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If the Dark Returns

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Hell

Alex shifted on her stone seat, fingers drumming on the chilled armrest. Hell’s throne room lay out before her, silent and empty, and the hunter shifted as her drumming increased. Her phone vibrated loudly from where it rested on the seat beside her, but she ignored it; it was Sam, no doubt. He had been calling her for hours.

The heavy double doors swung open, and Crowley stalked through, followed closely by Dean. The Winchester’s eyes flashed black, and Alex shoved down the discomfort that arose in her stomach. “It’s about time.” Her fingers stopped their drumming, and she straightened up in her seat. “Where the hell have you been?”

“I believe that’s my throne.”

“I believe that it is.” Alex brushed off Crowley’s words with a noise of disinterest, but before she could continue her retort, she felt a strange twisting in her gut. Her gaze turned to Dean; the demon’s eyes were narrowed in concentration, and Alex scoffed. “Stop that. You don’t have the strength yet to control—”

She cut off with a surprised squeak as she was flung from her chair, and she hit the ground with a loud thud, groaning in pain as her chest hit the stone floor. Crowley chuckled, and Alex pushed herself into a sitting position, still dazed from her fall. “Dean and I have been practicing. He’s getting good, isn’t he?” The King of Hell crossed over to his throne and sat down, leaving Alex scowling after him. “What is it you want?”

“Sam’s been calling me.” Alex pushed herself to her feet, brushing off the dust from her jeans as she tried to ignore the pain in her limbs that was sure to result in brusing. “He’s not going to stop, so what do you want me to tell him?”

“Block his number.”

“He’s got a million phones, dumbass,” Alex retorted, throwing a glare back towards Dean. “I’ll have to tell him something eventually.”

“You tell him nothing.” Crowley snapped his fingers, drawing Alex’s attention back onto him. “No, you don’t know where Dean is. No, you don’t know where I am. You don’t even know where you are.” Crowley crossed his legs as he reclined in his seat. “And let’s be clear that this is an order; you tell him and Castiel nothing.”

Alex’s scowl darkened, but she knew what the demon wanted. “I understand.” She pushed her phone into her pocket, and added, “I’ve been here for three days now; how much longer do I have to stay here? Cas is getting worried.”

“You’ll stay until I say so.” Crowley’s eyes glittered, and Alex squared her jaw. “And until Dean gets stronger. Speaking of.” He motioned towards the Winchester, whose eyes had returned to their original green. “You’re in charge of keeping Squirrel out of harm’s way.” An angel blade appeared in Crowley’s hands, and he tossed it to her feet where it clatters against the stone. “Don’t let him out of your sight.”

Dean scoffed loudly as Alex stooped to pick up the weapon. “I don’t need a babysitter.”

“You need what I say you need.” Crowley’s voice rose, deep with authority. “And if you think I’m giving you free reign of the world, you’re madder than I thought.”

Alex glanced over at Dean, curious as to how the newly-turned demon would respond, but the Winchester only stalked away, pushing through the double doors and out of sight. “Yeah. There’s no way this isn’t a stupid idea.” She looked over at Crowley, expecting a rebuke, but the demon merely waved her after Dean. With a roll of her eyes, Alex left.

 

One Week Later
Beulah, North Dakota

The club was loud, filled with sweaty bodies and alcohol. Alex sat at the bar, toying impatiently with a glass of whiskey as she tried to ignore the masses around her. Her gaze was locked on Dean, who was leaning against the counter on the other end of the room, openly flirting with a busty blonde. “You’re staring.” The counter creaked as the bartender leaned up next to her, and Alex snorted in amusement.

“I’m not supposed to let him out of my sight,” she replied with a grumble. “I’ll be dammed if he gives me the slip again.”

“Tell me about it. Babysitting sucks.” The bartender refilled her glass, his brown eyes sparkling, and Alex chuckled as she took a sip of her bitter drink. “If you ask me, Crowley is severely underestimating my talent.”

“Yeah. You and me both.” Alex motioned to the crowd around her, lowering her voice so only the demon in front of her could hear. “Mind helping a human out? How many does Crowley have stationed here?”

“Apart from you and me? Three.” The bartender held up his fingers, and he pointed towards the woman beside Dean. “There’s one. Haven’t seen the other two yet.” He frowned in Dean’s direction before adding, “Crowley’s gone mad if you ask me. It’s like that Winchester has become his pet project or something — can you believe that? A Winchester.

“Yeah, it’s crazy.” Alex slid her glass back and forth along the smooth wooden bar with a shake of her head. “But I guess buddying up to the guy with the Mark of Cain isn’t a bad idea; having him in your pocket is even better.” She took a sip before adding, “I don’t see why we had to be dragged into this mess, though.” Her phone rang, and she pulled it out with a frown. “Hang on. I should take this.”

“Sam?” The bartender’s face darkened, and he leaned forward. “You sure you’re supposed to be talking to him?”

“I’ll talk to whoever I damn please.” Alex pushed herself off of the barstool and nodded towards Dean. “Keep an eye on him for me. I’ll be right back.” The bartender nodded, and Alex pushed her way out of the club and into the back alleyway. “Hello?” She answered her ringing phone, suppressing a shiver at the cool night air. “Sam?”

“Alex? Thank God.” Relief filled Sam’s words, and Alex leaned back against the brick building as his voice grew sharp. “Where the hell have you been?”

“I … uh … I can’t really tell you that.” Alex nudged at a discarded beer bottle with her foot, and she watched it roll away.

“O-Okay. Uh, uh, have you seen Dean? He’s gone, he’s not answering his phone — I don’t know if he’s dead or alive or possessed —”

“I can’t tell you that either, Sam.” Alex pushed herself off of the wall, quickly adding, “How’s Cas doing? I missed his last call.”

“You missed all his calls.” Sam’s voice grew sharp, and Alex winced at the accusation in his tone. “Are you working with Crowley or not?”

“I said I’m not allowed to say!” Alex’s own tone rose, and she straightened up from the wall. “So what do you think? I’m not doing this by choice, Sam. I just want to come home, but I can’t.” She heard voices as a couple walked out of the bar, and she dropped her voice. “I really need to go. I’m sorry, Sam. Don’t call me again.” Alex hung up before the Winchester could respond, and she pressed her phone up against her chest as she drew in a deep breath, steeling herself and regaining her composure.

After a moment, she pushed her way back into the club, weaving her way back to her seat at the bar. She craned her neck, searching for Dean; the Winchester hadn’t moved from the blonde, unaware that she had even left. Satisfied, Alex continued on, pushing through the jostling crowd before she stopped with a frown.

Her seat was gone, her stool occupied by a dark, skinny man with hunched shoulders. Alex watched as he slammed down a shot and waved the bartender over for another. With a deep-set scowl, she stepped forward, tapping him on the shoulder, and as the man turned, she reached out to bury her hands in his shirt and pull him off of the stool.

Her free fist lashed out, connecting with his jaw, and the shock of the sudden blow send the man falling to the ground. “That’s my seat.” Alex stepped over him and sat down; she heard the stranger scramble to his feet, but she paid him no attention as two demons stepped between her them, blocking any form of retaliation.

Alex slammed down the shot of whiskey, her eyes narrowed in grey slits as the bartender cocked an amused eyebrow. “What?”

“Nothing.” The demon nudged her whiskey glass back towards her, and Alex watched as it stopped beside her hands. “Hard to believe you were an angel not too long ago. We’ll make a demon of you yet.” He refilled her glass with a hearty chuckle and walked away, leaving Alex to glower after him. He was wrong; she might be Crowley’s bitch, but that was temporary. She glanced over at Dean as she took a sip of her drink, and disgust flashed through her as black eyes flashed back at her. No. That wasn’t going to be her. She’d get her grace back, save Dean, and kill some demons in the process.

Her glass shattered in her hands, and the ex-angel looked down at the shards in surprise, unaware that she had been gripping it too tightly. Dark eyes turned onto her, and Alex dropped her gaze, brushing the fragments further down the bar with her bloody palm. She’d do all of those things, one day. But not today.

 

Footsteps approached, and Alex pulled herself into wakefulness, fighting off the sluggish hold that sleep still had on her limbs. Her back ached, having spent the night reclined against the stiff back of a wooden chair, and the ex-angel groaned out her discomfort. “What time is it?” She reached down towards her phone, which had fallen from her lap, as she looked up and down the hallway. Her gaze landed on Crowley, and she squinted up against the harsh hallways lights as looked into his dark face. “What do you want?”

“I thought I told you not to let Dean out of your sight.” The demon’s voice was cross, and Alex scoffed, dropping her gaze back down onto her phone. It was almost six in the morning, and she groaned again.

“I’m not an idiot, Crowley.” She slowly pushed herself to her feet, hissing as her hand clamped around the back of the chair. She yanked away, staring down at the lacerations — it took her a second to place them with last night’s accident with her glass. “Dean took that blonde chick back to his room here,” she explained, continuing on as if she hadn’t taken a second’s pause.

“And …?” Crowley’s eyes flashed. “Last time he did that, he snuck out the bathroom window. It took us almost a full day to find him.”

“Yeah, thanks, Einstein. I remember.” Alex pointed to the door she was guarding, hand directed towards the ground in front of it where a thick line of salt stretched across the carpet. “I fucking salted the window and fire escape while he was at the bar last night,” she added. “He and that whore of his are still inside.”

“They better be.” The King’s tone left no question about the underlying threat, and Alex bit her tongue to keep herself from snapping out a retort. “Well? Let me in.”

Alex kicked aside the salt, and the door swung open. Crowley stepped inside, and Alex followed, shoving her hands into her pockets as they stepped into the dark room. Dean was inside, reclined against the bed, and his eyes flashed black at their entrance. “What do you want?” He rose to his feet, arms crossed as he glared down at Alex. “You salted the door? Fuck you.”

Alex scoffed, but she didn’t waste her breath on a response. “And where, pray tell, were you planning to go?” Crowley asked, and his eyes flickered to the closed bathroom door; Alex tipped her head at the sound of a shower running.

“Out.” The Winchester’s answer was vague as he pulled on a shirt. “Why should you care?” He picked up the First Blade, his eyes flickering closed for the quickest of seconds as the Blade’s power rushed through his veins.

Alex frowned at the sight, and Crowley cleared his throat. “How would you like a job to do?” he offered in a low voice. “Some of Abaddon’s minions are holed up in Missouri. I need them neutralized.” He nodded towards the First Blade, and Dean’s hand tightened his around the handle. “What do you say?” When Dean’s gaze only sharpened, he nodded. “Good. Glad that’s settled. Take Alex with you.”

“Oh come on.” Alex and Dean spoke at the same time, and they both exchanged a scowl as Alex added, “Why me?”

“Because I said so. And until Dean shows he can be trusted,” Crowley added, turning to the Winchester, “I’m not letting him off on his own. Understand?” He waited until both nodded before he straightened the cuffs on his suit. “Good.”

He led the way out into the hall, and Alex stalked after him. She heard Dean follow, but was unprepared for the shove that sent her crashing into the doorframe as the Winchester pushed his way in front of her. Her chin collided with the wood, and she bit back a cry of surprise as the impact split her lip. Blood washed over her tongue, and Alex spit onto the floor as she scooped of a handful of salt in revenge. The crystals flew through the air, burning wherever they landed on Dean’s skin, and the Winchester flinched away with a hiss. “Don’t push me,” Alex growled and she lengthened her stride to pass Dean and follow Crowley down the hall.

 

The Impala rolled to a stop in front of a gas station, and the squeal of the brakes jolted Alex into wakefulness. She groaned at the stiffness in her spine as she looked around, rubbing tight circles in the back of her neck. “What’s going on?” She blinked as she looked around, and the ex-angel let out a long exhale at the sight of a dingy gas station. “Ah.”

“Gas.” Dean threw the car into park and got out, slamming the metal door behind him with a force that shook the entire car. “Got a problem with that?”

“No, I don’t have a —” Alex’s lips set into a tight line, and she undid her seatbelt and got out as well. “Just … stay here. I’m going to go get myself a snack, because unlike you, I still need to eat.” She crossed the parking lot, pausing only long enough to shout back, “Don’t you dare leave without me.”

The demon gave no sign that he had heard, and Alex stormed into the small brick building with a dark, muttered curse. The clerk greeted her, but she ignored him, making her way into the back of the store to where the dark refrigerators hummed quietly. She grabbed an energy drink and stuffed it under her arm as she stalked down the chip aisle to grab a snack.

Dean was still standing beside the gas pump as she returned to the counter, and she dropped her purchases down onto the counter as she dug out her wallet. “I don’t need a bag,” she mumbled as she pulled out a ten dollar bill, but the cashier’s response was lost under the loud roar of an engine.

The Impala’s lights flickered on, and Alex looked up sharply to watch as the car began to roll away. “No, no, no. Hey!” She grabbed her food and rushed out the door, but the rusty car was already pulling onto the street, engine revving as it sped away. “Dean!” Alex slid to a stop at the edge of the parking lot, watching helplessly as the car disappeared into the night. “Dammit!” Her chips fell from her grasp as she kicked angrily at a rock, sending it skittering out across the road. “Dammit!”

The sound of the car faded into the night, and Alex looked up and down the darkened road. Dean wasn’t coming back; that much she knew. “Crowley?” Her words rang through the dusty night air, and the ex-angel stooped to pick up her dropped food before she shouted out the demon’s name. “Crowley! Dean’s gone.”

“He’s what?” Crowley appeared behind her, and Alex spun around. “And how, pray tell, did that happen?”

“I got out to get food when he was getting gas and he just drove off without me.” Alex’s jaw squared angrily as she glared off down the road, and she took a moment to inhale sharply before adding, “Is this even worth it? Have one of your minions babysit. I just want to go home.”

“You’ll go home when I say you can.” Crowley lifted his fingers in a snap, and cold, dark energy enveloped her, crushing her ribs and blacking out her vision. It faded within a second, and Alex found herself seated in the front seat beside Dean.

The demon reacted violently, the car swerving in surprise as he let out a curse, and Alex angrily shoved the back of chips between her legs as she cast him a dark glare. “Forget something?” she snapped.

Dean opened his mouth to respond, but Crowley cleared his throat, drawing their attention onto him. The King of Hell was seated in the back, leaning forward slightly between the two of them, and Alex’s lips set in a tight line. “I thought I told the two of you to work together.”

“Yeah, I don’t think that’s going to work.”

“You don’t get a choice.” Crowley’s voice grew sharp and scathing. “Not until I can trust you, do you understand me?” His fingers snapped, and Alex flinched at the coldness that settled over her skin.

“The hell did you do to me?” she snapped, whirling around to glare at the King of Hell.

“Consider it a demonic shock collar.” Crowley’s brown eyes flickered between her and Dean, his face twisted in displeasure. “If either of you go outside of fifty feet of each other …” He trailed off, and was unprepared for the jolt of electricity that shot up her spine. She twisted in alarm, and black spots flashed across her eyes — from the way the car violently swerved, she was not the only one that felt the effect of Crowley’s spell.

“Son a bitch,” Dean cursed as he fought to regain control of the speeding vehicle, and Alex echoed him, venom filling every word.

“I’ll take it off once the two of you learn to play nicely.” The demon leaned back in his seat, satisfied at their reactions, and he was gone before Alex had the chance to snap.

The ex-angel whipped back around to glare at Dean. “Great.” She angrily shoved her drink into the cup holder. “Great. Thanks a lot, asshat.”

“Oh, so it’s my fault —”

“Yeah, you fucking left me at the gas station! And now I’m stuck with you until Crowley takes the leash off. You think I want to be here? I want to go home, Dean.” Alex slumped down in her seat, her anger fuming beneath her skin. “And now thanks to you I’m literally going to be with you until — until who knows when.”

The car screeched as it turned onto a dirt road, and Alex barely had time to brace herself as Dean slammed on the brakes, sending the vehicle skidding to a stop. “We’re here.” The Winchester growled out the words as he climbed out of the car, and Alex followed. “Stay out of my way.”

“Not a chance.” Alex pulled her angel blade out of the glove compartment, eyes narrowed as Dean picked up the first Blade. “We’re going in together.”

Her back hit the tree with a thud, and Alex grunted in pain as Dean’s arm pinned her there, a solid iron band across her chest. “What the hell?” Her angel blade clattered to the ground, and fire danced in her eyes. “What’s your problem? Why do you hate me, huh?”

“You know why.” Dean’s eyes flashed black. “I can’t trust you.”

“Can’t trust me my ass.” The ex-angel’s lips curled up into a snarl. “Is this because of Sheol? Or because of Crowley’s deal? Because let me tell you — the last thing I wanted to do was to become Crowley’s bitch.” Dean’s grip tightened, constricting her chest, and Alex gasped in surprise. “And yet somehow I’m still better than you. Look at you, a fucking demon, letting your brother think that you’re dead while you run around, what? Banging hookers and getting drunk? What I did, it’s nothing compared to what you are.”

“Shut up!” Dean’s shout made her flinch, but confidence rushed through her as she stubbornly held his gaze.

“No! You’ve been pushing me around for years, and you know what? I let you do it because you were right. Every hit, every shove, every sharp word was justified because I’d screwed up, and I knew it. You want to punch me because I sold my soul, lock me up? Fine by me — it’s nothing I wouldn’t have done myself. But this? This unwarranted bullying? I’m sick of it.”

She watched as Dean scoffed, and she reached up, burying her hands in his shirt, fingers clenching tight as she pushed back against his sturdy chest.

“You know why you really hate me, Dean? It’s because when you look at me, you only see yourself, and you hate it. That’s why Crowley put us together; we’re the same, you and I. Crowley once told me that all demons are built off one of the seven deadly sins. You and me, ours is anger. That’s all you feel right now, the foundation of all you’ll ever feel.” She drew in a deep breath against Dean’s tight grip. “You don’t know how to control it, not yet. And without me, you never will.”

Energy pulsed through her veins, a sudden rush of adrenaline, and the ex-angel shoved Dean, sending the demon reeling away. “So let’s get something straight, alright? You want to get pissed, take your anger out? You do it on them.” She flung her hand out towards the cabin as she stepped forward, her grey eyes flashing in the moonlight. “Not on me. You never take your anger out on your own team, you understand me, Winchester? I’m fucking tired of you pushing me around, using me like your personal punching bag. This stops now.”

Dean’s eyes blinked to green, but the snarl on his face didn’t fade.

“You hear me?” Alex’s voice grew, and another step brought her into his personal space, face inches from his. “You push me around, I put a bullet in your brain.”

“It won’t kill me.”

“No,” Alex agreed, “but trust me, it’ll fucking hurt. We clear?” Her grey eyes flickered, searching his for any sign of mutiny, but there was nothing. “Good.” She stepped away and retrieved her fallen weapon from the dirt. “Then let’s go.”

Chapter Text

November 10th, 2014
Beulah, North Dakota

The smell of alcohol and sex permeated the air. Alex’s fingers drummed impatiently on the greasy wooden table as she looked around the dim bar, grey eyes narrowed distastefully at what lay around her. Crowley sat at a table to her left, deep in conversation with two black-eyed demons, and the hunter cocked her head, trying to make out words, but the music drowned everything out, a raucous sound matched by an equally discordant voice. The lyrics were unclear, slurred and off-key, and the ex-angel’s eyes flickered up to the black screen behind the karaoke machine. I’m Too Sexy. It was hard to believe that the song could undergo an even worse rendition than the original, and yet, somehow, it had.

Dean stood up on the stage, a microphone in one hand, a beer in the other, completely oblivious to his audience’s discouraging gestures. “Turn it off!” a woman from the crowd yelled, but her jeering only spurred the demon to sing louder.

“Everybody!” he yelled, arms stretched wide, and Alex lifted her drink to her lips, welcoming the bitter burn. It was barely noon, but the hours were beginning to blur together; day or night, she was with Dean at the bar, drinking. She watched as the Winchester winked over at the waitress, and she turned to look back at Crowley, exasperation evident on her freckled face.

“Dean.” She crooked her finger, beckoning the demon over as the song finished, and the Winchester joined her at the table, his step arrogant yet dutiful. He sunk into his chair, one arm slung over the back as he set his beer down. “Having fun?” She watched as his gaze continued past her, landing on the blonde waitress, and she tapped her fingers on the table. “Hey. Dude.”

The Winchester shrugged, and a cocky grin spread across his face. “Not yet.” He got back to his feet and brushed past her, and Alex’s lips pursed together as he grabbed the bottle of whiskey that sat beside her half-empty glass on his way past. Today marked the end of the sixth week with the black-eyed Winchester, and while the two had started to fall into their roles, Dean still took any opportunity to make her babysitting job harder.

Alex turned back to Crowley, her nerves and the alcohol working together to bring a pout onto her face. “Can I go home yet?” She downed the rest of her drink before she slammed the glass down on the table, her pout maturing into a full-fledged frown. “It’s been almost two months; I think Dean’s going to fine without a leash.”

Crowley lifted a finger to his lips, and Alex reluctantly fell quiet. No answer came, and when King of Hell turned back to his compatriots, Alex let her eyes drift across the bar’s patrons in search of her charge. She caught a glimpse of plaid on its way towards the back door, and with a roll of her eyes, Alex pushed herself to her feet and followed.

The outside air was rank with exhaust, made worse by the putrid smell of alcohol and trash, but neither Dean nor the blonde waitress seemed to notice as they made their way across the street to the hotel where they had a room. Alex trailed behind them, eyes narrowing as she stepped out into the bright sunlight. The street was empty, surprisingly so for midday, but still she pulled her angel blade free from the back of her pants as she stepped forward, pebbles from the cracked pavement crunching beneath her feet.

Her phone rang, vibrating loudly within her pocket, and the ex-angel paused on far side of the road to answer it with a plummeting heart. “Hello, Sam.”

“Alex? Where are you?” The sound of a book slamming shut partially drowned out the Winchester’s voice, and Alex leaned up against a streetlight, twisting her weapon in her free hand.

“You know the rules,” she chastised, exasperation lining her tone. “I shouldn’t even be talking to you.”

“It’s been six weeks! You have to do something.” Sam’s voice grew quiet, and he added, “Have you spoken to Cas? I think — Alex, he’s getting worse.”

“Worse?” Concern sharpened Alex’s voice, and she looked up and down the street to make sure there was no one to overhear as she hissed out, “What do you mean by worse?”

“It’s his grace. I think it’s fading, and he’s fading with it.” There was the shuffle of papers as Sam cleared away some of his work, and Alex could hear the deep frown in his voice. “He’s been asking about you.”

“I can’t …” Alex ran a hand across her forehead, indecision battling in her soul. “All I can … shit. You think -- do you think it’s serious?”

“I don’t know. He won’t tell me, but from the way he sounds …” Sam trailed off, unable to bring himself to finish his thought, and after a second, he cleared his throat. “Look, Pip … I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do without your help. All I’m trying to do is help you and Dean, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah. Of course. I understand.” Alex looked back and forth across the street, and she dropped her voice into a low whisper. “Listen. All I can ... all I can tell you is that you should definitely not be tracing my call.” She pausing, waiting for Sam catch on before she sighed, doing her best to stall so the Winchester could pinpoint her location. “Sam, I ... I just want to come home.”

“Don’t worry.” Keys tapped on a keyboard, and in her mind, Alex could see the grin lighting up his face at the prospect of having a place. “We’ll get you out of there. Just answer me this.” His voice rose in anger, and Alex’s eyes flickered close. “Why — why does Crowley have one of his demons parading inside of Dean? Huh? Why?”

“I don’t know,” she lied. “I don’t know anything about that. You — you’d have to talk to Crowley. There’s only so much information I can pass off in ignorance. Listen, Sam. I-I really need to go. You good?” Alex hung up the moment Sam voiced his confirmation, and she shoved the phone deep into her pocket as she entered the hotel. Her feet carried her up the stairs to their room, and her fist pounded on the wooden door as she cleared her throat, chin lifting as she prepared herself for confrontation. “Dean!”

“What?” The door was flung open, and Alex lifted her chin, unfazed by Dean’s black eyes. “What do you want?”

“A chair.” Alex motioned to where the wooden chair sat in the corner of the room. “If I’m going to spend the next hour sitting outside your door, I’d like to have something to spend it upon.” She kept her eyes upwards, refusing to even give the Winchester the satisfaction of letting her gaze flicker down to his bare, toned chest.

She let her attention turn briefly to the woman in the bed before the flash of a chair in her periphery had her flinching away, barely avoiding the flying piece of furniture. “Hey!” she snapped, and her shoulders rolled back as she planted her hand against the door, refusing to let it shut. “Watch it, Winchester.”

“Get out of here.” The door slammed in her face, and Alex stuck out a tongue in a childish fashion before she stomped over to the fallen chair. Stupid Dean. Stupid demon. She placed the chair against the wall beside the door and took a seat, her body wincing internally as it recalled the familiar pain of a long night. Castiel? Alex lifted her head up towards the ceiling. Are you out there? Are you okay? She let out a small sigh as she settled down, arms wrapped protectively around her body as the human settled down for her watch. I’m going to find you soon, I promise. As soon as I can, I’ll come. I love you.

 

Footsteps echoed down the empty hallway, heavy and familiar, and Alex’s eyes flickered open in time to see Crowley appear in the corner of her eye. “Hey.” She pushed herself to her feet, dragging her hand through her hair as she rose to face the King of Hell. “You’re late.”

“I’ve been busy.” Crowley’s gaze flickered to the door before returning to her. “You’re still here, hmm?”

“Yeah. Old habits die hard.” Alex jerked a thumb towards the door. “They’re still in there — at least from what I heard five minutes ago, so …” She rubbed her eyes as the demon pushed open the door, and her fingers came up to massage her sore shoulders as she listened to the noises of protest from the other room.

Crowley stopped dead in his tracks, and the air crackled with displeasure. “ ‘Whoa?’ ” he repeated. “What’s going on here?”

“What does it look like?” came the response, the voice suave to overcome the original shock. Alex hung back, knowing the scene well: a naked Dean, an angry demon, a pointed conversation. And moment she stepped through that door, everything would immediately be directed at her.

“In my bed?” Crowley’s voice rose in exasperation, and Alex rolled her eyes at Dean’s unapologetic chuckle. “Jerk,” the demon muttered, and the Winchester retorted with a well-timed, “Bitch.”

“Get a room, you two.” The floor creaked as a woman stepped closer to Crowley, and Alex caught the sight of a flash of blonde hair.

“Had a room,” Crowley retorted, “until you two soiled it.”

He stepped aside so the waitress could step through, her brown eyes sparkling with amusement. “Love you, Crowley.”

“Love you more … sweetheart.”

“It’s Ann-Marie, jackass.” The blonde waitress flounced past the King of Hell, who watched her go with a small shake of his head.

His eyes met with Alex’s for a brief moment, and he muttered, “Knew that,” before he turned back to Dean. With the woman gone, Alex stepped forward, filling in the doorway as the King of Hell moved into the room, and she watched as Dean pulled on a black shirt and got out of bed. “Pants?” The demon’s line set into a thin line of frustration.

Dean rolled his eyes, but he crossed the room towards his bag. “What’s the plan for the rest of the day?” Alex asked, turning her attention up onto Crowley as the Winchester began to get dressed. “Wait, wait, let me guess — more beer and karaoke?”

Dean chuckled, but a glance up towards the King of Hell revealed his displeasure. “We’ve actually got a bit of a competition today,” he explained, and Dean paused from where he was buckling his belt, his interest piqued. “That is, if you’re feeling up to it. You’re welcome to watch,” he added down to Alex, and the ex-angel frowned.

“Great. Thanks, Crowley.” Alex stepped out of the room and, with a toss of her hair, she made her way down the hall and out through the exit. The air had a cold, crisp feel to it, a chilly reminder that winter was coming, and Alex suppressed a shiver as she crossed the street. The Black Spur stood across the street, dingy and forlorn, and the ex-angel dropped down onto the steps in front of it as she waited for her companions. Her phone hung heavily within her pocket, and Alex reached in to pull it out, her fingers dancing over the black screen as she formulated a text to her mate.

The presence of Crowley, however, had that idea immediately falling from her mind, and she hastily shoved her cell back into her pocket as she rose to her feet. She stepped aside as Crowley and Dean entered the bar, and after a beat, she followed.

The two demons had taken an interest the foosball table, and Alex eyed the two strangers that stood across from them -- they were Crowley’s companions from earlier without a doubt. “Best of three.” The King of Hell gripped the pegs tightly. “Losers buy the beer.”

“Lots of beer,” Dean added, and he beckoned Alex over with a crooked finger. “Keep an eye on these two.” He motioned to his competitors. “Make sure they don’t cheat.”

“I won’t take my eyes off of them.” Alex pulled up a chair and dropped down in it, gaze sweeping around the room. The bar was still bustling, and the voices drowned out the spinning metal rods and the clack of the plastic men with the worn ball.

“Girl seemed nice,” she heard Crowley begin as the game progressed, and Alex heard the foosball crash into the opposing goal. “Slightly damaged. I could see the old you falling for that.”

“Yeah, well, don’t worry,” came the response, Dean’s voice terse with concentration. “She means nothing.” He roughly turned his handle, sending the plastic men spinning in violent circles.

“Good, good. Cause you and I, we’re rolling stones. No distractions — Lock it down!” Crowley suddenly snapped, his voice rising in frustration. “Lock it down!”

“Stop talking,” Dean retorted, and Alex glanced over her shoulder to watch how his shoulders hunched, eyes locked onto the field below him.

“You’re bodging it!” The foosball clattered into their goal, and Crowley’s shoulders fell.

Dean spun the handle angrily. “Aw. If you’d shut up — keep talking —” He cut off, face twisted in frustration. “— I can’t play the game.” His eyes turned from the table up to the rest of the bar, and Alex followed his gaze over to the blonde waitress Ann Marie. She was arguing with a dark-haired man, trying to rip her hand out of his grasp, and Alex rose to her feet as the man suddenly pulled her after him out of the bar.

Dean stalked after them, pushing his way through the swinging door, and when Crowley followed with a curious hum, Alex did the same. Clearly some of the other patrons had the same idea, and Alex pushed her way through the gathering throng to stand at Crowley’s side. “Get off of me!” The waitress was insisting, fists balled as she ripped herself from the stranger’s grasp.

“Why are you doing this to me?” The man’s face was twisted in anger, and Alex stepped forward, ready to intervene, but she was stopped by a shake of Crowley’s head.

“You need to calm down.” Ann Marie insisted, but the man barely heard her. “Stop it!”

“Hey.” Dean pushed his way in between them, staring down at the man as he spoke back to the woman. “Is this him?”

“There a problem?” The man lifted his chin to try and match Dean’s height, and Alex watched as the Winchester’s fingers flexed before curling into a fist.

“Yeah. Are you Matt?” Dean didn’t wait for an answer before he lunged forward, pinning the man up against the hood of the car. His fist connected with the man’s nose, and Alex narrowed her eyes as blood poured forth. “You need to get away from here.” Dean punched him again, and then again, throwing an arm back to knock Ann Marie away as the waitress tried to pull him off. “Don’t try and contact her. In fact, don’t even think about her. You understand me?”

When the man uttered out a blood-soaked plea, Alex slipped under the demon’s arm, grey eyes narrowed, but a sharp word from Crowley had her freezing on the spot. “Don’t.” Crowley pointed back to his side, and the ex-angel’s eyes flashed with indecision as she looked between the two demons. Dean dropped Matt back against the hood, and the ex-angel felt relief spark through her chest to see that his chest was still moving, even if ever so slightly. She slunk back to Crowley’s side, teeth digging into her tongue to keep from snapping, and she felt the tips of her ears burn with embarrassment as several of the onlookers glanced her way. The Winchester stalked past her, shaking blood off of his hand, and Alex hesitated before a nod from the King of Hell had her reluctantly following.

“Hey.” She caught Dean by the arm, gaze steeling as the Winchester turned around to face her. “What was that all about?”

“What was what?” Dean’s eyes flickered back towards the door as Ann Marie reentered, and Alex squeezed his arm sharply to pull his attention back onto her. “What?”

“Dude. Remember? Punching the shit out of that weird guy? What the hell was that?” Dean yanked his arm free, and Alex crossed her arms in front of her as she glared up at the demon.

“That was me beating up some douche who didn’t know respect,” Dean retorted, and Alex watched as he spun around and stalked off towards the bar.

“Don’t worry about him.” Crowley stopped beside her, and Alex’s fingers curled frustratedly into her sleeves. “A few good flings here and there will keep the Mark sated.”

“Yeah, yeah. Fuck off.” Alex stormed away, irritation pricking beneath her skin. It was one thing for Dean to kill demons, but to beat up a human like that? Her fingers itched, and she looked down in surprise to see that they had curled into tight fists. Six weeks since she and Dean had hunted down those demons. Six weeks since she had been able to kill.

The ex-angel immediately shook the thought away, shoving her hands into her pockets as she looked around. A darkly dressed demon was standing by the entrance, a newcomer Alex didn’t recognize, and she followed his gaze across the room to rest on Dean. The man was a demo no doubt; the mix of surprise and anger on his face was evident of that.

She took a step towards him, ready for confrontation, but once again Crowley was there, a hand on her chest to keep her back. “Ah, ah,” he warned with a click of his tongue. “Let Dean deal with him.” The King of Hell turned his head to watch Dean Winchester, and Alex did the same, frowning at how the demon was eyeing the stranger carefully; somehow the look on his face made her gut twisted uncomfortably. However, she only gave Crowley a small nod before she backed off.

Dean Winchester rose to his feet and made his way towards the back door, and the stranger followed; with a low growl of frustration, Alex slipped into a chair. “Give me the strongest that you have.” She tapped the bar roughly with a finger, turning her back as her charge disappeared. One more kill for Dean. Still zero for Alex.

 

(A few days before)
Amherst Junction, Wisconsin

The Impala pulled up alongside a gas station just outside of town, and the engine died as Dean removed the key. “I’ll be right back.” The Winchester pulled a black hat down over his head as he threw open the door, and Alex frowned at the cold wind that cut through the cabin. “Stay here.” He got out, and Alex watched him go, lips pursed together at the sight of the First Blade outlined against the back of his shirt. Without much of a second thought, she undid her seatbelt and jumped out of the car. Dean didn't look back, and, with a shrug, she followed after him.

A car roared past, the tires squealing against the concrete, and the ex-angel cast a glance behind her with a deep-set frown. Something prickled at the back of her neck, a feeling of unease, and the young girl looked around; over the past few weeks, she had come to know that feeling well.

Demon.

Not Dean; she knew his coldness well, a never-ceasing chill in the pit of her stomach. And not Crowley either. It was someone new, someone else with evil intent. Alex pulled out her phone as she moved across the parking lot, opening up chat to text the King of Hell. Demons here. One of yours?

The response came almost immediately. Sent to kill. Let Dean do his job. After a second, Crowley added, Not a word.

Alex shoved her phone back into her pocket with a scowl, and she pushed her way into the gas station, brushing back her hair at the sudden rush of warm air. Her grey eyes swept the room in search of her charge, passing over the young, curly-haired attendant behind the counter. Dean stood at the far end of the shop, next to the magazine rack, and Alex’s scowl redoubled at the sight of the porn. Of course: demon or not, some things never changed. “Hey.” She crossed over to him, hands shoved into her pocket, and Dean looked up from beneath the brim of his baseball cap.

“I thought I told you to wait in the car.” The Winchester folded the magazine and placed it back on the shelf with a frown in her direction.

“And I thought I told you you’re not my boss.” Alex looked around the rest of the desolate gas station with a shrug. “What happened to getting gas? We’re supposed to be back in Beulah by the end of tonight.”

Her concern was met with a half-hearted shrug, and Dean reached for another magazine. “We’ll get back there eventually,” he promised, and his eyes flashed black as his gaze met hers.

Alex cast a look back at the attendant to make sure he wasn’t watching, and her lips set into a frown. “Crowley —” A bell tinkled as a patron entered, and Alex cut herself off with a hiss. “We don’t have time,” she finished in a low murmur.

Dean scoffed, and with a roll of her eyes Alex stalked away; if they weren’t in a hurry, then she was going to take the opportunity to find a meal for herself. She brushed past the newcomer, stifling a shudder as she did a double-take. Whoever that man was, he was definitely intended to be Dean’s next target.

The demon walked past her without giving her a second look, and Alex, heeding Crowley’s words, stepped aside and went on her way. She slipped off down the candy aisle, casting a glance back towards the two demons on her way. The stranger was meandering his way towards Dean, supposedly interested in the slushy machine, but Alex caught a flash of metal as a knife slipped down into his hands.

She frowned, but Dean didn’t seem to notice, his back to the demon in question. He tucked the magazine under his arm and stepped away, moving back towards Alex, and she watched as his fingers rolled up the magazine just as the demon launched himself forward.

Dean spun around, a hand going up to block the knife as he jammed the magazine into the demon’s chest, catching him by surprise. His fist connected with the stranger’s face, and the being stumbled backwards. He let out a stuttered curse of rage, and Dean grabbed the demon by the jacket and threw him into the metal shelves, sending Alex jumping away as its contents went everywhere. “Watch it!” she hissed, and she took the moment to smooth down her rumpled shirt. The demon’s knife flew from his hands, landing at Alex’s feet, and the ex-angel casually kicked it away.

Dean didn’t apologize as he whipped out the First Blade, and the demon screamed as the jawbone embedded itself into his chest. White light flashed in his eyes, but Dean didn’t stop, plunging the weapon again and again into the demon’s lifeless body.

“Dean.” Alex cast a look over at the gas station attendant, lips set in a tight line at the look of fear upon the young man’s face. “Dean. Stop. It’s time to go.” She circled around to put a hand on Dean’s shoulder, not flinching when the Winchester reared up in surprise. “It’s time to go,” she repeated. “He’s dead.”

Dean’s eyes flickered black before he blinked, and he straightened up without a word. Alex watched as the Winchester stalked out of the gas station, and she grabbed a bag of chips off of the floor before she hurried after him. She paused beside the counter and dug out some change from her pocket, dropping it onto the counter with a half-apologetic smile. “You can, uh — you can keep the change.” She looked back at the bleeding corpse, eyes dull and staring into nothing, and she added, “Sorry about that,” before she followed Dean back out of the gas station and into the car.

 

The motel door swung open as Dean stepped into the room, his shirt stained red with blood. Alex peered up over her laptop, lips set in a tight line as she watched the Winchester shrug off his jacket. “You’re back.” The ex-angel half-closed her laptop as she uncrossed her legs, eyes narrowed as she was ignored, but she kept her voice as tempered as she could. “Where’d you go?”

“Out. Just out.” Dean stripped off his shirt and tossed it away, and Alex rolled her eyes.

She opened her mouth to say more, but the Winchester had already grabbed his bag and was pushing his way into the bathroom. “Hey, don’t use up all the hot water ….” She trailed off as the door slammed behind him, and she leaned her head back to rest it against the headboard; it looked like she wasn’t going to be showering that night.

Her eyes flickered over to the other end of the room to watch as Crowley entered through the door, and she dug her teeth into her bottom lip to keep herself from snapping. “Hey,” she mumbled out, quickly moving to close the tabs that held all of Bobby’s research. “You’re back.”

“I saw Dean come in.” Crowley’s eyes narrowed briefly as he glanced towards the bathroom door. “How is he?”

“Alive.” Alex gave a half-shrug, and she burrowed further into the motel bed lest one of the men decide they wanted it for themselves. “That’s all I was able to discern before he locked himself up in there.” She jerked a thumb towards the bathroom with a scowl and another shrug. “Where were you? It was starting to get lonely here.”

“I had some business to take care of.” The demon’s phone rang, and Crowley’s eyes narrowed in confusion as he looked down at the caller ID. He pressed it up against his ear as he answered, and Alex’s own head tipped in surprise when the King of Hell’s lips pursed together. “Moose. Took you long enough.” His dark eyes flickered over to Alex, and the ex-angel shrugged. “Your brother and I were beginning to wonder if you’d hit another dog. You know?”

Alex dropped her gaze down to her laptop, ears strained to hear Sam’s reply, but without her grace, all she could hear were mumbled words. “Moose.” Crowley cut him off, amusement in his voice. “Moose. I’m afraid you haven’t allowed yourself to dream quite big enough here. Your brother is very much alive, courtesy of the Mark. And the only demonized soul inside of Dean is his and his alone. Wee bit more twisted, a little more mangled beyond human recognition, but I can assure you, all his. There, now, feel better.”

The water stopped, and Alex pushed herself out of bed, wary of what exactly Sam would say to the King of Hell. “My pet?” she heard him say, surprise lining his voice. “He’s my best friend, my partner in crime. They’ll write songs about us, graphic novels. ‘The Misadventures of Growley and Squirrel.’ Dean Winchester completes me, and that’s what makes you lose your chickens.”

Something Sam said must have given him pause, because Alex felt his gaze turn onto her. “Alex?” he repeated. “So you’ve heard. Yes, she’s here with me. Every dynamic duo needs a a female lead — comic relief, really.” His voice darkened as he added, “Why? What has she told you?”

Alex turned away, feet carrying her towards the small inline fridge that sat beside the tv, and she kept her head down, praying that Sam kept his mouth shut. The door opened and closed, and Alex glanced up to find that Crowley had stepped outside.

The shower door opened, and Dean stepped out, his towel wrapped loosely around his waist. “I thought I heard Crowley.”

“You did. He went back down to the bar.” Alex dug a sweatshirt out of her bag. “I’m guessing that’s where you’re off to once you’re dressed.” She heard Dean’s grunt of agreement, and she pulled on the thick, warm over-shirt. “Great. I’ll come with.”

“You don’t have to. Crowley removed that damn leash two weeks ago.”

“No,” Alex corrected crossly, “he lengthened it to a hundred feet, give or take. And I’m coming with because my one fucking job is to keep an eye on you. I don’t know what the hell you did to that guy who was tailing you, but I’m supposed to make sure that doesn’t happen to civilians.”

She expected Dean to snap, but no reply came. Unsure what else to do, the ex-angel shoved her phone into her pockets and stepped outside. She made her way down the hall and out into the street, shivering slightly at the chill in the air. With a glance over towards the Black Spur, she pulled out her phone and took a seat down on the curb.

The ex-angel dialed Castiel’s number and pressed the screen up against her ear, listening as it rung. Her foot tapped on the concrete as she waited, impatient, and when the other end clicked, she leaned forward. “Cas?”

Her inquiry was met with a dry cough, and Alex’s eyebrows knitted together in concern. “Alex?” Castiel cleared his throat, trying to chase away his illness, but his voice still sounded weak. “Is that you?”

“Yeah, it’s me.”Alex ducked her head, trying to hide the smile at the sound of his voice. “I’m not supposed to be talking to you, I just … I missed you. How are you doing?”

“I’m fine.” The seraph’s response was shaken by another stifled cough.

Alex frowned, but when Castiel made no efforts to correct his lie, she prompted, “Sam said that your grace was burning away. Don’t say it’s not,” she added when a noise of protest rumbled in his throat. “You don’t sound good at all. I — I promise you, I’ll be there as soon as I can. Once I can get away from here …” She trailed off with a sigh. “What are you up to? Getting some rest, I hope.”

“I’m in Michigan. There are two rogue angels who refuse to return to heaven. They killed the angel who tried to bring them back home.”

“Oh.” Alex’s face darkened. “Be careful — you’re not going after them alone, are you?” She leaned forward, reaching down to scoop up a small dark pebble before she tossed it further into the street as she waited for an answer.

“No. I’m here with Hannah. You remember her, I’m sure.”

“Uh, yeah. She’s the one who was always watching Ashiel.” Alex’s eyes narrowed, and her voice took on a half-teasing tone. “She’s smart. And pretty. If she tries to kiss you, I’ll kill her.”

Castiel chuckled, but it seemed hesitant, unsure of how serious the young hunter was being. It faded with another cough. “It’s Crowley that is keeping you where you are, isn’t it?” he finally asked. “I … I know you can’t say anything, but I talked with Sam. He saw you and Dean murder a man on a security tape in Wisconsin.”

I didn’t murder anyone,” Alex corrected sharply. “Strict hands-off policy by Crowley. And besides, it was a demon who Dean killed. Crowley —” She cut off as Dean Winchester brushed past her, giving her a sidelong look as he crossed the street. “Never mind. Listen, I should get going. I love you, alright?”

“Alright. I love you too. Hopefully, I’ll see you soon.”

“Soon can’t come soon enough.” Alex sighed as she hung up, and the ex-angel reluctantly pushed herself to her feet as she followed Dean across the road and into the club.

The air was thick and slimy with alcohol and sweat, and Alex wrinkled her nose at the sudden and pungent odor. As her eyes adjusted to the darkened interior, they came to rest on the stout, suited figure of the King of Hell, who sat by himself at the bar. He turned at their entrance, and a crooked finger beckoned Alex over.

The hunter crossed the room and hesitantly slid into the seat beside the demon, fingers drumming nervously on the wooden bar as she lifted her gaze to meet his eyes. “Hey,” she greeted, and the steadiness of her voice quelled her nervousness. “What did Sam want?”

“The usual. He’s dead set on getting his brother back. Seemed to think that I had one of my men possessing him.”

“Yeah, I heard that part.” Alex waved the bartender over before she added, “Okay? What else?”

“And he’s apparently figured out that I’ve been sending Abaddon’s old goons after Dean. Which means I need to come clean before Dean hears it from less reliable sources.” His gaze hardened, and he added, “And Sam mentioned that he’s on his way. Actually, he mentioned Beulah specifically by name.”

Alex gave a half-hearted shrug, fingers closing around the cold glass of her newly-poured drink. “Huh. I spoke to him yesterday,” she admitted. “Assbag must have traced my call.” She took a sip of the fiery liquid, hoping her insult to Sam’s name would quench however much of the King’s anger that the lie did not. “And no, don’t worry. I haven’t told Dean anything about the demons you sent him — I didn’t even know they were Abaddon’s until you mentioned it.”

“Hm.” The demon’s grunt sounded less than convinced, but he let the subject go. “And how much have you spoken to that playtoy of yours?”

Castiel.” The ex-angel’s grip tightened around her glass. “And he’s not doing well, not with his grace burning away.” She looked up, eyes hardening as she held the King of Hell’s gaze. “If things get worse, I’m going to him. Take my soul if you want, but I’m not going to let him die alone.”

She lifted her chin, waiting for a response, but Crowley merely shrugged. “And I suppose that your choice.” He turned away to wave Dean over to him, leaving Alex to watch him with a frown, unsure of his answer; was that affirmation or a thinly-veiled threat? “Dean. Sit down.” The King of Hell motioned to the seat beside him, and Alex took another sip of her drink as the Winchester sat down.

“What’s up?” Dean waved the bartender over, pointing to the bar in front of him, and an open beer was placed in his hands. His gaze flickered between Alex and Crowley, but the young hunter barely took notice, her mind still mulling over Crowley’s comment.

“I’ve got something to confess.” The King of Hell turned his brown eyes onto Dean, and the Winchester cocked an eyebrow. “You’re probably aware that certain members of Abaddon’s crew have put you at the top of their list.”

“Yeah.” Dean took a swig of his drink with a cocky grin. “They just can’t accept that the queen is dead and that I was the one who killed her.”

“Something like that. You see,” Crowley began, “that’s not exactly true. You and I, we had most of Abaddon’s most loyal sorted out within the month. What you’ve been dealing with are the groupies that defected back to me. I told them that, if they slay you, they get back into my good graces.”

Dean set down his beer, his voice growing sharp as he looked between Alex and the King of Hell. “You sent those demons to kill me?”

“To keep you sharp,” Crowley corrected.

“Really?”

The King frowned at Dean’s retort. “If it wasn’t for me throwing demon chum your way, what do you think would’ve happened?” he snapped. “The Mark needs to be sated. Otherwise —”

“Otherwise, I turn into a demon,” Dean finished. “Yeah, yeah. I sort of got that six weeks ago.” He brought his beer back up to his lips, and Alex chuckled under her breath at his quip.

Crowley shrugged, unaffected by the Winchester’s words. “Just trying to help.”

“You lied.”

“Who do you think you’re talking to here?” Crowley snorted in amusement at Dean’s innocent insistence. “Does the tin man have a sheet-metal willy? Of course I lied.” Alex pulled a face at the image described, but Dean just rose to his feet with a shake of his head.

“Hey.” Crowley’s voice grew sharp with authority as he reached out to stop the Winchester. “Sit down. Sit.” Dean only stared, and the demon shook his head. “I needed to keep you sharp for our future,” he explained, “about which we need to talk.”

“Our future?” Dean repeated, disbelief lining his voice.

“Our professional future. How to put this?” Crowley’s lips pursed tightly together. “If I have to spend one more night in this fetid petri dish of broken dreams and B.O., I will cut off my own face.”

“Amen,” Alex put in, leaning forward so she could look around the King of Hell. “This place fucking sucks, Dean. We’ve been in this particular bar for over a week. I’m done. I’m tired. Hell is better than this pit.”

Dean sank back down in this his chair, slamming his beer bottle onto the counter. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Cause I’m good.” His arms spread wide as he gestured the crowd around him before he swiped a hand through his hair, grown long from his time away from home. “Hell, I’m great.”

“Really?” Crowley’s eyebrow cocked in surprise. “How many suicide wings can you eat? How many one-hit wonders can you karaoke to death?”

Dean leaned forward, and his green eyes flashed angrily. “Okay, see, the deal was we howl at the moon — no time stamp, no expiration date.”

“We’ve howled. We’ve bayed.” Crowley shook his head, and Alex echoed his exasperation. “We’ve done extraordinary things to triplets, all of which have been massively entertaining. I will treasure our Flickr album forever. But now it’s time for us to accept what we are and go back to work.”

“Pass.” Dean started to rise to his feet, but Crowley reached out, a hand wrapping around his wrist in an iron grasp.

“Think of it — the King of Hell, Dean Winchester at his side. Together we rule. Together we create the perfect hell. And all of this that’s bloomed between us never ends. We’re not ending the party. We’re just moving it. Out with the club circuit, in with the stadium tour.” Dean hesitated, and after a moment of silence, Crowley added, “Oh. Did I forget to mention I spoke with Moose earlier?”

“What?”

“Yes. Uh, apparently, he’s been tracking us for some time now. No thanks to someone.” His words were accompanied by a glance over at Alex, but the young hunter merely rolled her eyes. “He got my text from the cell of that demon that you stabbed in blah ,blah, blah.” Crowley waved the details off. “It was — words were spoken — emotions. I realize, in retrospect, perhaps too many words, too many emotions.”

“He traced the cell.”

“He already knew our location.” Crowley’s voice was lined with frustration, and Alex slammed down the rest of her drink. “But, yes. I guess he’ll be here by morning — the latest.”

“You sold me out.” Dean’s eyes flashed black as he glared over at Alex, and the ex-angel steadily held his gaze before it turned back up to Crowley. “Well, that’s just lovely.”

The King of Hell shook his head at Dean’s outrage. “I don’t know what’s going on with you. I don’t. But I’ve had just about enough of it. Sold you out? Try doing you a favor. Everything I’ve done for you for the past six months — the Mark, the First Blade, midwifing you back to life, offering you a seat by my side — has been a favor, a gift, whether you see it or you don’t.” His eyes narrowed when Dean only scoffed, and he looked down at Alex. “Take Alex and take the night off. Decide. You know where to find me.”

Dean scoffed again, this time loudly as he rose to his feet, and Alex pushed herself off of the stool, ready to follow the Winchester wherever he might go. She took a step towards him, but Crowley reached out, catching her by the arm. “You’re not off the hook,” he warned, and for a moment, his voice took on a dark, sinister tone. “I know what you told Sam.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Alex ripped herself free from his hold. “I do have a question, though. In this hell that you’re planning — you, Dean your trusted second in command — where do I fit in?”

Crowley chuckled, and his glass clinked against his teeth as he took a sip. “You fit in wherever I tell you to. I don’t know what fantasies of authority Lucifer instilled in that head of yours, but to all of these demons here, you’re nothing more than pre-diabolic fodder.”

Alex’s eyes narrowed as she searched Crowley’s face for any sign of deception, but it held none. With a snort, she shoved her hands into her pockets and turned to go. “I’m looking forward to gutting you,” she reminded before she made her way after Dean.

She heard Crowley chuckle, his ice chinking against his glass. “Love you, too, kitten.” His voice faded as Alex stepped outside, swallowed up by the clamor of the patrons, and without a glance backwards, the young hunter made her way after Dean.

 

The Impala roared off down the street, engine revving as it sped past a darkened corn field. Alex sat in the front seat, her attention buried in her laptop as Dean drove them down the highway, their destination still unknown. He hadn’t spoken since leaving the Black Spur, and despite Alex’s multiple attempts at starting a conversation, eventually silence had prevailed. The ex-angel chanced a look over at the clock; they had been driving for over an hour, the car barreling down cold, deserted highways with no end in sight, and her stomach was starting to twist from the bumps and holes in the worn pavement. “Dean.” Her voice cracked slightly as she spoke, and she cleared her throat to strengthen it. “Where are we going?”

Dean didn’t answer, and Alex frowned. “What?” she snapped. “What’s your problem, you asshat? Are you mad at me?”

Dean still didn’t respond, and the young hunter slammed her laptop shut in frustration. She opened her mouth, but the ringing of her phone had her pausing in confusion. The screen on Dean’s cell, laying on the seat between them, lit up to display the name ‘Sam,’ and Alex’s eyebrows lifted in surprise.

The demon snatched up the phone, and Alex watched the frown that darkened his face before he finally answered. “I left you an open tab at the bar,” he announced. “Knock yourself out.” Whatever response he got, it wasn’t the one he was expecting, because surprise flashed momentarily across his face before it hardened once again. “And who is this?” He paused, listening, before his gaze flickered over to Alex. “On my brother’s phone?”

“What’s going on?” Alex spoke the words aloud, uncaring of who on the other line heard. “Where’s Sam?”

Dean’s lips twitched in displeasure at her outburst, but he refused to answer her question. “Is he dead?” he asked the person on the other line before adding after a moment, “And how do I know he’s still alive?”

“Dean.” Alex reached out to snatch the phone out of Dean’s hand, putting it on speaker phone and tossing it onto the dash between them. “Who the hell is this?” she snapped.

“Who the hell are you?” came the cold, foreign response. A noise came from the other end, and the voice grew sharp. “Speak.” No response came, and Alex’s lips twitched at the sound of a fist pounding against flesh. Sam cried out in alarm, and the voice was back. “Proof of life.”

“Dean!” Sam’s yell was faintly heard, and Alex leaned forward in her seat.

“What do you want?” she snapped. “Seriously,” she added to Dean. “Who the hell is this guy?”

“The old barn off of Highway 63 and Summit. As long as you show up where I tell you to show up, your brother will be just fine.”

“No, you listen to me.” Dean snatched up the phone, taking it off speaker and pressing it up against his ear. “There’s no trade. There’s no meet-up.” He ignored Alex’s surprise and indignation as he continued, “There’s no nothing — except the one hundred percent guarantee that, somewhere down the road, I will find you, and I will kill you. I told him to let me go. So whatever jam he’s in now, that’s his problem.”

There was a response, and Alex leaned close enough to hear, “I’ll be sure to pass that on to him as I’m slitting his throat.”

Dean only scoffed, unperturbed by the threat. “Yeah, you do that, cause he knows me. And he knows damn sure that if I am one thing, I am a man of my word.” He hung up and tossed the phone back onto the dash, and Alex stared at him, jaw agape. “What?”

“What?” Alex repeated scornfully. “You — you’re just going to drive away? Just like that?”

“Like I said. He’s not my problem anymore.” Dean shot her a glance as the ex-angel undid her seatbelt and shoved her laptop into her bag. “What are you doing?”

“I’m going after Sam.” Alex’s grey eyes flashed, and she lifted her head to meet Dean’s black gaze. “You might not be capable of caring about him, but I still am. He’s my charge, and family or not, it’s my job to take care of him.” She shoved her phone in alongside her computer before she wrapped her hand around the door handle. “Let me out.”

“You can’t go outside of a hundred feet from me,” Dean reminded, but the car slowed down nevertheless. “You won’t make it very far.”

“I can put up with the pain.” Alex threw open the door, and she stepped out onto the black pavement below. “I guess we’ll see who breaks first. See you around.” She slammed the door behind her, and the Impala sped off down the road.

Alex slung her backpack over her shoulder and started off in the opposite direction. She had barely gotten fifteen feet before she felt the leash tighten, a dark, choking feeling around her lungs. It was followed immediately by pain as she stepped outside of her limits, and the ex-angel grit her teeth at the shock that ran up her spine. Black spots flashed in front of her eyes, but she pushed herself onwards, one painful step in front of another. The world began to spin, her body growing weary under the continual strain, but Alex refused to stop. Sam was in trouble, and she needed to find him.

If only she had her wings.

Suddenly, the pain increased tenfold, a throbbing agony that shook her bones, and Alex’s legs wobbled beneath her. She fell to her knees, barely catching herself on the rough pavement with a gasp of surprise. Footsteps echoed through the night air, coming to stop in front of her, but the young hunter didn’t need to look up to know who it was. “Where are you going?”

Alex didn’t answer, and she felt dark energy swirl around her, forcing her up so she was kneeling at the King of Hell’s feet. “Fuck off,” she gasped, and she grit her teeth to find the strength to add, “I’m going to find Sam.”

“Sam, huh?” A hand came to rest on her head, finger tapping thoughtfully in her hair. “And why, pray tell, are you going to do that?” The hand slipped under her chin, lifting her head so Alex could look Crowley in the eyes. “Your job is Dean. Which means you stay with Dean until I say otherwise.”

“Sam’s in trouble.” Despite the pain, Alex forced herself to her feet, jaw clenched at the electricity running up and down her spine. “Someone’s going to kill him if I don’t get there first. Dean — it was Dean’s choice not to come with me, so go talk with him.” Her eyes flashed. “I’m his babysitter, so what I say goes.”

“Perhaps. But you’re the bottom in this relationship. And if I tell you to stay with Dean, then you stay with Dean.” Pain gripped Alex at his words, stronger and hotter than ever, and the ground pitched beneath her feet. The pavement collided with her shoulder as the ex-angel fell, and she grunted as the air was crushed from her lungs. “You think this is bad?” Crowley’s voice pierced through the plugged ringing in her hears. “Wait until you get to hell, little mouse. Keep this attitude up, you’ll be there before you know it.”

The world spun, vanishing into a crushing blackness, and then the pain was gone. The hard pavement was replaced by the cool leather of the Impala’s backseat, and Alex let her forehead press into the slick material, her shoulders slumping back. The car jolted forward, the demon no longer hindered by the leash, and Alex squeezed her eyes shut as they sped further and further away from Sam.

Chapter Text

November 12th, 2014
Langton, North Dakota

The room vibrated with the music, the hazy air shimmering with each pulse of the beat. Alex sat in the corner, light grey eyes glowing in the dim light. The strip club was half empty, with only a few patrons milling around the rundown bar, and Alex stifled a harsh cough when a man with a cigarette brushed by. Her eyes blinked at the acrid sting before once again settling on her charge.

Dean sat down at the front of the stage, eyes trained on the brunette in front of him, but Alex paid both the woman and the pole little attention. They had pulled into town around noon, and Dean had made a beeline for the doors before Alex could even think about stopping him.

That had been almost forty minutes ago. Now, Alex was almost at her wits end. She leaned back in her seat as a half-naked woman walked by, eyes narrowing in disgust at the baseness of the club. This was a den for demons. Not for angels.

“No touching.” The voice had Alex looking back towards Dean. The demon’s hand was extended, batted away by the dancer, and his eyes flashed in surprise. “House rules.”

“You sure about that?” Dean reached into his wallet and pulled out a bill, shaking it enticingly before placing it on the stage. He watched the woman, eyes unblinking as a smirk curled his lips upwards. “Go ahead,” he dared. “Pick it up.”

“And we’re done.” Disgust filled the woman’s voice, and she turned to go, but Dean was quicker.

His hand wrapped around her slim wrist, pulling her back. “Hey, hey, hey,” he protested smoothly. “Song’s not over, sweetheart.”

Alex pushed herself to her feet, ready to intervene, but the security guard was there first, harshly pulling Dean away with a dark frown. “Time to go, jerkwad,” he announced, and Alex pushed her way past one of the patrons on her way down to the impending skirmish.

The dancer screamed as Dean lashed out, breaking the guard’s nose and sending him stumbling back. Panic rushed through the club, spreading out like a tidal wave, and Alex ducked in between two fleeing strippers to make her way towards the demon. “Code red, Crowley,” she muttered, and then she lifted her voice above the chaos. “Dean!”

The Winchester didn’t stop his brutal assault, and the ex-angel reached out, grabbing a fist that was coming down to land another blow. She grunted under the impact, her arm aching at the strain to hold back the demon’s attack, but her actions were enough to at least give Dean pause, and he scowled down at her. “Get out of the way.” He dropped the near-unconscious man, and Alex watched with a frown as he hit the tile floor with a thud.

“Stop it, you child.” Alex let go when Dean ripped himself free of her hold, and she slipped forward, positioning herself between the demon and the bouncer. “He’s down, so that’s enough.” She watched how his fist tightened at his side, and she narrowed her eyes, wary at the possibility of another attack. “I think it’s time for you and I to leave,” she finished, chin lifted defiantly as she held Dean’s black glare.

She half-expected retaliation, but the demon merely turned up his nose and stalked away. Alex followed, not bothering to glance back at the bloody scene behind her. The door to the club closed behind her, and the ex-angel blinked at the sharp, cold sunlight. “Move, grandpa.” A teenage boy brushed past Dean, and his friends jeered alongside him.

Alex put a hand on Dean’s arm, jaw set tightly. “Don’t,” she warned as she felt the demon’s bicep contract beneath her fingers.

“Kids.” Crowley appeared before them, eyes following the teenagers as the disappeared around the corner. “Am I right? In my day, we respected our elders. Of course,” he mused, “back then, anyone over thirty was ancient. Now forty years olds are still living with mommy, lying on OkCupid, and taking pictures of their food.”

“What do you want, Crowley?” Dean’s voice was flat, unamused at the King of Hell’s sudden contemplations.

“A chat.” Crowley’s gaze turned down onto Alex, and the ex-angel gave a small, curt nod. “We need to talk about your … anger management issues.”

Dean followed the demon’s eyes down onto Alex, and his face darkened in a scowl. “What? So now you’ve been snitching on me?”

“He’s my boss,” Alex retorted coldly. “You’re just my hobby.” She nodded towards Crowley, adding, “There’s a bar two blocks down that we passed on the way in. I doubt we’d be welcome back there.” She jerked a thumb towards the club behind them, and Crowley hummed in understanding.

“Fine.” With a snap of his fingers, darkness surrounded them, and the ground pitched beneath the ex-angel’s feet. When it returned, it was the smooth tile floor of a bar, and Alex’s pupils dilated to let in the dim light. Dean and Crowley were already seated on their stools, and Alex cast a look around the clean establishment as she sat down next to the King of Hell; the wood beneath her hands was smooth and polished, free from grime; a welcome change from the past string of their recent stops.

“Two shots here.” Dean waved over the bartender before pointing to Crowley. “He’ll have something fancy, with your tiniest umbrella.”

“So,” Crowley began, ignoring the Winchester’s deriding joke, “how have you been feeling? On edge? Pent-up? Unfulfilled?”

Dean scoffed, green eyes rolling at the King of Hell’s question. “You sound like a Viagra commercial,” he retorted. “You know that, right?”

Alex watched as Crowley’s lips pursed. “This isn’t about … little Dean. It’s about the Mark.” His eyes flicked down towards Dean’s forearm, to where the Mark lay, shielded by his dark jacket. “It changed you.”

Dean blinked, and blackness slid over his eyes. “I’ve noticed.” Alex snorted, amused by the Winchester’s quip, and his eyes flashed back to green.

“And I know you want to keep the party going,” Crowley continued, ignoring the interruption. “You want to have fun, fun, fun till daddy takes the black eyes away. The fact is … you need to kill now. Not want to, not choose to — need to.”

Glass clinked as the bartender handed them their drinks with a quiet, “There you go.” He slid Crowley’s drink over to him, and the King of Hell frowned at the small, pink umbrella that decorated his drink.

“Face it, darling.” The demon turned back to Dean as his fingers closed around his glass. “You’re an addict. Death is your drug. And you’re gonna spend the rest of your life chasing that dragon.”

“So?” Dean slammed down one of his shots, his lack of denial as telling as any sort of confirmation.

“So … I’m here to facilitate.”

“You want me to kill for you.” Dean’s voice was flat, and he reached for his other shot, but Alex was faster, lifting it to her lips before the Winchester could stop her. She felt his glare upon her cheek, and she slid the empty glass back over to him with a half-suppressed smirk.

“I want you to kill for us.” Crowley’s words drew Dean’s attention back onto him. “Look … you’re going to snap eventually. The anger, the bloodlust is gonna build up in you until you can’t take it anymore, and then …” He trailed off, letting his companion fill in the blank. “So, the question is, do you want to spike a civilian or someone who has it coming?”

Silence followed his words, and Dean drummed his fingers on the bar for a moment before he begrudgingly asked, “Like who?”

“Like Mindy Morris. Caring mother … loving wife … cheating trollop. After her husband Lester discovered Mindy’s liaison amoureuse, heated words were exchanged. In the end, Mindy wanted a divorce … and fifty percent of everything. But Lester —”

“Lester would rather give up his soul than half his junk,” Dean finished in disgust.

Crowley gave a shrug, and he lifted his fruity drink to his lips. “We live in a very materialistic world. Mindy’s gonna die one way or another. Why not take the job — feed the beast?”

“Fine.” Dean’s jaw set, his frustration clear, but he gave in to Crowley’s offer. “One-time deal.” He pushed himself to his feet, running a hand through his hair. “Where is she?”

“Roosevelt, Montana. I’ll have one of my men send you the address. Oh, and one more thing.” Crowley's eyes sparkled, and Alex shifted in her seat, curious as to what else could have caught the demon's interest. "As you probably know, your brother has been looking for our scent for months. I, of course, had my demons stop dealing with him, but he's found a loophole. He's the one who told Lester to summon one of my men, and he's the one who was too late to stop Lester from making that deal."

"So?"

"So keep your head up. Who knows where that plaid-ridden neanderthal might be lurking." Crowley took a sip of his drink as Dean stalked away, and Alex rose to her feet, ready to follow. “Alex.” The King of Hell turned to face her, and Alex paused as his voice lowered so Dean couldn’t hear. “Make sure it gets done.”

“Yes, sir.” Alex gave a curt, professional dip of her head, and when Crowley turned away, she made her way out of the bar and after her charge.

 

Roosevelt, Montana

The sun had disappeared beneath the horizon when the Impala finally pulled up alongside the softly lit one story rambler. A red sedan was parked in the driveway, and Alex could make out a shape of a woman through the bright kitchen window. Her eyes followed it as they rolled past, and the engine died as Dean parked the car two houses down. “Alright, here’s the plan.” Dean threw open the door and got out, and Alex followed, tucking her gun into her pants as she half-listened to the Winchester’s idea. “Stay behind me, let me do all the work.”

“Yeah,” Alex retorted, “I thought that was the plan we already made.” She watched as Dean snorted, and she added scathingly, “But thanks for reminding me; I’d almost forgotten.”

“Shut up.”

Alex shoved her phone deep into her pocket as she followed Dean across the dark lawn. The kitchen light cast warm shadows on the ground, and Alex paused at the Winchester’s side to watch the blonde, busty woman move between the stove and the countertop. The woman didn’t seem to notice the two peering in through the glass, and Alex reached back to draw her gun. “Whenever you’re ready,” she ordered. “I’ll keep an eye out for any trouble from the neighbors.”

Dean grunted out his agreement, hand coming up to reach for his weapon, but the flashing of approaching headlights had both hunters pausing. A silver car rolled to a stop across the seat, and, while the engine died, the passenger stayed inside, causing Alex to cast Dean a small frown of confusion.

The demon beside her had let go of the First Blade, and he studied the car with a scowl before he stalked towards it, their target forgotten. Alex hurried after him as Dean crossed the street and threw open the passenger side door, disappearing into the car. The ex-angel hurriedly did the same, sliding into the backseat with balled fists as the driver let out an exclamation of surprise. “Let me guess,” Dean began. “Lester?”

“I …” The man looked between Alex, his brown eyes stretched wide. “Who are you?”

“Who do you think?” Dean blinked, and even in the darkness Alex could see the darkness sliding over his irises.

Lester’s own eyes stretched wide as he let out a noise of surprise and sudden understanding. “Ohh. You — you’re that — you’re here to —” He looked back at Alex, his eyes searching hers for any sign of the same inky blackness. “Are you one, too?”

“No. I’m an —” Alex cut herself off before she corrected, “I’m human. And you … what the hell are you doing here?”

“Well, my contact …” Lester cleared his throat, casting a glance towards the house as he hesitated. “Yeah, he, uh — he told me that, uh, this was happening, so I just wanted to come down and make sure it gets done right.”

“Hey, I, uh, I’m no expert here, but … ” Alex leaned forward, exchanging a frustrated glance with Dean, “But murder lesson number one? You don’t want to be anywhere nearby when the hitman comes to kill your wife, alright? Go to a bar. Visit a friend. It’s called an alibi.”

“Yeah, I know what an alibi is,” Lester retorted hotly, and his fingers came up to run down the sides of his mustache. “I watch ‘Franklin & Bash.’ ”

“Great,” Alex muttered, and Dean echoed her with a, “Super,” before adding, “Listen, you sold your soul for this crap, so —“

“It’s not crap.” Lester jumped to cut Dean off, and the demon’s eyes narrowed. “It’s my life. And she flushed it down the toilet.”

“Les … I’m gonna say something to you.” Dean’s fingers closed around the handle of the First Blade, and Alex placed a hand on his shoulder, shaking her head when he shot her a glance. “I need you to really listen to me.” The demon’s hand pulled away, and he turned in his seat to better face the man. “You’re a loser. Your lady in there — she’s a North Dakota eight. You’re a four and a half. Tops. Now, I don’t blame her for stepping out — especially if she found you were messing around first.”

“No. Oh, no. I-I wasn’t …” Lester trailed off, his face flushing slightly. “Uh — how do you know?”

“Well, you just got that, uh, pervy ‘I’d do anything to nail my secretary’ look,” Dean said, and Alex hummed out her agreement.

“Oh. No. T-That’s — it’s different when guys do it.” Lester’s face flushed again, and Alex drummed her fingers on the seat, drawing his attention onto her.

“Really?” she asked, and her grey eyes flashed in the darkness, amused at the weak plea. “Because last I checked, that, uh, was total bullshit.” She glanced over at Dean. “Back me up here.”

“No, it — it’s science,” Lester insisted. “Men aren’t built for monogamy … because evolution. We’re — we’re — we’re programmed, you know, to — to spread our seed—” He cut off in surprise as Dean’s fist flashed out, and his head jerked back at the force of the blow. “Ow!”

“Good one.” Alex leaned back in her seat, giving Dean a quick nod.

“Like I said,” Dean snapped. “Loser with a capital ‘L,’ rhymes with ‘you suck.’ ”

“Y-Yeah, well, you’re a punk-ass demon!” Lester’s voice rose angrily, and when his hand pulled away from his nose, it was red with blood. “And you work for me now! So get in there and do your job, you freak!”

His words struck a chord, and Dean’s eyes narrowed into chips of emerald ice. “And what are you gonna do?” he challenged “You gonna watch, huh? Is that what you like to do, Lester? Watch? Well watch this.” The First Blade plunged into the man’s chest, and Alex reached forward, trying to push Dean away, but her reaction was half-hearted; the man was already dead.

“You idiot.” Alex cast a disgusted look down at the corpse before she scowled over at Dean. “We were supposed to kill Mindy, not this asshole!”

“He deserved it.” Dean pushed his way out of the car, and Alex followed, her anger not dispersing despite the truth in his words.

“Yeah, but he wasn’t our target! Now the deal’s forfeit, and we don’t get his soul!” Alex shot a glance back towards the house where Mindy was, unaware of the events transpiring outside. “Now what do we do about her?”

“We walk away.” Dean stalked off towards the car, but Alex stood her ground, fists clenched.

“We’re here to do our job, Dean.” Her voice grew sharp, and Dean turned back to look at her. “If you’re not going to do it, then I’ll have to.”

“Fine.” Dean’s eyes flickered black. “Then go take care of it.”

Alex studied his face, surprised by the dare that sat in his gaze. “You’re really turning down the opportunity to kill?” she jeered. “Is that a hint of morality that I hear?” Dean’s only answer was a scowl, and the angel mimicked it before she forced a disinterested shrug. “Fine.” She reached into her jeans to pull out her gun “I promised Crowley that I’d get the job done, so if you don’t want to, then that’s your loss. Go wait in the car.”

She stalked away, not bothering to glance behind her to see if the Winchester was following. Stupid Winchester. This was his job, and he’s too stubborn to even do it.Her canvas shoes carried her across the lawn and up to the porch, and the angel scowled darkly as she heard the Impala door slam shut. Why can’t he see we’re were just trying to help? The door opened easily beneath her touch, the hinges creaking in slight protest as she slipped into the home. The warm smell of home-cooking reached her nose, and the ex-angel drew in a deep breath as she pulled back the hammer on her Colt. She’s dead meat anyways. Better I put her out of her misery now.

“Lester?” The exasperated voice came from the kitchen, and Alex crossed the hall in three quick steps. “Is that you? I told you not to —” Mindy’s eyes stretched wide at the sight of the hunter, and she took a step back, eyes focused on the gun. “You —”

Alex lifted her gun, finger closing around the trigger in one swift motion. The bullet left the chamber with a bang, and the ex-angel was turning away before the body even hit the ground. Cleaning up his messes once again. Typical. She tucked her weapon back into her jeans as she stepped out of the house, pausing only long enough to close the door behind her before she crossed the street and slide into the car. “There. Happy?” Alex reached for her seatbelt as the Impala roared to life. “You know, I’m not the one who needs to kill to be under control.”

“And I’m not the one who’s Crowley’s bitch.” Alex felt Dean’s gaze come to rest on the side of her face, and she purposefully kept her eyes trained on the road before them. “But yeah. I’m happy.” He reached over to turn up the music, and Alex rolled her eyes as the bass drowned out their conversation.

 

Beulah, North Dakota

Alex kicked the Impala door closed behind her, tugging her sweatshirt tighter around her thin frame as she made her way across the street. A bar stood in front of them, and, unlike the Black Spur across town, the was outside pleasant and unassuming, but the chill that prickled along her skin was evidence enough for the ex-angel to know what lay inside. She fell in step behind Dean as they entered, and she felt her angel blade shift slightly from where it rested at her side. There were voices, unrecognizable, and the ex-angel frowned as they made their way towards its source.

Two demons stood in the room, in the middle of some sort of presentation, and Alex lifted an eyebrow at the look of boredom that was written across the face of Crowley, who sat in the corner booth. He rose to his feet at their entrance, thankful and eager for their distraction. “Dean!” The demons parted as the Crowley sauntered forward. “How did it go?”

“Fine. Fine.” Dean gave a shrug. “Uh … he’s dead, and you’re right. I — I feel amazing.”

Crowley nodded, but something in Dean’s words gave him pause. “ ‘He?’ ” he repeated, and his gaze flickered down to Alex.

“He,” Alex confirmed with a scowl. “As in Lester.”

“The client?” Crowley’s mouth was agape as he turned back to Dean, and anger twisted his voice. “You killed the client?”

“Does it matter?” Dean shrugged again, unperturbed by the King of Hell’s rage. “He was a douche. Now he’s a dead douche.”

“Of course it matters!” The King of Hell almost spluttered the words, and his cheeks flushed red with fury. “The deal was one dead wife for one soul. The wife’s not dead, I don’t get the soul. It’s math.”

“Well, the wife is dead if that helps at all,” Alex put in, and she ignored Dean’s scoff. “So, I mean, the job did get done. No thanks to you.” She shot the Winchester a dark glare. “Some demon he is — he can’t even off one whore.”

“And you still call yourself an angel,” Dean shot back. “Pathetic.”

“You.” Crowley’s finger pointed in Alex’s direction, and the ex-angel lifted her head as she purposefully ignored the Winchester’s retort. “Consider yourself promoted. As for you …” His eyes flickered back to Dean, but the demon had already turned to go. “Hey!” he snapped, and Alex shifted out of the way as the King of Hell reached forward to stop the Winchester. “Don’t turn your back on me!”

Dean spun back around, his eyes coal black, and he shoved Crowley away, sending him sprawling across the floor. Alex jumped away as he hit the ground at her feet, and she turned onto Dean with narrowed grey eyes. “Hey!” she snapped. “What’s your problem, you asshole?” Her head snapped over to one of Crowley’s henchmen, lips pursed as she searched for the source of a low chuckle. “Is something funny?”

The two demons quickly shook their head, and Crowley pushed himself to his feet, brushing the dust off of his suit to regain some of his composure. “Good.” He glared over at Dean, bristling as he snapped, “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Oh, whatever I want.” Dean’s eyes flickered back to green as he smirked, and Alex’s hand came back to draw her weapon, ready for a fight.

Crowley extended a hand, a small and silent command for her to hold her ground. “Really?” he taunted. “Because I think you don’t know what you want. Tell me, Dean — what are you? A demon? If so, why couldn’t you bring yourself to kill Lester’s wife? Did you feel sorry for her? So maybe you’re human. Except you have those pretty black peepers and you’re working alongside me. Why don’t you do us all a great big favor and pick a bloody side!”

The King of Hell’s voice boomed throughout the small bar, and Alex lifted her chin as Dean’s gaze swept across them. “Or what?” he challenged. “Hmm? Go ahead. Make a move. See how it ends.” His fists clenched at his side, but no one moved. “I ain’t your fucking bestie, and I ain’t taking orders from you. When I need to kill, I’ll call. Until then, stay out of my way.”

Alex shot Crowley a glance out of the corner of her eye, unsure of how the demon was going to take command of the situation. To her surprise, however, the King of Hell merely shrugged. “Fine. It’s over. What can I say?” His eyes slid over to Alex. “Crazy ones — well, they’re good for a fling, but they’re not relationship material.”

Alex grunted, unsure what response he was looking for, and Dean’s frown deepened. “Are you done?” he demanded.

We’re done. You know what, Dean? It’s not me. It’s you.” Crowley lifted his chin, and after a second of silence, Dean stalked out of the bar. Alex watched him go, unsure what to do, and the moment he was out of sight, she took a hesitant step after him. “Ah.” Crowley’s voice had her stopping, and Alex turned in confusion. “We don’t need him anymore.” The demon’s fingers snapped, and Alex felt the coldness lifted from her skin as he removed the demonic chain between her and her charge.

“Great.” Alex frowned as she heard the Impala roar to life, and she turned to watch the car tear off down the street. “So … now what? Because I have a mate I should get back to.”

“All in due time. First, you’re going to come with me.” Crowley snapped his fingers, and a clammy darkness encircled her, her stomach roiling as the ground shifted beneath her feet. “Hello, Bullwinkle.” The light returned as the King of Hell spoke, and Alex blinked until her eyes adjusted. They were outside, standing beside a motel. “You miss me?”

"So much." Sam's voice was scathing, but it cut off as hazel eyes met grey. "Alex? What?"

The ex-angel lips twitched upwards in a brief, half-hearted smile of acknowledgement. "You're here for Dean," Crowley continued. We're here to give him to you." He ignored Sam's noise of surprise as he explained, "The little prat's bad for business. He's … uncontrollable. Must be the Mark. Anyways, Dean's your problem now — again, forever."

"Then where is he?" Sam's voice rose in desperation, and Alex opened her mouth, ready to respond, but Crowley held out a hand to keep her quiet.

"First," he began, "there's a small matter of my finder's fee."

"Alex." Sam's gaze turned onto her. "Where is he?"

Alex glanced over at Crowley, and the demon clicked his tongue. "She won't tell you anything until I say so. You see, Moose, we've finally reached an understanding, her and I. If I want something done, she does it, no questions asked. In return, I give her what she's always wanted; a guiding hand, firm discipline. A structured upbringing goes a long way."

Alex scoffed, eyes rolling at his words, but she held her tongue from a strong retort. "Just tell him what you want," she said instead, impatience sharpening her voice.

"I want the First Blade." Crowley ignored her pointed words. He watched as Sam's eyebrows lifted in surprise, and he added, "Trust me. This is in the interest of both of us. The sooner we separate the Mark from the Blade, the better off we will all be."

Apprehension danced in the Winchester's hazel eyes, but after barely a second, he nodded. "Okay, fine. Where is Dean?"

"He's headed back at the Black Spur." Crowley motioned over to Alex. "She'll take you there. Harvey is there with him," he told the ex-angel, and Alex blinked to show that she understood. "I'll see the both of you afterwards."

The King of Hell disappeared, and Alex finally turned her full attention onto Sam. "So, uh, hey," she began, and her gaze flickered down to the black sling around his right arm. "What happened to you?"

"Demon." Sam shrugged her question off. "Dislocated it when Cas and I were questioning him about Dean. The thing got loose and …" He trailed off, ending in another shrug, and Alex frowned. "Hey. Come here.” He held out his good hand, and Alex stepped into him, pressing her cheek into his chest as she wrapped her arms tightly around the Winchester. “How have you been?"

"About as good as anyone working for Crowley can be, I guess." Alex stepped back and followed Sam down to a silver Honda, and she slid into the passenger seat. "I've been with Dean the whole time — literally the whole time. Crowley had a leash on us. We couldn't go outside of like fifty feet of each other. He only took it off a few minutes ago when he and Dean broke up." She slammed the door closed behind her as the car came to life. "Uh, the bar's just down the street a couple blocks. How's Cas?"

"I don't know." Sam guided the old car down the road, his tone troubled. "I haven't seen him since my shoulder was busted. I think … I think he blames himself for it."

"I talked to him a bit a few days ago," Alex admitted. "He said that he was working with heaven to track down some rogue angels or something. Left up here," she added as she pointed down the road. "It'll be on your right." Her fingers drummed on her thigh, and after a second she hurriedly asked, "Sorry, but I-I need to know. This guy called us, said he was going to kill you —"

"You mean Cole." Sam's face darkened at the memory. "Yeah. Apparently Dean killed his dad a decade ago — guy must have been a monster of some sorts. Cole was looking for revenge." His good hand came up for a moment to touch the side of his face, drawing Alex's attention to the dark purple bruising around his eyes. "I'm lucky I got out alive."

"Yeah. I'm sorry we couldn't come. I-I tried to convince Dean, but he wouldn't have anything to do with it, and when I tried to leave on my own …" She shook her head with a sigh. "I'm glad you're okay."

"It's fine. The important thing is that we find Dean." The silver car pulled up alongside the bar, and Alex climbed out, ignoring how her skin prickled at the feeling of demons. She reached back to make sure that her angel blade was still at her side, and with one last glance up at Sam, she followed the Winchester through the front door.

Dean sat off to their right, the a glass of tequila resting on the top of the piano as the demon sat upon the bench, fingers resting on the old ivory keys. "Hiya, Sam." He spoke without looking up, and Alex watched as he placed the First Blade on top of the piano. His eyes lifted, turning to the man behind the bar, and he said, "Hey, Harve, why don't you go grab a smoke?"

The demon nodded in acquiescence, and he hurried away, pausing only briefly to mutter out a low greeting to Alex. "Hey, Harvey," Alex echoed back, and she watched the bartender disappear before she turned back to Dean.

The Winchester's eyes had fallen onto her. "Should have figured you'd be back." His eyes flashed black before his gaze moved onto his brother, focusing on the black sling around his arm. "Who winged you?"

"Does it matter?" Sam's retort was sharp, but Alex could hear the note of apprehension in his tone.

"Not really." The demon's fingers tightened around the First Blade, his green eyes darkening as he picked up his drink. "I told you to let me go."

His brother shook his head, shifting nervously as he watched his brother take a sip of his drink. "You know I can't do that. By the way, your, uh, pal Crowley … sold you out."

Dean grunted. "Sounds like him." He nodded towards Alex, and the ex-angel lifted her head. "She wouldn't be here unless Crowley was behind it." He rose to his feet, the First Blade held tightly in his hands.

Sam's good hand went out, shifting to keep his brother back, and Alex's weapon was drawn within the second. "Dean, hold on a second," Sam started, and his voice trembled slightly in surprise and fear before it steadied. "You don't have to do this. Look, we know how to cure demons. You remember that?"

Dean walked past them, his eyes coming to rest on Alex's angel blade before he continued onto the bar. "You gonna stab me, Pipsqueak?" he challenged, and the ex-angel's eyes narrowed scornfully at the touch of dry humor in his voice. "After everything we did?"

"Crowley took off the leash," Alex retorted. "My new job's to either bring you in or put you down. Whichever is easier, I suppose."

Her words only seemed to fuel the demon's amusement, and he chuckled before his eyes turned back onto Sam. "Yeah, I remember," he began, addressing his brother's question. "Little Latin, a lot of blood. It rings a bell." He turned back to the bar as he searched for a bottle of liquor. "Did you ever stop to think that if I wanted to be cured, I wouldn't have bailed?"

"That was Crowley."

"It really wasn't." A smile flickered across Dean's face as he refilled his drink.

Sam's confidence faltered, and Alex felt his gaze come to rest on the side of her face. "I-It doesn't matter, alright?" he finally said, and he stepped past Alex to move towards his brother. "Cause whatever went down, whatever happened, we will fix it."

"We will?" Dean eyes narrowed as he leaned against the bar, carefully watching Sam's approach. "Cause right now, I'm doing all I can not to come over there and rip your throat out … with my teeth." His eyes flashed, and Alex slipped forward, silent as a mouse, to stand between the two Winchesters. "I'm giving you a chance, Sam," the demon warned. "You should take it."

"I'm gonna have to pass."

Dean slammed down his drink and poured himself another with a small shake of his head. "Well, I'm not walking out that door with you. I'm just not. So, what are you gonna do? Are you gonna kill me?"

"No."

"Why?" Dean straightened up, and for a brief second, his face grew serious. "You don't know the things I've done. I might have it coming." His arms stretched out, a challenge for Sam to make the first move, but his brother merely shook his head.

"Well, I don't care." Sam's voice caught in his throat, and he stepped past Alex, his hazel eyes watering as he pleaded with Dean. "Because you are my brother. And I'm here to take you home."

Dean hummed as he sipped his drink, and his eyes sparkled as he chuckled under his breath. " 'You're my brother, and I'm here to take you home,' " he mocked as he went to refill his glass once again, and his chuckle grew into a full-fledged laugh. "Yeah, what is this, a Lifetime movie? Huh? With your puppy-dog eyes?" He motioned towards his brother with his glass as he deridingly shook his head. "Oh, thanks, Sammy. I needed that."

Sam shifted, hurt by his brother's scorn, and he silently reached for his back pockets. Chains clinked as he pulled out the sigil-etched handcuffs, and he held them out towards his brother.

The amusement fell away from Dean's face, replaced with a cold challenge. "You really think those are gonna work?"

"There's one way to find out." Sam stepped forward, and Alex opened her mouth, ready to intervene before Sam got in over his head, but the sound of shattering glass had her immediately flinching away, weapon flashing in the light as she spun towards it source. Something metal flew through the air, and the moment that it hit the ground, smoke poured forth. The acrid smog stung at her airways, and Alex coughed, weapon falling from her grasp as her hands went up to cover her nose. Sam wheezed beside her, leaving only Dean unaffected by the gas, and Alex shoved the younger Winchester towards the back door before stumbling after him.

She felt Dean brush past her, making his way towards the other exit, and the ex-angel hesitated, unsure who to follow. Through the smoke she could see that Sam had made it outside, and, after drawing in one last painful breath, she staggered back after Dean.

She emerged through a side door, tears stinging her eyes as she coughed violently. The sound of a thud and a grunt had her looking up just in time to watch Sam fall to the ground, his head bouncing against the concrete as he was knocked unconscious. A man shook out his fist as he turned to face them, and in one swift motion, Alex had drawn her own gun to match the stranger's weapons.

Blue eyes flashed across them, coming to rest on Dean, and they lit up in recognition. "Wow it's really you."

Alex cocked her weapon with a loud click, but Dean shook his head, a silent gesture for her to stand down. "We met?" he asked, and Alex slowly lowered her gun, taking in the stranger's appearance. Tall, broad, dark hair and blue eyes. Completely unfamiliar.

A gun holster was strapped around his leg, and a sheathed knife hung at his side; whoever he was, he was well armed. "Talked on the phone," came the response, and his finger wrapped itself around the trigger with a practiced ease.

"Right. Right." Dean nodded as he placed the voice. "You’re the guy who's supposed to put a bullet in Sammy's head." His eyes sparkled with amusement as he looked over at his unconscious brother. "Did you miss?"

"Well, I had a better idea." Cole stepped towards them, gun pointed at Dean's chest. "I figure if I let your bro escape, he'd go running to you, and all I had to do was just tag along. And now here we are, finally — Dean Winchester."

The man walked forward, gun raised, but Dean merely shook his head. "Great. A groupie." He moved with the man, the two circling each other slowly, and Alex reluctantly stepped aside, pocketing her gun as she made her way towards where Sam was laying.

"Stay where you are," came the command, and Alex paused, turning back to watch Cole's gun swing to her before it turned back onto Dean. "You remember me?"

"Yeah, yeah. You're that guy from that thing." Dean rolled his eyes at the stupid question, huffing out his amusement.

"Nyack, New York, June 21st, 2003."

"That supposed to ring a bell?" Dean's gaze flickered over to Alex, eyebrows lifted in surprise, and the ex-angel gave a shrug; that date was well before her time.

It was the night you gutted and murdered a man by the name of Edward Trenton." Anger shok the man's voice as he took a step towards Dean. "He was my father."

"Okay."

"Okay?" Cole's blue eyes flashed in surprise, unsure what to make of the Winchester's response.

"Well, hey, I'm not saying I didn't slice and dice your old man. I'm just saying that he wasn't the first, and he certainly wasn't he last, and they all just kind of get blended up." Dean shrugged, and Alex couldn't help but add her own reluctant grunt of agreement to back up his statement.

"I saw you .. That night … after. You let me live." Cole's voice shook with rage, and Alex took another step back towards the still-unconscious Sam. "That was dumb — real dumb. I spent half my life training for this moment. I've played out this fight a thousand times in my head. And I know all about you, Dean. And you're good. Oh, you're real good. But you see, I'm better."

"Prove it." Dean spread his out his arms. "Take a shot."

Cole shook his head, and Alex watched as he holstered his gun. "Now, that's not payback." He pulled out a long, double-edged knife, twisting it in his hands as he growled out, "This is payback."

The man lunged at Dean, and Alex slipped around the corner to where Sam lay, ignoring the fight behind her; Cole didn't stand a chance on his own. "Sam." She whispered out the hunter's name as she shook his shoulder, feeling for a pulse before she hissed his name again. "Get up."

"You know," she heard Dean taunt, "and I'm just spitballing here, but, uh, maybe … you're not as good as you think you are." She heard the sound of a punch landing, followed by Dean's exclamation of surprise. "Oh! You know Kung Fu?"

"I know everything." The scuffle continued, and Alex pulled her shirt up over her nose as she slipped back into the building. Her eyes narrowed against the gas, which, while already beginning to disperse, still burned at her eyes. Her angel blade lay on the floor, the handcuffs just beyond, and the ex-angel grabbed both of them before she hurried back outside, coughing as she drew in a lungful of fresh air.

Sam was stirring, his eyes flickering open, and Alex dropped back down by his side as she reached out to help him sit up. "Cole," she explained, jerking a head off towards where the two men were still fighting. "He's got Dean distracted." She pressed the handcuffs into his hand before she pushed herself to her feet. "We don't have much time."

"What did you think was gonna happen, huh?" Alex circled back around the alley to find Dean facing Cole, arms spread out as he stared down at the man. "You just stroll up here and say 'my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die,’ and I'd just roll over? Well, that's just — it makes me sad." He leaned down, jeering in Cole's face, and in his confidence he didn't see the flash of the knife until it was too late. The knife slashed down his cheek, cutting through the flesh, and Dean's eyes flashed in rage as he hauled Cole to his feet.

He pinned the man up against a car, a hand gripping his throat. You have no idea what you walked into here, do you?" he asked, his wound healing as he spoke. "None."

"What are you?" Cole gasped out the word from around Dean's hand, and the Winchester's eyes flashed coal black.

"I'’m a demon." He reached back to draw the First Blade, pressing the ancient teeth against Cole's pale neck. Alex waved Sam to his feet, urgency fueling her actions as she slunk forward, circling around to the other side.

"Do it!" The man hissed out the words, his eyes flashing as he held Dean's black gaze. "You said if you saw me, you would kill me, so do it!"

Dean's gaze searched his face, and after a second, the demon stepped away. "I guess I changed my mind." He let Cole go, and the man slumped to the ground, gasping for air.

Alex watched as Sam approached from the other side, and, when the tall hunter nodded, she lifted her voice to draw the demon's attention to her. "Hey!" she yelled. "Dean!" Dean's attention snapped onto her, and Sam sprung into action. Holy water flew through the air, burning at Dean's skin, and the demon flinched away with a roar of surprise. Sam jumped forward, and so did Alex, restraining Dean as Sam snapped the etched-handcuffs around his wrist. Dean struggled, desperate to get away, and Alex barely ducked in time as his head whipped around, chin nearly colliding with her skull.

"Stop!" Sam yelled, and Alex staggered back to regain her footing. "It's over! It's over!" The First Blade fell from his hands, and Sam kicked towards Alex. The ex-angel scooped it up, and Dean's green eyes flashed in rage, but his struggles stopped until only the straining of his neck showed his fury. "Get Crowley over here," Sam ordered, and Alex nodded her head. "I'll get him into the car."

"Sure thing. The Impala should be parked over there." Alex pointed off towards the side parking lot, and she stepped aside as Sam led Dean off towards the car. Her eyes turned down to the First Blade, lips pursed as her gaze slid from the bone down to Cole. "Get lost," she advised as the man scrambled to his feet. "You have no idea how lucky you are." She watched the man limp away before she pulled her phone out of her pocket. The cell rang as she made her way after the brothers, and after a second or two, it clicked. "Crowley." Alex stepped out of the alley. "We got Dean and the First Blade. Come by when you're ready."

The King of Hell was standing in the parking lot as she turned the corner, and Alex pocketed her phone and she crossed over to the Impala. Dean was sitting inside, glowering at her from the backseat, but Alex barely spared him a glance as she stopped by Sam's side. Crowley's hand was outstretched, and, without a moment of hesitation, Alex handed over the weapon. "Pleasure doing business with you." Crowley's fingers tightened around the Blade, and his eyes flickered back to Dean.

"What are you going to do with it?"

The demon shrugged at Sam's words. "Toss it in a volcano, leave it on the Moon. I'll get creative. Believe me," he added, brown eyes turning onto Sam, "I don't want Dean getting his hands on the precious any more than you do. Your brother knows that I ratted. He tends to hold a grudge. I don't want to get … boned."

Sam nodded, reluctantly having to agree with the King of Hell's decision, but he warned, "This doesn't make us square. If I see you again —"

"Oh, stop it, Samantha. No one likes a tease." Crowley turned to Alex, and the young hunter lifted her eyebrows, curious as to what the demon wanted her to do. "You wanted to take a vacation? Fine. I'll call you when I need you."

Alex nodded, and Crowley disappeared.

 

The Impala roared off down the road, its headlights cutting through the dark air. Alex sat in the front seat, legs drawn up under her as she watched the road ahead, fingers drumming lightly on the handle of her angel blade. A glance in the mirror showed Dean, still in the back, still unmoving. He was staring straight ahead, his face frozen in disgust. Sam was beside her, his attention, like Alex's, divided between the road and the demon. "This thing is filthy," he finally said, and Alex muttered out her agreement as she glanced down towards the mess of wrappers on the floor.

Dean scoffed, and his eyes flashed in the gathering darkness. "It's just a car, Sam."

" 'It's just a car.' " Sam repeated the words, foul on his tongue, and he met his brother's gaze through the rearview mirror. "Wow. You really have gone dark."

Dean smirked, and his teeth flashed. "You have no idea."

Sam glanced at Alex, and the angel shrugged, unsure what to say, and the hunter’s hazel eyes hardened as he glanced back at his brother. "You know what, Dean? I saw what happened back there. You could have killed that guy, and you didn't. You took mercy on him."

"You call that mercy?" Darkness crept into the Winchester's voice, mixed with cold pleasure. "Imagine you spend your whole life hunting down the guy that knifed your father. When you finally find him … he whips you like a dog.” He chuckled at the memory, and the handcuffs clinked as he once again tested his bonds. “How do you think that feels? That kid's gonna spend his whole life knowing that he had his shot and that he couldn't beat me. That ain't mercy. That's the worst thing that I could have done to him." The demon smirked, and Alex's fingers closed around the handle of her blade as he continued, "And what I'm gonna do to you, Sammy … well, that ain't gonna be mercy, either."

"You're not going to do anything to him." Alex's own voice was cold as she rose to meet Dean's unspoken challenge. "I'm not going to let you."

"Right. Because I'm the monster, and you're the hero." Dean's head turned to meet her stare. "And let me guess; you haven't told Sam anything about these past six weeks. The things you've done —"

"I didn't have a choice. Crowley told me to do things, and I did them. It was as simple as that."

Her harsh words didn't slow the Winchester down. "I watched you kill Mindy Morris last night," he reminded. "Let me guess — you didn't even bat an eye, did you? She wasn't a demon, Sammy." His voice rose, loud enough for his brother to hear. "See, her husband made a deal to have her killed. I killed the son of a bitch, but Alex? She put that woman down with no remorse. Isn't that right?"

Alex didn't respond, and her fingers flexed around her weapon as she glared out at the road.

"See, I kill because I have to. The Mark makes me <crave it. But you? You just do it … why, again? Because it's fun? Because it makes the rage inside you burn a little bit less? So who’s the real monster here?"

"Are you done talking?"Alex's head whipped around, grey eyes flashing in the dim light as she glared back at the demon. "I killed because I had to, nothing more, nothing less. We clear?"

She turned back around, shoulders rolling back, but Dean wasn't finished. "No, no. When I killed Lester, we had already lost that job. You and I both knew Crowley was going to get that soul, which means you didn't have to kill her. You —"

Alex spun around, and her fist pounded into Dean's face. Satisfaction rushed through her at the sound of his nose breaking, and the demon yanked his head back with growl of surprise and pain. The injury healed almost instantly, but her point was made.

"Hey, hey!" The car swerved as Sam jumped in surprise, and Alex turned back to face the road with a glower. "Whoa! Just ignore him, okay? He's just trying to get a rise out of you."

"Yeah, well, he’s had that coming for weeks." Alex sunk down in her seat, scowling as she returned her weapon to her lap. "Let's just get him back to the bunker and fix him up. The sooner we get rid of those black eyes, the better."

Chapter Text

November 17th, 2014
Lebanon, Kansas

Alex stepped out of the kitchen, taking a sip of her beer as she looked up and down the bunker hallways. It was empty, the walls and floor as pristine as ever, and the ex-angel drew in a deep breath as she made her way towards the library. There was something comforting about how the bunker hadn't changed; even the air had the same, slightly musty tang. The library tables were as they had always been, filled with books from Sam's research, and the neat stack extended even as far as the war room.

The ex-angel brushed past the Winchester's work as she crossed over to the hall that led to the bedrooms, and she took a long swig of her drink as she tipped her head, listening for any signs of life before she crossed into her bedroom.

The room was dark and completely untouched; her bag still lay unpacked on the floor, exactly where it had been two months ago, and the ex-angel sat down on her bed, hand slipping under her pillow to pull out the manilla folder that had belonged to Bobby Singer. The files were just as she had left them, and Alex dragged her fingers down along the edge of the crumpled note.

She was shaken from her thoughts by the sound of the bunker door opening, and Alex hurried out of her room towards it source. "Sam?" She finished off the last of her drink and set it on the library table as her eyes turned towards the bunker entrance. The Winchester was making his way down the staircase, a cooler gripped tightly in his injured hand. Alex moved forward to take it away from him. "Here. Let me take that."

"Thanks. How is he?"

"Alive, last I checked. He's still restrained down in the dungeon." Alex fell in step behind him as Sam led the way across the bunker and down the stairs. "How'd it go? Did the priest show to purify the blood?"

"Yeah, he showed." Sam pushed open the archive door, and Alex helped him pull open the bookshelves to reveal Dean Winchester.

The demon sat in the center of the demon trap, bound to his wooden chair by thick ropes. His eyes flickered up to them as the shelves spread wide, and Alex let Sam cross over to the small table before she followed to place the blood at his side. "Really?" She heard Dean scoff, and she circled around the bound demon before she took up a spot on the wall, arms crossed.

Sam ignored his brother's scornful words as he unrolled a black syringe case. "For whatever it's worth, I got your blood type." He pulled out a large syringe, holding it up so he could study the needle, and Alex watched as Dean's eyes narrowed.

"Sam, I know you think you're gonna try and fix me, but … did it ever occur to you that maybe I don't want to be fixed? Just let me go and live my life. I won't bother you. What do you care?"

"What do I care?" Sam pulled a flask of holy water out of his jacket pocket as he turned to face his brother, and silence hung in the air as he searched for the right words. Dean's eyes glittered, and Sam unscrewed the flask's lid. "A ritum sacrum," he began, shaking out the water onto the ground at his brother's feet, "hanc terram consecrato."

"You think I'm just gonna sit here like Crowley?" Dean spoke up over the purification ritual, but Sam paid him no attention. "Get all weepy while you shoot me up? Well, screw that. I don't want this!"

"Yeah, I pretty much figured that out." Sam turned back to his table and set the flask down.

"You don't even know if this is gonna work, do you?" Dean continued angrily. "You know, I got a hell of a lot more running through me than just demon juice."

Sam nodded, eyes flickering over to Alex. "Mark of Cain. Got it." He motioned the ex-angel over, and Alex crossed the room to draw up the blood into the syringe for him.

"That's right." A note of smugness lined Dean's voice, and Alex handed the Winchester the needle as she turned back to Dean.

"Alright, get ready." She stepped aside to let Sam through, moving to stand at Dean's side in case the demon decided to struggle.

"Sammy …" Dean's green eyes came to rest on the needle before they moved up to his brother's face. "You know I hate shots."

"I hate demons." Dean's eyes flashed black at Sam's words, but the hunter was faster. Dean hissed in pain as holy water splashed against his face, and in the split second of distraction, Sam plunged the needle deep into Dean's forearm. "Look, we got a whole bunch more of these to go," Sam said as he stepped away, and the black bled away from Dean's eyes as the blood coursed through his veins. "You could make it a lot easier on yourself."

Dean only grunted in pain, and his head jerked in surprise as the purified blood reached his heart, spreading out through his body. His body convulsed when Alex laid her hand on his shoulder, and she squeezed it gently before she stepped away. "We'll be back in an hour."

Dean snarled as she walked away, and Alex nudged Sam out of the room. "Should we really be leaving him?" Sam cast a glance back towards his brother, but Alex firmly closed the door behind them.

"That was the first dose. He'll be fine for another few hours." Alex led the way back towards the stairs, adding after a second, "Didn't you say that Cas was on his way?"

"Yeah." Her words seemed to have soothed at least some of the hunter's anxiety, and Sam followed her up the stairs. "He said that he'll be here soon. I, uh, I think I'll go see what else I can dig up on this cure in the meantime. Maybe I missed something."

"Yeah. Okay." Alex watched him walk away, and with a small shrug, she moved off towards the kitchen. "I'll see you in an hour."

 

A hand on her shoulder had her jumping, and Alex yanked the earbud out of her ear as she spun around to look up at Sam. "Hey." The ex-angel pushed away her plate of half-eaten pizza as she looked down at the clock on her phone. "You ready for round two?"

"Yeah." Sam's hazel eyes moved over her meal, and his lips set in a terse line. "I can't even think about eating. Not with Dean …"

Alex offered up half of a shrug. "Dean's going to be fine," she promised. "No point in starving myself over it." She slammed down the last of her drink and pushed herself to her feet, clearing her throat before Sam could respond. "Alright. Lead the way."

She followed Sam down to the dungeon, pulling open the doors and flicking on the lights. "You're back." Dean's head lifted, and he met their gazes with a cold stare. "And here I was starting to think you'd forgotten me."

"Oh trust me, before this is over you'd wish we had." Alex pulled the doors half-shut behind her, and Sam crossed over to where the blood-filled syringes were laying. "Because first we need to kill off those pretty black eyes, and I'm going to guess that it's going to hurt."

"Or, for all you know, you could be actually killing me," Dean retorted.

"Or, you're just messing with us." Sam turned away and pulled free a syringe. "Either way, the lore doesn't say anything about exceptions to the cure."

Alex leaned up against the wall, eyes narrowed as the demon chuckled. "The lore," he repeated with a disdainful shake of his head. "Hunters. Men of Letters. What a load of crap it all is!" He watched as Sam turned away, but when his brother didn't respond, his gaze turned to Alex. The ex-angel pursed her lips, following in the tall hunter's example, and Dean's eyebrow cocked. "Oh, you got nothing?"

"You want me to debate you?" Sam pulled the blood out of the cooler with a small shake of his head. "This isn't even the real you I'm talking to."

"Oh, it's the real me, alright. Isn't that right, Alex?" Dean's eyes flashed black, but Alex merely lifted her chin. "The new real me — the me that sees things for what they really are. Winchesters. Do-gooders. Fighting the natural order. Let me tell you something — guys like me, we are the natural order. It's the way it was set up."

"Guys like me still got to do what we can." Sam turned back to his brother, weariness weighing down his voice, and his brother's eyes sparkled, entertained by the response.

"Don't be so full of yourself, Sammy. Cause, see, from where I'm sitting … there ain't much difference from what I turned into to what you already are."

"And what the hell is that suppose to mean?" Alex crossed her arms, and Dean's gaze swung over to her.

"You know exactly what I mean. Crowley told us what he did when he went looking for us. How far he went." His eyes turned back to Sam, a scowl on his face. "So let me ask you … which one of us is really a monster? Hmm? Starting to come back to you now?"

Alex watched as Sam let out a loud, reluctant breath, and Dean grinned darkly. "You were trying to get a twenty on us from any demon you could snag. But Crowley didn't want to be found, and no one showed when you summoned. But you found a way, didn't you, Sammy? You would have liked to have gotten there before the deal went down, but you didn't really care about poor ol' Lester, did you?"

Sam's eyes widened in hurt at the memory, and Alex pushed herself off of the wall. "Dean. That's enough."

"And you already know that I killed Lester myself," Dean continued, ignoring Alex's interruption. "And her?" His eyes flashed in Alex's direction. "She put down that poor old wife. As well as — how many other people? I'm starting to lose count."

"I never meant —" Sam started, but Dean scoffed angrily.

"Who cares what you meant? That line that we thought was so clear between us and the things that we hunted ain't so clear, is it? Wow. You might actually be worse than me! I mean, you took a guy at his lowest, used him, and it cost him his life, his wife, and his soul. Nice work —"

Alex stepped forward. "That's enough," she hissed, and Sam approached, the syringe in his hands. Dean screamed as the needle plunged into his neck, a real, agonized scream, and concern flashed through the ex-angel as his fingers clawed desperately at the wooden armrests. Sam turned away, his own face dark with the pain, and Alex looked down at the ground, closing herself off to the Winchester's cries.

"Let me ask you this, Sammy." Dean's voice was rough with pain, and he snarled out his words. "If this doesn't work, we both know what you got to do to me, right? You got the stomach for that, Sam?!"

Anger rushed through her, and Alex stepped in between the two brothers. "Sam, get out of here," she ordered, and she ushered the Winchester out of the room. "There's nothing else we can do for him until the next dose."

Sam pulled out his phone, and Alex closed the shelves behind her, glancing over her shoulder to watch the Winchester dial a number. "Cas." Sam pressed the phone up against his ears, and Alex's head perked up at the name of her mate. "Hey, are you coming?"

"Cas?" Alex hurried after Sam as he stepped out into the hallway.

"Yeah, she's here," Sam told the seraph on the other end. "And no, it's not working very well. Look, it — it's not like it was with Crowley. Dean is in pain. I mean, he's in bad pain. It's like he's barely holding on. Cas … I might be killing him." He ran a hand through his long hair, face scrunched in pain as he listened to Castiel's response. "So … what? Should I stop?"

Alex narrowed her eyes. Stop? she mouthed back to him. They didn't have the option to stop.

"Cas, did you not hear what I just said?" Sam insisted. "I could be killing my brother. Killing my brother," he repeated pointedly after a second, and then he shook his head. "Yeah, all right. I'll uh … we'll leave the entry unlocked for you. Just … hurry."

He hung up, and Alex frowned. "How far away is he?"

"He didn't say. Hopefully not far." Sam brushed past Alex and made his way back into the dungeon, Alex close at his heels. Dean was still in his chair, but his eyes were closed, his body slumped against the unyielding wooden slats. "Hey. Hey!" Sam slapped his brother's cheeks, waking him back up. "Dean! Come on! Come back."

"No." Dean's voice was a hoarse whisper, and Sam's wide eyes turned back onto Alex before his efforts redoubled.

"Come back to me," he insisted. "You there? Hey! Dean, you okay?"

The demon's eyes flickered open, but his voice stayed weak and pained. "Yeah, if you … consider drowning in your own sweat while your blood boils 'okay.' " He let out a weak cough, and Sam straightened up.

"Look, I can't stop doing this," he started, but Dean coughed again.

"Sure you can," he retorted, and his voice rose angrily. "You just stop! There's no point in trying to bring your brother back now."

Sam's hazel eyes hardened. "Oh, I will bring him back," he vowed, but Dean ignored him.

"In fact," he continued, "your, uh … guilt-ridden, weight-of-the-world bro has been M.I.A. for quite some time now. But I'm loving the new model." His eyes flashed black, and his chin lifted to hold Sam's gaze. "Lean, mean, Dean." Sam scoffed, and Dean frowned. "You notice I tried to get as far away from you as possible? Away from your whining, your complaining. I chose the King of Hell over you! Maybe I was just … tired of babysitting you. Or always having to yank your lame ass out of the fire since …" the demon paused to pretend to think, "since forever. Or maybe … maybe it was the fact that my mother would still be alive if it wasn't for you. That your very existence sucked the life out of my life!"

Alex's fist came out of nowhere, colliding with Dean's mouth, and the Winchester cut off with a hiss of surprise. "Shut it," she hissed, and she looked back at Sam. "Don’t listen to him. That isn't your brother talking."

"You never had a brother," Dean spat. "Just an excuse for not manning up. But guess what. I quit."

"No. No, you don't." Anger danced in Sam's eyes as he spun around to confront his brother. "You don't get to quit. We don't get to quit in this family! This family is all we ever had!"

"Well, then, we got nothing." Dean's words had Alex's fist rising again, but Sam was there in a second, holding her back.

"Stop it," he whispered, and Alex roughly yanked herself away with a scowl. "I can handle Dean. Go wait outside."

"No way." Alex glared over at Dean with a huff; the demon held her gaze calmly, eyes narrowed in a challenge. "There's no way I'm leaving you alone with him." Her gaze turned back up onto Sam as concern flashed across her freckled face. "You don't know what he's like, Sam. He’s nothing like he was. Hell, I've been with him every day for the past two months —"

"I can take care of him." Sam's tone left no room for argument, and Alex's grey eyes narrowed, but she reluctantly nodded. "Go wait for Castiel." Sam turned back to his brother, and Alex turned her head away. "I'll take care of things here."

"Fine. I'll be upstairs if you need me." With one last glare towards Dean, Alex shoved her hands into her pocket and stalked away.

 

Alex's phone buzzed, and the ex-angel looked up in surprise, almost dropping the heavy book she was half-heartedly skimming through. Who would be calling her? Sam was downstairs, still with Dean, and Castiel had promised he was only an hour away. The hunter pulled her phone close, and her eyes narrowed at the name on the screen. "Crowley." Alex pressed the phone up against her ear, face darkening. "I thought I was on vacation."

"Why? Are you doing something important?"

Alex looked down at her empty plate with a shrug. "Yeah," she lied before adding, "We're curing Dean — remember when we tried that on you?" She listened for the demon's hum of agreement. "Fingers crossed it'll be over before the day is done. So what do you want?"

"It has come to my attention that Castiel and his new sweetheart have run into some trouble in the past few minutes. Now, I was on my way to go clean up their mess, but if you're too busy …"

"No, no." Alex pushed herself to her feet, eyes going wide. "I'm at the bunker. I can be outside in — give me thirty seconds." She slammed her laptop closed as she hung up, and her feet carried her up the stairs. She slipped out of the bunker and into the cold air, and the ex-angel suppressed a shiver as wind whipped through the air. "Crowley?"

The wind grew stronger as the ground disappeared from beneath her feet, and Alex stumbled as the world went black. It returned after a moment, the ground dusty beneath her feet, and Alex huffed out a curse as she regained her footing. Crowley stood at her side, but Alex barely noticed him, her attention drawn immediately onto her mate.

Castiel lay in the dust, blood still oozing from lacerations on his face, and Alex was at his side within seconds. "Cas?" she dropped down next to him, a hand coming out to rest on his barely moving chest. "What the hell? Cas! Can you hear me?"

The seraph's blue eyes flickered open, and Alex heard footsteps stop behind her. "Hey, champ," she heard Crowley chuckle. "Look at you. Talk about roadkill." His hand came to rest on Alex's shoulder, and the ex-angel brushed Castiel's matted hair from his forehead. She could hear a scuffle going on behind her, muffled as if behind a wall, and she glanced over her shoulder towards an old decrepit gas station.

Crowley moved off towards it, and Alex shoved her hands into her pockets, searching for something — anything — to wipe away the blood. "I'm okay." The words were stuttered out through a hoarse throat, and Alex grabbed the angel’s hand, curling her fingers through his.

"Alex."

Crowley beckoned her over, and Alex squeezed her mate's hand gently. "I'll be right back," she whispered, and she carefully pulled herself free of his hold. "We'll get you back to the bunker where it's safe." She rose to her feet and made her way after Crowley, reaching back to grab her angel blade defensively. “What’s going on —” A hush from the demon had her mouth clamping shut as they stepped through the doorway.

Inside the gas station were two angels. Alex recognized Hannah, held at the throat by another angel. "You killed an angel," she was saying, voice strong and angry despite the blood on her face. "You had to answer for it!"

"That angel would have hauled us back to that Heaven of yours," the stranger snarled, and she yanked Hannah's head back, pressing her angel blade up against Hannah's chin. "You should have left us alone."

"And that will do." Crowley strolled forward, drawing an angel blade from his sleeve, and the strange angel spun around, eyes flashing in surprise. She stalked towards the King of Hell, but the demon was faster. His blade came upwards, the tip sliding through her neck, and the angel stopped in surprise as he grace spilled outwards through the cut. It flowed downwards, and Crowley lifted a small glass vial to catch the glowing essence.

Alex watched hesitantly, unsure of the King’s motives, but she stayed rooted on the spot as the last of the grace was collected. Crowley stepped forward, and the angel blade slid through the angel's heart. "Why can't you people just sit on clouds and play harps like you're supposed to?" she heard him murmur in the dying angel's ear, and when he pulled away, the body collapsed to the ground. Crowley slid a small glass top onto the vial, and Alex's eyes flickered down to Hannah. The angel was watching her, eyes sharp with surprise and anger, and Alex lifted her chin.

Crowley turned around, and Alex's gaze turned down to the grace that swirled within the glass vial. "What's that for?"

"You, if you want it." The King of Hell held out the grace, but Alex simply narrowed her eyes. She searched his face, looking for any sign of deception, but it was placid.

"No," she finally decided. "I don't." She stepped aside as Crowley swept past her, and she glanced back towards Hannah. The dark-haired angel’s gaze was cold, an unspoken accusation on her lips, and Alex dropped her gaze. "I do what I have to," she murmured, and she followed after Crowley.

The demon was kneeling down beside Castiel, who was pushing away the vial grace with a weak yet firm hand. "Don't be an idiot," Crowley chastised scathingly. "Yes, it's hers, but she was killing your mistress. Your hands are clean. As much as it pains me to say this … you're useless to me dead."

Castiel's gaze tuned onto Alex, and the ex-angel gave a small, desperate nod. “Please,” she begged. “The angel’s already dead. Just take it before you die, too.” She watched as Castiel's eyes closed, and the grace tipped out of the vial and in through his lips. His skin glowed as the grace overtook his body, and Alex looked down as she felt her own skin tingle. She could feel something moving within, something angelic but not strong enough to be grace, and she opened and closed her fists in confusion.

"You owe me." Crowley recapped the glass vial, and Alex's attention was drawn back upwards.

"Why did you help me?" The seraph's voice was still rough, but his wounds had closed up, the blood dispersing into thin air.

"Purely business." Crowley rose to his feet and brushed off his hands. "Since you're five miles away from the Winchester's Clubhouse, I can only surmise that you're headed there. And that Dean has become a handful. Having him as a demon has caused me nothing but grief. Fix the problem."

"You realize, worst comes to worst … that means killing him." Castiel pushed himself to his feet, and Crowley's eyes narrowed as he studied the seraph's face.

"I’m not sentimental," he finally said, and he walked away, brushing Alex aside on his way.

The ex-angel reached out, grabbing his arm. "Hey," she started, and Crowley paused, brown eyes meeting grey. "Thank you." The demon only blinked, and Alex dropped her hands to her side, letting the King of Hell disappear.

Crowley was standing next to his Continental, and Alex's feet carried her into her mate's arms. She dug her fingers into his thick, tan coat, pressing her face into his white shirt as she closed her eyes. Castiel's chin came to rest on her head, nose pressed into her hair, and his lips moved against her forehead as he spoke. "I'm glad you're okay."

"Nothing could have hurt me." Alex's eyes flickered closed as she nuzzled into Castiel's warm, solid chest. "I was so worried about you." She looked back towards the gas station as Hannah approached, and her brow furrowed. "Who was she?" she asked Castiel. "Did she do this to you?"

"Her name was Adina. She and Daniel were the two rogue angels that we had gone to speak with." Castiel's face fell, and he exchanged a look with Hannah. "A skirmish broke out, and Daniel was killed. Adina must have been following us since."

"You came here with Crowley." Hannah stopped beside them, and the ex-angel's eyes narrowed.

"Yeah," she agreed. "I did. And you're welcome that we came, otherwise you'd both be dead." She reached down to take Castiel's hand, fingers weaving through his as she disdainfully looked the angel up and down before she turned back to Castiel. "How's heaven been? What have you been doing?"

"I'll tell you in the car." Castiel circled around to the driver's side of the Lincoln, and Alex followed, purposefully taking the front seat to leave the back to Hannah. "We need to get to Dean." His gaze turned onto her as the car spluttered to life, and he asked, "You've been with Dean this whole time, haven't you?"

"Yeah. Crowley’s had me babysitting. The Mark turned him into a demon, and a pissy one at that, and I had to make sure he didn't do anything stupid." Alex buckled herself in as the car took off down the dusty road. "I wanted to come back, but Crowley wouldn't let me — he wouldn't let me tell you anything."

"You had me worried. We weren't sure what had become of you or of Dean." The seraph fell silent for a moment before he added, "Ashiel has been asking about you. He doesn't understand why you haven't come back yet."

Guilt pulsed through Alex, and she turned her head away. "Have … have you found …"

"Angels located Eremiel two weeks ago. He was badly injured in the fall. Lauren … didn't survive." Castiel's blue gaze turned onto Alex, dull with remorse. "So many Enaiish have died. There are two back in heaven, you, and Adina, who is now dead."

"Three. There's three of us left?" Surprise pulsed through her, and Alex looked back at Hannah. When she nodded, the ex-angel turned her gaze back to the road. "What — what about all of the fledglings? Have you found any more of them?"

"Only Ashiel." Sadness weighed down Castiel's voice. "No child could have survived the fall, and we've found no signs of any others." He paused, and Alex felt his eyes turn onto her. "How is Dean responding to the cure?"

"I … It's hurting him more than it ever hurt Crowley." Alex reluctantly let the subject change. Her attention turned down to her hands, and she focused on digging out the dirt from beneath her nails. "Like, it's really hurting him." She looked up at her mate, and her eyes stretched wide. "I don't know if we're killing him, but there's nothing else than we can do."

She watched as the car rolled down the road towards the bunker, and she pulled out her phone to text Sam. How are things going? Castiel and I are almost to the bunker. I'll explain when we're there.

No immediate response came, and Alex placed her phone back onto her lap. "Is Metatron still in heaven? The past two months — so much has happened."

"He's still in heaven's jail." It was Hannah who spoke. "We made the door to his cell permanent. Heaven is slowly putting itself back together."

"Good." Alex's phone vibrated, and the ex-angel looked down at the screen. Dean's out. He's got a weapon. Hurry up. "Ah, shit." Alex slammed her phone back down onto her leg as she looked up at Castiel. "Dean broke free and he's going after Sam. You gotta — you gotta go faster, Cas."

The car jumped forward, hurtling down the road, and Alex felt her shoulders twitch, angry at the lack of wings. We're almost there, she promised, fingers dancing over the keyboard as she typed out her reply. We'll be there in a minute. Just stay safe for a little bit longer. "The Mark's made him really volatile," she explained darkly. "Cas … you have no idea the things that he's done with it."

"We'll talk about it later." The Continental's wheels spun in the mud as it turned the corner, and the brakes squealed as it slid to a stop. Alex threw open the door and bolted towards the bunker, her ankles protesting as she flung herself down the metal outer stairs. Castiel followed, and Alex immediately fell silent as she slipped through the unlocked door. The interior was dark, lit by the red lights indicative of a lock down.

Alex's angel blade lay on the library table, and she snatched it up, twirling it in her hand as she looked up and down the hallway. "Dean?" Her voice rang out through the empty room, and she looked back over at Castiel. "Go left," she ordered. "I'll go right, and we'll meet up in the middle by the stairs."

She didn't wait for an answer before she slipped off towards the hallway, leaving Castiel alone. "Dean?" she called again, fingers curling in at her side. "Where are you at, you black-eyed bitch?" No answer came, and she dragged her weapon along the wall, listening to how the metal tipped scraped ominously along the concrete. "I know you're out here. What are you hiding from?"

A low chuckle came from behind her, and Alex spun around to find Dean standing at the end of the hall. "Is that how you draw out all of your friends?" he taunted, and Alex's grey eyes flickered down to the hammer in his hands.

"How — how did you get out?"

"All that blood you pumped into me to make me less human? Well … the less demon I was, the less the cuffs worked." Dean chuckled, and his eyes glittered. "And that devil's trap — well, I just walked right across it. It smarted, but still."

"Where's Sam?" Her eyes hardened into steel as Dean stepped forward, and her grip on her own weapon tightened warily.

The Winchester's voice was casual, lazy almost, and he sauntered up to stop just in front of her. "Just down the hall," he promised. He looked down at her weapon, and the demon chuckled, eyes flashing black. "You gonna poke me with your God stick?"

"Don't tempt me. Because if we can't cure you … then I guess I get to kill you." Alex lifted her weapon, holding in between her and the demon to keep him at bay while she spoke. "Because I think we both know that Sam's not going to be strong enough to do it."

Dean chuckled, and his eyes flashed black as he knocked her weapon away. "And you really think you are?"

"I know I am." Alex ducked as the hammer came flashing through the air, and she backpedaled, spinning her blade down so she could hold it like a knife.

"Alex!" Sam's voice came from behind her, but the ex-angel didn't tear her gaze away from Dean. The demon snarled at the sight of his brother, but before he could take one more step forward, arms wrapped around his waist, pinning Dean's hands at his side.

"It's over." Castiel grunted in surprise as Dean's mouth fell opened in a roar, and the seraph's eyes glowed blue with his stolen grace. "Dean, it's over," he repeated as the demon yelled out his frustration, but not matter how much he struggled, the seraph held tight. "It's over."

"Get him back downstairs." Alex pressed herself up against the wall as Castiel moved forward, grunting at the effort of carrying the sullen demon. "You okay?” The ex-angel fell in step beside Sam, voice lowered so Dean couldn't hear. "I didn’t think he was capable of getting out. Not … not in his state.” She glanced off down the hall, a frown darkening her expression. “And here I thought we were killing him.”

Sam didn’t respond, and Alex followed Castiel down the bunker stairs, her weapon still held tightly as she warily kept an eye on Dean. The demon had given up his struggle as the seraph deposited him back on the chair, safe within the devil's trap. "You think this is going to hold me?" Dean's chin lifted definitely as his bonds were resecured by his brother, tighter this time, and his black eyes turned onto Alex. "Next time I get out, I'm going to kill each and everyone of you."

"Isn't it time for your next dose?" Alex glanced over at Sam, and the hunter gave a silent nod as he crossed over to the table. Dean watched warily as his brother drew up the purified blood, and Alex circled around the brother to set her angel blade down before she leaned up against the wall, arms crossed.

The demon roared as the needle pierced his skin, his fingernails clawing at the wooden chair in agony as the blood rushed to his heart. Sam stalked out of the room without another word, and Alex watched him go with a small frown. She took a step to follow him, but Dean's low chuckle had her pausing. "I see you got your juice back."

"It's not my grace." Regret weighed down Castiel's voice. "And I didn't want it. Crowley —"

"Of course." Dean's eyes swung back onto Alex, and she watched as the iris darkened, unable to reach their inky blackness with the cure racing through his veins. "Makes sense the two of you are still buddying up. How does Cas feel about that? You told him yet?"

Alex's lips pursed, and Castiel's face scrunched up in confusion. "Tell me what?"

“It's nothing."

"You shot Lester's wife in cold blood." Smugness lined Dean's voice, and Alex's fists tightened at her side, half-tempted to cross the room and wipe the grin right off of his face. "I don't know if I'd call that nothing."

"Crowley told me to get the job done," Alex replied, her voice as even and steady as she could muster, "and that's what I did. I never claimed to be proud of it."

"Please." Dean scoffed loudly at her words. "The job was over the second Lester died. You went out of your way to put a bullet in that whore's skull."

Alex felt Castiel's gaze on the side of her face, and her cheeks flushed beneath his stare. "I did what I had to," she repeated, and her fingernails dug into her palm as she tightened her fists.

"Right. Like you 'had to' shoot your father." Alex stepped back, the air pushed from her lungs like a blow to the chest, and Dean smirked at the breathless noise that left her lips, his eyes flashing in pleasure. "That's right; Crowley told me everything. Even I couldn't bring myself to shoot my own pops, but you …"

"I didn't kill him!" The ex-angel's voice cracked. "I didn't!"

"Yeah, but you meant to, didn't you?" Dean's eyes bled black, and Alex looked over at Castiel in desperation; the seraph's face was blank, his gaze trained on Dean. "You know, the demons talk about you behind your back. Fallen angel, working with demons. Remind you of anyone?"

Alex's eyes flashed, but she kept her mouth shut, lips pursed tightly together. Her gaze swung back onto Castiel. "Come on." She motioned towards the door, and she turned her back on the demon. "Let's go — Dean will be fine here on his own."

She hurried away, and footsteps echoed on the stone floor as Castiel followed. "Shooting your father? What is Dean talking about?" The archive door closed behind them, and Alex hesitated at the sound of Castiel's low, commanding voice. "Alex. Talk to me."

"What?" The ex-angel's posture grew defensive, and she reluctantly turned to face her mate. “I told you I didn’t kill him, so what does it matter? He’s alive.” She saw how the seraph’s lips pursed, and she added, “And the others -- so what? I'm a hunter; killing things is what I do." She let out her breath through her nose, her argument almost painfully weak, and she turned away with a shake of her head. “Humans, monsters, it all feels the same. So when Crowley says kill … it’s them or me.”

"You know that's not a good excuse." The quiet patience in his voice had Alex's jaw clenching, and her fingers dug into the hem of her jacket. "It's one thing to kill monsters, but people ..? You don’t even stop to --"

"Oh, take the plank out of your eye, Cas." Alex spun around, and for a second she was surprised by the anger in her tone. "How many angels did you kill in heaven? Hundreds? Thousands? I could kill twice as many things as I already have and still never come close to what you've done. So shut up!"

The hallway fell silent, and Alex flinched at her own words. Castiel was frozen in place, blue eyes wide in hurt and surprise, and the ex-angel's shoulders fell. "I'm sorry," she murmured, and a step across the room brought her to the seraph's side. She wrapped her arms around his waist, cheek resting apologetically against his chest, and she let out a long, deep breath, eyes squeezed shut as she pressed into him. "I shouldn't have said that."

"No," Castiel quietly agreed, and Alex felt the tension leave his shoulders. "I'm sorry that I upset you. You've been under a lot of stress, between Dean and Crowley, and whatever you've done, you've done because you've had to. I know that much. I shouldn’t have provoked you.” His lips pressed against her temple, a light, lingering kiss, and then he pulled away. "I should go check on Sam. Perhaps you should keep your distance from Dean for the time being."

Alex watched as he walked away, and her gaze fell onto the ground as he disappeared around the corner. "Perhaps."

Her feet carried her back through the archive door, and she pulled it loosely closed behind her, blinking until her eyes adjusted to the dark. "How'd he take it?" Dean's scathing voice reached her ears, and Alex stepped through the bookshelves to meet his gaze. "Let me guess. He asked you a question, and you blew it way out of proportion? Hurt his feelings?" His gaze searched Alex's, and the corner of his lips turned up in a cruel smile. "Typical. And — one more guess here — he gave you the whole 'it's me, not you' thing, didn't he?"

"Shut it." Alex snatched her weapon off of the table, teeth digging into her cheek to keep herself from saying anything else; he had obviously overheard the conversation. That was it.

"Cassie just loves you so much, doesn't it? Can't see you for what you really are." Dean's voice rose as Alex stalked away without so much a glance in his direction. "You should have chosen Lucifer, you know that? At least he'd have the balls to —"

Alex slammed the door closed behind her, and Dean's voice disappeared, muffled beyond recognition by the heavy wooden door.

Lucifer.

Her fist collided with the wall, knuckles slamming into the rough stone, and pain shot up her wrist. Dean was lying — that's what demons did. Anything they could do to cause doubt and pain. Her fingers tightened around her weapon, and the ex-angel drew in a deep breath as she let her fist fall back down to her side. She could still hear Dean yelling, his words unable to pierce the door, and she scoffed as she turned towards the stairs. "You're lying," she muttered, and she felt some of her anger subside as she spoke the words aloud. "What do you know about Lucifer anyways?"

 

The library table creaked under Alex's weight as the ex-angel settled down upon it, her feet drawing up to rest on the seat of a chair as she set her drink down at her side. The library was quiet, with neither Sam nor Castiel in sight, and Alex tipped her head to one side momentarily as she listened for any indication of their location. She could faintly feel Castiel's stolen grace, her soul connected to him by a thin, ethereal strand, and she wished she could reach out towards the foreign warmth.

"You can feel it, too." Castiel's voice had jumping, and the ex-angel slithered off the table in surprise.

"Uh, yeah." Alex straightened her sweatshirt as she turned to face her mate, clearing her throat to hide her awkward dismount; she could have sworn he was at least a room away. "Where's Sam?"

"I left him in the kitchen. He's getting ready for Dean's last dose." Castiel stopped in front of her, and his hands came out to rest on her hips, fingers lightly clinging to the thick fabric of her sweatshirt. "How are you doing?"

"I'm fine." Alex tipped her head up to kiss him, and the seraph's fingers dug in a little more tightly. She leaned forward, resting her head against his chest as her arms encircled him. "I just missed you." She pulled her head away and replaced it with her hand, curling her fingers over his heart. "Adina's grace isn't very strong. How long do you think it will last?"

"Long enough." Castiel's own hand came to cover hers. "You should take some." His head dipped, but Alex turned her face away before his lips could reach hers.

"No. I don't need it." The ex-angel pulled away with a small shake of her head. "I'll be safe without it — Crowley's deal has its benefits, remember?" Her eyes drifted down to where her hand lay enclosed in his, resting against his warm, solid chest. "You need it more than I do." Silence followed her words, and her shoulders fell with a sigh. "Where … where'd Hannah go?"

"She's still outside in the car. She's waiting for me to go with her back to heaven."

"They still want you to lead them, don't they?" Alex gently disentangled her hand from his and leaned back up against the table. Castiel nodded, and the ex-angel frowned. "So I'm guessing you've spent a lot of time up there," she added, doing her best to keep her voice light.

“Not as much as I should have.” The seraph's face darkened, and his hands fell to his side. "I tried to help Sam tracked down you and Dean, but with my failing grace …" Castiel trailed off with a small shake of his head. "Perhaps I'll return to heaven for a time. They need my assistance with their rebuilding efforts, at least until they are self-sufficient once again."

"Fun." Alex glanced off towards the kitchen at the sound of footsteps approaching. "Maybe … maybe once Dean is cured and all, I can come back with you. I know … I know I'm not an angel anymore, but once — once we find our grace …"

She trailed off at the look on Castiel's face, and her shoulders fell in confusion. "Alex … the angels don't hold you in high regard. Not between Lucifer, and the fall, and your soul." The lightest brush of wind ran up her arms, and Alex's eyes momentarily closed as she tried to imagine his wings curling around them. "I'm sure that they'll come around, but for the mean time … perhaps it's best that you stay away."

"Oh." Alex turned her head away, doing her best to hide her disappointment from her mate. "Okay. I understand."

She could feel Castiel's own regret in the way his hand came up to cup her face, but she refused to lifted her gaze to his face. "I'm sorry. If you would rather I say here —"

"Hey." Sam's voice came from the doorway, and Alex jerked her head away in surprise. "Sorry, am I interrupting? I — it's time."

"You're fine." Alex slipped away from Castiel's side and crossed over to the Winchester, grabbing her drink in the process. "Is he … is he doing any better?" She finished by clearing her throat, careful to ignore the way the seraph was staring at her.

"No. Not … not really." Sam's hands twitched at his side, his jaw set, and Alex ran a hand through her hair as the Winchester fell silent. Alex followed him back down the hall, lengthening her stride to walk at his side when she felt Castiel close behind her.

The lights flickered on in the dungeon to reveal the Dean, the skin around his wrists rubbed raw from his restraints. He stirred at the sound of their entry, and a mixture of anger and fear flashed across his face before it twisted into a cold grimace. "Back for more?"

Sam crossed the room towards the cooler of blood, and Alex let Castiel stop at her side as she looked Dean up and down. Despite his scornful words, his voice lacked its normal vibrato, and his eyes were dull with exhaustion and pain.They tracked Sam's movements warily, and Alex's lips fell into a frown as the demon barely fought the needle that slid deep into his arm.

His head reared back in agony, limbs convulsing in shock, but the pain faded quicker than before, and the Winchester slumped into unconsciousness almost immediately as the tremors faded, his head dropping to his chest in exhaustion. "What the hell are we doing to him, Cas?" Sam placed the needle back down onto the table and turned to face the seraph with a deep-set frown. "I mean, even after I gave him all that blood, he still said he didn't want to be cured, that he didn't want to be human."

Castiel was silent for several seconds, and when he spoke, he echoed Sam's low, quiet tone. "Well … I see his point," he admitted. "You know, only humans can feel real joy, but … but also such profound pain." His blue eyes came to rest on Dean. "This is easier."

Dean stirred, and the seraph fell silent as the Winchester lifted his head. Black eyes blinked in surprise before the inky darkness melted away, dissipating into thin air. Dean's chest heaved in a deep breath, a small groan of confusion and pain falling from his lips, and Alex sidestepped as Sam moved forward, a flask of holy water in his hand. Dean blinked again, green eyes coming to focus on the three of them, and his voice cracked as he spoke. "You look worried, fellas."

Holy water splashed across his face, and, while the Winchester's jaw twitched in surprise, he didn't flinch in pain, nor did the beads of water evaporate in a hiss of steam. Even though Alex couldn't see it, she could hear the relieved grin on Sam's face as the flask fell back to his side. "Welcome back, Dean."

"Yeah … thanks." Dean's gaze dropped down to the ropes, and Sam immediately set to work on untying his wrists. The bonds fell away, and, with Sam's help, Dean pushed himself to his feet. His legs wobbled, threatening to buckle underneath him, and Alex shifted forward, ready to help catch the Winchester in case he fell.

"Come on." Sam slung on of Dean's arms over his shoulders to support him as he made his way towards the door. "Let's get you upstairs, huh?"

Dean muttered out a reply as the two passed by, too quiet and quick for Alex to catch, and the ex-angel turned to watch them leave. "Wow," she finally said as the Winchesters finally passed from her sight, "just like that, huh? Not going to lie, but I didn't think that was going to work." Her gaze slipped back onto the empty chair, surrounded by the devil's trap, and she reached up to rub the back of her neck with a small shake of her head. "I’m glad he's okay, though."

She felt Castiel's gaze on her cheek, a questioning, curious look, but she cleared her throat before he could ask any questions. "I'm serious," she insisted, turning back to face her mate, and a smile formed across her lips. "I was worried about him for a while there."

"I was afraid that the Mark would prevent the cure from working," Castiel agreed, and he stretched out a hand towards her. Alex stepped forward to take it, tugging the seraph after her as she led the way back out of the dungeon.

The library was empty when they arrived, and Alex paused to listen, ears straining in hopes of catching any sound of the Winchesters' locations.

"They're in Dean's bedroom." Castiel dropped her hand and crossed over to one of the tables where a large book lay. Alex followed, wrapping one arm around his waist as the seraph mindlessly pulled the book open to a random page. "He seems to be doing well."

"Good." The ex-angel leaned her head up against his shoulder, eyes tracing the intricate script that flowed across the ancient page. "Cas, listen … about what Dean said …"

"It's okay." Castiel turned the page, and Alex's gaze flitted up to his face. "Dean's back now, and we'll find our grace soon to break your deal." His head dipped down, and Alex leaned up to meet his lips. They parted slightly beneath her touch, and Alex tried to yank her head away when grace suddenly poured forward, warming her veins. The seraph's hand on her cheek kept her there, and though it only took Alex a second to struggle free, it was all the time Castiel needed.

"W-What the hell?" The warmth faded as the connection was severed, and Alex felt her eyes flash with a blue light as her anger brought her newfound grace boiling to the surface. She pushed it down, and the grace circled through her body, searching for a comfortable place to rest before finally curling around her soul. "I said don't do that! It was bad enough with Theo's grace, and he was an angel. Adina — she's Enaaish. Take it back!"

"Alex." Castiel easily held her at arm's length, and Alex huffed. "You're my mate. No matter how little grace I have, I will always share it. You needn’t be concerned; I have enough for myself." His hand came to rest on her chest, and Alex felt the small link between the two parts of Adina's grace grow stronger. "I gave you just enough to protect you if you ever need it."

Footsteps sounded behind them, and Alex turned to see Sam enter the library, his shoulders sagging in weariness. "Hey," she greeted. Her voice was sharp, still displeased with Castiel’s move, and, when Sam’s head snapped up in surprise, she swallowed to soften it. ”How’s Dean doing?"

"He's, uh … he's still a little out of it, but better, I think." Sam crossed over to stand on the other side of the table from them. "I mean, I think this whole thing — the blood cure, the .. The all of it — it really wrecked him, you know?"

"Yeah," Castiel agreed, and Alex hummed out her own understanding.

Sam sighed, and for a moment, his voice lifted. "On the plus side, he's hungry again, so I'm just going to go pick him up a big ol' bag of crap food and stuff it in his face myself." His face turned up in a small smile of humor and relief, and he added, "Uh, you guys mind keeping an eye on him in the meantime?"

"Yeah, no problem," Alex promised.

Sam turned to go, but he paused at the sound of his name. "Sam?" Castiel stepped towards the Winchester, and Sam turned in surprise. "You realize one problem is solved, but one still remains. Dean is no longer a demon, that's true. But the Mark of Cain … that, he still has. And sooner or later, that's going to be an issue."

Sam's gaze flickered over to Alex, and his hazel eyes darkened as he shook his head. "You know what, Cas? I'm beat, man. One battle at a time, you know? So I'm gonna go grab my brother some cholesterol. And then I'm going to get drunk."

He walked away, and Alex watched him climb the metal stairs before she turned to Castiel. "Not me," she half-joked. "I've been hammered for the past two months. What I need is a nap."

"I'm going to go speak with Dean." The seraph extended his hand, a silent offering of her company, but Alex held back. Castiel's hand fell back to his side, and he gave a small nod of understanding. "I won't be long."

"Okay. I'll be in my room." Alex leaned up to kiss him, grace rising up, but the seraph covered her mouth with his own hand. His eyes sparkled, wise to her tricks, and Alex pulled away with a sour smile. "Fine. I'll keep the grace." She knocked away Castiel's hand with a small laugh before brushing past him on her way out the door. "Just come say goodbye before you leave."

Chapter Text

January 4th, 2015
Bemidji, Minnesota

The wind whipped through her hair, and Alex squinted against the blinding snowflakes that bit at her skin. The hand that gripped her angel blade was frozen stiff, fingers numb, but she kept her warm grace tucked up tightly within her. The sunlight caused the snow to sparkle beneath her feet as she crossed the ground towards a small cottage in the woods. The angel prowled forward, jaw clenched to keep her teeth from rattling from the cold as she made her way up the front steps. There were voices inside, too garbled to understand through the wooden door, and Alex hesitated for a moment to let her grace warm her hands before she roughly shoved her way through.

The door flew open with a bang, and Alex burst into the cabin. Black eyes met hers, and for a second, everything was still. And then the room sprung to life. A demon launched himself at her, and the angel blade left Alex's hands to embed itself in his chest as the angel rose up to meet a second demon. Her hand closed around its forehead, and the possessed stranger died with a strangled cry.

Alex spun around and wrenched the blade from the other's dying heart, and the two bodies collapsed onto the wooden floor with a synchronized thud.

The third demon was slower, taking his time to put down his drink before he rose to his feet. "You." He spat out the word as he sized the angel up, and Alex's boots scuffed against the wooden floor as she stepped over the fallen corpses.

"Yes, me." The angel dragged her fingers mindlessly across the edge of the table. "Hell of a hiding place, by the way. Crowley's hounds had a bitch of a time finding it." Her words were nearly drowned out by howling from outside, a dangerous, haunting accentuation, and Alex's eyes narrowed in satisfaction at how the demon's eyes flittered nervously.

"We had a deal."

"Crowley and you had a deal," Alex corrected. "And that was back when Dean was still icing demons. But now he's cured, and you've outlived your usefulness." She twisted the angel blade in her hands as she stepped forward, and the demon's eyes flashed black. Her phone buzzed in her pocket, and Alex paused to look down to see Sam's name flashing across the screen. "Sorry. We're going to need to hurry this up."

The table legs squealed as she shoved it aside, and demon snarled as Alex's angel blade flashed in the harsh light. Flesh tore beneath its sharp edges, and the snarl died into a gasp. Fingernails dug into her wrists as the demon struggled, and droplets of blood beaded up from her pale skin. "Long live the Queen —"

Alex thrust the blade in deeper, and the tip dug into the wall behind him. Her eyes narrowed as the demon's face burned away, and it went limp beneath her. "Yeah, yeah." She yanked her weapon free, and the corpse toppled to the ground. Alex picked up his drink and slammed down the rest, tongue curling at the bitter taste. "More like long live me."

The wind threw the door wide open as she stepped outside, and Alex drew her grace up into her eyes as the scenery twisted in the corner of her vision. A dark shape emerged from thin air, eyes glowing as bright as hellfire, and stained teeth bared in a snarl as Alex knelt down to clean her blade off in the snow. "Good girl, Juliet," she praised as the hellhound prowled closer, and the black beast's ears pricked forward. Steam hung in the air as the creature exhaled, and Alex stiffened slightly as the grotesque hound loped forward to sniff at her clothes. Its hot nose nudged at her neck, and the young angel gently moved to push her away. "Good," she praised once more, and she forced herself to relax her grip on her weapon.

"You're lucky." The sound of Crowley's voice had Alex rising back to her feet to face the King of Hell. "Juliet doesn't often take a shine to people." His lips pursed in a shrill whistle, and the hellhound bounded over to its master. "Who's my pretty girl?" Crowley's voice grew uncharacteristically warm as he bent down to rub his pet's head, and the beast whined out its response. "Well?” The King of Hell straightened as he turned back to the angel. “How'd it go?"

"Great." Alex tucked her weapon into the back of her jeans as she drew her hands up into her jacket sleeves, fingers curled against the cold. "All three of Abaddon’s junkies went down with no problem."

"Three?” Crowley’s eyes darkened, and his voice grew sharp. “There were supposed to be four."

"Well, there were only three when I got here," the angel retorted. "Isn't that right, Jules?" The hellhound paid her no attention, and Alex's gaze turned back onto the demon. "Point is I did my job, and I should be getting back. You said you had something for me?"

"Of course." Crowley reached into his pocket, and Alex's eyes widened in surprise as he pulled out a glass vial filled with swirling blue grace. "Don’t worry," the demon promised when Alex took a hesitant step backwards. "It came from one of Castiel's unruly runaways. A young one; Zuriel, I believe. I'm sure he won't be missed."

"Zuriel?" The name tasted familiar on her tongue, and Alex paused. "Are you sure?"

"Knew him, did we?"

"Yeah — no. No. I think we'd met before. Once." Alex shook her head, dismissing the thought, and her voice grew stern with conviction. "I don't want his grace. You shouldn't have done that."

The demon waved off her concern. "Shouldn't, couldn't, wouldn't. Point is, I did. The more grace you have, the stronger you are, and the less I have to intervene." He held out the vial, shaking it enticingly, but still the angel held back. "Take it. What you have now's already draining away, isn't it? How much longer will that last? A day, maybe two? At the rate you're burning through it, you won't last the week."

He shook the vial again, and Alex's fingers hesitantly closed around the glass. She tucked it deep into her jacket pocket, safe from harm and out of sight. "Just take me back to the car." She crouched down to dig out a six pack of beer from the snow beneath her feet, something she had buried before she had approached the cabin, and the second her fingers closed around the handle, the world went black.

The ground spun from beneath her feet, and then the sun was back, hot and heavy on her clothed shoulders. The angel rolled up her sleeves at the sudden change in temperature, and she felt the vial sway against her side. Crowley's gaze dropped down to it, but it lingered for less than a second. "Think about it," he advised, and then he was gone.

Alex's phone rang again, and this time she answered it. "Hey, Dean. What's up?"

"How long does it take to pick up some snacks?" came the half-humored response. "You said you were running to the gas station on the corner."

"Uh, yeah." Alex's attention turned onto the sleek shape of the Impala beside her, and she hurried over to it, digging the keys out of her pocket as she paused beside the driver's door. "I, uh, I just got back. You guys still where you were?"

"Yeah. Hurry up, would ya?"

"Sure thing." Alex hung up the phone and shoved it back into her pocket as she ducked down to pull free the plastic shopping bag from the passenger seat. The beer clanked as she shifted it to her other hand, kicking the Impala door closed behind her, and then she stepped over the concrete parking block and onto the grass. She could see the lake just down the paved walking path, the glittering blue water broken only by the outlines of two men seated in canvas camping chairs.

They didn't notice her approach until she cleared her throat, and Sam pulled off his sunglasses to look up into her face. "Hey," he greeted. "How'd it go?"

Dean's welcome was to simply take the beer, and Alex let him have it with no complaints. "I was just picking up snacks," she joked. "It went as fine as it could have gone."

"How'd you get the beer so cold?" Dean took one for himself and set the rest onto the grass between him and his brother. "It's like fifty degrees out here."

Alex shrugged, and she hurried over to her own seat when Sam picked up the cardboard container with a confused, "Is that snow?"

"Pfft, what? No." Alex sank into her own chair and reached for her snacks to hide the flush in her face. "It was like that when I bought it." She cleared her throat, intent on changing the topic before they pried too far.

Thankfully, the brothers fell silent, and Alex turned her attention out onto the lake. The parking lot behind her had been half full, but the lake was still empty; despite the unusually warm January weather, it was apparently not warm enough yet to be out on the water. "Hey," Dean finally began, and Alex cast him a glance out of the corner of her eye. "I need to ask you something."

Sam looked over at his brother in surprise. "Shoot."

"You've been … kicked, bit, scratched, stabbed, possessed, killed … and you sprain your fucking elbow?" Dean's voice lifted in amusement, and Alex chuckled under her breath.

Sam, however, just rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Dude, it was more than a sprain, alright?" he insisted, and he looked down at the black sling around his left arm. "And it was a fucking demon, but …"

"But what?" Dean's eyebrow cocked from behind his sunglasses as he turned to face his brother more fully. "That sling come with a slice of crybaby pie on the side?" He scoffed as Sam laughed, and for a moment the two fell silent.

Sam studied his brother for a moment before his voice took on a concerned tone. "How you doing?"

"Golden, man." Dean leaned back in his chair, and his head tipped in Sam's direction when his brother made a disbelieving noise. "Seriously, man, I am." His face grew serious as he shook his head. "You know, taking some 'we time' … best decision we ever made."

Alex felt his gaze turn onto her, and she gave a half-hearted nod, unable to fully related to the Winchesters’ time off. She turned back to the lake as beer bottles clinked together in a toast, and she heard Sam add an amused, "Here that."

"So." Alex turned back to the brothers just in time to watch them both take a long drink. "Did either of you guys see that thing in the paper this morning?"

Dean nodded, and Sam let out a long breath. "Maybe it was an animal kill," he suggested, but the hesitation in his voice lent itself to his own skepticism.

Dean opened his mouth to respond, but Alex was quicker. "It was three kills," she reminded, "all within the same town in the same month." Sam frowned in reluctant agreement, and the young angel added, "Maybe we should call some guys, have them take care of it."

"Good. Smart," Dean agreed, and Sam chimed in with a, "Done." The two fell silent, and after a second or two, Dean spoke again. "Or … we could be in and out. It's a milk run."

Alex looked back in time to see the Winchester shrug, but Sam scoffed loudly. "Right, because that happens … never."

Dean leaned forward in his seat, and he took off his sunglasses to look his brother in the eye. "Look, Sam," he began, his voice taking on a tone of earnestness, "what we're doing here, it's good, okay? All of us hanging out. But I need to work … I need this."

Sam took off his glasses as well, and Dean took a sip of his beer while he waited for a reply. For a second, Sam was quiet, a pensive frown upon his face, but with reluctant hesitation, he finally began, "If things go sideways … I mean, like an inch, you gotta give me the heads-up."

"Done." Relief flashed across Dean's face. "You got my word." He jumped to his feet and gathered up his things, and Alex turned her head to watch him hurry off towards the Impala, chair in one hand, the cooler of beer in the other.

Sam sighed, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose, and Alex pushed her own self to her feet with a shake of her head. “I’ll keep a close eye on him,” she promised. “I had to deal with him as demon; I think I can handle him now.” She patted the Winchester on the knee, and, when Sam merely grunted, she folded up her chair and followed after Dean.

 

Durham, Washington

The station door swung open, a welcome relief from the west coast wind, and Alex hurried inside, shaking off the cold as she pressed herself between Sam and Dean. Both were dressed in game warden uniforms, outfits long ago acquired, but Alex was dressed differently, her normal black and white attire standing in stark contrast to the muted greens and browns of her companions. She dug into her pockets for her badge as the Winchesters did the same, and the man Alex assumed to be the sheriff jumped up to his feet at their appearance. His hand extended out, and when Dean handed him his badge, the sheriff’s face softened in relief. “Gentlemen,” he greeted with a grin, and after a second his gaze flickered down to Alex, noticing the smaller hunter for the first time. “Well, I’m not gonna lie. We’re damn glad to see you.” He handed Dean’s ID back to him as he added, “You boys must come up on stuff like this all the time.”

“Oh yeah,” both brothers agreed in unison, and Alex chimed in with a half-hearted, “Definitely.”

The dark-haired man chuckled. “Hell, I’ve seen raccoons in rec rooms and bears in swimming pools. But this? You tell me.”

“Yeah,” Dean agreed, and a short silence followed as the sheriff waited for a further explanation. “Oh.” Dean blinked in surprise and looked down at Alex for help, but the young hunter could only offer up a shrug. “Oh,” he repeated. “Well, uh … Where do we start?” He chuckled as he sent a sideways look at his brother. “What with, uh, logging.”

“Ice caps,” Sam added.

“Bitcoins,” Dean finished. “Yeah.” The sheriff’s face twisted in skepticism, and the Winchester finished with, “Obama.”

“You know what?” Sam jumped in before Dean could dig himself a deeper hole. “Maybe — maybe, uh, you could walk us through the attacks. Any similarities, anything weird?”

“Only thing weird about them was how similar they were.” The sheriff turned away from Dean with a shrug, and his gaze dropped down to the folders on his desk. “Folks torn clean through. Hearts … absent. Consumed, most likely,” he added when Alex made a questioning noise.

“And there were no witnesses?”

The sheriff shook his head in response to Dean’s question. “Well, the town square attack, the parking lot … those were real late. But the bar? Hell, with how jammed the place was, you’d think somebody other than Tommy would’ve seen something.”

Alex blinked, and Dean leaned forward slightly in interest. "And what did he see?" he pushed.

"Honestly, not much." The sheriff shrugged, clearly not fond of whatever the witness had told him. "Now, Tommy ain't exactly what we call a reliable witness. And he's telling anybody who'll listened he saw some girl go out back with Barker, and she got torn up, too."

"So there was a second victim." Alex's words sounded more like a statement than a question, and the sheriff's brown gaze hesitantly turned down onto her.

"Well, sure … except Tommy's a drunk. There's no body, no DNA, no blood trail, no nothing to suggest that." He shook his head discouragingly. "You know how drunks are. Unreliable." A man walked up, silently handing the sheriff some paperwork, and Alex's lips pursed as the sheriff cleared his throat. "Excuse me one second."

"I've known drunks more reliable than you," she muttered under her breath as the man walked away, and once he was fully out of earshot, she turned to look up at the Winchesters. "So. Missing heart sounds pretty wolfy to me."

"Yeah," Sam agreed. "But this is pretty brazen, even for a werewolf."

Dean nodded, his face set into a grim line. "You think it was the girl?" he asked, and Alex grunted out her concurrence.

"Let's go find out." Sam led the way out of the police station, and Alex followed close behind, casting a look over her shoulder at Dean on the way out. The Winchester seemed to be on his best behavior, but something in the gleam of his eyes had the angel hesitant about giving him her full trust on this hunt.

She glanced over at Sam, but the Winchester didn't meet her gaze as he slid into the Impala. With a small shake of her head, Alex did the same. "So, Tommy the town drunk, then. Did the papers say which bar he was at?"

"Panheads." Dean spoke up as he started the car. "Bike bar just off of Main Street. I've already looked into it a bit." Smugness lined his voice, and the Impala purred as he pulled out of the parking lot. "It's not far from here."

Alex reached down to pull her angel blade out from her duffle bag which lay wedged between the seats. "Luckily, werewolves are easily dealt with." The blade twisted in her hands with ease, and she pushed down the thin grace within her that rose at the touch of the warm metal. Her hand brushed her green jacket that lay beside her as she straightened up, and she jerked back at the bulk of the smooth glass vial of grace that still lay hidden within.

Dean chuckled at something Sam had said, and Alex turned her attention back onto the conversation. "It won't," he promised as the Impala rounded the corner, and after a beat, his voice grew serious. "It's under control, Sam. Ah." The car pulled into a parking lot, and the engine stopped as the Impala was turned off. "Here we are."

Alex stepped out of the car to eye the grungy bar with a frown. Motorcycles lined the front, their chrome fenders glinting in the sun. "This is it?" Her gaze turned to the side of the building, searching for the alley that had been the scene of the crime.

Neither Winchester answered, and Alex closed the car door. "Maybe I should take the lead on this one," she suggested over to the Winchesters, taking a moment to look the brothers up and down through the window of the car. "Unless you want to do the talking in those ridiculous uniforms."

Sam and Dean looked down at their outfits, and Dean's lips twisted into a small frown. "We'll meet you back here when you're done." The Impala started up again, and Alex gave them a small wave as the hunters disappeared back down the road.

She pushed her way into the Panhead, pupils dilating to take in as much of the dingy light as possible. "Hey." She approached the bar, fingers digging into her pockets to find her badge. "Agent Sykes. FBI." She held out the fake identification long enough for the bartender's eyes to grow wide before she shoved it back into her pocket. "I'm looking for a witness to a crime— Tommy. Is he here?"

From the way the dark-haired man's eyes flickered to the corner of the bar, Alex knew the answer long before his mouth opened to speak. "He's right there."

The young angel turned to follow his gaze to a ragged man at a small table. He was working through a large pint of beer, his gaze distant. "Thank you." Alex dipped her head as she stepped away, and she reached for her badge one more time as she approached the wooden table. "Tommy?" She waited for the man to look up before she held out her identification. "My name is Agent Brianna Sykes. I'm with the FBI. May I sit down?" Tommy gave an uncommitted nod, and Alex sank down into the metal chair. "You know why I'm here?"

"You're here about Barker." Tommy took a sip of his beer, and Alex nodded. "I told the cops what I saw. They didn't believe me."

His blue eyes hardened, ready to defend himself, and Alex held out a hand to calm him. "I know they didn't," she soothed. "But I'm not the cops. Tell me. How did you know the vic — Barker," she quickly corrected.

Tommy gave a half-hearted shrug. "Barker and I have been raising hell, chasing tail, and riding for a long time," he began. "Part of him always knew when his clock ran out, it wasn't gonna be pretty. To go out like that? By some animal?" He shook his head, gaze dropping to the table. "Just ain't right."

Alex nodded in silent agreement, and she folded her hands on the table in front of her. "So what, uh — do you mind telling me what you remember?"

"It was just another party, you know?" The man's calloused fingers drummed on the glass handle of his drink. "Barker went out back. The next thing you know, everyone's yelling and screaming, and he's all torn up."

"The sheriff mentioned that you had seen a girl." Alex leaned forward in curiosity. "He said you thought she was killed, too." Her head tipped as Tommy sharply shook his head, and her voice grew quiet. "You're afraid no one will believe you. But the things that I have seen — even I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't been there myself."

"Well, you don't live in this town," Tommy retorted, and Alex lips pursed together at the interruption. "You don't have to deal with the ridicule."

"All that I'm saying is that you may not be as crazy as everyone thinks." Tommy hesiated again, and Alex prompted, "Just assume that I will believe everything you say. Tell me what you saw."

"Okay. The other night, just after Barker … I was taking a ride past the old Sturges farm. You know, thinking about the rides me and Barker used to go on. I-I saw her."

"Her?" Alex repeated. "Who? Saw who?"

"The — the girl. The one Barker left with. She was just standing there, all bloody, watching me. So — so I turned the hell around. I-I ran back, damn, you know, she — but … but she was just gone. Like, gone."

"Like I ghost," Alex finished.

"Hell yeah." Tommy gave an ernest nod. "No, I don't give one red cent in hell what the cops say. She was there. She was eaten. She's a freaking ghost." Tommy swallowed the last of his drink, and Alex pushed herself to her feet with a nod. "You think I'm crazy."

"No, I don't." Alex pushed in her chair as she straightened her jacket. "Thank you for your time. You've been a lot of help." She dipped her head in thanks before she walked back out of the bar.

The Impala was there waiting, the engine a smooth rumble, and Alex slid into the backseat. "How'd it go?" Sam turned to look back at her, and Alex busied herself with unbuttoning the top button of her shirt before she replied.

"He confirmed that he saw a girl, same one that went out with Barker before he died, and the next night he saw her at Sturge's Farm covered in blood. Said she was there, but when he looked away for a second, she was suddenly gone. He's convinced that she is a ghost."

"Ghosts don't shred people like that," Dean reminded as he threw the car into drive, and Alex pulled her duffle bag up onto the seat next to her.

"Yeah, usually not," she agreed. "Or, at least they don't just go for the heart. So best bet is werewolf. Or the ghost of one," she added as a joke, but when neither Winchester gave any indication that they heard, she rolled her eyes and turned her attention down onto her phone.

 

The sun had disappeared far beyond the horizon by the time the Impala pulled up alongside the old, dilapidated farmhouse. Alex straightened her thick, grey jacket as she stepped out of the car, fingers curling inside her sleeves as her boots crunched against the thin layer of snow that covered the brown grass. She tucked her angel blade into the back of her jeans as Dean got out of the Impala, followed closely by Sam. "Silver?" she asked as Dean popped out the magazine of his pistol to check the ammunition, and the Winchester grunted in acknowledgement.

"If this Tommy says he saw the same girl a second time …" Dean shook his head, his green eyes flashing in the thin moonlight. "It means this fleabag ain't done chowing down on Sons of Anarchy just yet."

"Guess she likes bad boys," Sam half-joked as he checked his own weapon, and Alex's attention moved across the farm, searching for any signs of life.

She heard Dean chuckle at his brother's quip. "Well, wait til she gets a load of us." He snapped the clip back into his gun before he pulled out his flashlight, and Alex let the thin strand of grace fall away from her eyes, letting her path be lit by the brother's light instead. She followed them down towards the barn as she drew her own gun from inside her jacket pocket. A wave of the pistol from Sam had her circling off around towards the back, her boots sinking loudly into the thin layer of snow. She kept low and moved as softly as she could, back pressed up against the rough wood of the barn to keep to the thin strip of bare grass. She could hear a person inside; a low, urgent female voice. It was drowned out by footsteps, and Alex whirled around to find Sam close behind. The Winchester held a finger up against his lips, and Alex stepped aside to let him take the lead.

"Stop ignoring my calls." The voice became clearer as they circled around the back of the barn. "Pick up the phone and call me right now. This isn't how it's supposed to go. Look, I've been —" Suddenly the woman stopped, and Alex slipped through the door, eyes widening in the dim light to watch as a shape looked up, head tipped back to scent the air as a growl rumbled through the darkness.

The woman made a mad dash for the door, and Alex broke into a run after her, her gun falling to her side as she sprinted across the barn. She heard a shout of surprise as the werewolf ran straight into Dean, and she slid to a stop at the Winchester’s surprised, "What?" as he pinned the stranger against his chest.

An arm reached past her to spin the werewolf around, and Sam's flashlight illumined the blonde's face. "Kate?"

Alex looked between Sam and Dean, surprised by the look of recognition and disappointment. "Kate?" she repeated. "You know her?" Her eyes narrowed as she studied the young woman, and she added, "She's a werewolf."

"Yeah." Dean's lips were set in a tight line. "We know." His flashlight swept the room and landed on a coil of rope that lay in the corner, but his attention was immediately drawn back to Kate as the werewolf tried to bolt. "Whoa, whoa, whoa." Dean blocked her escape, and Sam's arms wrapped around the woman. "Not happening, Twilight. Alex." His head went up, chin jerking towards the rafters above their head, and the angel immediately understood.

Her gun dropped onto the moldy hay as she swung herself up onto a dilapidated wagon and from there up onto the rafters. The thin wood creaked beneath her weight, and Alex stretched out a hand to balance herself as Sam tossed her the coil of rope. "Why couldn't we just tie her up in a corner?" she muttered to herself as she secured the rope and swung herself back down. She landed silently, her complaint unheard, and she walked over to retriever her gun while the Winchesters secured Kate so her hands were secured up above her head.

"I know who you are." The werewolf's voice was sharp and defiant, and Alex took a moment to clear her weapon, feigning disinterest while Dean answered with a, "Congratulations," before he turned away. Kate blinked in surprise at the snark, and after a second she added, "After what happened at school, I thought you'd let me go."

"The hell you talking about?" Alex looked over at Sam, hoping for answers.

"You were with Ashiel." The dim light illuminated the young Winchester's sharp features as he shot Alex a quick look. "She was turned into a werewolf by her roommates. We let her go because she promised she could control it." His hazel eyes narrowed as he turned back to Kate. "Of course, that was before you started dropping bodies."

"What?"

"Guy at the bar saw you before you went all Wolverine on his buddy." Dean's voice was smug as he addressed the werewolf, and Alex tucked her gun into her jacket. "So … surprise. Here we are."

"Kate, you said you were going straight." Disappointment lined Sam's voice as he turned to face the blonde. "What happened?"

"I ... guess things change." The werewolf's lips curled up into a snarl as she regarded the tall hunter. "Being this …" Her anger faltered, and her gaze dropped to the ground. "I tried to be strong, but the hunger was too much. Too hard. It's not like anyone gave me a handbook on how to be a werewolf."

"Looks like you're doing a pretty good job so far," Dean retorted with a scoff. "Break a few hearts, then you eat 'em."

Kate's gaze swung over onto Dean. "I was on my own. I evolved."

"Evolved?" Alex's grey eyes flashed silver in the moonlight. "Is that what you call murdering innocent people?"

Her words were met with a silent snarl, teeth bared, but Kate faltered with a response, and eventually her gaze just dropped onto the ground. "Whatever you're gonna do, just … just do it."

Sam and Dean exchanged a glance, and with a shrug, Dean reached back to pull out his pistol, the hammer back with a loud click, and at the same time, Alex reached back to draw her weapon. She watched as Dean lifted the muzzle of his gun, but Sam reached out, his large hand pushing the barrel back down. "Hey," he started, voice laced with concern. "You know what? Let me do it."

Dean's head snapped back in surprise. "Why?"

"Because … because I think you should sit this one out." Sam's gaze turned onto Alex, eyes catching on her blade. "The both of you," he clarifed. "You're not ready to get back into this."

Alex scoffed loudly. "What? No way — you're not benching me, Sam." She jerked a thumb up towards Dean, adding, "He's the one who just got off the crazy train. Me? I'm fine."

Sam's phone rang, and the Winchester's lips set into a tight line as he moved to answer it, but before Alex could declare the argument over, Dean turned to look down at her. "Right. Because I was the only one who was off the reservation. I was a demon. What — what exactly is your excuse?"

"Oh, let's see." Alex’s eyes rolled up into the back of her head as she feigned contemplation. "I had to babysit your sorry ass, and, oh yeah, the King of Hell had me under his fingernail. You remember that part, don't you? Or did the black eyes twist your memories, too?" She watched as Dean's eyes flashed with anger, and her fingers tightened around her weapon. "What are you going to do?" she taunted. "Come on, Dean. I told you, you're done pushing me around."

"Whoa, whoa." A hand shoved her backwards, and Alex stumbled back in surprise as Sam pushed his way in between them, his fingers splayed to keep them apart. "Hey! Cool it, alright? We've got a job to do. I just got a call from the sheriff. There's been another animal attack down at the high school. He says the body was still warm — no less than an hour dead. Same M.O. as the other three."

"So you don't think she did it." Dean's voice was flat, and Alex echoed his sentiment with a tight face.

"Look …" Sam started, "I don't know, okay? But as far as I'm concerned —" The sound of a snapping rope and the scuffling of feet had him cutting off in surprise, and Alex spun around in time to watch Kate sprint out the door.

"Dammit!" Dean rushed past her, almost knocking Alex off balance, and the angel hissed out her frustration as she took a step after him. "Stop her!" The Winchester wheeled around, and Alex's eyebrows lifted in surprise at the hunter's command.

"How? I don't have wings, Whorechester. Sasquatch here is probably faster than me." Alex jerked a finger back towards Sam as Dean scowled at the nickname, but his attention was directed to something laying among the hay. "What's that?"

"It's her phone." Dean flipped it open, tucking his flashlight into his pocket as the screen lit up. "Let's see who she was booty calling when we pulled up." He pressed the phone against his ear as he listened, and Alex turned to look back at Sam.

"Okay, so if she's not the one who killing the bikers, then why didn't she try and deny it?" Alex glanced back towards the door through which the werewolf had disappeared, and she twisted her weapon in her hands as she paused to listen, cautious of any potential attacks.

"Maybe she's running with a pack?" Sam suggested with a shrug. "You know, trying to protect them?"

"Well, that's one hell of a price to pay. She was about two seconds away from taking a dirt nap." Dean shoved the red flip phone back into his pocket with a dark look. "Last phone call was to a room in the Lincoln Motel. That's got to be where she's heading."

"Great. Let's get going, then." Alex hurried back out towards the Impala, and a glance behind her showed that the two Winchesters were following. "So this definitely means we're dealing with more than one werewolf," she restated as Dean unlocked the car. "This day just keeps getting better and better, huh?"

Neither Winchester responded, and Alex slid into the backseat as the car purred to life. "So." Dean turned the car onto the road, and Alex tucked her gun into the top of her duffle bag. "What was that about me not being ready?"

"W-What?" Sam looked up sharply in surprise, and he glanced back at Alex; the angel offered no sign of support, her own eyebrow cocked in curiosity. "I'm — I wasn't — I wasn't trying to start something," he insisted. "I was just saying — I thought that was the whole point of us taking a break. You know?"

"Oh, no. No, yeah. I get that." Dean's fingers drummed lightly on the thin steering wheel. "And you know, there's no worries there. But, I gotta ask." His green eyes turned onto his brother, intensity hiding behind a mask of curiosity. "What about you? Are you ready?"

"What about me, what?" Sam's eyes stretched wide in surprise at his brother's question. "Why — why wouldn't I be ready?"

"Lester."

"Lester?" Even in the dark, Alex could see the confusion etched deep into the younger brother's face, and he reached up to run a hand through his hair as he shook his head in disbelief. "You're serious? This is about Lester?"

"Um, don't get me wrong," Dean was quick to defend, and Alex almost scoffed at how quick he was to back off around his brother after the near full-blown altercation in the barn. "I'm not — I'm not trying to start anything either, okay? I'm just saying … maybe we oughta talk about that."

This time, Alex couldn’t hold back a disgruntled snort, and Sam's lips pursed together tightly. "Okay, except there's nothing to talk about."

"Okay." Dean shrugged, and Sam echoed back his own pointed affirmation. Silence followed, broken only by the Impala's purr. "I just figured," Dean finally began again, "since we're opening up veins that maybe you'd want to talk about the guy who you made sell his soul."

"The guy who you then killed, right?" Sam's voice was ripe with indignation. "I mean, that's the same guy we're talking about?"

"I was a demon."

"What? You, a demon?" Alex scoffed loudly from the backseat, drawing both brother's attention onto her. "Oh, I totally forgot."

"Right." Their eyes met in the rearview mirror. "And what exactly is your excuse for killing his wife?" His words had Alex leaning forward, mouth opening to retort, but a quick, sharp look of warning from his brother had her snapping her jaw shut.

"Hey, hey." Once again, Sam was quick to cut in on their bickering. "What do you want from me, Dean? Look, I — I'm not happy about it, okay? But I needed to find you. The both of you." He looked back at Alex, and the angel's gaze dropped to her lap. "So if I had to … to bend a few rules …"

"Go dark."

"Go dark," Sam repeated. "Sure. Label it as you want."

"Look, man, again I'm not complaining, okay?" The Impala turned onto the highway with a roar, and Dean offered up half of a shrug. "In fact, I'm doing just the opposite of complaining. I just … you know, between Lester and the others —"

"There weren't others!"

"Okay." Dean lifted his hands at Sam's defensive snap. "Either way, maybe we both needed the time off. Isn't that right, Pip?"

Alex frowned at the pointedness hidden his words, a unspoken and hesitant accusation, but she intentionally forced her voice to be light. "Totally. It's been nice not having to worry about being stabbed or shot or ripped to complete and utter shreds." She leaned back against the leather seats, adding, "So I'm guessing that we're spending the night on a stakeout at the Lincoln Motel — in the car, not in an actual room."

"Bingo." The Impala turned into town, and Alex slouched further down into her seat as music filled the cabin. She could feel Dean’s anger still prickling at the air, a force almost matched by Sam’s frustration, and she leaned her head back against the leather seat as her eyes slipped closed. If she was lucky, maybe she could grab some sleep before another passive aggressive confrontation arose.

 

Alex slumped down in the backseat of the Impala, temple pressed up against the glass as she kept watch on the stretch of doors that belonged to the Lincoln Motel. Dean sat in front of her, his attention equally enraptured, as they awaited Sam's return from the front desk. The parking lot was already empty despite the low, newly born sunrise, and the angel shifted uncomfortably on the leather as yet another car pulled past and disappeared down the road.

The unmistakable form of Sam Winchester appeared in the office doorway, and Alex straightened up, curious as to what the hunter had uncovered. "Alright." The car door opened and closed behind him as Sam slid into the passenger seat. "So the, uh, clerk says a blonde rolled up into room 3 just before sunup."

"She alone?"

"He thinks so," Sam agreed quietly, and Alex peered between the two brothers to count down to the third door. Her stolen grace bubbled up within her, but the angel firmly pressed it down even as her fingers closed around the cool glass of Crowley's vial. Realizing what she was doing, Alex yanked her hand away in disgust, and in her brief moment of distraction, Dean let out a curious noise.

"She's on the move." The car doors opened and shut, and Alex dropped the vial onto the floor of the car in surprise as she hurried after them. Her eyes scanned the parking lot, locking onto the small shape of a woman, her hood drawn up over her face. She was headed away from them, her hands shoved deep into her pockets, and Alex moved after Dean on silent feet.

"Where do you think she's going?" The angel kept her voice low as they trailed after the werewolf, and she reached back to draw up the hood of her own sweatshirt as she rolled down the sleeves of the overlaying jacket. She watched as the girl paused, head tipped back, and Alex instinctively did the same, nostrils flaring as she scented the air.

"Come on." A hand brushing across her shoulder had Alex glancing back in time to see Sam move past her. "She's heading towards the park."

Alex followed Sam and Dean across the street, hands deep in her pockets as they stepped onto the paved trails. A biker rode past, stirring up droplets of slush in his path, and Alex turned her head away to avoid the cold slurry. "This is why we should only work cases in the south during the winter," she muttered to herself, shaking off the cold, and she cast a look up towards the brothers in case either had heard.

They hadn’t; their attention was focused on the path ahead of them, and Alex scanned the bikers and pedestrians before her gaze once more fell onto the hooded blonde. "What's she doing?" Sam asked as the werewolf turned down a dirt trail after a jogger, and Alex's eyes narrowed.

"Looking for breakfast." Dean quickened his pace, and Alex did the same, breaking into a half-jog to keep up with the brothers’ long legs. Sam’s hands came back to draw his gun, and Dean did the same as they turned the corner. "Kate!"

"It's over," Sam added, gun cocked, and Alex balled her fists at her side as the hooded woman spun around in surprise. Blue eyes stretched wide at the sight of them, and Alex's fingers uncurled slightly at the round, unknown face.

"Oh, God!" The small blonde's voice stuttered in fear at the sight of the brother's guns. "Please, don't. I'll give you anything you want."

Sam slowly lowered his gun, finger still poised on the trigger as he warily looked the strange woman up and down. "Where's Kate?" he demanded as Dean slowly uncocked his weapon, and Alex lifted her grace upwards defensively.

"You were just in her motel room," Dean added roughly when all they received was a terrified stare.

"W-What?" The woman looked over at Sam before her wide eyes fell down onto Alex, begging for help. "T-That's my room."

"Why were you following that guy?" Alex jerked her head back towards the path down which the jogger had disappeared, and the stranger's gaze snapped in that direction. "Test her."

"Robbie? I-I know him! I just wanted to surprise him —" The blonde's eyes stretched wide as Alex's words suddenly registered. "Test me?" she repeated. "Test me for what?" Dean stepped forward from Alex's side, tucking his gun back into his pants, and the flash of silver caught in the early morning light as he removed a knife from his jacket pocket. "No!" The stranger's foot slipped in the snow as she stepped back. "Help! Somebody help me!"

"Just take it easy," Dean warned, a hand stretching out to soothe her, and the blonde let out a quiet whimper.

"I don't want to die," she whispered, and Alex's eyes narrowed in confusion. She opened her mouth, ready to explain their intentions, but the stranger's eyes suddenly flashed yellow. Her lips curled up, white teeth sharpened into fangs, and Alex shied away instinctively as the werewolf lept at Dean. The weight of her attack knocked the Winchester off of his feet, and the two crashed into the snow. Nexto her, Sam suddenly hit the ground, thrown back as the werewolf launched herself at him next, and Alex flung herself forward as the woman's hands wrapped themselves around Sam's neck.

"Stop it!" A voice broke through their scuffle, and Alex hissed as claws dug through her cheek. "Stop it!" Suddenly the weight was pulled away, and the angel snarled in rage as she lashed out at the vanishing werewolf. "Don't!" Alex brushed the blood out of her face just in time to see their attacker running away, her retreat blocked by Kate. She stood in front of them, head held high in face of Dean's gun, cocked and loaded, and the angel pushed herself to her feet. "She's my sister!"

Dean rushed past, his actions knocking the werewolf off balance, and Kate turned to watch Dean go with wide, desperate eyes. "What do you mean sister?" Alex's demand had Kate turning back to face her, and Alex tried to stem the blood flow with a palm.

"What do you think it means?" Kate snapped. "Tasha is my sister."

"I lost her." Dean stalked back up to them, his face dark at his luck. His gun turned onto Kate, the hammer cocked as his frown deepened in anger. "Kate, why is your sister a werewolf, huh?"

"Hey, hey." Sam reached out to lower Dean's weapon. "Let her talk." Dean jerked his gun out of his brother's reach, and Sam's lips pursed. "Put the gun down."

"Why?" Dean retorted. "So she can run again? Nuh-uh."

"She just saved our lives." Sam's reply was quiet, and Dean's weapon wavered as he considered his brother's words. His gaze turned onto Kate, whose eyes were wide in a plea, and he reluctantly lowered his gun, muttering a curse beneath his breath as he reached down to brush sludge off of his jeans.

Kate's blue eyes flickered before her gaze turned onto Sam, but when she spoke, her voice was firm with conviction. "My sister is a werewolf because I turned her into one."

Alex watched as Dean's finger tightened on his gun, but he forced himself to keep it lowered. "Okay, this is the part where you help yourself out."

"I-I don't care, alright?" Kate shook her head. "I'm sick of the lies."

"Let me get this straight." Dean lifted up the back of his jacket as he tucked his weapon back into his jeans, his face a mixture of disgust and disappointment. "We let you run because we take pity on you, and you turn around and you start making pups? You start killing people?!"

"It's not like that!" Kate's voice rose to meet Dean's shout. "I'm no killer!"

"Well, the way I remember it from the snuff film you left us, is that you killed your boyfriend's best friend—"

"That's because Brian went crazy." The werewolf cut Dean off, hands on her hips, and the hunter's lips pursed together at the interruption. "I had no other choice."

"Okay, Kate …" Sam started softly, "if all this wasn't you, then who was it? Your sister?" Kate hesitated, her mouth half open as she searched for a reply, and Sam pressed, "Did you sister do this, Kate?"

The werewolf gave no response, and Dean scoffed loudly. "Really?" he snapped. "You almost took a bullet for her, and you got nothing?"

Alex pulled away her hand, frowning down at the crimson blood that stained her fingers, and Sam loudly cleared his throat as a biker sped past. "Hey, guys? Can, we, uh, can we take this somewhere else? We need to clean Alex up, and she needs to get into some dry clothes." His hand came to rest on her shoulder, and Alex looked down at her appearance, eyebrows lifting in surprise to find her clothes wet with icy slush. A brush of wind cut through the trees, and she suppressed a sudden shiver.

"Oh, yeah, sure." Dean's green eyes flashed across her, but his voice still held a sarcastic undertone. "Let's go grab some coffee, maybe some bear hearts." He motioned back towards the path with his hand, indicating that Kate should walk where they could see her. "Let's party."

 

Twenty minutes later, Alex was curled up in the booth beside Sam, dressed in a thick grey sweatshirt and dry jeans. A cup of coffee was situated between her hands, its warmth tingling her fingertips. Dean and Kate were approaching the table with their own drinks, the Winchester's lips pursed together in displeasure as he sat down next to the werewolf. He set his drink onto the table as he glanced over at Alex, and the angel straightened up in her seat under his stare. Kate’s fingers toyed nervously her mug as she looked between the two brothers, and, after a second of contemplation, she spoke. "Just so you know, Brian's the reason I carry this."

"Hey," Dean started as a warning as the werewolf reached around back, and Kate hesitated, her free hand coming up in a gesture of innocence.

"I'm just showing you something," she promised as she pulled free a small, silver dagger. The metal glowed in the light, and the werewolf twisted it so the hunters could see. "In case I ever lose it, like Brian did, you won't have to kill me."

Alex watched as Kate tucked the blade back away, and her grey eyes flickered over to Dean as the Winchester scoffed. "Yeah, well, saying it and doing it are two different things."

"I'm serious. And whether you believe me or not, I've never hurt anyone who didn't deserve it. And I have never, ever eaten a human heart."

Something in her words gave Alex pause, and her fingers drummed curiously on the side of her cup as she took a moment to study the werewolf; she looked like she was telling the truth. The quiet hum in Sam's chest confirmed that he was thinking the same thing. "Guess that explains all the dead chickens that I found back at the barn," he finally said.

Kate nodded. "I eat what I can find, what people won't miss, hopefully. Small game, deer. I meditate. Yoga helps." Her face darkened at Dean's snort, and she retorted, "You laugh, but … I'll pretty much try anything to keep that side of me under control."

Dean's eyebrow remained cocked, but eventually he shrugged, set on humoring her. "Well, that is great, Kate. It really is. And it's nice to see that, uh, this hippie-dippie new age crap has had such a positive influence over your sister."

"Tasha … she's a different story." The werewolf's chest heaved in a discouraging sigh. "After I left school, I was … adrift. Lost. Not really sure where to go, what to do, so … I went someplace safe. I went home. But …even though I'd be good, I started to think about my family. How safe were they going to be? I was a werewolf. And then, of course, there was the two of you." Kate's gaze moved between Sam and Dean. "What if you two showed up and tried to kill me? I couldn't risk that."

Alex hummed out an agreement, and Kate's shoulders fell. "So … I walked away. Never called, never wrote, just … started a new life. Until one day, I saw a posting on my sister's Facebook page. Tasha had been in a really bad car accident. The doctors didn't think she was gonna make it. We were always so close, so … I had to go say goodbye. Then it hit me." The werewolf's eyes flashed distantly at the memory. "This curse that I had, that had brought me nothing by pain and suffering, could actually finally maybe do something good."

"So you bit her."

For the briefest of moments, Kate's voice rose in indignation. "Turning Tasha into a werewolf, it would have healed her wounds, saved her life, given her a second chance. At first, I thought I'd failed, that …" She shook her head as she trailed off, and silence fell for several seconds before she cleared her throat. "That even though werewolves heal quickly, that it was too late for Tasha. Then she woke up, not sick anymore, but okay. She had so many questions. It was a lot to swallow. But we had each other, and that felt like enough. Or … or so I thought. My sister, she gave in to everything that I had warned her about. And … and I knew, even if I couldn't bring myself to admit it then, I knew I was losing her."

Kate's gaze dropped down onto the table, and Sam's voice softened in sympathy. "So back at the barn, that was all just an act to protect Tasha?"

"She's family. And yeah, worth eating a bullet for." Her words were spoken towards the ground, not noticing how the Winchesters exchanged a glance over her head, and Alex's gaze fell onto her drink as the werewolf finally looked up. "And she needs me now more than ever. This is my mess. I gotta clean it up."

"Ad how do you plan on doing that, Kate?" Sam leaned forward as the werewolf's eyes hardened. "She hasn't listened to you yet. Why do you think she's going to start now?"

"I don't know, but … I've gotta try." Tears glistened in Kate's eyes, but the woman firmly brushed them away. "Y-You know, we'll go out into the woods. We'll drop out for however long until she learns how to control this."

"Little late for team building, don't you think?"

Kate's attention snapped over to Dean, anger flaring up at the Winchester's quip. "So, what?" she challenged. "I just abandon her? I did this. I owe her every chance to make it right."

"What if she never does?" Sam persisted.

"Then I'll take care of it."

"You'll take care of it?" Dean repeated, and Alex scoffed out her own disbelief. "You know what that means?"

Kate's eyes narrowed as she met the Winchester's glare. "Why don't you ask Brian?" she stubbornly challenged.

Alex took a sip of her drink, ready for Dean to lash out with another cold retort, but the Winchester's face was a stony grimace. "Well," he admitted, "maybe it doesn't have to come to that. You know, if you had shot straight with us from the get-go, we might've been able to help you a lot sooner."

Alex blinked back her surprise, unsure what the Winchester meant, and her confusion was echoed on Kate's face. "What do you mean?"

"By curing you both."

Cure? Alex's lips twisted downwards in a frown, but she thought better than to question Dean's words. A look up to Sam showed the same form of disbelief, and the angel dropped her gaze to her lap before the werewolf noticed their shock. All of Kate's attention, however, was focused on Dean. "Shut up. There is no cure for werewolves."

"And for a long time, that was true, but we found one." Dean jerked his head over to his brother, and Sam's lips came together in a thin smile, neither confirming nor denying his brother's theory. "Now," Dean continued, "We've got everything we need on our end. Okay? But the clock is tickin', and we need one more thing. Tasha. Unless … you want to do this without her?"

"N-No." Kate's voice lifted with eagerness. "It's a long drive, but … I know where to find her."

"Great. Let's go." Dean stood up so the werewolf could slide out of her seat, and Alex and Sam followed their lead. Alex tucked her drink in the crook of her arm as she pushed open the door that led into the parking lot, but she chose to fall behind Sam and Dean as Kate climbed into the backseat.

Dean paused beside the trunk, moving to pull out his keys, and Sam stopped beside him. "Dude, what are you doing?" he hissed, careful to keep his voice low. "There is no cure."

"There's one." Dean drew back his jacket to reveal his silver knife, tucked carefully in his pocket, and Sam's lips pursed tightly together.

"Dean, I think everything is a little more complicated than that," Alex insisted, and Sam quickly voiced his agreement.

The angel lifted her chin as Dean's green eyes turned upon her. "Kate and Tasha are monsters, right? Last I checked, you and I both kill monsters. Unless that's changed?"

"Nothing's changed," Alex agreed slowly, "but come on. Killing Tasha I understand, but Kate …" She cast the werewolf a glance through the window with a shake of her head. "I don't like it at all, but we’ve let monsters go for less. She’s fighting to protect her sister, and you and Sam -- that’s the sort of thing you two would do for each other in a heartbeat.”

Dean scoffed. "Well, yeah, and that's worked wonders for us."

"Well, we're still here, aren't we?" Sam's face darkened at his brother's cynicism, and he crossed his arms across his chest.

"Yeah, but is it right?" Dean shook his head. "I mean, all that you've done for me, and I've still got this Mark."

"And we'll figure that out." Sam's gaze dropped down onto Dean's covered forearm, and the Winchester consciously moved to cover it up as Sam continued, "We always do. But you can't take whatever has happened to us or to you and — and dump it at these girls’ feet."

"Alright, so, what? You want to nuance this thing?" Dean shrugged as he turned to face his brother fully. "Hit me. What's your plan?"

"I don't know." Sam slowly shook his head. "Just … just give me some time to think."

"Hey." The Impala door opened, and Alex looked up as Kate peered out at them, her face tight with worry. "Is everything okay?"

"Everything's fine." Alex brushed past the Winchester, breaking up their conversation as she moved to the other door. "Do you know where we're going?" Kate nodded, and Alex slid into the backseat. "Great. Then let's hit the road."

 

Voices broke through the blackness, low murmurs of indistinguishable words, and Alex stirred slightly. Her head was rested against something warm, something solid, and in the back of her mind, the angel knew that it was Sam. "Hey." A hand on her shoulder jerked her fully into consciousness, and Alex blinked open her eyes to see Dean shake Kate. "How are we doing?"

The werewolf jerked awake in the passenger seat, eyes stretching wide to adjust to the darkness, and she stared out the window for a second or two before she nodded. "We're getting close."

Alex tried to catch sight of a fleeting road sign, but the darkness hid the painted words. "So, what exactly is this spot?" she heard Dean ask.

"Ever since Tasha and I were little, we've been coming up to this cabin with our parents." The werewolf's gaze turned onto Alex when the angel made a questioning noise, her iris' glowing in the faint light. "When she became a wolf, we knew it was gonna be hard, so we kind of came up with this escape plan in case things ever got bad."

"So it's a rendezvous spot?"

"Pretty much." Kate's gaze turned out the window, and Alex watched as Dean shot his brother a look in the rearview mirror. "After seeing you three today, she should be there. Your turn is on the right."

Dean followed Kate's pointed finger, and the Impala turned down a dirt path. The headlights dimmed as they rolled up towards a wooden cabin, and Alex leaned forward to catch sight of a single light on in one of the windows. The headlights went completely out as Dean rolled the Impala up to the cabin, and Alex reached down to pick up her angel blade off of the Impala's floor. "Now what?" Sam asked as the engine died.

Kate's eyes were glued on the cabin, and when she spoke, her voice was quiet. "Maybe I should go in first, explain all this?"

"Good idea," Dean agreed, and Alex lifted her eyebrows in surprise at the Winchester's complacency. Kate nodded and threw open the car door, but suddenly Dean reached out and yanked her back. The click of handcuffs cut through the air as he fastened the metal lock around the werewolf's wrist, and Kate let out a cry of surprise as the other end was latched to the steering wheel.

"What are you doing?" she yelled, struggling angrily against the cuffs. "You son of a bitch!" Her eyes went wide as Dean's face tightened, and she looked back at Sam and Alex. "There is no cure, is there?" No one answered, and she turned back to Dean. "I trusted you. It's not her fault," she insisted. It's mine."

"She killed people."

"But she can be saved!" Tears welled up in the corner of Kate’s eyes, and the werewolf’s jaw trembled.

"No." Dean shook his head. "Tasha's in too deep. You don't ever come back from that, not ever." He threw open the car door and got out. "Come on, Sammy."

"No! Please!" Kate's voice followed them out of the car, and Alex closed the door behind her. "Don't do this! No, please! Don't!"

Her voice died away as Alex followed after Dean, muffled by the car's frame, and the angel twisted her weapon in her hand as they approached the front porch. The Winchesters drew their weapons as Alex opened the door, and she stepped aside to let them press on forward. They split up, each going a different direction, and after a second of thought, Alex followed after Sam. She watched as the hunter paused to look over an array of photos on the wooden mantle, and she brushed past him to peer into the kitchen. There was nothing to be found, and the angel drew up her weak grace defensively.

"Alex." Sam's murmur had the angel turning to face him, and Alex followed him across the room to a closed door. A bedroom lay inside, and on the bed sat a small blonde. A doll was held tightly in her hands, and Alex narrowed her eyes as she recognized Tasha.

The werewolf lifted her gaze, and Alex's grip tightened on her weapon. "I can't believe my own sister betrayed me." Tasha's voice was thick with venom, and Alex scoffed.

"Yeah, except … she didn't." Sam's gun cocked at he stepped forward, weapon raised towards the monster, and Tasha set the doll back down onto the bed as she rose to her feet.

"You're not gonna shoot me," she stated, voice calm and confident, and Alex pursed her lips.

"And why is that?"

"Sam." Dean's voice came from behind them, and Alex spun around. The Winchester stood in the doorway, hands raised, and the angel's eyes zeroed in on the muzzle of a gun pressed up against the hunter's head. It was held by a tall stranger with pale yellow eyes, and Alex felt the corner of her lip turn up into a snarl of disgust.

"Drop the weapons, or Dreamboat here gets his mind blown." Tasha's voice grew dark as Alex turned back, and after a second, the angel let her weapon clatter to the ground.

"Don’t do it!" Dean's anger had Sam hesitating, and Alex whipped her head to the side at the sound of the butt of a gun colliding with bone. Dean groaned loudly, falling onto the wooden floor, and Alex clenched her fists at her side.

"Well … Sammy?" The werewolf's deriding tone had Sam's confidence wavering, and after a second, he slowly placed his weapon down onto the ground. Tasha kicked it aside, sending the gun skittering across the room, and Alex stepped closer to Sam at the sound of two sets of approaching footsteps.

A stranger appeared in the doorway, dragging a disgruntled Kate at his side. The werewolf's eyes stretched at the sight of the gun against Dean's head, and her gaze swung over to her sister. "Tasha! What did — who are these people?"

"Brandon. Travis." Tasha nodded to the two young men in the room, a dark smile on her lips. "I turned them. They're our new family."

"Yeah, you're a regular psycho Brady Bunch," Dean grunted from where he lay on the floor, cradling his head, and Alex's grace roiled angrily as one of the werewolves lunged at Dean, teeth bared in a warning.

"Hey!" Sam rushed forward, ready to protect his brother, but Tasha was faster. Alex jumped backwards as Sam was flung across the room, landing on the large bed with a winded grunt. Tasha followed him, straddling the Winchester as her hands wrapped themselves around his throat.

Alex threw herself forward to tackle the blonde off of Sam, but a gunshot had her twisting to the ground in pain. She hit the floor as the bullet embedded itself in the wall behind her, having just barely nicked her ribs, but the shock of the wound was enough to cause her to gasp. "Tasha!" she heard Kate yell out her sister's name in a plea. "We can talk about this."

Sam gasped for breath as Tasha let go of his neck, turning to face her sister. "They were gonna kill me," she snapped. "And now you're protecting them?"

"I'm protecting you," Kate insisted.

"Yeah. I'm good. Thanks." Tasha's voice was scathing as Alex pushed herself to her feet, gripping her bleeding side. Neither noticed, their attention completely focused on each other, and after a second Tasha added, "So here's how it's gonna be. You can walk away, or you can join my pack."

"I'm not walking away." Kate shrugged off the man that was holding her, and Tasha's lips curled into a smile.

"Then prove you got what it takes," she challenged, and she glanced over her shoulder at Sam. "Eat his heart out."

"No." Alex positioned herself between the werewolves and Sam, one hand stretched out while the other stemmed the the blood from her side. "You want to get to Sam, you go through me."

Tasha's eyes flashed yellow, accepting the challenge, but Kate shook her head. "No," she insisted.

"Fine." Tasha pointed at Dean, and then Sam and Alex in turn. "Take them," she ordered Brandon and Travis. "Have some fun. Oh, and I want a heart to-go. Put it in a doggie bag."

"That was painful," Alex spat as one of the werewolves shoved her and Sam towards the door. "I hope you die for that joke—" She cut off when a shove from her captor almost had her stumbling, and she followed the Winchester out into the living room.

"On your knees!" Fists flashed through the air, and Sam and Dean fell to the floor with grunts of pain and surprise. A hand wrapped around her wrist to drag her away, and Alex struggled to pull herself free. Her grace boiled inside of her, and the angel grabbed the werewolf's forearm as her grace poured forth. It spluttered and died within seconds, curling back inside of her chest, but the contact was long enough for the monster to howl in pain and rip himself free of her hold. A handprint was burned into his skin, the flesh an angry red color, and Alex only had a moment to enjoy the sight before the second man kicked her legs out from under her.

Her shoulder hit the ground with a resounding thud, and Alex rolled onto her back, gripping her wounded side with a muffled groan. "You okay?" she heard Sam whisper, and the angel grit her teeth as she nodded. "These guys, huh?" he scoffed when Alex pushed herself up into a sitting position. "Can you believe 'em?"

"Yeah, a couple of minor leaguers," Dean agreed mockingly. Alex grunted again as she looked up to meet the werewolves' gazes.

"You're dead," one spat, rubbing at the burn on his arm. "You don't get to talk In fact —" He cut off in surprise as Sam lunged upwards. Silver flashed through the air as the blade embedded itself into the monster's stomach. Dean followed close behind, throwing himself at the other, but the half-second of hesitation was enough time for the werewolf to react. He deflected the blow, but wasn't fast enough for Alex's own attack. She barrelled into him, and the impact sent the two of them crashing to the ground. Sam was there, ready to bury the knife into the monster's chest, and Alex pushed herself to her feet.

"Welcome to the majors, boys." Dean sheathed his knife into his jacket, and Alex brushed past him to throw her weight against the bedroom door. The door opened easily, and the angel skidded to the stop at the sight of a body lying on the floor.

Blood pooled around the stomach, and Alex's gaze traced the bloody abdomen before it lifted to the werewolf's face. "Tasha's dead." She spoke loud enough for the Winchesters to hear from where they stood in the doorway, and she knelt down to pick up her weapon as Sam brushed past her.

"Kate must have fled out the window," he added, hunching over to stick his head out into the night. "Dammit. There's no way we'll find her. Not in this darkness."

"Dammit," Dean echoed, and Alex stepped aside to let him have a look at Tasha's body. "And she left us with all the heavy lifting." He nudged at the corpse with his foot in disgust. "What do you say we just torch the place, huh?"

"Yeah, sure. Whatever." Sam's voice sounded distracted as he moved out of the room, and Dean shrugged over at Alex. The angel mimicked him before she turned and followed Sam. "Hey." The Winchester's face was tight as he looked down at Alex's side, and Alex shifted so the hunter couldn't see. "How are you doing?"

"Fine. My grace is healing it." The lie came out easily, and Alex held Sam's gaze until he looked away. "Don't worry. It just barely grazed me. Where do you think Kate went?"

"Who knows." Dean appeared behind them, a lighter in his hands. "Hey, Sammy, help me get those goons into the bedroom, huh? I don't have enough juice to torch this whole place." Sam nodded, and Alex turned to help, but Dean stopped her with a raised hand. "Hold up, sport. You're not doing any heavy lifting with that." He pointed down to her side, and Alex's lips tightened angrily. "Go get the gas can from the trunk, would ya?"

"I'm fine," Alex repeated angrily, and she let her hand fall away from the wound. "My grace —"

"Is doing shit," Dean finished, and his voice hardened in authority. "You can barely stand up straight. Go. We'll take care of it."

His voice left no room for question, and Alex stomped out of the cabin, teeth grit against the sharpness in her side. Only when she was out of the Winchesters' sight did she finally reach back up to clench at the bloody skin, gasping as she finally let the pain show. "Fuck." Her fingers carefully probed the tear, slick with half-drying blood. The thin netting of grace surrounded it, healing the capillaries from within, but each jarring step tore open the newly closed vessels.

Alex sunk down in the grass beside the Impala, forcing herself to breathe shallowly in the hopes that the stillness would let the healing progress, but the flesh closed agonisingly slow. The wound wasn't deep — hardly life-threatening — and the angel paused for a moment, half-tempted to simply let Sam tend to it. Her grace wasn't strong enough; even if she managed to stay still, it would burn itself out in the process. Her gaze tuned back to the cabin, where the shadows of Sam and Dean could be seen in the lamplight, and her face colored at the possible consequences. The Winchesters thought she was weak as it was; letting Sam care for such a benign wound would only further than idea. No.

Alex pushed herself to her feet, teeth clenched in pain and anger. She wasn't helpless, and she wasn't frail. She pulled open the car door and leaned inside, fingers closing around the small vial that lay on the floor. Blue smoke swirled inside, pulsing and glowing with life, and the angel roughly pulled the stopper free. The grace rose forth, twisting and dancing like a charmed snake, and Alex closed her eyes as she parted her lips.

Warmth spilled through her limbs as the grace rushed inwards, and a shiver passed through the angel as it flooded forth, flowing through her veins. It swept over the wound, the flesh repairing beneath the tidal wave of life, and Alex felt her eyes glow blue before she reluctantly reined it back in. Her hand reached down to touch her side, fingernails dragging over the skin, now baby soft.

"Hey. Pip." The sound of Dean's voice had Alex turning around, and her eyes darted to the bedroom window, now flickering with flames. "We’re ready to head out. You good?"

"Of course I'm good." Alex let her hand fall away from her side with a curt nod. "I told you, Dean. My grace would heal it."

Dean let out a noncommittal grunt, his green eyes catching in the rising flames, but he finally gave a nod. "Good. Let's get out of here." He brushed past her and slid into the car, and Alex stepped aside so Sam could do the same. Her fingers released the vial, now cold and empty, and it fell into the damp grass as she stepped into the Impala. The engine purred, and the car sped off into the darkness.

Chapter Text

January 19th, 2015
Aspen, Colorado

Alex pulled the motel sheets tighter around her lithe frame, groaning into the thin, flat pillow. She could hear movement in the room, heavy footsteps that could only belong to Sam, and she pulled the comforter tighter over her head. Her side groaned out its pain, not fond of the new position, and Alex reluctantly rolled over to stare up at the ceiling. She heard the tall hunter call out a "Morning," but her only response was to grunt as she ran her fingers over her ribs. The bullet hole sustained in Washington was a weeks gone, the wound a distant memory, but, particularly in the early morning, the pain lingered on.

The mattress shifted as someone sat down on the end, and the angel slowly sat up, gaze sweeping across the room just in time to watch Sam shrug on a light v-neck t-shirt. "Morning. Where’s Dean at?” Alex glanced over at the bathroom, but the open door revealed that the Winchester was not inside. “Usually he's still asleep at this point."

"Dunno." Sam's shoulders rose and fell. "Probably out working on the car. The hood was rattling a bit last night." The mattress creaked as he rose up and turned to face her. "How'd you sleep?"

"Fine, actually. Best sleep I've had in weeks. What about you?" Her eyes turned onto the bed across from her, the sheets tucked neatly into the sides, and she frowned. "You did sleep, right?"

"Yeah, of course. I got a few hours." Her concern was brushed off with little interest, and Sam exited the room without another word. Alex watched him go, her frown deepening even further as she leaned over to pull her bag closer, and the angel pulled on a thin sweatshirt over her tank top. Zuriel's grace sat in her chest, colder and stronger than any grace she had had before, and the lights flickered above her head as it reached out curiously. Her control was still unsteady, but she was strong again. Alex determinedly pulled her grace back in, tucking it deep within her chest and rising to her feet as her curiosity got the better of her, and she followed Sam out the door.

"—long enough to find us a case," Dean was saying, and Alex rolled up the sleeves on her sweatshirt, surprised to remember that, even in mid-January, it was still warm in the southern states. She crossed the sidewalk to stand at Sam’s side, bare toes wiggling in slight discomfort against the pebbled concrete.

"Long enough to …" Sam blinked in surprise. "I take it that means you're feeling back to normal?"

"Yeah, sure. Whatever normal is in our world." Dean picked up a newspaper that was balanced on the edge of the open trunk, and he handed it to Sam. "So, huh, right here. A teacher in an all-girls school went missing in Flint, Michigan. She was heading to her car, disappeared, and nobody's seen her since."

Sam flipped through the article, shaking his head. "Dean, there's nothing here that even remotely suggests there is a case," he admonished, and he handed the paper over to Alex with a dismissive click of his tongue.

"There is nothing that even remotely suggests there isn't a case," Dean retorted lightly. "Boom! Look, look." He pointed to himself and Sam before motioning in Alex's direction. "You and me, FBI. She goes undercover. We get here one of those uniforms — you know, tie, short skirts. She'll fit right in."

Sam rolled his eyes, and Alex snorted. "Dude. There are some many things wrong with that. Like, most importantly, you're thinking of porn. Also, you need to lay off the tween flicks, because there's no way I'll pass off as a high schooler. Five years ago, yeah, it worked, but not now.” Dean looked skeptical, and she added, “I’m twenty three, dude.“

"First of all, nothing you said is true. Secondly, you’re twenty four — happy birthday.” Alex’s brow furrowed in confusion at the news, scrambling at her pockets for her phone to check the date, and Dean turned to his brother to add, “And come on! Guys. Case or not … out there, hunting, it's the only normal I know." He slammed the trunk and turned to face Sam and Alex. "Pack up. We got work to do."

He moved back towards the motel, and Alex looked up at Sam. "Wait. So where is this case exactly?" In response, Sam pointed to the top of the article, and the angel's face furrowed as she read the headlines. "Michigan. Why does it have to be someplace cold?"

She tossed the paper onto the car with a noise of disgust and followed Dean back into the motel. The hunter was nowhere in sight, but the running water and closed bathroom door gave away his location. Beer bottles and empty pizza boxes decorated the ceramic counter, and Alex paused to half-heartedly check if any food remained from last night's meal.

"You should probably get packed." The door squealed as Sam entered, and Alex let the box fall closed. "Dean's gonna want to leave as soon as possible."

"We have time. He's in the shower." However, the angel crossed over to her bed and pulled her bag up off of the floor. "You think there's actually something here? I mean in Michigan. With the teacher."

Sam hesitated, and when he spoke, his voice was slow. "Hard to say. But from what that article said ... there's no body, no blood, nothing to suggest a kill. And kidnappings — they're not exactly uncommon." He ended with a small, half-hearted shrug. "I guess we won't know until we learn more."

The water turned off, and Alex cast a glance back towards the bathroom. "I guess keeping him busy is the best we can do," she agreed quietly. "He seemed to handle the werewolf thing just fine, but who knows how far he can slip.” She paused, eyes flicking up to Sam, and she sighed at the concern darkening his gaze. “Listen. If working with him and Crowley taught me one thing, it’s that if you give him a bit of leeway during the good times, he’ll be more willing to listen when things get bad. And the less time he has to worry about the Mark …" She trailed off with a shake of her head. "There's nothing else to do but wait."

 

Flint, Michigan

The Impala rolled to a stop alongside a brick building, and Alex stirred from her position in the backseat. She reached up to rub a crick in her neck, stifling a groan as she watched Sam shift his phone to his other ear. "Yeah, I certainly appreciate it," he was saying. "You got it. Thanks, officer." He hung up, and the Impala's engine died. "So,” he announced as he got out of the car, “the last place Ms. Chandler was seen by anyone was in the auditorium. Turns out she's the drama teacher."

"Ugh." Dean's face wrinkled in momentary disgust, and he slammed the door shut behind him. "Theatre kids. Great."

"What?" Sam stopped, voice sharpening in confusion and indignation, and Dean shrugged. "I was a theatre kid.”

Dean’s green eyes sparkled in amusement, and he let out a scoff "Barely. You did Our Town, which was cool. But then, you did that crappy musical."

"The crappy — Oklahoma?" Sam looked down at Alex for support, but the angel merely shrugged, unwilling to pick a side. Seeing her lack of support, Sam's lips pursed as he turned back to his brother. "Hugh Jackman got cast off of Oklahoma."

"You ran tech, Wolverine." Dean chuckled as he continued across the parking lot, and Alex barely stifled a laugh of her own. She heard Sam mutter a good-natured, "Shut up," before he followed them into the school. The main hallway was brightly lit, and Alex’s dress shoes squeaked against the tile as she fell in step at Dean’s side, grey eyes sweeping across the empty hall. "Alright, follow my lead." Dean's shoulders rolled back as he stepped into the principal's office, and Alex hesitated, taking her time to read the name that hung on the wooden door. Salazar.

"Principle Salazar." The Winchester spoke cordially, and Alex's attention turned to the dark-haired lady that stood in the doorway. "We're here about the disappearance of Ms. Chandler. We're with the FBI."

Alex didn't miss the surprise that flashed across the women's face, but the display of the Winchester's badges was all that it took to reassure her. “Why are you here?” she asked, her voice thin with confusion. "The police have already come by, and I've already given my official report."

"We're just here to have a look around," Sam promised. "Captain Muñoz said that Mrs. Chandler had been last seen at the auditorium?"

"Yes. The drama department is putting on a new play." The downwards twitch of the principal's lips was enough to display her displeasure, but her voice lost none of its placid formality. "In fact, they should be rehearsing right now. I can take you there if you wish to speak with her students."

"That would be wonderful. Thank you." Sam dipped his head, and Alex stepped out of the way so the principal could pass by. Sam and Dean followed, leaving the angel to take up the rear as they made their way down the hallway.

"Here." The principal motioned to a set of double doors. "If you need anything else, let me know."

"Great. Thanks, Ms. Salazar." Sam shifted forward as the woman disappeared back down the hall, and with a shrug, he pushed open the doors and stepped inside. Alex slipped past him, blinking to adjust to the dark auditorium. The house lights were set to low, and the stage was lit, but the angel’s attention was drawn immediately elsewhere.

"You idjits!" The grumpy yet high-pitched grumble had Alex's head snapping back in surprise, and her sharp gaze swept over to a flannel-clad girl, complete with a ragged cap and fake beard. Just across the floor stood another teen, this one dressed in a oversized trench coat and tie, and Alex felt a rush of warmth flood through her — what exactly the emotion was, she couldn't tell, as it was immediately replaced by anger.

The lights on the stage suddenly flashed brighter, and the sound of a piano filled the room. "John and Mary, husband and wife ..." The singing was coming from a girl on the stage, dressed scrupulously like Dean, and the rest of the lyrics were lost as Alex choked out a barely audible noise.

The looks on Sam and Dean's faces were enough to match her own, and Alex quickly shut her mouth, eyes squeezing closed as she regained her composure from the sudden onslaught of shock and familiarity. "What the fuck is this?" Her words were drowned out by a recorded scream, coming from the stage, and suddenly the music died off.

"What in the holy …" Dean started, but he trailed off, unsure how to even continue.

Sam picked up where his brother left off, his own voice just as breathless. "If there is a case … it probably has something to do with all of this."

"You think?" Dean couldn't tear his gaze off of the stage, and Alex elbowed him in the ribs as two of the girls approached.

The first was dressed like a director, complete with a beret, and the look on her face was one of intense direction masked by excitement. "Hi!" she announced, her eyes wide as she took in the three formally dressed adults. "Oh my gosh … are you guys from the publisher?" Without waiting for an answer, she pointed to herself and her friend in turn. "I'm Marie, writer slash director. This is Maeve, my stage manager, and I was just, uh, directing—" She cut off when Sam pulled out his badge, and Alex hurried to do the same.

"I'm special agent Smith," Sam announced, and with a glance downstage, he suddenly reached out to keep Dean from revealing his own identification. Following his gaze, Alex felt a blush spread across her face at the sight of two actors holding out their own fake identifications. "This is my partner, special agent —"

"S-Smith," Dean stuttered.

Alex looked down at her own badge and hastily shoved it deep into her pocket. Keira Smith. Fuck. "Smith,” she briskly introduced. “Absolutely no relation," she quickly added. "On the bright side, you'll never get our names wrong —" Realizing she was starting to ramble, Alex snapped her jaw shut loud enough for all to hear. "We're just here about the disappearance of —"

"There is no singing in Supernatural!" Dean's sudden outburst had Alex's eyes widening in surprise. For the first time, her eyes took in the banner that hung over the stage. Supernatural, painted in large, blood-red letters.

"Well," Maeve began defensively, "this is Marie's interpretation."

Dean scoffed loud enough to cut the teenager off. "Well, I mean, if there was singing, you know … and that's a big if — if there was singing, it would be classic rock. Not this Andrew Floyd Webster crap —"

"Andrew Lloyd Webster," Sam corrected under his breath, and Dean's face twisted in confusion.

"Well," Marie began, not catching the whispered exchange, "you know, we do sing a cover of Carry on Wayward Son in the second act."

"Really?"

"It's a classic!" Both Marie and Dean spoke at the same time, their indignation clear at Sam’s disapproval, and Alex rolled her eyes.

Sam cleared his throat, hazel eyes narrowing slightly. "Right. Anyways. W-We're here to talk about the disappearance of Ms. Chandler. Any change you two saw here, before she vanished?"

Marie and Maeve exchanged looks as they thought. "Um, yeah," Marie finally said. "She left around, what? Nine thirty?" Maeve nodded in agreement, and Alex took the time to turn her gaze out across the auditorium once more. She recognized more of the characters, now that she knew what to look for: Bobby, Sam, Dean, Castiel. Mary Winchester. John. "— had a nasty divorce last year," the young director was saying as Alex turned her attention to the humans in front of her. "Most of the time, she's sipping on her, uh, 'grown-up juice,' or passed out. Usually in that order."

"Yeah, well, I don't blame her." Dean spoke loud enough for everyone to hear, but his words seemed mostly for himself. "I'm gonna need fifty jello shots and an hose-down down to get this stink off of me."

The girl — Maeve — made a move towards Dean, and Alex snapped to attention, ready to jump in, but Sam was faster. "Uh, Maeve, right?" He put out a hand to keep the young teen's attention on her. "You're the stage manager?"

"And I understudy Jody Mills." The girl's voice was flat as her brown eyes reluctantly moved from Dean, and Alex's eyebrows lifted as she turned her gaze back onto the stage, trying to find the caricature of her friend.

Dean seemed to share in her surprise, but Sam spoke over his brother's confusion. "That's great!" he insisted. "That's great. Jody Mills, that's great." He trailed off slightly, looking back at Alex, and the angel's lips set tightly. "So!" He quickly turned away. "How about you give a … a behind the scenes tour while your director shows my partners Ms. Chandler's office? Deal?" Both girls gave a nod, and Sam smiled. "Great. Give us a moment, please."

The two walked away, and Dean's face twisted in disgust. "I'm gonna fucking throw up," he grumbled, and Alex lifted an eyebrow as the stage manager threw Dean a nasty look over her shoulder before she moved out of earshot.

"I mean, I gotta say, it's kind of charming." Sam's voice was hollow, his spirit not behind his words, and his eyes swept the auditorium. "The production value, and the … no?" He looked between Alex and Dean. "No, no. I — I'm gonna check for EMF. You look for … cursed objects." He hurried away, and Alex's fingers opened and closed in a fist, itching for something to calm her nerves.

"Keep your angel eyes open, would ya?" Dean muttered over to her, and, in response, Alex briefly let her grace swell up, her grey eyes flashing blue. "Great.” Dean thudded her on the shoulder, and the light died away. “Yeah, do that." He turned and made his way down the stairs, and Alex followed, casting another look around the stage as she tried to pick out the other nondescript characters. They climbed up the stage stairs and circled around backstage, passing by a variety of cardboard and chipboard sets. A table lay just off of stage right, an organized mess of props, and Dean paused to pass his fingers over them. "How did you get all this stuff?" he asked curiously.

"Some parts homemade, some parts repurposed. All of it, awesome —" Marie turned back to them, and her eyes went wide at the sight of Dean picking up a orange-tipped plastic rifle. "Don't." She roughly took the toy from the Winchester's hands. "Please, don't."

"What's that?" Alex pointed to a white prop that lay on the far side of that table, head tipped in confusion.

"It's Castiel's angel blade." Pride lined the director's voice, darkened with a hint of condescension, and Alex narrowed her eyes.

"Really?" She picked it up, twisting it curiously in her hands before she placed it back down on the table with a shake of her head. "Cause it kind of looks like a plastic dagger spray-painted white." She subconsciously reached back, fingers touching the handle of her angel blade that rested beneath her shirt, and the angel yanked her hand away when she realized what she was doing.

Marie's face reddened, and she opened her mouth, ready to retort, but Dean spoke first. "What are they doing?" He pointed ahead of them to the stage, and Alex turned to see two teenagers — Sam and Dean — standing in the spotlight, heads bent together as they spoke beside a cardboard cut out of a black car.

"Oh!" Marie's anger dissipated. "Um, they're rehearsing the B.M. scene."

"The … bowel movement scene?" Dean's head recoiled in confusion, and he looked down at Alex; the angel could only shake her head, unsure what was meant.

"No!" The young director rolled her eyes at their ignorance. "The boy melodrama scene. You know, the scene where the boys get together, and they're — they're driving, or leaning against Baby. Drinking a beer, sharing their feelings." Her voice grew soft with longing, and Alex bit back a scoff. "The two of them. Alone. But together. Bonded. United. The power of brotherly —"

"Why are they standing so close together?" Dean cut into her monologue, lips turned down into a thin frown.

"Um … reasons."

Alex looked up at Dean, and the Winchester's green eyes flashed at the realization. "Reasons?" Alex repeated. "You — you guys do know that they're brothers, right?"

"Well, duh!" Marie rolled her eyes. "But … subtext."

"Hey!" Dean lifted his voice so the actors on stage could hear him, and the two turned in surprise at his tone. "Why don't you take some substeps back there, ladies?" The actors each took a step back, and, satisfied, Dean turned back to Marie. "Uh, how about you show us Ms. Chandler's office?"

Marie took off towards the hall with a toss of her head, and Alex shrugged over at Dean, unsure what to say. She fell in step beside the Winchester as they exited the dark auditorium and entered the white tiled halls. The dark office of the drama teacher could be seen near the end of the hall, and Alex shoved her hands into her pocket as Marie opened the door and stepped inside.

The lights flickered on, and Alex's grey eyes scoured the small room. Empty bottles lined every surface, and a large paper-mache robot head sat in the middle of the desk. "Is this hers?" Dean asked, mindlessly motioning to the prop as he circled around the desk, taking in the mess of liquor and papers.

"No!" Marie quickly snatched the head off of the desk, her eyes lighting up in delight. "That's a prop from act two. I've been looking for that, actually."

"Prop?" Alex's face went blank in surprise, and she scoffed loudly. "There's no robots or aliens in Supernatural. You know that, right?"

"Well, not canonically, no," Marie retorted hotly. "But, this is transformative fiction."

A smirk grew across Dean's face. "You mean fan fiction," he said, while Alex added, "bad fan fiction," under her breath.

"Call it whatever you like, okay?" Marie stepped back out of the office, her prop gripped tightly in her arms. "It's inspired by Carver Edlund's books. With … a few embellishments. But, as you know, Chuck stopped writing after Swan Song."

"After — Swan Song? What?" Alex's attention snapped back onto the director, and one of the liquor bottles she had been studying tipped over. "I thought he stopped writing after you went to hell," she hissed up at Dean before her voice grew in anger. "I swear if I ever see that curly-haired alcoholic again, I, I'll …"

"I just couldn't leave it the way that it was," Marie was still insisting, and Alex glowered after her before she followed Dean out of the office. "I mean, Dean not hunting anymore, living with Lisa? Sam, somehow back from Hell, but not with Dean?" She paused, looking back for support, but when none came, she shrugged. "So, I wrote my own ending."

"You wrote your own ending," Dean repeated. "With spaceships?"

"And robots. And some ninjas. And them, Dean becomes a woman. It's just for a few scenes," she quickly insisted as Dean's gaze sharpened.

"Alright, Shakespeare." Dean's voice became smug. "You know that I can actually tell you what really happened with the — uh, Sam and Dean? A friend of mine hooked me up with the, uh, unpublished unpublished books." The Winchester smirked down at Alex before he launched into his tale. "So, Sam came back from Hell. But without a soul. Then, Cas brought in a bunch of leviathans from Purgatory. They lost Bobby, Cas went insane. And then, Cas and Dean got stuck in Purgatory. Sam hit a dog. Alex found a kid. They met a prophet named Kevin, and they lost him, too. Then Sam endured a series of trials in an attempt to close the gates of hell which nearly cost him his life. Alex finally got laid, and then the angels fell. And Dean? Dean became a demon. Knight of Hell, actually."

"He wasn't a Knight of Hell," Alex quickly corrected. "He just liked to say he was. And Alex had to babysit him." She watched as Dean rolled his eyes, and she shoved her hands into her pocket as they stepped back into the auditorium behind stage, hissing out a suddenly realized, “Wait, why is me getting laid part of your highlights reel?”

Marie turned to face them before Dean could response. "Wow …" she breathed. "That is some of the worst fanfiction that I've ever heard!" She must not have seen the offense on the hunters' faces, because she continued, "I mean, seriously, I don't know where your friend found this garbage. I am not saying that ours in a masterpiece, or anything, but geez!" She laughed, and Alex's hands tightened in her pockets as she added, "I'll have to send you some fic links later —"

"What are they doing?" Dean pointed past the stage to where two actors — of Dean and Castiel — were standing, fingers linked as they stood facing each other, lips moving in quiet words.

"Um .. Kids these days call it hugging."

Alex frowned at the condescending tone, and she asked, "And is that 'hugging' in the show?"

"Oh, no. Siobhan and Kristen are a couple in real life." Marie brushed off Alex's question. "Although," she added after a second, "we do explore the nature of Destiel in act two. Oh, it's just subtext," she was quick to promise. "But then again, you know, you can't spell subtext without … s-e-x."

Dean's shoulders fell, his face tight, and Alex cleared her throat. "Sure, great. Not canon at all. Okay, so …" she began, drawing the attention off of Dean, "I recognize most of these characters here. I think. But I haven't, uh, I haven't seen Alex. Where's she?"

"Oh, we took her out." Marie waved off the question without much thought. "I felt that the play would work better without her. She doesn't do much for the story, you know? I mean, that whole 'angel' thing was creepy, and the whole ‘falling into the universe?’ ” Marie scoffed loudly. “Completely cliche — trust me; any fanfiction that starts that way is automatically awful.”

Alex's grace flicked out in anger, twisting through the room, and a shout of surprise almost drowned out the crackle of flames as a trash can suddenly caught on fire. A hand came down over Alex's head, and the angel rubbed her hair as she scowled up at Dean. "Thanks for your time. We'll be in touch." Dean stalked off stage, and Alex followed.

Sam was waiting for them outside the auditorium, leaning up against the walls, and he straightened up as they stepped into view. "What'd you learn?"

"I think Alex has the right idea. Burn the whole place." The words were grumbled out as the door swung shut behind them. "This whole thing —" He shook his head as he lead the way towards the front door. "Apparently they, uh, 'explore the nature of Destiel in act two.' " His voice grew high and nasally as he mimicked Marie's tone before it dropped back down in disgust. "As in me. And Cas. Me and Cas. Together."

"I don't understand." Sam walked over to the Impala. "I mean, shouldn't it be … Deanstiel?" He leaned up against the car, face twisted in thought.

"Really?" Dean snapped. "That's your issue with this?" He circled around the car with a shake of his head.

"No, of course it's not my issue." The smirk on Sam's face was enough to negate his words. "You know, how about Sastiel? Samstiel?"

"Calex." Alex suddenly said. "Me and Cas. I feel like we should have a ship name, since, you know, we're actually a thing." She looked over at Dean, and, taking pity, added to Sam, "Did you hear that I'm not in the play at all? Totally took me out. Me. Oh, and also Chuck wrote more books that end when Dean goes to hell."

"Yeah, I heard.” Sam brushed off Alex’s indignance. “But look, guys. No EMF. No hexbags. None of the props are even remotely hincky. Other than the Charlie Kaufman of it all, I got nothing. You?"

"In Ms. Chandler's office, there's just a pile of empty bottles and regret. She's just probably face down in a bar somewhere. Or a ditch." Dean rolled his eyes. "Alright, so what? This — this all … this whole musical thing, everything it's … it's all just a coincidence? There's no case?"

"Unless you're seeing something I'm not, no. There's no case here." Sam watched as Dean unlocked the Impala and pulled open the door before he added, "CasDean?"

"Shut your face!" Dean's head snapped up angrily, and Sam snickered. "Get in the car!" Alex and Sam climbed inside, and Dean slammed the door behind him as he followed suit.

 

The call came in late that night. Another missing person from St. Alphonso's Academy, reported the sheriff, a student this time; they had been part of the drama club, having left after practice, but this time, there was a witness.

Alex pushed her way under the police tape, pulling her canvas grey jacket tighter around her body to keep out the biting night wind. Police sirens lit up the air with flashes of red and blue, and the angel shifted closer to Sam as they drew closer. "Sheriff Lindsey." The Winchester lifted his voice above the wind. "I'm Agent Smith. We talked on the phone."

"Ah, yes. Glad to see you came over so quickly." The balding man rubbed his hands together as he took in the three of them. "Your partners?" he guessed, and when Sam nodded, the sheriff waved them forward. "The girl's name is Maggie Sharp. The witness said they had argued about some play, and when Maggie walked away, something jumped her and dragged her off. Witness followed but lost sight of them behind those dumpsters."

Dean disappeared off to the left, and Alex grunted in acknowledgment, eyes tracing the small yellow evidence cones that laid out the path described, until Sam cleared his throat loudly. "And, um, what's that?" He pointed to a small violet flower that lay on the ground, and Alex tipped her head curiously the sight. Sam crouched down and pulled out a phone to take a picture, his brow dark in confusion.

The sheriff, however, merely shrugged. "Don't know. All I can say is that no plant around here is blooming. Must have fallen from a pocket. We'll have our men down at the lab analyze it." He paused, and after a second, added, “It looks a bit like the flower found when Mrs. Chandler disappeared. Think there might be a connection?”

"This witness you mentioned.” Alex ignored the question, curling her fists even tighter in her pockets as a gust of icy wind rushed past. "Is she still here? May we speak with her?"

"Have at it. She's not making much sense, though." The sheriff glanced back towards the school building. "She'll be in the auditorium. Name's Marie Sarife."

Marie. Alex winced at the name. Of course it was Marie. She looked up at Sam, but the Winchester showed no reaction. "Thank you," was all he said. He turned to leave, and Alex followed, eager to get out of the cold.

Dean was waiting for them just outside the auditorium. "So, I checked with the principal," he announced. "There's nothing on the surveillance tapes. What the — what did the cops think?"

"You know, the only clue they found was by the dumpster." Sam pulled out his phone to show off a picture from the parking lot. "They found the same flower near Ms. Chandler's cell phone. You recognize it?" Dean shook his head, and Sam sighed. "Yeah, me neither."

"Marie was the witness," Alex added sourly, and Dean's eyebrows lifted in surprise. She pulled open the door to the auditorium, and the Winchesters followed her inside.

The lights were up, with a small group of teenagers gathered at the edge of the stage. Alex stepped aside to let the brothers take the lead as they walked down the stairs, and Marie lifted her gaze as they approached. "Let me guess." Her voice was quiet, flat with exhaustion. "You guys came to laugh at me, too. Right?"

"Why don't you tell us what happened to your friend?" Sam suggested, and Alex shrugged off her jacket, tossing it across a folded chair as she straightened the sleeves her blue plaid shirt.

"Maggie quit the show. She was trying to get it shut down … so we were fighting." Marie toyed with the coffee cup in her hand and shivered. "Then, she — she left, and I heard her scream. So, I r-ran outside to help, and … and I saw a scarecrow." The teen lifted her gaze to look Sam in the eyes. "It looked just like the one from our show. But … alive."

Marie hesitated, and Dean prompted. "Then what?"

"It … wrapped her up in vines and took her behind the dumpster. And then, then they were both just … gone." Marie shuddered again. "So, I called the cops, and a bunch of adults just told me I have an overactive imagination. But … it's all real. Ghosts. Angels. Demons."

"I wanna believe," Maeve assured her friend, and Alex politely held back a roll of her eyes as her grace twisted inside her.

"You should believe." Sam's words surprised her, and even Marie looked shocked. "You both should. Cause it is all real. And so are we." Sam pointed to himself, his voice deep with sincerity. "I'm Sam Winchester. That's Dean. And that is Alex."

Silence fell. Marie and Maeve exchanged slow, wide-eyed looks. And then they laughed. Alex narrowed her eyes at the scoffing amusement, and she shot a glance up at the Winchesters. Their faces were stony, displeased at the reaction, but at least Marie seemed to have momentarily forgot about her day. "Okay," the teen finally began, gasping for breath. "Now, look. I'm willing to accept that monsters are real. But those books are work of fiction."

"And you guys are way too old to be Sam or Dean," Maeve added. "Maybe more of a Bobby-Rufus combo? Maybe."

"And Alex is an angel." Marie looked Alex up and down with a roll of her eyes. "You … you're too old and scrawny —"

"Alright, that's it." Alex's grace snapped out, sharp as a whip, and the lights flickered above their heads; one exploded into a shower of sparks, and Marie flinched in surprise. Alex drew her grace up again, raising it to her eyes to show off their glow, but Dean was faster. "Ow!" The angel winced away as his hand came down over the top of her head, and she glowered up at the hunter. "Stop doing that," she snapped.

"Stop lighting things on fire," Dean retorted.

"Look," Sam started, hands going out to hold back his partners as he calmly addressed the teens on the stage, "We're what the book calls hunters. This, this scarecrow — the one from your musical — is it based on the one from the books?"

"No, I changed it." Marie shuddered, and Alex rolled her eyes. "I got scared of a local legend when I was a kid. There was this old, creepy scarecrow on an abandoned farm outside of town." Her voice dropped into a whisper. "Kids used to say if it caught you, it would take you away."

"Okay." Dean crossed his arm. "If this scarecrow is based on your version, then Ms. Chandler and Maggie might still be alive."

"Please." Alex rolled her eyes yet again. "Have you seen this?" She motioned vaguely to the props on the stage. "This could be anything. Tupla, ghost, pagan god — hell, this could be a demon who has good taste in the theatrical arts. He'd be doing the world a favor, if you ask me," she added under her breath.

If the brothers heard the last part, they ignored it. "Could be a tulpa," Sam slowly admitted. "Hey. Do you guys have a library here?"

"Yeah." Maeve rose to her feet, and Alex fell in step behind the Winchesters as they exited the room. The sound of sirens faded into the distance as they crossed the school to a darkly-lit library. The lights flickered on as they stepped over the threshold, and the angel blinked to let her eyes adjust to the sudden change. Sam slipped off to the left, disappearing behind a shelf of books, and Alex took a step forward, ready to follow, but the sudden pressure between her shoulder blades had her jumping in surprise.

"How'd you do it?" Maeve watched her through half-narrowed eyes, reaching up to prod at her again. "Make the lights flicker like that?"

"I'm an angel," was Alex's curt response, and she pointedly turned her back as she mentally corrected herself. Half-angel. Her shoulder muscles twitched, moving non-existent wings, and Alex shook the thought away, stretching out her grace in search of Sam. He was searching through the shelves, fingers brushing against the spines.

The sound of his breathing was drowned out by Marie's scornful laugh. "Angels have wings," she insisted.

"Yup. And humans can't see them." Alex turned her attention up onto Dean, lifting her voice to speak over any further criticism. "My bet's still on demons. Think Crowley's trying to do us a favor for once?" Dean scoffed, rolling his eyes, and Alex sighed. "Yeah, you're right. If anything, he'd probably be funding this monstrosity."

"Here." Sam returned, a book tucked under his arm. "This way." He crossed over to a table and dropped down, flipping open the book to an earmarked page. "Tulpas are monsters that are created by an intense, focused energy on an idea, or —"

"Or a story," Marie finished with a self-satisfied nod.

"Great." Maeve sank down into a seat. "How do you kill an idea?"

"Well, in Hell House, Sam and Dean burnt down the house to take out the one tulpa they hunted," Marie reminded, but she cut off when Alex snapped her fingers together.

"Right. Ghostfacers. Back — back when they were the dream team." The angel lifted her eyebrows over at Dean, trying to bring back some humor, but when no response came, she turned away. "You’re right," she began, reluctantly agreeing with Marie's assessment. "When you destroy the symbol, you also kill the tulpa. So, you said this scarecrow was a part of your play? Is it a person or a prop?"

"Prop. And it's terrifying." Marie shuddered, and Alex held back an amused scoff at the reaction. "We keep it in the boiler room."

"That's, uh … great." Sam pushed himself to his feet and patted the table. "Can you guys read up? Just, give us a second." He stepped away from the table, and Alex hurried after him. "Fine, so, this doesn't add up," he began quietly, turning his back to the teenagers as Dean stopped at his side. "Tulpas require a ton of psychic energy to juice up." When Dean nodded, Sam glanced back towards the two teenage girls. "Well, it's not like the Supernatural books are tearing up the New York Times best-seller list. And I seriously doubt this play has even sold out."

"I hope not,” Alex muttered, and with a glance back at Marie, added, “Plus this scarecrow isn’t even based on the books. No one even knows about it outside of the cast.”

Dean nodded, and Sam reached up to scratch his head. "Well, you know what? This flower." His face darkened up as he thought, his broad shoulders hunched over. "I know I've seen it in the lore somewhere. There's gotta be a connection."

"Alright." Dean clapped his brother on the shoulder. "How about you get on that, and Alex and I will take a shot at burning man."

Alex nodded, stepping back towards the exit, but Sam's low murmur made her pause. "You sure?" Sam shot Alex a glance out of the corner of her eye, and the angel turned away, eyes tracing a stack of books as she pretended not to have heard. "I mean, with — with Alex a-and Marie." His voice dropped even further, and Alex had to strain her ears. "You know how … touchy she can get with strangers, a-and — and with her grace back —"

"She'll be fine." Dean's voice was clipped, and Alex's eyebrows lifted to find the eldest Winchester defending her. "If it makes you feel any better, I'll keep an eye on her."

The grim line on Sam's face said it all, but he didn't argue. "Hey." Alex lifted her voice, beckoning Marie forward with a finger. "Come show us where the boiler room is, would ya?" She didn't miss the fear that flashed through Marie's eyes, and the angel's lips turned up into a smirk. "We need to see that scarecrow."

"Yeah … sure." The dark-haired teen hesitated, but she reluctantly led the way out of the library, leaving Alex and Dean to follow. The flashing of sirens could still be seen bouncing off the white walls, and Alex started back towards them, but Marie led them in the opposite direction. The windows disappeared from the walls, leaving only doors to break up the white painted bricks, and Marie came to a stop beside a large iron door clearly marked Boiler. Here she paused, hands patting at her hips as she searched her non-existent pockets."Oops, I forgot my keys," the teen began hopefully, but Alex stepped forward and nudged her aside.

"Here. Let me." The angel let her grace slip out, just a little bit at first in an attempt at control, but it snapped through the air, breaking the interior lock with a large crack. Alex flinched at the sound, turning her head to avoid eye contact with Dean as the door limply swung open. Oops.

She stepped aside, and Dean took the lead, drawing his flashlight out of his pocket to light the dark stairs. A rumble sounded below, dark and metallic, underlying a drone that grew louder and louder with each passing step, and Alex blinked as the lights suddenly flickered on.

A sheet-covered mass stood in the corner, the flickering light of the boiler's fire dancing across the creases, and Alex could hear the fear in Marie's breath. "Gird your loins. It's horrifying."

" 'Horrifying.' " Alex scoffed as she repeated the word under her breath, and Dean stepped forward to pull off the sheet. It billowed to the ground, and Marie sucked in air at the sight of the terrifying prop. "Oooh." The angel's fingers wiggled in the air as she regarded the straw-stuffed sculpture. "Button eyes." She walked up and flicked the blue button, watching as it clacked against the red one before swinging back. “How monstrous.”

"Alright." Dean picked up a piece of pipe off of the floor, turning it in his hands to test its weight before he held it out to Marie. "You wanna pinata this asshat?"

"Asshat?" Marie looked up at Dean before nodding impressively. "Nice. It's, uh, very Dean. No." She shook her head, stepping back from the prop. "It's all yours, Agent Smith."

"Smiths," Alex joked as Dean stepped up next to her. "We need to get new IDs." She looked the prop up and down, jaw clenched in effort to keep her grace under control as it reached out towards the scarecrow. She felt wood and straw and string, but there was no sign of anything malignant. She opened her mouth, ready to tell the Winchester, but one last glance at the prop had her stepping away and shutting her mouth. Monster or not, that thing deserved to burn.

 

"It's not a tulpa." Sam's words greeted them the moment Dean waltzed back in through the door. Alex blinked, her only show of faux-surprise as she slipped by, circling around to stand at Sam's side. "It's not a tulpa," he repeated once more when Dean paused, confusion darkening his face.

"Say it one more time, but just a bit more like Arnold, like — 'it's not a tulpa.' " Dean's voice dropped low, and Alex laughed at his impersonation.

"Dude, come on." Sam's eyes rolled into the back of his skull, and Dean's grin faded. "It's Calliope."

"The goddess of poetry?" It was Alex's turn to show genuine confusion, and she tipped her head back to look up at Sam as she racked her mind for any knowledge about the Greek muse."Are you sure?"

"She's associated with this — the borage, or starflower." Sam reached for his phone to show them the picture, but Alex already had the image of the pale flower in her head. She nodded and turned back to the table where Maeve sat, a book in front of her.

'Okay, wait." Dean spoke up, and Alex hesitated. "If this is a god thing, then what's with the scarecrow?"

"According to the lore, Calliope manifests creatures from the story she's turned into," Sam explained.

"Sort of like Gabriel — trickster edition," Alex quickly corrected. "Great. At least she should be easier to corner than that slippery son of a bitch." She crossed over to the table and pulled the book close, fingers running down the smooth page as she skimmed the paragraphs.

"So … the scarecrow is still alive, and we burned my prop for nothing?" Marie's voice lifted in anger, and Alex shot her a look, eyebrows lifted in disbelief at her rage.

"Oh, that thing needed to burn," Dean promised darkly, and Alex loudly echoed his sentiment.

She ignored Sam’s tight-lipped frown as she turned back to Maeve, motioning to the teen to get her to speak. "The only way to destroy the scarecrow is to kill Calliope," Maeve explained to Alex, and she reached over to pull the book away from the angel as she looked up at Sam for confirmation.

"Right," Sam agreed. "She uses these manifestations, like the scarecrow, to inspire the author and protect them … until their vision has been realized. Then … she eats the author."

Alex barely held back a laugh as Marie's face immediately went white as a sheet, and she ducked her head to keep her expression hidden. "Okay, t-that's bad!" Marie's voice shook. "Um, w-well, you get your wish. Let's cancel the show."

Sam, however, shook his head. "That's what your teacher and your classmate tried to do," he reminded. "They tried to shut you down, and the scarecrow took them. That's what it's doing. Protecting you and the show."

"Okay, so, the scarecrow is the boogeyman." Dean clapped his hands together, eyebrows knit in thought. "We got to take our shot with this, uh …"

"Calliope."

"Calliope," Dean finished with a nod in Alex's direction. "But she won't show herself until —" He turned to look down at Marie, "— your vision has been realized."

"So …" Marie's voice trembled. "What are you saying?"

"The show must go on." Dean clapped the teenager on the shoulder, and Alex took a seat down on the table as she looked between her four companions. To her surprise, Maeve didn’t share in her friend’s terror; her face was placid as she carefully watched Sam and Dean, the only outward show of trepidation buried deep in her eyes.

"Okay," Alex began, planting her hands behind her as she casually leaned back, "so how are we going to kill her? Pagan god usually means wooden stake — anything stipulations? Wood type, blood?" She looked over at Marie, who was bent over, breathe ragged as she tried to suck in air. "Is she still panicking? I thought we were past that."

"She's going to be eaten by a god," Maeve reminded, her voice flat with her typical distaste, but Alex simply shrugged it off.

"Oh please. Like we're actually going to let that happen." The angel pushed herself off of the table and crossed over to Sam and Dean. "So. When is this play supposed to premiere?"

 

The air pricked at her skin, sharp and heavy with nerves, and Alex did her best to brush off the feeling as she pushed her way backstage. She could feel panic, sharp as a bolt of lightning, and the angel followed the trail around to the left to the dressing rooms. “Hey!” Dean’s voice was as sharp as the air, and Alex pushed her way in past the heavy black curtain. “Why don’t you —“

“Why don’t you guys rally Marie?” Sam said, and Alex swept her gaze across the crowded room of actors. Sam stood a head taller than all the rest, Dean at his side, and the angel paused to look between them and Marie, who was pacing back and forth in an absolute panic. “I’m gonna, uh, grab some wooden stakes in the trunk and do the blessing.”

Sam placed a hand on her shoulder as he slipped past, and Alex turned her head to watch him go. “Is Marie gonna get eaten?” she heard Maeve ask Dean, and the angel snorted in amusement when she felt Marie’s panic increased tenfold.

“Not gonna happen.” Dean shook his head firmly, and his green eyes displayed his displeasure at the ill-judged comment. “Soon as that curtain rises, we’re gonna be there to take out this Calliope. Alex.” He waved her over, and the angel slipped through the throng of actors. “What have you got?”

“Doors have opened. People are trickling in.” The angel rolled back her shoulders as a girl slipped past, mumbling an apology as their backs collided. “Where do you want me?”

“Backstage with me and Sam. He’s out —”

“Blessing the stakes,” Alex finished. “Yup, I heard. If it’s all the same, I think I’ll just use this.” She drew her weapon from the back of her jeans, twisting it so the light glinted off the blade. Her grace melded with the metal, sending warmth through her veins, and the angel reluctantly hid it once again.

Dean gave a curt nod, and he brushed past her. “Hey!” he called to Marie, and Alex folded her arms across her chest as the teen turned to face them. “Hey. How are you doing, champ?”

“This … this is all my fault.” Marie turned to stare up at Dean, her eyes wide and voice shaking. “If I hadn’t written this dumb play, none of this would’ve happened.”

“Okay, first of all, the play is not dumb.”

“I … I thought you didn’t believe in this interpretation.” Marie’s brow furrowed in confusion, and Alex pushed her way past Maeve to stand at Dean’s side.

“Yeah, I don’t. Like, like at all.” Dean looked down at Alex, and when the angel nodded in full agreement, he shook his head. “But you do,” he finished, his voice softening ever so slightly. “Okay? And I need you to believe in it with all you got so that we can kill Calliope, and we can save your friends. Can you do that?”

Marie sniffled, and her eyes fell closed as she steeled herself. “Yeah,” she finally said. “You’re right. If Sam and Dean were real, they wouldn’t back down from a fight. Especially my sweet, brave, selfless Sam.” Marie’s voice grew soft, and she let out a longing breath. “There’s nothing he can’t do.”

“A-Alex is brave, too,” Alex put in helpfully, but her comment was ignored.

Marie sank down into a dressing chair and turned to face the brightly lit mirror. “Okay. Let’s do this. I understudy Sam, so …” She reached over and grabbed a wig off of a mannequin, and Alex cocked an eyebrow, amused, as she carefully pulled the brown wig over her already brown hair. “I used this for my one-woman Orphan Black show last year,” she explained. “But it’s gonna have to work for Sam.” She adjusted the wig one more time before she turned her attention to the mirror. “Writer. Director. Actor. I’m gonna Barbra Streisand this bitch.”

“What you gotta do is get a life,” Alex muttered, and with a shake of her head, she lifted her voice. “Alright. You go out there and … do whatever the hell it is that you guys are gonna do. We’ll take care of this bitch.”

Marie’s voice was flat as their eyes met through the mirror. “You sound confident.”

“Pagan gods are a milk run.” Alex shrugged, unsure what else to say. “I’ve stared the devil in the eyes and walked away. You think I can’t take down an overpowered child?” She let her grace boil up, and her eyes glowed blue, the light exaggerated by the dark room.

Marie let out a strangled noise and almost fell off her chair, and Alex ducked in time to miss Dean’s swipe. “W-W —“

“Angel. And stop trying to hit me,” she added to Dean, batting his arm away with a good-natured huff. “Point is, Calliope doesn’t stand a chance against us; nothing is going to happen.” She motioned to herself and Dean and turned at the sound of approaching footsteps just in time to see Sam step into view.

“No, no — you can’t be an angel. A-Angels don’t exist —“

“Hi, yes, yes, yet here I am. Alex, angel of the Lord. You’ve read about me.” Alex waved her hand in a dismissive manner. “Maybe you don’t remember — I didn’t do much for the story after all —”

She cut off when a hand came to rest on her shoulder, warm yet firm.“You could have waited to scare her until after the show,” Sam reminded, and Alex barely held back a chuckle despite his displeased tone. “It’s almost showtime,” he announced, and he held out a wooden stake to his brother before glancing down at Alex. “You good?” Alex flashed him a thumbs up, and the Winchester’s attention turned to Marie. “Everyone’s out there waiting for you. Better get going.” Marie hesitated, and he added, “We can talk afterwards, alright? But this show needs to go on.”

Marie gave a determined nod, and Alex stepped aside as the teen rushed past, making sure to give the angel a wide berth. “Still don’t like her, but I have to admit, the kid’s got guts,” she begrudgingly admitted. Sam lifted an eyebrow, and the angel scoffed. “What? She wrote me out of the play. Me, Sam.”

She was silenced by another tight squeeze, and Alex frowned as Dean gave her a pat of condolence on his way past. Sam followed with a shrug, and the young angel swiped a hand through her hair as she trailed after him. She could hear Marie, voice full of forced confidence as she made one last pass over the line of actors. “Okay, good, good, okay,” she was saying, and Alex moved to Dean’s side as Marie suddenly stopped in front of the teen dressed as Dean. “Alright. Samulet?”

The girl lifted the machete amulet that hung around her neck, and Dean’s head tilted in confusion. “The … samulet?” he repeated.

“The amulet is a symbol of the Winchesters’ brother love,” Marie explained quickly, and Alex shrugged when Dean’s questioning gaze turned down onto her.

“They look pretty good.” Sam gave an appreciative nod as he tucked the stake into his jacket pocket, and Alex followed his gaze down the row of teens. “Wait a second … where’s Chuck?”

“Oh, I-I-I, I love him,” Marie began, “I do! But, honestly, the whole ‘author introducing himself into the narrative’ thing … it’s just not my favorite. I kind of hate the meta stories.”

Both Winchesters made noises of agreement, and Alex added, “Ah, so you wrote him out, too? Wow, never thought him and I would have anything in common.”

Marie’s face paled slightly, and Dean cleared his throat. “Alright, listen up, girls,” he announced. “Now, you’re all here because you love Supernatural.”

“Actually, I was hoping we’d do Wicked,” one of the actors put in, and Alex’s lips turned up into an amused smile.

“Yeah, that’d have been easier,” Dean quickly agreed. “Uh, I know I have expressed some differences of opinion regarding this particular version of Supernatural. But tonight, it’s all about Marie’s vision.” He put a hand on Marie’s shoulder, squeezing slightly in an act of comfort. “This is Marie’s Supernatural. So, I want you to get out there, and I want you to stand as close as she wants you to, and I want you to put as much sub and as much text as you possibly can. There is no other road. No other way. No day but today.”

Alex’s eyes narrowed, intrigued by the familiar words, and behind her, she heard Maeve whisper, “Did he just quote Rent?”

“Not enough to get us in trouble,” Marie whispered back.

“Now you get out there and you kick it in the ass!” Dean finished, and he stepped away as the actors circled up.

“Bring it in,” Marie called, hand going out, and Alex sidestepped as the rest of the actors did the same, hands meeting in the middle of the circle. “Ghost ….” they chanted, “facers.” The last word was hissed out, fading into silence, and Alex looked up in time to see the Winchesters exchanging glances.

“ ‘Put as much sub in that text,’ huh?” she asked as the actors dispersed, sidling up to Dean. “Having a change of heart about my mate?”

Dean grunted, and for a moment, the angel was sure he wasn’t going to respond. “I’m just trying to bring Calliope into the open,” he finally said. “The sooner Marie’s vision is recognized, the sooner we can put this production down.”

“Well said.” Alex withdrew her weapon from the back of her jeans. “I’ll set up a perimeter. Angel blade,” she explained smugly when Marie’s eyes went wide, and she twisted the short sword in her hand. “Pretty cool, huh?”

“You’re enjoying this way too much,” Sam murmured as he passed by, and Alex snorted in amusement as the hunter walked away.

“Up yours,” she called after him before she let her arms fall back to her side. “Get out there,” she told Marie. “You need to introduce the show.”

“I’ll start on this side,” Dean announced as Maeve passed by. “You two start on the other.” He walked away after the stage manager, and with a shrug, Sam moved off in the other direction.

The flash of a trench coat caught her attention, and Alex spun around. “Hey!” The angel pointed towards the thin actors. “Uh, Cas — uh, Kristen, right? Fake Cas. Can I get a picture with you?” Alex dug her phone out of her pocket. “The real Cas is gonna get a kick out of this,” she added. The actor didn’t protest, and Alex slung an arm around her shoulder as she snapped the picture. “Great, thanks.” The angel patted the fake-angel between the black-wire wings as she stepped away. “Good luck out there.”

She quickly sent the photo before she shoved her phone back into her pocket as the lights dimmed and the music ceased. Marie’s voice drifted through the air, shaky with nerves, and Alex continued on, grace flicking out as she searched for anything supernatural. Music picked up, met with the voice of Siobhan — Fake Dean, Alex corrected. Her phone buzzed, and the angel looked down at the screen as she wandered back towards Dean.

The text was from Castiel, and she grinned as she opened the message up. Where are you? Why is that girl dressed like me?

Working a case. And cause she’s pretending to be you. I’ll call ya later. A hand on her shoulder had Alex jumping in surprise. “What?”

She clamped her jaw shut as Maeve shot her a loaded glare, and Dean motioned towards the stage with his wooden stake. “Thought I told you to stick with Sam,” he whispered.

Alex squinted as she peered out onto the lit stage, trying to catch sight of the Winchester on the other side. “I was talking to Cas. Real Cas. He says hi,” she lied before turning to Maeve. “Hey, is there a CD of these songs? This would make good driving music.”

“Hey.” Dean knocked her in the shoulder with the stake as he pointed across the stage. “There.”

Alex stepped forward to see what the hunter was motioning at. The tall, dark shape of Sam Winchester was obvious, and he flashed them a thumbs up when he caught their gazes. Dean shook his head, arms waving, and Alex almost slipped on the floor as she tried accelerate into a run. A figure was behind Sam, dark and vile, and the angel tore off around the back of the stage.

Dean was close behind as she slid to a stop. Her toes knocked against a wooden stake discarded on the ground, and Alex snarled out her frustration as Dean stooped to pick it up. “Dammit,” she hissed, careful to keep her voice low as the lights on stage dimmed. “What’s it doing? It’s supposed to go after Marie, not Sam!”

“It knows we’re here to kill it.” Dean held out the wooden stake, but Alex refused to take it. “Keep your head up. I’ll go after Sam.”

“Are you sure?” Alex hesitated as the hunter pushed the sharpened branch into her hands. “I mean, you sure you trust me that much? Maybe I should find Sam.” She jammed the butt of the stake back into the Winchester’s chest. “I can sense him easier, after all.”

“Alex. Calliope isn’t going to show her face here, not you around. If she sends anything, it’ll be that scarecrow, and you’re the one with the mojo to stop it.” Dean held out the stake, and the angel’s fingers closed around the rough bark.

“Okay,” she relented, unwilling to show the small spark of pride in her chest at the Winchester’s faith in her. “Go find Sam.”

The lights went down, and Alex lifted her grace to her eyes to see Marie hurrying off the stage. “Where are Agents Smith and Smith?” she hissed, lookin around with wide eyes. “I saw — I saw the scarecrow take Agent Smith.”

“Agent Smith went after Agent Smith.” Alex shoved the wooden stake into Marie’s hands before the dark-haired teen could ask any more questions. “Here. This’ll put Calliope down if she shows her ugly mug. Keep it on you. Jacket pocket,” she added when Marie looked down at the stake in surprise.

Her phone rang, and Alex pressed it up against her ear. “Uh, hey, Cas. Not a great time.”

Her chest warmed at the deep, soft rumble of the seraph’s voice. “I apologize. Where are you?”

“Michigan. Hunting down Calliope at this crazy play.” Alex cast a look at the stage with a grin. “You’re never gonna believe this. I’ll call you later and tell you all about it once we kill the bitch. Alright?” The lights flickered on and then off again, and Alex lowered her voice. “Gotta go, love you, bye.”

“Second act is starting,” Marie announced, her voice tight to keep it from clenching, and Alex frowned as she looked down at her phone.

“Second act?” she repeated. “Already? How many acts are in this thing?”

“Five.” Marie hurried back on stage, and Alex winced at the news.

She tucked her phone back into her pocket and pulled free her blade as she positioned herself besides the curtain to watch the play. “Five,” she muttered under her breath. “Wonderful.”

 

To Marie’s credit, the play was well-written. That thought hung in the back of Alex’s mind as she watched fake Castiel begin her solo, her dark-wire wings catching in the spotlight, and the angel tipped her head as she watched; inaccurate, but well-written. She sidestepped to let fake Dean come offstage, head tipped as she listened. She knew the night in question well: Sam, gone; Dean, in 2014; her, with Castiel in a small diner on the side of a dusty road. They had talked — and she had spoken to Jimmy Novak.

A huff of air left her breath as if she had been punched, and Alex’s spine stiffened. It had been a long time since she had thought of Castiel’s vessel; with Jimmy’s soul vacated, she had no reason to.

“You okay?” Marie stopped at her side, and Alex jerked away in surprise.

“Of course,” she promised hastily. “I was just thinking about … something. No sign of the scarecrow,” she was quick to add. “Keep your eyes peeled, though.”

“Oh trust me, I will.” The teen straightened her jacket, trying to smooth down the crease where the wooden stake lay as the music ended. “That’s my cue. Wish me luck.”

“Luck.” Alex stepped aside to let Marie through, and her eyes narrowed as she watched Kristen disappear off the other side of the stage. There was no sign of the scarecrow, but with the stage lights up, it was difficult to see into the dark corners. The angel huffed in anger and slipped off around the curtains to circle around to the other side. She could hear Marie singing, low and quiet at first but gaining strength. A gasp from the audience had her pausing, grace flicking outwards in search of the source of surprise.

Something stood on the stage, cold and inhuman, and Alex pushed her way around the thick black curtain. The lights immediately blinded her, and the angel screwed her eyes up against the brightness as her grace rose to immediately adjust her vision. The first thing she saw was Marie, standing at the edge of the stage; the second thing she saw a scarecrow. It was staggering towards the teen, uninterested in Alex’s sudden appearance.

Her angel blade flashed through the air as the angel sprung forward, positioning herself between the monster and the girl before she lunged again. An arm came out, and she ducked and twisted, driving her weapon into the scarecrow’s stomach and up beneath the ribs.

The monster snarled, and Alex’s eyes went wide as a forearm caught her in the side of the head. The impact sent her flying backwards, and the angel crashed head first into a crudely-constructed wooden fence. It splintered beneath the impact, and the jagged edge of a fence post slammed into her back, ripping through her shirt, and Alex cried out in pain and alarm as the large splinters caught in her flesh. She rolled onto her stomach as her grace protested angrily, exploding outwards, and the angel flinched away as a large spotlight overhead sparked and died.

The scarecrow had turned back to Marie, Alex forgotten, and the angel grit her teeth as her fingers closed around the ragged prop. It came free with a tearing sound, leaving shards of wood behind, and the angel’s fingers scrabbled against the smooth stage floor in momentary anguish as her grace closed the wound around the intrusions. Her angel blade lay on the floor, discarded by the unaffected monster, and Alex heaved herself to her feet with as much speed as she could muster, fighting back the shock to find that the scarecrow lived on. Why hadn’t it died?

Marie had turned, eyes wide at the sight of the lumbering creature, and Alex staggered forward, teeth grit in determination. If she couldn’t kill the scarecrow, she would just have to stall him.

“No chick flick moments!” Marie’s sudden yell had the angel freezing in place. The teen had drawn the wooden sake out from her jacket, and as Alex watched, she plunged it deep into the scarecrow’s chest.

The beast hesitated, surprised, and Alex hit the stage as the air trembled, rippling like water moments before the creature exploded into purple pus. The shattered wreckage of the set protected her from the splatter, but the angel still gagged at the stench, sickly sweet and overwhelming.

There was applause, almost drowned out by the ringing in her ears, and Alex pushed herself to her feet as the lights went down and the curtains fell. “Is — is it over?” she managed to wheeze out before her grace swept through her, giving strength to her limbs.

“Yeah, I-I think so.” Marie was at her side, almost unrecognizable beneath the layer of purple grime, and Alex sidestepped when the teen tried to reach out and touch her. “I killed it —”

“What? No, no, the — the play.” Alex nodded towards the fallen curtains. “Is it over?”

The girl’s face twisted in confusion. “No, we’re not even at the intermission. I should … I should go get changed,” she added, looking down at her soiled costume. “I don’t know what this is —“

“Probably nothing good.” Alex clapped her on the shoulder before pulling away in disgust. “Good plan. I need to go find my friends. I’m fine, by the way,” she promised before she hurried away, leaving Marie to explain their circumstances to the rest of the crew.

The hallways were empty, and the angel stretched her grace out, cautious at first, as she searched for any sign of the Winchester. “Dean?” she hissed as she turned the corner. “Sam?”

“Alex?” Distant footsteps broke into a run, and Alex turned around to watch the brothers appear from down the hallway. Two women were behind them, moving equally as fast, and Alex narrowed her eyes as she placed their faces: Mrs. Chandler and Maggie, the two missing victims.

“You found them.” The angel’s legs quivered, and she placed a hand on the wall to steady herself as nonchalantly as she could.

“And you’re hurt.” Sam exchanged a worried look with his brother as he came to stop in front of her. “What happened? Where’s Marie?”

“She’s backstage with the rest of her actors.” Alex knocked away Sam’s hand when it tried to reach towards her blood-stained t-shirt. “Stop. It’s nothing, okay? The scarecrow went after Marie, I stabbed it — which did absolutely nothing, by the way — and it threw me back into the sets. I took a fence to the kidney.” She lifted up the hem of her shirt to glance down at the half-healed skin, still red and raw. “I, uh … I might need you to pull some splinters out later.”

“Yeah, of course.” The Winchester’s voice was rushed with concern, and Alex let her shirt fall back over the wound. “Calliope’s dead —”

“Yeah, I know.” Alex cut him off with a wave of her hand. “The scarecrow exploded in purple ooze.You’ll probably hear Marie saying she killed it, since she happened to be stabbing it when the damn thing imploded, but …” The angel shook her head. “I don’t know what that thing was made of, but it was damn near indestructible. My angel blade didn’t even show it down.”

“Well, important thing is it’s dead now.” Dean interrupted her before the angel could continue. “I say we go make sure she’s okay and then hit the road.”

“Sounds good.” Alex fell in line at Sam’s side as they made their way back towards the auditorium. “So where’d the scarecrow take you?” she asked. “All I saw was that he grabbed you, but by the time I got over there you were gone.”

“We were down in the boiler room. Calliope was keeping us there until the play was over.” The hunter shrugged, unsure of what else to say. “She’s dead, and that’s all that matters now. How’s the — how’s the play?”

“All things considered, pretty well. I think Marie’s done a pretty good job of summarizing the books — me excluded.” The angel waved off the thought with a dismissive flick of her hand. “I mean, we haven’t gotten to any of the — the aliens, o-or robots yet, but so far it's good. If we want to keep any good memories of the play, we should probably leave before they show,” she was quick to add.

“One step ahead of you.” Dean turned the corner and pulled open the door that lead to the back of the auditorium. “I need a drink. Marie!” The Winchester lifted his voice to catch the teen’s attention. “Over here.”

“You’re okay!” Marie’s eyes stretched wide at the sight of them. “You — you disappeared after the scarecrow,” she added to Alex. “I wasn’t sure where you’d gone.”

“Just off to find them.” Alex jerked a thumb back towards Sam with a shrug. “You two say your goodbyes,” she added back to the brothers. “Then we should probably hit the road.”

Marie’s face fell at the angel’s words. “You’re not staying for the finale?”

“Come on.” Dean put a hand on the teen’s shoulder, and Alex let the two of them walk away; the hunter could console her on his own.

“You know.” Maeve’s voice came from behind them, and Alex and Sam turned around. “Usually, this is when Sam and Dean take off. Before anyone asks any questions.”

A small smile grew across the Winchester’s face. “That’s probably a good idea,” he agreed with a chuckle.

Maeve echoed him, laughing at her own joke before her face grew serious. “Thanks for saving my friends.” A beat passed, and her brown eyes sparkled once again. “You know? If you’d cut your hair a little, you’d make a pretty good Dean.”

Sam laughed, head tipping back as he did so. “Thanks.”

“Of course.” Maeve’s gaze turned onto Alex, whose eyes were narrowed, unsure if the teen was serious, or if it was just a deadpanned joke. “Good luck getting your wings back.”

“Thank you.” Alex ducked her head to hide her blush at the surprisingly warm compliment, and she cast a quick glance up at Sam. “We, uh, we should go find Dean. You guys should probably get the show back on the road,” she added with a smile.

Maeve nodded, and she flipped down the microphone on her headset so she could speak into it. “One minute, folks,” she announced. “One minute.” She hurried away, and Alex’s grace stretched out as she tried to locate Dean. The stage was bustling as actors tried to find last minute props, and the angel lost sight of Sam as she wove her way through the crowd.

She found him standing beside the curtains, looking out onto the stage as the house lights dimmed and the stage lights rose. Marie was out there, standing beside fake Dean, and the Winchester tore his gaze from them as Sam stopped at his side. “Well, I guess we can go back to staring at motel room walls,” he said quietly, careful not to drown out the actors on stage.

“You know what, Dean?” Sam’s hesitation had his brother’s eyebrows lifting. “You were right. Staying cooped up isn’t helping us. We need —“

“We need to get back on the road, Dean.” Marie spoke at the same time, and Sam cut off in surprise. “Doing what we do best.”

“W-What is that?” Sam’s brow furrowed, confused by the scene that stood before him.

Dean shrugged, his gaze turning back out onto the stage. “It’s the uh … the B.M. Scene.”

“The … bowel movement stage?”

“No!” Dean hissed out the word when Sam spoke too loud, and the hunter fell quiet at his brother’s reprimand. “Just … shh.” He folded his arms across the chest, and Alex chanced a look up into Sam’s face as the Winchester gave a small shrug.

“You’re right, Sammy.” Fake Dean looked out over the crowd as she spoke. “Out on the road. Just the two of us.”

“The two of us against the world.”

Sam chuckled at Marie’s words, and his hazel eyes flickered over to Dean. “What she said.” The lights changed, and the beginning chords of a song started up over the sound system.

Alex’s head tipped as she recognized it, a rendition of Kansas that was soft and slow, and out of the corner of her eye she saw the cardboard replica of Dean’s old amulet, gripped tight in the Winchester’s callous hands. “We should get going,” she murmured, turning to go, but a gentle hand on her shoulder had the angel pausing.

“In a minute.” Dean’s gaze was still focused on the stage. “I want to see this first.”

The two teens had started singing, and Alex slowly turned back, unsure how to describe the sound; somehow sad, somehow hopeful, and yet somehow still neither of those two. It was mesmerizing as the voices joined together, twisting and dipping through the melody. More rose to join them as other actors filed out onto the stage, and Alex stepped aside to let a thin girl slip past. “Who’s that?” Sam whispered, pointing to the short-haired teen, and Alex gave an exaggerated shrug.

“Oh, that’s Adam.” Maeve spoke up from behind them, and the angel looked back in surprise. “John Winchester’s other kid. He’s still trapped in the cage. In Hell. With Lucifer.”

Alex felt Sam and Dean exchange guilty looks over her head, and she unfolded her hands to shove them into her pockets. “Yeah,” she agreed. “We know where he is. Thanks.”

She knew her reassurance fell on deaf ears, and she turned back to face the stage as Maeve walked away. Her heart swelled alongside the music, and the angel leaned her head against Sam’s shoulder as the voices rose one last time.

Carry on my wayward son.
There’ll be peace when you are done.
Lay your weary head to rest.
Don’t you cry no more.

Carry on.

Chapter Text

January 23rd, 2015
Flint, Michigan

Pain shot up her side, a sharp, lingering twinge, and Alex cried out in surprise. She twisted, trying to avoid the sting, but a firm hand on her side kept her still and pinned her to the bed beneath. “Stop.” Sam’s frown was evident in his words, and the angel hissed as his blunt fingernails dug into her skin. “ I can’t get these out if you keep squirming.”

Tweezers brushed against her side, and Alex wrangled her grace in to keep it under control as they once again grasped a thick splinter in her skin. “Ouch.” The word was sharp and punctuated, and Alex dug her teeth into the pillow as Sam pulled the wooden shard free.

“I think that’s the last one.” Sam patted her on the thigh before he pulled away. “How’s it feel?”

“Good.” The angel rolled over and pushed herself to her knees, stretching to feel how her muscles moved as she let her grace spill out and fill her veins. It knitted the flesh back together, now unhindered by the intrusion, and she let her eyes close for a second as the pain disappeared. “It feels much better. Thank you.”

“Yeah, no problem.” Sam set the tweezers down onto the nightstand as he stood up. “Let me know if there’s anything else you need, alright?” His eyes drifted up to the clock on his wall, and he frowned. “Dean should be back soon.”

“How long are we going to stay here?” The angel adjusted her shirt so it sat comfortably against her healing wound as she followed his gaze. “As much as I love this town, I’m still pretty freaked about that play.” She slipped past the Winchester to grab her sweatshirt off of the other bed, muttering, “Also this snow can kiss my ass.”

She heard Sam chuckle from behind her. “Spoken like a true northerner.”

“Don’t get me started.” Alex dropped down onto the bed as headlights flashed through the dark motel windows. “Dinner’s here.”

The headlights died, and after a minute, the door swung open. “Hey.” Dean kicked the motel door closed behind him, carefully juggling the three white takeout bags in his hands. His gaze flickered between Alex and Sam, and he asked, “How’d it go?”

“Good. I got them all out.” Sam slowly sat down on his bed as his brother crossed over to them, handing each of them a bag.

“Great.” Dean sat down next to his brother, legs swinging over the side of the bed so he could face Alex. “So. We gonna talk about this?”

“This?” The plastic rustling of the bag ceased as Alex looked up in confusion. “Talk about what?” She shifted on the bed, drawing her legs up underneath her as she looked between the two Winchesters in confusion.

“We just want to make sure you have our backs,” Sam began, his hazel eyes soft with sympathy, and the angel swallowed uneasily, unsure of where the conversation was heading. “But ever since you’ve been back —”

“You’re oh for two when it comes to safe hunts,” Dean interrupted, cutting to the chase. “Hell, if you were human, you’d be dead. More than dead.”

“Well, I’m not human, so I’m okay.” Alex narrowed her eyes as she set her food on the bed beside her. Her grace twisted within her chest, flicking down to the old injuries the brothers were talking about, one resting right on top of the other. “And of course I have your backs — when’s the last time that I’ve let you down?”

“That’s not what this is about —”

“Yes it is, you said it yourself!” Anger flared in her eyes, and Alex’s fingers tightened on the bag.

“That’s not what we meant,” Sam corrected patiently. “We’re just worried about you. You seem … out of practice.”

“And someone your size, that doesn’t always end well,” Dean finished. “Hell, I could probably throw you halfway across the room myself.” He ripped open his food bag and pulled out a handful of fries, eyebrows lifting in amusement as he imagined the action.

“I’m pretty sure I could still kick your ass,” Alex retorted. “And, geez, I’m sorry that what’s basically been four month of sitting on my ass has put me a bit out of practice.” She reluctantly removed the styrofoam container from her bag as she added, “I’m starting to get my game back. If that scarecrow could have actually died, I wouldn’t have gotten hurt.”

Dean held up his hands in mock surrender, but before he could speak, Sam stepped in. “Listen, we don’t want you to get the wrong idea, alright? No one — we’re not trying to bench you. We’re just trying to help.”

“Well, except we are sort of benching you.” Dean wiped his hand on his jeans as he set his burger down. “So here’s the thing. We head back to the bunker, look for a new case or two, and in the meantime we get you back up to speed. Those sparring mats are still set up upstairs, right?” He glanced at his brother, and Sam gave a nod.

Alex looked between the two brothers, and she snapped her jaw shut when she realized that it had been hanging open. “Okay,” she slowly began. “I-I mean, I can get behind sparring, but I-I don’t need it.” Dean’s eyebrow cocked, and she added, “Werewolves, gods — I don’t care. They can’t truly hurt me. But when it really comes down to it, I can still fight.”

“You sure?” Dean’s eyes narrowed when Alex nodded, and his frown darkened. “You’ve been hunting, haven’t you?”

Sam let out a breath at the realization, and the angel took a moment to open up her meal. “I’ve been doing my job and cleaning up a mess,” she corrected. “All those Abaddon followers that you didn’t kill? They’re still kicking, and all of sudden they’re my responsibility.”

“You’re hunting them down on your own?” Dean’s face darkened as he looked Alex up and down. “Or are you working with someone and you just do the heavy lifting? Who is it? Scotty?” His voice grew sharp. “Is it Scotty?”

“No, it’s not Scotty.” Alex tore a fry in half between her fingers as she scoffed. “If you really care, I’m working with Juliet. I’m no joking,” she added when Dean rolled his eyes. “Apparently I have a way with animals.”

“What?” Sam looked between the two of them, his brow creased in confusion. “You mind telling me what’s going on?”

“Hellhound.” Alex and Dean spoke at the same time, and the angel took a small bite of her chicken sandwich. “Juliet’s a hellhound. She’s tracking down the demons, and then I kill them. Body count’s up to around ten by now, so you’re welcome.” The brothers exchanged looks, and she shrugged. “So. We’re making our way back to the bunker and find some things to kill, right? Great. Let me know when something comes up.”

 

The hot, stifling air was overwhelming, and Alex licked her lips as a hot breeze sucked all the moisture out of her skin. A black, sulphurous courtyard stretched out ahead of her, and the stone, flecked with smoldering gold, was the only source of light. Above her head stretched blackness, as thick and heavy as a curtain, and the young angel's wings flicked nervously. The raven feathers seemed to glow ashen, and the barbs dug into her bare skin with each shift of her muscles.

The stone beneath her soles was cool, a sharp contrast to the blistering air, and Alex's feet carried her forward on their own accord. Black obsidian pillars rose up out of the darkness, twisting like devilish horns into the sky above, but the angel pressed on, carefully skirting the coiling structures. The further she wandered, the more they appeared, growing closer and closer together until they merged, creating a single, roiling hall that drew her in deeper.

A light appeared up ahead, a single pinprick in the dark, and Alex moved closer, stretching out a hand to touch the small, levitating orb.

The room flashed and disappeared in an explosion of light, leaving her standing alone in the whiteness. Her wings were gone, and the girl shivered as a cool breeze brushed across her bare back. "Hello?" She spoke for the first time, lifting her voice in hopes that it might carry, but no answer came.

Something shimmered in the distance, growing clearer the more she stared, and Alex's feet carried her towards it as fast as they could. It was a mirror; her pale skin stared back at her, glowing with the whiteness of the room, and as she watched her form faded away as another took its place. "Cas?" Blue eyes stared blankly ahead, and Alex thudded her palm against the glass. "Hey! Castiel!"

The eyes flickered down, blinking once in recognition, and the young angel took a hesitant step back. The blue wasn't right; it was too light, too sharp. Castiel's eyes were oceans; these were ice.

Castiel's lips curved up into a smile, his face taking on life as he grinned down at her, and Alex understood.

Lucifer.

The slamming of a door had her jerking awake, and Alex sat up with a noise of surprise. "Dammit!" She looked around, trying to find the source of the noise, and her eyes landed on Sam, an apologetic look on his face as he reached out to steady the bathroom door.

"Sorry." He crossed the room to the small kitchenette, and Alex fell back onto the pillows with a grunt of frustration. "How'd you sleep?"

"Could've slept better." With a resigned sigh, she sat up, shoulders cracking as she rolled them back. The movement jarred her healing side, and the angel bit back a grunt of pain as she lowered her shoulders once again. "Where's Dean?"

"Outside. I was about go bring him some coffee." Sam motioned to the insulated cups that sat beside him on the small counter. "I made you some, too."

"Great." Alex pushed herself to her feet and tugged her hoodie down over her torso, wrinkled from her night's sleep. "Thanks."

"No problem." Sam grabbed two cups and crossed over to the door, and Alex picked up her own, carefully sniffing at the hot liquid before she followed after the tall hunter with a shrug.

The air was chilly, reminder that, even though they had outrun the Michigan snow, winter was still on its way. Dean was kneeling in front of the car, his toolbox laying at his side, and the angel took a sip of her still-scalding drink as Sam cleared his throat. “Hey,” he announced, holding out the small, disposable demitasse. “Individually brewed. Technology, man.”

Dean rose to his feet and accepted the drink, frowning as he held it in his large hand. “Real men don’t drink out of cups this small,” he scoffed, sniffing his drink with hesitant curiosity. “What is that? Cinnamon roll?”

“It’s, uh, glazed donut.” Sam glanced down at Alex with a shrug. “Look, man, if you don’t want it, I —”

“Nah, it’s … got it.” Dean took a sip before he dusted off his free hand on his jeans. “So, any leads on the scanner or the Interweb?”

Sam shook his head, blowing across his coffee to cool it down. “Nothing. Not even a cat up a tree.”

“So, right when we’re ready to jump back into it, it goes, uh, radio silence.” The Winchester’s voice was grim, and after a second his gaze dropped down to the newly repaired headlight.

“Murphy’s law,” the angel murmured, her voice loud enough to draw the brothers’ attention onto her.

“Well, Murphy’s a douche.” Dean toed the toolbox closed, shoving a hand into his pocket before he hesitantly spoke up. “Hey, feel like taking a detour to Connecticut?” He pulled out an old cell phone and held it up when Sam tipped his head in surprise. “Found it while I was dustbusting.”

“One of ours?” Sam accepted the phone, flipping it open and turning it in his hands, but he handed it down to Alex when Dean shook his head.

“It’s one of Bobby’s.” The words had Alex looking up in surprise, and the hunter cleared his throat. “And, in total, twenty seven messages. The only one that counts is from two days ago.” Dean motioned towards the phone with his drink, and Alex grunted in acknowledgment as she scrolled through the list of voicemails. “Apparently Bobby’s been named a beneficiary in Bunny LaCroix’s will.”

“Bunny who?” Sam asked, and Alex snapped the phone closed, adding, “Never heard of her. Should I have heard about her?”

Dean merely shrugged. “Attorney says she’s an heiress, and Bobby’s presence or next of kin is being requested in New Canaan. I figured we qualify.”

Alex nodded. “We’re the closest things he had to family,” she agreed softly. “I just … how did Bobby know an heiress? He never mentioned her to me, but if he’s in her will … they must have known each other well.”

“Bobby had secrets, man.” Dean shrugged again, clearly at a loss as of what to say. “Like loving Tori Spelling.” For a moment, his voice grew distant. “If only he knew Dean cheated on her. Anyways. Road trip? Who knows — maybe Bobby earned us some beer money.”

“I thought we were going back to the bunker.” Even though their eyes didn’t meet, Alex could feel Sam’s words pointed in her direction, and she frowned as last night’s conversation came back to her.

The small frown on Dean’s lips showed he had expected some resistance. “Like you said; there’s nothing worth our while. We stop by, pick up our prize, and then we’re on our way. What could go wrong?”

Sam scoffed, eyes rolling in amusement. “Yeah. You know saying that means something’s definitely going to go wrong, right?”

For a second, Dean’s grin wavered. “Yeah, well, knock on wood.” He knelt to scoop up his tools. “Go get packed, and then we can head out. But if this does turn out to be a case, you’re still benched, alright?” A pointed finger was cast in Alex’s direction, and the angel’s brow furrowed. “You stick with me or with Sam.”

Sam loudly cleared his throat, a nonverbal indication of his displeasure with Dean’s forwardness, and Alex narrowed her eyes. “And if I don’t? And what exactly are you going to do about it?”

 

“Wife?” Alex recoiled in shock, her own surprise drowning out Sam’s faint echo. Her angel blade slipped off her lap as the Impala came to a stop, and the angel dipped down to dig it out from beneath the front seat.

“Yeah.” Dean slung an arm over the backrest as he looked back at her. “It’s perfect. You’ll have a solid in, and we’ll be able to make sure you don’t accidentally get yourself killed.” He leaned forward in front of his brother and pulled open the glove compartment, and Alex exchanged a look with Sam before the eldest Winchester straightened back up. “Here.” A small ring was held in his hands, and the young angel reluctantly took it.

“Why can’t I just be me?” she complained as she slipped the silver band onto her finger, examining the hard stone that was clamped tightly in the metal prongs. “No one’s going to believe that I’m married to Sam — no offense,” she was quick to add.

Dean scoffed, and the engine died. “It’s believable,” he promised. “Trust me; they’ll buy it.” He threw open the door, and with a small shrug, Sam followed. Both doors slammed shut, and the angel pursed her lips, hesitating a moment as she contemplated petulance before she reluctantly followed suit.

She tucked her weapon into her jeans as she stepped out onto the pavement, and her eyes turned up onto the white, magnificent mansion that lay in front of them. The brothers were halfway to the front door, and the angel hurried to join them on the stairs as Dean rang the doorbell. The distinguished melody of Beethoven’s Fuer Elise drifted through the interior foyer, and after a second, the lock unlatched and the door swung open.

A woman stood there, dressed in the traditional black and white of a maid, and Alex’s eyebrows lifted in momentary surprise before she lowered them; of course a mansion of this size would have a maid or two. “May I help you?”

“Hi.” A warm grin split Dean’s face. “I’m Dean Winchester. This is Sam Winchester.”

“And I’m Alex,” Alex quickly added before the hunter could introduce her himself.

“Winchester,” Dean broke back in, motioning between her and Sam, and the angel shoved her hands into her pocket, grunting as the ring caught on the worn denim. “They’re married. We’re here on behalf of Bobby Singer.”

The maid looked between the three of them, and then her gaze moved past them as if searching for someone else. “Mr. Singer won’t be coming?” she finally asked.

“He passed away two years ago.” Alex blinked, surprised at how her voice still quavered after so long, and she swallowed to regain control. “I … Bobby was my uncle.”

“Oh.” The woman’s eyes softened ever so slightly. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

Alex simply nodded, and she stifled a surprised jump when a large hand came to rest around her waist. “Uh, condolences for your loss, too,” Sam added, and Alex echoed him quietly.

“Thank you.” The maid stepped aside, motioning into the luxurious house behind her. “Well, you just missed the funeral, but the family’s relaxing inside if you’d like to join.”

Dean nodded and stepped inside, and when Sam motioned for her to go first, Alex followed. The maid took the lead, and Sam moved to walk at her side. “You okay?” His voice was a quiet murmur, just loud enough for her to hear.

“I’m fine.” The angel did her best to mimic his tone. “I’m going to kick Dean’s ass later, though.” She shrugged to show she wasn’t truly affected, but before there was time to say anything else, they entered a room.

There were five people, three women and two men, and Alex pursed her lips as she ran her eyes across all of them. “Allow me to introduce Sam, Dean, and Alex Winchester.” The maid’s quiet voice was polite as she addressed the family, and all five looked up, surprise mingling with their curiosity.

“Sam and Dean Winchester of the Westchester Winchesters?” an older blonde asked, her voice prim and proper, and Alex shifted uncomfortably, suddenly aware of her own dress, shabby in comparison to the wealthy family.

“Uh, no.” Sam hesitantly shook his head. “I don’t think there’s any relation. Sorry.”

The woman studied them, blue eyes lingering on Sam for a moment longer before a small smile tugged at her lips. “No matter. You two are adorable. I’m Heddy, Bunny’s cousin, and this is my sister, Beverly.” She motioned with her drink to the second older woman, similar in all regards except for longer, slightly lighter hair.

Beverly dipped her head in greeting, her own eyes sparkling as she smiled at Sam and Dean. “Charmed, I’m sure.”

Heddy’s glass turned to point to the man at the pool table. “And that’s Bunny’s youngest brother Stanton. Stan for short.”

Like the other two, Stanton’s face held signs of age, but his voice was bright with life. “Come on in, fellas, join the mourning.” He lifted his pool cue as he lined up with the cue ball, and Alex’s head tipped slightly in curiosity as Heddy’s eyes darkened, clearly off put by something about the man.

“And his child bride … Amber.” The displeasure in her tone was clear, and Alex turned her attention to the youngest and last woman. That would certainly explain it.

The woman had apparently not heard her own introduction, her attention fully rapt by the game at hand. “Go, Stan!” she cheered, and her sudden, startling burst of excitement had the cue stick sliding off to the side. The white ball spun down the table, barely nicking a cluster of striped billiards, and Stan cursed beneath his breath. “Babe, don’t.” The quick burst of frustration was quickly quelled as he turned to face his younger wife. “You’re breaking my concentration.”

The other man in the room chuckle from where he was leaning up against the fireplace, and Heddy took a sip of her drink. “And then there’s Dash,” she finished. “That’s the baby of the family. He’s Bunny’s great nephew — Harvard business.”

Unlike the rest of his relatives, Dash’s hair was a dark brown, and he swept his hand through the strands as he looked the three of them up and down. “How did you guys know Aunt Bunny?” he asked, the slightest tint of wariness lying beneath his curiosity.

“We, uh …” Dean started, and Sam was quick to take over. “We — we didn’t personally know her,” he explained. “Our — Alex’s uncle, Bobby Singer, did.”

“Bobby?” Beverly spoke slowly, testing the name on her tongue as she searched her memory. “Never heard of him. But you can fill us in over the weekend, huh?”

“Didn’t the attorney tell you?” Heddy added when the three voiced their surprise. “Service was today and the reading of the will tomorrow.”

“But you’re welcome to spend the night,” Beverly added. “All the rooms sleep two.”

“Or three.” Heddy’s words were emphasized as she leaned forward to grab Dean’s bicep, and Alex watched as Dean jumped back in surprise. The angel shifted closer to Sam as Dean stuttered out a faux-enthusiastic “okay.”

“Where’s Colette?” Amber suddenly spoke up, looking around as if she had just noticed something for the first time, and Alex let her own eyes travel the room..

They landed on a man — a butler — one she hadn’t noticed until then, and he cleared his throat before he spoke. “She quit,” he explained, his voice soft and vaguely accented. “Poor dear was so distraught over Mrs. LaCriox’s passing. Went off to find herself.”

“Ashram in India?” Heddy guessed, but the butler shook his head.

“Uh, clown college in Sarasota.” He turned his back when Heddy muttered something under her breath, and he approached the three of them with a slight frown. “May I have a word with you in the hall for five minutes?”

“Sure.” Dean blinked, surprised at the request, and he let the elderly man lead them out of the room.

Alex turned to follow, but Beverly’s voice had her hesitating. “So, Sam,” the older blonde began, voice thick with seduction, “tell me … do you work out?” She reached out, hands stretching across his bicep, and the angel twisted the ring on her hand before she cleared her throat. Sam jumped, and Alex pointedly took his hand before she tugged him after Dean.

“Charmed I’m sure …” The eldest hunter was muttering under his breath. “What are these people?”

“I think they’re called W.A.S.P.S.” Sam pulled his hand free to rub his arm where the woman had grabbed him, and Alex shoved her hands into her pocket, throwing a wary look over her shoulder in case any of the cougars had dared to follow.

Dean opened his mouth, ready to ask what his brother meant, but Sam cleared his throat in warning as the butler approached, an envelope in his hands. “My apologies for being so oblique back there,” the gentleman began, “but I’m doing you three a favor.”

“Okay,” Sam said slowly, and Alex was quick to add, “Who exactly are you?”

“My name is Phillip. As you know, Mrs. LaCriox bequeathed something to your Mister Singer. But the reading of the will isn’t until tomorrow, and I would hate for you to stick around and be forced to, well … mingle with the family.”

Dean scoffed in amusement. “Don’t worry, Alfred, we know which one the shrimp fork is. Kind of.”

“Oh, Mr. Winchester, if you’re implying that I don’t think you’re good enough, it’s quite the contrary. You’re far too good. The LaCroix family is … how shall I say this politely?” Phillip’s fingers toyed calmly with the worn end of the envelope as he thought. “Money grubbing leeches.”

“What are you talking about?” Dean looked up at his brother; Sam merely shrugged. “I thought they were all loaded.”

“Loaded, yes. Rich, no. The recession hit every one of them, and I’m afraid if they knew what Bunny left you, those vultures would try and stake claim.” Alex’s eyebrows lifted, her interest now peaked, and she let her grace sneak out to try and feel what lay inside the envelope. “And since the attorney kindly agreed to a hand-off, you don’t have to be subjected to their scrutiny.”

He handed the envelope to Dean, and once it had passed hands, Sam asked, “Do you have any idea how Bunny and Bobby knew each other?”

The sound of footsteps behind them had Alex turning in time to see the maid. “Not in the slightest,” Philip answered. “Now if there’s nothing else, shall I have Olivia show you out?”

The maid moved closer at the sound of her name, but Dean simply shook his head. “No, no. That’s uh … we got it. Thanks.” He moved aside so Olivia and Philip could walk away, and Alex fell in step behind the brothers as they made their way back towards the front door. She leaned forward curiously when the envelope was ripped open, and Dean pulled free a large, wooden, bejeweled cross. “Huh.” The Winchester turned it over in his hands. “Kind of fancy to leave a guy like Bobby.”

He handed it over to Sam by the chain, and the Winchester tapped one of the large diamonds with his nail. “You thinking what I’m thinking?”

“If Bunny was banging Bobby, then maybe those rocks are real,” Dean finished.

“Let me see.” Alex squeezed between the brothers to grab the cross. She let her grace rush out as she tried to identify the stones, but the energy spiraled out of control, and she flinched away as a nearby lamp exploded into flames, the cloth shade burning to ashes within a second.

“Hey!” Dean yanked the cross back out of her hands. “The fuck, Pip?”

“Sorry!” Alex drew her grace back in, rolling it into a ball and shoving it deep inside. “I’m trying to control it, but it’s still volatile.”

“Well, then dont fucking use it.” Dean pushed his way out the front door, and Alex shoulders fell as she paused on the front step.

“It’s okay.” Sam hand squeezed her shoulder reassuringly. “Just be careful. We don’t want you getting hurt.”

“Yeah.” Alex followed him down the steps to the Impala, shoving her hands into her pockets. “That seems to be the theme of the day, doesn’t it?”

 

The jewels had been fake. Alex turned the cross over in her hands, her fingers tracing the small, hard rocks embedded in the wood. It hadn’t taken the pawn shop worker long to figure it out, much to Dean’s disappointment. Her fingers closed around the cross at both ends, and she pulled. The ends separated, and the steel form of a key glittered in the faint light. “Where do you think the key’s to?”

“No idea.” The Impala turned onto the road that led up to the LaCriox’s mansion, and Alex’s eyes squinted through the dark as red and blue lights flickered in the night. “Shit.” Dean pulled the car up alongside the cops, and Alex put the cross back together and slipped it into her pocket as she stepped out of the car.

The police car in the driveway was empty, its lights flashing against the mansion’s stucco siding, and the angel frowned. “What the hell?” She circled around to walk beside Dean. The door was closed, and the angel’s grace snuck out to ring the doorbell as they made their way up the stairs.

It was Phillip who answered the door. “Everything okay?” Dean’s gaze slid past the butler to peer down the hall, curious as to what lay inside.

“Not really.” The door swung open fully, and Phillip stepped aside to let the hunters through. “I presume you three left something behind,” he added as they stepped onto the tile floor. “I’ll check the front closet for burlap.”

Dean’s eyes narrowed at the insult. “I got news for you, Mr. Belvedere. The jacket’s canvas.”

“You three were here earlier?” A voice from their left had the three hunters turning. A man stood there, dressed in a suit and tie, and Alex’s lips pursed at the familiar sight of a law official. Dark eyes studied them meticulously, and the angel’s attention flickered down to the french cut beard, the only sign of hair upon his head. The man drew back the bottom of his jacket to reveal a badge and gun both clipped to his belt. “Detective Howard,” he introduced. “New Canaan P.D. Congratulations, you’re now officially murder suspects.”

Dean’s green eyes glittered in surprise. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Yeah, Bunny LaCroix’s brother Stanford was killed this evening.” The detective let his jacket slide back to cover his badge. “His body’s just gone to the morgue. I don’t know what to think,” he added at Dean’s nonverbal prompt. “And that’s why you three and anyone else who stepped foot in this house today is being detained for questioning.”

“How’d he die?” Alex tipped her head curiously. “I-I mean you say murder so there must be signs of foul play, but …”

“You’ll know everything that you need to.” Detective Howard’s voice left no room for further pursuit of the subject, and Alex followed Sam and Dean into the lounge at the detective’s gesture.

The scene inside was chaos. “Beverly, let go of me!” Heddy was demanding, voice raised in anger. “It’s so obvious she’s guilty.” She yanked her hand out of her cousin’s grip, who collapsed back onto the couch in a display of grief.

“You’re off your rocker, old lady.” Dash stood in front of her, head held high and voice sharp as he confronted his relative.

“Old lady? I —” Heddy’s gaze flickered over to them, and she cut off in surprise, eyes lingering on Sam a little too long for Alex’s liking. “I’m thirty nine,” she finished pointedly.

Dash’s blue eyes swept across the three, and when he spoke, his sideways comment was pointed in their direction. “And you have been since ’03.”

“How — how dare you!”

“I-I’m sorry to interrupt,” Sam started, and Heddy’s anger immediately dissipated as she turned to the Winchester. “But … who’s guilty?”

“The town slut.” The old blonde’s voice was thick with scorn. “Amber. She killed Stan!” She turned back to face Dash, the rage returning as it twisted her face into a scowl.

The dark-haired man, however, just scoffed loudly. “And what’s her motive, Murder She Wrote?”

“Oh, everyone knows that Amber was sleeping around.” Heddy’s eyebrows lifted as she looked over at Sam, and Alex felt the Winchester shift uncomfortably beside her. “She wanted to leave Stan but her prenup was ironclad. So, she killed him.”

“Sounds logical,” Dean agreed, although the angel couldn’t tell if the sincerity in his voice was real.

The old woman’s nodded before she added scornfully, “Well, unless you believe that ridiculous story that she’s been peddling. A ghost killed Stan. Honestly.” She shook her head disgracefully, but her words had all three hunters exchanging glances of interest.

“Uh, a … ghost?” Sam’s hazel eyes flickered in surprise, and Alex echoed him in a much quieter tone.

Heddy nodded. “She’s claiming that Bunny’s late husband Lance did it. Have you ever heard of such a thing?” She scoffed again. “What a panic! So stupid.”

“You’re as nutty as a squirrel on those synthetic hormones,” Dash snapped, and Heddy’s mouth feel open in shock.

“Nutty?” she repeated, aghast. “How appalling of you. Don’t they teach you manners in Harvard?”

Alex felt the two Winchesters take a step back behind her, and she turned away, leaving the LaCriox family to their bickering. “So,” she began, voice low in a murmur. “Maybe we could have a case here after all. Some sort of vengeful spirit?”

“Looks like.” Dean’s distaste was clear, and Alex chanced a look up to see a flicker of smugness in Sam’s eyes. “Skip the ‘I told you so,’ alright?” A pointed finger jabbed into her chest, and Alex batted it away. “And you. Until we know what’s going on, you’re sticking with me or with Sam.”

“You can’t be serious.” Alex’s eyes darkened, the flecks of blue fading to steel grey. “Dean! I’m twenty three. I think I can damn well take care of myself.”

“Yeah, you’ve proven that.” The Winchester’s voice was dry with scorn, and the angel pursed her lips. “Alright. You think we can get to the car, get the EMF?”

“Not with, uh, Detective Friendly.” Sam cast a glance back towards the hall where Detective Howard was still speaking with Phillip. “Not a change. Guess we’re gonna have to go old school.”

“Alright. Cold spots it is.” Dean clapped Alex on the back. “You come with me, see what those feelers of yours pick up. Sam, you stay here. Keep an eye on Mrs. Peacock and Colonel Mustard.”

Dean slipped away, and with a nod to Sam, Alex followed. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the wooden cross. “Dean.” She held it out, the pendant swinging from its chain. “Here. You should carry this. In case we find something.”

Dean nodded and tucked the key into his jacket pocket. “Thanks.” He hesitated, lips parted as if he was about to say something before he decided against it and continued towards the stairs.

"Yeah, no problem. Just holler if you find anything." Alex shoved her free hand into her jeans as she jerked a thumb over her shoulder. "I'll start on that end. It's a big house," she was quick to add when Dean's face hardened. "If we want to solve this one before anyone else bites it, we need to cover as much ground as possible. Which means we split up. You can't protect me forever, and if I find anything suspicious, I promise I'll let you and Sam know."

"And if I say no?"

Alex shrugged carelessly. "Then I'm just going to sneak off sometime in the next ten minutes when you’re not looking and hunt this thing down all by myself." The slight downward turn of Dean's lips was all she needed to know that she had won. "Great. You go up, I'll stay down." The Winchester reluctantly nodded, and Alex turned her back and sauntered off down the hall.

 

The mansion was larger than she had expected, full of twists and turns, and more than once the young angel almost lost her sense of direction. Her grace, no longer tightly bound within her, flowed outwards, feeling their way along the walls around her in search of anything suspicious, but there was nothing.

The sound of voices reached her ears as Alex rounded a corner, and she followed them back to the lounge. Sam sat at a table with Heddy and Beverly, an assortment of playing cards in his hands, his shoulders hunched in concentration. The two older women were paying more attention to the hunter than they were to their cards, and Alex leaned up against the wall, content to watch in amusement. She went to shove her hands into her pockets, but when something caught against the denim fabric, she frowned. The ring — that’s right. She was supposed to be married.

She watched Sam jump in surprise as an unseen hand moved across his knee, and the angel's shoulders fell as sympathy took hold. Perhaps she should help him. "I’m back." She strolled across the room, taking her hands out of her pockets to rest them on Sam's shoulders as she stopped behind his chair, dipping her head only long enough to press a quick kiss on his cheek. She felt him jump again, surprised by her actions, and the angel settled herself for resting her cheek against his hair to hide her amused grin. "Whatcha playing?"

She pulled away, stepping back to give the hunter his space as she dropped down onto the arm of a chair. "Gin Rummy," Sam explained, stuttering slightly before he cleared his throat. "Where's, uh, where's Dean?"

Alex shrugged. "Off somewhere. I'm not your brother's keeper — not anymore, at least." She smiled over at Heddy and Beverly, which faltered at the contemptuous looks. Her grey eyes turned back onto Sam, frowning slightly at the prospect of two new enemies that merely saw her as competition. "Wonderful."

Dean appeared in the doorway, Olivia half hiding behind him, and the angel straightened up curiously. She tapped Sam, nodding towards his brother, and Sam awkwardly bumped the table as he jumped to his feet. "You know what," he said as Alex hurried over to Dean, "uh, excuse me."

"No, no, stay," she heard Beverly protest, her voice low enough for Alex not to hear without her grace, and the angel cocked an eyebrow at the brazen comment. The approaching footsteps signaled that Sam had paid them no heed, and her shoulders stiffened in surprise when his hand came to rest on her waist.

“You two are adorable.” A lopsided grin flashed across Dean's face, lasting for barely a second, and Sam's hand fell away with a scowl. “Anyways. You seen the butler?"

"No." Sam looked down at Alex, and the angel shook her head. "Why?"

"Cause if anybody has answers, it's him. We're dealing with two vengeful spirits. Apparently Aunt Bunny had a bee in her bonnet as well."

Alex squinted, trying to unravel Dean's cryptic message. "You mean … you mean she's a ghost, too? Did you see her?" Her gaze flickered across the maid Olivia, who seemed to flinch away nervously. “That … I thought it takes ghosts a while before they’re strong enough to manifest. Lance I get, but her?”

"But you think we’re dealing with a husband and wife tag-team killer ghosts?" Sam added immediately, and Dean gave an unsure shrug.

"Well, gotta keep the marriage alive somehow," he joked darkly. "And the key she gave Bobby? It's to a hidden attic."

"What?" Alex shoved her hands into her pocket as Dean brandished the wooden cross for emphasis. "And … why would this Bunny person want Bobby to have a key to her attic? Was there anything up there?"

Once again, Dean shrugged. "Don't know why, but yeah. It gets weirder. I found Olivia and Colette inside."

Sam's brow furrowed. "Clown college Collete?"

"Yeah, but she ain't studying balloons no more." Dean's face darkened at the thought. "She's dead. The butler's the one who locked them in there. Now, I don't know why, but he's covering for the spooks. He's acting like their Renfield."

"He's … drinking blood?" The reference was lost on the angel, and she looked up at Sam for clarification. "I don't get it."

"Dracula." The exasperation in Dean's voice was clear. "He did the creep's dirty work. Point is we need to find him. You take upstairs. I'll stay down here. Don't let her go too far, you hear?" He motioned between Alex and Sam, his finger ending up pointed at the angel as he added, "Don't do stupid things."

Alex stuck out her tongue as she followed Sam away from Dean and up the stairs. "Sam Winchester!" The voice of Detective Howard could be heard off in the distance, and the angel pushed ahead of Sam to take the lead.

"Don’t get too far ahead," Sam warned as the angel rounded a corner.

"I'll be fine, slowpoke," she called back. "Don't listen to Dean." She let her grace slip out as she hurried ahead, but she made sure to keep Sam's footsteps within hearing distance. Unsure where she was going, she let the hallways guide her.

"Well, well, well." A voice in the distance behind her had her pausing, and the angel's lips set in a thin line as she recognized the seductive tone of Beverly LaCriox. "What do we have here? Whatcha doing snooping around these halls, hmm?" The beginning of Sam’s stuttered reply fell into silence, and Alex rolled her eyes as she started back down the halls to help her friend. "Up to no good?" the older blonde was saying. "Why don't we get up to no good together? You know," she added, voice dropping into a pleased murmur, "they say women just get better with age. Like a fine wine or — or cheese."

"Uh, I, uh —" Sam's hazel eyes came into view, relief flashing through them at the sight of the angel. "I'm lactose intolerant, so …"

"I'm more like a steak." Alex sauntered up to the hunter, plastering a grin across her face. "Medium rare, so still plenty of pink." She saw Sam's cheeks flush, and she couldn’t help but add with a wink, "Tender." With the Winchester thoroughly embarrassed, she turned to study Beverly. "Not so … dried out and overcooked."

"Okay." Sam grabbed her by the hand and pulled her down the hall, far away from the scowling woman. "You know, you shouldn't — you shouldn't provoke them."

"But it's so much fun." Alex pulled her hand free from Sam's, reaching up to tuck a strand of hair behind his ear. "She's still watching," she murmured. "I hate them; they're trying to get in your pants even after I've made it clear they should back off."

"They're used to getting what they want." Sam shrugged, and Alex brought her hand back down to her side. "I'll take care of them."

"Yeah, but this is more amusing for me." Alex stepped away with a grin. "You're so cute when you blush." She was rewarded by another rush of pink across his cheeks, and she jerked a thumb towards the hall. "Anyways. We should keep going before that detective finds you."

She led the way down the hall, this time keeping the Winchester within her sights. She let her grace spread back out, searching with hesitant intent, and the two of them fell silent as they continued their search.

Alex felt something different as they reached the back staircase, and she froze. "Death." She drew her grace back within her as she looked up at Sam. "Someone's died recently. This way." She turned the hall and jumped down the stairs, not caring who heard her footsteps. She could hear the Winchester following close behind, his concern growing, and she slid to a stop inside of the kitchen.

Blood stained the floor, the pool glistening in the moonlight of the darkened room, and the angel immediately dropped down into a wary crouch as she approached. Sam passed her, leaning over the counter to see the body, and Alex peered around it to find Phillip, the butler, laying face down, a kitchen knife embedded in his back.

"Great." Alex stood up as Sam pulled out his phone, and she curled her lip as she studied the mess. "Ghosts don't normally stab, and I …" She hesitated, flicking her grace through the air, immediately pulling it back in when she heard the glass window crack under the rush of energy. "I don't feel any EMF, so … who killed him?"

Sam didn't respond until he had sent his message. "I don't know. Maybe Dean will have found something." He lowered his phone, lips pursed. "We should get out of sight — before Detective Howard comes by."

He hurried out of the room, and Alex followed, casting one last wary glance behind her. Sam's phone rang, and the Winchester jumped to answer it. "Dean." Alex could hear Dean's answer, sharp with concern, and the angel paused as surprise lined Sam's voice. "What?"

"It's no ghost." Alex heard a door slam shut from Dean's end of the line. "It's a shapeshifter. Where are you two?"

"We — we're in the kitchen. Someone stabbed the butler."

"I can be there in a minute. Stay put." The phone clicked as Dean hung up, and Alex watched as Sam shoved his phone back into his pocket with a shake of his head.

It wasn't long before Dean's hurried footsteps could be head down the hallway, and a few seconds later, the Winchester rushed into view. His green eyes flickered across them, concern darking the irises, and Alex nodded towards the kitchen where Phillip's body still lay. "Why are you thinking shifter?"

"Probably because I was just talking to the butler. Before he threw me into the wall and shed his skin." Dean brushed past her to see the body, and Alex hesitated, choosing to stay outside the door in case anyone came down the hall.

"So, the shifter's getting its jollies by impersonating dead people." Sam followed after his brother, leaving the angel all alone.

"Yeah," she heard Dean agree. "First Bunny, then Lance, now Phillip. Guess we can rule out 'the butler did it.' "

"And the creep just shed so now it could be anybody." Sam's voice grew louder as the two hunters made their way back into the hall, and Alex stepped aside to let them through. "Even one of you."

"Sounds like we need to find some silver —" The angel jumped in surprise as footsteps approached, and she turned to see the maid Olivia standing in the other entrance to the kitchen, her eyes stretched wide in horror. "Shit."

"Hey." Dean flicked on the kitchen lights and stepped in, drawing an anguished gasp from the woman. "He was like that when we found him."

"W-Who did this?"

"We don't know yet, okay?" Sam moved to stand next to his brother, hands outstretched to sooth the panicked woman. "Now, listen. Calm down. I know you think he was working with ghosts, but there's something way worse going on here."

"Worse than …" The maid's voice trembled, and she trailed off. "What's going on?" She looked between the two Winchesters, and Alex folded her arms, curious as to how much the brothers were going to reveal.

"If you want to help, then help." Dean's words were tight, and the maid's eyes widened even more as she looked between the three of them. "Can you do that?"

"We need silver," Alex added. "Purest that you have. It — it can be anything, but preferably something sharp like, like a knife or some silverware."

"I-I …" Olivia hurried past them further into the kitchen, and the angel stepped aside to let her through. "Why do you need the silverware?" she asked shakily as she pulled free a wooden case, and she opened it up with trembling hands.

"For protection." Sam stepped forward to pull out three knives, and he handed two to Dean, who added, "Trust us; there's a method to our madness," when the maid hesitated.

"Can you — uh — hold this?" Sam handed one of the knives to Olivia while Dean gave Alex her own.

The angel twisted it in her hands, grace simmering beneath her skin as it brushed against the metal, and she frowned. "This isn't silver." She looked up at the brothers' noises of surprise. "I-I don't know what exactly it is, but it doesn't feel like silver."

"H-How do you know?" The maid's voice drew Alex's attention onto her, and against her will, the angel's grace slipped out.

Not human. Her grace recoiled in surprise, and Alex dropped her gaze to keep the others from noticing that she had paled. "Never mind." She turned the butter knife over in her hands. "I-I just had a feeling, but I guess I was wrong. Thank you."

She ducked her head and hurried out of the room, twisting her grace deep inside of her to keep it still. She heard Sam and Dean followed; she could feel their frowns on her back, but she didn't stop until they had put several yards between them and the shifter. "What the hell was that about?"

"Olivia's the shifter." Alex shivered as her grace remembered the tainted flesh. She glanced over her shoulder to see Dean's frown deepen, and she added, "These knives aren't silver, and you told me not to use my grace. The best thing I could do was get us out of there." She came to a stop and turned to face the brothers. "We should gather everyone else up before we try and find some real weapons."

Sam and Dean exchanged looks, and eventually Dean nodded. "You two sweep the bottom floor. I'll get everyone that's upstairs down here."

He turned around and hurried away, and Alex fell in step beside Sam as they continued down the hall. "Wait, wait, wait." The angel heard female voices in the distance, and she curled her lips in disgust as she recognized them. "Go back. He owned an island." Beverley's voice was too low to make out words, but Heddy's response was sharp. "Who cares if he's ugly if you're drinking Mai Tai's in the lap of luxury?"

"Cougars two o'clock." Alex slipped onto the other side of Sam. "Should we leave them and keep going …?"

"What? No." Sam stepped through the doorway, and Alex leaned up against the frame as her gaze swept across the two old blondes seated on the white couch. "Hey, uh, hey, ladies." The Winchester cleared his throat as he stepped forward, blocking Alex's line of sight. "What are you doing?"

"Trying to find Beverly a man." Heddy's voice was contemptuous, and Alex snorted in amusement as her cousin added, "I've resorted to fishing online because the live ones won't bite."

"The live one's not yours to fish for." Alex circled around Sam to stand at his side, arms crossed as she narrowed her eyes. "Now come on, get up. We're moving to a different room."

Contempt turned to confusion, and the two women exchanged quick looks. "Moving?" Heddy finally repeated. "What do you mean?"

"I mean Phillip's dead, too, so we're going someplace safe." She clapped her hands together, trying to speed them up. "Chop, chop, let's go."

"Hey." Sam laid a hand on her shoulder, and the angel's eyes flashed blue before she reigned her grace back in. "Let's maybe try some tact, alright?"

"They want my tact they better damn well earn it." Alex shoved her hands into her pockets as she scoffed, eyes flickering over to the couch to find that neither had moved, both stiff with shock at the blunt delivery of her news. "Never mind, let's — let's just leave them for dead. If they think they can push you—"

"Alex." Sam's hand tightened as his voice grew sharp. "We're not married, alright? Remember? Let it go."

"Yeah, obviously, but you're not into getting laid and I'm sure as hell not getting laid anytime in the foreseeable future, so I thought we should stick together — watch each other's backs." Alex twisted the ring on her finger with the pad of her thumb as she scoffed again. "Just — we're supposed to herding them, not —"

A scream broke off the angel's rambling, whose grey eyes stretched wide in surprise. Sam rushed out of the room, and with one last glance towards Heddy and Beverly, Alex followed, grace spilling out ahead of her to clear the way. She could hear Dean jumping down the stairs as he approached, joining the hall ahead of them as he rushed towards the source.

Olivia stood in the doorway to one of the bathrooms, one hand pointed inwards as the other covered her face in a horrified gasp. She stepped out of the way as Dean reached her, gasping for air as she tried to form words that simply wouldn't come.

"Well, we got a floater." Alex slid to a stop next to Dean as the hunter spoke, and a thin grimace settled over her face at the sight of Detective Howards face down in the toilet bowl. "Yeah, he's a goner," Dean added when Sam muttered out his concern, and Alex shifted further into the small tiled room to let the hunters enter as well.

"Drowned in a toilet?' Heddy's voice surprised the angel, and she looked up to find all four LaCrioxs crowded in the doorway. "How filthy."

"What kind of monster would do such a thing?" Beverly added, looking over at Oliva, and the maid offered up a shaky shrug.

"D-Don't look at me," she pleaded. "I was just trying to pee."

"Great." Dean swiped a hand through his hair as he looked down at Alex. "This one's on you, okay? You had the chance to stop her, and you let it go out of what — spite?"

"You told me not to use my grace, so I didn't use my grace. And I didn't see you having anything silver on you, so you're welcome I didn't get you killed!" The angel spun around to glare up at the hunter. "You're the one who benched me, Winchester, and all I did was follow orders."

"Hey, hey." Sam pressed himself in between the two of them. "Neither of this is your fault. He's been dead a while," he told his brother. "Corpse is cold. This didn't just happen in the past few minutes."

"So she killed him before Phillip," Dean concluded with a nod, and Alex turned to meet Olivia's eyes.

"Can I kill her now?" she asked, taking a step towards the maid, grace twisting inside her when the shifter backed away. "I'll be honest, it's definitely been way too long since I've killed anything."

To her surprise, Dash moved in front of her, a hand out to keep the angel back. "Oh, no. The three of you aren't going anywhere!"

"Trust me. I don't think you quite know what's going on here." Alex knocked his hand away unceremoniously. "You see, she's a monster. She's killed four people, three of which she offed today, and for that I'm going to kill her."

"Olivia's been in the family for years." Dash scoffed at the angel's ridiculous words. "And trust you? Uh, we don't even know you. Look, sweetheart, I'm trying to be objective here, bu we've had countless family functions before, and even though we wanted to kill each other, we never did."

"Dash is right," Heddy slowly added. "Our get-togethers never ended in murder. The only thing different this time around is you."

"And her." Alex pointed her finger back towards Oliva, who shied away with tearfilled eyes. "She's not Olivia. She's a shapeshifter who —"

Dash lunged forward, and Alex jumped away just as the man's hand wrapped around the detective's gun that lay on the floor. The hammer clicked as it was cocked, and the dark-haired man pointed the barrel in their direction. "You three! Let's go." He backed out of the room, motioning for them to follow, and Alex hesitantly did so.

"Want me to take him?" she murmured up to the brothers, warily eyeing the shifter before them. "I don't want to get shot — again — but if you need me to …"

"Don't even think about it!" Dash's voice was sharp with command. "I … hunt pheasant." With a wave of the gun, he motioned them into the next room. "Sit tight until the cops get here."

"You don't want to do this." Dean's hands were lifted up in a gesture of compliance, and Alex reluctantly followed him into the room with a curled lip. "We are your best shot at making it out of here alive."

"We're not the bad guys, Dash," Sam quickly added.

"Oh, I beg to differ." The younger LaCroix motioned to the three with the barrel of his gun. "You're wearing flannel." The door slammed shut as Alex looked down at her apparel, eyebrows knitting together in a moment of confusion. She heard the lock click into place, and the angel huffed as she turned to look up at the Winchesters.

"Well?" She crossed the room to brush her fingers across the lock, grace slipping out to feel the tightly-woven components. "I can get us out of here right now —"

"We don't have anything to defend ourselves." Dean shook his head. "Chances are that shifter's gonna jump us the moment we step outside."

"Then we see what's in here." Alex pushed her way between the brothers, eyes catching on the flickering of a screen. "What is this room? This …"

"Security cameras." Sam's voice echoed her confusion. "Hey." He waved his brother over, and Alex slipped in at his other side as Sam flipped through the screens. The lounge came into view, with all four LaCrioxs standing by the couch.

The flash of a gun's muzzle could be seen in the corner, and Dean cursed under his breath as Olivia stepped into view. "Dammit. Get us out of here."

"On it." Alex hurried over to the door, grace reaching into the lock and popping it open, and she heard the sound of a cabinet opening behind her.

"Alex." Sam looked back at his brother, who gave a small nod. "Gun safe." The metal door sprung open as Alex's grace flicked out towards it, and the Winchester wrenched it open and peered inside. "Here." He pulled out two handguns and quickly checked the magazine. "Lead."

"Alright. The two of you go after her. I’ll make it out to the car and get some real ammo." Dean threw open the door and slipped into the hallway, and Alex accepted one of the pistols from Sam with a frown.

Sam led the way back out of the room, and the angel let her grace slide out to guide the way. She heard Dash arguing with the shifter, and she lengthened her stride to outpace Sam and reach the room first. "Hey!" She cocked her gun as she stepped through the doorway, and her stomach barely hit the ground in time as a bullet lodged itself into the doorway above her head. "Shit!"

"Stay here." Sam's command came as he rushed past her, and Alex looked up in time to see that his command was issued to the LaCrioxs. He disappeared from sight down the hall, and Alex pushed herself to her feet and hurried after him. She heard the shifter in the kitchen, and when Sam slowed, Alex pointed off down the hall towards the other entrance to the room; he nodded, and she slipped off towards the second door.

A shot echoed through the room, and the angel crouched down with a hiss, cocking her gun as she snuck forward. "You don't have a clear shot," she heard the shifter taunt.

"Neither do you," Sam retorted from behind the island, and Alex's grace flicked out to kill the lights before she slunk forward through the darkness.

"Killing you is the next best thing to killing Bobby Singer!" the shifter hissed from her hiding spot, and the angel stretched out her grace in an attempt to locate the monster.

"What's your beef with Bobby?" she called back as she came to rest against the same island as Sam, stretching a hand around the corner to touch the Winchester on the bicep to let him know she was there.

"For starters, he killed my father."

"Lance was a shifter?" Sam peered around the island, and his hazel eyes caught in the moonlight as he looked to stall.

"Lance wasn't my father." Olivia spat the words, and Alex crept around so she could peer further into the kitchen. "Mother had an affair with a shifter. She got pregnant, told Lance I was his. He bought it … until she brought me back from the hospital. My real dad was waiting. Lance put up a fight, but he was no match for a shifter. And just as my dad was about to take me …" The maid’s voice grew scornful. "The hunter became the hunted."

Sam's word was barely a murmur. "Bobby."

"After Bobby killed my father, he came after me, but Mother pleaded with him to spare me. He agreed, under one condition …"

"That she keep you locked up," the Winchester finished.

"For my safety and the safety of others. Mother told the family she lost the baby. And she locked me in the attic. But she remained devoted to me until the very end — even got Bobby to promise to take care of me if anything happened to her."

"And you set all this up to kill him?" Alex scoffed scornfully, and she heard the shifter hiss in anger somewhere across the room. "You should be grateful."

"For what? Keeping my locked up my whole life? If would have been kinder to kill me."

"We can take care of that," Alex muttered, but her words were drowned out by Sam's own sentence. "Olivia, you don't have to do this. Being a monster is a choice."

"That choice was made for me a long time ago." Footsteps reverberated through her grace, careful and silent, and the angel tightened her grip on her weapon as she shifter spoke again. "Why haven't you taken a shot?" she asked before she fell silent, and after a second, she chuckled. "Oh. You don't have any silver bullets, do you?"

Her voice sounded directly behind the angel, and Alex spun around in surprise as a gunshot echoed through the air. The gun fell from her hands as the bullet tore through the shifter's chest, and Alex barely rolled away before Olivia collapsed onto the ground. Dean stood behind her, his form outlined by the hallway’s light, and Alex rose to her feet as Dean stepped forward again, gun still cocked.

The weapon discharged again, and then once more, and Alex flinched away as the Winchester emptied seven more shots into the corpse. It jerked as the bullets entered the flesh, and Alex tore her gaze away to look up at Dean. "Think she's dead?" The words were out of her mouth before she could stop herself, and Dean pulled back the slide to clear his weapon before he shoved it into the back of his jeans.

Rushed footsteps came from the hall, and the angel looked up to see Dash standing in the doorway. "We heard shots," he explained. "Lots of them — are you okay?"

"Yeah, we're fine." Dean nudged the corpse with his foot, disgust flashing across his face. "Her, not so much." The disdain lingered for a moment longer before he turned away. "Anyways. We should get going before any more of Detective Howard's friends decide to pay us a visit. You four going to be okay on your own? With this?"

Dash's eyes were trained on the half-concealed body of Oliva, and it took him a moment to regain his voice. "Yes," he finally agreed. "I … I'll call the police to come …" He trailed off, unsure what to say, and Alex followed Sam and Dean out of the kitchen as the LaCriox pulled out his cell phone.

The winding halls led them back to the front door, and as they neared it, Alex could hear Dash's voice as he hurried after them. "Yes, officer," he was saying into his phone, "yes, thank you very much. You can't miss it. Big house on the end of the street." He paused to listen as Alex stepped out into the night air, and he hung up with a rushed, "Alright, bye now. Guys?" The man pushed his way out onto the front step behind them, and the Winchesters paused. "Police are on their way," Dash announced. "What a mess. I … I owe you three an apology."

"Don't sweat it." Sam shook his head, shrugging in acceptance. "I mean, you were just protecting your family and … and there's nothing wrong with that."

"Oh, and, uh, here." Dean dug the wooden cross out of his pocket, taking two steps towards the man to hold it within Dash's reach. "You guys should keep it." Dash took it, curiously turning it over, and the Winchester explained, "It's a key to the attic."

The cross separated to reveal the iron key in Dash's hands, and the dark-hair man hummed in understanding. "Bobby must have really meant something to Aunt Bunny if she entrusted him with this," he murmured, and his blue eyes turned up onto Alex. "How can we repay you?"

"Just … forget that we were here, okay?"

Dash's eyes narrowed at Alex's words, confusion lining his voice. "But you saved our lives," he insisted. "I want everyone to know what heroes you —"

"Look, pal," Dean cut in, "the fact that we pulled your bacon out of the fire is nobody's business. Okay?" Dash didn't look convinced, and Dean frowned. "Okay? I'm serious. Put a pin in it — or we'll come back for your preppy ass."

His words struck their mark, and Dash reluctantly nodded, and Alex watched him move back into the mansion as Sam and Dean turned back to the Impala. She climbed into the backseat as the engine purred to life, and Sam cleared his throat as the door slammed shut. "Dean," he started slowly, "what was that all about back there?"

"What are you talking about?" Dean glanced over his shoulder as he backed the Impala out of its spot, and the engine revved as he accelerated down the winding driveway.

"I mean … all those extra shots after the shifter was already dead." Sam glanced back at Alex, searching for support, and the angel gave a half shrug, not sure how committed she should be to the conversation at hand.

"I don't know." Dean shrugged, his voice uninterested in his brother's concern. "Target practice?"

Sam's brow furrowed at the humor, and he snapped, "Come on, man. I'm serious. You sure it wasn't … I don't know, demon residue or something to do with the Mark, or —"

"No." Dean sharply shook his head. "No, none of that. Oh my God, Sam," he added when his brother once again started to protest. "It was my first kill since I've been back. You know, I got a little anxious. I wanted to make sure it was done right — plain and simple." He looked up in the rearview to meet Alex's frown, and his voice grew even sharper. "It's — why am I even explaining this to you?" He cranked up the music, drowning out any possible words, and the car lurched forward as it sped down the road.

Chapter Text

January 26th, 2015
Fall River, Massechussets

The quiet bustle of the diner was a constant, distant hum in the angel's ears as she stared down at the table, brow furrowed in concentration. Three coins lay in front of her, spread out across the polished wood, and their metal vibrated against her grace, the tingling growing the longer she stared. "Come on." Sam's voice snapped her from her thoughts, and Alex blinked at the distraction. "Just admit defeat."

"Shh." The angel lifted a finger to her mouth as her grey eyes flickered over to Sam's hands; his thumbs were pressed together at the tip, fingers splayed outwards, and her attention once again moved back to the coins. "I'm concentrating."

"It's penny football, not brain surgery," the Winchester persisted, once again tearing her attention away from the game before her. "Take your shot or give up."

Alex pursed her lips together, electing to ignore his jab as she brought her hand out. A flick of the fingers sent one of the coins sliding into another, and she grunted in disappointment as the they spun away from their target. "Just because it's easy for you doesn't mean it's easy for all of us," she muttered as Sam collected the change, and she leaned back as she pressed her hands together to form the goal.

Her eyes flickered over to Dean; his nose was buried in his phone, as it had been since they had arrived, and she frowned as a coin suddenly hit the back of her thumb. "Dammit." She swept the coins up together as Sam added another tally to the corner of the newspaper, but the arrival of their food had her quickly shoving the pennies aside. "Hey. Dean-o." Alex whacked the Winchester in the shoulder, jerking him out of his thoughts. "Food." She leaned back in her seat so her plate could be set down in front of her, licking her lips at the sight of the steak.

She waited until the waiter had walked away before she picked up her knife, reflexively twisting it in her fingers before she cut into her lunch. "Not bad." She watched as Dean speared a fry with a fork, barely grunting out a sound of acknowledgement as he typed something into his phone. With a shake of her head, she turned to Sam. "Anything in the paper?"

"Maybe. It's hard to say." The Winchester paused to chew his food as he looked down at the newspaper. "Uh, there's been some cattle deaths a few towns over." He looked up at his brother. "A demon possibility or something?"

"No." Dean didn't look as he pointed in the general direction of the paper. "It says right there. It's probably just cause of the drought."

The newspaper crinkled as Sam folded it back up, a frown on his face. "So … what are we doing here?"

"Uh, reason's right there on your plate." Dean finally put down his phone, and he motioned between their steaks. "Lizardo's porterhouse — U.S.D.A. prime." His phone buzzed twice in quick succession, but the Winchester ignored it. "It's the only place between Connecticut and the bunker you can get a decent steak under ten bucks."

"We’re … in Massachusetts." Alex looked up at Sam, searching for support to her statement before she turned back to Dean. "We went in the opposite direction from the bunker." She pointed to the pennies at her side, arranging them into a line. "Like, this is Connecticut," she said, pointing to the middle penny. "This one's Kansas, and this one's where we are — totally not on the way—"

Dean's phone chimed again, and Sam tipped his head as his brother hurried to answer it. "Dude, you are blowing up. Who is that?"

"Ah, it's just, uh, you know … these alert thingies," Dean lied, and Alex cocked an eyebrow as he quickly typed a reply.

"For what?" she pressed.

"You know, monster … stuff." The Winchester shrugged as he put his phone back onto the table, and his face twisted in indignation when Sam leaned forward and snatched it up. "Hey, hey!" He tried to lean forward, fingers grasping at thin air as Sam held it out of reach. "Uh-uh. Give it back."

"What?" Sam pressed the phone against his chest, batting Dean's hands away. "Why?"

"Because privacy … and stuff." Dean crossed his arms, lips pressed tightly together, and Sam's smirk grew.

"Oh, privacy." He lifted the phone up so he could see, and Alex's curiosity heightened tenfold as his eyes widened in disbelief. "You're on a dating app?"

"What? Let me see." Alex jumped up from her chair to stand behind Sam, leaning down over his shoulder to see the phone's screen. Her grey eyes flickered over to Dean, slouched grumpily in his chair, before they dropped back onto the app. She recognized the picture immediately; she had taken it only a week prior, and she grinned as Sam scrolled down through the profile.

"It's not funny," Dean snapped. "And you know what? Don't knock it until you try it."

"Nice screen name, Dean." Sam's voice dropped low, a cheap imitation of Dean's sultry inflection. "Impala67."

Alex snickered, and Dean leaned forward, silverware clattering as he bumped the table. "All right, give it back." Sam once again pressed it into his chest, and the Winchester scowled. "Come on."

"Shaylene, huh?" Sam scrolled down through his conversations, and hazel eyes widened. "Dean, there are like a million messages here."

The grimace faded into a smug grin. "Yeah, uh, check out her pic."

The picture of a dark-haired woman appeared, a one-size-too-small blue dress carefully buttoned to accentuate her breasts, and Alex lifted an eyebrow as she glanced over at Dean, unsurprised by the complacent smirk. "Uh … oh, wow. Okay." Sam shrugged, and Alex's fingers drummed on his shoulder. "Um, okay," he relented, "she's hot. But …"

"But what?"

"But she seems uh … kind of … available. Like, too available." Sam returned to scrolling through the messages as Alex hummed in agreement, and he thumbed upwards, searching for a good example. " 'Oh, baby, whatever you want. I'm burning up just thinking about you.' " He read the message aloud, making sure to exaggerate the seductive tone, and Alex pulled an equally exaggerated face of disgust.

Dean's grin only widened. "They get raunchier," he promised.

"I think you're missing the point," Alex retorted, while Sam added, "I-I see that, but … it's like a — like a Penthouse letter."

"Yeah," Dean agreed. "Is that bad?"

"Maybe more like too good to be true." Alex returned to her seat, and Sam put Dean's phone back onto the table so his brother could reach it. "Like, how do you know Shaylene is even Shaylene?"

Dean's eyes narrowed in offense. "I'm sorry, is it — is it so hard to believe that an attractive, red-blooded American female could be interested in someone like me?"

Alex shrugged, electing not to answer, and Sam took over the explanation. "We're just saying there's no guarantee,” he insisted. “I mean, for all you know, it could be some … Canadian trucker named Bruce."

Dean’s phone dinged again, and the Winchester grinned at the message it held. He turned in his seat, and Alex followed his gaze to find the woman from the picture standing in the doorway. Her eyes swept through the restaurant, and Dean shot her a small wave. "That look like a Bruce to you?" He smirked, and Alex felt her grin falter.

"We — we detoured eight hours so you could get laid?" Sam's eyes narrowed at the realization, and when Dean rose to feet, his face darkened in displeasure.

"Yeah. Yeah. Oh, and, uh, you know what? Lunch is on me." He dug a handful of bills out of his wallet and tossed them onto his empty plate. "And, uh … don't wait up." He walked away, and Alex scowled after him.

"Arrogant asshole," she muttered, turning away as Dean wrapped his arm around the woman's waist. "I was hoping she'd be a man." She kicked Sam under the table before she too stood up. "Uh, anyways, looks like you'll be on your own for the afternoon."

"Wait, what?" Sam looked up from his half-empty plate, and Alex chuckled.

"In case you were wondering why I never protested this detour en route, it's because Cas happens to be in town, too, and it's been a very long time since I've seen my mate." She neatly arranged the dollar bills Dean had haphazardly thrown at them, stacking them in front of Sam before she ruffled his shaggy hair. "So, uh, like Dean, said, don't wait up."

 

The thin motel carpet crunched beneath her boots as Alex made her way down the hall, eyes glued on her phone as she reread the number. Room 316. It should be on this floor, somewhere. Her grace snuck out, searching for someone of her own kind, and the lights above her head flickered in response. Something up ahead twitched through the air, and Alex drew her grace back in as she lengthened her stride to reach the far door.

This was the one. The angel shoved her phone into her pocket as she rapped twice on the door before she let her grace unlock it. "Hey." She stepped into the room, and her lips widened into a smile at the sight of Castiel.

The seraph was dressed in his typical wear, trench coat hanging loosely on his shoulders, and blue eyes sparkled as he turned to face her. "Alex." His voice was a low rumble, almost a purr, and Alex drew her grace in as his stretched out. The smile faded, and Castiel stepped close. "Your grace …"

"Crowley." Alex tucked it deep inside, trying to keep it out of his reach, and she dropped her gaze to the ground. "I'm sorry."

"I'm glad you're okay." Arms enveloped her, holding her close, and Alex's eyes fell shut as she leaned into his warm touch. "I'm sorry." His hand came up, cupping her cheek and tilting her head so he could look her in the eye. "It's been too long since I've seen you last. I …"

"You've been busy." Alex pulled free from his hold and sank down onto the bed, shrugging off her jacket and folding her legs under her as she smiled up at him. "I'm just glad you're here now. Come 'ere."

Castiel sank down next to her, and Alex leaned over to kiss his lips. Her fingers curled through his hair, holding him close, and she grunted in surprise when hands at her hips suddenly pulled her into his lap.

The bathroom door opened, and Alex straightened up at the sight of Hannah, clothless from the waist up. Their eyes met, surprised evident on both their faces, and Alex felt her fingers tighten in Castiel's jacket. "Okay, so, I am definitely not okay with that."

"I didn't know you were in town." Hannah made no move to cover herself up until Castiel awkwardly cleared his throat. Her blue eyes dropped down to her naked torso, and after a second, realization lit up her face. "Oh." She crossed the room to where her shirt and blouse lay on the floor, and Alex turned her head.

"Yup, back in town. And you're not wearing a shirt." Her fingers once again tightened in Castiel's coat, this time purposefully digging into his skin to show her displeasure.

Castiel's own thumbs rubbed small circled into her hips, trying to appease his mate. "Hannah was just showering," he promised, and Alex's nostrils flared as she sniffed the air, trying to determine if there was something Castiel wasn't mentioning, but the only thing she smelled was the soap from the humid bathroom.

She glanced back to see that Hannah was buttoning up her blouse, and her gaze slipped past to the far wall. A map of the states hung there, pins holding string that created a meshwork of trails, and the angel frowned. "You've been working."

She stood up, ignoring how Castiel tried to pull her back as she looked at the many mug shots that surrounded the map. "We’ve been able to locate many rogue angels." Her mate wrapped his arms around her waist, and Alex leaned back into his chest as she studied the faces.

"Isaac came back willingly," Hannah added, coming up to stand at their side. "He didn't even resist. There are still some angels down here, but the higher-profile rogues are back."

"We'll find them all," Castiel promised. "That's the mission."

His fingers toyed mindlessly with the hem of Alex’s shirt as he spoke, and the young angel hummed in acknowledgement, reluctantly allowing the change in conversation. "How are you identifying them?"

"We're keeping an eye on the news. Any signs of miracles, strange healings, deaths." The seraph pressed a lingering kiss on the top of her head as he fell silent in thought. "We're heading down to Tennessee later today. The local papers say there’s a man that’s been working miracles in his Parish."

"Could be a figure of speech," Alex offered, and she felt Castiel shrug against her.

"Perhaps," he conceded. "But it's the best lead that we have, and until we find something stronger elsewhere, we'll have to go check it out." His grip on her tightened. "You could come with us."

Alex leaned back into him, suppressing a deep sigh. "I wish I could. But there's things I've got to do here. A-And between Dean and Crowley …" Alex reluctantly shook her head. "Plus the Winchesters promised me sparring practice to get my kickassery back." She sighed again, this time lowering her voice before she spoke. "Have you had any luck locating our grace?"

"Not yet." From the corner of her eye, Alex watched as Castiel glanced over at Hannah. "I don't …"

"Metatron claims he knows where your grace is, but Castiel has refused to listen." Hannah interrupted him with a dark frown, and Alex watched as Castiel's lips pursed together. However, the angel didn't push the subject any further. "We should hit the road," Hannah decided. "You two can bring our things out to the car. I'll check us out."

Alex's phone dinged, and she looked down to see a text from Sam. Shaylene's a hooker. Working for a demon selling souls. Meet us at Astor Motel.

Alex chuckled, and she quickly typed in a reply. Called it. I’ll be there in a bit. Call if you need help asap. "Alright, what are we bringing down?" she asked, shoving her phone back into her pocket. "Because I probably have about twenty minutes before the Winchesters come looking."

Castiel slipped out from behind her and starting gathering up the photos, and Alex watched as Hannah moved to help him, frowning at how the two angels moved in tandem. The pictures fit easily into a small cardboard box, pins and strings tucked in alongside, and not long after, the map was folded on top. Castiel secured the lid, and Alex held open the door as he led the way into the hall.

The third floor of the hotel was as dead as it had been when Alex had entered, but the lobby was now bustling as families hurried to move their things into their new rooms. Alex sidestepped a ten year old, eyes narrowed as the child didn't even look up from his phone; she opened her mouth to comment to her mate, but Castiel was already past the front desk. "Get in the car," she heard Hannah tell him. "I'll check us out."

Castiel nodded, and Alex slipped through the crowd to follow. "Hey." Once outside, she broke into a jog to catch up, and the seraph politely paused until she was at his side. "So, uh, Hannah's big on business, huh? Never a moment's rest."

"Our job is to locate the angels that have refused to return to heaven." Castiel stopped by his gold Lincoln Continental, balancing the box on one hip as he opened up the trunk. "With no need to eat or sleep, there's no reason for us to delay." He put the box inside and then turned to face Alex, hesitation in his eyes. "Are you sure you won't come with us? I don't know when our paths will cross again."

"Trust me, I wish I could." Alex shoved her hands into her pockets as she gave a half-hearted shrug. "But it's like I said. Crowley still has me on a leash, and Dean still has the Mark."

"And you've found no way of persuading Crowley to break the contract."

"You kidding?" Alex scoffed. "He acts like I'm the best investment he's had in years. I don't know what it would take for him to just give it up." Her grace slammed the trunk closed, and her eyes turned towards the hotel doors as she waited for Hannah to arrive. "So, you and Hannah …"

Arms pulled her close, and the angel smiled at the warmth that enveloped her. "You have no reason to be jealous." Castiel's voice was up against her ear, his breath stirring her blonde hair. "You are Enaaish. She is not."

"I'm your mate," Alex affirmed, and the seraph hummed in agreement. "I wish I could be there with you. Being apart … it's not right."

"It's not." Lips brushed across the back of her neck, fingers brushing her hair out of the way. "And I'm going to fix this."

"I know you are." Alex's grace stretched forward, wanting to curl inside of him, but she pulled back away at the foreign grace that resided in his chest. "If anyone is capable of saving me, it's you." She felt Castiel relax against her, lulled by her words, and after a moment or two, she added, "I wonder what's taking Hannah so long. It doesn't take much to check out."

The seraph stiffened, drawing away, and Alex fell in step at his side as he hurried back to the hotel. The lobby, while still full, was missing the brunette angel. "Hannah?" Castiel's hand closed around hers as he wove through the crowd, pausing only beside the staircase. "Alex. Take the other end. If neither of us find her, we'll meet in the middle."

"Yeah, of course." Alex broke into a sprint down the hallway, grace stretching upwards in search of the dark-haired angel. She wound up the far flight of stairs, stopping on the third floor where their room had been as she started her search.

She couldn't see Castiel, but the stretch of her grace towards their old room found both his and Hannah's grace. There was someone else, a human soul, and Alex reached back to draw her weapon as she crept towards the open door. "Castiel." Hannah's voice could be heard through the half-opened door, slow and intentional. "This is Joe … my husband."

Alex stopped, head tipping quizzically, and her confusion was echoed by Castiel's vocal, "Oh?" She heard a man cleared his throat, and when Joe spoke, his anger was clear. "Who is this guy?"

"He … uh …" Hannah seemed at a loss for words, and the bed creaked as Joe stood up.

"You're saying that you're … together?"

"What?" Alex could imagine Hannah squinting as she wrapped her head around the man's words. "Uh ... yes. I left you," she began, and her words sped up as the lie to form. "For him. He's the reason."

"No. No, I don't believe it." Joe's voice grew sharp, and Alex crept forward until she could see the inside of the room through the crack in the door. "This guy? No, there's something —" The man's eyes were stretched wide. "Caroline, you’re not that kind of person, okay? You wouldn't do that. You couldn't do that."

In response, Hannah kissed Castiel. Alex's fingers tightened around her weapon, unable to tear her eyes away as the kiss deepened, and she curled her toes to keep herself from rushing in and killing the angel right then and there. Unlike her, Joe's face was one of devastation, not jealousy, and when Hannah finally did pull away, she dropped her gaze to the floor. "I'm sorry." She reached down to take Castiel's hand. "Let's go."

The two stepped out of the room, closing the door to leave Joe alone in his misery, and the moment that it clicked shut, Alex was on her feet. Her fist flashed out, connecting with Hannah's jaw, and the angel stumbled back in surprise. "New rule. You kiss my mate, you get punched."

Hannah scowled in surprise, rubbing her jaw, and Alex smirked to find that Castiel chose not to rebuke her rash actions. "I'm sorry." Hannah straightened, adjusting her blouse as she turned back to face Alex, her face as stolid and diplomatic as ever. "But I needed to give Joe a reason. He's my vessel's husband," she explained, and Alex scoffed.

"I get it," she reluctantly agreed, "but there's no way in hell I'm okay with it." She felt her phone buzz in her pocket, and her jaw clenched as she looked up at Castiel.

The seraph took her hand in his. "I'll meet you by the car," he promised Hannah, and with a nod, the angel walked away. His hand tightened against hers as he led her in the opposite direction, and Alex childishly glared over her shoulder to catch a glance of Hannah one last time. "I'm sorry you had to see it."

"I watched you kiss her back." Alex tore her hand free from her mate's, and she tucked her weapon back into her jeans, muttering a sullen, "I hate her." Her phone buzzed again, and Alex looked down at the messages they held. Girl definitely worked for demon. Raul's Girls, Elm Street. Get here asap.

"I need to go." Alex shoved her phone back into her pocket. "I — the Winchesters need me with a case."

"I understand." Castiel's face fell, and he reached down to take her hand. "I'll see you soon," he promised quietly. "I'll make time to come see you." His head dipped, lips pressing against hers, and Alex curled her hand around his neck to keep him close.

"Make sure that you do," she murmured. "I love you." Her phone rang, the high-pitched, dainty bells the ringtone for only one of her contacts, and Alex drew away with a scowl. "And that'd Crowley."

She turned away, pressing her phone up against her ear. "Hey. What do you want?"

"Now, now. That's no way to speak to your King." The demon's mocking deride had the angel grinding her teeth, but she kept her lips tight until he spoke again. "I have a little puzzle for you to solve."

"You've got five minutes." Alex pulled open the door to the stairwell, grace flicking in annoyance as she glanced back to see that Castiel was already long gone. "Not a second more, though. I'm on my way to meet up with the Winchesters."

Crowley merely chuckled at her passive-aggressive tone. "Fall River, Massachusetts. One of my men was struck down by the untimely arrival of a witch."

The angel's eyebrows lifted at the name of the town. "Well, if his name was Raul, I'm afraid I'm siding with the witch." She scoffed dryly. "Really, Crowley? Prostitutes? Even for you, that's low."

"So you've heard of him." The demon hummed curiously at the realization. "And if it's any consolation, this little scheme was run behind my back. I'm evil," he reminded, "but the sex trade — that's just tacky."

"Okay, then how'd you hear about it?" Alex pushed her way out of the hotel and started off down the street, eyes scanning the parking lot to try and catch sight of the Lincoln Continental, but the car was nowhere in sight. "Cause the way I see it, that couldn't have happened too long ago."

"Ten minutes, thereabouts," Crowley confirmed. "One of the scum dragged into Raul's little stunt fled the scene before the witch got around to him. He told me everything." The hint of a snarl in his voice left no doubt in Alex's mind to the snitch's fate.

She turned the corner, eyes flicking up towards the street sign above her head. "Okay, so what do you want from me? Cause if you ask me, it sounds like that witch did us all a favor."

"Perhaps. But a blatant act of aggression like that doesn't go without retaliation. And any witch that knows how to kill a demon is not one I want walking free." Alex heard the King of Hell rise to his feet. "It sounds like you and those two flea-bitten mongrels are already in town, so why don't you get them to stop chasing their tails and get after that witch."

"I'll see what I can do." Without waiting for dismissal, Alex hung up. The Impala lay ahead of her, pressed up against the curb, and the angel's eyes narrowed as she searched the streets for the location Sam had spoken about in his text.

Her gaze found the brick building across the street, the sleazy neon sign advertising its trade, and she crossed the empty road as her grace probed for an open door. "Hello?" She pushed her way in through the back, following the feel of the Winchesters into the main room.

"Welcome back." Dean stood behind a bar, halfway through pouring himself a drink, and Sam was kneeling down on the ground beside two bodies. "How's Cas?"

"Alive. With Hannah." If either brother heard the jealousy in her voice, they didn't comment on it, and Alex squatted down next to Sam. "So what's going on here?"

"Uh, from the looks of it … and the smell of it … this is demon." Sam pointed at the thick, black, sulphurous ooze that surrounded the nearest corpse's head, clogging their nose and mouth. "I — I think this is Raul."

"That would make sense." Alex dug a pen out of her coat pocket and poked at the charcoal slime. "Which means that," she added, pointing to the second body, "is our snitch."

"Snitch?" Dean's glass clinked against the counter as he set it down. "What do you mean?"

"Crowley called me. He's not pleased his demon was killed, even if he didn't authorize this little outpost." Alex rolled Raul over, fingers closing around a small black pouch with white symbols on the front. "Witch." She tossed the hexbag to Sam as she rose back to her feet. "One that I'm gonna have to track down, with or without you."

The Winchesters exchanged looks, Dean's scowl evident, but when Sam gave a faint nod, he sighed. "Course we're with you. A witch is a witch, demon killer or not." He polished off his drink and stepped out from behind the bar. "Alright, let's go back to the motel and see what we can find about uh … demon killing spells." The stutter in his words revealed his hesitation at their task, but his face held nothing but determination. "Awesome."

 

The motel bed creaked as Alex spread out across it, resting her head on Sam's calf as she stretched for his fast food bag — thinking food, Dean had called it. "Hey. You haven't eaten, like, any of your cheese curds." Alex pulled the bag closer, licking her lips as she popped one into her mouth.

Sam frowned, and he pushed the bag into Alex's chest with the side of his foot. "You really shouldn't eat that," he lectured. "I-I mean, the order's called 'triple threat' for a reason."

"Hey, I can't legally die for another year," the angel quipped. "And if an order of onion rings, cheese curds, and fries is gonna do me in, so be it. Sure beats getting ripped apart by hell puppies." She winked at the hunter, trying to lighten her words, and she dug out another cheese curd as she pulled her laptop close."Anyways. Either of you find anything?"

"Nothing yet." Dean looked up from where he sat at the small wooden table, the remains of his own Triple Threat scattered in front of him. "Sam?"

"Maybe." Sam's cryptic answer was followed by silence, and when no further explanation came, Alex shrugged.

"Hey," she began. "So, uh, tell me more about Shaylene, huh?" She shut her laptop so she could look Dean square in the eye, and she heard Sam huff in amusement from behind her.

"What do you want to hear, huh?" Dean shrugged defensively, his green eyes staying trained on his screen. "She offered me sex for my soul. Thought she was a demon, turns out she was just being pimped out by one."

"That sucks. Bet your dick's disappointed." Alex gestured off towards the Winchester suggestively, winking to show her jest, and Dean scowled.

“Not to be that guy, but this is all coming from a girl who’s reading Supernatural fanfiction,” he retorted, and Alex slammed her laptop shut in surprise as she looked back at him.

“I —” Alex pursed her lips, and she turned on the bed so the Winchester couldn’t see her screen. “I’m not reading it, okay? I’m just seeing what other people have written. And so what?” she added, sticking out her tongue. “Maybe it’s nice to see that there are people out there that appreciate me, however small that group may be.”

“What, you’re going to look me in the eye and tell me you weren’t reading porn?”

A cheese curd flew through the air, hitting Dean right in the left eye, and Alex crossed her arms. “You’re disgusting,” she snapped. “And come on — you're gonna tell me you've never been curious about what people are saying about you?"

Dean scoffed. "Most of it is about me and Sam fucking. Not really my cup of tea."

Alex shrugged, and she reopened her laptop. "So? There's a ton about me and Sam — almost as much as with you and him." She flashed him a grin, adding, "You just gotta push through that, man. Push through the pain."

"Yeah, that — that's nowhere near the same thing —"

"Hey, uh, guys, can we not argue about this?" Sam awkwardly cleared his throat, his legs crossing and uncrossing, and Alex patted his kneecap in a gesture of pseudo-consolance.

"Well, we are a way cuter couple than you and Dean," she teased. "Even you have to admit that. I ship it,” she added over to Dean.

"So, uh, anyways, here we go." The Winchester sat up straighter on the bed, clearing his throat to gather their attention. "Um, so it looks like in the eighteenth century, there were accounts of demons killed by witchcraft. Apparently they were vanquished by a spell called defigere et depurgare which is Latin for 'to bind and purge.' "

"You think that's the same kind of spell that took out Raul?" Dean asked, and he lowered the top of his laptop curiously.

"Sounds like it. But from what I can tell, the spell hasn't been used in over three hundred years. And it was only ever known by one person, the witch who created it. Rowena."

"Never heard of her." Alex looked between the two brothers with a firm shake of her head. "Either she's still alive and doing her thing, which would make her — what, like a gazillion years old — or someone else found the spell and decided to carry on her dirty work."

Dean's phone buzzed, and the Winchester paused, mouth half open in a response. "Hey, we got a problem." He flashed the screen towards them, and Alex narrowed her eyes, trying to read the blurred words before he turned it back around. "Guy's head exploded at, uh, Bistro des Moules about five minutes ago." He slammed his laptop shut and pushed himself to his feet. "That sound witchy to you?"

 

It did, in fact, sound witchy, Alex mused as her eyes traced the floor, following the red misting of blood across the tiles to the still-wet pool where a body had once lay. She tugged on the sleeve of her white blouse as she turned her attention to the rest of the restaurant, now eerily vacant. “So what exactly happened here?” She could hear Dean’s voice in the next room, his voice low in an authoritative tone as he interviewed the head chef, and the angel turned away and followed the sound of his voice.

“It started out like every other day.” The chef’s eyes flickered over to Alex as she entered, pausing a moment before turning back to Dean. “But middle of my shift, there’s Marty falling down, clutching his head, stroking out right there on the floor, sweating, turning red, like … like …” The chef hesitated, mouth half-open as he sought for the right words.

“Like his brains were boiling?” Dean guessed, and the man nodded reluctantly. “Was there anything else unusual?”

The chef scoffed. “More unusual than our head waiter dropping dead in front of me?”

“Before that.”

“I don’t know.” The man shook his head defeatedly. “I-I mean, I thought getting two hookers in here was pretty damn unusual, but that was before Marty keeled over.”

“Hookers?” Alex repeated, and she looked sharply up at Dean. “What do you mean by that? Where they alone?”

“Well, based on what they were wearing, yeah, pretty sure they were hookers.” The man’s lips turned down slightly, confused by her sudden and intense interest. “And no. They came in with a lady. Red hair. We have a certain dress code around here,” he explained. “I don’t know why Marty insisted we serve them.”

Alex hummed curiously, and Dean dipped his head. “Thank you for your time.” His hand brushed across her forearm, a silent gesture for her to follow, and Alex obliged. She and Dean exited the restaurant, and the angel stretched out her grace in search of Sam. The Winchester was sitting across the street, his computer on his lap and phone up against his ear, and he looked up as the two approached. “Hey,” Dean greeted. “So it looks like our witch was here with two new friends.”

“Raul’s girls, probably,” Alex added. “Who knows why she wants them, though. What about you? You find anything on the hunter network?”

Sam nodded, closing his laptop. “Yeah. This guy Darrell’s been working a case, a series of grisly hotel murders, one at the Kensington, another at the Waldorf in Cleveland — bodies impaled on the ceiling.”

Dean grimaced slightly at the mental image. “Sounds a little more homicidal maniac than witchy.”

“That’s what Darrell thought, too, until the autopsy came back. Actual cause of death —”

“Let me guess,” Alex interrupted, reaching back to run her hands through her hair before she pulled it back into a ponytail. “Boiled brain?”

Sam nodded again. “Same as our waiter,” he agreed.

“Well, I’ll give it to this witch; she’s got deep pockets.” Dean shook his head in disbelief. “The Kensington, the Waldorf, this restaurant — that can’t be cheap.” Sam nodded and rose to his feet, and his brother’s brow furrowed. “Where are we going next?”

“We’re going to check every five-star hotel in the area.” Sam looked around, wondering where to begin, and as if on cue, Alex’s phone dinged.

The angel turned away to look down at the text, her lips twisting into a scowl to find that it was from Crowley. Renaissance Hotel, it read. My men will meet you there; follow their lead. “Renaissance Hotel.” Alex shoved her phone deep into her pocket as she scanned the streets for any sign of the building. “They’re there.” She could feel the Winchesters’ gazes on her back, but she ignored their questioning stares as she found the black letters just down the street. “Give me a five minute heads start so they don’t think we’re there together.”

She hurried off across the intersection, ignoring Dean’s shouts for her to come back. She wove through the traffic, and the Winchester’s voice was lost under the blaring horns of protest.

The lobby door was open, and Alex slowed to a walk as she stepped through. Dean was right; the witch must have deep pockets to stay at a place like this, she thought as her eyes traced the elaborate lobby interior. She paused beside a glass panel at the sight of her own reflection, taking a moment to adjust the collar of her blouse; give her a pair of wings, and she would look like every other angel in heaven.

Alex lifted her chin higher, and she reached back to draw her angel blade as she journeyed deeper into the hotel. She could feel demonic souls ahead, twisted and battered, and her eyes narrowed as she stepped into view.

“Alex.” A familiar face greeted her, and the demon waved her over to the rest of the group. “Crowley said you would be coming.”

“Elias.” Alex dipped her head, her gaze sweeping across the rest of the congregation. “What’s going on here? I assume this has to do with the witch.”

“Crowley wants her tagged and bagged.” The woman at the front of the group spoke, her voice thick with displeasure at Alex’s arrival. “It seems he doesn’t trust us enough if he sent you.”

“All I was told was that I was to come here and you’d tell me what to do.” Alex’s answer came smoothly, and she reached back to tuck her weapon away in a show of trust. “I’m not here to kill anyone. Tell me where you want me.”

“Perimeter.” The woman’s voice was firm. “With them.” Her dark eyes flickered towards Elias before they turned over the crowd of demons. “Gerald. Stevens. With me.”

Alex nodded, and she followed the demons back out of the hotel. She sent her grace outwards, feeling for the brothers, and she cocked an eyebrow in amusement to feel that they were almost there. “Come on, Elias.” She waved the demon after her before pointing to two more. “And uh, you two. We’ll take the alleyway out back.”

She led the group away from the hunters, leaving the rest to guard the rest of the building; if those demons had any sense, they’d let the Winchesters through. She let her grace spill upwards, stretching it as far as she dared while still keeping it under control. She could feel souls, completely oblivious to the supernatural operation underneath them. “How’s hell?”

“Hell.” Elias spit out the word. “At least Crowley’s back from his little vacation — I don’t know who he thinks he is, leaving like that. He has a kingdom to run, and instead he spends his time running around with a Winchester?”

“I’m sure he had his reasons.” Alex kept her voice level, her answer intentionally vague, and the demons all around her frowned. “It’s not like him to never to have a plan.” She paused at the alleyway, looking it up and down before adding, “I don’t suppose you’ve tried talking to him about it.”

Silence followed her words, and the angel was vaguely aware of awkward glances being passed around. “Crowley doesn’t take well … to constructive criticism,” one of the younger demons began. “He’s already killed five who have tried. We … we were hoping that maybe you would speak to him.”

Alex scoffed at the prospect. “We’re not pen pals,” she reminded; however, she felt smug pride settle in her chest at the thought that these demons thought so much of her. “I’ll see what I can do,” she promised after a heartbeat. “Perhaps his temper will be soothed if we can bring him this witch-bitch.”

No response came, and Alex stretched out her grace. She could feel the Winchesters in the hotel, and her ears picked up the distant sound of a scream: female. Personally, Alex hoped it was that demon who had ordered her outside. She turned her ears even more, eyes drifting closed as she tried to picture the scene in her head. The demons milled around her, their sulfurous uncertainty prickling through the air, and her grey eyes flickered open. “They’re coming.” She could hear a skirmish on the first floor, with footsteps heading in their direction. “We should be out of sight.”

Her feet carried her silently around the corner, back pressing against the stone, and the demons scrambled to do the same. She saw black eyes flash at the sound of a metal door flying open, but her grace had her keeping the demons at bay. “What’d you do?” she heard a woman say, voice high in panic. “What did you do to her?!”

“Attack-dog spell.” A second voice answered, calm and disinterested, and Alex cocked her head at the thick accent. “We needed a decoy.”

“But — but she’ll die, just like the waiter.” The women had ceased their approach, and Alex shook her head when black eyes met hers, and she mouthed out, No.

“Probably,” came the response. “Few humans are built to survive magic like that, and Elle was weak. But you’re not.” The Scottish accent grew thicker as the witch’s insistence grew. “I saw it the second we met. You’re strong.”

“You’re right. I am.” The sound of bones colliding filled the alleyway as a punch was thrown, and the first woman stalked away. The footsteps grew closer, and Alex pointed a finger at the young demon who stood across for her.

Occuideris ingrat —”

“Not another word!” Dean’s sharp command cut into the Latin chant, and Alex gave a swift, sharp nod as the woman stepped into view. Her eyes stretched wide at the sight of them, but a hand around her mouth stopped her from screaming for help. Alex only had time to see the panic flashing through her eyes before she was gone.

Perfect. The angel mouthed the word, and she turned her ear back to the alleyway. “Lady,” Dean was saying, and Alex’s grace felt the sleek metal of his gun, “your luck has just run out.”

She heard the hammer of a pistol being pulled back with a click, and the angel’s eyes narrowed at the sound; it was too harsh for Dean’s weapon. The witch’s laugh confirmed her suspicions. “I’m pretty sure that’s not true.”

A whistle sounded through the air, followed by Dean’s low groan. “Pal, we got to work on your timing.”

“Drop the gun, Dean-o.” The voice was familiar, low and cold, and Alex pressed her shoulder into the brick wall beside her to keep herself from moving into help. Dean didn’t need help; he had —

The angel’s grace snapped in surprise. Where was Sam? Her grace exploded outwards, stronger than she had meant, and lightbulbs shattered in its wake. She felt Sam’s soul inside, bubbling with panic, and she almost missed the witch’s words. “You heard the boy.” A gun clattered to the ground, and the light, delicate footsteps approached. The angel drew her grace in and stepped away from the brick wall, and with a flick of her hand, the demons fanned out on the other side.

The first thing that struck her was the witch’s hair, a bright, flaming red. Blue eyes flashed in shock, and Alex almost stumbled back in surprise as a hex bag flew through the air. Instinctively, she reached out to catch it, and her grace snapped violently at the darkness inside. She drove her grace inwards, and the bag exploded into flames. “Rowena.” Alex let her eyes glow blue as she dropped the smoldering remains, and the witch took a startled step back. “That’s your name, isn’t it?”

Regimen meum —”

The demons swarmed from every side, overwhelming the redheaded witch, and Alex shoved her hands into her pockets as the woman was detained. Thick iron shackles became visible as the demons drew away, and Alex took a moment to trace the etched sigils with her eyes before the witch interrupted her thoughts. “What are you?” she demanded, her anger thickening her tone. “You’re not a demon.”

“No,” Alex agreed, “I’m not. But I’m handing you off to some.” She nodded to Elias. “Take her to Crowley. I’ll let him know you’re on the way. And I’ll see if I can speak to him about his attitude,” she added after a moment.

Her words seemed to sate the demons, and they and Rowena disappeared into thin air. Alex reached into her pocket, texting a hurried, Mission accomplished to the King of Hell before her feet carried her back into the alleyway.

Dean stood with his back to her, hands in the air, and the angel drew her weapon as she recognized the man who held the Winchester at gunpoint. “Cole.” Alex twisted her blade, which glimmered in the sunlight as her grace fought to bond with the warm metal. “That was your name, wasn’t it?”

“Stop where you are.” The gun swung onto her, but the angel barely slowed her step.

“Dean?” Sam’s voice came from behind Cole, and he stepped into view, gun raised. Cole spun around, blue eyes wide in sudden panic to find himself surrounded on each side.

“Hey, hey!” Dean stretched out his hands, trying to keep the situation calm. “Put the weapons down, guys! Put it down!” he snapped when neither moved. Sam lowered his gun, and Alex reluctantly did the same, slowly stooping to place her blade onto the concrete. “Cole, hey, right here.” Dean drew the man’s attention back onto him. “We’re talking, okay?”

“Dean,” Alex started, shifting closer, “what’s going on —”

“Hey. Just — stay where you are, okay?” Dean waved her back, and the angel paused.

Cole’s eyes flashed angrily, and the gun turned back to point at Dean’s chest. “How can I believe you, huh?” His voice lifted into a shout. “How can I believe you?! My whole life, I’ve been …” He trailed off, jaw trembling, and Alex edged a little closer.

“I get it.” Dean’s hand went out to keep the angel at bay, but his eyes didn’t leave Cole’s face. “That was your story. Look, man, I got one of those, too, okay, but those stories that we tell to keep us going? Man, sometimes they just blind us. They take us to dark places — the kind of places where I might beat the crap out of a good man just for the fun of it.” Cole’s finger tightened on the trigger and his face twisted in a grimace, clearly remembering the humiliating defeat he had suffered at Dean’s hands, but the Winchester continued. “The people who love me, they pulled me back from that edge.”

Alex looked over at Sam, desperately trying to catch his eye, but Sam’s gaze was firmly glued onto his brother. His hands still gripped his gun, fingers pressed tightly against the trigger guard.

Cole didn’t speak up, and so Dean continued on, his voice softening but his tone losing none of its painful urgency. “Cole, once you touch that darkness … it never goes away. Now, the truth is … I’m past saving.” His green eyes darkened as they fell onto the gun. “I know how my story ends. It’s at the edge of a blade or the barrel of a gun. So, the question is, is that gonna be today? That gonna be the gun?”

Alex followed his gaze onto the engraved silver slide — Dean’s engraved silver slide — that rested against Cole’s sweaty palm, his fingers trembling on where they rested. “You’ve got a family, Cole.” Sam’s voice broke into the gathering silence, and Cole turned his head. “I heard you on the phone that night. I’m guessing they need you to come back, and they need you to come back whole.”

When the man turned back, his blue eyes shined with unshed tears. His jaw trembled slightly as he fought to keep they back, and his muscles tensed before he quickly spun the gun around. He held it out, grip pointed towards Dean, and the Winchester took it. “Thank you.” Even Dean’s voice was softer, the relief in his eyes evident.

Cole held his gaze, lips parted as if there was something else he needed to say, but after a second, he shook his head. “I … I should go home,” he decided, and Alex’s grace pulled her weapon up into her hand as the man stooped to retrieve his own gun, apparently knocked away during a skirmish. The angel turned her gaze onto Dean, seeing the small abrasions on his cheek for the first time, and she let her grace creep forward as she reached up to brush the skin.

“What happened?” she asked, keeping her words soft so the retreating man couldn’t hear. “How did he find you?”

“He didn’t say.” Dean hissed as Alex’s fingers turned onto a cut across the bridge of his nose. “Man’s been doing his research, though. He had holy water and everything.”

“Hopefully he won’t need to use that stuff ever again.” Alex turned her gaze to watch the dark Jeep drive off before she let her hand fall away from the Winchester’s face.

“What about Rowena?” Sam asked, and his hazel eyes swept the alleyway, searching for the witch that was no longer there.

“Crowley has her.” Alex hid her weapon and shoved her hands into her pocket, holding back the scowl she knew should come after those words. “He’ll, I don’t know, kill her or something. Either that or she’ll be as good as dead.”

Dean grunted. “You sure? I thought we killed all his mooks.”

“You didn’t kill me.” Alex let her gaze swing up onto his face. “I delivered her to the demons myself. Don’t give me that look,” she added scornfully. “You were going to kill her, and Crowley’s pissed she killed his men. I think we all had the same end goal in mind.”

“Dean.” Sam cleared his throat, and Dean’s lips pursed at his brother’s grave tone. ‘What you said just back then, a-about being past saving — where you really —”

Dean cut him off with a scoff and a shake of his head. “I was just telling the guy what he needed to hear,” he promised, but even his words sounded hollow. The tightening of Sam’s face displayed his displeasure, and Dean turned his head away, clearing his gun and tucking it into his jeans. “Come on,” he said, waving Sam and Alex after him as he started down the alleyway. “It’s time we go.”

Chapter Text

February 6th, 2015
Lebanon, Kansas

The air was thick with sweat, and Alex struggled to breathe through the dull pain in her ribs. A fist came out of nowhere, and the angel, pivoted, barely recoiling in time to avoid it. She dug her nails into her palm, planting her feet as she gathered herself to deliver a counter blow, but her opponent was faster. His leg swept hers out from under her, and Alex grunted as her back hit the thin padding of the mat. Her vision swam at the impact, and the angel let her head fall back as she stared up at the concrete ceiling.

“That the best you got?” Dean planted a foot on her chest, and Alex’s grunt turned into a throaty growl. The Winchester merely chuckled, removing his foot and extending a hand, and Alex reluctantly let him help her back to her feet. “You were doing better half an hour ago.”

“Half an hour ago I hadn’t had the shit beaten out of me,” Alex muttered, and she pulled her messy hair back out of her face. She reluctantly let her grace sink outwards, healing the worst of the bruising, but the aches remained firm in her skin. “How long are we going to keep doing this?”

“You knock me down, we can stop.” A thin sheen of sweat covered Dean’s chest, and he rubbed his freckled shoulders with his discarded shirt before he turned back to face her. “Ready when you are.”

Alex balled her fists, nostrils flaring as she adjusted her stance and rocked up onto the balls of her feet. Dean approached, swaggering forward, and the angel shifted backwards to keep out of his reach. Her grey eyes narrowed in concentration as he planted his left foot. Left foot meant right punch. The angel ducked the blow, straightening immediately to prepare for his next move.

Two more punches came in quick succession, each of which were easily avoided — the Winchester was clearly starting easy. At the third punch, Alex raised her right hand to deflect it, following it immediately with a blow aimed at Dean’s chest. It landed, true to its target, and she heard him grunt slightly at the impact before an elbow caught her off guard.

Alex hit the mat, using the force of the impact to roll out of the way and scramble to her feet. Her grace strained at her chest, desperate to get out, but the angel kept it quelled; the rules stated she had to do this alone: no supernatural help allowed.

How she was going to topple someone like Dean Winchester was anyone’s guess.

A fist flashing past her nose snapped her out of her thoughts, and Alex twisted away in surprise. Her leg snapped out, hooking around the Winchester’s knee, and she pulled back violently. The move upset his balance, and in a last ditch effort, Alex threw her full weight under his arms and into his stomach.

They collapsed in a tumble of arms and legs, and Alex grunted as Dean rolled on top of her. She wrapped her legs around his hips, putting him in her guard, and she surged up, wrapping an arm around the back of his neck and pulling him down into a guillotine choke. Dean reared up, ripping himself free, and Alex followed him, hooking an arm and driving him backwards to send the Winchester sprawling onto the ground. He grunted as his skull collided with the mat, and Alex rolled on top, one hand planted on his bare chest. “Fight’s over,” she huffed out, digging her blunt fingernails into his skin to briefly emphasize her point. “I win.”

“Yeah, right.” Dean pushed her off of him, and Alex fell back onto the mat, stretching out her limbs in a dramatic gesture of exhaustion. “You finally got that sweep right, I see.”

Alex half-heartedly punched at the air, a sign of her victory. “Yup,” she agreed breathlessly. “Finally.” She rolled over, pressing her forehead into the cool foam. “God, I need a shower.”

A light swat to her calf had her sitting up to watch Dean push himself to his feet. “Don’t think this is over,” he reminded, rubbing his head from where it had collided with the ground. “I was going easy on you. We’ve still got a lot of work to do.” He picked up his shirt and sniffed it, recoiling slightly at the smell. “Go get cleaned up,” he instructed after a second. “Maybe Sam’s found something.”

Alex didn’t wait for any further instructions before she hurried away. She bounded down the stairs towards the showers, but the feeling of Sam’s soul from the library had her pausing. She circled around, bare feet silent on the concrete floor as she made her way down the halls.

Sam was in the library, hunched over a book, and he didn’t notice Alex’s presence until she dropped down into a chair across from him with a huff. “Uh, hey.” Hazel eyes flashed in amusement at her flushed face and wet clothes. “Have a nice shower?”

“Ugh. This is sweat, not water.” Alex tugged at her damp hair with a noise of disgust. “Dean worked my ass off upstairs. If that was him pulling punches …” She trailed off and shook her head, leaving the rest unspoken. Sam chuckled, and Alex motioned to the large array of books around them. “What’s all this?”

“I don’t know. It was here when I woke up this morning.” Sam’s large shoulders rose and fell in a shrug. “Dean’s probably still looking into the Mark of Cain.”

“And rightly so.” Alex’s grace snuck out to feel the eldest Winchester making his way to the showers. “And he — have either of you found anything on removing it?” The grim look on Sam’s face said it all, and Alex leaned back, barely stifling a groan at the pain in her muscles. “Great.”

She ran fingers down her side, feeling traces of bruising from Dean’s fists, the last ache that her grace hadn’t removed. “I’ve been looking into some of the pre-biblical lore,” she heard Sam begin. “There’s not much, and a lot is still untranslated. It’s interesting,” he was quick to add, “but nothing points to the Mark. There, uh, there was one script that mentioned Sheol, though.” He shuffled through the mess on the table, and Alex’s head cocked in interest as a dusty old book was placed in front of her, the pages marked with a myriad of post-it notes.

“Huh.” Alex half-heartedly flipped through the old manuscript, eyes skimming the small, hand-written words. “Anything of interest?”

“Yeah, a bit.” The table creaked as Sam leaned forward to flip through the pages. “Uh, this word here, uh, I can’t pronounce it, but from what I can gather it means ‘those who dance on the edge of a coin.’ ” He pointed to a jumble of scrawled letters, and Alex narrowed her eyes as she tried to recognize the language before she turned her attention to the other side of the page, translated into English; a blank line signified the lack of knowledge for the word’s meaning.

“Okay, sure, I can see how that makes sense. One side being hell, the other heaven.” Alex nodded in understanding, but despite her feigned interest, her her grace stretched out to feel if Dean was still in the shower as she absently added, “Anything else?”

“Uh, well, it, uh, doesn’t call Sheol by name, but instead refers to it as The Valley of Death.” The next thing Alex knew, Sam was on his feet, and three steps took him around the table so he could lean over the back of her chair, his interest fully ensnared by the text. Alex leaned away from the hunter, his body heat too much for her overheated skin, but he didn’t seem to notice. “It was Death who brought the souls there, and they thought that these souls had to walk from one end of the valley to the other, and with each step they took they had to relive their entire lives.”

“Okay. And is there anything about why I’m back?” Alex glanced up into Sam’s face, half-hidden by his shaggy brown hair.

“What? Uh, no. No.” Sam shook his head and pulled away, his pale lips pressed together in a frown. “No, nothing like that. I just thought you’d find this stuff interesting.”

The shower water turned off, and Alex pushed herself to her feet. “Yeah,” she half-heartedly agreed. “I’ll read over it some more once I’ve had a chance to clean up.” She emphasized her words by brushing a hand across Sam’s arm on her way to close the book, and the Winchester gave a small, understanding nod. He stepped back, and Alex hurried away.

 

The cold, icy spray of the shower was a relief, and Alex lost track of time beneath the pounding water. It was only the ache in her legs that kept her from staying in there long, and the young angel reluctantly shook the water from her hair and stepped out from beneath the shower head. The air was somehow colder than the shower, and the young angel shivered as she wrapped her towel tightly around her. Her grace stretched out to feel the Winchesters in the library as she hastily dried and dressed herself, and she tossed her towel over the towel rack before she made her way to her room.

Alex threw on a sweatshirt over her already dampening shirt and pulled her hair up into a messy bun, pausing only long enough to check her appearance in the mirror before she made her way back to the main room.

Sam and Dean sat across from each other, each buried in their work. Dean was pouring over the old texts, shoulders hunched and face twisted in frustration, a complete opposite from his relaxed, laid-back brother. Sam looked up at Alex’s arrival, hazel eyes turning away from his laptop, and he nodded his welcome as she sat down beside her. “Hey.” She drew her legs up beneath her as she curled up in the chair. “Find anything on the Mark yet?” she asked Dean.

“Nothing.” Dean’s scowl darkened. “You’d think these eggheads, with all the crap they amassed over the years, would have actually collected something important.” A large manuscript was tossed in her direction, landing on the table in front of her. “Uh, here. ‘He-wolf/She-wolf: a Study in Werewolf Transgenderism.’ ” He scoffed, green eyes rolling around at the ridiculous content. “That thing is six hundred pages, volume one. But, uh, there’s not something important like — I don’t know — maybe the oldest symbol known to man. That’s not worth our time. It’s not weird enough.”

Alex shot a glance over at Sam as Dean’s rant came to an end, unsure how to respond, and she slowly pushed the dusty book away. “That’s … great. Well, keep looking, I guess.”

The ringing of Sam’s phone let her fall silent, attention turning onto the dark-haired Winchester as he pulled out his phone. “No way,” she heard him murmur in surprise at the name on the screen, and he quickly pressed the device up against his ear. “Hey! Jody. How’s it going?”

Alex recognized the voice of Jody Mills, and she leaned closer to try and pick out the words. “— time of my life at a sheriff’s retreat in Hibbing,” the sheriff was saying, and Alex chuckled at the distaste in her voice.

“Wow. Sounds like a blast.” Sam mimicked Alex’s laugh, and Dean looked up long enough to wave his fingers in the direction of the phone. “Uh, Dean says hi. And Alex,” he added when Alex was quick to mimic Dean’s gesture.

Jody made a surprised noise, but the angel couldn’t pick out distinctive words from her following angry response. “Yeah, uh, right.” Sam awkwardly cleared his throat, and he shifted the phone to the other ear to keep Alex at bay as the angel leaned closer, intent on listening in. “Sorry about that.” He paused, listening, and after a second, responded, “Good, good. Yeah, you know. Uh, you know, hold on a sec. I’m gonna put you on speaker.”

He dropped his phone onto the table, and it crackled to life. “Hey, Jody.” Dean pushed his book aside to lean forward. “How’s, uh, your Alex holding up?”

“Awesome,” came the dry response. “Already head of the cheerleading squad.” Sam made a noise of surprise, and Jody scoffed. “I’m kidding. She smokes grass under the bleachers, but at least she’s not luring men to their deaths.” The sheriff let out a sigh. “How about your Alex?”

“Great. I’m right here, actually.” The table creaked as Alex leaned her elbows on it. “It’s been a long time since I’ve heard your voice. What’s up with this surprise call?”

Jody snorted in amusement at her words. “Listen. This may not be your kind of thing, but a body was found here this morning, and something had gone to chow town on it.”

“What do you mean?” Alex was quick to ask. “Was there anything missing? Hearts? Throats ripped out?” She looked between Sam and Dean, curious as to if either of them had answers, but Jody spoke before they could.

“Worse,” she replied, her voice crackling through the speakers. “I’m hearing that all the flesh had been eaten down to the bone. Any ideas?”

The Winchesters exchanged looks from across the table. “Well, it’s not a vampire,” Dean confirmed, his eyes darkening, and when Sam shrugged, he added, “Jody, we could head that way. Wouldn’t be any trouble at all.”

“Nah.” Alex could hear the shake of the sheriff’s head in her tone. “It’s okay. I can handle it. I promise I’ll call if it gets to be something I can’t.”

“Alright.” Sam reached for his phone with a small grin. “Well, uh, enjoy the retreat.”

“Screw you, Winchester —” Jody’s voice cut off as Sam hung up, and he tucked his phone back into the pocket of his jeans with a chuckle. Alex leaned back in her chair, and after a second or two, Dean did the same with a low, angry groan.

“I swear,” he muttered, “I’mma swallow a bag of knives if I got to keep looking at this stuff.” His hands thudded down on the table, and the Winchester made a move to rise to his feet. “Let’s —”

“Jody said she was on top of it, Dean.” Sam was quick to cut Dean off, and the Winchester’s shoulders fell. He let out a half-hearted agreement, the noise drawn out in reluctance, and he cast his eyes over his work before they turned up onto Sam, green eyes sparkling in a silent plea.

Sam turned to Alex, searching for backup, but the angel mimicked Dean’s expression, bottom lip sticking out in a small pout. “What if Jody needs help? We’re all the way down here.”

Sam rolled his eyes as he looked between her and his brother, and Alex let her eyebrows turn up, completing the pleading look. “You’re the worst.” His hand thudded down on the table, and a grin broke out across Dean’s freckled face. “Alright. Fine. Let’s take a drive.”

 

The body that lay in front of her wasn’t much of a body at all. Alex tugged the sleeves of her blouse down to further cover her arms, shivering slightly at the refrigerated room as she stepped closer to the flesh-stripped corpse. “You say there’s been two of these?” she asked the coroner, and she circled around the table to make room for Sam and Dean.

“Second one just came in about two hours ago,” the dark-haired woman agreed, and she gave a small, stressed yank of her long hair. “The majority of the flesh is missing, just like the first. All the major organs were taken without a trace.” The coroner moved over to a second covered body to draw back the sheet, exposing blood-stained ribs that met flesh at the neck.

Alex heard Dean grimace, and she hesitantly leaned over the corpse to further examine the damage. The bones had been picked near-clean, with, like the woman had said, not a trace of internal organs remaining. “How was the flesh removed?” she asked curiously. “Knife? Teeth?”

The faint, momentary squinting of the woman’s eyes was the only sign of her confusion at Alex’s strange question. “Lab analysis hasn’t come back yet,” she slowly began, “but it seems pretty clear it was an animal. This far north, you get stuff big enough to kill a man.” The coroner shook her head in disbelief. “I haven’t heard of one doing anything this cleanly, though.”

Alex hummed in understanding, letting the vaguely pointed answer slide. “What was the cause of death?”

“Blood loss, undoubtedly. Most likely from this wound right here.” The coroner moved around to the top of the corpse and pointed at the neck, where a gaping portion of flesh had been ripped away. “From the staining at the scene, it seems that they were dead before the abdomen was opened.”

Alex hummed again, this time the tone sharp with interest, but all she said was, “How humane of them.” She let her grey eyes wander over the corpse as she fell into silence, and the coroner stepped away. “Well?” The angel turned up to the Winchesters, lowering her voice so the woman couldn’t hear. “This is new.”

“You’re telling me.” Dean’s face darkened as he looked between the bodies. “Whatever this thing is, it’s nothing like anything I’ve seen.” When Sam simply shrugged, the Winchester let out a quiet sigh. “Alright. Where’s this police retreat at? Thank you,” he added to the coroner, speaking up so the woman could hear.

“Uh, about five minutes outside of town.” Sam led the way towards the door, and Alex and Dean followed him out to the car. “Definitely not a bear, though.”

Dean scoffed in agreement as he unlocked the Impala’s doors, and Alex crawled into the backseat as the engine roared to life. “Werewolf?” he suggested. “The heart was definitely gone.”

“Maybe.” The tightness in Sam’s tone made it clear his agreement was forced. “If we’re lucky, the cops were able to find something from a nearby surveillance camera.”

The car jolted forward as it took off down the street, and Alex reached over to steady her things on the backseat as they slid precariously close to the edge, and she kicked off her dress shoes as she drew her legs up onto the seat. “That was fucking weird,” she added as the Impala sped off down the main road. “Picked clean like that -- it was meticulous. Definitely intentional.” She reached over the seat to pluck the manilla file out of Sam’s hand, flipping through the papers to find the photos of the crime scene. Just like the coroner had said, the ground was stained red with blood, heaviest by where the victim’s neck has been. “Neck wounds tend to mean vampires,” she put forward helpfully.

“Except they eat blood, not flesh,” Dean reminded. “Maybe, uh, the neck thing was just like you said -- humane way of putting them down. Human?” he guessed after a second’s pause. “Wouldn’t be the first time we ran into creeps like this in Minnesota.”

Sam’s immediate response was a grimace, his eyes darkening the memory. “This is the right area,” he reluctantly agreed. “Except we killed the whole Bender family.”

“Not the little girl. She’d be what, uh, eighteen, twenty by now? Old enough to be out of the slammer. Maybe she’s, you know, carrying on the family business.”

“Oh God, I hope not.” Sam held out his hand back over his head, and Alex reluctantly returned the folder to him. “But you’re right, that’s a pretty good place to start. I can make some calls, see if I can find out where she went if the cops are willing to release that sort of information. She was a minor,” he reminded Dean. “Chances are her records were expunged.”

“Wait, we’re talking about those cannibals who tried to eat Sam, right?” Alex leaned over the backseat, eyes narrowing as she racked her brain. “I definitely remember something to that effect from the show -- Sheol,” she was quick to correct. “From … wherever.”

“Yeah. It sucked.” The Impala turned off the highway and down a narrow side road. “We getting close, Sammy?”

“It’s just at the end of this road. Take a left when it forks.” Sam barely glanced up from the folder, too engrossed in the information it contained. “Why would they just leave the body in the middle of the yard, though? I mean, this second vic was found beside the garbage cans in his house. The wife said she found his body half an hour after she last saw him alive.” He shook his head as he looked over at his brother. “Wouldn’t it be safer to take him somewhere else?”

Dean shrugged, and the Impala rolled to a stop next to a large, cabinesque retreat. “You can’t argue with crazy.” He removed the keys, and the engine died. “Come on.” Dean got out of the car, pausing as his eyes swept across the parking lot filled with cop cars. “Someone at this place should at least know something.”

Sam only shrugged, and Alex fell in step behind the two brothers as she let them lead the way into the lodge. Her nose crinkled at the sudden rush of sound and warmth, shoulders drawing in tight as a man squeezed past her. Sam’s head stuck above the crowd, and the angel lengthened her stride to walk at his side, ignoring how the open room swarmed with cops. The short-haired Winchester was humming casually, the low chorus of The Weight audible beneath the bustle of the crowds, and Alex’s eyebrows knitted momentarily at his lack of concern for their surroundings; there was little doubt that at least one of the occupants had met the trio of fake FBI before.

“Hey! I said I could handle it.” A familiar voice had her turning to see Jody Mills, the cold crossing of her arms in direct contrast to the warmth in her eyes as he looked the three of them up and down.

Her stoic facade was ignored by the Winchesters, and Dean grinned at the sight of the sheriff. “Nice to see you, too,” he joked, and Sam added a quiet, “Hey,” from behind him.

“Hi.” Jody’s eyes hurriedly slid down from Sam to Alex before immediately returning to the tall Winchester. After a second, she shook her head, resigning to the fact that they were there to help. “Okay, well, I’m headed down to the morgue. You want in?”

“Actually we just came from there.” Alex slipped out from behind Dean so she could stand in full sight. “Second vic was same as the first — flesh stripped away from shoulders to knees. Messy, but thorough.”

Jody’s eyebrows lifted slightly, and she asked, “Anything missing?”

Alex blinked, caught off guard by the strange line of questioning, and as her silence lengthened, Dean stepped in. “Uh, just his wallet. Why?”

The squaring of Jody’s eyes signaled her displeasure at the news, and she lowered her voice so the crowd around them couldn’t overheard. “Because I think a belt was missing off the first kid.”

“A belt?” Sam repeated the word in confusion, and he looked over at his brother, who could only shrug, unsure of what to make of it either. “So … what? We have monster eating and then robbing people?”

“Jodio!” A bright, chirping voice drifted through the air, originating from somewhere along the far wall, and Alex watched as Mills’ eyes rolled into the back of her skull, groaning in irritation. “You take sugar?” The tone was high-pitched, the cadance a thick Minnesotan accent, and Alex narrowed her eyes; she could have sworn she had heard that voice before.

“No.” Jody’s eyes flickered close for a moment, but she managed to keep her voice calm. “No sugar. It’s, uh, don’t ask,” she added to the Winchesters when Sam’s eyebrows lifted.

“Wait a second.” Hazel eyes lit up in recognition, and Sam quickly ducked his head as he spoke to his brother, shoulders hunching as he tried to hide himself behind Jody’s small frame. “Isn’t that, uh, uh, Donna?”

“Fat-spa Donna!” Recognition clicked in his brother’s eyes, and he craned his neck to peer through the crowd. “Right.”

Alex peered around Jody to catch sight of the plump blonde woman, dressed in her sharp blue uniform, and she ducked back behind the sheriff before their eyes met. Jody’s arms crossed as she regarded the to brothers in disbelief. “You guys know my stalker?”

Sam’s response was a groan, and Dean added, “She nearly blew a case for us last time.” His lips set in a tight line, and Alex shifted so she stood at Jody’s side, pointing her back at Donna as to hide her face.

“Yeah, I haven’t been able to shake that ray of sunshine since she got here.” Jody shook her head, letting out a small breath of frustration before she shrugged. “She’s actually been pretty helpful,” she admitted, “but, you know, it’s just tough keeping her out of this nightmare stuff, you know?”

“Right.” Sam’s hand came to rest on Alex’s shoulder, and the angel looked up at him curiously. “Uh ,you two mind distracting her while Dean and I poke around?”

Alex’s mouth opened in protest, but Jody beat her to the punch. “You show up, and now I’m a babysitter?”

“Look,” Sam half-pleaded, “she hasn’t gotten mixed up with this crap yet. Let’s just try and keep it that way. Okay?” Alex felt his eyes fall on him, and when she didn’t readily agree, he repeated himself, his hand squeezing her shoulder to emphasize his plea. “Okay?”

“Yeah, okay,” the angel relented. “I heard you the first time. She’ll never even know we were here—”

“Agent Freely?” The cheery voice came from behind her, and Alex spun around in surprise. Donna Hanscum was looking up at Sam, a wide grin on her face before she turned to Dean and Alex. “Agent Criss and Phillips.”

“Hey.” Sam forced a smile, and Alex felt a faint blush rise on her face, surprised to find that the woman had managed to sneak up on her. “Sheriff Hanscum.”

“I thought it was you!” Donna chirped, two cups of coffee balanced in her hands. She grinned at the three of them, taking her time to take in their appearance before her blue eyes flickered over to Jody Mills. ”Well, ain’t this a kick in the pants? What dragged you in?”

“Um,” Dean stuttered, “well, uh … we can’t talk about it.”

“Oh. Yeah.” Donna winked knowingly, and Alex barely held back a roll of her eyes. “I hear ya. Anything I can help with?”

She looked up at Sam, face blank with childlike expectancy, and Sam’s eyes widened in surprise. “Oh, no, no, no, no, no,” he rushed out. “Uh, nothing.” His hands disappeared into his pockets, clearing his throat before he fell silent with a curt nod.

Jody cleared her throat. “Actually, Sheriff,” she began, “I was thinking you and I could go check out the gear expo.”

Donna’s smile faltered. “What about the morgue?”

“Well, you know, like you said, animal control will handle that.” Jody clapped Alex on the shoulder, adding, “Why don’t you come with us, huh? I’m sure the three of you were going to split up anyways.”

Alex nodded, watching how Donna’s eyes slowly began to light up once again. “I did hear they’re packing some pretty serious heat in there,” the blonde sheriff admitted, and her smile returned. “Alright. Let’s go.”

Donna handed Jody her coffee before she turned and led the way further into the room, and Alex cast a look back at Sam and Dean before she followed; their heads were bowed in quiet conversation, and they didn’t even notice her glance. With a roll of her eyes, Alex turned away and followed Jody.

They passed down a hall, and Alex lengthened her stride to walk at Jody’s side. “So … how have you been?” she began politely. “I haven’t seen you in a long time.” She cleared her throat when Donna fell in step, and the angel lifted her chin to regain her sense of professionalism. “You’re looking great, by the way,” she added to the blonde, letting her lips lift into a polite smile. “How are things in Stillwater?”

Donna’s eyes twinkled at Alex’s compliment. “Oh, you know. Busy as ever. But that’s the way it is around there.”

“It’s a beautiful area.” The angel shoved her hands into her pockets, searching for someway to keep the conversation going. “I, uh, actually grew up there, just west of the downtown area.”

“I betcha did.” Donna’s smile grew even more. “I can hear it in your voice,” she explained when Alex blinked in surprise. “You sound like one of us.”

“I — I don’t think so.” Alex quickly shook her head and looked over at Jody in search of support. “I don’t sound anything like that. No offense,” she quickly added, “but your accent is really strong. Like, really strong.”

Donna’s head tipped back in a laugh as Alex stumbled through her apology. “None taken. You city slickers don’t talk the same way that us northern folk do. Me, well, I grew up not more than twenty minutes north of here — op, and here we are.”

A large room lay in front of them, lined with tables displaying gadgets of all kinds, and Alex’s eyebrows lifted in amazement at the diversity. Donna took the lead, and Alex hung close to Jody’s side, acutely aware of how out of place she was among the law enforcement that surrounded her. A few glanced her way, but Alex kept her head down, staying close to Jody’s side. They passed a table of vests, laid out before a gathering crowd of murmuring officers, and Donna came to stop beside a display of handguns.

The man behind the table was busy speaking to another sheriff, tall and broad, and Alex snuck out from behind Jody to run curious fingers over the slide of a black pistol. “This is my kind of convention,” she joked quietly, grinning wolfishly up at Jody Mills.

“Uh, officer ladies.” The showman turned to them, amiability dancing in his eyes. “Check this out.” He picked up a small handgun, turning it over to show off its design. “You can take it to lunch, to the gym, have your nails done. She’s alway by your side.”

“Huh. How about this puppy?” Jody pointed to a much larger gun, and the man blinked, surprised by her choice.

“Oh. Well, it depends.” The shock lasted barely a second before his lazy grin returned, and he winked at the three of them. “Think you can handle a big one?”

Jody hefted the weapon in her hands, testing its weight. “Sigma, right?” She handed it to Alex, and the angel turned it over, feeling her way along the thick metal body. She grunted in agreement before passing it on to Donna.

“Ten pounds pull weight,” the blonde officer guessed, nodding in confirmation with her partner’s statement. “Cute.”

Jody scoffed as Donna put the gun back onto its stand. “Call this a big one? Hope you drive a Porsche.”

The vendor’s brow furrowed at the insult, but before he could respond, a laugh came from behind Alex. “Chaz.” And officer stood there, tall, broad, yet slightly-overweight, and he exchanged a grin with the man behind the table. “If you’re trying to pull the wool over this one, you got the wrong girl. Sheriff Hanscum here is a wolf in sheepskin, right?” He winked over at Donna with a chuckle.

The blonde’s lips were pursed together angrily, and it took her a moment before she brought herself around to respond. “Thank you, Doug. Wolves are majestic creatures. But save your flattery for other female people.”

Alex tipped her head, confused by the cold response as she regarded the newcomer. He not only had the same thick accent, but he and Dona spoke to each other in a familiar fashion; clearly they knew each other well. She watched as Doug blinked, confused by Donna’s rejection. “Oh.” Realization flashed across his face. “Oh, Sheriff Goodhill.” Doug chuckled again. “No. No, I mean, yeah — but, you know, we just met. Cufflinks — you know how it is.”

“Cuff what?”

“Cufflinks!” For the first time, Doug seemed to notice Jody’s presence, and he grinned down at her. “It’d a dating site for cops. Y-You on it, Donna?”

“Me?” Donna forced a small laugh. “No. Not quite there yet.”

“Oh, you still, uh, getting into date shape, huh?” Doug patted his belly for emphasis, and Alex felt her grace stir angrily inside of her. She didn’t notice that her fists had clenched at her side until Jody put a hand on her shoulder.

“For the love of God.” Mills pushed Alex behind her as she stepped forward, her face dark with fury. “What is wrong with you? You get off on fat-shaming chicks?” The entire room fell silent, all attention on Mills, who turned to her partner to quickly add, “You are so not fat, by the way.” Donna blinked, too shocked by Jody’s outburst to respond, and the sheriff turned back to Doug. “And you — you are just a douche.”

“Uh, o-okay.” Doug took a step back, taken off-guard by the sudden, vehement retaliation, and his mouth hung open as he searched for some sort of a response. “I’ll just , uh … okay then.” His feet carried him back another step, and he suddenly swiveled and hurried away.

“Nice.” Alex pulled her hand away from where it had migrated to the hilt of her blade, giving the sheriff an approving nod. “I was getting ready to punch that asshole. Who the hell is he?”

Her question went unanswered, as Donna seemed far less appeased at Mills’ outburst. “What the h-e-double-hockey-sticks, Jody?” she snapped, her eyes eyes stretched wide in mollification. “Calling my ex a douche to his face?”

Jody’s eyes narrowed in indignation. “It didn’t look like you were going to do it!” she retorted.

“What would be the point? We’ve divorced! You really think I’m gonna change him now?”

Right. Alex cast a look over her shoulder, trying to catch sight of the tall man. That was right; Donna had mentioned something about her ex-husband when they had met. “So he gets to treat you like a doormat forever?” she heard Jody snap, exasperated. “Is that it?”

“How about this? Til you’ve actually lost a husband, you keep your mouth zipped about mine.” Alex turned around at Donna’s words, just in time to see Jody stiffen. Her grace flicked out angrily at the blonde’s tactlessness, and she opened her mouth to snap, but the growing look of horror across Donna’s face stopped her. “Did …” she slowly began, “did something happen … to your husband?”

Jody forced a smile, and when Alex lay a hand upon her shoulder, her voice lowered. “We all have our crosses to bear, right?”

A moment of silence followed her words as Donna searched for something to say, but when nothing profound came, all she managed was, “Hey, I’m sorry if I … You want to talk about it or —“

“No.” Jody cut her off with a gentle shake of her head before heaving a sigh. “Not right now. It’s okay,” she added when Donna’s despondence grew. “It’s fair. I certainly went there.”

“Alright then.” The older sheriff’s forgiveness did little to cheer the blonde up, and Donna’s shoulders fell even further. “I’m gonna get some air.”

She hurried away, and Alex’s hand fell away from Jody’s shoulder. “I’m sure she’ll be fine,” she weakly promised, grey eyes following the cop until she disappeared from sight. “You alright?”

“Yeah.” With a sigh, the sheriff shook off her thoughts. “Don’t worry about it.” She stepped away from the gun display, and Alex followed, not fully convinced by Jody’s response. “Anyways. So, Sam said you and Dean were off the rails. What brought you back?”

Alex’s grey eyes darkened, and she reluctantly let the conversation change. “He told you.”

“He thought you had come to me.” Somehow, Mills managed to sound disinterested, but the angel could see the curiosity gleaming in the corner of her eyes.

“It’s complicated.” Alex instinctively brushed off the question, casting a look down the hall to where she had left Sam and Dean. “I’m not sure how much I can tell you,” she added, softening her voice, “but Dean … Dean’s the one who went off the rails, and I had to follow. Because of Crowley.” She shrugged, unsure of what else to say. “The important thing is that we’re both back, safe and sound.”

“I suppose.” Jody frowned, displeased at the angel’s vague answer, but the sound of police sirens cut short any pressing response. “The hell?” The sheriff’s exclamation of surprise was echoed by the cops all around her, and Alex pushed past her friend at the appearance of Dean Winchester, a scowl on his face.

“Hey.” The angel’s voice was nearly drowned out by the clammer of confusion all around her, and she lifted herself up onto her toes to try and catch a glimpse of the source of commotion. “What the hell’s going on here?”

“From what I just heard? Another body was found out back.” The disgust on Dean’s face made it clear that he had already been at the scene of the crime. “Same as the first two. Hey, Jody,” he added as Mills approached, and his green eyes darkened as he looked around. “Where’s Donna?”

Sheriff Mills shrugged. “She just stepped outside for a bit to get some air. What’s all this about?”

Dean was quick to repeat all he had learned. “Another body. Animal attack, my ass. I, uh, I spoke with Sheriff Len Cuse earlier — local PD,” Dean clarified for Alex, and the angel hummed in understanding. “He said this was animal attack, cut and dry. Then he claimed he didn’t have any surveillance footage of the attacks. Except when I spoke to deputy douche just now, he said Cuse changed the server password after the second attack and refused to let anyone else look at the feed.”

“Definitely sounds sketchy,” Alex agreed, and she cast a quick look around her in search of the men Dean had spoken of. “Is the Sheriff here?”

Dean shrugged. “I haven’t seen him since Sam and I spoke to him. That was a good ten minutes ago.”

He fell silent, and after a second or two, Jody spoke up. “I haven’t seen him since the expo,” she added before quickly clearing her throat. “So, how you doing, kiddo?”

“Me?” Dean’s eyes flickered in surprise. “Uh, fantastic. Why?”

Jody shrugged nonchalantly, but her voice was sharp with unanswered questions. “Word round the campfire is you and Alex went off the rez a couple months back.” She jerked a thumb back towards the angel, who squared her jaw in displeasure. “She won’t say why or where the two of you went.”

“That right? Good.” The Winchester’s eyes hardened. “You and Sam been passing notes during class, huh? It’s nothing I can’t handle.”

Jody shook her head, unaffected by Dean’s defensive words. “Just saying. I make a mean bowl of chowder if you ever need to talk.”

The hunter’s face softened, and his shoulders fell slightly. “I appreciate that.” He turned as footsteps approached, and Alex took a step back so Sam could enter the small circle they had formed. “Hey,” Dean greeted. “You got something?”

“Um, well, there was something.” Sam looked between the three of them curiously, but when no one spoke up, he continued on. “Uh, I hacked into the surveillance server, but the files had been deleted.”

“What? For real?” When Sam nodded, Alex looked up at Dean. “You said Sheriff Cuse was the only one who had access to those files —”

The quick widening of Sam’s eyes had her cutting off, and her head whipped around to try and find what had trigger the nonverbal cue to shut up. Sheriff Donna Hanscum stood behind Jody, hands shoved nervously in her pockets, and Alex snapped her jaw shut.

“Hi,” the blonde began, barely pausing to look at the three before she turned to Jody. “Jody, can we talk for a sec? Alone?” she added softly with a quick glance at Alex.

Jody nodded, and Dean added, “Yeah. We’ll go — we’ll go look around.” The two women walked away, and Alex turned to fully face the brothers as Dean asked, “What about you? You sniff anything out?”

“Nothing. But I wasn’t looking too hard.” Alex gave a half-hearted shrug as she did a quick sweep of the room. “Okay, so are we thinking this Cuse guy is our perpetrator, or is he covering for someone?”

“Hard to say until we find him.” Sam reached up to brush back his hair, and his own hazel eyes flashed as he scanned their surroundings. “He couldn’t have gotten too far.” He stepped towards the crowd, and Alex fell in step alongside him as they moved towards the hall. “How’s Jody doing? Anything new with her?”

“Dunno.” Alex’s shoulders quickly rose and fell. “I never got around to asking her, I guess. Not with Dona around. We had to maintain some professionalism, but I guess there’s nothing going on that’s so important it couldn’t wait.” They moved further down the hall, and Alex pointed to the approaching doorway. “Uh, gear expo is in there. Kitchen’s are the next room down, I think,” she added, lifting her nose to sniff at the air. “Mess hall straight ahead, and from the look of the place when we came in, rooms are all the way at the end.”

“Sounds about right.” Dean nodded in agreement with her analysis. “Alright. Why don’t we split up? I’ll head to the dining hall, you two take a quick sweep of the expo.” He waited until Sam nodded before he hurried off down the hall, leaving Sam and Alex standing by themselves.

“You think he’s here to work or to eat?” Alex accompanied her good-natured rib with a grin, and she was rewarded with a smile from Sam.

That smile, however, was quick to fade. “How do you think he’s doing?” Sam’s face darkened in worry as Dean disappeared from sight, and Alex frowned. “Has he said anything to you about t-the Mark?”

“Nothing.” Alex shook her head. “When we were with Crowley, he said Dean needed to kill to keep the Mark sated. I don’t … I don’t think that’s changed, so maybe we just … need to keep our heads down and let Dean kill shit.” She ended abruptly as a pair of sheriffs walked past, clamping her mouth shut until they had moved back out of earshot.

“Maybe you’re right.” A note of defeat lined Sam’s voice, and he sighed. “What about you?”

“Me?” Alex squinted, surprised at the question. “Dude, I’m totally fine. Glad to be back home.” Alex shrugged as Sam pulled his phone out of his pocket, and her curiosity grew as he frowned. “What? What’s up?”

“Uh, nothing, maybe. I just got a, uh, voicemail from Jody.” Sam pressed his phone up against his ear as he listened closely, and Alex took the moment to adjust the cuffs of her sleeves.

“Voicemail?” she repeated, turning to study the crowd that was still milling around in the lobby. “We just spoke to her like, what? A minute ago? Maybe two?”

No response came, and from the corner of her eye, she saw Sam’s frown darken. He tucked his phone back into his pocket, and Alex looked up expectantly as she waited for an explanation. “Well, it looks like Cuse is definitely our guy,” the Winchester relayed. “ I guess Donna saw something. Jody says he’s staying in room 304, and she and Donna are headed there now.”

“Did she say how they knew?” Alex’s answer was met with a shake of Sam’s head, and she looked down the hall to the spot where they had left Dean. “Well, I guess that’s as good a place to start as any. Lead the way.”

Sam moved off down the hall, and Alex followed, pulling her grace upwards as they climbed the stairs. “Dean.” The sound of Sam’s voice had her looking up to see the Winchester on his phone again. “We’re headed up to room 304. Jody says it’s Cuse. Meet us.” He hung up with a shake of his head, and Alex reached back for her weapon. She felt the handle of her angel blade resting against the grip of her gun, and the angel hesitated, unsure which to draw as they turned down the hall.

Room 304 was close to the stairs, and Alex finally decided to pull out her blade as Sam stooped to pick the lock. The door swung open with little difficulty, and Sam pocketed his picks as he pushed his way inside. “Whoa, whoa!” His hands immediately went up defensively, and Alex rushed in to confront whatever was inside.

She was met by Jody Mills, a machete in hand. “Got your voicemail,” Sam finished, and he slowly lowered his hands as Jody’s shoulders fell in relief.

“Sheriff Cuse is a vampire,” she told them, but her voice was partially drowned out by Donna’s wide-eyed, “She just pulled out a machete!” The blonde looked up at Sam, face blank with shock, and Alex nodded in understanding as Jody lowered her weapon. “Donna saw her teeth,” she finished.

“What the cuss?” Donna’s head whipped around to stare up at Jody, her accent thickening as her shock grew. “A vampire?”

“You want to give her the talk?” Alex turned at the sound of Dean’s voice from the doorway, and Jody gave a grim nod. “Hey,” he added as he turned to his brother. “Got your message. Definitely Cuse?”

“Donna saw his teeth,” Alex confirmed. “Hey, you two,” she added, waving Jody and Donna towards them. “Let’s get out of this room before vamp cop decides to come back, huh?” She looked up at Sam to make sure the Winchester agreed before she pushed them all out of the room, using her grace to lock the door behind them.

“Donna …” She heard Jody begin, and she let the two fall behind as she followed Dean down the stairs. “What you saw … it was real. You saw a vampire. Monsters, ghosts, demons. They’re all real. These three, they hunt them. That’s Sam, Dean, and Alex.” Alex glanced back to see that the sheriff was pointing them out. “They’ve helped me out on more than one occasion.”

“Heck. Just … heck.” The door squeaked as they stepped outside, and Alex smiled at Donna’s disbelief.

She watched as Dean looked back over his shoulder as he paused by his car. “We good?” he asked, and Jody gave him a quick, curt nod.

Donna, however, was less than satisfied with the rushed and vague explanation she had been given. “Wait. So, when we were at the weight-loss spa —”

“Monsters.” Dean shrugged as he dug out his keys. “Sucking on your fat. We took care of them.”

“Ah, jeez. I knew losing ten pounds that fast was too good to be true.” Donna’s face fell, and Alex couldn’t help but laugh at the women’s takeaway from Dean’s blunt statement. The blonde reached into her pocket, and the rustle of paper reached Alex’s ears as she pulled forth a note and held it out to Sam. “Here. Maybe this is where sheriff … vampire went.”

Sam’s phone dinged as he hurriedly typed in the address scrawled in lead, but Dean was far less convinced. “It could be anything,” he reminded before he looked over at his brother’s screen. “What do you got?”

“Looks like it’s an old farm outside of town,” Sam reported, and Dean grunted. “Could be something.”

“And it’s the only lead we got,” Donna added, and Alex looked up in surprise at the sheriff’s sudden and strongly opinionated input.

She lifted an eyebrow, and Sam did the same, mimicking the angel’s skepticism. “We?” he repeated. “All due respect, Sheriff, but vampires are far more dangerous than the johns that you throw in jail.”

Dean nodded, firmly adding, “You’re gonna sit this one out.”

“Stuff you, Dean!” Donna’s response to the Winchester’s concern was one of defensive anger, and Alex shifted, amused at the woman’s spunk. “Or whatever your real name is.”

Dean opened his mouth, ready to snap, but Jody cut in before he could retaliate. “Hanscum’s good.”

“Jody —”

“I said she’s good.” The sheriff’s voice left no room for arguments, and the two Winchesters exchanged looks over Alex’s head.

“Okay,” Dean finally relented, the grim look in his eyes making his reluctance clear, and he turned back to Donna with a tight grimace. “But you’re staying back. We’re taking the lead, okay?” He unlocked the Impala’s doors, but he didn’t drop Donna’s gaze until the woman finally nodded. “Great. Alex, up front.”

“Yes, sir.” Alex gave him a rushed, mock salute as she followed Sam around to the other side of the car. She slipped onto the bench seat, crossing her legs as she was boxed in by the two tall hunters. She glanced back to see the two sheriffs climbing in, and she shifted closer to Sam as Dean moved to turn on the car. The engine roared to life, and the Impala tore off down the street.

 

Alex followed Sam out of the Impala, surpressing her grace as it tried to flick curiously outwards towards the dilapidated farmhouse. She tugged on the hem of her flannel shirt, fingers brushing over the still-crusted remains of an old blood stain. Gross. The angel let her hand drop back to her side, thankful for the darkness that hid her appearance. She really needed to do the laundry. “What’s the plan?” She let her voice rise above a whisper as she addressed Dean, letting her gaze sweep across the small crowd. Jody and Donna stood off to the side, the blonde hanging close to her friend, while Sam and Dean circled around to the trunk.

“Here.” Dean threw open the weapon’s hatch and pulled out a machete, the cold steel glinting in the moonlight as he passed it to his brother. “And, uh, you two.” He fished out two more weapons and held them out to Jody and Donna in turn. The blonde hesitated, and Dean’s face grew grim. “If you’re gonna swing, swing hard,” he warned. “With vamps, head’s gotta roll.”

Donna hesitated, and for a second, Alex could have sworn the sheriff was going to back out. However, her blue eyes flashed with determination, and when Donna spoke, her voice didn’t tremble. “Got it.”

“Good.” Alex pulled out her blade, twirling the weapon in her hands once to show off before she let it fall back to her side. “Keep back and let us take the lead.”

Sam brushed past her, stepping lightly on the gravel road, and Alex followed close at his heels, moving silently across the loose rocks. She kept her grace in until she was out of range of the Impala, and then finally let it sneak out, careful to keep it under control as not to shatter any more lights. A faint glow came from the window up ahead, and the angel focused her attention there as she felt the soul inside. Monster. Vampire, undoubtedly. She elbowed Sam in the side, baring her teeth while she curled two fingers towards her lips. She accompanied the gesture with a jerk towards the window, and the Winchester nodded in understanding.

He repeated the signal back to Dean, and Dean nodded as well, stretching out a hand to keep Jody and Donna back. Sam paused by the window and pressed his back into the wooden siding, and Alex followed suit, ducking past him to peer up through the dusty panes.

A man sat inside, staring blankly down at a wooden desk, and Alex pulled away to look up at Sam. The Winchester met her gaze, and, seeing the question in her eyes, nodded: the man was their suspect Len Cuse. Alex pursed her lips and peered back up, and she felt a hot rush of surprise pass through her veins to find the desk empty. Her grace poured inwards, desperately searching for the vampire, and her feet almost slipped in the mud as Len suddenly appeared at the window, eyes stretched wide in panic. “Run!” The word was yelled, and in her surprise, Alex backpedaled.

She heard bodies hit the ground, one after another, and Alex spun. Colors flashed across her vision as pain exploded in her skull, and the angel collapsed onto the ground. Her grace protested, exploding outwards, and the light in the farmhouse shattered. There were voices, low and hurried, and Alex felt hands wrap themselves in her shirt as she was heaved upwards. The angel groaned, trying to fend off her attackers, but her limbs were heavy and unresponsive, stunned from the violent assault.

Sam was being dragged behind her, and although Alex couldn’t see the others, she could hear the sound of their bodies being pulled through the dirt. They were alive; her grace confirmed that, still writhing violently through the air, and Alex grit her teeth to reign the panicked energy back inside.

They entered the farmhouse, and Alex grunted as she was tossed onto the ground. “Son of a …” With her grace back under control, the angel was able to push herself back to her feet, but a fist to the stomach sent her back onto the floor with a curse. A hand yanked her up by the hair, forcing her up against a wooden post, and within a second, her hands were bound.

The angel barely noticed, too focused on the rest of her companions. They were being tied up, just like her, stirring as they were forced to their feet. No one seemed injured, and her attention turned onto the ground in search of their weapons. Her angel blade lay at her feet, ripped from her grasp when she had been hogtied. “Sam.” Alex snapped her grace against the Winchester’s soul, waking him up with a start. Dean, one more pillar over, rolled his head back as he came back to the waking world.

“Well, hi, there, sunflower.” A young, dark-haired girl came to stop in front of Sam, her slim fingers brushing across his chest. Sam’s nostrils flared in offense, but the woman didn’t seem to care. “It’s all love, pretty boy,” she promised. “All of you will become all of us. We won’t waste one bit.”

“Okay, Mufasa.” Wood creaked as Dean tugged angrily at his bonds, and the woman’s attention turned to him. “Enough with the ‘Circle of Life’ crap. You’re a vampire.” The woman hummed out her agreement as she crossed over to him, and Dean’s eyes flashed. “You’re scum. End of story —” He cut off in surprise as the vampire’s fingers deftly undid his belt, and the Winchester scoffed. “Yeah, I’m not in the mood.”

His quip got no response, and it was Jody who spoke up next. “Wait,” she began scornfully, and Alex’s eyes flickered over to her. “It’s not enough that you kill people. You’ve got to rob them, too?”

“We scavenge,” came the even, disinterested response. “We don’t sip and go. We use every part of the buffalo.”

Jody huffed. “And to think I gave you lunch money,” she muttered, and Alex let her grace stretch out to loosen the bonds. Her gaze swept across the room, making a mental note of all the vampires that surrounded them. Five, not counting Len Cuse, who was hiding in the corner, eyes flickering around warily.

“But you came in time for dinner.” The vampire’s voice next to her ear had Alex jumping in surprise, and the angel squared her jaw until the vampire stepped away.

“Starr, please let them go.” Len finally spoke, his voice on the verge of begging. “I helped you out. I-I ditched the video of Catfish killing that man.”

Starr turned from Alex, and the corners of her lips turned up into a cold, amused smile. “We didn’t want favors, Len,” she purred. “We wanted you.”

“What use am I now?” The sheriff moved forward from the shadows, eyes stretched wide as he looked over at the five captives. “I don’t even kill people. I-I’m on bagged blood.”

“Uh, beg your pardon?” Alex’s eyes widened, surprised at Donna’s audacity to speak out. “I saw you with your vampire face standing over Sheriff Goodhill.” Her round face furrowed in anger, and Alex looked up at Sam with an amused grin; the look was reciprocated, and the angel turned back to Len.

The vampire was vehemently shaking his head. No, no, I-I-I found her,” he insisted. “I-I s-smelled her blood. I couldn’t help my — my fangs. But I didn’t bite.” His last sentiment was directed at Sam and Dean, but it was impossible to read their grim faces.

“Well, aren’t you a hero,” Dean replied, voice cold and even, and Len looked over at Sam in desperation.

“Can — can we just get this reunion going a bit faster?” Alex added. “Really, I — I’m getting bored over here, and trust me — you don’t want to lose my interest. You.” She jerked her chin towards Len. “How exactly do you know these freaks here? You, uh, break up Burning Man or something?”

“More like Woodstock.” It was Starr who answered, displeased at Alex’s interruption. “Len found me crying on the curb after my daddy kicked me out. I got in Len’s van, and the rest is wavy gravy.”

“So, what?” Jody asked. “Len’s like your Charlie Manson?”

“Oh.” Starr chuckled slightly, and she smiled over at Len, who stood stiffly in the dim candlelight. “Charlie couldn’t hold a candle to Len. He taught us everything.”

“Yeah.” Dean scoffed loudly, and Alex heard the pillar creak again as he tested his bonds. “I’m sure it was all Kombucha and Kumbaya.”

The vampire’s voice grew sharp as her head snapped to face Dean. “Liberating is what is was,” she retorted, and she turned back to the old sheriff. “And then one day, poof! Len’s gone.”

“Til he landed his photo in the paper,” another vampire added, his voice deep with scorn and hatred. “Stupid.”

“For running a retreat of all things.” Starr shook her head in disgrace. “You didn’t just go straight, you became a damn cop. Now, that is wild, man.” She circled around Cuse, and the man stumbled as Starr shoved him forward to stand in front of the Winchesters. “Are you feeling dirty, Len? Cause we’re about to have ourselves a bloodbath.”

“And … my interest is gone.” Alex let her grace flick through the air, and the lights flickered above their heads. She lifted her chin, letting her speech slip into a lazy, disinterested drawl as she finally let herself take control of the situation. “What do you guys think about Len?” She looked over at Sam and Dean, making sure to keep her movements slow and confident as she grinned. “Personally, I think he’s likable. I vote we don’t kill him.”

Sam’s brow momentarily furrowed, confused and displeased by Alex’s sudden change in behavior, but Dean just shook his head. “Dude’s a monster. We just don’t let them walk cause they’re likable.”

“He says he’s on bagged blood,” the angel reminded. “We’ve let others off for less. Tell you what.” She jerked her head towards the corner before locking eyes with Cuse. “Stand in the corner and we’ll deal with you when this is over.”

Len nodded, eager to prove his complaisance, but Starr scoffed loudly. “This is over when the five of you are dead.” The vampire’s fangs dropped, catching in the light, but Alex merely rolled her eyes at the show of intimidation.

“You, uh, you’ve heard of ‘deus ex machina,’ right?” Alex continued on as if the vampire had never spoken. “Basically, a bad situation, you in this case, is abruptly solved by the appearance of someone or something extremely powerful — me, in this case. You’ll have to excuse me, though. Usually I have more patience for these types of evil rants, but I’m just really not feeling it all today.”

A machete glinted in the light, and Starr stalked closer, slowly swinging the blade at her side. “Len taught us to use our food well, but honestly, there’s just nothing on you to scavenge.” She lifted the machete to Alex’s throat, and the angel calmly quelled her grace when it jumped at the touch. “Maybe I’ll just take off your head and we’ll play it by ear.”

Alex shrugged, ignoring how the blade shifted against her skin. “Might kill me,” she admitted, looking over at Sam. “Course, you’d be dead before you took the swing, but that’s a whole other can of worms.”

“You done bragging yet?” Dean’s tight voice had the angel rolling her eyes, and she let her grace snap out and undo the Winchester’s bonds. She pulled her own hands free a second later as Starr spun around in surprise, and the angel reached over to touch Sam’s ropes before she launched herself towards her weapon. She felt Sam spring away at the same time, and she rolled to her feet in time to shove her blade into the chest of a dark-skinned vamp.

He died in a flash of light, and the angel spun away. Dean was on his feet, a bloody machete in his hands as he charged one of his attackers, and Alex watched as Sam squared off with another.

A hiss had her spinning, searching for the source, and her eyes found Starr. The vampire was standing in front of Jody, fangs bared as the sheriff struggled at her ropes. Alex jumped forward, but Donna was faster. A machete sliced through the air, and Alex slid to a stop as Starr’s head came to rest at her feet. “Hakuna matata, lady.”

“Damn.” Alex kicked the head away as she looked over at Dean to share his look of surprise. “I didn’t even untie her. Jody’s right; she’s good.” Dean grunted, and Alex turned to look at Sam, adding, “You doing okay?”

“I’m fine.” The grim line on Sam’s face said otherwise, but Alex let it slide.

“The heck was that?” The machete fell from Donna’s hands as she motioned towards Alex, and the angel’s head tilted, surprised by the sudden bout of anger. “What is that thing?”

Alex’s gaze dropped down to her weapon, the silver bathed in blood. “Angel blade. What?” She narrowed her eyes as she looked between the two Winchesters, who were exchanging glances over her head. “Spit it out.”

“Nothing.” Sam shook his head, quick to diffuse the situation. “It’s just … you were, uh, a little cocky back there, don’t you think?”

“Especially considering how out of shape you are,” Dean added, his humor unable to hide his frustration. “Next time, just get us out so we can kill them, okay?”

“Okay.” Alex wrinkled her nose at his sharp tone, and she rolled her eyes after him as Dean walked away. “Asshole.” The Winchester didn’t retaliate, and she turned back to Donna, softening her eyes at the blonde’s wide eyes. “Hey. You okay?”

“Yeah.” The sheriff’s voice quavered slightly, but she head her head steady. “Other than the feeling like I want to hurl, sure. I just … chopped off … a vampire’s head.”

“You were great at that,” Jody promised, and she put a hand on Donna’s shoulder as she led the way outside. Alex slipped past, making her way out of the building search of Sam and Dean.

“Knowing that these things are out there makes the world seem — I don’t know — bigger,” Donna added quietly. “Darker.”

“You know …” Alex slowed her pace, turning her head back to look at the two sheriffs as they stepped out into the night. “If you need any sort of pointers on dealing with this type of crazy, just ask me or Jody.”

She looked up at the Jody, and the woman nodded, adding. “Just give us a call, and we’ll be willing to fill you in — you know, about what kills what. I’ve got a pretty good handle, but Alex here’s been doing this for years. Hell, she’s probably one of the best. Anything you need to know, she probably knows it.”

Alex ducked her head at the praise. “I’m not that great,” she murmured as her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. “I had a good teacher, I guess.” She lifted her gaze, grace rising to her eyes to peer through the darkness, and she cleared her throat at the sight of Sam and Dean standing beside the Impala. “Uh, excuse me. I’ll be right back.”

She hurried over to the Winchesters, ears perked to catch part of their quiet conversation. “ — you know,” Dean was saying, “for the first time I’ve been back, I didn’t feel like the Mark was pushing me. All I know is, back there, killing those vamps … I felt like me again.”

“Alright.” Sam’s hazel eyes flickered over to Alex, searching for any evidence of support on her face, but the angel kept her face as blank as possible. “Alright,” Sam repeated. “So, that’s … good, right? Maybe -- maybe Crowley was right about, uh, you needing to kill.”

Dean frowned, clearly hesitant to agree with Crowley’s assessment, but, after a second, he nodded. “Yeah,” he admitted, turning to Alex before any objections could come. “How about you? You good?”

“I’m great. This — this was a milk run. Save your concern for when something here can actually hurt me.” The angel shrugged and pulled open the Impala’s front door. “Oh, uh, hey. Since I’ve proven that I can take actually care of myself if I put my mind to it,, does this mean I’m unbenched?”

She watched as the two hunters exchanged glances over the top of her head. Sam shrugged, not willing to take a firm position, but Alex’s eyes narrowed as Dean gave a small, barely perceptible shake of his head. However, all he said was, “Tell you what. We’ll think about it.” He nudged her into the car, and he lifted his voice so the other women could hear. “Come on, you two. Let’s get out of here.”

Chapter Text

February 15th, 2015
Lebanon, Kansas

Alex’s fist connected with the punching bag with a dull, dusty thud. The chain creaked above her head as the sand-filled bag swung away from the impact, and the angel fell back into a defensive posture as she waited for it to return. The bag swung back, and her arm went out, keeping her actions smooth and controlled as she sent her target spinning backwards once again.

The squeak of the gym floor had the angel freezing, a open palm going out to stop the bag’s motion as her head snapped around in search of the sound’s source. “You scared me.” Alex turned to face Dean, reaching up to wipe the sweat from her temple as she regarded the Winchester with a curious frown. “What are you doing up?”

“I could ask you the same thing.” Dean folded his arms across his chest, his plain black shirt tight against his biceps as his gaze slid past her. “It’s two in the morning. Why are you still up?”

“I couldn’t sleep. And, unlike you, I don’t really need to.” Alex shrugged, shoving her hands deep into the pockets of her oversized shorts. Her grace twisted inside her, eager to escape, and the angel thrust it back down beneath her soul. “I thought you said you’d gone to bed. What’s the matter?” The tightness on Dean’s face was all the answer she needed, and the girl ran a hand through her hair. “Yeah, uh, me too. Feel free to take a few swings. I’ve found I dream less if I work up a sweat.”

“Maybe in a bit.” Dean glanced back towards the door through which he had come. “The garage door’s creaking again, so I figured I’d take a look. Fifty bucks it’s the damn springs again.”

Alex watched as he walked away, shaking her head once he had disappeared from sight. When the Winchester’s footsteps had faded, she turned back to the punching bag, hands once again closing into fists as she rocked up onto the balls of her feet.

The rickey sound of the garage door came from behind her, but it was drowned out by the rhythmic creak of the punching bag and the thud of her blows. Time slowed, and soon all that existed was the white square on the bag in front of her. Left, right, left again. Two short punches in quick succession followed by a kick.

The ringing of her phone jolted her out of her rhythm, and the angel pulled back in surprise. Her phone lay against the wall, resting on the top of her soft sweatshirt, and Alex crossed the room to pick it up with a frown; who could be calling at this hour? “Hello?”

“Alex.” Castiel’s voice came through the line, and Alex dropped to the ground with a grin, twisting so she could lean up against the wall. “You sound out of breath. What’s wrong?”

The angel chuckled. “Nothing. I’m just working out. Couldn’t sleep.” She shifted the phone to her other hand with a shrug as she cleared her throat. “Uh, what’s up? You didn’t answer my latest text.”

“My apologies. I’ve been … busy.” Hesitancy lined the seraph’s voice, and Alex narrowed her eyes. “Actually, I’m wondering if you can do me a favor. I’m on my way to Pontiac, Illinois. Are you busy?”

“No. Things have been quiet, so I’ve been at the bunker all week.” A loud crash came from down the hall, and Alex added, “Dean’s even gotten around to doing chores. Why? You and Hannah still hunting down rogues?”

If Castiel picked up on the tinge of jealousy in her voice, it didn’t show. “Hannah’s gone. She returned to heaven and let Caroline return to her husband. I … I’ve been looking into Jimmy’s family. I couldn’t locate Amelia, but I think I’ve found Claire.”

“Jimmy’s daughter.” Alex nodded as the name clicked into place. “Damn. She’s got to be — what, sixteen, seventeen by now? How’s she been?”

“She’s currently registered at the Pontiac Juvenile Correctional Center for several accounts of shoplifting and petty theft.” The displeasure in the seraph’s voice was clear. “From what I understand, she’s been in a group home since 2010.”

Alex’s eyebrows knit together in sympathy. “A group home? How? Is Amelia dead?”

“Not to my knowledge. But whatever has happened … I know that it’s my fault. I should be the one to fix it.” The seraph trailed off, and when he spoke again, his voice was brisker. “I’m going to speak with her tomorrow afternoon. I’d like you to be there. I feel you might be able to relate to her better than I can.”

Alex snorted at her mate’s words, but she managed to give a polite nod. “I’ll see what I can do,” she promised. “I’ll get some sleep and head out tomorrow morning once Dean gets the garage door functioning again.”

Her answered seemed to sate the seraph, and he sighed. “Thank you. Get here whenever you can. It will be good to see you again.”

“Yeah, tell me about it.” Alex pressed her head into the cool brick behind her with a smile. “If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to spend some good, old-fashioned quality time together.” Her words were accompanied by a chuckle, and the angel sighed as yet another loud crash came from the garage. “I should go. I think Dean’s going to need my help. I love you, okay? I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Alright. I love you too.” Castiel hung up, and Alex pushed herself to her feet and shoved her phone into her pockets.

“Dean?” The angel lifted her voice as she exited the gymnasium, head tipped as she crossed the hall and ascended the stairs to enter the garage. “You okay?” she added as she slipped past the multitude of old, half-rusted motorcycles. The Impala sat a few feet away, its sleek paint glowing in the harsh light, and Alex turned her gaze further inwards.

“Hey.” Dean popped up from behind an old green car, a screwdriver in his hands, and Alex’s eyes traced up the old wooden ladder that lay off to his left. “Yeah, I’m fine. Son of a bitch’s stubborn.”

Alex took a moment to look up at the rails that traced the concrete ceiling, following them down to the heavy metal garage door. “Okay,” she finally said. “Well, if you need anything, let me know. I think I’m going to go to bed. Cas called, by the way. He’s in the Midwest, so I’m going to meet him in Pontiac tomorrow.” She hesitated, and then added, “So make sure that thing opens, okay?”

“Okay.” Dean grimaced, and he reached up to wipe the sweat from his brow. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“You do that. Night, Dean.” Alex turned to go, but when Dean didn't return the farewell, she chanced a look back. The Winchester was standing there, his face unusually dark, and the young angel frowned. "Dean? You okay?"

"No. Uh, no, actually." The Winchester’s green eyes sparkled nervously, but his words were firm with determination. "Pip. I need you to promise me something, alright?"

"Yeah, of course." Alex approached, unsure of what had the hunter in such a dark mood. "Anything."

"If … if I go dark side, because of the Mark, you got to take me out. Knife me, smite me. Throw me into the fucking sun, whatever." Dean circled around the car, and Alex lifted her chin to hold his gaze as he came to stop in front of her. "And don't let Sam get in the way, you hear? Because he'll try. I-I can't go down that road again. I can't be that thing again."

"Dean, I can't —"

"I need you to promise me. Sam, Cas — they wouldn't do it. They don't see me like you do — they didn't see me when I … when I was …" Dean's voice stuttered, and he shook his head. "They think they can save me, and they can't. Because if I go down that road again … I ain't coming back."

Silence fell, and Alex blinked to find tears welling up in the corners of his eyes. "I understand,” she began, her voice a low murmur. “Okay, I … I promise. Only because it's never going to get that far. I'm not going to let you go that far." Dean’s jaw trembled slightly, and Alex reached up to cup his cheek, watching how the Winchester squeezed his eyes shut at the touch. "Whatever happens, it isn't you behind it, alright? It's the Mark." She felt him wince at her sharp tone, and the angel softened her voice. "Want me to see if I get my grace to help you sleep? You'll feel better in the morning."

"No." Dean pulled away with a shake of his head. "Uh, like I said, I got to get this door fixed. I'll sleep later."

"Alright. Call me if you need to talk. Crowley might not be here anymore, but I still got your back." No response came, and Alex stepped out to the garage to make her way down to the stairs. Her footsteps echoed through the empty halls, and the angel hurried off towards her room. Dean couldn’t have been serious. She stepped into her room, closing the door quietly behind her as she flipped on the lights with a shake of her head. All he needed was a good night’s sleep. Come morning, all of this will be forgotten.

 

Alex pulled her Marquis up alongside the diner, frowning as the engine died. The neon letters on the side confirmed that this was the address Castiel had spoken of, and, with a shrug, the angel pulled the keys from the ignition and exited the car. Her feet carried her towards the building, and only once she had passed through the double doors did she let her grace sneak out.

Castiel sat at a table in the middle of the room; at the brush of her strange grace, he turned. “You’re here.” The seraph didn’t rise from his seat, and Alex’s gaze swept over to the blonde, sullen teenager that sat across from him. Castiel motioned over to the girl, and, with a smile, said, “You’ve met Claire.”

“It’s been a while.” Alex crossed the room to stand at the seraph’s side, smiling down at the blonde teen. “Claire Novak. I’m Alex. We met a long time ago.”

“Yeah.” Claire’s voice was scathing, and Alex’s lips pursed in a frown. “I remember.” Her blue eyes dropped down to where Alex’s hand was resting on Cas’ shoulder, and the teen’s gaze flashed with anger.

Alex quickly pulled away and sat down at the table, reaching over to pick a fry off of Castiel’s plate. “I talked to your mom a few times after we met,” she announced. “She stopped calling. Is she okay?”

“Don’t know.” The grim lines on Claire’s face made it clear that her mother was a sore subject. “About a few months after you … she took off. Dropped me off at my grandma’s and went to go ‘find herself.’ ” The girl scoffed darkly. “I guess she’s still looking.”

“Claire’s been in a group home since then,” Castiel expounded. “I suppose the two of you have a lot in common.”

Claire’s eyes narrowed, clearly distrusting the seraph’s assessment, and Alex grunted. “I suppose so,” she agreed, and she turned her gaze over to Claire. “I lost my parents by the time I was twelve. Grew up in the system, going between foster homes. I know how difficult that type of life is.”

“You don’t know anything about me.” The plate scraped against the table as Claire suddenly pushed her food away. “I appreciate the meal. And, you know, the felony.” Alex threw a look over at Castiel, sharp with surprise, and the teen continued, “But you don’t need to babysit me. I can take care of myself.”

“What do you mean?” Castiel’s question was slow and quizzical, unsure of what Claire was insinuating, and the blonde rolled her eyes.

“I mean you felt guilty, so you busted me out,” she explained darkly. “So thanks, but we’re good. Even Steven.”

“No, we, umm …” Castiel hesitated before clearing his throat, “we committed a crime, and you might need me again. So I-I think we should stick together.”

“I think we should stick together, too,” Alex added through a tight frown, ending with another look towards her mate. What the hell did these two do?

To her surprise, Claire nodded after only a moment’s glare, apparently unwilling to argue with both of them. “Okay,” she reluctantly agreed, but despite the complacency in her voice, her blue eyes still glinted with disdain. “Fine, then. You want to get some stuff for the road? I have to pee.”

She pushed herself to her feet, and Castiel did the same, bill gripped tightly in one hand. Their shoulders collided as they passed, and Claire muttered out an apology as she shoved her hands deep into her pockets. Bullshit. The chair squeaked against the tile floor as Alex rose to her feet, a hand flashing out to grab Claire’s arm. “Give it back.”

“What are you talking about?” Claire’s eyes stretched wide in innocence, and Alex’s fingers dug into the teen’s leather sleeve.

“Alex.” Castiel’s hand came to rest on her shoulder, and the seraph stepped close as he tried to draw her away. “Let her go.”

“Cas —” Alex turned around, eyes flashing, but the unusual firmness on his face had her cutting off in surprise. Claire ripped her arm free, and Alex let her go. “You’re on her side?” Alex flung a hand off towards the disappearing teen, making sure to keep her voice low as not to cause a scene. “She — she totally just picked your pocket!”

The seraph frowned slightly, and his hands went up to feel his clothes. His frown deepened, and Castiel’s search became more urgent as he searched the inner pockets of his coat. “How —”

“Because she’s good. But I’m a hunter.” Alex’s stolen grace flared up in face of her anger, her grey eyes lightening to blue before fading away. “I don’t — you sided with her over me?”

Castiel didn’t respond, and Alex huffed as he rushed past her as he hurried towards the restaurant door. “Claire?” He stepped out into the parking lot, and Alex shoved her hands into her pockets as she followed. “Claire.”

The teenager was standing in the road, waving down a white sedan. Tires squealed as the car stopped beside her, the windows rolling down so Claire could speak. The teen threw open the door and jumped inside, and Castiel’s pace quicker into a jog as he rushed after his vessel’s daughter. “Wait. Hey!” The car sped off down the road, and the seraph slid to a stop. “Claire!”

“Claire!” Alex lifted her own voice alongside her mate’s futile call, and the seraph’s shoulders fell as the car disappeared into the gathering night. “Cas. What the hell’s going on?”

“I found Claire at the correctional center.” Castiel shook his head, his gaze falling to the ground as he began his tale. “I tried to pose as her father and get her out, but the woman wouldn’t let me take Claire back into my custody. So … I broke her out after hours.” Castiel turned away from the road, his eyes dull with disappointment. “I just wanted to help her. After … after all that I’ve done to her.”

Alex ran a hand down her face, wincing at the news. "Okay." She dug her teeth into her lips as she looked down the road. "So … are we going after her?"

"We should call Sam and Dean." The seraph fumbled around in his pocket for his phone, his clumsiness fueled by his haste, and Alex reached up to touch his blue-striped tie as he pressed the cell up against his ear. No one answered, and Castiel's lips pursed as he was sent to voicemail. "Dean." His voice was lined with urgency, and the young angel busied herself studying the strange new accessory. "I'm in Pontiac Illinois. I need you and Sam to meet me here."

He hung up, and Alex tugged the tie sharply. "You got a new one of these," she observed with a frown. "I like the old one better." A gust of wind stirred Castiel's hair, and Alex reached up to smooth it down. "The Winchesters won't be here until tomorrow afternoon. We should find some place to settle down for the night."

"Claire —"

"There's no way we're going to find Claire. Not tonight." Alex waved off towards the road with a shake of her head. "There's no one we can talk to, no one except the cops. Claire will be fine — if she ran out like that, there's someone she's intending to go to." She watched as the seraph's shoulders fell even further, and her hands moved away from the tie to rest on his chest. "Besides. I haven't seen you in a long time. It’ll be good to spend the night."

She felt a hum of agreement rumble through Castiel's chest, reluctant at first, and the young angel fingered the hard edge of his shirt button until he nodded. "Okay," he relented. "I saw a motel down the road. We can wait for the Winchesters there."

 

The ringing of her phone startled her out of her sleep, and Alex groaned in surprise and frustration. She could feel Castiel below her, his bare chest warm against her cheek, and her eyes drifted closed in contentment. They snapped back open when her cell rang again, and the angel flung an arm off behind her in search of the small device.

Her palm brushed across the flat, smooth screen, and Alex took half a second to glance at the caller before she answered it. "What do you want?"

She felt Castiel shift beneath her, and she rolled over onto her back, tipping her head away so she could hear Dean's response. "What the hell? We called you three times last night. We're in Pontiac now."

"Sorry. I was busy." The young angel bit back a smile as Castiel moved after her, eyes half-closed as his arm curled across her stomach. "Where are you both at? We can meet you at Red Line's Diner on Mulberry in fifteen minutes."

"Is that Sam and Dean?" Castiel's words rumbled through his chest, and Alex pressed a finger up against his lips to quiet him.

"Sure. We'll be there in ten." If Dean had heard the seraph's voice, he didn't indicate it, and the line clicked as he hung up.

The phone fell from Alex's hands, and she turned to rest her lips against Castiel's hair. "We're meeting them back at the diner in ten minutes," she murmured, wrapping an arm around his warm neck. "You should go get dressed so we can leave."

The seraph's hands came up, fingers linking through hers as he tilted his head up to pressed his forehead against her lips. "I'm comfortable where I am." However, he pulled away a second later, and Alex rolled over onto the warm sheets as she listened to the seraph pull on his shirt. The bed dipped, and the young angel hummed in delight as Castiel's hands slid up her back to knead against her shoulders.

"Should we shower before we go?" she heard him ask, and with the greatest reluctance, Alex pushed herself up into a sitting position, twisting so she could swing her legs out over the side of the bed.

"We don't have time." She crossed over to her backpack, discarded against the far wall, and she dug out a change of clothes and slid on her jeans. "Besides, we showered last night," she added, threading her belt through its loops.

"I remember. You joined me."

Alex grinned at the memory, and she pulled a shirt on over her shoulders. "Oh yeah." Her attention turned to her shoes, and once she was dressed she shoved her phone and wallet into her pocket. Castiel was at her back, and the young angel leaned into him, reaching up to curl her fingers around the nape of his neck. "I remember that."

"You … you still have the same grace you did when we last met." Castiel stepped away, and Alex reached out to take his hand as he led the way out of the motel. "And last night, while you were sleeping, I … I couldn't help but think … that I had felt it before."

"That's because you have." Alex reached into her pocket and pulled out the keys to her car. "You …" she hesitated, taking her time to unlock the Marquis as she considered her next few words. "You remember Zuriel, right? We met him once when I first had become an angel."

"Ainael's son." Castiel slid into the seat next to her with a nod. "Yes. I remember now." His voice was soft with solemnity, and after a moment's pause he asked, "Did Crowley tell you how he got his grace?"

"No." Alex curled the grace tightly inside of her, keeping it out of sight. "Uh, all he said was that Zuriel was one of the angels who didn't want to return to heaven." The Marquis purred to life, and the young angel guided it out of the parking lot and down the road. "And your grace? Is it …"

"It's fading." The emotionless tone of Castiel’s words had Alex glancing over at him; his eyes were trained out the window. "It will be gone within a few months I imagine."

"And then?"

"Most likely I'll die." This time, sorrow crept into his voice, and Castiel reached over to take Alex's hand from where it rested on the gearshift. "I can’t bring myself to take another's grace again, and after all that I have done … perhaps this is what I deserve."

Alex scoffed, and she turned the car into the Red Line's parking lot. "It's not." She roughly through the car into park and yanked the keys free, and Castiel frowned as she slammed the door behind her. "And it's not what I deserve, you leaving me again."

Castiel followed more slowly, carefully closing the door behind him. "Everyone dies. I won't let any more die for my cause, even if it means that I must give my own life." He circled around stand at her side, and when Alex leaned her head into his shoulder, the seraph pressed his lips up against her temple. "I won't go looking for death, but if it comes for me, I won't cheat it again."

The sleek black paint of the Impala rolled into view, and Alex lifted her head to watch Dean step out. Sam followed close behind, his brow knit tightly in concern, and the young angel flashed him a quick smile. "Hey. You guys made good time."

"Yeah." Dean brushed off her greeting, his green eyes locked on Castiel. "Well? You said this was important. What's going on?"

"It's Claire. Claire Novak," the seraph expounded. "My vessel's daughter. I … I tracked her down to Pontiac, and I helped her escape from the group home where she was staying, but she …" Castiel's eyes flickered to the ground as his face tightened. "She ran away. I don't know where she went."

Silence followed his words, each of the brothers waiting for something more to come, but when Castiel didn't continue, Dean frowned. "This is why you called us?" he snapped, and his arms folded across his chest as his voice deepened. "This is your emergency?"

"Yes!" Castiel met Dean's exclamation with one of his own, just as sharp.

"No, Cas! An emergency is a dead body, okay? Or — or a wigged-out angel, or the Apocalypse, take three. Some chick bolting on you is not an emergency." He looked over at his brother, and his face lightened ever so slightly as he joked, "That's … that's every Friday night for Sam."

The taller hunter's lips pursed at the joke made at his expense. "Dude."

Dean shrugged, mouth half-open to crack another witty reply, but Castiel was faster. "This isn't just 'some chick,' " he retorted, and Alex squeezed his hand reassuringly. "I'm responsible for her."

"Since when?" The Winchester scoffed. "You met her once, how many years ago?"

"Hey, hey." Alex dropped her mate's hand and stepped forward, one hand going out to try and release the tension in the air. "Calm down, alright? You're already here, so just help us find the kid. It's important."

"Yeah, of course. It's just …" Hesitancy lined Sam's voice, and after a moment's pause, he added, "Look, Cas. Even if do find Claire … then what?"

"She rolled you, and then she ran, okay? It's pretty clear that she doesn't want to play house." Dean looked between the two angels, and Alex shifted back to stand at Castiel's side. "It's one thing to show up wearing her dad, but to show up wearing her dad with another women? I mean, come on."

Castiel's gaze flitted over to Alex before falling away. "I understand," he agreed. "But I need to know that Claire is safe. And I need your help."

There was a pause, and then Sam nodded. "Alright. Uh, why don't Alex and I go ask around the group home? You two can stay here in case Claire circles back." He waved Alex forward, and the young angel dug into her pockets for the keys to her Marquis. "I'll drive."

"Sure thing." Alex tossed the keys over her shoulder as she strolled passed; the sudden muffling of the metallic clang signaled the Winchester had caught them. "I'll pull up a map." She threw open the door and slid inside, twisting to dig her phone out of her pocket as Sam circled around to the driver's side door. The car started, and Alex waved goodbye to Castiel as Sam drove the car off towards the road.

 

A warm breeze swept through the parking lot as Alex stepped out of the car to walk alongside Sam. They had stopped to change along the the way, and the Winchester now wore brown pants and a button-up sweater over his shirt and tie. Alex tugged on the sleeve of her own blue sweater, pulling up her forearm in an attempt to escape the material's warmth. "Stop," Sam chided, and the angel shoved the sleeves back down to her wrist. "It's unprofessional."

Alex stuck out her tongue, but instead of answering, she merely cleared her throat. "Alright. According the website, the woman in charge is Mrs. Sandy Kelline," she announced as she shoved her phone down into her pocket. "I'll let you take the lead."

Sam pulled open the front door for her, and Alex nodded her thanks as she stepped inside, reaching down to make sure she had her identification tucked in her pants. "Uh, hi." Sam approached the front desk, smiling over at the receptionist as he pulled out his leather wallet to produce a fake license. "I'm Dr. Aldrich, Child Services, this is Detective Marsden with the city police. We're here about one of your teens: Claire Novak. Is the home's director available to speak with us?"

The woman at the desk looked between the two of them, but there was no skepticism in her gaze. "I'll call Mrs. Kelline," she promised as she reached for the phone. "If the two of you want to have a seat, I'll let you know when she's available."

"Thank you." Alex crossed the room and sat down in one of the metal chairs, folding her legs together as Sam sat at her side.

"Hey, can I ask you something?" Sam's voice was a murmur, and Alex looked over at him in surprise. She nodded, and the Winchester's lips set into a fine line. "It's about Dean. And the Mark."

Alex toyed with the sleeves of her cardigan as she frowned. "I told you everything Crowley told me, Sam. I don't know what else I can do."

"Yeah, I know, I know, it's just ..." The hazel-eyed hunter drew in a hesitant breath. "Isn't there something we can do? I know he won't admit it, but there's something wrong. He's not ... he's not Dean."

"He is Dean. The Mark's put a lot of stress on him, and he's just dealing with it best he can.” Alex shrugged. “And if that means he has to hunt until he drops, then so be it. Better he blows off steam killing monsters than people."

Sam's eyes darkened at her last comment, but before he could speak, a door opened across the room.

"Dr. Aldrich and Marsden." A middle-aged blonde stepped into view, brown eyes peering at the pair over dark-rimmed glasses. "I'm Sandy Kelline. I believe you wanted to speak to me about Ms. Novak?"

"Uh, yes." Sam rose to his feet, hand extending out as he crossed the room to shake the woman's hand. "Do you have a moment? We won't take long."

"Not a problem." Sandy waved the two of them through the door and down the hall. "I'm afraid Claire isn't here right now," she began, her words tight with frustration. "Can I ask what this is about?"

"She’s not here?" Alex feigned surprise, tucking her hands into her pockets as they turned into Mrs. Felline's office. "The local PD says they brought Claire here yesterday after an incident at a department store." She sat down in the chair next to Sam at the woman's request and watched as Sandy sighed.

"Claire’s a good kid, detective." Sandy held out a folder to Sam, who curiously flipped through the pages. "She's smart, and underneath it all, she has a good heart." The woman sat down in her chair, adding, "You know, there used to be a boy here. Dustin Tate. He was older, but Claire really took him under her wing."

Alex exchanged a look with Sam, eyebrows lifted curiously. "Is he still around?" Sam asked, passing the folder over to Alex, and the angel turned her attention down onto the papers in her hands. Information about Claire's background, multiple reports about delinquent behavior.

She glanced up in time to see Sandy shake her head. "He works at the Weiner Hut," she explained before she sighed. "We tried to place Claire, but she always ran away. Sometimes for a couple of days, once for six months."

"Wow." Sam's brow lifted in surprise. "Where does she hide out?"

"Wish I knew." The woman shrugged in almost a defeated manner. "If the two of you find her, will you bring her back? She's still only seventeen."

"Of course." Alex have a curt nod, and she placed Claire's folder back onto the desk. "Did Claire have any more friends outside of this center? Anyone you can think of who she might have gone to."

"The only one who she really spoke with was Dustin. If you can find him, he might be able to tell you more. If there's anything else..."

"You've been a great help." Sam rose to his feet, adjusting the creases in his shirt as he did so. "And we'll be sure to let you know once we've located her."

Relief danced in the woman's eyes, and she smiled. "Thank you."

Sam led the way out of the office, and Alex fell in step at his side, reaching down to roll up the sleeves of her sweater as soon as they stepped out into the parking lot. "Okay, so next step is to find this Dustin Tate." She dug her phone out of her pocket, adding, "You call the Weiner Hut, and I'll update Dean and Cas."

"Sounds like a plan. We can meet back at your hotel room."

"Perfect." Alex tugged at the hem of her sweater with a scowl. "I need to get out of this thing." She looked over to see Sam on his phone, and she quickly dialed Cas’ number as well.

The phone rang once, and then twice, and then the link beeped as the seraph answered. "Alex. What have you found?"

"A lead, hopefully." Alex slid into the Marquis and slammed the door behind her. "Claire had one good friend here; a guy named Dustin Tate. He doesn't live there anymore, but we know he works at the local Weiner Hut. Sam's calling them now to find out more."

"And they think Claire is with him." The question came out more like a statement, and Alex shrugged.

"Dunno. All we were told was that he was the best place to start. I, uh, I got a look at Claire's file, though.” Alex reached for her seatbelt, hesitating as she considered how much she wanted to say. “Dude, she's been in a lot of shit. Mostly petty theft, but still. That stuff can escalate. Fast."

Silence met her words, and Alex shifted the phone to her other hand as Sam hung up and started the car. "I know," Castiel finally said. "That's why I need to find her."

"Alright. Well, Sam and I are heading back to our motel room. You two can meet us there and we'll tell you more."

A tap on her shoulder had the angel looking up. "The manager at the Weiner Hut says that Dustin's working tonight at eight," Sam informed her, and Alex gave a nod off understanding.

"You hear that?" she asked her mate on the other end. "Dustin's work the late shift tonight that starts at eight. We'll talk to him then."

"Okay." The plan seemed to date some of the seraph's unease, and he let out a deep breath. "Dean and I will meet you at the room. We'll speak then." When Alex agreed, Castiel hung up with a click, and Alex dropped her phone in between her knees as Sam turned her car out onto the street.

 

The air had lost its warmth by the time the sun had set, and Alex pulled the sleeves of her jacket down, thankful that she has changed back at the motel. The crisp scent of impending rain hung on the streets, and the angel looked longingly towards the brightly-lit door of the Wiener Hut through which Dean had disappeared mere seconds before. She could sense the warm food inside, a mouth-watering smell that almost masked the dampness, but her hand stayed resolutely entwined with Castiel's. "He should be here soon." She glanced up at the seraph, whose eyes were fixed on the dark sidewalk ahead. "You know what you're going to say?"

"Yes." Something flickered in his eyes, and Castiel suddenly dropped her hand. "Someone's coming." He tipped his head behind them, indicating the direction of the stranger's approach, and Alex pressed her shoulder into the concrete outcropping that hid them from view.

Sam stepped out, hands stuffed into his jacket pockets, shoulders slumped more than usual to disguise his intimidating height. "Dustin Tate?" he asked, and Alex carefully stretched out her grace to feel the soul in question.

"Nah, man," came the disinterested response; the slightly cracking of the voice indicated it's owner was young, a theory confirmed as the teen stepped into view.

"Oh really? Sam put a hand on Dustin's jacket, holding him tight, and Castiel stepped out from the shadows, blue eyes glowing in the neon light.

"Yes, you are." The seraph grabbed the back of Dustin's jacket and pulled him away from Sam, and the teen's back hit the brick wall with a thud as Castiel spun them around. "And you're going to tell me where Claire Novak is." Dustin struggled, his actions futile against the angel’s strength, and Castiel shifted his grip to the teen's neck as he lifted him from the ground. "Now."

Alex heard a chuckle from behind her, and she turned to see Dean, cheeks bulging from the remains of a hotdog. "I'd do as he says," he joked around his full mouth, and Sam pursed his lips at the bad manners..

Dustin gasped, clawing at Castiel's wrists, and Alex stepped forward, laying a hand on her mate's shoulder. "Put him down and let him get some air," she suggested. "He can’t talk if he can’t breathe."

Dustin nodded enthusiastically with her words, and Castiel let him fall back to the ground. "I-I — who are you?" he gasped out between ragged breaths. In response, the seraph reached down to haul Dustin to his feet, and the teen's eyes stretched wide in fear. "Okay, okay! Claire's on her way to the Gas N' Sip on Midland. This guy — Randy — he needed the money, and she's the only one who can do it."

"Now?"

"Y-Yeah!" Dustin's brown eyes stretched wide as he tried to peer around the seraph, searching for help from the others. "R-right now. I swear."

Castiel dropped the teen, and Dustin scurried away, giving the four of them a wide berth before rushing into his workplace. Alex watched him go with a small shake of her head before she turned to look up at her mate. "Well?" she asked. "What's your plan?"

The seraph didn't answer her instead turning his attention onto Sam and Dean. "The Midland Gas N' Sip," he repeated. "How far is that from here?"

"Uh, not far." Sam looked over at his brother, who merely shrugged. "I think we actually passed it on the way here."

"Take me there." Their shoulders brushed as Castiel moved towards, the car, and Alex shifted away with a frown as the seraph disappeared into the shadows. With a shrug up at Sam, she followed.

The seraph was already in the car by the time Alex caught up, and his gaze turned onto her when she slid in at his side. The Winchesters followed suit, and the Impala purred to life. "Midland's to the right," Alex announced, eyes rolling upwards as she thought. "You know where you're going?"

"Yup." Dean guided the car out of the parking lot, one hand resting on the bench seat as he looked out the back window. His eyes passed over Castiel, and as he turned back, he added, "You know what you're going to do if we find her there?"

"No. Not at all." Castiel's face was grim, and Alex leaned over to momentarily rest her cheek up against his shoulder. When the seraph's stiff posture didn't break, she pulled away and turned her gaze out to the road.

Like Sam had said, the Gas N' Sip on Midland was not far from the Weiner Hut, and within a few minutes, the angel could see the neon sign above the buildings. The parking lot was quiet, and Castiel shifted impatiently as Dean pulled the Impala up into the alleyway behind the gas station. "Well, there's no cops." Alex broke the silence as the engine died, and she looked over at her mate. "That's a good sign." She reached for the door handle, ready to get out, but a firm hand on her shoulder had her passing.

Castiel gave a small shake of his head, and when the young angel narrowed her eyes, he spoke so all could hear. "Stay here. I'll go in alone." He stepped out of the car, and after a second, Alex let go of the door.

"And … we're trusting him to go in by himself?" she heard Dean mutter to his brother, but a tight frown from Sam had him shutting up. Alex stepped out of the car, shivering at the cool night air as she quietly shut the door behind her. Her grace stretched out, searching for her mate, but the seraph was out of reach, and she quickly drew it back in, afraid of over-extending and losing control.

Suddenly the back door flew open, and Alex jumped in surprise, fingers instinctively wrapping around the handle of her weapon. The dark, broad shape of Castiel stepped into view, dragging the thinner form of a woman behind him, and Alex lifted her chin as Sam and Dean stopped at her side. She watched as Claire ripped herself from Castiel's grasp, and the seraph's voice deepened in frustration. "Claire, wait!"

"Screw you."

"Whoa, hey, Miley Cyrus." Dean stepped forward to the hood of the car, hands shoved into his jacket pockets as he confronted the teen. "Settle."

Claire scoffed as he looked the Winchester up and down. "Eat me, Hasselhoff."

Dean's eyes widened at the insult, head recoiling slightly in surprise, and Alex squared her jaw. The darkness in Sam's eyes echoed her sentiment, and he cleared his throat. "Claire, hold on a second. Look, my name's —"

"Sam," Claire finished before jerking her chin towards Dean. "And you're Dean. We've met, remember?"

"Claire." Castiel's sharp, incredulous voice had the teen spinning to face him. "You were going to rob that convenience store?"

"So?"

"So?" The seraph looked over at Alex, searching for help as he repeated the scornful word. "So … it — it's wrong!"

Claire followed Castiel's gaze, and anger flashed in her blue eyes. "You want to talk to me about wrong?" she fumed, stalking up to stare the angel in the face. "You — you killed my dad. Is that 'wrong' enough for you? You killed him, and you took his body a-and slept with that whore —"

"Hey, hey — that's enough." Alex's grace spilled upwards, her eyes flashing blue in the dim light, and she stepped forward to stand at Castiel's side. "He didn't kill your dad, alright?"

"Really?" Claire's jaw trembled, but it didn't quench the anger in her glare. "Because without you — without any of you, he'd still be here. And my mom would still be around."

Castiel's shoulders fell, and he took a step forward. "Claire, I'm —"

"Don't!" The barrel of a gun flashed through the night as the teenager drew it from her pocket, and the seraph halted his advance. Alex heard the hammer click as she drew it back, and she shifted forward, ready to intervene.

Castiel, however, kept her back, stretching out an arm to rest across her chest. "That won't hurt me."

His tone was soft, regretful even, but it only had Claire's face hardening. "Fine." The gun spun around to point at Sam and Dean, and the two Winchesters' hands went up as they stuttered in densive surprise. "What?" the teen taunted. "Like you don't have it coming? You stood there while this monster took my dad." The gun quavered and then dropped away, and Claire turned back to Castiel, her bravado gone. "I used to pray to you, Castiel. Every night. I would beg you to bring him home safe."

The seraph's eyes fell to the ground, and his words were barely audible. "I know."

"You know …" Claire's voice trembled. "My father was a good man. In what messed up world does he have to die and you get to live?"

"I'm sorry."

Alex reached up to soothe her mate, but Claire scoffed at the apology. "No," she retorted. "You feel guilty. There's a difference."

"Okay, so then what's your plan?" Alex stepped forward, shielding her mate from the angry teen, and Claire glowered up at her. "Are you going to go running back to Randy? You know, they guy that you steal for?"

"How do you know about that?"

"Dustin." Alex spit out the name, and she felt Castiel put a hand on her shoulder. "Come on, Claire! That man is using you — can't you see that?"

"He was there for me! When things got bad — and they got real bad — he was there when no one else was. He's my family! And you're just …" Claire's blue eyes slid past Alex to rest on Castiel's face. "You can go to hell." The teenager stalked away, leaving the four of them alone in the alleyway, and Alex's shoulders fell as she turned to look up at her mate.

“Nice going, Pip.” Dean shoved his hands into his pockets. “Smooth as always.” He grunted when Sam elbowed him sharply, but he didn’t give up his scathing remark. “Hey, why don’t you try not pissing people off next time?”

"Shut it, Whorechester.."Alex glared over at Dean, unsurprised to find her tight-lipped expression echoed on their faces. "Maybe we should go out and get some drinks.” Her face softened as she looked back at Castiel, and her voice lowered. “I think we need them."

 

Alex held open the bar door to let Castiel inside, slipping in after him as the Winchesters followed close behind. The seraph paused at the bar, mouth half-open as the bartender looked at him expectantly, and Dean patted the angel on the back as he sat down in one of the stools. "Four whiskeys," he ordered, and Castiel dropped down into the seat next to him.

His head hung despairingly, and Alex reached over to gently rub the back of his neck as she sat between him and Sam. "Hey, it's okay," she murmured, fingertips massaging the tense muscle. "This isn't your fault. Claire was —"

"Claire was right." The seraph's head turned so he could look Alex in the eyes. "Who am I to tell her how to live her life?"

"Well, somebody needs to." The bartender returned with their drinks, and Dean took a sip of his. "It's not like we're talking about Mother Teresa here. The girl about knocked over a Gas n Sip. She's got issues."

"Because of me," Castiel added sourly, and Alex looked over at Dean, eyes stretched wide in a plea for him to reason with her mate.

Dean just shrugged, "Well, like I said, you are wearing her old man's meat suit. Probably didn't help."

Alex squared her jaw, and she looked back to see Sam slowly shaking his head. "Dude." Alex turned back to the short-haired hunter with a sharp glare. "Really? He's just trying to make it up to her, you know?"

"I … I don't think he can." Sam ran a hesitant hand through his hair as Castiel turned to look at him. "I mean, Jimmy was her father, and to some people, that … that's everything, you know?"

The seraph shook his head. "No, I don't. I never knew my father. He was distant, to say the least." He looked over at Dean, and his fingers toyed nervously with his whiskey glass as he asked, "What about you? Did you love your father?"

Dean looked over at his brother above the two angels' heads, and his green eyes grew distant as he took another sip of his drink. "With everything I had."

"Yeah," Sam agreed, his voice momentarily catching in his throat. "Yeah. I mean, it wasn't always easy, but yeah."

Alex looked between the brothers, her interest piqued at the new topic. "I mean, look," Dean began, "John Winchester's not going to win any 'Number One Dad' awards, you know? But you know … damn if he wasn't there when we needed him."

"Hey, uh, did we ever tell you about that time in New York?" It took Alex a second to realize that Sam was speaking directly to her, and she quickly shook her head. "Tell them about New York."

"Oh yeah." Dean chuckled quietly. "Yeah, okay. So, uh … we were working this haunting in Long Island, and me and Sam begged the old man to let us go into the city for once."

"He had this thing about New York, right?" Sam added, eagerly cutting into his brother's retelling. "Too big, too loud, too dirty."

"Yeah, and he hated the Yankees," Dean finished, and Sam agreed with an enthusiastic nod. "Somehow we convinced him to let us go. So, we all go. We all, you know, see all the sights, and, uh, ride the subway, eat too much pizza. The whole nine. Well, by about midnight, Sam and Dad are zonked, and I figured … screw it. I'm going to CBGB."

Sam reached past Alex to tap Castiel on the shoulder, and the seraph turned politely. "So," Sam began to explain, "CBGB is —"

The seraph politely cut him off. "I know. It's where The Ramones and Blondie got their start."

Sam's eyebrows lifted, taken aback by Castiel's obscure knowledge, and both he and Dean exchanged a quick glance. "Wow." Sam shifted on his stool, and after a second, he continued, "Anyways, he was way underage at the time." He motioned back to his brother, and Dean's grin grew.

"Alright, so I get there. I sneak in, and it is nuts. I mean, people are drinking and they're smoking and they're — they're snorting whatever. There's a five-hundred pound guy on stage with a mohawk just screaming. And, uh, my mind is blown. I don't even know what to do. Then this girl walks up to me and she says, 'Hey, why don't you come over here and sit down with me and my friends at our table?' Alright!"

"Yeah, and they get him drunk," Sam put in, and Dean laughed. "First time."

"But not fun drunk." Dean grimace slightly at the memory. "I'm not quite sure what was in that stuff, but the room starts to spin, and I feel like I'm gonna puke … forever. And right about that time, I hear him. 'Dean Winchester!" He grinned, and Alex looked over to see a similar smile on Sam's face. "My old man. I don't know how, but he found me. And now I'm really freaking out, because he's just standing there, not saying anything. I look around, and everybody else is freaking out, too. In fact, nobody's even looking him in the eye. And finally, this one guy with, like, a safety pin through his nose and a-a Kill Everything tattoo looks up and he says, 'Sorry sir.' " Dean shook his head, his grin never fading. "Yeah. 'Sorry, sir.' ” He lifted his shot glass in something akin to a toast. “To John fucking Winchester."

He and Sam both lifted their drinks to their lips, and Alex slowly did the same, letting the bitter liquid slide down the back of her throat. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched Castiel slam back his drink, and she took another swallow before she set her glass down. "He saved you," she heard her mate murmur.

"Yeah, and you know what he got for that? Me whining about how much he embarrassed me. Me telling him that I hated him. But then he stopped and turned around and he looked at me and he said, 'Son, you don't like me? That's fine. It's not my job to be liked.' "

" 'It's my job to raise you right.' " Sam finished alongside his brother, and Dean nodded. "Yeah," he agreed. "And he did. What about you?" He motioned to Alex, and the young angel's head snapped up in surprise. "What about your old man?"

"My dad?" Alex tapped the rim of her glass as she ran a hand down her jawline. "Uh, for the first few years of my life, he was my everything. My mom wasn't around much," she added, well aware her current company knew what she meant, but she explained anyways. "She was always so sick, but my dad … he was there for the both of us. After my mom died, I thought he'd left, but … I guess he was just looking out for me. Just like he always did."

She could feel the looks of confusion above her head, and she threw back the rest of her drink as the bartender returned with the bottle of whiskey. "He was a good man," she finished. I'm glad I didn't kill him.

She looked over at Castiel to see that the seraph's gaze was on his refilled drink. "Do you think Claire is in trouble?"

Dean rolled his eyes. "She's hanging with a guy named Randy," he reminded. "She's in trouble."

Castiel fell silent again, and Alex reached over to place her hand on his knee. "Okay," she decided. "So how do we find Randy? Dustin didn't give us an address."

"Give me a few minutes." Sam's brow knit together as he thought, and he slipped out of his stool. "Let me see what I can find, alright?" He patted Castiel on the shoulder when the seraph nodded, and Alex watched him disappear towards the other side of the bar, his phone in his hands.

"He'll find something." Alex squeezed her mate's knee reassuringly, and with her free hand, she took a sip of her whiskey. After a second, Castiel did the same, and Alex pulled back to rest her elbows on the table. "Sam always does."

 

True to her word, Sam had an address in fifteen minutes, and within half an hour, the Impala was pulling up alongside a two-story suburban house. There were two cars parked on the curb outside, and Dean guided the Impala into the driveway before he removed the keys from the ignition. "This it?"

"Uh, yeah. This is the place," Sam confirmed, and he climbed out of the car. "Cas, you want to take the lead?"

The seraph nodded, joining him out on the street, and Alex reached back to make sure her weapons were in place before she followed suit. Both Winchesters had their guns drawn, and after a moment's thought, the young angel drew hers as well. She fell in line behind the three men, taking up the rear as her grace snapped forward towards the house. There were souls, more than five, but no monsters.

Castiel rang the doorbell, and Alex's grace rose to her ears. She could hear screaming, muted by the walls, and her shoulders tensed in alarm. Claire? "Cas," she hissed. "Listen." She watched as the angel paused, muscles tense, and the minute the door opened, his hand went up. Grace spilled outwards, and the human flew back in surprise, crashing into the wall. Castiel stalked forward, and the Winchesters rushed in after him, weapons raised as they confronted the men inside.

Alex followed, her own grace snapping out to knock the stunned man unconscious. "Don't!" she heard Sam snapped, followed by Dean's more calm, "Back it up."

"Where's the girl?" Castiel demanded. His question was answered almost immediately by another scream, and Alex circled into the living room just in time to see her mate rush up the stairs.

She turned her gun onto the four men, head tipping curiously as she regarded the strangers. "Alright. Which one of you is Randy?" She motioned towards one of the bald men, indicating that he should be the one to answer, and the man's gaze flickered down to the stranger bound in a wooden chair. "Ah. Must be you." Alex pursed her lips as she looked the guy up and down; greying hair, thick glasses. Definitely the pervy type.

Her guess was confirmed by footsteps on the stairs, and she stepped back to make room for Castiel and Claire. The teen was half-clinging to the seraph, her shirt torn and jacket missing, and her jaw trembled as her gaze came to rest on the older man. "Randy."

The man's gaze dropped to the ground, and Dean motioned towards the door with the muzzle of his gun. "Get her out of here," he ordered, and Sam echoed his sentiment. Castiel and Claire hurried past, and Dean pointed to Sam and Alex. "Go."

Alex nodded, hurrying after her mate, but the sound of shuffling feet had her spinning back around in time to see one of the unbound men stepping forward. "Hey!" Dean snapped as Sam brushed past Alex on his way out of the house. "Back up! Back up. Don't be as dumb as you look." He shifted back towards Alex, and the man hesitated when Dean adjusted his grip on the gun.

Alex stepped out of the house, clearing her weapon as she hurried down the porch steps after Sam. "Okay, Dean," she started, turning to address the Winchester who was supposed to be right behind her, but the slamming off the front door had her turning around in surprise. "Dean?"

She could hear Sam and Castiel by the car, speaking in hurried, whispered voices, and she looked back to see them already in the Impala; Claire had her head tucked into Castiel's chest, whose arm was wrapped around her protectively. Her eyes met Sam, and she saw his lips move in an unheard question.

However, the shouts of rage and anguish from inside the house had her turning away. "Shit," she cursed, and her feet carried her back up the stairs and to the front door. "Dean!"

Car doors slammed as Sam and Castiel jumped out, and Alex threw her weight against the door, grace fueling her strength until the door splintered and buckled beneath her weight. "Dean!" The angel almost slipped in a puddle of blood, and she cursed as she regained her footing. “Shit! Dean?” The angel hurried down the hall and into the living room, pulling up short in disgust. The stench of blood was everywhere, and Alex's nose wrinkled as she counted the bodies. One, two … three, four, five. None of them were Dean.

A scream came from behind her, high-pitched with terror, and she whipped her head around to see Claire turning to hide her head in Castiel's chest. The seraph held her close, his own eyes wide at the masacre, and Alex turned back to the scene. Dean was kneeling in the midst of it all, a bloody knife in his hand, and Alex shifted out of the way as Sam barreled through to drop down in front of his brother. "Dean? Dean, hey!" He took Dean's face in his hands, forcing the hunter to look up into his eyes. "Tell me you had to do this."

"I didn't … I didn't mean to."

"No." Sam's grip tightened on his brother's face as his voice cracked with effort. "Tell me it was them or you!"

"Cas. Take Claire outside." Alex slipped past the mutilated body and crouched down in front of Dean, gently nudging Sam aside with an elbow. "Hey. Dean, look at me." She waited until Dean's green eyes lifted to meet her own, cupping his cheek to guide his head when it moved too slow for her liking. "Hey," she repeated. "Focus." Her free hand went out to cover the Mark; it burned at the touch, but she refused to let go. "You need to fight this, Dean. Fight it with me." Her grey eyes turned to Sam, and her voice sharpened. "Go start the car. We need to leave."

Sam hesitated, torn between following her lead and staying with his brother, but eventually, he complied. "Okay. Hurry up." He pushed himself to his feet and hurried away, carefully skirting the bodies, and once he was out of sight, Alex let her hands fall away.

She could see the shudder that passed through Dean's body as his eyes turned onto the massacre around him. "I didn't …" he repeated, his voice barely above a whisper. "I didn't mean to."

"I know you didn't. Come on." Alex nudged him to his feet, carefully prying the knife out of his white knuckles. Her grace snapped out, and the fireplace exploded into flames. Dean didn't flinch, and he followed Alex out of the house with no question, leaving the living room to burn. He climbed into the front of the Impala, and Alex slid in behind him; the moment he was situated, she leaned forward, wrapping a hand around his temple and pulsing her grace in.

Dean slumped back, unconscious, and Sam spared her a look as he backed the car out of the driveway; Alex couldn't tell if it was one of relief or dismay. "Did he … did he …"

"He didn't tell me anything." Alex gave a quick shake of her head, careful of what she wanted to reveal with Claire sitting next to her. "I know he's been having a hard time, but I … I didn't think it was that bad." She dropped her head into her hands, leaning forward to rest her forehead against the back of the front seat. "We can't keep him like this, guys. The Mark needs to go. No matter the cost."

Chapter Text

February 18th, 2015
Lebanon, Kansas

The bedroom was dark, the only light coming a dim lamp in the corner of the room. Alex sat at the foot of the bed, perched backwards in a chair as she stared at the unmoving body of Dean Winchester. They had been back at the bunker for almost two hours, having driven straight back from Pontiac, Illinois.

He should be waking soon.

The angel shifted uncomfortably on the wooden seat, drawing her legs up so she was crouching on it, arms resting on the wooden back. "Dean." She spoke the hunter's name, reaching out with her grace; with a twinge of frustration, she recognized it was beginning to wear thin. She probed at Dean's soul, adding. "Come on, wake up."

The Winchester stirred, eyes flickering open, and Alex stilled, not wanting to startle the hunter to violence. She watched as he reached up to run a hand down his face, and he pushed himself up onto his elbows. "You."

"How are you feeling?" Alex lifted her chin from her forearms as she met Dean's gaze. "I'm sorry I knocked you out, but I couldn't risk any more unpredictability. And with Claire in the car …"

Dean groaned loudly, and he swung his legs over the side of his bed as his head dropped into his hands. "Right." He fell silent, fingers digging into his scalp, and Alex waited until he spoke again. "Uh, right. I get it." He lifted his head, and the young angel shifted slightly at the intensity in his gaze. "And Sam …?"

"Sam's in the library. He's looking for a way to remove the Mark — we all are." She paused and lowered her voice, adding, "Dean. None of us blame you for what happened. I know that's something you wouldn't do."

"Yeah, well, I did it." Dean pushed himself to his feet, and his nails dug into his forearm as he angrily scratched at the Mark. Blood welled up under his fingernails, and Alex was at his side in an instant, palm clamping over the Mark as her other hand grabbed his free wrist. Dean recoiled in surprise, and the angel tightened her grip, refusing to let him pull away. "I want it off."

"You can't get it off that way." Alex's grace slipped forward, healing the superficial wounds. "But we'll figure something out. Come on. You're not confined to your room, so you can come on out and get something to eat."

She turned, hands falling away from Dean, but the Winchester grabbed her, his calloused fingers closing around her wrist. "Wait." The intensity in his tone had the angel turning back. "I need you to do something for me."

"If you're going to ask me to kill you, the answer's no." Alex's voice was flat as she sized up the hunter. "We're not there yet."

"No. No, no, not that. I need you with me." Dean's grip tightened, and Alex tipped her head as his voice deepened in urgency. "All the time, just like how it used to be. Where you stood up to all my shit. I — I need you to stop me from doing anything else."

"Okay." The angel gently pried herself free, and Dean's hand fell back to his side. "Of course. If that's what it's going to take, of course." She crossed the room and pulled open the door. "Well, come on, then. You haven't eaten in over twelve hours, and I'm hungry, too. We'll check in with Sam on the way."

"Okay." The Winchester's face was more relaxed, clearly relieved that Alex had agreed to his terms, and he followed her out of his bedroom and down the hall.

No, yeah," she heard Sam say from the library, and she slowed down as Dean hurried past her. "I know, I know. I hear you. Dean has had to kill before. We both have. But that was —"

"That was what?" Dean moved up the library stairs, and Alex reluctantly followed after a moment's beat. Chair legs scraped as Sam rose to his feet, and Dean grimaced. "That was a massacre," he finished for his brother. "That's what it was." He looked over at Castiel, and the seraph's gaze dropped away. "There was a time I was a hunter, not a stone-cold killer. You can say it," he added when Sam and Castiel exchanged looks. "You're not wrong. I crossed the line." He extended his arm, turning it so the Mark caught in the light. "Guys, this thing’s gotta go."

"That won't be easy." Castiel held out an arm, and Alex crossed over to take his hand.

"Well, then burn it off!" Dean's voice rose in desperate anger, and his face twisted in disgust as he stared down at the scar. "Cut it off!"

"It is more than just a physical thing." Castiel's words echoed those Alex had spoken earlier, and the young angel nodded in agreement. "It will take a very powerful force to remove the effect."

"Dean, we have been through all the lore." Sam discouragingly motioned to the books that lay all around him. "There's nothing."

Castiel nodded in agreement. "This reaches back to the time of creation," he explained. "It may pre-date the lore." He paused, squeezing Alex's hand as he thought before adding, "If we had the demon tablet, maybe."

Sam frowned, and he sat back down in his chair. "But you said it was missing."

"It is," the seraph agreed. He hesitated, pale lips pursing in reluctance, and Alex tipped her head curiously. "There … may be another way," he finally said. "We may not have access to the tablet, but perhaps … perhaps we can speak with the angel who wrote them."

"You mean Metatron?" Sam's face went blank with surprise, and his eyes swept across Castiel before landing on Dean. The Winchester was stiff, jaw clenched, and Alex dropped her mate's hand as she took a step sideways to stand between Castiel and Dean.

"Hey," she began, clearing her throat to draw everyone's attention onto her. "Are we really thinking that's a great idea? I mean, he literally tried to kill half of us, and got pretty damn close." She motioned to herself and Dean, grimacing at the memory. "Not to be rude or anything, but you're gonna have to keep a pretty close eye on me and Dean if you bring him here. Cause there's nothing I want to do more than put a bullet through his brain."

Sam and Castiel exchanged looks, and Alex waited patiently as a silent conversation passed between the two of them. She nodded over at Dean, and the Winchester consciously rolled down his sleeve over the Mark to hide it from sight. "You know what?" Sam finally said. "I think it's worth the risk. If he knows anything, then it'll be worth it."

Castiel nodded. "I'll contact Ingrid right away," he announced. "Out of all the angels, she'll be the one who will listen. Perhaps one of you should come with me."

His eyes landed on Alex, and the young angel looked up at Dean. "That okay with you?" she asked. "If it's not, I'll stay."

The Winchester gave a half-hearted shrug. "Go for it. It's not like I'm going anywhere. I'll be fine until you get back." Their shoulders brushed as he disappeared off towards the kitchen, and, with a silent nod to Castiel, Alex followed after her charge.

 

The engine of the Lincoln Continental rattled loudly as the car rolled down the road, and Alex fiddled impatiently with her seatbelt as she watched the trees go by. Her mate sat beside her, attention afixed on the road, but every once and a while, the young angel felt his gaze flicker over to her. "So." Alex let her seatbelt snap back to its original position, finally breaking the silence between them. "Ingrid agreed to let us talk to Metatron, huh?"

"It took some convincing, but yes." The seraph's head nodded in agreement, and he spared her a look so their eyes could meet before he turned back to the busy road. "She is meeting us at the gate at four o'clock."

Alex looked down at her phone for the time, nodding in understanding. "So, we must be almost there," she concluded. "We've been driving for over six hours."

"Our exit is in three miles." Castiel's fingers drummed nervously on the steering wheel, face growing distant as he drifted into his thoughts; it was only the brush of Alex's hand against his that snapped him out of it. "You and Dean seem very close," he began, his tone light in conversation, but Alex picked out the darker note of curiosity. "You asked him for permission to come with me. Why?"

"Because I'm worried about him. And because he asked for my help." Alex drew her feet up underneath her so she was sitting cross-legged on the seat, angling her body slightly towards her mate as she took a deep breath. "When Dean was a demon, Crowley had me keep an eye on him. Dean didn't always listen to me, or respect me, but I was always there. Literally. Crowley had us on some sort of stupid leash." She waited for the seraph to nod; this information wasn't new. "Even though that's all over with, Dean wants me to do all that again. I guess it'll make him feel better, plus … he'll probably need the supervision with — with the Mark and all."

"And it was Dean who asked for this?" Castiel guided the car off of the highway, and Alex nodded quickly. "That's good. That means he still has some desire to control the Mark."

"I just figure that I should do whatever I can. I spent a lot of time with Dean, and I … I had to talk him down from a lot of situations. I guess you could say I know his angry side pretty well." She fell silent, gaze turning out the window in search of the playground that marked the gate to heaven. When she turned back, Castiel's face had grown dark. "Cas?" The seraph didn't answer, and she prodded him in the shoulder. "What is it?"

"When we were in Pontiac …" The seraph paused, taking a moment to gather his words. "While Dean and I were at the diner alone, he made me promise to kill him if the Mark ever took control."

"He asked you, too?" The young angel couldn't keep the surprise out of her voice. "He told me he asked me because you and Sam wouldn't be able to do it."

"Well, he was right. I promised, but … I don't think I could do it." The Continental pulled up into a parking lot, and the engine died with a spluttering cough. "When did he ask you?"

"Before that. Two days before, I think." Alex's face twisted in concentration as she thought back before giving a nod of confirmation. "I thought it was just because he had a nightmare or something; I didn't think he was being serious." She followed the seraph out of the car, her expression dark and pensive. "I promised him, too."

The seraph didn't answer, his attention turning to the two angels at the playground. One was a woman, her hair dyed a vibrant purple, and the second inhabited the body of a child. They stopped, the girl halfway down a red slide, as Castiel stopped beside the sandbox, staring down at the complex sigil drawn in the sand. "They should be here by now," he announced fretfully, looking back towards the two guards. "Was there word of a delay?"

The purpled-haired woman shook her head. "All I do is watch the door. Who are you expecting, Castiel?" Her eyes slid over to Alex, sharpening a the sight of her, and Alex shifted backwards to the edge of the playground.

As her feet touched the line of grass, the sandbox lit up. Blue light poured upwards, and the sand lifted in a billowing cloud, and the young angel narrowed her eyes against the blinding pillar. When it faded, two forms stood in the center of the sigil. One was a woman, head held high as she regarded the seraph in front of her. The second was shorter, dressed in a cardigan sweater; even with his head covered by a dark sac, Alex recognized him as Metatron. Castiel stepped forward, dipping his head cordially. "Thank you, Ingrid."

His warm demeanor was not returned. "I did as you asked at great risk, Castiel," she reminded stiffly.

"I know," the seraph agreed. "I approached you because I know you share my belief that it is the angels' mission to protect humans. It's possible I can eliminate a great threat to them, but I will need his help."

Ingrid's gaze turned past him to rest on Alex, and her tight-lipped frown deepened into one of displeasure. Alex rolled back her shoulders, ready for criticism, but Ingrid merely turned back to Castiel. "He must be returned intact," she warned. "Is that clear?" Her gaze once more turned back onto Alex, and she added, "I know some in your present company might hold a certain grudge."

"I won't touch him." Alex raised one hand, three middle fingers lifted. "Scout's honor." The angel looked less than convinced, so she added, "His information and your trust is more important than revenge for a plan that didn't kill me. No harm will come to him at my hand."

"Very well." Ingrid guided the prisoner over to Castiel, and the seraph clamped a hand on Metatron's shoulder as the portal opened once again.

Castiel pulled the bag off from Metatron's head, and the scribe's face contorted into a smirk. "Told you last time I saw you I'd get out of the slammer."

"It's temporary, trust me." Castiel nudged him off towards the car, and Alex stepped forward to walk on the scribe's other side.

"Well," Metatron began, apparently disinterested in Castiel's cold comment, "speaking of temporary, you must've borrowed some more grace. The both of you. You're looking very good. Of course," he added slyly, we both know that won't last. Is that why I'm here? You think I'm gonna help you?"

"This isn't about me," the seraph ground out, and Alex purposely bumped into Metatron as he stepped, causing him to stumble slightly.

"Of course not." The words were accompanied by a sidelong glare over at Alex, and the young angel didn't bother to hold back a smug smile. "The great Castiel never stoops to such selfishness. So what, then?"

 

The dungeon door swung open, and Alex shoved the blindfolded scribe into the darkened room. Sam followed close behind, circling around to adjust the wooden chair as Alex yanked the bag off of Metatron's head. The scribe blinked as the lights flickered on, and he took a moment to run his eyes over the dreary concrete walls. "Lovely room." Sam shoved him into the chair, and Metatron sat down with a thud. "It's where you bring the kinky chicks, am I right?" he added teasingly.

Alex frowned, and Sam retrieved a iron chain from the corner of the room. "I'll be asking the questions here," he reminded sharply, meticulously securing the angel to the wooden chair. "You … your only job is to provide information."

"Ah. Well, information does happen to be a specialty. Got about two billion fun facts up here." He motioned towards his temple best he could with his arms bound to his side, and despite his restraints, his eyes sparkled lightly. "Of course," he added after a second, “whether I choose to cough one up or not is another matter."

Sam stepped back, and Alex shifted forward to stand at his side. "We need to know how to remove the Mark of Cain from Dean's arm."

"What?" The humor in Metatron's eyes fell away to disbelief, and he looked between Sam and Alex. "He's back? What is it with you guys and not staying dead?" His rhetorical question was followed by a pause, and Alex gave a disinterested shrug as the scribe's gaze fell into one of curiosity. "Okay, fine. Because of the Mark?" He leaned forward, and the chains clinked together. "So … he's a demon."

"No."

Sam’s answer was short, and the scribe leaned back. "Okay, what then?" he asked, and he chuckled slightly at Sam's troubled silence. "What, did he 'kill a human' or something?" His words were accompanied by air quotes, and, when Sam crossed his arms across his chest, Metatron's eyes stretched wide in amazement. "He's gone nuclear!" he declared, and Alex frowned at the almost triumphant note of laughter. "Total foaming at the mouth, balls-out maniac. Ah — that's fantastic!"

"Do you know how to remove it?" Sam demanded, and Metatron scoffed.

"Maybe." The scribe's shoulders rose and fell with his cryptic answer. "But here's the thing. You expect any help out of me, you keep that crazy brother of yours on a short leash."

It was Sam's turn to scoff. "Buddy, I don't care what happens to you. You killed my brother." Footsteps followed his words, and Alex turned to see Dean step into the archive room. The hunter's eyes were dark, and Alex moved over to the door to block his view of the Scribe of God.

"You good?" she murmured.

"Yeah, of course." Dean kept his eyes trained on her, but the young angel saw them flicker off towards Metatron once or twice. "Where's Cas?"

"Uh, he stepped out to go talk to Claire. He said he'd be back soon." Alex stepped aside to let the Winchester through, following close behind as she watched him stiffen.

"Ain't life a bitch?" Metatron greeted Dean, and Alex moved cautiously at the hunter's side, ready to intervene should it be necessary. "Nebbishly little guy — me — always sticking it to the lunkhead jocks."

"You know what? Screw the Mark." Dean glared down at Metatron, his voice sharp with anger, but his fists remained at his side. "Let's just kill him."

Metatron chuckled, not fooled by Dean's proverbial bark, and he turned his head to look over at Sam. "Boy, he really is a mess. Who knew the Mark was so toxic? Well," he corrected, "actually, I did." The scribe laughed at his own joke, and Alex cast a wary look up at Dean as Metatron's voice darkened. "You know it is going to own you sooner rather than later."

"Yeah, so, how do we get rid of it?"

Metatron's head recoiled in mock offense. "What, just like that, social hour's over?" he joked, and Sam frowned.

"Yeah, and now we're moving on to our keynote speaker," the tall Winchester retorted, and he stepped forward to stand at his brother's side, arms folded across his chest.

"Which is you," Dean added. "With us asking the questions. And me taking the personal pleasure of carving the answers out of you." His fists curled at his side as his eyes flashed, and Alex reached over to put a warning hand on his shoulder.

Even Metatron didn't miss the threat, and he leaned back, hands going up defensively. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on there, badass! Lighten up! Why do you just assume I'm not gonna be helpful?"

"Because you're a dickwad."

"But I'm your dickwad." The scribe turned his eyes up to Sam, pouting slightly in faux-innocence. "I have a special place in my non-heart for all of you. To which end — ta-daa! I'd be tickled to help you pop this biblical zit." His eyes twinkled, and Alex frowned, already displeased by whatever may follow. "To do it, you are gonna need one specific thing. Your old bud — the First Blade."

"What?" Sam uttered the exclamation of surprise at the same time as Alex, and the two exchanged worried looks as Metatron laughed.

"As I said: ain't life a bitch." His grin widened as he looked between the three of them, and with a jerk of his head, Sam motioned his brother out of the room.

Dean followed with a glare, leaving Alex to take up the rear. "We'll be back eventually," she told the scribe, spitting out each word, and she flicked the lights off as she slammed the bookshelves closed.

The Winchesters were already halfway to the stairs, and Alex ran after them, falling in step behind Sam. "This is the single worst idea I've ever heard," he was insisting. "You just whacked a houseful of people, and that's when the Blade was nowhere around. And now you wanna be in actual contact with it?"

"We don't know that I have to be in contact with it." Dean hurried up the stairs, taking them two at a time, and Sam and Alex exchanged skeptical glances before they followed. "All we know is that we need it."

"No, no, all we know is that he says we need it," Sam retorted. "We don't even know what he wants us to do with it."

"A step at a time, alright?" Dean reached into his pocket and dug out his cell phone. "We play it safe, we learn whatever the spell is, how it works, and we keep the Blade out of my hands."

Alex reached forward before the Winchester could bring the phone up to his ear. "Crowley?" she guessed. When Dean nodded, she shook her head. "Just — just wait."

"Are we sure this isn't the Mark making you want the damn thing?" Sam pressed before the young angel could continue. "I mean, why would we trust anything Metatron says?"

"I don't trust Metatron." Dean shoved his phone back into his pocket with a loud scoff.

"Hey, hey. We're not saying you do." Alex rounded on the brothers with a frown. "Just hold on a second, okay? Metatron knows that the minute we put that thing in Dean's hands, it's over for him. Listen. If he has one strength, it's long-term planning. He gives us one piece of the puzzle, we start asking for more. We start trusting him; not a lot, but a little. That — that's what he wants."

"So you think we actually need the Blade." Sam's voice was flat, but Alex gave a firm nod.

"But I don't think we should go rushing to get our hands on it," she finished. "It's clearly not the only piece of the puzzle, and the farther it stays away from Dean, the better." She fished her phone out of her back pocket and scrolled through her contacts to find Crowley's number. "Let me call Crowley. Me," she repeated when Dean frowned. "I can't imagine he's hyped to speak with you. I'll ask him to meet with us, and we'll explain what's going on. See what he says." Her eyes turned onto Dean, and her voice sharpened. "If he's anything like I think he is, he'll want the Mark gone just about as much as you and I."

The Winchesters exchanged looks, and after a few seconds, Sam caved. "Okay," he finally agreed. "See if he'll meet us behind the theatre in Smith Center in twenty minutes."

"Sure thing." Alex turned her back to them and made her way towards the library as her phone rang, making sure to put enough distance between her and the brothers before the demon answered. The line clicked after the third ring, and Alex leaned up against one of the library chairs. "Hey, Crowley."

"Mouse. It's been a while, hasn't it. What do you want?"

"I need you to meet us in the alley behind the theatre in Smith Center in, oh, say, twenty minutes." Alex turned her head to watch the Winchesters making their way towards the iron staircase, and she waved at them to signal she would catch up.

"Excuse me?"

"You heard me. We need to talk with you. Sam and Dean will be there soon." Her name on Dean's tongue had her looking up from her phone, and she waved him away when he pointed towards the door. "This is important. See you soon."

She didn't wait for the King of Hell to give his assent before she hung up — hopefully leaving the choice as a command would increase his chance of showing up — and hurried up after Dean. "I'm right here." She slipped past the Winchester and through of the heavy iron door, leaving Dean to follow. "Alright, let's go."

 

Rain drummed on the hood of the Impala, and Alex sunk down deeper into the cold leather, regretting having climbed into the car in the first place. The Winchesters sat in the front seat, seemingly unaffected by the dreary weather, and the young angel drew her sweatshirt tighter around her with a sigh. Her noise broke the silence, and Sam turned to look back at her. "You sure Crowley's coming?"

"I didn't give him much of a choice," came Alex's weary response. "But between you and me, I won't mind him never showing up if it meant I didn't have to get out in this rain."

The sky flickered, and Crowley appeared in front of the Impala's hood, hands casually planted in his suit pockets. Alex's head lolled back, a wordless groan on her lips. Of course: if she hadn't known any better, she would have sworn he did that on purpose. The Impala doors slammed shut as the hunters got out to join him, and with a sigh, Alex followed.

The rain pummeled her hair, and she drew her hood up in a futile attempt to stay dry and she circled around to stand in front of the demon. "Well?" The King of Hell was already soaked, but he barely seemed to notice. "What is it that is so important you had to drag me away from my kingdom?"

Dean scoffed, and Sam shoved his hands into his pockets. "Uh, listen," he began, "we need a favor." The silent lifting of the demon's eyes served as his prompt, and Sam glanced over at his brother. "We need you to bring us the Mark of Cain."

Silence. The demon's eyes flashed in surprise, and they narrowed as he stared up at Sam. Alex shifted impatiently, hands drawn up deep into her sleeves, and as the silence dragged on, she finally cleared her throat. "Really, Crowley?" Dean finally snapped. "Radio silence?"

"Say something," Sam prompted, and the King of Hell's mouth finally opened.

"You want me to do what?" he bellowed, and Alex's eyes widened in surprise at his anger.

Sam brushed back his soaked hair, repeating, "We need you to bring back —"

"Bring back the Blade?" Crowley didn't let him finish, his anger still boiling over. "I don't think so!" His brown eyes turned onto Alex. "You. You called me here. Did you actually think I would agree to this?!"

"You don't have to give the thing to me," Dean reminded tightly, and the demon's head recoiled.

"I should say not!" he retorted.

"No, no, just retrieve it and hang out it until we need it," Dean finished, and Alex grunted in agreement.

Crowley's eyes turned onto her, flickering up to Sam as he snapped his jaw shut. "You two." He pointed to the both of them, and Alex tucked her hands into her soaked pockets. "You're supposed to be the sane ones. You onboard with this?"

"Yeah." Sam gave a tight-lipped nod, and after a second, Alex echoed him. "It's our best shot at removing the Mark."

"Insane." Crowley shook his head in dismay, and Alex stepped aside to let him pace past. "You want me to procure the most dangerous weapon on the planet for Dean Winchester, the man who goes mental every time he touches it!" He spun around to face them again. "I thought you'd want to go for a beer, catch a film."

Sam looked over at Dean, eyes sparkling with exasperation, and when he turned back to Crowley, he kept his voice slow. "Look, if this plan works …"

"It's not a plan," the demon retorted. "It's a probable death sentence for me and my kind."

"If it works," Sam repeated, ignoring the interruption, "it's better for you. Look, when the Mark is gone, the Blade can't operate." He reached up to brush his wet hair out of his face, hazel eyes dark in exasperation.

"Win-win," Dean promised, but when Crowley just frowned, he repeated, "Huh? Win-win."

"Stop that." Crowley waved off the Winchester's ridiculous words. "It can't operate. It's hidden."

"Okay." Dean tried again, his voice growing as sharp as the demon's. "The Blade might be powered down, but the Mark is not. I'm doing everything I can to keep it together." Crowley scoffed, and Dean's eyes flashed. "You think the body count is high right now? Wait til Hal takes over!"

Alex squinted, not sure what exactly the hunter was referencing, but the reference was apparently not lost on the King of Hell. His mouth was open, half-ready to form a response, but Sam was quicker. "We figure you stashed the Blade somewhere far away …"

"Damn right." Crowley turned his nose up stubbornly as he regarded the three hunters. "It's in the crypt with my bones."

"Alright." Sam nodded in accordance with the demon's revelation, but when Crowley made no other move, he added, "Well?"

The King of Hell looked between Sam and Dean, and after a second of careful consideration, his shoulders fell in disgust and defeat. "I hate Guam this time of year," he muttered.

Something else left his lips, but Alex barely heard. The air twinged, growing cold as if something was suddenly retracted, and she shivered at the brisk gusts that swirled in its absence. "Hey." She interrupted Sam, who was currently speaking, head lifted and eyes narrowed against the rain. "Did you feel that?"

"You … you mean the wind?" Sam blinked in surprise, unsure what she was speaking of.

"No." Alex brushed him off, immediately turning her attention onto Crowley. The demon was standing stiffly, head slightly tipped as if listening, and she repeated her question to him. "Did you feel it? It … I don't know what that was."

Crowley hesitated, eyes narrowed cautiously. However, after a second, he gave a small shake of his head. "Never you mind." He turned to the Winchesters. "I'll get the First Blade. But. Neither of you are going to lay an eye it until I say so. Understand?" Both hunters nodded, and the demon dismissed them with a wave of his hand. "I want to speak with Alex. Alone, if you don't mind."

Alex scowled at the idea of being left alone in the rain, but she gave Sam a nod of agreement. Neither Sam nor Dean argued, and, with a cautious look at Crowley, they retreated into the car. "Well?" Alex adjusted the hood, already soaked through, and with a reluctant shrug, she pushed it off. "What do you want?"

"You remember the witch. Rowena. My mother."

Alex, halfway through swallowing, choked in surprise, and she thudded a fist against her chest to clear her airway. "Mother?" she repeated, and she looked back at Sam and Dean, eyes stretched wide in disbelief. "Mother. Your mother."

"Yes, yes." Crowley waved the idea off as if it was of no importance to either of them. "Son a witch." His eyes darkened, and his voice lowered. "She's a manipulative bitch — borderline crude, but, what's the saying? Keep your enemies close … something something something."

"Why — why are you telling me this?" Alex's thin grace snapped out, feeling the cold, damp air. "That thing I felt —"

"Witchcraft, I imagine. Something us demons can't feel until it's too late, unfortunately." Crowley's voice dropped into a whisper, and the air grew warmer as he shifted close. "I don't know who I can trust anymore. Not my demons — definitely not her. But you; she won't manipulate you." His eyes narrowed, twinkling in displeasure. "I never thought it would come to this, but you may be the only I can count on."

Alex scoffed, doing her best to cover up her own surprise. "You should know as much as I do how bad of an idea that is," she warned, and the hint of a smile tugged on the King's lips.

"Keep your eyes open. I may call on you again soon." Crowley stepped away, and Alex shivered as the air grew cold again without the demon's heat. "Go get dry. I'll see you soon."

He disappeared, vanishing into thin air, and Alex jumped into the back of the Impala as the engine purred to life. "What did Crowley want?" Sam didn't look back over his shoulder as he spoke, and Alex shrugged as she shucked off her drenched outer layer.

"Nothing important," she lied. "Just his usual bullshit. Intimation, mockery." She dropped the sopping fabric onto the car floor, cold fingers running up and down her bare arms as she waited for the heat to kick in. Her phone, laying dry on the seat next to her, dinged, and the young angel looked down at the text from Castiel. "I'll let Cas know what's going on, but as soon as we get back, I'm taking a hot shower." She heard a chuckle from Sam, and she reached for her phone as the Impala backed up onto the street and drove away.

 

Alex pulled Sam's hoodie tighter around her as she stepped out of her room, drawing her wet hair up into a messy bun. Her grace stretched out, carefully avoiding the dungeon and the angel inside as she sought out the Winchesters. She felt them down the hall, their souls close together, and she followed them back into the library.

The brothers were seated at the war table, and both hunters had a beer at their side. Sam's head was buried in his laptop, and he jumped as Alex dropped down into the seat between him and Dean. "Hey," she greeted. "Finding anything?"

"No." Dean's hand thumped against the table in disgust and frustration. "I don't know why we even try. There was nothing in the lore before, and there's nothing here now."

There was a creak above their heads, and all three looked up to watch the bunker door open. Castiel stalked through, his dress shoes clicking against the metal alcove as he crossed over to the stairs. "The First Blade is back into play and Crowley is the one getting it?" he seraph demanded, his voice sharp and incredulous, and he hurried down the stairs to stand in front of them. "I don't mean to be an alarmist, but —"

"Hello to you, too." Alex rose to her feet to greet her mate, frowning slightly at his rushed and angered entrance. "How's Claire?"

"She's gone." Castiel brushed off her question, his eyes seeking out Dean. "What were you thinking?"

"Yeah, well, you know us," Dean joked wryly. "When we screw ourselves, we like to go whole hog."

"Claire's gone?" Alex put a hand on Castiel's chest to regain his attention, and the seraph reluctantly turned back down to her.

"She took off." Exasperation filled his voice at the interruption, but it quickly dropped away. "I don't know why. I — I should have stopped her. But I am certain that she is destined for more trouble and disappointment. She is so … so full of rage."

Alex's hand fell away, and Dean's gaze dropped to the table. "Listen, man," he said after a second, "if I could make it better, I would."

"It's actually why I'm here." Castiel pushed past Alex to stand in front of the Winchester, and the young angel frowned. "Well, one of the reasons anyways. I was hoping you might reach out to her."

"Me?" Dean repeated, and Castiel gave a grave nod. "Seriously?" The Winchester shook his head incredulously. "I'm probably the last person she would wanna hear from."

For a moment, the seraph looked at a loss for words. "I thought there would be a connection," he finally admitted. "One extremely messed up human to another. You could explain why you murdered her only friend."

Dean's eyes flashed first in surprise, and then in hurt, and he lifted his beer bottle to his lips as he scoffed dryly. "Well, when you put it like that."

Castiel defeatedly dropped down into the seat across from the Winchester, apparently unaware at the offense taken at his words. "All I know is she won't talk to me. I thought if she understood the kind of man Randy was and the danger she was in, she might …"

He trailed off, shaking his head, and Dean's chest rose and fell in a reluctant sigh. "What the hell. Why not? Long shots seem to be the theme around here." His palms hit the table as he pushed himself to his feet. "I'm gonna go make a sandwich."

He stalked off towards the kitchen, and Alex watched him go until he was out of sight. "Hey." She put a hand on her mate's shoulder, dipping her head to press a kiss on his temple. "Welcome back. Either of you want a sandwich?" she added, glancing over at Sam. "I can make you one while I babysit Dean."

"Uh, no. I'm good." Sam's hazel eyes drifted off towards the hall through which his brother had vanished, falling silent. When no other response came, Alex shrugged and hurried after Dean.

True to his word, the Winchester was in the kitchen. His phone was up against his ear, and Alex paused in the doorway until he was done. "Hey, it's Dean," he was saying. "Look, Claire, we need to talk in person. Just, tell me where, okay? Call me." He hunt up, turning around, and a gutteral curse sounded in his throat at the sight of her. "Fucking hell," he swore, and he shoved his phone back into his pocket with a scowl. "Don't do that."

"You're the one who wanted me to follow you around." Alex stepped into the kitchen and took a seat at the metal island. "So. Sandwich. What are we feeling?"

"Turkey." Dean crossed over to the fridge and pulled out a ziploc bag. "And bacon." He pulled out a second bag, and Alex grunted in acceptance, watching as he fetched a head of lettuce from the bottom shelf as well. His phone rang suddenly, and the Winchester jumped to answer, juggling the ingredients in his hands as he fumbled for his phone. He dumped the food onto the island as he answered, and Alex busied herself with digging out a cold slice of bacon from the bag. "That's good to hear," she heard Dean say after a second, and she purposefully wrapped her grace in knots to keep from eavesdropping.

Dean listened for another five seconds before he hung up, and the young angel finally let her curiosity well up. "Claire?" she guessed.

"Nope. Crowley." The Winchester dug through the pantry in search of bread, and Alex's head tipped in interest. "He's got the Blade." His voice was calm, disinterested even, as he returned to the island and tossed the bread beside the meat, and his eyes swept the kitchen. "Mayo," he announced.

Alex frowned, but after a second, she pushed her away her suspicion; there was no reason to doubt Dean's lack of intrigue; the King of Hell had already promised to keep the weapon as far away from Dean as possible. "We keep mayo in the fridge, dumbass," she reminded when the hunter started digging through the cabinets. "Sam keeps having to move it there when you don't put it back."

A bag of chips rustled as the Winchester pulled it free, and she leaned back slightly as it was tossed onto the island in front of her. "It doesn't need refrigeration," she heard muttered in retaliation. "I don't like it cold." Dean shook the jas as he pulled it from within the fridge, ripping off the lid and tossing it next to the bread as he returned to the island. He paused, eyes sweeping across the parts as he ran down his mental list, and after a second, he gave a nod of confirmation. "Alright. Before we do this, I, uh, I'm gonna go take a leak. Be right back."

He brushed past Alex, and the angel turned in her seat to watch him walk out the door. "I'll wait here," she called, and Dean waved a hand in acknowledgement before he disappeared out of sight.

Alex turned back to the pile of food, pulling the bag of potato chips closer as she looked down at her phone. There was a text from a hunter — an old friend of Bobby's — and Alex typed out a half-interested reply; the question had come in before she had even gotten into the shower, and since it hadn't been followed up by a call, it couldn't have been too urgent of an inquiry.

She swiped away the second text, this one from Crowley, reading only 'Got it,' and she tossed her phone onto the metal counter with a sigh. The First Blade was back in play. The young angel shivered at the memory of Dean's black eyes, and she hastily shoved the thought away. The Winchester was dangerous enough with only the Mark. If Crowley had any sense, he would keep it as far away from them as possible.

Footsteps drew her out of her rumination, and Alex looked up, expecting Dean. "Sam?" She tipped her head as the Winchester looked around the kitchen, and she tried to peer past him in sight of her mate. "Where's Cas?"

"Where's Dean?" Her question was met with a demand, and the young angel blinked in surprise.

"Bathroom —" She stretched her grace out towards the restrooms, searching for Dean's soul, and she frowned when she felt it in a place where it should not have been. "Shit." Alex jumped to her feet, almost tripping over her stool in her haste, and she swiped her phone off of the counter as she bolted towards the door. "He's downstairs."

"What? I thought you were watching him! Cas!" Sam followed after her, yelling the seraph's name behind him, and Alex heard a second set of footsteps break into a run behind her.

"I was!" Alex turned down the hall, sneakers skidding on the tile floor. "He said he was just going to the bathroom." She glanced back as she reached the stairs to see Sam's tight-lipped look, and she added defensively, "What? I’m sorry with — with everything else going on, t-that Dean needing to take a piss didn't trigger any red flags!" She grabbed the railings as she jumped down the stairs, trying to keep up as Sam and Castiel passed her.

"Let's try this again." She could hear Dean through the archive door, and she slid to a stop beside Sam and Castiel. "What's the next step?!"

"What is is you humans say so inelegantly?" Metatron's voice was rough, jagged with pain and scorn. "Oh yes — go fuck yourselves."

"Dean?" Alex pounded up against the door, lifting her voice above the scribe's taunt. "Hey! Open the door! Dean!" Her grace boiled up, but she forced it down as she turned to her mate. "Get this open."

"Stand back." The seraph's eye glowed blue as his grace rose up, and Alex ducked out of the way to stand behind him as he lifted a hand towards the wooden door. The wood trembled, and Alex flinched away as it suddenly exploded inwards in a shower of splinters.

She opened her eyes as Sam rushed past her, and she slipped past her mate to run after the Winchester. Dean was standing over Metatron, an angel blade glinting in the dim light, and Sam tried to wrestle it out of his hands as he dragged his brother away.

Dean struggled, and then Alex was there, one hand extended towards the hunter as she put herself between him and Metatron. "Dean! Stop!" She lifted her voice above the struggle, and Dean's green eyes swung over to her. "Drop it!"

The weapon clattered to the ground almost immediately, and Sam quickly kicked it aside. Dean's nostrils flared angrily, but the fight from his eyes was gone, and Alex turned around to give her full attention to Metatron.

The scribe's face was beaten and bruised, with blood oozing from a cut across his cheek, and Alex dropped her gaze to his chest where a thin, dark laceration traced down towards his heart. "Well, at least he's still alive," she told her mate, her voice sharp with agitation and annoyance, and she rolled back the sleeves of her sweatshirt as she put her hands on her hips. "Pity."

Metatron chuckled, his blue eyes glinting through a swollen eyelid, but Castiel simply frowned at her words. "I have to take him back."

"Cas." Sam turned away from his brother, one hand stretching out to the side to keep Dean back. "This won't happen again."

Castiel hesitated, but after a second he gave a small, firm shake of his head. "I gave my word," he explained. "I have fences to mend in Heaven, and as it is, I have a lot to explain."

"Here." Alex drew her grace up into her hands as she pointedly jabbed a finger into Metatron's swollen cheek. The scribe grunted in pain, but Alex ignored it as she let her grace flow inwards to heal the bruises. "No point in bringing him back looking like half-slaughtered meat."

The chains fell away as Castiel unbound the scribe, and the moment he was free, Metatron pushed himself to his feet. "If you ever ask me for help again, I will choose death," he ground out, and his lips pulled up into a vehement snarl as his eyes turned onto Dean, who had slunk off to the corner of the room. "You realize it's going to get worse, Dean," he hissed as Castiel dragged him out of the room. "You're gonna get worse!"

The scribe's voice faded away, and Alex turned back to Dean. "You okay?" She crossed over to him, eyes going up and down his form in search of any wounds. Her fingers found his wrist, and she turned his palm upwards as she examined the Mark on his arm. "You gave me the slip."

"You let me out of your sight." There was no malice in his voice, only empty resignation, and he heaved a sigh as he stared out towards the hall. "Look, Sam," he began, and Sam's lips pursed angrily. "I don't — I didn't …"

"I know." Sam shook his head in frustration. "I, uh, I should make sure Cas has everything under control," he said after a second. "I'll be right back."

He hurried after the seraph and the scribe, and Alex let Dean's wrist fall from her grasp. "Come on." She waved him forward, and the Winchester followed after only a moment's pause. "You need a drink and a sandwich."

She made her way up the stairs, and, when no response came, she eventually glanced back at the hunter. "Hey, look, I'm sorry—"

"Don't. It's not your fault." Dean pushed past her into the library, and Alex paused in the doorway as he dropped down into one of the tables. “I tricked you.”

"Hey. You okay?" Sam's voice came from somewhere out of sight, and the young angel tipped her head as she tried to pinpoint his location.

Dean looked up, eyes flashing in surprise at his brother's presence, but it wasn't long before he dropped his head once again. "He said the river ends at the source," he admitted, and Sam sat down in the chair across from him. "I don't know what it means — maybe it's nothing. It was the last thing he said before you guys busted in."

"Dean. Look, man, we had to …"

"Hey, no. I get it, alright? I — I was gonna kill him. And I couldn't stop myself."

"We'll figured it out," Sam promised. He hesitated, fingers dancing nervously on the tabletop, and after a moment, he ventured forth, "You know what Cas about needing a powerful force?" Dean voiced his agreement, and Sam cleared his throat. "So, I've been thinking. Look. Cain had Mark, right? And he's lived with it. For years, he's lived with it. So yeah, the Mark is strong, but — Dean, maybe there's a part of you that wants to give into it. And maybe you have to fight that, you now? Maybe … part of that powerful force has to be you."

He fell silent, and Alex entered the room to slide into the empty chair next to him, patiently waiting Dean's response. The eldest hunter was saved from responding, however, by the ringing of his phone.

Dean jumped to answer, turning slightly so he faced away from Sam and Alex, and the young angel lifted her grace to her ears just enough to recognize Claire's voice coming from the speakers. "I've thought it over," she heard the teen say. "Maybe it's only fair to hear your side of it. I mean, Castiel seemed to trust you, a lot."

"Yeah, okay." Surprise lined Dean's voice, but he nodded nevertheless. "Where do you wanna meet?"

"Crystal Lake. Meet me there tomorrow morning at ten."

"Okay." Dean glanced over at Alex, and the young angel flicked her eyes over to Sam, doing her best to pretend she hadn't overhead. "I'll see you there." He hung up, tucking his phone back into his pocket as he rose to his feet. "That was Claire," he announced. "She wants to meet tomorrow."

"Really?" Sam's head recoiled slightly in surprise, and when Dean nodded, he blinked. "Uh, that's great. Where?"

"Uh, Crystal Lake. North," the Winchester added after a second's thought. "We'll leave at nine," he told Alex, and when the young angel nodded, he tapped the table. "Alright. Food. Drink. Bed." His mouth hung half open, as if he wanted to say more, but, when no words came, the Winchester shook his head and walked away.

 

Alex twisted in the Impala's seat, reaching back to grab her sweatshirt off of the backseat as she rolled up the window of the sleek black car. The day was surprisingly cool, and she pulled the clothing down over her head before she followed the Winchester out of the car. Crystal Lake glittered up the path, visible through the trees, and Alex cast a quick look over at the occasional trailer homes that stood in the grass off to her left. "Claire said she would be here at ten?"She looked down at her phone as Dean voiced his agreement, and, with a frown, she slid the device back into her pocket. "Well, then she should be here soon. It's five til."

"You talked with Cas?" Dean leaned up against the hood of the Impala, looking out towards the lake, and Alex gave a small shake of her head.

"He texted me last night to say that he brought Metatron back," she relayed, "and that Heaven wasn't particularly pleased, but all's forgiven. As far as I'm aware, he's on his way back." Dean grunted, and the angel slid her hands into her pockets. "You thought about what Sam said?"

"About fighting that part of me?" Dean scoffed, and he pushed himself off of the Impala and started towards the lake. "Sure, it sounds good and all, but realistically?" His voice dropped, and Alex lengthened her step to stay in earshot. "Who says it's even possible, you know?"

He dropped down onto a bench, and Alex sat down beside him, close enough to let their shoulders brush. "Who says indeed," she agreed quietly. "Me, Sam, Cas … we can't do this for you. Any of that strength comes from your own willpower."

"No!" The sudden, desperate cry from behind them had Alex jumping to her feet in surprise. Dean was at her side in an instant, spinning around towards the sound of Claire's voice, but the swinging of a bat towards his head had him barely ducking out of range. Alex jumped back, her heart skipping a beat, and she stretched her eyes wide as she tried to take in the situation.

There were two people: two attackers. The closest, the woman behind the attack, lunged forward again, but Dean was faster, grabbing the wooden weapon and twisting it around to pull the woman up against his chest. The bat came up, pressing into her neck, and the woman struggled angrily with a snarl.

"Dean!" The second opponent, was wielding an axe, and Alex launched herself forward as Dean spun out of the way, letting the woman go as he twisted to safety. The angel's hands closed around the wooden handle, right below the metal axehead, and she untied her grace so it flowed through her limbs. Her eyes glowed blue as she twisted the weapon, sending the man stumbling back in surprise, and she heaved it aside towards the lake as she squared up against the stranger.

She heard a body hit the ground, one too small to be Dean's, and when the man lunged forward, Alex grabbed the wrist and twisted in a wrist lock — an outstretched leg had the stranger falling to his back next to his companion.

"No!" Claire's scream again had Alex looking wildly around. Her gaze fell onto the axe in Dean's hand, and she took a step back as the Winchester towered over the two strangers.

"Hey," she warned, and she stretched an arm out to try and snap him out of it. "Dean, don't. You don't have to do this."

The axe glinted in the light as Dean heaved it above his head, and Claire screamed again as it swung downwards in a deadly arc.

Wood cracked, sending splinters flying through the air, and Alex flinched as the axehead embedded itself in to the bench beside him. Dean's hands came off the weapons, falling to his side, and the strangers wasted no time in scrambling to their feet as they bolted. Alex clenched her jaw as they disappeared among the trees, and once they were out of sight, she turned her attention back to Claire.

The teen was already halfway to the camper, not even sparing them a second glance, and the young angel ground her teeth. "Son of a …" Alex bent down, gasping for air as she steadied herself from the sudden and violent attack, and she grunted when Dean patted her on the back. He stalked past her, and Alex followed, surpassing the hunter to stop at the trailer door through which Claire had disappeared. " She fucking … she tried to kill us." Another curse fell from her lips, and she bit her tongue to keep her grace from boiling up in retaliation.

"Me. Tried to kill me." Dean dug the keys out of his pocket, and Alex frowned at his tone, remarkably casual considering the sudden assult . "She didn't know you were coming with."

"Should we talk —"

"She doesn't want to talk!" The Winchester's voice lifted in anger, eyes flashing a violent green, and Alex fell quiet as he stalked away. "Just forget about Claire, okay? She set us up." He paused beside the car, his cheeks flushed with adrenaline and anger, and Alex softened her voice.

"Okay," she agreed. "Just … you did the right thing back there, not killing them. I'm proud of you." She watched as the hunter's face flashed with anger, and she dropped her gaze, hoping her praise didn't come across as demeaning. No response came, and Alex looked back up when Dean unlocked the car and climbed inside. The engine roared, and, with a sigh, Alex followed.

Chapter Text

April 1st, 2015
Lebanon, Kansas

The smell of breakfast wafted through the air, and Alex lifted her head, sniffing in curiosity. A glance down at her laptop showed the time to be past 7:30 in the morning, and with a frown, the angel tossed her computer onto her bed and exited her room. "Hello?" A flick of her grace down the hallway showed both Sam and Dean's rooms to be empty, and she slipped down the hall in search of the hunters.

"Alright, well, just — just keep me posted, okay?" Sam was seated in the library, his phone pressed up against his ear, and Alex paused to try and hear the voice on the other end of the line. "Yeah, you got it, Cas. Hey, uh, thanks." He hung up as Dean entered, and Alex's nose turned upwards as the smell of food intensified. "Hey." Sam set down his phone as Dean dropped a plate in front of him, and the hunter's eyes lifted in surprise. "You made egg-white omelettes?"

"Yeah. Breakfast of Champions." Dean slid a second plate across the table, and Alex dropped down in the seat next to Sam. "You know, if you're a dork like you. Morning," he added to the angel, and Alex grunted in return. "Figured you'd come running."

"I'd never miss your cooking," Alex agreed. "You look good. How long did you sleep?"

"Slept til seven." Pride lined Dean's voice, and he sat down across from her. "Until we get answers to this whole Mark of Cain, I am on a twelve-step program not to backslide."

"Twelve steps?" Sam repeated, and Dean nodded.

"Yeah. Hey, if Cain found a way to live with it after going dark side, then I can find a way to keep it in check. So, I haven't had a drink in a week, eight hours of rack time every night, and now … this masterpiece." He motioned down to his omelette and picked up his fork, and Alex chuckled as she pulled her plate closer.

Sam hesitated, but, when Dean didn't continue, he frowned. "That's three steps."

"Shut up and eat." Dean slid a fork over to Alex and Sam, and the two exchanged an amused look before they followed his command.

"Wow." Sam blinked in surprise as he looked back up at his brother, and Dean lifted an eyebrow at the praise. "That's — that's awesome."

"It's crap." Dean dropped his fork with a shake of his head, and Alex shoveled a second bite into her mouth. "Ugh. God. Soon as we get rid of this demonic tramp stamp, I am back on the booze, burgers, and … more booze. Tell me you got something."

"Uh, nothing yet." Sam mumbled the words around his breakfast, and he motioned over to his phone. "Uh, Cas has got his feelers out, and says he might swing by later if he has the time. You?"

"Nothing." Dean grimaced as he took another bite, and Alex watched in amusement before she turned her attention back to finishing her meal. "I, uh, got some sort of smoothie back in the kitchen. You want some?"

"Uh, yeah." Sam watched in surprise as his brother disappeared, and he looked over at Alex as Dean moved out of earshot. "Did you know about any of that?"

"I knew he had stopped drinking, but the rest of this is a surprise." Alex pulled one of the large leather-bound books close, flipping it open to a page pre-marked with an index card. "How long do you think this will all last?"

Sam was saved from responding by the reappearance of Dean, carrying two glasses half-filled with a green smoothie. He handed it to his brother, who eagerly took a sip, before he dropped back down into his chair. Alex watched as he copied Sam, nose wrinkled as he took a hesitant taste; the Winchester’s face immediately scrunched up in disgust, and he immediately pushed it over to Alex. “Ew.” The angel didn’t even bother to smell it as she shoved it back to Dean. “I don’t want that.”

“Wait, what the hell?” Sam’s exclamation of surprise had both Alex and Dean turning to him, confusion written across their faces.

“Cain or Crowley?” Dean guessed, and, when Alex wasn’t looking, pushed the drink back.

“Charlie.”

“Charlie?” Alex repeated in surprise, and Dean looked up from his phone, adding over her, “Is she back from Oz?” His head tipped as he waited for his brother to respond, but Alex jumped to cut him off.

“Oz?” she repeated. “What do you mean?”

She watched as the two brothers exchanged looks of confusion. “She wasn’t here,” Sam finally said, and when Alex’s eyes narrowed even further, he turned to face her. “Uh, so you know that old computer downstairs? The one that doesn’t work? Dean broke it.”

“I didn’t break —“

“Dude, that thing was toast.” Sam rolled his eyes, and Dean opened his mouth, ready to protest further, but fell silent when Alex cleared her throat impatiently. “We called Charlie to try and fix it, cause, you know, she’s good with that kind of stuff, but, uh, long story short, Dorothy came out of the wall and told us Dean released the Wicked Witch of the West when he broke this bottle by the computer, and then we had to hunt her down before she could find the key that would open up the door again so she could bring her, uh, monkey army here to take over the world. Charlie ended up going back to Oz with Dorothy.”

Sam ended, and silence fell over the room. “What the actual fuck?” Alex looked over at Dean, grey eyes stretched wide. “You … you’re joking, right? Are you guys messing with me?” When no response came, she let out a hesitant laugh. “Okay, seriously, what really happened?”

“That’s about it,” Dean readily admitted. “Oh, and apparently all of Chuck’s books are online, even the non-published stuff.”

“Okay, yeah, that part I knew.” Alex scratched her forehead, unsure how to process the information she had just been given. “I don’t — you’re serious. Completely serious about all of that.” Sam nodded, and the angel grimaced. “And you never thought to even mention this to me?”

“It, uh, just never came up.” Sam’s words were accompanied by an unconvincing shrug, and when Alex just shook her head, his attention turned back onto his laptop. “But, uh, it looks like she’s back, and she’s been busy.”

He turned his laptop so Dean could see, and the short-haired Winchester leaned forward as he studied the screen. “What the hell am I looking at?” he asked after a minute.

“So, you know, I was looking into the news, checking for anything weird, right? I found this story about a torture vic. Apparently, some kid videotaped this at his next-door neighbor’s house.” He turned his computer back around to show Alex, and the angel tipped her head as she watched the clip. One of the figures was definitely Charlie — Alex immediately recognized the pale face and red hair — and she frowned at the sight of Charlie’s victim, a short, balding, bloody man. “Apparently, some kid videotaped this at his next-door neighbor’s house.”

“What are you saying, that Charlie tortured someone?” Dean cocked an eyebrow, unable to believe his own eyes, and when Sam hesitated, the Winchester pushed himself to his feet, crossing over to stand behind his brother so he could watch the video again. “Our Charlie? Yea high, wouldn’t hurt a hobbit, practically sparkles?” Sam didn’t answer, and Dean dug his phone out of his pocket with a frown. “Come on, Charlie, pick up,” he muttered, and Alex looked up to watch him pace away from them, phone pressed tightly against his cheek. “She’s not answering.”

“Who did she attack?” Alex asked Sam, and the hunter pulled his laptop back towards him.

“Uh, a guy named Peter Harper,” he relayed. “District attorney in Topeka. According to this article, he wasn’t the only person in town that was hit. Uh, a court stenographer was assaulted the night before.”

“Well, you know, Charlie wouldn’t go off on someone without a reason,” Dean insisted, but his voice didn’t sound half as convincing as his words.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t think so either,” Sam agreed, “but look at the video.”

“Oh, I’m looking at it.” Dean scowled as the video replayed. “But you know what we do, taken out of context, it doesn’t look that much different. She could be hunting.”

“Hunting?” Alex’s chair creaked as she craned her neck back to look at the Winchester. Dean shrugged, and she shifted, placing her feet on the chair as she took a seat up on the table so she could face both brothers. “Since when did Charlie start hunting?”

“Uh, I guess since you last saw her.” The frown on Dean’s face relayed his displeasure. “I thought we told her to stop, but maybe she didn’t listen.” His brother sighed, and Dean shoved his phone back into his pocket. “Why don’t we go talk to this asshat and see what’s going on?”

“Sure. I guess.” Sam sighed again as he rose to his feet. “Topeka isn’t that far away, right?”

“Couple hours,” Dean confirmed, and when Sam still didn’t look convinced, he added, “It’s the least we can do.” He looked down at Alex, and the young angel nodded. “I’ll go get my stuff. Meet me at the car in ten minutes.”

 

Topeka, Kansas

The door swung open under Dean’s persistent knocks, and Alex straightened up, reaching into her pocket for her forged identification. “Can I help you?” Brown eyes scrutinized the three of them carefully, and Sam cleared his throat.

“Uh, Mr. Harper? My name is Special Agent Gabriel. We’re here about last night’s attack.” Sam’s gaze darkened when the door opened further, revealing the full extent of Charlie’s attack. The man’s arm was in a sling, and one eye sparkled warily from a swollen eye. “Do you have a minute?”

“Sure.” Peter Harper stepped back, his free hand going up to brush back his greying hair as the three hunters entered the home. “I must say, I wasn’t expecting the FBI to show up so quickly.”

“We do our best to be efficient.” Sam tucked his badge away as the door closed behind them, and Mr. Harper led them further into the house. “Now, did you notice anything odd before the attack — any, uh, strange smells, weird noises?”

“No, no, nothing.” The man shook his head, his lips turned downwards in a small, puzzled frown. “I was just at home, getting ready for bed, and that crazy bitch jumped me. All she wanted was to know about some case that I worked on years ago — drunk driver t-boned another car, killing the driver, and the passenger was declared brain-dead on the scene.”

“The Middletons.” Dean spoke the name confidently, and Alex looked up at him in surprise. “They had a daughter, twelve years old. They were on their way to pick her up.”

“Yeah, that’s right.” Harper’s confused frown deepened. “How did you know that?”

“Well, we do our homework at the FBI.” Dean’s words were accompanied by a proud smile, and Peter Harper shook his head.

“Okay, well, then you know the case never went to trial,” he told them discouragingly. “Before I could even see the evidence, it was off the books. All files were sealed.”

Both Sam and Dean exchanged looks of surprise, and Alex tipped her head. “How’s that even possible?”

“I don’t know. But I looked into it this morning, and there’s no record of the case anywhere, and the arresting officer has since passed away. There’s nothing, except for this.” He led the way into the kitchen and slid a manilla folder across the table towards Dean. “It’s the social service file on the Middleton’s kid. It’s not very helpful, to be honest with you. The kid’s disappeared, until now.” He sat down in the chair, and the three agents did the same.

Dean grunted in understanding as he quickly flipped through the folder, and Sam asked, “Now, is there anything else you can remember about the case? Any names you can think of?”

“No.” Once again, Harper gave a firm shake of his head. “Like I told the police, it was so long ago.” He sighed, looking between the three hunters, ad he added, “Look, I’m sorry.”

“Alright.” Sam shifted, hands in his pockets as his voice shifted from sympathy to sternest. “Here’s the thing. We talked to the other victim on the way here — the stenographer. Now, she said the attacker didn’t let her go until she gave up a name. Your name.”

“Okay.” The man looked hesitant, stuttering slightly as he spoke. “But w-what does that have to do with m-me being attacked in my own home?”

“What name did you give up?”

Harper’s eyes turned onto Dean, surprised at the sharp tone. “Look,” he began, “I told you everything I told the police. This woman comes in here, beats the tar out of me, but — but there’s no name to give up, so I — I don’t know what else to —“ He cut off when Dean rose to his feet, crossing the table to plant a hand on the back of Harper’s chair as he leaned down, eyes flashing with impatience. “Hey, w-what are you doing?”

“Talk, you son of a bitch!” Dean’s voice had Alex jumping to her feet, ready to intervene and pull the Winchester away.

“Hey, look,I”m the victim here — ah!” The man let our a noise of alarm as his chair tipped back even further. “Okay, okay, alright. Alright.” His voice trembled as Dean uprighted his chair and stepped away, and Alex slowly sat back down. “Ah. After the files were sealed … I-I pushed. And, uh … they offered me money — a lot of money.”

“Give me a name.”

“The money kept on coming in from overseas accounts —”

“Give me a name!” Alex was at Dean’s side in an instant, a hand going out to rest warily on his shoulder.

“I will be disbarred!” Harper’s voice exploded, and Alex shot Sam a quick look, eyebrows lifted high. The Winchester returned the look, but the angel didn’t catch it, turning back to Dean as she felt his muscles relax.

When he spoke, his voice was quiet, almost ominous in tone. “That’ll be the least of your worries, I promise you that.”

Harper looked between Sam, Alex, and Dean, but when neither of the hunters backed down, the man’s brown eyes dropped to the ground. “Councilwoman Barbara Cordry.”

“Barbara Cordry,” Dean repeated, and the attorney nodded defeatedly. “Alright.” He stepped back, the light dying from his eyes, and Sam slowly rose to his feet. “Thanks.”

He stalked away, not even bothering to look back, and Alex grimaced at the abruptness. “Uh, thanks for your time,” she added, voice soft to try and smooth over Dean’s rude behavior. “If there’s anything else you remember, give us a call. We’ll be in touch.” She offered up half a smile at Harper’s tight-lipped frown, and her feet carried her after Dean.

 

“Celeste Middleton.” Sam flipped through the folder as Dean drove the Impala down a rich suburban road, and Alex leaned forward over the seat to scan the loosely-padded file. “That’s Charlie’s real name. Guess she’s looking for the person who, uh, destroyed her family.”

Dean scoffed. “Can you blame her? You know, we just got to find her before she does something nobody can walk away from.” He pulled the car up alongside the curb, eyes turning out to a large, brown home across the street, hidden by a oak fence, and Alex followed his gaze.

“That’s her place?” She straightened the collar of her blouse as she looked out the window, and her question was confirmed when the engine shut off.

“Yeah, that’s the place.” Plastic crinkled as Dean tossed the plastic bag filled with his uneaten lunch into the backseat. “Fingers crossed we’re not too late.” He adjusted his tie and led the way out of the car, and Sam followed, lengthening his stride to take the lead.

Alex fell in step at Dean’s side as they walked up to the front door, and she tried to peer in the side window, but thick purple drapes blocked her view. She frowned, unsure if anyone was home, but Sam knocked on the door, it opened almost immediately. “Barbara Cordry?”

The dark-haired woman regarded them carefully, eyes narrowing in displeasure at the sight of their suits. “Can I help you?”

Sam dug into his pocket for his badge, and Alex and Dean quickly did the same. “Yes. I’m Special Agent Gabriel. These are my partners, Special Agent Collins and Sheppard. May we come in?”

Barbara’s eyes narrowed even further. “What is this about?”

“We have some questions about a drunk-driving case from a while back involving the Middleton family.” Sam tucked his identification back into his suit pocket, shifting his weight as the short woman glared suspiciously up at him.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Ma’am,” Dean began, stepping forward to his brother’s side. “If we could just —”

“Sorry.” The councilwoman quickly cut him off with a firm shake of her head. “I’m still on vacation. Feel free to schedule an appointment with my assistant. She’ll pencil you three in.” She slammed the door shut, and Alex’s lips pursed together in a deep frown.

“Wow.” She stepped back so the Winchesters could move past to head back to the car. “Guilty much?”

“Oh yeah.” Sam shook his head as he crossed the street, and he looked back towards the house as he circled around to the pasenger side door. “Well, bright side is Charlie hasn’t been here yet. Maybe we can cut her off at the pass.”

“Then we’ll wait here.” Dean slid into the car, and Alex tossed his sandwich over the seat to him as she slammed the door behind her. “Thanks.” He unwrapped his lunch, grimacing at the leafy green vegetables that peaked out from beneath the whole wheat bread. “How long do you think we’ll be here?”

“Don’t know. Could be all night.” Sam once again pulled out Charlie’s old file and opened it up, and Alex rested her chin on the back of the front seat as she peered over his shoulder to read alongside him.

“What the hell is kale?” Dean’s disgusted comment had the angel glancing over at him in time to see him drop his sandwich back onto his lap, tongue flicking out as he tried to rid himself of the taste.

“Wait, you’re eating kale?” Alex reached down to poke at his food, and the Winchester slapped her hand away. “Dude, even for you, that’s gross.”

She glanced over at Sam, expecting a retort, but the Winchester seemed to be ignoring their conversation. “ ‘Anti-authority disorder, clinical depression, violent outbursts,’ ” he read, and he looked up with a shake of his head. “Charlie was, uh ..”

“Dude. If a shrink interviewed us at the age, you think the report would be all kittens and rainbows?” Dean wrapped his meal back up and tossed it into the backseat. “Come on. She’s a good kid. There’s got to be an explanation for this, man. There’s just got to be.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Alex undid the top button of her blouse and then reached down to roll up her sleeves, sinking back in her seat as she prepared to get comfortable. Something tingled in the back of her mind, something unpleasant, and the angel perked up moments before a scream rang through the air. “Sounds like we’re about to find out, though.”

The Winchesters were already out of the car by the time she had finished her words, and Alex followed after them. “Pip. Around back.” Dean pointed off towards the backyard, and the angel nodded, reaching back to draw her angel blade as she slipped off around the side of the house. She let her grace snake out towards the perpetrator, a dark soul deep inside the home, and she paused beside the backdoor. It had been forced open and left ajar, and the angel drew her grace back in as she stepped in, moving silently on the wooden floor.

“Should have known Rocket and Groot would track me down.” Charlie stood in the doorway, the redness of her shoulder-length hair a stark contrast to her black attire, and Alex stalked forward at the sight of the councilwoman held at knifepoint. Both faced the Winchesters, oblivious to the angel behind them, and Charlie let out a low chuckle at the sight of the hunter’s guns. “Where’s that pesky little angel?”

“Right here.” Alex’s voice had the two spinning around, the councilwoman pinned up against Charlie’s chest, and the angel stepped forward to block any escape out the back. “I’m hoping that makes me Quill, by the way.”

The redhead simply chuckled, but Sam spoke before she could retort. “Charlie, let her go.”

“Who?” Charlie’s grip on the knife tightened, and Barbara whimpered as the blade pressed tighter against her skin. “Oh, her?” The hand holding the knife balled into a fist as she punched the woman in the jaw, and the councilwoman cried out in pain.

“Don’t do this.” Sam’s sharp command held the undertone of a plea, and Alex watched as Charlie’s blue eyes flashed in amusement.

“I just want answers,” she promised smoothly, and Alex shifted closer with a sidelong glance towards Dean, waiting for him to make the call.

However, for the moment, he seemed content to try and talk her down. “Yeah?” he challenged. “Since when do you start pounding on people for those? What the hell happened to you in Oz?”

“Everything I wanted.” Charlie’s eyes glinted again, this time with something dark, something almost malicious. “An adventure.” She jiggled the knife, causing another cry of fear from the councilwoman, and she added, “Even got my own little sword.”

“Alright, so let’s put Sting down and have a talk.” Alex stepped forward again, and she twirled her weapons in her hands. “Easy way or hard way. It’s your call.”

“Alex …” Sam’s voice had her pausing, head snapping in his direction, and when hazel eyes met grey, he he shook his head.

“Oh, Sam, you’re adorable.” White teeth flashed in the dim light as Charlie grinned over at the Winchester. “It’s good to know you’re not gonna hurt me. In fact, that’s your problem — all good-guy code, no bite. What a waste. And you two …” She let the knife swing away from the councilwoman only long enough to gesture to Dean and Alex. “Always letting this albatross hold you back.”

“Okay, alright, you know what?” The sharpness in Dean’s voice made it clear that the Winchester had had enough. “I don’t know what’s going on here, okay? But this — this is not you.”

“Oh, it’s me, alright.”

“Charlie, put the knife down. Let her go. We don’t want to hurt you, kiddo, but we’re not gonna let you do this.” Dean’s finger tightened on the trigger, and wariness danced across Charlie’s pale face. The shifting of her feet on the hardwood floor was the only sign of flight before she shoved Barbara Cordry into Sam.

Sam stumbled to catch her, and then Dean was after Charlie, boots thudding against the ground in pursuit. Alex followed, stowing her weapon as she watched Dean do the same. “Stop!” she heard him yell, and the thud of bodies hitting the ground had the angel sliding around a corner. “Crap! Sam!”

Dean was on the ground, held in a triangle choke by the redheaded woman, and Alex threw herself at Charlie. “Hey!” Her voice caught the woman off guard, and Dean rolled to the side to escape the hold. Charlie rolled with him, ending up on top, fists balled, but before she could deliver a punch, Alex was there, tackling her away.

Charlie retaliated, feet lashing out, and Alex grunted as a heel caught her in the inner thigh. Her grip loosened, and the redhead pulled herself free and bolted out the door. “Shit!” She pushed herself to her feet, grimacing through the pain as she followed Dean out the door. “Charlie! Hey!”

A black van tore off down the road, tires squealing as it took the corner, and Alex watched it go until a loud, angry curse from Dean had her turning back. “Oh, you son of a bitch!” The Winchester’s fist collided with the roof of the car, and he pointed down to the slashed front tire. “I — I just …” He trailed off, anger flushing his cheeks, and he swiped a hand through his short brown hair, too furious for words.

The honking of a car had them turning, and Alex felt her jaw fall open at the sight of a yellow Volkswagen. A familiar redheaded woman sat in the driver’s seat, grinning up at them as she flashed them a peace sign. “What’s up, bitches?” she greeted, voice light with cheer, but it faded as she saw their blank faces. “Right.” Her blue eyes flickered over to Sam, who had run out of the house and skidded to a stop at the sight of her. “Um … we should probably catch up.”

Realizing her mouth was still open, Alex snapped her jaw shut, teeth clicking from the force. “Charlie?” Dean’s voice caught in his throat as he stared at the small redhead. “How —” He looked off down the street from where the black van had taken off. “You just —”

“Yeah … uh, like I said. We need to catch up.” Charlie’ gaze fell onto the Impala, and she grimaced at the sight. “Sorry about your tire.” Neither brother immediately answered, and the woman’s shoulders fell. “Uh, okay. Tell you what. Meet me at Berto’s Ale House, okay? Because we definitely need to talk.”

 

Berto’s Ale House was a quaint, well-kept bar on the corner of town, tucked between a grocery store and a lake. The parking lot was full with the midday rush, and Alex carefully sidestepped a couple as she followed Sam and Dean through the swinging door. Charlie was already two steps ahead of them, flouncing over to an empty table, and the young angel hesitantly climbed up onto the stool across from her. “Okay, uh, Charlie ... Second Charlie,” she added after a moment’s pause. “So, what exactly is going on here?”

Charlie smiled over at Alex, cheeks flushing slightly in embarrassment, but she waited until Sam had sat down before she offered forth her explanation. “So, you may have already noticed, but there are sort of two of me.” Her smile faded when it was met with the Winchesters’ terse frowns, and she added, “One of them is bad — her — and one of them is good. Me.”

“Yeah, what, dick you is some sort of a ninja?” Dean approached the table carrying drinks, scowling as he spoke.

“She is a badass, yeah.” Charlie accepted her drink with a half-hearted smile, and Dean dropped down into his seat with a thud.

She opened her mouth, ready to say more, but Sam was faster. “O-Okay. Hold on, back up. We —” He motioned to himself and Dean — “were there for Dorothy, Oz, yellow brick road. B-but then …”

“War.” Charlie’s pale face darkened. “The war for Emerald City. It was awesome. Until … not so much. We were gonna lose, so I made a deal with the wizard … of Oz,” she clarified for Alex, and the angel nodded; she’d figured that much. “He said for us to win, I had to unleash my true darkness, which he meant literally. He used the inner key of Oz. It opens a door to your soul and lets the darkness out.” She motioned vaguely off into the distance towards her second half. “Uh, we’re still connected physically. If you hurt her, you hurt me. But, bottom line, she’s bad, and I’m good. And let me just tell you, being good is really annoying.” Dean chuckled in agreement, and Charlie’s eyes turned over her shoulder. “Normally in a place like this, I’d be pounding Harvey Wallbangers and checking out the bartender’s ass.” Her voice grew soulful as she added, “Now all I want to do is sip club soda and send her to college.”

Alex followed Charlie’s gaze back towards the young, dark-skinned barista, eyebrows cocked, and Dean cleared his throat to draw both of their attention back onto him. “Okay, uh … good Charlie. So, why is dark Charlie gunning for revenge?”

“She’s trying to win me back.” The response came reluctantly. “Dark Charlie won the war single-handedly. But … she did some truly awful things. I told her I didn’t want any part of her near me again, ever. Going after the person who mur — mur …” Charlie hesitated, unable to even speak the word, and her jaw trembled momentarily before she steeled herself. “Who took my parents away is her messed-up way of showing me how close we are, or — or could be.” She shook her head, her voice taking on a wistful vagueness. “I keep calling her ‘she,’ but she’s me. I’m the one doing this.”

“Whoa, whoa.” Alex’s sharp tone yanked the redhead out of her thoughts. “No. She — this dark Charlie — she’s not you, okay? She’s just some sick, twisted version —“

“Of me,” Charlie finished, nodding affirmatively as if Alex had just agreed with everything she had said. “I’ve been following her so I can catch her before she does something stupid,” she added to Sam and Dean. “If I’m lucky, I can lock her away forever.”

“Uh, Charlie? That … that’s not an answer.” Sam looked over at his brother, searching for support, and Dean nodded out his agreement.

“Sam’s right. We’ll go back to Oz, and we’ll — we’ll get the key from the wizard of douche, and we’ll put you back together.”

He thudded the table with his palm, concreting his plan, but Charlie merely shook her head. “Even if I did want her back …” She reached into her pocket and placed a dark, intricately carved piece of wood in the middle of the table. “Look, dark-me broke the key. There’s no way to get back to the wizard.”

“Does she have the other half?” Alex pulled the key-piece closer, turning it over in her hands. “I-I mean, just superglue it back together, it’ll be fine. Right?”

She met Charlie’s offended stare with a shrug, and Sam quickly cleared his throat. “Okay, well, uh, first thing’s first. We need to find dark Charlie before she finds the drunk driver. So, we know Barbara gave up her old bank statements, right? That means dark Charlie will probably follow the money back to whoever made the payoffs.”

“That’s what I would do,” good Charlie confirmed.

“Alright.” Sam reached down into his shoulder bag, rooting around for his laptop as Dean rose to his feet, empty water glass gripped tightly in his hands as he muttered out something about refills. “Charlie, we need you … to hack into Barbara’s bank accounts.”

He set his computer down on the table and slid it over to the redhead, and Alex watched as Charlie’s eyes went wide. “I can’t.” She pushed the computer back to Sam. “I-It’s bad. I told you — being good is annoying.”

“Okay, uh how — how about this.” Sam flipped open his laptop, fingers drumming on the table as he waited for it to wake up. “How about you guide me through the process, and then I’m the bad one?”

Hesitancy lined Charlie’s face, but eventually she nodded, and Alex grinned. “Okay, awesome.” The angel rose to her feet, reaching over to pat Sam on the shoulder as she scanned the bar. “I’m going to go find Dean and make sure everything’s okay. You see what you can dig up.”

She didn’t wait for a response as she wove off through the crowd, neck craned as she tried to spot the tall hunter among the throng of strangers. “Dean?” She let her grace slip outwards in search of him, and she ducked between two men as she neared the bar. “There you are.”

“Hey.” Dean leaned back on his stool, his voice lifted above the crowd’s murmur. “The geeks figure something out?”

Alex glanced behind her to see Charlie leaning forward as she spoke to Sam, guiding him through the hack. “Yeah,” she agreed. “Charlie won’t do it herself, but Sam got her to at least walk him through the steps.” She watched as the bartender returned with Dean’s drink, and she motioned down to the clear liquid. “Water, I hope.”

Her response came as a cold grimace, and she patted the Winchester on the back. “You’re doing good,” she promised. “And once that thing’s off, I’ll take you out to get wasted, alright? And once you’re passed out, I’ll use what’s left of my grace to take away that hangover.” She patted him again, harder this time to show her amiability, and despite himself, Dean managed to chuckle.

“Deal.” He grabbed his drink and rose to his feet. “Alright, let’s see if Freaks and Geeks have found anything yet.”

He led the way back through the crowd, dropping down next to his brother. “Okay.” Sam leaned back, tilting his laptop screen so Dean could see, and Alex circled back around to her seat beside Charlie. “So, Barbara’s payments all came from offshore accounts, which were routed through dummy corporations, which have all gone belly-up.”

“Alright, skip to the end, dragon tattoo.” Dean took a sip of his water before he pushed it away with a shake of his head.
They all lead back to this guy?”

He pointed at the screen, and Alex craned her head to see the portrait of a man. “Russel Wellington.” Sam nodded in agreement. “And according to his personal records, he had a car that was reported stolen the, uh, the week of the accident — a car that was never recovered. And after the supposed ‘theft,’ he went on a sabbatical for two weeks and turned to work with bruises and a broken ankle.”

“Which sound sketchy at the best,” Alex agreed. “Alright, so this is definitely the guy.”

“The man who, uh …” Charlie trailed off, unable to finish her words, and Dean reached over to slam Sam’s laptop closed.

“And … you’re done.” He pushed himself to his feet, beckoning Alex and his brother after him. “Can I speak with you guys for a moment?”

Sam nodded, rising to his feet, but Charlie quickly spoke up. “Hey, dudes. Dudes.” Her words had them pausing, and she frowned. “Secrets are bad.”

Alex met Dean’s gaze, rolling her eyes around at the redhead’s righteous words, and the Winchester heaved a sigh. “Charlie,” he began, “I don’t think you should be anywhere around this piece-of-shit salesman.”

“And — and I don’t think that finding dark Charlie and locking her up is gonna work,” Sam added after a reluctant moment. “I mean, she may be … dark, but she’s still a part of you.”

Charlie’s gaze fell onto the table, and for several seconds she was silent, deep in thought. “You’re right.” Her blue eyes turned up onto Sam. “I hate it, but you’re right. Okay.” She cleared her throat, giving a quick, firm nod of her head. “Let’s go to the bunker. The Men of Letters used the key to Oz once. Maybe there’s something in their files. If we can fix it, we can get back to Oz.”

“Alright, you guys dig into that.” Dean pointed to Alex, and the angel nodded. “Pip and I will keep an eye on Russel and, uh … wait for Dark Charlie to show up.”

Sam glanced over at Alex, trepidation in his hazel eyes, and the angel nodded once again. “We won’t hurt her,” she promised the others. “And even though this Russel guy is a piece of shit, he doesn’t deserve to die for it. I won’t let anything happen,” she added to Sam, and the hunter blinked in understanding.

“Okay, just remember. If dark Charlie gets hurt … then so does good Charlie.”

“We’ll be careful.” Alex circled past Charlie, pausing at Sam’s side to murmur, “I’ll keep an eye on him.” She glanced past him to make sure Dean didn’t notice — the Winchester was already halfway to the door — and she added, “Drive safe. We’ll be in touch,” before she followed after Dean.

 

Alex pulled her jacket tighter around her, cursing herself under her breath for not thinking to bring warmer clothes. The sun had set two hours ago, leaving the office complex enshrouded in darkness, and for the umpteenth time, the angel checked her phone. It was a few minutes past seven o'clock. Just like it had been what felt like half an hour ago. Alex threw her head back, groaning aloud as she leaned up against the Impala.

A semi rolled down the road, headlights cutting through darkening night, and Alex slipped away from the car to start on yet another loop around the building. Russell Wellington was inside, still working, and the angel stretched out her grace to feel Dean's soul in the building as well. It had moved from where it had been twenty minutes ago, no longer in the main lobby, and she circled alongside the long, cold brick wall with a scowl. Staying outside had sounded like a good idea back when it had been sunny, but with night setting in, all the angel wanted to do was curl up somewhere warm.

The sound of footsteps had Alex snapping out of her thoughts. She paused, dropping low, and her hand instinctivley went back for her weapon before she stopped herself with a shake of her head. No; she couldn't hurt Charlie, however evil she was.

She slipped around the corner of the building just in time to see a flash of red hair disappear through the back door. The angel didn't hesitate to follow, slipping in after her target. The hallway was dark, and Alex stretched out her grace curiously; the power was dead throughout the entire building. "Charlie?" Her voice echoed loudly through the empty halls, and the angel quickened her pace when no response came. "Charlie, we're not gonna let you —”

A foot came out of nowhere, and Alex barely ducked the roundhouse kick in time. She stumbled, regaining her balance as her back hit the wall, and her grace flared up to her eyes in surprise.

The woman was already halfway down the hall by the time Alex took off after her, cursing under her breath as she slid to a stop in the waiting room. Dean was standing there, gun raised at Charlie. "Hey," he warned, gaze flitting down to the knife in her hands, "Let's talk about this."

"You Winchesters and your talk." Charlie scoffed loudly. "Blah, blah, blah, repressed feelings. Blah, blah, blah, passive aggression."

"Come on, kiddo." Dean's voice sharpened in warning, but his finger slipped off the trigger to rest up against the barrel. "You don't want to do this."

"Oh, I don't want to hurt him." The redhead's gaze moved past Dean to rest on the closed door, and Alex flicked out her grace to feel a living soul in the room. "I just want to talk."

Dean snorted in disbelief. "Yeah, like you talked to the others?"

"You're right. I got out of hand." The quiet agreement had Dean's eyebrows lifting, and Charlie's gaze dropped down onto the knife before she looked back at Alex, face placid. "But this was never about revenge." She turned back to Dean when the Winchester scoffed. "I want him to see my face," she insisted. "I want him to see what he did to me … to us. That's all." She twisted the knife in her hand to extend the handle towards Dean. "Please. I deserve that. And then we hand him over to the cops."

She held out the knife, and Dean's green eyes flickered in unsurity. Alex slipped forward to take the knife, fingers deftly wrapping around the handle as she pulled it free of Charlie's grasp. At the same time, her grace slipped out, scouring the woman for the presence of any other weapons. "She's clean," she confirmed, "but I don't trust her."

Dean lowered his gun, motioning with the barrel towards the oen door. "Okay," he relented. "Keep the door open."

"Of course." Charlie's blue eyes revealed nothing as she nodded and stepped inside, and Alex ran a finger down the knife's blunt spine as she watched a man rise up from the desk, visibly trembling.

"You really trust her?" she murmured, turning her eyes away from the two in the office to look up at Dean.

"About as much as I trust myself," came the reply, and Alex frowned, unsure of its implications. She opened her mouth, ready to ask for clarification, but the office door suddenly slammed shut, and all that came out was a rushed, "Shit!"

"Charlie!" Dean sprang forward, shoulder pounding into the door as he tried to turn the handle, but it was locked from the inside. "Alex get this —"

Grace exploded outwards before the words even left his mouth, and the door shattered into a million peices. Splinters dug into her skin, and Alex flinched away as the windows blew inwards.

"Shit!" Dean's curse was drowned out by rushing wind, and Alex wrapped her hands around her head as she struggled to draw her grace back into her chest. It resisted, swirling through the air as it fought for its freedom, and the young angel grit her teeth as she forced it back under control.

A hand came down across her temple, a hard, angered slap, and Alex's grace snapped back inside of her chest. "What the fucking hell was that?"

"I don't … I …" Alex staggered back as her stolen grace pressed up against her ribs, and her eyes turned onto the office in front of her. A body was slumped on the floor in a pool of blood, and Alex's heart skipped a beat. "Charlie —"

"Charlie's gone." Dean stalked into the room, green eyes blazing. "She jumped out the window and ran." He pointed to a blood trail, and Alex's eyes dropped down onto Russell Wellington's body.

"Did … did I …"

"No. Charlie." Dean knelt to roll over the corpse, moving carefully to avoid the debris of glass and wood that covered the ground. A letter-opener was embedded in his chest, and despite the pang of relief that the murder had not been her fault, Alex still flinched at the lacerations across his face from the shattered windows. Dean kicked the corpse back into its original position as he rose to his feet, reaching into his pockets for his ringing phone. "Hey, Sam."

"Hey. What the hell just happened?" Sam's voice came across the line as his brother put him on speaker phone, and Alex winced again as she glanced towards the broken window. "Charlie's over here bleeding."

"Yeah, well you can thank Friendly Fire over here for that." Dean stalked towards the exit, and Alex followed, scowling at the obscure yet undoubtably derogatory nickname. "Russell's dead, by the way."

"Oh my God." Charlie's voice shook on the other end of the line, and Alex shoved her hands into her pockets as they exited the office building, and Sam added, "Did … did she …"

"No." Dean placed the phone onto the Impala's roof as he dug out his keys to unlock the car. "Dark Charlie showed up and killed Russell." He ignored Charlie's horrified gasp as he slid into the car, tossing the phone onto the dash. "Alex tried to unlock the door and ended up blowing it and the windows to peices." He reached up to touch his temple, and Alex grimaced at the blood on his fingers. She reached out, grace rising up, but Dean slapped her hand away with a noise of digust. "Don't even think about it," he warned, and the Impala roared to life. "What the hell was that, huh? It — it —" Dean hesitated, searching for a proper analogy. "It was like when Cas first pulled me out of hell," he finally said. "Like a fucking nuclear warhead."

"Seriously?" Sam's voice lifted, sharp with concern. "Are you sure you guys are okay?"

"Yeah. Don't worry about us." Alex's gaze dropped down to her arm, grimacing at the sight of a splinter embedded in the top layer of skin near her elbow. "What about you guys? Find a way back to Oz yet?"

She pulled the splinter free and tossed it out the window as she waited for Sam's response. "Maybe," the hunter finally admitted. "Uh, look, the Man of Letters who originally found the key — he's still alive. He lives in Junction City under the name Michael Carter. I'll text you and Dean the address. Just come meet us."

"Alright. We're on our way." Dean hung up the phone and tucked it into his pocket as the car tore off down the road.

"Hey, listen, Dean, I'm sorry …" Alex let her grace sneak out to stretch through her limbs, healing the abrasions one at a time. "I didn't mean to do that —"

"It's fine." Dean cut her off, and Alex looked up, surprised at his understanding. "Russell was dead already, and you didn't kill anyone. Hell, you've got a better track record than me for the past few months."

"I … that's not really a fair comparision." Alex's hands fiddled nervously in her lap, unsure how to approach the subject. "Those guys you killed, The Mark drove you to do it. Zuriel's grace … it's just straight-up uncontrollable no matter what I do. The more it burns away, the more difficult it becomes." Her gaze fell onto her lap, and she added, "Sometimes, when I try and use it, it feels …"

"Let me guess. Like you're strapped to a hurricane?" Alex nodded, and Dean turned the Impala into a parking lot. "Trust me, I get it. At least you know yours won’t last forever.." The engine died, and the Winchester glanced up at the rearview mirror. "We've got a tail. Follow my lead."

Alex slid out of the car, eyes flashing in the moonlight as she looked for dark Charlie's black truck, but she kept her grace tucked deep inside. "Where?"

"Left. Come on." Dean crossed the parking lot towards Berto's Ale House, and Alex followed, fingers curling nervously in her jacke as she craned her ears to hear footsteps behind them. They pushed their way through the door, and Alex peeled awy from Dean, slipping off to the side. The Winchester was making a beeline for the bar, and the angel paused beside the bathrooms, leaning up against the wall so she could see both her charge and the door.

The bartender was bringing Dean a drink, but Alex didn't watch long enough to see the exchange as a flash of red caught her attention. Charlie was weaving her way through the crowd, circling around to Dean from the other direction, and Alex slipped away from the wall to follow her. "She's cute." Dark Charlie's casual remark could be heard over the crowd as she stopped at Dean's shoulder, blue eyes following the bartender away with barely disguised interest.

"You lied to me." The Winchester didn't look up, his fingers resting lightly on the side of his shot glass, and Alex bumped shoulders with the dark copy as she sat down on an empty stood, effectively sandwiching Charlie between the two of them.

If there was any outward display of nervousness at being cornered, Alex didn't catch it. "You lied to yourself," the redhead retorted. "That's kind of your move." She paused, carefully regardind Dean when no response came, and she added, "Something's off about you, though, isn't it? It's always something with you three."

"I've made mistakes. But I'll pay for mine." Dean's fingers tightened around his drink, and he finally looked up at Charlie, voice hardening in resolution. "And you'll pay for yours."

"Come on, Dean." Charlie's head tipped back in a scornful laugh, and Alex caught sight of the small cuts that decorated her pale skin from when the windows had blown in. "I'm not the monster here. He was. He got what he deserved. You know I'm right." Her voice lowered, growing in intensity, and Alex leaned closer to hear. "You know what I learned about being dark? It sets you free. And part of you knows that right, too."

"Sit down." Alex slid over a seat so the redhead could sit. "That kind of freedom — it only comes when you let go of everything. You need to take away your conscience — the very thing that makes you human — to get there, and that just makes you a monster."

"You would know, wouldn't you?" Charlie's eyes looked her up and down, and Alex felt herself straighten under her scrutiny. "About being a monster."

"I'm an angel," Alex retorted hotly, and Charlie waved the bartender over with a roll of her eyes. "Not a monster. There's a difference."

"Is there?" Charlie didn't give her time to answer the challenge before she slammed down the shot she had been brought, finishing with a loud, "Delicious."

"Alright, listen, Dark Charlie —"

"Oh, grow up." The redhead brushed off Dean's answer with a unamused scoff. "There's no right. There's no wrong. There's just us … and them."

"Yeah, well, lucky for us, there's not going to be a you for very much longer."

"Uh-oh." Charlie glanced over at Alex, blue eyes sparkling in amusement and scorn. "Did princess me find a way back to Oz?"

"Damn straight," Dean agreed, and Charlie's head swung back to him. "Yeah, a former Man of Letters retired in Grantville, two towns over. They're gonna fix the key to Oz, find the wizard, and put you back to where you belong."

"And Dean and I are the lucky few who get to babysit you until they get back," Alex finished, voice sharp with distaste. "So, buckle up, because it's going to be a fun night for all of us."

"Oh, is that so?" The redhead chuckled, and her eyes meandered over to the bartender as she hummed out a note of interest. "Well … hm. We'll just see, won't we? But, in the meantime …" She nodded towards the young barista, who was making her way into the back lounge area. "If neither of you are gonna ask her to dance, then I will."

She rose to her feet, and Alex watched her disappear through the doorway, a swagger in her step. "Think she's gonna stick around?" she finally asked once Charlie was out of earshot, sliding over a seat so she could be closer to Dean. "My bet's are on her running off to Grantville before the hour's up."

"Maybe." Unsurity lined Dean's voice, and his gaze dropped down onto his shot. "But who knows. Now that Russell's dead, who can say what her plans are."

"Hey. You gonna drink that?" Alex reached over for the shot of alcohol, moving slow in case the Winchester was dead set on drinking it, but when he merely leaned back, she slammed it down and slid the empty glass out of his reach.

"Hey." Dean looked up as the bartender reappeared, and his eyes flickered back towards the lounge. "What happened, did my friend strike out?"

"Your friend?" The bartender's lips twisted downwards into a confused smile as she tilted her head. "You mean the redhead? She just left out the back door."

Alex opened her mouth, ready for an 'I told you so,' but the roar of an engine had the words dying her her mouth. She knew that sound. The flash of surprise in Dean's eyes confirmed her fears, and she leapt to her feet and tore out towards the door. She was passed by the Winchester, his longer legs and stronger sense of urgency carrying him as fast as they could, and she slid to a stop by his side as the flash of familiar headlights tore past. The Impala's engine revved as it turned the corner, and Alex spat out a curse that was drowned out by Dean's "No, no, no!" He kicked at the curb, fists clenched in fury. "Oh, you son of a bitch! Dammit!" He swiped a hand through his hair, green eyes darkening in the street light, and Alex dug her phone out of her pocket.

"I'm calling Sam," she told him, pressing her phone up against her ear as she waited for the Winchester to pick up. "It won't be long before Charlie realizes we sent her to the wrong town."

"Hello?" The other end of the phone clicked as Sam answered. "Alex? Where the hell are you guys?"

"Change of plans." Alex followed Dean deeper into the parking lot with a scowl. "Dark Charlie hot-wired the Impala, and she's on her way to you." She put the phone on speaker and held it out between her and Dean as she added, "Don't worry. We told her the wrong place, so that'll buy us some time, but she's dead set on stopping you."

"Be on the lookout," Dean added, tugging on a door handle of a white sedan before he moved onto to the next. "We'll be there as soon as I jack a ride."

"Okay, thanks. Hurry." Sam hung up, and Alex tucked her phone back into her pocket as Dean tried another door. She snuck her grace out, undoing the latch, and the door swung open. "There." Her grace undid the passenger door, and she circled around to climb in as Dean ducked into the driver's seat. "Let's get this show on the road."

 

The sedan rolled to a stop beside a two-story home, and Alex’s eyes turned onto the yellow Volkswagen that was parked in the driveway. “This is definitely it,” she confirmed as she got out of the car, and Dean grunted out his agreement. “Take the lead. I’ve got your back… ah shit.” She turned at the sound of the Impala’s engine, a scowl on her face.

“Son of a bitch,” Dean muttered, and he reached back to draw his gun as Dark Charlie stepped out of the car.

“I figured you’d lie about where to go next.” Charlie sauntered forward, her pale lips turning up into a cold smirk. “That’s what I would do.”

“What the hell do you want?” Dean spat, and he shifted so he stood between Charlie and the door. Alex did the same, moving at Dean’s side, and she carefully let her grace rise up so her eyes glowed a threatening blue.

Charlie hesitated, eyes narrowed as she sized up the two hunters, and she stretched out her hands in a nonthreatening gesture. “I just want to talk to her,” she promised.

Alex scoffed. “Right. Just like you talked with Russell? You’re not going anywhere near her, you hear me?” Charlie moved closer, and she lifted her chin. “Take one more step forward, and we’ll have to stop you.”

“You think you’ll have the stomach for that?” Charlie next step twisted into a kick, and Alex ducked as Dean lunged forward. The Winchester blocked the blow, twisting to dodge a well-timed punch, and Alex tore her gaze away from the fight as a gunshot came from the house. It was immediately followed by a green glow.

“You hit like a little girl who never learned how to hit —“ Dark Charlie cut off with a grunt, and Alex flinched at the blow that landed on her jaw. “That’s it, big boy.” The redhead fell back into a defensive stance, eyes flashing in glee. “Let it all out.”

“Dean, be careful!” Alex’s feet carried her backwards as she hurried towards the house, leaving the two scuffling in the dirt. “Sam!” She burst through the door, sliding to a stop as she took in the scene before her. Sam was on the ground, his eyes bulging as he choked around thin air, and Alex’s grace reared up in anger. It spiraled outwards, crashing into a masked stranger on the other side of the room, and the Winchester gasped as the man flew back into the wall.

Charlie was on the ground, eyes watering as she clutched her bloody nose, and two steps carried Alex over to her side. “I’m sorry.” The angel dropped down onto her knees, two fingers resting against the redhead’s temple, and the woman flinched away as a dark bruise magically flowered out from around her eye. “This might hurt.”

Her grace snapped out, and Charlie collapsed onto the ground, eyes rolling into the back of her head as she fell into unconsciousness. A thud from outside signaled dark Charlie’s collapse as well, and Alex pushed herself back to her feet, eyes darting between the stranger across the room and the old man laying by the wall. “Hey.” She waved Sam to her feet, pointing to the two men. “Who are these guys?”

She turned back to Sam, confusion darkening her face, but Sam didn’t have the chance to answer movement flashed in the corner of Alex's eye.

She spun around to see the Wizard, and her grace lashed out, catching him midair and twisting in rage. The man's body convulsed, face contorting in agony, and he fell to the ground as the light died from his eyes. The sound of his pain was masked by the cry of the old man on the ground, his own body twisting as his bones broke, and the two men died with the same strangled gasp.

"Oops." Alex scratched her head as she stared down at the two dead bodies. "They …"

"Yeah." Sam’s voice cracked, and he took a moment to steady it. “He’s the Man of Letters who found the Key to Oz. That … he used the key on himself, and his dark half became the Wizard of Oz.”

“Oh.” Alex cocked an eyebrow as she studied the dead wizard. “Not gonna lie, but I prefer the Frank Morgan version.”

“Hey.” Dean slid to a stop in the doorway, green eyes flashing as he took in the scene before him. “What the hell happened in here? Charlie collapsed.”

“I put the both of them to sleep.” Alex stepped over Clive’s body to nudge at the Wizard. "Also I killed these guys. Him on accident," she added quickly, pointing to the older man before toeing the dead wizard one more time. "This one on purpose."

Sam’s brow furrowed together as he looked down at the carnage, and two steps took him to Alex’s side. He dropped down, rolling the Wizard over, and Alex shifted back as he pulled a wooden key out of the man’s cloak. “Here. We need this to put Charlie back together. Get the door.”

He scooped Charlie up into his arms, and Dean visibly winced at her black eye and split lip, his face darkening in shame as he hurried to hold open the door so Sam could carry her outside. Alex followed more slowly, taking one last look back at the house before she jumped down the stairs.

Dark Charlie lay in the grass, limp and unconscious, and Sam knelt to lay the two redheads side by side. He placed the wooden key into Charlie's hands, tucked in between her fingers, and Alex's eyes narrowed as blue light arose from the wooden etchings, twisting through the air to wrap its tendrils around both Charlies. The air glowed as the tendrils thickend, tightening around the separate halves, and eventually even the angel had to flinch away as the light grew to bright for her eyes. When it faded, only one remained.

"Charlie?" Sam dropped to the woman's side, fingers gripping her face as he checked for any signs of life. "Alex. When will she wake up?"

"I-I don't know." The young angel gave a hesitant shake of her head. "My grace … with the way it's been acting, there's no telling how long she'll stay out. Five minutes, an hour. Maybe a day. Maybe ... maybe a month."

Sam glanced over at his brother, a grim line on his face, and Dean buried his bloodied knuckles in his pockets with a shake of his head. "We'll take her back to the bunker until she wakes up," he decided. He stepped back as Sam scooped Charlie back up into his arms, and Alex shifted closer to his side when the Winchester didn't follow after his brother. "Hey, uh." Dean reached out when Alex tried to step past him, and the angel drew back, chin lifted as she prepared for a reprimand. "I just wanted to say you made the right call back there, with Charlie."

Alex shrugged, eyes flickering towards Sam, who was gently sliding Charlie into the back seat. "I just didn't want you to slip," she admitted with half a shrug. "If you accidently killed Charlie, you'd never forgive yourself. If I did it …" She shrugged again. "I think could live with that, for how long I have left."

"No, you couldn't." The car door slammed as Sam approached, and Alex spun around, eyes widening to find that the tall hunter had heard. "You can't just not care that you kill someone because of your deal." A finger jabbed into her chest, and Alex shoved his hand away with a frown. "What's been up with you recently? When did you just give up?"

"I didn't give up. I'm just facing reality, Sam. I've got a year left, and unless Cas miraculously manages to find our grace, which may or may not still be out there, there's no way to stop it. So there's no reason for me to care anymore about who I kill." The angel stepped back to put space in between herself and them as she steeled her gaze. "Don't get me wrong," she was quick to added, voice cold and firm. "This isn't me being sociopathic, okay? Life — it's still important. But if it comes down to them or you, you two are my priority. I-If I have to kill the fucking Wizard of Oz to save Sam, sure. Or accidently kill Charlie to keep Dean from drinking himself to death? In a heartbeat." She lifted her chin as she regarded to the two brothers, discomforted at how their expressions remained frustatingly unreadble. "Okay?"

"Okay." Unsurity lined Sam's voice, but he manged to keep it steady. "It's just … you know we're not just going to let you die, right? Once we find a way to get rid of the Mark, we'll break your deal or find your grace — whatever it takes."

"Or, uh, even better, icing Crowley will be part of the cure," Dean added, and despite herself, Alex managed an amused grin. "Two for one."

"Alright. If you guys want to fight that battle, you can. I'm just saying that I've made my peace with all of that." Alex stepped off towards the car with a shrug. "Anyways, we should get back to the bunker. Who knows when Charlie is going to wake up."

 

Alex curled up in the wooden chair the best she could, leaning back to tuck herself into Sam's solid side. The bunker was quiet, the underlying hum of the building resting beneath the rustle of pages and Sam's steady breathing. The angel's grace rested within her, sulking sullently deep in her chest, but she refused to let it out; it hadn't seen the light of day since they had returned from Junction City. Her eyes flickered over to Dean, who was seated at the other end of the table, head bowed as he stared blankly at a book.

"Hey." Sam suddenly jerked up, and Alex scrambled into a sitting position, eyes stretched wide in surprise at the reaction. "I think I found something."

"Think you found something or know you found something?" The angel rubbed at her tired eyes, her voice unintentionally sharp at having been shaken from comfortable position. "Because you said the same thing three hours ago and it was nothing."

"No, no. Like, I actually might have found something." The Winchester leaned forward to stare more intentionally at the page, finger running across the ink as he spoke the words outside. "The Book of of the Damned. Ever heard of it?"

Alex shook her head, and Dean agreed with a vocalized, "No, never. What is it?"

"A lore book, apparently. Uh, there's not much about it here, but it looks like it's been used for a ton of dark magic." He looked up, guarded excitement in his gaze. "If there's ever going to be a way to remove the Mark, this would be the place to start."

"Okay. So where's it at?"

"Tuscany." Some of the excitement died, and Sam's shouldesr slumped forward. "Which is really ... really far away.”

Dean and Alex exchanged looks, and the short-haired Winchester offered up a sympathetic frown. "We'll keep looking into it," he promised. "Let's see what else I can find."

Alex's phone rang, and the angel jumped to her feet when she saw the name on the screen. "Cas." The angel grinned as she answered, and she crossed to the corner of the room, voice lowering so the Winchesters couldn't hear. "How are you? Is Metatron okay?"

"Metatron's fine. I'm working on mending relations with heaven." Castiel's voice was thin, but after a second or two's pause, it warmed. "Things have been going well. What about you? Sam said you three were looking into something with Charlie."

"Yeah, that'd be right." Alex leaned up against a pillar, free hand shoved into her pocket as she glanced back towards the brother. "Charlie's okay — unconscious still, but okay." She lowered her voice even further as it took on a remorseful tone. "Zuriel's grace is insane. I tried to pick a lock and ended up blowing a room to bits. It's been two days since I knocked Charlie out and she's still sleeping. I — I'm not even going to try to wake her back up."

"I'm sorry. Angels aren't meant to steal others' grace — the more incompatible they are, the more volitile they'll become as they decay. We've been lucky that Theo's and Adina's grace were similar enough to our own that they had no siginificant side effects."

"Great." Alex resisted the urge to scowl. "It probably doesn't help that without it I'm human through and through. How do I make it stop?"

"I don't know." The seraph's head shake could be heard in his words, and Alex's shoulders fell in disappointment. "How is Dean doing? Is the Mark still affecting him?"

"Ih, he's … he's doing better, I guess. He's calmed down for the moment, but … who knows how long that'll last, you know?" Alex slumped up against the walls, reaching up to pinch at the bridge of her nose. "I'm doing what I can, but there's only so much I can do from the outside. We need to find Cain or — or something."

"I know. And we will. When you find something, give me a call, and I'll come."

"Alright. Sounds good to me." A small smile tugged up on her lips, and Alex didn't try to hide it. "Hopefully I'll see you before then, of course."

'Of course," Castiel agreed. "Once I have a moment to spare, I'll come by the bunker. If I'm lucky, it will be before the end of the week."

"Awesome. I'll keep the lights on." The sound of footsteps approaching had the angel's head snapping up in surprise. "Hey, I got to go. Love you, bye." She hung up as Castiel echoed back the goodbye, shoving her phone into her pocket as she turned to face a bleary-eyed Charlie. “Hey! You’re awake.”

"Uh, hey." Sam jumped to his feet, simultaneously echoing Alex's surprise. "You're up. How are you feeling?"

"Uh … tired?" Charlie's blue eyes swept across the three of them, lingering on Alex for a moment longer before turning back to Sam. "My phone says that I've been out for — for two whole days. What the hell happened?"

"Sorry," Alex apologized, toe scuffing at the polished floor. "I didn't mean to put you out for so long, but it seemed the best way to put, uh, dark Charlie out. You … are you …?"

"Good?" Charlie finished. "Bad?" She shrugged, reaching up to thumb at the scab on her lip, left there by Dean's fist. "I think I'll just settle for balanced." Her gaze flickered over to Dean, and Alex followed her gaze just in time to watch the Winchester's attention fall back down onto his book. "Anything about the Mark?"

"Uhh, yeah, maybe." Some of the residule excitement crept back into Sam's voice. "I found this book. It's a lore book — 'The Book of the Damned.' It's in a lirary somewhere in Tuscany. It might be a dead end, but I figured …"

"I'll go check it out." Charlie adjusted her bag that was slung over her shoulder, tone leaving no room for questioning, and when Sam tried to protest, she added, "Look. There's no going back to Oz. And with the Wizard gone, Dorthy will be fine."

Sam nodded in sympathetic understanding, and Alex sunk down into her chair, dropping her phone down beside her laptop. "And what about —"

"Dark Charlie?" Once again, Charlie finished Alex's thought. "She's, uh … quiet." Her gaze darkened, drifting downwards as her bottom lip trembled, but the mood lasted only a moment before she reined it back in. "I just got to keep moving forward. We all do." She crossed the room to stand at Dean's side, a thin hand resting on the Winchester's broad shoulder. "We're going to fix this," she promised, fingers moving down to wrap around the Mark, hidden by his sleeve. "I'm not letting what happened to you happen to me."

Her gaze moved over to Alex, and the angel looked away, fingernails scrapping against the table as she curled her fists. "I think it's already happened," she heard Dean murmur, and Alex shifted in her seat.

"Well, Cain found a way to live with it." A hand came to rest on her own shoulder, and Alex looked up into Sam's darkened face. "We'll find a way to stop it," he promised Charlie. "Just be careful out there, okay?"

"Does that sound like either of me?" Charlie grinned at her own joke, and she ran a hand through her hair as she chuckled before promising, "If I find something, I'll call. If not … I'll just keep digging." She waited for Sam to nod before she flashed them a peace sign. "Arrivederci, bitches."

Her footsteps faded as she disappeared up the stairs, and Alex watched her go until the heavy metal door swung shut with a clang. "I'm glad she's okay." The angel leaned back in her chair, stretching her arms up over her head as she grinned in relief. "I was afraid she was never going to wake up."

Sam sank down into chair beside her, and Alex drew her arms back in. "Here." The Winchester slid a book close to her, and Alex half-heartedly lifted up the cover. "You see what you can find about this Book of the Damned. I'm going to see what I can find about breaking your deal."

"That's not — the Mark comes first, Sam." Alex reached over to try and shove the book away, but Sam caught her wrist in his iron girp. "My deal can wait."

"We've got a lead on the Mark. There's nothing we can do with that right now." Sam pushed her back, his shove gentle yet firm. "Let us help, won’t you?” He watched as Alex’s face darkened, and he squeezed her wrist before letting it fall. “That’s what family does.”

Alex let her hand fall back into her lap, letting her shoulders fall in defeat. “Fine,” she relented sharply, and she snatched up one of the books from the pile in front of her. “Fine,” she repeated, softening her voice. “See what you can find. But if this Book of the Damned is a lead, it takes precedent, okay?” She waited for Sam to nod before she pushed herself to her feet. “Okay. Good. In the meantime, I’m going to go take a shower.” She watched as Sam’s attention fell back down onto his book, and she reached out to squeeze his shoulder, a quick, silent word of thanks, before she disappeared off down the hall.

Chapter Text

Lebanon, Kansas
April 7th, 2015

The small lamp cast shadows throughout the dark room, the pale yellow light swimming as Alex watched it through half-closed eyes. Her head was resting on Castiel's chest, fingers playing mindlessly with the striped tie as the seraph's hand curled loosely in her blonde hair. She could feel his heart thudding inside his chest, which barely moved as he breathed, and the angel let out a contented hum as she shifted closer against his side. "How long are you planning to stay?"

Her words seem to shake Castiel out of his trance, and his hand moved to gently stroke her back as he thought. “The angels are expecting me back tomorrow," he finally admitted, and Alex pressed her cheek more firmly against his ribs. "But if you need me to stay longer, I will."

"I wish you could stay another day." Alex gave the tie a sharp, distasteful tug. "As much as I love this place, it's no fun when you're not around."

"I understand how you feel." Castiel shifted so he was leaning up against the headboard, and Alex sat up on her heels. "You mentioned that your grace was acting up during your last hunt. Is everything okay?"

"No." Alex's head tipped back as she laughed at the innocence in his question. "Cas, my grace is still totally insane. I swear, any time it touches anything, it either explodes or self-immolates." Alex let her grace creep out as she pointed towards a piece of paper that stuck out of the garbage can. "Watch." She stretched out towards it, and the moment her grace touched the scrap, it reacted, and the paper exploded into a ball of flames. The fire spread to the rest of the trash, and Alex drew her grace back in as she felt Castiel's stretch out past hers, a cool contrast, and the fire died away under his control.

The seraph's hand came to rest on her shoulder, drawing her close, and Alex leaned back into his chest, eyes squeezed shut in frustration as she buried her face into his shirt. "It's okay." Castiel's grace wrapped around her, holding her tightly, and his lips pressed up against her temple. "It will burn away before long, and until then, you just have to be careful."

Alex laughed at his obvious advice, and she reached up to wrap a hand around the back of his neck, fingers tracing the small bumps of his vertebrae. "No shit, Sherlock." She leaned up to kiss him, chuckling against his lips before she pulled back away. "It doesn't like to be sidelined, but … but it's easier to control than when I let it out."

"Metatron insists that our grace survived and that he knows where it is." Castiel's voice was thick with concentration, and Alex sat up with a small frown. "Unfortunately, he's been less than cooperative as of late."

A knock on the door had him falling silent, and Alex reluctantly shifted so she sat at Castiel's side, legs folded up beneath her as she lifted her voice. "Yeah, come in."

The door swung open to reveal Sam, and the Winchester cleared his throat as he stepped over the threshold, reaching over to flick on the lights to illuminate the two angels. "Uh, sorry, uh, sorry to interrupt, but I found a case," he began slowly, and Alex shoved a leather-bound book onto the floor as she stretched out her legs. "Apparently someone is taking people and leaving their clothes."

"Huh. You asked Dean yet? Seems like his sort of gig." Alex laughed at her own joke, but when Sam didn't share in her amusement, her grin faltered. "He said no?"

"No, no, he's game." If something was bothering him, the Winchester shook it off. "We're leaving in half an hour if you're interested in coming with."

"Huh." Alex looked over at Cas, but the seraph's expression was unreadable. "We'll have to talk things over, but I guess I could probably go. Where's it at?"

"Pendleton, Oregon." Sam glanced at Castiel before his eyes momentarily flickered to the ground. "Like I said, we're leaving in half an hour. Let us know." He stepped back out of the room and closed the door behind him, and Alex waited until it had clicked back into place before she turned to her mate.

"You should go with." Castiel swung his legs over the side of the bed as he sat up more fully, and Alex moved to sit back at his side. "Like I said, the angels are expecting me back soon, and it will be good for you to get back out. It's been a week since you last left the bunker."

"I didn't have a reason to leave after you showed up," Alex teased, but when her humor fell on deaf ears, her shoulders slumped. "You should talk to the angels about letting me back into heaven," she decided, toeing at the fallen book. "They look up to you; there's got to be some way to convince them that I'm on their side." She bumped shoulders with her mate as she grinned. "That was one of the first things I ever said to your face, wasn't it? That I was on your side."

Castiel's head turned to face her, his blue eyes crinkling into something akin to amusement. "If I remember correctly, you said that as part of a threat."

"Yeah, well, context aside." Alex jumped off of the bed to grab her duffle bag, tossing it beside her mate as she started scavenging for her things. "Point is I'm here for their greater good, and they need to take their head out of their asses to see that."

"I … I don't think they would be appreciative to hear it in those particular words." Castiel's decision came slowly, filled with hesitation at the prospect of contradicting her, and Alex shot him a half-hearted grin to console him. "I will talk with them, though," he finished. "Perhaps an agreement can be reached."

"Thank you." Alex leaned over to kiss him, fingers digging into his jawline as she held him still. "That's all I ask." The sound of a thud from down the hallway had her pulling away, and she glanced off towards its source. "Sounds like Dean's getting ready to go."

"I'll leave you to pack." Castiel rose to his feet, pausing to kiss her one more time before he crossed over to the door. "Let me know when get back. Perhaps I can find the time to stop by again."

"Alright." Alex watched as he opened the door, and she couldn't help the disappointment that tugged at her heart. "Well, I'll text you when we arrive, I guess." The seraph nodded and stepped out into the hall, and Alex called out a, "Love you," as he disappeared from sight, and, when her farewell was returned, tossed a shirt onto her bed. She was trading Castiel for a drive out to Oregon. What a mistake.

 

Alex followed Sam out of the Impala, shoulders rolling back as she suppressed a shiver at the blast of cold, damp wind. The sky above was grey, promising showers later on, and the angel fell in step alongside Dean with a tight grimace. A man stood outside a bar, a half-filled shopping cart at his side. A worn jacket covered several layers of shirt, and brown eyes flickered nervously around. "Mr. Milton?" Sam approached the man, clearing his throat as he held up his identification. "We talked earlier on the phone? I'm Special Agent Roark. We're here about J.P's disappearance." The homeless man nodded in earnest, and Sam tucked his badge back into his pocket. "The police said you were a witness. Do you mind telling us what you saw?"

"Well, I was around back when he was tossed out of the bar, you see." Al Milton shifted nervously as he regarded the three of them, his fingers opening and closing as he launched into his tale. "I was just going through the trash — they just throw these bottles out, you see — and I could hear these two guys really going at it. Something about money? Well, this J.P. guy was tossed out a-and he walked around that way." The man pointed off towards the side of the bar. "And then — then — then there was this bright light, and — bam — the dude's just gone. Nothing left but, uh …"

'Cheap suit and a pair of florsheims?" Dean finished, and Milton nodded.

"Was there anyone else that you saw?" Alex pressed, and the man shook his head. "Anything strange or out of the ordinary? Maybe a, uh, chill? Or did you smell anything like rotten eggs?" She shoved her hands into her pocket, head tipped curiously as she waited for Al to answer.

"What?" The homeless man's brow furrowed before his fingers snapped in realization. "No, I, uh … I smelled flowers, though."

"You smelled flowers?" Sam repeated, and Al nodded vigorously. "W-What kind of flowers?"

The man's eyes squinted again as he thought, lips pursed as he reached back into his memory. "Flowery flowers," he finally decided.

"Flowery ... flowers," Sam repeated, and Alex glanced up to see annoyance etched deep into his face.

"Look." Milton sighed as he shook his head up at Dean. "We all know what's going on here, okay? Aliens." Alex heard Dean groan from beside her, but the homeless man continued on as if he hadn't heard. "Dude was abducted," he insisted. "Believe me, I know." His brown eyes turned up onto the sky as he shivered. "May, 2003. Those suckers, they grabbed me, and they probed me everywhere."

"Okay." Dean took a step back, disbelief flattening his voice, and Alex followed him, face twisting in disgust as she put as much distance between her and the witness as she could. "Thanks for your time," she heard Sam add, backing away alongside his brother, but Milton wasn't finished.

"I'm talking everywhere," he insisted, gripping his cart tightly as his voice lifted to follow them.

Sam flashed him a hesitant thumbs up, turning his back to the man as he lengthened his stride. Alex followed, doing her best to avoid looking back as Dean scowled. "Well, the wheels just came flying off that bus," he grumbled.

"Yeah," Sam agreed. "Well, no cold spots means it probably wasn't a ghost."

"And no sulphur means no demons," Alex finished. "But blue light … that could mean angels, but I don't know why they're nabbing people and leaving their clothes. Cas said they're mostly focused on heaven right now."

She ignored how Dean made a face at the possibility of angels, focusing instead on Sam's thoughtful expression. "True," he agreed, "or it could be faires."

"Ugh." This time, Dean vocalized his disdain. "I'd rather have the little green dudes." He paused beside the Impala as he looked up at the bar, fingers drumming on the black hood as he thought.

Sam followed his glance before he cleared his throat. "Alright, I'll go scope out J.P's place. You — uh, you ask around inside. I'll take Alex — unless you want her," he was quick to add, and Alex cocked an eyebrow as she looked over at Sam. "It's totally your call."

Dean was silent for a few seconds, green eyes staring distantly towards the bar, and it took him several seconds before he shook his head. "You know what?" he decided. "I'll be fine. You two go and check out the house." He glanced down at Alex, promising, "I can handle a little twenty questions with the locals, okay?"

"Like Sam said, it's your call." Alex shrugged, shoving her hands into her pockets as she circled around to the passenger side of the car. "You seem to have things under control for the most part. Just give me a call if you need us."

"Sure thing." Judging by Dean's tone, calling for help wasn't much of a possibility, and Alex sighed as she pulled open the car door. "Let me know what you find." He held out the keys to his brother before he straightened up and strolled off towards the bar.

Sam circled around to the driver's side, and Alex reached for her seatbelt as the car purred to life. "Think he'll be okay?" she heard Sam ask, and she drew her gaze off of Dean to shrug.

"Like I said, he's been doing pretty good recently," she repeated. "Besides, it's not like we're sending him off to hunt something down. He's just going to ask around for a bit before we reconvene. He can handle it." She reached into the backseat to retrieve the folder they had picked up at the police station earlier, flipping through the pages to find the address of their missing victim. "Alright, he lives in an apartment building on Century," she announced as the car lurched forward into traffic. "If we're lucky, we'll be there and back before Dean even has the chance to go looking for trouble."

 

The apartment, as it turned out, wasn’t much of a lead at all. Those words echoed through Alex’s head as she climbed into the Impala, suppressing a shiver as she glanced back towards the darkened, grimy apartment complex behind them. “You okay?” Sam’s hand on her shoulder had her jerking back in surprise, and the angel brushed his hand off with a roll of her eyes.

“No, I’m not okay,” she retorted hotly. “When the landlord said J.P. was a ‘collector,’ I was thinking antique dolls. Not —
not everything.” Another shudder passed through her, followed by a twisting of her stomach that threatened to turn into nausea. “How can anyone live in that? That bathroom was … it was —”

“Like ‘staring into the devil’s butthole.’ ” Sam finished, and he grimaced alongside her as he started up the car. “Yeah. The landlord wasn’t lying about that part.”

"And I'm still covered in cat hair." Alex reached down to brush off her jeans, swallowing back the bile that rose in her throat as she remembered the apartment's stench. "And you know what? I-I didn't see a single cat. Not one cat, Sam. They — they're probably buried somewhere, slowly mummifying —"

"Okay, okay. That's enough." Sam's nose wrinkled, and Alex mimicked his expression with a gag. "I get the point." He turned the car onto the main street, and Alex crossed her arms as she looked out the side window. "Maybe Dean will have found something by now."

"He didn't have anything twenty minutes ago when you called him," the angel reminded. "If his day's been anything like ours, he still hasn't found anything." She caught sight of Sam's raised eyebrow, and she sighed. "You're right. There's no way his day could be worse than ours. He's probably halfway to getting laid."

Sam gave no reaction, and Alex toyed with the seatbelt as the car pulled up into the darkened parking lot of the old bar. She followed Sam out of the car, dropping the ball of fur she had collected onto the rough pavement. "You find Dean," she instructed as they entered through the door. "I'm going to buy a drink."

She didn't wait for a response before she dug a twenty out of her pocket and approached the counter. "Captain and Coke," she ordered, "easy on the Coke." She leaned up against the bar, eyes sweeping the room as she searched for Dean. Sam stood a few feet off, an expectant frown on his lips, and, after a second, he reached into his pockets and pulled out his phone.

"Here you go." Her drink was slid over to her, and Alex nodded in thanks as she dropped her money down on the polished wood, and one step carried her in Sam's direction. Her movement faltered, however, at the sound of Dean's phone from directly behind her.

She took a sip of her drink as she turned, expecting to see her friend, but the only person there was the bartender. His attention was on a jacket lying at his side, and as Alex watched, he pulled out Dean's phone, silenced it, and tucked it back into the jacket pocket with a shrug.

Her weapon was out before she had even processed it, and her fingers tightened on the slick glass of her drink as she stepped back up to the bar. "Hey," she demanded, and she felt Sam stop at her side. "Where'd you get that jacket, pal?"

The bartender chuckled, and he pushed the coat out of sight under the bar. "My Bar Mitzvah," he lied, and he circled around to stand in front of Alex. "It was a magical night."

Sam scoffed. "Yeah, I bet." Alex stepped back as Sam surged forward, slamming the man's face down into the sturdy bar, and he gripped him by the neck as the bartender cried out in surprise. "Why don't you try that again?"

"D-Dumpster." The bartender gripped his nose, blood seeping through his fingertips, and Alex tipped back her drink, slamming the empty glass back down on the bloody bar. "Found it by the dumpster."

"Alright." Sam stepped away, and Alex followed him back out the bar and around the side. Her feet slipped slightly on the damp grass, and the angel hid her weapon as they skirted the wooden fence to stand by the dumpster. She stepped back into the alley, grace rising hesitantly to her eyes as she tried to see what lay in front of her; she immediately drew it back in, however, when she heard the dumpster's side crumple as her grace raced outwards in an uncontrollable burst.

"Sorry," she muttered, and she retreated back to stand at Sam's side, grace curled in at her chest. She circled around the dumpster, banging on the metal sides as she peered down into the interior. "See anything?"

When Sam didn't respond, Alex returned to him, drawing a small flashlight out of her pocket to shine it on the grass. "Alex …" The Winchester was crouched, a shoe in his hand, and he brushed off a fine layer of yellow dust.

"Sulphur?" Alex dropped down next to him, concern prickling at her chest as her light illuminated the white handle of Dean's engraved Colt 1911. She snatched up the gun, popping out the magazine to count the bullets inside. "This wasn't fired."

"It's … pollen?" Sam lifted his fingers, and Alex leaned forward to sniff at the yellow powder. "Flowers."

"Okay, so … not demons.” The angel’s face wrinkled in confusion. “Pagan god or witches?" Alex pushed herself to her feet, and Sam did the same, tightly grasping his brother's shoe in his hand. "So, whatever is doing this is taking people in a flash of blue light and leaving behind pollen and … their clothes." She tucked Dean's gun into her jacket pocket with a shake of her head. "I'll go grab Dean's jacket and phone. Meet me in the car."

She brushed past the Winchester and stalked back into the bar, slipping through the gathering throng til she reached the bar. She snatched the jacket off of the bar, digging through the pockets to make sure everything was there. The bartender was standing off to the side, watching her with a scowl as he nursed his broken nose, and the angel tossed her head as she stalked back outside.

 

Alex peered out through the blinds of the motel window, cautiously letting her grace rise to her eyes as she stared into the darkness. The parking lot was empty, with no signs of life, and the angel grunted in disappointment. She struggled with the lifeforce inside of her, aiming to quell it before it broke free and stretched out into the world, and the blinds fell together with a clack as the grace finally settled back in her chest, curled up in a tight, unmoving ball. "Anything out there?"

Sam was reclined on the bed, unaware to the angel's internal struggle as he posed the question, and she shook her head as she crossed the room to sit back at his side. "Nothing," she confirmed, unable to keep the note of disappointment and worry out of her voice. "I don't know if he's dead, or if he's unconscious, or if he's just not praying to me — or m-maybe I can't — maybe I can't hear prayers with this grace." She fell back against the pillows, eyes squeezed shut. "I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault." The keyboard clacked as Sam continued his search. "If it's any consolation, there's a good chance he's not dead."

"What do you mean?" Alex pushed herself up into a sitting position, leaning up against Sam's shoulder as she looked down at the computer screen. The headline of the website read Yarrow and Transfiguration Spells, but that was all she caught before the Winchester scrolled down through the page.

"That pollen we found. I think it's yarrow," he explained. "It's one of the main ingredients in spells that have to do with some sort of metamorphosis or, uh, transfiguration."

"So you think a witch turned Dean into a frog?" Alex's face scrunched up as she tried to picture the mental image. "Seems a bit cliche, doesn't it?"

"Yes — well, no, no, not a frog." Sam shot her a look, but Alex didn't turn to see whether it was one of confusion or frustration. "Transfigurations can be any sort of change —"

"Like maybe they made him into a tiny one inch man," Alex finished with a nod. "That would be cool." She pulled her laptop off of the nightstand and lifted the top, masking a grin at her joke. "I know, I know. Probably not that either." She hurriedly typed in witches and transfiguration spells into the search box, shaking her head as she did so. "Okay, let's say this is what happened. I-I mean, that might explain why clothes are being left behind if they no longer fit, but … Sam, who knows what these people are being turned into."

"Yeah." A knock at the door had both hunters looking up, and Alex pushed her laptop off of her lap with a frown. Sam was already on his feet, drawing back the hammer on his gun as he moved forward, and Alex followed, letting her grace sneak out. The lights above their heads flickered, and she immediately drew it back in with pursed lips.

The door cracked open, and after a second, Sam threw it open to reveal a young boy, dressed in an oversized sweatshirt and red hat. "Uh, yeah?" Sam lowered his gun, glancing over at Alex with a confused frown, but the angel could only shrug. “Can I help you?

The boy smirked as he looked up at the two of them, and he shoved his hands into his pockets, impassive to the pistol pointed in his direction. "Hiya, Sammy." Green eyes flashed in amusement from where they sat in a pale, angular face, and the boy swept a hand through the short strands of his brown hair.

Alex's head tilted to one side, eyes narrowing. "D-Dean?" she heard Sam stutter out, and she stepped aside as the small teenager shoved his way into the room.

"Yeah." The kid crossed over to the bed and disappeared into the bathroom, leaving Alex staring after him in bewilderment. He spoke and acted like Dean — sort of — but his voice was higher than hers, and …

Alex shook her head, clearing her thoughts as the teen returned to the main room and dragged his duffle bag out from under the bed. "Whoa, wait — wait." She stepped past Sam, who was still standing at the door, stunned, and she swung it closed before she turned back to the boy. "Seriously? Dean?"

"Yup. It's me." The boy dug through his things with a frown, and he turned it upside down to dump all the contents out onto the bed, the search of his things apparently more important than answering their questions.

"W-Wait a second." Sam finally found his voice as he stepped up to Alex's side, stuttering slightly as he watched Dean rifle through his things. "Y-You're a —"

"Yup."

"How?"

"No clue." The teen's face lit up as he pulled out his gun, and he popped the magazine out to check the clip inside. "Some scarface-looking due, bright light." He snapped the clip back in and tucked his weapon into the back of his pants. "Next thing I know, I wake up looking like Bieber."

"Why would someone turn you into —"

"Don't know." Dean cut his brother off with a dismissive shake of his head. "Don't care. Hey, we got any grenades?" He turned to look at them, expectation written across his face, and Sam let out a spluttered noise.

"I … I don't think so. I'm sorry, can we — can we just hold on a minute here?" Alex turned to face Sam; his face was one of shock, and Alex knew her face mirrored his. "When you said transfiguration spells, I was thinking something a little more … I don't know … sinister. Why the hell is Dean a twelve year old?"

"I don't — whoa, wait, wait, wait." Sam quickly sidestepped as Dean tried to push his way through them, and the tall hunter stretched out a hand to keep his brother near. "Wait a second. Talk to us."

Dean scowled up at his brother, his smooth, round face twisting in frustration. "Really, Sam?" he snapped. "Now? I got no grass on the infield, and a girl's gonna die. Sorry if I'm not in a chatty mood. Look, you want to try and get me back into the hunting game? Well, I'm back in the damn game." He pushed past his brother with a shake of his head. "Come on."

"Whoa, hold up." Alex put a hand on his shoulder, stopping him in his tracks. "One second. I need a picture of you, Shortstop." She pulled her phone out of her pocket, ignoring the face Dean pulled. "It's going in my 'stupid shit the Winchesters have done' album."

She barely had time to take the photo before Dean was out the door, and Alex followed with a shrug. She sent the phone off to Castiel, barely pausing to wait for Samas she stepped out into the night. A middle-aged woman was walking past them, a bag of groceries in her hands, and her eyes sparkled as she looked between Sam and Alex. "Your son is so polite," she praised, smiling back at Dean.

Alex froze, and she snapped her jaw shut when she realized it was hanging open. Sam stuttered out a, "T-Thanks," as the woman walked away, and Alex glanced over in time to see Dean beside the Impala, eyebrows lifted in interest as he watched the woman step into her motel room.

"I-I … there's so much wrong w-with that." Alex hurried over to stand by Dean, and she heard Sam grunt out a noise of agreement as he followed. "Most importantly being that there's no way I could be your mother." Her nose scrunched up in disgust as she ran the math in her head. "I would have had to have you when I was ten. And you would have been seventeen," she added up to Sam after a moment's thought.

"Uh, yeah. Thanks." Sam awkwardly cleared his throat, eager to change the topic of the conversation. "So where are we heading?"

"Tell you on the way." Dean climbed into the driver's seat, and Alex and Sam followed. The angel got into the back, and she tapped her feet on the floor in surprise as the bench front seat slid forward.

"Okay, okay." Sam reached out to steady himself on the dashboard, but Dean didn't listen, moving the seat even closer so his feet could reach the pedals. "Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey!" The seat suddenly stopped, and Sam grunted in pain as his legs were pinned up against the dashboard. "Wait, uh … maybe I should drive."

"I'm kind of enjoying the space back here," Alex teased before she let the humor fall away when Sam frowned back at her. "I’m joking. I’m on your side. You, uh, you're not even old enough to have a permit," she added to Dean.

"Okay. Fine." The teen threw open the door, but Sam reached out to stop him.

"Seat," he reminded, and, with a roll of his eyes, Dean pushed the seat back to its normal position. Sam grunted as the pressure was released, the noise fading into one of relief, and Alex drew her legs up onto the backseat as the seat clicked back into its resting position. Sam slid over to the steering wheel as Dean circled around to the other side, and the engine roared to life. "Where are we going?" he repeated, and Dean pointed down to the left side of the road.

"Old house out on the outskirts of the forest." Dean shook his head as Sam guided the car in that direction. "Let me tell you, that place is fucking creepy."

"You mentioned that there was a girl that was going to die." Alex leaned forward across the front seat so her face was level with Dean's. "What do you mean? What happened to you?"

"Her name's Tina. We met at the bar." Dean shifted on the seat, and Alex fell back with a curious hum. "She left, and I saw Scarface follow her out. I went after them, and then bam — white light. I woke up like this. Tina was there, and, uh, and J.P. Both looked like me. Scarface took J.P. away, but I managed to get out before he came back. And they gave us cake. Turn here."

"Cake." The Impala turned sharply, and Sam frowned. "Why would they give you cake?"

"Well, I don't know." Dean shrugged. "It wasn't even good cake. Too dry." He glanced over at his brother, surprised to meet Sam's gaze. "What?"

"Nothing." Sam's gaze snapped back onto the rod. "Okay," he added after a moment, "not nothing. Look … this is bizarre. Even for us, man." His hazel eyes flickered back over to his brother, at a loss for words. “This — this is insane. You — you're like — like, what, you're like fourteen? How does that even feel?"

Dean let out a sigh, and his eyes turned out the darkened window. "Well," he slowly began, "I'm me. I'm — I'm old me, but I'm a kid." He motioned down to his short stature, suppressing a shudder. "It's fucking weird, dude. And …" He fell silent, heaving another, deeper sigh, and his voice quieted. "There was a Taylor Swift song on the bus that I hopped to the motel, and, uh …" He looked up at his brother, concern and disgust painted across his face. "I liked it, Sam. I liked it a lot."

"O-Okay." Sam glanced back at Alex in the rearview mirror, but the angel could only shrug.

Dean, however, wasn't done. "My voice is weird, I've got like nine zits, and I have zero control over this." He motioned down to his crotch with a confused scowl. "I mean, it's up, it's down. It's up for no reason —"

"That's enough. Uh, thanks." Sam cleared his throat again, cutting his brother off. "Let's just call it puberty."

"Yeah, which sucks," Dean finished sharply. "Again."

Alex leaned forward again, tapping Dean on the shoulder to get his attention. "So, we checked out the alleyway behind the bar where you got jumped. We, uh, found this —" She dropped his phone into his lap, "and Sam found yarrow. Which means we're probably dealing with a witch," she finished.

"Okay." Dean nodded, agreeing with their assessment. "We still got some of that witch-killing shit in the trunk?"

"Hell yeah." Sam turned the car down another road as Dean pointed off to the left. "So, we'll get you changed back, and then light Sabrina's ass up." No response came, and he glanced over at his brother with a hesitant frown. "Right?" he prompted.

"Uh, yeah about that." Dean's shoulders rose and fell in a small shrug, and Alex tipped her head, unsure what was causing his hesitancy. "It turns out, this whole freak show has an upside." He yanked up the sleeve on his sweatshirt, the pale skin catching in the light of a passing streetlight. "The Mark is gone."

"Gone?" Alex repeated, and she leaned forward to look for herself. "What? How?"

"Well, I figure if this hoodoo slammed me back into my body I had when I was fourteen …"

"You didn't have the Mark then," Sam finished, and Ale scratched at her head.

"I — can it just do that?" she asked. "W-Where did it go? It had to go somewhere, right?" The leather squeaked beneath her as she leaned back in her seat, her frown hidden by the shadows of the night. "Maybe the physical mark is just gone. Do you feel any different?"

"Yeah, uh, I actually feel a lot better." Dean partially turned his head to shoot her a quick glance. "I don't know where it went, but I don't feel it anymore. Problem is, if we reverse the spell …"

"Then it comes back," Sam finished discouragingly, and Dean nodded. When the teenager didn't push the subject any further, Sam cleared his throat. "Uh, so, wait. You … you're not suggesting you want to stay like this, right?"

"What? No!" The answer came too quickly and too sharply, and Dean let out a sigh as his head dropped down to his chest. "No," he repeated, "but … if it's between being a psycho-rage-monster-slash-borderline-demon or a teenager, well … I'm not a fan of it either," he added when Sam cocked an eyebrow, “but … Sam, this problem is solved. And I'm still me. I can still hunt, I'm just, you know … dewier."

"Right." Alex barely held back a scoff. "Dean, you're like eighty pounds. Even I could beat the shit out of you with my hands tied behind my back."

"No." Green eyes flashed vehemently in the moonlight. "Not a chance, Pipsqueak."

"Actually, I'm pretty sure that should be your nickname now." Alex poked the teenager in between the shoulder blades. "You know, considering you're the smallest one here in just about every regards."

"Oh, I can think of some places where I'm bigger." Alex stuck out her tongue at Dean's innuendo, but the Winchester didn't notice as he turned back to his brother. "But, uh, good news — virgin liver." He patted his stomach with a wide grin. "So, what do you say when we're done doing our hero thing, we take her for a test drive?"

"Yeah, sure." Teeth flashed as Sam suddenly let out a grin. "I mean … you can drink again in, what, like seven years?"

Alex's head tipped back in a laugh, but Dean only frowned, crossing his arms. "That's not funny," he insisted, and Alex dug her teeth into her lips to quell her amusement.

"That's kind of funny," Sam insisted, jerking a thumb back at the angel. "She gets it."

"I got it, it just wasn't funny." Dean gestured angrily off towards the road ahead of them. "Just — just drive the damn car, okay?" His arms folded even tighter across his chest as he sunk down into his seat. "We're almost there."

 

Alex slid out of the Impala, tucking her angel blade into her jeans as she followed Sam and Dean around to the trunk. A large, stone house loomed in front of them, the lawn overgrown with weeds and brush. Ivy climbed up the brickwork, stretching towards the roof, and the angel waited impatiently as the hunters gathered up their guns and flashlights. Dean poured alcohol into a glass bottle, shoving a strip of cloth in the neck, and Alex watched as he handed the bomb to Sam, who tucked it into his jacket. Dean then held a flashlight out to Alex, and the angel took it with a shrug, sliding it into the inner pocket of her coat. "Looks like someone is home," she announced, and the trunk slammed shut as the short hunter pushed his way past her; Alex stretched her neck up higher to try and exaggerate her height over his.

"Okay. Let's go in through the basement. Get Tina out first." Dean led the way through the weeds, and Alex let Sam pass her as she took up the rear. Her grace itched to get out, clearly aware of the danger at hand, and she swallowed nervously as she pushed it down.

They circled around to the side, and Alex followed Sam's flashlight as it darted down to a cluster of plants against the stone. She immediately recognized the flowers: yarrow. The angel lengthened her stride to walk beside Sam as Dean paused beside a window well, motioning down through the iron bars to the open window. "It's still open," he announced, and the soles of his sneakers tapped on the stone as he shone his flashlight down into the whole. "Tina?" He dropped down, legs hanging into the well as he peered through the window. When no answer came, he shook his head. "Alright, let's go."

"Whoa." Sam's flashlight darted across the small hole, and he shook his head in disbelief. "Dean, I'm way too big to fit in that."

Dean smirked up at his brother, and his eyes sparkled . "First time you ever had to say that, huh?"

Alex held back a snicker, and Sam's eyes widened before darkening as he retaliated, "Big talk coming from the dude wearing underoos."

Dean's gaze dropped down to the window well as he frowned. "Okay, good one," he relented. "Here, why don't you go around back for another way in? Alex can come with me." He dropped down into the hole, and, with a shrug, Alex dropped down next to him as Sam walked away. She hunched her back, barely fitting into the small space, and she grunted as she squeezed between the iron bars of the open window. Her shoulders almost got caught, and she suppressed a sudden rush of panic before she pushed her way through and slithered down onto the ground.

"This is where he kept you?" Her light flashed through a hole in the plaster wall, and she peered through to see another room, almost identical to the one she was in; small, rectangular, with a iron cot and mirror. "CPS would disapprove."

"Hey." Dean was kneeling in the corner, nudging at something in the dusty corner, and Alex turned her light onto the skull, brown from age. "Gross, huh?"

"Yeah, that's pretty disgusting." Her grace prickled, and the angel glanced over towards the open door, half expecting to find someone, but the doorway was empty. She looked over to see that Dean was staring as well, and she stepped closer to him, lowering her voice. "You feel something, too?"

"Yeah. Come on." The hammer on his gun clicked as Dean rose to his feet, and he led the way out of the small room and into the wide open basement. Dean motioned off to the left, and Alex nodded, slipping off towards the staircase. They creaked beneath her feet, and the angel hesitated before pulling back and flashing her light behind the stairs.

A grunt from behind her had Alex spinning around, her light catching on a wide, dark figure. His hands were around Dean's throat, the teenager's struggles doing little against the massive opponent, and Alex's flashlight fell to the ground. "Hey!" She jumped forward, fists balled as she wound up for a punch, but the man backpedaled, dropping Dean to prepare for conflict. A second later, he crumpled to the floor to reveal Sam Winchester, the butt of his gun raised.

Dean soothed his throat, rasping our a demanding, "Where's the girl?"

"Upstairs." The stranger looked up at both Sam and Dean, a scowl on his scarred face, and his voice carried a thick, scornful German accent. "Alive."

"What did you do to us?" The teenage Winchester scooped his gun up off of the ground as he circled around to stand beside his much taller brother.

"Nothing." The stranger's eyes glittered darkly from beneath his heavy brow, and Alex's gaze fell on the burlap hex bag that hung around his thick neck. "I'm no witch. I just work for one."

Sam scoffed. "Crappy gig. Where is he?"

"She." The burly man spat on the ground, and Alex wrinkled her nose in disgust. "And she is the worst person in the world." He planted his hands against the ground, ready to stand, but when both Winchesters lifted their guns, the man slumped back against the cold concrete. "I've been working with her for centuries," he explained, his voice weighed down in despair. "The things I've seen her do. My sister and I, she made us hurt people, kill people, and when we tried to escape, she caught us and tortured me." He gestured up towards the thick scar across his left eye, his shoulders hunching at the memory. "And then she made me eat poor Gretel's heart."

"Wait." The muzzle of Sam's gun quaved slightly, and he lowered the barrel in confusion. "Witch? Gretel?" He scoffed loudly. "What, are you saying you're …"

"Hansel." The man's voice rasped over the name, and he nodded. "My name is Hansel."

"Hansel," Sam repeated, voice flat. "And — and … and Gretel. Hansel and Gretel, like the — like the fable." He looked over at Dean and Alex, and the young angel shrugged. "Like the Brothers Grimm?" The muzzle of his gun flashed in the faint light, snapping back up to attention as Hansel rose to his feet, but the thick-set man ignored it.

"It wasn't just a fable," he insisted, hands stretching out in a show of innocence. "It was based on a true story. They just gave it a happy ending."

"Yeah, well, somehow I'd bet any ending would be happier than you two siding with a fucking witch," Alex spat, and she reached back to sheathe her weapon in her jeans with a shake of her head. "Okay, so we get to barbecue a celebrity tonight. Awesome."

She wasn't prepared for Hansel's vehement snort. "You can't kill her," he insisted. "You're only men."

"We're much more than that." Sam reached into his jacket pocket to pull out the Molotov cocktail, showing it off to Hansel before he handed the incendiary weapon down to his brother. "We're hunters."

"Ah." Realization lit up the man's face, followed immediately by relief. "Then let me help."

"Help?" Alex rolled her eyes, cynical of his offer. "Why would you want to help?" she challenged, and Sam finished with an added, "What's in it for you?"

"Because if you're going to fry that candy-coated bitch, I want in."

"You want to help?" Sam jerked the muzzle of his gun in Dean's direction, and Hansel's dark eyes flickered onto the small teenager. "Tell me how to turn him back."

Dean's lips pursed, and his green eyes flashed in the dim light, full of frustration. "Sam, it can wait," he insisted, but Sam shook his head, gun back on the witch's helper.

"The hex bag I'm wearing." Hansel didn't hesitate to answer, his attention still on Dean. "It will reverse the spell. Squeeze it, and you'll return to your proper age." He turned to Sam, whose gun had lowered to point at the ground. "Look, we waste the witch, I give you the cure. Deal?"

"Deal." Sam stepped aside to make room for Hansel to pass to the stairs. "Lead the way."

The man nodded, and Alex took up the rear, falling in step behind Sam and Dean as they ascended the rickety wooden staircase. She reached back to draw her blade as they reached the top floor, and she watched as Dean hid his gun in favor of digging a lighter out of his pocket. His small fingers couldn't encompass the bottle he held, and Alex quickly diverted her gaze with a silent snigger.

The air was thick with the smell of home cooking, and a light-hearted hum came from down the hall. Alex winced at the scent of meat, suppressing a shudder at the thought of what it could be as the four made their way down the narrow hall. She moved lightly, determined not making a sound on the wooden floors, but neither of her companions seemed to move with the same intent. "Hansel?" She heard a voice greet the man as he opened the door to the kitchen, and Sam and Dean pushed forward, weapons raised as they crowded in the doorway.

"And pals," she heard Dean crow, and she stepped into the room after them, chin lifted as she surveyed the small, wooden kitchen. A big metal pot sat on the stove, the handle of a wooden spoon rising from the simmering liquid, partially hidden by the witch.

She was wearing a dirty pink dress, which was as unappealing as her tousled red hair and thick-set face. Her plump lips were pulled down into a frown as she studied the three of them, but the expression appeared more of annoyance than anything else. In the corner say a young teenage girl, no older than Dean, bound to the chair with an expression of fear. "Well, our lost lamb." The witch smiled over at Dean, who shifted under her gaze. "I thought we'd have to go looking for you. Maybe even abandon our home sweet home here. I never dreamt you'd be stupid enough to come back on your own." She chuckled, shaking her head in disbelief. "Hansel, take care of them."

The man didn't move, and Dean smirked. "Yeah, he's not exactly your biggest fan."

"Maybe you shouldn't have made him chow down on his sister," Sam added, and he adjusted his stance as he raised his pistol to point at the witch.

To Alex's surprise, the woman only chortled. "I never made Hansel do anything." Her last word was almost lost under the commotion as Hansel sprang to life. He yanked Sam's gun from his hand, sending the tall hunter to the ground before turning on Dean.

Alex's weapon twisted in her hands as the man knocked the molotov out of Dean's grasp with a, "They're hunters!" and as soon as his hand went out for Dean's throat, she was on the move, foot planted as she pivoted to drive her weapon into his heart.

Instead, she was knocked off of her feet. "Rumpatur!" She hit the far wall with a muffled gasp at the witch’s spell, and Hansel's foot planted itself on her weapon, kicking it out of her hands. "My, my." The witch looked on curiously as Hansel stooped to pick up the blade. "I don't think I've ever seen that before." She patted the island, and the man set her weapons onto the wood. "Now. Who's hungry?"

Hansel stepped aside, Sam's gun aimed at the three of them, and Alex pushed herself to her knees. Sam and Dean were already kneeling in the kitchen, their hands lifted behind their heads in a sign of surrender, and Alex crawled over to them to sit at Dean's side. She kept her hands planted on her thighs, chin lifted as the witch circled around the island to stand in front of them.

"Ooh." She reached out to feel Dean's bicep, and the teenager twisted to rip his arm away. "Oh, scrawny. We'll have to fatten you up."

"Don't fucking touch me," Dean spat, but the witch only clicked her tongue.

"Oh, I'm going to do more than that," she promised, and she grabbed Dean's jaw between her thumb and forefinger. "Children. Oh, they're so sweet and innocent." She pulled her hand away, licking her fingers as she circled back around the island. "And delicious. You'll see." Hansel chuckled, and she smiled in his direction "When I cook him up, I'll give you some, hmm?"

"Alright." Dean dropped his hands to his side with a disgusted scoff. "That's it. Alex, take them out." His green gaze swung over to her when the angel hesitated, and his face darkened in a scowl. "What are you waiting for, huh? Nuke their asses."

"What?" Alex squinted, firmly shaking her head. "No way, Dean. Not until we get you back into your body." She jerked her head towards the hex bag around Hansel's neck. "You get a hold of that thing, and I'll take out every witch within a mile of here." She glared up at the witch, who just chuckled. "So, uh, why don't you tell us why exactly is going on with this whole 'fountain of youth' thing, huh? What, isn't taking kids good enough?"

"Hmm." The witch started peeling a clove of garlic as she thought, yellowed teeth flashing as she grinned over at Alex. "In the olden days, if a child went missing — ah, the young died all the time. Now, though, with all your AMBER Alerts and your milk cartons, a person fillets one rugrat, and people get so angry."

"Yeah, I blame Obama." Both Sam and Alex looked over at Dean, surprised by his quip, and the Winchester shrugged off their exasperated glances.

"So, I improvised." The witch continued on, unaware of Dean's banter. "I take adults no one will miss and give them back their youth."

"And then Kentucky-fry 'em," Dean finished, and this time, the witch finally looked up from her cooking.

"It's the only way I can eat in peace," she agreed.

"So, uh, is it worth it?" Dean shifted on the floor, returning his hands to behind his head as he eyed Hansel with a deep set frown. "I mean, word on the street is people kind of taste like chicken."

"A bit." The witch turned her attention to chopping up an onion. "European children are more, uh, free range. Gamier. Americans, though … ooh … they are heaven." She laughed at her own joke, brandishing the knife for emphasis. "Fattier. The meat, so finely marbles, it's almost buttery. I just can't get enough." Dean scoffed, and the witch's eyes stretched wide. "No!" she insisted. "I am in awe. This is my first visit to your country. And I have to say, God Bless the U.S.A."

"Ah. So you're a tourist."

"No." The witch shook her head at Alex's conclusion. "No, it's business, not pleasure. An old friend is causing trouble, and the Grand Coven asked me to take care of her. Poor, stupid Rowena."

"Wait, wait — Rowena?" Alex straightened up, her interest suddenly piqued. "Not the witch Rowena. Red hair, a thing for fancy hotels?"

The carrot fell from the witch's hand, landing on the island with a small thump. "How do you know that?"

"I delivered her to the King of Hell myself." Sam sprung to life beside Alex, and the angel slowly pushed herself to her feet as the Winchester knocked Hansel to the ground. "Dean." She nodded towards the fallen man, eyes flickering across the hexbag, and the teenager sprung past to grapple for the item. She reeled back as Sam went flying past and her grace snapped out in surprise. Flames leapt from the oven, licking at the air, and the angel spun around just in time to see Dean glow. His skin shifted, growing taller as he morphed back into his true self. The transformation was complete within the second, and Alex finally let go of her grace.

It exploded, shaking the house to its foundation. The energy ripped through the walls, as strong as a hurricane, and the force sent everything flying. She felt Sam and Dean hit the far walls, the grace bypassing them as it sought out her enemies. She felt flesh tear and singe beneath the burning heat, and she felt her teeth crack as her jaw clenched at the pressure. Lightning flashed and thunder roared, and the angel vaguely heard her voice rising against the wind as she struggled to contain it, struggled to draw it back in as it raged through her veins. "No!"

Suddenly, Zuriel's grace snapped back inside her, and the force of the recoil sent her to the ground. Her back slammed into the floor, skull cracking against the wooden boards, and the room spun above her head. The ringing in her ears lasted merely a second, and the angel stumbled as she pushed herself back to her feet. "Sam? Dean!"

The Winchesters were on the floor, grabbing at their heads. A litany of curses were streaming from Dean's lips, and the angel reached out to steady herself against the island before she sharply drew her hand away. The island was covered in blood — the entire kitchen was covered in blood, the red misting interspersed with chunks of flesh.

Bile rose in Alex's throat, and she felt her legs quiver as Sam and Dean pushed themselves back to their feet. Zuriel's grace roiled in her chest, fighting to escape, and the angel ground her teeth in an attempt to keep it contained. "I'm sorry."

"What the … fucking … fuck." Spatterings of blood decorated Dean’s face, barely concealing the look of horror. "What was that?"

Alex's eyes turned around the room, trying to take a mental body count. Her, Sam, and Dean. That meant the witch was dead, and so was Hansel. And … Tina. The teenager was nowhere in sight, the only remaining sign the dense mist of blood against the wooden chair. "They … they're dead." She turned back to Sam and Dean, unable to hide the horror in her eyes. "I killed them all." She watched as Dean's gaze slipped past her to where Tina had sat merely seconds before, bound and terrified, and the angel suppressed a wave of nasuea as she remembered the violence in her grace; she could still feel it tearing through skin and bones.

The crackling of flames had her turning, and she became aware of the acrid tang of smoke. The house was on fire. "Shit." Sam's voice trembled, and his long legs carried him across the blood-stained floor. "We gotta — we gotta get out of here."

The hexbag fell from Dean's hands as he followed after his brother, and Alex felt a hand pulling her after him. The smoke was filling the room as the flames spread, and the angel swallowed a cough as she was forced to run blindly down the fiery hall.

She stumbled out of the door and collapsed onto the grass. The Winchesters were next to her, hunched over as they gasped for air as the house disappeared behind the wall of flames. The timbers cracked, and Alex flinched as embers sparked through the air, landing on her jacket and burning at her skin. The angel pushed herself to her feet and stumbled back as the roof collapsed inwards, hissing out a curse at the sight of the destruction

"W-What the hell happened in there?" Sam looked down at her from where he was doubled over beside a thick oak tree, the light of the flames dancing across his tight face.

Alex ran the back of her hand under her nose, staring down at the wet smear of blood. She pinched her nostrils together, trying to stem the flow. "I-I-I don't know. My grace … I couldn't stop it —" She cut off with a glance over at Dean.

The Winchester was staring at the burning home, his expression unreadable between the flickering fire and the darkness of the night. "You killed her."

"I know." Alex's words hung in the air, and she clenched her jaw to keep her voice from trembling as she watched the fire from the corner of her eye. "I'm sorry, Dean. I couldn't stop it." She felt her nose again to test if the bleeding had stopped, and she wiped the still oozing blood off on her sleeve. As the ringing stopped and her grace settled down, her voice and calm returned.

"Yeah, you already said that." Dean turned to face her, darkness in his eyes. "You couldn't control it. You never can. I-I mean, first it was little stuff, like lightbulbs and small fires, but this …" He looked over at Sam with a shake of his head. "What's next, huh?"

"Next? I — no. There can't be a next." Alex shook her head, internally wincing as the burning home crumbled further as if to emphasize her words. "I'm not going to let this happen again. I promise."

"Damn straight," Dean agreed. "You gotta get rid of it." He crossed the grass, the thin green strands beginning to char from the embers, and Alex followed hesitantly. "How do you get rid of angel grace, huh?"

Alex drew back in shock, her stomach twisting violently inside of her. “Get rid of it?” The icy tendrils of panic wrapped themselves around her heart, and the angel looked up at Sam. “No, you — you can’t just get rid of it.” Her grace snapped out against her will, fueled by fear, and the flames behind them flared up with a resounding crack. The heat swept over them like a tidal wave, and all but Alex flinched. “It’s a part of me!”

Sam reached out, a hand gently grasping her shoulder, and Alex turned to face him, ready for an argument. “We need to get out of here before the fire department comes.” His eyes turned up to the thick plume of smoke and embers, a pale grey against the black sky. “This conversation can wait.”

“Can it?” Dean’s eyes flashed, and Alex rose to meet his challenge, head held high. “It’s volatile, Sam.” His left hand came up to tightly grip his other forearm, and Alex watched as he squeezed tightly at the Mark of Cain. “The minute this thing made me kill, we looked for a way to get it off. How is this any difference, huh? How many more people have to die?”

“You want me to get rid of it? Fine!” Alex threw up her hands, forcing down the wave of nausea Dean’s words had brought up. “Fine, we’ll get rid of it. B-But this is nothing like the Mark, okay?” She felt her voice tremble, and the angel forced it to steady. “It’s nothing like that.”

Dean’s smoldering eyes flashed, and he stalked off towards the Impala without another word. Alex felt her shoulders sag, reminded only of Sam’s presence by his hand on her shoulder, his thumb rubbing gentle circles against her arm. “We’ll figure this out.” The words sounded hollow, and Alex’s eyes fell closed as she turned into Sam, pressing her forehead into his chest. The hand shifted, sliding across her back to hold her tight. “We’ll figure it out,” he repeated. “We always do.”

Dean threw open the Impala door, pausing to look back at the two of them. “Get in the car,” he ordered, and Alex flinched at his tone, hard with fear and grief. His eyes turned back onto the burning home, and his nostrils flared against the acrid smoke as he took one last look at the destruction. “We’re going home.”

Chapter Text

April 28th, 2015
Lebanon, Kansas

Alex's head thudded against the table, the sound echoing throughout the room. The bunker was empty, and only the rumbling of the air pouring through the vents was there to keep her company. Books lay scattered out in front of her, remnants of the Winchesters' research. The pile to her left was any and all things relating to the Mark of Cain. To her right, Sam's notes on the removal of grace.

The door swung open, and Alex looked up to watch Sam and Dean stalk into the room. A third figure followed, and Alex jumped to her feet, eyes narrowing as she regarded King of Hell. "What's Crowley doing here?" She spat out the words, and her vehemence was reward by a toothy smile.

"Missed you too, darling." The demon strolled forward, eyes turned upwards to take in the bunker's architecture. "Rumor has it you've become, well, quite volatile, and the Hardy Boys have insisted that I clean up their mess."

"Our mess?" Sam's nose wrinkled in disgust at the insinuation. "You're the one who gave her the grace, Crowley. This one's on you."

His concern was waved off, and Alex lifted her chin as the Crowley came to stop in front of her. "Perhaps I tempted her with a bigger mouthful than she could chew," he relented, and Alex's eyes narrowed, unsurprised to find the demon deflecting the blame. "But she's the one who took the bite."

"Look." Alex ground out the words, and her grey eyes flashed as the torn remains of her grace threatened to bubble up. "You want to take my grace, fine. Take it. It's caused me more harm than good." Her gaze flickered over to Sam and Dean, jaw set as she refused to let her fear show.

"Fine by me." The demon drew a small, glass vial out of his suit pocket, and Alex's teeth dug into her lip as an angel blade appeared in the other. "Might want to take a seat, cupcake. This could hurt."

His wrist flicked out the moment her back hit the chair, and a gasp of shock and pain left Alex's lips as the angel blade slit her throat. Her grace boiled up, unbidden, drawing all of the heat from her bones as it bubbled out of her veins. In its wake, it left nothing but ice, numbing her senses and dulling her eyes.

Alex reached up, hesitantly feeling the thin scar that stretched across her throat, resting just below her Adam's apple. The tips of her fingers still felt numb, and the girl shivered, drawing the blanket around her shoulders as tight as she could. Everything was numbed. Her ears felt waterlogged, and her vision was dim and blurry; the staircase at the far end of the room was slightly fuzzy, and the book titles on the far shelf unreadable. She always did have poor eyesight as a human.

Her hand dropped back down to the table, and her head followed, resting on the cool wood as she screwed her eyes shut. Human. The only chance she had of being an angel again was if Castiel found their grace. And he only had one year left before her deal was up.

Alex ran her finger tips over her forearms, tracing the skin where the King of Hell had once made her contract appear, a covenant written into her very bones. She had one year left before her time was up. One year. Some days it felt like a lifetime, others merely hours.

The bunker creaked around her, and Alex snapped her head up, searching for the source before she fell back against her chair. The Winchesters were gone, off on a case somewhere in a different state. They had left almost three days ago, and nothing they had said gave any indication of their return.

Her phone rang, and Alex folded her arms on the polished oak table as she answered. "Hey, Sam. When are you guys going to be back? The fridge is running low." Her stomach growled, and the hunter grit her teeth against the pain. "And I don't like being alone."

"Uh, well … I don't know." Sam's voice was apologetic, and Alex's temple pressed up against her forearm. "Something else has come up. We're in West Virginia. Uh, this guy on death row Houdini'd his way out of his cell."

"Huh. So, you're hunting a magical murderer?"

"Yeah, or — or a, uh, teleporting demon or a who-knows-what that can walk through Supermax walls." Alex heard the faint sound of Dean's voice, and Sam scoffed in amusement at the unheard comment.

"Well, if you guys need back up, I'm doing absolutely nothing here." Alex's voice took on a note of hopefulness, and she leaned closer to her phone. "Want me to head on over?"

"No, no. You stay put until you're back on your feet." Alex heard the engine rev beneath Sam's words. "Fingers crossed, we'll be back by the end of the week. Uh, there's cash in the top cabinet by the fridge if you need some money for food or a-a movie or something."

"Okay." Alex's face fell, but she forced her voice to remain cheerful, not wanting pity from the younger Winchester. "Just remember to be careful walking into a high-security prison, and don’t let anyone recognize you. Death row is still a possibility for our future, so tell Dean I said don't fuck this up, alright?"

"Alright." Sam forced a chuckle at her pointed humor. "She said don't fuck up so she won't have go to jail," she heard him repeat to Dean. "He says he'll see what he can do," he told her after a second. "We promise to stay safe, okay? Listen, we're here, so I need to call you back."

"Sounds good." The Winchester hung up, and Alex pushed herself to her feet, letting her blanket fall back across the arms of her chair. If the Winchesters wouldn't have her, Castiel would. She threw back the last few sips of her beer with a shake of her head; if she had to stay in that God-forsaken bomb shelter for one more day …

She pressed her phone up against her cheek as she hurried off towards her room, throwing open the door as the other end of the line clicked. "Alex. Is everything okay?"

"Afternoon to you, too, Cassie." Alex put her phone on speaker and tossed it onto her nightstand as she dug her bag out from underneath her bed. "Where are you at? Still tracking down Cain?"

"Yes. I'm in Indiana on what might turn out to be a lead." Alex could hear a voice in the background, sharp and taunting, but the seraph ignored it. "How are you doing? You haven't answered any of my calls. Sam said Crowley removed your grace."

"Yeah. It, uh … it was a bit out of control, and everyone agreed it would be safer just to get rid of it." Alex scrubbed at the scar on her throat, trying to erase the thin, raised line, and after a second, she added, "I hate this. Please can I come to you? If I have to stay in the bunker by myself for another day, I — I'm going to shoot myself."

No answer came, and Alex threw her laptop into her bag, her impatience growing. "Listen, either I come to you or I'm going off to find my own lead. Your call."

"I'm in Quincy, Indiana." The location came with a resigned sigh, and Alex grinned. "If you leave now, you should be here in six hours. I will text you my address."

"Great." Alex slung her bag over her shoulder as she pushed herself to her feet, snatching her gun off of her dresser. "Love you, Cas. I'll see you soon." She hung up and shoved her phone into her pocket and grabbed her angel blade as she hurried out of her room and down the hall.

 

Quincy, Indiana

Alex slammed the car door as she stepped out into the grey, gloomy air. The dark clouds promised rain, and the ex-angel drew her sleeves down over her forearms, shivering at the damp chill. A truck sped by as Alex made her way up to the front of an old, dilapidated school building, and she cast a quick look around before she slipped under the fence and darted across the courtyard.

The inside of the school was as grey and dismal as the weather, and Alex's boots clunked against the tile floor as she made her way down the hall. "Cas?" she called, softly at first as her voice cut through the air. "Castiel?"

There was a noise at the end of the hall, something quiet and almost unnoticeable, and Alex hesitated, unsure of what she had heard. The noise faded, immediately replaced by a raspy scream. Her angel blade was in her hands with the second as Alex tore down the hall, sliding to a stop outside of the far room. The dim light filtered down through the broken glass, illuminating the two figures inside. One was tied to a chair, head thrown back in agony as the second stepped away. The interrogator looked up, blue eyes flashing in surprise at the sight of her, and Alex felt her shoulders sag in relief.

"Alex." Castiel set his weapon down on a school desk as he crossed the room, and Alex leaned up to kiss his lips, humming happily when he reciprocated the action. "I didn't expect you here for another hour."

"I made good time." Alex slipped past him, twirling her weapon in her hands as she circled around to stand in front of the bound man. Even without her grace, she could tell it was a demon. "Who's the black-eyed skank?"

"Arthur Wright. Or, at least, that's what his identification claims." Castiel circled around to stand at her side, his shoulders brushing hers as his eyes narrowed in disdain. "I didn't bother asking for his name, though."

"It's Vinny." The demon tossed his head to get his hair out of his face, his black eyes flashing angrily as he stared up at the two of them. "Not that you'd care." Despite his defiance, cuts littered his exposed skin, evidence of long-endured torture.

"Yeah, you're right. I don't." Alex tucked her weapon away as Castiel picked up his. "This is supposed to be your lead on Cain? He doesn't even look crossroads material." She shook her head. "No way they're besties."

"Me and Cain ain't friends." The demon spat on the ground, his nose wrinkled in disgust. "He kills demons. Low—level guys like me keep our distance." His head fell back in a cry of pain as Castiel's weapon cut through his exposed bicep, and the black fled from his eyes. "Alright!" he yelled, and the seraph pulled the silver weapon away. "Alright," the demon repeated, a snarl in his voice. "He's been seen the past few months making passes through Bogg's marsh, one county over." He looked between Alex and Cas with a shake of his head. "Like I said, we keep our distance."

Castiel's weapon lifted, the tip circling slowly before aiming itself at the demon's right eye, and the demon's head recoiled as the weapon barely grazed the cornea. "And that's all you know." The statement was made quietly, and the demon nodded eagerly as the angel blade pulled back ever so slightly.

"Yes," Vinny agreed, relief making him breathless. "Yes, I swear."

The weapon fell back to Castiel's side, and the seraph gave a small, curt nod. "Okay." The demon's face lit up as the blade plunged into his stomach, and Alex watched disdainfully as the creature died. "Bogg's Marsh." Castiel drew away from the body, blue eyes blank and unreadable. "Have you ever heard of that place?"

"Nope. But it can't be too hard to find." Alex turned away from the body, digging her phone out of her pocket. She tugged on the seraph's thick coat as she leaned into his shoulder, cheek pressing into his arm. "Give me two minutes, and I'll see what I can do."

She pressed herself closer into his warmth, and she felt Castiel's free hand come up to massage her neck until he reluctantly pulled away. "I should go take care of this." He nodded towards the body, and Alex stepped back to let him work. She took a seat on the desk, watching as he effortlessly tossed the corpse over his shoulder and disappeared out the door.

She glanced down at her phone with a frown, lifting it up to try and improve the signal through the concrete walls. Her eyes turned passed to a framed photograph that hung on the wall, the glass cracked and the frame askew, and the ex-angel blinked in surprise. Alex leaned forward curiously, shaking her head as she studied the face. For a moment, she thought the individual had been Sam; they had the same facial structure, the same look in their eyes. "Riley." Alex read the name aloud.

"Who?" The sound of Castiel's voice had her turning away, a small smile on her face. The seraph crossed over to her, and Alex gave a small shake of her head as she held up her phone to show the location the demon had spoke of. Castiel squinted, taking her wrists in his hands to steady the screen. "How far away?"

"Not sure yet." Alex slid off of the desk, taking his hand in hers as she led the way out of the classroom. "Do you want to drive, or should I?"

"I'll drive." Castiel dropped her hand so he could reach for his keys. "Find us a way there." He led the way back out across the courtyard, and Alex ducked beneath the chain—link fence before following him over to the Lincoln Continental. "Alex." The seraph paused by the front panel, his face darkening, and Alex tilted her head to look up at him. "If we find Cain there …"

"Hey." Alex reached up to take the lapel of his jacket, and she tugged gently to quiet him. "I've met Cain before. If he didn't kill me then, I don't think he's going to jump to kill me again." She watched as reluctance danced in his eyes, and she leaned up, pressing her lips against his. "Come on. Just because I’m human doesn’t mean I’m helpless. We'll be in and out before Cain ever knows we were there."

 

The wind at Bogg's Marsh was stiff and cold, and Alex suppressed a shiver as she kicked the car door shut. She screwed her eyes up against the freezing air as she glanced over at Castiel, unsurprised to find that the seraph remained unaffected by the weather. His cerulean eyes scanned the land in front of them, and Alex circled around to stand at his side. "Which way, Captain?"

She watched as the seraph took one last pass over the park before his gaze dropped down onto her. "Stay close," he ordered, and Alex fell in step at his side as he started down the dirt path. “We don’t know what we will find.”

“I had no intention of going off on my own, thanks.” Alex rolled her eyes as they started off up the hill, head lifted as she looked at the forest ahead. “By the state of that parking lot, people don’t really come here, and the demon said that his kind keeps their distance from this place.”

“How is Dean doing?” Castiel led the way through the trees, his voice surprisingly passive, and Alex glanced up at him in surprise.

“Dean?” she repeated. “He’s … doing the best he can.” She shrugged, unsure what else to say. “He’s not happy with me after the — after the grace thing, and I don’t know … I mean, is he really that mad, or is it the Mark? I can’t predict him any ... shit.”

A wide, treeless circle lay before them, the ground decorated with hundreds of mounds of dirt. Graves. Alex’s words died her throat as she looked out over the mass graveyard, and despite the cold weather, she felt the hot flames of fear and adrenaline lick at her spine. Castiel pushed past her, and Alex followed, hurrying down the hill to make her way among the mounds. "How many do you think there are?"

Her question went unanswered, and Alex turned to find Castiel kneeling down beside one grave, his phone pressed up against his ear. She crossed over to him, crouching at his side as the seraph turned a white sneaker over in his hands. "He's dead," he told the Winchester on the other line, his face dark with concern. The surprise of the brothers could be heard even from where Alex was, and Castiel tossed the shoe back onto the ground with a dry, "Just call it an educated guess."

“Who’s dead?” Alex turned the shoe over to see the name ‘Tolliver’ written on the sole. Wind cut through the clearing, and Alex shivered, turning to hide her face from the blast. She opened her mouth, ready to comment about the cold, but she fell silent at the sight of a darkly—clad figure standing at the edge of the graves. "C—Cas —— hey."

She hit the seraph in the shoulder with the back of her hand to get his attention, and Castiel turned in surprise. "I'll call you back." He hung up, and Alex shifted sideways as the seraph stepped forward to put himself between her and Cain.

"Hello, Castiel." The man strolled forward, dark eyes flickering between the two of them. "It's good to see you again, Alex.” He nodded towards her, face growing thoughtful. “I see you’ve lost your grace. Recently, I believe.”

“How …?”

“I’ve been keeping an eye on the three of you, yes. I’m guessing it was not long after after you finally killed that innocent child.” The look in his eyes intensified, and Alex lifted her chin against the allegation. “You've been dancing there for some time, haven't you? The line between justice and cold-blooded murder. How does it feel to have finally put a foot on the other side?”

Alex felt her jaw tighten, unable to force words through her constricted throat. “What have you done?” Castiel’s voice shook angrily as his arms spread out, motioning to the unmarked graves that surrounded the three of them.

Cain’s gaze turned out across them, his expression placid and unreadable. “These bodies?” he asked, and Alex curled her fingers in the hem of her jacket to resist reaching for her blade as he turned back to them with a dismissive shake of his head. “Just cleaning up a mess I made a long time ago.”

“Cain, I know what you are,” the seraph began as the Father of Murder moved closer, and Alex shifted away. “But you resisted for so long.”

“What can I say? I got the taste back.” Cain chuckled as he came to stop inches from the two of them, his breath warming the icy air. “With Abaddon’s army gunning for me, I had to take up arms again, and I liked how it felt.”

His words were met with silence, and only when Cain had turned away did Castiel find his voice. “Those were demons,” he insisted. “These …”

“Humans.” Cain crouched down to pick up a small, dirty teddy bear that was resting beside one of the graves with a disinterested shrug. “Eh. The Mark thirsts for all kinds.”

“This is a massacre.”

“Yes. And soon it’ll be a genocide.” Cain tossed the toy back into the mud as he rose back to his feet. “My children, my whole poisoned issue. A lot of them are out there right now … killers, fighters, thieves, some more peaceful than others. But they still carry it. The disease.” His blue eyes darkened as he regarded the two angels. “If the Mark wants blood, I’ll give it mine.”

“You’ll kill them all?” Disbelief darkened Castiel’s face, and Alex watched as his fingers curled and uncurled in unease. “You were Adam and Eve’s firstborn. Your descendants are Legion.”

“At most, I’m culling …” Cain paused, thinking, “one out of ten.”

“Of everyone.”

Cain shrugged, disinterested by the seraph’s concern. “I’ve got time. How’s Dean, by the way? I hear he did good, took Abaddon down.” He watched as Castiel’s face hardened, and he gave a small pout. “He’s not well.”

“He’s having trouble keeping it under control, even without the First Blade,” Alex relayed, and she felt both men’s gazes turn onto her. “I don’t think he’s strong enough to fight it on his own. If we don’t find a cure —”

She cut off when Cain scoffed. “Cure?” he repeated. “There is no cure. I’m living proof of that. But don’t worry about Dean,” he promised after a second’s pause. “I’ll get to him, in due time.” Metal glinted in the sunlight, and Cain’s eyes flickered across the angel blade in Castiel’s hands. “Sorry, Castiel. You’re not on my list.” Alex shifted back, hand coming up to reach for her own weapon, but she froze when Cain turned to her. “Neither of you are.”

The Father of Murder disappeared into thin air, leaving them alone among the dead. A cold wind followed his departure, and Alex flinched away from the icy blast. “What are we going to do?”

Castiel didn’t immediately answer, and Alex opened her eyes to see that he had retreated two steps, his phone in his hands. “We should contact the authorities,” he decided, and Alex hurried over to him, pressing herself into his arm. “At the very least, revealing his burial site will slow him down until he finds another one.”

Alex’s eyes turned out over the graves, her face darkening thoughtfully. “Good idea,” she finally agreed, glancing back towards her mate. “I’ll text Sam …” She trailed off, frowning to find that Castiel was already ten paces from her side, his phone pressed up against his ear. “I’ll text Sam,” she repeated to herself, digging her phone out of her jacket pocket as she broke into a run after her mate. “He’ll want to know.”

 

Alex pushed herself off of the hood of her Marquis as the Lincoln Continental pulled up alongside her, the windows rolled down to let in the warm summer air. The engine died with a spluttered cough, and Alex rolled her eyes as Castiel got out, carefully closing the door as not to damage the car. “I thought I’d lost you about twenty miles back behind that train,” she teased as he circled around to stand in front of her, and she leaned up, welcoming the kiss that came in response to her greeting. “You made better time than I expected you to.”

“The train wasn’t very long.” The seraph brushed over her joke, his face set in stone. “Have you spoken to either Winchester yet?”

“Not since we talked on the phone back in Indiana.” Alex led the way over to the bunker entrance, her boots echoing on the metal stairs as she jumped down to the door. “I doubt they went anywhere, if that’s what you’re concerned about.” Her theory was confirmed as she pushed her way into the bunker, leaning over the rails to catch sight of both Winchesters sitting in the library. “See?”

“You’re back,” Sam greeted as the two descended, and he partially closed his laptop as Alex bounded across the room and up the library stairs. “How’d it go?”

“Not good.” Alex grimaced in agreement to Castiel’s words, and she sat down on the edge of the table as she glanced up at the seraph’s darkened face. She heard Dean rise to his feet behind her, the legs of the chair scraping against the wooden floor, and the seraph’s gaze turned onto him. “It appears that Cain has been killing off his descendants, and he shows no intention to stop.”

“You — you spoke with him?” Shock filled Sam’s voice, and Alex watched as he and Dean exchanged worried looks before his hazel eyes flickered down to her. “You didn’t mention that.”

Castiel nodded, answering for her. “It appears that, even without the Mark, Cain’s murderous tendencies have returned.” His head tilted so he could watch Dean pace across the room, and his shoulders fell slightly in defeat. “I’m sorry I couldn’t bring better news.”

“It’s not your fault, Cas.” Dean swiped a hand through his hair as he came to stop behind his brother, and a small shake of his head emphasized the seraph’s vindication. He reached down to paw through the thick stack of folders on the table, a mixture of both old and new research.

“Thank you,” Sam added, and the table creaked as he leaned his elbows against it, opening up his laptop once again. “Alright, so I called the sheriff, and he gave me a few names, some preliminary IDs on the bodies.”

“And?” Dean asked.

“And it seems to fit with their story,” Sam finished with a grim nod, and Dean’s fingers tightened on the Men of Letters’ folder he held in his hands. “I mean, there’s no way to tell the relation to Cain, obviously, but he’s wiping out entire families, one after another.”

With a sigh, Dean dropped the file back onto the table. “So, who’s next? Is he done with the Tollivers?”

“Tolliver?” Alex repeated, and she rose up from the corner of the table with a frown. “That was the name written on the bottom of that shoe Cas found. How do you two know this guy?”

“He’s the inmate who escaped death row.” Sam let out a reluctant breath, his eyes not lifting from the computer screen. “Yeah. But, uh, it looks like Cain’s done.” He squinted as he scrolled through the FBI database, lips pursed tightly together in concentration. “I mean, his father didn’t have any siblings or any other children I can see, and Tommy was never married, so I …” He trailed off, hazel eyes darting up and down the screen, and his shoulder fell. “Oh, come on. Dammit.”

“What?”

“Tommy did have a son,” Sam reported. “Estranged, who lives with his mother in Ohio. Uh … Austin Reynolds, twelve years old.”

“Is the kid still alive?” Dean crossed over to lean against the back of his brother’s chair, peering down at the screen, and after a second, Sam nodded.

“As of an hour ago, yeah,” he announced, and Alex let a breath of relief escape her lungs. “That’s when he updated his Facebook status. But I mean, come on. It’s a kid.” He looked up from his laptop, eyes turning onto Castiel. “You don’t really think Cain would …”

“Yes, he would.”

“There were all sorts of people buried there,” Alex agreed darkly. “Men, women, children. Anyone and everyone that carried his blood.” She watched as Dean started towards the hallway, and she lifted her voice. “Where are you going?”

“We know where Cain’s going to be.” Dean’s eyes flashed as he turned back to the three of them. “That kid’s in danger.”

Sam’s chair creaked as he twisted to face his brother, a frown on his lips. “Okay, so what, we track him down to Ohio, and then what?”

“Then I’ll do what I have to do.” The Winchester’s eyes narrowed, and Alex watched as one hand came up to tightly grip the Mark. “I’ll kill Cain.”

He disappeared off towards the bedrooms, and Alex exchanged a look with Sam before the Winchester rose to his feet and hurried after his brother. “Dean, wait!” he called, and with a shrug, Alex followed.

“— he gave me the Mark, Cain said that this day would come,” Dean was explaining as he made his way into his room, and Alex fell in step at Sam’s side. “That after I killed Abaddon, I would have to come and put him down.” He reached for his duffle bag that lay in the corner of his room, tossing it haphazardly onto the bed as he pulled a shotgun off of the hooks on the wall.

“Great.” Sam leaned up against the doorway, but a nudge from Alex had him stepping inside to stand beside the bed. “So you’re taking orders from a madman.”

“No, he wasn’t mad then.” Dean shoved the weapon into the canvas bag with a shake of his head. “Cain resisted the Mark for a long time, but then I came, kicking up trouble about the Blade. I sent him down this path. This is on me.”

“It doesn’t mean you have to be the one to go after him,” Sam retorted, and he folded his arms across his chest as Dean paused to look over at him.

“Yes, it does,” Dean corrected firmly. “And there’s only one thing that can kill him.”

“The Blade.” The word tasted sour on her tongue, and Alex spat it out, mimicking Sam by crossing her arms. “Great.”

“Dean’s right.” A hand came to rest on her shoulder, and Alex’s arms fell back to her side as she looked up into Castiel’s face; the features, normally so impassive, held traces of concern and frustration carved deep into the lines.

She sighed, ready to give in, but Sam still remained less than convinced. “Dean, wielding the Blade against Cain himself …” He trailed off as Dean’s hand came up to cover the Mark, and his voice cracked slightly as he forced himself to go on. “Win or lose, you may never come back from that fight.”

“I know.” Dean’s arm trembled slightly as he released the mark to zip up his bag, and when he finally looked back up, his green eyes flickered with determination. “But this is my mess, Sammy.” He pushed his way past the three of them, and Alex stepped aside to let him through. “I’m the only one who can stop him.”

 

De Graff, Ohio

The Impala rolled to a stop outside a farm home, the headlights darkening as the engine died. “This the place?” Dean slung a hand over the back of the seat as he looked out towards the home, and when Sam nodded, he fully removed the keys from the ignition. “Alright. So what’s the plan?”

“We find Austin, and we get him out.” Sam threw open the door, and Alex followed, leaving room for Castiel to crawl out beside her. “Hopefully we’re not too late.” He nodded towards the barn, where light spilled out from the loft. “Cas, take Alex and check the barn. We’ll take the house.”

The seraph nodded, and Alex fell in step at his side as they crossed the lawn. She stretched open her eyes, trying to see better through the dark, but without her grace, all she could see was darkness. “What do you see?” she asked, taking a step closer to her mate as her toes bumped against something buried in the long grass.

“There’s someone upstairs.” The barn door opened silently beneath Castiel’s touch, and Alex slowly followed him inside. “Stay here. I’ll go see who it is.”

“Sure thing.” Alex did her best to keep the disappointment out of her voice as she took up a post near the door, reaching back to draw her gun as the seraph disappeared up the stairs. She pressed her back up against the doorway, head turned out into the night, and she cocked it slightly to listen for Castiel’s returning footsteps. She could see Sam and Dean on the front step of the house, knocking insistently, and she squinted to try and make out the details on their faces when Sam shook his head.

She was so focused on the brothers that Castiel’s reappearance at her side had her jumping away. “Austin is upstairs playing with a basketball,” he informed her as he swept by, and Alex followed him out into the night. “He’s safe.”

“Okay, good.” Alex tucked her weapon back into her pocket as she and Castiel returned to the Impala, where both Sam and Dean had retired to after knocking on the door. She tucked her hands into her sleeves to fight back the evening’s chill as Castiel repeated his findings to both of the brothers.

Sam’s face was one of relief, but Dean’s eyes remained dark. “Cain will strike soon,” he warned. “Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow, but soon.” He looked over at his brother, worry painted across his features as he added, “And when he does …”

“Yeah, I got it.” Sam shoved his hands into the pocket of his jacket with a frown. “You charge in with the Blade solo. And the kid? What, we just watch and wait until Cain attacks? I thought this was a rescue mission.”

“We save the kid after Cain shows.”

Sam frowned at Dean’s firm tone, but Castiel jumped in before he could speak. “We know what Cain’s after,” he reminded, and Sam’s eyebrows lifted in surprise to find Castiel defending his brother. “That’s our only advantage. We want to trap Cain, we use it.”

“A twelve year old as bait.” Sam gave a small, slow shake of his head. “I can’t believe what I’m hearing.”

“Neither can I.” A fourth voice joined the conversation, and Alex’s eyes snapped around to lock with Crowley’s gaze. The demon was crossing the darkened lawn, the wind tugging at his black coat, and Alex was unable to stifle a grimace of disgust as he came to stop at her side.

Her expression as mirrored by Dean. “What’s the matter, Crowley?” he retorted. “You suddenly grow a conscience? Too good to put a minor in danger?”

His sharp words were met by a chuckle that quickly faded away. “I don’t give a damn about the kid.” Crowley’s lips pursed together as he looked between Sam and Dean. “I’m talking about the risk to us.”

“There is no us.” Dean stepped forward, and Crowley’s gaze turned back onto him. “You’re here for one reason. That’s to hand me the Blade.”

“What the hell are you even doing here?” Alex added, and she scowled at how the demon’s eyes turned down onto her.

“Didn’t you hear? Dean gave me a call about the Blade. Told me this was life or death.” Crowley turned back to Dean, an eyebrow cocked at how the Winchester’s hand was outstretched, fingers curling expectantly. “So about that.” Crowley lifted his chin, and Dean’s eyes darkened. “Seeing as this is shaping up to be one of those, uh, two-step capture-then-kill kind of deals, I think your buddies would agree it’s better to keep the Blade out of your hands until we’ve got Cain sewn up. Just to be safe.”

Dean looked backwards, searching for support from his friends, but Sam merely shrugged. Alex mimicked him, adding aloud, “Maybe that would be best. Why risk anything before we have to?”

She ignored the triumphant gleam in the King of Hell’s eyes. “Now, back to this plan of yours.”

“Okay, wise guy. You don’t want to use the kid as bait, what do you suggest?” Dean folded his arms across his chest, and even in the dim light, Alex could see the frustration in his gaze. “Huh?”

“Rune of Amaranth.” Crowley removed his hand from his pocket to show off a small amber crystal. “Used in the finest occult illusions — it can fool even demons for a time.” He tossed the rock up and down twice before returning it to his pocket. “Given the right spell, it should mimic the little tot perfectly.”

“Okay, great. We’ll use that.” Alex turned to look up at Dean, a plan forming in her mind. “Crowley will take Austin somewhere else — somewhere far away. And then we’ll wait for Cain.”

“You really want to put the kid in my hands?” Crowley scoffed loudly, and Alex fell silent with a frown. “Why don’t you play babysitter? You have experience watching over brats.” His dark eyes flickered up to Dean, glittering with undisguised amusement.”

“You can take him farther away,” Alex retorted sharply. “And I’m more use here.”

“Are you?” From his other pocket, Crowley produced a small vial of dull grace, and Alex felt her cheeks flush hot with anger. “What exactly are you without this?”

“Alright, alright, that’s enough.” Dean stepped in between them, hands spread to keep the two at bay. “The kid’s not going with either of you, okay? We —”

“Dean.” The low rumble of Castiel’s voice had the Winchester falling silent, and Alex turned to follow the seraph’s gaze. A boy stood in the middle of the darkened lawn, a basketball in his hands, his eyes stretched wide as he stared at the strangers.

“Austin Reynolds?” Dean fumbled in his pockets as he stepped forward, and the boy stepped back. His hands were clenched, and the light in his eyes made him look like he was two seconds from bolting.

“It’s okay.” Alex moved forward slowly to stand just in front of Dean, hands spread in innocence. “My name is Agent Phillips. We’re with the FBI.” She motioned back to the Winchester, who had managed to retrieve his fake ID and was holding it out to the young teen. “We’re not here to hurt you. Is your mom home?”

“She — she’s at work.” Despite the tremor in Austin’s voice, he held his head high as he addressed her. “She works the overnight shift at the hospital.”

“Okay.” Alex softened her face, head tilting slightly to one side, and she was rewarded when the boy’s posture relaxed slightly. “Is there somewhere you can go? Friends or relatives in the area? It’s not safe for you to be alone out here tonight.” She pointed to Sam. “That man right there is Agent Ford. He’s going to take you to wherever you can go.”

“I — my aunt lives in town.” Austin’s eyes flickered between Alex and Sam, unsurety in his gaze. “Why isn’t it safe?”

“There’s a man on his way here. A very dangerous man who wouldn’t hesitate to harm you.” Alex dropped her voice, softening it the best she could. “We’re here to stop him, Austin. And we need you to trust us so we can get you somewhere safe.” She nodded towards the house, adding, “If you need to call your mom first to let her know where you’re going, you can. But we need to move quickly.”

“O—Okay.” Austin stepped forward hesitantly, and Dean stepped aside to let the child through to Sam.

“Hey.” Sam smiled down at the boy, his shoulders hunching slightly to appear less intimidating. “Do you know how to get to your aunt’s place?” He accepted the keys from his brother, and Alex turned away to let Sam take control of the situation.

“Alright. You get that rock thing working.” Alex pointed to Crowley before her finger turned onto her and Dean. “We need to find a way to trap Cain. What’s going to hold him?”

“Devil’s trap.” Dean’s face was grim. “We’ll lure him into the barn.” He stepped away from the demon, motioning Alex after him. “Let’s go. I don’t know how long we have.”

 

Alex stood in the loft of the barn, leaning her head up against the wide window as she stared out into the darkened grass below. “How long is this going to take?” She stepped away from the window, lips pursed tightly as she brushed a hand through her hair. She could hear a basketball in the next room, and she peered through the planks that served as a wall to see Austin dribbling the ball in a slow, methodical fashion. She blinked, watching for several more seconds in hopes of catching sight of something — anything — that would indicate that the apparition was the result of a spell, but there was nothing.

“Don’t know.” Dean was crouched on the floor, his attention on a distinct line of pebbles on the wooden planks. He adjusted one of the stones, pushing it back into place, and Alex sighed when no further explanation came.

The basketball ceased its movement, and Alex watched as the apparition exited the room and descended the barn stairs. Dean looked up only long enough to see the boy disappear before his gaze fell back onto his project.

Alex returned to the window, sitting down on a pile of hay to watch. She could see Austin crossing the grass, and she ducked down when the apparition paused. A second figure stepped out in front of him, and even in the darkness, the ex-angel recognized the form as that of Cain. “Dean.” She hissed out the Winchester’s name, and green eyes snapped up to meet hers. “He’s here. Stay down.”

She peered back out through the window in time to see the apparition running back towards the barn, and, although she couldn’t see, she knew Sam was there waiting for the boy. Her attention turned back to Cain, hindered by Castiel. The seraph’s hand was stretched out, the blue in his eyes glowing in the night air.

She couldn’t hear the words spoken, but the wave of Cain’s hand had Castiel flying out of the way, and the ex-angel flinched as her mate crashed through a wooden fence. Cain crossed the lawn, and Alex ducked back down, pressing her head into her chest to keep out of sight as the Father of Murder entered the barn. She waved Dean backwards as she jumped forward, hurrying after Sam and Austin into the main room of the loft.

Sam slammed the doors behind her, and Alex threw herself next to him as the doors shuddered beneath Cain’s weight. She planted her feet against the floor, teeth grit as she pushed back against the pressure. The door shuddered once, then twice, and then it stopped.

She heard the apparition gasp from behind her, and she spun around to see Cain standing in the middle of the room, a silver knife in his hands. Austin was looking up at him, his eyes stretched wide. “Don’t.” The apparition’s voice was soft, and his feet carried him one step back. “Please, don’t.”

Cain looked over at Sam and Alex, and Alex squared her jaw as the knife slid into Austin’s stomach.

The apparition dissolved in a cloud of purple smoke, and the faint triumph in Cain’s eyes faded into realization. “Illusion spell.” He twisted the blade in his hands as he watched the smoke dissipate, his lips turning downwards into a thin frown.

“Oh, yeah.” Sam stepped forward, head held high. “The real Austin is long gone.”

Cain barely seemed to hear him, his attention still on the fading smoke. “Eighteenth century magic,” he murmured to himself, and Alex watched as Crowley entered the room from behind the Father of Murder. “If I had to hazard a guess, Rune of Amaranth.”

“Good eye,” Crowley appraised, and Cain turned his gaze onto him. “Something I picked up from my mother.”

“Well, I know you fear me, so I can only assume …” Can kicked at the straw that covered the loft floor, revealing the thick red line that indicated the edge of the large devil’s trap that Alex and Dean had laid down. “Oh. Clever.” He lifted his eyes to Alex, and the ex-angel rolled back her shoulders under his gaze. “Won’t hold me for long, you know.”

“It won’t need you.” Sam pulled open the barn door and stepped through, and Crowley crossed the room to follow.

Alex turned to fall in step at the demon’s side, but an outstretched arm had her pausing with a frown. “I want you to stay here.” Crowley kept his voice low, his dark eyes flickering uneasily over to Cain. “Keep an eye on both him and Dean. Don’t engage in the fight. That’s an order.”

Alex squared her jaw, searching the demon’s face for any sign that he was willing to negotiate, but his expression, like his tone, was firm. Reluctantly, she nodded, stepping back, and Crowley closed the doors behind him as he followed after Sam. “Do you ever get tired of being told what to do?” Cain’s voice had her turning back to face him, and Alex crossed the room with a shake of her head.

“What do you think?” She kicked at the straw, rolling her eyes at the obvious question. “But I do it because I don’t have a choice. Unlike you.” Her eyes flashed as she lifted her chin to meet Cain’s sharp gaze. “You’re capable of fighting this — you did it for, what, how many years? And now, all of this galavanting around and killing kin, where does it all end?” A step forward had her standing with her toes against the devil’s trap. “The Mark isn’t going to be satisfied when you kill off all your descendants. It’s going to want more and more until there’s no one left.”

“Do you know why I gave Dean the Mark instead of you?” Cain met her at the line, his own boots scuffing against the planks as his toes met the painted trap. “Because you can’t carry it. It’s not in your blood.” Alex lifted her chin, and the Father of Murder let out a low chuckle. “Now Dean, he shares my blood. The evil that taint my line, that’s always been a part of him. But not you.” The man’s sharp blue eyes glinted as he tipped his head, and his voice dropped in to a low, thoughtful murmur. “The evil inside you is something new entirely.”

His gaze turned upwards at the sound of the barn door opening, and Alex stepped back as his lips curled up into a smile. “Hello, Dean.” He straightened his back, lifting his head higher as he waited for the Winchester to return the greeting, but when nothing came, his smile grew. “At a loss for words, my son?” he taunted. “Allow me. This is the part where you tell me it’s not too late and I can lay down my arms, abandon my mission. ‘We don’t have to fight.’ ”

“I’ll spare us the formalities.” Dean’s fingers squeezed the First Blade, his knuckles paling from his tight grip, and green eyes turned onto Alex with a displeasing frown. “Get out of here.”

“No.” Alex took two more steps back before firmly planting her feet in the straw. “I can’t, Dean. Crowley told me to stay until this was finished.”

“As long as you’re in here, you’re a liability.” Dean’s tone left little room for disagreement, but when Alex merely lifted her chin defiantly, the Winchester shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He moved forward towards Cain, and Alex let her muscles relax as his attention turned onto the man. “You’re past talking down, Cain. You’re fully mental.”

“Oh, I prefer to think I’ve finally gotten it clear.” Cain’s feet carried him along the edge of the devil’s trap, and Dean followed, his arm and the Blade trembling in anticipation. “When I made my bargain with Lucifer, killed Abel, I released a stain upon the earth, a stain deeper and far more lasting than mere precedence.”

“Your bloodline’s tainted, so you say.”

“So I know,” Cain retorted, and he came to a stop, turning fully to face Dean. “Not all killers are my descendants, and not all of my descendants are killers, but enough are, enough for me to know that extinguishing them is the least I owe this world.” He tipped his head, studying Dean, and he asked, “Can you honestly tell me that humanity’s not better off with fewer Tommy’s and fewer Leon’s … fewer you’s?”

“And what about the kid?” Dean challenged.

“He could go either way,” came the measured response. “I prefer to be thorough.” Cain’s eyes dropped down to the First Blade, and his head tilted again. “How’s it feel, Dean, to be holding the Blade again?”

The old jaw bone caught in the dim light of the barn as Dean lifted it, turning it in his hands to study its deadly features. “It feels like a means to an end.” He moved across the painted line, entering the devil’s trap, and Cain sidestepped to make room.

“Then do it.” The man stepped back as Dean lunged forward, and Alex settled herself warily against the wall, arms crossed as she watched the man duck out of the hunter’s way. The two danced across the trap, Dean’s blows never hitting their mark, but the first blow from Cain sent the hunter sprawling onto the ground. He stepped back, waiting for Dean to clamber back to his feet, and on the next swing of the Blade, Cain grabbed Dean’s wrist.

The two stood motionless, muscles straining as they both fought for control of the weapon, and Alex’s arms fell back to her side, hands stuffed into her pockets as she watched from the sidelines. “I think you can do better,” Cain hissed. A punch to his face had his head snapping to one side, but his grip on the Blade didn’t waver. “Unless … you’re holding back.” Dean’s fist came at him again, and he caught hold, squeezing tight to hold it motionless as they continued struggling for the weapon. “What is it, Dean?” Cain goaded, his voice strained with effort. “Do you think if you hold back enough, you won’t succumb, that you’ll leave this fight the same way you entered?”

With a sudden burst of strength, Cain threw Dean onto the ground, First Blade and all, and the Winchester hit the floor with a dull, heavy thud. “Look at my example, boy!” Cain’s voice cut through the air, as loud as thunder, and Dean’s head fell back as he struggled to regain the breath that had been knocked from his lungs. “There is no resisting the Mark or the Blade. There is only remission and relapse!”

The man dropped to his knees, fingers curling in Dean’s jacket as he pulled the Winchester close, and the moment his free hand tightened into a fist, Alex was on her feet. “Hey!” The ex-angel managed to take two steps before a cold, forceful wind knocked her off her feet. Her back hit the far wall, and a breathless cry left her lips as she crashed to the ground.

“You told me that day would come.” Dean grabbed at Cain’s jacket, forcing the man’s attention back on him. “You told me that I would have to kill you!”

“Is that so?” The same force had Dean flying across the room, and the First Blade fell from the Winchester’s hands as he hit the wooden wall. Cain rose to his feet, his tongue clicking as he regarded the two hunters. “I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood my intentions here, Dean. When your pet angels found my burial site, I thought about ending them and swatting them like flies.” His eyes turned onto Alex as she pushed herself back to her feet, grunting at the pain in her ribs. “But then,” he continued, turning back to where Dean was likewise forcing himself to his feet, “I thought about you. Your biggest weakness, the thing I noticed the moment I met you — your courage, your reckless bravado. I let them both go, knowing they would report back to you, knowing you would bring into the battle the one thing that can kill me, the one thing I truly want.”

The First Blade slid across the floor on its own volition, the handle scraping against the wooden planks as it shot toward Cain. The Father of Murder trapped it with his boot, and Alex felt her footsteps falter halfway to the devil’s trap. “Oh, it’s been too long.” Cain knelt to pick up the First Blade, his eyes flickering closed as his fingers curled around the handle. “That old feeling makes me wonder how I ever had the strength to resist.” His eyes opened at the sound of Dean’s rushing footsteps, and he caught the Winchester by the throat.

Dean’s eyes stretched open wide, and his hands scrabbled against Cain’s wrist as he tried to pry the fingers from his neck. “This may be hard to believe,” the man began as Dean gasped for air, “in light of what I’m about to do to you, but I care about you, Dean. I truly do. But I know I’m doing you a favor. I’m saving you.”

The First Blade glinted in his hands, and Alex’s feet carried her another step forward. “Stop!” The word rattled in Dean’s throat as he stretched a hand out towards her, and Alex halted. Her grey eyes reached his face, looking for any sign of deception, but there was nothing but firm determination. “Saving me from what?” he wheezed, eyes rolling back up onto Cain, and he let out a breathless gasp as the hand on his throat tightened.

“From your fate.” Cain flung Dean to the ground, and the Winchester grunted as he skidded across the straw. “Has it never occurred to you?” Cain kicked Dean in the ribs, rolling the Winchester onto his back. “Have you never mused upon the fact that you’re living my life in reverse? My story began when I killed your brother, and that’s where your story will inevitably end.”

“No.” Dean’s head rolled back against the straw as he shook his head. “Never.” He pushed himself upwards on shaking arms, but a kick to the sternum sent him falling back.

“It’s called the Mark of Cain for a reason!” Cain’s voice boomed through the small room, his lips pulled back in a snarl before it faded away. “First … first, you’d kill Crowley.” He twisted the First Blade in his hand, a foot pinning Dean to the ground, and Alex reached back, her fingers curling uncertainly around the handle of her gun. “There’d be some strange, mixed feelings on that one, but you’d have your reasons. You’d get it done, no remorse.” He dropped down to his knees, straddling the Winchester with one hand wrapped tightly in the hunter’s jacket. “And then you’d kill the angel Castiel. That I suspect would hurt something awful.” He chuckled, and the First Blade pressed against Dean’s neck as his eyes turned onto Alex.

The ex-angel froze, her gun in her hands, but Cain only let out a scornful laugh. “And then you’d kill her.” His voice was low with malice, and Alex looked away, unable to hold the man’s sharp gaze. Her eyes met Dean’s, watching as the Winchester’s teeth grit. “Now that … killing your little sister would push you right up against the edge. And you’d ask yourself how you could ever survive it.” The Blade pressed tighter against his neck, and Cain lowered his head, his face inches from Dean’s. “But the truth is, you won’t be able to. Because after that, then comes the murder that would finally turn you into as much of a savage as me.”

“No.” The word was choked out, and Alex pulled back the hammer on her gun, fingers digging into the metal of the trigger guard as she wavered in indecision; Cain was too close to Dean to risk a shot.

“Your brother, Sam.” Cain continued on, oblivious to Alex and her weapon. “The only thing standing between you and that destiny is this Blade. You’re welcome, my son.” Cain reared up, the Blade rising to strike, and Alex saw her chance.

The bullet tore through Cain’s skull, entering just below the ear, and the impact sent the Father of Murder reeling back. A snarl erupted from his lips, and then Cain was on his feet, Dean forgotten. “You.” The look on the man’s face was less than human, and Alex shift back as the floorboards cracked beneath his anger, breaking the devil’s trap and freeing him from his prison. “You should have stayed on the sidelines.”

Three steps carried him across the room, and Alex pressed her back into the wall, jaw clenched in fear. His hand raised, the First Blade flashing through the air, and Alex flinched away for the blow that never came.

The weapon clattered to the ground, the sound drowned out by a howl of pain, and Alex’s eyes snapped open to see Cain’s bloodied arm, the hand severed at the wrist. The man dropped to his to knees as he cradled his wound, and Alex pressed herself further into the wall as Dean discarded a large, bloody knife in exchanged for the First Blade.

Cain’s teeth grit as the Winchester circled around to stand behind him, and the Father of Murder lifted his gaze to Alex’s face. “What’s the matter?” he taunted, and Alex looked over at the hesitant hunter.

“Tell me I don’t have to do this.” Dean’s voice was on the edge of a plea, the Blade clenched tightly in his hand. “Tell me that you’ll stop. Tell me you can stop!”

Cain’s voice dropped low, intense and quiet. “I will never stop.”

The First Blade plunged deep into Cain’s back, and Alex forced herself to look away as Cain died. She felt his body collapse in front of her, and the ex-angel lifted her gaze to Dean’s eyes. The green irises were barely visible beneath his dilated pupils, and his chest heaved as he gripped the bloody First Blade. “Thank you.” Alex sidestepped the corpse, a wary eye on the trembling Winchester. “Dean. Dean.” She watched as Dean’s gaze snapped over to her. “Let’s go downstairs.”

The Winchester silently led the way, and Alex followed as they moved down the rickety wooden stairs. Sam stood in the room below, Crowley and Castiel at his side, and at the sight of his brother, Dean’s shoulders fell. “Dean?” Sam’s voice trembled slightly at Dean’s beaten face and quivering muscles, and the concern on his face grew when Dean didn’t acknowledge him. “We heard a shot fired. What happened?”

“Dean,” Crowley repeated, and his hand extended expectantly towards the bloody weapon. “The Blade.”

Dean turned at the demon’s words, his eyes dropping onto the ancient jawbone, and Alex watched as he slowly held it out. The weapon bypassed Crowley’s open hand, instead turning onto Castiel, and the seraph blinked in surprise as he accepted the bloodstained bone. Crowley’s face twisted in outrage, his eyes darkening furiously. “You lied to me.”

“It’s not the first time today.” Dean spoke slowly, his voice firm and deliberate. “Cain’s list … you weren’t on it.”

Crowley’s eyes turned onto Alex, fire dancing deep within them. “You. Did you know this as going to happen?”

“They didn’t tell me anything.” Alex kept her tone level the best that she could as she addressed the fuming King of Hell, chin lifted. “Dean didn’t say how he got you to agree to hand over the Blade. And honestly, I didn’t ask. The less I knew, the less I had to tell you.”

The demon let out a frustrated snarl, but, faced with all four of them, he vanished into thin air. The moment he was gone, Dean collapsed into his brother. “Hey, hey, hey.” Sam wrapped his arms around him, supporting his brother the best that he could. “You did it. Dean, you did it.” He guided Dean down to sit on the stairs, and his eyes lifted onto Alex, a plea in his gaze. “What happened up there?”

“Nothing we couldn’t handle.” Alex reached back to tuck her gun into her jeans, shaking her head as she looked down at Dean. The Winchester’s eyes were half-lidded and distant, and the ex-angel pursed her lips. “I can tell you the details later. Once Dean’s back somewhere safe.”

She felt Castiel come to rest at her side, and as an arm wrapped around her waist, she finally felt the adrenaline fade, leaving behind exhaustion and pain. “Alex is right. The three of you should return to the bunker.” The seraph’s gaze dropped down to the Blade. “I need to take this somewhere safe. I will meet you there as soon as I can.”

“Alright.” Relief softened Sam’s face, and he slowly helped Dean to his feet. “Thanks, Cas.”

“Thanks,” Alex echoed as the two disappeared out of the barn, and she finally let her head loll back against her mate’s shoulder, eyes shut. “Don’t be gone long.”

Castiel’s lips pressed against her hair. “I’ll return as soon as I can,” he promised. “Go with the Winchesters and get some rest. You can’t push yourself as hard as you could with your grace.” He nodded off towards the open barn door, and, with a quick departing kiss, Alex followed after Sam.

 

Lebanon, Kansas

The memory of fire woke her, and Alex jerked awake with a strangled gasp. She could feel the heat of the flames on her skin, and the acrid tang of smoke and burning flesh still stung at her nose. Her eyes snapped open, but she was met only with the cool, dark interior of her bedroom. The light from the bunker’s halls spilled in from beneath the door, and Alex shut her eyes as she willed her heat to slow. With a shiver, she swung herself out of bed, grimacing at the pain that had sunk into her bones overnight. Her ribs ached with each breath, and the ex-angel grunted as she bent down to search for a sweatshirt she had discarded late last night. She pulled the thick fabric over her head, rolling up the oversized sleeves before she shuffled out of her room. “Sam?” Alex lifted her voice as she made her way down the hall towards the library. “That you?”

“Hey. You’re up.” Chair legs scraped as Sam pushed himself to his feet to greet her, concern darkening his hazel eyes. “How are you feeling?”

“Exhausted. Sore.” Alex watched as Sam sat back down, and she dropped down into the chair next to him, leaning her head up against his shoulder as she stifled a groan. “How’s Dean?” she asked, letting her eyes fall closed. “Is he still asleep?”

“He hasn’t stirred since we got back.” The muscles in Sam’s shoulder twitched as he typed on the keyboard, and Alex opened her eyes to watch him work. The Winchester paused, and Alex tilted her head up to look into his face. “So … what exactly happened last night?”

“Dean killed Cain.” The ex-angel closed her eyes again, the memories from the barn flashing through her mind. “Cain told him that there was no escape from the Blade and that … that Dean was living his life in, uh, in reverse. With that Mark, it’s Dean destiny to kill all of us. Crowley, Cas, me, then you.”

Sam’s shoulders tensed, and Alex reluctantly pulled her head away. “That’s not going to happen.” Hazel eyes turned down onto her, and the girl nodded.

“I know,” she promised, “but … but it doesn’t matter what we believe, does it? Only if Dean does.” She glanced over at Sam’s shoulder, tempted to return to it, but she reluctantly chose to drop her head down onto the table. “Have you heard anything from Charlie and that weird Book thing?”

“Nothing yet. She usually checks in at the end of the week.” Sam’s head swiveled at the sound of a door slamming, and Alex squeezed her eyes shut, trying to pick up on any approaching footsteps. It was Dean for sure — Castiel was still out with the First Blade — but she couldn’t pinpoint his location. “Looks like Dean’s up.” Sam spoke up, and Alex lifted her head. “I’m going to go see how he’s doing.”

The Winchester walked away, and Alex waited only a few second before she followed after him. She could smell the faint scent of coffee, made earlier in the day by Sam, and she followed her nose to the kitchen. “Morning,” she heard Sam say, and he was answered by a low, tired grunt.

Dean stood by the kitchen counter, a ceramic mug in his hands as he poured himself a cup of coffee from the glass pot. He didn’t look up as Alex entered, his dull green eyes focused on his drink, and Alex frowned at his bruised, the scrapes accentuated by the paleness of his skin. He let out another grunt of frustration as he watched the last few drops fall into his cup.

“Here. Let me make some more.” Sam stepped forward to take the coffee pot. “I think I need another cup myself.”

“Yup.” Dean easily relinquished his grip and crossed the room to sit down at the kitchen table, his steps still unsteady, but stronger than they had been when they had first returned to the bunker.

Alex glanced over at Sam with a small frown, and her concerned look was matched as the Winchester filled the coffee reservoir with tap water. The machine hummed as it started, and Alex leaned up against the doorway as she watched Dean take a sip from his mug.

Neither Sam nor Dean spoke while the coffee brewed; Dean’s eyes were distant, lost in his thoughts, and Sam watched him silently. He didn’t speak again until the machine stopped. “Dean, um ... ” he began, picking up the coffee pot to pour himself a mug, “what you did back there … it was incredible. You know, if you can do that without losing yourself …” He crossed the room to sit down across from his brother, and Dean finally lifted his head to meet Sam’s gaze. “That’s cause for hope, even without a cure.”

“Yeah.” Dean’s response was distant, and his eyes dropped back down onto his mug. “Maybe.” The sound of footsteps approaching had him looking up, and Alex turned to see Castiel enter the room, blue eyes drifting across the four of them. “So, where’s the Blade?”

“Somewhere safe.” Castiel stopped at Alex’s side, a hand coming to rest on her shoulder momentarily, and Alex leaned into his shoulder with a tired hum.

“Good.” Dean pushed himself to his feet with a shake of his head. “Well, if you guys will excuse me, I think I’m gonna go sleep for four days.” He brushed past them, pausing briefly to pat Castiel on the shoulder, and the seraph watched him go with a contemplative frown.

“How is he?” He looked down at Alex, but the ex-angel just shrugged, deflecting the question onto Sam with a nod of her head. Castiel understood, turning his gaze to the Winchester. “Sam?”

“Cas …” Sam’s eyes watered slightly, and the hunter blinked, shaking his head to chase away the tears. “Dean’s in trouble.” His gaze turned towards the door through which his brother had disappeared, and he shook his head again, slow with fear and regret. “He …”

“Give him time.” Alex stepped away from her mate to sit down across from Sam, eyes flickering up to see Castiel’s concerned features. She knew her voice sounded as hopeless as she felt, and the ex-angel squared her jaw in an attempt to cheer the hunter up. “He’s recovering from the fight and from the Blade. That takes time. Maybe … maybe he’s stronger than you think.”

Sam hesitated, and his hazel eyes flickered with hope. “Maybe,” he reluctantly admitted, and he pushed himself to his feet. “I’m going to go call Charlie. Maybe she’s found something.” He picked up his mug and disappeared out of the kitchen, and Alex leaned back in her chair with a drawn-out sigh.

“What about you?” she asked, tipping her head back to look at Castiel. “Are you going to stick around for a bit?”

“Not today.” Castiel stepped up behind her, warm hands coming to rest on her shoulders. “I promised Hannah I would meet with her to discuss heaven’s options for restructuring. I won’t be gone long.” He bent down, lips pressing against her blonde hair, and Alex closed her eyes with a reluctant hum. The kiss lingered a second longer before the seraph pulled back, and Alex let her head fall to her chest as his footsteps faded away.

Chapter Text

Acrid smoke burned at her lungs, and Alex's eyes watered as she flinched away from the flames. "Sam? Dean!" Timbers cracked high above her head, drowning out the brothers' cries, and the girl flinched away as embers burned at her exposed skin. The fire was all around her, caging her in, licking at her jeans, and Alex squeezed her eyes shut, reaching inside for her grace. "No!"

Her scream echoed through the silent room as the fire disappeared, vanishing into thin air and leaving the wooden walls without so much as a charred stain. The flickering heat vanished, and Alex cracked open her eyes, searching for the cause of their withdrawal. She was standing in a kitchen, empty save herself. Alex lifted her hands, turning them over as she examined the black, flowing script that decorated every inch of her skin. There was a meaning to the foreign words -- the ex-angel was sure of it, but when nothing but a fog came, and she gave up and turned her eyes upwards to examine her surroundings. A large kettle sat on the stove, the blood-red liquid inside bubbling as it boiled. The walls were painted red, too, still wet as if recently painted, and Alex inhaled sharply as her eyes drifted downwards. It wasn't just the walls. Everything was red. Everything was wet.

Blood.

The word had no sooner crossed her mind than the liquid began to move, flying off of the countertops and shooting past the ex-angel's head. "You." A voice came from behind her, and Alex turned to face the girl.

Tina stood behind her, her face pale and expressionless. "You did this to me," she repeated, and blood seeped from the corner of her eye, rolling down past her lips. "You killed me."

Alex felt her grace tremble through the air, growing stronger and stronger until every fiber of her being began to shake, pulled apart at its very foundations. She felt a scream leave her throat, drown out by the teen's own cry. Her body was cracking, blood oozing from the skin as the woman was ripped open, and Tina exploded into a shower of blood. "No!" Pain ripped through her own skin, tearing away at the elegant lettering, and Alex's legs gave away beneath the agony. "No!"

"No!" Alex jerked awake with a strangled cry, hands going to steady herself on whatever object it found first. They landed on leather, and the hunter planted her palm against the backseat of the Impala with a shuddered breath.

She felt the car jerk slightly, and she grimaced as she felt two sets of eyes turn onto her. "Hey, hey." A hand was on her shoulder, warm and comforting, and Alex instinctively reached up to grab it, holding tight to ground herself. "You're okay." Sam squeezed gently, and the ex-angel shivered as she forced herself up. "It was just a dream."

Just a dream. The pain still lingered, and Alex chanced a look down at her skin. It was pale and smooth, unmarred by the torments she had endured. “Yeah,” she agreed and swept a hand through her hair, trying to chase away the adrenaline that still pumped through her veins. "I know. I'm fine, I'm fine. Don’t worry," she added when she saw Sam's hesitant frown. "Human me and my human brain still have some adjusting to do for human sleep."

"Cain?" Dean's eyes had long since returned to the road, and Alex was thankful for the darkness that hid their faces; she felt her face pale as the images of her dream returned.

She covered her fear with a huff. "I wish," she retorted. "I'd take him over half the things we face." Once again, her hands went up to her hair, and she hurriedly brushed her fingers through it before pulling it back into a bun. "Sorry, I didn't mean to fall asleep. You, uh — you mind going over this case you said you found again?"

“Alright. So I’m thinking, uh, curse, maybe,” Dean explained, and Alex watched as Sam let out a small, skeptical hum. “Hey, I’m trying to stay busy,” the eldest Winchester was quick to snap. “You know, eye on the ball, not on the mark. And this is a case until we know it’s not.”

“Uh, sure — no, yeah, you’re right.” Sam shifted apologetically in his seat, clearing his throat as he gave Dean his full attention; a glance in the rearview mirror had Alex doing the same. “Uh, three suicide, two weeks.”

“They’re not just suicides.” Dean scoffed at the description. “They gutted themselves. And they took their sweet time doing it. I mean, that had to be incredibly painful.I can’t seem to find any link between the vics either.” He looked over at Alex, and the ex-angel nodded, wincing as she recalled the violent and gruesome images.

“Yeah,” she agreed. “I guess a curse would make sense. So, probably witches.”

“Except there’s no link between the vics,” Sam reminded, and Alex half-heartedly kicked at his side of the seat.

“No link that you’ve found,” she reminded. “Every serial gutting as a link.” A glare from Dean had her pulling her feet back up and under her, muttering out an apology about kicking at the car. “How long until we reach Massachusetts?”

“Five hours, maybe four if we get lucky.” Dean leaned forward to look up at the sky, the distant horizon grey with the coming dawn. “How’d you sleep back there, sunshine? Coulda sworn you were dead for a while there.”

“Apart from the nightmare?” Alex forced a dry chuckle, and she reclined her head to close her eyes once again. “Not half as well as I’m going to once I get to a real bed,” she admitted. “I’m going to need at least two cups of coffee before we roll into the police station in the morning.” She tucked her jacket tightly around her, adding, “Being human sucks.”

She opened her eyes to watch the grey horizon grow brighter, and she pushed aside her makeshift blanket with a reluctant sigh; there was no way she’d be able to fall asleep again, not with her heart still beating a million miles a minute. “Okay, can — can you run the details by me one more time? I wasn’t listening when you first pitched this as a case.”

“Worcester, Massachusetts.” The engine revved as Dean accelerated around the highway’s bend. “Over the past two weeks, three men have been found cut from sternum to pelvis — wounds seem to be self-inflicted. I haven’t found any link between the victims yet. Cops are at a loss.”

“But no — no sulphur, no cold spots, no — nothing paranormal?”

“Not yet.” From the terse note in Dean’s voice, he had had this conversation with Sam before. “But just because it doesn’t smell fishy doesn’t mean it didn’t come from the ocean.” His analogy had Sam and Alex exchanging confused looks, and the eldest hunter rolled his eyes. “Forget it. You — I told you already. Staying busy is the only way I’m staying sane.”

“And we get that,” Sam promised temperately. “We just don’t know if running all over the country is, you know, the best thing right now.” He ran a hand through his hair before his tone dropped. “Dean, we’ve been on the road for a week straight with nothing.”

“And why did you have to drag me into this?” Alex rubbed at the faint bruising on her ribs, the remnants of her fight with Cain. “I thought I was on sick leave or something at the bunker — time off, vacation, call it what you want.”

“Yeah, well, the team needs you.” Dean merged lanes, slamming on the horn as a rusted truck slipped past. “Besides, you honestly want to tell me that sitting at the bunker is better than — than this?”

He motioned vaguely to the car, and Alex resisted the urge to kick him against through the seat. “Yeah, actually, it was a whole hell of a lot better. I was getting in some quality time with Cas.”

“You mean sex.”

“Shut up, Winchester.” This time, Alex couldn’t help but kick at the seat. “Yeah, I meant sex. Him and I, we haven’t had a lot of ‘us’ time as of late, so you owe me big time for this.” She batted away a half-hearted backwards swing of Dean’s arm, the blow made slow and awkward by the fact that he was still driving the car, adding, “I swear, if this isn’t a case, I’m killing someone and making it one.”

Her joke was met with a chuckle from Sam. “Yeah. Sorry Dean dragged you out here. But, uh, he’s got a point,” he added when his brother let out a huff of annoyance at the blame, “and if — if you still want to hunt as a human, you’re gonna need to get back on your feet soon.”

“Of course.” Alex dug her phone out of her bag to pull up the newspaper article that had first caught Dean’s attention, slumping further down in her seat as she let the conversation die. “Whatever the two of you say.”

 

May 26th, 2015
Worcester, Massachusetts

The Worcester police station smelled of sweat and coffee, and Alex wrinkled her nose as an officer squeezed past her on his way to the break room. "This place is crowded." Alex stepped closer to Sam with a shake of her head. "You'd think someone had just been murdered."

She heard a laugh from up ahead, and Alex looked over at the chief of police, who stood at Dean's side. "This is Worcester," he reminded. "Never a dull day in the city of the seven hills." He waved them down the hall, and Alex watched as Sam and Dean exchanged shrugs behind his back. "You three said you were here about those suicides, huh?"

"Yes, sir,” Sam agreed. “We'd like to see anything you have on them — files, personal items, witness statements. Anything that could be of use."

"Sure thing. Files are in my office, and if you give me a moment, I'll fetch their belongings from evidence." The man motioned in through a doorway, and Alex followed the brothers into the office as he walked off down the hall.

"These files, I bet." Alex picked up the three folders that sat in the middle of the desk, running her eyes down the side to confirm the typed names. "Here. One for each." She handed out the manilla files, flipping through hers as she waited for the sheriff to return.

Rylan Lee, thirty eight years of age. The man had torn his guts open using the splintered end of a chair. Alex grimaced at the picture of the weapon, her stomach clenching at the sharp, splintered and bloodied tool. "This is awful." She held up the crime scene photo for the boys to see, shaking her head in dismay. "Talk about painful — he did this right in front of a crowd of twenty people at a local AA meeting, too."

"Same here," Dean agreed. "Except this time, it was Mr. Briggs in the library with the knife." He looked over his brother, grinning at his joke, but when Sam didn't share in his amusement, the smile faltered. "His wife saw him do it," he finished, closing the file. "Definite suicide."

"And here are the items you asked for." The police chief returned, the boxes in hand, and he set them down upon one of the wooden chairs. "Anything else I can help you three with?"

"Not at the moment, no. Do you — do you mind?" Sam motioned towards the boxes, and when the man nodded, the hunter hurried forward to dig through the evidence. Alex and Dean followed more slowly, watching as the hunter pulled out a cellphone from the box labeled Sloan. "Is this all you found?"

"That's all that was on him, yeah." The sheriff nodded again. "Same with the other two — they weren't carrying much." He motioned towards the phone, adding, "We haven't been able to crack it yet."

"Huh." Sam took the phone out, holding it up against the light. "Uh, do you mind? The men at the bureau's crime lab could have this unlocked in two, maybe three hours."

"Have at it." The officer shrugged. "I don't get why you boys are looking into this anyways — open-and-shut, if you ask me."

"Thanks." Sam tucked the phone into the pocket of his suit coat with a curt nod. "Uh, thanks for all your help. If we have any more questions, we'll give you a call." He placed the file down onto the table, and Alex and Dean followed suit, stacking theirs on top of his.

"Thanks for your time," Alex added, and she slipped past the Winchesters to lead the way out of the office.

"Alright, so here’s what we got." Sam was the first to speak as they exited the police station, and he lengthened his stride as he made a beeline towards the Impala. "Latest vic was Terry Sloan, ordinary guy who gutted himself outside of St. Philomena's Church using a candlestick. Not a lot of friends but no known enemies, no relation to the other vics."

"Well, not necessarily," Dean interjected. "St. Philomena — he's Catholic, and so are the other two." He looked over at Alex, and the angel gave a nod of agreement.

"Dean, this is Massachusetts." Sam rolled his eyes with a small scoff, and Dean frowned slightly. "There are a lot of Catholics in Massachusetts. You really think this is a case?"

Dean squared his shoulders as he stopped beside his car. "Who kills himself with a candlestick, alright? There's about a billion better ways."

"Yeah, but he did kill himself."

"Alright, so, it was not a witch." Dean started a list on his fingers, and Alex leaned up against the Impala with a shake of her head. "There was nothing hexy found on him. Uh, possession? Could have been a demon."

"Yeah …" Sam hesitantly agreed, "but the point of a demon possessing a living thing is to, you know, possess a living thing."

Dean's lips pursed at the criticism. "Okay, agent, why don't you get that cellphone back to the bureau's crime lab, get it hacked like you told those guys, and, uh, we'll figure out what's going on with Terry Sloan."

He unlocked the car door, and Sam grimaced as he pulled the victim's phone out of his pocket. "Probably nude selfies."

Dean rolled his eyes, motioning to the car with a shake of his head. "I'm feeling good about this," he insisted. "Let's get a room and see what turns up, okay? Okay?" he repeated when neither Sam nor Alex responded.

"Okay," Alex agreed, and she slid into the back seat of the Impala. "Sounds like a great plan to me. Let's get a room, and then while you two try and crack that phone, I'm going to get coffee, alright?" She yawned as she pulled the car door closed behind her. "Being human’s going to kill me."

 

"One large mocha. Hot." Alex dropped her cash onto the counter of the small coffee shop, barely stifling a yawn as the barista counted out her change. "Thanks." Alex shoved the coins into her pockets, eyes falling momentarily closed as she drew in the bitter-sweet smell of freshly-ground coffee beans.

"Hello, darling." Alex's eyes snapped open at the voice, and she whipped around, adrenaline sweeping through her body. "Fancy a chat?"

"What are you doing here?" Alex dropped her voice into a hiss as she stepped away from the counter. "What — What the hell, Crowley?"

"Sit." The demon motioned towards a back table, and Alex pursed her lips as she looked around the shop. There were only a few patrons occupying the tables, their attention elsewhere, and the ex-angel gave a reluctant nod, unwilling to cause a scene. Crowley led the way, and she fell in step behind him, sinking down into one of the wooden chairs.

"What are you doing here?" she repeated irritably. "If Dean — if the Winchesters show up, they're going to kill you!"

Crowley's eyes darkened at Dean's name, but he brushed off her obvious bluff with a roll of his eyes. "Flattery will get you nowhere," he chided. "There's naught a bar nor a liquor store within two blocks of here; you and I both know Rocky and Bullwinkle wouldn't even bother with this part of town."

"Okay, so ignoring your gross misrepresentation of Sam … I'm gonna ask you this one more time." Alex leaned forward, lowering her voice. "What the fuck are you doing —"

The air disappeared from her lungs, and Alex squared her jaw as she fought back her body's impending panic. "Public space, cupcake," came the reminder. "Mind your manners." Crowley released his invisible grip, and the ex-angel drew in a gasping breath as oxygen rushed back into her chest. She almost missed how the demon nodded towards the counter as her name was called. "Go get your drink," he instructed, his voice irritably calm. "And don't forget to tip; these people work hard."

Alex narrowed her eyes disdainfully at the command, but she pushed herself to her feet and walked away, rubbing at her throat with a dark scowl. "Thanks," she muttered to the barista, and she dropped a handful of change into the brightly painted plastic cup.

Her feet carried her reluctantly back to her seat, drink in hand. "There. Happy?" Her scowl darkened further at the amusement in Crowley's eyes, and she dug her nails into her palm to keep herself from snapping again. "Okay, listen, if you're just here to get your rocks off by bossing me around —" She cut off as Crowley's hand raised, poised to snap, and the ex-angel drew in a slow, calculated breath. "How's hell doing?"

"It's hell." The King's voice was flat, his tone so low it was almost a growl, and Alex rolled her eyes. "I hate demons — pitiful, whining children. And they're terrified of her, with the way she carries herself around the place, messing with the natural order!"

"Her?" Alex took a sip of her drink, steeling her features as the molten liquid burned at her tongue.

"Rowena. My mother." Crowley spat out the name, and Alex cocked an eyebrow, pain forgotten. "This morning she grew a second head on one of my demons! Just to spite me!" His fists tightened in an uncharacteristic show of frustration, and Alex hummed to show her curiosity. "I don't know what to do about her."

Silence followed his words, and Alex blinked in surprise as she realized he was looking at her expectantly. "I — I'm not your therapist, Crowley." She planted her hands on the table, ready to stand. "I thought you needed me to — to kill someone o-or steal Dean's porn collection. I don't do feelings." The cold look in the demon's eyes had her relaxing back into her seat, and Alex shook her head in disbelief. "Okay — okay, fine." She leaned her head back in exasperation, letting out a low, exaggerated groan. "I thought you had her all locked up for, you know, killing demons."

"I did. And then I … un-imprisoned her. She's my mother," he insisted when Alex lifted an eyebrow. "What did you expect me to do, leave her there to rot in hell?"

Alex pursed her lips, unwilling to show her amusement at the demon's sudden altruism. "She, uh, must have been a good mother."

"She was the worst!" Crowley's voice boomed in indignation. "She was abusive, manipulative — she once tried to sell me for three pigs. Three. I was an attractive child, I could juggle. I was worth five pigs at least!"

"Uh … sure.” When Crowley didn’t offer an further explanation, Alex sighed. “So, if she was such a shit mom, why'd you bother to do her a favor? Not to be rude, but you're the King of Hell, not the King of Cuddles." She watched as Crowley's face tightened, and she quickly matched his frown. "Hey," she defended, "you're the one coming to me before I've had a chance to finish my coffee. You want good quips, you come when I'm awake. And why — why am I your go-to for this?"

"You've been through this before, haven't you? With your father." Crowley motioned between the two of them, leaning forward insistently. "You know what I'm feeling."

"Yeah, I'm probably not the best character witness on this one." Alex took a sip of her drink with another roll of her eyes. "I almost killed my dad."

"But you didn't."

"Because I missed." The ex-angel slammed her drink down, eyes hardening in frustration. "Look, you want to impress your mommy, do something nice for her. Take her out to dinner, bring her the — the head of her mortal enemy. I don't care." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a couple glance their way, and she lowered her voice. "Listen, I've only met Rowena once, and no offense, but she seems like she's good at manipulation." Crowley's snort proved her right, and the ex-angel pursed her lips. "So whatever you do, just be careful about it. Keep her on your good side, you know?"

"Trust me, I know." Crowley's face darkened. "However, you have given me an idea. Thank you." He rose to his feet, leaving Alex in her chair, stunned at the genuine display of gratitude. "Ah, that reminds me. Do you know what day it is? Exactly one year from now, and that pretty little soul of yours is mine. Enjoy."

"A…nd there it is." Alex pushed herself out of her seat, shaking her head as the demon vanished without another word, and the sides of her cup caved under her tight grip. "Great." Never mind what Crowley thought. Castiel would find their grace before then. She relaxed her grip, finishing her coffee and tossing the disposable cup into the trash. She would be free long before the year was up.

 

"Up and at 'em." A swat to the back of her calf had Alex’s eyes flying open, and she jerked awake from where she lay on the thin motel mattress. Adrenaline rushed through her chet, and the ex-angel jumped up in time to see Dean making his way to the bathroom. "New murder, new lead. Get dressed."

Alex glanced over at Sam, who was sitting at the small kitchen table, but the tall hunter showed her no sign acknowledgement, his attention fully on the phone up against his ear. Muttering curses under her breath, Alex slid out from under the covers. She quickly shucked off her shirt and began dressing herself in her slacks and oxford. "Sammy." She lifted her voice so the Winchester could hear her, turning to face him as she buttoned up her white shirt. "Can I borrow a tie? I'm feeling like it's a tie day for me. Skinny, if you brought one."

"Uh, yeah, let me see what I have." Sam brushed past her as he crossed to his bag, hanging up his phone and tucking it into his pocket. "Uh, is black okay? I think I saw it earlier."

"Yeah, that's great." Alex dropped down onto the bed, tossing her dark blazer up near the huddle of blankets as she pulled out her phone. "What did I sleep through? Dean said murder."

"Damn straight I did." Dean stepped out of the bathroom, pausing briefly to check his reflection in the black screen of the tv before he dug the Impala's keys out of his pocket. "We're meeting the cops down at the station in five minutes, then we're headed over to talk with Father Delaney. He's the cleric for all of our victims, by the way." Teeth flashed in a grin, still proud of yesterday's revelation, and Alex rolled her eyes as the Winchester finished filling his pockets with his phone and wallet.

"Alright, Kojak. Just promise me we can get breakfast afterwards, alright? Now that I'm human, this schedule is literally killing me." She patted her stomach, which growled as if on cue.

She heard Sam scoff. “Right,” he retorted, “like you haven’t been human every other day for the past year.”

Alex threw a dark glare in his direction, sticking out her tongue when she couldn’t think up a strong retort, and she rose to her feet when Dean swatted her on the shoulder. "Come on. There's donuts from yesterday still in the car." Dean led the way out of the motel room, and Sam followed, tossing Alex his tie on the way out. The angel slung it around her neck, pulling the door closed behind as she crossed the parking lot after the brothers. She paused, trying to quickly tie the tie in the window, but the revving of the engine had her giving up on her futile progress and climbing inside.

The donuts were in the backseat, and Alex pulled out a stale sugar one as the Impala rolled off down the street. "Okay, so what did I miss while I was sleeping?"

"Wonderful wife and mother of two Lisa McCarthy murdered her husband Frank with a pair of scissors."

"I talked with the deputy, and he says she claims that she doesn't remember anything," Sam added. "Sounds like possession to me."

"We'll talk to the sheriff if you want to head downstairs to the coroner's and get the lowdown on the corpse." Dean turned the Impala down another road, and Alex tore a chunk off of her stale breakfast before stuffing it into her mouth. "How's that sound?"

"Sounds amazing," Alex mumbled around her mouthful. "I'll take dead bodies over live ones anyday."

The car pulled into the wide parking lot of the municipal building, and Alex shoved the last of her hasty meal into her mouth, accepting the laminated ID from Sam as she wiped her hands off on the leather seat when Dean wasn’t looking. She followed the Winchesters in through the doors, breaking off to make her way down the stairs in search of the coroner's office.

"Hello?" She approached an empty desk, tapping on the small silver bell that sat within her reach. "Anyone home?"

The door swung open, revealing a bright-eyed, flustered young man. "Sorry." The apology was rushed as he came to stop beside the desk, smoothing down his white lab coat while simultaneously adjusting his askew glasses. "Busy morning. A murder always sends me scrambling —"

"Frank McCarthy." Alex dug around in her pocket for her badge. "Yes, I know. Agent Barker, FBI. Do you mind?"

She gestured off towards the door the man had hurriedly bustled through, and the doctor blinked in surprise. "Uh, yes, yes, of course. I'm Dr. Shaw. Please, call me Henry." He extended a hand, but drew back and turned away before Alex could shake it, his attention already elsewhere. "Just follow me," he continued, hurrying back through the door, and Alex frowned as she let her outstretched hand fall back to her side before she followed. "You'll have to excuse the mess. Like I said, a murder —"

"Always sends you scrambling," Alex finished, and she peered in through an open door as she spoke; piles of papers almost completely hid a metal desk, and the filing cabinets lay open and disorganized. "You must get a lot of them, then."

Her comment went unheard, and the coroner pushed his way into the autopsy room. "Now," he began as Alex followed, "I haven't gotten past the preliminary examination, but so far, everything definitely points to murder."

"I'd hope so." Alex's response was dry as the man pulled open one of the metal doors to roll out a sheet-covered corpse. "The wife all but confessed." She pulled out a pair of latex gloves from their box as Dr. Shaw drew back the sheet.

At least a dozen stab wounds decorated the pale skin, the lack of blood allowing for a clear view of the gaping holes. "Fourteen puncture wounds in total," the man explained. "Three of which would have been fatal all on their own." He pointed towards the large wound in the neck for emphasis. "Two severed the carotid, one punctured the heart."

Alex stuck a finger into the wound in the chest, peering past the mangled flesh to catch sight of the dark-muscled wall of the cardiovascular organ. "Huh. Nothing weird or abnormal?"

"Nothing apart from the complete and utter overkill," came the distracted response, and Alex looked up to see him flipping through the papers on the clipboard. "If you ask for my professional opinion, the wife found out that he was homosexual."

Alex blinked, taken aback by the sudden, intensely focused look in his gaze as he locked eyes with her. "Um … okay. I'll definitely take that into consideration." The ex-angel tossed her gloves into the hazardous waste bin, shaking her surprise off by rolling back her shoulders. "Looks open and shut, but have the sheriff give us a call if anything weird turns up, huh?"

"On it." The coroner's hand came up in a half-salute, and Alex refrained from rolling her eyes until she was out of the room.

Her feet carried her back down the hall and up the stairs, where both Sam and Dean were waiting in the lobby. "Hey," she greeted, shoving her hands into her pockets as she joined them beside the door. "Find anything?"

"Well, there's no denying that the wife did it. She was covered in his blood, and her prints were all over the murder weapon." Dean pushed his way out onto the sidewalk, and Sam and Alex followed. "But she hasn't changed her tune — she still claims she has no memory of it happening. You?"

"Apart from the realization that the coroner is a highly-functioning imbecile? Not much." Alex shook her head, rolling her eyes around in her skull as she circled around to the back door of the Impala. "He thinks the wife killed him because she found out he was gay." She tugged on the door, frowning when she found it locked. "He's right about it being a crime of passion, though," she added as she waited for Dean to open the car. "There were way too many injuries for there not to be an emotional component."

"Well, maybe Father Delaney will know something about it." Dean unlocked the Impala, and all three climbed inside. "How does church and then lunch sound?"

"Sounds wonderful." Alex reached for her seatbelt as the car purred to life, and Sam echoed her sentiment as the Impala rumbled off towards the road.

 

The beautiful grey stone walls of St. Philomena’s church glowed in the sunlight, the spires stretching towards the cloudless sky, and Alex let her eyes wander across the gothic architecture as a note of amazement vibrated in her throat. “This is the place, huh?” She slammed the Impala door behind her, tearing her eyes away to look over at the two brothers. Sam’s gaze also lingered on the building, but Dean was already crossing the street, giving the church little more than a disinterested glance.

A man stood on the stairs, dressed in the recognizable attire of a catholic clergyman, and he lifted his head as the three approached. “The FBI, I assume,” he greeted as they climbed the stairs, and he extended a hand towards Dean. “Father Delaney.”

“Agent Allman,” Dean introduced. “This is Agent Betts, and our partner Agent Barker.” He motioned to Sam and Alex in turn, and the ex-angel stepped forward to shake the man’s hand. The warm light in his eyes reminded her of Father Greg Paske, the old man who had taken her and Castiel in the fall, and she met the man’s smile with one of her own, echoing his soft greeting. “I’m sure you’ve heard about Frank McCarthy’s death,” Dean added, speaking over Alex, and sadness creased Delaney’s worn face.

“Of course. It always saddens me to hear about the death of one of our own, and especially in such a terrible manner. But … that seems to be the pattern as of late, doesn’t it?” The man’s shoulders fell, and he pushed open the doors to St. Philomena’s church. “I just can't believe Lisa McCarthy would murder her husband." He shook his head as he led the way through the front doors of the church, and Alex lifted her head to take in the high ceilings and wide windows, the stained glass sending rays of color across the marble floor.

"Right, well, his blood was all over her body," Sam slowly began, hesitant with the truth, and Alex quickened her step to walk at the Winchester's side. "And her prints were all over the pair of scissors that butchered him."

"That's terrible." Genuine sympathy lined the Father's voice, and he paused halfway down the center aisle to turn and face the hunters.

Sam nodded in agreement, and Dean did the same before adding, "Now, we also have some questions. Um, for starters, she has no memory of it. The last thing she remembers is being here. Frank had gone to confession."

"So," Sam continued, "if he happened to say anything in the confession about, you know, maybe problems with the wife …"

"I'm sorry.” Father Delaney gave another shake of his head as he denied the Winchester’s request. “The nature of confession is confidential. Between them and God," he clarified when Alex pursed her lips together tightly.

"Father," she began, "this is a murder investigation. Anything you can tell of us will be of use. All of these people who have died — they all attended this church. Could you at least say if they had all been to confession recently?"

"Well, yes," the man agreed slowly. "These men were fairly regular, but then, so are the majority of the folks here." The approach of a young woman clothed in the traditional grey garb of a nun had Father Delaney pausing, a hand stretched out to gesture towards the new arrival. "Ah. Agents, Sister Mathias is our Director of Social Services. I've asked her to show you around and answer any questions."

He stepped away, and Sister Mathias took his place in front of the three hunters. "Agents …?"

"Allman." Dean motioned to himself, and then to Sam and Alex in turn. "And Agents Betts and Barker."

"Sister," Sam began, one hand coming up to adjust the his red striped tie, "you're aware of the recent string of deaths, right?"

"Yes, what a terrible tragedy." The young woman looked between the three of them, perplexity darkening her wide eyes. "But I'm confused as to why you're here. These were all suicides, weren't they?"

"Well," Sam hesitantly corrected, "possibly not."

"Murders?" The nun's eyes widened even further, and she looked up at Dean in search of answers.

The eldest Winchester have a half-hearted nod of his head. "Well, the actual methods of killing was all identical."

"Ah, the M.O."

Dean chuckled out his agreement, and Sam tapped Alex on the shoulder, nodding towards the front of the church. "I'm going to go, uh, have a look around," he told them. "Uh, excuse me, sister. Agents Betts — uh, Allman." He cleared his throat, quickly trying to cover his mistake, and Alex stepped aside to let him through.

"I'll come with," she added, and she followed after Sam, leaving Dean alone with the nun. "If they've all gone to confession, maybe the common denominator is here." She nodded towards the dark confessional box in the corner of the room, and she heard Sam hum in agreement. The chirp of an EMF detector had her looking over to see the small handheld device passing over the candles beside the front alter.

"So … ghost it is."

"Well … maybe not." Sam tucked the device back into his pocket as he straightened up to turn back to Dean and the nun, lifting his voice over their conversation. "Sister, I’ve got a question. Is there a cemetery nearby?"

"You could say that." Sister Mathias frowned over at Dean, confused by the question. "The entire church is built over burial crypts."

Sam glanced down at Alex, and the ex-angel frowned at the unfortunate news. "Oh." Sam stepped past her, and she followed at his side as he continued his questioning. "Have you ever, uh, heard or — or felt anything strange or unusual?"

"Unusual how?"

Once again, the woman's eyes turned onto Dean, and the Winchester took over the explanation. "Like, uh, spots in the building that suddenly get cold or, uh — or maybe you feel like you're not — not quite alone?"

"Rattling chairs and teacups that fly across the room?" Skeptical amusement glittered in Sister Mathias' eyes as she looked between the three hunters, and Alex barely refrained from rolling her eyes at the jest.

Dean, however, couldn’t resist. "Sister, are you making fun of me?"

"Really?" The amusement died, and Sister Mathias looked between the three of them in disbelief. "The FBI believes in ghosts?” She forced a chuckle. “I'm afraid I don't. If you'll excuse me, Agents, I have to get back to work."

Alex watched as the nun walked back off down the aisle, shaking her head after her. "You'd think for a nun, she'd be a little more open to the paranormal."

No response came from either brother, and she followed them back out of the church with a shrug. "Tell me you didn't think that nun was hot," Dean started as he jumped down the church stairs. "I think she had a little thing for me, too."

Sam scoffed loudly, his long legs carrying him after his brother. "Dean, she was married to Jesus."

Alex laughed as Dean frowned, but he quickly shrugged the comment off, his tone growing brisk as he got down to business. "Alright, so according to her, Frank cheated on his wife Lisa. You know, the whole theme of this case seems to be about guys doing their women wrong. Notice that?"

"Lee and Sloan both had known affairs," Sam hesitantly agreed. "But Lisa McCarthy was pretty convincing that she had no idea whatsoever she had killed her husband."

Dean chuckled, circling around to stand next to the Impala. "Oh, hot nun said that Lisa had no idea he was cheating on her," he promised. "So, maybe she was controlled by someone who did."

"Except we didn't find anything even remotely witchy." Alex crossed her arms across her chest as she faced the Winchester. "Maybe a ghost?" She exchanged a look with Sam, shaking her head as she relented. "No, I know you're right. There was EMF, but the whole place was built on a burial ground. But, all of the victims recently when to confession."

Interest glinted in Sam's eyes. "You think Father Delaney's involved?"

"Or maybe something surrounding the confessional," Dean finished. "Hey, Sammy, how long has it been since my last confession?"

"You've never been to confession."

"Well, that's been too long." Dean unlocked the Impala, pulling open the door with a grin. "Lunch first, and then we'll see what we can drag out into the open."

 

The sunlight filtered through the stained glass windows, sending colored rays of light spilling onto the pews. Alex sat beside Sam, her eyes focused on the crucifix that hung high above the alter, and it was only the shifting of Sam on the seat next to her that drew her out of her thoughts. She cast a glance towards the side of the sanctuary, towards the confessional box where Dean Winchester sat with Father Delaney behind closed doors.

"It's been a while since I've been to church." Alex glanced over at Sam, careful to keep her voice low even though there was no one else in the sanctuary. "I used to go all the time with my parents, before my mom died."

"I … I went once or twice when I was at Stanford." Sam looked up from his phone, and the pew creaked beneath him as he stretched out his legs. "It's just after the — the apocalypse, a-and the angels, it's hard not to believe in it all, but at the same time …" The Winchester shook his shaggy hair, unsure how to finish his thought.

"I get it. It's not … it's not what I thought it would be, that's for sure." Alex shifted closer to Sam, their shoulders brushing so he could hear her quiet voice. "Demons, the angels. God being awol." She forced a chuckle as her eyes turned up onto the altar where a cross hung suspended high above. "It was just so … disappointing."

"Exactly." Sam's voice rose above a whisper, surprised to find his opinion being echoed. "And Michael and Lucifer —" He cut off, averting his eyes from her in momentary embarrassment, and Alex bumped shoulders to pull his attention back onto her.

"Yeah, they weren't what I was expecting either," she quietly agreed, and her eyes fell onto the stone floor as she remembered the devil’s gaze. The opening of the confession box door had her falling silent, and Sam quickly pushed himself to his feet as his brother crossed over to them.

"So," he began, "you think you had an eavesdropper in there?"

"Hope so." Dean glanced back towards the box as a women stepped inside to take his place.

"You better watch your back." Sam followed his gaze with a shake of his head as he turned back to Dean. "If we're right, jerks like you are just what our ghost is looking for."

"Fingers crossed." Alex stepped out of the pew, her dress shoes clicking on the marble floor. "Okay, so now what do we do? Wait around until Dean guts himself?"

"Let's head back to the room. Maybe we can dig up something about this church and those who are buried here." Sam waited until his brother nodded before he led the way out of the sanctuary and out onto the street.

"Wait!" A voice had them pausing halfway down the sidewalk, and Alex lifted her eyebrows as she turned to face Sister Mathias. The nun stood on the stairs, hand raised to get their attention, and the ex-angel felt Sam and Dean exchange a look over her head. "Agents!"

"Sister." Dean's teeth flashed in a wide grin, and Alex rolled her eyes as he crossed back to her, a slow, confident swagger in his step. "How can we help you?"

"I … have something I need to show you." Something darkened the woman's eyes, and curiosity drew Alex in after the Winchesters. "I … I think it might have something to do with the deaths."

"What do you mean?" Two steps carried Dean up the stairs to stand at the woman's side.

"Come with me." Sister Mathias slipped back into the church, and Alex hurried after her, leaving Sam and Dean to follow close behind. "I think I know who you're looking for." The nun kept her voice low, and Alex had to strain her ears to hear. "Her name is Sister Isabella Bianchi. She was a nun in Florence, Italy, in the 16th century. Her stuff showed up three weeks ago."

"Whoa, wait." Dean was quick to interject as Sister Mathias led them through a side door and down a flight of stone stairs. "You — you're talking about the 1500's."

The woman nodded. "I never mentioned her to you because it didn't occur to me that she was connected with the murders," she explained, stepping off the stairs and leading the way into a large, stone room. "Ever since I've been here, I've come across restless spirits of all sorts."

"Wait a second." Alex pulled up to a stop, and the other three humans paused as well. "You mean you not only believe in ghosts, but you talk with them? Like Cole Sear?"

Sister Mathias blinked, but she ignored the ex-angel's last comment. "As a spiritual person, I've accepted many planes of existence," she explained temperedly. "And as I've said, they've all been harmless." Her blue-green eyes turned onto the thick wooden boxes that were piled against the walls, and her tone softened in regret. "Isabella was my friend. We had a lot in common, including … painful love lives. I wanted to protect her."

"You said she showed up three weeks ago when stuff from her home arrived?" Dean's own eyes followed hers across the items, taking in the large crates.

Sister Mathias nodded. "Yes, part of a shipment from a monastery in Tivoli. Her family's treasures found their way to the church, as with many of the great houses of Europe."

Alex glanced up at Sam, whose lips were pursed slightly in frustration. "You get that she got here just before the murders started happening?"

"I finally realized that." The nun turned to face Sam, the slightest note of frustration straining at her voice. "And then I heard the two of you, and it made me wonder. That's when I read her journal." Sister Mathias crossed over to a box, where she carefully picked up a yellow-paged book. "It was given to her father right after her death."

"Sounds like a vengeful spirit," Alex finished, and she watched as both Winchesters nodded in agreement. "Looks like we were right after all."

"Yeah," Sam slowly concurred, "but 16th century Florence — she's probably buried over there."

"I assume," Sister Mathias agreed. "The journal ends right after her trial." She handed the book to Sam, adding, "Isabella talked a lot about her lover Piero. He was an artist, and … and unfaithful. When Isabella found out, she killed him." Her eyes closed momentarily, and Alex watched as she gave a slow, barely perceptible shake of her head. "His death was so horrific, she was convicted of witchcraft. They sentenced her to burn at the stake."

"Okay, well, if she burned, then so would her bones." Dean's voice was low with frustration, and he reached up to rub at the back of his neck as he frowned.

"True, but there's obviously something that's tying her here — to this church in particular." Alex motioned around to the boxes, her gesture faltering as she took in the large amount of relics around them. "It's got to be something that came over with her."

"True," Dean assented. "It's probably the journal, where she wrote about her life. Why don't we see if we can't find Isabella, try and slow her down." He motioned to Sister Mathias and Alex, and the ex-angel nodded in agreement. "Sam, burn it."

"Her … journal?" Confusion darkened Sam's gaze, and he hesitantly looked down at the old book. "Is that necessary? I mean, there might be more in here."

"Believe me, it's necessary." Dean's frown darkened when Sam opened his mouth to protest, and his voice grew sharp. "Sam, burn it,” he repeated. “Alex, let's go." He waved Sister Mathias after him, and Alex shrugged over at Sam, unsure of how to console the tall hunter. "Alex!" Her voice on Dean's tongue had her hurrying after him back up the stairs.

 

The familiar weight of the shotgun rested against her side as Alex followed Dean back into the church, and the ex-angel touched her pockets to confirm the presence of her extra ammunition. The sky was already darkening, the black sky promising rain, and she shivered as a burst of wind brushed past her just before she stepped over the threshold into the holy building. Sister Mathias was waiting just outside the sanctuary, her hands folded in front of her, and her blue-green eyes widened slightly at the sight of the weapons.

"Where do you think she could be?" Alex pushed her way past Dean to make her way down the center aisle, teeth grit in frustration as she tried to push her non-existent grace out in search of the vengeful spirit. "We — we're definitely thinking spirit possession, right?"

"Yeah." Dean pulled his his EMF detector, swiping it across the pews as he looked for any indication of the ghost's presence. "Even though she's tethered to the church, she can still possess a person inside the church, ride them out, and then get yanked back after the kill," he explained to Sister Mathias as he turned the device onto the front alter.

"And … can ghosts be shot?" The nun motioned down to their weapons, and Dean lifted the gun so she could get a better view.

"This is rock salt," he explained, tapping the barrel where the shells sat. "If we spot her, it'll slow her down."

"You think she's still here?" Alex turned her gaze around the large room, eyes flickering across the stained glass. "And where's Sam? He should have burned that journal by now." She frowned at the warble of the EMF, and Dean motioned her after him as he pointed towards a side hallway. The ex-angel nodded, and she fell in step at his side as they stepped through the doorway. The buzzing got louder, and Dean quickly turned the device off as he paused outside a room. A wave in the direction of the nun told her to stay put, and when Dean pointed towards the door, Alex lifted her gun.

The Winchester pushed his way into the room, and Alex followed, gun at the ready and finger on the trigger. At the sight of Father Delaney, however, her weapon immediately fell back to her side. The clergyman was laying on the table, arms spread out at his side, and the hunter wrinkled her nose at the smell of blood, which was dripping from his fingertips onto the floor. His chest was ripped open, the gaping wound stretching from sternum to pelvis, and Alex shook her head. "Great." She stepped closer, a hand going out to touch the bloody skin of the priest's neck. "The kill's fresh. The blood's still draining — I'd say one minute, maybe two."

She turned back to see Dean's grim face, and she was quick to mimic his demeanor. "Alright," was all the Winchester said. "Come on." He led the way back out of the room, and the ex-angel shook her head, frustrated at the life they were too late to save. "She got to Father Delaney," she heard Dean tell Sister Mathias, and she quickened her step to move into the hallway after him. "She's around here somewhere. We got to get you out of here." He grabbed her hand, his momentum pulling her with him down the hall. "Come on!"

The nun's feet dug into the floor, and Dean almost fell as he was suddenly stopped in his tracks. He turned, mouth open to protest, but Mathias' hand came up, and the slap to his face sent the Winchester flying down the hall. "Hey!" Alex lifted her gun, cocking the weapon as she pointed the barrel towards the now-possessed nun. “Careful there. Let her go.”

The woman turned from Dean, anger flashing in her eyes at the sight of the weapon, and the Winchester struggled to his feet, gripping his head in a low, angry groan. "Really, possessing a nun?" Dean scoffed loudly, and he rolled his eyes when she whipped around to face him. "Even for you, that's got to be pretty low."

"You're one to speak about baseness!" The ghost's voice hissed and crackled, and her lips drew back into a vehement snarl. "Lying, cheating infidels! The priest had to die. He made it his business to forgive you pigs — forgive you, when what you do is unforgivable!"

"Sam!" Dean's voice lifted into a shout, echoing through the stone hallways. "Burn the damn journal already!"

"You all deserve to die —" The ghost cut off as her body shivered, and Alex's finger tightened on the trigger as the shudders turned into convulsions. Suddenly, Sister Mathias dropped, her eyes rolling into the back of her head as she hit the ground, leaving only the half-visible form of a dark-haired nun standing in her place. "No." The word fell from the spirit's lips, and Dean darted in, dragging Sister Mathias away and pulling her into his chest to protect her from the vengeful ghost. Isabella's eyes turned onto them, and the first hint of flames began to lick at the bottom of her skirts. "Sister!" Her voice grew sharp in a desperate plea, and Sister Mathias pushed herself closer to Dean. "Don't let them! You're my friend!"

The ghost's voice rose into a scream, and Alex lowered her weapon as the flames rose, engulfing the spirit and her cries. With a sudden, final rush of fire, the ghost vanished, leaving Alex alone with Dean and Sister Mathias. Her shotgun fell to her side, and the ex-angel swiped a hand through her hair as she shook her head. "About time," she muttered, flicking open the break-action lever and unloading her weapon.

She tucked the shells into her free pocket before brushing past the hunter, resting her gun against her shoulder as she lifted her voice. "Sam?" called out for the tall Winchester as she hurried down the hall, grey eyes stretched wide to see through the darkened church. "Sam? You okay?"

"Yeah." Sam suddenly appeared around the corner as she entered the main sanctuary, his own eyes stretched wide at the worry in her voice. "You guys? Where’s Dean?" He placed a hand on her shoulder, squeezing gently, and Alex reached up to place her own hand momentarily on his, a quick gesture of reassurance.

"With Sister Mathias. He's okay.” She looked up into Sam’s eyes, some of the concern leaving her face to find the hunter unharmed. “What the hell took you so long to burn that thing, huh?”

“I’ll explain later,” Sam promised, and his gaze flickered towards the door as Dean appeared, leading Sister Mathias by the hand..

Alex let her hand fall away from Sam’s, taking a step back as she regarded the nun. “How are you doing?" She tipped her head, eyes softening in worry. "Personal experience has taught me that ghost possession is a bitch — uh, rough," she quickly corrected, eyeing the crucifix that hung over the alter. "It's rough."

"Yes, thank you. I … I think I'll be fine." Sister Mathias looked up at Dean, and the Winchester gave a small nod of agreement. "I'm just glad that Isabella is no longer able to hurt anyone."

"Yeah, she's gone for good." Dean pulled his hand away from her shoulder where he was supporting her, and the nun stepped away with a soft dip of her head. "Listen, you run into any more trouble here, you just give us a call, okay?"

"Thank you." The woman's eyes turned back towards the hall, and the tears in her eyes caught in the flickering candlelight. "I should go contact the authorities to take care of Father Delaney."

"Isabella got to him before we did," Alex explained up to Sam, and the hunter let out a long, resigned breath from his nose as he shook his head in disappointment. "Yeah. Sister, the police can be here in five minutes. Are you going to be okay on your own until then?"

"You're … leaving?" The woman's head tilted, and realization lifted her eyebrows. "The three of you aren't FBI, are you?" When Dean shook her head, she offered upa small smile. "You can go. I'll be fine on my own." Her voice softened as she looked over Dean, and Alex turned to Sam as she pretended not to hear. "I hope peace finds you, wherever you may go."

Dean's response was just as soft, too quiet for her to hear, and Alex fell in step beside Sam as he led the way out of the church. Rain pounded on the sidewalk, and lightning cracked through the sky with a sharp burst of light. "Ready?" Alex tugged her jacket tighter around her Dean stepped out beside her and Sam. The Winchester didn't answer, and Alex shrugged up at Sam as she followed him out into the rain.

The Impala wasn't far, but she was soaked by the time that she threw open the door and climbed inside. "Hey, hey," Dean warned as she shucked off her jacket. "Careful on the leather, okay?"

"It'll be fine." The young hunter tossed her damp coat onto the ground, groping around in the darkness for a sweatshirt she knew was somewhere in the back with her. "Just get the heat on so we can get dry."

The engine purred to life, and Alex reached for her seatbelt as the car pulled out into the street. She felt Dean drop his shotgun onto the backseat next to her, and she shoved it onto the ground with her own, shaking her head as she continued to feel around for her clothes.

"What took you so long, huh?” Dean asked as the engine revved. “What, did you spend that whole time reading the journal?" Sam shrugged, and and disbelief filled Dean's voice. “Wait, seriously?”

"You should be glad I did," Sam retorted. "It wasn't the journal that she was tied to. It was one of the paintings that her lover Peirro had done of her. She, uh, literally cut off her own finger and made grind it into his paints so she could become an actual part of his work."

"Ick." Dean recoiled at the idea, sticking out his tongue in disgust. "Who mixes their blood and bones into paint? No woman's ever done that for me." He chuckled, glancing over at Sam, but his brother only rolled his eyes.

"Is that you thanking me for not doing what you told me to do?"

"You know, if you had burned the journal, then we wouldn't know how to kill it, would we?" Dean reluctantly admitted, and Sam let out a small laugh at the slanted apology.

"Yeah, you're welcome." He slumped down in his seat, brushing his damp hair back out of his face. Silence followed his words, and Sam drew in a deep, hesitant breath. "You know …" he slowly began, "you were in that confessional a long time. Look, man," he quickly added when Dean stiffened warily, "I'm just saying, I'm your brother." He motioned between him and Alex, and the ex-angel straightened up in her seat. "We're your family. If you ever need to talk about anything with anyone, you got someone right next to you."

"Okay."

Dean's answer was short and terse, and Sam's lips pursed. "I heard what Sister Mathias said to you back in the church," he reminded. "Something about, you know, hiding your pain by taking on a mission, and I-I know that's what you're doing a bit. A-And it's okay. I mean, it's fine. I get it. I've done it before, too. And — and I'm sure Alex has too."

"All the time," the young hunter was quick to agree. "And I … I think what Sam's saying is that this Mark of Cain, it's not a terminal diagnosis. You're a long way from reaching the point of no return, and we're not giving up hope until then. So don't go making peace with the idea that — that you're unsavable."

"Exactly." Sam flashed her a thankful smile over his shoulder before turning back to Dean. "There has to be a way. There will always be a way, and we will find it. That's what we do. So … believe that."

"Okay, Sammy."

Sam cleared his throat in displeasure, and Dean adjusted his grip on the steering wheel with a frown. "You want to … uh, try that again like you mean it?"

"Okay." Dean's answer was more determined this time, but he didn't bother to expound any further. "How about we head back to the bunker?" he suggested. "I'm good to drive." He pressed down on the gas, reaching over to turn up the music, and Alex yanked her sweatshirt down over her head as the car sped off down the road.

Chapter Text

"Sam!"

Alex jerked awake, eyes flying wide open at the hoarse yell. "Dean?" She yanked her angel blade out from under her pillow as she jumped to her feet, head whipping around as she searched for the source of the shout. "Dean!"

Her cry was echoed by Sam, already in the hall with his gun in his hands, and Alex rushed out to join him. "Where's Dean?" he demanded, but before Alex could answer, he pushed his way past her.

"No!" Dean's voice came from behind his door, and Sam kicked it open, his gun raised defensively. Alex followed, her own weapon at the ready, but it quickly fell back to her side at the sight before her. The Winchester was on his bed, eyes squeezed shut as he tightly gripped at the sheets. "No! No no no." His cries faded into whimpers, and Alex straightened up with a frown as his tossing and turning ceased.

Her eyes fell onto his right arm, the Mark of Cain visible just below the cuff of his jacket sleeve, and the shifting of his hand had her attention turning up onto Dean's face. Green eyes flickered open, landing on them, and Sam quickly dropped his gun to his side. "You okay?"

"Uh, yeah." Dean's free hand came over to cover up the Mark, and Alex dropped her eyes to the ground. "What are you guys doing?"

"Nothing. You were calling for us in your sleep." Sam cleared his throat uncomfortably, his feet carrying him out of the doorway. "We'll let you sleep." He motioned Alex out, and the ex-angel hurriedly returned to the hall, shoulders hunched apologetically as the Winchester closed the door behind them. "He's sleeping in his clothes again." Sam's hand lingered on the doorknob before falling away with a shake of his head.

"Yeah, that's never a good sign," Alex agreed with a sigh. She ran her hands down her face, head tipped slightly as she heard Dean get out of bed. "But, uh, speaking of," she added, raising her voice, "I'm loving the pj's." She gestured to Sam's matching navy pajamas, smiling at how his jaw tightened at her humor. "Is that embroidered?"

"You realize this is all coming from the girl who's not even wearing pants, right?"

"I was in bed. I don't need pants." Alex tugged on the hem of her borrowed shirt, drawing it down a bit further over her thighs. "Besides, your clothes are big enough to pass as a dress."

No retort followed her quip, and after a second of silence, Sam let out a sigh. "You should head back to bed. I … I'm going to give Cas a call." He shook his head, glancing at his brother's closed door and lowering his voice. "We got to do something, Alex. He's getting worse."

"You're right." Alex looked down at the weapon in her hand. "I'm going to go put pants on and I'll meet you out in the library."

"You don't have to," Sam started. "If you want to sleep —"

"After that?" Alex jerked a thumb back towards Dean. "No way. I'm wide awake. Besides, two heads put together are better than just one." She brushed past him on her way to her room, and a glance behind her showed Sam moving back towards his.

The girl flipped on her lights as she kicked her door closed behind her. She shucked off her shirt and reached for her bra, lips pursed together to hum mindlessly as she dressed. A black t-shirt lay on top of her dresser -- a quick smell-test proved it clean -- and she tugged it on before reaching for her jeans. Socks and a blue flannel completed her outfit, and the ex-angel paused only long enough to throw her hair up into a quick braid before she hurried back down the hall.

Sam was already in the library, his laptop propped open in front of him, and Alex dropped down into the chair at his side. "Dean's up," she announced quietly. "Or, at least, the door to his room's open again."

"Yeah, I know. He's in the kitchen making coffee." Sam pulled his phone away from his ear with a shake of his head. "I'm going to see if Cas can meet up with us. You know how far away he is?"

"He's in the area," Alex promised. "And he'll definitely be able to meet. What about Dean? Are we just going to leave him and hope he doesn't --"

"Doesn't what?" Dean stepped into the room, a coffee mug in his hand, and Alex snapped her jaw shut with an audible click.

"Doesn't get bored." Sam smoothly took over the explanation, and Alex nodded in agreement. "Uh, how'd you sleep?"

"Like a drunk baby." Dean set his drink down on the table as he sat down across from his brother. "Why would I get bored?"

"Uh, well, because there's nothing to do." Sam shrugged, motioning towards his computer screen with a shrug. "I mean, uh, no weird deaths, no demon signs. There's a Kitsune working some truck stops outside of Boise, but Rudy's on it, so …"

"Alright." Dean took a sip of his coffee before leaning back in his chair with an understanding nod, and Alex fiddled with the cuff of her sleeve, thankful the Winchester fell for Sam's quick thinking. "So, uh, snow day. I say we get drunk and shoot crap."

"Yeah, except we do that every day," Sam reminded him pointedly before he cleared his throat and shut his laptop. "Actually, I was thinking about seeing a movie."

"Yeah, that could be cool," Dean relented, and his fingers toyed curiously with the ceramic handle of his mug.

"It's a French movie."

"You mean like nudie French?" The eldest Winchester's curiosity heightened, and his eyebrows lifted as he grinned.

"Even better." Chair legs squealed against the wooden floor as Sam pushed his chair back. "It's about a mime that's secretly a cockroach."

Dean's head recoiled, and even Alex narrowed her eyes in pure confusion. "I-I-I don't get it," Dean finally admitted, and the ex-angel reached up to scratch at her head as she tried to picture the synopsis in her head.

Sam's voice grew defensively insistent, and he rose to his feet, hands planted on the table. "Dude, The New York Times said —"

"Who cares?"

"Alright." The faintest hint of a frown displayed the Winchester's obvious displeasure. "Well … it's playing in Wichita, so I might not be back til morning. Alex, uh, you want in?"

The smirk on Dean's face made it clear what he expected, and Alex hopped to her feet with a small shrug. "Sure. Sounds interesting." She grinned over at Dean to see that the smirk had faltered, replaced by surprise and confusion, and she was quick to add, "Uh, are you — are you sure that you're going to be okay here by yourself, Dean? I-I can stay if you think you'll need me."

"It's fine." Dean brushed her concern off with a wave of his hand. "Besides, I could use a little 'me' time. You two lovebirds go and have fun. Make good choices."

Alex rolled her eyes, and Sam's lips pursed distastefully at the comment, but all he said was, "Alright. Stay out of my room."

"Totally." Dean waved them off, and Alex grabbed her phone off of the table before she followed Sam across the room and up the metal stairs to the bunker exit. She glanced over her shoulder as she paused beside the door, but Dean's attention was already back on his coffee.

"We can take my car." Alex jumped up the rusted steps as Sam closed the door behind them. "Okay, I-I — a mime that's a cockroach? What is this, a Ratatouille offshoot?"

Sam's head tipped back in a laugh, and he circled around to the driver's side. "I had to think of something to keep Dean here." He held out his hand, and Alex dug her keys out of her pocket. "How about you call Cas and set up a meeting. I'll drive."

 

The familiar sight of Castiel appeared in the distance, the tan trench coat blending into the gold siding of the car he was leaning casually against. His head turned at the sound of their approaching engine, and after a second, the seraph removed his hand from his pockets as the Marquis rolled to a stop behind him. "Hey, Cas." Alex threw open the door and got out, a smile on her face at the sight of him. "Glad to see you."

"Hi." Castiel's lips turned up in a warm smile, and he pulled her up into a quick kiss. "How have you been? Hello, Sam," he added as Sam climbed out of the front seat.

"Hey, Cas. Thanks for coming." The Winchester circled around the car, and Alex pulled away from the seraph to stand at his side.

"Of course." Castiel's gaze slid past him, searching the car, and a frown darkened his face as he looked back at Alex. "Where's Dean? You said this was about him."

"It is about him." Alex mimicked his frown as she glanced up at Sam, who took over the explanation. "He's getting worse," he reported. "Cas, we've gone through every other option possible. We got to talk about —"

"Don't say it."

"Do you think I want this?" Sam's voice grew heated, and he crossed his arms across his chest. "I'm not a fan of it, either. But if we want to get rid of the Mark …" He trailed off, barely holding back a resigned sigh. "I’m just saying, Charlie's gone radio silent, and everything else we've tried has been a dead end. So …"

"So Metatron is our best bet." The words tasted sour on Alex's tongue, and she spat onto the road to show her disgust. "But hey, desperate times."

Castiel's blue eyes flickered between Alex and Sam, hesitancy written in the lines of his face, but after a few seconds, he relented. "I'll drive," he decided. "The gate to heaven is close by. I'll take you there." He motioned towards the gold Continental, and Alex nodded, hand extended towards Sam for her keys.

She climbed into the backseat, settling behind her mate and leaving the front seat to the taller hunter. "How have you been?" She leaned forward, one hand squeezing the junction between Castiel's shoulder and neck as her mate climbed into the front seat.

"I’ve been good. Now that I’ve had time, I’ve moved the First Blade to a more secure location." The engine spluttered to life as Sam climbed in beside him, and Alex pulled her hand away. "Have either of you heard from Crowley? I imagine he's not pleased with Dean's betrayal."

Sam shook his head, and Alex fell back into her seat with a shrug. "I have," she admitted. "He didn't say anything about the Blade. He just … ranted about hell and stuff. Don't tell me anything about it, though," she was quick to add. "I'm gonna be the first person he'll go to if he wants it again."

"Don’t worry," came the tempered response. “ I had no intentions of telling you.”

"Good. What about our grace?" Alex stifled a shiver, Crowley’s parting reminder ringing in her head. "I have less than a year left at this point, and I don't want to be anywhere near cutting it close."

Silence followed her words, and Alex watched as Castiel shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "It's been a slow progression," he finally admitted. "If some of our grace did remain after the spell, then only Metatron would know where it is. The only angel with whom he may have confided in was Gadreel."

"And he's dead," Alex finished flatly. "Awesome."

"Maybe …" Sam spoke slowly, and Alex tipped her head in curiosity. "Maybe you should look into the possibility of finding something Crowley wants more than your soul. If you can barter for it —"

"Nope." Alex cut him off with a firm shake of her head. "He's fucking ecstatic about this deal. The only possible thing I can think of him wanting more would be the First Blade, and we're not giving him that."

She watched as Sam and Castiel exchanged looks, and after a second's thought, Sam shrugged. "Maybe Metatron was lying," he offered. "Maybe the First Blade isn't necessary for the cure. And it's not like it's any use to Crowley without the Mark."

"If we're lucky, we'll be able to ask him ourselves." The engine roared as Castiel accelerated down the road. "Have you thought of what you're going to say to him?"

"Not at all." Sam reclined into the seat with a shake of his head. "You?"

"No. I'm not even sure if the angels will let us speak with him again." The seraph's voice was tight with frustration. “They were hesitant enough the first time, and that was before I broke my promise about keeping him safe. They may think it wise to learn from their mistakes.”

Alex fell back against her seat, unable to deny the validity of her mate’s words, and the car ride continued in silence. She rested her head against the glass as the park came into view, swallowing the flutter of trepidation that sat in her stomach.

The engine died, and the ex-angel slipped out of the car, reaching back to check her pockets for her weapon. The familiar shape of her angel blade rested against her skin, and some of the anxiety melted into relief as she followed Castiel onto the grass towards the playground. A man stood there, wariness in his eyes as the three of them approached the sandbox. He rose to his feet, stepping forward to block their way with a frown when Castiel showed no sign of stopping. “That’s far enough, Castiel,” he warned.

“Excuse me?” The seraph came to a stop in front of the angel, his head tipping in frustration and confusion, and Alex moved until she was standing at his side.

“I have orders.” Didsdain flickered in the guard’s gaze as he looked down at Alex, but his voice remained placid. “You aren’t allowed upstairs.”

Sam stepped forward to stand on Alex’s side, his arms folding across his chest. “Says who?”

“Hold, please.” The gate in the sandbox began to glow, and the angel’s head tipped back as blue grace swirled out his body. It spiraled into the gate as a second stream of grace appeared out of it, disappearing into the vessel’s mouth. The body shuddered slightly as the angel took over, and the dark eyes flashed blue with grace before fading. The face softened as those eyes focused on the seraph. “Hello, Castiel.”

“Hannah.” Castiel’s voice equally soft, and Alex crossed her arms in displeasure.

The angel looked down the vessel, shaking his head in disappointment. “I swore I’d never occupy another vessel, but … we need to have this conversation face-to-face.”

The softness in Castiel’s tone died. “What conversation?”

Hannah lifted his head, ready to match the seraph’s height. “What do you want in Heaven?” he demanded.

Castiel looked down at Alex, and the angel shrugged, letting her arms fall back down to her side. “We want Metatron,” she admitted, doing her best to keep her words level.

“Why?” Hannah’s gaze sharpened, head snapping back Castiel worriedly. “Is this about your grace?” he demanded. “Are you fading?”

“I’m fine for now,” Castiel promised tersely, and Sam cleared his throat to draw all attention onto his as he quietly added, “This is about my brother.”

“Because you think Metatron might have information about the Mark of Cain?” Hannah’s eyes didn’t linger long on Sam before once again returning to Castiel, and the seraph gave a small shake of his head.

“No,” he corrected, “We know he does.”

“So he says. But Metatron lies.”

Alex threw up her hands, frustrated with Hannah’s lack of cooperation. “Listen, we just want to talk with him, okay?” She planted her hands on her hips as she held the angel’s stare, ignoring the frown she was given by her mate.

“No, you want his help.” Hannah shook her head, and Alex rolled her eyes. “But we both know the only way Metatron helps you is if he’s free.” Once again, Hannah’s attention turned onto Castiel. “And I can’t let the scribe out of his cell. Not again. He’s too dangerous.”

“We won’t …”

“Yes, you will.” The soft, familiar regret in the angel’s voice told Alex Hannah had spoken those words before. “Because you’re desperate.”

“After all I’ve done for Heaven …” Castiel’s voice cracked. “After all I’ve done for you.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You should be!” The seraph’s voice rose, and Alex reached up to put a gentle hand on his shoulder, as the woods around them began to move. Three angels stepped out of the trees, the silver weapons of their blades glinting in the pale light. She tightened her grip, finger pads digging into his shirt in warning.

Her concern was echoed by Sam. “Cas, let’s go.” His voice was terse, and Alex looked back to see a tight frown upon his lips. He waved them away, and Alex tugged her mate after him.

“What?” Castiel dropped his voice into a frustrated hiss as he stalked after the Winchester. “We’re leaving?”

“We can’t fight off four angels,” Alex retorted. “Even with you and me, that’s pure suicide.”

She watched as Castiel’s shoulders fell, but his lack of resistance signaled his acceptance of the truth. “So … so, what?” he demanded. “You just want to give up on Metatron?”

Alex shrugged, but to her surprise, Sam gave a firm shake of his head. “No, we need him,” he decided, and he lifted his chin as he led the way towards the car. “Time for plan B. We break him out.”

“Break out Metatron.” Alex circled around to the right side of the Continental, careful to keep her voice low as she shot a dark glare back towards Heaven’s gate. “How are we going to get someone out when we can’t even get in?”

“We get someone on the inside to help.” Sam climbed into the car, and Alex followed with a shrug over at her mate.

“Well, if Hannah isn’t willing to help, then I don’t imagine any other angel will, either,” Castiel reminded. “What exactly were you thinking?”

“Well, uh, angels aren’t the only things in heaven, right? There’s, uh, there’s souls, too. Maybe … if we can contact someone up there, we can get them to help.”

Alex looked over at Castiel, leaning forward in her seat as she waited for him to respond. The seraph was sitting quietly in his seat, pensive concentration exaggerating the lines on his face as he thought. “It is possible,” he finally decided. “If they could reach the gate, then I could get into heaven and retrieve Metatron myself. Who were you thinking?”

The engine roared to life, and Sam turned his eyes out the window back towards Heaven’s gate. “I have some ideas.”

 

The night air was warm, and Alex rolled her sleeves up past her elbows, tugging her hand out of Castiel’s grasp to adjust her jacket before she reached one more time for her mate’s hold. Sam walked a step ahead of them, the light of his phone illuminating his angular face. “You mind telling us why we’re here?” She broke the silence of the night, and Sam looked back, surprised at the sound of her voice.

“Uh, so, back in the fifties, Oliver Pryce was a kid psychic.. He preformed everywhere — carnivals, Atlantic City … you name it. He was the real deal. Now, the Men of Letters were teaching him how to control his powers when they got … you know …”

“Brutally slaughtered,” Castiel finished, and Sam gave a small nod, frowning at the blunt summary.

“The point is, he’s one the good guys, and he’s the closest one I could find to Heaven’s gate,” he finished. “He might be happy to see us.”

“Or not.” Castiel came to a stop, and Alex paused alongside him, following his gaze to the house across the street. A thick iron fence enclosed the property, which was overgrown with ivy and weeds, and more than one Do Not Trespass signs hung on the rusted gate. She felt his hand squeeze hers in comfort as he lead the way across the street, and she followed, frowning as Sam’s long legs carried him quickly past.

The gate opened beneath his touch, creaking as it swung inwards, and the Winchester barely paused to watch it rattle as it hit a large, concrete cinder block before he crossed the the yard and stepped up onto the porch. “Mr. Pryce?” He pounded on the front door, voice rising in insistence. “Oliver Pryce!”

“I’ll break it down.” Castiel dropped Alex’s hand to reach towards the door, fingers outstretched, and Alex stepped back to protect herself from the blast.

“Dude, dude, due.” Sam jumped forward to bat the seraph’s hands away with a quick shake of his head. “Chill.”

“What?” Castiel mimicked Sam by keeping his voice low as he frowned up at the Winchester. “I’m helping.”

Hazel eyes flashed with barely tempered frustration, but the Winchester managed to rein in his emotions within a second. “Just follow my lead,” he instructed, and Alex reached up to put a gentle hand on Castiel’s shoulder as the door unlocked with a click. A thin, balding man stood on the other side, his eyes narrowed warily behind thick glasses. “Mr. Pryce? I’m Sam —”

“Winchester,” the man finished curtly. “You’re Sam Winchester, Man of Letters. Mind reader, remember?” he added when Sam’s face went momentarily blank with shock. “And you’re Evelyn Ross.”

“Alex,” Alex corrected with a mutter, but the psychic had already turned his attention away from her.

“And you’re …” He trailed off, eyes narrowing even further as he regarded Castiel. “What are you?”

“I’m an angel.” The reply came evenly, and Alex dropped her hand down to take his hand in hers, squeezing tight.

Pryce’s eyes stretched wide, and they flickered between Castiel, Alex, and their hands, fingers entwined. “That …” His voice trembled, and he shifted backwards nervously. “No, you can’t be!”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m an atheist!” The psychic’s voice cracked in indignation, and Alex huffed out her amusement at the man’s weak defense.

“Not anymore.” Sam pushed his way in through Oliver Pryce’s door, leaving the man no choice but to step back and let the rest of them through. Alex heard the door click closed behind them, and she turned her eyes around the cluttered living room as she waited for Pryce to join them.

“That you?” She nodded towards an old, antique poster that displayed a young boy, and she turned to Pryce as she searched for any similarities in the two’s facial features.

“Was me.” Oliver shrugged off her attempt at conversation. “I don’t do that psychic stuff no more.” The sharpness fell from his voice, and after a second, he added, “Being around people, it’s kind of … hell. All those brains yapping all the time drives a guy bananas.”

“Because you can hear everyone's’ thoughts,” Castiel finished.

Pryce nodded as he regarded the angel with a hesitant stare. “Well, not yours,” he admitted. “All I’m getting from you is … colors. But hippie over here?” He jerked a thumb towards Sam. “I’m seeing some creep-ass hobbit looking fella and a prison cell?”

“That’s heaven’s jail.” Alex looked over at Sam for confirmation, and the hunter gave a small nod of assent.

The psychic’s thick eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Heaven’s got a freaking jail?”

“Heaven has a lot of things,” Alex promised. “And yeah, a jail’s one of them. And we’re looking to break someone out of it.” She glanced over at Sam, taking a moment to draw in a breath before she continued. “We have a guy on the inside, but we need your help to talk with him.”

“And if I say no?”

“You’re the mind reader.” Sam answered for Alex, and the ex-angel watched as Oliver Pryce’s eyes stretched wide as he looked over at the Winchester.

Whatever the hunter was thinking, it was convincing, as the psychic ducked his head, dropping his gaze onto the carpeted floor. “I’ll get my crap,” he muttered, hurrying out of the room.

Alex looked over at Sam, an eyebrow cocked in amusement. “The hell did you think at him?” she teased as the psychic’s footsteps disappeared upstairs. “I forget people can see you as scary.” She ignored Sam’s roll of the eyes before she turned back to Castiel. The seraph was studying the array of books and trinkets that decorated one of the dark bookshelves in the corner of the room, and she crossed over to him, momentarily resting a gentle hand on his back to let him know she was there. “Anything interesting?”

Castiel didn’t respond, his attention instead drawn to the sound of returning footsteps. Oliver Pryce rushed back into the room, a black bundle in his arms. “Clear off that table,” he instructed, and Alex gathered up the few belongings that sat upon it as the psychic dumped his things onto the wooden tabletop. Bowls, candles, and herbs were wrapped up in a black table cloth, and Alex retreated to put the handful of belongings down on the couch as the man quickly set everything up. “You — you’re looking to speak with someone in heaven?”

“Yeah. Think you can do that?”

“I-I — I think so.” A bowl clattered as Pryce bumped it in his haste, and he cleared his throat in apology. “Take a seat.”

Alex dropped down in the chair across from him, leaving Sam and Castiel to take the seats on either side. Her nose wrinkled at the sharp tang of herbs in the air, and she asked, “What’s in the bowl?”

“Bay, rosemary, and wormwood. I added a bit of cedar as well. I thought bit of amplification couldn’t hurt,” he hurried to add as he lit the candles. “It’s been a long time since I’ve tried to communicate with the dead. You got anything that belonged to the deceased?”

“Yes. Right here.” Sam reached into his bag to pull out Bobby’s hat, and Alex felt her chest twist painfully at the sight of it.

“I want that back,” she warned Pryce as the psychic set it in the middle of the table beside the bowl, and she only let the hardness fall from her eyes when the man nodded.

“Okay. Now shut up and hold hands.” He stretched out his own hands, and Alex threaded her fingers through Castiel’s as she reached over to grab Sam’s hand, warm and dry. Pryce’s eyes fell shut as the circle was completed. “Amate spiritus obscure, te quaerimus,” he chanted, and Alex closed her own eyes, reaching into the back of her mind to translate the spell. “Te oramus, nobiscum colloquere, apud nos circita.

Hidden spirit, we ask of you. We pray, speak to us, with us … The translation was rough and incomplete, and Alex cracked open her eyes in time to watch the herbs catch fire, flames licking at the cold air. Pryce’s own eyes opened, and he nodded towards Sam. “You may speak.”

“B-Bobby?” Sam spoke hesitantly, hazel eyes darkening in doubt as he lifted his voice. “Bobby, can you hear me? Bobby … we need your help?”

Alex tipped her head as the Winchester fell silent, breath bated as they waited for a response. “S-Sam?” Bobby’s voice came from the center of the table, sharp with confusion, and Alex’s head fell down to her chest with a wide, relieved grin. “That you?”

“Yeah, Bobby, it’s me.” Alex’s smile was echoed by Sam, his voice cracking slightly. “Listen, Bobby … we need your help.”

Silence followed, and Alex leaned forward, ready to speak, but then Bobby was back. “Course, boy. I’m always here to help. What’s going on?”

“It’s Dean. He’s got the Mark of Cain — the Mark God gave Cain after he killed Abel. He needed it to kill a Knight of Hell, but Bobby … it’s bad. At first, he was able to control it, but I don’t know how much longer he can fight it.”

“Cain said it’s going to take him over,” Alex interrupted, taking over the explanation. “That it’s inevitable that he’s going to kill all of us, and at the rate that it’s affecting him …”

“Alex? That you?”

“Yeah, it’s me. The Mark actually turned Dean into a demon for a bit. We got him back, but like Sam said, who knows how long he can fight it again. We need to get rid of it, and that’s why we’re here.” Her words were met with silence, and she leaned forward curiously. “Bobby? You still there?”

“Yeah. It’s just … real good to hear your voices again.” The old hunter cleared his throat, and when he spoke again, his voice was firm in concentration. “Okay. If, uh, I’m understanding right, you got to figure a way to get the Mark of Cain off Dean before it turns him back into a demon?”

“Pretty much, yeah,” Sam agreed.

“So just another day at the office for you boys, huh?” Bobby joked, a chuckle following his words, and Alex watched as Sam ducked his head in a small laugh, but Bobby’s next words had him cutting off. “Put Dean on the line.”

Sam looked over at Alex and Castiel, guilt in his eyes. “Dean’s … not here,” he finally admitted. “We … Dean’s, uh … he’s not in a good place right now, Bobby.”

Another period silence followed, and Alex fidgeted in her seat as she waited for Bobby to speak once again. “So what’s the play?” he eventually asked.

“Each soul in heaven is locked in its own private paradise.” Castiel finally spoke up, and Alex felt his hand twitch nervously against her own. “That’s where you are now. You need to escape. You need to find the gate to earth and open it. Then you and I will find Metatron, the Scribe of God.”

“Hey, Sam, you remember when this job was just chopping up some fangs and tossing back a cold one?”

Alex smiled as the gruff words, and she looked over to watch Sam do the same, his hazel eyes glistening slightly before he pushed the emotions back. “I miss that.”

“Ditto.” Bobby fell silent for a moment as he reminisced, but he quickly shook himself out of his thoughts. “So, while I’m playing Steve McQueen, anyone gonna be looking for me?”

“Everyone.” Castiel’s voice was dark, his gaze focused on the golden bowl in the middle of the table. “The angels will not like a soul wandering free.”

“We got a way to slow them down?”

“Not exactly,” Sam admitted. “But, um, you’ll … you’ll figured something out, Bobby. You always do.”

“Listen, I appreciate the warm fuzzy, but I ain’t exactly playing in the big leagues these days. I’m mostly drinking and reading the classics.” He chuckled at his words, but the humor quickly died from his tone. “Truth is, I’m rusty. And maybe there’s someone better out there.”

“Bobby, rusty for you is peak condition for most hunters out there,” Alex teased, and she glanced over at Sam for confirmation. “Fact is, there’s no one better. A-And with Dean … with Dean as he is, you’re the only shot we’ve got. Please,” she added when the old hunter seemed to hesitate.

She waited, her eyes falling closed in relief when Bobby let out a reluctant sigh. “Hell, I’m already dead. What’s the worst that could happen? Alright, Cas, how do I get out of here?”

“You need to find your heaven’s escape hatch.” The seraph’s tone was brisk and businesslike, nodding towards the bowl to show his appreciation of Bobby’s help. “Look for something that shouldn’t be there, and that’s your way out.”

“And if I find a way out, then what?”

“The gate is behind door number 42. All you need to do it open it, and then I will be able to enter Heaven.”

“Give us an hour,” Alex quickly added. “We need time to get to the gate before you spring it. Can you do that?”

“Course,” Bobby promised. “But, uh, make sure you’re there, okay? I doubt the angels are gonna let my pull this stunt twice.”

“We’ll be there.” The flames died as Alex finished her sentence, and she looked over to see that Pryce had dropped his hands, breaking the circle. “Hey!” She pushed herself to her feet, and the psychic did the same, ready to match her challenge

“I can only hold the connection for so long,” he warned. “You got the information that you need. Now get out of my house!” He turned away, and Alex tipped her head as she thought she heard him mutter the words, “noisy thoughts.”

“Come on.” Sam placed a hand on her shoulder, and the ex-angel let her posture relax. “We need to get going. We only have an hour, and we need to be there when Bobby opens the gate.” He looked over at Castiel, and the seraph nodded in agreement.

Alex shrugged off Sam’s hand. “You’re right.” She snatched Bobby’s hat off of the table, holding it against her chest momentarily before she placed it on her head, tugging on the worn bill. “We need to get going.” She crossed over to the door, pausing only to listen as Sam thanked Pryce for his time before she stepped out into the night.

 

“You sure he can handle this?” Castiel’s voice roused Alex, and the ex-angel lifted her chin from where it rested on the back of the seraph’s seat, her eyes trained out the window towards the darkened playground. A single angel stood beside the swings, having paused from his laps around the large, colorful metal structures.

“He’s Bobby.” Sam didn’t tear his gaze away from the scene either, but the firmness in his voice left little room for dissuasion. “He can handle anything.”

“It’s barely past the hour mark,” Alex added quietly. “It’s going to take him some time to create a distraction and find the door. Have some faith.” She shifted in her seat, eying the gate warily. “How are we going to take care of the guard on our side?”

“You and Sam will need to restrain him. If Bobby had done his job, hopefully the angels will be too distracted to notice that I’ve entered.”

“Sam can do that on his own, right?” The ex-angel jerked a thumb towards the Winchester. “I want to come with.”

“Alex, you’re human.” Castiel’s lips set in a tight frown as he met her gaze through the rearview mirror. “Even if you’re able to pass through the gate, you will be a beacon to all angels, especially with your soul as it is.” Alex glared, fingers tightening around her wrist at the unspoken mention of her deal, but the seraph didn’t back down. “Promise me you’ll stay with Sam.”

“Fine. I promise —” Alex threw open her door as the sandbox began to glow, not bothering to finish her thought, and she heard Sam utter an exclamation as he and Castiel followed. She took off in a run towards the playground, pushing herself harder when Sam’s long legs had him surpassing her within seconds.

The angelic guard was approaching the sandbox, his brow furrowed in confusion, and he didn’t notice the three of them until Sam bowled into him, sending both onto the ground. “Go!” Sam yelled at Castiel as he grappled with the angel, and Alex slid to a stop in front of them, watching as the two struggled for control. “Go!”

The sandbox lit up as Castiel leapt through, and Alex hesitated only a second before she flung herself after him.

The world lit up in a flash of hot, blinding white light, and Alex gasped at the sudden pressure that seemed to instantaneously crush all of her bones. Then everything was gone, and she hit the white tiled floor. Her momentum sent her skidding, her back colliding with a pair of legs, and Alex rolled away with another gasp of surprise.

Hands hauled her to her feet, and Alex’s fists balled defensively until she recognized her attacker. “What the hell are you doing?” Castiel’s face was mere inches from hers, his eyes ablaze, and Alex shoved herself out of his grasp. “I told you to stay behind!”

“I …” Alex’s gaze slipped past him, and her mouth went dry at the man who stood behind the seraph. Familiar pale blue eyes watched her from beneath a worn cap, and that was all Alex had time to see before she threw herself into his arms. Her legs wrapped around his waist, and Bobby stumbled back as he suddenly found himself supporting all of her weight.

“Careful, princess.” Bobby’s arms supported her as Alex buried her face in his neck, eyes squeezed shut as she held him tight. “A man’s gotta breathe.”

“I missed you so fucking much.” Her words were mumbled into the hunter’s neck, warm and solid, but Alex reluctantly loosened her grip and dropped back down onto the floor. She could feel the wetness in her eyes, and she dragged her sleeve across her face to chase away the tears.

“I missed you, too.” Bobby’s shoulders fell, and he stretched out his arms one more time. “Alright, come ‘ere.” He grunted as Alex pressed herself into him, tucking her head just below his chin.

“I hate to break this up, but we need to get moving. The prison is close.” Castiel’s voice was tight with displeasure, and Alex stepped away with an unenthusiastic nod. “Now that Alex is here, the angels will be able to find us much quicker.”

Alex scowled over at him, but she quickly let the expression drop away when she saw Bobby’s frown. “I opened the doors to all of the heavens around me,” he slowly explained. “That should keep them busy for the time being. And what do you mean, ‘now that she’s here’?” he asked. “I thought she’s an angel just like you. And where’s Dean?”

“You’ve … missed a lot,” Alex began, but Castiel hurriedly spoke over her. “Dean’s, uh … he’s resting,” he lied as he started down the hall. “He’s … sick, and …”

“Try again.” Bobby’s voice was sharp, and he lengthened his stride so he could get in front of the seraph, planting his feet so they stopped in the middle of the hall.

Alex felt Castiel’s eyes turn onto her, but she refused to meet his gaze; he had started the lie, and he could finish it. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw his shoulders fall defeatedly. “Dean doesn’t know we’re doing this,” he admitted.

“Well, that’s a page right out of the Winchester playbook, ain’t it?” Bobby looked down at Alex with a shake of his head. “You’re just going along with this?”

“What else could I do?” the ex-angel retorted. “Dean’s completely given up, so we’re the only ones left who haven’t. You’ve been gone a long time, Bobby. Things have changed.” She watched how Castiel’s face darkened, and she nodded towards him. “Keep walking. You’re the one who said we’re short on time.”

Bobby fell in step beside her as the seraph continued leading the way through heaven, and Alex shoved her hands deep into her pockets. “Everything okay between the two of you?” she heard Bobby ask, and she defensively shrugged her shoulders.

“Like I said, you’ve missed a lot. The angels fell from heaven, and they’re only just getting back on their feet. The reason they fell … it’s because of Metatron. He took mine and Castiel’s grace for the spell, and I … we were human for a while. Then we stole grace from a few angels and were sort of … half-angels, and then I just recently lost mine because it was out of control.” She yanked her hands out of her pocket as she scowled at the ground. “I’m human again until we find our grace — if there’s any left.”

“I’m sorry.” Bobby’s hand came to rest on her shoulder, and Alex leaned into the comforting touch. “So that’s why Cas thinks the angels will be able to find you.”

“Actually, it’s because Alex sold her soul to Crowley, and now every angel within ten miles of here will be able to feel it.” Castiel spat out the words, and Alex scowled at his tactless remark.

“You what?” The hand on her shoulder tightened, and Alex quickly shrugged it off before the grip could grow any stronger. “What were you thinking, you idjit?”

“God, maybe I was thinking I needed to save my fucking mate!” Alex’s voice rose angrily, but Castiel just snorted. She bristled, Bobby forgotten. “You were human with no idea how to survive, the angels were hunting you down, and I had no way to see if you were okay! Did you want me to just leave you to die? And you,” she added over to Bobby, “you can’t talk because you literally did the exact same thing.”

Bobby frowned, but Alex felt her anger soften to see it was one of sympathy, not anger. “How long did he give ya?”

“Two years. That was last May. But as soon as we find my grace, that deal will be broken.” Alex fell silent as Castiel came to a stop outside a door, and she looked around in confusion. “This doesn’t look familiar,” she finally admitted. “Are we near the jail yet?”

“It’s on the other side of this door,” Castiel promised, and Alex let her shoulders fall to find his voice still carrying a tinge of frustration. “You and I left through the other side when we were last here.”

“You mean you’ve visited this place before?”

Alex looked up at Bobby, stifling a grimace at the memory. “More like ended up in one of the cells,” she corrected, and this time she couldn’t stop the twinge in her chest that returned at the memory of Gadreel. “Not fun.”

She fell silent as the door creaked open, and she lifted her chin as she stalked in after Castiel. “Well, howdy, fellas.” The familiar, grating voice of Metatron reached her ears, and the ex-angel felt her face tighten as they came to rest in front of the scribe’s cell.

“This is the Scribe of God?” Bobby’s gruff voice was sharp and scathing. “He looks like a Fraggle.”

“I’m going to take that as a compliment.” Metatron smiled over at Bobby from where he sat on the concrete bench, one leg crossed over the other as he regarded the three intruders. “That was an excellent program.”

Bobby lifted an eyebrow, unsure what to think, and Alex glanced up to see Castiel’s face darkening. “Metatron, we are here —“

“I know why you’re here, Asstiel.” The scribe cut him off with a wave of his hand. “And I’m not interested.” He leaned forward, and anger sparkled in his dark eyes. “I told you I would rather die than let Dean Winchester use me as his personal punching bag again.”

“Don’t worry,” Alex promised, and she stepped forward, wrapping her hands around the iron bars. “Dean isn’t here today, which means it’s my turn. You get to be my punching bag.”

For the briefest of seconds, hesitation crossed through Metatron’s eyes, and Alex smirked before his features returned to their resting appearance of calm control. “Ah,” he chuckled. “The B team, huh? Interesting.” He motioned off towards the far wall with a disinterested wave of his hand. “Keys are over there. Chop chop.”

“Are you sure this is the only way?” The frown in Bobby’s words was evident, and Alex’s fingers tightened around the warm metal bars.

“Unfortunately.” Castiel reached into his pocket to retrieve a pair of sigil-etched handcuffs. “Put these on,” he ordered the scribe, and Metatron rolled his eyes when the seraph tossed them onto the ground at his feet.

Alex stepped aside as Metatron locked the cuffs around his wrists before he pushed himself to his feet, and two lazy steps carried him up to the bars. “Now, now,” he chided at Alex’s low glare, “I know we’ve had our differences, but bygones should be bygones.”

“You stole my grace.” Alex lifted her chin as she kept her voice cold. “You stabbed me and left me to die.”

“Yes.” Metatron’s smile faded. “But the important thing is that you survived, am I right?” The grin returned, and Alex scoffed loudly as she stepped aside to let Castiel through with the key.

The prison door swung open, and Metatron’s smug grin returned as he stepped out of the cell. Castiel’s grimace deepened, but he took up a position behind the scribe, a hand on his shoulder to guide him back out the door. Alex peered out into the hallway, waving them forward when the coast was clear.

The way back to the gate felt twice as long as the journey there, each glance around the corner tense and terrifying. Bobby took the lead, leading them briskly down the halls back towards heaven’s gate, and Alex took up the rear, her angel blade drawn nervously as she kept a watchful eye over her shoulder.

She blinked in surprise as they stopped in front of door 42, and she straightened up, tucking her weapon back into her jeans. “Looks like this is it, huh?” Bobby kept his voice low, unable to hide the disappointment in his tone, and Castiel nodded in agreement.

The seraph pulled the door open, and light poured through, lighting up the hall. Metatron stepped forward, ready to leave, and with a scowl, Castiel held him back. “Alex, go first,” he ordered.

“I’ll take up the rear.” Alex nodded towards the door, pointedly ignoring how the seraph’s eyes darkened at her disagreement. “Get Metatron out, and I’ll be right behind. I don’t want to be here any more than you do,” she hurriedly promised. The light glowed brighter as Castiel and Metatron stepped through, and Alex turned to Bobby, hesitation dragging at her feet. “I wish I could stay —”

“This ain’t your home.” Bobby shook his head, and Alex squeezed her eyes shut as she blinked back tears. “Here.” The rustle of paper had her looking up, and the hunter pulled out two envelopes out of his pocket. “I didn’t know if you or Sam were coming, but … give this to him, would ya?” He handed them to Alex, and the ex-angel kept them out only long enough to read the names scrawled across the tops.

“Of course.” Alex threw herself into his arms, holding him tight as she clenched her teeth to keep the tears inside. “When — when we get our grace back, I’ll come visit.” She forced herself to pull away, and with one last look at the old hunter, she threw herself through the door.

The pressure crushed the air from her lungs, and Alex grit her teeth, eyes squeezed shut against the light. It was gone within mere seconds, and she felt the sand give way beneath her feet as she stumbled through. The wooden edge caught against her toes, and the ex-angel fell forward onto the hard dirt.”Oh, smell that?” She could hear Metatron’s voice, and Alex forced her eyes open as she shakily pushed herself back onto her feet. “That smells like freedom.” The scribe drew in a deep, dramatic breath through his nose, and Alex glanced over to find Sam standing in front of the angel, his arms crossed. “Well, let’s go. I call shotgun!”

“You don’t get to make demands, Metatron.” Castiel yanked the scribe back to his side with a growl. “You’re not in charge here.”

“Oh, I’m afraid I am.” Metatron shook himself of the seraph’s hold, his lips turned up into a smug grin. “I know about the Mark. I have your Grace.” His eyes swung over to Alex as he spoke, and the ex-angel pursed her lips as his gaze finally landed on Sam. “I make the rules. It’s called leverage. Learn it, live it, love it.”

Sam nodded over towards Castiel, and Alex stepped aside to let the seraph grab Metatron by the shirt. He shoved him up against the metal pole of the swing set, and the scribe grunted at the impact. Castiel moved again,metal flashing in the night air. The tip of the angel blade sliced through Metatron’s throat, and blue grace oozed out into a small, glass vial that Castiel held in his other hand.

The scribe’s eyes stretched wide as his grace disappeared, and Castiel placed his palm over the wound, healing it before he stepped away, tucking the grace deep inside of his pocket. Alex smirked at how Metatron’s mouth was hanging open, unable to process what had happened so quickly. “You —” Anger flashed in his eyes as he stepped away from the swings, but he cut off with a scream of surprise as Sam’s gun discharged with a loud bang.

Metatron dropped to the ground, grabbing at his knee as he howled again in pain. “We have your grace, Metatron.” Castiel stepped forward, and the scribe scowled up at them. “You’re mortal now. So you will answer our questions, or Sam will, uh, what’s the phrase?” Castiel reached down, yanking Metatron’s head up by his hair. “Blow your fucking brains out. It’s called leverage, Metatron.”

“Learn it, live it, love it,” Sam taunted, and Metatron ripped his hair out of Castiel’s hold. “Now, how do we get rid of the Mark?”

“I-I don’t know.” Metatron threw his hands up when Sam lifted his gun, and the scribe flinched away. “I don’t know!” he insisted. “No, I-it’s old magic — God-level magic! O-Or Lucifer level, but you can’t ask him, exactly, can you?” His eyes turned onto Alex, and the ex-angel curled her fists at her side. She pivoted on one foot, her other leg snapping up to connect with Metatron’s head, and the scribe fell onto the ground with a shout of pain.

“What about the tablets?” Castiel demanded, and Alex returned to her original stance with a dark scowl down at the man.

“No, th-there’s … there’s nothing in them about the Mark.”

Sam looked over at Alex, and the ex-angel gave a small, helpless shrug. “So when you said ‘the river ends at the source,’ ” he asked, “that was —”

“I was just making up crap, trying to buy time til I could screw you over!” Metatron watched as Sam scoffed, and he insisted, “What? It worked before!”

“He’s telling the truth.” The words sounded bitter coming out of Castiel’s mouth, and the scribe looked up at him with an eager nod. Sam’s eyebrows lifted, surprised at the seraph’s decision, and Castiel stepped away. “Shoot him.”

“No!” The yelled word was hoarse, his eyes stretched wide in fear as Sam lifted his gun to point it at Metatron’s head. “No, no!” he begged. “Your grace!” He turned to Castiel, his hands clasped together. “I wasn’t lying about that! There’s still some left. I’ll take you to it!”

Sam hesitated, and his hazel eyes turned over onto Castiel, who had frozen in surprise. “It’s your call, Cas.”

“I can take you there!” Metatron repeated. “There’s enough for both of you. You — you want it to break her deal, right? T-That’s why you need it!”

Indecision flickered in the seraph’s gaze for a moment before he turned to Alex. The indecision hardened, and Castiel’s face darkened. “Get on your feet,” he ordered Metatron. “And get in the car.”

Sam cleared his weapon with a grim nod of acceptance, and the scribe scrambled to his feet the best he could, stumbling slightly as his busted kneecap gave out under his weight. “You made the right call,” he murmured to Castiel as the seraph moved past, and Alex hurried after him as he led Metatron back towards the Lincoln Continental. “Sam.” Alex reached out to grab the Winchester by the arm, forcing him to stop as Castiel roughly shoved Metatron into the back of the car. “Uh, Bobby … he told me to give you this.” She dug the envelopes out of her pocket, handing him the one labeled Sam.

“T-Thanks.” The Winchester reverently took the envelope, his fingers running along the crumpled edges. “How — how is he?”

“He’s good. He’s happy.” Alex blinked back the tears, sniffing to hold them in. She heard the car door slam, and she shook her head, stepping away and shoving her own note into her jacket. “We need to get going. Have … have Dean call me if he needs me, okay?” She glanced back towards the car to meet Metatron’s low glare. “God willing, we won’t be long.”

“Of course. Good luck.” Sam nodded towards her and Castiel, who had circled around to stand at her side, and Alex watched as he crossed the parking lot to where her Marquis was parked, hidden in the shadows.

She turned to Castiel as the car roared to life, shoulders falling apologetically as she met the seraph’s gaze. “Listen,” she started, “I’m sorry I followed you through the gate, okay?”

“Are you?” Castiel’s head tipped to one side, his face darkening as he spoke. “Do you actually wish you hadn’t gone along?”

“No!” Alex tipped her head back in reluctant agreement. “No, okay? I don’t regret jumping through that gate, because I would have given anything to have seen Bobby again. I — I was just telling you what you wanted to hear, alright?” She narrowed her eyes as she turned to look at Metatron, unable to read the scribe’s expression. “I’m sorry. I — I shouldn’t be so hard on you. I’m just anxious to find our grace,” she finally said. “Crowley’s been on my ass about a lot of things, and it’ll be good to finally tell him to fuck off.”

“And it will be good to not have to worry about you.” Castiel reached out to take her hands, and Alex took a step closer, ignoring the blush on her face. “We’ve lost so much after we fell … just imagine what we can regain.” He dropped her hands at the sound of pounding against the glass, the softness in his eyes hardening once again. “We should get going,” he decided, stepping back, and Alex nodded her agreement. “We don’t want Crowley to come looking for you before we find your grace.”

“Right.” Alex circled around to the other side of the car, tugging open the rusty door as she slid into the front seat. She felt Bobby’s letter in her jacket pocket, but she kept it hidden as she felt Metatron’s eyes on the back of her neck. She slammed the door as Castiel started the engine, and the Continental pulled out into the street and disappeared off down the road.

Chapter Text

June 5th, 2015
Warsaw, Missouri

The radio crackled through the worn speakers, but Alex barely heard the low, thrumming melody. Her attention was out the window, counting the telephone poles on the side of the road as they were lit up by the Continental’s yellowed headlights. She could feel Metatron in the seat behind her, his eyes boring into the back of her skull, and the ex-angel shifted uncomfortably as the car rounded the bend on the highway.

“Our flashback playback continues with a song that climbed all the way to number four on the charts,” the radio hummed. “Here’s Alanis Morisette’s ‘Ironic’.”

“Really?” Alex turned, surprised at the sudden and loud complaint from the scribe behind her as Castiel leaned over to flip the radio off. The seat jolted as Metatron leaned forward, his head level with theirs. “That song is a classic.” He looked over at Alex, and the ex-angel pointedly turned her gaze back out the window. “Yeah, I hear you,” he agreed, and Alex rolled her eyes. “I do. And you’re right. Inclement weather on the day of your nuptials and the wrong cutlery at inopportune times is hardly ironic. But it sure is catchy.”

Castiel’s only answer was a low, barely audible growl, and Metatron fell back into his seat with a chuckle. “Yeah, fair point,” he agreed. “Can’t argue taste. But since I became human, it’s just so … strange. All these feelings, you know? I mean, I can feel music. Like that last song, ‘Sussudio.’ I don’t even know what it’s about and I love it! I always enjoyed lyrics, words, stories. Gives me goosebumps. And Goosebumps — don’t even get me started on those. Creepy! And yet … arousing.”

“Can I just kill him now?” Castiel’s sharp words had Alex turning to see the seraph on his phone, and the passing streetlight illumined the dark scowl on his face.

“You know I can hear you, right?” Metatron leaned forward again, a frown on his round face, but Castiel paid the scribe no attention.

“Well, I’d like to kill him slowly,” he told the person on the other end of the line — Sam, no doubt, and Alex shifted closer, hoping to catch part of the Winchester’s familiar voice.

“I am like two feet away from you.” The bench seat groaned slightly as Metatron pushed his entire weight against it, and Alex moved away with a barely concealed frown as he leaned even further between the two of them, his face in line with Alex’s. “Every word — crystal clear.”

“Anything on the Mark of Cain?” Castiel spoke over him, transferring the phone over to his other ear further away from Metatron. Whatever answer he received pulled his lips down into a frown, and Alex toyed with the hem of her jacket as she waited for him to hang up. “There is an answer out there,” he promised. “We will find a cure for Dean.”

“I don’t know why you’d want to cure that little firecracker now.” Metatron let out a chuckle, his blue eyes flickering between Castiel and Alex. “He’s finally interest — ow!” He fell back onto his seat when Castiel’s free hand came out, punching the scribe in the face. “Ooh!”

“Well, just keeping digging,” Cas told the Winchester on the other end, and Alex held back a snigger as she glanced over her shoulder to see Metatron holding his bleeding nose. She turned back at Castiel’s troubled word. “Sam?”

“Lose reception?” Metatron’s smug voice suddenly sounded right next to her ear, and Alex snapped her head back so far it almost collided with the glass window. “Or did he hang up on you?” He chuckled when Castiel didn’t answer, his head tipping back in amusement. “He hung up on you, didn’t he? Ow!” This time it was Alex’s elbow that caught him on the corner of the mouth, and he fell back with a shout of pain, cuffed hands going up to cover his split lip.

“Thanks.” Castiel tucked his cellphone back into his pocket, and his hands returned to the steering wheel. “Where’s this safe house?” he demanded. “You said we were getting close.”

“We are, we are.” Metatron’s voice was muffled as he spoke through his blood-filled mouth. “It’s just up here to the left. Jeez!”

The rusted sign for their turn caught in the Continental’s headlights, and Castiel guided the car off of the highway and down the abandoned road. Alex crossed her arms as she rested her head against the glass, eyes scanning the horizon for their destination. A dark shape sat against the skyline, rough and decrepit. “That it?” She pointed off down the road, and she leaned forward as Metatron once again pushed his way in between the two of them to peer through the windshield.

“That would be it,” he confirmed. “Just pull up right up next to the door there.” He threw open the car door the moment the engine died, and Alex hurried to follow, eyes blinking rapidly to adjust to the dark as she searched for the scribe, fearing he had tried to make a run.

Her pupils dilated wide to let in the watery moonlight, and the tension left her shoulders as she watched Metatron making a beeline towards the door. Castiel was moving after him, and Alex followed, pausing only to grab her weapon from the front seat before taking up the rear.

The door opened easily beneath Metatron’s touch, and Alex slowly followed him in. The interior was even darker than the night outside, and the ex-angel fumbled around for a small flashlight in the pocket of her jacket. “Okay, so where’s our grace?” she demanded.

“Well … here’s the thing.” Metatron’s footsteps echoed loudly through the empty room, and Alex pursed her lips, already frustrated at whatever words were to come. “I don’t exactly remember which safe house I put it in. I think it was this one, but …”

“But you don’t know.” The beam of her flashlight swept over the dusty interior. “Okay, well, where would you have hidden it if this was the place?”

“Upstairs, probably. There’s an office.” Metatron jerked his head behind him, and Alex turned her flashlight down towards the hallway. “If your grace is here, it’s up there — ouch!” He frowned over at Castiel as the seraph shoved him towards the door. “Watch it!”

Metatron limped off towards the stairway, still favoring his injured leg, and Alex followed, jaw squared to try and quell the nervous thudding in her chest. She could be minutes away from breaking her deal. From regaining her wings. The muscles in her shoulders quivered in excitement, and Alex immediately pushed the thought away as she bounded up the stairs. “Where is it?” She pushed past the scribe to stand in the middle of the room, her flashlight turning across the empty room.

“Huh.” The scribe’s noise of surprise had her turning back, light shining on his face, and Metatron squinted against the brightness. “This doesn’t look familiar.”

“It doesn’t …” Alex trailed off, flashlight turning onto Castiel as the angel joined them in the room. “It’s not here.”

“It was — it might have been,” Metatron corrected. “But it is definitely not here anymore.” He turned back towards the stairs with a light-hearted shrug. “Well, onto the next one, I suppose. Come on.” His voice faded slightly as he started off down the stairs. “The next stop is a state over. I call shotgun!”

“You’re not getting shotgun.” Alex ground out the words through gritted teeth, but her statement went unheard by both Metatron and Castiel, who followed the scribe back down the stairs with a weary shake of his head. Alex’s head fell forward and, with a sigh, she followed.

 

“Mmm. Can you smell that?” Metatron’s grating voice had Alex’s head falling against the hard wooden table of their booth. “Now, that — that — is the essence of humanity.”

“It smells like pancakes.” The words were muffled by the table top, pressed firmly against her face, and Alex felt Castiel’s hand rub reassuring circles into her back. Comforted by the gesture, she straightened back up with a shake of her head. “Humanity … smells like blood and feces. Nothing like this.”

“Ah!” Her words went unheard as their breakfast arrived, and Metatron’s eyes lit up as a platter of waffles were slid in front of him, piled high with whipped cream and berries. “Wonderful.”

“Thanks.” Alex accepted her omelette with a nod towards their petite waitress, doing her best to ignore the rumble in her stomach at the sight of her food. Her muscles ached, displeased at the long night spent in the car, and she stifled a groan as she reached for her cutlery. They had driven for ten hours straight, stopping only to search two more of Metatron’s so-called safe houses, which, like the first, had both turned up empty.

“Mmmm!” The scribe’s groan of pleasure had her exchanging a disgusted look with her mate. “O-M … Me! Oh, food. Glorious food.” He shoved a second bite into his mouth, humming in delight. “All the countless descriptions in so many books, but those are just words. Oh, the taste, the — the actual taste … I had no idea.” His knife dug back into his breakfast, and Alex slowly did the same, carefully lifting a portion of her omelette to her lips. “Oh, and the process,” Metatron continued, and Castiel shifted impatiently beside her, his hands folded on the table before him. “It goes in here … comes out here.” Alex didn’t need to look up to imagine the gestures that accompanied his words, and she rolled her eyes in disgust. “Sorcery.”

“It’s really not,” she muttered around her mouthful, but the scribe didn’t pause in his monologue to answer her.

“I mean, you used to be human,” he added to Castiel. “Don’t you miss all this?”

“No.” The answer was short and taut with barely disguised frustration. “I don’t miss digestion. I don’t miss indigestion.”

“No, no, no.” Metatron gestured to Castiel with his fork. “Not that. I mean, don’t you miss the feeling of all this? Like the taste of these waffles. The sound of a child’s laughter. Look at us.” His gesture widened to include Alex. “We’re three angels who’ve not only touched the divine, but the mundane. The three of us a lot in common.”

“Don’t.”

“What?” Metatron pouted at Alex’s snap. “I thought we were having a moment. Can’t we all be besties?”

“No.” Castiel glanced around the restaurant before he lowered his voice. “Because you killed my friend.”

“Pfft.” The scribe waved off the seraph’s concern. “Dean is fine … mostly. Can’t you get past that?” He pulled off another bite of his food, shoveling it into his mouth with loud, happy moan.

“Never.” Castiel shifted again on the booth, clearing his throat as he quickly changed the subject before Metatron could empty his mouth to comment. “Now, we’ve hit three of your so-called safe houses, and all of them are empty. So either you’ve lost our grace, or you’re stalling.”

Metatron chuckled, his white teeth flashing in amusement. “Can you blame me? The minute I hand over your grace, I’m dead.” He motioned between Castiel and Alex with a bite of waffle impaled on his fork. “I’m just trying to decide who I’d rather have do it.”

“You’ve made your bed, Metatron, and nothing is going to get you out of it …” Castiel’s impatience fell away as the scribe’s face twisted in discomfort, and Alex tipped her head at the sound of his stomach gurgling. “What are you doing?”

“I think I need to use the little boys’ room.” The words came out slightly rushed, laced with pain, and Metatron held out his cuffed hands to the both of them. “Little help?”

Alex felt Castiel’s eyes turn onto her, and she met his gaze with a shrug, shoving her fork down into the remainder of her food as the seraph reluctantly rose to his feet. The two disappeared towards the back of the restaurant, following the signs for the bathroom, and with a sigh, the ex-angel turned her attention onto finishing her meal; who knows when Castiel would allow them to stop and eat again.

Flannel flashed in the corner of her eye, and Alex lifted her head to watch one of the men who sat at the counter rise to his feet. Their eyes met momentarily, and the young hunter quickly looked away, unnerved by the coldness that sat within his gaze. Her skin tingled, a sure sign from years of exposure to know that this man wasn’t human. She turned her face down onto her meal, toes curling nervously as she prayed the man wasn’t a demon; if Crowley knew she was on the road with Castiel and Metatron, she had no doubt she would never get her grace back.

Her apprehension stalled her appetite, but the ex-angel forced herself to eat half of what remained on her plate before finally giving up and laying the fork down.

Her phone buzzed, and Alex jumped to answer it, her eyebrows lifting in surprise to see Sam’s name upon the screen. “Hey, Sam,” she greet, pressing the device up against her ear. “What’s up?”

“Uh, we’re on the road to meet up with Charlie. Looks like she found the Book of the Damned, but something’s tracking her down. I’m just calling to check in. How’s things going?” A distant voice could be heard beneath Sam’s words, and Sam quickly added, “Dean says hi, by the way.”

“Tell him hi back.” Alex leaned back in the booth, choosing her words carefully with the knowledge that Dean was in the car too. “Uh, everything’s fine. We’re moving east, but there hasn’t been much of anything yet. I’ll keep you updated, though.”

“Sounds good. Say, uh, did you know — apparently Rowena is Crowley’s mother.”

“Oh yeah, I knew that.” Alex picked up her fork to slide around pieces of her omelette as she spoke. “ How’d you guys find out? Why were you talking with Crowley?”

“When we were at the, uh, the movie, Dean ran into Rowena. Apparently she tried to kill him because we’re a, um … a ‘good influence’ on Crowley.” Sam paused only mometarily before adding, “Crowley met up with Dean afterwards and dropped it on him.”

“Son of a …” Alex’s forked scraped against her plate, and she let it fall back onto the table. “So now Crowley’s letting her wander off on her own? I told him …” She trailed off with a shake of her head and a sigh. “But Dean’s okay, right?”

“Dean’s fine,” Sam promised. “Hey, after you, you know, get where you’re going, we could definitely use your help over here.”

“Sure thing. I’ll keep you updated.” Alex felt her phone buzz against her ear, and she pulled it away long enough to catch a glimpse of a new text from Castiel. “Listen, I need to get going. You two stay safe.”

Sam echoed her farewell and hung up, and Alex lowered her phone to read the new message from her mate. I felt an angel nearby. We’re leaving out the back. Follow us.

Alex dug a handful of cash out of her pocket and dropped it on the table, not bothering to count it out as she rose to her feet and hurried towards the back of the restaurant. She could see the door closing, a flash of tan signaling the presence of Castiel, and her feet carried her out into the back alley. The Lincoln Continental was parked around the corner, and she lengthened her stride to walk at her mate’s side. “Sorry about the mess,” she heard Metatron say. “Guess I’m lactose intolerant.”

“Let’s never speak of it again …” Castiel trailed off as he stopped, his face going blank with surprise.

A man was leaning up against the side of the golden car, and Alex immediately ducked behind her mate as she recognized the stranger as the man from the restaurant. “Demon?” she hissed, and her heart skipped a beat as she waited for the man’s eyes to flash black.

“Well, well. Metatron, Alex, and Castiel. This really must be my lucky day.” The man stepped away from the car as he reached into his jacket, and Alex’s shoulders dropped slightly in relief at the sight of a silver angel blade. “Three birds, one blade.”

The weapon glinted in the light, and Castiel dropped his hold on Metatron to draw his own sword defensively. “Who are you?” he demanded, and Alex’s hand found her weapon, twisting it in her hands as she warily eyed the stranger.

“Just a cupid,” the man promised. “Just an angry, angry cupid.”

Castiel shifted backwards as the cupid approached, and Alex sidestepped with a frown to find he was backing up to shield her. “I understand you’re upset,” he began, but the man cut him off with a scoff.

“You corrupted heaven,” he spat. “It’s never going to be the same!” His weapon flashed through the air, and Alex leapt out of the way as Castiel backpedaled to fend off the attack. Metatron threw himself to the ground, his hands covering his head, and Alex paused only long enough to make sure that the scribe was not planning on running before she jumped back into the fray.

The cupid spun away from her blow, and Alex barely had time to duck as the angel blade flashed across the space her neck had occupied mere moments before. She used her momentum to throw herself into the cupid’s chest in an attempt to knock him down, but the angel caught her by the collar of her jacket. The ground disappeared from beneath her feet as Alex was flung through the air, and she grunted as she hit the hood of the Lincoln Continental, the impact knocking the air out of her lungs.

Her head spun, the ringing in her ears almost drowning out the thud of Castiel hitting the ground, and the ex-angel forced her body to roll off of the car as white light lit up the alleyway. “Cas?” She pushed herself to her feet, eyes sweeping the scene, and she felt relief pulse through her veins as her mate shoved the corpse of the cupid to the ground. Metatron stood above them, a bloodied angel blade in his hands, and Alex approached cautiously as the scribe stared down at the seraph. Metatron hesitated only momentarily before he turned the weapon around, the hilt pointed towards Castiel. “I owed you that one, anyways,” he said as Castiel took hold of the blade.

“This changes nothing.” The seraph growled out the words as he pushed himself to his feet, and Alex lifted her chin as he crossed the alleyway towards her.

“You’re welcome,” she heard Metatron call from behind them, and Castiel paused at her side to tuck his weapon back into his coat.

“Are you okay?” The seraph’s words were barely audible, and Alex gave a small nod. Satisfied, Castiel pulled open the car door, and Alex bent down to pick up her weapon before following her mate. She paused beside the passenger side door to watch Metatron slowly pick his way past the body. “Hurry up,” she heard Castiel snap, but the scribe merely rolled his eyes.

“I just saved your life,” Metatron reminded. “And what do I get — not even a thank you?”

“You said the next safe house was nearby.” Castiel pulled open the door for the scribe, pushing down on his head to shove Metatron into the back seat unceremoniously. “How far away is it?”

“It’s two towns over. The old local library.” Metatron sunk into the leather seats, the playful tone leaving his voice. “That’s our next stop.” His handcuffs clinked as he dropped his hands into his lap, and Alex exchanged an exasperated look with Castiel as she climbed in after the scribe.

“Why did you think that cupid was a demon?” The engine started as Castiel spoke, and Alex looked over at him in surprise.

“What?” she asked before she could stop herself, and she shook her head before Castiel could repeat the question. “I — I can’t exactly tell angel from demon as a human. A-And I guess I’m scared that Crowley’s going to catch on before we find our grace.”

She glanced over her shoulder, and Metatron’s head recoiled in faux-shock. “Well don’t look at me,” he insisted. “I don’t want that arrogant prick getting the drop on us anymore than you two.”

“Good.” Alex slouched down against her seat, arms folded across her chest as she scowled. “Anyways, it sounds like Crowley’s preoccupied with the witch Rowena, so hopefully he won’t even be aware of where I am.” The Continental shifted into gear, and the car lurched forward towards the street.

 

Blaine, Missouri

Castiel didn’t speak the entire drive, and Alex spent the time staring out the window, her fingers dancing nervously along the hem of her jacket. Even Metatron was quiet, having given up on making conversation ten minutes ago. Now, he only spoke up to give the seraph directions or point out some interesting slogan he saw on a passing billboard. “Ah!” His sudden noise had Alex looking up in time to see the scribe pointing off towards an exit ramp. “There. The library is going to be up there and to the left.”

Castiel obediently guided the car off of the highway, and Alex leaned forward as she searched for the building that the scribe spoke up. The faded white sign for the Petersburg Library caught her eye, but before she could speak up, Castiel turned into the parking lot. “Okay, get out.” He turned off the engine and got out of the car, slamming the door behind him. Alex followed, pausing only long enough for the seraph to yank Metatron onto the cracked pavement before she led the way towards the door.

It was locked, and she waited impatiently for Castiel to unlock it with her grace before she pushed her way inside. “Oh, come on.” At the sound of his muttered words, Alex turned to fall in step beside her mate. “You expect me to believe that you hid my grace in a library?”

“Nobody goes to libraries anymore,” Metatron promised, taking the lead. “It’s the safest place in the world.”

Alex flicked on the lights, and the large, cluttered room came into view. Books were everywhere, every shelf packed tight. “I can feel our grace.” Castiel’s breath stirred her hair, and she turned her head to look into his eyes, searching for any sign of deception. “It’s here,” he promised, raising his voice for Metatron to hear, “but you’ve hidden it somehow. Where is it?”

“Honesty? I have no idea.” Metatron jumped down the half staircase, his handcuffs clinking slightly, and he let out a shout of surprise when Castiel followed, roughly shoving the scribe down into an empty chair and pinning him there by the shoulder. “Aah!”

His face contorted in pain as Castiel dug his fingers into the scribe’s bandaged bullet wound, easing up slightly as his lips turned up in a snarl. “Where is it?” he demanded, and Metatron shrieked again as his words were emphasized by a sharp squeeze.

“Gah! I don’t know, I swear!” Metatron flinched away from Castiel’s anger, and Alex moved to stand at her mate’s side, hands shoved into her pockets as she surveyed Metatron’s face; if the pain laced through his features was an indicator of anything, the words he was saying were genuine. “I had another angel hide it, even from me —!” He shouted again as Castiel’s finger dug deeper into the bandage, fresh blood welling up beneath his nails. “You know, in case someone tries to torture the information out of me!” he finished with a snarl. “Case in point!”

Castiel pulled away, leaving the scribe seething in his seat. “Where is my grace?” he repeated, and Alex reached up to put a calming hand upon his shoulder.

“I told the angel to hide some clues in some of my favorite books.” Metatron ground his teeth as he held up his hands in a gesture of pleading innocence. “Mother, may I?” When Castiel merely scowled, Metatron pushed himself to his feet and limped off towards the shelves. Castiel and Alex followed, watching warily as he pulled a dark blue book from its home.

He reached to open the front cover, but then Castiel was there, yanking the book out of his hands. A yellowed note sat tucked in among the first few pages, and the seraph let the book fall to the ground as he unfolded it. “ ‘What is the maddest thing a man can do?’ ” he read with a frown. “It’s a riddle? What — what’s the answer?”

“Beats me.” Metatron shrugged nonchalantly. “I’ve only been a man for a day. Um, the — the answer to the riddle will lead to another book,” he explained when a growl rumbled in Castiel’s throat. “And inside that book, you’ll find your grace. We’re gonna work this out together, okay? Teamwork.”

His words were met with a scowl from Castiel, but the seraph didn’t argue. Instead, he merely rolled his eyes and moved off down another aisle. Alex followed, breaking away a second later to search her own set of books. She trailed her fingers down the spines, head tipped slightly as she read the titles. “What was the riddle again?” she asked, and her voice echoed through the empty room.

“ ‘What is the maddest thing a man can do?’ ” Castiel’s voice came from across from her, and she paused to peer through the books at her mate. There was a light in his eyes, pure hope at finding their grace, and Alex paused to grin at the sight.

“Thanks.” Alex tucked a strand of blonde hair back behind her ear as she spoke. “Are you — are you sure it’s our grace you’re feeling?” she pressed after a moment’s pause, lowering her voice as not to give Metatron the pleasure of hearing. “I don’t feel anything.”

“I’m sure.” Castiel’s promise was just as soft. “Yours and mine. I would never forget how that feels. Perhaps … perhaps because you only have a soul, you can’t feel it like I can.”

His blue eyes searched her face, waiting to see if she agreed, and Alex gave a small nod. “Maybe,” she conceded. “Well, keep looking then.”

“You know, I can hear every word you’re saying, and let me say, you two are absolutely adorable.” Metatron’s voice came from across the room, and Alex’s smile faded into a tight-lipped frown as she turned her attention back to the books. “You know, the three of us really do make a good team,” he continued. “Kind of like a buddy comedy, without the comedy.”

“Or the buddies,” Castiel added, and Alex heard Metatron draw in a breath of mock hurt.

“Oh now, come on,” he chided. “Back at the diner, that was some pretty awesome dynamic-duo action.”

Alex dragged her fingers down the spine of a particularly thick book, pausing to pull it off the shelf and check the first few pages for another riddle. There was nothing, and she tucked the book back into place with a huff. “What we did back there was unfortunate,” she heard Castiel say. “No more of our brothers or sisters should die.”

“Brothers and sisters?” Metatron actually scoffed, and Alex tilted her head in surprise. “Listen to you. Still spitting out the company line like anyone cares. Like we’re actually a family? When what we really are — we’re a bunch of glowing lights filled with self-loathing and delusions of grandeur.”

“You shut up!”

“No!” Metatron met Castiel’s anger. “If I’m gonna die, I want answers. Like, who are you now? Like, you’re obviously not an angel of the Lord. And what about all this walking the earth like Caine from ‘Kung Fu’ crap?” His voice rose even more, and Alex circled around the aisle to see the two angels staring at each other through the shelves “Cleaning up heaven’s messes. How many more rogue angels are there out there? And what are you gonna do once you’re done with that? Go back to heaven?” Metatron scoffed. “Please. The angel formerly known as Hannah has restored order up top. Smoothest it’s run since God cut the ribbon on the pearly gates, and they’re sure as hell not going to let her up there.” Alex watched as he gestured to her through the shelves. “So tell me, Castiel, truly, what is your mission now?”

Alex took a step closer when she saw Castiel’s shoulders tense, fearful that the seraph was going to strike a blow. However, all he said was, “You shut up and keep looking,” and then he turned on his heels and stalked away.

Metatron chuckled, and Alex returned to her aisle with a shake of her head. “Well …” she heard the scribe continue, and she did her best to block out the sound of his voice, her attention fully on the books at hand, “I cannot say I didn’t try.”

Light flashed in front of her eyes, and Alex gasped as a weight pressed down on her shoulders, forcing her to the ground. Her lungs screamed in pain, and panic blinded her at the sudden invisible force. Through the ringing in her ears, she barely heard Castiel hit the ground on the other side of the bookshelves, grunting in agony.

Footsteps echoed on the hardwood floor, and Alex caught sight of Metatron’s shoes through the stack of books. “Poor Castiel.” The scribe clicked his tongue disapprovingly as he stared down at the seraph. “Swam so far just to drown in shallow waters. Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?” The footsteps retreated slightly, and Alex looked up to see Metatron watching her, a triumphant smile upon his round face. “Stay there and be good,” he taunted, and Alex pushed herself up onto her knees before the weight of the spell forced her back down.

Satisfied, Metatron disappeared from sight, and Alex swept some of the books off of their shelves so she could better see her mate. “Cas.” She hissed his name, and Castiel turned his head to meet her gaze. “You okay?”

Castiel nodded, his mouth opening, but his words were drowned out by Metatron’s. “Alright. First thing’s first … find what I really came here for.” The sound of rustling paper came from across the room. “ ‘What two things do you need to succeed in life?’ ” he read before he chuckled. “Ignorance and confidence.”

“They’re quotes.” Castiel pulled the first riddle out of his pocket, grimacing at the pain the movement cause him, and Metatron laughed..

“So, uh … did you and Samateur hour really thing I wouldn’t have a back-up plan?” Alex could see Metatron’s feet cross past her vision as he made his way down the aisle. He stopped near the end, and Alex heard him pull a book off the shelf. “Ah. Hello, demon tablet.”

“Shit.” Alex watched as Castiel pulled himself away from the scribe, his jaw clenched at the strain, and the ex-angel once again tried to stand, pushing her feet underneath her and forcing herself up. She steadied herself on the bookshelves, doing her best to ignore how her legs quivered under the strain. “Crowley, where are you? Metatron has the demon tablet.”

“Who now has the what now?” The thick accent of Crowley came from behind her, and Alex tried to turn. The pressure from the spell sent her to the ground, and she grunted as her chest collided with the hardwood floors. “Good to see you too, kitten.”

“Is that Crowley?” Metatron’s voice sounded from across the room, a mixture of joy and disbelief. “Crowley the King of Hell.”

That’s Metatron?” The demon’s eyebrows cocked in surprise. “That’s the Scribe of God. I was expecting something more … holy.”

“He’s human. Cas took his grace. Just — just kill him or something!” Alex once again pushed herself to her feet with a snarl, but with a wave of his hand, Crowley sent her crashing back to the ground.

“What am I, your personal revenge service?” Alex heard footsteps hurrying away, running towards the front door, but Crowley’s attention remained fully focused on her. “You work for me, not the other way around!”

“No.” Grace trickled deep within her gut, and Alex closed her eyes, welcoming the feeling. “You’re wrong.” Her eyes snapped open wide, and she pushed herself to her feet as the floodgates within her opened. “I don’t work for you.”

The bookcases exploded, sending books and loose pages flying around the room at deadly speeds, and Alex lost sight of the demon as white light enveloped the room. Her grace rushed through her veins, a comforting, powerful warmth that spread outwards and exploded from her shoulders, twisting and molding into a solid, holy weight.

The papers settled around her, and she turned to look past the fallen shelves, following the thread of grace to her mate. Castiel’s eyes glowed blue, and his wings were outstretched, tattered and broken.

Their worn state barely registered as Alex turned away, her own wings rising as she searched for the King of Hell. “Crowley!” She bellowed the name, eyes scanning the library for the stocky demon.

“Looks like I’m a little late to the party, hmm?” Crowley emerged from behind one of the few upright shelves, his dark eyes taking in the mess at his feet. “You didn’t tell me you were looking to get your grace back.”

“You never asked.” Her grace swelled up, her eyes glowing in the dim room, and she felt her wings flare, brushing the low ceilings as she cast their shadows onto the back wall. “And I’m not human any longer.”

“You think this makes a difference?” Crowley spat the words, shying away from the bright, holy light, and Alex let the last of her grace inside, sinking into her bones. She felt her soul melt away at the touch, consumed by the angelic force. The inky letters of her deal rose to her skin, glowing a brilliant blue, and Alex’s grin turned to a frown as she looked down at her arms. She could feel her grace straining at the contract, but no matter how hard she pushed, it refused to give.

“Did you really think I would just let you get away when you found your grace?” Crowley’s voice grew scathing, and Alex let out a shriek of pain as the lettering faded to a smoldering black. “Read it on your skin, sweetheart. You’re mine even if I had to drag you down to hell and cut your grace out myself!”

The deal burrowed into her grace, and Alex threw her head back in a painful howl as it sunk its icy fangs into her chest.

Her cry was nearly drowned out by Castiel’s snarl, and then the seraph was there, holding her up as her legs threatened to buckle underneath the pain. “You might be good, but I’m Crowley,” he taunted. “I’ll see you in hell, darling.”

The demon disappeared, and Alex pushed herself back to her feet. “Fuck!” The curse left her lips, echoing through the empty room, and she spun around to face Castiel, her eyes blazing. The seraph’s shoulders were fallen, and Alex’s wings flared up furiously. “You should be pissed!” she snapped, her voice sharper than she intended. “Don’t give up!”

“He’s won.” Castiel’s eyes slid past her to rest on the space where Crowley had once stood. “If regaining our grace — dissolving your very soul — couldn’t break it …” He shook his head, his eyes dull with defeat. “I don’t know what else to do.”

“We go back to the bunker.” Alex’s wings fell back to her side, and her anger faded into cold determination. “Sam and Dean are with Charlie. They’ve found the Book of the Damned. If there’s a spell in there to cure the Mark of Cain, maybe — maybe there’s some way to break this curse of mine, too.” Two steps carried her to him, her hands cupping his cheeks. She felt her grace thrum at the contact, and she leaned up, pressing her lips to his as reassuringly as she could. “I still have twelve months left. Don’t give up yet.”

 

Lebanon, Kansas 

The quiet bunker air hummed gently as Alex toyed with her grace, sending it out to feel the farthest reaches of the halls before snapping back in. Her phone lay on the table, screen opened to Sam’s latest message, a promise of a quick arrival. There was an inquiry about her grace, but Alex left it unanswered; she would be able to tell Sam in person soon enough.

She could feel Castiel behind her, his attention on the bookshelf, and she closed her eyes, drawing on the small flickering in the back of her mind, allowing her grace to see what he saw. She saw the books, followed by a view of the back of her head as Castiel turned, humming in surprise. “Hey.” Alex tipped her head back in her chair, staring up the seraph with a small smile. “Anything interesting?”

“I think I’ve had enough of books for the time being.” Castiel crossed the room to stand at her side, and Alex pushed herself to her feet, turning so she could sit on the table and place her feet up upon the chair.

Her eyes fell onto Castiel’s wings, and the angel couldn’t help the small frown that darkened her face. When she had been living on stolen grace, she neither saw wings not had a pair of her own; somehow, what she had before seemed almost preferable to this. The seraph’s wings were nothing more than ragged, unkempt feathers, the faintest hints of exposed bone visible through the tattered mess.

Alex knew her wings looked no better, and she drew one in to fruitlessly preen one of the large pinions. Large chunks of the vane were missing, leaving only a barb or two clinging for life. Small covert feathers still covered the patchwork of remaining skin, and the angel grimaced, tugging angrily at stripped rachis of a secondary flight feather. “You shouldn’t play with them,” Castiel warned, his voice soft yet chastising. “They’ll heal faster if you leave them alone.”

“They will grow back, won’t they?” Alex’s eyebrows turned up worriedly, and she held out her hands, beckoning her mate closer. “Then I’ll be able to fly again.” The darkening Castiel’s eyes had her shoulders falling, and she drew her wings back out of her sight with a sigh.

The door opened, and Alex looked up to watch Sam step through the door, his backpack slung over his shoulder. “Hey,” he called, and his eyes lit up at the sight of the two of them. “Did you guys find your grace?” His eyes darted upwards as Alex had the lights flicker, and he broke out into a grin. “Congrats. And — and your deal?”

Alex’s smile faded as Sam came to stop in front of her, and the Winchester’s own grin fell away. “Crowley … planned on us finding it,” she admitted, and her arms dropped to her lap. “It wouldn’t break.”

“How —“ Sam’s eyes narrowed in confusion, and he looked between the two angels. “How’s that possible? You don’t have a soul … right?”

Castiel’s lips pursed, and Alex’s eyes fell onto her feet. “I don’t,” she reluctantly agreed. “But he … he says he’s planning on having his hounds drag me to hell where he’ll take my grace. Without it I’ll be human again.” Her gaze flickered back up to Sam. “What about the Book of the Damned? Did you find it? Is there something that could help me?”

Sam placed a hand on her shoulder, and Alex leaned into the warm, reassuring touch. “We don’t know,” he admitted. “We didn’t find a way to translate it. It’s written in some obscure Sumerian dialect, but it’s also in code, none that I’ve ever seen. But Alex …” His hand fell away, and the angel felt her heart plummet. “We had to destroy the book. The men who were following Charlie found us. We didn’t have a chance.” The hand returned, squeezing gently, but when Alex shrugged it off, he turned his eyes onto Cas. “What about Metatron?” he asked. “Is he back in heaven?”

“He escaped with the demon tablet.” Castiel’s voice was low in defeat. “I was foolish, selfish. I should’ve just killed him.” The seraph dropped down into a chair with a small shake of his head. “Who knows what he’ll do with that tablet.”

Sam’s let out a low, slow breath through his nose. “Well, you know what, Cas?” he finally said. “You got your grace back. You’re back. You did the right thing.”

“It didn’t save Alex.” Castiel placed his elbows on his table, his head falling into his hands. “You … you did the right thing, too,” he reluctantly admitted. “That book needed to be destroyed.” He lifted his eyes, and determination crept into the edges of his voice. “We will find another way, Sam. For both Alex and Dean.”

“We’re back, bitches!” The bunker door flew open, and Alex jumped to her feet, wings flaring up in surprise at the sudden noise. Charlie jumped down the metal stairs, two grocery bags in her arms. Chair legs squeaked against the floor as Castiel rose to his feet, and Alex followed him down into the war room to greet the new arrivals. Charlie’s eyes lit up, and a smile grew across her face as she took in the angel at Alex’s side. “Whoa! Is that who I think it is?”

“Charlie, Cas.” Sam came to stop behind Alex, motioning between the two. “Cas, Charlie.”

Charlie yanked Castiel into a quick hug before pulling back to look the seraph up and down. “I thought you’d be shorter,” she finally admitted, dropping the bags she was carrying down onto the table.

Sam was there to pick them up, balancing them carefully as he jerked his head in the direction of the kitchen. “I’m gonna get these to the fridge,” he announced, and Alex stepped back to let him through.

Charlie gave no notice that she heard, her attention fully on the two angels in front of her. “Heard the two of you might have gotten your mojo back,” she began cheerfully.

“Yes,” Castiel agreed, “my — our grace, it’s been restored.”

Charlie looked down at Alex, and the blonde nodded in agreement, smiling to accompany her mate’s words. “It’s true,” she agreed. “We’re back, wings and all.”

Charlie grinned. “So — so can’t you just … you know … cure Dean?”

Her smile fell away when Castiel dropped his gaze. “It’s not exactly that simple,” Alex began. “The Mark — it’s more than just a scrape or a broken bone.”

“Oh.” Charlie’s shoulders fell in disappointment. “Never is, is it?” The sadness lasted only a moment before the woman perked back up. “Do you think you could do anything about my carpal tunnel?” Her eyes crossed slightly as she followed Castiel’s hand up to where it came to rest on her forehead, and Alex felt their grace rush through Charlie, healing every injury it encountered. He pulled away a moment later, and the woman gave a small frown. “Is that it?”

“Your carpal tunnel and your bullet wound are now healed,” Castiel promised, and he motioned down to the woman’s hand. “You may want to continue wearing your brace at night, though.”

Charlie’s face glowed, blue eyes sparkling in amazement as she stared up at the seraph. “Did we just become best friends?” she asked, and even Castiel managed to smile at her joy. The smile quickly faded at the sound of the bunker door opening, and Alex followed his gaze upwards to see Dean entering, three large pizza boxes balanced in his hands.

“Hey, look who decided to show,” the Winchester called, and he flicked his head upwards in a nod to both of the angels. “So? You two back at one hundred percent? How’d that happen?”

Sam stepped back into the war room, and Castiel’s head turned momentarily onto the Winchester before he constructed his answer. “Uh, it was Hannah,” he lied. “She managed to get the location of the remainder of my grace out of Metatron.”

“Awesome.” Dean’s grin widened, and he dropped the pizza onto the table as he glanced over at his brother. “I told you we were due for a win,” he told Sam before clapping Castiel on the shoulder. “Good to have you back, pal.”

“I’m glad to be back,” Castiel agreed quietly.

Alex grunted in surprise as Dean pulled her into a tight side-hug. “Same to you,” the Winchester added down to her. “Let me tell you, you missed a hell of a road trip. Glad to see you’re up and out of that deal, huh?”

Alex looked up at his grin, and she forced a similar smile. “I’ll tell you about it later,” she promised, intent on not marring the hunter’s rare and jovial mood. “I think that pizza’s calling my name, though.” She curled around to her customary chair, waving her mate over to join her. “I might be an angel, but I’m gonna eat as much as I can.”

Her distraction worked, and Dean dropped into his seat, hands clapping together as he pulled the pizzas close. “I’ll second that.” He immediately pushed himself back to his feet. “Beer. I’ll get the beer.”

“And plates!” Alex yelled after him as he hurried off towards the kitchen.

“When are you gonna tell him?” Sam sat down in the chair beside her, and Alex leaned back in her seat as she glanced in his direction. “About … your deal.”

“I’ll tell him in the morning.” Alex tucked her hands behind her head as she leaned back further in her chair. “He told you we were due for a win, you know? I want to give him that.” She fell silent as Dean returned, a six-pack tucked under one arm, a stack of paper plates in the other. She didn’t wait for him to sit down before she pulled open one of the pizza boxes, digging in and pulling free a slice for herself. “For now, how about we celebrate, huh?” She accepted a beer from Dean, her grace cracking off the top as she held it up. “To our win.”

Chapter Text

June 13th, 2015
Lebanon, Kansas

A rap on her door stirred Alex from her thoughts, and the angel let her laptop slide off of her lap as she straightened up on her bed. “Hello?” Her grace stretched out to unlock the door, turning the lights on at the same time, and the iridescent bulbs flickered to life moments before the heavy wooden door swung open.

“Hey.” Sam stepped inside, his eyes sweeping the room with a small frown. “Have you seen either Cas or Dean?”

“Uh, Dean’s still blacked out in his room, and Cas is who-knows-where.” Alex shrugged at her nondescript explanation. “He’s not exactly been the most expressive recently. I mean, he kind of just moped for a day or two, and now …” She reached over to grab a balled up scrap of paper from her nightstand and tossed it in Sam’s direction, her voice growing sour. “Who the hell leaves a note to tell me he’s leaving to find a way to break my deal?”

Sam bent down to scoop the note off of the ground, and the paper crinkled as he unfolded it. There was a moment of silence as he read the scrawled words before he folded it up and set it on her dresser. ”Did he say where he was going?” Sam closed the door behind him, and Alex shook her head, throwing her legs over the side of the bed so she could sit up; usually, such complaints would elicit some form of sympathy, but Sam seemed distracted. She squinted curiously, her silence prompting him to continue. “Hey, so you remember that I burned the Book of the Damned, right? Well … I didn’t.”

“You what?” His words had Alex on her feet, and her broken wings stretched out in surprise.

“I … didn’t burn it.” Sam reached up to rub the back of his neck, but his voice lost none of its conviction. “I couldn’t bring myself to do it, not if there’s any hope of saving you and Dean. I have the Book hidden in my room in a warded box so the Styne clan can’t track it.”

“That’s the creepy family who were hunting you and Charlie, right?” Alex didn’t wait for Sam to nod before she frowned. “And I’m guessing Dean doesn’t know about this.”

“What? No, of course not.” Sam’s eyes narrowed as if confused by her question. “Dean’s given up. Look at how he reacted when you told him you couldn’t break your deal. Do you really think he’s stable enough for this?”

Alex’s frown deepened, her eyes flickering across his face as she searched for any sign of doubt. “No,” she reluctantly admitted, and her grace stretched out to feel for Dean, still drunkenly unconscious in his bed. “I-I don’t like it, but you’re probably right.” She drew her grace back inside. “Okay, so how are we going to use this Book? Because the moment we take that out of the box …”

“Yeah, tell me about it.” Sam’s face darkened as he thought, but Alex could see a hesitant decision had already be formed. She leaned up against her bed, waiting patiently for the Winchester to finish. It took him a minute of silence, but eventually he heaved a sigh. “Actually, I have an idea. You’re not going to like it,” he warned, “but Rowena —”

“No.”

“She’s the most powerful witch we know, and she’s the only one who might give us a chance!” Sam’s voice rose in momentary frustration that fell away when Alex squared her jaw. “We owe it to Dean to at least give it a shot,” he begged. “Please, just trust me.”

“I trust you, Sam. The problem is that I don’t trust her.” Alex crossed her arms as she toed at a discarded shirt on her floor, nudging it closer to the dresser with a scowl. “She tried to kill Dean just last week. What makes you think she’ll want anything to do with us? How — how are we even going to get a hold of her?”

“I was hoping you could help.”

No.” One step took Alex toe-to-toe with Sam, and she lifted her broken and tattered wings in an attempt to match his height. “I am not asking Crowley to get me in touch with his mother! That’s — that’s not okay on so many levels.”

“At least try, okay?” Sam pleaded. “The longer we wait, the worse Dean is going to get, and who knows how close he is to breaking.”

Alex ground her teeth, and her grace flipped angrily within her at her inability to think up any excuse to his heartfelt plea. “Fine,” she snapped, her voice harsher than she intended. “I’ll give him a call and see what I can do. But I’m not going to beg him, okay?”

“Okay.” Relief flared in Sam’s eyes, and he jumped to agree. “Okay. Thank you.”

“Yeah. Now get out of my room, huh?” Alex shooed him out with a half-angry wave of her hands, and she dropped back down onto her bed as Samc closed the door behind him. She paused, stretching out her grace to make sure he wasn’t lingering nearby before she reluctantly reached for her phone to dial Crowley’s number.

The line only rang once before it clicked. “Hello, little mouse. Come back to grovel some?” Crowley’s grating voice had Alex’s wings flicking furiously, but she forced her anger down with a scowl.

“I suppose you’d like that, wouldn’t you?” The angel did her best to keep her voice light, hoping the demon couldn’t hear the frustration hardening the edges. “I actually need to ask a favor. Is Rowena still with you?”

“Rowena?” Crowley’s voice lifted in surprise. “I kicked that old hag out days ago. What do you want with her?”

“Sam may have found a way to remove the Mark, but we need a witch,” Alex explained temperately. “What’s the best way to get a hold of her? Does — does she have like a phone or something?”

Skeptical silence followed her words, and Alex shifted on her bed as she waited for a reply. “I still have some of my men keeping an eye on her,” Crowley finally said. “I’ll have them report anything they’ve found.”

“Thanks.” Alex didn’t wait for a farewell before she hung up, and she shoved her phone into her pocket with a small shake of her head. “Son of a …” She crossed the room and stepped out into the hall, grace flicking out to make sure that Dean was still unconscious in his room before she made her way after Sam.

The Winchester was seated in the library, his hands pressed up against the side of his head as he stared down at the book in front of him. He only looked up when Alex dropped down in the chair at his side, his hazel eyes brightening in hope. “Well? What did he say?”

“He said he kicked Rowena out. Luckily for us, he’s still got some of his men out there keeping tabs on her whereabouts, so he’ll call me if he finds a way for us to get in contact.” The angel scowled, swinging the chair around so she could straddle it, arms folded across the back. “I think he shares my hesitation about dealing with her,” she added, her eyes hardening. “She’s a snake, Sam. Sly, manipulative — not to mention a fucking witch!”

“I know.” Sam reached out to put a hand on her slim forearm, and Alex fell silent with a huff. “I know.” His warm, calloused fingers squeezed gently, and the angel’s head fell to her chest. “That’s why I want you to work with me, okay? If anything goes wrong — anything — I need you there.”

“Of course you do.” Alex’s wings drooped, the broken vanes brushing against the hardwood floor. “You need me, Dean needs me — Cas is halfway off the deep end with this deal of mine. My wings are broken. I can’t fly. I can’t be there for everyone —”

She cut off sharply when the hand on her arm tightened, and her eyes flickered up onto Sam’s face. “I understand,” he promised. “If it’s too much, I can handle this on my own.”

Alex pushed his hand off of her arm, her fingers lingering on his wrist a moment longer. “Don’t be stupid. Of course I’ll help you; just give me five minutes to complain about it, okay?”

“Complain ‘bout what?” The sound of Dean’s voice had Alex turning around, surprised to find the Winchester standing in the doorway. His hair was tousled, his shirt wrinkled and clearly slept in, and the angel cocked an eyebrow at the sight.

“What isn’t there to complain about?” she countered lightly. “We live in a fucking horror movie.” Her eyes dropped onto Dean’s forearm, hidden by a half-rolled sleeve. “Hey, uh, I wanted to remind you that my promise about that still stands.” She motioned towards the Mark, and Dean’s free hand went up to cover the curse. “I might be a full angel again, but once that thing’s off, we’re still getting drunk, no strings attached.”

Dean grunted, and Alex turned her chair slightly so she could face him more. “Sure thing. Think you can do anything about this hangover in the meantime?”

“Sorry, hotshot. Serves you for drinking on a weeknight.” Alex waved off the obscene gesture Dean sent her way as he crossed through the library on his way to the kitchen, and her head fell back onto her folded arms as Sam return to his research. She felt her phone buzz within her pocket, and she drew it out, flicking her grace to make sure Dean was still out of sight. “Crowley,” she announced, dropping her phone on the table. “We’ve got a number.”

 

Kansas City, Missouri

Alex followed Sam out of the Marquis, catching the keys tossed her way and shoving them deep into the pockets of her jeans. “Want me to take the lead?” she asked as Sam pulled the warded lead box out of the trunk. “I’ve tangled with this witch before.”

“No, no, don’t worry about it.” Sam waved her help off with a shake of his head. “Let me do the talking, alright?”

“Whatever you say, Winchester.” Alex shoved her hands deep inside of her jacket as she fell in step behind Sam, following him across the parking lot and in through the doors of the small, brightly lit cafe. She drew her ragged wings in tight as she scanned the tables, grey eyes searching for the familiar head of red hair.

She elbowed Sam when she found the witch, seated at a table near the windows, and a jerk in her head in Rowena’s direction had Sam weaving his way between the tables. “Rowena?” He waited for the witch to nod before he took a seat across from her, the warded box resting on the table in front of him. “Thanks for meeting up with me.”

“You didn’t tell me she was coming with.” The thick Scottish accent was filled with distrust and disdain, and Alex huffed as she pulled up a third chair to the table so she could sit at Sam’s side. Rowena’s eyes glittered with momentary displeasure, but it faded away as she turned her attention back onto Sam. “Well? You said you had a proposition.”

“I need the Mark of Cain off of my brother,” Sam began. “Something tells me you can crack this book and find that cure. The only question is … will you help me?”

He rested his hands on the box, his long fingers spreading from edge to edge, and he hesitantly undid the latch and lifted the lid, showing off the Book inside. The front page was a dark leather, clearly homemade and unevenly cut, and Alex felt her stomach twist at the sight of the pages sticking out from beneath. She recognized the material of the pages from previous experience; that was human skin.

The witch’s blue eyes gleamed at the sight. “Shall we discuss terms?” Rowena put her elbows on the table as she leaned forward. “There’s only one thing you could possibly do for me that I can’t, at least not presently, do for myself. Kill my son. He already has his stinking minions on high alert.” Anger darkened her face, quickly quelled, and within a moment, Rowena had regained her calm composure. “And if you’re wondering how a mother can get to the point of wanting her own son —”

“No, I’m really not.” Sam quickly cut her off with a hurried shake of his head. “I’ll do it. I’ll kill Crowley.”

Rowena clicked her tongue. “No. I want her to do it.” She pointed towards Alex, and the angel’s shoulders rolled back in anger.

Her wings flared out, but she did her best to keep her voice under control. “I can’t kill him,” she retorted. “Trust me, I’d love to, but he … he owns me, and I can’t hurt him.”

“I can kill Crowley,” Sam repeated insistently. “But first things first — can you read the book?”

“Of course I can,” Rowena promised, and Alex frowned at the sickly sweet tone of her voice, almost as strong as her perfume. “I’m likely the only witch alive who can understand such old, dark magic. Just … not in its present form.”

Sam’s lips twisted into a frown, and he quickly snapped the lead box shut, hiding the Book of the Damned from sight. “Drink’s on me,” he told her, nodding towards her cup, and chair legs scraped against the floor as he rose to his feet.

Alex did the same, rising up with a silent, practiced ease, but Rowena’s dry voice had her pausing. “Hey, you’re going anywhere, pal. I’m your mortal enemy.” She paused, and Alex frowned when Sam reluctantly sat back down. “I’ve tried to kill you and your brother — your brother as recently as last week. You wouldn’t have come to me if I wasn’t your last resort.” She looked up at Alex, and the angel sunk back into her chair as a long, frustrated breath left her nose. “You’re desperate. You can stop pretending that you’re not.”

Alex heard Sam’s phone vibrate, and the Winchester drew his attention away from the witch to look down at his message. “So rude,” Rowena chided, but Sam paid her no attention, turning his phone so Alex could see the text from Dean. Hitting a nest in Tulsa, it read. Join if you want.

Alex frowned at the message, but Rowena went on as if nothing had occurred. “Now, I can’t read the book in its present form,” she explained, “but there is someone who could. Nadya. Grand Coven witch.”

“Where do I find her?”

“You don’t. She’s dead.” Rowena let out a small, sly smile at Sam’s pursed lips. “Murdered for her life’s work. Her decryption formulas, her codex … now that you can find. Bring me Nadya’s codex, and I’ll … break this text right open and give you your cure.” She motioned towards the hidden box, and Sam’s hands returned to cover it, unconsciously doing his best to hide it from sight.

“Alright, so where do we find this codex?” Alex asked, and she flicked her wings, displeased at their business with the witch. “Is it in a-a church or a crypt?”

“If I were you, I’d start at home.” Rowena leaned back in her seat, her blue eyes taking in the two hunters that sat in front of her. “Who do you think murdered Nadya and stole the codex in the first place?”

“The Men of Letters.” Sam looked over at Alex, and she nodded as she pushed herself to her feet.

“Great. Well, we’ll call you when we need you, huh?” Alex motioned Sam to his feet, grace roiling angrily within her chest, but the witch merely watched them rise with a calm, collected gaze. “Come on, Sam.” She pushed her chair back towards the table she had stolen it from, face darkening at how Rowena’s eyes fell greedily onto the Book of the Damned. “Let’s go.”

 

Lebanon, Kansas

Alex stretched her legs out on the war room table, tipping back a beer as she dragged a finger down the page in the small, handwritten text. Piles of books sat on either side of her feet, and with a shake of her head, Alex snapped the small book closed and tossed it onto the pile on the left. Useless.

The bunker door swung open with a bang, and the angel looked up to watch Dean saunter through the door, humming a low tune under his breath. Blood covered his clothes and his face, and Alex worriedly pressed out her grace to confirm that the Winchester was unharmed. Sam followed more slowly, dragging his feet behind his brother, and Alex let her feet fall from the table onto the floor at the sight of his tight-lipped frown. “Hey,” she greeted, eyes flickering between the two hunters. “Everything okay? How was the vamp nest?”

“It was awesome.” Dean’s grin widened even further. “I took down six vamps solo. I gotta say — I think that’s a personal best.”

“And what if you couldn’t have handled it, huh?” Sam dropped his bag down onto the table beside Alex’s books with a deep-set scowl. “You should have waited for me, man!”

“Oh, come on.” Dean gave a dramatic roll of his eyes. “I can handle it — I did handle it. It’s done, okay?” His eyes turned from his brother to land on Alex, shoulders falling to find the same frown echoed on the angel’s face. “Come on. It’s the only way I can take the edge off. So what if I don’t like to wait around for you, especially with you looking at me like … like I’m some sort of diseased puppy,” he told Sam before a pointed finger swung in Alex’s direction. “And you — you didn’t even bother to show up, so I don’t know why you even get a say in this.”

Alex shrugged, unable to defend herself against his accusations, and the Winchester adjusted his grip on the bag slung over his shoulder. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m sweaty and covered in vamp juice. I think a shower and a beer are calling my name.”

Dean disappeared down the hall, and Alex watched him go with a shake of her head. “Well?” Sam’s voice had her attention turning away from the departing hunter. “What did you find?”

“Nothing yet.” Alex shook her head in disgust. “I’m not good at this kind of stuff, Sam. I’m halfway through all the books marked under the word ‘codex,’ but at this point it’s all just gibberish about ancient Latin spellwork.” She motioned disgustedly down to the tallest stack of books. “Nothing even mentions a witch named Nadya.”

“Okay. Well, I’ll come help you once Dean’s passed out.” The Winchester glanced towards the hallway at the sound of the shower turning on. “I don’t think it’ll take long after tonight. He had already downed a drink or two before we even left the nest.” Sam shook his head disparagingly, and Alex sank back down into her seat. “I don’t know what to do with him anymore.”

Alex shook her head, unsure of how to console him. “I’ll keep looking,” she finally said. “Go take care of yourself first — shower, eat, whatever you gotta do. I’ll be here whenever you’re ready to pitch in.”

“Thanks.” Sam clapped her on the shoulder on his way past, and Alex grabbed her next book off of the war room table, muttering a curse under her breath as she flipped open the first page.

She wasn’t sure how long she spent staring at the swimming letters before Sam reappeared, freshly showered and clothed. “Still nothing?” he guessed, and Alex flicked her wing in agreement.

“Yup,” she agreed after a second, mentally reminding herself that the Winchester couldn’t see the action. “Why don’t you start going through the cards, huh? Maybe a fresh set of eyes will see something that I missed.”

“Yeah. Sure thing.” Sam moved off into the library, and Alex reluctantly tossed her newest book onto the discard pile, head falling back with a low groan. “Dean’s already out cold,” she heard Sam tell her. “I don’t think he’ll be up til the afternoon.”

Alex picked up her phone, head tipping in confusion. “Oh, it’s already morning?” She glanced up towards the bunker entrace, the thick metal door the only thing sitting between her and the early morning sun. “You really lose track of time when you don’t need to eat.”

She heard Sam grunt; whether it was in agreement or of some other origin was hard to tell. Her eyes were on her phone, skimming through Castiel’s most recent text. Arrived in Ohio, it read. Haven’t found anything useful yet. Will keep you posted.

Be careful. Don’t do anything you’d regret. Alex reread the text a few times before she sent it with a shrug, tossing the phone back onto the table.

A mechanical click had the angel looking up in time to watch Sam throw an audio reel onto a reel-to-reel tape player in the library. The Winchester placed a pair of headphones over his ears as he settled down at the table and, with a shrug, Alex dropped her eyes back down onto her phone. Castiel hadn’t responded, and with a sigh she reached for the next book on her list.

The dialect was ancient, dotted with subscripts written entirely in hieroglyphics, and the angel flicked her wings with a frown to find the translation in her mind slower than she had hoped. Castiel had warned her that their recovered grace was barely enough for one angel; it would take longer than normal for it to fully replenish while sharing it between the two of them.

With a sigh, Alex closed her eyes, reaching into the back of her mind as she followed the thin trail of grace that connected her to her mate. She could see a road ahead of her, farmland flying past on either side, and she felt frustration and urgency mingling within her chest. Castiel. She formed the prayer, hoping it would reach her mate. It’s okay. Calm down.

No response came, and Alex reluctantly drew her attention back onto the book in her lap with a sigh; perhaps the distance was too great for their grace to handle.

The angel tucked her book under her arm and rose to her feet, ascending the stairs to enter the library. Sam didn’t look up, too engrossed in whatever the audio held, and Alex dropped down in the seat across from him as she once again flipped her book open.

She had barely progressed two pages before Sam’s hand thudded against the table, snapping her out of her thoughts. Alex looked up, frowning slightly at the interruption, but her frustration quickly dispensed at the sight of the Winchester’s face. “You found something.” She closed her book as Sam pulled the headphones off and dropped them onto the table. “What is it?”

“So y-you remember Cuthbert Sinclair — Magnus, the Man of Letters with the, uh, the First Blade, right?” Sam stumbled slightly over his words, his eagerness tripping up his tongue, and Alex gave a nod.

“Yeah, of course,” she agreed. “How could I forget that douchebag?”

“Well, he was expelled from the Men of Letters in 1956 because of a box he built which killed two other members. He, uh, he called it the Werther box, and he designed it to hold the codex.” Sam pushed himself to his feet, digging around in his pocket for his phone. “They were keeping it in St. Louis, and from what I heard, they weren’t able to shut it down. I bet it’s still there.”

“Okay, but … Sam, if that thing killed two Men of Letters, how the hell are we going to get in there?”

“I bet Rowena knows a spell.” Sam tossed his phone onto the table and pressed the speaker button, and the ringing of the phone filled the room.

Rowena answered after four rings. “I’m over three hundred years old,” she warned, her voice tired yet sharp. “Beauty sleep isn’t optional.”

Sam ignored the stinging comment. “I’ve been looking into the, uh, thing we discussed,” he began, glancing towards the hall, and Alex stretched out her grace to make sure that Dean was not within earshot. “So, I got a lead, but it’s guarded by a violent enchantment. I need a spell to … break the spell.”

“The Cabirian invocation.” Rowena stifled a yawn. “Easy to obtain, good all-purpose disenchantment.”

“Great. Thanks.” Sam moved to hang up, but the witch hurriedly jumped back in.

“Uh, but it’s not recommended for amateurs,” she warned. “In inexperienced hands, the invocation has a way of fizzling out. I could come,” she suggested after a moment’s pause, her voice lifting hopefully. “You might need me.”

“We’ll take our chances, thanks.” Sam hung up and stuffed his phone back into his pocket. Alex pushed her book off of her lap and onto the table as the Winchester circled past her on his way to the archive catalog boxes, and after a moment of thumbing through, returned to the table. “Here’s the address of the St. Louis safe house,” he announced, dropping the card so he could scribble the address onto a notepad. “Go get packed,” he added, ripping the page off and shoving it into his pocket. “I’ll leave Dean a message so he knows we’ll be gone for a day.”

Alex hesitated, searching his eyes for any sign of doubt, but the Winchester’s face held nothing but pure determination. “Okay,” she relented. “Give me five minutes, and I’ll meet up by the Marquis.”

 

St. Louis, Missouri

The light-blue Mercedes Marquis pulled up alongside a suburban curbside, and the engine died as Alex removed the keys. “This the place?” She turned her eyes to the house across the street, the yard overgrown with junk and weeds. All of the blinds were drawn, and two of the windows were boarded up.

“2199 Hawthorne,” Sam confirmed. “Yeah, that’s it. The Werther box should be inside.” He undid his seatbelt and threw open the door, and Alex followed more slowly. She reached back to grab her angel blade off of the backseat, tucking it into the back of her jeans. Her grace latched onto the weapon, holding it in place, and Alex’s eyes flickered closed for the briefest of seconds at the feeling.

“Okay, what do you want me to do?” Alex closed the car door as Sam circled around to stand at her side. “Want me in the back or front?”

“Back. We can cover more ground that way.” Sam shoved his hands in his pockets, and Alex gave a small nod before she slipped off towards the home. She glanced over her shoulder to watch Sam make his way up the front step before she disappeared around the side of the house. She drew her wings in against her back as she let her grace sneak out, searching the home for the cursed box.

What she found instead was a human soul. “What?” Its presence had Alex drawing up short with a frown. Sam had said this house should have been abandoned. Why was there someone inside?

Her feet carried her back to the front. “Sam!” she hissed, turning the corner in search of the Winchester. He was standing next to the door, his hands raised defensively. He glanced up at the sound of his name, and the angel’s jaw tightened at the sight of a rifle barrel sticking out through mail slot. “There’s someone inside.”

The pursing of Sam’s lips followed by the faint jerk of his head towards the door relayed his frustration. “You got three choices,” said the female voice from inside the house. “Get arrested, get your bits blown off, or get back.”

The rifle barrel jerked in emphasis, and the Winchester quickly backpedaled. “Yeah, alright. I think I’ll, uh, think I”ll get back. Sorry.” He backed away, and Alex hurried after him as he quickened his pace to reach the street. “Shit,” he cursed as he pulled open the car door, and Alex circled around to the passenger seat to join him inside. “That went well.”

“How’s the case?” The back door opened, and Alex looked back in surprise to see Dean Winchester crawling into the backseat. Her grace flicked, feeling outwards to see if there were any other unwanted guests in the area, but she felt nothing.

“What are you doing here?” She almost missed Sam’s exclamation of surprise.

“Well it looks like I, uh, I’m here to save your sack,” Dean joked, but when neither of the hunters in the front seat shared in his amusement, he shook his head. “Look, you were right, okay?” he admitted. “I shouldn’t have gone off solo like I did. It was stupid.”

“And?”

“And selfish,” he finished after Sam’s prompting. “It was a douche move. But if you’re doing this case without me to teach me a lesson, you don’t have to, okay?”

“How’d you find us?” Alex turned in her seat so she could face Dean more, and her bony wings flickered in displeasure.

“Ah.” The question had Dean grinning smugly. “I, uh, took an etching off your notepad. Then, I decided to take a crack at the St. Louis suicide house.”

“So you know about it.”

The Winchester shrugged at his brother’s words. “I got the basics of Google. The family moves into the long-vacant house. Uh, one week later, three of ‘em dead by their own hands. Whole family wiped out except for the daughter, and the house is still under her name. I’m figuring she’s the one who nearly unmanned you back there,” he teased before the humor from his voice died. “But see, here’s what I don’t get. A cold case is one thing, but …” Dean shook his head. “This is subzero. I mean, there’s nothing even in our wheelhouse, unless you know something I don’t.”

Sam glanced over at Alex, and she turned her head to calmly meet his gaze. “Yeah,” the tall hunter finally admitted. “Uh … that long-vacant home used to be a Men of Letters’ chapter house. Remember Magnus?”

“You mean the dickwad ex-Men of Letters that tried to make a zoo exhibit out of me?” Dean snorted in disgust. “Yeah.”

“Before he was expelled, he built Werther, a magical box with a deadly alarm system.” Sam nodded towards the vacant home. “Werther is buried somewhere in that house,” he explained. “It was supposed to have been guarded, but I’m guessing that plan went out the window when Abaddon massacred the entire membership in ’58.”

“And then the house stayed in limbo until some lucky family bought it,” Dean finished with a nod.

“Yeah,” Alex agreed, and Sam added, “Werther is a time bomb and it needs to be defused. Not only is this in our wheelhouse, it’s our responsibility.”

Dean’s eyebrow lifted. “Our responsibility?” he repeated.

“We’re Men of Letters. It’s our legacy.”

The eldest Winchester paused, searching his brother’s face. “Alright,” he finally conceded. “Well, hey, if you say this is a case, I’m in. If you’ll have me.”

Alex glanced over at Sam, a question in her eyes, and the Winchester gave her a small, barely perceptible nod. “Okay,” he relented, and he turned in his seat so he could face both Alex and his brother. “We need to get into that house, so we need a distraction to keep her occupied.”

“Easy. Let me go talk to her.” Dean’s chest puffed out slightly, pleased to be included. “I’ll take Pip with me.”

“Er … I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Alex shrugged her shoulders with a glance back towards the house. “I think she might have seen me when I left with Sam. Besides,” she added, “Now that I’m powered back up, I’m way more useful in searching for spooky boxes.”

Something flickered in Dean’s eyes, gone before the angel could read it, and he shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He threw open the car door, and Alex and Sam did the same, stepping back out onto the rough pavement. Sam took the lead, making a beeline for the side of the house, and Alex moved to follow, but a hand around her wrist had her glancing back. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Uh… sure.” Alex stepped back behind the car with Dean, a small frown of confusion across her face. “If this is about us just leaving you —”

“Sh.” Dean cut her off with a shake of his head. “Listen, I don’t know what’s going on between you and Sam —“

“What?”

“— But you gotta be careful, okay?” Dean ignored her interruption, and the angel’s head tipped further to one side. “I mean, I know you’re not happy about Crowley’s trump card, but I thought you and Cas were working things out.”

“Wait, Dean —” Alex quickly snapped her jaw shut, cutting herself off before more words left her mouth; she didn’t know where this was going, but perhaps it would provide a good excuse going forward.

Dean paused, but when Alex didn’t continue, he shook his head. “Sam’s a sensitive soul, and with the two of you sneaking off to — to go see movies and spend the night — I don’t want you giving him the wrong idea, especially once you and Cas make up.”

Alex pursed her lips together, swallowing back her amusement to keep a straight face. “Sam’s a big boy,” she promised, trying her best to keep her face from going red. “I think he’ll understand. I’ll talk to him though,” she added, tossing a look back over her shoulder. “But I think we should focus on this case first.”

She hurried back towards Sam without waiting for Dean’s response, rolling her eyes when the Winchester couldn’t see. “Hey.” Sam was waiting against the side of the house, a small frown on his lips. “What did Dean want?”

“He, uh … he thinks we’re sleeping together and is worried about yours and Cas’ feelings.” The angel gave a second dramatic roll of her eyes. “I figured I’d let him keep thinking that for a while. Better he suspect that than what we’re really doing behind his back.”

Sam’s hazel eyes darkened slightly at his words, teeth digging into his lips as he thought, but he gave a reluctant nod. “You’re right,” he agreed. “Yeah, uh ... good call, I guess.” He turned on his heels and continued towards the back of the house, and Alex followed, stretching her grace back to feel the other Winchester’s position. He was on the front step, speaking with the woman behind the door.

“Here, let me through.” She lengthened her stride to reach Sam, drawing her grace away from Dean and turning it onto the locked gate in front of them. The pins turned up, clicking into place, and the wooden gate swung open. “Dean’s got her distracted at the moment, but we need to be careful,” she reminded as she followed Sam into the backyard. “Who knows what living decades above this box does to a person.”

She pressed her grace out further to unlock the back door as she wove her way among the piles of trash and metal that decorated the backyard. Sam was already at the door, slowly pushing it open, and Alex reached out to where Dean and the inhabitant were standing in the front room. She pressed a finger up against her lips to remind the hunter to be quiet before she followed him into the house and gently pushed the door closed behind her.

“It’s a nice house you have here,” she heard Dean say, and she pressed her back up against the wall as footsteps approached. “Uh …”

“Suzie.” The name came in a wary reply, and Alex’s deep frown tightened as the voice paused in the room at the end of the hall. Sam was pressed up against the wall across from them, in full view of the room in which Dean and Suzie stood, and Alex closed her eyes, focusing on her grace to track the movement of those around her.

The angel didn’t realize that she was holding her breath until she felt Suzie turn away, her attention now on the steel kettle on the stove. She let her grace move out to unlock the padlock on the basement door, and Sam slipped down the darkened stairs. Alex followed, glancing down the hall to see Dean flash her a quick thumbs-up before she followed after his brother.

The stairs creaked slightly beneath her weight, and Alex momentarily froze before she closed the door completely and she continued her descent.

The unfinished room at the bottom of the stairs was cluttered and dusty, and Alex wrinkled her nose as her eyes easily adjusted to the dim light. “Where’s the box?” She muttered the words to herself, stretching her grace out through the basement. “Sam.” She hissed the hunter’s name. “If Werther is here, it’s warded. I can’t feel it.”

A breath of annoyance left Sam’s nose, and his eyes turned upwards towards the kitchen where Dean and Suzie stood before he nodded. “Keep looking,” he murmured. “There has to be something here.”

With a shrug, Alex wove off among the broken furniture, eyes sweeping the piles in search of anything vaguely supernatural.

“Psst.” Sam’s hiss had her turning, and the angel picked her way back towards the hunter. “Over here.” The Winchester was standing next to a hole in the wall, half-plugged by old furniture. Alex peered through the tangle of chair legs, eyes scanning the small room beyond.

She gave a quick nod as she stepped away, and she flicked her grace upwards to confirm that Dean and Suzie were still occupied. “Go for it.” She carefully extracted one of the wedged cardboard boxes, balancing it on one of the piles behind her while Sam carefully leaned the old spring bed frame up against the wall.

She set the old chair beside the stairs before she squeezed her way through the hole in the concrete. A rectangular iron box sat against the far wall, surrounded by a thick layer of dust, and the angel curled a lip at the sight. “Bet this is it.” She reached out to touch the top, drawing back as energy sparked up through her fingers, causing her grace to recoil in surprise.

Sam knelt down beside the Werther box and pulled a small shallow bowl out of his pocket. A small ziploc bag of herbs followed, and Alex took up a position at his side, half-turned so she could see both the box and the stairs.

A quick nudge from Sam’s elbow had her snapping out her grace to light the spell, and flames jumped up into the air from the shallow bowl. “Purificare la magia,” Sam murmured, but his incantation was cut short by Dean’s sharp voice.

“Sam?” it called, and Alex immediately perked up, concern darkening her eyes. “Sammy? Alex! She wants you up here, now?”

“Dammit.” The flames died from the bowl, and Sam cursed under his breath.

“Hey,” Alex warned as the Winchester reached for the handle of the iron box, “I feel like that’s a bad idea. There’s no way you finished the spell before —” The handle clicked, and the air rang with an explosion as green smoke poured forth, twisting through the air before darting past and disappearing up the stairs. “I take that back. That was a terrible idea.” Alex smacked Sam across the top of his head, not bothering to wait for a response before she rushed up towards the kitchen.

“You let it out!” Suzie’s panicked, enraged scream came from down the hall, and Alex turned the corner in time to see the green smoke branch, separating into smaller orbs. They shot off towards Suzie and Dean, and, before Alex could react, two spiraled across her vision. The smoke diffused across her eyeballs, the feel of the spell hot yet painfully cold, and Alex felt her grace rise in protest.

“Dean!” Sam slid to a stop beside her, his hands going up defensively at the sight of Suzie’s revolver pointed directly towards them. “Hey, hey, hey, take it easy.” He looked around, brow furrowing in worry. “Where’d it go?”

“Do you have any idea what you’ve done?!” The woman’s voice was near hysterical, and Alex stepped forward to position herself between Suzie and the Winchester.

“It went into them,” she murmured. “And into me. What — what about you? Did it get you, too?”

“I … I don’t know,” came the hesitant response; Sam’s attention was still fully on the gun. “What the hell was that?”

“No idea. My grace is keeping any side effects at bay.” The sound of the revolver cocking had the angel frowning. “Hey, just put the gun down,” she warned. “Let’s just calm down and talk about this, okay?”

“What’s that?” The gun swung up between Sam and Dean, pointing at the wall, and Alex’s frown shifted from one of anger to one of confusion. “Oh, my God.”

“What’s wrong with her?” Dean glanced over his shoulder towards the wall.

Suzie paid no attention to Dean’s words; her eyes were wide, the hair on her arms raised in fear. “Stay back,” she demanded, and Alex looked between the two Winchesters; neither had moved a muscle. “Stay back!”

“Go.” Dean bolted out of the room, and Sam followed, leaving Alex to take up the rear. Her wings pressed up tightly against her back as the gun discharged, and she flinched away as the shell dug into the wall behind them. “You opened the damn box?” Dean hissed, and his green eyes flashed angrily. “What are you doing, huh? You don’t have a plan. You don’t have a defense —”

Suzie’s scream had Dean cutting off, and Alex’s grace flicked out in search of the woman. She was already halfway across the house, and Alex’s wings rose warily at the sound of a heavy door slamming shut. “Suzie?” Sam took off down the hall, and Alex took a step in his direction before hesitating.

“Dean?” She turned back to the Winchester with a frown. “How … how do you feel? That thing — it went into you, right?”

“What thing?” Dean’s head tipped, eyes narrowing on confusion. “What do you mean?” His question was partially drowned out by another terrified shriek. “Come on. We need —“ He stepped forward, and then he froze.

“Need?” Alex repeated. “Need to what?” She peered towards the door which Dean was facing, but there was nothing. “Dean?” She turned back to Dean. “Dean?” She waved a hand in front of the hunter’s face. His eyes were blank and tinted a dark, vibrant green, the irises constricted and staring off into the distance, and she placed her hands on his chest. “Hey! Dean!” She shoved her grace inwards, hissing at the cold wall that met her. “Dammit!”

She gently teased at the wall she had set up around the spell in her eyes. “What the hell are you?” she murmured. She loosened the woven net, letting the curse advance. It shot up her optic nerve, stretching toward her brain, and Alex hurriedly to retie as it enveloped her brain. She felt the claws tighten their hold, digging into her mind, and her head twitched as she tried to dislodge it.

She turned on her heels and hurried down the hall, wings flapping in an attempt to speed up her pace.

“Suzie, let me in!” Sam was pounding on the wooden door. “I can help you! Whatever you’re seeing, it — it’s not real!” He pulled his hand away from the handle as Alex came to stop at his side. “Get this open!”

“Dude, that curse had a hold on Dean. Bad.” She reached out while she spoke, grabbing the handle and undoing the lock until the door swung open. “I think —“

She cut off as something flickered in her periphery, a dark figure at the end of the hall that was gone before she could see its face. Alex turned, wings lifted as she searched for the stranger with a flick of her grace, but there was nothing. The angel prowled down the hallway with a confused tip of her head.

A gunshot came from behind the door, and Alex flinched at the immediate smell of blood. She turned back, the stranger forgotten. “She’s dead.” The words left her mouth as Sam rushed into the room, and Alex reluctantly followed, cursing under her breath at how she had let herself get distracted.

Suzie’s body lay by the window, the back of her skull decorating the glass above her head. “What do you think had her spooked?” Alex’s wings curled forward in faint curiosity as she crossed the room, passing Sam to nudge at the discharged gun.

“Nothing good.” Sam turned back to the hall, and Alex glanced back over her shoulder when no further explanation came. The Winchester was standing stiff as a board, eyes stretched wide in surprise, and Alex’s feathers ruffled nervously; not him, too.

“Sam …” Three steps carried her to his side. “Hey! Snap out of it!”

“This isn’t real.” The Winchester’s voice sounded strained as he stared at the doorway. “You’re not real.”

“Who are you seeing?” Alex slipped in front of the Winchester, and she waved her hands in front of his face.

The hunter’s irises were tinted green, but, unlike Dean, the spell had a weaker hold, and Sam batted her hands away with a scoff. “I can still see you,” he snapped. “But Suzie … can’t you see her?” He gestured to the air in front of him, but Alex gave a sharp shake of her head. “I … I think I know how the box is getting people to kill themselves.” He nodded towards the corpse in the corner of the room, and Alex’s eyes fell on the gun as the dots. “It guilts its victims into suicide --”

Vanesce!” Alex’s wings spread wide furiously as she spun back around towards the sound of Rowena’s voice. The green light faded from Sam’s eyes, and he blinked in surprise. The redheaded witch leaned up against the doorway, her black cape draped dramatically over her shoulders. “Told you you’d need me,” she crowed, and Alex’s ragged feathers fluffed out in displeasure.

“How did you find us?” she hissed, and Rowena’s blue eyes glimmered in amusement.

“Same way I just saved him — magic.” Her thickly-painted lips pulled up to reveal white teeth pressed together in a sly grin, and she moved into the room, unlatching her cloak and laying it over the desk. “Had a feeling you might be in over your head.”

“Yeah, well, you can’t be here.” Sam pushed his way past the witch, and Alex followed, purposefully stepping closer than the Winchester so Rowena had to shifted out of the way. “If Dean sees you …” He trailed off as he entered the study, and Alex’s lips pursed at the sight of the eldest Winchester. “Dean!”

“Sam.” The quiet, expressionless word slipped past Dean’s lips, the only sign of life in his stiff body. His eyes were still staring into the distance, half-lidded, and he didn’t even flinch when Alex snapped her fingers in front of his ears. “Hey, hey, hey!” Sam pushed past her to clap his hands next to his brother, but there was still no reaction. “Wake up!” he yelled. “Dean! Whatever you’re seeing, it’s not real!”

“It’s real enough to him.” Rowena’s voice came from the doorway, and Alex shot a dark glance over her shoulder towards the witch.

“What are you doing?” Sam spun around, ready to hustle her out of sight, but Rowena slipped past him to walk directly in front of the green-eyed Winchester.

“He can’t see me, Sam,” she promised, her voice silky smooth, and she waved her hands in front of Dean’s face to confirm her words. “Yeah, he’s too far gone.”

“Well?” Alex snapped. “Can’t you wake him up?”

“I only brought enough dispelling magic for one.” Rowena fixed Alex with a cold, tempered stare, and the angel’s wings flapped twice angrily, stirring the air in the room. “Maybe if you’d told me we’d have company …”

“For the last time; there is no we.”

“Fine, take this all on by yourself.” Rowena shrugged as she looked over at Sam. “But the odds are totally stacked against you.”

“You’re not real.” Dean’s lips moved around the vacant words, and Alex put a hand up on his chest, pushing up against the spell in another fruitless attempt to break through.

“Oh, the spell’s got its hooks in deep.” Rowena chuckled as she turned back to Dean. “If you want him woken up … you’re gonna have to rip this enchantment out by the root.”

“The box.” Sam glanced off towards the basement door. “If we can figure out the fail-safe, we can break the spell and get the codex.” He swiped a hand through his hair, indecision dancing in his eyes. “Suzie’s hallucinations drove her to suicide. Same thing happened to her family. Werther’s illusions tried to do the same thing to me.”

“And so?”

“So we can’t leave Dean alone like this,” Sam finished, frowning slightly at the witch’s interruption.

“Well then, we’ll just have to tie up the bonny lad.” Rowena stepped closer to the Winchester, reaching up to tug slightly on the front edges of his jacket. “Could be fun.” She tapped Dean on the nose, and Alex rolled her eyes.

“I’ll take her downstairs, and we can start working on the box,” she told Sam. “You can get Dean secured and then join us.” Alex paused, waiting for Sam to nod; once he did, she pointed the witch down the hall. “Come on. I’ll take you to Werther.”

She ignored Rowena’s interested hum as she led the way down the basement stairs. “Watch your step,” she called over her shoulder as she reached the landing. “This places is a bit messy.” She wove through the piles to the small hole in the wall, not even glancing back to see if the witch was still following. “This is it.”

Rowena knelt down in front of the box, running her hand over the inset golden circle that took up the front panel. “There’s some kind of inscription,” she began. “It’s some sort of cursive, but the light source has dimmed.” She ran her hand over the faded writing, and Alex let her eyes drop down onto the strange bowl-like structure that was attached below the inscription. “I know what I’ve said about humanity,” Rowena continued, “but … oh, the man who came up with this? The craftsmanship of the box, the sadism of the spellwork … it’s all so … deliciously baroque.”

“Alright, come on.” Sam appeared behind them, and Alex stepped aside to let him through. “Can you read the damn thing or now?”

Illumina …” Rowena brushed her hand over the golden disk, and the writing glowed, coming to life. She tilted her