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Alba

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Naomi always tended to talk about the magical people like they were fae, tricky and underhanded and out to get the rest of us naturals, she would say with a tone of smugness and prestige, and half the time only for their own amusement. The fae, of course, were not real, but old folk stories passed down between non-magical people, twisting stories of their ancestor’s interactions with the gifted, magic users, witches, that last one said with the same tone one might use to describe raw sewage, and in that way, sure, maybe they were fae.

But as a liberal minded young man (well, not as young as he once was, but only just losing the ability to call himself such), Cas had always been fairly certain the image of a malicious, scheming witch jealously undercutting the success of the good and pure natural population with black cat skulls and ancient coins was a racist holdover only present in the most traditionally minded families, those prejudices that had just barely survived the integration of their societies more than a century before.

Despite all of this, he was having to admit to himself that maybe Fergus Crowley was exactly the kind of magic user Naomi had meant to be warning him about.

There were magical service shops in every town in America, surely, and it was a lucrative business to be in. A witch could make a living on good luck charms and spells of household convenience. Crowley’s Kansas City office, on the other hand, was high stakes magic at high prices, prices with rarely could be covered by cold hard cash alone. Deals with the devil. A place only for the very greedy, the very stupid, or the very desperate, and Cas was only hoping that he was only the latter.

“I can get you what you want,” Castiel repeated, for what felt like the hundredth time since sitting down. Crowley rolled his eyes, clearly long past bored with Cas’ bartering at this point. “I told you, seven days wasn’t enough, but if you gave me another 48 hours, a day, even…”

“And I told you that isn’t how this works,” Crowley said. “Magical contracts don’t look the other way. I signed, you signed. I provided a service, you failed to pay me, ergo…”

“What’s the point in the service if I can’t go back to my family?” Cas asked, accusatory.

“This wasn’t in the fine print, Castiel. It wasn’t hidden from you,” Crowley said. “There were clearly outlined terms, and if you didn’t like them, you shouldn’t have agreed to them. It’s not my problem that you didn’t think you’d actually have to pony up.”

“This can’t be legal,” Cas said.

Crowley sighed, and sat back in his high backed chair which, like the rest of the office, was painfully austentatious. “I’d offer to have a lawyer go over it with you, but honestly, I’m bored of this,” he said. He opened the bottom drawer of his desk, and sifted through what sounded like paper, but was outside of Cas’ line of sight. “Do you have a preference? There’s the standards, of course - cats, birds, lizards - but if you’ve always dreamed of being an armadillo or something else bizarre, I’m sure that can be arranged.”

“This can’t be-- it isn’t legal,” Castiel repeated, as if conviction in the statement would make it true. He made to stand, wanted to leave, but couldn’t. An unseen force held him in place. It wasn’t like being glued to the seat - more like his nervous system had been abruptly switched off. Fear lept into his heart at the loss of control.

Crowley paused, looked Castiel up and down once, and there was a split second when Cas thought he was actually hesitating, actually reconsidering, but the pause was only brief, and Crowley looked back down into the drawer, muttering to himself. “I know, I know,” he said under his breath, and retrieved a stuffed envelope from the drawer before slamming it shut again.

The envelope was labelled in neat handwriting - Tyto Alba. Cas had no idea what that meant. He watched, fairly helpless, as Crowley funnelled a spoonful of what looked like ash from the envelope into a bottle of milky white liquid that had been sitting at one side of the desk since Cas had come in. He corked it, shook it up, uncorked it again, and slid it across the desk to Castiel, giving him an expectant nod.

Crowley should have been crazy to think Castiel was just going to go along with this, but be it by Crowley’s own power or that of the contract, something took hold of his body and he was drinking the potion down before he’d given his arm permission to reach out, given his throat permission to swallow, and before he’d been given even a fighting chance to refuse.

Things hurt, a lot, and very quickly, and then there was darkness.

---

The vast majority of people are, in fact, shaped like people.

There were some points on progressive and politically correct language, of course - the use of ‘people’ or ‘human’, the fact that nobody ‘looks like’ anything if you throw out your preconceived notions on species and aura. But familiars who began life as humans were a rarity, and if one perceived a human energy, a human soul, one could usually expect to find that person in a solid, human body.

So when Dean knew that whatever just rolled over the bonnet of his car in the middle of the night was a human man, by sixth sense, but only saw a shrieking bundle of cream coloured feathers fly across the windshield, he was understandably freaking the fuck out.

Dean pulled over, tires screeching as he did a donut on the dark, empty road, putting the softly twitching, comparatively tiny form in the headlights.

Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck oh--

This was open road in flat Kansas farmland, lonely and unobserved, and if Dean had killed a dude, nobody would be able to vouch that he’d flown directly into the windshield, and not to mention that anybody bound to a familiar like that was gonna be powerful as shit and pissed and Dean was incredibly, incredibly dead.

He got out, engine left running, door left open. “Hey!” He called, from a good dozen feet away. The animal didn’t move. Dean cursed softly, and started creeping towards it - him - slowly, like he would spook, like he was truly a wild animal. “Hey,” he repeated, softer.

The form spooked, like he was truly a wild animal. He rolled around, pushing across the tarmac with wings, trying, failing, trying again, and eventually getting his feet under himself. As he stood, hunched, shuffling away from Dean without looking away, with those big, almond shaped eyes, Dean knelt down, and showed his hands out, open palms.

“Hey, not gonna hurt you, alright? I’m sorry about the car,” he said. “I didn’t see you, and I’m guessing you didn’t see me. Are you hurt?”

The owl paused. He stared. A wing twitched.

“Can you switch out so we can talk?” Dean asked. The owl tilted its head in a way that would be innocently cute on a dog, but went too far on the bird, a full 90 degree angle. “Can you switch out at all?” He ventured. “Are you able?”

There was a little rumbling coo, almost shy, and then a single hoot, and then silence again.

“Holy shit,” Dean breathed. He didn’t exactly speak fucking bird, but he wasn’t dumb enough not to know when something wasn’t adding up. “Are you hurt? Do you need help?”

Two, three loud hoots. The owl stumbled awkwardly towards him on his talons, a stilted run like he didn’t quite know how his own legs worked.

The excitement seemed like a good indicator that yes, the owl needed help. With just what, Dean had no idea, but there was one way to find out, and that was to try. Dean could help, he told himself. Probably. At least he could get him back to his witch, if he had one, get him unstuck from his alter form regardless. But first thing first. First thing was get him back to the house and see if Sam could help unstick him. This... all of this was something he could handle. 

“Can I pick you up?” Dean asked. “Easier to get you into the car. I’ll get you some help, my brother’s good with this sort of thing.”

The owl cooed, lifted one foot and gripped painfully on Dean’s denim clad knee, which he took as a slightly thoughtless affirmative. He scooped the bird up as gently as he could managed and there, with the contact, the strangest puzzle piece yet: he wasn’t a witch, and he wasn’t a familiar - at least, not yet. No claim on him. No bond. Just the natural intent at the strength human born familiars are known for.

“Holy shit,” Dean muttered again.

If the owl realized the recognition Dean was having, he didn’t show it. Being cradled like a human baby, he just looked up at Dean, expectantly.

What the fuck was this guy’s story?

 

Dean pointedly did not grumble about talons in his leather bench seat, and took the owl the rest of the way home, depositing him on the kitchen table before running to wake Sam.

“Holy shit,” Sam said softly, when he wandered into the room, foggy eyed and barefoot.

“That’s what I said,” Dean scoffed.

“I’ve never seen one before,” Sam said, and then addressed the owl. “You’re human born? Non magical?”

The owl hooted.

“Can I just--” Sam stepped towards the table, one hand out, but stopped himself. “No, that’s rude, I’m sorry. You’ve gotta belong to somebody.”

“Belong?” Dean asked. Sam was usually the one to correct Dean on points of language and microaggressions. Without his brother, Dean probably wouldn’t even know what a microaggression was. It made him a little smug to be the one catching Sam out.

“I mean, he’s gotta be bonded to somebody, right?” Sam asked, and then to the owl again, “sorry.”

“He’s really not,” Dean said. “Feel.”

When the owl didn’t seem to have any opposition to the suggestion, Sam did, threading fingers into the feathers under one wing. His eyes went wide.

“That’s--” Sam breathed. “Okay.”

“Weird, right?” Dean asked.

“Somebody had to have turned him, and if they didn’t bond with him, they did it for somebody else,” Sam said. “Or he had somebody turn him because he wanted to be an owl, but no offense, sir, you’re clearly not comfortable in this body, and I wouldn’t expect somebody who asked for this to be stuck out in the middle of nowhere before getting used to… that. All of this.”

The owl cooed in affirmation. He also lifted his wing a little, leaning into where Sam’s clinical touch on his side had become a gentle scratch, like he was petting a dog. The guy had had a hard night, though, and Dean wasn’t about to point the instinct out just to embarrass him.

“He could have been cursed,” Dean said.

“Somebody’d have to be a real idiot in this day and age to do that,” Sam said. “Knowing that people are gonna be fighting over a familiar like this? And that they’d definitely get caught? People don’t just turn people into toads, anymore.”

“Listen, you wanna tell me you don’t think anybody’s stupid enough?” Dean asked. “I know twenty people between here and town that stupid.”

Sam shrugged.

The owl screeched, a far more aggressive sound that the cooings and soft hoots, and Sam pulled his hand away in surprise, but he wasn’t screeching in pain. The brothers both had their eyes trained on him, and he watched back with his big, black eyes, his entire round face turning on his neck to look between them. He screeched again, and bobbed his head, indicating his own body.

“Right,” Dean said. “Sorry, buddy. First things first - Sam, can we force him back?”

Sam sighed. “Let me get some books.”

 

There was a spell. It was a complicated mess of ingredients and incantations with very little innate magical ability required, a spell made for use by naturals people in the old days to prevent being spied on by a witch’s familiar, no longer in common use because we have laws about that sort of thing, now, thank you very much.

Useful though, when you have a terribly confused and stuck barn owl who would really like to have opposable thumbs again, thank you very much.

Not taking him down off the table was a mistake, but it wasn’t not like they did this sort of thing every Tuesday night. Sam cast the spell and in an instant there was no longer any owl, just a man tumbling kind of pathetically off their kitchen table, lying on his side on the linoleum, gasping for breath.

Sam and Dean both peered around the side of the table to check on him, but the man was covering his own face with an arm, maybe not on purpose, and they couldn’t get a good read on him.

“You okay, buddy?” Dean asked.

The man propped himself up on his violently shaking arms and threw up a mouthful of thin bile.

Okay, then. Dean grabbed a glass from the drying rack and filled it with tap water, took a dish towel with him, too, and set them on the counter near the man before hefting him into a sitting position, back to the cupboard.

He was trembling, bleary eyed, and disheveled as fuck, but finally Dean saw his face - his human face - as he handed him the cloth and waited for his hands to steady enough to take the water.

The man wasn’t much older than Dean. He had dark hair and light eyes - about as far from the colouring of his animal alter ego as he could have gotten. He was not skinny, but he was slim, and his skin, though his face was pale at the moment from his ordeal, was lightly tanned. His nice dress shoes were now scuffed up, suit pants and partially unbuttoned dress shirt in dire need of a wash and ironing. Dean had to hold himself back from fixing the man’s insane hair.

Hell, the guy was almost handsome enough for Dean to forget he was going to have to clean up his vomit.

“My name’s Dean,” Dean said, slowly. “That’s my brother, Sam. What’s your name?”

The man took the glass of water, in both hands, and took two very slow, deep sips, and one heavy breath, before answering. “Castiel,” he said, throat rough. “Novak.”

“Okay, Castiel. Listen, it’s uh…” He glanced at the time display on the microwave. “Almost two, so I’m gonna make you up the guest bed for tonight, but I can drive you into town tomorrow, if that’s what you want. But I get the impression you might need a little more help than that.”

Castiel nodded blindly, but Dean couldn’t tell which thing he was agreeing to. He wasn’t much more helpful now then he was as an owl.

“Yes?” Dean asked. “Yes, you want help?”

“Yes,” Castiel croaked. “I uh… I…. God. I’m sorry, my head is, uh…” He trailed off with a little waving gesture.

“It’s okay, man,” Sam chimed in. “Take your time.”

Castiel did, squeezing his eyes shut and just breathing for a minute, and taking another long sip of water before continuing.

“I’m very tired,” he said, gravely.

Dean stifled a little laugh. “Night you’ve had? I’m not surprised.”

“We can talk about all of this in the morning,” Sam said.

“That sound like a plan to you, Castiel?” Dean asked.

Castiel nodded in a way that could be taken as solemn, but Dean suspected was more from exhaustion. “Thank you,” he said. “I’m very lucky I ran into you.”

“Well, technically, I ran into you,” Dean said, straightening, and reaching to help Castiel up from the floor. “Or you flew into me. Or it was mutual.”

“Mm,” Castiel intoned, flatly, but the corner of his lip twitched up.

---

Cas awoke in an entirely unfamiliar room, dressed in somebody else’s pajamas, and with a splitting headache.

He remembered the previous day, more or less, but the details were fuzzy, and remembering it didn’t exactly mean he quite believed it. Flashes of memories, images and sensations. Pain, of course, and fear. He wasn’t entirely certain he hadn’t learned how to fly by scratching the shit out of somebody and barrelling out a closed window. He remembered the nice men who put him back in his own body.

The pajamas must have belonged to one of them, he thought. He knew enough to know he was with them, in their home. By the time the adrenaline wore off, however, he’d been quite dead on his feet.

What would happen next? What could those men - Dean, he remembered, and Sam - actually do to help? They’d talked at him, the night before. About what he was now, and why, but it hadn’t seemed important at the time. Now, crisis temporarily abetted, he had time to worry about what was to come.

Castiel crawled out of bed. The blinds were drawn, but the light seeping through was bright enough that it must have been later in the morning. He remade the bed like a good house guest, and failing to find the clothes he had been wearing when he’d first transformed, wandered out into the hallway without changing.

The house was old, he could tell as he inadvertently explored it in search of either of his hosts. He’d been so exhausted the night before that all he could really remember of it was that he’d gone up a flight of stairs to the guest bedroom. He passed by the stairs going back downstairs, but couldn’t help a spark of curiosity seeing an open door at the end of the hallway.

Inside was a large room, ostensibly a bedroom, it seemed, but large enough for a little sitting area, ringed with bookshelves, where the taller brother - Sam, Cas remembered - was lounging, back to the door, with his feet up on a coffee table and a book in his lap.

“Excuse me,” Cas said, and Sam startled.

“Castiel,” he breathed, when he turned to the door, and he dropped his book to walk get up and greet him at the door. “Hey. How’d you sleep?”

“Well, thank you,” Cas said. “What time is it?”

Sam checked his watch. “Uh, late,” he said. “Don’t worry about it. You want something to eat?”

His stomach was achingly empty, yes, so Cas nodded and quietly followed Sam downstairs, where they both sat at the kitchen table while Cas ate two sandwiches Sam had pulled, already made, from the old fridge. Sam stared a lot, though Cas wasn’t entirely sure Sam himself knew it, and it made him a little uncomfortable.

“Have I got something…?” Cas gestured to his own face.

Sam startled again, this time more in self realization, and seemed a little humbled, averting his eyes. “No, sorry,” he said. “I’m being rude again. It’s just that your energy is kind of weird. I’ve met familiars, of course, and I’ve read about ones like you, but I never imagined you’d be so…”

Sam trailed off, unable to find a word.

“Is this… is there something wrong with me?” Cas asked, genuinely concerned.

“No!” Sam blurted out. “No, you’re fine. I think. I’m pretty sure this is what you’re supposed to feel like.”

Cas didn’t know how to respond, frankly weirded out by this line of conversation, and wordlessly returned to his sandwich.

“You know how rare you are, don’t you?” Sam asked. It wasn’t in awe, or with condescension. It was like Sam was just realizing how little Castiel knew about this world, and this system, and by extension, now, himself. It was concern, if anything, and it gave Cas pause.

“I know this isn’t typically how familiars are made,” Cas said. “But I assumed the witch knew what he was doing. It seemed like he’d done it before.”

“Human born familiars are, uh…” Sam paused, and rubbed his chin as he tried to think of how to explain. “Familiars can act like amplifiers, for powerful spellwork. The magical transformation between animal and human opens up this potential, so long as they don’t already have the gift.”

“I understood that much,” Cas said. “That’s pretty elementary, isn’t it?”

“Yes, but, animals don’t have, uh… what would you call it? The books call it intention. Not like humans do. Regular familiars are real people, don’t get me wrong, and some of them can channel power like you wouldn’t believe, but they’re starting from a baseline far below where a human born familiar does.”

“Then why does anybody bother turning animals?” Cas asked.

Sam sighed. “Witches looking for that kind of power usually aren’t too keen on non magical people as people. They want tools, not companions. It’s not right, but it’s the way it is. You can turn somebody, sure, but a naturally forming bond is hard to force, and you can’t spell one into existence without the consent of both parties,” Sam explained. “You hear about there being a real market for it, but it’s mostly human trafficking, taking advantage of really desperate people…”

“Oh,” Cas said simply, sagely, finally understanding.

Sam must have noticed the shift in Cas, because he paused, and when he spoke again his voice was gentler. “Is that… You didn’t want this?” He asked. “You were cursed after all?”

“Can you really help me?” Cas asked, instead of answering Sam’s question.

Sam nodded. “We’d like to,” he said. “We weren’t sure what your story was, but we’d hoped… Let me go get Dean, okay? We’ll go over the whole story.”

 

“I made a mistake,” Castiel explained, when Dean had been brought inside, and the three men were crowded into what might have been a sitting room but for the sheer number of books. “I was trying to fix it. I’d heard of magical services offices that could deal with the sort of thing I needed, and I’d heard he was good.”

“Who?” Dean asked.

“Fergus Crowley,” Cas answered. “His office is out of Kansas City, so it was a bit of a drive for me from Wichita.”

Recognition, a tired kind of understanding, crossed both brothers’ faces, and Cas was coming to understand where exactly his mistake lay.

“They don’t have magical service shops in Wichita?” Dean asked, deadpan.

“Like I said, I heard he was good,” Cas said, knowing it wasn’t much of a defense.

“Sorry to break it to you, but Crowley’s got a reputation among witches around here,” Sam said. “He eats naive naturals for breakfast.”

“I’m starting to realize that,” Cas sighed, and dropped his head to rub his eyes.

“Let me guess, he fucked you over with just enough of it legally binding that you can’t just walk out?” Dean asked.

“Magical contract?” Sam asked, and Cas nodded. “Do you have a copy?”

Cas looked up to Sam, eyes sad. “I don’t have anything,” he said. “My car and suitcase are in Missouri, my life is in Wichita, and I don’t know if it’s safe to go back for either. I’m surprised I have the clothes I was wearing at the time.”

“Hey, Castiel-- Cas,” Dean said, reaching out a placating hand so his fingertips just brushed Cas’ knee. “My brother’s a lawyer, he’s just trying to help.”

“I’m not really--” Sam began, but Dean cut him off to correct himself.

“My brother’s half a lawyer,” he said. “And he’s a full nerd. He knows his way around the law and he knows his way around the craft, and if there’s one way to marry those two things, it’s magical contracts.”

“Why don’t you just go over the agreement that was reached?” Sam suggested. “The exact words matter, but hell, maybe Crowley got lazy and there’s a really obvious loophole.”

“I hired him to provide a service, which he did upfront,” Cas said.

“What kind of service?” Dean asked.

“Is it important?” Cas asked. “Like I said, I made a mistake. I asked him to fix it.”

“I don’t need to know exactly, but a clue as the general wheelhouse might help,” Sam said.

Cas sighed, considering, but relented. “It was a memory spell,” he said. “I asked him to remove something I had said from a few people’s memories.”

Sam nodded for Cas to continue, without judgement, and he did.

“He wouldn't take money,” Cas said. “He wanted a favour, but I understand that’s not uncommon with you - with magic users. He wanted me to fetch something obscure that I’m half convinced never actually existed, with a fallback clause that he assured me wouldn’t come into effect because there was no way I could fail to deliver.”

“But this fetch quest wasn’t so easy after all,” Dean said, not needing to ask, just filling in a story he was clearly familiar with. “He wanted whatever was in the fallback in the whole time, he just knew you wouldn’t agree to it.”

“And because it was in the contract, it’s enforceable,” Sam confirmed. “Magically and legally.”

“If I failed to make payment within seven days of the service being completed, I was to allow myself to be turned and bonded to a witch of Crowley’s choice. The first half was definitely enforced magically.” Cas suppressed a shudder at the memory. “But Sam just told me earlier that bonds can’t be forced, so really, isn’t this the end of it?”

Dean and Cas both turned to Sam, looking for clarification, but Sam only paled a little, and rubbed nervously at the back of his neck.

“If the phrasing is tight - and by Crowley’s reputation, I’d bet it is…” He sighed. “The signing of the contract might count as consent.”

“What?” Dean said, more an exclamation than a question. “Screw that. That’s not how it works. This isn’t Fifty Shades of Gray, you can’t sign your rights away.”

“By law, maybe not,” Sam said. “But magic works on archaic, ‘fuck you’ rules. It doesn’t really have ethics.”

Dean grumbled something, and he and Sam bickered quietly over it, but Cas was tuning it out. If the contract was fully enforceable, if what Crowley had done was underhanded, but not illegal, or if the law couldn’t supercede the universal forces at work, he couldn’t go home. He would be found, and that was as good as turning himself right back over to Crowley. He could only run, and even that couldn’t last.

“Cas?” Dean’s voice cut through the fog, and Cas realized he was curled in on himself, staring at his own bare feet. “Listen, buddy, this doesn’t mean we can’t help you. This isn’t cut and dry, okay?”

“You can’t get me out of it,” Cas said. “There’s nothing you can do.”

“Sam,” Dean said, addressing his brother though his eyes were fixed on Castiel. “Can they bind Cas to somebody if they can’t find him?”

“No,” Sam said.

“And is it within our power to cobble together something to protect him from scrying and tracking spells?”

“Of course it is.”

“Well then,” Dean said, patting Cas on the knee and giving him an easy smile despite the dire situation. “There you go.”

Cas looked between them, searched Dean’s face to try and understand. “I can’t go home,” he said, almost dumbly.

“We’ll keep you safe until we figure something out,” Dean said, bravado cooled to sooth, instead. “You’ll go home, just not yet.”

“Then where?” Cas asked.

“Are you kidding me?” Dean asked. “Here. We’ve got a guest bedroom. The property’s warded.”

“You don’t know me.”

Dean smiled, glanced at Sam, and when he put up no objections, turned back to Cas. “You know what? You’re right, we don’t know you,” he said. “But we know you need us. That’s good enough for me.”

---

Dean hadn’t wanted to push Cas anymore than necessary - it had been a trying few days for him, clearly, and the realization that he’d be trapped living with strangers for the foreseeable future probably wasn’t much of a relief when he’d still clearly been hoping to go home. The grand tour of the house and the property was an open offer, one he’d be comfortable for Cas to decline if he wanted to be alone, but as sullen as he was that afternoon, Cas took him up on it.

“So, obvious is obvious, kitchen there, living room here,” Dean said. “Well, living room slash library disaster. Sam’s primarily in the lore and research business, since we inherited like thirty years of our uncle’s books and notes. There’s more in his room, and like, twice as much in storage in the attic.”

Cas seemed in mild awe of the sheer size of the collection, which probably looked bigger than it was, being spread out over just about every flat surface in the room. He’d been distracted before, not really seeing the research and occasional piece of magical paraphernalia, here and there.

“Feel free to read whatever,” Dean added. “You can watch TV, too. Even if Sam’s working in here. He’s good at tuning it out.”

“I wouldn’t want to disturb him,” Cas said.

“No, really, don’t worry about it,” Dean insisted, with an easy little smirk that he hoped helped Cas feel less like a bull in a china shop. The guy seemed scared anything he touched might break. Maybe he wasn’t used to being any kind of house guest, Dean thought. Or maybe he was just scared to death of further curses.

Dean led Cas back upstairs, and they passed through the hall while Dean made vague gestures towards doors and talked.

“That’s still gonna be you,” he said. “Used to be Bobby’s room.”

“Your uncle?” Cas asked.

“Yeah, it was his house,” Dean said. “No real kids to inherit it, so it’s ours now.” Dean didn’t bother going into the technicalities of Bobby not being a blood relative. He moved on down the hall and rapped on a shut door. “Bathroom. We’re all on the one. Heads up, Sam is a slow son of a bitch in the mornings.”

Cas didn’t laugh, but he did smile and huff a breath out of his nose, which was close enough for Dean to count it as a win.

“This is me, if you need me in the night for… whatever,” Dean said, and realized how it had come out a little too late to stop it. He told himself it only sounded dirty to him because part of him wanted it to. “And Sam’s at the end of the hall. Also Bobby’s old room, but from before we knew him, when he was married.”

“Was your room anything?” Cas asked, seeming genuinely curious.

“Oh, yeah, that’s where Sam and I stayed,” Dean said, and smiled, falling into his own fond memories. He opened the door and let Cas peek inside. “So I guess it was a guest room, but I don’t think Bobby had many guests but us.”

Dean led him back downstairs, and returned to Cas his ruined dress shoes so they could tour the outside.

“So this was a farm, and then it was a junkyard, and now it’s kind of a bit of both,” Dean said. “I do mechanical enchantment and natural mechanics. It’s my job.”

“That sounds interesting,” Cas said, politely.

“So the real question is this: do you want to see my car stuff first, or the farm stuff?” Dean asked. “And if you want to see the farm stuff, you gotta pick sheep or chickens.”

Cas’ eyes went wide - not extreme enough that he wasn’t trying to hide his excitement, but enough of it on his face that if he was trying, he was failing. “You have sheep?”

“Is that your answer?” Dean asked with a smirk.

 

Dean was pretty content to just watch, amused, while Cas crouched in the mud and scratched one of the ewe’s behind the ear like she was just some weird looking dog. He made quite a picture like that - dress shoes without socks, pajama pants, an AC/DC shirt that had been oversized on Dean and was almost falling off of Cas, and this faint hint of a smile on his mouth like he was finding true deliverance from his miserable situation, just gazing into her weird oblong pupils.

“This was all farmland before Bobby was born, and his dad turned the main lot into a mechanic shop,” Dean said. He knew they’d have to turn the conversation soon into more serious things, into the logistics of moving Cas in, but he seemed so content just now, that talking about the farm seemed like something that could justify preserving the moment a little longer. “Then Bobby bought the lots on either side to give himself more privacy and made it into a real junk yard. He left the whole shebang to us, but that was way too many junkers for me. I’m not a scrap guy, you understand, I’m a mechanic.”

Cas had stopped scratching to pay attention to Dean’s story, nodding along at the right times, and this apparently displeased the lady he’d been entertaining, as she gently headbutted him in the chest. Dean chuckled, and Cas shushed her as he returned to petting.

“I’m listening,” Cas said, so Dean continued.

“We started clearing it because Sam was on a health kick about growing our own vegetables,” he said. “The chickens were a weekend project and they’re terrible, Cas, never trust them. And I guess we just kind of caught the hobby farming bug. We wanted to try something a little bigger.”

“Why did you choose sheep?” Cas asked.

“Well, cows are expensive, horses don’t really produce anything,” Dean explained. “Pigs… You can’t get attached to pigs. Like, you can, but you shouldn’t, because they only thing they make is bacon. Sheep are low maintenance, and you get wool. And milk, if you want it, but between you and me, our one and only cheesemaking attempt didn’t go well.”

Cas looked up again at that, and Dean pulled an exaggerated face of disgust, just to see him smile.

Okay, maybe the cheese wasn’t that bad, but Dean was getting a lot of joy out of given a bit of humor back to the sad man who fell from the sky. This was weird, he realized. This was all weird. The least he could do was make some of it the good kind of weird.

“I live in an apartment,” Cas said. “Wichita isn’t New York City, of course, but it’s still nothing like this. Maybe it’s a little childish but I think it’s very exciting - having animals, producing something.”

“You’re welcome to get involved,” Dean said. “Actually, if Sam and I have to go out overnight - we sometimes do, but we try to trade off so we’re not away at the same time - would you mind doing the dailies? Running feed to everybody and picking up eggs?”

“Of course not.” Cas stood, suffering another gentle headbutt to the thigh, but seemingly weighing his options against two new sheep slowly approaching, and deciding petting time was over before he was totally swarmed. “You’ve opened your home to me. It’s the least I can do. And if I can get in touch with somebody back home, I can get money. I’ll pay you rent.”

“Naw, Cas, you don’t have to do that,” Dean said, patting the jilted sheep each two or three times on the head. “I don’t think think that’s such a good idea, either. We can probably get your folks a message, let them know you’re safe, but much more than that would be risky.”

“Is Crowley so well connected?” Cas asked.

“I honestly don’t know,” Dean said. “But I know he’s got resources, and people who challenge him tend not to turn up again. And you’re probably worth a lot to him, so I don’t think he’s gonna just let it go.”

“You think he’s a killer,” Cas said, observational in a way that seemed sobering.

“We all know it,” Dean said. “Nobody can prove it.”

Cas looked away, back down to the sheep at his knee, and ran an open palm over her head. He was far and away all of a sudden, caught on the very hang ups Dean had wanted to steer them away from.

“We’ll keep you safe, Cas,” he said.

“I believe you,” Cas replied. “It’s just a lot. To realize that my life is different now.”

It was getting late, the sun not quite setting yet, but the early evening chill was sweeping in. Cas had slept well into the afternoon, and after all the figurative housekeeping, it would soon be time for the three of them to start thinking about dinner. And then it would be the long night, and then the next long day, and one foot in front of the other, and Dean was struck with how much he had no idea where, exactly, they were heading, only that they couldn’t stand still.

It was just past the autumn equinox - the days would only be getting shorter still.