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If memories are betrayed by the overflowing, burning pathos.

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Dean first meets Crowley in Hell, although he doesn't learn that until later. At the time, he thinks of the demon as “Asshole Pokémon”, mostly because it reminds Dean of a Scyther glued onto an Arbok, as voiced by a character from Trainspotting.

Dean isn't sure of the timeline, though he's still mostly skin and muscle the first time—as opposed to the scale and chitin that grows in later—so it must be in the first decade or so. Alastair has been gone for a while, which isn't unusual. It's almost routine by now. Alastair will come in, take the knife to Dean’s flesh, and carve it into whatever look is currently fashionable. Then he'll string Dean up—sometimes in public, sometimes not—and leave him there like a statue in a gallery for however long it takes for Alastair to get bored. Then he'll be back. Rinse, repeat.

This time, Dean’s alone. It's pitch black, but he still has eyes. Not in his face, but this is Hell, so they work well enough. It still takes him a while to realize the dull red glow in front of him is something real, not another pain-induced piece of delirium.

The glow gets closer, focusing into the six vicious, slat-pupiled eyes of a crossroads demon. Demon flesh, Dean has learnt, is malleable and used in the same way humans use clothes; to project an image or function or personality. This demon definitely loves its job. Serpentine features are big at the crossroads—a throwback to the original Biblical temptation, Dean assumes—and this one’s gone so far out there's nothing human left. It's big, too, in every dimension—tall and long and broad and fat—and projects an aura of lazy arrogance that makes it seem even bigger. Like some kind of grotesque parody of politician and CEO and mafia don, all rolled into one single coal-dark hide.

Dean tries to tell himself he isn't afraid of it, and almost succeeds. Alastair is a… hands-on kind of guy. He hasn't, thus far, delegated to other demons. Dean's knows that doesn't mean he won't start.

The new demon slithers close. Too close. Until Dean can smell the sulfur reek of it and feel the lava heat radiating from its scales. He can't scream—his mouth’s been stitched shut, the inside stuffed with… well. It doesn't matter. He can't scream, that's the point of it. Can't do much of anything, really, as the demon hisses in a low, strange voice:

“Listen up, you dickless Damien Hirst ripoff. I can't get you out of this shithole but I can get you away for a while, you understand me?” He raises something in front of Dean's eye. A glass vial, too-small and too-fragile in the demon’s huge claw. In the gloom, Dean can read the word FENTANYL on the label. Even the sight of it makes him sob in relief.

The demon doesn't fail to notice. “Good. You know what this is. So here's how it's gonna work. I think you're gonna send some quality alone time in the hole, you get a hit. In return, you keep your whore-lipped mouth shut unless it's screaming mercy for Alastair. He so much as gets an angel’s fart whiff of what's going on and not only will you never see me again, but you'll have to suffer the detox on top of the knife. We got a deal? Whimper like the worthless shitstain you are for ‘yes’.” Then, when Dean does: “Good boy.”

The demon pats Dean’s cheek, then produces a syringe from… somewhere. It's still sealed up, sterile, and the useless incongruity of that, in Hell, chokes hysteric laughter in Dean’s torn-open chest.

The demon’s claws seem too thick and wicked to handle to human instruments, but it manages with the practiced ease of a long-time dealer.

“Eyes to the sky, Marion. This one’s straight to the sclera.”

So that's the first time. There's a time after, and another, and another. Two decades, more-or-less, though time in Hell is always hard to judge. Dean never says a thing about to it Alastair, even when Crowley’s dose is off and Dean’s still buzzed when the knife comes back. He gets good at screaming, though; thrashing and sobbing even when he doesn't feel the pain. Because he gets it, he does. If his reactions aren't what Alastair wants, if the demon gets even slightly suspicious, then the whole deal is off.

In all that time, he and Crowley don't exchange another word.

And then, it's over. Dean gets thrown in the hole, and Crowley doesn't come. Hope in Hell is a shit of a thing, and Dean learns it the hard way.

He picks up the knife the second he gets out.

And the worst part? The worst part is he's not even through with his first soul when he sees Crowley, staring down at him from the mezzanine above the Racks. There's a big turn out—half of Hell is there, watching the breaking of the Righteous Man—but Dean still meets Crowley’s gaze through the crowd. Crowley holds up his claw, fingers curled around a small glass vial, then crushes the thing in a fist. Then he bares his fangs, and slips away.

That's the thing about Hell, Dean knows. It isn't the blades and the brimstone that get you. It's the good intentions and bad decisions, and how everything turns to shit in the end. Nihilism all the way down.

And then an angel comes, and grips him tight, and doesn't even leave him with the scars.

Not the ones outside, anyway.


That was Dean's first brush with Crowley. His latest starts with a scream.

They're lucky they hear it. It's coming from Rilla, in the garden, while they just-so happen to be out the front trying to figure out how to get Baby into the Bunker’s garage.

By the time Dean and Sam get around the back they've heard a dull clanging sound as well as a familiar voice cursing up a storm. Dean isn't sure whether the sight that greets them is funny or terrifying; Rilla brandishing a shovel, Crowley hunched over with one claw clutching his head and the other stretched out towards her, Rilla’s dog yapping at his tail.

“Just fucking try it, dickshit,” Sam snarls, gun already out and trained on Crowley. “Give me an excuse.”

“Oh, for—!” Crowley straightens, slowly, hands raised in submission and… horrific claw-scythe things lowered.

“It’s trying to eat my dog!” Rilla lunges at Crowley again with the shovel. He hisses at her in turn, although he rears up and back to get out of her way.

“I was not—! I was patting the dog!” he snarls. “Patting, okay? I’m a dog person. So shoot me.”

“Gladly.”

“Idiom, Moose. I know you’ve heard of them.”

“You are not ‘a dog person’,” Dean says, incredulous. “That is literally the lamest excuse I’ve ever heard.”

Crowley makes an expression that, on a human, Dean would think of as affronted. “Excuse you! My dog saved your sorry ass. The least you could do is show some respect for the dead!”

“You don’t have a—” Except, no. Wait. There’s the memory. “The hellhound?”

“Growley was a good boy.”

“You called your hellhound ‘Growley’?”

“Oh my—! Would someone please tell me why there’s a giant limey snake monster in my garden?”

Rilla’s voice, as it turns out, is quite loud. There’s a pause, the three of them blinking at each other, then at her, and then:

Ohmigawd Crowley!”

A brown streak lunges forward, and attaches itself around Crowley’s middle.

“Ohmigawd it's you I can't believe it I thought you were dead this is so cool I'm so hyped and you're all scaly too ooh this is the best you're the best you are like totally one of my favorites!” Becky announces, all in a rush and somewhat muffled from where her face is buried against Crowley’s belly.

Dean has a sudden moment of wishing he'd kept his cellphone charged, if only to take a photo of Crowley’s expression. It's somewhere between shellshocked and horrified, though it quickly folds into a sneer as he peels Becky off, holding her out at arms’ length.

“And what are you supposed to be?”

“Um, no one really,” Becky says. “Just a fan. A big fan. My name’s Becky.”

Dean can see the exact moment the name clicks in Crowley’s festering cesspit of a brain. “You're that washed-out shell of a Prophet’s girlfriend.”

“Oh, shit,” mutters Sam. Then, louder, warning: “Becky…”

“Oh, um. Ex-girlfriend,” Becky says. “We broke up. Like, ages ago.”

“Oh.” Crowley gives an absolutely unconvincing impression of someone with the capacity to give a shit. “Well, his loss and— wait. Do you say I was your favorite?”

“Well, second favorite,” Becky says. “After Sam. But everyone loves Sam, right? How can you not love Sam?”

“A question for the ages, my dear.” At least one pair of Crowley’s eyes are very firmly fixed on Sam when he says it. And when he adds, “And you know what they say: second place tries harder.”

“Uh huh.” Becky nods, all wide-eyed gormless enthusiasm. “I really love your scales.” She's petting Crowley’s forearm as she says it.

“And I love that you love them,” Crowley, King of the Sleazeballs, says. “Perhaps you'd like to tell me more about it in more”—now all eyes flick up to Sam and Dean—”comfortable surroundings?”

“Sure!”

“Now wait just one minute,” Sam takes a step forward.

But all Crowley says is, “Do you like hot springs?”

“I don't know. I've never been.”

“Crowley, I swear to God—”

“No time like now to start, don't you think?”

“—if you so much as—”

“Sure!”

“—think of aa-aa-and they're gone.” Then, shouted at nothing but a cloud of dark, sulfurous ash: “If she's not back by dinner we're coming for you, you slimy piece of shit!” Then he huffs, and kicks the edge of a nearby garden bed.

“Dude,” says Dean. “You totally just got dumped. For Crowley.”

Sam holds out his hands, helpless. “I… am so conflicted.”

“Dude!”

“Hey, um. Excuse me?”

They both turn to Rilla, who gives them an awkward wave from behind her shovel.

“Hi,” she says. “So, yeah. Sorry to be a bother, but would, um, someone please like to tell me what the fuck is going on?

Oh. Yeah. Right. That.


Dean leaves Sam to explain things to Rilla and, more importantly, teach her about salt and holy water and how to draw a Devil’s Trap. Also, from the sounds of it, persuade her that she doesn't have to burn down her garden and start from scratch (“he's an asshole but it's not actually contagious”).

Dean, meanwhile, goes back to unpacking Baby.

Whatever the Bunker was originally built for apparently came with a full-time staff, and included are a series of what are very obviously bedrooms. Becky has already claimed one, the floor a jumbled mess of notebooks and laptop cords as she tries to decipher the Last Word of Chuck. Claire has camped in a room right down the far end of the hall, and is currently lying on the bed with her legs in the air, playing with Becky’s DS. Cas’ duffle has been dumped in a room a little up from Claire's and, after a moment's consideration, Dean picks a room not far from that. Not so close that it's weird. But… nearby.

He tosses his duffle on the bed and is halfway to the door when he stops, turns around, and looks at the room again. It's nothing special. No more furnished than any hotel room he's ever stayed in, yet…

They aren't going anywhere in a hurry. This isn't a place they're squatting or someone else's house they're spending a night in. Becky’s been here alone since the Landing. She'd told them she'd cleaned it after arriving. Before that, it'd looked like it'd been abandoned for decades.

The Bunker is heavily warded and well-stocked. They have power, water. A kitchen. A garage for Baby. A radio room to keep in touch with Bobby. Even a supply of rabbit food for Sam. There really, Dean thinks, isn't any hurry for them to leave.

Very carefully, he walks back over to the bed, and starts to unpack his duffle.

His clothes look strange, sitting in the dresser and hanging up in the closet. They look… small. A reminder of just how little he actually owns. He used to be proud of that—of being minimalist, being efficient—but now it just leaves him feeling adrift. He thinks of Bobby’s house, filled to the brim and overflowing with the accumulated detritus of a lifetime. He wonders what it would be like.

Probably too late to find out, now. What with the end of the world, and all.

Everything judged too dirty to put away has been left in the duffle, and Dean grabs it, setting out to find the laundry room. (Not a laundromat, a part of his brain he won't admit to enthuses. An actual laundry room!)

When he finds it, the room’s washing powder is a real-deal antique, as is the machine. It still works, though, judging from the load of Becky’s still inside. It's been there for a while by the damp, musty smell, so Dean doesn't feel guilty taking it out and dumping it in a nearby basket. As he does so, he very pointedly does not think about handling Becky’s underwear, because that's weird and also creepy and also ew. It occurs to him he hasn't ever lived with a woman he wasn't fucking before (except Mom, but he'd been a kid which doesn't count), which is… weird. He's gonna go with weird, and do his best not to think about the fact he now knows Becky has a fondness for black satin thongs.

Ew. Less of that, more of washing his own stuff.

He's going through the pockets of his dirty jeans when he finds the amulet. He recognizes it instantly but has no idea how it got there, given he's pretty sure he tossed the thing ages ago.

“Huh,” he says. “Where'd you come from?”

Maybe Sam rescued it. Truth be told, Dean had felt like a bit of a shit for throwing the amulet away, once the moment was gone. Useful or not, it’d been a gift from Sam. It doesn't need to have magic powers to mean something.

Still, Dean doesn't put the damn thing back on. Gift or not, it weighs a ton and he's got more than one chip in his teeth from when it’s hit him in the face during a hunt. He thinks about hanging it on Baby’s rear view then, in consideration for her windshield, elects to drape it over the inside handle of his new bedroom door. There. Now if God tries to break into his room at night, Dean'll have advanced notice.


Shockingly, Becky reappears just as Dean’s getting Claire to put plates out for dinner. She really does reappear, too; just puffs into existence in the middle of library in a cloud of ash and sulfur.

There's a moment of silence as everyone just stares, then Becky sighs and holds her arms out from her body like she's about to get friendly with the TSA.

“Okay,” she says. “Get it over with. Holy water, Devil’s Trap, exorcism… whatever. Let's go.”

“Where’s the snake?” Dean asks.

“Planning Committee meeting,” Becky says. Which, okay. Not what Dean was expecting.

“What?”

“The New Falls Planning Committee. You know, like the post-apocalyptic town council? Crowley says they appointed him Chair.”

“Did they just?” Sam scowls, obviously disbelieving.

Becky shrugs. “Probably not as such. But I guess when the giant snake demon shows up and wants a job and lists his past work experience as ‘King of Hell’ people aren’t exactly going to tell him no?”

“Great.” Sam pinches the bridge of his nose. “I need to talk to Bobby.” He looks tired. Dean will worry about it later. Right now, he’s busy ushering Becky over one of the Traps laid into the library floor.

“No offense,” he says, “but you stink like demons.”

Becky rolls her eyes at him. “Hot springs,” she says. “We really did go to the hot springs. You think my hair magically turned into this giant dreadlock all by itself?” She steps easily over the Trap.

Dean sighs, calls: “Cas, wanna give us a hand?”

Rilla, meanwhile, says: “Ooh, honey, you gotta get conditioner on that, stat.”

“Really?”

“Mm-hm. A good leave-in. I’ve got some if you don’t. The springs are great but they’re murder on your hair. Where’d you go?”

“Iceland, allegedly.”

Rilla gasps, eyes lighting up in excitement. “No way! I love Iceland. Which spring?” Her expression turns skeptical. “Not the Blue Lagoon, right? That place is a total tourist trap. Or… was. I guess.”

“Er, I don’t think I could pronounce the name,” Becky says. “It was just sort of… a stream in a valley? It was really pretty. There was a house there so I think it was just… I dunno. Someone’s house.”

Cas, meanwhile, has appeared from the kitchen. “Dean?”

“Becky’s back,” Dean says. “Can you, uh. You know. Make sure she’s clean?”

“From demons, he means,” Becky elaborates, when Cas squints in confusion.

“Oh. Of course.” He walks over the Becky and raises to fingers. “May I?”

“Go ahead.”

Rilla, meanwhile, is draped over one of the big tables, looking wistful. “Man, I miss Iceland. I wish I could go.”

“She’s… ‘clean’,” Cas pronounces, withdrawing his fingers from Becky’s forehead.

“We could maybe take you next time?” Becky offers Rilla, walking over to the table now she’s been angel-approved.

Rilla just scoffs. “Honey, no offense, but no way am I letting a demon take me anywhere. I spent all afternoon washing sulfur off my dog and waiting for my plants to wither.”

“He’s not that bad,” Becky says. “He taught me how to do sleeve gussets.”

“He literally is that bad,” is Sam’s opinion, grumbled into the giant ledger he’s currently pretending to read.

Becky makes a pfft noise. “Okay, of all the people in this room? You are not the one to talk.”

“I think I’m exactly the one to talk—”

“What the hell is a gusset?” Dean asks. Partly to avoid a fight but mostly because he doesn’t know and the idea of Crowley teaching anyone anything is inherently suspicious.

Rilla very visibly rolls her eyes and mouths men before saying: “It’s a sewing thing.”

“They’re hard,” Becky says. “I can never get them to sit right.”

“Wait. You’re telling me you spent the afternoon getting a home ec lesson from Crowley?”

“Well… not all afternoon.”

“I—” Dean stops, reconsiders, says: “You know what? I’m too hungry for this conversation.” Then retreats into the kitchen. He has absolutely no desire to find out what Becky spent the rest of the afternoon doing. She’s safe. The rest can get filed right under “To Think About: Never” in the Fucknope Warehouse’s central archive.

He’s made chili for dinner. Real chili, with real tomatoes and real herbs and spices from Rilla’s garden, although Dean drew the line at goat meat. There’s rice and beans and corn chips, as well. No guac, but Dean figures they’ll make do without.

There’s a table in the kitchen but it isn’t big enough for all six of them, hence eating out in the library. Claire has been dutifully putting plates and cutlery and food on the table while they’ve been arguing, although the chili pot itself is too big for her. Dean ruffles her hair and tells her “good work, squirt”, lifting the huge copper pot of food off the burner and carrying it out.

They eat dinner. Sam spends the entire time scowling at his book. Claire plays DS. Rilla and Becky get into a long and detailed conversation about sightseeing in Iceland. And Cas…

Cas sits on Dean’s right, perched on a stool they found in a storeroom. He eats sparingly but with an expression of intense concentration, and about halfway through the meal his knee comes to rest against Dean’s under the table.

There’s a second that feels like an eternity as Dean fights down his instinct to jerk away. Cas hasn’t mentioned their aborted, late-night kiss and so much has changed between then and now that Dean can almost convince himself it didn’t happen. Just another alcohol-induced fever-dream along the road. They’ve got bigger problems. Lucifer and Michael. Crowley. Even Cas’ confession the other day, the one Dean’s still trying not to think too much about. The usual Winchester bullshit, disaster stacked on betrayal stacked on disappointment, no time for things like the rasp of stubble against or the warm press of a knee, except…

Except.

Except tonight Dean cooked a real dinner in a real kitchen with real ingredients, for real people sitting around a real table under real electric lights in a real Bunker fortified in concrete and magic and steel. Tonight, Dean will take a real shower and sleep in a real bed knowing that, tomorrow, he’ll get to do the same again.

And, it’s funny, because they call the Landing the end of the world, but it wasn’t. Not really. It was a change. A big one, but not the end. Life goes on, different, but it can still be good. So, maybe…

Very carefully, Dean doesn’t move his knee. Just leaves it where it is, lets the warmth seep though from Cas. He’s pretty sure he’s blushing something fierce but no-one seems to notice and, besides. If anyone does, the chili is living up to its name. He can blame it on that.

Either way, it’s not the end of the world. It’s just, maybe, the start of something different.


“Hey, check this out.”

Later, still in the library, dinner plates cleaned away. Sam still has his giant book and is tapping a finger against a page.

“What?”

Sam pushes the book over and Dean peers at the pages. He stares at odd assortment of boxes and lines and incomprehensible loopy handwriting for far too long before realizing what he’s looking at is a family tree. The name at the top reads WINCHESTER, the name at the very bottom is JOHN ERIC.

“It’s the genealogy of Men of Letters,” Sam explains. “All the legacies, the hereditary lines. Winchesters have been getting initiated pretty much since the beginning.”

“Okay, so…?”

Sam looks at him like Dean’s just asked why they’d bother laying down a salt line. “So A, it means the dead guy really was Dad’s dad, and B, it means…” He stops, looks around, then says: “I guess it means… this would’ve been us, too? Dad would’ve been initiated when he was old enough, then he would’ve initiated us. We would’ve been Men of Letters.”

Dean thinks about this. “So,” he says, “what you’re saying is we just won the dead relative giant mansion inheritance lottery?”

“I guess. Except it’s less a ‘giant mansion’ and more an ‘archive of knowledge and magical artifacts’.”

“Huh,” says Dean.

Truth is, Dean doesn’t think about his extended family very much. Growing up, family had been Sam and Dad and the (figurative) ghost of Mom. Extended family was Bobby. They’d always known, in a sort of abstract way, that there must’ve been people outside of that—Mom’s parents and Dad’s parents, aunts and uncles and cousins and the works—but it was all exactly that. Abstract. Real family didn’t extend outside the Impala.

Dean knows he’s supposed to feel some kind of loss at that; some kind of sorrow or longing for these people he never met, or only met as an adult or through time travel because what even is his life. Truth is, he doesn’t. He thinks that probably makes him a bad person, but there it is.

He knows where his family is. And it’s not in some dusty old book.


“Hey, short stack. You wanna come help us loot a TV?”

On their second full day in the Bunker, Dean decides to go all out. If they’re all going to be living in the place for the foreseeable future, might as well try and make it into something comfortable. Or at least something with appliances made this century.

Sam and Becky and busy hitting their respective books, looking for whatever the Bunker’s supposed to be hiding that will help them against Michael and Lucifer. Dean’s not really the research guy, and there’s only so much gun cleaning (figuratively or literally) even he can get up to. Hence, this.

Claire looks up from where Rilla is teaching her how to… something. Dig tiny holes in one of the garden beds, near as Dean can tell.

“Can I get a PlayStation?” is the immediate answer-in-the-form-of-a-question. Claire has a smear of dirt across her cheek and sprays of red and purple flowers braided into her hair. She looks… better. So much fucking better than she did when they found her that it makes Dean’s heart hurt.

“I dunno, kid,” he says, then looks at Cas. Except Cas just has his help-they-didn’t-teach-me-this-in-angel-school face on, the one that’s all implacable blue eyes and terrified internal screaming. Seeing it makes Dean grin. It always does, because it’s never a look Cas gets when there’s anything real going down. It’s the look he got in the brothel and it’s the look he gets when the waitress asks if he wants fries with that and it’s the look that Dean l—

Likes. The look that Dean likes. Right. Totally.

“Ple-ee-ease?” Claire is looking up at Cas, hands clasped. “Pretty please, can I?” She looks like she’s praying and that does makes Dean laugh.

“How ‘bout we see what’s left when we get there, hey kiddo?” This, incidentally, is a lie. They are totally getting a PlayStation. And an Xbox.

“Take the truck, if you like,” Rilla says. “More room for loot.” She winks at Claire.

Rilla has two cars parked around behind her cabin: a too-shiny Tesla Roadster and an enormous black Silverado. Dean and Cas and Claire pile into the latter, Dean behind the wheel and grumbling at the handling.

According to Rilla, their best bet for looting is Grand Island, about an hour’s drive north over the state line. The city was evacuated when a Creature showed up in Omaha, but never ended up leveled and never really got repopulated once the people cleared out.

They play I Spy in the car, mostly because it makes Claire roll her eyes and mutter “lame”, even as she ruthlessly tries to beat them both. When it’s his turn to spy, Cas squints into the air and announces, with his usual portentous solemnity:

“I spy with my little eye, something beginning with H.”

He makes the words sound like a magic fucking incantation, which has Dean grinning ear-to-ear and tapping his fingers happily against the wheel.

Claire spends a good ten minutes attempting to guess things. It’s not “house” or “horse” or “hair”, not “hand” or “hill” or “heater vent”. Not anything, as far as Claire can tell, which is why she eventually announces:

“I give up!”

Dean, who has played this game with Cas before, has been biting back laughter the whole time. He lets go of it now, managing to blurt out, “Hydrogen!” in between the gasps.

“Yes,” says Cas, nodding. He’s doing a bang-up job of playing the whole thing dead straight. Even Dean might’ve bought it, if not for the tiny uplift in the corner of Cas’ mouth.

Claire spins in her seat, turning to the back to face Cas with a look of affronted betrayal. “That’s not fair!” she announces. “You can’t see hydrogen! It’s invisible!”

“To you,” says Cas, placidly. “Not to me.” He waves his hand in front of his face, as if collecting up the invisible gas, and studies it.

“You can’t choose things only you can see. That’s cheating!”

“Is it?” Cas asks. “If you know I can see them, you can guess them. Dean did.”

Claire shoots Dean a wounded look. “I leant the hard way too, short stack,” he says. Back then it had been Dean’s soul, which had been mortifying as well as totally cheating.

“It’s still not fair,” Claire insists. She has, Dean thinks, a truly stellar pout. It makes her look like Cas, actually; angry and wounded at the indifferent universe. Dean’s just glad it’s over I Spy, not anything serious.

“I Spy is a game of perspective-taking,” Cas is saying. “Success involves imagining yourself in the place of the ‘spy’”—Cas, of course, makes the finger quotes—“to deduce the things that would catch their attention or be answers they would want to be seen giving. It encourages empathy and strengthens familial bonds by promoting mutual understanding.”

“Um,” says Claire. “Okay?”

Dean laughs. “Dude. Really?”

“You taught me the game,” Cas says. “I found it useful, once I realized what it was for.”

“Well. You’re welcome, I guess.” But he’s smiling, and something inside his chest feels lighter than it has in weeks.

After that, though, they move on to Categories.


In Grand Island, they hit up the Sears.

Other people have been here before them. That's obvious from the empty shelves and odd piles of discarded items. But the looting that has occurred has mostly been for survival-type items, not luxury consumer goods, and has, for the most part, been neat and orderly. Dean’s seen worse in the aftermath of a Black Friday.

The TV is an easy enough find. Dean picks the biggest on the floor and Cas helps him cart the box out to the truck. By the time they get back, Claire has found a shopping cart and resolutely placed a PlayStation inside. She gives them both the intense puppy eyes when they see it, so Dean gives up the pretense of parental strictness and winks as he puts an Xbox in the cart as well.

Except then Cas asks, “What's wrong with this one?” while pointing at a Wii, and. Well. That goes in the cart as well. Because why the hell not?

They clear out the game shelves next. Dean grabs things like Batman and Assassin’s Creed and, after some consideration, Left 4 Dead, if only in celebration of their current apocalypse not being of the Croatoan variety. Claire ends up with an armful of Mario and Final Fantasy and a bunch of stuff that involves singing or dancing or playing fake plastic instruments. They raid the DVD shelves as well; Dean grabs the classics (Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings and a box set of Dr. Sexy M.D. hidden beneath both), Claire goes for the Disney before reaching for Harry Potter with an odd glare at Cas. Dean can't decipher why, but Cas apparently has no opinion on British wizards and so in the DVDs go.

“Hey, short stack,” Dean says as they amble through the rest of electronics. “You wanna pick yourself a laptop?”

Claire's eyes light up. “Really?”

“Sure.” Dean has a vague idea that, at some point, they'll have to send Claire to some kind of school. Something in Lebanon, maybe, if it's still running. Or they could homeschool? Either way, kids use laptops for school work now, right? That's a thing? Shit. He’d better get a printer, too. That'd be useful for Becky as well, come to think of it. And power strips. Like, a shitton of power strips. The Bunker might be sitting underneath a power station but it definitely came from an era with fewer standard household appliances. There's like two outlets per room, max. Dean could install some more but he doesn't want to start knocking holes in the Bunker’s walls until they know how all the wards work. The last thing he wants to do is trade a TV room for unsolicited visits from Lucifer. Or, worse, Crowley.

Claire ends up picking a tiny little silver MacBook from the laptop displays. It's the sort of thing that used to cost a million dollars and that Dean never would've been able to afford, back before the Landing. He's surprised when Cas also returns clutching a similar box, stating: “I thought… there are things I should write down. About… about Heaven. Just in case.”

“Yeah,” says Dean. “‘Course, buddy.” He clasps Cas on the shoulder and tries not to feel the clench of sympathy in his gut. The other angels might’ve been dicks and Heaven might’ve sucked, but they were Cas’ family and Cas’ home. For all intents and purposes, Cas is the last of it. Of course he wants to document it while he can.

They eventually escape electronics and get into bedding and homewares. The Bunker has its own stuff but it's all a bit utilitarian and very old-fashioned. Cas is bewildered by the concept of choosing new sheet sets (“the current ones are adequate”), but Dean tosses in a set in navy blue anyway. He resolutely does not get the black-satin-with-rhinestones set for Becky (despite the similarity to things he is absolutely not thinking about ew no), and then immediately regrets his line-of-sight when Claire fixates on them instead.

Dean has no way of explaining to Claire why he doesn't want her to get the black sheets, other than a vague, “Aren't they a bit old for you, kiddo?” Which is both lame-sounding, even to him, and also has the effect of immediately making Claire want them even more.

Sometimes, when Dean was a kid, Sammy would ask Dad for something and be told no. It'd taken Sam until approximately age three to realize the best way of circumventing Dad’s denials was to wait until he was gone, then turn around and ask Dean the same question. Dean had never been one to deny his brother much of anything, even after he’d caught on to exactly how much of a manipulative little shit Sammy could be.

Claire, apparently more experienced dealing with two parents, might give him a run for his money, though. At Dean’s denials she spins immediately to Cas, fixing him with her best puppy eyes and a lip-trembling: “Please? Can I?”

“Um.” Cas’ eyes flick between Claire and Dean, expression morphing into pure panic, and then:

“SHOULD I SAY NO? YOU DO NOT WANT HER TO HAVE THE SHEETS?”

The voice is… unexpected. Dean reels from it, not because it hurts or is loud—if anything, it feels “smaller” than usual—so much as he just isn't prepared for it with Cas in human form.

Of course, it also makes the halo flare into blue-white light.

(The halo, definitely the halo. Not “his” halo. Dean does not now and never will have a halo that can be called “his”.)

And the thing about raiding abandoned department stores is they're kinda… dark. Like, flashlights-all-round dark. Which means as soon as Dean starts glowing, everybody notices. And Claire?

Claire just absolutely loses it.

It’s so fast Dean doesn’t even really know what happened. Just one moment Claire is trying to wheedle Cas into buying her an inappropriate bed-set, the next she’s cowering. Like, on-her-knees-pleading-and-praying-for-forgiveness (“I’m sorry I’m sorry I promise I won’t I’m sorry”).

The reaction shocks Cas, who stumbles backwards into a display shelf, wings dislodging a pile of pillowcases. He looks absolutely devastated. Like, Dean’s seen the guy face down some shit and he doesn’t think he’s ever seen Cas look so terrified. Cas’ mouth keeps moving like he’s trying to say something but has forgotten how, but Dean will deal with that in a moment because right now he’s crashing to the floor himself (which, ow, his old-man knees) and gathering Claire up into his arms and saying nonsense things like “it’s okay” and “what happened?”

“I’m sorry,” Claire repeats. She’s shaking, and she’s not talking to Dean. She’s talking to Cas. “I didn’t mean to be bad.”

“Kiddo, you weren’t bad,” Dean says. A bit of a brat, maybe, but nothing worthy of something like this. “What’re you talking about?”

“She’s frightened of me.”

Dean looks up. “What?”

“She… she felt my grace.” Cas still has that awful, broken expression. “It… frightened her.”

It occurs to Dean that, maybe, Claire hasn’t had the best history with angels.

“Aw, kiddo.” He sighs, pulls her closer and presses a kiss to the top of her hair. “It’s not like that.” Really, really not like that, given Dean’s usual reaction to getting groped up by Cas’ grace. Which, inappropriate. In the current context, so… moving on.

“He… he did something to you,” Claire whispers.

“Just talking,” Dean says. “Nothing bad, honest. Cas wouldn’t hurt me. He’s… he’s my best friend.” Four little words and there is so much to unpack there that Dean’s doesn’t even want to start.

“I should… go,” Cas says.

“Maybe, um. Take the stuff to the car?” Dean says. Then silently adds, Cas, this isn’t your fault man. You didn’t do anything bad.

He isn’t sure whether Cas hears him, just watches Cas pick up the discarded black sheets and take them and the cart out of the store. Dean watches him go.

“Does… does it hurt?”

“Huh?”

Claire reaches up, not quite daring to touch the still-glowing halo.

“Oh,” says Dean. “This stupid thing? Nah. Just embarrassing, is all.”

“But… he did it to you?”

“Well, yeah,” Dean says. A thought occurs: “But not just then. It’s so we can talk if he’s, y’know. Not here. Angel cell phone.”

“I felt it,” Claire says. “He… moved. And I felt it. It was… was so big.”

“Yeah. Cas is one big sono— er, dude.”

“He pretends to be Daddy but… but I can see him. Sometimes. If I’m not looking. His eyes are in the wrong places. Staring.”

Dean huffs a laugh. “He’s, like. A sentry, he told me. Or used to be, in Heaven. I guess God covered ‘em in eyes so no one could sneak up on ‘em.”

“It’s creepy.”

“Yup,” says Dean, and resolutely tries not to imagine what Cas is currently keeping hidden under his sheet.

“I can forget, most of the time,” Claire whispers. “But… not all the time.”

“Cas… is Cas,” Dean says, because he knows exactly what she means. “He cares about you. A lot.”

Claire nods. “I know.” Then, after a wet sniffle: “I miss Daddy.”

“Yeah,” says Dean. Then: “You wanna know a secret? I miss my Dad too.” John hadn't always been the best of fathers; a realization that'd been hard and maybe a bit too long in coming. But he'd loved them, in his own broken, imperfect way. And he'd still been Dad.

“What happened to him?” Claire asks.

Dean thinks about how to answer this, decides what the hell, and goes with the truth: “Did a deal with a demon to save my sorry ass,” he says. “Got sent to Hell for it but Dad… he was a fighter. He got out. Then—” Dean makes a gesture. “Bam. Flash of white light, gone.”

“Was it Mister Crowley?”

“Huh?”

“The demon?”

“Oh. Hah. No. No, it, uh. Guy called Azazel. One of Lucifer’s bit— er, goons. Dad helped us smoke him, right before he…” Another gesture heavenward.

Claire seems to think about this. They're still sitting on the floor in the bedding section, surrounded by fallen sheet sets. But Claire isn't clinging to him any more, and her eyes are bright more with curiosity than fear.

“Mrs. Templeton never taught us things like this,” Claire says. “She just made us read the Bible.” A pause. “I didn't understand it, mostly.” Another pause, then, almost a whisper: “I don't think she did, either.”

“Yeah, well. That makes three of us, kiddo.”

“She said we were sinners,” Claire says. “That we had to repent and pray to God else we'd go to Hell.”

Dean winces. “Been to Hell,” he says. “It sucks. Even demons think it sucks. But, it ain’t so easy to end up there as people think.”

“Why did you?”

“Same reason as Dad. ‘Cept mine was a deal to save Sammy’s life.”

“I don't… Why would God send you to Hell if you were just trying to help?”

“Well, don't think God had much to do with it, short stack. I sold my soul. I knew what I was doing. Free will and all that.” He pauses. “Besides, Cas came and got me eventually. That's how we met.” Not exactly a traditional romcom meet-cute.

“Castiel saved you from Hell?”

“Yup,” Dean says. “Pulled me out, resurrected my body and everything. When he tried to tell me about it, I shot him. A lot. Then stabbed him.”

Claire looks scandalized. “Why?”

“Well, I'd never met an angel before. They weren't supposed to be real. So I figured him for a demon. Also, back then, he was kind of an asshole.” Dean smirks. “But he got better. Then he helped us stop the apocalypse.”

Claire looks at where her hands fidget with the hem of her shirt. “I put him in a jar. He was trying to help and I hurt him.”

“Yeah. He’ll forgive you, though. He's like that.”

Claire nods, and Dean reaches out to ruffle her hair. “How ‘bout we go see what he's up to, huh? Then we can haul all this loot back home and you can kick all our asses in Mario Kart.”

“I've never played Mario Kart,” Claire confesses.

Dean laughs, hauling himself to his feet (which, ouch), and holding out a hand for Claire to do the same. “Me either. It'll be great.”


Cas is sitting patiently in the dark, just outside the Sears when they emerge.

“I packed the car,” he says when he sees them. He's sitting sort of stiff and formal, like he used to back when Dean first met him, back before he got (slightly) more comfortable in his human skin.

He's trying not to move, Dean thinks, quite suddenly. He doesn't want to frighten Claire. Because Cas’ human vessel is like a finger puppet controlled by the hunched-over bulk of what they call his grace, but is really nothing more or less than his true “body”. A body Claire can sense, and sense much more keenly than the hazy, indistinct impressions Dean can get.

Dean remembers it from Michael, vaguely. That oppressive sense of presence. Of the shape and weight, of form, looming over him, from horizon to horizon, vast and awful and awesome. A promise, a blessing, an urgent email straight from God, read receipts and all. THIS IS YOUR PURPOSE, MORTAL, written in thousand-foot letters. SUBMIT OR BE SUBMITTED.

It had been hard to say no to that, Dean knows. Claire certainly hadn't, if only for a little while. And Cas has a real body now—his own form of only him—but she can still feel him, feel the awful pull of blood. YOU WERE MADE FOR THIS, and no matter that Cas himself has denied it. Is trying so hard to deny it. To make himself small, nonthreatening. Human.

Dean aches from him; for the angel who loves humanity so much he'd give up his only chance to join it. Cas would give Claire back Jimmy in a heartbeat, if he could. But he can't. He can only do this; this offering of himself as a poor, uncertain substitute.

He's not a substitute to me, Dean thinks. And it's true. Cas is Cas. And Cas, for all his flaws and failures and missteps, is enough.

Which is why Dean flings an arm around Cas’ shoulders and grins, big and stupid.

“We should check out the rest of the mall,” he says, because there are like two dozen more shops in here they haven't tried.

Beneath the sheet, Dean feels Cas’ wings hitch. The top of them (the… wrist joint? Dean thinks) usually sits just below Cas’ shoulders. When he's agitated, or interested, it rises slightly above. Funny, how Dean used to think of Cas as expressionless. Turns out, Dean just hadn't been looking at the right parts.


They don't make it out of the mall without a trip through Hot Topic, which ends with Claire wearing more spiked leather items than Dean’s seen on anyone outside of Hell. He isn't sure if it bothers him or not—she’s twelve for godssake—but, on the other hand, he figures not objecting is the fastest way of getting her to grow out of it.

Cas, being Cas, seems to have no opinions on the matter, although he does select some new shirts and a jacket for himself at Dillard’s.

Emerging back into the sunlight is startling after the darkness of the abandoned mall, Dean blinking and squinting against the glare. All three of them are laden with shopping bags and, if it weren't for the empty parking lot, could be any family returning home after a long, hard morning of greasing the wheels of capitalism.

The feeling is… odd. Dean's been to malls before, obviously, including trips with Lisa and Ben, back during his Year of Living Un-dangerously. It'd never been something he'd enjoyed. Malls had been crowded, noisy. Unreal in the way Dean always found life outside of hunting; too bright and too clean and too soaked through with the reek of you don't belong here, these aren't your people, this isn't your life.

Raiding an abandoned mall with an orphan and an angel, as it turns out, doesn't elicit the same sense of unease. Instead, Dean feels… happy. Content. He even—after extracting a solemn promise never to let it slip to Sammy—lets Claire play one of her newly acquired CDs in the car. The band is some awful modern post-punk faux-metal that's an insult to guitars everywhere, screeched soulfully by pretty boys with floppy hair and too much eyeliner. But there are some okay solos, and Dean even catches himself tapping his fingers once or twice against the steering wheel. When he glances up in the rear view mirror, he sees Cas watching him, eyes bright blue and the corners of a smile teasing his lips.

Shit, but he's beautiful.

It's one of those dangerous thoughts, the sort of thing Dean normally ships off to the back of the Fucknope Warehouse post-haste, but…

But. There it is. Cas is beautiful. And it is Cas, too, not just the body he's in. Because, sure, Jimmy hadn't been hard on the eyes but he hadn't had Cas’ awkward intensity, or his fierce determination. He certainly hadn't looked at Dean the way Cas looks at Dean, hair tousled and jaw unshaven, lips plush and slightly parted.

It's not Jimmy’s lips Dean has kissed.

Not that Cas had kissed him back, which… okay. Okay. Way to ruin his good mood.

Claire is snoozing against the window by the time they pull up outside the Bunker and, apparently, into the middle of Sam and Becky having a full-blown domestic on the front lawn. Or… patch of dirt. Whatever. Sam is even holding a knife, albeit with the hilt towards Becky, like he wants her to take it. A large, patiently oozing patch of solidified shadow finishes the scene, and Dean sighs.

“Great,” he says, and gets out of the car.

“—ake the damn knife, Becky,” Sam is saying. He looks twitchy and sounds snappish; there are dark circles under his eyes and his hair looks kind of greasy, which is pretty much the warning sign that something's up.

“No!” Becky actually stamps her foot, which would be sort of funny, if she didn't sound so pissed off. “Just let it go, Sam. We're leaving.”

“What's going on?” Dean asks Crowley, mostly because he's the only one who’s paying them the slightest bit of attention.

“Your brother is being over-protective, bless.” Crowley’s odd hissing voice really does lend itself to sarcasm. “I told her she should just take the knife,” he adds, conspiratorially.

“I'm not taking the stupid knife!” Becky declares, though it's unclear if the statement is directed at Crowley or Sam or God himself. “And I'm not staying in the stupid Bunker. I've been locked up in that place for, like, a year. I deserve some fresh air!”

“And the air in the Loire is the freshest, my dear,” Crowley announces.

“You, shut up.” Sam flips the knife easily, pointing it blade-first at Crowley, before turning back to Becky. “Becky, this is stupid. You know this is stupid. It's not… it's not gonna be like you write about in your stories, okay? This is real—”

“You write about me?” Crowley, ego and all. If he had ears, they'd be perked up like an eager puppy.

“—and it’s really going to get you killed!”

“Well, now I'm just offended!”

“Sam, shut up,” Becky says. “I know what I'm doing.”

“Letting a demon take you to France isn't ‘knowing what you're doing’! If you get in trouble, we can't come help you, okay?”

“And I don't want you to! God!”

“How long has this been going on?” Dean asks.

Crowley mimes looking at a watch which, of course, he isn't wearing. “Oh. Five, ten minutes?” Then, louder: “Becky, sweetmeats, the wine isn't going to drink itself.”

“You're up to something,” Dean tells him.

“Me? No-oo-oo!”

“You know if you some much as breathe on her wrong we're gonna hunt you down, tear off your scales, and feed them to you one-by-one?”

“Ooh. Promises. You do know how to make a boy all a-quiver.”

Dean sighs, then steps forward in front of his brother. “Okay, okay,” he says. “Time out. Sammy, knife down. Becky, scram.”

“Dean—!”

“Ah-ah! No. Enough.” Sam makes as if to sidestep, Dean blocks him, and they end up in an awkward scuffle for the second it takes Becky to latch onto Crowley’s arm and vanish in a puff of sleazy asshole.

“Dean, Jesus! You let him take her?”

“No, Sam, she took herself. Let it go, man.”

“No! He's going to— God only knows what!”

“Drink wine in France,” Cas supplies, helpfully literal.

“Yeah, well,” says Dean, who's been through this all before. “Some people gotta learn that the hard way.”

“You know he's only using her!” Sam says. “To… to get to whatever's in there”—a gesture at the Bunker door—”or… or whatever's in Chuck’s notes.”

Dean shrugs. “Yeah,” he says.

“And you're okay with that?”

“No.”

“But…?”

“Dude. I'm not, like. Becky’s keeper, okay? And neither are you. She's a grown-ass woman and she can make her own dumb mistakes.”

“Dean—”

“Seriously, dude. What is up with you? You jealous?”

And, yeah. Sam must be messed up because he actually sneers. “What? Ew. No.”

“Then let it go. When shit messes up we’ll… we’ll deal with it like we always do. Until then, just calm down and help me unload the car.”

Sam glares for a good thirty seconds after that, fingers flexing on the handle of his knife like he wants to throw it or stab something or both. Eventually, though, he backs down.

“Yeah,” he says. “Whatever.” Dean knows they haven’t heard the last of it.


Dean spends the rest of the afternoon converting a random room into a den with Claire and Cas. Sam, meanwhile, sulks somewhere between the library and the various rooms of boxed and stored magical detritus. (“We’re supposed to be looking for something to kill Lucifer, Dean. Not… play house!” is the snarled rationale.)

“Sam seems… unsettled,” Cas says at one point, while helping Dean move an ugly old leather loveseat up from storage. It’s one of the ones with the wooden claw feet and too many buttons, and it’s totally not comfortable enough for sitting in front of the TV. Dean might have to re-borrow the truck soon to go out and find a new one.

“I dunno what put sand in his panties,” Dean says. This isn’t entirely true. Between Lucifer and Crowley and Becky, Dean has a pretty damn good idea what’s up with his brother. That’s the problem. Right now, he’s just hoping it’s regular ol’ Sam-style angst, and not apocalyptic full-tilt Winchesterian angst.

“Could he be projecting his own experience with Ruby onto Becky’s infatuation with Crowley?” And, yup. There it is. Thanks, Cas, for making the implicit, explicit. As usual.

“I dunno, man.” Code for, Shut up Cas, I don’t wanna talk about it.

“Yes, okay,” says Cas who, shit. Probably heard Dean’s thoughts loud and clear.

And, okay. They get exactly as far as putting the love seat down in the den when Dean blurts, “I just… you worked with the guy.” Which, ugh, but still: “What do you think?”

Cas considers this, head tilted and still and staring at nothing in that way he does when he’s forgetting to emote with his vessel. Finally, he says:

“I think Crowley is lonely.”

“Bullsh— Er, like hell he is.”

Cas shrugs, as if he has no opinion on Dean’s opinion on his opinion. Behind them, the TV flares to life with the sonorous chime of the PlayStation as Claire figures out how to plug it in. Dean had taken one look at the mass of wires and immediately handed the whole thing over to an expert, i.e. someone younger. Rebuilding an engine from scratch is one thing. Plugging in gaming consoles? Nuh-uh.

Dean surveys the room. They’ve got the huge TV and two coffee tables and the loveseat and some big fancy cigar-and-martini style chairs. It’s functional, Dean supposes, but… Spartan. Motel-room impersonal.

“You think we need a rug?” he tries. “I definitely think a rug would help. One of those big, thick, magic carpet-type ones.” He thinks he saw some in a store room. Assuming they’re not actual magic carpets which, in this place, he’d probably be best to check. “Maybe something for the walls.”

“I’ll ask Ril if she has a plant!” Claire announces, jumping to her feet.

Cas squints at the bare walls. “Pictures?” he suggests.

There are plenty of paintings stashed away in various rooms of the Bunker but they’re all either stuffy portraits of old dead dudes in stiff clothes, religious scenes with inaccurate angels, or horrific things that make Dean’s eyes hurt to look at and are also probably cursed. He wonders if maybe he'd be able to use the printer they stole from the mall to print out something more personal. He knows there are a bunch of photos on Sam’s old laptop, and they could take more. Maybe dig up something of Mom and Dad…

Dean’s a man with a plan, but for now he settles on hanging up some weird old astrological maps and a couple of wooden masks of the awesome-scary-and-also-not-cursed variety. Plus a rug, and a few ferns Rilla sends down with the instruction to, “Overwater all you want. Not with beer.”

After that, the room looks… good. The room looks good. Homey. Dean grabs some beers for himself and Cas, plus some fresh lemonade for Claire, and they settle in for the rest of the afternoon for a Harry Potter marathon. The movies make Dean feel unfathomably old; by the time the books were a thing, Dean was more into killing witches than reading about them. Sam was a bit more in the age bracket, but attempts to entice him to join in the marathon are only met with agitated grumbling from behind a giant stack of musty books. Cas, meanwhile, spends a lot of time squinting at the screen and requesting plot clarifications that Claire is only too happy to provide. Dean likes that they're getting along. He likes sitting here with his beer and his best friend and his, er, best friend’s vessel’s daughter and watching dumb films in the room they made to do exactly that.

The only thing that would make it better is if Sam were here with them. But, well. One problem at a time.


Becky still isn't back by dinner time, which turns out to be some kind of heavily spiced chicken-and-date stew Rilla cooks in a weird clay cone and serves with something that's like tiny crumb-sized balls of pasta. It's quite possibly the best thing Dean's ever eaten, and he says so. Multiple times.

Sam barely touches his, too busy hunched over yet another book, muttering through his hair about summoning Crowley and demanding to know what's happened to Becky.

It's Rilla who talks him down, mostly by yelling at him for being an overbearing jackass. Dean sighs internally and starts counting down the time until he has to stage an intervention for real.

As a concession, he spends the evening helping Sam sort through the Bunker’s backlog of badly labelled artifacts.

“There has to be something here,” Sam says. “If Michael and Lucifer want it, it has to… we have to figure out how to stop them.” His eyes are glassy in a way Dean doesn't like, but doesn't comment on.

Dean’s not exactly the archive nerd, but the Bunker does have some interesting shit. Or, stuff that probably would've been interesting, back in their old life when they had more to worry about than giant mad angels and one solitary asshole demon. It’s nothing earth-shattering… or “Earth-mending”, is maybe a better analogy. Either way, it’s nothing Dean can imagine two archangels busting their shared nut over. The Men of Letters seem to’ve been an easy A on monsters and magic and a solid B-minus on demons. But for angels they’re totally skimming a D or an F, and not just because of the ridiculous paintings.

(They do have a jar labelled “angel feathers” in the storeroom, though. It contains exactly two feathers. They’re dull and tatty things, and if they’re really from an actual angel Dean feels sorry for the guy.)

Crappy angelology aside, going through the Bunker’s vaults turns out to be more interesting than Dean had hoped. He only notices the time he’s spent when he tries to throw an anti-baku knife, interrupts himself with a yawn, and ends up punching a hole in the drywall rather than the target.

Shifting the target over a foot to the left solves the immediate problem, though after that Dean decides it’s probably time for bed. No, scratch that, time for a hot shower, then bed.

Sam is still scowling at books when Dean walks through the library, and only grunts in irritation when Dean suggests turning in for the night. Dean mutters “whatever, bitch” at the dismissal, tries not to feel hurt that he doesn’t get the appropriate answer in reply, and instead heads back to his room with his own scowl and an uneasy feeling in his gut. He’s so busy focusing on that that he gets halfway across the floor before noticing Cas is sitting on the edge of his bed.

“The fu— Cas?”

“Dean,” says Cas, as if it’s entirely normal for him to be creeping in Dean’s room. Which, okay. It sort of is.

“Uh… can I help you?”

“Yes,” is the answer.

There’s an odd, awkward moment where Dean waits for more and it just… doesn’t come. Cas just sits there, on the bed, back ramrod straight, fists balled on his knees and eyes not looking at Dean and holy shit he’s nervous. Cas is straight-up nervous. He’s in Dean’s room, waiting for Dean, and he wants something, and he’s nervous, and suddenly the seed of anxiety in Dean’s gut blossoms into an entire fucking forest because holy fucking shit.

“Um…” says Dean.

Then, all at once, Cas blurts out:

“I can’t see the back of my wings.”

Another one of those awful, awkward pauses, with Cas staring resolutely at a spot on the wall about two feet to Dean’s left.

“Um. Okay?” says Dean, derailed. Because, yeah. Totally not what he was expecting. But also, duh Cas can’t see the backs of his own wings. It’s not like he has eyes in the back of his… oh.

“Hey, wait up. Don’t you have, like, eyes there? Can’t you, I dunno. Use one wing to look at the other?” Which: fucking weird. But whatever.

Cas sighs, both his shoulders and wings slumping. “I… yes,” he says. “In a sense. But…” He huffs in frustration. “It would be like attempting to see words on the palm of your hand when it was an inch from your face.”

Dean holds his hand an inch away from his face and, oh. Okay. He gets it.

“My wings are… healing,” Cas says, slowly. “I’d like to know the process is happening correctly, but… this vessel was not designed with the task in mind.”

“Oh. Right. Yeah. Makes sense.”

“So. I would appreciate… assistance.”

It takes Dean a moment to get what Cas is asking but, when he does: “Oh. Um. Yeah, man. Of course.”

Cas nods, small and tight and miserable, and Dean’s heart aches for the guy. He saw what was left of Cas’ wings after Lucifer and Michael got done with them; it hadn’t been pretty. Nothing like the huge, glossy, regal things they’d been when feathered. Stripped and burned Cas’ wings are, well. They’re freaky. Not just because they’re essentially giant hotwings, but because they’re giant hotwings of mottled charcoal-dark skin covered in freakin’ eyes. No wonder Cas keeps them covered.

Dean isn’t really sure what to expect when Cas stands in front of him and unwinds the sheet. It’s not like he’s some kind of bird expert, or whatever, so he had no idea what feathers look like when they regrow. He’d always sort of assumed it was like hair or fur. Like, first the feathers would be little and short, then they’d get longer. Pretty basic.

He’s is totally, absolutely, one-hundred-percent not expecting to see spines.

“Um…”

Cas looks like some kind of demented porcupine. Dean’s seen a lot of messed-up shit in his life but… yeah. Yeah, this is still right up there. And worse because he has to bite down on his revulsion, keep his face carefully neutral, because there are like a dozen crazy-ass eyeballs staring at him.

They don’t look like human eyes, which is at least something. The blue is too blue and the white part is black, and the pupils are more like three pupils mashed together. They’re all definitely looking at Dean.

“Um, Cas, buddy?” he tries. “You’re gonna have to tell me what I’m looking at, here.” Very carefully, he reaches out to touch one of the larger spines. It’s not sharp or anything, but Cas’ breath hitches and Dean pulls his finger back. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Cas says. “The bloodfeathers are… sensitive.”

“Oh. That… these spines you got goin’ on here?”

“They're growing feathers,” Cas explains. “The shafts are filled with blood, the vanes covered in wax. When they mature, the blood flow will cease and the coating can be removed.” He stretches the wing Dean's looking at, rolling it backwards slightly so Dean can see the front side. Sure enough, there are patches of fluffy iridescent black feathers along the top. Along the parts Cas would be able to reach with his own hands, in fact.

“Oh. That's… that's kinda awesome.” He turns back to Cas’ wing. “So you want me to…?”

“Check nothing appears damaged, or infected.” Cas pauses. Then, most hesitantly: “And if… The shorter feathers on the covets itch. I think they're grown but I can't…” Cas makes an abortive reaching movement with his hand.

“You want me to, uh…” What was it Cas had said? “De-wax ‘em for you?”

Cas exhales, obviously relieved. “Please,” he says. “When they're ready, the outer cover should crumble if you press it between your fingers.”

So basically that's how Dean ends up grooming an angel's wings. Grooming his best friend's wings. His best friend whom he's kissed. And had weird angel mind-sexy times with. Man, his life is messed up. But whatever.

Figuring out the feathers doesn't turn out to be that difficult. The bloodfeathers are dark at the base—from the blood, duh—so Dean leaves them alone. The white-based spines (“pinfeathers”, Cas tells him) are the ones that're good to go, and it's actually pretty awesome to crush the outer shell between his fingers and watch the glossy black puff out from underneath.

Cas’ feathers aren’t natural, which is obvious now Dean’s seeing them close-up. The iridescence isn't uniform across the surface, instead traces out in patterns of calligraphic Enochian. It's a jolting reminder that the creature beneath Dean’s rough hands is something holy; a relic personally crafted for a divine purpose. He swallows, suddenly hyper-aware of the dirt beneath his nails and the strange eyes watching him work, even if several have fallen closed. To stop Dean poking them by accident, he tells himself. Not because… not for any other reason.

“So, uh. Tenacious D really did a number on these, huh?” Dean says, desperate to break the silence.

“It was Lucifer,” Cas says. “I believe that, by stripping my feathers, he wished to… teach me a lesson.”

Dean curls his lip in disgust. “About what?” He's pretty sure there's no lesson Ol’ Luce could teach that would be worth learning.

“About where my loyalties should lie.” As he says it, Cas stretches and drops his wing so Dean can get better access to the feathers in the crook of his elbow. “Maintaining regrowing feathers is difficult. In Heaven, communal preening was a ritual to foster closeness in the garrisons.”

“Right.” Cas has mentioned this before, so…

“In the Cage,” Cas continues, “Lucifer had no one. He was, is, so proud, and his wings were the most magnificent of all of us. After millennia of inattention they are… not.”

Dean thinks about this. “So he was, what? Trying to lure you to the dark side with the threat of a bad hair day?”

Cas makes a sound that is half huff of laughter, half exasperated sigh. “Lucifer is vain, and proud. And… would be very poor at playing I Spy.”

Now it's Dean’s turn to laugh, if only because that's the politest way of calling someone a sociopathic lunatic he's ever heard. “But… you've got us,” he says. “I mean, we’re not wing maintenance pros, but it's not like we're gonna let you… I dunno. Get messed-up or whatever.”

Cas exhales—a soft, strange sound—and all his eyes momentarily close. “Thank you,” he breathes. Then, louder: “I suspect it wouldn’t have occurred to Lucifer that I’d ask you to do this for me. He certainly wouldn’t ever ask this of a human.”

Which means it occurs to Dean, not for the first time, to wonder exactly how… intimate this whole “preening” thing actually is.

(Non. Stop. Angel orgy, supplies his mind. Dean shoves the thought down. Hard.)

“Yeah, well,” he says instead. “He's an asshole so, like. No one would want to.”

Cas just huffs another one of his not-laughs.

It takes Dean the better part of half an hour to ruffle Cas’ feathers into something a bit more presentable. It gets to be sort of soothing, like waxing Baby, except if Baby were fluffy instead of sleek and warm and soft instead of cold and hard, and was also able to move bits around so that Dean could get into the tricky places. Like the feathers beneath Cas’ “wing-shoulder”, the ones normally pressed against his back. They're the ones closest to messed-up; casings half-crushed from friction against Cas’ skin. Dean ends up kind of in Cas’ armpit, big wing extended over his head and one hand braced on Cas’ side as he uses the other to comb out the nasty old wax sheathes and fluff up the underlying feathers.

And it's about here—as he's running his hands over the intricate, iridescent Enochian branded into the feathers—that Dean chances a look up. To see that Cas’ eyes are fully closed, head titled back, lips slightly parted and curled at the corners and, God. He looks blissful.

Dean is suddenly very conscious of the hand he has resting on Cas’ side. Just below the ribs, in fact; a lean plane of long muscle that moves slowly in and out with Cas’ breathing.

Half an hour, Cas has been standing there. Docile and patient while Dean gives him the angelic equivalent of a back rub. A good one, too, if Dean says so himself. Most of Cas’ contour and covert feathers are back now, and he looks less like the bastard child of a porcupine and a bucket of KFC. Even if it'll still be a while before the pinions are grown. It must feel better, too; Cas looks relaxed in a way Dean hasn't seen for a while and—

“Dean.”

And a dozen bright blue eyes are watching him. Because Dean’s stilled his hands. But he hasn't moved away.

Neither has Cas.

“Um,” says Dean. “I, um. Think that's done. How do you feel?”

“Good.” Cas says it on an exhale, eyes fluttering closed. God, he looks sinful. “Thank you.”

“Yeah, um. Anytime,” Dean says, heart speeding up when he realizes he truly means it. He will happily grope Cas’ wings whenever he's allowed, creepy eyeballs and all.

“I may require assistance with the pinions,” Cas says slowly.

“Yeah. Sure. Of course.” Dean still hasn't moved. Neither has Cas. A few very minor adjustments and they'd be embracing, Dean tucked under Cas’ wing.

That thought shouldn't be as… enticing as it is. God, Dean shouldn't be having that thought at all. Not when Cas is so close he can almost certainly hear it.

“Dean.” It isn't a question.

Very slowly, the large wing begins to lower.

Then, before it can:

“You didn't kiss me.”

“Dean?”

“Before. When I…” Dean makes a vague gesture. “And you didn't… so I thought…” He can't meet Cas’ eyes, although he's still crouched on the floor basically nuzzling into the dude’s armpit.

The wing stills. “Oh,” Cas says. Then: “I… didn't know how.”

Dean blurts laughter, though it's tinged with hysteria. “What?”

“I don't have… experience with human intimacy,” Cas says.

“… oh.” Shit.

“I… enjoyed it,” Cas says. “I enjoy you. I… would like to be better at kissing you.”

Holy shit.

Dean stands, because this doesn't seem to be the sort of conversation he should be having with Cas’ armpit. Wingpit. Whatever.

Cas just watches him, all earnest blue eyes and glossy black feathers, and… shit. What’s a dude supposed to say, when getting propositioned by an angel of the Lord? Dean’s no slouch on the Bible—at least not the parts dealing with angels and demons—and he's pretty sure the old prophets omitted the protocols for this particular scenario.

He bites his lip, looks down at Cas’—plump, damp, slightly parted—says, “Cas…” reconsiders, and goes with:

“Aw, hell.”

He gives Cas plenty of time to move away. Not that Cas needs it, being an angel and all, but… still. His cheek is rough with stubble where Dean cups it, his lips dry and chapped when Dean rubs a thumb across the lower one. Cas is still hurt, Dean reminds himself. Hurt and imperfect and perfect because of it.

(Not “human”, though. Because Cas isn't. And that's… that's just who he is. And that's fine. It's enough. More than enough.)

“So, um,” Dean says. “This isn't hard. Just… do what feels good.” He tries to tell himself his voice doesn't shake. The he closes the distance, and brushes his lips against Cas’.

It's… yeah. It's still good. Better than good. Cas still tastes a bit like dates and honey and, this time, his lips part when they touch Dean’s. Dean gives an encouraging groan at the feel of it, thumb caressing Cas’ cheek and tongue gently lapping at his skin. It must make Cas a little bolder, because he tilts his head and strokes his own tongue against Dean’s, just briefly. Dean groans again at the wet heat of it, the taste and feel, fingers of his right hand tightening around the smooth skin of Cas’ waist.

Cas pulls back, just a little. Just enough to say, “I want to touch you.”

“Fuck, yes. Do it.” Whatever you want, Dean adds, silently. Anything and everything, always.

Cas’ hands settle on Dean’s waist, chaste and unsure, and Dean huffs a pleased laugh, about to say something, when the dark shadows behind Cas extend forward and settle heavily against Dean’s biceps.

“Is this… is this okay?”

“Fuck, yes.” Because it is. It's more than just okay, to feel the powerful, warm weight of Cas’ wings pressing along Dean’s arms. He's seen Cas use those wings to defy gravity and straight-up punch a bitch, and now they're pressing gently against Dean, drawing him closer, against the thick solidity of Cas’ chest and: “Fuck, yeah. Shit, gonna get me… gonna get me hot.” He's not sure if it's dirty talk or a warning.

Except all Cas says is: “I want you to feel good. I want to make you feel good.” The wings pull in a little tighter, Cas’ hands shifting to be a little bolder; one higher up the small of Dean’s back, the other lower onto the curve of his ass.

And, that's it. Dean's done. It's the weight and the strength, and that's the thing that always gets Dean hard, those few times he's let himself be with a dude. Strong hands holding him down, the heavy weight of muscle between his thighs. His dick’s twitching and swelling in his jeans and he presses it against Cas’ thigh as his lips mouth along Cas’ jaw. Cas sighs, beautiful and content, and arches his neck back, open to the exploration. His hips press into Dean’s and, oh. Yeah. Yeah he's hard too. Dean gave a fucking angel of the fucking Lord a fucking boner. He's totally going to Hell. Again.

“Hell is— Hell is gone, Dean,” Cas mutters, somehow still aggressively literal despite the fact that his breath is hitching in little gasps and he's rutting himself on Dean like a teenager.

Dean shuts Cas up with a kiss, open-mouthed and wet and messy. Strangely, Cas is better at this than he is the chaster kisses they were sharing before. He's downright aggressive, in fact; pushing forward and driving Dean open with such enthusiasm Dean would stumble back if it weren't for the wings holding him in place.

“I—” Cas manages, in between breaths. “I— I want—”

“Yeah. Fuck, yeah. Whatever, man.” The skin on Cas’ chest is warm and smooth and dusted with moles and dark hair. Dean sneaks an arm around and… fuck, yeah. Cas’ wing. Dean runs his fingers through the newly-freed feathers along the top and back, loving the soft feel and way they puff out in response to his touch.

Cas moans, pressing closer, holding Dean almost tight enough to hurt. “I…” he says, breath hitching and words exhaled into Dean’s mouth. “It feels…”

“Feels what?”

“I don't know, I…”

Dean dips a hand to press between Cas’ thighs. Cas is hot and hard and straining behind his zipper, and he presses into Dean’s touch, needy and moaning.

“Here, angel,” Dean says. “Let me.”

He drags down Cas’ fly, metal teeth echoing harshly. Cas gasps, relief palpable, as Dean starts to rub him through the damp cotton of his underwear.

“Better?”

“Oh,” Cas says. “Oh, yes.”

Dean chuckles, rutting himself lazily against Cas’ thick thigh while his hand explores. Cas’ dick is long enough that the head peeks above his waistband and and thick enough to fill Dean’s palm. The smell of it is musky and heavy and male and very, very human. Dean wonders what it will feel like in his mouth, in his ass. The thought of it makes his own dick throb, makes his mouth water and his knees weak. He shouldn't want it, he knows. It's soft of him, a weakness in a life that tolerates only strength and—

“Dean,” Cas groans. “Oh. Dean. It feels… I feel…”

“Good?”

Cas’ face us buried against Dean’s shoulder, lips mouthing helplessly at Dean's neck. At Dean’s words, he nods. “Yes. Yes, so good. So good, I—”

One quick movement and Dean's pulled Cas’ cock free entirely, looping it and his balls over his underwear. Now it's just his hand and Cas’ skin, probably too dry but Cas’ doesn't seem to care. Just throws back his head and arches his spine and—

“DEAN!”

The climax hits both of them like the wrath of god. Dean’s expecting it in Cas but he's not expecting Cas to reflect it back; an explosion of grace that pours into Dean with pleasure and want and something Dean will, later, convince himself is lust. The feeling isn't new—he's had Cas pour into him before, grace tearing along muscle and nerve and filling his soul fit to bursting—but nonetheless it's… different, somehow. When it's not just Dean nestled in a palm the size of a backyard lawn but rather being cradled against a warm, solid body with hands—still big, but human-big—pulling at his hips and a warm mouth desperately seeking his.

Cas’ entire body feels like fire. Not the pale, flicking imitation of Earth but the true light of divine ardor; the heart the purifies instead of burns. Dean is, as always, helpless beneath it, hips rubbing against Cas as Dean’s dick spills again and again and again. It's Cas chasing his own orgasm, fascinated and enthralled by the new experience, dragging it out as long as he can, dragging Dean along for the ride as he does.

“C-Cas!” Dean manages to gasp. “Please. I can't—” His balls are empty and dry but his orgasm keeps going, body shivering and pulsing. It wants to hurt but Cas won't let it, chasing away pain with his grace until there's no sensation left but animal lust and divine ecstasy.

Eventually, he lets go. Or one of them does.

Dean’s next conscious thought is on his knees in the floor of his bedroom, Cas nuzzling and kissing against his jaw.

“Oh, Dean,” Cas is saying. “That was… thank you. I just… thank you.”

Dean’s tongue feels numb and heavy but he nonetheless somehow manages to slur out, “Any time, buddy,” even as his sex-dazed brain wonders what he's gotten himself into.


That night, Dean sleeps like the dead. He doesn't even really remember pulling himself out of his cum-soaked clothes and flopping down, naked, between the sheets. He does remember Cas flapping his wings, testing the new feathers, and grinning the dopey grin of the sex-happy at the results.

The next morning, Dean wakes up to a mess of gross wax feather-casing detritus all over his floor. And the sole of his foot. Which, ew.

He spends a long time after that staring at the wall. Then he sighs, puts on boxers and a robe, and goes to find a dustpan and brush.


It gets easy to fall into a routine. Wake up, wash, dress, cook breakfast, work around the Bunker. Make lunch. Help Sammy. Maybe hit the firing range or the gym. Fetch produce from Rilla. Cook dinner. Watch TV with Cas and Claire. Sleep. Rinse, repeat.

Becky helps Dean with his photo idea, taking him hunting for photo paper and using her laptop to do… something to the photos he manages to either find or take. When she's done, the colors are brighter and the pictures sharper, and Dean hangs them in a series of frames he makes himself with recycled timber from around the Bunker because, hell. It ain't like he's got much else to do with his time.

The day after the photo wall goes up, Dean walks into the TV room to find Becky adding to it. Pictures of Dean and Sam as kids, Mom and Dad as young adults. Pictures of Bobby. One of Becky and Chuck. Pictures of the Novaks. Even some of people Dean doesn't recognize but, from context, must be Becky’s family.

“Where'd you get these?” Dean asks, running a finger along the frame of an image of him and Sam playing catch in the scrapyard, circa 1990.

“From people’s houses, y’know,” Becky says, not looking away from where she's busy sticking picture hooks to the stucco. “Crowley took me.”

“In exchange for what?”

Which earns him a disturbingly good impression of Sam’s bitchface, as Becky says, with exaggerated ominousness: “My immortal so-oo-oo-oul!”

“Becky—”

“Uh-uh. Let's not. I get enough of it from Sam, okay?”

Dean thinks about this and he thinks about Crowley in Chuck’s house or inspecting the remains of the symbols in the Novaks’ basement. He doesn't like it, but it's done, and bitching at Becky won't change that. So he just says:

“Sure. Whatever.” And goes back to looking at the pictures.

Of course, Rilla catches him making frames and immediately asks if he can make other things, too.

“I was thinking of converting the roof,” she tells him. “Bring some plants up, get a table and some chairs, some kind of fire pit for cooking…”

Dean, who thinks this is a great idea, does not need very much persuading. Although he does hold out for a little on principle, mostly to encourage Rilla to bribe him with more Turkish delight.

“I read about this stuff in a book once,” Dean says, eating another pink jelly and getting sugar all through his stubble. “Never knew what it was.”

“Good enough to sell your family out for?” Rilla, who’s apparently read the same book, jokes.

“Nope.”

“I'll have to try harder next time, then.”

It's a sore point, but Dean supposes Rilla doesn't know that and he doesn't feel like explaining. So he lets that go, as well.

Instead, he ropes Cas in to helping Rilla with setting up her garden on top of the Bunker. They take the truck back out to scrounge up planters and abandoned pot-plants, then Dean and Cas (mostly Cas) do the heavy lifting. Rilla is busy teaching Claire how to garden and Cas joins in, expression calm and content as he helps the girls replant a series of person-sized trees into the huge tubs they'd found on an abandoned farm.

“Didn't know you liked gardening,” Dean says.

Cas just shrugs. “It's caring for Father’s creations,” he says. “Helping them grow and thrive. It's a worthy cause.” He has a smear of dirt across his cheek and it's both adorable and irritating, so Dean brushes it away with his thumb.

The touch startles Cas, and Dean has just enough time to feel his cheeks start to burn and his mouth open to stammer out: “You, um. Dirt. Um…”

Except all Cas does is smile, big and bright and holy shit he's beautiful when he smiles. “Thank you,” he says and, yeah. Yeah, Dean could get used to that.

On their second day of renovating the roof, Becky appears with a cloud of demonsmoke and a huge bundle of canvas and rope and wood.

“It's a bell tent,” she announces, as Dean unrolls the contraption. “Like, for glamping.”

“‘Glamping’?”

“Like camping but with less bugs and more Instagram,” Rilla supplies.

Dean ends up drilling eye bolts into the Bunker roof in lieu of pegs. Erected, the tent is more of a marquee; a huge oiled canvas dome the five of them can stand in and still have room for Sam. Becky appoints herself decorator, and by the end of the day the inside is decked out in thick plush rugs and big soft pillows and lit by strings of solar-powered faerie lights.

“I am, like, so sleeping up here from now on,” Becky announces as they inspect her handiwork. “I am totally over the Bunker. Totally.”

“There's nothing wrong with the Bunker,” Dean says, feeling oddly aggrieved.

“No, but you weren't locked up in there for, like, a year. Even us fangirls need some vitamin D.”

“You just want a place long, scaled, and evil isn't warded out of,” Rilla says, grinning.

Becky mock-gasps. “What kind of girl do you think I am?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Ew,” says Dean because, no. No, there's no way he's going there. Not now, not ever.

That night, they cook kofte on long metal skewers over the fire pit. It's made from stones from the land around the Bunker, painstakingly gathered by Cas and fitted together so tightly Dean can hardly see the seams. Even Sam comes to join them, after Rilla entices him up with beer and salad.

There’s a chill in the air but they stave it off with the fire and the meat and a bunch of fluffy throws liberated from a Bed, Bath, and Beyond. The kofte (kind of a cross between meatballs and sausages) are tasty and baklava are sweet, and somewhere on his third beer Dean looks up at the star-dusted sky and realizes that, shit. He's happy. Real fucking happy.

To his left, Cas is listening with an expression of furious concentration as Claire explains her DS game, The World Ends With You. Cas has uttered the phrase “Reapers do— did not work that way” more than once. It earns him an eyeroll every time.

Sam, meanwhile, is distracted by Rilla. She's practically sitting in his lap, already too-short sundress barely doing it's job on either end as she hand-feeds Sam strawberries. Rilla’s not exactly Sam’s usual type, but… still. If Dean knows his brother, he knows Sammy won't be sleeping alone tonight. Which, good. At least it'll mean Sam is sleeping (eventually).

And Becky…

Becky is sitting at Dean's left, laptop on her knees, though her eyes keep flicking up to watch Sam. She has an odd sort of expression as she does. Wistful, maybe. Sad, but resigned, too. Dean must take too long trying to figure it out, because Becky’s gaze moves to him, and she gives a thin smile.

“It's okay,” she says. “I'm not… I mean, Ril asked. If I’d be okay with it.” She nods vaguely towards where Rilla is busy pushing a strawberry into Sam’s mouth with her tongue. (Which: Go Sammy! But also: Ew, get a room.)

“And are you?” Dean asks. It's not that he wants to talk about feelings, exactly, so much as he'd really like to keep drama—and, therefore, potential future discussions of feelings—to a minimum.

Besides. Maybe it's easier, the whole chick-flick thing, when it's an actual chick on the other end. Maybe.

Becky doesn't answer immediately. When she does, it's to say:

“No. Not really. But, I mean. I want to be. I have to be, I… I know I'm not the kind of girl guys like your brother go for.” The last said small and hushed and sad.

“Becky…” Except, what can he say to that? Becky isn't the kind of girl Sam is into.

“There was, um. A— a thing,” Becky says, still in that hurt little voice. “That would've happened, I mean.”

“In Chuck’s notes?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I… I, um. I make Sam marry me. With… with a love potion.”

Oh, jeeze, thinks Dean. Out loud, he says: “Hey. Just ‘cause Chuck wrote about it, that don't mean shit.”

“Yeah, no. That's… that's not how it works. I would've done it. If this”—a gesture around at everything—“hadn't happened. And I… it was written as a joke, you know? Like, hah! Look at that looser, so desperate she'd… y’know. To tap that.” Her voice waivers and she's chewing on her lip and, shit. Dean is not the person for this conversation. Not even close to it.

“And it's just…” Becky is saying. “To… to read something like that about yourself. Something shameful and… and humiliating. To realize just how much of a joke people you admire think of you as and— and… and it sucks, you know?”

“Yeah,” says Dean, completely honestly. “I know.”

Becky just looks at him for a moment, then drops her eyes with another one of those thin, unhappy smiles. “Yeah,” she says. “Yeah, I guess you do.”

“Look, Becky,” Dean says. “Whatever Chuck wrote about you… I just… he was kind of an asshole, y’know?” Dean is definitely not thinking of the phrase chunky soup as he says it.

Becky scoffs. “Sometimes, yeah.”

“And, yanno. All that prophecy destiny stuff? It's a load of crap. We wouldn't be here if it weren't. So, like. Don't beat yourself up over shit you haven't done, and ain't gonna do.” And, shit. It's not like Dean doesn't still have nightmares of himself all hard-edged and broken, and Cas as a doped-out husk, and Sammy as… not Sammy. But the point of them is just that; they're nightmares. It didn't happen. It isn't going to happen. Can’t happen, in fact. Shit changed. So… whatever.

“Yeah,” Becky says. “Yeah, I… thanks.” She curls up around herself, chin on her knees, blanket pulled around her shoulders. Dean tries to ignore the fact she smells faintly of sulfur. Becky always smells faintly of sulfur, lately.

Things wrap up not long after that. Rilla and Sam disappear first, sneaking away while everyone else is distracted arguing over their favorite Pokémon. Next is Claire, who confesses it's past her bedtime, and retreats down into the Bunker. Finally, Becky bails in a cloud of demonsmoke after whispering some words into an amulet. Dean watches her go with a sigh, before letting himself flop backwards onto the concrete. Overhead, the stars gleam like a line of salt across black velvet. Dean watches the flickering, feels the beer and the meat settle in his gut, feels the tension and worry seep out of his shoulders. Not all of it, but… enough.

He's very conscious of Cas, sitting cross-legged by his side. Dean is watching the stars but Cas is watching Dean, grace flickering soft and warm across Dean’s soul. An invitation. Because the kids have gone to bed and, somewhere down below, Sammy is getting laid. And Dean knows, just knows, down in his bones, that if he lays here and falls asleep beneath the stars, Cas will watch him do it. Maybe he'll stay, maybe he won't, but if Dean reaches out, just one tiny touch, one little word…

“Hey, Cas?”

“Yes, Dean?”

“You wanna help me christen the tent?” No way Dean’s letting certain-other-things-he's-trying-very-hard-not-to-think-about get there first.

Cas does his tilty squinty expression, then: “Is ‘christen’ a euphemism for us having sex?”

“Uh. In this case, yeah?” God, Cas. Really? Dean is not blushing. And even if he is, it's dark and no one will be able to tell.

But all Cas does is smile, startling and brighter than the moon. “Then yes,” he says. “I would.”

And, somehow, it's that easy.


They're halfway through lunch when the new girl arrives.

She bamfs in with Becky, appearing in a cloud of black and red in the middle of the kitchen. Dean does not, in fact, make a sound that could be described as a “yelp” when it happens. And if he ends up across the far side of the room holding aloft a plate of grilled flatbread? Well that's just because he doesn't wanna get Crowley Cruft on everybody’s gözleme. He put effort into those, damnit.

“The fu—” Sam manages, jumping to his feet and reaching for a gun he's no longer carrying. “Jesus! Becky!”

Except it's not Becky who answers. It's the new girl.

“Oh, god. I think I'm gonna hurl.”

“I warned you,” Becky says, ignoring Sam entirely. She rubs the newcomer on the back in sympathy. “It takes a bit of getting used to.”

“My skin feels like it's been shrink-wrapped in wasabi.”

“Yeah,” says Becky. “It'll fade.” She gives a glassy-eyed little shimmy as she say it. One Dean immediately sends to the Warehouse via Fucknope Express.

“Um, Becky?” Sam has stopped trying to reach for his gun, but he is standing awfully close to the kitchen knives, eyeing the interloper. “Who’s this?”

Said interloper is five-nothing and looks like she'd blow away in a stiff breeze. She's wearing a navy t-shirt from somewhere called Dalaran University and the only thing aggressive about her is the red of her hair.

“Ohmigod you're tall,” says the girl, all in one breath, peering up at Sam. Then: “Um, hi? I'm, um… Bee says you know— will know? Would've known? Whatever, this is confusing. Anyway, you know me as Charlie? So let's go with that.” She sticks out a hand. “Hi! I'm Charlie!”

“Sam,” says Sam, still cautious. “This is—”

“Dean,” says the new girl, Charlie. “I know. I know who you are. I, um… I've read the books?”

“Great,” Sam mutters.

“Hey, wait.” Something's been niggling at Dean since this Charlie first opened her mouth. And now: “I know you. You're the girl from the radio. ‘Cee Dog’.”

“Oh!” Charlie blinks once, twice. Then gives the most joyfully blinding smile Dean's ever seen. “You’ve heard my show?”

“Yeah, man. It's cool.”

“Oh! Oh, yay!” She does a little wiggly sort of dance as she says it, hands balled into fists near her chin. “I wasn't sure,” she says. “It's just… y’know. The apocalypse happened and, like, what apocalypse doesn't deserve a good radio station, right? So I found myself some gear at Radio Shack and, well. Okay, I kinda maybe broke in a little at one of the old Clear Channel stations and ma-aa-aybe hijacked their band a little but, hey. It was all for a good cause, right? Better me than reruns of Rush Limbaugh.”

“No argument there,” Dean mutters. Then, remembering the plate he's holding: “Hey, we’re just about to have lunch. You like gözleme?”

“I have no idea what that is.”

“Me either,” Dean admits, offering the plate.

Charlie inspects the slices—they're sort of like a folded-over pizza, Dean supposes—then shrugs, and takes one. So does Becky. Sam is too busy scowling through his hair, so Dean puts the plate on the table and sends a prayer out to Cas to drag Rilla and Claire out of the garden before shit gets cold.

“This is pretty good,” Charlie announces at the first bite of food. Dean doesn't get time to preen, however, because Sam’s busy cutting in with:

“Sorry, what were you doing here again. Charlie, was it?” He’s unsubtly tracing the outline of a Devil’s Trap on the table as he says it.

“Oh, right!” Charlie brightens, turning to Sam. “Um. The big naga guy said you needed to decrypt a hard drive?”

“Did he, now?” And Dean is serving gözleme, but Sam is serving bitchface. Right at Becky, who returns it with interest. “And he found you by…?”

“Me,” snaps Becky, while Charlie shifts in discomfort. “Chill out, Sam. She's fine. You guys would've met her, like, about now anyway.”

“Still weird,” Charlie announces. Then after a moment: “But I guess not as weird as being hired as tech support by Majordomo Executus.”

“‘Hired’?” Sam narrows his eyes. “What are you being paid?”

“Oh, um…” Charlie’s eyes slide to Becky’s and there's an obvious question there.

But Becky just shrugs. “Up to you. There's no NDA.” Which: what the hell?

“Right,” says Charlie. Then, to Sam: “He said he'd finish my Brotherhood Scribe Robe.”

“… what?”

“It's, y’know. A cosplay outfit. From a video game? I could never get the collar to sit right.”

“So you're telling me, in exchange for decrypting Chuck’s drive, Crowley is… making you a dress?”

“Um. Yes? Although technically it's a ro—”

How?”

“Oh. Um. With my sewing machine, I guess? He asked if he could borrow it.” Charlie seems to think about this for a moment. “Though I have no idea how he plans on using it.” Then, at their blank stares: “Because of the pedal? He doesn't have any feet!”

“Technically his hands are his feet, I think,” Becky says. “The”—-she makes vague preying mantis motions with her own arms—”are his hands. Or were.”

“Oh, yeah. I can kinda see that. Thought actually now I'm getting some super-disturbing mental images and, oh. Okay, ew no, let’s—”

“Are you okay with this?” Sam has turned to Dean, bitchface still in place.

Dean looks at his brother; really looks. Sammy has less of the dark circles under his eyes—apparently, some of what he does in Rilla’s trailer really is just sleep—but there's still something off about him. Dissonant and paranoid. Dean still doesn't like it.

“You wanna know what's on Chuck’s drive or not?” Dean eventually says. Charlie might currently reek of sulfur, but she's not pinging Dean’s huntey sense. They can walk her over some of the Bunker’s warding after lunch to make sure.

Sam’s scowl flicks between Dean and the girls, still engrossed in a conversation Dean noped out of as soon as Becky said the phrase well, he still has hip bones.

“Fine,” Sam says eventually. “But it's a terrible fucking idea.”

“Yeah, well,” Dean says. “It's what we got. Now shut up and eat your lunch before it gets cold.”


“Okay, so… you want the good news or the bad news?”

Later. They're standing in the room with the old computers and the light-up map, Charlie has a bunch of weird tech kit spread across the continents, Chuck’s harddrive sitting in the centre.

“What's the good news?” Sam asks. He's still arms-folded and looming and scowling, but two hours spent listening to Charle sprout technobabble has softened him up a little. The giant nerd.

“Well, the good news is that your guy was really into strong encryption.”

“That's the good news?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, not all cryptography is created equal, y’know? And there are a lot of scary people out there trying to promote the bad stuff. Gives people a false sense of security. It's gonna come back to bite people sooner or later. Or, um. Would've, I guess? If the world hadn't ended.”

“So what's the bad news?” Dean asks.

“Well. The bad news is that, your guy? He was really into strong encryption.”

“That's the same news.”

“Yup.”

Sam makes a frustrated sound. “Can you get us in or not?”

“Okay, so…” Charlie leans back in her chair, fingers drumming on a laptop like she's trying to figure out how to phrase her next words. “There's two ways to break encryption,” she says. “One, is try and find a weakness in the math. If you can break the algorithm somehow, you can reverse-engineer the cyphertext. That's the ‘sexy’ way, but it's hard. And, honestly? Here we’re looking at 256-bit AES… FIPS 140-compliant stuff, y’know?”

“No,” says Dean, who has no idea what half that just meant. “But go on.”

“Well, point is, it's not gonna crack by stealth.”

“No lockpicks. Gotcha. So what's plan B?”

“Plan B is trying to find the key,” Charlie says. “Think of it, like, um…” She bites her lip, thinking for a moment. “Okay, there are really two keys. One is a regular little ol’ Yale lock. That's whatever password Mr. Security put on the drive in the first place. Sometimes those are easy; words or dates or names of family members. Except I've already run a dictionary over it and… nada. Even ran a script to build a custom database of the most commonly used words and phrases on this baby”—she taps Chuck’s old laptop—”and, again, nada.”

“So now what?” Sam asks.

“Well, I try kicking the door down. Or, well. It's more like… drilling the lock out? I dunno I feel this analogy is getting away from me a little, y’know? Point being, I've started a full brute force attack but that could, um. It could take a while.”

“How long is ‘a while’?”

“Um” Charlie winces. “A decade? Conservatively?”

“So, basically, you got nothing,” Dean huffs.

Charlie shrugs. “Crypto’s hard, man,” she says. “I mean, mostly you break it because people choose shitty passwords, or the algorithms have flaws, or computers get better and can brute-force faster. But, for you guys, two and three are out. So you're just left with one.”

“And you've tried everything?” Sam says. “Like… I dunno. Pets’ names? Chuck’s mom’s birthday?”

“He didn't really have family,” Becky offers, from where she's been lurking in the corner, watching. “He talked about a sister, sometimes. But I never knew her name.”

“Look,” Charlie says. “How bad do you want into this thing? ‘Cause I can build you a rig to try and crack it.”

“What's that involve?”

“Basically? Raiding every workstation out of an office building, and hooking them up to as many GPUs as I can find. I’ll give each one a portion of the keyspace to work on and have them run through every combo until one fits. It's still gonna take time. You're taking sorting through trillions of combinations. It's real needle-in-a-haystack stuff. If you don't get lucky, it could still take years.”

And then Becky says:

“How lucky?”

“Huh?”

“How lucky would you have to be?” she repeats. “To, um. To get it right. On the first try?”

“Um, one-in-two-to-the-two-hundredth-and-fifty-sixth power lucky? Like, that's a lucky number so big I don't even know how to say it in words.”

“So… pretty lucky, then?”

“Just a bit.”

“You could even say… supernaturally lucky.”

Charlie points and raises her brows in an I-see-what-you-did-there look. Becky just grins.

“Be right back!”

“Becky!” Sam lurches up to follow. After a brief moment of eye contact and a mutual shrug, Dean and Charlie follow.

“Becky, what—?”

But Becky’a already in the library, finger running over the spines of the assembled books.

“So you know I said when I was stuck here, that I read a lot of these?” she says. “Well, there was one, I thought I saw…” She trails off, finger tapping a spine. “A-hah!”

She hauls out the book; a massive, leather-bound time with rag-edged pages. Becky licks a finger and starts to flip through it, muttering under her breath, until:

“Here!”

She turns the book around, and hands it to Sam.

“It's… a luck spell, basically,” Becky explains. “I think people used to use it to cheat the lottery? You drink a nasty-ass potion then write out a series of numbers. And, boom! Jackpot.”

“Well, that would've been useful, like, two years ago,” says Dean.

Except Charlie's just lit up like it's goddamn Christmas. “No, no that's… that could totally work!” She does another one of the little excited wriggles, this one accompanied by foot-stamping and a high-pitched sort of shriek. “Nngh! Magic and technology!” she tells the ceiling. “I love it! This is the best! Thank you, creepy naga monster! You are my favorite boss!”

“Aww.” Becky’s hand flutters over her heart. “That's so sweet. I'll tell him you said that.”

“Yeah, how ‘bout we don't,” says Dean, at the same time as Sam says:

“We should be able to find most of these reagents. It's just—”

“An angel feather and a demon claw,” Becky finishes for him.

“I found angel feathers in one of the storerooms,” Dean says.

“Were they”—Sam squints at the book—”’bequeathed to one of purest heart’?”

“Great. Of course we get the spell with the certified-organic-only reagents.”

“Well, it still shouldn't be a problem, right?” Sam says. “I’m sure Cas—”

“Dude’s feathers only just started growing back, and you want me to ask him to rip one out?”

“Whoa,” says Charlie, catching up. “You guys know an angel? Since when? Oh, man. I am so behind.”

“I can give you the books you're missing,” Becky volunteers. “Chuck never published them, but I can put the EPUBs on a thumb drive.”

“Wait. Chuck? Hard drive guy Chuck?”

“Oh, yeah. Carver was his—”

“Hey. Can we focus?” Sam snaps. “Dean, don't suppose you saw any demon claws along with the angel feathers?”

“Nope.”

“Shit.”

“That's not a big deal,” Becky says. “I'll just ask Crowley.”

“Yeah,” Sam mutters, scowling at the words in front of him. “That's what I'm afraid of.”


Getting a feather out of Cas is the easy part.

He's outside in the garden with Claire and Rilla, dirt under his fingernails and smeared down his jeans. He listens patiently when Dean explains what they need, and why, then says, “Yes, of course,” and starts stretching out one big wing beneath his sheet-cloak.

(From behind, Dean hears Charlie give a startled squeak.)

“The spell says the feather has to be given to someone ‘pure of heart’,” Dean points out. About the only person he can think of who might count is Claire. Maybe. Except for that whole pickle jar incident.

Cas just does his squinting into the middle distance thing for a moment, considering, then: “Do you intend to use my gift for personal gain?”

“Dude. We just wanna know what's on this hard drive Chuck left.” And if it's just something like Chuck’s porn stash, they're all gonna feel so fucking stupid.

“Okay,” says Cas. “That's enough.”

Dean doesn't get it, but Sam apparently does. “Huh. So it's a spell to let people cheat the lottery, but it needs ingredients they can only get if they're… not trying to do that.”

“How would that ever have been useful?” Dean moves carefully around behind Cas, lifting up the sheet just enough to see the fall of gleaming black feathers beneath. (Plus the expanse of warm, smooth skin behind them. And if Dean braces himself with a hand on the warm muscle of Cas’ lower back? Well. It's not like Cas is complaining.)

“It's not just for cheating at gambling,” Sam says. “There are a lot of reasons someone would need one shot of really good luck. I bet you'll find this is just a… a variation on something older.”

“Nerd,” mutters Dean, even as the grin creeps across his face. Sam’s been so off, lately. It's nice to hear him babble normally for a change.

Dean rubs his fingers through Cas’ feathers until he finds a likely candidate. One of the lower covets, about as long as Dean’s hand and nestled in a place where it hopefully won't be too noticeable that it's gone. He tugs on it lightly. “This one?”

“Go ahead,” says Cas. His face is half-turned but he's really watching Dean with his wing-eyes. It's a testament to Dean’a life that he doesn't even really find that strange any more.

Pulling out the feather is disturbingly easy; Dean just grabs the base of the quill and yanks. Cas shifts a little from the force, but that's it. There's no flash of light or rumble of earth or any sort of divine retribution that a mere mortal would dare deface one of the first instruments of God.

“Thanks man,” Dean says, as Cas rearranges his wings. The big pinions are still wax-covered spines, but the ends are starting to break open like little feather dusters. That means they're nearly healed. Good. Cas deserves to get his wings back.

“You're really an angel,” Charlie breathes, watching Cas with rapt fascination. “There are, like, so many jokes I could make right now. So many.”

“You'll have to fight your way through Dean, first,” Becky says in a mock-whisper. Dean just scowls at them both and twirls Cas’ feather between his fingers. It feels… nice against his skin. Not as good as it would feel if it were still attached to Cas, but…

But, yeah. Okay. People are staring. And Cas? Cas is smirking, eyes an almost iridescent blue beneath heavy lashes and Dean is absolutely, positively not thinking about how easy it would be to fall to his knees and yeah okay no. None of that. Later, maybe. But not right now.

Right now, they have to deal with Crowley.

“I'll call him,” Becky says, which apparently involves muttering into her pendant.

Crowley congeals a moment later, oozing smoke solidifying into spine and scale.

“You rang?” he says, then does the tongue-flicking thing. Which is, yeah. So gross.

“You cut your nails recently?” Dean asks. “‘Cause we need a clipping.”

“Do you now? Whatever for?”

“Warding,” Sam snaps, previous good mood apparently having evaporated.

The answer earns them a raised eyebrow ridge from Crowley which, fair enough. One the scale of Lies From Sam Winchester, this one rates somewhere just below that time with the curly fries in fifth grade.

“Try again.”

It's Becky who steps forward. “We think we've found a way to decrypt Chuck’a hard drive,” she says. “But we need a spell to do it. One of the reagents is a demon’s claw.”

Crowley does the tongue thing again (which, ew… so much ew), then: “Let me see.”

“No.”

“Oh, for— Show him the book, Sam.” And, okay. Maybe there's something inherently hilarious about watching Sammy the Giant getting stared down in a Bitch-Off by all five-foot-nothing of Becky Rosen. She even starts tapping her foot.

“Are they always like this?” Charlie reaches up on tip-toes to whisper.

“Long story,” Dean mutters back.

“Gossip later?”

“You bring the beer.”

“Deal.”

Sam, meanwhile, has folded like a giraffe at a watering hole. Though he hasn't gone so far as to hand Crowley the book, and is instead holding out the page while Crowley hunches over to read it.

“I remember this,” Crowley says after a moment. “Used to use it to cheat Her Majesty’s lottery.” A pause. “Never very successfully, I might add. That whole business with the feather and the claw. Honestly, selling fakes to the desperate worked better as far as get-rich-quick schemes went. And, depending on what you switched in, some of the effects could be”—another tongue flick—”fun.” He straightens up, tapping the page with a claw. “Your translation is terrible, by the by.”

“But you've cast this before?” Becky asks, before Sam can say anything. “It works?”

“No idea, pet. Like I said, never could get the parts right. And by the time that little problem went away, I was out of reasons to try again.”

“But it could work?”

“Are you cheating the house?”

“Sort of?” Charlie pipes up. “We need to mash on a keyboard to get exactly the right sequence of two-hundred-ish characters.”

“Modern technology is so quaint,” Crowley says. “Then yes, it could work. At worst, you probably won't end up with your brains dribbling into your Chucks.”

“Dude,” says Dean, trying very hard not to look at Cas or think of the one time that did, in fact, literally happen.

“Look. You gonna clip your nails for us or not?” Sam asks.

Crowley just sighs the melodramatic sigh of the chronically attention-whoring. “It's not that simple,” he says. “You need a claw.” He holds up his hand, spins it around to show them. “That's what you're asking.” He uses his thumb to point at the first joint of his pinkie finger.

“It's not just the nail, it's the whole first finger bone,” Dean says.

“A little more than my usual manicure.”

“Will it grow back?” Becky asks.

“An excellent question, my dear. And one I do not have an answer to, in this marvelous new apocalypse of ours.”

“Could Cas heal it?” Dean tries.

“No,” is Cas’ answer to that. “The touch of an angel’s grace to a demon is anathema.”

“Kinky,” says Crowley. “I do love a bit of blasphemy.” Which, ew. No.

“It will also very likely cause you to explode,” Cas says. His voice is deadpan but, yeah. That's totally payback for the Chucks comment.

“Great.” Sam rubs at the bridge of his nose. “Okay, we need to cut off your finger. We get it. So, can the bullshit: what do you want in return?”

And Crowley, that conniving piece of shit? Crowley grins, teeth like blades and eyes as bright as fresh-spilled blood.

“Oh, Moose,” he says. “I thought you'd never ask.”


As it turns out, what Crowley wants is Becky.

“It's an escrow arrangement,” Becky tells them later. She's been on the roof negotiating (and potentially “negotiating” which, again mega ew) with Crowley all afternoon. The result, retrospectively unsurprisingly, is a contract as three inches thick. At least it's printed on paper, not skin.

“Once the drive is decrypted, the only person with direct access to the contents is me,” Becky continues. “My job is to, um”—she bites her lip, thinking for a moment—“to disperse any informational contents in a way deemed non-damaging to sovereign interest of Hell or its persons.”

Dean just stares. Eventually, Sam says:

“… what?”

“It means I can't—”

“No. I know what it means. I just… what? You agreed to that?”

“Not formally. I said I'd discuss it with you, first. But in principle…” She shrugs.

“What the hell is Crowley planning?” Sam snaps, then instantly winces at his own phrasing.

Another shrug from Becky.

“What about Lucifer?” Dean asks. “Is he a… sovereign… whatever?”

“No. There's a formal exclusion clause for Lucifer and his direct agents at paragraph seventy-three, subsection A, clause—”

“Yeah, yeah okay. I get it.” Dean huffs. He leans back in his chair, arms folded. “Look,” he says. “I think we just… why are we even doing this? How do we even know there's jack shit on that drive? What if it's just— just Chuck’s porn collection?”

“Um. Chuck’s porn collection is in a folder on his desktop called ‘Porn Collection’,” says Becky.

“Well… okay. His kinky porn collection?”

“Oh, that's a sub-folder. Well, several, really. I mean… I know I'm not exactly in a position to judge, but—”

And then Sam says:

“Lucifer wants it.”

That shuts up Becky, even as she turns to stare at Sam with wide eyes.

“What?” says Dean.

Sam isn't looking at either of them. Instead, he's slumped low in his seat, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose. “Lucifer… back in Michigan, Lucifer and Michael wanted you to get something for them. Something Chuck gave you.”

“Yeah. The key to this place.”

Sam shakes his head. “I don't… I don't think that was it. I think maybe they wanted you to think that was it, or even that they straight-up thought that was it, but… but there's nothing here, man. I mean, there's a lot of stuff. Obviously. But nothing… nothing that would be interesting to two archangels.”

“So, what? You're saying they fucked up?”

“I'm saying… they knew Chuck gave us something. But the location of the key wasn't the only thing. What if it was the hard drive?”

“Which he didn't ‘give’ us. You just took it.”

“And same deal with the Bunker key. I mean, if you wanna be literal about it, Chuck didn't ‘give’ us shit; the dude was dead when we got there.” A little pained squeak from Becky, which Sam doesn't appear to notice as he continues: “But if he was prescient enough to set up the whole thing with the note and the car plates, knowing that we'd nab the hard drive before we bailed would've been easy.”

“So, what? You're saying Becky should just sell her soul to Crowley—”

“Well, technically it's not a soul deal, thought it would—”

“—to get access to a disk that might end up containing fuck-all? C’mon.”

“Um. Can I just say something?”

“What?” they both snap in unison.

Becky flinches, but only a little. “The UST is sweet and all, but technically? This isn't your decision.”

“Becky…” Sam warns, at the same time as Dean says, “What?”

“The contract would be binding on me, not either of you. Without it, no one gets anything. With it, I get the one spell reagent we can't get from another source—”

“Cas’ feather—” Dean starts, but Becky just says:

“You said yourself, there are more in storage. And Cas isn't the only angel. Crowley is the only demon. And, honestly? I just want to know what's on Chuck’s drive. If there's something that can help you that's great, but I'm not doing this because of that. I'm doing it for me.”

“You never had any intention of not signing, did you?” Sam asks.

“No. I just thought you should know why I am.”

“This is stupid,” Dean says. “You know that, right? Crowley’s going to screw you—”

“Too late,” Becky says, with (ew) a wicked little smirk.

“Jesus, Becky, you know he—”

“Is just using me to get to the writings of the Prophet,” Becky finishes. “Trust me, Dean, I know. Better than you do.”

“And you're gonna fall for it anyway. You're gonna— gonna waltz into this on his terms.”

“No,” says Becky, leaning back in her chair. “I'm going in on mine.”


Pretty much the only quote-unquote “upside” to the entire thing is the part where Dean gets to cut the last joint off Crowley’s left pinkie with a giant pair of bolt cutters they find in the garage. Crowley insists Dean is the one to make the cut. “You know how to make it clean,” he says, and he's right. The flesh and sinew sever easily and Crowley barely twitches when it happens, with the exception of letting out a single, lascivious groan at the final snick. The groan ends in a chuckle Crowley buries into Becky’a chest; her arms are wrapped tight around his big, spiny, snake-head, though it seems to be more for her benefit than his.

She's the one who dresses the wound when it's done.

“My dear,” Crowley hisses, “you needn't fuss. I've survived worse.”

“Well, you should've had someone to help you then, too.”

The severed claw is almost as long as Dean’s palm is wide, and oozes red-black ichor that evaporates into sulfur-reeling smoke in the air.

“Work quickly,” Crowley says. He has Becky bandaging his injured hand and a bottle of Scotch in the other. “I suspect it won't keep. And you don't get another.”

Dean just huffs, and takes the disintegrating hunk of flesh inside to Sam.


In the end, it's almost anticlimactic. While they've been negotiating with Crowley, Charlie’s been jury-rigging a keyboard and some kind of computer program.

“The keyboard only has the keys you need for the, um, the key,” she tells Becky. “The app will only accept the right number of characters. Just… mash on it however you want? It’ll beep when it's got enough input, then… then I guess we see if magic is real?”

They're back on the roof, in the bell tent, because Becky refused to leave Crowley. Now she's using the coils of his tail like a creepy scaled beanbag, laptop propped up on her knees and angled so she's the only one who can see the screen. Sam is sitting on Crowley’s other side, fingers twitching and Ruby’s knife tucked into the back of his belt.

The potion Sam made from the feather and the claw is a revolting green-brown sludge currently corroding one of the Bunker’s cut-crystal tumblers.

(They'd been a bit worried about that, what with the demon-blood and all, but Cas had squinted at the glass for a good minute or so and proclaimed it safe.

“The lingering grace should neutralize the taint,” he'd told them.

“Well,” Dean had said. “If nothing else, it's probably not worse than getting shot up with demon jizz.”

Sam had punched him in the arm for that. The bruise still smarts.)

“Well,” Becky says, looking at the tumbler. “Mazel tov.” Then she downs the whole thing.

The air… shimmers. Dean doesn't know how else to describe it. Like the feeling of Cas’ grace or a demon’s smoke, but… different. Powerful, though. Very powerful.

“Ah,” says Crowley, tongue flicking like mad. “That’s what it's supposed to feel like.”

Becky, meanwhile, is dry heaving and trying not to throw up onto the laptop. “Oh, fuck. I think I'm gonna hurl…”

“I'd do it quickly, pet,” Crowley says. “The effect won't last forever.” Beneath Becky, his coils shift. Dean tries not to think of it as an embrace.

“Okay,” Becky says. “Okay… fuck. Here goes…” And she starts smashing at the keyboard.

It seems like she's only just started when the laptop emits a perky little astromech trill (Dean shoots an approving nod at Charlie, getting a wink in return), and Chuck’s drive begins to grind.

“Oh,” says Becky. “Oh, shit. It worked. It’s decrypting.”

Everyone leans forward, the air in the room suddenly charged with something more than just residual magic and demon funk.

“Well?” says Sam.

“Hold on,” says Becky. “I'll just


INT. BELL TENT - NIGHT

BECKY (CONT'D)

open the folder and…

(she sighs)

Oh, Chuck. C'mon.

SAM

What?

BECKY

It's like… there are like a zillion PNGs in here.

DEAN

Told you it was his porn collection.

BECKY

It's not porn. It looks like scans from a notebook.

(she double clicks a file)

No, wait. Scans of a script? It's—

She stops abruptly, speechless.

SAM

Becky? Becky!

He goes to reach for the laptop, but is held back by one of CROWLEY's claw-arms.

CROWLEY

Uh-uh. No—

CROWLEY AND BECKY (TOGETHER)

—touchy-touchy, Moose. You really don't want to find out what happens if you do that.

Everyone stops and stares at BECKY.

CROWLEY

… Er.

BECKY

(reading)

Like I said, it's a script. A screenplay.

(she looks up)

Now Dean says:

DEAN

A screenplay of what?

(beat)

Wait. You mean it's a screenplay of this? Right here, right now?

BECKY

(nods)

It says, um.

(starts reading again)

I guess Chuck was trying out a different medium? He talked about writing for TV once.

(stops reading, outraged)

No you didn't you asshole! We never had that conversation. You can't just retcon my backstory like that when you know you're doing it because you've also included this bit! Ugh! This is why it didn't work out, Chuck!

DEAN

(unsympathetic)

Hah!

BECKY just scowls at him.

SAM

Well. I guess we found the apocrypha.

(to BECKY)

What else is there?

BECKY starts paging through more of the image files.

BECKY

Um. Oh, geez. Chuck…

(to SAM)

"Lots" is the answer. Um. It doesn't look like it's in any order.

SAM

From before the Landing or just after?

BECKY

All over. I've got scenes with you as kids, scenes from when Chuck and I dated, scenes from— hah! Scenes of Crowley as a kid.

CROWLEY

(alarmed)

Lies, the lot of it.

BECKY pats him sympathetically.

DEAN

Michael? Lucifer? Anything useful?

BECKY

Maybe? I don't know. I'll need to go through everything.

SAM

How long's that going to take?

BECKY

How long have you got?

DEAN

Can't you, I dunno, do a search?

BECKY

On what? It's image files. The filenames are just… Nonsense random letters and numbers.

CHARLIE

How clean are the images? We might be able to get some OCR on that.

(she gets visibly excited)

Oh! I said something! That means I'm in the script! How exciting!

DEAN

All right. Charlie, get on that. Becky, I guess you've got some reading to do. And, me, I'm—

BECKY

(reading)

Gonna go make dinner. I know. And yes, burgers sound great.

FADE OUT.

THE END