Castiel rubbed his eyes. He’d been staring at this code for hours, trying to figure out why the skill bar wasn’t working to activate skills the way it should. This wasn’t even his job – he was supposed to be working on the storyline, making sure everything flowed properly, that players weren’t ever left floundering with no guidance about what to do next. Balthazar had begged him to look at this for him, be a fresh set of eyes on it, and Castiel had agreed. He regretted that now, as he’d spent his entire day testing various things and making no progress on either Balthazar’s problem or his own work. He emailed Balthazar the logs and shut down his work laptop.
Just in time. He reached the front door just in time to watch a small herd of kids barrel through looking for hugs. Claire was the oldest at thirteen, Jack the youngest at six, with Ben and Emma in between. Krissy wasn’t theirs, but as her father worked with Castiel’s husbands, she was almost always part of the herd coming in. Recently, a girl going by Alex taken in by another colleague had started coming almost every day too. Today, they were joined by a boy Castiel didn’t know and a girl, Josephine, that he’d seen once or twice before. Those two didn’t come to him for a hug, although Josephine looked like she wanted to – especially after Krissy got one. “It’s okay if you want a hug, Josephine, I’m happy to give you one.”
Josephine hesitated, but decided to come get a hug. That got the strange boy to come up. “Can I have a hug too?”
“Sure.” Castiel wrapped him up. “Who are you?”
“Aidan. I’m friends with Josephine and Krissy.”
“His family was killed by the same guy mine was,” Josephine added. “Krissy’s dad’s looking for him – this time, he’s going to bring Dark Starling to justice one way or another.”
Not for the first time, Castiel wished he were still out in the field. What he was doing now was important and he knew it, but he missed fighting beside Sam and Dean. Helping to look after the orphans left behind after a villain’s attack didn’t stop the villains from creating new ones. “I’m so sorry, Aidan. You’re more than welcome to come hang out here after school until you’re ready to go home.”
“Thank you.” Aiden headed off with Josephine and Krissy, going straight for the PlayStation. Castiel shook his head fondly and headed to the kitchen. Lisa was in there supervising after-school snacking while preparing dinner, but Jack was sneaky and more than once managed to make off with some candy when Lisa’s attention was focused on something she was cooking.
Sure enough, Jack had his hand on the cabinet door when Castiel came in. All Castiel had to do was look at him, and Jack pulled his hand back, turning to Lisa. “I’m sorry.”
Lisa shook her head. “Are you really? Does that mean that your father won’t have to come in and check on you tomorrow, you’ll remember that you’re not allowed to have candy now if you want dessert tonight?”
“Yes, Mom.” Jack picked up some carrots from a vegetable tray Lisa had out on the kitchen table. “Bye! I’m gonna go play with Felix!”
Once Jack was out of the room, Lisa raised an eyebrow at Castiel. “You’re still going to come make sure, right?”
“Of course.” Castiel stepped aside as Ben came running in to grab an apple before running outside with a football. “Are you going to let him play at school?”
“I don’t know. Dean wants him to, but the head injuries… I’d rather he gets into something else, but I know he wants to play with his friends and all his friends are talking about how much they’re looking forward to being able to play football. At least with Jess, she knows how to take care of concussions and Ben listens to her.” Jess was a nurse, caring for the innocent bystanders of the supervillain attacks along with more mundane injuries. “I’m more worried about Emma.”
“Emma? They have a girls’ football team?” Castiel thanked his lucky stars Claire hadn’t wanted to play. Basketball was much safer, and she still got to let out her aggression.
Lisa shook her head. “She wants to play with the boys. Even Dean’s not sure about that one. We’ve got time, maybe when she hits middle school she’ll think differently, switch to some other sport.”
“We can hope.” Castiel wandered out after Ben and watched him and Emma throw the football around for a bit. Then he got curious why Claire and Alex weren’t out there with them like usual, at least for Claire, and went to find her.
Nothing could have prepared him for the scene in Claire’s bedroom, beginning with her being in there with her door wide open. Alex was sprawled out on the floor with her science textbook open and a diagram of a cell she was labeling. Claire was sitting on the bed with a neat stack of folders beside her, her laptop open in front of her, and a headset on while she spoke in halting Spanish. “Un momento. Mi padre,” she told whoever she was talking to, and took off her headset. “Father? What’s up?”
“Just wondering where you were, since you weren’t with Ben. What are you doing?”
Claire looked at her folders and computer. “My homework?”
“Okay, but why now instead of taking a break to let your brain breathe?” That had been Sam’s idea – after spending eight hours in school with teachers cramming information into their brains and working them hard, they needed some time to enjoy themselves. As long as homework was done by bedtime, they should be allowed to start whenever they wanted. Jack they were still working with to help him figure out how to estimate how long his homework would take, but the others had figured it out and adjusted to the new expectations of their current grade by January.
Claire and Alex exchanged a glance. That probably meant nothing good. “Sheriff Mills is letting Alex have a watch party for the premiere of The Bachelor tonight, and I figured if I wanted to have a chance at you letting me go, I’d have to have my homework done first.”
“I see.” As possibilities went, this was not a bad one. For Claire, this sort of thinking ahead was something they were trying to encourage, even. Still, Castiel had doubts. “Aside from Jody and Alex, who’s going to be there?”
Alex took that question. “Jody’s friend Donna is coming over, and then Patience and Kaia and this new girl Magda who just transferred to our school and everyone thinks is weird. No boys except for Owen, who will probably be hiding in his room the whole time, I promise.”
“And what time will it be over?”
Another glance between the girls. “About ten o’clock,” Claire admitted. And there was the part that Castiel was supposed to object to. Being out that late on a school night was not a good idea.
“I’ll think about it. How much longer will you be working on your Spanish?”
“About fifteen minutes,” Claire said after a quick glance at her computer.
“All right. I’ll be back in fifteen minutes with an answer.” On the one hand, it would be a good reward for taking initiative and planning ahead, and she wouldn’t have to listen to Dean or Hannah’s complaints about her watching horrible television. On the other hand… school night. He texted Hannah with the question of whether to let her go and waited.
Hannah replied quickly. As much as she hated the show, she recognized its importance to Claire and her friends and what that meant to middle school girls. Claire was ecstatic when he told her, promising that her homework would all be done before she and Alex left.
Hannah and Jess got home around 5:30. At 5:45, Lisa rang the dinner bell. By 6:30, everyone was fed, dishes rinsed and loaded into the dishwasher, Alex and Claire had taken off for Jody’s, Ben, Emma, and Jack went to do homework, and Krissy’s father had come to pick her, Aidan, and Josephine up. Castiel settled into a chair to watch the evening news, Hannah in his lap. Lisa sat on the floor in front of Jess, who started braiding her hair.
All four of them froze when the newscaster transitioned to a story about The Brothers. Castiel knew they’d gone after one of Morningstar’s top lieutenants, The Flylord, and that this mission was deeply personal for them. The Flylord had killed their mother when they were very young. He held his breath while the reporter talked about the history, only letting it out when he spotted Marvelous Moose and Black Paragon on the sidewalk.
“I don’t like the way Sam’s standing,” Jess said. “I know he and Dean have no concept of personal space, but usually, that’s because they’re just like that. This looks more like if he didn’t have Dean right there beside him, he wouldn’t be standing up straight.”
Now that Jess mentioned it, Castiel could see the way Sam was leaning harder on Dean than usual. “At least they’re both standing. Hopefully that means Flylord is in custody or dead.”
Flylord was not. He had escaped again, but Dean and Sam were both counting this as a win because they’d saved the family he was after – the whole family. Rosie Holt would not grow up without her mother. Lisa shook her head. “Guess that means Dean isn’t retiring after all. Dammit. I don’t know how much more of this I can take, watching the evening news, jumping every time the phone rings…”
Jess wrapped her arms around Lisa. “I know. It sucks.”
“Don’t think that way,” Hannah said. “You remember how terrified I was the night the call came in that the Crimson Witch had turned Castiel into her attack dog, and then again when Sam and Dean caught him and brought him home, how it got even worse when we found out that Metatron had destroyed his powers?” She swallowed hard, and Castiel held her tighter. “I can go to bed every night knowing that Castiel’s safe and that he’ll be there the next night too, but a part of him’s gone. When Sam and Dean give up their hero work, you’ll see what I mean.”
Jack was in bed by the time Sam and Dean got home. Sam wouldn’t let Jess check him out until he went up to see his son curled up sleeping peacefully. Claire was still at Alex’s, but Ben and Emma met Sam and Dean with enthusiastic hugs for Dean and careful hugs for Sam before running off to get ready for bed themselves.
Jess took Sam back to their room to get him patched up. Dean stayed out to explain to Castiel, Hannah, and Lisa what had happened. “Turns out Mom dying wasn’t Flylord’s plan at all. He was after Sammy for some reason, did something to him. Sam’s powers don’t work at all against him, and whatever Flylord did to him, he’s weak. Not sure it’s like what happened to you, Cas, but you might wanna see. You’d know better than any of us. God, I hope not, we’re already missing you so much. I can’t do this without my brother.”
Castiel and Lisa both wrapped their arms around Dean, holding him tight. Lisa patted Castiel’s elbow. “I’ve got Dean if you want to go check on Sam.”
“Thank you. Dean, I’m so sorry.” Castiel headed upstairs, where he found Jess and Sam cuddling. “May I join you?”
“Please do,” Jess said. “Physically, there’s nothing wrong with him that I can find, but his powers are completely blocked. I thought Hannah was full of it, but now…”
Castiel curled into Sam, leaning his head against his shoulder. “Sam, if your powers come back, I’ll be very glad, but if they don’t, you’ll get through this. You and Dean, you’re both strong enough to move on. I promise, it’s hard, but you will find a way to keep fighting.”
“Like going back, finishing school, getting that law degree and working with Hannah to make sure that when those bastards go to jail or a mental health facility they stay there until they’re actually rehabilitated instead of just faking it really well?” Hannah was a psychiatrist studying why villains became villains and how they could be broken of that mindset. “Or maybe becoming a teacher, working with kids to help them find better paths and not become villains in the first place.”
“Exactly. Or even just getting a normal job and making sure people have something other than heroes and villains to do. I know a lot of people from the Angels sneer at me for becoming a game developer instead of something ‘useful’, but any time I see one of our kids or their friends playing a game, they’re happy. They’re not thinking about their real problems. You’ll find what you want to do, and you’ll do it well, because that’s who you are.”
Jess kissed Sam and got up. “Powers or not, I love you, Sam. I’m gonna go talk to Hannah, see what advice she can give me for how to be here for you through this. Okay?”
“Make sure to get advice for how to take care of yourself too, Jess. Love you too.”