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A Thousand Lights in Space

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--Day 126--

In what Castiel assumes is some odd combination of misplaced guilt and very real enthusiasm, Dean throws himself into Castiel's tentative plans for renovating Chitaqua's infrastructure upon their return. This includes spending the last two mornings taking turns with the rest of the camp digging what Castiel was assured is a very necessary hole for the foundation at the site of the projected mess hall.

"I could help," Castiel offers for the third time that morning when Dean drops onto the thick blanket beside him before collapsing backward with a sigh as he absently rubs his right hand.

"You did enough already," Dean grunts, turning his head to regard him with a grin, face flushed and streaked with dirt and sweat. Reaching unexpectedly for Castiel's hand, he flips it over to reveal the healing blisters from extensive shovel use that have joined the gun calluses and gives them a significant look before letting go. "Dude, this is everyone's mess, and you're not doing all of it for them. Leadership and life lesson there. Today, you're supervising."

"Water or coffee?" he asks, pushing himself to his feet.

"Water," Dean answers, grinning up at him, devastatingly bright. "Thanks."

"You're welcome," he responds belatedly, turning toward the nearby tables holding bottles of water, coffee in insulated containers, and sandwiches provided by the mess. This is a new addition to the site as well, appearing yesterday morning, and this morning also offering breakfast to early arrivals, of which there are surprisingly many.

Picking up a bottle--and refilling his own coffee cup, as Brenda assured cream and sugar were available--he returns to their blanket, sitting down and removing the top before handing it to Dean, who offers another grin as he pushes himself up on one elbow to take it, stretching out his legs distractingly.

"Not criticizing," Dean says, taking a long drink from the bottle and wiping his face with the stained sleeve of his shirt, "but why didn't you make it an order to show up for important digging duty? You always have a reason, so let's hear it."

Picking up a clean cloth from the supply he brought--his own efforts were a very valuable lesson in what is needed for people at construction sites--he hands it to Dean, who wets it from the bottle before wiping his face and neck. Despite the rapidly cooling weather, the lack of wind and rain have kept the days remarkably pleasant, enough so that most of the workers have stripped to thermal shirts and t-shirts to dig. It's excellent exercise for Dean, he reflects, watching him take another long drink as Alicia bounces into the slowly deepening hole to trade off with Matt and attack the ground with a shovel with cheerful enthusiasm.

Dean taps the bottle against his knee significantly, reminding him that he's waiting for a response.

"Those that volunteered I assumed correctly were those who--shared my interest in the project and seeing it to completion."

Dean gives him a sideways look. "Didn't want anyone to rain on your new mess hall parade?" He shrugs, but it's true. "It's your first big project, dude. Don't blame you."

"When the actual building phase begins, the entire camp will be pressed into regular duty to complete it," Castiel says. "As much for the actual building as to gain experience for when we no longer have enough residences, though there are still cabins that, while unlivable now, would be acceptable with sufficient repairs."

"And roofs," Dean agrees, taking another drink before grinning as Matt trudges toward them. "Matt, you still alive?"

Giving him a sour look, Matt drops on the blanket on Dean's other side with a massive sigh of relief. Alicia is one of the most consistent volunteers for digging duty, and her team--due to interest, loyalty, or Alicia's sheer force of personality--join her every time. Andy and Matt's determined attempts to match her energy have so far been unsuccessful, but Matt, at least, has yet to declare defeat, and has the blisters on top of blisters that Alicia treats regularly to prove it.

As Matt sits up with a murmured thanks to Andy, who joins him with two bottles of water, Castiel follows his gaze to Alicia, making happy inroads in foundation digging, and revises his estimation of Matt's motivations. A glance shows Dean watching the same thing with a faint smirk before reaching over to slap Matt on the back.

"Dude, no idea how you keep up with her on patrol."

Matt shakes his head, taking another drink. "She slows down to let us catch up. Sometimes."

Dean nods brightly, hiding a smirk under the lip of his bottle as Andy and Matt start to discuss either the horrors of manual labor or possibly Andy's feelings about Kat, which Castiel's discovered are indeed numerous and comprise two-thirds of his conversation.

"What do supervisory duties include again?" he asks Dean as Jody joins Alicia in the center of the site and begin what looks to be an impromptu digging competition, punctuated with Alicia's almost constant commentary that can encompass quite literally anything.

"Just watch," Dean responds, grinning as he surveys their good work. "Worth the price of admission, trust me."

He has to admit, without the distraction of manual labor, the view is very pleasant, and not just due to the extraordinarily attractive portrait people engaged in manual labor offer (hunters are extraordinarily fit, and aren't loathe to show exactly how much), though that's definitely an inducement. It's rare that the camp has the time or leisure to casually congregate, and it belatedly occurs to him that other than the campwide meetings he or Dean call weekly--which are very different in context--he's never seen so many of the camp in one place at one time.

Dean's question about Chitaqua's past celebrations comes to mind. They were rare, he remembers that much, and the lowered inhibitions that came with alcohol sometimes caused tensions he couldn't identify (or cared to), but then, he rarely attended longer than it took to find an acceptable sex partner and never sober. He doesn't think they were ever like this, though; the entire southern perimeter is now spread with blankets for those resting or waiting for an available shovel, small groups gathering and dispersing without any recognizable pattern, and everyone in remarkably high spirits.

Sheila's sudden burst of laughter--due to what, he's not sure--gets Dean's attention and he grins into his next drink before frowning up at Castiel. "Fine, you won. How'd you know?"

"A guess," he answers honestly as Mike pulls Sheila to her feet, smiling down at her with something more than simple amusement. "Joseph--from what I understand--has acted as impromptu counselor as well as chaplain. He knows Mike very well, and I suspect he didn't think exposure to outsiders would be of benefit yet. Especially civilians." He frowns. "I told you that Mike lost his wife and son. His son was infected at daycare with Croatoan in one of the earliest outbreaks."

"Son of a bitch," Dean murmurs. "How bad?"

"I don't know for certain," Castiel answers. "Joseph does, however, and I suspected that would weigh heavily on who he chose to assign to Ichabod after he had the opportunity to observe Mike in Harlin. I also think he doesn't wish to retard Mike's progress; he's reduced his drinking substantially, is making an effort to maintain casual relationships with others, and his cohabitation with Sheila is proceeding satisfactory." Dean bites back a smile. "What?"

"Gotta know, what is a 'successful cohabitation'?"

Before he can answer, Sean passes them on the way to the table, and Dean's gaze immediately fastens on Zack and Mira, trading their shovels to Frederick and Justin before climbing out to collapse on a nearby blanket. Within seconds--Dean may be counting under his breath--Sean joins them with water, coffee, and sandwiches, and Zack visibly brightens at the attention as Mira watches them in amusement.

Dean leans closer. "When did Sean get back--"

"At dawn," Castiel murmurs. "His team went to bed immediately after I took their reports this morning, like anyone sane after a four day patrol route."

"You're supposed to wake me up for those," Dean says, frowning up at him.

Every so often, Castiel is once again struck by being in the position of explaining Dean to himself. "Dean, no one is social in the morning, including you. The difference between you and everyone else is that you can't help but try--duty, I suppose--and they do sincerely want to respond, but they're tired, and so are you." Dean's frown deepens, with the addition of confusion. "If you do it, it takes an hour, and I'm trapped in a room with a minimum of five and sometimes as many as thirteen people who desperately want to go to bed--including you--yet are engaged in horrifically stilted attempts at casual conversation while drinking all my coffee until some arbitrary point passes that they can finally excuse themselves while you desperately wish for them all to die. If I do it, it takes ten minutes, I tell them to leave immediately, and everyone's happy. Including me and my supply of coffee."

Dean opens his mouth to protest--how, he can't imagine, that's exactly what happens--then subsides. "Evenings are mine, though, right?"

"Yes, I thought it was self-evident by the fact you always do them." Dean rolls his eyes. "Why were you asking about Sean?"

Taking another drink, he shrugs. "Zack's looked kind of rough the last few times I saw him. Where's Nate, by the way?"

"How would I know?" Castiel asks, sipping from his cup. "What the camp does during their time off-duty doesn't fall under my current responsibilities, and in any case, Amanda is no longer here to share the sordid details of everyone's terrible life decisions against my will."

Dean stares up at him and takes another drink of water.

"Nate's engaged in one of his interminable crisis of sexuality, and James is with him because he's a good leader and wants to help; hint, nothing will, but he'll learn, as so many before him have," he answers, blowing out a breath in sheer annoyance. "Alicia came by the cabin this morning, but she does so every morning when she's not on patrol to give Andy and Kat privacy so they can have sex and talk about their feelings with each other. She mentioned seeing Mira and Zack at breakfast without James, and historically, James doesn't miss any opportunity to spend time with Mira. Combine that with Zack's recent moodiness plus Nate's absence today, and it's fairly obvious."

"Cas," Dean asks seriously, "do you and Alicia have coffee and gossip every morning while I'm sleeping?"

"We talk of many things," he answers evasively. "Cooking, dream theory, ambush methodology--"

"Dryer elves and camp gossip." Dean's skepticism regarding dryer elves is ironic, considering where they are and what they do for a living, as it were. "You told Alicia that Sean was back?"

"It might have come up," he admits. "Amanda's regular reports served a function that I noticed the lack of when she went to Ichabod. Alicia's a team leader as well as our current doctor, so she knows a great deal and relates what she thinks of interest, and since it's usually in the morning, yes, we have coffee."

"And you don't tell me?"

He raises his eyebrows innocently. "You didn't ask."

"I'm asking."

He sighs, put-upon. "Brian and Brenda are alliteratively involved, much to everyone's immense confusion, but it explains the abrupt increase in quality of the meals at the mess, as Alicia says Brenda told her that Brian's father was a cook that dealt in food no one can pronounce and therefore is expensive." Dean raises his eyebrows encouragingly. "She's warily pleased but says its awkward, as Andy and Kat still use her cabin for their rendezvous and sometimes she's trapped with two couples speaking of their feelings, as neither will retreat to their--or her--rooms for sex while she's there."

"God." Dean takes another drink, appalled. "What else?"

"Liz has terminated her loose association with Zoe's weekly gatherings--"

"Den of Carnal Delights, Mark II," Dean pronounces, waving a hand. "Something Amanda said. So she's picking up the slack on the love guru and transcendental orgies that's been missing from everyone's lives? Totally saw that coming."

"Alicia says she's reached the acceptance stage of grief and is moving on," he agrees. "She's pacing herself, as I advised her, but I'm running low on LSD, which reminds me, I need a day off soon for manufacturing purposes. It's not particularly complicated, but chemistry isn't to be approached with anything but precision. Do you need more water?" Plucking the empty bottle from Dean's frozen hand, he picks up his cup and returns to the table, selecting a sandwich as well as refilling his cup and acquiring a new bottle, before returning to Dean. "Eat this."

Dean takes the sandwich, turning it between his hands with a complicated expression.

"If you don't want me to--"

"Your business," Dean says, taking a bite and chewing thoughtfully. "Is there a notation for days off for drug making in your spreadsheet?"


"Of course there is." To Castiel's pleasure, Dean finishes the remainder of the sandwich quickly before following it with more water. "So Liz is--what, taking up a life of celibacy or what?"

"From what Alicia said, it's a territorial issue. Mel has twice-weekly gatherings with her team to promote team-bonding, and--what?"

Dean takes a drink of water before answering. "You don't even need to tell me what that means, and I'm not surprised, fuck my life. Mel's not the sharing type?"

"Not even a little," he agrees. "Joseph confirmed that everyone involved is very enthusiastic regarding the current arrangement, and it's been extremely beneficial for Liz personally, as she prefers stability and structure in her personal relationships." At Dean's interested look, he shrugs. "Joseph also likes coffee. It's like a compulsion spell, but not ethically horrible and delicious."

"Our camp counselor in action." He starts to take a drink from his bottle, then lowers it, looking surprised at something. "And look who just showed up." Following his gaze, Castiel sees Kyle taking the shovel from a tired-looking Sheila as she and Mike start toward the tables. "Give me odds on Kyle joining in from sheer community spirit."

He shakes his head. "He doesn't have any."

They both watch Kyle start toward the center of the site where Alicia's working alone--Jody, not gifted with what must be preternatural energy, having taken a break--and doing the least convincing performance of accidentally bumping into someone he's ever witnessed.

"Wow," Dean observes, taking another drink as Alicia shakes her head with a grin at Kyle's probable apology, the pace of her work noticeably slowing as Kyle joins her digging efforts. "Wasn't he just like, two weeks ago begging Jane to take him back while stalking her through the entire camp?"

"Jane's otherwise occupied." Dean must hear something in his voice, swinging his gaze to look at him curiously. "Sidney, in case you're curious, volunteered to take Sheila's shift in the garage today so she could spend some time with Mike, since his mission schedule with Joseph is irregular at this time while Joseph performs supply-run based interviews to decide who will replace Leah and Ana."

"What does Sid have to do with--"

"He's reading automobile repair manuals and asked me to review him in small arms yesterday," Castiel continues. "He was sincere in his thanks afterward and we're to do it again the day after tomorrow so as to assure progress, since his performance, while adequate, could be improved. You may not know this, but Jane is--"

"Don't say it." Dean closes his eyes, looking pained. "Jesus."

"Does it bother you because it's Sidney--which is understandable, though he improves a great deal when hostility is absent--or because Dean was involved with Jane?" he asks and earns himself a glare. "Dean was involved with many women in Chitaqua, so why…." He stops himself; Dean's initial inhibitions regarding involvement with anyone in the camp were the result of both unfamiliarity with them and discomfort with the identity he was assuming. Time and familiarity, however, have made both irrelevant, and Jane is admittedly the most physically attractive woman in the camp, if one appreciates Rubenesque brunettes with perfect marksmanship, which is everyone sane.

Dean's sudden bark of laughter interrupts the inevitable conclusion of that train of thought. "I saw Jane in the mess when I went to get us more sugar, and she actually spoke to me, it was weird. Nice not to have her looking at me like she's counting imaginary bullet holes, but weird. And you're telling me I got Sid to thank for that?"

"That's--" He's not actually sure.

"Exactly." Finishing his bottle, he sighs, but shows no desire to return to his labors quite yet. Exercise is all well and good, Castiel reflects, but doing too much is to be discouraged. "Think we can get this done before winter remembers Kansas exists?"

"As winter has a very liberal idea of when it should begin, I'm not sure," he answers. "However, the foundation work, from what I understand, is the part that is most vulnerable to inclement weather, and at this rate should be completed within the week. Or so Nate explained."

Sitting up, Dean frowns into the middle distance. "Level with me here--does Nate actually know what he's doing?"

"Strangely enough, he does, but he's the only one. Once we begin the actual construction--even using prefabricated buildings--the speed of progress will depend on our learning curve, which will doubtless include a great deal of trial and error."

"How long until it's done? Ballpark."

"Three months," he says after a few moments of thought, noting Dean's frown. "Perhaps less, but certainly no more. In two weeks, I've scheduled an inspection of all occupied cabins to verify they're fully prepared for winter, but--"

"No, that comes first, good call." Dean's frown deepens. "So what's after the mess hall? New armory?"

"Why," he asks, "does this sound like more than idle curiosity?" He would, actually, very much like to expand the armory to accommodate at least a portion of the massive stock of military weapons they've acquired and are now being stored in a growing series of temporary buildings that at this rate may outnumber the number of cabins. "Do you have a request?"

Matt abruptly passes them on his way to the south corner of the site, almost snatching the shovel from Evan and jumping down into the six inch progress made there, Andy scurrying after him with a worried expression. Dean's gaze flickers to Jody, who straightens from her conversation with Mira, and even from here, Castiel sees her alarm.

"Told you," Dean says, an unholy smile lighting his face as Andy desperately attempts placation while acting as a physical barrier despite being three inches shorter and at least fifty pounds lighter than Matt. "Who's your money on?"

"Matt," he answers immediately. "But that's preference, not actuality. Kyle fights dirty, and Matt's right is weak."

Dean sighs. "Probably shitty leadership skills not to stop 'em." The green eyes narrow abruptly as Kyle straightens, looking directly at Matt. "Or assume they won't stop themselves. This isn't fucking elementary school, what the hell. She's not a goddamn bone."

Castiel struggles with temptation--Eve's difficulties with such abruptly far more understandable--before sighing in resignation. Alicia certainly doesn't deserve to have to deal with this.

"Alicia," he says clearly, and Alicia's head comes up with a startled look, shovel stopping mid-motion. "Are you certain that Vera would approve of Dean being out in this weather? He looks flushed."

Dean freezes half-way to his feet, looking at him incredulously, then pointedly at the nearly-sunny day: through the cloud cover, you can even see the outline of the sun in a very impressive off-orange.

Grinning, Alicia jogs toward them, oblivious to Kyle's very satisfactory horror and Matt's hot flush when they see Dean, handing her shovel to Jody before bouncing out. Biting his lip, Dean stands still as Alicia looks him over, going up on her toes to peer into his eyes with ostentatious care before nodding to herself with a solemn expression, eyes dancing.

"As camp doctor, it is my learned opinion all is well. Go forth and be productive, for the hole will not dig itself."

"Thanks," Dean says, straight-faced. "Not dying, good to know."

"Anytime--ooh, coffee, didn't see that earlier." Spying Castiel's empty cup, she scoops it up on her way to the table. "I'll grab you some, too, be right back."

Dean smiles at Castiel, all teeth. "Really?"

"People skills," he answers sincerely. "Go forth and terrify Kyle thoroughly before he tries to skulk away. You're right, it's very pleasant to simply observe."

"That's what I'm talking about." Dean crouches to grab his bottle of water, murmuring, "Good job, by the way. So lunch at the mess, or--"

"We have baked ham--with honey--for sandwiches, and I made potatoes last night, sliced very thin and baked until crisp. Salted."

Dean stills. "Potato chips? You made potato chips?"

"Not yet," he answer, frowning. "Very thin fries, perhaps."

"Home it is." Dean tosses him a grin before getting to his feet. "Okay, someone got a shovel for me?" he shouts cheerfully, starting back to the quickly growing hole as Alicia drops down beside him, handing him his cup.

Taking it, Castiel freezes, cup half-way to his mouth, as Dean peels away the thermal shirt and tosses it toward the blanket, leaving him in nothing but a very thin, sweat-stained t-shirt before jumping into the hole. He's almost immediately surrounded by welcoming camp members eager to show him the best places to dig, utterly oblivious to the fact he's now the center of rapt attention from those observing.

"So," Alicia says suddenly, "he's--recovering really well. Getting plenty of exercise, obviously." She takes a long drink from her coffee. "Little thin, but he--yeah, very healthy. I approve."

He gives her a sideways look. "Your commitment to your profession is to be admired."

"Was he always this hot?" she asks plaintively, taking another drink and tilting her head to admire Dean's ability to bend over, revealing a thin strip of pale skin just above the waist of his jeans that vanishes as he straightens. Oddly enough, it's just as riveting on repetition, and digging provides many opportunities for repetition. "He couldn't have been, or I'd been much more okay with the cheating thing last year." She looks at him worriedly. "Uh, he doesn't hold that entire threat to gut him like a fish against me still, does he? I was upset, I didn't even have a knife! Nudity and everything, only conductive to wearing sharp objects when everyone agrees, and Dean never did. No idea why."

He still regrets that he passed out early that night, but as he pulled a muscle laughing after hearing it secondhand, perhaps that was for the best. Actually witnessing Dean's brave retreat without his pants across the greater part of the camp might have killed him.

"Of course not," he says, but despite his best efforts, his voice breaks on the last word. Taking a deep breath, he tries again. "Let bygones be bygones--did you throw his jeans on the roof?"

"All his clothes," Alicia clarifies, grimacing. "Mine, too, and Amber's bra, but who sorts out the laundry when engaged in mindless rage? Kind of defeats the 'mindless' portion of rage, am I right?"

He nods, swallowing hard.

"Tell Amber that," Alicia says with a scowl that melts into guilt. "I got it all down, but yeah, she had a point about what a night of rain does to underwire."

Castiel just manages to set his coffee cup aside before he starts to laugh.

"Tell Dean I still have his boxers if he wants them back," she adds, sipping from her cup. "Kind of pink, but that bra was very red, so what can you do?" Reaching over, she calmly retrieves his coffee cup before he lands on it. "I'll get us a refill while you do that."

He nods helplessly, gasping for breath, and thinks this might take a while.

Dean submits to Castiel's insistence in treating his blisters with suspicious amenability after they've eaten, sitting cross-legged on the couch after a quick shower and extending both hands with barely a protest.

"You ever gonna tell me what set you off?" Dean asks as Castiel examines his right hand for any breaks in the skin. A short, bitterly fought battle commences, won only by sheer will and a warning twinge from his chest not to do that again anytime soon.

"Later," he promises, and distracts himself with noting a broken blister on the palm of his left hand. After double checking for potential splinters from the wooden shaft of the shovel, he cleans each palm thoroughly and applies a topical antibiotic and mild analgesic before lightly wrapping them against further damage and to encourage quick healing. Fortunately, they're in the same general places that Dean's gun calluses are developing, which should speed up the re-acquisition tremendously and will make his introduction to knife fighting much less painful.

Holding up his right hand when Castiel points that out, Dean smiles at the lack of tremor. "Good practice switching, too."

"I'd expect nothing less," he answers, indicating Dean should relax so he can check the scar tissue on his inner right arm. Regular application of mild topical lotions recommended by both Vera and Alicia have kept the scar tissue supple and flexible as it heals, and Dean's never been reluctant to stretch the muscles regularly to assure maximum flexibility is achieved.

"Now that you're successful in consistently identifying the point that you've overworked your right hand and therefore in a very good mood, I'd like you to consider a possible alternative to the wrist brace."

"Something not fucking firetruck red?" Dean says hopefully. "Hell yes, I'm in."

"A glove."

Dean's eyes narrow. "No."

"A glove not firetruck red," he explains to Dean's set expression. "Something to support your wrist and give some protection to your first and second fingers, since you can't at this time easily feel if they're injured without limiting mobility. Or, if I must be graphic, accidentally cutting off your own fingers with your own knife if it slips without noticing their absence."

"Maybe I'll leave knifework out of my skillsets," Dean counters, flexing his right hand restlessly against his knee.

"Is it feeling any strain from today?" he asks, remembering Dean was rubbing his hand during his breaks this morning; he should have asked earlier.

"No--actually, yeah, a little," he answers, frowning at it before nodding firmly, and Castiel takes out the bottle of oil from the kit, taking his hand and feeling out the places the muscles always grow too-tight by instinct. "Okay, about this glove thing--"

"It will be attractive to the eye," he assures Dean, starting at the wrist and working slowly upward. When he reaches the palm, Dean relaxes, eyes closing involuntarily, and he works patiently for a few long moments, deliberately drawing out each slow stroke before continuing. "I consulted with Alicia and Joseph, and Ichabod's efforts at the art of tannery have resulted in excellent quality leather. Heavier grade will be required to support the wrist, but something finer and more flexible will be required for the hand to assure no loss of mobility, and of course we'll test several designs and your approval will decide which you want to use."

Dean attempts an unsuccessful glare from half-closed eyes as Castiel works the tight webbing deliberately. "Huh."

"Maybe something in black," he offers, biting back a smile at the vague interest Dean isn't at all successful in hiding. "Protective gear for the hand and arm are common throughout history. Yours would be modeled on the gauntlet instead of a full glove, though not made of metal of course."

"Gauntlet," Dean repeats in interest before quickly frowning again. Yes, he thought that might appeal to him. "Dude, I'm not gonna be the creepy guy walking around with one gloved hand, that's all I'm saying."

"You won't be," he assures him, adding temptingly, "Depending on the design, metal could be added to the knuckles, increasing the damage caused by punching evil in the face."

Dean's expression goes through several contortions, all of which indicate a positive response to metal-studded knuckles punching anything, which obviously would include but would not be limited to evil. Kyle, perhaps. "You have something in mind?"

"I do," he agrees as he finishes, wiping his hands clean. "However, turning that into a practical design isn't among my skillsets. I'll send a request to Alison if any of the residents have any experience in leatherwork other than the most basic they've already begun to master." He wonders idly how difficult it would be to learn to do that himself if there's someone with the experience to teach him. He learned to wrap his own knives and repair their sheaths, but even the most skillful attention--which he won't pretend he is yet capable of giving--can't do more than slow the rate of decay. He'd like to be able to make them himself, perhaps with modern adjustments to make them easier to carry and conceal as well. Four simply isn't sufficient; there's absolutely no guarantee a werewolf, a fae, a vampire, and harpy won't join forces and attack them, and there he'll be, all his best weapons used and nothing but firearms to protect him from certain injury, possibly even bruising.

"You got that look on your face again," Dean observes, and he realizes that Dean's smiling at him.

"What look?"

"Here." Reaching out, Dean traces a light finger between his eyebrows. "This line here; always show up when you want something and you're already half-way into a plan on how to get it." The ghost of warmth lingers even after he withdraws his hand. "First time I saw it was that day in Kansas City, before your adventures in seeing all things. Figured back then it meant trouble, and looks like I was right."

"I was thinking about learning the art of leatherwork," Castiel answers challengingly. "It's a practical and useful skill. Without access to the military, replacements for belts, gun holsters, and knife sheathes are going to need to be ordered from the border at exorbitant markup--"

"Yeah, not if we can help it," Dean mutters.

"--or we need to either learn to do it ourselves or convince someone in the allied towns who has the skill or is willing to learn it to trade with us." Thinking of the massive store of military surplus they have that could be of use, he doesn't think that will be a problem. "I'd far prefer not to enrich the border guard at the expense of the local population if at all possible."

"You really don't like them," Dean says, cocking his head. "The border guards. I mean, above and beyond your thing for justice and their thousand percent markup on toothpaste. This is personal."

Castiel carefully repacks the oil with the other supplies to return them to the bathroom, trying to think how to answer. "They're not our friends."

"Well, yeah. They're bloodsuckers and the entire infected zone is a goddamn corpse."

"They want us to believe that they are," he says slowly, "so no matter what they charge us, no matter how ridiculous the price, they can believe it, too. It's not enough to have a profit margin that Wall Street itself would envy; we have to be grateful so they can feel better about themselves."

"And that," Dean says, "is why you're not ever gonna be our negotiator at the border."

"You think I can't, if sufficiently motivated, put on the appearance of appropriate submission?" he asks, almost offended.

"No," Dean answers, resting his chin on one hand. "I think, unlike Joe, you couldn't blow it off afterward."

"Could you?"

"Nope," he says. "Which is how I know. Joe, though, entertained himself this last time by convincing Larry we're getting low on money but desperately trying to hide it just to see if he'd take those shitty semi-automatics off our hands in partial payment. And it worked."

He makes a face, obviously still somewhat surprised by what comprises their liquid assets, but then again, Joseph was rather startled as well when given the full list of accounts, and more recently, due to Castiel's own curiosity, how the stock portfolio of Charles Emerson Winchester III of Boston, Massachusetts (of a very old Boston family) was progressing after leaving JP Morgan Chase to buy a Greek island and raise alpacas.

("You actually told them that was your reason for leaving?" Dean asked incredulously as Joseph looked at him in wonder. "And they didn't--okay, why Greek island and alpacas? What's the connection?"

"Wealthy people are always buying islands," he explained in bewilderment. "I liked Greece a great deal--at least, it was lovely when I was last there, the city-states were very pleasant, peaceful--"

"Two thousand years ago," Dean interrupted blankly.

"Slightly more than that," he admitted. "Still, beautiful, and I'd recently watched a very interesting documentary on the future of alpaca breeding, which was guaranteed to replace cattle within a decade and now was the time to get in on the ground floor of this rapidly growing field of animal husbandry for profit. Wealthy people often are involved in enterprises from the ground floor that involve profit. I understand that plays some part in how they become wealthy."

Joseph and Dean didn't stop laughing for a very long time, so Castiel ignored them as he paged through his investments, pleased to note that his decision to concentrate his investments domestically instead of overdiversifying in foreign markets worked out very well, considering the current state of foreign markets being utterly unknown and in some instances, possibly non-existent. And making notes for Joseph's next trip to the border, because as the stock market in the US still seems to exist (how, he's not sure, but then again, capitalism), there's no reason not to make some adjustments. He wonders if Joseph knows what to do with real estate.)

When he returns from putting the kit away in the bathroom, a sheet of the paper that Nate insists is to be used for construction plans is spread on the coffee table, secured by two glasses, an unusually attractive rock Castiel discovered when verifying that mowing duty was being adequately discharged in those parts of the camp not easily visible from the inhabited portion, and a pocketknife.

"Check it out and tell me what you think," Dean says without looking up.

Sitting back down beside him, Castiel surveys the design; it's oddly familiar. "It looks like--"

"The cabin," Dean interrupts, then taps a pencil against a large somewhat rectangular structure attached to the right side that is definitely not in existence now. "So what do you think?"

"It's--a very accurate representation of a rectangle done freehand without use of a ruler?" he hazards, then turns to look at the wall behind them suspiciously. "That will be accessed through a non-existent eastern door. It's a room?"

"You need a library," Dean explains, pointing at the innocent utility closet accusingly. "Dude, come on, even I can tell that's driving you crazy. Books in boxes and stacked on shelves wherever you can get space, not all lined up and organized by geometry or historical color or whatever."

"It's been that way for almost three years and it didn't bother me at all," he argues, unsettled by the truth of that statement. It does bother him now, and he has no idea why. "And the Dewey Decimal system wouldn't be an improvement, considering its emphasis on--never mind. When did you--"

"Nate drafted it for me yesterday, just a--you know, not final or anything," Dean says, then points to the rectangle. "Only thing, can't move the bathroom, but not a big deal."

"Why would we move the bathroom to the library?" he asks in bewilderment.

"I was thinking…okay." Dean sits back on his heels, frowning. "So we make that a bedroom--"

"I thought the point was to build a library."

"--and turn this bedroom into your library, and we share the new one. It's big enough," Dean says quickly, pointing out the straight vertical lines that indicate walls. "Plenty of room for two arsenals--selling point, you can design 'em--an actual closet for clothes, a couple of beds, whatever."

Castiel wonders if he's missing something. "I have no objections to the current arrangement. I like sleeping on the couch."

"You like sleeping any place that's not that goddamn room," Dean answers, staring down at the paper. "Easy fix: make a new place to sleep, and bonus, you get an actual bed to sleep in, not have to wake up looking at…anyway. We're doing the living like people thing, phase two: everyone sleeps in a bed. Whole camp's doing it but you; time to get with the program."

Licking his lips, he stares very hard at the paper as well. "I suppose. Your snoring is very soothing--"

"I don't snore," Dean denies, looking up with a tentative smile. "You were hearing things or something."

Castiel studies the new room thoughtfully. "It would be pleasant to have an expanded space for weapons."

"So where do you want them?" Dean asks encouragingly, shoving a pencil across the table. "It's your room, too. Any ideas? I want to start when the mess is done."

Picking up the pencil, he nods firmly. "A few, yes."

--Day 127--

"Lydia and Brad," Joseph announces upon entering the cabin, glaring at Dean--currently blinking at him from the refrigerator--before dropping heavily onto an armchair with a despairing sigh. "You're welcome. Hi, Cas."

"Good evening, Joseph," he answers, adding the last report on his right to the stack on his left with a sense of triumph. "We have successfully entered the twentieth century; all historical reports are now in digital format and everyone has been issued jump drives to turn in their future reports. At least until I better understand how to build a LAN, which involves cables, routers, and electricity, none of which we have in excess--or at all--and therefore it must wait."

He doesn't need to see Joseph and Dean exchanging a look to know they're doing it; they do that a great deal.

"Joe Beer, Joe?" Dean calls from the kitchen, followed the sound of rummaging and the refrigerator door closing. "So how did--" His voice cuts off abruptly for the unmistakable sound of a very enthusiastic sneeze.

In the ensuing silence, Castiel is aware he and Joseph are both staring worriedly toward the kitchen when Dean appears holding three bottles with an expression that bodes ill for anyone who comments.

But that's never stopped him before. "Dean--"

"Dust," Dean says shortly, stalking across the small living room and shoving a beer into Joseph's hand before balancing one precariously on the stack of reports that Castiel just barely catches before it can spill (possibly onto his keyboard) and dropping onto the couch behind him and taking a long drink. "My nose tickled, that's all. I'm fine. Joe, how was the run?"

"Fine," Joseph answers immediately. "Marked the fridge and freezer for the mess at the warehouse, but we're gonna need to bulldoze the road; couldn't even get the jeep closer than a quarter mile, no way are we getting a truck. I may need Ana, by the way; the loading zone out back is a mess, and the building's got some structural damage that's gonna make it hard to get the units out."

Dean raises both eyebrows. "So you want to blow up the building?"

"Just the back," Joseph answers dismissively, waving his free hand. "Ana knows her explosives; I'm pretty sure she can get us an opening without bringing down the entire building. Lydia took pics of everything and Mike recorded our in and out and the back from pretty much every angle; can you take it with you to Ichabod next week, let Ana look it over and see if it's worth taking her for an in-person check?"

Dean nods, and from the corner of his eye, Castiel sees him swipe his nose surreptitiously. He doesn't think he's imagining it looks rather red, but he tries to believe it anyway. "So, you're sure about Lydia and Brad? You got time until your next border run."

Joseph makes a face, slumping in his chair, but he smiles faintly. "They're good. Except they can't cook, but can't have everything--"

"There's beef stew on the stove," Castiel says, saving his work and backing it up on a separate drive--Alison recommended this very strongly--before closing the laptop. "It's compliant with all kosher restrictions, and there's a container for you to take the rest home with you as well as the recipe. The mess staff made bread this morning, so there's some already cut within the breadbox."

"Bless you," Joseph says, getting to his feet to investigate. "Two days on MREs, my boots were looking good."

"Why'd you decide against Lee?" Dean asks when Joseph returns, sitting cross from Castiel at now-cleared coffee table. "I thought you liked him."

"I do," Joseph answers, taking an enormous bite and looking gratifyingly pleased with the results. "Thought about it, figured you might like him better. Cas, this is incredible."

Dean's grunts were equally enthusiastic. "Thank you."

"I might like him better?" Dean asks, leaning forward and waiting impatiently for Joseph to swallow. "Why?"

"Just a thought." Tearing a slice of bread in half, Joseph shrugs. "I talked to him about his out of camp missions when we were looking for the Colt, got a feel for him. Figured I'd be losing him pretty soon when you were ready to add another team, so why risk it?"

Castiel reviews what he knows of Lee; thirty-six, African-American, male, adequate shot, extremely attractive, very enjoyable as a sex partner, the latter he assumes Dean has no need of for a professional assessment. "He's seen more of the infected zone than anyone in the camp."

"He was in Lincoln when Nebraska was zoned," Joseph says. "Made friends there, too, don't ask me how, he wouldn't say, but I'm pretty sure he did something stupid and heroic, he's the type. Pretty sure he keeps up with some former contacts in the Dakotas, though you didn't hear it from me, as I don't talk about what people ask me to check on when I go to the border." He gives Dean a syrupy smile. "My leader said something about privacy, it was weird."

"Funny." Sitting back, Dean sips from his beer. "Cas?"

"He's always worked alone." Lee is also solitary and somewhat taciturn, but if he's formed relationships with contacts outside the camp, then he should be able to adapt. Everyone should have the opportunity to learn new things. "Jane would be an excellent for his team."

Dean raises an eyebrow. "Tell me there's a reason for that other than to make Sid feel inadequate, though I'm okay with that as one of 'em."

"Jane's a better shot than Lee--he's proficient, but his depth perception is lacking--and they have compatible personalities. Brian and Evan as well, I suppose, unless you have any candidates." He looks back to see Dean smothering what isn't a yawn if the muffled sound is any indication and wonders if he can convince himself he didn't see that.

"Uh, just gonna say this," Joseph says, spoon halted mid-air. "By compatible, you mean…."

"Jane's not loathe to speak her mind," he answers truthfully. "Lee's used to working alone, and he'll need to learn to think in terms of his team as well as accept their input. I can't think of anyone else in this camp who won't be somewhat intimidated by someone who's six three and doesn't like to talk."

Dean blinks slowly. "They'll fight. That's the dynamic we're going for here?"

"Jane doesn't fight with anyone," Joseph states. "She doesn't get mad, either. She tells you you're wrong, how you're wrong, and doesn't even gloat when she's right. It's fucking annoying. Like Sarah, if Sarah wasn't a robot."

"Sarah's simply reserved." Joseph's characterization isn't entirely inaccurate, however. He's long suspected Sarah doesn't so much as experience emotions as observe them from a safe distance with a vague sense of interest in their existence. "Jane isn't volatile, which Lee will appreciate; she's friendly but very calm, and she'll make Lee listen to her without taking it personally if he doesn't."

"She takes nothing personally," Joseph confirms through a mouthful of stew, swallowing hastily. "It's very 'I understand you have feelings and you should express them but let me explain again how you're wrong really reasonably when you're done expressing them, I don't hold it against you'. She can do that. And mean it."

Dean smirks. "Nicest breakup of your life, I'm guessing?"

Joseph sighs, cheeks faintly pink. "My ex-wife and I took six months to finally call it quits with a therapist in on the action; Jane took ten minutes to tell me how much she appreciated our time together, a list of reasons why we weren't compatible, that she understood if we couldn't be friends during the adjustment period but we would be again soon and she looked forward to it, walked me home, and gave me a hug. Ten minutes, Dean."

"Was she right?"

"All of it," Joseph says glumly, wiping up the remaining stew with his bread and stuffing it in his mouth for pensive chewing before he brightens. "Of course, there's an exception to every rule, but as long as Lee doesn't cheat on his non-existent SO with her, should be fine." He smiles at Dean maliciously. "That, she takes personally."

"Fuck. You." Finishing his bottle, Dean gets up, collecting Joseph's plate and empty bottle on the way to the kitchen. "Joe, you want another one?"

"One," Joseph confirms. "Someone left a note at my cabin, wants to talk about something, and I'm guessing from the handwriting they'll need liquid fortification, so I'm gonna need to pace myself." Taking the bottle from Dean, he studies it far more intently than brown glass could possibly warrant. "You know, since Kamal got sent to Ichabod, cabin's been kind of empty--lonely. I could use a roommate."

Castiel can feel Dean looking at him. "Sean spoke to me yesterday morning, but I was waiting for you to return for confirmation. Consider everything approved."

"And?" Dean blows out an annoyed breath, which Castiel tries and fails not to think sounds slightly congested. "Okay, wanna catch me up?"

"Just several requests for changes in living arrangements that required--a logistical approach," he answers carefully. "Kat and Andy have requested the next available cabin for themselves, as there aren't any that are even marginally livable among those unoccupied. Kim, who is currently living alone, as her roommates are in Ichabod, doesn't like the solitude and is willing to take Kat's place with Mel and Sarah, who have already agreed to the change. It will be accomplished after the new year, I think, if the calendar is correct, as it was recommended to Andy and Kat to wait a month to assure their feelings are--whatever feelings lead to successful cohabitation."

"My recommendation," Joseph admits, taking a drink.


"With Jeremy out of the camp and Andy moving in with Kat, Robert asked Zack if he'd like to move in with him," Castiel says as casually as he can. "Logistics were complicated, as I said, and due to--the amount of logistics--moving Zack will be accomplished possibly before dawn, as why wait?"

"That sentence didn't even try to make sense." Dean tips his head back, thinking. "Short version: Zack's tired of Nate's bullshit, time for a change?"

"Oh, I wish," Joseph mutters, looking at Castiel significantly before sinking back on the floor with a frown. "Shortest version you didn't hear from me; right now, he's tired of it, and I say, strike while the iron is hot. Once it's done, it's done, Zack may or may not notice an upgrade in his mental health--hint, he will--and Nate, as it were, will be free of the temptation of mansex since Zack's literally the only person in this camp who will put up with evangelism the next dawn. I don't care how good Nate is, it can't be worth that."

"It's not." Dean blinks at him slowly as he takes a sip from his bottle. "It's very funny, however, but I think you had to be at Nicea to understand why. I can easily understand why others wouldn't find it as humorous."

Dean nods. "Right. They're on the same team. That gonna be a problem?"

"As teammates, they're fine," Joseph answers. "It's everything else that's a problem. They're pros, they know how to leave it at home, but it's hard to do when it's the same goddamn home." Finishing his bottle, he reluctantly heaves himself to his feet. "Cas, can I pick up the stew tomorrow? My next stop--kind of gonna be busy tonight, but a lot less drinking, so it evens out."

"That's fine. I'll put it in a container for you."

"Thanks. Okay, anything else or--"

"Digging," Dean tells him maliciously. "Fun starts an hour after dawn, so make moving night fast."

Joseph sighs. "Sounds great. Night."

Almost as soon as the door closes, Dean makes another not a yawn sound, and Castiel fights down alarm.

"I'm gonna go take a hot shower," Dean says abruptly, voice thicker than it was earlier. "Wind today--you know. Lie down for a little while. It was a long day."

"Excellent idea," he answers hopefully. "Someone should be arriving from Ichabod with Amanda's weekly reports, but unless there's something you need to know, I can handle it."

"Awesome." Dean sniffs moistly and, looking alarm, retreats to the bedroom, and Castiel decides to pretend this isn't happening for as long as humanly possible.

--Day 128--

"Okay, there's something we need to talk about," Vera said, pointing him toward her bed when he arrived at her cabin that evening. Surveying the stripped bed, Castiel found himself in the novel position of hoping that wasn't an invitation and sat down carefully, relieved to see her take a chair, turning it to face him and sitting down. "It's about Dean."

Alison's warning--sent via Leah when she delivered reports before wisely fleeing Chitaqua less than an hour after her arrival--that ten children in the toddler room had come down with severe colds gave Castiel exactly ten hours before Dean stalked out of his room two hours after dawn wearing two layers of flannel and a blanket over a long-sleeve t-shirt, sweatpants, and a pair unmatched socks with a hole in one heel, face pale, nose red, carrying a handful of toilet paper, and punctuating each dragging step with a chorus of sneezes, none of which are in tune.

In that time, Castiel: called an emergency meeting of the available team leaders and various heads of camp functions (Dean went to sleep almost immediately after his shower, a terrible sign of things to come); explained they couldn't resign, be assigned to Ichabod temporarily, or run away or he would hunt them down and bring them back dead or alive (some inquired if they could request 'dead'; the answer was 'no'); sent James on an emergency trip to every abandoned town up to and including Kansas City in a search for tissue (infused with lotion, per Sarah's recommendation); ordered Brenda to turn numerous chickens into chicken broth and a great deal of soup (noodles are apparently recommended); helped Alicia frantically check their medication inventory for anything to assist with colds; and once completed, added all of these things to their pantry, refrigerator, and/or bathroom and resigned himself to dealing with this without killing either Dean or himself.

(Optional: possibly the camp as well, who voted that he who lives with and has sex with Dean must care for Dean in sickness and in health, which he thought only applied to the institute of marriage but apparently can also be subject to the vagaries of direct democracy. He hates democracy. The alternative, however, was a promise (threat?) that he would have to hunt all of them down in the wilds of Kansas, and he taught them how to hide very well. He hates them, too.)

Castiel finishes his (fourth) cup of coffee, forces himself to his feet, and tries not to look worried when he sees the hectic flush spreading over Dean's forehead and cheeks.

"There is tissue, soup, fruit juice, water, tea, coffee, extra blankets, and various analgesics and decongestants on the kitchen table," he says in one breath, but Dean doesn't vary his course. With determination--and two sneezes--he shoves Castiel over, drops on the couch with another sneeze and inefficient use of tissue paper, and looks up at him with huge, red-rimmed eyes, the very picture of resignation in the face of tragic suffering. Followed by a sniffle.

Castiel thinks: I know better than this.

"Would you like me to get them for you?" he inexplicably hears himself say, and Dean nods, wiping his nose with a tiny, pathetic cough before looking up at him again. "Give me a minute."

"Actually," Vera said, leaning forward intently, "this is about you."

Castiel blinked at her. "About me? Why?"

Here's what Castiel learns over the course of the first seven hours:

Dean recovering from a serious illness is desperately eager to do all he can on his own, and is regularly cranky and not a little hostile (or perhaps a lot).

Dean with a cold refuses to so much as move from his spot on the couch unless it's a miserable, solitary trek to the bathroom, and his emotional range comprises of 'sniffling misery', 'resigned suffering (with coughing)' and 'pathetic hope' (sometimes, he sighs as well, setting off a round of carefully suppressed coughing and assuring Castiel does anything he says to avoid its continuance).

Dean is always too hot or too cold, there are too many blankets or not enough, some are too rough and some too soft, the coffee is too strong but the tea is too weak, toast shouldn't have crusts, the wet washcloth for his headache drips, is too dry, isn't in the right place, isn't helping, he's bored with this book, the print's too small in that one, he hates this author, aren't there any others, but he doesn't want to be a bother (a. bother.), but it's okay, he'll be fine. Followed by sniffles.

It's strange; even knowing he's being ruthlessly manipulated for Dean's sadistic amusement, it doesn't actually change anything. He finds a space heater to station by the couch and turns it on and off when desired, gets more blankets/different blankets/blankets from other cabins because they don't deserve them, makes a new pot of coffee with less coffee grains and leaves the teabag in the cup for a full three minutes, de-crusts all the toast, has four washcloths on standby for switching between at a moment's notice, and tells James to take two jeeps to denude the nearest public library of its entire fiction section in under five hours or he'll pray for demon possession before Castiel is done with him.

(Then immediately apologizes and tells him he's doing an excellent job in his studies on how roads are made. It says a great deal that James simply nods with an expression of pity and promises to keep him updated on the pothole situation. For a horrifying moment, he's in great danger of being patted on the back. It's very lowering.)

Dean takes a long nap after the abrupt spike in his temperature lowers again with the application of ibuprofen, and Castiel loses some amount of time that afternoon watching him sleep.

"First rule. Don't panic."

Castiel said, "What?"

"You heard me," Vera answered, staring into his eyes as if trying to force the meaning of the words into his brain by sheer will. "Don't. Panic."

Standing at the stove that evening, Castiel prepares grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner (cheese delivered from the mess because he assumed dairy would be unwelcome due to congestion and was very wrong indeed) (the bread has no crust) while heating up the chicken noodle soup that Brenda swore several times would make Dean feel better.

Putting the grilled cheese (cut in precise triangular quarters, not squares) onto a plate, he carefully measures out the soup for the correct proportion of broth to chicken to vegetables into a bowl, adds both to the tray with a glass of (not too cold) water, a napkin and silverware, before returning to the living room where he catches Dean reading Firestarter by Stephen King, a power that Castiel would very likely sell his soul right now to acquire.

"Dinner's ready," he says, and watches as Dean composes himself into pathetic gratitude--how does he do that?--and blows his nose, following it up with a messy wipe before discarding the tissue in the general location of the wastebasket that was acquired specifically for the purposes of tissue-handling.

For a long moment, Castiel contemplates the existential horror of being attracted to someone with a swollen red nose that's begun to peel and excretes immense quantities of mucus, but then Dean looks up from a blue cotton-wool blend blanket-formed cowl, green eyes shimmering with excess water, and he immediately loses his train of thought. Uneasy, he sets the tray on the coffee table, unable to ignore the warmth that suffuses him when Dean smiles.

"Thanks," Dean tells him thickly before carefully shifting his blanket cocoon enough to reach for a quarter of crustless grilled cheese (evenly browned on both sides) and take a bite, chewing with the determination of someone using the last of their energy to acquire nutrition to combat mortal disease (a cold qualifies, apparently). Then he frowns, looking up at him again. "You gonna have anything?"

Castiel thinks: a long, cold shower and dimebag on the porch after you finally go to bed, yes. "I'm not hungry."

"You haven't eaten all day." Dean's frown intensifies, and reaching for a new tissue, he sneezes twice before continuing. "Get something to eat. I'll wait."

Experience suggests compliance is his only sane course of action, so he resigns himself, getting a bowl of soup and returns, seating himself grimly beside Dean at his sniffling head-jerk, and applies himself to eating.

And stops, startled. Lowering his spoon, he suspiciously examines the rich golden broth, in which is scattered a plethora of creamy-white pasta and generous chunks of off-white meat.

"What?" Dean asks, pausing in his own half-hearted efforts toward sufficient nutrition consumption. "Don't like it?"

"This is chicken," he answers, dividing one of the pieces of meat with the side of his spoon and tasting it warily before looking at Dean. "This is what it's supposed to taste like?"

Dean blinks wetly before taking a bite, nose wrinkling. "Not that I can taste anything right now, but yeah, I guess. You've had it before."

"No, I haven't." He takes another bite, concentrating on the rich, salt-laden burst of flavor. "This is nothing like that square substance swimming in colored water--"

"Salt," Dean interrupts grimly. "I told you, the military was palming you off with sodium free or fat free shit or something all this time, which is what normal people call flavor. People who can taste, that is," he adds darkly, taking another grim bite.

Ignoring him, Castiel eats with somewhat less reluctance than usual, thinking of the last few meals he prepared and trying to mark out the difference. Salt definitely helps: he wonders now if Dean was right about hamburgers combined with marijuana use.

After they've both finished and he's taken the dishes back to the kitchen, he pauses at the doorway. Unobserved, Dean's movements are slower, more clumsy, and he reaches up to rub his temples irritably before his head drops onto the back of the couch as if he can't find the energy to hold it up any longer before he begins to cough again. The faint flush from activity doesn't seem to be fading; on the contrary, it's starting to spread.

"I'm not going to--"

"Are you listening to me? Say it with me, Cas."

"Don't panic," he ground out, resenting Vera's encouraging smile with all his being. "I'll also continue to breathe in and out while you're away; my understanding is regular respiration is somewhat necessary for living. I don't panic."

"Funny story," Vera said, sitting back in satisfaction. "Anyone else, they'd agree. But you're talking to one of the only two people on earth who know you do and exactly what it looks like in action. Ask me who the other one is."

He shut his mouth on the obvious reply; he doesn't panic.

"He can read you like a book, Cas," Vera said. "Don't believe me? You'll find out exactly what I mean the first time he gets the sniffles. Now say it with me..."

"I. Don't. Panic."

Going to the pantry, he retrieves ibuprofen and a decongestant, then adds the hydrocodone-laced cough syrup Alicia promised him would help Dean to rest, before refilling the glass and returning to the living room. Pushing the coffee table back, he sits down, setting water and medication aside, and fights the urge to check his temperature again; he's very flushed.

"I have your medication," he starts and freezes at how familiar those words are on his tongue. Lifting his head, Dean opens his eyes, and the expression on his face tells him he recognizes it as well. "If you would--"

"So how long until ice baths become a feature, anyway?" Dean demands roughly.

"It shouldn't be a feature. This is merely a cold--"

"Most colds start with a high fever?" He snorts, which unfortunately sets off a fit of coughing. "Cas, you think I don't know what it feels like? What is it now?"

He hesitates, but finally reaches out, fingers skimming the hot, dry skin of Dean's forehead. "One hundred point one three eight and climbing, yes, but I have ibuprofen--"

"Like that helped last time?"

"It did this afternoon," he tells Dean. "Vera didn't think your immune system was permanently compromised, as I'm sure she told you more than once, but I did warn you that your body is adapting and that may take time."

"So I'll pick up the first cold I see?" Dean asks, rolling his eyes and pausing for an exceedingly bitter sneeze. "Wish I had that kind of luck with women."

"No, you picked up the same cold that every adult and adolescent who worked in the toddler room also acquired." Dean's never not been lucky with women, up to and including angels who choose to Fall by their own choice, are born into humanity with their own (female) body, and upon reaching adulthood have only to meet him before they're being willingly seduced in the back of the Impala. Not that he particularly cares. "And several parents, including Tony."

"Is he okay?" Dean asks worriedly, straightening. "I mean, he's sixty--"

"Walter and Dennis both live with him and his daughters, and I'm sure are seeing to his care," he interrupts. "When Leah brings the next report, she'll have an update on everyone's status, but Leah gave me Alison's message verbatim and she didn't seem worried."

Dean searches his face for a moment before slumping into the cushions again.

"It is only a cold," he repeats. "Though it's somewhat complicated by the residual infection from the brownie bite, yes, which….." Before Dean does more than stiffen, he quickly adds, "This isn't a relapse, simply the predictable result of your immune system being stressed."

"That's all." Dean stares at him. "So if I get sick--every time I get sick, it'll keep coming back? Vera said she that might happen, and this is proof, right? A goddamn cold and now I'm gonna be exorcising people or talking about sheep…."

"You actually were talking to them," he corrects Dean, but understandably, he doesn't appreciate the distinction. "Dean, you're in no danger of--"

"You don't know that!" he snaps, setting off another round of coughing. Castiel retrieves the tissue box and mutely extends it, waiting for it to taper off. "So don't fuck with me!"

"I do know that, just like I knew when I saw you emerge from your room that day you were already in danger, just as I knew the moment you began to respond to treatment," he answers, keeping his voice far calmer than he feels. "Do you see a blood circle in this room? I'm not going through that again, and this time, I have volunteers for the sacrifice. All I have to do is tell them they have to care for you during your illness, and they'll happily--"


"--sacrifice themselves. If you think I didn't read everything Vera recorded about the progress of that fever or I don't remember helping her to treat it or that I didn't ask her what I should watch for before she left, one of us is hallucinating right now and I hope it's me!"

Dean stares at his upraised knees, mouth tight, and Castiel closes his eyes; surely there is bread somewhere in this camp that needs the crusts removed. He's finished with all that they have in the cabin.

"If it's not serious, why do you look...." Dean's mouth works briefly. "Look like it is."

Somewhere south of Atlanta, Georgia, Castiel knows that Vera just started to laugh and--this being his life, of course--has doubtless intuited from the very ether exactly why.

He hates her, too.

"What is the word for when you associate something with a fairly traumatic event in your life and it has nothing to do with food but instead your best friend almost dying before your eyes from a brownie bite?"

Dean frowns, wiping his nose. "PTSD?"

"Vera told me that the most important thing I could do for you is not to--overreact if you became ill," he says, fixing his gaze on one corner of the blanket. "She told me that no matter what she told you and what you knew for yourself, you wouldn't believe it unless I did. So my behavior now should match what it was when you were still very ill; otherwise, any doubts you might have would be confirmed." He frowns at the blanket. "I told her I had no idea why she'd think I'd need such ridiculously obvious advice."

Dean makes a face, followed almost immediately by another fit of coughing. Annoyed with himself, Castiel reaches for the cough syrup, pouring out a measured amount into the tiny measuring cup and handing it to Dean when it finally abates, followed by the ibuprofen and decongestant.

Handing back the empty glass, Dean is still flushed and irritable, but somewhat less hostile. "It's just a cold."

"It's just a cold," he confirms. "Aggravated by the residual traces of the infection from the brownie bite, which isn't anything to be worried about but will probably magnify your symptoms, and don't panic. Me, not you."

Dean hesitates before nodding grudgingly. "I was okay until you actually cut the crust off of the toast."

"I thought I was perfectly fine until you started to run a temperature after lunch," he offers. "However, before that, I was removing the crusts because it was very funny to see your expression each time I did it."

Dean's head snaps up, outraged, before he abruptly bursts into laughter, inevitably leading to another fit of coughing. One out-thrust hand stops Castiel from moving, and eventually, it tapers off as Dean gropes for more tissues, wiping his nose and snickering hoarsely between two rapid sneezes. Straightening, he relaxes back into the couch--flushed, red (and now somewhat damp) nose, watery green eyes, and still ridiculously attractive. It's surreal; how does he do that?

"People in Ichabod think you're charming."

"Huh?" Dean blows his nose messily before dropping the tissue into the wastebasket--a first, his aim is improving--and acquiring a fresh one. "They do?"

"Yes, Alison told me about what happened at the council meeting, as well as at those introductory dinners she hosted for you," he explains. "She said she was immune, of course--"

"She's not," Dean interrupts smugly. Castiel doesn't agree, but only because Alison begged him not to ever tell Dean it worked, as Teresa mocked her for it enough.

"--but she did ask me if that was why I was attracted to you," he continues. "I had to profess myself utterly ignorant of what she was talking about, as I'd never seen any evidence that you knew the meaning of the word."

Dean's amusement slowly changes into something he doesn't recognize, but there's no mistaking the dangerous light filling the green eyes. "That right?" he says huskily. Wiping his nose, he starts to add something to that and frowns, forehead creasing, and Castiel can see him just stop himself from reaching up: that would be the headache, yes.

"Lie down," he says, inexplicably relieved as he reaches for the empty glass. "It may be only a cold, but I'm assured that while not life-threatening and of short duration, they're utterly miserable while they last."

"They are," Dean agrees far too easily, reaching for one of the pillows Castiel brought from the bed and tucking it against the arm of the couch before curling up with a sigh. A soft thump catches Castiel's attention, and reaching down, he picks up the book Dean was reading. "You're not going to watch me sleep, are you?"

"Yes, I am. Especially if your grilled cheese has to be in cut into triangles and without crust. I think I'm owed this."

Dean begins to grin, and one foot abruptly snakes out from the blankets to kick the couch cushion in a way that seem to be significant. "Read to me."


Another kick, harder this time. "My head hurts and I'm bored. Sit down on the couch like a normal person and read to me. You can watch me sleep, I can pretend you're just reading until I actually am, and everyone wins."

He almost argues the point but realizes no, he can't go cabin to cabin to acquire more bread to cut, and even if he could, he doesn't want Dean out of his line of sight, and the camp is distressingly well-organized at this moment (as well as notable in their absence). Short of continuing research on the feasibility of a building a small nuclear reactor in one of the less desirable cabins--Joseph was appalled, Alicia enthusiastic--he's not actually sure he has anything else to do, and his concentration at this moment is not compatible with primitive nuclear physics.

If only they'd invented cold fusion already, he thinks wistfully, and at Dean's third--and much more determined--kick, he sighs and picks up the book.

"Not that," Dean says. "Hippo porn. I know you have more done, come on."

Castiel thinks of where he stopped translating. "I do, but--"

"Get it," Dean demands snottily (quite literally, even), and with another sigh, he retreats to the utility closet under Dean's eagle eye, finding where he'd hidden the evidence--behind the inexplicably depleted supply of Eldritch Horror--and comes back to see Dean's helpfully left the end of the couch ready for him. Almost as soon as he's seated, Dean promptly decides he must stretch out, long legs abruptly draped across his lap followed by a heartfelt sigh of satisfaction.

Stupidly, Castiel looks at him and gets in return a mischievous grin. "Well? Anytime you're ready."

Castiel thinks: I do know better than this and I don't care.

Carefully setting the original text on the arm of the sofa--burning it would probably contaminate the fire--and his pens on the coffee table in easy reach, he removes the green one as he skims through the notebook, warily relieved to realize there's probably still a great deal of text before…that part.

"Where did we stop?" he asks as the blanket is flung downward, just short of Dean's feet, and he absently reaches down to straighten it over them and tuck in the ends securely.

"South of Memphis, on the road to Thebes, just spent time staring at hippo ass in the swamp while having a lot of feelings."

Flipping to the correct page, Castiel nods. "'Cleft in twain, ripened and honey-glazed--'"

"--'beneath the sun in splendor' that's it," Dean finishes for him, rubbing his nose and abruptly tugging a pillow under his head to look at Castiel through watery eyes. "Hey, what happened to the boyfriend with the blister lips or whatever--"

"'A carbuncle gleaming like a blister swollen with new blood', and I'm honestly not sure. He vanished between the Inundation that entered the Cubits of Plenty--as his very presence also controls the Nile's Inundations, not Pharaoh, who's only a god on earth, after all--" He stops himself with an effort. "That and Pallas Athena's weeping lamentations as the water level rose around her supine form, for in her despair she'll drown herself, though that will take time, since it takes some days for the Nile to rise, but it seems she's willing to wait." Flipping back, he verifies the potential lover's absence since before that obscenely inaccurate rendition of Athena's--there's literally nothing not wrong with it. Entirely new things were created wholesale just so he could be wrong about them.

Going back, he proceeds to the next stanza and comes to an abrupt stop.

….yes, that part.

"Cas?" There's an impression of activity on the other side of the couch, but he needs a moment. "You gonna start?"

It seems as if he'll have to. "'Kneeling within the swirl of mud as the swamp ascended the banks in crawling tendrils of azure and verdant greens'--for the water of the Nile is like tentacles--'he cried out to the heavens, 'Lo, for your name I speak and know, Messenger, come to my bidding with these gifts I seek to give'." The silence from the other side of the couch almost echoes with ominous portents, but perhaps Dean's fever will abruptly spike and a pleasant sheep-based hallucination will commence. Any moment now. "The grammar is--"

"He summoned," Dean breathes in something suspiciously like joy, "an angel?"

Castiel grits his teeth. "Technically--"

"Of the Lord?"

"Technically speaking, no," Castiel says in pedantic misery. "The pantheons of Egypt and Greece had no conceptualization for 'angel'. In point of fact, the word itself is only a very loose translation of--"

"'That which you call a rose'," Dean quotes maliciously. "Or an angel: Shakespeare knew his shit. Was it you?"

Castiel jerks his gaze to Dean in horror.

"Tell me it was you," Dean says gloatingly. "Tell me he summoned you by name and you're immortalized in shitty teenage Greek except in Egyptian pre-MySpace epic poetry being turned down by hippofucker. Is this why you made up shitty excuses all this time about still translating it?"

"The translation is somewhat questionable--"

"Qafsiel Kaziel, Cassiel, Messenger, Castiel--"

"'Anina, Namina, Anael, Ana-el'." He watches in interest as Dean stills, green eyes wide, and abruptly becomes somewhat reconciled to the fact he can't smite eastern Athens the night of this poet's misbegotten birth. "I assume you recognize the name."

Dean's mouth closes with an audible snap.

"'And so they appeared,'" he reads more enthusiastically, "'draped in silvered moonlight like the most diaphanous of garments, laid bare to only the most private of eyes, rich in flesh and rounded in form'--"

Dean promptly begins to cough.

"--'lush, ripe, honeyed fruit falling into his willing hand'--he did have a problem with repetition, it seems," he observes. "Maybe he made a copy paste error--"

"Cas," Dean says in horror. "That's your sister he's--talking about being ripe and honeyed!"

"Incest is a mortal sin, not a divine one," he responds, turning the page. "Among the gods, a relative within the first degree was generally preferred as a mate; in no other way could they consolidate and expand their power. I have no conceptualization of the taboo as such, and if I did, I've never known her in that sense." He looks at Dean in understanding. "That would make one of us."

Dean swallows. "Uh--"

"'Their steps fall like raindrops as they stretch--', he's an idiot, he meant 'paces'." He pauses to make another correction as Dean indulges in a rather drawn-out fit of coughing and raises his voice to compensate. "'Their steps fall like raindrops as they pace the length of the swamp on feet of light'--not a completely inaccurate description of our true form, though technically speaking, we don't have feet--'and displayed themselves before him in all their glory, red hair surmounting a face of carved ebony and gold'--acceptable, though the fact he's not being burned alive for the presumption of looking on their true form...."

"You're telling me Ana's true form had red hair?" Dean demands, ending his fit of coughing with remarkable rapidity. "Come the fuck on!"

"'And there's nothing to do but kneel before such in abject worship.'" Castiel glances at Dean's red face--carbuncle-like, even. "Red is often used as an indicator of lust, anger, sexual heat without procreative function: it's a well-known fact. You're welcome to check my translations, if you wish."

"I'm going to," Dean promises, wiping his nose venomously. "Soon as I find a demotic Egyptian to English dictionary."

"I look forward to our future conversations in comparative linguistics," Castiel tells him sincerely before continuing. "'A divine hand fell upon his head, gentle in their touch, warm in their offered benediction, diaphanous robes like mist parting to reveal them swollen, ripe'--he does like the word 'ripe', doesn't he?--'turgid and dewed with divine seed, sweet in taste when offered for adoration, slick in honey-sticky ropes'--ropes, that certainly is an image I could live without--"


"'--thick and heavy, accepting its deserved worship and sending him beyond mortal endurance into both agony and ecstasy indistinguishable. Speared by the heavens before him--"

"Okay, wait, wait," Dean interrupts. "How much of this is there?"

"Eighteen stanzas."

"You're going to read eighteen stanzas of your sister banging hippofucker?" Dean demands, then looks uncertain. "That's…what they're doing, right? The spearing thing, that's…what?"

"I'm honestly not sure," he mutters, frowning at the page before returning his attention to Dean. "As I said, i don't--oh, I apologize. Human sexual prudery--"

"Fuck you, I'm not being--that! No prudery here!"

"--is alien to me. Would you be uncomfortable listening to me read eighteen stanzas of your ex-girlfriend in their true form--"

"She wasn't my girlfriend! It was one time!" Dean bursts out, and earns himself a well-deserved genuine fit of coughing.

"--having what may or may not be anatomically impossible divine and somewhat ambiguous sex in overwrought prose with hippofucker on the banks of the Nile during Inundation?" Dean's face turns an interesting shade of purple, and he sits back, satisfied. "It's your decision, of course. I'll wait.

Dean doesn't speak for several long moments after he's finished. Closing the notebook, he stacks it with the text on the coffee table and puts away his pen before sitting back, wondering if he should admit....

"Okay, I give up," Dean says finally, blowing his nose. "What the hell just happened?"

"I checked this four times," he replies. "I'm not certain whether my former divinity should be offended by the blasphemy--it being fictional--or his lack of literacy when engaged in fictional blasphemy, but it would help to know if blasphemy actually occurred. Fictionally speaking, that is. I was hoping I simply wasn't human enough to understand it." It was a wonderful theory, and he regrets its loss very, very much.

"Yeah, no, that's just hippofucker being--I don't even know." Dean sneezes in resignation. "Okay, let's get it over with."

He takes a deep breath. "Are you sure--"

"Look, we gotta figure this out, not like we're sleeping either way after that--whatever it was. Better to know for sure." Blowing his nose again, Dean motions to the notebook. "I'm pretty sure he was probably talking about Ana's holy cock with turgid seed--"

"Divine seed." At Dean's incredulous look, he shrugs helplessly. "Perfect memory, and I regret it more than you can imagine right now. You have no idea how much."

"Sorry," Dean replies with almost painful sincerity. "Anyway, holy cock, we got that much so far, right? Tell me I'm right, lie if you have to."

"I don't think he knows what a cock looks like." He reads the stanza again, but it doesn't help. "Even his own."

"Which might explain where he thought it was--was it moving or is it just me?" Dean shudders before straightening with a determined look. "Heaven's spearing something, and we're gonna find out what that is or die trying."

"No one dies from reading bad poetry, Dean."

"I said," Dean states, "that we're gonna try. Now 'speared by the heavens': start there."

--Day 130--

Alicia's expression is unrepentant as she saunters up to the porch stairs an hour and a half after dawn, but as she's carrying a basket containing another bottle of cough syrup, bread, and a gratifyingly large container of soup, he decides to be gracious. "How's it going?"

"Very well, thank you," he says pleasantly. "I'm designing a refresher training course for the camp. I think I'll call it 'survival of the fittest'."

Climbing the steps, she sets down the basket near the post and drops beside him with a smirk. "I killed the goblin king with my bare hands and a pocket knife. I fear nothing and no one."

"All goblins call themselves kings. They do that. And it was an four and a quarter inch dagger of thrice-forged cold iron. A sixteenth century mystic and blacksmith just rolled over in his grave hearing you call it called a pocket knife."

"Oh, almost forgot." Pulling the basket closer, she groping inside for a moment before taking out a handful of papers that she presents him with a hopeful look. "Dryer elf trap, Mark III. Tell me what you think."

Taking them, he smooths out the creases to examine the elf trap, sigils neatly delineated at the seven corners, and below it the plan of attack in a series of brief sketches. A dotted line shows the progress of the bait toward the trap, in this case, a sock that fulfills all the requirements of temptation: clean, very white, without holes or patches, obviously manufactured for boots, and part of a matching pair that's been worn at least once and is the only pair of its kind the owner possesses. Nate will just have to deal with the potential loss.

The second page, however…. "You added a potential gnome variation?"

"Yes!" she exclaims, leaning over to look at it fondly. "Small, easy to miss, used to hiding in plain sight via invisibility, and annoying as shit: potential dryer gnome. Not like a civilian--or my mom--would know the difference on sight, am I right?"

"Or brownie," he says, joining her in a horrified shudder. "Luckily, neither brownies nor Fae can pass the wards, so that limits the possibilities somewhat."

"Brownies are locked out?" Alicia asks in surprise. "Since when?"

"Since they attacked Dean." He fights down a wince, glancing at Alicia warily. "They--I'm not sure. However, they're now unable to pass the wards."

That much, at least, is true.

Brownies have existed on earth for so long and bred so consistently in their corporeal form here that they generally seem to straddle the vague line between the supernatural and terrestrial, and it's guesswork at best to decide on which side they might fall. English and Scottish folklore might hold them to be useful in household chores, but Castiel has yet to meet one in the Americas that is other than annoying, entitled, or vaguely feral (an unforeseen danger of importing your mystical helpers when invading foreign continents, he supposes), and often all three.

The progress of technology has eliminated many of their traditional duties, which admittedly may be a factor in their recent development, but instead of adapting to the industrial revolution and embracing the possibilities (surely the vacuum would make their jobs immensely less tedious?), they chose the path of maximum annoyance. When not engaged in either sabotage or outright destruction of machinery, attempting to do what it was doing but far, far worse, and then waiting for gifts to show appreciation for their inferior labor, they gather in colonies to attack unsuspecting humans for daring to enjoy running water, electricity, cable television, and automobiles.

Unfortunately, brownies have never qualified as a threat--natural law being not at all surprisingly as oblivious to the modern era as the brownies--and keeping them out of the camp used to be something of an effort. Killing them is anathema due to their technical status as friendly and helpful toward humanity (he doesn't snort, but it's a very close thing), so infestations tend to require a miserable blunt-force approach to the problem: knock them unconscious, gather them in boxes with very strong lids (preferably the kind you can nail shut) and take them away from the camp and hope they wouldn't return (they do anyway).

(Anathema or not, killing them wouldn't be off the table if he'd found a way to do it. He hasn't.)

In general, the wards reacting to a threat is the equivalent of background noise, barely discernible unless he happens to be in physical contact with them unless it's serious or dangerous enough that his attention is required. However, the very recent rejection of a brownie trying to slip through was neither background nor something he could have missed even if he'd been trying, as the wards awakened him from a sound sleep at three in the morning to bear witness. He would be lying to himself if he said he didn't sense its vicious satisfaction as the brownie ran shrieking its way into the night; it matched his own.

As the wards' presence faded into the back of his mind again, he remembered Dean telling him how only days after his arrival, when he first touched the wards, they wanted his attention.

"It's your Grace in there, right? I could--it felt like you. The first time I touched it."

Dean would be familiar with his Grace, yes, that much makes sense if anything about this is supposed to. That they wanted his notice doesn't, not when they never showed interest in Dean Winchester before. If Dean was accurate about what he sensed--and this being Dean, there's little to no chance he wasn't--the wards knew exactly who he was--and who he wasn't--well before he took Dean to see the wards that night. More unsettling, however, is the sense that they knew him, the unique person, therefore making 'impossible' a loose guideline instead of a realistic assessment of reality. Much like this entire ridiculous Apocalypse.

"No more brownies fucking around with the pipes," Alicia is saying in profound satisfaction, snapping him back to the present with a jolt. "Okay, so the trap: yes, no, maybe?"

"I think it will work very well," he says, focusing on the sketch; it's very good. "Can I keep this copy? I'd like to check a few references before we begin construction."

"That's why I brought it," she answers cheerfully. "You need anything else while I'm here?"

"I can't think of anything at the moment. Joseph usually takes requests after reporting to me in the morning and evening regarding the camp's activities."

"That would be a lot of digging." Alicia sighs before resting her elbow on one upraised knee. "How's our fearless leader, anyway?"

"Resting comfortably." He glances back at the door, behind which Dean is sleeping the sleep of the drugged on hydrocodone-laced cough syrup beneath a mound of blankets with a space heater in convenient proximity. To his lack of surprise, Dean found numerous excuses to avoid sleeping in the bedroom, and Castiel agreed with all of them, even the ones that made no sense, like the paint might be lead-based and kill him in his delicate condition. It's not as if a sleeping bag on the rug isn't very comfortable, but listening to Dean breathe at night, he thinks that they may need to acquire a heavier rug for winter to conserve warmth and avoid taxing Dean's immune system further. Maybe one for each room: it bears investigation, and James does seem to have a gift for finding things. "Somewhat irritable, but that is to be expected."

"Cranky as shit," Alicia translates. "What was Dean doing at the daycare, anyway? Wouldn't have called that one."

"Building a fortified castle," he answers, remembering the sight of Dean and two small, very determined children sitting around four low child-sized tables pushed into a rough square on which was placed a passable castle surrounded by a truly inspiring defensive wall in a variety of primary colors. "He's very fond of children."

Alicia's eyebrows jump. "You're kidding."

"Not at all. He's very popular among the caregivers who wish to take an extended lunch." Tony's younger daughter eventually wandered over from the group entranced by a program starring a large violet dinosaur to observe proceedings. Evaluating the entire construction with a serious expression, she shook her pig-tailed head before pointing at an arbitrary point (blue?) on the wall and babbling what was unmistakably a command that Dean inexplicably seemed to understand, changing the blue Lego for a yellow one.

"Do you like kids?" she asks curiously.

"I'm not horrified by their existence." Alicia wrinkles her nose, apparently unsatisfied. "I've had too little interaction with the immature version of your species to form an opinion."

She waits, adding an obnoxiously tapping foot in unneeded emphasis.

"They're a great deal like the mature version," he continues, remembering Dean dealing with three children competing for his attention. "Loud, opinionated, stubborn, certain they are always right, somewhat irrational when crossed, and extraordinarily unhappy when they don't have your undivided attention."

"You like them," Alicia decides.

"Why would you assume that?"

"A lot like Dean," she says triumphantly. "Especially the attention part."

He raises an eyebrow just as from inside comes the unmistakable sound of Dean's voice raised in what is obviously displeasure on awakening and realizing anew he has a cold. Ignoring Alicia's laughter, he gets to his feet and opens the door to see Dean sitting up with an unhappy expression and wiping his nose with a handful of tissue.

"How are you feeling?" he asks as Alicia thankfully muffles herself against her knees behind him. To be sure, however, he carefully shuts the door behind him.

"Fine, just dying," Dean answers thickly, glaring at him before getting to his feet. "You go have fun outside, I'm gonna take a shower. Hope I don't fall over or anything and drown."

"Try to avoid it." Castiel smiles at him winningly. "Do call if you need anything, I'll be right outside."

The only response is a glare as Dean stalks the length of the living room before disappearing into the bedroom. Closing the door carefully behind him, he turns back to Alicia, currently in danger of asphyxiation.

"Enjoying yourself?" he asks as he sits back down.

She lifts her head, face red, but heroically swallows back her mirth to say, "I am, thanks. So you sure you don't need anything?"

Castiel opens his mouth to reply, then reconsiders. "The four new generators that James and Zack brought for the new mess--are they already running?"

"Hooked up and checking them now," she answers. "Why?"

"I need one of them. And a few other things." This is either a very good idea or a terrible one. "You tell me if you can get them here by tonight."

Alicia nods, intrigued. "Let's hear them."

He tells her.

"Holy shit," Alicia breathes. "That's genius."

He rather thought so himself. "So can you--"

"Not a problem," she interrupts, glancing at the sun speculatively. "I'll get James's team to help. Two hours after dusk at the latest. You know how you're gonna distract Dean?"

He nods thoughtfully. "I think I do, but I'll need your help."

"I'm in," she answers, leaning forward. "What do I do?"

"Why," Dean asks grimly, unmoving beneath a pile of blankets that has grown exponentially since his cold began, "do I need to go to the infirmary?"

Finishing with the dishes from dinner as casually as possible--and it's an effort not to speed up the process--Castiel drains the sink and then dries his hands before leaning against the kitchen doorway.

"Because Vera--"

"Fuck Vera," Dean interrupts, puffy eyes narrowing. "She's not here, and if it's just a cold, not like I need Alicia to look me over now and confirm it."

"--requested, and you agreed, that any illness or injury would be documented thoroughly for her records."

"You can do that."

"Alicia is our camp doctor, and it's both her responsibility and her privilege to fulfill the duties inherent in that position," he responds. "Not only that--"

"What if she wants me to remove my shirt?" Dean asks, pausing to blow his nose as obnoxiously as possible. "So she can do the thing with the stethoscope? See all those missing scars and tattoos? Think of that?"

"I told her she wasn't allowed to undress you," he answers, crosses his arms, and waits.

Dean doesn't disappoint him. "You told her what?"

"I told her that as I was still not entirely conversant with human customs when it comes to committed relationships, I felt it would be best to avoid even the appearance of infidelity," he answers, watching as the red of Dean's nose is lost beneath the general flush of hot color that extends down into the collar of his shirt, though how far he's sadly unable to determine from here and while Dean's wearing three shirts. "Nudity with someone other than your committed partner is to be discouraged outside situations that require it, and in my view, this situation doesn't."

"You didn't say that," Dean breathes, staring at him in growing horror. "Tell me you didn't tell her--"

"Jealousy is a destructive emotion that does not contribute to a stable and lasting relationship or successful cohabitation," he explains. "While I told her that I couldn't be sure that would be my reaction--"

"Jealousy? Because the camp doctor sees me without my shirt?"

"--it might be, and why should we take the risk?"

"You told her you'd be jealous and consider it cheating if she saw me without my shirt?"

"'For thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.'' He shrugs. "As my Father is, so are his sons--and daughters--and so follows our reaction to perceived competition. I cannot deny my nature, and I'm rather offended you'd want me to. I also understand you should accept people as who they truly are, and I expected better of you."

Dean opens and closes his mouth helplessly.

"Once I explained it to her, she was very understanding," he continues. "After all, the consequences--"

"What consequences?" Dean shuts his eyes. "You don’t mean--"

"Ritual combat, of course," he agrees. "In response to blatant violation of my rights."

"Your rights?" Dean asks incredulously.

"And your honor," he adds conscientiously. "Not that I would hold you responsible, of course. Please don't let that concern you."

"This isn't actually happening," Dean mutters. "Hallucinating, right--"

"As the one challenged, she would have choice of weapon--"

"Where the fuck are those goddam sheep?"

"--which would of course be knives."

"Knives," Dean echoes flatly.

"She's very good with them, as I might have mentioned before," he tells Dean. "But I'll win, of course."

Dean nods jerkily. "Of course."

"My victory and her death would be confirmation of my claim to you, but traditionally, public sex is recommended as well so it can be witnessed--"

"Oh Jesus," Dean groans, opening his eyes to glare at Castiel before dropping back onto the couch and covering his face. "I hate you."

"Did I mention using her blood to…"

"Fuck you," drifts from the couch, but he can see the faint quivering of his shoulders before Dean rolls over to bury his face against the cushions. Crossing to the couch, he lifts Dean's legs out the way to sit down, rearranging them in his lap as he waits for Dean's muffled laughter, interspersed with coughing, to subside.

When Dean rolls back over, he grabs for the tissue, blowing his nose thoroughly and managing a short-lived glare before grinning at him. "How much more was coming?"

"Serving my every whim to show your gratitude that I defended your honor," he admits, waiting for Dean's next bought of laughter to taper off. "Sexual favors would be prominent among your duties, of course."

"Of course," Dean agrees mockingly. Grabbing a pillow from where it fell on the floor, he tucks it under his head, wiping his eyes impatiently. "How much of that was from your fucked up imagination anyway?"

"Oddly, very little," he answers, folding his arms over Dean's legs. "When fighting a challenger for one's chattel--"


"I know you can't possibly be surprised by how the Host classified human lovers?" Dean makes a face. "Sex would be a human invention that we added into proceedings, however. Also, substitute 'enemy blood' for 'Grace' to be both proof of possession and warning to other angels or gods."

Dean raises an eyebrow. "Handprint by any chance?"

"Nothing so vulgar," he answers. "A form of their public name, usually a translation of their true name from Enochian. Ritual binding, but--"

"Goes only one way."

He nods, not surprised Dean would recognize the reason for that and wondering why he didn't redirect this conversation in any other direction other than this one. "Their true name, willingly given and willingly accepted, would be binding to them as well. No angel would give a human equal power over them."

"So real reason I'm going to the infirmary?" Dean asks abruptly, startling him, but when he looks, Dean's expression reflects only skepticism. "You want me out of here for some reason, right?"

"Yes." Something--disappointment? Worry? Unhappiness?--flickers across Dean's face before it vanishes. "Nothing you'd disapprove of or be interested in. I sent James to procure three new rugs for winter to better insulate the cabin, and I'm using my power for our personal benefit and letting his team assist me in placing them in here and the bedroom."

Dean's face brightens. "And you think I'll bitch at them?"

"I know you will," he answers easily, smirking at Dean's unconvincing scowl. "I thought you'd prefer peace and quiet and not have to change rooms while we move furniture, and Alicia agreed to entertain you as well as update your medical records. And you won't have to remove any clothing, I promise."

"And you couldn't just say that?"

"I could have," he agrees thoughtfully. "But this way was much more entertaining. Your expression...."

"Something," Dean states flatly, fighting a grin with indifferent success, "is wrong with you."

"And you like me anyway," he says. "So how long until you're ready to leave?"

Castiel arrives at the infirmary to find Dean and Alicia sharing the bed and pouring over medical records with matching expressions of horrified fascination, and all hope they're anyone's but his die an immediate death. Shutting the door, he almost sighs as Alicia's head comes up without even the pretense of guilt, while Dean continues to read for a few more moments, shaking his head sadly before closing the folder.

"I hope I'm not interrupting," he says as Dean quickly rearranges his expression to one of sad resignation at Castiel's far too well-documented medical history. "They're done. Are you ready to come home?"

"We were just getting to the good part," Dean complains as Alicia takes the folder and slides off the bed, not hiding her smirk as she places it back in the distressingly large case that usually lives in the bedroom closet in the cabin. "All done?"

"I think you'll approve of James' selections." Dean takes the time to sneeze and blow his nose thoroughly before easing to the floor with a faint, nearly indiscernible stumble. As casually as he can, Castiel crosses to the bed as Dean gets another tissue from the box on the pillow behind him, scowling unhappily. "Congestion affects the inner ear and therefore balance, especially after a period of being stationary."

"I know that," Dean grumbles. "Can we go already?"

"I'll walk with you," Alicia volunteers immediately, locking the case and hefting the strap over her shoulder before gesturing them toward the door. "After you."

As they emerge outside, Castiel watches carefully as Dean descends the stairs and doesn't bother trying to be subtle about it.

"You wanna carry me?" Dean asks challengingly before sneezing again, which interferes with his glare.


"Hell no." He twists around to include Alicia in his warning glare and immediately stumbles, requiring Castiel to steady him to the sound of Alicia's delighted laughter. "Shut up?"

"Yes, Dean," she answers obediently, coming up on Dean's other side just as the cabin comes into view. "If it helps, you sound a lot better, shouldn't be more than a couple more days."

Dean obviously doesn't want it to help but can't quite hide the faint relief behind the tissue, though he does try.

When they reach the steps of the cabin, Castiel glances back at Alicia as meaningfully as he can.

"I'll get the door," she says, darting up the porch steps and opening the door before looking back solemnly. "I'll just go inside and put this up. As one does with things one borrows from others, it's just polite."

"Yeah, okay," Dean tells her back as they ascend the steps. After she disappears inside, he glances at Castiel. "She's acting weird."

"She's always like that." Reaching for the door, he politely holds it open for Dean, who looks at him suspiciously before stalking by him and coming to a dead stop only two steps past the threshold, giving Castiel enough room to enter and shut the door before asking, "So what do you think of the rug?"

Dean doesn't answer, and he follows his gaze to the television now hanging on the wall and the shelving unit beneath holding a bluray player and a selection of movies, liberated from somewhere Castiel felt no interest in asking about but obviously no longer had any use for them.

"You're not looking at the rug," he points out after a long moment, noting James is smiling hard enough to burst, and Zack, Matt, Jody, and Mira are crowded at the kitchen door watching eagerly. "I liked the rectangle motif, but if you prefer--"

"You…." Dean jerks his gaze from the TV to look at him, a slow, wondering smile lighting up his face, and Castiel forgets what they were talking about. "You got me a TV?"

He nods a little vaguely. "While I’m afraid cable is not currently available in this area, we were able to procure a selection of movies--"

"A TV."

"A list of movies," Alicia volunteers from the bedroom door, almost bouncing. "And God help us if we couldn't find at least a few of them. Which perish the thought: we found all of them."

Dean doesn't look away from Castiel, cocking his head. "A list?"

"I know what you like," he answers automatically and almost winces, not sure if that was a mistake considering the source, but Dean's smile widens, impossible as that should be. "John McClane fortunately is a popular choice for many, so…" He trails off, not sure what he's saying anymore. "If you wish to sit down to make your choice--"

"Maybe we should take a vote," Dean interrupts, finally looking away and bestowing a very different smile at everyone waiting. "Movie night, right? Don't tell me you did all this shit and think I'm throwing you out without getting to enjoy it?" He laughs at the eager expressions of everyone, then frowns, looking toward the kitchen in surprise. "Dude, is that--"

"Popcorn," Matt confirms cheerfully. "And a lot of it. Almost forgot how to do that without a microwave."

"Dude," Dean says, shaking his head before he closes a hand over Castiel's wrist and tugs toward the couch, pulling him down beside him. "Okay, so Die Hard okay?" At the general agreement, he grins happily, settling back on the couch, but the hand around Castiel's wrist remains as he reaches for one of the folded blankets beside the couch. "Let's get this started. Grab pillows and extra blankets from the bed if you need 'em and get comfortable."

As everyone's attention is turned elsewhere, Dean finally lets go to spread the blanket over them both, and Castiel fights the urge to touch the lingering warmth from Dean's touch.

"Seriously, you got me a TV?" Dean asks softly, mouth quirking in amusement. "Was I that bad this time around?"

"Of course not. I should have thought of it before." Absently, he smooths the wool blend over his knees as Matt deposits two large bowls of popcorn and several bottles of Joe Beer and a glass of water on the coffee table before returning to the kitchen. "The daycare in Ichabod has televisions to play movies for the children, though I assumed you wouldn't enjoy the program involving a giant purple dinosaur as much as they seemed to."

"You went to the daycare?" Dean asks in surprise, reaching for another blanket. "When?"

"My tour with Alison required visiting all the official buildings." Dean raises an eyebrow. "I was curious."

"About kids?"

"Yes," he answers firmly. "While I've never been particularly interested in procreation, per se, I do enjoy the method by which its generally achieved."

Dean bites his lip. "Right."

"It's possibly the best part of the human design. Not to mention a superlative example of humanity's limitless creativity."

"Jesus, you're weird," Dean says wonderingly, shaking his head. "So you like John McClane?"

"Oh yes," he agrees, as the television flickers to life. "I like when things explode."

"I'll get the lights," Alicia volunteers, picking up two remotes and depositing them before Dean before flipping the lights off, and everyone settles themselves while the FBI warning appears on the screen.

Matt returns from the kitchen as Alicia drops onto the couch beside Castiel and scooting over enough for Matt to join her while Jody curls up in the armchair Zack is using as a backrest. To his lack of surprise, James and Mira have settled together to share a blanket and pillow to the left of the television.

She's been an excellent influence; like all of James's team, she wasn't a member of patrol before, and she's willing to offer James her advice and ask for clarification regarding his decisions, which has encouraged Zack and Nate to do the same. Her confidence has bolstered James' as well as the team's, and not surprisingly, that compatibility is as personally attractive to James as it is professionally, and Mira doesn't seem unwilling consider the possibility, if her response to James' eager attentions to her comfort--spreading the blanket more thoroughly for her and unnecessarily fluffing the pillow between them before offering himself as a backrest--is any indication.

Glancing at Dean, he sees him watching them as well, mouth quirked in amusement. "They look cozy," he murmurs, breath warm against Castiel's ear. "Anything to worry about if that goes anywhere?"

"Mira's involvement with Kenneth was terminated several months ago and they've remained on good terms," he answers. "James, as far as I'm aware, has never engaged in anything requiring termination."

Dean looks at him. "Anything?"

"Literally," he agrees as Mira leans back against the pillow, head resting against James's shoulder and thus guaranteeing he won't have any attention to spare for the movie. "He's always been rather reserved."

"Huh. Hey, where's Andy?" Dean murmurs as he acquires one of the bowls of popcorn and two bottles, grinning at Castiel's quick glance at Alicia. "Right, Sarah's team's back. Remind me to tell Alicia's she's welcome to our floor tonight if she needs it."

He nods as Dean braces his feet on the coffee table, rearranging the blankets before falling into a comfortable slump against his side.

"Alicia," Dean says, reaching for another blanket and tossing it neatly over her head when she turns around. "Blanket?"

"Thanks," she says, sounding muffled before tugging it off and spreading it ostentatiously over herself and Matt before getting a bowl of popcorn. "Also, you're welcome."

Dean smirks at her before relaxing back, settling the popcorn in his lap and then glancing up at Castiel. "Dude, feet up and relax already."

"Yes," he answers, obeying mechanically and thereby achieving contact with Dean's body from shoulder to knee beneath the two blankets that Dean rearranges meticulously before settling back again. "Comfortable?" He hopes so; unless Lucifer himself appears at the door and is on the point of entering, he has no intention of moving for any reason whatsoever.

Dean turns his head to smile at him from only inches away. "Did I say thank you?"

"It was implicit," he answers vaguely.

"Not the same thing," Dean murmurs. "Thanks, Cas."

He nods, swallowing hard before saying, "You're welcome."