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Handle With Grace

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Prologue:
 
The apocalypse was...well...apocalyptic.  Zachariah and Raphael were instrumental in letting Lucifer out of his cage and pitting Michael against him.
 
The battle between them changed the face of the world.
 
Angels battling on Earth’s surface, full of self-righteousness and rage, had little to no care for the 9+ billion humans living on it.  Cities and countries fell like tinder to the flames of war the giant angels fought.  Mountains, flattened.  Oceans, upheaved.  Continents were torn, dismantled, sunk, and burned.  
 
In all the chaos, some creatures survived.  Their super strength and speed gave them better chance of survival than the humans.  But humanity survived as well.
 
God put a stop to the fight.  He closed heaven.  Closed Hell.  Cut his angels off, leaving them crippled and stranded in the mess they had made.
 
Hundreds of years later, the world, as it does, kept turning, bringing with it new growth and a new day.  The oceans are full of vile creatures, making crossing them extremely dangerous.  There is only one string of land formations that have survived.
 
At the top of the world is The Empty, where the angels finally killed each other into extinction.
 
Under The Empty is Haven, where the children of the Angels live, mostly cut off from humans.  They thrive in four grand cities, led by the most elite among them, calling them Mages.  There are seven Mages, nephilim of the Angels of old.  With each generation, their longevity and grace become weaker and weaker.
 
The Sunken Ties separates Haven from the large, wild country of Purgatory, where monsters and demons who were topside and survived God’s extinction of Hell and Purgatory had gathered to live how they saw fit.  Mostly wild, there are towns where demons have order, werewolves roam the great forests, and vampires move in packs like thugs.  Humans rarely live there.
 
Separated by ocean, several days by ship, is the small country known as Freeland, where humans and monsters have lived together in relative harmony.
 
Beneath Freeland, two days by ship, lies the country of Lawrence.  This is where humans have put down roots.  They weed out any monsters or demons that dare step foot on their land.  And Angels or their children are little more than children’s fairytales.
 
There are some smaller island countries, like Britland, who have their own governments but trade with the humans from Lawrence.
 
Because an agreement was met stay separated, the oceans are so difficult to cross, and creatures rarely trust ones that are not like themselves, the division between Haven, Purgatory, and Lawrence is so absolute that each country knows little about the other.  
 
They have lived their separate existences for hundreds of years.  But history has a way of repeating itself.  And when the children of angels start to meddle in the lives of humans and monsters, sides are taken, and lines are drawn anew.  
 
There is no one to step in and save them now.  They will have to save themselves.  
 
 
 

Chapter 1.  Tree of Thrones
 
 
Castiel strode across the wide courtyard, determination and frustration exuding from his very countenance.  He was getting tired of Gabriel summoning him.  But when a Mage called, no one made them wait.  Even a new Mage, such as himself.  He jogged up the wide granite steps that led to the east wing.  The wide, sweeping balustrades framed the stairs like flower petals.  
 
When he had arrived here at Gabriel’s palace in Tree of Thrones, Michael and Gabriel’s city, three months ago, he had marveled at every whimsical topiary and every massive column.  The Mage of Monday was flamboyant and playful in his architecture.  Now, the spires, bright colors, topiaries, fountains, columns, and statues were merely markers directing him where to go.
 
His attending abettors in their turquoise robes, jogged quickly to keep up with him in what seemed like an endless hallway.  He stopped at the double doors that stood open on the second-floor suite of music rooms.
 
The Hand at the door bowed to him quickly, stepped backwards and announced his presence.
 
“Did I not summon him?” Gabriel asked, crossly.
 
“Yes, Mage Gabriel,” the Hand bowed deeply.
 
“Then send him in!”
 
Castiel gave the Hand a more courteous nod as he entered the large room.  Gabriel was not much for traditional formalities, unlike Michael.  Though his Hands and abettors did try to keep a semblance of structure around him.
 
“What do you think, Cassie?”
 
Castiel stopped just inside the doorway, watching Gabriel as he levitated three giant ferns, making them dance and bob about the room.  Gabriel laughed as one began to hover just over Castiel’s abettor, Rachel’s, head.
 
“Gabriel,” Castiel said firmly, “what did you need to see me for?”  He stared at the Mage with barely masked impatience.
 
The ferns whizzed back to their baskets on the balcony as the amused look drained from Gabriel’s face.  “Leave us,” he said sharply. Every abettor in the room jumped and headed for the door.
 
Castiel swallowed hard.  He was summoned to Tree of Thrones, the most northern of the great cities, when he was given his new seat as Mage of the Thursday Legion.  His predecessor, Kassiel, had died of old age.  Castiel, one of the 10 abettors to Kassiel, had the most grace, making him the next in line for the job.  Castiel’s relatively young age and little experience meant nothing to his ascension.  He had the most grace out of anyone else in their Legion, making him rightful heir to the Mage seat.
 
All nephilim were born with their grace warded, an inherited curse from their angelic ancestors, to dampen the bright and shining creatures their ancestors were.  Wards, and the grace the wards sealed, varied slightly amongst them.  They all had the capability to use their grace to some degree.  But the most powerful were able to break their own wards and tap into the grace that made them so different from humans and monsters.  The seven great mages were able to break wards the others could not even sense.  For nephilim, the higher wards were not even present because the powers were simply no longer there.  Each generation grew weaker.  Castiel was still new to his higher grace powers and had come here seeking training and enlightenment in how to use them.  Every nephilim was encouraged to use their grace for growing food, completing menial labor, and taking care of their self and their property.  Castiel had a knack for growing food with abundance.  From an early age, he had done simple tasks such as lighting fires, preparing meals, cleaning, and such everyday tasks with simple ease.  He had single-handedly repopulated Haven with honeybees again. A Hand noted his ample grace when he was only fifteen years old.  Most nephilim only began showing sparks of grace power at age thirteen.  Castiel had been preparing full meals since he was ten.
 
His time as abettor to Kassiel had been full of work.  As one of the Mages’ elite, he was saddled with settling disputes and managing details in Tree of Knowledge, where his people lived.  Kassiel had never given Castiel any special direction, even though he was aged and knew Castiel was by far the abettor with the most grace.  Therefore, he was seeking what knowledge he could get from the other six mages.  But Gabriel had sought him out, extended an invitation for him to stay in Tree of Thrones to learn.  So far, he had only learned that Gabriel was a mystery and Michael was a wall.  Gabriel taught the oddest lessons.  Michael taught none.
 
“How are you enjoying Thrones, Castiel?” Gabriel asked flatly, pulling a music book off one of the shelves.  He opened it to a particular song with the wave of his hand.
 
Castiel had not come to Thrones to ‘enjoy himself’.  He knew very well why Gabriel had asked him to come.  Gabriel wanted him to move his entire Legion to Thrones, instead of where they were currently residing, at Tree of Knowledge.
 
“Thrones is a beautiful land.  But appearances are not what I am seeking.”
 
Gabriel sat down in front of the book, snapping his fingers.  Five instruments raised from their stands across the room and began playing a song.
 
Castiel watched, wondering if he could do such a thing.  He knew several songs.  Maybe he would try it later.  For now, his steady eyes moved back to Gabriel.
 
“Thrones is a beautiful land.”  Gabriel crossed his arms over his chest, looking up at Castiel as the song played on.  “I have lived here all my life and don’t plan on moving my Legion.”
 
“Of course,” Castiel nodded.  Michael and Gabriel’s Legions had been sharing this land for hundreds of years.  
 
“Castiel, your Legion is one of the most unpredictable.  The Legion of Thursday moved between the Trees many times over the last 600 years.”  Gabriel’s honey brown eyes settled on him like a weight.  “You know why I brought you here.”
 
Castiel nodded.  With his command, Castiel’s entire Legion would move to Tree of Thrones.  But he was more than hesitant to take such an action.
 
“Do you know this song?” Gabriel asked in a lighter tone, the volume increasing a bit as the instruments hovered in their corner, playing.
 
Castiel furrowed his brow in thought.  “I believe so.  It is about Haven.  About the Trees.”  He listened closely, waiting for the chorus again.  Yes, it was the Tree Maker song.  “It’s about growing The Great Trees in Haven.  When our ancestors left The Garden.”
 
“Mm,” Gabriel nodded.  “Good.”  The volume softened and Gabriel got to his feet, pacing across the room and back.  “During the Apocalypse, when the angels Michael and Lucifer destroyed the world, God shut the whole show down, and left.  The angels fell to Earth and lost their wings.  Their grace changed, making them more like humans.  They could die.  From nothing more than old age.  They lived for a couple hundred years in The Garden.  Punished forever to become more and more like humans, with every generation weaker than the one before.”
 
Castiel shifted his weight, frowning.  Why was Gabriel giving him a history lesson that every nephilim knew by the age of five?  
 
“Punished or not, the angels began to bicker and fight amongst themselves.  Michael took his Legion of followers north and grew The Tree of Thrones.  Michael’s followers, the Legion of Sunday now, has never left Thrones.  He was the boss,” Gabe grinned.  “The Eldest.  The one in charge.  But Lucifer could never follow him.  Not after living in the cage for centuries.  He was out and never going back, weakened or not.  So, he took his few followers and grew The Tree of Knowledge in the east.”
 
“Gabriel, I know Haven’s history,” Castiel said quietly, watching his pacing with growing frustration.
 
Gabriel stopped at a small table and took a handful of sweetbeans in his hand.  They were a Legion of Monday specialty, growing on the thick, furry sweetbean bushes all over the north and west fields of Haven.
 
“Just listen.  And for the love of a great mansion, sit down.”
 
Castiel bowed his head slightly.  He might be a Mage, but he was no match for the likes of Gabriel.
 
“So,” Gabriel went on, “Now Haven has The Garden, the Tree of Thrones, and the Tree of Knowledge.  And now old Gabriel is feeling pissy, because his brothers have lands of their own.  Lucifer is...well, evil.  Michael is...well, a dick.  So Gabriel takes his merry band of followers and grows the Tree of Life.  And there we have it.”
 
“And The Empty,” Castiel said quietly.
 
Gabriel turned, looking at him.  “No, not so fast.  For hundreds of years the angels ruled in the four Legions.  Thrones, Knowledge, The Garden, and Life.  Then Lucifer started the War of Trees.  All the great angels died fighting Lucifer way up north.  They either killed each other or died up there alone.  Either way, Haven was a ruin.  That’s how we got The Empty.  A great big frozen wasteland of death, thanks to Lucifer.”
 
“After Lucifer’s death, things calmed down.  But by then, the angels understood if they hadn’t died in battle, they were doing something new.”  His eyes met Castiel’s.  “Aging.  Dying.  So, what do you do when you find out your people are dying?!”
 
Castiel frowned, not sure what he was getting at.
 
“You breed!” Gabriel said.  “Angels can’t make babies.  But lo’ and behold, angels and humans can make babies!  Bam!  Here come all the nephilim.  A shade less angely every generation.”
 
He stopped his pacing, facing a large tapestry on the wall that held the seven symbols of the seven Legions.
 
“So, life went on and the poor little nephilim bastards try to carry on life like their parents did.  The strongest seven took their angel parent’s name and they split the nephilim again.”
 
Castiel looked at the tapestry, following Gabriel’s gaze.
 
“Michael’s Legion, Legion of Sunday,” he pointed at the sword.
“Gabriel’s Legion, Legion of Monday,” he pointed at the trumpet.
“Raphael’s Legion, Legion of Tuesday, who came from Lucifer,” he pointed at the fish.
“Uriel’s Legion, Legion of Wednesday, who came from Lucifer,” he pointed at the flames.
He glanced back at Castiel, “I’ll come back to you, Mr. Thursday.”
 
Castiel sighed.
 
“Raguel’s Legion, Legion of Friday, from Gabriel,” he pointed at the loaf of bread.
“And Barachiel Legion, Legion of Saturday, from Gabriel,” he pointed to the lightning bolt.
 
Gabriel stepped back, looking across the seven symbols again.  “So, everything is settling into place.  The whiners and worriers stay at The Garden, doing nothing but collect the occasional human for mating, and keeping the rest of the humans and all the monsters out.  Which they act like it’s a big deal, but we all know they’re just lazy bastards.”
 
Castiel frowned.
 
“Meanwhile, Legions of Sunday and Monday (Michael and Gabriel) join in Thrones to rule and keep law and basically act like bosses.  The Legions of Tuesday and Wednesday (Raphael and Uriel) stay in Knowledge, acting like dicks and being a nuisance.  And no one signed up under the absentee Lucifer anymore.  At least they were that smart.”
 
Castiel crossed his arms over his chest.
 
“Legions of Friday and Saturday (Raguel and Barachiel) stayed in Life.  They don’t do shit but party and act like every day is their last.  Idiots.”
 
Castiel sat up a fraction straighter as Gabriel moved over to the symbol of the arrow.  
 
“And then there was Thursday.  It’s always fucking Legion of Thursday.  All three cities have two Legions.  Everyone is settled, right?  No.  Fucking Thursday is all over the fucking map.”
 
Castiel stood up.  “You act as though I am the one who could not make up his mind.  Like I am the one who changed allegiances.  Those were my predecessors, Gabriel.”
 
“Look,” Gabriel said, walking back over to the table and snapping his fingers, all the instruments returning to their stands, “I know all of us nephilim, are all cheaper and cheaper copies of the angels that once disappointed God.  But this is who we are now.  We’re a bunch of half human, half angels with disgraced graces.  But Legion of Thursday, with all its temperance and patience, is constantly changing teams.”
 
Gabriel was angry.  But Castiel could not truly be sure why he was angry.  He furrowed his brow in confusion.  “I come from a long line of nephilim who seek the truth.  Leaders change.  Legion or land be damned.  It’s the people at the helm that make a Legion, Gabriel.  Not its past.  Not entirely, anyway.”
 
“Spoken like a true vagabond,” Gabriel sighed, standing toe to toe with him.
 
Gabriel and Michael, true sons of their namesakes, were the most powerful Mages on Earth.  Raphael, Uriel, Raguel, Barachiel, and he were descendants of their namesakes as well, but their powers were weaker.  But the counsel of seven was supposed to protect Haven from being at the mercy of something like Michael and Lucifer ever again.  There was no directive stating a Legion had to stay in a certain realm.  He knew history and law.
 
“If this is your argument to coax Legion of Thursday back to Thrones -”
 
“No,” Gabriel cut him off.  “This is just the backstory, Castiel, Mage of Thursday, Angel’s Son.”
 
Castiel balked at the full title.  He had only been Mage for a year.  His time as one of the ten abettors for Kassiel had been spent largely roaming the countryside, managing the bees, and handling crop issues.  While he knew law and history, politics was not a skill he possessed, nor desired.  He failed to understand how he had gotten to this station.  He had more grace than most.  And that seemed to be all that mattered to anyone in charge.
 
“Then why have you asked me here, to Thrones?” Castiel asked patiently.  Though Gabriel tried his patience, he knew him to be a good leader.  Kind to his people and fair when settling disputes.
 
Gabriel finally tore his eyes away, walking back to the music book, flipping a few pages to a new song.  “Did you know Kassiel very well?” He asked quietly.
 
Castiel glanced around the room.  “Not well.  I know his predecessor moved the Legion of Thursday from here to Knowledge 158 years ago.”
 
“And?” Gabriel asked.
 
“And they have a lot of questions,” Castiel said quietly.
 
“Of course they do,” Gabriel grinned.  “They’re broody Thursdays.”
 
Castiel frowned.  “It sounds as though the only Legions you have any respect for are yours and Michael’s.”
 
“Ah, you wound me, brother Mage.  That isn’t true at all.  However, you have to know that you are captain of a landless crew.”  His stare was intense.  Intense enough that he could see the spark of grace brewing in his eyes in a golden glow.  The light shifted, dulling to his own certain stare with a blink.
 
Castiel licked his dry lips and looked at the tapestry.  “I have a lot to learn, Gabriel.  And that is why I came when you called.  I thought you could teach me.”  He turned back to the man he had so hoped he could call brother and mean it.  “But I can see your intentions are quite steeped in judgment and resentment for men of the past.  I am not Kassiel.  And I am not your lap dog either.”
 
Gabriel searched his eyes.  He grinned slowly, making the hair on the back of Castiel’s neck rise.  “I think I might just like you, Cassie.”
 
“My Legion is not for sale.”
 
“I can see that.”
 
Castiel sighed.  “I’ll leave in the morning.”
 
Gabriel stepped back, finally, turning to go back to his book of music.  He flipped to a page with a wave and snapped.  A piano began to play an upbeat melody.  “And who will teach you the final Mage powers?  Raphael?  Uriel?”
 
Both Mages were powerful with certain things.  Being his allies, living in the same city, he had already gone to them for help.  Raphael had healing powers that were far superior to anyone Castiel had met or heard of.  His people were the only ones capable of cleaning fish from the cursed oceans.  Uriel could control fire with ease.  Truth be told, he had sought them out immediately upon gaining his seat.  And he had mastered flame quite easily.  He had not taken to large and furious displays like Uriel, but he was familiar now with the power of flame and how to both summon and suppress it.
 
Raphael had proven stingier with his grace.  He had great healing capabilities.  But he used it like a tool to wield over his people.  He gave Castiel some scrolls about healing, but they were practically useless.  
 
He had learned more in the Stacks with the guidance of Metatron.  The Stacks was the world’s largest library.  While Metatron had taught him how to use his grace to speed read and write, Castiel found the process daunting.  So, when Gabriel called, Castiel had come with high hopes.
 
Hiding his aspirations from Gabriel seemed pointless.  He let his shoulders droop and sat heavily in the chair.  “I’ve learned all I can from them already.”
 
“Really?” Gabriel quirked a grin.  He lifted a hand, setting the long periwinkle drapes afire.
 
Castiel jumped up, eyes wide with shock as the curtains on all eight large windows were suddenly on fire.
 
He lifted his hands, summoning the oxygen from the air around the flames.  The flames died instantly.  “Gabriel!”
 
Gabriel rolled with laughter.  “Your face!  That was hilarious!”
 
“Gabriel!  This isn’t funny!”
 
“Uuuhhh,” Gabriel sighed, grinning at Castiel.  “That was quite enlightening.”
 
“How!” Castiel demanded, sick of Gabriel and his tricky words and games.
 
“One, your fire powers are impressive.  Two, you care for others before yourself.  Three, and this is a big one, you have no fear of yelling at me.”  Gabriel gave him an impressed look.  “Me.”
 
Castiel blushed.  “I’m sorry.  It’s just that...I want to be a good Mage.  But...you are not taking me seriously.”
 
“Oh, little brother,” Gabriel grinned.  “I’m taking you very seriously.”
 
Chills ran down Castiel’s arms, nonetheless he huffed.  “I arrived here three MONTHS ago.  I left my Legion.  I left half my abettors in charge.  My own people barely know me!  I have the wrath of Uriel and Raphael to return to.  And for what?  You summon me to play games and listen to music!  You throw lavish parties and use your grace for the most frivolous things when you could be helping other nephilim!  Or humans!”
 
Gabriel watched him with a growing excitement.  He snapped his fingers and Castiel felt something inside him release.  He blinked and tried with all his might to figure out if Gabriel was angry, amused, playing a trick on him, or just what exactly was happening.
 
“What did you do to me?” Castiel gasped, putting a hand to his chest.
 
“Did it hurt?” Gabe asked with an excited grin.
 
Castiel swallowed.  “No.”
 
“Good.  This might.”  He snapped again.
 
A hot, searing pain split two gaping holes into his back.  Castiel dropped onto his knees, crying out in pain.
 
The doors at the end of the room burst open, four of Castiel’s abettors rushing in.
 
Gabriel waved a hand, all the abettors were sucked out of the room in a whoosh, the doors slamming closed again.
 
Castiel gasped and screamed again as something huge rippled under his skin and pulled through the holes in his back.  “GABRIEL!  PLEASE!”
 
The granite floor under him vibrated violently and Castiel thought surely he would throw up or pass out.  His entire back felt ripped open.  There was a strange blue light to everything, and hot lightning zapped through his body in random places, making him jerk and twitch.  He gasped and panted and huddled face down on the floor with his knees pulled up to his chest.
 
Gabriel was killing him.
 
He planted one hand on the floor, seething with anger and pain.  He looked up at Gabriel.
 
“Whoa there, flyboy.”
 
Castiel raised his other hand, opening his palm in an automatic response.  He could feel power flowing through him like never before.
 
“Hey!” Gabriel yelled, raising a hand.
 
A white-blue light, brighter than the noonday sun, shot out of his palm, caught by Gabriel’s own grace, power shooting from his own palm.  The streams locked and both men flew backwards in a blow so hard they left holes in the fine plaster walls they slammed into.
 
Castiel gasped.  His vision was back to normal, but his head was ringing.  He tried to get to his knees.  Gabriel was already on his feet, both hands out in a protective shield.  
 
“Holy shit!”  Gabriel laughed, coming across the room carefully.
 
“Stop,” Castiel panted.  “Please.”
 
Castiel got himself into a crouched sitting position.  His back felt completely exposed.  And something strange and large pulled inside him, making him wince and gasp for air.
 
“Whoa there,” Gabriel whispered, coming to him slowly.
 
“What did you do to me?” Castiel cried, tears running down his cheeks hotly.  He teetered to the side and Gabriel steadied him, crouching down in front of him.
 
Castiel looked up.  Gabriel looked...happy.
 
“I broke two of your wards,” Gabriel whispered.
 
“I - I still have...wards?”
 
“Yeah.  Well, you only have a few now.  But that was the worst one, I promise.”
 
“But...” Castiel looked out to the side, seeing a long, mass of black draped over his shoulder.  It ran all the way over to the wall.  He jerked, seeing it move and feeling something very strange pull inside him.
 
Gabriel clamped his hands on both his shoulders, steadying him.
 
Gabriel ran his thumbs over Castiel’s cheeks, wiping the tears away.  “Castiel,” Gabe whispered reverently.  “I gave you your wings.”
 
Castiel gasped, standing, Gabriel standing with him.  He stumbled back a step, turning to find the source of the giant wings draped over his shoulders.  They arched high and he gasped at the pain inside his body.
 
“Here, let me -” Gabriel touched two fingers to Castiel’s forehead.  A surge of warm relief flooded his body.  The skin on his back crawled with an almost ticklish sensation, followed by a burst of cool relief.  The smell of Frankincense filled his nostrils and the pain was gone.
 
Castiel looked at Gabriel in utter shock.  “What...I...I don’t understand!”
 
“Look,” Gabriel grinned.  He waved a hand, turning the long wall in front of him into a huge mirror.
 
Castiel’s jaw dropped as he saw himself.  He stood taller as Gabriel stepped back.  Inky black wings stretched out from behind him.  He flexed the strange new muscles in his back and sides and watched in awe as the wings lifted.  Blue light crept into his vision again and he could see his own eyes glow.  His wings arched up.  He blinked a few times, seeing the light fade back to his normal eyes.  “This is...impossible.  It’s a trick.”
 
“No trick,” Gabriel said seriously.  “When nephilim are born, they’re born with the wards God left on the angels.  Or at least the ones that have passed down weakly.  You have all the good ones.  But lots of them can be broken.  Some you break on your own.  Others, like wings, are only for Mages with great power.”
 
The words sunk in as Castiel stared at the gently moving wings in the mirror.  “Why don’t we all have them?”
 
“Most don’t have them anymore.  If you make it to the rank of Mage, then we can unbreak your wards to see if there is any power to them.  Looks like you got plenty of juice.  And besides, it maintains control.  If anyone could break their wards, we’d have problems like our ancestors did.  Only a trusted few can handle so much power.”
 
Castiel turned to Gabriel with confusion.  “I thought you didn’t even like me, let alone trust me.”
 
“I’ve been studying you, Cassie.  Those weren’t just games and parties.  I was watching you to see who you truly are.”
 
Castiel thought back to all the games and situations that had come up since he had arrived here.  There was a LOT more to Gabriel than the partier and trickster he had thought him to be.
 
“I have big plans for you, Castiel, Mage of Thursday, Angel’s Son.”
 
Castiel swallowed hard.  He looked back at his reflection.  “Can I...fly?  Like a bird?”
 
“No,” Gabriel grinned.  “Not like a bird.  It’s more like...you picture where you want to be and then you send yourself there.”
 
Castiel thought about this, flexing his wings.  They weren’t solid.  He reached up to touch one, but his hand went through it, to his own shoulder.
 
“We’ll never have wings like the angels did,” Gabriel said softly.  “Those were taken forever.  But you can send yourself places.”
 
“It felt like they were inside me.  Under my skin, in my body.  They...pulled out of me.”
 
“You’re a true nephilim, Castiel.  Much more angel than human.  Your grace is strong.  Your powers will be...massive.”
 
“Do all the Mages have wings?” He asked, turning to marvel at the sleek, black feathers.
 
“Michael.  Me.  And now you.”
 
Castiel’s gaze snapped back to Gabriel.  “But...I’m not as powerful as you!”
 
Gabriel laughed.  “No.  But you’re a damn lot closer than anyone has been in a long time.”
 
“What does this mean?  How do I fly?  Or...go?  How do I use them?”
 
“Do you trust me?” Gabriel asked, no sign of joking or ill-intent on his handsome face.
 
“I do,” Castiel whispered back.
 
Gabriel held his hand out.  Castiel stared at it dumbly for a moment and then took it with a firm grip.
 
“I want you to think about staying with me.  Envision it in your mind.”
 
Castiel nodded.  “Alright.”
 
Gabriel closed his eyes, dropping his chin a fraction.  Huge black wings appeared out of nowhere, flexing out and back as Gabriel took a deep breath.  He opened his eyes, pinning Castiel’s.  “Stay with me.”
 
Castiel nodded.  He heard a loud flutter, focused on Gabriel’s face, and gripped his hand tightly.
 
A pulling sensation from the center of his belly yanked him back.  Before he could catch his breath, his feet hit ground and he stumbled forward.
 
They were outside, atop a large, grassy hill overlooking Tree of Thrones.
 
“How?” He looked around in puzzled shock.  “That was incredible!”
 
Gabriel grinned triumphantly.  “Magic!  Grace!  Whatever you want to call it.  But don’t even think about trying to use them on your own.  You are nowhere near ready.”
 
“Okay!  I won’t try anything.  Promise.”
 
The wind lifted his hair and the pair stretched their wings.  Castiel could feel the wind blow through his hair, but nothing touched his wings.  He grinned at the stretch and flapped them as hard as he could.
 
“They’re in another plane.  They’ll never be ours again.  But we can use the power of them to get to certain places.”
 
“Only certain places?” Castiel asked, all curiosity as he experimentally moved them.
 
“I gave them to you, so you can get anywhere in Tree of Thrones.  Your Legion is tied to Tree of Knowledge, so they should work there too.”
 
“Nowhere else in Haven?”
 
Gabriel shook his head.
 
“Can I go see humans or monsters?”
 
Gabriel lifted a brow in surprise.  “What for?”
 
“To see them!  To see the world!”
 
Gabriel laughed.  “I knew you were something special!”
 
“I’m a Mage!” Castiel laughed, feeling freer than he had ever felt in his life.
 
“That, you are, Cassie!”  He shook his head.  “You can’t go to Purgatory.  It’s warded from shore to shore.  But no one wants to go there anyway.”
 
“I might,” Castiel said excitedly.
 
“Why?”
 
“To meet vampires.  Or witches.  Or werewolves.  They’re...interesting.”
 
“You’re such a Thursday,” Gabriel groaned.  “No.  No Purgatory.  But you might be able to meet some humans.  There are a few places in Freeland and Lawrence that you can fly to.”
 
Castiel’s face lit up.  Gabriel laughed, slapping his wing into Castiel’s, who staggered back in shock as his wings felt the touch.
 
“Same plane,” Gabriel winked, swatting him again lightly.
 
Castiel watched in amazement as he reached one wing gently toward Gabriel’s, sliding his feathers along the crest.  Gabriel grinned and shivered a little.
 
Curling his wing at the tip, he brushed along the underside until their wings parted.
 
Gabriel bit his lip, watching Castiel closely.  “That feels...good.”
 
Castiel met his gaze as Gabriel repeated the movement, sliding along the crest of one wing and brushing along the underside.  Castiel shivered at the touch.  It felt intimate when he touched the underside of his feathers.
 
“I never did that before,” Gabriel said curiously.  “Michael isn’t very touchy.”
 
Castiel cleared his throat, calming the rush of sensations triggered by the touch.  
 
Gabriel stepped back, lifting his wings away.  “Try them out, but don’t fly yet.”
 
They ran and flapped their wings and moved them as they wished.  Finally, Gabriel returned them to the music room.
 
Castiel sat in a chair, feeling like he was a whole new person.  
 
“Now you need to learn how to put them away,” Gabe laughed.  “Watch.”
 
Castiel watched Gabriel as he took a steadying breath.  His massive black wings disappeared.  He opened his eyes, grinning.  “Your turn.”
 
Castiel got to his feet and flapped gently, stepping back.  “Will it hurt next time?”
 
“Nope.”
 
Castiel nodded.  He frowned hard, his brow furrowed tight.  He felt a surge of power, his wings spreading sharply.  His eyes popped open and he laughed short.
 
“Just like starting a fire versus putting one out.  Wings out, wings in.”
 
Castiel nodded again, licking his lips, and closing his eyes.  He drew in a steady breath, pulling the grace back inside.  It took three tries before the wings were gone.  But he could still feel them there, their presence.  He grinned.  “They feel like a shield.”
 
“Huh,” Gabriel grinned.  “They are a shield.  Against Mage power.  But not against swords or knives.”
 
Castiel nodded.  He glanced around the music room.  Paintings hung askew.  Plants had fallen.  Instruments lay on the floor.  “It looks like an earthquake happened here.”
 
“Oh, you quaked the earth, Cassie.  I’d say they felt that all over Thrones.”
 
Castiel waved a hand, righting the instruments, plants, and paintings.  Gabriel snapped and the mirror was gone.
 
“Is that bad?  That all of Thrones may have felt the earth quake?”
 
“I’d say it was pretty fucking impressive.”
 
“But...will others know?  Am I supposed to keep it a secret?”
 
“No way.  They’re your wings.  Some might get jealous.  Some might feel threatened.  But...you can show them to whoever you want.”
 
Castiel pressed his lips together in thought.  “Can we keep it between us?  Just for now?”
 
“Absolutely.  Why do you think I locked us in here?”
 
“Well, I was pretty sure you were trying to kill me,” Castiel grinned.
 
Gabriel grinned mischievously.  “You want to learn how to channel your grace?  I’m going to teach you.  Get some sleep, Cassie.  ‘Cause I am not holding back on you.”
 
Castiel laughed nervously.  “Thank you, Gabriel.”  
 
“So, can you fix the curtains you burned?”  Gabriel asked with a smirk.
 
Castiel looked down the line of two-story windows.  The curtains were all charred and mangled around the edges.  “You set them on fire.”
 
Gabriel leaned against the table.  “Can you fix them?”
 
Castiel looked at them again.  He focused on the threading of the fabric.  They knit back together.  Char fell to the floor and he discarded that with a wave.  They looked as though they were sewn in strange, jagged edges.  “I can repair what is there.  But I cannot fabricate what pieces of fabric have burned.”
 
Gabe nodded.  “Fair enough.”  He snapped and the curtains returned to their former glory.  “See you tomorrow, Castiel.”
 
Castiel stared at them in wonder.  “Will I be able to do that?”
 
Gabe nodded.  “With some training.”
 
Castiel headed toward the doors.  He stopped, turning back to his new mentor.   “What was the first ward you broke?  The one that didn’t hurt?”
 
Gabriel grinned.  “Your mating ward.”
 
Castiel blushed.  “Oh.  Right.  Uh...thank you.”
 
“Well, don’t go knocking anyone up just yet.”
 
Castiel blushed harder, pulling the door open.  All five of his attending abettors and all ten of Gabriel’s stood at the doors with worried looks.
 
Castiel glanced around at their expectant faces. “Everything is fine.  We were...training.”
 
The abettors all nodded, a few of Gabriel’s slipping inside the room to attend to him.  He walked out of the east wing and into the cooling evening.  Rachel caught up to him, along with Hannah.  They were his closest abettors, and the ones he trusted the most, besides his half-brother Samandriel, who was left in Tree of Knowledge to fill in for his absence. He trusted his little brother more than anyone in the world.
 
“Training began?” Rachel asked, always right down to business.
 
“Yes.  It seems Gabriel has finally decided to work with me.”
 
“That’s wonderful,” she smiled.  “It sounded...dangerous.”
 
Castiel thought back on the wings bursting through his back with a wince.  “I believe it will be very trying.”
 
“I’ll update the others at home,” she nodded solemnly.  “I was beginning to think we were going to leave here empty handed.  With all the parties and...well, this place seems as loose with their morals as Tree of Life.”
 
“It does appear that way,” Castiel nodded.  “What have you learned since our arrival here?”
 
She huffed an unamused laugh.  “Very little.  Michael is as pretentious as his reputation.  Legion of Sunday’s people are an unfriendly lot.  Legion of Monday’s people are...friendly.  Some of them overly so.”
 
Castiel grinned.  “I would have to agree with that assessment.  But I do believe Gabriel can teach me a lot.”
 
She stopped at the entrance to the hall where her room was located.  “Do you need anything else this evening?”
 
Castiel shook his head.  Rachel had been quite friendly since his rise to Mage.  He suspected she had feelings for him, other than purely for support.  “No, I’m rather tired.  I’ll be going to bed now.”
 
She nodded, heading down the hall.  He continued down the main hall to his own corridor.  She had to know their pairing was completely inappropriate.  Mages could only mate with humans.  Besides that, she was not his type.
 
He went straight to his quarters, requesting a tub filled with water for bathing.  Gabriel’s mansion had a large public bath, but he was not interested in using such a public place.  Two men carried in a large copper bathing tub, sitting it in front of the fire.  Three women came in carrying buckets of water.  He sent them away once the tub was mostly full, refusing anyone to attend him with his nightly rituals.  
 
He took off his tan coat, hanging it on the peg on his door.  He removed his boots, black breaches, and white tunic.  He stepped into the tub, sliding down into the warm water.  He closed his eyes as he thought of what had happened today.
 
He had wings.  He could ‘fly’.  He was going to be a powerful Mage.  He washed slowly, daydreaming about the things that he might be able to do.  He wanted to be able to heal.  He hoped Gabriel could teach him that.  He wanted to help his Legion.  His land.  Haven.  He thought about what laid beyond Haven.
 
South of The Garden was a strait of land that almost connected to Purgatory.  Monsters inhabited the entire country from shore to shore.  Below Purgatory was Freeland.  A large island inhabited by humans and monsters.  Another two-day voyage by boat, below Freeland, was Lawrence.  Where the humans lived.  He wanted to meet some.
 
Not just humans selected by the Collectors that worked in The Garden.  Wild ones living their own lives in Lawrence.  Or on the island of Britland.  Nephilim never interacted with them, unless they were Collectors, finding suitable mates for nephilim.  And of course, the mating.
 
He was a full Mage now.  Released by Gabriel.  One of his duties as Mage was to take a mate.  Children of Mages had a chance of carrying higher amounts of grace within them.  He was a son of Kassiel.  He did not know his father any better than most of his other siblings or other nephilim within Legion of Thursday.  In Tree of Knowledge, they raised children in holds so they were all equally trained and raised.  In The Garden and in Thrones, they raised children with their own families.  It seemed much less organized.  But it also seemed more appealing.  His mate would have to be human.  Two angels could not make a baby.  And he already knew he wanted to choose his own, not allowing the seven Mages to vote on it.
 
Lost in thought, the water had quickly become tepid.  He focused on the water in the tub, thinking about heating it.  He gasped, almost scalding himself by accidentally warming it too much.  He scrambled out of the tub, waving the entire thing away.  He dried off and crawled into bed.  He had so much to learn.  He wanted his skills to be so much better.
 
Tomorrow would be a brand-new day.  With his brand-new self.  
 
 
 
 
*************************************
 
 
 
Castiel met with Gabriel the following morning.  He was having a lavish breakfast out on the veranda.  As Castiel walked to the east side of Gabriel’s mansion, where he typically was found, he looked at the sharp edges of the mountains in the distance.  He could go there if he wanted to.  The thought stirred his wings.
 
“Castiel!” Gabriel called when he stepped onto the flat stones of the veranda.  “Eat up, Mage of Thursday.  We have lots to do today!”
 
Castiel nodded.  He chose a handful of fruits, putting them onto a glass plate.
 
“Isn’t he enticing?” Gabriel said to a female human that perched on the armrest of his chair.  Her eyes traveled up Castiel’s body with a hungry grin.
 
“He’s beautiful.”  She winked at Castiel.
 
Castiel looked back at the muffins in front of him, feeling a blush creep up his cheeks.
 
“Aw, look, he’s blushing!” Gabriel laughed.  He got to his feet, coming to Castiel’s elbow, piling two chocolate doughnuts onto Castiel’s plate.  “Sweet, young Castiel.  Remind me to send a host of my guests to your chambers tonight.  You need to get some action.”  He waggled his eyebrows.  “Blow off a little steam.”
 
“Gabriel, no,” Castiel growled.
 
“Gabriel!”
 
Castiel and Gabriel both turned as all the abettors and nephilim bowed to Michael.
 
“Hey there, Michael,” Gabriel said, a bit of tightness in his voice.
 
Michael’s smooth mocha skin looked warm against all the cool white granite and pastel colors around them.
 
“Castiel,” Michael nodded, “how goes your stay, Mage of Thursday?”
 
“Very well.  How are you, Mage Michael?”  Castiel swallowed hard.  There was something hard and unreadable about the Mage.  His grace was almost palpable.  
 
“Well, as always.”  He turned to Gabriel, his demeanor darkening.  “Gabriel,” he said sharply.  “Let’s take a walk.”
 
Castiel watched as the pair of Mages walked off the wide steps of the veranda, down a garden path.
 
Castiel’s hungry stomach suddenly felt like a bag of sand.  He took his plate to a table and sat quietly.
 
The morning crowd returned to their eating and drinking.  Rachel sat next to him with a nervous smile.  They said little, per usual.  Some of Gabriel’s stereotypes about the Legions had been correct.  His people were quiet and patient.  They tended to analyze everything before deciding.
 
Gabriel was much rasher.  Michael, however, seemed driven.  What exactly he was driven about, or for, was still a mystery to him.
 
 
 
*****************************
 
 
 
As trivial and superficial as Gabriel appeared, his library held an interesting assortment of things.  Not all were books.  Cases held artifacts protected by heavy spellwork.  Great maps and paintings hung on the walls, as in many other rooms of his mansion.  Some of them were peculiar.  Others were quite thought-provoking.  
 
Huge two-story windows let in much more light than in the shady, cramped maze in The Stacks.  Ladders led up to narrow catwalks of shelves on a second story that surrounded the ornate shape of the large room.  He had looked through the books multiple times since his arrival, finding an entire section of ancient texts on what the ancient peoples called ‘Greek and Norse gods’.  Some of the books had more pictures than words, unlike the weighty tomes that lined Metatron’s shelves.  
 
Gabriel had not come back to breakfast, so Castiel entertained himself nervously in the main rooms of his mansion until he decided to wander the pleasant, quiet library again.  He quirked a grin at an odd assortment of carved statues of Gabriel and a beautiful woman.  He wondered if Gabriel had made them himself.  The likeness of Gabriel was shockingly accurate.  But he did not recognize the woman.
 
“That’s Kali,” Gabriel smiled softly, surprising Castiel at his sudden and silent arrival.
 
Castiel looked from Gabriel to the figures on the shelf.
 
“She’s in The Garden, visiting her sister.  It’s dull here when she’s away.”
 
Castiel raised an eyebrow.  He couldn’t imagine Gabriel’s home being any more entertaining.  If it got any looser here, he might mistake himself for being in Tree of Life.  Of course, that was Legion of Gabriel’s original home.  Now he could see the resemblance.
 
“So!” Gabriel smacked him on the shoulder.  “We have some work to do.”
 
Castiel stepped away from the shelf, following Gabriel to a black onyx table.  “So, your grace.  What can you do?”
 
Castiel furrowed his brow in thought.  “I can cook food, stimulate plant growth, move things, repair simple breaks in wood or stone, rejuvenate beehives, control fire, warm or cool water, when given a small amount of water, I can multiply it to fill large tubs or irrigate crops.  I still struggle with the finer manipulations.  I can ease pain but have had no training with healing.  But I would like to.  And...my wings.”

Gabriel nodded.  “If you can stimulate plant growth, you’ll be able to heal.  And pain is different.  It’s a totally different power.  When you take pain, you absorb and discard.  Now you’ll be able to manage that in higher doses.  But healing is more like stimulating growth.  Building.  Mending.  But you have to be able to really focus and manipulate.  But mostly, you just have to want it.”  He shrugged, looking at Castiel with absolute conviction.  “If you want it to happen, it’ll happen.  That’s the key, Castiel.”
 
There was something new in Gabriel’s tone and demeanor.  An urgency was rising.  Castiel could feel his own heart rate begin to pick up.  “Gabriel, is everything okay?”
 
Gabriel stared at him for a moment and then paced away.  An abettor came down the stairs and into the library.
 
“Mage Gabriel?  He’s coming.”
 
Gabriel gave Castiel a worried look.
 
“Who’s coming?” Castiel asked.  He came around the sleek, black table, stepping close to Gabriel.  “What’s wrong?”
 
Gabriel bit his lip.  “You said you wanted to meet some humans, right?”
 
Castiel tilted his head, thoroughly confused.
 
“Shit.  I thought we had more time.  I’m gonna send you on an assignment while I deal with...this.  Yeah...I’m gonna send you to Lawrence.”
 
“Lawrence?” Castiel asked in shock.  “When?”
 
Gabriel pursed his lips in thought.  “I need you to find a man named John Winchester.  I need you to tell him he was right.  To arm his forces.  That Legion of Monday will fight for him.”
 
Castiel gaped in confusion.  “What?”
 
“John Winchester.  Tell him I will be there to fight for him.  Tell him he was right.”
 
“Alright!  Wh-”
 
Gabriel reached out and touched Castiel on the forehead.  He lurched away in a flapping rush.  The world was lost to him for several frozen seconds until the ground slammed into his feet and he crumpled hard.
 
Castiel gasped, blinking, and looking around.  There was a dirt road next to him and a copse of trees to his right.  Trees that were unfamiliar to him.  He got to his feet slowly, staring up into the odd shaped leaves.  He glanced around him.  No Gabriel.  Castiel stepped back, looking around desperately.  “Oh, Gabriel.  What have you done?”
 
 
 
 

Chapter Text

Chapter 2:  Lawrence
 
 
Dean threw his covers back, sitting up begrudgingly.  He had tossed and turned a lot during the night.  He walked over to the window overlooking the reception yard in front of their home.  No wagons moved in the streets yet and only a few chimneys smoked over the horizon of the city.  The large, cobblestone reception yard was empty, save for the chickens milling about.  
 
The sun was just starting to turn the sky a bright orange-pink.  It would be warm today, but not too hot.  He was glad because today was Wednesday, or as Sam and he called it, Bitchday.  It was the day of the week that anyone could bring their concerns, complaints, legal matters, and reports for their dad, the Sheriff, to oversee.  
 
He and his brother and stepmother would be by his side.  His father insisted they be present as often as possible to someday be good sheriffs.  
 
At least it wouldn’t be so hot in the hall that he would fall asleep and get in trouble.  There was nothing like getting a face full of water to shock you into wakefulness.  He and Sam did their best to keep each other awake, but some Wednesdays in summer were damn tough.  Luckily, it was finally fall and the weather was starting to cool down.
 
He watched as Donna came around the front of the house and dumped feed for the chickens.  She and her husband Doug ran the huge kitchen at the bunker.  He could hear her talking gently to them but couldn’t make out the words.  He was quite sure she loved those damn chickens more than him.  He smirked.  Okay, she probably loved them equally.
 
His door flew open with a bang as Adam ran into the room.
 
“Dean!”
 
Dean turned quickly, snagging his six-year-old half-brother around the waist, and tossed him onto his bed.  “Who let you out?” Dean laughed, tickling him.  “No one is supposed to let the monsters out until noon!”
 
“ROAR!  I’m a werewolf!” Adam laughed, squirming away.
 
“Don’t make me get my knife out, squirt,” Dean laughed, pouring water into the dry sink in front of his mirror.
 
“You gonna shave?”  Adam asked, all ruffled hair and curiosity now.  He perched on the windowsill next to Dean.  
 
“I am.”
 
Adam propped his elbows on his knees, chin in his palms, watching with fascination.
 
“You gonna shave when you grow up?” Dean said with a pull to his mouth to make his cheek flat for shaving.  “Or you gonna totally wolf-out and have a big beard?”
 
“I’m gonna shave.  Like you.”
 
Dean turned his head, tilting and sliding the blade, shaving the soap lather and stubble away.  When finished, he washed his face with the cold water.  He patted it dry, and flicked water onto Adam, who giggled.
 
“Get lost, squirt, I gotta get ready.”
 
“See you at breakfast,” Adam said, walking out of the room, already dressed, boots and all.
 
“Hold up,” Dean laughed.
 
Adam came back, looking at him curiously.
 
Dean lifted his tiny frame, sitting him atop his dresser.  His left boot buttons were totally wrong.  He undid all twelve buttons.  “You gotta line ‘em up, Adam.  Ya can’t just button ‘em all crazy. Whose great idea was it to make kids shoes so dang hard to put on anyway?”
 
“It stays on my foot,” Adam reasoned.
 
Dean ruffled his hair.  He finished buttoning and put Adam back on his feet.  “Is Sam up?”
 
“Guess we’ll see!”  He grinned big, his dirty blonde hair flopping as he ran down the hall to Sam’s room.
 
Dean shut his door and finished washing up for the morning.  He pulled his blue breaches on and a black short-sleeved shirt.  He shoved his short boots on.  He tied the laces, brushed his hair, and set out for the day.
 
Dean headed into the family dining room.  The bunker was the capitol building in Lebanon, the capitol of Lawrence.  After his father’s election as sheriff ten years ago, the family had moved into the bunker.  It was a large building, with a great hall and other meeting halls for the public.  The entire first floor was open to the public, except the kitchen, which was teaming with staff.  The second floor had guest quarters for travelers on business and the Winchesters’ family quarters.
 
It was a strange adjustment from the humble little house he and Sam had come from.  When they had gotten here, it seemed like a mansion.  Like something straight out of the veil.  He had been fourteen and Sam ten.  Two years later, their dad married Kate, who had improved their father tremendously.  When he and Sam were young, before they lived in the bunker, their dad had been an angry, drunk man, bent solely on hunting down the demon that had killed their mother.
 
It wasn’t until a demon came after Dean, almost killing him, that their dad got his priorities in order.  He sobered up, stayed at home, and decided he could make changes by being a part of the law.  Once elected into office, his driven personality became softened by the staff at the bunker.  But when he met Kate, she set him straight on how to treat his children better.
 
Now that he was Head Sheriff over Lawrence, he was making stricter laws for monsters trespassing into their country.  He had improved trade and was known for his fair judgement on matters.  
 
It was bitter sometimes, to see how good he was with Adam.  But they couldn’t hold it against an innocent little boy.  
 
“Mornin’, Dean!” Donna grinned, sitting a dish of fried potatoes on the buffet.
 
“Morning Donna,” he returned her smile as he grabbed a plate and began loading up on breakfast.  
 
Sam, coming in right behind him, grabbed a plate and began piling on the food.  Adam followed suit, going for the sweets and bacon, like Dean.
 
They sat at the table, joining their dad.
 
“Full docket today, boys,” their dad said dryly.  “Be ready for guests at dinner.  Bela arrived late last night.  She’ll be here for a few days.”
 
“Wonderful,” Dean groused.  “She can rob us blind again.  How is it that she’s even allowed to step foot in Lebanon?”
 
John frowned.  “If we made a bad deal -”
 
“Oh, we definitely made a bad deal,” Dean huffed, cramming a doughnut into his mouth.
 
His dad glared at him.  “If you think you can do a better job, Dean, by all means, run for office.  We’ll see just how perfect a track record you have.”
 
Dean swallowed all the sugary dough in his overstuffed mouth.  “I didn’t mean -”
 
“I know what you meant,” John snapped.  He sighed heavily, rubbing a hand over his forehead.  “Believe me, whatever trade deal she has brought will be scrutinized by the accountant.”
 
Dean nodded.  Per usual, he wished he would have just kept his mouth shut.  Sam gave him a head shake to shut up, as if he hadn’t gotten the message already.
 
“Can I be sheriff?” Adam asked, squirming in his seat to kneel on the chair.
 
John smiled.  “You sure could be.  Dean or Sam too.  If you can get elected.”
 
Adam grinned, cramming a piece of bacon in his mouth.
 
 
 
It was a long Wednesday, with an endless line of people with minor complaints.  Mostly trespassing, some stolen food, land disputes, and one case of reported spousal abuse from a neighbor. It was Dean’s task to ride out to investigate the situation the next day.
 
After their tedious day, the evening dragged as he put in his mandatory face-time with their guests.  As their accountant toiled away in his office over the contract Bela had brought to discuss the next year’s trading terms, she prattled on about the new gown maker she had employed.  Bela was certainly beautiful, with her long lashes, flirty smile, and fashionable clothes.  She held a high office in Britland that allowed her an awful lot of perks.  Dean found her accent strange and knew her to be a cut-throat deal negotiator, despite her pretty smile.  She always flirted with him on her visits, which his dad teased him would certainly help their deal if he would only entertain her a bit more kindly.  Dean was more interested in the accountant’s view of her, knowing she was trying to screw them over somehow.
 
Kate entertained her most of the evening, thankfully.  Dean kept himself hidden away after dinner with Sam in the kitchen most of the evening, even helping Donna with dishes to keep himself out of sight.  By the time both Bela and Kate had gone to bed for the night, Dean and Sam were playing penny poker with Donna and Doug at the workers’ table in the kitchen.
 
“Last hand,” Doug said, yawning as he dealt the cards.
 
“Oh, don’t start!” Donna yawned.
 
Outside, the dogs started barking.  The doorbell rang and Donna sighed, putting her cards down as she went to answer the front door.  It was unusual but not unheard of to get a visitor so late.
 
Donna came back to the kitchen with a frown.  “I just let the weirdest fella in.”
 
Dean frowned.  “What kind of weird?”  
 
“I don’t know,” she shrugged.  “Handsome.  Like, really handsome, ya know?”
 
Dean smirked at the disgusted look on Doug’s face.  “What kind of sigils did he have?”
 
“Well, I don’t know.  He had a cloak on.  And when I went to shake his hand, he looked at me like I was a two-headed ghoul.”
 
Dean got up.  “I’ll go check it out.”
 
“He’s talking with your dad in the blue parlor.”
 
Dean tapped Sam’s arm, his brother standing to join him.  They headed down the hall, through the large foyer and toward the parlor with blue curtains and a blue couch, earning its nickname.  They stopped before they got there, seeing their dad walking to the front door a man with dark brown hair.  His clothes were...different.  He couldn’t quite put his finger on what was different about them.  They were a slightly different style than what he was used to.  The tan cloak billowed out while he walked.  And his boots were taller than most people here would wear.  
 
“Look, whoever you say you are, you need to take this little show elsewhere.  Because if he wanted to talk to me, he’d be here himself.”
 
“I don’t know why he sent me, John Winchester, but you must be in real jeopardy for him to have sent me.”
 
“Uh-huh,” his dad nodded, opening the front door.
 
The man turned on the step, giving their dad a pleading look.  “John -”
 
The man’s blue eyes flicked to Dean for just a second before going back to his dad.  “I assure you -”
 
“Next Wednesday you can sign up to meet with me in the hall.  Until then, get a room in town, buddy.”
 
The man looked shocked as their dad shut the door in his face and locked it.
 
“Who was that?” Sam asked, coming toward him.
 
“Some nut job.  Tell Donna not to open the door for just anybody.”  He looked back at the door frowning, like he was reconsidering what he had just done.  “I wonder...” He opened the door.  
 
A light, steady rain fell, puddles collecting on the cobblestone reception yard.
 
“Damn,” Sam laughed.  “He musta run for cover!”
 
Their dad’s frown turned to a look of concern.  He shut the door quietly and headed for his office.  “Send Donna in.”
 
Dean walked to the front door while Sam headed back to the kitchen to get Donna.  He opened the door, scanning the empty reception yard again.  He went out into the rain, pulling his flannel shirt up higher around his neck.  He walked the perimeter of the entire bunker, dogs in tow.  Other than one of the barn hands hauling a wheel barrel full of horse shit out to the back field, there was no one out in the rain.
 
He pulled on the door to Missouri’s house.  Missouri was a longtime and close friend of their dad’s.  She was also a witch.  The only witch their father seemed to trust.  Her house, attached to the back of the bunker, like at all capitol buildings, give her the status of being Lebanon’s (and Lawrence’s, if you asked the Winchesters) head witch.  This week, she was two towns over, putting up fertility wards for a cattle farmer.  He was surprised when her door swung open.  She typically kept it locked.  
 
Dean pushed it open fully, pulling a knife out as he scanned the room.  Missouri’s shelves were stocked, and her fireplace was cold.  He walked quietly through each of her rooms, glancing into every corner.  The living room, kitchen, bathroom, and her bedroom were all empty.
 
“Huh.”  He pulled her front door shut, continuing around the bunker until he came back to the front door.  He was soaked by the time he came into the foyer.
 
“Did you find him?” Sam asked, heading toward the parlor.
 
“Nope.  Guy’s like a ghost.  He disappeared.”  
 
“Well, don’t bug Dad about it.  He’s crankier than usual.”
 
Dean rolled his eyes.  “Alright.  I’ll speak to him in the morning.”  They headed upstairs and went to bed.
 
 
****************************************
 
 
Dean woke to the loud clanging of alarm bells.  He was on his feet in a second, pulling on pants and a shirt hastily.  It was pitch black outside, indicating he had only been asleep for a few hours. He had one boot on, hopping down the hall to Sam’s room when his door opened, and he came out half dressed. He couldn’t remember the last time the bells had gone off during the night.
 
“What’s going on?” Sam yelled.
 
“No idea!” Dean yelled back.  “Are we under attack?”
 
“From whom?”
 
“I don’t know!”
 
Kate came around the corner with Adam in tow.  “Down to the bunker!” She yelled.
 
They all turned, heading toward the back stairs.  Dean pulled aside a painting of a meadow, exposing the narrow, secret door.  Adam went first, then Kate.  Sam and Dean followed.  They moved as quietly as possible on the rickety, narrow stairs.  The passage would take them down to the underground bunker.  When they got to the first floor, Dean stopped.
 
Sam turned.  “What are you doing?”
 
“I gotta go help,” he said quickly.
 
“Yeah,” Sam agreed.  He turned to Kate, cutting off her frantic argument.  “Go!  We’ll come get you when it’s over!”
 
With a pained look, she dragged Adam with her, who was putting up a fight of his own.
 
They came out into the red parlor, sneaking through the room toward shouting out in the hall.  
 
Dean peeked around the doorway, seeing several people in the foyer.  He turned back to Sam, tipping his head toward the hall.  Sam nodded.
 
They quickly crept along the hall, knives in hand, as a loud boom rang out, shaking the very floors.  A loud roaring whirled around the foyer in a snake-like column of black smoke.
 
“Demons!” Dean yelled, the house staff scattering.  It bounced from person to person, squealing and shrieking.  Finally, it burst through a window, leaving in a great rush.
 
The deafening silence in the foyer was shocking.  But not as shocking as the blood, and the dead bodies of three guards.
 
Donna got to her feet, her hands shaking as she stared at the closed front door with a look of terror.  
 
Dean knelt next to one of the guards.  No pulse.  Sam shook his head no at another man’s pulse.  Dean checked the third man.  No pulse.  He stood up, sighing.
 
He looked around the foyer, his eyes stopping on Donna.  “What happened?”
 
“A man came in with Rodger,” she pointed at one of the dead men.  “I saw his eyes turn black, so I sent Krissy to ring the alarm.  It all happened so fast.  John came running out and...the demon took him.  They just disappeared.”
 
“Wait...what?”  Dean spat in shock.
 
“I couldn’t stop him!  He just...disappeared!  They grabbed him.  John put up a fight, but...they got him anyway!  I tried to reach for the holy water but...” she shook her head in shock and fear.  “I’m so sorry!”
 
Sam put an arm around Donna, “I know you did all you could.”
 
Dean paced around the room.  Blood stained the wall and pooled on the floor.  A stench of sulfur hung in the air.  Freaking demons.
 
“Was it the blue-eyed guy from earlier?” Dean asked angrily.
 
“No.  This man was older.  With yellow eyes.”
 
“Yellow?” Dean asked.  Well, he didn’t know that much about demons.  But yellow eyes sounded frightening.  Something inside him felt relief that the blue-eyed man had not been the one.  But who had he been?  If all the staff and family had not had anti-possession tattoos, the demon would have taken over another body.  But because it had nowhere to go, it had to leave.  All but Rodger, it seemed, who now lay dead.
 
“They didn’t even say anything,” Donna went on, “they just...snatched ahold of him and vanished.  Then the one left exploded something, killing the guard he was in, and the others.”
 
Kate and Adam were back on the main floor, one of the maids, quickly took Adam out of the room, so he did not see the carnage in the foyer.
 
When Donna explained what had happened, Kate fell to her knees, looking terrified.
 
“Why are demons here anyway?” Dean wondered aloud.  “They have to know we’ll hunt them down.”
 
“But that guy that came last night,” Sam added, “he told Dad he was ‘in jeopardy’.  Dad didn’t think he was.  But obviously...”
         
“So, is this personal or political?” Dean paced across the floor.  Their dad had made quite a lot of enemies among the demons.  He always swore a demon had killed their mother.  He could have made an enemy that just took their time about getting back at him.
 
 
Kate gave Dean a baleful look.  “This could be personal.  We can’t send an army and risk another war breaking out.”  She got to her feet, chewing on one nail.  Even in her night dress with her blonde hair loose about her shoulders, she was able to pull herself into the commanding role of Head Sheriff’s wife.  She stood up taller, taking a breath.  “Sam, Dean, I want you packed and ready to leave here by dawn on Friday.  I need you to take Adam to the Campbells’.  They’ll be able to protect you all from the demons.  They are more familiar with how to fight such loathsome beasts.”
 
Dean frowned, starting to argue, but she cut him off.  “If this is personal, you need to be protected.”
 
Dean huffed in displeasure.  He hated the thought of running to hide.  But she was right about the Campbells.  They were his mother’s family, but Sam and Dean hated to go back there.  The Campbells were hunters.  They lived in North Lawrence and came across monsters more often than people here did.  They would keep Adam safe, but there was no way his grandfather would keep him or Sam locked away.  And he might know more about why demons would take their dad.
 
“Fine.”  He turned to one of the guards standing near.  “Find out anything you can.  See if any locals are experiencing demon attacks.  This could be bigger than just Dad.”
 
The guard nodded, heading toward the kitchen to leave out the back door.
 
“Someone tell Krissy to stop ringing that damn bell,” Kate snapped.  Another guard went running.  
 
“I’ll send for the coroner,” Donna said sadly, looking at the men.  “Boys, help me block off the foyer.”
 
“Where would they take him?” Sam asked.  “Purgatory?”
 
“I don’t know, Sam,” Dean said, both hands in his hair in frustration.  “But we’re going to find him.  He’s our dad.  We won’t stop hunting for him if we have to tear Purgatory apart.  Fuck those demons.”
 
They waited for the coroner, and for the local sheriff to come investigate.  After the bodies were removed and the maids began cleaning, the family gathered in one of the meeting rooms.
 
Kate had gotten dressed, but other than that, they were all just like they were when they had jumped out of bed.  Kate sat heavily in a chair at the large table.  Sam sat down gingerly, holding a sleeping Adam on his lap.  Poor kid had red-rimmed eyes and pale cheeks.  Dean sat down, his head dropping heavily into his hands.
 
“We need to get Adam tattooed.  I wanted to wait until he was older...but he needs protection,” Kate said firmly.
 
Dean nodded.  “I’ll get it done when we get to our grandparents.”
 
Kate nodded.
 
“We better do it before we get on the road,” Sam warned, making a good point.
 
Dean nodded.  “Yeah.  Okay. Set that up, would ya?”
 
Sam nodded, cradling his brother a little tighter.
 
Dean went over to a shelf, getting a piece of paper and a pencil.  “We need to remember every demon Dad ever talked about.”
 
They spent the rest of the wee hours of the morning coming up with a list of names they had heard, places he had been.  It was short.  He didn’t talk much about his time out hunting.  The one they had heard about the most was Azazel. But there was a handful of others.  Ruby, Meg, Ramiel, and Tom.  Azazel was the one he had tracked all the way to Purgatory years ago. He had suspected that demon of being involved in the death of their mother, but nothing had come of it, other than he had killed some of the demons working for Azazel.
 
It was all parsed together, giving them little to go on.
 
“Maybe the Campbells will remember more,” Sam sighed.
 
“I need to make arrangements.  Get our gear packed.”  Dean stood up, stretching.
 
Donna came in, looking pale and tense.  “Mr. Henriksen is here to see you.”
 
Kate nodded.
 
The local sheriff, Henriksen, came in.  “We aren’t used to working with demon attacks.  They’re pretty rare around here.  We figure either we’ll never hear another word from them again or they’ll show back up with demands.”
 
Kate nodded.
 
“If we get demands, we might get some information.  But...otherwise...I have no idea how to track him down. I sent for Missouri.  I’m hoping she can help in some kind of way.  A tracking spell or...something.”
 
“Thank you.”  She walked him out.  
 
Dean and Sam took Adam up to his room.  Dean lay him in his bed while they went about packing his things.  “It’s a four-day ride to the Campbell’s.  It’s five if we stop at Uncle Bobby’s first.”
 
Sam looked up at him sharply from tucking Adam’s clothes into a saddlebag.  “We could do that?”
 
Dean shrugged.  “Don’t see why not.  Besides, maybe he can help.”
 
“Yeah,” Sam nodded.  “Let’s do it.”
 
Dean picked up a few small toys, putting them in a bag.  “We gotta pack pretty light.  No wagon on this one.  Just the horses.  We can move faster, quieter, and we can get away easier if something comes after us.”
 
Sam nodded.  “Got it.”
 
Dean left his brothers, going to his own room to pack a bag.  He didn’t need much.  He had been hunting many times.  He had taken people places and delivered messages.  He knew the route to Bobby’s and to the Campbells’ quite well.  
 
They were going to need camping supplies.  And food.  The less they stopped, the better.
 
He headed to the stable to talk to the barn-keeps about the three horses they would take.  His was a 16-hand mare named Impala.  She was all muscle and could run like a freight train.  Sam would take Challenger, his black stud.  Adam had a docile horse named Windom, an older fella that would not make the trip well.  Instead, he told them to prep Wisconsin.  A big brown gelding that was sure footed and reliable.
 
By the time he was ready to leave the stable all their tack and supplies lay gathered in the tack-room for the morning.
 
One of the barn cats, a large, black cat, followed him, watching with interest as he sat a feed bag on top of the saddlebags.
 
The cat jumped onto a table in the tack room, pawing at a pencil on the desk, meowing.
 
Dean scooped the cat up, pulling the tack-room door shut.  He put the cat on a bale of hay, going back to the house for some much-needed breakfast.
 
 
 

Chapter Text

Chapter 3.  The Curiosity Spell
 
 
 
 
Castiel walked for miles along the dirt road he had appeared next to.  Why had Gabriel not sent him exactly where he needed to go?  And when was he coming for him?
 
He stood along the road for some time, unsure where to go.  Eventually, he began walking in the direction most travelers headed.
 
Riders passed him.  Some at a gallop, others walking.  Some riders said hello, others eyed him suspiciously.  Castiel had to stop himself from staring.  Their tack was not as fine as nephilim would use, but it was handsome all the same.  Their clothes appeared rough-hewn, mostly drab colors, and they seemed dirty.  They were more civilized than he thought.  More driven to their tasks than simply surviving in the wild.  He could see already as he followed the road, that the nephilim’s perception of human affairs was inaccurate and outdated.
 
As evening began setting in, a wagon came to a stop next to him.  “Can I give you a lift?  It’s gonna rain soon.”
 
Castiel tried not to stare at the wild human.  And this was the first to say more than just hello.  “Perhaps,” Castiel said, approaching the wagon carefully.  “I’m looking for a John Winchester.  Have you heard of him?”
 
The man chuckled.  He reminded Castiel of a kinder version of Uriel.  “Yes.  I know who his is.”
 
“You do?”  Castiel could not believe his luck.  “I have an urgent message for him.  Would you be able to take me to him?”
 
The man thought for a moment.  He seemed to take in his clothes and study his face.  A wise move when picking up a stranger, he supposed.
 
“I can take you to the bunker.  I’m headed to Lebanon anyway.”
 
Castiel grinned with relief.  He climbed aboard the wagon, sitting next to the man.  He was alone, hauling a wagon full of barrels.  He shook the reins, starting the horses at a brisk walk.  “I’m George.  I sell mead to the local taverns.”
 
“I’m...” Castiel wondered if he should tell the humans he was a nephilim.  He had heard there were prejudices against them.  Though the Collectors only took humans that wanted to go to Haven, he had heard most humans were fearful of nephilim.  “Thank you very much for the ride, George.”
 
George grinned affably and looked straight ahead.  “You remind me of a guy I met from Brighton.  He had blue eyes, like yours.  Soft spoken fella.  He came to our house when my sister was sick.”
 
Castiel stared at the quality of the wagon, reins, halters, and even George’s boots.  This was not what he had expected.  He nodded for the man to continue talking.
 
“My mother was worried.  Our local doc said my sister was ‘just carrying on’.  But my mother knew better.  That doctor figured out she had appendicitis.  Did an operation on our kitchen table.  Whew!  She lived though.  Fine and dandy now.  Got three kids, and her own mending shop.”
 
Castiel nodded.  Surgery?  Metatron would be absolutely fascinated here.  They were not as wild as he had thought them to be.  Although carrying out a surgery in a kitchen seemed barbaric.  
 
George was very talkative.  Castiel listened carefully to each tale the man told.  Lawrence was nothing like he thought it would be.  He learned about George’s husband, his nieces, and nephews.  They all had such odd names.  Frank, Jimmy, Sarah, Maggie.  Their lives seemed odd, yet more like how nephilim lived than he would ever have guessed.  He decided he should try to blend in as much as possible.
 
“So, what brings you to Lebanon?” George asked during a lull in his rambling.  “And what was your name again?”
 
“My name is...Jimmy.  I’m just a messenger.”
 
George gave him an appraising look.  “Alright, Jimmy.  Can I ask what kind of message you’re delivering to John Winchester?  Must be important.”
 
Castiel nodded gravely.  “I’m afraid it is not news he will be pleased to hear.  But it is important, nonetheless.”
 
They traveled for several more miles into Lebanon.  Castiel marveled at the town.  It was large.  Industrious.  Bustling with people heading home for the evening.  The streets were clean and lined with houses and shops.  Many people knew George, waving to him as he passed.
 
Night had fallen and the rain had finally come.  It was misty and wet, soaking clothes more quickly than one might suspect from its misty quality.
 
George came to a stop in front of a large building made of stone.  “This is the bunker.  That’s what we call it, on account of it’s an ancient shelter of some sort, underground.  Just go to the front door there and they’ll be able to get you to Mr. Winchester.  It’s pretty late, but they’ll probably answer the door.”
 
“Thank you, George.  I wish I had some way of repaying you, but I’m afraid I have nothing to offer.”  He smiled with a bit of embarrassment and apology.  He wished he could use his grace to mend the man’s clothes or improve his wagon, but that would surely give him away as a strange creature.
 
“No worries, Jimmy.  Doing business for Mr. Winchester is thanks enough.”
 
Castiel nodded, climbing down from the wagon.  He watched as it pulled away, disappearing into the misty night.  He was pleasantly surprised with what he had seen so far.  He tried to remember every detail he noted, to tell Metatron next time he saw him.  The books at The Stacks referenced humans as though they were living in the wild with little infrastructure.  From what he had seen so far, they were as established as the nephilim.
 
He walked through the open gate, into a large cobblestone area.  It looked as though many wagons could sit here.  Or perhaps it was a marketplace by day.
 
The building was two stories tall and looked formidable.  As he crossed the cobblestone yard, dogs barked, running at him, but not harming him.  He greeted them politely, explaining he was here to see John Winchester.  Their responses came in happy bursts of ‘welcome’ and ‘trust’ and a heightened curiosity of where he was from.  He politely avoided their observations of ‘he’s different’.  One of them led him to the front entrance, then ran off to join the others.  He pulled the chain, ringing the doorbell.
 
A woman with blonde hair opened the door with a grin.  “Well, hey there.  Can I help ya?”
 
“I’m here to see John Winchester.  Is he in?”  He noticed the woman looking at his clothes.  They were a much finer thread count than what he had seen in Lawrence so far.  
 
“He’s here.  Please come on in.”  She stepped back, allowing him entrance.  She held her hand out, stopping to look at him.  Castiel looked at her hand.  She worked hard,  her hands had callouses.  He did not understand what he was to do next.  He turned, shyly, looking at the large room they were in.  The foyer was wide with some decor, but certainly plain by nephilim standards.  Beautiful paintings hung on the walls and sconces burned to give the large room a glow.
 
The woman shut the door, her hand dropping back to her side.  “Can I ask what this is about?”
 
“It’s...urgent.  I have an urgent message for him, of grave importance.”  
 
“Right,” she nodded slowly.  “This way, then.”
 
He followed her through the foyer and down a hall to a study.  A man sat in a comfortable-looking chair by the fire, reading a book.
 
“John, you have a caller.  I know it’s late, but he says it’s urgent.”
 
The man, John, stood up, taking his glasses off.  He looked at him suspiciously.  “Thank you, Donna.”
 
Donna gave Castiel a polite smile and left the room, closing the door.
 
John walked up to him slowly.  “Should I know you?”
 
Castiel licked his lips, taking a step toward the man.  “No.  We’ve never met.  I’m Castiel.  Gabriel sent me.”
 
John frowned.  “Gabriel, the Mage?”
 
“Yes,” Castiel said carefully.
 
“If Gabriel has a message, why isn’t he here?” John asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

Castiel swallowed.  “I am not privy to anything you and Gabriel may have discussed.  But when the Mage of Monday says he has a message, it would behoove you to listen.”
 
John smirked with a disbelieving huff.  “If that sprite has something to tell me he can come here himself.  He’s not sending one of his little Tricksters here to confuse us.”
 
Castiel frowned.  He had read something about sprites.  It was what humans called the Mages.  And Gabriel’s legion was known as the Trickster.
 
“I am not just a nephilim, Mr. Winchester.  I am the Legion of Thursday’s Mage.  And Gabriel sent me here to tell you that you are correct.  And that he will fight with you.”
 
“Yeah.  Right.”
 
Castiel had no idea how to make this man understand that what he was saying was of import.  If he knew more about the situation, he could say more.  But he had little more to give the man.  “Do you know Gabriel?”
 
John rolled his eyes.  “You clearly don’t know what you’re talking about.  Let’s take a walk.”
 
Castiel guffawed at the man’s blatant dismissal of him.  “How dare you ignore the word of a Mage?  Let alone two!”
 
John laughed shortly.  “You sprites think yourselves pretty important.  Well, believe it or not, Mage, we have a whole world of our own shit going on right here.”  He turned sharply to Castiel, coming to a stop.  “I’ve read about you.  Or your boss.  The Trickster.  Likes to mess with people’s heads.  Teach them lessons so they get their ‘just desserts’.  Well, I’ve paid my dues.”  He leaned closer to Castiel’s face.  “If this is a trick, I’m not playin’.  I’ve had enough demon hunting for a lifetime.”
 
“Demons?” Castiel asked, following him again.  At the door to the house, he stepped out onto the porch.  What would Gabriel be doing with demons and humans?  
 
“Look,” John said impatiently, “whoever you say you are, you need to take this little show elsewhere.  Because if he wanted to talk to me, he’d be here himself.”
 
“I don’t know why he sent me, John Winchester, but you must be in real jeopardy for him to have sent me.”  He pressed his lips together in frustration.  There was just no getting through to this man.
 
“Uh-huh,” John nodded, putting a hand on the door.
 
Castiel stared at the stubborn man with a pleading look.  It was no small thing for Gabriel to send him here.  He had to figure out how to get through to him.  “John -” He spotted two young men at the back of the foyer.  “I assure you -”
 
“Next Wednesday, you can sign up to meet with me in the hall.  Until then, get a room in town, buddy.”
 
The door shut smartly in his face.  Of all the rude and ungrateful swine!  Castiel huffed at the door.  He would have to find another way in.  He walked briskly around to the back of the building.  
 
The further he walked, the more he realized he needed out of here.  He needed more information to make John understand whatever it was Gabriel needed him to know.  Halfway along the back of the large building, he stopped.  The rain picked up.
 
Gabriel had warned him to not try flying on his own, but that was before the bastard had flung him halfway down the world and left him here on his own.  He stopped in his tracks, summoning his grace, pulling his wings from the other plane.  He envisioned the veranda at Gabriel’s house.  It’s flat stones, the way the air blew, the sandy color of the tall pillar close to the door.  He thought about flying, reaching...he felt a pull behind his chest, then suddenly felt like he had just hit a stone ceiling.  He stumbled, blinking, and rubbing his head.  There were wards against nephilim flying in, so maybe they couldn’t fly out either.  Gabriel had said there were spots where they could fly in.  Specific places.  That must be why he had appeared along the side of the road, miles from town.  
 
“Dammit.”
 
He scrambled for a thought of what to do next.  John was obviously a man of means and power.  He hoped his readings were correct that tribe leaders always had a witch nearby.  He was going to need assistance to get home.  He searched around the back of the long building.  There were doors and small homes, possibly for people that worked on the grounds.
 
He spotted a sigil he knew.  The sigil of a witch carved into a wooden door of a small home.  A stick figure with a waning moon for a body, meaning the witch was past her prime.  He banged on the door.  No one answered.
 
He spotted one of the men he had seen in the foyer coming around the corner of the building.  He pressed his palm to the door.  It was locked with a witch’s ward.  He snapped it easily with a dull glow from his hand.  He slipped inside, pushing the door closed quietly.  Hopefully, the man had not seen him.  
 
He looked around the dark room, with vision that nephilim possessed he could almost see as well at night as he could by day.  The living room was small, with a couch and two chairs near a fireplace.  Behind the couch was the kitchen.  A neat and clean round table with four chairs stood in the kitchen’s center.  The kitchen took up the better part of the room, with a long pantry of herbs, plants, jars of minerals, bones, animal parts, and a variety of fluids.  She was a competent witch.  
 
He heard a jiggle of the door handle and fled silently to the witch’s bedroom.  He backed himself against a dresser, hearing the man come inside.
 
He focused his grace, pulling himself away from the eyes of the man that would soon be upon him.  He felt a pull, as if he just backed himself into still water.  He listened carefully as slow footsteps came down the short hall.
 
The man stepped into the bedroom, looking around.  His green eyes swept right past him, checking the darker corners of the room.  He was shocked to realize the man could not see him at all!  The man stepped out of the room, making his way out of the little house, shutting the door.
 
Castiel had never made himself invisible before.  But Gabriel had said the key was to want something bad enough.  He did not want to be seen.  He held onto the feeling, still not feeling entirely safe here.
 
He turned, suddenly catching sight of his wing.  He turned the other way, seeing the other one.  How had that happened?
 
He moved them, feeling the air on them.  Curious, he reached a hand across his body, shocked to feel the feathers.  They were strong and silky; unlike any bird feather he had ever felt.  He stroked the top ridge, shivering at the feel of his own touch.  He wrapped the wing around, sinking his hand amongst the underside, combing his fingers through the feathers.  It felt...heavenly.  Like massaging a muscle or stroking his hair.  He wrapped both wings around himself, running his fingers through the feathers.  It was still so amazing and new to him.
 
He moved his wings, opening them fully.  They disturbed nothing in the room, not even the wall.
 
His brow furrowed.  He had not made himself invisible.  He had pulled the rest of his body into the plane his wings were in.  Had Gabriel never done this?  Or had he just not told him about it?
 
With Gabriel on his mind again, he focused his thoughts.  He swept a hand along the sleek feathers one last time and thought about coming out of the plane.  Like emerging from a tub of water, he gasped softly as he materialized into the room, wings still in the other plane.  He grinned, pleased with himself.  He was learning quickly.
 
He quietly went back to the living room.  He pulled his wings out, seeing them in a smoky haze, not as clear as when he was in the other plane with them.
 
He needed to get back home.  Whatever Gabriel had wanted him to accomplish here, obviously was not happening.  Maybe the witch’s house was a special ward-free zone.  He summoned all his will and want, pooling his grace and pictured the veranda at Gabriel’s house.
 
The sudden block, as if his head hit the ceiling, stopped him forcefully.  He let his grace go, stumbling slightly and rubbing his sore head.
 
He sighed heavily, put his wings away, and sat on a chair.  He had read a lot about witchcraft.  He found it fascinating how humans had learned to manipulate the power of nature’s grace.  While nephilim had grace within and used grace within nature around them, witches learned how to connect with their souls to work with nature’s grace.  He found it inspiring and it made him feel more connected to his human side.  He had never met his mother, but he wondered often if she had been a witch or come from a family of them.
 
He remembered little of all that he had read, but maybe if he found a spell, he could get himself home.  If nothing else, at least in communication with Gabriel.
 
He began looking through the books on one of the shelves.  Gabriel had said if he wanted something bad enough, he could make it happen.  So, maybe he could.
 
 
 
Long into the night, he searched the books, settling on a ‘returning’ spell.  He mixed the ingredients and pooled his grace as he dropped ground mandrake root in the metal bowl.  He concentrated on returning home.
 
A flash of white light burst at the drop of catnip, the final ingredient.  His entire body bulged and stretched and then began to pull in, twisting, and shrinking with a violent surge.
 
What surely only lasted three seconds, felt like an entire lifetime.  He lay on the floor gasping.  He blinked slowly, lifting his head.  He felt very small and oddly light.
 
He was still in the witch’s house.
 
Something had gone horribly wrong.
 
He moved his legs, for he had four now, and got gingerly to his paws.  Shiny black fur covered his legs.  He turned, seeing with horror, he had a long tail.  He lifted a paw, inspecting it.  Claws came out when he flexed what used to be his fingers.  He extended them, pulling the claws back in.
 
Shakily, he made his way over to the front of a glass cabinet to look at his reflection.
 
He was a cat.
 
A large black cat.  With big blue eyes.
 
He cried out, hearing only a howling meow.
 
For the love of the creator!  What had he done?!  And more frighteningly, how would he undo it?
 
He pulled his thoughts together, reaching for his grace.  It felt different!  He tried to heal himself.  Nothing.  He tried to pull his wings out or pull himself back into that plane they were in.  Nothing.  He stared at a hanging edge of a tablecloth, willing it to catch fire.  Nothing!
 
He howled and meowed and slumped to the floor.  The great Mage of Thursday.  A fucking cat.
 
Eventually, he got up onto the counter after several clumsy jumps.  He pawed his way through the witch’s book.  How could he undo this?
 
 
 
Castiel jerked awake to the clanging of bells.
 
He was still in the witch’s house.
 
He was still a cat.
 
He wondered at the sounding bells, worried there was something wrong.  It had a sound of urgency.  He jumped down from the counter where he had fallen asleep while looking for a spell, crossed the living room and jumped up onto a windowsill.  People were locking their shutters, hiding in their homes while a few went running toward the bunker.
 
There was no fire that he could see, but there must have been some sort of emergency to wake the whole town in the middle of the night.
 
He had come to realize, shortly before he succumbed to sleep, that he was not getting out of this situation alone.  He would have to wait until the witch returned to get her help.
 
Curiosity had always been a strong trait in Castiel.  He jiggled the knob long enough that he finally got out the front door.  He trotted alongside the great bunker, slipping inside the kitchen back door when someone ran in.  He darted out of sight, following the general chaos to the foyer.
 
He sat quietly in the shadow as the scene unfolded in front of him.  There were three dead men that he did not recognize, on the floor.  The men he had seen earlier, the woman, Donna, and several other people seemed highly upset about something.
 
The man with green eyes was pacing the room.  He looked a mix of scared and angry.  
 
“Where would they take him?” The taller man with longer hair asked.  “Purgatory?”
 
“I don’t know, Sam,” the green-eyed man said, both hands in his hair, looking more and more frustrated.  “But we’re going to find him.  He’s our dad.  We won’t stop hunting for him if we have to tear Purgatory apart.  Fuck those demons.”
 
Demons?  Castiel stepped out of the shadows slightly.  Whoever these people were, they seemed to be in charge.  He needed to find out if any of this had to do with John Winchester.
 
He darted across the foyer, catching a scathing look from the woman with blonde hair.  He sprinted down the hallway, enjoying how quickly and lightly he could move.  He waited under a small table, watching for the men.  
 
It took quite some time, but they finally came down the hall, going into a room with a large table.  The door was shut, but it soon opened when Donna brought them coffee.
 
He snuck under a display case and listened.  After the door shut, it took less than ten minutes to figure out that demons had broken into the bunker and stolen John Winchester.  And John had an extensive past regarding demons.
 
Sam and Dean, his older sons, were going after him.  Now all Castiel had to figure out was how to undo the cat spell and how to stay with the Winchester boys.
 
 
 
 
He woke the next morning, still sleeping under the display case.  The room was empty of people and it was cleaned.  He edged his way out of the room, heading back for the kitchen.  He stuck closely to the walls and along furniture to go as unseen as possible.  The smell of chicken cooking over the fire made his stomach growl with hunger.  He had not eaten since Wednesday morning.  Judging by the sun, it was after noon on Thursday.
 
He carefully stole a piece of chicken from the bone pile, hauling it outside.  It did not fill him, but he saw Dean in the stable and scampered over there, to see what he was doing.  If John Winchester’s sons were traveling as far as Purgatory, maybe he could get home.  If nothing else, he could find a witch along the way to help him with his latest predicament.
 
He was dismayed to figure out that Dean was taking horses.  He could have stowed away on a wagon.  But he seriously doubted he could keep up with horses on foot.  He watched Dean as he collected items for the trip and readied gear for the horses.  He was handsome, with brown hair and green eyes.  His speech was harsh, like the other humans.  He was good to everyone in general, and yet, there was an edge to him that reminded him of John.  
 
He followed him into the tack room as he carried several bedrolls to stack with their gear.  Dean had noticed him several times and had not shooed him away, making Castiel a bit braver.
 
He watched as Dean sat down at the table to write a list of supplies he needed one of the grooms to get.
 
If he could control that pencil, he could write Dean a note!  He jumped up on the table, trying to pick up the pencil.
 
Before he could manage anything, Dean picked him up.  He remained limp in his hands, looking up at him.  If only he could yell or make him understand who he was!
 
Before any such thing could happen, Dean sat him atop a hay bale, giving him a pat.  
 
A pat!  
 
How rude.
 
He meowed loudly, but Dean was gone, walking out of the barn while he talked to another man.
 
Frustrated and forlorn, he crept into Impala’s stall.  He knew this horse was Dean’s from how he fawned over her, detailing her coat and hooves with meticulous pride and care.  The gigantic, black head of the horse loomed above him, sniffing him slightly.  At least he could hide in here.  And he would know when Dean left.
 
He circled into the corner, laying down.  If Gabriel could see him now.  He had utterly failed him.  Not only had he somehow turned himself into a cat, he had convinced John of nothing.  AND, demons had come and stolen him, if not killed him.  He had never been the cause of so much disappointment before.  He felt ashamed, tucking his head down.
 
He ventured out for dinner when it got dark.  He found he only wanted meat.  Again, he visited the bone pile, stealing enough meat to feel plenty full.  He found his way back to Impala’s stall.  She was a sound horse who seemed to not mind sharing his quarters.  
 
As evening set in, Castiel tried in vain to perform even the simplest magic.  His grace was too strongly altered.  There was nothing he could do, except wait for the Winchester children to start their adventure on the road.  How he was going to tag along, he still didn’t know.
 
The fresh hay of Impala’s stall provided a soft bed.  He was a bit surprised when he woke, still in the dark, to the barn door opening.
 
He stretched, feeling his long back rise in an arch that felt so good.  He stretched out his paws, yawning.
 
The barn lit up when the groom began lighting lanterns.  Castiel crept from the stall, watching the boy pull the horses out to brush them.  He went to the open tack room, sniffing the contents of the saddlebags.  
 
“You again.”
 
Castiel turned, starting to run, but froze, staring up at Dean.  
 
“You were the one hangin’ around earlier.”  He stooped down, picking him up.  “You better not have peed on my gear.”
 
Castiel felt appalled.  He would never!  He remembered with a rush how he needed to tag along with this group.  He meowed, trying to get Dean’s attention.
 
Dean looked at him, grinning.
 
Oh...Castiel felt weak in the middle.  To be grinned at with such sudden fondness!  Dean’s hands, which seemed gigantic, held him against his chest.  Castiel almost laughed aloud as he felt his tail flick back and forth with happiness.  
 
Dean stroked him as he walked over to Impala.
 
Castiel wanted to balk at the familiarity this man assumed upon him, but of course Dean would pet a cat. People pet cats. It did not mean he had to like it. Though he supposed it was better than being shooed away. And Dean did smell rather good. Again, he was thankful Gabriel could not see him in such a vulnerable and awkward position.

“She looks good,” Dean said about his horse.
 
“She’s sound as always,” the stable hand grinned.  “And her manners are better than snippy Challenger.”  He frowned at the black stud who threw his head, pulling at his cross ties.
 
“He’s a hot head,” Dean grinned.  “But he’s a big son of a bitch.  And my long-legged brother needs the biggest beast in the barn.”
 
Castiel found himself leaning snugly into Dean’s chest, accepting the stroking fingers under his chin with a tilt to his head. It was the intoxicating stroking that had his eyes closing in bliss.
 
“Donna told me to come get the food she has ready for the trip.  So, I’ll be back.”  Dean turned, walking out of the barn, carrying Castiel, grinning down at him again.
 
“You’re a big fella,” Dean grinned.  “Bet you catch all the mice and keep my girl safe from nibbling-rats.”
 
Castiel had never done such a thing.  But to think Dean thought of him as protecting what was his, made him happy.  Anything this handsome green-eyed man did, seemed to make him happy.
 
Dean pushed the back door to the kitchen open.
 
“Don’t bring that thing in here!” Donna yelled, eyes bulging and pointing at Castiel.
 
“What?” Dean laughed.  “He keeps the mice away.  Or she.”  Dean quirked an eyebrow, flipping Castiel over.
 
Castiel’s eyes went wide when Dean upended him.
 
Dean flipped him back upright.  “Yep, it’s a boy.”
 
Castiel’s mouth dropped open wide.  What was meant to be a scathing slur about looking at another man’s privates, came out as a scathing hiss.  His claws extended and he jumped out of Dean’s arms.  He ran out the kitchen door and back to the stable.
 
Dean was a filthy scoundrel for exposing him like this!  He paced back and forth across the aisle.  He tried to calm his racing heart and rationalize what had just happened to him.
 
It wasn’t as if Dean had ripped his pants open and ogled at his penis.  He had simply looked to see if the cat he had picked up was a male or female.
 
Either way, he sat close to the stall wall, watching the horse’s saddles become more and more laden with supplies.  They knew a trip was at hand.  They tossed their heads with excitement and took antsy steps while in their cross ties.
 
Dean came back into the stable with Sam, Adam, Kate, and Donna.  They spoke about which path of travel they would take.  None of the names of places were familiar to Castiel.  He listened closely, nonetheless.  If he became separated from them, he might have to find his own way.  
 
The first horse in line in the aisle was Challenger.  He was untied from the lines and bridled, and handed off to Sam.  
 
Castiel approached Impala, springing up high to land atop the saddle.  His claws dug into the sleeping roll and saddle, steadying himself as the horse danced a step to the side.
 
He wedged himself between the back rise of the saddle seat and the sleeping roll.  
 
Adam got a leg up to Wisconsin, taking the reins and walking the horse out of the stable.  
 
“Get down.”  Dean shoved him out of the space he had found.  He scrambled down, running out of the stable and away from the harshness.
 
“Crazy-ass cat,” Dean muttered.  
 
If Castiel did not figure something out, he would be behind.  He ran up to the child, meowing to get his attention.
 
The boy looked down, seeming a mountain above him.  He grinned.
 
Castiel meowed again, getting a chuckle from the boy.
 
He needed to be cute enough that the boy would let him come along.
 
He rolled onto his back, pawing his own tail, such as he had seen kittens do.  The boy giggled.  Castiel got to his feet quickly, pacing in a circle.  He jumped into the saddle, just in front of the boy, careful not to claw him.
 
“Hey, kitty!”  Adam petted him and Castiel tried to act as though he enjoyed it.
 
“Don’t be silly,” Kate laughed.  “You can’t take a cat with you.”
 
“I’ll drop him off when we pass my friend Stevie’s house,” Adam said.
 
Kate held back a wobbly grin.  “Alright.”  She pulled Adam down to her so she could kiss his cheek and hug him.  “Be a good boy for your brothers.  No whining.”
 
“I don’t whine,” Adam frowned.  He looked quite put out by that.
 
She cupped his cheek in her hand.  “Of course, you don’t.  You’re getting so big.  I’ll see you soon.  I love you.”
 
“Love you too, Mom,” Adam said, much less confidently.
 
“Come on, Adam,” Dean called cheerfully, “it’ll be dawn soon.  I wanna see sunrise from Martin Road.”
 
Sam stepped up next to them on Challenger, giving the cat a curious look.
 
Adam tapped his heel, nudging the horse easily to a brisk walk.  Adam was so small in his saddle that there was room for Castiel to curl up in front of him.  Adam laid a hand on him, reins in the other.  For six, he was handling the riding and departing from his mother quite well.  But his nervous hand kept up a litany of petting.  As a nephilim, Castiel would never have tolerated such breach of personal space.  But he needed to think like a cat to make it through this.
 
Dean took the lead, Adam in the middle, with Sam taking the rear.  Castiel watched the town go by.  This was a different side of town, but it looked much the same with its rows of houses.  As they neared the edge of town, the houses became further apart, changing to small farms.
 
The sun rose on their right, meaning they were heading north.  The houses became less frequent, with large fields between.  Many of them already harvested for the season.  Some lay sprawling, heavily laden with crops.  They looked so much smaller than the crops stimulated and enhanced at home.  As the sun rose higher, traffic on the road increased.  Castiel stayed snugly seated with Adam.  For such a young child, he was quiet and watchful.  If he were a nephilim, he might peg him for Michael’s Legion.  Brave, quiet, watchful.  Not as solemn as his own legion.  
 
“This is Stevie’s house,” Adam said quietly.  Castiel looked up at the boy.  He turned his face downward, continuing quietly.  “You can stay with me though,” he whispered.
 
Castiel snuggled in tighter, Adam continued with his petting.
 
He breathed a sigh of relief as the farm disappeared behind them.
 
 

Chapter Text

Chapter 4. Uncle Bobby

 

Four hours into their trip, Dean stopped them on the side of the road near a stream. “This is a good spot to water the horses and have some lunch.”

The brothers dismounted, Castiel jumping down into the grass. He ached into a stretch, stiff from holding a tense position on the saddle.

“Why’d you bring that cat?” Dean asked, giving him a wary look.

Castiel slunk back a step, making himself smaller.

“He’s cool,” Adam grinned, pulling his boots off.

“Well, he scratched the shit outta me this morning,” Dean complained, pulling out a wrapped bundle. They sat down, letting the horses graze and drink at will.

Dean handed out chunks of salted ham, chunks of bread, and cups to get water.

They ate quietly, watching as another group stopped to do the same. Castiel wondered what he would eat. He came to sit next to Adam.

Adam tore off a piece of ham, holding it out to him. Castiel took it, making his meal in the grass.

“Great,” Sam snickered. “Now we have four mouths to feed.”

“Five,” Adam grinned, “if you count Dean twice. Which you should.”

Sam roared with laughter as Dean threw a pine cone at his little brother.

“You gonna leave the cat here?” Sam asked, watching Castiel.

“He’s no bother,” Adam shrugged. “And he rides real good.”

“Well,” Sam continued, getting to his feet to stretch, “I’m not chasing him if he gets away.”

Adam gave Castiel a worried look. “He won’t wander off. Will ya?”

Castiel shook his head no.

Adam’s face lit up. “Did you see that?”

Neither Sam or Dean had caught the exchange, both busying themselves with packing up.

Adam turned back to him, staring with an open mouth. “Yer smart, aren’t you?”

Castiel wondered if he should keep this up. They might think him a skin walker or some witch’s familiar. Either way, they might not tolerate his presence. He looked away, hearing Adam sigh sadly.

“Well, yer good, anyhow. You stay with us. Stay away from any dogs. You’ll be fine.” The boy patted his head, getting to his feet.

Dogs? The thought made him shiver.

Sam lifted Adam up into his saddle, handing him the reins. “You’re doin’ great, Adam.”

He grinned and the horse began walking.

Castiel walked quickly to him, meowing. His meow was cut short when two big hands scooped him up. He turned to see Dean carrying him.

“Forget something?”

Adam stopped the horse, taking Castiel from him. Castiel settled in quickly, making himself secure behind the horn on the saddle.

They walked quickly for hours. They only stopped briefly to pee or give the horses water. Otherwise, they rode quietly on and on as the day faded to dark.

“Dean! We need to stop. Adam won’t be able to walk tomorrow, let alone ride.”

Dean sighed in resignation. “Yeah, alright.”

They left the road for the first time that day, walking into the woods just far enough to find a place to make camp and sleep.

Castiel made himself busy, scouting around the campsite, smelling the woods and looking for any danger. He came closer to the fire, where Dean was cooking something on a frying pan, and Sam was brushing the horses. He wished he could help. As a Mage, he could make them dinner, start the fire, boil the water, take away any aches or pains. But for now, he was just a useless cat.

“Kate said to remind you to do your flash cards,” Sam hollered from over by the horses.

Adam groaned.

“Come on, grub,” Dean grinned. “Read me your words while I cook.”

Adam went to his saddlebag, returning with a pack of cards. He turned so he could see them in the firelight. “Two. Ten. Tuesday. Thursday. Tell. Tent.”

Castiel got up, heading over to the growing pile of cards on the ground by Adam’s feet. He pawed through them, finding Thursday. Maybe if he could tell Dean he was a Mage, he could get some help. He picked the card up, taking it to Dean.

Dean was kneeling on one knee as he turned the meat in the frying pan over. He looked down at him. “Whatcha got there?” He took the card from Castiel’s mouth. “Thursday. Adam, your cat is eating your cards.”

“Hey!” Adam laughed, snatching the card back from Dean. “Bad cat!”

Castiel looked between the two, trying to think of what to do next. He retrieved the card again, dodging Adam’s hands and running back to Dean.

Dean laughed, taking the card. “Thursday, huh? That what we should call you?”

Castiel meowed, turning in a circle. Yes! Mage of Thursday!

Dean and Adam both laughed. “Thursday it is,” Dean chuckled. “Guess you want some dinner too.”

Castiel meowed plaintively. Dean handed the card back to Adam again.

He laid down, unsure of what to do. He watched as Dean pulled his flannel shirt off. Castiel noticed with a curious look, that Dean’s forearm had several sigils tattooed onto it. They did not appear to only be decorative. They seemed deliberate. He tried to look at them closer, but Dean was now peeling potatoes and moving and blocking them. They were not just tattoos. They were sigils of some sort. The style reminded him of witch sigils, but he did not recognize any of them. He wished he could ask what they were for.

 

After eating, Castiel decided to discover what new abilities he may have as a cat. He darted through nearby bushes, testing his speed and agility. He circled the trunk of a tree, staring up at it curiously. He had not tested his claws much. He put his front paws on the tree, sinking his claws into the giving bark. After several practice placements where he extended and retracted his claws in the bark, he began to climb.

He had not climbed a tree since he was a child. This was entirely different. Though his legs worked hard, it was more about how he dug his claws in. He would have laughed at the pure joy of the moment when he reached his first limb, taking the chance to perch upon it, but all that came out was a meow.

“Don’t go too high!” Adam warned, seeing him.

Castiel was barely above the height of Sam and Dean’s heads, he certainly could go higher! He began climbing, passing branch after branch until they were too thin to support him securely. He turned, sitting on a limb. The leaves were so large in comparison to his small frame. The birds were even larger. He longed for his new-found wings. If only he could soar away like a bird.

Then he looked down.

Oh dear.

He had gone much higher than he realized.

The way down would be entirely vertical! The mere thought made him stress greatly. He attempted to climb down, realizing the feel was completely different.

He meowed.

It was fully dark now. Even the fire had burned low.

He meowed louder.

“Is that the cat?” Sam asked, looking around.

“Oh no,” Adam sighed, sitting up in his sleeping roll. “Thursday went up that tree.”

“You sure?” Sam asked, looking up.

Castiel meowed louder.

“He’s up there somewhere,” Dean sighed, obviously put-out about having to worry about it.

“We gotta help him!” Adam said.

Yes! Help! Oh sweet, gentle Adam. He truly was a kind-hearted child.

“He’ll figure it out,” Dean chuckled. “He’s a cat.”

No! No, I will not figure it out! I’ll be trapped here! You’ll leave without me! Castiel meowed pleadingly.

“I think he’s scared to come down,” Sam muttered, getting to his feet with a groan. “Adam, you shouldn’t have brought him.”

“Well...maybe he’s just used to barns and kitchens! Maybe he never climbed a tree before!” Adam reasoned, his voice ticking higher with worry.

“Come on, you dumb cat!” Dean yelled.

“Don’t yell at him!” Adam defended.

“I can’t even climb that high, Adam,” Dean said irritably. “He’s on his own.”

Castiel stared down at the camp below. Dean got out of his bed roll, staring upward into the tree, not seeing him in the dark night. Sam and Adam stood at the trunk staring upward as well. Dean was right. They could not reach him. And he had done this to himself.

He began gingerly feeling out onto the main trunk again, sinking his claws in. He had clung only three steps before he lost his grip, falling, hit a branch, then another, and more, crashing and falling until he clung to a limb, completely terrified.

I am a terrible cat! I can not do this! Gabriel! Gabriel, please come get me!

He yowled in shock when his branch rocked slightly and a hand gripped it.

Adam, lifted high by Sam, let go of the branch to grab him. All three almost toppled, but Sam managed to steady them enough to put Adam on his feet.

Thank you! Thank you!

“Shh, you’re okay,” Adam said softly, petting his head. Castiel clung to the child’s shirt, his head shoved under his chin as he tried to catch his breath. He didn’t even care if he was being petted. It was all very grounding after being so aloft.

“He alright?” Sam asked, petting him once.

“Just scared,” Adam insisted.

Adam sat down with him, trying to hold onto him longer, but Castiel had a need to be touching the ground on his own. He sat close by in the grass. That had been a terrible mistake. He would never do that again.

He looked over at Dean, who lay in his bed roll again. He was staring at him with a smirk.

“Bet you won’t do that again.”

Castiel was too angry to even roll his eyes. His eyes did narrow to slits, his ears pinning back.

“Don’t get pissed at me! I didn’t put you up that tree!”

Castiel growled.

“Be nice, Dean,” Adam warned.

“You be nice,” Dean chuckled. “Go ta sleep.”

Adam laid down. “Come ‘ere, Thursday. Come sleep with me.”

Castiel was not sleeping with humans. He was not sleeping with anyone. He slunk away from the fire. If he was going to make this trip, he had better find a better way of fitting in. Otherwise, these people were going to kick him out and leave him along the road somewhere.

“Come ‘ere, Adam,” he heard Dean say quietly. “You don’t wanna sleep with a pissy cat.”

Cha. Pissy. Castiel huffed a haughty breath. YOU be a cat on the road. YOU go to a foreign land! You know nothing, Dean Winchester.

 

******************************

 

Dean startled awake to the horrendous sound of a growling, howling, screaming cat. Adam, who was tucked into his side, nearer to the fire, jolted awake the same time he did. They both sat up sharply.

One of the horses whinnied, and the cat continued its howling. Dean and Sam rushed to their feet.

“What is it?” Sam whispered harshly.

“No friggin’ clue. But that cat is pissed about something!” He turned as one of the horses reared, pulling on his tie.

“Thursday!” Adam yelled.

“Shh!” Dean snapped.

Adam shifted from foot to foot, trying to see his cat in the dark night.

Dean pulled his gun out, walking toward the horses. “Get down, Adam.”

Adam crouched as Dean and Sam came at the horses from opposite ends. He headed straight for the cat. Impala’s eyes were big, fearing something out in the woods that Dean couldn’t see. His gun was raised and he came to a stop behind the cat. Its back was arched, hair standing on end, and tail puffed out huge. He was staring into the woods, growling and hissing.

A low branch moved and Dean trained his sight to the spot. A figure darted from the tree disappearing further off in the woods. Dean lowered his gun, looking down at the cat. “Guess you do come in handy. Good job.”

He picked up the cat and went back to the campfire, handing it off to Adam.

“Did you see anything?” Sam asked.

“Yeah. One, maybe two, people out in the woods. Probably eyeing up our horses.”

Adam was hugging the cat, kissing his head, and telling him how brave and good he was. Dean had to laugh when Adam put him down and it shook itself off and skirted away.

“It’s good we brought him!” Adam said dramatically.

Dean heard the familiar noise of someone creeping about. He turned, firing a warning shot. “Yeah, well, its good I brought this.” He shook his gun with a knowing smirk.

“Time to pack up,” Sam huffed.

“Yep.”

Adam went through the motions, but was quickly almost asleep by the time the horses were saddled.

Dean exchanged a look with his brother. He held up a fist. Sam grinned. They hit their fists into their palms four times. “Rock, Paper, Scissors.” Dean dropped his shoulders. “Dammit.” Who thought of this dumb game anyway? In what world did paper covering a rock matter one single bit?

Sam kicked dirt on what little remained of the fire, then walked around the site, making sure they had not left anything behind.

Dean found Adam asleep against a tree. He picked up the cat. If it hadn’t been for him, they might not have any horses right now. “Adam’s sleeping,” he mumbled to the cat, petting him. “So, you’ll have to ride Wisconsin on your own.”

The cat gave him a terrified look as he put him on the saddle. He actually pawed at the reins. Dean had to laugh. “Just kidding, Thursday!” He handed the reins to Sam, who was already mounted.

Challenger turned his head, ears pinned back and lips pulling back.

“I swear,” Dean growled, turning to glare eye to eye with the horse, “if you bite me, I’m gonna deck you.”

“He was just checkin’ you out,” Sam smirked, making the horse take a step away from Dean.

“He was just bein’ a dick, Sam. You better teach him some manners before he gets bit back.”

He hoisted Adam onto his shoulder, mounted, got Adam slumped against him, and they headed back to the road.

They rode the same pace as the day before, changing roads and passing through a small town Dean had been to before. Day two was always the hardest. You were usually much more sore than the first day. They stopped earlier, Dean scouting the area to make sure it was safer than last night’s site.

Deciding the little hill they were on gave them visibility and a clear shot to the road, he deemed it good enough for one night. They unsaddled the horses, tying them closer to the fire than the night before.

He pulled out food and a pot for dinner. It would be over an hour before they could even eat. It took water a while to boil when over an open fire. He glanced over, seeing Adam chasing fireflies. “Stay where I can see you, Adam.”

Dean settled back against his saddle. The cat came to sit next to him, looking at the fire. He had never seen a cat ride a horse like this guy. He pulled some cheese out of one of the packs, breaking off a tiny bite. “Do cats eat cheese?” He sat it on the ground close to him.

The cat looked at it, back at him, and got up to come eat it. Dean reached out to pet him. The cat looked up at him and Dean was curious about his blue eyes. He had never seen a blue-eyed cat before. He ran his finger under the cat’s tiny jaw, petting him. “I don’t know why you’re hangin’ out with us, Thursday. If we get attacked by demons, you better run like your tail is on fire. Better yet, you should find some people with a mouse problem and get a good home.”

The cat shook his head no. Dean frowned down at it. Those blue eyes looked like he understood everything he was saying. Dean frowned harder, tipping his head in wonder. “So...you’re staying with us.”

The cat blinked at him. The lid on the pot jiggled, telling him the water was finally boiling. He looked at it, looking back at the cat quickly. He could have sworn he nodded yes.

He added dinner to the pot, stirring it.

“Do you think the guy in the woods last night was tracking us or just after our horses?” Sam asked, sitting across from him.

“I don’t know. Been wonderin’ the same thing all day. I haven’t noticed anyone tailing us.”

“Me either,” Sam said quietly. “Maybe we shouldn’t be detouring to Uncle Bobby’s. What if being on the road gets us caught?”

“What if being on the planned route gets us caught?” Dean asked back. “I don’t even know if anyone gives a shit about us, Sam, but I can’t take the chance of losing Adam. Or you.”

“Or you, Dean,” Sam nodded. “Or Kate.”

Dean nodded. He didn’t ask out loud, but only one real question burned in his mind. Was their dad alive?

“Adam! Come on. Stay close to the fire now.” It was dark enough that visibility was becoming difficult. Adam ran over to them.

“Here,” Dean handed him two empty water skins. “Fill these up before it gets any darker.”

Adam took the skins and ran to the stream.

“I haven’t seen anything in the woods, have you?” Sam asked in a hushed voice.

Dean scanned the woods on the other side of the stream, watching for any movement. He’d felt on edge all day. “No. The horses are calm too. I don’t think whatever was lurkin’ around last night followed us.” He stirred the pot, put the lid back on and sat back against his saddle.

“Hey, Dean,” Adam huffed, sitting the corked skins down. “Why did you fib to Mama? You told her we were goin’ to Campbells. But I think we’re goin’ to Uncle Bobby’s. How come?”

Dean stared at his little brother for a moment. Damn, he was smart. “Uncle Bobby’s is on the way. We’ll be at his house tomorrow for lunch. Then we’ll keep going and get to Grandpa Campbell’s in a few days. So, now what, smarty pants?”

“Oh,” Adam nodded. “Hey, did you guys notice how Thursday watches us when we talk?”

All three of them looked at the cat, who pinned his ears back and shrunk down a bit.

“Yeah,” Sam nodded, watching the cat critically. “He has blue eyes. Maybe he’s deaf.”

“Huh,” Adam furrowed his little brow, squatting down to the cat. “I don’t think so. I swear he laughed earlier today.”

Dean frowned. Before the cat could catch on, Dean snatched him by the scruff of the neck, standing up with the cat at arm’s length. The cat hissed and clawed. He pulled a knife out.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Adam yelled, running at them.

Luckily, Sam was on the same train of thought. He jumped up quickly, grabbing Adam by the arm to stop him.

The cat squirmed wildly when it saw the knife. Dean pinned him, howling and all, between his arm and chest to get a better grip on him.

“STOP! Don’t hurt him!” Adam cried, punching at Sam as hard as he could.

“Stop,” Dean said harshly, stopping the cat’s struggling by catching it off guard. “This’ll only hurt if you’re a skinwalker.” He put the flat part of the silver blade to the pads of one paw. Nothing happened.

“Not a skinwalker,” Dean announced. “Settle down, Thursday.” He put the knife away and held the cat gently to his chest. “Sorry. Poor boy, your hearts beating like a caught rabbit’s.”

Sam let Adam go. He charged around the fire, swiping tears off his round cheeks with his fists, making his dusty face look dirty. He took the cat and slugged Dean on the shoulder.

Dean shook his head, watching him sit with a pout, cuddling his cat. He held his hands out in defense. “I had to be sure!” He looked at Sam for confirmation.

Sam stuck his bottom lip out in a puppy-dog pout. “Jerk.”

Dean rolled his eyes. “Bitch.”

He went back to the pot, stirring it and shifting it half off the heat. Being the oldest sucked sometimes. But he did feel bad for scaring the cat. Again.

 

*******************************************

 

Castiel watched Dean with annoyance. He was unpredictable. He wanted to trust him. He even wanted to like him. But then moments like that happened. If he could blast him with a powerful shove, he would. But for now, he was safest beside Adam. He hoped this ‘Uncle Bobby’ was a sheriff as well, or knew of a witch.

He went without any dinner, choosing to curl up tight into a ball under Adam’s saddle and sleep.

When the Winchesters were sound asleep, Castiel snuck out of his hiding spot and circled the camp. Sam and Adam slept soundly on their bedrolls. Dean sat up against his saddle, arms crossed over his chest, and chin down. He was supposed to be look-out, but he had fallen asleep over an hour ago. He scouted the other side of the camp, watching deep within the woods for anything out of place. Nothing stirred tonight.

He went back to his spot under the saddle, sleeping the rest of the night.

 

The next day started early. Adam rode with Sam, sleeping against his back, arms slung part-way around his hips. Dean had been quite kind this morning, making sure he had breakfast and water. He put him on Adam’s saddle, and pet his head. “Sorry ‘bout yesterday, Thursday.”

He mounted Impala and did not look back.

After a few hours, Adam on his own horse again, they rode much quicker, loping along a smooth road for over an hour.

Dropping back to a walk, Castiel thought he might howl with misery. Riding was certainly not for cats. He hoped ‘Uncle Bobby’ was a nice man who adored cats. He might never get on a horse again. He could just live out his life as a nice old man’s cat. Yes, that was what he would do.

 

They turned down a winding lane that Dean said led to Bobby’s house. Several abandoned looking wagons sat sadly in the fields along the lane. He wondered if Bobby was a repair man of sorts. A wagon builder, perhaps. Several horses milled about the fields of overgrown grass. An iron archway donned the lane with the words ‘Singer Salvage’ on the arch. As they wound around a bend in the lane, a blue house came into view. Odds and ends, metal parts and wagon wheels sat about.

Castiel perked up in interest. A dog barked and came running toward the horses. Castiel could feel his fur stand on end as he hunched closer to Adam for protection.

“Hey, Rumsfeld!” Dean hollered. The dog barked, wagging his tail happily. He was a large dog. Some sort of bloodhound, if Castiel had to guess. Adam was quiet, watching as much as he was.

He could see the moment the dog caught his scent. His ears perked and his tail quit wagging. His barks turned sharper. Adam put a protective arm around him, frowning down at the dog. “Dean!”

Dean turned back just as a man came out onto the porch. “Rumsfeld! Down.” He whistled and the dog turned, running back to the porch.

The man wearing a hat came down the step of his porch with a big grin. “Well hello boys! This is a surprise!”

His smile disappeared instantly as Dean and Sam dismounted. They clasped forearms, thumbs placed on matching sigils. It seemed...intimately formal. It made Castiel even more curious about the sigils on their arms. Dean hugged the man tight. “Hey, Bobby.”

Castiel was surprised to hear the quaver in Dean’s voice.

“Hey, Bobby,” Sam said quietly, clasping forearms and then hugging the man.

Bobby didn’t ask, noting something was wrong. “You here for a stay?”

“Just one night,” Dean nodded. “If that’s alright.”

“Course it is!” The man neared Adam, who was still clutching Castiel tightly.

“Hi, Uncle Bobby,” Adam said quietly.

Bobby smiled up at him. “Hey there, Adam. Look at you! So big on a full grown horse! That’s a good-lookin’ horse!” He patted Wisconsin’s side. “Can I give you and your friend there a lift down?”

Adam nodded, letting his reins go. Bobby lifted the pair of them down, sitting Adam on his feet.

“Is your dog gonna bite my cat?”

Bobby turned to the dog. “Well, he best not, if he knows what’s good fer ‘im. Or we’ll be havin’ dog fer dinner.” He chuckled, in jest. “Just to be safe, we’ll keep the cat inside.”

The dog laid down on the porch, flopping over onto his side.

“His name is Thursday,” Adam said quietly, relaxing a bit.

“Thursday? Well, ain’t that a funny name!” He patted Adam’s shoulder as they followed him inside the two story blue house.

When they were all inside, the door closed, Castiel jumped down to check the house out on his own. He still did not like being carried about. Bobby looked rough with his worn breaches, flannel (like the Winchesters wore), and dingy hat. Outside his house was a clutter of parts and unkempt fields. Inside was full of books. All sorts of interesting books. He got very excited when he saw some witch symbols, but soon realized he had just as many books on werewolves, vampires, kitsune, demons, and ghosts. Bobby was most likely a hunter. That was what the humans that hunted monsters were called.

After skimming the shelves in the library, he joined them in the kitchen, sitting on the counter to see them all better. Adam was on Dean’s lap, sniffling. Sam swiped a tear off his own cheek. And Dean looked like he was struggling to hold it together.

“No, we had no warning at all,” Sam answered Bobby’s question.

“Ya know,” Dean pointed a finger, “I think we did. Some guy came late that night and met with dad. Dad said he was full of shit, but he told dad he was in trouble. I think he was warning him about the demons.”

Sam nodded. “It fits.”

“What kind of man?” Bobby asked, rubbing his beard and pacing the small kitchen.

“Uh...I don’t know,” Sam shrugged. “Just some guy.”

“He had dark brown hair,” Dean began quietly, “he was a little shorter than me, he wore a tan cloak, like a long one you’d wear in winter, only his was thinner. And it was...nice. He musta been wealthy. I couldn’t see any sigils. And he had the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen.”

Bobby and Sam both quirked a grin. “Dude,” Sam laughed. “You saw him for the same two seconds I did!”

“He had really tall boots on. Black,” Dean continued. “And tight black breaches.”

Sam and Bobby both laughed when Dean finally cracked a grin. “He was pretty hot.”

Castiel was staring in wonder. Dean had thought he was attractive! And he was quite observant, even if he was wrong about why he had come.

“What exactly did this ‘hot’ boy say?” Bobby smirked.

Dean frowned, more serious now. “He told Dad he was in danger. Well, I think he said ‘jeopardy’, but...yeah and he talked real formal too. But Dad told him he didn’t believe him and pretty much kicked him out.”

“Sounds like the John we all know and love.” Bobby went to the library pulling out a book.

“The other thing I was wondering about was Bela Talbot. She’s in town.”

“I don’t know her,” Bobby said, looking up.

“She’s one of our traders from Britland. She’s known for her crooked business dealing, but Dad always gives her a pass for some dumb reason. This last deal she put through is pretty standard stuff. No crazy deals. So, was she here just to distract him?”

“Britland, huh? Never had much dealings with them,” Bobby added.

“Well, we know a demon took him, Bobby,” Dean went on. “I have no idea if they...”. Dean swallowed hard. “Sam and I need to go find him.”

Bobby nodded.

“I don’t want you to go after bad people,” Adam whined, clinging to Dean.

Dean pried him off gently, sitting him on the table directly in front of him. “Adam. If you got stolen by a demon, Dad would hunt you down. Nothing would stop him. I’m going to bring Dad home.”

Adam nodded, trying not to sniffle. “I’d come after you,” he said in a tiny voice that had Dean pulling him onto him for a hug.

“I know you would. That’s what family does.” He kissed the top of Adam’s head and just held him.

Castiel was so touched by the men. Nephilim were not nearly so physical with each other. A pat on the shoulder was a big deal in Knowledge. To walk hand in hand was seen as showy. Maybe families in Life were more like this. They were very giving. What few children there were, were raised with their parents, forming tighter bonds. Gabriel was more affectionate toward him than most other nephilim he had grown up with.

Bobby began making dinner. “So, what’s your plan?” He filled a pot with water and put it on the stove, adding wood to the compartment beneath the burner.

“Well,” Sam sighed. “Kate is sending us to the Campbells.”

“I see,” Bobby said, waiting for more.

“Dean thought coming here was smarter,” Sam added.

“Damn right it was smarter,” Bobby went on chopping onions and carrots. “Let’s just say, me and ole Samuel don’t get on too well. Never did see eye ta eye.”

“You think he’s gonna make us stay there with him? For protection?” Dean asked.

“No. He’ll give you some half-assed scheme that MIGHT be right, hand ya some kind of weapon and send you out the door. Hunting is all that man knows.” Bobby shook his head.

Sensing Bobby was going to give them more insight, Dean stood up, putting Adam on his feet. “You go play with Rumsfeld. Stay close to the house though.”

Adam nodded, heading out the front door.

“He’s a good kid,” Bobby grinned.

“Yeah. But I’m worried the Campbells aren’t going to take him in,” Sam said quietly.

Bobby turned to him, spoon in hand. “They’ll take care of him. He’s John’s son. And he’s too little to hunt, even by Campbell standards.”

“But the Campbell’s are Mom’s family,” Sam said with doubt and concern.

“Family don’t end in blood, Sam. And your grandfather owes your dad a debt he can never repay.”

“What are you talkin’ about, Bobby?” Dean asked.

Bobby stirred the carrots and onions into the pot, adding a large chunk of venison. “Your dad suspected for years that it wasn’t his dealings with demons that got Mary killed. It was her father’s. Before your mother died, he and I were hunters together. But we never had much dealings with demons. Just weren’t ever many around. Ole Samuel was and still is one of the most cut-throat hunters out there. The Campbell family ancestors lost a lot in the War for Northland, what the monsters now call Purgatory. Their family had huge lands there. And he’s still one of the first hunters to cross into Purgatory to track a monster. The whole family is ruthless that way. You know I hunted with your dad for years. But he was a deliberate and fair hunter. The Campbells will seek out trouble. Stir it up and desecrate it. The Campbells have a lot of enemies in Purgatory.”

Dean got up, leaning against the counter where Castiel was perched, listening.

“I had no idea. I always thought it was Dad that brought the demon to Lawrence that killed Mom.”

“Oh, he blames himself. He had been after Azazel years before, getting into the family business with the Campbells. But I think it had much more to do with Mary and her dad than John.”

“So, why would demons take Dad?” Sam asked.

Bobby shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“Well, I know you don’t hunt much anymore, Bobby, but I’m kinda hopin’ you’ll come outta retirement and come with us.”

“To the Campbells?” Bobby asked.

Dean nodded slowly. “I want to leave Adam with the Campbells and then go after these sonsabitches.”

Bobby looked back and forth between the boys. “That’s...yer dad ain’t gonna like that. Kate either.”

Dean stared at him boldly.

“Alright. Yeah.” Bobby went into the library, pulling a rolled paper out. “If we’re goin’ after Azazel, we’re gonna need a plan. One that doesn’t involve any Campbells sharin’ camp with us either.” He unrolled the paper, showing a big map of Lawrence. “Azazel, if he’s our guy, never lived in Lawrence. He’d just drop down, stir up trouble, and then leave. He lives in Purgatory. But I know a guy in Needham. That’s the port city in northern Lawrence. Ya can’t cross the ocean unless ya go outta Needham. The guy’s a...real dick, but he can help us get there.”

“We’re gonna get on a ship?” Dean asked, looking nervous.

“Yep. Most likely,” Bobby nodded. “If Azazel is in Purgatory, which is where he should be, we’ll need to cross the sea to Freeland. We just gotta figure out how we’re gonna get from Freeland to Purgatory.”

Dean and Sam nodded along. They seemed to trust Bobby a great deal. Even so, this entire rescue mission was getting larger all the time. Castiel wondered if he should even be joining them at this point. He was of little use. But perhaps the Campbells would know a good witch.

“I got a few things we should take along,” Bobby said with a wave, all three of them heading for the library.

Castiel jumped from the counter to the table to see the map better. On the maps in Haven, Lawrence was shaped the same, but were simply labeled Lawrence. No details. No roads or even physical features.

Likewise, Haven was a blank mass simply marked ‘Haven’ with an incorrect border at the north with that land marked ‘The Empty’.

This map of Lawrence had towns. Lots of them. And roads. Train tracks. Mountain ranges and rivers. He found Lebanon. He wondered where he was now. He followed Martin Road out of Lebanon, going north. He knew they had branched off three or four times from there. By his best estimate, they were somewhere outside of Sioux Falls. He saw no markings for the Campbells.

He had just started studying the towns in Freeland, when he was scooped up and sat back on the counter. Bobby rolled the map back up, putting a tie around it. He put it into a saddlebag.

Castiel jumped down, going back to the library. He could smell herbs and minerals. He noticed many places with witch sigils carved into the woodwork. Bobby had to know a witch. He wished he could just ask him.

He looked all over the house, noting how humans lived much like nephilim, with bedrooms upstairs, a bathroom, fireplaces in their living room, books on bookshelves, and kitchens. Human kitchens were full of interesting things. Nephilim used grace power to cook. He looked at the stove, sensing how hot it was. It was smart. A fire contained in a metal contraption that they could cook over. Around and around the house, he wandered, noticing new things each time.

Their plumbing was a curious thing. It was a system of pipes into the floors that brought water into the house. That was similar to nephilim. But the toilet only went just outside down a hill. They must not have underground sewer systems like the nephilim did.

Everything was made of wood or metal. Stone seemed to be rarely used. Most nephilim homes were made of marble or another form of stone. He liked Bobby’s house. It felt warm. Wood was much more agreeable than stone. Much more welcoming. It bent with you, with time, like how trees grew in nature. Stone went suddenly and abruptly. Staunchly holding its own. He came back downstairs, curling up on a chair by the fireplace. There was no fire in it at the moment, but Castiel could feel the warm echo.

Maybe he could communicate better with Bobby than he had with Dean, Sam, or Adam. As they filed back inside the house, gathering around the table, he watched them, and listened for any more plans or news.

He caught the sight of a waving hand. Dean was laying out bits of venison for him on the floor.

Castiel sprung up, not realizing how hungry he had been. He sat next to Dean’s leg, eating all Dean put on the floor for him.

He was even more excited when Dean sat his bowl on the floor. It had leftover broth from the stew. Castiel ate his fill. The salty stew was delicious. What he needed now was water. He went to the sink, but there was no water coming from the faucet.

He went back to Dean, putting his front paws gently on his thigh.

Dean looked down at him, smiling with a bit of surprise.

Castiel meowed, hoping Dean could figure out that he needed water.

He reached down, petting him.

Castiel meowed again.

“Whatsa matter?” Dean said quietly, scooping him up to his lap.

Castiel meowed plaintively. Dean gave him a puzzled look. He looked down at the bowl of stew, licked almost clean. He looked back at Castiel. “I got no clue, Thursday.”

Castiel turned to the others, but they were in heavy conversation, Bobby recounting when Sam was Adam’s age and still learning to ride a horse.

Castiel pushed his way out of Dean’s hands to the table, sticking his head into Dean’s cup. It was beer, but it would do.

Dean pulled the cup away, laughing. “No beer for cats.”

“He’s probably thirsty,” Bobby noted, going back to his story, making Adam giggle.

Dean got to his feet, filling a bowl with water and sat it on the floor. Castiel meowed at him, wishing he could just say ‘thank you’.

“You’re welcome,” Dean grinned, going back to the table.

Castiel sat there stunned for a moment. It had almost felt like a conversation. He wanted to talk to these people so badly. Dean was defending his brother in Bobby’s recounted tale. Castiel longed to pull up a chair and laugh along. Ask questions. Be a part of this group.

He took his much needed drink and was struck with a wave of sadness. Where was Gabriel? Why hadn’t he come for him? Why had he sent him and left him here in a land of strangers? He made his way back to the chair by the fireplace, staring at its empty grate forlornly. Maybe Gabriel had come back and found his messenger had failed.

He was sore. And he was tired. And he was a mighty fallen nephilim stuck in a cat’s body. Eating off the floor and glad to have the food. Begging for something as simple as water. His saddest, loneliest days as a faceless child in the children’s ward at Knowledge were nothing compared to his current situation.

 

**************************************************

 

Dean brushed Impala’s sleek black coat until it shone. She was beautiful on her own. When you shined her up, she was absolutely stunning.

“My beautiful girl,” he murmured, running his hand down her muscular shoulder. “That’s my baby.”

She nudged him with her head.

Bobby came to the pen Dean was grooming in. Bobby’s barn was only big enough to hold two horses, and he had one of his own. “Bad news.”

Dean stopped brushing, looking at Bobby. “What?”

“Trigger’s foundering. He ain’t gonna make the ride.”

“Shit,” Dean swore, pacing away from Impala to the railing near Bobby. “Well, Adam can ride with me or Sam and you can ride Wisconsin.”

Bobby nodded. “Alright. That’ll work. I need ta see Sheriff Mills before we leave town. See if she’ll take care of the place while I’m gone.”

Dean nodded. He went back to Impala, cleaning her hooves out. He saddled her, tying his saddlebags and bedroll behind the saddle.

He did the same with Wisconsin as Sam came out to get Challenger ready.

“Dean.”

Dean finished buckling the girth and turned to see Adam sitting on the top rail holding the cat in his lap.

“What’s up?”

“Somethin’s the matter with Thursday. Look.” Adam lifted the cat up. He looked pissed.

“Leave him alone, kiddo.”

“But look at his face.”

“He’s a cat. They always look mad.”

Adam sighed. “He’s not happy, Dean. I think he’s sad.”

“Well, maybe he wishes he woulda stayed home.” Dean gave the cat a cursory glance. “Give him something to eat and drink. I don’t know!“

“I tried that. He won’t eat!” Adam fretted.

“I don’t know what to tell ya, man. Maybe he’s homesick.”

Adam stayed on the rail, holding the miserable cat until they were ready to leave. Bobby locked his house up and they mounted. Sam mounted first because Challenger kept trying to nip him.

“Here, you take him.” Adam handed Dean the cat. He was right, there was no fight in him. No squirm or curiosity.

“You shoulda stayed home little buddy.”

Bobby mounted, following Sam on the long, winding lane that led through Bobby’s property. “Leave it here.”

Dean mounted, cat in his arm. “Nah. We’ll figure somethin’ out. He’s probably just tired. He comes in pretty damn handy at night.” He followed the others, letting Bobby take the lead. Bobby knew these parts better anyway. “Whatsa matter, Thursday?” He let Impala have her reins, knowing she would follow Bobby’s lead. He held the cat up in front of him, staring into his big blue eyes. “You sad? You sick of us dumb Winchester boys already?” He grinned as those blue eyes blinked slowly. “It was Bobby’s stew, wasn’t it? He never could cook,” Dean whispered, pulling the cat back into his chest. At least he had his attention now. “One time, when I was like ten, I caught a rabbit and brought it to him. He stewed that poor thing until it was no more than a hamster.” He chuckled at his own memory. He glanced down at the cat, seeing how closely he watched him. He arched a brow down at the thing. He might as well keep yammering. The cat seemed to like it. “Adam doesn’t know Bobby like Sam and I do. He only sees him at Christmas and over the summer. But Bobby used to be...well, they’re still friends. He’s friends with my dad.” His voice dropped a bit quieter. “When I was four, a demon came and killed my mom. Burned our house down.” He rode quietly for a moment, deep in memories of his mother and those early days. He and Sam had grown up in small places in towns, moving around from time to time. They weren’t poor. But they certainly had not grown up like Adam.

“She was so...well, I don’t really remember her much. But anyway, my dad went kinda shitty for a while. When things got bad, we went to Bobby’s. He took good care of us.” The cat was still watching him intently. “He used to get so drunk, it would take me days to find him. He’d be in some back-alley brothel or in the gutter, passed out. Meanwhile, Sam and I were tryin’ to have lives of our own. We moved around a lot. Then Dad would leave on hunts. Just...leave us. If we could, we’d go to Bobby’s if he was gone too long.” He sat lost in thought of that turbulent time until a tiny, soft paw touched his jaw. It brought him back to the present, and to the attention of the cat he was holding. He grinned. “So anyway, Bobby sucks as a cook, but he’s as good a person as you could ever wish for.”

He pulled the cat up so his little head was close to his mouth. “Don’t tell anybody, but I don’t ever want to be like my dad. I’m not gonna be sheriff someday. I don’t want to take care of everyone else’s problems. Just my own. I’m gonna live in a house just outside of some town and have my own boot shop.” He kissed the cat on top of the head, grinning. “I’m not runnin’ a shop. I’ll just sell in town at the market. How’s that sound? You wanna sell boots with me?”

The cat meowed, bumping his head onto Dean’s chin in affection. He dreamed about having his own little house. He should have made a move sooner. But maybe this was the wake-up call he needed. He loved his dad very much. He had been a much, much better father the past ten years. But being a public servant, a sheriff, did not appeal to him. He wanted a private, simple life. And love. As sappy as it sounded, that’s what he wanted.

They finally got to the main road and Bobby took them back into the nearest town, which was fine, because they had to change routes to head more north to get to the Campbells. He stopped in front of the sheriff’s house. Dean dismounted, sitting the cat on his saddle to stay with Impala.

Jody came out her front door. “Morning, Bobby! What’s got you -“ a look of surprise lit her face. “Dean? Sam? Wow! You boys just keep on getting taller!”

Dean grinned, hugging her. “Hi, Jody. Good to see you.”

“You too!” They clasped forearms, Dean noticing her sigils were the same as he remembered them. She looked at his arm with a perceptive little grin. “And is this Adam?” They let go of each other’s arms, turning. Adam gave her a friendly wave from behind Sam, who stayed mounted.

“Sure is,” Bobby grinned. “The boys and I are takin’ a trip up north to their grandparents place. Can you keep an eye on my place for awhile?”

“Sure,” she nodded. “I’ll have one of my girls stay up there.”

“Thanks, Jody. They can take care of Rumsfeld. Ole Trigger is foundering.” He handed Jody a small sack. “Have the vet come see him, would ya? And tell whoever is stayin’ there to keep him in the stable. No more field turn-out until he’s better.”

“Sure thing.” She took the bag with a nod. “When will you be back?”

Bobby glanced at Dean. He stepped closer to Jody, talking quietly in her ear. Jody’s face fell. “Good luck. Here, take this.” She handed him her pistol. Guns were hard to come by anymore.

“I got one,” Bobby said, shaking his head no. “But thank you.”

She frowned. “Then you’ll have two. I have more bullets inside. Silver ones too. I’ll be right back.”

Bobby took the gun reluctantly.

“Just take it, Bobby. We’ll probably need it,” Dean said quietly. “Sam and I each have one, but an extra won’t hurt.”

Bobby nodded. “Alright.” He took the bag of bullets Jody brought out, putting them in his saddlebag.

“Safe travels,” Jody nodded solemnly.

“See ya when I see ya,” Bobby grinned, patting her shoulder and mounting.

Dean wondered, for not the first time, why Bobby had never pursued anything more with Sheriff Mills. They had been friends as long as Dean could remember.

They said their good-byes and headed north on Johnson Road. Dean was relieved to have Bobby with them. He may have been on hunts before, and he certainly had done his fair share of adventuring, but knowing Bobby was with them made him feel a lot more confident.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5: Campbell Compound
 
 
Castiel had grown accustomed to traveling on a saddle.  It was not that he was enjoying himself, per se, but he rode with more confidence.  He had been riding with Dean for two days now.  He spent a great deal of his time wedged between Dean’s lower back and the bed roll.  Impala had a steady stride.  Dean had a steady hand.  He found he could even sleep when snuggled into his new position.
 
He prowled their campsites at night, always watching and listening for any intruders.  The past two nights had been quiet.  Other than a curious skunk, nothing had tried to disrupt the travelers or their horses.
 
He was unsure, the longer this trip took, if he had made the right choice.  He should be seeking help for his current dilemma.  He should have looked for a witch when they stopped to talk to the Sheriff, Jody.  He feared quite often that he would never hold a human form again.  The thought made him shake with worry at times.
 
He was becoming increasingly attached to these people, Dean particularly.  He loved his quiet steadiness.  He was fascinated with how comfortable and relaxed they all were with each other.  The way, at times, Sam knew what Dean wanted without speaking a word.  The way they cared for each other.  Their determination to find and rescue John Winchester.  
 
He appreciated their kind way with the horses and himself.  He wondered often if they would be kind if they knew who he was.  Their father had seemed quite unimpressed, if not belligerent, when he was a messenger, a nephilim, or what these men called sprites.
 
Men had lost their faith in angels during the apocalypse. They were left as bystanders to powerful displays of atrocities from beings they thought were either not real or heavenly beings only there to protect and love them.  The wars had destroyed faith, their lands, most of the people, and offered nothing in recompense.  It was no wonder they fought so hard to keep separate.  Even though the angels were all gone now, and what remained was their children’s, children’s, children; pale copies of their parentage, and their distaste made more sense the longer he was among them.
 
They certainly had no need of nephilim.  They thrived all on their own.  So, if he ever took his natural form again, it worried him what Dean, Adam, Sam, and Bobby would think of him.  Would they be angry?  Repulsed?  Excited?  It was impossible to guess.  And no day passed without Castiel fretting every scenario.
 
The horses came to a stop on the road.  Castiel sat up from his warm spot, looking around and smelling the air.
 
Dean was tense in his saddle, looking in all directions.
 
Quickly changing from awake to alert, Castiel shoved his head between Dean’s elbow and his side, coming to the front of the saddle.
 
Dean moved, allowing him through.  Impala took a nervous step to the side.  Castiel could smell her fear.  His claws extended, securing himself to the saddle in front of Dean.  
 
“What is it?” Adam whispered loudly.
 
“A storm, for one,” Bobby said quietly.
 
Castiel crouched low, peering into the woods on the right side of the road.  There was a faint foul smell on the air.  He had no idea what it was.  He felt the low pressure in the air, the humid tinge on the breeze.  Yes, a storm was coming.  But what had his fur standing on end and his tail stiff as a board was not a storm.  There was something lurking in the woods.  Something watching them.
 
They moved on, more watchful, until they stopped at a clear spot on the side of the road hours later.  It was raining now, and a rumble brewed to the north.  Castiel had spent a good deal of time sharing Dean’s saddle. Whether he was tucked behind him or perched in front of him, the two had learned to share the limited space rather well. With the rain, Castiel was parked just in front of Dean, leaning into his trunk, tucked beneath his coat. Dean smelled like the leather chairs in the great libraries of the Stacks.  He smelled like hay and horse, and a manly smell he decided must just be Dean.  He was very careful to keep his claws away and make the best of the rainy ride.
 
Free of the confines of Dean’s coat, he scouted the campsite.  The rain dampened the smells, but he still picked up trails from frogs, rabbits, and squirrels.  When the breeze gusted from the south, he picked up the foul scent faintly.  Wet dog was his gut instinct, but he’d never smelled a dog quite like this before.  They ate a cold dinner just under the trees to stay out of the rain.
 
While the people all fell asleep, Castiel’s unease grew.  He stayed up through the night to watch over them.
 
It was hours into the night when Castiel caught the faint smell of wild, foul dog again.  It was the same smell he remembered from the road earlier that day.

He prowled silently.  Finally, he was sure he had seen something move deep in the woods.
 
He ran to Dean, jumping onto his chest.
 
“What!” Dean sat up, looking around.
 
Castiel meowed loud.
 
Dean scratched his head, still waking up.
 
Castiel meowed again, stepping toward the woods.
 
Dean looked at the woods, getting to his feet.  “Sam, Bobby.”
 
Seeing Dean had woken and taken him seriously he crept closer to the woods, stopping to watch between the trees.
 
A low growl began deep in his chest.
 
Something between the trees was slinking closer to them.  He knew, somehow, this was no dog.  It was a wolf.  The smell was wilder, gamier.
 
He hissed when a tree limb creaked.
 
Dean pulled his gun out, aiming into the dark.  “I don’t see anything,” he whispered hoarsely to Sam, “but Thursday’s on attack mode.”
 
Castiel thought he could make out a figure crouched behind a tree.  He darted into the woods, dodging bushes and underbrush, rounding tree after tree.  He stopped just under a bush, seeing the figure in the moonlight. He was quite sure it was a werewolf.  They were skinnier, larger, and more angular than regular wolves.  The golden glow of the wolf’s eyes picked him out easily in the dark.
 
It’s a werewolf!  He tried to yell.  All that came out was loud, angry meowing.
 
The wolf swiped a long arm viciously at him.  It would have been enough to slice him to shreds, but Castiel darted out of the way, yowling loud.  The wolf’s attention went back to the camp, deciding Castiel was no real threat.
 
Bobby was yelling something about silver and the wolf began to creep toward them, malice evident in every creeping stride.
 
Castiel ran at the wolf, jumping onto its back, claws digging in, and biting down hard.  Fur and blood filled his mouth as the wolf reared up with a yelp.  The wolf twisted, thrashing, and snapping at him.
 
 
 
***********************************************
 
 
Dean lowered his gun when the wolf dropped dead.  Sam had Adam in his arms, knife held out in defense.
 
The wolf didn’t move.  He nodded at Bobby.  Bobby’s shoulders dropped only slightly in relief.  His shotgun still held high, he continued scanning the woods, as did Sam and Adam.
 
Dean gave the woods nearest him a cursory glance as he stepped in, approaching the werewolf.  He was still in the form of a wolf, bony and sparsely covered with patches of wiry fur.  His eyes were open and dull, his tongue hanging out.  His razor-sharp teeth visible easily enough in the moonlight.  His body began to shrivel back into human form.  Brown hair, dirty skin.  He was dead, whoever he had been.  
 
“It’s dead,” Dean called, nudging its shoulder with his foot.  He knelt, feeling for a pulse.  Nothing.  Its back bore claw marks and a bite.  Thursday must have been the reason the wolf had jumped up yelping.  It had given them the precious few seconds they needed for him to reload his gun with silver bullets.  He scanned the woods nearby.  “Thursday!” He whispered loud.  The cat had saved them all.
 
He shoved the body over, making sure the cat was not pinned underneath.  He searched around the brush, but it was thick and tangled.  A noise caught his attention.  He froze where he squatted on the ground, aiming his gun into the night.  
 
A form came into view too late for Dean to see, before he shot another werewolf coming for him.  Another bang rang out, making Dean flinch.  A wolf dropped on his left.
 
Dean watched, listening for any movement.
 
“Let’s go!” Sam yelled.  “The horses are ready!”
 
Adam had already mounted on Challenger, eyes wide, hands clinging to the reins.  Bobby was heading toward Wisconsin at a run.
 
Dean stood, searching the area for the cat.  “Thursday!” He yelled, shoving bushes aside.
 
“Dean!” Bobby yelled.  “There could be more!  Let’s go!”
 
Dean stepped back.  Dammit.  That cat had saved their lives.  It seemed wrong to leave him.  “Thursday!”
 
“Dean!” Sam yelled.
 
Dean ran back to Sam, who was struggling to hold onto Challenger and Impala, both were antsy with wide eyes, and ears pinned back.  He took Impala’s reins.  Sam mounted Challenger.  
 
“I gotta find the cat,” Dean said angrily, knowing he should just leave.  Knowing if it were anybody else, he would shove their ass on a horse, slap its rear and send them out of here at a run.  
 
“Dean!” Sam balked, pulling Challenger back.  
 
“There!” Adam yelled, he pointed, and almost launched off the horse, had Sam not clamped an arm around him.
 
Dean looked back, gun raised again.  At the edge of the woods, he saw a small black mound moving.
 
Dean ran, looking down at the cat.  He scooped him up, still scanning the woods.  He ran back to Impala, jumped on and took off with the others.  They rode hard for several miles before slowing to a trot.
 
As dawn broke, they entered a small collection of buildings or houses that might pass for a small town.  They went to a well at the center of the two main roads crossing and dismounted.
 
“Is he alive?” Adam asked, running to him.
 
“Honestly, I couldn’t see.”  Dean hesitated to loosen his hold on the cat.  “Now I’m just kinda scared to look.”
 
Bobby pulled up a bucket of water for the horses, and dug out cups for them to get a drink.
 
Adam took his jacket off, laying it on the ground.  Dean knelt, opening his arm.  The cat hung limply.  Dean sighed as he laid him down.
 
His front paws stirred weakly.  “He’s alive,” Dean said quietly, feeling relieved for the little guy.
 
“Here,” Sam pointed.  The cat’s side clearly matted with blood.  Dean began probing the fur.
 
“Here we go,” Dean muttered, finding a gash in his side about four inches long.
 
“I’ll get the medic gear,” Sam said, getting to his feet, heading for Wisconsin.
 
“Get me a bucket of water, Bobby.”  Dean got on his knees more steadily, readying himself to stitch the cat.  “Adam, get the vodka.”
 
Adam jumped up, heading to Impala to dig through a saddlebag.
 
“Get two of my shirts while you’re in there,” Dean called.  He looked back down at the cat.  “If a werewolf bites you, you turn into one.  What happens if you bite a werewolf?”
 
Bobby sat a full bucket next to Dean.  “Werewolf venom is in their incisors.  I think...well, hell, I’m not sure of anything.”
 
Dean sighed.  “I can’t believe I’m using our medic gear on a freakin’ cat.”  He didn’t mean it.  Really.  “But he did save our asses.”
 
“We woulda died in our sleep if he hadn’t woken you up,” Sam added, bringing a leather bag full of supplies.  
 
Adam came with the vodka and shirts.  “What are you gonna do to him?”
 
Dean thought as quickly as he could, lining up his gear.  “I’m gonna douse him with water so I can see what the hell I’m doing.  Then I’m gonna pour vodka on it.  Bobby, thread a needle.  Sam, you gotta hold him down.”
 
Sam looked reluctant to take such a task, but he posed his hands over Thursday’s shoulders and hips.  
 
“Okay,” Dean blew a breath out, ready for the cat to turn into a feral monster, “here we go.”
 
He tipped the bucket, dousing the cat.  The cat’s eyes popped open and he yowled in pain as Sam pinned him down.
 
“Hang in there, Thursday,” Dean hissed, seeing the gaping wound.  “This is gonna hurt like a motherfucker, buddy.”
 
He poured the vodka, making the cat squirm only slightly.  It huffed and puffed tiny breaths but did not fight.  He began stitching quickly.  Sam’s hands lifted away halfway through the stitching.  The cat stayed still, huffing his little chest, and blinking his big blue eyes.  
 
“A smart and little tough guy,” Dean muttered, finishing the stitches.  “One more time buddy.”  He poured vodka on the stitched site.  He dabbed a cloth, drying the area the best he could.  Then wrapped a bandage over the new stitches.
 
Dean took his shirts, tying them together to make a sling to carry the cat.  “Okay, Adam, your job is going to be to carry the cat without bumping him too much.”
 
“Okay,” Adam whispered.  He held the cat to his chest as Dean tied the sling to fit his small frame.  
 
“Well, thanks to our head start this morning, we should be at the Campbell’s by dinnertime,” Bobby reasoned.  
 
He gingerly handed Adam and the cat up to Sam.  Bobby helped him clean up and repack before he mounted.  Dean handed everyone an apple, a wedge of cheese, and dried beef for breakfast as they headed through town.
 
They were all a bit shaken by the werewolf scare.  If the cat survived the day, he just might pull through.  Dean kept his eyes peeled for any odd movements in the woods.  
 
As the day wore on, traffic picked up.  Full daylight and other travelers gave Dean a sense of safety he had been missing all morning.  They stopped for lunch at the edge of a farm.  Dean stretched out in a sunny spot on the grass.  He was tired of riding.  But he wasn’t looking forward to being at the Campbell’s either.  
 
“Here, I gotta pee n stuff.”  Adam lay Thursday, sling, and all, on his chest.  
 
Dean cradled the unexpected bundle.  “Has he eaten or drunk anything yet?”
 
“No,” Adam said, turning back.  “He just slept.”  He continued toward the woods.
 
Dean pulled the flap of his shirt back, looking at the sleek fur of the black cat.  His big blue eyes blinked sleepily.  “Sleeping is good.  But you gotta drink.”
 
The cat opened his mouth slightly, but no sound came out.
 
Dean opened his waterskin.  He had no bowl.  Glancing around, he sat up slowly.  He gently positioned the cat on his lap.  He poured water into the palm of his hand.  “Come on, you gotta drink.”
 
The cat attempted but stopped.  Dean moved him just a bit, getting a pained grunt from the cat.  He poured water into his hand again.  “Come on, man.”
 
The cat drank two tiny licks.
 
“You gotta do better than that.”
 
The cat sighed, almost making Dean chuckle.  “You saved our lives.  I’m just tryin’ to return the favor here, boy.  Come on.”
 
The cat drank.  Dean poured more into his palm and the cat drank it.  He’d been around cats his whole life.  But never had he been around one so responsive.
 
The cat slumped against his chest, panting.
 
“Good job.”  Dean rubbed his head, shifting him on his chest.  He tipped his head down, kissing the top of the cat’s head.  “Thank you for protecting us.  You just...hang on.  You can sleep in a real bed tonight.  No worrying.  And no horse riding.”
 
He grinned when a black paw reached for his arm, resting over his wrist.  “You’re gonna be fine,” Dean murmured.  He re-tied the sling onto himself, nodding off as Bobby and Sam made lunch.  They ate a big lunch, taking their time to stretch out.  By dinner, they would be with the Campbells.
 
Dean tried to steel himself against the pushy personalities the Campbell’s would have.  It bothered him that the Campbells viewed non-hunters as weak and useless.  Dean knew they thought less of him for not becoming a hunter like his mother’s family were.  But there was more to life than hunting and killing.
 
“Bout a mile,” Bobby hollered.  “They probably already know we’re coming.”  Bobby glanced back and forth at the woods on either side of the narrow lane.  “Paranoid bastards,” he muttered under his breath.
 
Dean smirked.  That, they were.  Come to think of it, this side of his family was less like a family and more like a gang.  Dean’s stomach dropped at the sight on the road ahead.
 
Samuel Campbell.
 
Damn.  Scowling just as much now as he usually did.  He sat astride a large black horse, arms crossed over his chest.  His face didn’t look any different, except his beard was grayer.  His head was as bald and smooth as ever.  He had a wide, strong build that always put Dean in mind of a mountain.
 
“We expected you a day ago.”  His eyes roved over Bobby from head to his horse’s hooves.  “I see you took a side trip.”
 
Dean dismounted, as did Sam, Adam, and even Bobby.  Dean pulled up his sleeve in greeting, cradling the cat protectively to his chest.  His grandfather strode to him first, pulling his sleeve up.  They clasped forearms, Dean finding the Campbell family sigil where it was always located, high on the forearm, just below the bend of the elbow.  He placed his thumb on the Campbell family sigil, a shield with a C on it, clasped his forearm and let himself be pulled in for a one-arm hug/pat.
 
Samuel stepped back, his eyes on the flannel lump on Dean’s chest.  “This is our cat.  It got injured fighting off a werewolf.”
 
Samuel’s features relaxed a bit, and something shifted in his eyes.  “Hunting on the way?”
 
“Yep.”  There was no way Dean was telling him the werewolves were hunting them instead of the other way around.
 
Samuel grinned, patting Dean’s shoulder heavily as he moved on to Sam to clasp arms.  Dean rolled his other sleeve up, knowing he would be greeting a lot more people.  
 
Maybe it was the ‘werewolf hunt’ or just having the cat near him, but either way, he felt better than he usually did around Samuel.  Maybe he was just growing up and learning how to take shit like an adult?  Whatever the strength was, he shrugged his shoulders, hardening himself to the slights and digs that Samuel wielded like weapons.
 
“This is Adam, our brother,” Sam said pointedly as the boy looked at his forearm in wonder.
 
“Wow!  You got so many!”  Adam’s eyes grew wide as he looked at Samuel’s forearm.  It was true.  Samuel had ties all over Lawrence, Freeland, and rumor had it, even sigils to hunters in Purgatory.
 
“That’s what happens when you’re a hunter,” Samuel grinned down at him.  “You meet a lot of good people out there.”
 
“And bad,” Dean noted, seeing already that Samuel was gonna brainwash Adam like he did every other kid.
 
Samuel ignored him.
 
“Where’s your Winchester sigil?” Adam asked.  
 
Sam and Dean exchanged a wince.
 
Samuel got on one knee, pointing to the Campbell shield.  “This is my family.  Campbells.”
 
“So, we aren’t family?” Adam asked.
 
“No,” Samuel grinned coldly.
 
“Oh, he is family,” Dean said low, taking on a cold stare from Samuel with a hard stare of his own.  “He is your son-in-law’s son.”  He didn’t say it, but the unspoken sentence, ‘He had to marry again because you got the love of his life - your own daughter - killed,’ reverberated between the two.
 
Samuel’s glare was hard as stone and as cold as ice.
 
“Family is family,” Dean said aloud.
 
Samuel turned back to Adam, shaking his hand, not a family gesture at all.  “Family then.”
 
Adam watched him wide-eyed as he moved on to Bobby.
 
The men clasped forearms, surprising Dean.  He wondered what sigil the two men shared.  It had to have been a time when Mary was alive.  He guessed a hunt back when his parents were young.
 
Samuel seemed even more distant now.  But Dean didn’t care.  He had to keep Samuel from tearing his brothers or Bobby apart.  Samuel was a conflicting combination of benevolent grandfather and brutal authoritarian.  He had spent too many days at Campbell Compound to not see both sides of him.  Sadly, he was mostly just an authoritarian dick.
 
The oppressive weight of the concrete and steel building loomed just out of sight.  Dean could already feel its weight.
 
“So, what brings you here?” Samuel asked, arms crossed over his chest with a wide stance.
 
“Not here,” Dean said quietly.  The nagging feeling of something being out there following them, had not left him since the attack from the werewolves.  
 
Samuel nodded.  “Come, then.”
 
They mounted, Adam looked terrified.  Dean couldn’t hear what his quiet pleas to Sam were, but he could guess.  He didn’t want to stay with Samuel.  Dean didn’t want to leave him either.  But he would be safe here.  No demon could touch him here.  And for now, that was all that mattered.
 
They followed Samuel along the dirt lane.  He was glad no one could see the chill that washed over him as the large block of a building came into view.
 
The cat shifted in his sling, bringing Dean’s attention back to him.  He put a calming hand on his hip as they passed through the gate.  He could feel the cat shudder as they passed through.  A low growling whine came from his little body.  “Easy buddy, we’re safe here.”
 
He nodded solemnly to the guy at the gate.  He was pretty sure he was one of his cousins.  The guy waved to him with a friendly enough grin.  Out of earshot, he said to the cat, “I don’t like it here either.”
 
Sigils and markings of all kind littered the walls and gate of the compound. A giant devil’s trap made of stone was buried into the ground, as wide as the gate.  It was kept swept and ready at all times. He didn’t even recognize some of the symbols painted and carved onto the gates and walls of the compound.  The wide wooden doors had the same symbols carved into the wood.
 
They dismounted, giving the horses to two more guys who came out of a large side entrance.
 
“Dean, right?” One of them grinned coolly.
 
Dean vaguely recognized the features of the man’s face.  He was a few years older than himself.  His short brown hair, grey eyes, and prominent nose were the same, even though he now had the start of a brown beard filling in.  “Tyler?”
 
“Yeah!  Been awhile,” Tyler nodded.  “And Sam?  Damn!  You grew up!”
 
Sam grinned, clasping forearms.  “Good to see you,” Sam said politely.
 
Tyler was related somehow through the Campbells.  Dean couldn’t remember all the family ties, but his Campbell sigil was proof enough.
 
“These horses have been on the road for almost a week,” Dean added, giving Impala a good scrub on the neck with his knuckles the way she liked.
 
“I’ll take good care of them,” he nodded.  “I’ll have your things sent to your rooms.”
 
Dean nodded.  Tyler had been a pretty easy-going kid, always hanging around the stable.
 
“Do you have a medic?” Dean asked.  The cat had not stopped squirming since they got here.
 
“We do.  Arlene.  You haven’t met her, but she’s Christian’s wife.”  He looked at the horses curiously.
 
“It’s not for the horses.  It’s our cat.”  Dean put a protective hand over the flannel sling.
 
“Oh.  Yeah.  I’ll have her come see you.”
 
Dean nodded, patting him on the shoulder as he followed his brothers, Bobby, and Samuel into the compound.  It reminded him of the bunker in Lawrence.  Grey concrete walls and floors.  Only there was no warmth inside this bunker.  It seemed all business.  People bustled busily with housewares and weapons alike.  They continued into the large building, following Samuel into a meeting room with a large table.
 
Samuel took his seat at the head of the table.  Dean took the chair next to him, cradling the cat to try and give him some relief.  Sam and Bobby took seats across from Dean, Adam shyly sitting next to Dean.
 
“I got a pigeon three days ago that you were to arrive yesterday,” Samuel began.  “Kate sent it.  She only said that I was to expect you.”  His eyes drifted to Adam.  Their cold grey-blue making Adam look away.
 
“We’re here because demons attacked the bunker in Lebanon.  They killed three of our guards and took Dad.”
 
He had Samuel’s full attention now.  “Demons?  Did you capture any?”
 
“No.  They possessed the guards and...it was all over before we really even knew they were there,” Dean explained, already knowing Samuel would be irritated with their lack of vigilance against them.
 
“I told John all his people should be tattooed,” he shook his head in disgust.  “Fool.”
 
Dean glared icily.  “We all have them, including Adam.”
 
Adam put a nervous hand up to his chest.  He had gotten his the day before they left.  Along with his Winchester sigil.
 
Samuel nodded.  “Did you get any information?”
 
“No.  But they just didn’t kill him when they could have.  They took him.  We got no immediate ransom, so we think it might have something to do with demons from when he was a hunter.”  He leveled Samuel with a cold look.  “Or you.”
 
Samuel pursed his mouth, not missing the intent of Dean’s words.  “Did you see what color smoke they were when they left the bodies?”
 
“Black,” Sam answered.
 
Dean had not known they could be different colors.
 
“So, what are you doing here?” Samuel smirked, sitting back.  “Hiding out until they take Kate or make demands?”
 
Adam looked panicked.
 
Dean put a calming hand on his shoulder.  “We’re here to leave Adam somewhere safe while we go after these bastards,” Dean snapped, unable to take any more judgmental looks from the smug jackass.
 
“We’re going after Dad,” Sam added, glaring equally.  “Do you think you can manage to keep Adam safe for us while we’re away?”
 
Samuel chuckled coldly.  “He’s safe here.  Honestly though, you think you can handle something like this?  How many demons have you hunted?”
 
“Enough,” Dean assured him.  “And Bobby has had plenty of experience.”
 
“You should take Christian with you.  Gwen too,” Samuel said, obviously thinking Dean, Sam, and Bobby were incapable.
 
“No,” Dean and Bobby answered.
 
Samuel raised an eyebrow at Dean.  
 
“I’m not dragging anyone into this that I don’t have to.  Sam and I owe it to Dad to find him.  Bobby is family and we trust him.”  He let the unsaid distrust for his own family sink in a moment, watching Samuel glare.  “I know you owe our dad.  And it’s a debt you’ll never repay.  So, Grandpa, maybe you can get us geared up so we can leave to find him and get him out of whatever mess you or he stirred up.”
 
Samuel looked like he might kill him.  The ice in his stare and the curl of his lip was all Dean ever saw, even when Samuel was acting kind.
 
“You owe him.  And us.”  Dean sat back.  His anger at the rash hunters was old.  All that anger he had pinned on his father for years, had been for this cocky son of a bitch right here.  Samuel stirred up more problems hunting so ruthlessly than he did just protecting his people.  And whether it was due to his father or his grandfather, his mother was dead.  Never coming back.  She had missed most of Dean’s life.  She had missed Sam’s firsts. Taken away by the dangerous game the Campbell’s enjoyed playing.
 
Samuel sat back.  “You listen here, you snot-nosed brat of a Winchester.  Your dad made plenty of enemies out there on his own.”
 
“None that still live,” Bobby said confidently.  “So, why would some demon want John Winchester now?  He ain’t been hunting in years.”
 
Samuel flushed with anger.  “Neither of us could even fathom trying to figure out how to think like demons.  Ten years is nothing to them.  Maybe good-ole John showed how weak his defenses were and one came back to get him.”
 
“Huh uh,” Bobby shook his head.  “We tracked demons from here to Upper Purgatory.  He didn’t make needless enemies.  He killed what he tracked.  Only son of a bitch he couldn’t get his hands on was Azazel.  And if I remember correctly, which I always do, that was your mess to begin with.”
 
Samuel’s flush of anger faded a bit.
 
“IF that’s the demon we’re huntin’, he’s gonna be out for Dean and Sam as well.  So, yay for you and yours tucked behind your sigiled walls, but the rest of us are out.  Living.  Doing what humans do.”
 
It was the first time Dean had ever seen his grandfather look anything other than smug or self-righteous.  Other than when his mom had died. He had been as broken as any father would be.  But he turned all that sadness to anger, pinning it on his dad.  His dad had turned into a demon-seeking monster of his own, leaving Dean and Sam to a childhood of struggle.
 
Shit really did roll downhill.
 
His raging anger at Samuel was interrupted by a black paw on his arm.  Thursday was watching him from his sling.  His other paw was on his chest, flexing in and out.
 
Dean’s anger tumbled into frustration.  Maybe Samuel wasn’t all to blame.  Shit, he might have had nothing to do with any of this.  But it did not change the fact that he was a cocky, degrading, bully of a grandfather.  He shoved his chair back, getting to his feet.
 
“We’ll leave in two days.  The horses need rest.  I want to know everything you know about demons, especially Azazel.”
 
Samuel nodded, not meeting his eyes.  The others got to their feet, following him back out to the main corridor.  He stopped one of the servants.  “Where are our rooms?”
 
The young man holding an armload of sheets and two giant animal traps, turned to him quickly.  “Two rooms at the end of the hall on the east wing.”
 
Dean nodded.  He led them up the stairs and to their rooms.  Their saddlebags were already sitting in the guest rooms.  
 
“Dean, Sam,” Bobby said quietly, “you boys take this room.  You can bunk with me, squirt.”  He ruffled Adam’s hair.
 
“Dean,” Adam turned to him, eyes pleading and about to cry.  “Don’t leave me here!  I can help!”
 
“You’re stayin’ here,” Dean snapped.  He felt the reserve of the anger he had at Samuel drain away as Adam started crying.  He recognized the cold edge in his voice and knelt, laying the cat on one of the beds.  He turned to Adam, at his level and wiped the tears off his soft cheeks.  “Sorry.  But this adventure Sammy and Bobby and I are going on is a little too big for you yet.  I’m gonna bring Dad home.  But I can’t do that if I don’t know you’re safe.”  He searched his brother’s eyes, needing him to understand.  “If I’m distracted out there, it’ll only get us hurt.”
 
Adam’s angry frown softened, and he sniffled.  He nodded bravely.  Dean crumpled inside. He had been left here several times throughout his childhood while his dad and Samuel or other Campbells went out hunting.  The damage Samuel had done to him verbally over the years made Dean hate himself for leaving him here alone.
 
“You know those swords and knives Dad never lets you practice with at home?” Sam grinned.
 
“Yeah?” Adam answered, still teary.
 
“If you show them how good you are with the wooden practice ones, I bet they’ll let you try the real ones.”
 
“Really?”
 
Sam nodded.
 
That was true enough.  If Adam grew up here, he’d have a short sword of his own by now.
 
“Besides, you gotta help Thursday get better,” Bobby said, eyeing the cat with a frown of worry.  “Time off the road might do him some good.”
 
Adam nodded.  He turned back to Dean.  “Are Demons gonna get Mommy too?”
 
Dean had to stamp down the hitch in his breath.  “No, Adam.”  He hated Samuel for even planting that seed.  “This has to do with Dad.  Not your mom.”
 
Fresh tears fell, but he nodded bravely.
 
Dean pulled him in for a hug.  “Everything is gonna be okay, Adam.  I promise we will do everything we can.”
 
Adam hugged him back tightly then pulled away with a barely masked brave look on his little face.
 
“Meet up in a few to get some dinner?” Bobby asked.
 
“Yeah,” Sam and Dean agreed.
 
Bobby took Adam by the hand and led him to the other room to put some of their gear away.  Dean closed the door as Bobby started to pull Adam’s clothes out to unpack for him.
 
Sam sat on the empty bed.  “This...”
 
“Yeah,” Dean agreed.  Campbell Compound was anything but ‘home’ to them all.
 
 
 
*******************************************************
 
 
 
Castiel knew the moment they crossed through the gates to this place that it had wards against nephilim.  He could feel the gnawing at his grace.  On one hand, it reassured him that he was still a nephilim somewhere in this tiny cat body.  On the other hand, he had to get out of here.  
 
The attack on the werewolf had not been planned. He just knew he couldn’t let the beast kill any of these humans.  If only he was in his true form.  He could have snapped its neck to slow it down.  He could have blasted it and the others away.  He could have warned them much better.  
 
But alas, his tiny form left him with few options.  The wolf had struck him hard after he bit it.  It had knocked him off its back and against a tree.  When he woke, the werewolves were all dead and his humans were leaving.  His head hurt tremendously, and he was bleeding from a claw gash in his side.  He had no memory of crawling toward them.  Only the memory of riding.
 
It felt as though they rode for a lifetime.
 
He remembered Dean stitching him.  He wanted to thank him for saving him and not just leaving him behind or leaving him somewhere to die.  The stitches were healing.  Nephilim healed faster than humans.  Or cats.  But the warding against nephilim was tearing at him.
 
Dean, Sam, Bobby, and Adam had gone to dinner.  His agony pulsed through him.  He breathed in the smell of Dean and cotton from his flannel shirts that had become a cocoon for him.  
 
He finally relaxed, now that he was no longer moving, but his sleep was tormented with pain and the nauseating pulse of the wards.
 
He woke to a woman prodding at the stitches in his side.  He let out a plaintive meow.  
 
“Easy buddy,” Dean called, stopping him from clawing her hand away.  “So, can you fix him or whatever?”
 
The woman studied him with a frown pulling at her mouth.
She wore her hair in multiple braids leading to one running down the center of her back.  “The stitches look okay.  It will be a sickness from the werewolf claw.  We should kill it.”
 
“Whoa,” Dean snapped, scowling at her, and stepping closer.  “We aren’t killing him.”
 
“It’s just a cat,” she frowned back.
 
“He isn’t just a cat.  He’s like a watchdog.  Only smarter.  And cleaner.  I want him healed, not killed.”
 
She huffed with a grin.  “I heard you Winchesters were soft.  Don’t like to hunt.  I didn’t think that meant you would endanger good people at the risk of this cat possibly turning into a werecat.”
 
“First off,” Dean cut her off, “Your husband, Christian, can kiss my ass.  Macho crusades across Purgatory, stirring up hatred toward humans amongst monsters is anything but noble or brave.  Second, there’s no such thing as a werecat.”
 
Her annoyance hardened.  “I suggest you keep it confined to this room.  If it attempts to infect anyone or anything here, I’ll kill it myself.”
 
She swept out of the room, her long dress flowing behind her.  
 
Castiel dropped his head back down in relief.  He just needed to get out of these sigiled walls.  He howled low.
 
He could feel Dean petting him gently.  If only he could tell him.  If only he could explain what was happening.
 
 
 
********************************************************
 
 
Dean lay awake long into the night.  Dinner had been filling but the atmosphere was chilly to say the least.  The cat had finally fallen asleep on his chest.  He stroked his silky fur idly.  
 
“Dean, you awake?”  Sam whispered softly.
 
“Yeah.”  Dean turned his head, looking over at Sam.
 
“I think we should leave tomorrow.  I hate it here.”
 
Dean sighed, his hand stopping to lay on the cat’s side.  “The horses need rest.”
 
“I don’t care if we walk to the next town and stay there.  And I think Adam would be better left at a stranger’s house than here.  Samuel thinks we’re useless, no-good Winchesters.  And we’re half mom’s!  What will he do to Adam?”
 
Dean sighed heavily.  “I can’t leave him with strangers.”
 
“We can’t leave him here.”  Sam sat up.
 
Dean rolled his eyes.  “We can’t just leave him with strangers!  Not happenin’.  Great.  Now look what you did.  You woke the cat up.”
 
“The cat?  You’re more worried about the cat than your own brother!” Sam snapped.
 
The cat was wide awake now, panting and gasping.  Dean wondered if he really was just letting this animal suffer.  What he DID know, was that Sam was being ridiculous.  
 
“Do you hear yourself?” Dean asked, incredulous annoyance making him sit up, making the cat howl low and slow.
 
Sam sighed, getting up, lighting the lantern.  He peered over his shoulder at the cat in Dean’s lap, trying valiantly to sit up.  
 
“We’re not leaving yet.  So, our cousins are douchebags.  We knew that.”  He wiped a hand down his tired face.  “Our grandfather might be king dick of the hunter squad, but he has knowledge and hopefully some weapons to give us.  He owes us, Sam.  And I intend to cash in.”
 
Sam nodded.  “Alright.  Fine.  We do this the smart way.  I still say we take Adam with us.”
 
Dean sighed.  “Maybe Bobby knows someone better to leave him with.”
 
Mollified, Sam went back to his bed.  “Okay.  But...Dean.  That cat.”
 
Dean sighed again.  “Come on, cat.”  He lifted the cat to his chest, holding him in a hug.  Something needed to go right.  He felt more frustrated than he could even say.  He stared down at the cat’s black little face, eyes so wide and blue.  “Are you gonna friggin’ die?”
 
The cat shook his head no.
 
Dean’s jaw dropped.  “Sam!  Sam!”
 
“I saw,” Sam said, coming back to Dean’s bed, watching the cat.
 
“Okay,” Dean swallowed, trying to think.  Why the hell was this cat so smart?  “Are you a shapeshifter?”
 
That cat shook his sleek, black head no.
 
“Are you a familiar?” Sam asked.
 
No.
 
“What the hell?” Dean sighed.  “Are you in pain?”
 
Yes.
 
“Are you gonna make it?”
 
Yes.
 
“Should we leave tomorrow?” Dean asked, feeling like he had some sort of ticket into the mystical world.
 
The cat looked at him, then Sam, then back to him.
 
“I’ll take that as an ‘I don’t know’.”  Dean and the cat stared at each other another long moment.  “What the hell are you?”
 
The cat meowed, coughed, and howled in pain.
 
“Alright, alright,” Dean said in a hushed voice.  “Just sleep it off, big guy.”
 
He laid the cat next to him on the bed, turning so he wouldn’t bump into him.
 
He and Sam exchanged bewildered looks.  Dean shrugged.  He knew there was something different about this cat.  It was the timing that really had him wondering.  Demons took his dad and then this cat showed up.  What the hell was the connection?  
 
He wasn’t sleeping, that was for sure.  He had no idea if he was sharing a bed with a friend or foe.
 

Chapter Text

Chapter 6:  Compound Problems with Compound Solutions
 
 
 
“Cat’s out of the bag, huh?” Bobby snickered.
 
“I knew something was off about this cat,” Dean whispered loudly.
 
“But, he’s a cat...right?” Adam asked, stepping back from the bed.
 
“Are you a cat?” Dean asked.
 
Big blue eyes blinked at him slowly.  He nodded yes.
 
“A really smart cat,” Sam added.
 
The cat nodded yes again.
 
“Yeah,” Bobby said slowly.  “Cats ain’t that smart.”
 
Dean shrugged.  “I don’t really know what the hell he is.  But he’s more than your average cat.”
 
Bobby poured some holy water on one paw.  Nothing happened.  “He ain’t a demon.”
 
A big part of Dean’s worry deflated.  “It doesn’t react to silver, holy water, salt, or my kitsune knife.”  He had tested each one as soon as he woke up this morning.  But Bobby finding the same results made him feel like he wasn’t losing his mind.
 
“We need to figure this out,” Bobby said under his breath.  “And we best not let anyone else in this place catch on.”
 
“Did you hear that, Thursday?” Dean said sternly.  “So...act like a cat.”
 
“Don’t leave this room,” Bobby ordered, getting a nod from the cat.
 
Dean frowned, rubbing a nervous hand over his jaw.  “He hasn’t moved since we got here.  I mean, he’s moved on the bed, but he hasn’t even gotten off of it.”
 
They all stared down at the cat, which was laying on his side, looking like it hurt to even breathe.
 
“Let’s get down to breakfast,” Sam huffed.  “At least we get fed here.”
 
“We’ll bring you some breakfast, okay?” Adam said, still not getting near the bed.
 
They headed down the corridor and downstairs to the dining hall, which they called a ‘cafeteria’ here.
 
They moved through the line, each taking a cup of milk.
 
“Dean, Sam,” Samuel called, entering the cafeteria with a grin.  “Come join me for breakfast.  We made a special meal for you.  It’s not often that my grandchildren are here.”
 
Dean immediately felt like it was a show.  He grinned wide.  “Food?  I’m in.”  He took his cup of milk and followed his grandfather to a smaller room off the cafeteria.
 
They all sat down at a large table.  Dean was less than thrilled to see Christian and Arlene already there.  Christian had a tolerant smile pinned on his face.  Dean didn’t bother to return it.  Two more people sat at the table as well.  More cousins that Dean recognized immediately, Gwen and Mark.
 
Mark gave him a nod.  Dean nodded back.  He remembered Mark well.  His hair was still shaggy and dirty-blonde.  But he too had a trim beard now.  He liked Mark more than any of the others.  He was quiet.  Always had been.  Dean used to bug the shit out of him until he could provoke him into action.  As if he were thinking the same thing, he quirked a grin at him.
 
Gwen, his other cousin, looked as shrewd as he remembered.  Samuel never let her rough-house like him, Sam, Mark, Christian, and Tyler.  They always had to be more careful if they were sparring with her or hunting with her.  Dean knew her to be a snitch.  He had no room for snitches.  Never did.
 
“A nice family breakfast,” Samuel smiled.
 
Dean smiled back, knowing he had mastered the same ability to smile and still look disgusted if you looked close enough.
 
“Gwen, Mark,” Sam nodded politely, being the polite gentleman they were raised to be.
 
Adam sat timidly between Dean and Sam, Bobby on Dean’s other side.
 
Dean saw a table covered with dishes of scrambled eggs, bacon, fried potatoes, fruit, and slices of ham.  Dean’s eyes lit up when a kitchen worker brought in a pot of coffee.  There was a major coffee shortage this year in Lawrence, and Dean was damn near drooling at the fantastic smell of it.
 
“Damn, bringin’ out the good stuff,” Dean grinned (for real this time).
 
“Well, after our disastrous meeting yesterday,” Samuel said, bowing his head slightly, “I thought it was only right.”
 
Dean loaded his plate, getting annoyed looks from Christian, Arlene, Bobby, and Gwen.  Sam just looked slightly embarrassed.  Adam held his plate out to Dean.  Mark grinned down at his plate.  “Dig in,” Samuel laughed.
 
Everyone else began filling their plates.
 
“How is your cat?” Arlene asked, obviously not really caring.  Dean saw it for the dig it was.
 
“Better.” He refused to take her bait, instead, enjoying the hot, fresh coffee.
 
“Dean, Sam,” Samuel began conversationally, “I was thinking about where you guys are heading.  You do remember the exorcism spell, don’t you?”
 
Dean glared at him.  Of course he knew it.  He spent a week here one summer, damn near starving to death because they would not allow him to eat until he could recite it first. He did feel gratified when Bobby glared at Samuel, and Mark gave Samuel a pause in chewing and a frown of disbelief.
 
Samuel grinned, making his point.
 
“Do you have any maps we can take for the trip?” Sam asked.  “We need a good Purgatory map, if you have one.”
 
“Our most updated one is four years old, but it should work,” Christian answered.
 
Smug little fucker.
 
“Sure, you can take a map,” Samuel nodded.  “I wanted to talk to all of you this morning.”
 
Everyone looked to the patriarch, listening.
 
“I think I should take Adam back to Lebanon.”
 
Dean sat back.  “Why?”
 
Samuel looked as though he didn’t want to answer that.  “I think the demons will come back.  And it appears the bunker isn’t as well warded as it should be.  I just...I think I can better protect them from there.”
 
Dean was immediately suspicious.  And he didn’t want to scare Adam.  He nodded.  “I’ll think about it.”
 
They continued eating in an awkward silence.  
 
“So,” Christian grinned, “you married yet, Dean?”
 
“No,” he said with a laugh.  “Not me.”
 
Christian grinned, giving his wife a smug look.  “You should try it.  Well, maybe when you’re a little older.  More mature.”
 
“Christian,” Samuel snapped.
 
Christian studiously cut his ham.  Dean went back to his own plate.  “Besides, when I get married, it won’t be to the likes of Arlene.”  He sat up, giving Christian a challenging look.  He heard Bobby sigh.
 
“What exactly does that mean?” Christian growled, his fake grin finally dropping.
 
“Well, for a medic, she would just rather the patient die than try to take care of it.”
 
“It’s a cat!” Arlene snapped.
 
“It’s fine,” Dean shrugged.  “It wasn’t a simple fix.  It might take some, ya know, thought.  Or even a little research.”
 
“Dammit, Dean,” Bobby said under his breath, wiping his mouth.
 
“But mostly because she’s a she.  I don’t go for women.”  Seventy percent of the population was homosexual.  But he almost wished Christian would provoke him about it.  
 
“You are such an asshole,” Christian snapped.  “You need to apologize to Arlene right now.”
 
“I’ll be sure to send a letter, when I get to a real medic who can treat him instead of walk away from him.”
 
“Dean,” Sam warned, glaring at him.
 
“That’s enough,” Bobby growled, glaring at him hard enough to wipe the smart-ass look off his face.  
 
He turned to Arlene.  “Sorry.”
 
Arlene’s scowl didn’t soften.  Dean could read people well.  He had hit the nail on the head.  She was a mediocre medic at best.  He had called her out on it, and he was good with it.  Served her right.  While they were down here eating, that animal was writhing in pain upstairs.
 
Samuel sighed, poking at the food on his plate.  “Ya know, Dean, your father and I rarely saw eye to eye on much.  But family was one thing we agreed on.  We take care of our family.”
 
Dean tried not to be as transparent as he had been.  The only thing reining him in was the anger on Bobby’s face.  And there was still the slim possibility that this was all his dad’s fault.  Or that it was random.  Yeah, that last one was weak.  He glanced over at Adam, who had stopped eating.  Dean sighed inwardly.  He was really freaking Adam out.
 
“You’re right,” Dean said quietly, looking at his grandfather.  “It’s hard to get past the judgement everyone here has against us.  But...I want to.  My dad is missing.  I don’t even know if I’m going on a rescue mission or a revenge mission.  He could be dead for all we know.  But I gotta believe he’s still alive.  And I’m going to save him.”
 
Samuel nodded.  The rest of them stowed their shitty attitudes.  “I have some maps to help you.  I also have some...ideas of where he might be.”
 
Now they were getting somewhere.  
 
“They should get the demon knife,” Gwen said, pushing her plate away to lean forward on the table.”
 
“The what?” Dean and Sam asked.
 
“The demon knife,” Samuel explained.  “We had a blade, bout as big as my forearm.  It didn’t look all that special, but a sprite made it.  It kills demons.”
 
“It kills demons?” Bobby repeated, looking as surprised as he and Sam did.
 
“A sprite?” Dean asked with disbelief.  “I thought they were...dead.  Or not even real.”
 
“Oh, they’re real,” Christian smirked.  “If you spent any time up north, you’d know.”
 
Dean rolled his eyes.  
 
“Have you been to Sunken Ties?” Sam asked.  Dean had heard the old stories about Sunken Ties, the end of the fight between Sprites and Humans. The land strait that led to Haven had been ripped apart, letting the sea divide the land of Haven from Purgatory.
 
“I haven’t been that far,” Christian admitted.  “Humans don’t go there unless they wanna be caught by a sprite and never seen again.”
 
Christian raised an eyebrow at the brothers’ skeptic look.
 
“The sprites will snatch you up and kill you or keep you for breeding.  You two really need to get out a little.”  Christian went back to his breakfast with a smug look.
 
Samuel nodded gravely.  “The knife was made by Warlock, Sunday’s Sprite.  Or, so the legend goes.  The blade kills the demon instantly.”
 
“It works,” Christian nodded.  “I’ve used it.  You stab ‘em, and this orange light flashes and bam!  They’re dead!”
 
“Where is it?” Bobby asked, looking suspicious.
 
“Lincoln.  A town on the west coast of Purgatory.  The place is full of demons.”  Christian had a slightly haunted look as he went on.  “Lost it to a demon named Ruby.  She’s the one that killed Johnny.”
 
Johnny.  Another cousin.  Dean immediately flashed back to when he was a kid.  Johnny was older, a teenager when Dean was barely ten.  He had a boyfriend, and for a short time, Dean thought he was the coolest person he knew.  He had wondered where he was but figured he had been out hunting.  As Dean grew up, he realized Johnny was just as crass as the rest of the Campbells.  They were reckless with their lives when it came to hunting.  So, it wasn’t a total shock that Johnny was dead and gone and no one had bothered to let them know.
 
“Ruby’s one of the few demon names we remember Dad mentioning.  So, what’s the story with her?” Sam asked.
 
They listened as Samuel and Christian recounted a demon hunt that, to Dean, seemed unprovoked, unwarranted, and more like head hunting.  But he just listened.  His grandfather had lost four people on this battle, tracking the demons to Lincoln.
 
“If you get that knife,” Samuel leaned forward, looking excited, “then you would have a much better chance against any demons.  It could make all the difference.”
 
Dean wanted it.  Demon knife, next stop.  He wanted to pack up and hit the road right now.  But Bobby looked worried, doing his beard rubbing, hat shifting, and squinty eyes thing.
 
Breakfast over, Dean took one of the back staircases to their room, coaxing Bobby into being as on board with this sweet idea as he was.
 
“What’s not to like about a knife that kills demons as easily as a knife kills a human?” Dean badgered, closing the bedroom door behind him.
 
Bobby paced over to the window.  “If the knife is so damn great, why haven’t they gone ta get it?  Huh?  They eat up a hunt.  Seems like something you wouldn’t let go of lightly.  They know exactly where it is.  So, why haven’t they gone back for it?  He said they lost it two years ago.”
 
Huh.  Dean glanced at Sam; he didn’t want to lose a chance to get the knife.  It was the perfect weapon!  “I don’t know, Bobby!  But it’s something!”
 
Bobby shook his head no.  “I don’t like it.”
 
“You don’t like it.”  Dean was becoming pissed now.
 
“It’s too easy.  It just don’t make sense that they haven’t gotten it back themselves.”
 
“He has a point,” Sam interjected.
 
Dean wanted to throw something.  “How ‘bout this, we pack our shit, see what else we can find here, and leave at dawn.  That IS still the plan, right?”
 
Bobby narrowed his eyes at Dean.  “Don’t sass me boy.  I’ve been fannin’ yer hide since you were old enough ta ride a horse.  Don’t think I won’t put you in your place.”
 
Dean flushed.  He sat on his bed, next to Adam.  “Sorry, Bobby.  I -”
 
“You need outta here.”  Bobby still looked bothered about the whole idea.  “This place is part of the problem.”  He sat on Sam’s bed, next to him.  “I only know one guy who can get us to Freeland.  For three of us to get passage, it’s gonna cost us.”
 
Dean’s excitement was waning.  “How much?”
 
“He don’t deal in money.  He deals in things.  He likes rare finds.  The shinier, the better.”
 
“What were you planning?” Sam asked.
 
“I brought some coins.  And I have some ingredients fer spells that ain’t easy to come by.  But I’m worried it ain’t gonna be enough.  I was hoping we could pick something up here that might be a little more...valuable.”
 
Dean nodded.  “Let’s see what the old man has.”
 
“Is that the only way to get to Freeland?” Sam asked.
 
“Fraid so,” Bobby admitted.  “Wish I knew a better way.  But there’s good reason to keep traffic from Lawrence to Freeland slim.  Freeland is the only country where monsters and humans live together.  It’s dangerous.  But we can’t get ta Purgatory without goin’ through Freeland.”
 
They all nodded.
 
Dean looked down at the cat.  He seemed to be listening through all his panting.  “Sound like a smart plan?” Dean asked it.
 
The cat looked at all of them but said nothing.
 
“Still want to come with us?” Bobby asked.
 
It nodded his black head yes.
 
“Do you know a better way to Freeland?” Adam asked it.
 
It shook its head no.
 
Dean sighed.  “Alright.  Let’s start seein’ what the old bastard has tucked away here.  Too bad he doesn’t have that knife.  Probably woulda been perfect payment.”
 
 
 
******************************************
 
 
 
The research room in the bunker of Campbell Compound was downstairs in the basement.  It was cold and gray like the rest of the building.  Dean managed to pull his grandfather aside and tell him they needed something valuable to get to Freeland.
 
Samuel understood their dilemma immediately.  Dean was a bit surprised when his grandfather gave them everything they could want for the trip.  Food, water, better sleeping rolls, weapons they didn’t have, maps, and most of all, a set of ten identical chalices.  Each laced with poison to kill any number of monsters.  He said it was perfect for a dealer like Bobby’s contact, the King of the Crossroads.  Bobby seemed to agree.
 
As Sam and Bobby took their new gear to pack it with the saddlebags, Samuel pulled Dean aside.  “I wish I could give you more.  Your mother...”
 
Dean looked away.  
 
“Your mother would hate me for not joining you.  Mark said he would go.  I’d send Christian, but -”
 
“No thanks,” Dean interrupted.  “We’re tryin’ ta keep this a small group.”
 
Samuel blinked with what Dean suspected might be a moment of guilt.  “Demons would see us coming.  We’re too easily recognized among them.  We’ve...made a lot of enemies.”
 
Dean nodded.  “Yeah, we can’t risk that kind of heat.  But...thank you.”
 
They exchanged an understanding nod.
 
“I do have a request,” Samuel said, puffing his chest up a bit.  “The demon knife comes back to the compound when you’re done with this rescue.”
 
Dean nodded.  So, that’s why they were getting all the freebies.  “Fair enough.  I have a request of my own.  Adam.  He’s staying here.”
 
“Dean,” Samuel shook his head, stepping closer.  “I’m leaving at first light to go to Lebanon.  I can’t do anything from here.  But I can help Kate keep the bunker safer for everyone there.”
 
“You think demons will go back there?”  A rush of cold filled Dean’s chest.
 
“I’m sure some are already there.”
 
Dean rubbed a hand over his jaw.  “Then take Adam home.  And I want Mark to go with you.  No one else.  I don’t need any more Winchester-hating Campbells than necessary inside the bunker.  I know you think Dad’s weak for having a life there, but at least we had a home for the past ten years.  The people in Lebanon respect him, Samuel.  If I find out you’re there talkin’ shit -”
 
Samuel held his hands up.  “I have no interest in taking over Lebanon.  And I know your dad is well respected.  It isn’t just Lebanon.  All of Lawrence respects what he’s done to improve keeping monsters out and improving trade.”
 
Dean bit his tongue.  “Then you put up sigils and help train guards.  And take Adam home.”
 
“Done.  I’ll take him home.  I’m sure Mark won’t mind coming along.  And Dean...we don’t hate you.  You’re just...very different than us.”
 
“Well, it feels the same no matter how you slice it.  Grandpa.”
 
Dean walked away.  He had never come to the compound and felt like an equal.  He had been young.  And always under the scrutiny of being a Winchester. They weren’t raised like the rest of the family, training to be hunters day in and day out.  Their dad had only hunted to appease Samuel for their mom’s sake.  And then his revenge spree.  Thankfully, he got out of that life.  He and Sam had not grown up like this.  He could hunt, but it wasn’t the ONLY thing in life.
 
They ate dinner, Mark joining them.  He was quiet, but he was the same as he had always been.  As they made their way toward the stairs, Sam stopped Mark.  “Take good care of Adam.”
 
Mark nodded.  “He’ll be safe.  Even from Samuel.”
 
Sam, Dean, and Mark all exchanged a hug.  
 
Mark knelt to Adam.  “You and me tomorrow.”
 
Adam nodded, clasping forearms.  They had no sigil to share, but it meant there was trust between them.
 
Mark stood up with a nod to the brothers and headed toward the stables.
 
Dean scooped Adam up, throwing him over his shoulder.  “You ready for that long ride home?”
 
“Yes!” Adam giggled.  
 
Dean pulled him back up and sat him on his hip as they went up the steps.   “I’m pretty damn impressed with you, man.”
 
Adam nodded, making a face as if he were proud of himself.  It reminded Dean of when Sam was small.  He was watchful and smart, like Sam.  
 
“You take care of yourself.  If you gotta make any decisions, go with Mark.  Samuel is...”
 
“I don’t like him.  Or Christian.  Why is your mom’s family so mean?”
 
“I don’t know, buddy.  They’re hard.  They’re hunters.”
 
“You hunt,” Adam said in confusion.
 
“We hunt if we have to,” Sam helped him explain.  “The Campbells hunt.  Period.”
 
Dean opened the door to their room, putting Adam on his feet.  “Where’s Thursday?” They both asked.
 
The shirts that had been the cat’s world for the last few days, lay empty on Dean’s bed.
 
They began looking under all the furniture.
 
“Maybe he went to the bathroom,” Adam said shakily.
 
“Maybe.  Sam, take Adam and start looking outside.”
 
“Where are you going?” Sam asked, a note of warning to the question.
 
“To find Arlene.”
 
“Dean,” Bobby stopped him with a hand to his chest.  “I’ll ask her.  I’ll ask around.  You keep lookin’.”
 
“Fine.  But if she killed him, I’ll chop all her fucking hair off.”
 
Bobby raised both eyebrows but took him quite seriously.
 
“Dean,” Sam stopped him, making Dean bite back a frustrated swear and clench his fist.  “He really was sick.  He might have crawled somewhere private and...died.”
 
Dean blew out a frustrated sigh.  “If he died on his own, fine.  If a ‘medic’ helped him die...we’re gonna have a problem.”
 
All Bobby’s digging and all their searching was in vain. No cat was found.  Correction, plenty of cats were found. Three of them were black.  But none of them were Thursday.
 
 
Dean was up half the night searching before he finally went to bed.  He had to ditch his worries and go to sleep.  His dad was somewhere suffering.  And that was in a good scenario.  He tossed and turned until Sam woke him just before dawn.
 
“It’s time to go, dude.”  Sam pulled a bag onto his shoulder and headed out of the room.
 
 
 
******************************************
 
 
 
Castiel had never fought so hard in his life.  It had taken him hours to drag himself out of the bunker and through the gate.  The closer he got to the sigils, the weaker he became.  Once he was through the gate and free of the sickening symbols, he crawled under a bush to recover.
 
The immediate relief from the drain on his grace was like breathing full air again.  He passed out before night had fully fallen.
 
Luckily, an angry blue jay woke him.  It was dawn.  Castiel got to his paws, darting away from the territorial bird.  He was still weak, but he felt remarkably better.  As he glared back at the bird, he hated himself a bit more for ending up in this predicament.  Angel of Thursday. A weak and injured cat.  Of all the audacious injustices.  Chased by a bird.
 
He slunk between some bushes when he heard hoof steps.  He watched as Samuel, Adam, and another man from Campbell compound rode past.  He was a bit torn.  He felt as though maybe he should be staying with Adam to keep him safe.  But Adam looked happy enough.  
 
He waited, watching the gate carefully.  They said they would leave today.  He fought the notion to fall asleep.  He desperately needed food and water.  
 
He heard more hoof steps.  Sam, Bobby, and Dean came out next.  Castiel darted out, meowing loud.  
 
“Sam!  Bobby!”  Dean dismounted quickly, picking him up with a look of shock.  “Where the hell have you been?”
 
Castiel wanted to tell him.  But he was so tired.  So hungry.  So thirsty.  And still a fucking cat.  “Meeoooow.”
 
“He’s alive!” Dean held him up for the others to see.
 
Sam grinned.  “I see.  Should we take him back in?”
 
Castiel growled.
 
Dean lowered him to his chest with a chuckle.  “D’ja hear that Sam?  That was cat for ‘no, asshole’.”
 
Sam rolled his eyes.  “Are you bringing it along?”
 
“Yes.”  Dean mounted, sitting Castiel on the saddle in front of him.  His green eyes searched him with a look of relief and worry.  “You look better.”
 
Castiel meowed plaintively.  He was so tired of not being able to talk.  He sat up tall, putting his paws on Dean’s chest, meowing in his face.
 
“I missed you too, buddy,” Dean grinned.  Petting him.
 
Castiel damn near growled again.  Humans and their incessant petting!  He saw Dean’s waterskin hanging by his leg and began pawing at it.
 
“I thought you crawled off somewhere and died,” Dean said quietly.
 
“I think he needs water.  Food too,” Bobby said, watching him.
 
Castiel sat up, nodding yes.
 
Dean’s eyebrows raised.  “Yeah...I’m not gonna lie.  That yes/no shit kinda creeps me out.”  He pulled the waterskin up, pouring water into his hand.
 
Castiel drank it all.  And the next three handfuls too.
 
Dean closed the skin and they began walking.  Castiel meowed again.
 
“I’m workin’ on it, bossy,” Dean frowned, pulling a piece of dried ham out of his jacket.  He tore off small bites, helping Castiel stay on the saddle.  Castiel ate the entire strip of ham, hungrily.  
 
He felt much better after the food and water.  He lay down on Dean’s lap, needing his stability.  He stretched out, laying like a blanket.
 
Dean muttered to him the whole time.  Castiel knew he should be more thankful.  These people were doing the best they could.  It was no one’s fault but his own that he was a cat.  He just needed to find a witch to help him.
 
Where was Gabriel?
 
 
 
****************************************
 
 
 
Dean tossed another log on their little fire.  “How long is it going to take to get to Needham?”
 
“Tomorrow we board the train. One night on that. Another day’s ride to Needham,” Bobby answered as he sat a few more sticks on the ground to feed the fire.
 
Dean nodded.  “How do you know this King of the Crossroads guy?  You never said.”
 
Bobby sighed, kneeling to the fire to rearrange a few logs.  “I never said, because I ain’t too thrilled to talk about it.”
 
Dean sat down next to Sam.  Sam looked puzzled.  “This a hunting thing?”
 
“Yeah.”
 
“Care to elaborate?” Dean pushed.
 
Bobby glanced over at them.  “Not really.”
 
“Bobby,” Sam half laughed.  “We gotta know what we’re walking into.”
 
Bobby sighed.  He watched the fire for a while.  Dean thought the old bugger wasn’t going to share anything, then he finally started talking.
 
“Yer dad and I were chasin’ Azazel.  Had a good lead.  We...I enlisted help from him.  He’s known as the King of the Crossroads.  He handles transport to Freeland and handles people and monsters coming from Freeland to Lawrence.  If there was a boss demon in Lawrence, he’d be it.”
 
“Demon?” Sam said with shock.  “This guy’s a demon?”
 
“He is,” Bobby admitted.  “Name’s Crowley.  Anytime I went to Freeland, he handled my passage.  And your dad’s.  He’s a ruthless businessman.  I don’t like working with him, but...trust me, there’s a lot worse.”
 
Dean didn’t like the sound of this.  He reasoned he wouldn’t like a lot of things about this trip they were taking.  But working with a demon seemed dangerous to say the least.  “If people know Crowley is what he is, why hasn’t anyone killed him?”
 
“Crowley...believe it or not, can be a people pleaser.  He always finds some way of staying out of trouble.  It’s his connections.  He’s powerful.  And like us, sometimes people need him.  I guess you could say he’s found himself a place in the market.”
 
“But, in Lawrence?” Sam asked.  “I feel like I’m breaking the law just knowing about him.”
 
“Huh,” Bobby laughed humorlessly, “it won’t be the last law you break on this trip, kid.”
 
Sam frowned.
 
For not the first time, Dean wondered just what he would be sacrificing to rescue his dad.  He hoped it was worth it in the end.
 
“Crowley is under special dispensation to live here.  He has a deal with John, saying as much.  All demons traveling to Lawrence are restricted to Needham and are Crowley’s responsibility.  Until we get to Freeland, anyway.”
 
“So, Crowley gets to be king of Needham.  What did Dad get?”
 
“Plenty,” Bobby nodded.  “Political support.  Stronger laws narrowing the transport completely to Needham.”  Bobby winced, “Even some trade deals.”
 
Dean was shocked.  His dad.  The demon hunting bad ass.  Working WITH a demon.  Sam looked just as rattled.
 
Bobby shook off his dark cloud and started making dinner.  “How’s the cat?  Or whatever it is.”
 
Dean looked down at the black cat sitting beside him.  Typical for a cat, his face wore a permanent look of bitterness.  “He’s sitting up.  He ate like a horse today.  Drank like one too.”
 
“Well, maybe we’ll get lucky,” Bobby grinned, “and when we wake up, he’ll be a horse.”
 
Dean grinned, looking at his traveling companion.  “Can you turn into a horse?”
 
The cat glared at him a second before shaking his head no.
 
“Guess not.”  Dean lay back in the grass, stretching out.  He was going to meet a demon.  And not kill it.  It boggled his mind.
 
Silence stretched on as Bobby stirred potatoes and onions over a frying pan.
 
“Do you believe Samuel’s story about sprites making this so-called demon knife?”  Sam asked.
 
“Plenty of lore out there about sprites.  No one I ever came across saw one.  But they definitely used to be here. We had a war with them, after all.”
 
“Why do they breed with people?” Sam asked.
 
“One of my books says people used to try to be partners with them.  It was an honor if they chose you.  Nobody really knows what happened to them though.  Sprites can’t have children on their own.  But if they breed with humans, they can have kids.  Weaker sprites than the ones before them.  Guess we’ll learn more in Purgatory.”
 
“Friggin’ sprites.  Didn’t think I’d be dealing with the likes of them,” Dean shook his head in disgust.
 
“Doubt we will,” Bobby said over his shoulder, “they stay way up north.  They don’t care about what goes on down here.  Too busy squabbling amongst themselves.”
 
Dean looked down as the cat meowed, nearing Bobby.  He had been meowing for the last two minutes.
 
“I cooked you some too,” Bobby grinned.
 
The cat sat there staring at him.
 
Bobby stared back at him.  “You callin’ me an idjit?  I’ll have you know I don’t speak cat.”  Bobby’s eyebrows jumped a little as the cat grumbled at him.  “Cats are such assholes.”  He laughed, “He just rolled his eyes at me!  You missin’ any other relatives?  He kinda reminds me of you, Dean!”
 
“Ha ha,” Dean bantered, unamused.  
 
“So, back to what you were saying,” Sam interrupted, “sprites need humans to have kids.”
 
“It’s part of the great punishment when the angels were thrown down from heaven.  Only the Creator made angels.  Guess they figured out over time how to have kids.  Those were just nephilim though.  Half human, half angel.  Pure angels are all dead.  Then, during the War of the Peoples those damn sprites said they would help men, but they were too busy fighting amongst themselves to be of any use.  They pulled out, sunk the land bridge and cut themselves off from everyone.”
 
Dean offered the meowing cat some raw rabbit, the cat gave him a disgusted look, continuing to meow.
 
“So...sprites are nephilim,” Sam surmised, picking the cat up to pet him.
 
“Yep.”  Bobby added the rabbit meat to his mixture of potatoes and onions.
 
“Thanks to those self-absorbed idjits, we lost all the land that is Purgatory, and pretty much lost Freeland too.”
 
Sam nodded, putting the loud cat down with a frown.
 
“Well, we can use that knife, that’s for sure,” Dean said.  “Who knows, maybe it kills sprites too.”  He picked up the pissy cat and gave him a stern look.  “Nobody knows what you want, dude.  Chill.”
 
The cat let out one last meow and jumped down, sitting off to the side.
 
“His stitches don’t seem to be bothering him too much,” Dean said, giving the cat a curious look.  “I don’t know what his problem is.”
 
“Who knows.  Dinner’s ready.  Give him some food.  He’ll be asleep before too long.”
 
The cat harrumphed, laying down with a pissed-off look on his little black face.
 
“Grouch,” Dean frowned at him.
 
They ate the weird meal Bobby had thrown together and went to sleep.  The cat had curled up under Dean’s saddle after he ate.
 
Dean wondered what his problem was.  He wondered for the millionth time what he was.  He scouted around camp while the others slept.  He kept an eye on the cat.  Now that he knew someone wasn’t going to kill him, like at the Campbell’s, he allowed himself to really wonder about the little animal.  Again, it was the timing that bothered him.  Demons attack, his dad goes missing, and this cat that’s not a cat shows up for the rescue trip.  An idea occurred to him so forcefully that he went to wake the little black pile of fur.  He brought a burning stick over so he could see his black frame in the dark night.
 
“Hey, wake up.”  He patted a silky, black paw until the cat’s head popped up, blinking at him.  His eyes reflected with a purplish glow from the firelight.  “You showed up right when we set out on this trip,” Dean whispered.
 
The cat sat up more fully, coming out from under the saddle.
 
“My dad goes missing and all of a sudden we have a cat that won’t leave our side.”
 
The cat nodded.
 
Dean hated to even ask the question, but he HAD to know.  “Are...are you my dad?”
 
No.
 
Dean sighed in relief.  And disappointment.  He sat back feeling lost again.  Back to the path at hand and the upcoming meeting with a high-level demon.
 
He looked up when a paw landed on his arm, as if he were trying to comfort him.  Oddly enough, it was a bit comforting.
 
“Are you helping us?” Dean asked.
 
The cat blinked at him a moment, then nodded his head yes.
 
“Are you from Lawrence?”
 
The cat shook his head no, looking a bit more excited.  He stepped both paws onto Dean’s forearm, looking at him so intensely.
 
“Are you from Purgatory?”
 
No.
 
Dean sighed.  “Man, I wish you could talk to me.”  He frowned hard with frustration.  He threw the torch into the fire and lay back on the grass.  “It feels like the whole world is against us.  Every step of this fucking journey is full of enemies.”  He turned to look at the cat, who was watching him.  “I gotta deal with a demon just to cross the ocean and get to Freeland.  That was supposed to be the easy part!  Who knows what we’ll end up doing to cross from Freeland to Purgatory?”  He looked up at the starry sky.  “Dad...hang in there, wherever you are.”
 
He felt the cat nuzzle into his side and lie down.
 
“I sure hope you are a friend,” Dean muttered, feeling the tiredness from the day’s travel finally catch up to him.  “I could really use a friend.”
 
 
 
**********************************************
 
 
 
Castiel’s heart was breaking for Dean.  The time spent at Campbell compound had been hard on him.  He could feel it in his slumped shoulders.  See it in his fleeting smiles.  The fact that Dean was now suspicious of him as well, was not helping.
 
He thought Dean was going to figure it out.  If only he had asked if he was from Haven.  Why had he stopped?!
 
The conversation they had about sprites had had his hopes soaring.  He was yelling at them to get his point across!  And no one heard anything but meowing.  He had been yelling, ‘I’m Castiel!’,  ‘I’m a nephilim!’,  ‘I’m a sprite!’, ‘I’m Castiel...’
 
He stayed curled into Dean’s side.  He felt his muscles relax as Dean’s hand sleepily pet over his back.  A new feeling bloomed inside him.  His chest rumbled in a happy way.  He was...purring.  The realization made him stop.  Dean stroked down his back again.
 
He lay his head on Dean’s arm, letting the purr continue.  They hadn’t figured out what or who he was.  But they were kind.  And they tried.  He couldn’t ask for more.
 
Dean said he needed a friend.  Well, he needed one too.  He would do anything he could to help them find John Winchester.  His hands, or paws, worked rhythmically into Dean’s side.  Some moments, like this, he felt much more like a cat than a nephilim.
 
If he never had his true form again, at least he had Dean.  He would be the best friend he could be.
 
 
 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 7: A King and A Crossroads
 
 
 
Castiel spent the train ride with Impala, Challenger, and the Campbells’ horse in the stable car.  He made sure the train rats stayed out of their food and water.  It was a disgusting job, but Impala seemed quite thankful for the help.  Besides, Dean had been extremely leery of leaving Impala in the horsecar of the train, unattended.  
 
He felt quite proud of himself when he meowed up at Dean, trotting after the horses.
 
“Yer gonna stay with her?” Dean had asked him as he followed the horse.
 
He meowed back and was pleased to see Dean’s shoulders relax with a grin.  “Thanks buddy.”
 
When he wasn’t defending the horses’ provisions from rats, he lay atop Impala’s rump, watching Lawrence go by through the open-air windows.  Trees, rivers, and crop fields were mostly what he saw.  He watched with curiosity as they stopped in two other towns.  They stayed put both times.  That night passed in a rumbly dark blur.  The rats were much more persistent at night.  It was by far the strangest and grossest job he had ever done.  Who knew battle with large rodents would be so integral to his mission?  
 
Oh, if Gabriel could see him now.
 
There were many humans to watch when they stopped at another town that morning.  They were much more emotional than nephilim as they said their farewells or reunited with loved ones.  He liked it here.  He felt drawn to that bond humans seemed to create so readily.  They clasped forearms upon greeting each other, always touching their thumbs to the curious symbols on their forearms.  He had so many questions for his own group of friends.
 
There were more children in Lawrence than in Haven.  Nephilim had children less and less as the years passed.  Castiel had to wonder for the first time why this was so.  And the few humans he saw around in Haven, while as free as any nephilim; why did they never talk about Lawrence?  The humans collected were from Freeland or Purgatory, since travel to Purgatory was so difficult from Lawrence.  And as far as he knew, which he now realized was very little, all the humans that came into Haven came from Purgatory’s most northern point at Sunken Ties.  He realized he had a lot of questions for everyone.  He had never been a particularly talkative person, but this lengthy time of being unable to communicate had him racking up a lot to say and ask.  
 
He watched as a human family with three children said goodbye to what looked like a grandparent.  In Knowledge, the nephilim that worked in the archivist offices at The Stacks traced family lineage.  Castiel knew his father because his particular ancestors were important.  Most Thursday Legion people did not know, or particularly care, who their parents or ancestors were.
 
As the train pulled away from the station, Castiel lay his head on Impala’s warm rump.  He wondered what it would have been like to have a mother and father to raise him.  To see them every day.  To run to them with questions, rather than raising a hand in class to ask the professor.  While most of his professors had been kind and nurturing, he wondered at how it would feel to have parents that not only answered your questions but cared about you and what you did.  
 
As Thursday’s Mage, he had power to make changes.  He had authority to change their traditions, if he had support of his people.
 
If his people had not already dismissed him as dead.
 
At the next stop, a man came to get the horses.  He stayed atop Impala’s rump to be safe.  Impala seemed undisturbed by him being there.  He sat up with a loud meow when he saw Dean, Sam, and Bobby come to the horses’ waiting pens.
 
Impala whinnied at Dean, making him light up.  “There’s my girl!”  He took her from the pen while Sam got Challenger and Bobby got the horse the Campbell’s had loaned him.
 
Dean immediately began checking Impala for any scratches, bites, or imperfections.
 
“Good work, Thursday,” he grinned, scrubbing a heavy pet on the top of his head, behind one ear, then under his chin.
 
Castiel meowed, fighting off a purr.
 
“Did anyone try to mess with the horses?” He asked.
 
Castiel shook his head no.
 
Dean’s relief was contagious.
 
“You’re ridiculous,” Sam laughed.  “Why would someone mess with our horses?”
 
“It’s a strange world, Sammy.  Ya never know.”
 
With the horses saddled, the trio headed north on a main road that was heavy with traffic.  Many wagons and groups of riders rode to and fro.
 
Castiel stayed at the front of Dean’s saddle, watching curiously.  All the coming and going reminded him of Tree of Life.  Of all the nephilim cities, humans fit in best with them.  But where were all the humans in Knowledge?  He could think of less than twenty-five that he knew of.  And they had never spoken of living here or Purgatory, or anywhere other than Haven.  He could not remember or imagine a group of nephilim he would rather be with than his companions right now.
 
They traveled at a walk all day.  The minute they stepped off the main road, Castiel could sense the greasy, prickly feel of sigils in the forest.  No one holy had created them, so the power was much weaker than at Campbell compound.  Nonetheless, it gave him the shivers.  
 
Dean’s nerves seemed to grow as well.  He wasn’t sure if he was making the man nervous, or the general feel of the woods was bothering him.  Either way, his eyes were scanning the woods constantly and Dean’s gun was un-holstered.
 
Bobby made some sort of hand motion at the front of their line, putting both Dean and Sam on guard even more.
 
Moments later, a rumpled, dirty man walked past them, going the opposite direction.  The man never made eye contact with them and the brothers and Bobby passed by just as silently. He smelled foul and reeked of sulfur.  Castiel was pretty sure he had just seen his first demon.
 
The trees were thick, making for a shaded, cooler ride.  Sound seemed muffled on the muddy road.  The horses plodded on, more concerned with where they were stepping than what lurked in the greenery.
 
 
 
*****************************************
 
 
 
They arrived at Needham before dinner.  It was a small, bustling town with a gritty, dirty feel.  
 
Loud music and rowdy crowds came from several buildings.  It reminded Dean of a rough street in Lebanon that had several brothels and bars.  His dad and Henriksen were always settling disputes from there.  He wondered who the sheriff of this town was.  Or if they even had one.
 
Bobby led them to a small inn.  It was the first time they paid to eat and board for the night, and Dean was not a fan.  The stables looked nasty and stunk of stale urine and horse shit.  He gave Bobby a pleading look.  He did not want to leave his baby in there.
 
“They’ll be fine for one night,” Sam said, reading his unspoken words to Bobby and pushed him toward the door to the inn.
 
“Thursday, keep an eye on them, would ya?”  
 
The cat gave him a dismayed look, turning back to the stable.
 
Dean felt kinda bad putting him on horse-sitting duty again...but...“I’ll come get you for dinner!”
 
Sam and Bobby both laughed at him.
 
“It’s not funny,” Dean bitched.  “This place is nasty.”
 
“Trust me, it’s the nicest place in town.  For us,” Bobby said gruffly.
 
“What do you mean, ‘us’?” Dean asked.
 
Bobby gave him a ‘don’t ask’ look.  Great.  Demons got nicer digs than humans.  This place felt like he was already in another country.  What was Freeland gonna be like?  Let alone Purgatory?  Dean sighed heavily.  He better get used to this messed-up world he was delving into.
 
They opened the door to DD Dream Motel, filing into the lobby/restaurant that took up the first floor.  Booths lined the walls and round tables filled the center of the restaurant area with tables in the center and huge fireplace at the far end that was already burning.  A long counter just inside the door held a register for the motel and the restaurant.  The air was thick with smoke and a heavy smell of cooked meat, gravy, and beer.
 
Alright, this place might not be all bad.
 
“Room for three,” Bobby said.
 
“Hey, Singer.  Ain’t seen you ‘round for years!”  The guy at the register, an older man with a long gray beard and his hair back in an even longer skinny braid, said with a grin.
 
“Yeah, been busy,” Bobby nodded back.
 
The man turned, pulling a key off a pegboard.  “Room nine.”
 
Bobby nodded.  “Thank ya.”
 
“Be down for dinner in two hours, the brisket will be fresh and hot.  The waiters and waitresses too.”
 
Bobby chuckled with a nod.  He slid extra money across the counter.  “Send a messenger to Crowley.  I need to speak to him tonight or tomorrow.”
 
The guy arched a gray eyebrow with a quick nod.  “Just passin’ through then?”
 
“Yep.  As quickly as possible, Vern.”  They followed Bobby past the counter and a hallway that, by the smell, led to the kitchen.  They went up a set of back steps.  
 
Their room had four beds, wide wooden floorboards like the rest of the building, two windows, bedding made with strips of fabric that gave them a striped look, a blue cloth chair, and a wooden table with two chairs.  What caught their eyes though, was the green painted walls with gaudy white and blue flowers all over them.
 
“I’m gonna have nightmares,” Dean said tightly.
 
“DD Dream must stand for Don’t Dare Dream,” Sam chuckled.
 
“Welcome to Needham,” Bobby smirked, “gaudiest town in Lawrence.”
 
“There a bathroom in this joint?” Dean asked.  None of them had bathed since they were at the compound.  And something told him it would only get worse from here on out.
 
“End of the hall.  It’s public.  And there’s plenty of business transactions that go on in there, if ya know what I mean.”
 
“Dude.  In the bathroom?” Dean winced.  “That’s...disgusting.”
 
“Well, it’s fair warning,” Bobby chuckled.  “Plenty of choices in prostitutes hang out at the door.”
 
“Guess they can duck into the bathroom if the sheriff shows up,” Sam laughed.
 
“Prostitution’s legal here.  It’s the most common career choice.”
 
Dean and Sam gave him an incredulous stare.
 
“I didn’t make the laws!” Bobby shrugged.
 
“Sounds like nobody made laws here.  How’s that even a thing?” Dean scoffed.
 
“The sheriff is Crowley. And the King holds court for any law breaking.  And that’s who we need ta see.  So, stay outta trouble.  And don’t sleep with any of the prostitutes.  Ya might get something you’ll have ta live with the rest of your life.”
 
“Ew,” Dean and Sam both cringed.
 
They stuck around the inn, not even going into the
tempting gambling parlors.  It had been a long time since Dean had played poker in a questionable establishment.  It really could be fun.  Instead, he headed to the stable to check on Impala, the other two horses, and Thursday.
 
The dark little stable stunk and was full of flies.  “You a friend of Bobby’s?” The one and only stable hand asked, eyeing him suspiciously.
 
“Yeah.”
 
“Cleaned yer stalls extra.  Vern said so.”  The guy chewed on a piece of straw that looked saggy.  Dean almost gagged when he thought about where the guy had gotten it from.
 
He looked into Impala’s stall.  She seemed freshly brushed.  Her bucket of water was full and clean.  The floor of her stall covered in fresh hay; he didn’t want to know what was under it.  Challenger and the other horses’ stalls looked equally clean.  “You seen my cat?” He called, wondering where the guy had gotten to.
 
“The black one?” The skinny guy asked.
 
“Yeah, that’d be him.”  Dean turned, watching the guy carefully.
 
“Shooed him outta here.  He was actin’ like he was gonna attack me.  Yer lucky I didn’t stomp him inta the ground.”
 
Dean’s glare hardened.  “Yer lucky I don’t stomp you into the ground.”  He gave the horses one last look and left the shitty stable to look for the cat.  Luckily for all involved, he hadn’t called him but once before Thursday ran out from under a wagon across the road, jumping into his arms immediately.  
 
“Hey!”  Dean pulled back, holding the cat at arm’s length. “Ho!  You smell like shit!”  The cat was filthy, with dried shit sticking to his fur.  “What happened to you?”
 
The cat meowed loudly looking at the stable.
 
Dean glared at the opening.  “I will punch that skinny piece of shit in the throat!”
 
The cat growled, looking at the stable just as angrily.  He hissed.
 
“You reek,” Dean frowned, sitting him down.  “Come on, you’re gonna have to get a bath.”
 
The cat continued to grumble and growl the entire way through the restaurant, down the hall, and past the six men and women lined up by the bathroom door.  They backed up at the stench that came with him.
 
Dean just grinned, opened the door and went into the washroom.  There were three big tubs with supplies on a shelf.  He turned water on, sighing as he realized there was no hot water here.  He gave the cat a wary look.  “I didn’t throw shit on you.  So, I’d appreciate it if we could do this without any claws.  Got it?”
 
The cat, still glaring and standing with a hunched back as if he was disgusted at himself, nodded yes.
 
“Alrighty then.  Hop in.”
 
The cat jumped to the edge of the tub, looking in.
 
“No hot water bud.”
 
He could have sworn the cat scoffed at him.  He tried to hold back a laugh at his predicament.
 
“Let’s do this.”
 
The cat jumped into the tub and stood under the water as Dean scrubbed horse shit and urine out of his fur.  The water drained away and soon enough, the stench was gone.  He scrubbed him with soap, working carefully around the stitches.  
 
He rinsed him off one last time and sat him on the floor to towel him dry.  “Poor guy,” Dean said softly.  Half-soaked himself, he carried the damp, shivering cat back to his room.
 
“What happened to you?” Sam asked with wide eyes.
 
“Fuckin’ stable hand musta threw shit all over Thursday.  I had to give him a bath.”
 
“Fun,” Sam grinned.
 
The cat’s head was down, and he curled into a ball.
 
“What’s wrong with him?  Is he hurt?” Sam asked, focusing on the cat instead of Dean’s wet clothes.
 
Dean held him up, looking into his face.  “Whatsa matter?”
 
He had to tilt the cat further to see his face again.
 
“Are you hurt?”
 
No.
 
“Are you...upset?”
 
The cat tucked his head further.
 
“Dude, you needed a bath.  I gave you one.  It’s no big deal.”  Dean put the cat back against his chest, rolling his eyes at Sam.
 
Sam gave the cat a curious look.  “I think he’s embarrassed.”
 
“At least he had protection.  I gotta go down there and fight those vultures off on my own.”  Dean grabbed a change of clothes, laying the cat on his bed.
 
“You wanna come watch?” He winked at the cat.  “Tit for tat!”
 
If a cat could smile, Thursday did.
 
“I’ll be back, then we should head down for dinner.”
 
“Yeah, Bobby’s already down there havin’ a whiskey with Vern,” Sam grinned.
 
“I won’t be long.  The prostitutes were skanky. And there’s no hot water.”
 
He heard Sam laugh as he left, heading for the bathroom again.
 
“See somethin’ you liked?” The blonde-haired guy asked him, leering a half rotten grin at him.
 
“Not today,” Dean muttered, going past them, and heading for what he knew was going to be a frigid bath.
 
 
 
**********************************
 
 
 
Castiel hated being a cat.  He hated creepy demon stable hands most of all.  He had watched the guy closely as he cleaned the stalls, wishing he could laugh when Challenger bit his shoulder.  But when the guy kicked Challenger back in retribution, he had hissed and howled at him.
 
He already knew the guy was a demon.  He reeked of sulfur.  But when his eyes slid to all black, Castiel had attacked him with a frenzy of clawed swats.
 
The bastard had waited until he finished with the three stalls before dumping a bucket of urine-soaked horse poop on him.  Castiel had run, knowing the demon could easily kill him.
 
The embarrassment had doubled when Dean bathed him.  Dean had been nothing but kind about the whole ‘shitty’ ordeal.  But it was humiliating.
 
He tried to shake off the traumatic event and went downstairs for dinner.  There were as many demons eating in the restaurant as there were humans.  Dean, Sam, and Bobby seemed to not notice the difference.  He wondered if in his nephilim form he would be able to tell.  
 
He meowed a thank you to Sam, who made him a plate of finely torn up meat right on the table.  No one there seemed to care that a cat was eating on the table with them.
 
Dean relaxed after his third beer.  They lingered there, eating seconds, and drinking four or five beers a piece.  Castiel ate his fill and drank all the water he wanted from a cup on the table.  He had never had beer.  It smelled of hops and stunk, he thought. Nephilim drank wine, grain liquor, water, and plenty of juices, but alcohol did not have the same effect on them as it did on humans.  At least, not as quickly.
 
He enjoyed listening to Bobby, Sam, and Dean joke and laugh through their meal.  Vern joined them several times, adding to the jovial mood.  And they had their appointment with Crowley tomorrow, early in the morning.
 
Castiel was glad.  He wanted to get out of this town.  He did not like to see the horses left with a demon.  
 
Late that evening they all headed upstairs, except Dean, who went to check on the horses.
 
He curled up in bed.  The bath might have been miserable and humiliating, but he was thankful to be so clean.
 
Dean came in with a candle to light his way.
 
“Horses look alright?” Bobby asked sleepily from his bed.
 
“Yeah.”  Dean did not elaborate, but Castiel could see that he was not thrilled with their accommodations.
 
Dean tugged the cover, so Castiel got up to let him in.  He jumped down, wondering if he should sleep on the empty bed.  He prowled around the room, sniffing at the door as Dean got out of his clothes and into bed.
 
The candle stayed lit, so he came back over to see what Dean was doing.  Sam and Bobby were already asleep.  He looked up and Dean grinned at him.  He patted the bed.
 
Castiel’s chest filled with a warm glow.  He jumped up on the bed, rubbing his head against Dean’s chin, receiving appreciative pets in return.  It was the only way he knew to show him just how he cared about him.  He curled into a ball at Dean’s chest and they both fell sound asleep.
 
 
 
******************************
 
 
 
Dean arrived at Needham’s court building on foot, with Bobby and Sam in tow.  He had asked Thursday to keep an eye on the horses, promising him a bath if need be, but to stay out of trouble.
 
He hadn’t been happy about it, but the cat stayed.  He had never had a pet before, besides horses.  It was odd how he had become dependent on having the little guy around.  Even if he did creep him out occasionally with his watchful eyes and head shaking.  Whatever else he was, or whatever had happened to him, he was a good cat.
 
An ancient sign, almost blocked by giant overgrown weeds, read, ‘Needham Asylum’.  He had no idea what Asylum meant, but the four story, white building gave him the creeps.  Steps lead up to a porch that ran the width of the front with giant columns that supported a balcony which ran the full front on the second floor.  It looked as though the building could have been beautiful.  A hundred years ago.  And with a major overhaul.
 
A man in black breaches, a black coat, and he couldn’t see it, but he was sure he wore a stick up his ass, stood sentry at the door.
 
“We have a meeting scheduled with Crowley,” Bobby announced.
 
“Name?”
 
“Bobby Singer.”
 
Dean would have preferred to stay on the dilapidated porch but followed Bobby inside after the man in black.
 
They followed the man across a wide foyer and down a set of stairs to the basement level.  Everything about the people here seemed so foreign to him.
 
Sergeant Stick Up His Ass led them through dull reddish-brown tunnels lit by candles along the walls and iron chandeliers with candles on them.  It was gloomy and at least five degrees colder in the long corridors.  Their steps echoed and Dean had a sinking feeling in his stomach.
 
They walked into a wide main room with ancient bricked walls.  A wooden throne sat at the end of the room with another man wearing all black sitting there with a mildly amused look on his face.
 
“Well, well, well.  Bobby Singer.  What brings you to my door again?”
 
His speech reminded him of Bela.  As if he wasn’t turned off enough.
 
“Here on business,” Bobby answered stiffly.
 
“Well aren’t you the busy beaver.”  Crowley waved their escort away.  The man bowed, spun on his heel, and left quickly.
 
Dean had no idea just how well his father ran his duties as sheriff until now.  This felt nothing like the hall at the bunker in Lebanon.
 
“Who’re your new partners in crime?”  Crowley eyed him and Sam with a grin, and eyes of pure mischief.
 
“We’re seeking passage to Freeland.  Round trip.  But I don’t know when we’ll be coming back.”
 
“Sight-seeing?” Crowley asked dryly, not missing. that Bobby had not answered him.
 
Bobby sighed.  “I’ve brought payment that I think you’ll find more than enough.”  He opened the box he had carried here, displaying the ten chalices.
 
Crowley stood up, strolling around the box.  He picked one up and sniffed it.  Then another.  “Interesting.”  He eyed him and Sam again.  “I assume you have more.”
 
Sam handed Bobby his bag.  “A few ingredients I thought you might appreciate.”  He spread several items out onto the now closed box of chalices.
 
Crowley’s eyes took in the array of items and went back to Sam.  “Who are you?  What do you plan on doing in Freeland?”
 
Bobby gave Sam a nod.  “I’m Sam Winchester.  This is my brother, Dean.  We’re going to look for our father.”
 
A spark of something Dean could not read crossed the man’s face.  “Winchester.  You’re John Winchester’s sons.”
 
“Yeah,” Sam answered, giving Bobby a nervous look.
 
“John’s been taken by demons.  His sons and I just want to get him back.  We got no quarrel with anyone else.”
 
Crowley sat back in his throne again, eyeing them with a whole new interest.  “Which demon took him?”
 
“We don’t know,” Dean answered, feeling edgier by the second.
 
Crowley narrowed his eyes.  “You put me into a bad place with a request like this.”
 
Dean knew there was a lot more going on than Crowley was saying.  “Do you know who took my dad?”
 
Crowley’s brow raised, his lip curling in amusement.  “Me?  No.”  His look narrowed as he slowly paced closer to him.  “I had no idea John was missing.”
 
“Well,” Dean swallowed, unnerved by the dark look in the man’s eyes, “he provided you with a position of power.  He’s like a...partner to you.  Kinda makes this your problem too.”
 
Sam’s eyes were bulging in shock and Bobby rubbed at his beard, eyes darting between him and Crowley.
 
“Right?” Dean asked, fighting the quaking nervousness inside himself.
 
“John Winchester is an ally, true.  He certainly did not provide me with power.”
 
Dean crossed his arms over his chest.  If his dad dealt with a demon, willingly, he had to have something on him.
 
Crowley watched him as he prowled back to his seat, sitting with a smug grin.  “How about you wait outside while John’s son and I become better acquainted.”  He waved his hand and Sam and Bobby were gone.
 
“Where’d they go?” Dean demanded.
 
Crowley was on his feet again with a more serious, yet still curious, look.  “Dean Winchester.”
 
“Yeah.”
 
Crowley’s eyes ran up and down Dean’s body as he circled him slowly, stopping in front of him.  “When did this happen?”
 
“Ten days ago.  Late at night.  There were four of them that we know of.  They all got away, taking my dad with them.”
 
“Why was he taken?”
 
“No idea.  It may have to do with Azazel.  They tangled in the past, but we aren’t sure yet.”
 
Crowley shook his head slowly.  “You really have no idea what’s going on here, do you?”
 
Dean swallowed.  “No.”  He only knew enough to know he was missing something.
 
Crowley paced away from him.  “Word is, war is brewing way up north.  And your father was one of the humans Azazel suspected of talking to a sprite.”
 
“A sprite?  My dad has NEVER talked to a sprite.”
 
“I would wager your dad has done plenty of things his little boys don’t know about.”
 
Dean rolled his eyes.  “I know my dad was a ruthless hunter for a while.  But he’s been out of it for years.”
 
“He was here on business two months ago,” Crowley grinned.  “Business in Freeland.  Or further north.”
 
Dean could feel the blood drain from his face.  His dad had taken a three-week trip...but that was about sheriff business.  Right?  Fuck.
 
“But...what would MY dad have to do with that?”
 
“I don’t know,” Crowley said pointedly.  “But I certainly can’t have you traipsing around Freeland or Purgatory to help your dad reignite some sort of sprite war.  The nephilim are too powerful.  And you see, if humans are below us, nephilim above us, it puts us in...a bad place.”
 
Dean paced back and forth in front of the throne and this king of the crossroads.  “I got no ties to any brewing wars.  I just want to get my father back.”
 
Crowley gave him a bored look.
 
“I just...” Dean paced quicker.  “My dad can’t really have anything to do with sprites!”  But someone had been at their door that night, warning their dad that he was in danger.  That man in the long tan coat had looked convinced that their dad needed to talk to him...and then he had disappeared without a trace.  Could he have been a sprite?  Did Samuel know?  Bobby?  And why would his dad have anything to do with sprite business?  He stopped pacing, staring at Crowley.  “I have to find him.”
 
“It’ll cost you more than you’re willing to pay.”  Crowley stared down at him unblinking.  “I’ll let Bobby go, for the lovely chalice set and thoughtful ingredients.  But not you.  Or that moose of a brother of yours.”
 
Dean stepped closer to the throne.  “I’m getting on that ship.”
 
Crowley sighed.  “It’ll cost you your soul.”
 
Dean stepped back.  “My...”
 
“You get passage for all in your party and ten good years to enjoy.  Then?  You’re mine.”
 
“What?  No!”
 
Crowley sat back with a grin.  “I told you the cost was too steep.”
 
Dean paced slowly.  “What does that mean?”
 
“It means,” Crowley leaned forward with an eager grin, “you have free passage, ten years, and then you work for me.”
 
Ten years?  At the rate this rescue mission was going, he’d be lucky to survive the next month.  Ten years was a long time.  He’d be 34.  And then he’d be Crowley’s doorman.  There had to be a way out of a deal like that.  What if Crowley couldn’t find him?  He could live in the mountains like a hermit.  IF he even survived this trip.  They could try to find another way.  But Bobby said this was the only route out of Lawrence.  Rescue his dad?  Or accept defeat?  His stomach clenched and his hands began to sweat.  “I want more.  I want a weapon against demons, since I’m gonna have to fight them.”
 
Crowley’s eyes lit up maliciously.  “Passage to Purgatory will be paid as well.  No extra weapons.”
 
Shit.  But that sounded good too.  
 
“Round trip,” Crowley added, propping his chin on his hand, tapping a finger in an almost bored motion.  
 
Dean could practically feel the foreign soil under his boots.  “Done.”
 
A cold, sinking chill filled Dean’s chest.  He was suddenly nauseous with the knowledge that he had done something terrible.  “Crowley,” he said weakly, looking up at the demon.  “I don’t want anyone to know that I...”
 
“Sold your soul?” Crowley grinned.  “Done.”  He waved his hand and a long scroll of paper rolled, bouncing off Crowley’s knee, to the floor, and all the way to Dean’s boots.  Writing covered it, with a big X and a line at the bottom.  Crowley’s signature flared into view below the line.
 
“You don’t tell Bobby.  Or Sam.  Or anyone.”
 
“It’s in there,” Crowley nodded.
 
“Passage for everyone in my party from here to Freeland and from Freeland to Purgatory.  And back.”
 
“All there,” Crowley grinned.
 
“Got a pen?”
 
Crowley grinned again.  “We sign in blood here.”
 
Dean pulled out a small knife, cutting his finger.  Blood dripped onto the contract.  Before he could even kneel to write his name, the blood moved, forming the letters of his name in red script.  Dean’s eyes grew wide.  He had rarely seen magic before today.
 
Crowley waved his hand and the cut healed.
 
The scroll rolled up to Crowley’s hand.  He tucked it into his jacket.  “My copy.”  He grinned with satisfaction as he waved both hands out at Dean.  “Your copy.”
 
Dean’s entire body burned with tiny pin pricks, making him jolt with a yell.  Words flashed in his skin all over his body, then faded just as quickly.  He panted, giving Crowley a glare.
 
“Nice doing business with you.  See you in ten years.”
 
“Where’s Sam?  Where’s Bobby?”  Dean demanded.
 
Crowley got to his feet.  “They’re waiting at the door.  They think we had a rather pleasant meeting and that Bobby’s dishware bought you all passage.”
 
Dean’s hand flared with sudden pain, a sigil glowing red-hot in his palm.  “There’s your tickets.”
 
Dean hissed at the pain, stepping back from Crowley again.  He had to find a way out of this deal.  There had to be a way.
 
Broody Henchman number 12 led him back to the front door, where Bobby and Sam waited cluelessly.
 
As soon as Dean was within arm’s reach, they went into action again.
 
Down the porch steps and heading back to the inn, Bobby shook his head.  “I’m glad that worked.  I was worried it wouldn’t be enough.”
 
Dean frowned.  They knew nothing.  He was glad. There was a modicum of shame with the heaping of worry the deal left him with.  At least Bobby and Sam didn’t know.  
 
A feeling of lonely despair settled on his shoulders.  What had he done?  Regret clenched him hard.  He should not have made the deal.  He wiped sweat off his forehead.  If he didn’t get his shit together, he was going to have to explain what happened.  There would be no living with them if they knew.
 
And he only had ten years.
 
He sighed heavily.  He damn well better make good use of them.
 
 

Chapter Text

Chapter 8. Whitefish, Dead Fish, Folly, and Rufus Turner
 
 
 
 
 
Dean clung to the rail of Fizzles Folly, puking for what felt like the millionth time today.  
 
“Remind me ta leave you at home next time,” Bobby grimaced.  
 
“Sounds good,” Dean huffed.  “Hope I like Freeland, I might never leave it.”
 
“Huh.”  Bobby handed him a cup of water.  “I doubt that.”
 
“What kinda friggin’ ship is this anyway?  I thought it would be big!  We’re on the OCEAN!”
 
Bobby smacked his back again with a hearty laugh.  “Don’t worry.  We won’t fall in.”
 
“It doesn’t matter,” Dean panted, “I’m gonna die before this stupid ship sinks.  You gotta save Impala.”
 
“Quit yer cryin’,” Bobby scoffed.  “Ya ain’t gonna die.  Ya might wish ya did, but ya ain’t.”
 
The words were truer than Bobby could know.  The feeling of panic raced from Dean’s stomach right up his throat and he turned, almost missing the rail as he puked again.
 
“Jeez, boy,” Bobby sighed.  “Sip this.  It’s peppermint water.  Helps settle yer stomach.”
 
Dean turned, sitting against the rail as the little ship heaved with the waves.  “How are you not puking?”
 
Bobby shrugged.  “Try comin’ below.  And don’t watch the water.”
 
Dean squeezed his eyes shut, blowing out a breath.  He got to his feet, Bobby helping get him below.
 
“Try sleepin’ it off.”
 
Sam gave him a worried grin.  He was laying in his bunk, reading.  The thought made Dean’s mouth start watering, in a bad way.
 
“Dude, you gonna make it?” Sam asked, sitting up.
 
“Yes,” Dean muttered miserably.  He lay on his side and tried to think about anything pleasant to get his mind off his pitching, heaving bed.
 
The cat jumped onto the bed lightly, walking around him and laying at his queasy stomach, pressing against him lightly.
 
Dean took a deep breath, letting his weary body find sleep.
 
 
*************************************
 
 
Cold air and a steady ship.  Castiel had never been out in the ocean before.  The oceans were nothing but divides of turbulent water filled with sea life that was poisonous to all people; nephilim, human, or monster.  The ocean was where the Archangel Lucifer had finally died.  The legend said that as he gasped his last breath, an archangel blade in his chest, he surged one final blow, rippling out through all the seas in the world.  The curse was so complete that all sea life, from whale to tuna to kelp, if even touched, would kill.
 
Now, none could fish from the sea as ancient humans had.  None swam in them for fear the simplest brush of seaweed against skin would begin a black rot that would spread through your body, killing you.  Unless you lived in Tree of Knowledge, where Raphael, and some of his abettors, could heal the fish and make them safe to eat.  It was sad that man could never taste them.  The tender meat from fish and crustaceans was some of his favorite food.
 
He padded his way silently along the rail, watching the murky water churn at the sides of the boat.  He had just checked on the horses.  They seemed fine.  Since late last night the waters had settled.  Dean was doing better, but he still was not eating.
 
He had pushed every bit of grace he could muster in his tiny body to heal Dean’s stomach.  He wasn’t sure any of it had gotten through, but he had tried.  
 
He hopped down the steep stairs and went into their room.  Dean rolled over.  “Did you check the horses?”
 
Castiel nodded yes.
 
“You’re the best cat in the world,” he moaned, turning back over.
 
Castiel doubted that.  A good cat would stay with the horses.  But he was not a damn cat.  He trotted back to the top deck, wishing the next shores he saw were Haven’s.  He wished Gabriel would come get him.  Change him back into a nephilim.  He had only felt his wings a few times, but he missed them terribly.
 
He wondered what his abettors had done.  Rachel, Hannah, and Anna would surely have gone back to Tree of Knowledge.  What was Gabriel doing?  How had he explained his disappearance?  He wondered with a sickening worry if it had caused any trouble.  But there was already trouble.  Something was happening between Gabriel and Michael.  What it was, he had no idea.  But Gabriel had practically thrown him to Lawrence.  Why had he been in such a hurry?
 
The thoughts circled until he fell asleep in the warm sun.
 
 
*****************************************
 
 
“Welcome ta Whitefish, Freeland,” Bobby said darkly.  “Stay close, we’re the outsiders here.”
 
“You better keep up,” Sam grinned, looking back at Dean.
 
He flipped him off with a wide grin.  He didn’t give a SHIT what any of them thought.  His stomach was happy.  His feet were on the ground and he was staying here.  He wasn’t even willing to ride Impala.  Nope.  He was walking.  
 
He had been off that piece of shit tub Crowley called a ship for four hours now.  And he was never so relieved.  
 
Bobby dropped back to ride beside him, Sam just in front.  “We’re headed to an old buddy of mine.  Name’s Rufus Turner.  We used to hunt together.  His place is off the beaten trail a bit, but it’ll be a roof over our heads tonight.  I don’t like sleepin’ in the open in Freeland.  It’s a risky play.”
 
Dean nodded.  “Long as his stable doesn’t look like Vern’s, we’re fine.”
 
“Nah, nice stable.  Can’t promise Rufus’ll be nice though.  Guy’s kinda a grouch.”
 
“Yay.  Two grouches, one grouchy cat, and Sam, goin’ to visit a grouch.  Sounds like it will work out just fine.”
 
Bobby smirked.  “It’ll be fine.  I brought him a bottle of his favorite whiskey.  Bought it off Johnnie Walker himself.”
 
“Nice,” Dean smirked.  “Don’t suppose he’ll share?”
 
“With a Winchester?  Yeah.  He’ll share.”
 
Dean gave up walking after two and a half miles.  They trotted another four miles.  He could feel the familiar burn of the muscles in his thighs.  He chuckled when the cat sighed with relief when they slowed to a walk.  He enjoyed the steady breeze that blew the stench of sea air off them.  
 
It was dark by the time they neared Rufus’ cabin.  As they came around the last bend in the narrow, overgrown lane that Bobby swore led to Rufus, a man with dark skin and an even darker demeanor stood on the porch with a gun pointed at them.
 
“State your business,” came his deep voice.
 
“Point that thing somewhere else you old coot!” Bobby yelled back.
 
“Bobby?  Bobby Singer?”
 
“The one and only,” Bobby grinned, pulling his horse to a stop.
 
“Ohhh,” Rufus shook his head with a frown.  “This can’t be good.  What in the Creator’s name has you back in Freeland?”
 
“Just passin’ through.  Thought I’d say hi.”
 
“Headed ta Purgatory again?  Just can’t get over that Ellen, can ya?”
 
Bobby laughed, giving Dean a nervous shake of his head.
 
“Who’s Ellen?” Dean grinned.
 
“Who’s that?” Rufus looked at Dean and Sam with suspicion.
 
“Put that damn gun down, ya idjit.  That’s Sam and Dean.”
 
Rufus’ face lit up with a grin and the rifle finally leant against his shoulder.  “Damn!  They got old!  Last I heard about them they were eight and twelve!  Damn you, Bobby!  You’re makin’ me feel old!”
 
“You are old, you old bastard!”  Bobby laughed, clasping forearms, then slapping the man on the shoulder.
 
Rufus’ face sobered. “You seen Patience? She doin’ okay?”

“She’s good,” Bobby grinned. “Haven’t seen her in a while, but I get letters on the regular.”

“Patience?” Sam asked. “Are you Patience Turner’s uncle?”

“I am,” Rufus grinned.

Sam and Dean exchanged a laugh. Sam explained quickly. “Dad tells stories sometimes about you and him. He just always calls you ‘that old coot, Turner’.”

“Does he now,” Rufus said flatly, while Bobby laughed hard. “Remind me to tell Patience to put a nice spell on him. Give him a case of the slobberin’ fits.”

Dean and Sam fought off a laugh. Dean could only imagine the likes of Rufus, Bobby, and his dad on a hunt together.

“I don’t have room for three horses in the stable, but you can put them in the pen.  It’s clean country ‘round here.  The werewolves and I got a understandin’ of sorts.”
 
“I bet,” Bobby chuckled.  “Brought ya somethin’ fer yer troubles,” Bobby pulled the bottle of whiskey out of the saddlebag, handing it to Rufus.
 
“Damn, Bobby!  It IS good to see you!”
 
They unsaddled the horses.  Dean volunteered to brush and settle them in.  He was not that eager to stay cooped up inside again.  The rest went inside for a late dinner.  Dean took advantage of the lantern light to clean the muck off the saddles and girths.  He scrubbed the halters clean and hung them from the fence to dry.  
 
Sam came out, carrying a bowl of chili and three biscuits.  “Take a break, man.  Wait ‘til you taste these biscuits!”
 
Dean scrubbed his hands clean and splashed water on his face from a rain barrel.  He pulled his shirt off, wiping himself dry.
 
“You should hear Rufus telling stories about Bobby when he was our age!  They’re funny!”
 
“I bet,” Dean grinned, sitting on the porch, taking the bowl and a biscuit.
 
“You okay?  You been pretty quiet lately,” Sam said more quietly.
 
“Well, I puked for two days on that damn boat,” Dean sighed.  “Guess I’m just kinda wiped out.”
 
Sam nodded.  “You should come in.  Get some rest.  And food.”
 
“This is so good!” Dean said around a mouth full of chili and biscuit.
 
They went inside and joined Bobby and Rufus at the table.
 
Dean was grateful for all the boisterous laughter Rufus and Bobby provided.
 
“I can hardly wait to meet this Ellen!” Dean laughed.  Bobby blushed, rolling his eyes.
 
“Don’t get me wrong.  Ellen is a fabulous gal.  I mean, I’d do anything for her.  But her life is in Purgatory.  I just can’t stay there.”  Bobby shrugged a shoulder, sipping his whiskey, but it suddenly made a bit more sense why things had never panned out with Jody Mills.  He really had a thing for this Ellen lady.
 
“Well, it sounds like a wild damn place,” Dean grinned.  
 
“Oh, it is,” Bobby and Rufus nodded.  
 
Dean’s thoughts drifted back to the conversation he had with Crowley.
 
“Are any of them at war, in Purgatory?”  Dean asked, the question landing bluntly at the table.
 
“War?”  Rufus leaned forward on his elbows.  “They’re always at war.  All over the damn place.  The whole damn country is a battleground.”
 
Dean frowned.  “But...there’re towns and some structure to the country.  Right?”
 
“Huh.  Barely,” Rufus shook his head with a dark look.  “The vamps, the wolves, the shapeshifters, the demons...they all want more.  And they kill to get whatever they want.  Ruthless bastards, all of ‘em.”
 
“So, those are the four big players?” Dean asked, trying to put together a picture of the place he had only heard stories about.  
 
“Pretty much.  Plus the Leviathan.  They’re almost starved out.  But every now and then there’s a resurgence of them.”
 
“And...do sprites live there?”  Dean winced slightly at the absurdity of the question.
 
Rufus raised an eyebrow.  “Only sprites I know of are a few that lurk around Sunken Ties.”
 
Dean’s eyebrows raised this time.  “You’ve been to Sunken Ties?”
 
Rufus nodded.  “Once.  Hunting Leviathan.”  He looked lost in dark thoughts.  “Strange place.  Marshy.  Sad, really.  It’s just so broken.”
 
“You ever see a sprite?”
 
Rufus nodded.
 
Dean leaned forward.  “What do they look like?  Pointy ears?  Super tall?  Sparkly skin?”
 
“Boy, you been readin’ too many nursery rhymes.”  Rufus shook his head.  “They look like regular people.”
 
Dean sighed, sitting back with some surprise.
 
“I only saw him from far away.  They never cross the Ties, but sometimes they patrol it.  Still keeping people out, I guess.”
 
Dean nodded.  Why would sprites want Purgatory back?  What the hell would prompt a war?
 
“No need to worry about sprites,” Rufus dismissed.  “They’re powerful, but  they’re dying out as far as I know.  I tell ya what does have my hackles up.  These damn demons.  There’s more and more of them here.  Used to be mostly vamps, kitsune, shifters, werewolves, monsters! Ya know?  But now...there’s demons everywhere.  Something’s coming.  I can feel it.”
 
Chills ran up Dean’s arms.  Bobby frowned, but Dean could tell he took his old friend seriously.
 
“We best hit the hay,” Bobby said.
 
“I’m just gonna check on the horses.”  Dean nodded goodnight and headed outside.  Thursday sat atop a fence post, meowing as Dean got close.
 
“Hey, Thursday.”  Dean put his arms over the top rail.  “Anything bad happening out here?”
 
The cat shook his head no.
 
Dean sighed, feeling slightly relieved.  “I don’t think I like it here.  It feels so different.  Shit.”  His head dropped down onto his forearms.  “I shouldn’t have made that deal.  Dammit!”  He shoved back from the fence, punching the top board.
 
The cat stood, back hunched with a shocked look.
 
Dean ran his hands through his hair.  “Aaahhhhgggg.  Sorry.  I just...I just think I really fucked something up.  Like...really. Fucked. Up.”
 
He stared at the cat in desperate need to connect with someone.  Anyone.  “Did you make a bad deal with a demon?  Is that how you became a cat?”
 
The cat lowered his head, still staring at Dean.  A look of what Dean guessed was awe or worry on his little furry face.  He shook his head no.
 
He sagged back onto the top rail.  The cat ran along it a few steps, walking onto his arm and lay across the back of his neck.
 
Dean snickered, caught off guard and feeling slightly out of control.  “What are you doing?”
 
As he stood up, the cat wrapped himself across his shoulders.  
 
“Dude, I don’t know what you are, but you should REALLY find better people to hang around with.”  He looked the strange cat in the eyes as it perched on his shoulder.  “You are attached to a group of people on a suicide mission.”
 
The cat meowed.
 
“It’s true.  Me most of all. About anybody else in this whole friggin’ world would be better to attach yourself to than me.  I am...” Dean stared up at the vast sky, his head resting on the cat’s body.  “I am so fucking screwed.”  
 
He pulled the cat off his shoulders and sat him back on the fence post.  “Go find somebody better to follow around.  It sure as shit isn’t me.”
 
 
*********************************************
 
 
Castiel felt a rush of cold fear hit him.  What had Dean done?  Something was wrong.  It wasn’t just the ship making Dean sick.  He was so upset.  When he asked him if he had made a bad deal with a demon, it clicked.  Something happened when he was with the King of the Crossroads.  Had he made a deal of some sort?
 
Dean had pushed him away, but he was sure it was only a cry for help.  He followed Dean everywhere he went that night.  He followed him as he walked the yard, checked on the horses, sat at the table, and finally, when he lay down on his bedroll and went to sleep next to Sam.
 
Castiel slept in front of the door so Dean would not leave without him knowing it.  
 
Whatever form he was stuck with, he needed to find a way back to Gabriel.  This rescue mission had gone so far off track that John Winchester was the least of his concerns.
 
 
******************************************
 
 
They left Rufus’ house early that morning.  They headed for the nearest docking town on the north coast of Freeland.
 
It was a day’s ride with one night camping.  Dean had to admit, he preferred the camping.  He cooked dinner this time, shooing Bobby away from the pot, getting a thankful look from Sam.  
 
They had stopped early enough that they had a few hours of daylight.  Dean took advantage of it, making a potato and ham soup.  Rufus had given them a loaf of bread for the road, making it a nice meal.
 
“Dean, this is great,” Sam said, following it with a loud belch.
 
“Good,” Dean nodded.  The soup had turned out well.  Even the cat fussed for more.  
 
They settled in around the fire to relax as the night grew darker.
 
“So, Bobby, what’s Purgatory gonna be like?” Asked Sam.
 
Bobby blew out a breath.  “There’re roads, but they’re rough.  There’re towns, but there aren’t that many things living in them.  The woods and roads between towns are the most dangerous.  All sorts of monsters lurk about.  Wolves and vamps hunt in packs.  Shifters stick to towns mostly.  Gotta watch for wraiths and ghouls too.  Weren’t really that many demons around before but sounds like we’ll be seein’ more of them.  We’re takin’ the first ship out tomorrow.  It sails for Stockville.  That’s where Ellen lives.  We’ll stay at Ellen’s place.  When we’re ready, we can head to Lincoln.  See if we can’t find that knife and find out where Azazel’s holed up these days.”
 
“Sounds like a plan,” Dean sighed.
 
“I think we should leave the horses with Ellen and go on foot,” Bobby said quietly.
 
Dean looked over at him.  “That’s a lot a walkin’.  Slow goin’.”
 
“Yeah,” Bobby sighed, “but desperate vamps will eat ‘em.  Werewolves.  It’s pretty risky.”
 
Dean frowned at that.  Speed versus safety.  But speed could also mean safety.  It was a hard call to make.  
 
“Dean, Rufus says this boat we’re getting on tomorrow is a lot bigger than Frizzles Folly.  So, you might not get as sick.”
 
“Uhhh...I hope.”  Just the thought made him tired.  
 
 
*************************************************
 
 
They boarded the much larger ship, S.S. Espirito Santo late the next morning in the small port village of Sea Pines. There was little to the town itself. The people all seemed closed-mouthed and suspicious of travelers. He had taken the money Bobby had given him as passage and stowed it in his bags.
 
It was an unnerving encounter to show the ticket merchant his hand.  The sigil glowed red and the man immediately gave him better rooms and all expenses paid.
 
“Sir, your cat will have to be kept on a leash any time it is out of your staterooms.”
 
Dean gave the cat at his heels an amused look.  “That’ll go over well, I’m sure.”
 
The cat glared at him.
 
“Not my rule.”
 
“Is the cat a familiar?” The man asked.
 
Dean tossed the idea around a moment.  A familiar might get better treatment.  And he wasn’t a normal cat.  “Yeah.”
 
“Then by all means, please feel free to bring him with you to meals and what-not.  We service all kinds.  We do request you limit any spellwork to minimal mundane activities.  It can be off-putting to others.”
 
“Alright,” Dean nodded.  Great.  Now these people thought he was a witch.  
 
He took their tickets and headed for the others.  Thursday meowed at him.  
 
“Dude, it’s not my rule!  But you’re need to suck it up and deal.  Or stay in the room.”
 
Sam gave him a curious look.  
 
Dean shrugged.  “The merchant says Thursday has to wear a leash any time he’s out of the room.”
 
Sam’s eyebrows lifted in a worried frown.  “I don’t think he’ll like that,” Sam whispered loudly.
 
“No shit,” Dean smirked, not bothering to whisper.  
 
“I’ll leave that job for you,” Sam smirked.  “Since you two are besties.”
 
Dean rolled his eyes.  But it was true.  The cat never left his side lately.  And he did usually sleep with him.  Dean shrugged.  “He’ll be a man about it.”  He looked down at Thursday.  “Right?”
 
The cat made a growling, spitting sound with narrowed eyes.
 
“I think that was cat for ‘fuck you’,” Sam laughed.
 
“Whatever,” Dean chuckled.  He had bigger problems than his cat’s pissy attitude.  Like, how was he going to survive two nights at sea.  This trip took longer than the trip from Lawrence to Freeland.  “Come on, I’ll carry you for now, Mr. Too-good-for-a-leash.”
 
He stooped down, picking the cat up and putting him on his shoulders like a thick scarf.  “Keep a low profile.  And don’t claw me.”
 
The cat grumbled at him but stayed in place as they checked their horses and saddlebags.
 
They were all impressed with their state rooms.  They had windows, for one.  And the walls were white, making the small space look a bit bigger.  They had two rooms with two beds each.  Bobby was mildly worried they overpaid or got the wrong rooms, insisting the money he gave them only bought them lower deck cot privileges.
 
“I chipped in,” Dean explained.  “It’s no big deal, Bobby, just thought we could use some fresh air.”
 
“Then you get one room to yerself,” Bobby insisted.  “We’ll be plenty sick of each other by the time we git back home.”
 
Dean didn’t argue with that.  Privacy was slim.  They had been away from home for days now.  
 
They went back to the dock, eating at a nearby pub before shipping out.  Dean thought it a bit of a waste, since he would most likely puke it all back up.  But fuck it.  At least he could eat today.
 
The pub was thick with people.  Dean watched with barely masked curiosity as vampires ordered blood from the bar.  A family of shapeshifters sat at the table next to them.  He wouldn’t have known what they were, but the two kids kept shifting into different looking kids.
 
He got a nod from a man with a skinny calico cat under his arm.  He nodded back and then realized the guy was must be a witch and thought he was one too.
 
Great.
 
They finished their meal and headed back to the ship just before it disembarked.  Sam and Bobby headed for the top deck, watching Freeland disappear from view.  Dean opted to go to his room.
 
He put Thursday on the empty bed and flopped onto his own.  “I shoulda brought a book.”  He never had been good with down time.  He sat up, looking at the cat.  “We should take your stitches out.”
 
The cat nodded yes and lay fully on his side so Dean could easily work.  He dug around in his bag until he pulled out a pair of scissors.  He knelt at the bed, separating the fur so he could easily find the stitches.  “Wish I woulda done a neater job,” he mumbled, seeing where the skin puckered up at two spots.  “We were in a hurry though, weren’t we?”  He snipped each little stitch, having to work the tip of the scissors between the fur and string in several places.
 
The cat lay there patiently.
 
“Wish I knew more about you,” Dean said quietly, working quickly, but as gently as possible.  “I bet you have better stuff to be doing right now than taking on werewolves.  I don’t know if I ever really thanked you for that.  It was pretty frickin’ badass.  I mean...you’re so small.  To jump in there and fight a werewolf...” Dean shook his head just thinking about it.  “You’re pretty amazing.  And...I don’t know why you’re here, but I’m glad you are.”
 
Dean cut out the last stitch and rubbed his hand along the mended skin.  “Looks pretty good.”
 
He watched as the cat sat up, turning to sniff at the newly mended site.  He turned, bumping Dean’s chin with his head.
 
Dean grinned, kissing the top of his head.  “You’re welcome.”
 
 
*****************************************
 
 
Dean managed to keep his dinner down and slept well all night.  The bigger ship and better seas helped him.
 
Castiel stayed in the room, refusing to wear a leash to go to breakfast.  A leash.  Of all the asinine things.  He growled just thinking about it.
 
His flaw in his plan?  He hadn’t been to the bathroom since yesterday.  Of all the infuriating circumstances to find himself in.
 
He paced the room until Dean came back.  He began meowing incessantly until he had the man’s full attention.
 
“I brought you food!  And water!  Dude, what’s your deal?” Dean frowned, watching him pace in front of the door.
 
He looked back at the food, thinking.  “Ohhh.  You gotta pee.”
 
Castiel meowed loudly, running to him.
 
Dean laughed.  “So, you’re gonna man up and wear the leash, huh?”
 
He hissed, indignant, at Dean’s remark.
 
“Alright, pissy-pants,” Dean laughed, getting the twine out that he had attempted to put on him yesterday.  He knelt, tying the thin rope around his neck.
 
He wanted to shrivel up and disappear.  Mage of Thursday.  On a damn leash to a human.
 
He followed Dean out the door and up to the next floor, which lead out to a deck.  People of all sorts of smells walked about.  It was entirely too public.  He looked up at Dean with a pleading look.
 
Dean rolled his eyes.  “Come on.  I’ll check on Impala.  I’m sure she won’t care if you use her stall.”
 
Castiel sighed with relief, walking with him to the back of the ship and down a large ramp.  The stables.  They were much cleaner than on the small ship.  They smelled better as well.  
 
Dean pulled Impala out of the stall to take her for a walk.  Castiel could kiss the man for giving him such privacy.  He did his business and sat at the door, waiting for the pair to return.
 
Dean came back, talking to another guy.  He put Impala back in the stall, laughing with the guy about the crew of Pishtacos running the ship.  
 
“So, you just sign up and they take a little fat off?” Dean chuckled, patting his stomach.
 
The man grinned at Dean, his eyes trickling down Dean’s body with a hunger in his eyes that made Castiel’s stomach clench in fear and disgust.  Couldn’t he smell the decay in him?  The taint of blood?  The man was obviously a vampire!
 
“You look pretty muscular to me,” he grinned, putting a hand on Dean’s bicep.  “But I could give you something else to sign up for.”
 
Castiel lunged at the man with the loudest hiss he could muster.  He knew his fur was standing on end and his back hunched in position to attack him.
 
The guy stepped back, his eyes going wide as he looked down at him.
 
Dean narrowed his eyes at the man, pulling his arm back.
 
Impala snorted loudly.
 
“Guess I’ll pass then,” Dean said tightly, picking Castiel up and closing the stall door.  He gave the guy a wave as they walked away.  He didn’t say anything, but he headed straight back to their room.
 
Safe and alone, Castiel’s hackles lowered as he paced the floor.
 
Dean knelt, removing the stupid leash.  He petted the top of his head, behind his ear and under his chin.  “You’re a pretty good wingman.”
 
Wingman?  Memory of his wings flashed through his mind.  I am a man.  With wings!  But that wasn’t what he meant.  His hopes dashed as quick as they had risen.  He had no idea what ‘wingman’ meant, but Dean was safe and happy.  Castiel meowed softly and jumped onto his bed.
 
 
********************************************************
 
 
It was a long night.  Dean had started puking as soon as the tide in open water had turned rougher.  He hated ships.  And boats.  And the ocean.  And his stupid, weak stomach.
 
The only time he felt relief was when he lay completely still on his side with the warm heat of the cat tight against his stomach.  At least Sam had brought him a bucket so he could quit sticking his head out his cabin window to puke.  He was sure the people with windows below his were thankful too.
 
Bobby kept him hydrated with peppermint water and peppermint tea.  By noon, the puking seemed only an exercise to strengthen his muscles.
 
By dinner, he was weak as a kitten and whimpered when Sam took Thursday to use the bathroom.  Any time the cat was away from his stomach, the heaving began again.
 
By evening, Thursday seemed as wiped out as he was.  The pair stayed as still as possible in his bed.
 
It wasn’t until the ship moored, that he could move.
 
Bobby took Thursday, and Sam helped him stay upright as they left the ship.  As they surfaced from the deck, he got his first glimpse of Purgatory.  The shores were rocky, with an outline of a town beyond the busy dock.  He could see the horses in holding pens, and the crew pulling out the cargo to stack further down the dock.  There were people leaving the ship with bags over their shoulders and a few wagons sat empty, awaiting their cargo.
 
“Welcome ta Stockville,” Bobby said quietly.
 
 

Chapter Text

Chapter 9: Harvelle’s Roadhouse
 
 
 
 
Castiel did all he could to keep Dean awake for the thankfully short ride to Bobby’s friend’s restaurant.  It was located just two blocks over from the main goings-on in the center of the town of Stockville.
 
The general smell of the air in Purgatory had his fur standing on edge.  Monsters vastly outnumbered them here.  Everyone had a strange smell to them.  Demons smelled like sulfur.  Shapeshifters had a curious smell of lemon, sandalwood, and frankincense.  Vampires smelled of blood and decay.  Some more than others.  Werewolves smelled like foul dogs.  One man that passed them smelled tartly of black licorice.  He wasn’t sure what that man was.  A Leviathan?  Witches smelled of a variety of smells, but mostly herbal.
 
The town was loud and raucous.  There was a general unease amongst the people.
 
Harvelle’s Roadhouse was the restaurant and bar that Bobby’s friend owned.  They tied the horses outside.  Dean didn’t even need to ask.  Castiel waited with the horses to be sure they were safe.  Since he was just a cat.  It wasn’t like he warranted introductions to their friends.  It rubbed him the wrong way, like most things did since Gabriel flung him to Lawrence.
 
 
He stayed curled between the bedroll and the back of the saddle on Impala as the three went inside.  He watched the street with suspicion and a sharp eye.  Before this adventure, he had no idea Purgatory even had towns.  He thought it was a vast wasteland of monsters roaming around in the wild.  But this town had none of the feel of the towns in Lawrence.  There was a lawless hostility to the very air.
 
Several passers-by took notice of the three horses.  Some slowed their steps, looking at them.  Everyone seemed to be on foot here.  He had seen a few wagons with horses pulling goods, but other than those, the streets only held people walking.  
 
He frowned in thought.  These creatures all looked like people.  It was disturbing.  He worried that Dean, Sam, and even Bobby were unprepared to be here.  How would they know who their enemies were?
 
One of the men who had looked at the horses with some interest, came back with another man.  They both stunk of foul dog.  They leaned against the side of the Roadhouse, eyeing the horses.
 
When his eyes met with one of the men’s, he could see a yellow ring in the flare around his pupils.  He hissed.  He knew his body puffed up and he let the growl in his chest grow louder.
 
Impala snorted, stomping her foot.  Challenger was striking his front hoof and started pulling at the tie on the rail.  
 
He was no match for two werewolves.
 
He ran inside the bar, weaving between the many customers.  He heard Sam and Bobby laughing and headed further into the crowd, finally seeing all three of them.
 
Before he could reach them, a woman picked him up by the scruff of the neck, staring at him.  She stunk like smoke, beer, and sulfur.  “What do we have here?”
 
Castiel hissed at her, clawing her arm.  The woman hissed back at him, glaring.
 
“Put him down.  Now.”
 
Castiel was relieved when he heard Dean’s steady, deep voice.
 
The woman tossed him to the floor.
 
He landed hard, on all four paws, running as fast as he could to Dean, winding behind his leg.
 
“That flea bag yours?” The woman glared, licking the claw marks on her arm lewdly.
 
“He is,” Dean snapped, scooping Castiel up in his arm, still glaring at the demon.
 
She said something else, but Dean turned to look at him, turning away from her.  “You okay?”
 
Castiel shook his head yes.
 
Dean narrowed his gaze.  “Is something wrong?”
 
Castiel nodded yes emphatically.
 
Dean only glanced around slightly, before giving him a worried look.  “Are the horses okay?”
 
Castiel shook his head no.
 
“Shit.”  He tucked Castiel under his arm more firmly.  “Sam, Bobby.  Problem with the horses!”
 
Sam and Bobby grabbed their bags, following him outside and onto the porch.
 
One of the werewolves was approaching the horses, all three of the horses were pulling at their leads, shying away from him.  
 
Challenger lunged, biting at one of them, getting a snarl in return, making him rear, pulling hard at his tie.
 
Castiel was slightly shocked when Dean dumped him to the ground, pulling a knife out.  In a few quick strides, he was behind the man, holding the knife to his throat.
 
“That’s close enough.”
 
The man held both hands up, stopping.  He flinched from the knife, pressing his head back so the silver blade did not touch his skin.
 
Dean grabbed him by the shirt, shoving him away from the horses.  
 
“I was jus lookin’!”
 
“Yeah?  Suck your teeth back in and look from across the street,” Dean scowled menacingly, still holding the knife.
 
The man and the one with him walked away, only glancing back once.
 
“Let’s get these horses to my place,” a woman said, waving them to follow her.
 
Dean sighed, putting his knife away.  He looked down at Castiel, giving him a smirking smile with a wink.
 
Castiel was impressed.  Dean might be tougher than he thought.
 
“Thanks, Ellen,” Bobby smiled, giving her a nod.  
 
She grinned back, tucking some hair behind her ear.  She led the way, walking next to Bobby while the others followed.  
 
Sam had to pull Challenger away from others several times as they walked slowly around the restaurant.  Sam chided him for his rudeness, but Castiel thought the horse was in the rights for once.  
 
They went around the back of the restaurant and followed a short lane that led to a barn.  A man with an odd haircut met them at the door.  “Ellen,” he said in greeting, eyes roving over the three men, the horses, and even him.  Castiel looked away, not wanting him to see that he might not be just a cat.  He did not know these people.
 
“We got some guests for a while,” Ellen said, sliding the door the rest of the way open.
 
“Bobby!  Good to see you, man!”
 
“Ash.  How ya been?” Bobby answered, clasping forearms with him.
 
“I been better.  And I been worse.”  He nodded.
 
Castiel was trying to avert his eyes, but he was slightly fascinated with the man’s hair.  It was short in the front but very long in the back.  He had never seen such a style.
 
“Ash,” Ellen said, interrupting Castiel’s staring, “this is Dean and Sam Winchester.  John’s boys.”
 
Ash nodded, shaking hands with them.  Castiel noted how Dean looked at the sigils on Ash’s arm as Ash looked at his.  Sam did the same.  They did not touch thumbs to a sigil, so they had no common sigil to share, therefore they only shook hands.  It was a strange custom that nephilim had never done.
 
“We’re keeping their horses for them while they’re here,” Ellen explained.
 
Ash nodded, stepping back.  “Welcome aboard.”
 
They filed into the small stable.  There were three stalls empty.  Three other stalls held curious horses.  They poked their heads out of their stalls, sniffing the air.
 
They spent a good hour settling the horses.  They told Ash what they ate and their turn-out habits.  Sam had to admit all Challenger’s bad barn habits.  They suggested he only turn him out with Impala.  
 
As they took their bags, preparing to leave the stable, Ash pointed at him.  “You can leave the cat here too.  Always need good watch cats.”
 
Dean grinned down at him and patted his chest.  Castiel could feel that familiar warm glow inside him.  He jumped up, Dean nudging him up to his shoulder.  “He stays with me.”
 
Ash nodded.  He seemed a good man.  He listened when Dean talked about Impala.  He checked her legs and hooves and seemed to have a good hand.  Impala and the other horses liked him too.  And Dean seemed more relaxed leaving her in his care than he had with all the others.  But Ash was observant.  Castiel noticed him looking at him several times.  He avoided him but he had the feeling he suspected something.  And he didn’t know Ash well enough to know what he would do with such information.
 
They left the stable, going to the next building over, where Ellen’s home was.
 
“Jo will be so excited to see you, Bobby.  She still talks about the time you brought her candy and that doll.  She still has it.”
 
“Aw.  That was a long time ago.  I did bring her a bag of peppermints, or part of a bag.  I bet she’s grown so much.  It’s been two years since I been here.”
 
“Two?” Dean whispered to Sam.
 
Sam shrugged, looking just as surprised.
 
“What was he doing in Purgatory two years ago?” Dean wondered aloud.
 
“Visiting Ellen?” Sam grinned, wiggling an eyebrow.
 
Dean frowned.  “Maybe.”
 
They followed Ellen into her house.  Bars blocked the windows and there were sigils and devil’s traps painted on the floor as they walked inside.  It was smaller than Castiel had expected.  This Ellen ran a restaurant.  He had assumed she would be rather wealthy.  But judging by the state of affairs, she was scraping by.
 
A blonde girl came out of another room.  She froze in the doorway.  “Bobby?”
 
“Hey, kid,” Bobby grinned.
 
She ran to him, hugging him tightly.  Castiel had seen Bobby grin like that when he saw Dean and Sam when they had first arrived.  He must be very close with Ellen and Jo.
 
She backed up, looking at him with teary eyes.  “Are you here to stay?  Are you taking us with you?”
 
Bobby’s smile saddened.  “Jo, this is Dean and Sam.  John Winchester’s boys.  John was kidnapped by some demons and we’re here to find him.”
 
Her high hopes dashed; she sagged a bit.  “Hi.”  She clasped hands with them, studying their sigils as they studied hers.  “Nice to meet you.  Sorry to hear about your dad.”
 
Dean and Sam nodded, but all Jo’s attention was suddenly on Castiel.
 
“Who’s this?” She asked, stepping closer to Dean, and staring at Castiel as if she saw more than just a cat.
 
Castiel and Dean exchanged a look.
 
“My cat,” Dean said, only slightly unsure of his words.
 
Jo gave Castiel a searching look.  “That’s no cat.  It’s a...are you a familiar?”
 
Castiel slunk back on Dean’s shoulder slightly.  He was not sure whether to trust these people.
 
“He’s not a familiar,” Dean answered.
 
She narrowed her eyes.  “Are you...were you human?”
 
Castiel felt as if sharing with her might break what he had with these people.  What if they didn’t like him when they found out who he was?  He wanted to ask her if she was a witch.  Could she help him?
 
“He’s not a shapeshifter,” Dean added, pulling Castiel from his shoulders, into his arms, looking at him again.  “He’s really smart.  And he’s protected us a couple times on our way here.”
 
She nodded, still studying him.  “We should take him to my girlfriend’s.  She’ll know what he is.”
 
“You got a girlfriend?” Bobby asked.
 
Jo grinned, her face lighting up as she turned to Bobby.  “Yeah.  It’s pretty serious, actually.  She’s a witch.”
 
Bobby nodded.
 
“You’re dating a witch?” Dean asked, sounding a little surprised.
 
Jo gave him a steady look.  “I am.  The smartest, most badass witch in Purgatory.”
 
Ellen nodded.  “I gotta say, she’s been invaluable to the bar.  We sent for her a year ago when things were bad.  Jo took a liking to her immediately.  She’s been coming here a week every month since.”
 
“That does sound serious,” Bobby nodded, giving Jo a sad smile.
 
“Oh, don’t give me that look,” Jo grinned, hugging Bobby again.  “I gotta grow up, Bobby.”
 
“I know,” he said quietly, hugging her back.  “You gotta be so damn fast at it though?”
 
She pulled back with a giggle.  “We should go see her.  Take the cat to meet her.”
 
“She lives about two hours from here by horse.  Four, on foot,” Ellen added.
 
“Well, we got plans,” Bobby started.
 
“No,” Dean interjected, looking down at Castiel.  “I think we should see if Jo’s girlfriend can help us.  It seems like the minute my dad went missing, this cat showed up.  He hasn’t left our side in hundreds of miles.”  He looked back at the group.  “If she can answer some questions, it would be good.”
 
Bobby nodded.  “Alright then.”
 
Castiel had a worried, sinking feeling in his stomach.  He had spent over two weeks as their cat.  He had grown quite used to, and surprisingly fond of, the closeness they shared.  But he really did have other things to do.  A life outside of this adventure he had gotten himself into.
 
He needed to speak to Gabriel.  If he were nephilim again, he might be able to fly!  Hope bubbled up strong again.  Could this witch could help him?
 
He rubbed his head into Dean’s chest.
 
“Should we go see the witch?” Dean asked, looking at him again.
 
Castiel nodded yes.
 
Dean grinned.  “The witch it is then.”
 
“Whoever, or whatever he is,” Sam added, “he almost died for us.  He took on a werewolf back in Lawrence.”
 
Jo nodded.  “She’ll be able to help.”  She leaned a hip against the table, looking at all of them.  “So...what happened to John?”
 
They moved to the small table, sitting around it to eat and talk.
 
Castiel busied himself by looking around the house.  It was small, but clean.  He sat on the windowsill, listening as the humans talked and made their plans.  Maybe Dean would remember how he had been loyal to all of them if the witch could help him.  He had always been quiet, reserved, and stoic.  But to not have a voice was really getting frustrating.
 
 
******************************************
 
 
 
Dean liked Ellen.  And Jo.  Ellen was one tough broad.  She ran that Roadhouse with authority.  He had no idea how a human had made it so long, running a bar with monsters constantly there.  She must not mind them too much.  Her own daughter was dating a witch.
 
Their local witch at home, Missouri, had never liked him as much as she liked Sam.  He had been a bit of a pain in the ass when they had first moved to Lebanon.  His rise to ‘normal life’ had been stormy.  Missouri had rocked their world at first.  
 
Dean had spent plenty of time searching out ingredients for her stocks, performing strange chores, and dusting her shelves of too many tiny bottles as punishment for running his mouth, or rolling his eyes, or doing - even ‘thinking’ -something ‘disrespectful’.  He respected Missouri and knew deep down that she loved him.  But witches just weren’t his cup of tea.
 
He was leery of subjecting Thursday to a witch.  Who knew what she would do to him?  But he wanted some answers.
 
On a good note, he was totally on board with Bobby liking Ellen.  She was good people.  But from what he could see, she needed outta here.  Jo too.
 
They spent the entire evening catching Ellen up on their dad and where they were going.
 
“I never heard of such a thing as a demon knife,” she frowned.  “You believe this Samuel guy?”
 
“Yeah,” Bobby grumbled.  “It would be a good weapon to have.  Especially going into a place with Azazel at the head.”
 
Ellen nodded.
 
“I’ve heard of it,” Jo said quietly.  Even her mom seemed surprised.
 
“You have?” Sam asked.
 
“Yeah.  Few years ago, there was a group of demons at the bar talking about trying to get it.”
 
“Probably right after it got here,” Dean reasoned.
 
Bobby and Sam nodded agreement.
 
“Charlie might know more about that too,” Jo said confidently.
 
“Who’s Charlie?” Dean asked.
 
“My girlfriend.  She’s...well connected.  She hears a lot.”
 
“Sounds like we definitely need to meet her,” Dean sighed.  “I’m headed to bed.  I’m so wiped out from that damn ship.”
 
Everyone said goodnight and Thursday followed him into Jo’s bedroom.  He grinned at her bed.  First one to the bedroom got the bed, right?  Apparently Thursday agreed.  He jumped up there, circling around the bottom to lay down.
 
Dean pulled his clothes off.  He was bone-tired from all the puking and hardly eating.  His dinner sat heavy, making him feel even more tired, but in a much better way.
 
Down to his shorts, he got under the covers and turned onto his side, lifting his hand for the cat to curl up by his chest.  He petted his soft, silky fur.  “I hope this witch can help me talk to you better.  I know you have more to say than what you can now.”
 
The cat did not agree or disagree.
 
He let the weariness of the trip take him to sleep.
 
 
*******************************************
 
 
They had been walking for four hours.  Dean had decided Jo was one of the best chicks he had ever met.  Her humor was wicked funny.  She was tough.  And she made him laugh.
 
The fact that he was traveling with her made him slightly nervous though.  While he thought Ellen was cool, she kinda scared the shit out of him.  She was fiercely protective of her daughter.  And who could blame her.  He couldn’t imagine trying to raise a kid in a place like this.  There were hardly any humans here.  Not that he could tell by looking.
 
Their walk had been uneventful.  They had passed a few travelers on the road.  And Dean had thought he heard things in the woods about two miles back, but nothing messed with them.
 
He knew the second Jo saw Charlie.  Her face lit up and she ran the short distance to the little house.  A petite red-head stood on her porch.  She had just waved goodbye to a salesman with a cart.
 
She turned, hearing Jo coming.  She ran off the porch, catching Jo in her arms to hug and kiss her.
 
“What are you doing here?” Charlie asked, turning to look at the rest of the group as they neared her.
 
“This is Bobby.  I’ve told you about him before.”  Jo beamed a grin and Bobby shook Charlie’s hand.
 
Charlie held his hand, glancing over his arm.  “You’re a hunter.  Or were.  It’s so nice to meet you!”
 
“You too, Jo had plenty of good things ta say ‘bout you.”
 
“Aw!” She winked at Jo, turning back to him and Sam.
 
“This is Sam and Dean Winchester,” Jo started to introduce.
 
Charlie stepped up to him quickly.  “Winchester?”  She looked at his sigils.  “John Winchester.  I thought so.”  She shook Sam’s hand next with the same big grin.  “Are you here to rescue him?”
 
“You know about that?” Jo asked, frowning in question.
 
Charlie nodded; her dark red hair made her pale skin stand out starkly.  “I heard about the snatch those demon bastards pulled.”
 
“Do you know where he is?” Dean asked.  It was the first time anyone had any hope of information.  His nerves thrummed with worry.
 
“No.  I mean, if I had to guess, I’d say Elizabethville.  I heard some rumors and it turns out the creeps passed right through here.  If I had known, I would have stopped them.  Then, again last week, one of my regular customers said demons had taken John Winchester. The same ones I had seen.”
 
“Are you sure about Elizabethville?” Dean asked.  “What makes you think that?”
 
She shrugged.  “Elizabethville, probably.  That’s where Azazel usually stays.”  Her train of thought completely interrupted by the sight of the cat.  Her eyes fixed on him with shock.
 
She glanced around at all of them.  “We should go inside.”
 
Dean glanced around the woods.  There was no one else around that he could see.  But going inside seemed like a good idea.  Just the thought of a monster lurking or listening in on them, made him nervous.
 
They all went inside quietly.  Everyone had seen Charlie’s immediate reaction to the cat.
 
Dean was a little surprised with himself at how protective he felt.  She was a witch.  And she knew something.  He just wasn’t sure he was ready for what she had to say.
 
They gathered in Charlie’s living room, everyone sitting down on a chair or couch.  Dean took one of the chairs,  Thursday on his lap, watching Charlie with worry.  He could feel the little cat’s body vibrating with nerves.
 
Dean put a calming hand on him.
 
Charlie dropped all pretense of caring about anything else.  She stared at the cat with wide eyes, sitting on the floor in front of him.
 
“How did you come by this cat?”
 
Dean swallowed, petting Thursday’s shoulder nervously.  “He just kinda showed up in the stables at our house.  He seemed to want to come with us.”
 
She nodded her head.  “I bet.”
 
“How did this happen?” She asked the cat.
 
No answer.
 
“Can you talk?” Charlie asked.
 
Thursday shook his head no.
 
“Okay...did a sprite do this to you?”
 
No.  But Dean noticed how that seemed to make the cat excited.
 
“Someone did this to you, though.”
 
Thursday nodded his head yes.
 
“A witch?” She asked.
 
Yes.
 
Charlie thought, tapping on her chin.  She stood up pacing away.  “So, the cat is a sprite.  And a witch cast a spell on him.”
 
Dean knew he must look as shocked as Sam and Bobby.  The world went silent for a minute as he and the cat stared at each other.  Chills ran up his spine.
 
A sprite.
 
“A sprite?”  Thursday nodded.  Nothing made any sense.  He had no idea what to do with that information.  
 
A sprite!  
 
All his childhood memories of sprite tales came back to him.  They ignored the humans and monsters.  They thought they were better than the rest.  Some of them were tricksters.  Some were mean.  Some were totally self-absorbed.  A sprite.  On his freakin’ lap!  
 
“So, I can think of a few ways he like got this,” Charlie went on, seeming more curious than surprised.  “Either he was snooping through a witch’s books, he used this as a disguise, or a witch cursed him.  So, you said he has protected you and stayed with you because he wants to...I’m going to have to change him back to figure out if he’s here on a good deed or a foul deed.”
 
The cat stood up, meowing.
 
“Sounds like a good idea,” Bobby said quietly.  “You sure it’s a sprite?  People say they’ve seen ‘em, but I thought no one has seen a sprite in...hundreds of years.  I mean, Rufus said he saw that one...but...”
 
“That’s not true,” Charlie shook her head.  “There’s been...well, let’s see who we’re dealing with here, before I say any more.”
 
“You can...turn him back into a sprite?” Dean asked, trying not to out-right squirm at the foreigner sitting on his lap.
 
“Yeah.  At least, I’m like...83% sure.”  She gave him a sweet, confident grin.
 
“Told ya she’s awesome,” Jo smiled.
 
Yeah...friggin’ awesome.  Pretty soon the black bit of fur and bone in his lap was going to be a man.  He fought the urge to shove the cat off his lap.
 
Charlie went to the other side of her large living room, pulling a cauldron off a shelf.  She sat it on the table and rested her hands on the edge of it.  “Do you want me to turn you back?”
 
The cat gave Dean one last glance, then jumped down and joined her at the table.  He nodded his head yes.
 
Dean felt extremely conflicted about this.  He couldn’t figure out what their smart little companion had been, but he felt like he was losing a friend.  If this turned into a freakin’ sprite...what the hell did that mean?  Was it here just getting into mischief?  Was it here to start problems?
 
Sam was staring at the cat with intensity.  “I wonder...”
 
“You wonder what?” Dean snapped.  
 
Sam shot him a frown.  “I was just going to say, if he’s a sprite, maybe he’s here to help find Dad.”
 
“What would Dad have to do with a sprite?” Dean snapped again.
 
“Quit bitin’ Sam’s head off,” Bobby barked.  “None of us woulda ever guessed he was a sprite.”
 
“Yeah,” Dean said irritably, looking at the cat sitting on the table, “but you didn’t sleep with him.”
 
“Hey,” Bobby grinned, “You knew damn well he was too smart to be just a cat.  You knew he was something more.  Let’s just...see what happens.”
 
He sat back in the chair, watching.  He regretted all the petting.  All the sleeping cuddled up to it.  Holding it.  Shit, he had kissed it on the head!  A friggin’ sprite!  Evil, mischievous, arrogant bastards!
 
 
************************************
 
 
Castiel jumped onto the table with more hope and excitement than he had ever felt in his life.  “So...you went all the way to Lawrence,” Charlie bit her lip.  “Are you Gabriel?”
 
Gabriel!  It was exciting that someone else knew Gabriel’s name!  This little witch just might be able to fix him!  He shook his head no.
 
“Are you Michael?  
 
Oh, this WAS a clever witch!  He shook his head no, barely able to contain his excitement.
 
“Are you a Mage?”  She asked, studying him with a friendly eye.
 
Yes!  Yes!  He stood up, his tail flicking back and forth with excitement.
 
“Sunday?”
 
No!
 
“Right.  Mage of Sunday is Michael.  Gabriel is Mage of Monday and you said you aren’t him.”  She put several ingredients into the cauldron.  “Tuesday?”
 
No!
 
“Thursday,” Dean said in a bit of wonder.
 
Castiel nodded yes to him, he turned to Charlie, nodding yes again.
 
“Mage of Thursday?” Charlie confirmed.
 
YES!
 
“Hm.  Last I heard, Kassiel had died.  He was the old Mage of Thursday.  That means you must be Castiel.”
 
Castiel’s mouth dropped open a bit.
 
He meowed loudly, nodding yes.
 
“Well, hello, Castiel.  It’s nice to meet you.”  She held a hand out and he gave her his paw.  She shook it with a gentle shake.
 
“Mage of Thursday?” Dean got up, pacing the room.  Castiel could tell that Dean was extremely uncomfortable with the knowledge that he was a sprite.  “Freakin’ Thursday.  What sprite is that?”  He ran his hand through his hair roughly.  “The freakin’ crier!”
 
“Harbinger,” Sam said quietly, looking at Castiel like he just figured out who he was.  “He’s the guy that was at the door the night Dad was kidnapped.”
 
Sam and Dean both stood a bit more defensively.  “Maybe you should hold off on turning him back,” Dean said quietly.  His green eyes were on him as if he was an enemy.  Worse yet, a stranger.  As if they did not know each other!
 
Castiel meowed a tiny cry.
 
“But we need information,” Sam argued.
 
Charlie nodded.
 
“But a freakin’ mage?  He’s like the top dog of all the Thursday sprites!  What if we can’t hold him?  You got some sprite weapons around I never heard of?” Dean argued back with the pair.
 
Charlie shrugged.  “Apparently I can turn him into a cat.”
 
“Why isn’t this freaking you out?” Dean snapped.
 
“I think you better watch your tone,” Jo said in a cold voice.  It was enough to snap Dean into milder behavior.  
 
“How are you so current on sprite business?” Bobby asked suspiciously.
 
“I...can’t really talk about that.”  She forced a wide grin, her eyes sliding over to Castiel.  She did not want to give anything away; in case he was here to cause harm.
 
He dropped his head slightly.  
 
“When he comes out of this spell, he’s going to be weak as a kitten.  No pun intended,” Charlie assured them.
 
She focused her attention back on him.  “Let’s figure out how you got this way first.”
 
Castiel worried that every answer could be the wrong one.  But Charlie at least seemed knowledgeable about nephilim, even if she still called them sprites.
 
“Did a witch cast this spell on you?” She asked.
 
No.
 
“Were you snooping through a witch’s spellbook?”
 
Yes.
 
She grinned slightly.  She looked at the others.  “Some witches leave spells on their books.  It’s to keep people from stealing their books and spells.  This is a curiosity spell.  He must have tried to use the book without the witch being there.”
 
“Missouri has been away.  She was in southern Lawrence at the time Dad went missing.  So, if he’s the guy I think he is, it fits,” Sam nodded.
 
“Missouri Mosley?” Charlie grinned.
 
“Yeah,” Sam answered.  “Do you know of her?”
 
“Sure!  We’ve met.  She’s great!”  Charlie turned back to her cabinets of bottles.  She picked several up, putting them by the cauldron.  “I’m going to need some human blood.  Any donors?”
 
“You do it,” Sam grinned, slapping Dean on the back.  “He’s your bestie.”
 
“Stop saying that,” Dean growled.  He looked at Charlie with a shrug.  “Whatever.”
 
They all watched as Charlie pulled out a thick, leather bound book and consulted a spell.  She got several more herbs from her stocks and a cup of milk.
 
Castiel watched, seeing some of the ingredients were the same as he had used when doing the spell.  “How long exactly have you been this way?”
 
Castiel thought back.  Well, this was day...19.  He meowed.
 
“Oh, right,” she grinned.  “Um, two weeks?  More? 15 days?”  She kept asking until Castiel meowed and nodded yes at 19.
 
Charlie blew out a big breath.  “That’s a long time to be stuck in a curiosity spell.  They’re meant to be like a punishment.  But they can become permanent.  But...we should be fine.  You just might have some...after-effects.”
 
Castiel swallowed.  Was he going to lose his grace?  Would he be weaker?  If he lost his powers, he would lose his rank.  
 
She poured the cup of milk in, stirring the little mess in the pot.  “And that’s for humans.  Witches.  But I heard of a werewolf that once got stuck as a cat like this.”  She stopped stirring, glancing at the others, making a face.  “He did NOT like being a cat.”  She went back to stirring. “Yet it worked on him.  But a sprite?”  She blew out a breath, staring into her cauldron.  “I’m not making any promises.”
 
Castiel wished he had more time to weigh the consequences.  Should he?  Shouldn’t he?  He really had no choice.  He had to become a sprite again.
 
“Time for blood.”  She cut her own hand, letting 19 drops drip into the cauldron.  She wiped her hand off, letting Jo bandage her.  “Dean?”
 
Dean pulled up his sleeve.  He looked at Castiel with a tight mouth.  It made Castiel’s heart drop a bit.  He did not want Dean to be angry.  Dean cut himself, letting blood run into a small bowl.  Charlie then put 19 drops in.  Jo handed him a bandage.
 
“You next, Mage of Thursday,” Charlie said politely.
 
He held up a paw, flinching only slightly at the burning cut.  Jo held a bandage to his cut until the bleeding stopped.
 
“Hair from the curious cat.”  She ran her hand down Castiel’s back, dropping 19 hairs into the pot.  She topped the mess off with a bit of catnip and looked at Castiel.  “You might want to move to the chair.”
 
Castiel’s heart raced.  This could be it!  He could be himself again!  He jumped from the table to one of the chairs, watching her carefully.  She lit a long match and dropped it in the pot.
 
The little pile erupted in flames.
 
Castiel gasped.  His body jolted, heaving, and swelling with a burning stretch.  A rush of hot pin pricks ran all over his body.  He howled as things inside his body pulled and swelled.  The pain was intense.  His face pulled and every bone in his body grew like a shard of steel.  All he could hear was his own scream of pain.
 
He panted, heaving, his chest working hard to bring him air.  He had heard himself scream.  He had his voice back!  His hands!  His legs!  Only two of them now!  He looked up at Charlie.  “Thank you,” he croaked broken and painful.  
 
Another surge hit him, his entire body thrumming with burning pain until all he saw was white.
 
 

Chapter Text

Chapter 10:  A Tale of Two Tongues
 
 
 
Dean sat next to the bed in Charlie’s guest room.  Castiel.  Mage of Thursday.  The crier.  Harbinger of news.  He thought about the old nursery rhyme he and Sam used to say.
 
‘Gather your children, gather them now,
Sprites will steal them; I’ll tell you how.
Lock your doors, douse your lights,
Seven Sprites rule the nights.
Warlock’s sword rules the most,
Sunday’s sprite will always boast.
Monday’s Trickster is friend and foe,
He’ll mince your words ‘til you don’t know.
You could be cured by Healer’s hand,
If Tuesday’s sprite gave a damn.
Cinder, Cinder, sparks and flame,
Wednesday’s sprite burns all the same.
Thursday’s sprite will make you cry,
Harbinger brings news but won’t say why.
Friday’s sprite is full of fun,
But Pip is here to help no one.
Flicker will be here and gone,
Saturday’s sprite strikes at predawn.
Seven sprites to rule and tease,
Trick and burn and bring you grief.’
 
It seemed ridiculous that these seven magical creatures he had heard about when he was little, were real.  And one was laying right in front of him.  Harbinger.  Bringer of bad tidings and grief.  They were all known for their dangerous antics to humans before The War of Peoples and the Sunken Ties separated them. Even still, they teach children to fear them at night.
 
Warlock started fights, Trickster could fool you into trouble, Cinder started fires, Harbinger would tell you tragic news, Pip liked to play but will lead you astray, and Flicker was quick as lightning.  They were all troublemakers.  
 
Thieves, liars, tricksters.  They lured children away or into trouble.
 
And here he was, sitting next to one of them.  Thursday.  Why had it never occurred to him?  Fucking sprites.  Everyone knew they were too busy doing nothing to bother with men, if you believed in them at all.  So why was he here?
 
His hair was dark brown.  So dark it was almost black.  Like the cat he had been.  And he had only caught a wild, brief glimpse of his eyes, but he knew they were the same striking blue as the cat’s.  His hair was a mess.  He looked pale and smooth from the spell.  The only hair on his body was on his head and his eyebrows.  Everything else was as smooth as day-old skin.  He knew, because he watched him turn into a human.  And there he was, passed out in the chair, naked.  They had carried him into the bed and now they were just waiting for him to wake up.  He was breathing, but he had not moved so much as a finger since the spell.
 
He sighed heavily, getting up and heading into the living room with the rest of the crew.  
 
“Anything yet?” Bobby asked.
 
Dean shook his head no.  “Out like a doused flame.”
 
Bobby sighed.  “How long are we gonna wait?”
 
Dean sat at the table.  “Charlie.  Let’s talk.”
 
She pulled herself onto the counter, sitting cross-legged.  She gave him an expectant look.  
 
“I think we’re gonna have to wake him up.”  Dean was not surprised by the look of doubt on Charlie’s face.  “I can’t wait for days.  This trip is taking too long already.  Who knows if my dad is even alive?  With his mouth...and demons’ short tempers...”
 
“Well, let’s find out!  Do you have anything of his?”  She sprung back onto her feet, holding a hand out.
 
“You can do that?”  Dean mumbled, patting his hands down his own body, trying to think of anything he carried that was his dad’s.  “Of course you can.  I, uh, I have his knife that he gave me!”  He pulled out the silver dagger so quickly that Charlie yelped, retracting her hand quickly.  
 
“Sorry,” Dean blushed slightly at his sloppiness.
 
Charlie grinned, reaching for the knife again.  “Go get Sam and I’ll get what I need.  It’s a simple spell.”
 
Dean nodded; he was glad to think about something other than the stone man in the guest room that hadn’t moved since yesterday.
 
He jogged outside where Sam was picking fresh lavender from Charlie’s garden.  “Sam!  Come on!  Charlie’s gonna do a search spell to see if Dad’s alive.”
 
Sam joined him, laying the lavender pickings on Charlie’s table.  They watched as she added a few powders into the pot and lit the mixture on fire.  She waved the stench and smoke away, lifting a wire out of the pot with a stone hanging from it.  She said something witchy, touching their dad’s knife to the stone.
 
The stone glowed red, then began pulsing.  She looked up at them with a grin.  “He’s alive.  The pulsing shows his heartbeat.  It’s strong and steady.”
 
Dean and Sam both sighed in relief, dropping their heads.
 
She moved the stone to her sink, rinsing it and the knife off.  “They probably just have him in a cell somewhere in Azazel’s camp.”
 
Dean nodded, standing up straighter with the knowledge that their quest to save their father was not in vain.  He clapped Sam on the back.
 
Sam, more choked up than Dean had expected, hugged him.  “He’s alive, Dean.”
 
“We’re gonna save him, Sammy.  He’s tough.  He’ll hang in there.”
 
“Dean?”
 
Dean let Sam go, turning to the deep, unfamiliar voice behind him.  Standing in the doorway to the guest room was the cat.  Or...the sprite.  His eyes were wide and shockingly blue.  His hair was stuck up in a crazy mussed pile.  His skin looked smooth as satin and pale.  Not sickly pale, but fresh, clean, new.  He was still naked, Dean suspected, with the blanket from the bed wrapped around him.  He was muscular, but looked weak, as if a strong breeze could knock him over.
 
The man swallowed, wincing at his throat.  “Dean -” He coughed, wincing again.
 
“Castiel?”  Charlie said in a hushed voice, “I mean, Mage of Thursday,” she bowed her head.  “I’ll make you some honey and lemon tea!”  She jumped into action.
 
Dean poured him a glass of water, wondering if he was supposed to treat this sprite differently.  Like when commoners met his father, they usually bowed and addressed him as Sheriff Winchester.  Not that his dad required such actions, people just did it out of respect and tradition.  But this man was a stranger.  A sprite.  Yet, he was the cat he had carried with him for close to three weeks now.  He knew him.  But he didn’t.  Every bit of how to interact with him was a mass of confusion in his head.  He was gonna need to pick an action and go with it.  
 
“Here,” Dean handed him the cup of water.  “And you might wanna get dressed.”
 
“Dean,” Sam whacked his arm.  “He’s one of The Seven!  Mage of Thursday.”
 
Dean looked back, meeting the most intense eyes he had ever seen.  There was an inhuman glow that radiated through the blue.  His mouth pressed together with his chin tipped down slightly.  It was an odd look of shy strength.
 
“He’s the same dude that’s been with us for weeks.”  Dean swallowed, wanting to shy away from the steady, slightly glowing gaze the man gave him, but he fought the urge, staring right back.
 
He reached for the cup, grasping it with a weak, shaky grip.
 
“I have clothes for him,” Charlie piped in.  “Jo, would you check the wardrobe in my room and give him something to wear?”
 
“Sure,” Jo answered in a breathless voice, backing up two steps, looking like she was unsure if she should bow.  She did an awkward sort of bob and went to Charlie’s bedroom.
 
Dean rolled his eyes.  Great.  Everything was gonna be uncomfortable until everyone got over their shock and awe.
 
Jo came out of the room with a small pile of clothes.  She looked apprehensive about even handing them to the sprite.
 
Dean took them and nudged Thursday to back into the room.  He sat the pile of clothes on the bed.  “Breaches, shirt, socks.  No boots.”  He looked at the man’s feet.  “We’ll have to get you some boots.”  He couldn’t stop himself from running his eyes up his body.  He was just a bit shorter than him.
 
Their eyes met again.  Castiel lowered his chin slightly.  It was something he had often done as a cat.  For a split second, that was what Dean saw.  The sprite tilted his head ever so slightly and opened his mouth to say something.
 
“We’ll be waiting right out here.  We have a lot to talk about,” Dean muttered, walking out of the room, pulling the door shut.  He sat in one of the chairs, stewing inside.  He felt so out of sorts.  He hated that.
 
Mage of Thursday.  One of the seven sprites.  Castiel.  A leader.  He would be a leader of...well, he had no idea how sprites ran their country.  It was all a mystery.  Maybe there were only seven altogether.  Maybe he was like a sheriff.  Maybe he was bigger than that even.  And Dean had petted him.  Kissed his head.  Shared his bed.
 
“Fuck,” he muttered.
 
“Dean,” Bobby said calmly, sitting next to him.  
 
Dean recognized the tone and the posture of how Bobby leaned toward him.  Like he was patiently educating a difficult child.  Rather than look at him, he didn’t move.
 
Bobby sighed, pulling his hat off and tossed it onto the couch.  “That ‘man’ in there, the one you’re ‘bossin’ around?  He’s a freakin’ mage.  He could be powerful.  Ya might wanna -”
 
“What?” Dean snapped, not the child he used to be when Uncle Bobby sat him down for talks.  “Treat him differently?  Like he’s a sprite and he’s better than me?”
 
Bobby winced, shushing him.  “Some mages are really powerful.”
 
Dean sighed in frustration, glancing at the door.  Charlie was standing in his way of the door with her hands on her hips, watching him.
 
“Really powerful,” Charlie repeated.
 
“You need ta watch yer tone.  He might help us.  He’s already helped us,” Bobby went on.
 
Dean stared at the floor in front of him.  “Sprites don’t give a shit what humans are doing.  They don’t care if we live or die.  Where were they during the three famines?  Or the vampire uprising?  They only ever used us for breeding, Bobby.  Why do you think this is different?”
 
“Because...maybe it just is.  Maybe they’re a lot more like us than they used ta be.  He may know something.  Or will help us get yer dad back.”
 
“Maybe,” Dean muttered.
 
Everyone stepped away from Dean when the bedroom door opened, and the man walked into the room.  Dressed, he looked even more human.  His eyes had dulled to a more normal blue and he looked tired.
 
Dean might have had a twinge of guilt as the man shyly looked at them.  He inched his way into the room.
 
“Your tea is ready,” Charlie grinned, sitting a cup on the table.
 
“Thank you,” he said quietly, bowing his head to her slightly.
 
She blushed a bit, stepping back.
 
He walked over to the chair and sat at the table.  He wasted no time sipping the hot tea.  For several moments, he sat there with his eyes closed as if he were savoring the simple brew.
 
Charlie and Jo sat at the table with him.  Sam soon joined.  Bobby too.  With all the chairs taken, Dean walked closer, leaning against the counter.
 
The sprite opened his eyes.  He took a long drink and sat the cup down.
 
“It is such a relief to finally be able to talk to all of you,” he said in his low, rumbly voice.  Dean rubbed the goosebumps off his arms.  “My name is Castiel, Mage of Thursday.  I command the Legion of Thursday in Haven.”
 
Legion?  Shit.  That sounded like a lot of fucking sprites.
 
“In Haven, we call ourselves nephilim.  But you all refer to us as sprites.  I was sent here by Gabriel.”
 
“Gabriel?” Charlie gasped, looking at Jo.
 
Dean narrowed his eyes.  Gabriel.  He was a main player.  Everyone knew Michael and Gabriel were the most powerful sprites.  Trickster and War.  The others seemed to follow those two.  At least, that was how the old stories went.
 
“I have only been Mage of Thursday for a year.  I was staying with Gabriel in Tree of Thrones to study my powers.”
 
“Wait,” Dean interrupted, taking his tired gaze more easily this time, “You’re new?  Like...you don’t know what you’re really doing kind of new?”
 
“Dean,” Bobby growled.
 
Castiel gave him a stern look.  “I am more powerful than the last five generations of Thursday Mages.”
 
“But...you’re just learning to use your powers?” Dean asked, incredulous.
 
Castiel’s glare pierced into him, his eyes glowing again.  Apparently he chose not to bother answering him, because his eyes dimmed as he looked at the others sitting at the table.  “While under Gabriel’s tutelage, he sent me to Lawrence with a message for John Winchester.”
 
Charlie and Jo leaned forward with anticipation.  Bobby listened carefully.  And Sam looked as bewildered with this as Dean felt.
 
“He asked me to tell John Winchester that he was correct, and that Gabriel would fight by his side.”
 
Charlie looked like she might cry with excitement.  Jo nodded, also near tears.  Bobby sat back with a look of surprise.  Sam and Dean both blurted, “Fight who?”
 
Castiel looked uncomfortable again.  “I know only that message.”
 
“Man.  You really are just Harbinger.  Sprite to bring news,” Dean laughed bitterly.  He didn’t want to be mean to the guy.  He just couldn’t seem to help himself.  The entire group glared at him.  “What?” Dean laughed.  “Thursday’s sprite will make you cry, Harbinger delivers news, but won’t say why!  It’s just like the old rhyme!”
 
“We aren’t talking about nursery rhymes, Dean,” Charlie snapped.  “You might not feel the threat of war down in Lawrence where it’s cozy and orderly with a bar and stores on every street, but here, in Purgatory, the demons are multiplying.  Humans were so rare here, that they started harvesting their own.  But they’re only interested in our body count to add to their numbers.  What they really want is to destroy Lawrence as you know it.”
 
Dean swallowed.  “What are you talking about?”
 
“War,” Jo backed up her girlfriend.  “And there have been mass rumors that Gabriel and his people have been in touch with leaders across Purgatory, Freeland, and Lawrence.  Your dad must be one of them.”
 
“Why would Gabriel want to help us?” Sam asked.  “Things have been separate for so long now.”
 
Charlie leaned forward.  “Word is, Michael is the one making the demons.  Demons can’t make other demons.  We don’t have anything like that here.  So, when witches and humans caught on to what was happening, we clamored for help until Gabriel finally got word.”
 
Castiel was blinking thoughtfully.  He sipped his tea again.  “When I met Michael, he seemed quite distracted and removed from Gabriel.  I thought the two were at odds...but I cannot believe Michael would warrant such a thing.  I do not even know if creating demons is possible.”
 
“Why not?” Dean asked.  “Isn’t that what Lucifer was in so much trouble for?  Hating humans and making demons?”
 
Castiel frowned.  “Yes.  And no.  Knowing Michael what little I do I’d say this has more to do with power than hating humans.  Not that he has much love for them.”
 
Dean nodded.  So, they could agree on that much.
 
“So, Gabriel really is going to fight with us!” Charlie cut in.  “This is historic!  Unprecedented!”
 
“You’re fighting the demons?” Sam asked, leaning in with curiosity and worry.
 
“If we don’t, we’ll lose Purgatory altogether,” Charlie stated matter-of-factly.  
 
“Why do you stay here, among so many monsters?” Castiel asked, his brow furrowing.
 
Charlie sighed.  “It’s our home.  Besides, if you’re born in Purgatory, you cannot to move to Lawrence.  And you must have good connections to get citizenship to Freeland.  I could.  But Jo...” she gave Jo a sad smile.  “And her mom won’t leave without her.  So...” she shrugged, Jo slumping slightly with guilt.  “It’s my duty to fight for a safe place to live.”
 
Dean had never once thought of Purgatory as a ‘safe place to live’.  Never.  He had never even considered humans being born here.  Living here.  Having children here.
 
“But...you’re a witch,” Castiel said, still looking utterly confused.  “You belong here, if history serves.  I thought witches lived everywhere except Haven.  And all beings of supernatural powers are to live in Purgatory.  Unless they want to cohabitate as human and supernatural beings.  Then you live in Freeland.  Lawrence is where humans live.  So...how did Ellen and Jo come to live here?”
 
Dean tried not to feel offended by the rash explanation of how they should be living.
 
“Because,” Jo explained much more diplomatically than Dean would have, “life is messy, Castiel.  My father was a hunter.  So was my mother.  My father was killed on a hunt and my mom got stuck here, had me, and became even more trapped here.  Being born in Purgatory means you cannot passage to...anywhere.  Then Mom wanted to help.  There are plenty of supernatural beings that don’t want to live in violence.  Why should they remain chained to a land riddled with Leviathan, werewolves, vampires, and...ya know...it’s not even that simple?  Some of those creatures don’t want violence either.  But demons and Leviathan?  I’ve never met ones that weren’t scheming to either eat you or use you.”
 
Castiel’s brow furrowed, but he thought on the matter for some time, nodding.  “I think I understand.  As a new mage, I was quite curious to meet other beings.  In fact, my curiosity and interest in humans and other beings is, I suspect, one of the reasons Gabriel chose me to deliver his message.”
 
“Yeah,” Dean narrowed his eyes at the sprite, “about that.  ‘Gabriel’, ‘Mage of Monday’...here, he’s known as the ‘Trickster’.  He’s known for tricking people to their death.  Teaching them lessons by killing them.  Why are we working with someone like that?”
 
Castiel frowned.  “I do not understand your reference to ‘Trickster’,” he air quoted back, making Dean smirk, “but the Gabriel I know can be a bit mischievous.  But as far as I know, he has never killed anyone.”
 
“Dean,” Bobby added, “I don’t think we can apply those old nursery rhymes to the sprites we have today.  Those rhymes are ancient.  Likely based on the real deals a long time ago.  Or their first children.”
 
Dean still wasn’t convinced, but he tried to let his judgements go.  “Look, I saw you the night you came to bring your message to my dad, which is exactly like the old, outdated nursery rhyme.  He didn’t want your help.  Or Gabriel’s.”
 
Castiel nodded with a sad pull to his lips.  “I fear I delivered the message poorly.  Or something had already happened to anger John.  He was unconvinced Gabriel would actually help.”
 
“Well,” Charlie gave him a steady look, “from what I know, the people begged for his help two years ago.  And again, last summer.  Things are only getting worse.  We really thought he wouldn’t reply.”
 
“Two years ago?” Sam asked in shock.  “What’s taking so long?”
 
“There has been peace in Haven for centuries,” Castiel said quietly, looking like he was deep in thought.  “To war against Michael, especially in defense of humans and other beings, would take a lot of power.  And Gabriel does not seem like one to rush into battle.  Michael, however, I am much less familiar with him.”
 
Dean sighed.  So, they had a sprite.  A self-proclaimed powerful sprite.  But he was new.  He was clueless about the war.  But then again, so was he.  And his own father was involved.
 
“I gotta ask,” Charlie blushed, “how did you become a cat?”
 
Castiel sighed.  “The night John turned me away, I sought a way to get home.  There are sigils and curses that protect nephilim from using their wings to come and go in Lawrence.  From what I understand, there are several places one can come to.  Gabriel sent me, quite in a rush, to Lawrence.  Once I got there, I couldn’t wing back.  I searched out the local witch, who turned out to be away, and used a return spell in her book.”  Castiel closed his eyes in frustration with himself.  “When I came to, I was a cat.”
 
“So, you snuck into Missouri’s place and tried to use her spell books,” Charlie grinned.  “She certainly is clever.”
 
Castiel leveled her with an unamused look.
 
Charlie swallowed her grin.
 
“I realized what had happened to John and knew I had to go along to help somehow.  Or at least get home.  And I also needed a cure.  From being a cat.”
 
Dean nodded slightly.  Now things were making more sense.  Castiel could barely use his powers, he didn’t know what was really going on, and he was looking for a cure and a way home.  His blood ran a little colder as all the pieces stacked up.  This guy had to be the worst sprite ever.
 
“Well, we’re glad you’re here,” Charlie said carefully.  “I hope you’ll consider staying with us to help.”
 
Castiel nodded immediately.  “I will.  I need to know more from Gabriel.  I’m going to need to talk to him.  But...first, I believe we should finish what we came for.  And that is John Winchester.”  His eyes landed on Dean again, sure and calm.
 
All Dean’s angry thoughts tamped down a bit.  He was staying to help.  Dean nodded, looking down.  His thoughts were just too slippery to say anything.
 
“Thank you, Castiel.  Mage of Thursday,” Sam stammered, his brow crinkling.  “I’m not sure how to...address you.  I don’t know sprite customs.  Sorry.”
 
Castiel grinned softly for the first time.  “We met in a most unconventional way.  Most address me as Mage of Thursday.  Those close to me call me Castiel.  I would consider us close.  Friends even,” he added quietly.
 
Sam gave him a big grin back, buoyed with Charlie and Jo.  Bobby nodded politely.  Dean...had no fucking idea what to think.  Any other time he would have left right now to go check on the horses.  But Impala was hours away.  He glanced at Castiel, seeing his head turned down a bit.  He knew the sprite was looking for some sort of confirmation from him, but he just didn’t have it yet.  
 
 
 
************************************************
 
 
 
Castiel went straight to bed following the talk and the tea.  ‘Friends’ felt a bit forced at this point.  As if they were too polite to indicate no, they weren’t friends yet, when he had mentioned it.  He still felt incredibly alone.  But he had his body back.  He was immensely thankful to Charlie for that.  She was truly a most competent witch.  
 
He had slept through the rest of the day and all that night.  He woke early in the morning as the sun rose.  He felt much more rested.  But his grace felt close to depleted.  He had felt this way since the change.  As a cat, it had taken two weeks before he could muster something as simple as easing Dean’s stomach.  Now, he felt wiped out again.  It pulled at his muscles and saddened his soul.  He hoped the damage was not permanent.  He felt for his wings, feeling nothing.  He left the bed he had slept in, putting on the breaches and shirt Charlie had given him.  He left the socks, choosing to go outside barefoot.
 
He walked down to a small stream, listening carefully to the noises around him.  Everything seemed weed covered and dull here.  Things in Haven seemed so much more vivid.  The mud here was a light tan.  The stream ran tiredly with murky water.  There was a heavy, humidity to the air that gave everything a slightly dull sound.
 
He sat on the bank, missing home.  He wished he could talk to Gabriel.  He wondered how Hannah, Samandriel, and Rachel were doing. One of them may become Mage of Thursday in his stead.  The entirety of Haven could think him dead by now.
 
He focused his thoughts, letting the steady bubbling of the stream soothe his nerves.  He held his hand palm up and attempted a simple fire.  Nothing happened.  He frowned, concentrating on all he knew until something plopped into his hand.
 
His eyes flew open to find a biscuit sitting in his palm.
 
How in the world?
 
He looked up to see Dean smirking at him.  “I assume you were waiting for a hand-out?”
 
“No...I was...” Dean made him feel quite nervous.  He almost dropped the biscuit.  He recovered it, holding it closer to his chest.
 
“Hands still new to you too?”  His smirk widened and his eyes twinkled mischievously.
 
All the gathering of grace he had been attempting came out in a whoosh, sparks blazing from his palm.  He jerked his arm away, patting out a singe on his pants.
 
He grinned at his hand, but only sparks continued to pop and sputter.  No actual flame or fire could hold.  He let the grace go and stared at his palm.  It was something.
 
“That’ll come in handy, for sure,” Dean deadpanned.
 
Castiel sighed, glaring up at him.  “Is it human custom to assault and insult someone who is recovering?”
 
Dean’s gaze narrowed for a moment, processing what he just said.  “Do you mean, kick a man while he’s down?”  Dean grinned again, a real one this time.  “You talk so weird.”
 
Castiel wanted to put him in his place, use his grace to shove him down.  However, an unexpected grin tugged at his lips.  “You are incorrigible.”
 
Dean shook his head, sitting on the bank with him.  “Eat up.  We’re gonna talk strategy when you’re done making sparklers.”
 
Castiel knew his eyes were wide.  Other than Gabriel, and the adults when he was a child, no one had ever spoken to him the way Dean did.  It was rude and bossy.  “I am the third most powerful Mage in all of Haven.  The most powerful Mage of Thursday since the original.  You should show me some respect.”
 
“You done?” Dean snapped.
 
Castiel, who had been feeling his chest pump up with some pride, deflated instantly.
 
“I know you think you’re better than everyone here, but you’re not.  Not by a long shot.”  Dean’s look was hard.
 
Dean got to his feet, Castiel jumping up to follow him.  “Dean!”
 
Dean spun around, looking down on him with pursed lips.
 
“I’m sorry.”  It came out as small as he felt.  “I never have been good at...‘people skills’.  I don’t think I’m better than you.  And I don’t think nephilim are better than humans.”  He struggled for more words to put the smile back on Dean’s face.  He was angry.  And Castiel seemed to make him that way all the time.
 
Dean studied him a moment.  He rolled his eyes with a head nod.  “Eat yer breakfast.”
 
Castiel watched, deflating a little with every step Dean took away from him.  He felt all the weight of the task ahead settle onto his shoulders.  He wanted to cry.  Thursdays were known for their melancholy.  His was running deep and wide this morning.  He had thought his nephilim form would fix everything.  He was sure things would be going better if he had his powers, but even then, he was unsure.
 
His mission had been to pass a message to John Winchester.  So far, he, and his son Dean, were almost impossible to communicate with without angering them.  He might have better luck with Sam.  And Charlie seemed quite eager for his assistance.  Gabriel might have to suffice with Charlie’s alliance rather than John’s.
 
He sat down at the table, sitting the biscuit down.  He was frustrated and feeling inadequate to be here.  But here he was.
 
“Good morning, Castiel,” Sam grinned, recognizing the ill mood immediately, his grin faltered.
 
“Hello, Sam.”
 
Sam had treated him fairly.  He had to keep his feelings sorted out.  Sam was not Dean.  It would be unfair to treat him as such.
 
Charlie smiled at him brightly, sitting down a platter of fruit and cheese.  Dean carried a plate of ham and bacon over.  Everyone passed plates around, sharing in a large breakfast.
 
Castiel ate little.  It was good to see them act more like they did when he was just Thursday the cat.  Although, instead of being at the opposite end of the table to Dean, avoiding his eye, he would be right next to him.  In his lap even.  Eating scraps from his hand or a bowl he made for him.  He pushed his plate away, picking up the biscuit Dean had brought him.  He tore off small bites, eating them.
 
He knew nothing of the land which they would be traveling over.  He did not know any details regarding the demons.  It was quite pointless of him to be here.  But he listened quietly anyway.
 
 
 
**************************************
 
 
 
Dean knew damn well he was fucking this whole sprite business up.  This guy was gonna gain his powers and strike him like a bolt of lightning.  But he could not stop himself, it seemed.  He had zero tolerance for arrogance.  And that little bastard had told him he should respect him!  Cocky little bastard.
 
Even as they worked out their plans, he just sat there listening.  He was more helpful when he was a friggin’ cat.
 
“So,” Sam summarized, “we head out at dawn for Lincoln.  We get the knife, then we head further north to Elizabethville to get Dad.”
 
“Yes,” Charlie nodded.  “Our biggest problem then is just getting back without getting killed.  But after we bust John out, we’re gonna be a huge target.”
 
“Any suggestions?” Bobby asked Castiel.
 
Castiel looked at him with wide eyes.  “If I had my powers, I would fly you all there and out.  But I don’t.  So...I suggest we move quickly and quietly.”
 
Bobby only let a tiny bit of disappointment show, but Castiel caught it, his head drooping slightly.
 
“Maybe some of us should stay here.  We can regroup after Lincoln,” Dean suggested.
 
“No,” Charlie countered, “once we leave Lincoln, we need to haul ass to Elizabethville.  The demons will be alert.  Who knows, it could be just enough to tip us fully into war.”
 
“Should we go back fer the horses?”  Bobby asked.  “We’d travel a lot faster.”
 
They all thought about that a moment.
 
“It would be a risk...” Charlie said out loud, looking at the map of Purgatory on the table.  “But…it might help just enough.”
 
Dean liked the idea of that.  “I think it’s worth the risk.”
 
Enough of them agreed, making it the new plan.  
 
“I say we pack up now and leave fer Stockville by noon,” Bobby said, Charlie nodding agreement.  “We leave Ellen’s fer Lincoln at dawn.”
 
“That’ll take three nights by horse,” Charlie added.  From Lincoln, it’ll take three nights to Elizabethville.”
 
“That’s almost another week,” Sam sighed, worry heavy on his brow.  “What if Dad doesn’t have that long?”
 
“It’s our best plan,” Charlie assured him.  “It’ll be twice that on foot.”
 
“Let’s pack our gear and head out,” Bobby nodded, rolling the map up.
 
They all busied themselves packing their gear.  Castiel looked lost in the bustle and soon disappeared outside.  At this point, the guy was a total liability to their trip.  Dean decided, without saying to anyone, that he could just stay at Ellen’s and sit this leg of the rescue out.  He refused to be responsible for the death of a sprite.
 
 
 
*************************************
 
 
 
Charlie put some sort of spell on her door to keep her house locked.  They headed back toward Stockville.  Castiel had put his socks in his pocket, hoping they could procure some boots before leaving for the trip to Lincoln.  For now, he was barefoot.
 
His skin still felt slightly raw and sensitive, but he refused to let his bare feet slow him down.  
 
“Keep up, sparky,” Dean grinned.  
 
Castiel sighed.  It was obviously an insult to his insufficient power.
 
“Quit being so sensitive,” Dean joked.
 
“Before I was turned into a cat,” Castiel said tightly, “I could set these entire woods aflame.”  He gave Dean what he hoped was a withering glare.
 
“Ooohh,” Dean smirked.  “Til I see that, guess you’re stuck with sparky.”
 
“Dean,” Sam scolded, shoving his brother a step.  “Quit being such a jerk.”
 
“Bitch,” Dean replied automatically.
 
Castiel glared at the back of Dean.  “Arrogant brat.”
 
Dean stopped in his tracks, turning around.  Castiel almost ran into him.  He re-shouldered the heavy pack on his back full of food and water, looking at him.  “Did you just say something?”
 
“I did.  I called you a brat.  An arrogant brat.”
 
The look of shock on Dean’s face was almost comical.
 
“Aaaannnd, we’re separating you two for the rest of this little walk,” Charlie grinned, getting between the two and steering Dean ahead again.
 
Sam, at least, was grinning.  
 
Castiel stopped suddenly, grabbing Sam’s arm, he looked deep into the woods on the right side of the road.
 
Charlie stopped next, looking back at him.  “Dean, Bobby,” she whispered, pulling a thin sword out.
 
Jo, Bobby, and Dean stopped, drawing weapons, looking every which way.
 
“Werewolves,” Castiel whispered.  “Four, at least.”
 
Dean and Bobby had guns trained to the woods but weren’t seeing them.  He turned, seeing Sam stood the same, gun raised, but not seeing them.  His eyes must be better than theirs.  He stepped close to Sam, guiding his arm to where the closest one crept toward the road.
 
“I see it,” Sam whispered, taking the shot.  The loud boom made Castiel duck away.  
 
“There!” Castiel pointed, covering his ringing ear with his other hand.
 
Sam shot the other one, shots ringing out from Bobby and Dean for the other two.
 
“Are there more?” Sam yelled, putting a hand on his shoulder.
 
Castiel searched the woods.  “Two.  But they’re running away.”  Sam patted his shoulder with a huge grin.
 
They all kept moving, quickening their pace.
 
“You guys really need knives or swords,” Charlie warned.  “You just announced us to the whole woods.”
 
Dean frowned at her.  “Sorry, Red.  Next time I’ll let them run at us and hope for the best.”
 
She whacked his arm, laughing.  “Quit being so sensitive.  It’s just a fact.  Few around here have guns.  You just put us on the map.”
 
Dean sighed, tucking his gun in his breaches.
 
“They were coming quickly,” Castiel offered.  “They might have over-taken us otherwise.”
 
Charlie and Jo exchanged a grin.  “You shoulda been turned into a dog instead of a cat,” Charlie laughed.  “You’re as loyal as they get.”
 
Dean glanced back at him.  No grin, but no frown or glare either.  He gave him a nod, Sam patted his shoulder again.  “Nice save.”
 
Castiel nodded.  He felt relieved he had at least helped this much.
 
As the trip progressed, he found it more and more difficult to keep up.  His grace was extremely drained, taking a toll on him physically.  He needed to rest, but that would only slow them down.
 
As they entered Stockville, the streets were more crowded with people.  He could no longer pick up on their scents.  Another let down.  But he plodded on, straggling behind the group.
 
“Hey there, blue eyes,” a man leered at him, three others behind him.
 
Castiel stopped, looking at the men.  “Good day.”
 
None of them reached to clasp his forearm, his first clue they weren’t human.  One of them grinned, their eyes flitting to black.  Demons.
 
He stepped back, bumping into a fifth demon behind him.
 
“Where ya goin’ in such a hurry?”  The fifth man breathed into his ear.  Revolting chills spread down his neck and arm, prickling his skin.
 
“Let’s take a walk,” said the first one who had spoken.  The demon at his side gripped his arm painfully tight, pushing him forward.
 
“I don’t think so,” Dean barked, shoving the demon away and pushing Castiel a step behind him where Sam quickly took hold of his arm.
 
“You’re pretty too,” the demon glared.
 
“Thanks, but no thanks,” Dean grinned tightly.  “We gonna throw down, or walk away and eat dinner?”
 
The five demons glanced around, seeing Bobby, Sam, Jo, and Charlie surrounded them.  All armed.
 
They backed away with steady glares and snarling smiles.  None of the five moved until the demons were halfway up the street.
 
“Come on,” Sam patted his shoulder.  Castiel let out a breath of relief, following them.
 
“Quit laggin’ behind,” Dean sniped with no heat.
 
“You try walking barefoot for four hours,” Castiel winced.
 
“Maybe Ellen has some boots.  Or can help us track some down,” Sam added.
 
Castiel nodded.  “That would be most beneficial.”
 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 11:  Stockville
 
 
 
Dean followed Jo, Charlie, and Bobby into Ellen’s crowded bar, with Cas and Sam right behind him  He thought of the cat that had traveled so far with them as a very intelligent being.  Cat or not.  But watching Cas gawk and flounder his way between the crowded tables, he had to wonder.
 
He looked lost.  Or overwhelmed.  Mostly both.
 
Sam steered him through the crowd, urging him to move along several times.  They piled into the last booth in the corner as a group of vampires left.
 
Dean slid into the booth, Castiel sliding in beside him, Jo and Charlie cramming in next.  Sam and Bobby sat across from them.
 
Castiel stared at the cups on the table, left by the last group.  Dried blood coated each glass.  Cas stared at them as if they were going to jump out and bite him.
 
“Dude!” Dean whispered loudly, thumping his elbow solidly into Cas’ arm.  “Quit looking like you’re new in town!”
 
Cas turned a wide stare at him, making Dean pull back slightly at the startling blue of his eyes.  “I am new in town.”
 
Sam chuckled.  “You don’t wanna advertise that.  Just...look like you belong here.”
 
Cas turned the blue blazes off Dean and onto Sam.  He leaned forward, whispering loudly, “I do not belong here.”
 
Dean facepalmed, closing his eyes.  “I know, Cas.”  Dean leaned closer to keep their conversation quiet.  “You need to blend in, or we’re gonna be in another fight within minutes.”
 
Cas, turning back to him, nodded, looking scolded.  He pressed his mouth tightly with a worried frown.
 
Jo cleared the table off, going behind the counter to find her mom.
 
Dean sat back.  Cas had no personal boundary issues.  He had room to move over on the bench but kept himself damn near pressed against his side.  Feeling crowded, Dean put his arm behind Cas along the backrest.  
 
Ellen arrived at the table with a tray of beers.  She handed everyone a tall mug and sat next to Bobby.  “I wasn’t expecting you back so soon.”
 
Bobby grinned, giving her a side-hug, looking a shade happier than he had been.  “Change of plans,” he said quietly.
 
“Dinner, then we’re gonna head to the house,” Jo explained, sitting next to Charlie again.  From the exchange, mother to daughter, much more communication happened.
 
Ellen nodded.  “Good to see you, Charlie.”
 
“You too.”  Charlie gave her a warm grin.
 
Ellen studied Cas with a brief look of curiosity.  “Is this -” She stopped, looking at Bobby for answers.  He leaned in, whispering quietly.  Ellen’s eyes widened but she only nodded.
 
“Let’s get you all some supper,” Ellen grinned, patting the table.
 
“I’ll help,” Jo offered.
 
“Me too,” Charlie added, following her girlfriend out of the booth.  The three left for the kitchen.
 
Castiel stayed right where he was, not sliding over to give them more room.  Dean barely noticed though.  There was too much going on around them to focus on just him.
 
The bar was loud.  Dean did his best to keep his eyes down at his own mug.  No wonder Cas looked like a two-year-old in a candy shop.  This country was the most bizarre place he had ever been.  Fights broke out frequently.  Over by the door, a vampire stabbed a werewolf.  The scuffle was noisy, attracting some attention, but to the crowd, it seemed a regular event.  And no law came.  Dean wondered if there even was law here.  The werewolf died, bleeding out.
 
Dean tried to not let his eyes bug out as Ellen caught sight of the scene and yelled across the bar, “Get that mess outta here!  I told you, Gordon, you keep spillin’ blood in here and you’ll be next!”
 
Gordon, the vampire, grinned at Ellen, his fangs pulling back in.  How the hell did she keep any kind of order here?  What stopped all these creatures from killing her?
 
He realized Sam turned, watching the vampire too.  He kicked his boot under the table and Sam quickly looked back at his own beer.  Cas was only frowning down at his, but his brow furrowed in worry, both hands wrapped around his mug of barely drunk beer.
 
Without even thinking about it, Dean’s hand went from the backrest to Cas’ shoulder, giving him a soft squeeze to reassure him.  Cas leaned in immediately and Dean was instantly aware that he had just put his arm around the guy.  And now he was stuck that way.
 
“Dean?” Cas whispered, turning to him.
 
Dean couldn’t look at him.  Not this close.  If he tipped his head two inches to the side, Cas’ mouth would be on his ear.  Shivers shot down Dean’s spine and a rush of tension gripped his chest.  “Hm?” He managed, taking a drink.
 
“I need to go.  When I was a cat, I could smell every different creature there was.  What if werewolves are the same way?  What if they smell that I’m a...different?”
 
Dean did turn slightly to look at him.  His eye then moved to the booth behind them.  There were four men there.  Who knew what the hell kinda monsters they were, but one of them was staring at the back of Cas’ head hard enough that Dean knew he was thinking who-knows-what about Cas.
 
His arm tightened and his eyes met Cas’ again.  “Let’s go to Ellen’s.”
 
Dean pulled his arm back to himself, leaning forward to talk to Bobby and Sam.  “I gotta get beacon-boy outta here.  We have some wolves sniffing around behind us.”
 
“They smell him?” Bobby said curiously.  “Guess that does make sense.”
 
“We’ll be at Ellen’s.  Bring us some dinner, would ya?”
 
Sam and Bobby nodded.
 
“And hurry the hell up,” Dean added as a table on the other side of the room tipped over, mugs and plates crashing to the floor as six men proceeded to beat the shit out of each other.
 
Dean slid out of the booth.  It was all he could do to not pull his gun.  Every instinct in him told him to kill all these monsters.  Instead, he took a firm grip on Cas’ hand and pulled him through the crowd.
 
Out the door, Dean sighed with relief only slightly less than Cas did.  He woulda let go of the guys hand, but Cas was holding on tightly.  He was scared.  Dean could see it.  Other creatures could probably smell it.
 
They walked along the wooden porch-row that connected all the businesses on this side of the street.  People weaved around them.  After the second guy looked at Cas a little too long, Dean tugged on Cas’ hand.  Their eyes met.  Dean raised an eyebrow at him, trying to tell him to blend the fuck in already!  Cas only gave him a confused look.  
 
Dammit!
 
“Hello there.”  A tall black man with white hair stepped in front of them.  “I see you’re new ‘round here.”  His eyes flicked black and Dean had to seriously control his hand from grabbing a knife or gun.  Shit.  Did Cas have an anti-possession tattoo?  Could sprites become possessed?  The man stepped closer, eyeing Cas like a turkey leg.  “I was wondering if this creature belongs to you?”
 
Cas’ mouth dropped open slightly and his grip tightened even more.
 
You could own creatures here?  The thought horrified Dean.  How could someone own someone else?  Dean frowned but waited.
 
“Is he for sale, by chance?”  The man grinned as Cas’ face paled.
 
“Not tonight he isn’t,” Dean answered tightly.  He looked at Cas, frown still in place.  “If he doesn’t get his shit together, I’ll consider it, next time I’m in town.”
 
Cas’ face darkened to a shade of flushed anger.  His eyes just began to spark a brighter than normal blue.  Dean reacted quickly, grabbing Cas on the back of the neck, forcing his head down.  He shoved Cas forward and started walking.  
 
“This one still needs a lot of work.  And a firm hand,” Dean growled, steering them around the corner.
 
The second they were out of sight, Dean let go and Cas turned on him with a glare so fierce that it would have taken his breath away if he wasn’t still trying to hurry them toward Ellen’s door.
 
“You do not own me!” Cas snarled, grabbing Dean by the shoulder.  
 
Dean winced, turning to face him.  “See that look?” He pointed to Cas’ face.  “That’s what you need to keep on your face around here,” he whispered vehemently.  “Now, come on!”
 
Cas let him go and the pair finally made it to Ellen’s door.
 
Only when they were both inside, door locked, and rooms checked, did Dean relax a fraction.  He stopped, staring at Cas, who was standing square in the middle of the room, still looking pissed.
 
“Cas!  I know I don’t own you!  I was goin’ along with that sick bastard to get us the hell outta there!”
 
Cas’ frown eased a bit.
 
“You gotta blend in better.  Or you aren’t going anywhere with us.  You’re like a fucking beacon, drawing trouble in on us!”
 
Castiel frowned, looking down at the floor now.
 
Dean sighed heavily, stepping closer.  “Cas.”
 
Cas looked up at him.
 
“This place...it’s not safe.  Not for any of us.  But if something here figures out you’re a sprite...I don’t know what would happen to you.”
 
Fear crested the frown on Cas’ face.
 
“We’re all targets here,” Dean said more softly.  “Humans are targets too.  We’re just tryin’ not to stir up too much trouble.  This could get outta hand so quick.”
 
Cas’ eyes were searching him.  Dean felt like he was supposed to be doing more for him.  In fact, he didn’t look well.  His face was still pale.  There was a tightness to his mouth that was giving him a drawn look.
 
“Are you okay?” Dean asked.
 
Cas blinked at him a moment.  “I will be.  My grace is...very low.  It’s like being hungry.  Or thirsty.  Or tired.  But I cannot simply eat or drink to fix it.”
 
Dean nodded.  “Is it from the cat spell?”
 
“Yes,” Cas sighed.
 
Dean ran a hand through his hair.  “Will your powers come back?”
 
Cas thought a moment, as if he were reading his own insides.  “I believe so.  When I was a cat, my powers drained to almost nothing.  After the initial change, I tried to use them.  It wasn’t until we were aboard the ship that brought us to Purgatory that I could even use my powers.  And it was very difficult.”
 
Dean felt a chill sprinkle over him, the hair on his arms raising.  “You used your powers?”
 
Cas’ face softened.  “I did.  I healed your stomach.  The best I could, anyway.”
 
Dean swallowed.  He had lain in bed with a sprite for two days while it used its powers on him.
 
But the horrifying thought lost its zeal as he recalled lying in bed with the warm bundle of black fur at his stomach.  Any time he moved away from him he was puking.  But if he stayed still...
 
“Well...thanks for that,” he said awkwardly.
 
The tiniest smile tipped Cas’ mouth.  He looked away, moving to sit at the table.  “My grace is stronger than it was this morning.  But after the walk...I just need rest.  A lot of rest.”
 
Dean nodded.  “Take Jo’s bed for now.  I’m sure she won’t mind.  And when they bring dinner, I’ll wake you up to eat.”
 
“Dean,” Cas stood slowly.  “You won’t leave me here, will you?”
 
That is exactly what Dean was planning.  There was no way Cas was up for the trip.  Besides, he was honestly kinda difficult to have around.  And distracting.
 
Cas stepped toward him, his eyes growing wider.  “Dean, please don’t leave without me!”
 
Dean sighed, his shoulders dropping a notch.  “Cas, I think it would be better -”
 
The look of rejection dulled the light in Cas’ eyes.  Hurt and worry marred his brow.  “I can be a help.  When my grace is back...I can help!”
 
Dean rubbed the back of his neck.
 
Shit.
 
He had brought him here.  So...it was, in some sort of way, his responsibility to help him home, he supposed.  But in the condition he was now, he was going to get himself, and all of them, killed just by attracting unwelcome attention.
 
It occurred to Dean just how alone and lost Cas must feel.
 
He sighed.
 
And then there was the clincher.  A look of hope, capped with two of the bluest puppy-dog eyes, crept onto Cas’ face.
 
Oooohhh, fuck all.
 
“I won’t leave without you, Cas.”
 
“Do you promise?” Castiel whispered.  Desperate.
 
“I promise,” he nodded back.  
 
A look of relief washed over him.  He turned toward the bedroom.  “I still get the urge to rub against you.  Like when I was a cat.”
 
Dean’s eyes bulged.  “Dude.  You are so frickin’ weird.  And definitely don’t do that.”
 
Cas laughed softly.  “I won’t.  I merely get the urge.”
 
“Please stop saying that,” Dean winced.
 
Cas nodded shyly.  He turned to Dean again.  “I...I like that you call me ‘Cas’.  It reminds me of when we were friends.  Even if I was just a cat.”
 
Dean felt stung with another jolt of guilt.  He closed his eyes, trying to temper his shitty attitude and just be a nice guy for a damn minute.  He did like Cas.  Castiel.  A tricky, devious sprite.  But he didn’t seem devious at all.  His frustration that Cas wasn’t more powerful was rude, and he knew it.  But he was desperate to save his dad.  And sparks were not going to be any help.  He vowed to be kinder.  And...even respectful.  His childhood nursery rhymes needed put to rest.  Castiel was a mage.  And he had saved their lives once at least.  Impala’s twice.  Before he could figure out just what to say, Cas had lain down and almost immediately gone to sleep.  Dean slouched into a chair.  What the fuck was his life anyway?  He longed for a boring Wednesday in the great hall with his dad.  Back when he and Sam’s hardest fight was to stay awake.  Now monsters surrounded him on a quest in a foreign land, and he had to talk their newest addition out of his ‘urges’ to ‘rub against him’.
 
“Fuck.”
 
 
 
**********************************************
 
 
 
Castiel woke slowly to the sounds of dishes being placed on the table.  A smell of vegetable stew of some sort filled the air.
 
His stomach growled.  Light filtered in through the small, narrow windows.  It seemed late in the day, but it was difficult to tell.  The sun never seemed very bright here.
 
There were sleeping rolls laid out on the floor against the walls.  Some of them must have slept here while he was sleeping.  Could he have slept an entire day?  It was most likely that.
 
He sat up, stretching, feeling his back adjust with little popping noises.  With a great yawn, he got to his feet.  He pulled his shirt on and adjusted his breaches, re-tying them at the waist with the thin, leather laces cinching them tighter.  He ran a hand through his hair as he peered through the narrow window.
 
The muddy streets of the town slopped under passers feet.  It was raining steadily.  The smell here was unpleasant.  It smelled musty.  In the woods there was an underlying rot to the breeze.  But that was better than the bar.  Over the smell of food and beer, the people here were dirty, often reeking of body odor.  It was a foul place and he longed for home.
 
He stepped back, closing his eyes, and centering himself to take stock of his grace.  He opened his palm in front of him and began the slow process of pulling grace from within.  He felt the gather of air and concentrated on his palm.
 
A fire the size of a pear erupted with a whoosh.
 
Relief filled him and he allowed the smile to linger as he took the air back and the flame went out.
 
Again, he closed his eyes and felt gently at the grace that flowed through him.  It was there.  Pulsing.  Not its normal thrum.  But it was there.  Much steadier than he had felt it since that fateful spell.
 
He tipped his head, concentrating.  He cleaned himself with a ripple that cascaded over him.  His mouth was fresh and the grime from the road was gone.
 
And still, he pulsed evenly.
 
These were such small, insignificant things at home.  And he felt elated to have them back.  He mended two small cuts on his feet from the walk yesterday and eased the soreness in them.
 
And still, his grace pulsed evenly.
 
He frowned.  The pulse was just a bit weaker.
 
He let the thoughts go, settling for what he had.  He was most definitely improving.
 
Laughter caught his attention from outside his room as Bobby and Jo laughed at something Charlie was saying.
 
He pushed the thin bedroom door open, coming into a room full of activity.  Bags were being repacked, dinner was being set, and everyone paused at his sudden appearance.
 
“Mornin’ sunshine,” Dean grinned up at him from a saddlebag.
 
“Cas!  You’re up!” Charlie grinned, stepping away from the table to hug him.
 
Castiel, not expecting hugs for something as simple as waking up, though caught off guard hugged her back belatedly.
 
“Is it morning?” He asked, voice still scratchy from a long sleep.
 
“Yeah,” Sam grinned, patting him on the shoulder as he stepped into the bedroom.  “You slept all night, an entire day, and another night.  We thought we might have ta leave ya.”
 
Castiel, shocked by this, looked at Dean.  He had promised!
 
“We weren’t leavin’ ya,” Dean frowned.  “I’da carried your ass if I had to.  Wouldn’t be the first time, would it?”
 
Castiel frowned at that.  “I am sorry I slept so long.  I do feel much better.”
 
“Good,” Bobby nodded.  “Got any of yer mojo left?”
 
Castiel frowned.  “Mojo?”
 
“Your magic,” Charlie explained, putting a large pot in the middle of the table.
 
“My...yes,” he nodded.  “I was able to make a flame, and clean myself.”
 
Several raised eyebrows at that.
 
Jo stepped up to him curiously.  She felt his hair and smelled him.  “You can take an instant bath?”
 
That was highly incorrect and over simplified, but that’s how the humans seemed to like things explained often.  “Yes.”
 
“Cool.  Ya hungry?”
 
“Very.”
 
They all gathered at the table to eat.  From the conversation going on, Castiel learned they were leaving for Charlie’s house.  Gathering some supplies there and continuing.  They would be taking horses.  They would travel by day only because night, on the road, was too dangerous.
 
They seemed to have collected a lot more weapons of all sorts.  Knives dipped in special things for certain creatures, silver, iron, and wooden stakes.  They all had large machetes now as well.
 
Castiel was surprised to learn Ellen and Ash were coming as well.  It seemed their group grew every day.
 
The stew was bland.  Not for Ellen’s bad cooking, but for lack of spices and fresh food.  
 
“Got you somethin’,” Dean grinned, interrupting his quiet wondering.
 
“You did?” Castiel asked, slightly surprised.  Dean seemed in a better mood.  Whatever was the reason to improve the man’s mood, Castiel was grateful.
 
Dean got up, pulling a pair of black boots from next to one of the saddles.  “Try ‘em on.  See if they fit.”
 
“Dean!  Thank you!”  They did not even appear to be worn before.  They were shorter than the style nephilim wore, making him grin that he would fit in with them.  He had no idea if Dean had stolen them or bought them, but he was thankful, nonetheless.
 
Dean grinned, sitting back down.  Castiel pulled his socks from his pocket.  They had been the only thing he had brought.  He pulled them on and slid his foot down into one boot.  He slid the other on and stood.  They were too tight, squeezing his feet.
 
He glanced at Dean, who was looking up at him.
 
“They are wonderful.”  
 
Dean grinned, going back to his bowl of stew.
 
He looked down at them again.  He pictured the stitching and leather and stretched them with his grace, adding cushion to the flat soles.  He grinned.  They were perfect.
 
He sat back down, catching a knowing grin from Charlie.  Not wishing to spoil that happy grin Dean had given him, he simply grinned back at Charlie and took a drink of water.
 
When they finished their meal, they washed the dishes and packed some of them into a bag.  He thought Ellen was packing entirely too many things but kept his opinion to himself.  He had found that he often thought humans did things in strange ways, only to learn shortly after, that it made perfect sense in their world.
 
“Cas,” Dean waved him over to his saddle sitting by the wall.  Castiel came, squatting beside him with a brow raised in question.  “I got you some more things.”
 
Castiel watched with growing shock as Dean pulled a bag over.  “Got you another pair of breeches, couple pairs of socks, another shirt, a coat, and a bed roll.”
 
Castiel looked at him, hardly knowing what to say.  “You bought all this?  For me?”
 
“Well, you need your own stuff.  You won’t fit in my bedroll anymore,” he laughed a short, nervous little laugh.  “Anyway, it’s not much, but you’ll need them.  And who knows when we’ll get the chance to shop again.  From what Charlie says, Stockville is the most civilized town in Purgatory.”
 
“Thank you, Dean.  I hope I can repay you.”  He shook the coat out, looking at it with a huge grin.  “This looks like my old one.”
 
Dean nodded.  “Yeah.  I remember you had on a long, tan coat.  This one’s not as nice.  But it’s better than nothing.”  Dean gave him a quick nod. “Let’s go load up the horses.”  Dean stood, handing Castiel the bag and roll.
 
Castiel took them, wondering if Dean remembered how he had given a descriptive account of what he had looked like and referred to him as ‘hot’.  He grinned at the memory, hoping Dean could feel that way again maybe someday.  When his grace replenished, he would be able to give Dean, and all the others, so much more.
 
Castiel was relieved to find that he was able to carry heavy loads and walk to the stable without feeling it effect his grace at all.  He had felt so weak by the time they had gotten to town two days ago, that he knew he was utterly defenseless.  He felt much more capable today.
 
“There’s my beautiful baby!” Dean called, grinning with pride at Impala.  She snorted and pawed the stall floor.  “I’m gettin’ ya out on the road today, I promise.”  He scratched her forehead as she pushed her long head into his chest.
 
“She truly adores you,” Castiel grinned as he sat the supplies he was carrying in the aisle.
 
“What’s not to adore?  I’m adorable!” Dean laughed at his own joke, Sam rolling his eyes with a grin as he walked by.
 
Castiel chuckled softly.  “She thinks you’re full of yourself as well.”
 
Dean scoffed, turning to look at him.  The playful grin on his face dropped as he stared at Cas more closely.  “Can you talk to her?  Can you hear her thoughts?”
 
“No,” Castiel clarified.  “I can read her emotions.  It’s more like...feeling the energy she puts out.  There aren’t words.  But I can understand her perhaps more clearly than you.”
 
Dean looked at him in wonder.  “Huh.”
 
Castiel looked around as Bobby, Sam, Ash, and Jo stared at him.  “All nephilim can.  If they want to.”  He did not further clarify that most nephilim would not bother.  Most cared little for the use or care of animals.  In Tree of Life, where some nephilim had pets perhaps.  But they were usually more unusual animals, such as elephants, tigers, lions, or bears.  Castiel enjoyed the simplicity of dogs, cats, and horses that humans kept around for comfort and use.  Especially now that he was back in his own body.  The memory of Bobby’s dog still made him want to flinch.
 
“Can you ask her stuff?” Dean asked, looking excited.
 
“Yes, if she’s open to communicating, she will answer me,” Castiel explained.
 
Dean gave him a sudden, sharp look.  “Can you hear my thoughts?”
 
“No,” Castiel narrowed his eyes at the look of relief on Dean’s face.  Though it did make him even more curious to what Dean wouldn’t want him to hear.
 
Dean grinned and clapped his hands once, staring at Impala.  “Hm.  Ask her if she’s feeling good?  Like, is she ready for a two-hour trip?”
 
Castiel could not help but smile at Dean’s boyish grin of excitement.  He turned to Impala, pushing the question of how she was.  She lowered her head, snorting sharply.
 
He waited as everyone seemed to wait and want to know.
 
“It’s okay, Impala,” Dean encouraged her.  “Tell ‘im.  You got any pain?  Your hooves good?”
 
Castiel felt the bulge of affirmation from Impala.  “She is healthy and sound.”
 
Dean looked at him with such wonder.  “She is?”
 
“Yes.”
 
Castiel waited, feeling another anxious nudge from her.  “She is ready to go.”
 
“Wow,” Dean shook himself from staring at him.  “Awesome!  Check the others, would ya?”
 
Castiel nodded, walking to each horse.  Ash and Ellen’s horses were easy enough to talk to.  They both seemed leery of leaving the safety of the barn.  Especially Ash’s bay.  Ash nodded, knowing as much.  
 
Challenger was obstinate about answering.  All he got from him was bulging notions of ‘no, refuse,’ and an amusement at his own lack of answering.
 
“Challenger is fine to ride.  And quite rude.”
 
Dean burst out laughing and Sam sighed, swatting the horse gently.  “Be nice!”
 
“He finds you amusing as well, Sam,” Castiel explained.
 
“Wow.  You really are an asshole, aren’t you?” Sam shook his head at his massive brute of a stud.
 
“He definitely agrees,” Castiel noted, moving on to Jo’s horse.  She was a large dapple gray.  
 
“Her left hind leg is sore,” Castiel reported.  “Oh.  I believe she has a bone spur.”
 
Jo frowned.  “Charlie and I have been trying to help her with her left leg for a while now.”
 
Castiel nodded, going into the stall, feeling her entire leg.  “If she is coming for the entire journey, I will need to heal it now.”
 
“You can do that?” Charlie grinned with awed excitement.  
 
“Perhaps.  I’m not that experienced with healing.  But I can try.”
 
Jo nodded, giving her horse a worried look.
 
Castiel pushed the feeling of explaining what he was going to do.  She agreed for help, so he ran his hands on her leg again.  He stopped over the area that was so irritated and pooled his grace.  
 
Gabriel had told him that healing was like mending.  And he had to want it.  It had worked easily enough on the small cuts on his own feet, so he felt a bit more confident to try it.  He focused on the soft inflamed tissue, the sinew of the muscles and the processes of the bone.  He could feel the offending growth of bone and broke the bone spur down cell by cell, eating away at the foreign nub causing so much pain.  He left the bone smooth as it should be, withdrew his grace from the muscle, pulling away the inflammation, doing the same with the soft tissue until he broke the connection and stumbled back a step, gasping for a breath.
 
“Cas!  You okay?” Charlie steadied him, giving him a worried look.
 
“Yes, yes, I’m fine.  It was just...draining.”
 
His grace fluttered and whooshed, thready and weak.  He sighed.  The horse’s relief and thankfulness were more than enough to buoy his spirits, even if his grace was weak again.
 
They quickly saddled and packed the horses, and the entire group headed out of the barn to mount.
 
Sam, Bobby, and Ellen mounted.  Bobby pulled another horse behind him, loaded with bags.  Charlie and Jo shared Jo’s horse, which tossed her head with joy at her healed leg.  Ash and Dean mounted.  
 
“You need a lift, man?” Ash asked, looking down at Castiel.
 
“Um...” He glanced up at Dean.
 
“No.  I got you,” Dean frowned, as if there were any question.  “You been riding with me for three weeks now.”
 
Castiel grinned.  Dean seemed to have dropped so many of his reservations he had when he had first changed back into his nephilim form.  
 
Dean slid his foot out of the stirrup for Cas to use.  Castiel felt heavy and sluggish from healing the horse, but he gripped Dean’s hand and stepped into the stirrup, swinging his leg over to sit behind Dean.  He kicked his toe out of the stirrup, Dean taking it again with his.
 
“You do know how to ride, right?” Dean asked.
 
“I have been riding for three weeks,” Castiel answered him.  He watched as Dean held his breath slightly, leaning away from Castiel’s words.
 
“Right,” he answered.
 
“But the answer is yes.  I have ridden on occasion.  Just...not very often.”
 
“Good enough,” Dean grinned, tapping Impala into walking.
 
Castiel could feel the need to sleep.  He leaned his head onto Dean’s shoulder, putting his arms around him as they walked out of town.
 
“I’m very tired,” Castiel explained, not wanting to annoy Dean.  He would normally never lean against someone.
 
“Okay,” Dean said quietly.  “Just...don’t fall off.”
 
Castiel grinned.  This was what he had grown so used to.  The steady heartbeat against his solid frame. Dean’s smell of leather.  The feel of his shirt and his body just beneath it.  Impala’s steady gait.  
 
His eyelids dropped immediately, and he wrapped his arms just a little tighter around Dean.
 
 
 
*****************************************
 
 
 
Castiel woke to the gentle rocking of horse walking.  Dean had a secure grip on one of his sleeves, holding him in place.  He moved his head, wanting to snuggle into him further, but fought the urge.  He took a deep breath and sat up.
 
Dean glanced over his shoulder, seeing he was awake, he let his sleeve go.  
 
“How long was I asleep?”
 
“We’re halfway there,” Dean answered softly.  “Feel better?”
 
“Yes.  Thank you.”
 
They rode along for some time, quietly listening to the woods around them.
 
“I know I don’t understand all the ways of humans.  But I believe Ellen has over-packed,” he said quietly to Dean.
 
Dean turned, glancing at him with a questioning look until understanding dawned on him.  “Oh.  You slept through yesterday and missed some stuff.”  He lowered his voice a little more, letting Impala lag behind the others.  “There was a nasty brawl at the bar.  Some shapeshifter shanked a Leviathan and stabbed Ellen in the arm.  Bobby kinda freaked out.  Says he’s bringing her home.  And Jo thinks she should go.  Even if she and Charlie won’t.  They wanna stay and fight.”
 
Castiel nodded.  Ellen was human.  It would be good for her to get out of Purgatory.  “It still doesn’t explain the large number of items she’s bringing.”
 
Dean smirked.  “She’s staying at Charlie’s while we’re away.  She and Ash can take care of her place until she gets back.”
 
“I see,” Castiel grinned.  “I’m sure Bobby would do well having someone to live with.  He must get...lonely.”
 
Dean nodded slowly.  “I’m sure he does.”
 
More time slipped by and Castiel wished he could wrap his arms around Dean again.  But he did not.  
 
Though they were quiet, Castiel’s head was anything but.  He had so many questions about humans.  Lawrence.  Freeland.  Purgatory.  He cleared his throat.
 
“Dean.”
 
He noted how Dean took a deep breath, sometimes even jerked slightly, every time he started speaking to him.  Was he annoyed with him?  Did he still feel he was a burden on the group?  Could it be the thought of a sprite so near him was revolting?
 
“Yeah, Cas?”
 
“Um...what are the sigils on humans’ arms for?  When you greet, you grip each other’s forearms.”
 
Dean grinned back at him.  “Sprites don’t do sigils?”
 
“No.  I’ve read about them in the Stacks, but I forget what they’re purpose is.”
 
Dean rode silently for several strides before beginning to talk.  “So...story goes that the angels pissed the Creator off so bad that he threw them down here and locked up heaven and left.”
 
Castiel had never heard the tale quite so simplified, but it was accurate enough.
 
“So, bunch of time goes by and this witch’s kid is killed by lightning.  Lightning struck him while he headed to school.  She was a really powerful witch and brought him back.”
 
“From death?” Castiel asked, shocked.
 
“Yeah.  So, dude is back from the dead and tells this story about going to the veil.  That it was a big blank wasteland where ghosts just drift around.  But he found The Halls.  Sprites don’t know about The Halls?”
 
“Yes.  Now I remember.  The human, Kevin Tran, entered the veil, and visited his grandmother.  She told him the only reason they could find each other was because she had created a sigil.  More like a blood-rite spell, with her daughter, and then he was given the sigil as well.”
 
“Right,” Dean nodded.  “So, when Kevin came back from the veil, he and his mom traveled all over Freeland and Lawrence, telling everyone that would listen, that to reunite with loved ones, all they had to do was create a sigil, with a witch, and whoever shared the sigil, can gather in a room of their own in The Halls.  Keeps you from drifting around lost.”
 
“But...you have many sigils.  Which room will you go to?”
 
“Here, hold this,” Dean said, handing Cas Impala’s rein to hold with his left hand.  He rolled up his sleeve, exposing his forearm.  “I can go to any of these rooms without getting lost in the veil.  This one,” he pointed to a W with a dagger across the top of the letter, “is the Winchester Family sigil.”
 
“That is the sigil Adam has,” Castiel recalled.  “And Sam.”
 
“Right.  The sigil creates a room in The Halls.  Any Winchester by blood gets this sigil.  So, in the veil, any Winchester has access to this room.”
 
Castiel had a vague memory of reading about this belief and tradition.  He had no idea it had become such a cultural norm.  He reached around Dean’s proffered arm and touched another next to it that looked like a broken figure eight with two lines extending from its open ends.  “What is this one?”
 
“Me and Sam.”
 
“You have a room for just the two of you?”
 
“Yeah.  You create sigils with anyone you want to be able to find in the veil.  So, if Sam and I want to hang out without the whole Winchester tribe milling around us.  We can go to this room.”
 
“This dagger?” Cas asked, touching a dagger that looked identical to the one from the Winchester sigil, except it was just a dagger.
 
“That is my mom, dad, Sam, and me.  My family.”
 
“Not Adam?”
 
“No.  We could meet in the Winchester room,” he pointed back to the W with the dagger.  “I don’t have one for just him yet.  We can also do one for Dad, Kate, Sam, me, and Adam.  Kind of a...different family group.”
 
“I see.”
 
“This one,” Dean pointed to another next to the Winchester sigil that looked like a shield with a C on it, “is the Campbell family sigil.”
 
Castiel shivered slightly.  His time at Campbell compound had nearly killed him.  Further down, closer to his wrist was a music note.  “What is this one?”
 
“Singer family.  Not Bobby’s original family sigil.  A new one for Bobby, me, and Sam.  We had it done about twelve years ago.  Bobby isn’t close to his own family.  But for a while, Sam and I were like his own kids.”
 
“How do you know when to create one with someone?” Castiel asked.  He marveled at the comforting thought of belonging to so many rooms.  To know you would see loved ones again.  Not that he had anyone to fit such a description.
 
Dean shrugged, taking the reins again.  “When you have someone in your life that you know you want to see in the afterlife.  Good friends.  Family.  Things like that.”
 
There was one more, a triangle with a line to the center, ending with a small circle.  “The last one?”
 
Dean looked down at it, brushing his thumb across it.  “My best friend.  Benny.  First guy I hunted with.  First guy I...he was my boyfriend.  For a while, anyway.”
 
A cold stab pricked Castiel’s chest.  “You...long to reunite with him?”
 
Dean said nothing for several strides.  “He was killed on a hunt.  We kinda split ways before that.  I wouldn’t say I ‘long’ to see him.  But yeah, it would be good to see him.  Ya know?  We were close for a few years.  But he chose a different kind of life than me.  And I’m not sorry we parted ways.”
 
Castiel reprimanded himself for feeling such joy when he heard this.  He let his eyes drift down over Dean’s frame.  He was so at ease on horseback.  He had stopped pulling away every time Castiel’s chest bumped his back and had finally let them ride together.  Castiel wanted to rest his hands around Dean’s waist.  It seemed so natural to sit that way.  But he did refrain, keeping his hands on his own thighs.  
 
He had never felt quite so infatuated with a person before.  Everything about Dean was fascinating to him.  The timbre of his voice, the green hue of his eyes, his rough, calloused hands, his hips, his legs...
 
Castiel sat back a fraction, pressing his mouth in a hard line.  He needed to focus on the trip.  Not the human who sat so enticingly in front of him.  With his cocky grin, endearing smiles, sure hands, his steady heartbeat that used to put him to sleep at night.
 
“Here we are,” Dean said softly.
 
Castiel was slightly surprised to realize Charlie’s house was just ahead.  The ride had gone so quickly.
 
“So...what do sprites believe happens to them in the veil?” Dean asked.
 
Castiel refocused his attention.  “Nothing.  We just...exist.  You become a part of the great nothing.  Merely a string of celestial intent in the fabric of the nothing.”
 
“Damn.  That’s fucking depressing.”
 
Castiel raised both eyebrows in surprise.  But yes.  Perhaps it was.  “I have no one to share a sigil with anyway.”  He had not meant to say it out loud.  It was quiet and sounded forlorn to his own ears.
 
Impala had stopped in front of the small house.  He dismounted, not wanting to talk about it anymore.
 
Dean dismounted right behind him, putting a hand on his arm to stop him from walking away.  “It’s not too late, ya know.  You can make ties here.  To us.”  He swallowed nervously, taking on a gruffer tone.  “If a sprite wants to be friends with insignificant humans, that is.”
 
Castiel frowned, grabbing Dean’s arm as he started to walk away.  “Dean.  Humans are not insignificant to me.  They never have been.  And you, least of all.”
 
Dean fought a grin, seeming to have difficulty processing the thought.  
 
Castiel did not want to go back to Dean being so angry with him and his kind.  He had to show him that not all nephilim were cold to humans.  “We are...friends, are we not?”
 
“Yeah,” Dean stammered.  “Yeah, Cas, we’re friends.”
 
Castiel smiled proudly.  
 
He had a friend.
 
 
 

Chapter Text

Chapter 12:  The Road to Lincoln
 
 
 
Dean watched as Cas went into Charlie’s house.  He rolled his shoulders at the memory of Cas laying against him for an hour while he had slept.  He loosened Impala’s girth, feeling his cheeks flush at the memory of Cas’ arms being around him.  His hands resting on his thighs.  The sprite was really getting under his skin.  Not in an agitating way, but in a way he was having a little trouble accepting.  The dude was gorgeous.  Sprite or not.
 
He busied himself helping Ellen and Ash unload their horses.  
 
“You can take one of the horses,” Ellen said, stopping him from removing the saddle.  “Unless you prefer that sprite riding with you.”  Ellen quirked a grin at him.
 
A definite pang of disappointment struck Dean.  But it only made sense.  It was unfair to expect Impala to carry the weight of two men.  “Yeah.  Okay.  Just tell Cas to pick which one.  I guess he can ask the horses who wants to go.”  He grinned, finding that ability damn cool.
 
She nodded, taking the last of the saddlebags into the house.  The plan was to keep moving.  They had a lot of distance to cover to get to Lincoln.
 
He went inside the house.  Charlie was in her room, rummaging around in her wardrobe looking for something.  Dean stepped inside and closed the door.  Jo, who knelt on the floor, going through a chest, turned to look at him.  “Is everything okay?” She whispered.
 
“Yeah.”  He took a few steps to keep his voice down.  “Charlie, can you bring whatever you need to make sigils?”
 
Charlie, who had pulled a velvet bag from deep inside the wardrobe, gave him a grin.  “Yeah.  You want to make a sigil?”
 
Dean fought the blush off, going for nonchalance.  “Yeah, well.  Cas...he doesn’t have any.  I figured...we’re going on a rescue mission.  We could do one for the six of us.”
 
Charlie nodded, looking like there was more she could say but didn’t.  “That would be awesome.  I’ll just grab a few ingredients and we’ll be good.”
 
Dean nodded.  “I mean, you don’t have to be in it, if you don’t want.  It was just an idea.  I don’t know.”  He shrugged his shoulders, feeling increasingly insecure about the whole thing.
 
“I’m in!” Charlie nodded enthusiastically.  “This is the mission of all missions!  A fellowship!”
 
Dean relaxed.  “Alright, Red.”  He headed back out to the kitchen.  
 
“Bout ready in there?” Bobby asked.
 
“Yes,” Charlie and Jo called.
 
Dean headed back outside as Bobby started saying goodbye to Ellen.  Sam was sitting on a tree stump outside, waiting.  He had an amused look on his face as he sat there watching Cas and Ash with the horses.
 
“Cas is taking Connie,” Sam announced with a loaded grin.
 
Dean frowned.  “He’s taking the pack horse?  Cas!  Not the pack horse.”
 
Castiel turned to him as he approached.  “She wants to go.  She feels the need to prove herself -”
 
“She’s a pack horse!  Take Ash or Ellen’s.”
 
Dean jerked his arm away as the large brown horse nipped at him.
 
“Hey!”
 
Cas frowned.  “She’s becoming frustrated with your attitude.”
 
Dean stepped back.  “My attitude,” he scoffed.  “Fine.  Whatever.”  He eyed the horse.  She was just a bit smaller than Impala.  She looked strong and sound with a nice straight back.  He had no idea what kind of training she had.  Worst case scenario, it wouldn’t work out and Cas would have to ride with him.  He kicked the little part of him that liked that thought.  “My bad.  Sorry, Connie.”
 
“She’s good,” Ash confirmed, putting a saddle on her.  “She’s just young, is all.”  He gave the horse a fond pat.  “Take care, Continental.”
 
Dean sighed softly.  “We need to keep moving.  So, gear up, Sparky.”
 
Cas pinned him with a semi-amused look, letting the nickname go this time.  Dean grinned back at him.
 
He mounted Impala, waiting on the others to mount.  He felt antsy about this trip taking so long.  It would take two and a half more days to get near Lincoln.  He just hoped to hell they made it there in one piece.
 
 
 
********************************************
 
 
Charlie and Jo took the lead.  Charlie knew her way around Purgatory better than any of them.  She also knew what to watch for.  Castiel and Dean tended to ride in the center, followed by Sam and Bobby.
 
The roads were dirt, sometimes narrowing to little more than weed covered trails.  Signs were few and far between.  The air shifted from varying smells of decay, rot, and stenches he could not put a name to.  They carried their own water, drinking sparingly.  The weather was cool enough to wear their light coats, but balmy enough to feel sticky.  
 
They passed several stray wanderers on the road.  The woods seemed alive with what Castiel hoped were only animals.  They rode hard until close to dusk.  They talked little, constantly on watch for monsters and demons.
 
Charlie and Dean agreed on a stopping place.  It was a small clearing just off the road.  Castiel dismounted, pulling the pain out of his achy muscles.  
 
Bobby staked the horses together, feeding them.
 
Sam and Dean went to work quickly to gather wood and build a fire.  Jo and Charlie began unsaddling and brushing all the horses.  Castiel followed Dean to the pile of sticks on the ground where he was making a fire.  He knelt next to him.  “What can I do to help?”
 
Dean glanced at him, his eyes flitting down his face like they so often did.  “Uh...can you cut up some potatoes?”
 
“Yes.  Of course.”  He went to the saddle bag, pulling out four large potatoes.  He took the frying pan and a knife from the bag and sat next to Dean again.  He cut one of the potatoes into small chunks.
 
“Just use three potatoes,” Dean said quietly.  “We don’t want to run out of food.”
 
Castiel nodded.  He stared at the potato.  His grace was feeling steady.  Maybe he could do some of the simple things he had done as a child.  He summoned his grace, thinking about the potato separating.  He waved his hand and the potato fell to diced pieces.  He smiled.  He looked at the third potato, picking it up.  If he could grow things...perhaps he could create them.  He tried.  He tried again.
 
He went back to the chopped potato, holding a piece with a seed in it.  He thought about growing it, feeding it nutrients, feeling the plant expand and grow.
 
He opened his eyes to see a potato larger than his hand.  He smiled.
 
Feeling watched, he looked over to find Dean staring at him in wonder.  “How’d you do that?” He whispered.
 
Castiel grinned.  “I am a mage.”  He handed Dean the potato.
 
Dean took it, turning it over in his hands to stare at it.  “We can eat this?”
 
“We can,” Castiel grinned harder.  He liked impressing Dean.  He focused his attention on the wood Dean had started to gather into a pile.  He closed his eyes, concentrating, and lit the fire, shifting the sticks and logs to settle better into flames.  Dean stared at it with an open mouth.
 
“You can do that too?”
 
Castiel nodded.  “What else would you like?”
 
“Can you just...make whatever I want appear?”
 
“No.  But if we have one.  Or seeds.  I can grow another.”
 
“That’s friggin’ awesome!  Can you clean water?  Or make more feed for the horses?  Can you do that with other food?”
 
Castiel chuckled at the excitement in Dean’s eyes.  He raised a hand to slow him down.  “I’m not sure how much I can do with my grace still so low.  But I will try a few more things.”
 
“Yeah!” Dean nodded, sitting back a little, watching him closely.
 
Castiel got up, going to the saddlebag for more food.  He took one onion, one carrot, a tin of seasoning and a handful of dried ham.  He multiplied the onion and the carrot, chopping them with a wave.  It felt so good to be using his grace again.  So natural.  He took a pinch of the seasoning but could not multiply it.  There was something too removed or complex about it.  He shrugged, Dean still watching him in awe.  He did not even try to reproduce the ham.  He was sure that at best, they would end up with a pig embryo.
 
Dean got the pot, sitting it near the fire.  He poured water into the it until Castiel stopped him.  “Wait.  Pour a little into my hands.”
 
Dean grinned, pouring him a handful.  It took a few tries, losing some to steam, but soon enough, water overflowed his hands, filling the pot.
 
“That is the coolest fucking thing I’ve ever seen,” Dean grinned.  By now, Sam, Bobby, Charlie, and Jo were all watching too.
 
Castiel could feel his energy draining.  His grace fluttered.  But he was enjoying himself immensely.  “I can cook it too.”
 
“Easy there, Sparky,” Dean laughed, taking the pot.  “Save your strength.  We got a long ride tomorrow.  It’ll cook on its own.”  Dean settled it into place.
 
“That was amazing!” Sam mused.  “I guess sprites never go hungry.”
 
Castiel nodded.  “Not all sprites can do that.  But enough that it helps keep everyone fed.”
 
“Everyone in Haven,” Jo added, meeting Castiel’s eyes.  “Starvation is fairly common here.”
 
Castiel’s enjoyment deflated.  After seeing the land he had passed through all day, he imagined it would, indeed, be difficult to grow things.
 
“Ease up, Jo,” Dean snapped.  “It’s not Cas’ fault you live in the slums.”
 
Jo glared at him.
 
“Dean,” Bobby warned.  “It ain’t Jo’s fault she grew up here either.”
 
“Well, I’m glad I did,” Jo professed.  “If I hadn’t grown up here, I wouldn’t have met Charlie.”
 
“Please,” Charlie shook her head, taking Jo’s hand, “we gotta get out of here if we can.  There is no way I want to live here the rest of my life.”
 
“We’ll get you two outta here,” Bobby assured them.  “We’ll find a way.  I’m not leavin’ without ya.”
 
Jo grinned, letting Charlie pull her in for a hug.  “Sorry, Cas.”
 
Dean was still glaring at Jo.  Castiel tossed a stone next to Dean’s thigh, catching his attention.  They exchanged a look, it having the effect Castiel was hoping for.  Dean, distracted, let it go.
 
They stayed close to the fire as dark set in.  Charlie put hexes up and hung four hex bags to help protect them from attention.  Castiel helped keep the horses calm and they ate the tasty dinner around the fire.
 
“So, where are we?” Sam asked.  “Are there states or land divisions?”
 
“No,” Charlie answered.  “There are nine towns in Purgatory.  Everything else is just...this.”  She pointed half-heartedly to the woods around them.  “There are areas where there are more werewolves, or more demons.  The towns are segregated.  Stockville, where Jo’s from, is the most diverse place in Purgatory.  That’s only because of the port and all the business that goes on there.”
 
“What is Lincoln like?” Castiel asked, finishing his bowl of stew.  
 
“Lincoln is an open town.  Anyone can go in.  It’s a demon town for sure.  With a lot of kitsune.”
 
“Kitsune?” Dean asked.  “Just...living in town?”
 
Charlie nodded.
 
“So friggin’ weird,” Dean shook his head.
 
“What do you mean by, open towns?” Castiel asked.
 
“Some towns, like the werewolf one and the shapeshifter town, are only open to them.  They’re protective of their own.  They let witches in, since we help them with wards and spells and whatnot.  Humans...we’ll have to be very careful with you guys.  You’re like walking suits or meals to the monsters.”  
 
“Tell us about Haven,” Sam said, taking a drink of water.
 
Castiel thought about home.  “There are four realms.  The Garden, which is just beyond Sunken Ties.  It is very lush and thick with wild animals.  Some of the nephilim that live there are Collectors.”
 
“Collectors?” Bobby asked.
 
Castiel regretted bringing it up immediately.  “Yes.  Nephilim of The Garden are tasked with three things.  Maintaining animal wildlife, protecting the gate to The Garden, and...collecting Eligibles, or eligible humans...partners for Nephilim.”
 
“So, it is true,” Bobby huffed.  “Sprites steal humans.”
 
“No,” Castiel balked at the very thought.  “People come willingly and are well taken care of.  Humans walk as freely as the Nephilim.  There are few.  Nephilim do not have children often.”
 
Everyone gave him a less-than-pleased look.
 
He sat his empty bowl to the side.  “Then there are the three trees.  The great cities built by our ancestors.  Tree of Life.  That is where the mages Raquel and Barachiel rule.  The streets are yellow painted bricks. They use their grace for the most frivolous things.  They stay to themselves in general.  It’s an odd sort of place.”
 
Dean and Charlie exchanged a glance.  “Sounds weird,” Charlie nodded.
 
“Then there is Tree of Knowledge, where I am from.  Uriel and Raphael are the Mages there besides me.  Our streets are cobblestone, and everything is...orderly.  It is home of the Stacks, which is a huge library.”
 
“Wow,” Sam and Bobby murmured, looking interested.
 
“Up north, is Tree of Thrones where Gabriel and Michael live.  The streets are granite.  Most of the buildings are of granite, stone, or brick.  Gabriel’s mansion is vast.  He loves music and throwing lavish parties.”
 
“You know all the mages?” Charlie asked.  “All the other six?”
 
“I have met them all, yes,” Castiel answered.
 
“Do you like them?” Jo asked, looking quite curious.
 
Castiel sighed.  “It is very different than what I have seen here.  The order of Mages is absolute.  I became Mage of Thursday because my grace is the strongest amongst the Thursday legion.  Not because I have any leadership ability.”
 
“Grace?” Sam asked.
 
Castiel narrowed his eyes in thought.  “Grace is what you refer to as my magic.  It is the part of me inherited from the angels, passed down through generations of nephilim, angels and humans combined.  We have souls infused with grace.  Every generation seems to have less and less, making our powers less and our lives shorter.  But I have been fortunate enough to have been born with a lot of grace.”  Sam and the others nodded, listening closely.  
 
“Each Mage receives ten abettors that assist them.  I am friends with four of mine. Before my father, Kassiel, the last Mage of Thursday, passed away, I was an abettor and spent much of my time working in the countryside improving crops and beehives.  The other abettors are not as close to me.  Samandriel, Hannah, Anna, and Rachel are trustworthy and helped me a great deal my first few weeks.”  He pulled his knees up to his chest, thinking of his family and friends.  “They probably think I’m dead.  I have no way to tell anyone where I’ve been.”
 
“What’s your family like?” Charlie asked quietly.
 
Castiel frowned slightly.  “I met my father, Kassiel, several times.  But I grew up in what we call a hold.  They raise children together by age group, not relation. I did have a half-brother there.  Samandriel.  He is younger than I am, but I did try to keep an eye out for him.”  He grinned at the memory of his young freckled face and bright blue, inquisitive eyes.  “There were eight of us in my age group.  It was...not always easy.  My grace powers have always been strong.  It set me apart.  Not to mention, I created many messes while I was learning to control them.”  He grinned, huffing a laugh at a memory.  “One Thursday, during a formal dinner, the man in charge of my group decided to put me on display for being able to prepare food so young.  I was quite nervous and instead of cutting a watermelon into bite size balls, I created over three hundred ball-shaped watermelons.”  He grinned as everyone started to chuckle.  “They were everywhere...”
 
“Aw!” Charlie laughed hard.  “I bet you were so cute!”
 
Castiel shrugged.  “None of the adults were impressed.  And I tried to wave them away and they all flew about two feet and dropped again, hitting people and falling all over again.”
 
Everyone was laughing harder now.  He blushed at the amount of attention focused on him.  “I miss just being able to...” he held his hands out as if he were holding a watermelon.  He laughed at himself and the memory of all the stuffy men and women batting watermelons away.  The laughing went on as Charlie told stories about her mother teaching her spells and her mishaps.  
 
 
 
**********************************
 
 
 
Dean blew out a breath of boredom.  Taking watch sucked.  Charlie and Jo snuggled up in their blankets together.  Bobby snored away by the dying fire, and Cas was sleeping hard.  Sam was walking along the south end of their camp so he wouldn’t fall asleep.  Dean hated quiet, solemn hours of the night.  He never did before.  But now the memories of his meeting with Crowley crept into his brain.  He worried about what he had done.  The more he thought about it, the more he realized what an unfair deal he had made.  He should have demanded Crowley bring his dad to him.  
 
And what exactly happened to a soul owned by a demon?  Would he just be a slave?  Would he turn into a demon?  He had no idea what to expect.  It churned in his stomach.
 
“You alright?” Sam asked, startling him.
 
“Yeah.  I’m ready to get out of this freakin’ place.  Everything stinks here.  We passed a stream this morning and the horses wouldn’t even drink out of it.”
 
Sam nodded.  “That stuff Cas was doing with the food and water was pretty cool!  I don’t think we’re gonna starve to death.”
 
Dean grinned, looking over at Cas’ sleeping form.  His blanket was flat.  “Where did he go?”
 
The brothers searched the line of the woods around camp.  “I never saw him move!” Sam whispered.
 
“Me either.”  Dean searched the camp again, pulling a gun out to aim into the woods.  “CAS!”  His heart started thundering in his chest.  Bobby sat up.
 
“Cas!” Sam yelled.  
 
“I’m here!”
 
Dean looked down at Cas’ bedroll. There he laid, sitting up now and blinking wide-eyed.  Dean took the few steps to Cas’ bed.  He knelt, the pair eyeing each other.  “You were gone!  Where’d you go?”
 
Cas gave him a confused look.  “I didn’t go anywhere!  You woke me up!”  
 
“Dude, you were not here,” Sam swore.  
 
Everyone was awake now.
 
Cas frowned lifting his cover up.  He turned slightly, looking under him.  “My clothes are off.”
 
Dean’s eyebrows shot up.  “You went to sleep with clothes on?”
 
“Yes.”
 
“And now you’re naked?”  Dean cleared his throat, fighting his eyes from following his naked skin below the blanket.
 
“Yes,” Cas said quietly, glancing at the others nervously.
 
Dean searched the ground around his bedroll but saw nothing.  No sulfur, no animal tracks.  “Do you remember anything after you fell asleep?”
 
“You and Sam waking me up,” Cas said, frowning.
 
“Do you sleepwalk?” Sam asked, looking as confused as Dean felt.
 
“No.  Never.”  Cas looked around, pulling his cover closer to his chest.  “I was gone?”
 
“Yeah,” Dean and Sam answered.  
 
“What would take me and then return me?  And leave me naked?”  His breath was coming quicker as he looked around with growing panic.
 
“Well, you’re here.  You’re safe,” Dean assured him.
 
Cas looked up at him with concern.  “Maybe...maybe I used my wings.  I can, or could...” Cas stammered to a halt.
 
Dean went weak in the knees, folding to sit on the ground where he had been kneeling.  “You have wings?”
 
Cas swallowed, glancing around nervously.  “I do.”
 
Something about the thought of Cas with wings spiked a thrill inside him.  “I have got to see that.”  He had not meant to say that out loud.  Now that he thought about it, Cas had mentioned something about flying before.  He had just been too distracted at the time to really think about it.  Wings.  He bit his lip, sitting back slightly as Cas gave him a look of surprise.
 
The pair tore their stare apart, knowing everyone was watching them.
 
“Cas, can you fly?” Sam asked.
 
“No.  Well...I was just learning when Gabriel sent me here.  There are wards all over Lawrence so nephilim can’t fly just anywhere.  But I’m too weak now to even feel my wings, let alone fly.”
 
“Were you dreaming?” Dean asked, wondering what would cause him to use his wings accidentally.
 
“No.  Maybe.  I don’t know...I can’t remember.”  Cas rubbed at his hair, making it stick up more than it already was.
 
After figuring nothing out, everyone went back to sleep as he and Sam took up sentry duty again.  Dean kept a close eye on Cas.  This land was beyond foreign.  There were strange and damn-right scary sounding noises coming from the woods.  Things creeping and sneaking around.  Cas did not go back to sleep.  He sat watching the fire for hours.
 
Dean woke Charlie and Jo to take their turn watching camp so he and Sam could sleep.
 
Dean poked a few sticks around, adding a few logs.  He gave Cas an unsure glance.  “You okay?”
 
Cas nodded stoically.
 
“You freaked out you’re gonna disappear?”
 
Cas didn’t answer immediately, but nodded agreement after a few minutes.
 
“You gotta sleep, man.  You’ve been awake most of the night.”  He reached over to pat Cas’ knee.  He had dressed under his covers earlier.  To Dean’s shock, Cas took his hand, squeezing it gently.  
 
“I’m afraid I’ll fly away or go to the plane where my wings are, and I’ll disappear, not knowing how to get back.”
 
Dean glanced around camp.  Sam was sleeping already.  Bobby was still out.  Charlie and Jo stood at the far end of camp, looking into the woods.  He squeezed Cas’ hand back, giving him an encouraging grin.  He stood up, getting his sleeping roll.  He put it right next to Cas’, who watched him with wide eyes.  “I’ll keep an eye on you.”
 
Cas gave him a hopeful grin.  “You need to sleep too.”
 
“Oh, I’m gonna sleep.”  Dean settled into his bedroll, laying his gun under his pillow.  He pulled a piece of twine from his bag, the same twine he had used as Thursday’s leash on the ship.  “I’m gonna tie you to me.”
 
Cas raised an eyebrow.
 
“I know it’s not very fancy, Your Highness, or whatever your title is.”  Dean hated that he kept saying things like that.  Ruining the connection the pair seemed to have.  But when he got nervous, his mouth got stupid.
 
“It’s, Mage of Thursday, Angel’s Son,” Cas said.  Dead serious.
 
Dean looked up from tying the twine around Cas’ wrist.  Was he serious?
 
“But you can call me Cas.”  The corner of Cas’ mouth twitched and Dean could tell he was joking.
 
“Dude!”  Dean laughed.  He shook his head, tying the other end of the twine around his own wrist.  Sprites were so weird.
 
Cas grinned harder.  “I’m not sure this will work.”
 
“Me either, Sparky.  But you and me are getting some sleep.”
 
Cas lay back down, watching every move he made.  
 
“If you go somewhere, I’ll know something is up.  Or I’ll go somewhere with you.  At least that way you won’t be alone.”
 
Dean gave him a shrug as if none of it really mattered and he lay down.  Cas turned toward him, still watching him intently.
 
“Thank you, Dean.”
 
Dean looked at him, a wave of heat sweeping down his body.  Every time Cas said his name, something tugged at his insides.  He wondered if Cas felt anything toward him.  Why would a sprite be interested in him anyway?   But the street kid in him didn’t care.  He wanted to see if Cas was feeling anything.
 
“You’re welcome.  Castiel.  Mage of Thursday.  Angel’s son.”  Dean let the title drop, watching as Cas’ eyes widened slightly with each word.  Was it possible that a mage, a powerful sprite, was interested in him?  Who would have ever thought a sprite could even be good looking?  But...oh yeah.  Cas was handsome.  Especially his mouth.  So inviting looking.  Like it was quite capable and supple.
 
“Night, Cas,” Dean grinned, seeing Cas smile before he turned his head and closed his eyes.
 
“Goodnight, Dean,” Cas whispered back.  
 
He could feel Castiel’s head get closer bit by bit to his shoulder.  Dean sucked in a breath when he felt Cas’ hand warm and solid next to his own.
 
 
 
********************************
 
 
 
Castiel stood in his stirrups, trying to see over the next ridge as he stretched his legs and back.  Today was grueling.  His body was tired and his mind was restless.  He felt his grace strengthening every day.  He could have cheered when Bobby said he had to stop for the night.  They found a small clearing against a sheer rock wall.
 
Castiel liked the safety of the solid wall to one side of camp.  He walked along with Charlie as she put up hex bags and wards.  They compared warding sigils in the dirt while the others took care of the horses.
 
“Cas, you makin’ dinner?” Dean asked.
 
“Yes.”  He joined Dean at his saddlebag and they pulled out several items for him to reproduce, chop, and tonight, cook.  “Did you bring flour?”
 
“Yeah,” Dean nodded, pulling out a metal tin.  
 
Castiel put the potato in the pot and stared at it.  When he grinned, Dean looked inside.  He chuckled, patting his shoulder.  He had made six potatoes and they were all diced.  He added a carrot.  “Three carrots?”
 
“Yeah,” Dean grinned, chuckling again when three carrots appeared, chopped.  Dean added the ham chunks and seasoning.  Castiel put his hands together over the pot and Dean poured a small handful into his palm.  They both grinned as water filled his hands, overflowing like a fountain to fill the pot.  He added onion and mushrooms he had picked by a stream earlier that day.  
 
He put his hands on both sides of the pot, boiling it.  He pulled his hands back, looking up at the huge grin on Dean and Charlie’s faces as they watched him.
 
Everyone gathered around the fire as darkness settled over them.  Dinner cooked in minutes, the broth thicker this time, more like a cream, than thin and clear.  Bobby and Jo began dishing it out to everyone.
 
“I brought my things to make a sigil,” Charlie said, taking a full bowl.  “It was Dean’s idea and I think it would be awesome.”
 
Jo nodded.
 
“You want the six of us?” Sam asked, taking his full bowl.
 
“Yeah,” Dean admitted, trying to fight a shy look off his face.  “It’s a mission.  I think it warrants something special.”  
 
Castiel’s skin flushed when Dean looked at him.  Dean wanted to be able to find him in the veil.  The thought warmed him so completely that tears stung the corners of his eyes and he had to look at his bowl of soup to gain some composure.
 
“I thought sprites didn’t do sigils,” Bobby frowned.
 
“I will,” Castiel blurted, his eyes jumping between Dean and Bobby.  “I think it is a beautiful idea.  And if it works...I would be very happy to see you all again.”
 
Everyone nodded.
 
“When I’m done eating, I’ll start working on it.  I already have a plan for the ingredients,” Charlie said.
 
Castiel could barely contain his excitement.  He was thrilled.  His heart beat faster and he could not stop smiling.  All the teachings about dissolving into the great nothing, crumbled.  He could picture vast passages of hallways.  And a door that belonged to him.  A place he could go and be with these people in the afterlife.  He would see Dean again.  No matter what happened on this adventure, their time was not through.  It gave him great hope and lightened his heart.
 
When they all had their fill of soup, Castiel waved the dishes clean.
 
“I am never traveling without you,” Bobby grinned.
 
Charlie had pulled out a tray to work on and several small pots.  She ground several ingredients, adding them to a thick, glass bottle.  She lit three candles, warming the bottle only slightly.  She muttered incantations quietly as she worked.
 
Jo leaned over toward him slightly.  “Every sigil is unique.  She’s making this bottle just for us.  If we want to save some for Mom and Ash, we can.  Or Charlie drinks what remains, and it stays with us.”
 
Castiel nodded.  “What has she put in the bottle?”
 
Jo shrugged.  “I saw her grab butterfly wing, bone dust, mandrake, and king’s foil.  Charcoal and ground amethyst, of course.  I know there’s more than that in there though.  Like I said, each batch is unique.”
 
The candles flared and Charlie looked up with a grin.  “I’m ready for blood.”
 
“Blood?” Castiel asked, surprised.
 
Dean knelt next to her.  Charlie had a small bronze knife, cutting Dean’s palm quickly.  Dean hissed but tipped his hand, letting blood drain into the bowl.
 
“That’s enough,” Charlie nodded.  Dean pulled his hand away, taking a bandage from Jo.
 
“Wait,” Castiel said, getting to his feet quickly.  He came around the group, taking Dean’s hand in his.  With little more than a light touch and a flashing thought, Dean’s hand healed.
 
Dean grinned.  “Thanks, Cas!”
 
Castiel nodded, blushing slightly, but not caring.  They all had glowing faces in the firelight.  He healed everyone’s cuts, none of them healing as quickly as Dean’s had.  They assumed it was because Dean had been the first.  Castiel suspected it had healed instantly because his drive to heal Dean was stronger.
 
“Your turn,” Charlie grinned.
 
Castiel held his hand out, frowning at the burning cut she administered smartly.
 
“Sprite blood,” Charlie mused.  “The properties in this stuff must be incredible.”
 
Castiel could not argue with that.  When she finished, he pulled his hand away, healing it.
 
The two containers were combined in a tiny pot and heated over the fire.  The potion was then poured into the glass jar.  As Charlie heated the little bottle, the candles sputtered out.  “It’s ready,” she grinned.
 
They gathered around as Charlie pulled out an odd metal contraption shaped like an angled spoon, with a lever that led to a metal circle with a glass bottom.  Dean held his forearm out.  Charlie rested the circle of the contraption flat on Dean’s arm.  She poured the blood mixture into the circle, filling it like a small puddle.
 
“Ready?” She asked, looking up a Dean.
 
“Ready.”  Dean watched as Charlie squeezed the lever.  The glass bottom slid away, dropping the blood mixture onto Dean’s skin.  Dean winced only slightly as the mixture seemed to stir on his skin and sink in.
 
The pair watched intently until Charlie pulled the contraption away.  Dean grinned, holding his arm out.  His new sigil was a circle that was almost closed, but instead continued inward, ending in a feather at the center.
 
Castiel looked up at Dean.  “Will mine look just like that?”
 
“Yep,” Dean grinned.  Castiel grinned back.  He waited patiently, more anxious than he remembered being in a long time.  He was so excited to be a part of something as special as this.
 
Charlie rested the contraption, a vinculum she called it, snug on the skin of his forearm.  “Ready?  It’s going to burn.”
 
“I’m ready,” Castiel grinned.  The burn was nothing to dampen his excitement.  The blood mixture dug into his skin with a burn, circling and sinking in.  He waited, watching the pale skin of his arm.  Several seconds went by and Charlie frowned.
 
“Hm.”
 
Castiel looked up at her, confused.  “Where is it?”
 
“I don’t know.  Maybe sprites can’t -”
 
A searing pain burned on his arm and white light flared in the shape of the sigil.  Charlie pulled the vinculum away as they both watched in surprise.  The light flared out and a black sigil matching the others remained.  He laughed, feeling the connection to the group.
 
Jo helped Charlie do hers while Castiel stepped aside, marveling at the mark on his creamy skin.  It was black and perfect.
 
“Looks good,” Dean grinned.
 
Castiel smiled back at him, showing his arm to him for inspection.  Dean took his arm in his hands, swiping his thumb across the fresh mark.
 
“Now, when you greet one of us,” Dean explained, “you do this.”  He turned, cupping his forearm in his hand, putting his thumb on his sigil.  Castiel did the same, placing his thumb on Dean’s matching sigil.
 
They looked up at each other, grinning.  
 
“It’s perfect,” Castiel said softly.
 
“Yeah,” Dean nodded, letting his arm go.
 
Castiel refrained from wanting to hug Dean.  Wanting to rub his head against him.  Wanting to greet him again, if only to touch his warm skin.  It was quite difficult, but he contented himself with rubbing a thumb over the new sigil.
 
They all settled into their bedrolls, Bobby and Sam taking the first watch.
 
Castiel pulled the length of twine from the pocket of his coat.  He pressed his mouth together, glancing at Dean nervously.
 
Dean, catching the shy look, grinned, taking the twine.  Without a word, he tied it around Cas’ wrist and Castiel tied it around Dean’s.  He scooted down into his bed, curling close to Dean’s side.
 
Dean turned on his side, facing him.  “Sleep.  I won’t let you get away.”
 
Castiel grinned up at him.  He snuggled in a little closer, relieved when Dean did not back away.
 
To think...a nephilim protected by a human.  He turned his smile toward his jacket folded up to be a pillow.  If Gabriel saw him now, he would simply laugh.  And all he could do was feel good about it.    
 
 
 
*****************************************
 
 
 
“Cas.”
 
Castiel blinked awake.  He looked up, realizing his head was in Dean’s lap.  Oh dear.  He must have been trying to get closer to Dean as he slept.
 
“Don’t freak out,” Dean said quietly, running a hand down his side.
 
Shock rippled through his tiny body.  He jolted upright.  He was a cat again!
 
What happened? He meant to yell, but a meow came out as he scampered backwards off Dean’s lap.
 
His heart thudded painfully as he looked at his black, furry legs.  What had happened?!
 
“Take it easy,” Dean said nervously, getting to his knees.  “Don’t run away.”
 
Run away?  Where would he go?  He meowed loudly.
 
Sam was waking Charlie up.  She came over, still rubbing her eyes as they went wide looking at him.  “Shit.”
 
Shit?  Yes!  This was shit.  Why was he a cat?
 
“Okay, okay, don’t freak out.  I warned you when I broke the curse that you could have some...lingering side effects.”
 
Don’t freak out?  Cat!  I’m a cat!
 
Dean looked as freaked out as he felt.  “What do we do, Charlie?” He demanded.
 
“Well...um...” she gave Castiel a worried look.  “I could reverse the curse again.  Or we could wait for it to wear off.  Is what happened last night?  You thought he was gone, but maybe he was a cat in the blankets, and you didn’t see him?”
 
Dean looked just as worried as before.  “What -”
 
Castiel’s body jolted.  His muscles and bones shifted in a rush.
 
Dean sighed.
 
Castiel looked down at himself.  He was naked and sitting on the end of Dean’s bedroll.  He frowned hard, covering his privates.
 
Everyone backed up, except Dean, whose feet he was sitting on.  He pulled Castiel’s shirt out of his bedroll, handing it to him.
 
Castiel snatched it, putting it on.  Dean frowned at something.
 
Castiel moved as quickly as he could to his blanket, putting his breeches on under the covers.  He dropped his head onto his pillow when he tied them.  “Wonderful.”
 
“Hey, you’re still here.  That’s a relief,” Dean mumbled.
 
Castiel sat up, Charlie coming back over.  “This might happen for a while.  I have no idea.  Missouri might be able to fix you better.  Or it will wear off.”  She frowned, giving Castiel a worried pat.  “Or it will get worse.  I’m just not sure.  It’s tricky undoing another witch’s curse.”
 
Castiel nodded his head uncomfortably.  Charlie went back to her bed.  Dean and Cas got up, taking watch so Sam and Bobby could sleep.
 
They wandered in opposite directions, watching the woods.  He could see a wolf sitting far off on the side of a hill, watching them.  He glanced at Dean as he joined him.  “Sorry.”
 
“Cas...I couldn’t help but notice you have a big scar on your side.”
 
Castiel nodded.  “Yes.”
 
“Is that from the stitches I did?”
 
“Yes.”  He lifted his shirt, showing the red, puffy line that paralleled his ribs, went around his side, close to his spine.
 
He inhaled sharply as Dean touched it.  He remembered the werewolf’s claw as it sliced through him so swiftly.  Dean looked up with a note of sadness.  “Sorry that scarred you so bad.”
 
Castiel felt touched by Dean’s solemn look.  “I didn’t die.”
 
Dean nodded, smiling softly.
 
Castiel lowered his shirt.  “It wasn’t your fault, Dean.”
 
Dean swallowed, not accepting the excuse.  “What happened to you at the compound?  When you disappeared.”
 
Castiel nodded, thinking back.  “Campbell compound was warded against angels.  Being a nephilim, part angel, part human, and being at such a vulnerable state, the wards were killing me.”
 
“Shit.  I had no idea,” Dean shook his head.
 
“I know.  Then, while you were out, that medic woman came back for me.  She suspected I was carrying some sort of werewolf virus.  She tried to put me in a burlap bag when I escaped.  She was going to kill me.”
 
“That bitch!” Dean almost yelled, looking angry.  “I was afraid she would pull some shit like that!”
 
Castiel smooshed him, hoping he had not woken the others.
 
Dean shook his head, still fuming.  “Wait ‘til I see her.  She’ll be lucky if I don’t chop off her head AND all her hair!”
 
Castiel had to grin at Dean’s protective anger.  “I survived.”
 
Dean rubbed a hand over his mouth.  “I’m sorry that we left you alone.  We shouldn’t have.”
 
Castiel reassured him with a grin and a gentle squeeze to his arm.  “I am fine.  I survived.  It was...torturous, getting through that gate.  And then I waited there for you.  I knew you were leaving.”
 
Dean shook his head.  “It’s a damn wonder you survived.”
 
Castiel nodded.  “Dean...if I become trapped as a cat...”
 
“That won’t happen,” Dean assured him, his hand landing firmly on Cas’ shoulder.  “I would take you wherever I needed to go to get you back.  Even Haven.”
 
Castiel nodded.  “Thank you.”
 
Dean let his shoulder go, turning to listen to a sound in the dark woods.  “Just stay with me and I’ll do whatever I can to get you better.  You don’t belong here, Cas.  On this mission.  In this horrible place.  You should be up in at
 
Castiel frowned.  “Dean, I feel more alive than I have felt my entire life!  Haven is beautiful and clean.  But it is cold and unmoving as well.  I knew the moment I received mage status that I would not be staying in Haven.  My heart lies...elsewhere.”
 
Dean stared at him.  “Not here.  Not Purgatory.”
 
“No,” Castiel whispered.  “But this mission.  I care very much about what happens to humans.”
 
Dean gave him a nervous grin.
 
“Particularly you,” Castiel finished, not sure he should really share that much.
 
Dean’s eyebrows shot up and a cocky grin flitted across his face.  “Yeah?”
 
Castiel nodded solemnly.  “Yes.”
 
 
 
 

Chapter Text

Chapter 13:   Hell
 

 
“This looks very unsafe,” Castiel voiced, not liking the ominous creak of boards under Jo’s horse’s hooves.  They were crossing a long wooden bridge over a river far below.
 
“It’s been here for over a hundred years,” Charlie encouraged, leading her horse to follow Jo.
 
“I can see that,” Castiel muttered, eyeing the weathered rope sides, worn boards, and leaning anchors of the bridge.
 
Dean looked as nervous as he felt.  “There a way around this?” Dean yelled.
 
“Not that I know of,” Charlie yelled back.  “Come on!”
 
Dean gave Castiel a worried squint.
 
“Come on, Dean,” Sam called from behind them.
 
“I’m at least waiting until they cross!” Dean snapped, glaring at his brother.
 
Bobby gave him an amused grin.
 
Castiel wished with all his worth that his wings would come back.  All he felt was a mild prickle down his back.  He let his breath out, panting slightly as Charlie and Jo exited the other side of the bridge.
 
“Come on,” Dean muttered bitterly, kneeing Impala forward and onto the ancient wood.
 
Cas followed several paces behind.  The wood creaked ominously under Connie and his weight.  She continued, pushing forth thoughts of fear, falling, and wavering trust in all people.  
 
Cas did not argue any of her feelings, merely pushing back thoughts of bravery and pride in her.
 
This could not be a good idea.  Apparently, Impala thought so too.  She took off, scampering across the wood, making the bridge sway.  Connie took quite the opposite approach, freezing when Impala took off.
 
There, in the middle of the old bridge, she stood, haunches lowered and her head low and stretched forward.
 
Dean turned a wide-eyed look at him.  “Sorry!  She just took off!”
 
Castiel nodded fractionally, more concerned with the fear radiating from Connie.
 
He huffed a laugh.  “It’s too late to go back to Ellen now, brave lady.”
 
Her disappointment and fear eventually waved into determination.  She took a few tentative steps.
 
Castiel could see the yellow-brown river of water below them.  It would be a fall neither of them would survive.  If the fall didn’t kill them, the putrid water would poison them.  All the other rivers and streams they had come across were unpleasantly dirty or stagnant.  But Leviathan waste polluted this river.  The stench of sour liquorices steamed up from its curdling ebbs.
 
“You can do it, Connie,” Castiel encouraged.  The horse began walking faster, head still low, until she scampered the last few steps out the end of the bridge.
 
Dean sighed, only to hold his breath again as Sam and Bobby began crossing.
 
Once all six horses and their riders were on the same side of land, Dean turned an irritated look at Charlie.  “Any more of these on our travels?”
 
“Bridges?” She grinned.  “Yes.  But none as rickety as this one.”
 
Dean shook his head, encouraging Impala onward.  
 
While Dean continued grousing his complaints to the group, Castiel focused his hearing.  The sound of arguing, three voices, four.  Metal clanging and horse hooves moving quickly.
 
“Dean,” Castiel said low and urgent, both him and Charlie looking at hm.  “I hear riders coming.  Four at least.”
 
Everyone’s attention moved to the path ahead.  Dean came around him, putting Castiel on the edge of the road, the others staying closer together as they all moved ahead.  
 
They walked what seemed like a while before riders’ heads peaked over the trail on the hill ahead.  Seven riders crested the hill.  They wore mud-splattered riding gear.  Their hair was long, grizzly, and unkempt.  The one in the lead turned quickly, saying something to the others behind him.  When he turned back, his eyes flashed yellow.
 
“Werewolves,” Dean muttered.
 
Their horses were lean and in serious need of grooming.
 
“Where’s this pretty lot off to?” The front man leered.
 
“Lincoln,” Bobby answered, not-too-kindly.
 
The three men in front sneered.  The woman behind them spit something brown on the ground, eyeing Charlie.  “That’s Witch Bradbury,” she said, wiping her chin with her filthy sleeve.  
 
Castiel was impressed with the flat look of indifference Charlie maintained.
 
“So it is,” a large man behind her grinned.  His beard was bushy, with thick sideburns that ran right into his shaggy hair. He looked wolfy without even needing to change.
 
The werewolves gave her a cursory nod, looking at the rest of them with disdain.
 
Castiel could see Dean eyeing them back.  He looked like he was ready to say something rude.  Castiel kicked Dean’s foot with his own.  Dean turned, looking at him with question.  Castiel didn’t dare say anything.  He had read that werewolves had excellent hearing.  
 
The two groups passed each other without incidence.  Castiel sighed with relief.  
 
Ahead, after they crested the hill, Castiel was surprised to see three dead men to the side of the road.  Stabbed by sword, from the size of the wounds.  
 
“Shifters,” Bobby mumbled, not stopping to inspect them.  
Castiel stopped to look closer, but Dean called him to keep moving.  He found it disconcerting to leave dead bodies and not burn them.  But he trusted Dean to know the correct protocol.
 
This land was truly nefarious.
 
Twenty minutes down the road, Dean rode close to his side.  “We can’t get mixed up in anyone else’s business here, Cas.”
 
Castiel thought back to the dead men.  They weren’t human.  But monsters deserved to burn at death too, didn’t they?  He nodded his understanding, though he did not agree.
 
Dean looked like he was going to say more, but he just kept riding.  Humans were very different from his nephilim brethren.  Death seemed so close at all times here.  Whether from poor surroundings, illness, injury, or rash behavior, they all seemed on a fast track to the veil.  Things moved much slower in Haven.  Decisions and words were not taken lightly.  It may be that this was due to better availability of food and necessities.  It could be that it was a nephilim’s nature to think longer before jumping to conclusion or action.
 
Maybe it was just Dean.
 
Perhaps the shorter lives made them more frivolous with them.  Nephilim had a long time to live with the decisions they made.  And death meant death.  An end.  No meetings with friends or loved ones.  “How old are you?” Castiel asked, surprised with his own candor.
 
Dean smirked at him.  “Twenty-four.  Why?”
 
Castiel looked at him for a long moment.  Dean was in his prime.  For humans, this seemed to mean starting a life of some sort.  For nephilim, twenty-four meant moving to secondary school to further your education.
 
“How old are you?” Dean asked, staring back, his curiosity seeming to grow.
 
“I’m forty-eight.”
 
“What?!” Dean asked, shock evident as he looked at him with disbelief.  “How old are sprites when they...you do die of old age, right?”
 
“Yes,” Castiel smirked, finding Dean funny.  “Sprites live to be around 130 years old.  Not nearly as long as our ancestors.”
 
“Huh,” Dean continued to stare at him.  “So...you’re...an adult, right?”
 
“Yes. I’m an adult.  A young adult, but well past my pubescent period.”
 
“Your what?” Dean asked.
 
“Puberty, Dean,” Bobby snapped.
 
Castiel and Dean both turned, realizing the other four were still right there with them.  Sometimes, Castiel felt like he and Dean were alone, when they were not.
 
Dean blushed slightly.  “Got ya.”
 
Castiel grinned down at Connie’s gold mane.  Dean made him feel a lot of things he had never felt before.  He could chalk a lot of it up to his time as a cat.  But moments like this were just very...natural.  Anna talked of such feelings.  He was sure he had never experienced half of what she had talked about.  He, like most Thursdays, moved at a slow, cautious pace.  Especially with matters such as...feelings.
 
He eyed Dean again, grinning at the casual, easy way he rode.  Dean turned, watching him back with a smooth grin.  He cocked one brow and smirked.  “What?”
 
“Nothing,” Castiel blushed, looking away.
 
“So, you guys are basically the same age,” Sam chuckled.
 
Castiel looked back at Dean.  “Yes.  I would agree with that.”
 
“Wish I was in your shape,” Bobby mused.  “I’m forty-nine and I look twice your age.”
 
Castiel turned in his saddle, studying Bobby slightly.  “You do.”
 
“Gee thanks,” Bobby snickered, the others laughing as well.
 
Castiel turned forward again, frowning.  “I hear...drums.”
 
“Drums?” Charlie repeated, coming to a stop.  “Like...on the road?”
 
Castiel listened, homing in on the sound.  “Yes.”
 
“Time to get off the road,” Charlie said urgently, scanning the woods.  “Follow me.”
 
They followed as she steered her horse up a bank, through brush, and behind a thicket of trees.  Charlie dismounted, the others following her lead.  
 
“We have to keep the horses calm,” she said nervously.
 
Castiel looked up at Connie.  Her ears stood tall, pointing toward the direction the sound of the drums came from.  Challenger neighed.
 
Seeing the look of worry on Charlie’s face, he touched Connie’s forehead.  She calmed instantly, falling asleep.  He touched Challenger next, then the others.
 
“That’s a new trick,” Dean muttered.
 
“Yes, it is,” Castiel admitted.  Gabriel was certainly right about grace working if you really wanted it to.  He had not even needed to change chemistry levels or think about the animal’s brain anatomy at all.  He simply thought ‘sleep’, and they were all sleeping.
 
“You can wake them up, right?” Dean asked, looking slightly worried.
 
“Yes,” Castiel answered immediately.  Hopefully, that was true.
 
They all listened as the beating drums came closer.  They could hear chanting.  They all crouched along the trees, watching the road.
 
“What is this?” Bobby asked.
 
“Demon army,” Charlie whispered.  “Don’t talk.  They employ wolves and witches as look-outs.”
 
No one moved or said a word as men and women marched slowly by.  Over a hundred demons, four by four, marched steadily.  A bell tolled malevolently, drums keeping time, rolling and booming with the chant of a hundred demons.  The very air in Castiel’s lungs froze as the mass of demonic soldiers passed them.
 
Four men, spaced throughout the hoard, sang in a reedy, united timbre;
 
“The king and his men stole the sheriff from his bed,
And bound him in a dungeon.
The land be ours and by the powers,
Where we will, we’ll roam.”
 
Drums set a booming, slow pace, echoing with their trudging steps as the hoard boomed back in a low, roaring chant,
 
“Yo ho, all hands, hoist the colors high.
Heave ho, thieves and killers,
Never shall we die.”
 
Every twenty or so men, one carried a tall banner with a red flag.  The black sigil on it looked like a W with an upside-down W on top of it.  Each point ended in a circle.  Castiel recognized it as a demonic emblem but could not remember to whom it belonged.  Behind the banner men was something even more disturbing.  Great iron collars circled necks of large, invisible creatures, thick chains rattling with their invisible steps.  He strained his eyes harder. They were not invisible. Black, churning smoky outlines formed huge dogs. But there was no solid form to them. Castiel’s shock and fear hit a whole new level. The ground vibrated with the slow march and the air around them thrummed with loud drumbeats.
 
“Yo ho, all together, hoist the colors high.
Heave ho, thieves and killers,
Never shall we die.”
 
Again, the four demons sang,
 
“The king and his men take over the land,
And cull the weak and the ruined.
The land be ours and by the powers,
Where we will, we’ll roam.”
 
Castiel exchanged a horrified look with Dean and Sam as the mass marched on.  The chorus, chanted twice more, just as frightening as the first time.
 
They listened as the four demons sang again,
 
“We’ll cross the seas and burn their trees,
Take their bones, destroy their homes.
The land be ours and by the powers,
Where we will, we’ll roam.”
 
The slow, drilling chorus rang out again twice more.

“The sprites up top, the humans below,
They’ll fall, they’ll bleed, they’ll be no more.
The land be ours and by the powers,
Where we will, we’ll roam.”

Chills surged hard through Castiel’s body.  More chained, etherial creatures went by, barking out with snarls that made his blood run cold.  As the haunting chant echoed through the land, they all held tight to whatever was near them.
 
Castiel had no idea if he had grabbed Dean’s hand, or Dean had grabbed his, but he clung to it, nevertheless.  Birds cawed ominously, flying, and circling the fading army.
 
It was not until even Castiel had long since stopped hearing them, that any of them moved.  Jo was shaking, Charlie pulling her into a hug.
 
Bobby looked as stunned as Sam and Dean.
 
Castiel wanted to go home.
 
“Were they...” Dean croaked, clearing his throat, “were they talking about Dad?  The king and his men stole the sheriff from his bed.  That’s Dad, isn’t it?”
 
“I would guess so,” Charlie whispered back.
 
“They have him in a dungeon?” Sam worried aloud.
 
“And they want to kill all the sprites,” Dean whispered hoarsely, squeezing Castiel’s hand possessively.
 
“I have to warn them,” Castiel whispered back.  “I have to reach Gabriel.  Somehow.”
 
“We better git yer Daddy before this all goes ta hell,” Bobby growled.
 
Hell.  That was a word rarely used anymore.  God had destroyed hell when he destroyed Heaven and left them all here.  It had been a pit for all the evil in the world.  It was where the demons came from.
 
Bobby was right.  Hell had just marched past them.
 
 
 
*****************************************
 
 
 
Dean stoked the fire, but his thoughts were stuck on the demon army he had seen today.  How could they fight against anything that big?  That...evil!  
 
“We head into Lincoln at first light,” Charlie said.

They had covered a lot of ground once they were back on the road. The horses were rejuvenated after their naps.
 
Dean turned to look at her.  “How’d those werewolves or whatever they were on the road, know who you are?”
 
“I travel a lot.  I’m one of only seventeen witches that can create sigils in Purgatory.  And, I am a known supporter of being against this war that is brewing.”
 
“What do the demons want?” Sam asked.
 
“Everything,” Charlie scoffed.  “They’re insatiable.  They are the most powerful creatures here, next to high level witches, and they know it.”
 
“Well, Lawrence doesn’t have anything like that army we saw today,” Dean said angrily.  He was frustrated that something so huge could be happening and no one was talking about it.  Why had their dad not warned people?
 
“Haven has no such thing either.  An army could be put together fairly quickly though.”  Castiel paced nervously back and forth.  “I have to reach Gabriel.”
 
“How many more of those armies are there, Charlie?” Dean asked, fighting the shiver that ran through him.
 
“At least two.  I don’t really know though.  And what were those chained things?  I heard growling!”
 
“No idea,” Dean looked to Bobby, who looked equally confused.
 
“Hellhounds.”  Cas stopped pacing, turning toward the group.  “I think they were hellhounds.  I thought they were all destroyed during the apocalypse.  But I could see the slight outline of huge, black, vicious dogs.  If they were invisible to you, then I am quite sure that is what they are.”
 
Dean’s brain had shutdown at the first mention of ‘hellhound’.  That was not even anything real!  It was another creature from childhood stories that didn’t really exist!  Like sprites!  “How?  Where did hellhounds come from?  Why are demons so bent on ruling the whole friggin’ planet?”
 
“We know some of the main demon players, the ones getting everyone stirred up,” Jo went on.  “It’s Azazel, Alastair, and the Leviathan are backing them up too, Dick Roman.  They used to go all over Purgatory stirring up trouble.  My mom would kick them out of the Roadhouse as soon as they stepped in the door.”
 
“Enough demons followed them to make this a real problem,” Charlie added.
 
“A real problem?” Sam snapped.  “We’re in the middle of a fucking war zone!”
 
Charlie nodded.  “I told you.”
 
She had.  She had told them.  But it never sank in until that drumming, demonic army with hellhounds walked past them.  
 
“Whose banner did we see today?” Castiel asked.
 
“That was the mark of Azazel,” Bobby said with a haunted look.
 
Charlie nodded.  “The only head demon not on board is Crowley, a demon from Lawrence.”
 
“We’re familiar with Crowley,” Bobby said reluctantly.
 
The name alone made Dean sick to his stomach.  Fear twisted his gut.  He caught Cas looking at him with a haunted look in his eyes.  Shit.  Had he told the cat about his deal?  He wracked his brain trying to remember.  He had not come out and said it.  But he might have figured it out.  And now Cas could talk about it.  That was the last thing he wanted!  It would ruin Sam and Bobby’s focus for sure.
 
Cas held his gaze with sorrow shaping his brow.  He looked down, going back to his pacing.  Dean let his breath out in slow relief.
 
“Crowley has a pretty sweet set-up in Lawrence.  Makes sense he wouldn’t want anything changing.”  Bobby reasoned.
 
“I’ll take your word for it.  All I heard was that he won’t play ball with Alastair, Azazel, or Dick.  And they give him shit for ‘not being a real demon’, since he lives in Lawrence.”
 
“Guess he ain’t all bad after all,” Bobby smirked.
 
Cas gave Bobby a cold glare.  Dean, not wanting his secret revealed, changed the subject.  “I’ll take first watch.  You guys should get some sleep.”
 
“I might never sleep again,” Bobby muttered, moving to spread out his bedroll.
 
Bobby was the first one asleep.  Charlie and Jo next.  As Dean sat, scanning the woods, he knew Sam was tossing and turning.  Cas patrolled the far end of camp silently.  He had reported several creatures trying to make their way into camp.  A huge snake, some foxes that looked too big to be foxes, and a curious cat roaming nearby.
 
Dean hadn’t seen shit.
 
Cas joined him eventually, sitting on the fallen tree next to him, where he sat, watching the woods.
 
They said nothing for a long time.
 
“Dean,” Cas finally whispered.
 
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Dean snapped.
 
“We are going to talk about it,” Cas hissed back.  “That night at Rufus Turner’s house, you asked me if I made a deal with a demon to end up as a cat.  Dean, you made a deal with Crowley, didn’t you?  How can we get you out of it?”
 
Dean swallowed the bile in his throat.  “We can’t.  I made the deal.  It’s done.  You can’t see it now, but the contract is etched all over my freakin’ body!”
 
Cas studied him in the dark.  “If my grace was not so damaged, I probably would have seen the contract for myself.” His brow furrowed in disappointment in himself and worry. “What exactly was the deal?”
 
Dean sat there for a long time.  He felt like admitting it out loud was as good as signing that contract again.
 
“Dean,” Cas insisted, a bit louder this time.
 
Dean glared at him, looking over his shoulder to be sure the others were all still sleeping.  “I got us all passage from Lawrence to Freeland then from Freeland to Purgatory.  And back.”
 
“At what cost?”
 
Dean stared hard into the nearby thicket of trees.  He did not want to say.
 
“Dean,” Cas whispered.
 
Dean swallowed hard, staring hard at the nearest tree, its trunk thick with moss.  “Ten more years to live.  And then he gets my soul.”
 
At the engulfing silence, Dean turned to look at Cas.  He wished he hadn’t.  The sprite looked absolutely horrified.
 
Cas grabbed his forearm, looking at him with pleading eyes.  “Dean.  We must get you out of it.  I...I will find a way.”
 
Dean huffed what was supposed to be a laugh, but it came out more a bitter cry.  “Good luck with that.”
 
“Maybe Charlie knows something.”
 
“No!  We can’t tell her.  Not until we have my dad back anyway.  We gotta stay focused.  We get this knife in Lincoln tomorrow and then we haul ass to Dad.  When he’s out of the dungeon...or whatever they’ve done to him...then maybe...”
 
Cas looked frustrated and angry.  “You are willing to fight so hard for your dad.  You risk your own life like it’s meaningless!”  Determination settled onto his face as his chin lowered and his eyes pinned his.  “I will not let Crowley have you.  Not any part of you.”
 
Some of the fireball that had become his stomach, dampened.  He nodded, unable to look away from his blue eyes.  Cas was a sprite.  Could he really help?  “I don’t wanna die, Cas.  I don’t wanna lose my...soul to that bastard.  I just...didn’t know what else to do!”
 
“I know,” Cas nodded.  The tight grip on his arm loosened and his hand slid down to hold Dean’s.  “I...I’m going to fix this.  I promise.”
 
Dean’s heart lightened and hope seeped in.  Tears damn near came to his eyes.  All he could do was nod back.  “Okay, Cas.”
 
Dean had never considered himself the type of guy to sit around holding hands with someone.  But Cas was like an anchor of strength and courage.
 
They sat there for quite some time; hands clasped tightly.  He didn’t want to die.  He didn’t want to lose his soul.  He needed help.  He was in so far over his head.  Every time the thoughts circled back, his grip would tighten, and Cas would grip his hand back.
 
 
When Sam and Bobby took watch, Dean and Cas went to sleep almost immediately.  Dean had pulled the twine out of his pocket and looked at Cas as he lay next to him.  Their eyes met and Dean put the twine away.  He lay down, Cas giving him an uncertain look.  Dean just grinned and took his hand.  The smile that spread on Cas’ face was like a real ray of fucking sunshine.  Dean grinned back, holding his hand tight.  “Night, Cas.”
 
“Goodnight, Dean.”
 
 
**************************
 
 
Dean felt something move.  Rain was drizzling on him, making him feel soggy.  His eyes popped open and he immediately reached for Cas’ hand.  Groping and finding nothing, he sat up.  
 
“Shit.”
 
Cas lay sound asleep.  As a cat.
 
Dean sighed.  This sprite was a mess.  How was he really going to help him?  He laid his hand on the cat’s side.  “Cas.”
 
The blue eyes that met his were the ones he was now so familiar with.
 
“Hey, you uh...”
 
The cat jolted, seeing his paws.  He turned in a circle and sat down looking quite miffed.  He shook the dusting of rain off his fur.
 
“You’ll change back,” Dean whispered, laying his head back down sleepily.  “It’ll be okay, man.”
 
The cat meowed plaintively, his little head dropping in obvious frustration.
 
All Dean could do was half-smile.  “Maybe being a cat isn’t so bad.”
 
Cas glared at him.
 
“Okay!  Sorry,” he chuckled.  “Come on.  It’ll go away.”
 
Cas gave him a studying look.  He stood up, taking a tentative step toward him.  Dean, not sure, but wanting to reassure him, lifted his arm.  Cas took another tentative step.  
 
“Come ‘ere,” Dean whispered.  For all this sprite’s problems, he continued to put him first.  He grinned as the cat stepped inside his bedroll, curling up to his chest.  The fur of his head tickled Dean’s chin.  He was going to help Cas get home.  No matter what it took.  The likelihood of them saving his soul was a long shot.  But he could help Cas get home.
 
He rubbed the cat’s back, having missed the warm bundle at night.  He grinned when he heard Cas purring.  He pulled his cover partially over his head to block the drizzling rain from making either of them wet.  Everything was shitty outside the blanket.  But inside, he took what peace he could get from the simple act of petting the cat and hearing him purr.
 
 
*************************************
 
 
Dean woke to a heavy weight along one side. His thumb slid across smooth, warm skin.  He knew even before he opened his eyes that Cas was laying on him and he was no longer a cat.  He opened his eyes, blinking and adjusting to the dim light of dawn creeping into the sky, giving it an inky, purple hue.  It had stopped raining, but clouds still blocked the stars.  His hand slid along the skin of Cas’ back as he tipped his head down.  All he could see was black hair nestled against his chest, but it was Cas’ hair, not cat fur.
 
Charlie and Jo were sitting on the fallen tree, watching the woods quietly.  They had to have noticed, along with Sam and Bobby, that he was sleeping with Cas.  
 
He didn’t care.  This...sprite...was really growing on him.  
 
He could feel a stone under his shoulder blade, digging in through his sleeping roll.  He shifted slightly, trying not to disturb the man curled around him.  The naked man curled around him.  He licked his dry lips, shifting Cas a tiny bit to bring back some circulation to his tingling fingers.  Now, able to move his arm better, he watched as he brushed his hand through Cas’ hair.  It was so soft.  It seemed like the softest thing he had ever felt.  Grinning, he carded his fingers through it again.
 
Cas shifted slightly, his head tipping up.  Dean moved the blanket off his face, realizing Cas needed air.  Part of him was sad to see Cas waking up, knowing he would get a shock to find himself here.  That he may jump and squirm away.
 
Instead, he felt Cas’ body wake up slowly.  One leg shifted, then the other.  A hand slid off his chest only to return slow and steady.  He could feel Cas’ head tuck down again, then back up, nuzzling into his chest.
 
Dean grinned, remembering Cas had said he still had the urge to rub his head against him at times.  Dean couldn’t help but rub across his shoulder, his hand flattening along the curve of it.  Cas’ body went still.  His head tipped up and their eyes met.
 
Wide, blue eyes.  “Oh...sorry.”
 
Dean grinned slowly, not wanting him to jump away.  His thumb swept along Cas’ shoulder instead, his hand pressing ever so slightly to invite him to stay.  
 
Cas’ eyes gave everything away.  His face tended to be stoic.  But Dean could read him better every day.  He was going to ask him a question but didn’t.  His initial instinct to pull back, paused.  He swallowed, his eyes never leaving Dean’s.  
 
Not wanting him to ask or assume he should do anything, Dean let his own head rest back again.  “We only have a little longer to lay here.  Then we’ll be up.”
 
Unable to not look, he tipped his head down again, catching Cas grin softly as he let his head rest again.  His hand slid more timidly along Dean’s side before stopping.  Dean kept up a litany of gentle swiping with his thumb.
 
He didn’t want to talk about what was happening.  He just wanted whatever happened to happen.  Too many words made the situation sound as impossible as it was.  He was in bed with a naked sprite.  A sprite.  A Mage of Thursday.  Any minute now, they needed to get up to pack up camp and march into Lincoln to steal a demon-killing blade from a town full of demons and kitsune.  Then quickly move on to find his father and rescue him.
 
Yeah.  That was all way too overwhelming.
 
He shut the thoughts down, preferring the tranquility of running his hand down Castiel’s smooth skin.  He was thankful he had gone to bed with his breeches on.  Though he could feel Cas against his legs, there was still mystery to what pressed against what.
 
He wondered, as the sky edged from purple to reddish orange, what having sex with a sprite would be like.  His fingers curled against Cas’ skin, scratching softly.  He felt Cas’ breathing quicken slightly.
 
He grinned.  He just might find out.
 
That is, if he survived long enough.
 
He heard noise next to him and turned his head.  Sam was getting up.  He caught Dean’s eye, lifting his eyebrow in a mix of ‘holy shit, bro’, and ‘what happened?’.
 
Dean grinned, looking away to stare up at the sky.  He could feel Cas’ hand tighten on his side.  He knew whatever this was that had happened last night was about to be over too.
 
Bobby began grumbling, getting up and packing his things.  The others began talking softly around them.  Cas shifted again and Dean took the opportunity to slide down just a bit further and move onto his side, pulling Cas in.  He wanted to continue with this moment they were having.  Mission be damned.  He saw the questioning look on Cas’ face as he moved so they were nose to nose.  
 
“Just stay here,” he whispered, watching Cas’ face relax, leaving only curiosity rather than worry along his fine features.
 
“They’ll leave,” Cas said quietly, his eyes drifting down to watch Dean’s mouth.
 
He grinned, knowing exactly what that meant.  He couldn’t quit staring at Cas’ mouth either, wondering just what it would feel like against his.  He felt a soft kick to his leg and looked up to see Sam standing over him.
 
“We’re heading down the road.” He glanced at Cas with an amused smirk to his grin.  “We’ll walk slow.”
 
“Yeah, alright,” Dean  answered, laying his head back down.
 
He heard Sam walk away and then the quiet departure of four horses.  He lifted his hand to Cas’ chin, rubbing his thumb lightly along his chin and jaw.  “You sleep good?”
 
Cas grinned.  “I did.”
 
Dean pulled himself up onto his elbow, looking down at Cas, a mage, and a powerful one at that.  Laying in the crook of his arm, he looked as normal as a regular guy.  He had no idea about Cas’ customs or personal history.  He had no idea what kissing a sprite would do.  But he knew he wanted to.
 
Cas looked up at him with a breathless look of hope on his face.  Dean grinned a little more, feeling very right about  what he was going to do.  He leaned down, closing his eyes as Cas’ closed.  Their lips met, warm and soft.  He felt Cas’ hand reach up, his fingers curling into the back of his short hair.  Dean angled just a bit more, kissing him longer.
 
He pulled up, watching Cas’ face for signs of pleasure or panic or worry.  All that greeted him were two blue eyes and a bashful grin.
 
“Dean...”
 
Dean licked his lips, hoping he had not just screwed this up.  “Yeah?”
 
Cas grinned anew.  “Do that again,” he whispered.
 
Dean chuckled.  He leaned down again, kissing him.  When Cas opened his mouth, Dean pressed his tongue forward, groaning with want.  He gripped Cas by his hair and his jaw, Cas pressing him impossibly closer.  The kiss ebbed to something more patient, ramping again to more needy before the pair separated.
 
Cas looked away, blushing in the growing morning light.  He bit his lip, turning back to Dean.  “We should go.”
 
“Yeah,” Dean agreed reluctantly.  He extricated himself from the bedroll carefully, to keep Castiel’s nakedness covered.  Once he was out of the blanket, he turned, swinging his leg over Cas, boxing him in to the ground.  “I’m gonna go ready the horses so you can get dressed.”
 
Cas grinned, covering his eyes with his arm, a laugh brimming over, warm and rumbly.
 
Dean pulled his hand away, kissing him again a bit more playfully this time.  Cas’ hands ran up his sides, then back down, settling on his hips with a gentle squeeze.  “Or we could stay here,” Dean grinned against his mouth.
 
“I wish,” Cas said back softly.  A sober look passed between them.  They were in no place or time for such things.
 
Dean kissed him one last time, then got to his feet, walking over to the horses.  The others had saddled the horses for them.  He stepped aside, peeing in some shrubs, and wondering if what he had just done was as outlandish as it felt.  With a grin, he tied his breeches closed and decided his life was entirely too short to give a damn.

 
********************************************
 
 
No one said a word about Dean or him joining the group late.  They had indeed walked slowly to give them time to catch up.
 
“Now that we’re all here,” Bobby smirked, “what’s the plan?”
 
Charlie turned in her saddle.  “Do you have any idea where this knife is?”
 
Dean and Sam shook their heads.  
 
“I’m guessing it’s heavily protected.  My grandfather wouldn’t come get it, even though he knows it’s in Lincoln,” Dean added.
 
“So, does this town have a boss or sheriff of some sort?  A main house or building they would hide something important in?” Sam asked.
 
Charlie frowned.  “I don’t hang around these places long.  I know Lincoln is run by demons, but I have no idea who.”
 
“We go to a bar and start asking questions,” Dean suggested.
 
Charlie’s face lit up.  “We could go to the trade station.  Every big town has a trade station.  It’s where out-of-towners go to trade, sell, or buy things.  It’s kinda the main hub.  We should be able to find out something.”
 
“It’s a long-shot,” Bobby sighed.  “But we knew it would be.”
 
They rode hard for a few miles.  Castiel enjoyed the quicker pace.  It felt good to finally be getting somewhere.  It seemed like a lifetime ago that they had been at the Campbells, learning about the knife.  They had finally made it.
 
They slowed to a walk, letting the horses catch their breath before they entered town.  He allowed himself a moment to truly think about what had happened last night and this morning.  He knew very well when he got into bed with Dean that he would wake up like he did.  But the need to be near him felt stronger than any pull he had ever had toward someone.  Never had he felt so drawn.  And by a human.  A male human.  While this was of no consequence to anyone else, it felt like a huge step to him.  Of course he felt attraction to men.  Most men did.  But Mages had breeding responsibilities.  If Dean were to be his mate, there was a lot to discuss.  But first, they needed to survive the task ahead.  
 
 
 

Chapter Text

Chapter 14:  Lincoln
 
 
 
Lincoln was a strange town.  The sky was Purgatory’s typical gloomy gray, with the thick stench of sulfur in the air.  People lurked along buildings, slunk in the shadows, or roamed in loud, bawdy groups.  The streets were hard-packed dirt, not turning to mud like the trails had, after the rain last night.  The houses were wooden, with small porches that led out onto the streets.  It was not as busy as Lebanon or the towns he had seen along the stops on the train they had ridden.  But there was industry here.  Like Stockville, the people he passed all looked human.  All of them stunk of sulfur.
 
They followed Charlie to a trade station.  A large building near the center of town where people came to buy, sell, or trade goods.  Charlie had warned them that some of the ‘goods’ might be humans.  She said this used to be a ‘black market’ practice.  But now they did it regularly.  Demons claimed Purgatory WAS the black market.  That the country was theirs, and demons needed new vessels.  It was what had finally stirred Charlie into a more active role against the demons.
 
Of course the act of humans as produce angered Dean, Sam, and Bobby.  Jo and Charlie were already familiar with the trade and loathed it.  He couldn’t blame them.  It was a horrific notion.  When Bobby compared it to sprites taking people for breeding, Castiel had to argue otherwise.  The humans who lived, and yes, bred, in Haven were well adored and respected, and able to leave if they wanted.  They cherished them for giving them life.  There was no ‘using them as vessels’ or eating them.  It was only moments like those that made Castiel feel like he was not one of the group.  Dean had not said a word.  He only listened.  That was last night as they were eating dinner.  Before they had kissed.

Castiel felt a blush come to his cheeks just remembering it.  They had kissed.  And it had been...amazing.  He had woken up so frustrated.  So homesick.  Wet.  Miserable.  Discouraged that he kept turning into a cat.  All he wanted was a moment of closeness with Dean like they had before.  He wanted it so bad that he wanted to scream.  But all he did was take a step toward Dean, who lay there so tired and understanding.  It had been a bit of a shock that Dean was that accepting.
 
And he had taken another step.
 
It still made shivers run down Castiel’s arms to remember waking up in Dean’s bed.  All his fear had evaporated with one simple tilt of his mouth.  A grin.
 
Castiel knew he was entering an unfair relationship.  Dean was a man.  If he made it back to Haven as Mage of Thursday...would Dean come with him?  Would he give up a life in Lawrence for a life in Haven?  Or would he give Castiel up?  Would he tolerate Cas breeding and stay as his mistress?  That thought almost made him laugh out loud.  No, that would not be happening.  But it truly was no laughing matter.  If Castiel did not have children, it would be as if he was wasting his level of grace for the next generation.  It would not be well received within his legion.  It only left one option in that case; he or Dean would become the one to carry the children.  It had happened in the past when nephilim were much more angel-like.  But would Dean be willing? He needed to research the process of changing a man’s anatomy to carry a child. He needed to go home. His legion was probably wondering where he was. And where was Gabriel? Did he have more plans for him?
 
He pushed the thoughts away as they walked through Lincoln.  He had more immediate things to concern himself with.  
 
And the benefits of their morning kiss outweighed any possible future problems.  His grace thrummed steadier than it had since his arrival in Lawrence.  He made a tree on the way into town blossom with ripe apples.  Dean had caught the test of his skills, giving Cas a wide grin.
 
“Good job, sparky,” Dean had smirked.
 
Castiel answered that ridiculous nickname with a full flame bursting from his palm.  It would have been more impressive had it not scared Connie and sent her into a nervous canter.
 
They had laughed, but all of them were eager to see his powers were returning.
 
As he followed Charlie and Jo through Lincoln, he could feel the presence of his wings for the first time in a long time.  He did not explore the abilities with them.  If a flame had scared Connie, sprouting wings might send her into a wild, galloping panic.
 
Charlie dismounted in front of the large trade station.  They all followed suit.  “Someone has to stay with the horses,” she said quietly.
 
Dean gave him a guilty look.  Castiel sighed.
 
He came around Impala’s rear end to talk to him.  “Cas.  You’d be the best one.  Only you can control six horses at one time.  And keep them calm.”  Sam came around the other side.
 
“My powers are returning!  I can help.  I can put the horses to sleep.  No one will be able to steal them if they won’t move.”
 
Sam nodded.  “It’s the kitsune I’m worried about.  They eat brains.”
 
Castiel frowned.  He disliked not knowing what was happening.  But the horses were important.  “Fine.”

 
 
****************************
 
 
Dean almost grinned at the thought of Cas stewing outside, getting bitchy.  The only reason he grinned was the thoughts of how he could cheer him up at camp tonight.
 
“Your head in this?” Bobby asked quietly.  
 
“What?  Yeah!  I’m good, Bobby.”
 
Bobby rolled his eyes but followed him around the vendor stalls.  
 
The plan was simple.  Split up and find out where the blade was...and be quick about it.
 
They bought two pints of beer at a vendor stall and stood along a counter, watching the crowd.  Bobby rolled one shoulder, his eyes moving quickly around the crowded building. A pang of guilt hit Dean for dragging Bobby into this mess. The poor guy should be relaxing at home, whittling toys to bring Adam for Winter Holiday. Instead, he was sleeping on the hard ground and risking his life to cover his and Sam’s asses.
 
“Bobby, thanks.  Thanks for everything.  To tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure we should have gotten you involved in this.”  
 
“Nonsense.  Yer daddy needs help.”
 
Dean chuckled softly.  “Yeah, but last time you saw him, you did threaten to blast him full of buck-shot.  Cocked the shotgun and everything.”
 
“Yeah, well, what can I say.  John just has that effect on people.”
 
“Yeah, I guess he does.”
 
“All that matters is we get him back.” Bobby pulled a flask from his jacket.  “Here ya go.”
 
“What is this?  Holy water?”  Dean asked, taking it.
 
“Whiskey.”  He pulled out a second flask.  “This one’s holy water.”
 
Dean grinned, taking a swig of whiskey.  It burned his throat and brewed hot in his belly.  “Damn, Bobby.  That’s some wicked stuff.”  He handed it back, Bobby taking a drink and making a face.  He tucked the flask away.  
 
Sam found them, glaring at them for drinking on the job.  “I just heard some people talking about who’s in charge here.  The demon, Azazel.”
 
Dean was shocked.
 
“Yeah,” Sam nodded, leaning in a little closer.  “He’s out of town.  It seems, he does that a lot lately.  But there’s another demon here in charge when he’s away.  Her name’s Meg.”
 
“Damn, boy.  You work fast!”  Bobby huffed, finishing his beer quickly.
 
“Dad mentioned a Meg before.  Do we know where Meg is?” Dean asked, knowing that was a bit much to wish for.
 
“Two streets over, in a white, three-story house.”
 
“Wow.  Sam you’re makin’ this easy.”
 
“Yeah, well, I was standing in line for pie and -”
 
“There’s pie?” Dean stood on tiptoe, scanning the rows.  “Where?”
 
Bobby smacked him on the back of the head.  “Round up Charlie and Jo.  Help Cas bring the horses that way.  Dean and I’ll get a head start, scope things out.”
 
Sam nodded, heading up one of the aisles.
 
“And get me some pie!” Dean yelled.
 
Sam glanced back but did not indicate he heard him or would do it.  
 
“Sam!  Pie!”
 
“Come on, ya knucklehead,” Bobby grinned.
 
After walking several blocks, they found the house.  Without a word, they went around the block, coming between houses behind it, cutting through a courtyard and inside a back door.
 
It was a public house, like the one he lived in.  People bustled busily around the kitchen, taking no notice of them.  He and Bobby skirted off to the side, staying out of sight.
 
“This ain’t gonna work,” Bobby whispered.  “We don’t even know which one she is.”
 
Dean bit his lip, glancing around.  Before he could come up with a plan, Bobby made one for him.  He turned and saw Bobby walk into the kitchen.
 
“One of you wanna direct me to Meg.”
 
Dean clunked his head against the wall he was near.  Dammit, Bobby.
 
After some initial freaking out, two demons took him through the other kitchen door.  Bobby kept saying he had an appointment with her, but they didn’t seem to be buying it.
 
Dean snuck out the back door, heading back to the trade station.  He met Sam, Cas, Charlie, and Jo walking the horses up the street.  He relaxed a bit, seeing they were all still safe.
 
“Where’s Bobby?” Sam asked.
 
“Bobby dove in head-first and waltzed in that house, tellin’ them he had an appointment with Meg.”
 
They all looked rightfully worried with such a plan.  
 
“Was that wise?” Cas said in astonishment.

“No!” Charlie said in shock as Jo and Dean shook their heads.

“I need a distraction,” Dean said, trying to put together a plan quickly.  “Something to clear that house enough to give me a fighting chance.”
 
They all stood there a moment.
 
“I have an idea,” Charlie nodded.  “Give me ten minutes.  It’ll work.”
 
Dean nodded.  “I’m goin’ back to the house.  Sam, you’re with me.  Cas, stay with the horses.”
 
“Jo can come with me,” Charlie added.  “I might need a hand.”
 
“Be careful,” Dean nodded.
 
“Dean,” Cas argued.  “I can help!”
 
“I know, Cas.  But somebody gets stuck with the horses.  And that’s you.”
 
Cas looked pissed, but Dean felt good about it.  He gave him a small grin before taking off with Sam.
 
They waited for several minutes between two buildings, when a loud boom rocked the ground.  Demons ran from the house to investigate.
 
“Damn, Charlie!” Dean muttered.
 
He and Sam quickly made their way into the house and through the deserted kitchen.  They crept down the empty hall, peeking into rooms.  At the stairs, they went up quickly.  In the hall, they did the same, peeking into room after room.  
 
Dean leaned into a bedroom, when the door slammed, crushing his shoulders in the doorframe.  He dropped the holy water, huffing at the crushing pressure.  The door opened and he fell to the floor.  A man stood over him, raising a stake to drive it through his chest.
 
“Not a vamp!” Dean yelled.
 
The man hesitated.  Sam flew through the door, tackling the other man to the floor.  Dean scrambled to his feet as Sam pinned the stranger down.
 
“Hold ‘im!” Dean yelled, pouring holy water on the man’s face.
 
He sputtered, coughed and...nothing happened.
 
Sam looked confused.  “Are you a hunter?”
 
“He is.”
 
Dean, Sam, and the man on the floor turned to look at the doorway, where Bobby stood with a woman.
 
“Bobby!”  Dean and Sam exclaimed.  
 
“Hey Bobby!” The man on the floor grinned.
 
Sam got off him.
 
“Isaac.  Good ta see ya,” Bobby nodded.  “Tamara found me down in the basement.”
 
The man chuckled, getting to his feet.  “Of course she did.”
 
“Friends of yours?” Dean asked, feeling lost.
 
“Yeah.  Tamara and Isaac are old hunting buddies of mine.”
 
“Nice ta meet ya,” Dean barely smiled, rubbing his shoulder.  “You hit like a fucking train, by the way.”
 
Isaac grinned, stepping past him to shake Bobby’s hand.  “Meg will be back soon, I’m sure.  Let’s get ready.”
 
They went down to the basement, drawing a devil’s trap on the ceiling.  Bobby got back in the chair the demons had him tied to before Tamara freed him.  “She’s the thin blonde.  And she’s a real smart-ass.”
 
They had just hidden by cabinets and boxes, when the door opened with a grating squeak.
 
A thin, blonde woman walked into the room with a sneer on her face.  Another man came in behind her, closing the door with a thud.  She circled Bobby.  “Right where I left you,” she said in a sultry tease.
 
“Funny, you’re right where I want you to be,” Bobby grinned.  He bolted from the chair the second she looked up at the ceiling.
 
“How the -”
 
Isaac and Tamara were quick and brutal, staking the other demon to the floor.  
 
The stake was of Paolo Alto wood, Bobby explained.  Dean had heard of it, but never seen it used.  The sacred wood held the demon to the vessel it was in, knocking the demon out until they could recite an exorcism to expel it.
 
Meg was a real bitch.  There were no two ways about it.  Sam and Dean tackled her into the chair, tying her in tight. Isaac drove a stake into her, trapping the demon even further.  It might have been overkill to restrain her in the trap, but it made Dean feel better. They started questioning her, but she was a complete pain in the ass.  First, she swore John was dead.  Going on about how he screamed and cried while the demons killed him.  She acted like a knife that killed demons was a ridiculous myth.  
 
“I think she’s lying,” Dean said with a lot more bravado than he felt.  He yanked the stake out of her, smirking as she winced and spit blood on the floor.
 
“Me too,” Sam and Bobby said just as confidently.
 
“Guess we’ll just gank her,” Dean shrugged.  “Read it, Sammy.”
 
Sam opened their dad’s journal to an exorcism and began reading it.  Meg fought the urge to, what looked like, puke the demon out.  Sam stopped.  “Where is he?!” Dean yelled.
 
She panted, her head hanging as she glared at him while he paced back and forth.  
 
“Nothing to say?” Dean grinned.  “Carry on, Sam.”
 
Sam began again.
 
The chair they tied Meg to, violently slid side to side in the trap of the circle, as Meg huffed, screamed, and shivered from the words.
 
“Alright!” She screamed.  “He’s with Azazel!  Azazel took him!  He’s in a warehouse...but I don’t know where.  Azazel moves around a lot.”
 
Dean threw holy water on her, eliciting a slew of swear words as her skin disintegrated and smoke rose, filling the room with a disgusting stench.
 
“Where is he!” Dean demanded again.  “Where’s the knife!”
 
“That’s everything.  That’s all I know.”  Meg panted in the chair.  She looked spent and utterly defeated.
 
“Finish it, Sam.”
 
Sam gave him a worried look.  “Dean, maybe we can use her.”
 
Dean clenched his fists tighter.  He didn’t have time for this shit.  “She’s a demon, Sam!  She doesn’t know any more.”
 
“She might!”
 
“She’s lying!”
 
Sam gave Meg a pitying look.  “Dean...”
 
“You’re going to kill her,” Bobby warned.  “The human.  The body.  Who knows how long she’s been in that body?”
 
“Listen to me.  We are gonna put her out of her misery.  Sam.  Finish it.”
 
Sam began reading again.  
 
“NO!!!  You said you’d let me go!” Meg screamed.
 
“I lied!” Dean yelled back as Sam read on.  
 
Meg twitched, moaned, screamed.  Sam read on.  Finally, amongst screams, black smoke billowed from her mouth, straight up into the devil’s trap.  The room trembled around them until the smoke was gone.
 
Meg’s head dropped limply, and blood ran from her nose.
 
Sam and Dean exchanged a look.  Bobby looked slightly shell-shocked.
 
A tiny moan and gurgle came from Meg.
 
“She’s alive!”  Sam ran over to her, Dean pulled out his knife, cutting the ropes.  Sam eased her onto the floor.
 
“Are you okay?” Dean asked, taking her flailing hand.  
 
“It’s been a year,” she whispered.
 
“What?” Sam asked.
 
“I was awake for some of it,” she said through broken, shallow gasps.  “I couldn’t move my own body.  The things she did...”
 
“It’s okay,” Sam assured her, cradling her shoulders to help her sit upright.  
 
“Get help!” Dean yelled.
 
Bobby gave him a level look.  He was not going to get help.
 
Dean felt shocked at first.  He looked back down at the woman.  She was dying.  Her hand’s tight grip was losing strength.
 
“Where’s the demon-killing knife?” Dean asked.
 
“Dean!” Sam balked.
 
“It’s here.  The green cabinet...it moves.”  She gasped and coughed, crying out in pain.
 
“Where’s John?” Bobby asked.
 
She gasped from pain, squeezing Dean’s hand, and grappled to hold onto Sam’s jacket.  “The colt.”
 
“Where?” Bobby asked.
 
Meg gasped.  “Take the Colt.  It’ll kill Azazel.”
 
“The what?”  Dean asked, giving Bobby a frantic questioning look.
 
Bobby was confused too.  “Where is the sheriff from Lawrence?” He barked.
 
“J...” she coughed, crying out as tears ran down her face.  “Lisbit.”  She coughed, panting hard.  “Elizabethville.”
 
“Where in Elizabethville?” Dean demanded, feeling her hand go limp.  Her chest slowed its rapid rise and fall.  She looked up at Sam.  “Thank you.”
 
“I’m so sorry,” Sam apologized, tears running down his face.
 
“S kay.”  She grinned weakly as her hand fell from Sam’s jacket and Dean realized she no longer gripped his hand at all.  “S-sunrise.”
 
“Sunrise?” Bobby asked, squatting down.
 
“What’s that mean?” Dean asked her.
 
Nothing.
 
Her eyes had lost something.  Her chest lay still.  She was dead.  
 
Sam choked a sob, pulling her small frame against him in a hug.  “I’m so sorry.”
 
Dean lay her hand gently on her lap.  He stood up, forcing a mental wall between the unfair death of this woman and the mission.  He couldn’t do anything for the woman.  She was gone.
 
Sam fought back more tears as he laid her gently on the floor.  “Dean?”
 
“It’s too late, Sammy.  She’s dead.  Let her go.”
 
Bobby was already on his feet, boots thumping across the wood floor toward the green wooden cabinet.  “Dean.  Help me move this.”
 
“She’s dead!” Sam wiped his face off, rocking slightly.
 
“Sam,” Dean gripped his little brother’s shoulder.  “This wasn’t our fault.  She was a demon.”
 
Sam fought to pull himself together.  Dean got up.  He should have sent Sam home with Adam.  Sam had only been on a few hunts.  They were vampires.  Easily identified as monsters.  Demons really messed with your head.  He shook his head in frustration as Bobby met his gaze.  
 
“Help me.” Bobby pushed the cabinet, Isaac and Dean helped him.  Behind it was a low doorway.  Tamara ducked inside.  
 
Dean ducked in behind her.  “I need light.”
 
Tamara lit a match.  Dean wished Cas were here with his palm-size flame.  He watched as she moved around the tiny room.  There were a lot of odd things on shelves.
 
“Should we just take all this?” Tamara asked.
 
“Probably, but we only have room for a knife and a colt.  Whatever the hell that is.”  Dean stopped her, pushing her arm back an inch.  “Think this is it, Bobby?”  He picked up a knife, showing it to Bobby, who crouched in the doorway.
 
“Looks like a good possibility.  This etching in the blade is Enochian.  That was the language angels used.  Can’t imagine anyone wanting to kill a demon more than an angel would.  And Samuel said a sprite made it, so Enochian fits.”
 
Dean handed it to him.  
 
“This might be the colt,” Tamara said, handing Dean a gun with a long, skinny barrel.  Dean turned the gun over in his hand.  He saw the word Colt etched into the stock.
 
“Must be.”
 
“Here, it was in this box, with these bullets.”
 
Dean put the gun in the box, closing it.
 
“We gotta go!” Isaac yelled.  “There’s two demons outside the door!”
 
Tamara grabbed a few things as Dean came out of the little room.  They waited for her to come out with a bag full of whatever else the demons were squirreling away in there.  
 
The door rattled with demons pounding on it.  Bobby pulled out the knife.  “Guess I’ll give this a whirl.”  Bobby opened the door; Isaac knocked the first one out immediately.  As the other lunged into the room, Bobby sunk the blade in its chest.  The demon looked down at his chest in alarm.  His body jolted with electric shocks, twitching several times before falling to the floor dead.  Vessel and demon.
 
Bobby turned around with a big grin.  “It works!”
 
“Sweet!” Dean grinned.  “Let’s go.”
 
“We can’t just leave these bodies here,” Sam said, not moving out like the rest of them.  
 
“Sam,” Dean said, exasperated with him.
 
“I got this,” Isaac said.  He pulled a flask out of his jacket, sprinkling salt on the dead bodies.  Bobby knocked over an oil lantern, spilling oil and flame on the floor.  They ran, darting out of the house quickly.
 
Across the street from the house, they regrouped with Charlie, Jo, and Cas.
 
“There he is,” Isaac said, stopping dead in his tracks.
 
Dean followed his gaze as a demon with a red jacket ran into the house.  “He’s the one we came to Lincoln for.”
 
“We gotta go,” Charlie urged.
 
Tamara and Isaac exchanged a determined look.
 
“We can’t go in there,” Bobby said firmly.  “We need to leave town!”
 
“That’s the demon that killed my cousin Rae.”  Tamara pulled a stake out of her jacket.
 
Bobby looked torn, wanting to help his old friends, but knowing they should leave while the gettin’ was good.  “We can wait for him ta run back out.”
 
Dean took a step forward.  His upbringing taught him that when someone helps you, you return the favor.
 
“What did I just say?  We’re gonna tail ‘em.”  Bobby snapped.
 
“We just gonna sit here with our junk in our hands?” Dean bitched.
 
“We’re no good dead!” Bobby snapped again.
 
“Bobby, I don’t think that’s an option,” Sam pointed.
 
They all looked back to the house.  Isaac and Tamara were heading in.  Both had shotguns in their hands.
 
“Dammit!” Bobby punched the fence they had semi hidden behind.  “What are they doing?”
 
“This place will be crawling with demons!” Charlie backed up a step.  “That’s suicide!”
 
“Damn fools!”  Bobby swore.
 
Cas took a deep breath, holding his hand out.
 
Dean could see three groups of demons coming from the right.  A small pack of kitsune coming from the left.  Shots rang out from down the street.
 
Dean grabbed Cas’ arm.  Cas opened his eyes wide, giving Dean a shocked look.
 
“What are you tryin’ to do?  Save your magic.  You can’t.”
 
“We HAVE to get out of here!”  Charlie hissed, pulling Cas’ sleeve.
 
“Now!” Jo demanded.  “Or we’ll all be dead by sundown.”
 
Bobby gave the house a last look of bitter frustration.  “Damn fools!”
 
“I can do it!” Cas snapped, shaking Dean’s hand off.  “I...” He squeezed his eyes shut, hunching his shoulders in straining concentration.
 
“Cas!”  Dean reached to grab him, and he was gone.  Vanished.  “What the hell!”  Dean panicked, turning toward the house.
 
Dean lunged toward it but got nowhere as Bobby and Sam both held him tight.  “CAS!!!”
 
Cas reappeared with Tamara and Isaac.
 
Dean’s eyes damn near popped from his head in amazement.  Cas crumpled immediately, blood running from his nose.  Dean fell to his knees as Bobby and Sam let him go.  He caught Cas just before he hit the ground.  “Cas!  What did you do?”
 
Sam and Bobby went to collect Isaac off the ground, wafting smoke away and patting out his sleeve that was on fire.  He was bleeding and clutching his side.
 
All Dean remembered was shoving Cas onto Impala’s saddle and holding onto him as they took off.  Cas tried to hold on, tried to stay upright, but he collapsed into Dean’s arms before they even cleared town.
 
They galloped for miles before they stopped, hiding up in a thicket of trees.
 
Dean handed Cas down to Bobby and Jo, who lay him up against a tree.
 
Sam lowered Isaac down to Charlie and Tamara.
 
The horses were puffing with exhaustion.  Everyone moved quickly, pulling out supplies to stitch and bandage Isaac.  Cas, well, Cas was a different type of hurt.  He looked as white as snow, making the blood running from his nose look all the brighter.
 
“Cas!” Dean said shakily.  He wiped the blood away, noticing it had slowed down.  “Cas.  Come on.”
 
Isaac groaned as Sam and Tamara started stitching.
 
Charlie came to Cas’ side, opening a bag of herbs.  She dug around as Dean tapped Cas’ face to try and rouse him.  “Charlie, he’s not waking up.”
 
“I know,” she said gently, pulling out a small clump of leaves bound in twine.  Jo knelt on Cas’ other side, taking the bundle and pulling some out.  She ground it between two rocks quickly, obviously having helped Charlie with this before.  Charlie put her hand flat on Cas’ chest.  “He’s breathing, Dean.  I think he just zapped his mojo.”
 
Jo waved the smeared leaves under Cas’ nose.  Cas’ eyes fluttered open as he gasped for air.  Blood spluttered from his mouth and he coughed.
 
“Cas!” Dean grinned,  “You’re okay!”
 
Cas wiped a hand across his mouth heavily, blinking slowly.  “I got them.”
 
“Yeah, you got them, you stubborn son of a bitch,” Dean laughed humorlessly.  “You damn near killed yourself doing it!”
 
“M okay,” Cas slurred, his eyes closing again.
 
Seeing him fading fast, Dean got right in his face, his head held in his hands.  “Cas!  Talk to me!”
 
“Dea’,” Cas whispered.  “I’m K.  Sleep.  Sorry.”
 
“Cas!”  Dean glanced at Charlie, panic in his eyes.  Back to Cas’ face, he leaned in, kissing him.  “Cas, stay with me.”
 
Cas smiled faintly and passed out.
 
“Dammit,” Dean sighed, holding his head more tenderly.
 
“He’s okay, Dean,” Charlie said softly, putting a calming hand on his back.  “He just blew all his power doing...whatever he did.”
 
“Just...” Dean frowned miserably, “stay with me, Cas.”
 
Dean jumped slightly as Cas’ body began sinking.  He watched in panic as he shrunk.  “No! No! Cas!”
 
His worrying hands stilled as he sighed.  Cas was a cat again.  Limp and sleeping.  He picked him up, stroking his fur.  He cradled the cat in his lap.  “Aw...Cas.”
 
Charlie gave him a baffled look.  “He needs another witch.  Someone stronger than me.  Like Missouri.  You said you know her?”
 
“Yeah,” Dean gathered the cat in his arms more comfortably, kissing his soft, black head.  “It’s okay,” he murmured, reassured by the rise and fall of the cat’s tiny chest.
 
“Maybe he rests better that way,” Jo guessed.
 
“I don’t know.  I just hope he turns back.  That’s what scares him.  Every time he changes, he panics that he won’t change back.”
 
“He will.  If I can’t fix him, Missouri will,” Charlie assured him.
 
“Got any witchy stuff for me?” Isaac groaned.
 
“You’re lucky I don’t put a boot in that wound,” Bobby growled, glaring at the man fiercely.  “You put my boys in danger.  You put us all in danger.  For the sake of revenge!”
 
Tamara looked up from Isaac’s wound.  “He deserved to die!”
 
“Well, we don’t!” Bobby roared.  “You get my boys hurt and you will wish you were dead!”
 
Sam got to his feet, stepping in front of Bobby.  “We’re okay, it’s gonna be okay, Bobby.”
 
“Damn fools!” Bobby spat bitterly.  “Cas ain’t okay!  You coulda -” Bobby cut himself off, pacing away.
 
Tamara exchanged a nervous look with Isaac and Dean.  After a few tense moments, she looked over at Dean again.  “What’s his deal?” She asked, pointing to Cas.  “How’d he do what he did?  He just...pulled us out of there!  And why did he change into a cat?”
 
“It’s complicated,” Dean snapped.
 
She put her hand on the pistol at her hip.  “He a shapeshifter?  A familiar?  What’s the deal?”
 
Sam cocked a gun before Dean had even seen him move.  “I think our road together ends here.  You two are on your own.  No more questions.  No more anything.”
 
Everyone on their feet took a slow step back.  Bobby stared at his old friends with disappointment.
 
Tamara nodded, picking up her bag.  Isaac, stitched and cleaned, sat against the tree, still holding his side.
 
Sam put the gun away and everyone mounted silently.  Sam took Connie’s reins.  Tamara had ridden her out of town and Cas couldn’t ride her now, so Sam put her on a lead line to follow behind him and Challenger.
 
“See you gents around,” Tamara said.
 
Bobby took a deep breath, keeping himself calm.  “Tamara.  The world just got a whole lot scarier.  These demons are gonna come after you.  War is coming.”
 
She nodded solemnly as they rode away, leaving the hunters on their own.
 
 
 
***********************************
 
 
 
They rode hard for several hours, getting as much road as possible between them and Lincoln.  Killing Meg, stealing the demon-killing knife and the colt put them on the map.  Things would only get more difficult from here.
 
Cas stayed a cat all day.  Dean had him back in his flannel shirt sling, touching him frequently to make sure he was breathing.  He had been feeling so good this morning.  So rejuvenated.  It worried Dean immensely the risks the sprite would take for them.  He didn’t even know Tamara and Isaac.  And while he was sure they were good people, good hunters, it was an insane risk for two people Cas didn’t even know.
 
They camped high off the road that night, not lighting a fire.  Cas woke up before Dean fell asleep.  He got a few head nods yes and no, reassuring Dean that he was okay.
 
By morning, Cas was human again.
 
Dean woke to the beautiful sight of Cas’ pale face on his shoulder, sleeping soundly.
 
“Cas?” He whispered, running a hand over his black hair.  Cas blinked awake sleepily.
 
“Dean,” he whispered back, grinning.  “I’m okay.”
 
Dean hugged him close, kissing his forehead, his cheek, his mouth.  “You had me so worried.”
 
Cas, still smiling, opened his eyes more fully.  “I’m sorry I worried you, but I’m fine.”
 
His color looked better and he breathed easy.  Dean grinned even more when Cas’ hand slid up his chest.  “No more of that.  That sprite magic.  It wipes you out.”
 
Cas gave him a patient smile.  “I saved those hunters.  That’s a good thing.”
 
“Yeah?  Well the price was too heavy Cas.  I need you.  I...I want you with us.  Promise me you won’t do that again.”
 
Cas nestled his head in tighter to Dean’s neck.  “I promise I won’t fly into a fire for those hunters again.”
 
“Fly?  Is that what you did?” Dean asked.  His hand smoothed down Cas’ shoulder, down his side and stopped on his naked hip.
 
“Yes.  I had my wings again.”  Cas looked up at him with a proud grin.  “I had my wings again, Dean!  I’m going to get better!”
 
Dean turned onto his side, putting them face to face.  “I’m glad, Cas.  But...”
 
Cas nodded.  “I understand.  I won’t take a risk like that again.”
 
Dean wanted to make him swear to it.  And in some ways he had.  He was not above guilting Cas into safer actions.  “You promised you’d help me.”
 
Cas immediately looked contrite.  “I am.  I will.  I do promise.”
 
Dean nodded, leaning in to kiss him.  He was so glad Cas was himself.  That there was no damage.  That he was here.  And his.
 
For now.
 
He studied Cas’ face, just watching him.  Cas grinned, touched his lip, then touched Dean’s.  Dean’s mouth felt like a million tiny points fizzled, felt clean, and refreshed.
 
“Dude...did you just brush my teeth?”
 
Cas chuckled.  “I did.”
 
Dean ran his tongue over his smooth teeth.  His mouth felt fantastic.  “Can you do my whole body?”
 
Cas grinned, touching his shoulder.
 
Fizzles erupted everywhere with a wave of warmth.  Dean’s head felt incredibly better.  He put a hand to his clean hair, sighing.  “That is freaking amazing.”
 
Cas ran a hand over his chest, pulling up to lean over Dean.  “Yes, it is.  I took it for granted for far too long.”  He leaned down, kissing him.
 
“You gotta give everybody a shower!” Dean laughed.  It blew his mind that in the midst of the worst place he’d ever been, under the most stress he had ever had, that Cas could still make him still smile.
 
There was little to do as they all got up.  They had not really made camp.  More like dropped everything and slept.  Cas gave everyone ‘showers’, everyone loving that he had the ability again.  It made Dean happy to see everyone accepting Cas so easily.  Even Cas sleeping with him had seemed accepted by everyone.  Thinking back, he realized he had been the one that gave Cas a hard time.  He was glad he had decided to put his trust in him.  The stranger that really had never been a stranger at all.  
 
They saddled and mounted, heading back to the road with weapons ready.  They would have to move quickly today.  They were lucky to have gotten the few hours sleep that they did.  

 
 
 
 

Chapter Text

Chapter 15:  The Road to Elizabethville
 
 
Sam had bought seeds at the trade station in Lincoln.  Dean still felt baffled at all his little brother accomplished in such a short amount of time at the market.  Though he continued to badger him for not getting him any pie.  Cas grew apples and bananas for everyone, and Dean handed out blocks of cheese that he had packed as they set out on the road again.  
 
Rain started to fall heavily, making the roads a filthy, muddy mess.  Thunder rumbled from behind them.  The mud was slowing them down a great deal.  It would take two more days to ride north to Elizabethville.  
 
When the rain poured down so hard they could barely see a foot in front of them, and Cas reported to the others that the horses refused to go any further in the terrible conditions, they stopped under the protection of some trees, huddling together on a log.  
 
“I’ve never been in this area,” Charlie said quietly.  “I’ve heard this area can be pretty rough.”  
 
They all nodded dubiously.  
 
Dean looked exhausted.  He had slept very little last night, and he fell asleep against Castiel’s side almost immediately after sitting down.  Castiel took his hand, holding it firmly.  He was not too sure he could manage it, but wanted to make Dean feel better.  He summoned his grace, letting it build in his chest.  From his palm to Dean’s palm, he let it flow with measured patience, sending energy and vitality into Dean.  He eased the flow, pulling back until he gently ended it.  He hoped it would do something to invigorate him.  A moment later, Dean woke.  He stretched, giving Castiel a friendly grin.  “Man, I needed that nap!  I’m ready when you guys are.”
 
Castiel grinned.  He really should ask Dean before he used his grace on him, but for the moment, he just enjoyed Dean feeling refreshed.
 
“We need to wait out this storm,” Jo cautioned.
 
Castiel waved a hand above them, weaving the branches snugly to make a canopy for them to stay dry.  Everyone sighed with some relief.  “I can dry you,” he grinned.
 
“Ooh, do me!” Charlie grinned, standing up.
 
He touched her forehead.  Her hair blew back slightly and she and her clothes were dry.
 
“Amazing!” She grinned, hugging him.  Castiel hugged her back, grinning.  He was a bit more used to her frequent hugging than he had been.
 
“Anyone else?” He asked.
 
“Yeah!” They all nodded, some more hesitantly than others.  
 
He waved a hand across the group and they were all dry.  Everyone marveled at how easy it was.
 
“Cas, your powers are getting so much stronger!” Charlie noted.
 
“Yes, I don’t even feel fatigued from that.”  He sat back down, next to Dean.  
 
“Show off,” Dean grinned, bumping his shoulder.
 
“It was nothing,” Castiel admitted.  “When I’m at full strength again, I can do much, much more.”
 
“Yeah?”  Dean grinned harder, pushing a piece of Castiel’s hair back.
 
Castiel blushed just thinking about what he could do to Dean.  He wondered what Dean knew about ‘sprite’ sex practices.  He knew for a fact that nephilim were capable of doing more than humans were.  
 
“What are you grinnin’ about?” Dean asked, watching him closely.
 
Castiel blushed hard, he could feel his cheeks painfully heat up.  
 
Dean raised both eyebrows and glanced around at the others.  “Never mind,” he said under his breath, smirking.
 
Cas nodded, looking down, as to not have to explain his current state to anyone else.  He reined the thoughts in and tempered the grace that started to flow without his permission.  He blew out a breath and concentrated on the task at hand.
 
They sat for close to twenty minutes before the rain slowed to a drizzle.
 
“Let’s go,” Dean said, watching the road through the trees.  “We can’t stay dry forever and we probably still have demons following us from Lincoln.”
 
Back on the side trail Charlie said would be safer than the main road, they moved as quickly as was safe for the horses to plod through the mud.  They covered a good bit of distance before the next interruption to their progress.
 
Castiel never heard them coming.  If they had been coming at all.  For all he could tell, they rode right into a trap.  Before he could even figure out why the horses were all stopping, some of them rearing up, at least fifteen vampires surrounded them.
 
There was a lot of shouting from both sides.  Teeth bared by the vampires and weapons bared by the humans.  In true Thursday fashion, Castiel waited to gain a better grasp on the situation.
 
Jo, whose horse had reared and unseated her, making her fall to the ground, was the first to attack, cutting a vampire’s arm to the bone with a machete.  The vampire wheeled backward, another grabbing her, disarming her, and holding her around the waist and by the hair.
 
 
“Hold it right there!” Bobby shouted, bow in hand, arrow nocked.  “Stop.  This arrow’s dipped in dead man’s blood.”  Castiel quickly assured the fearful horses that their humans would protect them. Their harsh snorting was followed by feelings of nervous tension. The vampire stopped, everyone freezing.  Sam also had a bow ready, and Dean had a machete poised to attack, already dismounted.  The feathers of Bobby’s arrow were red, a sign that they were in fact dipped in dead man’s blood.
 
“Jordan, wait,” one of the vampires said, walking forward.
 
Castiel noticed the look of shock on the vampire’s face, keenly aimed at...Dean.  Dean looked even more shocked.  Dean lowered his machete, stepping forward.
 
“Benny?” he whispered.
 
“Dean...what are ya doin’ here, brotha?”
 
“Are you a...vampire?” Dean asked in disbelief.  “Are you alive?”
 
Dean lowered the machete completely at this point, and Benny came right up to him.  Castiel had the strong urge to hurt the monster.  He reasoned it was because the monster was entirely too close to Dean, putting him in danger, but a truer reason had to do with that sigil the two shared.  And the fact that they had been together before.  Power surged inside him, making Connie step nervously.  He clenched his fist, knowing he needed to wait.
 
Benny hesitated to answer him, glancing at his fellow vampires.  “I died.  I no longa have a pulse.  So yeah, I am a vampire.”
 
“Benny,” Dean stammered.  “We burned you.  We gave you a hunter’s funeral, Benny!  How?  How is this even possible?”
 
“My momma.  She helped me ‘die’ to everyone in Lebanon.  Truth is...I got bit on a hunt.  Sloppy, really.  Took on too many by myself.  Anyhow...I came home, and Momma helped set it up so it looked like I died.  Burned another man instead.  A prisoner that I...well...I killed.”
 
Dean took a step back.  
 
“I jus couldn’t disappoint everyone.  I’d ratha die in their minds than end up...like I am.  So, I left.  Came to Purgatory.  Where I belong.”
 
“Benny...”
 
Benny shrugged, tugging his cap down a notch.  He turned to the vampire still holding Jo.  “Letta go.”
 
The vampire snarled but released Jo.  She stumbled forward, into Charlie’s arms.  The pair glared at the vampire vehemently and he glared back equally as hateful.
 
“You coulda told me, Benny,” Dean said bitterly.  “I burned you.  I held your mom while she cried.”  Dean’s voice shook with anger, and more that Castiel could not fathom.
 
Benny nodded.  “Sorry, brotha.”
 
Dean looked away, looking at the faces of the other vampires.  “I oughta kill all of you.”  He looked squarely at Benny.  “Even you.”
 
“Likewise,” Benny countered solemnly.
 
They all stood there silently for a moment.  Finally, Benny stepped back.  “Let ‘em go.”
 
“Benny!” One of the other vampires snapped angrily.  “We need the food!”
 
“No!” Benny snapped back viciously.  “They pass.  No one touches any of them.  That’s my word and it’s final.”  He turned back to Dean.  “Was good ta see you Dean.  Neva expected ta see you in Purgatory.”
 
“Likewise,” Dean echoed.  His anger seemed to abate.  His shoulders relaxed and his head dropped some.  Castiel would guess the sight of his friend this way had made him sad.  Dean pulled up his sleeve, holding his hand out.
 
Benny softened, smiling at his old friend.  He pulled his sleeve up as well and the pair clasped arms.  They spoke quiet words between them, but Castiel could still hear them.  Benny had simply said, “Brotha.”  Dean had nodded.  “Good luck, Benny.  There’s a war coming.  I hope I’m not your enemy next time I see you.”  Benny smiled sadly.  “You could neva be my enemy, Dean.”  The pair released their grip and all the vampires stepped back, some disappearing with lightning speed, into the woods.
 
The three off their horses mounted, while Sam and Bobby put their bows away.  They left, walking out of what surely would have been a bloody battle.
 
Castiel appreciated the kindness Benny had bestowed on their group, but it did nothing to dissuade the power surging in him and the want to smite him where he stood.  They walked away, leaving the vampires behind.
 
Castiel said nothing and Dean stared ahead, lost in thought.
 
It reminded him how different he and Dean truly were.  They were not even the same species.  The thought rode bitterly in his gut as they traveled further north into Purgatory.
 
 
 
*************************************
 
 
 
The road climbed steeply as they passed into the mountains.  The air was fresher as they got out of the thick of the woods.  The mountains were bleak, with little around but scrub brush and trees growing at twisting, odd angles in search of water or sun.  There was never a question here that he was not at home.  The dirt was different.  The quality of the air.  The wildlife.  The water.  Everything seemed tainted with the slow death Purgatory seemed to be floundering in.  Having crossed a mountain range, they rode downhill for several hours, winding their way into a swamp.  The air got heavier and bugs swarmed in clouds.
 
“Did you ever wonder if maybe monsters aren’t really that bad?” Sam mused.  “And they’re just pissed because they have to live here?”
 
Dean huffed a laugh.  “I’d say it’s more than that, Sammy.”
 
Sam nodded, pulling slimy vines off his thigh that had flung against him as they rode through a particularly swampy area.
 
“The horses are exhausted,” Castiel warned the group.
 
“Yeah, well this isn’t a walk in the park for us either,” Charlie sighed heavily.  “When we get out of this swamp, we should walk, give them a break.”

“They are complaining very loudly,” Castiel said, frowning at Challenger, who whinnied, tossing his head in annoyance, Impala matching it.

“Come on, Baby,” Dean said softly, stroking her long neck. “I’m sorry. We’ll get out of this shit as soon as we can.”
 
It was late.  Dusk was creeping into the sky and there was nowhere decent to stop to camp.  Everyone was tired.  Everyone was grouchy.
 
This fucking sucked.
 
And then there was the bugs.  Mosquitoes came by swarms.  Leeches kept attaching to the horse’s legs.  Ticks crawled under their clothes.  Beetles flew into them stupidly, sometimes landing and crawling on them, other times just plowing into them and falling.
 
Cas was constantly keeping bugs away, energizing the horses, in general, he was constantly using his magic.  
 
All six horses staggered to the right at the sudden blast of a gun.
 
Dean whipped around in his saddle.  Bobby stared down into the knee-deep sludge of swamp.  “Is that?”
 
“A fucking alligator,” Bobby yelled.  “A fucking alligator just tried to bite my horse’s friggin’ leg!”
 
The body of the alligator began to sink.  Dean watched with shock as Cas jumped down, wading quickly over to the alligator.  He gripped the giant reptile by the mouth and snapped his fingers.
 
Dean jumped as the food bag next to him plumped suddenly.
 
Cas dropped the deflated looking gator, with a grin.  He turned back to the startled looks of the group.  “Dinner,” he shrugged.
 
They hadn’t had meat in several days, so that sounded awesome to Dean.  His stomach gave a growl in response.
 
“There’s trees up ahead,” Jo said, moving forward again.  “Maybe there’s dry land too.”
 
They pushed on, hoping for land.  
 
It was dark by the time they found land dry enough to stop on.  Cas busied himself immediately cleaning and bedding the horses.  With a wave he dried everyone, cleaning them as well.  Everyone sighed at the comfort of clean, soft clothes over their clean bodies.  They waited as Cas put together food for dinner.  No one even questioned eating the strange meat.  They were all hungry and tired.  They had a small fire that he and Sam managed to put together, so all Cas had to do was dry out the wood.  
 
“Take it easy, Cas,” Dean said softly, pulling Cas down next to him.  He could see the drain using so much magic was doing to him.  “You’ve done enough, dude.”
 
Cas sat down, sighing.
 
The closeness he had felt with Cas just this morning, was now frosty to say the least.  Cas seemed pissed.  He didn’t hide his emotions at all.  You could read the guy like a book, even if he was quiet as a mouse.
 
He didn’t have to ask what the problem was either.  The problem had been rattling around in his head since he had walked away from Benny.
 
Benny.
 
Alive.
 
He sighed, running his hands over his face.  He didn’t want to talk about it.  He didn’t want to think about it either.
 
Cas jumped, turning back, looking into the woods.  Bobby and Charlie got to their feet quickly.  Dean jumped just as suddenly, looking into the dark.  
 
“Someone is coming,” Cas whispered.
 
Dean had his machete in his hand.  “How many?”
 
“One, I think.”
 
They all stood for a long time, watching, and listening, but they heard nothing more.
 
Finally, after hearing and seeing nothing, they settled back down around the fire.  Hopefully, whatever it was would be scared off by their numbers or the fire.  Charlie put up hex bags and sigils around them, but they only kept out so many things.
 
Charlie and Jo settled into sleep.  Cas and Bobby too.  Dean was too antsy, so he and Sam took first watch.
 
After an hour, Dean found himself nodding off.  He got up to walk, hoping to stay awake at least one more hour.  Sam did the same, circling the small camp with him.
 
“I can’t believe we saw Benny today,” Sam said quietly.
 
Dean sighed.  He so didn’t want to talk about this shit.  “Yeah.”
 
“Think Cas got a little jealous?” Sam chuckled.
 
Dean gave him a sidelong look.  “You know he can set you on fire with a snap of his fingers, right?”
 
Sam shrugged.  “He can do a lot of things with the snap of his fingers.”  He shivered slightly.  “Sprite magic is awesome, but it freaks me out when he cleans us up.”
 
“Mm,” Dean had to agree.  It did feel weird.  “Try kissing one.”
 
Sam stopped in his tracks, giving him a curious look.  “What do you mean?”
 
Dean shrugged.  He didn’t like to kiss and tell...but damn.  “Cas can...push...feelings onto you.  Ya know, like when you’re gettin’ all hot and bothered.  He can push that feeling onto you.  It makes it...”
 
Sam looked fascinated.  “Is he making you feel something you don’t?  I mean, he is a sprite.  They can be tricksters.”
 
“No, no.  And he doesn’t always do it.  I think it just...leaks out of him.”
 
“Wow.”
 
“Yeah.”  Dean laughed, continuing their walk.
 
A rustle in a nearby bush caught them both off guard.  It knocked Sam off his feet.  Dean raised his machete, hesitating at the old hag of a woman in ragged clothing that backed off Sam.  “What the hell, lady!”
 
Sam was back on his feet, the woman looking slightly scared of him.  She cowered away a step with raised hands.
 
“GUYS!” Sam yelled, waking the others.  
 
Dean would kick himself later for his naïve hesitation.  Because he was dumb enough to let his guard down, the woman grabbed his wrist, a spike shooting into his forearm.
 
He jerked back, but she was a lot stronger than she had any right to be, her iron grip not budging.  She slapped a hand to his forehead.  Dean’s body flared into light.  The tiny writing from his contract flared bright.  The woman jumped back, looking stunned.  
 
Dean’s eyes went wide in shock as Sam beheaded her.  She crumpled to the ground, her head rolling back under the bush.
 
“What was it?” Bobby yelled.
 
“A wraith,” Dean and Sam both yelled back.  Bobby nodded, running back to his bag.  He came back, stabbing a silver knife into her heart, sighing with relief.
 
Sam grabbed Dean by the sleeve.  “What happened?” Everyone stared at him.  “What lit up all over you?”
 
Dean hesitated, holding his arm to his chest as blood ran from the puncture wound.  Cas was suddenly next to him, taking his arm with firm hands.  He covered the wound with his hand.  Dean winced at the bizarre feeling inside his arm.  Cas wiped his hand over his forearm, wiping it clean.  No wound.  Not even a scar.
 
“Thanks,” he muttered.
 
Cas stared at him expectantly.
 
Dean pressed his lips tight together.  Cas wanted him to tell them.  But he didn’t want anyone to know.
 
“Why did your body light up like that?” Sam asked, turning Dean to look at him.  “Wraiths don’t do that!”
 
“That was a contract,” Charlie said, taking any options from him.
 
“What kind of contract?” Jo asked.
 
“A demonic contract on his soul,” Charlie answered.  
 
She immediately looked suspicious of him, making Dean instantly pissed.  He knew this would be a fucking problem.
 
“What?” Sam and Bobby gasped.
 
“Dean!” Sam blanched even further.  “What did you do?”
 
Dean licked his lips, sliding his eyes across the group.  Fuck.  There was no way out of this clusterfuck.
 
“Dean!” Sam yelled.
 
“In Needham,” Dean shrugged his shoulders, hating to talk about this.  “Crowley.  He wasn’t gonna let us travel.  I...I bartered my soul for passage all the way to purgatory and back for all of us.”
 
Bobby and Sam looked as livid as Dean imagined they would.
 
“YOU DID WHAT?” Bobby roared.  “You stupid son of a bitch!”
 
Dean nodded.  Yeah.  He had that coming.
 
“You sold your soul?” Sam asked, fear making him weak in his knees.  “What does that mean?  What’s going to happen?”
 
Dean shoved the dead wraith’s body toward the bush with its head.  “Means when I die, my soul goes to Crowley.  I go work for him.”  He pulled a bag of salt out of his jacket, scattering it on the body.  Better safe than sorry.  No one wanted this bitch rejuvenating during the night.
 
“Charlie, can you fix him?  Can you get him out of the contract?” Sam asked desperately.
 
Charlie shook her head no.  “Sorry.”
 
“Dammit, Dean!” He yelled, pacing away.
 
Dean lit a match, dropping it on the body.  The flame smoldered, almost going out.  Cas held his hand out, engulfing her in flames.  Dean looked up at him.  His face was pensive in the firelight.
 
Seeming to feel his gaze, Cas met his eye.  Flames reflected in them, giving Dean chills.  
 
Cas turned to the group.  “I intend to do whatever I can to end this deal.  Or the demon.”
 
“You knew?” Sam lashed out.  
 
“Cats are good at overhearing things they shouldn’t,” Dean said.  Truth was, he never would have said anything around Cas if he had known he wasn’t just a cat.
 
“Can you help him?” Bobby asked.
 
“I will do everything I can,” Cas nodded.
 
Bobby shook his head.  “I oughta kick yer ass, boy.”
 
Dean met the man’s angry brown eyes.  “I know.”
 
“Freakin’ Crowley!” Bobby spat, walking back to the fire.
 
Dean hung his head.  Part of the shame in making the deal was this.  Everyone knowing Crowley owned his soul.  That he had become marked and had no real way out of it. Maybe Cas could help. Maybe not. But he had wagered his soul. This problem was his own doing.
 
“Why?” Sam asked him.
 
Dean jerked slightly, not even realizing Sam was still standing there staring at him like the loser he was.  “For Dad, Sam.”
 
“For Dad?  Because Dad would want that?  Because he’s worth more than you are?”
 
“Sam,” Cas said, warning in his voice.
 
Sam threw his hands up in frustration, walking back to the fire.  Now no one was sleeping.
 
Great.
 
Dean had a tortuously long night.  He refused to lay down, just sitting, staring at the fire.  He was screwed.  And everybody knew it.
 
 
 
*****************************
 
 
 
Morning lit the sky weakly.  Cas stood across from the fire, taking turns staring at the flames and at him.
 
“You didn’t sleep, did ya?” Bobby groaned.
 
Sam sat up, rubbing his eyes.  He looked no more rested than when he finally went to bed.  
 
“Nah.  Killed another wraith,” Dean smirked.  Cas glared at him.
 
“I didn’t even hear it!” Bobby said, shocked.  
 
“That’s because it was way out in the woods, where he was walking alone,” Cas noted.
 
Dean sighed.
 
“Why were you way out there?” Sam asked, getting to his feet.
 
“Hey, I figured, the first one couldn’t kill me, so maybe nothing can.”  He grinned, tossing a log on the fire.  
 
“Are you outta yer mind?” Bobby snapped.  “You do NOT need to look for trouble in PURGATORY!  It’s all around you!”
 
Dean sent Cas a withering look.  Yes, he had gotten pissed and took a walk.  And yeah, he was looking for trouble.  And he found it.  Another wraith, skulking far out from camp.  And he had killed it.  Cas had heard the fight and came running.  And he had healed a nasty gash from falling with the bitch, but hey, he killed a wraith.  And he wasn’t dead.
 
“Tamara told me about a hoodoo priest outside Shreveport.  She might be able to help you get out of this demon deal.”
 
Dean stifled a frustrated sigh.  “Nah.”
 
“Nah?” Sam repeated, incredulously.  “What does that mean?  Nah?”
 
“No hoodoo priests, Sam.  No side trips.  We’re going after Dad, and that’s that.”
 
“Dean!”
 
“Sam,” Cas interrupted, putting a calming hand on Sam’s shoulder.  “I promise I will help Dean find a way out of this deal.  He’s safe for now.  Right now, we need to find John.”
 
Dean frowned.  “Man...don’t make my brother promises you can’t keep, Cas.”
 
Cas pinned him with a wide-eyed look of rage.  His hand came off Sam’s shoulder as he stepped up to Dean, putting himself nose to nose with him.  “I WILL get you out of this deal, Dean.  One way or another.”
 
Shocked at his vehemence and awed by the surge of grace he could feel rolling off the sprite, Dean swallowed.  “Alright, Cas.”
 
He stared at him only a few seconds before turning back to Sam.  “I will not let his soul be taken.”
 
Sam nodded.  “Thanks, Cas.”  Without even looking at Dean, Sam turned and headed toward the fire, sitting with Jo.
 
Cas gave Dean another long look.  “Enough.”
 
Dean kept his mouth closed.  He wouldn’t let anyone talk to him like that.  But Cas was right.  He needed to reel it in.  Taking risks to get himself dead quicker was a bad plan.  For everyone.  He watched as Cas went back to the fire, asking Charlie what she wanted for breakfast.  As Cas began making something, the others all gave him that look.  That look that people give a loaded gun.  The look when a wet dog is about to shake on you.  Nervous.  Like he was a problem.  He walked over to Impala.  He started to brush her, but ended up slumped against her shoulder.
 
He was going to die.
 
He was going to lose his soul.
 
And he had done it to himself.
 
“Dean.”
 
Dean flinched at the impatient, hard edge to Cas’ voice.  He didn’t want a lecture.  He didn’t want to argue.  He didn’t want to defend why he knew he was going to lose everything.  Cas wanted too much from him.  It was too big.  Save all humans from demons?  Save sprites from demons?  There was no way he could hold up through it all and get the job done.  And his big fat reward?  His soul would go to Crowley.
 
Cas pulled him away from Impala, hugging him.  Dean didn’t want to hug him.  He hugged him back tight.  He didn’t want to be here.  He tucked his nose along Cas’ neck.  He smelled so good.  He always smelled good.  Like cinnamon and fresh linen.  He didn’t want to fall in love with a sprite.  His hands rubbed up Cas’ back, sliding down to his hips.  “I don’t wanna die, Cas.  I’m sorry.”
 
Cas’ hands were steady.  “You are going to die an old man.”  Cas took his face into his hands, staring into his eyes with that prodding grace.  “Surrounded by your family.”
 
“You don’t know that,” Dean said bitterly.  Hating the traitorous tear that slid down his cheek.
 
Cas swept it away with his thumb.  “Have a little faith, Dean.  My powers grow stronger every day.  I do not make my promises lightly.”
 
Dean nodded gently, Cas’ hands still holding him fast.  Cas was right about one thing.  He was getting stronger.  Cas might be able to help him.  If nothing else, he was helping his dad.  And Sam.  And, all of humanity and all the sprites, it seemed.
 
Dean pulled to hug him again but Cas held him fast.  
 
“I need to know right now if you truly have faith in me.”
 
Dean had faith in nothing.  He felt his chin wobble as his mind screamed ‘No!  I have faith in nothing!  We’re all gonna die!  I’m going to disappoint the whole friggin’ world!’  But there was light in Castiel’s eyes.  An inhuman glow that radiated strength that made Dean’s insides quiver.  He swallowed hard.  The deep-down dark truth was that he needed Cas.  He needed his help.  His power.  And the look in his eyes that only Dean got.  And if he admitted it to himself, he needed him so bad because he knew he was the only way out of this fucking mess.  But even more than all that, he just outright wanted Cas with him.
 
“I do,” Dean swore.
 
Cas pulled him in, kissing him soundly on the mouth.  “I will take care of you, Dean.” He kissed him again, grace pulsing through, filling Dean’s lungs with warmth.  “I swear it.”
 
“I know,” Dean sniffled, kissing him back.  Just as Dean fell into the wash of grace that swallowed him, Cas pulled back.  Dean stepped forward, Cas wrapping his arms around his shoulders.  Dean took charge this round, kissing him hungrily.
 
“Get a room!” Bobby yelled.
 
Dean and Cas gasped slightly, stepping apart.
 
“Aw, I was gonna sit down with a tub of peanuts and watch that!” Charlie laughed.
 
Jo whistled.
 
Dean stepped a little further away from them, pulling Cas with him.  “I need you to keep them off my back about the deal.  I can’t fight demons, kitsune, werewolves, wraiths, AND my own crew.  I’m gonna lose my shit, Cas.”
 
Cas frowned.  “I don’t want you to lose anything.”
 
By the look of confusion, Dean knew he had lost him.  “I meant, I’m gonna lose my temper.  I’m gonna mess everything up because I get mad and yell.  Just...help me convince them I’m gonna get my soul back.”
 
Castiel nodded.  “I will.”  Dean bent forward, kissing Cas again.  He could crawl in a hole somewhere and do this all day and night.  The world could disappear.  Guilt for his father pulled him back.  It had been a regular kiss, none of the sprite magic to swallow him.  Cas kissed him once more, sighing as he pulled away.  His blue eyes sparkled with more than Dean could handle.  He closed his eyes and took a steady breath.
 
“We have far to travel today,” Cas said softly next to his ear.
 
Dean nodded.
 
Cas’ grin softened as he ran his hand through Dean’s hair gently.  Dean hated that Cas often gave him a look like he wanted to fix him.  He hated that he needed fixed.  He sighed, tipping his head into Cas’ hand.  “Let’s get out of here.”
 
 
 
******************************************
 
 
 
They walked the better part of the day, encountering multiple monsters on the road, mostly vampires or demons.  One berserker spooked the horses, sending Connie and Impala both into a frenzied gallop as Challenger struck it with his hooves and Bobby shot it.  It ran off back into the woods.  They regrouped and left the thing, not needing the added task of hunting after it.
 
Castiel healed two injuries on the horses when they stopped to camp.  Neither were too serious and he was pleased to note that his energy did not drain like before.  In fact, he felt just as good as he had felt before healing them.  If his grace was getting back to its former strength, the demons did not stand a chance.  He patted Impala’s smooth neck as she nuzzled him.  
 
“You are quite welcome,” he grinned, answering her thankfulness from healing her leg.  “It is no wonder Dean loves you so much.  You are a beauty, with a strong mind.”
 
She watched him, touching his chest with her large muzzle.  A wave of love washed over him, making Castiel chuckle.  “I know you love him very much.  He knows as well.”  He stopped short at her sudden, firm ‘no’.  It followed with a different wave of love and Castiel melted inside.  “You love me too?”  He felt extremely honored.  Horses were not like dogs.  They were like most other animals.  They might love a person in their life.  Two or three at the very most.  Impala had great love for Dean and Sam.  To be a part of that filled his heart with unexpected joy.  He hugged her large head to his chest briefly.
 
“I am honored, friend.”  He touched his forehead to her sleek, black fur on her forehead.  “I love you as well.”
 
Jo giggled from beside him.  “Aw.”
 
Castiel patted the horse, turning to Jo.  “She is a very fine horse.”
 
Jo raised her eyebrows, thinking him odd, surely.  “So, how is your magic doing?  Are you getting better?”
 
“Quite,” he admitted.  “I have healed two of the horses from minor injuries, made dinner, cleaned everyone, and I feel just as strong, as far as my grace is concerned, as I did when we got here.”
 
Jo beamed.  “That’s great!  So...what kind of stuff can you do?  Besides food and healing?”
 
Castiel turned to the small clearing of their campsite.  He pulled in a deep breath, reaching out with his grace.  He grew the grass tall, catching everyone’s attention as they all noticed the grass at their feet grow as tall as their knees.  They all looked at him with some surprise.  He smiled, pulling the growth back, shrinking it down.  So far, his grace thrummed happily.  He waved a hand, all the trees circling the site burst into bloom, he waved his hand back and the leaves swayed, drying from tip to stem, turning colors of red and orange then to brown, falling.
 
Everyone stared at the trees in awe.  He took another deep breath, pushing with his grace as the trees budded, bloomed and were full again.  He lowered his hand with a satisfied grin.
 
“That was amazing!” Jo cheered.
 
The rest of them still blinked around the campsite with some wonder.  Cas waved a hand, clearing all the dead leaves back into the woods.  Dean gave him a smirking grin.
 
“Sprites really are powerful,” Sam said in a hushed voice.
 
“Yeah,” Dean smirked harder, “We can bloom our enemies to death and bring them dinner.”  He gave Castiel a challenging grin.
 
Castiel tipped his chin down with a little grin of his own. Challenge received.  Dean really was difficult to impress.  He turned his palm up, the trees igniting in roaring flames.  He grinned as they all ran back a few steps, looking on in shock.  He closed his fist, putting the flames out.  As the smoke cleared from the branches, they bloomed and grew leaves again.
 
Dean turned to him in awe.  That was more like it.  He grinned as Dean stood there, staring at him.  He watched as several limbs from the closest trees grew long, wrapping around Dean’s ankles, trapping him where he stood.
 
“Hey!” Dean yelled, the others looking at him.
 
The limbs wrapped up his legs, his torso, and his over his shoulders.
 
“Cas!  Cut it out!”
 
Castiel laughed, enjoying flexing his newly returned grace.
 
Castiel lifted his hand, the limbs carrying him in their tangled weave to the top of one of the trees.
 
“Dean!” Sam yelled, running toward the tree his brother was in.  “Cas, stop!”
 
Castiel grinned.
 
“Dammit, Cas!” Dean yelled, “Put me back down!”  Charlie and Jo laughed at his predicament, while Bobby gave him a scowl.  
 
Castiel lowered him back to the ground and snapped his fingers, the branches dissolving to dust.
 
Dean stepped away from the spot, looking slightly shaken, while Sam dusted him off.
 
“What the hell?” Dean exclaimed.
 
“I wanted to be sure you knew I could do more than bring flowers and dinner when I wanted to,” Castiel explained, chuckling.  Jo and Charlie seemed quite amused, still laughing.
 
“Okay, okay!” He laughed, ruffling dust from his hair.
 
Castiel laughed at his state, cleaning him with a wave.
 
“Woooo!”  Jo cheered, clapping.  “That was awesome!”
 
Bobby and Sam relaxed quite a bit, giving Castiel a look of shock tinged with worry.
 
“Glad you’re on our side,” Bobby said, stepping back.
 
Castiel grinned.  Yes, they should be glad.  If the demons and nephilim ever joined forces, the humans would not stand a chance.  Castiel frowned at the thought.  What if that did happen?  What sort of chance would Purgatory stand with such a war?  Let alone Freeland or Lawrence.  They would fall so quickly.
 
“What is it?” Charlie asked, always so intuitive.
 
“I...” He hated to even give the words voice.  Besides, it would only worry his group more.  But it was something he needed to check into.  Such an alliance must never form.  The results could reshape the world. Again. “I just wanted to be sure you knew I was up to the challenge that awaits us in Elizabethville.”
 
“Noted,” Dean barked.
 
“Yeah, we’re glad you’re on our team, Cas,” Sam assured.
 
“You better watch your step there, Dean,” Charlie giggled.
 
Dean glared at her.
 
“What?” She shrugged.  “You’re the one snuggled up to a sprite at night!”
 
Dean rolled his eyes but came up to Castiel regardless.
 
“I would never use my grace against you,” Castiel assured, not wanting Dean to ever feel afraid of him.  
 
“You better not.”  Dean grinned, “you still can’t outrun a bullet.”  
 
The thought shocked Castiel slightly.  But he thought he might be able to disappear between to where his wings were, quick enough to get away from a bullet.  He did not want to test the theory though.
 
“Just kidding,” Dean said low, chucking him on the chin.
 
Castiel grinned.  Dean could be so endearing at times.  
 
“So, what else can you do?” Dean asked, stepping into his space, the others moving over to the fire to settle in for the night as the sky darkened.  “Any powers I might benefit from instead of get splinters from?”
 
Castiel reached out, pulling him in the last step by the collar of his shirt, putting an arm around him.  He put his hand on Dean’s chest, spreading the warm feeling that he felt in his own chest.  Dean blinked, feeling the rush of affection he felt.  His cheeks flushed and his hands wrapped gently around Castiel’s shoulder and arm.
 
“W-what is that?” Dean whispered.
 
“It’s how I’m feeling,” Castiel explained, letting the adoration and affection flow.  He watched with fascination as Dean’s breath hitched and then came in quicker puffs.
 
“Feels...good,” Dean grinned shyly.
 
Castiel’s feeling flared at the sweet smile.  Dean sucked in a breath, his eyes flying to meet his.  His jaw was slack now and his eyes were greener than Castiel had ever noted them to be.  
 
Castiel pulled his swelling emotions back, not wishing to overwhelm him.  It was like watching a balloon slightly deflate.  Dean’s grip on him tightened.  As his emotions pulled back, Dean drew forward with them until their mouths met.
 
Castiel grinned into the kiss, hugging Dean to him.
 
Dean pulled back a moment later, eyes still so full of expression and words on the tip of his tongue.  But he said nothing, stepping back.  Of course, what was there to say?  There was obvious attraction between the two.  They had been through so much already.  The words were not necessary.
 
“Can you...read me, or whatever you call it?  Like you do with the horses?”  Dean asked quietly.
 
Castiel concentrated on the thought.  “Perhaps.  I’ve never done it before, but I could try.”
 
“No,” Dean held a hand up, grinning slightly.  “Not now.  I just wondered if you could.”
 
Castiel slid his thumb across a smattering of freckles on Dean’s cheek.  “Yes, we should try it sometime.”
 
“Maybe somewhere private.  Ya know, when we aren’t in constant danger,” Dean grinned.
 
The pair stepped apart, Castiel waving a hand to put out their bedroll.  Tonight, Castiel decided to forgo the appearance of two separate bedrolls.  Dean’s lay on the ground with Castiel’s as the top cover.
 
Dean, coming back from checking on the horses only grinned when he saw the bed.  Castiel realized with a new level of awareness, just how attached to Dean he was becoming.  He longed to touch him.  Thoughts of him clouded his mind day and night.  Nephilim of Thursday were not known for behaving like this.  They were among all the nephilim, considered, to be stoic with bouts of sadness.  They watched and listened, judged, and felt driven to find and deliver the truth.  And while he did feel all these things...he felt so much more.  He felt a bond with all five of these people.  Even Adam, who he had not seen for weeks now.  He gave Dean a curious look as he pulled his clothes off to get in bed.  His smooth skin shown in the moonlight, marked with a few scars and the sigils that peppered his forearm.  Dean made him feel more like a human than he had ever felt before.  Dean made him nervous, frustrated, happy, safe, and vulnerable.  It was like tumbling down a hill.  A saying tickled his awareness.  Was he...falling in love?  A wash of heat pounded against his chest and his heart beat quickened.  His palms felt sweaty.
 
He frowned down at his palms.  Nephilim did not sweat.  Ever.
 
Was he more human than angel in his lineage? Was this why his emotions were running so rampant? But his powers were so strong.  Gabriel had said so.  Did that not make him more angel than human?
 
Dean was in the bed by now, hands behind his head, waiting in a relaxed, stretched out pose.  He watched him as curiously as Castiel knew he was watching Dean.  
 
Whatever his lineage was, it did not matter tonight.  Tonight, his companion was awaiting with a patient grin.  Castiel got in the bed, settling next to him with a mixture of familiarity and it still being so brand new to be able to touch him.  Sometimes he felt like this entire experience was too unreal to be true.  As if merely touching Dean would burst the dream and he would wake up in Gabriel’s library, having never met a human.  He swallowed hard at the thought.  Unable to stand the idea, he put his hand on Dean’s chest, taking a deep breath as the solid body and warm skin did not disappear.  Dean frowned with worry, pulling one hand from behind his head to cover Castiel’s hand on his chest.
 
“You okay?” Dean asked softly.
 
“Yes,” Castiel sighed.  “Sometimes I worry that none of this is real.  That I haven’t really met you.  That I’m still in Haven.”  It all came out in a rush and he blushed admitting such ridiculous thoughts.
 
Dean squeezed his hand.  “Same.”
 
Castiel blinked, realizing Dean was not joking.  That his eyes met his with the same slightly frantic look he felt.
 
Dean licked his lips, looking down at their hands.  “Like I fell and hit my head.  And instead of making out with a sprite, I’m lying in bed like a cabbage and Donna is taking care of me.  Or a djinn has me strung up somewhere and I’m just hangin’ there dying.”
 
Just the thought gave Castiel chills.  “No,” he assured Dean, scooting closer.  “This is no djinn.  No trick of Gabriel’s.”
 
“No, you’re right.  It is real.  Only my luck would put something as amazing as you in my life when I have a newly acquired expiration date.”  He grinned sarcastically.
 
Castiel went up on one elbow, staring into the bitter look in Dean’s eyes.  “You still doubt me.”
 
“No!” Dean sobered.  “I know.  You’re going to save my soul.  I know.”
 
“It’s true,” Castiel assured him.  There was a look of almost-belief in Dean’s eyes.
 
“See why I think I’m being poisoned by a djinn though?” Dean laughed short.  “My magical boyfriend is gonna save the day.  Sounds insane, right?”
 
Castiel could feel his cheeks heat and the wave of adoration swell within him.
 
Dean, watching him, grinned.  “I threw you off there, didn’t I?  Boyfriend?  It was that word, right?  Not ‘magical’ or ‘saved’ or ‘insane’...”
 
“No,” Castiel whispered, a smile spread from ear to ear, from his heart to his soul.  He leaned down, kissing Dean, who was grinning just as sagely.  “It was definitely the word ‘boyfriend’.”  They allowed themselves a quiet, dirty kiss.  After that, only because there were others around, Castiel lay down, snuggling into Dean’s side.
 
“Good night, Dean,” Castiel whispered.
 
“Night, Cas,” Dean whispered back, petting a hand through his hair with constant, soft strokes.
 
 
*************
 
 
Castiel woke to Dean running his hand down his side.  He yawned, rolling over to see how large Dean looked to him.
 
Dammit.  He was a cat again.  
 
Rather than fear the unexplainable or fight the state of his body, Castiel got to his feet.
 
“It’s time for our watch,” Dean said low, his voice warm and scratchy with sleep.
 
Castiel nodded his understanding.
 
“You gonna do watch with me as a cat?” Dean asked.
 
As if Castiel could just swap back to his human form!  Like he had not tried!  He glared, his head tilting.
 
“Alright,” Dean scoffed.  “Don’t get your breaches in a twist,” he grinned.
 
“Oh...no breaches for kitties,” he taunted.
 
Castiel growled.
 
Dean’s face lit up.  “You just growled at me!”  He leaned down, whispering, “if you were in your normal body, I bet your face would be all smitey and you’d be glaring like -” Dean grinned, looking at his narrowed eyes.  “Yep, like that.  It’s hot, ya know.  When you aren’t a cat.”
 
Castiel growled again, fighting a fucking purr from rumbling out.  He followed Dean as he laughed at his own jokes.
 
“You two good?” Bobby asked, glancing down at Castiel.
 
Castiel nodded back.  He trotted off to circle the camp.  He did enjoy watching camp as a cat.  He could move so quickly and quietly.  He could smell and see very well.  The only thing he did not like, was that he was powerless.  His grace would not manifest when he was in cat form.
 
He met up with Dean.
 
“See anything?” Dean asked.
 
Castiel shook his head no.  All was quiet.  They sat side by side for a while, watching the woods and down the slope to the road below.
 
An hour into their watch, a group of vampires passed by, using the road.  Dean and Castiel exchanged a look.  They sat perfectly silent and none noticed them or their sleeping comrades.  
 
Half an hour after the vampires had passed, Dean cleared his throat.  “I don’t know if it bothered you or not that I saw Benny again.”  He swallowed, staring into the dark woods, not meeting Castiel’s eye.
 
“I know it bothered you.  I could tell.  But...I still kinda can’t believe I saw him again.  He was supposed to be dead.”  Dean sat for several minutes before speaking again.  “I just wanted you to know for sure that I am in no way still attached to him.  I mean, it’s cool he’s still alive.  I think.  And...I’m glad he let us go.  I’m very glad I didn’t have to kill him.  And I don’t know that I would see him in the veil.  I mean...we could talk or whatever.  But I’m totally over him.  Over the relationship we had.”  Silence stretched for a few minutes.
 
“I just wanted you to know.”
 
“I am sure you -”
 
Dean jumped, gasping, and raising his machete at Castiel.  Unsurprised to catch Dean off guard, he lowered Dean’s machete.  He had changed back and got himself dressed by grace as Dean went on about Benny.  Now, with Dean so distracted, he had startled him.
 
“Shit!” Dean yelped, pulling the blade away.  “You need a damn bell!”
 
“As I was saying,” Castiel clarified, getting them back on point, “I am sure you would have much to talk about.  My jealousy was unfounded.”  Castiel could not help but frown.  “I will admit, the sigil bothers me.”
 
Dean nodded.
 
Castiel gave his boyfriend a reassuring grin.  “But I will get over it.  I promise.”
 
Dean grinned back.  “Yeah?”
 
“Yes,” Castiel grinned.  “You were friends.”
 
“Yeah.  Before and after we were...a thing.”
 
Castiel pressed his mouth in a firm line, studying Dean.  “You have new friends now.”
 
Dean looked at him with a slow grin.  “Yeah.  Better friends.”
 
Castiel copied his grin, turning back to the woods.  Charlie and Jo did seem like good friends.  And he himself would do anything for Dean.  He knew Bobby and Sam felt the same way.  Dean deserved to be surrounded with good people.  At least for as long as it could last.
 
He propped his chin on his forearm, staring far into the trees as he ran his thumb back and forth over the sigil on his arm.
 
War was coming.
 
 
********************************
 
 
Dean wiped his machete off.  The horses crowded into the center of the ring they made around them, eyes wide and crying out in fear.  They were barely on the road an hour before Leviathan attacked them.
 
The black ooze that was their blood was revolting.  He wiped his blade again on the headless body in front of him.
 
Bobby panted hard, having killed two himself.  Black speckles covered his face, chest, and arms.  Charlie quieted the horses closest to her as she watched the woods.  She had killed three, Jo killing another three, including the one that damn near bit his head off.  He didn’t even know what they were when they surrounded them.  They looked like humans until the one Dean was closest to opened his mouth and his whole friggin’ head turned into a giant, monstrous mouth of razor-sharp teeth!  They were one thing to read about, but completely another to witness.  Jo had chopped its head off as he stood there stunned at how they transformed.  After that, it was a blood bath.  
 
Cas had fought them off too, killing three or four.  He started off with a machete but lost it in a scuffle, instead, putting his hand on their head and a white light shot into it, killing it.  Still, the guy coulda lost a hand if Sam had not been right there helping him.  It was all any of them could do to keep up.  They just seemed to keep coming out of the woods by twos.  
 
“Cas?” Sam called, dropping to his knees.
 
Cas and Dean both quit watching the woods as they went to Sam.  Dean glanced all over his brother immediately, seeing what Sam was in pain about.  “You got bit!”
 
Sam cradled his left hand to his chest, his jacket already covered in Leviathan blood was now turning red with his own.  Sam rocked in pain.
 
“Let me see it,” Dean said, his own hands shaking already.  Sam winced, blew out a breath and lifted his right hand away.  Dean winced as well.  A set of huge teeth marks gashed open Sam’s hand; half of his hand looked marred beyond repair.  “It’s okay, Sam.”
 
Sam covered his hand, curling in on himself.  “It hurts!  Shit!  Am I gonna turn into a Leviathan?”
 
Dean was trying to steady him when Cas grabbed Sam’s jacket.  “Sam.  I’m going to help you.”
 
Sam cried out again and Cas touched his forehead.  Sam slumped over, Cas catching him to lay him down.
 
“How bad is it?” Bobby asked, he, Jo, and Charlie were still watching the woods and calming the spooked horses.
 
“It’s bad,” Cas said, taking Sam’s hand into his.  A white light glowed between their hands while all Dean could do was stare.
 
The light surged until Cas panted, opening his hands.  “I’ve stopped the bleeding and removed the poisonous Leviathan blood.  I mended the bones but -”
 
“CAS!”  Dean jumped, beheading a Leviathan that lunged at Cas.  Cas had crouched, covering Sam as Dean stumbled over top of him to take on the next one, but its mouth opened in shock, eyes shooting white light from them.  Dean squinted, seeing around the harsh light that Cas had grabbed it by the back of the neck.  They both let the dead thing go, turning back to Sam.
 
“We gotta get out of here,” Charlie ordered.  “Can he be moved?”
 
“Yes,” Cas said deep, lifting Sam into a sitting position.  He snapped his fingers, cleaning Sam’s wound and clothes.  He touched his forehead again and Sam sat up, taking a huge breath, and blinked around in a daze.  He looked down at his hand, which Dean quickly wrapped in a shirt.  “Don’t look at it, Sammy.  Cas still needs to fix it but we gotta get outta here.”
 
Sam nodded.  “Thanks, Cas.”
 
Cas nodded gravely, turning to the woods.  “We’ll have to ride hard to lose them.”
 
Charlie and Jo mounted.  “They’ll report us to the demons,” Jo added.
 
The rest of them mounted.  The horses were more than willing to run.  They rode hard for hours; losing the demons to the wild, twisting roads and thick woods.  Sam stayed quiet, keeping his hand tucked away.
 
When they stopped for lunch, Cas sat with Sam, holding his hand in that white light again.  Sam squirmed at times, frowned a lot, and then seemed better.
 
“I need to do more,” Cas said, sighing and taking the water Dean offered him.  “There are muscles that still need mended, but I need to save my strength.”
 
Sam nodded.  “It doesn’t hurt, so thanks, Cas!”
 
Cas slumped down with a relieved grin and fell asleep.  Dean sat next to his brother.
 
“That was close.”
 
“Yeah,” Sam huffed, unamused.  “I coulda lost my whole friggin’ hand!”
 
Dean gripped his brother’s arm, not saying anything.  If he had lost Sam...He couldn’t even finish the thought.
 
“At least if I died, you know where to find me,” Sam said tightly.  “What if something happens to you, Dean?  We’ll never see you again?”
 
Dean squeezed his eyes shut, face turned down to the ground.  
 
“What would I tell Dad?  Adam?  Shit.  What would I tell Mom when I see her in the veil?”
 
Dean let go of Sam.  “You tell them...nothing.  Cas is gonna fix this.  He promised.”
 
“What if he can’t?”  Sam looked close to tears.  “What if he gets killed?”
 
Charlie squatted down in front of the two.  “Sam, Dean did the only thing he thought he could do.  I have an entire coven that will help if something happens to Cas.”  She put a hand on both of their knees.  “No one is tearing this group apart.  Not Crowley, not anyone.”  She nodded, standing up as both brothers watched her walk back over to Bobby.  
 
Dean turned to Sam.  “I’m sorry I let you down, Sam.  If...if I don’t make it to the veil, tell Mom I’m sorry and give her a hug from me.”
 
Sam shook his head no.  “You hug her yourself.  Charlie’s right.  And I won’t stop for anything to get you out of that deal.  Crowley picked the wrong fucking family to mess with.”
 
“Huh, ain’t that the truth,” Bobby piped in.  
 
Dean met his fierce gaze.  “Family is stronger than anything that smarmy demon can throw at us,” Bobby insisted, still looking pissed.
 
Dean got to his feet uncomfortably.  Everyone was rallying to fight for him, which was awesome and heartwarming, but it also stressed Dean the fuck out because it put them in danger.  Besides, as much as they all loved him, Crowley was a shrewd and damn-smart demon.  The entire thing made him want to drink.  Or just shut down.  Or fight the world.  All three notions always swam fitfully in the back of his mind.  
 
He glanced down at Cas, sleeping against a tree, spattered from head to toe in Leviathan blood. He wiped his own face off, his sleeve covered in grime.

They needed to get the fuck out of here.

 
 
 

Chapter Text

Chapter 16: Elizabethville
 
 
 
Elizabethville was barely a town.  It reminded Dean of the war camps his dad would read about when he and Sam were younger.  In the War of the Peoples, humans didn’t settle as they did today.  They often had camps that moved with the weather or the herds.  The lands were all wild and ravaged from the warring angels.  During the First Summit, angels, humans, and monsters met and decided on borders.  The angels left, sinking the land strait behind them.  It took much longer for humans and monsters to settle their territories, warring after the summit and dividing into what life was like today.  Though, times seemed to have changed again.
 
Elizabethville was a collection of tents and rickety looking buildings that scattered out from a central point.  “What is that in the center of town?” Dean asked.  He squinted as hard as he could but could not make out what lay in the circular center of town.
 
“Beats me,” Bobby muttered.
 
Cas squinted too, straining to see enough detail from their vantage point on a mountain ridge above town.  “I believe it’s a lay line.  A focal point of sorts.  There is an altar and a clear, circular patch of dirt with demonic writing on it.  I can...feel the demonic energy here.”
 
Charlie shuttered beside him.  “How will we find him?”
 
Dean frowned.  All this way and his dad was somewhere in this tangle of tents and crappy buildings.  “Meg said he was in a warehouse.  And something about a sunset.  He must be in one of the buildings.”
 
“Sunrise, not sunset.  If it matters.  And that narrows it down to 12 choices, If the warehouse is one of the buildings,” Sam sighed.
 
“We should split up,” Charlie suggested, pulling a dagger out of her hilt.
 
“No,” Castiel frowned.  “We should stay together.  We barely stand a chance as it is.  They highly out-number us.”
 
“Right,” Charlie countered.  “If we’re caught, we’re screwed.  We should split up and sneak in.  Do our best to not alert them to our presence.  Then, whoever makes it, frees John.”
 
Bobby frowned.  “I don’t think so.  I ain’t backing a plan based on people not making it out.  We just need to think about this.”
 
They all stared at the mess of tents with buildings here and there.  There weren’t even roads to follow in.  It was a chaos of pale tents.  They could see demons going about whatever it was demons did all day.  They looked like ants crawling around an ant hill.  Busy.  Industrious.  And they needed exterminated.
 
“We could try to blend in.  Act like demons,” Sam suggested.
 
Castiel shook his head.  “They would know immediately.  I can see part of their true faces.  I believe they would spot you easily.”
 
Dean studied the sprite for a moment.  “That mean they can see that you’re a sprite?”
 
Cas tipped his head back and forth.  “I am unsure.  They did not recognize me in Stockville.  However, my grace was much weaker then.”
 
“Friggin fantastic,” Dean muttered.
 
They had ridden a long way today.  Now that he could see the town, his worries were mounting.  How would they get his dad out of this mess?
 
 
 
*************
 
 
 
They all pulled back from the rise of rocks they leaned against overlooking the town below.  They squatted on the ground behind them, forming a circle.
 
“I have an idea,” Charlie said, “but you aren’t going to like it.”
 
“What is it?” Sam asked, looking as eager as Dean.
 
“I can use John’s knife as a locator.  It can point out the right building.”
 
Dean gave her an incredulous look.  “Why didn’t we use that from the beginning?”
 
She shook her head, her red hair swinging gently.  “It only works up close.  It probably won’t even start working until we’re really close.”
 
They exchanged looks, none of them committing to or discrediting the idea.
 
“That still puts us right in that demon nest, wandering around,” Bobby warned.
 
“Bobby,” Dean said quietly, shifting to look at his mentor and friend.  “We came a long way.  We knew this was going to get ugly at some point.  We gotta try something.  We’re so close!”
 
Bobby bit his lip, his beard bristling.  Eventually he nodded, surrendering to the knowledge that someone had to take a risk.  “Fine.  I’ll go.”
 
“What?” Dean snapped.  “No!  It’s gonna be me.”
 
Bobby shifted uncomfortably.  “M jus not sure how much I trust you ta not get killed by taking some giant risk.”
 
Dean sighed, his eyes dropping to the muddy ground at their knees.  “I’m not risking my life if I don’t have to.  Crowley said I have ten years.  I’m not wasting that.  Not when Cas just might be able to get me out of it.”
 
Bobby stared Dean down for a full minute before he relented, giving him a nod.  
 
“So, we put a spell on the dagger and what?” Jo prompted.  “Wander around camp?”
 
Charlie shrugged.  “It’s just a suggestion.”
 
“So...” Sam crinkled his brow in worry, “split up?”
 
“I think I should go alone,” Castiel said.  The more they talked about being amongst all the demons, he was sure they should stay up here on the hillside where it was safer.
 
“You’re not goin’ alone,” Dean said sternly, shaking the idea off, not even bothering to meet his eye.
 
Castiel sighed in frustration.  They were dealing with a town full of demons.  Humans were too fragile to take on this kind of fight.  
 
“So, we tie up the horses,” Bobby began, “split into three groups of two, and each group take four buildings to search.”
 
“The dagger could speed up our search.  But spells like that can give weak directions.  It’s not the most accurate spell,” Charlie added.  
 
Castiel frowned in doubt.  “And how exactly will you defend yourselves from demons?”
 
Five sets of eyes turned back to him.  “You aren’t going alone,” Sam snapped.  “You said you’d help my brother.  And I’m holding you to that, sprite.”
 
“Easy,” Dean barked back in Castiel’s defense.
 
Castiel narrowed his eyes at the title.  “I won’t have anything to ‘fix’ if he’s dead.”
 
“Alright!” Jo butt in, putting a hand on Sam’s shoulder.  “We just have to be smart about this.  No one is sacrificing themselves for John.  We’re just...making this happen.  Somehow.”
 
Sam backed down a bit, twisting his mouth in frustration.
 
Castiel could see no way around it.  “I think I should go in alone.  I can fly in, grab him, and fly out.  Like I did with the hunters.”
 
Worry and doubt crossed Dean’s face as he turned fully to him.  “I don’t think so, Cas.  What if it alerts them to you being a sprite?  It seemed like the whole town woke up when you did that in Lincoln.”
 
Castiel frowned in thought.  “I’ll bring us back here.  They won’t be able to follow fast enough.  We can lose them in the woods.”
 
Castiel took a step back from them.
 
“You don’t even know exactly where he is,” Charlie argued.
 
Dean leaned forward, grabbing Castiel by the wrist.  “Don’t you dare leave me.”
 
The pair locked gazes.  “Dean,” Castiel said with a note of apology.
 
“I promised I wouldn’t leave you!” Dean said quickly, squeezing him tighter.  “Now you promise you won’t leave me.”
 
“Dean,” Castiel shook his head.
 
“Cas.  Promise me.”  Dean pulled him, grabbing him by the coat with his other hand, making him face Dean directly.  “I’m not losing you.  We’ll find another way.  Together.”
 
He could see an argument was all he would get.  He glanced around the group.  It was evident he would not be doing this alone.
 
“Cas,” Dean insisted, giving him a gentle shake.  “Promise me.”
 
Castiel’s mouth closed and his chin dropped slightly.  “I promise.”
 
Dean relaxed, letting his sleeve go.  His grip on his wrist loosened and finally Dean let him go.  They stared, holding each other accountable to their words.  The others waited, watching the pair with tight expressions.
 
“Fine then.”  He did not feel this to be safer in any sense.  But if they all wanted to be a part of the rescue, he was not going to stop them.
 
“He’s right though,” Bobby admitted.  “How will we even attempt to defend ourselves?”
 
“With this,” Dean said, pulling out the demon-killing knife, putting it on the ground in the center of their circle.
 
“And the Colt,” Charlie added.  She got it from a saddlebag, placing it on the ground by the knife.
 
Some of them nodded, all of them staring down at the weapons.  
 
“So, that’s two weapons,” Dean said.
 
“Three,” Castiel added, looking around at the group.  “I am the third weapon.”
 
The five of them exchanged unsure looks.
 
Castiel rolled his eyes, tired of them treating him like he was little more than the black cat they first met.  “Do not underestimate my abilities.  I may still be regaining the strength of my grace, but I could burn that entire town to the ground if I wished to.”  He pinned each of them with a look of certainty.
 
Dean licked his lips, rubbing a hand across his stubbled jaw.  “Okay.  So, we have three weapons.”
 
Sam, seemed impressed enough to at least trust him, nodded, getting on board with the plan.  “Okay, so, I’ll take the knife and Jo.”
 
“I don’t think so,” Bobby interrupted.  “You’re one hand short already.  And someone needs to stay with the horses.”
 
“What?!” Sam scoffed.
 
“That’s true,” Dean nodded.
 
“No,” Sam argued.  He and Cas exchanged a look.  He rolled his eyes.  “I hate this.”
 
“Staying with the horses is important,” Cas insisted, almost hiding his smirk.
 
Sam sighed loudly, sitting back in frustration.  His hand had healed well, but the muscles were still thin and weak.
 
“No one should go unless they have a weapon,” Charlie insisted.
 
Dean picked up the demon-killing knife.  “Fine.”
 
Charlie picked up the Colt.  “I’ll put the spell on the dagger and the three of us should stay together.  Besides, the less humans down there, the better.”
 
They all agreed.  It took another twenty minutes to hash out the details of how to enter the town and how to escape it quickly.  Charlie put the spell on the dagger, but nothing happened.  
 
She shrugged at the group.  “Maybe when we get closer?”
 
“This is messy,” Bobby grumbled.
 
“It was bound to get messy at some point,” Jo sighed.  “And I don’t like being stuck here watching either.”
 
Castiel exchanged a look with Sam and Dean.  This entire ordeal had been messy from day one.
 
“I’ll check on the horses,” Castiel said quietly, leaving the anxious group of people for the nervous group of horses.
 
As he reassured Connie, he turned to see Sam approach him.
 
“Hey, uh, Cas.”
 
Castiel stared at Sam for several seconds before answering.  “Hello, Sam.”
 
Sam shifted with a nervous smile, flitting to a look of worry.  “Um, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for yelling at you back there.  I’m just...worried.  Really pissed, actually.”  He sighed, seeming to search the ground for words or inspiration.  He met Castiel’s eyes, looking terrified.  “Cas, can you help him?  Can you really fix his deal with the demon, Crowley?”
 
Castiel’s heart clenched.  Of course, Sam would be upset.  His brother was in jeopardy beyond the rest of them.  He gripped Sam’s shoulder.  “I promise I will help your brother.  He means a great deal to me.  You all do.  I will help you all get John, then we’ll figure out what is happening with these demons warring.  Then I shall do anything in my power to help him.”
 
Sam nodded, his mouth twitching as he fought back tears.
 
“Sam,” Castiel assured him, making him meet his eyes, “I have a lot of power.”
 
“Right,” Sam ducked his head.  “Sorry for being so rude earlier.  I just...”
 
“You are worried,” Castiel surmised, nodding as Sam nodded. “Let’s work together to save your father.  Then we will know so much more.  I hope.”
 
Sam nodded, pushing a hopeful grin, though it wobbled.
 
Castiel squeezed his shoulder.
 
“Thank you,” Sam blurted, fidgeting with his sleeve.  “Thank you for healing my hand and for caring about us.  And Dean.  And humans.  And, and Charlie.” Sam huffed a laugh.  “You care about everything.  So...thank you.  And sometimes we forget that you aren’t just one of us, just a friend.  You’re a friggin’ sprite! Nephilim...uh...so...sorry and thanks.”
 
Castiel’s heart squeezed.  Sam was adorable.  And he loved his brother fiercely.  It gladdened his heart that he had met all these people.
 
“Charlie is a human,” Castiel grinned.
 
“I know, but she’s a witch and you respect that.  It’s...you’ve really changed everything I ever learned about sprites, Cas.”
 
“And you have all changed everything I have learned about the world.  Look at Dean and Benny.  And what Charlie said.  Not all monsters want to live in chaos.  Not all of them feed on humans.  We have got to help those that wish for a better life.  There needs to be some sort of equality or law here.”
 
Sam nodded along.  “Yeah.  I think you’re right.  But I think it’s going to take people like Charlie and Jo, people from Purgatory to stand up for something like that.”
 
“With our help.”
 
Sam grinned.  “You sound like you’re ready to go to war.”
 
Castiel frowned.  “I never imagined I would even entertain such a thought.  But demons are upsetting the balance of things here.  With a little help...I think we could tip the scales.”
 
“You two can plan your war campaign later,” Bobby whispered, directing them toward the group.  “We got us a nasty little battle to win right here first.”
 
Sam nodded, turning to follow Bobby, but stopped when Castiel rested a hand on his arm.  “Let me see your hand.”
 
Sam offered it.  It looked thin and wane compared to his other hand which was so large and strong.  Castiel took the hand, the thin fingers pressed between both his hands.
 
“Maybe you shouldn’t waste your magic on me,” Sam said nervously.
 
White light glowed brightly as Castiel concentrated.  “My grace is never wasted on you, Sam.”
 
Sam winced and fought to not pull his hand away as Castiel worked quickly to nourish and restore the bones, muscles, and ligaments.  He found this healing easier to complete than the others and smiled at Sam’s hand when he finished.
 
Sam made a slow, gentle fist, laughing.  “Wow!  It’s a lot better now!”
 
Dean interrupted the moment with a glad smile at his brother.  “Quit holdin’ hands over here and let’s get on with this crazy-ass plan.”
 
 
 
****************************************
 
 
 
Charlie, Dean, and Castiel climbed down the steep, wooded hillside, entering the town in the southwest corner.  By the sun’s position it was after noon.
 
Dean cleared his throat.  “If this plan works, we grab Dad and Cas flies us out immediately.  We get back to the others.  Then we...”
 
“We ride like our tails are on fire,” Charlie nodded.
 
Cas frowned.  “Why would we be on fire?”
 
Dean laughed, patting him on the shoulder.  “We ride as fast as we can,” he clarified.  “Like they’re already on our trail.”
 
Cas nodded, Charlie shaking her head with a grin.
 
They slipped along the tents quietly as Charlie glanced at the dagger.  They turned more toward the center of town and the dagger pulsed a light green.
 
Charlie gave them a thumbs-up and the two followed her lead.  They passed a group of demons deep in talk about another group of demons that would arrive tomorrow from another camp.  None of them took notice of the three, who stopped to warm their hands at a fire, keeping their backs to them.  
 
They moved on quickly, the green pulse getting brighter with every tent and building they passed.
 
The problem was, as the dagger lead them closer to the center of town, the more demons there were.
 
A steady stream of demons headed their way and Castiel ducked into a tent.  Dean and Charlie followed, letting out matching sighs from holding their breath.
 
Dean’s eyes widened and Castiel turned to see two demons sitting on boxes playing cards.
 
“Who are you?” One said, standing and pulling a knife out slowly.  His eyes went back to Castiel.  “What are you?”
 
Castiel began to explain, but Dean had jumped ahead of him, stabbing the demon.  The demon surged with orange bolts, mouth agape, as the other demon scrambled off his box to dart away.
 
Castiel grabbed him, covering his mouth to stop his yelling, feeling his body surge in his arms as his grace killed him.
 
He and Dean dropped the bodies unceremoniously to the ground.  Charlie, still standing just inside the flap of a door to the tent, stared at them both with wide eyes.  “Shit,” she squeaked.
 
“Knife works,” Dean grinned, wiping the blade clean on the dead guy’s shirt, giving Charlie a grin.
 
“Okay,” she said in a tiny voice, shaking off her initial shock.  She turned, peeking out the door.  “You guys said the girl, Meg, said something about a sunrise, right?”
 
Castiel and Dean joined her, peeking through the flap as demons passed by unaware.  
 
“Yeah,” Dean whispered.
 
“Look.  That building on the other side of town, just up the hill.  Is that a huge sunrise painted on it?”
 
Castiel searched the town.  All the wooden buildings had graffiti painted on them.  Large words, letters, and pictures.  He searched further, finding one with a large sunrise painted on it.
 
“I see it,” Castiel and Dean said at the same time.
 
They all stepped away from the tent flap.
 
“That has to be it,” Dean said, gripping the knife as if he was ready to charge ahead.
 
“We aren’t going to make it through all those demons,” Charlie insisted.  “They’re all over the place in the center of town.  We should go back, go around the town and come in the other side.”
 
“That’ll take too long,” Dean argued.
 
“He’s right,” Castiel said.  “The sooner we leave, the better.  I’ll fly us there, we get John, and we fly out.”
 
Charlie put the dagger away, pulling out the Colt instead, giving him a nod.  “Let’s do it.”
 
Dean nodded as well.
 
Castiel cleared his mind of the demons surrounding them.  Centering himself, he tapped into his grace, not controlling it as he had been doing, but becoming one with it.  He let it suffuse his body and his mind, giving everything a distant feel.  With a tinny taste in his mouth and a hum in his ears, he opened his eyes.
 
“Whoa,” Charlie gasped softly, stepping back with wide eyes.
 
Dean did a double take, his eyes widening as well.  “Cas?” He asked softly.
 
Castiel looked at him, everything had a slight bluish-white wash to it.  He knew his eyes were glowing.  That must be why they both took another wide-eyed step back.  He looked to the side, seeing with a thrill his inky black wings spread wide.  He curled them close to stay inside the tent, afraid demons might see them.  
 
Charlie began grinning for all she was worth and stepped closer.  “Mage of Thursday,” she whispered in awe, bowing her head.
 
He closed his eyes, seeing the building clearly in his mind.  He felt Dean slip his hand, warm and steady, into his.  “Cas?”
 
Castiel flexed his shoulders, holding Dean’s hand firmly.  He could feel his wings, the strange muscles he rarely used flexed in the cramped space.  He opened his eyes, looking at Dean.  “Are you ready?”
 
Dean’s eyebrows lifted.  “To fly?  I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for that.”
 
Castiel knew he was teasing.  His grace dimmed slightly, seeing Dean more normally now.  “Dean, Charlie, I need you to picture the building in your mind.  You must stay with me.”
 
Dean nodded.  He re-gripped the demon knife in his right hand, holding onto him a little firmer with the left.
 
Cas reached his other hand out, taking Charlie’s hand.  Her excitement and Dean’s look of awe made his grace thrum heavily.
 
“They might be ready to fight us the second we land, so be ready,” Castiel warned.  Dean nodded.  He had no idea what flying with humans would do to them.  Isaac and Tamara seemed alright, but their flight had been very short.  “Close your eyes.”
 
Dean closed his eyes, gripping Castiel’s hand tighter as Charlie bounced on her feet slightly with excitement.  His grace flared and he felt the familiar dip as though he had just backed into a lake.  Dean and Charlie gasped.  Castiel grinned, flexing his wings.
 
Dean, having opened his eyes, looked at him in awe-struck wonder.  “Cas!”  His eyes traveled along the wide breadth of his inky black wings.  
 
Castiel grinned, gripping Dean tight and pictured the building.  With a whoosh and a sound of wings, they appeared in front of a wooden building with graffiti covering it.  Several demons standing around a metal barrel with a fire in it, jumped back.
 
“What’s that?!” One gasped.
 
Amongst the graffiti, the sought-after sunrise painting was above the door.  “You did it,” Dean stammered, still getting his feet under him.  Charlie let out a squeal of excitement, then immediately aimed her gun at the demons, who took a shocked step back.
 
Letting go of them, Castiel charged ahead, into the building.  He flung the door open, Dean and Charlie running in after him.  He closed it and grew the wood to form a solid barrier, keeping the caught off guard demons out.  Voices raised in shouts outside and a pounding began on what used to be the door.
 
Inside the building, a dozen demons got to their feet.  “Get John,” he said quietly, spotting a man hanging from a rafter.  Dean ran forward, stabbing the nearest demon.  A static sound charged from it as orange light glowed from the stab wound and its eyes and mouth.  It dropped to the ground, dead.
 
“Awesome,” Dean grinned, staring at his next victim.
 
Castiel blocked a demon from stabbing him, putting his hand soundly on his head.  The demonic spirit inside him shriveled and screamed, exploding into nothing, leaving the man’s long-dead body to fall to the floor.  He did the same to two more as Dean fought his way up the other side of the building.
 
Charlie shot one of the demons coming after Castiel, the thing jolted and fell to the floor dead, shocking the other demons.
 
Dean finally reached his father, cutting the rope his bound wrists hung from.  John staggered fully onto his feet as Dean pulled a cloth bag off his head.  “Dad!”
 
“Dean!”  John was weak and sickly looking, teetering on his feet.  Black and blue bruises ringed his wrists and more of every stage marred his arms.
 
Two demons jumped Castiel from behind.  They were nothing compared to the grace that surged from him.  He grabbed them both by their heads, slamming them to the floor as Charlie shot two more.  His grace surged forth, destroying both demons.  He looked up, Dean and John staring at him in awe.
 
Charlie put the Colt into her jacket, stepping closer to Castiel as one wall rattled loudly with violent banging.
 
He stood, following Charlie’s worried gaze.  The wood splintered loud with a crack as a yellow-eyed demon with a sinister curl to his lip burst through.  His eyes widened at the sight before him.  
 
Demons crowded in behind him, their black eyes and hateful stares eager for a fight.
 
“Just what do we have here,” he said evenly, his yellow eyes flitting from John and Dean to Castiel and Charlie.  His snide comment froze on his lips.  “A nephilim.”
 
Castiel could see the true demonic face just outside the plane they were in, where the human vessel he wore would be all the humans saw.  He was hideous.  Claws extended from his thin, rotted arms.  A long, thin tail whipped angrily on the floor, and his head was four ferocious looking animal heads.  An eagle, a panther, a fox, and a rat.  It was disgusting to look at as the heads jostled and drooled, the panther frothing at the mouth.  All their eyes were yellow.
 
Garish and growing angrier by the second, the demon stepped toward them again.  “You shouldn’t be here!  Who are you!”
 
Castiel could feel the reek of sin and smell his discontent.
 
Dean ran toward him half carrying his father at his side.  He saw a dagger in the yellow-eyed demon’s hand.  The demon threw it.  Castiel flew forward, wrapping Dean and John in his wings, protecting them from the blade.  He pulled them all between, making them gasp.
 
The dagger passed through them as they stood just inside the other plane.
 
“Noooo!” The yellow-eyed demon roared.
 
Charlie blanched, having been, to her account, left behind.  She fumbled for the gun as Castiel brought them all back into the plane everyone else was on.
 
The yellow-eyed demon, seeing them, ran toward them, backed by all those creeping into the building.
 
Charlie jumped, grabbing Castiel’s outstretched hand and he tried to fly, shocked to see he had only managed to pull them into the other plane.  The yellow-eyed demon was clinging to Charlie’s arm, fighting the flight.  
 
Charlie gasped and started to scream but Castiel hurled them again, barely having time to see the startled look in Dean’s green eyes before they surged to the mountain top in a great whoosh and beat of wings.
 
The ground appeared under their feet, solid and unforgiving as they all stumbled onto it.  He released them with a shove, whirling to find the yellow-eyed demon now clinging to his right wing.  He disappeared into the other plane, twisting and fighting the clawing beast away.  He cried out with pain as feathers were torn from him, but he gripped the beast of a man, reappearing on the mountain.
 
“There!” Dean yelled.  He ran toward them but Castiel pulled them into the other plane again.  The demon bit his arm, Castiel releasing him in the fray.  They faced off as the others glanced all around in the lavender tint of the plane the Earth was on, unable to see them.
 
“Who are you!” The demon demanded, Castiel’s blood coating the panther lips and running down his chin.
 
Castiel took a deep breath, his wings arched maliciously, making the demon step back.  “I am Castiel.  Mage of Thursday.  Angel’s son.”  The words boomed in the air and seemed to make the demon ill just hearing them.  “Are you Azazel?”
 
The demon panted, doubled over.  “I am,” he said slowly.  “And you are NOT supposed to be here!”  He lunged, attacking Castiel again as claws raked the inside of his right wing again, the multiple heads snapping their jaws at his neck, face, and arms as Castiel fought to hold him away.  He was too powerful in this plane and he had to get him away from his wings.  He heaved their bodies, throwing them into the vivid colors of the other plane, the pair slamming to the ground.
 
“There!” Dean and Charlie yelled.
 
Sam turned; the Colt raised with precision as he fired.
 
Castiel let go as the bullet sunk square in the demon’s forehead, whizzing just by his own ear.
 
“NOOOO!!!!” Azazel screamed.  His face and body cracked, orange light bursting from within and he shattered in a thunderous burst.
 
Castiel panted, his wings burned where the feathers had been torn out and the claws had shredded his skin.
 
Dean ran to him, steadying him.  “Are you okay?”
 
“I’m...” Castiel sucked in a breath, heaving and forcing his grace to close his wounds.  “I’ll be fine.”
 
Dean could see the bleeding wound on his wing and tried to touch it, his hand passing through.  He gave Castiel a desperate, helpless look.  Castiel forced himself to focus on the bite on his arm.
 
Shocked and dazed, the others stared at him.  Castiel fought to stay on his feet, knowing the others were watching him and seeing his wings for the first time.
 
“Dad!” Sam yelled, hugging him.  “You’re okay!”
 
“Mostly,” John grunted, hugging his son weakly, keeping a wary eye on Castiel.
 
“Go!” Castiel yelled.  “Our lead won’t hold for long.  They’re coming.”  He could feel the demonic energy of the town surging.  All their ire searching for them.
 
Dean and John mounted Impala, who neighed nervously.  The others had taken off at a gallop, heading into the woods.
 
Elizabethville was clamoring below them and Castiel gasped, putting his wings away in the other realm.  He strode forward, only the hint of their damage nagging him.  His arm healed well enough to ride.  He mounted Connie and followed Impala into the gloomy evening.
 
They rode for hours, heading south.  Castiel knew his grace was fading.  It surged and dimmed inside him.  But they had John back.  And Azazel was dead.
 
 
 
****************************************
 
 
 
They had skirted around the swamp, veering east, further into Purgatory.  It was wilder in these parts.  Castiel knew there were creatures around them.  He could hear them running alongside them at times, see them scurry from the road, and just make out figures hiding as they passed by.
 
They just kept moving as quickly as possible.
 
They rode all night, making slow progress on the dark, unkempt roads.  The only times they stopped was when they had to fight off a small group of vampires, a larger group of werewolves, and three Leviathan.
 
Not until the sky was fully light and they found a clearing by a stream did they stop.  Dean’s muscles shook with strain.  His dad was no small man.  Keeping him upright on the horse was taking all the strength he had.
 
Everyone was exhausted.
 
Charlie’s horse lay down, saddle and all.  She fretted over the animal, barely able to stay on her own feet.
 
Cas dismounted quickly, going to the horse.  He put his palm on her forehead and seemed like he was listening.  He stepped back as the horse groaned and got back to its feet.  Cas looked wiped out, but went to all six horses, each looking markedly better after his touch.
 
Dean handed their dad down to Bobby and Sam.  They lay him in the dirt by the stream.  Cas came to him next, kneeling with a hand to his forehead.  Light glowed, dimmed, and glowed again as Cas’ head dropped down and he gasped for a breath, sitting back.  “He needs to eat.  And drink.”  John opened his eyes, staring at Cas with shock.
 
“Who are you?” John gasped, sitting up.
 
“I’m Castiel.  The messenger that came to see you before the demons took you.  Gabriel sent me.”
 
John gaped at him.  “The sprites are gonna help us?”
 
Castiel nodded, tiredness evident around his eyes and his sluggish movements.
 
“Cas,” Dean said gently, putting a hand on his shoulder.  “Take it easy.  You’re gonna burn yourself out.”
 
Cas’ blue eyes were pale.  He had never seen them so light. It gave the man an ethereal look.
 
“I can give you all strength to keep moving.  You cannot stop yet.”  Dean felt a surge of energy push through his body.  Cas lifted his hand, palm out.  The others all took a step back, their tired shoulders lifting in renewed energy.
 
Cas dropped to his knees, Dean barely able to stop him by grabbing his coat.  He felt Castiel sink and shrink in his hands until all that he held was the shoulder of the coat.  Amongst the pile of clothes was the black cat.
 
Charlie stepped forward, picking up the clothes as Dean cradled the barely breathing cat to his chest.  Without a word, she packed his clothes while Dean pulled out the flannel sling.
 
“What the fuck is going on?” John asked.
 
“That’s Castiel.  Mage of Thursday,” Sam clarified.
 
Bobby and Jo rummaged for food in the saddlebags.
 
“Mage of Thursday?” John stared at the cat.
 
“The Crier.  Harbinger,” Sam went on, using the sprite names to clarify further.  “He came to the bunker in Lebanon to tell you that Gabriel is willing to fight with us.  But you threw him out.”  Sam’s annoyance was evident, and John looked at him with some surprise.
 
“I never dreamed Missouri actually talked to the real Gabriel.  The Trickster!  I figured if he was even real, he was just messing with us!”  John paced toward the stream and back.  “I thought it was just a trap.”
 
Sam relaxed, nodding his understanding.  “It wasn’t a trap.”
 
John rubbed a hand over his mouth.  His eyes stopped on Bobby.  “Hey, Bobby.”
 
Bobby smirked.  “Evening.”
 
“I shoulda known you’d be along for this.  So, I’m taken and you two,” he looked at Sam and Dean, “went running for Bobby?”
 
Dean squared his shoulders.
 
“Pretty much,” Sam nodded.  “Several guards were killed.  Kate made us take Adam to the Campbells.”
 
John sighed.  “Is Samuel here too?” He looked around the group, his eyes lingering on Charlie and Jo.
 
“No, he wasn’t invited,” Dean scoffed.  “We did leave Adam with him.  They left to go back to protect Kate and the bunker from more demons.  Ya know, since we did such a shitty job.”
 
John glared.  He shook his head.  Their shared frustration with Mary’s family was nothing new.  “Well, I’m glad you came.  I’ve been near death so many times.  How long has it been since I was taken?”
 
“Almost a month,” Sam admitted quietly.
 
John nodded.  “I know we’re in Purgatory, but where are we?”
 
“If we keep heading east, we’re about a day from Black Water Ridge,” Charlie said.  Waving a hello to him when John looked at her.  
 
“Black Water Ridge?” John frowned.  “That area’s full of wendigo.”
 
“And ghouls,” Charlie added with a helpful nod.
 
John gave her a curious look.  “And you are?”
 
“Hi.  Charlie Bradbury.  I’m a witch.  Girlfriend of Jo’s.”
 
“Jo,” John said, staring at the blonde.  “Not Ellen’s little girl.”
 
“Sure am,” Jo grinned.
 
John laughed softly.  “Who woulda ever guessed.  Where’s Ellen?”
 
“My place,” Charlie added.  “She’s waiting for us all to come back.  She also sent word to Missouri about what was happening.”
 
John nodded.  He eyed Dean and Sam again.  “You boys did good.  Real good.  I didn’t think I was gonna make it out of there.”
 
“I’d love ta celebrate,” Bobby butt in, “but our energy won’t last.  And with Cas out, we gotta keep moving.”
 
They all agreed, eating quickly and mounting again.  John took Connie and Dean kept Cas tucked to his chest.  They rode most of the day, staying away from the towns, but skirting a bit closer as they passed Lincoln.  Only when they felt far enough away, and the horses became exhausted again, did they stop to camp.
 
Cas woke up at the smell of cooked food.  Dean kept him cradled in his arm as he ate and drank, assuring him he would change back.
 
John gave the pair a worried look.  “Yer awful close to that sprite.”
 
Dean fought a sigh of annoyance.  “We’ve been through a lot.”
 
John leaned forward, staring at the cat.  Castiel had already fallen asleep again.  He didn’t say anything as he leaned back, chewing on a thin splinter of wood.
 
“Why’s he a cat?” John finally asked.
 
“He tried to get home using Missouri’s spell books.  It’s a curiosity spell,” Sam explained.  “He’s been with us since we left the bunker.”
 
“Good thing too, or we never woulda made it,” Dean added.
 
“That so?” John said, his eyes narrowing at the cat.
 
“That’s so,” Dean said firmly.  “Cas and I -”
 
“Cas?”  John chuckled.  “I’m not sure who’s worse.  The sprite thinking he’s all-important or the guy worshiping the cat that thinks he’s all-important.”
 
“Both of those very important people risked their lives to save your important ass, John Winchester,” Bobby barked.  “Not to mention all the rest of us pee-ons.”
 
John held a hand up.  “Sorry, Bobby.  You’re right,” he sighed tiredly.  “I still can’t believe sprites are freakin’ real.”
 
“I thought you met with Gabriel,” Charlie said, poking the fire.
 
“No,” John said slowly.  “Missouri did.  Man, I thought she was gettin’ duped.  I shoulda known better than to doubt her.”
 
“Well, Cas is a friend, that’s for sure,” Jo added.  
 
Dean didn’t care what his dad thought about him and Cas.  They were bigger than all that.  And he was going to find out sooner or later.
 
“Me and Cas are...closer than just friends,” Dean said, adjusting the cat in his arms with care to not wake him.
 
“What?” John chuckled.  His smile dissolved at the steady look Dean returned.  “You’re...what?”
 
Dean stared back at him.
 
“Since when?” John snapped.  “There is no way my son is hookin’ up with a friggin’ sprite!”
 
“Well, we are,” Dean insisted.
 
John looked stricken.  “Dean!”
 
“I’m sure it seems crazy to you, but it just sorta happened and...” he shrugged, unsure how to justify what he and Cas had.
 
John sat up, circling his arms around his knees.  “He’s powerful, Dean.”
 
“I know.”
 
“He could take you away.  They do that, don’t they?  Take humans to...breed with?”
 
“Only willing ones,” Sam interjected.  “And I don’t think Cas would do anything Dean didn’t want him to do.  He’s a good guy, Dad.”
 
John gave his sons an incredulous look.  “He’s not a GUY.  He’s...you saw him!  He has wings!  He flies!  He destroyed demons just by touching them!  Dean, you can’t be serious.”
 
“Well, I am.  I mean, it may not turn into anything serious.  I don’t know.  Honestly, we barely know each other.”
 
“You know each other,” Charlie grinned.  “You might not know each other’s kind very well, but you know him as well, if not better than, the rest of us.  I trust him with my life.  And I trust that he’s here to help us.  All of us.”
 
Dean grinned at Charlie across the fire.  “You’re right.”
 
John scoffed, staring into the flames as he sat back.  “It ain’t a good idea, Dean.  There’s no way one of the seven mages is going to stop what he’s doing to pluck out one human from Lawrence.”  He shook his head.
 
Dean sighed, staring down at the cat.  Whatever happened between him and Cas, he vowed to not let his father be the deciding factor.  According to his dad, he should be a sheriff.  Talk about not knowing someone.  Dean had zero interest in becoming Head Sheriff of Lawrence, let alone the sheriff of a smaller town.  
 
“So, you’re gonna go live in Haven?” John asked, worry lacing his words.  “Leave your family and be a...what?”
 
“I’m not leaving Lawrence,” Dean scowled.
 
John laughed.  “Well, I don’t know much about sprites, but how does the Mage of Thursday leave his post?”
 
Dean looked down at the sleek black fur of the cat.  He didn’t know what to say to that.  He was tired.  They were all tired.  He and Cas only had the beginnings of a relationship.  Who knew where their paths would lead?  
 
 
 
Dusk was moving in and half of them were asleep when they heard a loud thrashing in the woods outside camp.  They were all alert and on their feet when a man walked into their campsite moments later.
 
He had no weapons.  He looked cleaner than anyone they had come across since Jo, Ellen, and Charlie.  What Dean could not figure out was whether he had been the source of the thrashing, or had he just killed something that was thrashing.  Either way, he was extremely on edge as the man walked straight into their midst.
 
“Hello,” he said a little melodically.  He looked at all of them as if he was searching for someone.
 
“Hello,” Bobby barked back, his gun staying trained on him.  
 
The guy grinned, not looking afraid whatsoever.  “Don’t mind me.  I’m just passin’ through.”  He frowned, his eyes stopping on Dean.
 
“We aren’t up for sharing a campfire tonight,” John warned.
 
The guy strode purposefully toward Dean, stopping when Bobby and John cocked their guns.  Dean realized with a cold, sharp panic that the man’s eyes weren’t on him, but Cas.  He hugged the cat closer to him, turning away slightly.
 
“What do you want?” Dean demanded.
 
The man’s sharp, brown eyes lifted to Dean’s.  “Is that...your cat?”  His features softened.  “I’m sooo allergic.  They make me sneeze.”
 
“Listen buddy,” Bobby started.
 
Cas had begun to wake up again.  His whole body jolted at the sight of the man.  Dean tried to contain him, but he squirmed free anyway, running straight to the man.
 
The guy tucked some brown hair behind his ear and squatted down.  “Cassie!  I thought that was you!  What in the Creator’s name are you doing like that?!”
 
Cas began meowing and the man just listened, nodding.  “I see.  Well, that must have sucked.  Oh...” he looked up at John, “so you’re John Winchester.  We’ve been looking for you.”
 
John frowned and both men lowered their guns.
 
“Sorry,” the man laughed down at Cas, “I’m really having trouble taking you seriously like this.”  He laughed again, putting his hand on Cas’ head.  “A witch, huh?”  He looked like he was looking all over Cas’ body.  “Alright, I think I got it.”  He stood up, snapped his fingers, and Cas was human again, sitting cross legged and naked.
 
“Nice!” The man laughed.  Dean already had his coat off, striding forward to cover him up.
 
“Thank you, Dean,” Cas nodded, taking the coat, then the breaches Charlie brought him.
 
After slipping them on, he turned back to the group.  “Everyone, this is Gabriel, Mage of Monday, Angel’s Son.”  He bowed his head slightly as Gabriel looked around at them.
 
“Holy shit!” Charlie squeaked, bowing her head, Jo following suit.  Bobby gave him a skeptical look.  Sam looked awe-struck and John just sighed.
 
“It’s about friggin’ time!” Dean snapped.  “Where have you been?  We sure coulda used your help!”
 
Gabriel gave him a surprised look.
 
“They aren’t much impressed with titles,” Castiel explained, apologetically.
 
“Huh.  Alrighty.  Soooo...I’ve been searching high and low for you.”  His eyes were back on Cas now.  “You finally started using your grace and I came runnin’.  What gives?  Where have you been?  What have you been doing with these humans?”  Gabriel seemed quite confused by the whole situation.
 
“I took your message to John Winchester.  He did not believe I was a nephilim, or sprite, as they call us.”
 
Gabe nodded.  “I heard that part.  Then...nothing!”
 
Cas sighed, rolling his eyes.  “I was looking for a way home when I got cursed by a witch.  It wasn’t until weeks later that they got me to another witch to partially heal me.  I’ve been with these humans, searching for and rescuing John Winchester.”
 
“On foot,” Gabe deadpanned.  “Because you were a cat.”
 
Cas frowned.
 
Gabriel burst out laughing.  “That is some ridiculously funny shit!”
 
Cas sighed, but said nothing back.
 
Gabriel sat by the fire.  “Come on!  Let’s eat!”  He snapped, tables of food and drinks appearing.  They all approached the tables cautiously.  Gabriel held his hands up with a questioning look on his face.  “It’s not gonna bite ya!”
 
Cas leaned toward him.  “You are known as the Trickster here.  They probably are worried you tampered with it somehow.”
 
Gabriel waved his words off.  “No time for tricks these days.”  His demeanor took on a more serious tone.  “War.  Cassie.  It’s Michael.  He’s brewing a war and we have to stop it.”  He looked around at the group.  “Eat up!  We got nephilim asses to kick and other shit to do!”
 
Dean took the first real steps toward the table, filling a plate with roast beef, potatoes, carrots, fresh baked bread, and some other weird stuff that he had no idea what it was, but smelled delicious.  Everyone else followed his lead, sitting around the fire for their first real meal in days.  
 
Once the eight of them were seated around the fire, Gabriel relaxed a bit more.
 
“The humans think we were little more than a myth,” Cas explained out of nowhere.  “Why have we been so separated?”
 
“Power, my kitty-cat friend.  We have too much power to be associating with humans.  Or so our ancestors said.”  His brown eyes ran over the faces around the fire.  “Our ‘magic’ gives us too many unfair advantages over humans.”
 
Dean couldn’t decide if he liked Gabriel or not.  He was arrogant.  But funny.  And he seemed to be on their side.  For the moment, anyway.
 
“But the humans in Purgatory are hunted and slaughtered.  Taken as vessels,” Charlie debated gently.  “And starving.”
 
“Freeland isn’t much better,” Bobby added.
 
“And they’re pushing their way into Lawrence,” John noted.  “Crowley has been left in power for too long.  There are more demons in Lawrence than ever before.”
 
Chills ran down Dean’s spine at the mention of Crowley’s name.  On top of the mere reminder of him, was how angry his dad was going to be when he found out about his deal.  He flicked a nervous glance at Sam, who returned it, but said nothing.  He hoped the others kept their mouths shut until he could tell him himself.
 
Gabriel nodded.  “Missouri told me about your crossroads demon.  Trust me, John, he’s the least of your problems.  Yeah, you have a leak, but the real problem is in Purgatory.  And very soon in Freeland.  My brother has taken to aligning himself with demons and Leviathans.  Azazel and Alastair, the last of the two princes of Hell, are amassing armies to take over Freeland.  Lawrence will be next.”
 
“I killed Azazel,” Sam said, putting his fork down.
 
“I highly doubt that,” Gabriel smirked.
 
“He did,” Cas assured.  “He used the Colt.”
 
Gabriel frowned.  “The Colt.  It’s a real thing?”
 
“It is.  And he is dead.”  Cas nodded gravely.
 
“Well, well.  Good for you.  Sam.”  The way he said Sam’s name gave the impression he was reading him, knowing something about him by looking at him more closely.
 
“Thanks,” Sam blushed.
 
“Is that who damaged your wings?” Gabriel asked, turning to Cas.
 
Cas nodded.
 
“Your wings are damaged?” Dean blurted, immediately concerned.  He had never seen anything more magnificent than when Cas had spread out his wings, eyes blazing.
 
“They are healing,” Cas said quietly, giving him a small smile.
 
“What’s...” Gabriel stopped, his eyes going back and forth between him and Cas.  “Cassie, are you...never mind.”
 
Dean gave Cas a puzzled look, to which Cas shrugged.  But he knew more than he was saying.  Dean would rather ask him on his own though, not discuss their relationship in front of the whole group.
 
“Anyway,” Gabe went on more loudly, “that’s pretty awesome you took out Azazel.  That will cripple the demon resistance.  Unfortunately, that won’t slow Michael down.  He’s the one we need to worry about.”
 
“Isn’t he the most powerful of all the sprites?” Bobby asked, looking worried.
 
“He’s powerful,” Gabriel agreed.  “But I’ve got plenty of juice myself.  And Castiel is right there with me on the power level.  If the two of us stick together, we can take down Michael.  What we can’t do is take down Michael, his whole legion, and armies of demons, and whatever else backs Azazel and Alastair’s plans. Now, that plan?  That could wipe out all the humans.  He’s powering the demons and Leviathan to take over.”
 
Dean stared at the man in shock.
 
Michael.
 
So much for sprites being vindictive little tricksters.  They were grade A dicks.  If they aligned with demons and Leviathan, humans were screwed.
 
“How long have you known about this?” Cas asked.
 
It was reassuring to Dean that Cas didn’t know these plans.  He had thought as much, but it would have really changed things if he was callous to all humans.
 
“I have suspected for about a year.  But I only got proof a few weeks before you came.  So, not long.”
 
“That was months ago,” Charlie said quietly, obviously trying to not anger him, but still raising her point.
 
Gabriel frowned at her.  “Sounds about right.”
 
“That is a long time for humans,” Cas explained.
 
“Huh,” Gabriel lifted one shoulder, letting it drop.  “Losing track of my cat did slow me down.”
 
Cas rolled his eyes, making Dean chuckle.
 
“We’ve seen an army.  They were marching south,” Sam added, his dinner forgotten.
 
“They had hellhounds with them,” Cas added.
 
“Hellhounds?  Where did they scrounge them up from?  I thought they were all locked in Hell!”  Gabriel shook his head.  For the first time, he looked troubled.
 
“What, sprites have trouble killing hellhounds?” Dean asked.
 
Gabriel quirked his mouth at Dean.  “Yes, Dean.  Lucifer made them himself.  They’re...shit.  I’m gonna have to go see that freakin’ putz, Metatron.”
 
Cas sighed.  
 
“Is that another sprite?” Charlie asked.
 
“Yes, he’s head of The Stacks, Haven’s largest library,” Cas explained.
 
“Bet you two were buds, weren’t ya,” Gabe smirked.
 
“I wouldn’t classify us as ‘buds’,” Cas frowned, air quoting.
 
Dean had to grin at that.  He could picture Cas geeking out over piles of books in a huge library.
 
“He’s a very knowledgeable person,” Cas defended.
 
“He’s a putz,” Gabriel snorted.
 
Cas shook his head, knowing the argument was moot.  
 
“So,” Jo said cautiously after the conversation lulled for a moment, “what do we do now?”
 
Gabriel stared at the fire a moment.  “Cassie and I go home.  You all go home.  We have some research to do.  And Castiel needs to recruit his legion on board with this.”
 
“You have a legion?” Dean asked, staring at Cas.
 
Cas nodded.  “I do.  The legion of Thursday.  Currently around 200 nephilim.”
 
“Holy shit,” Dean barely whispered.  He had not thought about Cas being in control of a whole group of people like that.  There were around 200 people in Lebanon.  There were around 5,000 humans on Earth.  No one knew for sure how many monsters there were, but the number was less or equal to the number of humans.  “How many sprites are there?”
 
Cas frowned, looking at Gabriel.  “Maybe...two thousand?”  Gabriel nodded.  “Michael and I have two to three hundred in our legions.  The others have one to two hundred each.  Then there’s The Garden.  No more than two thousand.”
 
“Missouri told us there used to be billions of humans here.  Billions!  I can’t imagine it!”  Sam shook his head in disbelief.
 
“I’ve read that as well,” Cas nodded.  “There used to be great cities full of machines and electricity.”
 
They all wondered at the thought.
 
Bobby stared hard into the fire, jaw firm in thought.  “Well, all that’s going to be left is rubble and human farms for Leviathan and demons to eat and take vessels from if we don’t stop this war.”
 
“Very true,” Gabriel nodded, no humor lacing his voice this time.  “But I will warn you, nephilim are difficult to talk into any kind of battle against each other.  It’s one of our top ten on the ‘Do Not’ list.”  His eyes dropped to the fire.  “We know damn well that our ancestors are the very reason we live like we do today.  There was a thriving world of humans here.  The leviathan were locked away.  The other monsters were few and mostly hidden.  Angels stayed in Heaven.”  His eyes ticked back up to Bobby.   “It’s our fault that Heaven and Hell are locked away and gone.  It’s our responsibility to stay away from humans the best we can and leave you to live the lives our creator gave you.  We might be cheap copies...but we remember our past.”
 
“But...we aren’t thriving,” Charlie insisted.  “We’re being eaten away.  Bobby isn’t wrong.  There’s already a human ‘farm’ in northeast Purgatory somewhere.  We can’t find it, but there are too many rumors for it to not be true.”
 
Gabriel frowned.  “That’s the exact kind of thing our ancestors were avoiding by living apart.”  He tossed a stick into the fire.  “People suck.  All of them.  Angels, demons, humans, vampires, ghouls.  There’s good and bad in all kinds of people.  The problem is, how to balance it out.  Fuckin’ bastards.  Farms.”  He tossed another stick in, disgust all over his face.  “Like I said...it’s not easy to get nephilim to fight.  But I’ll try.  I sent Castiel to tell John that we would try.  Now that I have Castiel back, I might actually get somewhere.”
 
Dean didn’t like the sound of any of that.  Was Cas leaving him?  As soon as he asked himself the question, he realized how selfish it was.  He had his dad back.  Now they needed to think about war.  Not just what could become of him and Cas.  He stared down at the ground in front of him.  Cas wasn’t his to have.  He knew that.  But it hurt all the same.
 
He ran his thumb over the sigil of their group.  He might never see Cas again.  Sprites could fly.  He could leave right this minute.  He could disappear.  It was a wonder he had not left already.  He might not see Cas again until they needed this sigil in the Veil.  But Dean’s soul might never make it there.  Not if it belonged to Crowley.  Panic welled up in his stomach until his mouth tasted of acid.
 
With the world at the brink of war, there was no time to stop and take care of one measly soul.  His small life was insignificant compared to what lay ahead.  He had to remember that.
 
 
 

Chapter Text

Chapter 17:  By Wing
 
 
Castiel’s mind clicked slowly and patiently over the news Gabriel had brought him.  Michael was behind the demons rising to power.  A nephilim, HIS brethren, was helping to organize and harness a force of evil against humanity.  The thought made him sick.  Humans were the weakest of all the races as far as powers and grace.  Leviathan, vampires, and demons were difficult to kill and did not age.  All kinds of monsters were stronger physically than humans.  And so many of them preferred humans to eat.  But even humans had found small niches into the supernatural world.  They had witches.  And some of them were powerful.  Even more than that, of all the species, humans were the most adaptable.  They survived many things it seemed they weren’t meant to.  The apocalypse.  Plagues.  The cruel environment.  And they did it without feeding off or abusing another people.  They found their own way to survive.  Castiel felt nothing but pride when he thought about the group of humans he had traveled with.
 
A tiny smile tugged at one corner of his mouth.  Okay, he had thought about more than simply pride.  Dean, for one, elicited a slew of emotions and ‘thoughts’.
 
His smile faded as Gabriel got to his feet, waving the food away.
 
Castiel got to his feet, the others rising one by one.
 
Gabriel stared around the circle.  “Thank you for taking care of my brother.  It’s a dangerous world for man or beast, let alone one small kitty cat.”  He smirked a grin at Castiel, but he knew the sentiment was no less sound.
 
“He protected us too,” Dean said quietly, eyes on the fire rather than looking at anyone.
 
Cas was sure Dean had doubts.  He always did.  And he was sure he had questions.  But now was not the time to pull him aside.  All he could do was reach over and take his hand.  Dean jumped only slightly as his green eyes darted to him.
 
Doubt.  He knew it.  Dean was always full of doubt.  But he took Castiel’s hand regardless.  Castiel chose not to take his lack of faith in him personally.  It was a part of who he was.  He also noticed the uncomfortable look John gave them.
 
For now, it was fine.  But he aimed to change John’s opinion of the nephilim and Dean’s doubtful nature.  He vowed in his mind to teach Dean Winchester to trust fully.  To have faith.  And to love wholly.  He smiled at just the mere chance of teaching such lessons.
 
Gabriel went on, much more to the point than Castiel had ever seen him before.  “Let’s move this party somewhere safer.  There’s a horde of demons tracking you.  And vampires are seriously fast.”
 
“Where should we go?” Sam asked, stepping forward.
 
Gabriel crossed his arms over his chest, tapping his chin with his finger in thought.  
 
“Can you fly out of Purgatory?” Castiel asked, the thought just occurring to him for the first time.  “How did you get here in the first place?”
 
Gabe glanced around at the woods.  “We should...go...”
 
Charlie stepped closer to Gabriel, bowing her head slightly.  “We could go to my house.  It’s in Purgatory if that helps.”
 
Gabriel, without warning, reached out and put his hands on her head.  Charlie jerked in his grip slightly, looking stunned.
 
“What are you doing?” Jo snapped, coming at him.
 
Gabriel let go and Charlie staggered back a step into Jo’s outstretched hands.  “That was...bizarre!” She stammered, clutching Jo’s arm.
 
“That’ll work,” Gabriel grinned, snapping his fingers.
 
Gabriel, Jo, Charlie, Bobby, John, Sam, and all the horses disappeared.
 
“Where’d they go?!” Dean gasped, gripping Castiel’s hand tighter.
 
“I’m guessing they went to Charlie’s, but I’m not sure,” Castiel replied, unable to predict Gabriel’s moves.
 
“IF HE -”
 
“If I what?” Gabriel asked with a smirk, startling Dean right into Castiel’s side, making Castiel glower at his fellow mage.
 
Gabriel stepped closer, keeping his voice low.  “We’ve got company of the blood-sucking sort.  Let’s skedaddle, eh?”
 
“To Charlie’s?” Castiel whispered, wrapping an arm around Dean.
 
“Yep.”  Gabriel snapped and was gone.
 
Castiel gave Dean what he hoped was an encouraging smile.
 
“This mean I get to see your wings again?” Dean grinned.
 
Castiel let his arm fall.  “Do they...make you uncomfortable?”
 
Dean huffed a tight laugh.  He leaned forward, straightening his jacket unnecessarily.  “I kinda dig the wings.”
 
Castiel searched Dean’s face.  The boyish grin widened as he took a step back, biting his lip, watching him.  Castiel grinned.
 
Dean liked his wings.
 
His grace thrummed with pride.  More easily than ever before, he pulled his wings from the other plane and watched in a haze of bluish white as Dean’s eyes widened and he bit his bottom lip again.  That sweet, plump lip that he had tasted.  He stepped forward, kissing Dean with heat and joy churning inside him.
 
Their mouths met without hesitation as they wrapped their arms around each other.  Dean’s hands slid around his back as Castiel could feel his wings wrap around them.  His tongue slid, Dean parting his lips so easily to take him in.  His fingers slid through Dean’s hair, gripping slightly as he pulled them into the other plane.
 
Feeling the pull, Dean pulled back, sucking in a breath.  The rest of the world had a slightly lavender tint to it, unlike the two of them in full, vibrant color.  Dean peeked over the crest of the wing with wide eyes.
 
“Cas?  Where are we?”
 
Castiel wrapped his wings a little tighter, his feathers caressing Dean’s back.  “We’re in the plane where my wings are.”
 
Shocked, Dean reached a hand out slowly, his fingertips touching his feathers with the lightest touch.  He jerked his hand back, meeting his eyes with a startled look.  “I can feel them!”
 
Castiel watched him.  Watched every emotion cross his face and all the thoughts drift behind his eyes.  He lowered his right wing slowly, trying not to wince at the painful injury that had already healed a great deal.  His left wing swept over Dean’s back and shoulders, feeling him.
 
Dean laughed, turning to hold his hands out, letting Castiel slide his wing over them slowly.  “They’re so...soft!  And...like velvet!”  Dean turned more, following the movement of the feathers until his back was against Castiel’s chest.  Castiel wrapped his arms around Dean’s waist, perching his chin on his shoulder as he brought the wing back for Dean to feel.
 
Dean ran one hand over the top, thick ridge, mouth agape and eyes still wide.  Then he ran both hands down the top ridge, marveling.
 
Every caress felt as intimate as if he were rubbing his hands down his bare chest.  He closed his eyes, breathing in the scent of Dean.  Leather, horse, sweet grass.  Dean.  His nose nestled tighter to his neck as Dean’s hands explored lower into the underside of his wing, combing through the feathers.  His own mouth parted at the sensation.  He found Dean’s skin with his lips, kissing the tender slope of his neck.  Dean’s fingers raked softly through the shiny, black feathers again.
 
Desire coiled and flared inside him and Dean took a sharp breath, hands fisting into them.
 
“Cas,” Dean whispered.
 
Castiel sucked the skin he caressed with his tongue, feeling Dean go weak in the knees.  He tipped his head, baring more skin, which Castiel took eagerly.
 
A moan drifted from the man, making his wings shiver.  Dean ran his hands through them again.  “Does it,” he gasped a breath, his hips pressing back firmly against his.  “Does it feel good when I touch your wings?”
 
“Immensely,” Castiel said, watching goosebumps spread over his damp skin.  His wing curled tightly, puffing as the feathers rippled beyond his control.  He had never felt his wings do that and made them both look at the wing in wonder.
 
Dean smoothed the feathers in front of him then turned in his arms, kissing him deeply.  Dean was gripping his coat with one hand, the other cupped around the back of his neck.  Castiel delved deeper, wrapping his wings around them again.  He winced at the pain, interrupting their kiss.
 
Dean, pulling his mouth away to look at him, blinked.  “What’s wrong?”
 
Castiel grit his jaw, moving his right wing away.  Dean, noticing the way the wing moved differently than the other, gently cupped the top ridge, eyes searching the black feathers.  The moment he saw the wound, he stepped back.  
 
“Cas!  You’re hurt!”
 
“I’ll be fine,” Cas assured him.
 
“I, I forgot you said your wing was hurt!”  Dean’s hands fretted over the shiny black feathers, barely touching any of them.
 
“Dean,” Castiel said more sternly, gently gripping his arm to get his attention.  “I will heal.  But...we should go.”
 
“Yeah,” Dean said more readily this time.  “Yeah, we should...fly, or whatever.”
 
Castiel grinned.  Dean was worried about him.  That had to be a good sign.  He cared.  “Let’s go to Charlie’s,” he whispered, kissing him.  They wrapped their arms around each other again and Castiel flew them to Charlie’s in a painful flutter.
 
 
 
***********************************************
 
 
 
Dean felt a rush stronger than just the leaping desire in his chest.  His heart fluttered with the sound of wings as his eyes squeezed shut.  He clung to Castiel, not that the sprite would have let him go as the world whirled away.  He gasped, hugging Castiel tight as he felt ground suddenly solid beneath his feet again.  He teetered, as if he would have staggered a step, but Castiel held him steady.
 
He loosened the hug, kissing him once on the lips, loving how it made him smile.  No matter what happened, he knew that Cas really did care about him.  He could feel it.
 
He stepped back, dabbing his damp lips with his sleeve as he looked at Cas again.  His ashy black wings stretched out lopsidedly before disappearing.
 
Cas’ shoulders relaxed and his eyes opened a bit easier with his painful wing put away.
 
“Wow,” Sam chuckled.  “My ride wasn’t quite that nice.”
 
Dean turned, blushing.
 
Gabe scoffed.  “I’ll be sure to upgrade you on your next flight.”
 
Sam grinned at him, shaking his head.  
 
“I’ll pass on the upgrade, thanks,” Bobby smirked, standing with his arm around Ellen.  She smacked his chest lightly, laughing.
 
Gabe perked an eyebrow at him.
 
“Come on in.  Ash and I were just about to eat,” Ellen said, waving them forward.  “Gabriel already took care of the horses and tack for you.”
 
Dean glanced at the field, seeing all their horses roaming around inside the fenced pasture.
 
“The field is warded,” Charlie smiled, knowing he was going to ask.
 
Dean grinned at her.  “You’re awesome, Charlie!”
 
She slung an arm over Jo’s shoulder as they walked into her house, tossing a grin over her shoulder at him.
 
“Took you long enough to get here,” Gabe said quietly next to Cas.  “Is he bonded to you?”
 
Cas stiffened as Dean gave him a curious glance.
 
“No.”
 
“What’s that?” Dean asked as Gabriel gave Cas an understanding nod.
 
“Means you have to wait here.”  Gabe gripped Cas’ shoulder as Cas looked at him with his head tipped in confusion.
 
Dean’s eyes widened and his mouth dropped open when the pair were gone, just disappearing.  “Cas!”
 
Sam arched one eyebrow, having watched the whole thing.  His dad looked less curious and more distrustful.
 
“He’ll be back, dude,” Ash grinned, patting Dean on the shoulder as he walked into the house.
 
Dean tried to grin like he knew that to be true but the knot in his stomach twisted hard.
 
 
 
**********************************************
 
 
 
Cas felt the mighty tug unexpectedly at his center and heard the loud flutter of wings as Gabriel’s materialized and winged them away.
 
They both staggered a step as Gabriel landed in a dry, dismal patch of woods.  The trees were all as thin as saplings but tall as the mighty red wood trees in Haven.  Their bark was smooth and gray, as was the bare ground and bleak sky.
 
Gabriel released his shoulder, stepping back from him.  
 
“Where are we?” He asked, his voice seeming to skip along the forest.
 
“Ash Forest,” Gabriel answered.  “Way up north in Purgatory.  Not really important right now except that there aren’t any vampires lurking around and listening in.”
 
“Why did you bring me here?” Castiel asked, starting to worry about what exactly Gabriel was up to.
 
“Ash Forest is several hundred miles of...this,” Gabriel gestured with a flippant hand out.  “Nothing much lives here, so I knew we could talk.”
 
“About what?” Castiel asked, glancing around the odd woods with a growing awareness of feeling creeped out.
 
“What’s the situation, here with you two?”  Gabriel asked, crossing his arms over his chest.
 
Castiel swallowed, feeling exposed about the relationship that even he and Dean had barely talked about.  “We are...courting,” Castiel said quietly, knowing Dean would tease him for even using that expression.
 
“Courting?” Gabriel studied him with a nod of growing understanding.  “Sooo, you haven’t had sex.”
 
“No,” Castiel pulled back with irritation.
 
“Is he...marked?” Gabriel asked, making Castiel squirm.
 
“No.”  He looked away uncomfortably.
 
Gabriel started to say something, caught Castiel’s glare and snapped his jaw shut.  “M kay,” Gabriel said, switching gears.  “Do you really trust these humans?”
 
“I do,” Castiel assured him.  “But you are making this more difficult by disappearing without any explanations.  Humans are very distrustful of nephilim.”
 
“So,” Gabriel went on, narrowing his eyes, “you trust them all.  You got the hots for the human guy.  But you haven’t marked him or bonded to him?  Sounds real cozy, Cassie.”
 
“I was a cat for most of this journey, Gabriel.  Dean and I did not develop a relationship until a few days ago.”
 
Gabriel nodded.  “So, I brought you here to talk.  Really talk.”
 
Castiel shook his head no.
 
“No?” Gabriel laughed with a short temper.  
 
“This is causing more distrust.  We need to be absolutely certain that they trust us, and we trust them.”
 
“Sooo...” Gabriel held his hands out.
 
“I’ll talk when Dean can listen as well.”
 
Gabriel shook his head.  “Unbelievable.”  He was gone, only to return in an instant with one bewildered, then quickly pissed off Dean Winchester.
 
“Dude!  I was in the middle of a conversation!” Dean yelled, looking around the gray woods with hunching shoulders.  “Where are we?  This place looks creepy as shit.”
 
“One unbonded and unmarked human,” Gabriel said dryly to his brother, letting go of Dean’s arm.  Dean quickly moved to Castiel’s side with a suspicious look aimed at Gabriel.  “Now can we talk?”
 
Castiel glanced at Dean, who was frowning and trying to follow along.  “Yes.  I trust Dean, and the others with my life.”
 
Dean shuffled from one foot to the other, looking slightly
mollified.
 
“Fine, the human can hear then.”
 
“Dean,” Castiel said tightly.
 
“DEAN can hear.  Information, I might add, that is kept sworn to ONLY those who qualify to use it.  That is a whopping total of four nephilim.  Zero humans.”
 
Dean settled back into a stubborn stance, crossing his arms over his chest, staring at Gabriel.
 
Gabriel stared back, his head cocked to the side.  “Are they all like this?”
 
“No,” Castiel answered, hating how Gabriel talked about humans as a race, but completely understanding his shock at how little respect they bestowed.
 
“Listen here, Trickster.  That’s what us humans call you.  The pain in the ass sprite that trick people into their own demise.  A squirrelly, plotting, no-good little imp that thinks he’s better than all us humans.  That’s what I know about you sprites.”
 
Gabriel narrowed his eyes.  “Trickster.  I kinda remember reading about that.  But that was all before The War of the Peoples.  Before we sunk the strait.”
 
Castiel looked between the two anxiously.  “I hope you can understand, Gabriel, why they fear and do not trust us.”
 
Gabriel nodded.  “We’ve grown a lot since then, Dean.  Nephilim law says we can’t interfere with humans and monsters.  But Michael broke the deal, giving me ample reason to intervene.”
 
Dean nodded, his shoulders relaxing a bit.  
 
Gabriel turned back to Castiel, back on point.  “I brought Dean along because you insisted.  I thought you two might have sealed the deal.  You look different.  Smell different.  I thought you bonded.”
 
“No.  It must be the spell.  When my grace gets too low, or I seem to be fully at rest, I revert into a cat.  It is most inconvenient.”
 
“What is this shit about being bonded?” Dean blurted.
 
Gabriel nodded, ignoring Dean.  “And why is Dean covered in something...dark?  There’s something encasing his whole body.”
 
Dean’s shoulders tightened again.  “I had to make a deal with Crowley.  We couldn’t afford passage to get to Purgatory.”
 
Gabriel frowned.  “What kind of deal?”
 
Dean shifted again, his eyes darting to Castiel hesitantly before his chin jutted up defensively.  “Sold my soul.”
 
Gabriel’s eyes widened.  “Your soul?”  He looked back at Castiel with expectation.  “No wonder you haven’t bonded.”
 
“Again, with the bonding!” Dean complained, throwing his hands up in frustration.
 
Castiel cleared his throat.  “Can you fix it?”
 
“Fix it?” Gabriel scoffed.  “I don’t...I’ve never done anything like that.  Let me read the contract.”
 
Dean frowned harder.  “It’s kinda...hidden.”
 
Gabriel stepped closer to him, reaching out but waited.  “May I?”
 
He was sure Dean would say no, but to his surprise, Dean held his arms open, with a look of reluctance.
 
Gabriel stepped up to him, putting his hands on Dean’s head, like he had done with Charlie.  He closed his eyes as Dean’s widened and the bright writing lit up all over the little bit of skin he could see and glowed through his clothes.  The writing dimmed and Gabriel stepped back with a sigh.  “I could try.  But if it doesn’t work, Dean dies immediately and goes to Crowley.”
 
Dean shivered, shrugged a shoulder with a look of disgust and shook his head.  “Forget it.  I’ll just wait.  Somebody has to know how to do it, right?”
 
Castiel wanted to reassure him, but Gabriel had been his best hope.  Something in Dean’s eyes died.  He nodded, looking at the gray dirt at his feet that was slowly clinging to all their boots and pants.  He looked back up at Gabriel with calm.  “What’s this super-secret information you brought us here for?”
 
“Not so fast,” Gabriel held a hand up.  “You insist on Dean knowing every damn thing, then I insist he be marked.”
 
“Marked?  What’s that?”  Dean asked, completely annoyed at this point.
 
“Gabriel,” Castiel scolded.  “That is not necessary.”
 
“Yes, it is.”  Gabriel crossed his arms over his chest, feet shoulder-width apart.  “I demand it.  I’m about to tell you something completely secret to most of our own people.  I’ll be damned if he knows anything without being marked.”
 
Even Dean had taken a step back at Gabriel’s spike of authority.
 
Castiel turned to Dean.  “Gabriel would never require it if it weren’t absolutely necessary.”
 
Dean crossed his arms over his chest, looking as close to intimidating as Gabriel, which was saying something.
 
“Being marked is swearing an allegiance to a mage.  You are sworn to the loyalty of that legion and mage, agreeing to be called upon by its mage.”
 
“You,” Dean half asked, half clarified.
 
“Yes.  Me.  Thursday.”
 
Dean licked his lips, staring at him hard.  He looked at Gabriel.  “Or?”
 
“Or nothing.  You go back and just take my word for what’s going on behind the scenes,” Gabriel stated.
 
Dean gave an uncomfortable shift in his stance.  “Allegiance?”
 
“Yes,” Castiel explained.  “To me.  It is a means of holding nephilim loyal or showing just how specifically loyal to their mage they are.”
 
“So, I would...”  Dean shook his head, wanting further clarification.  
 
“Belong to the legion of Thursday,” Gabriel supplied.  “And in the eyes of nephilim, you belong to Castiel.  No side hook-ups with other nephilim,” Gabriel winked, cheekily.
 
Castiel closed his eyes, wishing Gabriel would shut up.
 
“That is not...” Dean scowled, “I’m not out ta hook-up with sprites.”
 
“So, problem solved,” Gabriel smirked.  “Or I take you back.”
 
Castiel was frowning hard.  “It has nothing to do with sex, Gabriel.”  He looked at Dean, holding his gaze.  “It’s to assure loyalty to a mage.  We do not use it much anymore.  When humans do it, we see it more as belonging to a specific mage, but I in no way ‘own’ you.”
 
Dean blew out a breath.  “Fine.  Whatever.  Mark me.  Jeez.  It sounds so...dirty.”
 
Castiel shifted on his feet nervously now.  “You’ll have to remove your shirt,” he said quietly.
 
Dean sighed with annoyance.  “This is bullshit.”
 
“It’s actually considered an honor,” Gabriel said in annoyance.
 
“Sounds like I’m gonna go home belonging to too many fucking people,” Dean bit back, tugging his shirt off, holding it in one hand.
 
Castiel turned to him, wishing this were under much different circumstances.  “Do you swear to be true, loyal, and of service to no other legion first than Legion of Thursday and to me, Castiel, Mage of Thursday, Angel’s Son?” Castiel asked in a rush.
 
Dean studied him, his annoyance abating.  “To you, Cas.  I do.”  It was much more sincere than Castiel had expected.
 
He put his hand on Dean’s upper arm.  “By the grace of my lineage, the soul of my ancestors, I take you, Dean Winchester, son of the House of Winchester, to be my confidant,” he let the grace of tying loyalty together flow from his hand to mark Dean, “my sworn defender, and my true kin.”  He let the mark sear into Dean’s skin, seeing him flinch and fight to not pull away.  “Do you swear?”
 
“I swear!” Dean winced, eyes watering.
 
Castiel tied the mark and rushed a cool, healing sensation before withdrawing his hand.
 
Dean looked down at the red, raised handprint on his arm.  “Damn,” he muttered, rubbing his hand over it.  “That fucking hurt.”
 
“My apologies,” Castiel said quietly.
 
Dean met his eyes, glancing back to Gabriel.  “Can I get dressed now?”
 
“Up to you,” Gabriel shrugged.
 
Dean pulled his shirt over his head, brow still furrowed.  He looked back to Castiel.  “So...not that I’m gonna, but what happens if I betray you?”
 
Castiel cleared his throat, knowing Dean did not realize just how sacred and special this was.  “Your mark would burn.  And I would know.  Not the exact betrayal, but that you had betrayed me.”
 
“It’ll fry your arm,” Gabriel said coldly.  “Don’t sugar-coat it, Cassie.”
 
Dean tugged his shirt into place.  “Okay, so what’s so friggin’ secret that I just got marked for?”
 
Gabriel looked at Castiel in bewilderment.  “I really don’t get the appeal!”
 
“Gabriel,” Castiel said tightly.
 
He rolled his eyes with one last hesitant look at Dean before going on.  “Billie is the Master of Wards.  The wards weren’t just set and left.  They’re guarded and managed by Billie in The Garden.  If you have wings, you’re allowed to know that she can lift wards if you ask her real nice.  You must have MAJOR reason to lift a ward.  It took me months of angling, but she let me come here.  So, I can get back to Haven once.  Then my deal is over.  But now that I’m IN Purgatory, I can fly wherever inside this country.”
 
Castiel nodded.  “That’s why I could fly in Elizabethville and Lincoln, because I was in Purgatory, within the warded zone.”  It made more sense now.  “And how did you get me to Lawrence?”

“I had that already set up. I managed to tamper with one of the wards. The one to Lawrence. I had planned on going to see John myself, but Michael got awfully curious about my comings and goings. I figured he would never suspect a thing if you went. I mean, you’re the new kid. What would you possibly know about the world outside of Haven? Michael doesn’t even know you can fly! Unless of course word got out.”

“You assumed I would return immediately?” Cas asked.

“I figured I’d come pick you up. I just needed to throw Michael off for a day. I never dreamed you’d end up going native and disappearing on me.”

Castiel gave him an unamused look.

“How did you find him?” Dean asked.

“Cassie used his grace.  I felt it.  I’ve been here for days, wandering around looking for you, Cassie.  I almost left and then there was a big burst yesterday.  Luckily, you used more today, plus a trail of dead vamps, werewolves, and Leviathan.  Then I sorta lost you again but kept looking and lucky me, stumbled into camp Save-John.”
 
Castiel sighed.  “How will we get them home?”
 
“Same way I sent you to Lawrence. Hopefully Billie will never notice one little dented ward if we all keep a low profile.”
 
Castiel nodded.  “So, we ride to Stockville, board the ship, leaving Purgatory and...”
 
“Open water is free flying,” Gabriel grinned.
 
Castiel nodded again, putting the plan together.  “We fly to Lawrence.”
 
“Bingo,” Gabriel grinned.  “We drop off the kids and you and I go home.”
 
Castiel met Dean’s worried eyes.
 
“And no one needs to know the ins and outs of our little flying system.  Right, Dean-O?”
 
Dean looked away from him, meeting Gabriel’s eyes.  “Right.”
 
“Okay, back to the witch’s house.”  He snapped and disappeared.
 
Dean turned to him quickly.  “What is bonding?”
 
Castiel shifted on his feet.  “I...it’s...I’ll explain later.”
 
“Later when?” Dean frowned.
 
“We should go,” Castiel said, trying to avoid the entire discussion.
 
“Cas.”
 
Castiel felt bad, but Dean was frustrated enough as it was.  “Tonight.  I’ll explain tonight.”
 
“Fine,” Dean huffed.
 
Castiel held out his hand.
 
The annoyed look on Dean’s face wavered as his wings came out.  Castiel tried not to chuckle, making Dean annoyed, which he pulled off poorly as his eyes betrayed him, running along his wings with appreciation.
 
Dean took his hand and they flew to Charlie’s.
 
Dean stifled his gasp at the flight, letting go of Castiel’s hand as they heard an irate Bobby yelling at Gabriel, then turned his red face toward Castiel.
 
“Quit doin’ that!  Ya can’t just grab people and leave with no explanation!”
 
“My apologies,” Castiel said solemnly, bowing his head.
 
Bobby turned his glare back on Gabriel.
 
“Won’t happen again!” Gabriel said quickly, holding a hand up in sworn promise.  Or fear.
 
Bobby could be intimidating when angered.
 
Like a bear.
 
 
 
*********************************
 
 
 
They all piled into Charlie’s tiny house.  Last time they were here, Thursday had turned into Castiel, mage of whatever.  It was weird.  All of it.
 
Gabriel leaned against the counter, looking around Charlie’s kitchen with barely contained curiosity.
 
“Can we get to the planning stage of this mess?” John barked, everyone quieting down to listen.  Dean had seen his father taking charge of a room.  What he had not seen, was the tempered attention the mages gave him.
 
Gabriel took control of the room easily.  Even though the guy was on the small side, his presence was commanding, nonetheless.  “Castiel and I need to go to Haven.  We have research and recruiting to do.  John, you need to round up your troops.  Your people need to understand that war is coming.  Freeland doesn’t stand a chance against the armies of demons headed its way.  Make them understand.”
 
John, not used to taking orders, nodded stiffly.
 
“We’ll take whoever wants to leave Purgatory to Lawrence.  We can regroup later to see how our recruiting is going.”
 
“Wait!” Charlie held up a hand.  “Maybe we can help you.  We could talk to the other sprites, er, nephilim, with you.  Help them see what’s happening here.”
 
Gabriel narrowed his eyes.  “It’s a thought...” They all waited as Gabriel narrowed his eyes further, finger crooked to his chin in contemplation.  “Let’s see how our recruiting goes before I bring in the big guns.”  He grinned at her.  Dean was sure Gabriel took her seriously, even if she was a tiny, usually smiling thing.
 
Charlie grinned.
 
 
 
********************************************
 
 
 
Gabriel went to Stockville to find out when the ship left next for Freeland.  As the others gathered around Charlie’s table, Dean pulled Cas aside.
 
“Time to talk.”
 
Castiel nodded, pressing his lips in a firm line.
 
Before they could leave, Gabriel was back.
 
“Tomorrow morning, bright and early,” he announced, sitting at the table.
 
Cas cleared his throat.  “We’ll meet you at the dock.  Dean and I need to...talk.”
 
Dean wanted to die a little.  His dad and brother both gave him anxious looks.  Bobby and Gabe smirked.  Jo and Charlie exchanged a grin that made Dean roll his eyes.  What made him hesitate was a look between Cas and Gabe that didn’t have anything to do with teasing or humor.  Whatever was going on, he was going to find out.
 
Castiel tipped his head toward the door.  Dean followed him, turning back to Sam.  “Don’t leave here without Impala.”
 
Sam huffed a laugh, “As if.”
 
Dean nodded, his eyes running over the group.  This was going to work.  It had to.  His eyes landed back on Sammy.  “See you in the morning.”
 
Sam nodded.
 
They stepped outside, pulling the door shut behind them.  Cas’ wings came out in a huge smokey black array that Dean had to admit was an amazing fucking sight.  Every time Cas did this, his eyes got so bright blue that light glowed from them.  He bit his lip as he longed to touch those feathers again.
 
As Cas’ eyes dimmed to their regular shade of the most beautiful blue he had ever seen, he stepped closer.  “Where you takin’ me?”
 
“Ellen’s old place,” Cas said quietly, taking Dean’s hand with a warm smile.  “If that is okay with you.”
 
Dean nodded.  “Might be overrun with demons.”
 
“Then we’ll get out of there immediately.”
 
Dean nodded, squeezing Cas’ hand.  “Let’s go.”
 
Cas’ eyes glanced at his mouth before meeting his eyes again.  He looked down, closing his eyes as if he was concentrating.  Just when Dean was going to ask him if something was wrong, his world yanked away with the sound of fluttering wings in his ears.  He gripped Cas tight and steadied his stance as his feet were suddenly rooted to Ellen’s kitchen floor.
 
They both took a quick breath, looking around.  Without a word, they checked every room for invaders.  Fortunately, the apartment was empty.
 
Dean looked at the emptied kitchen.  “We didn’t bring any food for breakfast.”
 
Castiel grinned, laying a bag on the table.  “I brought breakfast.”
 
Dean relaxed a bit.  There were still blankets and pillows on the beds in Jo and Ellen’s rooms.  They were set for the night, as far as he could tell.  Cas stood there seeming to be waiting for something. The mood between them had changed. What had been sparking below the surface had cranked up to a low buzzing in Dean’s mind, a rush of heat that flushed his skin, and a constant need to breathe evenly. He could feel the mark. But that wasn’t it. The bit of time they’d spent kissing and Dean feeling his wings...yes...that was it. The wings. Moving velvet. Thick and soft and controlled by the most beautiful creature Dean had ever seen. He pushed the memory of Cas’ lips on his neck and velvet, lush nirvana of Cas’ wings out of his mind the best he could. They had shit to talk about. He pulled a kitchen chair out, sitting at the table.  “I need you to explain what Gabriel was talking about and why it freaked you out so much.”
 
Cas sat at the table next to him, pushing the bag over to prop an elbow on the worn, scratched surface of the wooden table.  He stared down at one of the scratches, feeling it with his fingers.  He seemed to be searching for the right words, only adding to Dean’s worry.
 
“I am a mage.  One of the seven. The third most powerful mage in the world. I am more powerful than a Mage of Thursday has been in quite some time.  They will expect me to have children.  Soon.”
 
Dean sat back in his chair, watching Cas carefully.
 
“I would, had this trip not occurred, have gone to The Garden for a Creation party. They would bring in Eligibles and I would choose who I felt most compatible with. The Eligibles, if they chose to, would come home with me and we would have time to get to know each other more. Then, I would be expected to choose a mate. I would not have to bond with them, but if we decided to, we could.”
 
“Yeah, what exactly does that mean?” Dean prodded, already connecting the dots to what he suspected.  He rubbed a nervous hand over his newly acquired mark. 
 
Cas continued to stare at his fingers tracing the gouge and went on quietly.  “When a mage bonds, they seal their soul to another’s using their grace.  It forms a bond that stays with you until death.  Not all the seven are bonded.  Mages of Friday and Saturday rarely ever bond, wanting to mate more openly.  But when you are as powerful as I am, lineage gets traced, and we would be expected to have multiple children.”
 
Dean’s brows shot up. ‘We.’ As in Cas had already had his party and got to know him, marked him, thought of him as a mate? To possibly BOND with? “We!”

Castiel pressed his lips together, ducking his head slightly. “I am serious, Dean. Very serious. About you.”

Dean stared at him, his stomach swirling.

“Are you not...serious?” Castiel asked, looking guarded.

Dean immediately missed the free sunshine of Castiel’s warm looks. “Yeah, Cas. I’m serious about us. I am. But...you’re talking about being...together. Like...permanently!”

Cas frowned.

Dean felt guilty. “Okay, okay. I’m very serious!” He winced at the implication of the thought. Cas just said ‘we’ and ‘have children’ in the same damn sentence. “I just...I need a second to, shit. I gotta wrap my head around this.”

Castiel nodded, waiting patiently.

Dean stared at him for a few seconds.

“I’m very attracted to you, Dean.”

Well damn. Dean blushed. He knew as much, but Cas was so freaking awkward about all this! “I get that, Cas. But we kinda missed some steps here. Like...I don’t know! Dating! Meet the folks, long talks about what we want with our lives!”

“I have met your father. And we have had talks. Though some of them were quite one-sided due to my being a cat.”

Dean blinked at him incredulously. He snorted a laugh. “I barely know you!”

Castiel leveled a steady look on him, immediately making Dean lean back slightly and regret the words.

“Is that true? Do you not know me?”

Dean swallowed. “I mean...I don’t know about your childhood or...your favorite song. But...yeah,” his voice dropped to almost a whisper. “Yeah. I know you.” He knew all he needed to know. That Cas looked at him like no one ever had. That his hands felt incredible. That he made him feel like a better person. Sam liked him. Impala liked him. Bobby liked him. And the world was in chaos around them. Their eyes met briefly, Cas looking more confident at Dean’s amended admittance.

Cas nodded, looking away, as if the counter ahead of him was suddenly so interesting.

Dean ran a hand through his hair. The crazier he though this all was, the more normal it all seemed. It didn’t make sense and yet it felt absolutely right.

We.

As in, he and Cas.

And babies.

He stifled a laugh, swallowing at the steady gaze Cas was now giving him. Dammit.

“I apologize for rushing things. I do not have the luxury of guessing. Not when it comes to you. Not with so many things in question. I don’t even know if my legion will follow me any more. I have been gone a long time.”

Dean hated the sad look that tipped Cas’ face. “So...back to the we stuff. So, the other mages will want you cranking out babies soon. And...if you and I are, ya know, a ‘we’, then...what happens?”

Castiel looked at him, his sadness slipping into something more along the worried spectrum. “There are several options. We could bond and -“

“So, men can bond?” Dean asked.
 
“They can.”  Castiel said, still gazing at him.  “But it is not encouraged when bonding with a woman can result in children so easily.  At least, more children than two men could create.”
 
Dean’s eyes widened.  “You mean two men can make a baby?”
 
Castiel looked down again more shyly.  “It has been done.  But the success of birthing is low.  If we...If I bonded with a man, they would expect me to make it happen.  I could alter my anatomy, or my partner’s to carry a child.”
 
Dean covered his mouth with his hand.
 
Fuck.
 
It was way more than he was ready to think about.  It was something he never had considered or known possible.  Shoving the unbelievable thoughts aside, he cleared his throat, leaning onto his hand as he studied Cas.  “And...would you be expected to stay in Haven?”
 
Cas looked at him steadily.  “Without a doubt.  A mage has never left his post.  It is our duty to uphold the ideals of our namesake.  I am responsible for my entire legion.”
 
Something sunk inside his chest.  He really liked Cas.  Sprite or not.  But it looked like them being more than just partners on this journey was entirely too much to ask for.
 
“This mark doesn’t mean I have to live in Haven, does it?”
 
Cas frowned.  “No.  I would not hold you to that.  I would only ask that what secrets you learn, stay with you, keeping us safe.”
 
Dean nodded.  “Of course.”
 
Cas turned to him, his blue eyes probing.  “Would you ever consider moving to Haven with me?”
 
Oh shit.  Part of him was shocked Cas even considered asking.  Another part of him tried to see a life like that.  “I don’t know,” he admitted quietly.  Their eyes lingered with unasked questions and unresolved answers.  
 
This was a problem.
 
“I would care for you a great deal,” Cas said, sliding his hand over to take Dean’s.
 
Dean balked at the thought of being ‘cared for’.  He pictured himself in a role like Kate.  The supportive spouse.  His skills would be useless in Haven.  He’d be relegated to caring for their children, if they even managed to have any.
 
“And if we couldn’t have kids?” Dean pressed.
 
Cas pressed his lips together, not wanting to answer.  “I would be expected to take on mates.  Even if we were bonded.”
 
Dean released Cas’ hand, sitting back as he blew out a breath.  “I, I don’t think I could do that, Cas.  That’s...”
 
Cas laced his own fingers together as he nodded with a gentle look of understanding.  “I’m not entirely sure I could handle a relationship like that either.  My own father had many mates, creating six children. Two of his children, Anna and Samandriel, both of whom demonstrate fairly strong grace powers, are my abettors. Obviously Kassiel’s grace was passed on rather strongly.”
 
“So let those two have the kids,” Dean offered, looking for any kind of hope.
 
Castiel smiled sadly.  “Their grace is nothing compared to mine.  I will certainly be expected to have children.”
 
Dean rubbed his face with both hands.  The information was way more than he wanted to think about.
 
“If I do not bond with you before my next meeting with Michael and Gabriel, it will certainly be commanded that I do not do so.”
 
Dean’s hands dropped to his lap.  “Fuck Michael.”  He stared at Cas hard, Cas seeming shocked at the words.
 
“He’s massing an army of demons, Cas!  Kinda makes his word not worth anything!”
 
Cas frowned in thought.  “But...”
 
“But nothing!  He’s not your boss.”
 
“By law, he is my superior,” Cas argued.
 
Dean leaned toward him a little closer.  “Cas, whether or not you and I become something more, that bag of dicks is not your boss anymore.  He’s a traitor.  He broke the law.”
 
“Bag of dicks,” Cas repeated, looking at him with utter confusion.  “He’s more superior than Gabriel.  He is Sunday’s mage and he is extremely powerful.”
 
The two stared at each other, Cas not grasping what Dean was explaining and Dean finding it adorable, yet dangerous.
 
“He only has one dick,” Cas assured him.
 
Dean caught his laugh but lost it.  When Cas sat back even more perplexed, Dean threw his head back, laughing hard.
 
“Dean.  This isn’t funny.”
 
“I know,” he wheezed, laughing again as he cupped Cas’ shoulder, patting him.  “It was, uh, never mind.”  He waved his own fit of laughter off, settling into a smile at the sprite.  He couldn’t figure out why exactly he liked Cas so damn much, but he did.  He did.  His hand dropped down to Cas’, taking it with a little squeeze.  “I don’t know what will happen with you and me, Cas...shit, there’s a contract on my soul anyway.  You definitely deserve someone who’s at least available.”
 
Cas frowned.  “You’ll have your soul again, Dean.  I swear it.”
 
Dean’s humor settled.  Who knew if there was really any way to save his soul from Crowley?  But he loved that Cas would try.  And he knew he would.
 
“Cas,” Dean said, meeting his blue eyes solemnly. “I can’t promise I’m ready to bond or mate or marry you. But I do promise that I am here tonight. And I want to know you better. I...” memories of Cas’ wings, his mouth, his fight with Azazel all flooded Dean’s mind. “We...we have tonight. And I got no idea what tomorrow is gonna look like. But the thought of waking up with you to start what ever mess we’re getting into next...that...that makes me kinda real happy.”

Cas twitched a grin. “It makes me very happy too.”

“So, did you bring dessert?” Dean asked, not wanting to think about mages or demons or deals or obligations for a little bit.  His dad was safe.  For the moment, they were all safe.  If they didn’t take advantage of this moment, they might not get another.
 
Cas grinned, pulled his bag toward him, seeming eager to join him in a moment to relax.  “I have some seeds.”
 
Dean sat back, watching Cas grow something as he took the spare moment to clean his gun.  He really was not even hungry after the food Gabriel had made.  But eating was easier than anything else he could think of doing.  Cas moved gracefully, happy with producing and creating a snack.  When he sat the plate in front of him, he had the dearest smile of accomplishment.
 
“Thank you,” Dean said softly, sitting his gun aside, waiting until Cas sat down until he began eating.  “What are these?” Dean grinned, eating plump, purple things that popped in his mouth.
 
“Grapes?” Cas chuckled.  “You’ve never eaten grapes?”
 
“No!  They’re so good!”
 
Castiel lowered his hand to the table.  “You’ve never had wine?”
 
“What’s that?”  Dean popped another grape in his mouth.  “They’re like sweet with a hint of sour.  So good!”
 
“Do humans have alcohol besides whiskey and beer?”
 
Dean frowned.  “You can make liquor out of grapes?”
 
Cas shook his head in amazement.  “We make wine with grapes.”
 
Dean grinned at him as he chewed slowly.  “I hope I get to try some.  Is it as strong as whiskey?”
 
“No,” Cas chuckled, popping a grape in his mouth.  “We drink it all the time.  Usually with dinner but some drink it more than others.  Much how you drink beer.”
 
“Sounds fruity.”
 
“It goes well with beef or fish.”
 
Dean stared at him.  “You’ve eaten fish?  Why would you do that?  It’s cursed!”
 
Cas gave him a long, warm look.  “I truly hope I am fortunate enough to bring you to Haven.  There are so many things I want to show you.”
 
Dean gave him a shyer smile.
 
“Raphael can heal the fish for eating.  He is one of the mages in Tree of Knowledge.”
 
Dean nodded, realizing he knew absolutely nothing about how Cas lived there.  “He a friend of yours?”
 
“Hardly.  He does not like me at all.  I think my powers make him feel threatened.”
 
“Huh.  Well, he should be good to you then.  In case you get pissed at him and turn him into a toad.”
 
Cas almost choked on his water.  “I would never do that.”  He cleared his throat, pushing a few grapes around on his plate.  “Though it would be a fitting punishment for what an ass he can be.”
 
Dean laughed.  He pushed his empty plate away, picking up the last two grapes on Cas’ plate.  He pushed the plate away and pressed Cas back against his chair.  Cas’ eyes widened as he finished chewing and swallowing his last bite.  He slid his chair back several inches in response to Dean pressing against his chest.

All their talk of bonding and mating mighta been scary as fuck. But it was still hot. With every passing smile and especially with every laugh, Dean wanted Cas more. And if they were going to find out just how compatible they were, they might as well have some fun doing it.
 
With a flirty grin, Dean got up and swung a leg over him, straddling his lap.  Castiel’s eyes widened just a little more as he grinned up at him, his hands settling on Dean’s hips.
 
Dean palmed one grape, holding the other between his thumb and index finger.  He touched it lightly to Cas’ bottom lip, watching with a growing thrill as Cas parted his lips slightly.  
 
“I kinda got the impression you wanted to spend some time with me.  Just me.”
 
Castiel’s hands squeezed him lightly.  “I did.  I do.  I wasn’t sure after our talk if you...were still interested.”
 
Their eyes met.  Dean didn’t want to think about their talk or any of the problems that lay outside the tiny apartment.  What he did want to think about was Cas’ thumbs pressing gently into his thighs.  He traced the plump grape along Cas’ bottom lip, watching how it dragged lightly.  He bit his own bottom lip with a grin when Cas’ tongue peeked out to lick it.
 
Cas was an insanely good kisser.  That much he knew.  He suspected he would be very good at a lot of other things too.
 
“How ‘bout you clean us both up,” Dean said quietly.
 
Cas bit the teasing grape gently, not even breaking its skin, his tongue caressing his fingertips.  His hands squeezed gently, and Dean felt the now familiar sensation of the warm ripple that cascaded down his body, tingling him from his scalp down to his toes.  His mouth fizzled and they both grinned a little harder.
 
“Can you get rid of our boots?” Dean asked, putting the grape into his own mouth, eating it.
 
“That was mine,” Cas said in a gritty tone that had Dean shifting his hips slightly.  Their boots and socks disappeared, and Dean wondered just how having sex with a sprite was going to go.
 
Cuz, yeah.  They were having sex.  Like...soon.  Like...today.  
 
He moved the last grape into his fingertips and bit it softly between his front teeth with a teasing grin.  “Last one,” said around it, “if you want it, come get it.”
 
Castiel’s cheeks flushed as he wrapped his arms around Dean’s sides, sliding them onto his back to pull him down.  He took the grape with his own mouth, chewing and swallowing it as he kissed him.  Dean barely let him manage the grape before he was pressing forward to chase the flavor.  Cas pulled him close, kissing him back just as playfully as a chuckle rumbled in his chest.  
 
“Get rid of this,” Dean said, tugging on his tan coat.
 
It vanished, upping the thrill brewing inside Dean.  “And this,” he said, tugging at the collar of his white shirt.
 
Cas pulled his head back, watching Dean as his shirt vanished.  Dean ran his hands down his shoulders and along his upper arms as his eyes traveled down his muscular chest.  He saw the scar, knowing it went completely around his side, almost to his spine.  He had touched Cas’ upper body before, but this was different.  He knew they were going further.  At least, that was what he hoped.  He put his hands on Cas’ smooth chest, brushing both thumbs over his nipples before one hand slid lower to slide his thumb over the red line of his scar.  
 
“Is this okay?” Dean asked.
 
“Yes,” Cas breathed out, his eyes riveted to Dean’s face as he studied the sprite’s body.
 
“I want to do a lot more,” Dean admitted, biting his lip as he met his blue eyes.
 
Cas cupped his cheek.  “So do I.”
 
Dean grinned harder.  “Guess you’re clean since sprites can heal themselves.”
 
“I am.  As are you.  I checked.”
 
“You checked?” Dean frowned.
 
“I did.  One of the first times we kissed.  I was...curious.  There were a lot of infected people in Stockville.  Every disease has a certain...smell.”
 
Dean made a disgusted face.
 
“You’ve always been healthy,” Cas smiled.
 
Dean refocused on Cas’ chest.  “So...what exactly did you have in mind by bringing me here alone?”  His eyes lifted to Castiel’s with just a hint of shyness.  He was unsure what to expect.
 
Cas slid the chair back and stood up, lifting Dean easily to carry him, legs wrapping instinctively around his waist.  He grinned at the surprised look Dean figured he must have.  He’d never been with someone strong enough to carry him so easily.  It made his mind spin with ideas.
 
“I wanted to be with you.  Just you.”  Cas walked into Ellen’s room slowly.  “I want you to know just how amazing I think you are.”
 
Dean knew he was blushing.  His fingers toyed with the back of Cas’ hair as he listened.
 
“I want to show you how sprites make love.”
 
Dean’s lips parted, a little stunned Cas referred to himself as a sprite.  And even more shocked he used the phrase ‘make love’.  His hopes soared along with his libido.
 
Cas wrapped an arm beneath his butt more securely and stared down at the bed.  He turned, watching as the mattress got thicker and the blankets went from gray to white, holes mending, and making itself into an inviting bed.
 
He looked back at Cas in wonder.  “Using your magic isn’t even making you tired, is it?”
 
“No,” Cas assured him.
 
“Show me what you got,” Dean challenged, bending down to kiss him.  Cas kissed him back eagerly, bending to lay them both on the bed.
 
“I want to take your shirt off,” Cas managed to get out between kisses that were quickly picking up in intensity.
 
“Undress me however you want,” Dean whispered back into his ear before moving to slide his tongue down Cas’ neck, biting gently.
 
Cas pulled away with a sharp intake of breath, staring down at Dean.  There was a slight ring of glowing blue in his eyes and he was breathing heavier.
 
Dean, lying on his back on the bed, Cas straddling his lap now, unlaced the top of Dean’s shirt, watching him like he’d never seen anything so incredible before.  Dean let his arms fall to the bed, stretching open wide.  Cas ran his hands up under the shirt, licking his lips as he smoothed his palms along Dean’s sides.  He removed one hand, snapping his fingers and Dean’s shirt was gone.
 
They were both down to only pants.
 
Dean’s heart raced at the power that surged through Cas.  He could feel it.  The rings of blue glowed brighter and Dean felt a sudden burst of lust that he knew came from Cas.  He gasped softly as Cas closed his eyes, his hands lying on Dean’s sides with a grounding pressure.  He took a slow, deep breath, Dean matching it.  The lust ebbed and Cas opened his eyes, the glow so faint it was almost gone.
 
Cas smiled and Dean gave him a nervous little laugh.  “This is gonna be intense, isn’t it?”
 
“Very,” Cas muttered.
 
Dean took another deep breath.  “Maybe...uh, go a little gentle.”
 
Cas leaned down, kissing him softly.  “I will.”
 
“Have you ever, uh, had sex with a human before?” Dean asked, trying to steady his nerves.  Cas seemed on a different level of intensity.  The rush of lust he had felt a moment ago was a peek into what the sprite was feeling inside, and it was enough to make Dean feel desperate for what he already wanted.
 
“No.  Nephilim who were mostly all human, but not a pure human.”
 
“Do I, uh, need to know anything?” Dean’s nerves were all over the place.  He wanted to ravage the man, he wanted the man to ravage him.  And yet, he was a little bit afraid of the power that surged through Cas from time to time.  It was like nothing he had experienced before.  
 
Cas smiled down at him, rolling his hips just a little.  “I know what I am doing.  Do you trust me?”
 
Dean nodded, breathless.  “Yeah.  I trust you, Cas.”
 
“Then enjoy yourself.  I certainly intend to enjoy you completely.  Many times.”
 
“Many times,” Dean huffed, losing his breath again as Cas’ fingers scraped softly down his chest and began untying his pants.
 
Cas licked his lips as he watched his own hands untie and tug the leather lacing loose.  “Nephilim are capable of multiple orgasms.  And providing multiple orgasms to their partner.”  His eyes lifted to Dean’s, smoldering with heat.  “Human partners as well.”
 
“Oh shit,” Dean gasped, eyes widening as his pants disappeared.  The shock of so much skin to skin heat made them both groan softly.
 
Cas looked down again, stroking Dean’s cock gently, studying it as he studied all things.
 
Dean groaned.  He’d been sharing close quarters with people for so long.  He’d had no privacy to jerk off.  And he had been too distracted most of the time to even be frustrated about it.  Cas’ hands seemed like a sudden shock to his system, making him groan as he stroked again.  His hands gripped Cas’ thighs as his hips pressed up, Cas’ grip tightening to give him more friction.
 
Cas moaned, grinning down at him with an authority that made Dean want to spread his legs.  He rolled his hips up again, gasping as his skin registered the warmth of Cas’ skin against his.  His hands gripped Cas’ thighs, sliding to his ass as Cas leaned forward, taking his mouth in a kiss so rapturous that Dean thought he might lose his mind.
 
Cas stroked both their cocks together and Dean groaned aloud again.  “Fuck, Cas,” he gasped.  His legs strained to spread until Cas lifted, letting himself between Dean’s knees.
 
“Dean,” Cas growled into his ear, neither able to pull off a very coordinated kiss right now.
 
Dean lifted his feet, perching them on the small of Cas’ back.  He wanted his cock buried inside him right the fuck now.  He had to know what he felt like, what this would be.
 
Cas’ mouth found his as he reached down, nudging his cock to Dean’s hole.
 
“W-w-w-wait!” Dean gasped, fearing Cas would shove himself inside without any stretching.
 
“Breathe, Dean,” Cas said gently, kissing him hard.
 
Dean whimpered as a sensation tingled in his ass, as if Cas’ cock was making him warm and tingle.  It felt so good Dean gasped, groping to catch his own cock and come but Cas caught his hand, pinning it to the bed.
 
“Let me,” he panted.
 
Dean squirmed, gasping as he felt Cas slide deep and warm inside him, filling him full to bursting.  The slide felt hot and full and tingled, his body shuddering with a goodness that made him gasp. The sprite must have stretched and lubed him with grace magic because his cock felt amazing wedged so tight and hot.
 
Dean huffed, pushing his head back to spread his hips and relax into the sudden fullness.  “Feels so good,” he whimpered, already coiling so hard and tight inside that his climax was imminent.  
 
Cas kissed him, nipping at his lip, chin, ear, and neck as he began slowly and smoothly thrusting.
 
Dean gripped his hand hard, using the anchor to push, fucking so hard it was making Cas gasp.
 
Cas’ eyes closed as he sped up sudden and sharp, groaning.
 
Dean could feel him swell, his prostate pummeled.  He dug one heel in, grabbing his cock with his free hand, stroking three quick strokes and came as Cas watched him, coming as the bed pounded against the wall until he slowed, finally panting to a stop.  Dean stared up at Cas, seeing the glow dim in his eyes again.  He panted, adjusting his hips.
 
Cas leaned down, kissing him as he let go of Dean’s hand to stroke through his hair gently.
 
He grinned when Cas cleaned them both, his skin rippling with a tingle.  
 
“Okay,” Dean cleared his throat.  “One, that was...awesome.  Two, I fuckin’ love that you can clean us up like that.  And three, you’re still hard as a rock.”
 
Cas stopped nipping kisses along his neck, going up onto his hands over him.  “I told you,” he grinned, sliding out and in, “multiple orgasms.”
 
Dean’s eyes widened.  “Oh.  Like...” he was going to say ‘already’, but Cas started thrusting into him slowly, gathering Dean’s cock into his hand as a burst of lust surged between them again.  Dean gasped as his cock got hard.  “Oh...fuck.”  He began moving against Cas again, his hands gripping Cas’ shoulders.  His cock slid in and out so full but felt so good Dean wanted to cry.
 
He gasped when Cas withdrew completely.
 
“What?” He gaped, eyes opening fully to stare at him.
 
“May I...turn you over?” Cas asked.
 
“Baby, you can turn me upside down if it means you’ll keep going.”
 
Cas chuckled, helping Dean turn over.
 
Dean settled onto his elbows and into his favorite position.  Not that Cas knew that yet.  He grinned back at Cas as he settled against his hips, leaning over Dean to plant kisses down his spine.  Dean’s head dropped, loving the feel of Cas being over him, surrounding him.  His eyes squinted shut, biting his lip as the kiss descended to his tailbone to where his cheeks parted.  His mouth dropped when Cas spread his cheeks and he began licking his hole.  
 
“Oh, holy shit,” Dean moaned.
 
Cas groaned in response, Dean feeling it deep inside.
 
“Cas,” Dean gasped, spreading his knees as Cas fucked into him with his tongue.  “That feels so good,” he said three octaves higher than his normal range, fucking back onto Cas’ tongue gently.  “Insanely good!”
 
He gasped when Cas’ tongue flicked against his prostate.
 
“Oh, that’s insane!  Are you...are you doin’ some kinda crazy sprite thing?”  He groaned loud as Cas stroked and nudged his prostate over and over.  “Whatever it is, keep doing it!”
 
Cas’ tongue worked harder and faster as Dean hurtled toward a second orgasm.  There was no way Cas was JUST using his tongue.  He had done something to fatten and elongate it, shoving and stroking, pressing until Dean couldn’t stop himself from fucking onto it.  He stroked his throbbing cock and came hard, panting and collapsing onto the bed as the thick, wet tongue retracted until he was empty.
 
“Oooohhhh, fuck,” he muttered against his forearm, eyes closed as his body teetered and pulsed in the afterglow.
 
His breath caught when Cas rubbed his hands on Dean’s bare ass, circling and massaging.
 
Dean went up onto his hands weakly as Cas lined himself up with him, stroking his back in long sweeps.
 
Dean took a deep breath, feeling energy soak into his system like dry soil soaks up rain.
 
“Want me to stop?” Cas asked, his hands never pausing in their exploration.
 
Dean went up on his knees, backing into Cas’ chest.  Cas’ mouth landed open and greedy on his neck as his arms held him.
 
Oh mercy!  A part of him seemed shocked he could keep going, but the energy, the drive, and the lust was all there.  “No, don’t stop.”
 
Cas pushed him forward onto his hands again, sliding inside him as insatiable as the first time.  With one hand on his hip and the other on the small of his back, Cas took his time, driving himself to the edge before Dean felt another wave of lust so strong that he gasped, collapsing to his elbows.  Cas drove harder and faster, reaching around to stroke Dean.  The heavy emotions of erotic lust and Cas groaning behind him, had him coming again as Cas came inside him.
 
Dean slumped to his stomach again as Cas lay on top of him, his body draped over his.
 
“Dean, you are so...I can’t get enough.”
 
Dean chuckled breathlessly.  “You can take all you want, Cas.  Shit.  That fuckin’ emotion thing you do drives me crazy!”
 
Cas slid his chin over Dean’s shoulder, making him moan in pleasure.  His lips left a trail of kisses that had Dean shifting his hips with a grin.  “Do sprites always have sex over and over?”
 
“Not all,” he answered quietly, kissing the back of his neck.  “Some do.  Some, like Gabriel, throw lavish parties and there is a lot of sex at them.”
 
Dean turned his head to the side, trying to look back at him.  “Like...sex parties?  With other people in the room?”
 
“I have heard of that.”  Cas slid his chin over, peering down at Dean.  “I’ve not attended any like that.”
 
Dean frowned.  
 
“Where I am from sex is spoken of only privately.  Public affection is not so accepted.”  Cas slid off his back, giving Dean the freedom to take a deep, full breath as he listened.  “Nephilim do not kiss in public, let alone have parties involving sex.”
 
“Guess the nephilim are as different as humans are.  Not that I’ve heard about any sex parties.  But I’d know where to go look if I thought I wanted to go to one.”
 
Cas turned to him, his eyes narrowing.  
 
Dean propped up onto one hand with an amused grin.  “I’m not looking for any sex parties.”
 
Cas looked at the ceiling, hiding a guilty look of relief.
 
Dean dropped back down to the bed.  His body felt a little sore and his energy was draining quicker than before, but he wanted more.  Not sex exactly.   He peeked at Cas who was lying on his back, staring at the ceiling.  He wanted Cas to...well...for lack of a better word...cuddle him.
 
Could be sprites didn’t do that.
 
Dean had always been a cuddler.  It was what had sparked the relationship between him and Benny.  Too many hunts in the cold.  Dean would wiggle closer and closer until they pressed together.  Eventually, Benny  shared his sleeping roll.  And eventually, they were more than sleeping together.
 
Cas turned to him, catching Dean’s eye.  “Shall we rest for a bit?”
 
Dean grinned.  “A bit, huh?”
 
Cas turned on his side.  “Well, if I haven’t worn you out...”
 
Dean blushed.  They’d barely been in bed for an hour and already he’d had sex more times than he’d had in the past year.
 
Dean could feel the push of energy the sprite gave him.
 
“How do you do that?” Dean asked softly, marveling at how good it made him feel.
 
Cas lay back again, staring up at the ceiling.  “I just...give it to you.  Strength and energy are simply adjusting chemical levels in your body.  I’ve read about it but did not know I could do it until I tried it with you.  As for the other feelings...I simply share what I’m feeling.”
 
“So...it is your feelings?”
 
Cas turned to look at him, smiling gently.  “It is.”
 
“Can you read mine?  How I feel?”
 
“I don’t know.”  Cas turned onto his side again, going up on one elbow as he stared at Dean with a scrutiny that made him lean away an inch.  Dean wasn’t exactly sure he wanted Cas to know how he felt.  He didn’t even quite know how he felt.
 
“Your feelings are jumbled.  Chaotic.”  He frowned as his eyes ran over Dean’s body.  “You don’t know what to do with what we have.”
 
“Okay,” Dean said, feeling way too vulnerable.
 
“Oh,” Cas’ eyes met his and he smiled.
 
“What?” Dean asked, worried what he had seen.
 
“Come here,” Cas said gently, reaching to pull Dean against him.  “I want to hold you as well.”
 
Dean settled back against him.  “You knew I wanted that?”
 
“To cuddle?” Cas clarified.  “Yes.  I do too.”  Cas pulled him tight against him, kissing his shoulder.
 
“Can you...not read me?  I’m not sure I like it.”
 
“Of course!  I would only do that when you ask.  It is rude and dealt with harshly in Haven.  Nephilim that are able to empathize are not allowed to do so without permission.”
 
Dean relaxed a bit.  “Okay.  I mean, I don’t got anything to hide, but...”
 
Cas kissed his shoulder again, his head nestling against Dean’s.  “It is a matter of privacy.  I understand.  I am glad you like to cuddle.”
 
Dean rolled his eyes, blushing.  “Yeah.”
 
“You can ask anything of me Dean,” Cas whispered.  “Anything.”
 
Dean grinned to the gray walls in the room as Cas wrapped an arm around him, his palm laying open and relaxed on Dean’s chest.  He shifted his hip, finding Cas’ warm cock not fully hard, but substantial, nonetheless.
 
 
 
**********************************************
 
 
 
Castiel did not sleep.  He held Dean all night long when they weren’t making love.  He was aware that Dean categorized it as ‘sex’ or ‘fucking’ but he was willing to wait for Dean’s feelings to develop.  Was it a human trait to not recognize the love of their life when they had been through so much already?
 
When the narrow window let in the weak light of Purgatory’s dawn, Castiel ran his hand down Dean’s side, over his ribs, his muscular back, the curve of his hip, to the round, firm globe of his ass.  
 
Dean had a fine ass.
 
He grinned as he swept his mouth along Dean’s forehead, waking him.  Dean started to smile but caught sight of the light in the window.  His head dropped back down, and he stared silently at his arm.  
 
He didn’t want to go.  Cas’ smile faded.  He did not want to go either.  Dean did not like talking about things, especially feelings, so he opted to push his through.
 
Dean blinked more rapidly, his brow dipping in thought.
 
Love.  Care.  Joy.  Worry.  Worry.  
 
Dean tilted his chin up; his back was snuggly against his chest and Castiel wished he could keep him here forever.
 
“I would like to make a sigil with you,” he said, the thought hitting him suddenly.
 
“Whatsa matter?” Dean grinned.  “Scared I won’t make the boat ride?”
 
Cas smiled sadly.  “Whatever happens, I want to be able to find you again.  You are so very important to me, Dean.”
 
Dean’s smile sobered.  “You can read my thoughts for one minute.”
 
Cas smiled, kissing his shoulder as he let Dean’s emotions flow to him.  Care, worry, fear, need to touch, worry, love, fear.  Each emotion rolled from one to the next.  He kissed Dean’s shoulder again, hugging him tight, feeling Dean grip his arms and spread against him the best he could.  If Dean wanted touching, he intended to fill that need until Dean knew not of another creature that could fill it like Cas could.  His grace surged with the need for Dean to understand him.  But now he knew Dean cared.  Dean loved him. But the thought was immediately chased by fear. So, there was love, but he was afraid of something. Of course he was worried.  They all were.
 
He kissed Dean’s neck, pushing up onto one elbow to roll Dean back partially so they could see each other fully.  “I care very much for you too, Dean.  And I too worry what will befall us before the end of this journey.  But I want you to know that I love you.  Very much.  I don’t know what exactly that means or what I can do about it, but it is the truth.”
 
Dean’s eyes widened, so green in the dim morning gloom as he stared up at him.
 
“Thank you for showing me that.”
 
Dean looked startled.
 
Castiel tipped his head, unsure of what to say.  “Your feelings...love chased sharply by fear.  You love me but you’re afraid to admit it, or afraid to show it.”
 
“I’m afraid to lose it,” Dean said in a hushed rush.
 
“Oh, Dean.” Castiel wanted to put Dean away somewhere safe that no one and no thing could harm him.  But Dean was not for whisking away.  It would crush his spirit.  His way would be to fight.  As he realized just how tenuous Dean’s future was, knowing they still would have to fight for Dean’s soul, it occurred to him for the first time just how tenuous his own future was.  If he chose to fight Michael...His eyes met Dean’s again.  “Will you share a sigil with me?”
 
Sorrow and strength passed through his green depths before he shrugged a shoulder.  “I don’t know how much good it will do you.  I might not ever make it to the veil, Cas.  Let’s be real.”
 
“You will.”  Cas pulled away, sitting on the edge of the bed.  He would sell his own soul in exchange for Dean’s freedom.  Surely a nephilim soul would suffice for a human one.
 
Dean sat up, scooting behind him to wrap an arm around his shoulders.  “Yes, Cas.  I would love to share a sigil with you.”
 
Castiel met his eyes.  Perhaps Dean was too worried and too afraid to allow this relationship to work.  Perhaps when Dean got to the veil, revisiting his family and friends, he would understand just how deeply he cared for him.  And Dean may never feel the same amount of love that he did.  There was love there in his emotions, but it was not the sure bursts he himself had.  And there was nothing to do about it now.
 
Castiel stood up, turning to peer out the narrow window.  “We should go.”