the bunker’s garage and parked the Impala. He took the key from the ignition and leaned back in the seat and let out a loud sigh.

He glanced up and caught Jody’s eye in the rearview. She’d stayed awake the entire trip, periodically asking him questions about the towns they passed and even flowers alongside the road.

He smiled. “Thanks for keeping me awake.”

“Couldn’t have you driving us all in a ditch after we’d survived all that, could I?,” Jody asked.  

“Guess not,” Sam said, reaching over and jostling Garth’s arm. “Hey, we’re here.” Garth startled and blinked blearily at Sam. Thirty minutes clearly hadn’t been enough to recharge Garth’s batteries.

“Any chance all of that was a dream?,” he mumbled, rubbing his eyes.

“Not even a little,” Sam answered, getting out of the car and taking a moment to stretch his limbs, Jody and Garth following suit. Sam was too tall for the car on a good day, and hours of nonstop driving had left his back in knots. He grimaced as he felt his vertebrae pop.

An excited voice called out, “Sam!” just before a red blur raced across the garage, flinging her arms around Sam’s neck.

Sam hugged her back. “Hey Charlie. It’s okay - We’re good. Are y’all okay?” He looked over at Linda to include her in the question, relaxing at her smile.

“Yeah,” Charlie said, releasing him and stepping back to peer in the Impala’s backseat. Cas was slumped in the middle, Dean lying against him. “They look so peaceful,” she said. “What’s the mark on Dean’s forehead?”

“A blood spell,” Jody answered. “Cas cast it, said it would keep him asleep and –” she looked at Sam hesitantly before continuing. “He needs to stay asleep until we figure out what’s going on.”

“How complicated are the complications?,” Linda asked. 

Sam set his mouth in a grim line. “Complicated.”

He was grateful for Garth’s quick suggestion that they get “these sleeping beauties” to bed.

Sam jerked a thumb towards the door. “I’m going to grab a gurney from the storeroom,” he said. “It’ll be the easiest way.”

Without waiting for comment, he left. He could hear the murmurs of conversation echoing down the hall, but he ignored as much as he could. Sam felt on edge like he hadn’t been in years – it was worse than when he thought Dean was going to say yes to Michael or when he realized that Dean and Cas had disappeared without a trace from the Roman Industries lab.

He entered the storeroom and shut the door, leaning heavily against it a moment. He breathed deeply, trying to focus his thoughts and energy. He wasn’t any good to Dean or Cas or anyone else if he lost it. He wished he could do something…. And then he spied an old punching bag dangling in the corner. After he checked to make sure it was secure, he set his phone’s timer.

Two minutes later, the room was filled with dust, and Sam’s eyes were watering, but he felt a little lighter. Nothing was fixed, of course, but some of that sickening energy that had been coiled in his gut had dissipated. He stilled the bag and then adjusted his clothes and ran his fingers through his hair.

He maneuvered the gurney out from its corner spot and got it into the hallway. Its wheels clanged loudly on the the floor, and they squeaked too. Sam made a note to treat them with WD-40 as soon as he could, and then laughed at himself for thinking of something so trivial right now.

He saw Jody, Charlie, and Linda walking towards him, and he steered the gurney to the side so they would have enough room to pass each other. As he passed Jody, she reached out and squeezed his forearm tenderly. Sam smiled at her and felt a warmth in his chest when she smiled back.

It was a brief moment, but one that Sam treasured. He closed the distance between the hallway and the garage where Garth waited with Dean and Cas, and he hoped that – soon – they could all enjoy extended periods of happiness. He couldn’t help thinking, however self-indulgently, that surely even Winchesters deserved some lasting happiness.

+

All four of them shared looks of concern when Sam abruptly left the room.

“It’s been hard for him,” Jody said simply.

“Of course,” Linda said softly.

An awkward moment passed before Charlie offered to get their room ready. Jody was quick to extend her help. “Where’s Kevin?,” she asked Linda.

“He’s in total prophet zone, so we left him be,” Linda answered. She looked towards Garth. “Do you need him to help with Dean and Cas?”

“Nah,” Garth said. “With the gurney, we should be good.”

Jody’s stomach chose that moment to grumble. “Are you hungry?,” Linda asked. “I started dinner – should I go finish it now?”

“Oh my God. You made food?,” Garth asked, walking over and enveloping Linda in a bear hug. “God bless you, Mama Tran.” The small woman laughed and batted Garth’s arms away.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Linda said, smiling.

“We’d better book,” Charlie said. “I hear wheels.”

Jody nodded, and the three women headed back into the bunker proper. She squeezed Sam’s arm gently as she passed, happy to see him wearing a smile – no matter how small or how brief. 

Jody and Charlie headed towards the sleeping quarters when Linda diverted towards the kitchen. Jody felt a little odd entering Dean and Cas’s bedroom; Charlie’s hesitation at walking in suggested she felt much the same way.

It really didn’t take much to get things ready. Jody’s first task, though, was to leave Gloria’s colorfully printed scarf folded neatly on the dresser. She’d had it stuffed in her pocket for hours since she’d removed it from the poor woman’s hair.

Charlie paused in spreading the bed that Dean had left rumpled. “What’s that?”

“It belonged to someone who helped Cas. I thought he might want it.” Jody thought of how Gloria’s body had lain on the floor, discarded by Abaddon as if it’d been trash. Thinking of Gloria ignited the spark of grief that Jody always carried, and she quickly focused her attention on gathering Dean’s dirty clothes from the floor and placing them in the hamper. That took all of ten seconds, so she turned to helping Charlie.

“Need some help?”

“Sure,” Charlie said. “Will this be an under-the-covers or over sleepover?”

“They’ll probably be most comfortable under.” Jody grabbed one side, Charlie the other, and they pulled the now-straightened covers back and plumped the pillows. 

“Pajamas?,” Charlie asked.

Jody shook her head. “Doubt it. We think the skin-to-skin contact broke the Blade’s hold on Dean, so I imagine the more they have, the better.”

Charlie wrinkled her nose. “Skintastic,” she smirked before asking, hesitantly, “So what exactly happened out there?”

Jody leaned against the dresser and debated how to answer. She finally went for honesty. “I don’t know where to start. I think we should wait till we’re all together. There’s a lot to tell.”

Charlie nodded. “Do you think Dean and Cas are going to be okay?”

“I have to believe so,” Jody said, running a hand through her short hair. She might have said more, but the clatter of wheels interrupted their conversation.

At the sight of Garth and Sam navigating a gurney precariously carrying both Dean and Cas, Charlie commented wryly, “This looks like an episode of Jackass.”

Jody laughed, but then looked quickly at Sam, worried that maybe he wouldn’t appreciate the joke, but she needn’t have. When Garth quipped with a wistful, “If only,” Sam snorted in agreement.

He caught Jody’s eye, and asked her to grab a pair of sewing shears from the closet down the hall. She nodded and slipped out, smiling at the grunts and curses filtering from the room.

She was back in minutes. They’d parked the gurney parallel to the bed, on the side closest to the door. Cas had already been moved off and settled on the far side. Dean’s hand had slipped out of his, but from what Jody could see, there were no visible effects – yet.

As Jody watched, Garth moved to the end of the gurney, taking Dean’s feet, with Sam slipping his hands under his brother’s arms.

“One, two, lift,” Sam said. In sync, they moved Dean to the bed and got him settled, placing his and Cas’s hands palm-to-palm. After they collapsed the gurney, Jody stepped towards the dresser, so that Garth would have room to move the gurney into the hallway, where he leaned it carefully against the far wall.

Garth stuck his head back in the door. “I’m going to go get the curse box out of the car. Where do you want me to put it, Sam?”

“There’s a vault in the library. I think it should go there for now. Kevin can access it for you.” Garth nodded. “Oh, and take the long way? Don’t come down this hall.”

“Will do,” Garth said, punctuating his promise with a small salute.

Charlie wore a calculating expression. “What’s wrong?,” Jody asked.

“I think they’re on the wrong sides,” she answered. “Pretty sure Cas sleeps over there and –"

“And I don’t even care,” Sam said with an eyeroll. “They can deal.” 

Jody laughed and handed Sam the shears. He began cutting a line up Dean’s pants’ legs. “Thank God he didn’t go commando,” Sam muttered.

Jody and Charlie snorted at that. Jody was removing Dean’s socks and shoes, while Charlie took care of Cas. Charlie tossed their dirty socks in the hamper and set their worse-for-wear shoes in front of the closet.

When Sam started on Dean’s shirts, Charlie warned, “You know that’s one of his favorite t-shirts.”

“Yeah, I know. And I’ll gladly let him kick my ass for destroying it when he’s himself again.”

As Sam finished with Dean’s clothes, Jody gathered up the cut pieces and dropped them into the wastebasket, while he started on Cas. His friend moved once, and Charlie had darted out of the room, returning with couple bottles of water and two glasses, setting one of each on their nightstands.

Once both unconscious men were down to their boxers, Sam and Jody agreed that both men needed to be close enough so that their arms and legs would touch at all times. They started with Dean, maneuvering him closer to the middle of the bed and arranging the cuffs and chains to avoid as much discomfort as possible.

When they moved Cas, he roused just enough for Sam to get him to drink a few sips of water before the exhausted man slipped back under. Sam carefully re-settled his already-asleep friend back on his pillow, smiling when Cas instinctively rolled over and cozied up next to Dean.

“If I wasn’t so relieved to have them both back here, I think I’d vomit in my mouth a little,” Sam muttered.

Jody whacked him on the arm. “They’re cute, and you know it.” She winked at Charlie who grinned back. 

“Whatever.”

Jody just shook her head at Sam and went to help Charlie spread the covers up over Dean and Cas. The two looked so peaceful. If it weren’t for the mark on Dean’s forehead, I could tell myself that he's just sleeping, Jody thought.

“Do we need to put up any special warding?,” Charlie asked.

Sam thought for a moment. “I wouldn’t know what to put up,” he said. He motioned towards Dean’s laptop. “Can you set up his webcam so that we can monitor them from the research area?”

“Sure thing,” Charlie said. She opened the laptop and began clicking away with an ease and expertise that Jody envied.

“I guess we should set out angel and demon traps, just in case,” Sam said. He dug around in his jacket pocket, pulling out a piece of chalk. “I’ll do that as we leave, and then I think we can let them rest for a bit.”

“We need some rest, too,” Jody said gently, taking the chalk from him. “I’ll draw the traps, you go shower. Linda’s got dinner waiting by now, I’m sure.”

Jody startled when Charlie plucked the chalk from her hand. “Both of you go shower and change. I can do this. We don’t want Linda’s food getting cold – I’ve been able to smell that casserole for an hour, and I’m starving.”

Jody appreciated the younger woman’s gesture, especially since her own stomach was still growling. “Thanks, Charlie.”

“Yeah, thanks.” Sam ruffled her hair.

“Don’t mention it. I’m glad everybody’s home – now go.” Charlie shooed them from the room with the threat of dire consequences if they didn’t hurry up.

+

Garth groaned as he leaned back in his chair, patting his now-full stomach. “That was the best, Linda.”

“Yeah. It was awesome,” Sam agreed, as he ate his last bite.

She glowed at the praise. “Glad you liked it. Did everyone have enough?” The casserole had been decimated – nothing was left in the serving dish but the barest traces. Of the vegetables and rice, only a couple pieces of cauliflower remained.

They all assured her that they had, and a stillness fell over their small group. Linda and Jody had suggested that they eat before sharing information, and everyone had agreed. Now, Sam could feel the shift as they each prepared for the coming conversation.

Kevin and Charlie stood and, with Garth’s help, began clearing the table and carrying dirty dishes into the kitchen.

Jody volunteered to put on a pot of coffee and shot a meaningful look at Sam. He nodded. There was no getting out of this now, but he had something he had to do.

“I want to talk to Zeke first,” he said. “But as soon as I’m done, it’s family meeting time.”

“Go ahead,” Linda said. “We’ll clean up, and when you’re back, we’ll all talk.”

“I’ll hurry,” he said. But as he walked towards the dungeon, his steps slowed. He really didn’t want to see the angel because while Ezekiel had saved Dean and Cas, he’d helped put them in danger to start with.

The sight of Zeke sitting on his cot, head bowed in what looked like prayer, didn’t endear him to Sam.

“I should kill you right now,” Sam announced abruptly. 

Ezekiel didn’t move, but he answered: “I would deserve it.”

Sam regarded the angel, trying to decide if he was truly penitent or if this were yet another deception. Zeke seemed to read his mind and raised his head, meeting Sam’s gaze straight-on.

“I am being truthful,” he said. “I am sorry for the trouble that my deception caused, and if faced with those choices again, I would make different ones.”

Sam ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t want to believe you,” he said truthfully. “I want to stab you through the brain.” He paused and blew out a loud breath. “But I don’t have much choice myself at the moment.”

Zeke hesitated. “Kevin said that you found Castiel – he is well?”

“Will be,” Sam answered. “Seems like he’s just exhausted. But…” He couldn’t finish the sentence, couldn’t admit to what Dean had done, had apparently become.

“Your brother took the Blade back.” Zeke sighed. “Did he use it?”

Sam snorted. “You could say that.”

“On whom?”

“I know of Crowley and Abaddon – there may have been others.”

Zeke sat straight up. “Your brother killed the rival rulers of Hell?”

Sam nodded.

“Where is the Blade now?,” Zeke asked. 

“In a curse-box that’s inside of a warded vault,” Sam answered. “What do you know of it?”

“Mostly rumors,” Zeke answered. “But I do know that it has the potential to wreak terrible consequences upon its bearers – if it has an affinity for them.” Zeke paused, giving Sam a regretful look before continuing. “I assume it has such an affinity for Dean, or else he could not have wielded it so successfully.”

Sam nodded in acknowledgement. “Yeah. Cas said it liked him, and Kevin found a prophecy about the Righteous Man being the strongest wielder since Cain.”

“That is not good,” Zeke observed.

“Tell me about it,” Sam snapped.

“I just did. Should I tell you again?”

Sam rolled his eyes. “No,” he answered. He walked out of the dungeon and into the storeroom area. He had to dig through a few boxes before he found the spare pair of spelled cuffs. He walked up to Zeke holding them in the air.

“You’re coming with me because we need all the help we can get,” Sam announced. “But you’re not roaming free.”

Ezekiel’s only response was to hold his wrists up.

Sam didn’t acknowledge the gesture, instead simply cuffing him. “If you cross us again, I will kill you. Do you understand me?”

“I understand,” Zeke answered. “Thank you, Sam.”

“Don’t thank me,” Sam replied. “I may stab you yet. Now, come on.” He turned and stalked out of the dungeon.

If Sam had looked back, he would have seen Zeke bow his head before silently following him.

+

The expressions on everyone’s faces when Ezekiel followed Sam into the room could most kindly be described as surprised. Garth looked angry, but Sam shook his head at his friend. “I know what he did, but we need whatever help we can get.”

Garth didn’t say anything, instead settling back in his chair, crossing his arms defiantly in front of his chest, jaw set, eyes glaring.

Sam motioned for Zeke to take the empty chair beside him. Everyone else already had tea or coffee or soda, and an empty mug was set in front of Sam’s chair. He reached for the carafe and poured it to the brim. He noticed Zeke watching and asked before he could stop him self, “Coffee?”

“Please,” the angel answered, in an almost reverent tone. Linda left the room, quickly returning with a mug that Sam filled for him. The cuffs rattled as Zeke gripped the mug, but he drank deeply, despite the temperature. “Thank you,” he murmured, eyes shut as if he were still savoring the experience.

Sam said nothing, choosing to simply top him off again.

An awkward moment of silence ensued until Charlie dramatically cleared her throat. “So…” she drawled out. “Who’s sharing with the rest of the class first?”

Sam sighed. “Garth should,” he said. “Tell them what happened in Topeka.”

So Garth did. Then Sam explained what he and Jody had found in the motel room in Lawrence.

“We’ll need to go back and take care of Crowley’s body,” Sam said.

“Nah,” Garth said. “I already called my cousin who lives just at the border of Nebraska. He and his boy are on their way. Said they’d text when they’ve burned the body and will send pictorial evidence.”

“Oh, thank God,” Sam said, “I seriously didn’t know how I’d drive back there again tonight.”

“They’re gonna bring mine and Jody’s cars, too,” Garth said. “I didn’t tell them about the bunker, but I told them to drop them at the abandoned school about five miles west – that okay?”

“Yeah, that’s great, Garth. Thanks, really.”

“Sure, man. You’d do the same.”

Sam nodded, knowing with certainty that even if that weren’t true a month or two ago, it definitely was now.

“Wait – so Dean killed Crowley? Once and for all?,” Kevin asked.

“Yeah,” Sam nodded. “And that’s not all.” He, Garth, and Jody took turns explaining what happened next, from finding Dean battling it out with Abaddon to watching the First Blade consume the Queen of Hell’s blood.

Sam didn’t miss that even Ezekiel looked alarmed by that information, and when Garth told about the demons kneeling as Dean was carried out of the building, Sam chose not to look anywhere but at his now-empty coffee mug. The taut silence in the room told him all he needed to know about the response to that bit of news.

In the briskly matter-of-fact tone that Sam had come to value greatly, Linda prompted Kevin to explain what he’d found out about the First Blade and Cain. “But I don’t know if we can use it to our advantage or not –“

Sam interrupted. “Maybe we can – like you said, we can maybe summon Metatron.” He looked at Ezekiel. “What do you think?”

Ezekiel regarded Sam for a long moment before speaking. “I cannot say whether or not Cain was more than human. So far as I knew, he was Abel’s brother, born to human parents. But, yes, if the Blade is of divine origin, then perhaps there is something in heaven that can permanently break its hold.”

“What about the convergence of fallen and risen blunting the Blade?,” Kevin asked.

“That does break the First Blade’s power, but Dean also killed Crowley and Abaddon, and he experienced the Blade’s consumption of their blood. That is –“ Ezekiel hesitated before finishing – “not good.”

“How exactly did the convergence thing work?,” Charlie asked. “I mean, I get that Dean and Cas ‘converged’,” she said, using air quotes to emphasize the word. “But what does that mean?”

“As a human, as the Righteous Man, corrupted by the First Blade, Dean is fallen,” Ezekiel explained. “I would have thought that Castiel would also be considered fallen, since he has lost his grace, but it seems that our Father interprets my brother’s situation differently. Per the prophecy, as Kevin has translated it, Castiel is risen. Their bond, and the reassertion of that bond, qualifies as the convergence.”

“Just to clarify, Dean was under the Blade’s thrall, and somehow he and Cas had contact that broke its spell?,” Charlie asked. 

Ezekiel nodded. “Yes, that is a simplified version of what I said.”

Sam eyed Charlie and her entirely too-smug grin. “What are you getting at, Charlie?”

“They were clothed when you found them?”

“Yes,” Sam answered, puzzled.

“So it was probably a kiss? That broke the spell?,” Charlie prompted, raising her eyebrows for emphasis. 

“I guess so,” Sam said. “But I don’t understand—“

Charlie cleared her throat. “So, when Dean and Cas kissed, that broke the Blade’s hold on Dean?”

Kevin and Garth started giggling – there was no other word for it. It took Sam, Jody, and Linda a few more minutes, and when Sam caught on, he wound up holding his stomach to fend off the pain that comes from an over-full stomach aggravated by deep laughter.

“I do not understand,” Ezekiel said, frowning. “Why is that funny?”

Sam clapped the angel on the shoulder. “We’ll set you up with a Disney marathon after we save the world. You’ll understand then.”

When Zeke looked at Sam’s hand, Sam remembered that he still wanted to shive the guy, and quickly moved it, changing the subject. “So, Kevin,” he said, “tell us what else you’ve found out.” 

+

When Cas opened his eyes, it took him a moment to realize he was in his room – no, in their room. A lamp lent a soft golden hue to the pictures and mementos that Cas had come to treasure.

He lay against his greatest treasure, though. Cas raised up to run a gentle finger along Dean’s face, glad to see that the symbol he’d drawn upon the sleeping man’s forehead was still intact. He pressed his lips lightly to Dean’s, wishing his love could kiss back – but sleep, even bespelled sleep, was safer right now. Cas touched the spelled cuffs on Dean’s wrists and knew there was a matching set on his ankles.

Cas sighed. He knew that he should get up, try to help sort out this mess. He also knew, though, that physical contact with him had kept Dean from going over the abyss. And even if they’d survived the crisis point, until he was sure all chance of danger had passed, Cas was reluctant to leave Dean’s side.

He tenderly watched the rise and fall of Dean’s chest and noted how his eyes twitched under the closed lids, how his lashes lay dark against paler-than-usual skin. Still asleep, Dean turned his head towards him, and that movement convinced Cas to give into temptation. He slipped an arm across Dean’s waist and slid his head under Dean’s chin. Cas took solace in the metronomic precision of Dean's heart and shut his eyes, breathing deeply. Surely, for just a moment, he could allow himself to believe that all was safe, and he carried that belief back into sleep. 

+

“Sam?,” Charlie asked, watching her screen.

“Yeah?,” he asked, looking up from the manuscript he was reading and blinking blearily across the table at her.

“Cas woke up.”

Sam sat up straight. “Is he okay?”

Charlie’s mouth twisted sympathetically. “Yeah. He – um. I feel bad watching.” She turned the computer around so Sam could see. When Cas pressed his lips to Dean’s, Sam closed out the window and turned Charlie’s laptop back towards her.

Sam spoke a moment later, his voice thick with emotion. “We shouldn’t …” He swallowed and continued gruffly, “I’ll check on them later.” He trained his eyes on the document in front of him.

Charlie nodded, surreptitiously wiping her eyes as she got back to work.  

+

to be continued...

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Now

Sam jerked back to consciousness, heart pounding, breathing rapid and shallow. A glance at his watch told him he’d only been asleep for a few hours, but he knew that’s all he’d get for now. He sat up and leaned his aching head in his hands, forcing himself to breathe deeply till his body calmed, fighting against the anxiety that clawed at him. 

When he could take a breath normally, he got to his feet, groaning as the toll of sleeping facedown on the couch made its presence known. He did a few stretches to relieve the ache in his back, regretting that last night – or rather, this morning – he’d been too exhausted to do more than stumble the few feet from the research room to the couch.

I’m too old for this shit, Sam thought, rubbing his lower back as he walked back into the research room. It was dark, except for a far corner table lit by two lamps.

“Did you get enough sleep?,” Ezekiel asked, looking up from the book he was reading.

Sam grunted an unintelligible answer but walked towards the angel. “You been at it all this time?”

Zeke looked up, and if Sam hadn’t known better, he would have labeled the angel’s expression “hesitant.”

“Yes.” Zeke gestured towards the tall stacks of manuscripts and books lining the table. “I can process information faster than all of you, so I thought it would be prudent if I reviewed as many as possible for leads.”

“Find anything?”

“I found a scroll that mentions rulers of hell and the demons Lilith and Alistair.”

“Does it say how the ascension process started?” 

“No.” Zeke reached for the scroll, his spelled cuffs clanging against the tabletop. Sam cringed at the noise, and Zeke froze. “Apologies,” he said, giving Sam a closer look. “You have a headache?”

“Yeah,” Sam said, rubbing at his forehead. “Just tension. It’ll pass.” 

Zeke stood and reached a hand towards Sam, who flinched. “What’re you doing, Zeke?”

“I am sufficiently recovered enough to heal a human headache,” Zeke answered. “You need to be well if we are to save our brothers.”

Sam searched Zeke’s expression but saw nothing that hinted at deception. He nodded, allowing the angel to close the distance and press his index finger to Sam’s forehead. He sighed as a warm tingly feeling flooded through his body. In seconds, Sam felt better than he had in weeks. 

“Thanks,” he said, smiling gratefully at the angel, who simply nodded and sat back down. “Wait – our brothers? I thought Cas was okay?”

“He is,” Zeke answered. “For now. But if we cannot save Dean, Castiel will be lost to us as well.”

Sam swallowed and nodded. “Yeah, you’re probably right.” He looked around the empty room and listened to the silent bunker. “When did everyone else crash?”

Zeke’s brow furrowed. “Crash?”

“I mean, when did everyone else go to bed,” Sam clarified. “Last I remember, Charlie, Kevin, and Garth were still up.”

“Oh,” Zeke said, nodding now that he understood. “Garth and Kevin went to bed about an hour after you, Charlie not long after that.”

Sam checked his watch; it wasn’t even 5:30 a.m. If they’d had so little sleep, no way was he going to risk waking them, so that ruled out a shower or even making coffee.

“Want a cup of tea?,” he asked Zeke. “I have to have some caffeine.” 

“I would like that,” Zeke answered. He paused before adding, “If you like, Sam, you can review what I have found and see if it is useful.” He indicated the smallest stack of documents to his right. 

Sam nodded and headed for the kitchen. While he waited for the water to boil, he washed the few dishes from Charlie’s late-night snacking and caffeine boosting and swept the floor – anything to stay busy so that his mind wouldn’t wander. After he’d made their tea, he grabbed a couple packs of pop-tarts and headed back to the research room. 

“Here you go.” He set one steaming mug down near Zeke along with a pop-tart. Zeke eyed the foil-wrapped food curiously. “It’s a pop-tart,” Sam explained. “A breakfast food – not exactly the most healthy, and they’re better when they’re toasted, but it’ll do for now.”

“Thank you,” Zeke said quietly, opening the pack and biting into the pastry. The angel’s eyes widened comically.

“Good, right?,” Sam asked with a grin.

“It is delightful.” Zeke took another large bite. 

“Yeah, well, you can thank Dean for that sugary overload. He insists on buying the chocolate flavors. Personally, I prefer the strawberry.”

“There are other flavors?” 

Sam laughed. “Yeah. We’ll make sure you get to try them.” 

Zeke smiled and brushed the crumbs from the front of his jacket before reaching for the second pastry in the pack. “I would like that.”

The clink of Zeke’s irons hitting the table killed Sam’s amusement over the angel’s reaction to pop-tarts. He resisted the urge to lash out, instead asking what Zeke wanted him to look at first. Sam figured the angel must have picked up on his mood change because Zeke silently handed him several items from the top of the stack.

“I’ll just – uh – be over here,” Sam said, gesturing at the next table. Garth had been working there, and Sam carefully rearranged his friend’s materials to make room for his own. By the time he settled with his own tea and breakfast and spared a glance at Zeke, the angel was back to reading at a ferocious pace.

Though part of Sam was still furious at the angel, part of him also wanted to laugh at the bit of chocolate smeared on his face. He didn’t know what to do with those conflicting emotions, so he did what Winchesters always do best: He shelved them and settled into work himself.

Not long after, Linda joined them, her own mug of tea in hand. She’d taken on the project of inventorying the various reports trickling in to the email account that Charlie had set up. Sam had a feeling that Charlie would wind up revolutionizing the hunter’s network, such as it was. Between the Rise of the Witnesses, the Leviathans, and heaven breaking, a lot of hunters had died premature deaths, even by their profession’s standards.

Linda had been working for about half an hour when she got Sam’s attention and gestured at her screen. “You need to see this.”

Sam dutifully came over, though dread coiled in his stomach. It can’t be good news, he thought – and he was right. According the reports that had rolled in since last night, there had been twenty more demon encounters in Kansas alone, and fifteen more angel encounters. Nationwide, the numbers were in the hundreds.

“What’s happening?,” Linda asked.

Sam straightened and met Zeke’s knowing gaze. “Chaos,” he replied. “Who is next in command with the angels?,” he asked Zeke.

Zeke thought a moment. “I do not know. At Stull, the angelic factions were divided into assimilators, Bartholomew’s rebels, and Metatron’s loyalists.”

“Why would anyone be loyal to Metatron?,” Sam asked. Leadership potential was not something that came to mind when he thought of the scribe. 

“They are more loyal to the idea of re-entering heaven than being loyal to the scribe himself.” Zeke’s mouth twisted in a grimace. “He is… decidedly unpleasant to be around.” 

“I agree with you there,” Sam said. “What will be the game plan now?”

“The divisions will continue,” Zeke answered. “New leaders will emerge. We should pay attention to where these are taking place. The centralized groups will indicate where power centers are being formed.”

“That’s what I was afraid of,” Sam said. He then asked Linda to print the information for him, which she did. The compiled list in hand, Sam began marking the updated sites on the physical incursion map, hoping that a discernible pattern would soon emerge.

Sam was studying the map when a hand ran up between his shoulderblades. He reached around and pulled Jody into a one-armed hug.

“Morning,” she said with a soft smile. “Did you get any sleep?”

“Yeah. A couple of hours.” Sam looked around and saw that Charlie and Garth were now working at the tables. “Everybody’s up? I didn’t realize –“

Jody laughed. “You were in your own world. It’s allowed.”

Worry furrowed Sam’s brow. “I need to check on – “

“Already did,” Jody assured him. “They’re fine – sleeping peacefully.”

“Peaceful?”

“Yes, I promise. Dean’s pretty much where we left him and Cas is wrapped around him like an octopus. They’re fine and completely oblivious. Neither budged when I went into the room.”

“Were you care—“

“Careful of the sigils? What do you take me for?,” Jody asked in mock indignation. She grabbed his arm and pulled. “C’mon. Linda and Kevin are making breakfast, in case you haven’t noticed.”

Sam hadn’t, but now that Jody’d mentioned it, he did smell coffee and bacon wafting through the air. “No, I still have work to do,” he insisted, gesturing towards the map, but his stomach chose that moment to growl loudly in protest of his protest. Jody smirked and Sam sighed heavily. “Fine, but –“

“But we have work to do, there can be no lingering, yada yada. Yeah, I got it. Come on,” Jody said, tugging at his hand.

Sam laced his fingers through hers and allowed her to lead him out of the room. They passed Kevin along the way.

“Oh, good,” he said. “Mom sent me to get everyone. Charlie and Garth?”

“Still working,” Jody answered.

“I’ll get them.”

“Hey, Kevin?,” Sam said. “Tell Zeke too.”

That brought Kevin up short. “Zeke? After what he did?”

Sam nodded. “Yeah – I mean, I don’t know what his deal is, but if he really wants a second chance? Can we deny him that?”

“Yes,” Kevin answered shortly.

Sam smiled wryly. “I know where you’re coming from but… you read those books right? The Supernatural ones?”

“Yeah, what’s that got to do with anything?”

“Think about what Dean and I have done. What Cas has done. If no one deserves a second chance, what are all of you doing here?”

“Because…” Kevin trailed off and sighed. “Fine. I see your point. But if he does one thing…”

“I know,” Sam said. “And I agree with you.”

Kevin hesitated. “You’re sure?”

“Yes,” Sam said, injecting more surety into his answer than he actually felt.

“Okay then,” Kevin said. “Tell mom, though. We didn’t set a place for him.”

“Will do,” Sam said, complying with Jody’s tightened grip and following her into the kitchen, where Linda greeted him with a cheery good morning.

“We all thought we'd have breakfast and regroup, see where we’re at?,” Linda explained, as she set a plate of scrambled eggs on the table, alongside the bacon and muffins.

“Sounds good,” Sam said, pulling out a chair for Jody before drawing one out for himself.

The rest of the crew came piling into the kitchen, with Zeke slowly bringing up the rear.

Sam’s heart twisted when he realized he was looking for Dean and Cas, even though he knew they were in their room. He noticed how carefully Zeke was carrying the chain that held his cuffs, as if he were trying to silence them. He stood, digging into his pants pocket until he pulled out a ring of color-coded keys.

“Hey, Zeke – come here,” Sam said. 

Zeke approached Sam, watching as the younger man flipped through the keys until he isolated the orange one. Sam gestured at the angel’s cuffed wrists, and Zeke understood, holding his arms out. 

“Are you sure that you want to do this, Sam?,” Ezekiel asked.

“I’m giving you a chance,” Sam answered. “Don’t make me regret it.”

Zeke nodded; after Sam removed the cuffs, he healed his vessel of lingering red marks and took the empty seat to Sam’s right. He accepted the cup of coffee that Jody offered with a subdued “thank you.”

Everyone quietly seated themselves and passed the food around, but even as he participated, Sam avoided meeting anyone’s gaze. He felt like trusting Zeke was the best course, but he had the same worries that everyone else did; he couldn’t face theirs on top of his own right now – Not to mention that looking around reminded him of who was missing.

The meal was a quick affair. Jody put her hand on Sam’s thigh and squeezed to get his attention.

“Huh?,” he asked, looking up. When he realized that everyone, even Zeke, was watching him with varying expressions of concern, Sam dropped his eyes, taking a breath before looking back up at everyone. “Sorry.”

“No apologies, dude. We’re just worried about you,” Garth said.

“Yeah, uh. Thanks?” Sam didn’t know what else to say, so he scrubbed a hand over his face and decided to redirect away from his feelings. “So, let’s review where we’re at… the incursions are getting worse.” He looked at Linda, “Have more reports come in?”

“Yes,” she said. “There have been at least forty deaths, including vessels, since midnight, and that’s just from the reports we’ve received.”

“There are more out there for sure, then,” Charlie added. “The network’s nowhere near completed – some because I haven’t been able to reach them yet, others because…uh…”

Sam snorted. “Yeah, the Winchesters aren’t loved by everyone. That doesn’t surprise me.”

“Well, we love you,” Charlie protested.

Sam smiled and assured her, “It’s okay. But if you keep going with the network, you should probably set it up independent of us – make it your deal. You’ll get a broader response that way.”

“So, we’ve got frenetic demon and angel activity, a rising death rate…. But what can we do about it?,” Sam asked the room.

“I’ve spent the morning calling all the hunters I know, telling them where the hotspots are,” Garth said. He pressed his lips into a thin line. “Problem is, some are scared, and they’re using the information to avoid the hotspots.”

“I can’t blame them,” Sam said, sighing. “The demons are only going to get worse – they’re going to fight for the throne.”

“Where does that leave Dean?,” Charlie asked cautiously. 

“By hell’s own law, Dean is its King,” Zeke remarked. “Unfortunately, even if he refuses to take the throne, he will remain a viable successor.”

“Meaning he’ll always have a mark on his back as far as demons are concerned,” Sam said bitterly. “As if he hasn’t already.”

“Yes,” Zeke answered somberly. “I am sorry, Sam.”

“So we close the gates of hell,” Sam said resolutely. “I nearly did it before, I can do the trials again, finish them this time.” 

“And you’ll die,” Kevin pointed out. “How well will Dean take that? If he’s not locked in hell too.” Kevin looked at Zeke. “Could that happen?”

“I do not know,” Zeke answered. “Dean is not a demon, and Castiel broke the First Blade’s demonic influence. But I do not know what will happen when he wakes from the blood spell, how he may be changed.” 

Sam sagged, and Jody placed a hand on his shoulder. “We’ll keep looking, Sam. Maybe there’s another way to close hell or a way to sigil Dean so that demons can’t find him.”

“Do such sigils exist?,” Charlie asked. 

Sam shrugged. “Cas branded our ribs with enochian symbols that shield us. Maybe there’s something similar we could do?” He looked at Zeke, eyebrow raised.

“There may be.” Zeke paused. “But I would fear that even if we did that here, when Dean does die…”

It took Sam a minute to realize what Zeke was implying. He let out a strangled, “Oh God,” as his insides churned. He ran from the room, barely making it to the bathroom. He retched violently into the toilet bowl until his throat was raw. He managed to flush the toilet before collapsing onto the floor. He stretched an arm across the porcelain rim of the bowl, his forehead on his arm. His stomach still spasmed, though he was certain there was nothing left to vomit up.

Soft footsteps entered the room, but he didn’t raise his head or speak. He listened to a cabinet being opened and water running and heard the footsteps coming closer.

“Here,” Jody said, laying a cold cloth across the back of his neck. She ran her fingers through his hair, massaging his scalp. Sam loved it when she did that, as Jody well knew.

A few minutes later, he finally felt like his stomach had calmed, and he raised his head.

“Oh, Sam,” Jody said. She pulled at his arm. “Come to the sink and wash up.”

Sam shuffled to the sink and realized why Jody had looked at him so pityingly: Petechia dotted the thin skin around his red-rimmed and bloodshot eyes. His face was pasty pale, and sweat stood out on his forehead.

“Well, I look like shit,” he said dryly, reaching for his toothbrush and the mouthwash. Jody said nothing, simply standing off to the side until he was done. “I have to go back out there, don’t I?”

“Yes,” she said, “but we’re your family and your friends – we’re not going to think less of you because you’re concerned about Dean. You know that.” 

“I just don’t like for people to see me like this,” he said, gesturing at the mirror.

Jody let out a small laugh. “I know, Winchester. In that way, you are just like your brother.”

Sam inclined his head in acknowledgement and took her arm when she offered it. She was so petite beside him, but he was under no delusions as they walked back to the kitchen: Jody was supporting him here, not the other way around. 

+

The stricken looks on everyone’s faces had told Linda that she was missing something. “What just happened?,” she’d asked. 

“I’ll let them tell you,” Jody had said. “I need to go after him.” 

Linda had looked at everyone sitting quietly at the table. “What is it?” 

“Sam died almost ten years ago,” Kevin had explained. “Dean made a crossroads deal and brought Sam back in exchange for his soul.”

Linda still hadn’t quite understood. “But Dean has a soul? Right?”

“He does,” Charlie had said. “Because Castiel rescued him from hell and put him back together.”

“But Cas couldn’t get to him until after forty hell years had passed, and Dean was prime real estate down there,” Kevin had added.

“For Dean to go back to hell – really, for him to have any connection to hell – is terrifying for all three Winchesters,” Garth had said. It'd taken Linda a moment to realize he was counting Cas.

“Sam has spent time in hell, too,” Zeke had added. “His time was also traumatizing. Hell did not have a claim on his soul, though, not as it did Dean’s.” 

“I see – I think,” Linda had said. She'd sipped at her tea, inwardly shuddering at what she’d been told. “I knew they had been through some terrible things, but I didn’t realize…” She'd trailed off, before setting her mug down with a forcefulness that drew everyone’s eyes to her. “So how do we keep Dean out of hell’s clutches?” 

“What about heaven?,” Garth had asked. “If Metatron is ‘God’” – even Linda had smirked at his use of air quotes – “can we summon him and compel him to release Dean from whatever he’s gotten into?” 

“Could we do that without Metatron smiting all of us first?,” Kevin had asked, his eyebrow arched. “If he’s the so-called god, can we compel him to do anything?”

“He wants to be God,” Zeke had said. “That is an important distinction. He partnered with Abaddon at Stull because he could not destroy Bartholomew’s faction without help.”

“So maybe that’s a weakness we can exploit?,” Charlie had asked. 

“Perhaps,” Zeke had answered. “I do not want to give false hope, but I do know that Metatron has not attained the power he hoped.” The angel had grimaced. “He is, essentially, a charlatan, casting spells and wreaking havoc, without the true power of God behind him.”

“What happens if he gets that power?,” Linda had asked.

Zeke had shaken his head. “I do not believe he can, not without God imbuing him with divine power.” 

Kevin was drumming his fingers on the tabletop when he suddenly froze. “God didn’t imbue Cas with divine power – he took it. Metatron can’t get to Purgatory, can he?”

“No,” Zeke answered. “That spell cannot be cast from heaven…. But the souls in the Veil may create a problem.”

Linda startled when Sam spoke from behind her. “So the only way to keep Metatron from accessing the power to become God for real is to fix heaven and release the pent-up soul power?”

Jody slipped past Sam and reclaimed her chair, but Sam remained standing where he was, just out of Linda’s line of sight.

“The heavenly trials will kill you, too,” Kevin pointed out. “You can’t slam the door on heaven.”

“What about the reversal spell? You’ve been working on it forever – haven’t you figured it out yet?,” Sam snapped.

Linda’s heart ached at the look on Kevin’s face – and Charlie’s too.

Sam was suddenly beside Linda, slamming his hands on the tabletop. “What?,” he demanded. 

Linda reached out, wrapping her hand around Sam’s forearm. “Don’t be mad at them, Sam. I told them not to tell anyone.”

“Why?” Sam asked her, desperation clear on his face. “I’ll do whatever it takes to fix this.”

Linda bit her lip, as she tried to figure out what to say next. Before she could answer, though, Kevin did – his voice flat, though his eyes shone with emotion. “Because you can’t fix it.” He took a deep breath. “Because the last ingredient is the heart of a human in love with an angel.”

+

Sam’s stomach dropped, and he collapsed into his chair. The room spun, and he felt his entire body shaking. Vaguely, he wondered if he was having a seizure. A warm feeling suffused him, and he realized that Zeke had clasped his shoulder and was soothing the overwhelming stress response his body was having.

When he could breathe again, he looked over at the angel. “Thank you,” he said softly. Zeke simply nodded and released Sam’s shoulder.

Sam looked around the table, meeting the worried gazes trained on him. “So basically we’re fucked?,” he said with a brittle laugh that echoed through the silent room.

Garth spoke first. “The odds are against us, sure, but – Sam, come on. You’ve been in rough places before and pulled through. You and Dean and Cas – all of you. We’ll figure this out.” 

“We will,” Charlie added. Sam closed his eyes and listened as everyone offered their affirmation. He wanted to believe them so badly. He took a deep breath and steeled himself before he opened his eyes again.

“Okay, then,” he said. “What can we do?”

“I can keep working on the human tablet,” Kevin answered. “So far, it’s not said anything we didn’t already know – Cain is the Father of Murder, the Shield of God will save the Righteous Man, etcetera. But maybe there’s something in there about the Righteous Man being tarnished? And I still want to figure out what that glyph on all the tablets is about.” 

“I’ll keep working on the rendering of the bottom tablet,” Charlie said. “It’s still too messed up for Kevin to make out anything other than ‘gatekeeper.’ And I’ll keep working on the hunter’s network database, put some feelers out. Maybe somebody knows something – “

“Be careful,” Sam warned. “Hunters came after me… back then.” He swallowed hard, remembering his confrontation with Gordon. “We can’t let anyone know what’s happened to Dean.”

“Let’s hope no demons have shared the news,” Garth commented. “Which, speaking of, I’ll keep calling my contacts and finding out what’s going on.”

“I’ll help Garth,” Jody chimed in. “I’ve made contacts in the force who recognize supernatural stuff when they see it. Between the hunters network and law enforcement, maybe we can get help to the worst of the attacks?”

Garth nodded. “It’s worth a shot,” he agreed. 

“And I’ll keep compiling that data and updating the incursion map,” Linda said. “Maybe we can figure out a pattern and come up with a way to control the chaos?”

“I will continue my search through the archives,” Zeke answered. “The Men of Letters have an impressive collection, all things considered. We may find something of real use yet. I wil share what knowledge of mine is useful, and when Castiel wakes, he will likely have some valuable insight.”

Sam nodded, overwhelmed by everyone’s positivity and purpose. He thought of Dean and Cas, and he knew that no matter how dismal he felt, he couldn’t give in – not now. Linda seemed to read his mind, reaching in front of Jody to clasp his hand in hers.

“You can’t lose faith now, Sam,” she said firmly. “Look how far it’s gotten you. We’re all holding on, and so must you.”

He nodded and looked over at Zeke. “I’ll work with you, if you don’t mind. I’d like to see if I can find a way to shield Dean – as a last resort, maybe we can at least protect him in this life if… “

“No ifs,” Charlie said. “We’ll figure this out, Sam. And Dean will be protected in this life and in whatever comes after. He’s not going back to hell if I can help it.” 

“That goes for me too,” Kevin said.

“What they said,” Garth added, jerking a thumb towards Kevin and Charlie.

“You know how I feel,” Jody said. 

“And me,” Linda added, squeezing Sam’s hand.

“I also feel the same,” Zeke said. His face remained mostly impassive as they all looked at him with surprise… but Sam thought he detected a flicker of nervousness in the angel’s eyes.

“Thank you – all of you,” Sam said. “You, too, Zeke.” He noted how the angel relaxed infinitesimally and something inside Sam relaxed too – if Zeke worried about his support being rejected, then maybe he was truly on the level now. He certainly seemed to be. Sam decided to take it at face value and leave it at that. “I guess we should get to it then.” 

With that, the tumultuous breakfast meeting adjourned, and the room filled with the noise of scraping chairs and empty plates being stacked. All too soon, though, the kitchen was orderly again, and the research room was once again a hive of activity as everyone worked to save Dean Winchester – and the world. 

+

“Hey Cas.”

Cas blinked blearily in the voice’s direction, rubbing at the creased skin of his cheek, where he’d fallen asleep pressed against his papers and books.

It took a few seconds for his unfocused eyes to clear. It took a few more for him to identify the short, brown-haired man with the scruffy beard.

The visitor shrugged as he carried two glasses and a bottle of whiskey over to Cas’s table. He poured them each a shot and drained his in one gulp before refilling it. Cas didn’t touch his; he simply stared at the man settling himself in the opposite chair.

“Chuck.” Cas tilted his head. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m here to help.”

Cas narrowed his eyes. “Help how? We don’t need a writer; we need –“ Cas broke off, his jaw working furiously. “Wait - It’s you?”

Chuck ducked his head, and a red flush stained his cheeks. “Uh, yeah. Hi, son.”

Cas stood quickly, jostling the table. Chuck grabbed the whisky bottle, wincing as the liquid in Cas’s glass sloshed. “Easy there,” he reprimanded.

“Don’t you dare,” he said through clenched teeth.

Chuck arched a brow. “Don’t I dare what?”

Cas balled his hands into fists and glared. Chuck sighed. “Okay, fine. I knew the narrative suggested that this wouldn’t go well, but I was hoping it might be wrong.” He drained his second glass and grabbed Cas’s, drinking it for good measure. He smacked his lips. “Ah, that’s the good stuff,” he said, standing and crossing his arms as he faced his angry son.

“Listen, Castiel—“ 

“Cas,” the other man corrected.

Chuck inclined his head. “Okay, fine. Cas. We’ll talk about your namechange later.” He ignored Cas’s eyeroll and continued. “I am here to help – we both know Dean’s in trouble.”

Hope flickered in Cas’s eyes. “Can you fix him? Fix … this?”

Chuck nodded. “I can, actually. Or, rather, a part of me can.” Cas’s brow furrowed, but his Father handwaved his question before he could ask. “That part’s not important right now. I want to help, but I can’t unless you promise to do something for me.” 

“Okay.” 

“Okay?”

Cas shrugged. “Okay. Fix Dean. Now.”

Chuck put his hands behind his head, lacing his fingers together. “Wow. They said that’s what you’d say, but damn.”

“They?”

“Nevermind. Like I said, more on that later. So, you’ll promise without even knowing what I’m going to ask?”

“If it saves Dean? Yes,” Cas said firmly.

“Even if it means you can never be an angel again?”

Cas nodded, determination and certainty writ upon his face. “Save Dean.”

Chuck gazed at Cas appraisingly before smiling warmly. “I’m proud of you, kid. You can wake up now.” 

Cas jerked awake and bolted upright. His heart racing, he cast his eyes around the bedroom, but no one was there, except for him and Dean.

A familiar voice broke through his panic. “Cas?” 

He was almost afraid of what he’d see. But when he met the green eyes he knew as well as his own, there were no shadows lurking in their depths. The spell he'd drawn on Dean's forehead was gone, too.

“Dean?”

Dean huffed a laugh. “Yeah, man. Who else would I be?” He sat up and held his cuffed wrists in the air. “Mind explaining these?”

“You don’t remember?” 

“Uh – remember what?” Cas frowned. 

“Aw, hell. I knew these couldn’t just be for play. What did I do?” Dean jerked when Cas checked him for a fever. 

Dean protested. “I don’t have a fever – what’s wrong with you, Cas?” His eyes widened. “Wait - what’s wrong with me?”

“Nothing, I hope,” Cas said. “What’s the last thing you remember?”

Dean frowned in concentration. “I guess it was… wait. I remember being in the hospital. You were missing – or was that a dream?”

“No, it was real.”

“I was in here, trying to sleep. And then I –“ Dean trailed off and bit his lip. “I remember the Blade. It sung to me, which is weird, I know, but it did. And I had it and…. I don’t know. There are flashes.” 

“Flashes of what?”

“I remember Crowley’s face, for some reason. Please don’t tell me I helped that limey prick.” 

“I don’t know what you did with Crowley,” Cas said. He hesitated, unsure of how to tell Dean what he did know. “I should get Sam – there’s a lot to tell you, not all of it good.” Cas cupped Dean’s face in his hands. “But we’ll figure it out, okay?”

Dean grabbed Cas’s wrists, keeping his hands in place. Cas recognized Dean’s need for reassurance. “I promise, Dean.” He rubbed his thumbs across Dean’s cheekbones. “I’ll get Sam, and we’ll figure everything out.” 

Dean nodded, licking his lip as he did when he was nervous. Cas tried to concentrate on the seriousness of the situation – so far as he knew it – but his skin tingled from being so close to Dean – his Dean. No, he reminded himself. We have to figure out what the Blade did to him first.

Then, Dean dropped his gaze to Cas’s lips and looked back up with an intensity that struck a spark in Cas. “In a minute,” Dean said.

Cas knew then that he was lost. “In a minute,” he agreed, pressing his lips to Dean’s chastely. When Dean tugged at him, Cas obliged and straddled Dean’s lap. Cas rolled his hips, brushing his clothed cock against Dean’s. He arched back, and Dean took full advantage, kissing and mouthing at Cas’s neck until Cas slipped his hands into Dean’s hair. Dean lifted his head, his lips curved into a brilliant smile; Cas crushed his mouth against Dean’s, feeling the other man’s tongue brush against his bottom lip.

That was when Cas pulled back slightly. “I can’t remember the last time I brushed my teeth,” he said. The thought concerned him. Since he’d become human, he’d paid close attention to dental hygiene. Dean’s look of disappointment quickly morphed into affectionate annoyance, complemented by an exaggerated eye roll.

“Do you care if my breath is minty fresh?,” Dean asked, punctuating his question with a well-timed movement of his hips that made Cas shudder. He decided that he didn’t care.

“Not - um. Not at the moment,” Cas stuttered, closing his eyes and pressing back. 

“Then shut up and kiss me like you mean it,” Dean ordered. “Because amnesia or not, there’s only one thing on my mind right now.” 

Cas opened his eyes, just as Dean kissed him and flicked his tongue at Cas’s bottom lip again. That move always did things to Cas... and he suddenly realized that its use was not a coincidence.

“How long have you known what that does to me?,” Cas asked, his voice ragged as he fought to keep control. It had been too long since Dean had touched him this way. 

Dean smirked. “Ages.” He settled back onto the pillows and reached to pull Cas down on top, but the chain got in the way.

Cas frowned. There was no way the cuffs were comfortable. “Maybe we should get these off of you first. I can go get –”

“Do not mention my brother,” Dean warned. “I know shit went down, but give us ten minutes, Cas – I just… I need you... and, besides, this could be fun.” Dean grinned as he rattled the chains. 

The warmth that had bloomed in Cas’s chest when Dean said he needed him spread throughout his body at the sight of that mischievous grin. Dean tapped at his thigh, and Cas raised up on his knees. Dean scooted down, putting more space between his head and the headboard, which meant Cas had to scoot down too. Cas bit his lip as his his body brushed against Dean’s; Dean was biting his too. He helped hold the chain as Dean raised his arms over his head, the chain resting in the space their movement had made. 

“Comfortable?,” Cas asked. He wasn’t sure how Dean could be – he was effectively pinned, unable to move his arms or legs without tangling Cas in the chain or hurting one of them with the metal. 

“Yeah.” Cas raised an eyebrow, unsure if he should believe Dean or not. That was when Dean winked at Cas lasciviously and ordered, “Now blow me, Cas.”

Cas laughed, realizing that being pinned had been part of Dean’s plan. “You realize, Dean, that the last time someone looked at me like that, I got laid?”

Dean grinned. “Yeah, I do – because that someone was me. Now get on with it, Cas – clock’s ticking.”

Cas ran his hands along Dean’s ribs, smiling as the other man shivered. “Who’s the kinky one here again?”

“I might be the one chained, but we’re both getting off on it,” Dean said, looking at Cas’s crotch.

Cas couldn’t argue with that. He climbed off Dean to remove his boxers. Tenderly, with light touches and open-mouthed kisses, he worked Dean’s boxers down his legs, just past his knees.

Gooseflesh broke out across Dean’s body as Cas laved attention; he only stopped when Dean muttered, “Get back up here.” 

Cas did as he was told, sitting astride Dean so that they fit together. His fingertips smoothed up and down that defined chest, tracing the anti-possession tattoo. Cas leaned forward, kissing that mouth forcefully, tongue-fucking Dean as he synchronously rocked against him. Dean matched every thrust, and Cas quickly found himself achingly hard. Precome smeared across his stomach with every movement. When Cas reached between them to wrap his hand around their cocks, the feel of Dean’s hard length moving against his own was almost too much, and he stopped for a moment, panting against Dean’s mouth.

Dean nipped at Cas’s bottom lip. Cas kissed him gently, running a hand through Dean’s hair, leaving it in spiky disarray.

“Feels like forever since it’s been just us…” Dean said.

“I know.” Cas began kissing and mouthing along Dean’s jaw and down his throat, smiling when Dean raised his chin and gave him better access. He nuzzled against Dean’s neck as he began thrusting again. The slip-slide of their cocks pulled another groan from the man between his legs.

“Don’t stop –“ Dean murmured. 

Cas looked up. “Thought you ordered a blowjob.” He tightened his grip and angled his hips just so, smiling at the noises Dean made.

“Changed my mind.”

Cas read the tension in Dean’s body and stilled, giving him a moment to regain control. “You sure?” 

“Yes, you asshole. Now, keep going.” Cas claimed Dean’s mouth in a bruising kiss as he adjusted his grip around their cocks, using their precome as lube. He fucked his fist in earnest, Dean matching him, thrust for thrust. Cas groaned at the friction, his mouth against Dean’s – not so much kissing as breathing into each other’s mouths. His body’s tautness heightened, and Cas squeezed his eyes shut, trying to stave off his release. Still, the tension soon snapped, sending starbursts exploding against the inside of Cas’s eyelids.

When Cas came back to his senses, he was collapsed on top of Dean, sticky wetness between them. Dean had lowered his arms so that he could hold him, and Cas could feel the heavy coolness of the cuffs and chain where the metal touched his skin. He stirred, reaching back and touch the cuffs.

“Not hurting you, am I?,” Dean whispered, pressing a kiss to the top of Cas’s head.

“No.” Cas spread his hand over Dean’s heart; its cadence was comforting. “I told them to bind you. I’m sorry…”

He felt Dean shake his head. “It’s okay, Cas. I trust you.” He sighed. “I guess it’s time for the full download now, though?” 

“Yes,” Cas said. “I’ll go get Sam.” He couldn’t seem to make himself move, though. 

Dean tightened his arms. “Two more minutes?”

Cas lightly kissed Dean’s chest without looking up. “Two more minutes.”

+

It was closer to twenty minutes later when Cas walked into the research room, hair tousled and wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt. He hadn’t put on shoes, so he entered the room without being heard. When Charlie saw him, she shrieked.

“Cas!,” she exclaimed, running over and throwing her arms around him in a warm hug that he easily returned. He was glad to see her.

He was also glad to see Sam, who strode over and enveloped him in a bear hug. Cas held onto him for a long moment. Though he didn’t know all the details, he knew he owed a lot to Sam. 

“Is Dean still under the spell?,” Sam asked.

“He’s awake,” Cas said, grasping Sam’s arm when he saw the alarm on his face. “He’s okay.”

“You’re sure?” 

“Yes,” Cas answered, glad to see the worry in Sam’s eyes lessen a little. “We have much to talk about.” He let go of Sam’s arm and looked around the room. “Where is Kevin?”  

“Everyone else is asleep,” Charlie said.

“Asleep?” Cas realized he didn’t know how long he’d been unconscious and was shocked when Sam told him that he’d been asleep for over 24 hours.

“I’m so glad you’re awake,” Sam said. “We’ve all been trying to dig up everything we could find but haven’t had much luck. I finally sent everyone else to bed a few hours ago.” 

“Everyone else being Kevin, Linda, Jody, and Garth,” Charlie explained. “Oh, and Zeke’s awake too. Since the bunker’s catalog’s not complete, he’s using his speedreading abilities to search for anything useful.” She waved towards the back stacks. “He’s back there somewhere.”

Cas tensed. “Ezekiel is here?”

This time, Sam grabbed Cas’s arm. “He is, and believe me, I get it – you’re pissed and you want to kill him.”

Cas didn’t bother answering, knowing that Sam could read the truth of it on his face.

“I had the same reaction.” Sam paused. “But he’s helping, really – and we need all the help we can get. You don’t know the half of what’s going on, Cas.” 

“Then tell me – but, first, Dean wants his irons off.”

Sam hesitated. “Um. Was he pissed about them?”

“Surprisingly, no,” Cas answered, feeling the heat rush into his face.

Sam narrowed his eyes but “uh-huh” was all he said. He dug into his pockets, pulling out the keys. “We definitely need to talk. What shape is he in?”

“He doesn’t remember what happened, only flashes and fragments.”

Sam blew out a breath. “He’s not going to like what I have to tell him.” He looked over at Cas. “You probably won’t either.”

Cas tried to ignore the twist of worry in his gut. What if Chuck hadn’t fixed everything after all?

+

Cas and Sam left Charlie hovering in the hallway, while Sam unlocked Dean's cuffs. As soon as his brother was free, Sam hugged Dean tightly before stepping back and clearing his throat. "I'm gonna go put these up while you get dressed, okay?"

“Hey, Charlie," Sam called out. "Walk with me to put these up? Dean’s changing clothes.”

Cas quickly changed the bed linens while Dean dressed. By the time Sam and Charlie returned, the door was open, and Dean and Cas were sitting casually on the freshly made bed, leaning against the headboard. Sam smiled at them as he set the snacks and bottled water from his and Charlie's kitchen detour on the desk. (Sam chose to ignore that the hamper was suspiciously more full than it had been, just as he’d chosen to ignore a suspicious spot on the sheets when he’d unlocked Dean’s cuffs. He had, however, carefully avoided said spot – and others like it.) 

Dean had followed Cas’s lead, dressing in sweatpants and a t-shirt too. He looked oddly innocent, Cas thought, nothing like the hunter who stomped around in steel-toed boots and carried an arsenal in hidden pockets.

He smiled when Dean stood and held his arms out to Charlie, who practically flung herself into his arms. “Aw, don’t cry,” Dean said, holding tightly and kissed her on the top of the head. “It’s okay. I’m okay, and so is Cas.” He heard her sniffle and rubbed soothing circles on her back. “I don’t know what all happened yet, but I can tell you that everything’s okay now. Right, Cas?” 

Cas nodded, though he worried that his assurance was a lie.

Dean hugged Charlie again before releasing her. “Go get some sleep. We’ll talk later.”

“What should I tell Zeke, Sam?” Charlie asked. As quickly as that, Dean’s placid expression turned into one of barely repressed rage. 

“That bastard is awake and still here?,” Dean asked. 

Sam jumped in front of Dean, barring his way. “Yes, he is, and I’ll explain everything, okay? Just – just sit down and calm down, okay?”

Dean glared at his brother for a long moment before reclaiming his place on the bed beside Cas. He crossed his ankles and his arms; his fury radiated. Cas wanted to touch and reassure him, but he wisely chose not to – not yet.

Charlie was still hovering at the door, waiting on Sam’s instruction. “Tell him you’re going to bed and that he can keep working or he can take a break, too,” Sam finally said. 

Charlie nodded. “Should I tell him Dean and Cas are awake?” 

“He probably already heard with angel ears, so yeah, you can. But tell him that the three of us are talking, and we’ll update the rest of you when we’re done.”

“In other words, no interruptions?”

“Exactly. Thanks, Charlie.” 

The three men waited till she shut the door. Dean burst out with, “What the hell did I do to freak her out so badly? Do I want to know?”

“Honestly?,” Sam asked. “Probably not.” He locked the door on his way to grab a desk chair that he set on the side of the bed closest to Dean. “What do you remember?,” he asked his brother.

Dean scrubbed a hand across his face and shrugged his shoulders. “Not much – I mean, there are flashes, but nothing really makes sense.”

Sam sighed and tossed each of the men a bottle of water, keeping one for himself. “Well, get comfortable. I have a lot to tell both of you.” 

It took hours for Sam to explain everything that had happened. Cas was horrified by a good deal of it himself, and Dean certainly didn’t react well. He adopted an attitude of stoicism, though, and he listened with minimal interruption -- except when Sam told him about Crowley. 

“Are you serious? I finally iced that bastard?”

Sam had rolled his eyes before answering, “Yes, Dean. You not only iced him, you drove a knife through his skull – through his skull. There was brain matter on the floor, even.”

Dean fell back into silence with the revelation of how vicious his retribution had been.

When it was Cas’s turn, he shared what had happened to him at the camp, and he told them how Gloria had helped him, until Abaddon had possessed her meatsuit.

“Do you remember what Abaddon tried to make you do?,” Cas asked. 

“I remember you – she taunted us for something.” Dean shook his head, as if trying to free the memory from his blocked recall. “And there was a bright light? I don’t know what any of that means, though.” 

Cas filled in the gaps, for Dean and Sam, skirting some of the harsher details about Dean’s behavior, but still, Dean knew. His face paled, and he covered his face with his hands.

Cas shot Sam a look, and his friend simply nodded, slipping wordlessly and silently out of the room. “Sam’s gone,” Cas said quietly, reaching for Dean, who willingly curled into Cas’s embrace. 

Dean’s breathing was ragged as he struggled with the emotional weight of everything he’d just heard. Cas knew that the thought of being connected to hell terrified Dean, just as he knew that Dean would beat himself up for whatever he’d said and done while under the influence of the Blade. So Cas held him, rubbing his hands up and down his back, pressing gentle kisses to the top of his head. And through it all, he kept murmuring, over and over, “It’s okay, Dean. It’s all going to be okay.”

Cas didn’t know how long they sat there – several minutes at least – until Dean’s breathing slowed and he pulled out of Cas’s arms. Without looking at Cas, he asked, in a very quiet voice, exactly what Cas had known he would: “How can you even want to be here, after that? Why did you – you know – with me even though I nearly killed you?” 

Cas bit back the exasperated retort that sprang to his lips. Instead, he smiled, reaching out to wipe away the lone tear trickling down Dean’s face. “What Abaddon tried to compel you to do – you didn’t do. You refused to become her Knight, and you didn’t hurt me.”

Dean looked up and met Cas’s eyes. “So it didn’t change how you feel about me?”

Cas rolled his eyes. “I love you, Dean. I’ve given up everything – all for you. If anything, you breaking through the First Blade’s control and not killing me only affirms what I already knew: You are worth everything.”

Dean searched Cas’s face anxiously before nodding. “Okay,” he said. His voice still sounded small, and Cas didn’t like it. He was pondering whether or not to pin Dean down and show him exactly how much he meant to him when Sam eased the door open.

“All okay?,” Sam asked.

Dean cleared his throat. “Uh, yeah, Sammy. Thanks for giving us a minute.”

Sam just nodded and came into the room, shutting and locking the door behind him.

“So what happened to Abaddon after I, um…” 

“We – uh – we couldn’t do a ceremony or anything, though we made sure the bodies burned after we got you two out of the building,” Sam said, reclaiming his chair near Dean and explaining how they set up an explosive device and made their retreat. He made eye contact with Cas and gestured towards the dresser. “Jody saved Gloria’s scarf for you. She thought you might want it.”

“I appreciate that,” Cas said softly, looking over at the colorful fabric that made his heart hurt.  

Dean threaded his fingers through Cas’s, lifting his hand and brushing his lips across Cas’s knuckles. “I’m sorry about your friend,” Dean murmured. Cas smiled and tightened his hold on Dean’s hand.

Sam cleared his throat loudly, awkwardly steering them back to the problem at hand. “What I can’t figure out, is if Dean has been proclaimed the next King of Hell, then how is he awake but not the devil incarnate?”

“Hell if I know, man.”

“Poor choice of words, Dean,” Cas griped. He hesitated before saying, “I may know… but I’m afraid it will sound farfetched—”

“Spoilers, Castiel,” tsked a fourth voice.  

 

+ +

  

All three men startled at the presence in the room. Sam leapt to his feet, reaching for his knife, and Dean and Cas dove for the weapons they kept in their nightstands. 

The thin man wearing a black tailored coat and carrying a silver-topped cane was decidedly unamused, rolling his eyes in disdain. “Do you mind if we skip the protozoean drama?”

With the flick of a finger, Dean and Cas were returned to the bed, Sam to his chair. None bothered checking for weapons that were most definitely gone. And each watched the man trepidatiously; they were at his mercy, and they knew it.

Chuck materialized, glaring ferociously at Death. “You promised to let me explain.”

Death shrugged. “You should move faster.”

Dean watched the exchange wide-eyed. “Am I hallucinating?” 

“Are Death and Chuck in your room?,” Sam asked.

“Uh… yeah?”

“Then we’re most likely not hallucinating,” Cas concluded, moving as if he were getting up, only to find that he couldn't.

Death eyed him and shook his head. “No, little angel-that-could. None of you can move until I’m ready for you too.”

“Is that necessary?,” Chuck asked. “Can’t we just sit down and talk about this?”

“Do I even need to answer?,” Death said dryly.

“I have a question that can be answered,” Cas said. Dean and Sam looked at him with surprise and more than a little concern. 

“What is it, Castiel?,” Chuck asked.

“The dreamwalk? That happened?”

“Dreamwalk?,” Dean muttered. 

“I was just about to tell you when they showed up,” Cas answered. 

Chuck shifted on his feet nervously. “Um. Yeah? I wish I could have told you in a different setting, but…”

Cas glared at him. “So you disappear without a word, and even when you knew I was searching for you, you didn’t reveal yourself?”

Chuck shrank in on himself as Cas’s voice got louder. “And why didn’t Dean’s amulet ever react around you?” 

The pieces clicked for Dean and Sam at the same time, but it was Dean who voiced them.

“Wait,” he said, holding up a hand. “Chuck’s God?” 

Cas nodded and repeated his question to the curly-haired deity. 

“Because he’s not God,” Death answered with a dramatic sigh. “If I’d known this would take so long, I’d have gotten my fried pickle chips beforehand.”

“Aw, man. Those things are awesome,” Dean commented reflexively. When Death turned his narrow-eyed gaze on him, Dean suddenly found the bed cover extremely interesting.

“He’s gone,” Sam said, smacking Dean on the arm while Cas stared Chuck down.

Dean looked up. “No, he’s not.”

“No, I’m not," Death agreed, tossing a grease-soaked bag at Dean. He settled himself in a comfortable armchair, slurping his large soda through a straw as he opened his own bag. 

“It’s going to take some time to explain, Cas,” Chuck said. 

“I’m obviously not going anywhere, so why don’t you try, Father,” Cas retorted. 

Chuck flinched at Cas’s tone, but he nodded.

“That chair wasn’t there before,” Sam muttered to Dean, who was already happily chewing a pickle chip.

“Eh,” Dean muttered, shrugging. He swallowed. “He’s Death. Pretty sure he can do whatever he wants. He thinks the room needs an armchair, who am I to argue?”

Sam sat quiet and dazed as the room echoed with nearly pornographic sounds coming from Dean and from Death and Cas and Chuck’s conversation, which seemed to be going about as well as one might expect.

“Here, Sammy, eat one.” Dean handed Sam a chip, which the younger Winchester stared at incredulously before reluctantly eating. 

“Cas, here,” Dean said, tsking when Cas waved his hand away. “Don’t know what you’re missing.”

“A heart attack,” Chuck commented. 

“What? Don’t tell me I go out in such a lame-ass way,” Dean complained.

Chuck rolled his eyes. “Endings are his department,” he said, nodding at Death, who was relishing his last chip. 

“Ah, that’s better,” Death said, balling up the now-empty but decidedly even-greasier bag and tossing it neatly into the corner wastebasket. He neatly wiped his hands on a napkin and loudly finished off his drink. “Now, where were we?”

“You were saying I wasn’t God,” Chuck answered. 

“But you are,” Cas said.

“I am,” Chuck acknowledged.

“But so am I,” Death commented.

Sam, Dean, and Cas wore identical expressions of confusion. “What?,” Cas asked.

The room reverberated as Death and Chuck spoke simultaneously: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” 

After a long moment’s pause, Dean spoke. “So why didn’t you smite me when I threatened to shoot you all those years ago?”

“I hadn’t remembered yet,” Chuck said.

“How does someone forget they’re God?,” Sam asked.

Chuck shrugged. “It was kind of a default setting? When I disappeared from Earth, I went to a special place I'd prepared in heaven – " 

“I never knew of such a place,” Cas protested.

“It was restricted. No one knew of it except for the two of us,” Chuck explained, gesturing at Death. “I existed in a state of … limbo, is probably the best way to describe it until Metatron cast his spell. When he emptied heaven of everything, that included me.”

“So you fell out on your ass. What then?,” Dean asked, wincing when Cas elbowed him sharply.

Chuck grimaced. “I forgot how aggressive you can be,” he said to Dean, who quirked an eyebrow sardonically.

Chuck sighed. “Death found me. Or I found him.” He looked at Death. “I can’t remember, can you?”

“No, more’s the pity,” Death answered. “Essentially, what you need to know is that I have always been a part of God, and he a part of me. But God has not always been as he is now.” 

Cas understood. “God fractured?”

“Precisely,” Death answered. “The universal design wasn’t going as well as God had hoped – Lucifer had fallen, the earth was overrun with sin and vice, and heaven was a disaster.” 

Cas nodded in agreement. 

“So he fractured, though not in equal amounts. Chuck – fortunately or unfortunately, as the case may be – is for all intents and purposes, God as you understand God to be. But there are other selves who are also God, not to mention the divine sparks that some carry, such as prophets gifted with the ability to interpret God’s word.”

“You’ve met quite a few of my selves,” Chuck said with a smile. “That was unexpected.”

“Like who?,” Sam asked.

“Me, for one,” Joshua said. The genial gardener was leaning against the wall behind Death as if he’d been there the entire time. For all they knew, maybe he had.

“And me,” said a familiar voice. Sam looked up as Missouri Moseley, who appeared between him and his brother, slapped Dean in the back of the head. “Sugar, next time your angel tells you not to play with demonic toys, you listen, hear?”

Dean rubbed the back of his head. “Yes, ma’am,” he muttered.

“Only Castiel knows me,” said the tall, bearded man who was suddenly standing beside of Chuck. “We bonded over bees and honey, though he didn’t know my true name.” 

“And what is your true name?,” Dean asked, suspicion (and perhaps a hint of jealousy) in his voice. 

“Cain,” the man answered, his blue eyes twinkling.

Cas hmmmed. “That actually makes sense. I wasn’t quite myself then, but I remember wondering why you were immortal and also a beekeeper.” 

The Cain?,” Sam asked incredulously. “Why is God also the Father of Murder?”

Chuck and Cain frowned, exchanging glances. “Isn’t that self-explanatory?,” Chuck finally asked. 

Sam shook his head and huffed a laugh. “What is my life?,” he muttered to himself.

“It’s okay, boys,” Missouri said. “You three tore up the rule book, remember? Now, it’s rewriting itself.”

“Which is where your deals come in,” Death announced, standing and glaring at the three men ominously.

Our deals?,” Dean asked. “Wait. I thought –“

“You didn’t think, as usual,” Death reprimanded. “But, luckily for you, there is no Alistair or Azazel or Lucifer plotting for your eternal damnation.” 

“So – uh – temporary damnation this time, then?” 

“It was pretty temporary last time,” Cas muttered. 

“Yeah, but not like you can come after me this time,” Dean retorted.

“Boys, I swear to myself if you don’t behave…”

“Sorry, Ms. Moseley,” Dean mumbled. Cas only gave her a squinty-eyed look until Dean smacked him on the arm, prompting him to say “sorry” too. 

Death grimaced at them. “As I was saying, you each made a promise, and we’re here to make sure you uphold it.”

“If we don’t?,” Dean asked.

Death shrugged. “Then you die, and this measly little planet goes to hell – quite literally.” He examined his nails before continuing in a bored tone. “It’s up to you. Chuck here insists that you continue to have a choice.” He spat out the word. “And, really, it’s no difference to me. I have other planets I can divert my attention upon.” 

“Ah, but does any other planet have food like ours?,” Dean asked knowingly.

Death pondered a moment. “Touché. Well, then, your decision is even more weighty. Will you deny the universe of fried pickle chips and bacon cheeseburgers?” 

Cas reached over and laced his fingers through Dean’s. “What are you asking us to do?” 

Death sat back down and steepled his fingers. Smiling enigmatically, he said, “I thought you’d never ask.”

+

to be continued...

Chapter Text

+ + + +

Now

By the time that Death finished explaining, the atmosphere in the room practically crackled.

Out of the corner of his eye, Dean could see Sam’s leg bouncing, a tell-tale sign of his brother’s anxiety. Dean could sympathize; he really wanted to pace around the room while he tried to work this all out in his head, but Chuck hadn’t yet lifted whatever he’d done to root them all in place.

So, instead, Dean surveyed the beings in the room – Joshua, smiling encouragingly like a congenial grandfather; Cain scrutinizing their reactions; Missouri sitting calmly in a chair she’d conjured. Chuck, though, shifted from foot to foot, almost nervously. And Death… well, Death stared Dean down.

Dean forced himself not to drop his gaze, asking the grim man, “Are you serious?”

Death grimaced. “Don’t ask stupid questions. It’s unbecoming.” He adjusted the sleeves of his black coat, calmly ignoring Dean’s barely repressed outrage.

Dean really wanted to hit something – or, better yet, shoot something.

Chuck chose that moment to speak, his tone even and composed. “None of you are being forced into this. Any one of you can refuse. You do have a choice.”

Death glared at Chuck, who shrugged in response. “What? It’s true.”

“It’s a shitty choice,” Dean argued.

“Maybe,” Chuck admitted. “But it is still a choice. It’s not like there aren’t other options.”

“Your other options aren’t options,” Sam protested, outrage clear in his voice.

“Why are you offering this to us?,” Cas asked with a calmness that struck Dean as odd until he considered what Castiel had been. He likely wasn’t as uncertain as Dean and Sam at what faced them.

“You three are heroes of prophecies foretold and prophecies not yet imagined,” Chuck answered. “Isn’t that enough?”

Death snorted inelegantly, sending Dean’s eyebrows practically to his hairline in surprise. “I’d like to point out that these three have upset the natural order an inordinate number of times. As far as I’m concerned, they owe me, and this is how they can pay.”

Chuck raised an eyebrow. “They owe you or they owe me?

“Hmmm.” Death pondered a moment. “Let’s say they owe the universe for being pains in our collective ass.” Death turned to Dean, “Though I do appreciate your introducing me to deep-fried pickles. They’re scrumptious.”

Missouri interrupted by standing and resting one hand on Dean’s shoulder, the other on Sam’s. “Regardless of how many times these boys upset your applecart, this is a big decision for them – one they have also earned the right to make.” She squeezed Dean and Sam’s shoulders gently before letting go. “So what’s it going to be, boys?”

Dean shut his eyes. He’d known his decision from the moment Death had finished outlining the offer. But Dean wasn’t going to force Cas or Sam to go along with this ridiculous-- 

Cas squeezed his hand hard, breaking Dean’s train of thought. Blue eyes conveyed a silent answer and inquiry; Dean searched Cas’s gaze before squeezing back, and their decision was made. 

As one, they turned to Sam, who was staring down at his hands, clasped tightly in his lap.

Dean cleared his throat. “What do you say, Sammy?” He braced himself, for once entirely uncertain about what Sam would say.

Sam looked up at his brothers, his hazel eyes troubled. “I’m worried about… um…” He trailed off, looking uncomfortable. Dean got it, though. This was about Jody (especially her) and the rest of their makeshift family.

He turned to Chuck. “What about the rest of our family? Charlie, Kevin, Jody?” He tried not to draw attention to his brother’s whatever-she-was, though he figured Chuck already had the 411 on the situation.

Chuck nodded, and the gleam in his eye told Dean that, yes, he did understand. That actually gave Dean hope that Sammy would get a happy ending after all. “I’ve already made arrangements for special circumstances.”

“Like what?,” Sam asked.

“Well, you already know the basic conditions. The rest we’ll kind of have to figure out as we go – this has never been done before, after all. But I can assure you that you’ll all have… um… let’s call them ‘extended day passes.’”

Dean watched the worry lines ease from his brother’s brow. “Is that a promise?,” Sam asked.

Chuck nodded and smiled. “I can carve it into a tablet, if you like.”

“God, no more tablets,” Dean muttered without thinking.

“Since you asked so nicely,” Chuck responded.

Dean’s face reddened when he realized what he’d said, and he staunchly refused to look at Chuck, who he could hear chuckling.

Cas leaned forward to get Sam’s attention. “What do you want to do? Be honest.”

Sam met Cas’s gaze, then Dean’s before nodding. Sitting up straight, he took a deep breath. “I’m in.”

“I’m in,” Dean seconded.

“As am I,” Cas said.

“This is binding, guys,” Chuck cautioned. “Are you sure?”

Dean felt Cas squeeze his hand, offering his reinforcement, and he could see Sam nodding his head in his periphery. “Yes,” Dean said. “Do what you gotta do.”

“Okay then,” Chuck said. He clapped his hands once, loudly, setting off a chain reaction: sparks, flickering lights, a high-pitched whine like a tuning fork. Oddly, it reminded Dean of the night Cas walked into his life.

Chuck spoke, his voice throbbing with power; Death and the others in the room repeated each word like some kind of Greek chorus: “So it was written, so it shall be done.”

The last verbal echo reverberated through the room, and Dean flinched as his right forearm erupted with a stinging, burning sensation. Cas flinched next to him, releasing his hand, and Sam pushed up the sleeve on his own right arm. They all watched as the glyph that Kevin had found on multiple tablets etched itself into their skin. 

“Oh, yeah. Sorry,” Chuck said. “Forgot to warn you about that.”

Dean shot him a sour look as he grit his teeth against the pain. “Think you can numb it a bit or something?”

“He could, but he shouldn’t,” Missouri answered. “Marks like that need to be remembered. How you got them, when, what you were doing, what you were thinking.” She stepped forward and took Dean’s arm in her hand, eyeing the mark that was already crisply edged. “You’ll have this for a long time, Dean. The memory of it burning into your skin will keep you grounded."

Dean saw Cas nod his agreement, and he tried to nod gracefully himself. He knew Missouri was right; he could feel it in his bones. But dammit, that fucking mark hurt. He saw the pinched, wan look on Sam’s face and knew his brother was fighting against the pain too. He huffed a bitter laugh at the idea that two men who’d survived hell were wincing over being divinely branded.

Cas, on the other hand, was taking it stoically. He watched the mark on his arm with the intensity that Dean remembered from his Angel of the Lord days. Dean hoped for the umpteenth time that all of this wouldn’t prove a disappointment to his angel.

As if he knew what Dean was thinking, Cas looked up and caught his eye. Dean’s throat caught at the depth of emotion he saw there, and he had to blink suddenly to avoid embarrassing himself with welling tears. Cas smiled softly, and Dean couldn’t help smiling back.

Maybe this could be a good thing after all.

+

Once their marks were fully formed, the excruciating pain abated – hearing Joshua’s story of being chased around by Cain’s bees had helped their recovery period along.

Chuck tenderly lifted Cas’s arm, inspecting his mark, and then did the same for Dean and Sam.

“Is that it?,” Cas asked.

“Not quite,” Chuck answered. “There’s just one more thing.”

+

When Linda entered the library at her usual early hour, Zeke was reading through a stack of manuscripts.

“Have you found anything useful?,” she asked.

Zeke frowned. “Nothing useful enough. I believe that I am feeling…frustration.”

Linda didn’t say anything – what did one say to an angel dealing with very human emotions for the first time? Zeke set aside the book he’d been reading rapidly and began working through a manuscript that had been stored in an aged leather binder. Suddenly, she realized how quiet the room was.

“Where’s Sam? He’s usually up before I am.”

“Apologies,” Zeke said. “I did not realize you did not know. Sam is with Dean and Castiel, but he does not want to be disturbed. He said they had much to discuss.”

“They’re awake?”

“Yes – Charlie saw Dean and Castiel briefly and passed on Sam’s instructions to me: Both are awake and fine, and all three will be out soon.”

Linda felt a spike of worry over what “fine” did – or, rather, didn’t – cover, but knowing that the men were awake left her heart feeling lighter. She asked Zeke if he’d like some coffee and smiled at his fervent thanks; she found it inordinately amusing that an Angel of the Lord was addicted to caffeine. Leaving Zeke to his reading, Linda headed into the kitchen, where she started a pot of coffee and filled the teakettle, putting it on a low-burner. As she waited for the coffee to brew, she offered silent prayers of thanks to whomever might be listening.

By the time Linda returned with two steaming cups of coffee in hand, Garth had joined Zeke.

“‘Morning,” Garth said to her. He was grinning broadly. “You hear the good news?”

“I did,” Linda said. She handed Zeke his coffee, smiling at how he inhaled its aroma. “I hope we’ll get more good news soon.”

“So no sign of them?,” Garth asked.

“To my knowledge, they have not left Dean and Castiel’s room,” Zeke answered. “And I have been working all night.”

“Don’t you want to rest?,” Linda asked. Heavenly warrior or not, the angel looked a little worn around the edges.

Zeke shook his head. “I would rather make myself useful. It is my way of…” he hesitated before finishing, “atoning.”

Garth contemplated the angel a moment before he spoke. “I think you’re doing good, Zeke. I mean, I was mad as hell at you, but – you’ve been doing all you can to help us out.”

Zeke looked at Garth curiously. “So you believe I am sincere?”

“Yeah, man.” Garth snorted. “The real test will be if Dean and Cas believe you, but if you keep doing what you’re doing, I think it’ll work out fine.” He looked at Linda and nodded at the mug she was sipping from. “Is there more of that?”

“At least half a pot.”

“Thank God,” Garth said, getting to his feet. He clasped Zeke’s shoulder as he passed; the angel had looked unsettled since the hunter had mentioned Dean and Cas. “It’ll be okay, Zeke. Just have some faith. And don’t – you know – be a douche again, okay?”

“How can I be a douche? I am an angel,” Zeke asked, his brow furrowed in confusion.

Linda waved Garth on before he could attempt an explanation. “It’s a slang term, Ezekiel. He just means don’t do what you did before.”

Zeke nodded and spoke very seriously, “I would never.”

Linda realized that she completely believed him. “I know,” she said, claiming the laptop closest to Zeke.

“Thank you, Linda,” he said solemnly.

“You’re welcome,” she said, casting a sidelong look at the angel, who was studiously inventorying yet another manuscript before turning her attention to scouring the web for angelic and demonic activity.

Garth was in the middle of a phone call with a hunter who’d gotten caught in the crossfire between a demon and an angel in Dubuque earlier in the week when Charlie bounded into the room.

“What’s up, bitches?,” she announced, looking around the room.

Linda raised an eyebrow at the energetic redhead. “Good morning to you, too,” she said dryly.

“Are they in the kitchen?,” she asked. When Linda shook her head, Charlie visibly deflated. “Have they been out at all?”

“No,” Linda answered, giving Charlie a sympathetic look. She wondered if Charlie would like a distraction. “Think you could help me figure out what’s wrong with the internet?”

Charlie looked puzzled and peered over Linda’s sholder. “What do you mean?”

“I can’t find anything, even on the discussion board you set up. I’m not sure –“ Before Linda could finish, Charlie leaned over and began typing furiously, checking the programs and coding.

“Huh,” she said. “That’s weird – let me try…” Charlie trailed off. Linda was pretty good with computers, but Charlie’s wizadry made her feel like a dinosaur. She slipped out of her chair and Charlie slipped into it, so into the zone that she didn’t even register the switch.

Linda shook her head and decided it was time to make breakfast. She passed her shuffling, tired son on the way and gave him a warm hug, which he indulged and even returned. She wondered how long it’d be before the horror of her captivity had fully worn off and he’d stop being so affectionate.

“What would you like for breakfast?,” she asked.

Kevin rubbed his eyes sleepily. “I dunno.”

Linda couldn’t help smiling; for a moment, he looked like the little boy he’d once been rather than the Prophet he was now. “Come on,” she said, pulling him gently by the arm towards the kitchen. “I think you need some coffee.”

Jody joined them just as Linda was telling Kevin what little she knew about Dean and Cas.

“They’re awake?,” Jody asked, stifling a yawn as she poured herself a cup of coffee.

Linda pulled a frying pan from the cabinet and put it on the stovetop, setting the burner low. “Hand me the eggs,” she said to Kevin.

“Apparently. Sam gave instructions that they weren’t to be disturbed.” Linda cracked eggs into the pan, the sizzle and smell filling the air.

Kevin laid the bacon on the counter. “Don’t forget that,” he said with a smirk.

Linda sighed – though, really, she didn’t mind. “Get the other pan.” Kevin did, grinning the whole time.

Jody’s brow crinkled as she watched Linda working. “So how long has it been?”

Linda shrugged. “Hours. Everything seems fine so far as we can tell – no sounds of arguing or anything.”

“Maybe they fell asleep,” Kevin offered. “Sam has to be exhausted.”

“True,” Jody nodded. “Well,” she said, rolling up her shirt-sleeves. “Why don’t I tackle the bacon?” Linda motioned for her to have at.

Within thirty minutes, the two women had a simple breakfast ready: a fresh pot of coffee, bacon, eggs, and the still-viable grapes Jody had found in the refrigerator. No one was really in the mood for a “family” meal, though, so everyone came through at their leisure, grabbing what they wanted and heading back to work.

Linda was cleaning up when Charlie came through. “Any luck?,” she asked.

“It’s not the internet,” Charlie said, crunching a piece of bacon. “Ooo, crispy. Just like I like. Thanks, Mama Tran.”

“You’re welcome. What do you mean? Did everyone stop fighting just overnight?”

Charlie shrugged. “Apparently? I mean, I’ve put out some feelers, and the first reports just started coming in – everyone’s asking what happened. There’s a poltergeist in Witchita, and a possible wendigo in Windom –” Linda looked at her questioningly. “Minnesota,” Charlie clarified. “But there’s nothing about angels or demons. It’s weird.”

“What are the odds it has to do with Dean and Cas waking up?,” Linda mused.

“I’d take that bet,” Charlie said. “If it’s earth-shattering and supernatural, it’s usually less than six degrees from the Winchesters.”

Linda packed up the leftovers onto a plate for the boys, covering it with foil and setting it on the stove. “Still nothing from them?”

“Nope,” Charlie answered. “And Jody is getting antsy. I give her another thirty minutes before she takes matters into her own hands.”

+

Chuck reached out and laid a hand on Cas’s head. Dean could sense the tension thrumming through Cas, and he reached his hand towards his friend, but Chuck shook his head. Dean clasped his hands tightly in his lap, hoping that whatever this was going to be, it would be over soon. He spared a glance at Sam, who was watching Chuck and Cas with a quizzical expression.

Cas had his eyes shut, his head bowed. Chuck was speaking low, in a language that Dean didn’t recognize, and the power that emanated from the slight man made him seem ten feet tall. It was an odd perception to have, and Dean rubbed his forehead in consternation. How was this Chuck the same one who’d dallied with Mistress Magda?

An odd charge sparked in the air, and Cas sagged.

“Hey,” Dean exclaimed, catching Cas before he fell forward and maneuvering him into a reclining position. “What the hell was that?”

“Necessary,” Chuck replied. “Your turn.”

Dean grimaced, checking Cas again, but he was breathing normally, his heart rate fine – it just seemed like he was sleeping. Shooting Chuck a dark look, Dean scooted forward so that he could – hopefully – fall straight back.

“Make sure I don’t fall off the bed,” he muttered to Sam, who simply nodded his agreement. Dean saw the concern in his brother’s eyes and quipped, “Hey, I’ll take Sleeping Beautyhood over King of Helldom any day.”

Sam’s eyes widened and his laughter could only be described as guffaws. Dean chuckled, but Sam – he was cracking up.

“You okay, Sammy?”

“Yeah,” Sam managed to say. Dean raised an eyebrow, but Sam waved him off. “I’ll tell you later. Just – you know,” Sam gestured towards Chuck, who was watching them with amusement. “Get Chucked.”

Dean rolled his eyes. “Do it,” he said. He closed his eyes, and Dean felt Chuck’s hand on his head – it was a heavy weight but not unpleasant, and the tingles of power that were suddenly shooting through Dean’s body made him feel both relaxed and energized at the same time. He was so focused on what he was feeling that he forgot to pay attention to what Chuck was saying. And then everything went black.

When Dean came to, Cas was lying awake beside him, and Chuck, Death, and everyone else, were watching the three men with interest. After Sam woke, Death appeared before Dean, laying a hand on each man’s head in turn before teleporting to Chuck’s side and giving a small nod.

At the same time, they proclaimed, “It is done,” a pronouncement repeated by each of the divine beings in the room.

Something shifted then, and it took Dean a few seconds to put his finger on what it was: sound. For all of the time that they’d been deciding the fate of the universe, he hadn’t heard a single outside sound. Now, though, he could hear the rattle of the bunker’s pipes, the hum of the air vents, the faintest echo of conversation. We must have talked all night, he thought.

That realization was confirmed by loud and rather frantic knocking.

“Sam?,” Jody’s slightly panicked voice called out. “Is everything okay?” The knob jiggled aggressively.

Joshua opened the door so quickly that Jody nearly fell. He grabbed her elbow and helped her right herself. “Thank—uh. Who are you?,” she asked, her eyes wide.

“I’m Joshua,” he said smiling kindly.

Jody visibly flinched when she saw Death. Dean was surprised to see him stand and bow his head. “Ms. Mills. Delightful to see you again."

“Um… you too?” Jody looked at Sam with wild-eyed concern.

“Chuck,” Sam warned, trying to get out of his chair.

“Oh, yeah. You can move now,” Chuck said, with a wave of his hand. Sam was up and across the room in seconds, pulling Jody into his arms.

“Who are all of these people?,” Jody asked.

“That’s my cue,” Death announced before anyone could answer. He picked up his cane and pointed it at Chuck. “I’ll be in touch. As for the rest of you” – he made an expansive yet entirely condescending flourish with his free hand – “I take my leave.” And then he was gone.

“I have flowers to tend myself,” Joshua said. “It was nice seeing you boys again. I hope you can see now that, even if it didn’t always feel like it, God has been on your side.” With a wave, he disappeared.

“I should go as well,” Cain said. “My bees will be wondering where I am. I’ll bring you a hive next time, Castiel, and show you how to tend them.”

Dean narrowed his eyes at the bearded, blue-eyed man, who seemed oblivious of the scrutiny. Next time? Is he hitting on Cas? I’ll kick his ass

“Don’t forget the Blade,” Chuck reminded Cain. “Put it where it can’t be found.”

“I have just the place,” Cain responded. He bowed to the room at large: “Till we meet again,” he said before taking his leave.

Jody had a fistful of Sam’s sleeve, and she tugged at it now. “Sam…” Her voice was at least two octaves higher than usual.

“Everything’s okay,” he assured her, tightening his arm around her waist.

“We’ll tell you everything, Mills. Promise,” Dean said in as reassuring a tone as he could muster.

When Dean spoke, Jody turned and looked at the two men still sitting on the bed. She smiled. “You’re both awake, and you’re okay? No King of Hell-ness?”

“Nope,” Dean smirked. “We’re good. Better than good, actually.” It was true – Dean wasn’t sure how this deal was going to pan out, but he felt better than he had in a long time.

Dean was surprised when Jody pulled away from Sam and crossed the short distance between them. Next thing he knew, he was enveloped in a tight hug that had his face pressed against her bosom – it was a nice bosom and all, but he didn’t think Cas or Sam would appreciate him over-appreciating the sensation, so Dean just felt terribly awkward.

When she finally released him, she reached a hand out for Cas’s and grasped it tightly. “Don’t either of you ever scare your brother or me like that again, do you hear me?,” she ordered.

Missouri’s spoke from the corner to Dean’s right. “Girl, that’s a losing battle with these boys.”

Jody released Cas’s hand and gave the other woman a measured look. “And who are you?”

“I’m Missouri Mos—“

Recognition flashed on Jody’s face. “Missouri Moseley?” Jody grinned. “Oh, I can’t wait to talk to you!”

Sam and Dean exchanged confused looks. “How do you know Missouri?,” Sam asked.

“Well, I know of her,” Jody clarified. “You know, from the books.”

Sam looked a little sick. “You read those?”

“Of course,” Jody answered. "They were very informative."

“Those goddamned –“ Dean broke off when he saw Chuck’s arched eyebrow. “Excuse me – chuckdamned books. Can we wipe the planet of those things?”

“Sorry,” Chuck said in a tone that conveyed he really wasn’t sorry at all. “The Winchester Gospels are more important than ever.”

Dean dropped his head in his hands. Those freaking books are going to haunt me for eternity.

“Is business done here, Chuck?,” Missouri asked. 

“For now,” Chuck confirmed.

“Well, then, let’s move this party to the kitchen,” she suggested, linking her arm through Jody’s. “I have things to talk about with my new friend here, and I think I’m in the mood to bake a pie.”

Dean lifted his head at that. “Pie?”

Missouri tousled Dean’s hair as she walked past. He scowled at her back.

“Yes, a pie – that is, if you can act civil.”

Dean wiped the scowl from his face. “Yes ma’am.” When will I remember that Missouri knows freaking everything?

“Never, sugar,” she smirked, answering his thought. “Now, lead me to the kitchen?,” she asked Jody.

“Sure,” Jody said. As the two women left the room, Missouri grabbed Sam’s sleeve.

“You’re coming with me, Samuel Winchester. I need someone to peel apples.” Dean smothered a laugh as his brother followed where Missouri pulled.

“You better be bringing your scrawny ass too, Chuck,” Missouri called out. “I have work for you.”

Chuck’s eyebrows raised comically. “Well,” he said. “Guess I’ve got to go.” Dean was trying to process the idea of God helping in the kitchen when Chuck stuck his head back in the door. He smiled sheepishly. “Uh. Missouri says – and I quote – get your asses in gear. You don’t get to eat the pie if you don’t help make the pie.” 

“Fine, fine,” Dean muttered, waving Chuck off. He shoved himself off the bed and made his way to the closet, rifling through for some clean clothes. “We haven’t done laundry in a while, have we?,” he asked. 

Cas snorted. “No. We’ve been somewhat preoccupied.”

When Dean emerged from the closet triumphant, he found Cas searching the dresser drawers for clean underwear and socks. Something about the sight sparked that warmth in his chest, and instinctively, Dean dropped the clothes on the bed, sneaking up behind Cas and wrapping his arms around him.

Cas let out a little surprised ‘oof’ but relaxed against Dean’s chest, leaning his head back on Dean’s shoulder. Dean took the opportunity to kiss the juncture of Cas’s neck and shoulder, slowly working his way up to Cas’s jawline. 

“You okay?,” he murmured as he softly mapped Cas’s neck. 

“Are you?” 

Dean pressed a kiss below Cas’s ear. “I’m with you and Sam’s in one piece. Yeah, I’m okay.” He shrugged. “For now, anyway.” He leaned his cheek against Cas’s and held him tight. “But that’s your dad – and he’s here. You don’t need to deal with that?” 

Cas sighed. “I do, but I don’t exactly know how, especially considering everything that we were just told.”

“I know you’ve got questions for him, Cas. You need to ask them.”

Cas laid a hand over Dean’s and squeezed. Dean waited, recognizing the far-off look in his blue eyes.

“What if…” Cas’s voice trailed off.

Dean kissed Cas’s temple. “What if what?”

“What if I don’t like his answers?”

“Truth?" 

“Always.”

“You probably won’t. Or, at least, you won’t like them all. But you still need to ask.”

“If it was your dad, would you ask?”

“Yes.” Dean huffed a laugh. “Though I can guaran-damn-tee I wouldn’t like his answers.”

Cas twisted, and Dean loosened his arms so that Cas could turn around. Arms around each other’s waists, they rested their foreheads together, eyes closed. Dean decided to take things a step further, sliding his hands inside Cas’s pajama pants and kneading his ass. Cas let out a little sound, and Dean’s dick twitched with decided interest. Cas kissed him, and Dean slid a hand up his back, cupping the back of Cas’s head and holding him steady as he teased Cas’s lips apart. With his tongue in Cas’s mouth, one hand kneading Cas’s ass, and Cas’s front pressed against his, the warm spark in Dean’s chest was quickly becoming a full-body situation. Dean was more than okay with that, and judging by the sounds he was making, so was Cas.

Dean had just worked Cas back against the wall when loud footsteps came barreling into the room. Dean groaned, pulling away from Cas just enough to glare at his brother – because only a cock-blocking Moose could stomp that loudly.

Sure enough, Sam was standing in the doorway, staring at some space over Dean’s head. “Grope Cas later, Dean,” he hissed. “Missouri said for you two to come on.”

Dean tried not to snicker at how red his brother’s face was. Thankfully, Cas answered for him.

“We’re on our way.”

“To what? Nakedville?,” Sam sniped. “Missouri said to come get you because we all know how Dean is.”

Cas snorted as Dean protested, “I resent that.”

“Your hand is still on my ass, Dean,” Cas remarked casually.

Dean quirked an eyebrow. “So it’s all my fault?,” he asked, subtly shifting his stance and the points of pressure between their groins.

Dean grinned when Cas bit his lip to keep from moaning. Those burning blue eyes told him everything he needed to know – Cas had gotten his point, pun intended.

“Dear god,” Sam groused. “I’m not even looking at you, and I know Dean just did something sexual.” Sam warned them once more before leaving, “Don’t make me come back here again and do not close the door – I mean it.”

After Sam was gone, Dean grasped Cas tight again, just enjoying the feel of their bodies against each other. “We could do it with the door open,” he mused. “Really give’em something to freak out about.”

Cas shook his head. “Charlie will force you to make good on your oath and surrender your box set. Am I worth it?”

Dean squeezed Cas’s ass. “Absolutely.” He nipped Cas’s bottom lip, taking his time kissing him. “You know… we both need showers. Considering the state of affairs…” He moved his hips against Cas’s with more purpose this time. “We could take care of things and get ready.”

Cas grinned and slid a hand between them, palming Dean. “I’m up for it if you are.”

“Asshole,” Dean murmured affectionately, planting one more kiss on the impudent angel before they made their way to the bathroom.

+

It was half an hour before Dean and Cas made their way to the kitchen, where Chuck was holding court – well, sort of. Kevin, Charlie, and Garth were peppering him with questions about everything from what really killed the dinosaurs to the behind-the-scenes information on the Winchester Gospels.

Missouri was occupied with instructing Linda and Jody at the counter, and Sam was miserably trying to peel apples. Zeke, meanwhile, was staring at Chuck as if he was the Second Coming… which, Dean realized suddenly was kind of appropriate. Regardless, the emotion on Zeke’s face, so eerily reminiscent of how Dean had worshipped his own father, killed Dean’s desire to crunch the angel’s face.

Dean was kind of sorry about that, and he flexed his hand unconsciously. Cas gripped his wrist tightly, and they fell into one of their silent conversations.

Absolutely not.

Dean rolled his eyes. I’m not going to do anything.

Cas’s eyes narrowed, the yeah, right nearly audible.

I swear.

Really?

“You two going to have eye-sex all day or what?,” Charlie asked from across the room, amusement clear in her voice.

Dean felt his face grow hot, but he gave Cas a quick nod of reassurance before turning his attention to the rest of the room.

“Dean!,” Kevin exclaimed, throwing his arms around the older man. “You’re okay?”

“Sure thing,” Dean said, hugging Kevin back just as tightly and ruffling his hair for good measure. 

Linda came over next, hugging Dean and Cas at the same time. “It’s good to see you both up and okay.”

Before she could walk back to the counter, Cas grasped her hands and looked into her eyes, smiling beatifically. “Thank you for maintaining your faith.” 

Linda nodded and squeezed his hands. “I don’t know any other way.”

Garth hugged Dean so tightly that he feared for his ribs. Tears stood in the thin man’s sincere eyes, though, so Dean stayed quiet, choosing instead to just not try to breathe till Garth let go. 

Garth got Cas next, and when Cas’s eyes bugged out as he peered over Garth’s shoulder, Dean wanted to laugh, but he didn’t because, seriously, his ribs hurt. Charlie and Jody couldn’t resist hugging them again, and Dean was certain he’d seen Sam wipe away a tear, though his brother didn’t leave his apple-peeling station.

Chuck and Missouri watched the reunions and greetings with pleased expressions. Zeke, however, looked nervous. He’d risen from his seat at the table, where he’d been nursing a cup of coffee, but he hung back awkwardly.

Dean finally took the initiative and asked lightly, “So are you going to skulk or what?”

Zeke dropped his head. “I would like to greet you properly, but I wronged you. I do not know how to proceed.” 

Dean observed the sad angel and sighed. “Are you sorry?” 

“Yes.”

“Would you betray us again?”

“Absolutely not – as soon as I realized what…” 

“Save it,” Dean interrupted. “Did you do what you could to save me and Cas?”

“Yes.” 

“Have you been making amends since you were brought here?” 

“I have been attempting to,” Zeke answered soberly. 

“Then that’s all you can do. For what it’s worth, I forgive you. I’m still pissed at you, mind, but I’ll get over it.”

“You will?,” Zeke asked, looking at Dean with eyes shiny with hope.

God save me from clueless angels, Dean thought. Chuck grinned hugely and winked at him. That bastard heard me. Ignoring the entirely-too-smug deity, Dean turned his attention on Zeke. 

“Yeah, I will. I bet Cas will too. Right, Cas?” 

“Yes, I will.”

“Does this mean I am family now?”

The air sucked out of the room for a moment, and Zeke looked uncomfortable, as if he realized he’d made a faux pas but didn’t know how to fix it.

Dean made a split-second decision. “Yeah, man. You’re family.” He walked forward and folded the awkward angel into a loose, one-armed hug. “Thank you for saving Cas,” Dean said. 

“Thank you for forgiving me,” Zeke said quietly.

Cas hugged Zeke next, addressing him in Enochian. Though Dean’s Enochian was anything but fluent, he got the gist, and he recognized the word “brother.” 

Zeke lit up when Cas said that and hugged Cas again. Dean couldn’t help but smile. Missouri didn’t let him linger, though. Chuck might be God, but in this kitchen, Missouri was clearly in charge, barking orders and skewering Dean with a knowing look that made him blush more than Charlie had. 

“What part of ‘move your ass’ didn’t you understand?,” she asked.

“Well, technically, I did move my a—” Dean’s words disappeared in a grunt when Cas elbowed him. Hard. 

“Uh-huh,” Missouri said. She pointed her wooden spoon right at Dean. “I ought to revoke your pie privileges, Dean Winchester.”

Dean slipped over to her side and hugged Missouri tight. “Would you really break my heart like that, Missouri? Nobody in the world makes pies like you.”

Missouri fixed him with one of those looks. “Don’t you try to sweet talk me.” She pointed to the chair beside Sam. “Take a seat.”

Dean was amused to see that his brother had not taken to peeling apples with ease. The peelings were uneven and had too much flesh attached. He grinned; Sam scowled.

“Give me that,” Dean said, taking the apple and knife from his brother. “You can’t do it like that.” Dean deftly sliced the skin off, leaving the heart of the apple intact. Missouri nodded approvingly.

“You can chop the nuts, Sam,” she decided, passing him the manual chopper. “I need two cups of pecans,” she instructed. “Chop ’em, don’t grind them into dust like Chuck was doing." She flatly ignored Chuck's defensive retort about being the one who'd made the nuts in the first place. 

“Angel, you’re helping me with the crust. These are life skills you’ll need.”

“Yeah, Cas. Learn how to make me pie,” Dean said.

Dean didn’t know what he’d expected Cas to say, but he certainly didn’t expect Cas to nod seriously and tell Missouri, “I would like to know how to make Dean pie.” 

The sincerity of Cas’s tone did things to Dean, and he felt that warm feeling again – the one he got every time he thought of home and Cas and… he shifted in his seat, knowing he needed to redirect his thoughts or else he was going to embarrass himself. 

Sam snickered, telling Dean that his brother was all too aware of his impending situation. Dean gave him a sour look, but that only made Sam snicker again. 

But then Jody whacked Sam on the shoulder. “It’s sweet. Leave ‘em alone.”

That shut Sam up. 

Dean glanced over at Cas to see what he’d thought of the exchange, but Cas was listening intently to Missouri and mimicking her actions as she directed him in what to do. Dean stared, fascinated. Cas’s hands working the dough were absolutely hypnotic.

Missouri looked up at Dean and smiled knowingly before saying brusquely, “You better peel those apples, Dean. This pie won’t make itself.”

“Yes ma’am,” he muttered, getting back to work. 

While Missouri had gotten Dean and Cas sorted out, everyone had slipped back into what they were doing before. 

“350 for 30 minutes?,” Jody asked, checking the oven.

“Yes – Chuck, you’re responsible for watching them. Don’t let them burn,” Missouri instructed.

“We have leftovers from breakfast,” Linda told the boys. “Are you hungry? Or do you want to wait on the muffins?”

“Depends on the muffins,” Dean said. 

“Bacon-cheddar, blueberry, and poppy seed,” Jody informed him.

“Bacon-cheddar? I’ll wait,” Dean said. Sam and Cas chose to wait too.

While the muffins baked, Linda carried over a fresh carafe of coffee, setting it on a trivet in the middle of the table and setting cream and sugar packets beside it. Charlie grabbed mugs for everyone.

Dean took a break from apple-peeling to retrieve a mug from Charlie and make a cup of tea. He dropped in three sugar cubes and carried the steaming cup to Cas. His angel’s hands were still covered in flour, but he smiled his appreciation. Dean set the cup carefully at the edge of the rolling mat, where it wouldn’t spill, brushing his hand across the small of Cas’s back as he went back to his seat.

Charlie grinned at him. 

“What?,” he grunted, taking back up his apple-peeling. 

“Nothing,” she said with an amused shrug.

Dean ignored her. He knew what she was getting at, but he just didn’t care. They’d been through too much lately, and if he wanted to take care of Cas…. Well, he would

“So, what’s the word?,” he asked the room at large.

“I think you three have the more interesting story,” Linda remarked.

Dean exchanged a look with Chuck. “Maybe,” Dean hedged. “But what’s happened since last night? Sam caught us up on … um… everything else.” He didn’t know how else to refer to the veritable shitstorm that had gone down.

“Well, there’s radio silence on angelic and demonic activity,” Charlie said. 

“How’s that possible?,” Sam asked. “Yesterday was crazy.”

They all looked at Chuck. “Call it a cease-fire,” he said. “Hell was waiting to see if Dean would assume the throne, and heaven – well, I took care of heaven.” 

Dean eyed Chuck. “Gonna tell us anymore?”

Chuck simply shrugged. “Not right now.”

“What’s up with the tablets, then? If we even need them now,” Dean added.

Kevin laughed. “It’s amazing – they’re all translated, even the third one that was such a wreck. It’s a Gatekeeper Tablet, whatever that is.”

Dean jerked his head up, sharing a quick glance with Sam and Cas, who were both frozen mid-task.

Jody narrowed her eyes. “Ready to share with the class?”

“Not especially,” Dean answered.

Sam elbowed him. “Shut up, Dean.” He looked at Jody, hesitation on his face. “Are you sure you’re ready to hear it?”

“Yes,” Jody said, decisively. “After all, how long can we pretend there’s nothing going on here but a family meal?" 

“Yeah, you’re underestimating the power of Winchester denial,” Charlie commented.

“What she said,” Dean said, pointing his thumb at Charlie. At Jody’s dark look, he amended, “But okay, let’s talk.” He smiled at Chuck. “Why don’t you start?”

“Gee, thanks, Dean.”

“Now I get to mark throwing God under a bus off my bucket list.”

“Haha,” Chuck said dryly. He turned his attention back to Kevin. “You’ll better understand after you read the translation. The Gatekeepers will become figures of legend, but for that to happen, people need to know enough to talk about.” 

“What do the Gatekeepers have to do with – oh,” Charlie said, clasping a hand over her mouth and staring at the Winchesters. She removed her hand. “You three are the gatekeepers, aren’t you?”

Dean reluctantly nodded.

“What does that mean? You’re not leaving us are you?” The volume of Charlie’s voice made it clear what she thought of that idea. A quick look around the room informed Dean that everyone else was having a similar reaction.

In a way, that made him feel pretty good. It was nice knowing they’d be missed for once. 

Chuck answered Charlie. “No, they’re not. Not yet anyway.”

Jody reached for the carafe, refilling her coffee. Her movements were deliberately measured, and she avoided looking at all three of the Winchesters. “So what does it mean?,” she asked. 

“The Gatekeepers are a failsafe I installed in the universal design to maintain balance,” Chuck explained. “When the apocalypse was stopped…”

Dean tuned out Chuck’s explanation about how the apocalypse upset the balance and how he’d irreversibly fractured himself so long ago, stayed in limbo, yada yada. He focused instead on the rhythm of peeling the apples and considering what being a Gatekeeper might mean in the longterm. The mention of Metatron caught his attention, and he interrupted Chuck. 

“What happened to that bastard anyway? You know he slit Cas’s throat, right?” 

“I know,” Chuck said soberly. “I’m sorry, Castiel.” Cas just nodded, keeping his eyes glued to his current task of lining the pie plates with crust.

“I knew Metatron taking that route was possible, of course, but I never thought he’d actually do it. My absence –” 

“Abandonment,” Dean coughed. 

Chuck pressed his lips into a thin line. “Fine. My abandonment – though I didn’t mean for it to be that – broke something in Metatron, made him dark and bitter. He was charged with the tablets’ safety, but he chose to hide them, keeping their knowledge for himself.”

“Did he know about the Gatekeepers, then?,” Kevin asked, puzzled.

“No,” Chuck answered. “The Gatekeepers Tablet was my hidden weapon.”

Kevin figured it out. “We thought it was written first, but it was written last, wasn’t it?”

“I wrote it myself,” Chuck confirmed. “I purposefully fragmented it so that Metatron couldn’t decipher it.”

“Did you put the postscript glyph on the other tablets?,” Kevin asked.

“I did. I wanted anyone who did come into possession of the Gatekeeper Tablet to understand that all the tablets were connected.”

“So what happened to the winged dick?,” Dean prompted. He wanted to know that Metatron would pay, and he knew that Chuck knew that, too. 

“I considered casting him down, as I did Lucifer,” Chuck answered. “But we all know how terribly that worked out.”

Chuck paused a moment, studying his hands. “I took a somewhat unusual course of action,” he finally said. “I separated Metatron from his grace and recycled him into a human soul.”

“So he’s human?”

“Well, he’s gestating, actually. He won’t remember he was ever an angel – it’s a blank slate. The best I can do for him." 

“Will he ever be restored?,” Ezekiel asked.

Chuck contemplated his other son. “No. But since he has a soul, if he lives well, he will spend the afterlife in heaven like any other human.”

Ezekiel nodded but said nothing. Chuck took a deep breath. “I did the same to Lucifer.”

That caught everyone by surprise. Sam tensed up so tightly that Dean grabbed his arm, squeezing it reassuringly. 

“What do you mean?,” Dean asked, steel in his voice and directing a look at Chuck that promised to rend him asunder, deity or not. 

“It’s the same deal – he will never know he was Lucifer. This is his shot, to live as human and to see what he does with a second chance." 

“What about Michael?,” Sam asked. Dean kept his hand on his brother’s arm, feeling the tightly corded muscle and knowing that Sam – Lucifer’s vessel – still wasn’t assured.

“I gave him a choice because he was following my orders, though his loyalty went too far. He decided to be reborn.”

“That’s surprising,” Cas commented, sharing a look with Zeke.

“In a way,” Chuck agreed. “But it also was self-serving. He realizes he’s lost all authority with the angels, and rather than work to redeem himself, he chose life as a human.”

Dean snorted. “Figures.”

“Are they gestating too?,” Sam asked. 

Chuck nodded. “Yes, and none of the three will ever have memory of their angelic nature, and only I know where I placed their souls so they can never be recruited for political means. For all intents and purposes, Michael, Lucifer, and Metatron have ceased to exist.”

Dean felt Sam relax, and he removed his hand. Missouri pointed at the last pile of apples, and Dean got back to work.

“So you didn’t know what was going on when you were in limbo,” Garth said. “But when Metatron’s spell dumped you out, why didn’t you stop him then? Why let all of this go on for so long?”

“Good question,” Dean muttered, wincing when Sam kicked him under the table.

“Because the Gatekeepers was set up as a failsafe, it would only work if certain other prophecies fulfilled. The Shield of God, Cas, tempering the tarnished Righteous Man, Dean, was one; a fallen angel refusing reinstatement of his grace for love of a human was another.”

“Cas,” Dean said reprovingly. “You didn’t.”

“I did,” Cas answered, looking up from where he worked to meet Dean’s shocked gaze. “Without a second thought.”

Dean swallowed hard, not sure what to say. Part of him wanted to protest, but the intensity of Cas’s look told him not to even dare – and, deep down, Dean knew it was truth. He settled for simply nodding and passing another peeled apple to Sam, who now had the job of coring them. With the handy kitchen gadget Missouri conjured up, even Sam couldn’t mess that up.

“I know it seems wrong that I didn’t step in earlier, but the Gatekeepers prophecy was the only way to keep all three of them alive,” Chuck said, nodding at Dean, Sam, and Cas.

“Metatron was able to break heaven, but he wasn’t able to shut it off; he would have engulfed the souls trapped in the Veil to claim the power he needed to take that final step. The only way to stop him would have been to reverse the spell, which Sam and Cas would have fought, and I didn’t want to happen.”

Chuck looked at Dean and smirked. “What can I say? You piss me off, but I kind of like you too. And there’s the whole thing of it’d break Cas’s heart.”

“I still would’ve done it,” Dean muttered.  

“Like we told Death – it wasn’t an option,” Sam retorted. “Quit trying to win self-sacrificial bastard of the year, okay?” 

"You mean the reversal spell that required the heart of a human in love with an angel?,” Kevin asked sarcastically. Jody blanched at the blunt reminder. “When I figured it out, I took care of the evidence,” he said, glaring at Dean. “It wasn’t happening. We’d already lost too much.”

Dean dropped his eyes, studying the pile of apple peelings in front of him as if they were a work of abstract art.

Chuck cleared his throat. “As I was saying, the spell was out – for a lot of reasons – and the great levers were problematic too. You can’t throw the great lever on heaven without doing the same to hell. And there’s the Purgatory lever that hasn’t been discovered yet,” Chuck explained. “Each requires sacrifice.” He shrugged. “It’s a myth arc thing. Even I’m not immune.”

“Plus, the Trials cut the different worlds off – good perhaps in emergencies, but after a few millennia, without the natural ebb and flow between dimension, cataclysmic changes would have occurred. So, all of that said: The Gatekeepers was the best solution, if we could get to the point where it was possible.”

“Is that why Death gave us the tear of the reaper?,” Charlie asked. “Just in case the Gatekeeper prophesies weren’t fulfilled?” 

“Yes,” Chuck said. “Though he also preferred this solution to the others, he wasn’t convinced it would play out this way. He believed that if it came down to it, Dean would take matters into his own hands to keep Metatron from consuming souls and trying to become a god.

“He wasn’t wrong,” Dean commented, gathering up the apple peelings and carrying them to the compost pail. Idly, he wondered what shape Sam’s pet project was in – he’d set up the compost pile out back before all hell and heaven broke loose. Maybe he could build a wooden frame for it now… and then he realized he was pondering the workings of a compost pile in order to avoid the side-eyes his comment was getting from everyone in the room.

Cas wasn’t going to let him off easy, though, and grabbed his shirt as he walked by, pulling him close. Cas didn’t even say anything, just glared at him smite-ily.

Dean grasped Cas’s forearm and met his glare straight-on. When he spoke, he did so loud enough for everyone to hear. “I’d have done what I needed to – it’s what we do. But it didn’t come to that, and it won’t. So everybody calm down.” His hand stilled and he gently squeezed, lessening the bite of his admonishment before leaning forward and whispering into Cas’s ear, “I’m not leaving you – ever.”

He must’ve said the right thing, Dean surmised, because Cas nodded and let go of his shirt. 

“Pay attention, angel,” Missouri told Cas, showing him how to mix the filling. Then, she said, more loudly, “It’s a miracle that you three are all here. There was no guarantee, and the many choices that led you here could have just as easily led you down a different path.” 

“And what exactly does this path entail?,” Jody asked, her eyes on Sam.

Chuck began to explain. “A trinity has a lot of power, and these three have been through so much – There are no other heroic figures who’ve each quested through heaven, hell, purgatory, and earth. That gives them more power than most now that they’re bonded.”

“Bonded?,” Charlie asked. 

“They’re marked as Gatekeepers,” Chuck said.

Sam pushed up his sleeve, showing the mark on his forearm. “Dean and Cas have one too.”

“You branded yourself?,” Jody asked, aghast.

“No, it just… appeared.”

“Painfully,” Dean added, standing when the oven dinged. “I’ll get those, Ms. Moseley.”

“Mind you use an oven mitt,” she cautioned.

The muffins smelled heavenly, and Dean popped them out onto the waiting platter while they were still hot. He set aside a bacon cheddar one for himself and carried the rest to the table. Linda pointed to the foil-covered plate she’d left for them, and he nodded his thanks. It was still warm thanks to the oven’s heat, and he quickly divided the food between himself, Sam, and Cas.

By the time Dean carried their plates to the table, Chuck was explaining that they’d be responsible for keeping order between the different realms – not directly, necessarily, but through representatives.

“So they’re – what? Angelic now?,” Garth asked. Sam took his plate, smiling gratefully; Cas motioned for his to be set near his tea. Missouri had him crimping the crust now. Once Dean had a free hand, he squeezed Cas’s shoulder as he walked back to his seat.

Chuck shook his head. “They’re still human, and they’ll live out their lifetimes.” Dean listened closely to this part again; it was hard to believe there wasn’t a catch in it somewhere. “But when they die, their souls won’t ascend to heaven. Instead, the divine spark they each carry now will flame into existence.”

“They’ll be immortal?,” Charlie asked, taking a big bite of a blueberry muffin.

“In a manner of speaking,” Cas answered. He looked over at Dean and Sam. “I believe that I’m the least perturbed by the idea.”

Dean snorted. “Course you are. You’ve been alive for eons. This won’t be anything to you.”

“Well, at least you don’t have to deal with it right away,” Chuck said. “I made Death promise to give you your mortal lives – however long they may be, with all the difficulties that involves. We need you to keep your humanity. It’s what will save us all." 

“Though, speaking of mortality, I can take care of that for you,” Chuck said to Garth, reaching over and touching his hand.

Garth jerked. “That tickles,” he exclaimed before ripping the bandages off his forearm to reveal unblemished skin – the marks he and Sam had carved into his skin were gone. 

Garth stared open-mouthed before looking at Sam. “Did he get yours too?” 

“Yeah,” Sam confirmed. “Took care of Cas and Dean’s injuries too. Kind of nice having God on speed-dial,” he said, grinning at Chuck.  

“There’s something else,” Cas said, looking up from the last piecrust. “I don’t quite understand why you fractured but Death didn’t.” 

“Ah, well… it’s complicated,” Chuck admitted. “Even the angels upstairs are having trouble with the concept, but it helps to think of us as parts of a greater whole – so, we’re not the same. I primarily handle creation and sustaining what has been created, and there are many ways that life can begin, that it can grow and thrive. But Death is absolute. So while I forced change within myself, Death remained – remains - immutable.”

“That actually does make sense,” Cas replied. “Thank you.” Missouri and Cas put two pies in the oven, setting the others on the counter to wait their turn. Then, Cas took his seat and began to eat his breakfast, selecting a muffin from the still half-full platter.

“What else do you want to know?,” Chuck asked, reaching for a poppy seed muffin.

“After we die, where do we set up shop?,” Dean asked. “We don’t have to be in a heavenly holodeck, do we?”

“No,” Chuck snorted, “though like I already told you, I’ve made arrangements already for you to visit heaven and earth at your leisure. I think the best thing is to use this bunker – it’s a treasure trove of material, and you’re comfortable here.” 

“And how will we stay incognito if the bunker is Gatekeepers’ Headquarters?,” Sam asked. 

“I’ll just shift it a bit,” Chuck said. “It’ll occupy interstitial space between the different realms – not quite existing here, but not quite elsewhere either. It’ll stay hidden, and you can come and go as you please.” 

Cas nodded. “That should work well.”

“I think it will,” Chuck said.

“Will I still be able to drive Baby?,” Dean asked.

“Sure,” Cas answered. “But you might want to stock up on parts if you plan on running her that long.”

Dean’s stomach dropped as he thought of how difficult it had been to rebuild her last time. If she was going to make it, he needed a storeroom of parts – maybe he could convert the large storeroom off the garage into Baby’s resource room…

“Won’t Dean be able to manifest parts if he needs them?,” Kevin asked, grabbing the last blueberry muffin. He tore it in two, giving half to his mother. 

“We won’t have that type of power,” Cas answered. He paused and looked at Chuck. “Will we?” 

Chuck shook his head. “Unfortunately not.”

Dean barely heard the exchange. He was twisting his napkin, making a mental list of the shops that he knew carried parts for 1967 Impalas. It was far too short of a list. He looked up when he heard Chuck say his name.

“Huh?,” he asked. 

Chuck was smiling at him sympathetically. “I was saying that I know how much your car means to you – and to Sam. If she gets in dire straits, I’ll see what I can conjure up for you.”

Dean barely refrained from flinging himself across the table and hugging Chuck till he couldn’t breathe (wait – does God breathe?). He settled for saying “Thank you” with as much sincerity as he could muster instead.

“It sounds like things are pretty well set,” Linda observed. “And none of this sounds bad.” She eyed Chuck suspiciously. “What’s the catch?”

Damn, but Dean wanted to hug Linda now. He knew he’d always liked her.

“There’s no catch,” Chuck said. “I mean, other than the divine spark thing, which is a blessing and a curse. I really worked on this – I didn’t know it would be you three, didn’t know that I would know you personally when I first wrote the tablet. But I knew that if the universe unfolded in that way, it would be the dawn of a new day. This is all as legit as I could make it; I swear.”

Linda nodded, though she still didn’t look entirely convinced. Dean didn’t feel entirely convinced either. He snagged the last bacon cheddar muffin to make himself feel better.

“How many does that make for you?,” Sam asked. 

“Three. Shut up. I’ll work it off later.”

“I’m sure you will,” Sam said dryly. “Promise not to tell me anything about how you choose to do that.”

“I never tell,” Dean said.

“Bullshit,” Sam countered. “But fine, I’ll play along. Promise not to let me hear anything then.”

“Oh, well that’s a different story entirely. I can’t help it if Cas is loud,” Dean said, catching Cas’s eye and winking.

Cas paused in helping Missouri set the freshly baked pies out to cool. “Eat your muffin, Dean, and stop talking about me before I kick your ass.”

“Oh, sassy Cas,” Charlie said, rubbing her hands together in glee. “I love it.”

Dean grinned. “Me too,” he said before taking a huge bite of his muffin. He moaned in happiness and reminded himself to get the recipe from Missouri before she left.

Sam smirked. “Do you and your muffin need a moment?”

“Yeah, I thought you said Cas was the loud one,” Charlie added.

“Shut up,” Dean muttered, ears reddening as he stuffed the last of the muffin into his mouth.

+

Sam shook his head at his brother and laughed. Standing, he began clearing the table, stacking up the dishes and utensils and carrying them to the sink. Most everyone had just used napkins, so it only took a few minutes to wash everything. He half-listened to the conversations carrying across the room – Charlie and Garth were discussing bowling, which turned into them explaining bowling to Zeke. Linda and Jody were sharing stories with Missouri, and Chuck, Cas, Dean, and Kevin were bantering back and forth.

Sam set the last plate in the drying rack and laid the dishcloth across the faucet to dry. Turning back towards the table, he leaned back against the sink’s edge and watched everyone for a long moment. He was struck by how comfortable this was – even in light of the Gatekeepers deal, which was going to take some getting used to. (But it was infinitely better than the long-term plan that would’ve left him stuck in the cage for eternity if not for Cas.)

Sam realized he never wanted to lose this family that he’d forged. The Winchesters had lost enough, in his opinion. 

He reclaimed his seat and cleared his throat to get Chuck’s attention. “If the bunker becomes this ‘between’ place, what does that mean for everyone who’s not a Gatekeeper?”

The room fell silent at the question, though a quick glance at his brothers told him they had a definitive opinion on the matter. Dean, of course, voiced his:

“Everyone here is family,” Dean said decisively. “They stay as long as they want.” Dean eyed Chuck with the protective glare Sam had known his entire life. “Right?”

“Right,” Chuck said. “It’s up to you guys” – he indicated Dean, Sam, and Cas – “as to who has access from now until whenever.” He paused a moment before adding, “But you may want to think about how you are going to handle admittance when the first of you takes on the Gatekeeper mantle – your headquarters shouldn’t be a known secret.”

Sam nodded in agreement. “I was thinking we continue with Charlie’s plans to go online and set up databases. The people in this room right now have admittance, but anyone else, we should pre-approve.” He looked to Dean and Cas, who were both nodding.

“Do you want me to ward the bunker now?,” Chuck asked.

“Everyone can still come and go however if you do that?,” Dean asked.

“Yes,” Chuck answered. “The bunker will continue to exist, at least partially, in this realm until all three of you are Gatekeepers – the full shift won't occur until then.”

Sam caught Jody watching him contemplatively, so he took the opportunity to reiterate, “And then we have our extended day passes, right?”

“Right,” Chuck said. Sam wondered if he was imagining the knowing twinkle he saw in Chuck’s eyes.

Jody’s lips curved in a gentle smile, and Sam – well, he had to resist the urge to sweep her off her feet. Instead, he tried to convey everything he was feeling with his own smile.

When Jody touched her foot to his under the table, Sam’s heart clenched warmly. For the first time in a long time, he felt hopeful about the future. He barely heard Dean tell Chuck to go ahead with the warding.

+

The smells of warm apple pie and fresh-brewed coffee were killing Dean. He eyed the cooling pies. “Think they’re ready yet?,” he asked Missouri. 

She batted her napkin at him. “Boy, that’s the third time you’ve asked me that.”

Cas laughed. “I’ll check them,” he offered. “Maybe they’re cool enough to eat now.”

Cas first checked the two pies still in the oven; their crusts were just beginning to turn a golden brown, filling oozing through the slits. He was cutting one of the already-baked pies when two arms came around his waist from behind, and familiar lips kissed his ear.

“I get the biggest slice, right?,” Dean murmured.

Cas smirked. “Sorry. I cut them all the same size.” He swiped his finger along the flat of the knife and held his filling covered finger to Dean’s mouth. “You can have this, though.”

Without hesitation, Dean closed his lips over the proffered finger and sucked the filling off. Cas’s breath hitched, and he held it entirely when Dean slipped a hand under his shirt and splayed it across his stomach. Instinctively, Cas pressed his body back against Dean’s front.

A loud catcall from Garth and whistles from Charlie and Kevin reminded Cas where they were, and he flushed as he pulled his finger from Dean’s mouth.

Dean, apparently unaffected by everyone’s attention, kissed his ear again and whispered, “Later, Angel,” before stepping over to the cabinet and counting out enough saucers and utensils for everyone.

After Cas carefully set the pie near Missouri, she and Dean served everyone, while Cas cut up the second pie and carried it over too. Linda topped off everyone’s coffee, and Charlie dug around in the freezer until she emerged triumphant with a carton of vanilla bean ice cream.

Once everyone had dug in, and Zeke had been instructed on how to avoid an ice cream headache, conversation turned back to matters at hand.

Jody asked what they could expect from angels now. Chuck assured that the angels were no longer an issue. “They’re upstairs setting things to rights; any who had issues have been dealt with.” He looked at Zeke. “I didn’t zap you upstairs because I knew you were here – it’s your choice what you do next.”

Zeke nodded. “Thank you.”

“What about hell?,” Cas asked, still nervous about Dean’s former place in the throne’s succession line.

“That’s a different story,” Chuck admitted. “You guys need to decide if you have a preference for who manages hell – because it does need a manager, unless you want to deal with demonic disputes yourself.”

Dean laughed. “Yeah, I’d like to see that Craigslist ad. ‘Wanted: Manager of Minions. Must be amenable to hellfire and brimstone.’”

That got a titter from Sam, and a giggle from Charlie, and the entire room quickly echoed with a mirthful cacophony.

As the laughter eased, Cas asked, serious now, “Who would manage hell?”

“Crowley would’ve,” Dean remarked, helping himself to a third slice of pie. “Too bad I killed him.”

“I can fix that, if you like,” Chuck commented. Everyone, even Cas, stared at him. “What? I’m God,” he chided. “You might think about who you want managing Purgatory too.”

Without even consulting one another, Sam, Dean, and Cas all said the same name: “Benny.”

Chuck nodded. “Done.” He paused. “Think about the hell issue. Right now, I’ve got things under control –“

“How’d you do that?,” Garth asked.

“I told them to behave or I’d smite the lot of them.” Chuck took a bite of pie. “Hell has to exist to maintain the balance, sure, but it doesn’t need to be fully populated.”

“Works for me,” Dean said.

“Thought it would,” Chuck said. “So you three consult and let me know – I can give you a week to decide, okay?”

They all agreed, and while Cas agreed that Crowley would be willing to take the job if he was resurrected, he wondered if that would be the wisest course of action. His wandering thoughts were interrupted by an exclamation from Kevin.

“Really?,” Kevin asked, eyes wide.

“Yeah,” Chuck said. “If you want out, now’s the time. I can redirect the prophet line and appoint someone else. All the tablets are translated now for the Gatekeepers’ reference, so I imagine transcription will be the power du jour, like it was for my human self.”

“You could go to college, honey,” Linda said, grabbing Kevin’s hand and squeezing. “Do all the things you wanted to do.”

Kevin stared off for a moment, and Cas could discern the exact moment when the initial surprise faded. “But what do I want to do?,” he asked his mom. “Cello-playing, advanced mathematics, even the presidency… none of that seems as important anymore.” He looked at Chuck. “I mean, we’re having pie with God.”

He bit his lip in concentration. “You said someone else would be appointed?”

Chuck nodded. “Someone has to be The Prophet, but I’m okay with you resigning. You’ve done well, Kevin.”

Cas had a feeling he knew what Kevin would do, and a moment later, he was proven correct.

“Nope,” he said. Linda’s face dropped, and Kevin squeezed her hand. “What I do as the prophet is important, mom – more important than anything else I could do.”

“I know it’s important – I just want you to be happy.”

Kevin looked around the room. “I’m here with my family. I’m happy.” He looked over at Sam. “I’d like to help reboot the Men – or rather, People – of Letters too.”

Charlie gave him two thumbs up for the gender-neutral correction, and seconded that desire.  Cas grinned. He couldn’t wait to see Charlie infuse the organization with her unique brand of energy. 

“That’d be great,” Sam said.

“Totally your call, Kevin,” Chuck said. “And if you change your mind, you let me know.”

“I won’t,” Kevin promised. “But thanks.”

Dean had excused himself from the table to rescue the second round of pies from over-baking, and he clapped Kevin on the shoulder as he walked past. He didn’t say anything, just smiled at him. Cas suddenly had a flash of what Dean might be like as father, what it might be like for them to have the picket fence life. He remembered their conversation that one morning in bed, how his lack of hope had upset Dean. He wondered just how much the universe would allow them to have.

“As much as you want, Cas,” Chuck said quietly.

Cas’s chest tightened, and he focused on finishing his pie. He felt Dean’s eyes on him as he reclaimed the chair beside his, and Dean’s strong hand came to rest comfortingly on his thigh. Cas still didn’t look at Dean – didn’t think he could and not blurt out what had just crossed his mind – but he threaded his fingers through Dean’s and held on tight. That seemed to be enough assurance for Dean, who suggested they spend the rest of the day marathoning all the Star Wars movies and invited Missouri and Chuck to join in.

“We’ll order some pizza, make some popcorn, and have a party,” Dean offered.

Missouri shook her head. “You’ve had muffins and pie, Dean. How can you still be thinking about food?"

“Have you met Dean?,” Cas quipped. His joke jolted everyone into another round of laughter, and Dean smiled proudly at him.

“Well, order me a veggie-lovers,” Missouri directed.

“Will do, ma’am,” Dean said with a mini-salute.

Not even thirty minutes later, Sam and Garth headed out to pick up the supplies, and nearly everyone else dispersed to the living room, with Charlie and Kevin taking on the task of initating Zeke into the world of Star Wars and queueing up the movies.

Chuck stayed behind in the kitchen, helping Dean and Cas clean up. He even dried the dishes while Cas washed and Dean swept the floor.

Once the kitchen was tidy, Dean slipped an arm snugly around Cas’s waist, asking a question with raised eyebrows and concerned eyes. When Cas nodded, Dean squeezed gently. “I’m going to check on Sam and give you two some space,” he said, leaving the room quickly and quietly.  

Cas and Chuck stared awkwardly at one another for a long moment. Chuck broke first, clearing his throat. “So…shall we sit?”

Cas nodded, and they took seats across from each other at the now-cleared table.

“I’ll start,” Chuck said. He rested his elbows on the table, leaning forward and looking at Cas earnestly. “I’m sorry, Castiel. I know I’ve been the absentee father from hell – er, I mean heaven? But if I’d known who I was, I’d have told you.”

Cas stared at Chuck. His Father had just anticipated his question and answered it better than he could’ve imagined.

“Really?”

“Really.” Chuck paused. “I’m proud of you, you know.” Cas’s cheeks reddened as Chuck continued, “You’ve been through so much, and you’re still standing. Do you know how amazing that is?”

Cas nodded; he did know. “I survived because of Dean.”

“And Dean survived because of you; you’re a perfect set. I couldn’t have written it better myself.”

Cas met Chuck’s amused eyes at that. “You didn’t?”

“Welllll,” Chuck drawled. “The possibility was always there – Shield of God, Righteous Man, and all that. Plus, I believe in piling on the subtext, you know. But it was up to the two of you to bring that subtext to life – and you did in ways that shook the very foundation of the universe.” He grinned widely at Cas.

Cas huffed a small laugh. “I’m glad that you approve.” He twisted his mouth, chewing on his lip.

“What is it?,” Chuck asked.

It took Cas a minute to answer – he wasn’t sure how to ask this of his Father. Finally, he said, “I – uh – I made a lot of mistakes when I was trying to run heaven.”

“I heard,” Chuck said. Cas looked up but saw no judgment or condemnation on Chuck’s face. As if he knew what Cas was thinking, Chuck reminded him, “The Great Flood or the Apocalypse ring any bells for you? I’m not judging here. It’s over and done. And besides, you tried, Cas - that's important.”

Cas bit his lip and clenched his hands in his lap. If Dean hadn’t made him cut his fingernails to the quick, he knew he would have red half-moon impressions in his palms. He met Chuck’s searching gaze and hesitantly spoke. “There’s one particular mistake that I haven’t … um…”

“What is it?,” Chuck asked encouragingly.

Cas dropped his eyes and said the name quietly, “Balthazar.” He looked back up. “I murdered him, and that is one of the many things I would take back if I could.”

Chuck shut his eyes, and Cas felt his heart sink. He should’ve known better; carrying the weight of this guilt was the least that he could do for his sins.

Chuck opened his eyes and spoke, interrupting Cas’s self-flagellating train of thought. “It’s done." 

Cas stared at his Father. “What?”

Chuck shrugged. “It’s done – it just took a moment. He’s in heaven right now getting reacclimated.” Chuck cocked his head as if he were listening before directing his words at Castiel. “He’s okay, just adjusting. A lot has changed since he left.” 

“Really?”

“Yeah, Cas. I’ll be sure he visits you once things settle a bit.”

Part of the suffocating weight that Cas had been carrying for years now disappeared. He knew Balthazar might hate him, but at least his friend was alive again.

Chuck reached a hand across the table, and Cas placed his own in it. Chuck opened it, palm up, running his fingers across the red marks from where Cas had clenched his fist. “Stop beating yourself up, Cas. You made mistakes, sure – we all have. But you’re doing the best you can with what you have. That’s all anyone can really do.” Cas felt the prickle of tears when Chuck gently squeezed his hand. “And Balthazar isn’t going to hate you, Cas.”

“How did you…?”

“You’re an open book to me, kiddo.” Chuck let go of Cas’s hand and leaned back, eyeing him appraisingly. “You and Dean are going to have a good life, and Sam will too. There may be some trials and tribulations along the way – there always are, of course. But from where I’m sitting right now, all roads lead to a good place.”

A sudden thought struck Cas. “That’s something else.”

“What?”

“I don’t want to live without Dean – I don’t think that I can.” Cas wasn’t sure how to finish his request; he didn’t want to squander the human life he’d been given, but he knew his limitations. Luckily, he didn’t have to.

“If Dean’s mortal life were to end first, you know that you could still see him? Even spend time with him?,” Chuck asked gently.

“Yes,” Cas acknowledged. “But it wouldn’t be the same. We’d still be living in two different worlds, and I don’t think I can bear that again.”

Chuck regarded him for a long moment and nodded. “Okay, then. I promise that you won’t have to live your mortal life without Dean.”

Cas breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”

“You don’t have to thank me, Cas. I wish I could’ve done more sooner, but I’m here now, and this is a new start for all of us.”

That surprised Cas. “You’re sticking around then?”

Chuck smiled sheepishly and rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah, I thought I might. I mean, I won’t be here all the time, but I thought I’d pop in every so often and check on things.” He hesitated. “If that’s alright?”

Cas nodded and smiled slowly. “Yes. I would like that.”

The Star Wars theme music reverberated throughout the bunker.

Chuck laughed. “I think that’s our cue.” They both rose, Cas detouring by the refrigerator to grab two cold beers, handing one to Chuck. He impulsively enveloped his Father in a hug and held on tightly as the smaller man patted him on the back and murmured, “It’s okay, Castiel. It’s going to be okay.”

Cas fully recognized that his Father had been there for him through the years in a myriad of ways, from recreating his vessel after Lucifer smote him and after the Leviathans destroyed him to letting his path cross with Dean’s in Hastings. But he’d always wondered what it would feel like to have him there as a presence rather than just as a mysterious force. Miraculously, now he knew.

+

Dean searched Cas’s expression when he and Chuck entered the living room and was relieved to see an absence of tension and worry from his angel’s features. He patted the seat beside him, draping his arm along the back of the couch as Cas settled in beside him.

Cas examined the new blue couch, a huge sectional with a chaise lounge at the far end, where Missouri reclined comfortably as she munched on popcorn. “Where did this come from?,” Cas asked, bemused.

“Missouri,” Dean answered. “She said if we were doing this, we were doing it in style.”

“That’s right,” Missouri said. Dean had to admit, with the two new couches, movie night was way more comfortable. Jody and Linda were on the old one – with Jody saving a spot for Sam. Zeke, Chuck, and Kevin had the other new one, and there was plenty of room for Garth and Charlie wherever they wanted to sit.

“Who’s ready for pizza?,” Garth asked, setting a tower of boxes on the coffee table. Sam lugged in the beers and a bag full of candy bars.

“Just pass ‘em around,” Dean said, taking a meat lover’s for himself and Cas.

“Take your seats, people – and, uh, higher celestial beings – It’s time to start the show,” Charlie said, brandishing the remote.

“I thought you already had,” Cas said.

“No, we were just showing Zeke a behind-the-scenes special.” Charlie took the seat beside Cas and snuggled up next to him. “Like we’d start without you.” She looked across at Dean. “Pass the pizza, Winchester.”

She grabbed a slice. “Here we go! Whoever makes it through all six gets to select our next marathon.”

Sam rubbed his hands together. “Y’all are going to enjoy the Attenborough wildlife specials.”

Jody smacked him on the arm. “I don’t think so. It’ll be Hitchcock.”

“Nah, man, I’ll have you all watching Breaking Bad,” Garth said, plopping down next to Chuck.

Charlie shushed them all as she pressed play. “It’ll be Harry Potter.”

+

It would be none of those. Missouri and Chuck had made their departure after A New Hope, promising to visit again soon; Linda had retired shortly after. It had been pushing midnight then.

The last thing Dean remembered was Luke taking refuge inside the gutted tauntaun, and when he woke up, Leia was telling Han that Luke was her brother. Dean stretched his legs out; they were stiff from being propped on the coffee table. His arm held Cas close, and Cas was sound asleep, his head on Dean’s chest.

Dean didn’t move – he didn’t want to disturb Cas – but he blinked blearily around the darkened room. Charlie was zonked out in Missouri’s abandoned seat; Kevin was sprawled alongside Zeke with Garth plastered to his side. Even Sam was stretched out on the other couch, Jody alongside him. Only Zeke, completely enraptured, still watched the film.

Dean huffed a quiet laugh and observed Zeke as he experienced the film’s ending for the first time. Cas mumbled something in his sleep and shifted closer against Dean; it made Dean smile. He thought of the promise Chuck had made him, and he felt a deep sense of gratitude.

He had waylaid Chuck in the kitchen during their five-minute intermission between the first two films. He’d explained that he didn’t want to live without Cas in his world, and he asked that Chuck not make him. When Chuck had asked about Sam, Dean had said that Sammy would be fine – and a glance now at Sam and Jody confirmed that for Dean. Chuck had agreed to Dean’s request, smiling and muttering something about a “perfectly matched set.”

The closing strains of Jedi kept Dean from puzzling further over what exactly Chuck had meant by that final remark. Dean watched Zeke shake himself, as if he were coming back to reality. The angel grinned at him. “That was immensely enjoyable,” he said, his voice quiet but excited. “May I watch again?”

“All of them?,” Dean asked, surprised.

“I prefer the last three,” Zeke answered. “Must I watch the first three as well?”

“No,” Dean answered. “Watch what you want – for the record, I prefer the last three too.”

Zeke beamed. “Do you mind if I start A New Hope now?”

“Now? Nah, man. Knock yourself out,” Dean waved at him. “Just, you know, keep the volume under control.”

“I will,” Zeke promised seriously, obligingly turning the volume down as he pressed play.

Dean leaned his head back and let the sounds of a galaxy far, far away lull him to sleep.

Sam woke up mid-way through Zeke’s Empire Strikes Back rewatch. He stretched, mindful of Jody asleep beside him, and looked around the room. He remembered Missouri, Chuck, and Linda leaving; it looked like Garth, Kevin, and Charlie had abandoned ship too. Only Dean and Cas were still in the room, and both were deeply asleep. The way they were curled around each other made Sam smile – particularly considering how freaking scary Dean had been only days ago when jacked up on the First Blade’s power.

Cautiously, Sam extricated himself from Jody’s grasp. “Doing a rewatch already?,” he asked Zeke.

“Of the last three films. Would you like me to stop?,” Zeke asked him.

“No, you’re fine,” Sam said. “I’m going to get some caffeine.”

Zeke nodded and was engrossed in the film before Sam had even left the room. 

The coffee was brewing when Dean came shuffling into the kitchen. Sam stifled a laugh: His brother’s hair was askew, and he was holding a hand to his lower back.

“I’m too old for this all-night-movie-marathon shit,” Dean complained.

Sam shook his head. “Why didn’t you go to bed?”

Dean stretched backwards and grunted. “Eh, I didn’t want to move.” 

“That couldn’t be because moving might have woken Cas, could it?,” Sam asked, knowing he was right.

Dean shrugged but didn’t answer Sam’s question. Instead, he pointed out, “You and Jody looked awfully cozy.”

Taking a page from his brother, Sam shrugged but didn’t answer. The coffeemaker beeped and Sam filled two mugs, handing his exhausted brother one of them.

“Bless you, Sammy,” Dean said, sighing contentedly before taking a careful sip of the scalding hot beverage.

Sam smiled and sipped at his own cup. They stood that way for several moments, leaning against the counter in companionable silence.

“Can you believe things turned out this way?,” Sam finally asked.

Dean snorted. “You mean us alive and pretty much guaranteed a mostly-happy ending that doesn’t end with one of us in hell? No.”

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I meant. I can’t quite grasp it, you know?”

“Yeah, I know.” Dean shrugged. “I figure we’ll play it by ear, see what happens.”

Sam thought of what their lives held for them now – a human existence followed by who-knows-how-long serving as balance-keepers of the universe. He considered what that might mean, that they’d never lose their family, found or blood, again. One realization in particular caught him by surprise. 

Sam’s seemingly spontaneous laughter had Dean eyeing him as if he’d lost his mind. “Care to share?,” his brother asked dryly.

Sam gasped for breath and cautioned, “I don’t think you’ll find it as amusing as I do."

“Spill it, Sammy.”

Sam took a long sip of his cooling coffee. “Well, we’re guaranteed practically immortal states of being, right?”

“Yeah,” Dean said warily. “But can we not talk about being immortal? Makes me feel creepy.”

“Did you consider what that means for you and Cas? I mean, what does ‘long-term’ relationship even mean in that context?”

When Dean shrugged nonchalantly, Sam stared at him, completely boggled. “Oh my God, you have thought about it,” he exclaimed.

“Of course I have,” Dean said, side-eying Sam. “Didn’t you think about that where Jody’s concerned? Or what was all that about ‘day-passes’?”

“Yeah, I thought about it,” Sam admitted. “I guess it’s just hard for me to picture you in a truly ‘ever-after’ relationship.”

Dean huffed a laugh. “Yeah, it’s a surprise to me too. But Cas…” Dean trailed off before finishing, speaking slowly and carefully parsing his words. “It’s different. He makes me whole. We might as well be hitched for eternity because if he ever left me, I wouldn’t want to exist.”

“That’s new,” Sam pondered.

“Guess so,” Dean admitted.

“So when’s the wedding?,” Sam asked.

“I don’t do weddings, Sammy. Pretty sure Cas would laugh at the idea too.”

“Cas would laugh at what?,” asked the sleepy blue-eyed man who took Dean’s mug right from his hand and drank deeply.

“The idea of us getting married,” Dean said, slipping an arm around Cas’s waist and pulling him close. His brother’s honest answer shocked Sam nearly as much as the admission that he’d contemplated eternity with Cas.

Cas snorted in derision. “Human marriage customs make little sense to me,” he admitted. “Besides, if we haven’t established our commitment yet, I doubt a few words and thrown rice will make much difference.” 

Dean kissed Cas’s temple and eyed Sam. “That’s right.” He paused. “Though if you and Jody get hitched, that’s an entirely different scenario.”

“Uh… yeah,” Sam said, ignoring Dean’s knowing smirk. “Speaking of, I’m going to take her and Zeke some coffee.” He filled two more mugs and quickly exited the room. It was one thing to tease Dean, but Sam himself was so not ready for that conversation, no matter how much he cared about Jody and had found himself fantasizing about the future lately. 

From the hallway, he glanced back in the kitchen just as Dean smiled that rare, soul-filled smile and tenderly kissed Cas; there was no mistaking the depth of their relationship (as if Sam had any doubts), and Sam flushed at witnessing the intimate moment and headed on into the living room. He spared a thought for how, just days ago, the two had clung to one another, fearful that they’d be separated forever… and now they were guaranteed forever. 

It made Sam smile. He handed Zeke a mug, which the angel accepted gratefully, and he set Jody’s on the coffee table for when she woke up. He kissed her softly on the forehead, smiling when she burrowed further into the couch. He lifted her feet and sat down, letting them rest in his lap.

Dean and Cas came back into the room, taking over their couch again, arms around each other and sharing another mug of coffee. They are just too cute, Sam thought. The observation reminded him that he still had to find the perfect moment to spring it on Dean that he was truly a Disney princess – Sam couldn’t wait.

By the end of Empire, everyone, except for Chuck and Missouri, was awake and camped out in the living room again, drinking coffee and snacking on leftover pizza for breakfast.  

With his family around him, with Dean and Cas together and happy, and with Jody curled up by his side, Sam didn’t know if he’d ever felt so content.

I could get used to this, he thought. We all could.

+

Epilogue still to come...

Chapter Text

Epilogue

+ + + +

Many Years From "Now"

Dean awoke to Cas’s head on his chest, an arm flung across his waist.

Dean smiled as he listened to Cas breathing. He wanted to wrap his arms around him and go back to sleep, but his aching bladder protested painfully. Instead, Dean carefully eased out of the bed, wincing when he stood because Cas had totally fucked him into the mattress last night.

He grinned at the memory even as he gingerly made his way into the en suite bathroom, a relatively new addition to their bedroom. After thinking about the longterm nature of their new gig, he and Cas had decided they wanted some luxury. Chuck had kindly shifted the dimensions of the bunker, and Dean had built in the bathroom himself: a deep bath large enough for two, an enclosed shower with multiple showerheads, two sinks, and a toilet with a glow-in-the-dark warming seat. Cas had snickered over that, but Dean knew what comfort was, dammit. And he felt vindicated every time he didn’t have to turn on the light just to use the toilet – like now.

He shook off and grabbed a washcloth to clean away the dried evidence of last night’s festivities. When he was done, he tossed the washcloth in the hamper and washed his hands, the dim light catching the ring on his left hand, its edges worn from decades of wear.

Dean went back to bed, slipping in behind Cas and wrapping an arm around his middle. Cas snuggled against him, and Dean sighed with contentment. How was this his life? The man he loved was in his arms, the car he loved in his garage, the friends he loved safe and well…

And his brother would be home tonight.

Dean was torn about that. The idea of Sam’s mortal life being over bothered him, though it had actually ended a few earth days ago. Jody was Sam’s first stop on his grateful dead tour, and Dean hoped the visit was going well. Jody had died a few years ago, after a long, happy life. Since Chuck had abolished the holodecks, Jody’s heaven was her own creation. It also happened to be adjacent to her first husband and son’s heaven, who had both missed her terribly, just as she’d missed them. Though Dean knew that Jody loved Sam, he wondered whether the family reunion was leaning more towards Big Love or Jerry Springer.

Cas stirred and mumbled.

“What’s that?,” Dean murmured.

Cas mumbled again, and Dean took that as invitation to suck gently along Cas’s shoulder, working his way up to his neck. He grinned against his angel’s skin when Cas tilted his head to afford better access.

“You awake?” 

Cas’s voice was growly with sleep. “No.”

Dean had his right arm tucked under the pillow, and he brushed against something hard. He pulled whatever-it-was out, discovering that it was the lube that had gone missing last night. Grinning devilishly, Dean splayed his left hand, sliding it slowly down Cas’s stomach until he wrapped around a familiar length; he stroked firmly and surely, making Cas moan.

With his other hand, Dean got the lube open and slicked up his fingers before trailing them down Cas’s spine and along the cleft of his ass before teasing his rim. Dean didn’t cease his other hand's movements, not even when he slipped the first finger inside Cas and began working him open, soon adding a second and then a third finger.  

Cas reached back and grabbed a handful of Dean’s hair, pulling him forward for a sloppy side kiss. Dean met Cas’s seeking tongue with enthusiasm, and with a handful of Cas’s cock and a mouthful of Cas’s tongue, he decided it was time for Cas to have an assful of Dean.

He removed his fingers and released Cas’s cock, smirking when he whined. While he slicked himself up, Cas rolled onto his back and began running his fingers up and down Dean’s side. He spread his legs so that Dean could position himself between them and leaned up for a kiss. The friction of their slow thrusts was a tantalizing complement to their langorous tongue-fucking. Dean didn’t know how long they kissed, but eventually, he drew back, nipping at Cas’s bottom lip before tenderly mapping Cas’s neck and torso.

Dean enjoyed worshipping Cas’s body with his mouth. He’d loved it when Cas was young, when age had worn Cas’s skin thin, when the hands currently threaded through his hair were speckled with age spots. And he loved it now, laving careful attention over those hipbones, reveling in the smell and taste of Cas.

He grinned against Cas’s skin when the grip on his hair tightened.

“You want me, huh?”

Dean.”

Dean kissed the soft flesh right above Cas’s cock before positioning himself between Cas’s legs. More lube and some artful aiming, and he was sliding into that tight heat, groaning as the muscle stretched to accommodate his girth.

Cas’s fingers were threaded through Dean’s hair, and he tugged Dean’s head down until their mouths met in a bruising kiss.

“Fuck me,” Cas grunted against Dean’s lips.

Damn, but Dean loved aggressive Cas.

But he wasn’t quite willing to oblige him yet, and instead went completely still. Cas was having none of Dean’s teasing this morning, though. His angel shifted position unexpectedly, and Dean was engulfed so quickly that he nearly came right then.

“Sonofa-“

Fuck me.” Cas kissed him messily and wrapped his legs around Dean’s waist. “Don’t make me tell you again.”

Dean’s answer was to pull out and slam back into Cas in forceful, measured thrusts. He wanted to make it good for Cas, but every time he pulled out, he wanted back in so badly that his movements quickly became frantic. Cas’s shaking hands clutched Dean’s arms, his legs hooked more tightly around Dean’s hips. Sinking inside until his skin was flush against Cas’s, Dean rested their foreheads together. Eyes shut and breathing deep, Dean bit his lip hard in a bid to regain control. Cas’s thumb gently wiped away the resulting beads of blood before familiar lips gently claimed Dean’s.

He began moving again – slowly and with more control now. Dean could feel where their bodies joined, where their souls connected. A rush of heat suffused him and he felt suspended, stretched tautly and aching for release.  Cas bowed against Dean, taking him deep. Dean reached between them, wrapping strong fingers around Cas’s cock; he thrust harder, faster, angling just so while stroking Cas. When Cas clenched around him and moaned in his ear, Dean was done, spiraling outward as Cas expertly wrung an orgasm from him. Somehow, he held onto enough awareness to work Cas through his own aftershocks.

Spent, Dean pulled out but lay on top of Cas, whose legs were still wrapped around him. He listened to the beat of a well-loved heart, enjoyed the fingers carding through his hair. He pressed a kiss to Cas’s chest, smiling at Cas’s contented sigh. Would they always enjoy this sense of peace?

The anxiety that had been niggling at him for days chose to rear its head. Cas, of course, noticed the shift in his mood.

“What is it?,” Cas asked, his voice low. “Are you worried about today?”

Dean raised his head, resting his chin on Cas’s sternum. “It’s been just us for so long.” He worried his bottom lip. “I’ve missed Sam, you know that, but what if… what if Sam coming changes things? 

Cas kept running his fingers through Dean’s hair, smiling as Dean leaned into the touch. He answered Dean’s question seriously. “It will change things,” Cas said. “But it won’t change us.” 

Dean let Cas’s reassurance wash over him, but that still left a concern. “What if Sam feels like he doesn’t fit? What if he’s not happy here?” 

“His place will be different now,” Cas acknowledged, brushing a thumb along Dean’s cheekbone. “But you’re forgetting that Sam has lived a full life that neither of us has been an integral part of for decades now. So not only is his place in your world different, but so is yours in his – and that’s okay.”

Cas’s calm logic soothed his anxious edges. Dean reached for the hand still cupping his face and kissed its palm. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Cas affirmed. Dean lay his head back down, his body safely bracketed by Cas’s limbs. They rested in the darkened room until the stickiness was too much to bear. Still, Dean waited for Cas to make the suggestion.

Eventually, Cas’s ever-moving fingers stilled against Dean’s scalp. “Shower?”

“Shower,” Dean agreed, rising up to kiss Cas once more before they untangled and got out of bed.

Their post-coital shower nearly always turned into a competition to see who could make who come first. (One of the nicer side effects of the Divine Spark was a miraculous refractory period that Dean had thanked God for more than once… until Chuck had begged him to stop.) Dean had won the past two rounds, but this time, Cas emerged victorious.

As Dean licked the errant drop of his own come from Cas’s lips, he decided he was more than okay with (temporarily) losing his crown.

+

They were drying off when Cas asked. “How are you feeling now?”

Dean still wasn’t sure how to answer. His sadness over Sam’s mortal life ending still tempered his excitement at seeing him again.

Sam had visited a couple of times after Dean and Cas had ascended. It had been awkward, though, and they’d all decided to respect the asc