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Heroes for Ghosts

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1 week, 4 days, 8 hours, 21 minutes
Lebanon, Kansas

The bunker was never meant to be empty. It’s obvious, given the dozen or so chairs in the library and the corridors lined with bedrooms. When the Men of Letters built it, they had always intended it to be a base of operations, but also a home. Of course, it had been left abandoned for decades, and after that only occupied by a handful of people at any one time. But still, the building – with its cavernous ceilings and long, labyrinthine hallways – was always meant to be lived in.

It isn’t meant to be empty.

Well, it’s not empty, technically. There is still one occupant, but he’s not really living there. Right now, it’s more like he’s haunting the place, drifting down the corridors with too-loud footsteps, or pacing in one of the many unoccupied rooms and staring at his phone, willing it to ring. But no matter where Castiel is in the bunker, there’s always a low, anxious thrumming in his veins as he waits. It seems like waiting is all he does these days.

He’s in the shower room again today, wandering back and forth in front of the mirrors. The room itself is nothing much, but it’s louder than most of the others. It doesn’t eat sound like the bedrooms or the gym, and for a little while he can hear his own rustling movements echoing through the air and pretend he’s not alone.

This isn’t the first time Castiel’s been alone in the bunker. He spent weeks recovering from Rowena’s curse, holed up with Netflix and gorging on snack foods he didn’t need. But then, he hadn’t truly been alone – Sam and Dean would call or text every day. Castiel had been stuck in the bunker, and even more stuck inside his own head, but he knew that his friends were out there, and he knew that they would come home.

He doesn’t have that this time.

He pauses his pacing for a moment and pulls out his phone for the tenth time in the last half hour. There’s still nothing. No missed calls, no new texts, no blinking notification light to give him the slightest cause for hope. His thumb hovers over Mary’s contact information, but he doesn’t hit dial. He knows what she’d say.

The first week had been frantic, a rush of phone calls and chased leads. Now things are starting to settle into an infuriatingly slow and aimless routine.

Castiel pockets his phone again and heads out of the room to make another pointless patrol of the corridors. He meanders for a while, but without Sam and Dean here, he feels as though he doesn’t belong in the bunker. He doesn’t fit; it’s like he’s the wrong size for the hallways.

Mostly, Castiel sticks to his own room. It’s nothing special, just one of the guest rooms that Dean had waved a hand at a few years back, when Castiel was newly human and foolishly optimistic. There’s a desk, a chest of drawers, and a bed pushed up against rough brick walls. He doesn’t need to sleep, of course, but he’ll sit there sometimes and try not to let the thick blanket of the bunker’s silence get to him.

Generally, he stays clear of the library; it reminds him too much of Sam, and long nights spent in animated discussion or companionable silence.

And he avoids the kitchen, because it reminds him too much of Dean. Of warmth, and laughter, and family and home.

It’s been a few days since he’s been down in the gun range, so perhaps he’ll go there for a while. It’s deep in the basement; the ceilings are a little too low, but not quite enough to be claustrophobic. The clock on the wall says it’s almost eleven now, so Castiel tries to distract himself while he waits by poking around a little and exploring the space more thoroughly. The storage cupboards are full of neatly organized boxes of ammunition, and dust gathers on multiple pairs of faded green earmuffs.

On the far wall, there are two paper targets taped side by side, both showing bullet holes in the outline’s chest. Sam’s target on the left has five, tightly grouped, just slightly left of centre. The one on the right only has three holes, but Dean insisted he’d fired five rounds too, and I’m just that good, Sammy. Sam had countered that there’s no fucking way, and had spent at least an hour scouring the target wall for unaccounted-for shots.

Castiel smiles softly to himself at the memory of dinner that night, with Sam’s frustrated stomping and Dean’s barely reined-in smugness. And if Castiel had heard Sam practicing for another few hours late that night, he hadn’t mentioned it to Dean.

Pain throbs in Castiel’s heart, and the smile abruptly drops from his face. Coming to the gun range was clearly a terrible idea. There are too many memories here, too many traces of Sam and Dean. But that’s how it is anywhere in the bunker. This is why he likes to keep to his own room; every move Castiel makes through the whole building reminds him just how badly he failed. But he still stays. He has nowhere else to go.

Leaving the gun range behind, he starts up the stairs, once again heading for the stillness of his bedroom. He’s halfway up when it happens.

“Hey Cas. Guards just passed by on their last rounds.”

The usual mix of calm, frustration, and relief hits Castiel in a wave, and he sags against the wall, the stair railing digging into his lower back.

“I think it’s ten o’clock. Ugly Moustache brought my food, like, three hours ago. Damn, man, never thought I’d be so grateful for those stupid drills Dad put us through. Friggin’ marine with his go-by-the-sun bullshit. Except, y’know, without the actual sun, in this case.”

Castiel glances at the time on his phone. 11:04pm. Dean’s either on Mountain Time and right about the hour, or he’s somewhere else and the solitude is starting to interfere with his internal clock.

“Guards are always in pairs, I’m pretty sure. Smart. Only seen a few different guys so far, they’re probably keeping us pretty hush-hush. And they’re decked out in some serious gear too. They ain’t no mall cops, that’s for sure.”

Again, Castiel closes his eyes, tries to hone in on Dean’s location, but it’s still useless. For whatever reason he can’t narrow it down; it’s as if the prayers simply exist, originating from nowhere.

“Patrols are every hour. Did I tell you that already? Yeah, probably did. Whatever, either way, good intel to have.”

Castiel tries to picture Dean in his mind’s eye, alone in some dark cell. The low pull of him is there, like it always is, but for the first time in his life, Castiel can’t follow it. He reaches out for the railing, gripping it tightly.

“Still haven’t heard anything about Sammy. I don’t wanna ask, don’t wanna give the bastards the satisfaction of talking. But it’s killing me not knowing.”

Sam last prayed two days ago. He tried to be helpful and gave Castiel what little information he had, but he didn’t know any more about their location than Dean did.

“He’s tough. He’ll be okay. He’s gotta be okay.”

Castiel wishes he could reassure Dean. He wishes he could tell him his brother is alive, healthy, coping with his captivity as well as can be expected.

Better yet, Castiel wishes his wings were still intact. It wouldn’t matter that he couldn’t sense their location; he could search every building in the entire country in the blink of an eye, turn over every single stone until he found Sam and Dean, and then bring them both back home. Then he’d go back, put whoever was in charge of the prison through a wall, and burn the building to the ground, just on principle.

“You gotta get us outta here, buddy. The food tastes like ass.”

The wooden railing splinters in Castiel’s hand.


3 weeks, 3 days, 22 hours, 4 minutes
Lancaster, Missouri

Castiel has been reading the same police report, over and over, for the past hour and a half. Whatever it is he’s missing, it’s bound to reveal itself eventually.

A middle-aged woman walks by Castiel’s booth, and he glances up in time to see her eyes growing wide as she takes in the crime scene photos spread out across the table. Castiel clears his throat and tries to sweep some of them away, but the damage has clearly been done, and she looks at him fearfully before hurrying out the door. Perhaps he’s better off working in his motel room.

“Fill ‘er up again?”

Castiel looks up, but Heather is pouring out a fresh cup for him before he has a chance to nod. “Uh, yes. Thank you.”

“Honestly, you drink this stuff like a fish. It’s not even that good,” she adds in a low voice, casting a look over her shoulder at the kitchen door.

“It’s not that bad,” Castiel says. “At this point though, I think the taste is irrelevant.”

She nods sagely. “Mmhmm. Coffee monkey on your back, I get it. I’ve been there.”

Castiel pauses, trying to work out the turn of phrase. “The coffee monkey. Addiction. Yes, it’s certainly addictive.”

Heather nods again. “That’s ‘cause I’ve been slipping cocaine into it.” She winks, and Castiel pauses again with the cup halfway to his lips. “That was a joke,” she says quickly. “I haven’t actually been putting drugs in your coffee.”

“Oh, good,” Castiel says. “Though I imagine I would’ve been able to taste it if you had.”

She gives him a look that he thinks is somewhere between puzzled and amused, but after a moment just shakes her head. “Sure you don’t want any food? You’ve been in here every day for a week and I haven’t seen you eat a thing.”

“Right,” Castiel says. “Um, I’ll just have a plate of french fries, please.”

“That wasn’t an order or anything, Agent Lovato,” she says, definitely amused now. “You don’t have to eat if you don’t want.” She casts another surreptitious look over her shoulder before leaning down. “It’s not like the fries are that good either.”

“No, no, I’d like some,” Castiel says. “I just. . . forget to eat sometimes. When I’m working.”

“Alright, order of fries, coming up,” she says, straightening out. “Your funeral.”

The kitchen door swings shut behind her, and Castiel looks back at the police report with a sigh.

“Hey, buddy. We’re definitely above ground here. Bad Breath and Resting Bitch Face took me down to a different room for interrogation the other day and we passed by this window.”

Castiel closes his eyes and grimaces. Dean had told him this three days ago.

“It was too high up on the wall for me to see anything but trees, but still, good to know. Oh and by the way, don’t worry. The US government doesn’t know jack shit about interrogation. . . I don’t know whether or not I’m happy about that, though. Listen, I was thinking you could tell Mom something for me.”



Castiel waits, listening, but there’s just silence for a while.

“Ah, maybe not. I don’t know. The hell could I say to her right now? Maybe just. . . fuck.”

Dean’s talked about this before too. If only he knew that Castiel and Mary had been avoiding each other for weeks. He just wishes Dean would decide one way or the other; maybe then Castiel would finally be able to pick up the phone.

“Who’s Dean?”

Castiel startles as Heather sets his fries down on the table. “What?”

“Dean,” she says. “You just said ‘make up your mind, Dean.’ I thought you were on the phone for a second.”

Castiel swallows. “Oh, no. I was just talking to myself. It’s a habit I’ve started to pick up.”

“Mm, I’m the same,” she says. “It drives the hubby crazy.”

“What’s a hubby?”

Heather grins, then waggles her left hand. “Hubby. My husband.”

“Oh, right, of course,” Castiel says, before reaching for a french fry. She was right; they aren’t very good.

“So, who’s Dean?”

Castiel takes his time swallowing the fry. “He’s a friend. Well, we work together. Or, we did. It’s kind of complicated.”

Heather nods, then with another glance toward the kitchen door she slides into the booth across from Castiel and looks down at the pile of papers and photos. “Working on this stuff, huh? You getting anywhere?”

“No,” Castiel says grimly. “These murders, I can’t seem to find a connection.”

Heather is staring at one of the grislier crime scene photos, so he hurriedly gathers them all up. “Sorry. Did you know any of the victims?”

She doesn’t look up from the table, but she nods. “Town like this, everybody’s bound to know somebody. I went to school with Cheryl Wickens. Didn’t know her well or anything, but enough to say hello.”

“I’m sorry,” Castiel says again.

“It’s surreal, more than anything,” Heather says, finally looking back up. “I mean, serial killer? Stuff like that just doesn’t happen around here.” Castiel grimaces, and Heather looks apologetic. “But I’m sure you hear that every single place you go.”

“I’ve found that when it comes to geography, evil is remarkably indiscriminate,” Castiel says.

“I think I’ve got that bumper sticker,” Heather says, and Castiel cracks a smile. “Seriously though, before all this, worst thing to happen in this town was this thing with the pizza guy.”

Castiel furrows his brow. “The pizza guy?”

Heather nods. “Yeah, it was like, I don’t know, ten years ago? Maybe fifteen? I was still in high school. Anyway, owner of the pizza place downtown finds out his wife is gonna leave him, so he walks out onto the sidewalk in front of his shop, douses himself in gasoline, then literally lights himself on fire.”

“That’s terrible.”

“It was. Guy had the best pizza in the county.”

Castiel smiles again, then notices a rather short, apron-clad woman standing at the entrance to the kitchen. There’s a spatula in one hand and she’s glaring at the back of Heather’s head. “That woman seems very angry with you,” Castiel says, nodding to the door.

Heather whips her head around. “Ah, fuck,” she says. “See ya later, Demi, if I’m not fired.”

“Who’s –” Castiel starts, but Heather is already flying back to the kitchen.

3 weeks, 5 days, 6 hours, 49 minutes
Lancaster, Missouri

"So Cas, it’s been a couple weeks now. And I mean, this place is like friggin’ Fort Knox, so maybe you’re just having a hard time getting to us.”

Castiel scrubs a hand over his eyes and turns away from the motel wall. The photos and police reports don’t reveal anything new when they’re pinned there, and he could use a break anyway.

I get it, man. You gotta look after yourself. Don’t come charging in here without your ass covered. Find some backup. . . somewhere. But – I’ve kinda been avoiding saying this out loud – but I’ve been thinking that maybe you can’t actually hear me right now.”

“I can,” Castiel says. He isn’t sure exactly when he started responding out loud to Dean’s prayers, but in a strange way it helps. It’s comforting, if frustrating.

“I’m really hoping you’re gettin’ all this, buddy. Otherwise I’ve spent the last three weeks talking to myself, and that’s pretty depressing. Also, the chances of you actually finding my Shawshanked ass kinda drop. That’s probably more depressing.”

“I’m trying. I don’t know where to look,” Castiel says.

“I’m gonna keep praying, though, even if you’re not hearing me. It’s keeping me sane. Well, I hope it’s keeping me sane. Objectively, I’m sure I look full-on McMurphy.”

“There’s a case, Dean, a vampire, and I’m trying to solve it. I’m trying to do what you do, but I can’t figure it out.”

“Did you ever see Cuckoo’s Nest? Was that one included in Meta-dick’s brain download? It’s peak Jack, as far as I’m concerned.”

“All the victims are women between the ages of twenty-five and forty,” Castiel says, tracing a finger on the town map. “Each one was found in a different location. Sometimes their homes, sometimes their workplaces, sometimes just on the street. I’ve searched every farm and abandoned building – any place a nest might use as a hideout.”

“The Shining was good too, but after that he kinda got weird.”

“There are four women dead already, Dean. I don’t know what to do.”

“‘Course, you ask Sam, and he’ll go on and on about Something’s Gotta Give.”


3 weeks, 5 days, 17 hours, 11 minutes
Lancaster, Missouri

Lancaster’s sheriff is a very unpleasant man in his late fifties. He seems competent enough for his position, but has made it clear to Castiel on several occasions that ‘government interlopers’ are unwelcome in his town.

“Oh, you’re back again.” Sheriff Melvin steps out of his office and throws a distasteful glance at Castiel. “I thought you already had what you needed.”

Castiel bites back his own frustration and awkwardly toys with the file folder in his hands. “I was hoping to take another look at the evidence you have in lockup, Sheriff. Perhaps something in the victims’ personal effects will point to a link.”

Melvin narrows his eyes. “My boys have been through everything already.”

“Yes, I’m aware,” Castiel says. “But absent any other leads –”

“Yeah, and I thought you were supposed to be helping us there.” The sheriff takes an aggressive step forward, hands coming up to rest on his hips. “You waltz into my town with your suit and your fancy badge, and we still got victims piling up.”

Castiel frowns. “What do you mean? There’s another one?”

Melvin jerks his head back towards his office. “Just got the call. Jessi Garcia, 33, same M.O. as the others. Been dead at least five hours. And what exactly have you been doing, Agent?”

An all too familiar sinking feeling hits Castiel’s stomach. He opens his mouth to try to respond, but the sheriff cuts him off with an impatient wave.

“You know what? Take the evidence. Take whatever the hell you want, do whatever the hell you want. I’ve got a serial killer to find. And some next-of-kin to notify.” He steps around Castiel without waiting for a response, and the parting look he throws over his shoulder is one of pure disgust.

Castiel knows that wanting to throw up is an inherently human sensation, but the feeling washes over him nonetheless. He signs out the boxes of personal effects in a daze and carries them out to the parking lot.

Setting the evidence down on the Impala’s back bumper, he digs into his pocket for the keys. The trunk pops open with a comfortingly familiar crank, and he shoves the boxes inside before climbing into the front seat. He doesn’t turn over the engine, though – for a while he just sits, rubbing a hand over the steering wheel and waiting for his stomach to settle.

In his first week in captivity, Dean had repeatedly mentioned that he’d left the Impala at the motel. He prayed over and over that Castiel needed to pick it up as quickly as possible, before it was found by an unsuspecting civilian – or worse, a government agent. Castiel had driven it back to the bunker, fully intending to leave it safely parked in the garage until Sam and Dean returned. But then on impulse, he’d taken it to chase down a lead with Mary, and then again to ask Crowley for help – humiliating as that was – and now he’s driven it all the way to Missouri.

Castiel doesn’t know exactly why he’s taken to driving Dean’s car around. He quite likes his truck, and he misses his old Continental, but there’s something about the Impala that makes being without Sam and Dean the slightest bit more bearable. When he made the decision to leave the bunker for this case, taking it had felt right, despite the fact that Dean would – will – likely be very angry when he finds out. But it’s a piece of them, in a way, and a reminder of what Castiel still has to do.

Or perhaps he’s just sentimental.

Castiel senses eyes on him, and he glances over to find a group of officers clustered by one of the station’s old patrol cars. Most are glaring at him with distrustful eyes, so he swallows uncomfortably and starts the car. Looking straight ahead, he digs down below the seat to the old shoebox and shoves a random tape into the deck, keeping the volume dial on low. He throws up an awkward hand to the officers as he drives past, but they only stare back at him as he pulls out onto the road.

3 weeks, 6 days, 7 hours, 18 minutes
Lancaster, Missouri

He heads back to the diner that evening. Like the bunker, his motel room is too quiet, and Castiel finds himself craving the bustle of activity. Heather waves at him when he steps through the door, so he heads straight to his usual table. She’s there with a mug and a coffee pot within a minute.

“So, not fired then,” he says, smiling slightly over the rim of his cup.

Heather shakes her head and winks a mischievous brown eye at him. “No way, man. I’m like a cat. Nine lives. I’m not letting that old bag kick me to the curb. I did get stuck with the overnight shift though, so, point for her, I guess. Cow.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Castiel says. She takes a step away, but he calls after her. “Can I ask you a personal question?”


Castiel waits until she’s come back up to the table and speaks lowly. “You don’t seem to like your job very much, or your boss. Why do you stay here?”

“Hey, job’s a job. Hard thing to come by these days.” Heather nods down to the files on the tabletop. “And I could say the same to you.”

“Me?” Castiel frowns, following her gaze.

She nods. “Spending all your time looking at stuff like this, seeing all the messed-up, awful shit that’s out there. I can’t imagine your job’s that much fun either.”

“I suppose that’s true,” Castiel says. “But it’s important work. Somebody’s got to do it.”

“And we, the faithful citizens of Lancaster, we thank you for it,” she says, then gives him a little mock bow.

Castiel’s lips twitch briefly in a smile.

“Can’t be that fun doing it alone, either.”

Castiel must make some kind of face then, because Heather immediately looks apologetic. “Sorry, not trying to pry. Okay, well, yes – I’m actually totally trying to pry – but I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

“You didn’t,” Castiel says. “But you’re right; this case still isn’t going well.”

She nods in understanding. “I heard about Jessi Garcia. That’s five now, isn’t it?”

Castiel nods and drags a hand down his face. “I don’t know what to do next. I’m not used to working by myself on something like this.”

“You mentioned yesterday you usually work with somebody. A partner or something – Dean, right?” Castiel hesitates, and Heather throws up her hands in surrender. “Right, right. Prying again. My bad.”

“It’s alright,” Castiel says. “Yes. I usually have help on this kind of thing. Dean, and our other partner Sam. But they’re. . .” He trails off, the pain in his chest giving a dull throb. “They’ve been, uh, reassigned. I’m on my own, and I don’t have much experience compared to them. And I haven’t been getting much help from the local authorities.”

“Mmm, yeah, good ole Sheriff Melvin. He’s a real sonofabitch,” Heather says.

Castiel raises an eyebrow. “You know him?”

Heather grins and leans down closer to the table. “You may find this hard to believe, but I haven’t always been the sweet and demure café waitress you see before you. Once upon a time, I was a bit of a wild child. Rubbed elbows with our ‘local authorities’ on more than one occasion, and not in the good way.”

“There’s a good way?”

“Oh boy, is there,” she says, winking again. Then she shrugs. “Mostly it was just chasing me and my friends away from Barnette Mill.”

“Barnette Mill?” Castiel asks.

Heather nods. “Yeah, it used to be the local make-out joint. It’s this old, abandoned mill from like, the 1800s or something. People used to sneak up there all the time. Kids, teenagers, the occasional moderately drunk pair of newlyweds. . .”

Castiel starts shuffling out of the booth, pulling out his wallet to drop some bills on the table. “Can you tell me where it is?”

Heather looks surprised. “Um yeah, just north of town, off the state highway. There’s an old sign by the bridge. But I’m pretty sure nobody uses it anymore. You know, those darn kids these days with their texting.”

Castiel nods, gathering up his files again. “Thank you, Heather.”

“Yeah, alright, no sweat,” she says, still looking slightly confused. “Have fun out there, but make sure you suit up. Hide the hooch when the coppers come. And don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

“I suspect that’s not a long list,” Castiel says.

Heather grins. “Ah, Demi, you’re learning.”

3 weeks, 6 days, 7 hours, 53 minutes
Lancaster, Missouri

The mill isn’t on any of the maps he’s looked at, but thanks to Heather’s directions Castiel finds it without too much trouble. Realistically, he doesn’t need anything more than his grace to take out a nest of vampires, but he’s trying to do this right – like a hunter would, like Sam and Dean would. He parks the Impala at the head of the old dirt road, then retrieves a machete from the trunk. There are a tiny set of initials inscribed into the wooden handle, and Castiel takes a moment to trace his thumb over the roughly-carved scratches. The work is neat, but juvenile. There’s an unexpected pang in Castiel’s chest when he thinks about how young Dean must have been when he put them there.

A noise up the tree-lined driveway draws his attention, so Castiel shakes away his thoughts and closes the car’s trunk quietly. He starts moving down the road, mindful of his footfalls, until the old stone ruins come into view. There’s flickering light coming from inside; someone is clearly using the building, and they’ve lit a fire. He slows his steps and grips the machete tighter.

“Hey Cas. You awake?”

Castiel startles. Dean’s usually asleep this time of night.

“What am I talking about. You’re always awake. It’s just that it’s after midnight – I think – and I can’t sleep.”

“Dean, this isn’t the best time,” Castiel hisses, then he rolls his eyes. Talking to himself isn’t terribly practical right now.

“I was just thinking, maybe you can talk to Mom for me. I’ve had a lot of time to think in here, obviously, and I keep thinking about how bad she and I left things.”

“Can we please talk about this later, Dean?” Castiel whispers, moving forward to put his back against a tree trunk. He cranes his neck around the tree and spots several figures moving back and forth in an open area of the ruins. There’s a low stone wall surrounding them and they’re all silhouetted by the fire, so Castiel can’t make out any details.

“But just do me a favour, man. Let her know I get it. Her needing time away, needing space – I shouldn’t’ve come down on her so hard for that.”

Castiel briefly abandons his spying and leans his head back against the tree. He closes his eyes and listens, blocking out every sound that isn’t Dean.

“Y’know, I’ve spent my whole life thinking about her, this – this myth of a perfect, flawless mother, but somewhere along the line I kinda forgot she was a person. That’s not fair. And y’know. . .”

He trails off for a moment, and Castiel just breathes.

“Okay look, there’s actually a whole mess of crap for her and me to unpack here, so. . . maybe don’t try to tell her all that. No offense, buddy, but you’ve got some work to do with the whole ‘communicating human emotions’ thing.”

“True,” Castiel murmurs.

“But just tell her I get her needing to leave. And I don’t blame her.”

He’s silent again, and Castiel nods to himself. “I’ll tell her.”

“‘Kay. I’m gonna try to sleep again. Good talk, buddy.”

“Goodnight, Dean,” Castiel says softly. He takes a moment to refocus, gently thumping his head against the tree a few times, but then he squares his shoulders and looks back around at the ruins.

Voices and laughter drift out through the air, and Castiel starts his approach again, taking the last few steps up to the stone foundation. Getting closer, he counts seven people. This shouldn’t be a problem. He keeps a firm grip on the machete handle, but instinctually flexes his other hand. The most efficient action would be to take them all out in one blast of grace. And there have been five deaths; he can’t afford to be sloppy. This should be neat and tidy.

He takes a final step towards the old brick walls, pauses for a few steadying breaths, then springs forward into the circle.

The laughter is instantly replaced by screams. A bottle drops to the ground, the sound of shattering glass echoes against the stone, and Castiel meets the fearful eyes of several teenagers.

“Whoa, hey, take it easy man!” one of them says. He throws an arm in front of the young girl to his left, whose wide eyes are locked on Castiel’s machete.

Castiel blinks, disappointment and embarrassment rising up inside him. “You’re human.”

“And you’re a psycho!” the girl says, clutching at the arm of her companion.

“No, no, I’m –” Castiel starts, attempting to hide the machete behind his back. “I’m with the FBI.”

Cops, go!” one of them says, and the children scatter.

Castiel lets them go, watching them run back up the road until they’re swallowed by the darkness. He stands in the centre of the clearing for almost a full minute before walking slowly over to the stone wall.

“Damn it!” he yells, then punches the wall hard enough to leave a sizable gash and send a cloud of rubble and dust into the air.

Castiel leans forward on the wall, breathes hard for a moment, then walks back up the road to the car.

3 weeks, 6 days, 8 hours, 44 minutes
Lancaster, Missouri

The thought of returning to his motel is depressing, so he drives back to the diner. It seems empty, but the lights are all still on, so he just climbs into his usual booth to wait for Heather; at least here there’s a friendly face. Slumping against the backrest, he once again pulls out his files and starts poking through them.

Admittedly, Castiel doesn’t have the practical hunting experience that Sam and Dean do, but he’s still an angel. Granted, an angel who’s made more mistakes than the next hundred angels combined, but still, they’re just vampires. He thought he’d been getting better at this.

Sighing, Castiel leans forward to prop his elbows on the table and drops his face into his hands. He stays there a long moment, the only sounds in the room the quiet ticking of the clock above the kitchen door.

Castiel frowns and looks up. The ‘open’ sign was still bright neon on the front door, he’s sure of it, but he can’t hear anything coming from inside the kitchen. Sliding across the vinyl seat, Castiel climbs out of the booth and heads over to the kitchen’s saloon door. He’s about to push it open when he steps in something wet.

The blood hasn’t dried yet; it’s still pooling darkly on the ground behind the diner’s long counter. Some of it’s splashed up against the back wall, and more has hit the rows of empty coffee mugs lined up neatly on the counter’s shelves.

Heather’s pale yellow uniform is stained red too, darkest at the neck, and the rich brown of her eyes has started to fade.

Castiel doesn’t bother grabbing his files, and he doesn’t check out of his motel. He just runs.

Chapter Text

5 weeks, 0 days, 2 hours, 56 minutes
Lebanon, Kansas

Heaven was always insufferably bureaucratic, but Castiel’s finding that it has nothing on the United States government.

At this point, he has spoken to at least two dozen different sources and four separate so-called ‘top-ranking officials.’ He has used eight different aliases, told approximately sixty lies, and he is still no closer to finding Sam and Dean than he was a month ago.

On the bright side, it is educational. He’s learning all about hold music, and the tricks for navigating the endless rounds of automated phone menus he once heard Sam call ‘blabbyrinths.’ And he’s experiencing new, human emotions, such as the urge to throw one’s phone against a wall.

His current frustration is Agent Sato, of the FBI’s Indianapolis field office.

“Thank you for waiting, Agent Gomez.” Sato’s very bored voice crackles over the line after almost forty-five minutes of what Dean calls ‘elevator music.’ “But I’m afraid I don’t have anything here on any arrests.”

Castiel grits his teeth and stands from his chair. “You listen to me. You and your entire department have been giving me the drive-around for weeks.”

“Excuse me?” Sato says.

Castiel closes his eyes, his free hand curling into a fist. “The runaround. You’ve been giving me the runaround.”

“Look, Agent,” he says, “I’m telling you, the department doesn’t have any record of an attempt on the President’s life. I think that’s something we’d have heard about, don’t you?”

“I have reliable –”

“Listen, pal, I don’t have time for this. This whole office doesn’t have time for this. Try D.C.”

“I have tried –” he starts, but Sato hangs up and Castiel is once again left with the infuriating sound of a dial tone.

The phone almost goes flying towards the library wall, but he manages to just drop it on the table instead. His eyes still shut, Castiel breathes in deeply and tries to imagine Agent Sato. Then he imagines Sato’s head exploding. The image replays over and over in Castiel’s mind until he feels calm enough to pick up the phone again.

This has been his routine for the last week. Hours of waiting, thirty seconds of conversation, wave after wave of frustrated anger, then repeat. With each unsuccessful call, the ache in his chest gets worse.

Castiel hasn’t left the bunker once since Lancaster. Other cases have popped up on the news, and every so often there’s a pinging alert from Sam’s laptop, but he ignores it all. He’s proven that he isn’t capable of hunting. Clearly, he’s not capable of finding Sam and Dean either, but even after his repeated failures he can’t fathom not trying.

He’s suddenly aware of the static drifting out from the record player in the corner, so he takes a momentary break from his phone to switch to a new album. He’s working his way through the bunker’s collection; this time he slips an old Dave Brubeck record from its sleeve, dropping the needle down carefully. The music helps, and not just to combat the bunker’s silence. Just like driving the Impala, it’s keeping Sam and Dean with him.

Privacy has always been very important to Dean, so since his arrest Castiel has largely stayed clear of his bedroom. But over the years he’s grown to enjoy Dean’s taste in music, so after a few days of Sam’s more. . . eclectic style, he’d ducked into Dean’s room to gather up some of his collection. He left quickly though; the whole room carried Dean’s scent, and for some reason that alone had sent a sharp spike of pain through Castiel’s chest.

Music once again echoing through the library, Castiel braces himself to try calling the next name on his list.

“I, uh, pray to Castiel. Cas. Hey man, just checkin’ in.”

Castiel smiles softly and glances at the time. Even locked away in prison, Sam moves like clockwork.

“We’re going on week five here. Nothing really new to report or anything. Gettin’ three squares, guards patrol every hour. They still come get me every day, try to get me to talk. It’s kids’ stuff, though. I’m fine. Definitely had worse.”

From what Castiel can tell, Dean is interrogated every morning and Sam every afternoon. It sounds like they’re taken to the same place though, based on their descriptions.

“I’m trying to stay busy in here. Working out, mostly – gotta make sure I’ll be ready to jump in with you and Dean when the time comes.”

Castiel grimaces, shame and regret twisting uncomfortably.

“I uh, haven’t heard anything about Dean. Pretty sure he’s okay – I mean, when they interrogate me, couple times they’ve tried to get me to flip on him, so I gotta figure he’s in here somewhere too, holding out. I hope you’ve heard from him.”

Castiel smiles sadly. He has that, at least.

“Guess that’s it for now. Hope you’re doing okay too, Cas. Miss you, man. Talk to you later, I guess. Um, amen.”

Castiel laughs softly, then after a moment grits his teeth and strides back across the room for his phone. There’s a number he hasn’t tried often enough, and he’s distinctly not looking forward to it, but Sam and Dean have already languished too long, so screw pride.

Predictably, however, he’s sent straight to voicemail.

“Hello, you’ve reached the King of Hell. I’m away from my throne at the moment, so if you would leave your name and number after the tone, I’ll return your call. If this is an emergency, call the official Hell-pline, and a representative will be happy to direct your call.”

“Crowley, this is my sixth voicemail,” Castiel says, pacing the library. “You don’t want to return my calls, fine. You don’t owe me anything. But you do owe Sam and Dean, and you are the only person I know who stands a chance of freeing them.” He halts his steps and closes his eyes, gripping onto the back of a chair. “I’m running through the last of my leads. If they could have gotten themselves out, they would have by now. I –”

Bile is rising in Castiel’s throat, but he swallows and pushes on. “I need your help.” He hangs up quickly, seething, and finds that he once again needs a few moments to regain some calm.

5 weeks, 0 days, 21 hours, 36 minutes
Lebanon, Kansas

“Cas, hey. Something’s weird here.”

Castiel jumps wildly. He has no idea how long he’s been staring off into space.

“Some new guy was questioning me today. I dunno who he was, but he wasn’t talking like the usual suits.”

Dean sounds agitated, his voice hushed and tight. Castiel straightens in his chair, his insides instantly curling in knots.

“The stuff he was asking me. . . Cas, he sounded like a hunter. Or I dunno, maybe not a hunter, but like he knew shit, you know? He was talking about demons, and burning bones. And he kept asking about my possession tattoo.”

“So, what, you think he knows about you?” Castiel says.

“It was all like, in a metaphorical, hypothetical bullshit kinda way, but still. And I mean, I still didn’t say anything. Who knows, maybe this is their new tactic. Try to ‘play into our delusions’ or whatever to try and trip us up.”

“Or, there’s someone in the government who knows the truth about the supernatural.” Castiel stands and walks over to the corkboard. He starts looking over his list of contacts. “Who was the man, Dean? Did he give you a name?”

“It wigged me out, man, and I think he could tell.”

“A name, Dean. Please. Give me something.”

“I dunno, buddy. You think it’s possible that somebody in the government or the military knows what’s really out there? Might be worth looking into, maybe that’ll help you find us.”

Castiel leans forward and thumps his head on the corkboard. “A name, Dean. Come on.”

“What if there’s a real life X-Files, Cas? Think maybe I’ll get to meet Gillian Anderson?”

“Damn it, Dean!”

“Mmm, I’d let her give me a conjugal visit, know what I’m sayin’?”

A deep sigh heaves out of Castiel’s chest. “You can be so. . . frustrating.”

“You should watch The X-Files, Cas, it’s good. Geek-boy Sammy’s got the box set, go poke around in his room until you find it. And make sure you remember to tell me everything you find under his bed.”

Castiel laughs bitterly. “Dean, if you think I’m going to sit around watching television while you’re in prison –”

“Oh crap, guards are coming by. . . sounds like it’s Scabby Hands and Private Jackass this time. Later, Cas.”

“I –” Castiel starts, but then he sighs again. “Yeah. Okay.”

He takes in a breath; this is something, finally, a potential new lead. If someone in charge of the prison is aware of the supernatural, this could be the reason he can’t hone in on Dean’s location. Enochian warding on the building would be enough to block him out.

Despite Dean’s disquiet, Castiel feels hope flicker. His phone is behind him on the table, so he turns and grabs it up, scrolling until he finds Mary’s contact information. And for what seems like the hundredth time, he stops shy of pressing call.

Mary had been so angry with him, and for good reason. And this isn’t a lead really, not yet. He should wait until he has something concrete to bring to her – he owes her that much. Castiel drops the phone back onto the table and returns his focus to the board.

He pretends to look at it for almost thirty seconds. Then he spins, picks up the phone again, and hits dial before he can talk himself out of it.

It rings twice, then he hangs up.

He knows he’s being a coward. But maybe Mary will see the missed call and try him back.

His insides once again twisted into a knot, Castiel returns his focus to the corkboard and tries to ignore his phone.

6 weeks, 2 days, 10 hours, 32 minutes
Lawrence, Kansas

“Thanks for meeting me.”

Mary looks awkward, so Castiel nods, fiddling with a coaster on the bar top.

“I just wanted to say. . . I’m sorry. I was angry and – Sam and Dean, that’s not your fault.”

He almost wants to laugh, but instead Castiel shakes his head. “No, you were right. I should never have left them, I. . .” His apology sticks in his throat; words aren’t ever going to be enough for this. “Have you heard anything?”

Mary shakes her head, looking away. “All my law enforcement contacts are retired, or dead. I’m trying, but. . . You?”

The hope that had flared a week ago has long since fizzled. Castiel still has nothing. Dean had eventually passed along a name for his new interrogator, but it turns out there are a thoroughly ridiculous number of Agent Thompsons in the FBI.

“I keep telling myself they’re fine, it’s only been –”

“Six weeks, two days, and ten hours,” Castiel says.

Mary’s expression is pained, but there’s something else in it too.

“Cas, I have just had the worst sandwich of my life. And I want you to imagine the total number of sandwiches I’ve eaten and really appreciate that.”

Castiel smiles a little, letting his eyes slip closed.

“God, I could use real food right now. You remember that time back in the apocalypse, with Famine? And you kept stuffing your face with those crappy burgers?”

“What is it?”

Castiel opens his eyes, somewhat surprised to find Mary staring at him, looking concerned. “Sorry. It’s Dean – he’s praying.”

Mary’s eyes go wide. “Right now? You can hear him?” Castiel nods, still distracted. “Is something happening?”

“I should make you my burgers some time. I know you don’t need to eat or anything, but damn, buddy, I can make a good burger, even you’d appreciate ‘em.

Regretfully, Castiel blocks out the prayers, focusing on Mary. “Not really. He’s hungry.”

A furrow forms in Mary’s brow. “What?”

“He’s talking about burgers. And. . . cooking.”

“He. . . he prays to you. . . about burgers?”

Castiel tilts his head. “Yes?”

Mary just stares at him. “When you first told me you’d heard from them, and they were okay, I don’t know, I guess I thought that was it – just a debrief. But you. . . you hear from him a lot?”

“Several times a day,” Castiel says. “And Sam checks in once a week. There isn’t anything really new to tell you, though. I would have called you if there was.”

Mary nods, her eyes still rather wide. “Yeah, okay. So, what does he talk about?”

Castiel rolls his eyes. “Anything, and nothing. How bored he is, or how worried about Sam. He reminds me at least twice a week to turn over the engine of his car, for some reason.”

“Yeah.” Mary smiles. “You’ve gotta do that if it’s parked long-term.”

“Right,” Castiel says. “And he sings, sometimes.”

Mary’s voice is suddenly rather strained. “He sings?”

“Yes. I think just to pass the time,” Castiel says, and he can’t help the smile that creeps across his face. “It’s. . . endearing.” A few moments of silence pass, and then Castiel looks up to find Mary’s shocked eyes on him again. “What?”

“I –” She stops herself, searching Castiel’s face. “I didn’t realize it was like that.”

“Like what?”

Mary shakes her head slightly. “You love him.”

Castiel frowns. “Of course I do. I love both of them.”

“No, that’s not –” She stops again, but she’s still looking at him intently. After a moment, she looks away. “Sorry, never mind.” She starts to shift herself off the bar stool. “We’ve got some work to do. I’ll head to D.C., try to shake some things loose about this Thompson guy you mentioned.”

“Alright,” Castiel says, still slightly confused. “I’ll um, I’ll be back at the bunker. I’ll keep digging through the files, maybe the Men of Letters knew something about hunters working with the government.”

“Yeah, sounds good.” Mary slips into her jacket, then after a moment of hesitation drops an awkward pat onto Castiel’s shoulder. “Take care of yourself, okay? And I’ll keep in touch this time, I promise.”

Castiel nods. “Yeah, me too.”

Mary casts him one last look, then turns and leaves the bar. Castiel stays for a while longer, a strange pit in his stomach and his mind a little jumbled. Eventually he drains his glass of water and walks out as well.

He’s halfway home when he hears Dean again.

 Hey, buddy. I know I’m bitching a lot. And yeah, the food’s shitty, and I’m lookin’ at the same ass-ugly walls all day, but I’m keepin’ it together, I promise. This is nothing, I can handle this. I know I ain’t got the best track record with holding out on torture. I broke in Hell. We both know how that turned out. But not this time. I’m not gonna break this time. I’m not.”

With shaking hands, Castiel pulls the car off to the side of the road and yanks the key from the ignition. He buries his face in his hands, breaths coming quick and shallow. “That wasn’t your fault, Dean. That was never your fault.”

“I’m not gonna break, Cas. I promise.”

7 weeks, 5 days, 10 hours, 25 minutes
Red Oak, Iowa

Castiel finishes sketching out the simple chalk sigil on a bare patch of pavement and takes a few steps back. The candles are lit and arranged around the sigil, and the herbs are mixed in the shallow basin. In his pocket, he fiddles with an old, battered matchbook from the Rexford Motor Court.

Casting one final look to the playground over his shoulder, he pulls it out, strikes a match, and tosses it into the bowl.

The flames spark tall into the night sky as the herbs catch fire. There’s a shifting in the air, and Castiel senses movement behind him. Before he can turn, however, he hears the unmistakable sound of a blade sliding out of a sleeve.

“That’s not necessary,” he says, holding both hands out in surrender and pivoting slowly. “Hello, Ingrid.”

Ingrid stares him down, her gaze wary, but after a moment of appraisal she lowers her blade. “One can never be sure with you, these days.”

Castiel feels a distant sort of ache at that, but he pushes it away. “I require your assistance.”

“So you summon me?” Ingrid says, eyes now turning haughty. “Like some common human?”

“No one was taking my calls,” Castiel growls. The weeks of waiting have worn down his patience considerably. “And I’ve been standing at the gate for hours.” He inclines his head to the sandbox, but Ingrid doesn’t bother turning around.

She tosses her hair and takes a step forward. “Why would we answer you, Castiel? What have you done lately to return to our good graces?”

“Nothing,” Castiel says. “I know my debt to Heaven will never be repaid. But this isn’t about me.”

Ingrid narrows her eyes and folds her arms across her chest, but she doesn’t say anything, so Castiel takes it as an indication to continue.

“Lucifer has been returned to the cage.”

“Yes, we are aware. But as you are the one responsible for freeing him to begin with, I wouldn’t expect gratitude for cleaning up your own mess.”

Castiel grits his teeth and wills his finite supply of patience to hold out. “His imprisonment is largely thanks to the Winchesters.”

“Oh, so you would have us thank them instead?” she asks incredulously. “Your time on Earth has not been ill-spent, Castiel – I think you’re getting funnier.”

“Sam and Dean have sacrificed everything, time and again, for this world,” Castiel says. “They risked their lives to return Lucifer to the cage, while Heaven did nothing. Now, they have been arrested, imprisoned somewhere I can’t reach them, and I need Heaven’s help to free them.”

Ingrid rolls her eyes. “Why, Castiel? You say they’ve been arrested. That is a human matter. Why would we intervene?”

“Because I am a brother asking for your help, Ingrid.”

At that, Ingrid’s face twists into a snarl. “Help? Like you help your brothers and sisters? You killed Hannah.”

Something sours in Castiel’s gut. “No, I didn’t.”

“You may not have held the blade, but it’s because of you she’s dead.”

As much as he wishes otherwise, Castiel can’t refute that.

Ingrid nods in satisfaction at his silence. “If the Winchesters are lost to you, I suggest you find some new human playthings. Although,” she continues, a nasty smirk curving her lips, “I imagine it might be difficult to replace your favourite.”

Castiel’s thankful for the darkness of the playground as a hot flush floods his face. It’s partially unadulterated rage, but it’s also another, much more complicated feeling. He studiously ignores it though; he knows what it means. It had taken a few days, but he’d finally worked out what Mary had implied back at the bar.

Swallowing down his pride and anger and everything else, Castiel fixes Ingrid with a steady gaze. “I’m prepared to offer whatever you ask.”

Her smirk remains in place. “Look at you. So desperate.”

Castiel stares back for one long moment before nodding. “Yes, I am, actually. I’m glad you realize that. It’ll make this next part easier to understand.”

Before Ingrid can react he strikes another match and drops it to the ground at her feet. Holy fire leaps up instantly, surrounding her in a tight circle.

The red-orange glow of the flames is reflected in her wide, furious eyes. “Let me out, Castiel.”

“I will,” Castiel says, stepping as close to the fire as he dares. “After you help me.”

“This is how you treat your sister? You come begging for help, but all the while you scheme and set traps.”

Castiel shakes his head. “I was willing to make whatever deal you wanted. I would’ve traded my own freedom – my own life, if that’s what it took. But you refused, and now we’re here. So please, Ingrid, save the righteous indignation.”

It seems as though Ingrid’s eyes spark with blue light for a fraction of a second, but she remains silent.

“Good,” Castiel says with a nod. “Now, Sam and Dean have been taken by the government, but wherever they are appears to be warded. I can hear their prayers, but I can’t seem to lock onto their location. How could a government building be warded against angels?”

Ingrid merely crosses her arms again.

Castiel raises an eyebrow. “I will leave you here, Ingrid.”

The look in Ingrid’s eye is one of deep loathing, but eventually she speaks. “Before the apocalypse, there were several missions to Earth. Some you know about, some you don’t.”

Castiel nods. He’s long abandoned the delusion he’d ever been privy to all of Heaven’s secrets.

“It is possible that on one or more of these missions, angels did not go unnoticed by certain humans. Many have studied us over the centuries. There may be a select few humans who have learned enough to ward themselves against us.”

Possible. May be,” Castiel repeats, frustrated. “Can you give me anything more concrete than that?”

“No,” Ingrid shoots back. “Angels do not concern themselves with the minutiae of human activity. Or at least, most don’t.”

Castiel rolls his eyes at the jab, but pushes on. “Can you give me any possible locations for these buildings?”

“If they are warded to you, Castiel, they are warded to us,” Ingrid says. “Heaven can’t help you find your precious Winchesters. Now, release me.”

Castiel tilts his head, considering her. After a long, drawn-out moment she starts to shift on her feet, her eyes betraying the barest trace of panic.

Deciding he’s had his fun, Castiel digs into the pocket of his coat. “Here,” he says, and he tosses one of the bunker’s old burner phones across the flames.

Ingrid catches it with two hands, then holds it up in a puzzled examination. She then looks at Castiel.

He inclines his head to the phone. “Maybe someone upstairs will take your call.”

Then he turns on his heel and heads to the Impala, leaving Ingrid raging behind him.

Slipping in behind the wheel, he sends Mary a brief text, then pulls away from the park. They didn’t get any new information, merely a confirmation of what they’d already guessed. But Castiel did get out of an encounter with a fellow angel alive and unhurt, and that, at least, is something to be grateful for.

He turns onto the highway, heading back to the bunker, and a few minutes later his phone buzzes with Mary’s reply.

Glad it went okay. I’ll call in the morning, we’ll figure out our next move.

Castiel doesn’t bother responding, his mind once again traveling back to their conversation at the bar. Mary hasn’t brought it up again in the intervening week, and neither has Castiel. He should assure her that the assumptions she’s apparently made are completely inaccurate.

Dean is his brother. They have a bond, true, and one that is markedly different from his connection to Sam, but it’s merely the bond of two soldiers. Their relationship was forged in fire and battle; it’s friendship and family and – despite everything they’ve been through – trust. Any outside observer could mistake that for love. And it is love, Castiel is sure of that. But Mary had been talking about something. . . more.

Angels are simply not built for what Mary was suggesting. The ability to love that way is one of the things that makes humanity so different, so much better.

But in the last few days he has caught himself daydreaming. Seeing Dean, or himself and Dean together, and conjuring up images and scenarios that had never occurred to him before. Each time though, he shakes his imaginings away in irritation. Mary had simply put the idea in his head, and in his desperation to see Dean again – to see Dean and Sam again – his mind occasionally runs away with it.

Resolving to explain all this to Mary when they speak tomorrow, Castiel firmly pushes this line of thought from his mind and focuses on the road in front of him. He reaches over and turns on the stereo, and the old Led Zeppelin tape picks up right where it left off.

7 weeks, 6 days, 19 hours, 7 minutes
Lebanon, Kansas

Over the last few weeks, Castiel’s started gravitating more and more to Dean’s room. He still doesn’t ever go in, but he hovers on the threshold. His eyes cast about the room, taking in the weapons hung proudly on the wall, the lovingly organized desk, and the neatly-made bed.

He looks at the neatly-made bed a lot.

“Hey buddy.”

Dean’s practically whispering, but Castiel still moves as though caught out, his eyes darting away from the bed.

“Gotta keep this quieter from now on, guards heard me talking last night. I guess they thought I had a bug in here or something, because I was just subjected to a thorough search. Like, very thorough. Seriously, I don’t usually let a guy get that friendly with me without buying me dinner first. Or. . . something. Um.”

An altogether distracting torrent of images flood, unbidden, into Castiel’s mind, and he feels a fluttering in his stomach – another increasingly familiar by-product of Mary’s misunderstanding.

Dean, at least, sounds uncomfortable too.

“Yeah, okay, I actually hope you didn’t hear me that time. Let’s move right on past that. Anyway. Obviously they didn’t find anything, thanks to the magic of Heavenly wifi. Or wait – pray-dio? Fuck, that’s terrible. I’ll get back to you on this one – but yeah, anyway, I’ve gotta be more careful.”

Castiel closes his eyes and leans his head against the doorframe.

“S’funny, you know. I was thinking earlier that I haven’t prayed like this since Purgatory.”

“Don’t remind me,” Castiel says. The thought has occurred to him before too.

“Talkin’ to you every night, not knowing if you could hear me. I mean, this is different, obviously. At least I had a purpose there, instead of just sitting on my ass, waiting. And we’re different now, you and me.”

Castiel turns up his lips in a bitter smile. “Not so different. I still hear you praying to me, I’m still unable to go to you. It still kills me.”

“I dunno, man. Sometimes I wish I could go back, you know? Not that our life back then was all that better than it is now – especially right now – but there’s. . . there’s stuff I would’ve said, would’ve done different.”

Absurdly, Castiel feels the pace of his heart quicken, and he stands up straight again.

“Ah, whatever. Doesn’t matter now.”

Dean goes quiet after that, but Castiel once again finds himself gazing, sightless and distracted, into the bedroom.

He loses track of time until his phone vibrates with another text from Mary. Guiltily, he turns away from the door and thumbs out a response, berating himself for indulging, yet again, in his meaningless daydreams.

He still hasn’t corrected her misconception about his relationship with Dean. When they’d spoken yesterday, Castiel hadn’t brought it up, and he doesn’t want to think too hard about why.

Chapter Text

9 weeks, 1 day, 3 hours, 13 minutes
Creighton, Nebraska

“I can play a little bit, but I really only got that one summer to practise. Not like Dad ever would’ve let me cart a guitar around.”

Castiel’s just passing Creighton’s town limits, and in over half an hour, Dean hasn’t stopped talking once.

“And I wasn’t ever really all that good anyway. But I’ve always wanted to try to pick it up again. I thought maybe after we moved into the bunker I could start back up. I mean, we’ve got a real home now, I don’t have to worry about fitting a six-string in next to all the machetes and shotguns, y’know? But I guess we’ve always been a little, uh, busy. Darkness and death, all that crap.”

Castiel rolls his eyes and attempts to focus on the road. “Maybe you should try again. Practising might improve your singing.”

“You know what? I’ve decided. Soon as I get outta here, I’m buying a damn guitar. I’ll probably suck ass, but whatever. See how much I actually remember from that summer. Probably not much, we always got kinda distracted during my actual lessons, if you know what I mean.”

The uncomfortable fluttering returns to Castiel’s stomach and his mind starts to drift again.

“Robin. Man, she was great. Smart, pretty. Funny too.”

“Yes, Dean, you’ve said. Several times.” He’s gripping the steering wheel rather tightly.

“Ran into her a couple years back, actually. Talk about whiplash. Oh, but she looked good, man.”

The steering wheel jerks in Castiel’s hands, sending the car left. The semi in the neighbouring lane blares its horn, and Castiel overcorrects, pulling the wheel back too far to the right. He hits the shoulder, gravel spraying up against the Impala’s passenger side, but he manages to come to a stop, breathing hard.

“With the hair, and the big smile. Still teaching guitar.”

Castiel grits his teeth. He is an angel, and he has self control. He will not indulge in this. “One of these days, Dean, you’re going to distract me, and I’m going to crash your car. Although, of course, you’ll still insist it’s my fault.”

“It was good to see her, you know? Closure, I guess.”

Castiel plants his forehead on the steering wheel.

9 weeks, 2 days, 8 hours, 50 minutes
Creighton, Nebraska

The coffeemaker has only just stopped gurgling when Castiel pulls the pot out to pour his ninth cup of the day. It’s an incredibly small pot, made for only two cups, but it’s all the motel room has. He empties the filter into the garbage and sets about to brew another batch. His can of grounds is almost empty though; he’ll have to make a supply run soon.

The coffee isn’t quite right – he hasn’t gotten the hang of the proper proportions – but by staying in his room and making his own, he can avoid cafés and diners and, well, people. It’s better this way. He can remain focused on his task, undistracted.

Except, of course, by Dean.

“Cas, I feel like I’m losing track of time in here. Is it eight o’clock?”

Castiel turns away from his pinned-up photos and news reports to check the time. He grimaces. “No, Dean. It’s almost eleven.”

“I think they were early with my food again. I don’t know, I didn’t really think much of it the first time, but this is like, five times in the last week. And I keep hearing them go by on their rounds, but it seems like it’s less and less time in between them now.”

“Solitude can play tricks on your mind, Dean. Try not to let it get to you.”

“Think they’re trying to throw me off? I think they do that. I saw it once in this show. . . I don’t know, it was some crappy cop show, who cares, but they kept like, changing the lights on the guy, messing with the clock on the wall.”

Castiel sighs. “I’m working on something, Dean. Mary and I, we’ve got a lead – a real lead. Just hold out a little longer.”

“Damnit, here there they come again. No way it’s been an hour.”

There’s silence again, so Castiel sadly returns his focus to the case files on the wall.

It was only a matter of time before Dean started to really crack, and in his weekly check-ins, Sam has started to sound more despondent as well. Castiel needs to figure this out quickly; he doesn’t want to think about what Sam and Dean might do if they get too desperate.

An alert pings on his (Sam’s) open laptop, so Castiel moves over to the rickety table. The local sheriff’s department has finally confirmed the remains of the fourth victim: Mike Betts, aged 47. Castiel moves over to the wall in grim satisfaction and puts a check next to Betts’ name. Turning back to the table, he glances at the time, then resolves to visit Betts’ wife first thing in the morning.

With little else to do, he sits at the table and drinks his coffee.

9 weeks, 2 days, 18 hours, 40 minutes
Creighton, Nebraska

Leah Betts is quiet and obviously shaken, but she lets Castiel into her living room without resistance. Castiel takes the proffered cup of coffee from her trembling hands and sits down on the couch.

“I’m very sorry for your loss, Mrs. Betts,” he says, and she nods absently, her eyes red. “If it’s alright, I’m afraid there are some questions I need to ask.”

“Yes, of course,” she says with a sniff. “But why does the FBI care about an animal attack?”

Castiel casts his eyes about the room until he locates a box of tissues. He holds it out and she pulls a few free. “Your husband’s death has some similarities to another open case. We just have to be thorough,” he says.

Thankfully, she seems to accept his lie. “Alright then. What do you need to know?”

“Man, you remember that time we got kicked out of that brothel?”

“Agent Swift? Are you alright?”

Castiel feels heat flooding his face, and he looks up to find Mrs. Betts staring at him expectantly. “Yes, I’m sorry, I’m a little dis –”

“I mean, who’d have thought it was possible to strike out with a hooker, but damn, you sure did.”

Distracted,” Castiel repeats firmly, closing his eyes. “Now, I understand your husband found some success as a writer, correct?”

“The look on your face! You were like a deer in headlights, buddy. And didn’t she like, throw her shoe at you or something? Oh man.”

Mrs. Betts is staring at him again. Setting his jaw, Castiel blocks out Dean’s prayers. “I’m sorry,” he repeats. “What did you say?”

Mrs. Betts narrows her eyes. “I said yes, he found some. Enough to keep us comfortable, at least.”

Castiel glances around the spacious, modern-looking room. “Yes, you, uh, you keep a lovely home,” he says awkwardly.

“What does my husband’s writing have to do with anything?” she asks, and Castiel can sense her irritation growing.

“In my um, research,” Castiel says, “I noticed that he’s only been publishing about ten years. Before that, he worked at your local factory. Making parts for farm equipment, I believe.”

She nods. “He worked at that plant since we were in high school. Most of this town works there. But one day, finally, he gets a call back from a publisher. He’d been sending in his drafts for years, to all kinds of places. He used to keep a whole file folder of his rejection letters. . .” She trails off as her eyes fill with tears. Castiel holds out the tissues for her again. “Always said that he was going to make it, we just had to bide our time. It wouldn’t have mattered to me, I would have been happy being married to him even if we didn’t have a cent, but it was so important to him.”

Castiel nods. “I’m glad he got to have that.” Mrs. Betts nods again, and he leans in hesitantly. “Now, back when he received that first acceptance letter, do you remember at all, was there someone. . . new around? Do you recall your husband ever mentioning a, a new acquaintance? Someone he might have confided in?”

Mrs. Betts looks at him blankly. “What?”

“Does the name Dupont seem familiar?” Castiel presses.

“You’re asking if I remember my husband maybe meeting someone more than ten years ago?” she asks.

Castiel swallows. “Uh, yes.”

“And how exactly is this is related to my husband being mauled to death by wild dogs?”

“Uh, well,” Castiel starts, “it’s complicated.”

She nods briskly and stands from her chair, pulling her dressing gown tighter across her chest. “I think I’ve answered enough of your questions.”

Regretfully, Castiel stands too. “I’m sorry to –”

“Please, I have a lot of things to take care of today,” she says curtly.

“Yes, of course,” Castiel says, and heads to the hallway, the familiar sense of disappointment returning. He turns around when he reaches the door and pulls out his card. “Please, if you think of anything else, don’t hesitate to call.”

Mrs. Betts stares at the little piece of paper for a moment, then slowly reaches out to take it. Castiel places a hand on the doorknob, but then she speaks again. “The card.”

Castiel furrows his brow. “I’m sorry?”

Shaking her head slightly, Mrs. Betts pulls her gaze up from the card to meet Castiel’s eyes. “I don’t know if his name was Dupont, but there was someone. Back then – I’d forgotten.”

Castiel’s heart pounds a little faster. “What do you remember?”

Her eyes drift off to one side, staring distractedly back towards the living room. “It was only about a week before that first yes from the publisher. Mike had come home from a double shift, totally exhausted. And I remember him going on about this guy hanging around the factory, trying to talk to people.”

“This guy, did he talk to Mike?” Castiel asks.

“I don’t know.” She shakes her head. “And I don’t think he ever mentioned him after that. But he came home that night with a business card. It was weird, plain white with just a number on it, no name or anything.”

Castiel’s heart leaps. “Do you still have it?”

Mrs. Betts gives him a look. “Do I still have a total stranger’s mostly unmarked business card from ten years ago?”

“Right,” Castiel says. “I’m, uh, I’m guessing not.”

“Yeah, no. But I hope that helps with. . . whatever it is you’re looking for,” she says.

“It does,” Castiel says, and he tries to smile at her. “Thank you, Mrs. Betts. I promise I’ll do whatever I can to get justice for your husband.” She narrows her eyes at him, and Castiel swallows. “With the, uh, wild dogs.”

She nods, just once, slowly. “Please leave.”

9 weeks, 3 days, 7 hours, 28 minutes
Creighton, Nebraska

Castiel finally returns to his motel after spending all day questioning workers at the factory. No one had anything useful to impart; no one else could seem to remember a man frequenting the factory back then. But Leah Betts had at least given him his first, solid confirmation of a crossroads demon in town.

He pulls the Impala back up outside his room, but stops in first at the motel’s office. Sitting behind the desk is the same young man who had checked him in. His nose is buried in a textbook.

“Hello,” Castiel says, and the boy looks up. “I’d like to book another two nights.”

“Oh, uh, yeah,” he says, and turns to his computer. “Room sixteen, right?”

“Fourteen,” Castiel says, and places one of his credit cards on the desk.

The boy shakes his head. “Right, sorry. Brain’s all mushy. Stupid midterm. Who cares about. . . ” He trails off and looks down at his textbook in deep disgust. “Emperor Justinian and his Corpus Jurus Civilus, anyway?”

“Well, actually, it wasn’t technically Justinian’s,” Castiel says. “It was primarily an initiative of Tribonian, who was his advisor and also his lover. It’s a funny story, actually –”

The clerk is staring at him in interest, but Castiel cuts himself off. “Um, never mind.”

“No way man, how d’you know that stuff? You a teacher or something?”

“No,” Castiel says firmly. “I’d just like to pay for another two nights, please.”

The boy seems taken aback, and Castiel feels a flicker of regret over his rudeness. Still, he’s learned the hard way about getting friendly with civilians.

“Here you go,” the boy says flatly, handing back Castiel’s card. “Thanks for staying at Stubby’s.”

Castiel swallows and takes it from him. “Thank you. Good night.”

He returns to his room and immediately heads to the coffeemaker, before remembering he’s run out of grounds. Heaving an exhausted sigh, Castiel returns to his spot in front of the wall and drops his face into one hand, rubbing at his temples. It’s less than a minute later when he jerks his head back up, frowning.

He hasn’t heard from Dean in hours.

Castiel had tuned back in to Dean as soon as he’d left Mrs. Betts’ house. He’s sure of it. By that point Dean had stopped praying, but it had come time for his morning interrogation, so Castiel hadn’t thought much of the silence. But it’s after nine in the evening now and he hasn’t heard anything.

An uneasy, hollow feeling starts to creep up through Castiel’s gut, but he tries to ignore it and takes in a breath. He needs to calm his nerves; it hasn’t even been that long. And he could use the peace and quiet. Dean’s voice in his head provides all manner of. . . distractions, and he needs to focus on the case at hand. Hopefully he can track down another one of Dupont’s victims, this time before their deal is due. He squares his shoulders and stares at the papers on the wall.

The hours pass, and he doesn’t take in a word.

9 weeks, 4 days, 1 hour, 2 minutes
Creighton, Nebraska

Dean’s been silent for over twenty-four hours, and the knot in Castiel’s stomach has only grown larger. Staring at the board has yielded nothing new. He’s barely been able to focus on the case at all, which is not only frustrating, but makes him entirely useless.

He’d know if something had happened. Castiel would know if Dean were in pain, or d –

No. That line of thought is stopping right there.

Castiel takes a breath, but his tension doesn’t ease. He closes his eyes and concentrates. He can still feel Dean. He’s alive.

Castiel’s always been able to sense Dean. It’s never much, but it’s there: a steady and gentle tug, like a string extending out from Castiel’s mind, always pulled taut. That pull has been there from the beginning, and Castiel desperately clings to it now.

Perhaps Dean is under surveillance. He can’t talk for fear of being found out – by Thompson, most likely, who seems to know exactly who the Winchesters really are. So Dean’s maintaining radio silence until he can speak freely.

There’s a headache forming behind Castiel’s eyes to go with the sick feeling in his stomach. He hasn’t left his room to go pick up more coffee, and it appears that despite his angelic constitution, he’s already developed a habit.

“Coffee monkey on my back,” he murmurs to himself. For a brief, pained moment, he imagines Heather’s warm eyes and impish smile.

His phone rings, breaking the stifling silence of the motel room. He glances at Mary’s name on the caller ID before answering. “Any news?”

“Hi, Castiel. And no, nothing new. I’ve spoken to half a dozen more people, but everybody’s either in the dark about where Dupont went, or they’re keeping it to themselves. What about you? Any new vics?”

“No,” Castiel says, shaking his head and bringing a hand up to rub at his temple. “But I still think this is our best lead. There’s definitely been a crossroads demon at work in this town.” He leans in closer to the wall and traces a finger down the list of victims. “I just haven’t been able to find anyone new.”

“Okay.” There’s shuffling for a moment on Mary’s end of the line before she speaks again. “I’m probably not going to find anything else in D.C., and like you said, you’re on our best lead right now. Why don’t I come out there? We’ll work this together.”

Castiel is somewhat surprised at the feeling of relief that courses through him. “Yeah, that, um. . . that sounds good. I could use your help here,” he admits.

“You got it. Give me a day to wrap things up here, and then I’ll start heading your way. I’ll be in Creighton by the end of the week.” There’s a smile in her voice, and for some reason it makes Castiel feel a bit lighter.

“Thank you, Mary,” he says, then he pauses.

“Cas? What is it?”

Castiel hesitates a moment. “I – I don’t know. It could be nothing. But I, I haven’t heard from Dean in a while.”

“A while?” Mary asks. “What do you mean? How long’s a while?”

1 day, 6 hours, and 21 minutes. Castiel swallows. “More than a day now.”

“Okay. That’s not that long,” Mary says. She’s trying to be reassuring, but Castiel can hear the anxiety beneath her words.

He decides not to worry her any further. “Yes, I’m sure you’re right.”

“Yeah, I’m sure he’s okay,” Mary says, her false optimism now painfully obvious. “But um, keep in touch, okay? Let me know if – when you hear from him again.”

Castiel nods before remembering Mary can’t see him. “Yes, of course. I’ll see you in a few days.” He hangs up quickly and drops the phone onto the table.

9 weeks, 4 days, 22 hours, 31 minutes
Creighton, Nebraska

It takes Castiel a while to locate the office; it’s out on the factory floor instead of in the administrative wing of the building, and otherwise completely nondescript. The only difference between the office door and the neighbouring supply closets is a small label in plain script.

Castiel pokes his head inside and sees a woman at the desk, her back to him as she rummages through a file cabinet. He raps a knuckle low on the half-open door. “Excuse me, I’m looking for Olivia Farneti?”

“You’ve found her,” the woman says, swiveling around in her chair. She’s perhaps in her late thirties, her blonde hair pulled back neatly. “How can I help you?”

Castiel steps into the room and awkwardly reaches into his coat for his badge; he still hasn’t gotten the hang of this. As always, he wishes Dean were here – although at this point Castiel would settle for hearing his voice again.

He swallows. “Hello, Ms. Farneti. I’m Agent Swift, with the FBI.”

Like most people, her eyebrows shoot up at the sight of his badge. “I see. And how can I help the FBI today?”

“Well, that’s. . . complicated, Ms. Farneti,” Castiel says. He half-turns back around, then firmly pushes the office door shut.

“Okay,” she says slowly, then gestures to one of the chairs in front of her desk. “Have a seat, Agent. And Olivia, please.”

Castiel nods and sits, casting his eyes about the office. “This space is an interesting choice for the company CEO, isn’t it?” he asks, taking in the plain décor, and the stacks of papers and files covering every surface. “I saw several rather large offices nearer to the front entrance.”

Olivia tilts her head. “I like it down here. Keeps me on the floor if there’s a problem, and I’ve got my foremen nearby when I need them.”

“I see. You seem very involved.”

“It’s my job,” she says, now eyeing him with interest. “Why is the FBI so concerned with the business practices of an ordinary factory like mine?”

“I’m not,” Castiel says, looking her dead in the eye. “I’m interested in you.”

Olivia grins at him, then presses a fluttering hand to her chest. “My my, Agent, so bold. Though I have always liked a man in a suit.”

Castiel blinks a few times, thrown. “Um, sorry, that’s not what I meant.”

“Ah, darn,” she says, tsking a little. “That’s a shame.” Then she winks.

Determined to get this back on track, Castiel clears his throat and straightens in his chair. “Now, Ms. Farneti –”

“Olivia,” she reminds him.

“Olivia. What can you tell me about a man named Dupont?”

The flirtatious smile disappears instantly from her face, and her skin pales. “I beg your pardon?”

That’s as good a confirmation as any, and relief hits Castiel like a wave. Finally.

Nodding, Castiel returns to looking around the modest room. “It took me a while to find you. You didn’t make the typical deal, did you? I was focused on wealth, success, improbable love affairs. But you didn’t ask for any of that.”

“I. . .” Olivia is still very pale, and when Castiel glances down to the desk he notices her hands are tightly clenched, long, manicured fingernails digging into her palms.

“I’m not here to hurt you,” Castiel says quickly. “I don’t mean you any harm. I’d like to help you, if I can.”

Olivia hesitates, but her hands unclench a bit. “You – you’re not with. . . with him?”

“No, I’m not. But I do need to find him.”

She nods, taking a deep breath in. “I – I thought. I mean, I’ve still got almost a month left. . .”

“You know what’s coming,” Castiel says.

“Yeah, I know,” Olivia says, finally relaxing her hands. “Been waiting for it ten years.”

Castiel nods. “Since you almost declared bankruptcy.”

Olivia furrows her brow. “How did you know about that? Part of the – the deal – was all of that would be gone.”

“Over the last few days I’ve been speaking with some of your employees, those who were around when Dupont was making his deals ten years ago,” Castiel says. “I eventually realized that many of them had mentioned some difficulties here during that time. Long-lasting technical issues, being asked to work double or triple shifts with no explanation.”

Olivia nods in a resigned sort of way, then folds her arms across her chest.

“When I realized,” Castiel continues, “I started digging through some of your financial records. There wasn’t much, but I knew what I was looking for. You made a deal to save this plant.”

She stares at him a moment. “Who are you?”

Castiel shifts uncomfortably. “That’s not important. What’s important is that I know what you did, and I know what’s coming for you if we don’t stop it.”

“Stop it?” Olivia says disbelievingly. “We can’t stop it.”

“If I get my way, yes we can.” Castiel stands, fixing her with a determined gaze.

Olivia stands too. “Why do you want to help me?”

Castiel swallows. “Because I need your help too.”

9 weeks, 5 days, 0 hours, 19 minutes
Creighton, Nebraska

It’s foolish, but somehow in his mind, Castiel has tied finding Dupont to hearing Dean again. The thought keeps running on repeat through his mind: find Dupont, find Dean. Find Dupont, and Dean will pray again. Anxiety is still coiled tightly in Castiel’s stomach, and it’s started to move up into his chest as well – little tendrils of fear weaving through his ribs.

Find Dupont, find Dean.

Holding onto that is the only way he’s going to get through this.

The paint for the devil’s trap is dark, almost black. It doesn’t quite blend in with the gravel road, but it’ll have to do. Olivia stands ready with the summoning materials in a small wooden box.

“So, a demon. A real life, made in Hell, claws and horns demon,” she says, nails tapping restlessly against the box.

“Well, they don’t have claws or horns,” Castiel says. “At least not that you can see. They’re beyond your field of perception.”

Olivia stares at him. “Right. Of course.”

Castiel shrugs. “What exactly did you think you were dealing with?”

“I don’t know, my fairy godmother?” she says. “Maybe Glinda the good witch?”

“That would probably be more pleasant,” Castiel says. He smiles at her briefly, then looks away guiltily. Only a few days ago, Castiel wouldn’t have considered involving a civilian in any of this. Olivia seems kind and clever, and he should be trying to keep her as far away from demons as possible. He should also be waiting until Mary arrives in town to try anything like this.

Perhaps Castiel had underestimated just how much hearing Dean’s voice every day had kept him sane.

He swallows decisively. “We’re ready. Bury the box. When he appears, we tell him you want to re-negotiate your deal.”

Olivia steps towards the centre of the crossroads, but then she hesitates.

“I’ll be right here,” Castiel says. “I won’t let anything happen to you. I promise.”

He won’t fail again. Not when he’s finally close.

“Alright, then. I trust you.” Olivia squats down and tucks the little box into the hole, then pushes some gravel over the top. Once she’s finished, she rises, glances around the deserted road for a moment, then backs up to stand next to Castiel. “What now, Agent Trenchcoat?”

“Now we wait,” Castiel says. Then he looks down at his clothing and frowns. “Agent Trenchcoat?”

“Hey, I’m not complaining. I like a man in a trenchcoat,” Olivia says, winking at him again. “And how long do we usually wait?”

Castiel doesn’t answer, peering around the crossroads. Olivia falls silent as well, following his gaze. She seems calm, but out of the corner of his eye Castiel can see her shoulders rising and falling rapidly, and her fingers fiddling with the hem of her skirt.

Seconds tick on into minutes, and still nothing happens.

This was his one lead. It can’t be a dead end.

Olivia tilts her head up to him. “Are we still waiting?”

9 weeks, 5 days, 4 hours, 57 minutes
Creighton, Nebraska

“So, Agent, does the FBI have its own department for the strange and unexplained?”

“That’s what I’m trying to find out,” Castiel says distractedly, leaning back against the side of the Impala. The sun is setting now and there’s still no sign of Dupont.

Find Dupont, Dean will pray again.

The day before he stopped talking, Dean had been worried. He’d thought the guards were changing their schedules, trying to throw him off, and foolishly, Castiel had dismissed him. He should have listened; Dean has good instincts – a hunter’s instincts. But Castiel had ignored him. He’d been irritated with Dean, and flippant. And now he might never hear Dean again. Dean might –

“You mean you don’t know?”

Castiel blinks. “What?”

“I mean, aren’t you like, Agent Swift, Special Agent in Charge of Demons?”

With effort, Castiel brings himself back to the moment. “I’m not really with the FBI. I was lying.”

Olivia looks at him a moment, then sighs. “Yeah, that’s just my luck,” she says, joining him at the car. “So what’s your real name?”

He considers lying again, but at this point he can’t be bothered to care. “I’m Castiel.”

“Castiel?” Olivia raises one interested eyebrow. “That’s quite the name.”

“Yes,” Castiel says. “But my, uh, friends call me Cas.”

Her face adopts a teasing smile. “Oh, I see. And am I a friend?”

“You are a potential victim,” Castiel says, then regrets it immediately when her face blanches. “Um, sorry. That was. . . blunt.”

Olivia huffs a laugh. “Kinda. But also honest. I do like an honest man.”

“You seem to like a lot of men,” Castiel says.

“You bet I do,” Olivia grins.

“But you’re not married,” Castiel says. “And you have no children, correct?”

Olivia shakes her head. “No way. Why would I want to have any of that, when I’ve known for a decade I’ve got an expiry date on my packaging?”

“Not if this works,” Castiel says, returning his gaze to the centre of the road. “I find Dupont, you won’t have to worry about your deal.”

“That’s nice of you, Cas,” she says, and Castiel raises his eyebrows. “We’re friends. I’ve decided.”

Castiel laughs softly. “Alright.”

Olivia smiles, then turns out to the road too. “I could use a couple more friends. Last ten years, that same rule about marriage and babies has applied to friendships too. The factory’s all I’ve cared about.”

“You’ve sacrificed a lot for your business,” Castiel says, curiosity getting the better of him. “Why make the deal in the first place?”

Olivia shrugs, not looking at him. “My grandpa started that factory, handed it down to my mom and dad, and then when they died, they left it to me.” Her smile turns a little bitter. “I was twenty-five years old, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, how to run a business – certainly not one as big as this. So I made a mistake, trusted the wrong person, and got the whole company into hot water.”

“You were young,” Castiel says. “That was a lot to put on your shoulders.”

“Yep, it was,” she says. “Didn’t change the fact that I’d had the reins for less than a year, and all of a sudden four hundred people were going to lose their jobs. And all on my watch. I couldn’t let that be my parent’s legacy. Making the deal. . . it wasn’t really a tough decision.”

Castiel nods. “I understand. Letting down your family – it’s difficult to live with.”

Olivia finally looks over at him again. “Ooh, do I hear the voice of experience?”

“More than I’d care to admit,” Castiel says. “That’s why I’m here. I have a lot to make right.”

“Well then, a toast.” She reaches behind herself and pulls a flask out from the waist of her skirt. “To making it right,” she says, then takes a swig.

Castiel stares at her in confusion. “You carry a flask?”

Olivia gives him a look. “I’ve got less than a month before great big dogs from Hell rip me to shreds. How else do you think I get through the day?”

“Fair enough,” Castiel says, and he takes the flask. “To making it right.”

9 weeks, 5 days, 8 hours, 24 minutes
Creighton, Nebraska

“I don’t know, hot stuff, I think maybe it’s you.”

“We can wait a little longer,” Castiel says.

Olivia shakes her head, and the moonlight glints off her hair. “Look, our little demon friend probably knows I’m not alone here, so he’s not showing up.”

Castiel grits his teeth, studiously ignoring the fact that she’s probably right.

Olivia glances around, then nods over at a small cluster of trees some distance away. “Why don’t you go wait over there, just give yourself a bit of distance from the road. I know what to do, I’ll make sure he steps in the trap.”

No,” Castiel says firmly. “I am not going to let you out of my sight.”

“Ooh, you promise?”

Castiel sighs and buries his face in his hands. Months of desperate searching, and his one real lead amounts to nothing. He feels hollow.

Olivia’s hand comes to rest lightly on his arm, and he looks up to find her smiling at him sympathetically. “I’m sorry, Olivia,” he says. “This was a bad idea, and I shouldn’t ever have involved you.”

“Hey now, what happened to making it right?” she says.

“I am,” Castiel says, and he walks over to pull open the Impala’s trunk. Olivia follows and watches as he lifts up the false bottom, then starts digging through some of the smaller boxes.

“Um, okay. Definitely not what I was expecting to see there,” Olivia says. “Promise me you’re not actually a crazy murderer psycho?”

Castiel shrugs and starts picking through some herbs. “That actually depends on who you ask.”

“Naturally,” Olivia says. “So, what are you doing?”

He takes a few moments before answering, standing upright again and finishing off the last knot. “It’s a hex bag. It’ll hide you from Dupont.”

“Hide me?” she asks, taking it from him. “I thought we wanted him to find me?”

“We did. But that obviously didn’t work, and you’re not going to be bait anymore. You’re going to run.”

Olivia stares at him. “Run. For how long?”

Castiel hesitates a moment. “I don’t know,” he says truthfully. “I wish I did. But know that I won’t stop looking until I find him. And as soon as I do, I’ll call you and let you know it’s safe. You won’t have to run from him anymore, and you won’t have to live with this deal over your head. Now go, you should leave tonight.”

Olivia tilts her head to the side, considering him for a moment. “You’ll call me, huh?”

“Yes, once it’s –”

Suddenly Olivia is kissing him, full and firm on the lips.

Castiel freezes, his eyes snapping shut automatically. One of Olivia’s hands wraps around his neck, but Castiel keeps his own arms away, hovering awkwardly at his side. He’s briefly overwhelmed by the scent of her perfume.

He has no idea what to do, but he knows that this isn’t right.

He reaches up one hand and pushes gently at her shoulder until she breaks away. “Um, what are you doing?” he asks. He licks his lips, and he can taste something fruity.

Olivia grins and rubs her thumb at the corner of his mouth. “Hey, I’m about to be Woman on the Run here. We’ve had a long day to get to know each other, you are dangerously attractive, and you’re trying to save my life. Don’t you think all that’s worth a night together?”

“Well,” Castiel starts, but then he stops. Dean would do this. Dean has done this. Castiel has specifically heard Dean refer to this. . . scenario as one of the ‘perks of the job.’ The stupid fluttering starts up again at that thought, and he firmly shoves it away.

Perhaps this will be good for him. All the errant daydreams and emotions that have been running rampant through him, compounded by Mary’s misunderstanding – this could get it all out of his system, as it were. And after, he could return his focus to finding Dean.

Finding Dean.

“No, I’m sorry,” Castiel says, and he takes a full step backwards. “I’m glad to have gotten to know you, Olivia, but that wouldn’t be a good idea.”

Olivia looks a little surprised, but then a moment later she smiles and offers a shrug. “Ah well. Can’t blame a girl for trying.”

Castiel shakes his head. “Take care of yourself.”

“You too, Agent Trenchcoat,” she says, and then leans in to kiss his cheek. “You’ll still call?”

“I will,” Castiel says. “As soon as it’s safe.”

She nods. “Alright then,” she says, then starts walking towards her car. Halfway there she turns around and waves. “I guess I’m playing runaway. See you around, Cas.”

“Goodbye, Olivia,” he says, and he watches as she climbs into her car and drives off into the darkness, hex bag in hand.

Castiel takes another long look at the empty crossroads before slamming the Impala’s trunk shut and climbing in behind the wheel.

Outside there had been insects and the sounds of distant traffic, but in the car it’s dead quiet. Castiel reaches down and places his palm flat to the seat, then grips the edge just to hear the vinyl creak.

“I pray to Castiel. Hey man, I know I’m a day early here, but I don’t know, I think something’s wrong.”

Castiel’s heart rate spikes, but it’s Sam’s voice in his head, shattering the silence. Disappointment washes over him, and then guilt, but Castiel will deal with that later. Sam sounds worried.

“I mean, I’m okay – at least right now – but for some reason they haven’t come and taken me for interrogation the last couple days. I don’t know why.”

They’re leaving Sam alone. Why would they do that, why would they suspend his interrogation, unless –

“They’re – y’know, they’re still feeding me and everything, nothing else has changed, so I don’t know what it means. I just –”

It means they’re trying to break Dean. Thompson, or whoever is in charge, they’d picked Dean to try first, and right now he’s being interrogated or tortured or worse.

“I dunno, man. Maybe. . . maybe something’s about to happen here. I, uh, I hope I see you soon, Cas.”

Sam goes silent, and Castiel takes a moment to process. Dean must still be alive; if he’d been killed they wouldn’t be sparing Sam. But that likely means he’s on his third straight day of interrogation. Castiel feels queasy and hollow again, and he stares out the front window.

“Please say something.”

He’s only greeted by the muffled silence of the car’s interior and the painful thumping of his own heart.

Castiel shakes his head. “Am I the one praying to you now?”

More deafening silence stretches out into the night, until Castiel can no longer stand it and he starts the ignition. That’s good and loud, but not loud enough, so he slides in a Metallica tape and cranks the volume high.

He keeps the music blaring until he pulls back into the motel parking lot. The bang of the closing car door echoes all around the lot, and despite the late hour he makes a point to be extra noisy with his key in the lock. Strangely, in that moment, he wishes for the grainy sound of the bunker’s record player.

Castiel slams the door behind him and makes it all the way to the coffeemaker before he remembers he still hasn’t managed to pick up more grounds.

His head drops into his hands, and he feels the unfamiliar, yet not unexpected pricking of tears at his eyes. Dean has gone silent, both he and Sam are as unreachable as ever, and all Castiel is doing is failing – and falling apart.

Just as his shoulders start to shake, he catches the sickening scent of sulfur, and through the cracks in his fingers he sees the lights in his room give a tell-tale flicker.

Castiel lets instinct kick in. His blade flies down from his sleeve as he pivots in place, and then he’s face to face with Dupont.

He’s possessing a young man with light hair, worn long like Sam’s, and his suit looks expensive and well-tailored. An unctuous smile pulls at his lips, and he pushes long, thin fingers into the pockets of his pants.

Castiel, what a treat. I understand you’ve been looking for me.”

Castiel nods. “I have,” he says, and then without further preamble brings his blade up and starts charging forward.

Dupont’s eyes go wide in surprise, and he quickly backs up and away from the blade. “Whoa whoa hey, easy flyboy, watch the suit,” he says, hands coming up in surrender as his back hits the motel room door. “I thought you wanted to talk!”

Castiel keeps the blade at Dupont’s neck. “Yes, I do.” Castiel squints at him consideringly for a long moment, then turns around abruptly and walks back over towards the far side of the room. “And now we can.”

Dupont pauses before rolling his eyes. “Angels. Always with the drama,” he says, before starting to walk forward. However, he only gets a few steps before he stops moving with thoroughly satisfying abruptness.

Despite his raging heartbeat and an almost nauseating cocktail of nerves, Castiel feels a smirk tug at his lips. He catches Dupont’s eye, then nods down to the large throw rug beneath his feet. “Did you really think I wouldn’t come prepared?”

Anger flares momentarily in Dupont’s eyes, but he seems to rein it back in. His hands return to his pockets and he gives a careless shrug. “Under the rug, obvious really. Alright, fine. We’ll do it your way.”

“Yes, we will,” Castiel says. “I have some questions for you.”

“No kidding. I’ve been hearing all sorts of stories about you lately. You’ve been stirring up a lot of hornet’s nests, poking that halo in where it doesn’t belong. So this is what you do when your two favourite Brawny Lumberjacks are M.I.A., huh?”

Castiel shakes his head. “But that’s just it, isn’t it? They’re not M.I.A. You know where they are.”

“Oh, do I?” Dupont asks, wearing an amused smile that Castiel would desperately like to carve off his face.

“Yes, I believe you do,” Castiel says. “You’re quite old, aren’t you Dupont? Been around for a long time – at least for a demon anyway. But you haven’t always been out here in Nebraska, have you? This wasn’t your usual. . . beat.”

Dupont stiffens slightly, then rolls his shoulders uncomfortably. “True. I’ve only recently begun to appreciate the charms of the Cornhusker State.”

Castiel nods, heart pounding harder. “Before coming here, you worked in Washington D.C.”

“Ooh, not just worked, Castiel. I owned that little town.”

“Yes, until you managed to piss off your boss one time too many, and Crowley sent you out here.”

Dupont rolls his eyes haughtily, then sniffs and starts gazing boredly around the room. “My talents were wasted there anyway. Besides, have you seen D.C. lately? Not like evil needs my help getting elected.”

“But before that,” Castiel says, as the tension inside him coils tighter. “You worked there for a very long time and made deals with all kinds of influential people. And you made a name for yourself. Didn’t you?”

Dupont looks at him again. “I sure did. Oh, the things I could tell you about Abigail Adams, Castiel.”

“So you would know exactly which politicians or members of the military would know enough about demons – and angels – to put warding in place around official buildings.” His heart is hammering in his chest.

The nasty smirk creeps slowly back across Dupont’s face. “Sure I would.”

Castiel manages to keep the desperate relief off his face, but only just. “Tell me.”

“Oh, no. I don’t think so,” Dupont says, amused again.

He’s all derision and bravado, and Castiel. . . doesn’t care. He hadn’t been expecting Dupont to cooperate, but it doesn’t matter at all. For a moment the clenching in his gut and the pain in his chest feel far away.

His months of searching have amounted to this. His quarry is neutralized; all his answers are right in front of him, and Castiel will hack and slice and carve at this demon until all that remains of him is the truth.

Find Dupont, Dean will pray again.

Once more, he is a soldier of Heaven: silver blade in his hand and holy fury in his heart.

Castiel speaks softly. “You will.”

Dupont eyes him appraisingly for a few seconds, then shrugs. “Oh Castiel, you can try whatever moves they teach you at church camp. Angels have all sorts of nasty tricks, stuff even we wouldn’t touch. But in the end, all that’ll be nothing compared to what you’re going through, will it?”

His voice is calm, but slick like oil, and through his elation Castiel feels a flicker of uneasiness. “What are you talking about?”

Castiel shouldn’t have given him the inch; Dupont grins even wider. “You, flyboy. Desperate, sloppy – you’re just lost without those boys, aren’t you?”

“If you think this will make me go easier on you, you are very, very wrong,” Castiel snarls, taking a step forward and drawing his blade back up.

Dupont shakes his head, hands still in his pockets. He starts to rock back and forth on the balls of his feet. “Oh no, Castiel, of course not. I know you’ll do all manner of nasty things to me. And never mind this poor meatsuit.”

Castiel glances down at the body before looking back up.

Dupont nods, his face a mask of false sympathy. “His name’s Brandon, if you can believe it. Grad student – wants to be an environmental lawyer. Bless. And you’re going to slice him right up along with me, aren’t you?”

Castiel will. He knew that going in. He’ll murder an innocent to get to Sam and Dean, and then just add this young man’s life to the incalculable number already on his conscience.

He’s found that there really isn’t anything he wouldn’t do for Sam and Dean. Perhaps that thought should scare him more than it does. Instead he just sets his jaw and looks at Dupont steadily.

“Yeah, you will.” Dupont’s been staring, eyes drifting back and forth between Castiel’s. “All the things you do for those moronic little humans. You’re their lapdog, aren’t you, Castiel? Sit, stay, fetch.” He pauses, then waggles his eyebrows. “Come.”

Castiel can suddenly feel the knot in his stomach again, as well as the heat flushing his face. “Enough,” he says, taking another step towards the rug.

“Oh no, not enough, Castiel,” Dupont says, eyes widening. “That one was just a joke, but ooh, that struck a nerve, didn’t it?”

Gritting his teeth, Castiel brings up his arm and points his blade directly at Dupont’s heart. “We’re done talking.”

Dupont feigns a scandalized expression. “And here I thought the rumours weren’t true, but would you look at that? Dean Winchester’s your butt-buddy, isn’t he?”

Anger like he’s never felt surges hot through Castiel, and he swipes out with his blade, catching Dupont in the arm. Dupont hisses, and clutches his wounded arm tight to his chest.

“Oh angel, no wonder you’re so desperate to find him. Anything for one more pity fuck, right?”

“I said enough,” Castiel spits, taking another step up to the rug and slashing him across the thigh.

Dupont drops down to one knee, but keeps his eyes locked on Castiel’s. They flash over to red. “I don’t know why you don’t give up already. They’re probably dead.”

Castiel’s vision blurs, his hands tighten into fists; he forgets his own name.

He can feel bones breaking beneath his hands, and there’s wetness splashing up onto his face. There’s screaming and manic laughter, but he can’t tell which of them it’s coming from. It goes on and on – he doesn’t know for how long. But then without warning, it stops.

Castiel hears the sound but doesn’t immediately identify it. It’s a kind of swish, and then a sickeningly wet, ripping noise. After it there’s a beat of silence, then the laughter resumes.

Fighting to come back to himself, Castiel looks at Dupont, whose face is now almost completely unrecognizable. But his glaringly white teeth – those that are left – are shining out starkly against the glistening red.

“Poor little angel,” comes gurgling out of Dupont’s throat, and Castiel finally looks down.

His blade must have fallen to the ground inside the devil’s trap, so Dupont could pick it up. The hilt protrudes from Castiel’s abdomen, and the silver of it is covered with sticky, rust-coloured fingerprints.

He sways.

It’s only then that the pain kicks in – a white-hot spike in his gut. It’s a different pain than the ache he’s felt there for the last two months, but it’s no better.

One of his hands is gripping at the shoulder of Dupont’s suit jacket, and he uses it to keep himself upright.

Dupont is laughing again – an awful wheezing sound – so Castiel takes advantage of the distraction, seizes the hilt in his free hand, and pulls.

The blade sounds the same going out as it did going in, but now there’s the added static whine of grace to accompany it. He can see blue-white light edging into the bottom of his vision; he doesn’t have a lot of time.

Castiel spins the blade in his hand then jabs forward decisively, and with a fiery crackle, Dupont finally stops laughing.

The blade drops, the body drops, and Castiel’s left hand flies to the wound. It’s not enough: grace is still spilling out of him rapidly. He tastes blood and ozone.

His right hand fumbles into the pocket of his coat, his eyes start to blur again, but he thinks he manages to dial.

“Mary,” he slurs, not even sure whether he’s reached her or her voicemail. “I found Dupont, but it didn’t work. He’s dead, and I f-failed again. I’m. . .” he pauses, his vision going black. “I’ll try to make it back to the bunker.”

He doesn’t know whether he hangs up or not, doesn’t even know if Mary received his message.

Castiel staggers, then falls, and he doesn’t know if he’ll wake up again.

Chapter Text


9 weeks, 6 days, 6 hours, 39 minutes
Creighton, Nebraska

The first thing Castiel is properly aware of is that he’s in a tremendous amount of pain. It feels like there’s a fist-sized hole in his gut, so deep it reaches all the way back to his spine. His head pounds and his hands ache, but somehow, inexplicably, he’s alive, and he supposes he should be grateful for that. Even if being alive right now is unbearable.

Which leads him to his second realization: his mind is quiet. He doesn’t know how long he’s been unconscious – at this point it could well have been days – but somehow he knows there’s still been no prayer from Dean. Even an inch from death, Castiel is certain that Dean’s voice would pull him back to himself faster than the healing power of grace ever could.

But right now it hardly matters. His one flimsy scrap of hope died with Dupont, and Castiel doesn’t know how to move forward. All his weeks and months of searching, and he’s failed Sam and Dean again.

Minutes pass and Castiel’s sense of awareness creeps back to him. Not that he has any intention of going anywhere. Wallowing is a lot easier than actually facing what to do next, and besides, he doesn’t think moving is physically an option right now. But then he realizes he isn’t lying on the floor anymore.

He’s been moved onto a bed; he can feel the scratchy motel comforter beneath his hand. He can smell blood and the barest trace of sulfur, so chances are it’s still his room. What’s more, Castiel can hear the gentle rustling of a body nearby, and when he concentrates he notices a kind of tickling at his wound.

Mary must have made it to him, and is trying to patch him up. He’s simultaneously grateful to her and intensely ashamed, but he fights his pain and exhaustion and forces his eyes open.

Only it isn’t Mary bending over him, it’s a young woman he’s never seen before.

He jolts upright – or tries to, the pain in his stomach screaming out with every move.

The young woman jumps violently and throws her hands up in surrender, and Castiel falls back onto the bed with a cry.

“Whoa! Hey, uh, sorry,” she says, sounding a little panicked. “Take it easy, I’m a friend.”

Castiel pulls in a few lungfuls of air, trying to breathe past the renewed agony. After a moment it dulls slightly, and he opens his eyes again to find the girl watching him warily, her gloved hands still raised. “Who are you?” he manages to force out.

“My name’s Alex,” she says. “I’ve been trying to stitch you up, but. . .” She trails off, looking down at his wound, and Castiel follows her gaze.

It’s a mess, really. His shirt is torn and soaked in blood, and the skin around the wide puncture mark is jagged and frayed. The biggest problem, however, is the flickering blue-white light of his grace, still slowly leaking out.

He glances back up at the girl – Alex, apparently – who he now notices is partially covered in his blood too. “Um, I can explain that,” Castiel says, in what he hopes is a convincing tone.

Alex meets his eyes. “It’s grace, right?” Castiel stares, taken aback, but she continues. “I was trying to sew the wound closed, but it kept like, dissolving the thread.”

“Who are you?” Castiel repeats, teeth gritted in pain. “Are you a hunter?”

“Oh, yeah, no,” Alex starts, but then there’s a rattling of keys at the door. “Oh thank god,” she says, and moves away from the bed.

The door opens, and through it steps the last person Castiel expected to see. Well, second-last.

“Hey, dumbass,” Claire says, storming up to the bed and crossing her arms. “Way to get yourself stabbed.”

“Claire,” Castiel says, blinking in surprise. “What are you doing here?”

The door closes and a third woman moves up beside Claire. “Saving your ass, I think.”

Understanding hits him, and Castiel nods, moving a hand down gingerly to press against his wound. “Sheriff Mills?”

“Jody’s fine,” she says. “Nice to meet you, Castiel. Heard all about you.”

“Mmm, likewise,” Castiel says. He inhales sharply as he starts to apply more pressure, then frowns at the sheriff. “How did you find me?”

“Mary called,” Claire says, still glaring at him. “Said you left her a voicemail like you were dying.” It’s an accusation, and Castiel can only shrug. An action he instantly regrets, as pain throbs in his gut.

Jody reaches out and rests her hand on Claire’s shoulder. “She got held up on the road on the way here, and she wasn’t going to get to you in time. But Sioux Falls is only a couple hours away, so we booked it down. You’ve been out all day.”

“I. . . appreciate you coming,” Castiel says, then looks over to the clock on the nightstand: 9:44pm. He’s been unconscious for almost twenty-four hours. He turns back to Claire, but then notices the conspicuous absence on the floor behind her. “What happened to Dupont?”

“Oh, you mean the guy you pulverized?” Claire snarks. “We got rid of the body. And we paid for another night for you here, so housekeeping wouldn’t come by and try to Lysol down your little bloodbath. You’re welcome.”

Castiel grimaces, but Jody rolls her eyes. “Okay! I think that’s probably enough venting for today, kiddo, wouldn’t you say?”

Claire directs her glare at Jody now, and Castiel watches as the two women engage in a short and completely silent battle of wills. Eventually Claire buckles, dropping her arms to her sides in defeat.

Alex clears her throat and steps back to the bed. “Listen, I’ve been trying, but I don’t think I can fix up your stomach. We should take you to the hospital.”

“There’s no need,” Castiel says, shifting himself on the bed until he’s a little more upright, propped against the headboard. He takes a moment to ready himself, flexing his hand and gathering what little strength he has, then focuses his grace. White light starts to shine out from his palm. Once he presses it to the wound, agony roils through him; it’s like a branding iron against his skin. He grunts in pain, gripping the comforter in his free hand until the fabric rips, but he keeps going, pouring out as much energy as he can afford.

Finally the light fades, and his strength leaves with it. Claire, Alex, and Jody are all staring at him, mouths agape, but before he can explain himself, he passes out again.

9 weeks, 6 days, 18 hours, 16 minutes
Creighton, Nebraska

Waking up the second time is only marginally more pleasant than the first. His stomach is still aching, but the fog clears from his head a bit faster. He can feel sunlight warm on his face, which must mean it’s been hours again – and still there’s been no word from Dean. Slowly, he opens his eyes, then squeezes them closed against the light now streaming through the window.

“Hey, doofus. Rise and shine.”

Castiel groans, then slowly brings a hand up to cover his eyes, blocking out the light entirely. “I’d really rather not.”

Claire huffs, and he can hear her shifting in her chair. “Yeah. Mornings suck.”

A small smile tugs at Castiel’s lips. At least Claire sounds slightly less angry with him. “It’s morning?”

“Mmm, yeah, a little after eight. You totally conked out again after you pan-seared your gut there.”

Grimacing, Castiel pulls his hand away and cracks open an eye to look down. It seems he’d managed to heal the worst of the damage; the wound is still raw and open, but he’s no longer losing grace.

“D’you think Alex would be able to sew it up now?” Claire asks. “She’s getting pretty good with this nursing stuff.”

“The rest I can manage,” Castiel says, and he lowers his palm to the wound again.

Claire throws out her own hand to stop him. “Whoa, hey, you gonna stay conscious this time?”

Castiel nods. “Yes. What’s left is superficial. I’ll be fine.”

Claire looks at him dubiously, but she pulls away.

Grace glows from his hand again, but slower this time, and Castiel grits his teeth as the pain eases somewhat. After a few seconds the light fades again, leaving him winded but in much better shape than before. He ignores the cuts and bruises on his knuckles, though. He’ll live with them.

“That’s so freaky,” Claire says, and Castiel looks up to find her staring at his middle.

Gingerly, he struggles all the way upright, swinging his legs carefully off the side of the bed. “I’m sorry, Claire. This must still be strange for you.”

Claire throws him a look, then shrugs. “Yeah, well. What’re you gonna do.”

Castiel opens his mouth to respond, but then shuts it again at the look on her face. Upon reflection, that question was likely rhetorical. For something to do, he glances around the room. “Where are Alex and Sheriff Mills?”

“Jody was outside on the phone earlier, and Alex is next door, either sleeping or knocking back Red Bulls and trying to study. She’s got a final next week.”

“I see,” Castiel says, shame and regret churning inside him. “I’m sorry you had to come here. I didn’t want to interrupt your life. Any of your lives.”

The anger returns to Claire’s face, and she stands and moves a few paces away. “Yeah. It was really inconvenient of you to get stabbed.”

Castiel’s pretty sure she’s not being serious, but it doesn’t lessen his guilt. “I’m sorry,” he says again.

Claire crosses her arms and looks at the floor, digging the toe of one sneaker into the carpet. “You’ve gotta take better care of yourself,” she mumbles.

“Why?” Castiel asks, frowning at her.

Claire looks up at him. “What do you mean why?” she asks incredulously.

Castiel shrugs. “What good have I ever been for you, Claire? Or for anyone, really. I’m reviled by my own brothers and sisters, I’ve failed Sam and Dean – again – and I destroyed your life. Why does it matter to you whether or not I take care of myself?”

“Well, because. . . you know –” Claire seems to be struggling for words, her eyes darting around the room. “I don’t know, it just does, okay?”

Castiel huffs a bitter sort of laugh but doesn’t reply, and after a moment Claire drops back down into the chair, arms still crossed.

“And besides, I can’t look after you all the time, okay?” she says, and through her gruffness Castiel thinks he can hear a touch of warmth. “I’ve got a whole life going on now. I’m like, busy and stuff, I can’t be here to babysit you all the time.”

She offers him a shy smile, and despite everything, Castiel returns it. Maybe he hasn’t managed to destroy her life after all. “You are rather remarkable, Claire,” he says.

“Alright, whatever,” Claire says, rolling her eyes and looking away from him. But there’s a light blush in her cheeks.

The motel door opens then, and Jody walks back in. “Ah, welcome back to the land of the living,” she says. “Still kicking?”

“Well, I’ve been better,” Castiel says. “But yeah, I’m fine. Thank you again, Jody.”

“Yeah, well you know, we could’ve done a lot more, if you’d called us sooner,” she says, frowning at him disapprovingly. “This town is practically my beat, we could’ve given you a hand.”

Claire nods. “Yeah. I’ve got my own sword and everything.”

“Sam and Dean were taken on my watch, and it’s my responsibility to get them back. I didn’t want to put more lives at risk.” Castiel says firmly.

Jody rolls her eyes. “Typical. We don’t hear from you at all, and Mary calls for the first time since the day they were arrested, only to tell us you’re practically dying. Are Winchesters just incapable of asking for help?”

“I’m not a Winchester,” Castiel says.

“You are from where I’m standing,” Jody shoots back.

Shaking his head, Castiel heaves himself off the bed. He sways a little, but manages to stay steady by grabbing onto the top of the headboard. “I need to get back to the bunker.”

“Alright, let’s go,” Claire says.

Castiel shakes his head again, firmly. “No, you’ve done enough, Claire.”

“Dude, you’re still all beaten to hell. At least let us come back and help until you’re better.”

“No,” he repeats, then finds Jody’s eyes. “I’ll be fine. Now, have you spoken to Mary?”

Claire glares at him, and Jody looks ready to protest, but after a moment she nods, resigned. “Yeah. She’s on her way, but she’s still about a day out. But listen, I’ve got some of my own feelers out, called in a few favours. We’ll keep working on this, you just keep us in the loop, okay?”

“Alright.” Castiel takes a shaky step forward, testing his weight. Claire reaches out an arm, but he waves her off. “Thank you again, both of you. And thank Alex as well. I’m sorry I interrupted her studies.”

Claire still looks annoyed, but she snorts. “Oh, she’ll be fine. She’s a total nerd; she’ll get like, ninety-eight on the test, and then complain she didn’t get a hundred.”

“Still. I appreciate everything you’ve done.”

Claire steps in close and wraps her arms around him. She’s trying to avoid hitting his stomach, so it’s a little awkward, but the feeling is evident. Once she breaks away, she pats him lightly on the arm. “Remember what I said. I can’t be here to babysit you.”

“Right. Thanks, Claire.” He musters up the most convincing smile he can, and then she and Jody both turn and head out the door. Castiel stays where he is for a minute or two, and then he hears car doors slam shut and an engine start. A moment later they drive away.

And then it’s silent again.

It’s now been four days since he’s heard from Dean.

Maybe Dupont had been right. Maybe he is dead.

Before he can stop himself, Castiel is reaching out for the nearest heavy object – the bedside lamp, as it turns out – and throwing it hard against the wall.

The bulb shatters and the paper lampshade tears, and Castiel doesn’t feel any better. He’s worse, in fact, his stomach twinging in pain at the exertion. He takes a breath and closes his eyes, finding the finite but solid thread that tethers him to Dean. It’s still there; that hasn’t changed, at least. But maybe Castiel’s just fooling himself at this point. Maybe he’s just imagining it, and Dean’s been dead for days.

The digital clock from the nightstand hits the wall too, and Castiel spends a long moment just staring at the broken pieces.

With nothing else to do, he slowly makes his way around the room, packing up files and his smattering of personal effects. It looks as though Jody and Claire had cleaned up most of the mess he’d made, but there’s still a dark bloodstain on the carpet by the door. Between it and his willful destruction of the motel’s property, he’d best be long gone when housekeeping comes by.

As soon as he’s collected everything, he heads outside and loads up the car. It takes him a moment to climb into the front seat, and he winces as he adjusts himself behind the wheel.

Once he’s settled, he slowly reaches down for the shoebox of cassettes. Digging around at the bottom, he finds The Greatest Hits of Mullet Rock, the label written in Dean’s small, neat printing. Castiel’s never listened to it before, but Mullet Rock sounds loud, so he slides it into the deck.

He pulls away from the motel and onto the road, but what comes out of the speakers isn’t what he’d expected. It’s a woman singing, and just a single guitar.

They paved paradise, and put up a parking lot. With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin’ hotspot.

Castiel doesn’t know why it’s called Mullet Rock, but he finds that he likes it, so he leaves it playing as he starts heading back to Lebanon.

Halfway there he stops at a Gas ‘n Sip. As he’s filling up he stares into the little store, trying not to think about his time in Rexford, and the day Dean came to see him. About the night spent in a motel room, Dean snoring softly in the neighbouring bed, and the feeling that maybe being human wasn’t so bad after all. Suddenly, the pain in Castiel’s heart feels so much worse than the wound to his stomach.

The pump dings and brings him back to the moment. After replacing the nozzle, he struggles back into the car and turns the key in the ignition, but the engine just gives a sputtering sort of wheeze. Frowning, Castiel tries again, cranking the key a little harder, but still the engine refuses to turn over.

He sighs and takes his hand away from the key, running it over the steering wheel instead. “I know,” he says quietly. “You miss him too, huh?”

Smiling sadly, Castiel tries the key one more time. Maybe she heard him, because after another long stutter she roars to life.

“Thank you,” he whispers, then pulls back onto the road.

10 weeks, 0 days, 7 hours, 54 minutes
Lebanon, Kansas

Mary still isn’t back home, so Castiel’s wandering the halls again. There’s nothing else he can do – and he’s tried.

He’s called another dozen sources and contacts. He’s left Crowley two more voicemails. He spent three hours in front of the corkboard, looking for something, anything he might have missed, but it seems nothing can distract him from the profound silence in his mind.

He’d been sitting around for hours before he finally remembered to call Olivia. She was thrilled when Castiel had told her that Dupont was dead and it was safe to go home, but he couldn’t find it in him to smile.

She’d asked to see him again, and after that he hung up rather quickly.

Because he can’t be distracted. He can’t believe he was even tempted. Not when Dean is facing torment and pain and who knows what else.

As long as there’s life left in him, Castiel knows he won’t ever stop looking. But the fact remains that he’s once again without a plan or a lead, so he’s back to hopelessly drifting down the hallways, the empty bunker a monument to his failure.

It’s not a terrible surprise when he finds himself at Dean’s door again. But this time he walks inside.

There’s a fine layer of dust on all the surfaces, but when he inhales Castiel can smell whiskey and Dean’s aftershave. Without really thinking, he starts touching things – trailing fingers along the dresser, the walls, the shelf above Dean’s bed. He’s not looking for anything, he’s not even curious right now. He just needs to feel Dean; he needs some proof of him, something tangible. Daringly, Castiel reaches down and runs his hand along Dean’s pillow, before swallowing and moving along.

He comes to the desk and extends his hand to drift along the stacks of file folders.

“I was s-strong as I could be, like a rock.”

Castiel’s knees buckle.

“Nothin’ ever got me. . . like a rock.”

Both hands grip the edge of the desk and it’s the only thing keeping him upright. He can’t breathe, his heart has stopped beating, and tears cloud his vision so fast he thinks for half a moment he’s simply gone blind.

“I was somethin’ to see, like a rock.”

His voice is weak. He sounds exhausted and in pain but it’s Dean and heavenly choirs and the music of the spheres are nothing. Dean’s singing Bob Seger, off-key, and it’s the most beautiful thing Castiel has ever heard.

“An’ I stood arrow-straight, un. . . cumbered by the w-weight of all these hustlers an’ their schemes. . . I stood proud, I stood tall. . . high ‘bove it all. . . I still be-believed ‘n my dreams.”

“Dean –” Castiel chokes the name out through the tears now flowing free and fast down his face. His hands are shaking and it still feels like he’s not pulling in any air. But none of that matters right now.

“Hey, buddy. Long time. Sorry for. . . ghosting on you. Been a little, uh, tied up, here. Heh, tied up. Get it?”

He’s so tired, his voice so feeble, and the people who did this are going to suffer for it.

“Been a tough. . . I dunno, actually. Few days? Week? No clue. And lemme tell you, there is some damn unconstitutional shit goin’ on here. Rest assured I will be writing a strongly-worded letter to my congressman.”

“I love you.”

The words tumble out of him, because now he finally understands.

“Still got all ten fingers though, that’s a plus. Even if three of ‘em are a little screwy right now.”

“I love you. I’m in love with you,” Castiel says, desperate now, as if Dean can actually hear him.

How had he not realized before?

“Anyway, I’m gonna pass out now, for like a week, hopefully.”

Panic grips his heart again. “Don’t go, please, Dean.”

“Night, Cas. Or hell, maybe morning. Whatever.”

The tears haven’t stopped, and Castiel’s gasping now, heaving sobs that send pulses of pain out from his still-healing stomach. But he doesn’t care.

“God, I miss you, Cas.”

This is torture, this isn’t fair, and before Castiel’s made the decision to move he’s letting go of the desk and swinging out with his fists. He rails against the wall; pain screams out from his bruised knuckles and there’s brick dust and chunks of mortar flying everywhere but it doesn’t matter. He’s in love with Dean, he always has been – but that doesn’t matter either because Dean’s being tortured in some hole somewhere, and Castiel still doesn’t know how to reach him.

“I love you. I love you, Dean, I love you,” he cries, over and over, until finally his left fist goes clear through the wall.

He stops, gasping for air.

His whole body sags forward, crumpling against the wall. For a moment he presses his forehead hard into the rough brick, then he yanks his arm free.

All his energy disappears in an instant, and he pivots, puts his back to the wall, and sinks down to the floor. And for a long, long time, he just sits there.

It’s all so stupidly, painfully obvious now.

Castiel has always stood too close, stared too long. He’s always reached out for Dean and gripped too tight, and he’s always felt a twinge of regret when he’s had to let go.

When Castiel first laid a hand on you in hell, he was lost. Hester had no idea how right she’d been.

Or maybe she did know. Maybe everyone does. Mary had understood with only a handful of words – and Ingrid, and Metatron, and Dupont, and probably dozens more – but Castiel, fool that he is, is the last person to catch on. He looks back now, and everything is crystal clear. Every choice he’s ever made, from the moment they’d met – it was always ultimately about Dean. For Dean.

Castiel is an angel, and he’s in love with a human; he’s sick with it, stupid with it. And now that he’s said it out loud there’s no stopping it, no taking it back or pushing it away. The knowledge of his love is a freight train and it’s barreling down the tracks – but towards what, Castiel has no idea.

He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do next. In the span of a few minutes – just a tiny fraction of his long life – everything has changed.

And yet, nothing has. Dean is still imprisoned. Castiel is still alone.

At least he seems to have cried all he can, or perhaps he no longer has the energy for it. His hands are covered in blood, so he wipes them off on his coat before bringing them up to rub at the tears drying on his face. After taking a few breaths, he yanks his tie loose and looks around blearily until he spots the bottle of whiskey lying just under Dean’s bed. Castiel reaches out to grab it and finds that he’s in luck: it’s more than half full.

He unscrews the cap and tosses it away, uncaringly, then tilts his head back and drinks down the bottle’s entire contents. It tastes sweet, and it’s warm on his tongue, but unfortunately it isn’t enough to dull the pain and heartache in his chest. His grip goes lax and he lets the empty bottle roll away and back under the bed.

And his eyes linger on the bed.

All those thoughts he’s fought the last few weeks, the idle daydreams he’s stubbornly refused to acknowledge – he lets them flow now, freely. Because he realizes that it isn’t just love that he feels, it’s want. So he closes his eyes and imagines Dean on that bed, touching himself, naked and uninhibited in the privacy of his own room. And he sees himself there too, touching Dean, kissing his skin and running hands across his pliant body.

Then Dean is kissing and touching him, whispering heated words and gentle praise into his ears. Dean’s moving inside of him, or he’s taking Castiel into himself instead, and it’s in that moment that Castiel realizes he’s painfully, desperately hard.

His hand moves unthinkingly to his cock as the visions continue to play in his mind’s eye, and he starts to touch himself through his pants. Warm pleasure shudders through him and he inhales sharply; he imagines that it’s Dean’s hand, not his own, first moving slowly, lightly, then pressing harder, his heel grinding down and –

He’s going to need a lot more alcohol.

10 weeks, 0 days, 10 hours, 7 minutes
Lebanon, Kansas

Lebanon is a very small town, but it does boast a liquor store, open late, and its own dive bar, open even later. Castiel had hit the store first; he’d managed to find Dean’s brand of whiskey and cleaned out the whole shelf. The cashier had looked at him rather distrustfully as he scanned through five bottles, but hadn’t asked any questions. It was only later, leaning against the Impala and downing bottle number three, that Castiel remembered the cuts on his knuckles and the blood on his coat.

He’d finished all five bottles, then staggered the block down the road to the bar. His head is now swimming, and he’s hunkered over the counter with a hand wrapped around his third glass. The bar has a different brand of whiskey, but it’s good too, sharp and sweet. Castiel likes to think that this is what Dean’s kisses would taste like.

His mind wanders, his thoughts on Dean’s mouth: Dean drinking from a bottle of beer, holding a pen between his teeth. The way he’d smiled by the river in Purgatory, the way he sometimes licked his lips when he talked. How those lips would look wrapped around Castiel’s cock. . .

His mouth, covered in blood, in some dark interrogation room.

Castiel picks up the glass and drains it, then taps it against the bar top for another.

The bartender brings the bottle over and refills his glass. “Rough day?”

Castiel snorts. “Yeah. Rough day.”

“Well, maybe you wanna slow down, pal,” he says.

Castiel shakes his head. “I have an excellent metabolism,” he says, then takes another few gulps.

The bartender shrugs, then sets the bottle back down behind the bar.

“You can leave that,” Castiel says, and pulls a handful of bills out of his coat pocket. He’d raided the bunker’s emergency cash supply before he’d left.

The bartender looks a little reluctant, but he accepts the money and hands the bottle back over. Castiel fills up his glass again, spilling a few drops on the counter.

“That looks like more than a rough day.”

Castiel turns to find another man at the bar beside him, morosely leaning over his own glass. His eyes are pouched and red-lined, and he has a ball cap pulled down over greying hair.

Castiel nods, but then has to stop when he feels dizzy. “Yes, that’s true. What about you?”

The man shrugs and drains his glass. “I think my wife’s cheatin’ on me,” he mumbles. “Keeps going out at night without tellin’ me.”

“I’m sorry,” Castiel says. “And you still love her?”

“‘Course I do. That’s what makes it hurt so damn much,” he says.

Castiel grabs the bottle and reaches over to pour some into the man’s glass. He misses, a fair amount hitting the floor. “I think I understand,” he says. He leans back upright, and has to put a hand on the sticky bar top until his head stops spinning.

“Thanks,” the man says, and drinks what little had managed to make it into the tumbler. “S’like that wise man once said: love hurts. Nazareth, I think.”

“Actually, it was the Everly Brothers first,” Castiel slurs, trying to focus in on his glass. “But they were both right.”

“You too, huh?”

Castiel empties the bottle into his glass. “Yes. I’ve only just realized, and it’s terrible.”

“Why’s that?” the man asks.

“Because he’s gone,” Castiel says, and he realizes he’s talking rather loudly. “Because I was too stupid to realize that I loved him, and now it’s too late.” He finishes his drink and slams it down, then eyes the empty bottle sadly. “But no, it’s not that. I knew I loved him. But I’m in love with him. And there’s a difference.

Castiel turns back, and the man’s eyes are wide. He looks over his shoulder then leans in a little closer. “Hey, you wanna be careful ‘round here. Some folks might not be so friendly about all that.”

Castiel squints at him in confusion before his brain catches up. “Right. I forget sometimes, humans have all these rules.” The man looks puzzled, so Castiel hurriedly adds, “I mean. . . people. People have all these rules. I’m definitely human.” Then he tries to wink, but the movement is rather sluggish, and his companion just looks more thrown.

“Right, well, I think we need more booze for this,” the man says.

Castiel nods and slaps his hand on the bar. “Yes, that’s a good idea. Excuse me,” he calls, and the bartender comes back down the counter. “My friend and I would like another bottle of whiskey.”

“Yeah, I think you’re done, guys,” the bartender says. “But I’m gonna bring you some water.”

Castiel frowns, but the bartender just turns around and picks up a clean pair of glasses. He fills them from the tap and sets them down just as a very large man elbows his way up to the counter. Normally Castiel wouldn’t care, but the alcohol has sufficiently lowered his defenses, and he’s knocked sideways.

“Hey, Donnie,” the large man says aggressively. “We asked for another round. Quit waiting on the wino here and get cracking.”

“I’m coming, Len, keep your shirt on,” the bartender says, shaking his head.

Castiel rights himself on the stool, with effort. “Excuse me. I’m not a wino,” he says loudly.

Len turns to him, surprise on his face. “Fuck off, ya lush, I’m not talking to you.”

“I’m not a lush either. I’m an angel. And you’re rude.

Len looks at the bartender, Donnie, then back to Castiel. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

Castiel ignores him, words now flowing out of him without much forethought. “Of course, Dean would say you’re an asshole.”

“Who the fuck is Dean?”

“He’s here,” Castiel slurs, bringing one finger up to tap at his temple. “He’s not talking right now, but if he were, he’d say that I should kick your ass.”

Len laughs then. “Oh, I get it. You’re fucking nuts. Hey Donnie, call the short bus to take this guy back to the loony bin.”

Feeling reckless, Castiel reaches out, grabs Len by the shirt, and yanks him in. “Maybe I’ll kick your ass anyway.”

Len leers at him, and before Castiel can react he reaches out for the empty whiskey bottle and brings it down hard on Castiel’s head.

The glass shatters and Castiel staggers off his stool, blood and the last sticky drops of whiskey trickling down his forehead. His friend from before grabs him by the shoulder to stop him from falling, but Castiel tries to struggle out of his grip.

“Alright, that’s it,” Donnie says, coming around the bar to step between them, broken glass crunching underfoot. “Both of you – out, now.”

“Oh we ain’t done,” Len says, but Donnie gives him a little push.

“I said out, Len. Go walk it off.”

Len shoves one stubby finger in Castiel’s face. “You maybe wanna think twice before comin’ back here again, pal,” he snarls, then turns on his heel and storms out of the bar.

Castiel stands and makes to follow him, but Donnie puts a hand on his chest. “Maybe give him a head start.”

Castiel glares at Donnie, then flops back down on his stool. Fighting Len wouldn’t be fair, after all; at this level of intoxication Castiel isn’t sure he’d be able to pull his punches.

Donnie looks relieved. “Here, let me call you a cab. And you finish that water.”

“No,” Castiel says. “I don’t need a cab. I’ll walk.” He drains the glass of water and slams it back on the counter, where it shatters too.

Donnie grimaces.

“Sorry,” Castiel mumbles, then pulls out another bill and slaps it on the counter. He pats the shoulder of the other man at the bar, then stumbles outside.

He isn’t planning on walking back to the bunker; he doesn’t think he can face the empty silence. Instead, he has every intention of curling up in the backseat of the Impala until morning. It probably won’t be very comfortable, but it’s the closest thing to being near to Dean he can manage right now.

Streetlights and glowing neon signs slide together in his vision as he walks back down the road to the liquor store. They’re all too bright, and combined with the blow from the whiskey bottle his whole head is pounding.

After what seems like an inordinately long walk, he reaches the parking lot; the liquor store is closed now, but unfortunately the lot still has one occupant.

Len is peering in the window and pounding on the door. “Travis, c’mon, open up!”

It’s probably the alcohol talking, but Castiel can’t help himself. “The sign says closed, asshole.”

Len whirls around unsteadily, then sneers. “You really want to get into this, pal?”

“Why not?” Castiel asks, staggering forward. “I have thirty seconds to kill.”

He regrets his bravado almost instantly. Len is apparently not as drunk as Castiel had thought, because in no time at all he’s right in Castiel’s face, gripping the lapels of his coat. “You asked for it.” He shoves, hard, with both hands, and Castiel flies backwards.

There’s a crash and the sound of breaking glass as Castiel hits the Impala. He collapses to the ground, face-first, and has to take a long moment to fight the pain from his stab wound and the vomit that threatens to rise in his throat.

Castiel would very much like to be done with this entire night, but Len is standing above him, smirking, so he struggles to get to his feet again. As he does, his hand crunches on broken glass, and he glances at the Impala in confusion. There’s a large dent in the rear driver-side door, and the window is blown out.

Furious, Castiel turns back to Len. “You hurt her,” he says, spitting blood from a cut on his lip.

“Wow, you really are nuts.” Len laughs, and Castiel sees red.

In an instant, he’s on his feet again and pulling back a fist. There’s one tiny and intensely satisfying moment when Len realizes what’s about to happen, and then Castiel’s fist connects with his jaw and sends him clear across the parking lot.

“That was for Baby,” Castiel shouts, then staggers back against the car. Len is moving feebly, unable to stand, but Castiel’s stopped caring about him. He needs to lie down.

It takes a bit of effort to pull open the door, thanks to the dent, and Castiel grimaces. “I’m sorry,” he mumbles, then climbs inside and yanks the door shut behind him. Then he flops down sideways, curls into a ball, and waits for the car to stop spinning.

Chapter Text


10 weeks, 0 days, 20 hours, 22 minutes
Lebanon, Kansas

For an angel who doesn’t need sleep, Castiel is finding he’s been doing an awful lot of waking up lately. And waking up in pain, specifically. His head pounds. There’s a lot of noise on the Impala’s roof to go with it, and for a moment Castiel thinks it must be raining. But the noise has too much of a rhythm to be rain. He opens his eyes, just barely, and is thoroughly shocked to find Crowley staring back at him through the broken window and drumming his fingers on the roof.

“Well, somebody’s been rode hard and put away wet.”

Castiel sighs and closes his eyes. “What do you want?”

“What’s with the attitude, Feathers? I can’t just come by to say hello to my bestie?” Crowley says.

“Crowley, I am tired, I have a headache, and there is very little stopping me from putting my blade through your face. Now, what do you want?”

“Relax, kitten,” he says. “I come bearing gifts.”

Castiel opens his eyes again, then shifts upright so he’s leaning against the far door. “So did the Greeks. And that didn’t turn out very well, as I recall.”

“Mmm, Greeks,” Crowley says. “I do love a toga.”

Castiel rolls his eyes, then winces when his head throbs in return. “I thought you weren’t interested in helping me.”

“I wasn’t, but then I got word that you’d knifed one of my best salesmen.”

“For all the good it did,” Castiel says. “Dupont didn’t tell me anything. And if you’re looking for an apology –”

“Dupont was a swaggering little prick,” Crowley says. “But I heard he got a couple digs in too. Call me sentimental, but I wanted to check in on you.”

Castiel glares at him, until he finds that hurts his head too. “I’m fine.”

“You’re a hot mess. Or am I wrong, and you’re not cut up and hungover in the parking lot of a backwater liquor store right now?”

Castiel would concede that point, but he doesn’t want to give Crowley the satisfaction. “You mentioned something about bearing gifts? Is it just concern for my well-being, or something more useful?”

It’s Crowley’s turn to roll his eyes. “You want to skip the foreplay? Fine. My gift is me. I don’t know where Tweedledee and Tweedledum are hiding, but I’m going to find out for you.”

Castiel stares, and for the first time in what feels like weeks there’s hope flickering in his chest again. “Why? I thought you didn’t care.”

Crowley shrugs. “I’m an enigma.”

He straightens out, moving away from the window, and Castiel slides across the seat to catch his eye again. “Thank you,” he says, knowing full well how desperate he sounds.

“Easy, Cas. People are going to think you like me. I’ll be in touch,” he says, then disappears.

Heart pounding now along with his head, Castiel climbs out of the back seat and into the front; thankfully, he’s clear-headed enough to drive by now. He spots his phone lying on the ground on the passenger side, and finds he has texts and two missed calls from Mary that came in during the night, confirming she’s back at the bunker.

He drives the five minutes home and pulls into the garage. Mary comes through the side door just as he climbs out of the car, wincing, and she pulls him into a tight hug. Surprised, but grateful, he hugs her back, suddenly overwhelmed at the feeling. He supposes this is what it must be like to have a mother.

“Cas, what happened?” she asks as she pulls away. “You look like crap.”

Castiel shrugs, certain she’s right. “I. . . haven’t had the best few days. It’s a long story. But I just saw Crowley, and he says he’s going to find Sam and Dean for us.”

What?” Mary says, mouth agape. “Why? And why now – where has he been the last two and a half months?”

“I don’t know, but at this point I don’t care all that much. We’re supposed to wait, and he’ll contact us when he finds them.”

Mary nods, her eyes wide. “Okay. Okay, that’s good, that’s something.”

Castiel nods, then flops down on a stool by the workbench, too tired to do much more.

“Are you okay, Castiel?” Mary asks, stepping up and putting a hand on his shoulder. “You shouldn’t have gone after Dupont on your own. Why didn’t you wait for me? And. . . are you drunk?

Castiel decides it’s best to dodge the last question. “This isn’t all Dupont,” he says. “I got in a bar fight. And I broke Baby.” He gestures to the car, and Mary follows his gaze. “Dean’s going to be very angry with me.”

Mary sighs, then pats his shoulder before moving over to examine the car. “Well, Baby we can fix.” She looks around the room for a moment before walking up to the work bench against the wall and fishing out a large suction cup.

Castiel watches as she places it on the dent, locks it in place, then pulls back. The dent pops out, leaving the panel smooth.

“You know how to fix cars,” Castiel says. “Did. . . did John teach you?”

Mary snorts. “Nope. This is courtesy of a Samuel Campbell education.” She opens the door and crouches down, working the panel’s interior lining off. “I got sent out on my first solo hunt when I was sixteen. Just a salt-and-burn, nothing fancy. But then Dad, Mom, a couple cousins – they waited until I’d gone into the house and then trashed my car.”

Castiel frowns. “Why?”

“It was a test,” Mary says, still working on the inside of the door. “Dad always said we had to be prepared for anything out on the job. So, I get back outside, bruised all to hell with a broken wrist, and then I can’t drive away until I fix it.” She bites her tongue in concentration. There’s a heavy mechanical thunk, and then the remaining shards of glass from the window slide down and scatter on the garage floor.

“I suppose it was a good skill to learn, in the end,” Castiel says.

Mary snorts again. “My dad was a bastard. All of them, the people I grew up with. . .” She trails off, then moves to sit on the ground with her back against the wheel. “The one thing I wanted was for my boys to never know that world.”

Castiel looks away, unable to think of a reply. Fortunately, he notices another half-empty bottle of whiskey on the corner of the workbench, and he reaches back for it and takes a swig.

Mary raises an eyebrow at him.

Castiel shrugs. “A little hair of the dog,” he says, but Mary’s expression turns even more bewildered. “There isn’t really dog hair in this,” he assures her quickly. “It’s just an expression. It’s whiskey.”

“Yeah, I know that, I just. . . never mind.” She shakes her head and smiles slightly, and in that moment Castiel is reminded so strongly of Dean he has to do a double-take. “Can I have some?”

Castiel hands it over, and she takes a long pull before handing it back. Castiel swallows another portion, then winces as the alcohol stings the cut on his lip.

Mary frowns. “Couldn’t you heal that?”

“Yes,” Castiel says moodily. “I could.”

“Ah, so you’re punishing yourself,” she says. “You really are one of us.”

“I’m in love with Dean,” Castiel says abruptly.

Mary stares at him, her eyebrows raised again, but she doesn’t respond.

Castiel shrugs. “That’s what you meant, wasn’t it? Before, in the bar.”

Mary looks at him another long moment before answering. “Yeah, it was. And how’re you doing with that?”

“Well, so far, I’ve punched a hole in a brick wall, gotten very drunk, and started a bar fight,” Castiel says.

“Yeah, that sounds about right.”

Castiel snorts, then takes another drink. Mary holds out her hand for the bottle.

They drink in silence for a while before Castiel speaks again. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now.”

“You could always tell him.”

Castiel throws her a look. “What would that accomplish?”

“Well, for starters, he’d know. It’s always better to know the truth,” Mary says.

“I disagree,” Castiel says. “Knowing, putting a name to this. . . it makes everything so much harder.”


“Because I’m an angel. I wasn’t ever meant to feel anything, let alone love. We’re not built for it,” he says, then gestures for the bottle. She passes it back and he takes another drink. “And because Dean doesn’t love me, not like that.”

Mary pauses, and when she speaks her tone is careful. “Do you know that?”

Castiel shakes his head. “I’m his friend, and his brother – he’s told me that before. But nothing more. And besides, Dean likes women.”

There’s silence then, and Mary looks away, a concentrated frown on her face.

Words keep pouring out of Castiel regardless. “And it wouldn’t matter anyway. Any. . . relationship like that –” Castiel stops there, before his imagination can completely run away with that idea. “That’s not a hunter’s life. Dean’s tried before, and it’s failed – I know that much.”

“Has he –” Mary starts, awkward. “Has he ever been in love?” she asks quietly.

Castiel grimaces. “I don’t know. I think so, but I think we’ve also proven that I’m not terribly good at recognizing love.”

Mary half-smiles at him sympathetically, then speaks quietly again. “I don’t know what you should do, Cas. I wish I did,” she says, and Castiel is shocked at the sudden bitterness in her voice. “But you know my boys better than I do. Some mother I am.”

Castiel swallows, uncomfortable now. “That’s hardly your fault, Mary.”

“Maybe so,” she says. “But a mother should know her children. And sometimes I think I do; Sam talks like John, and Dean moves like him. But most of the time. . . they’re strangers to me. What kind of mom feels that way about her own kids?”

“One who’s been dead for the majority of their lives,” Castiel says. Mary rolls her eyes, and Castiel grimaces. “Sorry.”

Mary shakes her head, but continues. “When I came back, Sam gave me John’s journal. I’ve been reading it, but. . . it’s so hard. The man who wrote those pages, that’s not the man I married.”

Castiel’s uncomfortable again, shifting on his stool.

Mary seems to sense his unease. “I’m not blind, Castiel. I know what he was, in the end. I see the way Sam and Dean tense up when I mention him. And I hate that they had to grow up the way they did.”

“They turned out alright. They’re heroes,” Castiel says, and he means it with every fibre of his being. “They’re the best men I’ve ever known.”

Mary nods, a small smile on her face. “Yes. And I am so, so proud of them. But I know all that is despite their father, not because of him.”

Castiel doesn’t know how to respond, so he just holds out the whiskey again. She takes it and raises it in a toast, before finishing off the bottle.

There’s silence for a while, before Castiel speaks again. “I don’t know if it helps, but I think there’s a lot of you in them too, not just John.” Mary looks at him, and Castiel notices her eyes are a little watery. “Even if you weren’t here, you’ve always been a part of them.”

“It helps,” she says, and she smiles. Castiel smiles back, and then she swallows. “And I don’t know if this helps, but. . . I know Dean loves you. I don’t have to know him really well to see that. It’s all over his face.”

“Maybe so,” Castiel says. “But I’ve discovered recently that there’s a big difference between love and in love.”

Mary nods. “Yeah.”

There’s nothing more for either of them to say, but they sit together in the garage for the rest of the morning. And for the first time, Castiel doesn’t mind the silence.

10 weeks, 1 day, 1 hour, 09 minutes
Lebanon, Kansas

Dean’s room looks like a war zone, and Castiel had every intention of cleaning it up, but instead he’s found himself sitting on the bed, propped against the headboard. It’s an invasion of Dean’s privacy, probably Castiel’s worst one yet, but he’ll apologize later. He has a lot to apologize for, really.

“Mornin’ Cas.”

Castiel laughs in relief, even as tears threaten to fall again. “It’s three in the afternoon, Dean.”

“Wait, maybe not. They left me a lunch tray, not breakfast. How long’ve I been out?”

He still sounds tired, but his voice is stronger. “Longer than I would have liked. I missed you.”

“Huh, no interrogation today then. Guess they’re giving me a day off. Nice of ‘em.”

“I’d very much like to kill them, Dean,” Castiel says. “How badly are you hurt?”

“But maybe they’re going after Sammy instead. Have you heard from him?”

Pain and guilt seize in Castiel’s chest. Sam hasn’t prayed since before his fight with Dupont. Dean’s probably right.

“‘S my fault. I shoulda gotten us outta there faster.”

“No. You carry so much, Dean; don’t carry that. This is on me.”

“Sam’ll be okay. He’s tough, tougher than me. He can hold out. I did – well, mostly.”

Castiel doesn’t want to know, he doesn’t think he can bear to imagine it, but he asks anyway. “What happened?”

“I mean, I didn’t. . . talk, you know. I didn’t tell the bastard anything. But after a while I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. Just started shootin’ the shit, trying to keep my mind off the pain. Promised that sweaty-faced motherfucker I’d make him eat his teeth. The usual.”

Despite everything, Castiel smiles. “You are so. . . predictable.”

“Didn’t really help, obviously. Head still feels like it’s the size of a watermelon. And these ASSHOLES can’t even bring me some ASPIRIN.”

Apparently Dean’s stopped caring about being overheard, because he’s suddenly yelling in Castiel’s head.

“Or god, man, even a drink. I haven’t had a drink in weeks.”

Castiel grimaces. “Don’t worry, I think I drank enough for both of us.”

Still, though. . . not gonna lie, buddy, I’m pretty messed up right now. I don’t know if it’s worse than Hell, but it’s different. Pain’s different. Lasts longer. Don’t know how many more times I can go through that.”

“I’m coming for you, Dean. I promise,” Castiel says, and he means it.

There’s a certainty in him now that goes beyond hope, and beyond determination. This is clarity of purpose: he will find Dean, and he will bring him home. Not because he believes he can, but because there is simply no other option.

“But ’m gonna hold out as long as I can. For Sammy, and for Mom. And for you, Cas. Wanna see you again. . .”

Dean trails off, mumbling. He must still be exhausted.

“Get some sleep, Dean,” Castiel says softly, and Dean doesn’t speak again.

Castiel looks around the room, his eyes falling to the hole he’d made in the wall, and the fine spread of brick dust covering the ground.

“You know, I’ve been trying to decide when it was I fell in love with you.” He reaches over to the nightstand and picks up a small stack of photographs. A few of them are old, from when Dean was very young, but some are more recent, including one Castiel took himself, after Bobby had pushed a battered camera into his hands.

“Now that I know how I truly feel, I figured there must have been a moment, something I could look back on and instantly identify. But there isn’t one. I think it must have come up so slowly I didn’t notice.”

There’s a photo of Dean and Sam together, but it’s from before Castiel knew them – before Dean went to Hell. There’s a smile on Dean’s face Castiel’s never seen before, and though the picture was probably taken no more than ten years ago, he looks impossibly small in his old leather jacket.

“Maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe the how and the when aren’t important. What matters is that I love you, and I miss you. And that Dean, I am. . . lost without you.”

He sets the photographs back down on the nightstand, then looks up at the ceiling. “You said ‘I need you’ once,” Castiel says softly. “Is this what you meant?”

He doesn’t know how long he stares at the ceiling, but after a while he hears a noise out in the hallway, and he finally looks down as Mary pokes her head in the room. There’s a coffee cup in her hand.

“How’re you doing?” she asks, stepping inside. Her eyes track to the fist-shaped hole in the wall.

Castiel shrugs. “I’m alright.”

She walks up to the bed and hands him the coffee cup. “And how’s he doing?”

“He’s tired, and in pain. But he’s strong.” Castiel takes a sip of the coffee, and it’s perfect.

“Yeah,” Mary says, and smiles. “That’s my boy.”

Castiel feels the corner of his mouth turn up a bit. “Did you find what you needed?”

Mary nods. “Yep. That scrap dealer’s a piece of work, but I got Baby a new window. And installing it’s a two-man job, so get off your sorry ass and come help me.”

“I think I’ll probably just make it worse,” Castiel says, but Mary shakes her head.

“Nuh-uh. You broke it, you bought it. Let’s go.” She smacks his feet, then turns and walks out of the room.

Castiel smiles to himself. He takes another swig of coffee, then carefully climbs off the bed and follows her.

10 weeks, 3 days, 4 hours, 38 minutes
Lebanon, Kansas

It takes another two days for Crowley to come through. Mary doesn’t like the idea of letting him inside the bunker, so the two of them wait outside the front door. The afternoon is misty and grey, and Mary shivers slightly beneath her coat. Her grip on her borrowed angel blade remains firm and steady, nevertheless.

After a few long, silent minutes, Crowley appears in the driveway, looking slightly worse for wear.

“What took you so long?” Castiel snaps. His determination hasn’t wavered in the last few days, but he can’t say the same for his patience.

Crowley throws him a look and brushes some dirt off his rumpled suit. “Do you have any idea the number of military bases in this god-forsaken country? I had to crawl through more nasty little hidey-holes than you could imagine.” He turns to Mary then, benign interest all over his face. “And you must be Mary. Very happy to meet you. I must say, I find it hard to believe someone as stunning as yourself could have produced Moose and Squirrel.”

Mary narrows her eyes, takes a step forward, and brings her blade up against Crowley’s chest. “Watch it.”

Crowley eyes the blade, amused. “But it seems their flair for the dramatic is entirely genetic.”

“What have you found out, Crowley?” Castiel asks, stepping up beside Mary and resting his hand on hers. Gently, he pushes the blade back down to her side, and Mary looks at him dubiously for a moment before letting her arm go slack.

Crowley looks back at Castiel. “Well for starters, politicians are vile. And that’s coming from me, so –”

Crowley,” Castiel says.

Crowley sighs, then pulls a slip of paper from his pocket. “Three possible locations. That’s the best I can do.”

Mary snatches the paper. “How come?”

“Because these are the only three locations in the country with any kind of supernatural warding, but whatever’s blocking Castiel is keeping me out too,” Crowley says. “Whatever authority set these places up wasn’t just trying to keep out our fine feathered friends. No demons allowed either.”

Castiel leans in, and he and Mary pore over the scrap of paper. The first location on the list is a base in South Carolina.

“We ruled this one out weeks ago,” Mary says, and Castiel nods. “It’s been abandoned for over twenty years.”

“And I don’t think it’s the last one either,” Castiel says, eyes on the paper. “This is the middle of the Mojave Desert, and Dean told me once he could see trees out a window.”

Crowley nods, satisfied. “So, you’ve only got one option left. See? Look at how helpful I can be.”

Mary looks up from the paper, her eyes wide. “If we take out the warding, you can. . . beam right in and get them, right?”

“Ah, no,” Crowley says.

“Why the hell not?” Castiel asks angrily.

Crowley takes a step backwards. “I said I’d find them for you, Castiel, and I did. And that’s as far as I’m sticking my pretty little neck out.”

Castiel grits his teeth and steps back into Crowley’s space. “They have been locked up for more than two months, Crowley. They’ve been tortured –”

“Yeah, but not real torture.” Crowley rolls his eyes. “It’s wholesome, government torture. Any number of the souls in Hell would kill to be water-boarded.”

Castiel takes another step forward, but before he can say anything else Crowley vanishes. “Damn it.”

“It’s okay, Cas.” Mary grasps his arm to turn him back around. “We’ve got it now. We know where they are.”

“Right,” he says, trying to let go of his anger. He needs to focus. “Montana.”

“Right.” Mary nods, encouraging. “Looks like it’s just north of Seeley Lake.”

Castiel nods back, then starts walking towards the front door. “Let’s go.”

“Whoa whoa whoa, easy there, cowboy,” Mary says, grasping his arm again. “How about we come up with a plan first?”

“We can plan on the way, Mary,” Castiel says, pulling out of her grip. His breaths are coming short and shallow, and his whole head is buzzing. “They’ve probably got Sam right now.”

Mary flinches, but she stands her ground. “Or,” she says firmly, stepping between him and the door, “we take a second to work this out and then go, instead of charging in half-cocked and, I don’t know, getting ourselves killed.”

It takes a moment, but when the buzzing in his mind clears somewhat, he meets Mary’s eyes. “Alright.”

Chapter Text

10 weeks, 4 days, 7 hours, 47 minutes
Seeley Lake, Montana

The sun has long set, but even in darkness Castiel feels exposed. Every snapping twig and rustling of his coat sounds far too loud as he pushes his way through the dense thicket. It’s slow going, but eventually he reaches the compound’s westernmost corner, and the trees thin out. He comes up to the edge of a tall, chain-link fence and steps forward to begin searching, but has to duck back into the cover of the trees when he spots a patrol marching along the inside border. They pass, and Castiel lets half a minute tick by before he sneaks back out, searching for the symbol.

Finally he spots it, and sighs heavily. Just like the first one he’d found, it’s hewn into a boulder near the border fence, the work done in deep, precise lines.

Castiel can feel the warding’s magic pressing heavily across his body, weakening his powers the closer he gets. Setting his jaw grimly, Castiel takes a furtive look around, then steps up and brings his fist down on the boulder. The stone chips, but the symbol remains intact, so he ignores the pain that shoots through his hand and hits it again. It takes another two tries, but then the stone cracks down the middle. In the same moment Castiel can sense a weight lifting off his shoulders, the magic destroyed. He’s not back at full power yet, though; there’s still a strange pressure in the back of his mind. Mary must not have both of her symbols taken care of yet. Nevertheless, relief washes over him, and he sends a cool burst of grace flowing down to heal his hand.

It’s likely just the effects of the warding weakening, but it still feels like a victory. He’s one step closer.

“Almost there, Dean,” he murmurs, then ducks back under the cover of the treeline.

He’s halfway back to the covering they’d set up near the front gate when he feels the final piece of warding vanish. His already thumping heart pounds harder.

It takes Mary twenty minutes to make it back to him. She ducks in behind the large rock serving as their blind and shrugs out of her army jacket. “Two warding symbols broken,” she whispers. “You good?”

Castiel nods. “I took care of mine.”

“So you’re all powered up?”

Grimacing, Castiel shakes his head. “Not quite. There’s warding magic layered into the whole building, and I could still be weakened once we get inside. But we were right, taking out the main points was enough for me to enter.”

“Alright, but you tell me if it’s too much,” she says, and it’s a warning. “I don’t want to have to rescue all three of my boys.”

Castiel stares at her, overwhelmed, before he swallows roughly. “Alright. Are you ready?”

“Yeah. Let’s do this,” Mary says, pulling out her phone. The screen illuminates her face as she types out a quick text, then slips it back into the inside pocket of her suit jacket.

Castiel leans up and peeks out around the side of the boulder. He can just make out the front gate, and the two-man guardhouse at the edge of the road.

“Other than the warding,” Mary says quietly, “think we’ll be facing anything else. . . spooky in there?”

Castiel shakes his head. “Probably not. I doubt the officers inside are aware of any of this. Otherwise the points of warding would have been guarded, or at least inside the fence.” He frowns and looks at her. “Mine were carved into rocks; how did you destroy yours?”

“I shot ‘em,” Mary says, and pulls out a pistol with a silencer attached to the end. She gives him a look. “Why, how did you destroy yours?”

Castiel shrugs. “I punched them.”

“You punched them. A bunch of boulders.” Mary shakes her head. “God, my life is weird.”

A pair of headlights round the corner of the road before Castiel gets a chance to respond. He and Mary duck behind their rock as the battered pickup rattles down the drive, kicking up dirt. They stay out of sight as the engine switches off and the door opens, then slams shut.

A moment later Castiel can hear the door of the guardhouse open as well. “Excuse me! This is a restricted area. Turn around and head back up the road, now.”

“Oh hey there, fellas,” Jody calls. “I’m hoping you can give me a hand, here.”

There’s a loud, electric thunk, and floodlights suddenly snap on. Mary and Castiel both shrink a little further into the shadows.

“ID, now,” a guard says, as heavy footsteps crunch through the dirt.

“Here you go. I’m Sheriff Jody Mills, out of Sioux Falls.”

There’s some shuffling and murmured voices that Castiel can only just hear over the pounding of his heart.

“You’re a little out of your jurisdiction, Sheriff. And like I said, this is a restricted area.”

“I’m not trying to cause a fuss, boys,” Jody says. “But I’ve been tracking a fugitive last seen heading right up this road.”

“You’re in the wrong place, lady. Nobody’s come up this road, and nobody’s going to.”

“You know, you’d think so,” Jody says, and Castiel can faintly hear some rustling as she digs through her jacket. “But this girl’s slippery. You’d be surprised.”

“Excuse me?”

“Claire Novak, I’ve got her BOLO right here. Runaway turned petty thief turned gang member, now wanted for assault. I’ve been trying to track her down for two weeks. But like I said, slippery.”

Castiel hears more footsteps then, and a third voice joins the conversation. “Listen, Sheriff. You’re in the wrong place. And no CosmoGirl reject is gonna get in here without us knowing about it, so for the last –”

A piercing siren wails through the night air, cutting the guard off.

“Now, what’d I tell you?” Jody hollers, followed by shouted voices coming from the fence to the east. “That’ll be her now. She’s to be remanded to my custody; I’ve got the paperwork and everything. Let me show you.”

The guards, distracted by the sirens and shouts, ignore her. The first one yells at the other to stay put, and then Castiel can hear him racing off towards the sirens. There’s a beat of silence, followed by a loud thump and the sound of a body dropping to the ground.

Castiel peeks out over the top of the rock again, and he can make out Jody sprinting up into the guardhouse. “Let’s go,” he whispers to Mary.

The guard Jody took out is lying in a heap next to the truck. Castiel bends down to unclip his ID badge, and then he and Mary lean up against the truck to wait.

Jody comes back out of the guardhouse. “Okay, I dummied the cameras for you. I’ll deal with him,” she nods to the guard, “and then I’ll pick up Claire. You two get those boys out.”

“Thank you, Jody,” Mary says, and pulls her into a quick, tight hug. “And thank Claire for us too.”

Jody smiles, pleased, then steps back. “You got it, now get going.”

“Jody –” Castiel starts, but Jody just waves him off.

Later. Get your ass in gear.” She gives him a little push before bending down to check the guard’s pulse.

Castiel throws her one last look before meeting Mary’s eyes. She nods, and together they head up the road and through the gate.

They walk a few feet along the driveway and then veer off across the lawn, avoiding the searching floodlights as best they can. There’s a cement pathway cutting through manicured green grass, and as they stride through the darkness Castiel tries to slow his breathing. For this part to work, they need to be inconspicuous.

They eventually reach a small side door set a few hundred feet down from the main entrance, and Mary takes the key card from him. She swipes it through the electronic reader as Castiel anxiously straightens his tie. The light on the reader switches to green, and they carefully slip inside.

The sirens blare inside the building too, and distant footfalls thump down the hallway to their right, but fortunately there’s no one in the immediate vicinity. Castiel takes in the dim light and the bare, concrete walls. The air feels stale and smells of mildew, and his insides clench. It’s not the fire and brimstone of Hell, but it’s bleaker than he’d imagined.

“Can you. . . sense them?” Mary asks quietly, and when Castiel turns to her he can see his own grimace mirrored on her face. “Now that we’re inside?”

Castiel closes his eyes and reaches out with his mind. The warding inside the building isn’t very strong, but it’s still enough to tamp down his power. “No. Maybe if they were to pray I could hone in, but Dean’s usually asleep by now, and Sam. . .”

Mary swallows, then nods decisively. “Okay, let’s get moving.”

Claire’s incursion has the base in disorder, so they take advantage of the flashing lights and agitated personnel to move somewhat freely through the main area, which seems to be mostly administrative. Hoping to find a moderately unpopulated area, they weave through soldiers in various uniforms, as well as other suited men and women. Castiel tries to keep his eyes forward, nonchalant, but anxiety still pulses through him with every step. Once, he accidentally catches the eye of a passing woman, dressed like Mary in a neat dark suit. He throws on a tight smile and nods, but the woman merely squints at him, confused, before letting her eyes slide away.

Eventually a small directory set on the wall points them towards a smaller wing of the building, and the crowd thins out. Long expanses of concrete are broken up by metal doors with glass windows – offices, most likely. Castiel glances in the windows as they pass, but due to the late hour most of the rooms are empty.

He and Mary are walking down a deserted hallway when they hear voices coming from up ahead. Mary ducks up quickly into an alcove along the wall, but Castiel waits until the two guards in tactical gear round the corner, then turns on his heel and starts back the way he came.

“Hey, hold up,” one of the guards calls, and Castiel freezes. “Who’re you?”

Castiel turns around, slowly and deliberately. “I’m. . . Agent Minaj,” he says, over the sound of the alarms still blaring down the hall.

The guards exchange a look, then step up close.

The one on the left rests a hand on the top of his sidearm. “Really? Well, I don’t think you’re in the right place, Agent. Where’s your badge?”

“I was just looking for the restroom,” Castiel says.

Both guards reach for their weapons, but before they can make another move there’s a thump and a pained yelp. The guard in front of Castiel drops to the ground, revealing Mary directly behind him, the butt of her own pistol extended.

“Hey –” the second guard starts. He turns around and pulls up his gun, but Castiel hits him too, and he falls to the floor beside his partner.

“Alright, nice teamwork,” Mary says, grinning.

Castiel wants to smile back, but his stomach is still in knots. “Second step done,” he says, nodding. “All the offices in this hallway should stay empty until morning.”

“Right,” Mary says. “We’d better get cracking.”

The two of them each grab a guard under the arms, and in sync start dragging them down the hallway. They stop in front of two adjacent office doors; Mary swipes the key card through the reader on her door, but the light remains red. She frowns and tries again, but the door won’t unlock.

Castiel tries to ignore his renewed nerves, and looks down at the unconscious guard. “There, try his,” he says, pointing to a different card attached to the man’s belt.

Mary bends down and grabs it. When she swipes it, by some stroke of luck the door opens. Castiel reaches for the second guard’s card and unlocks his own door, then he and Mary both drag the bodies inside.

Leaving the light off and closing the door behind him, Castiel pulls off his trenchcoat and gets to work.

It takes several long and arduous minutes to work all the complicated gear and weaponry off the guard, but eventually Castiel is fully clothed again. He pulls the tactical helmet on over his head, then stuffs his suit, tie, and trenchcoat into the guard’s backpack.

Straightening out, he steps over the body and sits down behind the computer. “Alright, step three,” he murmurs to himself. The screen flickers on after a moment, but Castiel’s heart sinks when he takes in the completely alien interface. He tries typing a few commands, but nothing happens.

There’s a soft knock on the door, and Mary pokes her head inside. She’s swapped her clothing too. “Progress?”

“Not. . . really,” Castiel says grimly. “I’m not very good with computers.”

Mary steps over the guard on the floor too. “Here, let me try.”

Castiel stands and Mary takes his place behind the desk. Nerves still tight in his gut, he moves to the door to peer out the small window. Thankfully, the area is still deserted.

After several long, tense minutes, Mary pushes back from the desk. “Got it. I think I’ve managed to delete every reference in their system to Sam and Dean.”

“Really?” Castiel asks, heaving a sigh of relief. “That was fast.”

Mary shrugs. “I’m a twenty-first century girl now. You ready?”

He nods, slipping the backpack on, and Mary heads for the door. Castiel is about to follow but he can’t help but stop, turn around, and bash the guard’s head with his gun one more time.

They can’t have the guard waking up, after all. He and Mary need to make sure they won’t be found out until after they’re long gone. He’s only being thorough.

Mary cocks an eyebrow, but Castiel merely shrugs, a rather savage sense of satisfaction running through him.

“Come on,” she says, tucking the last of her hair up into her helmet and heading back out into the hall.

Castiel nods and pulls his goggles down over his face.

Through both of their prayers, Sam and Dean have managed to provide a fair amount of details about the area in which they’re being held. But this building is massive, and finding the right wing will take time. Fortunately, thanks to their new disguises, Castiel and Mary can search the building with relative ease; the few people they pass don’t pay them the slightest attention. Moving like this does take some adjustment, though. The clothing is cumbersome, and Castiel would happily trade the five guns he has strapped to various parts of his body for a blade in his hand. However, there is a tactical knife in his boot that has some promise.

After more than an hour of tense and silent searching, they’ve delved deep enough into the facility that the sound of the alarms has faded entirely. The hallways thin out slowly, until they’re finally completely deserted, and they come to the doors of a sealed wing. Unfortunately, the guards they attacked earlier don’t appear to have access to every part of the building, because once again their key cards don’t work.

Castiel grits his teeth in frustration, but Mary shakes her head. “It’s okay. Now’s as good a time as any for step four.”

“Right,” Castiel says, forcing a breath. He glances behind him, then jerks his head at a fork in the hallway just in sight of the sealed glass doors. Mary follows him, and they take up positions at the corner, waiting.

They keep waiting. Minutes pass, and Castiel’s anxiety ratchets up higher. He closes his eyes, trying to stay focused.

“So, have you decided?” Mary asks, breaking the long silence.

Castiel looks at her and frowns. “Decided what?”

It’s possible she’s smiling at him, but it’s hard to read her expression with her mask pulled up over her mouth. “When we get out of here and get back home, are you going to tell him?”

An entirely different kind of anxiety shoots through Castiel. “You really think it’s the best time to be talking about this?”

“I’m nervous, and I have to pee,” Mary says. “Humour me.”

Sighing, Castiel shakes his head. “Well then no, I’m not.”

“You sure?”

“Quite sure,” Castiel says, and to avoid looking at her he cranes his neck to peer around the corner at the doors, where there’s still no movement. He turns back around, but Mary is still looking at him expectantly. “I don’t want to lose him,” he admits.

Mary’s expression softens.

“Apart from. . . everything else, everything I know now, Dean’s friendship is too important to me. I can’t risk losing that. Not now, when I know what losing him does to me,” he finishes bitterly.

Mary looks at him for a long, searching moment, then she sighs, resigned. “Okay.”

Castiel throws another glance at the doors, but then an alarming thought occurs to him and he turns back around. “And you’re not going to tell him, are you?”

“No, Cas.” She shakes her head. “That’s not my secret to tell.”

“Thank you,” he says. The words are only just out of his mouth when Mary stiffens, nodding her head back toward the sealed doors.

There are two men in tactical gear coming out of the restricted wing. Through the glass, Castiel can see one swiping a card through a lock on the wall, and then with a short, electrical hum, the doors open.

The guards are talking animatedly as they pass, so they don’t notice Mary and Castiel sneaking up behind them. Two quick, brutal blows later, and both guards are on the ground. Just like with the last pair, Mary and Castiel drag them to a nearby supply closet and quickly strip them of their clothing and weapons.

Castiel’s working the jacket off one of their arms when he pauses, taking in the smattering of sores on the guard’s knuckles. “Scabby Hands,” he says.

Frowning, Mary looks over. “What?”

Excitement floods Castiel’s whole body. “This guard, Dean’s mentioned him. We’re in the right place. They’re really here.”

He and Mary share a breathless smile, then Castiel returns his focus, packing the uniforms into the bag along with his own clothes. He passes Mary her new key card, and together they stride back across the lobby. With a swift and nerve-wracking pass of the card, they’re through the doors.

This wing looks the same as all the others, but it’s oppressively quiet; the very air crowds in on the two of them. They start moving cautiously down the halls, but there’s an unnerving lack of echo as they walk. There doesn’t seem to be anyone around, but Castiel knows there are guards that patrol on the hour. It’s almost eleven o’clock now; they need to hurry up.

He and Mary round a corner, coming out into a long stretch lined with solid metal doors, and suddenly Castiel’s heart leaps. The map he’s managed to piece together from Sam and Dean’s prayers is suddenly laid out at his feet. This is familiar – Dean has described this hallway before.

“We’re close,” Castiel whispers as they walk up to a junction. Just then there are voices at the end of the hall. Castiel ducks into the corridor on the right, but Mary goes left, putting her back against the wall. He doesn’t have time to move across to join her before the two guards on patrol make it into the hall.

Castiel hopes they’ll simply pass by, but instead they stop moving, just out of sight of where Castiel and Mary are both hiding. He catches Mary’s eye, and she yanks down her mask to mouth the words split up.

That’s probably a very bad idea, but it sounds like the guards are caught up in conversation and may not leave for some time. He and Mary could take them out like the others, but they’re starting to leave a lot of bodies behind. They can’t risk it, not when they’re this close. Reluctantly, he nods, and Mary turns and quietly heads off down her hallway.

Heart once again pumping rapidly, Castiel starts moving in the opposite direction, eyes on the door numbers and mind racing as he tries to remember every detail Dean’s passed to him.

Take a left out of Dean’s cell, and it’s forty-five steps to the showers. Right out of his cell, thirty-one steps, right again, and one hundred and eight more steps to the interrogation room.

The cells are all marked, but not according to any system that makes sense. The labels are a haphazard combination of letters and numbers, but Castiel scans each and every one. They jumble together in his mind, but then he comes around another corner, sees the door marked ‘showers,’ and he nearly collapses to the ground.

Forty-five steps. He’s almost there.

Castiel now moves on automatic, his mind counting out his footfalls without conscious direction. Dean is fewer than thirty steps away. Twenty. . .

He stops when he sees the door, the one with Dean’s cell number written in white on the top left-hand corner. He’s here. He made it.

His pulse is frantic, and his hands shake wildly as he fumbles for the key card. He slides it through the reader, and for one heart-stopping moment Castiel thinks it won’t unlock. But through the tint of his goggles he sees the light flick from red to green, and he pulls open the door.

Dean’s asleep, lying on the rusted metal bed, but he stirs at the loud groan of the door’s hinges. The mattress underneath his back is thin, and the blanket pulled up to his shoulders is even thinner. There are cuts and bruises all over his face, some red and purple and others turned a sickly yellow. His beard has grown in considerably, and when he shifts his hair drifts across the tops of his ears. Slowly waking, he brings one hand up to rub at his eyes, and Castiel’s stomach lurches at the sight of several bent and mangled fingers.

All this time, all these weeks of anticipation and fear and hope, and Castiel can’t speak.

He’s here, with Dean, and he has no idea what to say. The simple fact that Castiel is seeing Dean’s face again has robbed him of every word; he doesn’t even think he’s pulling in any oxygen. He wants to laugh, or cry, or curl up with Dean on the too-thin mattress – simply enfold him in his arms and never, ever let him go again.

But instead, he stands there in the doorway, frozen.

Dean’s finished rubbing at his face, and he squints up at Castiel through partially swollen eyes, puzzled. Then he huffs and drops his head back on the pillow, eyes closing again.

“Hey there,” he mumbles, voice resigned. “Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper?”

And just like that, Castiel doesn’t know why he was worried. Sometimes, things with Dean are so simple.

He steps forward into the cell and reaches up to pull the helmet and goggles off his head. “I’m Castiel, and I’m here to rescue you.”

There’s a moment of stillness, then Dean’s eyes snap open. His head jerks back over to the door, his jaw drops, and Castiel just smiles at him.

Dean scrambles upright, standing on unsteady feet. “Cas,” he gasps, and staggers forward. “God, Cas, I have never been so happy to see you in my whole damn life.” Then he’s bringing his arms up for a hug. He’s smiling, and it’s better and brighter than anything Castiel has ever seen. Castiel thinks he’d be happy to die right now, because Dean’s smiled at him like that, even just the once.

“I’m also in love with you,” Castiel says, and then his brain comes to a screeching halt.

He hadn’t been planning to say that at all.

Dean freezes too, his arms half-raised. His eyes grow wide, and his mouth gapes again. “What?

Abstractly, Castiel curses himself for not holding it in another few seconds. At least then, he could’ve had an excuse to hold Dean, even if it was just for a brief, celebratory embrace.

It takes a few more moments for the enormity of what he’s just done to settle in, but when it does his stomach drops out. He’d explained to Mary less than an hour ago why he couldn’t ever tell Dean the truth. And now he’s ruined this, he’s ruined everything; he’s found the man he loves only to lose him again, thanks to his own lack of self-control.

Self-control which he fights to regain now. He’ll have to deal with all of this later. They still have to get out of this prison alive.

“Um, now’s probably not the best time for this,” Castiel says, trying to bluster through the moment. Dean, meanwhile, is still looking at him like he’s grown a second head. “We’ll talk about it later.”

Dean blinks, several times, but he’s still frozen with his arms partially outstretched.

“And, here,” Castiel says awkwardly, and he reaches out with two fingers.

Dean goes slightly cross-eyed as he tracks the hand up, but then Castiel touches his forehead and his eyes drop closed. Healing grace flows into his body, curling down to every cut and broken bone, but Castiel’s the one who shivers. It’s astounding how even the smallest point of contact with Dean has him trembling.

Once he’s fully healed, Castiel regretfully withdraws his hand. Dean’s eyes stay closed, so fortunately he doesn’t notice Castiel sway on his feet a little. He’s still weak from Dupont’s stab wound, and the warding layered into the building isn’t helping, but the cuts and bruises have disappeared from Dean’s face, so it’s more than worth it.

Finally, Dean opens his eyes again, and his hands slowly drop back to his sides. “Uh, thanks.”

“Of course,” Castiel says.

Dean looks like he’s about to say something, but Castiel abruptly turns away to pull the pack off his back. He can’t hear this; he needs to set all of this aside so he can focus on getting everyone out alive. If he had to face Dean’s awkward rejection now, Castiel isn’t sure he’d even want to make it out.

“Here,” Castiel says, and he pulls out another helmet and one of the uniforms. “Put these on. We need to get to Sam.”

The name acts as a catalyst, as Castiel knew it would, and Dean snaps back to attention. “They’ve got him now?”

“I think so,” Castiel says, then turns away to give Dean some privacy.

It takes a great deal of willpower not to go bang his head on the cell door.

“So, you here with Ben Kenobi and my R2 unit?” Dean asks after a minute of strained silence, and Castiel turns back around to find him zipping up the jacket.

“No. But I’ve got your mother and your car. Will that do?”

Dean smiles again. “Yeah, that works. Mom’s okay?”

“Yeah, she’s fine.”

“And you brought Baby?”

Castiel smiles back, despite himself. “I think she missed you.”

Dean looks almost proud. “Damn right she did.”

Castiel shakes his head and tries to fight the joy flooding through him. He can’t get used to this. “We need to get moving.”

“Right. You got a plan?” Dean asks, pulling the helmet on and coming up closer to the doorway.

“Yeah, more or less,” Castiel says around a swallow. He unclips one of his larger guns and hands it to Dean. “First we find Sam. And Mary – we got separated.”

Dean nods, clipping the rifle to his vest. “Okay. I think Sam’s cell is one hallway over. If he’s not there, we check the interrogation room.” His voice wavers a bit at the end, but he sets his jaw.

“Okay,” Castiel says, and he puts his helmet back on too. “You said right out of the door, then thirty-one steps down the hall.”

Castiel moves towards the doorway, but then Dean throws out a hand to grip his arm.

Even through layers of thick canvas, his touch is electric.

“You heard me.” Dean’s eyes are wide, and full of something Castiel can’t identify.

Slowly, Castiel nods, holding Dean’s gaze. “Every word.”

They stay locked like that another moment, until there’s a sound from outside. Dean pulls his hand away and swallows. “Later,” he says quietly, then he steps forward, pokes his head out of the cell, and turns right down the hallway.

Castiel heaves a deep breath, then follows.

Dean’s already more than fifteen feet ahead of him, so Castiel has to jog to catch up. They fall into step as they turn into the next corridor, Dean anxiously scanning the numbers on the cell doors. They don’t speak, but it’s not their usual companionable silence; the air between them is tight and tense. Again, Castiel regrets his outburst.

He should say something, anything to alleviate some of the tension, but he’s completely at a loss again.

Abruptly, Dean stops in front of one of the doors, and Castiel nearly walks into him.

Sammy,” Dean hisses through the door’s small opening. “Sam.”

There’s no response.

Dean steps back, frowning. “I was sure they put him in this one.”

Castiel glances at the cell number in confirmation. “You’re right, this was it. He’s told me.”

“He’s been praying too?”

“Yes,” Castiel says. “Though not as often as you.”

Dean’s face is partially obscured by his helmet, but his blush is still obvious. Castiel takes a moment to admire how the pink makes Dean’s freckles stand out, before his brain catches up again.

He really needs to get a hold of himself.

Castiel clears his throat. “Anyway, if he’s not here, then –”

“Right. Let’s go.” Dean takes off again, counting steps quietly to himself, and Castiel follows.

Their nervous silence resumes as they walk down the hall, but thankfully they reach the interrogation room after only a few minutes. Castiel can hear low, murmured voices inside, so he waves at Dean in warning and they both bring their guns up.

Castiel reaches out with the key card, waits for Dean’s nod, then swipes it through the reader. Dean turns the handle and they burst inside, only to be met by Mary, her own gun raised. Castiel lowers his arms in relief, then his eyes drop to the other figure in the room: it’s Sam, bloody but conscious, and slumped in a metal chair.

Sam. Mom,” Dean says, pulling off his helmet.

“Dean,” Mary says, her voice cracking.

The pain that’s been throbbing in Castiel’s chest for the last few months finally starts to melt away as he watches Sam stagger up out of the chair and take a step towards his brother.

Dean grins and pulls him in tight. “Hey, man.”

“Dean,” Sam mumbles thickly. It sounds like his nose is broken. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m good,” Dean says, and then pulls away and moves over to hug Mary. “Cas, you got him?”

Castiel nods, and smiles at Sam. “It’s good to see you, Sam.” He reaches out two fingers, but Sam pushes right past them and pulls Castiel into a hug too.

“Hey Cas. You too. Thanks for coming.”

Castiel hugs him back, happiness surging through him.

Sam slaps his back once, then pulls away, nodding. “Alright, I’ll uh, take that mojo now.”

Smiling again, Castiel reaches back out and touches Sam’s forehead.

Unfortunately, Sam’s injuries are severe, and unlike Dean’s they haven’t had a few days to start healing. The wounds vanish from Sam’s face, but Castiel sways, then slumps back against the wall.

Dean is there in an instant, gripping him by the elbow. His hand is warm. “Whoa, hey, what’s going on?”

“I’m fine,” Castiel says, gritting his teeth and willing the room to come back into focus.

“Like hell,” Dean says.

Mary comes over to stand beside Dean. “Damn it, Cas, I told you.”

“Told him what? What’s wrong?” Dean asks.

Castiel shakes his head and tries to keep his eyes open. “There’s Enochian warding all throughout this building. It’s keeping me at. . . low power, you could say.”

“Enochian warding? What, in a military base?” Sam asks, confused.

“Yeah,” Mary says. “It’s why it took us so long to find you.”

“That’s a story for later,” Castiel says. His head is starting to clear, so he struggles back upright. Dean doesn’t let go; in fact, his other hand comes up as well, gripping Castiel’s shoulder. Selfishly, Castiel leans into it. “We need to get out of here.”

Sam nods. “Yeah, okay. Mom said you’ve got a plan?”

“Yes, we do,” Mary says. “Provided Castiel can stay standing.”

Castiel throws her a look. “I said I’m fine.”

“Doesn’t look like it, buddy,” Dean says quietly.

Castiel ignores him, and reluctantly pulls away to stand on his own. He slips the backpack off his shoulders and hands it to Sam. “There’s another uniform in here. Put it on.”

Sam takes the bag. “Alright, but first – does your plan require him at all?” He points at the corner of the room, and for the first time Castiel notices another man on the floor, his back propped up against the wall.

He’s an older man, one who clearly came out on the losing end of a fight; his suit jacket is torn, his hands and feet are bound with zip ties, and there’s blood dripping down his temple. Duct tape covers his mouth, but his glare speaks volumes.

Dean chuckles darkly. “Ah, not so nice on that side of the table, is it?”

Revulsion churns in Castiel’s gut. “Thompson?” he asks, and Dean nods. “Then no, we don’t need him.”

Righteous anger courses through Castiel, and he moves toward the corner. He raises his right hand, intent on channeling what little grace he can access, but Dean grabs his arm again.

“Whoa, wait, Cas. He’s human.”

Castiel looks at Thompson, then at the floor, and finally the chair Sam had vacated; every surface is flecked with layer upon layer of dried blood. He thinks of the cuts on Dean’s face, the agony of his silence, and the moment Castiel had finally heard him sing again. He shakes his head. “I don’t care.”

“Look, I get it –”

Suddenly a siren starts blaring, louder and more immediate than the perimeter alarm Claire had set off. Castiel drops his hand and finds Mary’s panicked eyes.

“D’you think they found the guards?” she asks.

“They shouldn’t have,” Castiel says, but then he looks down at Thompson. His smirk is obvious, even behind the duct tape.

Sam notices too, and reaches down to rip the tape off. “What’s going on?”

Thompson takes a moment to lazily stretch out his mouth before answering. His voice is reedy. “I was supposed to check in at my office ten minutes ago. Alarm goes off on automatic if I’m not there.”

A hollow pit forms inside Castiel. Their escape had depended on stealth. Now the entire base is back on alert, and they’re probably a mile from the nearest exit.

“You guys have a plan B?” Dean asks.

Thompson laughs. “Sorry. Looks like we’ve got two more who’ll never see the sun again.”

Castiel looks over at Dean. His jaw is set, and when he meets Castiel’s eyes he looks so, so sad.

But Castiel smiles.

His hand darts out to pull Mary’s gun from her grasp, and before any of the others can react he aims it straight between Thompson’s eyes and fires. Red splatters up the wall, and the body slumps.

The suppressor had muffled the sound, but they still need to move.

Castiel tosses Mary back her gun, and she catches it, dumbfounded. He pulls out his own sidearm and hands it to Sam, then finally looks over to find Dean gaping at him. “Dean, where’s the window?”

“Cas, you just – wait, what?”

“The window,” Castiel says, trying to ignore the piercing cry of the alarms. “The one you walked past.”

Dean’s mouth is still hanging open. “Cas, we can’t make it out the window. It’s like, a foot tall! And it’s way too high up!”


“It’s – alright, fine, come on,” he says. He throws a glance at Mary and Sam, then moves to the door.

Castiel pulls his helmet off and drops it on the floor; they don’t need to worry about being seen anymore. He watches Mary do the same, and nods to the backpack still in Sam’s hands. “Hold onto that. It’s got my coat in it.”

“Cas, you have a plan, right?” Sam asks, slipping the pack on.

“If we move fast enough,” Castiel says. “Let’s go, Dean.”

Dean gives him one last look, brings up his gun, and opens the door.

They step out into an angry swirl of flashing red emergency lights and shrill sirens, but despite the distractions Dean leads them forward confidently, once again counting steps under his breath. They turn down hallway after hallway, all four of them keeping their guns up and eyes sharp, but fortunately the area is still deserted. In retrospect, Sam and Dean’s isolation in this wing seems to have been an advantage.

Finally, they come across a solid stretch of concrete and Castiel spots the narrow window, set more than eight feet off the ground. He moves forward, but then a pair of guards rush around the corner in front of them. Their weapons are up, but before either of them can call out for backup Dean and Sam fire in unison. Both guards drop to the floor, clutching their knees and howling in pain.

Ignoring them, Castiel strides over to stand below the window.

“See, Cas? I told you, no way we’re getting through that,” Dean says, as he, Sam, and Mary come up beside him.

Castiel shakes his head. “I didn’t need the window. I needed the wall.”

Dean’s eyes go wide in realization.

Castiel nods. “Stand back.”

Dean complies instantly, grabbing Sam and Mary by their sleeves and dragging them backwards.

Castiel places his palm on the wall and closes his eyes. Smiting Thompson would’ve been much more satisfying than shooting him, but he needed to save every last ounce of his grace for this. He just hopes he has enough.

Power starts to build up beneath his hand, and Castiel concentrates, channeling his strength. The wall starts to vibrate, then shake harder. The lights flicker and a high static fills his ears, but even as the sound becomes deafening Castiel feels his strength start to wane. It’s as he feared: he’d used up too much of his power healing Sam.

Sam. Mary. Dean.

Castiel is getting them out of here. He has to. He will not fail again.

With one last push of energy, the wall gives a final, rumbling shake, and the concrete explodes outward. Rubble flies out all around him, and there’s dust in his eyes, but through it all Castiel can smell fresh air.

He staggers, then collapses.

Consciousness starts to slip away, but a moment later there’s a hand fisting his collar and hauling him back up. “Alright, buddy, that was really badass and all, but we gotta keep moving. No napping on the job.”

Dean pulls one of Castiel’s arms around his shoulders, and Castiel huffs a laugh, even as his heart flutters at their proximity. “Of course not.”

Dean grins, then starts leading him over the piles of concrete. Sam and Mary tread right behind them, guns still raised, but it doesn’t seem like anyone’s following too closely.

The moment they make it out onto the grass, Castiel starts to feel stronger, the influence of the building’s warding getting weaker with every step. By the time they reach the fence, he can stand on his own.

“Okay, now what?” Mary asks, throwing an anxious look back over the grounds. There’s no one behind them yet, but Castiel knows it won’t be long before the guards make their way through the gaping hole in the base’s wall.

Regretfully, Castiel pulls away from Dean, who’s examining the towering fence.

“Think you’re up for climbing it?” Dean asks, grimacing at the multiple lines of barbed wire along the top.

“No need,” Castiel says. He steps forward and weaves his fingers through the chain-link, and then pulls. The wire rips apart, leaving a gap big enough to squeeze through.

“Alright, now you’re just showing off,” Dean says.

Castiel grins and holds the wire apart, and they all file through.

Mary leads the way through the forest. They’re somewhere near the north corner, miles from where Jody and Claire had planned on picking them up, but fortunately they’re close to where Castiel had hidden the Impala.

“Okay, first things first,” Dean says, ducking around a few branches. “We start driving, and then I need food. And I mean real food. And a beer.”

Mary throws a smile over her shoulder. “I think we can handle that. But we’re still going to need to keep a low profile. Castiel and I managed to erase any trace of you two from the base’s computers, but then somebody had to go blow a hole in the wall.”

“You’re welcome,” Castiel says, rolling his eyes.

Dean grins. “Okay, so we go through the drive-through. But seriously: food. Beer.”

Sam huffs a laugh. “Yep, classic Dean. A burger, a beer, and then I’m guessing a bartender, if you’re lucky.”

There’s a very uncomfortable silence. Something cold twists in Castiel’s gut, and he looks away, keeping his eyes focused on the ground.

“Um, okay,” Sam says, obviously puzzled. “Or not.”

Mary clears her throat awkwardly. “I’ll have to give Jody a call, let her and Claire know we’re clear, and that they need to get the hell out of Dodge. Now c’mon, we’re almost at the car.”

“Right,” Castiel says. “She’s just up ahead.”

They walk in silence for another minute until they hit a small side road and the Impala comes into view. A wide grin splits Dean’s face, awkwardness seemingly forgotten. “Oh, hey there Baby. Ain’t you a sight for sore eyes.”

Smiling softly, Castiel digs down into his pocket and tosses Dean the keys. He catches them one-handed, beaming, and then climbs into the driver’s seat. Sam slides in beside him, Castiel and Mary get in the back, and then Dean starts the car.

He doesn’t start driving immediately though – instead he turns to Sam and speaks quietly. “Are we really out?”

Sam swallows, then looks over the back seat.

Mary nods. “Yeah, boys. We got you.”

Dean turns all the way around until he finds Castiel’s eyes. Castiel nods, then Dean faces forward again and puts the compound in the rearview mirror.

Chapter Text


0 weeks, 0 days, 4 hours, 40 minutes
Whitehall, Montana

They drive south for a few hours, but everyone is clearly too exhausted to make it all the way home in one shot. Dean takes them to a drive-through burger chain and gleefully orders twice as much food as any of them would be able to eat, then pulls the Impala into a roadside motel.

The four of them crowd around the room’s tiny table, where both Dean and Sam wolf down their food in seconds. They all stay up talking for a while; Dean and Sam obviously have little in the way of news, so it’s mostly Mary, filling them in on some of the events of the past few months. Castiel keeps mostly silent, and tries to avoid Dean’s eyes.

After an hour Mary catches Sam fighting a yawn, so she pulls both of her sons into tight hugs, gives Castiel’s arm a gentle squeeze, and heads into the neighbouring room. Sam collapses on one of the beds a few minutes later, and Dean darts an awkward look at the second bed before begging off to take a shower. The moment the bathroom door closes behind him, panic washes over Castiel in a wave.

He forces himself to breathe past it. He’s being ridiculous; Dean is just on the other side of the door. Not only that, but free of the prison now, and reasonably healthy. He’s safe. And Castiel knows he needs to get used to the feeling of being apart from him. His blurted confession had blown any chance he and Dean had of keeping things normal, so he should get into the habit of putting some space between them.

The shower’s running and Sam’s started snoring, so Castiel heads out into the parking lot. The night is still and calm, but the whole lot is lit up by the streetlights and the motel’s red neon sign, reflected in the shiny metal of the Impala. Castiel climbs onto the hood and runs a hand over her appreciatively; she’s been a good companion the last few months.

It’s at least an hour later, as pink starts to glow on the horizon line, when the door of the motel room quietly opens. Castiel doesn’t need to turn around to know who it is.

“You should be sleeping,” he says.

Dean snorts quietly. “Tried. But Sammy’s snorin’ like a walrus, and I guess I’ve gotten too used to the quiet the last few months. Besides,” he says, drawing level with the bumper, “I wanted to see the sunrise, lame as that sounds.”

Castiel smiles sadly and shakes his head. “It’s not lame.” He finally turns to look at Dean; he’s gazing off at the horizon, but then he looks over and Castiel’s heart clenches. Dean’s shaved his beard, and without it his face looks far too thin, his cheeks too hollow.

Dean tracks his gaze and huffs, bringing one hand up to his own jaw. “Yeah I know, I look like freakin’ Skeletor. Gonna need a couple hundred more burgers before I’m back to normal.”

Renewed anger pulses through Castiel, and for a moment he wishes he could go back to the base and shoot Thompson all over again. But he forces himself to breathe. “We’ll get some more tomorrow. Or you can make some. I seem to recall you talking about that.”

Dean smiles, climbing onto the hood beside him. “Yeah, I did. Think I promised to make some for you, too.”

“Dean, I’m so sorry,” Castiel says.

Brow furrowing, Dean finds his eyes. “What the hell for?”

“Where do I start?” Castiel asks. “For leaving you, for letting you get arrested in the first place.”

“Cas, come on, that’s not on you –”

“And for taking so long to find you. For not getting you out before –”

“Whoa, Cas, will you stop it?” Dean grabs his arm, but Castiel looks away. “God, man, I need to thank you.”

Castiel just shakes his head. “I don’t deserve your thanks, Dean.”

“I don’t mean for the rescue,” Dean says, and Castiel looks back over, puzzled. “I mean, obviously, thanks for that, but I knew you were coming for us. That’s not what I’m talking about.”

“I don’t understand,” Castiel says, frowning.

Dean faces forward again and licks his lips. Castiel tries very hard not to be distracted by that. “Listen, buddy. It was. . . it was hell in there. I was goin’ nuts – worrying about Sam, missing Mom, missing you. But, praying – it kept me sane. Talking to you, even if you couldn’t talk back. . .” He trails off, closing his eyes. “Cas, you kept me alive.”

“You too.” Dean looks at him again, and Castiel tries to swallow around his dry throat. “I couldn’t find you, but knowing you were alright, hearing you every day – I think it kept me alive too.”

Dean smiles and nods, but Castiel isn’t finished.

“And then when you stopped. . .” Dean drops his eyes, and Castiel laughs bitterly. “Dean, I lost my mind.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry, man. I wanted to keep praying, but I didn’t know how much they knew about us. If they were hunters, or at least knew about what was really out there, I didn’t want to put an angel on their radar.”

“I know,” Castiel says, and they fall into silence for a while.

The sky is growing lighter, and Castiel’s insides are knotting themselves up. As much as he doesn’t want to have this conversation, it’s probably worse to try and drag it out. There’s a phrase about ripping off a bandaid that comes to mind. So he takes a breath.

“I’m. . . I’m also sorry for what I said. When I found you.” He feels Dean turn to face him, but Castiel keeps his eyes pointed away, studiously examining a trash can across the parking lot.

“You are?” Dean asks quietly.

“Yes,” Castiel says firmly. “I didn’t intend to say it. I suppose when I saw you I was just. . . overwhelmed.”

Dean’s quiet for a long time, but Castiel just keeps staring at the trash can. “Did you mean it?” Dean finally asks.

Castiel only hesitates a moment before answering. “Yes. But it doesn’t have to be an issue. I can keep this to myself, and we can just forget I said anything.”

For the space of a few breaths, everything is completely silent and still. Castiel closes his eyes and waits for Dean to say. . . something. Anything.

“I don’t think we can, Cas,” Dean says, and Castiel’s heart sinks to his knees. “‘Cause then you’d be as big a coward as me.”

Castiel frowns, trying to parse Dean’s meaning. Then suddenly there’s a hand turning his cheek, and his eyes pop open in time to see Dean moving towards him. Dean’s leaning in close, pulling their faces together and angling his head and –

He stops, mere inches away. His eyes are wide, and a little nervous, and searching. It’s a question.

The answer must be on Castiel’s face, because after a moment Dean smiles, then closes the distance and kisses him.

Castiel has been alive for millions of years. He has watched humanity do this for eons, he has experienced this happening across countless books and movies, and he has personally kissed five different people. And nothing has prepared him for this.

At once, he flies apart in every direction. His mind soars out and away from his body, and yet he remains simultaneously grounded and completely still, rooted in place with the cool metal of the Impala beneath his hand.

Dean’s lips are moving slowly, carefully, and Castiel is kissing him back but it’s purely automatic. It’s all too much, nearly beyond his comprehension, but then Dean breaks away and Castiel keeps his eyes shut tight and chases after him because it’s also over far too quickly.

Dean leans back a bit, exhaling a light laugh against Castiel’s mouth. He keeps his hand on Castiel’s face, his thumb tracing along his cheekbone. “That was what you meant, right?” Dean asks, his voice soft and a little rough. “This is what you want?”

That’s an awfully stupid question, so Castiel doesn’t bother answering. Instead, he blindly brings his own shaking hand up, grips the lapel of Dean’s jacket, and tugs him in until their lips meet again.

Dean doesn’t taste like whiskey – in fact, beyond the faint hint of toothpaste, he doesn’t taste like anything – but Castiel is still drunk on him.

The hand on Castiel’s face slides back into his hair, and the other palms his hip. Castiel leans into the touch and finds himself shivering, oddly, despite the warmth emanating from Dean’s body.

Every second of this is better than the last – soft and gentle and powerful in a way Castiel has never experienced. The kiss stays slow and steady until Dean’s tongue traces along the seam of his lips, and on instinct Castiel opens to him, letting Dean kiss him deeper. But then a few dizzying moments later awareness starts to settle back in, and this all makes no sense, so he breaks away.

“Wait, you –” Castiel opens his eyes, and has to stop and refocus because Dean is leaning in so close; his lips are swollen and his pupils are blown wide. “Are you in love with me?”

Even with the red glow of the motel sign, Dean’s blush flares bright. He drops his eyes and shifts on the car’s hood, and Castiel’s managed to ruin things again so he tries to stutter out an apology. “Sorry, I’m sorry. You don’t have to answer that, I’m sor –”

Dean reels him back in, the hand in his hair gripping tight. His kisses have turned fast and feverish, and it’s all Castiel can do to keep up.

Then Dean pulls away, just slightly, and whispers against his lips, “God, yes, Cas. I am – god, for years, man.” He takes a few ragged breaths before diving back in to kiss Castiel again, harder.

And that makes even less sense, so Castiel lets go of Dean’s jacket and grabs him by the shoulder to push him away a little. “What? Years?”

Dean finds Castiel’s eyes, swallows, and nods.

There are too many emotions running through Castiel, far more than he can begin to comprehend. He briefly attempts to sort through them, but then gives up and latches onto irritation. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I’m sorry, have you met me?” Dean says. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t know,” Castiel shoots back. “Not until –” He cuts himself off, and Dean’s expression softens. “Until I heard you sing again,” he says quietly.

Dean shakes his head, but then he smiles softly. “C’mere.”

Castiel moves his hand to Dean’s neck, and leans in to press their mouths together again. There’s more for both of them to say – a lot more – but it can all wait, because Castiel’s pretty sure kissing Dean is the best thing he’s ever done.

Castiel loses track of time until he feels the sun hit his cheek. He breaks away and glances at the horizon, before turning back to Dean. “You’re missing the sunrise,” he murmurs.

Dean’s eyes don’t leave Castiel’s face. “Screw it,” he says, then tugs Castiel back in.

0 weeks, 0 days, 8 hours, 14 minutes
Whitehall, Montana

It’s unseasonably warm, but when they’d migrated into the Impala’s back seat Castiel had insisted on draping his coat over Dean like a blanket. Dean had blushed, but tucked himself down in it to stave off the morning breeze that drifted through the open windows. Now, Castiel’s leaning against the corner of the door with Dean curled half on top of him. He’s sound asleep, with both arms wrapped around Castiel’s waist and his head resting on his chest.

Castiel’s holding him gently, his hands resting lightly on Dean’s back and arm. He’s terrified to move.



Because this must all be a dream. Any second now, Castiel’s going to wake up alone, staring up at the Impala’s roof with a vicious hangover screaming in his head. Or maybe he’ll be back in his motel in Creighton, sharp pain spiking out from his middle and a dead demon on the carpet. Or maybe Dupont had killed him after all, and angels do get their own piece of Heaven when they die –

Dean hums and shifts in his arms, rubbing his cheek against Castiel’s chest.

Slowly, carefully, Castiel brings one hand up and drifts it through the hair at the base of Dean’s neck.

“Mmm,” Dean mumbles. “S’nice.”

Castiel smiles, and then looks up when he hears a door opening; Mary’s just emerged from her room.

She glances around the parking lot, and does a double-take when she sees Castiel in the car. Then her eyes drop to Dean, pressed against Castiel’s chest, and she smiles wide. She steps up to the open window. “Morning, boys,” she says softly.

Dean stirs, blinking blearily, but then he stiffens and starts pushing himself upright. Castiel misses his warmth instantly. “Um, hey Mom. We were just, uh. . .”

“You two take your time,” she says. She grins through the window at Castiel, and he feels himself blush. “I’m going down to that diner and grabbing us all some greasy breakfast.” She pats the window frame and heads off to the motel’s neighbouring restaurant.

Dean watches her go, then turns to Castiel, his face red. “Crap.”

“It’s alright, Dean. She knows,” Castiel says.

“She knows?” Dean repeats, his brow furrowing. “You mean. . . how you feel? You told her?”

Castiel chuckles. “Well, actually, she told me. Apparently, it was very obvious.”

Dean shakes his head, a disbelieving smile on his face. “And she’s, you know, okay? I mean, with. . . this? And, um, me?” He blushes again, dropping his eyes. “I mean, last time she was walking around, Reagan was in charge.”

“She looked okay to me,” Castiel says. “She wants you to be happy. I mean –” Castiel swallows, afraid he’s overstepped – “if – if you are, that is.”

Dean smiles, leaning in. “What d’you think,” he says, then presses their lips together.

Castiel’s still half-convinced he’s dreaming, but he kisses Dean back.

After a moment Dean pulls away. “C’mon, we should get moving before Sam comes outside.”

“Does he know?” Castiel asks. “About. . . how you feel?”

Dean shakes his head. “I mean, probably. Don’t think I’m that subtle either. But we’ve never talked about it or anything. We’ll, uh, we’ll tackle him later.”

Castiel nods, and Dean shifts over to the door. He reaches for the handle, but then he stops. “Huh. The lining’s coming off here,” he says, bending over to examine the edge of the door.

“Um,” Castiel starts.

Dean turns around, eyes narrowed. “What did you do?”

“We fixed her,” Castiel says quickly.

Dean glares. “Why did she need fixing, Cas?”

“The, um, the window may have been broken,” Castiel says. Dean looks ready to yell, so Castiel hurriedly slides across the seat and kisses him.

The distraction seems to work, because after a moment Dean moans and grabs onto Castiel’s suit jacket.

“I’m sorry,” Castiel murmurs, leaning away.

Dean rolls his eyes. “C’mon.”

Sam’s in the shower when they get back inside, and by the time he gets out Mary’s returned with breakfast. Everyone’s anxious to get back home, so they pack into the car to eat as they drive.

Dean keeps the windows rolled down, pops in a tape, and eats his breakfast burrito one-handed. In no time at all he’s singing ‘Ventura Highway’ – loudly – throwing his head back, and smacking Sam on the arm to get him to join in. Sam shakes his head in a bemused sort of way, Mary’s smiling wide and humming along, and it’s possible Castiel has never been more content in his entire life.

It’s late afternoon when they finally make it back home. Dean and Sam are out of the car the moment it stops, grabbing their duffels and heading inside. Mary follows, but Castiel trails behind, just listening to them.

It’s funny, but considering the last few months, he’s spent more time in the bunker without Sam and Dean than he ever had with them, and yet he’d never gotten used to the silence. But right now, as the two of them bicker over ideas for dinner and their footsteps echo down the hallway, and the bunker finally feels right again.

He comes to a corner and finds Mary waiting for him, anxious. “You okay?”

Castiel smiles, and nods. “Yes. I’m just. . . I’m happy we’re home.”

“Yeah, me too,” Mary says, nodding back.

Suddenly Castiel hears Dean holler angrily from down the hall. “Hey Cas!”

Castiel grimaces. He knew he’d forgotten something.

He leaves Mary behind and walks down to Dean’s room, only to find him frozen at the foot of his bed, his duffel at his feet.

“Cas, what the hell did you do to my wall?”

“Um, right,” Castiel says. “Sorry. I was. . . stressed.”

Dean turns around and gives him a look, his eyes bugging out of his head.

“I’ll fix it,” Castiel offers, taking a few steps forward.

“Uh, yeah,” Dean says. “Is there anything else you wanna mention?”

Castiel swallows. “I, uh, drank all your whiskey.”

Dean raises his eyebrows.

“And I spent all of the emergency money you keep in the kitchen.”

“You – on what?”

“Um. . . whiskey.”

Dean rolls his eyes in exasperation, so Castiel steps forward and kisses him again.

Like before, Dean reacts beautifully; he moans in response and eagerly kisses back. Castiel’s heart flutters, but then Dean reaches both hands up and pushes at his shoulders until he breaks away. “You know, you can’t keep doing that to try and get out of trouble.”

Castiel shrugs. “It seems to be working so far.”

“Bastard,” Dean mutters, but he pulls Castiel in again.

This had started off as an innocent distraction, but when Dean pushes his tongue into Castiel’s mouth, a fire ignites in his chest. He brings his hands up to Dean’s face, pulling him closer, and at the same time Dean slips past Castiel’s coat and suit jacket to grab his hips. His hands are hot; they grip tight and pull Castiel in until he’s pressed flush against Dean’s body.

Their hips meet, and a deep moan heaves out of Castiel’s chest. Dean hums rather enthusiastically, and his hands shift around to find Castiel’s ass – but then they hear footsteps out in the hall.

“Come on,” Dean growls.

They break apart quickly, panting, and a moment later Sam steps into the room. Fortunately, his eyes are drawn instantly to the crater in the bedroom wall, so he doesn’t notice Castiel surreptitiously shifting his coat to cover the bulge in his pants. “Dude, what the hell happened?” Sam asks.

“Cas had a temper tantrum,” Dean says roughly. He clears his throat. “What’s up?”

Sam raises an eyebrow, and Castiel tries to meet his gaze as nonchalantly as possible. “Um, there’s no food in the kitchen.”

“There’s coffee,” Castiel says. Dean and Sam share a look, then turn back at him, so Castiel shrugs. “I don’t eat, and Mary doesn’t cook. We didn’t bother going grocery shopping.”

Dean shakes his head. “Alright, guess it’s one more night of take-out. But tomorrow, we’re going shopping, and then I –” he points his finger at Castiel and grins “– am gonna make you the best damn burger you’ve ever had.”

Castiel’s heart is racing, and he’s definitely still at least half hard, but he smiles and nods. “Alright.”

“Okay, well, I’ll go see what Mom wants for tonight,” Sam says, and leaves the room.

There’s silence in his wake; it’s not uncomfortable, but neither is it companionable. It’s a new, different kind of quiet – it’s charged.

Dean finds Castiel’s eyes, then licks his lips. “We are. . . we are gonna pick this up later.”

Castiel nods. “Okay.”

“Right,” Dean says in confirmation, then strides out of the room.

Castiel’s heart doesn’t stop pounding all through dinner.

He watches Dean – watches him eat and breathe and smile and laugh with his family, all four of them seated around the kitchen table – and has to keep reminding himself that this is real. They’re all really back home, and Dean is safe and healthy.

Dean wants him. Wants to touch him and kiss him, wants to be with him.

“Alright, well, I’m gonna hit the hay,” Dean says abruptly, jolting Castiel out of his thoughts.

Sam looks down at his watch and frowns. “Dude, seriously? It’s not even nine.”

“Yeah well, somebody was snoring like a damn chainsaw last night, and I got like two hours.” He stands, tossing his take-out container into the garbage, but he doesn’t look at Castiel at all.

“Yeah, okay,” Sam says, rolling his eyes. “Guess you’ve gotta catch up on the other two now.”

Dean shakes his head. “Nah, see Sammy, unlike most people, prison’s actually made me go soft. I need a full night’s sleep now, like a real person. So until morning, do not disturb. Night guys.”

He walks out of the room without a backwards glance.

Sam shakes his head, but seems to let it go and starts talking to Mary. They’re going on about some case Mary had worked a few weeks ago, but Castiel’s only half listening, staying rooted in his seat while they stand and start to clear the table.

In the space of only a minute, Castiel’s right back to believing he’s imagined everything.

Or perhaps he’d just misunderstood earlier, and Dean hadn’t been suggesting what –


Castiel jerks his head, startled.

“That was an invitation. Or am I gonna have to get started without you?”

Heat floods his face instantly, and his heart resumes thumping madly. He glances up at the others; Sam is oblivious, but Mary definitely isn’t. She’s looking at him with her eyebrows raised, amusement all over her face, and Castiel knows he’s been caught out.

“Sam, I think we should head to bed too,” she says casually.

Sam frowns at her. “Seriously? What’s with you guys?”

“I just think you need some rest, Sam. You’ve been through a lot.”

“Yeah, I s’pose,” he says. “I am kinda tired.”

Mary nods sagely. “Yeah. Let’s put you in bed. Goodnight, Cas!”

Castiel’s throat is very dry, but he swallows past it. “Goodnight.”

Mary leads Sam out of the kitchen. Castiel stays at the table for a few seconds, then he’s on his feet and practically jogging down the hall.

The door to Dean’s room opens before Castiel has even raised his fist to knock, and then a hand grasps his tie and yanks him into the room.

“Took you long enough,” Dean growls, shutting the door and pushing Castiel up against it. His mouth finds Castiel’s, hot and demanding.

“S-sorry,” Castiel says, gasping in surprise and flaring arousal. “I didn’t want to. . . presume.”

Dean starts pushing the trenchcoat and jacket off Castiel’s shoulders. “Well, from now on, Cas, you can presume all you want,” he says, and then pushes his hips forward so Castiel can feel the hard line of his cock.

It’s enough to make Castiel dizzy. “Okay,” he says, as Dean moves his lips to drag, hot and wet, down the side of his neck. “It’s just, this is. . . I mean you – you and me. . .”

Dean pulls away and looks him in the eye. Some of the desperation seems to leave him, but it’s replaced by something deeper. “Yeah,” he says. “I know.”

Castiel swallows and nods, but doesn’t want to give Dean the impression this isn’t what he wants right now – isn’t what he’s been thinking about, consciously or not, for weeks – so he reaches up and starts pulling off Dean’s button-up.

Once Dean’s pulled his arms free he moves back in to kiss Castiel again. It’s slower, calmer, but no less heated. Castiel can feel his own pulse in his chest, in his wrists, in every part of him, thudding rapidly in anticipation, and at the feeling of Dean pressing solidly against him.

After a few minutes, Dean leans his hips away just enough so his hands can reach down and start undoing Castiel’s belt and fly, his knuckles tracing over Castiel’s cock. He’s already hard in his suit pants.

Shivering, Castiel sucks in a breath through his nose, then takes control of the kiss, his tongue sliding into Dean’s welcoming mouth. His hands creep under the hem of Dean’s t-shirt, finding soft, warm skin, and he moans.

Dean makes quick work of his tie, pulling it from Castiel’s collar in a slow slither before reaching out to unbutton his shirt. Light, nimble fingers skim down Castiel’s chest as the shirt is pulled open, but then Dean hits his stomach wound and Castiel flinches, inhaling sharply.

Breaking the kiss, Dean frowns and looks down. The wound is healing, but there’s still a large scab and the whole area is coloured with deep purple bruising. “What happened?”

“It’s fine,” Castiel says. “I was just. . . stabbed a bit.”

“What?” Dean asks, his eyes going wide.

Castiel shakes his head. “I’ll tell you all about it, but, later. Right now, I’d really like you to keep touching me.”

Dean just looks at him for a moment, then he leans in and brushes his mouth across Castiel’s softly. It’s a different kiss than the others; it’s gentle and sweet, and it makes Castiel’s heart stutter in his chest.

He leans away, and Castiel tries to follow, but Dean starts moving down, kissing Castiel’s neck again, his collarbone, his ribs. He drops to his knees and starts tracing more soft kisses around Castiel’s stomach, lips drifting carefully across the wound. As he does, he starts to push Castiel’s pants down, over his swollen cock, until they fall and pool to the ground.

Then Dean looks up and meets his eyes, and Castiel is completely overwhelmed.

This is real: Dean is on his knees for Castiel, kissing and touching him, and looking up with want in his eyes. There’s something else in them too, but Castiel is still too scared to name it – any wrong move could stop this, any miscalculation and Dean might decide this isn’t –

“Cas,” Dean says firmly. “Stop thinking.”

Castiel does. After all, he’s never been one to deny Dean anything.

Licking his lips again, Dean’s hands move to Castiel’s hips, holding him in place, before leaning in and rubbing his cheek against Castiel’s cock through his boxers. He exhales a hot breath, and even through the fabric Castiel can feel it; it sends a jolt of need through him and he whines, high and breathy.

Dean grins. “Shh. You’re right by the door, dumbass.”

Right. Sam and Mary would most likely not appreciate overhearing this. Castiel bites his lip to keep further noises from spilling out, even as Dean starts to mouth at his cock through the material of his boxers.

Despite his efforts, another muffled whine escapes Castiel, far too loud in the quiet bedroom. Dean just grins again and hooks his fingers in Castiel’s boxers, pulling them down and freeing his cock.

Before Castiel has any time to prepare, Dean is fisting one hand at the base, parting his lips, and swallowing Castiel down.

Castiel may have been thinking before, but he certainly isn’t now. Every conscious thought evaporates from his mind, and his entire being narrows down to the hot, wet suction of Dean’s mouth. His eyes squeeze shut for a moment, but Castiel forces them open. He needs to see this, needs to watch, needs to know if Dean’s lips on his cock look like he’d imagined they would.

It turns out they don’t. It’s actually much better.

Dean’s mouth is stretched wide, his lips shiny with spit as he bobs his head. He works his hand in tandem, squeezing just enough to sending pleasure rocketing through Castiel’s body. Stunned and overcome, Castiel brings one shaking hand up to Dean’s cheek, his thumb resting at the corner of his lips. He can feel his own cock moving in and out of Dean’s mouth. All the while Dean holds his eyes, his pupils nearly swallowing the green of his irises.

Screw coffee. Nothing could ever be as addictive as this.

There’s a warm coil of tension settling low in Castiel’s abdomen, and after a minute of this it’s started to strain tighter, more urgent. He tries to tamp it down, but that’s when Dean takes him in deep and his head stops moving – and then his throat contracts and he swallows.

It’s too much, far too much, and Castiel needs this to last, so he gently pushes Dean away. It takes him a moment to try to breathe through his arousal and regain some control. Once he has, he pulls Dean back up to stand and kisses him deeply. His tongue darts into Dean’s mouth; he can taste himself, and he feels drunk again.

“I’ve imagined this,” Castiel murmurs between kisses. “I’ve tried to guess what you’d feel like. What you’d taste like.”

Dean grins against his lips. “Me too. Except I’ve had years to think about this, and let me tell you: I’ve got some ideas.” Kissing him again, he grabs the open sides of the shirt Castiel is still apparently wearing, spins them around, and starts to push Castiel backwards.

Backwards towards the bed. Dean’s bed, where Castiel never imagined he’d be allowed to lie. Heart fluttering again, he reaches down with fumbling hands and undoes Dean’s fly, but only manages to push the jeans down a few inches before the backs of his knees hit the mattress. He sits down on the edge, while Dean leans over him, warm, work-rough hands cupping Castiel’s face and tongue delving into his mouth, demanding. Needing to feel more skin, Castiel reaches out and pushes at Dean’s pants again until they fall to the ground, then slides his hands back up Dean’s thighs to the swell of his ass.

Stepping out of his jeans, Dean laughs and climbs into Castiel’s lap, straddling his legs and fitting their bodies flush together. Their lips meet again, drawn together like magnets, and Dean’s hands push up into Castiel’s hair, his fingernails scraping against Castiel’s scalp until he shivers. Castiel’s own hands travel up underneath Dean’s t-shirt again, running over the hot, slightly sweaty skin of his back. The fabric is in the way though, so Castiel reaches back down and tugs it up over Dean’s head.

Shirtless now, Dean leans back in to seal their mouths together. Castiel smooths his hands over Dean’s chest, but then he pauses, pulling away and opening his eyes. Prison has thinned out Dean’s body; his hipbones are sharp, protruding from his sides, and when Castiel reaches out he can feel each of Dean’s ribs. Darkness clouds his vision for a moment, anger and regret pulsing through him.

“Hey.” Dean directs Castiel’s gaze up with a hand under his chin. His eyes are warm, and he gives a small smile. “I’m okay.”

“I’m sorry,” Castiel says. “I’m sorry for everything.”

But Dean shakes his head and leans down again. “I’m okay, Cas. I’m here. We’re here. Stay with me.” He pulls their mouths together, kissing deep and slow until Castiel relaxes beneath him. Then he ducks his head and starts working his tongue along Castiel’s neck, sucking at his pulse point hard enough to bruise. Finally, Dean pushes the white shirt off his shoulders, leaving Castiel completely naked beneath him. He moans, and Dean hums a laugh, and suddenly Castiel needs to taste him.

Without pulling away, Castiel grips Dean’s thighs, keeping them locked around his hips. He half-stands and lifts Dean, then spins them and drops back down onto the bed, Dean landing flat on his back with a surprised “Oomph.”

Dean laughs again. “Warn a guy next time.”

Castiel takes a moment to thrill at the idea of a next time, but he can’t stay away from Dean for too long, so he starts kissing his way down Dean’s chest. Maybe next time he’ll go slower with this, find which square inch of skin makes Dean groan and gasp the loudest, but right now he’s too enamoured with the idea of taking Dean’s cock into his mouth and making him feel as good as Castiel had moments before.

There’s already a wet spot darkening the front of Dean’s boxers, and his cock is visibly straining against them. Castiel doesn’t tease, can’t wait, just yanks them down and pulls them all the way off. Dean sucks in a sharp breath as his cock bobs up against his stomach. It’s dark and swollen, precome beading at the tip, so Castiel, curious, leans in to lick at it.

“Oh fuck,” Dean says, breathless.

Encouraged, Castiel does it again, drawing his tongue up the full length this time.

Dean gasps again. “Jesus, Cas.”

Castiel looks up and finds his eyes. Dean meets them for a moment, then his gaze drops down to his lips. Castiel can feel wetness there, so he licks them, and tastes Dean.

Dean’s eyes go impossibly wider, but Castiel just grins and files that knowledge away for later. He isn’t satisfied yet.

He ducks his head back down and tries to mimic what Dean had done to him. He parts his lips and takes Dean’s cock in as deep as he can, while one hand squeezes and strokes the rest.

Dean’s moaning and panting, gasping his name every so often, but Castiel wants more; he wants Dean to stop thinking too. As an experiment, he moves his free hand from where it had been kneading Dean’s thigh, and lightly skims his fingers along Dean’s balls. Dean gasps, loudly, so Castiel pulls off of Dean’s cock and replaces his fingers with his lips, tongue teasing and mouth lightly sucking.

“Cas, Cas, fuck.”

But that’s still not quite it yet, so Castiel shifts further down, nudging his shoulders so they’re beneath Dean’s spread thighs, and his tongue starts traveling lower, deeper, seeking out Dean’s hole.

When he finally finds it, he sweeps out his tongue, flat, and draws it across the hard ring of muscle. Dean spikes up, his hips lifting away, and he practically sobs.

Castiel pulls back, concerned. “Should I stop?” he asks.

“No,” Dean gasps quickly, panting. “No, no I think you should keep doing that forever.”

Castiel grins, then adjusts himself back beneath Dean’s thighs and dives in again. He starts with more broad, flat strokes, then starts to probe lightly, pushing past the ring until he’s thrusting into Dean with the spear point of his tongue.

Dean’s swearing again, babbling nonsense between gasps, and he’s beginning to tense up around Castiel’s mouth. Castiel can feel one of Dean’s hands leave the mattress to stroke himself, but Castiel lets go of Dean’s hips and grabs onto his wrists instead, forcing them down onto the bedspread.

“You – fuck, oh Cas you son of a bitch,” Dean says, but Castiel doesn’t let go. He will do this. He will be the one to make Dean fall apart.

It doesn’t take too much longer. Dean pants and curses for another minute, then finally on a gasp of Castiel’s name he seizes. Castiel keeps holding Dean’s wrists down, but looks up to watch as come shoots from Dean’s untouched cock, painting his hips and stomach. His chest and neck are flushed pink, his eyes are closed, and he’s breathtaking.

He opens his eyes, looking utterly wrecked, and Castiel, struck with an idea, leans down over Dean’s still-pulsing cock to start licking up his come.

“Oh shit, oh holy shit Cas – fuck. Shit.”

Castiel draws his tongue over Dean’s stomach, his hipbones, lapping at the pools of come until he’s clean.

“Lemme go, Cas, please, I need –” Castiel releases his wrists instantly, and then Dean’s hands are frantically pulling his head up until their mouths meet again. “Fuck, Cas,” Dean gasps between heated, dirty kisses. “God, who taught you that? Kinky bastard.”

“I was. . . improvising,” Castiel pants, kissing him back. “That was, um, good?”

Dean laughs outright, a little hysterical. “Yeah, Cas. Good. Fuck.”

Castiel smiles to himself, pleased.

Then Dean pulls away and finds his eyes. “Will you fuck me?”

Castiel’s heart flutters; he’d been so focused on Dean he’d all but forgotten his own cock, but at Dean’s words it gives a throb, demanding attention. Still, Castiel hadn’t expected this. “You’d. . . you’d let me?” he asks.

Let you?” Dean says, incredulous. “God, I love you.”

His heart doesn’t flutter then, it stops.

But Dean’s there in a moment, kissing him, and somehow it starts again.

Dean breaks away and locks their eyes again. “Okay?”

Swallowing, Castiel nods. “Yes.”

“Good,” Dean says, and he grins. Rolling out from under Castiel’s arm, he fumbles for the drawer of his nightstand and pulls out a small bottle. “Lots of that. And go slow, it’s been a few years.”

Castiel picks up the bottle, but then pauses, looking down at Dean in surprise.

Dean nods. “Yeah. I’ll tell you all about it later. But right now I’d really like you to fuck me.”

“Right,” Castiel says, heart starting to pump wildly again.

“‘Kay,” Dean says back, smiling. He reaches up and pulls Castiel down for one more searing kiss, before rolling onto his front.

With shaking hands, Castiel picks up the bottle and squeezes a portion of lube onto his fingers. He’s overwhelmed again; this is Dean, so open and vulnerable, letting Castiel in, wanting him close. After everything Castiel has done, he doesn’t deserve this, isn’t worthy of Dean. And yet he wants him.

“Cas,” Dean says. “You’re thinking again.”

“Sorry,” Castiel says. He slowly reaches down to Dean’s ass, carefully tracing one finger into the cleft. Dean sighs and angles his hips up, pressing back against Castiel’s hand.

Castiel readjusts himself on the bed, shifting further down, then ducks his head and brushes his lips across Dean’s shoulders. His free hand comes up to rub at Dean’s lower back in small, calming circles, while the other starts applying more pressure to Dean’s rim. He’s already wet and relaxed from Castiel’s mouth, so after a moment Castiel pushes his index finger inside.

Dean groans, and Castiel does too. He’s overwhelmed at the tightness, and has to take another steadying breath when he imagines how it will feel on his cock. But Dean pushes back on his hand again, impatient, so Castiel forces himself to focus and starts to move his finger.

He draws it in and out, pressing gently at first, then more firmly. After a minute he adds a second finger, then a third, and Dean gasps and moans and rocks back against him. Castiel’s anticipation is rising, his cock swollen and leaking, and Dean finally shifts his hips away.

“I’m good, Cas. We’re good. C’mon,” he pants.

“Okay,” Cas whispers. He picks up the lube again and squeezes some into his palm, then runs it up and down, coating his neglected cock. Between his own touch and the sight of Dean pliant and sprawled out beneath him, it’s almost too much, but somehow he manages to hold onto his control.

Dipping his head down, Castiel presses a kiss to the back of Dean’s shoulder. He starts to move away, but then Dean reaches out a hand and cranes his neck up so he can kiss Castiel’s lips again, deep and thorough. After a dizzying moment he pulls away, smiles, and nods. “Okay, Cas.”

Castiel nods, then shifts away and into position, hovering above Dean’s back. Supporting himself with one hand, he grips his cock, lines himself up, and starts slowly pushing in.

The tightness around his fingers was nothing compared to this. It’s pressure from all sides, devastating and so hot, and even before he’s slid all the way in Castiel knows he won’t last long like this. Dean moans and sobs again, shifting his legs apart so he’s spread wider, taking Castiel deep into himself.

Finally pressed all the way inside, as close to Dean as Castiel’s ever been, the enormity of the moment sinks in. This is them – the two of them, after almost a decade of war and death and every obstacle imaginable – finally coming together. Castiel, an angel, and his best friend, his family, his lover, fitting together as one. It’s. . . a miracle.

And he loves this, loves being spread out above Dean, loves draping himself across Dean’s back with their skin pressed together. Dean is safe beneath him, protected from the world that has sought to harm him so many times, and Castiel is happy to be his shield until the end of his life.

Castiel reaches an arm around, under Dean’s shoulder, and pulls his head up so they can kiss again. The angle’s awkward; Castiel can distantly feel the strain to his stomach wound, and Dean just sort of pants against his mouth, but it’s perfect.

“Cas, c’mon,” Dean gasps, his voice tight with tension. “Move.”

Huffing an almost delirious laugh, Castiel obliges, drawing out and then pushing back in, slowly. Dean groans and drops his head back down onto the pillow, and Castiel sets up a rhythm. He rocks his hips down as Dean pushes his upwards, and Castiel spreads slow, wet kisses across Dean’s neck and shoulders.

In no time at all Castiel is losing himself, drowning in Dean; he's flying apart, and he needs an anchor. Somehow Dean seems to understand, because suddenly he’s fumbling out his hand and finding Castiel’s, weaving their fingers together on the mattress beside his head. They’re connected everywhere now, as close as they could possibly be, and the thought has Castiel gasping against the back of Dean’s neck and pushing into him deeper.

“Oh fuck, Cas. Fuck, yeah, just like that,” Dean pants, and in the space of a breath Castiel’s composure starts to slip. Unconsciously, he starts to speed up his thrusts, and Dean groans in response.

Castiel finds himself approaching his climax with very little warning. He drives in and out of Dean’s body mindlessly, chasing his release, but then he pauses. Through the haze of lust and want, one thing is clear to him: he needs to look Dean in the eyes for this.

Carefully, he pulls all the way out; Dean whines in protest and Castiel’s cock gives a throb, but in the next second he’s rolling Dean over and pushing back inside. Dean cries out and looks up, his eyes blown wide and blazing once more. Castiel starts up a pounding rhythm, then reaches down and fists Dean’s cock, hard again, and starts to stroke it in time.

Dean’s babbling again, gasping out Castiel’s name, but then he clenches tight around Castiel’s cock and everything falls away. Castiel feels himself continue snapping his hips forward and stroking Dean’s cock, and distantly he hears himself gasping and crying out, but it’s all out of his control. Nothing in the entire universe exists for him but Dean.

After seconds or minutes, Castiel doesn’t know, he comes back to himself, and his eyes fall on Dean, still panting beneath him. Castiel’s hand had slackened off, so he squeezes tight and strokes him again. Dean whines, and Castiel pins him with his gaze. “I want to see you.”

A few strokes later Dean’s mouth falls slack and he’s coming again, white dripping over Castiel’s hand. He seizes up on the bed, his back arching, then after a long, drawn-out moment, he collapses back down.

They stare at one another, breathing hard, until Dean swallows. “Now’s. . . now’s usually the part where I wake up.”

There’s a beat, then Castiel leans down and pulls their mouths together. He kisses Dean deep and hard to prove they’re really here, together; they really made it.

After a long minute Castiel shifts and his softening cock slips out from inside Dean. He inhales sharply through his nose, then laughs against Castiel’s lips and leans away. “You okay?” he asks quietly.

“I’m. . .” Castiel says, still struggling to regain his breath. “Why do humans ever do anything else?”

“Beats the hell outta me.”

Castiel starts to laugh. It begins as a quiet chuckle, but escalates sharply until it’s bubbling out of him. He flops down on the bed, lying on his back beside Dean, and it keeps coming, long and loud until he’s struggling for air again. He glances at Dean, who’s looking at him like he’s lost his mind, but that only makes him laugh harder.

Before long Dean’s laughing too, a grin splitting his face and tears leaking out the corners of his eyes. It’s beautiful, and as he finally starts to calm himself down, Castiel resolves to try to make Dean laugh like that at least once a day.

“The hell was that about?” Dean asks, once he too has stopped giggling. “I’ve never seen you laugh like that, ever.”

Castiel shakes his head, then reaches up and pulls Dean over for a deep and thorough kiss. “I love you,” he says simply.

Dean smiles briefly, then looks at him, intent. “I know. I mean, I feel it. When you kiss me. . . nobody’s ever kissed me like that before.”

Joy erupts in Castiel’s chest, and he smiles back until Dean leans in and kisses it from his lips.

“What about you,” Dean murmurs. “You feel that?”

Castiel shakes his head. “No.” Dean looks hurt, and pulls away slightly. Castiel grins. “I think maybe you should try again.”

“You bastard,” Dean growls, before tugging him in. “Don’t do that to me.”

Castiel laughs again.

0 weeks, 1 day, 7 hours, 53 minutes
Lebanon, Kansas

Castiel doesn’t need to sleep, of course, but he does enjoy it on occasion. He hasn’t lately, due in large part to stab wounds or whiskey, but this morning he’s decided that waking up with Dean in his arms is one of his favourite things.

Intending to surprise Dean with some coffee, Castiel inches out from the blankets they’d eventually managed to pull over themselves. He grabs the thick grey robe Dean keeps hanging on the inside of his closet door and slips it on, then starts padding, barefoot, down to the kitchen.

It doesn’t appear that anyone else is awake yet, which is fortunate. Dean still hasn’t decided how to talk to Sam, and while Mary seems supportive, he reasons it might be awkward to be seen walking around in nothing but Dean’s bathrobe.

He sets about brewing the coffee, then pulls open the laptop Sam had left on the kitchen table, investigating an idea that had occurred to him the day before.

A quick perusal of local business listings shows that the closest music store is in Hastings. That’s not a terribly long drive, but Sam had shown him how to use Amazon a few years ago. Perhaps they sell guitars online. Either way, he’ll have to do some research.

“Hey, Cas. Okay, you’re probably just getting some coffee going, you damn junkie, but – morning-after etiquette here. Don’t let me wake up alone.”

Guilt flashes through Castiel briefly.

“Guess you’re gonna have to make it up to me somehow. If you think of anything, I’m just gonna be, y’know, in the showers.”

Castiel grins, and closes the laptop.