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It's the Stars That Lie

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--Day 63--

That's a lie, he discovers. And not even a good one.

Dean wakes up these days in stages, rising into consciousness like being dragged from the bottom of the ocean to a heavy, lethargic mass of low-grade aches that surrounds him, pinning him in place for what feels like forever before he finally gets used to it, remembers that this is how a body feels.

Everything else comes even more slowly: the give of the mattress beneath him; the ceiling stretched out above him; the walls of the room closing around him; but the longest part is the worst of all. Consciousness is an adventure every goddamn time: he pulls the pieces of himself together into some kind of coherent whole, making sense of the mess that's him and who he's supposed to be and what happened to him. While his name comes the fastest, the rest of it always takes time.

Dean, Chitaqua, brownies, fever, infection: he's got it. His ankle hurts--hairline fracture, Vera was right--but it's healing: his arm throbs dully and it's getting better, or so they say; he still can barely feel it.

Slitting his eyes open, the room's a dim, blurry mess around him, and he blinks slowly, waiting for focus like he waits for his name and the details of his life. Eventually, he identifies the sound of voices over the flat, monotonous beep of the heart monitor, and waits again for them to become more distinct, first resolving into two separate ones, and then, finally, making out the actual words and what they mean.

One's Cas, though; he always knows the sound of his voice, sometimes before he knows anything else.

"…reflexes last night," a woman is saying. "He's on the extreme high end of normal, which shouldn't surprise me, considering what happened when he was hallucinating."

Turning his head carefully on the pillow, he stares in the direction of the doorway, waiting--he's always waiting, always--for the slow spin to stop from the sudden movement. Eventually, the blurred suggestion of a doorway forms, Cas slumping against it and facing a woman--Vera, his mind supplies in relief--who's reading from a clipboard barely restraining a small mountain of paper.

"You're still surprised," Cas says, managing to give the impression the wall is the only thing holding him up because he just can't bother making the effort to do it for himself. Pushing his hair back from his eyes, he raised his eyebrows. "I assume you're following--"

"Yes, yes, I still disarm before coming in here, I’m not stupid." Now that's interesting; he wishes he could follow up, but experience confirms he learns a lot more when they think he's out. "I'd kill for a baseline on him, something. Darryl didn't leave any records, the fucker, so I'm working from observation and a lot of guessing. Even for a hunter…never mind." Faintly, he hears the sound of shuffling paper and squinting, he can see her skimming them with professional familiarity. "For someone on their deathbed a week ago, he's doing remarkably well, by which I mean hostile, uncooperative, and cranky as hell. Dean Winchester is definitely in the building."

Bullshit: he's a model goddamn patient.

"He's always perfectly pleasant with me," Cas says, crossing his arms and confirming exactly how wrong Vera is.

"You ever heard of 'divide and conquer'?" she asks, glancing up. "Learn it, watch it in action next time he wakes up."

"I am not familiar with that reference," Cas tries in his best 'human ways are strange to me' voice, which just might work with pretty much anyone who hasn't actually met him.

Case in point. "Like I'm going to fall for that." There's another rustle of paper before she sighs. "You know, if there were still medical journals, I'd be selling this to all of them. I don't even know anymore. Miracle is such a cliché, but…."

"You do realize that humanity survived plagues, infections, injuries, and all manner of viral infections before the advent of modern medicine?" Cas asks curiously. "There was a high mortality rate, granted, but survival of the fittest, or something like that, I think. Darwin was extremely annoying, much like Calvin, so I didn't pay close attention." He makes an irritated sound. "Is it a human characteristic to choose the most obnoxious possible person in any given era and name a major political, scientific, or religious movement after them? Why?"

There's a brief, baffled silence, and he finds himself fighting a grin at Vera's expression. "God, you're like this when you're clean?"

"Verily," Cas answers. "Have you actually read Origin of Species in its entirety? It's an excellent alternative to chemical sedatives, should we run out of them. I tested this: two chapters or less, I'm unconscious or desperately wishing I were. Even Valium doesn't have such consistent results."

He's not gonna laugh. He's not. No matter how much he wants to.

"Do I want to know what Calvin did to piss you off?" Vera asks, like she knows she's gonna regret it but can't stop herself. He knows the feeling.


Dean and Vera wince in unison at the edge in Cas's voice: time for a new subject.

"Right. So, uh…." He hears the sound of papers being shuffled in what sounds like desperation before Vera sighs in something suspiciously like relief. "So where were we….right. Short term memory still seems a little off, not a surprise, he's only been awake a week, so we just need to watch him. Long term, though--he's said a couple of things, especially when he's feverish…."

"That's normal, isn't it?" Cas interrupts.

"Yeah, I'm not worried," she assures him. "Some retrograde amnesia is common and usually fixes itself, given time. Even if it doesn't--if all he comes out with is some sketchiness in recent long term memory, that's better than the best a specialist probably would have predicted. There's something else…." She pauses, voice dropping. "I never knew he had a brother."

Dean swallows, mouth dry, as Cas says, "Vera."

"I'm not asking anything; it's his business and I'd never expect you to confirm or deny. Tell him--just tell him that nothing that happened during the fever goes any farther than here."

"I will," Cas says quietly.

She studies the clipboard again, flipping the sheets rapidly. "I'm not a neurologist, and my rotation in that department was short. Take as a given the spots probably won't get worse and there's good chance they'll get better. I'll send Alicia for some more texts, but this is in territory I'd need a medical library, a degree, and about a decade or so in the field to know enough about to guess. Mostly, it'll be a matter of him learning where the spots are and not freaking out about them. Could use a therapist, maybe--"

"Yes, I'm sure Dean would be happy to speak to a psychologist. Do you know where we can acquire one?"

Vera laughs then covers her mouth, looking guilty. "Let's not tempt Joe. For now, if you notice anything--I'd say don't draw attention to it, but Dean can and will be pissed if he notices and you pretend you don't, so whatever keeps him calm and focused on getting better. Right now, any stress could cause a relapse, and his body doesn't have the reserves to deal with it. There's no margin for error here."

"I don't think that'll be a problem," Cas says thoughtfully. "I'm sure he'll do everything he can to aid in his recovery."

She raises her eyebrows in polite disbelief. "Have you met him?"

"He's listening to us now." His eyes flicker to Dean with a hint of amusement, and Dean stares back, wondering how the hell he knew. Turning his attention back to Vera, Cas adds with painful earnestness, "I would have told you he'd awakened, but I didn't want to risk him trying to get up and follow us if we went out of his hearing range. That would also be stressful, correct? I certainly don't want to be responsible for slowing his progress."

Vera stares at Cas like she doesn't know he's like, world champion of the expressionless stare and there's no way she's gonna win this one.

"Dean," Cas says in the exact same voice, "do you recognize us?"

"No," he answers deliberately. "Mickey? Disneyland?"

"He's always been insane," Cas tells her. "You didn't notice before? How on earth could you miss it?"

Vera's eyes narrow before she jerks her head toward the door. "Yeah, I'm gonna take a nap on the couch. You got him until I wake up."

Cas just doesn't know when to quit. "If I need you--"

"If he's not in full arrest for at least a minute, I'll shoot you," she says over her shoulder. "Then I'll know it's serious. Later."

Cas doesn't bother hiding his smirk as he closes the door behind her, only pausing to grab a chair from near the bathroom door and pull it toward the bed before dropping into it with a sigh. Blinking at him, Dean wonders if it's possible he's literally in a whole new world again.

"Her aim?"

"Very good," Cas admits, reaching the short distance between them to touch Dean's forehead with a thoughtful expression before sitting back, hooking a knee over one threadbare arm, bare foot swinging idly. "Excellent: ninety-eight point six exactly. How are you feeling?"

"Shitty," he admits, wishing Cas would move a little closer. Talking is still an effort when his current maximum volume is 'above a whisper' and only that by sheer determination. Looking him over, Dean takes in the easy slump, the loose shoulders, and realizes he's never seen Cas relax without the aid of sex or drugs, and even then it wasn't like this. Even the constant signs of low-grade sleep deprivation that Dean's insistence on living life on a sane schedule only began to put in a dent in are almost gone. "Less than yesterday, though."

"Headache or nausea?"

He thinks about it; headaches are pretty much always, but though there's a faint pounding in the back of his head, it's nothing like the ones where the only time the lights are on is when Vera's examining him. "Not really."

"It's the seventh day since you woke up, and your intermittent fevers are now a full hour shorter in duration and have lessened in severity than they were then," Cas begins. "Today's first started after your morning examination following breakfast. It reached one hundred and three point six before it began to drop, and happily, you didn't threaten to exorcise anyone or require me to restrain you. A very pleasant change: please continue to refrain, if it wouldn't be too much of an imposition."

Dean bites his lip at Cas's very audible sigh as he slumps further into the chair: humans being sick are so annoying.

"Vera changed your IV and gave you something to lower your temperature and help you sleep. You woke briefly at noon and consumed your recommended amount of nutrition and suffered another examination in very poor spirits--or so Vera implied--before falling asleep again. This afternoon you exhibited two low-grade fevers lasting one hour and ten minutes and forty-five minutes, respectively, but they were not accompanied by hallucinations, for which we thank you, as it puts Vera in a terrible mood to be mistaken as a demon and seems to hold me responsible for reasons I have yet to understand."

He might, actually, remember something like that happening a few times.

"It's now five o'clock in the afternoon, you aren't running a temperature, and you seem relatively cognizant of your surroundings. Please don't correct me if any of this is untrue: it's pleasant to interact with you without being required to restrain you first."

Dean feels himself grinning at Cas's soliloquy, painfully grateful for the way he always starts off with day and time, breaking up the muted, timeless void between brief periods of consciousness into concrete landmarks of progress and events (and sarcasm, because Cas), whether he remembers them or not. The first three days after he woke up were the worst, a half-conscious nightmare of not quite remembering what happened and exhaustion, too feverish to be able to sleep for long but not quite enough to be entirely conscious. Every time, though, two things stayed the same: Vera and her professional confidence, and Cas and his calm certainty, and they made sense when nothing else did.

Concentrating, he tries to figure out how much of today he actually remembers, but it's a crapshoot at best. Vera checks his memory and reflexes every morning and evening, innocuous questions interspersed with explanations of what she's doing and why, but Dean's never been too tired not to feel a start of fear when he hears them, when he has to grope for answers and hope that they're right. That's her job, and he gets that, but he's glad Cas doesn't think it's supposed to be his, too.

That doesn't mean he ever forgets what Cas needs to hear.

"Dean Winchester," he says as clearly as he can. "Chitaqua. Kansas. End of the world."

Cas smiles at him, blue eyes lighting up, and seeing that is pretty much the highlight of his goddamn day. "It's not over yet."

Grinning back, Dean settles in for a little time being conscious and cognizant of his surroundings.

"You have two hours until your next exam and dinner, which will be broth but in a green cup instead of a blue one, along with whatever Vera feels would best serve your nutritional requirements. Are you thirsty?" Dean hesitates, eyeing the IV bag by the bed, then nods firmly. The sooner he can drink and eat regularly, the sooner he's off that goddamn bag, and his mouth tastes like shit anyway. Cas stands up, inclining his head toward the bathroom door. "I'm going to fill your glass. I'll be back in a moment."

He waits for Dean to nod again before picking up the glass and making his way to the open door of the bathroom. Cas isn't and has never been a talker, but all Dean's uncertain memories since the fever broke come with the sound of Cas's endless narration, sometimes tired, always sarcastic, and so effortless now that Dean thinks he must have gotten a lot of practice during those two weeks of fever. He rarely remembers the details, sometimes doesn't even understand the words Cas is using or what they mean between one sentence and the next, but hearing him somehow makes that okay.

Returning to the bed, Cas sets the glass on the bedside table and helps Dean sit up with the unthinking, effortless ease of post-angel strength and a lot of practice, arranging the pillows behind him for maximum comfort with minimal effort before settling Dean back against them.

"Small sips," he says seriously, holding up the glass. They're both good at this; Dean can manage not to make a wet mess, and Cas has some kind of freakish ability to tell exactly how much he can take. "You're responding exceptionally well to the antibiotics," he continues, timing each sip to Dean's strength. "Vera thinks that if you continue at your current rate of progress, you'll be able to begin solid foods within the next week, and some of it may not be pureed."

Dean raises his eyebrows in excited acknowledgement of the fact that's a huge milestone in his life and tries not to remember when cheeseburgers were a feature in plural.

"The cast on your ankle, provided you continue not to aggravate the injury by trying to walk--as you tended to do during the fever, much to our displeasure--should come off in four weeks," Cas says when they reach the halfway mark, sitting back as if he's not waiting to see if Dean's too tired to finish the glass in one go. "The wound on your right arm is showing great improvement as well. There's no further sign of inflammation or swelling, the flesh is beginning to close, and the danger of sepsis has passed entirely. Vera checked the sutures this morning and thinks they can be removed in two weeks if it continues to progress at the current rate."

Dean nods, fighting the urge to flex his hand against the bed; he can't tell if it's working anyway unless he looks, and too often, it just doesn't. That he might have actually lost his arm is something he doesn't want to think about too hard. "Will I be able to use my arm again?"

"Vera doesn't think you'll lose all mobility," Cas answers without hesitation. "There's no way to predict the extent of impairment until its fully healed, of course, but she thinks--"

"What do you think?" Cas frowns, starting to answer, but Dean cuts him off with a shake of his head. "You trained hunters, Cas. Don't tell me you don't know how to do an assessment."

Cas hesitates, then sets the glass down and braces a hand on the mattress before transferring himself to Dean's right side so smoothly he barely disturbs the mattress enough for it to do anything more than squeal a half-hearted protest. Settling cross-legged beside him, Cas picks up his arm, carefully stretching it across his lap where it lies like a hunk of meat. Turning his hand palm-up, Cas spreads out the fingers carefully, drawing a finger up the center of his palm; there's a distant tickling, but the only way Dean knows for sure is because he's watching it happen.

"There's nerve damage, as you already know," Cas says, voice coolly impersonal as he folds Dean's lifeless fingers into a fist before easing them open again. "The extent is uncertain, but there's no reason to believe you won't regain gross and some amount of fine motor control as well as sensitivity."

Dean swallows hard. Using a weapon takes more than 'some amount'.

"As soon as it's fully healed and the extent of the nerve damage discovered," Cas continues, "we'll begin exercising it regularly to regain full use. In the meantime, we'll concentrate on strengthening your left arm and hand to compensate for any weakness in your right."

Dean gives him a dark look. "I'm shit with my left."

"You won't be when I'm done with you."

"Cas…" Dean takes a deep breath, wondering how to explain it doesn't work that way. "If I can't use my right arm--"

"You will; the only question is what the limitations will be and at that time, we'll work on how to deal with them," Cas interrupts, getting his full attention. "If you can't believe that for yourself, then believe me. I trained hunters and I'm very good at it. I also know what can be taught to a human body and what can't, and this is one of the things that can."

Dean nods slowly; actually, Cas does know what a human body can learn, from the inside out. "Okay."

Setting his arm back down on the bed, Cas rests his chin in one hand, an unexpected smirk playing at the corners of his mouth, blue eyes dancing behind the fall of too-long bangs. "I'm looking forward to when you're well enough to begin. Consider it an expression of my gratitude for seventy-five sequential breakdowns and rebuilds of the entire arsenal present in the Impala four and a half years ago because I wasn't taking it seriously."

"That wasn't me," Dean protests, fighting down unexpected laughter. "Only seventy-five?"

Cas's smile takes on a predatory edge; it's not a bad look for him. "I'm going to enjoy this."

The couple of times Dean got to watch Cas and Amanda sparring were great for more than the sheer entertainment value. It was easy to see why half the camp sulked when he gave the order about staying off the training field after ten to give Cas and Amanda their private badass time. When the 'holy shit they're trying to kill each other for fun' wore off, though, he started actually thinking about what he was seeing and what it meant.

It's weird to see himself and even Sam in Cas, but satisfying, too, in a way that he still can't explain to himself. That Cas trained Amanda is obvious, and not simply because he sees those echoes in her as well. It's not just confidence that makes you willing to step on the field with someone stronger and faster than you can ever hope to be; that's trust written straight into the bone, as unthinking and automatic as she breathes, as effortless as it's always been between him and Sam.

He stares at the glass significantly, and Cas immediately reaches over him to retrieve it, giving him another drink. Time to take advantage of being awake enough to have an actual conversation. "So the camp?"

"Patrol reports that the lack of activity continues and requested permission to hunt down the brownie colony that attacked you to execute all that they find in your name." Dean almost spits out a mouthful of water, glaring at Cas suspiciously. "I agreed, of course, and it's understood their corpses will be presented to you in lieu of flowers, of which we have none."

Reaching up, he wipes his mouth weakly, careful of the IV line. "So it's not just you that's crazy. Is it the air here or something?"

"The brownies are fortunate I'm no longer an angel," Cas remarks idly, "or they and all their descendants would be cursed unto the end of time."

Eyes wide, he nods in acknowledgement that Cas is still the craziest of them all and indicates he wants another drink. "Keep going."

"I reinstituted written reports, so when you're better, you'll be able to review my tenure and evaluate if I'm performing my duties to your satisfaction." Cas gives him a narrow look as he holds up the glass. "I'd also like to thank you, in case I forgot earlier; this time, at least, I wasn't the last to know I was placed in charge of a militia. Finding out at the same time as everyone else when Vera announced it was an improvement, yes, but perhaps at some point, I could be told first? Just a suggestion."

"My memory these days," Dean says sadly. "Total blank spot: no idea how that happened. Sorry about that."

"Could you at least pretend that you care about being convincing?"

"I could," he allows, taking the last satisfying swallow. "I just forgot."

Cas rolls his eyes as he sets the empty glass back on the bedside table, and Dean braces himself for the inevitable moment he gets up and tells Dean it's time to rest because he's tired. He's always tired, but he's not always awake, and it's rare enough that he values every second he can get.

To his surprise, however, Cas reaches for the spare pillow, twisting lithely in place until he's stretched out beside Dean on his stomach, tucking the pillow under his chest. Dean blinks, distracted by the careless sprawl of Cas's body, loose and comfortable in repose, as settled in his skin as if he lives there; different, he thinks vaguely, but he can't quite make out how.

"Joseph and his team will be returning to the eastern checkpoint tomorrow to get the information we requested," Cas says, propping his chin on one hand and reaching up to absently push messy bangs from his eyes. "He was understandably reluctant to leave the camp during your fever, but as you've demonstrated this week that you can be trusted not to die unexpectedly in his absence, I felt comfortable giving him my personal assurance you would remain among the living until his return."

Alicia, Joe, and his team returned to the camp two days after the fever started and pretty much everything took a backseat to the drama that was Dean's attempt at dying in the stupidest way possible. Joe was placed in charge of helping Alicia get what they needed from the hospitals and (he's pretty sure he wasn't supposed to hear this part) may or may not have argued with terrifying sincerity about getting a doctor from the nearest non-infected state up until the fever finally broke. How, he's not sure (the word 'gunpoint' may or may not have been in there), but he's still on the fence between being touched and kind of horrified.

(Touched is winning, and what that says about him he'd prefer not to know. Gotta be the air.)

"Thanks," Dean says, failing to fight back a smile. "Glad I got your confidence."

Cas shrugs an eloquent 'my pleasure, of course'. "He thinks it should take five days to a week including travel time, as he'll also make a stop in Kansas City and bring back Melanie's report on our salvage efforts at the military outposts there as well as some of the priority items. If there's anything you want to request from the border guards, I can tell him before he leaves in the morning."

"Nothing I can think of right now." He remembers going over the original list with Joe before the first border run, but that sketchiness in long-term memory thing isn't entirely about who he isn't, and in some spots, details are sometimes pending. "Anything else?"

"I think that's all for now," Cas decides, tilting his head. "Everyone sends their support and hopes for your full recovery, of course."

"Of course," Dean says, straight faced.

"At least they're no longer camping outside the front door." He makes a face, sinking more deeply into the mattress. "Joseph led group prayer in five languages and several denominations at all hours of the day and night until you were confirmed to be recovering. The repetition was becoming annoying, so I taught him two in Enochian for the sake of variety. His accent was much improved by the tenth rendition."

Cas taught Joe how to pray in his native tongue: for some reason, that makes his eyes prickle. Blinking rapidly, he realizes in annoyance that it's getting harder to keep them open: worse, he knows Cas sees it. Before he can protest--sick or not, there's always time for being stupid--Cas helps him to lie back down. It's like a countdown; he's about five minutes from unconsciousness, and God, he's tired of that.

"Nothing else?" Dean asks before he can stop himself. He could sound more pathetic, but he can't quite see how.

Cas hesitates, giving him an uncertain look. "Someone was sneaking out of Kyle's cabin the last three mornings just before dawn."


"Amanda mentioned it when she was bringing us more canned broth two days ago," Cas answers with a frown. "Along with the number of cans of broth we have in inventory, which--"

"Are you…" Cas won't meet his eyes. "Dude. You're gossiping? With Amanda?"

"No--I don't know. I've never been interested in other people's questionable life choices or felt any particular need to remark upon it," he says slowly. "And yet today, when she came by to see if there was anything Vera needed, I asked her if there was any indication whose failure of standards led them to willingly engage in sex with Kyle and was extremely disappointed she didn't have an answer."

Cas looks so weirded out that Dean almost feels bad for him. Which is the only reason he asks, "Anything else?"

"Zoe is doing something requiring excessive amounts of incense at midnight every Thursday, which is making her roommates Christina and Penn nervous and also constantly smelling of patchouli, which I've been curious about for several days," Cas answers obediently. "And Kat and Andy--"

"Wait, which one is Andy?" Dean doesn't fool himself he can identify every person in the camp yet on sight, but--

"You probably haven't spoken to him directly," Cas assures him so confidently Dean decides to believe him. "Until I assigned Alicia to patrol and he became a member of her team, he worked with Zoe on ammunition manufacturing and weapons maintenance. Five feet ten inches, one hundred and fifty-two pounds, brown hair, brown eyes, bears a passing resemblance to the boy next door whose persistence--one might characterize it as 'stalking'--eventually leads him to gain the affections of a supermodel through what I assume is some unnamed form of Stockholm Syndrome that Hollywood believes is a valid basis for a successful long term relationship."

"You used to watch a lot of TV."

"The Lifetime Channel was extremely educational on the formation of primary human relationship bonds," Cas says wistfully, which may be the most terrifying statement ever uttered on planet earth. "In any case, since you became ill, he and Kat have been spending a great deal of time together--I assume for reassurance in the face of your pending mortality--but Amanda isn't sure if that's going anywhere now that you are recovering. It seems they do this a great deal and it always ends in friends without any benefits at all. Why I have no idea; orgasms cause a release of endorphins that improve the mood, decrease aggressive tendencies, promote emotional bonding, and can result in a substantial increase in general health altogether. The addictive properties generally assure continued--what?"

Dean stares at him wordlessly.

"Please tell me you didn't actually believe sex was merely for procreation," Cas says after a long, worried pause, expression slowly resolving into something like pity. "That could have been far more easily and consistently accomplished with simple parthenogenesis, or even the addition of estrous cycles to the human genotype--I think it's known as 'going into heat'--"

"Right, got lucky there," Dean interrupts, abruptly remembering he knows how to talk. "So back to the camp; what else did Amanda tell you?"

--Day 65--

Dean emerges from the depths of unconsciousness to the definition of life lived on what feels like a mattress-shaped frying pan, complete with a fucking ton of blankets piled on top for sweating to death purposes. Vaguely, he wonders if this is what it feels like to be a grilled cheese sandwich, assuming he isn't actually one.

His first efforts fail so spectacularly he almost wonders if he imagined them. Dropping his head back onto the pillow, he tries to remember a distant time--weeks ago, a lifetime, whatever--when this could be solved by the ability to kick the goddamn blankets off. "Jesus."

"He was right--God, that's annoying." Blinking a few times to adjust to the lack of light--survey says it's pretty goddamn late--he's not disappointed at all that it's Vera who appears in his line of sight, a suggestion of a smile on her face as she absently pulls her hair back, winding the twists into a loose ponytail as she starts toward the bathroom. "Hey Dean. Give me a minute, okay?"

When she comes back, she's carrying a full glass of water, a clean towel, and a wet cloth, setting the first them carefully on the bedside table. "How you feeling?"

Like shit, he wants to tell her, but that would take up valuable kicking the fucking blankets off energy he can't afford to waste on stating the goddamn obvious. Gritting his teeth against the shock of pain from his still-healing ankle and annoyance for his still fucking useless right arm, he readies himself for a third attempt when Vera belatedly realizes what the problem is, efficiently stripping off the blankets and piling them at the foot of the bed before sitting down beside him and reaching for the wet cloth.

"Headache or nausea?" she asks as she gently wipes his face with slow, careful movements before setting it aside. He shakes his head, trying not to moan in sheer relief at the wash of cool air over his sweaty body. "Light okay?"

When he nods, there's a click as she flips on the lamp on the bedside table, looking him over with sharp brown eyes before taking out a digital thermometer from the drawer and removing the cover.

"Open up," she says, and with a sigh, Dean obeys; the last time he argued, she listed all the alternate locations she could use in order of preference, which by now he knows isn't an idle threat, especially since Cas treats her suggestions like Holy Freaking Writ.

At the rapid beeping sound, she takes it back, nodding before looking him over, and her slightly satisfied look telling him he's apparently doing great for being life endingly exhausted and recently baking in his own sweat.

"Ninety-nine point one, good job," she tells him, setting it on the metal tray on the far side of the bedside table he's come to categorize as the place she and Cas put anything that needs to be sterilized before use. Which seems to be everything. "Sorry about that," she says, indicating the blankets as she gets his chart from the drawer and makes some notes. "You were getting pretty bad chills this evening. I brought you some water. You up for it?"

To his own surprise, he's able to almost sit up on his own with Vera bracing him, which ups her satisfied look by an order of magnitude as she steadies him, arranging the pillows and picking up the glass.


"Dean Winchester," he tells her, dragging out each syllable for maximum sarcastic impact. "2014. Palin. Kansas. Two plus two is four. It's day ten of how is this my life. Anything else, Nurse Ratched?"

"Someone's feeling their oats," she remarks, pausing to wait as he fumbles his left hand around the glass along with hers, just to prove he can. It's kind of awesome, even if he's pretty sure it's the glass holding up his hand and not the other way around. Still, no time like the present to work on that 'using his left' thing. "My grandmother used to say that, no idea. Think you can drink it all?"

Even if he wasn't thirsty, his mouth tastes like shit. "Oh yeah."

Vera watches him, not even pretending to be casual about it, pulling back halfway through and waiting for him to nod before giving him the rest. Another surprise: he's still wiped by the time he's done, but not as much, and he's getting closer to normal drinking sizes.

"Excellent," she says, getting her chart again and making another note before glancing up at his half-full IV. "Your fever spiked late this evening after dinner, nothing serious, and it looks like--no promises here--you can start solid food at the two week mark. We'll go slow, but the sooner we can get you eating regularly, the better." Warming the stethoscope in her hand, she slides it under his scrub top, which is all he wears these days. Easy in, easy out, easy to throw away, he guesses, though he wishes they came in more colors that 'seventies-era motel room yellow' and 'eye-searing teal'. Sometimes Cas mixes and matches them, which he assumes is his punishment for almost dying because even the blind couldn't think those go together without passive-aggressive hostility being a factor. "You know the drill--"

"Deep breathes," he agrees sourly, trying not to think about what she's hearing in there as she moves to his back, then asks him for regular breaths. It feels like forever, always does, and when she's done, it's another eternity while she updates his chart. When she's done, he glances at the heart monitor and then at her, raising an eyebrow. At some point, he's gonna have to deal with that. "Well?"

"At the two week mark, we'll take you off," she says, surprising him. "I'm only a practitioner nurse, and I know just enough to err on the side of overkill. But from what I can tell, there's no permanent damage."

"What?" That's--really not what he expected to hear. "You're sure?"

"As sure as I can be when I'm not a cardiologist and I'm doing this in a cabin instead of a hospital," she answers, draping the stethoscope around her neck. "Without a full medical history--and a doctor in front of my name--I can only guess and work from observation, but by now, I would have found any severe damage, and there's not even a murmur."

Dean nods slowly, still trying to take that in. "My heart stopped twice."

"I was there," she reminds him, cocking her head. "We'll take it slow, but honestly, I'm not too worried; I just want a full two weeks of stats before I take you off it. I wouldn't tell you if I wasn't sure."

"Right." Nodding, he clears his throat. "So--"

"That doesn't mean you'll be running laps and fighting demons anytime soon," she says, raising her eyebrows in reproof; she's terrifyingly good with that look. "Your reward for surviving is an immune system shot to hell and back, and right now, it can't handle a secondary infection. Lucky for you, I haven't left the cabin or interacted with anyone directly but Cas since the first week of the fever, and Cas is a dead zone for infection. Dies on contact, actually. I've been here too long; these days when I'm in a bad mood, I imagine demon-shaped bacteria screaming in despair as they die when his immune system stabs them to death or something." She shakes her head ruefully, a grin playing around the corners of her mouth. "Anyway, that doesn't mean we can afford not to be careful."

Like Cas, she looks better, too; the lines around her eyes are absent, mouth less thin, warming more easily in a smile, the ashen quality of her skin is almost gone, and he's pretty sure he's not imagining the bounce to her step. Cas can hide just about anything he doesn't want seen; Dean could be ten seconds from dying and Cas would still be able to calmly tell him he'll be fine without a single tell to the contrary. Vera's a pro and it shows, but after living with Cas, pretty much anyone else is a semi-open book, or at least a book in a human language he can actually eventually read. She thinks he's getting better, she's sure of it, sure enough that she's giving him openings to ask questions because she not only has answers, she likes the ones she'll be giving.

"No margin for error," he tells her, which makes her smile widen. "I remember."

"And your memory's fine so far," she agrees. "Short term is about what I'd expect considering how much you're sleeping and with the intermittent fevers, and your retention is fine. Your long term's got some spots, which you already know about, but don't be alarmed if you find more of them. Also, not a neurologist, but--"

"Not a lot I can do about it," Dean finishes for her. He won't say there's anything about this that's not shitty, but he's gotta admit the potential usefulness of 'because fever' when he doesn't remember something that Dean Winchester should. "Anything else?"

Tucking the chart back in the drawer, she glances at the door briefly. "Okay, Cas has me on the clock here, so I don't have a lot of time."

He doesn't brighten even a little at that. "It's late, tell him to get some sleep."

"Cas likes visual proof you aren't dying, and unlike you, I don't get to play the pathetic card when he's in a bad mood," she points out, ignoring his outraged expression. "Oh please, don't even. I've seen you doing it, and he falls for it every goddamn time."

He ignores that in the spirit of not wanting to piss off the person who controls his IV line. "What's going on?" Vera's expression flickers; oh, that's not a good sign. "What happened?"

She hesitates. "He's reading my medical texts."

For some reason, he suddenly feels a sense of foreboding. "Okay?"

"All of them. Cover to cover," she explains. "Let me give you some context: you know what the first thing a medical student does when they know just enough to understand the words they're reading?"

Dean shakes his head, upgrading to 'alarmed' on the strength of Vera's pitiless stare.

"This afternoon was three hours--three hours--of Cas methodically panicking in alphabetical order--alphabetical order--about all the possible complications that may or may not occur from a hypothetical secondary infection that you don't have, and a list of all the possible infections you could conceivably get in order of severity, communicability, potential to mutate unexpectedly, and mortality rate when I pointed out--twice--that there was no secondary infection."

"Oh God."

"I’m going to kill him," she says calmly. "I'm sure I'll be sorry later, but--"

"Alphabetical order, yeah."

"Cas doesn't get sick, and has infinite knowledge, a perfect memory, and nothing to do but take patrol reports and watch you sleep if you're not awake to keep him entertained," she continues with fragile composure. "He's inventing a whole new plane of hypochondria by proxy and sterilized the entire kitchen three times today, and Dean, even I don't know why. I hid my books, but it's a small cabin and that's not gonna last long, and I can't do anything about infinite knowledge."

"So he needs something to do, right." Vera nods firmly. "So what do I--"

"Thanks for asking," she answers brightly, and he realizes belatedly that he's been had. "Find him something to do, Dean."

"I'm really sick--"

"You ever want that catheter out?"

More than he wants to live, to be honest. "I'm on it."

"I thought you'd see it my way," she answers in satisfaction as she gets to his feet. "Be right back."

Dean's still hating her silently when Cas appears as she opens the door, glaring with unfocused hostility at something (her, the door, the wall, life). "Hey, I was just about to get you," she says, then looks at back at Dean with a smirk. "Give us a minute, okay?"

Half-closing the door makes it a little harder to hear, but he gets Vera saying, "He's fine, much better than earlier. How do you always know when he wakes up, anyway?"

"Punishment for my sins." When the door opens again, Cas stalks to the bed, staring down at Dean like he's not performing to expectations, and at this point, he suspects it's just to fuck with him. "You have to stop doing this."

"Yeah, that'll work," Vera says from the doorway, sounding amused. "Modern medicine's stumped, but your disapproval of biology should make it rethink the error of its ways any day now."

"Go away," Cas says as he reaches to pull the nearby chair closer and drops into it like standing is for losers, eyes flickering to the IV before they turn on Vera and narrow. "Is there something else?"

"Per our deal," she reminds him. "You get him when he's awake."

"You would make an exemplary Crossroad demon," Cas tells her sincerely. "Remind me to write you a letter of recommendation to Crowley if you decide on it as a future career."

Dean looks at Cas in fascination. "You make worse deals than I do."

"Have fun," Vera says with a cheerful wave, shutting the door behind her with relish and leaving Dean the sole beneficiary of Cas's glare. It would probably help if he could stop grinning, but he's not sure that's possible, especially when the glare's coming out from behind a mess of too-long bangs that he has to push out of the way every so often.

Cas manages to keep it up for a few moments longer before he finally gives up on anything resembling upright, slumping disconsolately into the overstuffed seat and swinging a leg over one arm of the chair, heel beating a lazy rhythm against the side before he decides to remember Dean's lying right in front of him.

"How are you feeling?" he asks, giving the impression that he hopes the answer is very bad and therefore worth dragging his ass all the way in here to observe it.

"Pretty good," Dean answers with all the good cheer he can summon; sure, he's exhausted, but Cas is a dick and that's what's important here. "You?"

"I could be suffering in Hell right now," he muses, and maybe Dean's reading 'regret' into his voice, but no, he's really not. "I assume that would be worse."

Dean reminds himself firmly not to laugh.

"Nothing new to report from earlier today. It's eleven-fifteen at night on the ninth day since your miraculous awakening. I'm being told you're getting better, but your propensity to abruptly become feverish without warning makes me doubt your commitment to returning to good health."

"I try to time it so it won't annoy you," Dean tells him solemnly. "Fucking biology: what can you do? I'll do better, pinky swear."

Cas glares at him, like he wants to tell Dean just what he can do with biology, in alphabetical order even.

"Everyone in the camp is--well, hungover or attempting to be, since apparently every night is now celebrate your slow and endless recovery night." Dean watches, fascinated, as Cas's heel hits the side of the chair just a hair too lightly to rip through the thin fabric. "I suppose I can't object if they continue to perform their duties to my satisfaction, such as they are."

Remembering what Vera told him, he almost sighs. Honestly, if he wasn't sleeping most of his days away, he would've seen that coming a mile away, because when Cas admitted to him that he didn't like idleness, the only surprise there was that Cas would think he'd be surprised.

"Mow the lawn."

Cas slow-blinks his certainty that Dean's insane. "What?"

"Cas, there are weeds taller than some of the cabins and we have cables for the generators going right through 'em. Hell, replace the cables while you're at it before we all die in a fire, literally." This is actually a really good idea. "Nothing's going on? Manual labor never hurt anyone. Keep 'em from getting soft."

Cas nods tentative agreement. "Because of the fire hazard."

"Yeah. Actually, no." He tries to think how to put this, considering both their frame of reference on what constitutes normal living conditions, but what do you know, he actually has some opinions about this. "Joe's roof is about to fall in, no lie, I have no idea why it hasn't yet, and his solution is for him and Kamal to sleep in the kitchen. Jane's cabin doesn't have running water anywhere but the toilet, so she goes to Amanda and Vera's to shower and get water for coffee, and Mark and Frank have water but don't have a working toilet, which is the weirdest symmetry ever. Half the cabins don't have a working stove and are doomed to the mess even when Zack's cooking and that's gotta be grounds for murder, since he can't cook. We have generators in the garage that just need some spare parts to get running, but instead, we're running the entire camp off six and live with the random lack of lights and hot water, and it's not like we don't have the fuel. Why?"

"Is that a trick question?" Cas asks warily.

"Until I got here you didn't have a working stove or fridge and seemed surprised that a kitchen wasn't for alcohol storage," Dean says. "Which makes sense; this is you and it's not like you know better. What's everyone else's excuse? Was it always like this?"

Cas looks at him blankly. "The flora was shorter, I think."

Yeah, he should have guessed. "Cas, I lived most of my life in motels that charged by the hour or my goddamn car, and I still know this is a shitty way to live."

"We had other priorities," Cas says, starting to look annoyed. "In case you've forgotten, we were trying--"

"--to save the world, I get that. It's just--" Dean gestures vaguely. "You go fight, come back, sleep, keep up your training, and that's it?"

"There's also sex…" Cas trails off, searching Dean's face intently. "It bothers you?"

"Yeah, it does," he admits, frustrated with his inability to explain. "Hell if I know why, though."

What he noticed as an invisible observer he filed away as someone else's (this Dean's, Cas's) responsibility and forgot, even after the responsibility technically became his. He'll cut himself a little slack before the fever--teaching Cas to do dishes and cook and clean up after himself while all the time hearing a phantom Sam laughing at him in his head was kind of distracting, not to mention learning about Chitaqua and everything--but now, he's got all the time he needs to think, and he's been doing just that.

"Even with the excess toilet paper we now possess," Cas says slowly, "I still have no desire to revisit the brief periods that latrines were necessary."

Dean blinks in horror. "You've really had to use latrines?"

"I didn't, but Bobby supervised the repairs on my cabin, as well as Dean's and several of the others, which noticeably, have never had problems with their running water or roofs." Cas's gaze flickers to Dean and away, but it's enough to catch a glimpse of--something. "Now that I think about it, this would be an excellent use of everyone's time."

Dean nods and feeling ambitious, starts to roll casually on his side before he remembers his ankle and manages to jolt it and his right arm badly enough to make him gasp, a cold sweat breaking across his forehead. Before he can make his frantic panting look less like panting, Cas is there, one hand on his shoulder and easing him back.

"Do you need--"

"I'm fine." He'd probably be more convincing if each word wasn't being ground out between clenched teeth, but what he'd need to take to deal with the pain would knock him out so fast he wouldn't know he was asleep until the next time he woke up, disoriented and exhausted and panicking as he struggled to remember not just what happened or where he is, but his own goddamn name.

No matter how Vera looked today, she checks his reflexes, his memory, listens to not just his answers, but the words he uses and how fast he can give them. His heart stopped at least twice during a fever that ran high enough that they got a goddamn industrial icemaker working when medication and cool baths failed to bring it down, and the fading remains of water stains on the floor show him exactly where the tub was located. He was ready today to hear what kind of restrictions he'd have to live with, because every goddamn day, all those tests, all those notes, Vera's rare expression of surprise when he catches her unaware, are all about the brain damage she was sure he would have when--if--he woke up.

No matter what they tell him, he can't help but wonder if next time he wakes up, he won't remember anything at all; next time that there's a fever, it won't drop back down; next time his heart stops, Vera won't be able to get it started. No one walks away from a fever like that almost untouched without a fucking miracle, and there aren't any of those anymore.

He can feel Cas looking at him, but he keeps his gaze stubbornly fixed on the ceiling, the wall, anywhere else, because Vera didn't need to tell him he's Cas's one and only hobby these days. Cas's powers of attention are epic, and when you're the entire focus of them, you know it. He won't even pretend that bothers him anymore, but it can be pretty goddamn inconvenient when it comes to hiding anything.

"Vera says not to tax your energy too much, as you have none," Cas says casually, still seated on the edge of the bed, and a quick glance confirms Cas is equally fascinated with the lack of view of the night outside the window. "I could review the latest reports with you, or simply summarize: nothing is happening. However, if you wish, I can read you Phil's, which now includes a rudimentary system of chapters and occasional digressions into his feelings during key portions of his patrol duties."

Dean forgets to avoid Cas's gaze, looking at him incredulously. "About how he wants you to bang him until he can't walk? Why aren't you getting this?"

"If he wanted to have sex, he would have asked," Cas answers with the maddening logic of someone who lost his virginity in a goddamn militia camp and has no idea people who think every day could be their last have streamlined the process of getting laid beyond all recognition. He's tried, but Cas genuinely doesn't comprehend a world in which people sometimes have to invest in drinks and small talk before anyone gets to cop a feel, much less any orgasm-related action. "Besides, this was more--something about the sun in glory cruelly stealing the moon for itself when it could have any star in the heavens. He seemed very bitter about it."

Okay, gotta give Cas that one. "Was he high?"

"No, I asked after the meeting," Cas assures him, still looking bewildered. "I verified the weather as well. It's been overcast with a thirty-five percent chance of rain all this week."

Dean makes a mental note to eventually read it for himself, when even the idea of reading doesn't make him want to die. "Better or worse than the hippo porn?"

"It's called 'journey to the…'--"

"He fucking hippos yet?" he asks curiously, surprised to realize he misses Cas's semi-regular updates on hippofucker's progress down the Nile, where apparently everyone is both drop dead gorgeous and offers sexual favors, and every hippo encounter is rife with a growing sense of uncomfortable sexual tension. He gets why Cas was getting nervous; that's a lot of weirdly charged hippo encounters for one person.

"I--no, not yet." He hesitates. "I've been distracted by other--events."

Dean almost dying of a fever, yeah, that'd be distracting. "Sorry?"

"It wasn't you," Cas corrects him with a shake of his head. "I stopped reading it before you became ill so I could start translating it into English. I meant to give it to you when I reached the point I stopped, but I was going to ask Kamal to review it first, as modern English isn't my native tongue."

"You're translating hippo porn for me?" What do you say to that, Dean thinks blankly; thank you just doesn't cut it, somehow.

"Yes," Cas confirms after a noticeable delay, and he doesn't think he's imagining that Cas is bracing himself for something, though what, he has no idea. "I thought--you seemed to find it interesting. You're under no obligation to read it, of course, I simply--had some free time and needed something to do to pass the…time."

"Can I see it?" Dean asks impulsively. "Uh, I mean--if you have it around somewhere."

Looking dubious, Cas nods and gets to his feet. "As you wish."

He watches Cas vanish out the door, coming back with one of the goddamn spiral notebooks and the original text, giving Dean another uncertain look before seating himself on the edge of the bed again. Setting aside the book, he opens the spiral, and Dean can just make out the neat lines of Cas's print, mark-outs and corrections everywhere in every color under the sun.

"It may not be--"

Dean pats the mattress on his other side hopefully. "Read it to me."


"Do you know who's fucking Kyle yet? Zoe's incense fetish going anywhere?" Cas shakes his head in what Dean's pretty sure is bitter regret. "Then yeah, I want to hear this. Start at the beginning and catch me up." It hits him suddenly; Cas stopped reading while he was translating. This could be the text equivalent of watching TV together or something, which is so Cas that Dean feels himself grinning. "What are you waiting for?"

Cas rolls his eyes, murmuring, "Yes, sir," under his breath before moving neatly over Dean's legs in one of those effortless shifts of balance that barely disturb the mattress (or Dean's arm, his ankle, the heart monitor, the IV, and other things currently attached to his body that he tries not to think about if he can help it). Reaching for a pillow, he stretches out beside him with a little sigh, folding the cover back and scanning the page before fixing Dean with a look just edging on uncertain. "I haven't had a chance to edit--"

"Anytime you're ready," Dean interrupts, settling himself to listen and ignoring Cas rolling his eyes.

"As you wish. 'Beyond the reaches of the Great and Holy swamp'--yes," he interrupts, looking up with a pained expression, "he didn't seem to know what to call the Delta, so he went with swamp, it's--execrable, there's no other word for it. 'Beyond the reaches of the Great and Holy Swamp, there dwelt a fair youth of beauty indescribable'--though he does try, for the next…" He scans the page, "…six, seven stanzas. 'Skin of well-burnished copper'--I think he meant bronze, but definitely metal, in any case. Lips of ruby--'a carbuncle gleaming like a blister swollen with new blood'--forgive me, I tried to make this sound sane. In retrospect, a pointless endeavor."

Dean tucks his left arm under his head and gives Cas an interested look. "Youth?"

"Should I have clarified?" Cas says, flashing him a grin. "Did you expect the appearance of a maiden for our Athenian hero to rescue?"

He grins: the dick. "Keep going."

--Day 66--

When Vera gives him his morning exam, Cas is suspiciously absent, which is definitely a first.

"He called a meeting of the whole camp," Vera tells him casually, stethoscope against his chest. Her eyebrows jump as she frowns down at his chest, which he assumes is in response to the sound of anticipation. "He said you had an idea to improve camp morale or something."

"Interesting." Dean glances out the window, wishing there was a view of the porch from here. "When?"

"They're gathering outside now. Lean forward," she adds impatiently, listening for a few pregnant moments before sitting back. "Okay, you're not dying yet. So--"

"You can watch from the door, right?"

"Yeah," she says suspiciously. "What's he doing, Dean?"

"Something new." Yawning, he settles back into bed to sleep the sleep of the righteous. "Go. You don't want to miss this."

--Day 67--

"--I don't think so," Cas says thoughtfully, dark head resting in one hand as he flips through the pages with a frown, tucking his hair impatiently behind his ear for the fifth time in the last hour. More than once, Dean's thought about introducing Cas to the concept of 'scissors' to solve the problem for good, but that would rob him of the entertainment value of Cas in a weird, eternal battle with his hair that he's never gonna win, and Dean's exactly bored enough for this to be fun.

Currently stretched out on his side in a faded green long-sleeve t-shirt and baggy jeans, relaxed and comfortable, Cas chews on his thumbnail while scanning the original poem in question, one bare foot tapping restlessly against the edge of the mattress. Frowning, he reaches for the pen that now accompanies him to every hippo-porn reading to make a correction, chewing contentedly on the cratered wasteland he's already made of the cap, tilts his head--and there we go, sixth time, and every goddamn time, it's a surprise.

Restless, as it turns out, was an understatement; if Cas isn't in motion, he desperately wants to be. Even when he's still (rare, and usually medically necessary), it's obviously under protest, a near-visible vibration growing beneath his skin. From Vera, he knows Amanda's regularly dragging him to the training field a couple of hours every day when Dean's sleeping (he assumes as part of the plan to keep Cas occupied and Vera sane: it's a small cabin to share with a sick guy and a living, breathing example of perpetual motion even when infinite knowledge isn't being used against her), but from what he can tell, all that does is take the edge off. Even Dean's constant exhaustion is cowed by all that aggressive, barely contained energy, like he's getting a contact hit from sheer proximity.

"Most humans wouldn't understand territoriality among the gods," Cas says finally, tipping his head sideways to stare at the page, fingers knotting in his hair absently before pushing it back again and rolling bonelessly onto his stomach, feet in the air and looking at Dean solemnly through a fringe of brown bangs. Fuck my life, he thinks in horror, that's adorable; it's gotta be the brain damage Vera's not finding. "He less than most. Or anyone, ever."

Dean's about to point out that no one would fight a hydra by calling on Pallas Athena--Jesus, in Egypt? She'd laugh her ass off--when Vera appears at the open door, giving them both a look that's supposed to be annoyed but is mostly--Dean doesn't want to say 'startled' but it's kind of hard when her eyes fix on Cas sprawled over the greater part of the bed and then at him.

Cas belatedly notices Dean's attention and pushes himself lazily upright, hooking an arm around his knees. "Yes?"

"Just time for Dean's medication," she answers as she crosses the room, handing him the glass and a few pills and thereby cleverly getting hold of the spiral. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she marks the page with one hand and flips backward, eyes widening. "Holy shit, no wonder Dean sounded like he was dying. What is this?"

"Hippo porn." Taking the glass from Cas, Dean demonstrates his new talent for holding it without assistance and finishing the water along with his pills without either dropping it or collapsing from sheer exhaustion. Cas checks his temperature at a touch--he hasn't asked how he does that, figuring the answer is going to be weird (because Cas) so why bother--and Dean watches his face for any developments. "I'm fine."

"You're flushed," Cas says calmly, ignoring Dean's groan. "Vera--"

"From laughing at hippofucker," he protests. "Pallas Athena. Falling in love with a guy who only gets it up for--"

"That," Cas interrupts, "has yet to proven. Though I admit, I can't think of a less horrific alternate explanation."

"Wait, this is what you were translating for Dean?" Vera asks in surprise, focusing on Dean again with an unreadable expression. Flipping it back to the original page, she reluctantly gives the spiral back to Cas and gets out her stethoscope, automatically sliding the end into her hand. "Can you sit up, Dean? Off the pillows."

"I can do that," Dean tells her confidently, doing just that as she slips the body-warm metal under his scrub top and against his chest. "I could do this two, three minutes. All on my own."

"You're an inspiration to us all. Deep breath for me." She nods distractedly, listening, then moves it to his back. "Again. Now just breathe regularly." It's so automatic that Dean's almost surprised when it's over, and she sits back, looping the stethoscope around her neck with a faint smile. "Solid food at two weeks. You know what that means?"

"That I get wet bread and not-pureed meat?"

"That you and the bathroom can officially become re-acquainted." She grins maliciously at his flush. "Yeah, I thought you might like and be totally embarrassed by that. And my work here is done."

He touches his chest automatically. "And the monitor?"

She nods, grin softening. "You're not out of the woods yet, but the trees are thinning a lot. I'm going to get some blood tonight, but if everything checks out--not that I can check much, because say it with me--I'm--"

"--the best doctor ever," Dean tells her honestly. Her grin wobbles. "Thanks."

"You're welcome." Blinking at him uncertainly, she starts to get up. "Uh, Dean, Cas, can I borrow hippo porn when you're done? It's great."

"Dude, stay for the next installment; you can catch up when I go to sleep," Dean says. "You gotta hear Cas read it. He hates the hero and the future boyfriend--I mean, everyone, really."

"I like Osiris," Cas answers defensively. "He's the only reasonable person in the entire poem."

"He wants to kill them both," Dean explains.

"I'm not sure of the origin anymore," Cas says, frowning at the open page disapprovingly. "There's a very strong medieval quality to the hero's journey--"

"Not a lot of hot virgin guys being pursued by horny failed college students on the Nile in medieval poetry," Dean answers easily. "Not that I studied the subject, but S--a friend would've told me when I made fun of what he took in college . It would've gotten my attention, trust me."

"If there was, I've have read it," Vera agrees, not seeming to notice his almost-slip. "I went to Texas State for my bachelor and Nursing at UT. If that was in the curriculum--anywhere, ever--I would have found it."

"There is that." Cas gives the spiral a dissatisfied look. "Of course you can borrow it--"

"But you won't get his ad-hoc lectures on the religious structure of the priesthood." He smirks at Cas. "Tell us about the nympho priests of the Great and Holy Swamp."

Cas's eyes narrow. "Egypt's priesthood included scholars, musicians, scribes, doctors, lawyers, and architects as part of their service to their gods. They didn't offer sexual favors to random disreputable youths with laughably terrible language skills, and if they had--they wouldn't, but they certainly wouldn't have been refused. That's insane."

"Here we go," Dean whispers, managing to get a surprised Vera by the sleeve and drag her against the bed before saying more loudly, "You played flute or something, right?"

"Three of my vessels were born to the caste and the last one was trained from early childhood as a musician-priest and scribe in her service to Egypt's gods. I played all of the sacred instruments and acted as scribe for three pharaohs when they were in the temple complexes of Memphis and Thebes as well as in Alexandria," Cas answers testily. "My services were requested by Cleopatra Philopator herself when she was anointed Pharaoh and god on earth by Ra, not that his presence was necessary to confirm her obvious divinity." He looks wistfully into the distance. "Ra's expression when he saw me--I suppose you had to be there."

Vera blinks slowly. "You knew Cleopatra? The Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile," Cas stills; first mistake: she was Pharaoh which is totally different because gods, "married Mark Antony--"

"Shut up," Dean hisses frantically far, far too late for it to matter. Cas's eyes widen, and he can't help but wonder if Cas sometimes judges him silently for knowing that goddamn Mark Antony speech.

"If you wish to speak of casting pearls before something that it would insult swine to be compared to, we can discuss that unspeakable union." From the corner of his eye, Dean sees Vera mentally adding Mark Antony to Calvin and Darwin on the list of people Cas apparently regrets not smiting the fuck out of when he had the chance.

"We don't," Dean promises sincerely. "Total dick, no lie, should have been drawn and quartered--"

"Beheaded, his body burned in holy fire, and his ashes scattered to avoid contaminating the earth."

"That." Satisfied, Cas returns his attention to the spiral and Dean whispers, "He has a thing for Cleopatra and one of Antony's earlier wives, it's--weird. And for fuck's sake, don't ever mention Brutus or some guy called Opimius." At Vera's quick, grateful nod, he turns his attention back to Cas. "So--"

"In any case, none of the caste of priests would lower themselves to consort with someone who called the Delta a swamp." He consults the page, then looks at Dean with exaggerated patience. "If I may continue?"

"Sit down," he murmurs to Vera, shifting enough to give her enough room on the bed to sit down. "We're about to get to how hippofucker kills a hydra with Athena's help due to her wanting his loser Athenian ass. Because that would totally happen."

"I'm glad that Athena didn't know about this," Cas murmurs, shaking his head. "'As he regretfully left the weeping priestling upon the swamp shores, lamenting the deathless call of his soul's respite'--I don't believe this, Eratosthenes should have killed him and butchered his putrid corpse before allowing him loose upon the world to commit this atrocity upon literature and good taste--'he braced himself for the least great of the great monsters….'" He stops, staring at the page in bewilderment. "What does that even mean?"