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A Thousand Lights in Space

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--Day 122--

Dean bangs on the bathroom door again, keeping a wary eye on the horizon. No one likes mornings, especially those that start at fucking four, but he's dealing, so Cas can, too. "Cas, come on! We gotta get going here!"

The silence from inside is ominous on a lot of levels. Cas is a five minute bathroom person (excluding showers of course, which no one notices or judges thereof, though their hot water heater must be fucking amazing, just saying), and they're going on thirty minutes with no sign of emergence. He's not sure what worries him more; that Cas is indulging in stress-related shooting up or, God, that he's inexplicably become one of those people who need thirty minutes to do their post-shower shit (not naming names, Sam).

He stills mid-knock: if someone introduced Cas to weird hair shit or facials or something….

"You may come in."

Pushing open the door, he stops short at the sight that greets him. Cas, using Alicia's tiny hand mirror hanging on the wall, adjusts his posture into a too-erect half-slump beneath the loose grey long-sleeve thermal before turning his head mechanically to look at Dean with a thousand-yard stare from a face like a blank sheet of paper.

Dean takes a step back. "What are you doing?"

"I am attempting an experiment," Cas announces tonelessly, stiffly returning his gaze to the mirror. "What do you think?"

"Uh…" Beneath his horrified gaze, Cas makes a slight adjustment to his posture and hits the uncanny valley like a nuke deployed for maximum dissonance. "Stop that!"

"You don't like it?" He surveys his reflection in the tiny surface, tilting his head like a bird seeing an unappetizing worm and finding it not quite worth stepping on.

"Seriously," Dean says, more unnerved than if he had come in to Cas shooting up or holding product with a desire to actually use it. All those require is a good salt and burn, but this….. "Stop it."

"But I wish to make an appropriate impression on your new friends in Ichabod," Cas states without inflection, turning his head to look at Dean again like a shitty CGI mannequin in a third rate horror movie, or a puppet with expertly pulled strings. "I would not wish to embarrass you in front of them."

It takes a second for the words to penetrate. "You're what?"

"I wish to make an appropriate impression," Cas repeats in the exact same voice "Perhaps a trenchcoat would help."

"You're kidding." Searching his memory, he tries to bring up the memory of Cas newly-vesselled--or even as an angel--but it doesn't fit, and not just because Cas isn't an angel anymore. Cas doesn't wear his body like this, like a badly fitting pair of jeans; he lives in it down to his bones. The stillness is eerie without the barely-leashed energy Cas always seems to radiate, and his movements are too sudden and somehow still too slow, too precise, like they were all learned by careful observation and just brought into practice with only a vague idea of why or when to use them.

More than that, though: it's just not Cas. Tabula rasa: whatever's in there, it's not a person and never has been, and Cas is more a person than anyone Dean's ever met.

"Stop it," Dean says flatly. "Now."

Cas's head snaps around, the thin film of nothingness cracking. "You don't like it."

Coming in the bathroom, Dean leans against the wall by the sink, taking in the too-erect posture, slight slump of shoulders, and expressionless stare; all the pieces of a person Cas hasn't been in years but like a lot of things, the sum then was still greater than the whole. This--this is somehow less.

"It's not you," he says finally. To compound the horror, he spies a pair of scissors on the sink (how did he find them?), but a quick look verifies Cas hasn't done a chop-job on his hair, still tucked behind his ears, but now that he's looking, even that's off--too neat, lying there lifelessly when honest to God, Cas's hair has a personality of its own from the moment he leaves the shower and starts a war with him the minute it begins to dry. "You doing this just to fuck with people or because you think…." He's not sure how to finish that.

All at once, Cas relaxes, scowling at the tiny mirror, and Dean almost sighs in relief as his best friend reappears, vaguely rumpled, surly, and electric like a live current. It's weird; just a few muscles, the way he holds himself, but the difference is huge.

"I'm not sure," he answers honestly, and right on schedule, he pushes back the hair that escaped to hang in front of his eyes and makes a nice mess of the precise part, each individual strand belatedly beginning the revolution of the day. "Was that how I--how I used to be?"

"No." Cocking his head, he tries again, pulling up first impressions--second and even third--but even trying to graft those onto the man in front of him is impossible; you carry your past, no help for it, but you don't wear it: it's too small. "Stupid question: why would you want to even try?"

"You know it doesn't matter how I…people react to what they sense," Cas starts, subjecting his reflection to a critical frown, which Dean can't figure out at all; months of shaving regularly, and he doesn't even cut himself anymore. "I thought perhaps--if it were more obvious…."

"Yeah. I mean, no, don't do that, but I get you." He's been thinking about that since the first time he went to Ichabod, but he needs more information. "Was it always shitty? I mean, with everyone?"

"Besides you?" Cas tilts his head, thinking. "Not always, no. There's always dissonance--again, present company and Chuck excluded--but…"


"Some people don't seem to care," Cas answers slowly. "'Surprised' might be the best descriptor, I suppose."

"Vera?" Cas nods. "Joe? Amanda? Alicia?"

"Yes, and Kamal as well." Of course: the guy Cas lets check his translations. "Ana and Leah, Mark, they weren't hostile, simply--wary at first. There are variations, of course."

On a guess, Cas can remember everyone's first reaction to him perfectly, and not just because of angelic memory. That kind of shit wouldn't be easy to forget, or not think about. Or be able to see when it stops, either. First impressions, as they say, are a bitch, and that goes both ways.

"An adventure every time," he agrees casually. "And the old team leaders--I'm gonna say 'hostile' was a good descriptor."

"Yes." Cas's eyes meet his, an echoing coldness filling their depths. "But they had so many reasons to regard me with hostility, eventually it was difficult to tell them apart."

Dean nods. "You get I'm not bringing anyone into Chitaqua that's like that, right?"

Cas turns his attention back to the mirror: bingo. "You may not have a choice--"

"There's a choice," he interrupts. "I just told you what it is."

"You may find yourself short of recruits in that case."

"No, I won't be," he answers, crossing his arms. "I'll get exactly the ones worth having."

Cas rolls his eyes, reaching for the faded blue flannel overshirt draped over the lid of the toilet, and Dean takes the opportunity to snatch the scissors off the sink, pocketing them before he turns back around.

"Be yourself," Dean advises him as Cas pulls it on, all lazy, unthinking grace, and he finds himself thinking of what Cas said about watching Mira, what he learned from her.

A new human body, for all intents and purposes--tabula rasa--and while he'd learned to fight in it, he didn't become human when he Fell: actually living in it was all new. The echoes of this Dean--and by extension, John Winchester--and the hunters that trained him are always there when he's fighting, but it occurs to Dean now that it was from everyone in Chitaqua--watching, interacting (in every sense of the word), and even training them--that he learned all the ways he could use it, and make it his own.

"You're certain that's a good idea?" Cas asks wryly, removing the mirror from the nail on the wall and turns it before tucking it behind the faucet. "I don't think you've fully considered the potential drawbacks of that particular course of action."

The thing is, Dean has thought about this, a lot. It's the right decision no matter how you look at it, but that doesn't mean that at this moment he particularly likes himself for it. It's really easy on this side of the fence to say that Cas has got to learn to deal with people unless he wants to spend the rest of his mortal life in Chitaqua or only places devoid of other people. After all, Cas is the one who has to actually do it, and Dean doesn't have any context on what that must feel like, a whole world of people who will always know you're not quite what they expect you to be.

"Look, after this--if you hate it, you don't have to go again. Well, I mean, unless something--I don't know." Yeah, that was reassuring; he's got that inspiring thing down. "You know what I mean."

"I do," Cas tells him, passing him on his way back into the bedroom. "Please stop trying to reassure me; you're not very good at it."

With a sigh, Dean follows him out, flipping off the bathroom light--gotta think about the generators--and drops onto the bed tiredly to watch as Cas opens up the closet-armory. It's always interesting to watch Cas arm himself, and not just the somewhat mind-boggling number of weapons he carries so effortlessly that unless you know what he's carrying and where, it's almost impossible to even guess. Cas has a routine, yeah, but other than the basics--gun, rifle, ammo, holy water, silver, salt--there are new variations every time, and they aren't random. He could ask, sure, but it's kind of fun to watch and try to work out the pattern for himself. God knows he's got time and opportunity to do it.

If they weren't in a hiatus, he supposes by now he'd have a routine himself, one that's automatic instead of something he still has to think about, the difference between someone who's just a hunter and one who lives in a militia camp in a world that refuses to end quite yet.

Cas selects one of the hunting knives from the shelf, checking it over by habit. Four and a quarter inch blade, stainless steel, wood and plastic composite hilt so weatherproof, whatever; it's functional, sure, but nothing to write home about. Cas has about half a dozen of them, two and a quarter inches to six and change, but only two of them merit shelf-space and aren't boxed. Sentimental attachment, maybe? No idea.

Shaking his head, Cas sets it back in place before removing a dagger from the wall above it, and that's what Dean's talking about. Four and a half inch double-edged blade just escaping stiletto territory at an inch wide, with an American chestnut crossguard and hilt carefully wrapped in strips of leather that slides into his hand like an extension of his arm. Two hundred years old if Dean's any judge, and he is; they don't make 'em like that anymore, not least because that tree's not found in the wild anymore. The metal, though….

"Tempered steel," Cas says, noticing his attention, and flipping it casually, he offers it hilt first. Snorting, Dean takes it, examining the blade first, noting the well-honed edge and balancing it in his hand. "I liked the weight, and when Bobby examined it, he said it was probably manufactured specifically for hunters. The hilt-wrapping was badly degraded, but the wood beneath was in excellent condition. It was simple to repair once I learned the process to treat the leather. It was one of the first I ever acquired."

Handing it back--and suppressing the urge to flip it first, he's not that stupid, usually--he cocks his head curiously. "Where'd you get it?"

"You'd be surprised what you can find at garage sales," Cas answers, crouching to push up the leg of his jeans and slide it into his boot before going to the closet and returning with another knife; the gleam of pure silver is unmistakable, and so is the weight. It's old, too; he's guessing five hundred if a day, if the elaborate ornamentation on the hilt is any indication. No empty slots for gemstones, either, interesting; looking closer, he finds the sigils hidden in the complicated whorls that aren't just decoration; this was designed by an expert who knew exactly what they were doing and why. A very pretty toy on a glance: not a bad way to hide what you are in plain sight. "I paid only fifteen cents for this: solid silver, created for purpose, and formally blessed by no less than two separate--albeit competing--Christian denominations. It was originally priced at a quarter, but I talked the owner down by pointing out that there was a scratch on the butt and the leather wrapping on the hilt was decomposing as we spoke."

"How often did you need to get change for a pay phone, anyway?" he asks, reluctantly handing it back. Not useful in a fight against anything but something really vulnerable to silver, but still.

"That time wasn't for a pay phone," he answers, sliding it back into its oiled leather sheathe. "A job we expected to take a week to complete ended up taking an hour; the poltergeist, as it turns out, was simply a broken water pipe. The owner of the home was very grateful for Dean's assistance with her pipes but also extraordinarily loud, and I grew bored waiting."

"She was…" Oh God. "You're kidding. He made you wait?"

"In the living room," Cas confirms, setting the knife reverently back on the shelf. "That was perfectly acceptable--"

"Cas, I'm gonna try one more time: the only place that's normal is in Chitaqua." Cas gives him a skeptical look, and honestly, Dean can't even blame him now. "Look, trust me here: when you want to get laid, you like, I don't know, tell the other person to go Xerox shit at the library or go research something or--you had to wait in the living room?"

"She had premium cable and pay per view," Cas explains, like that makes it okay when--in the living room? "However, Dean yelled at me to turn down the TV, which admittedly was at maximum volume for reasons that must be obvious."

"To drown them out, yeah."

"No, it was a new installment of BBC's Planet Earth, which was interesting, but they made it impossible to hear the narrator," Cas explains, selecting another knife that Dean recognizes as Ruby's: demon-killing and good at it. "I couldn’t find the remote control to activate the closed captioning, so it wasn't as if I had any other options."

Dean settles himself; this is gonna be good, he can feel it. "Right."

"So I took half the cash in Dean's wallet and spent the rest of the week going to garage sales to better familiarize myself with your monetary system."

"He spent a week banging someone while you garage-saled your way across--"

"Boston, Maryland."

"--across Boston?"

"No, of course not," Cas corrects him, pulling up his shirts enough to slide Ruby's knife into the sheathe at the small of his back. "He spent the weekend having sexual relations with her and four days looking for me, since I forgot my cell phone and couldn't be certain that the prayers to 'you fucker, where the hell are you?' were directed at me or some other angel that displeased him."

He starts to grin. "He didn't just leave you to teleport back? This was before, right, when you still could?"

"I suppose that was a possibility," Cas concedes, pulling out--Christ--a twelve inch machete, turning it carefully before sliding it into its sheathe and attaching to his belt just above his left hip. And apparently not done yet, if the way he's examining the shelf is any indication. "But this was also when we were still building Alpha, and from what I gather, he didn't want to explain to anyone the circumstances by which he lost me in a major metropolitan city. Or risk me doing so when I returned."

"You blackmailed him."

"I apologized profusely that the note I left could have been interpreted in such a way," Cas answers penitently, but there's nothing about his expression that doesn’t scream 'that is exactly what I was doing and I liked it'. "In any case, whenever there was excess time after a job, it was agreed I could do as I liked until it was time for us to leave provided I took my cell phone with me."

"Going to garage sales and acquiring knives and volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica," Dean says, still grinning. "What about the prayers to 'you fucker'?"

"I explained in detail the myriad dangers of an angel choosing to formally acknowledge anyone addressing them with a name not their own," he answers solemnly, blue eyes wide and guileless. "I offered to compile a list of my acknowledged names for his perusal, but he assured me that 'Cas' was adequate." Turning around, he's holding something eight inches long and still in its sheathe that Dean recognizes from last night's exploration of Cas's boxes of weapons. He'd liked that one, but he didn't think Cas was paying attention. "Try this one."

Yeah, he's gonna have to just say it. "Uh--"

"Your knowledge is functional for your world, not here," Cas says. "I know. That's why I mentioned the need to find you a practice weapon."

"Less than Dean's here, if you think I know how to use that other than the basics," he admits reluctantly, fighting the urge to take it anyway; one day, he assumes that won't bother him, but that day hasn't arrived yet.

"He preferred firearms whenever possible during missions," Cas answers obliquely. "Which was often. Now check the weight and balance, please; this is a titanium alloy, and it should be light enough for your right to handle easily."

Standing up, Dean wraps his hand around the hilt, pulling it out carefully; Cas was right about the weight. Not bad. "Huh."

"I thought so," Cas says in satisfaction as Dean replaces it in its sheathe and carefully attaches it to his belt, taking a couple of steps to check how it feels carrying it. "Alicia regularly carries a similar model, though she uses a calf sheathe."

Dean doesn't even pretend by 'regularly' Cas means 'missions'; he means every time he's seen Alicia around the camp, she's wearing one of these under her jeans and he just didn't know about it. Abruptly, he becomes aware of Cas looking him over, head tilted thoughtfully, and can't help grinning.

"What? Still think I can't arm myself?" he asks mockingly. "You wanna check me?"

Cas tilts his head, like maybe he's remembering that conversation, too. "Actually, I do."

He spreads his arms. "Go for it."

Cas's fingers slide over the top of his belt, and he catches his breath, startled; even through his shirt, he thinks he can feel the brush of fingertips against his stomach. Cas checks the buckle first, tugging lightly before going to his gun at his right hip, testing the holster and the draw, before circling around him, verifying personally and thoroughly that Dean indeed knows how to arm himself, ending with the knife at his left hip in a lingering slide the entire length of the sheathe. Because he's being really thorough. Good to know.

Then Cas drops to his knees and Dean's brain comes to a screeching halt. Mouth dry, he stares down at the dark head as Cas eases up the leg of his jeans to check the plain hunting knife in his boot.

"Weapons can be very personal," he says, fingers tracing restless patterns over the unadorned hilt against Dean's calf as tilts his head back, blue eyes half-hidden behind a fringe of dark hair. "If there's anything I have that you want, consider it yours."

"Okay." He's not sure what to do with that, though he suspects it would help if he could remember what the hell they were talking about. "I will. Thanks."

"You're welcome." Cas smiles up at him before rising to his feet in a single boneless movement; they're close enough that Cas has to tip his head slightly to look up at him. "Are you ready?"

There's only one right answer to that question. "Yeah."

"Good." Turning, Cas gets his jacket and tugs it on before tossing Dean's to him, and it's proof of the power of reflex that Dean catches it with no clear idea of what he's doing. "It's a little more than two hours before dawn; we should check with Melanie before we leave."

Right, they're--going to Ichabod. "Yeah," he answers, just managing not to drop his jacket; what the hell? "Let's do that."

They're about an hour into the drive--Cas driving, of course, which Dean tells himself is because Cas should get to considering where they're going--when he remembers the last couple of days with a qualm of uncertainty. Sure, they talked it out after two days of Cas's passive aggressive (resentful as fuck) acceptance of Ichabod being Dean's potential new home and how he was wrong, but that was only after possibly three weeks of Cas thinking it.

"So," he starts, wondering how to introduce the subject or actually, if he even wants to.


Okay, try the indirect approach. "So is there anything--uh, you wanna know? About Ichabod, I mean?"

"I'm not sure," Cas answers meditatively, flipping on the blinker and coming to a complete stop by the remains of a stop sign and looking both ways before taking a drivers-ed-perfect left turn. "You've told me so much about it, it's almost as if I've been there myself."

Yeah, that's what he thought. "Look--"

"Truly a city of wonder," Cas continues, eyes fixed on the empty road ahead like traffic could appear at any moment and he's gotta be ready. "Covered sidewalks for miles in insulated buildings that possess furnaces providing sufficient heating for winter. Their power plant provides enough power for almost unlimited use of electrical appliances such as lighting, television, DVD players, hot water heaters, and microwave ovens without random bouts of failure. They even have CD players, on which can be played a wide variety of musical genres to while away the early evenings."

Fuck his life: who knew Rabin was a Metallica fan, okay? "Right, but--"

"Street lights are available as well," Cas says brightly. "So it's easy and safe to travel between buildings at night. They have paved streets, well-maintained and without potholes, that provide a superior driving surface, and like the sidewalks, an excellent alternative to mud. The plumbing is--"

"I get it," he states in resignation. "You already hate it."

"There are even gardens attached in some way to the buildings for the convenience of the residents," Cas says. "I've heard of such a marvel only once before; it was considered one of the wonders of the world, but you never elucidated if these gardens could be considered 'hanging'…."

"Oh God," he breathes, looking at Cas incredulously while hating Phil forever. "Ichabod isn't goddamn Babylon!"

"Of course not. A town that takes its name from the first Book of Samuel--"

"Four twenty-one, King James Version," Dean sighs, slumping into his seat. "I know."

"--surely bears no resemblance to the unholy city that tempted the righteous to leave their homes and friends behind so they could cavort to their heart's content without a care for those left behind." Cas comes to a complete stop at the sight of a sheared-off metal pole, checking the intersection of mostly dirt and mostly asphalt before looking at Dean attentively. "Why would you think they have anything in common?"

Dean glares at him, but it's not like this isn't pretty much entirely his fault. "I don't."

"I don't either," Cas says, hitting the accelerator hard enough that Dean's thrown back into his seat with a grunt. "I liked Babylon."

"The meals you've experienced there are beyond words to describe, though strangely, you did keep trying," Cas continues, coming to a full stop to examine what may or may not have once been a county road; with the lack of asphalt, it's hard to tell. "Steak, medium rare with black pepper and kosher salt and baked potatoes, roasted chicken with rosemary and peas and carrots, vegetarian lasagna--I wasn't aware you were so fond of dishes that don't contain meat--beef and cheese enchiladas, paneer curry with rice, a Denver omelet--not made in Denver, I assume, though anything's possible--with homefries, which is I think involves potatoes--"

"How long can you keep this up?" Dean asks bleakly.

"Four separate visits to Ichabod over three weeks: assuming you consumed three meals a day while in residence and at least one on those days that you left or arrived, the estimated total would be between thirty-five and forty-two meals," Cas answers slowly, frowning out the windshield. "That can't be accurate."

He straightens in guilt-ridden outrage. "I did not talk about food forty-two times, come on!"

"My math may be in error," Cas agrees, still frowning as he lets off the brake and tests the time it takes the jeep to go from zero to eighty. "It certainly felt like far more. I'll start at the beginning and you can keep count. Your first dinner in Ichabod: a fall vegetable medley with black beans and whole wheat bread made only that morning with butter churned from the local cows. Breakfast the next morning: hard-boiled eggs with toast and apple preserves….are you counting? We're at two."

He closes his eyes. "Two."

"…and pleasant evenings spent in stimulating conversation with the town's most illustrious residents," Cas continues. "Sometimes enlivened with the antics of immature humans or friendly games of chance with low or no stakes at all but for the simple joy of competition and companionship."

Dean almost thinks--maybe….

"And no stripping was involved," Cas adds, looking at Dean. "I almost forgot that part."

"I was joking," he grates out despite the futility of even trying, but it's not like that's ever stopped him before. "It was a joke."

"It was very funny," Cas acknowledges. "I apologize that I forgot to laugh."

"You said I should talk to you," Cas says reasonably, stopping at yet another goddamn crossroad without even the excuse of a metal post and looking both ways at the sea of bare fields surrounding them. "You were right, but in my defense, your soliloquies were lengthy and often you neglected to even breathe during them, and I didn't want to interrupt. That would be rude."

Dean stares blankly at the endless road stretched out before them, wondering if they've really been driving forever or it's just his imagination. Or Cas has managed by sheer will to reclaim the ability to fuck with time, because if anyone could pull that off, he could.

"You know," he says finally, "I can't even tell how much of this is you actually being pissed and how much is just because you're having fun fucking with me."

"Even to me, it's a mystery," Cas concedes. "Let's say the former informs the latter, but in what proportion, who can say?"

"You got a name for your laptop?" Dean asks, deliberately bracing a foot on the dashboard and biting down the smile of bitter satisfaction at Cas's there-and-gone frown.

"Yes, but as you know, knowing the true name of anything gives you power over it," Cas answers, flickering another glance at Dean's boot. "Why?"

"I'm calling it 'thing I covered in salt and set on fire in the front yard'," Dean answers venomously. "I like it; what do you think?"

"You did a backup, right?"

Cas doesn't answer.

At about one hour away, it dawns on him that Cas is suddenly much more genuinely committed to safe driving than he's ever demonstrated he knew existed when it comes to speed. A glance at the odometer confirms they've dropped to a casual fifty-five, and when Dean ostentatiously removes his foot from the dashboard, Cas doesn't seem to care.

Yeah, okay. "Cas--"

"We're fifty-two minutes from Ichabod," Cas says, having hand-drawn the maps and knowing math. "I suppose this would be a good time to ask if there's anything you should tell me that you might have forgotten, but I can't imagine how that's possible."

"There is, actually," he says, keeping his gaze strictly on the world outside the windshield. "I'm just not sure what it is."

From the corner of his eye, he sees Cas glance at him. "You're not sure?"

"No." He hesitates, turning it over in his head and wondering if this is one of those things that needs to be experienced or whatever to get. "I'm not sure how to explain it."

Cas nods. "Can you tell me what it's about, at least?"

"Yeah," he answers, turning in his seat and taking a deep breath. "It's about Alison."

Just out of sight of Ichabod, Dean says, "Stop for a minute."

That Cas does it without argument is all the confirmation he needs, slowing to pull off the road--for non-existent traffic--and putting the jeep in park. "If you're worried I won't like your city of dreams--"

"Shut up," Dean interrupts. "Just listen, okay?"

Cas sighs--obviously and noisily--before making a performance out of turning to look at him.

"You say you want to leave, we leave."

"Dean," Cas says, sounding as if he's drawing on all his patience, "I don't need--"

"If I think you want to leave, we leave," he says quietly. "Look, we get done on the training field today, we can go back home, no problem."

Cas doesn't answer for a long moment. "This is something I need to do if I'm to be successful in this position. As you said, it's my job."

"Doesn't mean you have to do it all at once just to prove you can. I know you can, but I'm telling you, you don't have to. Do it in stages, baby steps, whatever it takes. It's not a test--"

"--but if it was, all I have to do is survive to pass," Cas drones, sounding bored.

"No," he answers, mouth quirking. "If it was, I'd be the one grading, and you've already passed. It isn't supposed to be hard; if it is, we'll go back, revise the test…."

"You have no idea where to go with that metaphor," Cas observes after a protracted silence, one corner of his mouth twitching reluctantly.

Yeah, he should have thought that one through. "Give me a minute."

"Or I could accept your reassurance and continue driving?" Cas says, reaching for the gear shift before looking at Dean. "Your choice."

Dean nods, trying to relax, but that's just not happening. This felt like a much better idea three days ago; right now, he's having trouble remembering why. "Yeah, let's get it over with." As Cas carefully pulls out, he adds casually, "I usually spend the morning on the training field when I'm here. That's not gonna bother you, right?"

"These are your future soldiers that Amanda is selecting," Cas answers, starting up the sharp incline toward the town. "I assumed you would want to be there."

God, he almost forgot that part. "Yeah, right. That."

"However, while I understand it might become boring," he adds, shifting gears as the incline steepens. "I would prefer you stayed until she's done."

Dean swallows and nods firmly. "Nowhere else I'd rather be."

Amanda and Mark meet them by the weapons trailer, and Dean almost hugs her when he sees that she's holding a large thermal cup that she offers to Cas almost before he gets out of the jeep. Genius.

"Five cream, six sugar, just finished making it, and there's more in the trailer," she recites as Cas looks between her and the cup she thrusts between his hands, blinking slowly. "Dean, go away."

Dean opens his mouth--hell no is he going anywhere--when Kamal materializes as if by magic or some secret signal he's gonna have to learn, grinning at him and holding two more thermal cups.

"Other side of the field," Kamal explains, jerking his head toward literally the other side of the field. "Out of sight, out of mind--"

"You'll intimidate them," Mark says bluntly as Amanda draws Cas step by step toward the trailer and away from Dean, possibly with promises of more coffee. "They all know why they're here, and come on; they don't need to see their future overlord watching every move they make."

Dean fails to resist Kamal not-exactly-a-push in exactly the opposite direction of Amanda and Cas. "But--"

"Drink some coffee," Kamal advises him, giving him the cup as he herds him inexorably away. "We'll sit on the other side so we can watch, let them get focused and everything."

Glancing back helplessly, he sees Amanda leading Cas up the steps of the trailer while on the other side of the fence, the recruits are gathered in an uncertain mass and staring at Dean and holy shit, no. Quickly, he falls into step with Kamal, fighting the urge to speed up at the feeling of all those eyes drilling into his back.

"So over there?" Dean asks hopefully, jerking his chin to the point he thinks is the farthest away they can get. Not much for visibility, no, but that's a feature when it goes two ways.

"Don't worry," Kamal tells him, taking a drink from his cup as he falls into step beside him. "Ten minutes, they won’t even remember you're here."

Later, comfortably seated with Kamal on the fence directly across from the trailer and on his second refill of coffee, Dean reflects that Kamal understated the case dramatically; ten minutes in, Dean's presence is only one of the things the poor bastards forgot.

Taking a drink, he watches the continuing hilarity of all the potential recruits responding to Cas's silent presence by doing everything wrong, even stuff it's pretty hard to mess up, like walking. It's not really their fault, he reminds himself firmly; Amanda and Mark completely failed to pretend Cas was just around for a steak lunch and hanging out with Dean. He supposes they could have a couple of trumpets or something to impress on everyone that This is Fucking Important and Do Not Fucking Embarrass Me In Front of Him, but maybe that would be overkill.

"We shouldn't be laughing," Dean says breathlessly to Kamal, who almost fell off the fence when one of the younger guys tripped over his own feet as Amanda ran him through a simple throw. Amanda's despairing look was just icing on the hilarious cake. "It's just…."

"I know."

Just as interesting--at least to Dean--was Cas slowly drifting from vague, slumping boredom on the trailer steps to actually sitting on the fence, sipping his coffee and looking almost like he might eventually find this interesting. As Amanda leans against the fence beside him, Mark goes down to an inadvertent broomstick via a very nervous Derek--Fighting With What You Have Nearby is both extremely useful in the results and fantastic for the entertainment factor of successfully attacking a werewolf (Mark) with the average contents of a kitchen--and Cas murmurs something that makes her drop her head, hand coming up to cover her mouth as her shoulders start to shake.

Dean hides his smile behind his cup.

"Amanda's getting with Manuel and the patrol leaders to simulate an attack on the town in a couple of weeks," Kamal says cheerfully, getting Dean's attention. "We get to be the demons and Croats attacking the town square, and the recruits have to figure out how to handle it on their own. It's gonna be great."

He gives Kamal a dark look; that sounds like the most fun a hunter can have, and he already knows Cas and Amanda are going to ground him during it, because his life sucks like that.

"You can referee," Kamal offers, like that's any kind of consolation. "Mark went over their usual strategies; he made a few suggestions, but most of it was pretty good, especially since they don't have any kind of physical barrier around the inhabited part of the town, just the town square."

Dean pauses mid-nod as Haruhi, black hair braided in a coronet around her head, breaks from the group observing and starts toward Amanda and Cas. Mark and Amanda have managed to keep everyone at a pretty consistent distance, and until now, the recruits either haven't noticed it or cared enough to try to breach it. Amanda straightens at her approach, glancing at Cas briefly before jerking her chin at Haruhi in what looks like permission.

As Haruhi approaches them, Dean watches her for something--what, he's not sure--then gives up and watches Amanda. Haruhi pauses, looking between them for a moment before focusing on Cas. He can't hear what she's saying, but it doesn't matter; Amanda relaxes back against the fence as Cas tilts his head and answers with unmistakable interest. It's only a few seconds, but when Haruhi returns to her group at an easy jog, Cas's eyes follow her, and Amanda radiates something a lot like satisfaction.

He only realizes Kamal was tense as well when he sighs, taking a long drink of coffee before giving Dean a wry look mixed with relief.

"Worried?" Dean asks neutrally, taking a sip from his own cup.

"They're good people," he answers, eyes returning to the field as Haruhi's group goes out and Amanda and Mark exchange places. None of the others look interested in following Haruhi's example, but Derek's occasional glance toward Cas and Mark makes him think he might want to try. They gotta be curious, he gets that; anyone who makes Amanda actually seem nervous is gonna get their attention. "We had a bet--"

Dean snorts. "You three would bet on anything."

"We make our own fun." Kamal shrugs, but now that he's paying attention, the tension is unmistakable. "They're going to be living with us soon, so might as well start getting to know them now."

He nods casually, watching as Amanda calls a break and starts back toward Cas and Mark with Haruhi at her heels, gesturing and pointing back toward the empty field. As they reach the fence, Amanda waves her toward Cas before settling casually against on Cas's other side, eyes flickering toward the recruits exchanging water bottles and darting wary glances in their direction, Derek most of all.

"This is familiar," Kamal murmurs, a thread of amusement in his voice. Glancing at Dean, he grins. "I forgot, you were on a mission when Cas decided he had nothing better to do that day, so might as well go see the new recruits."

"Like this?" he asks, trying to imagine what it was like to come to Chitaqua and find out your instructor in Everything You Needed To Know to Hunt Lucifer (and Other Shit) was a genuine Fallen angel of the Lord.

Kamal's expression warms in memory, which isn't what he expected. "It was almost noon--back then, we didn't know Cas woke at dawn and didn't get hangovers, so we assumed he was still recovering from the night before--and we're wondering what the hell we're supposed to be doing when Jody suddenly jumps. We all turn around, and there's Cas, sitting on the fence, watching us like…."

"Like he was trying to decide if dealing with you was better than Hell and still wasn't sure?" Yeah, he's familiar with that one.

Kamal laughs softly. "Except he knew Hell had to be better than this and resented the fuck out of being here." He shakes his head. "I thought Vera was going to explode, she was so pissed. She was already halfway across the training field before any of us realized what she was doing. No idea what she said to him, but by the time we got over there, he was more in the resigned stage of grief and Vera looked really satisfied with herself--you know the look."

Triumph over stupid people: oh yeah, he got that a lot from her. "I almost feel bad for him."

"Us, too," Kamal offers, eyes fixed on the same thing Dean is. "Almost."

They watch as Derek finishes his water, twisting the bottle restlessly between long, dark fingers, and despite himself, Dean leans forward. He told Cas this wasn't a test, but that's not true for anyone else on this field today, and he liked Derek the first time they met: open, cautiously friendly, willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, and like Haruhi, personally recommended to Amanda by Manuel and Teresa. Amanda didn't name names when she talked about potential recruits, but he didn't need her to tell him these two were her top picks, the first to volunteer to help with her indoor hunter training project. That's a big thing in this town, where even off-duty doesn't mean you don't have work to get done, and free time is a luxury.

"When you met Cas, you already knew what he used to be, right?" Dean asks as Derek looks toward the small group by the fence, where Haruhi and Cas are talking, seemingly oblivious to all the attention, and in Cas's case, that may actually be genuine.

"Yeah," Kamal answers after a long pause, echoes of past wariness in his voice that even Vera and Joe's completely secret efforts at reassurance that he's not supposed to know about haven't entirely erased. Whether it's him specifically or just anything that has to do with Cas, he can't tell, but it doesn't matter; either way, the habits of over two years aren't gonna be easy to break. "We knew."

All at once, Derek puts his empty bottle with the others and starts toward the fence, and Dean couldn't look away if his life depended on it. "And?"

"He said his name was Castiel," Kamal says as Derek hesitantly joins Haruhi, who abruptly turns toward him with a gesture that means she just dragged him into an argument he knows nothing about and expects his support. Derek looks at Haruhi and then up at Cas for what feels like years before Cas's head drops, but not before Dean sees he's trying not to laugh. "And watching us mill about aimlessly for the last hour was perhaps the single most boring experience he'd had in his mortal life, but we showed every sign of being able to easily surpass it at the rate we were going."

Dean starts to laugh helplessly, though from relief or Kamal's probably verbatim quote or both, he can't be sure.

"And he was going to teach us how not to die, starting now," Kamal adds softly, watching Derek with a small smile. "That's the part that mattered."

Dean nods, eyes on the tiny group at the fence: they got two. "Yeah, it is."

"So," Kamal says just past noon. "I need to talk to you about something."

Dean glances at him curiously; it's winding down on the field, but by his (very satisfying) count, they got their twenty, easy. He reminds himself to tell Amanda she's not doing too badly at the recruiting thing.

"I've been looking over their warding," he starts, rolling his empty cup between his hands restlessly. "Teresa noticed my interest, showed me around. My Spanish is good, but we're having some translation issues."

Since Teresa's multilingual--born and bred in Laredo, she spent as much time growing up on the other side of the Texas border as on this side, and her grandmother's family had been from Tlaxcala in southeastern Mexico--he must mean the terminology is unfamiliar. Some of it's not translatable, he already knows, and a lot of it dates before the Spanish conquest and in several of Mexico's indigenous languages.

"Manuel showed me," Dean answers absently, fighting the urge to applaud when one of the women finishes a letter-perfect exorcism--the first one all morning--much to Amanda's visible relief. "He told me the warding here is pretty common down on the border."

Kamal gives him a curious look. "You worked on the Mexican border?"

"Years ago," he answers as another candidate picks up a broom. "I worked with a local bruja blanca, and the wards here are a lot like hers." He pauses to watch the same woman (Rosario?) knock the pail head off a makeshift practice dummy (and almost take out another student in the bargain) and Amanda call a time-out, possibly from sheer horror. "Why?"

"She's been teaching Neeraja and Sudha, but the only common language they have is English," Kamal answers. "So I offered to help."

Dean raises his eyebrows in a silent request for more information.

"My Spanish is Castilian, not Mexican, and I don't know the Texas or border dialects--or any of the indigenous languages--but I'm learning. Manuel's been teaching me--when he's not laughing at me." Dean grins. "If you're stationing me here for a while anyway--"

"You're stuck here, yeah." Dean considers that. "When it comes to Ichabod's patrol and defenses, it's Teresa's call, not mine. What'd she say?"

"She's the one who suggested Manuel help me work on my dialects so I could understand what she was talking about," he confirms. "But she wants to talk to you, too. She said that some of the terminology--it doesn't have any equivalent in English or Spanish, but she thinks you can help her with that. I'm guessing now that's because you worked on the border."

"Just a few months in the colonias around McAllen and Laredo," he says in surprise. "Dude, it's not much--"

"She said you've seen some of what she's talking about and can help her describe it to me, one gringo to another," he explains, startling him; no one he assigned here should know anything about that. "English is my fifth language, and don't get me wrong, I'm brilliant--"

"And modest," Dean points out, filing that away. "How many languages do you speak?"

"Technically, I'm only fluent in twelve," he answers with no modesty at all. "I didn't bother getting officially certified in the others--"

"Holy shit," Dean says, finishing his remaining coffee in a gulp.

"--and I don't really count dead languages," he adds as he pushes back a strand of newly-cut black hair and smirks at Dean's expression. "There's a reason Cas trusts my translations and doesn't check my work."

"Is this going anywhere besides your ego?"

"I trained as an interpreter in the Nepalese Army and worked as a diplomatic interpreter before I went to the private sector. Much better money, less danger of being shot--"

"And now you're an interpreter. In a militia," Dean observes.

"But my chances of being shot are still pretty low," Kamal points out. "Not a lot of what we fight carry guns." His expression turns serious. "Translation issues are pretty much my thing, is what I'm trying to say, and I learn fast, but if you help her give me context now, I can do it a lot faster."

Dean nods, shifting his rifle behind his shoulder. "When?"

"She wants to talk to you at Alison's dinner tonight," he answers positively. "Besides, she says you need the practice. Something about oreos--"

"Mal de ojo," Dean murmurs unhappily, waiting out Kamal's delighted laughter. "You tell anyone about that--"

"About what?"

Dean looks up to see Cas five feet away, projecting vague boredom in their general direction. "Nothing important."

"Anyone could mistake an eye for a baked good," Cas tells him, placing a hand on the rough wooden rail and with no discernible effort materializing beside him. "They're both formed from atoms and possess a circular shape."

So there goes that. Scanning the field, he realizes it's empty. "You on break or…."

"Amanda's speaking to the twenty successful candidates now," he answers, nodding toward the trailer. "They'll continue this afternoon to place them appropriately for individual attention in their weakest areas, but all are perfectly acceptable. She didn't require my confirmation, but I understand that validation is sometimes helpful."

"While clean and sober, even," Dean agrees in his most encouraging voice. "Good job, Cas."

Cas ignores him. "Kamal, Amanda says you'll need to take a larger role in teaching the others the basics as per our agreement with the trade alliance while she and Mark concentrate on their students. A team will be temporarily assigned to you here so they can assist you, which may be changed to permanent should you fulfill your duties to Amanda's satisfaction."

Kamal blinks, looking surprised and warily pleased. "Thanks."

"As our liaison here as well as your commander, Amanda will consult with Ichabod's mayor regarding your assignments during your residency. Ichabod is losing the regular labor of twenty of their residents, so they'll be informed that your team will assist them as needed." He turns his attention back to Dean, eyes narrowing. "Was that satisfactory?"

"How'd he do?" he asks Kamal seriously, who stares back at him in unconcealed horror. "Be honest here. Cas is working on his leadership skills. We all gotta do our part to validate him."

"Uh, really good,." Kamal mouths I'm so sorry at Cas with a look of profound sympathy. "Can I leave?"

"No," Dean answers promptly. "Like I can't lip read. Cas, did Amanda say anything else?"

"Amanda would prefer I return before the end of class today and observe tomorrow, for reasons I don't understand," Cas answers, staring at Dean resentfully. "Apparently, we were already scheduled to stay two nights, so that won't be a problem, I assume."

"I packed two bags," he says, kicking the fence rail idly. "You put them in the jeep. I also told you that, twice, and you were there when I told Mel. I wonder how you missed that. Couldn't be because you discovered Microsoft Access doesn't care if you threaten to smite it and so ignored everything I said?"

"I dislike Microsoft," Cas says as he slides back to the ground and ignoring Kamal turning red trying not to laugh at them, at least until they're out of hearing range. "And you, at this moment. I'm ready to leave now."

"Yeah, sure," he answers easily; if Cas needs time, that's exactly what he's going to get, all that he wants. "Kamal, we're heading back, so tell Amanda--"

"That I'll be back an hour before dusk," Cas interrupts as Dean drops to the ground and just barely avoids a stumble. "Dean?"

"Yeah," he says vaguely, waving in Kamal's direction as they start across the field toward the jeep. As soon as he's sure they're out of earshot, he looks at Cas. "So we're staying?"

"Weren't we just discussing this?" Cas asks, giving him a look that implies he's deliberately being difficult. "I may have mentioned Amanda requested my presence this afternoon as well as tomorrow?"

"Yeah, but…." He stops, grabbing for Cas's arm and just escapes being pulled off his feet before Cas finally turns to look at him. "I meant it, what I told you in the jeep. We can leave right now."

"In addition to Amanda's request, I understand my attendance is expected for dinner at the mayor's home tonight and a tour of Ichabod is planned for tomorrow," Cas answers, and Dean really should have talked to Amanda first thing this morning. "I'd hate to disappointment anyone--"

"You won't be disappointing anyone worth giving a fuck about," he interrupts. "We leave now, we'll be back in time for that hamburger experiment I told you about the other day."

"Deliberately get stoned to improve my palate, yes, I remember," Cas says, nodding slowly. "The next morning, I assumed that was a particularly surreal acid flashback. So that actually happened."

"Could be happening tonight," he says, adding temptingly, "Might even join you when I'm done cooking, see who can eat the most hamburgers, maybe steal some Joe Beer. It'll be great." The more he thinks about it, the better it sounds; food, beer, hanging out at home with Cas, especially that last part. Definitely that last part. "Well?"

Cas hesitates, giving him a searching look. "I thought you didn't approve of recreational drug use."

"What? Dude, how do you think I learned to roll joints?" Then it hits him. "Holy shit, did he actually tell you that?"

"There was a speech--several of them, I think," Cas answers to his utter amazement. "If I wasn't high when he gave them, they assured I was afterward, as quickly as possible."

"During or after he finished a line of shots?" Cas makes a face. "Yeah, that's what I thought. Anyway, like I was saying--"

"If we stay, is this offer transferrable to a later date?" Cas frowns, eyes fixed on some point behind him. "If you say no, we're returning to Chitaqua immediately."

"It's open-ended," Dean assures him. "So…."

"I don't have any objection to seeing more of Ichabod than this field," Cas says. "As I'm already here, now is as good a time as any to do so."

He stops fighting the grin. "You sure?"

"No, I could be getting high with you before dusk if we start driving now," Cas admits, sounding pained. "If you ask me again, my answer will change, so it's probably best you don't. I think."

"I won't," Dean promises, resting a hand on Cas's shoulder before starting back toward the jeep. "So, Pinky, what are we doing now?"

"Boomerang was vastly underrated as a competitor to Nickelodeon," Cas says wistfully. "I do have an idea, Brain."

Dean looks at him, projecting 'ready for anything'.

"Where would Ichabod's mayor be right now?"

Cas and Alison's first meeting is everything he never thought to hope for; it's a privilege to just to stand there and witness an irritable psychic in an armchair look Cas up and down while practically radiating skepticism. "You're an angel? Really?"

"Fallen," Dean corrects her as he snags the couch, leaving Cas either standing or the armchair closest to her. Cas can stand forever, but he's been around humans enough to have picked up the habit of sitting when they are, and right on time, Cas slowly--reluctantly, Dean thinks in delight--takes the armchair between him and Alison, obviously resigned to whatever the universe plans for him now. A quick look at Alison confirms there's nothing but curiosity and interest on her face, and something inside him relaxes he didn't realize was tense. "Should see him in a barn in a trenchcoat."

Cas flickers him a glance that promises he'll pay for that before turning to Alison and saying with rigid politeness, "It's surprisingly pleasant to meet you, despite the fact that you didn't disclose your abilities to us, read the minds of our personnel here without their consent, and attempted--albeit unsuccessfully--to read Dean's mind as well."

Alison isn't impressed, but as a quick glance reveals her ankle's been upgraded to a cast, he assumes at this moment, vague threats aren't even making the radar of things that are pissing her off. "If I'd been influencing anyone, I'm pretty sure you would have figured it out when Joe reported back the first time."

Interesting, how Cas totally doesn't deny it.

"So," Dean says into the charged silence, "we got our recruits."

"A team is being assigned to Kamal, per the terms of the agreement Dean made with Ichabod on behalf of Chitaqua," Cas tells Alison. "However, that assignment is pending the disclosure of your abilities to Joseph as Chitaqua's chief negotiator, Amanda as commander of those of Chitaqua's militia stationed in Ichabod, and Kamal as team leader, the latter two agreeing to remain here, and assurances from you that you don't intend to continue to violate the privacy of their minds without an acceptable reason."

"Agreed," Alison says before Dean can decide if he's supposed to confirm that or just look supportive. "What do you need?"

"Can you project as well as you receive?" Cas asks, and Alison frowns, nodding hesitantly. "I thought as much. This is a test, and what you choose to do now will decide if you pass. You may begin at your leisure."

Alison opens her mouth indignantly, but then hesitates, sitting back with a frown, hazel eyes unfocused.

"Cas," Dean asks quietly, unnerved by the silence. "What--"

"She knows perfectly well what I'm asking her to do," Cas answers coolly, watching Alison. "I assume she's currently in consultation to decide if she should."

Dean looks at Alison; so that's what she's doing. "Who's she talking to?"

"I assume the same person who warned her of the penalty should a psychic misuse their abilities." Dean can't help but think of the bathroom this morning and wonders how the hell Cas thought what he was doing in front of that mirror was anything but mimicry, and shitty at that. Half-slumped in a ragged armchair, rumpled and looking bored, Cas doesn't need anything but himself to be exactly what he is. "And informed her of who had the right of judgment."

Alison's mouth tightens, hazel eyes focusing on Cas. "Give me a minute."

"I'll wait."

She frowns, eyes unfocusing again before she abruptly goes still, hands clutching the arms of the chair for a long moment. Humans can't deal with infinity, Cas told him. Worried, he starts toward her, but Cas reaches out and catches his arm, never looking away from Alison, eyes vast, a drowning blue that goes on forever. "Don't."

Shaken, he sits back down just as Alison opens her eyes, relaxing all at once; if anything, she just looks surprised. "Huh." He glances at Cas, and while he can't be sure, he thinks he's amused.

"How are you feeling?" Cas asks curiously, the earlier coolness absent. "I wasn't sure how it would work now."

"Fine. Thanks for the warning," she answers, shaking her head like she's checking to make sure it's still there. "That was--different."

Very faintly, Dean sees Cas's expression flicker, though what that means he has no idea. "Even without Grace, it can be dangerous for a psychic--"

"Yeah, I saw that, very--horrifyingly detailed, thanks for my next nightmare." Cas doesn't wince, but Dean suspects he kind of wants to. "Well?"

The genuine worry in her voice seems to surprise Cas. "Generally, if you have to ask, the fact you can at all is an indication you're within acceptable boundaries for use."

Alison manages to combine relief and incredulity in a single flat stare.

"You're still alive," Cas explains politely, which has the effect of transforming the stare into an outright glare. "Congratulations, and thank you for your excellent ethics. I wasn't particularly looking forward to explaining an extempore public ritual execution of Ichabod's mayor to their entire town."

For the life of him, Dean can't work out if this should have been on his list of potential worst-case scenarios when it came to introducing Cas to Ichabod. Horrifyingly, the answer is probably yes. Still, though. "What?"

"You might be aware your entire planet has not been under the iron fist of a series of powerful psychics through all of its history," Cas tells him conversationally. "There's a reason for that. The Host tended to deal with that problem under the auspices of free will."

"Huh." Yeah, he's got nothing. "So--good thing nothing like that's happening today. Right?"

"Dean wants me to make a good impression," Cas says to Alison, leaning his head against one hand and regarding Alison thoughtfully. "That wouldn't have helped, I assume."

He's kidding, right? "Seriously?"

Alison looks at Dean, and God help them, they're sharing a moment. "Are all angels like that?"

Cas snorts. "I'm not an angel--"

"No, they're not." he says at the same time and gets two pairs of curious eyes--and from Cas, startlement. "You have no idea. So everything okay?" What just happened, he means. Put in words that he can hear, thanks.

"She was assuring me of her good intentions very, very thoroughly, and I had to stop her," Cas answers, gazing at Alison with a hint of exasperation. "In the future, should someone ever ask you to open your mind to them, one, don't do it, and two, shoot them, fatally if possible. At the same moment, preferably. Tell me you own a firearm and know how to use it."

"I thought that's what I was supposed to do," Alison says in bewilderment.

"Not like that," Cas states firmly. "I'll attempt to explain before I leave, though I'm afraid the lack of words for it will be something of a handicap."

Alison frowns. "What did I do?"

"The phrase 'my life flashed before my eyes' might describe it, but substitute, 'your' for the first 'my'," Cas answers. "Don't be alarmed; infinite memory does have its uses in the sheer amount of data available to me at all times. Even if I wanted to remember the minutia of your entire human life--and I can't imagine that happening, ever--the lack of context would make it nearly impossible to find them unless it was by accident."

"I'll keep that in mind. So you can tell me…." She trails off hopefully.

"Vessels' latent abilities are thankfully suppressed, so I have no concrete knowledge to draw on," Cas answers, and Dean files that away for later thought. "You were born with dormant psychic abilities, which isn't at all unusual. They could and in other circumstances should have remained so all your life."

"And four months ago…."

"You told Dean it felt like something happened--something you didn't remember but expected despite that when it did. That was the day that Dean confronted Lucifer in Kansas City."

He straightens; they so didn't talk about this. "Cas--"

"Lucifer's reaction to being thwarted that night seems to have been to release uncontrolled Grace upon the world," Cas continues like they didn't just go seriously off-script, if they'd even had a script, which by the way, they didn't and maybe they should have. "It killed all his followers as well as most of those infected with Croatoan in those cities and areas under his dominion on earth."

Alison's eyebrows draw together. "Why would he…you're saying Lucifer had a temper tantrum?"

"Like a three year old," Dean throws in desperately with a glare at Cas; seriously, what the hell? "Crazy, right?"

"Grace without direction or purpose is very deadly, but that much released on the earth at once would have other side effects as well," Cas tells her, straight-faced honesty better than any lie could ever be.

"Teresa said something about…" She catches herself with a grimace, expression smoothing out before continuing. "So that might have--woke this up?"

"As what happened that night has quite literally never happened before in all of history--any history, anywhere--there's no actual precedent for your situation," Cas replies. "However, as your own clairvoyance possibly predicted this--that would be one reason you felt as if you expected it to happen when you woke up--at this moment, that's the most likely explanation."

Dean glares at the side of Cas's head. "Huh. I never would have thought of that."

"You aren't and have never been an angel of the Lord," Cas answers with a hint of 'patronizing' because he's a dick. "Some things, you must know, are--"

"If the words 'beyond your comprehension' come out of your mouth--" Dean starts.

"I'll have to sleep on the couch?" Cas asks curiously, turning to look at him. "Must be a day ending in 'y', then."

Belatedly, he realizes Alison is watching them, cheeks slowly reddening like maybe this is supposed to be funny or something.

"Cas, you were telling the nice secret psychic about her powers," Dean manages, staring his 'we're so talking about this shit later' right into Cas's wide blue eyes and knowing he's laughing his ass off on the inside right now. "Anytime you're ready."

"Of course," Cas answers graciously, turning back to Alison. "I apologize; we left an hour before dawn and only had time for one cup of coffee. Fortunately, Amanda had prepared more in anticipation of our arrival, but it's been a very long morning ." Cas did not just say that. "You're strong enough to project very clearly, and even without Grace, I can't be injured if you can't control it. This time, attempt to project without firing the entirety of your mind at me at once. It's--disconcerting. Take as a model verbal conversation: only the information you want me to know now."

"Anything specific?" she asks dubiously.

Cas shrugs. "I'd like to know more about your clairvoyance, and I think it would be easier for you this way than with words."

She nods before closing her eyes, and after a minute of watching her, Dean turns his attention to Cas, who just looks like he's inventing new geometry for the next time he reorganizes the pantry. It's pretty boring, but every once in a while Cas looks vaguely surprised, so there's that. Fortunately, it doesn't take long; Alison opens her eyes, looking thoughtful, and Cas's frown deepens, but nothing continues to happen.

"Okay," Dean says finally. "Gonna share with the class?"

"She's psychic," Cas answers, probably just to annoy him before telling Alison, "You're a surprisingly strong telepath, both in reception and projection, which you probably guessed." He tilts his head, studying her. "Clairvoyance isn't unusual, but usually they come together if you possess both, not piecemeal. You've been able to see portions of your future all your life?"

"As long as I can remember," she answers. "Dreams, mostly. A couple of bad trips in college."

"I don't even want to imagine that combination," Cas answers with a wince. "Psychedelics are to be avoided if possible, or at least outside controlled circumstances."

"That," she says wryly, "I learned for myself, thanks."

"Do you ever remember your dreams?"

"Not the details, no, not unless it actually starts or is about to--a little like déjà vu for the lead-up, which by the way worked pretty well as an excuse until the Apocalypse." She grimaces. "At least when it wasn't actually happening."

Cas nods, eyes narrowing in thought. "And it's always specific to you: your actions, I should say?"

"Yeah, I think so," she answers after thinking carefully. "I mean, sometimes I never found out what the decision was that I was supposed to make, but--"

"That would be because something else happened before you needed to make it, rendering it moot. Free will in action." Cas frowns into the middle distance. "That's--I’m not sure."

"What?" Dean asks, glancing at Alison, who looks equally impatient.

"Clairvoyance isn't unusual," Cas explains. "Clairvoyance that warns its bearer of important future decisions is extraordinarily useful and therefore rare, but certainly not enough to elicit comment. Clairvoyance that does all that and manages to avoid traumatizing the bearer to the point of suicide, permanent insanity, rampant alcoholism and cirrhosis of the liver at an early age, or a dangerous drug habit as a lifestyle choice….I congratulate on your good fortune. That almost never happens."

"Thanks," Alison says slowly. "I think?"

"I was being sincere," Cas clarifies. "That almost never happens. Congratulations."

"Human skills," Dean tells Alison's slow blink. "We're still working on those."

"I feel better," she tells them both. "I heard a 'but' somewhere in there before being happy I wasn't cutting my wrists in a tub of everclear and heroin, though."

"I'm thinking." Cas studies Alison, and Dean thinks he almost says something before abruptly changing his mind. "After manifestation, psychic abilities tend to strengthen over time. Is it still getting stronger?"

She hesitates briefly. "It's hard to tell. I told you, I'm new at this."

"You haven't reached the threshold of your abilities," Cas answers. "Which you've already sensed, and I'm confirming." She makes a face. "I'm not familiar enough with concrete examples of psychic manifestations in humans to do more now than tell you that your accuracy is surprisingly high, and opiates will help dull the headaches. They may be the only thing that will at this point while your mind adapts."

"We don't have a lot--"

Cas gets a complicated look on his face. "I'm sure we can refresh your supply," which Dean takes as coming from their ridiculous supply of morphine, which puts them in the position of being grateful their dead asshole doctor was a junkie; it really must be a day ending in 'y'. Drug dealers of the Apocalypse is officially on the table as well; good to know.

Looking between them, Dean considers spending the rest of the morning like this and makes an executive decision.

"So, I'm gonna go watch Amanda," he says, stretching elaborately. "My soldiers, duty, you know the drill--"

"You're bored," Cas observes.

"I'd rather watch paint dry," he agrees instantly. "So unless you need me for something--"

"Go away, Dean," Alison says, rolling her eyes. "I'll entertain your angel."

Cas nods. "Enjoy yourself, and if I don't see you until then, don't be late for dinner." Turning to Alison, he says, "I've been told I should request a tour of your town? Apparently I should be interested in your buildings, though I have yet to hear an explanation as to why."

"We can do that," Alison agrees, then adds casually. "You mind if I get some coffee first?"

"We can start with your kitchen," Dean hears Cas say with much more enthusiasm as he starts toward the east exit of the town square and just makes it to the street before he starts to laugh.

When Dean and Cas walk in the door of Alison's building for dinner, he doesn't make a run for it, mostly because Cas is right on his heels and also, he's providing an example.

Looking around the large--and packed--living room, he smiles brightly into all the smiling, curious faces--wow, that's a lot of faces--and reaches back to grab Cas's wrist just in time.

"It'll be fine," he murmurs when he turns around to take off his jacket, staring into Cas's eyes a promise he'll kill him if he abandons him to this. "Promise."

Dean takes in the two bags on the guest room bed of Alison's building and doesn't even pretend to be surprised. Cas, on the other hand stops short, subjecting them to an examination like he's looking for evil spirits or maybe bombs. He's been in much worse motels, he thinks, approving the bare, whitewashed walls, worn, comfortable furniture, and thick, faded quilt. Nothing here smells of body fluids or feet, but there's a hint of lemon and plain soap.

"We got upgraded to the mayor's building," Dean remarks, sitting on the edge of the mattress and giving it a bounce or two while fighting the urge to drop onto it and never get up again after the longest dinner of his entire life. It's much better than the one at the cabin; he wonders what he can trade for it. "Must be you. They've been farming me out to anyone with a spare bed when I visit."

"And Alison wasn't sure of your reaction to the fact she was living with another woman and didn't want to risk you finding out before she knew more about you," Cas says, still staring at the bed. "Amanda and I talked earlier today about what I should expect in social encounters while I'm in Ichabod."

Dean cocks his head. "Such as?"

"Among other things, that humans are very unpredictable in their reactions to other people's sexuality, which is why Alison was justifiably worried about yours," he explains. "She has yet to discover any bias among the residents and has met several people during the course of her investigations that have made her feel very welcome."

"Three weeks and she's already getting laid," Dean interprets, unsurprised when Cas nods. It's weirdly easy to imagine Amanda regaling Cas with her sexcapades in Ichabod, though why, he can't really say. "So she does know what downtime means, good to know. So she was just making sure you were prepared."

Cas nods. "She--"

"Figured I'd forget to do that," Dean interrupts, shaking his head at Cas's worried look. "She was right; I didn't even think about it. Sorry about that."

"From what I understand," Cas answers, one corner of his mouth upticking, "this was more a precaution, as the memory of your discussion with the watch lingers quite strongly in everyone's memory. She recommended I should bring anything I found questionable to her attention first to judge the severity before you traumatized anyone else for life who wasn't one of your subordinates."

Despite himself, he grins. "They still flinch when I do random checks." Looking at Cas, though, the amusement fades. "I forgot you've been at Chitaqua since you Fell, so this would be pretty new to you." He tries not to make it a question; this is definitely territory for Vera when she gets back. "And probably weird," he adds honestly, thinking about what makes up social encounters in Chitaqua. "Speaking of new, what did you think about dinner tonight?"

"New," Cas agrees. "I assume in this case 'dinner' was a euphemism for a casual form of introduction to the town's leaders that included food?"

"You got it," he confirms. "The meet and greet, it's a thing with humans. Food's around to keep you from a cut and run." He'll give Alison and company this much; that was a lot of food, and it was everywhere. Good delaying tactic, he suspects: empanadas to slow you down if you're trying to get out the door. Or so he assumes: those were goddamn amazing, and he had three or four at least.

"Is it usual for there to be so many people at one of these?"

"I don't know," he admits. "I got the more formal version, lots of really polite conversation--"

"Poker until two in the morning."

"--midnight, and who told you?" He snarls at Cas's faint smirk. "Goddamn Alison."

"If they already met you," Cas asks, beginning to frown, "then why did they feel the need to repeat it tonight?"

"Oh, that was for you." Cas starts to look alarmed. "I'm the scary leader of the militia: been there, done that. You, on the other hand…."

"This is part of the reason you wanted me to come here," Cas says slowly, like he's testing the idea. Dean nods, bracing an arm on the mattress behind him. "Other than Alison and Teresa, they don't know what I am."

"They know you're Castiel," he answers firmly. Tonight, there was no way to miss the reactions even if he wanted to, and if seeing it live and in person at less than three feet away wasn't fun for him, he can't imagine what it was like for Cas as the object of it. Amanda really did make good choices for those first recruits, it turns out; none of them, not one, were like some of those here tonight.

It wasn't dramatic, no, but it was there, and Cas was right about the variations: surprise and hesitation, uncertainty, sometimes a very shitty attempt at polite retreat, avoidance after, sometimes requiring the length of the room. They might not be able to help it, but he hated it every time. It made the few who didn't react all the more memorable, though; Teresa, Manuel, Tony, Rabin and Sudha, Neeraja, Eyong and Njoya, Dina, Lanak, a few others he marked for later thought. They knew the difference, that much he could tell, but to them, it just didn't seem to matter.

Alison, he remembers suddenly, didn't react at all. Box thing must have been good prep, he guesses uncertainly.

"You're Amanda's instructor and a member of the militia and--the other stuff," he continues, waving a hand. Weirdly enough, he's not eliding for the relationship thing--that's old news--but the job description, because this is his life. "What you tell them's up to you."

"You'd prefer I didn't?"

"I'd prefer this wasn't an issue," he answers honestly. "If you're asking me what decision you should make, forget it; that's your choice. If you're asking if I want you to…." Jesus, talk about being screwed by your principles. "I want them to get to know you, and that's a big chunk of who you are." He tries on a smile. "I'd also like you to be able to sleep while you're here without feeling like you gotta watch your back."

"That doesn't worry me," Cas replies absently. "You're here."

And like that, he can smile and actually mean it. "Exactly." Cas looks at him, startlement slowly replaced by understanding. "Like I said, it's up to you. I got it covered either way."

"I'll keep that in mind."

"Sit down," Dean says invitingly, stripping off his boots before scooting up the bed. For reasons Cas (therefore ineffable), he hesitates before gingerly seating himself on the very end of the mattress, then slowly removing his boots. "So, anything else?"

Warily, Cas turns to face him, cross-legged and thoughtful. "So that was all of Ichabod's current leadership?"

"God, I hope so." The formal intro was a lot different, not least because Alison spread that shit out over a couple of days of very polite dinners that doubled as opportunities to show that Dean and company didn't eat babies raw and could talk about something besides their death counts hunting in the wilds of Kansas. "That was a lot of people."

Alison and Claudia were the official greeters, easing them into the room so that (just guessing) Derek could lock the door behind them. Manuel was next as co-leader of Ichabod's patrols with Teresa, and they introduced their patrol leaders: Sreeleela, Antonio, Sandar, Anyi, Anthi, Shuo, Hans, and Cristian. Dina, their resident agriculture guru, doubled down with her leads, Mercedes, Elena, Thomas, Alejandro, and John for the town's gardens and fields. Sudha and Neeraja, Teresa's non-formal apprentices with their warding and more metaphysical defenses, he met as residents of Alison's building before; much like Teresa's existence, their other jobs were omitted during the original introductions.

That was just the warm-up, though.

Dolores, an RN and their Medical head, had two LVN's and a paramedic with her when they showed up just as the appetizers were getting low, which is when Dean started slipping, though there was definitely a Karl and a Lewis in there somewhere. Tony showed up for the main course after putting his kids to bed, with Dennis and Walter for city services, at which time Dean's brain shut down entirely, nodding on command for the town's other specialists who kept the town working, ending with the town's council, which as far as Dean's been able to tell, was them, twenty people picked in quarterly elections, and possibly everyone who shows up to the meetings, because he can't say this enough, that was a lot of people tonight.

Even visits to Ichabod can't change months of comfortable familiarity at Chitaqua and his people there. It was disorienting as hell, and he's pretty sure it was only Amanda and Kamal's determined efforts (and a lot of appetizers) that kept him and Cas from utter disaster. Act normal, yeah, that helps: what the hell does that even mean?

"A lot of people," he repeats, reassured by Cas's enthusiastic nod of agreement. "You get everyone?" He's kind of counting on Cas's memory to keep track of the bewildering faces and names thrown at them during the Totally Non-Threatening Casual Getting to Know You Food and Chat Thing. It's possible he met all one thousand people living here by the time dessert was served; he sure as hell didn't see many of them twice.

"Yes," Cas confirms, to his relief. "Name, position, tenure, siblings, parents, current and potential romantic partners, and what their offspring accomplished most recently. Cristian and Esperanza's daughter is turning four in one month; is that significant?"

"Cake," Dean says promptly. "Maybe a present? Do they make rifles for three year olds?"

"If they do," Cas answers after they both take a moment to contemplate the horror, "I don't want to know about it."

"Good call: I'll talk to Joe. He still remembers what normal people do." Probably.

He's still not sure what to do with the unsettling suspicion that maybe life in the suburbs didn't work out for him for more than Sam-related reasons. Observation of people in their natural lawn-maintenance and weekend barbecue habitats taught him to fake it, but it was always life lived like a sitcom without a discernible plot. In Chitaqua, he may be technically lying about who he is (though he is Dean Winchester, as Cas regularly reminds him) but what he is, that's not just a valid lifestyle choice--it's normal.

In Ichabod--crowd size aside--it wasn't actually that different from Chitaqua now that he thinks about it, and the differences are ones that seem to be a matter of scale. Leads are the specialists, but everyone does rotation doing everything; like in Chitaqua, there are too many jobs to do and the burden of survival's a lot lighter when its spread out. Besides the evening classes for the residents to learn new skillset, the gardens that feed Ichabod are worked individually and the produce shared communally, and no one escapes How a Cow Becomes a Hamburger and a Pig Becomes Bacon when the time comes for that kind of thing. Chitaqua's agreement with the towns means they'll also be full participants in the glory and dream that is getting food from the ground as well as the animals, which Dean agrees with and is not looking forward to even a little when his time comes.

Dean studies Cas for a moment, trying to decide how to approach the subject of pre-dinner divide and conquer, which quite literally only Kamal's hissed assurances kept him from bringing a dead stop. That and Amanda taking a strategic position that kept her in line of sight of him and Cas so she could nod at him reassuringly.

"So you and Teresa's talk tonight…."

"Teresa was apprenticed to a bruja blanca in childhood and completed her training soon after graduating college." Dean's not sure what to make of the expression on his face. "She felt it was a professional courtesy, witch to Fallen angel, I think. Not that it was something I could miss, but I assumed courtesy required me to pretend I didn't know."

"You know what that is?" Dean asks, intrigued by the idea of Cas exercising his social skills for good instead of weaponizing his lack thereof. Cas gives him a filthy look, but whatever. "You didn't sprain anything, did you?"

"Next time someone implies you must be very good in bed, I plan to suffer a dramatic lapse," Cas answers, smiling pleasantly. "You were saying?"

"I'm impressed and not at all surprised you know how not to offend everyone in under ten seconds in any given room?" he offers, mostly from sheer stupidity. "I'll tell them you like to cuddle."

"I don't care."

Fuck ex-angels and their sheer lack of shame. "Right. I'll pick better battles. Truce?"

"Agreed." Cas fixes him with a thoughtful look. "She told you after dinner?"

"After she talked to you, yeah." He figures the reason why is pretty obvious now. "She was pretty careful about what she told people when she and Manuel first settled here."

"You don't like witches." It's not an accusation exactly, and Dean hears the question under it.

"I worked with a bruja blanca when I was on the border, and they don't tell what they are unless they think it's a good idea," he answers obliquely. "Teresa's mother, as it turns out. I'm guessing after talking with Alison to be sure, she figured we were safe enough."

Cas tilts his head, waiting.

"Did she tell you what there're called? The wards?" he asks. "Las migras de las luciérnagas--migras is a nice way to say border patrol. So, border patrol of fireflies."

"Surprisingly accurate as a description," Cas agrees. "She explained the methodology. A delineated space is indicated, and the ward remains inactive until it's crossed, at which time it activates at that location, causing the intruder to become temporarily disoriented, allowing time to either locate and attack the intruder or flee. It's extremely efficient; it can cover a large area and lowers the number of people required to patrol."

"Did she mention the part where it looks like a little swarm of lights when it comes on?" he asks a little desperately. "Dude, that's the best part."

"I assumed as much from the name, yes."

"You know why she's using that one?" Cas raises an eyebrow, which he decides to take as a desperate desire for information. "The power comes from her, all of it. She's bound to the earth, but according to her, her agreement with it is if she can't do something and needs help, if her intentions are good, she'll get it, but never at harm to itself. She could force it to help her if she wanted to--probably get most of the state if she made an effort--but it's just a request. She's not too worried how the earth judges her intentions, so it's worked out."

"You didn't answer my question."

He sighs, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "I don't trust idiots who find neo-paganism on the internet and think it'll grant them a million dollars and a new car if they mispronounce some Sumerian bullshit or fuck around with blood sacrifice for kicks and power. Someone fucking around with what I saw Constanza doing down there like it's a game and thought it looked fun….what they do is more than that."

He actually didn't realize how much that bothered him, above and beyond the danger; Constanza was awesome, and much like Manuel, spent considerable time correcting his language skills with the tried and true method of a lot of laughter. Showing him as much as she did was an act of faith, that much he understood from the start; that she took the risk still surprises him, no matter how much they'd needed help.

"That bothered you."

"They come from a tradition that dates before the written word and they train to do this all their lives: this is their lives. Their job description is pretty much the same as mine. Just more--" he gestures uncertainly. "Talking to the ground. Apparently that part's turned out surprisingly useful, who knew; Teresa can also figure out what the land needs for their crops, not just hunt down fucked-up earth spirts and always find where chupacabras are hiding out, which is a much bigger problem down there."

Absently, Cas loses the entire sitting thing, stretching out on the bed, head in hand. "She's worried about others eventually coming here--not their current trade partners as much as others, if the trade alliance expands as it hopes to with our help. Specifically, from the place she lived before she and Manuel came here."

"The ones who wanted to burn her alive for witchcraft, you mean?" Dean takes a breath, wondering how the fuck he can actually be saying those words. "Kamal said she wanted to talk to me before dinner. Didn't see that coming." He looks at Cas sharply. "You did, though, didn't you? Do I need to even ask...."

"Not that, no," Cas assures him. "No one at Chitaqua ever verbally expressed any desire to burn me alive for practicing evil. That was new to me as well."

Dean notes the 'verbal'; replace 'fire' with 'bullet', and we got a hit. Of course Cas wasn't surprised.

"A woman who offers to protect them and can help them grow enough food so they don't starve to death." Saying it out loud didn't make it any less insane before, but he had to check one more time. "And they wanted to burn her alive. For witchcraft. They were gathering the fucking wood when she and Manuel left!"

"During dessert, she said you told her that she and Alison and Manuel, along with anyone else who felt threatened, were welcome in Chitaqua should they require sanctuary." That makes sense; she'd want to check in with the resident not-human to see how life is there if you're different. Lack of burning people alive would be a big plus; he wonders what she'd say about the secret police thing that used to do it with a gun. "Do you wish me to warn Amanda and Kamal so they can protect them if necessary?"

"Yeah, talk to all of them tomorrow." Dean blows out a breath, forcing out the tension by sheer will. "I don’t think it's gonna be a problem here, but I'd like a contingency plan just in case."

What Cas is (what Alison is, what Teresa is) may not be normal (whatever the fuck that means during a goddamn Apocalypse in the infected zone), but it still blows his mind that in a world where Lucifer walks the earth, Fallen angels, psychics, and witches are feared on principle. Like somehow, an army of fucking demons, werewolves, vampires, and goddamn fae are more explicable than the idea that people can come in a wide variety of magical flavors and still just be people.

After talking to Teresa, he's grateful for Amanda's gossip for a greater good; it gave him every excuse to keep Cas in line of sight if not within three feet or less (his best reach for pulling out of danger purposes). In the back of his mind, he wonders if this is how Alison feels with Teresa, when she goes on those trips to the other towns, checks their fields, tells them all about the earth's thoughts (feelings? No idea) and what to do about it; the only wonder is it hasn't driven her fucking insane. Dean's just barely okay with Chitaqua, and a lot of that is because he's kind of their leader.

Cas nods, then seems to remember something and abruptly sits up. "Dean, should I--"

"Okay, I don't understand, fine." Sliding off the bed, he picks up his boots and places them in easy reach of the left side of the bed before giving Cas a significant look and showing him where his go on the right. Might as well get back in the habit of being ready for anything; the fever just fucked up his routine but good. "Teresa is just a person who knows more shit than they do and people wanted to kill her!" he continues, remembering Cas's three-foot rule on speed; yeah, this is should be fine. "What the fuck was wrong with people? What they hell did they think you were going to do, stare 'em to death?"

"Me." Cas's head comes up sharply. "Dean?"

Dean sucks in a breath, dropping down on the bed with a sigh. "When you said--about how people react to you now--it's not that I didn't believe you. I just--I didn't know it was like that." He looks at Cas. "How the hell do you stand it?"

Cas looks at him as if he's never seen him before. "You get used to it."

"Good try, but no," he answers softly. "Not after what I saw tonight. If I'd known…." If he'd known, really known, he never would have made Cas come here. "I'm sorry--"

"You shouldn't be," Cas interrupts, and when he looks up, there's a thoughtful look on his face. "I met many interesting people. All things considered, while it was a poor alternative to an evening of marijuana and hamburgers with you, it was enjoyable nonetheless."

Dean studies him thoughtfully. For reasons best known to Amanda, she brought Haruhi with her, and she homed in on Cas in five seconds flat. Cas's lack of objections were really noticeable, for the record. "What were you and Haruhi talking about?"

"Six months ago, something incorporeal and very unfriendly was caught by the wards. However, it had limited abilities at projection and some rudimentary psychic abilities that allowed it to manifest what can best be described as version of their worst nightmares," he answers. "As it couldn't get through the wards and they had no idea how to kill it--or see it, for that matter--they simply had to wait out of range until it went away, which took two days. She wants to kill it a great deal, and wants to know how."

He winces. "Got anything for her on that?"

"Several possibilities: Manuel offered to show me where they keep their records, as they thoroughly document each attack," Cas answers, but there's no way to miss the anticipation in his voice. "As she was one of Manuel's patrol leaders, she has access to them and offered to take me to see them herself when I had time."

Sounds like fun; get together with an attractive hunter for an afternoon of reading about monsters and talking about killing things. Three of Cas's favorite things, all in one convenient package. He wonders if that room has a convenient couch so everyone can be comfortable; that wouldn't surprise him at all.

"Huh," is all he says. He could say more, but one, why would he, and two, he's not sure what, because there are a lot of possibilities and none quite convey 'concerned' instead of 'weird'. "Sounds great."

"It does," Cas agrees with really unnecessary enthusiasm. "Derek overheard us and asked to come along tomorrow. I'm looking forward to it."

"Derek's awesome," Dean tells him sincerely, nodding enthusiastic agreement. "Glad we got him. You kids have a blast."

"You're worried." Dean stares at him wordlessly. "You shouldn't be. They all seemed like very pleasant people, at least on such short acquaintance."

"Right." That. "Look--"

"I can take care of myself--"

"I know--"

"--but I do feel more comfortable knowing you would do so for me." He smiles faintly. "Whether or not I need it."

Dean sees Cas studying the wall intently and it dawns on him they're having a moment, an important one, and no one is stuck on a post or feverish while it's happening. Holy shit, they're getting better at this. Hear that, Sam? And he said Dean didn't get feelings. "Anytime."

"Difference can be threatening," Cas continues, switching back to practicality at the speed of light. "You tried to shoot me when you met me. Familiarity makes everything mundane." He does that thing again, like he forgot something and just remembered, straightening on the bed with a faint bounce and absolutely no squealing springs. They have got to get this mattress. "As I was saying--"

"Dude, you were a scary thing with giant wings busting in like…." He trails off. "Hell of an entrance, gotta give you that one."

"Thank you. Dean--"

"It's the fucking Apocalypse!" he says, getting to his feet and looking around for a chair; good, one's already on his side of the bed. "How does a Fallen angel or a witch even make the radar when you got hydras--hydras, what the everloving hell?--shapeshifters, vampires, trolls, gnomes, fucking brownies, giant snakes speaking in tongues or something--"

"A crude form of Aramaic, and yes, that was strange," Cas says, turning to follow his progress as he grabs his bag on his way to the chair. "Dean--"

Unexpectedly, his voice cuts off, and Dean takes a second to pick up his jeans from the floor before looking up. "What?"

Cas gets that look on his face that says he wonders about Dean's intelligence sometimes. "There's one bed."

"What?" Tugging out his sweatpants--once Cas's, fine, but he never used them. Why, he can't figure out; apparently, he just doesn’t appreciate how unbelievably comfortable they are, the thick cotton washed soft and amazingly warm. Snow could happen, he thinks hopefully when he glances out the window after tugging off his shirts and draping them over the chair with his jeans. Temperature may be forties now, but that could change. Tugging on a t-shirt, he turns around to see Cas staring at him from the middle of the bed. "Cas?"

Cas closes his eyes. "I don't sleep with people."

Dean blinks at him, wondering uncertainly if he heard that right. "Uh, Cas--"

"I'm not speaking in metaphor, I mean literally." Opening his eyes, he sighs. "I've never slept with anyone in the sense of sharing a bed or given discrete space with someone for the purposes of an extended period of unconsciousness, is that clear enough?"

"Ever?" This is the weirdest thing he's ever heard. "Seriously?"

Cas's eyes narrow. "Yes."

"You just--get up and leave after?" he asks, unable to stop himself. Sure, that'd be okay during your average group experience--or so he's heard--but one on one… "Throw them out? And you got repeat customers? How?"

"I tell them I had an enjoyable time and…" Cas's expression is like a novel. A novel in Enochian, granted, but Dean's working Cas to English is getting better every day. Cas doesn't just not want to talk about this; this is a not-talking hill he's willing to die on. "I haven't, let's leave it at that."

"Okay." It turns out he's the kind of person who really wants to see how devoted Cas is to that goddamn hill. "So, you want me to sleep on the floor?"

"Of course not!" Cas shuts his eyes briefly. "I only meant that I could--"

"Let me get this straight," Dean interrupts, settling down on his side of the bed and making himself comfortable, because while he's kind of tired, this is also kind of fun. "Body fluids are come one come all but sharing a mattress is a problem for you?" Before Cas can answer, he shakes his head firmly. "Here are your choices: I sleep on the floor, we both sleep on the floor, which is stupid because this mattress.…" He has no words for this mattress. "What's it gonna be?"

Cas's eyes narrow dangerously. "I'll take whichever side of the bed you haven't already claimed."

"I promise to keep to my side, which feel lucky, because Sam, you never know how the hell you'll wake up." He looks into the distance, remembering. "Could be sweating to death with octopus arms or burrito in progress beside you while you freeze your ass off."

"An adventure a night, I take it." Cas finally--and to Dean's eye, not really all that reluctantly--gets up to grab his bag, setting it precisely on the foot of the bed and looking insultingly surprised that Dean knows how to pack.

"You're welcome," Dean says airily, tugging back the heavily quilt, blanket, and crisp sheets in preparation for some seriously comfortable sleep. It's gonna be amazing, his back can already tell. "And for the record, their water heater's kind of a dick and the two available slots are now and seven AM."

"I'll take now," Cas says, correctly interpreting Dean not making any move for the door. "If you'll excuse me--"

"Shower's two doors down," Dean says, arranging his pillows before adding, "Do we need to go over this again or can I get some sleep? Dude, I trip over you tonight…" He's not sure what threat will work--none, probably--but he leaves it open and lets Cas decide what might go there. "Okay?"

Cas sighs; life is hard for ex-angels with stupid hang-ups. "I understand. You'll probably be asleep when I return. I'll try not to wake you." The implication is that he's gonna try, and may not even fake it being an accident. Good luck with that: since the fever, Dean sleeps like a goddamn rock.

"Awesome." Yawning, Dean throws back the covers, settling against cool sheets with a sigh. "By the way, good luck. Wake me up when you're done and tell me how it goes."

Cas nods. "I will."