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Light Up the Sky for Me

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"Lampyridae," Sam said.

Hands behind his head in the grass, Dean rolled his eyes to the left.  "Lampy what?"

"Lampyridae," Sam repeated.  "It's 'firefly' in Latin.  I dunno, meteors just remind me of them."

"Bugs," Dean said, looking back at the midnight sky overhead.  "Shooting stars remind you of bugs."

"You remind me of a bug," Sam muttered.

"You're speaking in tongues," Dean told the night.  "Get a hobby."

"Languages are a hobby!"

"A good hobby," Dean said.  "Preferably something involving weapons or women."

"Yeah, I tried that," Sam said dryly.  "Look where it got us."

Weird, Dean thought.  Here at the end of days, watching heaven rain down over an empty prairie, that was almost funny.

Castiel was suddenly standing behind them.  Dean could point to him without looking, so he didn't bother to turn his head.  "They remind you of anything, Cas?"

Next to him in the grass, he felt Sam move.  Not startled, not this time.  Just checking to see what Dean already knew.

"They remind me of interplanetary debris burning up in the atmosphere," Castiel said.  "The flash of light is characteristic of incineration."

"I don't think it counts as something you're reminded of if that's what it actually is," Sam remarked, shifting a little as he settled back down.

"Meteors are not interplanetary debris," Castiel said.  "They are the burst of light that results from interplanetary debris meeting the atmosphere.  And you did not specify the parameters within which I was to answer."

"Hey," Dean said, since Castiel sounded pissy about something and that almost never went well for them.  "Isn't that a little space age for you?  Meteors and space trash and whatever?"

"God did not create the earth in a vacuum, Dean."

Dean raised his eyebrows, smiling up at the sky when Castiel added, "Well, he did.  But he did not make it alone in the void."

"So where does all that stuff fit in?" Sam asked.  "You know, to Genesis.  God created heaven and earth, and then he spent all his time on earth.  When did he have time to make the other planets?"

"I have never understood why humans trust their own account of a time no human was present to witness," Castiel said.

"Uh, maybe because you told us about it?"

"We did not," Castiel said.

Dean didn't really care.  He didn't think angels were any more trustworthy than humans, so who cared who said what?  It was just the way Cas answered that made him challenge it: so certain, so unthinking.

"What, none of you?" Dean said.  "No angel ever said anything to any human about creation?"

"I did," Castiel replied.  "Just now.

"Yeah, thanks for your insight," Sam said dryly.

"Of course."  He made it sound like it was a gift.

"You guys have plenty to say about destruction," Dean said.  "In fact, I seem to recall someone listing for me in great detail exactly what the apocalypse would involve.  You don't think you should balance that out a little?  Make some kind of deposit in the karma bank?"

Castiel didn't sigh, not out loud, but Dean heard it anyway.  "What would you have me do, Dean?"

"Answer Sam's question."  It couldn't be that hard.  He was a freakin' angel; what he didn't know about creation probably wasn't worth knowing.  All Sam wanted to hear was what made earth so special.

"God spent an equivalent amount of time on all his creations," Castiel said.  "The emphasis on earth is no doubt a reflection of the writer's bias.  And possibly divine favoritism of humanity."

"Funny," Dean said.

"Is it?"  Castiel must have tipped his head to one side.  Dean just knew.  "It certainly inspired envy and jealousy among the angels, perhaps prompting them on the path they've followed to this day.  In that sense, I suppose there is a certain irony that God's own creations might destroy each other in his name."

Dean smirked up at the stars.  "God doesn't love us more, Cas."

"This is your problem, Dean."  Some of the pissiness had faded, leaving what sounded almost like humor in the angel's voice.  "You have no faith."

"Yeah," Dean said.  He craned his neck for the first time, trying to catch a glimpse of the figure standing behind them.  "You said."

Castiel glowed against the dark sky.  The light around him didn't cast shadows, didn't light up the grass or them or anything.  It wouldn't reflect off of his watch, or his keys, or his eyes.  He wasn't really seeing it, after all.

"Does he?" Sam asked.  "I mean, is that really why Lucifer fell?  Because he wouldn't... you know.  Bow to humanity?"

"Lucifer fell because he disobeyed," Castiel replied.

Dean snorted, arranging himself more comfortably in the grass.  Nothing to see here.  "Join the club, right?"

There was a moment of silence before Castiel said, "Indeed."

"Does everyone who disobeys... fall?" Sam asked carefully.

"Yes," Castiel said.

Protected by a fallen angel, Dean thought.  It was the first thing about his life that had made sense in a long time.

"But not everyone is cut off from heaven," Sam said.  "All the fallen, I mean.  It sounds like there's a lot of... uh, disobedience, going on up there."

"I don't know."  Castiel sounded flat again.  "I haven't been back."

From the little Dean had been allowed to see, that didn't seem like anything to cry about.  Great: big rooms full of paintings and statues.  Whoop-de-do.  It wasn't like there were cars or women or anything.

On the other hand, it was heaven.  For angels, at least, it was home.  And whether you walked out on your own or not, it sucked to have someone lock the door behind you.

"Hey," Dean said.  "Can you pick the lock?"

He heard Sam move.  Probably turning his head to stare.  That was a stupid thing to say, Dean thought.  Who broke into heaven?

Castiel sounded curious.  "What lock?"

"Well, if the..."  He didn't clear his throat.  "If the door to heaven's locked, I thought.  Can you, you know... jimmy it, or something?"

"It's not an actual door, Dean."

Right.  Of course.

"Although," Castiel said slowly.  "It's true that the borders of heaven are not uniformly guarded.  There are places where the fortifications are... less severe."

"Wait," Sam said.  "You want to break in to heaven?"

Yeah, Dean thought.  It sounded more stupid out loud than it had in his head.

"We broke in to hell," Castiel mused.  "Certainly the bastions of hell are more set against us than any of heaven could ever be."

Dean raised his eyebrows.  "Not that good at keeping people out?"

"The walls of heaven were never meant to repel angels."

"Sounds dangerous," Sam said.  Like he'd stood in a room archangels had torn apart and watched Dean smear blood across a door in case they weren't done.  "Why would you want to go back, anyway?"

"It's a hypothetical exercise."  The mild rebuke in Castiel's voice fooled exactly none of them.  "I'm sure there's nothing for me there now."

There was nothing they could say to that.

"Okay," Dean said at last.  "I'm gonna get something to eat."

Sam sat up next to him.  "I think I'm going to bed," he said.

"I've interrupted your activity," Castiel said, and hey, way to go noticing it at least.  "That was not my intent."

"Yeah?" Dean said, propping himself up on his arms and then reaching for Sam's hand when he offered it.  "What was your intent?  You popped in all pissy sounding.  Someone cut you off in angel traffic?"

"No," Castiel said.  "I have avoided most angelic encounters of late."

"Most?" Dean repeated, turning to look at him.  He didn't look as bright with the earth behind him as he did when he had his back up against the sky.  The light was still there, though, limning his coat and skin and hair.  Dean hoped it faded when the sun came up, because the freaky stuff he saw around Castiel was distracting enough already.

His brain caught up with his mouth a second later than he would have liked.  Right, most.  Except the ones they'd killed or trapped.  The ones Cas had killed, to protect them.  "Never mind," Dean muttered.

"I saw Anael," Castiel offered.

Sam got it first, which was kind of embarrassing.  "Anna?"

Castiel inclined his head, and Dean hooked his thumbs in his pockets.  "How's she doing?"

"She's free," Castiel said.  "I suppose that's what she wanted."

Dean snorted.  "You think?"

"She's free," Sam repeated, like something about it didn't make sense to him.

"As the walls of heaven were not made to keep us out," Castiel said, "they are even less intended to keep us in."

Dean frowned at him.  "Wait, time out, she was in heaven?  What was she doing there?  I thought she didn't want to go back."  It felt almost like a betrayal.  The one angel he'd been able understand, the one who'd actually found earth worth saving and maybe talked him into it along the way, had abandoned them for the celestial circus.

"You were not the first I allowed to be taken," Castiel said.

He could only stare.

"You let them kidnap Anna?"  Sam's surprise didn't help.

It didn't distract him from the fact that Castiel was still glowing, that was the problem.  

"I also sent you after Lilith and held Dean hostage," Castiel said.  "I was having an off day."

The glowing thing pissed him off, because angels had never believed that Dean couldn't see them.  They kept trying to appear to him and tell him things without a vessel and apparently bleeding from the ears hadn't been enough to convince them.  So now he covered his ears and shouted and refused to look at them, which didn't always do the trick but did mostly hide the fact that their voices no longer made him bleed.

"Did you just make a joke?" Dean asked, squinting to see if maybe the light would fade.  If he looked hard enough, it had to disappear, right?  Because faith wasn't something you could question.

Castiel tilted his head.  "Is the truth funny?"

He'd totally made a joke.  Dean wasn't buying that act for a second.  Angels were uppity and obnoxious when they wanted to be, which seemed to be pretty much all the time, but they learned a lot faster than Dean had given them credit for.

"Did they tell you to do that?" Sam wanted to know.  "They did, didn't they.  They're not just happy Lucifer's free.  They helped it happen."

"We did," Castiel said quietly.  "We helped it happen."

"Yeah, whatever," Sam said.  He dismissed the correction completely, adding, "They told you to do it.  You changed your mind; you helped us.  You're totally on the side of--"  He broke off before he could finish.

"Us," Dean said.  "You're on the side of us, okay?"

Apparently he did have faith, if Castiel could say stuff like that and still be all lit up to his eyes.  Faith didn't come from seeing.  The seeing came from faith.  Sam had always had it; he expected angels to glow.  Dean hadn't seen it until they pulled Jimmy Novak from the wreckage of Castiel's first battle with heaven: Cas wasn't human.  Jimmy was.  The power had finally been obvious in its absence.

"What side is that?" Castiel asked.

Dean felt a smile twist his lips.  "You figure it out," he said, "you tell us."

"You need anything?" Sam added.  "I mean, we owe you, so."

"You do not."  Castiel stared at Sam and Sam didn't look away, weirdly able to hold his gaze even after everything that had happened.  "I wronged you, Sam.  Not only did I fail to save you, but I prevented you from saving yourself.  For this I will try to atone."

"Hey, no."  Sam stared right back at him.  "I screwed up, okay?  I get that, and I'm the one who's gotta make it right.  Not you."

Dean smiled when Castiel glanced at him, a real smile this time.  "That's free will for you," he offered.  "You're responsible for your own choices."

"But Dean," Castiel said, and even before he finished Dean knew he wasn't going to like this.  Nothing Castiel said that started with "But Dean" ever turned out well.  "You have always taken responsibility for Sam's actions."

He couldn't look at Castiel the way Sam did.  He couldn't stare back at him like he had any right, no matter what he thought about the general state of angelic morality.  "Yeah, well," he muttered, looking over at Sam instead.  His brother was looking back.  "Maybe I finally noticed he grew up."

Sam let out a breath, almost a smile, and Dean glanced at Castiel.

Castiel was still staring.  "Do you feel you owe me, Dean?"

"Where did that come from?" he blurted out.  What was he supposed to say to that?

Castiel frowned like he didn't understand.  "I asked if you feel you owe me something."

Dean wanted to say, for what?  Except it was so obvious that it already sounded stupid, and that wasn't even why he couldn't do it.  He didn't care if he sounded stupid.  But he couldn't make everything Castiel had given up sound like nothing.

"Dean," Castiel said.  "Yes or no."

"Yes," Dean snapped.  "Yes, okay?  I got you kicked out of heaven.  That's pretty high up on the list of things friends don't let friends do."

"You're trying to atone for my actions," Castiel said.  "I made choices.  They are not your responsibility."

Dean opened his mouth, but what was he gonna say to that?  No you didn't?  I made choices and you just did whatever I told you to?  He couldn't handle being Cas' new superior.  "I don't think you really... knew what you were choosing," Dean muttered.  Just to fill the silence.

"My knowledge of heaven and hell is considerably greater than yours," Castiel said.  "While I concede that you may have some small advantage when it comes to earthly experience, I assure you, I did not decide as I did without due consideration."

"Okay," Sam said, when Dean couldn't decide whether to protest his "small" advantage or just laugh in Cas' face for not understanding.  "So can we all agree that we don't owe each other anything?  We're just helping each other out because we want to?"

It was a question Dean had never been able to ask.  He squinted at the horizon beyond Sam's shoulder, trying to decide if that was light pollution or an actual aurora sparking in the darkness.  "Are you doing it 'cause you want to?"

"Yeah," Sam said.  He didn't hesitate, which Dean figured meant he was lying, but it was what he needed to hear right now.  "I am."

Dean put his hands in his pockets, gaze sliding over each of them in turn.  "So," he said.  "Food."

"Bed," Sam countered.

They turned to Castiel, who looked kind of lost.  He still hadn't told them what he was doing there.

"Cas?" Dean prompted.  "You need something, or what?"

"You mentioned you were stopping here for the night," Castiel said.  Yesterday, yeah.  They were on their way back to Bobby's, to check in and make sure he hadn't overturned his wheelchair or something.  "I thought I would... see you."

"You following us around?" Dean asked, because yeah, that figured.  He couldn't even say he didn't appreciate it, since Castiel had saved his butt so many times it was starting to get kind of familiar.  "I thought you weren't the perching kind."

"He means thanks," Sam interrupted.  "You can show up anytime."

"Thank you, Sam."  He sounded grave and thoughtful, and after a moment he added, "There are not as many of us as there once were.  And of course, few are willing to risk association with me, no matter how pure their motives."

Dean could have kicked himself for not realizing.  He and Sam exchanged glances, and yeah, it was exactly as obvious as he thought it was.  Now that he could see it.  Now that Cas had practically spelled it out for them.

"Right," Dean said abruptly.  "So, hey.  You, uh... you want to come get some pie with me?"

"I'll come too," Sam offered.  "I didn't know there was gonna be pie."

For a moment, Dean thought Castiel would refuse.  Angels didn't need anything, after all.  Not food and certainly not friends.  So it had to say something about how lonely the guy was that he just said, "That would be fine."

"All right," Dean said, clapping his hands together.  "Let's turn this snack run into a real dessert patrol.  What do you think, Sam?  That place back on the corner as we were pulling in?"

Sam just raised his hands in a gesture that probably meant, I defer to your vast and unquestioned pie-sensing expertise.  As he should.  Dean could always hear the call of good pie.

They bundled Cas into the backseat and took off.  He even ate pie with them, which surprised everyone except the waitress who smiled at his polite gratitude.  When she asked if she could get him anything else, Dean grinned, and Castiel shot him a look that said very clearly, shut up.  Dean braced his arm against the table and lifted his coffee mug to hide his surprise.

Sam kicked him under the table, which obviously meant, what did you do? and probably stop pissing off angels.

"More pie?" Dean asked him innocently.

"I'm good," Sam said, smiling at the waitress when she turned to him.  "Thanks."

"I'll take another slice," Dean said.  "To go," he added, when Sam gave him a look too.

Castiel rode all the way back to the motel with them, which made Dean wonder if he was really that lonely or just... bored, somehow.  What was it like, not being able to go back?  It wasn't like he and Sam had a place to compare it to.  Maybe they'd already lost their heaven.  Maybe you just got used to it after a while.

At least they weren't alone on earth.

When they got out of the car, though, Castiel closed the back door carefully and nodded once to each of them.  "Thank you," he said.  "That was... pleasant."

Dean was going to give Cas a hard time for that, starting with the word "pleasant" and ending with the way he'd hesitated, but when he opened his mouth what came out was, "We'll be at Bobby's tomorrow night.  Say around five."

Castiel nodded again, like he understood.  Then he was gone.

He knew he'd jinxed them.  He felt it the second Sam's eyes landed on him, raising an eyebrow at the ETA.  Dean shrugged it off, because so what?  So he was trying to train an angel to use a watch; who cared?  If it meant fewer near-death experiences when they showed up unannounced and scared the life out of him, he was all for it.

They were still hundreds of miles out when his phone rang the next day.  Hunkered down behind a makeshift barricade of hay bales and empty crates and one overturned picnic table, he rolled his eyes at Sam and jammed the thing between his shoulder and his ear.  "Yeah!" he yelled, hoping Cas would hear him over the sound of gunfire.

"Dean?"  For once, Castiel's voice came through totally clear.  He must have finally mastered the trick of talking at the phone instead of just near it.  "It's Castiel."

"Yeah, Cas, I got that!"  Dean leaned around the picnic table and fired before he could consciously aim.  He swung back just ahead of the return volley and got a face full of Sam shouldering him out of the way.

"Talk or shoot!" Sam shouted, shoving him back.  "The line of fire is a cell-free zone!"

"You're early," Dean told the phone, flinching instinctively as something exploded on the other side of the hay bales.  "What's up?"

"Dean, are you in trouble?"  Clear or not, Castiel sounded weird, but maybe it was the dust in his ears and the gunshots that punctuated every sentence.  "Tell me where you are."

He glanced up at the sign over the gas station, reeling off the name and the last mile marker they'd passed in place of an actual town or street address.  He didn't know what it was with gas stations lately.  It was like the demons couldn't even be bothered to hide anymore.

The shooting stopped.  Sam looked at him, and Dean looked back.


Dean glanced around carefully.  "Cas?" he said, lowering his voice just in case.

The line was dead, and no answer came from closer by.  He pulled the phone away from his ear and looked down at it.  Yeah, he got "no signal" a lot when it came to angelic intervention.

Sam poked his head out from their side of the picnic table.  He didn't pull back.  "Uh, okay," he said.  "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."

Dean looked up, but the road didn't look any different.  He turned around, easing up on his heels and bracing his hand against the table.  Old rotted wood gave way under his fingers.  He jerked his arm back but it was too late to avoid seeing the wasteland that had washed across the old convenience store.

He knew that graffiti.

Something banged up against his shoulder and he swung around, gun cocked-–

The barrel right between Sam's eyes.  "Sam," he choked, the word torn from his throat as the whole world went to pieces around him.  He dropped the gun.  He didn't even want to know what would happen if he kept it.  "Sam.  You shouldn't be here."

"Yeah," Sam said, eyeing him.  "I'm guessing neither of us should be.  You recognize it?"

Like he could ever forget.

"Wild guess?" Dean muttered, forcing himself to look again.  "The future.  About five years.  Or hey, maybe he made it six this time.  Just to make it interesting."

"Okay, what are you talking about?" Sam wanted to know.

"Angels," Dean growled.  "Can't live with them, can't kick 'em off the planet until the apocalypse is over."

He peered over the top of the barricade this time, but if there was anything alive in this world but them, he couldn't tell by looking.  "Come on," he said, straightening up and checking for his keys.  Just to make sure.

Sam stood up beside him, just as cautious but nowhere near as horrified.  Yet.  "Where are we going?"

"Camp Chitaqua," Dean said grimly.  "If there's anyone left to talk to, that's where they'll be."

There were people to talk to.  There had to be; he couldn't let himself believe otherwise.  He'd seen the "grunts," he'd seen what he considered an army in the future, and there were at least three faces missing.  Not that he really wanted to talk to Cas' girls, but if a mostly human former angel had been able to protect anyone, Dean figured it would be them.

He gave Sam the short version on the way.  It basically went like this: "Zachariah sucks, okay, and he thought it would be funny to show me what the world looks like after five years of Lucifer being free.  Turns out it's kind of a mess; go figure, right?  Me and Cas are holed up with a bunch of hunters and whoever else we found along the way, and I tell everyone I've found a way to kill the devil.  Only it's not true.  We all die instead.  You and me and Cas and probably everyone with us."

Sam let out a breath, maybe about to ask where he was when Dean threw in the part about him dying.  After a moment he said, "Yeah, that sounds like an angel's vision of the future."

Dean's lips twisted, and it was weird but it was almost a smile.  Even the end of the world didn't seem so bad with Sam riding shotgun.  "They do know how to throw a party," he muttered.

The camp looked about as deserted as he'd expected, but appearances probably didn't say anything about what they'd find inside.  Or maybe they said everything.  He had no idea when it was relative to the last time he'd lived this nightmare, but catching up with Sam obviously hadn't changed anything.  

"Nice place," Sam said, leaning back against passenger door.  He was studying what they could see of the camp from the road with a critical eye, and suddenly Dean could see how screwed up this was.  Past the horror and the bleakness, the emptiness that had sunk into every second of this time... what was Sam doing here?

What was the car doing here?  Okay, someone wanted to teach Dean a lesson.  Maybe they wanted Sam in on it too.  But the car?  What was the car supposed to learn from this?

Sam glanced back at him.  "So how likely are they to shoot us?"

Dean shook it off.  They were here.  They were going to have to deal with it.  "Pretty likely," he said, pushing away from the car.  "Anywhere but here."

He led the scramble up to Cas' porch, right off the road but with no way to sneak up on something so high.  He tried not to think about the view.  Exposure was the price this Cas paid for taking a cabin perched on the side of the hill, overlooking the valley with this tiny patch of land spread out beneath him.

The way it must have looked from the air.

He banged on the open door, because he wasn't about to startle anyone in a place where even the kids were packing.  "Hey," Dean called, trying not think about what might be inside.  If all the camp's soldiers had died, who was there to protect what was left behind?  "Anyone home?"

"Yo!"  A familiar voice came from the back room, and Dean saw Sam raise his eyebrows.

Dean was too busy holding his breath to glare at Sam in warning.  Because Cas couldn't have survived that, no one could have, they were all dead and he'd known it.  Future him had known exactly what he was leading them into.

But here he was, walking out in plain sight with his faded Jesus t-shirt and careless expression... barefoot, and somehow that was the strangest part.  Stranger than the jeans.  Stranger than the smile.  Stranger than the fact that he was here at all.

"You're alive," Dean blurted out, because apparently his brain and his mouth weren't on speaking terms anymore.

Cas tilted his head, eyes sharpening through the false cheer.  "And you're not you," he replied.

"No, it's me," Dean said.  "Past me.  How did you get back here?"

"Past you?" Cas repeated.  He was too confused by that, even for whatever he was on today.

"From 2009," Dean said, starting to rethink his strategy.  "You don't remember."

"Oh, I remember 2009."  Cas looked amused, which wasn't really a surprise.  As far as Dean could tell, he looked amused all the time now.  Bitterly amused.  "I just don't remember it having much to do with 2014."

There was something important about that.  He thought he'd almost figured out what it was when Sam said, "Dude, you didn't tell me Cas was a stoner."

Cas looked at him, squinting a little, and pretty much proved it by asking, "Are you really here?"

Dean glared at him, which Cas either didn't see or pretended not to notice.  He shouldn't be so annoyed.  Cas was saving him a lot of trouble by being high and generally unconcerned about the fact that Lucifer's vessel had just shown up on his doorstep.  But as much as Dean hated seeing this, he wanted Sam to see it even less.

"Yeah," Sam said.  "Last time I checked."

"Dean?"  Cas didn't take his eyes off of Sam.  "Is your brother standing next to you?"

Dean glanced at him out of habit.  "Yeah, Cas.  Look,  have I... has future me said anything to you about the Colt?"

Cas laughed, and Dean saw Sam blink.  He tipped his head toward the far side of the door and Sam took a step back, quietly getting out of the way while Dean ambled in the other direction.  Cas' eyes tracked him, but the humor didn't fade.  "Not recently," he drawled.  "I suppose you have a plan?"

"No," Dean said sharply.  "I mean, yeah, but I don't.  So if I tell you I do, I want you to ignore me, okay?"

Sam was glancing around the room, quick looks that didn't leave them alone for long.  He was listening to every word.

"Whatever you say," Cas agreed.  "You want a drink?"

"No, I don't want a drink.  Listen to me, Cas.  I've had a lot of stupid ideas over the years, and you're not wrong about all of them, okay?  If you think it's reckless... it probably is."

Those blue eyes were surprisingly clear as they stared back at him.  "You're trying to change the future," Cas said slowly.

"Yeah," Dean said, ignoring Sam's darting gaze.  "Yeah, I am.  I'm trying to change this.  Sue me."

Cas' eyes narrowed.  "You said you're from the past.  How do you know what's going to happen?"

"Just trust me," Dean told him.  "I know me, okay?"

"Then why don't you tell yourself?" Cas asked, smiling at him in a way that didn't have much to do with anything.

"Because I'm kind of a jerk."  Dean's own voice came from the direction of the door, and he didn't even think.  He threw himself at Sam, slamming into him across the distance that separated them--too much, too comfortable, what had he been thinking to bring Sam here?

The wood was harsh and unforgiving as they toppled a lamp and something that might have been a bookshelf on the way down.  Nothing crumbled underneath them, nothing gave way, and the solidity bit into their bones as they fell.  But the shot that echoed overhead didn't burn through anyone's skin, and when Dean got his head up again Cas was standing between them and... him.

"That's a little hasty, don't you think?" Cas was saying.

Dean could see himself glaring.  "Get out of the way, Cas."

"Dude," Sam whispered, and Dean rolled off of him.  He'd barely managed to avoid getting shot by future him the last time, and that would have been suicide.  It was entirely possible that future him would see shooting Sam as survival.  He gave Sam a look that warned him to stay back.

Sam rolled his eyes in return.  No kidding.

"He's you, Dean," Cas was saying as Dean stepped up beside him.  "I'm pretty sure shooting him won't do anything for your health."

"He's not the one I was aiming for."  His own eyes were cold, and Dean didn't want to know what could make him look like that.  What could make him shoot at his own brother, no questions asked.

He was afraid he already knew.

For everything Dean couldn't process, the fact that he and Sam were the only ones to react to the sound of wings didn't escape him.  Cas didn't so much as blink, and future Dean seemed to react more to the sudden proximity than anything else.  He whirled, but Castiel was faster.  An angel in a tan trenchcoat pressed two fingers to future him's forehead and he crumpled where he stood.

Dean winced in sympathy.  Castiel extracted the gun from his hand and held it to one side as his gaze slid over the rest of them.  "Are you injured?" he asked.  "Give me your phone."

Dean stared at him, but Castiel just held out his hand so he fumbled for the cell.  Stepping forward, he passed it over.  Castiel flipped the gun in his other hand and offered it to Dean: a fair trade, he figured.  He took it, clicked the safety, and tucked it into the back of his jeans while Castiel covered the phone with his other hand.  His fingers glowed, and when he opened his hands, nothing but ash and dust trickled to the floor.

"You need a new phone," Castiel said.

"Yeah," Dean said, frowning.  "Now I do.  What was that for?"

"You also need to stop giving out your location to anyone who calls," Castiel said.

"Hey, you're the one who asked!" Dean protested.

Castiel didn't blink.  "I was not."

"Oh."  That explained a few things.  He glanced at his watch, but he already knew what it would say.  "So you want to magic us out of here, or what?"

"In a moment," Castiel said.  He was looking at Cas, who didn't seem at all surprised to be facing a past version of himself.  He didn't seem like he felt much of anything: angry, embarrassed, curious... nothing.  "Is this what you think I will be like?"

"No," Dean said quickly.  "No way.  Not gonna happen."

Cas laughed, but he didn't take his eyes off of his past self.  He even lifted one hand and waved a little.

Castiel just tilted his head, and Dean risked a glance at Sam.  "This isn't the future," he said.  "This isn't our future.  This is just some sick scheme cooked up by Zachariah.  We're gonna change it."

"There's nothing to change," Castiel observed.  "This is, as you say, an invented reality."

Was that what he'd said?

Castiel looked away from himself, catching Dean's eye.  "You said we all died.  You said I died.  Yet here I am."

"Yeah, well."  Dean shifted, uncomfortably aware of everyone's attention now.  "It hasn't happened yet."

"Wait, you told Cas about this?" Sam demanded.  "You didn't tell me!"

"It doesn't end well for you," Dean snapped.  "What was I supposed to say?  In the future, I'm trying to kill you?"

"It hasn't happened yet because it will not happen," Castiel said.  "This isn't the future.  This is an endless loop of unreality, like a... dream.  Or a nightmare.  There's nothing before it and nothing after it.  It's no more real than Dean Smith was, and you saw all of it there is to see."

"Then what am I doing here?"  Like he didn't want to believe.  But it wasn't like it was impossible, it wasn't like the world wasn't headed this way already.  "If this is all just a dream, what's Zachariah's game?"

Castiel gave him an odd look.  "I was not aware you found Zachariah more trustworthy than myself."

Dean snorted.  "That's your trump card?  'Trust me'?  'Cause I gotta tell you, I'm getting really tired of trusting angels."

"Amen," Cas muttered, shuffling away from them at last.  "You sure you don't want a drink?  I need one," he continued, without waiting for an answer.  "Possibly more than one."

Castiel's gaze tracked his future self across the room.  "Is there something about this nightmare that you want to believe in?" he inquired.  His tone was as even as it ever was.

"Send us back," Dean snapped.

He thought he saw Cas raised his glass in a mock toast before the light changed and the beads disappeared.  The wisps of warmth were gone, and the three of them stood alone in an unlit cabin that smelled like fall and dust.  Sam went to the door of the empty cabin and poked his head out.  "All clear," he reported.  "Car's still here."

Castiel looked like he wanted to roll his eyes but restrained himself.  "I wouldn't leave your car."

"I wouldn't leave you," Dean said.  "Either of you.  I don't believe in that, okay?  That's not the future.  Not for me."

"You believe in all of it," Castiel said.  "It only exists inside your own mind."

"Oh yeah?"  Dean held out his hands, turning in a circle in the middle of the cabin.  "Then where are we, Cas?  What are we doing here?  Did I dream us here, too?"

"No," Castiel said.  "You drove here."

Dean patted his pockets, glaring back at his calm expression.  "If none of that was real, then where's my phone?"

"I destroyed your phone," Castiel said.  "Someone obviously got the number, impersonated me, and locked you and Sam back inside your personal hell.  It was probably Zachariah.  Although I didn't realize he knew enough about human technology to comprehend a calling plan."

"That makes two of us," Sam said dryly.  "How do we know who we're talking to if you can all sound like each other?"

"None of my brothers call me Cas," Castiel said.  "I could identify myself thus when I call."

"Yeah, that would take them two seconds to crack," Dean muttered.

"Doesn't Anna call you Cas?" Sam asked.

Castiel was still looking at Dean.  "What would you suggest?"

"Don't ask me," Dean said sharply.  "Where were you two minutes ago?  Did you see that?  I'm not the guy you should be listening to, Cas."

"You've never worried about me listening to you before."  Castiel seemed vaguely amused, and the shadow of his future self's laughter was too much.

"Well, hallelujah, it worked," Dean growled.  "I saw the future and I changed my mind, okay?  I've got Sam back, and I'm not going to lose you.  You just keep being all... angelic, or whatever.  Put your nose back in the clouds and stop doing whatever I tell you."

"It wasn't the future," Sam said.

Dean glared at him.  "What are you talking about?"

"You said you told Cas about it the first time, right?  Did you tell him when it was?"

Dean shot a sideways glance at Castiel.  "Yeah, of course I did."

"Of course you did," Sam mimicked.  "Whatever, you weren't talking to me, I get it.  The point is, he didn't know.  In the future, he didn't know what you were doing there."

"He was stoned out of his mind," Dean said.

"He seemed pretty lucid to me," Sam told him.  "He recognized you right away.  He said he remembered 2009, right?  But he didn't remember you going to the future.  Even though you told him about it."

Just like that, Dean got it.  "I did something and it didn't change anything."

"Because it's not the future," Sam said.

"That's--"  Castiel hesitated, awkward in a way that got Dean's attention.  "Not entirely true."

"Oh, do tell."  Dean glared.  "Now that we agree with you, you change your mind?"

"It's not the future," Castiel said.  "I agree with you on that."

"But?" Dean prompted, frowning at him.

"There are things you can't change, Dean."  He did at least look like he knew Dean didn't want to hear it.  "Things that will be, no matter what you or Sam do."

"Uh-uh," Dean said.  "No way.  You heard Chuck; we changed something.  You and me, we weren't supposed to be there, and you said--"

"We changed nothing," Castiel interrupted.  "The seal was broken, as it was meant to be.  You and Sam lived, as you were meant to.  Fate can not be contravened."

"Yeah, then what about you?"  He'd told Cas about Lucifer, about what he'd said and how they were all going to end up right where they'd been five years from now.  And he still tried to play the destiny card.  "You're destiny too.  You threw in with us."

Castiel didn't answer, and he didn't know why that made him mean but he couldn't stop.  "No more orders," he said.  "No more watching God's plan unfold.  You are the plan.  You're part of the freakin' plan right along with the rest of us  You telling me you don't want any say in how it all turns out?"

"What I want," Castiel said quietly, "and what I have are not, and never have been, the same thing."

"Really?" Sam said.  "Never?"

"Whatever," Dean snapped.  "The point is, we're making our own destiny here and the future can go screw itself.  You got that?"

Castiel considered him for a long moment.  "Would this be a good time," he said at last, "to remind you that you don't want me to listen to you anymore?"

He heard Sam let out a huff of laughter, but he was too busy trying not to look away.  It almost worked.  "No," he said, lifting a finger in Castiel's direction to cover up the fact he'd never been able to stare down an angel.  "No, this would be a really bad time.  This is the kind of time when you say, 'yes, Dean,' and 'how high, Dean?'"

"How high?" Castiel repeated.

"When I say jump," Dean said.  "And you say how high."

Castiel looked somewhere between puzzled and amused.  "No," he said, his gaze flicking to Sam like he might find better answers there.  "I don't think so."

"Get me some pie," Dean told him.

Castiel gave him a quizzical look.  "Why would I do that?"

"Because I told you to," Dean said, feeling his lips twitch.

"I see."  Castiel considered this, then asked, "What kind of pie?"

Dean gaped at him, his smile falling away.

The smile found its way to Castiel's face, a rare moment of unguarded humor lurking in his eyes.  "Kidding," he said.

"I hate you," Dean said.  "Really, I don't even like you a little right now."

"That is likely fortunate," Castiel said.  "Since it appears someone may be out to use our trust against us."

Dean scowled at the reminder.  "You owe me a new phone."

"I'm sure you will be able to procure a new phone more readily than I can," Castiel said.

"Which will do us zero good when the angel network gets hold of your new phone number," Sam said.  "We need passwords."

"I'm not giving a stupid password every time I answer the phone," Dean told him.

"You don't give it, you ask for it," Sam said, in a tone of voice that added moron without him having to say it.  "When Cas asks where you are, or when I--I don't know, tell you to meet me somewhere."

"It's a good idea, Dean."  Castiel cut him off before he could point out that anywhere Sam asked to meet was more like the next block over than neutral ground in another state.  "This could happen again."

"Fine, yes, we can have passwords," Dean grumbled.  "Can we get out of this creepy cabin first?  Bobby probably expected us yesterday by now."

"I told him I would retrieve you," Castiel said.  "He should not worry."

Sam and Dean exchanged glances.  "Right," Sam said.  "Time to go."

"I've been saying," Dean muttered, pushing past him.  "You riding with us, Cas?"

He glanced back in time to see Castiel giving the room a curious look before he turned to follow.  "If that's what it takes to establish secure communication," he said.  "Then yes.  I am."

He still had the gun when he went to get into the car.  He pulled it out, hefting it irritably in Cas' direction.  "Not real, huh?"

Castiel looked at him over the roof of the car.  "I didn't say it wasn't real," he replied.  "I said it wasn't the future."

Dean rolled his eyes and went around to the trunk, unloading and stowing the gun before they got back on the road.

The password conversation didn't go much better.  Dean refused to say anything stupid, which as far as he was concerned took out most of Sam's suggestions.  He also wasn't going to say anything freakish, which ruled out everything Castiel came up with.  After one tongue twister too many from their freakin' angel of the lord, Dean put his foot down.

"Look," he said.  "Why does it have to be a word?  Why can't it be like a phrase or something?  I call Cas, he asks who it is, I say 'angels are dicks' and presto.  He knows it's me."

"That's a terrible password," Sam told him.

"I think it's a great password," Dean said.  "What's wrong with it?"

"Well, for one thing, anyone who knows you will guess it," Sam said dryly.

"It must be something you would not normally say," Castiel agreed, and great, now they were double-teaming him.

"Fine, so I'll say 'I love demons,'" Dean said.  "The point is all your suggestions suck."

There was a moment where it was just the roar of the road and the open window, and when he glanced at Sam he didn't like the look on his face.  "Actually," Sam admitted, "that could work."

"What?" Dean asked.  "Oh no," he added when Sam started to smile.  "I'm not saying I love demons every time you want to make sure it's me!"

"Hey, you suggested it," Sam said, holding up his hands.

"If you gave that as your password, I would believe that it was you," Castiel said from the backseat.

"Cas would believe you," Sam told him.

"Shut up," Dean said.

"I think my password should be something Latin," Sam said.  "Cas?"

"Fides quaerens intellectum," Castiel replied, because of course he knew Latin.  He probably spoke dead languages in his sleep.  Not that he slept, but whatever.  Dean was in the car with a couple of geeks.

"No Latin," he warned, when Sam opened his mouth to reply.  "I barely know what you're saying when you talk English."

"That's what makes it funny," Sam agreed.

"And unfortunately ineffective as an identity verification tool," Castiel said.  "Your password should probably be something easier to pronounce.  For Dean's sake."

"Not everyone has time to study Latin!"  Dean glared at him in the rearview mirror, but Castiel didn't react.  It seemed like kind of jerk thing to get mad about when the guy was so calm, and he found himself looking away.  "Besides," he muttered.  "That's what I have Sammy for."

"Yeah, for knowing things," Sam agreed.  "I just keep you around for the guns and holy water."

Dean smirked out at the road in front of them.  "That's what I do."

"You do considerably more than that, Dean."  Castiel sounded surprised, and Dean didn't know whether he should be flattered that Cas said it or offended that Cas thought it needed saying.

"Quiet, Cas," Sam said.  "His head's big enough already."

Dean raised his eyebrows, still smiling.  Had Sam just shushed an angel?  There was hope for him yet.

"His head appears perfectly normal to me," Castiel said.

"My head appears awesome, thank you very much."  Dean took a hand off the steering wheel to wave at Sam.  "Password, what is it.  In English.  And come up with a better one for me while you're at it."

"Faith seeking understanding," Sam said.

Dean didn't bother to look at him.  "Excuse me?"

"Fides quaerens intellectum," Sam repeated.  "What Cas said, in English.  I like it."

"Sounds too angel-ish," Dean said.  "I'll never remember that from the thousand other cryptic things he says.  Why can't it be something easy, like 'I'm a dog person'?"

Sam craned his neck, like he could see Castiel sitting directly behind him, and he ended up looking at Dean instead.  "Dude, I'm pretty sure Cas is a cat person."

Dean was the one with the rearview mirror, and he took advantage of it.  "Cat person, or dog person?" he asked, catching Cas' eye without turning.  "You care?"

"I'm not familiar with the distinction," Castiel said.

"It just means which one you like better," Sam offered.  "Cats or dogs.  That's all."

"That's not all," Dean said.  "It says something about a person's character.  Dog people are friendly.  Cat people are--"  He caught himself just before he would have said "annoying," because Sam was totally right.  He could see the look Sam was giving him out of the corner of his eye: well?

"Like you," Dean finished, glancing at the mirror again.

"Thank you," Sam said.  He settled back in his seat like he was satisfied now that Dean had agreed with him.

"I don't understand," Castiel said.

"You like cats better than dogs?" Dean asked, tapping his thumb against the steering wheel.

"Is that a question?" Castiel replied.

"Yeah," Dean said.

"Or a password," Sam said.  "Dean loves demons, Castiel's a cat person... call me a ghostbuster, and we're done."

"What!" Dean objected.  "Why can't I be a ghostbuster?"

"Because you love demons," Sam told him.  "Obviously."

"I hate demons," Dean said.  "I hate you.  And I gotta tell you, I'm not too fond of Cas' cat right now, either."

"Suck it up," Sam told him.  "They're passwords, not a list of things Dean Winchester thinks are awesome."

"I don't have a cat," Castiel observed.

By the time they got to Bobby's, Dean refused to share crash space with either of them, not that it mattered in Castiel's case but it was the principle of the thing.  Which he voiced, loudly and repeatedly, while Sam tried to yell him down with increasingly comical threats of divine feline retribution.  He was actually kind of surprised that Cas was still in the backseat when they pulled in, bright lights turning the salvage yard into a landing strip here on the wrong side of midnight.

Bobby was on the porch with wheels, a rifle, and probably a gallon of holy water before they even killed the headlights.  He didn't look at all surprised to see Castiel climbing out of the car behind them.  "You're late!" he shouted down at them.

"Angel business," Dean yelled back.  "Back to bed, old man."

"Piss off," Bobby snarled.  "Haven't cleaned since I've been in this thing."

"Or ever," Sam said, not bothering to lower his voice.  "Like your floor was so awesome before."

Dean snorted, throwing his shoulders back and stretching his arms out behind him.  "Like you ever slept on the floor."

"No room on the floor," Bobby snapped.  "The couch is mine.  You boys are upstairs."

Dean opened his mouth, but Sam elbowed him before he could get to the mocking.  "Right," Sam called, shoving his hands into his pockets.  "Thanks, Bobby."

"I don't have any place for angels."  Bobby was glaring down at them.  If he looked uneasy in the porch light, the shadows from the yard made it impossible to tell.

"I will go," Castiel said, and his voice made Dean turn.  What was he-–

The light that swirled up and over Castiel's shoulders made Dean squint, holding his ground more out of habit than any actual understanding.  Squinting didn't help.  It wasn't light, it still wasn't light, and he didn't know why he couldn't get his head around that.  Because what kind of light cast its own shadow?

The vague, overlapping lines that traced Castiel's outline on the ground, silhouettes of porch and yard going in every direction, were all twice as big as they should have been.  The light over his shoulders expanded and stretched, and every one of his faint shadows widened.  Dean blinked, trying not to look.  Trying not to see.

"We'll probably be here tomorrow," he muttered, glancing at Sam.  If Sam had ever seen Cas' wings, he hadn't said, and if this was the first time he sure wasn't showing it.  "Bobby usually eats around seven."

He had not just invited an angel to dinner.

"I don't cook," Bobby yelled from the porch, and Dean rolled his eyes.

"He doesn't eat!" he shouted over his shoulder.  "You guys should get along great!"

When he turned around, Castiel was gone.  Bright glowing wings and all.

"Dude," Sam said.  "Did you just invite Castiel to dinner?"

"He's lonely," Dean said defensively.  "What else does he have to do?"

"Oh, I don't know," Sam said.  "Find God.  Avert the apocalypse.  Save the cheerleader, save the world; how do I know what angels do in their spare time?  Does he telecommute from the back of the car?"

"Beats me," Dean said, looking up at the porch.  Bobby was frowning down at him like he was an idiot, but that was like saying Bobby was breathing, so he glanced back at Sam.  "Hey, did he look weird to you just now?  Like... just, weird, at all?"

Sam eyed him.  "What part of him getting out of the car after a road trip that detoured through your head wasn't weird to you?"

So, no.  Sam either hadn't seen it or wasn't talking.  This time.

"Speaking of," Dean said.  "You think they've stopped shooting by now?"

That made Sam crack a smile, distracted and entertained and what else was Dean here for?  "At the gas station?" he said.  "They had to run out of ammo at some point, right?"

"Maybe we should call them," Dean remarked, going for his duffel.  "Tell 'em we got the head guy five minutes before they even went for their weapons."

"They'll figure it out eventually," Sam said.  "Dibs on the shower."

Dean let him have that one, but only because skipping a shower meant he got the better blankets.  Bobby didn't want to hear anything but "not dead yet" until the sun was at least up and coffee had been poured, and Dean wasn't going to argue.  He was asleep before Sam came back, dreaming under a devil's trap of hell and glowing wings that blocked out everything for miles around.

There was no coffee the next morning.  It was Ellen who woke them up, which was weird on so many levels that Dean actually blurted out "Why--" before he realized he probably didn't want to know.  "What's going on?" he said instead, rolling off the side of the bed and taking half the blankets with him.

"Bastard," Sam muttered, already sitting up on the other side of the bed.  "Hey, Ellen."

"I've got a demon infestation," she said, yanking open drawers and fumbling through things that Dean didn't assume were clothes.  "Which is really the least of my problems, but one of them is asking for Sam, so.  Jo thought you might want to know."

"What?"  Sam glanced over at him, shaking a flannel shirt on over bare arms while Dean fumbled for his socks.  "Where?"

Dean figured the answer should be, the opposite direction from wherever you're headed today.  He also figured they wouldn't be that lucky, that Sam would have to know, and that other hunters were going to end up throwing salt at both of them by the end of the day.  Or shooting them.  Probably both.

"Where aren't they?" Ellen retorted.  "If you mean the one that wants you, it stepped into a devil's trap outside Jo's place all on its own.  According to Jo.  She won't let me exorcise it until you tell her to."

Jo was smart.  Not the most ruthless hunter, maybe, but she'd survived this long and Dean had a soft spot for girls with guns.  He was trying to come up with any explanation for her showing a demon mercy, and it was working.  Unfortunately, both the explanations he had so far were bad.

"Well, I'm telling her to," Sam said.  "Where is she?  Is anyone with her?"

"You mean other than the demon?"  Ellen pulled a book out from the second drawer down, shoved it closed with her hip, and fished something out of her pocket.  She tossed her cell phone to Sam.  "No.  And the phone number you have for her won't work.  Good luck talking any sense into her from here; I certainly can't."

But she was still here anyway, which meant she wasn't kidding when she said she had bigger problems.  "What's going on?" Dean asked, stamping his boots on and grabbing his jacket as she stalked out of the room.  He followed her down the stairs, and he could hear Sam pushing buttons on Ellen's phone right behind him.

"I've got a dragon, a burning woman, and a psychic baby," she said over her shoulder.  "Take your pick."

He raised his eyebrows, wondering which of those was more important than her daughter facing a supposedly suicidal demon.  "Sounds fun," he said.

"That's just my living room," Ellen said.  "You should see the Roadhouse."

"Jo?  It's Sam."

Dean glanced over his shoulder.  Sam had paused at the bottom of the stairs, and he caught Dean's eye with a shrug.  "We're at Bobby's," he said.  "Why?"

"Dude," Dean said.  "Ghostbuster."

Sam gave him the finger.

Dean heard Ellen drop the book on the table in front of Bobby, dishes clattering and irritated remarks about space and organizational abilities exchanged.  He was more interested in the way Sam went from frowning and saying, "No, I don't," and, "That's over," to totally shutting down.  His impatient expression turned cold and uncaring.

"Kill it," Sam said.  "Just kill it."

"Friend of yours?" Dean couldn't resist asking.  Like he wanted to know why a demon would be asking for Sam.  Like he wanted to hear anything about this.  Ellen and Bobby were right there, the easiest distraction he could have asked for, and he couldn't turn away.

Sam gave him a dark look, but he just told the phone, "So send it back.  I don't care."

Exorcising wasn't as permanent as it used to be, but it was still kind of satisfying.  Like slamming your hand down on a blood sigil and watching a bunch of dicks vanish in a flash of light.  Made a man feel glad to be alive.

"Look, Jo."  Sam was actually turning toward the door.  Dean couldn't tell if he wanted privacy or just to reach through the phone and shake some sense into the person on the other end.  "I'll come do it myself if it's that important to you.  Just don't let it make you do anything, okay?"

There was a pause, and then he said, "Trust me," which Dean already didn't like but he liked it even less when it was followed by, "I've heard that before."  There were way too many things his brother had heard from demons before.

It isn't betrayal if you shouldn't have trusted them in the first place, he reminded himself.

"Yeah, right now," Sam was saying.  "Don't turn your back."

Dean raised his eyebrows as Sam lowered the phone.  He needed to replace his phone, he thought.  Maybe he could fit that in somewhere between Sam's demon and Ellen's dragon.  Not to mention whatever Jo's problem was all of a sudden.    At the end of the day, there was a reason hunters didn't congregate.  One person's freakish life was weird enough without putting a whole bunch of them within spitting distance.

"I'm gonna go give Jo a hand," Sam said.  Like Jo couldn't handle one trapped demon by herself.  Like it was nothing, like Dean didn't even need to know what that conversation was about.

"Dude," Dean said.  He waited for Sam to look at him, and Sam did, so at least it wasn't one of the things they didn't talk about.  It was just one of the things they weren't talking about now for some reason.  "What?"

Sam shook his head, but he didn't look away.  "Loose end," he said.  "Just let me get this one, okay?"

Dean stared at him.  He couldn't process anything except the question: not the situation, not the reasons for or against, and definitely not what Sam was really asking.  All he knew was that Sam had asked.  And maybe he shouldn't have to.

"Guess I'm riding with Ellen," Dean grumbled, pulling his keys out of his pocket.  Sam looked surprised, and Dean didn't know what he'd expected to drive.  It wasn't like he was gonna take one of Bobby's wrecks.  "Try not to get pulled over for holding up traffic."

Sam took the keys with a small smile, and yeah, he really was surprised.  No jibe for the tickets Dean's fake ID couldn't get him out of.  Not even some snark about the gas pedal being connected to the volume control.  All he said was, "Thanks, Dean."

Dean shook his head, trying not to imagine what Sammy was driving into.  He could take care of himself.  "Whatever," he said, glancing over his shoulder.  Ellen had stopped collecting books and had moved on to collecting weapons, which was making her deal look better and better.  "Ellen, you better not be lying about that dragon."

She wasn't lying.  The dragon was... well, big enough to eat him, and after that he stopped caring.  Whether it took one bite or two didn't really matter that much in the grand scheme of things.  He didn't get to kill it, though, which was annoying.  On the other hand, it wasn't actually threatening anything, so he could sort of see where Ellen was coming from on that.  Especially when the demon infestation turned out to be just as real as the dragon.

He and Tamara were huddled behind the bar at the Roadhouse when Castiel showed up.  Dean had decided that Tamara's style was awesome about the same time she brought out the super soakers filled with holy water, and between the two of them they'd managed to activate just about every defense the building had.  Ellen hadn't dicked around with the insurance money, either: the Roadhouse was like a fortress, and numbers aside, it was the best fight he'd had in a long time.

Until that trench coat took a rock salt bullet to the shoulder and Dean swore, because Cas hadn't been standing there when he pulled the trigger.  "Don't do that!" he shouted furiously.  "Would it kill you to call first!"

Tamara turned around just as Castiel smoothed a hand over the coat's wide lapel, and the bullet hole was gone like it had never been there.  "You don't currently have a phone, Dean."

"Friend of yours?" Tamara demanded, her secondary water gun trained on Castiel's forehead.  He looked at her like she was some new species of lint, which irritated Dean in a way that had nothing to do with shooting his own stupid angel.

"Yeah," he gritted out.  "He's a friend.  A really annoying, pissy, heart attack inducing friend."

A demon staggered into Castiel--or deliberately attacked him, it was hard to tell in the melee. As awkward as Castiel sometimes looked, the way he moved made everything around him look like uncoordinated stop-action footage.  So when he pressed his palm to the man's forehead, Dean didn't even bother watching.  He had other things to shoot at.

"Some friend," Tamara said, and okay, maybe he'd watched the exorcism from the corner of his eye.  Just to make sure no one jumped the guy from behind while he was doing it.  Some people had no concept of how to watch their own backs.

"Angel," Dean grunted, ducking back down to reload.

When Tamara laughed, it took him a minute to realize she didn't get it.

"Hey, Cas!"  He raised his voice, leaning his head back without actually looking.  "Want to do some smiting for us?"

When he looked back at Tamara, Castiel was crouched down behind the bar with them.  "I am confident that you can handle a few demons," he said.

"A few?" Tamara repeated.

Castiel ignored her.  "What I would like to know is why you sent Sam off on his own after a demon who asked for him by name."

"You been talking to Bobby?" Dean asked, trusting Tamara to hold the line long enough for him to frown at Cas.

"I do have other things to do, Dean."  Castiel didn't flinch as a body came flying over the bar.  Tamara upended one of the special saltshakers over it before it had even hit the floor and Dean helped her hold it down as she started chanting.  Castiel kept talking.  "I do not understand why you thought Sam would kill a demon that has thrown itself on his mercy."

Okay, not so much helping as failing to help.  The demon got one of its arms free and suddenly he had a hand on his throat and way less air in his lungs than he was comfortable with.  Tamara spoke faster and the demon was convulsing but the fingers that were wrapped around his neck really didn't need to be any tighter--

Castiel reached out and touched another forehead, and the demon was gone before Tamara could finish.

Dean put a hand to his throat instinctively, feeling for damage.  Tamara spared a glance for Castiel, then Dean.  He managed a nod, and she turned her attention back to their formerly possessed host.  Hostess.  Whatever.

"Are you injured?" Castiel asked, still watching intently.

He tried to shrug it off.  "That depends," he rasped, tilting his head carefully to make sure it still moved.  "Is 'bruised trachea' a real injury?"

"Yes."  Castiel was touching his neck before Dean noticed.  He tipped his chin back without thinking about it.  It was just Cas, after all.  He didn't know what personal space was, and he'd always been weirdly willing to touch.  "This will probably hurt tomorrow."

Dean scoffed, pulling away when he realized Tamara had found time in between reassuring Possessed Girl and arming her to stare at them.  "It hurts now," he grumbled.  "Thanks for that, by the way."

"I thought you were paying attention," Castiel said.  "It is not my job to keep an eye on Sam, Dean."

"No," Dean agreed, moving over to make room for another gun-toting girl at the bar.  "It's Sam's job to keep an eye on Sam.  Have a little faith, Cas.  I thought that's what you guys are good at."

"You are familiar with the demon Jo captured," Castiel said.

"Nope," Dean said.  He reached up to rub at his throat again just as one of the lights at the far end of the bar blew.  It made him grin, because that was a pretty cool flagging system.  Whenever one of the lights bit it, they knew they'd captured another demon.

Harvelle's Roadhouse had a lot of lights.

"It's Ruby," Castiel said.

Dean froze.

"She called Sam to her as surely as if she'd picked up the phone herself," Castiel said.  "Now do you see?"

"She's dead," Dean snarled.  "I killed her."

"She's not dead now," Castiel replied.  "I can offer nothing more in the way of explanation."

"Because you can't?" he demanded.  The unspoken, or you won't? hung in the air between them.

Castiel didn't flinch.  "I've told you everything I know."

"I'm pretty sure that would take longer than sixty seconds," Dean muttered.  "Joke," he added, when Castiel's unblinking stare started to look a little hurt.  Or maybe that was his imagination.  "I'm joking."

Imagination or not, he wasn't going anywhere.  He was crammed in behind a bar with two beautiful women, an angel, and a lot of things to shoot.  This was about as good as his life got--except for a missing Sam, and an impossible demon he was trying not to think about.  He couldn't do anything about either of them until they got out of this building.

"Look," Dean said.  "Smite, don't smite, I don't care.  But I'm here until we clear the floor.  Sam can take care of himself; you don't have to watch him.  I'll give him a call as soon as we're done here, okay?"

Castiel disappeared.  It occurred to Dean--quicker than it used to, but still too late--that he'd forgotten to say thanks for the heads-up.  Cas might be lousy at it for himself, but he did know how to watch other people's backs.

"Don't shoot!" Tamara shouted, and Dean threw himself up to glare over the bar.  Of course Castiel was on the other side of it, screwing with their line of fire while he took on the demon mob single-handedly.  Without warning any of the people with guns first.  

"I see what you mean about the heart attacks," Tamara snapped, but Dean had already rolled over the bar and crashed into Castiel's back.  The weirdest sense of resistance, of being pushed, of being held up kept him from stumbling as he threw the heel of his hand into someone's face.  He was going hand to hand with demons for no reason except he was ninety-five percent sure Cas hadn't seen that one coming.

Tamara threw him a water bottle.  His head spun when someone got in a lucky hit.  The dizzy rush of duck and jab was more instinctive than reasoned.  He had no idea how Cas stayed at his back.  Lights flashed as the traps filled up, and he couldn't tell how much of the strobing chaos was Ellen's design and how much was the white light that bled out of every demon Cas touched.

When he finally whirled and found only Castiel, his lungs burned and his hands ached and he could taste blood.  He felt awesome.  He couldn't contain the grin that stretched across his face.  "Dude," he said.  "Next bar brawl, I am totally praying for you."

Castiel tilted his head, not even breathing for all Dean could tell.  "I'm sure your prayers could be better spent."

"Take it where you can get it," Dean advised, trying to swallow his gasps for breath.  He wheeled, surveying the floor, checking up on Tamara and co.  Formerly Possessed Girl must know what she was doing, because Tamara already had her helping with the traps.  "I'm not exactly overwhelmed by the urge to commune."

"Dean."  Castiel was holding something out to him when he turned around again.  "You should call Sam now."

His cell phone.  Dean had never seen it before.  Seeing it now, he realized he hadn't been sure it actually existed.

"Angel phone, huh?"  He took it, a little wary of--he didn't know.  Anything.

"It's just a cell phone, Dean."  Castiel sounded almost amused, and that was enough to make Dean start punching in Sam's number.  Great.  Now he had an angel mocking his fear of technology.

That expression didn't change as Castiel watched him enter one of only three numbers he had memorized.  "He's on speed dial, you know."

Of course he was.  Dean rolled his eyes, but he didn't turn away when the phone on the other end started to ring.  He sort of expected to get Sam's voice mail.  It surprised him when he didn't, and Sam sounded about as wary as Dean had been of the phone.  "Hello?"

Unidentified caller.  That's what his phone always said when Cas called.

"Hey, Sam."  Dean glanced at Castiel.  "I'm using Cas' phone.  Everything okay?"

He heard a muffled noise that could have been Sam sighing, or getting all huffy, or pretty much anything that indicated he didn't need his big brother checking up on him every five minutes.  "Everything's fine, Dean."

That wasn't exactly what he wanted to hear.  Well, it was.  But not if it wasn't true, right?  "You sure?" he asked.

"Yes, I'm sure.  It's just a demon," Sam added.  "In a devil's trap.  What about that do you think I can't handle?"

The part where the demon is your ex, Dean thought.  "It just sounds weird," he said aloud, and then he had to turn away from Cas because the guy was staring at him and he wasn't going to ask his brother if he was looking at Ruby right then.  He wasn't going to.  "I mean, what kind of demon walks into a trap on purpose?"

"A stupid one," Sam's voice told him.  "A stupid demon walks into a trap on purpose."

He was.  He was looking at Ruby while he spoke to Dean, he had to be.  "Well, what does a stupid demon want with you?" Dean growled.  "Tell me what's going on, Sam."

"What's going on is that I'm standing here, talking to you on the phone instead of interrogating a demon I'm perfectly capable of handling myself," Sam said.  "You want me to hand over the phone so you can question her instead?"

"Her?" Dean repeated sharply.

"Female host," Sam said.  "Seriously, Dean.  Jo is standing right next to me.  Does that make you feel better?"

Actually, it did.  Kind of.  He was smart enough to know that saying so would be a bad idea.

"Cas is worried about you," Dean blurted out.

Which wasn't any better.  He should have just called Jo in the first place.  Except he didn't have her number, and she'd probably tell Sam who it was anyway.  "He made me call you," Dean added.  If he was going to remind Sam of the angels keeping track of his demon activities, he might as well pass the buck while he was at it.

He glanced back at Castiel, who was giving him a look like, oh, way to be an adult.

"He made you call me?" Sam repeated.  "What are you, twelve?"

"If you say you're fine, you're fine," Dean told him.  "But if you want backup, just say the word."

"I'm fine," Sam said.  "I'll call you before I head back."

"Yeah?"  Dean couldn't keep himself from asking, "And when will that be?"

"It'll be before I head back, jerk.  Before I do the posted limit in a school zone, use the turn signal, and actually go left when I'm in the left-hand turn lane.  You're welcome, by the way."

"Wuss," Dean muttered.  "The car's gonna need therapy after this."

"Tell Cas you're worried," Sam replied.  "Maybe he'll take care of it for you."

"Shut up," Dean snapped.

He could hear the smirk in Sam's voice.  Sam knew he'd won.  "Bye, Dean."

Dean hung up without bothering to answer.  "He's fine," he said, tossing the phone back to Castiel.  "She's still in the trap.  Jo's with them."

"Did he call her by name?" Castiel asked.  The phone disappeared into one of the pockets of his trench coat.

"No," Dean said.  "So what?"

"You don't think it's significant that he didn't tell you who he was talking to?"

"Nope."  Dean didn't want to talk about this anymore, but at least he could remember what he'd forgotten to say before.  "Thanks for the heads-up.  I'm gonna get back to exorcising.  You still coming for dinner?"

"Dean," Castiel said, and he didn't even have to put "but" in front of it.  It was the same tone.

"Listen," Dean said.  "Sam asked me to trust him, okay?  So I'm gonna trust him.  He knows what he's doing."

The words this time went unsaid.

"I see," Castiel said.

"Thanks for the--"  Dean gestured at the room, where recovering humans were starting to outnumber whiny demons.  "You know."

"Of course."  Castiel's gaze slid over his shoulder, and Dean tried to ignore the fact that his wings weren't spread.  He shouldn't even know that.  He should just assume that Cas was leaving, because that was what he did.  He'd said it himself: he had other things to do.

"You want to help?" Tamara demanded.  Her voice was right behind him, and she added, "I guess your friend pulled his weight, but whenever you finish checking your voice mail, we've got a line."

It occurred him, suddenly, that he'd never introduced Cas to anyone except Sam.  Not as an angel, anyway.  When they were all playing at being human, fine, Dean was all over that.  Castiel insisted on explaining "angel of the lord" any time he was supposed to be blending in, and Dean had learned that the only way to head it off was to beat him to the introduction.  But when there was someone around who could actually handle that kind of thing, Cas made with the disappearing act and talked to him in dreams instead.

"Uh, this is Tamara," Dean said, making an awkward gesture in her direction when there continued to not be any disappearing.  "She's a hunter.  Tamara, this is Castiel.  He's, uh--"  He looked, but Cas was still there.  "He's an angel."

"Uh-huh."  Just like that, she was off his case about work.  She even smiled when Castiel nodded to her.  "I don't know how you Winchesters find all the good weirdos, but I'm not complaining.  You been with Dean long?"

Dean blinked, because seriously?  After all that, she still thought he was... what, a helpful spirit or something?  Some kind of woodland nymph?  Who exorcised demons by touch?  By filling them with white light?

"I've been with Dean a year and a half," Castiel said seriously, and Dean groaned.

"He's not my angel, okay?  He's God's angel.  He's an angel of the lord.  He does the flying and the smiting and the--"  Dean waved his hand vaguely, not entirely sure what else Castiel did.  "Mostly he's really annoying, but he keeps saving me, so."

He realized after he said it that the last sentence didn't help his case so much.  At least as far as his case was, "I'm not in a gay relationship with my fallen guardian angel, thank you very much.  No, really.  Have you been talking to Sam?  Because he's a smug bastard who thinks it's funny to pretend he's the man."

"You're joking," Tamara said.

"I wish," Dean said.  It was automatic, even a little sympathetic: he knew that feeling and he knew it well.  It was also kind of a dick thing to say, which he realized as soon as Castiel gave him a look that could best be described as wounded.  He found himself adding quickly, "Not really," and that was when he knew what it felt like to be whipped.

He didn't have time to be properly horrified, because Tamara was kind of weirding out on them.  "I don't--you don't look like an angel," she blurted out, and then she looked pretty much the way Dean felt.  "I mean... not that you should.  You don't have to.  I'm sure you can look like anything you want."

"Yes," Castiel said.  "I was given that choice after my last vessel was destroyed.  I chose this visage because it is the one with which Dean is most familiar."

"Right," Tamara agreed, glancing at Dean.  He wasn't going to be any help there; he hadn't even known that.  Hadn't wanted to know it, maybe.  And all he wanted to say was: you want to look familiar, stop glowing.

Except that wouldn't be familiar.  Cas always glowed.  Without it he would look normal, not familiar.

"I will see you this evening," he was saying, and Dean couldn't even bring himself to wince.  What else was he gonna say, anyway?

"Yeah," Dean said.  There were the wings.  "See you later."

Then the space in front of him was empty, and it took Dean a couple of seconds to get why that was so weird.  It was the first time Castiel had stuck around long enough to say goodbye.  The first time he'd helped for no reason, the first time he'd let himself be introduced, and the first time he'd said goodbye.

Probably a sign of the apocalypse, Dean thought.  It wasn't a very comforting thought.

"You were dead," Tamara accused.  "What'd you do, drag that boy back from heaven with you?"

He cleared his throat.  "Yeah," Dean said.  "Let's go with that.  How many demons left?"

Not enough to make her forget about Castiel, as it turned out.  When they caught up with Ellen afterwards, the first thing Tamara said was, "Did you know about this angel boy of Dean's?"

He wasn't sure which part of that to groan about first, so he filled in the part where they communicated actual information: numbers, results, damage to the defenses.  The little things.  The things that mattered.  Then, when he was done, he added, "He's not mine, and no.  She didn't know."

"Know what?"  Ellen looked like she'd already forgotten Tamara's opening volley.  Not like that had been Dean's goal all along.  He didn't know why he'd sabotaged it himself.

Then Ellen proved she'd been paying attention despite the demon report and the dragon that they still weren't allowed to kill.  "You got yourself a boyfriend, Dean?  That explains a lot."

All ready to protest, he was caught off guard by her offhanded assessment.  "Wait, what?" he demanded.  "That explains a lot?  What does that explain?"

"Not just a boyfriend," Tamara said.  "An angel boyfriend.  Dragged him out of heaven himself."

"Okay, stop saying that."  Dean glared at her.  "I didn't physically drag him.  Also, he's not my boyfriend."

"No," Tamara said, in a voice that said exactly the opposite.  "He's just your angel."

He was kind of impressed she could make it sound so dirty.  "He's literally an angel," Dean told her.  "He'll smite you for that."

"You won't let him," Tamara said.

"Oh, you'd be surprised."  At what he'd let a messenger of heaven do for him.  At what he couldn't stop Castiel from doing.  "I'm not feeling very friendly toward you at the moment.  He might notice."

"Dean."  Ellen sounded exasperated.  "Threatening people with your boyfriend's retribution?  If you could hear yourself--"

"I'd buy myself a drink," Dean interrupted.  "Can I kill the dragon now?"

"Honey, I hate to tell you this," Tamara said.  "But you're not the knight in this little scenario."

"I'm really sure I don't want to hear you finish that thought."  Dean frowned at Ellen instead.  "Can I borrow the truck?  I gotta go get something."

"You're the princess," Tamara told him.

Dean flipped her off, but Ellen handed over the keys and he figured there were more important things than decking a lady hunter.  At the moment.  One of those things was the fact that he couldn't call Sam and demand an update every five minutes until he got himself a replacement phone.

He called Sam again the moment he had it.  He didn't need an angel telling him how to take care of his own brother.  That didn't mean he wanted to see it all go to hell again.  Getting Sam back was the one good thing to come out of this whole apocalypse mess, and he would never tell anyone, but there were days when he thought maybe it had been worth the price.

"Dude," Sam said, before he could even identify himself.  "Cut it out."

"How'd you know it was me?"

"Oh, it was tough."  The fact that Sam hadn't hesitated to answer his phone seemed like a good sign.  Right?  Or was it a bad sign, because he'd been expecting Dean and he had an answer all ready?  "Somehow I saw through your clever disguise."

"This is my new phone," Dean told him.  "Don't give me another stupid name."

"Well, 'Dogface' is taken," Sam replied.  "And I used 'Smurfette' for your last phone.  I don't want to just change it to your new number; that shows a lack of creativity."

"I'm putting you in as 'Demon Inquisitor' right now," Dean said.

"Okay, Angel Boss," Sam said.  "You want me to give the phone to Jo so you can feel better?"

"Is she still there?" Dean asked.

"No," Sam said.  "I was going to fake her voice and tell you to what to do with your questions."

"Sam," he said.  "Who's the demon?"

There was only the briefest pause.  "Ruby," Sam said.  "She says she's Ruby."

"Ruby's dead," Dean snapped.  Not because he hadn't heard stranger things, but because he didn't want to hear this one at all.  He'd stabbed her with her own demon-killing knife.  While Sam held her.  She had to be dead.  He wouldn't accept anything else.

"Apparently not so much."  Sam said it in that way that meant he wasn't convinced, but he was listening.  "She says Lilith booted her out at the last second.  So basically we killed Lilith twice."

Definitely listening.

"That's crazy," Dean growled.

When Sam didn't answer, he said, "Right?  You'd know if you killed a demon or not.  You killed her."

"Lilith?"  Sam's voice sounded weird.

"No, the friggin' great pumpkin," Dean retorted.  "Of course Lilith."

"Yeah," Sam said.  "I mean, I think I did.  I meant to."

Dean snorted.

"Look, I was pretty messed up," Sam told him.  "It's just... like, flashes in my mind."

"Well, I killed a demon," Dean said.  "And I think I know Ruby when I see her."

"Yeah," Sam repeated, even though that was painfully untrue.  He'd never recognized Ruby without her or Sam telling him first.  She could have been Lilith when he killed her.  Or Lilith could have been her.  Whatever.

The point was, it was still Ruby's fault they'd started the apocalypse.

"So, did you kill her again?" Dean asked after a moment.


The fact that Sam sounded startled probably wasn't a good sign.  "Did you," Dean repeated, very slowly.  "Kill her.  Again."

"What, now?"  Sam's inability to keep up would have been hilarious at any other time.  "No."

"Why not," Dean gritted out.  He wasn't doing this again.

Sam was suddenly sharp, like he'd just noticed something.  "Why do you want me to kill her?"

"Because she's demon scum," Dean snapped.  "She betrayed you, Sammy.  And you betrayed me."

"If she's really Ruby," Sam said quietly, "then she didn't.  She didn't--"

Dean hung up.

He really wanted to destroy something right now.

He went back to Ellen's.  Or he tried to, because that dragon was still around and maybe he could sneak in and kill it when she wasn't looking.  He got held up on the way by a roving band of poltergeists, which didn't even make any sense, but lack of logic had never stopped their hunts before.

By the time he actually got there, Harvelle's was lit up like a Christmas tree.  Not the cool kind of tree, either, bright lights shining in the dark, but the really bad "I'm the center of all supernatural disturbance for the state and possibly the country" kind.  Ellen hadn't been kidding when she said the demon infestation was the least of her problems.

At least the dragon was on their side.  Dean tried not to look at it like he was assessing a kill strategy, which he was, because it turned out a helpful dragon was really... well, helpful.  With everything from possessed sheep and haunted cars to an actual false prophet, which Ellen had mistaken for a horseman of the apocalypse until Dean quoted Conquest, War, Famine, and Death at her.  Reminding her of Revelation ended up being a mistake, but the dragon almost made up for it.

There was something unspeakably cool about seeing wings used as weapons.

He didn't see Sam show up in the middle of the mess, but when he checked his phone he found a missed call that had probably been him leaving Jo's.  The default ring tone was none, which was so stupid Dean didn't even want to talk about it.  Worse than not noticing his brother was the fact that he did notice the redhead palling around with Jo, and it took him almost five seconds to figure out who she had to be.  Sam mostly ignored her--but he was ignoring Dean, too, and Dean figured that was smart.  He was planning to kill one of them before the day was over.

Castiel arrived at 7:01, just as the Roadhouse and probably a good part of the road itself was about to go up in flames.  Again.  He appeared in the middle of the driveway, which was in retrospect the most strategic location he could have picked, and he stopped it.  Everything.  Time, for all Dean knew.

The hunters ringing the building, the dragon swooping in from above, and the random passersby who turned out to be more interested in documenting freak experiences instead of running from them... all of them turned like magnets toward the trench coat and tie.  Castiel just tilted his head, watching the army of gremlins dissipate in his presence.  With one entirely predictable result.

Every weapon that had just been aimed at the gremlin army was now pointed as Castiel.  Except Dean's and Sam's.  As he watched, Tamara drew hers back too, but it didn't stop one of the hunters from yelling, "What are you doing here!"

Dean thought the whole "dispelling the forces of darkness" thing had been pretty obvious.  On the other hand, it didn't take long as a hunter before you gave up on "why?" and just started shooting.  So points for asking anything, really.

He was already shoving his way through the driveway crowd when Castiel replied, "I was invited."

Right.  To Bobby's.  Not that Dean was complaining or anything, and hey, if the people he was meeting didn't show somewhere he'd go looking for them too.  It was just that no one here was going to react well to an obviously supernatural visitor who made the lesser baddies run away--especially when, compared to him, they were all lesser baddies.

"What are you doing here?" Castiel added, and it wasn't like his attitude helped or anything.

"He's with us," Dean said loudly.  The walk across the driveway had never felt so long.  He had plenty of time to notice that no one else had lowered their weapons.  He had extra time to realize that his automatic use of "us" might not apply anymore, with Sam threatening to go dark side on him all over again.

On top of that, he had time to catch Castiel's eye, which normally he wouldn't even notice because that was just what Cas did: he stared.  He stared with holy dedication.  And this time, Dean forgot to look away.

It didn't seem to make any impression on Castiel.  So Dean held his gaze a second longer than he usually managed.  It didn't mean anything.  Except apparently his tolerance had been increasing, and "a second longer than usual" was now several very long and obvious seconds in front of people who did not need to know he was best friends with one of God's favorite sons.

Sam stepped up beside him.  He loomed pretty convincingly next to Cas, and no one except Dean looked for the skulking redhead back the way he'd come.  She was hiding halfway behind Jo, protected by charm and civilians and his own unwillingness to make a scene.  Not with Castiel right here in the middle of the closest thing Dean had to people.

Which Ellen demonstrated by tossing Castiel a cross and asking, "This the guy you were telling us about, Dean?"

"Yeah," he said, silently grateful she'd left out either "angel" or "boyfriend."  "This is Cas.  Cas, Ellen.  You can give her the cross back."

Castiel was studying the cross as though it had some hidden meaning other than "I can touch a cross without my skin burning," but he handed it over without comment.  He nodded to her when she said it was nice to meet him, but he didn't say anything until she asked, "Are you really a...?"

"Don't say it," Dean said.  Not because he thought she would, but because he knew Cas was going to.  The warning didn't do any good.

"I'm an angel of the lord," Castiel told her.

Dean sighed.  "You don't have to tell everyone," he muttered.  "Seriously, what do they teach you up there, anyway?  'Cause it's not how to be subtle."

"Um, hi," Jo's voice interrupted.  Tamara was closing ranks with them from the other side, and it was almost enough to hide the fact that Sam's shadow had slunk into their little group on Jo's heels.  "I'm--"

"You."  Castiel was looking where Dean was looking, and he was obviously seeing the redhead a lot more clearly.  "What are you doing here."  It wasn't a question.  Like he cared.  Dean wasn't gonna try to stop him if he felt like bringing some of heaven's wrath to this particular piece of hell on earth.

He wasn't sure how he felt about the fact that she looked at Sam before answering.  "I'm... watching?"

"Can we not do this here?" Sam interrupted.  He'd let her start, and Dean wasn't sure if he was trying to cut her off or stop them from replying.  "Thanks for the thing, Cas.  Hi, Dean.  Can I talk to you guys?"

"Yeah," Dean said.  "Sure.  How about right after we take out the trash?"

"Dean."  Sam gave him an irritated look.  "Could you listen to me?"

"Oh, I'm listening, Sammy.  I'm listening exactly the way I was when she slammed the door in my face and the world ended.  You'd think this time you could listen to me."

Sam reached out and grabbed the redhead's wrist.  She flinched away from the sudden movement, but she let him hold her hand up to Dean's face.  A binding spell was inked onto her palm.  "She's human," Sam said.  "Or close enough.  Okay?  She's less dangerous than I am right now."

"That," Castiel said, "is not reassuring."

Dean would have been more surprised if the redhead hadn't picked that moment to sneer at Cas.  "Thanks," she said.  "I appreciate your vastly inflated opinion of my capabilities."

Castiel's eyes narrowed.  "The only reason you still have a corporeal form is because you are standing behind Sam Winchester.  All he has to do is step six inches to his right."

She froze where she was, but she had the nerve to smirk at him.  "Oh, so it's Sam you're scared of?"

"Ruby," Sam snapped.  "Shut up."

"Okay," Ellen said.  She looked like she was thinking about throwing the cross at Ruby, which Dean wouldn't complain about at all.  He might suggest it himself, actually.  "So this is fun, but if no one is going to be smiting anyone in the next few minutes, we should get out of the dragon's way."

"No smiting," Sam said.  "We'll leave."

"You're not going anywhere," Dean said.  Sam was either threatening him or trying to calm him down, but Dean had the advantage here.  All he or Cas had to do was to announce what Ruby was and everyone in earshot would be on her in a second.  And Sam knew it.

"Then neither is she," Sam told him.

"Good," Dean shot back.  "I don't have to hunt something to kill it."

"Boys," Ellen said loudly.  She had to be loud, because the dragon was right there.  Trying to land, maybe.  It made a surprising amount of noise for something that wasn't currently breathing fire or rending stone with its talons.  "Take it inside."

Sam pushed Ruby away from Castiel, and Jo got in Dean's way before he could decide whether to mess her up or not.  "She's got binding symbols all over her," Jo said.  "Sam and I drew them.  Both of us," she added, in case he hadn't been listening.  "Everywhere.  No way she gets them all off without someone noticing."

"She's not human," he growled.  They were standing very close, talking in each other's ears while the dragon circled.  "You have no idea what she's capable of."

"Don't patronize me," she hissed back.  "Just because you're banging an angel doesn't mean you've seen it all."

She was too good a friend for him to deck without warning.  "You talk about him like that again and I'll knock you down so fast your head'll spin."

The wind from the dragon's approach was intense, massive gusts born of wings like sails as it backwinged frantically.  Dean caught Jo's arm as it forced him forward a couple of steps.  She flinched, probably more from the dragon than him, though he didn't think he'd imagined her surprise before she lifted her other hand to shield her eyes.  He wasn't used to talking about Cas with other people.

"Let's go," Dean shouted into her ear, both of them hunched over now as they tried to stumble toward the Roadhouse.  He was starting to get why Ellen had told them to clear the driveway.  Like he'd ever known what to do with a mother figure.

"What about--"  She tried to get a look over her shoulder, and he could only imagine what she'd stopped herself from saying.

Castiel was pacing them, totally unaffected by the wind.  His trench coat whipped around him like flapping wings, and his hair was tossed like a comic book character, but he stood straight and his steps were as even as ever.  The only sign he'd even noticed the disturbance was the way the glow at his back pressed in tight, close and fitted like there were feathers there that didn't want to be ruffled.

The glow.  The sky was long dark this late in the year, but the building lights burned white and hot.  Their glare overlapped with the orange blaze of streetlights, reinforcing their stand against the night.  It might as well be daytime where they stood--and Castiel still glowed.

Either he was getting brighter as the days went by, or Dean was getting crazier.

Sam was holding the door for them when they reached it.  Ruby was tucked in behind him, not touching, arms folded and her head low like maybe they wouldn't notice a demon traitor in human form.  "Whose body did you steal this time?" Dean asked, pushing Jo in the other direction as they squeezed past.

Being Jo, she pushed him right back.  "Cut it out," she said irritably.  "I promise not to insult your boy again, okay?  I didn't know you were so sensitive."

"He's not my boy," Dean snapped.  Glaring at Ruby, he added, "Well?"

She opened her eyes wide, but she didn't step out from behind Sam.  "He's not my boy either?"

"Ruby."  Sam sounded more exasperated than Jo.  "The attitude isn't helping."

"I'm trapped in this body with exactly nothing to defend myself," she retorted.  "The attitude is all I've got."

"That could change," Castiel said.  His tone was dark, even for him.  Dean couldn't help smirking.  He was really rooting for a smiting before this was all over.  Any time was fine with him.

"Okay, look."  Sam was spreading his "children, please" look around liberally.  "I have enough to worry about trying to keep her from killing anyone.  If I didn't also have to keep you from killing her, that would make my life easier."

"Life's tough, Sammy."  Dean wasn't feeling particularly sympathetic.  "And hey, look at it this way.  We kill her, you don't have to worry about her killing us."

"Win-win," Castiel muttered, and Dean grinned.  His sense of humor was improving.

"You know what?"  Sam held up his hands, glaring at them.  "I can't do this."

He stepped aside and Dean went for his gun.  He had the barrel up in Ruby's face before she could uncross her arms.  Well, not before she could.  He knew how she moved.  But before she did, anyway.  It might have been the way she cringed that kept him from pulling the trigger.

It could also have been Sam's disgusted expression, or the fact that Cas didn't beat him to it.

Like angels even knew what it was like to hate someone's guts, Dean thought.

The door swung open again, and two hunters shoved past without a second glance at the gun or the girl or any of it.  Like this was just another day.  Just one more in a long string of weird, apocalyptic days, where every time you woke up you were a little bit surprised.  That you were still here.  That there still was a here.

That an angel was standing face to face with a demon who had tricked them into opening a doorway to hell--an extensively locked and guarded doorway to hell--and the extent of his retribution so far was a disapproving frown.

"You gonna let me do this?" Dean asked him.

Castiel stared back at him as though surprised to be asked.  "Would you let me stop you?"

"Oh, for God's sake."  Jo reached out and plucked the gun out of Dean's hand, and she should really know better but this was Jo, so of course her wince was directed at Castiel instead of him.  "Uh, sorry--"

"Hey," she interrupted herself, and now she did narrow her eyes at Dean.  "Is that why you're not swearing?  I haven't heard a single word out of you; it's like you're not even talking.  Is it because of him?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Dean said.  He freed the gun from her grasp, not quite sure enough that she knew what she was doing to feel comfortable with her having it.  Aside from the fact that it was his gun.  "Are you trying to get yourself killed?"

"Get out of the doorway."  Ellen slammed it closed behind her and pushed right through their little group.  Ruby was the only one to step back, and Sam reached out to grab her arm.  Keeping her close by.  "Sit down, all of you," Ellen called over her shoulder.  "Or get to work.  Food for everyone who helps clean up."

"Where do you think I'm gonna go?" Ruby hissed at Sam.  "I called you."

"Don't ever take my gun again," Dean told Jo.

She gave his shoulder a push.  "Get the other end of that table.  Try not to shoot anyone who isn't actively threatening you.  And for the love of--for crying out loud," she said, "tell me what will get me struck by lightning before I do it, okay?"

"They're not big on lightning," Dean muttered, frowning in Ruby's direction as he grabbed the table she'd pointed at.  "Unless you're dreaming."

He didn't realize what he'd said until he glanced back at her.  She was raising her eyebrows at him, heaving the table upright without missing a beat.  "Unless you're dreaming," she repeated, and he just shook his head.

He really, really wasn't used to talking about Cas.

The chair beside him righted itself, and he glared at Castiel.  Jo jumped back, her hand going to her pocket--who knew what she had in there--but Castiel didn't seem to notice.  He just flipped up the next chair, and the next, in a neat line.  All without touching them.  His eyes flickered across Dean's as he looked toward the other side of the table, and he paused.

"Cas," Dean said.  He swept his gaze around the room as casually as he could, but everyone who'd come in to loosen or reset the hatches was as oblivious as the hunters who'd walked past the gun.  There were things that didn't register as weird anymore.  He sidled toward Castiel anyway, lowering his voice.  "I don't know if you noticed this, but you're surrounded by guys who hunt the supernatural."

Jo cleared her throat pointedly, which meant he wasn't talking quietly enough.

"And girls," Dean growled, trying to ignore her.  "People who hunt for a living, okay?  You're not gonna make any of them feel less like stabbing you by whipping out the telekinesis for no reason."

Castiel gave him a searching look.  "You wish me to act human."

"No," Dean said.  Because that was a lousy thing to say, right?  Except he did, because the whole situation was kind of lousy, and if they made it out of here without any more bloodshed it would be a freakin' miracle.  "Kind of.  At least... less angelic."

Castiel inclined his head, and the fact that he knew what Dean was talking about seemed weird.

"You are so telling me this story," Jo said from behind him.

Castiel looked at her, and Dean saw Jo's hair flash out of the corner of his eye.  A pretty blonde swirl of nervousness.  "I'm Jo Harvelle," she said, lifting her chin in the face of that stare.  "Nice to meet you."

"You hunted with Dean," Castiel said, and they both looked at him in surprise.

"Um, yeah."  Jo glanced over at Dean, but he was torn between keeping tabs on Ruby and giving Castiel a "you're a creepy stalker" look.  "He told you that, huh?"

"No," Castiel said.  Then he added, "She is bound.  Temporarily."

Dean looked over and found Castiel watching Ruby help Sam heave debris off the counter.  Not the safest thing she could be doing, but nothing would be.  "She's a manipulative freak of nature," Dean muttered, "and I really want her dead."

"Do you?" Castiel asked.

"Yes!" Dean snapped.  "What kind of a question is that?"

"You didn't shoot her," Castiel pointed out.

"She'd just take someone else," Dean grumbled.  "That poor girl she's riding doesn't deserve this."

"You didn't have a problem working with her last host," Castiel observed.

"Oh, I had a problem," Dean said.  "I had a whole lot of problems."

"Her name was Stacy," Jo offered.  "Ruby said she found her in a hospital?  She said her soul was already gone?"

Dean didn't take his eyes off of the redhead hefting furniture like it was nothing.  "Yeah, that's what she said last time.  These coma patients of hers are in good shape for people who were bedridden and brain dead."

"She's telling the truth," Castiel said.

Dean glared at him reflexively for putting her and "truth" in the same sentence.  Castiel actually seemed to get it, because he shifted uncomfortably.  Without moving.  It occurred to Dean all of a sudden that he had seen something that wasn't really there: a shrug that hadn't touched the human vessel while the glow around Castiel rose and fell like breathing.

"Did you just--"  He broke off just before he would have said it.  Before he would have reminded everyone in hearing distance exactly what Castiel was, and possibly revealed too much about himself at the same time.

Because he was pretty sure Cas had just resettled his wings.

"What?" Castiel asked.

"No, I think that's my line," Dean said.  "What about any demon is the truth other than the way they lie?"

Castiel tilted his head, but he must have decided to go with the practical answer instead of a philosophical argument because all he said was, "She is the only awareness inside that body.  The soul has gone."

"Yeah?"  Dean stared at him, distracted and not really sure he wanted to know.  "What about you?"

Castiel just looked at him, convincingly confused if he was anything at all.

"You told Tamara you chose--"  He waved a hand in Castiel's direction.  "To look like that.  After the thing with the--"  The thing with the archangels, he wanted to say, but that wasn't as descriptive as it used to be.  "After you came back," he said.

"I did," Castiel agreed.

"You chose to look like Jimmy," Dean said.

"James Novak was a loyal servant of God," Castiel said.  "He has been rewarded."

"But he's not--"  Dean eyed him, like he could somehow tell by looking.  "He's not in there.  With you.  Anymore."

"No," Castiel said.  "I wear this visage out of... respect, I suppose."

"And because we're used to it," Dean said.

Castiel's eyes flicked to Jo.  "Yes," he agreed.  Dean didn't know why that was hard, since he'd already said it once.  "As most humans can not look upon our true forms," Castiel added, probably for Jo's benefit, "we must assume more human markers of recognition when we move among you."

"I'd recognize you," Dean said without thinking.

Castiel looked at him for a long moment.  "Perhaps," he said.

"Seriously," Jo said, nudging Dean with her shoulder.  "You're telling me this story."

Castiel just glanced at her, and she took a step back.  From Dean.

Dean rolled his eyes.  "He's not my boyfriend, so just get that out of your head right now," he told her.  "And trust me, statistically speaking, he's way more likely to hurt me than you."

Castiel tilted his head, but his puzzled expression wasn't fooling anyone.  "What statistics are you referring to?"

"I don't want to talk about it," Dean told him.  "Sorry, by the way.  It looks like dinner's gonna be a little late."

"I don't need to eat, Dean."  Castiel didn't look distracted in the slightest.

"Well, feel free to help clean up."  Dean waved around the Roadhouse, but his eyes settled on Sam.  "I'm gonna go beat my head against a brick wall."

Castiel didn't ask him why he'd want to do that.  He also didn't disappear.  He was helping Jo clear glass and shattered lightbulbs when Dean got tired of yelling at Sam, which took about a minute and a half.  Not for Dean to get tired of it, actually, but for Sam to start yelling back, at which point Ellen threw a table leg over the bar at them and threatened to kick them out.

Ruby managed to stay out of it, which Dean would have given her points for if she hadn't started at negative a million for screwing them over in the first place.  She continued to help clean up, and Ellen continued to not ask who she was--Dean didn't know if Jo had told her or not, but he figured Ellen knew binding symbols when she saw them.  He wasn't even sure Jo knew who she was, if it came to that.  How much would Ruby have had to say to get Jo to make that call?

Probably not much, he thought grimly.  Jo was working side by side with Castiel like he was just another guy, like he couldn't kill her just by flicking his fingers at her funny.  Like he wasn't a freakin' alien with superpowers and a really underdeveloped sense of morality.  Too bad angels seemed to be born without the Sunday School basics.

Ruby eventually found a pair of work gloves, and the only reason Dean didn't yank them off her hands himself was because he was resigned to her living at least a little longer and he didn't want to deal with the explanations.  The way she kept looking at Sam before she spoke to anyone else was bad enough.  Dean finally had to stop glaring at him to keep from looking like he was copying a demon.

"Stew's on!" Ellen yelled, some time later.  She was directing minions up and down the bar.  Dean had tried to be one of them, but she'd seen through his offer and banished him to ward duty.  "Food's free tonight, donations welcome," she called as she pushed another tureen onto the counter and guided one of her servers into position.  "No seconds until everyone's eaten."

What followed was easily the weirdest dinner Dean had ever had.  Not because of the food, which was awesome, or the messed up building: Ellen was like magic in the middle of chaos, and just sitting down at a table was a luxury these days.  It was the company that was screwed up.  Dean didn't know what he'd been thinking, asking Castiel to eat with them, except that he couldn't quite make the memory of him drinking beer go away.

He was pretty sure he knew what Sam had been thinking to invite Ruby.  Being less mysterious didn't make it less creepy, though, and the fact that Sam wasn't looking at her didn't help.  It just made it more obvious that he didn't have to.  Sam moved when she did, he passed her things she didn't ask for aloud, and at one point he moved her glass out of the way just before she waved a hand that would have knocked it over.

Dean exchanged glances with Castiel and found him looking just as dark as Dean felt.  Even through his now ever-present glow.  Sam was obviously picking something up, some psychic vibes or maybe some inhuman awareness of a demon presence.  Whatever it was, it couldn't be good.

"Okay," Jo said, putting her fork down as she looked back and forth between them.  Between him and Cas, like they were the problem here.  "Story now, please.  How did you end up with a guardian angel, Dean?"

That was as polite as she'd been all night, and it made him want to chuck something at her to get her to act normal.  "You ever meet a guardian angel," he said around a mouthful of food, "you tell 'em to mind their own business.  'Cause whatever they want with you, I guarantee it's not kittens and roses."

Ruby snorted at that, but she held up her hands in surrender when Dean glared at her.  As a matter of principle, not because he actually disagreed.  Angels were sneaky bastards.

"Only you could tick off an angel," Jo said, darting another curious look at Castiel.

Dean raised his beer in a mock-toast.  "When I'm lucky," he agreed, taking a long swallow.  Ticking off angels was pretty much his permanent state of being lately.  No matter what he was doing, the fact that he wasn't doing something else was enough to drive them up the wall.

Some days it was good to be him.

"You'd be surprised," Sam said, interrupting his self-congratulatory drink.  "Dean's got a gift, I'll give you that.  But as far as I can tell, angels aren't exactly paragons of patience."  It was his turn to lift his beer, and he did it in Castiel's direction.  "No offense."

When Dean snuck a sideways glance at him, Castiel just looked confused.

"Cas isn't my guardian angel," Dean said, taking pity on him.  Or maybe on himself.  "Trust me, I got a whole lecture on how he doesn't perch.  How the armies of heaven have better things to do than follow me around.  He just checks in once and a while to see if we're still alive."

"Sounds like a guardian to me," Ruby said under her breath.  She'd stopped waiting for Sam's approval before she spoke--possibly because he'd barely acknowledged her since they sat down--and she was going to get a fist in her face if she wasn't careful.

"Did you meet him while you were..."  Jo was ignoring Ruby, which Dean thought was a good move, but she didn't seem to know how to finish that sentence.  "You know.  Dead?"

"No," Dean said shortly.

At the same time, Castiel said, "Yes."

"No," Dean repeated, frowning at him.  "I met you in the barn."

"Yes," Castiel said.  "You met my vessel in the barn.  You met me significantly before that."

Dean rolled his eyes.  "Dude, salting the gas station doesn't count.  No time when I'm on the floor with my hands over my ears and glass flying through the air counts."

"Yeah."  For a moment, Sam sounded relaxed enough to be amused.  "Sorry I missed that."

"I met you before the gas station," Castiel said.

Dean stared at him and just for a second, the image of Jimmy Novak was gone and something that burned bright and cold hovered at the table instead.  Something that hurt to look at.  Dean squeezed his eyes shut and turned his head away, trying to forget memories he didn't deserve.  "No," he said roughly.  "He busted me out.  We met when Bobby's summoning spell yanked him back to the barn."

"You threw him out of heaven?" Jo demanded, looking at Castiel without so much as flinching.  "What kind of an angel are you?"

Dean risked another look, but it was just Castiel sitting there like he really was eating the stew and might have taken a drink while no one was looking.  He looked like he was considering the question.  When he finally did, Dean felt stupid for not having been able to guess what he would come up with.

"A disobedient one," Castiel said at last.

"He didn't break me out of heaven," Dean blurted out.  "I wasn't in heaven, okay?  And you weren't disobedient then," he said.  He still couldn't hold the gaze of an angel he'd pulled down to earth with him.

"She didn't ask what kind of angel I was," Castiel pointed out.  "She asked what kind of angel I am."

Everyone heard Ruby say under her breath, "Middling."  When she looked up and found them all staring at her, she added, "Sort of average.  Hammer of God, all that stuff.  You can't be disobedient, is all I'm saying.  You'd have fallen."

"Everything is falling these days," Castiel said quietly.  "Everything... and everyone."

She scoffed, sweeping the table with her eyes.  It was a look that began and ended with Sam, as most of them seemed to.  Whatever she saw there was enough to make her keep her mouth shut, though, so Dean was going to count that as a win.

Jo wasn't so tactful.  "So you're, um--are you a fallen angel, then?"

"So I am considered by my brothers and sisters," Castiel told his plate.

"But you can still do--"  Jo must have felt Dean's glare, because she hesitated and her voice rose in a rushed question.  "Angel things?"

"Some of them," Castiel agreed.  He didn't look up.

"They have this grace," Dean interrupted.  "They're like My Little Ponies; they keep their special powers in their stomaches or something."

Sam gave him a disgusted look from across the table.  "That's Care Bears, dude."

"Whatever," Dean said.  Castiel looked like he wanted to disagree but didn't know where to start, and that was something.  "The point is, no grace, no power.  And as long as they have grace, they have power.  Some of it.  You get it?"

Jo didn't look like she got it at all.  "Not really," she said.  "But I'm guessing what you mean is, fallen angels aren't automatically human.  Or at least--"  She waved at Castiel, but she didn't manage to finish the sentence.  "Which is weird, since I thought I read that somewhere."

"Genesis," Dean said.  "The Watchers fell.  Their children were half human and half angel."

"Wow, Mom said you were quoting Revelation," Jo said.  "Not Genesis.  What'd you do, read the whole Bible?"

Dean had already heard it from Ellen.  He was pretty sure Jo couldn't mock him any more thoroughly than she had.  What he hadn't expected was the startled look Castiel was giving him.  "You read the Bible?" he asked.

"You told me to," Dean said defensively.  "So?  What's the big deal?"

"I read your gospel," Castiel said, like that was an answer.  Or anything he wanted Jo to hear about, ever.  "It must have taken you rather longer to read mine."

His... oh.  Castiel would consider the Bible family history, despite his less than starring role.  On the other hand, it probably told a guy as much about him as Chuck's books would tell that same guy about Dean and Sam.  Maybe more.  Considering that Chuck's books were alarmingly factual but deeply messed up in every other way.

"Yeah, well."  Not like every motel room didn't have a copy.  "Yours is relevant."

"You have a gospel?"  Jo sounded like she was in between skeptical and laughing.

"No," Dean said.

Of course Castiel said, "Yes."

Oh, they weren't doing this again.  "No," Dean insisted.  "No grace, no angel.  Cas still has his, so he keeps the magical--"  Dean waved his hand freely.  "Stuff.  They have to give up their grace to pass as human."

"Rarely do we do more than pass," Castiel murmured.

"No kidding," Dean said, rolling his eyes.  "I mean, if this is the best you can do, it's no wonder."

Sam smirked, and if it was the first time he'd smiled since sitting down, well, it wasn't like Dean was counting.

"Anael did," Castiel said.

"And the fact that you still can't call her 'Anna' is why you don't," Dean told him.  "Besides, she grew up human."

"She did not 'grow up' at all," Castiel said.  "She was designed, like the rest of us.  Altering her outward form did not change her basic nature.  Even without her grace, she was never human."

"She felt pretty human to me," Dean said, lifting his beer.  He paused just before he would have had a drink, surprised by Castiel's expression over the top of the bottle.  "What?"

"We are different," Castiel said.  "You and I.  Humans and angels.  We are fundamentally dissimilar.  Just because you knew Anna Milton does not mean you have any understanding of Anael."

Dean shrugged, because he'd learned not to argue with angels about sex.  "Whatever you say."

"You know nothing of her true nature," Castiel insisted.  He looked pissed.  It was something in the way he spoke and the way he stared, tiny differences from his more typically curious or resignedly tolerant expression.  It wasn't regret.  It wasn't confusion.

It was anger.

"I know what I need to know," Dean told him.  "I know she learned something as a human.  I know that being allowed to grow up taught her to think for herself.  Any choices she made after that were hers."

"Any choices she made as a human were uninformed," Castiel said.  "Until she recovered her grace, she did not truly know what she was."

"Oh, she knew," Dean said.  "She remembered.  She could hear you guys talking, you know."

"Of course she could."  Castiel looked like he thought that was a stupid thing to say.  "To be one of the angelic host is to hear the voice of God echoing in his children's words."

"Wait, you can all hear each other?"  Dean eyed him, because Cas was hard to understand on a good day.  It was always hard to know when he was speaking literally and when he was just trying to confuse them.  "Can you hear what the other angels are saying?  Right now?"

Castiel stared back at him.  "How do you think we manage to avoid each other?"

"It's a... big planet?" Dean offered.

"It's a very small planet," Castiel said.  "You're lucky Anael didn't speak to you."

Dean blinked, glancing over at Sam for help.  He got a wide-eyed shrug in return.  Sam always seemed horribly fascinated by their arguments, and right now he was looking like he thought Dean might as well stick a fork in an electric outlet and get it over with.  Beside him, Ruby was eating with a studied concentration that involved not looking up from her plate.  At all.

"She spoke to us," Dean said at last.  Because how could Castiel not know that?  "When they yanked you back to heaven, she came to yell at us for screwing up."

If Castiel was surprised, he didn't show it.  "She spoke to you in her human form," he said.  "Apparently she thought you... liked it."

"Oh, I liked it," Dean put in.  "I liked it a lot."

Castiel glared at him.  "That isn't what she really looks like, Dean.  That wasn't her real voice, and she didn't really speak to you.  If she had, we would have heard it."

He'd had a lot of practice with the angel poker face.  "Kinky," Dean said.

Castiel put his elbows on the table and leaned forward, the glow rippling over his shoulders.  "This isn't a joke, Dean.  If anyone other than Uriel had seen what she was to you, they would be hunting her as they hunted me.  I have some measure of protection at the moment.  She does not."

"Uriel," Dean repeated.  "What does he have to do with anything?  I thought he was dead."

"Anael killed him.  He could still have told someone."  Castiel looked like this was a matter of military strategy instead of a little angel gossip that Dean couldn't care less about.

"Told them what?" he demanded, reaching for his beer again.  "That Anna and I got it on in the backseat?  Who cares?  I'm telling you, you guys need to start watching soaps or something.  This level of fascination with humans is not healthy."

"That you--"  Castiel glanced around the table, acknowledging their audience for the first time.  "Care about her," he finished, lowering his voice like it would make a difference.  "She is fallen, and she is alone.  It's hard to find an archangel who doesn't want to be found, but it's not impossible."

"So let's find her," Dean said.  "Maybe we can hook up, join forces.  I'll take an archangel against the apocalypse instead of for it any day."

"You put her in danger," Castiel said, very slowly.  Like there was something Dean wasn't getting, and Castiel was this close to giving up on him.  And that was the part that Dean couldn't take.

"Look, we're all in danger these days," he said.  "I don't know if you've noticed, but this is armageddon.  This is the end of the world.  No one is safe, no one gets to curl up and say, 'Hey, I don't feel like doing this today.  I think I'll just hide under the covers and let the phone ring.'  You get up.  You answer the phone.  And when someone asks for your help, you do your part because maybe your part can keep them alive another day.

"Maybe it can't," he added.  "I don't know.  No one does.  But you do it because not doing it is worse.  So I say we give Anna a call and let her decide for herself."

Castiel didn't look frustrated anymore.  He just looked resigned, and Dean was left with the uncomfortable feeling that he had no idea why.  "You can't let her speak to you," Castiel said.  "Not in her real voice.  They'll know."

Dean rolled his eyes.  "I don't think she's gonna go around being all chatty in her angelic form.  It's kind of destructive, and it's not like any of us can understand it anyway.  Except you."

"I spoke to you," Castiel said.  "Even after I knew how dangerous it was, I spoke.  It was my mistake, and it's not one we can allow her to make."

"You're different," Dean said, frowning.  He was missing something here.  Something bigger than usual, and that was saying something.  "Wait, am I putting you in danger?  Is that what you're talking about?"

Castiel looked at him like he was stupid.  "You could hardly put me in more danger than I'm already in," he said.

Which wasn't an answer.  "Then why are we talking about this?" he demanded.  "What do you want me to do?"

"You asked me to act human," Castiel said, a strange look on his face.

"Oh, you think that means you should be weirder?"  Dean shook his head, throwing his napkin down on the table beside his plate.  Actual napkins.  Ellen was amazing.  "I give up, okay?  Be angelic.  At least your normal level of mystery is less annoying."

"Um, Dean?"  Jo sounded more timid than he'd ever heard her.  Great, he thought, Castiel's weirdness was catching.  "You know how you said you weren't..."

She trailed off when he looked at her.  "Um, never mind," she said.  Only when he shook his head did he realize Castiel had followed his gaze.  Castiel was staring at Jo like he could see right through her, and that was enough to make anyone stop talking.

"Cas," Dean said.  "The stare.  It creeps people out."

"No, it's okay," Jo said.  But she was looking at her food, and she didn't lift her head until he looked away.

"Dean," Castiel said.  "Make up your mind.  Angel or human.  You can't have it both ways."

Dean gaped at him.  "What's that supposed to mean?" he demanded.

"Oh, this is pathetic!"  Ruby's outburst kept Castiel from replying.  "Seriously, have you been putting up with this since--when?  Since he fell?  When did he stop being the perfect soldier?  And how have you not locked them in a closet somewhere?"

"Ruby," Sam hissed.  "Shut up."

"No," she said.  "I can't even believe I'm listening to this.  Dean, I'm going to do you a favor and let you in on a little secret--"

"I don't want any favors from you," Dean snarled, shoving his chair back as he stood up.  "The grownups are trying to have a conversation here, so if you can't keep your mouth shut for five seconds--"

"Your angel wants you to like him better than your lover!" Ruby exclaimed.  "You have the worst case of denial this side of heaven if you think you can put them both on the same side, point them toward hell, and expect something good to happen.  Angels have killed each other over less!"

She had a huge attitude, but the body was tiny and fragile and he felt no satisfaction when it crumpled to the ground.  Sam's chair fell as he leapt up, getting in Dean's way and taking the next swing himself.  It felt a lot better to hit Sam, solid and immovable as he was.  It hurt to hit Sam.  It hurt to want to hit Sam, to see him standing between Dean and Ruby yet again, torn between holding one and helping the other.

"Take the brawling outside!" Ellen shouted from the direction of the bar.  "We just got this place cleaned up!"

"Sam."  Ruby's new voice was a gasp, and Dean turned away before Sam could.  He slapped some money down on the table, grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair, and headed for the door.  He couldn't take this anymore.

It wasn't until he got outside and saw the guys working in the shadows that he thought maybe it had been more than the blow.  Ellen's wards had been cracked wide open, and they were still being replaced.  Probably hadn't been the best idea to bring Ruby inside.

Like she didn't deserve it, he reminded himself.

"Dean."  Castiel hadn't followed him, not walking.  He'd just vanished inside and reappeared outside.  Dean hadn't seen it, but he could tell.  Even angels weren't that quiet.

"What," Dean said.  He didn't turn around.  He could stand here the rest of the night for all he cared.  Sam still had the keys, and he didn't have anywhere else to go.  Without his brother, he was just one more soldier waiting to be crushed by the rain of locusts, so he might as well get it over with.

Castiel was quiet for a long moment, not even breathing, and Dean might have thought he'd gone if he didn't know otherwise.  He could feel Cas standing behind him, cold and bright and inhuman.  It seemed wrong that the only light on the ground was thrown down by the massive outdoor work lights of the Roadhouse.

"Sam is stronger now," Castiel said quietly.  "He has you.  He's loyal to you."

Dean let out his breath in a huff that definitely wasn't laughter.  "He had me before," he said.  "Lot of good it did him."

"He didn't believe in you," Castiel murmured.  "Now he does.  You may find he's not as willing to let you go as you seem to think."

 Dean turned around.  Castiel hadn't been watching him, but his gaze returned from the horizon as soon as Dean moved.  By the time Dean was looking at him, Castiel was looking back.  "What about you?" Dean asked.  "Who are you loyal to, Cas?"

The question didn't seem to ruffle his feathers at all.  "Anael told me it was time to make my own decisions," he said calmly.  "I am endeavoring to follow her advice."

"But that's not what you do, is it."  Dean really didn't want to talk about Anna any more.  "You said we're different.  You say you're designed; how do you even know how to make a decision?"

Castiel gave him an odd look.  "Do you not believe me capable of following my own agenda?"

"What I believe--"  Dean broke off, trying not to think about Cas with a beard and a bottle and a vacant expression on his face.  "Look, you've been awfully helpful lately.  And I appreciate it, don't get me wrong.  But you said I don't owe you anything, right?"

There was no answer, and he prompted, "Cas?"

"No," Castiel said.

"Well, you don't owe me anything either," Dean told him.  "And, hey, I hope you know how hard that is to say, because those dicks in heaven owe me big.  You guys yanked us around, me and Sam and practically everyone we ever talked to, for no reason except you got bored without Daddy's constant attention.  Your whole family owes mine big time."

He took a deep breath, because when he stopped to think about it he really hated angels.  Like, a lot.

"But you," he said, more calmly.  Or at least faking it better.  "You, Cas.  You don't owe me anything.  You get that?  We're even, fair and square.  You could walk away right now.  No harm, no foul."

Castiel tilted his head, reflecting that fake calm right back at him.  "Are you asking me to leave?"

"No!" Dean exclaimed.  "No, I--we'll keep you.  Trust me, you're welcome here any time.  I'm just saying--"

What was he saying?  He'd keep Cas?  He'd tried that, right?  He'd seen what would happen if Castiel kept hanging out with him, if he learned what it was like to be human... if he gave up on God.  It was a god Dean had never had reason to believe in, but somehow, without him noticing, it had become strangely important to him that Cas did.

"I'm just saying," he repeated, "that I don't ever want you to choose between us and... and God, all right?"

Castiel blinked at him.  "Why would I do that?  You're the one who made me realize I didn't have to.  That it isn't God's word that's coming down the celestial chain of command these days.  Without you, I'd still be following corrupted orders."

"We're not God's word either," Dean said.  "You know that, right?"

The look Castiel gave him made his skin heat up, which was stupidly embarrassing, because he didn't blush.

"Yes, Dean," Castiel said, patiently but with an unmistakable hint of amusement.  "I'm aware."

"Okay," Dean muttered.  "Just checking."

It wasn't really the future, Cas said.  Just something his brain made up.  Just some kind of nightmare, the stuff he worried about when he ran out of things to distract himself.  He wanted to believe that.

"I was designed to obey," Castiel said quietly.  "I don't pretend to be comfortable in a world without God.  But I do not follow every false prophet out of a desire for relief."

"Okay," Dean repeated.  "Well.  Good."  Then he frowned, because really?  "Did you just compare me to a false prophet?"

That made Castiel's expression lighten: almost smiling, and that was as good as it got.  "You are very charismatic, Dean."

"Was that a yes?" Dean prodded.

Castiel gave him a curiously bland look.  "Does it matter?"

"No," Dean admitted.  "You still can't give a straight answer, can you."

"Sam's coming."  Castiel didn't look away, and it was that lack of illogical human habit--looking in the direction someone would be coming from even when they weren't in sight--that was the most jarring.  "He took Ruby out the back when the wards got too strong."

"She makes a handy canary," Dean muttered.

Castiel frowned.  "Only if the things that affect her are also things that affect us," he said.

"Guinea pig," Dean said.  "Whatever."

Castiel inclined his head.  "That would seem to be appropriate."

"Brushing up on your human slang?" Dean asked, amused in spite of himself.

"I find immersion to be an effective tool in familiarizing myself with your method of communication," Castiel said.

"My method?" Dean repeated.  "You mean the more you talk to me the more you know what I mean?"

Castiel almost smiled again.  "It seems that it works both ways."

He didn't know what to say to that, and he probably could have stood there watching Cas until Sam appeared.  He'd done it before.  But Sam always gave him a weird look for it, and if they were understanding each other right now then he had another question.  "What do people who can see you... see?" Dean asked.

Castiel didn't look like he was understanding anymore.  "Me," he said.

"Right, yeah," Dean agreed.  "But what do you look like?"

Castiel considered that.  "I look like an angel," he said at last.  When Dean rolled his eyes, he added, "Our father created you in his image.  He did the same with us, of course, but we were first."

"What does that mean?" Dean wanted to know.  "You look like us?"

"God was younger when he created us," Castiel said simply.

Dean glared at him.  "What does that mean," he repeated.

"It means we look like a younger God," Castiel said, like it was obvious.

"You look like a kid?"  Dean was trying to picture it.  He couldn't figure out what it had to do with the glow that surrounded Castiel.  And Anna the time she'd come to tell them what had happened to him.  He didn't see it around Zachariah, or Raphael.  Not around Gabriel either, but he was undercover, so maybe he'd gotten better at hiding it.

"The cherubim would be childlike to your eyes," Castiel said.  "The seraphim are... different.  More powerful than humans, but less substantial.  I think you'd find them less... distinct.  Androgenous."

"Them?"  Dean wasn't sure what to make of that.  "What about you?  What do you look like?"

"Oh my god," Ruby's voice complained.  As soon as she spoke, Dean could separate the footsteps that belonged to her and Sam from the work noise still going on around the Roadhouse.  "They're having phone sex without the phones.  Take me back inside; it was less painful in there."

"I will," Sam warned.  "I totally will, so shut up."

"I could kill her," Dean said grimly.  "That would solve a lot of problems."

She must not be completely confident of Sam's goodwill--or she just wasn't sure he could hold Dean off--because she limited herself to making a face and folding her arms over her chest.  Very mature.  On the other hand, he was the one trying to get an angel of God to describe what he looked like.  It hadn't seemed as weird when they didn't have an audience.

"Ellen says she's got rooms for us," Sam said, ignoring Dean's generous offer.  "But Ruby's not going to be able to get through the doors of the Roadhouse much longer, let alone sleep inside."

Dean eyed her skeptically.  "Who says she gets to sleep?"

"I need to sleep," Sam said.  "And I'm not letting her out of my sight, so.  Jo and I are gonna take turns.  Jo's letting us use her room at Ellen's."

Dean snorted.  "You're not sharing guard duty with Jo Harvelle.  In her mom's house, dude?  That's just wrong."

"You have a better suggestion?"  Sam stared at him.  Challenging.  Daring him to offer.

Castiel had just told him that he might make the difference.  That Sam had him, now, in a way he hadn't last time Ruby was around.  If that was true... if there was any chance at all that it was true, Dean couldn't throw it away.

"I'll switch off with you," Dean said gruffly.

"Yeah," Ruby said.  "I'll scream when you try to kill me; you'll wake Sam."

"I won't kill you," Dean snapped.  Then he added, "Without good reason.  Without another good reason, anyway.  Probably."

"Jo'll be out in a minute," Sam told him.  "She's coming anyway, she might as well help."

"Look, no offense to her," Dean said.  "But she's the one who let Ruby walk out of the trap in the first place.  I don't think--"

"I let her out," Sam interrupted.  "Okay?  We marked her up, and I let her out."

Dean looked at Castiel, and it was weird to see him still standing there but somehow exactly what he expected.  "Whatever," he said, when Cas just looked back at him.  "You're a soft touch, Sammy."

"He says, staring into his boyfriend's eyes," Ruby muttered.  "Your family is messed up, Sam."

"Funny, coming from you," Sam retorted.  "If I remember, your family burned you at the stake."

"I'm still not letting Jo watch her," Dean said.  Unfortunately, since he refused to look in Ruby's direction, the comment was mostly directed at Cas.

"I will assist Jo," Castiel said.  "If you change your mind."

It took Dean a second to process that.  Which was a second longer than Ruby needed to come up with another stupid remark.  "Wow, he stays the night," she said.  "You should have told me, Sam.  An angel living in sin just makes my day."

"Okay," Sam said, giving Castiel a nervous look.  "He's still an angel, if you didn't get that.  You think Dean's gonna kill you?  Cas doesn't even need a knife."

Dean tried to ignore the fact that his own brother had just implied he was less scary than an angel.  Which might be fair--he was working on it, because no one liked to be owned by a bunch of douchebags--but it still sounded stupid when someone said it out loud.  It was almost enough to distract him from the fact that Castiel had just offered to split a night watch with them.  He'd never done that.  He'd never shown any sign that he'd even considered it.

"You're gonna stay," Dean said, eyeing him.

Castiel looked back at him.  "I am capable of keeping a demon from freeing herself and injuring those around her."

"You hate demons," Dean said.

"I am hardly alone in that," Castiel said dryly.

"Yeah, but."  Dean gestured at Sam.  "He's my brother.  I'm kind of obligated."

The door to the Roadhouse opened, and Jo was walking toward them with what looked like more food.  That was one part of the plan he approved of, anyway.  The only part.  Except maybe the part where Cas was going to hang around.  Dean didn't know what to make of that, so he figured it was better not to think about it.

"Hey," Jo said, looking over their little group.  "We ready to go?"

"Keys," Dean told Sam.  Sam handed them over without protest, and Dean added, "You're in the back."

Sam looked confused.  "Wait, what?"

"I'm not making Cas ride with a demon," Dean told him.  Glancing at Castiel, it occurred to him to ask, "You are riding with us, right?  Because if you're just going to show up in the car anyway, you might as well save us all a crash and get in like a normal person."

All Castiel said was, "Yes."

Since it answered the question, Dean didn't complain.  "Fine.  Cas has shotgun.  Let's go."

Sam and Jo bracketed Ruby in the back.  Dean caught her eye in the rearview as they pulled out, and he snapped his fingers at Cas the second she opened her mouth.  Castiel followed where he was pointing and picked a tape apparently at random.  Dean shoved it into the tape deck and turned it up, drowning out anything any of them might have to say.

Ellen's place was dark when they got there.  He hadn't forgotten the burning woman and the psychic baby, but if they were still there it didn't look like they were gonna be any trouble.  Jo let them in, dropped the food in the kitchen, and found Ruby clothes that hadn't been on a gremlin-fighting spree.  

"You sure you want to do this?" Sam muttered, crammed into the bathroom with him while Jo and Ruby were changing down the hall.  "Me and Jo can get it.  You could crash on the couch."

Dean snorted.  "Believe me, I'm going to.  I'm not sleeping in a room with her."

"We can get it," Sam repeated.

"For how long?" Dean demanded.  "Say we get through a night and no one dies.  She's still here in the morning.  What happens tomorrow?  We gonna do this all again tomorrow night?  How long are you gonna keep a pet demon on a flimsy leash, Sam?"

"She'll go," Sam said under his breath.  "She'll go if I tell her to, okay?  I just need to..."

He trailed off, and Dean pressed his advantage.  "Need to what?  You don't need anything from her, Sam.  She's a demon."

"Yeah, well, maybe I know how that feels," Sam said.  "She used to be human, okay?  She's actually got that over me, since it turns out I never was.  Not totally."

"You're not a demon," Dean snapped.

"Neither are you," Sam said.  "Doesn't stop you from looking for absolution.  For answers.  Don't you want to know what happened in that convent?"

"I know what happened," Dean said.  "Lucifer got free.  What else do we need to know?"

"We need to know why it happened," Sam said.  "I need to know why it happened."

"You broke the seal," Dean told him.  "This is a stupid conversation."

"Lilith sacrificed herself," Sam said.  "I'm not so sure Ruby saw it coming."

"What does she have to do, eat a live kitten in front of you?"  Dean scowled at him in the mirror.  "What if she kills Jo?  You have an excuse all ready for that, too?  What if she kills Jo, and Ellen, and maybe the neighbor's kid too, because hey, why not?  It's good to be back."

"She wouldn't do that!" Sam exclaimed.  "This isn't about killing anyone, okay?  It's about the truth."

Dean scoffed, snatching up the towel from the side of the sink.  "You're not getting that from a demon."

"Well, you haven't had a lot of luck getting it from angels," Sam told him.  "You want to talk killing?  Let's stack up Cas' kills against Ruby's and see who comes out on top."

Dean froze, staring at the mirror.  "That's different," he said.

Sam snorted.  "Yeah," he said, throwing his towel back over the bar.  "I'm sure it is."  He walked out of the bathroom without another word.

Dean followed him a few minutes later.  He found Castiel standing in the hallway, watching an open door.  Their eyes met, and Jo's head popped out of the doorway like it had been a signal.  "Hi," she called softly.  "I'll stay up 'til two-thirty.  Sam's got two-thirty to five.  You okay getting up early?"

"No," Dean said.  "I don't do early.  Go to bed, Jo.  I got the first watch."

"Um."  Jo glanced over her shoulder.  "They're still, uh... talking?"

Dean groaned.  "I don't want to know," he said.  Raising his voice, he added, "Sam, I'm in the living room.  Yell when you're going to sleep."

"Whatever, jerk," Sam's voice replied.  He didn't sound like he was making out with his former demon lover.  Maybe the new body threw him off.

"'Night, baby," Dean called, turning away.  "Where are you gonna be, Jo?" he asked over his shoulder.

"Mom's room," he heard her answer.  "There's sheets on the couch.  Help yourself to food or internet or whatever."

Yeah.  He would.  When he found himself alone in the living room, though, he frowned back down the hall.  "You coming?" he asked Cas.

With a last look at Jo's open door--now Sam's and Ruby's open door, which Dean was not in any way comfortable with--Castiel joined him without a word.  "You don't have to stay," Dean said under his breath.  No reason to let Ruby know there might be fewer of them.  "Jo's not on until five.  Me and Sam got it until then."

"Yes," Castiel said, not moving.

Dean studied him, but nothing changed.  "No wings," he said at last.  Because if they weren't going to talk about it, they were going to talk about something else.  "How come I can't see your wings?"

It was the opposite of what he wanted to ask, but it had the desired effect.

Castiel tilted his head and inquired, "Can you usually see my wings?"

Dean paused.  It had been an impulse, but this, now... this was important.  If he admitted this, it changed everything.

"Yeah," he said.  "Lately.  The last few months."

Castiel blinked.

Then he shrugged, and Dean saw the bright glow of power and presence unfurl behind the casual movement of his shoulders.  "In that case," he said, "I don't know."

"Wait," Dean said.

Castiel frowned at him, and Dean made a little fluttery motion with his hands.  "Wait," he repeated.  "I don't--"  He had no idea what to say next.  He'd sort of figured Castiel would interrogate him, maybe argue, at least ask a few questions.  It wasn't a small secret.

"You can see them," Castiel said, and for once, the expression on his face was easy and unmistakable.


"You can see me," he murmured.  He inspected Dean from across the room like he was standing right in front of him.  "You've seen me all along."

"No."  Dean shook his head, unable to take the scrutiny.  Even if he'd invited it this time.  "Not at first."

"Yes," Castiel said.  The glow was retreating, sliding smoothly into his silhouette as he walked around the armchair and closed in on the fold-out sofa bed.  "At first.  We didn't meet in the barn, Dean."

Dean absolutely did not back up.  "I don't remember," he said.

"I think you do," Castiel told him.  "You were very clear when I found you."

They were not having this conversation.  "Can we not talk about this?" Dean hissed.  "I don't want to swap stories about hell with my brother down the hall and his freakin' demon in bed with him."

Castiel frowned.  "I believe Sam intends to sleep on the floor."

"Whatever," Dean snapped.  "I've had enough of hell for one day, okay?"

He got a slow nod, and with a lurch he realized that Castiel was waiting for him to continue.  He'd started this.  If he wasn't going to let Cas direct the conversation, then he had to do it himself.

"I can see Anna's, too," Dean blurted out.  "But only you guys.  Everyone else just looks like... they just look like their vessel."

Mentioning Anna had been a mistake.  Not one he was prepared to avoid, either, which meant that, yeah.  It looked like they were talking about this after all.

"Perhaps it is a matter of familiarity."  Castiel sounded cool, even for him.  He didn't elaborate.

"Maybe not," Dean muttered.  He'd actually given it some thought.  A lot of thought.  "You're always telling me to have faith, right?  Maybe I... maybe I believe in you.

"Like Tinkerbell," he had to add.  "If I clap really hard, I can see you.  Lucky me."

Castiel just looked at him.

"What?" Dean asked at last.  "If it's stupid, just tell me.  Forget we even had this conversation."

"It's not stupid," Castiel said.

Dean grimaced.  "Say that with a little more conviction, why don't you."

"It's not stupid," Castiel repeated.  "Certain people--"

"Special people," Dean interrupted.  He'd tried not to listen to that speech the first time.  "Yeah, I know."

"It's not a matter of knowing," Castiel said.  "It's a matter of faith."

"And blood," Dean said.  "It's about blood, isn't it.  Being a vessel, that runs in the family.  And vessels can see you, right?"

Castiel didn't look surprised at his brilliant leaps of intuitive logic.  "Yes," he said.

If he'd known it was as easy as asking, he'd have tried it a long time ago.  Oh, that's right: he had.

"Why are you being so helpful all of a sudden?" Dean asked, eyeing him.  "Can the pod people get angels?"

Castiel looked like he had no idea why Dean was confused.  It was a patiently innocent expression that had stopped working the first time Castiel looked him in the eye and lied to all of heaven on his behalf.  "You asked me a question," he said.  "I answered it."

"Yeah, exactly."  Dean frowned at him.  "That's what's throwing me off."

Castiel just looked at him.

Dean's mouth leapt to fill the void without consulting his brain at all.  "Tell me you're not jealous of Anna."

"I'm not jealous of Anna," Castiel said, and the reply was fast enough that it made Dean think that wasn't the stupidest thing he could have said.  "She fell.  I feel no envy towards her."

Okay, see, that sounded like a rationalization to him.  An outdated, half-hearted rationalization.

"You fell," Dean reminded him.

"Yes," Castiel said.  If his tone was anything right now, it was irritable.  "I'm aware."

The glowing silhouette at his shoulders shifted, and Dean found himself trying not to smile.  "It must suck playing poker in heaven," he said.

Castiel gave him a wary look.  "Why would you say that?"

Dean shrugged without thinking, trying to imitate the gesture Castiel had made with wings he didn't have.  "Your wings," he said.  "Your feathers get all ruffled when you're upset."

Castiel narrowed his eyes, and there.  That was the accusation he'd been waiting for.  "How many months, exactly?"

"I don't know," Dean said.

Castiel stared at him.

"I don't know," he repeated defensively.  "It's not like I've got a frame of reference for this, okay?  You just..."  He jerked his chin in Castiel's direction.  "Glow, or something.  And then you didn't.  I mean, when you were gone.  Jimmy didn't."

Castiel looked genuinely surprised.  "Since I was called back to heaven?"

"I guess," Dean said.  "It's not like I knew what it was.  I still don't know what it is."

"Dean, you can see my true form.  This is a gift."

"This is a liability," Dean snapped.  "It's friggin' distracting, and trust me when I say no good comes of angels thinking you're all special.  I have firsthand experience to prove it."

"You are special," Castiel said.  "We have always known this."

He couldn't handle this conversation.  "I'm gonna go check on Sam," he said.  "He's probably falling asleep already, just too much of a wuss to admit it."

"Sam is still awake."  Castiel's voice was stern and distracted at the same time, which was actually kind of a good sound for him.  The thought made Dean bristle.  Women and their crazy ideas.

"How do you know that?" he demanded.  He used to be good at pissing Cas off.  He could do it now, easy, and everything would feel normal again.  "I thought your angel radar wasn't all-seeing."

Castiel gave him a blank look.  "The door is open.  I can hear him talking."

"Oh, yeah?"  Dean resisted the urge to say, "What's he saying?" for all of five seconds.  "What's he saying?"

"That it's cold," Castiel said, "and he believes Ruby should wear another shirt."

He hadn't actually expected Castiel to tell him.  He was getting all the answers tonight.  If only he could stop being afraid of the question.  "How do we get Anna here," he said gruffly.  "You said she's not in heaven.  You said it's not impossible to find her.  So how do we do it?"

Castiel stared at him.  "What purpose would her presence serve?"

"Oh, I don't know, having another angel around?"  He could totally piss Cas off.  "Like they say, keep your enemies closer."

He got a puzzled look for that.  "I don't understand."

"Keep your friends close," Dean told him, "and your enemies closer."

"Yes," Castiel said.  "I'm familiar with the expression.  I'm unsure whether you consider Anael a friend or an enemy."

"I consider angels enemies," Dean said bluntly.  "Just as a general rule."

"As you should," Castiel agreed.  "Which is why revealing your location to Anael is a mistake."

Dean frowned.  Whether Cas was willing to side with them or not, he hadn't expected angel slander to pass that easily.  "Anna helped us," he said.  "I think we can trust her."

"She is the reason I fell," Castiel said fiercely.  "Trust is the last thing I feel for her."

"She's--"  He forgot that he wanted to step back.  He almost got in Castiel's face.  His hands clenched at his sides, trying to hold on, but there was nothing there.  "Wait, what?"

Castiel looked away, and that was too much.  That was too freakin' much.  He got interrogated about a stupid glow that he couldn't even see all the time, he got lectured about everything except the demon down the hall, and on top of it all he had a bunch lady hunters who'd decided he was gay without even asking him first, which was just annoying.  And now Cas couldn't answer the easiest one he had?

"Cas," he said, glaring at his profile.  "What are you talking about."

"I was supposed to kill her," Castiel said quietly.

Yeah, whatever.  Because angels were such upstanding citizens.  "We stopped you," Dean said.  "Sorry about Alastair almost, you know--"  He broke off, because why was he apologizing for that debacle?  Why did he have nightmares about angel wings pinned down by demon hands when he'd been through so much worse?

"It wasn't supposed to go down like that," Dean muttered, which had always been a lie.  Both angels and demons had been acceptable collateral damage in his mind.  He just hadn't expected Castiel to be the one to end up with his head on the chopping block.

"It wasn't your fault, anyway," he said.  "We stopped you.  Or she did.  Uriel didn't get in trouble for it; why would you?"

"Anael killed him," Castiel said.  "To protect me."

Dean had already opened his mouth to point out that Anna wasn't the voice of heaven's vengeance any more than he was, but this latest revelation brought him up short.  "Run that by me again."

"She came to us," Castiel said quietly.  "She came to me," he amended, giving Dean a sideways look, "to beg me... not to make you torture Alastair.  To stop it.  I was supposed to kill her."

"You didn't," Dean said.

"Obviously."  Castiel looked at the floor again.  "I fell.  They took me back.  And the next time... I suppose I jumped."

"Wait, that's why they hauled you off to Bible Camp?  That's why you were stalking me in my dreams, because they were after you?  You were on the run and you didn't tell us?"

Castiel lifted his gaze.  "Would you have helped me?" he asked, searching Dean's expression.  "Then?  I had just asked you to give up everything you'd regained since leaving hell.  It almost killed you.  And I could do nothing."

"You saved my life," Dean said.  "Again."

"I endangered you in the first place," Castiel said.

"Which you never used to get upset about," Dean pointed out.  "What happened, anyway?  How'd they even know she was there?  They didn't find out when she visited us.  Did they?"

"No," Castiel said.  "She left.  Our conversations might have gone unnoticed had Uriel not threatened to kill me.  Anael took exception to his plans."

"Okay," Dean said.  "I know I was kind of out of it at the time, but I'm one hundred percent sure that you made me think Uriel bought it because he disobeyed.  What'd he do, try to intimidate you into keeping it quiet?"

"He asked me to join him," Castiel said.  "Those angels, the ones we thought Alastair was killing... it was Uriel.  Follow him or die.  He offered me the same choice after I saved you from Alastair.  Apparently you weren't supposed to survive."

"Alastair was supposed to kill me," Dean said, because that figured.  He still wasn't prepared to see Castiel nod.

"Yes," he said.  "Uriel broke the trap.  I refused to follow him, and Anael killed him before he could kill me."

"Okay," Dean repeated, staring at him.  Trying to frown to cover up the fact that he couldn't stop blinking, that his eyes itched and he had to swallow before his voice broke.  Standing this close to an angel, this long, was like the burn of freezing rain on winter-cold skin.  "You didn't tell me anything back then, did you."

"They didn't tell me anything," Castiel said.  "I thought... that was how it was supposed to be."

"You thought there was a reason," Dean said.

"I'm sure there was a reason," Castiel said.  "I'm no longer certain it was a good one."

Like any of their reasons were good.  "So, what, Anna came through for you and now you don't want her help?" he asked.  "What's that about?  You think she's still mad about you letting them drag her back to heaven?  What was that for, anyway?"

"Anael is dangerous," Castiel said.  "She answers to no authority but her own, and her agenda is impossible to fathom.  I don't know what will happen if we tell her how to find you."

Dean cracked a smile, the expression a relief after his inability to stare Cas down.  "Cas, no offense," he said, "but I think the same thing about you every time my phone rings."

Castiel, of course, didn't get the joke.  "Why do you and Sam say 'no offense,'" he asked, "when offense is clearly intended?"

Dean shrugged.  "I answer the phone, don't I?"

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"I'm just saying, I trust you," Dean told him.  "Even if I don't know what you're doing half the time.  Most of the time.  All the time, actually, except when you're with  me.  Sometimes not even then."

"I'm trustworthy," Castiel said.  Like it was the obvious explanation.

"Yeah, but I don't know that."  The look Castiel gave him for that was pretty bad, so he hurried to add, "I trust you, but I don't know you're trustworthy, right?  I don't know anyone is.  If I did, I wouldn't have to trust them.  I'd just know."

Castiel looked like he thought Dean might have said something profound, and it didn't surprise him as much as it should have.  "And you trust Anael," he said at last.

Dean shook his head.  "As much as anyone except you and Sam.  Or, well... you, and Sam when he's not drinking demon blood, I guess.  The point is, if we limited everything to the people I trust, we'd be alone.  And overworked to the point of killing each other for a few minutes' sleep."

Castiel frowned.  "That would seem to be counterproductive."

"Yeah," Dean said.  He wasn't sure Castiel had really gotten it, but he couldn't explain it any better.  "Exactly."

Castiel was quiet for a moment longer.  Then he inclined his head, stretched his wings, and remarked, "I will seek out Anael."

It was the first time Dean had been able to stare without giving himself away, and he was so caught up in the lines glowing through the haze that he almost didn't get it out in time.  "Wait, stop--Cas!"

Castiel paused, wings high and brilliant and yeah.  That was a lot more than distracting.  "Yes?"

He'd had a lot of practice keeping his eyes where they were supposed to be, because Cas was freakishly perceptive for an angel who was new to the whole twenty-first century earth thing.  He still couldn't keep his gaze steady, skittering from face to wings and back again.  They'd never been that clear before.  That he remembered.

And he didn't remember.  He didn't remember at all.  Not even when he was asleep.

That was his story, and he'd stick to it or die trying.

"You know where she is?" Dean asked, forcing the words out of a suddenly dry mouth.  He could handle a little glitzy showoff angel.  It wasn't like they'd never tried to impress him before.

"No."  Castiel looked like he thought that was a ridiculous question.  The confusion totally worked with his posturing, even if, to anyone else's eye, he hadn't done anything but stand there for the last five minutes.  "That's why I'm going to seek her."

"Can't we just..."  Dean waved uncomfortably.  "Pray for her, or something?"

Castiel stared at him.  "You're warded."

"Yeah, so you can't see me," Dean said.  "What, it keeps you from hearing me, too?"

"They're not--"  Castiel's wings folded in abruptly, an absent gesture that took Dean's breath away.  "It's a matter of perception.  You are invisible, inaudible, unscentable.  To every angel in creation."

"Untouchable?"  The word was out before he had time to think, not that he usually did.  It was a logical progression.  He'd meant it as a joke--vaguely inappropriate, as all the good ones were.  But the look Castiel gave him was unamused and totally unreadable.

Then Castiel's hand was on his face, cupping his cheek, startling him so badly he almost jerked away.

"Yes," Castiel said.  "No angelic sense may find you at a distance."

"But they can see me up close," Dean said, still struggling to speak.  Cas touched his shoulder and he touched his forehead, and both were sort of like falling off a roller coaster.  He'd never done this before, this... this "my child" thing.  Dean couldn't help thinking lightning was next.

"Human senses are unaffected by the sigil on your ribs," Castiel said.  "As you can see."

"Uh, yeah."  Dean resisted the urge to reach up and pull his hand away, but he did ease back a step.  Cas let him go.  "So, you're saying I can't call Anna on the angel phone."

Castiel just looked at him.  "She doesn't have a phone, Dean."

"Prayer, Cas.  Prayer is the angel phone.  Can you call her?"

"Through prayer?"

"Or whatever," Dean said.  "Do you have to physically go look for her, or can you just, like, put out the word or something?"

"Everyone would hear me," Castiel said.  "Angels do not have private conversations."

"Huh."  For a second, he was distracted enough to think, typical.  Then he added, because he couldn't keep his mouth shut, "That sucks.  How do you schedule your hook-ups?"

"Hook-ups?" Castiel repeated.

"The benefits part of 'friends with benefits,'" Dean said.  "Extracurricular activities.  Quality time.  You know.  Sleepovers."

"No," Castiel said.  "I can not call her.  Not without revealing your location."

Dean let the evasion stand.  Being ignored was better than being the subject of a smiting.  "What about another human?" he asked.  "Someone who isn't warded?  Would she hear Jo if she prayed?"

Castiel tilted his head.  "Perhaps," he said.

Dean opened his mouth to yell for Jo, then realized he hadn't heard so much as a peep from Sam since he'd walked away.  "Be right back," Dean said.  He edged around Cas--which the angel didn't make any easier by, say, getting out of the way--and he tried not to touch.

Not that he wanted to.  Except that he did.  Because Castiel's trench coat lay flat against his back and he looked normal and human in Jimmy Novak's image.  He still glowed faintly, but there was nothing to it that Dean could identify as wings.

He shook off the thought as he strode into the hall.  Vessel, he reminded himself.  Not his body.

But it was, wasn't it?  Now?  He'd been given a choice, he said.  Like Dean had any idea what that meant.

He paused in the doorway to Jo's room, where a reading lamp had been moved to the floor.  Sam was sitting next to it, back up against the dresser, a book open on his lap.  He looked up, catching Dean's eye, and then glanced at the bed.  Ruby was curled up under Jo's bright orange and yellow quilt, facing the door, eyes closed and apparently out for the night.

Dean jerked his head at the hall, but Sam was already putting his book aside and pushing himself to his feet.

"You good?" Dean said under his breath.

"Yeah," Sam said warily.  "I got a couple more things to look up."

"Yeah, well."  Dean glanced back into the room.  "Yell if you need us.  I'm gonna go see if Jo can help with something."

Sam frowned.  "What is it?"

Dean could feel his mouth quirk at the corner.  "We're gonna pray for Anna."

Sam's expression lightened, but he looked like he was considering it.  "You think that'll work?"

Dean shrugged.  "Worked on Cas a couple of times.  Never tried it with anyone else."

"You don't think she'd--"  Sam broke off.  "Oh.  She can't hear us, can she.  Because of Cas' thing."

"Apparently not."  Dean was a little annoyed that Sam had gotten it faster than he had, but it wasn't like he had to share that.  "Let you know how it works out."

Sam nodded, and Dean shot another look through the door.  She faked sleep well.  He kept his mouth shut, though.  Last time Ruby had already been here when he came back.  This time, he'd already been here when she came back.  Who knew, maybe Cas was right.  Maybe it would be enough.

Maybe he needed to find some kind of hope in this mess, and Sam was it.

Dean knocked quietly on Ellen's door, closed and with no light coming from underneath it.  "Jo?" he called.  Because it never hurt to know who you were opening your door for, even in your own home.  He assumed.  He couldn't really remember what it was like to have a home.

"Yeah."  Jo's voice didn't sound at all sleepy, but he could hear rustling, like the sound of the mattress and blankets as she got up.  A moment later, the door opened to reveal charmingly tousled blonde hair on top of a flannel shirt and sweatpants.

Dean leered automatically.  "Nice pajamas," he said, and she gave him a falsely bright smile.

"I wore them just for you," she told him.  "What's up?"

"I need a favor," he said, folding his arms and leaning up against the doorframe.

Jo just rolled her eyes at him.  "Wrong room."

He reached out and braced the door with his hand when she went to close it.  "Not that kind of favor," he said.  "We need you to pray for us."

She raised her eyebrows.  "Um, I already do?"

Dean blinked.  "Really?"

"Yeah," she said, shaking her head like it was a stupid question.  "Trust me, you guys need it if anyone does.  What are you planning to blow up this time?"

"Uh, nothing."  He stared at her for a second, then said, "Wait, you made fun of me for reading the Bible!"

"You don't have to belong to a church to pray," Jo said.  "What do you want?"

What he wanted was to know why everyone in his life was starting to sound like Cas.  He was guessing she couldn't answer that, though, and if she could he probably didn't want to hear it.  "Why does everyone in my life sound like Cas?" he demanded.

So much for logic.

"I'm going to go out on a limb here and say it's because he's the only one you listen to?" Jo suggested.  "Now, can I go back to bed, or are you trying to win some kind of fight by coming to me instead of him?  In which case I'll have to beat you up and then go back to bed."

"We're not fighting," Dean snapped, and why that seemed the most important part to correct he had no idea.  Probably because he knew he wouldn't get anywhere with the rest of it: just another eye roll and a yeah, whatever.  "We need you to pray for Anna.  We want to talk to her, and she can't hear me or Sam."

The way Jo looked at him let him know he was going to have to do a lot better than that.  "You want me to pray for another angel."

"It's like calling them," Dean said.  "When you pray.  It gets their attention.  I used to use it on Cas, before he--"

"Got a cell phone?" Jo interrupted.

"He made us invisible," Dean said.  "Me and Sam.  Angels can't hear us anymore.  None of them."

Jo folded her arms, flannel wrinkling under her fingers.  She looked thoughtful, though.  "That's handy.  How does he find you, then?"

"Why do you think he got the--"

"Cell phone," Jo finished.  "Right.  Silly me.  So who's Anna, anyway?  Other than the other woman?"

"Fallen angel," Dean said, because he wasn't going there.  He didn't kiss and tell.  Well, he did, but not with names.  Usually.

"Yeah, I see you've got a type."  Jo didn't look impressed.  "Was this before or after Castiel?"

"After," he said, before he realized she wasn't asking if it was before or after he met Castiel.  "Wait--"

"Dean Winchester."  Jo narrowed her eyes at him.  "You are slime.  Cheating on an angel?  No wonder you didn't go to heaven."

"What--that had nothing to do with it!" he protested.  "It didn't even happen!  I didn't... you have to be involved with someone to cheat on them!"

She just looked at him.

It occurred to him, belatedly, that he should lower his voice.  "I'm not involved with Cas," he hissed.

"Yeah," she muttered, rolling her eyes for good measure.  "Not anymore."

"I've never been involved with a freakin' angel of the lord!" Dean snapped.

Jo's expression was openly skeptical.  "Except Anna."

"She wasn't an angel at the time," Dean said defensively.

"But she is now," Jo observed.  "And Castiel doesn't like her."

"He likes her fine," Dean told her.  "They were stationed together for... I don't know, a while.  They go way back."

"She was an angel," Jo said.  "Then she wasn't, and now she is again?"

"Yeah."  Obviously.  "She wanted to live like a human for a while.  The other angels found out and decided to kill her.  Sam got some demons involved, and they fought it out with the angels until Anna got her mojo back.  Now she's all--"  He waved a hand irritably.  "Heavenly again.  I guess."

"Why would she want to be human?" Jo asked.

"Because we have sex," Dean told her.  He held up his hands when she went for the door again.  "I'm not kidding!  Cross my heart.  Sex, and chocolate, and... families that actually talk to each other, right?  I guess being an angel kind of sucks.  Not to say that being human's any better, but.  At least we have pie, you know?"

She let go of the door slowly, fingers loosening by increments.  "Did she--why did she change her mind?  I mean, she did change her mind, right?"

"Remember the part about them trying to kill her?" Dean prompted.  "Hard to defend yourself without your Care Bear powers, I guess."

"Why did they want to kill her?" Jo asked.  "Just for being human?  Really?"

"Angels are dicks," Dean told her.  "Seriously.  Stay away from them."

It almost made her smile, and the way she shifted in the doorway made him think he might have won this one.  "You're asking me to call one of them," she reminded him.  "How does that fit into your plans?"

"Anna's different," he said.  "She's been human.  If she's willing to help us... well.  At least it's one more we don't have to watch out for in dark alleys, you know?"

"And you think she'll just--what?" Jo asked.  "Come if I yell for her?  Like Superman?"

Dean shrugged.  "It's worth a shot, right?"

"Okay."  This seemed to decide her, but she waved him back from the door.  "Let's go."

"Where?"  He took a step back anyway, raising an eyebrow when she pulled the door shut behind her.  "You have an altar or something?"

"You open the sofabed yet?" she countered.

It was a reflex.  He couldn't help it.  "Why, you interested?"

Jo ignored him.  "I always pray by my bed, and I'm not inviting you into Mom's room.  Come on."

She led the way down the hall, peeking into her own room as they passed.  She waved to Sam, and he lifted his chin in acknowledgment.  Ruby was still pretending to be asleep with her head on Jo's pillow.

"It was nice of you to give her your room," Dean said under his breath.

"Most defensible place in the house," Jo murmured back.  "Hardest one to get out of without waking anyone up.  Trust me," she added ruefully.  "I'd know."

Dean had to smirk at that.

Castiel was standing exactly where Dean had left him, except that now he was facing the door.  Dean was uncomfortably aware that he'd probably overheard their entire conversation.  He couldn't even remember what he'd said.  Hopefully nothing Cas was going to grill him on later.

"Hi," Jo said, almost shyly.  "Um, Dean says Anna might--if I pray, she might come?"

"Anael," Castiel said.

Jo glanced at him and Dean rolled his eyes.

"Names have power," Castiel insisted.  "She will be more likely to answer if you use the name our father gave her."

"You answer to Cas," Dean said.

Those blue eyes flicked to him.  "For you," Castiel replied.  "Anael does not share a similar connection with Jo."

"Okay," Jo said.  "Anael it is.  Anything else I should know?"

"Thank you," Castiel said unexpectedly.  "It is... kind of you to do this."

Dean blinked, surprised, but Jo looked like she might have relaxed a little.  "You can thank me if it works," she said.  She smiled at Castiel, though.

Then she turned to him.  "Don't laugh," she warned.

He held up his hands.

Jo sighed, but she knelt down beside the bed and laced her fingers together.  Bowing her head, she said clearly, "God, our father, let me say thank you for your love today.  Thank you for my family and all the love you give to me; guard me in the dark of night, and in the morning send your light.  If Anael is listening, please tell her that Dean is looking for her and would like her help.  Bless us all.  Amen."

Dean folded his arms, determined to keep his mouth shut.  She was helping them out, after all.  And what did he know about praying?  Maybe that was how you did it.

Jo looked up, craning her head to see him over her shoulder, and he nodded to her.

She wrinkled her nose.  "Didn't work, huh?"

Dean's phone rang.

He went for it, but all the display said was unidentified caller.  Which was pretty typical, actually.  "Yeah," he said, lifting the phone to his ear.

"Dean?"  It was Anna's voice.  No question.  "One of your hunters is praying for me.  She mentioned you.  Any idea why?"

"Probably because we asked her to," Dean said, pointing at the phone and giving Jo a thumbs-up.  "She's right here.  You got a minute?"

"Sure," Anna said.  "But I can't get to her.  She's surrounded by anti-angel wards."

"Really?"  Dean frowned at Jo, who was sitting up straighter and watching him intently, then at Castiel.  "Cas is here."

"Really?" she echoed.  "Huh.  Maybe it's some kind of illusion."

"Hang on," Dean said.  "You got any idea why Anna wouldn't be able to just flit in?" he asked Jo.  "She said something about anti-angel wards."

Jo shook her head.  "Not unless Mom did a lot of work that I don't about.  I mean, angels, right?  How long have we known about them?  I wouldn't even know where to start."

"This house is protected by a witch's mirror," Castiel said.  "Intended to prevent teleportation.  It's possible that it also thwarts angel flight.  Or it looks like it does.  That's more likely."

When Dean looked at him, he added, "I wouldn't know; I walked in."

"Did you hear any of that?" Dean asked the phone.  "You might be able to show up on the road and walk up to the house."

"Yeah, I got it."  Anna sounded distracted.  "I'm outside.  You know there's a dragon up the road a ways?"

"Wondered where that went," Dean muttered.  "We think it's friendly.  Ellen won't let me kill it."

"I've never understood why men like to slay dragons," Anna said.  "I've always wanted to ride one."

"Seriously?"  Dean was already on his way to the door, aware of Jo right behind him.  "You can fly."

"You've got television," Anna's voice replied.  "Doesn't stop you from watching movies."

Dean couldn't remember the last time he'd been to a movie, but he figured that wasn't the point.  Especially since there was an Anna-shaped angel standing right outside when he opened the door.  "Hey," he said, lowering his phone almost as an afterthought.  "You made it."

"I guess walking works," she said.

"How did you get Dean's phone number?" Castiel demanded, looming over Jo's shoulder when Dean tried to step back and clear the door for her.  "He just got that phone today."

"And you shouldn't keep yours in an outside pocket," Anna replied, slipping in through the tiny space Dean had managed to open up for her.  "Really, Cas, the trench coat is vulnerable.  I told you before."

"Stealing is a sin," Castiel informed her.

"You still have it, don't you?"  Anna didn't look worried.  "I just borrowed it for a second.

"Hi, Jo," she added.  "I'm Anna.  It's wonderful to meet you."

"Hi," Jo said, clearly charmed by Anna's warm smile.  "It's nice to meet you too.  Um, thanks for... coming?"

"Anytime," Anna said.  "That's what angels do, right?  Help people in need?  What do you need?"

Dean took the opportunity to nudge Cas with his elbow.  "Yeah," he muttered.  "That's what angels do."

Of course they all heard him.  "Dean," Jo hissed.  "Maybe you could pretend to be grateful for something.  For once?"

"Yes, Dean."  Cas made no effort to lower his voice.  "I understand that is what supplicants do."

"I'm not a supplicant," Dean snapped.

Anna raised an eyebrow at him.  "Didn't you say you asked Jo to pray for you?  Why can't I see you, by the way?  I could see Jo and Cas from the road, but not you.  And you know there's a demon in the house, right?"

"Cas made us invisible," Dean said.  "Me and Sam.  Angels can't see or hear us."

"Huh," Anna said, looking at Castiel.  Dean had time to be sure she was about to ask how, and it didn't seem strange until she didn't, because that was the logical question.  But then the moment was gone and all she said was, "Good thinking."

Castiel inclined his head politely.

"We were kind of hoping you'd agree to not kill us," Dean said.  If Cas wasn't telling her, there was probably a reason.  Or maybe it was common angel knowledge, who knew?  "Like a truce or something."

"I'm not planning to kill you," Anna said, including Jo in the look she gave Dean.  "Also, demon?"

Dean really didn't want to talk about it.  "Sam's watching it."

"It's Ruby," Castiel added.  Dean shot him a dirty look, which he pretended not to see.

"Oh," Anna said.  "Got it.  So why do we need a truce?"

"Excuse me?"  Dean glanced around to make sure no one else suspected her of being possessed.  Jo was pretty trusting, but Castiel was definitely thinking about it.  "Ruby's back, and all you have to say is 'okay'?"

Anna looked a little taken aback.  "I'm glad she's got some protection?  Some of the angels don't like her too much, and I heard some things that made me think she might be toast.  I'm glad she's not."

"You're glad?" he demanded.  "She's a two-faced double agent from hell; you think she belongs here?"

"She let herself get tortured for me," Anna reminded him.  "You'd be surprised how much goodwill something like that'll get you.  Or maybe you wouldn't be," she added, looking from him to Cas.  "Regardless.  She's earned my gratitude."

"She opened a door to hell," Dean said.  "The door, Anna.  She opened the door and let Lucifer out of his cage."

"Well, technically," Anna said, "that was you."

"Sam was manipulated by everyone on both sides," Dean snapped.  "Demons played him and angels pushed him over the edge, and I'm not feeling real kindly toward any of you right now, so maybe you could--"

"It wasn't Sam," Anna remarked.  She didn't wait for him to pause, but the next words tore the breath right out of him.  "It was you."

He couldn't speak.  He couldn't breathe.  Something in him was screaming that he couldn't hear this, that the revelation would break him.  But he already knew.  Sam had told him, hadn't he?  On the phone, earlier.  He'd told him the truth about Ruby.  Cas had told him, that night in the hospital, when he'd been so out of it that he didn't have to believe anything if he didn't want to.

The righteous man who begins it is the only one who can end it.

"Sam killed Lilith," Castiel said.  "He broke the last seal."

"Sam killed Lilith's host," Anna corrected.  "Dean killed Lilith."

"In Ruby's body."  He wasn't even sure he'd said it aloud.  His brain was numb and he couldn't feel his fingers anymore.  He couldn't feel anything except his heart.  His brand new pounding heart, the one they'd given him back after he gave it up for Sam in hell.

They should have left him there.

"Yes," Anna said.  "Guess how many archangels were surprised?"

Dean didn't hear her, didn't understand the question.  Didn't care.  Everything he'd believed about screwing destiny over was laughing in his face, because it was destiny, and that was what it did.  He was a freakin' pawn.  No point.  No purpose except to do whatever the forces of heaven decided was necessary.  Even if it was bringing hell to earth for an apocalyptic parents-free weekend party.

"Not that anyone really knows," Anna was saying.  "Turns out the fallen aren't the only ones keeping a low profile these days.  You think it's hard searching for God?  Try finding his children.  They learned from the best."

"Jo," Castiel said.  "Perhaps Anael would like a drink."

"Right," Jo said quickly.  "I'll just... go."

"No."  Castiel's voice could have stopped a truck.  "Take her with you."

For some reason, Dean couldn't see what was happening.  He thought there was someone standing in front of him, someone that blocked out all of Ellen's house.  Something that kept him from registering Anna anymore--but maybe she'd just gone with Jo.  Maybe he'd been left alone with Cas.  Maybe Cas didn't want any witnesses.

"You should have left me," Dean rasped, not sure who he was talking to anymore.

"I was ordered to retrieve you."  It was definitely Castiel's voice, but it had a weird ring to it.  "God commanded it, Dean.  You are meant to be here."

"So I can destroy the world," he said.  Or he tried to say.  He didn't think it really came out, but he tried anyway.  "God is a sick bastard, Cas."

Maybe he wanted Cas to smite him.  Maybe he wanted to be thrown back into hell.  He'd done less damage there, surely.  A few thousand souls for six billion... wasn't that a price he could pay?

"You don't believe that," Castiel said.  "That we are better off with you in hell."

Reading my mind again, he thought bitterly?  Isn't that just peachy.  Welcome to the pit, Cas.

"Dean."  The harsh tone was gentler than he had any right to expect.  "This pointless wallow does no one any good.  You have work to do."

"I've done enough," he snarled, throwing off the hand on his shoulder before he realized it was there.

His vision flared white and the words in his ears screamed.  "You've done nothing," Castiel's voice told him.  "I've been alive longer than you can imagine.  You think there's nothing I wish I could change?  We do not have the luxury of giving up, Dean.  I am here and you are here and we will fight.  Because that is what we are."

Then Anna's voice, sharp and stinging, made his skin burn.  "Castiel, stop."

Dean was falling, darkness slamming into him.  Muffled sounds hovered like voices on a plane, drowned out by the roar of the engines.  He hated planes.

"Dean," one of them was saying.  "Dean.  Dean."  Just his name, over and over again.

"What?" he croaked, trying to shove it away.

"Dean!"  That was Sam.  He'd know that voice anywhere.  "What did you do?  Get out of my way!  Dean!"

Cas was gone.  No hovering white, no words he couldn't ignore.  But he felt something, felt his hand... he felt Sam holding onto his hand, and he clutched at that weak thread of connection until he realized his eyes were open.  He was seeing.  He'd been seeing all along, it was just--so dark.

"Sammy--"  His fingers hurt.  They just hurt, a normal kind of pain, and he squeezed back instinctively.  The world tilted: Sam pulling him up.  Him making Sam pull him up, hold him up, until he was sitting again.  "Where's Cas?"

"Can you see?" Sam demanded.

Dean batted his hand away, the one that was waving in front of his face.  "I can see fine," he snapped.  "Where's--"

Castiel was standing back, behind Sam.  He looked hunched and horrified, like he'd accidentally kicked a puppy and it had turned out to be a hellhound.  The light vibrating off of him was muted, badly contained, and nothing at all compared to the figure at his side.

Anna looked like a freakin' angel of the apocalypse.  Wings outstretched, rivers of light cascading down her arms like waterfalls, she could have been something out of Bobby's books.  If she'd been holding a sword, he would have looked for God's armies behind her.

He did look, actually.  All he saw was a familiar demon wearing a new face--and for the first time, he recognized her.

"Yeah," Dean said, staring.  "I can definitely see.  What did you do?"

"We need to go," Anna said.  "Cas just told every angel on the planet that he's with you.  I probably made it worse.  If they couldn't find us before, they've got a lot more incentive to try now."

"Whoa, hang on a second."  Dean waved Sam off, lurching to his feet under his own power.  "What are we--"

There was broken glass on the floor.  The windows were blown out.  The lights were all gone except one in the corner that hadn't been on before, and Jo was holding a flashlight.  "What happened?"

"Cas spoke to you," Anna said.  "In Angel.  Congratulations for keeping your eardrums and your eyesight."

"You what?"  Sam wheeled on Castiel, all trace of hesitation gone.  "What's wrong with you!  He's human, Cas!  I don't know if you've noticed, but just because he works as a shield, or a spear, or whatever crazy angelic destiny you've got planned for him now, that doesn't mean he's unbreakable!"

"Sam," Dean said.  "I think I can handle an angel talking."

"I am sorry," Castiel said, not looking at Sam.  He hadn't taken his eyes off of Dean.  "I should not have done that.  I didn't think."

"Well, it wouldn't be the first time," Ruby declared.  "Angels put us all in danger.  Must be Thursday.  Can we hide first and apologize later?"

"Got another safehouse?" Anna asked.  It should have been harder to look at her now, the power surging through that frail human form like a lighthouse at close range, blinding and inevitable.  But it wasn't.

"Jo can go to the Roadhouse," Dean said, and for once it was a choice to look away.  Not a necessity.  "Me and Sam will head west."

"Cas and I can take you," Anna said.  "It's our fault.  Just tell us where to drop you."

"I don't fly Angel Air," Ruby told them.  Like anyone wanted her opinion.

"We're driving," Dean said, shooting her a disgusted look.  "If you can keep from pissing me off for two seconds, you won't have to ride in the trunk."

"Dean," Castiel said.  "You must move quickly."

"I'm not leaving the car," he snapped.  "Sam, stuff.  Now."

"Come on," Sam said, putting a hand on Ruby's shoulder.  He hustled her down the hall and back to Jo's room, where at least the lights still worked.  "Jo!" he called from the open door.  "Can Ruby keep the clothes?"

"Yeah!" Jo yelled back.  "There's a couple of backpacks in the closet; take the green one!"  She was already following them.

"Tell Ellen sorry about the windows!" Dean called after her.

"You can see me," Anna said suddenly.

Dean was pulling his jacket on and jamming his feet into his boots and he really didn't have time for this, but he looked up anyway.  She was pretty awesome.  "Yeah," he said, because he knew what she meant.  There didn't seem to be much point in denying it now.  "I'd appreciate it if you didn't spread the word."

"Your call," she said with a shrug.  "You have my number now.  I'll see if I can throw them off your trail."

"Hey," he said.  Her wings stretched from one side of the room to the other.  "Thanks."

"You want a truce?" she said, the corner of her mouth curling up.  "I'll see your truce and raise you ally, if you're game."

Dean snorted.  "Bring it," he said.  "Anything you can do."

He felt Cas move, couldn't see it, wasn't even looking but he knew it had happened.  "Uh," Dean said, reaching for his phone.  "Except.  Cas says I might be putting you in danger.  So."

"I'm tired of hiding," she told him.  "You're about to find out what it means to have an archangel at your back."

He looked up in time to see her go, a pretty flash of light that didn't brighten the walls.  "Huh," he said.  "Guess the mirror is an illusion."

He glanced over at Cas.  The dark look on his face was more than just a lack of trust, and the words tumbled out before Dean could apply the "don't be a jerk" censor.  He did have one.  It was just broken a lot.  "Don't worry," he teased.  Even as he said it he wished he would shut up.  "You're still my favorite angel."

Castiel's gaze flicked to his, then away.  "I have compromised you," he said.  "My mistake will cost you, at the very least, your night's rest."

"I heard you," Dean said bluntly.  "I heard what you said, okay?  You were trying to help."

"I did exactly what I thought Anna might do," Castiel muttered.  "I am the liability.  Not her."

"You listen to me."  Dean caught his shoulder, tried to shake it and couldn't.  He didn't know why he forgot every time.  "Anael shut me down.  You pulled me back up again.  Don't think I don't get that, Cas.  Don't think I don't notice what you do for me.

"You don't tell me half of it," he added, "and frankly, that scares me as much as anything.  But I know enough.  I know enough to choose you if it ever comes to that.  Who do I want at my back: Anna or Cas?  Let me think.  Oh, wait.  I don't have to."

He heard Sam coming, Ruby and Jo like little satellites as they poured down the hall, but it didn't really matter.  Jo wasn't riding with them and nothing short of duct tape would shut Ruby up anyway.  "Cas," he said.  "I don't need an archangel when I've got you."

"Aw, how sweet," Ruby said.  "What about the rest of us?  Not that I want anything to do with the--"

"Ruby," Sam said loudly, talking over her when she didn't stop.  "What's with the death wish.  We'll be in the car," he added, steering her toward the door.

"We okay?" Dean asked.  He didn't take his eyes off of Cas, who looked vaguely confused.

"I don't understand the question," Castiel said.

"Say yes," Dean told him.

"Yes," he echoed.

"Good."  Dean grabbed his bag and managed to once more avoid reaching for Castiel's suddenly vivid wings.  "I'll call you tomorrow.  When we stop for dinner."

"Yes," Castiel said.  "That would be agreeable."

"Get out of here, Cas," Dean said over his shoulder.  "Be safe, you got me?"

"Yes," Castiel repeated.

Dean heard him go, even over the sound of gremlins, which he so did not need right now.  He heard Sam yelling his name, and he slammed the door behind him for whatever good it would do with the windows blown out.  He went for the driver's side without thinking--until the car leapt toward him and the passenger side swung open.

He dove in, kicking one of the little toothy things off his ankle as he fell back on his bag.  "Hang on," Sam growled, and Jo was leaning over his seat, grabbing for the door again.

Then the sky lit up, wings swept across the windshield, and Sam swore.  Dean grabbed hold of his shoulder to anchor himself, kicking at another gremlin and catching the door with his foot.  Jo yelped.  "Sorry!" he shouted, lunging forward.  Their hands caught and she hung on as he almost fell out the door.

But he got it.  He dragged the door shut, fingers sliding free from Jo's as he twisted back into his seat.  "Thanks," he panted, turning his head enough that she'd know who he was talking to.  "Nice driving, Sammy."

"We're not gonna make it to the Roadhouse," Sam said grimly.  Giant wings swept down again, shiny and scaly and definitely not angelic.  The dragon was probably after the gremlins, but the gremlins were a lot thicker out on the road.  They were coming from the direction of the Roadhouse... and so was the dragon.

"I'm calling Mom," Jo said from the back.

"Those angels," Ruby remarked, as Sam pulled out.  Away from the Roadhouse.  "Not as helpful as you'd think."

"Shut up," Dean said.  He and Sam might as well take turns.  "Jo, ask Ellen if she needs help."

"Gee, I'd never have thought of that," Jo replied.  "Mom?  No, sorry, Dean's just being obnoxious.  We had a little trouble at the house--angels, gremlins, how are you doing?"

There was a pause that wasn't long enough for an actual status report, and Sam was watching the gremlins in the rearview mirror.  He hadn't floored it.  Still ready to go back if they had to.  If they didn't, it looked like Jo was stuck with them.

"We're fine," she was saying.  "Um, the windows aren't.  And the lights.  But we're fine."

Dean stuffed his bag up against his seat and stretched his legs over it.

"No, they weren't--it was an accident, I think.  Castiel feels bad about it."

Dean tipped his head away from the mirror as he smirked.  Just in case.  He didn't think Cas had noticed the windows, and maybe Dean should feel bad--it was kind of almost his fault they were gone--but he was still feeling weirdly good about the whole thing and he didn't want to look too closely at it in case he realized he shouldn't be.

"Well, it might have gotten their attention.  So we were going to leave, just in case--I mean, they were, I was going to come to the Roadhouse--but then there were gremlins outside and we couldn't get past the dragon... no, I know, but it's still really hard to drive with it dive-bombing the car.  The gremlins.  The gremlins around the car.  It didn't hurt us, Mom."

Dean glanced back at Ruby, but she was staring out the window.  Bored already.  Probably plotting their deaths.

Fair, Dean decided.  He'd be plotting hers if he hadn't already given it too much thought to need more time.

"I don't know," Jo was saying.  "Dean.  Where are we going?"

"Ask Sam," he said.  "He's driving."

He felt the startled look Sam gave him for that, but come on.  Like he knew.  There was something else, something tickling at the back of his brain.  What had Anna said, about the--

"Sam?" Jo asked.

"Uh," Sam said.  "Somewhere warm?"

Dean snorted, but it was worth it when Jo just repeated it back to Ellen like it was an answer.  "I'll call you when I get there," she added.  "We'll be fine, Mom."

There was a pause, and then, "Fine.  Whichever one comes first."

Another pause.  "No, I'm not giving the phone to Dean."

Dean looked up, and Jo told him, "Mom's being overprotective.  Also, she doesn't have your new phone number."

He figured Jo had buffered that connection into non-existence, and he was probably lucky.  He passed his phone back to her, trusting her to find it faster than he could.  It wasn't like phones came printed with their number on the side.  Everyone who'd gotten his number so far had managed just fine by themselves.

"West?" Sam asked under his breath.

"And south," Dean muttered back.  "If you want warm."

"Done.  You gonna call Bobby?"

"Soon as Jo's done," Dean said, leaning his head against the back of his seat.  He'd been looking forward to sleeping tonight, but this one wasn't Sam's fault.  "You want to pull over once the road's clear, we can switch.  I'll keep an eye on Ms. Covered With Marker back there."

"Nah, it's cool."  Sam brushed it off like it was nothing.  "I'll wake you up in a few hours."

Jo handed his phone over his shoulder, and Dean forgot about it while he brought Bobby up to speed.  He had to start back somewhere around Ruby, which went about as well as he would have expected.  He skimmed over the parts with Cas, but Jo and Anna were kind of important, and he made sure to say that Ellen knew exactly where her daughter was.

Afterwards, though, he had to ask again.  "You sure, Sam?"  All expectations to the contrary, it hadn't been Ruby who'd screwed things up.  Yet.  And Sam still hadn't mentioned it.

"If you don't shut up and close your eyes," Sam said, "I'm kicking you to the back and making Jo ride up here with me."

Dean snorted, settling lower in his seat without further protest.  "Over my dead body," he muttered.

Wow, he realized too late.  The only thing that had saved that from surpassing jerk territory and entering real douchebaggery was the fact that Sam had said "Jo" and not "Ruby."  Dean wanted to think it was because his brother already knew Ruby wouldn't ride up front as long as he lived.  Still, there was a huge messy difference between knowing it and talking about it.

He and Cas still hadn't talked about it, he thought, his eyes sliding shut.  Whatever it was.

The hum of the car and the remembered ring of words he shouldn't be able to hear turned his dreams to a mess of sound.  Like he couldn't see at all.  Like he really had gone blind.  Everything was a blur, and waking up didn't help.  The road was dark, occasional high-beams piercing the black, a sign every now and then to prove colors still existed but they were washed out, intangible.  The way he felt.

He took over from Sam at a rest stop somewhere, leaving him with the car while Dean went in to get coffee and snacks.  He drove until they ran out, then kept going because everyone else was asleep and with four people in the car that was as good as the driving was gonna get for a while.  Jo was the first one to open her eyes, the sky lightening by shades, but she just looked out the window and watched the land roll by for a long time.

They stopped at the next place that had food and a bathroom.  Ruby was up by then, but she was unexpectedly civil in the morning, and Sam rolled out of his seat and tailed her into the tiny store without a word.  Jo went out toward the road while Dean put gas in, pulling her phone out of her pocket and tucking her jacket a little tighter around her arms.  He could only guess what she was telling Ellen: slept in the car, still driving, not really sure where we are.

They were hunters, he reminded himself.  They knew what it was like.

His own phone was heavy and silent in his pocket.

"No sign of angels?" Sam asked, when he and Ruby emerged from the store a while later.  They were carrying stuff that looked more like an actual breakfast than Dean had expected.

"Nope."  He glanced back at the road, but Jo had her back to them.  "We eating here, then?"

"Unless you want to eat and drive," Sam said.

He didn't, really.  He wanted any of them eating in the car less.  "Here it is," he said.

Jo eventually joined them, rejected even the things Sam considered food, and went inside to buy her own.  Sam gave her his credit card.  She looked at the name on it, then looked at him.  She rolled her eyes at the smile he gave her--not sheepish, not anymore--but she took it and she used it, going so far as to hand him a receipt when she came back.

Moms raised hunters differently than dads did, Dean figured.

They drove the rest of the day.  Jo wasn't annoying, and Ruby didn't whine as much as he'd expected.  She and Sam had a few conversations that might have been hilarious if Dean didn't hate her, and eventually he made Sam switch with Jo just so he could pretend he wasn't listening.  Jo's taste in music was as awful as he remembered, but since she was limited to stuff he had he let her pick every third tape.

They stopped at a tourist trap in the early afternoon, and the weather was good enough that jackets got tossed and Ruby found a whole new thing to complain about.  Because there were symbols crawling up her arms in black sharpie and it wasn't subtle, not at all.  She had to wear long sleeves.  So Sam took her off to find something lighter than Jo's sweatshirt, and Jo did an inventory of her own before pulling out her phone.

Jo had been expecting to spend a night at the Roadhouse, not a day on the road, but she was a practical packer.  It was the phone that made Dean's fingers itch, though.  He pulled his out twice before he finally pushed the "call" button.  He told himself he was just checking to see if it would work.

"Hey," Anna's voice said a moment later.  "You guys okay?"

"I have angels on speed dial," Dean told her.

"I have angels trying to kill me," Anna replied.  "What's your point?"

He kept one eye on Jo and scanned the rest area for Sam, just in case.  "You okay?"

"For certain definitions of 'okay,'" she said dryly.  "You heard from Cas yet?"

"Nope."  He didn't tell her how many times he'd almost tried to change that in the last five minutes alone.  "Should we be worried?"

"I'm sure he's fine," Anna said.  "Where are you?"

"Still driving," Dean told her.  "Hey, those archangels you were talking about yesterday.  How many of them can you account for?"

Either his question didn't make sense, or she didn't get it.  "What do you mean?"

"Cas said you're hard to find when you want to be," he said.  "We know Lucifer's out there, but we can't pin him down.  What about everyone else?"

"You want to know where the archangels are?"  She sounded vaguely amused, and he wondered if that was funny.

"Sure, if you've got a directory," Dean said.  "I was just wondering if anyone knows."

"God," Anna said.

"Yeah, he's supposed to know a lot of things," Dean muttered.  "But I hear he's not taking questions."

"Not lately," Anna agreed.  "And no.  There's no directory.  There's a record of anyone who checks in or out at the gate, but it's not like angels have to use the front door."

"Who's checked in or out recently?" Dean wanted to know.

"In order for me to see the log, I'd have to check in," Anna said.  "I'd rather not do that.  But if you're asking who's in the habit of leaving their calling card?  Zachariah and Raphael."

"Yeah, Raphael's out," Dean said.  "At least, last I saw.  No one's heard from dear old Gabe recently?"

"Last you saw?" Anna repeated.  "Dean, what are you doing?"

"Research," he said.  "Everyone's always telling me to do my homework, so.  I'm doing it.  Seven archangels, Anna.  List 'em for me."

"Lucifer," she said.  "Samael fell right after he did.  Me.  Zachariah and Raphael, still out doing God's work.  Or so they say.  Gabriel, Michael.  No one's heard from them for years."

"Really?" he said.  "The great Michael?  The best of the best?  No one knows where he is?"

"It's not like he has to report to anyone," Anna pointed out.  "And Gabriel might know.  Samael thinks they're together."

Dean was willing to concede that Gabriel might know just about anything, and even holy fire wasn't a guarantee of truth.  Right now he was more interested in what Anna might know.  "You know where Samael is?"

"No," she said.  "I just... talk to her sometimes."

Dean blinked.  "Samael's a woman?"

"As much as Michael's a man," Anna replied.  "Which is to say, no, but she's always preferred female vessels.  The pronouns tend to stick.  At least in English."

"Right," he said.  Not really the point.  "Okay, so we can track Lucifer on the news.  You've seen Samael.  Zachariah's like a bad penny; couldn't get rid of him if I wanted to.  And I really want to," he added.  "Just to be clear on that."

"Raphael's guarding your prophet," Anna offered.  "That just leaves Gabriel and Michael."

"Yeah," Dean said.  "Ask Cas about Raphael, 'cause I don't think he's guarding anyone right now.  Gabe's a real piece of work, and I wouldn't put it past him to be passing notes with Michael on the side, but last time I saw him he sounded pretty pissed at all of you."

"You saw Gabriel?"  Anna sounded surprised, but not skeptical.  He wondered if that was an angel thing.  Cas believed him too, no matter how outrageous his claims.  He'd thought Anna was a little more cynical, but she seemed to have given up some of her humanity in exchange for getting her grace back.

Maybe that was what Cas meant about not trusting her.  He had a feeling, though, that less humanity equaled more trust with Cas.  Not the other way around.  Dean didn't know if he was the exception that proved the rule, or if the list of people Cas trusted right now was so short that he just looked good by comparison.

"Yeah," Dean said again.  "Kind of a long story.  Cas could tell it better than I could."

"You've been spending a lot of time with Castiel," Anna remarked, and he didn't like the way she drew it out like that.

"Yeah, well."  Dean saw Jo looking in his direction as she lowered her phone, finally done with the conversation with her mom.  He lifted a hand and waved in acknowledgment.  "I trust him."

"Do you?" Anna asked.

Dean frowned at that even as Jo gestured toward one of the buildings.  He gave her a thumbs-up.  "Yeah," he said.  "I gotta go.  Thanks for the intel, Anna."

"Sure," she said.

That was it, and he would have switched angels right then if a little kid hadn't walked into him with a cone of cotton candy.  "Hey, whoa," Dean said, reaching down to help steady it.  "No reason to be wasting good cotton candy."

"Sorry," the girl said, staring up at him.

"It's all good," he told her.  And wow, if that was her mom over there, she had some good genes.  "No problem!" he called, putting on his most trustworthy face in response to Mom's obvious concern about strange men at rest stops.  "She's fine!"

The girl was already making a beeline for her guardian figure, so Dean watched to make sure she didn't run into traffic or lose her candy cone or whatever.  Dean did get a wave then, a hesitant admission from Mom that no, he had not tried to abduct her child by throwing her into the back of his creepy white van.  He nodded back, found Sam and Ruby with his eyes, and gave up on not calling Cas.

The line was busy.  Dean just stared as his phone for a second, because seriously?  Was that even possible?

He hung up and tried again.  This time it rang once and Cas' voice said, "Hello, Dean."

"Hey, your line was busy."  Did he sound as offended as he thought he did?

"Yes," Castiel said.  "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, I'm fine."  It seemed natural to ask, "Are you all right?" but of course as soon as the words were out he looked around for Ruby again.  She wasn't even in hearing range, but she didn't have to be.  He could hear her saying "codependent" with an unholy amount of glee.

"Yes," Castiel repeated, and that was all Dean needed to hear.  Really.

"Okay, good," he said.  Enough was enough.  "So, what do you know about the archangels?"

He must be losing his touch; Cas sounded almost like he was expecting that.  "As a group?" he asked.  "Or each of them individually?"

"Either, I guess."  This was why he sucked at the research part of things.  "Like, today.  They're not all present and accounted for, right?  You had to lure Raphael into showing his face, and Gabe acted like he was in anonymous rehab or something.  That's not healthy, by the way: that obsession he's got with TV.  Seriously disturbing."

"He is distracting himself," Castiel's voice said.  "There are likely none among us who haven't tried to fill the void with something."

TV as a substitute for God.  That was actually creepier than a random TV obsession, and Dean tried not to think about what Cas' "something" might be.  "What's yours?" he blurted out.  Because his brain and his mouth were not talking today.

"Finding him," Castiel said simply.

In retrospect, maybe it had been an easier question than he'd realized.  

"Okay," Dean said.  "So, the archangels?  Can't find Lucifer, can't get rid of Zachariah.  What about the others?"

"Anael you've seen," Castiel replied.  "Raphael you helped me trap.  Gabriel has chosen not to participate in heavenly affairs for some time, but assuming his recent meddling continues, I do not know what form it may take.  That leaves only Samael and Michael unaccounted for."

"Anna says she talks to Samael sometimes," Dean said.

"Does she," Castiel said flatly.  "When did you learn this?"

"A few minutes ago," Dean told him.  "When I called her to ask her."

"I see."  The voice on the other end of the connection sounded a little lighter, though Dean knew he wasn't smiling.  "That may explain why she is still on hold, then."

It took Dean a moment to get it.  "You figured out how to use call waiting?" he demanded.  "Dude, you need to teach me that--I can't get my phone to do it to save my--"  Then he realized what it meant.  "Wait, Anna's the reason I didn't get through to you right away?  She beat me to calling you?  We just hung up like two seconds ago!"

"Don't worry, Dean."  Castiel definitely sounded amused this time.  "You're still my favorite caller."

"I better be," Dean said.  "She's her own angel; she can't go stealing mine."

"It's seems unlikely that any hypothetical possession has changed hands," Castiel pointed out, "as you are the one I'm talking to right now."

Dean considered this and found it to be fair.  "Okay, good point," he said.  "Is she really on hold?"

"Unless she's hung up."  There was a flicker of a pause, and then Cas reported, "No.  She's still there."

Dean could feel himself smiling.  "Make sure you say you're sorry later.  Women like that kind of thing."

"I'm sure Anael will comprehend the practical nature of the situation," Castiel said.

"Which is?" Dean prompted.

"That I would rather speak to you than to her," Castiel said.

Dean actually chuckled, and he decided he was fine with stealing an angel back from someone who had thousands of years on him--many of them, he suspected, spent with that same angel.  But hey, new things were fun.  And that was one advantage he had over basically everyone else Cas knew.  He would always be a new thing.  He wouldn't live long enough to be anything else.

"Good," he said aloud.  Then he added, "The feeling's mutual," because it was.  "So what you're saying is, Michael is the only one no one's heard from in years.  You guys don't leave a forwarding address or anything?"

"Michael is the only one neither I nor Anael have heard from in years," Castiel corrected.  "For my part, this is no great surprise.  The archangels have better things to do than to pass orders to the foot soldiers."

"And Anna's been human for the last few decades," Dean said.  "I guess that makes sense.  You're a couple up on her; she didn't know anything about Raphael or Gabe."

"I haven't exactly been reporting to my superiors since I returned," Castiel said.  "I am surprised no one has missed Raphael--"

"I'm not," Dean muttered.

"But Gabriel certainly knows how to make himself inconspicuous," Castiel continued, as though he hadn't spoken.  "He also seemed remarkably well-informed for someone so removed.  It's possible he has information on Michael's whereabouts."

"Funny, Anna said that too."  Dean didn't like where this was going.  "You want to ask him?"

Cas' answer made him relax more than he'd realized he needed to.  "I would prefer not to encounter Gabriel again," he said.  "And I'm certainly in no hurry to find Michael.  Though Zachariah's constant interference has been irritating, I fear Michael's would be worse."

"Yeah, great," Dean said, something in his chest loosening a little.  He didn't think Cas was saving him for his big brother.  It was still nice to be reminded, once in a while, that some angels thought of him as more than just the perfect vessel.  "Cross them off the Christmas list, then.  What about Samael?  Think there's any chance she'd help us?"

"I have never spoken with Samael directly," Castiel said after a moment.  "She is fallen, Dean.  She has been so for longer than I have been alive."

"What, so there's no fallen angel support group?" Dean countered.  "How did Anna find her so fast?"

"She is an archangel, Dean."  Castiel sounded... patient.  Like he knew Dean didn't understand, and probably didn't want to.  But Castiel was going to remind him anyway, because it was true.  Or it was important to him.  Maybe both.

So Dean tried.  "Still?" he said.  "She didn't, like, lose her status when she fell or whatever?"

"Being an archangel is not a matter of status," Castiel told him.  "They were the first.  They were the first children of creation.  They have a power given to no other, and it can not be taken away."

"Anna looked pretty powerless when we first met her," Dean said.

"She gave up her grace," Castiel said.  "It was not taken from her."

"Dean!"  Sam still had Ruby at his side, which was good because the second he saw Sam alone he was pulling his gun.  "Anna says she's tried to call you three times?"

"I thought she was on the phone with Cas!" Dean yelled back.  A couple of tourists glanced their way, but most people at a rest stop knew enough to mind their own business.

"Then who are you talking to?" Sam wanted to know.

"Cas," he said.  Obviously.  "Hey, Cas," he added, talking to his phone again.  "Is Anna still on hold?"

"As far as I can tell," came the reply.  "It is possible that she is more familiar with the capabilities of a cell phone than I am."

"You and me both," Dean muttered.

By then, Sam and Ruby were close enough to overhear without shouting, and it was Sam who asked, "If you're on the phone with Cas, why do you think Anna's talking to him when she's trying to call you?"

"He put her on hold," Dean said.  "Hey, my phone's beeping."

"Yeah," Sam said, reaching out to take it away from him.  "That's an incoming call."  Lowering his own, he lifted Dean's phone to his ear instead and said, "Anna?"

"Hey!" Dean protested.  "I was talking to Cas!"

"Yeah," Sam said, stepping back when Dean made an aborted grab for his phone.  "Dean was talking to him.  In his defense, I don't think he actually knows how to juggle calls."

"I didn't even know she was calling," Dean said.

Sam's blackberry started to play something by the Misfits, and he must have been expecting Dean to go for his phone again because he didn't defend his own as well as he could have.  "Hey," Dean said, swinging away from Sam's belated attempt to get it back.  "Cas?"

"Hello," Castiel's voice replied.  "This is not an expedient method of communication."

Dean grinned as Sam made another try.  "Oh, I don't know," he said.  "I think it's pretty funny."

"I said it wasn't efficient," Castiel pointed out.  "Not that it lacked humor."

"Cas, are you smiling?"  Dean batted at the hand that reached for him without thinking, realizing too late that it wasn't Sam's.  Sam had gone for Ruby instead, fingers white on her arm where it was extended toward Dean.  The expression on his face was grim as he held Ruby back, Dean's phone still pressed to his ear.

"I fail to see how that's relevant," Castiel was saying, unaware that a demon had just tried to join in their game.  Or something.  Ruby was frozen, eyes wide, and she let Sam force her hand down.

Dean turned his back on them.  "It's relevant," he said.  "I want to know."

"Dean?"  The voice over Sam's technological wonder was sharp.  "Did something just happen?"

"No," he said.  "It's nothing.  We're fine.  I'd ask you to ride with us, but it's boring and I'm sure you've got better things to do.  Want to join us for dinner instead?"

"When?" Castiel asked.

"Whenever I can't take Ruby's snarking anymore," Dean said.  "Say as close to seven as we find a place with decent food.  I'll call you, okay?"

"Remember to ask for my password," Castiel told him.

Dean snorted.  "Yeah, stop keeping your phone in your coat," he said.  "What, your pants don't have pockets?  You get close enough for someone to pick those, I don't want to know."

"I will take that under advisement," Castiel said after a moment.

"You do that."  Dean glanced back at Sam and Ruby.  Sam was still on the phone, and Ruby was staring off into the distance like she didn't know any of them.  Like Sam's hand wasn't on her wrist, covering yet another black binding mark.  "See you later."

"Yes," Castiel agreed.

Dean hung up, staring at the two of them for a moment, then shrugged.  He could work Sam's thing enough to make a call, no matter what his brother thought.  He saw Sam lower the phone to glance at the display, then look sharply in his direction.  Dean waved.

"What?" Sam's voice asked in his ear.

"I'm gonna go look for Jo," Dean told him.  "Tell Anna to stop tying up Cas' phone."

"Oh, yeah," Sam said.  "She was obviously the one at fault there."

Dean hung up on him and headed for the building Jo had disappeared into.  He found her buying shot glasses, an activity of which he heartily approved.  He helped, figuring Ellen could never have too many.  They made sure to shove them under one of the seats before they got back on the road.

They didn't make it to seven o'clock.  Jo and Ruby started talking.  To each other, and not loudly, but it got on Dean's nerves anyway.  Especially when he was forbidden from turning the music up to drown them out--not by either of them, but by Sam, who was the only other person in the car who had any say in volume control.  Dean kept it quiet enough to make him happy for the first hour and a half, but it was just something about their voices.  Or their expressions.  Or their presence.

"We're stopping," he told Sam.  "You still want her around?  Because guard duty with separate motel rooms is gonna suck."

"We could--"  Sam shot a look in the mirror, but of course Jo and Ruby weren't talking anymore.  Dean was tempted to turn the music up just to make it harder for them to hear.  "We could restrain her," Sam said.  "To keep her from getting the symbols off."

"Kinky," Dean told the road.  Because of course that was a "yes," and Sam wasn't going to cut her loose until he had to.  Dean didn't want to think about what "he had to" would mean in practical terms.  "We're stuck with her for the long haul, aren't we."

"Dean, she's not exactly stabbing us in the back," Sam said.  "The most dangerous thing she's done is try to steal my phone."

"Steal it back," Ruby said from the backseat.  "I was trying to steal it back; I think that should count for something."

"I think nothing you say should count for anything," Dean told her.  "And I'm getting really tired of you yammering back there, so knock it off before I leave you on the side of the road."

He saw her shift out of the corner of his eye, folding her arms and turning to stare out the window, which was just fine with him.  "Fine," he told Sam.  "Tie her up, see if I care.  But I'm not sleeping unless someone's watching her."

"Dean."  Sam sounded like he hadn't decided where to go with that yet, and Dean didn't care.

"I'll gank her myself," Dean warned him.  "Don't push it."

Sam held up his hands.  "I'll watch her," he said.

"If I see a single cut on her," Dean added, "she's dead and you're in detox for a month."

"Dude, I'm clean," Sam snapped.  "I've been around demons a lot stronger than she is and I'm fine, okay?"

"I know some recovering addicts," Dean told him.  "I don't know any cured ones."

"You know me," Sam said.  "I don't make the same mistake twice."

Dean took his eyes off of the road long enough to look over at him, and Sam turned his head just in time.  "I don't," he said firmly.  "She just wants to talk.  That's all."

Dean shook his head, but he hadn't kicked Ruby out of the car yet and he knew how this was gonna go.  He would let her stay because Sam promised.  He'd promised, and Dean had always believed him.  Even when the evidence was stacked against them.  Even when he'd said he wouldn't, he couldn't trust like that again.

He could.  Because it was Sam.

"Whatever," he said, when there was nothing else to say.  "What do you want to eat?"

Sam, for once, let it go.  Glancing out at the road, he asked dryly, "We have a choice?"

They did.  As it turned out they had two choices, and they were evenly split: Sam and Jo for pizza, Dean for burgers.  Ruby wanted a burger too, which aggravated him no end.  They were still arguing when he pulled over, and Dean managed to shut everyone up momentarily by pulling out his phone.

"Pizza or burgers?" he asked, as soon as it connected.

"It is not yet seven o'clock," Castiel's voice replied.

"Yeah, well, it's food or each other," Dean said.  "You've never heard a more chatty bunch.  We're stopping for the night so I don't have to listen to Witches Vs. Hunters, Round III."

"I see," Castiel said gravely.  "In that case, I will join you."

"Password," Dean said.

"I'm a cat person?"

Dean grinned.  "Awesome."  He gave the location of the burger place, informed everyone in the car that it was because Cas had picked burgers, making the vote three to two, and was totally unrepentant when Castiel pointed out that this was a lie.

"It's for the good of everyone," he told his phone.  "If Sam tries to feed me vegetarian pizza, I might drive off and leave them here."

"That seems unlikely," Castiel replied.  "Tell me where you really are."

"We're really right outside the burger place," Dean insisted.  "And we are going inside right now."

Castiel appeared just down the road, turning in a slow circle until he caught sight of the car.  The phone was still against his ear, although it had disconnected when the first tower lost his signal.  He lowered it slowly, and Dean would have sworn he could read Cas' lips.  That was also a lie.

"Close enough," Dean said.

"His vote doesn't count," Sam said.  "Give me the keys.  Me and Jo are getting pizza."

"You're not leaving me with her," Dean said.

"You have an angel with you," Sam told him.  "I think you can handle it."

"Oh, you're not leaving me with them," Ruby interjected.  "I'll have pizza, thanks just the same."

Dean shrugged, handing the keys to Sam and pushing the door open.  "Suits me," he said.  "Don't touch anything with greasy fingers."

"Have fun on your date," Ruby replied like he was talking to her.

"Give me a reason to kill you," Dean said, twisting in his seat.  "It doesn't have to be a good one."

She smiled thinly at him, and he absolutely did not give her any points for spunk.  Sam really knew how to pick 'em.  "Chaperone duty is all yours," he told Jo.  "If there's any sign of bloodsucking, call me and run.  Not necessarily in that order."

"Um, okay," she said, giving Sam a look like Dean might be the crazy one.  "I'll do that."

Sam just rolled his eyes, shoving out of the car, and Dean got out to meet him.  "Man, careful with the car," he warned.

"Yeah," Sam said.  "I will be."

Castiel was standing silently at his shoulder as he watched them drive away.  They waited while the car crawled down the road to the pizza place, stopped, and discharged its passengers.  "Are you sure you should have let them drive?" Castiel asked at length.  "I understand that people who don't walk enough get flabby."

It startled a laugh out of Dean.  It was literally the only thing about that day with Uriel and Alastair that could.  "Yeah, well, cars that don't drive get antsy," he said.  "It's only fair."

He saw Castiel tilt his head.  "Your car gets antsy."

"That's what I said," Dean agreed.  "I gotta tell you, the girls can get out any time."

Neither of them moved, and he wondered if it was weird to be standing on the side of the road with an outcast angel.  It wasn't the first time.  Maybe if something happened often enough, then no matter what it was, it wasn't weird anymore.

"You're not used to driving with anyone but Sam," Castiel said at last.

"Or you," Dean said without thinking.

"Relative to the amount of time you've spent riding with Sam," Castiel said, "my time in the car is insignificant."

The idea that anything about Cas could be insignificant was funny.  "It's enough," Dean told him.  "She likes you.  It's just something about Ruby and Sam--Ruby and Jo," he corrected, shaking his head.  "Geez, now they're connected at the hip in my mind, too.  Can't say one without the other."

Castiel was quiet for a moment.  "Perhaps it is simply having so many people in the car," he said.  Like he was giving it thought or something.

Dean shook his head.  "Not important," he said, turning in the direction of food.  "Especially when I hear burgers calling my name.  You want anything?"

"I don't need to eat, Dean."

Every single time.  They had the same discussion every time, and Dean couldn't figure out why.  "Why do you always say that?" he asked.  "Do you think I forget or something?"

"It is a logical response to the question," Castiel pointed out.

"No, it's not," Dean said.  "Because I've heard it a hundred times.  It doesn't tell me anything I didn't already know."

"If you can predict my response," Castiel said, "why ask the question?"

"Because I keep thinking that someday you'll answer it," Dean said over his shoulder, pulling the door open and stepping inside.  Something was wrong.  He stopped where he was, scanning the room, and Cas was very close behind him.  Just short of bumping into him, if Dean didn't know perfectly well his reflexes made such a thing impossible.

No, Cas was standing the way he was on purpose.  Which meant Dean was right: there was something they weren't going to like here.  He wished for Sam right up until the moment he caught sight of a very unwelcome face at one of the tables on the near wall.  Anything the trickster was involved in was something Sam was well out of.

"Would turning around accomplish anything?" he muttered to Castiel.

"Probably not," Castiel said, just as quietly.

"I figured."  Dean was tempted to grab one of the chairs and smash it against the door.  Wooden stakes didn't do any good against this particular trickster, but the staff might throw him out and that would be worth it right there.  Vegetarian pizza wasn't looking so bad now.

The figure at the table raised its hands, turning down one sleeve and then the other.  Even surrender looked mocking on him.  If it was surrender, which Dean had every reason to think it wasn't.  The most he was hoping for today was that he could call in the whole not roasting him thing and get them out of here without being charred themselves.

Angels, he thought irritably.  Short memories for guys who supposedly lived so long.

"What?" Dean snapped, stopping well outside of arms' reach.  Not that it would do any good.  It would tell the scattered customers whose side they weren't on, if it mattered, but it probably wouldn't.  Maybe the distance would keep Cas out of trouble for a few extra seconds.

"Hi."  Gabriel smiled blithely up at them.  "You drive in a straight line, you know that?"

"Generally, yeah."  Dean glared back.  "They're called roads, pal.  You been stalking us since the holy fire or what?"

"Oh, please."  Gabriel rolled his eyes, settling back in his chair and flinging his arms out to the sides.  "I do have a life.  Only one to live, and all that.  You know how it is.  Oh, that's right: you don't."

His eyes flicked to Castiel and he added, "How's life as a guardian, bro?  Come racing to his rescue much this week?  I gotta tell you, I don't know how you find time for anything else these days."

"If you would stop putting him in danger," Castiel said darkly, "the demands upon my time would be fewer."

"Like you'd be able to stay away!" Gabriel crowed.  He draped his arm over the back of the chair beside him and beamed at them.  "I didn't get it at first, you know.  Why you fought so hard to get to him while he was my guest in TV land.  I thought to myself, 'Well, that Castiel.  He's a trooper, all right.  The good soldier, always trying to obey the last order, no matter how long ago--"

Dean was already tired of listening to him.  "What's the last order?" he asked Castiel.

Castiel didn't sound any more impressed.  "I have no idea."

"To care for humanity, of course!"  Gabriel shook his head, rocking his chair back on two legs.  "The last order from God.  The last one personally delivered, anyway, before all this chain of command bull took over.  Just trying to cover up the fact that there's no one at the top anymore."

"To care for humanity," Castiel repeated.  He looked as though he'd never heard it before.

"Bang up job," Dean told Gabriel.  "Really, you guys are great at what you do.  I'm sure Dad'll be pleased."

"I'm sure Daddy couldn't care less,"  Gabriel said.  "About anything.  Sue me," he added, when Dean gave him a disgusted look.  "I'm jaded."

Dean wanted to tell him to keep his cynicism to himself.  He wanted to keep it from touching Cas.  He'd seen what Raphael's words had done, and he figured the only reason Gabriel hadn't gotten the same reaction was because Cas had already been in too much pain to show it.  Dean really didn't want the guy getting another crack at Cas' faith.

"Hello, boys, get you something to drink?"  A woman's voice broke the standoff, and Dean glanced down at her in surprise.  Castiel, he noted, didn't take his eyes off of Gabriel.  "How about some menus?  Our special today is the same as it was yesterday, but it's not like anyone's going to know, right?"

"Thank you," Dean said, automatic smile and a quick body count in case this all went south.  The trickster was usually more interested in targeted kills than mass casualties, but his targets were spontaneous and unpredictable.  "We're going to switch tables, if you don't mind."

He caught Cas' arm just in case.  If they were going to do this, fine, but taking a seat someone else had picked out for you right after you lured them into a ring of fire was a special kind of stupid.  "That one," Dean said, nodding to a corner booth two tables away.  "And we'll have a couple of beers.  Whatever you've got."

"I would prefer water," Castiel remarked, out of nowhere.

Dean stared at him.

Castiel blinked, then added uncertainly, "If it is available."

"Honey, we have as much water as you can drink," the woman told him.  "I'll bring you some menus straight away.  You all together?"

"No," Dean said, just as Castiel said yes.

Dean grimaced and admitted, "Unfortunately," which made Gabriel roll his eyes.

"Honestly," he declared, letting his chair fall to the ground with a bang.  "My many talents go sadly unappreciated.  This is why I left home, you know.  No one ever cares what I think."

"World's smallest violin, pal."  Dean hadn't taken his hand off of Cas' arm, and he didn't realize until he went to turn that they were still conspicuously close to each other.  "We'll be over there," he added.  "Pouring a holy vinaigrette."

He would have, too, if he carried oil from Jerusalem in his coat.  As it was he settled for taking a seat facing the door.  He let Castiel have the one on the outside.  Just because he never seemed to have trouble spreading his wings in a confined space, it was still disconcerting to see them pinned, and that was a whole new concern that Dean was suddenly allowed to have.

"I don't believe a vinaigrette will serve the same purpose," Cas said under his breath, as he slid in next to Dean.

"Yeah, yeah," Dean muttered, mostly to keep from smiling.  "Everyone's a comedian."

"You're really very sweet, you know."  Gabriel threw himself into the booth across from them.  "It would be sickening if it wasn't so... prophetic."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Dean told him.  "You followed us this far, so if you got something to say?  Let's hear it."

"I want in," Gabriel said.  He wasn't grinning anymore.  He folded his hands on the table and leaned forward, not taking his eyes of of Dean.  "Your little Hell's Angels club.  I want to join."

Dean snorted.  "Yeah, right.  You want met to get that on a pin for you?  'Cause you can go stick yourself."

"I'm serious," Gabriel snapped.  "I heard you last night.  I saw Anna out there tearing up the sky today.  She's got Samael with her, did you know that?  They say they're doing it for you.  Two archangels, working together on something," he added with a bitter laugh.  "When was the last time that happened."

His expression said, too long ago to matter, but Dean figured that applied to most of the things angels had done.  At least in relation to him.  "What do you mean, last night?" he demanded.  He was more interested in the way Castiel wasn't looking at him than he was in Gabriel's flickering angel faith.

"Oh, you're not serious," Gabriel said.

"One water and a beer," their waitress announced, setting their drinks down on the edge of the table.  She slid Castiel's glass to him before she passed Dean's beer, then leaned over to set a menu in front of each of them.  "My name's Linda," she told them.  "You want anything, you just sing it out.  You need a few minutes before you order?"

"No," Castiel said.

Dean looked at him in surprise.

"I have water," he explained, and Dean rolled his eyes.

"I think I'll have a sundae," Gabriel said.  He smirked when Castiel looked at him, then proceeded to list details that Dean carefully ignored.  By the time Gabriel was done, Dean was more than ready to order a couple of burgers and some fries.  He flipped his menu on top of Cas' and handed them both to Linda.

"Thanks," he said offhandedly, smiling at her.

"Sure thing, honey."  She smiled back as she collected the menus.  "Back in a few minutes."

"So what do you say?" Gabriel asked, the second she was gone.  "Come on," he added with a smile that made Dean want to deck him.  "You know you want me!"

"Dead," Dean said.  "I wanted you dead, okay, so let's get one thing straight right now.  You're not alive because we like you.  In fact, I hate your guts.  But Sam thought we could talk to you.  So we talked, and then you--"

"And here we are!" Gabriel exclaimed.  "Talking!  Like rational people!  And I'm saying your Sammy was right.  I can help you.  Lots of big-time, smite-worthy, apocalyptic help."

"You killed me five hundred times and tried to steal our bodies!" Dean snapped.  "Sorry if I'm not feeling the helping vibe all that strongly right now!"

Gabriel leaned forward, an earnest expression on his stupid face.  "Everyone deals with abandonment differently, Dean.  I thought you, of all people, would understand."

"You listen to me, you arrogant prick."  Dean braced his arms on the table, mirroring Gabriel's position.  "When my dad left me?  He told me to take care of Sam.  And I did.  I've spent my whole life doing the one thing my dad asked of me."

Gabriel held his gaze, layering on the sarcasm.  "Bang up job," he said.  "Really.  You're doing great."

"So I'm human."  Dean sneered right back at him.  "What's your excuse?"

Gabriel shrugged carelessly.  "I'm an angel," he said.  His eyes flicked to Castiel.  "We're not perfect."

"If you weren't Cas' brother," Dean growled, "you'd still be standing in that fire."

"If I weren't his brother," Gabriel observed, "that fire wouldn't have held me."

"What do you want, Gabriel."  Cas had a way of turning a question into an ultimatum, and Dean wanted it.  If it was a thing, he wanted to steal it.  Because it was awesome.

He wasn't sure it worked on archangels, of course, but it sounded cool.  And it did make Gabriel look at him, which was more than Dean could get him to do on command.  Not that he cared.  The farther away Gabriel stayed from him, the better.

"I want to be part of something again."  Gabriel was staring at Cas like Dean wasn't even there, which would have been a lot more okay if Cas didn't look like he was listening.  "I miss my family, Castiel.  If you've found a way..."

"Humans have a saying," Castiel told him.  "You find what you're looking for."

"So maybe I stopped looking."  Gabriel glanced at Dean again, just for a second.  "I heard what you said to him last night.  I believe it, okay?  I tracked you from his--"  He waved at Dean without looking at him this time.  "Friend's place.  I want back in, Castiel."

"We are hardly 'in.'"  Castiel exchanged a look with Dean, who was using a conversation that had already pissed him off beyond participation to scarf down his dinner.  Dean just shrugged, because who could figure angels?  As long as Gabriel was trying to convince them of something, they probably weren't in real danger.  For now.

"You're the only ones who are," Gabriel insisted.  "You got Anna and Samael to show their faces for the first time in decades.  And they're together.  I can't remember the last time I saw two archangels in the same place.  Well, unless you count me trying to sabotage Raphael's mission last year without him finding out who it was, but I think for the purposes of this discussion we probably shouldn't."

Dean's mouth was full, but he lifted his hand and made a "blah, blah, blah" gesture.

"You wish to join us," Castiel said.

"What have I been saying?" Gabriel retorted.  "Hello!  Yes, I want to join you!"

"No," Dean mumbled around his burger.

"To do what?" Castiel asked.  "Help me find God?  Help Dean find Lucifer?  We don't have a complicated master plan, Gabriel."

"Yes, we do," Dean said, reaching for his beer as he swallowed.  "You find God.  I'll find Lucifer.  Sounds pretty freakin' complicated to me."

"Difficult, perhaps," Castiel admitted.  "But not in a way that I think Gabriel could change.  Especially considering his deception in the past.  We would not be able to trust any information he gathered, nor would we be able to rely on him to complete tasks."

"Look, I'm not asking to be a general or anything," Gabriel said.  He seemed uncharacteristically serious.  "Believe me, I've had enough of running the show.  I just want to hear something other than the sound of my own voice."

Dean scoffed, shoving a couple of fries through the ketchup at the same time.  "Wouldn't know it with the way you're talking," he remarked, popping them both into his mouth.

"Heaven would welcome you back," Castiel said.  "All you have to do is repent."

Gabriel's reaction was so incredulous that even Dean had to give him a little credit.  "Uh, bro, have you met them?  I don't think repenting is going to cut it."

"You have not disobeyed," Castiel said quietly.  "You have only disrespected the host.  They will take you back."

"Didn't disobey?" Dean repeated, peeling back the top of the bun to pour ketchup directly into it.  "What happened to taking care of humanity?"

"I told you," Gabriel said.  "Some of us take that more literally than others."

"I do what I must to keep my faith," Castiel said.

"Yeah, and I don't see you in any hurry to repent."  Gabriel eyed him, obviously catching something in Cas' expression that was gone by the time Dean looked up.  "Been through it already, huh?  Barrel of laughs.  I think I'll take my chances with more progressive brethren; thanks just the same."

"Nope," Dean said.  "Not gonna happen."

"Why are you asking us?" Castiel said, tilting his head in a way that made Dean wonder if smiting was on the table.  Maybe that was just wishful thinking.  "Neither of us is an archangel."

That was the the right question.  Gabriel deflated, shoulders slumping as he rolled his eyes at the ceiling.  "Anna won't talk to me until you tell her I'm trustworthy."  Although he didn't specify, the glare he gave Dean made the subject of his sulk obvious.  "Apparently she owes Twin One and Twin Two."

"Sweet."  Dean wiped his fingers off on his napkin and picked up his beer again.  "You're not trustworthy.  End of story."

"I know," Gabriel said.  "I know you don't like me.  And, okay," he said, lifting his hands in mock-surrender when Dean stared at him.  "It's occurred to me that you might have one or two complaints.  Really tiny ones, but possibly... legitimate."

"You killed me," Dean reminded him.  "Over and over again."  Looking back, it did kind of pale in comparison to hell.  But most things did, and Sam had had to watch.  Dean wasn't going to forget that.

"Old news," Gabriel said.  "Try some new news: Lucifer's risen, and I could actually help you.  Think about that before you reject my offer out of hand."

"Too late," Dean said.  "Maybe I was being too subtle before, but I hate you.  I'll never trust you.  And frankly, the fact that you turn out to be an angel?  That's just perfect.  I'm not even surprised.  In fact, I should have seen it before.  No one could be that much of a dick without having a little bit of heaven in them."

"I'm sure you've worked with people you don't like before," Gabriel said.  Like it was that easy.  Like this was a business deal.  "Perhaps a gesture of good faith.  Tell me what you want."

"Nothing," Dean snapped.  "I want you to stay away from me."  Gabriel's eyes shifted to Cas, and he added, "And if you so much as ruffle one of his feathers?  Archangel or not, I will find a way to make you pay."

"I've got a better idea," Gabriel said.  "What if I help him get his power back?"

Dean looked at Cas and found his expression unreadable.  "He's got power."

"He's got grace," Gabriel said.  "Grace isn't a power source; it's not self-sustaining.  It's a connection to the rest of the host."

Could do without that, Dean thought, but he managed not to say it aloud.

"Castiel's is obviously--"  Gabriel turned his thumb over and whistled, a declining note that crashed and burned complete with sound effects.  "He's cut off from heaven.  I can change that."

"Okay, what's this?"  Dean gave Cas a thumbs-down and imitated, with abbreviation, all of Gabriel's destruction sounds.  He very deliberately did not look at Gabriel while he did it.  "You losing personal power?  Or what?"

"All of heaven's power is shared," Castiel said.  "I am no longer a conduit for it."

"But you have power."  Dean clung stubbornly to this concept.  "You can do stuff."

"He has residual connection," Gabriel said.  "Every time he comes riding to your rescue, he depletes it a little more.  Gets a little more human, you could say.  Kind of appropriate, right?  To become that which you protect?"

Dean could feel his stomach disagreeing loudly with the burger he'd just stuffed in there, clenching around it like there wasn't any space anymore and he was just a walking knot.  Or a sitting one.  "Really?" he asked, careful not to look at Gabriel.

Castiel hesitated, which probably answered the question right there.

"It is true," he said at last, "that I am no longer able to do things I was capable of last month, or even last week."  Before Dean could ask he added, "It is... disconcerting.  But I will adjust."

In his expressionless tone there was the remembered clink of glass and the rattle of a pill bottle.

No, Dean wanted to say.  No, you won't.  Trying to stay calm, he said, "You threw around a lot of power yesterday.  You gotta stop helping us like that."  Stop helping me like that, he corrected silently.  But he couldn't say it aloud.

As it was, Castiel looked at him like he'd totally lost it.  "That is ridiculous," he said matter-of-factly.  "I will do no such thing."

"Or you could come with me," Gabriel said.  "I can hook you up, no problem."

Castiel gave Gabriel a pissy look that had often been turned on Dean himself.  "Come with you where?"

"No," Dean said, before he could answer.  "Neither of us are going anywhere with you.  End of discussion."

"Heaven," Gabriel said.  "Of course.  Where else do you find the power of heaven," he added, throwing his arms wide, "but inside heaven itself!  It'll be a blast.  Not literally, unless we run into one of the others, but hey.  There are more of us on this side of the gate than the other these days.  You'd think those seals were keeping us in, not Lucifer."

"Oh, sorry," Dean said irritably, looking up from his beer.  "Are you still talking?"

"I can't get into heaven."  Castiel sounded like he was explaining something to a... well, a human.  "I rebelled.  I am cast out, cut off, and hunted.  Whatever you think you can offer me, I assure you, it is nothing compared to what I have lost."

His stomach twisted, and Dean pushed his beer away in disgust.  He didn't want to hear this.  He hated Gabriel for bringing it up.  He hated himself for thinking that just because Cas didn't say it that somehow made it better.

He hated himself for letting Cas down.

"Oh, Castiel," Gabriel said with a laugh.  "You're such a soldier.  It would be, what's the word, adorable.  If it wasn't so embarrassing.  You really think heaven can keep us out?  Why do you think we had to lock Lucifer up?  We're angels, little brother.  We walk where we choose."

Castiel's expression was blank when Dean snuck a sideways look at him.  "Heaven's doors are closed to me."

"Well, they're not closed to me," Gabriel said.  "So let's go plug you in again!  Come on, what do you say?"

"If it is divine will that I am as you see me now," Castiel began, and Dean couldn't help looking at him again.  The glow around him was nothing next to Gabriel, as faint and flickering as it had looked beside Anna.  Dean had figured that was just an archangel thing.  Cas still looked plenty bright on his own.  He certainly wasn't dimming.

"Spare me the God lecture," Gabriel interrupted, rolling his eyes.

"Then I will stay on this path until it ends."  Castiel continued as though he hadn't spoken.  "I do as I am destined to do, Gabriel."

"Destiny?" Gabriel repeated.  "You think you have a destiny now?  News flash, bro!  This isn't how it was supposed to go down.  The apocalypse isn't wrong because it's happening, it's wrong because it's late!  Dear old dad is gone and his children are messing it all up without him.  There's no plan.  There's no destiny.  And being human isn't going to get you anything an angel can't do faster and better."

"Hey," Dean snapped.  "How long did it take you to develop that sweet tooth, huh?  'Cause here's a news flash for you: we're born with it.  When you want to know what it's like to enjoy something, you spend a day as a human.  Otherwise shut your mouth."

"Did he?" Gabriel asked, his freakish stare fixed on Dean once more.  "Did you talk him into trying it?  Because he's on the slow slide to no return, kiddo, and soon he'll be just as miserable and grasping and dirty as you.  Is that what you want?  Really?  At the end of the day, you want your pretty boy to be ugly and alone?"

"Of course not," Dean said harshly.  The words stuck in his throat.  "But if you think for one second that I'm trusting him to you and your dick frat brothers, you're crazier than I thought."

"Ah, trust," Gabriel said.  "That's what it's all about, isn't it?  Dean doesn't trust me, Castiel.  Do you?"

"No," Castiel said.

"That's too bad," Gabriel replied.  "Because you should."

Dean was out of his seat before he even saw Gabriel's hand go up.  Everything about it was wrong: the expression, the tone of voice, the barest shift of light as the joints behind his shoulders began to lift.  Dean lunged.  Gabriel's fingers were about to snap.  It didn't matter.  He buried his hands in muscle and feathers, digging in hard, ignoring the cold electric sting because he could feel them.  He could feel the shafts bending under his grip.

He felt Gabriel stiffen with surprise, eyes widening a fraction when Dean clawed at wings he shouldn't be able to see.  "Over my dead body," Dean hissed, his face inches from Gabriel's.  "You take him when I'm dead.  You understand me?"

"Gabriel."  Castiel was standing behind him, and without turning Dean could feel the shadow of wings at his back.  Humans lifted their fists, he thought distantly.  Angels spread their wings.  "Hurt him and I will do nothing for you."

Slowly, the fingers of Gabriel's right hand straightened, and he held up his other hand to mirror them.  "Fine," he said.  He sounded almost amused.  "This is me.  Not kidnapping anyone for their own good.  Geez.  You try to help someone and look at the thanks you get."

"We don't want your help," Dean snarled.

"Yeah, that's pretty clear," Gabriel agreed.  "Hands off the wings, pal."

Dean let him go, giving him a shove that didn't budge Gabriel in the slightest.  It got Dean back on his own side of the table, though, and he figured that counted for something.  He couldn't feel his hands at all.

Castiel's touch landed lightly on his shoulder.  Warmth shuddered through his muscles, making his arms ache as the numbness retreated.  Dean tried not to flinch.  He couldn't help clenching his fists, though, making sure his fingers still worked, and he knew Gabriel saw it.

"So," he drawled.  "Someone's been studying."  Gabriel's shoulders twitched minutely as he resettled his wings, and a grimace flickered across his face.  "You've got quite a grip, kid.  Someone teach you where to push?"  The leer he gave Castiel was obscene, and Dean barely had time to tense before the hand on his shoulder tightened and forced him back into his seat.

"Sit down, Dean," Castiel said mildly.  Like he had any choice.  "Gabriel.  You should know as well as any that rebellion comes only with free will.  Being new to this concept, I am inclined to defend my own with some enthusiasm."

"Whatever, I get it," Gabriel snapped.  "No coercion.  You guys are no fun."

"But you're still here," Dean said, flexing his fingers under the table.  Just because he could.  "Why is that?"

"We will pay our bill," Castiel said.  "We will walk out of this establishment.  And then we will allow Dean whatever time he needs to alert others to his imminent absence."

"Wait, what?"  Dean looked up at him, trying to ignore the hand that was still on his shoulder.  "What are you talking about?"

"You've made your feelings about my going alone quite clear," Castiel said.  "You will come with us.  It's possible that the presence of Michael's vessel will provide me with some measure of safety."

Gabriel scoffed.  "You can't bring him with you.  To heaven?"

"Dean," Castiel said quietly.  "The bill."

Dean looked from him to Gabriel and back again.  This was pretty high up there on the list of Dumb Ideas They Hadn't Thought Out, but since everything above it--and most of the ones below it--had been Dean's, he didn't feel like he could judge.  "This is a really dumb idea," he said.  Just in case.

"As compared to what?" Castiel asked, staring back at him.

Dean was forced to concede.  "Okay," he said, putting his hands on the table.  "Just so we're clear."

He didn't pay for Gabriel's stupid sundae.  He didn't know how Gabriel got out of paying for it, either, since he and Cas were outside by the time Dean got done at the register.  Which pissed Dean off even more, since obviously Cas didn't care if he paid or not: he just wanted to talk to Gabriel alone.

"Could have just said so," Dean grumbled under his breath.  Except, yeah, like Dean would have let that happen.  Since they clearly didn't have to wait for him--and they just as clearly were--he pulled out his phone and texted Sam.  No reason to rub Gabriel's nose in their primary method of communication.

He wrote, going 2 heaven, brb, before putting the phone back in his pocket and pushing his way out the door.  He thought the staff was happy to see them go.  And they hadn't even had to burn anything.

"Dean," Castiel greeted him when he stepped outside.  "Are you ready?"

Gabriel rolled his eyes.  "Oh, like he could be ready.  We're going to heaven."

"Gonna pick the lock?" Dean said.  He stopped beside Castiel and shoved his hands in his pockets, squinting at the angel in the weird half twilight.  The glow that lurked around his figure had always been most distinct at dusk, but today Dean couldn't tell the difference.  "It was my idea."

Castiel considered this, then nodded once.  "So it was."

"For crying out loud."  Gabriel lifted his right hand and snapped his fingers.

They were standing on a beach.  A paved walkway with a railing, looking out over the water at a city skyline on the other side.  It was, as far as Dean could tell, the middle of the day.  There were tourists milling everywhere, though none of them looked too worried that three random strangers had just appeared in their midst.

Castiel was still standing next to him.  Dean opened his mouth to ask what? where? and why exactly they had listened to Gabriel, of all people.  Angels.  Whatever.

The words died in his throat as he got a good look at Cas.  His eyes were wide and blue like water.  His hair curled a little as the breeze tugged at it, little glowing tendrils that had no business around a human face.  He was staring, not weird and creepy but present, like he was here.  Like he wasn't trying to stare through a too small window at things that made no sense.

He looked... happy.  For maybe the first time since Dean had known him, Castiel looked happy.  Which meant, no matter what it looked like, there was only one place they could be standing right now.

Dean watched him for a long moment, then glanced over at Gabriel.  He had to ask.  But Gabriel was watching Cas too, and there was a look Dean couldn't figure out on his face.  "Dude," he said, because he couldn't help it.  It was a city.  "Really?"

Gabriel's eyes flicked to him, and Dean frowned.  The trickster didn't have blue eyes.  Not like that.  Not like Castiel's.  But he had them now, as bright as the tiny waves lapping at the shore, and suddenly his expression was easy to read: annoyance.

"What were you expecting?" Gabriel asked.  He glowed too, even in full sun, a radiant star that made Castiel look like a firefly beside him.

Dean shrugged, trying not to stare.  As if he could.  "I dunno," he said, gaze skittering across the boats and the trees and the mountains off in the distance.  "Clouds?  Harps?"

Gabriel sighed, and the way he rolled his eyes was typically un-angelic.  "We should go," he said.  "Come on."

"No!"  Castiel's reaction was immediate and raw.  Desperate in a way that made Dean feel lower than dirt.

"In," Gabriel said.  "We should go in."

Castiel looked at him.  Without hesitation, without doubt.  Castiel looked at Gabriel like he was the answer to every question he'd ever asked.  And for a guy with as many questions as Cas, it was hard not to see something in that.

Something that felt weirdly like abandonment.

"Yes," Castiel said.

Then Dean felt a brush against his shoulder: cool and electric, like touching Gabriel's wings.  Even as he thought it the touch warmed, becoming more human, and a familiar hand slid down his arm.  "Heaven is not meant for human forms," Castiel's voice said.  His hand closed around Dean's, and when Dean looked up, Castiel was looking at him again.

"Stay with me," Castiel said simply.

"No, uh-uh, bad idea," Gabriel said.  "He can wait here.  That's the whole point of here.  He's not even dead; they won't let him in."

Dean opened his mouth, sure he should argue, but he had no idea what to say.  Cas was holding his hand.  He could feel it, warm skin and fingers pressed against his while the rest of Castiel glowed: inhuman.

"I think we won't be going past anyone who will check," Castiel said.  "He died, Gabriel.  Let that be enough."

"Fine," Gabriel said, lifting his hand.  "Whatever."

This time the snap was louder in Dean's ears.  The park by the water was gone, and an odd sense of familiarity shivered across his skin before he could process what he was seeing.  Carefully cultivated trees dotted geometric walkways and the fresh sea scent was everywhere.  White sails arced overhead.

"What, are we in Australia?" he blurted out.  Seriously, heaven was weird.

"No," Castiel's voice replied.  It sounded funny, with the same strange ring he'd heard at Ellen's the night before.  But he wasn't any less literal than he'd been on earth.

"Okay, so, you're in," Gabriel said.  "No gate, no guestbook, no time limit.  Except for--you know."

"Yes," Castiel said, and Dean could feel him shift somehow.  "Thank you."

"Sure, whatever."  Gabriel shrugged it off.  "I've got some people to see while I'm here.  Things to manage, you know how it is.  Try not to run into anyone who'd recognize you."  There was the briefest pause, and then his voice was cool and distant and he was gone before he finished saying, "Not that they would."

Dean felt Cas fold in on himself, the wings that had started to stretch out closing abruptly.  The sheer joy that had radiated from him was muted.  Dean had no idea what had just happened, but any goodwill he'd felt toward Gabriel was gone as suddenly as Cas' wide eyes and secret smile.

"What was that?" he demanded.  "What'd he say?"

"Could you hear him?"  Castiel sounded closer to crushed than curious, but a question was a question.

"Oh, I heard him," Dean said.  "Let me guess.  If I try to punch him, I break my hand.  Might be worth it--you think?"  All Cas had to say was "yes" and Gabriel would get a fist in the face next time Dean saw him.  Archangel or not.

"He's right," Castiel said quietly.  "I'm not what I once was.  I'm afraid the danger lies less in being recognized as myself, specifically, and more in being seen as fallen.  It... is more obvious than I realized."

"What are you talking about?"  Dean could barely look at him, cold while light spilling around them, cracking the air above Castiel's head.  Where his wings, still tightly folded, hunched close against his body.  "You look pretty freakin' angelic to me.  And if you quote me on that," he added, "I'll deny it forever.  Just so you know."

"You have nothing to compare it to," Castiel said quietly.  "My appearance, my true form is still new to you."

"But nothing," Dean said.  "You're brighter than I've ever seen you."

"Power is not the same as order," Castiel said.

"And you're still saying cryptic things like 'power isn't the same as order,'" Dean grumbled, "so really, I don't see this big difference you're talking about.  No one else is staring at you.

"Hey," he added, frowning at the passersby.  "Why aren't they staring?  Can they even see us?  How come they don't glow?"

"Human souls are farther from God," Castiel said.  "They do not shine with the same light."

"As angels," Dean said.

Castiel inclined his head.  How he could even tell when the guy was more light than solidity he had no idea, but he could still feel a hand holding his.  Since Cas hadn't bothered to answer the other questions, Dean turned a good ol' boy grin on the next woman who passed.  "Hey there," he said.

She turned wide eyes on him, which he thought answered one question--until her gaze slid right past him to land on Castiel.  She didn't squint, but she did drop to one knee and make the sign of the cross.  "Peace be with you, angel," she murmured.

"And also with you," Castiel replied.  His voice was gentler than Dean had ever heard it.

Then they were standing on the roof, which Dean did not in any way appreciate, and Cas' hand was tight on his.  "They can not see you," Castiel said.  "Only me.  You aren't really here; Gabriel was right about that.  Why you are allowed to walk the streets I don't completely understand.  You are, and so I do not question it, but your peers exist in a different plane."

"But she heard me," Dean said.  "You can't tell me that was a coincidence."

"No," Castiel agreed, and he sounded like he was frowning.  "That was... unexpected."

"So why'd she bow?" Dean asked.  "If you're so fallen, why'd she even talk to you?"

"She's new," Castiel said with a sigh.  "None are required to bend their knees, but if it pleases her to do so--"

"You'll let her," Dean finished.  Still not answering the question.

Castiel fixed him with a very blue-eyed stare.  "It is we who should bow to you," he said.  "That is God's will."

It was getting easier to look at him, Dean realized.  Not because the light was fading, but somehow Cas looked... sharper.  "She couldn't tell, could she," he said.  That Cas was different.  She looked at him and all she saw was an angel.  "Like me.  Why can't we tell?"

"Because you're human," Castiel said.

"Not good enough," Dean snapped.  "Why.  What is it about being human that keeps us from knowing?"

He couldn't say why it was so important to him, except that people kept saying yes to Lucifer and he just didn't get it.  What was the difference between a fallen angel and a not-fallen one?  And why couldn't they tell?  What could Castiel possibly have in common with the devil?  How come Zachariah got to get up in the morning, torture people, and then come back home to heaven, when Cas, who had once healed a freakin' butterfly after some kid ran over it with a bicycle, got kicked out?

"You are different," Castiel said.

Dean glared at him, but Cas continued before he could come up with something strong enough to protest.

"You're different from each other," Castiel said.  "More so than we are.  We..."

"You don't look the same," Dean said.

"It isn't a matter of appearance," Castiel said.  "Although I think you would find it... in our true forms, we are more uniform than you expect."

"Okay, so?" Dean said, frowning.  "Angels are copycats.  Big deal."

Castiel was looking up at the great white sails, rising toward a perfect blue sky on either side of them.  Weirdest roof ever, Dean thought, but at least it was better than looking down.  "Those who fall often diverge in other ways as well."

Dean blinked.  "You're saying you look different since you fell?"

Castiel didn't answer.

"How?" Dean insisted.  "I can't tell.  How do you look different?

"Is it a lot different?" he added, when Cas still didn't say anything.  "Gabriel meant it when he said people might not recognize you?  I mean, I guess that's a good thing--all these people, would they report you or something?  If they knew who you were?"

"Human souls can't tell," Castiel repeated, still gazing upward.  "Nor would most humans have reason to recognize me.  But if any of my brethren lays eyes upon me, they will know immediately."

"Because they'll recognize you," Dean said.

"I am not intimately acquainted with every angel in creation, Dean."  It could almost have been a joke if Castiel didn't sound so sad about it.  "But they will know my unkempt nature for what it is.  What it represents."

"Unkempt?" Dean repeated incredulously.  "Did you just say 'unkempt'?"

"You attempted to correct my vessel's appearance once," Castiel said.  "This is expected among angels.  Standard.  A constant in our interactions.  Though my time in isolation has been short, it is enough for the effects to be noticeable."

"You look scruffy," Dean guessed.

He felt the look Castiel gave him, but by the time he turned his head Cas had already looked away.  "I mean, hey, I like scruffy," Dean added awkwardly, because suddenly he felt like he'd insulted him.  "And look--Cas.  You just said humans can't tell, and if we see an angel we're probably screwed anyway.  So just forget it, okay?  You  might as well enjoy it while you're here."

Cas was staring down at the street now.  His wings were unbelievably obvious, glowing bright and a little ruffled around the edges, like the wind was stirring them even when it was still.  There was nothing relaxed about his posture, though, and everything about it screamed, I'm trying to be inconspicuous.

"I am enjoying it," he said.

Dean wasn't quite ready to accuse him of lying.  "Is it working?" he asked instead.  "Gabe said you'd get your power back."

Castiel didn't answer right away, and finally Dean prompted, "Cas?"

"I'm here," Castiel said simply.  "I can feel the power of heaven now.  Here.  I do not know what will happen when we leave."

"Gabe seemed to think you'd keep it," Dean offered.

His fingers were still wrapped around Castiel's, arms brushing as they stood too close to the edge of the roof.  Not that any distance from the edge would be enough.  So far, Cas' stupid calm--resignation, fatalism, his brain whispered--seemed to be seeping into him by association, suffusing his body the way Castiel's warmth had dispelled the numbness that came with burying his hands in angel wings.  But he felt a twitch of irritation when he mentioned the trickster.

"Gabriel has deceived all of us before," Castiel said darkly.

"Yeah," Dean said, gruff with the revelation that Castiel didn't trust Gabriel any more than he did.  He'd still let the guy take them on a freakish field trip that could end with one or both of them dead.  Because Castiel was willing to risk it if it meant seeing heaven again.  "No kidding."

"This will not end with your death," Castiel told him.

Dean let go of his hand and reached for his wings before he thought, which was probably the only reason Cas didn't see it coming.  He started as badly as Gabriel had, which made Dean feel kind of bad.  "Sorry," he muttered, trying not to think about the fact that he was patting his best friend.  "I know, okay?  I trust you."

"Do you?"

Dean rolled his eyes, sure they'd already had this conversation.  "Why does everyone keep asking me that?  I trust you, okay?  I don't know why that's such a shock."

The wing under his hand shifted a little, and only then did he realize it wasn't cold.  His fingers twitched a crooked feather straight, running his hand over it absently to make sure he'd gotten it right.  Was it because they were in heaven, he wondered?  It couldn't be; he'd gotten hold of Gabriel's wings right there on earth.  But he'd patted Cas' back before, put an arm around his shoulders and felt nothing but human skin and bones under that trench coat.

"I am not human," Castiel said.

"Yeah," Dean said.  The mind-reading thing got old fast.  "I noticed."

"I have never been human," Castiel continued.  "You told Jo that you trust Anna because she was human."

Oh.  Not reading his mind after all.  "I trust Anna because me and Sam saved her life," he said bluntly, "and she's the kind of person who'll let you collect."

"She owes you," Castiel said slowly.  After a moment he added, "You said that I do not owe you."

He felt another feather that didn't go the way he expected, and he leaned back a little to see if he could see it.  Yeah.  Or at least, he could see individual feathers.  He couldn't tell this one was crooked by looking.  "You don't owe family, Cas.  I trust you because I trust you.  End of story."

"Dean."  The wing under his hand moved restlessly, and he started to pull away.  "Do not stop touching me.  I don't know what will happen to your body if you walk the roads of heaven alone."

Dean froze, but okay, that was a warning.  Stay with the angel unless you want to die.  Clear enough.

He put his hand back on Castiel's wing deliberately.  "Am I messing up your feathers?" he asked, which really wasn't what he'd meant to say at all.  "I mean, they feel funny.  But I don't know what they're supposed to look like."

"You're not... messing them up," Castiel said.

Not very encouraging, but it was mostly an absent gesture anyway.  If it wasn't actively bothering Cas, at least it gave him something to do other than hold hands with an angel and try not to look down.  "So, what?" Dean asked, while his hand ran over feathers that felt more real than they looked.  "We just gonna hang out here until Gabe shows up again?"

Castiel hesitated.  If his wings moved even the smallest amount now, Dean couldn't tell.  Which was too bad, since he'd had a vague thought that patting someone's wings might be like rubbing their shoulders.  Anything that could make Cas relax, make him look the way he had when he'd first gotten here... it would have to be a good thing.

Dean was so going to punch Gabriel the next time he saw him.

"Is there anything you wish to see?" Castiel asked at last.  Like heaven was some kind of vacation destination and he was a tour guide.  Dean figured the more ground they covered the more likely they were to run into trouble.  Most of the time he was all in favor of trouble--but most of the time he was weighing his own danger, not Cas' capture.

So he said, "Yeah."  Then he added, "Your wings looking all pretty.  Tell me what your angel friends would do."

This prompted an even longer pause.  Dean deliberately didn't try to imagine what Cas was thinking.  He tried not to think himself, but that failed miserably, so instead he concentrated on the weird disconnect between what he could see and what he could feel.  Because it wasn't that he couldn't see the feathers: they were right there, bright and distinct and, as far as he could tell, not a single one out of place.

When he touched them, though.  They were a little off somehow, like this one didn't lie flat or that one had gotten the slightest bit skewed.  He could feel the ragged edge of one perfect flight feather, and he teased it with his fingers until it stitched itself back up.  Just like that... like a trick.  Like magic.

Like an angel's form remembering what it was supposed to look like.

"You're doing it," Castiel said quietly.

Great, Dean thought.  I'm instinctively angelic.  It made his lips quirk, so he said it out loud.  "Guess I'm a natural, huh?"

He could see Castiel's head tip to one side.  "A natural what?"

"Never mind," Dean said.  He reached for the other wing.  It felt less smooth, almost fuzzy, and he wondered if that was a bad sign.  He figured asking wouldn't be the smartest thing he could do, though, and for once he listened to himself.  For several minutes he just stood there, combing his fingers through Castiel's feathers without another word.

"Dean."  The voice sounded heavy, and Dean could tell from the way he said it that he wasn't going to like this.  "We can not stay much longer."

"Someone coming?" Dean guessed.

"I don't know," Castiel said.  "But time moves differently here.  Sam will be worried."

"Differently?" Dean said sharply.  "How differently?  Like, hell differently?"

"Yes," Castiel said.

Dean's fingers curled, but he had just enough presence of mind not to jerk away.  "How long is it, then?  Every minute here is like a month there, that it?"

"No," Castiel said, wings shifting enough that Dean thought he was going to turn.  "Not so long.  It's been a few hours, Dean.  I'm sorry.  I should have told you before."

"Yeah."  Dean frowned, thinking of the text he'd sent Sam.  "You should have."

"You didn't want me to go alone," Castiel said quietly.

Didn't want you to go at all, Dean thought, but he couldn't say it aloud.  Not after seeing Castiel's face when he caught his first glimpse of heaven.  "I don't trust Gabriel," he said instead.  "I don't want to keep you from heaven, Cas.  I never wanted that."

"I know."  Cas did turn then, wings sliding gently but deliberately out of Dean's grasp.  He had to relax them a little to do it, so that was something.  "Thank you," he said.  "For caring what happens to me."

Dean stared at him.  "What?"

Castiel only stared back at him, pretty glowing wings framing a figure that Dean would know anywhere, human features or not.  He didn't answer.  Like he knew Dean wasn't really asking.  Like the answer was so obvious he shouldn't have to.

"Dude," Dean muttered.  "Give me a reason to hate your family more, why don't you."

"I would show you something," Castiel said, his voice low enough to match.  "If you will allow me."

Dean never had any idea what to do with Cas' insignificant routine.  I'm an angel, I'm not worthy--what was that, anyway?  The guy had pulled Dean out of hell; he really should have a higher standard when it came to unworthiness.  Or a lower one.

"Yeah," Dean said with a sigh.  "Why not."

"Try to refrain from speaking to every beautiful soul we pass," Castiel said, and then his hand was on Dean's shoulder and they were standing on the street again.  Not the same street, Dean thought.

Then he thought, was that a joke?  "Did you just make a joke?" Dean asked.

Castiel sounded almost amused when he replied, "You've asked me that before."

"Yeah, and I bet you didn't answer then either."  He couldn't see the water from here, but he could still smell it.  What was it with heaven and the ocean?  He craned his neck, trying to decide if they were anywhere near where they'd been before.

When he turned around, Anna was standing in front of them.

"Whoa."  Dean blinked, aware that Cas hadn't flinched.  At this point, he didn't know whether that was a good sign or not.  "Where'd you come from?"

"I'd say heaven," she said, "but that's such a cliche."  Then she added, "And also kind of untrue, since Sam sent me."

Castiel muttered something that Dean had no trouble overhearing: "More like the opposite, then."

"Dude, shut up," Dean said reflexively.

Anna looked from him to Cas and back again, eyebrow raised, but all she said was, "He showed me your text message.  They all came looking for you as soon as he got it.  They found you in the car.  Alone."

Dean felt fingers tighten on his shoulder, and it took a conscious effort not to shrug the hand away.  "Wait, what?"

"Apparently someone's messing with your soul," Anna said.  "Based on the description Sam got from the waitress, I'm guessing Gabriel.  Am I close?"

"Your soul is walking free," Castiel murmured, when Dean glared at him.  "It is... not unlike a dream.  As when you and I would meet 'inside your head,' as you say.  You will appear as if asleep to them."

"You left me unconscious in the car?" he demanded.  "Sam's gonna be freaking out!"

"He's there," Anna interrupted.  "They've been driving ever since.  He called me half an hour ago.  I offered to widen the search a little."

He could feel Castiel's inquisitive look without turning his head.  "You didn't tell him where you were going?"

"Oh, I told him," Dean said.  "That's why she's here."

"Yeah, 'going to heaven, be right back,' wasn't as helpful as you might have thought," Anna said.  "Sam's been calling Castiel every fifteen minutes.  And if it was Gabriel who got you in here, he did a pretty good job hiding you, because it took me a few minutes to track you down.  And I knew where you were going."

"How?" Castiel asked.

"Where do you always go?" Anna countered.  "You know it's just a toy, Castiel."

"Did you make it?" Castiel asked.  Uncharacteristically, he answered for her.  "No.  So you don't know."

"What?"  Dean wasn't sure he wanted to know.  Especially if every minute they were here was another however-many-minutes that Sam had to spend worrying.  On the other hand, Sam had sent an archangel to check on his brother which was funny and sort of insulting, and Cas had asked nicely.

"It is inside," Castiel said.  "It will only take a moment."

Inside the giant glass and metal skyscraper, as it turned out.  The lobby was filled with human souls and daylight and more than just Dean's two angels: Gabriel was waiting for them.  He had his arms folded over his chest, which didn't make his height look any more imposing, and he looked faintly surprised when he saw Anna.

"Too late," Dean told him.  "We were just leaving."

"Castiel brought you to see the beacon," Gabriel said.  Eyes flicking to Cas, he added, "Not your brightest idea ever.  Anyone looking for you knows exactly where to start."

Anna made an unsubtle sound of agreement, and Dean suddenly felt like punching both of them.  "So let's see it and go," he said.  "What are we standing around talking for?"

"Here."  Castiel's hand was a gentle pressure on his shoulder, accompanying him across the lobby to a wall covered with circles and something that looked like etched glass.  "What does it say?"

Dean couldn't help noticing that they weren't the only ones looking at the wall.  Everyone in front of them made way, though, which he wasn't too thrilled about.  Maybe it was because Anna and Gabriel had followed them, but even so, having the crowd part for three rebel angels didn't seem like the best way to avoid attracting attention.

"Is it supposed to say something?" he asked, since it seemed important to Castiel.  It looked like a bunch of glowing lights and little chiming things.  If there were words there, they were written in a language he didn't recognize, let alone understand.

"Yes," Castiel said, just as Anna disagreed.

"Not really," she said from behind him.  "It's supposed to make you think it's saying something."

"Um, hi," Gabriel said.  "Not to play the sudden convert or anything, since that's so last season, but have you looked at it?  I've never seen it do that."

"Do what?"  Dean frowned at the display, all flickering shine and a faint sound like rushing wind.

"It's because there's three of us," Anna said.  "It's just reacting to proximity."

"It's reacting to him," Gabriel said, with a sort of startled certainty.  "No kidding.  Castiel planted him in front of it and it's going to town."

"He is chosen of the lord," Castiel said calmly.

"Whatever, Jesus doesn't make it light up like that," Gabriel retorted.  "This is something else."

Dean eyed the incomplete circles and broken lines and wasn't at all sure he liked the sound of this.  They were clearly talking about him.  They were just as clearly confusing the magic angel detector by swarming it like this.  Maybe it wasn't supposed to be so busy.  Or loud.  Or something.

"Someone tell me what's going on," he demanded, not that he had a lot of faith in angelic answers.  They probably thought they'd already told him.

"It is a compass made by God," Castiel said.  "It's for finding your way."

"Yeah, I hear that's what compasses do."  Dean wished he knew how to just stop for a few seconds, because Cas was trying to tell him something and he couldn't even concentrate on it.  "What does it tell you?"

"It told me to bring you," Castiel said, more quietly than he'd expected.  He figured the other angels could hear, but maybe not the humans gathered behind them.  "What does it tell you?"

Literal answer to a general question.  He could do that.

"Hi, I guess," Dean said, with what he thought was a very straight face.  "It tells me that I'm the best, and everyone should do what I say."

"This is a very significant message," Castiel said.  And for once, Dean was totally sure he could identify the humor in that voice.

"I would have called it 'Dean lying through his teeth,'" Anna remarked.  "But since this thing doesn't actually deliver messages outside of what one wants to hear, and I don't have trouble believing Dean thinks everyone should do what he says, that could actually be the message he got."

"Oh, hey, hate to break up the party," Gabriel began.  He sounded as urgent as Dean had ever heard him, and beside him, Castiel was instantly tense.

"We're about to have company," Anna said.  "Go.  I'll cover you."

Dean opened his mouth, about to protest--he'd heard that before--but Castiel was pulling him in.  A hand on his other shoulder, closer, arms wrapping around him, wings finally unfurled as they completely enveloped Dean.  Everything was warm and muffled and he didn't think he could hear anything until the sound of Gabriel snapping his fingers broke it all apart.

Something was roaring in his ears.  It was morning back home and he'd finally gotten to sleep in.  He was falling, always falling, and he jerked awake with a gasp.

Nightmare.  The bedspread was crumpled under his hands.

"He's awake," an all-too-familiar voice reported.

Ruby was mostly drowned out by exclamations and protests and Castiel's rough voice telling everyone to get out of the way.  Dean forced his eyes open, aware that it must be dark out mostly because of how bright it was inside the motel room.  No reason to make the lights blaze if there was any light coming in the windows.

"Dean."  Cas wanted him to talk, right now, and Sam was probably ready to push him off the bed and make him walk around to prove he could.  "Are you all right?"

"You kidnapped him," Sam snapped.  "Shouldn't you know?"

"'M fine," Dean muttered, rolling so his legs swung over the side of the bed and helped lever him into a sitting position.  He leaned forward, bracing his elbows while he scrubbed at his face.  He winced as his muscles complained, wondering how long he'd been stashed in the car without moving.

"See?" Gabriel's voice said.  "He's fine!  Stop looking at me like that!"

That made Dean lift his head, if only to see what kind of glare it took to irritate an archangel who posed as a trickster demi-god.  Ah.  Of course.  Cas really had a gift, didn't he.  He knew how to get on everyone's nerves.  He could write a book: Pissing Off Saints and Sinners in One Fell Swoop.

Not that Dean knew any saints.

"You sure you're okay?" Sam was asking.

He'd managed to get past Cas, Ruby, and Jo.  Dean waved him off before he decided to try the pushing thing.  "Yeah," he said, in what was probably a futile effort to make his brother back off.  "I'm good."


Dean didn't expect the blow to his shoulder, a punch that made fire explode underneath his skin.  He clutched at his arm, distantly aware of Sam saying something about stupid text messages while Gabriel tried to ignore Cas long enough to flirt with Jo.  Touching it didn't help, but the raw feel of the skin under his t-shirt was suddenly familiar and he forced himself to let go, sucking in enough air that he could start breathing normally again.  Almost.

"Dean?"  Sam sounded wary, and it got Castiel's attention.

"Yeah," he repeated, shoving his hands into the bed to push himself to his feet.  His shoulder felt like it had been scraped open, and he tried not to think about the fact that it was the same shoulder Cas had spent most of their time in heaven touching.  He thought getting up would distract them, but it was Jo, of all people, who betrayed him.

"Did you hurt your shoulder?" she asked, studying him critically.

"No," he said, but Sam was right there and he grabbed hold of Dean's sleeve without warning and yanked.

Dean brought up a hand to knock Sam's away--too late.  He saw Castiel's eyes go to his shoulder, heard Gabriel whistle, and he so did not need this.  Sam drew back, holding up his hands in silent apology, but the damage had been done.  The scar on his left shoulder was raised and angry-looking, red in a way it hadn't been since it healed.  Blistering over.


"Okay," Sam said, turning away.  "Note to self, punch the other shoulder next time."  He had to squeeze past Castiel to get to his bag and the first-aid kit, and that was long enough for Cas to close the gap between them.

Dean didn't flinch when that hand touched his shoulder again.  He couldn't bring himself to be surprised when the pain washed away, though it was fast enough that it left a momentary tingle of pleasure in its wake.  He opened his eyes to find Cas staring back at him.

"You could apologize out loud," Sam said, circling behind Cas with burn salve and an impatient look.  "For those of us who aren't psychically bonded to--"  He broke off when he saw Dean's arm.  "Did you do that?"

"Yes," Castiel said simply.

Dean glanced down at his shoulder.  The red was completely gone, faded back into white scar tissue that outlined the shape of a hand on his arm.  Still creepy, sure, but weirdly reassuring after all this time.  "Thanks," he said, the word scraping against the back of his throat.  The pain under his skin stayed gone.  The rest of him wasn't feeling so stiff anymore either.

"You can heal again?" Sam demanded.

"So it would seem," Castiel said.

"Hello, me?"  Gabriel tilted his head to one side while addressing himself, and who knew what that was about.  "Are you there?"  Then he turned to face the other way and said, "Why, yes, and I'm awesome.  So you're welcome!"

Dean caught Cas' eye, silently asking, Power?

Castiel gave him a tiny nod worth more than all the words Gabriel could string together.

"Okay," Dean said, letting out his breath in what was definitely not a relieved sigh.  He glared at Gabriel just to reinforce this.  "I can't tell Anna how trustworthy you are if she's not here, can I.  So where is she?"

Gabriel looked more offended than worried.  "How should I know?  She's the one who thought we needed 'cover.'"

"She is an archangel, Dean," Castiel reminded him.  "She will not be so easily destroyed."

That was probably supposed to be comforting.  Or maybe not, since Cas didn't really do the whole comfort thing.  Jo jumped in at that point anyway, wanting to know what they could have been doing in heaven that required cover, and that led to a more detailed explanation of falling than Dean was really comfortable with at the moment.

He was at the window, trying to get a decent angle on the street while moving the curtain as little as possible, when Sam leaned casually against the wall beside him.  "So, heaven?" he said under his breath.

Dean snorted, letting the curtain fall.  "Couldn't prove it by me," he said.

Castiel was almost keeping Gabriel from impressing Jo, mostly by virtue of the fact that Jo was already impressed by Castiel and she seemed to think it was funny when he corrected people.  Gabriel was letting Cas do it, which erased like two of his million negative points.  Ruby's gaze flicked to them when Sam spoke, but she looked away again quickly.

Sam was still trying to act nonchalant.  "Not cool, then?"

Dean shrugged, because they could pretend it was a private conversation all they wanted but it was a small room.  If Ruby was listening, then no way would Cas miss a single word.  "Better than last time," he muttered.

"They make you go?" Sam asked, his voice low.

"No."  Dean pushed the curtain back again, but there wasn't anything except the street and the motel sign and a night sky that was starting to lighten around the edges.  He wasn't even sure what he was looking for.  "Gabe took Cas, and I wouldn't let him go without me."

"He took Cas to heaven."  Even whispering, Sam could sound skeptical.

"Special mojo recharge," Dean said.  "I don't get it, but."  He shrugged, his shoulder scarred but unobtrusive again under his shirt sleeve.  "Apparently it worked."

"Huh."  Sam glanced over his shoulder before Dean dropped the curtain.  "You gotta learn to type faster."

"Yeah."  He grimaced.  "Sorry.  Didn't know it would work like that.  We were only gone a few minutes."

"Really?"  Sam huffed out an impatient laugh.  "Figures."  He didn't say, just like hell, but then, he didn't have to.

It wasn't until Dean's phone rang that he realized someone had taken it out of his pocket.  Or maybe it had fallen out when Sammy was carrying him to the bed.  Either way, it was lying on the bedspread and Cas was the one to reach out and pick it up.  He didn't look at the screen before he handed it to Dean.

Dean did, but it didn't do him any good.  He hoped the screwy caller ID was a good sign and lifted it to his ear, staring at the rest of the room while they stared back at him.  "Yeah?" he said.

"We need to talk," Anna's voice told him.  "Fast."

Dean frowned.  "You okay?" he asked.

Castiel was standing directly in front of him, which was probably the only reason he noticed the slight flinch.  He put it down to the reminder of an all-out archangel attack, but then Cas tipped his head to one side and his gaze went somewhere far away.  Dean frowned at him, silently questioning.  He didn't really hear Anna's reply until she added, "Is Cas with you?"

"Maybe," Dean said, suddenly wary.  She'd just faced down who-knew-what, after all, and Gabe and Cas had followed him back to the motel room no problem.  Where was she?  "What's going on, Anna?"

Castiel's eyes were wide, and he lifted his hands to his ears.  He only covered them for a second, pulling them away again and turning his head like he was trying to clear it, but it was so out of character that Dean found himself stepping forward.  "What's wrong?" he whispered, tilting the phone away.  Anna probably heard it anyway.

"I can't..."  Castiel shook his head again.

"They're cutting us off," Anna's voice said in his ear.  "It's not just him, but it's going to hit the lower angels hardest.  We need to get as many of us together in one place as we can."

If that didn't sound like a trap, he didn't know what did.  "Yeah, no offense, Anna, but that doesn't sound like great strategic planning," Dean said, reaching out instinctively when Cas winced.

This time, he saw Gabriel blink at the same time, a startled look that was out of place in his expression.

What the hell was happening?

"What's going on?" Sam asked, frowning at the angels.

Dean shook his head, but Anna was saying, "I know.  We have to do it anyway.  Angels aren't designed for this, and I don't know how far they'll take it."

"Take what?" Dean snapped, feeling Cas' weight press against his hand as he swayed forward.  Since when did angels get dizzy?  "Cutting you off?  From what, heaven?  I thought they couldn't do that to archangels."

"Not from heaven," she said.  "From each other."

"Dean," Sam said impatiently.

He tilted the phone away, using his other hand to hang onto Cas.  "She says they're being cut off from each other," he said.  "I don't know what that means, but it looks like it sucks."

"The angels?" Jo asked from the other side of the bed.

Castiel was staring at him, a stricken look on his face, and Dean couldn't look away.  He looked like he was about to speak, but the words never came.  He just stood there, silent, horrified by something Dean couldn't understand.

"Cas," Dean snapped.  He clenched his fingers, wishing he could shake the shoulder in his grip, but Castiel was totally angelic now and any human pliability he had mimicked in the past was absent.  "Talk to me.  Tell me what's going on."

"He can't hear them," Anna said over the phone.  "They're all going quiet."

"What's going quiet?" he demanded.  "What are you talking about?"

"The host," Castiel said, his voice a harsh rasp in the sudden stillness.  "The voices of heaven are falling silent."

"Ask Anna where she is," Gabriel said suddenly.

"Yeah, I heard that," Anna replied, before Dean could say anything.  "I was about to ask you the same thing."

Dean tore his eyes away from Cas, who was doing a good impression of a really droopy angel, to look over at Sam.  His brother had straightened from his slouch against the wall, ready to kick butt and take names, but there was no one to fight here and they knew it.  Even Gabriel was starting to look a little wilted.  Jo looked both pissed and offended, like angel backstabbing personally disappointed her.  Ruby just looked wary.

"Okay," Dean told the phone.  "You guys need to talk to each other, right?  And I'm guessing English isn't gonna cut it?"

"Dean," Anna said.  "I'm just worried about Cas.  I'm not trying to trick you."

"I'm so far past that right now, you have no idea," Dean told her.  "He'll meet you at Mesa Verde.  Take care of him for me."

There was a heartbeat's worth of startled silence from the other end of the line, but she came through for him.  "I will," she promised.  "Dean, I will."

He hung up, gripping Castiel's shoulder harder.  "Can you defend yourself?" he asked sharply.  "Cas."

"Yes."  Castiel drew himself up, glow rippling over his shoulders, and Dean glared past him at Gabriel.

"Congratulations," he bit out.  "I trust you.  Don't screw up."

Then he let go of Cas and stepped back.  "Good luck," he said.

Castiel just stared at him until Gabriel came up behind him, wings outstretched and Dean would swear everyone in the room must be able to see them.  At least the shadows, ghostly and intermittent when the light hit them just right.  But Jo jumped when they disappeared as if she'd had no warning at all, and Ruby hunched in on herself, looking over her shoulder like they might have ended up behind her somehow.

Sam just shook his head, pulling out his blackberry.

Dean tried not to think about letting Cas vanish with Gabriel, of all people, and looked at Sam instead.

"Bobby," Sam offered, holding the phone a little away from his ear while it connected.  "See if he ever found anything else on angelic retribution."

Dean shook his head.  "Could write our own book," he muttered, and Sam made a sound of wry agreement.  Then Dean looked up, because Sam hadn't even asked--he'd just done it, like it was the obvious next step.  "Sam," he said.  "Thanks."

"Hey, Bobby," Sam said, nodding at Dean before he turned away.  "Yeah, got a question for you."

"We getting another room?" Dean asked Jo.  "What time is it, anyway?  You guys get any sleep in the car?"

"I'm good to go," Jo said.  "But Sam figured we could crash 'til checkout if we had to."

"The second everyone stops talking, I'm falling asleep in this chair," Ruby said.

Dean made a split second decision.  The angels were gone for who knew how long, and the four of them were as good as it got.  "Jo, you're a light sleeper, right?  You think you can keep this one from sleep-killing us if you share a bed?"

Jo and Ruby traded glances.  "Yeah," Jo said, the corner of her mouth quirking up.  "I'm on it."

"Good."  Dean tossed his phone down on the desk, grabbed the hotel notepad and scribbled NO BLOODSUCKING in big black letters.  He snapped his fingers at Sam until he looked.  When Sam rolled his eyes, Dean nodded, satisfied.

By the time he threw himself down on the other bed fifteen minutes later, the phone was back in his hand.  Still silent.  He'd set it to both vibrate and ring for an incoming call.  Short of praying, there wasn't much else he could do.

The memory of Jo kneeling in the living room came back to him, directing her thanks to a guy who was, at the very least, MIA.  Jo, who mocked the Bible and rolled her eyes when he tried not to swear.  Who had met Cas, who'd heard Anna's story, and still spoke to a god even angels had given up on.

It had brought Anna to her door, hadn't it?

Face buried in the pillow, Dean thought, Please keep my family safe.