Actions

Work Header

The Girl with the Flamingo Tattoo

Work Text:

Toilet paper, check. Beer, check. Jerky? No, too much salt. Beauty magazine? No, too much sadness.

Kate O’Neill was purposefully not eyeballing the Pringles when she looked outside to check on her parked car and saw seven people in black suits standing near the glass door, all staring at something in the distance.

OK, that’s weird. She put the blue plastic basket down on the cooler holding ice-cream sandwiches and Drumsticks and clacked across the linoleum in her work heels to the door. Not one of the people outside moved. They didn’t even seem to be breathing.

Outside, she smelled gasoline and hot pavement before turning to the right.

No. That’s not—what is that?

She was vaguely aware of joining the people in their black suits, staring with them at the impossible sight on the horizon, but she had no idea how much time passed before it was gone— just blinked out.

Her ears buzzing, she blinked, then closed her lids fully over dried-out eyeballs as she rode out a wave of vertigo.

She looked again to the buildings and trees lining W. South Front St. in Grand Island, Nebraska, but whatever it was didn’t look to be coming back.

Shaking her head, she realized the people around her were gone—no, not gone. Looking down, she saw them all lying on the ground, faces turned up to the sky, their eyes replaced with smoking black holes.

“What the hell?!”

Dimly, she heard a police siren.

 

“Special Agent Brian Johnson,” the FBI guy said, holding up his badge. “This is my partner, Agent Chris Slade.”

Grand Island’s Chief of Police Narwhal sniffed slightly, pleased neither with the way the pretty-boy feds topped him by several inches nor with the taller guy’s hippy haircut. Did the government just take anybody these days?

Still, he kept things friendly. These guys were going to take those seven burned-up bodies (not one of them residents of his town) out of his morgue and help him deal with Kate (nice gal, hard worker).

“How can I help you gentlemen today?”

“We’re here to interview Ms. Kate O’Neill,” Agent Slade said. “We understand she witnessed the incident earlier today.”

“I got her for ya in the back room,” Narwhal said. “She’s still pretty shaken up.”

“I can imagine,” Johnson said.

“And we’re not here to upset her further,” Slade said. “We just want to talk to her.”

Narwhal couldn’t find a reason to say no. Kate hadn’t really said much yet, and Narwhal knew she couldn’t be responsible for whatever the hell had happened. Craziest thing that lady’d ever done in her five years living in Grand Island was host an annual Halloween party for the kids and dress up like cartoon women.

He called Officer Eps over and told him to take the feds back to see her. Poor thing. He thought about calling his wife over once the feds left. Maybe some girl talk would set her right.

Sam followed Dean and Officer Eps down a couple of hallways that looked like every hallway in any police station in America. The only thing weird was the smell of maple syrup instead of microwave popcorn and lemon cleaner.

Eps opened a door marked Visitors, which held a couple of leather chairs against the wall and a table with four folding chairs in the center. On one of those sat a woman in her thirties with a tidy brown hairdo and solemn brown eyes. Sam knew Ms. O’Neill worked at the airport as an events coordinator, so he assumed she was dressed for work in a sensible dark blue suit and black heels.

“Ms. O’Neill,” Sam said gently as he and Dean once again held up their IDs. After giving their aliases, he added, “We’d like to talk to you about what happened today.”

She blinked at them, then looked over at Eps.

“If you could give us the room,” Dean said. Eps shrugged and walked out, closing the door behind him.

Sam and his brother took their chairs, keeping their body language open and non-threatening.

She blinked at them some more.

“Now, I imagine that what happened to you today was highly traumatic.”

Sam was going to go on about how she could take her time and all that, when she shrugged.

“Can you tell us what you saw?”

She shrugged again, and then looked down at the table. “You’re just going to think I’m crazy.”

“We won’t,” Sam said.

“Why not?” She looked at him. “I’d think I was crazy if I told me.”

“We’ve been on this job a long time, ma’am,” Dean said. “We’ve seen crazier things, I promise.”

She shot him a dry look. Sam started doubting Narwhal’s comments about how “shaken up” she was.

“The people who died, did you know them?” Sam asked.

“No, I just saw them outside the store. They were staring at something.”

“Yes?” Dean prodded.

“I went outside, and it was there, like, a half-mile away, or so?”

Sam and Dean nodded, but she didn’t say any more.

“And?” Sam asked.

“And after I finished looking at it, they were all dead. I mean, it looked like their eyes had been burned out of their heads. Is that what happened to them?”

“Yes,” Dean said, and Sam made sure he looked supportive.

“How is that possible?”

“We might be able to answer that if you tell us what you saw,” Dean told her.

She took a breath, held it, looked into Dean’s eyes, and then Sam’s, and then nodded.

“OK. So, it was like, huge. The size of a skyscraper, like, from New York. And it was glowing.”

“Uh huh,” Sam said, nodding encouragingly.

“It had wings, and there was something wrong with them, but they were still, I mean, they still looked powerful, and there were a lot of them, and a tail, like a bird’s tail, you know, not a lizard’s. But it didn’t look like a bird.”

She cleared her throat, seemed reassured by their expressions, and continued, “It was more like a man, I guess, but it wasn’t a man. And it had more than one face, you know? And it had . . .” She smiled suddenly, face wide and open like a child’s. “The kindest blue eyes.”

Sam saw Dean straighten in his chair at the same time he did, and they looked at each other, eyebrows raised.

Once they’d gotten Kate O’Neill out of the station, Dean set the pace to make the ninety-mile due-south drive back to the bunker in an hour. After she’d finished gushing about blue eyes, the woman had been oddly quiet, and once she was in the backseat, she pulled out her phone, put in her ear plugs, and seemed to be checking her email or Twitter feed or whatever.

Sam kept his voice down. “Dean, if she saw Cass, the real Cass, how is she not blind?”

“I dunno.” Dean checked his mirrors. “I mean, Cass told me some people could see his true form without getting hurt. I guess she’s one of them. I mean, if that was Cass she saw.”

“Well, he wasn’t in the bunker when this happened, and besides, size of the Chrysler Building? Broken wings? Blue eyes?”

“It could be another angel.”

“With more than two wings? Dean, there’s fewer than ten angels left in the world, and except for Sister Jo, they’re all back up in Heaven.”

Sam looked at him funny. He knew he was scowling.

“Cass isn’t supposed to run off and fight a bunch of demons without saying anything, Sam.”

“It doesn’t sound like it was much of a fight.”

“He went on his own and didn’t say a word. Tell me that doesn’t bother you!”

Sam shrugged. “He’s an angel. He doesn’t report to us. And he did say he had something to do for Heaven.”

“I thought he was filing a report or something, not smiting demons.”

“If Cass had needed us, he would have asked.”

Dean couldn’t come up with an answer to that one and settled for scowling some more.

They reached the bunker. Sam typed in the activation code for the garage on his phone, and Dean pulled the Impala inside smooth as silk.

Kate pulled out her earbuds, looking out the window. “Is this some sort of Batcave?”

Dean parked and got out. Kate followed them into the library, then balked. They looked back at the final clack-snap of her heel and toe on the hardwood.

She stared at them. “You’re not FBI.”

“Sam, Dean,” Cass said, walking up the stairs from the war room.

“You got something to tell us, Cass?” Dean wanted to know, walking forward.

Cass tilted his head. “Not that I know of.”

“Something about smiting some demons in Nebraska?”

Cass frowned, looking at Sam and then at Kate O’Neill, then back to Dean.

“How did you know about that?”

“Why did you hide it from us?”

Cass shrugged. “I didn’t hide it; I just didn’t see the point in bothering you with what you’d call a ‘milk run.’”

“A milk run? Smiting demons?”

Cass rolled his eyes. “Dean, sometimes I think you forget I’m—”

“Oh, my God!”

They looked at Kate, currently walking carefully toward Castiel with wide, almost frantic eyes. Dean noticed she was also looking around Cass, then back at him with increasing wonder.

“Hello?” Cass said.

“Oh my God! Oh my God! How are you fitting in there?” She pointed at him, then looked all around. “Are you like some sort of TARDIS?”

Cass frowned and opened his mouth, then seemed to reconsider. “That’s not an entirely inaccurate way to describe the process.”

“Are you even, I mean, do you live here? What are you?”

“I’m an angel.”

Her eyes flicked to Sam and Dean, then back to Cass. “A what?”

“He said he’s an angel,” Dean said.

“Since when do angels have six wings and four faces?”

“I’m also a seraph.” Cass was peering at her now. “You can see my true form?”

“Is that what it is?”

Cass nodded. “I’m sorry if you find it frightening.”

“Frightening? Are you kidding?” a wide-open smile took over her face. “You’re beautiful. You’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Cass,” Dean said. “This doesn’t—wait.” Dean looked back at her, scowled at her glowing face, and then looked back to the angel he was still pissed at. “She said you had a tail.”

“I do.”

“A tail? Really?”

“How else am I supposed to steer?”

“Cass,” Sam said. “Why didn’t you tell us you were going to fight demons? I know you didn’t need us to kill them, but we still could have watched your back.”

“Watching my back would have burned your eyes out.”

“And when you left your body to show your true form to those demons?” Dean asked. “Who was watching after your vessel?”

“Jimmy’s body was safe in the car.”

“In the car? Damn it, Cass.”

“Dean! Sam!” Jack said, walking in with a broad smile. “You’re back.” Dean noticed Kate gasping and stumbling into a chair. Jack frowned at her.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“She’s fine,” Dean said impatiently.

“We don’t know that, Dean.” Sam walked over to where she was sitting with her head between her knees and put a hand on her forearm. “You OK?”

She waved a hand vaguely.

“What’s going on?” Jack asked.

“She’s a seer, and new to her powers,” Cass said. “I imagine your true visage has thrown her somewhat.”

“I have powers?” Kate asked faintly.

“What’s a seer?” Jack asked.

“She can see the supernatural. This ability does often show up later in life. I imagine it was triggered by the time and by seeing my true form in Grand Island.”

“Grand Island?”

“So, you didn’t tell Jack either,” Dean said.

“Tell me what?”

Cass looked annoyed. “Naomi asked me to take care of some demons north of here.” He looked at Dean. “It was a simple job.”

“Oh, you’re running errands for Naomi now?”

“Dean. She’s the head guardian of Heaven.”

“Can I have a glass of water?” Kate asked Sam.

“Sure, but, we have whiskey.”

“Oh, yes, thank God.”

Sam got up and sent Cass and Dean a look telling them to settle their issues.

“Dean,” Cass started. “I was the only angel in a position to help out. Some rogue demons were in the area. I was in no danger.”

“Can you just, please, next time, let us know?”

“If it really matters to you, then yes.”

“It really matters!”

“It’s just about keeping tabs on each other, Cass,” Sam said, returning with a generous portion of Crown Royal in a highball glass. Kate took it with a grateful smile while Dean and Jack settled into chairs around the table. “We know you can do it on your own, but we like knowing where you are, OK?”

“What did you mean about the time?” Kate asked, looking at Cass and instantly, if absently, smiling again.

Cass walked over to sit across the table from her. “Seers generally assume their powers when there is something to be witnessed.”

“Other than an angel smiting demons?”

“Yes.”

“Could this be about Michael?” Dean asked.

“Perhaps, but he’s been here for some time,” Cass said. “It’s always been more immediate than that.”

“How many seers are there at a given time?” Sam asked.

“Generally in the world? One or two dozen. Right now?” Cass paused. “Seventeen.”

“Including Kate here?”

Cass looked at her. “Yes.”

Sam nodded. “So we’re not necessarily looking at something world-ending here.”

“Correct.” Cass regarded Kate for a moment while she smiled back at him—and the space around him—somewhat dreamily. She even relaxed back in her chair. “Seers typically come into their powers before a major natural disaster, the uprising of some long-dormant creature or race, or a change of regime. Two seers came into their powers when Crowley became King of Hell, but they were both killed almost instantly by his advance guard.”

“What?” Kate asked, sitting back up.

“Crowley had an advance guard?” Sam asked.

Cass nodded at him, then looked back at Kate. “I would advise you to stay here in the bunker until we can determine what sort of threat you might be facing.”

“I accept.”

“So, why empower a seer before an event?” Dean asked. “So Heaven gets a front-row seat?”

“Our observations from the garrison were distant, but the amount of detail we accumulated was sufficient for marking mankind’s progress.”

“So seers are your embedded reporters for special events?”

“It was probably a seer who warned Naomi about the demons gathering in Grand Island.”

“Yeah, about that,” Sam said. “Why were the demons gathering there?”

“Naomi didn’t say much.”

“What a surprise.”

“Dean.” Cass scowled. “I believe she told me all she knew. In several areas all over the world, demons who are no longer affiliated with Hell have been gathering in small groups. It may be a reaction to Sam’s decree that there would be no new King of Hell, but we’re not certain.”

“So instead of being centered in Hell, the demons are looking for a new place to gather?” Sam asked.

“Perhaps, but it’s not just about what you said, Sam. Looking after the souls of Hell is a burden as much as is looking after the souls in Heaven. There are many more demons than angels now, but some of them may have simply decided to make a well of power elsewhere.”

“A what?”

“Angels power Heaven through their grace. Demons have nothing comparable, but they retain some power when they possess vessels. Get enough demons together, and they can pool their energy.”

“Enough to do what?” Sam asked.

“Hide themselves from man and Heaven, usually.”

“So they’re making a safe place to be that isn’t Hell?” Jack asked.

“Hide themselves?” Sam asked. “Would that work against a seer?”

They all turned to look at Kate, who had fallen asleep in her chair. Sam plucked her empty glass out of her hand.

“No,” Cass said. “The supernatural cannot hide from a seer, even with a spell.”

“So we should use her to root out whatever this new demon hangout is,” Dean said.

“As long as we can keep her safe,” Jack said. “She’s not a hunter.”

“No, but she’s something,” Dean said.

“She’s an events coordinator in a small-town regional airport,” Cass said. “Her cat recently died of kidney failure, and her lawn needs watering. She’s unmarried with no siblings, and her parents died in a car crash seven years ago. Like most seers, she’s otherwise untouched by the supernatural, and she has no idea what her life has become.”

“Look, I realize she didn’t volunteer for this,” Dean said. “Who does?”

“I’m not comfortable making her another Kevin, Dean,” Sam said.

For the first time, Dean started to get pissed off, but Sam instantly threw up his hands. “Sorry. I know that’s not what you meant.”

Cass winced and rubbed at his forehead in an all-too-familiar way.

“Angel radio?” Dean asked.

“Yes.” Cass shook off the discomfort. “A seer in Peru has just been killed. He was sacrificed to Abezethibou.”

“To what now?” Dean asked.

“I thought Abezethibou was dead,” Jack said.

“He is, and he has been for almost four thousand years.”

“Abezethibou was a fallen angel drowned in the Red Sea with the pharaoh while he was chasing Moses,” Sam told his brother. “The lore says he was captured in a pillar of water.”

“No,” Cass said. “The translation is off. He just drowned.”

“Which means he’s in The Empty,” Jack said. “Could they rescue him from there?”

“I’m the only one to have ever made it out of there, Jack, and that’s only because you called to me. Demons could sacrifice a thousand seers; they’d still have no hope of raising him.”

Cass cocked his head, listening. “Angel radio is saying the demons involved, seven of them, were killed in their own ritual.”

“Seven,” Sam said. “That’s the same number of demons that died around Kate.”

“Seven’s a powerful number,” Jack said.

Dean shrugged. “Well, six is afraid of it. Have all the demon groups been seven, Cass?”

“Yes,” the angel said, still listening to celestial vibrations. “A week ago, a group of seven demons sacrificed a seer in a ritual to Ishtar. Again, they were all killed.”

“Why didn’t we hear about that before?” Dean demanded.

Cass shrugged. “Demons are frequently sacrificing people to ancient gods, Dean. It’s one of their primary pastimes.”

“Well, that’s fantastic.”

“Maybe the demons believed Abezethibou was alive in the water somewhere,” Jack said. “Could the demons have been killed because he’s really dead?”

“That might cause the ritual to backfire,” Cass said.

“The demons are looking for a leader, or at least an ally,” Sam said. “They’re seeing who’s still left.”

“Something must be making them desperate,” Jack said. “They’re risking their own lives.”

“Which probably means they’re not just trying to invoke old gods, but enslave them,” Cass said.

“Cass,” Dean said. “Can you ask Heaven, Naomi, or whatever about other demon groups, see if any are forming up around here?”

“Of course.”

“The flamingo,” Kate said, jerking awake.

The others watched her blink several times as she sat up.

“Flamingo?” Sam asked.

“What?”

“Look, it’s late,” Dean said. “And you’ve been through a lot. Let’s see if Sam can’t rustle you up something to sleep in.”

“OK.” She looked around, squinting. “What’s wrong with the light in here?”

“The light?” Sam asked.

“You’re all so bumpy.” She looked about three seconds from falling back asleep.

“This way, Kate,” Sam said. “I’m sure I can find you some sweats and a T-shirt.”

“Pink,” she said.

“Not sure about that.”

“What?”

Dean waited until Sam had led the woman out of the room before turning back to Cass and then frowning when he saw the angel was standing up.

“You going somewhere?”

“To talk with Heaven.”

Kate woke up in a strange room.

Like, really strange.

The bed was fine, but weirdly small. And there was an old-timey radio on a shelf on the wall, and retro sconces.

Oh yeah. She was in the “bunker.”

It was beyond weird. Two guys who looked like runway models, especially the shorter one with the girl lips, had been pretending to be FBI agents. And when she’d told them about the impossible thing she’d seen before breakfast, they just nodded and took her to their car.

And what the hell? An American heavy metal Impala? No wonder people used to make out in the back seat. It was a park bench. And something about it looked weird.

After putting in her ear buds and queuing up some music to help her think, she’d Googled and found nothing, not a peep, about seven dead people with their eyes burned out, not even on news sites that routinely reported alien babies and Elvis haunting a toaster.

And then she’d met Castiel, like he was just some guy you could meet at a party, or something. He was this limitless presence of awesome shoved into the body of a guy who kind of looked like he sold advertising on AM radio.

And then that other . . . guy had walked into the room. Honestly, “Jack”? Was that some sort of joke?

She guessed there was a young man’s body in there, but who cared about that?

First, whatever she was looking at was holding onto life by a thread, like the rest of him wanted to blow apart in the next breeze. And there were strange blotches on him, and burnt-out bits. And he had wings too, though not as many as Castiel. And they weren’t broken, but they weren’t working, and they were bigger somehow.

Jack, or whatever it was, seemed stronger, more powerful than Castiel, but then weaker than a human, which made no sense. She couldn’t shake the idea that he was dying, whereas Castiel was powerful but wounded, or crippled—handicapped, disabled. Whatever.

Castiel. She lay there for a moment thinking about that.

Never, ever had she thought something could be that beautiful. There was simply no other word for it. She’d thought the Grand Canyon was something, the (real) Mona Lisa at the Louvre, a night sky with the Milky Way spurting out over eternity. But Castiel . . .

Jack was awesome too, but sort of shapeless. She thought of raindrop cake.

And then, before she’d fallen asleep, Sam and Dean had looked weird too. Was this her life now? Was everybody going to look weird?

Kate snorted. She missed her cat. Rex would still look normal, she’d bet.

Shaking off the feeling she was incredibly pathetic, she got up, smelling coffee like a whiff of salvation for someone who was evidently now a “seer,” whatever the hell that meant.

As she stood up to tidy her sheets and blanket, however, she had to admit that “seer” sounded a lot more interesting than “events coordinator.”

Fortunately, after washing her face in a sink that was just sort of stuck in the wall and checking her normal-looking face in the mirror, she found a robe hanging on the door and put it on before hunting down the coffee smell.

Sam watched their guest walk into the kitchen, gestured with the coffee pot in his hand, and then poured her a cup.

“I’m insensible before about two of these,” she said, taking a seat at the table. “Ignore me until then.”

Sam nodded, not having to wait long before Dean stumbled out in his jeans, socks, and flannel, groping for the pot like it was invisible. Sam poured him a cup and put it in front of his face.

Sam waited until he’d downed a couple inches’ worth.

“Where’s Cass?”

“Taking to Heaven, last I checked.” Dean headed for a chair.

Jack showed up next, obviously having been awake for a while. Sam suspected he’d been eating some of that high-fructose corn syrup cereal Dean insisted on buying. Seriously, would it kill these people to eat protein that wasn’t drowning in grease or some made-up thing?

“I’ve been thinking,” Jack said. “If demons are trying to find something powerful, like the Princes of Hell used to be, that means you guys have been making a huge difference in the world.”

Dean gave him a bleary stare, then muttered, “Well, we’ve taken down a few dicks, if that’s what you mean.”

Sam refilled his cup.

“You’ve done much more than that,” Jack said. “You kept Lucifer and Michael from destroying half the world, or maybe all of it. You helped kill the alpha vampires and werewolves. You’ve killed so many demons and monsters. I think they’re running low.”

Sam smiled and shook his head. “Jack, that’s a nice thought.”

“It’s not a nice thought. It’s just the truth. You and Dean, you’ve gotten rid of so much evil.”

“Jack,” Dean said, shaking his head. “There’s always going to be more of them.”

“Think about it,” Jack said. “Demons are killing themselves trying to find some old god or power you haven’t killed. They’re desperate. And you’re why.”

Sam had to agree with his brother. “It’s a nice thought, but there’s always more, Jack. Dead, alive, back from the dead: there’s always another monster to kill, another demon to face.”

“That’s what being a hunter is,” Dean said. “If you’re going to be one, archangel grace or not, you need to know that.”

“Why are you all so weird looking?” Kate muttered.

They looked at her, sitting at the kitchen counter with an empty coffee cup and scowling at them each in turn.

“I’m a Nephilim,” Jack said. “My father was an angel, and my mother was human.”

“Your parents are dead?”

“Yes.”

“Including the angel?”

“Yes.”

“And was he like, super-powerful?”

Jack looked to his fathers, then back. “He was Lucifer.”

“Lucifer.”

“Yes.”

“As in, Lucifer.”

“Yes.”

“Lucifer.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Dean said, and then closed his mouth when she pointed at Jack’s chest.

“Is that why you’re so hurt?”

Jack looked down at himself, then back at her. “My grace was stolen.”

“Your grace. Is that, like, your angel power?”

“Yes. It should regenerate in time, but we don’t know when.”

“Then what’s the glowy thing keeping you alive?”

“Oh. That’s my soul.”

She nodded, shooting a desperate look at the coffee pot. Sam poured her another cup, and she looked ready to have his children.

“OK,” she said after another sip. “Half-angel, stolen grace, soul being used as a battery, right?”

Sam nodded. “Basically, yes.”

She looked at the two brothers. “So what’s wrong with you two?”

Dean frowned at her. “Wrong with us?”

“Yeah. When I met you yesterday, you looked normal, but now…” She waved with her free hand. “There’s all sorts of stuff. I don’t know what it means.”

“Stuff?” Sam asked.

“You both have these sort of black lines, like, scars, all over you. Especially you.” She pointed at Dean.

“You’re seeing that they have died,” Castiel said, walking in. Sam watched her turn to look at him and smile. “One black line for each death.”

“But he’s got a couple hundred of them.”

“Yes.”

She ogled Dean and Sam for a moment, then looked back at Castiel. “Is there some sort of owner’s manual?”

Dean rolled his eyes, then did a little double-take when Cass actually pulled a little red book, faded around the edges, out of his coat pocket.

“It’s the Edinburgh Codex,” he said. “It covers some of the basics.”

“Oh, you’re an angel,” she breathed, then pulled herself up a bit. “I mean, you know.”

“You’re welcome,” Cass said, handing the book over. She nodded at the rest of them and went into the library with her codex and coffee.

“So, there’s a decoder book for seers?” Dean asked. “Like a dictionary?”

“Most seers will get some value from it, though I cannot vouch for its complete authenticity.”

“You can’t?” Sam asked. “Why not?”

“I’m not a seer.”

“And seers?” Dean asked. “What do they say about it?”

“Few of them have lived long enough to have an opinion.”

“What does that mean?” Jack asked.

“The average lifespan of an activated seer is eight days, six hours, twenty-three minutes. However, that number is skewed by those few seers who went into hiding and managed to live a year or more.”

Dean felt his shoulders square up. “You’re saying she’s got a week?”

“Dean,” Cass said. “Once a seer is activated, everything supernatural wants them dead: vampires, werewolves, ghouls, demons.”

“Angels?” Jack asked, looking fierce.

“No. Angels do not kill seers,” Cass said. “However, we have done little to protect them.” He frowned. “In October of 2018, a seer came into his powers just before the tsunami, looting, and lack of aid that killed almost 2,000 people. The 7.5 quake struck just off the central island of Sulawesi, and the tidal wave engulfed Palu. Mohamed reported every detail, each death, each act of betrayal and kindness. It is through him that we were alerted to Ari Li, who emptied his personal food supplies providing hot meals to those without homes, and of Melody Henschke, who adopted two orphaned children as her own.”

“That’s incredible,” Sam said.

“Two days later his heart was eaten by werewolves. And now in Heaven he plays constantly with his little daughter, who loves to dress up her Barbie dolls in sparkly Hijabs.”

“Cass.” Dean put his head down with his clasped hands between his knees. “Seriously, I get that angels think the best thing that can happen to people is going to Heaven, but you get how screwed up that is, right?”

“I have been trying to explain that humans would rather enjoy the reality of choice to the bliss of living their favorite memories over and over, but other angels have been less than receptive.”

Dean snorted.

“Happiness is a difficult concept for angels. Most of us experience our greatest satisfaction from following the orders of our Lord, knowing the pleasure of true obedience. It’s built into our very DNA, as humans would say. We were made to exceed in servitude.”

“Well, as glad as Sam and I are that you’re wired a different way, the question is how to protect a seer long enough to get her to help us.”

“And then what?” Sam demanded, turning his brother’s attention from the odd expression on Cass’ face. “I don’t think seers have a witness protection program.”

“No,” Cass said. “But they should.”

“Well, what? You got nine players on the heavenly bench? Not the right time for making employee retirement plans.”

“Dean, I’m tired of watching seers die.”

The hunter spread his hands. “No argument from me, Cass. But other than keeping her here, I got nothing.”

“Seers are instinctively driven to witness. She may well refuse to stay here while events are occurring.”

“Then we’ll stay with her,” Sam said. “And we’ll keep her safe.”

During the next twenty-four hours, three more groups of seven demons died while sacrificing seers.

“So, I’m one of a dozen seers on Earth now,” Kate said, the codex in her lap and cradling a coffee mug in her hands.

Dean thought the bunker was warm this morning, comforting, with eggs and bacon in the air and whiskey on tap for those who needed it. But he still sympathized with the way the seer was huddled into her chair.

“We’re not going to let them get you,” he said.

“Demons cannot get into the bunker without some special assistance, which is unlikely,” Castiel said.

“OK,” she said, sipping quietly before looked at Dean. “The codex says the signs of past lands show on your feet—well, your shoes. What’s on your boots, it’s too black to be mud.”

Dean frowned at his footwear, which was clean enough.

“You’re seeing that he was in Hell,” Cass said.

“Hey, privacy much?”

“It’s important for her to understand what she sees.”

“Hell?” Kate asked. “As in, like, fire and brimstone hell?”

Dean shrugged at her. “Basically.”

Kate closed her eyes. “The Hell?”

“Yeah.”

She opened her eyes and peered at him. “OK. What’s with the handprint on your shoulder?”

Dean looked at Cass. “You know, I never really asked. I just assumed it was yours.”

The angel looked grimly amused, then winced and put his hand to his head.

“What’re those waves around your head?” Kate demanded.

Dean waited until it was clear Castiel wasn’t going to answer. “Angel radio.”

“What? And what are those blue lines around your ankle?”

Dean looked down again.

“Could we get Kate to talk to some other seer?” Jack asked, entering the room.

“Another seer is dead.” Castiel shot Kate an apologetic look. “He killed himself to avoid capture.” He looked at Jack. “Kate is now the only seer in North America. The others are in hiding.”

“And then there were eleven,” Kate said, looking at the floor.

“Look, we’re not going to let them get to you,” Dean said, taking a step forward and then another slightly away to keep from looming over her. “We’ve dealt with this kind of thing before, and we’ll keep you safe.”

Kate looked at him, then back at Castiel, and then at Jack. “Could I get a notebook?”

“A what?” Dean asked.

“She wants a notebook, Dean,” Sam called from the war room. He entered a moment later with an unused composition book and a black pen.

“Hey, I’ve realized you saved my life,” she told Castiel even as she took the items with a nod of thanks, opened the pages, and started writing. “I mean, those demons were coming for me, right? So, thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Dean’s cell went off. He dug it out of his pocket. “Hello?” Dean nodded at the others. “It’s Jody. Uh huh.” He nodded again, then motioned to Sam. “How many, do you know?”

Sam, Jack, and Castiel began to gather equipment. “We’ll be there as soon as we can,” Dean said and hung up.

Kate stood up, visited the ladies, and went to get her purse. When Dean made a comment about her staying behind, she just looked at him until everyone else was in the car.

Five minutes later, they were on the road, with Dean at the wheel, Sam riding shotgun, Castiel in the middle, and Jack behind Sam. Kate, sitting behind Dean, worked hard at first to make herself small, then gave up and went back to writing in her notebook.

“If there are no other seers than Kate in North America, then why would demons be congregating in Sioux Falls?” Jack asked.

“It’s doubtlessly a plot to lure in Kate,” Castiel said.

“Sorry,” the seer in question said, not looking up.

“But Jody said she found a pile a dead dogs and cats, all with licenses,” Dean said. “If the demons just wanted bodies for sacrifice, they could have gathered up feral animals with less trouble.”

“They’re announcing themselves,” Sam said.

“Pets are loved,” Castiel said. “As such, they offer more power as sacrifices.”

“That’s damn creepy,” Dean said. “You know that, right?”

“What does it mean that sometimes Sam has heat waves rippling from him?” Kate asked Castiel.

“I’m not sure. It may be a reference to the time he spent as a host to Lucifer.”

“As in Jack’s dad Lucifer?”

“Yes.”

“Okie-dokie.”

“A sacrificial gathering of beloved objects may be a precursor to a summoning of Marduk,” Castiel said next.

“The Babylonian god?” Sam asked.

“Yes.”

“And what does he do with his free time?” Dean asked.

“Thunderstorms, mostly.”

“Like Thor?” Jack asked.

“Who wants to summon some nothing-god of thunderstorms?” Dean asked.

“Maybe Jack’s right,” Sam said. “Maybe demons are just searching for anyone still around.”

Castiel winced and held his hand to his head.

“Angel radio?” Kate asked. “Yeah, never mind. I can see it. It’s those wave things. It looks painful.” She winced and scribbled in her notebook.

“Another seer has manifested in Sao Paulo, the Santa Efigenia neighborhood near the bridge,” Castiel said. “A group of local hunters is on its way to protect her. They have a psychic.”

“How much chance do they have?” Dean asked.

Castiel titled his head. “It’s a busy neighborhood in the daytime, but near empty and dangerous at night. There are no demons in the area, but she’s vulnerable to . . .” Cass fell silent for a few minutes. “Francisco and his, er, crew are not far. They should be able to protect her for now.”

“Cass, why are the angels still calling for seers when it’s just putting them in danger?” Sam asked.

“Angels don’t control the production of seers any more than we control the creation of prophets.”

Kate scribbled in her notebook.

Sam’s phone rang. “Jody. Yeah. What? Bobby’s place?” Sam listened for a few minutes, then said goodbye and hung up. “Jody says there was a fire at Singer Auto.”

“What’s left to burn?”

“One of the car barns. And someone left a message she can’t read. I told her we’re still two hours out.”

Dean nodded, then shook his head. “You think she’s gonna get on us about it again?”

“No reason she won’t. Besides, she’s right. We need to make a decision.”

Dean scowled and turned up Led Zeppelin.

It was slightly less than two hours later when the Impala drove through the Singer Auto Salvage gate and pulled along Jody’s police SUV. Kate looked around at the junked cars, their rusted carcasses often overrun with weeds. The blackened ruins of a weird-looking house had collapsed in on themselves, and the air smelled like smoke.

Jody herself turned up as Dean was parking, a familiar blond hunter at her side.

“Claire,” Castiel said as he got out of the car. The two shared a deeply affectionate, if slightly awkward hug.

“I haven’t met you yet. I’m Jack.”

Claire pulled a wisp of hair that had escaped her messy braid back behind an ear, where the wind promptly blew it away again.  “I’ve heard a lot about you. Nice to meet.” She nodded at him coolly instead of shaking his half-extended hand, then frowned at the woman staring at her.

“What?” Claire asked.

Kate turned to Castiel. “Have you been inside her?”

“What?!” Claire asked.

“Hold on,” Dean said.

“Yes,” Castiel said.

Kate turned back to Claire. “Yeah, you were his vessel, briefly, right? And you’ve killed a lot of supernatural things.”

“Kate O’Neill, this is Claire Novak.”

“Uh huh.”

“Jimmy’s daughter,” Sam said, keeping an eye on Claire’s furious but confused expression.

“Jimmy?” Kate asked.

“My vessel.” Castiel patted at himself. “He was Jimmy Novak.”

“I read about those in the codex, but I don’t see him in there with you.”

“No. Jimmy’s in Heaven.”

Kate turned back to Claire. “That must be so difficult for you.”

“Not diggin’ the spotlight here,” Claire said, stepping back slightly.

“Kate here is a seer and new to her abilities,” Sam said.

“A seer? Is that like a psychic?”

Kate looked at Castiel. “I don’t know.”

“In a sense,” the angel said. “Her psychic abilities are limited to seeing the supernatural.”

In the awkward silence that followed, the sheriff stepped forward and offered her hand firmly. “Jody Mills.”

Kate shook it just as firmly. “You’ve killed a lot of supernatural things too. And—” She made a face. “I do need to learn to shut up a little, don’t I?”

“Couldn’t hurt,” Dean said.

“And you’re Castiel,” Jody said next, smiling triumphantly. “It is so good to finally meet you.”

“You as well,” the angel said, pulling her into a brief hug that surprised everyone, including himself. “Thank you for all the times you’ve been there for Sam and Dean.”

“No place I’d rather be.” She grinned up at him, then turned to the young figure at his side.

“And you’re Jack,” Jody said, stepping forward with a grin and another firm handshake that Jack completed with a smile of his own. “Good to meet you finally.”

“And you. My fathers have told me so much about you.”

“Well, only believe the good things.”

Jack frowned. “They haven’t said anything bad.”

Jody nodded, eyebrows raised, then smiled again. “Welcome to Sioux Falls, just wish it were under better circumstances.”

“I’m sure it’s very nice.”

“Why does it smell like Sulphur?” Kate asked.

“A demon was here ten hours ago,” Castiel said.

“And it burned down one of the car barns?” Dean said.

“Yeah.” Jody gestured to the right and led everyone to a square of burnt lumber surrounding a series of glyphs scratched into the blackened ground. Sam took photos.

“It’s dimoori sheol, the Language of the Damned, an ancient demon tongue,” Castiel said. “We are to turn over the seer before nightfall of the full moon or the people of this town will suffer.”

“That’s three days,” Jack said. “Why give us so long?”

“The summoning of Marduk is done on the night of a full moon,” Castiel said, watching as Kate squatted next to some ashes and stared like they held the secrets of the Sphynx, which perhaps they did. “They may not need her until then.”

“Or this is all just a distraction to keep us busy,” Dean said, which made everyone but the seer nod. “Kate, you actually seeing anything over there?”

“Cinis cinerem,” she muttered, then stood and walked further into the car yard. The others followed.

“This place is bigger than I thought it was,” Claire said, looking around. “Who owns it now? Some long-lost cousin?”

“Me and Dean, actually,” Sam said, avoiding Jody’s gaze.

Claire looked at them. “What?”

“The boys need to do something with this place,” Jody said. “Sell it or get someone to run it.”

“Singer actually turned a profit with this?” Claire asked.

“Yeah, and we had some businesses around here that relied on it. They’d be glad to see it up and running again.”

“This just doesn’t seem like the time.”

“It’s never the time, Sam.”

Kate stopped, staring down at a little pile of ashes surrounded by more glyphs. Sam took more photos.

We offer this in deference to Marduk,” Castiel read. “It’s the remains of a cat named Noodles. His owners are looking for him.”

“There’s something weird there,” Kate said.

“You think?” Dean asked.

She squatted and pointed to one of the symbols. “What’s this one mean?”

“It’s the sigil for Marduk.”

“There was another sigil, I think, before it. It got erased.” She moved over slightly and drew a circle with several lines. “It looked like that.”

Cass frowned. “That makes no sense. It’s the sigil for Kipling.”

“No, the demons know he’s dead,” Sam said. “I killed him in front of them, and they left. They have to have told the others.”

“And the dead pets, the full moon, would those work in a summoning of Kipling?” Dean asked.

“Yes, if he weren’t dead.”

“So the demons originally meant to raise Kipling until they knew he was dead?” Jack asked.

“Or maybe it’s that they realized we know he’s dead,” Sam said, then raised his head. “What if they’re not killing seers to try to summon old demons and gods? What if they’re using the cover of the rituals to kill seers?”

“But they’re sacrificing themselves,” Jack said.

“Are they?” Sam asked. “I mean, the demons Cass killed, they’re dead. But what about the others? What if they just killed their own hosts?”

“No, they died, Sam. The sight of that is quite specific.”

Kate turned without a word and walked to the charred remains of the house. The others trailed behind.

“Cass,” Dean said. “Let’s say they kill all the seers. What would the demons get out of that important enough to kill themselves over?”

“Well, there’s been no Eye for several centuries, so there would be nothing to prevent them from hiding something. But what that something would be, I have no idea.”

“Have demons gone after seers in the past?” Claire asked.

“Eight seers were killed during the Black Plague, but only those in Europe. There’s never been a global assault before.”

“Demons were behind the Black Plague?” Jody asked.

“Actually, no. It was mogwai. They made sure all seers were bitten by the fleas first.”

Having reached the ruins of Bobby’s house, Kate began kicking around in the ashes and dust, then reached down and picked up a small medallion, which she wordlessly handed to Castiel.

“It’s a Celtic summoner,” the angel noted. “It should be wrapped in cotton to nullify its effects.”

“Got it,” Claire said, pulling a mostly white rag out of her pocket even as Kate picked up something else.

“I’ll get us a box,” Jody said, turning to her SUV.

Kate spent the next two hours picking up trinkets, some of which Castiel identified for Sam and Dean and some he put quietly into a pocket. Finally, she stood in the middle of the ashes and yawned, her teeth pale against her blackened face.

“I’m not seeing anything else.”

“Fair enough,” Jody said, eyeing the three boxes of items at her feet. “We’ll go back to my place for dinner, and we can all take a shower.”

While Jody’s hospitality was limitless, her house had two bathrooms, so by the time everyone had cleaned the ash out of their ears, she had pork chops, salad, and mac ‘n cheese (not from the box) on the table.

“Where’s Alex?” Dean asked before he did a nose dive into the food.

“At work.”

Sam grunted around a full mouth.

“I see you’re all still class acts at the dinner table,” Claire said.

Castiel looked at Kate, who was sitting in front of her plate like she’d forgotten what food was.

“Are you all right?”

She shook herself slightly, then looked at him and smiled. “It just looks so normal. The things out there, those trinkets and things, they were so ugly.” Her eyes glistened slightly, and she looked exhausted. “Um, I understand this is creepy, but do you mind if I just look at you for a while?”

Castiel shrugged gently. “You can see my Heavenly grace. I understand it can be quite soothing.”

She laughed a little. “That’s one word for it.” Then, seeing he really didn’t mind, she leaned back, gazing at him with a slight smile that seeped into her eyes.

Claire frowned at her, then looked back at Dean. “So, you got demons killing seers. What’s in it for them?”

Dean looked at Cass, who offered, “That demons don’t want seers to witness something they’re doing would be the obvious answer, but this is global. What demons could be doing at that level, I don’t know.”

“OK, we have that they’re killing themselves to call on pagan gods and greater demons even knowing they’re dead,” Sam said, then paused to shove about a quarter-cup of mac ‘n cheese into his mouth. “Does that tell us anything?”

“I could help with this better if I knew what seers do,” Jody said.

“Don’t ask me,” Kate said absently, still staring at Castiel.

“Seers observe in detail,” the angel said. “They don’t fight; they don’t heal; they don’t pass messages during battle.”

“In detail,” Sam said, then ate some salad. “What would demons want to do that angels could see but not in detail?”

“Most demon activity is less than subtle, so that does narrow it down. They might be attempting to network to tap into darker realms, relocate the damned, renege on a deal, though that would show clearly enough even to a common—”

“Darker realms,” Dean said around a mouth half-full of pork chop. “Darker than Hell?”

“Demons are all assigned their level of Hell, Dean. Most of those we encounter come from the third or fourth circle.”

“So, what?” Sam asked. “A demon from a deeper circle is more powerful?”

“No.” Castiel frowned. “The levels of hell are arranged by the nature of the sin. A demon from the third level isn’t more powerful than from the second. They would simply be more powerfully cursed.”

“Which means what?” Dean asked.

“The demon would be less rational, less aware of the reality of Earth, which is why other demons would be uninterested in dealing with them.”

“Sorry to butt in,” Jody said, ignoring the half-eaten food on her plate. “But what was that about relocating the damned?”

Sam and Dean frowned at her, but it was encouraging. “That sound significant?” Dean asked.

“When we’re transferring prisoners, the most important information is where the guys are going. We don’t want people following them who shouldn’t, but we want family members to be able to visit them according to the law. The paperwork is ridiculous.”

“But the damned are kept in hell,” Sam said.

“Are you just going to sit there and stare at Castiel?” Claire asked an increasingly dazed-looking Kate.

“Huh?”

“Seriously, you know. It’s creepy.”

“You don’t like watching the sunset, or the sunrise, or rainbows, or flowers blooming, or an atom exploding?”

Claire curled her lip and snorted. “You’re saying looking at Castiel is like looking at a rainbow?”

“It’s like just looking at creation, I guess. It’s pretty. What do you care anyway?”

Castiel straightened. “The Empty.”

“The what?” Jody asked.

Cass looked at her. “When angels and demons die, we go to a place of nothing, sleeping for eternity. Ever since I’ve know about that, I’ve been trying to figure out some way to retrieve angels from there, to bring them back to Heaven where they belong.”

“What?” Dean looked at him incredulously. “All of them?”

Cass shook his head. “No, obviously not. But many of them, so many could be brought back if we were careful. In any event, I’m sure that demons would like access to the Empty as well. The Princes of Hell, Crowley, other leaders, perhaps even Lucifer.”

“You’re just mentioning this now?” Sam asked. “Lucifer?”

“How would demons know about the Empty when you’re the only one who’s escaped from there?” Jack asked.

“Michael knows about it. He might have told them. In fact, he might be behind all this.”

“So Michael thinks he knows a way to the Empty,” Dean said, “and he’s killing all the seers to make sure the angels can’t follow?”

“But you said they’re all in hiding, except Kate. Why isn’t that good enough?”

“The Empty isn’t accessed by a door or a portal. It’s possible it wouldn’t matter where the seer is located to witness the route.”

“Castiel,” Kate said, and something in her voice got them all looking her way. “You escaped the Empty?”

“Yes.”

“Is the Empty, like, all black with no sound, just, you know, a void?”

“Yes.” He narrowed his eyes. “How do you know that?”

“When did you escape?”

“Sixteen months ago.”

Kate visibly swallowed.

“What?” Dean said. “You saw something?”

“I don’t know.” Her eyes were getting a little big.

“Just tell us what happened, Kate,” Sam said with his voice set to “soothing.”

Kate frowned at him, but then took a breath and nodded. “I had a sort of—I was meditating, not very well.” Her eyes darted around to all the faces looking at her, then back to Castiel. “And I sort of saw this image. I mean, I guess it was a vision, but that sounds, um.”

“Never mind what it sounds like,” Dean said. “What did you see?”

“Dean, she’s trying,” Cass said.

“I saw a flamingo.”

Silence met her announcement. Jack broke it. “A flamingo?”

“A pink one, and it sort of burst out of this empty darkness. Freaked me the hell out, actually.”

“And you had this vision sixteen months ago?” Castiel asked.

“Yes.”

“Could you describe it? Perhaps draw it?”

“I can do better than that.” She grimaced. “I got a tattoo of it.”

“A tattoo?” Sam asked.

“Awesome,” Claire said. “Show us.”

“I didn’t get it put in a place I planned to show others.”

“Don’t tell me it’s on your ass,” Dean said.

She winced and shifted her weight in her chair. “Well, it’s near the hip.”

“All right,” Jody said, standing up. “Kate, go into the kitchen.” She walked over to the coffee table and picked up her phone. “Get under the light.”

Kate threw a desperately grateful look the sheriff’s way and scooted through the kitchen door. Jody followed.

“Cass? Do seers get visions before they’re activated?” Sam asked.

“Not that I know of.” The angel put a hand to his head and frowned.

“Cass?” Dean asked.

“I’m asking if someone can talk to Lucia, the seer in Sao Paulo. Find out if she had a vision sixteen months ago.”

Everyone’s cell phone dinged a moment before Jody and Kate came out of the kitchen. Soon, they were all looking at a photo of a simple, black-outlined rendering of a flamingo standing on one leg. A feathering of pink started at the wing and darkened just slightly at the tail.

“It’s cute,” Claire said. “You have any other ink?”

“No.”

“So you just decided to get one because you had a vision? You couldn’t just sketch it out?”

“I just needed to, I don’t know, record it, like, forever.” She looked down at her cold food. “It was obsessing me. It was all I could think about. Then I got a little drunk and went to a place a friend recommended. Cost me $100 and hurt like hell. Bled all over the place.”

“Tattoo places don’t take drunk customers,” Claire said.

Kate shrugged. “I’m very good at hiding it.”

Dean looked at her. “OK, I get you needed to record it, but on your ass?”

“She said it would bleed. I don’t like blood. Besides, when I woke up the next morning, I was fine. I mean, I had to rub ointment on it for a while, but I could just basically ignore it, and I wasn’t obsessed anymore. I go days without even thinking about it.”

Cass put his hand to his head again. “It’s not a flamingo.”

They watched him obviously receive a message and nod. “Gno beh-veh-heh.”

“It’s Enochian?” Sam and Den asked together.

Castiel looked at them, then drew a pen and a piece of paper from his pocket. Carefully, he drew a sigil that to Dean’s eyes looked like a 2 on top of a backward 4.

“Lucia told Francisco that sixteen months ago she had a vision of a carcará flying over a flag.”

“A wha-ha?”

“It’s a hawk.”

“And what does gno beh-veh-heh mean, exactly?” Kate wanted to know.

“Freedom.”

Both Sam and Dean volunteered to sleep in the car, but Jody managed to find space for everyone who needed to bed down. Castiel settled down to monitor angel radio.

A little after midnight, he watched Alex come home, having been warned about what would greet her. She nodded and went to Claire’s room to share the bed. About ten minutes after that a still-dressed Claire came out and joined him at the dining table.

She looked like she wanted to talk, but her eyes slid over to the men snoring in the living room. Cass put his hand palm-down on the table between them, and after a moment she put hers over it.

His eyes met hers in surprise. “You’ve been thinking about Singer Auto?

Claire took a moment to adjust to having a voice in her head. It had always helped her in dealing with the angel, though, the way his voice sounded so different from her father’s. She concentrated on thinking back at him.

Hunting doesn’t pay.”

Cass nodded encouragingly.

I’m no good at hustling pool. Everyone just thinks I’m hustling something else. And I don’t have a lot of bankable skills. But I’ve been looking into it, and if I could find the right person to work with, someone either with an encyclopedia in their brain about car parts or someone really good with a computer, I know enough about engines to pull out a carburetor without breaking it. I mean, I wouldn’t make much, not at first, but every penny counts around here.”

I’m sure Dean and Sam would be happy to let you turn whatever profit you can from the place.”

I’d want to buy it from them eventually.”

Castiel smiled. “Of course you would.”

Gently, he opened up their connection just a bit, letting her set the pace to share images of the plan that she’d made in her mind: her, smudged with grease and taking out some anger banging a dent out of a car door; Jody, taking a wad of cash with a proud smile; the Singer Auto sign, freshly painted.

You wouldn’t want to rename it Novak Auto?

Nah. Singer Auto has a reputation I’ll need.”

Cass sent back images of his own: Claire, finishing a day’s work with a sense of accomplishment while her girlfriend showed up with beer; the auto yard, magic free and clean and orderly as auto salvage yards got; Cass, coming to visit and getting to enjoy something going right for her for a change.

But the girlfriend reminded Claire of someone lost, someone she’d been unable to save. With a sad but reassuring smile, the young woman pulled her hand away and stood up to mouth, “Goodnight.”

Cass nodded, then returned to his mental vigil.

Around 2 AM he learned through angel radio that another seer had been killed along with seven more demons. Just before dawn, he heard about the death of another.

While Dean was looming over the coffee pot, angel radio showed Castiel the tattoo an angel had found on the shoulder of a dead seer: a 2 on top of a backward 4.

By the time most people in the house were eating breakfast, another seer had died.

“So we’re down to nine,” Kate said, managing a few bites of eggs and toast.

“Lucia has gone deeply underground,” Castiel said, sipping at a coffee cup to be polite. He very much wanted to stay in Jody’s favor.

Dean slurped down about a quarter-cup. “Cass, just how much danger—”

Kate screamed, shooting up from her seat and pointing at Alex as the woman walked in.

“What is that?” she demanded, backing up. “What the hell is that?”

Alex’s eyes went black even as Castiel had his angel blade in hand and stood in front of Kate. “Sam! Dean!”

Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus/omnis satanica potestas, omnis incursio!” Sam said, then flew backward into the wall as the demon in Alex threw out a hand.

Infernalis adversarii, omnis legio,” Claire said, ducking to the right as she reached for her knife. “Omnis congregatio et secta diabolica. Ergo draco—ugh!” She flew back against the table, cracking a rib.

Maledicte et omnis legio diabolica!” Dean took over, Ruby’s knife in his hand. “Adjuramus te. Cessa decipere humanas creaturas,eisque aeternae Perditionis venenum propinare.”

Alex lunged forward, forcing Dean back with her hand on his over the knife at his throat.

Vade, Satana, inventor et magister, omnis fallaciae, hostis humanae salutis,” Sam said, shaking off his dizziness and trying to get back on his feet. “Humiliare sub potenti manu dei, contremisce et effuge—” He was thrown against the wall, drywall cracking.

Invocato a, nobis sancto et terribili nomine!” Jody shouted, angling to get next to Claire. “Quem inferi tremunt!”

Alex rolled away from Dean, grabbed at her head, seething, and then rushed at Jody, shoving her down.

Terribilis Deus de sanctuario suo!” Jack shouted as Alex began to twist and writhe. “Deus Israhel ipse truderit virtutemet fortitudinem plebi Suae! Benedictus deus. Gloria patri!

With an unholy shriek, Alex bent back, eyes gaping at the ceiling as her mouth roared out black smoke up into a plume, then down through the floor. Then she collapsed.

In the silence, Claire gasped, Castiel went to heal her, and Kate ran out of the room. Sam and Dean watched her go with concern, then looked away when loud retching sounds came from the bathroom.

Cass saw to everyone in turn, including Alex, who lay on the sofa and explained she’d been possessed on the way home last night. Jody and Claire straightened up the furniture, and Kate came back looking embarrassed and horrified.

“What was that?”

“A demon,” Castiel said. “I should have been able to tell, but she was hidden through some sort of cloaking spell.”

Kate looked over at Alex, who looked palely back.

“She, it, whatever, I don’t know. It was pain and anger. It’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen, like snakes and maggots and rotten flesh and even worse than that. It was—Oh, God.”

“We get it,” Dean said, but his tone was kind. “We know what you saw.”

“Then why did it look human?” she asked, as though that were the worst part. “Not just the vessel, the demon.”

“Demons are human souls after being tortured in Hell long enough to lose almost everything that makes them human,” Sam explained.

“It wanted to die,” she said next. “That makes no sense, right?”

“The torment of a demon’s life—” Castiel began.

“No, sorry. Sorry to cut you off. But you said they might be trying to get demons back out of the Empty, right? What I just saw, it didn’t want to live. It was terrified when you, er, that was an exorcism, right?”

Everyone nodded.

“When you started on the Latin, it wasn’t just angry. It was terrified.”

“It wanted to be nothing?” Sam asked. “Demons aren’t suicidal.”

“Michael, right?” Jody asked.

“That would make sense,” Castiel said, then frowned at the floor.

“Share with the class,” Dean said.

“If Michael is looking to raid the Empty, he’d be as careful as we would to call forth only the demons he wants. If the demons in the rituals are really killing themselves, perhaps they’re his advance scouts.”

“So he gets a demon, uses his usual BS and mojo to make them suicidal, and then sends them on,” Dean said.

“Then when he’s ready, he calls up the names.”

“It’s not quite that easy,” Castiel said. “But that does sound like a plan Michael would like.”

“How are you feeling, kiddo?” Jody asked Alex, who slowly sat up on the couch.

“That was awful.”

“Yeah, been there myself. Just remember, what you felt was all it, not you.”

“But it saw me,” Alex whispered. “It saw everything about me. And it hated me.”

Jody held her tight.

Kate wiped her lips, grimaced, and walked over to her place to sip at some orange juice.

Castiel winced and held a hand to his head.

“Another dead seer?” Kate asked.

“No. It’s a warning. More demons are headed here.”

“How many more?” Sam asked.

“Seven.”

“It’s weird,” Dean said. “Heaven being so cooperative.”

“I’ve thought the same thing,” Cass said. “But I assume Naomi has had the same thoughts about liberating angels from the Empty.”

“And the Shadow?” Jack asked. “Doesn’t she care?”

“The what now?” Dean asked, frowning as Jack suddenly looked guilty.

“The guardian of the Empty,” Cass said.

“Oh, yeah. The ancient cosmic being, right?” Sam asked. “You said you annoyed it, and it kicked you out.”

“Michael is assuming the same thing will happen next time,” Castiel said. “But that’s a big assumption. If these demons are seeking oblivion, it’s much more likely they’d choose just to go back to sleep.”

“But you called it a she,” Dean told Jack.

“Guys, we need to get ready,” Castiel said, holding up his angel blade.

“Can’t you just show your true form again?” Kate asked.

“I caught the others off-guard. This group will doubtlessly have been warned.”

Kate looked around the room. Alex was pulling herself together on the sofa. Jody was standing tall and checking her gun. Claire had her knife out. Dean had his more effective knife in hand, and Castiel and Sam were holding angel blades.

“Look,” Kate said. “Guys, if this is some sort of last stand of Sundance and Cassidy here, I could just go outside.”

“Not happening,” Dean growled.

“It’s stupid for anybody else to die.”

“Nobody’s dying except some demons.”

“Look, just one of those things almost did you all in.”

“This isn’t our first rodeo,” Sam said. “Trust us.”

Kate crossed her arms and huffed, then looked guilty. “Can I get a knife, or something?”

Outside, seven people dressed in all manner of clothing met, turned as one to a cozy-looking, yellow, one-story house, and moved forward.

An invisible barrier met them at the end of the driveway. Together, they raised their right hands, and a red glow formed between their fingertips. Crackling, it expanded outward, arched over the house, and dissipated.

The seven figures moved forward again, and again at the entryway they were stopped. Raising their right hands did nothing this time, but they raised their left hands as well, and a crackled of energy warped the air around them. As they brought their hands down, the front door of the house blew open.

As one, the second stepped over the threshold, seeing the remains of breakfast on the table and the empty living room.

“Chrysler Town & Country,” Dean said from the second row of seats, checking out Jody’s command of the wheel. “Almost has the same mpg as Baby and no style.”

“You criticizing my ride?” Jody asked.

“Not me.”

“We need to go north at the next turn,” Sam said, not looking away from Google Maps. “It should throw them off for a few miles.”

“They’ve gotta know we’re headed for the bunker, Sam,” Dean said.

“Can’t hurt to make them wonder, and it only costs us a few minutes.”

Castiel winced.

“Angel radio,” Kate murmured.

“Sam, Dean, a group of fourteen demons is surrounding the bunker.”

“Damn it!” Dean said.

“There’s Donna’s cabin,” Sam said.

“What does it mean that the car is burning?” Kate asked.

“Burning how?” Claire asked.

“Like it’s a sparkler. I can see the after-image we’re leaving behind.”

Castiel put a hand on the car door and closed his eyes.

“We’re being tracked,” he said. “Look for a hex bag.”

“Since when do demons use hex bags?” Sam wanted to know.

“It’s Michael,” Dean snarled. “God knows what he’s got on his side now.”

“What does a hex bag look like?” Kate asked, even as she leaned forward from the back seat and pulled up the floor rug at her feet. The next moment, she was holding up a red leather pouch.

“Toss it out the window!” Claire said, rolling hers down.

“No, wait,” Castiel said, holding out his hand. Kate gave it over. His eyes burned hot blue for a moment, then he threw it out the window.

“It will show us heading due west,” he said.

“We still shouldn’t go back to the bunker,” Sam said.

“OK, we’re not in the Impala,” Dean said. “This is a tan soccer mom car. Can we change the plates?”

Castiel frowned. “Done, and it’s blue now. My apologies, Sheriff Mills.”

“No problems here!” she said, holding up her right hand. “And it’s Jody, all right?”

“Sorry, yes, thank you.”

“All right,” Sam said. “Turn two exits from now. We’ll be going due east.”

“Somewhere in Arkansas,” Dean said, nodding.

They drove for another mile before Alex spoke up. “Somewhere in Arkansas what?”

“We’ll lay low for a couple days,” Sam said. “Figure out a game plan that’s more than just hiding from Michael and his demons.”

Castiel nodded, taking his hand away from his forehead. “I’ve asked all angels not to home in on Kate. Without that, Michael shouldn’t be able to track her. I’ve also suggested we’re heading to Mexico.”

“Thelma and Louise style,” Dean said, nodding.

“As long as we don’t end up driving over a cliff,” Cass muttered.

“I loved that movie,” Kate said.

“It didn’t suck,” Claire said.

It wasn’t the first time Sam and Dean had stayed at the Pines Motel, 2151 S Highway 65, Eudora, AR. And if they didn’t die it probably wouldn’t be the last.

Just stepping through the door in their room brought on the familiar smell: pine cleaner, bleach, a touch of urine, and very old air conditioner.

They would have given Jack the sofa, but there wasn’t one. Sam and Dean would share one of the sagging beds (no Magic Fingers). Jack would get the other, and Cass would do whatever Cass did when the rest of them were sleeping. Jody, Alex, Kate, and Claire were sharing in another room.

They’d barely managed the cash between them, but the place was, above all else, as cheap as it was off the map.

Castiel spent the night in a cheap chair next to its little round table, content to be watching over his family.

Seers were under attack. It wasn’t the first time, but it was the first time on this scale. Michael (or perhaps someone else) wanted no witnesses to his plans, which probably involved raiding the Empty.

Castiel realized he didn’t primarily care about that. No matter what reason Michael had for assassinating seers, they didn’t deserve it. Seers served Heaven. More than that, they deserved long lives. They deserved better than to be fodder in the everlasting battle between angels and demons.

We’ve served them poorly, Naomi,” Castiel thought.

We hardly have the resources to address that now,” she thought back, again surprising him with her ready answer, but not with her easy excuses.

Castiel allowed himself a moment to imagine what he had most wanted at one point: Gabriel in charge of Heaven, the angels under him (including Naomi) grateful for his power and for the security of Heaven.

It haunted him now, the vision of all those souls falling down on Earth. Like so many other things, it was ultimately his fault, and yet he had no regret over stopping the Apocalypse.

With effort, Castiel steered his thoughts back to something productive. Kate and the other seers were vulnerable because they had been used for millennia as Heaven’s magnifying glasses. Now the whole balance of Heaven, Earth, and Hell was gone, as was his own false belief that going to Heaven before they were able to enjoy a life well lived was some sort of reward.

So.

Castiel sighed. So, what?

So, seers needed to stop being fodder for demons.

At least Kate was safe because she was hidden, at least for the moment.

Castiel pressed his hand to his forehead. Was their next step as simple as a spell?

Or maybe a pink flamingo? More to the point, a pink plastic flamingo?

The next morning, the humans piled into Jody’s car as she took them to the nearest Cracker Barrel. They passed several Waffle Houses on the way, but those tables seated four. At Cracker Barrel, they shoved two tables together while the hostess fluttered about, and then sat down.

“We need to hide all the seers,” Castiel said after everyone had ordered their unhealthy meals, even Sam. “If it were just against angels and demons, the spell would be simple.”

“But it’s not impossible against an archangel?” Dean asked, getting straight to the point, as always.

“The spell I’m thinking of requires ingredients from several remote locations.” Cass sighed and shrugged. “Not long ago I would have been able to round them up in a few minutes. Now, I’m useless.”

“You’re not useless, Cass,” Sam scolded. “And these days humans do have access to international flight.”

“Better than that,” Claire said. “I’ve been making contacts all over the world.”

“What?” Dean said, scowling at her.

“Yeah, what? Hunters can’t go digital?” She smiled at Castiel. “Seriously, C-man. What are we talking about here?”

The waitress came by to plunk down coffees and iced teas.

“We’ll need three drops of the sap of a flame tree, a peltophorum.”

“Which is where?”

“Thika, it’s a town in Kiambu County, Kenya, near where the Thika and Chania Rivers meet.”

“Kenya. Got it,” Claire said, working her phone.

“Next?” Sam asked, smiling faintly.

“A handful of salt from the Uyuni Salt Flat in Bolivia.”

Claire nodded again, continuing to work her phone.

“Seven hairs from a Leo.”

Kate laughed, writing the spell down in her notebook. “They’re all yours.” She dragged a hand through her untidy brown hair a few times, counted out seven long ones, and passed them over.

Castiel nodded. “There is a final ingredient. I’ll procure that one.”

“It better not be angel grace,” Dean growled.

“No. It’s something I can get from Heaven.”

“Better not be a human soul.”

“Dean!” Cass looked betrayed.

Dean shook his head. “OK, you’re right. This is all messing with my head.”

“Drink some more coffee,” Sam ordered his brother, who made a show of looking chastised.

Kate watched Castiel smooth his feathers and hid a smile.

“And we’ll need a proper totem,” the angel said.

“I’ll take care of that,” Sam said with a grin.

The waitress brought food for everyone, including Cass, who knew Sam and Dean would first take his bacon, then his waffles. There was a chance Jack would try for a waffle as well, but Dean’s glower usually deterred him.

Alex put her phone down. “I’ve got my shifts covered for three days. After that, I have sick leave.”

“Jody?” Sam asked.

“It’s not the first time I’ve left the department in capable hands while I work with the FBI,” the sheriff said, then took a bite of her omelet with peppers.

“What can I do to help?” Kate asked, looking up from her notebook.

“Eat your breakfast, for starters,” Dean said, nodding at her untouched Reuben sandwich.

She made a face about twenty years younger than her age.

“I don’t care if it looks funny,” Dean said. “We know from previous experience the next days aren’t going to be easy on you. We need you at top form. Eat your food.”

The woman picked up the sandwich and took a bite.

“Try closing your eyes,” Sam said. “It tastes the same, right?”

Kate nodded and took his advice. The bite did seem to go down more easily than at first.

After both stealing one of Cass’ waffles and eating it, Sam stood up, nodding at the table. “I have a feeling what I’m looking for is going to be right here,” he said, and then headed back into the gift shop area at the front.

“Once we’ve gotten all the seers hidden,” Jody asked, “does that mean Michael won’t try to access the Empty, or that he’ll just go ahead and risk it?”

“I don’t know,” Cass said.

“Either way, we come out better,” Dean said.

“Any chance seers’ being able to see what’s going on could stop it?” Claire asked. “I mean, could the spell need to be invisible?”

“That isn’t usually a factor,” Castiel said, watching Jack spear his last waffle with pride. “But it might be that seeing it would allow us to act in such a way to stop it.”

“I’m starting to think we could use Rowena on this,” Dean said.

“I would advise against it.”

Dean raised his fork in that “what do you mean” way.

“Rowena has shown there’s little she won’t do to get her son back,” Castiel said. “Crowley is in the Empty, as far as we know. She might decide to join Michael’s team.”

Kate finished the first half of her sandwich, caught Dean’s eye, and started on the second.

A few minutes later, Sam sat down, smiled at them all smugly, and pulled something from a small plastic bag. Setting it on the table with flourish, he revealed a keychain with a miniature pink plastic flamingo.

Kate squeaked.

Later, once Cass had left them for Heaven and Jody was driving them due west, Claire made a triumphant noise at her phone.

“Got someone to get us that salt from Bolivia,” she told everyone. “But he needs a mailing address.”

“And we need a place to hole up,” Dean said.

“Lake Meredith” Sam said, nose in his phone.

“Come again?”

“We worked with that hunter, Tyrel Johnson. Remember him? He’s got an Airstream there. He says the key’s inside the big flower.”

Dean nodded, and the two of them started talking about supplies and warding, while Kate, finally feeling like her brain was coming back online, pulled up her phone and Googled Lake Meredith. It would give her something to do besides think about her life.

Castiel spent several minutes walking through the white halls of Heaven before he found an angel.

“Esare,” Castiel called to his brother, preparing himself for insult and hopefully not battle.

“Castiel,” Esare said, his blue eyes widening in open fear. “I thought you were on Earth.”

“I was.” Cass moved just slightly closer, keeping his hands visible. “And I’m going back there. I just need something from Heaven for a spell.

Esare paled and held a protective hand over his neck.

“Not that!” Cass snapped then rolled his eyes with a huff. “Since when am I some angel vampire around here?”

“You stole Theo’s grace!”

“Theo was torturing and killing angels for Malachi and was under orders to kill me!”

An angel blade slipped out of Esare’s gray suit sleeve, and Castiel backed up, hands in front of him. “I’m not here to hurt anyone, damn it!”

“Put the blade away, Esare,” Naomi ordered, standing just to their right.

“But, Naomi—”

“Now.”

Esare gulped and tucked his angel blade into his jacket.

Naomi turned to Castiel. “I assume you’re here because of Michael.”

“In a sense. I need some quartz. Considering how low Heaven is on angels, I’m sure there’s a great deal you’re not using.”

Her eyes narrowed. “You’re making a spell that needs celestial quartz?”

“I want to hide the seers from Michael and his monsters.”

“Which means hiding them from angels,” she said, crossing her arms.

“It’s to protect them from Michael.”

“Whom you may never defeat.”

“If Michael wins, he will gleefully watch Heaven fall. Are you suggesting angels will need seers then?”

“Seers have served Heaven since our Father created them.”

“Much to Heaven’s benefit, not that of the seers’.”

“So, you just get to decide what seers are now?” Naomi looked ready to pull her own blade, or more likely her drill.

“No, seers should decide what they are. If we help them live longer than a few days, they can create their own network, their own organization, and they can choose to contact us.”

“Castiel.”

“Naomi, do you really not care if Michael accesses the Empty? Once in, he can do more than recall whatever demons he wishes to. He can make sure we never retrieve a single member of the angelic host, and you know what that means when the last of us up here burn out.”

“You’re including yourself in that number?”

“You know quite well that if it comes to that, I’ll stand with all of you here. Now, I need that quartz.”

Naomi’s glare was furious, but, stiffly, she nodded.

Leaving Heaven with a pocketful of quartz, Castiel was soon at the Airstream, which Tyrel Harrison had half-hidden in the trees near the lake, despite the nearby sign forbidding trailers from the area.

The door opened as he walked up, and Dean stepped out.

“Talk a sec?” he asked as he closed the door behind him.

“Of course.” Castiel looked around. “Where is Sheriff Mills’ car?”

“She and Alex went for supplies. Sam’s inside. Jack and Claire are walking around.”

“What did you want to discuss?”

Dean looked guilty. “I just, I’m sorry about the human soul crack. It’s just, the idea that Heaven goes through seers like Kleenex is just—”

“I agree. In fact, after we do this spell, seers will become invisible to angels. They’ll be able to deal with Heaven more on their own terms after this.”

Dean smiled at him then, a look in his eyes Castiel couldn’t really place. He looked ready to speak, then just shook his head and clasped the angel on the shoulder.

“Sam’s got something, he thinks,” Dean said next, turning around to go in the trailer.

“Cass,” Sam said, sitting at a foldup table holding a laptop. “Looks like we might have someone local with that flame tree sap.”

“Right,” Dean said, looking over Sam’s shoulder. “It’s a pawn shop in Amarillo. I’ll be back before dark.”

“Dean,” Cass said, frowning.

“Cass, please. It’s a milk run. A few drops, you said?”

“Yes.”

“You both stay here, get everything ready for the spell once we get that Mexican salt.”

“Bolivian,” Cass said.

“Claire says her hunter contact is going to overnight it,” Sam said.

“Cool. Tomorrow we cast the spell, and Michael at least gets a setback.”

Dean slapped Cass on the back and went out to pick up some wheels.

Jody and Alex came back with bags of food, including little frozen pizzas, chips, and beer. Castiel found himself thinking wistfully of pork rinds, then calculated how much quartz he would need to the milligram. He wanted to return as much as he could. If he could ever help any angels return to Heaven, they would need it.

Castiel made himself remember standing in that dead, gray desert. The quartz that used to resonate with the great host of Heaven had shone more brightly than even angel could withstand. But more than the light, the music, the rhythmic thrum of God’s spheres that inspired all music that came after: it had been a quiet hum, a testament to the very end of days Castiel himself had caused by aligning himself with the Winchesters, by saying no, by rebelling and leading so many other angels to do the same.

Standing there, shoving mute quartz into his pocket for yet another Hail Mary attempt to prevent disaster, Castiel asked himself whether he were the boy with his finger in the dyke or the dyke itself, crumbling under the strain of his choices, fracturing from all his mistakes.

Standing there, he knew he would gladly give his life to repair the damage he had done, but to whom would he give it? Who would care?

Standing in a half-hidden Airstream, Castiel made himself come back to the present. The sun was going down. Where was Dean?

“He should be back by now,” he said, turning to Sam, who looked grim.

“Yes, he should.”

Hours later, they were all waiting, cell phones out, when the call came.

“It’s mine,” Cass said, sending a surprised look at Sam and avoiding Jack’s miserably anxious eyes. He put it on speaker. “Hello?”

You will bring the quartz to Cassidy’s Polo Club at 3 AM.

“I want to talk to Dean.”

Dean’s a little out of it now. But if you don’t do what we say, we’ll have things to send you that are out of him. I think we’ll start with all his teeth.”

“Michael won’t appreciate—”

Michael can go to back to whatever Heaven he likes and stay there. I’ve given you an hour, Castiel, or you start getting our personal Amazon packages.”

The line went dead. Castiel held his hand over the phone, where it glowed.

“Anything?” Sam asked.

“No, except, no, that doesn't make sense.”

“What?” Sam asked.

“Well, what would stop Michael from going to whatever Heaven he likes? He’s an archangel. Naomi couldn’t stop him. So he would have no reason to take anyone hostage for it.”

“Maybe it’s to throw us off track?”

“To what purpose?”

“Cassidy’s Polo Club,” Jack said. He frowned and rechecked his laptop. “It’s a gentleman’s club in Amarillo. That sounds nice.”

“That word doesn’t mean what you think it means,” Cass told him.

“The drive is forty minutes, less if we don’t let Jody drive,” Claire said, looking at her phone.

“Hey,” Jody said, but it was half-hearted at best. She was thinking what they were all thinking. Dean did the rescuing, not the hostaging. Whoever got the drop on him, they were smart and powerful.

“Claire, did Dean make it to the pawn shop?” Sam asked.

“I’ll check.” She punched a number on her phone. “Hey. Yes, I know what time it is. That’s why I called instead of texting. Look. Look, shut up, all right? Did Dean make it there?” She listened, then shook her head at the others.

“How long will the spell take?” Sam asked Cass.

“Once I have everything together? Fifteen minutes.”

Sam looked back to Claire, who was already giving him a thumbs up. “Yeah, we’ll be there in about a half-hour. And hey, watch yourself. Really? Every window and door? Cool.” She hung up while everyone went into action, gathering up what they’d brought and heading to Jody’s car.

“But, Sam, we don’t have the salt,” Cass said.

“That might not matter,” the hunter said as he walked out the door.

Castiel ended up being the one who put the key back inside the giant plastic yellow flower by the butane tank. Then he slipped into the second row of seats, and Jody floored it.

“Time to explain, Sam,” the sheriff said.

“We’ve been thinking it’s Michael, and just maybe it’s not, and if it isn’t, then there’s one thing that just doesn’t fit.”

“The hex bag,” Castiel said.

“Exactly.”

“Uh, exactly what, please?” Kate asked.

“Demons and witches. It’s never good when they get together.” Sam ran a hand up over his face. “I thought maybe Rowena, but she wouldn’t need to be so elaborate, not with her level of power and the Book of the Damned.”

“So you’re thinking it might be another witch, someone looking to up their game,” Cass said.

“Right. I mean, the Empty is basically Demons R Us, right? And I’m thinking a witch who could bring back whatever demon they like is going to be selective.”

“But what about the Shadow?” Jack asked. “I mean, she’s more powerful than Heaven.”

“Witches are human,” Castiel said. “They have nothing to fear from the Empty.”

“What are you guys talking about?” Sam asked.

“You remember. The celestial entity who guards the Empty.” Castiel looked at Kate. “The codex discusses recognizing witches.”

“Yes, they’re supposed to have a sort of purple aura.”

“Correct. You should be able to see it even if they’re not currently using magic.”

“God, my life has gotten weird.”

Back to Sam, Cass said, “You still haven’t explained about getting the salt.”

“Well, if there’s one thing we know about witches, it’s that they all suspect each other and are usually quite happy to work against one another.” Sam wiggled his phone, then punched in a number. “Hello? Max? It’s Sam Winchester.”

For the sake of the others, Sam explained Max was a witch and a son to the late hunter Asa Fox, Jody’s friend. When they’d last met, Max had lost his sister Alicia in a conflict with a witch who’d sold her soul to a demon. He’d been pretty much off the radar since then.

“And he’ll help us?” Alex asked.

“Max has seen better than anyone what damage happens when witches work with demons,” Sam said. “He lost his mother to that witch as well.”

“And Max was in the neighborhood?” Claire asked.

“That, or he’s using his magic to get here in time. I have no idea his level of power, but it was pretty impressive last time.”

And indeed, wearing jeans and a gray hoodie, Max was waiting for them at Cash America Pawn when Jody pulled up.

“I didn’t realize you were traveling with your roadies,” the young man said as the car emptied.

“Max,” Jody said as she came around the car before pulling him into a half-hug.

“Wow, haven’t seen so many hunters since the funeral,” Max said, the joke falling pretty flat.

“Max,” Sam said. “This is Castiel.”

“Oh, my God. Is that the angel?” Max said, eyes wide.

“Pleased to meet you,” Cass said, frowning when Kate stepped out of the car and instantly shrank back. But then, Max was her first witch.

“Hello?” Max asked.

“Uh, hey. I’m Kate. I’m, uh, a friend of Claire’s.”

“And I’m Claire.” She stepped forward with a smile that looked as plastic as Sam’s totem.

“And this is Jack,” Sam said.

“Pleased to meet you,” Jack said with a broad smile.

Max smiled back. “It’s good to meet you all. Wish circumstances were better.”

“It’s damn lucky you were close,” Sam said as he knocked on the door of the pawn shop.

“Well, I’ve been working on the spell you need to get the salt here,” Max said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.”

A tired-looking, unshaven face under a mop of dark hair appeared in the darkened window of the pawn shop door.

“Jordan?” Claire asked, stepping forward. “It’s us.”

“You didn’t tell me you were bringing everyone and their brother!” Jordan yelled back through the door before opening it. He was wearing plaid pajama pants and a rumpled Gay Pride T-shirt, but he’d gotten sneakers on his feet.

“It’s twenty minutes to 3,” Cass said as they walked inside the cluttered shop and over the devil’s trap painted on the floor.

“Right. Max, how long for the salt?”

He took a box from his pocket and set it on the counter. “Not long. I’ve already mixed desiccated wolf’s bane and Aries powder.”

“That’s rare stuff,” Sam said in appreciation.

“I know a guy. The transportation spell only needs two more ingredients.” Max looked around at the used instruments, old electronics, and glassware, then back to Jordan. “Do you have werewolf teeth and harpy wing?”

“Standard stock,” Jordan said before heading behind the counter. He picked up a small vial and handed it to Claire. “Flame tree sap.”

Claire handed it to Castiel.

“Thank you,” he said, then noticed Kate was wedging herself behind him.

“How many teeth, and how much wing?” Jordan asked Max.

“Cass, Jack, Jody, Claire, and I need to go. Can the rest of you stay here and help Max with the spell?” Sam asked.

“I’m not staying here with him,” Kate said, backing away.

“Kate?” Claire asked.

Max took a step back, arms spread. “I’m just here to help, lady.”

Kate looked around at everyone, her eyes a wild, then scowled at Max and pointed. “Your soul is weird! And you have Hell on your shoes!”

Max’ eyes narrowed as he smirked. “You’re a seer.”

“Why exactly were you close to here, Max?” Sam asked.

Claire moved slightly in front of Kate. “Where’s Dean?”

Max’ eyes glowed violet, and a wall of flame reached up to surround them, sending Jordan into a near panic that ended with him crouched behind Sam.

“Dean is fine, and he’ll stay fine as long as we all play nice,” Max said. “Now, give me the quartz.”

“That’s not going to happen,” Castiel said, angel blade in hand.

“I give the word, and Dean is dead. Give me the quartz.”

“Max, what the hell?” Sam asked. “Since when are you working with demons?”

“Not demons, just one demon, and as soon as she frees my soul, everything will be fine.”

“Your soul? Seriously, man?”

“You have no idea what I’ve been though.”

“I can see it! His soul is caged in iron.”

“Kate, you really might want to be quiet,” Jody warned as Max’ glowing eyes turned to her.

“Why have you been killing seers?” Kate demanded. “What do you care if we can see what you’re doing?”

“I don’t, but it does.”

“The Shadow?” Jack asked. “You’re working with the keeper of the Empty?”

“Look, all it wants is to go back to sleep, and it can’t because of him.” Max nodded at Cass. “So, in the meantime, it just wants assurance that no one else will be waking angels or demons after I’m done.”

“So, killing the seers, making those demons sacrifice themselves to dead gods? It was just to get me here with the quartz?” Cass asked.

“You or Naomi,” Max said, revealing how much he knew that he shouldn’t be able to know. “I figured you’d think it was Michael.”

“Why go through all this? Why didn’t the Shadow just get the quartz herself?” Jack asked.

“It couldn’t,” Castiel said. “Just as God had no power in the Empty, only God or an angel can access the quartz. Even the Darkness couldn’t have done it.”

“The Darkness,” Max scoffed. “God runs off with his sister on some joyride while Heaven dwindles down to nothing? Demons welcome the Empty because even they can’t stand the current state of Hell? Michael ready to destroy Earth? You should be thanking me!”

“Max?” a lovely young woman asked, stepping untouched through the flames. “What’s going on?”

“What the hell is that?” Kate shrieked.

 “I told you to wait in the car, Alicia.”

“But you’ve been gone for so long.”

 “Alicia? You were dead,” Sam said.

“What, the sister? That’s not a sister. That’s some sort of twig and twine thing with a shriveled-up heart in it!”

“What do you mean?” the Alicia-thing asked.

“Enough!” Max shouted, throwing his hands down. The air burst into flame and dust. When it cleared, everyone was covered in ash, and Max and his companion had disappeared.

“It’s ten minutes to three!” Castiel shouted as they were all trying stand up.

“Is that still a deadline?” Jody asked, coughing as she helped Alex stand up next to her.

“You want to test it?” Sam asked. “Cass, the quartz.”

“No.”

Everyone looked up from shucking ash off their arms and thighs.

“Castiel?” Jody asked.

“A witch of Max’ power cannot get hold of celestial quartz. I’m sorry.” Actually, Cass looked devastated. “Max could use it to rework the entire structure of Earth, Hell, and Heaven. That’s what he meant about thanking him.”

“Damn,” Claire said.

Sam pulled out his phone. “Aries powder, wolf’s bane, werewolf teeth, and harpy wing.”

“What are you doing?” Alex asked.

“I’m checking the archives.” He nodded. “Yes, it’s a real spell.” He passed his phone to Castiel. “Can you get the salt with this?

“Yes, but with this much chanting . . .” He scrolled down, then passed the phone back. “I’ll need thirty minutes, considering how close the salt has gotten in transit.”

Shaken but holding it together, Jordan set out a bowl and two opaque jars as Castiel carefully opened Max’ box.

“Jody, Jack, you’re with me.”

“I’m coming too,” Claire said, but Sam shook his head.

“Cass needs someone to watch his back in case Max comes back.”

She looked over at the angel as he began chanting, then nodded reluctantly.

“Sorry,” Kate said, stepping toward Sam. “I have to come with you.”

Sam looked ready to argue, but stopped when she shrugged at him.

“Just stay close to me,” Jody said.

“Not a problem,” she muttered, then made sure she was first to the door for a quick scan outside. “Looks OK.”

“Kate!” Castiel called, getting everyone’s attention. “I’ll need you when I’m ready for the spell to hide seers.”

“Understood.”

“Take shotgun,” Sam told her as he opened the door and hurried to Jody’s car. By the time the sheriff had the key in the ignition, everyone was inside with the doors locked. Kate was keeping her eyes out for supernatural threats. Considering the almost total lack of traffic, Jody felt no guilt running a few red lights. They were going to make it with seconds to spare.

“Any chance you’ll wait in the car?” Sam asked Kate as he passed Jack an angel blade from Jody’s stash.

“Sorry.”

“I could cuff you to the door,” Jody offered.

Kate’s face flushed red. “I think I would gnaw off my hand to get free.”

“Let’s skip that,” Sam said.

A minute later, they were skidding to a stop about twenty feet outside Cassidy’s Polo Club and its Closed for Business sign. Two men in suits, looking very much like on-duty Secret Service agents, stood outside the dark doors.

“Kate?”

She shot him a nauseated grimace. “Demons. Even uglier than that last one. And there’s something super weird about the building. It’s glowing with darkness, if that makes any sense. I don’t think we should go in there.”

“Right,” Sam said before they all left the car and approached the statue-like guards.

“That’s close enough,” the one on the left said. “Where’s the quartz?”

“Where’s Dean?” Sam asked.

“Inside.”

“Bring him out.”

“I said, he’s inside.”

“And I said bring him out.”

They all stared at each other (Kate hiding the fact that she desperately needed to pee), until the silent demon made a gesture, and the doors opened.

Dean shuffled out with two more demons at his side, shackled at the hands and feet, a leather gag in his mouth, dried blood crusted in his hair, and eyes completely vacant.

Sam murmured under the sounds of the chains, “Kate?”

“The chains are just chains, I think, but there’s something about the gag. I think Dean’s actually asleep.”

“Take the gag out!” Sam ordered.

“Not a chance, Winchester,” the same demon said. “Now, show us the quartz.”

A fifth demon emerged from the building, her eyes black. “The seer,” she hissed, walking toward Kate with a snake-like stare. “We’ll be taking her as well.”

Kate leaned over and vomited fiercely, reaching far enough to splatter a pair of black stilettos.

Moving instantly at the distraction, Sam whipped out an angel blade and shoved it into the female demon’s chest. Jack ran toward Dean and slammed into the smaller demon on his left even as Jody hurled her angel blade into the talkative demon’s face.

Sam jerked the blade out of the body and went after the demon closest to Dean, who promptly collapsed once it stopped touching him to square off.

As Kate went through another set of heaves, Sam managed to dodge two swings of the demon’s blade before swinging his own blade. The demon danced back, suddenly close to Kate, who stared up at him with open terror.

The demon froze for a moment, staring back at her, and without trying to figure out why, Sam ran him through the back with his angel blade.

Turning, Sam watched Jack and Jody finish off the last demon outside. He turned back, scooped up a dazed-looking Kate, helped Jody get Kate’s left arm over her shoulder, and then grabbed Dean’s limp body off the ground to run back to the car. By the time he’d thrown his brother into the second row of seats, Jody was behind the wheel, Jack was helping Kate sit up in the back, and they peeled away just as another pair of demons immerged from the defunct club.

“Is everyone OK?” Jody called back.

“I’ll never un-see that,” Kate moaned quietly.

“I’m good,” Sam said as he carefully pulled the gag out of Dean’s mouth. He wanted to throw it out the window, but considering they were speeding down the I40, he just threw it on the floorboard and went to work on the chains.

“We got a tail!” Jody called out, then swerved over at the last second to take the off-ramp. The moment they were clear of the I40, Sam threw the gag out on the spotty grass along with the first of the chains.

“Kate! Is Dean still under a spell?”

“Oh, God,” she whimpered.

“Kate!” Sam threw a hand over the back of his seat, grabbed her shoulder, and shook her. “I need you to look at Dean!”

Eyes glassy, she leaned over the seat and looked down. “He looks weird, and blurry like the car was.”

“Tracking spell.” Sam checked his watch. “Cass still needs five minutes for the salt spell. Let’s give him ten before we get Kate to Cass.”

“Got it,” Jody said, making another wild turn and almost going up on two wheels. Sam went after the lock on the next chain, checking Dean’s pockets for hex bags as he went.

Kate rubbed her eyes, then mustered up a smile as Jack handed her a bottle of water to rinse out her mouth. “Sorry,” she whispered.

“I think you’re doing great,” Jack said.

She shrugged and drank some more water. “Considering how golden your soul is, that means a lot. Thanks.”

Sam answered his phone, then called out. “Cass has the salt!”

“We’re four minutes out,” Jody called.

“Kate,” Sam said as he hung up, then got the last chain off Dean and chucked it out the window and hopefully into some bushes. “Get ready to jump out as soon as we come to a stop. Jack, Jody, we’ll follow and then guard the door.”

Kate and Jack switched sides (Kate still really having to pee) as Jody rounded a few more corners, floored it down SW 45th Ave., and screeched to a stop outside the club.

Kate just managed to keep her feet as she leapt out and sprinted for the door, which opened at her approach.

“Thanks,” she panted out to a worried-looking Alex before stopping in front of Castiel, whose eyes were glowing blue while he chanted over a blue blow of glowing ingredients and Claire stood behind him, knife out.

Mah hea ma of vee cee. Kate, I’m going to need you in five minutes.” The angel set the plastic flamingo keychain on the counter beside the bowl.

“Notaproblemistherealadiesroom?”

Jordan pointed, and Kate ran to the back even as a Dean-carrying Sam and the rest came through the door, weapons drawn.

“Where’s she going?” Sam demanded.

“Washroom,” Claire said.

“Ah.” Sam turned around to settle Dean into a rough-looking chair as Jordan locked the door and pulled the gate down. Jody went to the back to guard Kate, and everyone else flanked out as best they could to protect Dean and the spell caster.

Tee heo me es ta vea neh ho veh.”

Kate rushed back in with Jody at her back and stood, breathing heavily, on the other side of the bowl and counter from Castiel.

Mah hea ma of vee cee, gee ku. Mah hea ma of vee cee, oo nah!”

Castiel took Kate’s right hand in his left and placed it on the bowl. “Mah hea ma of vee cee, gee kye.” He reached into his right pocket and held up a small piece of quartz, glowing deep red. “Mah hea ma of vee cee, oo—”

Dean’s hand wrapped around Castiel’s right fist, holding the quartz inside.

“Dean!” Sam shouted, only to see his brother turn to him with purple-glowing eyes even as the front door blew open, gate and all.

“I’ll take that,” Max said, his “sister” walking beside him as he came through the ragged opening. He raised his hand, sending everyone holding a weapon to the floor.

“Dean, no!” Castiel said, turning to look into Dean’s glowing eyes. The enchanted hunter seemed almost to hesitate, then viciously head-butted the angel and swung Cass’ hand in his own toward the floor. The quartz dulled to a calm pink as it skittered across the floor.

Max stepped up, looking down at the innocuous-looking stone, then smiled in triumph, eyes glowing with a fiercer light than ever. “Do you have any idea what I can do with this?”

“Max, it’s not meant for you!” Castiel warned.

“Whatever, man,” Max said, then bent down and grabbed it.

The Alicia-thing screamed and burst into flame even as Max fell to his knees, purple light coming from his eyes, his mouth, his nose and ears, and then every pore of his skin. He might have been screaming as well, or it might have been the light itself that pierced the air with the sound of pure agony.

Castiel turned around, pulling Dean into an embrace that protected him from the dying magic inside his body.

And then it was over, quiet except for the buzzing in every human’s ears. Castiel gently passed Dean’s dazed, barely standing form over to his brother, and then he turned back to Kate, who was staring in horror at the burnt-out bodies on the floor. Her hands were still on the bowl, so he nodded before walking the steps over to what was left of Max’ hand and the small bit of rock inside.

He returned with the quartz, checked inside the bowl, then intoned, “Mah hea ma of vee cee, oo sa!” before throwing the small vibrant red-again rock into the bowl.

A contained red mushroom cloud rose up from the bowl, forcing everyone but Castiel and Kate to turn away from its brilliance. A thunderclap was followed by an air pressure change that popped ears and then by a smell of ozone and orange blossoms.

For seconds, everyone remained in place. Then Dean stepped unsteadily away from Sam, finding his feet.

“Did that do it?” Kate asked.

“Yes,” Castiel said. “I can see you only with my vessel’s eyes.”

“That’s good,” she said, and then sat on the floor behind the counter to put her head in her hands.

“Cass,” Dean said. “I’m sorry.”

“Max was a powerful witch, Dean. There was nothing you could have done.” Castiel looked around the room, making sure everyone was all right for the time being. “I have to return the rest of the quartz to Heaven.” He met Sam and Dean’s eyes for a moment, then walked out the torn-out opening of the pawn shop.

“Sorry about your place,” Sam told Jordan.

He shrugged. “Considering I’m pretty sure we just saved the world, I’m OK.”

“We’d love to hang around and help you do some repairs,” Dean said, though he was still clearly shaking it off. “But Kate’s at risk here.”

A whimper came from behind the counter.

“No, it’s fine. Go,” Jordan said. “I got a couple guys I can call.”

Jack went to go help Kate to her feet. Claire gave Jordan a hug and told him he was the best. Then it was back to Jody’s car, where Kate fell asleep almost instantly, and Dean quietly told the others how he knew what was going on around him but couldn’t do anything under the spell.

Then Jody drove them three hours west to Kim's Oasis Motel in Maxwell, New Mexico, where they all piled out and belly-flopped on a bed and slept like the dead.

Four days later, Jody and her girls were back in Sioux Falls, while Jack, his three fathers, and Kate were at the bunker, no demons in sight.

“Claire, we think it’s great idea,” Sam was saying into his phone. “No, don’t worry about that. If you can do anything at all with Bobby’s place, Jody will get off our backs about it.” Sam looked up to the bunker’s ceiling as he listened, then laughed. “Like it’s doing better now? No, seriously. Dean and I are thrilled.” Sam walked off into the kitchen.

Kate, who had spent over half the time since the pawn shop sleeping, was currently curled up on a chair at the library table with a cup of tea as she scribbled in her notebook with the Edinburgh Codex open at her elbow. It was more than a little odd to her that her entire former life was over now. But what was odder was that she didn’t really mind.

She still didn’t know what being a seer was supposed to be, and she knew she wasn’t joining any sort of sorority, considering the seer’s average life span, and all that. But she did feel—actually, she didn’t feel much at all yet. But she knew she needed to use the time Sam, Dean, and Cass had gotten her to work on an updated codex for the next poor seer who came along.

Sam walked in still holding his phone, though evidently with another person on the line. “OK,” he told Kate. “Daffaney and Pete can swing by your place in a couple days and then bring your stuff here.”

“You gave them my list already?” Kate asked.

Sam looked at her and nodded, and then said his goodbyes into the phone before he hung up. “Yeah, and they’ll be giving everything a check before bringing it here.”

“I can just meet them in town, look over all my stuff before I head out.”

“Good call,” Dean said, walking in with two open beers, one of which he passed to Sam. “Though you know you’re welcome to stay until you get back on your feet.

“My feet are fine, but thanks.” Kate smiled and went back to her notebook.

“What are you writing in that thing, anyway?” Dean asked.

“Well, no offense to Castiel and the thousands of incomplete and/or incorrect entries in the codex, but I think this codex needs an update. So I’ve been writing down what angel radio looks like, and Hell, and a soul under a demon’s possession, and about five thousand other things I’ve seen since I’ve been with you guys.”

“We do live interesting lives,” Dean said.

“That’s one way of putting it,” she remarked, then looked up to smile beatifically.

Sam and Dean turned to watch Castiel walk in from the kitchen, followed by Jack, who was wiping chocolate-milk off his chin.

“No offense taken,” Cass said. “When you’re ready for it, I’ll see your updated codex gets distributed to the other seers.” He smiled as he sat across from her at the table. “Speaking of whom, you are now one of eleven seers on Earth, with the two who have self-reported since the spell.”

“And Heaven’s OK with that?” Dean asked. “Maybe not knowing about some seers?”

“They have to be,” Cass said. “As far as I can tell, there’s no reversing the spell.”

“What about the totem?” Kate asked, thinking of the plastic pink flamingo in her pocket.

“It’s done its job. It’s a keepsake now.”

She smiled. “OK.”

“So, you’re leaving?” Jack asked, sounding disappointed.

She shrugged. “I need to be—I don’t know, I think I need to hole up for a while by myself. I appreciate it terribly, though.” She smiled at him, not quite as broadly as she did for Castiel, but quite nicely. “I have you guys’ contact info. If I see anything, I’ll let you know ASAP. In the meantime, thanks again for not letting a bunch of demons kill me.”

“Our pleasure,” Dean said, clinking the neck of his beer bottle to his brother’s. When he looked back at Kate, she was staring joyfully at the sight of angel in a trench coat, which struck him as a good choice.

The End