Dean blinked awake in the early morning light, checked the clock on the bedside table and swore. He hadn't meant to stay out the whole night and now he was going to have to book it to get back soon enough to shower and get ready for school. Not that he really cared one way or another if he got to school on time, but if he got Sam there one second late Dean knew the kid would bitch about it the rest of the day.
Still, he took the second to stretch and get his bearings. He felt weird and hung over, although he would swear he'd only had two beers and one of those hard lemonade things.... Dean realized he didn't actually remember the name of the girl who'd insisted he'd try the hard lemonade and whose bedroom he was currently lounging around in. Crap. Double crap, because he was pretty sure they were in the same homeroom.
Dean slipped out of the bed and looked around for his clothes; he was a little weirded out to find them neatly folded at the foot of the bed and filed away the knowledge that whoever-she-was was kind of a neat freak. Something about the room itself pinged him as wrong, too; he could swear the sheets had been a Hello Kitty pattern, not the boring floral one there now. If they'd gotten up to something freaky enough that they'd had to change the sheets then and there Dean hoped he'd remember it.
He pushed the thought aside. He had to get back to Bobby's, get Sam off to school and, most importantly, avoid any morning-after clinginess. Just as he'd gathered himself enough to make his escape Dean heard a sound by the door; he spun around and saw a little girl, three or four at the most, leaning against the door and staring up at him, her eyes wide. "Hey," Dean said, hoping she hadn't been there long enough to watch him get dressed. "I'm a friend of...I'm a friend," he said, suddenly wondering if climbing out the window was an option. The urge only intensified when the girl backed up and shouted "Mommy! Mommy! There's a strange man here!"
Dean didn't need any more prompting; he opened the window, swung himself out and dropped down, rolling when he fell to make a safe if not exactly graceful landing. The last thing he needed was angry parents making trouble for him, although Dean could swear the chick had said her parents were away for the week and he didn't think she'd mentioned any little sisters.
He put all that out of his mind. There didn't seem to be any alarms being raised and Dean crept along the side of the house, eager to get in his baby and be gone.
Dean pulled up short when he got to driveway and didn't see a black Impala parked there. He scanned the street but his car wasn't parked along the curb, either; after a few minutes of searching side streets he leaned against a telephone pole and tried to figure what in the hell had happened last night. Had they come in her car? It would be weird if they did; Dean liked to do the driving and half the time he thought girls liked his ride better than they liked him. But there was a car in the driveway, just not his, and if her parents had been out he knew he would have parked there. He wondered for a second if it had gotten stolen, but his phone was dead and he couldn't call around to see. Dean decided to just get to Bobby's and deal with it there.
It was about a twenty minute walk to Bobby's place just outside town and Dean didn't know how he didn't realize how run down the place was before. He swore the clutter from the scrap yard had multiplied over night. He didn't see his car here either and genuinely started to worry; his key didn't open the lock but the front door was always kind of fussy (Bobby liked it that way. He always said that anything that kept the idjits of the world away from his house was fine by him.) After a few minutes of fiddling with the lock Dean got it to slide open, sneaking inside and almost tripping over a box of whatever it was Bobby'd just parked in the hallway, Dean was afraid to look. "I swear, you're turning into a fucking hoarder, Bobby," he said, navigating his way around stacks of books. "Sam! Get your ass up, you're gonna be late for school!" There was no answer and Dean cursed his brother's ability to sleep through an air raid.
The kitchen was cold. Dean paused for a second in the doorway, a little flutter of wrong circling its way around his spine. Bobby was an obscenely early riser and even if he always said Dean and Sam were old enough to cook their own damn breakfast half the time he did it anyway, and either way he always made coffee. "Bobby? Sam? Everything okay?" He stomped his way up the stairs, trying to keep the worry from turning into panic. Bobby wasn't as young as he used to be and God knew he didn't take care of himself.
He had just reached the top of the stairs when he heard the sound of a door opening behind him. "Now you stop right there."
Dean turned around to see Bobby just outside the door to his bedroom and pointing a shotgun right at Dean. Because of course he was. "Jesus, Bobby, could you be any more paranoid? You're gonna hurt someone with that some day."
All Bobby did was stare. "Dean?"
Dean didn't know if worry even started to describe what he was feeling. Bobby was looking at Dean like was a ghost, and he'd never heard Bobby's voice sound like that. Old and fragile. If there was one thing Bobby Singer didn't do, it was fragile. "Who else would I be?"
Bobby dropped the shotgun to the floor like he'd forgotten he was holding it – everything about that was wrong, aside from his dad Dean had never met someone who took guns more seriously than Bobby – and he walked toward Dean, touching his arm like he wanted to make sure Dean was solid. "You look exactly the same," he whispered, like he was talking to himself. "How in the world can you look the same?"
"I don't...Bobby, what's wro---"
Bobby wrapped him up in an enormous hug, tight enough that Dean couldn't breathe for a second. "Boy, where in the hell have you been?"
"I...I hooked up with some girl, it's no big deal, I do that all the time." Dean was horrified to realize the old man was crying. It hit Dean all at once that something must have happened to Sam, an accident or something while Dean was out and no one could find him because his phone died. "Bobby, it was just one night, what happened?"
Bobby shook his head. "Dean, you've been gone eight years."
Dean balanced the photo album on lap and tried to keep his head from spinning. "Sam's taking the next flight out," Bobby said, sitting on the couch next to Dean.
"Can't believe the little brat's in college."
"In college, hell, about to start law school. Got a free ride and everything." He turned the page to a photo of Sam in his high school graduation gown, staring glumly at the camera. "No one deserves it more than him."
"How come he's the only one not smiling here?" Dean asked, pointing at the picture.
"Kid's had a rough time."
Dean kept paging through the pictures, looking at missed birthday parties as Sam went from a scrawny fourteen-year-old to a floppy-haired adult in the span of a few pages. "How come there's no picture from the fifteenth and sixteenth birthdays? He hide from the camera for two years?"
"Something like that."
Dean closed the book and looked up at Bobby; he kept staring at Dean like he expected him to disappear. "I'm not going anywhere, Bobby. You know that."
"Where were you all this time? You fell off the face of the earth, we had the cops, the FBI, everyone looking for you. They tried to say you'd just run off but we both knew you'd never do that."
"Of course I fucking wouldn't." Dean leaned against the couch, his hands over his face. "I don't know, Bobby. I swear, it's just been one night for me. It's like I slept through eight years."
"If you'd slept you'd have aged. How in the hell can you still be eighteen?"
Dean just let out a sigh. "I don't know. Sure as hell wish I did." He rubbed his eyes, absolutely refusing to cry. "When's Sam gonna get here?"
"Around noon, depending on how his flights go. The weather's been bad around Denver and he's gotta make a connection there."
"Can't wait." He stretched a kink out of his neck; he didn't know how he could have apparently slept for eight years and still be so tired. "Do I even want to ask about my car?"
The corners of Bobby's mouth twitched up. "Under cover out back. Haven't touched it in years, so I can't say what shape it's in...."
"She'll run for me."
His eyelids were drooping and Bobby clapped him on the shoulder. "You should head upstairs. You've got a hell of a day tomorrow."
Dean nodded vaguely and headed upstairs, so overloaded with information he felt drunk. It was hard to believe he could have really lost eight years, not when Bobby's house was the same; more cluttered maybe, more worn, but still familiar. The crack that ran up along the bannister, the way you had to watch the third step from the top because the edge was worn away, Dean knew all of it so well he could almost believe it had only been one night.
Seeing his room didn't help. Oh, Sam's side of the room was different, the wall stripped bare of the Star Wars posters and other stuff that lingered in Dean's memory, but from what he could see his own side hadn't been touched. Like Bobby had been waiting for him. "Jesus, Bobby. This is kind of sad."
He kicked off his shoes and stretched out. It was weird trying to sleep without Sam on the other side of the room. He closed his eyes, hoping that maybe if he wanted it hard enough all of this would just be a long, terrible dream.
There was something he hadn't told Bobby, something he hadn't noticed until he'd stripped to take a much needed shower and caught his reflection in the mirror. He couldn't feel it and he didn't know what it meant, but there was a handprint across his left shoulder, like someone had branded it there. Dean studied it for a long, long moment, his heart pounding, then he put his shirt back on to cover it and turned off the light.
A clap of thunder jarred Dean awake. He cracked his eyes open and groaned when he saw the empty bed and bare wall across the room; all of that apparently had happened. He rolled over, his head pounding, and checked to make sure he'd closed the window.
A flash of lightning illuminated the room and Dean felt his blood freeze. In that instant he'd seen a man standing in the corner of the room watching him, a dark-haired man wearing a trenchcoat, his arms crossed over his chest; Dean hit the lights and tumbled out of the bed, ready for the fight.
No one was there. Dean thought he'd heard a sound, almost like a bird in flight, but the room was empty and he was alone.
Dean pulled the tarp off of the car, his heart clenching at seeing his baby's paint dull and covered in dust. The driver's side door creaked when he opened it; Dean slid inside, running his fingers across the dashboard and along the curve of the steering wheel. "You miss me, girl?" he whispered, adjusting the rearview mirror. He put the key in the ignition and winced when the engine only sputtered.
"It's been eight years, Dean. I told you it might not start."
"I'll get her to start." Dean popped the hood, grabbing his toolkit and getting to work.
"You want some help---?"
"I got this, Bobby," he said, already poking at the transmission.
He saw Bobby shake his head. "You holler if you want any help. I've got some calls to make."
Dean barely even heard him, too consumed in trying to undo the damage his absence had done. At least that was something he could fix.
He lost track of time, the way he always did when he worked on his car, so he didn't know how long it was before he heard steps crunching up the gravel path. "Told you, Bobby, I'm good out here."
Dean dropped his wrench into the dirt. He turned around and saw a man in a sharp suit standing at the edge of the scrapyard. "Sammy?" Dean would never admit it to himself but he wouldn't have recognized Sam if he'd passed him on the street. "That you?"
"Dean?" the man whispered again, a tremor to the word this time and that, that was his brother's voice. "Bobby told me but I didn't believe him, I couldn't...."
Dean walked over to him, stopping himself from throwing his arms around Sam at the last second. "Shit, I'm covered in oil-"
"I don't care." Sam practically picked Dean up, he hugged him so hard. "I thought I was never going to see you again. I thought you were gone."
"Never, Sam. That would never happen."
"Everyone tried to make me think you'd just run out but I knew you wouldn't...." he whispered into Dean's hair, his voice cracking.
"I don't believe you're fucking taller than me."
"I don't believe you're this short."
"Jerk." Sam finally let him go and Dean rubbed feeling back into his arms. "Where have you been all this time? What happened?"
"I have no idea, Sam. I swear I don't. It was like one night passed for me. You should've seen Bobby, I think I almost gave him a heart attack."
"I don't blame him. Just looking at you, it's like...God, I feel like I'm fourteen again."
Dean felt an uneasy silence press down between them, all the worse because the last person on Earth he ever thought he'd feel awkward around was his little brother. Now that the reunion part was over and done with Dean just didn't know what to say. "So, um...heard you conned your way into law school."
Sam grinned, clearly relieved Dean had broken the silence first. "Yeah. I start the last week in August."
"Do you know what kind of...?"
Dean shook his head. "Figured you go for a do-gooder specialty."
Sam nodded over Dean's shoulder. "What's wrong with the car?"
"Poor girl's been neglected."
"You want some help fixing her up?"
Dean's chest burned. He remembered teaching Sam the different parts of the engine on this car. "Pretty sure I'd like that more than anything." He gave Sam a critical once-over. "As long as you don't mind getting that fancy suit dirty."
The work took most of the day, and even if he and Sam never did find their old groove it felt so good to be right next to his brother Dean almost didn't care. When they went to bed that night, Sam back in his old bed across the room even though he really was too tall for it now, Dean could almost pretend things could just snap back to normal.
That lasted until he woke up in the morning and found Sam already gone. "What to you mean he just left?" Dean asked Bobby, too upset to even start picking at his eggs. "I thought we'd finish the car today."
"All he told me is that he had a paper to write and needed to head to the library. He does still need to graduate college before he gets to law school, you know."
Dean supposed that made sense. It would make more sense if he didn't know that the library opened at ten and it was still only 8:30, but he got the definite impression Bobby wanted him to leave this one alone. "Guess we can finish working on it when he gets back."
"Speaking of school," Bobby said, giving Dean a look that was almost an apology, "You're going on Monday."
"Aw, c'mon Bobby, you're kidding."
"Don't you give me that. I promised your father I'd make you two graduate and just because Sam went above and beyond doesn't mean you're in the clear."
Dean jabbed at the now cold eggs with his fork. "Talk about giving a guy a chance to adjust."
"You should be thanking me. At first they wanted you to start the year over. I talked the principal into giving you time served. You can graduate in June and be done with it."
"Man, that's just the last thing I thought I'd have to worry about." He pushed the eggs around his plate, the slight appetite he'd sat down with now gone entirely. "Is Sam okay?"
"How do you mean?"
Dean didn't like how carefully Bobby said that. "I don't know. He's just quiet. I mean, he was never the chattiest kid in the world but not like this. I tried to get him to talk about school but he brushed me off every time. Sam loves talking about school."
"Did love talking about school. Eight years is a long time, Dean. He's grown now, you can't expect him to act the same way he did when he was just a kid."
Dean finally pushed his plate away. "I'm gonna go find him. Something's wrong, I know it, and we're gonna hash it out right now."
"I wouldn't go out there---"
"Bobby, I know you're trying to help but believe me, I got this."
He'd barely opened the front door when a flashbulb went off full in his face. "Dean!" shouted a strange voice while he tried to blink the spots away from his vision. "Dean what can you tell us?"
"Where were you all those years?" said another voice, a male one this time. "Were you kidnapped?"
Dean felt like every reporter in South Dakota was camped out at his front door; he counted ten before he gave up, half with a full camera crew, and he saw one of the network news vans parked across the street. He opened his mouth to answer that last question, but before he could say anything (which was a good thing, because Dean had no idea how to answer these questions) another male voice called out, "We'll give you an exclusive, Dean! All the time you want!"
He heard someone shush the man, then someone else, Dean couldn't begin to keep track, said, "Why haven't you aged? Would you submit to a DNA test?"
More questions came, an endless stream of them that all blended together into so much gibberish; before Dean could start talking and embarrass himself he felt Bobby grab his arm and yank him back from the doorway, shutting it in the reporters' faces. He didn't think he'd ever loved the old man more in his life. "That's why I didn't want you to go outside."
"What the hell, Bobby?"
"You came back after eight years looking like you took a quick nap, Dean. That's an honest-to-God miracle, did you think the vultures wouldn't start circling?" He pushed Dean toward the back of the house. "Here, sneak out the back if you're set on leaving. I'll distract them."
Dean had no idea what that meant, and a mean, panicky part of him hoped Bobby intended to distract them with his shotgun. He slipped through the crooked wooden door out back and circled around, seeing that Bobby had indeed brought his shotgun out for his little meeting with the press. Dean knew it was a bad idea to stick around and took off for a side street, pulling his hood up in the hopes he could avoid being recognized and ratted out by some random passerby. He just hoped Bobby didn't get himself arrested.
Dean still knew the streets but a lot of the landmarks he depended on for navigation were gone; the corner market that had the best roast beef in the state was a travel agency, the old dance studio was had been torn down to make room for a farmer's market, and the video store was gone completely, just an empty building with a faded sign. He got turned around more than once trying to find the library, only realizing once he finally did find it what a circus his being seen standing next to Sam could turn into. He decided to risk heading for home; hopefully Bobby had frightened everyone away and he could start the day over.
Then from the corner of his eye Dean saw a flash of a tan trenchcoat. He whipped his head around just in time to see a dark-haired man disappear around a corner. Dean felt his heart pound as he took off running after him. "Hey! Hey you, in the coat! Who the hell are you?" He almost caught up with him once, jumping back just in time to avoid getting hit by the crosstown express and watch helplessly as his quarry disappeared around another corner. It was the man who'd been in his room, Dean knew it, and he was going to find out why.
He searched for the rest of the day without even a single sighting of the stranger in the trenchcoat, long enough for Dean to start doubting his senses. He finally headed for home at dusk, so tired he didn't even remember to check if the press was still massed outside his door.
They weren't, fortunately, and Dean at least found the presence of mind to pull all the shades before peeling off his jacket and dropping down into a chair in the kitchen, his head in his hands. There was a covered dish in his usual place, a post-it note stuck to it reading, "You missed dinner, idjit," and Dean smiled for the first time all day. He didn't even bother heating the food up, so hungry he just wolfed it down, then he put the dish in the sink and got up to find Bobby and Sam. It didn't take long to realize the house was dark; he found a page of movie times ripped from that day's newspaper tacked up on the corkboard in the hall. It stung for a second that they'd gone without him, but he figured it was his own fault for running out without his phone. Even if he did really hustle and manage to catch up with them, with his luck the reporters would just swoop back in and ruin it for everyone.
And anyway, he supposed Sam and Bobby had a lot to talk about. Him, specifically.
Dean flopped into Bobby's ancient armchair and turned on the game, needed something to make the house less quiet. He wondered how Bobby had stood it all that time Sam was off at school and he was...well, wherever it was he'd been.
He woke the next morning still in the chair, a blanket thrown over him. When he wandered into the kitchen for breakfast Sam brought up helping him finishing fixing the car without Dean having to say a single word, and Dean sent Bobby a silent look of thank you before they both went out the door.
It took two more days for Dean to spot the man in the trenchcoat again. He was lurking in the alley behind the old hardware store and tried to slip back into the shadows when Dean spotted him, but Dean was determined he wasn't getting away so easy this time. He knew something his creepy stalker didn't: the alley behind the block of stores there might twist around but it stopped in a dead end. Dean smiled to himself when the man tried to retreat further into the alley, the way he had days before. This time Dean had him.
It took a few minutes of sneaking around corners, but finally Dean managed to reach out and snag the man by his collar. "Now tell me who you are, you fucking...."
The man was gone. The man was gone and in his place there was a thing, a tower of light as big as a skyscraper. Dean tumbled backward, tripping over a tipped-over garbage can as he stared up at it, pain stabbing through his eyes like knives; he saw six unfurled wings, like they were made from rays of the sun and his mind couldn't decide whether the thing had one face or none or four, everything was just so bright.
Then in an instant he felt a hand clamp over his eyes, the light blinking out like he'd imagined it. "Well, the cloaking mechanism clearly doesn't work," he heard someone sigh, the voice deep and rasping. His eyes burned so much for a second he thought he'd caught fire; he felt wetness trailing down his face and didn't know if it was tears or blood. "Dean, open your eyes and look at me."
Dean followed the command, in too much pain to question it; he didn't see anything except darkness and felt himself start to shake. "Oh God. Oh God, I'm blind."
He felt a hand tip his chin up. "You damaged your retinas," he heard that strange voice say with another little sigh.
"I don't want to be blind."
"They can be repaired." Dean felt fingers press against his temple. "You'll have to come with me." Before he could even think about arguing he felt cold wrap around him, his stomach churning and trying to climb up through his mouth as a force pulled him through space.
When he came to he found himself on a metal table, not like an operating room table but one that was all curves, suspended in mid-air with seemingly nothing to support it. The metal was smooth and warm to the touch, a faint vibration running through it that reminded Dean of a heartbeat. It took a few minutes for him to wake up enough to realize he could see again and a few more until he was sure he wasn't about to cry. The ceiling above him was metal like the table and domed, supportive cross hatching running all the way across it. Lights embedded in the walls blinked in random patterns, and on an enormous video screen Dean could see various maps and diagrams and notes, all written in a language he couldn't read.
"Good. You're awake."
Dean turned his head and saw the dark-haired man leaning against another console, his sleeves rolled up and trenchcoat toss over a chair. "Did we fly here?"
"Of course not," the man said, as if that was a ridiculous statement. "That was a short-range teleport."
"You were in my bedroom," he said, still trying to get his wits back around him.
The man nodded. "Yes, I was."
"You're not adjusting as you should be. I wanted to discover why."
And suddenly everything was very clear. "You did this to me. You're why I skipped ahead eight years."
The man looked down at the floor. "Yes."
"Who the fuck are you?"
"My name is Castiel."
Castiel tilted his head to the side. "We don't have family names as you do."
"'We don't....'" Dean felt his heart hammering as he looked around the strange, metallic room, slowly realizing he should replace the word room with ship. "You're not from Earth."
"You kidnapped me."
Castiel ran his tongue over his lips, and Dean felt fury take hold at seeing such a human gesture from this thing. "I would argue with that wording."
"What the fuck are you? Why did you take me?"
"I'm a researcher," Castiel said, and Dean couldn't believe he had the nerve to sound offended. "My purpose is to study and catalogue organisms from different worlds."
"You...." Dean narrowed his eyes. "Did you probe me?"
Castiel tilted his head to the side again, as if he didn't quite understand the question. "I...studied you, certainly. My examinations were entirely noninvasive, if that's what's concerning you."
"Right," Dean said with a bitter, scoffing laugh. "Noninvasive for eight fucking years."
"The tests are comprehensive but time consuming. That's why you were put in stasis the entire time, so you could be returned to the moment you were collected with no knowledge anything had been amiss."
"Yeah, that worked out real fucking well."
Castiel let out a soft sigh, his brow furrowing. "The human life force is too fragile to withstand time travel. It's a very rare complication. And even when it does occur, most of my subjects don't have nearly the amount of trouble adjusting you've shown."
"I'm not your subject." Dean pushed himself up so he was sitting. "And what kind of other subjects? How many other people have you done this to?"
"You're the first human I've collected," Castiel snapped. "That's why I didn't know how you would react to the time travel."
"And you thought I would just adjust? I'm not some chipmunk you can release out into the woods, losing eight years is a big deal!"
"Eight years is a relatively inconsequential span of time, even for a creature with your life span. Would you rather I let you die?"
"I want to know what you did to me. You said the tests you ran were noninvasive, right?" Dean said, a savage twist to the words. When Castiel nodded, Dean rolled up his sleeve, exposing the handprint scar. "Then explain this."
Castiel's lips went thin. "When I realized the time travel was going wrong I had to stop it manually. That happened when I pulled you out." He reached out as if he meant to touch the mark, pulling back when Dean flinched. "That was the only time I touched you, Dean, I swear," he said instead, those intense blue eyes locking with Dean's.
"Aside from whatever you were doing to me for eight years."
"Ten years," Castiel corrected. When Dean looked up he continued, "the experiments span ten years. We managed to go back two before I realized the process was killing you. And as I said before, the tests were entirely noninvasive."
Ten years. Dean felt his skin crawl just at the thought. "That big glowy thing in the alley. That was you?"
Castiel nodded. "That was my true form. Your eyes aren't structured in a way that would allow you to perceive me safely."
"How come they're not exploding from my sockets now?"
"I'm using a matter converter to make my form better match yours. It should be more effective than the glamour I was using," he said, as if that made any kind of sense.
"Why me?" Dean whispered. "Why did you take me?"
Castiel's brow furrowed again. "You're into full adulthood, in perfect health and are considered an attractive reproductive partner by others of your kind. In addition, you represent the culturally dominant race and sex for your species, at least on this particular section of the planet. You're a very good representative of your species, Dean."
"Stop talking about me like I'm some guinea pig."
Castiel looked baffled. "When did I speak to you as if you were a southern hemisphere rodent?"
Dean shook his head. "Take me back. Right now, take me back."
"No. It would be fatal."
"I'll risk it."
"I won't risk killing you. And at any rate, my ship was damaged during the last aborted time jump. Even if you could survive the process I have to make extensive repairs. You'll just have to adjust...."
Dean jumped off the table and punched Castiel in the mouth before he could say another word. He watched the alien stagger back off his feet, silver blood trickling from his split lip. "You made me miss eight years of my brother's life. When our dad died I promised him it was going to be okay, I was always gonna be right there and I wasn't because of you." He waited for Castiel to attack him back but he stayed on the floor, that first flash of fury melting into something that looked a lot like shame. "Take me back home." Castiel nodded, getting back to his feet and pressing his fingers back to Dean's forehead. When Dean opened his eyes again he was at his front door.
The first thing Dean did was grab a bottle of Bobby's good scotch and drink until he could forget any of that ever happened.
If there was one good thing about notoriety, it was the girls who just had to find out if Dean was for real. Dean was pretty sure there was some kind of dare going on between the girls in his history class but if it let him make out with chicks in halter tops in alleys he really didn't care what kind of stories they were passing around about him. The girl he was kissing now was named Betty or Bonnie, some name that started with a B, Dean couldn't remember just then; all he knew was that she sat two rows behind him and had sauntered up to his locker after class and asked if he wanted to "have some fun." There were worse ways to adjust back to high school.
Dean let her press him against the wall behind the movie theater, grinning when she slid one hand past his waistband. "Girls work fast nowadays."
She giggled. "Welcome to the future, Dean Winchester."
It was a terrible line but Dean didn't care. He'd just managed to unhook her bra when he looked over her shoulder and saw Castiel leaning against the opposite wall of the alley, his head cocked to the side and brow furrowed as he watched them. Dean jumped back, almost banging his head against the wall. "Jesus."
Betty-Bonnie turned around and screamed, first shrinking back against Dean then pulling back like he was on fire. Dean didn't know why she decided this was his fault but she slapped him so hard his ears rang. "Freak," she spit out before stomping out of the alley.
Castiel frowned. "That's not my name. I told you, it's...."
"Your name is long and girly and I'll call you what I want." Dean sighed, running one hand through his hair. "Why the hell are you here?"
"You pointed out that my understanding of your culture is...deficient. Since I'm stranded here while making repairs I thought I might remedy that." He crossed his arms, looking at Dean like he was some kind of fascinating insect. "What's the purpose of that behavior? The pressing of mouths together?"
Dean slumped against the wall. "Kissing, you mean?"
Castiel nodded once. "It's not part of the reproductive act."
Dean buried his face in his hands. He was not about to have the Talk with a space alien. "Sure it is. I mean, usually you're hoping it gets you there, but it doesn't have to."
"But then what's the purpose of it?"
"It...I don't know, it feels good. It gets the blood pumping, y'know?" he said, although he could see Castiel really didn't. "It's just something two people do when they figure out they like each other. Maybe it leads to sex – and man, I don't know what sex is for you guys, but trust me, it's awesome, way more than just a reproductive act – but it doesn't have to, it's fun on its own. Hell, sometimes it's how you let someone know you like them that way in the first place."
"Did you have special regard for that female?"
Dean sighed. This was going to take a while. "I didn't even know her name. I'm not real picky about who I'll kiss, I guess, but not everyone's like that. And it is different when it's someone you really like. Lots of times it's easier to get up your courage and just kiss someone than try to tell them you like them in the first place."
Castiel let out a soft, frustrated breath. "Your species is complicated. I have trouble with your non-verbal communication," he admitted. "Perhaps if I'd collected more samples...."
"No," Dean snapped, taking a step toward Castiel who for his part backed away, clearly confused by Dean's sudden anger. "You don't do this to anyone else, you hear me?"
"I'm not planning to. I just want to understand."
Dean rubbed his forehead, trying to push back the ache growing from his temples. "I get that," he said, although he refused to apologize to this thing. "Look, if you really have stuff you need to know about us you can ask me. Just don't drag anyone else into this."
"That...could be valuable," he said, as if mulling that over. "Would you be willing to submit to further examination, as well? There are several tests that can only be performed on a responsive subject."
Dean sighed. "I guess, if it'll keep you from getting curious enough to kidnap anyone else. Just...I don't know, call me your patient if you have to call me something. Subject just makes me feel like a rat in a maze. And no cutting me open or anything like that."
He saw Castiel's mouth go tight. "I'm not a butcher, Dean. I have no interest in harming you."
"Could've fooled me," Dean said under breath.
Before Dean could react Castiel stepped toward him, his eyes narrowed as he examined Dean and standing close enough that Dean could feel him breathing. He resolved that the first thing he was going to teach the guy was a little thing called personal space. "How are your eyes?"
"Um...Okay. Good, even. I think whatever you did actually made me see better."
Castiel nodded. "They're an interesting color."
"Thanks?" Castiel nodded again, stepping back. "Your lip looks healed up," Dean said, not sure why he'd blurted that out.
Castiel seemed pleased Dean had noticed. "I heal quickly." He glanced around quickly before stepping back toward Dean, dropping his voice low. "My ship is docked several blocks east of here, disguised as a shuttered storefront. It's an illusion, a stronger version of the one I wore the night you caught me in the alleyway. You shouldn't have any trouble finding it." And Dean realized he did know exactly the place Castiel was talking about, he must have passed it dozens of times. "I'll program the defenses to allow you entry."
"I thought your ship was broken."
"Only the propulsion systems," he said with a frustrated sigh. It reminded Dean of how sometimes his baby's engine would seize up for no reason and Dean was surprised to feel that sudden flash of sympathy wash through him. He hoped Castiel hadn't noticed. "The interior and security systems work fine." It looked for a second like he wanted to say something else but couldn't find the right words. "I look forward to seeing you." Then he teleported away with that strange sound of wings.
Dean decided to cut his losses and head home before his day could get any weirder.
Castiel's tests weren't really so bad, all things considered. Mostly it was just electrodes attached to his pressure points, not so different than if he was getting a stress test or an ekg. These were wireless, though, and a hell of a lot more comfortable than the ones he'd put up with when Bobby'd insisted he'd go to the hospital to get checked out after his dramatic return. The first few times Castiel tested how he reacted to stimuli, heat and cold and things like that, but never anything painful. It was actually kind of relaxing, sometimes, even though Dean would rather put bamboo under his nails than admit that out loud. Dean gave the ship a lot of credit for that; he'd grown to really like the place, the graceful curves of it and how it seemed way bigger than it realistically could be. He'd asked Castiel about that once, gotten a lecture on differing theories of dimensional space and never asked again.
A lot of times the tests were nothing more than Castiel having Dean talk while he studied read outs on his computer screen; Dean guessed they were brain waves but he'd never asked. "Why all the questions about my dad today?"
"You react very strongly to them."
"Yeah. Guess so." He let out a long breath. "He died a week after I turned eighteen. He was in the service, y'know? Total badass. I always figured I'd go in too, but obviously I had to take care of Sam. Our mom died when he was just a baby so with my dad gone it was just the two of us. Well, and Bobby too, I guess, but that's different. I tell you, thank God I was eighteen when Dad died, who knows what would have happened to me and Sam if we'd been younger." He remembered how Sam had held it together through the entire funeral service, even when the honor guard had given him the flag, and how that had all fallen apart the second they got home. "I keep thinking about how Sam basically lost me and Dad within, God, barely eight months of each other. I don't know how he stayed upright."
Castiel didn't respond and Dean didn't have anything else to say. The silence stretched on long enough that Dean had almost fallen asleep when Castiel finally spoke, his voice very soft. "Why do you submit to this so easily, Dean?"
"What do you mean?"
Castiel turned halfway around so he could catch Dean's eye. "I've been watching you," he said, not responding when Dean muttered stalker under his breath. "You push back when others try to coerce you. You're very stubborn."
Dean decided to take that as a compliment. "Honestly?"
Dean sighed. "I know how this sounds, but sometimes it's like this is the only part of my life that makes sense anymore. I mean, you're an alien and I'm a human so you want to figure me out, that's fucked up but I can wrap my mind around it."
Castiel looked back up at his screen. "Should I interpret that to mean your adjustment hasn't become any smoother?"
Dean stared up at the delicate cross hatching that made up the vaulted ceiling; they'd started glowing a soft rose when he'd stepped through the door, like the ship was a living thing happy to see him. "It sucks. I never liked school but this is a thousand times worse. Everyone who'd been in my class before have all either moved away or they're married with kids, and the people I'm around now...I mean, they're younger than Sam. They were ten years old when I left. The girls are hot but once we start talking our childhoods don't match up and it gets weird. I feel fucking old, Cas." He scowled, crossing his arms over his chest before Castiel motioned for him to stop. "And I don't know what happened to music in eight years but the crap these kids listen to sucks." He shook his head. "Jesus, I sound like Bobby."
"I'm sure the culture shock will fade."
"It's not just that. Everyone knows me. They hear my name and everyone knows I'm that guy, the walking time capsule. I feel like I'm in a zoo half the time, and it's not just the kids, it's the teachers, too." He drummed his fingers against the table.
"Your pulse rate is rising."
"Yeah, I bet it is." He sighed. "My English teacher is a year younger than me. A year younger than I should be, I mean, she was a junior when I was a senior and we went out for, like, two months. Now I have to call her Miss and act like I don't know she likes to get spanked. And she looks at me like I'm dirt, like she's pissed I'm still a teenager and she's not, like I did it personally to spite her. And we've still got reporters calling at all hours, and lately there's been this weirdo from DC calling, saying I 'owe it to medical science' to let him take samples from me. I'm worried I'm gonna wake up one day and he'll just be at the front door." He laced his fingers behind his head. "Sometimes it feels like this is the only place where I don't feel like a total freak, fucked up as that is."
"Have things improved between you and Sam?"
Dean let out a long sigh. "I don't know. I just want things to go back the way they were. Maybe that's not fair, but in my head he's still this dorky fourteen-year-old. I think I'm probably pushing too hard. It's like we forgot how to talk to each other."
Castiel tapped his fingers against the console, his expression thoughtful. "I have brothers and sisters as well. Many of them. I haven't seen any of them since I left to pursue my work, a very long time ago."
Dean leaned up on his elbows. He'd never gotten Castiel to talk about himself before. "So what's the deal with you guys? Do you, I don't know, hatch or what?" Castiel just gave him a look, like that was a ridiculous question and Dean decided to let that drop. "What do you do with all this stuff you're collecting?" he asked instead, nodding toward Castiel's absurdly huge computer. "You're not prepping an invasion force or anything, are you?"
"Hardly," he said, but he seemed to get that Dean was kidding. "I send the raw data and my interpretations back to be archived and examined. It's our goal to examine and catalogue all life." There was something almost wistful in his expression. "It's a futile goal, of course. The universe is much too vast."
"So what kind of feedback are you getting back?"
His expression clouded. "Unfortunately our communications are less sophisticated than our data streaming."
"So, what? How often do you hear back?"
Castiel glanced back at him. "I'm very far from home, Dean. This galaxy wasn't even on our charts. At first communication was frequent but as I ventured out further it became more sporadic. I don't know why. Interference, perhaps. Or just merely distance."
There was an ache in his voice that caught Dean off guard. "You don't hear back at all anymore, do you."
Castiel shook his head. "Not in a very long time."
"How do you know anyone's still getting the stuff you send back? How do you even know the place is still there?"
He wished he could take that back when he saw that quick, pained flash in Castiel's eyes; he still hadn't forgiven the guy but suggesting Hey, how do you know your planet hasn't blown up? was a pretty dick thing to do. Even the colors in the ship got darker for a second, like it was telling Dean to shut up. "The thought's occurred to me," he admitted. "We have enemies. There's no way to know for sure, I suppose."
"So why do you bother? Not the going around examining things, I get you're a scientist and they're nerds like that, but why send stuff back?"
"I believe your people call it faith."
Dean supposed he could get behind that. He knew that if was separated from Sam he would never give up on seeing him again. "So, are there really little green men in flying saucers out there?"
"Your culture's myths are fascinating. No, there aren't, at least none I've seen." That distant, wistful expression was back. "You'd be surprised at how few truly sapient races there are in the universe, Dean. And of those, how few are friendly. That night you caught me in that alley was the first time I'd spoken to a another being in one thousand years. As you view them, at any rate."
Dean felt his mind tried to grapple with that before giving up in horror. No wonder he'd thought losing eight years would be no big deal if he counted his own age in thousands. "How are you not crazy?" Dean said, sitting up on the table. "Crazier, anyway?"
"I've grown used to the solitude." He tilted his head at Dean in the way he had when Dean was doing something he didn't understand. "There's no need for sympathy. I understood what was before me when I accepted this calling. It's understood that most researchers never return." He walked back toward Dean and started to remove the electrodes, as carefully as if Dean was made of glass. "I've taken enough of your time for today," he said, then Dean heard that wingbeat and found himself standing outside his door.
Dean walked in to find Sam at the kitchen table, books spread over every available flat surface and his computer on his lap. "Whatcha working on?"
"My professors let me take my two final classes online, but I still have to get everything in on time. I never realized how much I missed the campus library. And how is Bobby still on dial-up? Who does that?"
Dean pulled up a chair, careful not to knock over Sam's book tower. "Any way I can help?"
"I'm good, Dean."
"C'mon. I always help you with your homework."
Sam's lips quirked up. "I kind of remember it more as you trying to get me to do your homework."
Okay, so maybe that was technically true. "I've helped. Remember the science fair?"
"My homework's a little more complicated than putting formulas on posterboard now."
"I still helped. And you won that year."
Sam went back to typing. "I appreciate the interest, Dean, but I've gotta put down five thousand words by the end of the night."
Just then Sam's phone went off, letting Dean catch a glimpse of a blond girl's picture and the name JESS before Sam snatched the phone away and silenced it. "Heeeeey. Who's that?"
"None of your business," Sam muttered, but Dean knew that blush.
"Sam has a girlfriend," Dean sing-songed at him.
"Fiancee," he mumbled, and even the tips of his ears were red now.
"Fiancee? Seriously? How long?"
"A few months now."
"Does Bobby know?"
"Of course Bobby knows. He's the one who told me to get over myself and ask. He just used the word idjit more."
"That's awesome, Sammy---"
"Don't call me that." Sam sighed, rubbing his forehead.
Dean just watched him for a long moment. "Are you pissed off at me?"
Sam just sighed again. "Of course not."
"You sure? Because this is exactly how you act when you're pissed off at me. You didn't even want to tell me you were engaged."
"That's not true."
"It's not? If your phone hadn't gone off, when would you have told me?" Suddenly it hit Dean what was really going on here. "She doesn't know I'm back." Sam didn't answer and Dean knew he was right. "What the fuck, Sam?"
"When Bobby told me you were back I didn't believe it. I couldn't believe it, so I made something up."
"And you just never told her."
Sam let out a long breath. "It's just...how do I tell someone about this? I mean, look at you. You're my older brother but suddenly you're four years younger than me. How do you explain something like that?"
Dean studied his brother for a long second. "I'm not going anywhere, Sam."
"How am I supposed to believe that?" Sam snapped at him, his voice cracking in a way that tied Dean in knots. "You fell off the face of the Earth once, who's to say you won't again? You said yourself you don't know what happened."
Dean stayed quiet, his stomach churning. When he'd said that he hadn't known, that had been true then, but he sure as hell knew now. For a second he was tempted to spill everything to Sam but the anger in his brother's voice held him back. He remembered how Castiel had looked around before telling him the location of his ship and it hit him suddenly how naïve it had been to tell Dean that. Cas was trapped here. Every movie he'd ever seen about the government finding out about aliens flashed through his mind, and it startled Dean to realize that angry as he still was he didn't want to see the guy hurt.
Dean wanted to think Sam would keep the secret, and he knew full well the nerdy kid he'd known would have kept it without a second thought, but it sank through him like a poison that Dean didn't know his brother at all. "Yeah," Dean said, his mouth dry. "I don't know what happened."
Sam rubbed his eyes. "Sorry. I didn't mean to say all that. I'm just under a ton of stress right now. I really need to get this done," he said, almost apologetically.
"Hey, it's cool," he said, getting up to leave, and nothing had ever hurt as much as that flash of relief on Sam's face. "Let me know if I can do anything to help, okay?" he shouted over his shoulder as he headed upstairs. Sam raised one hand as he left, buried back in his work, and Dean knew full well he wouldn't.
Dean was dreaming. He dreamed he was running through twisting alleyways, shoes loud on wet pavement and this form was so slow, he should slip through space like lightning but he was squeezed into flesh and bone and it was so slow. His chest burned; the gas exchange was inefficient, the lungs not able to process oxygen fast enough to keep the muscles functioning. He needed to rest, his muscles were shaking too hard to hold him up much longer but he couldn't stop. Not with it still following.
His teleport was broken and it was still following.
He skidded to a stop on the slick ground, his exhausted legs finally failing him. He saw a wall before and high walls to either side, the only way out behind him and how many blind alleys could there be in this place? He pushed himself back to his feet but it was too late, he heard steps coming towards him, slow now, no need to rush anymore. He backed himself against the wall, looking for a weapon but there was nothing. Help me.
Cas? Dean could feel the dream separate from him, Castiel's thoughts and impressions still overlapping his own. Cas, where are you?
Dean? The thought was like a hand reaching for him, but an instant later he felt something slam him against the alley wall hard enough to drive the air out of his lungs. Dean, I don't.... The thought crumbled into a convulsive surge of pain so strong and deep it jarred Dean awake.
Dean bolted upright in bed, the handprint on his shoulder burning. He pulled on jeans and a pair of sneakers before he could even process he was doing it, his hands shaking hard enough for him to waste precious seconds. He'd already thrown on his jacket and grabbed his bat from the closet before his sleep-addled brain could catch up and ask what the hell are you doing?
He paid the thought no mind. Maybe he still hated Castiel, maybe he didn't, but he'd never felt that kind of terror before in his life. Sam was still downstairs and even if he hadn't been, the window was faster; Dean focused on the fleeting glimpse he'd gotten of Castiel's surroundings, broken neon bar sign, knocked over street sign just outside the alley, and gritted his teeth and he dropped to the ground. Castiel might not have known where he was, but that was okay. Dean did. And it wasn't far.
By the time he got to the alley he wasn't even out of breath, and what he saw made Dean's hand go so tight about the bat it hurt. Castiel's face was a bloody mess, that silver blood flowing down from his nose and a cut over his eyes, but Dean was almost happy the...it looked like a man but Dean would bet money it wasn't anymore human than Castiel himself was, but Dean was so happy it had taken the time to rough Cas up because Dean knew there no way he could have gotten there in time otherwise. Castiel was surrounded by light, tendrils of it leaking from the seams of his constructed human body like he was about to split apart. The..thing attacking him had its arm buried in Castiel's chest, white light bleeding everywhere. Dean could see Cas trying to push his attacker away, trying to fight but there was nothing he could do. He felt Castiel's eyes lock with his over the attacker's shoulder and Jesus, Dean could see how much this hurt right there in his eyes. That made the decision for Dean; he stepped forward, bat over his shoulder, and swung as hard as he could at the attacker's head.
The thing staggered back, almost stumbling into Dean; when it turned around Dean recognized the face of the guy who always stood outside the hardware store hustling change – the face, but not the eyes. Its eyes were a flat, bottomless black and it hissed as it stepped toward Dean, skin hanging off its skull like a cheap Halloween mask. The blinding light blinked out and Dean saw Castiel crumple against the alley wall in his peripheral vision, one hand pressed to his chest but Dean didn't see a wound or any more blood so he focused back on the thing in front of him. It lunged at him, so fast Dean had to jump aside; it still managed to clip him on the shoulder hard enough to send Dean almost stumbling off his feet. He took an off-balance, blind swing with the bat and felt his stomach lurch up into his throat when the bat connected with the thing's neck hard enough for something to give, its head lolling at a sick angle. And that still only drove the thing to its knees.
It spit black bile at Dean, grinning as Dean bashed it in the head once more time. It flopped over, seizing once, the rictus grin still on its face, then it dissolved into a cloud of noxious black smoke that sent Dean reeling back. For a second his eyes burned too much to see anything and Dean wondered just how many times he was going to go blind thanks to Castiel.
It passed, though, and when his vision cleared he could see that he and Castiel were alone in the alley, Castiel still slumped over against the wall. "Cas? You okay?" When he crouched down Castiel grabbed his arm, his eyes wide with panic; this close Dean could hear him wheezing for air, like he was in the middle of a bad asthma attack. Or like that son of a bitch collapsed his lungs. Dean grabbed Cas' chin, forcing him to meet his eyes. "Cas, what do I have to do?" He knew he couldn't take the guy to a hospital, he couldn't pass for human well enough. Letting him die here would be kinder.
His lips were already turning blue. "Cas!" Dean said again, shaking him this time. "I want to help but you gotta tell me what to do."
Castiel squeezed his arm, nails digging in until Dean knew they were leaving marks. "Ship," he finally forced out.
"Just get you back to your ship?" Castiel nodded, slumping forward into Dean's arms like that took the last scrap of energy he had. "Okay, okay, you got it. Good thing you're not too far away." Castiel didn't resist when Dean picked him up; Dean could see he was fading in and out, his eyes already glassy. "You just keep fucking breathing."
Dean had to be careful that no saw, that no one asked questions, that no one tried to stop them and it took too much time. Dean fought down the panic as Castiel slowly went limp in his arms, the sound of him fighting for air fading with each step. By the time he finally kicked down the door to the ship (which for what was supposed to be an illusion sure cracked open convincingly) Dean didn't know how long he'd been without air, but he was still and blue. He told himself Cas' body could handle more than a true human's, the way he healed was proof enough of that. No human could have survived that attack. Dean remembered when they'd met he would have been happy to watch the alien die and wondered when the hell that had changed.
The second he stepped into the ship he heard a metallic sound like a door slamming shut behind him; the lights turned to a flat, hostile red and he felt a vibration run through the metal floor and up through his bones. Dean wondered, and not for the first time, just how alive Castiel's ship was because Dean could swear the thing felt scared. The curved exam table where Dean spent more of his time here grew from a flash of suspended silver to full size in an eyeblink; Dean laid Cas on the table and a device grew from the side of the table, a long hose ending in a breathing mask just like one he would expect to see in a hospital, some kind of chemical-smelling smoke coming from it in a gray cloud.
Dean just had to get him breathing again first. The pulse was gone in his wrist and while Dean thought he still felt a faint one in his neck, it wasn't going to last. "Adrenaline," he told the ship. "He needs a shot of adrenaline." The ship shuddered once, and Dean knew if it was a person it would be tilting its head at him just the way Castiel did when Dean used a word he didn't know. Dean rubbed one hand over his face, his mind racing as he felt that already weak pulse fade. He realized Castiel probably wouldn't call it adrenaline, whenever he talked science he always used the most technical terms possible, Dean suspected specifically to show off. The chemical formula for adrenaline just wasn't the kind of information Dean walked around with.
He wished Sam was here. This was exactly the kind of nonsense Sam always knew.
Then it hit Dean that yes, Sam did know, because Dean had been up to midnight making sure he did. "C9 H13 NO3," Dean blurted out, the posterboard he'd written that on a few weeks or over eights ago depending on who you asked suddenly clear in his mind. Fuck you, I don't help you with your homework. For a second Dean thought that still wasn't specific enough and told himself that hey, he'd tried.
Then out of what seemed to be a pocket in thin air dropped a device that looked somewhere between a syringe and a handgun. Dean was so surprised he almost dropped it, but Dean grabbed it and aimed it right over Castiel's heart. The thing even had a trigger. "Hope you know what you're doing," he murmured, half to the ship and half to himself, then he pulled.
Castiel arched up in a sudden, violent spasm, forcing Dean to grab him just to keep him on the table. His eyes flew open, panicked blue circles that darted around the room and it was clear to Dean in that first second Cas had no idea where he was. Dean held him down, pressing the mask over his face and standing over him to look right into his eyes. "Just breathe that in, Cas," Dean ordered, hoping Cas could understand him. "Calm down and breathe."
Castiel reached for him, his eyes still wide and Dean grabbed his hand without even thinking about it. "You're gonna be okay. Just breathe." Castiel quieted, staring at Dean and squeezing his hand so hard he could feel his fingers going numb. Cas' eyelids slowly started to flutter. "That's right," Dean said, keeping his voice low and soothing. "Rest and you'll be fine." Finally Castiel's eyes closed; Dean straightened the mask over his face, his legs shaking as his own adrenaline rush faded away and left him cored.
Dean didn't know when the ship had moved a chair under him but he was just happy he wasn't on the floor. "Wish my own baby was as accommodating as you sometimes." Which made him feel a little guilty and he told himself he'd give his girl a good waxing when this was over.
Castiel's color came back slowly, and when Dean checked his pulse it was still weak and rapid. Which might be normal for him, for all Dean knew, but he was shivering too, his hand cold in Dean's. Dean told himself it wasn't his problem, he'd already gone above and beyond as it was. All he needed to do was get home before anyone realized he was gone.
The way Castiel had looked at him kept playing behind his eyes, like he'd thought holding onto Dean had been keeping him alive. He eased Cas out of his coat, careful not to dislodge the breathing mask, then folded it up under his head. After looking around the room for a second and not seeing anything that wasn't made of metal he sighed and shrugged out of his own jacket, spreading it across Castiel's chest. "Best I can do, okay?"
The colors in the ship muted when Dean settled back in the chair and, after a moment's hesitation, took Castiel's hand again. "Okay, okay, I'll stick around a few more minutes," he said, shaking his head. "Just because I like you, okay? Nothing to do with him." The ceiling turned the same soft rose color it did when he showed up for the examinations. "But just a few more minutes."
Dean jolted awake when he felt Castiel begin to stir. He glared at the ship, as if it was its fault he'd fallen asleep, then realized he was still holding Castiel's hand and jerked away just before Cas' bleary eyes blinked open. "Dean?" he murmured, the word muffled by the mask; he moved it away, wincing as if that had hurt.
"Yeah," was all Dean said. Now that the emergency was over he could feel the resentment boiling back, resentment and confusion at why he'd done all that in the first place. "You've looked better."
"I've felt better." He got the feeling Castiel had been surprised to see him and was choosing his words.
"How much do you remember?"
"Enough." He rubbed his chest, wincing again.
"You wanna tell me exactly what that was back there?"
"I told you we have enemies. That was one of them." He sighed. "I believe the closest translation for our word for them would be demon. I've never known what they call themselves. They live on despair and fear. It's like food to them."
"Why the hell is my planet suddenly crawling with aliens?"
"I suspect this planet has been visited by more than one alien in the course of its history, Dean. Sapient races are rare enough that discovering a new one is a cause for celebration. There's a myth your people have about vampires that makes me wonder if they haven't been here a very long time." His expression darkened. "We normally don't stay in one place as long as I have. It must have realized my ship was disabled and seen its chance."
"What was it doing to you?"
"Trying to destabilize the matter conversion." Dean realized he must have looked as confused as he felt, because Castiel continued,"The form I'm using is more durable than a true human's, but it's still more fragile than my true form. The creature was trying to reverse the process so I would lose cohesion."
Dean ran that through his mental translator. "The thing was trying to make you explode?"
"Essentially, yes." He made soft, sharp sound, his hand pressing to his chest as his jaw went tight. "As it was, it still damaged me severely."
His eyes were already blinking closed again. "You should go back to sleep. Finish resting up," Dean said, not knowing what else to say. For the first time Castiel seemed to notice Dean's jacket spread over him; he traced along the edge of the collar, glancing up at Dean. "You were cold," Dean said, fidgeting in his seat, blushing despite the edge he put to the words.
There was a flash of overwhelmed emotion in Castiel's eyes that made Dean look away. He didn't glance back up until Castiel turned his head, his eyes closed. His hand twitched once, as if he hadn't realized Dean wasn't holding it any more, and Dean refused to feel guilty about that. "Why did you stay?" he whispered, something fragile in his voice Dean had never heard before. "You despise me."
Dean just sighed. "I don't hate anyone enough to want them to die alone millions of miles from home."
Castiel was quiet for a long time. "You are a very good representative of your species, Dean." His words were starting to slur, exhaustion blurring the edges. "Thank you for hearing me."
"Yeah, well, you jumped into my dream pretty loud."
"You didn't have to answer."
"If you didn't think I'd care, why bother?"
Castiel's voice was so soft Dean almost couldn't make out the words. "I have no one else."
Dean shook his head, adjusting the coat around him. "Get some rest. This is getting too sappy for me, anyway."
Castiel opened his eyes again and there was something fragile there now, too. "I would never have taken you if I'd known it would cause you so much harm."
It was the first time he'd used the word taken instead of something more justifiable. "I know," Dean said and he felt that hard knot he'd been carrying in his chest since he'd woken up in the future start to loosen. "Get some rest," he said again, pressing the mask back over his face.
Castiel nodded, his eyes closing again. He breathed deep, the pain lines in his face easing. "Can you stay a while longer?" he whispered, his voice barely audible.
He didn't reach for Dean again but he might as well have. "Sure," he said, grumbling more than he meant to. He watched as Castiel's breathing went slow and deep, shifting in his seat. Dean waited until he was absolutely sure he was asleep before taking his hand again.
Almost a week went by before Dean saw Castiel again. He told himself he needed the time to make things right with Sam – he'd come back from the mess with the demon to find Sam waiting for him in the living room in the dark, a bottle of Bobby's good whiskey clutched half empty in one fist, giving Dean a guilty jolt when he remembered that he'd promised Sam he wouldn't disappear and then had done just that – but even aside from Sam he just needed to get his head on straight. A little distance was exactly what he needed.
Castiel either seemed to agree or just knew better than to get in Dean's way because Dean didn't spot him once, not even in a dream. The long silence finally started to get in Dean's head; he found himself up late at night wondering if another of those demons had tracked him down, or if he hadn't been stalking Dean because he was still too injured to leave. Or, and Dean didn't know why the thought pissed him off so much, he'd decided to skip town; Dean told himself that if Cas decided to run off without saying a word Dean was find some way to drag him back and punch him in the face one more time.
Finally Dean decided enough was enough and headed down, sneaking out after Sam fell asleep. When he saw the familiar shuttered storefront Dean hadn't expected the flush of relief. He pushed that down and knocked in the pattern Cas had taught him, waiting to hear the whirr and click of the true door opening. He looked around to make sure no one was watching before walking in, even though he knew the illusion could probably take care of that. "Cas? You decent?"
"I...am I what?"
Dean grinned. "Never mind. Just messing with you." His voice was muffled and coming from the back of the room; Dean circled around, tapping his knuckles against the console railing in greeting . He saw Castiel's trenchcoat and suit jacket thrown over one of the railings and frowned. "Cas? Everything cool?"
"I'm fine." There was a pause, and then, "That is what that means, right?"
"Actually think I kind of missed this," Dean said, shaking his head. He finally found Cas crouched under one of the panels, his sleeves pushed up and his shirt spattered with what smelled like oil despite being fluorescent green. "Interrupting something?"
Castiel looked up at him, wiping more green oil off his hands. "Hello, Dean."
"Hey, Cas. Been kind of quiet lately."
Castiel nodded his head toward the open panel. "I've been redoubling my repair efforts."
Castiel fitted the panel back into place, a satisfied glint in his eye. "Some."
"So...you'll be out of here soon, or what?"
"I can't break atmosphere yet, but the engines are functional." He crouched back down, setting some dials. "Would you like to help me test them?"
"Um...sure." He moved to stand over Castiel, staring up at the computer screen and its as-always incomprehensible readouts. "So, what do you want me to do? Stand over here and...um watch stuff, I guess?"
"Actually, I thought you could pilot." He straightened back up, that glint in his eyes again. "Would that interest you?"
As if Castiel hadn't already known how Dean would answer that. "Dude, that would be awesome if I had any idea how to pilot a space ship."
That seemed to amuse Cas. "It's quite intuitive. I need someone to navigate for me while I keep my attention on the engine's functions."
There was a shimmer of silver light, just like the one he'd form the exam table after the attack, but this one formed itself into a wide chair situated in the center of the room. Dean narrowed his eyes. "Dude. Is that the chair from the Enterprise?"
He hadn't known Castiel could blush. "Obviously I've always piloted in my true form, not this one. I've seen that in your memories. I thought you might...I could change it, if you like."
"Don't you fucking dare." Dean bounded over and sat down. "So, how do I do this?"
"Picture in your mind where you want the ship to go. I would use coordinates but landmarks would do as well, the programming will take care of avoiding any obstacles. Once I have the engines fully powered it will follow the course you lay."
"She, Cas. She'll follow the course."
Castiel kept setting various dials, not pausing to look at Dean. "You've used that terminology before and I've never understood why."
Dean shook his head. "Cars and ships are always girls, Cas. Everyone knows that."
That did make Castiel turn around to frown at him. "Why would I gender my ship that way?"
"Not something you do, Cas, just something that is. This is law of the universe stuff. You gotta show her some respect. I know with my own baby, if you're good to her then she'll be good to you."
Castiel pulled one last switch, then stepped back. "All right, Dean, now it's up to you. Where would you like to go?"
Dean licked his lips. He was starting to wonder if he had the nerve for this after all. "Anywhere?"
"Anywhere on the planet you can imagine." He tapped his fingers against the console. "Avoiding jungles and caves might be a good idea. I'm not...entirely confident that the maneuverability is back to one hundred percent."
"No jungles, no caves, you got it," Dean said, not sure why he would pick either of those options anyway. He closed his eyes eyes and let out a long breath. "Egypt," he finally said. "The pyramids. I've always wanted to see the pyramids." Dean held on tight as the ship lurched straight up, just like a Blackbird he'd ridden in once as a birthday present set up by his father. Then there was just the overwhelming sensation of speed, impossible speed that warped the air around him and sent his stomach up into his throat.
"Calm down," he heard Castiel say, his low voice somehow right by his ear despite the fact that Dean knew damned well he was standing across the room. "Keep your focus on your destination."
Dean nodded, getting a clear focus on every picture of the pyramids he'd ever seen. "All right, girl, it's you and me. Let's do this." He felt the ship give a little shudder, like a person nodding, then the speed picked up even more until Dean thought he was going to turn inside out. Just when Dean thought he wasn't going to be able to stand any more of this the ship came to a sudden stop, not lurching or crashing but just as if it had never been moving at all.
A few seconds went by while Dean waited to see if they were all going to die, then he heard Castiel's voice. "You should probably open your eyes at some point."
Dean blinked his eyes open and sucked in a disbelieving breath. The front view screen was open and the top point of one of the pyramids was so close Dean thought he could reach out and touch it. "Shit. Is that for real?"
"Of course it is," Castiel said, sounding entirely unimpressed. He frowned down at his console. "That went tolerably well."
"Can we go somewhere else?"
"Absolutely. The more tests, the better."
Dean nodded. "Cool. Um. The Grand Canyon. Let's try that." There was less of a lurch this time, Dean supposed because the ship was already in the air, then that speed kicked in again. Dean thought he was already getting used to it. When he opened his eyes he found himself staring directly down into the canyon. "That is fucking awesome," he said, laughing as he stepped as close to the edge as he dared.
When he turned around he saw Castiel staring at him, like he'd never seen Dean before. "Dude. Don't you have stuff to keep track of?"
"Yes, it's just...I've never seen you laugh before."
"Haven't had much reason to lately." He stared back into the canyon, the rush almost like a drug. "Can we do that again?"
"As much as you like."
Dean nodded, sprawling back into the chair. They spent the rest of the night hopping to every spot on the map Dean could think of, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, the Great Wall, anywhere and everywhere. They buzzed the Eiffel Tower and followed it up with landing on the tip of the Washington Monument, Dean's confidence growing with each jump. Dean thought that if he hadn't gotten too tired to focus they never would have stopped. Finally when they were safely docked back in the empty lot (Dean let Castiel handle the actual landing) Dean slumped over in his chair, his nerves still buzzing. He didn't know if that had been Castiel's version of a thank you or an apology or something in the middle but Dean thought it was awesome either way. "Thanks, Cas."
"It was my pleasure." Castiel was still giving him that weird stare but Dean was too hopped up to even notice. Dean let out a long, exhausted sigh. "I gotta get home. When you get the ship able to go into space again, can I help you test that, too?"
Castiel nodded. "Of course."
"Cool. I gotta go."
"Don't stay away so long," Castiel said just before Dean passed through the door. "I would welcome your company."
Dean grinned. "Yeah, I missed you too, I guess." When he walked away from the ship toward home Dean couldn't remember the last time he'd felt this happy.
Dean walked up to find Bobby pacing up and down in front of the door. "Boy, where the hell have you been?"
"What? I had a late night."
Bobby grabbed his arm. "You go upstairs and you talk to him."
"Why? What's wrong with Sam?"
"You just go up there right now and talk him out of leaving right now, 'cause I get the feeling he's not planning on coming back."
Dean didn't have to hear any more; he ran up the stairs and found Sam packing his few belongings back into his suitcase. "Sam, what the hell?"
Sam just sighed. "I hoped I'd be gone before you got back."
"I thought you didn't have to go back until the new semester started."
"I don't have to go back, Dean, I want to." He sat on the bed, his head in his hands. "I can't do this any more," he said, suddenly sounding much younger.
"Do what? Tell me where your head's at."
Sam still wouldn't look at him. "I thought you were dead."
"Sam, c'mon. I know I was out late tonight, but I'm not gonna disappear again."
"I didn't mean tonight, although God, that's part of it, that you can't be an hour late without me wondering if it's happened again. Every day I have to wake up and wonder if this is the day it's all going to happen again, if this morning is the last time I'm going to see you."
"I told you...."
"You told me a lot of things," Sam spit out, the words barbed. "And you can't promise me that, you don't even know what happened." At that Dean was ready to tell Sam everything, whatever might come of it but Sam didn't give him the chance. "All those years, I was sure you were dead. Everyone told me you'd just taken off, you'd show back up but I knew. I knew you'd never just up and leave."
"Sam, I didn't...."
"Just...don't talk right now, okay?" Sam raked his hands through his hair. "When I got that call from Bobby that you were back I should have been on the moon, and all I could think was 'that can't be true.' I couldn't believe it, because that would meant you really had just left."
"I didn't just leave. Look at me, you can see that."
"I know! I know that, but every time I look at you that all just comes back. I got so good at shutting all this out, Dean, I really did, and it's like all of that stopped working overnight."
Dean took a long, hard look at his brother. "Do you wish I really had been dead?"
"It would be easier." He let Sam out a shaky laugh that twisted a low sob. "God, who says that? What kind of person even thinks something like that?"
"Someone who's been through a hell of a lot. I know I let you down, Sam, but we're still brothers, that's all that matters."
"Dean, your brother is a puny fourteen-year-old who had every line of Star Wars memorized. I haven't been that kid in a long time and I can't go back. Not even for you."
Dean swallowed hard. "And who's your brother?'
Sam gave him a look that made him want to sink into the floor. "The guy who sat me down after Dad's funeral and told me not to worry about anything because he'd make sure I was never left alone."
Dean flashed back to that horrible day, right down to the itchy black suit and the smell of fresh dug earth. "I never meant to break that promise, Sam, you gotta believe that. And you weren't alone, you had Bobby...."
Sam looked up at him, pure disbelief in his eyes. "Dean, seriously? You think any court in the world is going to give Bobby Singer custody of someone?" And really, Dean had never asked what had happened, he'd just assumed. "He's not family, Dean, not legally, and it doesn't matter how we feel about him."
"Bobby never mentioned anything about that. You had a bed here, I just figured...."
"Yeah, Bobby got me back but not until I was in foster care for two years, and then the group home because I kept running away from the foster homes. Finally they just let me stay with Bobby because no one else wanted to deal with me. I lost a year of school, easy, I had to go at night and every summer just to graduate on time." He was shaking; when Dean moved to put a hand on his shoulder Sam flinched away. "I thought I was done with all this. I got into Stanford and I was gone, Dean, I didn't look back." His voice was flat and dead, like it belonged to someone else. "All those years I was in other people's houses, I kept waiting for you to come driving your car up and come rescue me. Even though I knew you had to be dead, every night I waited for you to come and get me. And then one day I just...stopped. I knew I had to depend on myself."
"You don't have to do that anymore."
"Dean, I've been on my own a long time now. I don't know how to do anything else."
"Jesus, Sammy, I...."
"Don't call me that." Sam got up and went back to packing. "See, that is exactly what's going to keep happening if I stick around. I need go back to my life. I like my life, I worked really hard to build something I could be proud of, and then I come back here and...." He sighed. "And I'm fourteen again, wondering why my brother isn't coming to get me."
"Sam, I'm sorry."
"I know." He zippered the bag closed. "I'm glad you're alive, whatever freaky thing happened. I really am. I just...can't be around you. I can't sit around waiting to be let down again. I worked too hard." He closed his eyes. "Just go, Dean, okay?"
Dean backed out of the room, then ran down the stairs and out the door before saying another word.
Dean pounded on the illusionary door until he heard the click and whirr of it opening. Castiel wasn't there, because of course he wouldn't be here when Dean was looking for him. He settled in to wait, tapping his fingers against the railing, the ship turning from the usual deep rose to a clear, hard white as it realized Dean wasn't calming down.
Castiel walked in a few minutes later, looking supremely annoyed. Dean wondered if the ship had called him. "Dean?" he said, pulling up short. "I hadn't expected to see you so soon...."
"Take me back," Dean said, not looking at him.
"I don't understand. Take you where?"
"You know where."
Castiel's head tilted, his brow furrowing. "I can't. You know that." Dean heard fear creep into his voice. "I thought we were past this."
"This can't work. I tried, man, I did, but I can't stay here."
"What's happened?" Castiel walked toward him, alarm bright in his eyes. "You were finally adjusting."
"This isn't about me 'adjusting.' It's not about school or this world or anything like that." He jumped to feet and started pacing. "I made my brother a promise, Cas, I don't get to back out of that just because it's hard."
"You will die, Dean."
"I don't care." He shouted the words into Castiel's face, a distant part of his mind giving Cas credit for not flinching back. "I. Don't. Care. I'm gonna keep my promise to Sam or die trying, that's what I should have done in the first place."
"Do not ask me to kill you, Dean. I won't."
"You don't get a choice here, Cas. Not when you didn't give me a choice." Dean gave him a hard look. "Take me back or I'll tell everyone about you. You can't leave the planet. I'll keep telling people until I find someone who'll believe me, and then you'll have all kinds of trouble. You think demons are bad? Wait until you've got the government at your door all fighting to see who gets to open you up first."
Castiel tilted his head, his eyes narrowed. "You won't."
Dean felt himself wilt. He wouldn't stoop that low, no matter now much he wanted to and they both knew it. "Please," he said, the fight bleeding out of him. "I need you to do this. I don't break promises, Cas. Not this one. I can't."
Castiel leaned over the console, his shoulders hunched and hands splayed flat against the controls. "Take off your jacket."
"What? Cas, what do you...."
Before Dean could say another word Castiel pulled a switch on the console and the lights went dark. He rounded back toward Dean. "Your jacket. Now."
Dean shrugged off his jacket and let it drop to the floor. "What the hell are you doing?"
"What you asked of me," he said. A shudder ran through the ship, a low creaking sound drifting up as the floor shook under their feet.
"Just like that? I thought my...life force or whatever wasn't strong enough."
"It's not." Castiel strode over to him, pressing one hand against the handprint on Dean's shoulder. "You'll have to use some of mine." The ship lurched sideways, an entirely different kind of speed from when Dean was piloting it. It only took a second before he couldn't breathe, his whole body squeezed under so much pressure it was like the universe itself was crushing him. He tried to speak but couldn't, his throat closing up. Dean realized he hadn't actually believed Castiel when he'd said this could kill him.
"Dean. Look at me." Dean looked up just as Castiel's eyes started to glow. All at once Dean felt a rush of energy pour into him, almost pushing him to his knees but all he cared about was that he could breathe again. "Just keep looking at me."
The heat radiating from the mark on his shoulder was overwhelming but Dean didn't dare look away from the glow in Castiel's eyes. The ship shook and groaned around them as they hurled through time, Dean barely able stand under onslaught of energy – and not just energy, Dean could feel memories coiling underneath the rush, memories no human had ever had.
That was when Dean realized Castiel's eyes weren't the only things glowing. "Cas. Cas stop." Dean could only stare as glowing cracks spread across his skin, light bleeding from him just the way it had when the demon was killing him. Dean felt him stagger as light exploded from his back, arcing into the wings Dean remembered glimpsing that night in the alley. The wings coiled around the two of them, spasming back once when Castiel let out a low, choked-off moan that stabbed through Dean like a knife. "Cas, this isn't what I want."
"No choice...you said," Castiel said, actually smiling as silver blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. His legs buckled and Dean held him up and the burning from the handprint was nothing compared to the heat pouring from Castiel, like he was seconds away from bursting into flames. "Dean," he murmured, staring back into Dean's eyes, the pale blue still just barely visible beneath the light.
"I got you, Cas," he whispered, tightening his grip. "I'm not gonna let you go."
He saw that flash of emotion in Castiel's eyes again, just like when Castiel had woken up to find Dean taking care of him after the attack. Before Dean could realize what was happening Castiel pressed forward and kissed him, his lips hot against Dean's and his free hand clutching onto Dean's shirt like that was the only thing keeping him upright. He shook when Dean cradled his head and kissed him back, deepening the kiss until Cas moaned deep in his throat. The memories kept flowing into Dean like a river, so many lifetimes worth Dean didn't know he could hold them all; Dean just kept himself focused on the kiss, on the way Cas' lips moved under Dean's, on his pulse racing under Dean's fingers. Dean lied to himself that if he kept kissing Castiel it didn't matter that the light was fading, those beautiful wings shriveling before his eyes. "You stay with me, Cas," he ordered, feeling Castiel shiver in response.
There was an instant where Dean felt like he could see through Castiel's eyes, the walls that kept them separate beings buckling and fading as Castiel poured the last drops of his life into Dean. As if he was the one doing it he felt Castiel whisper "Dean" against his lips; seconds later there was a deafening roar as the ship came to a sudden, screeching stop. The impact threw Dean off his feet and he flew into the wall; he came to a few seconds later staring up at the dark ship interior, smoke winding its way through the crosshatchings that always glowed to welcome Dean back. Everything was quiet and still, and it took Dean a second to realize how wrong that was. "Cas," he croaked out, choking on smoke. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Cas!"
His head swam with too many memories that weren't his, memories of standing under alien skies he had never visited, the sheer weight of thousands of years pressing him down into the floor. For just a second they'd been one person, no secrets, no separation between them, Castiel's mind overlapping his. Suddenly Dean could imagine all too well what it would feel like to not speak to another living being for one thousand years.
Dean pushed himself up, shaking his head; he forced himself to his feet and looked around, desperation choking him like a vise. "Cas, you fucking answer me!"
But Dean knew he wouldn't. He found Castiel a seconds later sprawled on his side with his eyes vacant and open, lying so still Dean felt a horrible surge of guilt. He'd told Castiel he wouldn't let him go.
Castiel wasn't breathing, his face already a gray-tinged blue. "You son of a bitch," Dean growled, trying in vain to find a pulse. "You don't get to skip out on me so easy." Dean looked around the ship but there was no miracle cure now; the ship was cold and dead, sending fear snaking through him. He'd always wondered just how connected Cas and his ship really were.
He pushed that aside, rolling Cas to his back and loosening his tie as he tried to remember the CPR course he'd taken freshmen year. "Just breathe, Cas," he whispered as he started the compressions. He could feel the memories already starting to fade like sand running through his fingers, the rush under his skin dying away.
It didn't take long for the burning ache to start in his shoulders, radiating down his arms with each compression. Every time Dean forced air into his lungs he thought about Castiel whispering his name right at the end, as if he'd wanted that to be the last thing he said before he died. Dean ground his teeth and pushed aside the exhaustion. He stopped himself from thinking about how CPR only worked 5% of the time and that went down fast the longer you kept at it. Cas wasn't human. What was true for humans wasn't true for him, Dean repeated that to himself with each breath. Every second Dean felt another of Castiel's memories slip away into nothing, the din in his mind turning to whispers and then to a silence as deep as the one filling the ship. "Breathe. I didn't ask you for any heroic sacrifices so you just fucking breathe." Dean knew from those fading memories that Castiel feared dying like this, his work half-finished, no hope of ever seeing his home sky again. Forgotten. Dean wasn't letting that happen, not on his account. He was not having it.
Just as Dean felt fatigue start to blur his vision he thought he felt a faint tremor run through the body beneath him. Two compressions later Dean saw his hand twitch. "Come on, Cas. Come back. You can do this." One compression more and Castiel's body jerked up as he heaved in a breath and God, Dean thought that breath was the single best thing he'd ever heard. He turned Castiel on his side, rubbing his back as he retched and tried to remember how breathing worked. "Jesus, Cas. Jesus, don't ever scare me like that again."
Castiel rolled back over and stared up at Dean. "My chest hurts."
"Yeah. Yeah, sorry. Took a while to get your heart going again." Dean stared as his color slowly came back, his fingers locked on the pulse point in Cas' wrist to convince himself his heart really was beating.
"Heard you calling me." Dean had never known someone's eyes could be this wide. "I never meant to hurt you, Dean," he whispered, low and intense like he was desperate for Dean to believe him.
"Cas, I know that," Dean said. "I do. The whole reason you didn't take me back in the first place was 'cause you thought it would kill me. I just don't get what got you to change your mind."
Castiel closed his eyes. "I was killing you anyway."
Dean shook his head and wrapped his arms around Castiel, picking him up from the floor. "No one's gonna die, Cas," he whispered into his ear. For a second he thought he would have to explain how hugs worked, too, but Cas' arms wrapped tight around him in return, his face pressing against the curve of Dean's neck. He could still feel the echo of longing that strung through those faded memories; Dean knew that while it might have been a thousand years since he'd spoken to someone, it had been so much longer since he'd been close enough to touch anyone. Dean stroked his fingers through Castiel's hair, not sure which of them was shaking harder. "Told you I wasn't letting you go."
Castiel just held on tighter. "Don't."
Dean closed his eyes and focused on Castiel's warm breath against his neck. "Hey," Dean whispered. "You told me researchers tend not to come back, right? You ever think maybe that's because some of them find somewhere else they'd rather be?" Dean leaned his back against the railing, stroking his fingers through Castiel's hair until the trembling eased. "You think you're good to stand yet?" he whispered into Castiel's ear. "Got a brother I want you to meet."
Dean's heart pounded so hard he felt light-headed. He glanced over at Castiel, looking strange and incongruous leaning against the wall next to Bobby's front door. "Let me talk to him first, okay?"
Before Dean could even get out his keys the door flew open, Sam looking up at him with his backpack balanced on one shoulder. "There you are," he said, rolling his eyes. "I thought I was gonna have to walk to school." He looked around Dean. "Hey, where's your car?"
Dean picked him up into an enormous hug before Sam could say another word. "God, Sammy, it's good to see you."
"Dean? What's with you? You stay out all night all the time."
"I'm not doing it any more, I promise." He put Sam down and closed the door. "You're not going to school today."
"Why not? What's...Did something happen?" His eyes went wide. "Is Bobby okay?"
"No, no, he's fine. Everyone's fine."
"Then what's going on, Dean? You're acting seriously weird."
Dean dropped himself down into Bobby's overstuffed chair. "You know that I'd never lie to you, right Sam? Not about anything big?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I know that."
"Okay, you gotta keep that in mind, because this is going to sound pretty nuts." He took a deep breath. "Aliens are real. I got kidnapped by one, and although he managed to bring me back it was really close. He's actually...um, well, standing outside. His ship got smashed up bringing me back so he's stranded here for a while." Dean left out that the place he'd been brought from was the future. Some things Sam didn't need to know. "Don't hold the whole kidnapping thing against him, okay? He's actually pretty okay."
Sam rolled his eyes. "C'mon, Dean. Why would aliens come all this way just to kidnap you?"
"Hey, I'll have you know I'm a very good representative of my species." He crouched down so they were at eye level. "This is serious, Sam." He let out a frustrated breath. "C'mon. If I was really making all this up, don't you think I'd come up with something that didn't make me sound like a total nutcase?"
Sam narrowed his eyes, an adult look that made him look way too much like the damaged, angry Sam Dean had left in the future. Dean realized this had been a mistake, the only people who could ever believe a story this crazy would either have to be crazy themselves or the biggest nerds on the planet.... "Prove it," Sam said, breaking into Dean's thoughts.
Dean loved the hell out of this kid. "Let's boldy go, then."
He led Sam outside to where Castiel was still standing like a trenchcoated sentinel. "Sam, this is Cas. Cas, Sam."
Castiel nodded. "Hello, Sam," he said, as formal as if he were meeting the president.
Sam didn't answer, studying Castiel with a long, up and down look. "You don't look like an alien."
Cas tilted his head to the side, studying Sam right back. "I'm using a matter converter to approximate a more appropriate appearance. My true form is much larger but not as dense as your own, and it exists in dimensions your eyes can't process without damage."
Most of that was Greek to Dean, but Sam just raised his eyebrows. "Cool." He looked around. "Dean said you had a space ship?"
Cas gave Dean an Oh, did he? look over Sam's shoulder. "Did he also tell you I can teleport?"
You would have thought Castiel had just said he could make it Christmas. "Prove it."
One wingbeat later they were standing outside that boarded up storefront. "Camouflage?" Sam guessed, beaming when Castiel nodded.
"The ship's quite damaged," Cas said as he opened the door, sounding exactly the way Dean did when there was something wrong with his car. "It won't be very impressive...."
Dean doubted Sam even heard him; he bolted past the two of them into the ship, practically vibrating with glee. "Cas, it's a spaceship and he's fourteen," Dean said. "It could be made of legos and he'd think it was awesome."
"It's big," Sam gushed. "Are we in another dimension or is this a tesseract?"
Castiel's brow furrowed. "A combination of those technologies, actually."
"Awesome. Like the TARDIS."
Cas gave Dean a questioning look but all Dean could do was shake his head. "Like I know?"
"Can I look around?" Sam shouted over his shoulder, already peeking around a corridor.
"Don't touch anything," Castiel said. "I don't know how damaged the interior is yet."
Sam nodded and disappeared around a corner, giving Dean the chance to lean close to Castiel's ear. "You are the biggest showoff, Cas." Castiel just answered with an affronted look that Dean couldn't help laughing at.
Castiel looked away. "I like hearing you laugh." He trailed his fingers along the front of the dark console, his eyes turning desolate. "I feel guilty," he said, like a confession. "Is that strange?"
"Think it'd be stranger if you didn't." Dean had hoped the ship would spring back to life with Cas, and walking in to see it still dark and cold had twisted Dean's stomach like a corkscrew. He couldn't imagine how much worse it had to feel for Cas, when the ship had served as a home and an only friend for so long.
"She was very good to me," Castiel murmured.
"Hey," Dean said, touching his arm. "Why don't I go make sure Sam doesn't wake up any of your science fair projects and you see if you can work any miracles, okay?"
"I don't have any living subjects on board," Castiel answered, already crouching under one of the cracked panels and clearly only half listening. Dean shook his head and went to go make sure Sam didn't make anything explode.
"Well, I don't think Sam's ever gonna leave," Dean announced, stomping his way back into the main room. "He's sacked out of in one of the rooms back there." He found Castiel spattered with multicolored oil, frowning over the main interface terminal. "All right, Doc, what's the prognosis?"
"We're about to find out," Castiel murmured.
He touched one of the panels and Dean heard a low hum, one that went on long enough that Dean wondered if the ship was about to explode. Moments after Dean had that thought the screen flickered to life, putting out a dim glow. It wasn't anything close to full strength but Dean felt his heart squeeze at how Castiel's eyes lit up with delight. He looked up and saw those crosshatchings start to glow too, working through the spectrum before settling on that familiar rose. "There you are," Dean whispered, surprised at the strength of the relief washing through him. "You don't get to run out on me either." Castiel moved up to join him, the exhaustion on his face not quite enough to hide the joy. "Guess you got your miracle."
Castiel sighed. "The damage is extensive," he said, looking around. "I'll have to rebuild the engines. The time circuit as well."
"But it can all be fixed, right?"
Cas nodded. "With time." He sighed again. "Well, everything except the matter converter. The element that runs on isn't native here, I'll have to make sure she's spaceworthy before even attempting it."
Dean got a kick out of Castiel coming around to calling his ship "she." "Sorry you're stuck like this for a while."
Castiel's gaze dropped to the floor. "There are advantages to this form," he murmured, giving Dean a sideways look that made him lightheaded.
Dean just leaned against the railing. "You kissed me."
Castiel looked away again. "You spoke very highly of that," he said, a blush creeping up over his face. "I was curious."
"Man, why wait until then?"
He crossed his arms over his chest, still looking down at the floor. "You were always so disgusted by the idea of me touching you. I didn't think it would be welcome." He let out a soft sigh. "I doubted I would get another chance."
Dean shifted over to stand in front of him, his arms on either side of of Castiel to pin him against the the railing. "Hey. Look at me." When he looked up Dean kissed him, the little sigh of surprise from Castiel rushing through him. Dean pressed him against the railing and coaxed his mouth open, sliding his arm past the coat to settle one hand against the small of his back. Castiel took the hint, unfurling his arms to wrap around Dean's waist. For someone who'd never done this before Dean thought he was catching on pretty fast. "We're gonna have lot of chances, Cas."
"It will be dangerous to associate with me," he murmured, still so close Dean wanted to lean forward and kiss him again. "Once it's obvious I'm stranded I'll be a target, like before---"
Dean nipped at his lower lip before Castiel could even think about finishing that sentence. "Don't you dare try to warn me off." He sucked on Castiel's lip until he drew out a soft little moan, the sound hitting Dean low and deep. "You got me and Sam watching your back now. And trust me, that kid could not be more up for hunting bad guy aliens."
Castiel let out a long breath. "Thank you." He looked up at Dean then, a glint in his eye that made it impossible for Dean to breathe for a second. He stroked just the tips of his fingers down Dean's arm, just that light touch making Dean shiver. He remembered that Castiel had studied him for ten years, and that wasn't even counting the most recent sessions. For all he knew Cas had his whole nervous system mapped out, knew to push buttons Dean had no idea existed.
Dean grinned. The guy was going to take him apart.
He kissed Castiel again, pulling him closer by his hips. "So. Heard we got a lot of work to do," he whispered, teasing his tongue around the edge of Castiel's lip.
Castiel nodded, already breathless, his eyes wide as he waited to see what Dean was going to do next. "Yes, a very---" He gasped when Dean licked up his neck, tipping his head as one of those rare smiles played over his lips. Dean had some experience pushing buttons too, after all. "A very large amount," he finally forced out, seemingly determined to finish his sentence.
"We should get on with it then," Dean whispered into his ear, wrapping Cas' tie around his hand.
Castiel nodded, shivering when Dean slipped one hand past his suit jacket and down his ribs. "Where do you think we should start?"
Dean just grinned, sliding Castiel's coat from his shoulders as he leaned back in close. "Right here sounds pretty good to me."