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Trying to talk business with an Angel of the Lord was difficult most days, but doubly so when he’d spent the night dreaming of said angel demonstrating divine grace with a flexibility unknown to mankind, not to mention an ability for suction that rivaled a Dyson upright.

It didn’t help that Castiel’s stuck-on-five-o’clock shadow and bed hair would basically scream sex on anyone, let alone his best friend/celestial wavelength of angelic intent who’d once pieced his body and soul back together after busting into literal Hell to get him back.

In fact, everything about Cass was literal. He was a literal miracle, the literal best friend anyone could have, a savior and a warrior, favored of the Almighty, and a being who had allowed him and Sam to save the world.

It was really, really inappropriate to be fighting off a boner while standing in the Men of Letters bunker while said Celestial Savior was helping Jack and Sam talk strategy in front of a bunch of Apocalypse World hunters and his own damn mother.

He blamed it all on his baby brother.

No, he blamed it on that damn knife.

Jack had found the case: seven missing boys and girls, thirteen to fifteen years old, all within a thirty-mile radius of Varlas Trailer Park in Vest Virginia and all within the last two years.

The trailer park wasn’t much, even for a trailer park. Just a few lines of RVs with your basic hookups and a central station/laundromat. The Impala would have stood out—not to mention totally outclass the place—so they’d borrowed a 2006 Holiday Rambler and driven in one afternoon to set up their propane tank and act real friendly.

“I’m just saying it’s awkward,” Dean said as he and Sam carted a load each up the stairs to the coin-operated, actually pretty clean laundry room that smelled like fabric softener with a hint of lemon. It looked like rain might be on the evening’s agenda, so they’d brought laptops to keep from having to go back outside for a while. “I mean, four guys, one them decidedly younger than the rest. You can understand why people want the full story right away.”

The place looked empty, but he and Sam knew a man and woman were somewhere in the building, probably around the corner at the vending machine and listening to every word.

“We’re just brothers with a good friend who’s got a son,” Sam said as he dumped his pre-sorted load into a machine. “Are you saying we need to bring girlfriends next time, or something?”

Dean scowled into the bin of his first machine. Some douchebag had washed what looked like a green shag rug in there. The next machine was better. “I’m just saying, people hear too much crap on TV about weirdos. Sometimes I feel like I need to bring references, or a clean rap sheet, or something.”

A woman, vaguely Native America with beaded jeans, long brown hair, and a leather jacket, came around the corner. Her expression was pretty blank, but he could see laugh lines at the corners of her eyes.

“Hey there,” Sam said, shoving the machine coin slot in with a thunk before he wiped his hands and walked forward with his right arm outstretched. “I’m John Bonham.”

“Jamie,” the woman said, and yes, there was a easy smile with the words.

“Jim,” Dean called, still shoving his clothes in.

“So you’re the new guys. Gonna stay for a few weeks, I hear?”

Sam shrugged. “Our friend is studying the burial mounds, and his son wants to tour the museum.”

“Which one?”

Dean tuned out of Sam’s little speech about the closed penitentiary-turned-tourist-spot and the paranormal museum while he finally got his machine going, but he tuned in again to hear that Jamie worked part-time in the gift shop at the doll museum.

“I can get you a sweet discount,” she said with a wink.

“Dolls,” Dean said. “Not really our thing.”

She shrugged. “I don’t judge.”

The man, who turned out to be her husband, Proud, came around the corner after that, his hands a little wet when they said hello. From there, it was easy to invite them back to their RV after they finished the wash. The couple left together, and Dean thought he smelled a little weed in their wake.

Once they were alone in the building, Sam was on his laptop. “I didn’t realize they were so into museums here. Museums usually take volunteers.”

“Not much else to do around here for a kid. How much you wanna bet they go into the doll museum and stage weird-ass poses for Twitter?”

Sam nodded without really paying attention, and Dean’s phone rang.

“Yeah, what’s up, Cass?”

“Dean, Jack is outside talking to a woman who works at the doll museum.”

“Pretty lady? Leather jacket?”

“Yes.”

“Yeah, that’s Jamie. We’re hanging out at her place when we’re done scrubbing Sam’s panties.”

“Eat me, Dean.”

“Dean.”

“Yeah, Cass?”

“Why would anyone want to go to a doll museum?”

“Beats me, hoss.”

“I thought I would engage her in conversation by asking her about her work, but I find I have absolutely nothing to say about dolls, except that they are a favored object for possession by a mischievous spirit.”

“Yeah, that’s not gonna fly. Just ask her how the museum got started, and we already told her about your weird interest in those burial mounds. You can mention that.”

“The Adena Indian burial mounds are by far the most interesting thing here.”

‘Yeah, that’s a good one. Start with that.”

“Thank you, Dean.”

Dean nodded and stuck his phone back in his pocket before making his way over to Sam’s shoulder.

“So, remember I told you about Kelle Laffette?” Sam asked.

“The gal who got busted with her boyfriend fooling around at the penitentiary?”

“Yes, and who disappeared only ten days later. William Jolth and Henry Clark both volunteered there, and Penny Levarde had an act at the haunted house they did there last Halloween.”

“Any ties to the three other kids?”

“Not yet.” Sam typed a little faster.

But as it turned out, it was Proud who told them about Ty Johnson’s connection to the penitentiary while they were sharing beers under the stars with him and Jamie. The kid’s father worked there as a janitor.

“Course, he hasn’t done much work there lately,” Proud said, kicking back in a deluxe lawn chair with his motorcycle boots set on the blue cooler they’d brought over. Jamie, Jack, Dean, and Castiel were in chairs of their own, while Sam stood off to the side, looking up. The night sky was fantastic. “In the three weeks since Ty vanished, he’s been driving around, trying to get some sort of clue.”

“Horrible thing,” Jamie said, scratching at the label on her Timberwolf Ale with some little penknife. “Losing a kid like that.”

“He’ll show up soon enough,” Proud said. “Every teenager in this town dreams of thumbing a ride out. He just actually did it.”

“I hope so.” The woman smiled sadly, and then threw the knife with full-armed force.

Dean registered three things at once: the sound of something hitting flesh, the suddenly much bigger size of that knife, and Castiel’s puzzled expression at the wooden hilt sticking out of his chest.

Sam had a gun out and Proud in his sights even as Dean drew a bead on Jamie.

“Cass, you OK?” he shouted.

“Don’t shoot!” Jamie said, her hands in the air.

“I’m fine,” the angel said.

“Give me one reason why not!”

“I just wanted to cut through the BS!” she said now, half-standing from her chair while Proud sat completely still, his dark eyes on Sam’s pistol. “I mean, you’re Dean Winchester, right? And you’re Sam.” She nodded vaguely toward his brother. “And you’re the angel, and you’re, well, the kid you guys took on that no one knows much about.”

She stared at Cass then, adopting that “trust me” face people tended to get around the angel. “I knew it wouldn’t hurt you. I want to help.”

“You could have found a better way to say it,” Dean said.

“That’s not entirely true,” Castiel said, standing now and walking forward a bit so Dean could easily see him while keeping his gun trained on the woman. Cass reached up and pulled the knife out of his chest, and Dean had to fight off a wince at the memory that invoked. “You thought we might be demons.” The angel looked at the blade, and Dean could see it looked a lot like their own demon-killing knife.

“Well, yeah. I figured, prove you’re Castiel or kill you for pretending to be. Smart move either way.”

“Well, no more smart moves,” Dean said, waving the gun at her just slightly. “And you need to start talking.”

“Can we put the guns down first?” Proud asked.

“No, we’re talking first,” Sam said.

“Look, there’s not a hunter in the country, maybe on earth, who doesn’t know about you guys,” Jamie said, standing up fully, though carefully.

“So you’re hunters?” Jack asked, having quietly walked over to stand by Sam.

“Not quite,” Proud said, moving nothing but his mouth and eyes. “My White name is Samuel Johnson.”

“Ty’s father?” Castiel asked.

“Yes. With Jamie’s help, I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can about hunting, but neither of us is what you would call official.” Slowly, Proud brought his hand up to his black t-shirt’s collar and pulled it down to reveal a shiny anti-possession tattoo, the red skin around it still healing.

“And you?” Dean demanded, looking at Jamie.

“Proud and I go way back.” She pulled down her own collar to show a much older tattoo right under her collarbone. “I’ve never done more than chop the heads off a few vampires, but when he told me what happened to Ty . . .”

“What did happen?” Jack asked.

“We don’t know,” she said.

“Cass?” Dean asked.

“They do seem sincere now. However, this knife is highly specialized for someone who doesn’t claim to hunt demons.”

“It was my mother’s,” Jamie said. “She was the real deal, but when I was a kid she went up against a demon with yellow eyes. I think you knew him?” She turned from Cass to Dean. “I think you killed him. Thank you for that.”

Dean looked over at Cass, who shrugged slightly, then nodded, and he and Sam put their guns away. Cass, he noted, put the knife in his coat pocket.

“So, answer Jack’s question,” Dean told Proud. “What happened to your son?”

Proud relaxed slightly in his chair, looking up at the stars for a moment. “He called me, told me someone was following him. Then I heard this noise. I’ve never heard anything like that before. And then Ty was yelling about Windigoag.” Proud looked down at his clenched fists. “I found his phone two days later. It was in pieces.”

“Windigoag?” Sam asked. “Wendigos? Isn’t this a little south for that?”

Proud snorted. “Climate change.”

“Dean,” Castiel said, turning to him, and the hunter noted absently that his coat didn’t have a hole in it. Just like last time. “The windigos follow the cold, and it has been unusually intemperate here.”

“You said the phone was smashed,” Sam said to Proud. “How? Big pieces or. . ?”

“It was pulverized,” Proud said. “I only know it was his because he kept it in this Metallica case, and that just looked a little chewed on.”

“Chewed?”

“Like a dog had been at it.”

“What are windigos?” Jack asked. “And how do we kill them?”

While Sam gave Jack the 411, Dean found his eyes running over Castiel’s chest, making sure nothing was out of order. It was funny. He kinda missed the days the angel wore his tie backwards.

Cass caught his state and frowned at him.

“You OK for real, there?”

“I’m fine, Dean.”

“I’m sure you are; it’s just been a while since, you know.”

“Since someone stabbed me in the chest?” And damn him, but the angel looked slightly amused.

Dean shrugged a little helplessly.

“Look, it’s too late to do anything tonight,” Jamie was saying. “How about we pick this up in the morning?”

“Actually,” Castiel said, turning to her now. “If you tell me where you found that phone, I can do reconnaissance.”

“I’ll go with you,” Jack said.

“You need to sleep,” the angel told him. “You’re tired.”

“I’ve got the coordinates here,” Proud told him, pulling his phone out of his pocket. Jack, meanwhile, was frowning at his shoes.

Tough it out, kid, Dean thought. You’ve gotta get used to needing sleep sooner or later.

“I’ll do a standard grid pattern,” Castiel said, copying Proud’s information to his own phone. “And then I’ll meet you back here at sunrise.”

“You don’t sleep?” Jamie asked, entirely too curious, as far as Dean was concerned.

“No.” Cass nodded at them, and then strode off with purpose, his tan trench coat fading into the dark as he walked down the unlit gravel road.

“Handy guy to have around,” Jamie muttered.

Dean said nothing. He hadn’t forgiven her for the knife thing yet. He wasn’t sure he ever would.

They broke up after that, Dean, Sam, and a reluctant Jack going into their RV and taking their assigned beds. Jack got the long couch along the wall. Sam’s gargantuan mass barely fit into the bed in the back, and Dean took the loft. Just to be a dick, he dropped his boots on the floor separately before he got under the covers. Sam snorted at him.

It was when Dean closed his eyes that the knife thing started playing over and over in his head.

It was weird, the way Castiel had walked into his life in that barn. The exploding lights, the shotgun blasts he and Bobby were emptying into Cass’ chest, the excessively calm blue-eyed stare.

And then Dean had stabbed the guy as hard as he could before Castiel reached up, pulled the knife out, and dropped it on the floor without blinking.

Dean had tried to keep his cool, but the whole thing had scared the crap out of him, almost literally.

He kept thinking, Who is this guy? And then he put Bobby down and started talking about being an angel of the Lord.

“Good things do happen, Dean,” Castiel had said then. And it had been so impossible, so absolutely not happening that an angel had saved him from Hell. Dean would have bet his life, hell, his brother’s life, that this weird nerd-creature was lying to him.

But no, Castiel had been an angel, had raised him from Hell. Had been his savior. But then Dean learned angels were a bunch of dicks.

Except for Cass.

When he was alone, like now, and no one else could suspect it, Dean let himself think about what it meant that his best friend was a frickin’ angel, one who had chosen to rebel against Heaven itself to save the world with him and Sam and Bobby. He let himself feel what it meant to him that Chuck, God Himself, had kept putting Cass back together to help them.

And how about this last time? Without Chuck around, Cass had somehow pissed off some celestial keeper of dead angels to come back to them once more, after Dean had grieved him as lost forever. Watching Cass’ body burn had pretty much been the worst moment of his useless life. Getting him back pretty one of the best.

Sure, Cass was back now because of Jack, and that was great. And Castiel and Sam were brothers without blood too, but. . .

Here, alone, under the covers, Dean let him feel for a moment that Cass followed his lead, usually. Cass had not only saved him from Hell, he’d made it clear he would follow Dean back into Perdition itself if Dean asked him to. Just like Dean would follow wherever Cass led, Sam at his side.

It felt pretty damn fantastic, if you wanted to know the truth. Still, it was best not to think too much about how awesome the whole thing was.

And then Dean was thinking about the knife again.

What the hell was Jamie thinking about, throwing that thing at Cass? Sure, he got the whole prove-you’re-an-angel-or-a-demon thing, but what if Cass had just been some guy? Did she ever think about that? No. It was just, “Hey, I’m gonna throw a demon-killing knife at a stranger and see if it sticks.” Lady was crazy.

He saw it go again into Cass’ chest, twice. One time her hand was on the hilt, throwing, and one time it was his own sweaty fist, driving it in and praying it would kill this Thing that had come for him.

Ah, there it was, that phantom tingle Dean’s shoulder got when he thought about Castiel for too long. That handprint scar had freaked him out even before he’d known it was Cass’. Anna had covered it when they’d made love, which bothered him now that he thought about it.

Anna: what a nothing she’d turned out to be. At first, he’d thought she would be a heavenly ally. Then she’d tried to kill his parents. Classic angel dick move.

Cass had saved them again that time, almost killing himself in the process.

God, they owed Cass so much.

And what did Cass owe them? Well, he was hated in Heaven, or whatever was left of it. He hated himself (obviously, horribly, sometimes) for the failures he’d managed. He hated not being there when Jack was born. He hated the death and destruction he’d caused.

He hated everything, it seemed sometimes, but not him or Sam, who’d led him over that cliff. It boggled the mind.

And then Dean saw the knife again, but this time it was an angel blade, and April the Reaper had killed Cass with it. And then Lucifer too, that total dickhead.

And yet here Cass was again, a damn miracle in an ill-fitting suit and eyes the color of the sky and sapphires.

Dean frowned in the dark. No need to get all fruity about it. But Dean found himself wondering yet again if Cass’ true form didn’t have blue eyes. They were just such a fundamental thing to his personality. Or maybe it wasn’t the color so much as the compassion. What had that little nerd angel said? Castiel’s problem had always been too much heart?

Finally, Dean forced himself to stop obsessing over Castiel’s eyes and tendency to get stabbed all the time. He needed his four hours of downtime.

***

Next morning, they met up in front of the Rambler. Castiel was standing there waiting while Dean and Sam and Jack came out, and Jamie and Proud joined them a few minutes later. All save Cass were holding coffee cups. As a human, Jack hadn’t taken much time at all to get addicted, especially when he put a half-pound of sugar in there.

“I found a trail,” Cass said. “But they may have left it for me to find.”

“A little too obvious?” Sam asked.

“Perhaps. I want to show it to you.”

“Let’s finish our coffee first,” Jamie said, the first sensible thing she’d uttered since they met, as far as Dean was concerned.

“Proud,” Sam said. “Did Ty ever go with you to the penitentiary?”

“Sure,” the man said, looking bone-deep tired in the morning light. Even his new plain black t-shirt managed to look exhausted. “All the kids around here keep breaking into the thing and daring each other to do some stupid-ass stunt. Ty wasn’t no different.”

“So what are you thinking?” Jack asked. “The windigos are connected to the penitentiary?”

“Maybe, but considering the riot and the executions there, it’s more something you’d think to see with vengeful spirits, not ravenous cannibals.” Sam looked at Proud. “Did you see anything supernatural while you were working there?”

Proud shrugged. “Nothing there rests. Bad energy, but nothing more than what you’d expect. Tour groups going around were always talking about seeing things, but I don’t think so. People want something for their ticket money, I guess.”

“You notice anything about the other kids that went missing?” Dean asked.

“Other kids? I only heard about Henry Clark.”

Sam rattled off the other names, but Proud only recognized one.

“I know for a fact that kid left on his own. Billy hated his old man. Left the day he turned fourteen. Even left a note.”

“So his father claimed,” Sam said. “Maybe he just didn’t want to answer questions.”

Jack explained the multiple disappearances and the two-year time frame.

“That does sound bad,” Jamie said. “So, what? They’re taking kids after they see them at the prison? Do you think they’re hiding out there?”

“Windigos don’t usually live in buildings,” Sam said.

“Maybe your kid did see a spirit and thought it was a windigo because it’s part of your lore,” Dean suggested.

Proud shrugged. “I told him the stories of the people, but he never seemed all that interested. I tried to teach him that the spirits of the land speak to our hearts, not hide under our beds. Until the night he disappeared, I didn’t think Ty knew a windigo from Freddy Krueger.”

The morning’s sun was making a poor showing, but it wasn’t quite as overcast as the day before. Coffee finished, Dean nodded at the others and set his cup down. Without talking much, they followed Castiel down the road and around to a semi-worn footpath.

“Here was the phone,” Cass said about a quarter-mile into the woods.

Everyone looked around, then back at him.

“You said the trail was obvious?” Proud asked.

“Considering we’re dealing with the supernatural.” Cass pointed to a bit of ground that looked to Dean like every other bit of ground, and then to a tree branch, and finally to another bit of ground.

Proud saw it first. “Yes,” he said, hunkering down. “That’s the tread from those shoes he had to have.”

“Vintage Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars,” Cass said.

“What, no Nikes?” Dean wanted to know.

“It looks like he was running,” Proud said, then stood up and followed something or other. Cass let the man take lead, which is how Dean found himself walking next to the angel, eyes on Proud and Jamie while Sam and Jack took up the rear.

“So, the windigo or whatever scares the kid, 86es his phone, and the kid takes off,” Dean said.

“Perhaps, but he said there was more than one. It seems unlikely he would escape two or more of them.”

Dean nodded, realizing with an inner groan that he was fighting the urge to check once more that Cass was OK. The angel had probably already forgotten about the stabbing. Dean was being a girl.

Pfft.

Proud stumbled to a halt in front of them, then collapsed to the ground with a red dart sticking out of his neck.

“Dean! Sam! Jack!” Castiel shouted, diving to put his body between the three of them and a half-dozen white faces that had appeared to their left.

Pfft. Pfft. Pfft.

Several darts came at them, all ending up in Castiel’s body as the angel did a sort of herky-jerky dance in front of them while shouting something in Enochian. Everything paused for a second, and then the faces were gone.

“Proud!” Jamie shouted, running to the man’s side.

“Cass!” Jack shouted, though Sam and Dean’s voices were in there as well.

The angel turned to them while looking down at the four red darts sticking out of his chest. Carefully, he pulled one out and sniffed at it.

“A powerful but non-lethal sedative,” he said.

“Cass, you all right?” Dean asked.

“I’m fine.” He pulled out the other darts and dropped them on the ground. Dean felt like shooting them.

“What about Proud?” Jamie demanded.

“He’s sleeping,” Cass said. “I see no signs of an allergic reaction. We should get him to safety before we pursue the wood sprites.”

“Wood sprites?” Jamie asked.

“Yes,” Sam said, watching as Cass calmly walked over to Proud’s prone form and hoisted him over a shoulder. “There have been several cases of them lately, but usually regarding deforestation or the disturbance of some sacred artifact or landscape.”

“Indian burial ground stuff?” Dean asked, only to be treated to an eye-roll from Jamie.

“Well, I don’t—” Sam broke off and pointed with his eyes to their right.

A single pale face stared at them from the trees.

“Itckk nee taop na whod,” the face chittered.

Cass tilted his head, and then lowered Proud’s body back to the ground.

“Cass?” Dean asked.

The angel ignored him and walked two slow steps toward the pale face.

“Pahr nogaweh?” Cass asked, managing the chitter in his gravely voice.

“Ich ich! Narhol ess thaw abikki ar!”

“Castiel?” Jack asked.

“He’s apologizing for shooting at us. He’s asking for our help. He wants me to come with him.”

“Like hell,” Dean said.

“Dean,” Cass said with some impatience, turning slightly to give him the blue side-eye. “I will be fine.”

“You’re not going with that thing! Not alone.”

With a sigh, Cass turned back to the sprite. “Urghan it-it itchyah?”

“Itchyah! Pahr nit!”

“He says you can come with me. He guarantees our safety.”

Dean nodded. “Sam?”

“I’ll get everyone back to the park,” his brother said. Then Sam caught and held his gaze. “Be careful.”

Dean nodded again.

“I should go with you,” Jack said.

“No,” Cass said before Dean could. “He’s frightened of you.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. Dean, I think we need to hurry.”

“Jack,” Dean said, turning to the kid. “Help Sam with Proud and Jamie.”

“I don’t need help,” Jamie snapped.

“Then you help with Proud too. He looks like he needs all he can get.” He walked over to Cass’ side.

The face disappeared, but Castiel simply walked into a gap in the trees, Dean close behind. After all, he’d just been thinking about how he’d follow the angel anywhere, hadn’t he?

Up ahead, the chittering started back up. A beat behind, Cass translated.

“He says we need to help them stop the evil thing. They only want to protect their children, but children are being sent against them. We have to make it go back to sleep. I don’t think these sprites understand the concept of death, Dean. And they need us to help them because nothing they’ve done so far has helped. They seem to be out of ideas.”

Mercifully, the chittering stopped. A moment later, whatever trail they were following ended as well, and they were standing on the edge of a sort of crop circle, less a clearing in the woods and more a blackened amphitheater.

All around them flitted the sprite guys, insubstantial bodies as pale as moonlight with those same round, white faces, almost like stickmen made of vapor. And in the center of the circle, inside a wooden cage, snarled and clawed several teenagers with familiar faces.

“They’ve got the kids?” Dean asked, hurrying down the slight slope to the cage but stopping well short of the arms that stretched out to him, fingers spread. The teenagers inside, five in all, looked hungry but not gaunt, and their eyes were filmy white, not black. None of them was Ty.

“Yes,” Castiel said. “Pict says these children came at them in the woods and tried to kill them. They locked them up to protect themselves.”

“Pict? That our tour guide?” Dean looked around them. The sprites numbered about thirty, some watching them in the center, some completely into their own little sprite-dance. To his surprise, he was starting to see little differences among them. Pict, float-standing next to them, looked older than some of the others, but he wasn’t sure why.

Above, the forest canopy was gone, replaced by the gray sky.

“Is that why Pict was scared of Jack? Because they’ve been sending kids?”

Castiel turned to Pict and chittered at him for a minute. “Yes,” he said next. “They hold their own children as sacred, so the fact that their enemy sends ‘un-full-growns’ is particularly offensive to them.”

“And so who’s this enemy?”

“Pict isn’t sure, but it comes from the old prison.”

There was another minute of chittering.

“Pict says something disturbed an entity there, something that hates the forest and the people here. Something very old.”

Pict shot a look at Dean, then chittered again.

Cass scowled and chittered back.

Pict seemed to be waiting for something.

Cass sighed and took off his coat.

“Cass?”

“Hold this for me, please, Dean.”

He took the coat and watched as Cass took off his tie and then his shirt, as indifferent to getting half-naked in front of a bunch of wood sprites as most people would be standing in line for a bus.

Dean realized he was hungry. They had some frozen lasagna back at the RV.

Pict leaned in, peering closely at Castiel’s smooth, unscarred chest and stomach. Jimmy Novak must have jogged or something, Dean thought, not for the first time, and done some gym work on his upper body. The guy was no Schwarzenegger, but he was definitely fit.

Dean’s own body would be a network of scars, if it weren’t that every time Cass healed him he went back to the skin he had as a baby. Even the handprint was gone, along with the meat fork scar from his time as Michael.

Cass did sport one section of marks: the Enochian script he’d had tattooed on his skin when he was human to ward himself against angels. Dean thought about Jack’s inability to bear a tattoo. Cass must be using his mojo to keep the marks on his skin.

It was sad, really, that Cass still felt the need to stay invisible from his own damn family—at least, the family he’d had before he and Sam and Jack came along.

Pict slashed a wraith-like hand across Castiel’s chest, leaving a cross-work of red lines.

“Hey!” Dean shouted, stepping forward only to find Cass’ hand on his shoulder, holding him back.

“It’s all right, Dean. He’s showing me a map of the attacks.”

“What? The guy’s too good for a cell phone?” he asked, knowing it was weak. Seriously, that was his second Cass-related heart attack in less than twenty-four hours. His hair was going to go gray.

The red lines did seem to form a sort of map, which Castiel studied until they faded out. Meanwhile, Pict was watching Dean intently.

“He got some sort of issue?” the hunter asked.

Cass chittered at the guy and listened to the response before oddly ducking his head.

“He’s touched. I mean, he’s pleased that you seem concerned for me.”

One of the teenagers, Dean thought it was Henry Clark, snarled extra loudly from the cage. Dean shot him a look, then turned back to Cass.

“Well, yeah. When someone takes a swipe at my friend, I’m not thrilled.”

Pict chittered some more. It almost sounded, somewhat, condescending?

Cass chittered back something with obvious annoyance, and Pict actually threw up his half-there shoulders before turning away to lead them back to the black circle’s edge.

“What was that about?” Dean demanded.

“Pict’s sense of humor is juvenile,” Cass said. “The important thing is that he says he will help us if we can find some way to deal with the entity at the penitentiary.”

“Help us how?”

“He has no idea. But they will do what they can, as long as it’s here in the woods. They have no power elsewhere.”

“Well, that’s comforting.”

“Meanwhile, he says he cannot release the children to us because they would harm others. However, if we can break the entity’s hold on them, they should revert to their former selves.”

“You ask him about Ty?” Dean asked as they re-entered the woods. He couldn’t help noticing the play of the light on Cass’ back as they passed under the leaves. Seriously, it was kind of weird how unblemished that skin was. He knew at least some of what Cass had been through in his thousands of years, the battles he’d fought, to say nothing of being exploded by Raphael before he’d exploded him back. And then there was the Lucifer thing.

Dean knew a hunter, Petra Sorrinson. The guy had a face half-mangled by a broken bottle in some bar fight. It made him ugly as hell, but there was a dignity about him too, a strength. His face told the world he wouldn’t be stopped by anything.

And Dean had known Joan Summer before she bought the farm in a vampires’ nest. She’d had honest-to-God tiger claw marks over her right cheek. They’d hooked up one night, and he’d felt like he was having sex with Ms. Tarzan.

“He said he hasn’t seen the boy I described,” Castiel called back, breaking Dean out of pleasant thoughts. “But perhaps it takes time for the entity to do whatever it is he does to the children to turn them into what’s in that cage.”

“Do you think Jack might be in danger?”

Castiel stopped and turned around, ignoring the inquisitive chitter from Pict. “Yes. We should confine him strictly to the trailer park.”

“Agreed.”

“You need to make him understand, Dean. He’s not to go near that penitentiary.”

He frowned. “So, we’ll tell him that.”

“He listens to you best, Dean.”

Dean put a hand on Cass’ shoulder. “Jack listens to all of us. The last thing we need to deal with is him in that cage. We’ll make him understand.”

The pause after he said that turned awkward for no good reason—that is, until Dean realized he hasn’t put his hand on Cass’ shoulder, but on his unblemished chest, right over where Jamie’s knife had gone.

Pict chittered something fierce while Dean took his hand back. That had been weird, but what was the wood sprite going on about now? And what was Castiel chittering back about with that annoyed look on his face?

“Cass?”

The angel shot him a glare and reached for his clothes, ending the gesture with just standing there, dressed as always. “It’s not important, Dean.”

“What’s not important?”

“I suggest we discuss this when we’re not following a wood sprite out of an enchanted forest.”

Cass turned then and followed Pict out to the footpath, where the sprite promptly faded out. Another quarter-mile, and they were back on the gravel road, the sign for the Varlas Trailer Park in sight up ahead.

Dean went slightly in front of his Cass and stopped, facing the guy dead on.

“OK, no more sprite. What’s not important?”

Castiel looked away, looked down, looked up.

“What’s so damn not important, Cass?”

“The sprites found our relationship confusing.”

“You mean a human and an angel?”

Cass looked tempted by something, then scowled. “It was more the nature of our personal interaction.”

“Meaning?”

“They thought you were my devotee.”

Dean looked at him. “Is that a word for harem boy?”

Castiel’s lips went thin. “More like a cherished supplicant.”

“Like a harem boy!”

The angel scowled heavily for a moment, then lifted his chin. But there was something in his eyes too. Something hurt, maybe? Then his face definitely got annoyed.

“If you don’t want people to get ideas, Dean, don’t touch me when I have my shirt off.”

Cass spun around then, coat flaring slightly, and made his way down the road.

A few minutes later, Dean followed.